Archive for the ‘Magazines and Newspapers’ Category

Who is a terrorist?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I’ve been reading a bunch of interesting takes on the question of whether Joe Stack (the guy who flew the plane into the IRS building in Texas) is a “terrorist” and whether the word has any meaning at all.

I think there’s a lot of truth in Glenn Greenwald’s argument that as actually used by the American media, the word has become racialized, and essentially means “a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.”   But I think the more interesting question is whether it is possible to set that definition aside and draw a line someplace that makes sense.

Personally, I don’t think there’s any question that the 9/11 perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh, the IRA bombers of the 1980s,  and the Beslan murderers all qualify as terrorists.

On the “just nuts” side of the fence, I’d clearly put Amy Bishop and the Columbine murderers.  In both cases, the attacks were aimed at people known to the killers, and were not politically motivated.

The government was pretty quick in the case of both Nidal Hassan (the Ft Hood murderer) and Joe Stack to reassure the public that these were “not terrorist acts,” by which I think they mean “were not linked to a larger network of terrorists.”  By contrast, Najibullah Zazi, who just pled guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the New York City subways, is considered a terrorist, because he was recruited and trained by al-Qaida.  I’m not sure I buy that distinction — which would put McVeigh on the “not terrorist” side — but at least it makes some sense and isn’t purely racial.

I think I’m inclined to say if you’re killing people — especially civilians — you don’t know, and are politically motivated, I’m ok calling you a terrorist, even if you’re acting entirely alone.  That would make Stack and the Unabomber terrorists.  I don’t know enough about Hassan’s motivation or Bruce Ivins’ (the alleged anthrax killer) to say with any confidence which side they’re on.

That said, I sort of agree with Jill in thinking that some actions — flying an airplane into a building, bombing a public building or public transportation — are maybe inherently terrorist, regardless of your motivation or whether you’re part of a network.  But my examples (Beslan on one side, Columbine on the other) suggest that other things , eg. shooting up a bunch of kids at school — are not.

What do you think?  Does the distinction matter?

squeaking by…

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Can someone please tell me why the Washington Post thought that this story ("Squeaking by on $300,000") deserved to be on the front page of Sunday's paper?  It's not a terrible story, not like the Times' claim that pot bellies are hip, but I don't think it qualifies as serious news by any standard.

It's clear that almost everyone the reporter talked to was totally unwilling to be quoted for the record.  That probably showed good judgment — it's hard to imagine any possible upside to being featured in this story.  It made me wonder what Steins was hoping to get out of it, since she struck me from the article as being more or less sane and having some sense of perspective.  She has to have known that she's going to get trashed by a significant share of the people who read the article.

Moreover, it's not at all clear to me that Steins is really all that affected by the recession.   Ok, so her bonus is less.  But if she's pulling $50,000 a year out of savings to make her budget balance, it sounds like she'd still have a hole of $30,000 to $40,000 even with her usual bonus.  Her real problem is that she and her ex-husband bought a house that she just can't afford on her own, even with very generous alimony/child support.   And she bought him out in 2006, close to the peak of the market.  If the real estate market was better, maybe she'd downsize and get out of the hole. But it also sounds like she doesn't want to move her kids out of their school.

Fundamentally, I thought this article mostly illustrated the logic to the 60 percent solution.  If your fixed expense are such a high fraction of your income, you can squeeze the little things to death — not buying a fancy cell phone for your kid, going longer between hair colorings — and it doesn't fundamentally change the big picture.  Unless Steins has enough savings to keep pulling out $50k a year for the next decade, she needs to bite the bullet and go after the big things — the house, the nanny, the second car.

Time to retire the “Mr. Mom” references

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Today's New York Times had an article on unemployed financial-industry men who are spending more time with their kids.  It's all too typical of the Times' coverage of parenting, in that the reporter seems to have noticed a pattern among her neighbors and decided that it was a trend.  Far more interesting than the article is that pretty much every comment posted on the article said:

  • It's called being a father.
  • Why is this worth invisible when done by women but newsworthy when done by men?

And seriously, it's time to retire the "Mr. Mom" references.  It's just lazy copyediting.

thin news

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I was shocked by how thin today's Washington Post was.  The Book Review section, which is ending as a stand-alone section in a few weeks, had essentially no ads.  The car ads were a single folded sheet, so 4 pages.  The help wanted section was a sheet and a half, 6 pages.  I don't see how they can survive like this.

I guess I'm one of the people responsible for the collapse of print newspapers.  I subscribe to the Sunday Post only, read both the Post and the NY Times online.  (We also get hard copies of both, plus the Wall Street Journal, at work, but I usually wind up reading online anyway.  It looks more like I'm goofing off when I'm reading in the lunch room than when I'm in front of the computer.)

media and the election

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

After an election that was dominated by new media (blogs, youtube, twitter), the end turned out to demand the old media.

We watched the results come in on television, and our guests nearly rioted when at one point T revealed that we were actually ten minutes behind live thanks to TiVo and channel switching.  I had my laptop on, and occasionally looked over to check things like which counties had reported in the states that had only partial results, but the focus was definitely on the big screen. 

And then, yesterday, it seems like everyone wanted a newspaper, the dead tree kind, to hold in their hands and put away in the closet.  Papers all over the country sold out, and people were lined up waiting for the special editions to come out.

When I drained the battery on the car last week, I set off the anti-theft device on the audio system, so I can’t listen to the radio until we manage to get to a dealer.  Listening to the previous day’s podcast works ok for Planet Money and This American Life, less well for the more newsy shows.*

*It’s almost like having a TiVo for the radio.

Low-wage workers

Monday, August 4th, 2008

I’ve got several long thoughtful posts that I’d like to write, but I’ve just been crashing before I get to my blogging time.  So go read the first article in the Washington Post’s series on low-wage workers, and then we can discuss.

world news

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

A few months ago, I received an offer to get the Economist for airline miles.  Since I an unlikely to use them for anything else, I signed up.  The Economist offers two things that I find interesting:

  • A very distinct take on US politics, from a point of view that is quite different from either of the US political parties — very pro-market, but without the social conservativism of the Republicans.
  • In depth coverage of world news.

That said, I have to admit that I often find myself skimming past many of the international stories — oh, there are protests in Albania, who knew?– but not really caring a whole lot about the details.

The world news story that I’m following most closely right now is the elections in Zimbabwe.  With no official results 4 days after the elections, it’s hard to believe that Mugabe’s people aren’t cooking the books.  (The opposition is claiming that they’ve won, but the government says that just saying that is an attempted coup.) And today some journalists have been arrested.  I don’t have any particular insight into how it’s going to turn out, but I’m watching with my fingers crossed.

Why do I care about this story?  Like Becca at Not Quite Sure, I’ve been there.  For two days, which doesn’t make me any sort of an expert.  But I know how desperate people were then for our American dollars, and I just can’t wrap my head around what a million-fold inflation since then means.  It’s a heartbreaker of a story, and a reminder that much (most?) hunger
in the world is political, not (just) the result of natural disasters. (And yes, we all had serious misgivings about our tourist dollars going to support Mugabe’s government, but we went anyway.  I don’t know if we did net harm or good.)

But I think I’d care about Zimbabwe even if I hadn’t been there.  I wrote a report about it in 6th grade, shortly after it achieved independence.  I can’t remember many of the details, but I know that I wrote to the embassy asking for information and they sent me a thick envelope with newspapers and other material. At the time, I think I was most intrigued by all the cities whose names were changed.

One concern I have about The Economist as my source for international news is that I don’t know enough to know where their biases and blind spots are.  For example, they had a story about Zimbabwe last month, in which they argued confidently that Simba Makoni is "no joke for the incumbent." But it looks like he’s a distant third, getting less than 10 percent of the vote from the unofficial figures that have come out so far.   Morgan Tsvangirai is the candidate who appears to be leading.

All the news I don’t have time to read

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Yesterday, I saw an article somewhere about Brijit, a new website that abstracts newspaper and magazine articles down to 100 words or less, and rates them.  The idea is that it’s news for people who don’t have time to read, or something.  Anyone can sign up to write abstracts for them, and they pay $5 a pop if they use them.

It’s certainly true that my to-read pile grows far faster than I can keep up with.  But I’m not convinced that this is a solution.  For one thing, it covers mostly sources that I actually do keep up with — I don’t read the NY Times cover to cover, but I usually look at the front page, and scan the list of  "most emailed" articles, and I think I get as much out of that as I would out of the Brijit summaries.

My favorite source for telling me what I would like to read if I had another 5 hours a day is Jenny Davidson at Light Reading.  She almost never suggests things that I’ve already read, and often includes a few paragraphs that capture the heart of the article.

On a related note, she recently linked to an interview with Pierre Bayard, the author of the wonderfully named book "How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read."

(No book review today — I’m in the middle of 3 different books, and not far enough along to talk about any of them.  I did watch the movie of Maurice last week; I think it was a mistake to watch it right after reading Birdsong, because all I could think about was that they were all doomed.)


kill a catalog, save a tree

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

The holidays are still 2+ months away, and we’re already drowning in catalogs.  It’s clutter that we don’t need, and it’s bad for the environment.

I went to the Direct Marketing Association website and asked to be taken off their lists.  (They charge you $1 for the privilege, which ticks me off.)  That helps with the random catalogs from companies I’ve never heard of, but doesn’t stop catalogs that you’ve bought from in the past.  The problem is that I do like ordering from companies like LL Bean and Oriental Trading Company, but I do so from their website, and I don’t need (or want) to get a monthly catalog from them.  So I’ve been calling one or two companies a day and asking them to take me off their lists.

In general, the process has been pretty painless.  But Lilian Vernon was sufficiently annoying that it makes me far less likely to order from them in the future.  You call, and get an electronic voice that asks you what you want to do.  Then it asks you to read it your customer number off the catalog.  Then it asks you to confirm that your address is… (whatever they have in the system.)  Only then does it connect you to a live operator… who proceeds to ask for your customer number again, and for you to repeat your address to her.

Update: Via Aggregating the Fascinating, I found Catalog Choice, a free online site to submit requests to be removed from a catalog.


Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Via Margy Waller at Inclusionist, I’ve been reading some reports about the "framing" of low-wage work in the media.

I have to say, I’m sort of dubious.  The media consultants (Douglas Gould and Co) are saying that it’s bad when newspaper articles or magazine reports start off with stories about individuals or families who are struggling to get by.  The argument is that even if the subjects are highly sympathetic, this pushes the reader into a frame of "sympathy for the poor" and they get stuck on the merits (or flaws) of the individual example, rather than looking at the social and economic system that leads to the problem.

Ok, they’re the experts, and this is based on research on the subject.  And I know that when newspapers run these stories about, for example, people who are about to lose their homes because of medical bills, they often get donations for that specific family.  But my question is how many people read the stories — my guess is it’s higher for the ones that start off with the compelling story.  As Gould and co acknowledge, reporters certainly think that it’s better journalism that way, and that more people will read the stories than if they lead with straight economic analysis.  And a story that no one reads doesn’t do you much good, right?

I was also a little dumbfounded by the statement that it’s "highly advantageous" that welfare has essentially disappeared from news stories "as welfare tends to call forth negative stereotypes about low-wage work and workers."  Wow.

I did think that it was interesting that they found that stories about family leave and low wage work were disproportionately likely to be framed as personal rather than as a question of workforce policy.  I’m not sure if this is a statement about the issue per se, or about the lack of specific legislative proposals that encourage the use of a systemic frame.