Crazy in America

At the grocery checkout today, I snapped this photo of a tabloid cover:

Sarah Palin on the cover of Star

How perfect is that?! Surely Sarah Palin’s core demographic is the same segment of the population that reads supermarket tabloids!

But Palin may laugh last. Tabloid readers are voters — and there are lots of them.

Coincidentally, immediately after my shopping trip, I read a Washington Post article, “In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition ,” written by Rick Perlstein.

The title refers to the healthcare protests (hence “preexisting condition” ). Perlstein argues that the craziness we’re seeing now is a perennial phenomenon in America. Actually, not quite perennial:  “the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy”.

Perlstein gives a series of illustrations of his thesis. Here’s a sample:

My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny.

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The “End” of Journalism?

It’s a regular discussion of mine, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted about it on this blog. On my hockey blog, I posted the other day about sports journalism, however, and a Globe and Mail article brought forth many thoughts as I read it today. The article, entitled “I’m not blogging this, mark my words”, is a journalist’s version of the apocalypse:

The unofficial end to journalism as I know it may have come earlier this week, when my Globe and Mail sporty colleague Matt Sekeres and I were at the triathlon venue in the north end of the city, waiting for the event to start.

[…]

The race was about an hour away when young Mr. Sekeres said the five words I have most come to dread: “I’m going to blog this.”

[…]

Mr. Sekeres wrote three paragraphs about the excellent weather, the setting and that soon he and I would be heading down to the race course. The headline read, “Under Thatch with Blatch.”

I’m not sure if my hair burst into flames, but I wanted to burn something down.

Mr. Sekeres is a fine writer and engaging company. This isn’t about him. He was merely doing what everyone – from paid professional writer to Olympian to the average guy in the stands – does now. He was committing his most idle thoughts and mundane observations if not to paper, then to its modern equivalent, a blog.

The author of the article, Christie Blatchford, is one of the few journalists who actually wrote out these thoughts. But I’m certain that a number of old-style journalists have these same thoughts regarding blogs.

Let’s face it. Although we can fault some people for being too close-minded to the idea of blogging, something really has been lost. I’ve grown up in an era where rapid-fire internet journalism has become the norm. I’m really too young to understand the world of investigative journalism that was once flourishing in North America. But when I watch documentaries on Nixon’s fall, or read about Alan Eagleson’s demise (the subject about which I posted on my blog), I can’t help but feel a pang of non-existent nostalgia.

I particularly liked one of the later paragraphs in the Globe and Mail article:

It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview. It is not true that anyone can edit themselves and sort wheat from chaff. It is not true that even great productive writers like The Globe’s Jim Christie or Ms. DiManno or Mr. Farber can hit a home run every time they sit before the laptop. But the odds of them doing it are greatly increased if they haven’t already filed 1,200 words to the Web, shot a video, done a podcast and blogged ferociously all day long. [emphasis added]

There is no way that we are getting the same quality of news when everyone thinks they’re a journalist. Nor are we getting the same quality of writing from those who are journalists, when they have to post so many thoughts in a day that they inevitably run dry. The 24-hour deadline on stories is detrimental to any sort of news depth, and I think that people generally distrust the media as a result.

I’m not fighting blogging. I really don’t think that Cristie is, either. There are definitely good blogs — and good bloggers — out there. But the fact that everyone has to be a blogger — that investigative journalism in and of itself is a lost art — is a pity. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been turned off of the idea of being a political journalist, myself. Because I’ve faced facts long ago and realized I’m not a great blogger. It’s one of the reasons I appreciate my dad’s offer to let me join him on this blog. He’s a far better — and more consistent — blogger than I am. I don’t come up with thoughts worth writing every day, and when I don’t have anything worth writing, I don’t write.

Apparently journalists are expected to do otherwise.

In that, I think both Christie and I agree in our hope that blogging as the sole mode of writing is a fad, and nothing more!

Sick.

There’s a newspiece floating around Canada today. I don’t know if it’s made its way to the US yet, but it’s been all over national news here. And it makes me sick, for a number of reasons.

The story involves a killing on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba — a long way from Ontario, where I (and a good portion of Canadians) live. It’s a graphic tale, consisting of a man getting stabbed and then decapitated in a seemingly random act of violence. And the Globe and Mail was all over it — enough so that it was the first thing listed in my e-mail inbox this morning.

The story is greusome. So much so that I’m unwilling to even link to it. To be frank, I didn’t make it all the way through the story. I closed it, and had to apologize to my girlfriend for having snapped at her a bit in so doing. It’s not often that an issue stirs me enough that I shout at her — especially when it has nothing to do with her in the first place.

If you want, search it out. It’s on the front page of the news sites I visit. And I don’t know if other places are covering it so vividly as the Globe and Mail. But I suspect they are. After all, it sells papers and attracts viewers.

And we’re not just talking responsible newscasting. The piece went into moment-by-moment details, blood and gore included. One friend commented (without having seen the story) that it’s sometimes good for the media to keep us aware about these issues. Not this one. It took place far, far away from us, in a random incident that is terribly unlikely to occur to the next person to get on a bus. The man must have been psychopathic. Apparently he was completely calm throughout the incident. I don’t need to worry about him, and it’s hard to copycat psychotic composure. And even if there’s some inconceivable reason why I did need to know about this, there was no reason for them to go into the details they did. Except for the cashflow.

Sick.

Sick that this kind of thing happens.

Sick that these are more and more frequently occurring.

Sick that the media gives them the attention at all. That seems to motivate them, at least somewhat. After all, there was Mr. “Now I’ll Be Famous” last time we talked about one of these incidences.

Sick that death is glorified, and violence is loved by our culture. Sick that this is considered normal news. Sick that this is the type of thing people mindlessly absorb in the evening, and turn into water cooler conversation the next day at the office.

Sick. Sick. Sick!

[A]+[Be] Critics: The Dark Knight

Rating: A cautionary *****

The newest installment in the Batman saga is everything it was cracked up to be. It has action sequences that outshine Iron Man and Hulk. It has characterization that is frighteningly acute. But mostly, it is dark, bringing the series full-circle since the days of Tim Burton’s cartoonish portrayal of the Joker. And because of this last fact, it is necessary to qualify the high rating that this movie deserves. Because, despite the fact that The Dark Knight was indeed the most intense ride of this summer, it is not a super-hero movie. It is a thriller. And the mis-packaging of this film may lead one to make the terrible mistake of taking the movie lightly and, God forbid, even taking one’s kids to see it.

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The Hopeful Khadr

An appalling introduction to an otherwise uplifting article:

Intelligence documents accidentally released to journalists by U.S. officials [emphasis added] at a military hearing have cast further doubt on U.S. allegations against Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. An unusual mix-up by U.S. officials resulted in the distribution of top-secret documents to courtroom reporters attending Omar Khadr’s hearing in February 2008.

New revelations outlined in intelligence documents have led lawyers for the Canadian citizen to call for all charges against Khadr to be dropped. U.S. officials have charged Khadr with murder, claiming that Khadr – 15 years old at the time – threw a hand-grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight occurring in the context of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.

Documents accidentally released include an interview with a U.S. intelligence agent who was at the scene of the battle, revealing that Khadr was shot twice – in the back – by the U.S. soldiers, a striking new detail in the case. An anonymous U.S. agent whose interview appears in the document additionally outlines that Khadr wasn’t witnessed throwing the grenade and that – contrary to previous claims by U.S. military officials – Khadr was not the only person alive at the time U.S. forces stormed the building in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how much of an issue the Omar Khadr case is in American media. From a Canadian perspective, it’s one of the many downplayed issues that could come to haunt our current government’s legacy if the majority of the population were ever to wake up and smell the (certainly not fair-trade) coffee.

When I saw this article on Rabble, I was both overjoyed and disgusted. The disgust hit first, resulting in small part because of the fact that it took an “accident” for the US government to finally come clean about the  situation, and in large part because this means that Khadr has quite possibly been sentenced to a half-dozen years in the horror-filled Guantanamo detention facilities for nothing. Not only is it now an issue of morality — whether it is just to detain a minor for throwing a hand-grenade — but an issue of facts. If Khadr has been through this without even having thrown the grenade that killed a US soldier, then what can we trust from our governments?

It’s not mentioned in the article whether or not the Canadian government knew about the information held by the Americans. But their lack of zeal in attempting to free Khadr thus far points to complacency or conspiracy — neither of which look good on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (or  the Liberals, who were in power for the first portion of Khadr’s imprisonment).

The uplifting information contained in the article is that the new information may force the Canadian government into action. At least there’s hope for the young man! Hopefully Harper really didn’t have the information, and steps up to the plate to bring this whole issue home. I don’t know if I believe it’ll happen… but crossing one’s fingers never hurt!

Enterprising the Bully

It’s intriguing to see what hairbrained ideas businesses come up with from time to time. This case of a Bullying video game is a great example:

As a matter of principle, we hope everyone starts off by saying, ‘Okay, we know this is an entertainment experience,'” Rodney Walker said. “Video games are not just for children. This game happens to be about high school and it’s a tough kid in a tough environment, but it’s also one of the funniest games you will play. And if you don’t have our sense of humour, we respect that, but we think that fans’… voice has to be at least as important as the detractors.”

The game puts players in control of Jimmy Hopkins, a rebellious 15-year-old who is abandoned at a corrupt boarding school by his mother and new stepfather. Players learn to navigate the campus’s cliques, girls and other bullies, employing methods using violence. The CTF, which is spearheading the call for a ban on sales, says there is a link between violent video games and aggressive behaviour in children. (Some studies support this conclusion, while others do not.)

The entire scheme just screams of controversy. And clearly that’s what the company is aiming at. Also responsible for Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt, Rockstar Games is making a not-so-subtle bid at stirring up trouble in order to garner sales.

The teachers’ reactions? Pull it!

“We’re asking retailers to be responsible,” Emily Noble, president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, said Monday. “Yes, they can sell it and make a buck out of this, but is this the kind of marketing that they want to be [doing], selling games that glorify violence?”

[…]

“What it does is it encourages kids to target other kids, to be a bully with other kids. This doesn’t help us as teachers in the work that we’re doing at school. It also targets teachers at the school as well,” Ms. Noble said.

Most amusing about the situation is that the defenders pull some pretty obscure counter-arguments out of thin air:

But calling for a ban on the game is like “flailing at windmills” when it comes to actually confronting bullying, said Michael Hoechsmann, an assistant professor at McGill University and an expert on the role of violence in video games.

“As tempting as it may seem, I’m not so certain that banning this will somehow result in a more peaceful and more loving school population,” he said, adding that he hasn’t found any compelling evidence to suggest that playing a violent video game results in violent actions.

I don’t know who interviewed Hoechsmann, but the issue here clearly isn’t about stopping violence; It’s about not encouraging it.

I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto, and have no intention of doing so. But unlike GTA, which is clearly marketed for adults, Bully‘s setting seems to encourage kids to partake. There may be no substantial links between video gaming violence and real violence, but there certainly is a link between televised violence and the real world, so to imagine that high school kids playing this game would then become accepting of violence is hardly a stretch of the mind.

But regardless of whether it gets pulled or not, the fact that such a game invites the question: Why do some people have such sick senses of humour? I watch the video above, and I don’t laugh when I head “ha ha, yeah, I’m the one in the dirty pictures.” Why? Because that’s a real-world issue that’s being turned into a joke! But presumably Mr. Walker thinks that’s the best way to get your kicks!

I’m glad Mr. Walker respects that I don’t have a sense of humour, but I’m afraid I find it a little hard to respect that he does, in a case like this!

Superbama

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link to a Barack Obama Superbowl commercial:

Didn’t see it here, of course, since I’m in Canada. But it’s a solid ad, and would play well to people who are tired of watching attack ads. I know that too often, political campaigning on the television is built around “They don’t do this” and “They don’t do that”. In this Barack again sets the bar that much higher, by making his message of hope clear to those watching the game, too.

If nothing else good comes out of Obama’s campaign, I hope it stops the attacks ads. I’d much rather a politician tell me what they plan on doing, rather than what the other person hasn’t done or cannot do!

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