Friday, December 16, 2011 3:27 PM
Given Barack Obama’s anemic approval ratings and the republican's underwhelming roster of presidential hopefuls (who, thankfully, will not be seen in another gang bang until 2012), it’s somewhat surprising that there hasn’t been more talk of a third-party movement in the mainstream media. Especially since, the horse race coverage notwithstanding, Mitt Romney has already purchased his party’s nomination, which is sure to leave a large percentage of conservatives disillusioned—again.
According to a piece written by Alec MacGillis for The New Republic, however, the D.C.-based political organization, Americans Elect is set “to hold an online convention to nominate a bipartisan ticket for president and vice president” next summer. And, the author opines, those who would scoff at the idea of a viable alternative to the two-party solution—especially Obama loyalists—do so at their peril.
Americans Elect, which has already raised tens of million of dollars and has a tony list of supporters, have gathered more than half the signatures needed to make next November’s ballot in all 50 states. And while the group is quick to criticize calcified hardliners on both sides of the aisle, they are particularly critical of the sitting president.
“Democrats suspect that Americans Elect, with its self-described appeal to the ‘socially liberal, fiscally conservative’ part of the spectrum, will pull more votes from Obama than from the GOP nominee,” MacGillis reports. “And they can hardly be reassured by the anti-Obama pedigree of some of those behind Americans Elect, including pollster Douglas Schoen, a so-called ‘Fox News Democrat,’ and Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who famously dismissed Obama as an ‘elitist’ after the 2008 primaries.”
Source: The New Republic
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Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:55 PM
Playing off of Elizabeth Warren’s widely publicized quote about taxes (see picture above), the editors at The New Republic take the argument one step further, making a moral case for paying them. Their defense of taxation hinges on two arguments. “The first is distributional,” write the editors. “A civilized society recognizes [that capitalism will create losers as well as winners, often because of forces beyond any individual’s control] and vows to mitigate” that problem. “The second reason we need taxes isn’t about the least fortunate; it’s about public goods.” This is the point Warren made, and the editors at TNR make the same point, asking, “Could Bill Gates have made his fortune without government-financed education and technology?”
It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to taxes. Even the most liberal among us may scoff at their property taxes from year to year. The New Republic’s editorial is a good reminder that, indeed, “Taxes are an act of citizenship. We should all be proud to pay them.”
Source: The New Republic (article only available to subscribers)
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:20 PM
The nuclear industry is teaching its vision of a bright nuclear future to schoolchildren by offering teachers free guides that extol “the beneficial uses of radiation,” The New Republic reports. The guides are the marketing brainchild of the EnergySolutions Foundation, the charitable arm of a large nuclear-waste processor, and they’ve been doled out to eager recipients including the Mississippi Department of Education.
Among the materials for sixth- to 12th-graders is a trivia game that points out the ecological destruction wrought by wind towers (bird killers!) and solar farms (desert destruction!). One video game in the works by EnergySolutions “revolves around a broken-down reactor buried in the jungle,” according to The New Republic. Presumably, the possible outcomes do not include slow, excruciating death by radiation poisoning or cancer.
Industry-funded school propaganda initiatives have a decades-old history, the magazine points out—“but they’re making a comeback as the once-moribund nuclear industry gears up for a revival.”
If you’re not outraged yet, you may be when you find out that government is getting into the act, too, using our taxpayer dollars. The New Republic also reports that the U.S. Department of Energy has updated a pro-nuclear curriculum called the Harnessed Atom, which it will be promoting in schools nationwide, and its website hosts an interactive, animated city called Neutropolis where nuclear power is cool, fun, safe, and secure.
“We’re always looking for new ways to reach kids,” EnergySolutions’ executive director, Pearl Wright, tells TNR about the firm’s educational efforts.
They might want to be aware that such efforts can backfire, too. One natural-gas firm tried to cozy up to the kids with a coloring-book dinosaur called the Friendly Frackosaurus, only to pull it after the creature was incisively satirized by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report last month. And earlier this year, the schoolbook publisher Scholastic severed its ties with the coal industry after a host of organizations criticized a fourth-grade pro-coal energy curriculum that had been paid for by the American Coal Foundation.
In the meantime, the schoolchildren near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have also been learning a lot about nuclear energy lately—but for them, the scary part hasn’t been edited out.
UPDATE 8/19/2011: It’s not just energy companies that are getting into the curriculum-revision game. California Watch reports that the plastics industry edited the state’s new 11th-grade environmental curriculum to put a more positive spin on plastic bags.
Source: The New Republic
(full article available only to subscribers), DeSmog Blog, Grist, New York Times, California Watch
Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer
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Monday, July 11, 2011 12:19 PM
Last week I wrote a post about what Alison Kilkenny at The Nation has called “the era of the one-sided compromise,” questioning whether the Republican party, both at the state and national levels, could actually compromise on a budget deal that included some sort of new tax revenue. My conclusion was no, they wouldn’t be able to. Which is exactly what played out over the weekend, as Jonathan Cohn writes at The New Republic:
As you have probably heard by now, House Speaker John Boehner on Saturday evening informed President Obama that he was no longer interested in pursuing a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction. It was a major turning point in the debate. For the past week, Obama has made clear that he hoped to use ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling to put in place a massive, potentially historic deal to reorder the nation’s spending priorities – a deal that would reduce deficits by as much as $4 trillion cumulatively over the next decade.
This abandonment by Boehner has left Cohn, like so many of us, wondering, “Does anything matter to Republicans more than protecting tax cuts for the very wealthy?” Cohn points out that any “grand bargain” that could have been reached as a result of the current debate would “reflect Republican priorities far more than Democratic ones,” including cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In other words, the stuff that matters to one side would be represented far more than the stuff that matters to the other. Still, the Republicans can’t stomach the idea of the Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest expiring next year.
Cohn sees Boehner’s willingness to negotiate as genuine and writes, “For what it's worth, I’ve actually gained some respect for Boehner…[he] was genuinely interested in negotiating a deal even if that meant agreeing to some compromises, albeit pretty modest ones from my perspective.” However, he acknowledges that Boehner’s not really in charge of the House Republican caucus. “The lunatics are,” he writes. “And it looks like they’ve won.”
And while the consensus seems to be shifting somewhat that the Republicans’ inability to touch their no-new-taxes sacred cow is actually the culprit for negotiations breaking down, Jonathan Chait recognizes a failure on the part of the media in reporting on this issue:
The other thing to add is that this demonstrates a fact that media centrists have failed to grasp for months: the impediment to a balanced (or even heavily rightward-tilting) deficit plan isn't "both parties." It's Republicans. Democrats may not like the idea of cutting entitlements, but their objections don't come close to matching the GOP's theological opposition to tax increases.
Source: The New Republic
Image by Enter The Story, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011 1:52 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best political coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
The American Conservative
was founded in 2002 as a counterweight to the neocon fervor of the George W. Bush presidency, espousing what it calls “traditional conservatism.” Opening it is like a trip to a parallel universe where right-leaning thinkers can be against war, imperialism, and civil liberties abuses, even while espousing many tenets of social and fiscal conservatism.
The American Prospect
reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy.
A dark horse among its peers, Dissentsubverts politics-as-usual with a cogent blend of rigorous intellectualism and snarky radicalism. Eschewing partisan ideologies, this insightful quarterly never fails to “dissent from the bleak atmosphere of conformism that pervades the political and intellectual life in the United States.”
Bureaucratic crooks and market-wrangling fat cats, beware. You’re under surveillance by the unblinking (and unsympathetic) eye of In These Times. A tireless champion of the oppressed, forgotten, and ignored, the progressive magazine combines meticulous reporting, fierce cultural criticism, rock star writers, and staunch independence.
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle.
A vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, The Nationweighs in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend toward the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real.
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also of their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway.
is more than 100 years old, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Tuesday, February 08, 2011 12:43 PM
Literature, at its pinnacle, strives to reflect the human condition, but it much more often reflects the male condition. At least that’s the conclusion of The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin, who crunched some numbers on whose books are being published, whose tomes are chosen for review, and who’s penning the critiques when they hit the shelves. Franklin found that our litterateurs and cultural arbiters are overwhelmingly male; only about one-quarter of literary books published are written by women. She breaks down her findings:
We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. Discarding the books that were unlikely to get reviewed—self-help, cooking, art—we tallied up how many were by men and how many were by women. Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.
Unfortunately—and surprisingly—Franklin found that independent and small-run publishers are just as skewed as the bigger publishing houses. “I speculated,” writes Franklin,
that independents—more iconoclastic, publishing more work in translation, and perhaps less focused on the bottom line—would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. Granted, these presses publish a smaller number of books in total, so a difference in one or two books has a larger effect on their percentages. Still, their numbers are dismaying. Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? It pains me to say it, because Dalkey Archive Press publishes some great books that are ignored by the mainstream houses. But it would be nice if more than 10 percent of them were by women.
Literary gender disparity, by Franklin’s reckoning, seems to be systemic: the fewer books published with female authors, the fewer books with female authors critically appraised in the press. VIDA, a group that studies gender in contemporary literary arts, charted gender trends in book review sections of magazines and newspapers. Look at Harper’s, Granta, The New York Times Book Review, or even Franklin’s home publication The New Republic, and the stats are depressingly similar. Most that VIDA tabulated from have a similar 2:1 ratio of male to female authors—both as reviewers and as subjects. Franklin even checked her own scorecard and found that only 33 percent of the books she wrote about were written by women.
“As a member of third-wave feminism, growing up in the 1970s and ’80s,” Franklin reflects, “I was brought up to believe we lived in a meritocracy, where the battles had been fought and won, with the spoils left for us to gather. It is sobering to realize that we may live and work in a world still held in the grip of unconscious biases, no less damaging for their invisibility.”
The New Republic
Image courtesy of VIDA.
Monday, February 07, 2011 11:55 AM
Cookbooks are hot sellers these days: Americans bought more than 60 million of them in 2010, a 9 percent increase over 2009. But how many people are using them to, you know, cook food? Kelly Alexander at The New Republic has her doubts about some of these glossy tomes, noting that Momofuku whiz-chef David Chang’s new cookbook sometimes leaves out crucial details and routinely aims way over the heads of its audience.
“The recipes are impossible for even an accomplished home cook to prepare on a busy weeknight,” writes Alexander, noting that a recipe for pork buns simply “doesn’t work” and another “calls for the cook to boil a pig’s head and recommends removing the hairy patches with a blowtorch.”
Alexander also singles out for criticism the new cookbook by René Redzepi, a Nordic cuisine hotshot, that calls for a “part food processor, part crock pot” device called the Thermomix that’s unavailable in the United States.
Even foodies who are actually willing to try challenging recipes are noticing that the exotica factor is sometimes just too much. In the latest issue of The Art of Eating, reviewer Jarrett Wrisley is generally complimentary to the $60, 372-page, photograph-packed new cookbook Thai Street Food by David Thompson, but he notes:
Cooking your way through this book could be difficult, especially if you’re far from an Asian market. Occasionally it calls for prep work impossible in the Western kitchen, such as fashioning a barbecue brush out of the leaves of a pandanus plant. And if you use canned coconut milk rather than freshly pressed or if you fail to strain your own tamarind pulp from the dried fruit, you’ll likely disappoint the man behind the words.
Mr. Thompson, prepare to be disappointed.
Ultimately, The New Republic’s Alexander surmises, many of these photo-rich, detail-starved books are more about flaunting one’s gastro-adventurism than anything else:
The popularity of these modern manuals is only tenuously connected to the practice of preparing food for people to eat. It has become common for folks who work in the world of food to brag that they read cookbooks “like novels.” Cookbooks have become objects of kitchen, coffee table, and nightstand décor, in which useful information has been displaced by close-ups of pornographic-looking turnips.
Sources: The New Republic (subscription required), The Art of Eating (article not available online)
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Thursday, January 20, 2011 11:22 AM
On the heels of Utne’s Work Package in our latest issue, Boston Review has a forum on the possibilities for full employment in today’s economy.
Who says that wind power needs to come from turbines? Introducing: fibro-wind arrays.
In what may be the most important piece of news this week, Paul the Psychic Octopus’ soccer-predicting legacy will not be forgotten.
From Guernica: Detroitism: What does “ruin porn” tell us about the motor city?
A visual number crunching of the state of modern-day marriage. There’s nothing like graphs and pretty pictures to get the point across.
The New Republic’s art critic on the state of photojournalism.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 5:30 PM
MIT chooses Facebook over poetry…and one student is pissed. (Thanks, Harriet.)
If Obama won’t defend big government, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic will.
Flavorpill takes on The Guardian’s claim that essential books have disappeared from our culture, citing The Road, Infinite Jest, White Teeth, and more.
The mad scientist at The Burger Lab investigates the case of the McDonald’s hamburger that refused to die, and we’ll be damned if that burger doesn’t look as good at twelve as it did the day it was born!
Ever wonder what Elvira, August Kleinzahler, Mos Def, or the dudes from the Black Keys might buy on a trip to the record store? The site’s kind of cheesy, but Amoeba Music’s “What’s in Your Bag?” feature is terrific fun.
Steve McCurry, the legendary travel and war photographer, has a blog, and it’s full of his typically lovely and harrowing images.
Lit nerds represent! An abecedarium of book titles.
Out of Print Clothing: Wear your Favorite Book!
Can you still call it a library if there are no books?
Bet you never heard of Maggot Monets. The Scientist reports that a Southeastern Louisiana University researcher uses art made by maggots to attract students to the field of forensic entomology.
Friday, October 29, 2010 11:36 AM
"I’m not a witch."
Kings and sons of God
Travel on their way from here
Calming restless mobs
Easing all of their, all of their fear
Strange times are here
Strange times are here
-The Black Keys
Strange times are indeed here, especially when we step back and take a look at the midterm election cycle of 2010. Here are a few stories that make us a little queasy about the state of the political process.
If the following are any indication, then apparently there is no room for peaceful assembly or freedom of the press this go-around: MoveOn.org volunteer Lauren Valle had her head stomped on by Rand Paul supporter Tim Profitt at a Paul rally. And Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger was detained by “security agents” working for U.S. Senate Republican nominee Joe Miller for doing that thing those pesky journalists always want to do: ask questions.
Then there’s the Iowa Republican Platform, which pretty much wants to abolish all parts of government except, presumably, themselves. Who knows, maybe they do want to get rid of themselves. In which case there may be more common ground out there than we think.
Speaking of crazy, The New Republic has an article called “Year of the Nutjob” that highlights the candidates vying for the Maddest Hatter at our current national Tea Party.
Hey, did you ever think you’d live to see the day when you’d hear about a candidate for Congress dressing up like a Nazi or a campaign ad that begins “I’m not a witch”? Well, that day’s here and so are you! Thank your lucky stars.
The nice folks over at The Christian Science Monitor have come up with a way for you to waste at least ten minutes of your work day: It’s “The 10 weirdest political ads of 2010”! These range from frightening to just plain old entertaining. And you got sheep, Chuck Norris, and Auto-Tune. Looking at that line-up, maybe this election season wasn’t all bad.
Ok, that’s enough. You can get sucked down a wormhole looking into this tomfoolery. Let us know some of the weirder stories from Election 2010 that we didn’t include here.
Source: New York, Alaska Dispatch, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor
Friday, October 08, 2010 3:56 PM
Science fiction has long been a safe harbor for extreme politics. From Robert A. Heinlein’s amphetamine-jacked libertarian utopias, to Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic conservation-centric future history of Mars, to Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin’s radical feminism, alternate universes have been an effective place to voice fringe positions. Some key conservatives have even been using pulp apocalyptic thrillers to advocate for increased military spending and weapons-defense research, reports The New Republic. On the other side of things, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now looking to sci-fi novels to plan its future battles for individual freedom.
“In the aftermath of September 11, when the government was expanding its surveillance powers and preparing for an invasion of Afghanistan, the ACLU began gaming out worst-case scenarios of civil-liberties violations,” writes Adam Serwer in The American Prospect. “With both science and surveillance on his mind, a policy analyst named Jay Stanley decided that the ACLU needed to be better prepared for threats to liberty that, at the time, existed only in the imagination.”
Stanley published a report called Technology, Liberties, and The Future that drew inspiration from sci-fi novels and movies like Gattaca, Brave New World, and Blade Runner to predict the next affront to civil liberties—many of which, Stanley predicts, will likely come not from an authoritarian government, but from the private sector. According to Serwer, “Stanley's report successfully convinced the ACLU leadership that these plots were rooted in science as much as fiction.”
The American Prospect, The New Republic
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010 2:15 PM
There’s nothing like another round of elections in the U.S. to rekindle one’s nostalgia for the rough wisdom of Henry Louis Mencken.
Last night, after reading The New Republic’s “Year of the Nutjob,” which would be funny if it weren’t so appalling, I pulled a copy of Mencken’s Prejudices from the shelf and opened it to a random page. I long ago learned that this exercise—and it really doesn’t matter which Mencken collection you choose—virtually never fails to provide both uncannily up-to-date perspective and a queasy reminder of how little has changed in American politics in the last ninety or so years.
There are, of course, a lot of Mad Hatters at our current national Tea Party, but The New Republic spotlights nine especially brain-boggling candidates (including Minnesota’s own procreative gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer) for the Maddest Hatter crown.
As you peruse that scary bit of business, I’d encourage you to keep in mind these random observations on “the normal Americano” from Mencken’s 1922 essay “On Being An American”:
The mob-man cannot grasp ideas in their native nakedness. They must be dramatized and personalized for him, and provided with either white wings or forked tails.
He is a violent nationalist and a patriot, but he admires rogues in office and always beats the tax collector if he can.
He is intensely and cocksurely moral, but his morality and his self-interest are virtually identical.
He is violently jealous of what he conceives to be his rights, but brutally disregardful of the other fellow’s.
All of which can be boiled down to this: that the United States is essentially a commonwealth of third-rate men.
Extra credit: Here’s a typically strange, rambling portrait of Tom Emmer from The Awl.
Source: The New Republic
Image by brownpau, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 21, 2010 2:13 PM
Because the family’s crops choked in the Dust Bowl, the Joads defaulted on their loans and watched as the bank repossessed their homestead—so begins John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. Following their dreams, their desperation, and a steady stream of equally down-trodden farmers, the Joads left Oklahoma for a new, uncertain life in California.
The promise of a decent job—or at least a decent chance at one—can push families across the country. So where do we go when the economy has thrown us a few stiff jabs?
2008 was a tumultuous year—undoubtedly because of the popped real-estate bubble, the hyperventilating automobile industry and general economic hysteria. Forbes has turned new IRS data into a distracting map that plots where people moved in 2008 and the average amount of money they made that year.
The map plots when people are leaving a county with red lines, with thicker lines signifying a stronger net migration. And as you might expect, Detroit looks like an open wound in the middle of the country. People also escaped Miami and Los Angeles, places where the housing crisis was most severe.
It turns out, the Pacific Northwest is a people-magnet—particularly, Seattle. Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas drew enough people to possibly warrant four additional seats in Congress for Texas, according to The New Republic.
Back home in Minneapolis, we had fairly balanced inward and outward migration, as well as interesting income redistribution. For example, 93 people moved from Broward County, Fla. (home of Fort Lauderdale) to Hennepin County (Minneapolis) and their average income was $63,000. On the other hand, 76 people moved from Minneapolis to Broward County, but their average income was $33,700. At the same time, 715 people left Minneapolis for Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix-area) with an average income of $160,000—the 492 who made the opposite journey averaged a $55,700 income.
Sources: Forbes, The New Repbulic
Image from The Grapes of Wrath trailer, in the public domain.
Friday, June 18, 2010 3:12 PM
If the BP oil spill were a practice drill for an even larger environmental disaster—say, out-of-control climate change—our society and particularly our leaders have failed the drill with their ineffective response. Bradford Plumer of The New Republic describes what “absolutely terrifies” him about the spill:
What’s especially unnerving … is that the recklessness that helped bring about the spill, and the political reaction that followed, seem to indicate a larger inability to prevent and cope with other large-scale ecological catastrophes—particularly climate change. … With both the oil spill and climate change, there seems to be a lingering sense that technology can come along and save us if things ever get too ominous. … And yet, as we’ve seen with the flailing cleanup efforts in the Gulf, there’s not always a technological solution. Nature, once despoiled, can’t always be fixed. Sometimes disaster strikes and there’s simply nothing we (or even James Cameron) can do. What’s more, when dealing with complex ecological systems, quick fixes can often make the situation worse. The chemical dispersants that BP is using to break up the surface oil could end up wreaking havoc on the food chain on the seafloor—no one really knows. Likewise, we have little idea about whether those wacky geoengineering schemes could end up, say, disrupting rainfall patterns around the globe.
Source: The New Republic
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 3:28 PM
Are Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann good news for women in politics? Writing for The New Republic, Michelle Cottle makes an awfully interesting argument:
When you think GOP rock star, who leaps to mind? Eric Cantor? Mitch McConnell? Mitt Romney? Michael Steele? Please. These guys aren’t exactly thrilling the masses . . . . Instead, it’s pugilistic lasses Palin, Bachmann, and increasingly, Liz Cheney who are channeling—and fueling—the passions of the base with their in-your-face conservatism.
On one level, I find this trend disturbing. On another, I cannot help but be impressed by—and even a bit grateful to—these conservative girls gone wild. Say what you will about their ideology; these angry female fringe-dwellers are arguably doing more than anyone to tear down some of the most tiresome stereotypes about women in politics.
You know what I’m talking about: Every few years someone writes a book, publishes a study, or simply drops a quote suggesting what a kinder, gentler, less competitive, more collaborative, less power-crazed, and fundamentally more ethical place Washington would be if only the gals were in charge. . . .
As gross generalizations go, this is, perhaps, more flattering than the one about women being too soft-hearted and weak-kneed to lead. But it’s still largely B.S.
Source: The New Republic (excerpt only available online)
Monday, April 19, 2010 2:54 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25, at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C., and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of political coverage.
The American Prospect reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy. www.prospect.org
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending the day’s political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle. www.motherjones.com
Ms. has been at the forefront of feminist politics since 1972. In 2009 the editors shone light on a host of pressing issues, including the Obama administration’s abortion policies and the need for domestic workers’ rights. Featuring journalism that provokes action, this quarterly loves a righteous fight. www.msmagazine.com
The Nation has been a vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, weighing in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend against the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real. www.thenation.com
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway. www.tnr.com
The Progressive turned 100 last year, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers. www.progressive.org
With hard-hitting reports on immigration, life on the border, education, prisons, and social justice issues, The Texas Observer has carved out a niche worth celebrating. Its unmatched reportage and analysis kneecaps those who traffic in malfeasance, corruption, and injustice. www.texasobserver.org
Washington Monthly forged ahead of the mainstream on many issues this year, from textbook revisionism in Texas to the subprime student loan racket, making it a must-read beyond the Beltway. Its reporting is unimpeachable, its analysis sound, and its reputation for sagacity well earned. www.washingtonmonthly.com
Want more? Meet our international, health and wellness, spirituality, and science and technology nominees.
Thursday, March 11, 2010 11:09 AM
This quote is lifted from an article by New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins, writing in The New Republic. Filkins dismisses the unnamed official's dismal take on Afghanistan war policy: “Things aren't that desperate.” After reading his piece, The American Awakening, I'm having a hard time locating the source of his optimism.
The image above is part of the new Thousand Yard Stare war postcard series. If you want to turn it in to a postcard you can do so from the Utne Reader Flickr page.
Source: The New Republic
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Image by the Department of Defense and funded by your tax dollars.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 3:37 PM
Barack Obama’s administration has not yet passed a health care bill. Nor has it passed a climate change bill. Nor has it closed Guantanamo Bay. There is, however, one progressive issue where the Obama administration has been extremely productive: regulation.
Under previous Republican administrations, John B. Judis reports for the New Republic that the alphabet soup of federal regulation agencies—the EPA, OSHA, SEC, FCC, and others—were systematically dismantled. Industry representatives were chosen to regulate the industries they represented, and budgets were strategically cut. Obama is turning the tide, appointing actual regulators and increasing funding, even in the midst of the recession. “In doing so,” Judis writes, “he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century.”
Source: The New Republic
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 4:36 PM
Both CBS and CNN sent about 50 staffers to Haiti in the wake of the recent earthquake. Fox sent 25. ABC, NPR, newspapers, websites, and other media outlets all sent their own reporters and photographers, too. Meanwhile, nurses and search-and-rescue teams were stranded in the United States—ready and waiting to help the Haitian relief effort—unable to get there because of transportation bottlenecks. Once in the country, reporters need to find places to stay, supplies for their reportage, and places to eat. Based on admittedly anecdotal evidence, Noam Scheiber writes in the New Republic that these media personalities inevitably raise the price of goods, occupy valuable places to stay, and take resources away from the Haitian relief effort.
And the journalism that has emerged from the army of media that has descended upon Haiti has been largely redundant. To curb the deluge of media personalities, Scheiber suggests the creation of a “disaster pool” of reporters, who would share their reportage with all the major networks. Just as with White House coverage, where a single interview is often used by many news outlets, smaller teams of reporters could be sent to disaster-stricken areas to cover the story for multiple networks. The news is still broadcast throughout the world, and more resources go where they’re really needed.
Source: The New Republic
Image by Nehrams2020, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 21, 2009 3:33 PM
Remember when the U.S. military first started talking about their "smart bombs"? It was as though these bombs could float into the bad guy's living room, slide up next to him on his couch, and end his life without so much as a tilted picture frame as evidence. It seemed to make supporting war easier. Suddenly war was smarter.
There's a new fad in smart warfare, and it's called "counterinsurgency." In a piece on the "cult of counterinsurgency" for The New Republic, Michael Crowley quotes from an Army manual: "Counterinsurgency is not just thinking man’s warfare—it is the graduate level of war."
This "thinking man's warfare" was at the heart of the surge in Iraq and is central to Obama's surge in Afghanistan. The result: There has been excessive network news face time for America's counterinsurgency experts. Crowley writes about a recent appearance by Lt. Colonel John Nagl of the Center for New American Security on Rachel Maddow's show:
Had someone like Bill Kristol given that same assessment of Obama’s speech, Maddow might have tarred him as a bloodthirsty proponent of endless war. Which is why Nagl is one of the administration’s most important allies as it tries to sell the United States on a renewed commitment to Afghanistan.
...With the authority of a man who has worn a uniform in combat, and the intellectual heft of a Rhodes Scholar, he has helped to persuade many liberals that pursuing a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is the only viable path to success.
Michael Cohen of the New America Foundation isn't buying it. He tells The New Republic, "Even the Iraq surge caused a dramatic increase in civilian casualties from airstrikes."
Most Americans never hear about the collateral damage from the bombings that accompanied the surge of ground troops in Iraq. In fact, the only thing most people ever hear from counterinsurgency boosters is that the surge was a success in Iraq .
"Some contrarian military thinkers that the story is far more complicated," writes Crowley. "It's not clear that the Sunnis needed our encouragement to turn on Al Qaeda, for instance, and ethnic cleansing may have burned itself out." These holes in the success-of-the-surge narrative have been largely ignored in the national discussion about Obama's strategy in Afghanistan.
One military man who isn't preaching the gospel of counterinsurgency is Colonel Gian Gentile, who tells The New Republic: "I think history shows that if a nation is going to try this kind of military method—population-centric counterinsurgency, which is also nation building—it doesn’t happen in a couple of years. It’s a generational commitment."
If there is a generational commitment to anything, it's to a future of counterinsurgent warfare around the globe. Exhibit A: the latest Pentagon budget, which, Crowley writes, shifts "billions of dollars away from high-tech weapons systems designed for fighting a great power like China, toward equipment like aerial drones and armored personnel carriers."
Colonel Gentile is adamant: This shift is a mistake. "Sometimes strategy demands restraint instead of military adventures," he writes at the Foreign Policy website. "As much as we want to define populations as ... subject to our manipulation and management ... they are not to be 'changed' for the better at the barrel of an American gun."
Source: The New Republic (article not yet available online), Foreign Policy
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Image by the Department of Defense.
Sunday, December 20, 2009 9:38 PM
“How could anyone be against transparency?” Lawrence Lessig asks in The New Republic. “Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious.” Yet the law and technology expert proposes one provocative downside—that “the naked transparency movement . . . will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.” While speaking positively about the majority of transparency initiatives, Lessig sees trouble brewing with those intended to reveal influence and corruption, on account of “the problem of attention-span”:
“To understand something—an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence—requires a certain amount of attention,” he writes. “But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand many of these correlations, and their defamatory implications, is almost always less than the amount of time required. The result is a systemic misunderstanding—at least if the story is reported in a context, or in a manner, that does not neutralize such misunderstanding. The listing and correlating of data hardly qualifies as such a context.”
In other words: Bits and pieces of data make insinuations: smudges that will stick whether or not they accurately reflect the whole story, whether or not they’re refuted down the line. The alternative, of course, is not a return to obfuscation—but the issue does present an intriguing challenge for transparency advocates.
Source: The New Republic
Image by altemark, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 17, 2009 2:39 PM
Many of the most revered love stories involve people taking huge risks and enduring pain and suffering in the name of love. It makes for nice stories, but it’s not a blueprint for enduring love, according to renowned law and philosophy professor Martha Nussbaum in The New Republic. In a review of the new book A Vindication of Love, Nussbaum writes that people probably should take more risks, but love is not increased by the pain and suffering that lovers are forced to endure.
“It is certainly possible that in America in our own era we are seeing a rising tide of risk aversion,” Nussbaum writes. Students seem more calculating in matters of the heart than they were in the 1960s and 70s. In that sense, Nussbaum believes that, “one should be willing to incur risk for the sake of a deep and valuable love.” At the same time, a person shouldn’t move from risk-aversion directly into the grandiose, “crashingly obvious” expressions of love that are so often intertwined with expressions of pain and suffering. Nussbaum writes, “The idea that love is improved by suffering and loss is an adolescent view,” and one best left to Romeo and Juliet.
Source: The New Republic
Friday, September 04, 2009 12:15 PM
Iranian bloggers who went online to protest the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owe a debt of gratitude to the spiritual dissident group, the Falun Gong, according to Eli Lake in The New Republic.
Falun Gong practitioners working with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium were instrumental in developing an anti-censorship tool called Freegate, which was designed to hide internet activity from the watchful eye of the Chinese government. All mentions of the Falun Gong are heavily censored in China, because, Lake reports, “the Chinese government views the Falun Gong almost the way the United States views Al Qaeda.”
Iranian internet users were able to use the software for a short time to protest the disputed election results, until the tool’s popularity in Iran overwhelmed the group’s servers and they were forced to shut it down.
Freegate is not the only tool that dissidents use to skirt censorship on the web. Lake also mentions the software Tor, profiled in the September-October issue of Utne Reader, an anti-censorship program that is funded in part by the U.S. government. The Falun Gong has urged the United States to fund Freegate, too, but support has not been forthcoming.
As good as programs like Freegate and Tor are at stymieing government censorship, China, Iran, Russia, and other countries are working feverishly on technology to fight back. Lake writes, “the race to beat the Internet censors is a central battle in the global struggle for democracy—a cat-and-mouse game where the fate of regimes could rest in no small measure on the work of the Falun Gong and others who write programs to circumvent Web censorship.”
Source: The New Republic
, licensed under
Thursday, August 20, 2009 10:43 AM
NBC’s reality show “The Wanted” trails the hunt for war criminals living normal lives, but lately has done more to unearth the complexities of the genocide in Rwanda and the political motivations that inform its reconciliation process.
The Rwandan government has been working closely with the show’s producer, Charlie Ebersol, to capture U.S. professor Leopold Munyakazi for his alleged role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, reports Andrew Rice in the New Republic.
Munyakazi, who claims he was a terrified bystander, sought asylum in the U.S. after he was released from a Rwandan prison. He has since become a very public critic of Kagame’s Rwanda, where reconciliation between perpetrators and survivors is virtually mandated and tough laws against “divisionism” have been enacted.
Rwandan prosecutors have urged the U.S. to return Munyakazi to no avail. “Then, last year, a new possibility arose, one that would allow Rwanda to make its case directly to the American people—on television,” writes the New Republic.
The New Republic
Thursday, July 09, 2009 4:52 PM
The U.S. Senate’s inflexible adherence to a 220-year-old rule—that senators must be physically present to vote—has kept under-the-weather senators Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy from casting a good deal of votes in this Congress (which, in turn, is keeping Democrats from obtaining a true filibuster-proof majority). Perhaps it's time to revisit the rule and allow senators to vote remotely under certain circumstances, as Jason Zengerle argues convincingly in The New Republic.
“Why, in this day and age of teleconference and videoconference and now even telepresence technologies, do senators need to be physically present to cast votes anyway?” Zengerle asks.
He’s not suggesting that senators should start working from home full-time; remote voting should be a “carefully regulated privilege,” he writes, with a series of safeguards to ensure that it is "safe, legal, and fair."
“After all, if Will.i.am can analyze the presidential election by hologram on CNN, isn't it about time Ted Kennedy be allowed to vote by videoconference on the Senate floor?”
Source: The New Republic
Image by Andres Rueda, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:18 PM
This morning, Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here’s a quick look at the blogosphere’s reactions so far.
Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog has an informative, balanced, and calm overview of Sotomayor’s qualifications, as well as a helpful warning about the controversy that’s already stirring:
Because proponents’ and opponents’ claims about nominees are provided for public consumption through the mass media, they involve bumper sticker messages; there is not much nuance. Almost always, they collapse into assertions of ideological extremism, as when some on the left attempted to portray John Roberts as a (secret) ideologue and single-minded tool of the government and corporations against individuals.
SCOTUSblog has also assembled a very helpful series of posts (here, here, and here) summarizing Sotomayor’s opinions in civil cases.
Mark Halperin predicts an easy confirmation at Time’s blog:
Obama has chosen a mainstream progressive, rather than a wild-eyed liberal. And he has chosen a rags-to-riches Hispanic woman. Her life story is inspirational—a political consultant's dream. Since she is certain to be confirmed, there are plenty of smart conservatives who will, by midday Tuesday, have done the political cost-benefit analysis: at a time when Republicans are trying to demonstrate that their party can reach beyond rich white men, what mileage is there in doing anything but celebrating such a historic choice?
At Mother Jones, David Corn parses the potential for a conservative “cat-fight”:
By selecting Sotomayor, Obama is forcing Senate GOPers to choose between attacking a Hispanic appointee (and possibly alienating Hispanic voters) and ticking off social conservatives. At the moment, the GOPers' calculation seems obvious. But it could come at a cost of a cat-fight on the right.
We have some hints of what the battle over Sotomayor’s nomination might look like because, as Steve Benen notes at the Washington Monthly, “many leading far-right activists—including Limbaugh and Fox News personalities—started the offensive against her weeks ago.”
It’s worth noting that they did so with help from the so-called “respectable intellectual center,” in the form of Jeffrey Rosen’s May 4 piece for The New Republic, “The Case Against Sotomayor.” The article, which has been debated and debunked by several bloggers, used mostly anonymous sources to paint a pretty negative picture of Sotomayor’s intellect, temperament, and general preparedness for the Supreme Court. As Jason Linkins puts it at Huffington Post, Rosen essentially characterized Sotomayor as “a not-smart person who nevertheless went to Princeton, and a hotheaded Latina whose ethnic hotheadedness seemingly carried none of the accepted, value-added ethnic hotheadedness of Antonin Scalia.”
Rosen’s unsubstantiated characterizations of Sotomayor rapidly spread to mainstream media outlets. Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:
[T]he meme couldn't be contained. It resurfaced less than a week later in two Washington Post articles and has colored today's coverage of the nomination, and of all cable news coverage of the SCOTUS stakes for the past month.
It’s definitely showing up in the post-nomination right-wing blogs, too. “Conservatives rejoice,” writes Erick Erickson at RedState. “Of all the picks Obama could have picked, he picked the most intellectually shallow.” At National Review’s The Corner blog, Ramesh Ponnuru deems Sotomayor “Obama’s Harriet Miers.”
Adam Serwer dismantles this ridiculous comparison in an excellent post at The American Prospect:
Sotomayor's resume doesn't just look good compared to Harriet Miers. Sotomayor has more than 10 years on the appeals court—by contrast, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, had two years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit before being nominated. As a white man, however, his credentials and intelligence are beyond reproach.
A case against Sotomayor based on her "credentials" or "intelligence" is false on its face—this is a kind of Southern Strategy all over again. By stoking white resentment over the rise of allegedly unqualified minorities getting prominent positions, the GOP is hoping to derail her nomination. It probably won't work, but it's another sign of how little the GOP learned from last year's election.
Sources: SCOTUSblog, Time, Mother Jones, Washington Monthly, The New Republic, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, RedState, National Review, The American Prospect
Monday, April 06, 2009 2:46 PM
What to do with policy recommendations “too crazy conservative” for even the Heritage Foundation? The New Republic has an idea: Heritage Foundation RAW, where members feast on meat-and-potatoes breakfasts while advancing an “outlandishly reactionary platform in a room so smoke-filled it is said that members can only identify each other by their hacking coughs.”
HFRAW is just one organization brought to life in “The Lesser Known Think Tanks of Washington,” a satirical jaunt for politics geeks penned by screenwriter Yoni Brenner. Also of note: the Council for Innovative Alliance (“A liberal, international-minded body dedicated to matching countries that have no political disputes or shared interests but just might get along”) and the Def Jam Think Tank (“credited for introducing the adjective ‘weezy’ to Beltway parlance”).
Source: The New Republic
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:13 AM
The old joke is never put two economists in the same room if you want to know how the economy is doing. But what if you want to know how Timothy Geithner is doing? On Monday the Treasury Secretary unveiled his plan for a private/public partnership to buy up bad loans, in the hopes of getting money to flow from banks to the public once again. While mainstream media focuses on Wall Street’s reaction to Geithner, here are a few alternative sources:
The Hotline provides a detailed summary of the reaction to Geithner’s plan from both the liberal and conservative blogosphere.
Recent reports labeling Geithner as “embattled” or “beleaguered” have Christopher Beam over at Slate wondering if our Treasury Secretary will either resign or lose his job. “Embattled is one of those words that creeps into news reports,” Beam writes, “when a figure reaches a certain threshold of controversy.”
Mike Madden at Salon thinks that the key to Obama’s successfully selling Geithner’s ideas is to focus attention on the plan, not the man, citing the Treasury Secretary’s pronounced lack of media savvy.
And over at The New Republic, Jonathan Chait wonders why we care whether or not the stock market likes Geithner at all. What’s good for stocks isn’t necessarily what’s good for the economy as a whole. “The fact that the market is rallying doesn't mean [Geithner’s plan] will work,” Chait writes, “it just means that the rich folks think they'll come out ahead.”
Sources: Hotline, Slate, Salon, The New Republic
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 11:36 AM
“People are literally fleeing this place, to date leaving 3000 cars stranded at the airport with keys still in the ignition.”
—David Galbraith, “Goodbye Dubai” from Smashing Telly
“The greatest liberal of our time, I mean Barack Obama, is colluding in one of the worst sins against the liberal order in America, which is the slow death of the American newspaper.”
—Leon Wieseltier, “Washington Diarist” from The New Republic
“In a new place, everything from car horns to doorknobs is fascinating. The shape of public restroom urinals is something I always notice. Every place has urinals, but no place has urinals that look alike.”
—Tom Bissell, “An Interview with Tom Bissell” from Make (not available online)
“It pisses me off when I see people from South America, Australia, Florida, or the Middle East trying to pretend they’re Vikings. I respect Norse mythology—I’m a cosmopolitan person. But you also have a rich culture. Try to celebrate that.
—Ashmedi, “Rocking the Cradle of Civilization” from Bidoun (not available online)
The New Republic
Monday, October 06, 2008 11:01 AM
After the reality of our dismal economic situation hit with full force, the New Republic turned to “some of the most thoughtful people” they know for insight on how the troubled economy will change the country. The short essays bring a big picture perspective to the financial crisis, which is particularly useful to those of us struggling to understand what numbers like $700 billion mean for the future.
Our current situation is being widely compared to the Great Depression, but Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science at Boston College and New Republic contributing editor, says it’s not likely to have the same effect on our political culture:
Too much about the United States has changed over the past few decades for history to come anywhere close to repeating itself. The most important of those changes is that the anger that greeted the Great Depression is of very different quality than the anger apparent now. Seemingly like the 1930s, Americans are denouncing Wall Street. But their hostility is too diffuse and incoherent to help them channel it constructively. The past eight years have seen the enactment of public policies that time after time rewarded lobbyists, increased the wealth and power of the already best off, and redistributed income away from ordinary Americans. Yet by and large Americans accepted all this without protest. Now, all of a sudden, they are speaking like Populists of old, attacking greed and calling for regulation. Their protest, alas, is more symbolic than concrete. As such, we are unlikely to witness blame assigned where it belongs; nor are we apt to see the passage of serious reforms dealing with long-term structural changes in the economy or any diminution of lobbyist influence. A scary economic moment will transform itself back to politics as usual in the blink of an eye.
But Andrew Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, believes the downturn holds important lessons about politics as usual, particularly during the Bush years:
When it comes to statecraft, the chief lessons of the Bush era are these: Arrogance and hubris have revealed the very real limits of American global leadership; recklessness and ineptitude have revealed the limits of American military power; a foolish and self-indulgent unwillingness to live within our means has now made clear the limits--and the fragility--of American prosperity. We may choose to ignore these lessons--neoconservatives will insist upon it--but the consequences of doing so will be severe.
A season of reckoning is upon us. To say that is not to imply that the United States is now condemned to an irreversible downward spiral. It's not. It is, however, time for us to clean up our act and to put our own house in order. When it comes to foreign policy, that means restoring a balance between our commitments and the means that we have at hand to meet those commitments.
... Realism and modesty must become our watchwords.
Lastly, Columbia University provost and history professor Alan Brinkley thinks we could see important, though not fundamental, changes in American politics:
Is this the end of the "end of big government?" Will the right fade into obscurity to be replaced by the long-awaited revival of liberalism or progressivism? I doubt that we will see such a fundamental shift in the polity. But I think it is realistic to hope that the highly ideological politics that have driven our public life now for several decades will give way to a somewhat more pragmatic and realistic approach to our problems.
Look for continuing contributions to this series, which are being posted on the New Republic's blog, the Plank.
Monday, June 23, 2008 9:36 AM
Israel has finally chosen a national bird, 60 years after its founding. (Americans should respect the delay; if we had too hastily selected our own national emblem, we might now have turkeys tattooed on every patriotic bicep.) Israel’s selection process was a feathered frenzy, the New Republic reports, unavoidable in a country that attracts 540 avian species (that’s 500 million specimens) during semi-annual migrations. “We are at the junction of three continents,” says Israeli ornithologist Yossi Leshem. “From a political point of view, this is disastrous, but for birds it is magnificent.”
The bird that ascended to state symbolism is the hoopoe, which served as the messenger between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, according to the New York Times. (The hoopoe is not kosher, Reuters reports, so the national bird won’t face the disgrace of becoming any Jewish citizen’s dinner.) “It’s a good choice, all in all, a gorgeous bird with a crown-like crest,” writes the New Republic. “Any country would be proud to have it on its telephone cards.”
Thursday, April 03, 2008 10:51 AM
Today, I am confessing precisely one sin: I seek out and watch movie trailers. Online—at Apple’s website, at Empire Movies—I find them piled up, ready to go, waiting for me.
The appeal of the movie trailer is simple. Most of them convey an explosively transparent emotional arc, a film in miniature, with music to cue your emotions as you accept a movie’s premise and experience only its dramatic highlights and plot twists, often inter-cut with rhetorical questions (“What if you lost everything?”) presented over a black and otherwise empty screen. With the resounding basso of the movie-trailer-announcer-man, a preview has the potential to make every movie seem incredible, mostly because you don’t see or hear much movie at all; a few facial expressions, a sentence or two of dialogue, and some rousing music all constitute great movie trailers.
Christopher Orr, an editor at the New Republic, has his own peculiar relationship with trailers, though his is less drooling addiction and more beef. He believes that today’s previews ruin movies, mostly by doing just what they do: revealing too many dramatic highlights and plot twists. To prove his point, Orr recently engaged in a little film criticism experiment. First, he reviewed the movie 21—which he dubbed “a slick thriller about card-counting MIT students”—based solely on the details of its trailer. The next day, he reviewed it again after watching the actual movie. Much to his delight, he found his own trailer-review near-complete in grasping 21’s plot and characters. More to the point, Orr’s critical assessment of the movie remained unswayed and un-dented by actually seeing the film. It was still crap, point proven.
But what gives? Sure, I think it could be interesting if more critics took a swing at Orr’s thought experiment, especially since trailers often do contain spoilers. But the before-and-after critique has its faults. First of all, many a bad movie can be sighted from miles, nay, even leagues, away. Mainstream film is homogeneous enough in narrative structure, character development, and thematic content, that busting 21 might be something of a cheap shot, regardless of its entertainment value. Most importantly, though, Orr’s whole shtick admits the obvious: Critics often have little need to actually watch a film in order to write their reviews. Watch the trailer, make a few witty remarks, and that sucker is cooked and ready to file.
(Thanks, Columbia Journalism Review.)
Image by laasB, licensed under Creative Commons.
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