Thursday, August 27, 2015

Freedom and the press

Nearly a hundred people a day are shot to death in the land of the free, but not usually on live television.  When a former co-worker murdered Alison Parker and Adam Ward and wounded the woman Parker was interviewing, shock waves ran through television newsrooms yesterday.  It was appalling.

A few hours earlier, at a press conference in Iowa, a different assault on press freedom occurred.  Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos had the temerity to ask an unwelcome question of Donald Trump and was verbally abused and escorted from the room.  The appalling part was that not a single "journalist" came to his defense.  They sat quietly in their seats and watched, and no one even said, "Why don't you answer his question?"  Because if you displease the Donald, you might get trashed on Twitter, or even  thrown off the big shiny jet.  Your editor might send you out west to cover wildfires, an assignment which is unpleasant and dangerous and doesn't come with champagne and hot towels.  So, no "Yo soy Jorge Ramos" shirts or coffee mugs.  Just a lot of reporters with puddles forming under their chairs.

It was a bad day for the First Amendment. 



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The East Is In the Red

First of all, why does China, a self-described Communist state, even have a stock market?  Whoever translated Marx into Mandarin has a lot of explaining to do.  But it has, and like everything about China, it's enormous.  So we have to be concerned.

All right, I admit I'm a bad reader. I've been letting magazines pile up all summer while I read books and stuff. So I was as surprised as any non-investor could be when the Chinese stock market crashed and dragged all the others down with it. And I have no excuse. There it was in the June 8/15, 2015, edition of The New Yorker, page 36. A few excerpts:

Speculative markets can meander along, as China's did between 2010 and 2014. The danger is that, when they start to boom, they take on a life of their own and you end up with a bubble. As Robert Shiller...puts it, during a bubble, "news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm, which spreads like psychological contagion from person to person..." The market's ascent has been spurred by a flood of new money, much of it from inexperienced investors. Fourteen million new trading accounts were opened last year, and, according to one study, two-thirds of those who opened accounts never finished high school. Investors are also increasingly relying on borrowed money to buy stocks, which hugely amplifies the risk of investing...Even if the government succeeds in keeping the Chinese economy on a steady growth path...the fact remains that Chinese stocks are no longer priced for steady growth...

No, I guess not.  So if James Surowiecki knew this two months ago, why all the frenzy last week?  Don't the experts ever turn off CNBC and Bloomberg and open a magazine?  Even at the dentist?  It has cartoons.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

August even sounds like an exhausted sigh.  Too hot to think, much less write anything coherent.  And I find I have all these disjointed notes.

Two boys are swept out of their boat off the coast of Florida, and are never found.  Surely this is a local story, unless the boys are rich, and white, and neighbors of Joe Namath...aha.  Actually, it's a story about bad parents.  Who lets a couple of fourteen-year-olds gas up and head for the Bahamas?  In some places you can lose custody and/or go to jail for leaving a kid that young alone at home.   Especially if you aren't rich and white and living in the vicinity of Joe Namath.

Sad to learn of the death of Phil Austin, a/k/a Nick Danger and Bebop Loco.  Only two members of Firesign Theater left.  Part of me wants to put them with the surviving members of Beyond the Fringe and see what happens.  If anything. 

If I looked like Donald Trump I would cram my mouth with Velcro before commenting on anyone else's appearance.  The hair is only the beginning.  That troll-doll face, red and flaccid, the swollen torso rammed into a suit three sizes too small, fat little arms flailing -- he looks like the puppet the children boo.  How dare that peroxide bitch challenge him with his own words?  He couldn't plausibly call Megyn Kelly a fat pig, so he had to imply she was "on the rag," as the locker room philosophers have it.  This was the signal for the other clowns to stop bashing Planned Parenthood and vowing to "overturn" Roe v. Wade long enough to insist that they aren't nearly as misogynistic as he is -- which is like al Qaeda protesting that it isn't as depraved as ISIS.  ("We don't lop off heads, we only use truck bombs, OK?")  I totally love this.  Can they get it on the weekly fall schedule?  Veterans, Latinos, women, there must be somebody he hasn't pissed off...disabled children?  Librarians?  The Belgians?

I guess I don't write enough about Memphis.  Last Wednesday a storm came through and left thousands in the dark.  Seventieth anniversary of the Atomic Age, and Dogpatch-on-the-Mississippi can't keep the lights on when it rains.  So I missed all the local TV, including my favorite commercial.  A man who looks like anybody's grandpa is being led off in handcuffs, shaking his head as if to say, "Ain't this a shame?"  What the hell did he get arrested for, running a high-stakes checkers game in Tom Lee Park?  Never mind, his daughters walk into the bail bond office, sign over their houses and cars and, now all smiles, take Daddy home.  There he can choose from the array of lawyers who advertise night and day, car "wrecks" a specialty.  I am so far from home.


I have become a devoted fan of BBC World News, probably the most thorough, least commercial-ridden source of broadcast news.  News that is actually news, with a minimum of sky-diving  grannies, reunited twins, and all that other human-interest drivel.  News with a European slant and a little too much soccer, but...look, I may as well be honest.  I love the crawls.

Those phrases that slide across the bottom of the screen are a feature of every "news" channel, as if to say, "There's just so much to cover, we can't get it all in, go to our website, subscribe to our Twitface page, send us your photos, ooh, here comes another one..."  Yes, but the ones on the Beeb are special, intriguing, more like a secret code.  Rarely does the newsreader even mention the best ones.  A few weeks ago it said STRIKE DISRUPTS TRAINS AND UNDERGROUND, leaving me to guess which country has rail, subways and unions.  France?  Japan?  Canada?  I never did find out. 

This week the unsung hero who types these things surpassed herself/himself.  RUSSIA BULLLDOZES CHEESE MOUNTAIN, it said, causing landslides and cascades in my brain all afternoon.  Cries out for video, doesn't it?  Where is this mountain?  Why?  Who built it, and who destroyed it?  Why have I never heard of a Russian cheese?  Was Ukraine --not mentioned for weeks on American media -- somehow involved?  Did Putin sense another bare-chested photo-op and drive the lead bulldozer?  Who doesn't like cheese?

Reader, they got me.  I went to their website, and the real story is sadder, weirder, and more prosaic than you might expect:  The cheese, together with other foods, was imported illegally after Vlad the Disdainer banned products from countries which hit Russia with sanctions after the annexation of Crimea.  Russians whose rubles are steadily losing purchasing power were as outraged as Russians ever seem to get.  "It's like our authorities don't care about the people," said Olga Saveleva, who has started an online petition (which should be at "" but isn't), and whose murder will not be solved.  No, I hope not, but look at the record.

Not big enough for American newsertainment, which devoted countless hours to the lion that died so some schmuck dentist could have his Hemingway moment (#FelineLivesMatter).  How grateful we are to the BBC in these dark days, bringing us news of fresh disasters.  And decomposing cheese.