An Old Hack

australian akubra hatCanehan, a sometime commenter at Languagehat, has started his own blog, An Old Hack. This is going to be great.  Not only did Calahan once live in my home-away-from-home, Amman Jordan, but he also had my secret dream job–he was a reporter for a major news service.

What exactly is an Old Hack?  Says Canehan, it’s a self-depreciating British journalists’ term for a grizzled old veteran who can do the job and has no illusions about being a star. It’s a term that’s not age-related, but just means veteran or experienced.  I would love to be an “Old Hack”–it sounds so worldly and jaded and Guy Noir-ish–more serious and atmospheric than the Lois Lane kind of thing, but Canehan says it’s a term that’s only used for guys.

What’s a “Canehan” and how do you pronounce it? He explains that all here.

And the hat?–it’s an Akubra, the signature hat from Canehan’s native Australia.

Some people learn once when they are young and in school and then stop learning.  For me, learning has been a lifelong adventure and has often taken place in non-traditional ways or outside of academia.  My discovery of writing came late; I owe it to an editor who encouraged me by introducing me as “a journalist” before I even had my first piece published.  I can’t begin to tell what a thrill it was the first time I saw my name in a byline.  It’s a greater pleasure than even chocolate, and I do take my chocolate seriously!

So I will be very eager to see what Canehan has to say about the Middle East…and about writing.

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Rumproast Wonkette Lurker Thread

Last week’s Weblog Awards voting frenzy is over, but apparently I’ve attracted attention on some blogs I don’t ordinarily read. The reason I know is that they make remarks about me on their blogs (but not remarks to me on the blogs where I comment) and sometimes they even send me emails. So if you’re one of the people who has commented about me, pasted remarks I made on another blog onto your own blog, emailed me with either lovemail or hatemail, or even just thought about the possibility of emailing me, here is your opportunity to say whatever it is you want to say.

For anyone who is not familiar with the earthshaking and intellectually stimulating commentary that goes on at these blogs, the last time I peeked in on them, they had posted a picture of a generic fat person and everyone was linking to it and making cutting remarks about the person’s weight. And no, I am not going to post a link.

FAQ:  Okay these aren’t necessarily real questions, (and they’re not necessarily not real questions), but they are questions you (or an anonymous secret person who may or may not have emailed me) might have asked if you had thought about asking them.

1. I sort of like you a little bit.
Thank you.

2. You are just like us.
No. I am just like me.

3. Can I make a comment on this thread?

Yes, that’s what it’s for. Questions are unmoderated, with no trigger words, but WordPress has a very aggressive new spam filter. For some reason I can’t figure out, genuine comments often go in the spam filter. WordPress claims their spam filter has the capacity to learn, but even my own remarks from the same IP always go in the spam filter if I am not signed in. I look in the spam filter about once a week. Okay, every day, as soon as I finish this syllabus project. If someone really want to have a discussion, I will really try to answer them.   Really.  I just don’t want to talk about some “issue” like whether myiq2xu is hawt, okay?

4. Can I use bad language in the comments?
Yes, but I will replace it with asterisks. I told WordPress this is a child-friendly site.

5. [X] person on [Y] website is not a nice person/said something I don’t agree with.
I don’t care.

6. Why don’t you come over and make comments on [X,Y, or Z] blog?
If you can make it worth my while, email me with the financial details.

7. Can we have a dialog?
For all you do, this thread’s for you.

Walter Lippmann–when you’ve lost that Hopeful Feeling

Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.
Walter Lippmann
US author & journalist (1889 – 1974)

The above quotation–that appeared this week on the RSS feed for quotation of the day that you get when you sign up for Google Reader– put me in a rather pensive mood.  Then I started wondering what it was really about.  I mean, the devil can cite scripture for his own purposes and all that.  Lippmann? Instant soup, maybe?  I was nodding along with the sentiment, but what if it was part of some sinister treatise written by one of Darth Vader’s minions or something? I needn’t have worried.  Lippmann turns out to be a rather interesting character.

Lippmann was, among other things, an adviser to Woodrow Wilson who helped draft the Fourteen Points–the fourteenth established the League of Nations. He coined the phrase “cold war”. He supported  the reporter’s privilege of confidentiality of sources.  He wrote a lot about the “mass media” and manufacturing public opinion.

It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas. He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe “the pictures in their heads” than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed “the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation.” Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.

Lippmann’s solution to an incompetent public was an elite corps that included journalists.  John Dewey, as in Dewey decimal system, was a contemporary of Lippmann. He agreed with Lippmann about the effects of the increasing complexity of mass culture, but argued  that the public could indeed come to  an intelligent grasp of issues by forming a “great community” of publics within society that could “become educated about issues, come to judgments and arrive at solutions to societal problems”.

Sounds a bit like the internet, doesn’t it.

But what do we see on the internet these days? Same old, same old.  Ideas are judged by the effect they will have on the political process rather than whether they are true.  There is still great pressure to conform to the groupthink conclusion.

Instead of thinking we have feeling.  This was a big part of Bill Clinton’s stump speech in the last days of the Hillary campaign. Hillary had run on the issue of competence, he said, but the people weren’t looking for a president.  They were looking for a feeling.

In Lippmann’s words, the “function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.”

Men.  On which men can act.  Yeah I caught that. Lippman’s quotations are full of pontifications about “men”.  After all, he was an elitist.

I prefer Dewey’s more egalitarian approach.  Bloggers need to forget about “hope” and “change” and “believing” and all that other cyber opiate-of-the-people stuff and go back to doing what they do best. Using the internet to manage the “complexity of culture” that makes democracy so difficult.  Uncondensing all the symbols we think in.  Becoming educated.  Checking facts. Connecting ideas.

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Would someone get Peggy Agar a makeover?


Everyone who saw Barack Obama call Peggy Agar “sweetie” on Detroit’s WXYZ Channel 7, wanted to see the face that went with the voice.

I’m trying to think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound either brutal or deeply shallow and I can’t think of one. So I’ll just come out and say it. Peggy Agar needs a makeover.

Yes, I’m blond too, and a little heavier than I would like to be (who isn’t), but I’m not on television. Peggy Agar is.

First of all, that red jacket. Blonds, at least natural blonds with our completion type ( I think I’m a “winter”) can’t wear that shade of red. Cinnamon red, okay. Brick red. Salmon red. Not scarlet. Let the Asians wear scarlet–we just can’t pull it off. And what’s the matter with more conservative colors–gray, black, blue, navy? We can wear those colors–they show off our faces. They disguise less-than-perfect figures.

Then there’s the hair. I once met a guy who they said “combed his hair with firecrackers”. I can’t begin to figure out what’s wrong with Ms. Agar’s hair, maybe the part…? She needs to start out with a good basic cut, that’s for sure. Short enough to fall naturally instead of bunching up, but long enough not to make her look heavier.

Remember back when Oprah had a “face made for radio”? Ewww. But she’s presentable now, very presentable. And her wardrobe–an even worse disaster!!!! Oprah has no taste whatsoever, but she doesn’t need taste. She has talent and she has money and she has People. She can use her time to do what she does best, then pay someone else to do her appearance.

I have never seen Peggy Agar before–maybe she was just having a Bad Hair Day–but I can see this much. She has voice and she has presence. But she doesn’t have People.

Here is my advice for Peggy Agar:

Your fifteen minutes of fame is not over yet. You’ve got about ten minutes left. The Obama people owe you one, big time, and one day soon you may be able to collect.

Here’s what you do. Get some People. Hair People, makeup People, personal trainer People. People who know how to make you look good on camera. Can you find out who does Ellen? Hillary? Maybe they will do it as a promotion?

Oooh! Oooh! Maybe Tyra would do you. “Fierce walk, fierce walk!” I love Tyra.

Figure out how to write it off as a business expense. It is. Then have fun with it. It’s your life. Enjoy it. Try the stuff they give you, no matter how bizarre. I think Ellen did a segment like this when she was starting out–they had her as motorcycle mama, soccer mom, etc.

Then think about what’s wrong about the Obama campaign, and what he and his surrogates need to learn to be an effective President or Vice President for ALL the American people, including women. I want to hear you ask him the tough questions. Whether he thinks women should worry their pretty little heads about having careers. The feminization of poverty. How he would incorporate women into his staff. Would he have cutsie little Monica-type interns and flirt with them the way he does with the female voters, or would he take them seriously? Bill Clinton has had to defend the racist charges against him time and again. Obama needs to do the same with sexism. Then think of where you want your career path to go next–do you want to be the next Charlie Rose? the next Baba Wawa? –and ask Obama some of those kind of questions too. Sort of a national resume tryout.

Maybe the WXYZ could hype it a bit and solicit better questions from Detroit viewers, or have the voters use their cellphones to vote on questions they want to see Obama answer. Or solicit questions from the Clinton campaign just for equal time.

I don’t live anywhere near Detroit, but believe me, if Peggy Agar can pull off that interview with Barack Obama, I will be looking for it on the internet.

Oh, and I hear the Senator’s wife calls him “stinky” as a term of endearment…..hee, hee …. are you thinking what I’m thinking….

Okay, so that’s my free advice. You can decide if it’s worth what you paid for it.

Do Blondes Really Need Jay Leno?

I used to think I couldn’t get along without Jay Leno. When I returned from the Middle East in November of 2001, it was Leno’s monologue I watched every night to catch up with the current political jokes. At first it was “Where’s Osama Ben Hiding?” every night. Then with the Iraqi standoff, there was that hilarious fake game show with Saddam’s press secretary. I had everything timed exactly to catch Leno’s monologue then flip to Letterman in time to see the Top Ten List countdown. But since the Hollywood writers’ strike I haven’t watched much of late-night television.

romneyandblondes.jpgThe other night I tuned in to the Leno show again just to to see Mitt Romney’s guest appearance, and I was sorry I did. Mitt was asked no difficult questions and said nothing remarkable. But to fill time, Leno told a joke about someone who was stupid simply because they were blonde. To make it worse, the camera did a prolonged shot of someone blonde in the audience laughing politely, as if to make fun of them both for being blonde and for being polite. Apparently, blondes are not “us”. Blondes are “them”. And Leno has a psychological need to tell jokes that disparage people. Perhaps he needs to dig a hole under someone else to make himself look taller. Whatever.

I ask you, if Leno were to tell a joke about people with black skin being stupid, would that be acceptable? Or would people write in to tell him it wasn’t fair to blacks? That it would be damaging to little black children to try to make people think there was something wrong with being born black? Oh, you would hear from them all right, and from the parents of the children too. Jesse Jackson would start a boycott. Jay Leno would be lucky if he ever worked again.

leno1.jpgWell, if Leno can’t get away with trashing black people, maybe he can get away with trashing blonde people. Maybe Jay Leno thinks hate speech is acceptable as long as northern Europeans are the only target.

But you know, during the writers’ strike I discovered that I really don’t need to watch the Tonight Show anymore. I don’t even miss it. The best political humor is now on Saturday morning’s National Public Radio with “Wait, wait, don’t tell me.”

Clearly Leno has decided he doesn’t need blondes.

So tell me, why do I need Leno?

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