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Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, Cont.: Steven Den Beste, who is much more hawkish than I on such matters, echoes my banal thought of the other day about American backlash against foreign opinion.
The irony, therefore, is that the US must become what it was falsely accused of being before the September attack. … It is not possible for us to convert hatred into friendship, but we can convert contempt into dread.

1/26/2002 01:08:41 PM

UCLA Buys Susan Sontag Archives for $1.1 Million: Best quotes in the story:
"If I had a huge attic or cellar, I'm sure there would be less incentive to disburden. Money isn't the main consideration, but I go through long periods when I don't make any money. This is something that will support me for a couple of years."
A couple of years? “Disburden”?
“I don't feel this is one of the gestures that one performs toward the end of one's life."
What, then, are the more typical gesture-performances we can expect from the campy author a few decades hence? Alas, she does not say.

1/26/2002 12:29:55 PM

Exceedingly Minor Point of Interest About Cornel West: Most of the longer news stories about West’s unseemly flap with Harvard President Lawrence Summers mention that he campaigned for Bill Bradley in 2000. That’s true, but he also stumped for Ralph Nader. I saw him a couple of times; my lingering memory, aside from his high-performance oratory, was how he acted like, and was treated like, the biggest rock star in backstage areas that included people like Patti Smith, Jello Biafra and Tom Tomorrow’s Dan Perkins (who’s a pretty funny speaker, and a nice guy). I remember Smith being extremely humble and deferential toward Cornel, and him acting like that was the normal order of things. Patti Smith!

1/26/2002 12:19:21 PM

Sweet Virginia: Go to Virginia Postrel’s site, and read the post entitled “My Last Word on Krugman?” It’s brilliant. You don’t have to really care about Paul Krugman’s ethical dilemmas to appreciate it.

1/26/2002 11:57:31 AM

Banal Thought of the Day: With all this fluffed-up Gitmo B.S., which bears all the signs of an anti-American pressure valve being released, I am detecting some stronger-than-usual Euro-bashing and unilateralism coming from people more typically associated with Woodrow Wilson-style multi-lateralism. By whom, of course, I mean myself. Seriously, though, the European disdain for the rampaging Yank was an amusing and infrequent distraction pre-Sept. 11; now it is starting to annoy the hell out of people here. A domestic backlash against the Continent would have interesting implications … could the crude stereotype of the gunslinging, my-way-or-the-highway American become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Are mainstream European commentators and politicians expending their moral and diplomatic capital willy-nilly? Will isolationism gain a foothold in the Democratic Party?

1/25/2002 05:30:42 PM

New Column From Me: Sign Me Up for that Censorship Gravy Train! Little tongue-in-cheek job for Reason online.

1/25/2002 12:44:23 PM

4,000 Dead Afghans Watch: That New Hampshire professor’s report claiming 4,000 innocent Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. bombing – you know, the one that has been convincingly debunked for the last month – continues to make the rounds in anti-war circles. This time, it’s in “people’s historian” Howard Zinn’s latest column. It’s important to keep track of those who always grasp for the worst (or best) possible “study,” regardless of evidence to the contrary.

1/25/2002 12:38:51 PM

1/24/2002 01:27:37 PM

Fascinating Old U.S. Polling Data: Courtesy of the bright cold Aussie…

1/24/2002 01:18:39 PM

Pessimist Protesters Descend on NYC: The anti-globo protest kids are heading to New York to rail against the World Economic Forum. Let’s have a look, like bemused anthropologists, at what they’re saying:
"I feel very pessimistic about what the future holds for the Earth, how capitalist globalism is affecting our natural environment, and how that connects to the population," [23-year-old Jennifer] Echols said, echoing a sentiment voiced by many young people drawn to the global justice movement.
See what I was saying about pessimists? Remember – after the fall of the Soviet Union, and its anti-capitalist globalism, more than 100 developing countries have ended military or one-party rule.
The issues that concern them are varied -- the environment, human rights, and workers' rights, among others -- but activists say all the issues are connected. It all boils down to global inequity aggravated by the all but unchecked power wielded by corporations like McDonalds, Coca Cola and Microsoft, who belong to the WEF. Activists say companies are reaping greater profits while tens of thousands die daily from starvation.
Starvation is way down, percentage-wise, from 20 years ago. Life expectancies are way up, despite the rampaging AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Also, workers who once lived in police states now have all kinds of fancy new "rights."
"I would like to see a world where there's a lot less violence, a world where there's a lot more freedom, and a lot less consumerism," said [Virginia sophomore Jake] Hosen, a Students for Global Justice member. "For our country, and for my life, I would like to see a resurgence of community. That's why I'm involved in this, because this is a community of people who are concerned."
Hey Jake! Me too! But I sure am happy that, with the demise of the anti-capitalist globalizers, there are hundreds of millions of people enjoying “a lot more freedom.” In fact, I’d venture to say that that’s a significant positive development. How ‘bout you? Also, it is possible to be “concerned” about many of the very same things that trouble you (minus the obsession about McDonald’s), but to believe that there are different methods of solving these problems besides rolling back capitalism and putting the hammer down on a successful soft-drink company.

1/24/2002 01:12:34 PM

Song of the Year: Langenkamp and I were in a band with a troubled genius named Michael Lindsay. His new band, Fabulon, recorded the best new rock song I’ve heard in a year. Check it out, then give the boys a high rating if you think they deserve it.

1/24/2002 12:28:48 PM

F***ing AM

Aid to Afghanistan: A Mattwelch.com Special Report! What effect did international aid have on Afghanistan before Sept. 11? Pretty relevant to today’s discussions on post-war aid, no? My ex-colleague and former bandmate Daniel Langenkamp was already deep into working on this thesis when the Islamo-barfbags hit the World Trade Center. I asked him to give us a heads-up on his findings. Here’s “some rough thoughts, hypotheses that I'm still in the process of validating.”
The United Nations and donor countries have spent more than a billion dollars in Afghanistan in the last decade trying to alleviate the suffering in the country, yet very little is known about the actual impacts of this work. Examining the aims and impacts of the wide range of programs that humanitarian and development agencies have initiated over the period indicates a startling picture: while agencies certainly were successful in saving many lives, the diversion of food and other materials to warring factions also served to prolong the war. This prolongation is just the beginning of the tragedy, which, to be fair, is fundamentally the result of the pig-headed obstinance of not only the warring parties, but the interference by neighboring states in Afghanistan. Despite aid's best intentions, age-old irrigation systems have fallen into neglect, in part because of aid agency programs, local populations have grown dependent on relief handouts, and, ironically, the placing of human rights conditions on aid led to an agency attempt to by-pass the Taliban government altogether and emphasize short-term emergency handouts rather than longer-term projects which might have led to sustainable development. Despite constant rhetoric about the need for "local capacity building," the aid industry seems to have done a poor job of training Afghans to conduct relief operations, something which is striking given that such operations have existed in the country for more than 20 years. Perhaps what is most shocking of all, however, is that despite the millions of dollars that have been spent, no comprehensive study examining the actual impacts of aid has ever been undertaken. How many lives have been saved? How much aid has been stolen? We simply do not know.
Dan also played the last match of tennis in Taliban-era Afghanistan, against a former national champion (if I recall right). He lost, 6-2.

1/24/2002 11:03:47 AM

That Serious Stuff, Na Na Na Na Na: Loyal reader Ray Eckhart voices what I’m sure is a widely held complaint:
Matt, we need some focusing back on the really important stuff.
Too true! For instance, I recommend serious columnist Ken Layne, and his important intelligence mine-clearing … for the new Indiana Jones sequel. I’ll give away just one of the many key proposals:
* A comic Berlin Wall scene would be appreciated ... Indiana Jones goes to dig up something under a Berlin sidewalk on Aug. 13, 1961, and finds the East Germans have built the first section of the wall right on top of the buried dingus. Jones snarls, "Communists ... I hate those guys."
Seriously, Ray, it’s good to take a chill-pill now and then. People have been wound up for long enough.

1/23/2002 07:54:58 PM

Glassman’s List, 1998: Predictions can be a bitch, as pundits like James Glassman know too well (he is still, I suspect, trying to figure out how to live with his September 1999 claim that the Dow should soon reach 36,000, and that “stock prices could double, triple, or even quadruple tomorrow and still not be too high.” But in going through some of my old files today, I found a good Glassman column from Aug. 18, 1998, giving his list of the eight most important stories the U.S. media should be covering, instead of the interminable Peckergate or whatever that was. With hindsight, this is not a bad list at all:
(1) How serious is the economic crisis in Asia? What are its causes? How is it affecting the United States? What are the reasons for Japan's decline?
(2) How vulnerable is the United States to attack? What has been the effect of a 30 percent reduction in real defense spending? Who today are our enemies?
(3) How broad is the current prosperity? Who is being left out and why? As trade increases, what kind of jobs are being created and lost?
(4) Why are crime rates falling all over the country? Is it because criminals are being locked up longer? Demographics are changing? Police methods are improving? If we knew, we could be safer.
(5) Why do some schools fail their students and some succeed? What lessons can we draw for broader education policy?
(6) Why is the federal government suddenly running a budget surplus? If the answer, as I suspect, is the torrent of tax revenues of the past six years, then why? Because Reagan cut tax rates in the 1980s, or because Clinton and Bush raised them in the 1990s? Or other reasons entirely?
(7) How good and how widespread is health care? Are Americans healthier or sicker than they used to be? What role do personal behavior and the environment play?
(8) How is welfare reform -- the only truly important policy change in the Clinton years -- working?

1/23/2002 07:24:59 PM

Friedman Finds the Osama-Didn’t-Do-it Crowd: Thomas L. Friedman took a tour through Europe and the Muslim world, and came back with this:
On the way back from Kabul, I passed through Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, London and Belgium, where I had a variety of talks with Arab and Muslim journalists and business people and Muslim community leaders in Europe. All of them were educated, intelligent and thoughtful — and virtually none of them believed that Osama bin Laden was guilty.

Let's see, there was the serious Arab journalist in Bahrain who said that Arabs could never have pulled off something as complex as Sept. 11; there was the Euro-Muslim woman in Brussels who looked at me as if I was a fool when I said that the bin Laden tape in which he boasted of the World Trade Center attack was surely authentic and had not been doctored by the Pentagon; there was the American-educated Arab student who insisted that somehow the C.I.A. or Mossad must have known about Sept. 11 in advance, so why didn't they stop it? There was the Saudi businessman who declared that there was a plot in the U.S. media to smear Saudi Arabia, for absolutely no reason. And there was the Pakistani who confided that his kids' entire elementary school class believed the canard that 4,000 Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were warned not to go to the office on Sept. 11.

My online pal Tom Mangan frowned upon this method of reportorial punditry.
It sorta bugs me that a man of Friedman's experience and education would draw conclusions from such a tiny sample of opinion, and that he didn't ponder the possiblity that his subjects were telling him what they supposed he wanted to hear (or what they thought he needed to be told).
Well, how do we know that his minimum-five-country sample was “tiny”? We don’t. And without anecdotal punditry – hopefully, from someone like Friedman, who has good experience in the regions he’s discussing – the extremely narrow field of foreign policy op-edding would wither up overnight (plus, I wouldn’t be able to write stuff like this and this). But more deliciously, Mangan’s standard marks a bit of a reversal from a post of just a few days before, in which he criticized warbloggers for ganging up on Ted Rall:
They acted as if their perches in Middle America provided a better perspective than Rall acquired with his own eyes in Afghanistan. The wrongness of that heavily outweighed the wrongness of anything Rall (a cartoonist by trade) might have written.
All in good fun, Tom.

1/23/2002 06:13:48 PM

What To Do on a Hijacked Plane: Steven Den Beste spells it out; here’s a sample, but you should read the whole thing:
All seat cushions on airliners are removable and have two straps underneath. They're intended for use as life preservers in case of a water landing, but they will also make decent shields if you are facing adversaries armed with knives. They are relatively large, not very heavy, and quite thick, and will stop slashing attacks or stabs with short-bladed weapons such as box cutters. Use one with your off-arm. Insert your arm through one strap and then hold the other strap in your hand. Make sure it doesn't slide around; it may be necessary to loop the straps. It should feel like part of your arm.

Unless you have a pocket knife, your weapon of choice is a pen. Hold either with the point extending between your thumb and forefinger. Keep enough of it in your hand so that your grip is secure. Make quick jabbing attacks, like a striking snake. Withdraw immediately; never leave your arm extended. Aim for his eyes. If you can hit his eye, he will be out of the fight, and even if you miss it will affect his ability to fight back, because it is instinctive to defend when your eyes are threatened. If you can make him fear you then half your battle is already won. Most other targets are invulnerable to your weapon. If he is wearing goggles, aim for the throat.

1/23/2002 10:56:08 AM

What About That ‘War on Terrorism’ Thingie? Do you get the feeling that the war and all its complications somehow vanished from the collective radar screen? I sure do. The solution? Read Fred Pruitt’s excellent Rantburg, which rounds up the day’s war-related news from around the globe.

1/23/2002 10:51:47 AM

NY Timez: Another ex-Tabloid comrade, former Japan correspondent Ed Mazza, has a great new site called NY Timez.com. I see nothing there about his penguin fetish, however....

1/23/2002 10:27:31 AM

Blogrolling: A few months back I received an e-mail from an old friend back in Prague, the violinist and real estate specialist Rob McLean, worrying that Ken Layne and I had perhaps morphed into blood-hungry spokesmen for the kill-‘em-all tribe. Then, after he read some of the bozos we were criticizing, he quickly sent an e-mail of outraged support, in which he lavished praise on James Lileks. Soon, of course, Rob was publishing his own blog. Today, he takes issue with my neo-socialist media criticism. Let’s hope we can provoke him into more regular output.

1/23/2002 10:21:46 AM

L.A., Frisco and Goofy Poll Stories: The L.A. Times had a thigh-slapper the other day about a new study ranking the cities that are “meanest” to the homeless (Tabloid.net had a great cookie-cutter headline for such stories: “New Study Proves It!”). Anyways, the gag here was that bum-friendly San Francisco was judged by homeless advocates to be the third-meanest city, lefty Santa Cruz was seventh, and brutal Los Angeles didn’t even make the top 12. Northern Californian government types, of course, saw this as an “unwarranted slur.”
In Santa Cruz … officials point out that though the city does ticket the homeless for sleeping in parks and other public places, the number of citations is small: about 150 last year.

"We do not have a police squad looking for homeless folks," said Assistant City Manager Martin Bernal. "The enforcement we do is strictly based on complaints. We got more than 1,000 complaints about homeless people last year."

Frisco, which is just lousy with jabbering crackheads shitting on sidewalks (here’s a recent Nick Denton post on the subject), defended itself by pointing out it spends a solid 270% more per capita on general relief than any other California county, according to Supervisor Gavin Newsom:
"Frankly, I completely dismiss the list as a political document more than an objective report on San Francisco's collective consciousness on homelessness," Newsom said. "As an elected official, I'm fed up with this … rhetoric. […] We do everything in our power to support -- some say enable -- services for homeless individuals," he said. "If you're homeless in San Francisco, you can get three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We take a back seat to no one.”
That much is clear. Next up on our goofy polls list, is a bit buried inside the L.A. Business Journal about a new study that proves the hippest city for Generation Xers to live in is … San Francisco! Remind me to mention that to the two dozen friends of mine who have fled Baghdad by the Bay for Los Angeles over the past three years. … L.A. comes in a woeful 14th, behind such happenin’ centers as Milwaukee (10th) and Pittsburgh (13th). “I’m sorry, but there was no inherent hipness variable,” explained Rebecca Ryan, president of Next Generation Consulting, which came to this scientific conclusion from its headquarters in, uh, Jackson, Wisconsin. What were the criteria? “We looked at 43 variables that matter to Generation X,” Ryan says on her company’s poorly designed website. “Everything from farmer’s markets to commute times to number of musicians in the community. … to recreation areas to number of actors and nightclubs per capita.” That’s what we need around here! More actors, musicians and nightclubs! Something to ponder this weekend, when I decide which one of the two nearby farmer’s markets I should go to (the bean sprout guy at the new one in Silver Lake is a fella by the the name of The Dark Bob, who puts out CDs featuring such non-Milwaukee musicians as Peter Case and DJ Bonebrake). I’ll lament our lack of recreation facilities by crossing the street and taking a hike in the largest municipal park in the country. I’ll curse the fates during my daily commute … if I can remember in the time it takes me to walk from my bedroom to my living room. It must be that great weather they have up in Frisco … or maybe my town’s famous intolerance of gays.

1/22/2002 11:26:09 PM

Sullivan, Hitchens … and Michael Caine? Here’s what the randy old geezer was saying at one of the Golden Globes after-parties:
"As we're here celebrating, Osama is in a cave somewhere, trying to find enough power to run his dialysis machine," the British actor observed with some satisfaction.

1/22/2002 10:12:33 PM

Another Side of Routine Media Bias: I said something the other day about media bias being more cultural than ideological. This simplified description leaves out a few things, not least of which is the way that business/market stories are routinely told solely from the absurdly narrow point of view of a few rich people.

What do I mean? Look at this L.A. Times business story from today: “Prices Soar for Housing in Southland: The sector’s strength at lower end of market helps establish new highs in median pricing for L.A., Orange counties, flying in the face of nation’s recession.” Now, this is in the business section and all, but even some business types must be concerned by the inverse of this story – that the lack of inexpensive housing (“strength at lower end of market”) makes it hard for young and non-rich professionals (like me!) to buy a house, which in turn makes L.A. less attractive for such people. Instead, we get nothing but hyper-positive language about a trend that certainly hurts some businesses, and is bad news for maybe half the Times’ potential readership:

Home prices streaked to record levels last month in Southern California, underscoring that the region's robust housing market has been largely shielded from the national recession.
That’s the lead. Other phrases include:
“Boosted by larger gains […] all-time high […] such lofty gains […] a robust year […] annual prices also fared well by rising nearly 11.8% […]
Now, it’s true that higher home prices are great … for people who own homes (L.A., believe it or not, has the second-lowest home ownership rate of any U.S. city, according to something I read recently). It’s also good for the macro economy, but not unambiguously.

In the very same section there’s another article lamenting the fact that ailing businesses are flooding the market with sub-leased office space. “Landlords have been forced to cut rents,” the subhed complains. The first words of the story: “Much to their dismay…” Another phrase: “It probably will be a year at the very least before there will be any noticeable improvement.” Memo to the L.A. Times – cheap rents are good for businesses! Except for landlords, and builders of office buildings. Yet this concept only gets a grudging mention:

The unprecedented wave of low-priced sublease space during the last year has created bargains for tenants but has forced landlords to reduce rents, dimmed the outlook for newly completed development and raised concerns about loan defaults and the industry's financial health.
I don’t know the reporter, but it sounds like a case of a guy who covers an industry – commercial real estate – hearing from his regular sources that life sucks. Fair enough, but the readers of even the business section do not necessarily share the same interests as commercial real estate developers. And worse yet, this kind of perspective-skewed reporting has wandered from thet the phenomenon nearly four years ago:
Rents going up all over Los Angeles? Then National Public Radio -- weren't those people supposed to liberal? -- giggles about the "booming recovery of the rental market." Gas prices going down, making it cheaper to live and work in Los Angeles? Then KNX-AM talks somberly about the "depressed oil and gas market."
Interestingly, biz/econ publications like the L.A. Business Journal and The Economist are much more likely, in my anecdotal experience, to write about the flip side of rising prices, especially as they pinch the poor. Is there a legitimate way to write a positive story about real estate getting more expensive? Sure. In the very same section of today’s L.A. Times there’s a story about the “Apartment Market Strong Despite Downturn,” in which the news is greeted as welcome … for apartment investors.

1/22/2002 06:09:53 PM

Or Maybe, Women Are Ready for a Good War Movie: From the weekend box office report:
Exit polling data showed that 45 percent of the audience for “Black Hawk Down” was female, a rather high figure given the film's content. This indicated that the film's human angle struck as much of a chord as its action, said Jeff Blake, Columbia's president of worldwide marketing and distribution.
Yet another taste-maker who hasn’t noticed the Bellicose Women phenomenon…. On a related note, war-flick aficionado Monsignor Rallying Point has a nice little essay on the reviews of Ridley Scott’s latest.

1/22/2002 05:13:31 PM

The French Dogpile Continues: I know several of you bloglodytes like to demonstrate your yankee ingenuity by making fun of the French, but surely there is a limit to the eternal Gallic-baiting. In fact, I think I have found it, in the form of a recent letter to my darling wife, who has finally updated her site (although, to the chagrin of the correspondent, it’s still bilingual):
After 9/11, I would think that anybody living and working within the United States would have the decency to use English.

You are acting like the typical french person...arrogant and rude! IF YOU WANT TO WORK IN THIS WONDERFUL COUNTRY, THEN SPEAK DE ENGLISH OR HIT THE ROAD!"

In all the excitement of the previous months, I’ve neglected to comment on all the xenophobic horseshit that’s been bubbling in the revitalized screw-the-immigrants movement. All in due time. Not that this is a serious example, of course.

1/21/2002 11:05:30 PM

Police and Thieves: Because I am an ignorant donkey, I never heard the original version of that Clash song Police and Thieves until 13 minutes ago. Though my review is a quarter-century late, it’s just astonishing. Junior Murvin sings with one of the purest and most subtle falsettos I can ever remember hearing, right up there with Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield. A big surprise, though, is that the Clash apparently invented that catchy bass line – it was implied in the original, but not actually played. This might bore all of you, except maybe for bass players such as Brian Linse and Heather Havrilesky, professional musicians like Charles Johnson and Rallying Point, talented amateurs like what’s-his-deal-friend and Andrew Hofer, and of course the hyper-blogging Record Label Executive. For my other precious confidants, let’s just enjoy Murvin's gorgeous description of working with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry:
"Me give Lee Perry nuff idea too y'know nuff idea. Him like work with me too... we have same idea, some time me have the idea before him - him say 'When you have it?'. He is a man who when you have voicing - him can talk through the mic and tell you three bars before the bridge comes - he just phrase in your ears - remind you say 'Junior phrase away now remember the bar a come, phrase away now the bar a come now-hit it!'. (Laughs) When you're voicing he's talking through the mic in your ears - coming down with the music y'know and dancing too - give you a vibes. .....Him a dance and a mix, people who play instrument them always dance, but he's the only man who I see mix and dance...."

1/21/2002 08:59:32 PM

Happy MLK Day: I see what’s-his-name has beat me to the punch in linking to Letter From a Birmingham Jail (addressed to white religious leaders who’d been condemning King's actions), but I’ll go ahead and excerpt the bits I always liked:
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive. 2) Negotiation. 3) Self-purification and 4) Direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham.

Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than any city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal and unbelievable facts. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants -- such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises Rev. Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstrations. As the weeks and months unfolded we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. Like so many experiences of the past we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?" We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that with the exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes. Then it occurred to us that the March election was ahead and so we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that Mr. Connor was in the run-off, we decided again to postpone action so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. At this time we agreed to begin our nonviolent witness the day after the run-off.

The parts that always stuck with me? Collection of the facts, and self-purification. Be right, and be of as clean and resolved a mind as possible. Thirteen years ago or so, when I was still attached to UC Santa Barbara, a group of students (including a friend or two) went on a hunger strike to demand the adoption of an Ethnic and Gender Studies requirement before graduation. They were passing around various histories and fact-sheets about how such a proposal had been languishing for decades in Academic Senate sub-committees and whatnot. Anyways, it seemed complicated, so I wrote an excruciatingly long and detailed actual history of the process for our then-terrific daily newspaper, but it was probably too thick and poorly written for anyone to grab hold of. So I followed it up with a punchier column, quoting MLK’s letter, and showing how each one of the nine or so “facts” on the students’ fact-sheet was actually a lie, undermining (to say the least) the legitimacy of their grievance. (My favorite invention -- the students said that the push for the requirement began with the Black Student Union's takeover of the Administration Building 20 years before. I actually interviewed a couple of protesters who'd taken part, and they just laughed and laughed. "Ethnic Studies Requirement?") Anyways, the column was popular among the frat-boy yahoos I despised, and unpopular among the sincere activist-types I had more sympathy for (I remember being smacked around with some “you’re with us or against us” stuff). But it struck me, then as now, that legitimate arguments should be able to survive the truth. That – and the motivation to violate all laws I found unjust – were what I took from this letter, when I was assigned to read it in the third grade.

1/21/2002 10:52:28 AM

More on Civilian Afghan Deaths…: Many people have recommended this study, by the Project on Defense Alternatives. I haven’t had time to read it yet. Also, Bruce Rolston has more.

1/20/2002 08:48:05 PM

The Danger of Hidden Motives: Jeff Jarvis tosses off a good line that I think has relevance beyond the context he’s addressing:
Motive matters and to assume the motive and base an attack on that assumption is worse than lazy.
This is frequently the problem with amateurish music criticism (i.e., such-and-such band is “trying” to sound like Cheap Trick, or “cash in” on the glam revival, etc.), and it also applies to the post-Sept. 11 debate. I’m guilty of it, too; just something to watch out for.

1/20/2002 01:23:17 PM

The Built-in Arrogance of ‘Gatekeeping’: Go read about the latest gathering of top journalists insulting their audiences. Here’s a snippet about noted proletarian and market researcher, Tom Brokaw:
NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw said before the attacks the public did not take the issues of the day very seriously, paying more attention to the legal troubles of rap star Puff Daddy and his actress-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez than subjects such as terrorism.

That changed when the public learned the value of news as the attacks unfolded. The daily need for "reliable, contextual" information continues, Brokaw told the gathering of about 120 editors and journalists.

Italics mine. Via William Quick.

1/20/2002 01:13:32 PM

Media Bias: It’s More Cultural Than Ideological: People who shriek until they are blue in the face about the “liberal media bias” or the “conservative media bias” strike me as obsessive weirdos. Sure, there’s always bias, but I would argue that it’s more cultural, and professional, than ideological. That is to say, story ideas and execution are frequently told through the prism of the social positioning of the writers and editors.

The classic example of this? Gentrification stories. Here’s an L.A. Times gentrification story from today, about Bohemians moving into Koreatown. It is not particularly egregious, and is actually interesting, but it’s illustrative. The L.A. Times just loves gentrification stories – there have been more than a dozen about my own neighborhood since I moved here, usually along the lines of “New Coffee Bean Alarms Longtime Residents, Threatens Indie Coffee Shop” (both places continue to thrive) or “Is Eagle Rock the New Los Feliz?” (it isn’t). What makes gentrification stories so attractive to a paper, and revealing of its attitudes? 1) Cultural proximity. These are generally tales of Bohemian whites taking root in a cheap ethnic neighborhood. Newspaper staff writers feel much more cultural affinity, and proximity, to 29-year-old white musicians, than to 29-year-old Salvadoran immigrants (who outnumber the gentrifiers by orders of magnitude). My neighborhood is always in the news, largely because it is lousy with resident journalists (unlike, say, Latino-dominated Boyle Heights). 2) Socioeconomic position of the writer. Writing for monopolist dailies is a very white collar job nowadays. Hence, in today’s story, we discover that a $1,050 one-bedroom apartment in a dense, concrete part of town is considered “affordable,” and $900 is downright “cheap” (by that measure, our apartment in a leafier and "hipper" arrondisement, might well be “free”). 3) That vague liberal guilt thing. Gentrification stories typically spend more time fishing for people who might be angry if they were forced out, than finding people who are happy to see their neighborhoods safer and nicer. Today’s example:

If rents double, said Carlos Vaquerano, executive director of the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund, low-income Latinos “will have to leave…. We don’t have the resources Koreans do.”
I’d love to hear what question prompted that response (i.e., “Hey Carlos, what would happen around here, say, if rents doubled?”). Like I said, this is not a bad story or anything. For a truly awful column, reflecting much that is bad about the culture of media criticism at monopolist dailies (especially the noxious habit of assuming the mother paper’s values are –- obviously ! -- the only ones worth defending), read the once-great, now-rancid Howard Rosenberg’s rant from Saturday, ostensibly about a cable program on gossip journalism. Here are some samples:
“Mainstream media, most notably CNN and MSNBC, … kept their snouts in slop all the way through the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr., en route to the escapades of Gary Condit and post-Sept. 11 days of speculating endlessly and often emptily about Osama bin Laden.

That is classic tabloid. As is talk radio, where the ranting ideologues who often command these airwaves inflame and skew issues to fit their own political and social agendas.
Rosenberg just hated the Condit coverage, to the point of mocking Anne Marie Smith’s “15 minutes of fame,” and declaring that he had a hard time caring about Chandra Levy’s poor parents. (If you’re interested in my attacks on media critics who railed about Condit being a non-story, click here and here.) Next comes an unfortunate historical metaphor in a rant against media mergers:
Giants like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and AOL Time Warner appear poised to carve up the media planet like Czechoslovakia in 1939.
Er, that would be Poland, Howie, unless you really think that AOL Time Warner is the new Neville Chamberlain....

1/20/2002 12:22:51 PM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

ave been more than a dozen about my own neighborhood since I moved here, usually along the lines of “New Coffee Bean Alarms Longtime Residents, Threatens Indie Coffee Shop” (both places continue to thrive) or “Is Eagle Rock the New Los Feliz?” (it isn’t). What makes gentrification stories so attractive to a paper, and revealing of its attitudes? 1) Cultural proximity. These are generally tales of Bohemian whites taking root in a cheap ethnic neighborhood. Newspaper staff writers feel much more cultural affinity, and proximity, to 29-year-old white musicians, than to 29-year-old Salvadoran immigrants (who outnumber the gentrifiers by orders of magnitude). My neighborhood is always in the news, largely because it is lousy with resident journalists (unlike, say, Latino-dominated Boyle Heights). 2) Socioeconomic position of the writer. Writing for monopolist dailies is a very white collar job nowadays. Hence, in today’s story, we discover that a $1,050 one-bedroom apartment in a dense, concrete part of town is considered “affordable,” and $900 is downright “cheap” (by that measure, our apartment in a leafier and "hipper" arrondisement, might well be “free”). 3) That vague liberal guilt thing. Gentrification stories typically spend more time fishing for people who might be angry if they were forced out, than finding people who are happy to see their neighborhoods safer and nicer. Today’s example:
If rents double, said Carlos Vaquerano, executive director of the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund, low-income Latinos “will have to leave…. We don’t have the resources Koreans do.”
I’d love to hear what question prompted that response (i.e., “Hey Carlos, what would happen around here, say, if rents doubled?”). Like I said, this is not a bad story or anything. For a truly awful column, reflecting much that is bad about the culture of media criticism at monopolist dailies (especially the noxious habit of assuming the mother paper’s values are –- obviously ! -- the only ones worth defending), read the once-great, now-rancid Howard Rosenberg’s rant from Saturday, ostensibly about a cable program on gossip journalism. Here are some samples:
“Mainstream media, most notably CNN and MSNBC, … kept their snouts in slop all the way through the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr., en route to the escapades of Gary Condit and post-Sept. 11 days of speculating endlessly and often emptily about Osama bin Laden.

That is classic tabloid. As is talk radio, where the ranting ideologues who often command these airwaves inflame and skew issues to fit their own political and social agendas.
Rosenberg just hated the Condit coverage, to the point of mocking Anne Marie Smith’s “15 minutes of fame,” and declaring that he had a hard time caring about Chandra Levy’s poor parents. (If you’re interested in my attacks on media critics who railed about Condit being a non-story, click here and here.) Next comes an unfortunate historical metaphor in a rant against media mergers:
Giants like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and AOL Time Warner appear poised to carve up the media planet like Czechoslovakia in 1939.
Er, that would be Poland, Howie, unless you really think that AOL Time Warner is the new Neville Chamberlain....

1/20/2002 12:22:51 PM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

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