There’s no US equivalent of parliamentary sketch writers. I think there are two reasons why. First, US newspapers are comparatively po-faced about the news (except for licensed humorists in carefully defined spaces). Second, the general standard of “debate” in Congress is boring and formulaic.
So US readers may not understand Simon Hoggart, a current master of the genre. Today’s sketch, however, picks up an understandable obsession of Doc Searls — the ways the metaphors we use define and channel our thinking (with appropriate homage to George Lakoff).
“Take health questions yesterday. Of course they’ve always been ‘aiming to hit targets’. Now, we’re told, repeatedly, ‘new funding is getting through to the front line’… It’s spreading everywhere. David Lammy, sometimes tipped as our first black prime minister, is currently in charge of dentistry, which makes him a minister of the crown. He talked about a ‘personal dental service pilot’, presumably a sort of flying doctor who crosses enemy lines looking for caries and impacted wisdom teeth. Then they land and start parade ground drilling.”
At a session on restoring public confidence in the corporate world this morning, Yale School of Management dean Jeff Garten made a very good point. “I don’t recall a time when corporate leaders were that trusted,” he said. “There’s always been a level of mistrust.”
I chaired a conference session this morning on the outlook for the world economy. Two very smart guys, Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs, and George Magnus of UBS Warburg, were the speakers. I thought it would be all doom and gloom, but I wasn’t quite right.
Neither thinks the world economy is in particularly good shape, but they reckoned the chances were better of finding a way out of our hole than digging ourselves further in. But this isn’t going to be a swift process. Bob compared our times to the late 19th century. As now, there was an investor-led decline, rather than the consumer-led declines we became used to in the late 20th century. The huge overinvestment and overcapacity in the railways in the 19th century was eventually worked out by consolidation and gradually increasing demand. Nothing is forever.
George also used a chilling phrase to describe the US trade deficit: “lethal arithmetic”. Where the arithmetic leads us, both he and Hormats reckon, is to an overshoot in the depreciation of the dollar.
Oh, and all bets are off if the “wild card” of SARS doesn’t come under control.
I’ve remarked before about the acceptability of anti-Americanism. British Politics reckons a purge of rabid anti-Americans is the next necessary campaign for the Labour party. “For me, the first groundspings of freedom lie not only in healthcare, social justice and the environment, but in freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of choice. The left can make America our greatest ally in that noble fight. To do otherwise is to abondon that America to the tender mercies of those who wish to take America and turn it into a vehicle for their own enrichment. If we abandon America, they will be able to say to their population, ‘It is us alone who will fight the battles. Why should we not take the spoils?’ If we join with our American friends, however, we can hope to help them choose the right ground to take stands on. We can help them live up to that dream of exporting a good revolution to the world.”
Having just heard Concorde pass over my house reminded me of one of the many wonderful aspects of the few days my family just spent in the Lake District. About half a dozen times a day, when we were on truly idyllic walks in the hills, we’d hear an approaching roar. Heads jerked up in time to see an RAF jet fighter practicing low flying, weaving at high speed through the fells and skimming low over the lakes.
I know it sounds like a boys toys thing, but my wife was just as captivated as me and the two boys.
There are plenty of ways in which American media are a model for the rest of the world. But there are developments which give advocates of press freedom pause. To my eyes, BBC director general Greg Dyke is right to criticise US media for becoming cheerleaders rather than journalists about the war. Dyke said American broadcasters were “swapping impartiality for patriotism”.
On a less momentous issue, Matthew Engel reports the resounding silence to the charges that athlete Carl Lewis should have been disqualified for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. “I can think of three possible reasons,” Engel writes. “One is that American newspapers, unlike their sportsmen, do not take anything to enhance their performance. Another is that athletics is a sport of zero interest in the US these days, except when the Olympics are on and their lot are winning; it is an extreme version of the British relationship with tennis. The third possible reason is that there is an ongoing national narrative, which requires Americans to be heroic and right. Stories that don’t fit with that narrative, whether they involve Shi’ite fundamentalists or doped-up sportsmen, are not exactly suppressed but they get shorter shrift than those that do fit.”
Taking a break
I’m away from my computer for the next week. So no new posts until 25 April.
Having lamented the appropriation of “Homer” to refer solely to the Simpson pater familias, I now find the same with “Spenser”. I suspect I’m an extreme rarity these days in having read all of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (when I was studying English at Princeton, the course on Spenser and the renaissance epic was considered the department’s equivalent of organic chemistry — tough material and a huge workload). So when I saw Spenser is back, with color and a juicy moral dilemma from the Boston Globe book review section in my news aggregator, I expected some interesting new material about Edmund. Wrong again.
Spread of RSS
The place where I pretty much learned my trade, The Daily Princetonian, has an RSS feed. If the New Trier News ever gets a feed, then the circle will really be complete.
What a great idea from Doc Searls in response to the sacking of the national museum in Baghdad: “It’s barn-raising time for civilization, folks. Hunting down bad guys and offering cash rewards might be necessary moves, but they’re highly insufficient. Let’s do something sustained and positive to help the Iraqi people and the rest of civilization get back what’s been lost.”
Doc’s concrete suggestions include created dedicated radio and television stations to recovering stolen objects, creating an .iq (what a domain) website aggregating and documenting museum objects, and getting the global weblog community to “cultureblog” around the issue.
British Politics goes rather Victorian in its “translation” of Homer for the current events in Iraq. For the nth time, I urge any of my readers (or at least those who can’t read the original Greek) to rush out and get Christopher Logue’s War Music. When I first read War Music in the early ’90s I was swept away by the power and imagery of the poetry. I asked a friend who is a true classicist how close or distant Logue was from the original. “He’s pretty close,” was the reply, “but the original is that and much, much more.” That’s why I decided to learn ancient Greek.
Incidentally, I am frequently disappointed when I see a newspaper or magazine headline invoking Homer. At least nine times out of ten, they mean Homer Simpson. I yield to no one in my enjoyment of The Simpsons, but I’d like to find a way to reclaim the name Homer for the fount of western literature.
Via Kieran Healy, I found the inequality quotient test. I only got six out of 12 right, but I learned a lot by taking the test.
British Politics has some interesting choices for the Big Read. I wholeheartedly endorse Robert Caro, of course, and I’m intrigued by his IF Stone selection, The Trial of Socrates. Izzy Stone was a great man and a unique journalist, and he applied his forensic abilities to the various Greek texts on the trial in 399BCE. Classical scholars gave Stone’s foray into their world fairly mixed reviews (Stone is particularly dismissive of political philosophy, including Plato), but his was certainly a fascinating exercise. And I must confess my own struggles to learn ancient Greek were provoked in small part by remembering that Stone had succeeded in learning the language in his 70s.
Follow-up on CNN
The New York Times gets around to writing a news story about the Eason Jordan op-ed. “Several journalism professors and commentators said Mr. Jordan had compromised CNN’s journalistic mission so the cable network could continue to report from Iraq.”
The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on the small company, Creative Associates International, which has been awarded the $65 million contract to get Iraq’s schools up and running again (no link because subscription required). Here’s an excerpt from an English language textbook used in Karbala.
“Can’t you stay a little longer?” “No, I’m afraid I have to go to the General Union of Iraqi Women.” “What for?” “To design a picture there for the President’s saying: The revolution led by our party is seriously determined to liberate women.”
More on CNN
Eugene Volokh has done the necessary digging on CNN in Iraq, which I wrote about on Friday. Last year, news chief Eason Jordan, who wrote the op-ed piece in The New York Times, said, “We work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there.”
What he said is right; what he actually did is wrong.
Am I the only one troubled by Eason Jordan’s harrowing column in today’s New York Times? He writes about how CNN employees and contacts in Iraq were tortured or threatened. To keep the bureau operating, CNN stayed stumm. As chief news executive at CNN, was his responsibility to protect CNN’s office in Baghdad and its workers, or to get the news out? These are not easy questions, but I think the news had to be his priority at the expense of closing the office. What compromises is CNN making in other repressive parts of the world?
I think it’s a beautiful sight, but I have to question the Financial Times’s priorities when it gives the end of Concorde a news story, a large analysis, a Lex column entry and a leader comment (subscribers only, so I’ll spare you the links). Come on, everyone knows Concorde has long been a good-looking remnant of a bygone age. If further proof were needed, the FT’s news story claims four of the most loyal Concorde passengers are the Duchess of York, Joan Collins, Sir David Frost and Sir Elton John. Shudder.
The Guardian has a true journalistic coup: a column from Mohammed Saaed al-Sahaf, until recently Iraq’s minister of information. He’s maintaining his high standards of truth. “Do not believe for one moment the lies of the immoral mercenaries of the mayoral office. The truth is that in the weeks since the charge was implemented, traffic on all ring roads and major arteries has trebled, while central London has become a scorched wasteland, populated only by foxes and jackals.”
If, like me, you grew up with Tom Lehrer songs, you will be captivated by Mike Stanfill’s Flash animation of The Elements.
Dealing with the past
“Saddam’s regime has fallen. Compared to getting the water supply running again, past-beating might seem a luxury. It’s not. Dealing rightly with the past is more important even than water for the long-term health of a future Iraqi democracy.” The unmissable Tim Garton Ash.