Category Archives: Media

Han Solo takes the Fifth on Greedo killing

The Washington Post should be ashamed of itself. Not because it won a Pulitzer for helping Edward Snowden achieve his goals, but because it led readers of its The Switch blog to believe that it was going to finally clear up the raging controversy over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first.Greedo

That didn’t happen.

But in the course of not answering, Harrison Ford demonstrates a callousness regarding the question that seems consistent with the classic Han-Solo-as-rogueish-antihero-who-would-shoot-first interpretation, as opposed to the revisionist he-was-just-standing-his-ground-in-self-defense view.

That’s how I see it, anyway.

I hate it when arts writers take a crack at politics

Generally speaking, I find it pretty off-putting when people who write about arts and culture delve into politics.

Sometimes, they can provide a fresh, unadorned, average-guy kind of perspective, which Leonard Pitts does at his best. Or perhaps I should say, did at his best. I remember finding some of his earliest op-ed columns refreshing. I haven’t gotten that impression from him for a long time.

You know how I can’t stand political rhetoric from either the left or the right that does nothing but set forth a doctrinaire worldview, and is utterly dismissive of people who disagree? Arts writers-turned-political columnists are among the very worst offenders in this category. Too often, their columns are about little other than how awful, stupid, evil and vicious conservatives are (particularly, for whatever reason, cultural and/or religious conservatives).

Up until now, I thought the worst of this genre was Frank Rich of The New York Times. I was glad, several years ago, when the NYT decided to indulge him to an absurd degree by allowing his columns to run twice as long as those of other opinion writers, meaning they were too long for me even to consider putting them in the paper, which in turn meant that I didn’t have to read them.

But for sheer unrestrained, hyperemotional, puerile ranting and raving about someone of whom the writer disapproves, Mr. Rich must now take a back seat to Jason Farago, writing in The Guardian today about portraits of world leaders painted by former President George W. Bush. An excerpt:

Many good artists do bad things. Cellini and Caravaggio were both murderers; Schiele and Balthus had a thing for young girls; and more than one contemporary artist I could name has been tied up with tax evasion troubles. So just because a painter has – for example – the blood of up to 136,012 dead Iraqis on his hands does not, in itself, prove that he lacks talent.

George W Bush, whose nightmare presidency unleashed its latest aftershock this week when his dauphin John Roberts gutted our already minimal campaign finance laws, has been painting these past few years, and at his presidential library in Dallas he is exhibiting two dozen portraits of fellow world leaders. The show opens Saturday, and it has a title: The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.

“Diplomatic” is actually not a bad word to describe the orientation of these paintings. They are not bad so much as cautious, vacant, even servile – paintings by an artist anxious, or perhaps incapable, of doing anything that might leave a mark….

This seems the literary equivalent of a murderer who is unsatisfied with merely killing, but keeps stabbing his victim over and over with the butcher knife.

Sorry. That was my attempt at writing the way Mr. Farago does. Evidently,  I’m not very good at it (it was even grammatically awkward — don’t ask me to diagram it)…

Handy, timely info, if you happen to be a fugitive

WLTX is all over this story this morning, through various media:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WLTX) – Newberry deputies say they’re searching for four murder suspects on the run.

Deputies say a state trooper saw the three white males and one white female at the upper rest area of I-26, and a chase ensued into the City of Newberry. The suspects are teenagers.

A deputy spiked the vehicle’s tires and the four suspects then took off on foot at state highway 34 and US 176. Multiple weapons including high powered rifles were found inside the vehicle. Some of the weapons were stolen.

Authorities say the three men were all last seen wearing dark pants; one with an orange shirt, one with a white t-shirt, and one with no shirt. The woman was last seen in dark pants and a white t-shirt.

The four suspects are wanted from Greeneville, Tennessee and have been on the run since 11:00PM Wednesday….

But I had to wonder if this was just one Tweetful of information more than we needed:

fugitives

But hey, these fugitives are teenagers! What do they know about smartphones or social media? Or Google Maps?

Nice enterprise on the part of the reporter. Way to stay on top of the story. But this is one instance in which it might have been good to have an editor involved, saying, Hold on, let’s think about this…

Or not. Thoughts? Your opinion would turn on whether you think it’s a journalist’s duty to report everything of interest, or whether you think he or she has a duty to public safety as a citizen. Within the news biz, I’ve heard impassioned arguments both ways.

How McConnell is playing nationally

In one venue, at least…

Slate runs a fairly even-handed (despite the Slate teaser, “IS A MAN WHO DRESSES LIKE A CONFEDERATE GENERAL UNFIT TO BE A COLLEGE PRESIDENT?”) piece that first appeared in Inside Higher Ed. There are no surprises in it. I just find it interesting to see how our controversies in SC play elsewhere, particularly in a case in which the protesters claim that McConnell’s selection will hurt out-of-state recruitment and the value of a College of Charleston education.

An excerpt:

Trustees at the College of Charleston are facing heat from faculty and students for picking South Carolina’s lieutenant governor as the college’s next president. In the process, critics say, the trustees brushed aside warnings that Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s promotion of Confederate history could damage Charleston’s reputation and turn away prospective students and donors.

In picking McConnell, the public liberal arts college’s trustees reportedly ignored the school’s own search committee, which did not recommend the politician—who has never worked in higher education—for president.

Backlash has been swift. Students rallied against McConnell’s selection Monday in the largest campus protest in recent memory. “This is 2014 NOT 1814,” one sign read. On Tuesday the student government voted no confidence in the college’s trustees. …

As you see, not much new. I just thought I’d share.

Apparently, Rainman is now in charge of search for MH370

Image of debris Tweeted by USAToday.

Image of debris Tweeted by USAToday.

First, credit where credit is due — Bryan Caskey came up with the Rainman bit.

He said that this morning when I responded to this alert from the BBC:

A further 122 objects potentially from missing Malaysian flight identified by satellite, Malaysian minister says http://bbc.in/1duQCP9 

By saying, “122? Exactly?

Not 121. Not 123. One hundred and twenty-two pieces of wreckage, exactly. I mean, come on. Now even Rainman could fix the fragments in a debris field floating in the ocean that precisely. Toothpicks scattered on a diner floor, sure. But not pieces of pieces floating in the deep blue sea. How do you know, for instance, that two or three of them aren’t the above-water part of one piece that’s mostly submerged?

And it wasn’t just the BBC — everybody was dutifully reporting that exactly 122 objects were spotted. The thing that got me was that the Beeb said it was 122 further objects. Similarly, USAToday reported that they were 122 new objects — like you could tell these objects from others spotted before.

Yeah. OK…

One senses that these news organizations have been so starved for substantive, hard information about what happened to this flight and the people on it that they will lunge at anything that looks factual and precise.

No matter how absurd such precision seems, if you stop and think about it…

Another freaky photo makes the front of the WSJ

Turkey

Is it HDR? Was a lot of work done on it in PhotoShop? I don’t know. But there was another fairly freaky photo of unrest abroad gracing the front page of The Wall Street Journal today.

Maybe it was just a lucky shot, under unusual lighting conditions. But it comes across as either unreal or hyper-real, more like a painting than a photo (a significant factor in this impression is the amount of detail in the underlit face of the man at left). The image is grainier than the ones I noted earlier from Ukraine, which makes it seem even less like a photo.

I see that in this country, there’s a debate going on among folks who still have MSM jobs about the propriety of using High-Dynamic-Range images. (Near as I can understand, with HDR your camera takes several exposures of the same frame at the same time, with different exposures. Then you can take the best parts of each of those exposures to produce something that is more like what the human eye sees, if not better. With conventional photography, if you have a backlit subject, you have to decide whether to expose for the dark subject in the foreground — causing the background to white out in an explosion of light — or the background, which makes the subject in the foreground go dark. As I understand, HDR frees you from making the choice.)

Is the same debate going on among those who shoot breaking news abroad? Will we be told if they are using these processes? Should we be?

Slate is doing its best to keep Confederate flag flying in SC

Josh Voorhees posted this at Slate this morning, under a picture of the Confederate flag flying in front of our State House:

March Madness kicks into full swing today with games in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Spokane. Another four cities—Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego, and St. Louis—will see men’s action on Friday. The women’s tournament then tips off on Saturday with weekend games spread out over 16 other cities. By the time the NCAA crowns a men’s and women’s champion in Arlington and Nashville, respectively, more than 30 cities will have hosted tournament games. None of those games, however, will be in South Carolina or Mississippi. The reason: The Confederate battle flags that still fly over the state capitol grounds in Columbia and Jackson.

In 2001, the NCAA imposed a ban on either state hosting post-season sporting events at predetermined sites (an important caveat I’ll get to in a second) as long as the flags continued to fly, and neither it nor the states have budged since. That is set to change somewhat next year when a format tweak will allow for a key exception for the women’s tournament. But that change won’t be in place in time to help the Lady Gamecocks, who are currently bearing the brunt of the NCAA post-season boycott of the Palmetto State…

As you and anyone else who’s ever read my stuff knows, I take a backseat to no one in my ardent desire to get that flag down. In fact, starting with my first editorial on the subject in 1994, I almost certainly hold the world record for number of words written with that aim in mind.

But as you probably also know, I think one of the most powerful factors keeping the flag there is the NAACP boycott. It causes a defiant backlash effect among the majority in the Legislature. History, and in our case personal experience, teaches us that the surest way to get a white South Carolinian to do something is to get someone from other parts of the country to try to make him stop doing it. (OK, technically, the NAACP boycott is driven by the South Carolina chapter, which had a lot of pull in the national organization at the time the boycott started — which is why SC is singled out while states like Georgia, which at one point during the life of the boycott even incorporated the symbol into its state flag, escape this censure. But the boycott is under the authority of the national organization, and in SC minds qualifies as out-of-staters trying to tell us what to do.)

And Slate smugly moralizing on the subject — the Tweet promoting this post said, “The (excellent) reason South Carolina and Mississippi don’t get to host March Madness” – only increases the effect. So, way to go there, Josh. Sheesh.

Hey, State paper! I took that picture!

Campbell

I called up this story over at thestate.com, about how Mike Campbell is going to run for lieutenant governor (again), and Henry McMaster might, too.

Imagine my surprise to see a photo I shot of Campbell years ago — during his last run for the same office.

It was taken in the board room, and with the little Canon camera I used to use. It had a tilting viewscreen, so that I could hold it down on the table, unobstrusively, and glance down at the screen to aim and focus the shot. You can see me doing it in this photo of me with Barack Obama.

I miss that little camera, which quit working after a photo session with the twins in the surf at the beach. I haven’t been able to find another in that price range with the handy tilting window, which allowed for candids I couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Not sure how The State had that picture, since I always kept the photos on my laptop. I must have used it in a print edition one time. (Normally, my photos only appeared on my blog, as did this one.)

Anyway, it looks like my contributions to the paper continue, despite my absence…

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John Monk’s scoop about Harrell, Wilson, and secrecy

Corey Hutchins has written a piece in Columbia Journalism Review about John Monk’s investigative scoop last week, revealing that Speaker Bobby Harrell has sought a secret court hearing on his proposal to remove Attorney General Alan Wilson from Harrell’s ethics case:

The people’s court?

Will a lone South Carolina judge make a secret decision this week in a closed court? The State leads the push for transparency

CHARLESTON, SC — An investigation of one of the most powerful politicians in this state has turned into a key test of how open the courts here are, with media organizations arguing in print and—they hope—in the courtroom that key legal decisions shouldn’t be made behind closed doors. For more than a year, the state’s Republican House Speaker, Bobby Harrell, has been under investigation for possible misuse of campaign funds and abuse of his public office, though Harrell maintains he has done nothing wrong. In January, South Carolina’s Republican Attorney General, Alan Wilson, sent the case to a state grand jury. Wilson’s office would prosecute the case should it end up at trial, and the situation has been prickly for the two Republicans, with Harrell accusing Wilson of trying to damage him politically. The political intrigue blew up into an open-government concern a week ago, when John Monk of The State newspaper in Columbia, citing unnamed sources, reported that Harrell’s attorneys were secretly seeking a closed-door hearing before a state judge to argue that Wilson should be removed as the prosecutor. The substantive argument for disqualifying Wilson was unclear, Monk reported…

Which reminds me that I meant to say last week, when John’s story appeared, that it’s nice to see the paper allow him the time to do what he’s best at. Instead of routine crime stories, and other general assignment-type stuff.

I say that not to be critical of the newspaper. When your staff has shrunk to the size The State‘s has, due to financial pressures beyond editors’ control, you need every hand you’ve got on the routine stuff. And John pulls his weight on the bread-and-butter stories that must get covered each day.

Which makes it particularly great that he was able to find the time to get this story, which reveals an attempt at secret dealing that John said would be “unprecedented.”

Corey quoted press association attorney Jay Bender as saying:

What happens to our democratic society if newspapers go away? Who’s going to be out there asking these crucial questions and trying to push people in public positions to conduct public business in public view?

What happens, indeed?

Tonight on ‘Fresh Air,’ Brigid talks about her new book

Remember a couple of months back, when I told you about the new book by my friend and colleague Brigid Schulte?

Well, she’s going to be talking about it this evening at 7 on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

That’s all. Just wanted to give a heads-up, particularly to any of y’all who remember Brigid from when she worked for The State, before her long stint at The Washington Post, where she still works when she’s not writing books…

Scoppe on elections commission: Excellent column on why a horrendous mess is worse than you thought

Cindi Scoppe did a good job this morning of telling us why the Richland County elections mess is even worse than we thought. An excerpt:

JUST WHEN you thought the mess that is the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration couldn’t get any worse — never a safe assumption when we’re dealing with the spawns of the Legislative State — we learn that the temporary stay that had allowed the unconstitutional board to keep operating was lifted. In December.

Which means … well, that’s a good question.

It should mean that former commissioner Sam Selph is not interim director of the agency, because the board that last week appointed Mr. Selph had no legal authority to act.

For that matter, it should mean that Howard Jackson still is the director, because surely a board that has been declared unconstitutional would not take personnel actions of such magnitude.

It should mean that we have returned to thestatus quo ante — with separate boards running separate offices of elections and voter registration, with new commissioners who have the knowledge and capability and integrity to make legal hiring decisions and run legitimate elections.

But clearly the latter has not happened, and there’s a little glitch that makes far from clear when it can happen or what must happen on the other fronts. Which should surprise no one…. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is very like a complete breakdown of government, one in which functions that are fundamental to our democracy have ceased to work, and no one is clearly in a position to fix the problem. Which is what you get when you let fundamental services be provided by cockeyed legislation unconstitutionally pushed into place by that bizarre hermaphroditic creature, the county legislative delegation.

As an addendum to her column, Cindi referred us to a previous piece she did last year about this mess — explaining the Power Failure, Legislative State roots of the problem — which concluded thusly:

The Legislative State might have served its purpose in the days when slaves picked cotton for the wealthy plantation owners whose interests it was crafted to serve. It might have worked a century ago, when the textile magnates controlled our government and could depend on it to provide those limited services that they needed. Maybe it even served its purpose in the ’50s, when South Carolina still could pretty much ignore the rest of the world, and government didn’t do a lot more than educate white people and pave roads for the industrialists and planters.

It does not serve its purpose, or our purpose, or anybody’s purpose today.

When things go well, it gives us state agencies that waste money and provide inferior services because they have overlapping mandates and don’t work together or even talk to each other. It hamstrings governors’ ability to deliver on the agenda the voters elected them to implement. It diverts state legislators’ attention from fixing our state’s problems, as they busy themselves delivering patronage and fixate on parochial matters that should be handled by local governments.

And when things don’t go well …. Well, then it gives us botched elections and identity theft on a massive scale and officials who lack the legal authority to make things right.

It’s time for a change.

That piece ran in 2012. Nothing has changed.Which is no surprise to those of us who’ve been writing about these problems for more than two decades.

A few glimpses of the human cost of Syrian war

article-2568251-1BD8B0BF00000578-968_964x723

Our own Bryan Caskey brings our attention to some stunning pictures (maybe not as technically arresting as the Ukraine ones from the other day, but the content and framing make up for it) in The Daily Mail, with these comments:

Not sure if you’ve seen this or not: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2568251/UN-calls-Syrian-warring-sides-allow-aid-flow.html

 

Normally, I’m kind of down on journalists, but in this instance, a photographer has truly done the “picture is worth a thousand words” thing with the first photo. I’m not making a political point. I just thought this photograph was extremely evocative of the scale of human suffering in Syria.

 

So this is one of those times that I’m giving journalists some praise. Since you’re a journalist (or at least a former one) I thought that you would appreciate it.

I hope all concerned consider my showing you the image above to fall within the realm of Fair Use (seeing as how I can’t afford to pay for it). There would seem little point in this post if I didn’t at least show you that. I urge you to go to the site itself and see all of the pictures, and if you are so inclined, to subscribe to the Mail and give your custom to their advertisers.

Congratulations to the photographers involved, whom the Mail, unfortunately, does not name. Especially the one who shot the image above, which is the most dramatic (the cutline: “Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN agency”). We whose comfortable behinds stay in more convenient parts of the world depend on those who go there and do good work to tell us what the rest of the world is like.

As for Bryan’s illiberal asides regarding journalists (I wouldn’t know he was down on us if he hadn’t mentioned it), you’d think a lawyer would be wary of casting aspersions at entire professions (right, Juan?). But we like him anyway.

Cindi and Warren jump into blogging

Cindi Scoppe and Warren Bolton of The State are succumbing to the pull of the blogosphere.

They’ve just launched a new blog called “And another thing…,” subhed “Opinions and observations we couldn’t fit in the paper.”

The first item is an “I told you so” post noting that the S.C. Tobacco Collaborative has found that the effect of raising the cigarette tax in SC has been just what we predicted it would be:

Key findings include the following changes since 2007:

A 19 percent decrease in the high school smoking rate (from 19.1 to 15.4 percent);

An 8 percent decrease in the state adult smoking rate (from 19.2 to 17.7 percent);

A 47 percent decrease in the middle school smoking rate (from 9 to 4.8 percent); and

A 32 percent decrease in per capita cigarette pack sales (from 96.4 to 61.9 packs per capita)….

Basically, it looks like they’re going to use the blog for the same purpose for which I started mine — to let readers in on all the stuff that lay behind our opinions, but couldn’t fit into the limited confines of the print medium.

Here’s hoping they can find the time to stick to it. If they do, it will be the paper’s first active opinion blog since a certain party got laid off. This is something, I believe, that the paper and its readers need. But I would think that, wouldn’t I?

Welcome to the ‘sphere, y’all…

That Cindi is just all business, even on Twitter

Had to smile when I noticed that Cindi Scoppe had posted something in Twitter seconds before I did this morning, so that we had back-to-back Tweets:

cindi twitter

That Cindi has always been all business. I use Twitter for serious purposes, too, but I also like to have fun. Which is why I Tweet a lot more than she does (about 10 times as much, so far — but I had a head start).

As for the serious business, by all means go read her piece about other reform measures that would take us a lot further down the line that the one just passed doing away with the Budget and Control Board. It’s stuff I could recite in my sleep, since we started advocating for these things in 1991, but it’s important.

As for my Tweet… You know what I’m talking about, right? After the guy says, “You’re WHAT?!?!” (At 3:37 on this video), I had always heard the response to be, “Ennnn ROUTE… Russss.”

But I was never sure I had it right. So when the song came on the radio this morning, I flipped on my SoundHound app while waiting at a red light, and the lyrics that came up said that the line was… “Tin roof, rusted.” (And no, I wasn’t driving while I Tweeted. I waited until I was seated at breakfast.)

If that’s right, it’s a disappointment. I thought my version sounded kind of off, but it’s more logical as a response to “You’re WHAT?” Because, you know, much of the song has to do with traveling TO the Love Shack. So you might naturally tell someone you were en route.

But you don’t care, do you? I can see that. So go read Cindi’s piece. Edify yourself.

Amazing, hyper-real photos from Ukrainian protests

Post front

I’m really struck by the photos I’ve seen today of the violence erupting from the protests in the Ukraine.

The pictures have a dreamlike, end-of-the-world quality. But when I say “dreamlike,” I don’t mean hazy or gauzy or indistinct. They are on the contrary hyper-real. They don’t look like photographs. They look like acrylic paintings made to look like photographs, in which the color saturation and intensity of the images exceed real life. Look at the blue, and the folds, in the jeans worn by the figure on the left. There’s a quality there that must be much like the way colors and folds look while under the influence of hallucinogens.

It must be something about the quality of the light filtering through the smoke from the fires; I don’t know.

The one in which this effect is most pronounced is this one, which both The Washington Post and The New York Times used prominently this morning.

Then there’s this one, which is harder to take, showing two shocked faces staring out of masks of blood. This one has a kick to it like a Hieronymus Bosch.

I’m being careful here to point y’all to these images at publications that paid for them. I wouldn’t dream of violating the copyrights. The photogs who shot these deserve to be paid in full.

I urge you to view the entire slideshow at the NYT. And this one at the WashPost.

Top Five Commercials from Super Bowl 2014

Dylan

According to the buzz, this was a kinder, gentler year for Super Bowl commercials.

The buzz is right. The ads were less sexy, less edgy, more warm and mushy.

Also according to the buzz, the best of the lot (or one of the best) was the Budweiser ad with the horse and the puppy.

There, the buzz is wrong. Talk about belaboring a good thing. The one last year with the horse and the trainer was cute. This was cute with a candy coating. Too much.

Here, for your edification, are the Top Five Super Bowl Commercials of 2014:

  1. Radio Shack — “The ’80s called. They want their store back.” When’s the last time you saw an advertiser accurately and honestly describe its own greatest weakness, and have this much fun with it? Never, that’s when.
  2. Chrysler — “America’s Import.” They got Bob Dylan to do a car commercial. Bob. Dylan. And he did it with a pseudo-profound tone that mocked his own music and his reputation as some sort of American cultural prophet. I wonder how much they paid him. And I suspect it’s not enough.
  3. Budweiser — “A Hero’s Welcome.” The kind of warmth that Bud was going for with the puppy one actually works in this one. And yes, every soldier does deserve this kind of hero’s welcome. It’s been done, but this was done well.
  4. Turbo Tax — “Love Hurts.” Deals honestly, though in a twisted, ironic way, with the fact that most of America probably didn’t want these two teams in the Super Bowl. Kind of makes you wonder why all of those people watch the game, when you think about it.
  5. Pepsi — “Halftime Intro.” I don’t know why, I just really enjoyed the giant hands playing the Brooklyn Bridge like a giant electric bass, and the traffic circle like a turntable. Not all that complicated, but well executed.

I thought about including the Doritos/Time Machine one. But my colleagues at ADCO were mad at Doritos for not picking the one with the ostrich, which they loved. So I left it off…

radio shack

 

How the media contribute to political, governmental dysfunction

Meant to mention that I liked the point (in boldface) made in this piece in the WSJ yesterday, headlined “Obama Is No Lame Duck“:

There are more than 1,000 days until the 2016 elections, about as long as the entire Kennedy administration. But you’d never guess it from today’s political discourse. How badly will Bridgegate damage Chris Christie’s race for the Republican presidential nomination? Will Republican opposition research undermine the narrative of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton‘s forthcoming memoirs? These are the “issues” that dominate the conversation.

A lengthy new profile of President Obama in the New Yorker feeds this tendency by adopting a distinctly elegiac tone. As New Yorker editor David Remnick puts it, “Obama has three years left, but it’s not difficult to sense a politician with an acute sense of time, a politician devising ways to widen his legacy without the benefit of any support from Congress. . . . And so there is in him a certain degree of reduced ambition, a sense that even well before the commentariat starts calling him a lame duck he will spend much of his time setting an agenda that can be resolved only after he has retired to the life of a writer and post-President.”

Call me naïve and old-fashioned, but I object to this entire way of thinking. Policy debates may bore the press, but that’s no excuse for defaulting to horse-race coverage. Only journalistic complicity can allow the permanent campaign to drive out concern for governance. For their part, elected officials should understand that they cannot afford to leave the world’s greatest democracy on autopilot for the next three years. When it comes to advancing a national agenda, surely there’s a midpoint between grandiosity and resignation….

Yep, that’s what the media do — and have long done. And the press are almost as guilty as the broadcast people.

News people tend to treat politics like sports, because it’s simple — it fits into the idiotic binary view of the world, where there are only two teams and two choices, such as winners and losers — and because it’s easy, and fun. You don’t have to think very hard about who’s going to win the next election. So you write about that and write about it and build up this pitch of excitement like the buildup to the big game, and then you cover the election, and extensively cover the aftermath of the election.

And then, you start writing about the next election. And everything that happens, from events to scandals to policy debates, are couched in terms of how they will affect candidate’s chances in the next election. (James Fallows wrote an excellent book on this subject back in the early ’90s, called Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. I reviewed it at the time. Nothing has gotten better since he wrote it.books

And so we get this foolishness of treating a president as a lame duck from the moment he wins a second term, because hey, he has no election coming up — which means all too many reporters just can’t come up with a reason to be interested in what he does. If it doesn’t have an impact on his electoral chances, it has no meaning to them. Oh, they’ll try to work up enthusiasm about the unrelated subject of how his party will do in the next election, but their simple little hearts just aren’t really into it.

(I say “unrelated” because it’s unrelated, and decidedly uninteresting, to me. But in their simplistic, dichotomous worldview, one member of a party’s fate has tremendous meaning to other members of that party, because there are only two kinds of people in the world, rather than six billion kinds, and only two ways of thinking.)

Anyway, this is the media’s big contribution to the sickness in our political system, and the dysfunction of our government. By taking this either-or, column A or column B, approach (when in reality there are thousands, millions, an infinity of possibilities in each policy question), they make it difficult for Americans to frame political questions in any way other than hyperpartisan terms.

Twitter more racially diverse than rest of Web (and, I’m guessing, way more so than this blog)

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This, from the WSJ, sort of surprised me:

For most of its rather short life, Twitter rarely mentioned that its user base is more racially diverse than U.S. Internet users as a whole. Now, as a newly minted public company needing to generate revenue, it is moving to capitalize on its demographics.

In November, Twitter hired marketing veteran Nuria Santamaria to a new position as multicultural strategist, leading its effort to target black, Hispanic and Asian-American users.

Together, those groups account for 41% of Twitter’s 54 million U.S. users, compared with 34% of the users of rival Facebook and 33% of all U.S. Internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project….

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s racist of me to have assumed that Twitter was way white. I think it probably had something to do with it being a geeky medium, and I think of geeks as white, the fictional Rajesh Koothrappali notwithstanding.

Facebook, as it turns out, is every bit as white bread as I thought it was. Twitter, less so.

These are not vast differences, but it seems meaningful that the Twitterverse is 50 percent blacker than the U.S. population as a whole. I don’t know what it means, but it seems it means something.

Lest you throw stones at me for being taken by surprise, I’ll have you know that many of my friends/followers/contacts are non-white. Although…

And I’ve sort of wondered about this…

I find myself associating more with nonwhite friends and acquaintances in real life than in the Twitterverse, or elsewhere on the Web. Look at my church (especially the Mass I attend, which is in Spanish), or the membership of the Capital City Club, etc.

In fact, and I hope I’m not insulting anyone here, I kinda think of most of y’all as white. Based on the regulars I actually have met — Kathryn, Doug, Silence, Bryan, Karen, Phillip, Bud, Mark, KP, etc. — that seems overwhelmingly the case. Of course, that’s totally anecdotal, but I tend to pick up on a pretty white vibe in most of our conversations.

This blog seems to lack crossover appeal. Unlike Twitter. I knew Twitter was cool, but I didn’t realize it could be quantified to this extent….

Video: Sheheen explaining his restructuring bill in 2008

I was looking for a picture of Vincent Sheheen to go with the last post, and ran across this video clip that I had forgotten.

It’s from the meeting on January 29, 2008, when he unveiled his restructuring plan to Cindi Scoppe and me, in the editorial board room at The State.

It’s short — the camera I used then would only shoot video for three minutes at a time — and there are several other clips from after this one that I did not upload.

But I share this one because in it, he shows how well he understood the actual power situation in South Carolina.

When talking about South Carolina’s unique situation as the “Legislative State” (even back in 1949, when some other Southern states had some similar such arrangements, political scientist V. O. Key called South Carolina that in his classic. Southern Politics in State and Nation), we tend to use a lazy shorthand. We say that SC lawmakers don’t want to surrender power to the governor.

That glosses over an important truth, one that we elaborated on in the Power Failure series back in 1991, but which I don’t stop often enough to explain any more: It’s that the Legislature, too, lacks the power to exert any effective control over state government. This leads to a government in which no one is in charge, and no one can be held accountable.

There was a time, long ago — pre-WWII, roughly, and maybe for awhile between then and the 1960s, which saw expansions of government programs on a number of levels — when lawmakers actually could run executive agencies, at least in a loose, informal way. On the state level, agencies answered to boards and commissions whose members were appointed by lawmakers. On the local level, they ran things more directly, calling all the shots. This was before county councils were empowered (more or less) in the mid-70s.

But as state agencies grew, they became more autonomous. Oh, they kept their heads down and didn’t anger powerful lawmakers, especially at budget time, but there was generally no effective way for legislators to affect their day-to-day operations. And while lawmakers appointed the members of boards and commissions, they lacked the power to remove them if they did something to attract legislative ire.

And on the local level, the advent of single-member districts broke up county delegations as coherent local powers. Yes, we have vestiges of that now — the Richland County elections mess is an illustration of this old system, as is the Richland recreation district and other special purpose districts, all legislative creations — but largely, they’re out of the business of running counties.

Increasingly in recent decades, the main power wielded by the Legislature has been a negative power — the ability to block things from happening, rather than initiate sweeping changes. And that’s what the General Assembly is best at — blocking change, for good or ill. That’s why the passage of this Department of Administration bill is such a milestone.

Anyway, while he doesn’t say all that stuff I just said, in this clip, Sheheen shows that he understands that no one is actually in charge, and that someone needs to be, so that someone can be held accountable. Or at least, that’s the way I hear it.

You may wonder why I think it remarkable that a state senator would exhibit such understanding of the system. Well… that’s just rarer than you may think.

Old Koreans vs. NY McDonald’s: Taking the ‘third place’ to extremes

As I’ve mentioned before, Starbucks strives to be “A third place between work and home,” a place of community, more than a place that just sells awesome coffee.

In recent years, McDonald’s has tried to get in on some of that “third place” action with its McCafé concept. Which has always seemed a bit odd, to me. McDonald’s is about getting in and getting out, as quickly as possible. Or driving through. It’s a place to fuel up when you don’t have time to stop and have a decent meal. Why would I want McDonald’s to be Starbucks when there’s Starbucks (which, if nothing else, actually serves decent coffee)?

I have at times thought Ronald McDonald was a bit conflicted about this. Just the other day, I noticed a “no loitering” sign at the awkwardly-placed pedestrian entrance to the McDonald’s in the Vista. So… you wanna be like a coffee shop, but you don’t want me hanging around?

At one McDonald’s in Flushing, NY, they’re more than conflicted — they’re positively fed up with being a third place for a group of Korean senior citizens who camp out in the joint all day, every day. The NYT has a fascinating piece about this quiet battle of wills:

Shortly after New Year’s Day, Man Hyung Lee, 77, was nursing a coffee in his usual seat in a narrow booth at a McDonald’s in Flushing, Queens, when two police officers stepped into the fluorescent light of the restaurant.

Mr. Lee said the officers had been called because he and his friends — a revolving group who shuffle into the McDonald’s on the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards on walkers, or with canes, in wheelchairs or with infirm steps, as early as 5 a.m. and often linger until well after dark — had, as they seem to do every day, long overstayed their welcome….

Mr. Lee said he obediently left — and walked around the block and came right back. More:

For the past several months, a number of elderly Korean patrons and this McDonald’s they frequent have been battling over the benches inside. The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time.

“Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?” David Choi, 77, said. “No, it’s impossible.”…

The cops have been called four times via 911 since November. And officers drop by as often as three times in a day to check on the situation and urge the folks to move along. To no effect.

This is a kind of impasse that seems to have no really good guys or bad guys in it. As sympathetic as a group of old friends might be, you might have some sympathy for the godless corporation when you read this. My attention was drawn to this piece by a writer at Slate who noted that the old folks …

… are definitely being jerks. Lovable jerks, sure, but jerks nonetheless. They refuse to let other customers sit down. They don’t even order food—in fact, they come to the McDonald’s after eating lunch at a local senior center. They take smoke breaks near the restaurant entrance. They’re not meeting for any official purpose—they’re just shooting the breeze. And their choice of McDonald’s isn’t for a lack of other options; there are numerous nearby civic centers, including one that prepared a basement room especially for this group of friends. They still return to the McDonald’s.

Adding to the oddity of the story, none of the old folks could explain to the reporter why it has to be that McDonald’s.

One for the People Are Quirky file.