Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Convention Night Two

So who exactly got to choose which night of the convention other than the final night the big networks were going to cover?

If it was the Mainstream Networks themselves, Ah-HA! More evidence of media bias!

But I have a sneaking suspicion this one was left to the GOP. And if so, lookout folks, this race may end up closer than we think.

After McCain and Giuliani (and especially the latter) batted it out of the park last night, hitting the Democrats where they're weakest and setting a campaign tone on the most favorable ground the Republicans could run on, tonight we got Ahhh-nold, a couple of giggly presidential daughters, and the first lady.

Now, truth be told, I am NOT the target demographic for that line-up. And further truth be-told, I missed the first half of Ahhh-nold's speech, and the last half was pretty darn good.

But any momentum gained, was immediately spiked by Bush's lovely daughters giggling through an obviously scripted comedy routine. These things are painful enough to sit through at wedding rehearsal dinners. And in fact, that was sort of the tone. A mild roast, basically never challenging anything important, and never getting very funny either, delivered by someone not used to public speaking.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the Bush twins. It certainly wasn't their fault they were even on stage. And having been on stage myself, I realize public speaking isn't as easy as it looks. Especially delivering someone else's lines and trying to seem natural.

But anyway, they did their schtick, got polite laughter and applause from the GOP faithful on the floor, and kept it decently short.

The First Lady was lovely and gracious and not a bad speaker. But here's where I realized I am SO not the target audience for this. I sort of prefer hearing Theresa Heinz-Kerry.

GACK.... back-up, back-up... not like you might think!!! Wait!!!

I VASTLY prefer Laura Bush as First Lady. But when I see someone on that podium on national television, I want a character. I want someone who seems compelling unto themself. Hillary was compelling because you heard songs from "Evita" in your head whenever she spoke, and you wondered when she would drop all pretense and announce that she was the one truly running the country and Bill was just a front.

No offense to Laura Bush, because it's not her fault, but that's really not the role of a First Lady, who is best measured in how well she supports and in a sense, humanizes her husband. And that makes for BORING stage presense. As I said.. lovely and gracious. And she truly is both, that's not just boilerplate in this case. But why do I need to know about the personal details of the way George and Laura met at a backyard barbeque in Midland, Texas, and married three months later?

I'll tell you why. It's because people care about the details of Brittany Spears wedding, and J-Lo's divorce. We care about every personal detail about our celebrities. It makes us feel close to them. And to love them. And we expect - nay demand - the same in a president.

But, and perhaps this is the basis for my weird aversion to this, I think back to the convention last night. Sure, it was full of slogans, and rhetorical tricks, and appeals to emotion. But at its heart it was an appeal to an adult electorate. It called upon voters to think about the overall fate of the nation. To remember where our nation was on 9/11, and to put wherever we are now into that context.

Tonight (Arnold aside) felt like we were trying to get votes from people who vote irresponsibly. People who will vote on the basis of a First Lady's clothing style, or on smarmy appeals to what a great marriage the Bush's have (like we would ever truly know that from a convention speech).

And what most bothers me is that I know this stuff is studied intensely by campaign managers, and put in there for a reason. Tonight really was important, because it really did win votes. And I guess I can only hope they were won on Arnold's message of inclusiveness and optimism, and not the later stuff.

Lileks and the Hummel Picture


The Patron Saint of Hummels accepting an offering from a pilgrim. Posted by Hello

This was the only moment at Keegan's I managed to get a picture of. And, fabulous photojournalist that I am, I failed to get the name of the fellow on the left. Too bad. He seemed like a pretty good guy. And incidentally, no he wasn't a terribly tall person.

The fellow on the right is of course James Lileks; inspiration to bloggers near and far (though he still insists the Bleat is not a blog), member of the Northern Alliance (of blogs - what does that tell you about what everyone else thinks of the Bleat's bloggiosity?), man of less-than-average stature, and perpetual butt of a never-ending joke by Mr. Hugh Hewitt that James collects Hummel figurines (perhaps inspired by the fact that James resembles them in overall size).

Anyhow, this is a photo taken mere seconds after the unnamed pilgrim to the left presented Mr. Lileks with this gift. I'm not sure if this was the only page or not. There appeared to be several. But that may be the beer talking. Or maybe they were multiple copies of the same thing. The two in the picture above seem to be identical. A little closer detail is available at Pinkmonkeybird.

Anyway, as this post gives evidence, I now have a fully functional battery recharger for my digital camera. Photoblogging will commence!! ... at least, as soon as I remember to take my camera with me in case I see something bloggable. I'm not usually good at that.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Rudy!

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

I can already hear the calls for Rudy in '08. The man owned the stage and the delegates tonight. John McCain was no more than a warm-up act.

Overall the first night of the convention was most striking for the fact that it dove into the War on Terror, and pretty much nothing else.

To be honest, left to the Democrats and the MSM, this stuff is ancient history. What a gaffe not to focus on healthcare, jobs, and the economy. Yeah, right. That's why he's Karl Rove and you're not, you lefties. Tonight the Republicans sent a shot across the bow of H. M. S. Kerry. This election is about the war. And you've flip-flopped all over this topic. Spin all you want. We're going to remind the voters about 9/11.

I really had no intention of watching this night of convention coverage. The major media decided not to cover it. But the McCain/Giuliani scorecard got me. One is famous for his feud with Bush, the other for his 9/11 bond with him.

I got the impression watching McCain that he had named a price for that speech. And he got his price. No idea what that might be. But politics is like that. I also got the impression that McCain is too old to successfully run in '08, no matter what he thinks today. Not his fault of course. But these things do matter.

Giuliani gave me the impression he was enthusiastic about the opportunity to endorse Bush as a launching pad to a further political career. I seriously think he's even more of a serious candidate for the '08 Republican nomination than he was previously. And if he gets a cabinet position in the next administration perhaps even moreso.

But anyway, it was an interesting, if not shocking convention night. More about the how than the what I suppose. I thought the evocation of 9/11 was powerful and convincing. Let's see how it looks after the MSM gets a chance to spin it in a "John Kerry ought to win" way.

Abrupt shift into other things...

Check out Pinkmonkeybird if you haven't yet. For two reasons.

The first is an amusing anecdote. In the midst of general chaos at the big trivia challenge last Thursday, I was introduced to Scott who's site it is. But the place was really really loud at that point. So when Mitch Berg introduced us the next two minutes were filled with me trying to shout and spell "Bogus Gold" to him, while he shouted and spelled "Pinkmonkeybird" to me. Needless to say, I got it wrong, and were it not for hearing him on the NARN radio broadcast on saturday I would still have no idea how to find his site.

The second is because he's a pretty good blogger. I have this pretty positive vibe about Minnesota bloggers in general these days. And Scott's riding the wave nicely, man.

A third and optional reason is because, once I discovered the actual name of his site, I realized it's from a David Bowie song (Moonage Daydream) from one of my favorite albums of all time: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Digression: This is considered the birth of "glam rock." But I discovered this album while in college in the late 1980's. There was no glam to it for me. No visuals at all. Just the music itself. And to this day I think it's one of the most compelling and interesting rock albums ever made.

Anyway, Scott is new to blogging much like me. But he's enthusiastic and seems to "get it" about what blogs are about. If that means anything to anyone other than me.

You may notice he's not yet in my blogroll. Yeah, yeah, I know. A couple of others are missing too.

See, I don't want to offer a blogroll a zillion sites long. Much like Mitch at Shot in the Dark, I would like to be able to explain WHY a particular site is linked in my blogroll for a reason both relevant and personal. I also like categories like Captain Ed has on Captain's Quarters. So I'm working on a new format for blog listing. Pinkmonkeybird will end up in some sort of "Minnesota blogger" section, for people who's blogs I read in the local scene. Think of it as an incipient "Jr. NARN" network. At least from my perspective. Well, folks who might show up for the next Keegan's event in any case.

Much more to discuss. But it's late, and I have to go learn stuff at an IBM conference tomorrow.

Let me leave you with this thought. Bush in '04. Giuliani in '08? If not who else? Discuss.

Let the Protests Begin (oh yeah, and the convention too)

Spent a good deal of yesterday evening trying to bang out a blog post about political cynicism. But it turned out to be one of those topics where the more you pull, the more you unravel. Not a satisfying experience as either a writer nor as a citizen. Bad stuff in the body-politic these days.

Of course, the Republican convention opened, to no surprise, with the MSM giving front page attention to the protesters. Headline in the Star Tribune this morning: Great Divide: Bush Polarizes voters.

Plenty of lovely photos like this found within:



What are these people so angry at Bush for? Like Brando answered in the Wild One, the answer here seems to be "what have you got?" We're not witnissing some sort of popular uprising against tyranny, no matter how many hyperbolic leftist hot-heads scream about it. They like to pretend it's about the war. But I'm not buying it. There's no draft, and the casualty rate of post-war Iraq at the worst is far lower than these same protesters were insisting the sanctions were killing in Iraq previously. You see the environmental sky-is-falling crowd well represented; the anti-globalists; the Vietnam War nostalgists. But there's really not much of a through line in there. They just all channel their fury - whatever they've got - against Bush.

Somewhere in there I assume there are also a few folks who support John Kerry for president because they prefer his policy positions. If so, they're rather dwarfed by the rest. And to me it's not a real mystery why.

John Kerry, in the kindest light, offers no more than European style socialism. The expansion of the welfare state is about the only theme in his candidacy. And you can build a respectable political base in agreement about that in this country. Just not enough to win a national election.

There are two problems with the Euro-socialist appeal to the American electorate. The first is that, no matter how appealing it looks on paper, it clashes with the preferred American lifestyle. Independence and opportunity traditionally drive Americans more strongly than safety and equality. Euro-socialism squelches the former in favor of the latter.

The second problem is generational. Even in Europe, the younger generation is losing faith in their system of government. The Baby-boom generation may have marked the high water mark in the popularity of the welfare state. Which is not to say it's going away anytime soon. Just that it is now building resentment rather than trust or hope.

Now none of this is to suggest that everyone will by default come over the the less European / less Socialist model the Republicans are selling. In fact, a great deal of the fury exhibited by the protestors is no doubt caused by the fact that they hate that vision even more than the Euro-socialist model., even if they can't articulate why in anything but memorized leftist slogans.

And that was sort of what lead to my ponderings about cynicism last night. I'll try to summarize them here.

We live in an age of profound political cynicism. We have now reached the point where we not only think our politicians are all liars - we think those who report to us about them are lying as well.

Cynicism comes down to us as a legacy of a fellow named Diogenes, who famously carried around a lamp and lived in a tub. Turns out that's not some fable incidentally. The guy really did carry a lamp and lived in a tub, if only for a short time and to make his opinion noticed. Not coincidentally, the wild costumes and attention getting behavior of the modern protestor takes this same approach: do something outlandish to get attention for your message.

But Diogenes' Cynicism is not really what I'm here to talk about. The original Cynics were all about the pursuit of virtue. Modern cynics not only don't pursue virtue, if anything they pursue the Nihilistic void. Their only similarity to the ancient cynics is their opposition to the status quo, and scorn of conventional wisdom. The modern cynic can prattle endlessly about what he's against, but can't form a coherent sentence about what he's for.

And that seems to be the crux of political discourse in huge segments of the body politic. Like the ancient cynics, they mock, belittle, and defame opposing political views. Unlike the ancients, the only things the offer in place are just as easily mocked, belittled, and defamed by others.

So much energy is being poured into the destruction of the views, parties, and politicians we despise, that we've almost lost the ability to find the views, parties, and politicians we can respect.

There is one exception. And it's not a comforting one. A general consensus seems to be building around celebrity. If you're a movie star, or rock star, or the like, you can toss your hat in the ring and immediately find yourself leading the polls for political office. If you're not already a celebrity, a great deal of your election strategy will involve making you become one.

The worrying part of this is that it reflects a desire for a powerful, popular leader to take care of all of our problems for us. It's the bedrock for a strongman to seize power in a crisis. The American system of government used to have plenty of checks to prevent that sort of thing. But they all assumed a healthy and common civic ethic. And when you see pictures like this representing a huge proportion of the voting public, you're hardly comforted about the state of political or civic thought these days.

Cynicism is replacing citizenship, and while more colorful at times, it's a sorry tradeoff.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Safe Disctricts and Consequences

What a weird week it's been. I'm totally discombobulated compared to the state of mind I've come to expect on a weekend. I honestly couldn't answer the question, "How are you?" at the moment.

But let's not dwell on that.

I was going to review a wine tonight. But then I opened it, drank it, and eh. It was decent. Not too bad. Not anything special. Not a rip-off for the price. Not really a bargain either. Kudos for attempting something different though. It was a California blended white table wine, unoaked, Pinot-Grigio/Chardonnay with a dash of Sauvignon Blanc. I like the concept more than the execution. Oh what the heck, let that stand as the review. It was Coppola Bianco, 2003. There you go.

Thinking about the big hoo-hah at Keegan's last Thursday, I remembered something which I forgot to mention in the post on the topic. And it's the forgetting that makes me want to talk about it now.

I met Daniel Mathias (and his wife), who is currently running as the Republican challenger to represent me (and Keegan's) as Congressman. Dan (I hope he doesn't mind the familiarity) is running in Minnesota's 5th District, which is currently and perenially represented by Martin Sabo. It is the very definition of a "safe seat" for the Democrats.

Being such a solid Democratic district, and being that Dan was thoroughly trounced the last time he ran by the exact same opponent in the exact same district, one would think this guy was some plucky challenger trying to make some sort of impression or point or impart a message. But no. Dan is very serious about winning to the point of a fault, and seems to not appreciate humor about his slim chances (as I found out the socially awkward way).

Here's the trouble. If you go to his website for information as of tonight, you will notice that the "Next place to meet Daniel" spots are from last June. So at the very least whoever runs his website has clearly thrown in the towel already.

Dan himself is not the most personable fellow, though he's not a bad guy either.

But Keegan's is in his own darn district, and that night it was full of Republican activists and supporters. Hugh Hewitt was working the room like a pro, popular with everyone, and loves to give free pub to any Republican challenger. You would think Mr. Mathias would try to get Hugh to toss an endorsement his way or call him to public attention or something. But no. Instead he wandered up in total obscurity (I only recognized him when I heard him mention his name, and recognized the "vote Mathias" sticker he and his wife both wore) and struck up a conversation with someone next to me, which I overheard and thereby recognized him. He earnestly lectured and kvetched for about five minutes and then sullenly wandered away.

What's more, when I mentioned that I lived in the very district he was running for, I got a somewhat annoyed glare from him. Like I was distracting him from something more important than talking to a constituant.

Now, to be fair, I wouldn't expect to find a truly polished politician running in the 5th as a Republican. And Dan seems to be a generally decent guy, in a way polished politicans generally do not. But he does not seem like he has the remotest concept about how to run for office, how to work a crowd, or how to get a message out. For gosh sake, I'm having second thoughts about voting for the guy after meeting him (don't worry, the head will ultimately rule the heart here), and I'm a broken-glass Republican.

And that somewhat worries me, because there are a LOT of safe seats for both parties out there. And in this one the Republicans seem to not only have abandoned hopes of winning the seat, they've abandoned the idea of getting their message out. And that's how a guy like Dan Mathias becomes the nominee twice in a row.

And so, for lack of an alternate message, the 5th sinks more deeply into the advanced stages of "Moore's disease." From a national level that seems acceptable. The electoral math still works after all. But the same thing goes on among Democrats in safe Republican districts. And what does that mean under the radar?

In my opinion it's contributing to a national Balkanization along party lines. Here in the 5th the public political dialogue will portray Bush as Hitler. Head a few miles north, and everyone will "know" that Kerry is a lying Commie lover.

I know the answer is not to expect the Republicans to throw wasted money into the Minnesota 5th district, nor is it to dump on poor old Dan Mathias. But there is a problem here, and it has real consequences in the everyday life of people all over the country.

Maybe the blogosphere will have to come to the rescue. Who knows where we'll be in two years. But Keegan's could becone a headquarters for conservative activism by then (no foolin'. The political influence represented in the bar that night was stunning.) . And perhaps we can devise a strategy for making even "safe" disctricts for Democrats useful to our overall goals.

Friday, August 27, 2004

And Much Fun Was Had By All

I went down to Keegan’s last night for a crowded and loud bacchanalia of trivia, celebrity hounding (both the local and national kind), adult beverages, and carousing with those infamous right-wing lunatics who listen to “hate radio,” and read those scandalously poorly fact checked blogs you might have read about in the New York Times.

A very good night.

For the record, “anonymous” from yesterday’s comments section, did indeed indulge in adult beverages. Though it was dark beer, not vodka as boasted. But we’ll give him a pass, because I was reliably informed that Keegan’s has the best Guinness pour in the Twin Cities – having paid a chunk of change to fly a fellow over from Guinness headquarters in Ireland to adjust the jeejobs, and tweak the whozeewhatsits, until the balance was exactly the way God intended.

Which made it rather puzzling why they also serve it ice cold.

A short digression. Guinness is one of those beers Americans have traditionally mocked when traveling abroad for being served WARM. Trouble is, much as I enjoy a good session of dumping on Europeans as much as the next right-wing nutjob, it’s the Americans who have this one wrong. Guinness and other stouts are supposed to be served at “cellar temperature,” which is below room temperature, but above the inside of your fridge. This isn’t because Europe has yet to discover refrigeration (though much like bathing, it isn't as popular there as here - ahhh, that feels more like it). The stuff truly does taste better at that temp. Serve it colder and you miss a lot of the flavor.

So I found myself sitting there (actually, standing because there was not an open seat in the house) with a full pint of Guinness. Realizing it was colder than I prefer, all I had to do was let it sit there for a while, and it would warm to proper temperature, right? But some evil part of my brain kept reminding me: “There in your hand is a full frothy pint of Guinness! And everyone else is drinking up and enjoying. And it’s not like it’s BAD when it’s cold, it’s just better a bit warmer. And aren’t you just a wee bit thirsty anyway?”

So anyway, about the bottom third of each pint was enjoyed at proper temperature. And it is indeed a fine pour. But back to the event….

Other than spotting “anonymous” sitting outside the bar and exchanging a couple of introductory words on the way in, I didn’t know anyone. I had no idea what to do. The place was packed already. I spotted Mike Nelson sitting with a small group of folks I assumed to be the Fraters. No Michael Medved or Hugh Hewitt yet. Not knowing who was supposed to be where, I didn’t even know a good spot to hang out to watch the contest.

Luckily, I spotted Mitch Berg, whom I had met briefly before. Mitch is one of the most gregarious and helpful fellows you could hope to run into in such an occasion. First of all, he knows everyone. Secondly, he seems to take it upon himself to ensure everyone gets to know each other as well. So within a couple of minutes I was introduced to Captain Ed from Captain’s Quarters, a couple fellows from the Taxpayers League, The Fraters Libertas guys, Mike Nelson, and a fellow named Jason, from rphaedrus, who Mitch described as the only good lefty blogger in town.

I parked myself next to Jason near the bar, as Mitch ran off to go fill the unofficial role of host for the event, spotting bloggers and blog readers from previous events and getting the socializing commenced. I asked Jason about the “lefty blogger” tag.

This put Jason in a slightly defensive, but rather opportune situation conversationally, as he was immediately hit on by several people within earshot to explain this “lefty” stuff. Gotta hand it to the Patriot listeners and bloggers in attendance, no one insulted or attacked. There was some mild ribbing, but a lot of serious intelligent discussion. And Jason acquitted himself very well, though he’s not so much a “lefty” in the Atrios or Kos sense, as he is a “not-righty.” And since he’s not planning to vote for Kerry (he’s deciding between Nader and Libertarian Badnarik), he likely defused some of the more potentially heated arguments.

So pretty soon the trivia contest began, and I found myself in an ad-hoc team composed of myself, Jason, and two gentleman who listen to the Patriot and were attending as spectators there much like myself (and whose names unfortunately escape me at the moment). The trivia contest is actually somewhat hard not to participate in. They hand out cards and pencils beforehand, scattering them about the room. Then a fellow with a microphone walks around loudly asking the questions. Game-shows have conditioned me to blurt out an answer when prompted like that. Jason, who can smoke, drink, and write at the same time, despite having no table space, started writing down answers. And around the fourth question we were into it as a team.

And what a team. We got trounced. I was happy to know some of the more obscure answers, but blanked on some of the most obvious ones. Jason doesn’t watch television, movies, or know anything about baseball – so that made most of the questions impossible for him. The other two teammates gave it the old college try. But after a couple of easy introductory questions, they cranked the obscurity level up pretty well into subjects neither of them knew much about either.

Anyway, it was fun playing. Like everyone else, I expected one of the two headline teams to win. They certainly did better than our rag-tag little squad. But the winners turned out to be the defending Tuesday night championship team. The Hewitt, Medved, Lileks team (it suddenly occurs to me I don’t know who their fourth was. They were sitting in the middle of a mob of friends, supporters, and spectators. Could have been any one of them.), and the Fraters Libertas tied. But both were bested by Captain Ed’s team and Mitch’s team (which may or may not have been the same team. Too many people talking back and forth to make out the details).

Afterward I got a chance to visit with some of the others a bit. Hugh was working the room pretty well, and was very personable and accommodating to everyone who asked for some of his time - which by this time felt like about 800,000 people shoved into the corner of a much-smaller-than-you’d-think bar. Michael Medved is not nearly as outgoing as Hugh. But he smiled and shook hands and exchanged a few words with folks. Lileks didn’t so much work the room as he just seemed to belong there. It was like watching him at a party with all sorts of friends and acquaintances, striking up conversations here and there with no hint of celebrity about him.

I had taken along my digital camera, but was very hesitant to use it. When I purchased it online, it arrived with a broken battery charger, and I’ve been waiting for the replacement for ages now. I have about 2 minutes of battery life left. I was hoping to get a couple of nice shots of the event, but my hesitation cost me. I got exactly one picture. It’s one of James Lileks accepting a gift of some sort of Hummel images in a bound volume from a fan (an inside joke which Hugh Hewitt listeners would get). I’ll try to post it tonight, if my battery isn’t dead. Sometime after the new battery charger arrives otherwise.

I had a nice little discussion with Captain Ed as well. He has a sort of “deer in the headlights” quality about him at the moment, having gone from almost total obscurity to respected popular blogger, to national media figure with major acceleration toward the latter only in the past couple of weeks. But he’s a sharp guy with good insight and a level head. I look forward to his Republican convention coverage.

I also caught Mike Nelson and his wife on their way out the door. I just had to tell my “six degrees of separation” story to him. I mean, what’s all that Guinness good for if not for making you tell obscure personal stories to people you barely know?

The story is about my pre-kids time of life when my wife and I rented half of a duplex from a nice older couple of neighbor-landlords. One morning the landlord was over to fix something or other, and noticed that we had MST3K on the television, and remarked about it. Since the landlord was in his 60’s, and therefore not exactly in the demographic sweet-spot of the show's audience, I was a bit surprised than he knew about it and asked how. Turned out his daughter was Mary Jo Pehl, and was a writer on the show (and later played the character “Pearl” for the last couple of seasons). Mike looked only mildly amused, but his wife enjoyed it quite a bit. Seems Mary Jo (whom I met in passing only one time when she was visiting her folks incidentally) is her best friend.

Ended the night holding Mitch up with a last round (apologies to Mitch’s babysitter – my fault he was late), talking about tech work, blogs, and many of the gang who were there that night. Mitch is one of those rare people who seems as comfortable in a group of a dozen all talking at once as he is in one on one conversation. Maybe that’s why he makes a good radio host.

In any case, it was great fun. My throat is still sore this morning from spending the hours shouting over the general din. The place was so packed I didn’t spot an open seat until it was almost time to go. Just the sort of scene I normally avoid. But in this case it felt more like a very good party full of interesting new acquaintances and old friends. Plus some good draft Guinness and live Irish music. Not a bad way to spend an evening.


UPDATE: And I didn't think he'd notice. Hugh took the time to chat with about a zillion people last night. Who'd have thought he would remember me? But there I am described perfectly in his blog today:

"But I do know that enterprising bar-keeps the country over ought to follow Keegan's lead and organize such Thursday night trivia fests and encourage local bloggers to attend. It is a great way to meet the community of cyber-scribblers and also indulge the competitiveness that most certainly drives people to take up their keyboards and comment. Plus, many of them appear to drink heavily, making it a pretty good promotion when it comes to the night's receipts, not to mention the write-ups in the blogs the next day."

That was ME!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Lookout... Here Comes Stream-of-Conscious Blogging

The title was no joke. I have all these little ideas bouncing around in my head. I have no idea what order they're coming out in. After trying and failing to organize the little buggers, I decided to let them duke it out themselves. Here goes.

I'm planning to head down to Keegan's tomorrow night to watch the great Fraters Libertas trivia team defend their title against the All-Star team Hugh Hewitt is putting together, including James Lileks and Michael Medved. Apparently, it isn't a sure thing that Hugh's team will show up. But I figure plenty of other bloggers and blog fans and Patriot listeners will be there. Sounds fun, and I got the thumbs-up from the World's Greatest Wife and Mother (take notes newly-weds, that one gets you WAY better mileage than "little woman" or "ball and chain").

I have images of Medved sipping Mogen-David from a tiny glass, Hugh nursing a Miller-lite, Lileks drinking coffee and looking longingly at the Fraters table which is over-flowing with top-shelf martinis, pitchers of dark beer, and tequila shots. Naturally, I'll be gravitating toward the Fraters. They've already taken out smoking in Minneapolis. Booze could well be next. It's our civic duty to make public displays of our affection for the stuff. Out of towners like Hewitt and Medved (and hometown suck-ups like Lileks) do not appreciate the urgency.

Speaking of urgency.... ok I just liked the transition. I got nothin' to back that up. How urgent can a guy be who just admitted he's going to go boozin' at a bar to be a spectator at a trivia contest tomorrow night.

Though it does call to mind the ginned up urgency preached from both sides of the political aisle as the election approaches. That's not in itself surprising. In fact, that's literally the job description of some of those in the political scene. During every election someone has to make us believe there is something really important going on and you'd better not miss it. Otherwise a majority of the electorate stays home and watches Seinfeld re-runs.

What's surprising, and not entirely comforting, is how earnestly a large part of the electorate is starting to take this stuff. A frightening number of them seriously believe we're on the verge of a Nazi or Stalinist regime depending on which party wins this upcoming contest. That's not a healthy perspective for a functioning republic. In fact, if we can't pull back and gain a little more perspective, that's a sort of situation one might find in a nation heading toward civil war - and not the metaphorical kind.

These thoughts were already floating around the edges of my political mind when I came across this excellent comment by Freeper "Nick Danger" on a Free Republic thread commenting on this excellent piece by Wretched from the Belmont Club:


The undercard in the Kerry vs Swiftvets bout is Mainstream Media vs Kid Internet

Is that the undercard? I think it's the main bout. K- k- k- Kerry and the Vets will be history by mid-November. The struggle over the soul of the nation will not end so soon.

The leftsream media will lose, of course. They are outnumbered and outgunned.

This might not be a good thing. The better thing would have been for the journalism profession to have remained honest. It is not bad to have an entire nation agreeing on a commonly-held set of facts. We're losing that now, and you can see it on the Internet. Democrats who come here regard 90% of what we say here as absolute BS. We look at their sites, and all we see is BS.

We know for a "fact" Clinton was lying scumbucket. Democrats know for a "fact" that Clinton was he victim of a vicious right-wing smear job. The same thing is happening now with Kerry.

We used to argue over opinions. Now we don't even agree on the facts. Reagan tried to make ketchup a vegetable in the schools. No, he didn't. Clinton did make salsa a vegetable in the schools. Democrats don't even know about that — the leftstream media spiked any mention of it.

Had the mainstream media remained even somewhat honest about things, we would not now be degenerating into a society of two (at least!) disagreeable camps going at each other with hammer and tongs.

But the mainstream media is not honest anymore, and they can't fix themselves in time to do any good. No one who is politically active trusts them anymore. So what we are going to see happen is a lot like the Tower of Babel story, with the body politic disintegrating into ever-smaller segments, each of which follows its own "media" and "knows" its own "facts."

I don't know how 300 million people can govern themselves with that going on. It is a situation ripe for a strongarm dictatorship.

He's right. It's depressing, and no one I know has a clue how to correct it. Truth be told, the history of republics in general suggests that there is no reversing that sort of thing once it starts. My own further thoughts on the history of the republic some other time, but suffice it to say I do not find this any more comforting than Mr. Danger.

Incidentally, Nick Danger is one of a handful of Freepers who are worth seeking out via the "posted by" search tool on Free Republic. It's like reading a combination of a good blog and that blogger's comments on other blogs.

But anyway, the Swiftvet deal prompted two very good articles today; one by Robert Samuelson at the Washington Post, and another on the same topic by Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online. Both of these are about how it's impossible to justify surpressing political speech as exercised by the "527" groups in this election while simultaneously upholding the First Amendment.

Money quote from Samuelson:
The First Amendment says that Congress "shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government" (that's "political association''). The campaign finance laws, the latest being McCain-Feingold, blatantly violate these prohibitions. The Supreme Court has tried to evade the contradiction. It has allowed limits on federal campaign contributions. It justifies the limits as preventing "corruption" or "the appearance of corruption." But the court has rejected limits on overall campaign spending by candidates, parties or groups. Limiting spending, the court says, would violate free speech. Spending enables candidates to reach voters through TV and other media.

Unfortunately, this artful distinction doesn't work. If groups can spend any amount on campaigns, their spending can easily become unlimited contributions. All they need to do is ask the campaign how their money ought to be spent -- on what TV ads, for example. To prevent this, the FEC imposes restrictions on "coordination" between candidates, parties and groups making "independent expenditures." John Kerry alleges that the Swift Boat Veterans and the Bush campaign "coordinated" illegally. Republicans see similar ties between Kerry and Democratic 527s.

But "coordination" is really "speech" and "political association." It's talking and planning among people who want to elect or defeat the same candidates.

and from Goldberg:
What is so thoroughly absurd and tragic is how we've come to accept as the "enlightened" position in America that political speech needs to be regulated as much as the instructions on prescription drugs. These 527s are the inevitable consequence of the fact that Americans who don't have the opportunity to appear on television or write columns for newspapers want to have a voice in politics. They're also the result of the fact that very rich people — like George Soros — can always find a way to be heard. Campaign-finance "reform" holds that only "legitimate" voices can be heard in a democracy, which should be repugnant to the crowd that usually waxes pious about First Amendment rights.


What the heck has happened to liberalism? I mean the real deal, as opposed to whatever happens to be the current political preferences of the American left, which is what the term "liberalism" has come to mean colloquially. The old kind was something to be admired, even when one disagreed on its application to a particular situation. The wretched creature that goes by the name these days is responsible for some of the most illiberal concoctions imaginable, and is enthusiastic about enacting even more wildly illiberal creations.

I suppose David Horowitz has the best take. No matter how much you might loathe Joseph McCarthy, Stalinists really did infiltrate American academia and media in the days of the Cold War to a frightening extent. It doesn't matter if you believe that this was the literal infiltration of Soviet agents, or the independent intellectual acceptance of the basic tenets of Stalinism by Lenin's "useful idiots."

In either case, it certainly wasn't John Stewart Mill who proposed a "diversity" imperative that excluded disagreable political diversity - that came from Lenin. The speech codes which have turned our universities into idealogical monoliths didn't bleed into our laws by accident - they got there when the generation that praised Karl Marx and Mao Tse Tung at the political rallies of their youth achieved tenure. We've seen this stuff before. Only we saw it on the other side of the iron curtain.

No great point to make here. Stream of conscious, remember? On to pop music.

I don't rightly know what makes the "rock and roll" genre so lasting and popular. When you study music history, it's fairly easy to see why it made such an impression to the pop scene when it hit in the 50's. It was new. It had catchy tunes. The rhythms took the most infectious parts of swing, and blues, and gospel and shaved off anything too complicated for a teenaged ear.

Skip forward to today. The stuff is more popular than ever. But it's terribly dull. Sure you can find something interesting going on in isolated pockets at the edges of noticability. But consider the size of the monster. The sheer numbers suggest that someone somewhere must stumble across a catchy tune or decent idea at some point. And blind squirrels sometimes catch acorns.

Sorry to those who invest considerable time and effort in modern pop/rock/hip-hop or whatever the heck it pretends to be these days. It's all minor branches off the "rock" tree. But the tree itself is largely dead. The difference between Swing and Be-Bop is huge, interesting, and worth exploring. The difference between alternative, pop, classic rock, hip-hop, and modern county is the modern equivalent of deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

I wonder what the next interesting music trend will be. If there is one out there, it hasn't happened yet.

And while we're on the subject, let's dispell the notion that I think all the music I listen to is on some higher plane. I listen to plenty of the stuff I just condemned above. I just don't pretend my interest makes it important.

Example: Just last night I was - shall we say "jamming" - to Styx Greatest Hits: "Lady," "Come Sail Away," "Renegade," "Blue Collar Man." I had a blast. But does that mean it's great music? No. It was a combination of personal nostalgia and musical elements Styx artfully copied which were developed in the 50's and 60's.

Another example: One of the best albums in my CD collection is the Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra - Live at the Hollywood Palladium. This is a band from the late 90's swing craze. Their unique niche? They were one of the most faithful recreations of the authentic original swing sound. You wanted a punkier swing? Cherry Poppin' Daddies (who played more than just swing for the record) had you covered. You wanted a Dixieland-ish, small set sound? Squirrelnut Zippers was the way to go. You just wanted something that sounded like Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman, only with original material and/or performances? Couldn't do better than the Bill Elliot Orchestra. But again... this is aping stuff that came before. Sure, it's fun stuff and good to listen to. But the only way it speaks to us artistically is via a nostalgic intermediary.

Which is sort of my point about the whole rock genre. Sure, to some extent it was always a bit of a posseur thing. But at this point the possuers are aping posseurs of other posseurs. Where is a real original artistic voice that strikes something original on its own AND speaks to a respectable audience?

I dunno. But I expect one to show up eventually. Art just pops out at some point. Human beings can't help it, no matter how much the dictates of fashion, or morality, or censorship try to keep it down.

And without much more ado, let me leave on a positive note. Clos Du Bois is doing nice things with Shiraz (also known as Syrah) in the California wine scene. Their early attempts are commendably approachable, tasty, and affordable. We're not talking about a premium wine here. But as far as wine for the masses goes, this is a step in the right direction.

The stream of conscious is approaching lack of consciousness. Goodnight.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Baggler Bashing

Ever heard of a "baggler?" Me neither. Neither has anyone else. It's a made up word. Unfortunately it's the worst kind of made up word. It might as well be a new character on the Tele-tubbies. But it's not. It's a market-tested, self-consciously cute, cry for help. It's also the term for a stray french fry in a Burger King bag. Says the company in a USA Today article from last March:

Hoping to stir conversation — and bring in some fun — the new ad agency has even developed a Burger King lingo that will appear on cups and bags. The refill becomes a "freefill." And that lone french fry sitting at the bottom of the food bag becomes a "baggler."

"We're not a brand that lacks fame," explains global marketing chief Russ Klein. "We're a brand that lacks emotional connection."


Horrid, awful, very-bad idea. The only people who will ever emotionally connect to Burger King are not likely to be found in the hip, affluent, trend-setter crowd. They're the sort of people who mutter to themselves, don't change clothing for days, and write fiery letters to the editor warning about secret government human experiments involving airplane contrails. This is not the sort of person to take the "baggler" as a wry little joke.

Imagine the state of mind of someone with an unhealthy emotional connection to the perennial loser of fast food establishments, and imagine further coming across this description on your take-out bag (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up):


Official Baggler Procedure

French fries that have attempted to escape from their container only to strand themselves in the bottom of the bag are called "bagglers." Bagglers are fair game. The first to open the bag and retrieve the baggler gets to eat the baggler. Therefore, it is in one's best interest to be the keeper of the bag.


Now our "emotionally connected" BK patron has visions of French fries trying to escape... people lurking over his shoulder to snatch the "bagglers" from his bag should his guard drop for a second... and wasn't that a contrail lingering in the sky as he entered the restaurant? This poor fellow is being driven to the edge of some sort of nervous breakdown. We can only hope he hurts no one other than himself when it happens.

Note to Burger King - drop the baggler nonsense before someone gets hurt.

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Switboat Vets are Reporting for Duty Too

*sigh*

The Swiftboat Vet stuff again. I try..try.. TRY to get away from it. I have a pretty strong drive to not be a pack follower. To set my own course. To zig when everyone else zags.

But I also have a basic sense that being unique just for its own sake is a desperate sign of an insecure ego. And this story really does seem to be about the biggest thing to come along in a very long time, for all sorts of unexpected reasons.

After 9/11 it would have been pretty stupid not to write about it. And while this certainly doesn't reach THAT level of importance, the value judgement remains the same. Sometimes news demands the headlines all on its own.

And certainly one of the most fascinating aspects of this whole thing is how the old media is trying to spike the story while the new media - especially the blogosphere - keeps advancing it. So how responsible would it be for me to keep away from it when that's just what the b*st*rds WANT me to do?!

Inspired by John Kerry, Bogus Gold is REPORTING FOR DUTY!!!

So I guess all that talk months ago when Kerry riled up his primary crowds telling Bush to "bring it on!!" has been exposed as fairly hollow bluster. As Captain Ed noted last night, Kerry's behavior when being challenged is rather schoolgirlish, and I think that will not prove to his benefit come election day.

Then there is the matter of comparing his behavior to that of President Bush who has been villified far more strongly, with more major media support, with less credible sources, and for far longer. I know the Kerry campaign thinks they can bluster and shake and jive just right and no one will notice the contrast. And I know a good deal of the fossils in the old press think so too. But I just don't believe it. Farenheit 9/11 came out, and the Dems put Michael Moore in a box at their convention with Jimmy freakin' Carter. The totally unfounded charge that Bush was AWOL was repeated by John Kerry himself, DNC Chairman Terry McAullife, Howard Dean, and countless other major Democrats. But when Kerry gets challenged they cry foul, try to shut down dissent, and blame Bush? I'm sorry, but again I think this won'y fly in the end.

So Kerry sqealed for Bush to denounce the ads - plus accusing him of masterminding them. Bush condemned the ads - but only on the condition that all ads of the sort, including those against him, deserve the same condemnation. "Not good enough!!" cried the Dems today. For Kerry to refuse to condemn attacks against Bush's character, while finding the same treatment about him WAY over the line suggests a sense of arrogance and entitlement. And again, I think this contrast won't fly come November.

And notice, this is all just about the style... the handling of the situation regardless of the substance. And the substance is not going to go away.

I got to hear the first twenty minutes of Rush Limbaugh's interview with anti-Kerry Swiftvet John O'Neill today. And even you hardcore Kerry supporters who think this is all a big put-up job by the eeeeeevil Karl Rove ought to take a good hard look. The case he makes is so thoroughly credible that those spreading the "already discredited" line in the mainstream press are going to end up looking like either paid propagandists or incompetent fools. And the problem for Kerry is not about who is funding the ad, despite the disproportionate attention that's receiving (funny how the name "George Soros" never comes up for comparison in those discussions by the "credible" press, isn't it?). The problem for Kerry will ultimately be whether the charges are true. A 50/50 split is deadly for Kerry's election hopes. Heck, and 80/20 split in his favor over the disputed facts might be deadly.

So how to make sense of all this? Well I think Varifrank is definitely onto something with his Grand Unified Theory Of Vietnam. Kerry tried to play on his Vietnam experience to bolster his credentials for national security. And in doing so he blundered right into the middle of a wound that never really healed. And the unleashed forces are going to tear someone - maybe everyone around it - to bits.

As for the tactics of the modestly funded Swiftvets themselves so far? Absolutely brilliant. The first ad which is still what Kerry and the press are focusing on was only the set up for the second. It's the second (and the inevitable followups to it) that will kill Kerry's election chances, and the Swiftvets who knew this planned and executed it perfectly. They positioned Kerry's response with the first one, and turned it against him with the second. It's like a well executed football draw play.

In any case, we'll certainly keep following the story. The internal polling numbers in response obviously looked bad enough that the Kerry camp has had to make a major strategy change and start buying ads to counter it in a month they had planned to "go dark" and wait until after the Republican convention to start spending again. Something is happening here. And I get the feeling both parties are more than a little shaken by it.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Good Wine For The Masses

In my very first blog-post regarding wine I made the statement that:, "I do like to avoid the snobbery of assuming low priced wine is always swill...” Well I don’t know that I’ve done a very good job of illustrating that point, since the only three wines I’ve mentioned by name on this blog were: A. inexpensive, and B. swill.

So tonight I’ll turn not only to a single example of good inexpensive wine. I’ll sing the praise of hundreds at once.

If there is one shining star in the firmament of inexpensive yet delicious wine, it has to be Aussie Shiraz. Sure there are great California Cabernets available of similar quality and price. And it’s almost as difficult to find a bad Italian Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as it is challenging to find one retailing for more than ten bucks per bottle.

But three things currently put Aussie Shiraz in its own league:

1. Reliable quality from year to year and across almost all wineries (unlike California Cabernet).
2. It’s universally available wherever you happen to be (unlike Montepulciano d’Abruzzo).
3. The prices aren’t rising despite soaring popularity – instead production is increasing apace (unlike any other wine I can think of on the planet). Australia’s Shiraz-friendly wine region is HUGE (I’m especially keen on the stuff coming out the Barossa Valley lately).

There are other nice things about the stuff as well. It blends well with other grapes. Shiraz-Cabernet and Shiraz-Merlot blends are increasingly common.

It delivers wonderful fruit-forward flavor immediately after bottling. No need to cellar the stuff for years (though certain premium Shiraz bottlings reward this in spades if it trips your trigger).

It’s remarkably food friendly for a full-bodied, high-alcohol content kind of wine. Granted, it doesn’t pair well with broiled walleye in a delicate lemon-caper sauce (no you can’t have the recipe). But whether tossing a few steaks on the grill, ordering a pizza, or dashing a little wine into the spaghetti sauce, with Shiraz you’ve got a food friend.

And as for the good labels? Well here I’m stumped for an unusual reason. I honestly can’t think of a bad one. I can think of a few that stand out as exceptional in the still inexpensive category (Rosemount, Wolff-Blass, anything from Penfolds). But really, what I do a lot of is just buying whatever catches my eye on the shelf, or whatever is on-sale. It’s hard to find one that’s disappointing.

I will say I wish the Aussies would get away from natural cork a bit more quickly. Even fancy/sexy/fashionable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is showing up with screw caps these days, with no appreciable drop off in popularity as a result. Corked wine is evil, and there’s no excuse for cooperating with evil.

Modern science has debunked the fabled advantages of natural cork. Let’s now set about debunking the romantic mystique. The Aussies would be perfect at this, considering the way their Shiraz has debunked the mystique of paying excessive prices for good red wine the world over.

In any case, all praise for the best overall value in the wine world today: Australian Shiraz.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Blog Power!

How can you tell a story is hot in the mainstream press? Easy. It leads the broadcast news, the cable news comment shows devote shows to it, and you get above the fold coverage in the major papers.

How can you tell a story is hot in the blogosphere? Well I’m finding one way. You start to write some insight or comment about the story and repeatedly discover other bloggers beating you to the punch with the exact same points before you publish.

I’m not saying it’s like one or two guys who write faster and think like me. I’m saying I’ve learned to check Instapundit, Roger L. Simon, Hugh Hewitt, Captain’s Quarters, and Powerline - because in addition to their own comments, in their posts I’m linked to about 20 or 30 other blogs writing about the same thing - before I publish a darn thing on the topic of the Kerry / Swiftboat Veteran kerfuffle.

Three of four times already I have spent a decent amount of time working out something I thought pithy and insightful on the topic, only to discover that indeed it was. And Instapundit (or others) linked to some other guy saying it within the last hour or two. Doh!

This is one freakin’ hot story blogospherically (I probably can’t even claim to be the first to use that word, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t made it into the Oxford English Dictionary quite yet).

I’m already on record saying I think some of the heat behind it is misdirected. Not because it’s wrong. But because it’s spending so much time trying to shame the old media into picking the story up, rather than accepting that this is no longer their role. They’re the partisan left-wing voice. We’re the partisan right-wing voice. And that’s not the scandal breaking here. It’s the reality we stumbled into sometime previously but didn’t realize until now.

I’m not seeing anything which would make me want to drop this opinion. But I am seeing things leading me to realize why this new reality is such a freak-out moment to the blog-world.

Let’s take Captain Ed at Captain’s Quarters for example. I was already aware of the Northern Alliance of blogs via the Bleat before the Captain joined it. We’re talking about what? Less than 2 years ago? And what was Ed doing before then? I dunno. Fishing guide or something. The point is he was certainly not deciding which stories were the important ones of the day for the rest of the nation. That was the job of Peter Jennings at ABC, Howell Raines at the New York Times and the like.

And within a staggeringly brief period of time, the Captain is breaking stories being picked up by other publications across the nation. If he’s not quite Peter Jennings, he’s in the same general category now. And I don’t think Ed or any other blogger expected either the speed or the power of that transition.

The freak out is a result. Guys like Ed are commendable, because they’re neither getting full of themselves, nor are they backing away in intimidation. They just keep plugging away doing what they’ve been doing.

But it’s becoming a fixture to see great bloggers like this spend a great deal of time strategizing about how to get the old media running with the story; the endless longing for the “real reporters” to step in and take the responsibility for this kind of thing back.

Word to the wise: it’s not going to happen. We’re past that now. Drop the story if you must, but don’t expect to be bailed out by ABCNBCCSCCNNMSNBC or the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. They’ve got their own agenda, and it ain’t objective reporting.

By all means keep the pressure on them. That’s definitely an essential element in the new media situation, as news consumers puzzle over which side to believe. Showing how the others guys lack objectivity and credibility is part of the new scene. They’ll do it right back too. It’s expected.

But I wonder when we’ll hit the part where Instapundit, and Hugh Hewitt, and Captain Ed, and all the rest realize that they don’t need to convince Peter Jennings or the New York Times because they themselves ARE Peter Jennings and the New York Times to half the country.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Oak and Chardonnay - Not a Love Story

Ok. I'll try to be gentle.

Message to wine makers and drinkers:

STOP PUTTING CHARDONNAY INTO OAK BARRELS!!! AND STOP BUYING AND DRINKING IT WHEN THEY DO YOU IDIOT CONSUMERS!!!

I admit there are exceptions. The practice originated in the Burgandy region of France. And it certainly works well there.

In the Napa Valley, certain high end growers aped the style with great success. And their stuff also remains deservedly awesome in reputation (and the prices reflect this).

But here's the problem with Chardonnay paired with oak. Chardonnay is a thin bodied, delicate flavored wine. Oak is a 2 x 4 upside the palate. Granted, in certain magical regions this odd couple works despite all expectations. But that's the exception, not the rule. The rule is that pairing Chardonnay with oak means tasting oak.

Here's a test. If the Chardonnay you drink is pretty much only flavored with notes of vanilla, melon, and (gack) toasty-oak, you're not tasting Chardonnay at all. You're tasting the oak barrel (or perhaps - no joke - the oak chips they often toss in before bottling).

And if that flavor is terrific to you anyway, don't bother spending big money. It's available in abundance in the cheapest California Chardonnay on the shelf.

Real Chardonnay grapes grow almost anywhere. In fact it's one of the most popular wine grapes precisely because it's not too picky about climate. But it only tastes exceptional in a few places. And since most likely your vinyard of choice isn't among them, winemakers mask the inferior flavor with oak. And like lemmings the wine consumer plunks down good money for it anyway, because who wants to spend fourty bucks and up for a bottle of good White Burgandy when you can get the same thing for twenty?! Except that in the vast majority of cases, it isn't the same thing at all. It's prettily packaged oak-juice.

Long way of saying, avoid the 2000 Hogue Chardonnay. Plunk down a couple of bucks for a 2 x 4 at Home Depot if that's the flavor you're after.

More Media Matters

Before I begin, allow me to apologize to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit for thinking he had built the most popular blog in the world based on linking to other articles and blogs, but didn't provide perma-links to his own posts. Turns out he does. That's what the little graphic of two chain "links" next to the footer of each article is for. And with all my neurons firing at full speed, it took me until 3pm today to discover it.

I know this because I was trying to link to one of Glenn's posts this morning, regarding media silence about the Swiftboat veterans charges against Kerry, and "discovered" I couldn't do it. So you can either pop over to the perma-link I was sure didn't exist, or read the excerpt below which I copied because I thought I had to:
"... But this story [the Swiftvets thing - ed.] seems to me to be absolutely fascinating in that it reveals just how in the tank for the Democrats the mainstream media are, and how little the vaunted Cronkitean claims of objectivity and research and factual accuracy really mean when the chips are down. What's more, lots of people are noticing.

To me, that's a bigger deal than the underlying issue or even, in some ways, the election itself. Elections come and go, politicians come and go, and pretty much all of them turn out to be disappointments one way or another. But the "Fourth Estate" is a big part of the unelected Permanent Government that in many ways does more to run the country than the politicians. And it's unravelling before our very eyes, which I think is the biggest story of the election so far. ..."

I commented on this topic yesterday, but as usual Glenn summed it up better. That's why he's the Instapundit and I'm not.

But he brings up an interesting aspect about this with lines like: "lots of people are noticing," and, "it's unravelling before our very eyes."

Well, maybe. But anytime you're in the middle of a revolution (and I'm talking about technology here, not a political revolution) the outcome is probably not going to be what you expect. And I absolutely believe we're in the midst of a technology driven media revolution right now.

So is the new media challenging the old media? Yes, it sure seems to be. Does that mean the old media are going to collapse before our eyes? Unlikely, and probably overstating Glenn's point anyway.

Lileks had another interesting perspective about this in his recent Newshouse column (stay with me and I promise, I'll try to make an original point eventually):
"...In the old days when big cities had a score of squabbling papers competing for the public's penny, journals made stuff up. They sat on some stories, heralded others, all to advance the interests of the party they supported. ...

[snipped for brevity - read the whole article for the full frontal Lileks effect]

... Each insisted its paper was fair and true. Really. Utterly honest.

(Wink.)

The same assertion prevails today, without the wink. Since the Second World War papers have draped themselves in the holy cloak of Objectivity. Reporters are no longer participants in the daily scrum of human events but Olympian observers who reside in the clouds, yet still note the humble ant."

Lileks goes on to hope that this little Swiftboat veteran incident will at least shame the media into coming out of the closet and confessing their biases, and let the chips fall where they may.

And I hope I stumble across the winning lottery ticket on my way to the car this evening. Neither of us is likely to have those particular hopes fulfilled.

So in wondering about more likely outcomes, I started to think that maybe we're not asking the right questions about this at all.

For one thing, I find it completely implausible that the old media are going to have a great awakening prompting great change over this. They're going to go forward continuing to claim that they're both more objective and more responsible than any of their competition. They can get "caught" by all the Instapundits of the world dead-to-rights over and over, and their tune won't change.

So where does that leave us?

Well it leaves us with a mainstream press which denies it's biased, and a new media which insists that it is. Both of them are able to offer examples in their own defense, and both of them are able to dismiss the other side's validated charges as exceptions to the rule. In other words, it leaves us exactly where we are today.

So I'm thinking this has nothing to do with the "gotcha" game. There will be no shining single event which changes everything for everyone. I don't care how big the Swiftvets story gets, or how bad it makes the old media look, in one sense it's not going to fundamentally change a thing. And yet in another sense it already has. Confusing? You bet. Let me try to 'splain.

People in the new media - from talk radio to the blogosphere - are just as accustomed to looking at this sort of event from the top down as the old media. That's why they want the New York Times to confess their bias to their readers. And why they fantasize about Peter Jennings wearing a big "I am a liberal" button on the evening news. That's where they think they need to focus their attention, because those are the guys in charge of the media. But perhaps that's already an obsolete way of looking at this.

The new media is driven from the bottom up. Writers quickly come out of nowhere to become tremendously influential all the time. They generally don't have a big publisher behind them, or an established old media reputation to stand on. As a result, readers have learned do their own assessment of bias, cross-checking claims and sharing the results. There's no need to worry about bias, because you just assume it and check out any facts you'd like on your own.

This is "bottom up" because readers don't accept reputation as a substitute for honesty. They'll check your claims mercilessly (or at least read the work of others who do) and "fire you" or "tune you out" if you get caught lying to them. The audience controls their own media content, and if you lose your reputation with them you will no longer find space on the virtual "front page" of their web browser.

With that in mind, on to words of Roger L. Simon who writes:
So that leaves us renegades on the Internet. We're propagandists too. Big time. But at least we admit it. Judge us how you will. But judge the mainstream media the same way.

But perhaps what Roger is asking for has largely already come to pass. Perhaps the real impact of the new media is more than just a new format for top-down punditocracy. Perhaps it's creating a new kind of news-consumer which is now replacing the old. And if so, the place to look for the dam breaking isn't above the fold in the New York Times. It's inside the mind of the guy reading the New York Times. Perhaps those opinions have already been shifting around in a way that makes charges and counter-charges of media objectivity irrelevant.

Heck, I myself read stuff from the New York times all the time via online articles which are linked all over the place. For a long time I've thought of myself as something other than the "normal" Times reader, because I approach their paper already assuming I'm reading something with a leftist bias.

But maybe... just maybe... I'm exactly the sort of news consumer that is fast becoming the norm. The old media don't have to tell us their bias. Because, just like online, that's assumed by their readers anyway. And we'll cross-check them on our own, just like we'd do reading some new blog. And we'll surely not expect to get the whole story from a single source, so we'll actively seek out the opinions of those known to have different perspectives as a matter of course.

So getting back to Instapundit, who's predicting a sea-change around this one political story, and Lileks, who harkens back to the day when the media acknowledged their bias and hopes for its return, I think I'll have to spin a slightly different direction and say I think neither one is thinking about this quite right.

The real story here might be that the story is no longer about the journalists, or editors, or reporters, or commentators. It's about the news-consumer. And they seem to have already begun a mass migration away from the old notion that the media is ever expected to be objective. Perhaps the importance of this whole Swiftvet thing that has so captured the right side of the blogosphere is simply as an illustration of, rather than a contributor to, this change.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How We Get Our News

Interesting goings on in the blogosphere these days. Mostly related to Senator Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" adventure, which is increasingly looking like a tall-tale.

I've been following the story mostly via Hugh Hewitt, Instapundit, Captain's Quarters, Shot In The Dark, and Free Republic. And what's interesting to me, other than the details of the story itself as they emerge, is the subtext regarding the power of the media.

Now I'm not one of those who thinks the media are involved in a giant liberal conspiracy. But I do believe they harbor overwhelming bias toward the left of the political spectrum. And I also believe they're largely blind to any but the most egregious manifestations of their bias. People get this way when they're insulated in groups of folks who only think like themselves - regardless of their political perspective.

So anyway, it's not really all that surprising to me that the same media that thought allegations that Bush went AWOL from the Air National Guard was front page news and deserved weeks of coverage would be the same media to see no real story when every single officer in Kerry's chain of command in Vietnam, and over 250 fellow swifboat veterans would produce meticulously researched and footnoted allegations challenging Kerry's war hero status in Vietnam.

Pause for a moment. The above is not a joke. I don't have any trouble seeing why they found the first story important and the latter not newsworthy. Sure, it has to do with those biases, as Glenn Reynolds has been pointing out from the start. But I think it has a lot more to do with that lack of perspective and insular culture.

Just how insular? Well one theme pounded home time and again as this story has broken is that the mainstream media apparently don't use the Internet much. Not for research and not for news. We know this because elements - like the Kerry Campaign admitting that John Kerry was not in Cambodia for Christmas of 1968 - which have broken and been thoroughly analyzed by online journalists and pundits aren't even known by mainstream reporters until weeks afterward. These folks read the dead-tree press, and watch ABCCBSNBCCNNMSNBC and maaaaaybe Fox once in a blue moon. If those places aren't picking up a story, the general consensus is that no one is interested. It's a self-validating system. The vast majority of them would feel great discomfort taking a story like this seriously that their colleagues were ignoring. It's a peer-pressure / sub-culture thing.

Something interesting is happening as a result though. While the blogosphere and talk-radio worlds are railing about how the media are trying to surpress this story, something else is going unnoticed. The public is finding out about the story anyway. How? Well here is a post from Free Republic (written by the webmaster of the www.swiftvets.com site incidentally) which contains something startling:


In a poll the Pubbies did in the battleground states, 60% of the likely voters knew about the Swift Vets ad, and saw it as a negative for Kerry. Five million people have seen that ad, and it wasn't on television. Screw the media. We are the media.

60% of likely voters in battleground states know about this despite a virtual blackout in the traditional media? Five million saw it when it was still only available online? Wow.

The news world is changing in a hurry. Makes me think about where I get my own news from. Several years back I cancelled my daily newspaper, the Star-Tribune, after finally hitting my limit for subsidizing liberal pablum packaged as news. Around the same time I stopped watching much television news, save for the occasional news analysis show on cable. I also quickly started finding good news sources online. Web sites have become far and away my primary news sources.

Now I generally think I'm not typical, being more of an "early adopter" of new technology than most. But perhaps we're moving out of the early adopter phase.

Here is where I go for news on an almost daily basis:

National News:
Real Clear Politics
Instapundit
Free Republic
National Review Online

Sports:
ESPN

Weather:
Weather.com

Local News:
Pioneer Press Online
Star Tribune Online

Incidentally, this doesn't even include all the news I pick up via reading other blogs. Most blogs I generally go to for commentary very frequently have links to news stories as well.

The other great thing about the Internet is that I can dig into great detail and get multiple perspectives about any story on my own. I don't need an editor to spoon-feed me.

Perhaps this sort of self-directed new-seeker is a phenomenon of the new technology, and perhaps that's why the traditional media seem so flat-footed in comparison. But if the media continues to sit on, or at least attempt to contain, any stories damaging to Kerry's image, and if these stories turn the election to Bush anyway, that will send shockwaves through the political landscape like nothing since Watergate. Watergate glamorized the intrepid news reporters who refused to let the government bully them into silence. Cambodian Christmas might just glamorize the intrepid news readers who refused to let mainstream editors bully them away from stories they didn't deem newsworthy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Polymath-mania

So I'm a polymath, eh Mitch? A polymath?!! Um, well.... (quickly looking up the word "polymath" at dictionary.com) ... thank you. I knew that was a compliment. Yesiree.

On to other matters.

In my typical polymathic way, I noticed something about the formats of various blogs I read compared to this one (those of you less polymathically inclined may not be interested in the formats of blogs, so I'll try to be brief). I read a fair number on a regular basis. And the format of this one seems to be emerging in some weird cross-pollinization from them. I was thinking today about which ones I may be "borrowing" from based on what I read.

Instapundit? Master of the news links with pithy commentary style. I've tried that on occasion, but it doesn't seem to fit me well. And when I do try, I probably borrow Mitch's Shot in the Dark style more than Glenn's, format aside.

Roger L. Simon? Close in style, but I honestly don't think I took anything from him. I didn't even start reading him until a couple of months ago. But really odd that I do seem to blog very much like him.

Lileks? Well it's a weird comparison, but yeah. I think I'm copying the Bleat's style more as I go along. A sad thing too, because I don't write anywhere near as well. And it's not like I set out to write "mini-Bleat." But I have been reading it longer than any other blog (I know James hates to call the Bleat a blog, but everyone else does it anyway), and it is generally the very first site I hit in the morning. God help me if I start becoming hyper-organized and discover an unusual fondness for old matchbook covers.

I think what draws me most to that style is that in the Bleat James generally just writes about whatever strikes his fancy - politics, hobbies, family, any event in his life - and shoves it all into a single post. Sometimes it's a coherent single topic. Sometimes it shifts abruptly from one topic to another. I find that style conversational and natural, even if my writing doesn't allow me to pull it off as well as James.

Not that any of that is important to anything else. Just something I thought of. Anyway, Bleat-like, I will now move on to another topic. And it's still not the theatre stuff. That's still percolating, and will either become one monster of a post or several different ones.

What I intended to write about, in typical polymatherific fashion, was the Roman Empire. Seriously.

It's rather fashionable these days to compare America to the Roman Empire. And there are certainly parallels one could note: unrivaled military power, republican form of government, pagan cults to scary goddesses, etc. And while I have lots to say on the topic (I've studied it off and on since childhood - ain't that polymathish of me?), I think I'll narrow the focus down to just this: Rome did not become an empire out of a desire to be an empire. It became an empire because the alternative was to leave in place political chaos which consistently proved itself dangerous to Roman interests.

This needs a bit of context for those only informed about such things through traditional (i.e. poorly researched) news articles. The Roman Empire is not synonymous with Roman tyranny. Rome gained an empire while still a republic. Much of the expansion was peaceful, and when it involved war it was often war undertaken on behalf of a threatened ally. Rome was even invited in to take over rulership in some places. Only after the Republic was in shambles were true wars of aggression, expanding the empire for its own sake, undertaken. Before then the drive to expansion was fueled by a combination of concern for Rome's security (economic as well as physical) and altruism.

This is a point underappreciated by left and right, and it has great relevance to the post-9/11 world. I have thought about it on a number of occasions, but perhaps this post from Vodkapundit demonstrates its relevance better than I could. In attempting to explain why America is not going to go isolationist, he illustrates a potential drive to empire.

For better or for worse, America will remain involved in the world to an extent not seen since the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam, for the foreseeable future. In case you hadn't heard, we had a couple skyscrapers knocked over a couple years back, and we're still a little pissed off about the whole thing. From Marrakech to Manila, from the Rio Grande to the Rio Plata, we're all kinds of tied up in world events.

And like it or not, we're going stay that way. Another 9/11-scale terror attack is more likely involve us further in world affairs, than it is to force us to sue for peace. That's just how Americans are. We don't usually ask for peace; we prefer to dictate its terms.


This is the core of the Bush Doctrine, in so many words. And don't let election year rhetoric fool you; most Democrats share it, even if they'd execute it differently (IMO less competently).

We woke up one morning to discover that our security was threatened from kooks running around in pissy little countries half way across the globe. Therefore, in the interest of our own security, we became far more engaged with those pissy little countries. Once engaged, our own basic morality has prompted us to try to improve the sorry lot of those we found ourselves responsible for (i.e. residents of Afghanistan and Iraq).

We're trying like crazy to make this engagement brief and goal oriented, and unless you're a moonbat you realize no one is trying to build an empire out of this situation.

But intentions aren't the point. Sometimes the pissy little countries don't want you to leave. Sometimes your own security won't allow you to leave. Pretty soon the imposed order becomes routine for all involved. Certain economic interests come to take the situation for granted, eventually becoming dependent on it. By then there are a whole bunch of people - occupied, occupier, and independent - who all have a vested interest in NOT letting the situation end. No nefarious intentions are needed here. Just people acting in their own self-interest with the best of intentions.

Of course none of these parallels suggests destiny. History here serves as a warning, not a roadmap. But it's an important warning. Because the primary reason the Roman Republic fell into tyranny was that the needs of the empire couldn't be properly handled by the Republic.

I suppose this a very long way of saying that we have a lot riding on the viability of the new government in Iraq. And it's a lot more than the getting back in the good graces of the French.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Exit the Artist, Enter the Working Schlub

For those just catching up, I have spent around the last month rediscovering my inner thesbian (stop the snickering and look it up). The experience was very rewarding, but surprisingly tiring. Running from work to theatre practice in a frantic attempt to take a play not quite finished when we started to full production in about a month's time is - you'll be surprised to hear - not as easy as it sounds. Add three young kids and a wife who would like a break from them - oh, somewhat more often than once a month - and you get pretty crazy.

And then it's over.

Our last performance was Saturday night. We had a nice little party at the home of two of the other actors in celebration. Wine, good food, cigars, kind words. And then home. And then?

Well apparently then my whole body and mind crashes, because Sunday - a lovely day full of sunlight, soft breezes, and no great task to get done - became a day of exhaustion, which only grew more intense as the day wore on. Not just for me either. Everyone in the house - from the 4 month old, to the grand-old daddy - were unusually tired and cranky. I had this feeling of utter physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. By the end of the day it was hard to form the words to say "go away," and I was reduced to feeble hand waving gestures, like a man shooing a fly.

No carry-over effect apparently. We were all up at our normal time this morning, and all seemed to be in decent moods by the time I rushed out of the door to the office.

I was even able to accomplish some work I had worried about completing this morning in no time at all.

In any event, I intend to write some after-action reports and thoughts on my theatre experience, and all the lefty kookiness I encountered (as well as the really good stuff I encountered). But that's not for this morning. This morning I go back to making work my numero uno focus for a bit. Things around the office calmed down nicely during my theatre binge. But with unusually good timing, they've decided to pick up again in synchronicity with the end of the theatre festival.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

So THAT'S What a Night Off Feels Like

I have neither play practice, nor concern about learning lines, nor anxiety about how the play is going. No folks visiting. Nothing more than dinner, playing with the kids and going to bed. Feels odd. Unnatural.

I do have one more show to do. But honestly, by now the thing is what it is. We rocked on Tuesday and Wednesday. You poor saps who chose to see the other Fringe offerings are the poorer for it.

Not sure what the heck I'm going to do with myself now. I would like to keep some sort of involvement in theatre stuff. But I don't have much understanding of the non-Fringe theatre scene. Plus I do have three young kids who have been dying to spend more time with dad since I've taken up post-work thespianism. So there needs to be some of that for sure.

But I think I'll do more in this area. Just not sure what.

Anyway. A night off is a night off. No more about the Fringe. No talk of Cambodian Christmas, or gay governors. Just time for bed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Well That Was Interesting

Weird night at the Fringe.

I had a performance at 7pm. So, like last night, I decided to take it as an excuse to catch the show prior to ours in the same theatre. It was a show called Please Come Up.

The only review about it was by a reviewer who apparently knew the writer, and both main actors. So not anything to trust. I was flying blind.

Warning sign number one: I was the only audience member. Seriously, no exagerration. I had an interesting little conversation with Julia - the volunteer who was running tech for the Pillsbury Theatre during the Fringe that night. Apparently, the cast debated about whether or not to do the show for a single audience member or not. They eventually decided to do it. As awkward for me as for them, believe me. If I thought I was going to be the only audience member, I would have made other plans.

Warning sign number two. I walked into the theatre to hear their pre-show music. It was heavy metal crapola with angst-ridden lyrics and a distinct immaturity.

So the play began. The actors were not without talent. They simply lacked discipline.

The play was an original, and it didn't know what it wanted to be. It seemed to have serious potential as a sort of seedy social commentary with compellingly quirky characters. But instead it veered off into some sort of pseudo-philosophical/allegorical God-knows-what. Ick.

Halfway into it someone else wandered in. After the show, he asked if I was the usher. I assured him I was not. I hope to God he didn't rush from something more important to be there.

Anyway, our own show went well tonight. A bit better attended than last night. The weirdest thing was how the audience reacted. Apparently (I was backstage) after the audience lights came up, no one left. They just sat there for a moment, many reading their program. That's either very good or very bad. Saturday (our last show) will tell.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Another show down. Two more to go.

The show went well tonight. Probably our best so far. I think (fingers crossed) we've hit a groove where we feel comfortable with our own parts, and confident enough toward each other to start freeing ourselves a bit more on stage.

The audience was still not great in number. But better than Saturday by quite a bit. And they seemed very into the show, judging by their response.

Fringe lessons I'm learning:

1. Marketing the show. Looking at how we described this show in our ads, we reveled a bit too much in the ambiguity, but not enough to make that a selling point. Mixed message. There are people explicitly looking for avante garde shows pushing boundaries who don't give us a second glance, while far more conventional shows attract their attention.

2. Word of mouth is huge, but so is location. I'm watching a LOT of people plan their days based on hitting several shows in proximity. We're unfortunately out on an island, near no other venue. Bad luck of the draw, but still something to remember.

3. Gimmicks work. A cute picture, title, or description of a show is gold. Not enough to keep them coming if your show stinks. But quite enough to attract attention early. We relied too much on a stylish logo that only makes much impact after you know the show.

4. We need a plan to follow up on whatever comes of early performances. If it's good, spread the word. If it's bad, find a way to spin it well, fix the problems and spread that word. Other than begging people to come see our show, we don't really have a strategy between opening and closing.

Anyway, I think I'm hooked. I'll be back to the Fringe next year in some way.

I saw another very good show tonight. A one man show called Goats. Hit the Israeli/Palestinian thing with such humanity and personal honesty. Told from the perspective of the author/performer's life experience as a young American-Jewish man tending goats to make traveling money in Israel. And a heck of a lot more interesting and insightful than that description can convey.

Last night I also managed to catch Everything and Nothing at the Same Time. Very innovative and fun. But it had some problems. I wouldn't put it in the same league as the other two I've seen (or with total lack of modesty, my own show).

Incidentally, that's three shows down (not counting mine), and zero attempts at political prostletizing on the part of the performances. I'm starting to change my opinion of the artistic sensibilities in the Fringe. Sure I've been cherry picking the performances I attend. But only to the extent that I'm avoiding the obvious political pablum (and WOW there sure are a few).

This is a great little festival, and well worth the time of anyone into live theatre. It's dirt cheap compared to an average night out at the theater in the Twin Cities. And the quality certainly varies, but I've had no trouble finding excellent shows.

The penultimate performance is tomorrow night. I hope those who saw it tonight liked it enough to talk us up like crazy. We need the help. After tomorrow we have only Saturday remaining.