1994 revisited: Americans wrong about recession

Today’s headline: Americans think we’re in a recession. They’re wrong. But still… – The Washington Post.

Same as 1994.

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All-time great performances: Fishbone on SNL

March 23, 1991. I was sitting in the commons room at Brown House, my happy home for the past three years. I was terrified of the world outside Duke. We had watched most of the Gulf War on the same TV. The recession limited our job prospects. I had concluded I wasn’t going to find the woman of my dreams in college (in retrospect, a good thing — I still had some growing up to do).

Saturday Night Live was a nice respite for us. The musical act that night was Fishbone, which existed on our plane as one of those bands whose name we had heard but little else.

By the time Angelo Moore got three-quarters of the way through a front flip to kick off Kendall Jones’ blazing guitar solo, my jaw was hanging open. I couldn’t believe guys could run around and create such chaos on stage while playing such a powerful rock song called Sunless Saturday.

I was vaguely aware that my dormmates were less impressed. Angelo’s antics aren’t for everyone. “Dirty Walt,” the dude with the Mohawk doing backup vocals and not playing trumpet even though he was supposedly the band’s trumpet player, freaked out a few people.

But after it ended, all I could do was say, “That … was awesome!”

Not sure my dormmates ever looked at me the same way again. I didn’t mind — I went out and bought The Reality of My Surroundings and listened to it nonstop that summer. It’s still in my top 10 or 20 albums of all time.

It’s No. 57 here: StompBeast: THE 100 BEST SNL PERFORMANCES (3 of 5).

(Unfortunately, my quest to find video of The Time’s marvelously choreographed performance of Jerk Out is still unfulfilled.)

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We R not smrt

Canadian magazine Maclean’s looks southward and shudders.

A few painful excerpts from a thorough beatdown that starts with a bunch of frightening statistics on America’s willful scientific ignorance:

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith. …

Then gun laws, where the column assumes the point rather than proving it. Then Patriot Act stuff and book-banning.

If ignorance is contagious, it’s high time to put the United States in quarantine.

Before we can complain, the column follows up with our math test scores.

They don’t appear to be getting much smarter as they age. A 2013 survey of 166,000 adults across 20 countries that tested math, reading and technological problem-solving found Americans to be below the international average in every category.

Then it gets debateable. Is it such a bad thing that we’re not watching TV news? Do we have to be so serious that we read The Washington Post?

But it returns to solid ground with a look at “elitism.”

Both ends of the political spectrum have come to reject the conspicuously clever, she says, if for very different reasons; the left because of worries about inclusiveness, the right because they equate objections with obstruction. As a result, the very mission of universities has changed, argues Liu. “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs.”

So does all this ignorance lead us to this conclusion?

There’s a long and not-so-proud history of American electors lashing out irrationally, or voting against their own interests. Political scientists have been tracking, since the early 1950s, just how poorly those who cast ballots seem to comprehend the policies of the parties and people they are endorsing. A wealth of research now suggests that at the most optimistic, only 70 per cent actually select the party that accurately represents their views—and there are only two choices.

Or is that a function of the two-party system and our “us vs. them” approach to politics, which we treat as a spectator sport?

Either way, it’s depressing. So we’ll finish with a comment from Groundskeeper Willie.

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How to edit, old-school

Among the pearls (pardon the pun) from this Jeff Pearlman interview with longtime Sports Illustrated editor Peter Carry are these handy four rules of editing (I’ve put the most frequently violated rule in bold):

Rule 1: The best ideas come from the guys in the field (and Lord knows whatever other sources outside your office), so listen. Refine. Combine. Bad ideas result in bad stories, no matter who’s doing the writing. Rule 2: Listen and talk to the writer. Don’t nag, don’t hang over her shoulder. But do have a discourse. Challenge. Help the writer refine the idea. Rule 3: Read the damn story all the way through before you lay a pencil or a cursor on it. This seems like a simple matter, like medical personnel always washing their hands before they touch a patient, but you’d be surprised how often patients and stories get prematurely handled. Rule 4: Be gentle but be firm.

He also has some interesting tales of the old days, comparing the SI office to Mad Men.

via Peter Carry | Jeff Pearlman.

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De-romanticizing Woodstock

I don’t even like being packed next to a smelly drunk dude. I doubt I could’ve coped with this:

Imagine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: hot, humid, hundreds of thousands of people stranded without enough food or water. Now imagine that scenario, but with Joe Cocker flailing bluesily in the background. Congratulations. You’ve just imagined Woodstock.

via 5 Facts About Woodstock The Hippies Don’t Want You to Know | Cracked.com.

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A little knowledge on the USA TODAY layoffs

I’m trying to spend less time refuting people who are wrong on the Internet or elsewhere. It’s not productive.

Sure, they say all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to say nothing. But that doesn’t mean I need to gripe about every political thing that a lot of people are already challenging more effectively. If we all spent all our time confronting idiocy and evil, we wouldn’t get anything done.

But every once in a while, you may find yourself in the position of knowing parts of a story that someone else has attempted to tell with negligence or malice. And it’s time to step up and confront that person.

So today’s topic will be this piece: Why USA Today will be the first major web-only newspaper – MarketWatch.

It sounds like an interesting topic, and that’s surely how Tim Mullaney, who apparently worked at USA TODAY from 2011 until he was laid himself a few months ago, pitched it. Instead, it turns into a snarky rip on the paper’s latest layoffs. I have no idea what motivated Mullaney — perhaps an attempt to feel better about his own dismissal? Who knows?

Here we go:

Unlike The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, USA Today loses money. It was always subsidized by under-profitable community newspapers and local TV stations that print money when the economy is good.

USA TODAY made about $40 million in 1997. Big hotel circulation, small-ish staff. On the “dotcom” side, we were profitable for a while before the bubble burst and we all merged together.

(That said, sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if the print edition was de-emphasized down the road.)

The biggest reporting cuts came in Life, where the list reads like a guide to Things that Don’t Draw Many Hits Online. A books reporter in his 60s, music writers who apparently did one little-read story too many, a wellness and parenting writer. The exception was a film critic, but USA Today has a better-known one.

This is the most problematic paragraph. That’s a nice way of saying it’s ridiculous. Mullaney’s experience with USA TODAY was apparently too brief to realize that some of these “music writers” were also doing online content.

I worked there from to 1999 to 2010. (I was lucky enough to leave voluntarily, mostly to reclaim my weekends as family time.) I started doing online content. I wound up doing all sorts of crazy technical things — the resident guinea pig for new software, a coder for automated sports stats, a project manager for Olympic results, etc. And yet I gradually moved into writing more and more for print — soccer, Olympic sports, then mixed martial arts.

It gets worse ..

Brutal, but true: On the list of 20 people laid off that leaked late yesterday, I had to Google nearly 15 because they didn’t do anything distinctive enough, or vary from the formulaic enough, to make me know their names. And I worked there.

I didn’t know many of Money’s editors. It’s a big building.

That’s OK. What’s not OK is assuming you know what other people are doing. That was the problem with Gannett Blog — you had old-timers griping that the young online staffers were leaving at 4 p.m. They had no idea that the online staffers in question had been there since 6.

If you Googled me, you’d get the stories I wrote. Not everything else I did.

So I’ll flesh out some of the bios here. Among those laid off:

- A terrific boss who was among the first to realize the “dotcom” staff had some writing talent worth using.

- The first viral journalist at USA TODAY, someone who balanced production duties in Life with a nascent blog-and-chat presence and built a massive community online.

- A couple of editors who took it upon themselves to learn how they can better move their content online.

- Writers who always created good online content.

And those are just people I happened to know. Everyone who left has a story. Sure, every now and then, a layoff removes some dead weight. But I can tell you that’s not the case here.

So I say “a little knowledge” in the headline here because of the old saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Mullaney didn’t know what was behind the layoffs, particularly of those who didn’t fit the “old, overpaid, stubborn print-only” mold. He did a little Googling and assumed he knew enough to write something. And MarketWatch published it.

And THAT is a sad commentary on the state of American journalism.

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Today’s non-mainstream news

Time to worry less about ISIS and more about disabling the Axis (of two parties in the USA)? Read on …

Is the “homegrown jihadi” movement actually declining?

The Daily Dish has a few dismissive voices on the direct threat ISIS poses to the USA and adds a link to New Yorker peek at Westerners joining terror groups. The latter has this hopeful bit …

And Maher, for one, doesn’t believe the situation to be hopeless. Until 2005, and the London subway bombings, he was himself a member of a radical Islamic group, Hizbut Tahrir, which operates inside of Britain and supports the formation of a global and puritanical Islamic state. Since the bombings, he and other moderate British Muslims have been campaigning against the jihadis, and the would-be jihadis, with some success. At one time, Maher told the Journal, Hizbut Tahrir rallies could draw twenty thousand supporters, but these days “they struggle to get one thousand.”

2. Third-party time!

If you think Obama is weak on foreign policy while the GOP is weak on admitting science is real, why not another alternative? So says The Economist:

AMERICA’S two-party system is a creaking monstrosity that has helped bring its politics to a grinding halt. The country urgently needs a nationally competitive third party (if not a fourth and a fifth) to crack up its frozen ideological landscape, and to shift incentives away from the politics of total resistance and towards deal-making and compromise.

The piece backs away a bit from its stern lead, but it’s a good point to ponder, particularly on an issue like climate change:

In the two-voice dialogue of American politics, there is a natural tendency for each party to oppose the other one’s take on a given issue. In the case of climate change, there was a time when Democrats and Republicans both agreed on the reality of the problem and on the need for some form of carbon emissions reduction scheme. But the natural dynamics of political argument gradually led Republicans to first deny that any form of government carbon emissions regulations were needed, and then to claim that global warming had actually stopped, or that climate scientists were engaged in a conspiracy of exaggeration. Because, in a two-party system, all political questions end up ranged on a left-right axis, each side spends its time trying make more and more extremist claims in order to shift the Overton window. And political loyalty demands that one defend the positions held by one’s own party; the political arena comes to feel like a permanent war zone, and dissent equals betrayal.

If you prefer the words of our Founders, here you go:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.” – George Washington

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