Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I think you are an....

Sometimes you just need a good laugh. This one just keeps coming back to me, and the more I think about it, the harder I laugh. Not unlike the infamous "Director of Butt-Licking" episode at the Virginia Tech newspaper a few years back.

It just proves that you should never, ever type something in jest that you wouldn't want to see published. Perhaps next post I will tell the story of the day at The Daily Progress when the managing editor threatened to fire all the people he suspected of being responsible for such a joke-gone-haywire, then keep firing people until he ran out of staff to fire.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Decider in Chief

"I'm the decider and I decide what's best." - President Bush on his decision to keep Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

I am so terribly glad that we have a firm hand on all this deciding business. It takes all the pressure to decide off of our poor, overworked shoulders. Wonder what he will decide next?

Afternoon update: "You're not the boss of me," the president tells the media.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Now that takes nuts

I don't know who this guy is, or how I got on his email list, but this State Senate candidate has my admiration for daring to co-opt one of the best campaign slogans in American history (Doubt it will help, of course, even in this potentially anti-incumbent year in Pennsylvania. His opponent is Bob Jubelirer, president pro-tem of the Senate and an entrenched political player if there ever was one. Still, great slogan). Now if only someone could find a way to resurrect "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too."

Note the slogan at the very bottom of this press release, which wiggled its way into my email box today:

For Immediate Release: Contact: Tim Kelly April 14, 2006 814 317 1753

Jubelirer Extreme Makeover: Failure
Analysts Project 5% Eichelberger Lead

HOLLIDAYSBURG, PA – Yesterday in a new survey conducted by The Polling Company, challenger to the 30th District state senate seat, , is only 1% back from 31 year incumbent Bob Jubelirer in a head to head match up. In a three way race, Eichelberger is still within the margin of error.

“After spending $300,000 - $400,000 in advertising on television, radio, billboards, and direct mail pieces, Bob Jubelirer’s conservative make over is not winning over district voters,” said Eichelberger. “We are dead even at the commencement of our ad campaign, I’m thrilled.”

Polling Points:

• In the two man race Eichelberger and Jubelirer are neck and neck
• One in five voters, more than 20% of those polled, remained undecided in the head to head match up; those undecided voters tend to break for Eichelberger
• Detailed breakdowns of the poll shows that Eichelberger’s base is clearly more solid than Jubelirer’s
• Jubelirer polls below 50% in all potential match ups
• Eichelberger has not run an advertising campaign to date; Jubelirer has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in political advertising
• Jubelirer’s numbers have done little between polling in 10/05 and 3/06
• Eichelberger has overwhelming support in Blair County
• Given the many new voters in this race and comparisons to benchmark data, political analysts give Eichelberger a 5 % edge if the polls were open today and a larger margin after Eichelberger’s message hits the airwaves

-I Like Eich-

PS: I see that "Eich" is having Alan Keyes stump for him. This tells me almost all I need to know. I doubt Sen. Jubelirer would be risking too much to contact a caterer now for his post election victory party. In fact, he might get a nice discount for booking early. Just a thought.

Monday, April 10, 2006

And they say Katie lacks gravitas

During the 2000 campaign, I covered a Bush event at a hall in Pittsburgh, I think it was the Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum, where Bush appeared along with Colin Powell and Tom Ridge, who was still governor of Pennsylvania (and hadn't yet wrecked his career as director of Homeland Security). Powell and Ridge are both tall, imposing ex-military men, who wear their suits sharp and crisp-pressed. They stand up straight. They are charismatic and forceful when they speak. Almost entirely unlike Bush on all counts. He looks incredibly ill-at-ease in a suit (a problem that was even worse then than now), and when uncomfortable, he tends to chuckle and huff in a most undignified way. After a few minutes of watching this painful contrast on stage, we in the press corps agreed that if you were an alien who had been suddenly thrown into this scene and asked to pick which of these three men was the nominee for president, you would never, ever guess the truth.

Bush has certainly gotten a lot better on stage in a lot of ways. But it doesn't always work.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Just what we need

On the whole, I find the New York gossip column scene exceeding tedious (Though I have a fondness for Gawker, but more for the snarky writing than the actual gossip). But I am greatly concerned about this Jared Stern stuff. This is exactly what journalism doesn't need right now. If the New York Times is correct this morning, then Stern was engaged in exactly the kind of deliberate amoral character destruction that people accuse the media of engaging in (but which usually isn't true - we're not that well organized). But here is this clown putting it on the record. According to the Times, Stern is heard on the recording saying:

"We know how to destroy people," Mr. Stern said, according to a person reading a transcript of the meeting. "It's what we do. We do it without creating liability. That's our specialty."

Lovely. Just lovely.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A great new business model

To hell with struggling along for a salary writing stories, or hustling for freelance gigs.

NYDN: Page Six writer solicited $220K from gossip subject

This guy has come up with an excellent way to finance his journalism habit. All I can say is Why Didn't I Think of This?

Nice career you have here, Congressman. Pity if something were to HAPPEN to it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

There's a crime being committed

For reasons that I am at a loss to explain, the water in the fountain at Philadelphia's famous Love Park (home of the "Love" sculpture on which the stamp and posters are based) has been a particularly bright and unpleasant shade of pink this week. I mean like neon pink. This has happened before, apparently - the picture linked above is from last fall sometime, though I don't remember that particular outbreak of pink.

The other day, my wife and I were walking toward the fountain along the Ben Franklin Parkway and one of Philly's huge army of insane homeless people was standing at the corner of the park, raving about something. As we drew closer, we realized that he was upset by the water.

"There is a crime being committed - this water is Pink," he yelled at us, then stormed off toward the Art Museum.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm just sayin'

There was a time, way back in the Stone Age, when "College Party" meant way too much Milwaukee's Best and a certain amount of coupling that was at least marginally consenting, if appallingly inebriated. I really must say that, as over-the-top, drunken, and scandalously un-PC the University of Virginia may have been in the mid-80s (And there was plenty of alcohol-fueled sexual unpleasantness that we should not make light of), I don't recall a single case where anyone sexually assaulted an exotic dancer then, within minutes, publicly discussed killing, dismembering, and/or devouring other dancers.

Great album

I picked this album up used, sort of on a lark the other day.

And I am damned glad I did.

There was a rather tedious profile of them in Paste magazine this month, but other than that I hadn't heard anything about the Avett Brothers. But the album is just fabulous. How to describe it? Imagine if the Beastie Boys woke up one day and decided that, instead of being a bunch of rappers from New York, they would suddenly become an alt-folk/rock trio from North Carolina. Imagine the Violent Femmes sitting around in a living room late into the night with, say, a banjo and a case of beer.

Their own bio says the band stems from the days when Scott and Seth (the two "Avett Brothers" of the band name. The third member is Bob Crawford) had a rock band, but Scott "began getting together with some friends and other flat-pickers on Tuesday nights in Greenville, NC to drink liquor, play acoustic bluegrass and country music, and occasionally perform on the street." Listen to the album and you'll understand why that sums up the band nicely.

The song-writing is sharp and clever. Sometimes it's raucus and funny, like "Talk on Indolence," which seems to be a recollection of an old relationship that was marked by lots of drunken fun, or "The Fall," a high-spirited song the band itself describes as being about death. Sometimes it's maudlin and reflective, like "Sixteen in July," about being young and free in the summer, or "Pretend Love," a strangely sweet song about a relationship built on a lie.

Through it all, the band throws in snippets of studio chatter, including an extended session at the end of the final track. And it sounds like they're having a hell of a lot of fun (and perhaps a fair bit of alcohol).

They've been getting some nice critical attention lately, as it turns out (I somehow missed all of it until Paste) and they are clearly headed for greater things.

I am dying to see these guys live. I'd love to hear how they sound with the Watson Twins behind them, but I'm not holding my breath.

A perilously fine line, but a line nonetheless

Cassie asks an interesting question about my last post, in which I snottily dismissed Extreme Makeover. And I think it bears an answer:

What is the difference between this kind of thing and tabloid journalism?

Admittedly, the line is perilously fine at times. But here's how I would define it.

In tabloid journalism - any journalism, really - the events described are at least real events (however sensational or trivial) that occurred without the intervention or prompting of the publication, at least when the system is working right. Extreme Makeover, however, crosses a crucial line in terms of creating the events it chronicles. A real journalistic enterprise, say the New York Post or New York Times or People magazine, might certainly profile the very same kind of family in distress that Extreme Makeover is seeking. Obviously, it is doing so to catch the reader's attention and, yes, play on their emotions (all good story telling does so). And usually the story is at least nominally making a bigger point - buried somewhere in most stories like this is some kind of information on how the story relates to a bigger issue, perhaps access to health care, or the dangers of drugs, or the problems of poverty, or whatever.

But the problem with something like Extreme Makeover is that is essentially setting up the event that creates the emotion, both for the people affected and for the audience. It has a vested interest in pumping up the pathos of the families involved, then playing up the heroism of the show and the team involved as a way of pumping up the supposedly redemptive emotion as the family sees the results. Nor would it hesitate to tinker with the sequence of events, pictures, or other elements to hype the drama, a practice that is deeply frowned upon in all but the most disreputable fringes of the press. I find this kind of manipulation of the story unacceptably exploitative and cynical. And on top of it, Extreme Makeover doesn't even pretend to give some broader context. Where a normal news story might try (with varying degrees of believability and success) to make the family some kind of human face of a broader trend or issue, Extreme Makeover simply implicitly says "Here is a really pathetic family and we, the nice guys, are here to make their sad little existence better." Extreme Makeover also tends to fit the events it creates into a neat narrative arc - sad family now made whole in 60 minutes. There is little or no attention paid to whether the family in question benefits from the intervention of the show. A news organization, at least ideally, would raise this question in the story, or at leats be open to it, and perhaps even revisit the story later to see how the family has fared. The messy results of real life are not always pretty, as I have discussed before.

I suppose one could make a case that news organizations are on some level exploiting the people about whom they write, and exploiting the emotions of the readers, but the same could be said of good storytelling of all sorts. I think as long as a news story is done respectfully, accurately and without manipulation of the situation or participants, then it falls on the acceptable side of the line. Sometimes news organizations of all kinds fail in one or all of these categories, but I think Extreme Makeover fails routinely by its very structure. It wouldn't even recognize the distinction I am making.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

And what about dewey-eyed kittens, too?

It is this kind of thing that makes me hate this television show. I think it says it all that the department in charge of finding its hapless victims - uuuuh, I mean "worthy families" - is known as "casting."

Oh, and if you think you are sufficiently benighted and would like to beg to be exploited shamelessly by ABC, or know a family that is, here is the application. Just another service I like to provide.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

This right here

This story is just so deliciously weird on so many sickening levels that words nearly fail me. But what really gets me is this quote, which is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance for any reporter:

"This right here beats anything I have ever seen," Sheriff Tom Alexander told the Asheville Citizen-Times, which reported that victims may have come from as far away as South America.