people who regard themselves as journalists came out of this weekend thinking that the main news story on charlottesville is what the president didn't say. this obsession with the presidency and cult of leadership is so stupid on so many levels, but it's also really quite evil. it is a devastating reflection on the personalities of those it holds in its thrall. that's my splicetoday column this week.
The New York Times's "Week in Hate" column has been singularly unimpressive, and is symbolic of the very ideological development of what was once a journalistic operation. It manages to suggest, without directly asserting, a classic post hoc: 'hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump.' In general, it is little more than 'The Week in Right-Wing Graffiti,' and I'm sorry but I am just not that impressed with graffiti as a hate crime, nor am I clear that there's been a big increase even in that, rather than an increase in reporting and coverage. It's supposed to make you think that America is falling apart because of insane Trump supporters, and it also tendentiously associates Trump with white supremacism, anti-semitism, and so on, wherever they may be found. Every swastika on the wall is something the New York Times can use.
Anyway, to my mind it backfires, just because it seems very sporadic and not that bad, etc: someone spray-painted a swastika on a high school; alright, that has never not happened. Maybe spray-painters have been 'emboldened' or 'authorized' by Trump's rhetoric, and so on. That is yet another very squirrely and vague set of associations. If you just think nothing could be more obvious, there's going to be no way to work you out of your ideology, so I'll give up on that. There is real bad shit going on: black sites, torture, walls. And yes, there are high school kids with spray paint.
Say that the Columbine mass shooting happened today rather than in 1999, and they did it on Hitler's birthday, and you found that they were playing around with white supremacism etc in their journals or online. If you were the New York Times, you'd manage to point out over and over that this was happening in the Trump era; your op-ed columnists would ask: "is it connected to Trump's hateful rhetoric?" Only an evil fool could doubt that for a second. Charles Blow's columns would go like this: 'I'm not saying he has the blood of those children on his hands, but he does.' You need better reporting, clearer connections, much much more honesty. Time for the editorial staff to take JOURN 101 again.
i'd like to congratulate the washington post on this piece by jenna johnson, who followed trump around all year for them. i do not believe that the nytimes would have been able to do a story like that without sneering continually. i have not felt this in previous cycles, but i think the times's news coverage became profoundly slanted this year, which really discredits the whole operation. the moral urgency of defeating trump swamped their professionalism, their rationality, and their decency. but it is hard to escape the universal attitudes of one's demographic.
the new york times made it impossible for themselves to tell the story of this election, because they dehumanized trump supporters, treated them as monsters or animals or cretins. because the times couldn't tell their story, it couldn't tell the story. for the times, the distinction between the urban bourgeoisie and people living in rural or small-town america looms as a distinction between species. however, i'm not sure which is actually sub-human. but at any rate, one effect of this was to richly confirm exactly what trump was saying about the media, and what people like his supporters have said about the 'elite media' for many years. they became what trump said they were in their opposition to him.
and not only did they confirm that, they confirmed that there is half a nation that they find incomprehensible, or who must be controlled and fixed somehow (maybe the nea can help), or just superseded and excluded. that is, they confirmed the whole picture of the united states as depicted by, say, sarah palin: there is an elite, characterized by a perfect-sat style of mechanical pseudo-intellection, and they want to control us and fix us. and they are no better than us, actually. they certainly more than confirmed that last bit too.
i do know that the times's opinion operation this year was disgusting. i'd single out charles blow and timothy egan as the worst offenders: mechanical, repetitive, thoughtless, and manipulative. what's most pathetic is that the whole thing appeared to be a continual effort to convince times readers not to vote for trump. but times readers obviously were never going to vote for trump. they were talking about trump and his supporters, but only to themselves. they appeared to be arguing with opponents, but in fact the whole discourse was mere group formation and self-congratulation: an attempt to reinforce group cohesion by having a common enemy (=half the nation). like limbaugh or whomever: exactly like that. unlike limbaugh, they did it without flair, like the whole cohort was saying the same sentences in unison, none of which they wrote themselves.
this divide, i predict, is going to grow ever-more extreme, in part precisely because of the constellation of attitudes the times represents and codifies. i think it is likely to eventuate in various forms of violence as well as in a continually useless political system, because the vilification flowing both ways has reached hysterical proportions. the folks out here don't see how someone like timothy egan can be part of the same culture or nation as themselves, nor does timothy egan want to be. nor is he, really. this election was the end of the beginning, not the end, of the crazed partisanship that just might end the united states of america. we will not be coming together. the average guy out here in rural pa is a pretty good guy, actually, but he does not regard himself as belonging to the same nation as people like egan any more than the other way round. and honestly, while i don't share that pretty good guy's politics (well, any more than i do egan's), i'm sticking wherever people like egan, or indeed all the professors of america as well as the bankers, aren't.
i am tempted to wish trump on them; it is less than they deserve.
offhand, i'm going to say that this is the worst op-ed column ever written: opinion journalism after the end. i think new york times op-ed columnists like bruni are also focus-grouping both their views and their phrases and have conceived their task to be exactly that of the clintonian politician: manipulating people to agree with them. in this case, they're manipulating people who already agree with them to agree with them; that seriously seems to be how the times' opinion operation conceives its mission. it's devoted to enhancing its readers' self-esteem by enhancing the self-esteem of its staff. they speak with the collective, contentless voice of a certain class or demographic, chanting incantations in unison. or they've just been annexed by political consultants. there used to be fierce, independent voices in a lot of newspapers.
i think 'frank bruni' is the nom de rien of the same software that writes katy perry's lyrics.
and i'll add this. if you are a tenured professor at an r1 university, or a columnist at the guardian, you are a person of privilege, even if you are black or female. you're going to have to grapple with that fact. if you believe that hillary clinton is sub-altern in virtue of her gender, you are being very disingenuous or very foolish or both. i predict that hillary and/or her surrogates will be portraying her as a victim throughout the general election campaign. they ought to be ashamed.
i'm telling you this is a discovery: someone's going to have to convince me that a more important straight-to-e book has been published.
A great and almost unknown American writer from New Hampshire, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (1794-1846) was the most radical American political voice of the antebellum period. He is also an undiscovered American Transcendentalist, at his best comparable to Emerson and Thoreau. Both men acknowledged Rogers' influence on them, and Thoreau published one of his first essays - collected here - on Rogers' work, recognizing his excellence as both a political and a nature writer. Anti-slavery drove all his thought, and as an abolitionist writer, only Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips are his rivals. Rogers was an anarchist, a pacifist, a feminist, an environmentalist, a religious heretic, an individualist, an anti-capitalist and an advocate of animal rights.
His writings are collected here for the first time since 1849, along with Thoreau's essay "Herald of Freedom" and other materials about Rogers and American radicalism of the early 19th century.
nathaniel rogers was an amazing radical and an amazing writer, and if you want to see someone in 1840 who speaks up for animal rights, against capital punishment, against slavery, against the state, for environmentalism as that came much later to be understood, for indian rights, and so on, and did so with extreme clarity, creativity and vigor, you've got to check this out. he was a decade emerson's senior, and he is a fundamental american transcendentalist.
sorry for no blogging. i'm on a writing project in lisbon, believe it or not, doing an essay for a book on the very wonderful joana vasconcelos.
those giant heels are made from pots and potlids, and are installed here in versailles.
but i am back to blog briefly about the attack on the free speech conference in copenhagen. i fucking hate a totalitarian: anyone who thinks that they should be telling people how to talk or draw or write, or for that matter live. i do not care if you are an islamist, a fascist, a communist: you are all the same. as explicitly as possible you advocate obvious evil. i feel the same though more mildly for more mild versions, like say mainstream left or right politics. try perhaps applying the golden rule or something, or having some kind of rudimentary moral insight, because you are failing in that continually even as you pose as some sort of moralist.
i don't quite tell my mother this - she comes from straight party members - but baby, this is an easy mistake not to make. i don't care if the communist party is the basic alternative to fascism, or for that matter vice versa: you are just making an obvious howler in the most flamboyant possible fashion. your heart, whatever you may think, is not in the right place. give up the desire to subordinate and the desire to be subordinated and we might become a species that deserves to survive. if not, not. (fifty shades of grey might be a shitty novel and film, but it is a good allegory of human political history: a basic explanation of our situation.) also, while you're at it, stop pretending that the realization of your desire to subordinate or to be subordinated is the alternative to us being isolated individuals and so lonely and stuff, that you subordinating me or vice versa is the creation of a shared group identity. or putting it another way, what about the collective? because this argument is gross. it's ill. it couldn't be more obviously disingenuous. we'll come together because we are together and want to be together.
but joana vasconcelos's work is anti-totalitarian; i'll be writing about that.
andrew sullivan is quitting the dish, and ana marie cox (the delightful original wonkette) is basically declaring the blog over as a medium, or whatever 'the blog' may be. i guess i started blogging - right here - around when they did or shortly after (2004). now first of all, burnout is legit. when i started blogging, i was getting tired of writing a weekly op-ed column, and really after i started blogging i realized i wanted to quit that gig, even if i also wanted back on the op-ed page from time to time. i've often taken a month or six weeks off without notice, although at other times i'm posting like mad.
but i've got to say: i fucking love the form, alright? for many reasons. i am a much better writer now, i believe, because i've written however many hundreds of thousands of words for 'publication'; some blog entries i've refined dozens of times. i publish, revise, and then publish again, the perfect cure for the problem of suddenly seeing a piece in print and so seeing it from a different or outside angle, and wanting and being unable to fix it. genres like the 700-word op-ed or the academic book or a twitter feed have some rigid parameters; a blog entry can take any length, any form; it is improvisational or jazz publishing. i poach it all the time for academic or opinion-journalist-type writings. i just love it as a place and way to write.
and also...it is an autonomous press that i control completely. there is something to be said for good professional editing (john timpane at the philly inquirer and i worked on a couple of hundred pieces together, i think), and something to be said against bad professional editing (naming no names). but there is a lot to be said for the unexpurgated individual human voice that knows it will not be edited except by the person who emits it. and that is what i think a blog ought to be, even if there are several voices on a blog, you old crusader. i published an underground newspaper starting in 7th grade, which was not unique in my era. my heroes william lloyd garrison (the liberator), josiah warren (the peaceful revolutionist), and emma goldman (mother earth) figured out how to make a free space for their voices, to tiny or big audiences. they had to figure out how to print it themselves. i see the blog as a continuation of that. i've said many, many things here that i could not say at the daily beast or huffpost.
andrew sullivan and ana marie cox were great bloggers at times. but they literally sold out the blog, if i may say so. cox's thing is that there are better ways to make money as a writer. on the other hand i have never myself sold advertising or done anything but pay to blog. i respect professional writers, coming from long lines of them, and i realize i have a nice position as an academic from which to do this (which is not to say i ain't broke). but cox and sullivan wanted to blog for someone; embed their blogs in the atlantic or the guardian or whatever. others were always calculating how to get the largest audiences and thus a good flow of advertising.
they sold their blogs, ok? it's not the worst thing, but maybe that's when they stopped blogging and just became staff writers or wheeler-dealers, with a comments section and a time posted, etc: the accessories but not the essence. this was a pretty straightforward choice for them, because they are people of relatively mainstream views who aspired to the biggest possible audiences. but there are plenty of bloggers for whom that wouldn't be an option, one way or another.
for years i just argued that there were no blogs on the nyt's opinion page, no matter how they were presenting stanley fish or whomever; they just called a column a blog, basically just edited it the same way, and so on. i'm not going to put any weight on the 'real' meaning of the term, but let's say the blog got co-opted and then died. that is ok, because post-collapse it might again become a space of eccentric voices with small audiences; it never stopped being that too: a verson of the diy zine. and it will remain one of the possibilities. at any rate, i've got no plans to stop.
boy they are crucifying chris hughes on this tnr thing. i don't doubt that he is annoying, and you might understand that no writerly person can listen to phrases like 'vertically integrated' without wanting to poke someone in the eye. but i want to speculate that chris hughes may also be tired of the ideology that the staff represented, albeit ably considering what they had to work with. the new republic has had a number of phases of real controversy and wild debate, but i would say that over the last decade it has sunk into a basically uniform, unbelievably tired, american liberalism. this has gotten so repetitive; it so lacks any sort of imagination; it answers every problem with a bureaucracy; it basically hasn't changed since about 1932.
i hope someone like chris hughes quickly reached the point where he was just, 'am i reading that again in my own magazine? oh man that is some tired shit. why would anyone want to click on that?' the left has just got to re-think. there just can't be more more more paul krugman and hedrik hertzberg and michael tomasky, e.g.: miserable elitists and hyper-enthusiastic oppressors in the name of human liberation. there are so many things a left could be besides state state state, so many people it could encompass besides people who are simultaneously proponents of equality and extreme hierarchy, and who express their position with rigid self-righteousness and really unbelievable repetitiveness. it can't inspire anyone anymore to do anything.
and the new republic sank into the opinion-journalism mode of the moment. they present stuff as though it was propaganda: emphasizing all facts that help and none that don't, along with a constant rhetorical pounding of the same sentences and ideas. but however, their audience is 100% people who already agree with them, so whose responses are they trying to control? obviously rush limbaugh or glenn beck do the same: it's like they are desperate to persuade people who are already persuaded, desperate for the manipulated agreement of people who already agree. it's as though they are trying to utterly expunge their opponents in a debate, but their opponents aren't even there, and the only effect is to make their audience ever-more self-righteous and less self-reflective. on both sides, killing the other side is just a performance for themselves, designed so that everyone can feel superior together. why is that a worthwhile project?
i seem to have a lifetime subscription to the new yorker; maybe my mom got it for me in 1996 or something. they come faster than i can burn them. the oct 27 ish shows some of the reasons i try to keep up. fiction by tom hanks, while the movie review pays tribute to spielberg and saving private ryan. a stirring appreciation of billy joel. the lead political piece in talk of the town has been duller this week than last week for 1,497 consecutive weeks, for these are people whose view on anything - and the very sentences in which that view will come to be embodied - you cannot fail to know before they open their word processors. they must spend editorial meetings nodding along and off. this week jelani cobb points out that there aren't that many women and black folks in the senate. ironically, only extremely or chronically white people can even pretend to read the new yorker; it's like every issue is co-edited by tom brocaw and sting (= tom hanks).one of the books reviewed is described as "a fairy tale of middle class loneliness", which is a pretty good description of the magazine overall.
oh perhaps i've done this a time or two before, but it strikes me that people may forget my stunning insights over time, or a new little knot of readers might have gathered. but anyway, this thing about generations - boomers, xers, yers, millennials, or whatever - is just slop. people reproduce continuously, not all at once every twenty years (though we might think about a law enforcing the latter, in order to help columnists write cultural trend pieces imitating other columnists' cultural trend pieces). you could start and stop generations anywhere you like, and we should try a re-jigger if only to get people to stop using these unmeaning yet profoundly annoying terms.
i think philip kennicott of the washpost is one of the best critics working in the mainstream press. here's a really rather rich and surprising review of the 9/11 museum. the range is part of what i like: so it's actually a broad piece on contemporary museums, which have moved to a model where they construct the experience as a narrative, which among other things might be too directive with regard to the experience of museum-goers. also it works through the question of where the culture is on 9.11 and the war on terror etc: in other words, there's a lot of good context.
to my way of thinking, the idea of mourning 9/11 is utterly polluted by the fact that it was used as an occasion to complete the transformation of the united states government into a profoundly authoritarian system: the end of anything i would recognize as the american experiment. we're still blahblahing about the supreme court or the bill of rights, or we still effortlessly call ourselves a democracy, comparing others unfavorably to ourselves. but try to picture what jefferson or tom paine would say about a government engaged in universal surveillance of its own citizens, a government that practices indefinite secret detention, torture, and so on. that is what i would mourn at ground zero. those deaths turned into a mere tool for the consolidation of abusive power. it wasn't al qaeda that accomplished that: it was american politicians and citizens quaking in fear. they showed that, though they've got the missiles, they are pussies, all day every day.
nice job by the pulitzer committee on the snowden stories, though nothing could be more obvious. meanwhile, if cnn has ever won pulitzers, i'd rescind them immediately, or maybe they can establish a pulitzer prize for stupid, cnn's by acclamation. the lead with jake tapper goes with the national lead: anti-semitic murders in kc. so far, so good. international lead: again on day 14 million, nothing is happening on flight 370. after that we'll get to the extreme international crisis unfolding right at this moment at the ukraine. if there are any people who regard themselves as journalists involved in such decisions, they should start calling themselves something else; i have some suggestions on that. whatever is happening in their editorial meetings suggests that whoever is making the decisions needs immediately to find another line of work - fast food, maybe.
update: and at 5, wolf blitzer is all: dramatic developments in three big stories! then they lead with this: 370's co-pilot's cell phone was on a half hour after the plane disappeared from radar. wolf knows better, and should simply refuse to read the garbage that anti-journalists are putting up on his prompter. al jazeera america is the only news-gathering operation currently available on dish network.
msnbc's approach this morning: breaking news! day 14! the search for 370 continues...ps after a half hour we'll get to 'russia masses troops on its western border'. they've turned cnn into the southern indian ocean: an infinite expanse of nothingness, with some little bits of debris. it's a devastating indictment of their editorial meetings.
we are really two nations, or two continents. this is an example of what is now a whole genre: new yorky journalist tries to calm his nerves and drive into rural/small town america. really for years he's only read, you know, michael tomasky, jill lepore, and thomas frank or whatever: the people out here, these teabaggers, etc, are insane, stupid, and evil. other than that, though: the salt of the earth. they are entirely manipulated and have no idea what their own interests are. maybe eric lutz figures he can slip somebody a hint down at the diner.
it is very much like british explorers penetrating the dark continent in the 1830s, let's say. the savages are so fascinating and incredibly stupid. don't they understand anything? why aren't they working in textile mills? do they want to live like that? we'll have to re-educate them, under compulsion if necessary, which it definitely is. so it's odd that we speak more or less the same language with more or less the same accent, are all familiar with the same television ads and stuff. we sort of share a culture. but insofar as eric lutz shares a culture with the assholes driving trucks out here, he's no doubt consumed by self-loathing.
so really, speaking on behalf of, say, rural country fans, i want to say: you obviously do not want us in the same nation as yourselves. you despise us. you don't listen to a word we say under any circumstances. all you do is dehumanize and patrionize and insult us. cut us loose, for we are to you mere filth, and take a long warm bath in obamacare to clean yourself up. but here's what i'd like to tell you, eric lutz, and i direct this at your whole ilk: you are an elitist. you are a classist (and also, dear god, a leftist: spend the next two years engaged in withering self-reflection. then do another piece like that.) you are so full of self-righteous ignorance that you have become unmoored from reality. so i hope next time you head out here, we'll have worked out the border fencing and attack dogs.
one very possibly good effect that country music could have in a less polarized culture: it could represent something of the experience of rural americans to urban and suburban americans. (believe it or not, i think hip hop had an effect in making suburbanites sort of understand something about black ghetto-type experience. think about what it was like for a kid from the burbs to take in public enemy during the crack epidemic etc.) i think we are in a golden moment of country artists doing that in a compelling way. i would adduce kacey musgraves and her sometimes collaborator, the very fine brandy clark (about whom more later). (musgraves and clark co-wrote follow your arrow.)
they are very critical of the experience of, say, growing up and living as a female person in economically depressed small-town america. but they represent that experience in a compelling way, in a way that might have the potential to make eric lutz see something about what it's like from inside, and register the people who have it as human beings with experiences that are comprehensible to other human beings, even across our berlin-like barrier. see, his empathy machine is broke. art is a good mechanic that way. but then he'd have to listen to the country station for a half hour, whcih would be against his religion. and i do mean religion: his sheer, wholly irrational faith.
funny but when i travel or live in rural america (whiteford, md; york springs and seven valleys, pa; batesville, va; cottondale, al, for some of the residences) people are by and large amazingly nice. i look a little off, i'm sure, and true i am myself a somewhat educated person. and yet they don't shoot me at all. i was talking to a slovenian prof at a conference in poland this summer, and he was saying, with real fear in his voice, that he was going to be spending time in rural texas. he said 'tea party' and 'guns' in a heavy accent. i'm like: dude, i'm telling you if you have never been in rural texas, you're gonna love it. amazing food. great music. and the world's friendliest people everywhere wanting to help in any way they can. and so on. chill, it's ok!
remember obama's 'clinging to their guns and religion' thing? that might actually be the moment the tea party started (or perhaps it was the point where the man who said that actually became president). it's like romney and the 47%, only obama meant a different 47. they highly overlap, however. now: here is somebody who knows, to help explain it to highly-educated sophisticates everywhere.
it's a little odd that the revelations below were made down inside an opinion piece on the miranda detention, because they are at least as dramatic and important and should have been reported on top of the front page [5pm update: it's on the top of the front page]. also i do not necessarily share rusbridger's confidence in the practical effectiveness of the first amendment in the us. but surely it grows ever-clearer what we're dealing with: people on both sides of the pond who are taking their model of statecraft more and more from - oh let's see - erich honecker. all forms of resistance are legitimate or morally required. this is the moment where we descend into yet another totalitarian nightmare or vitiate the systems that are working to impose it. if this can be accomplished by voting, or through expression in our compromised free press or on the streets, it must be. if it can't be, then we need to proceed by any means necessary.
A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.
The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."
During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian's reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government's intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?
The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London. The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work.
before i said that maybe greenwald should tone down the threats a bit, as when he was saying 'this will be the most destructive set of revelations in american history.' however, i think his response to the detention/interrogation of david miranda is more than appropriate: essentially: you want to play like that? i'm going to be a lot more aggressive from now on in my reporting. if we had the power, i'd suggest detaining and interrogating david cameron's wife. i'd release her unscathed after 9 hours if cameron awakens to the truth of what he is, but it might take years of recreational abuse visited upon her person to show him the meaning and value of freedom. certainly, miranda has as much right to detain and interrogate cameron and rummage through his stuff as cameron has to detain and interrogate miranda, and unlike cameron, he has a compelling moral justification for doing so. if you think that sentence is false, then you'll need an argument, and brother, you ain't got one.
recommending abombazine on a nice event of censorship of the washington post re: nsa. here's the slate piece. i think that the washington post should simply publish the interview with delong in its entirety right now. the white house 'redacted' the interview. that makes it sound like they reached into the post computer system and started deleting, which i hope is unlikely. i suppose it means they sent back a redacted version. alright, he gave you the damn interview and said what he said. publish it. we're going to need some defiance here, because we are under the thumb of a profoundly oppressive and, by the standards of our own basic law, criminal regime or junta. the post has often been a little mouthpiece for various administrations, but surely it's dawning on them along with rest of us what they're actually dealing with.
this, representing a dispute between npr and its ombudsman over a piece on the foster-care system in south dakota, is pretty interesting.
But Schumacher-Matos says he decided to approach this story as a case study in how NPR offers investigative findings in a narrative form.
"It's too easy to let form get in the way of the substance," he says. "That if we're going to do investigative storytelling, we still have to state clearly what it is we have found and what it is we have not found."
i think this is an obvious and important point. i have been on npr here and there and i do remember that there was an actual assertion - it may have come from margaret low smith - that atc and morning edition are in the business of telling stories; every piece of whatever sort had to have a narrative form. now this was part of a whole fad - against which i actually wrote a book - according to which everything is a story and we are stories, and stories are the only way to the truth and so on, all of which is just obviously false if you'd bother to think for a minute. well, it's good someone thought about it for a minute!
it's completely obvious that one temptation of journalism is writing a compellingly or cliche-riddenly well-shaped narrative as opposed to an accurate one. and if stories can sometimes tell the truth, they always represent various simplificactions and distortions.
few can have more ambivalence on the washington post than me. let's try a few dips. my father's father was, among other things, nightclub columnist and editorial page editor for the washington times-herald, which the post bought in 1954, becoming for a time the washington post and times-herald (i still remember the t-h shrinking on their masthead); well my boy was more or less dead of alcoholism by then (i have some of his white house and capitol press credentials). after that, the fam was evening star. my dad was a copy boy/reporter there starting in the fifties. i was a star paper boy, and my brother adam delivered the tabloid daily news, bought out by the star in '72 to create in the customary shrinking way the star news.
so i was a 'copy aide' at the star, working the 6PM-2AM shift in '80-'81 for a new morning edition that was supposed to save the last rival to the post, but which never worked at all. soon after i started, time, inc., bought the star. they had deep pockets, supposedly, and they were going save us and fold us in. like six months later they announced The End. so, by that time, there was only one daily newspaper in dc: the post killed everything. i interviewed for a couple of different jobs at the post but didn't get them; they didn't take the same interviewing approach the star did: 'you spell that s-a-r-t-w-e-l-l? can you start tuesday?' though we did place many stars out of our newsroom everywhere, including the post.* honestly? the post hasn't been as good since it lost all competition.
so the post kind of laid waste to my terrain, like mr. peabody's coal train did to muhlenberg county. but on the other hand, it really is always a great newspaper. honestly i have read it every day, more or less, since i was a small child. that was the thing about the star; even there, everyone read the post. and it has been my homepage since i first got a browser (well, partly for redskins). i think they desperately need a transition away from being folded into the washington establishment, articulating all and only mainstream positions. but there is much great journalism at every level in that newsroom still.
also, if you have any tendency to be satisfied with obama etc's reassurances about all the limits and warrants that are supposedly in place, you have really lost your mind. how many times do people have to lie, evade, distort, before you stop believing them? it's their job to lie: it's their sworn oath to lie by their own account; by their own definitions, it is treason not to lie. they're currently lying about the fact that they were lying to you before. and yet you take them seriously.
i think one thing everyone in our society needs to reflect on: you're going to take james clapper or barack obama seriously because they're wearing suits and have positions of great authority. it doesn't matter, for example, that they have excruciatingly obvious motivations to lie. then you have snowden, and people just hammer: 29! all alone! high school dropout! but no one has seriously doubted the truth of what he's revealing. he has some sort of principles or commitment to freedom; they have no commitment to anything but power. snowden's commitment is incredibly obvious: he is saying the things he's saying at tremendous cost to himself. obama etc are lying to an ever-self-aggrandizing effect, to preserve and conceal their own power. barack obama - this is completely obvious to anyone with a shred of rationality - has no credibility whatever on anything when speaking qua pres; the only things the words of someone like that are intended to do is manipulate you; seriously, obviously, sentence by sentence. in your heart, you know this to be true. obama's access to truth is corrupted entirely by power. snowden has as much credibility as a human being can reasonably have.
officials from the dmv to the pres do not even really purport to be speaking as or for themselves; they are spokesmen for organizations. so severe is the situation that the question of sincerity does not even arise; you're simply representing what you take to be the position of a bureaucracy; you would even excuse yourself for lying or for saying things that are deeply opposed to your own beliefs. indeed, you might take it to be your duty to express whatever it is you're expressing as fake-sincerely as possible, all the while believing it to be false. well, that's your job. but what is truly shocking is that people believe you anyway; people think you have more credibility than a person who speaks passionately for himself.
29 and all alone actually does confer some credibility; eminent head of a bureaucracy: no credibility whatever: every sentence a mere strategy.
this is an example of an extreme problem: most people think power confers credibility. this is a mindless capitulation and extreme expression of irrationality. it sort of hints at the direction our species will take to extinction. milllions upon millions of people have already died because we tend to give epistemic authority to people who operate coercive power, because they operate coercive power. it's a straight-up epistemic illness.
one thing about the snowden nsa material: it's as nice a confirmation as could possibly be imagined of the concept of squishy totalitarianism. here is a nice slide, revealed today in the continuing dripdrip. understand that anyone arguing that what snowden did was wrong is arguing that it is legitimate for the government and gigantic corporations to spy on everyone continually. and then they are arguing that that should be a secret from yourself and the rest of us. they are evil. now, if you want to just create fog all around this thing by attacking snowden personally and so on, even while pretending to be disturbed or wanting to have a conversation about this, you are evil and self-deluded. it's not that surprising that you're deluding yourself because you want to be deluded; that's your whole argument.
squishy totalitarianism: the political/economic/aesthetic/psychological system or syndrome shared in common, for instance, by contemporary China, the European Union, Iran, and the United States. It is characterized by a complex so-called 'technocratic' merger of state and capital; large-scale mechanisms of subject-formation such as compulsory state education and regulation/monopoly ownership of the media; welfare-state or 'safety-net' programs that enhance consumption and give large parts of the population a sense of dependency and security; a relative tolerance for some forms of diffuse dissent and scope for individual choice, particularly in consumption, combined with pervasive state and corporate surveillance; overwhelming police and military force and sprawling systems of incarceration; entrenched extreme hierarchies of wealth and expertise; regulation of the economy by monetary policy and central banks in cooperation with banking concerns; an international regime of national sovereignty combined with international state/corporate mechanisms for the circulation of wealth.
Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.
now, maybe the chinese got everything he has. maybe the russians too, and i supose this could be one approach: just give it up to everyone. but if you believe that this is true on the basis that 'western intelligence officials' say it is true, you're a chump. obviously, no 'intelligence official' has any credibility on anything like this. their commitment isn't to speaking the truth; it's to obscuring the truth. they have infinitely less credibility than snowden himself.
from this week's rappahannock news (from little washington, va, where i'm hanging with my ma).
To the Editor:
I would like to express my deepest gratitude and thanks to all my family members, therapist, friends, employers and supporters in the community during this difficult time. As all of you know by now by reading the Rappahannock News on a weekly basis, I made some bad decisions, for which I take full responsibility.
I am glad that the attention is focused on me, as I am sure I am the only one in this county who has ever made a mistake. As someone once said, 'There are two sides to every story.' That statement is very true, except that I have not had the opportunity to tell my side. I am very lucky to have so many people who love and support me and I can't thank you enough. Thank you for the phone calls, cards, emails to my family, books sent and money.
I have taken full responsibility for my actions, so those of you who continue to gossip at the 211 Quicke Mart, or with co-workers, etc., really need to attend to your own problems and stay out of mine! This ordeal has done nothing but make me a stronger, better person that I have ever been.