January 2009

Tom Daschle is heavily indebted to the health care lobby and owes a cool 140K in tax arrears.

This after we appointed a treasury secretary who apparently can’t handle his own accounting, and watched the nominee for commerce secretary step down amid controversy.

In the grand scheme of the moment, I don’t think the peccadilloes of potential appointees are something to get overly concerned with – Republicans gleefully anxious to hate the sinner should figure out (errr, maybe not) soon enough that this is not 1993 – but at what point should we be worried about the President’s judgement?


Belated this, but the lineup was announced yesterday.

Bajofondo, Tinariwen and Calexico. Wish I could go.

I guess?

Anyone who knows me also knows that I love horror films. I love the whole spectrum of horror, and I appreciate the various corners and caveats to the genre. In addition to that, I love the psychology – or the meta-horror, dare I say – that goes along with being a true fan of horror.

The author’s name currently eludes me, but I recall reading a film theory essay in college on the aesthetics of the slasher film. This author distinguished, at length, the difference between horror and the sub-genre known as the ‘slasher’ film. Whereas the former sticks to pretty standard principles of psychology (unnatural, anomalous occurrence + violence + YOU = unpleasant and startling impulses), there’s in fact something more craven and deep-seeded in the latter. In its truest form, the slasher film, so the argument goes, is about tearing down and destroying institutions and cultural mores that we the viewer lack the courage to do ourselves. Our avatar, our champion, becomes a blade-wielding killer, monster or both; and our victims the frivolous, selfish, thoughtless and promiscuous teenagers who ultimately fall victim to our surely misunderstood and neglected champions. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees…these men aren’t monsters. They’re working-class heroes. They are prophets of piety and asceticism – much like Moses, or Howard Beale in a hockey mask.


On Israel-Palestinian dialogue – in America:

The Nation‘s Eric Alterman recently wrote that, in the United States, “right-wing Jewish organizations and neoconservative pundits dominate nearly all Middle East discussion.” This is a pretty radical claim, one I don’t agree with–recent cover stories in both Time and Newsweek have reflected the J Street line — but one for which you could produce at least some evidence. The sum total of the evidence he did produce was three blog posts appearing in, respectively, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, and Commentary. Alterman, perhaps using hyperbole to compensate for the lack of evidence, called the authors “Thought Police.” You may recall that the term “Thought Police” was coined by George Orwell’s “1984” to describe a breed of futuristic secret police that would exceed even the draconian methods employed by Stalin and Hitler. Apparently Alterman believes equivalent powers are now wielded by a handful of Zionist bloggers. I’m trying to imagine what Alterman would say if fascism really does come to America. Perhaps he’ll think to himself, while hanging from his thumbs in some dungeon, “Well, this is pretty bad, but not as bad as when I was criticized by Commentary online.”

My column disputed the notion that there truly was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation around any criticism of Israel’s government. The American Prospect‘s Ezra Klein retorts that this may be true, but only because the attempts to suppress debate–by, among other people, me–were failing. “The thing about criticizing Israel is that you get called an anti-Semite rather a lot,” he wrote, rather dramatically. But we did it so often that the charge had lost its sting. Thus, “Criticizing Israel is not an act of courage because it’s not actually dangerous for your career. This is despite the best efforts of Chait and his magazine.”

Klein did not cite any examples of me calling somebody anti-Semitic merely for criticizing Israel. It’s merely an article of faith among the left that any response to their criticism is either a direct accusation of anti-Semitism or, at the least, an attempt to suppress debate. The Center for American Progress’s Matthew Yglesias, meanwhile, calls my magazine an “ideological enforcer” on Israel. The rule here is that if you write political commentary disagreeing with the J Street analysis of Israel, you’re a thuggish ideological enforcer. If you write political commentary supporting the J Street analysis, you’re a courageous ideological freedom fighter.

This tends to be my general sentiment regarding the economic stimulus package that passed the House yesterday evening. And while the politics of the bill is interesting, the actual substance of the package alludes me somewhat. And part of the problem here is that you have three choices in digesting such legislation: 1. Read the bill yourself, yikes 2. Trust the ideologies with an invested agenda in the bill’s passage or failure, respectively, or 3. Allow the news media – also clueless – to assure you that everything will be ok.

But I certainly don’t trust that to be the case. I’m not an economist, so that leaves me to implicitly trust Paul Krugman, or something even more drastic and terrible, trust the likes of Rush Limbaugh. I think a compromise bill – readjusting the tax rates a bit to put cash in the hands of some people next pay cycle – sounds like a pretty reasonable suggestion. This doesn’t mean I reject or dismiss infrastructure spending, it simply means I have faith that Americans will do what they do best if given the cash: spend. If we’re going to borrow more Chinese and Saudi money, we may as well return the favor and buy the goods coming from the former. Maybe give them a little stimulus, too.

And while my grasp on the economics of the bill leaves me befuddled, my clarity on the politics of the matter leaves me a tad bit frustrated. I see a lot of political swagger and gesturing, but very little effort to actually make this package understandable and digestible for the American public. Sadly, I think Kos is mostly right on the politics of the bill: the big loser here is Obama’s message. There was no political incentive for the House GOP to support this bill, and much like their Democratic counterparts, they are riding on the hope that this stimulus package will either succeed or fail overwhelmingly. Setting them up for a better position in 2010. As for the Democrats, well, they had the votes. Can’t blame them for being partisan when it was politically feasible (to paraphrase LBJ, the ability to count is the most important of skills in Washington).

The Republicans, interestingly enough, are taking a different page from the Johnson playbook. Adopting an Eisenhower approach to Obama, they are hoping that a duel approach of demonizing the House Dems, while presenting themselves as the true carriers of Obama’s best wishes on the Hill, will result in mercy for them from the American public. Sure they voted against the Democrat bill, but they did so in defense of President Obama’s initial submission (the truth is that Obama is going to support whichever piece of sausage that ultimately comes out anyway, so the posturing of the likes of Mitch McConnell is a tad transparent).

This is why I do foreign policy.

A couple interesting items caught my eye at the Times’ Web site today – that is, beyond the news of the day.

First, if you have any curiosity about you, you’ll click over any time you see an op-ed written by Muammar Qaddafi.

Secondly, I enjoyed this conversation with the Times’ interactive team. The Grey Lady has been pushing the boundaries of traditional journalism in recent years – contrary to her stodgy reputation -knocking at the barriers between authoritative and interactive. Of particular interest to me, as a member of The Industry, is the following question:

Advice for the Aspiring Journalist/Programmer

Q. I’m a student journalist trying to break into the journalist-programmer field. I’m curious — what skills do you need to have to be successful in this regard? And what’s the best way to learn them?

— Andrew Dunn, Charlotte, N.C.


A. This is a tough question to answer with any specificity because the whole idea of the journalist/programmer is still relatively new, and this community has yet to coalesce into anything like a defined “field.” But for precisely that reason, this is the ideal time to cultivate your inner nerd. As we all know, the future of journalism is online. So those who have a background in journalism and solid technical skills will be in ever greater demand.

Exactly what those technical skills are is more about your interests and aptitude than anything else. There are many paths, and many destinations. The Times’s intimidatingly talented graphics, computer-assisted reporting and multimedia departments, for example, include journalists who are experts in Flash, Geographical Information Systems, video and audio production, databases, data analysis, statistics and even 3D animation. My own extraordinarily talented team is a bit more specialized around Web programming — CSS/javascript on the front end, and Ruby/Ruby on Rails with a sprinkle of Django/Python on the back end.

That’s a technobabbley way of saying there are many different ways in which journalism and technology converge in today’s newsroom.

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