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Door of the old NY Times Building

In a few more days the NY Times will put up a “pay wall” for its on-line edition, which has already caused a stink on the net, from those who insist it should be “free.”   At risk of causing some ire here and there, I’d have to say that given the realities of the newspaper business – what is left of it – I think the Times has a good case.  Newspaper readership is, courtesy of the net, way way down.  In turn, so is advertising revenue, the traditional money-maker for newspapers.  It does cost money to have reporters sprinkled around the country and the globe, to organize it all, edit, and publish it.  So until some Valhalla arrives for us all, and money grows on trees instead of on Wall Street, if you use something like the Times, a little pay is in order.  They let you read 20 articles a month “free” and then want $15 a month if you use more.  That’s 50 cents a day.  For one cup.   A visit to your local “coffee” shop for a mug of whatever gets you mugged for 6 to 10 times that.   So I’d say it’s a reasonable price.


Compositor on old-fashioned Adobe Illustrator machine

That said, last week Frank Rich, who used to be their theater critic until the theater of our national politics pulled him toward the less sublime, announced his departure – to do more serious writing he said.  He was one of the best mainstream columnists we have – insightful, a good writer, and able to intelligently go a bit deeper than most in his trade.  Probably has something to do with his training in the arts.   And then this week Bob Herbert, of whom the same could be said, though he tended to be a bit more rough and tumble in the interests of the poor and deprived, announced his departure after 18 years.   Who the Times replaces them with is being interpreted as a reading of political tea-leaves:  lean to the right? the left?   Some have said without these two the pay wall is too high to climb.

At present the right is well represented by two dreadful columnists, David Brooks and Ross Douthat.  Both act as seeming straw-men for those, like myself, who place comments.  Both are by-the-book Republicans (sort of redundant since that is what more or less defines Republicans), though Brooks tries his hardest to play some kind of well-meaning intellectual but almost immediately flounders around as soon as something veers from right-wing assumptions.   And, to put it frankly, while he is among the supposed luminaries of conservative America’s “thinkers” I find him rather stupid, to put it kindly.  He is a perfect example of someone boxed in by his own ideological blinders, so he stumbles forth, not even seeming to note when this or that evidence leads axiomatically to something he does not believe in.

David Brooks, Alfred E. Neuman, Ross Douthat

Mr Douthat (whose name I always subliminally read as Doubt that) is allegedly a youthful rising star of the conservative right.  If he doesn’t watch his eating habits he won’t be rising too much – this is a flattering picture of him. He is the kind of right-winger who seems to know some positions are indefensible and rather than thundering louder as his compatriots would, he stutters and says he’d prefer to not discuss it in public.  Say, gay marriage.   Taken together, if it happened that intellectual capacity – to say the ability to see something, analyze it, articulate what you can see, and draw perhaps a conclusion or two – were of any import in our political dialogue, these two, among the leading lights of the right, suggest it would be no contest in any such a debate.  However because it is not of any import – neither an intellectual capacity, or the honesty to concede a fact is a fact – it means these two, among others, are given time on the national airwaves to press their opinions, as stupid as they are, and to collect doubtless a nice pay-check from the Gray Lady for their weekly scribbles.   Surely some right-wing “think tank” also contributes nicely to their income.

Yesterday, responding to Mr Brook’s column of the day, I wrote the following, which for some reason was not published (usually I do get published, though also yesterday one got censored, I suspect because I used the term “A-hole” and this, for our lady, is evidently beyond the pale.)  His column was on Muammar Gaddafi, and how weird he is, and how weirdness seems to serve tyrants.

“They are untroubled by doubt or concern for the good opinion of others since they already possess absolute truth.”

Hmmm… while perhaps not quite so extreme, wasn’t there someone a little closer to home who was kinda like this, along with some of the other traits you ascribe to good old Muammar? But as I recall you kinda liked that feel-it-in-my-gut guy.

You seem to vacillate like a political weather-vane: when it’s something you like and is close to political home, hey, it’s OK; when not, the very same qualities can become anathema.

Historically there have been a lot of these characters – from Caligula on (and of course, far before him too). It tells you something about the ordinary everyday person’s character, too.

Good old Muammar

Meanwhile the world’s news continues at such a fast clip it’s rather hard to keep up with.  The middle-east continues to erupt, now with the US/NATO playing protectors of the Libyan uprising, not only maintaining a “no-fly” policy, but blasting the hell out of any of Muammar’s armor, cannons, etc.  Sort of, literally and metaphorically, “leveling the playing field.”  This of course has led to a field day of the commentariat of both American right and center talking heads (we don’t really have a left, though that which we have has also fallen into the to do/be or not chorus) who are caught, as usual, talking out of whichever side of the mouth seems convenient at the moment.  Or sometimes both at the same time.  Presidential candidate Grigrich made a 180 degree turn on the matter in two days.   Those who cheered Bush’s bombast, now excoriate Obama.  Or vice versa.  Were there not so many bodies strewn around the theater set, it would be comic, but it is not.

And while Libya yanked our attentions from Egypt, there the army goes about clamping down, the mask coming off quickly to show the same old powers-that-be are not going easily and in fact are ready to hop into bed with the not-so-long-ago arch-enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to secure that hold onto power (and all their intertwined businesses).  Presumably the Brotherhood has tested the waters and thinks the game is coming down on the army’s side.   But, next to the airshow next door, this is nada for the news.

Tracers over Tripoli

On with the news:  Saudi troops rolled into Bahrain, (among other things it hosts a large US Naval Base), there to tamp down the Shiite uprising against the Sunni minority ruling class in the interest of next-door neighbor Saudia Arabia, itself also seeming to be infected with the spirit of the middle-east spring.  In Yemen things oscillate back and forth, and now even in hard-nosed Syria the folks are rising up (only to be gunned down while Assad, son of the previous Assad, sends out his spoke’s-lady to claim he ordered no shooting – but the shooting goes on, and another town goes up in protest, and the famed souk in Damascus is filled with rhythmic shouting calling for an end to the regime, and it appears in a few more weeks likely another middle-eastern potentate will come crashing down.  Syria is next door to Iran, where, in a sense we could say all this started some two years ago.  Will it come full circle?  Tune in tomorrow.

Meantime while it has mostly slipped to the back of the line, the post-tsunami nuclear catastrophe in Japan carries on with no evident solution in sight.  Instead, sort of brushed out of sight, it festers and perhaps grows worse.  Radiation spills out, the threat of an imminent melt down in reactor #3 (out of 6) hints at worse to come.  Now the ring of radiation leakage has worked its way all the way to Europe, and food and water in the region is contaminated, and naturally nuclear energy industry speakers come forth to say it’s not that dangerous, and more people are killed and hurt by coal, and it was the tsunami’s fault, and not the industry’s, and other mealy-mouthed defenses.  Money talks, like we said.


Fukushima reactor #3Tsunami

That’s just a little bit of “the news.”  If you lived in other parts you might be concerned with the million refugees from the civil war in the Ivory Coast, or in Portugal with the economy crumbling and imminent “austerity” measures.  Or closer to home the Conservative Canadian government just collapsed owing to corruption scandals (surprise surprise!).  And of course down, way down, south there’s the on-going drug wars.

But here in America, at a Las Vegas trade show for electronics, there was this new toy – a dancing robot you can control with your cell phone or I-pad.  Now there’s something to write home about!

Dancing robots (aka American voters)


Censored by the Times (again).

A little update, March 28:  this weekend sent in early two comments, one to Maureen Dowd, other to the absurd Thomas Friedman.  Seems both were too something for our censors at the Gray  Lady.  Here’s what I wrote – which is nothing that wasn’t said by a lot of others – particularly to Friedman – by responders.  Must be something personal:

It appears Mr Friedman is able – or perhaps compulsively needful – to nurse his delusions forever.

“…..helping Iraqis manage multiple fair elections was that they had a credible neutral arbiter throughout this transition: the U.S. …”

I think there are many, most likely a majority, of Iraqis who would seriously dispute the credibility of America as a “neutral arbiter.”  I do not think one gains such credibility by the actions and behaviors of America in Iraq since, oh well, since Rummy shook hands with his good buddy Sadaam Hussein way back when.  It is only in Mr Friedman’s American imperialist fantasies that such credibility could occur.

Tipping his real hand, Mr Friedman says:

“Democracy requires 3 things: citizens — that is, people who see themselves as part of an undifferentiated national community where anyone can be ruler or ruled.”

This is what an authoritarian like Mr Friedman could think.  No, democracy is not “ruled” by someone; rather someone serves the people. But not in Mr Friedman’s world: it’s rule or be ruled.  This is not the choice a meaningful democracy offers, but it is the choice an autocracy gives.

Mr Friedman persistently demonstrates the he is no qualified to speak about the things he so constant speaks about.


I neglected to save the Dowd response, it was essentially a review of Broadway musical about Mormons, and I suggested there are more serious things going on in the world.  And then I responded to an Editorial Board item, and it too was not printed.

While it will be interesting to see which way the court tilts, it has long been that our legal system tilts – drastically – towards “money.” A real life experience showed me that: while in prison for refusing military service (1965-67) I met a fair number of people doing 5 years for possession of modest amounts of marijuana (those doing time for that now are many more, but mostly not light-skinned). On getting out while living with a very rich young woman her brother was caught on the Mexican border trailing a fancy power boat full of marijuana. After the first judge who was bought inconveniently dropped dead from a heart-attack the second Federal judge gave him 6 months. Money talks – bs walks. The All-American Way!

Ever it always was and will be: legal systems invariably serve the powers that be; the power in America, as always, is money.



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