April 25, 2008
The Democrats' death wish
By Bill Kraus
Every time I am asked to predict the results of this year’s presidential race I say that this is the closest thing to 1932 that I can recall.
In 1932 economic events overtook and overwhelmed Hoover, as they would have overtaken anyone who held the presidency, and he went down like a rock taking almost everyone in his party with him. The fact that he was helpless to do much about what was happening or even that some of the remedies he recommended and tried were worthy if fruitless did nothing to save him and the Republicans in the 1932 election.
A rundown of the troubles besetting the Bush administration inevitably leads me to conclude that, although Bush won’t be around to take the rap, guilt by association is going to do major damage to the entire GOP ticket.
The economy is in the toilet.
The dollar is in the doldrums.
The deficit is in the stratosphere.
The war on terror has not even located the top culprit.
The war in Iraq has gone on longer than WWII and is approaching Vietnam in length and futility.
New Orleans is dry but pretty much left high and dry.
People who couldn’t get passports are probably still stuck somewhere in the Caribbean.
The FAA has made a failing airline system worse.
And there are so many other questions of simple competence that there is no need for demonization. It isn’t even necessary to invent a new slogan. The old stand by “Had enough?” from past campaigns will do nicely.
The main point is that the Dems that I talk to keep telling me that despite all this their party and candidate will find a way to lose in November.
They continue to spout gloom and doom even when I point out that the pollster who predicted the tsunami of 2006 is telling his clients that it was child’s play compared to what is going to come down in 2008.
How can you possibly screw this election up, I ask them?
Their responses confirm the diagnosis: Paranoia is the occupational disease of politics.
For openers, McCain scares them. If he doesn’t make Hubert Humphrey’s mistake of not distancing himself from Bush early and often, he will be more formidable than he looks. He has already routed the theocrats, no small accomplishment.
Barack and Hillary are doing such a wonderful job of delineating each other’s shortcomings that all the Republicans have to do is run the primary loser’s ads in the general.
The Dem hired guns will either advise or permit another trip into demonization which will inflame and activate even the disenchanted Republican moderates who were heard to ask, “Do I really want these people to be running the country” when the mad dog partisans were let loose in 2004.
No one in a position of authority is telling the candidates that the primary loser should do what Lyndon Johnson and Bush I did. Why? Because the presidency is bigger than his or her ego and tender sensibilities, and a Barack/Hillary ticket is both obvious and desirable.
Hillary is a woman.
Barack is black.
April 19, 2008
By Bill Kraus
A couple of cyber-spaceheads reacted to me and my recent blog post lamenting the decline of the print press generally and the loss of hundreds of reporters specifically.
My contention was that reporters are the root source of information in this society and on this planet. Without reporters, I thought but didn’t say, the promulgators of blogs (such as this one), the producers of television news, and radio programmers everywhere would dry up and blow away for lack of raw material.
Spacehead number one jumped to the defense of two of major league bloggers (Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington) and relegated me and all like me to the trash bin of ancient history. To wit:
“Drudge and HuffPo are big enough that people send them information or they discover it through their networks. Both..have broken news stories that newspapers later picked up. To say that [they] are just regurgitating what is in the newspapers is silly. I even break stories on this site from time to time. Anyone who has a network can do it and at the end of the day, the only difference between newspapers and bloggers is that newspapers have paid staff, but that will change.”
I guess this is responsive even though it doesn’t seem to me to address the question of the huge numbers of reporters and the discipline that they bring (or should bring or do bring before some editor screws it up) to their profession. His concluding paragraph goes from disagreeing to insulting.
“The main reason why newspapers will never die,” he says, “is that many people in this generation are attached to them. When the new generation which is not accustomed to reading newspapers takes over, newspapers will no longer be necessary.”
So the organized collection and dispensing of information hangs by a thin thread: us geezers.
Spacehead number two, who I know and who in response to my direct question “Where do you get your information?” told me “by osmosis,” seems to me to head off into non sequitur land with this:
“It will be a positive change to have television without news networks to drown us in all the negativity of the world. They thrive on things like murder, rape, and natural disasters for ratings. Sure there are a few noble journalists out there, those who are driven by an internal passion to share information with the world. Maybe this change will cut out the fat and eliminate all those journalists who are only motivated by money and numbers. Those journalists who are deeply motivated will find a way to do their job whether there is a guaranteed paycheck or not.”
Until and unless someone shows me how the Internet, with its amazing plethora of information, is something more than a resource, I will continue to think of it as an infinite tower of Babel instead of as a replacement for the tradition and traditional role of journalism.
It’s paradoxical but possible that this age of massive overcommunication may be courting knownothingness. Unless my two critics are right, of course. Or, Heaven forbid, that my old fogie peer group and I are behind the curve and over the hill.
April 18, 2008
The road to progress
By Dick Vander Woude
Caution is often the enemy of opportunity. Can we protect ourselves and expand our opportunities simultaneously? There are times it seems like we cannot.
In Madison, where I live, there have been two brutal murders in the last couple of months that have shocked and frightened us. Requests for "A Safe Walk Home" have more then doubled on State Street and Campus Police are advising students to stay together and lock doors. A tragedy is causing us to be even more distrustful of strangers.
In the book of Acts, two men are walking near Jerusalem and discussing the events of the first Easter weekend. A stranger appears on the road and asks them what they're talking about. They're surprised and ask the stranger if he's the only person in Galilee who doesn't know about the trial, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb. The stranger joins in the conversation and shares information and predictions of these events. When the stranger starts to leave the two men invite him to join them for dinner. Maybe it was his manner or something he said, but the two men suddenly “see” that the stranger sharing their hospitality is Jesus himself.
More than common sense, good sense is essential. We must be smart and strong enough to act wisely to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but the consequence of all of the terror reported in the daily news is that we tend to stay close to those we know and those who are most like us. We seek refuge and protection in our "tribe." It just makes sense.
So if we meet a stranger like the one who appeared on the road in "Acts" will we be able to invite him into our conversations or will we lock him out? He may appear kind and concerned or he may look like a terrorist. Yet possibly he may possess the knowledge that can open our eyes to goodness. The kind of goodness that will allow us to open up our tribe to others by sharing our gifts and thus, create a world that is "free-er" from fear and danger. A world that all of the great religions teach us is truly possible.
The Bible may or may not be a precise record of history, but there are lessons to be learned in the stories. And the lesson, for me, in this story from Acts is that we can, while using good judgment, and taking appropriate precautions, remain open to the goodness that surrounds us and allow our eyes to be opened to opportunities when we least expect them. For example, I read about a proposal from Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz for a low-income housing strategy to help diversify our communities and achieve quality education for all children in Dane County. Some may see this as a threat to their enclave, yet mightn't we lay down our fears and see it as an opportunity that will benefit us all?
Regardless of what becomes of Mayor Dave's idea, there are ideas, issues, and even candidates that embrace the future. Our challenge is to remain open, and take the risk of supporting new ideas and seeing opportunities. With our eyes open let us support the changes we believe in. We already know it is necessary.
(Dick Vander Woude lives in Madison.)
April 4, 2008
The next death of the newspaper
By Bill Kraus
Let's see now. Radio was supposed to replace newspapers. It didn't. Television was supposed to replace radio and movies. It didn't. What television may have contributed to was the demise of afternoon papers at least in major cities.
The latest prediction is that the internet will replace newspapers.
The NY Times has run a long article in its business section saying that more and more citizens are getting their political information from the Drudge Report and The Huffington Post.
The article doesn’t go into where Drudge and Huffington are getting their political information unless it’s from all of us. Everyman as source?
At the same time Eric Alterman’s article in the New Yorker indicates that one of the reasons the numbers of newspaper readers is declining is because of a decline in the readers’ trust in the reliability of the news being delivered by those newspapers. That it isn’t all technology or the rise of the internet as an information source. All of this is taking a toll on newspapers’ revenue which, in turn, takes a toll on the newspapers’ ability to collect the news the readers presumably want. A vicious, downward spiral which affects a lot more than the well being of the newspaper business.
The trouble is that the much-maligned newspaper reporters whose numbers are shrinking along with the numbers of newspapers’ readers are providing the basic information that fills the papers' pages and the radio and television newscasts. This raw material also gives Drudge’s and Huffington’s “posters” something on which to build, comment and opine. Just as I do and am doing right now, as well. Like bloggers everywhere I am a kind of news parasite. I produce no original information unless my view of what others produce is counted, which it shouldn’t be.
It has always been an article of news-gathering faith that, say, if Madison’s two newspapers shut down the local radio and television stations with their relatively much smaller news-gathering staffs would soon disappear as news dispensers. It is worth noting, incidentally, that the major TV networks, followed by many of their local stations, are also saving money by cutting reporters.
Let’s say that the predictions of the demise of print media are finally right this time. Radio and TV changed newspapers without killing them, but the internet with its websites and bloggers is going to kill them off.
The first place this would show up is in sports reporting. A very large percentage of the newspapers’ reporting staffs are covering games. Not just the games that TV and radio reporters are describing, but all games. Games our kids are playing. Games that are not being reported on national or our own local broadcast outlets.
Politics and government would be next to suffer (if, indeed, the politicians we elect and the government workers we pay think that they would suffer from not having reporters watching them do what we used to think of as the peoples’ work).
How about crime and other vital statistics. These lists would be available, but with no one to organize and promulgate something as routine as, say, obituaries, accidents, fires, floods, and other natural and personal disasters this information would rank with the tree that falls in the empty forest.
Maybe someone with a cellphone camera will be everywhere something happens and will post what they capture on some site that someone else maintains as a substitute for the local paper. Maybe not. Probably not.
In short, a world without newspapers may be imaginable. But a world without reporters whether the 1,200 at the NY Times, the 800-900 in the news rooms at the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal or the lesser numbers in our own cities is not.
The inefficiency of writing all these stories on paper, sending that paper to a printing press, assembling them into a manageable package, delivering that package to thousands of readers at their homes or widely available newsstands is obvious. Perhaps Madison’s own reconfigured Capital Times will show how this can be done more expeditiously in a deadline free cyberspace world where the computer not the front porch is where we find the information we need and want. We’ll see about that.
What we cannot count on or risk is that this disorderly democracy can function without what Thomas Jefferson, who said, “If I have to choose between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter,” believed was indispensable.
April 2, 2008
A Sunday conversation about race
By Dick Vander Woude
Senator Barack Obama has invited us to participate in a national conversation about race. And, without looking for it, everywhere I turned on Sunday morning the issue was there staring me in the face or creeping into my thoughts.
First thing in the morning, for no apparent reason, my wife read me a passage from the Lionel Shriver novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. White women are visiting a prison, sitting silently by themselves in the middle of a waiting area while African American women sit comfortably together. My white person’s brain wonders, is one group more intimidated to be there and the other more familiar, or is one group simply more culturally social?
This second thought had me thinking back to when I lived on Capitol Hill and frequently observed that my white neighbors preferred to spend time on their back porches while my African American neighbors tended to gravitate toward the front porch. It was much easier to be neighborly with the African Americans on the block.
Then, on Sunday morning public television, someone asked Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Brooker if “more money” was the answer to his troubled city’s problems. In part, he replied, we need a Statue of Opportunity to accompany and be the equal of the Statue of Liberty. He went on to discuss the need for us to move beyond blame and focus on what each of us can do today. Is this the “Audacity of Hope” achieved through action and personal responsibility?
Finally, at church, our young interim minister’s post-Easter sermon was about Thomas and his deep, personal disappointment in not being present when Jesus made his first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. Thomas’s disappointment was so deep, we learned, that he could not believe until he placed his hand in the wound. On my way out of church I, with some audacity of my own, suggested to the minister that his sermon might have moved from good to great had he suggested that we see Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s expression of “God Damn America” in terms of Thomas’s disappointment and doubting faith. Might we then not see it as a momentary expression of passionate disappointment in the American promise rather then a means of questioning Reverend Wright’s patriotism or that of his parishioners?
During his public TV interview, Mayor Brooker said we can learn from the past without allowing it to control, predict, or dictate our individual and collective behavior today. I suspect, given the gravity of life in Newark, that at times Mayor Brooker might experience doubt and question the validity of the American promise. Yet he continues to have faith in our collective future as expressed through our actions. And, like Thomas, we are given the opportunity to believe because our nation’s wounds are there for us to touch everyday. And once we touch them we can embrace the change we believe in.