Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Parse-Snips: Up Close and Impersonal

This remember the Ground Zero Alamo stuff around the Cordoba Mosque has everything going for it: two opposing teams, a murder scene, demagoguery, bullhorns, and a global audience that can say we-told-you-so no matter what's been communicated by which side.

This story's legs are so long that we don't have to wait for the economy to recover, the next spill to evaporate, or the insurgents to reload their rhetorical weapons. But there is one element missing here. And it just may turn out the lights before the next line of stem cells is showing trace elements of salmonella poisoning.

There are no coveted interviews awaiting attention-starved witness-experts of the paranormal infidels. There are no human circus acts posing as brokers between victims and perpetrators. Pending any celebrity appearances there are no book deals or screen rights in the balance. With little chance of a false confession, embarrassing disclosure, or an ingratiating nut bug to keep the cameras rolling, this story has no leading star. Just bit players. But what did we expect? No laws have been broken in the sale of this property.

A Cause Smaller than Ourselves

There are two teams but neither one lays claim to a single magnetic contestant. The mulahs are all too pleased to don their dark road jerseys on our competitive-crazed home turf. But with no stars in the lineup and the nagging potential that both sides have a point, the air time will escape from this balloon long before it pops.

And even if there was a whiff of corruption, it's mired in the intricacies of leasing agreements and zoning restrictions. Not exactly the gavel-pounding foray into a cable news auction for the fuzziest cellphone photo.

The problem with this story is that it's about principles and policies. We expect debating points to be packaged as shouting matches masquerading as contests of ideas. But our attentions will not hold to this level of abstraction. NPR's Morning Edition reported this morning that only 41% of all Americans even knew one of the billion-and-a-quarter Muslims on the planet. It's hard to personalize a story when you don't know the characters.

That's a whole lot of fuel burned for keeping close to home. And that's where those attentions will stay barring the collision of continental shelves set adrift by climate change or the next big militant Islamist outbreak inside our clammy and porous borders.

When We Come Back

A movie deal is still attainable. A self-appointed victim steps forward a year from now to bask in the 10th year anniversary of 9-11. They're onto something and promise to spill fresh explosives on these dying embers.

Why will they have waited a year?
Will their story be riddled with inconsistencies?
Are the retainers of their own legal teams riding on these answers?

The vetting of that process is not to be an interview topic because it compromises the talent and the networks: "It's a very defined underworld of behavior that people really don't talk about," says a former storybroker in the News merchant piece by Sheelah Kolhatkar running in the current issue of the Atlantic.

It's also the one history lesson of competitive politicking that bears repeating.

We conclude with a new term and three of its casualties:

The competifying of politics
  1. - Thoughtful debate ("you have a point")
  2. - Just punishment ("debt to society")
  3. - Win-win situations (the "greater good")

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