Saturday, August 30, 2008

Love Pita Update: Feministing On Palin

I'm sorry, I can't resist referring to Samantha Bee's brilliant Daily Show segment on voting-with-your-vagina again, aka How Gullible Do They Think Women Are? At least, that's the subtext I read into it.

Anyway. The usual brilliant analysis from Feministing on Republican VP Nominee Sarah Palin.

And by the by, PhysioProf has finally managed to make even me flinch with his hate-laden assessment of Palin, but as I told J-Friend Becky, it's also (usually) reassuring to have someone not afraid to show righteous indignation over things that deserve it. People who sort of nod sagely and say ponderous things about Iraq, for example, or admit freely admit they spend more time being concerned with political horserace than substance do make me want to puke my fucking guts out. So I feel PhysioProf has his place, even if he does verge too far -- in my mind, better too far that way than not outraged enough. (And there does seem to be a gendered aspect to it, that is, more women seem to find PP's tone worrisome/too much/vile than men, on average. I think this has to do with the almost universally bad part unrestrained aggressive male aggressive power has played in our society, especially vis-a-vis feminism, or, say, war, and also the cultural imperatives for women to exactly NOT be like this, lest they be "shrill" or a bitch, making PP's tone beyond the pale for, well, any polite discourse, but especially a woman's. That is, a man could feasibly talk like this to another man without being perceived as being a horrible person; such a display from a woman would go so against gender norms it'd be hard to deal with, no matter what the context. An interesting topic, pursued somewhat in the comments during PhysioProf's Guest blogging on Feministe. But I -- that's right kids -- I digress.)

If She Can See Farther Than Others... Daktari on Palin

If Daktari can see farther than others, it's because she's sharp like woah.

Go read Daktari's blog. There've been a series of sharp and probing posts recently that I really haven't had the time to fully process and react to. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go read her excellent summary post of VP Nominee and Republican Wackaloon Sarah Palin. Daktari's rounded up a good number of links and primary/secondary sources about Palin's abject horribleness by any progressive feminist standard.

Apparently Daktari will not be part of Samantha Bee's Love Pitas for Palin, the gynecologically-inclined issue* voters, those women voting not with The Big Head, but The Little Hood.

*Apparently that issue is: "Does someone on the ticket have a vagina?", not "Does the Party/Ticket/Nominee represent anything I believe in?" Substantive issues, it seems, are NOT for pussies.

Hah! I slay me.

But seriously: even J-Fave Slate's Today's Papers jumps on the pre-determined narrative bandwagon, saying that
"Choosing Palin undercuts the argument that Barack Obama is too inexperienced, raising questions about John McCain's age and judgment. But it could pay off: Palin—an NRA member and staunch pro-lifer—is energizing evangelicals and tempting Hillary Clinton voters to defect."
If one bothers to read the linked WaPo article, a paragraph worthy of note (more than halfway through the article, natch) reads
"Interviews with women who supported Clinton suggested that the fact that McCain picked someone as conservative as Palin will be reluctant to vote for McCain, even for those who have been flirting for months with the idea of defecting to the GOP ticket"
only then followed by a quote from one Clinton supporter who has decided to defect. It could be a real phenomenon, but they don't know -- Slate, and to a lesser extent, the WaPo here are making up the narrative before the facts. Not new for The News, but nonetheless, egregious. Objective media my left ass cheek.

I tend to agree with those that charge McCain with thinking Women Candidates Are Interchangeable, though of course as with any modern "identity politics" argument, somehow those who see sexism in the events of the day are themselves charged with misunderstanding feminism.

Friday, August 29, 2008

You're Rich, Bitch!

A good article in Slate on Obama vs. McCain's definition of "rich" (quoted from them as $250,000 and up vs. $1,000,000 and up if I recall). As I've told my own folks, people who are in the top 10% of all income in the US can hardly be defined as middle-class by any sensible definition of the phrase. I think the US definition of "rich" or "wealthy" seems to be incredible and weird -- it seems to mean the ability to buy everything you want and still have money left over. If you can't do that -- you're just hard-working middle-class folk, not rich like those pin-striped fat cat politicos. (Of course, everyone knows our Congress is made of folks just like us; why, only about half the Senate are millionaires!)

There's a good discussion in Slate's Fray about the article (and good discussions there these days are rarer than a teen Hollywood star who waits until s/he's 21 to drink, or say, snort cocaine). One of the points that is important to note is that the assets different income-earners in the US have is an important factor missed when you just look at wages, as is debt. So indeed, not all 10% and up-rich people are created the same; if you owe $1,000,000 on your $250,000/yr salary, you're very different than someone sitting on $1,000,000+ from your family or past business or investments and making the same amount. Though to be frank, compared to the average person, you're probably still culturally rich, in that you not only have the high income, but the worries you have about debt may be similar in proportion to people making less, but likely over somewhat different things -- the poor and middle-class may own a more expensive home than they can afford, or a nice car, but probably not the same kind or scale of luxuries or vices that someone making 250K might be owing their debtors over.

Anyway. A quick and dirty class analysis by another Frayster also makes the useful distinction between rich and wealthy -- and the lie of the American Dream that you can work your way into the super-rich. The posit that this lie is what makes the hard-working align with the super-rich -- the misunderstanding that the super-rich have worked to be there, when most of them may have worked, but received huge benefits from their family (cough cough, Bush family, cough cough).

The Once-in-a-while Blog for Natural Argumentation Enhancement

So, those Enzyte folks have finally been taken down. Anyone who watches tv after midnight knows of the once-daily tablet for natural male enhancement. It seemed so wildly fraudulent (mainly cuz it was) that it was a wonder it made it so long on TV. (Of course, so did Miss Cleo, our favorite fortune teller, before she, or rather the company what paid her to act as Miss Cleo on TV got -- I've gotta say it -- blindsided by their prosecution.) Of course, there's a new one out on the heels of the government taking down the towering presence that was Enzyte in the male-inadequacy field. People underestimate how little monitoring of "the market" the government does, despite constant cries of over-regulation (somewhat dulled in the current context). Enzyte's been bilking people since approximately... forever. And by forever I mean a number of years. Repetition works my friends; inventor of modern advertising and public relations Edward Bernays was many things, most of them negative to some degree (even his Uncle Freud found him over-the-top), but he wasn't wrong about repetition. I'm sure Enzyte's successes... well, gave him a nice big woody from beyond the grave.

There are, of course, much more important things going on, like my thesis writing, though I also here there was some kind of thing in Denver that was kind of a big deal.

(No, honestly, I watched a lot of C-SPAN yesterday and was inspired and uplifted, despite knowing that none of these fools actually supported the dismantling of the American Empire and our blatant exploitation of the rest of the world. They mainly support making our exploitation less blatant, but nevertheless real. So mainly what they accomplished, as far as the J is concerned, is making me remember how comparatively relaxing it is to have a president and politicians who can talk the talk, even as they are not only not walking the walk, but have sold the walk and hired lower-paid foreigners with no rights to labor protections to pretend to do the walk, while gently persuading with a carrot and a gun their home countries to open their borders to a flood of American investment and capital and Boys what went to Chicago that disadvantages their own people and impoverishes their public finance system, education, and infrastructure.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

(Hillary) Clinton's Speech and News Media

The event reported in Language Log about Clinton's speech -- a CBS analyst asking an FBI profiler if he thought she was being sincere when endorsing Obama. The dude -- Navarro -- apparently has a book out bout this stuff. Of course, according to Language Log, he not only contradicted the pertinent entry in his own book, but seemingly didn't even correctly analyze the evidence he presented.

The comments section gets into the interesting (to J) debate about media and its attitude (or complete disregard for) actual facts.

J Mother might be happy to see this blog entry; 3/4 of the J Family was nonplussed by the fact that, to us, Hillary's speech was fine and did everything it needed to, while the entire media seemed to be pretty sure that she did it wrong. I know that they would critique it no matter what she said -- but that's the point, if it's wrong no matter what she does just so a more interesting story can be generated, that's to J the media equivalent of criminal negligence.

Yikes. Hillary Clinton's vagina unexpectedly ate someone on South Park. I am amazed by their ability to constantly find new ways to not just go over, but build a nice summer home over the line. Considering that it was an effectively anti-racial-profiling 24 rip-off, I'm trying to decide if I can overlook the lurking misogyny. South Park's trying-too-hard-by-half take-downs of everyone and everything are perceived by some people as spreading it around fairly; this ignores the fact that attacking discriminated against groups really isn't the same as attacking the hegemonic groups in POWER, but I might get past my curmudgeonlyness this time.

On the other hand... is it a coincidence Comedy Central re-ran this episode today...?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do you like the crotch on my blog?

Read about the R. Kelly-inspired 00's version of "I like the cut of your jib." Apparently it's just the one dude, and Language Log, using this meme, but I like its moxy.

In other news, I like how Slate's XX Factor manages to work a mention of "the glint of [Michael Phelp's] hairless body in the spotlight" into a piece on the pretty inarguably sexist request for skimpier Olympic Table Tennis uniforms (no irony intended). Next, the Ping Pong Politburo will appeal to our lower denominators via an overhyped appearance by Christopher Walken. That seemed to work well enough for distinctly not Olympic-grade movie making.

Finally: I am also totally gay for Rachel Maddow. Despite some distinctly less stellar analyses here and there, she's an excellent analyst, kind of in the Jon Stewart mold of a) know what you're talking about, b) if it's crazy shit happening/being said by politicians, don't be afraid to call it crazy shit.

I liked her before it was cool.

RIP, Unfiltered! What what! [poors a beer on the ground]

P.S. 80 points to anyone who can turn "Gotcha so wet, it's like a rainforest/ Like Jurassic Park except I'm your sexasaurus" into a viable meme.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

On The Media should get On Its Knees and blow me

OTM is apparently "the weekly, one-hour program [that] is America's only national radio program devoted to media criticism and analysis." But is it criticism if they end up condoning, tacitly or explicitly, whatever practice any given outlet engages in?

Case in point: I recently was annoyed and disappointed to learn more and more of the heavy hand of editing and "fiction" in the primarily and nominally non-fiction "This American Life." (There is apparently also a growing -- and by growing I mean I've now heard it from 4 people rather than 3 -- backlash against the "cool" ironic hipster style of TAL. It never occurred to me to be bothered by this, because I felt that Ira Glass was knowingly twee and ironic in a way similar to that of many people I know -- indeed similar to many of the people who dislike him/TAL so. I didn't get it, but I'm starting to -- I think it's because he is always twee and ironic, and that he makes all the stories twee and ironic, so that not only does it ring false, it IS false, because all of life is not composed of arms-length irony, and such a diversity of stories can't all be meant to be told in the same way. But I get ahead of myself.) I have read that Glass edits the pieces down to the exact number of seconds or parts of seconds that makes the perfect ironic pause, the ideal hesitation, the most of the recently revived art of discomfort humor from preternaturally long awkward pauses. That rather bothered me, but I managed to ignore it. But then came Malcolm Gladwell.

In this piece, Gladwell comes across as a big bit of a dick to me, a feeling I shared with a friend on Facebook, who rather felt that people should know enough not to trust reporters, and that as a reporter his particular or special obligation to clarify when he's joking/lying and when he was less significant than the idea that "we" shouldn't take "anything at face value." The real shame was on us for believing, and anyway, Malcolm Gladwell (and James Frey) didn't really matter in the scheme of things.

Ok. So I admit I may be an over-serious killjoy. Check, moving on.

I feel that as a big-name star reporter, Gladwell has obligations. Journalists are, after all, a specially Constitutionally protected group. Rights have responsibilities with them, imho. So Gladwell had a segment on TAL where he basically said that as a cub, naive reporter he found out he could influence events and have fun by making up bits of stories -- that he once (accidentally) caused a 10-point fall in a stock by misreporting a company's earning, and that he realized he could do whatever he wanted, like fabricating possible sights for convention so that he could go on vacation where he wanted to covering said convention.

Except that his story, this part and others, are largely untrue. And he has the flimsy but real excuse that he told the story in a place where people often spin tall tales. But Glass put it on TAL in front of 1.7 million listeners.

In an article I largely agree with, Slate's Jack Shafer reports:
This American Life host Ira Glass gives no indication that any part of Gladwell's performance is fictional when he breaks in to end the Gladwell segment. Instead, he encourages young listeners not to follow Gladwell's example.

"By the way, if there is any ambiguity in here at all, young journalists, please note, putting false information into the newspaper is wrong," Glass says.

Gladwell... adds that they promised to run a disclaimer.


Ira Glass of This American Life says via e-mail that the show agreed to include a comment at the end—about The Moth being a place where "people come to tell both true stories and occasional tall tales"—to indicate that the talk "contained elements of exaggeration or untruth."

As disclaimers go, Glass' is weak, something he acknowledges.

"It seemed best for the story if this were kept a little vague," writes Glass. "I thought it would be lousy and undermining and killjoyish if—at the end of a story—a radio host came on and said 'that wasn't true.' Seemed nicer and more artful to simply raise the possibility that it might or might not be true. I figured: the audience is smart. A little goes a long way."

So what's got my boxers in a bunch? This constant pedantic "I know better than thou,"-cum-inverse condescension. "People are smart enough to know better" -- which has the quite clear converse that if you don't, you're not smart. "On the Media" -- the original target of my rant -- pulls similar and quite annoying shit:
NPR's Executive Producer for Training Jonathan Kern is overseeing a year-long project on news standards, which will likely result in the network providing listeners with more information on production techniques. But he doesn't see much utility for the public in adding transparency for transparency's sake.

JONATHAN KERN: Do they really want to know how we edited every actuality and whether there were internal edits? I would say no, they probably don't want to or need to know that. Would it be a good idea occasionally to explain how it's done? Absolutely.

FUCK YOU! "Transparency for transparency's sake?" Isn't that the point of transparency? Simply to be open with what you're doing? It's not as if transparency is meant to be reserved for only when you actually HAVE committed a crime or impropriety; the whole point is that one shouldn't be forced to let YOU (in this case, NPR) decide for yourself what's proper. Transparency is for the sake of others to make their own decisions about methods and approach; when you start picking and choosing based on your perception of what we "need to know," that's hardly transparency any more. RRrrrgh. I mean, no one/nothing can be completely transparent, but this attitude of "Well, only a pedant would find this concerning" when quite clearly that's not so (earlier in the article on OTM, it's mentioned that "NPR's Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin believes trust in television news has declined in part because viewers see it as over-produced entertainment. Is it possible that the fact listeners are unaware of how much production is involved has helped retain their trust in NPR News?"). It can't possibly simultaneously be a cause for a decrease in trust in television news, and unworthy of being transparent about. (For the other reason OTM pissed me off, see this PoorMojo rant by Pappy Hants here, titled "NPR Allows Caller to Put His Dick in My Ear, Parts I & II.")

That's what gets me, in the end. Glass, Gladwell, and OTM act as if they KNOW that what they're doing is as least plausibly questionable. But they cover it with the concept that anything questionable they do is either already known by or irrelevant to the audience... without explicitly asking the audience. (Certainly a colleague of mine buys into their world view; I leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess my stance.) As Shafer says in his piece:
Gladwell's spiel works not because the stories are particularly funny but because of his reputation as a reliable, meticulous journalist. Puncture the illusion that he's telling the truth, and the laughs leak into the ether.

A storyteller can't have it both ways, instructing listeners to "look it up" while stretching the yarn beyond the breaking point or claiming that smuggling the "baffling" phrase into Post copy became "literally" an "obsession." Gladwell's method, and his decision to let This American Life air his tale, raises … well, new and troubling questions about his attitude toward his audience...

On March 13, after I interviewed him, Gladwell had second thoughts about his Moth talk, qualifying it on his blog with these words:

There is a disclaimer at the end of the This American Life broadcast, to the effect that the Moth is a place where "people come to tell both true stories and occasional tall tales." As I think should be obvious if you listen to it, my story definitely belongs to the "tall tale" category. I hope you enjoy it. But please do so with a rather large grain of salt.
Virginia Heffernan of the NYT makes what I believe is the unwarranted assumption that since most random people don't tell interesting stories, and since Glass works so hard to mold "everyday" stories into amusing ones, that perhaps indeed, "[A]lmost no one has a bona fide story, though most have arguments to make, consolations to offer and widgets to sell." (I think this is bullshit, but it would take too long to get further into it here.) BUT Heffernan's point that Glass' methods on TAL are "A way to take the wheel of stories when it’s clear that the everyman he’s recruited isn’t saying exactly what the producers want him to." As she says of the TAL story she reviews, "Ultimately it’s maddening to watch Mr. Glass force this point on Ralph and Sandra, two fascinating people whose dual intimacy with the fading art of ranching and the ascendant art of cloning should have earned them the microphone for the full hour. But Mr. Glass apparently can’t help himself. Only one person really has a story to tell here."

The problem isn't just that, as my TAL-loving friend asserts, that there is artistry in Glass' manipulation that has its own worth, different (greater than?) the worth of true stories told truly without an overriding outside point of view, it's that Glass seems defensive about this idea, that not only is it true but that it doesn't matter. It's more fun if you believe it's true and not heavily filtered, and it's unimportant or killjoyish to let you know that it's not and it is, respectively. It's that this point of view doesn't seem restricted to Glass; it's the official point of view of NPR. They admit that, unlike TV, you can't even see the cuts, deceptive or not. But ultimately, they assure us, their version of reality is close enough, that we should know it's reality presented with their own opinion of fealty to the source, and that -- this is my favorite (ugh) part -- not only do we not need to know that explicitly, but truly, we don't want to. Of course, that's just their opinion -- but what does that mean when they feel that their point of view is more important than reality?


One might ask "What's the alternative?" -- to which I would say that at least as far as "real news" goes, journalistic integrity and the advantages of the web would mean that they could post full, unedited versions of interviews -- raw transcripts, as are published for such venerable and truthful institutions as Fox News for many of their shows. True, they do this primarily for Talk Shows -- news-light angry folks like O'Reilly -- but NPR could innovate it with raw transcripts of interviews, at least, if not audio and/or video of interviews and raw transcripts for their reporters. (The OTM piece reveals that they sound so intelligent, urbane, pithy, and concise because the reporters are also edited such that the "uhs' and "ums" come out; apparently this is what some people "appreciate" about NPR -- it's polishness. I could give two shits for polish -- I'd rather see it as it was. All communication is a lie, in a way -- nothing can be communicated in absolute true purity -- but that doesn't mean all alterations are the same, or irrelevant. In general, the more alteration, the further one gets from reality, so it seems to me that a minimum of editing and alteration should be the goal. I'll give you editing for time -- an artifice but a necessary one. But not "polish", which is pure aesthetics. Beauty may be truth to some, but I prefer my truth with morning breath and frizzy hair, not truth that's been groomed enough to appear on America's Next Top Model.)