January 22, 2012, 8:47 pm
The NYT’s Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, remains clueless about the political reality of our time. (But I must immediately step up to confess factual error, committed in the interest of pith, for his office is in fact a few blocks from Times Square.) Earlier this month, he asked aloud “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” Said gaffe was worsened by the unwittingly hilarious headline slapped on it (“Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?”) The letters that poured in were almost uniformly scathing, making it plain that Times readers had far outdistanced their anointed ombudsman in their understanding that if journalists do not correct the false claims they report, they are not journalists at all, but rather stenographers—or worse, to quote the late, great Jack Newfield on the ideal Washington …
December 31, 2011, 7:01 pm
When I visited Israel and the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem a year ago October, I had the benefit of a guided tour with the Israeli who knows more about the settlements in East Jerusalem than any other, Hagit Ofran. She runs the Settlement Watch project of Peace Now, and blogs at Eyes On The Ground in East Jerusalem.
This month, she’s posted twice on deeply disturbing developments there, and I’m choosing to round out my year of blogging (interrupted by work on a book about the Occupy movement) by paying some attention. The story of Israeli settlement—the wrong flavor of Occupation—ought to be wrenching to any human being and is certainly wrenching to a Jew like myself who is possessed of the nagging idea that being Jewish has something to do with the love of justice.
One of Hagit’s posts includes a YouTube video that gives a reasonable introduction to the process of…
December 11, 2011, 7:59 pm
In 1865, during his first and only campaign for a seat in Parliament, John Stuart Mill addressed a meeting of workers, who then were not permitted to vote. When questioned about whether he had written harshly about their morality—specifically, their propensity to lie—he acknowledged that he had done so. The audience cheered, we are told, and one of them rose—in Alan Ryan’s words—to proclaim that “the workers needed friends, not flatterers.”
It is in the spirit of friendship, not flattery, that I express some concern about an Occupy action last week at Foley Square, the site of several Occupy gatherings. Reportedly, a hundred demonstrators gathered there to protest the shooting of an episode “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which surreally had constructed a replica of the Liberty Square encampment, under license from the city. Then some 30 protesters crossed…
November 20, 2011, 3:43 pm
By the time I got there around 4:45 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17, Foley Square, the site of courthouses in lower Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge, was so clogged—not even counting the riot police—it took me 10 minutes to make my way through the crowd from the southern end to Worth Street on the northern end. There were obviously more people in the square than during the Oct. 5 march, when 10,000 to 15,000 was the going estimate—which then seemed about right to me. On Thursday, I was in the square till 6, when I walked down to Zuccotti Park.
In Foley Square, Moveon Civic Action and a number of unions, notably the SEIU, were conspicuous by their presence. I didn’t see any dreadlocks or nose rings—not that there’s anything wrong with them. I can’t swear there were no drum circles but I didn’t hear any. There was, however, a chorus of “Singing Grannies and their…
November 10, 2011, 10:13 pm
This NYT report on “a torrent of deals” for the purchase of local TV stations by larger companies may not seem as though it deserves urgent attention from supporters of the Occupy movement, but please keep reading.
Who “owns” local TV stations? According to the Times piece, for example, in September, “the Sinclair Broadcast Group bought seven local stations from the Four Points Media Group for $200-million.” So it would seem that something called the Four Points Media Group owned those seven stations. And so, in some legal sense that is above my pay-grade to parse, they no doubt did.
But here’s the interesting wrinkle: Aside from whatever resale or scrap value their physical possessions might command, the stations would be useless were they not licensed to broadcast at particular frequencies. The licenses are issued by the owner of the airwaves, namely, the people of the United States …
October 29, 2011, 3:38 pm
On a silent, whitening day in the country, reading David Barash’s fine rumination on consciousness and its irreducibility (to physical facts) encourages me to jump into the stew of the consciousness question with less fear of embarrassment than I’d ordinarily feel. Although (or because?) I have no professional credential for such speculations, I brood about such matters a lot. It seems to me unfortunate, and culturally diminishing, that the discussion moves so quickly from consciousness—this phenomenon, this whatever—to mind, cognition, and reason, as if the ability to play Jeopardy were an adequate marker of our existential situation, as if what gets called “mind” exhausts the fullness of consciousness. The cognitivist bias of the scientific age, in its reduced version of Enlightenment, disposes us to conflate consciousness with certain of its possibilities, and (as Antonio Damasio …
October 24, 2011, 10:32 am
A hundred Occupy activists from New York and New Haven clustered Saturday on the lawn of GE Jeffrey Immelt’s house in New Canaan, calling him out because GE pays no taxes.
Now, obviously, it’s an article of American faith that God helps those who help themselves; that we are soaring eagles and not heaps of ants; that capitalism is irreversibly red in tooth and claw, and was meant to be. Rugged Ayn Randians are always passing out gold stars to plutocrats for “working hard”—as if janitors, nurses, coal miners, teachers, farm workers, freight handlers, cafeteria workers, electricians, welders, et al. were slackers. Elizabeth Warren has a video going around (deservedly viral) pointing out that no one makes it alone. The You’re-on-Your-Own meme that’s the common thread in post-compassionate conservatism is the most popular form of Darwinism across the land.
This is no small element…
October 8, 2011, 3:48 pm
Not much. The reach of established media is far less extensive than decades ago.
That said (I): My favorite sign on the Oct. 5 march (which unfortunately I can’t upload because the WordPress system seems to think it poses a security risk): ”Am I dressed too nice so the media doesn’t interview me?” And this carried by an attractive young woman, yet.
That said (II): If OWS gets aggressive rather than remaining playful, don’t expect media to smile upon the movement. A lot of difficulties remain as the movement searches for its sequels. I’m inclined to agree with Michael Scherer of Time that Washington is paying attention, and that this is a very good thing. A complex movement with multiple roots (I’ll have a piece up in the NYT Sunday Review section tomorrow) is not going to march in lockstep, and what some elements do will alienate other elements. That’s how these things go. The …
October 8, 2011, 2:11 pm
The conventional wisdom about the encampment for its first 2-1/2 weeks included words like this mess; incoherent; cacophony; a riot of demands, or no demands; and so on. The charge was significantly true, but also premature and ill-informed about the dynamics of social movements, which evolve, if there is any life to them; and a movement expressing anger at Wall Street and at the plutocratic-political complex it stands for has, believe me, life to it.
But the movement changed on Oct. 5, though it’ll take a while for the conventional wisdom to catch up. Below is a picture of what was by far the most common placard on the Oct. 5 march (10,000? 15,000?) that filled Foley Square. By far the most popular chant was: ”We are the 99 percent!” This was the one that started most frequently and was longest sustained. In second place was “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” So it…
September 24, 2011, 10:35 am
I met former president Bill Clinton in May, not long before Netanyahu made his triumphal journey to Washington to play conquering hero before the Republican-led House of Representatives. I asked him about the Middle East. He threw his arm around me and said, “Let me tell you about Netanyahu. It’s like you’re in high school. There’s a girl you really want to go out with. And one day she says she’ll go out with you! You’re thrilled! So you arrange to pick her up. You park your car outside her door and wait. She doesn’t come out. You wait. You keep waiting. That’s Bibi.” Then he told me a second small-town Arkansas story too, with the same import: Bibi jerks you around.
Meanwhile, facts multiply on the ground. According to the scrupulous Peace Now, the rate of new construction in Jewish settlements on the West Bank is double that in Israel. Here’s another fact on the ground: The…
September 19, 2011, 9:21 pm
The New York Daily News reports that squeegee men are back on the streets of New York. (H/t: Josh Petri of TPM.) Granted, the Daily News found only five of them. Granted, the squeegee men have cropped up every once in a while (here’s a NYT sighting from last year) even in a city that was supposed to have been definitely
cleansed squeegeed by Rudy Giuliani during his heroic metropolitan period. But I am wondering why there are so few squeegee men, and so orderly, and at that, so mannerly as to speak respectfully to reporters.
Last year, driving through the valley town of Gilroy, California, I was struck by the profusion of men shuffling down the streets pushing supermarket carts bearing their possessions. They moved slowly. Nothing much showed in their faces. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reports two sightings of aggressive panhandlers. Nothing new about that: Around 1994,…
September 12, 2011, 10:37 am
The Ground Zero ceremony yesterday was, the NYT informs us, “an occasion deemed too solemn for speeches.”
This judgment, shared by the organizers of the memorial, was less about solemnity than about speeches. Yes, the occasion was solemn. Almost three thousand human beings (the numbers vary) were massacred 10 years ago (and, largely unmentioned, many others have perished since from aftereffects). The sinister violence of the deaths, their astounding suddenness and gruesomeness and simultaneity, stamped them as horrific. The absences of all those individuals is more raw than if they had each died separately, and their relative youth no doubt makes every single death harder for survivors to assimilate.
It’s not hard in the slightest to understand, then, why the survivors would want to recite the names of the lost, to touch the official engravings and make rubbings. What needs to be…
September 3, 2011, 4:22 pm
Suppose we lived in a world in which reporters asked politicians to explain the grounds on which they believe what they purport to believe; in which they did so regularly at press conferences and in presidential debates—
• why, for example, they are “skeptical” about the presence of climate change that virtually all scientists think is in significant measure the product of human activity;
• whether they are equally skeptical of scientific arguments about, say, genetic modification, the design of wing shapes or drone technology;
• in other words, on what basis they pick and choose their scientific arguments;
• or why (if they are Republican) they believe that jobs are produced when taxes are lowered, in the light of the fact—reported by a notorious Communist newspaper called The Wall Street Journal—that fewer jobs were created under George W. Bush’s…
September 2, 2011, 6:23 pm
Without question, WikiLeaks has done good. You don’t have to accept the strongest claims made for its indispensability for overturning the Tunisian dictatorship, or approve of the label “Collateral Murder” Julian Assange affixed on the appalling video that surfaced last year revealing lethal American attacks on civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters photographer, to appreciate much of what WikiLeaks has done in the name of transparency. WikiLeaks unearthed evidence of war crimes and corruption. What it performed constituted, in the words of a statement signed in December by 19 Columbia journalism school faculty, including myself, “journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment,” deserving protection from government prosecution under the Espionage Act or any similar laws.
The initial releases of diplomatic cables by the Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and…
August 31, 2011, 11:06 am
I’m just catching up on the dead-tree Chronicle, so just came upon this front-page piece by Jeffrey R. Young from the Aug. 12 issue. It seems that grade inflation, and the misguided demand to make education prove its value by numbers, has led some universities to cut out their brains to spite their faces. Or, to put it more neutrally, they’re not only hiring low-cost contract labor to grade papers, they’re also using computers to grade answers to essay questions. “Robot grading is the hottest trend in testing circles,” says the editor of the journal Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice.
The two universities mentioned by name as robograders are the University of Central Florida and the University of Missouri, Columbia. But this trend can’t even be laid at the door exclusively of the American mania for numerical measurement, since the editor of said journal is Canadian.
August 24, 2011, 7:36 pm
When did America go wrong? The crackpot right has been backdating the origins of the country’s original sins from the 60s.
Heady with triumph in 1995, Newt Gingrich, the pseudo-intellectual’s Eric Cantor of the ’90s, offered the standard post-Reagan cram course version of American history from 1607 to—wait for it—1965:
There is a core pattern to American history. Here’s how we did it until the Great Society messed everything up: don’t work, don’t eat; your salvation is spiritual; the government by definition can’t save you; governments are into maintenance and all good reforms are into transformation….From 1965 to 1994, we did strange and weird things as a country. Now we’re done with that and we have to recover.
Dick Armey, erstwhile House Majority Leader, now éminence grise of the Tea Party, declared then: ”To me all the problems began in the 60s.” He meant the likes…
August 8, 2011, 10:49 pm
Watching video of the London riots, skimming the newspaper commentary and bloggery, I get shivers. Not only because of the awful destruction, not only because the difficulty of establishing facts, not only because everyone is stunned by the sheer scale of the violence, not only because some cops are racist, not only because so many people like thuggery and looting and burning and throwing things at cops—that’s “like” as in “thrill to,” “feel like taking part in,” not as in Facebook “like”—not only because nihilism is as much fun as cruelty and as cruel as it is fun, but because of the vast cloud of incomprehension that surrounds the events—an incomprehension that seems to match Americans’ incomprehension in 1965 (Watts), 1967 (Newark, Detroit)…1992 (L. A.).
At least it’s my impression that now, as then, much of the commentary consists of nothing more than rage, fear, and…
August 5, 2011, 5:55 pm
Americans who talk to pollsters are a sadly confused bunch. Here’s Finding #1, from today’s New York Times:
The Republicans compromised too little, a majority of those polled [by NYT/CBS] said. All told, 72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress handled the negotiations, while 66 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress handled negotiations.
So, by a small margin, those polled prefer the Democratic approach to the debt-ceiling talks to the Republican. They run 50-50 on Obama’s approach. As for the Tea Party, (Finding #2), it
is now viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of the public and favorably by just 20 percent, according to the poll. In mid-April 29 percent of those polled viewed the movement unfavorably, while 26 percent viewed it favorably. And 43 percent of Americans now think the Tea Party has too much influence on the Republican Party, up from …