Thursday, March 15, 2007

Is Hannity a heretic?

Being a Protestant myself, I've got no dog in this fight, but pro-life Catholics are fighting mad at Sean Hannity:
"I have no problem with birth control. It's a good thing," Mr. Hannity has said, prompting the Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, to send a mass e-mail last week calling the Fox News Channel and talk-radio host's repeated public defenses of contraception "just devastating for the faith of others who may be weak or vacillating in this area."
One thing that angered some Catholics was a TV "debate" in which Mr. Hannity lectured Fr. Euteneuer, saying that the priest was not "facing reality" about the need for contraception. Catholic author Amy Wellborn was shocked by Mr. Hannity "running all over" a priest who leads a major pro-life organization, and later criticized the popular Fox News host ...
Please go read the whole thing.

To understand why people like Jill Stanek and the American Spectator's Lisa Fabrizio are miffed, you've really got to watch the video:

Reaction to this is gathering steam -- as of early Thursday, discussed in 243 blog posts, according to Google, including Roman Catholic Blog, Wisconsin Catholic Musings, Bro Robin, Karsten Nordmo, Mark Shea, Travis Boudreaux, Return of Scipio ...

The controversy is unlikely to go away, if only for the reason that this involves Catholic pro-lifers, the people who turn out by the thousands to march in Washington in the freezing cold every January on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Just remember that The Washington Times was the first newspaper to report this story.

UPDATE: Linked at Hot Air, where AllahPundit sez:
[I]t’s as pointless debating this issue as it is abortion or evolution, but the thought of Fox’s resident hammer going after a man in a white collar is irresistible.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Coulter-mania continues

Excuse the long hiatus, dear friends, but after three hectic days at CPAC, I found myself Monday afternoon assigned to cover the furor over Ann Coulter's use of the word "faggot" in her address:

Miss Coulter said that she did not use the word to demean homosexuals, nor to suggest that Mr. Edwards -- a 53-year-old married father of four -- is homosexual. Describing her remark as "a schoolyard taunt," she said on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program that she meant to describe Mr. Edwards as "lame" and a "sissy."

"In that way, it is a sophomoric word, not a bad word," said Miss Coulter, longtime legal-affairs correspondent for the conservative weekly Human Events.

This story brings up several important issues (including "intelligent design") I hope soon to be able to address at great length, but for now I will sing the praises of my friend and direct supervisor, deputy national editor Victor Morton, who but rarely accepts a byline (or any other public credit) for his tireless work at The Washington Times.

Our schedule Monday, however, meant that we had to produce the final edition of the Coulter story -- including quotes from Miss Coulter's appearance on "Hannity & Colmes" -- on a very short deadline. Therefore, because Victor (who has a master's degree from Notre Dame, FYI) is much better than I am at note-taking, he agreed to take notes of the Fox TV broadcast while I worked to smooth out the bumps in the first edition version, and then incorporate the new material into the the second edition version.

Such was the importance of Victor's contribution to the story that he agreed to accept a joint byline on the final version, which was meant to be a comprehensive round-up. The 1,400-word result of this team effort has now prompted David Weigel of Reason magazine to say we reported the story "to a bloody pulp."

He meant that in good way, I think.

By the way, Victor is also a movie critic who attends the Toronto Film Festival every year, and who blogs as Cinecon: The Right Wing Film Geek.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Defeat? Not an option

Historian Andrew Roberts visited DC this week:
"Defeat cannot be, and must not be, allowed to be an option in Iraq," said Mr. Roberts, in town to promote the U.S. release of his 700-page book, "A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900." ...
Mr. Roberts described the current battle against terrorism as "a world-historical struggle." And, while noting that he is himself a supporter of Britain's Tory opposition, Mr. Roberts praised the "moral courage" of Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Mr. Roberts has returned to England, but I'll be interviewing him in the near future.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

'You forgot ugly, lazy and disrespectful'

The two coolest things about being a journalist?
  • 1. Getting free stuff.
  • 2. Occasionally getting to write about something just because you want to write about it.
Which brings us to Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes, the subject of my latest Culture Etc. blog:
More than anything else, this new book reminds us why Hughes' teen films remain enduringly popular, even now that those '80s hairstyles, fashions and pop songs are so hopelessly outdated. Hughes demonstrated an ability to create human-scale sagas filled with characters we recognize -- including ourselves.
I spotted this book on the "discard table" at the office -- where people leave the promotional stuff they get free in the mail but don't want -- and immediately snagged it. Why? Yes, of course, John Hughes' teen films are timeless classics. But also ... Molly Ringwald.

In 1985, I attended a preview showing of The Breakfast Club. By the time I walked out of the Cobb Galleria multiplex, I had fallen hopelessly in love with Molly, who plays the preppy Claire. I totally related to John Bender, the disreputable hoodlum (played by Judd Nelson) whose love/hate obsession with Claire is expressed as merciless teasing:
John Bender: I like those earings, Claire.
Claire Standish: Shut up.
John Bender: Are those real diamonds, Claire?
Claire Standish: Shut up.
John Bender: I bet they are. Did you work for the money to buy those earings?
Claire Standish: Shut your mouth.
John Bender: Or did your Daddy buy those for you?
Claire Standish: Shut up!
John Bender: I'll bet he bought those for you. I bet those were a Christmas gift. You know what I got for Christmas? Oh, it was a banner f***ing year at the old Bender family. I got a carton of cigarettes. The old man grabbed me and said, "Hey, smoke up Johnny." All right? So go home and cry to your Daddy. Don't cry here, OK?
There's a doctoral dissertation waiting to be written about the subtexts of that relationship -- Bender's self-pitying resentment, Claire's indignant resolve -- but mainly, there's Molly, the perfect symbol of every stuck-up rich girl any high school hoodlum ever knew (and secretly had a crush on).

Monday, February 26, 2007

High-flying stars

No, not the ones at the Oscars. I'm talking about the airborne exploits of Ralph Fiennes:
An airline attendant says she and Mr. Fiennes, 44, became intimate last month aboard a flight from Australia to Bombay... Lisa Robertson, 38, was fired this month by Qantas Airways after telling her torrid tale to British tabloids.
More cultural commentary....

UPDATE: She says she may be pregnant.

Is death sexy?

The death of Anna Nicole Smith has added yet another name to the tragic roster of Playboy Playmates who've died young.

Not even death can keep Anna Nicole from making headlines. The latest -- are you ready for this? -- Anna Nicole's lesbian lover:
Sandi Powledge was the furthest thing from glamour — unpretentious, grounded, fun-loving and real.
They met in a gay bar in northwest Harris County in 1991 and would become lovers. It was an exhilarating time, one that Powledge, now 46, remembers fondly, even as she mourns the death of the woman she once loved. ...
Powledge recalls their first year together as one filled with happiness. The two exchanged vows of commitment on the diving board at Smith's home in Spring, and Smith gave Powledge a diamond ring. Smith avoided wearing a ring herself because of the questions it might raise, Powledge said.
Why haven't you heard of Sandi Powledge before now? Well, the great thing about dead celebrities is, they can't file libel suits ...

UPDATE: Turns out the "I was Anna Nicole's lesbian lover" angle is eight years old, from a Houston "alternative" tabloid. The Houston Chronicle's ombudsman calls it "old news and tawdry, it had no news value ... based on the word of one woman -- a self-admitted recovering drug addict who is homeless and jobless. On top of that, we did not credit the Press for breaking the 'news' seven years ago." None of which means the story's not true, but ...

UPDATE 2: A blogger friend who shall remain nameless asks, "Was she really a lesbian, or was she just incapable of saying no to anybody?"

Friday, February 23, 2007

College girls gone wild?

UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Miriam Grossman says teenage girls and young women are not getting the full story on sex, health and relationships. Why? The truth, she says, is politically incorrect.

Her new book, Unprotected, examines the troubling results. Condoms, after all, don't do anything for a broken heart.

Hymowitz on marriage

Am I the only one old enough to remember how shocking and controversial it was in 1992 when Dan Quayle criticized the "Murphy Brown" show for celebrating unwed motherhood?
Kay Hymowitz points out that despite the hysterical condemnation of Quayle, college-educated career women have overwhelmingly rejected "the Murphy Brown thing," preferring to marry and raise their children in traditional families. Hymowitz's new book, Marriage and Caste in America, examines how the decline of marriage (which continues to be a phenonemon associated with a culture of low income, low education, and low achievement) has contributed to the widening "income gap" -- even in a booming economy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blogging Britney

Trying something new at work, blogging about pop culture, and what better place to start than with lovelorn, fresh-shorn Britney?
It has been said there is no such thing as bad publicity, but becoming a laughingstock has never helped anyone’s career, and now Britney finds herself compared to “Taxi Driver” psycho Travis Bickle and to late-era Judy Garland — the latter analogy perhaps most apt, since Garland, like Spears, began her career as a wholesome child star.

Don Surber remarks: "K-Fed looks like the better parent now." Latest news: She's ditched rehab again.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Not exactly a blog yet

This is not yet a blog, but I set it up because (for reasons that should be obvious) I wanted to call "dibs" on a particular idea.

Students of Marshall McCluhan will be familiar with his saying, "The medium is the message." What McCluhan meant by that was that each particular means of communication has its own way of conveying information: A TV show can be "about" any number of subjects, but it is first of all "about" TV -- that is to say, it is about images and sound. TV is not a book, it is not a newspaper, it is not any other form of communication, and it can only convey messages in certain ways. Furthermore, there are some messages which TV is most effective at delivering (e.g., advertising) and the medium has characteristics to which any message must be adapted in order to be effective. Thus, the phenomenon of television -- its intrinsic characteristics --- has an independent effect on the content of what is televised. Ergo, the medium is the message.

The advance of computer-based communications technology has met with resistance in some quarters of journalism from the very outset. It is not unusual to meet some old-timers who proudly boast that they don't use computers. George Will insists on writing his columns in manuscript, as if he were still in an old-fashioned grammar school, where "writing" included grades for penmanship. (The sloppiness of my left-handed scrawl always resulted in the automatic deduction of one letter grade so that -- although I have since spent 20 years as a professional writer -- I never once was able to get better than a "B" in writing.)

I think that the word "computer" is a big reason for this resistance to computer technology. Some of us are old enough to remember when a "computer" meant a giant room-sized thing with blinking lights and spinning tape reels that worked on IBM punch cards. "Computers" were the province of science fiction films, or conveniently sinister weapons used by some James Bond villain plotting to take over the world. Folks under 40, who started using Apples or PCs when they were still children, have no idea what a cultural prejudice against computers there is (or at least, was) among some old-timers.

Nevertheless, by the mid-1990s, nearly all newspapers were being "paginated" -- that is, the layout and pasteup was being done on a computer screen, rather than by the cold-type pasteup method that had replaced the hot-lead Linotype-era method. While working at the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune, I was the designated "guinea pig" for our company's entry into pagination; it was there I learned to use Quark, PhotoShop, etc., and it was always a hands-on, learn-as-you-go kind of thing.

(Diversion for a pet peeve: Why do some people never learn to use basic keyboard commands? I get annoyed every time I say to someone, "Page Up," and they start to reach for the mouse instead of hitting the "Page Up" key, which is what I mean when I say, "Page Up." It is much quicker to hit "Page Up" than to reach for the mouse, click on the scroll bar and scroll upward in the window. If you are in the business of words -- e.g., journalism -- learning keyboard commands is like a magic formula for productivity, because you lose "time on task" everytime you reach for the mouse. Anything that keeps you from having to reach for the mouse -- e.g., Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V to define, copy and paste, rather than using the mouse to point-and-click with pull-down menus -- will save you time. This is not rocket science. Anybody can learn this stuff. But some people get so habituated to reaching for the mouse that, even after you point out to them the easier way to do something, they refuse to adopt the superior method.)

Here's the important thing: I didn't learn to paginate because I felt some gee-whiz enthusiasm about the marvels of computer technology. I learned to paginate because this was a tool that my employer wanted to use to put out the newspaper. Frankly, I am sort of a technophobe -- I don't know how to hook up a DVD player (that's what teenage sons are for) or burn a CD. But when working with computers is your day-to-day job -- editing photos, designing pages, etc. -- that experience tends to demystify the technology.

It was during the 1990s, while I was serving as pagination guinea pig at the Rome News-Tribune, that the Internet developed as a mass medium. This was another place where I was kind of a first-in-the-water guy, writing columns about the Internet at a time when most other newspaper people didn't know a URL from a BBS. As with pagination, the experience of being online regularly tended to demystify the medium. I was routinely using the Internet for research years before the arrival of Google.

(Another pet-peeve diversion: Why do some people not seem to understand the beauty of simultaneously operating multiple browser windows? My home page is set for Google. When I log onto the 'Net, the first thing I do is create multiple windows -- Cntrl+N -- and set one window for Memeorandum, just so I can stay on top of the blogs. I'll open another window for my e-mail, and so on, depending one what I'm doing. I always have at least one Google home page open, in case I need to research something. As I'm Googling, I open results with a right-click -- Apple-click for Mac users -- to create a new window and keep the original results available. That way, if the result doesn't turn out to have everything I'm looking for, I can toggle -- Alt+Tab -- back to the search and either choose a different result or refine my search terms. At this particular moment, I've got 31 Explorer windows open. That makes perfect sense to me, but other people don't seem to grasp the benefit of this.)

The same kind of gripes that I'd heard about pagination from technophobic newsroom colleagues, I also heard about the Internet. In the mid-90s, the big rap against the Internet was that there wasn't any way to make it pay. Of course, 10 years later, the Internet is now a huge money-maker -- one ad at DailyKos costs $3,000 per week -- but nobody could envision that in the days before PayPal, Amazon, Fandango, etc. Other typical anti-Web beefs heard 10 or 12 years ago included the idea that the Internet is a waste of time (as if watching TV isn't generally a waste of time, yet still lucrative as a business) and that most people don't enjoy sitting around in front of a computer (as opposed to sitting around in front of a TV).

Nowadays, of course, most people use the Internet for so many different things they don't even think twice about it. Just think about Mapquest, for example. Anytime anybody under 40 wants to go somewhere they've never been before -- like when they get an invitation to a friend's wedding, for example -- they will get directions from Mapquest. It's just automatic, a given, a thing taken for granted.

And now the blogs

I am told that there are currently 56 million blogs. That's probably inflated somehow (as if every MySpace page were a blog) and it is certain that very few of what they are counting as blogs are oriented toward news and politics. Based on my experience in spring 2006 blogging at Donkey Cons (where our best month was 9,000 hits) you have to be fairly active just to average a few hundred hits a day.

There are certainly fewer than 50,000 news/politics blogs that regularly attract any significant readership and, as Jon Henke likes to say, 90% of everything is crap. Most blogs aren't really good. Most don't have anything significant to say. The few hundred blogs that stick around and develop something of a following are in some way better than the rest -- the bloggers who create or contribute to them actually add something useful to the discussion. So when a Joseph Rago starts trashing blogs generically, he's mashing together into one big wad a bunch of blogs (and a bunch of bloggers) that are really quite different.

It doesn't require any journalistic training -- or any special insight, or even basic literacy -- to throw up a Blogspot page. But to attract readers and keep them coming back for more, if I may paraphrase Billy Preston, you gotta have something. That "something" may be a snarky sense of humor (like Wonkette, Allahpundit or Ace of Spades), or it might be some special area of expertise (like the "milbloggers" at Blackfive), but the blogs that succeed do so for a reason.

To trash "blogs" generically is to trash, on the one hand, people like Instapundit (whose site doesn't even have comments) and, on the other hand, the big membership group blogs like Townhall, Red State and DailyKos, where anybody can create their own account and start blogging. Very different things, as I said ...

Bloggers, with few exceptions, aren't "journalists" (another term that lumps together a lot of very different things). Most bloggers don't pretend to be journalists, or want to be journalists, or consider that what they're doing is the same thing as being journalists. Bloggers are not going to replace journalists, any more than TV has replaced radio or magazines or newspapers. A blog is a medium -- a means of communications -- that has its own unique characteristics, its own strengths and weaknesses.

An essay with links is not a blog

One of the weaknesses of blogging as a medium is that it favors short-form expression: a few links to timely news stories, a quick comment or two, and then on to the next thing. It is possible to do actual reporting on a blog, although few people do so. It is a medium peculiarly suited to short attention spans.

Because of the medium's predisposition to the brief, the timely, and the ephemeral, nobody in their right mind would use a blog to post a 2,000-word essay, but, as I said, this is not a blog yet -- and nobody has ever accused me of being in my right mind.

Which brings me to the thing about blogging that distinguishes it from every other medium of mass communication: Anybody can try it. There are effectively zero barriers to entry. If you have a computer with Internet access, you can blog. No publisher, no editor, no producer. No application to fill out. No need to send a query and wait for a reply -- nothing. Just log on, write and publish.

Of course, there's no guarantee that anybody will read what you write, and very little prospect that you'll make a cent from your writing on the blogosphere, but you can put it out there for anybody to read.

On the one hand, I could write a 2,000-word essay on blogging, send it The New Republic, and never hear back from them -- the editors at The New Republic are a bunch of liberal snobs who don't know me from Adam's housecat. Unless you are a member of the tiny clique of people whom the editors of The New Republic consider important, it doesn't matter how well you write, or what you have to say, there is no point even bothering to try to offer something to them on a freelance basis. The old saying about "who you know, not what you know" is quite true in publishing. If you wonder why you find yourself bored to death by most of what's in The New Republic, it's because the editors would rather publish tedious articles by their tiny clique of friends than to publish anything remotely interesting by somebody they don't know.

So, finding myself in a mood to share a few observations about the blogosphere, I wrote it -- just the way it came into my head, pet peeves and all -- and put it up on the Web.

This is not a blog, but it is an essay attempting to explain (in part) how the blogosphere works as a medium, what its distinct nature is, and why it has become popular. Probably nobody will read this. But if you do read this, please (a) buy my book, and (b) be advised that the comments are moderated.