Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy Terrence Patrick Day


Perhaps you have more than a soft spot but an actual web location for keeping up with your high school chums. Perhaps the spot is so soft that the dialog extends well past when our kids are in and out of high school. I have enjoyed the benefits of such a jury pool of peers over the past 11 years on email. Our discourse can also be expressed as sex, politics and religion only or all subjects taboo unless it's to acknowledge a passing birthday or cryptic allegorical reference to inbred jargonisms, non sequiturs, and in-jokes.

The discussions are testbeds for our own mental incubations. They are deliciously off-the-cuff but deliberative enough to weather the ribbing we'll get for indulging in over-reaches of faith or flaws in our sense-making. They are certainly more communally-based than any of the so-called mental social media outlets. Name the last time that a comment to a blog post led to an earnest debate or brokering of views? David Brooks is a heckuva columnist. But that doesn't make the pile-on to his latest op-ed post any more transparent or conducive to meaningful dissemination.

The occasion for praising our collective anti-social media of choice is the Saint Paddy's birthday greeting of Terrence P. Canade. In addition to getting and giving like the rest of us Bolishuckers, Canuck, as his name bestows, is the reigning king of reasonable. But he is also the group's top-ranking emissary, having logged more miles than the rest of us combined to attend reunions, weddings, and other excuses for get-togethers from Boston to Seattle.

The other aspect of Canuck worthy of public acclaim are the oratorical gifts that extend from his legal arguments to his Bolishuck dispatches. Here are a few from the past year:

* From the email thread Feeling his Oath: The story that is absorbing me lately: Paris 1919. We simply did not learn enough about how the resolution of WWI among a group of imperial prevailing powers created a world which continues to affect us today. We tend to think of our current middle eastern nations as ancient with a long history of controlling our access to energy. We are less than 100 years removed from creating many of those states and from enabling them to transform themselves from forgotten lands to the focus of world attention.

* From the email thread The Stretch: The themes of Underworld resonated with me - think about everything as future garbage, how will you decide what material possessions to maintain? Thereafter, I decided to part with baseball cards which did not trigger an immediate personal emotional response. Just look at them, you know. After, I realized that the notion that I was maintaining memorabilia for others - my progeny, historians, future civilizations - was deluded. If it does not matter to you here and now, there is little sense keeping it (a sense that I believe you share based upon your memorabilia sales efforts).

* From the email thread That Was a Bad Day at the Movies: When Jennifer Connelly pleads - please please please, Mr. Blint - that Klaatu has yet to speak with the world leaders, she takes Klaatu to John Cleese for whom the movie lays no foundation. As she enters Cleese's office, Connelly points to a Nobel prize - for what? who cares? - to establish Cleese. Cleese apparently is some kind of mathematician, but what has that to do with Klaatu's purpose? What are we supposed to change and how might all powerful Klaatu help us do that? Jesus, who apparently spoke only in parables, was clearer. Klaatu claims that we did not listen. I claim that he did not say.

I could go on letting Canuck go on. That's not to suggest that Canuck in any way grandstands or indulges his mastery of persuasion. His economy of expression is part of that persuasion.

To close, to those of us in possession of an increasing abundance of birthdays let me say that the leading prevention of future regret is to praise those we can still bask in the birthday presence of we're we're all here.

I raise my swollen cup of hen brew to you, Canuck.

5 comments:

Marc Solomon said...

Shucks,

Thanks for the birthday wishes.

Sol, I admire your stamina in blogging away. I have been disappointed at the general tenor of discourse on news sites away from this space. Crass criticisms dominate comments to web columns. Perhaps some sites have better editors to provide public visibility only to those comments which enhance the discussion, but I have yet to find a news organization willing to dedicate a high level editor to that painstaking work. So far, I encounter sites where the web editor is likely a low level staffer who spots and removes only vulgar material, when I wish the staffer would eliminate banal and cumulative material. I'm sure that the New York Times wistfully recalls the days when it could sort through the letters to the Magazine to publish only those of the famous or otherwise thoughtful.

Some publishers apparently have decided that their biz will not survive, unless they give the crass commenters a voice. I feel like the biz will not survive, because the biz is not making an effort to do what the republic requires (investigate deeply - don't just publish what actors are saying; report accurately, and edit thoroughly - ensure beyond accuracy that it is enlightening). There will always be a market for content providers who satisfy the Vectors of Integrity.

'Nuck

Marc Solomon said...

Cnk,

I agree that the nobility of journalism will outlive the newspaper business. I'm still not convinced that there's a business model for this. There wasn't back when the presses were paid for by classified ads, Nielsen ratings, and a paucity of information providers. Mass media created the 4th estate, Fake news and social media does nothing to guarantee that tomorrow's muckrakers are gainfully employed.

What does it buy us?

Jon Stewart wonders why Jim Cramer's mojo mustered not one hard question for the house of cards he was dealing out everyday. Well, we wanted in on the action, right? Who's going to call in their chips if they should all disappear from a run on reality? And what about the 2nd estate? The incumbent shills who mortgage Congress? Who got there via AIG, Citi, J.P., Freddie, Countrywide Sacs for the privilege of tax-and-feathering ex-party financial engineers? Short of the next non-fiscal terrorist event what's to prevent them from riding on the froth of the next bubble lobby?

My pitiful and implausible hope is that Obama's popularity remains high enough to be re-elected as an independent. Then he can dismantle the machinery in earnest. As for the monetizing the investigation business the next pledge week just began on my local NPR affiliate. I will give, if only to end pledge week sooner.

Sol

Marc said...

It's entertaining to read the word "nobility" in the same sentence as "journalism." That takes me back. There's probably a business model for journalism, but probably not for newspapers and magazines. I joke that I'm right about everything eventually, and I've been saying this for nearly 20 years and think I'll be right about this: journalism will become an elite enterprise. Right now, regardleess of what industry you're in, there's probably a trade journal or newsletter that you pay a hundred dollars for, maybe several hundred dollars. On a mass media scale, there are probably not 3 million people willing to pay $10 a week for the New York Times. But if newspapers disappeared as an industry, there would almost certainly be three times that number worldwide willing to pay three times the price. In fact, it might even be good for journalism. Instead of a race to the bottom, you might have a race to the top, as your best educated, most affluent and well-informed become your customers, not marginal readers whom you have to entice by debasing yourself. Since attention is currency, there will always be someone who does a good job of gathering eyeballs, and someone else who wants to buy them. Does that mean news will be driven by sex, scandal and celebrity. Sure. And that will be different...how, exactly? At the end of the day, the "death of journalism" is an idea that troubles journalists. They're looking at jobs that are going20away and not coming back. It's a little hard to feel sad about it given that as an industry, we did this to ourselves. But in the end, more competition for fewer discerning eyeballs (class, not mass) is probably good for journalism, if not journalists.

On Stewart vs. Cramer, I've enjoyed it. I know Cramer a little (OK, that's not accurate. I wandered into his crosshairs briefly at BusinessWeek) and think he's one of the biggest assholes ever to draw breath. So anything that makes him uncomfortable, I'm all for. That said, Stewart's evisceration has its limits. The number off financial reporters who have the acumen to correctly diagnose and report on financial troubles and misdeeds could literally meet in the washroom of a 727. We're talking about numbers in the single digits. Plus, they don't have the access to records without subpoena power. So the idea that CNBC should have seen this coming is not entirely fair. If you parse the news closely you will see that even "investigative reporters" don't really investigate. They cover the investigations launched and carried out by others. Stewart's right that CNBC acted as little more than cheerleaders for the market But that shouldn't surprise anyone. That's what media does -- serves its audience and advertisers. Not in that order.

Obama will dismantle the machine? Forgive me, Sol, for what will sound like a cynical observation but th at's like suggesting a mechanic can rebuild your engine while you're driving 60 miles an hour down the highway. As long as the vehicle is moving, what incentive does anyone have to fix anything? The only hope for the kind of dismantling you'rre referring to is if the machine crashes and has to be put together piece by piece. I'm not a big fan of Obama's stimulus package and the announcement of adding over $1 trillion dollars in liquidity is truly frightening. Sure it could shorten the recession. But it's just as likely to mean we'll end up carrying cash by the suitcasefull to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread. It's the Boliviazation of the economy. I'm not an economist, but it seems like Obama's economic policy is tantamount to trying to maintain a level of economic activity that is simply not sustainable.

Oh, happy birthday Canuck. May all your future birthdays be far less memorable!

Dish

Marc said...

Dish,

I teach a group of mid-career transitioning makeover artists how to spy on other people without leaving their chairs. I too am convinced that there will always be a dollar value assigned to evidence-based truth-telling. The fact that crime pays more is not unique to the current mess -- just harder to move past than most of our made in America fabrications.

It's also important to follow-up your spot-on point that as far as modifiers go "investigative" is much closer to a noun than a verb for most reporters. It also depends a great deal more on where those findings are "dropped" more than where they're "found" (and who's picking up the tab for delivery).

And speaking to those vectors, Canuck, I would argue there are universal rules in play here:

1. Airing one's laundry in public loses cred the more the launderer likes to hear their name.

2. A "truth-teller" whose main virtue is their authenticity (think whistle blowers) cannot claim to speak-out as an independent voice.

3. Any witness whose testimony rides on altruism (put group interests ahead of own, etc.) will be discounted without an audit to determine the personal cost of their admission in blood, treasure, and social hardship.

Corollaries? Disputes?

Sol

BTW: Dish -- I enjoyed riding your screed every bit as much as Rael Harold-Barrelling down his own scree in true foamy Medusa Rapids (Bally style).

Marc said...

Dish,

I think you're spot-on about Obama and the restoration of what was. What was, haven't we all gotten it through our thick noodles yet, was a mirage. The yardstick for measuring wealth was "best-case scenario," though no one thought to call it that. With a national savings-to-income ratio hovering around zero, how could this have been seen as anything but inevitable? I've long held that the mountain of playthings and diversions we've taken for granted as a culture was unsustainable. I mean, if any of us had more than two bikes in our childhood, we were living high on the hog.

And with bigger consumptive appetites came greater needs to enlarge capacity -- residential capacity, that is. But that was OK, because every room we added on would enhance the value of the home geometrically, enabled by realtors, contractors and glossy magazines, whose name today is mud room.

I weeped when the P-I ceased publishing. It was a good liberal paper, clearly populated by the types of souls I enjoyed from my Newsday life. But the tears were more profuse than I'd expected. To watch this most integral of our cultural institutions wash away before our very eyes and on a grand scale gives added weight to Dish's recent projection that not only is our financial system in meltdown, the very pillars of sanity we as a society lean against are one-by-one turning to salt.

When I was young, there was a spate of movies, futuristic movies, portraying 21st century America as a corporate oligarchy. At the time I enjoyed the inventiveness of Rollerball, but hardly felt a need to reflect on its prophesying. Today, with newspapers -- a flawed, but vital check on corruption and greed -- flickering away like embers from a Mattituck barbecue, such a world seems far more possible, and perhaps not even as future-istic as the paranoid films of the 70s thought.

Bal

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