obscure pursuits

No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch.

Bob Edwards, long-time host of NPR’s Morning Edition program, has a new book out on the life of Edward R. Murrow and his role in the creation of news broadcasting. It’s quite short — 192 pages — but chock full of amazing tales: Murrow packed a couple lifetimes’ accomplishments into one all-too-short one.

Edwards quotes a speech he gave to the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation on October 15, 1958. He was distressed at the increasing commercialization of what he saw as an educational and informational medium. He wasn’t opposed to entertainment, but in the 20 years since he had been working in the medium, the culture was moving away from what had made the medium indispensable. News reporters were becoming secondary to producers and the exposition of facts in the service of truth was considered too hot to handle.

I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, “No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch.” I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won’t be, but it could.
[ . . . ]
[T]his nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.
[ . . . ]
Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations? This method would also provide real competition between the networks as to which could outdo the others in the palatable presentation of information. It would provide an outlet for the young men of skill, and there are some even of dedication, who would like to do something other than devise methods of insulating while selling.

He started out as an educator but in the broadest sense, that of a learner who wants to share what he has learned. It shows in his remarks above. And he didn’t share the view that the American people couldn’t handle the truth. He knew better.

2004 US Election

iTunes annoyance

I realized I needed to make use of iTunes “Join Tracks” feature when I was listening in Party Shuffle mode and something I expected to happen didn’t. Turns out you can’t join tracks on stuff you buy from the iTunes Music Store. Things to investigate: I suppose burning a CD and importing that will make this go away but I also wonder if ripping the DRM stuff out with hymn will let me do it.

now playing: Karma Police from the album OK Computer by Radiohead | Buy it


wear your AG on your, um, sleeve

Want to scare civil libertarians, librarians, and other suspects? Pick up a Crank’s Accessories shirt or mug and make life interesting . . . .

2004 US Election observations

character vs personality: the lazy press, continued

Interesting assessment of the campaign coverage by the New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch.

I think it’s very interesting that in this election, the complaint from the press quite often is that Kerry has not made his story accessible to the public, he has not made himself familiar, that people don’t know who he is. Which is really interesting considering that the guy he’s running against has no story at all, and considering that we live in this age of the politician who must have the story, the anecdotal story. [Bush] is born to extraordinary privilege into an intensely insular, emotionally repressed, dynastic family. He grows up with extremely mediocre performances and seeming to have neither interests nor excellence in any field, except he’s a good partier in college and he seems to be able to collect people around him. He has some kind of power there in his ability to make connections with people. He drifts through his 20s. He becomes an alcoholic — and an ugly one. He failed serially at businesses. None of this is stuff [Bush] could ever mention again, nor is it ever mentioned except, supposedly, hostilely. In other words if you mention it, it’s considered hostile rather than a matter of fact and of record which all of it is. And then, the idea is, all of that is completely erased and redeemed through a conversion experience. It’s a very weird story. One doesn’t feel that one knows [Bush].
[ . . . ]
[Another] big mistake I think the press makes: They call anything that isn’t a strict policy issue “character,” when often it’s personality. There’s a big difference. Character has to do with things like honesty and integrity and honor. I don’t think anybody can, for instance, begin to look at both [candidates’] records and say Bush’s character, or let’s say his service during the Vietnam war, or his sobriety, his business record, his way of sort of being really quite indifferent about all sorts of things, that these are character issues where he comes off looking great. He has a winning personality, apparently, with a lot of people. Kerry, on the other had, his character may be conflicted in places but his problem is a personality problem.

Character is a very strong word. It suggests a kind of fundamental quality of the soul, of the sensibility, it’s almost like the stuff somebody’s made of. If you say this guy has a character problem, it doesn’t mean he’s hard to like. I’ve interviewed war criminals and mass murders, and they’re often exceedingly charming … So charm and character or personality and character are separate things, and I think the press probably conflates them in a way that is not useful or is misleading…

You won’t see this kind of assessment or analysis in mainstream newspapers. Just the realization that character and personality are not the same thing, that conflating them does a disservice to the candidates and the voting public, seems stunningly insightful. Sadly, it only appears that way by contrast, not to take anything from Mr. Gourevitch.