Archive

July 14th, 2016

The tragic downfall of British media

    There is a conceit among many senior editors in the U.K. that Britain has "the best journalism in the world." At its best, certainly, British journalism is very good indeed. From the sober analysis of the Financial Times and the Economist to the tub-thumping of the tabloid press to the BBC's worldwide reputation for accuracy and impartiality, the British public has access to a healthy mixture of domestic, foreign, and investigative reporting. On many occasions, democracy has been well served by journalists here who make important stories accessible and hold power to account.

    At its worst, however, journalism in Britain can be truly awful. Five years ago, much of the world was rightly shocked by revelations of phone-hacking on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The subsequent judicial investigation into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson, exposed the tasteless practices on which some British tabloids had come to rely: the invasions into personal privacy, the gross intrusions into private grief.

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Whoa! Enough is enough!

    Even Bernie Sanders had heard enough of Hillary Clinton's emails those many months ago. Still the GOP simply cannot let go. Is it because they have nothing of their own to offer? Certainly they are not getting much (anything?) of quality from their presumptive Presidential nominee.

    In fact, with the candidate they have, not to mention their "also-rans," to focus on the bad judgment of Clinton is the height of arrogance. Without doubt it was bad judgment but how much more is there to be said about it? Their candidate seems to be lacking in judgment of any sort. He certainly is not very well acquainted with the truth which leaves little room to accuse Hillary Clinton of playing loose with the truth. That is something that most likely can never be absolutely proven but didn't she swear to tell the truth to the congressional committees that have already grilled her? So, why is it "sworn testimony" is the claim as the purpose for the latest inquisition? Again, how much is enough?

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Trump Reaps a Veep

    I am embarrassed to admit how much I’ve enjoyed the Donald Trump vice-presidential search. There’s nothing like a bunch of egomaniacs humiliating themselves in public to cheer up a dark day.

    We got to sit through a series of very public tryouts — who can introduce Trump at a rally in the loudest, most craven manner possible? My blue ribbon went to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who hollered that Trump has “never forgotten or forsaken the people who work with their hands,” apparently skipping over all the construction workers he’s stiffed in his real estate business. Pence has also started twittering like a howling dog. (“We will not rest until we elect @realDonaldTrump as the next President of the United States of America!”)

    On Wednesday, for mysterious reasons that may have been connected to trouble with the Trump plane, Indiana became the center of the veep universe. Pence was visited by a delegation that included Trump, Trump’s daughter, Trump’s sons, Trump’s son-in-law and, oh yeah, the campaign manager.

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After a month of violence, a recommitment to principles

    Tuesday will mark one month since a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This past week brought more murder and sadness, with police violence against African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Minnesota captured on viral video, a grieving boy and a shattered girlfriend, and then a sniper in Dallas who killed five law enforcement officers and terrified a city.

    Add to that the shameful litany of mass shootings in recent years; the collapse of states in Syria, Libya and now Venezuela; a refugee crisis that has destabilized the European Union and inflamed voters in Great Britain; and our own electoral season, which has whittled down our political options to a nativist bully who winks at racism and violence and a deeply unpopular political insider who is widely seen as dishonest.

    The world has been falling apart for a long time now. So how do we put it back together? The answers are the same as they ever were: We change our leaders at the ballot box; we compel them to act through peaceful protest; and we improve ourselves through learning, self-criticism, conversation and art.

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A bottom-up approach to fighting the Islamic State

    There are two theaters in the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and they are not defined by international borders. The first is "ISIS-stan" in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Here the U.S.-led coalition is making progress and has rolled back significant portions of the territory held by the terrorist group. But the gains have come from predominantly Kurdish and Shiite forces, and there are limits to how far these groups can advance into Sunni heartland areas and be accepted by local populations. Rolling back the Islamic State is not enough - to sustain these gains, we must focus on the security forces and governance mechanisms that will replace them.

    The second theater lies farther west, where Syria is embroiled in a horrendous civil war. The United States has assumed that this problem is not as important and has heretofore avoided involvement except for pursuing diplomatic negotiations. That's a mistake. In Syria and Iraq, the challenge of countering the Islamic State is bound up in the broader civil wars that have created governance and security vacuums and allowed the group to thrive. These vacuums are the disease; the Islamic State is the most serious of many problematic symptoms.

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White America's ongoing worry: The aggrieved black man

    America's suddenly rapacious appetite for theater about the slave era - whet first in 2013 by that year's winner of the Academy Award for best picture, "12 Years A Slave," and fed most recently by the Broadway hit "Hamilton" - will be satisfied again in October. Hollywood is scheduled to serve us "The Birth of a Nation," Nate Parker's biopic of Nat Turner, the slave who led what turned out to be the deadliest slave rebellion in American history.

    Turner experienced a vision that God chose him to lead enslaved Africans and their progeny to freedom. He sought to do God's work by cutting a swath to the heavens painted with the blood of every white person he and his gang encountered after nightfall on Aug. 21, 1831. By midday the next day, Turner's gang had slaughtered upward of 60 white people in rural Virginia. White mobs responded by killing at least 200 slaves.

    Turner was eventually captured. After his execution, he was skinned.

    Slavery was outlawed 34 years later, or 151 years ago. White America needn't sweat another Nat Turner, another slave revolt.

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Video games may become China's best cultural export

    When Chinese internet giant Tencent acquired the Finnish video game developer Supercell last month for $8.6 billion, it became the world's dominant publisher and distributor in the $100 billion gaming market. It was a blockbuster deal: No other Chinese entertainment company in any field -- television, film, books -- has ever come close to such a dominating position.

    Yet the most lasting consequence of the acquisition might not have much to do with economics. It might instead be cultural.

    The Chinese government has spent billions in recent years to subsidize artistic enterprises, with an eye toward wielding "soft power" beyond its borders. It hasn't been notably successful. But China's video game industry -- as of last year, the world's biggest -- is on the verge of becoming one of its most valuable cultural exports. It just might succeed where so much Chinese entertainment has failed in the past.

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The stargazer's guide for Donald Trump

    Donald Trump seems to be having some trouble with stars lately, if this recent tweet is any indication: Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff's Star, or plain star!

    In case he is serious, here is a guide for the perplexed tycoon.

    - Sheriff's Star or Star of David: It can be easy to confuse these stars! A handy mnemonic device is to ask yourself, "Does this star have little nubs at the ends of its points, or was it used by the Nazis?"

    - "Plain Star" or Star of David: What is a plain star? Paul Giamatti? You can tell these two apart because if you send a picture of Paul Giamatti to a journalist, it isn't a weird threat.

    - Starfish or Star of David: One of these lives under the sea, has five arms and appears on "Spongebob Squarepants." The other one only appears on freeze-frames of "Spongebob Squarepants" episodes that have been heavily doctored by conspiracy theorists.

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Nation is off the tracks, but the GOP errs in thinking it can right her

    Among the most important questions pollsters ask during a presidential campaign is this one: Do you think the country is on the right track, or the wrong track? The answer respondents give to this question, we're told, can tell us more about the likely outcome of an upcoming election than any other. The question is based on a metaphor - the metaphor of a "track" or, in some versions, "direction." That alone should make us wonder what the question means, exactly, or what we're assuming when we answer the question on its own terms. "All of us, grave or light," George Eliot writes in "Middlemarch," "get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them."

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Divided by Race, United by Pain

    There aren’t any ready answers for how to end this cycle of bloodshed, these heart-rending images from Louisiana and Minnesota and Texas of a country in desperate trouble, with so much pain to soothe, rage to exorcise and injustice to confront.

    But we have choices about how we absorb what’s happened, about the rashness with which we point fingers. Making the right ones is crucial, and leaves us with real hope for figuring this out. Making the wrong ones puts that possibility ever further from reach.

    So does a public debate that assigns us different tribes and warring interests, when almost all of us want the same thing: for the killing to cease and for every American to feel respected and safe.

    We have disagreements about how to get there, but they don’t warrant the inflammatory headlines that appeared on the front of The New York Post (“Civil War”) or at the top of The Drudge Report (“Black Lives Kill”). They needn’t become hardened battle lines.

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