Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
December 17, 2008 - December 10, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Holiday!

A Holiday Tree without all that Christmas claptrap.
Absitively, posilutely gorgeous, ain't it? Well, ain't it?

HUMBUG. I suppose one definition of insanity would be thinking the whole world's gone insane and you haven't. Well, I'm there. Officially insane. I don't understand what atheists and other sourpusses have against Christmas, and I don't understand why anyone is paying them any attention.

You know, there are people out there who just don't want anybody else to have any fun. According to their logic, if they're miserable, everybody else should be, too. I really think that's all that's going on here with the secularist/muslim attack on Christmas. They complain here in the U.S., to us, because they can get away with it here. People listen to them and act as if their general misanthropy were some kind of valid political or cultural position. It isn't. The truth is, their only real pleasures in life are ruining someone else's good time and seeing how much total bullshit they can get away with. They've always been with us. That's why Charles Dickens wrote about Ebenezer Scrooge and why Dr. Seuss wrote about the Grinch. We used to know how to deal with them. Why have we forgotten? And since when is dyspeptic nastiness a religious, political, or philosophical stance that should be accommodated?

I don't get it. If there's one secularist (i.e., not necessarily religious) value we have turned into a de facto religion in America, it's our kids. Christmas in this country is for the kids. December is their month, the time when we do everything possible to light up their faces and conspire, at a national level, to make them believe that there is a magic in life closely associated with love. Regardless of how you feel about Christianity, Christmas has become a kind of elemental sacrament that symbolizes the circle of familial responsibility and duty. We show our children the joy of receiving gifts in an atmosphere of general good will, and as they grow older they discover that their particular gifts did not come from Santa Claus per se, but from Mom and Dad, who treasured their innocence and took joy from their delight. What better example could youngsters have in the process of learning that the greatest joy is in the giving? As they become more conscious, the children realize that their own Christmas joy was a lesser thing, wonderful to experience but as blissful in its thoughtlessness as it was in its infant purity. Too, they discover that the Christmases of their childhood were but one part of the bounty they received from their parents, including harder gifts like discipline, work, aspiration, and character. And they learn that they will do the same when they are parents and experience that greater joy, and the cycle of generations is reinforced and renewed. It is deeply moral learning without the agony of punishment. As Martha Stewart would say, it's a Good Thing.

There are complicating factors, of course, which are ambiguous and controversial. Santa Claus is a symbol of Christ cast in terms a small child can understand. He sees all, he judges, he gives, he grants wishes and secret dreams, he can minister simultaneously to the needs of all, somehow outside of time. But he is also the undying symbol of the continuum, the value of each family as part of the greater family we all belong to, with shared responsibilities and shared perceptiions of right and wrong, virtue and vice. Santa Claus can be interpreted as a child's first primer on what it means to be a human being. Who could object to that?

Who? The people who look at Christmas and see only commerce, an orgy of artificial capitalist incentives to consume and increase the power of the root of all evil, money. They're the ones who despise Santa Claus. His red uniform is dyed with the blood squeezed from the oppressed proletariat by the corrupt bourgeoisie. What, one wonders, do such ideologues see as a childhood preferable to untrue images of an elf who magically brings gifts and happiness every year? It's almost impossible to see them as anything but the new Victorians -- the ones who regarded children as miniature, imperfect adults in need of constant trials and enforcements of duty -- who insist that the magical nature of childhood should be quashed from the beginning with the grim facts about global warming, economic inequity, racial strife, war, and the senseless evil of the species accidental nature has condemned us to. For them, the worst possible outcome is the possibility that humanity and commercial capitalism might actually represent a positive and optimistic symbiosis, that our nature and our culture combine at times in a miraculous complementarity which benefits both.

Not for the first time (or the last), I'll point out that it is the so-called progressives and rationalists who hew more closely to Old Testament precepts of sin and punishment, while it is the ignorant and superstitious among us who more closely exemplify the forgiving and optimistic spirit of the New Testament. A good example of this NT spirit might be (if we could find it) an intersection of the most extreme capitalism with a profoundly positive experience for the children we all say Christmas is for.

As it happens, you can find that this year (and every year) at HGTV. This show in particular seems to demonstrate how it all works. It's about the dressing of Christmas windows in some of the most expensive department store locations in the world, including Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Macy's, Saks, and Lord & Taylor in Manhattan, as well as a smaller but also quite expensive venue in Denver. You'd think following the behind-the-scenes process of creating such window displays would make you cynical, depressed, and disgusted. But it doesn't.  At times you do feel like you're being led in that direction, but the incredibly expensive -- perhaps even decadent -- process of bringing the window designs to fruition ends with the emotional response of the designers to the children who are present, open-mouthed and ecstatic, at the unveilings. The children are moved, their parents are moved and occasionally in tears, and so are the designers. It's the magic of Christmas.

I was prepared to give Home & Garden TV (HGYV) full credit for understanding everything in this post. Until I hunted down the website reference to this show. How many mentions of Christmas do you find on their web promotion of this lovely show?

The Christmas reference in the Lord & Taylor blurb was unavoidable, since it was exclusvely about traditional Christmas favorites like cards, gifts, carols, etc. But who is it HGTV afraid of offending?  Do they really think that images such as these don't speak the word "Christmas" to everyone?


Neiman Marcus

Lord & Taylor's

So we pretend and deny and strangle ourselves with euphemisms? Why are we so particularly ashamed of what is best in us? Somebody please explain it to me. I'm insane. Obviously.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Something to See

Unitas. Berry. Unitas. Berry. And other guys too.

TIME MACHINE. It's already been shown, and you probably missed it. But the good news is that ESPN is certain to show it again because they obviously threw a lot of money at the job of transforming the old footage into high definition color. This is just a word to the sports-minded among you. It's worth every single minute you spend looking for it and watching it. The game that involved seventeen Hall of Famers and changed the course of sports history in the United States. The game that began the nation's obsession with NFL football. So many milestones. The first sudden-death overtime championship game. The first professional come-from-behind two-minute drill miracle. Maybe the most legendary names on one football field ever: Johnny Unitas, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Gino Marchetti, Raymond Berry, Pat Summerall, Lennie Moore, Roosevelt Grier. Not one of whom celebrated or performed any idiotic dance after a sack or a touchdown. They all played as matter-of-factly as if they were punching a time clock. But punching it really hard.

It's tough to say what is most affecting or impressive about what was obviously a labor of love for someone(s) at ESPN. There are many things that chip, chip at you. They don't have the whole game, so don't be expecting that. The original telecast vanished into the ether. They ran down highlight footage and pieced it together chronologically, a surprising amount of it when you consider that's how they did it. Forensic football. But what they did assemble and remaster is miraculous, a little washed out as is typical of colorized film, yet it works better in this instance than it does for old Hollywood movies because it reminds you -- despite the high-def clarity -- that this was another time, another age almost, and the difference between this and a standard NFL telecast is reminscent of the difference between live action movies and "300." Unreal but oddly three-dimensional. Yes, that's Unitas. The Main Man. It is. And it isn't. Almost literarily, you never get a real good look at him, even though he's the enigmatic superhero of the piece. Considering that what we're looking at here is a 1958 football game, it's actually kind of haunting. He is instantly recognizable and unique -- the black high-tops, the stiff-legged scrambles, the peculiarly heightened onscreen gravity of his presence as he commands his team against the odds to a victory he must somehow see inside the helmet that obscures his face more than it does other players. He's the ghost who walks, the dead hero who doesn't get the opportunity to compare notes with his latter-day heir, as most of the other key participants do.

Which is the other gem of this production. Colts and Giants. 1958 combatants paired with their counterparts from the Super Bowl Champion Colts and Giants of the last two years. Between plays, they chew the fat on camera about this and that, the little stuff and the big stuff. It's a way of seeing not just how NFL football has changed (a lot), but also how life in these United States has changed (more).  Despite the generation difference, they're all still football players, bonded at that elemental level. But there are also huge differences. Championship NFL players who had day jobs during the season, expected to hit the factory floor Monday morning regardless. Memories of a grasssless frozen field that was softened with horse manure. Winning purses of $5,000 a man. Some empty seats at Yankee Stadium for "the greatest game ever played." Rosey Grier dissing Sam Huff ("we did all the blocking so all he had to do was look good"). Recollections of Raymond Berry running pass routes with Unitas after practice was over, in the dark, and Unitas's explanation that he did it because Raymond wanted to, and "I only work here."

And the game itself. Unitas calling ALL his own plays. Engineering the unprecedented. Creating the whole future for generations of players who probably know more about the far lesser contribution of Joe Willy Namath (Unitas was hurt in '68 btw. What if...?) than they will ever know about the greatest quarterback who ever played the game. And won the greatest game ever played.

Monday, December 15, 2008

More on the Media

The "good old days" may not have been that good, either, but
they focused a lot more on the business of selling newspapers.

R-O-S-E-B-U-D. Some comments are worth responding to. This one, offered by BProxy, about the post "Their Finest Hour" may have been addressed in part by the subsequent post, but it's worth addressing separately because it focuses specifically on newspapers as an endangered species and because it articulates the position I believe most traditional media organizations would regard as the truth of the matter:

The press certainly hasn't helped its cause with all the soul-selling and bias. But bias is not the reason for the media's current struggles. It's fun and satisfying to think so, but it's not remotely close to the truth. (I'm not saying you asserted this, necessarily, but it's a common sentiment and it seems implicit in the post.)

The media's struggles have a far simpler source: the Internet. It's all basic supply-and-demand stuff. There's no longer scarcity in information delivery. And nobody has figured out how to reliably make real money online via content. Here's an irony: Because of the Internet, the mass media's audience is as big as ever, if not bigger. But because advertising online doesn't generate the sort of revenue it does in print or on-air, the media is not benefiting from that massive audience.

It really doesn't have anything to do with bias. Most news isn't about politics, for starters. A plane crashed and snow tomorrow and toddler found alive and locker-room quotes and Paul McCartney is coming to town and company did so-and-so with its stock -- that's the news. If the media can't right its ship, somebody else is gonna have to take it upon themselves to somehow collate and present that information. For free, I guess.

It's kind of sad, in a way. Screw all the political reporters and pundits. Let them rot in hell. But the rest of it... I don't know. I mean, I like newspapers. I like the notion of zeitgeist, trends ebbing and flowing, the notion that a society has a common culture and understanding and knowledge base. I like the sizzle of breaking news. I'll miss all that stuff if it goes away, or if it gets relegated to some sort of new Technorati vehicle.

Oh well. I guess we'll see what happens.

Sorry for the diversion...

Part of BProxy's analysis is right. It's true that "nobody has figured out how to reliably make real money online via content," at least in the news business. The rise of the Internet has created a structural business problem for them of considerable magnitude. But BProxy is wrong when he states that bias has nothing to do with the business problems of newspapers, and he is wrong when he implies -- as I think he does -- that newspapers couldn't have avoided their current freefall in circulation and advertising revenue. He speaks of irony. So will I. Ironically, the key fallacies are embedded in his own text:

A plane crashed and snow tomorrow and toddler found alive and locker-room quotes and Paul McCartney is coming to town and company did so-and-so with its stock -- that's the news. If the media can't right its ship, somebody else is gonna have to take it upon themselves to somehow collate and present that information. For free, I guess.

First, his defInition of news is fatally incomplete. It's more than plane crashes, fires, rapes, and McCartney concerts. It vitally includes the ins and outs of local politics, which I'll elaborate on later. Second, his final sentence exposes the reason why there shouldn't be any possibility that the grand soup of the internet as a whole could ever replace real news reporting: it costs money, and it can't be done by a distributed gang of amateurs, however large. Even now, there's still no reason the newspaper industry shouldn't recover strongly and compete vigorously in the 21st century information market.

Fancy new technologies come along all the time. The invention of the telegraph and telephone didn't kill newspapers but rather increased their capabiility. Radio didn't kill newspapers, nor did television. (And for that matter, television didn't kill radio, and the internet isn't going to kill television.) What new media technologies tend to do is force older media to rethink their strengths and weaknesses and refocus their business models on those things they do uniquely well.

To pursue the radio example, television knocked radio clean out of the business of nightly dramatic programming, daytime soap operas, and big-time national news reporting because it was impossible to compete with a box that could beam pictures as well as sound from a single network source in New York. So radio broadcasters discovered what they could do better than television and regained their prosperity. They're still doing it today. Long-format entertainment shows that could be spontaneous and unscripted because there was no need for cameramen, lighting, blocking, props, and other limiting visual artifices. Call-in shows aimed at local audiences, who were empowered to be heard on the air and express their own opinions on any number of subjects (People tend to forget that talk radio thrived in local markets for decades before Rush Limbaugh refashioned it into a national political forum.) And niche broadcasting of music genres, made spectacularly successful by the stereophonic capacity of the FM band, which television wouldn't develop for many many years. Did radio broadcasters suffer while they were relearning their business? Yes. Many businesses failed along the way. But that's just the wasteful-looking efficiency of capitalism. Those who can't compete go away. Those who can replace them.

Now, the internet appears to have chopped down the newspaper industry in just a handful of years, and there are few signs of any renaissance on the way. Is it really the case that the internet has invalidated the entire conceptual business model of newspapers? No. It's merely exposed the rot in the fatally flawed business model newspapers had been getting away with for more than a generation.

Whether BProxy likes it or not, bias is a significant part of that rot, and not just as a turn-off in and of itself to big chunks of the potential customer base. It has also crippled editorial and business decision making in a variety of ways, and worse, there's more than one kind of bias at work. These are threaded through what follows and will be mentioned as they become relevant, but there are plenty of other sins to enumerate as well: snobbery, ignorance, incompetence, laziness, addiction, lack of vision, irresponsibility, and complacency. Let's consider them in reverse order, with an initial emphasis on the small newspapers that make up the overwhelming majority of businesses in the industry.

Complacency. Most newspapers behave like monopolies. They act like they're the phone company (the old phone company, when AT&T ruled the roost): "We're the only game in town and you'll take what we give you because where else you gonna go?" They operate out of habit on a yearly schedule, much like the communities they supposedly serve. They cover these public meetings, these entertainment events, these court proceedings, and these sporting events, as well as deaths, fires, car accidents, and the occasional state or local political controversy. They cover them pretty much the way they always do, the way they did last year. Their ad revenue tends to run to form, consistent with population, which governs classified ad volume and even that of display ads for local retailers and entrepreneurs. So essentially they're order-takers. More than they'd like to admit of their news coverage operates the same way. They do puff pieces and photo ops at the request of local bigshots, and even much of their other coverage depends on what local and state police desk sergeants share with them on regularly scheduled phone calls. In fact, that's what everybody involved is doing -- phoning it in. If they've been in a long-term decline it's a gradual one and there are ways they can take up the slack without upsetting the routine too much.

Irresponsibility. They actually think they're behaving responsibly as businesses. The most important content on their pages is the ads, and the news is what there's room for after the ads and the comics page are made up. And the column inches available for news are finite, absolutely limited by what ad revenue will pay for. They think they're doing all there's room for. And so their definition of their responsibility is doing what the paper does, has always done, and they never take count of what they don't cover, and even if they occasionally go out on one small limb regarding local politics, they almost never follow up. They don't do investigative reporting. They don't dig into why the local school system is still in the bottom quartile on state test scores while tax assessments and school budgets keep increasing. They don't interrogate police about why it's still not safe to walk downtown while the police cars get more sinister-looking and expensive every year. They don't research detailed biographies of candidates for local elections or report on their voting history when they come up for reelection. They don't call the county road department on the carpet about why five businesses in a neighboring hamlet have been shut down for five months by a bridge project nobody ever seems to be working on. They don't interview members of the planning commission, zoning board, and housing authorities about decisions they've made in secret that affect hundreds or thousands of people. They don't augment the nice photo of the new poster created by the Economic Re-Redevelopment Commission (the fourth in ten years) with in-depth reportage of how and when exactly the commission is finally going to attract new business to town this time. Why? There's no room. It's all taken up with photos of the Jaycees and the octogenarian Garden Club, a numbly written feature about the local glassblower, and a pictorial essay about this year's farm fair.

Lack of Vision. It doesn't occur to them that if they actually reported the news, dug up the news, that more people might buy the paper, more businesses might advertise in it, and along the way, some actual good might come out of it. Maybe if the paper got out of its rut, the town might, and the voters, and municipal and school board officials might start getting more accountable, doing their jobs better, based on the idea that the best cure for the bad things that grow in the dark is sunlight. And because none of this ever occurred to them, the rise of the oh-so-threatening internet didn't strike them as an opportunity to escape from the tyranny of column inches -- as a gigantic, in fact unlimited, "continued to" page whose password comes free with every paid subscription. No, the internet was only a junky new fad that was somewhere you had to be with a bunch of the same old meaningless junk reformatted to be even harder to navigate than it is in the paper.

Addiction. Let's pretend a smallish newspaper and its staff really understood their journalistic responsibility and wanted to discharge as much of it as possible within the obvious limitations of column inches. Why on earth would they piss away so many of those inches on wire service copy from the AP? Because otherwise their readers might miss rereading a big or freaky national story they could see anyway on the nightly news or CNN? Because otherwise their readers might tumble to the fact that the local paper isn't a publication of vast national and international reach? [Gasp] Or because they've been paying for this wire service subscription for years and now they depend on it, couldn't even fill the few column inches they allocate to news now without it?

Laziness. Well, of course they could go cold-turkey from the AP and hire another reporter or a few stringers to do more local reporting, but let's face it. It's easier to keep doing what you've been doing all these years. It's easier and it's been working pretty well, hasn't it? And besides...

Incompetence. Don't let all the talk and publicity surrounding prestigious graduate schools of journalism fool you. There aren't that many of those in the first place, and most so-called journalists are the product of undergraduate majors in journalism (or even worse, broadcast journalism), which teach journalism the way most education majors teach teaching, with a lot of meaningless junk courses that leave them as fundamentally uneducated in the basics as they were at the end of high school. What do journalism majors learn about writing? That every sentence is a paragraph. They don't learn grammar, diction, sentence structure,  exposition, or rhetoric (so they can leave it out). They learned how to write in high school didn't they? They don't learn the unique cyclical newspaper style of repeatedly returning to the same points with additional detail as the article progresses so that editors can break the piece where they want to and readers can quit reading when they've gotten the level of detail that's enough for them. Why? There are no more long pieces in 90 percent of newspapers. No room. (Does anyone remember the joke told on USA Today in its earlier years? What did that paper win a Pulitzer for? Best investigatve paragraph.) Most of the journalists in this country couldn't write a news story if they had one dropped in their laps from above.

Ignorance. And they don't know anything about reporting, either. Their idea of reporting is to ask a question at a press conference, a meeting, or on the phone and get a usable quote. They're content to be filled in on the subject matter by one or more experts who claim to know what they're talking about and trust the majority opinion or the editorially desired opinion. Specializing in any subject in today's newspaper environment is a matter of acquiring your own stable of subject matter experts who can provide all the background and quotes needed to cover the topic of the moment. Which has absolutely nothing to do with being a good reporter. Real reporters are most of all quick studies. They know how to learn a great deal about any subject in a remarkably short period of time. They don't trust any authority, any expert, any professional mouthpiece but themselves, because anyone and everyone could be lying to you. It's a lot like being a good cop.

That's why in the old old days, reporters frequently started on the police beat. They learned about lying from the experts and the elusiveness of facts from the messy world of crime scenes and the world weary cast of characters that always surrounded those crime scenes. If they were smart and learned their lessons well, that prepared them for the truly gifted liars and more subtle crime scenes of city hall. They were protected in the monastic isolation of their craft by the fact that they had no discernible social status. They didn't go to cocktail parties or theater openings with the people they were covering. They learned to take pride in being a breed apart. Their job wasn't to be liked, or admired, or feted, or to receive awards, but to get the story. And that's something most of them would have told you you can't get a college degree in, at least not one worth the paper it's printed on.

There are a few reporters like that still, but not many. The journalism majors aren't taught that subject matter knowledge is important to being an effective independent reporter, and they don't have any. I doubt that they're even required to take economics, history, statistics, business law, a hard science of any kind, or a course in the American Constitution to qualify for the degree they get, although all of these disciplines are routinely relevant to covering everything from a government report to a piece of legislation to a case of possible political corruption. (The value of the hard science course is to teach you what knowing something thoroughly might feel like, why you probably don't know anything that thoroughly yourself, and how you go about the difficult business of teaching yourself something technical for which you have no natural aptitude -- like, say, the process for testing whether the macadam used in a road project meets the technical specification required by the contract for County Road 645 in your town.) I dare say the good reporters that presently exist in technical fields like aviation, climate, finance, and agriculture started in those fields and migrated to journalism because they had a fire in the belly to report the stories experts didn't know how to tell or didn't want anyone else to know.

Snobbery. But who wants to be a reporter on the police beat? Nobody. Everyone today wants to be Woodward and Bernstein, whose success story is (as popularly told) mostly about sources, access, and an overweening desire to save the world. But the purpose of being Woodward and Bernstein is, ultimately, not really to save the world, because everyone knows it can't be saved, but to be seen fighting on the side of the angels and rewarded accordingly. With fat book contracts, TV appearances, and... well... fame, money, invitations to all the right parties, and best of all, power.

Which is why the newspaper business in particular has created a kind of pyramid of snobbery that has rotted the industry from the top down and the bottom up. Another irony (just for BProxy, who loves them so): the newspaper business is, despite its Johnny-One-Note fixation on the democratic principle of free speech, an almost purely feudal aristocracy with scant ties to the capitalist system in which it presumably competes like other businesses.

Just as an exercise, name as many American industries as you can that have been dominated by individual families so significantly that a family name and a company/industry became permanently intertwined. For example: the Rockefellers and Standard Oil (SO/Esso/Exxon), the duPonts and Dupont (chemicals), Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company. In these three cases, members of the family continued to run the family business for multiple generations. All of these traditions finally gave way in the twentieth century. Yet the news business was dominated for most of the twentieth century by five family-run enterprises, at least four of which continued under the same family's management into the twenty-first century. There was Henry Luce, who (co)founded Time Magazine in 1922 and ran it in one form or another until 1967 (after which his closest associate since 1929 ran it for another dozen years) . There was William Randolph Hearst, who founded a newspaper empire that is still privately owned and managed by Hearst family members today. There was the Graham family, which acquired control of The Washington Post in 1933 and retained that control through 2001. There was Knight-Ridder, the first component of which was established in 1892 by Herman Ridder, which became a chain that was finally sold off in 2005 after years of decline presided over by CEO Tony Ridder. And there is the Sulzberger family, which is currently completing its 112th year in the office of Publisher of The New York Times.

The purpose in reciting this history is not to indict American plutocracy. It's to illuminate the social structure of the American newspaper business model, which is more obsolete caste system than adaptive entrepreneurial organism. The Publisher has the big office and does little while the managing editor scurries like a rat to feed the printing presses that are always hungry and always page-limited by ad revenues. (Yes, I'm generalizing, but this model does account for what has happened in recent years, so bear with me.) It's not a system that would have survived in any major industry, but it has survived in this one because of unique market forces that are only changing, very belatedly, at this late date. Until the blossoming of the Internet, all the flaws in the business model were forgiven by two universal truths: 1) It's a kick like a heroin rush to see your name in print, ten times that if it's a byline; and 2) if your business is words, and people read those words, you automatically command respect beyond that of other entrepreneurs who produce only money It may be a less sweeping form of celebrity than people who are beautiful and sexy and in the movies, but it's every bit as powerful to a lot of powerful people.

Bottom line? Even small town newspaper publishers are respected beyond their financial success. By gar, they put out the paper. So who do the small town newspaper publishers emulate? The bohunkus who opens five car dealerships or ten furniture stores? No. They emulate Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Every small town newspaper is positioned as the local New York Times. It feels like The New York Times because it has no local competition. That vanished years ago. (I live in a small town among many small towns in the rural half of the state; every small town newspaper in the eight nearest counties is "the paper of record," without competition from other papers.) And there are ties to the high end of the caste.

In fact, almost all newspapers are feudal vassals of The New York Times. The Times is king, of course, but second tier cities are dukes (The Times owns the Boston Globe, for example), and below them are earls and knights and squires. How many days a week does your local paper feature a national news headline? About the Obama election? Or the Scandal with No Name? That's not reporting. That's the runoff down the slopes of the aristocratic pyramid. We are the newspaper of record. For you. The peasants we happen to command. So why would we care if you're getting ripped off by your local freeholders, dirty contractors, and hyper-organized teachers?

You see, this is where the bias comes in. Where the contempt comes in. Where the hatred for the customer comes in. We are the nobles. You are the peasants. We own the words and the pictures of the local reality and until we print them, they don't exist; you don't exist without us to make your lives real. And so your reality is what we say it is. Only that and nothing more. Part of the enforcing authority is that we can make you believe what we believe, and our beliefs come from the very highest levels, the most educated and best informed and most enlightened of the most elite among us. That's where the crazy left-wing political bias enters the picture and starts to piss people off. Because at least half the peasants don't agree. And NEVER will. Jeez. Is it possible? Them getting pissed off at our editorials? Them starting to see our biased rhetoric in straight news articles? Them cancelling subscriptions? Yes. Them ARE cancelling subscriptions. On account of bias, on TOP of a whole generation of other failures. To the small town paper. The county newspaper. The city newspaper. And even (gasp) the "paper of record" for the whole damn country. How dare they? Because you sit there like a placid little turd, polishing yourself as if you were some gleaming jewel while the light of the world exposes you as compost. Lords of dung.

Just imagine what the Internet did to that bullshit feudal perspective. Anyone, everyone could speak, get printed, have a byline, sit in the equivalent of the publisher's chair. For free. How come the newspaper barons failed to see the Internet as an opportunity? How come their sponsored serfs felt obligated to begin trashing everyone who dared to blog while professional journalists were writing weak, sloppy articles that could be machine-gunned to death with facts? How come newspapers panicked rather than responded to the presence of a huge new media technology?

Because they were the last nineteenth century business left in America. And they will hit the canvas like a ton of bricks for that very reason. They are the amateurs now in a new world that has changed all the rules and no longer cares about their self-granted medieval titles.

For the record, Welles's Kane was Henry Luce as well as
Hearst. He wasn't talking about one man, but a pattern.
You can skip to 7:15 min in for the Noblesse Oblige act.

Final question: If nobody wants to take the lesson, why do they keep voting "Citizen Kane" the greatest movie ever made? The press, I mean.

A closing thought. If newspapers really WERE a business instead of a caste system, how might they have responded to unlimited column inches and the unfettered opportunity to do real reporting to maximum capacity? No force on earth is better positioned to do LOCAL reporting to LOCAL audiences than LOCAL newspapers. It's an unbreakable business model. If they'd just DO it. But apparently they're too old to and too good to. If there ARE reporters out there somewhere, they're sharpening their blades as we speak. Unless America is as weak and supine as Obama thinks it is, they will kick ass in newsprint and on the Internet. And, BProxy, political bias isn't one of the knives in their optimum kit. So there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Decline of Capitalism,
Mass Media Style...

An alternative rock band called 'The Jesus and Mary Chain'. From
Scotland, the birthplace of capitalism. If it looks like they're turning
their backs on their audience, they are. They were famous for that...

FOREVER PUNK. I'm going to start this in left field, so try to keep up. There will be a point to it all, I promise. Have you heard of The Jesus and Mary Chain? They emerged on the U.K. rock scene in 1992 with a single called Upside Down, which was (according to Wiki)  "reminiscent of 1960s 'wall of sound' pop music of the like created by... Phil Spector, but Upside Down gives the material a noisy post-punk treatment, with brutally simple drums and one guitar playing shrill feedback throughout most of the song.". Here's what else Wiki says about them:

The Jesus and Mary Chain's early gigs have become somewhat legendary in indie circles. Playing in front of small audiences, the Mary Chain earned their notoriety by playing very short gigs, some lasting no more than 10 minutes and consisting of a constant wall of feedback and distortion, as well as playing with their backs to the audience and refusing to speak to them. Many shows culminated with the Reids trashing their equipment, which was often followed by the audience rioting.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? The band ascribed its impact to the fact that they were better than everyone else, although they seemed simultaneously pleased by the rioting and disdainful of the audience generally (see here for riot footage and band interviews). They broke up in 1997, well short of worldwide superstardom. But like many other flashes in the pan, they have recently reunited. Here's what they're doing now:

On January 22, 2007, the band was confirmed as one of the acts for Coachella 2007. They were joined on stage by actress Scarlett Johansson for their April 27, 2007 main-stage performance...

In an interview to Uncut Magazine, [frontman] Jim Reid announced that a new album by the band is in the works. In March 2008, the band released a studio recording of "All Things Must Pass" on the soundtrack album to the NBC television drama Heroes. It is the first new song to be released by the Jesus and Mary Chain since 1998.

Rhino Records has released the much waited for 4 CD box set entitled The Power of Negative Thinking: B-Sides & Rarities. The box set consists of material from the Barbed Wire Kisses, The Sound Of Speed and The Jesus And Mary Chain Hate Rock and Roll compilations, alongside unreleased tracks and rarities from throughout their career; including early performances, unheard demos, re-mixes, alternate versions of some songs and bootleg recordings. Originally slated for a February 2008 release, the box set finally landed on September 29, 2008. [boldface mine]

So the one-time bad boys are at last becoming commercially savvy, aware that at some point you have to turn toward your audience and maybe even cater to the low tastes represented by Hollywood cheesecake and mass-audience television series. Apparently, the capitalist component of their Scottish heritage is reawakening. Now they want to take credit for having been very bad boys in the past, but they intend to be good enough to reap some financial rewards in the future. So much for negative thinking and hating rock and roll.

But what does this have to do  with the decline of capitalism and the behavior of the mass media? Quite a lot, actually. There was never anything very new about the Jesus and Mary Chain. If you'd cared to think about it, you could probably have made them up yourself as a next-generation successor to the Sex Pistols, who rebelled against the titanically successful corporatized rock and roll of the Rolling Stones who, may I remind you, started the whole sex-drugs-and-screw-you bad boy act in the first place. But something got unhooked along the way. Entertainment is a business, dependent upon popular appeal. Jagger and the Stones (Keith notwithstanding) always understood that. The Sex Pistols didn't. They built their careers on the back of the very band they professed to contemn; without the Stones precedent, no one would have been looking for the next badder bad boy of rock, and no one would have given a moment's attention to a band that was proud of not being being able to play very well or even play a set without a snootful of heroin. A generation later, nobody would have been interested in a band that turned its backs on the audience, hardly played any songs in a set at all, and sabotaged the ones they did play with ear-splittingly screechy feedback. You can pretend that all of these are artistic developments, but what they really are is the narcissistic pretensions of wannabes who've forgotten what their business is.

Which is what made me think of this history as a way of looking at what's become of the news business. When you consider it carefully, the Rolling Stones are a near perfect metaphor for the ascendancy of the "profession" of journalism in America. Newspapermen didn't used to be journalists. They were reporters. They were the wrong side of the tracks of the writing life. On the one hand you had poets, novelists, playwrights, critics, and academicians, all of whom had been to college or the equivalent, and on the other you had the blue-collar wordsmiths who knocked on doors, asked terrible questions of grieving mothers and widows, and practiced a stripped down use of words that may occasionally have intimated truths but for the most part prided itself on sticking to the facts: who, what, when, where, and how. For the literateurs words were paint, music, characters, and ideas. For the reporters, words were just tools: the hammer and nails that turned facts into a chronological story.

Most of you don't remember the parallel rise of the Beatles and Stones. Beginning with the Rubber Soul Album, the Beatles were appropriated by the literary set, which was a real first for rock music.. They were described as poets, innovators, emotionally nuanced, musically sophisticated, a cultural prodigy regarded as transformational and transcendent. (I can remembr a classically trained music teacher playing "She's Leaving Home" for the class with tears streaming down his cheeks.) The Stones were the dark side of the British invasion, crude, vulgar, and dirty, musically derivative, and just possibly Satanic. (Which they proceeded to exploit to great effect, of course.) But it was ultimately the Beatles who fell by the wayside, the Stones who kept on trucking to become "The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World" (an epithet they coined for themselves btw).

Now think of the rise of modern American journalism. There's definitely a Beatles/Stones flavor to it. Journalism came very late to the profession game. Harvard Law School was founded in 1817. Columbia's School of Journalism was founded in 1912. And it took many years after that for journalism to take on the habiliments of a profession. As late as the 1960s, most major cities had two competing newspapers -- one Republican and one Democrat, with no one doubting the slant each provided to the news of the day. (The Chicago Tribune vs. the Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer vs. the Philadelphia Bulletin, The San Francisco Chronicle vs. The San Francisco Examiner, The New York Times vs. The Wall Street Journal vs The New York Daily News/Sun/Post/Observer, etc.) The editorial pages of these papers were partisan; the news pages were Joe Friday's "just the facts, ma'am." It took television to turn the news business into show business. Edward R. Murrow, Eric Severaid, and Walter Cronkite on CBS News. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC News.  Personalities began to predominate over the news itself. Ed, Eric, Walter, Chet, and David became The Beatles of journalism. Just like the Beatles, they were deceptively friendly but still in thrall to an agenda. With one possible exception, they were all classical New Deal Democrats, but also, and also classically, determined to appear as unprejudiced as possible.

With their skyrocketing fame and salaries, they did for reporting what the Beatles did for rock and roll. They made it acceptable, respected, even highbrow. But then came The Rolling Stones of the newspaper biz. Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post revived the concept of the bad boy reporter and brought down President Nixon. And just like the Stones, theirs was the template that took over an entire industry. There have been no heirs of Lennon and McCartney capable of filling stadiums and selling multi-platinum records. When the history of rock and roll is written, Jagger will be seen as the most influential figure ever. He has personally spawned hundreds of direct imitators, most of whom have not survived him. So it was with the Jagger/Richards combo of the Washington Post. The thought that a journalist could bring down a president, "make a difference," and "change the world" was responsible for recruiting  multiple generations of professional "journalists" who thought their job was not to report the facts but to sway public opinion in the direction they preferred.

But here's what's really interesting. They didn't follow the one truly successful model -- The Rolling Stones, who until recently managed to court controversy without taking explicit political stances. Instead, they fell into the same trap that has given us The Sex Pistols and The Jesus and Mary Chain Gang. They thought they could keep upping the ante until their very contempt for the audience would guarantee their success. It doesn't. Never has. Never will.

The mainstream media are the Jesus and Mary Chain. They turn their backs on an audience without whose support they have no chance of surviving. They are open in their contempt for the education, understanding, and life experience of the people they expect to buy their papers, watch their TV shows, listen to their insights. Working for economic institutions that have become monopolies, they can't even remember that pissing off half the potential market is the stupidest career decision anyone could make.  We're really supposed to admire them and buy their product because of their repeated arrogant assurances that they're smarter than we could ever hope to be. Unless we agree with them in every particular.

MAJOR CHANGE OF DIRECTION: Sorry. This is an old-style instaPunk entry, the kind that gets us slammed by lefty websites who think that anything long is automatically self-indulgent and pretentious. Maybe it is. But I'll keep going anyway. You see, I was going to contrast the self-destructive behavior of the media with the normal conduct of business, just to show how stupid it is to expect continued prosperity from a practice of disdaining your customers. AS IF the journalists were the only ones guilty of that.

And then I remembered. I have actual personal, professional experience in both the banking and automotive industries. And they have come to their current pass by acting exactly like the journalists.

I used to be a management consultant. I worked with both General Motors and what was then the NCR component of AT&T. The last time I addressed a large business audience was at NCR, in a conference on the the hot topic of the day, customer satisfaction. I told an audience of executive and senior executive bank vice presidents that they were in a unique position. I told them all the assets they made decisions about and used to make more money with didn't belong to them or their shareholders but their customers. I told them how ironic it was that they were nevertheless the only major industry who systematically  treated their customers like criminals. I compared them unfavorably to the automotive industry, in which product warranties had reached the level of guaranteed maintenance and repair for as much as five years of product life while they, the bankers, were still punishing customers for overdrafts based on the (absolutely in the age of electronic transactions) fraudulent pretense that it took five days to process a check from Pennsylvania to Ohio. I invited them to remember that they were more, not less, dependent on the continuing faith of their customers than industrial corporations. I invited them to regard their institutions as businesses with customers who could be driven away, not as sinecures for their automatic success. I suggested that the acquisition fever which then gripped the banking industry was a form of denial, which could not forever hide the business problem of an industry that hated its own customers. When I finished, there was no applause. I was never invited back.

I could have saved a lot of time by saying "Don't play your music with your back turned to the audience. If they decide they don't like you, you're done."

And then I also thought about my time working with General Motors. And with the UAW (under a separate contract). The more I thought about it, the more I realized they've also turned their back on the audience. Not publicly. They haven't run the advertising campaign which suggests that everyone who doesn't "buy American" is a traitorous malcontent none of us should invite over for dinner or go bowling with. They've done it in far more serious and fatal ways. Their corporate cultures have commanded ignorance and denial. I worked with GM management for four years on quality improvement and the implementation of Toyota's Just-in-Time manufacturing methods. I wrote executive speeches, video scripts, training materials, and did in-depth research to help them translate theory into valid implementation models. The more work I did for them, the more darkly they regarded the Toyota MR2 I drove into the lot. I was warned about the danger of getting keyed or otherwise vandalized, and I was warmly congratulated when I finally bought a GM SUV (that was twice stolen on business trips to Detroit).

I learned in the course of my experience with GM management that the company spent more on market research than any other corporation in the world. I learned that it took two full-time engineers a year to design a taillight. I learned that there were so many layers of GM management and so many meetings that a business unit could operate for three or four months without ever laying eyes on its boss. I also learned that from top to bottom, the people who planned, designed, and built GM cars had never driven the competitors' cars. Way back then, the one reform I wanted to enact at GM was to make all the executives I worked with spend weeks or months driving my MR2, not fulminating at its presence in the parking lot. A few months of that would have eliminated the need for most of their market research. Everything about my little Toyota was better than anything GM did. The fit and finish, the driving position, the quality of the materials, the feel of the vehicle as a unit, the suspension, the smoothness of the motor, every damn thing. They had a direct competitor at the time, the Pontiac Fiero. It sucked. Five minutes in my car would have convinced any GM executive of that. They never got that five minutes.

As I said, I also worked with the UAW. They hired my firm to get better at winning elections in the "transplants"; i.e., the foreign firms who had set up manufacturing and assembly plants for Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Honda in the U.S. Our first recommendation to UAW leadership was to cease persecuting workers at those plants -- stop keying their cars, denying them access to parking spaces in UAW local parking lots, and making life miserable for them generally. They responded that they couldn't do that. Not ever. They, too, had never driven, and never would, a foreign car.

Hell, I drew up driving them both. I'm an American, not a damn Detroit-Stalinist. I've driven everything (can't list it all here), but what I do know is that the best car is not Japanese or Korean or American. It's part American, to be sure, but also part Japanese, part Korean, part British, part German, and even part French. It's a worldwide industry. Here's the worst thing I learned about GM in four years of trying to help them become more competititive: as recentlyy as 20 years ago, GM cars still had excessively small tires and large wheel wells because in Detroit, in winter, you have to put chains on your tires against the snow and ice that afflicts Detroit and Buffalo. But almost nowhere else, let along in America, is that so.

And now they want us to save them. That's beggng for credit for turning their backs on all the rest of us.

I'm not taking the bait. All the crap about "buying American" has allowed them to get away with building inferior product for at least a generation. To this day, there's still no GM car with a driving position I can live with. They've learned nothing. In the final analysis it's not about the unions or the management per se; it's about the vehicles. My current Toyota MR2 (2002, because Toyota has also forgoten how to build a sexy car) cost half what a Porsche Boxster did, goes like a scalded cat, corners at 1.0 g, never breaks, and gets 34 mpg. And according to the media, the Big Three, and the U.S. Congress, I'm supposed to feel guilty for not appreciating how they've been looking out for me with their backs turned.

Truth is, the whole lot of them are guilty of the same sin as The Jesus and Mary Chain. They joined up in a going concern they thought could make everyone rich indefinitely, and they forgot that you actually have to be good at what you say you do.

In the words of Governor Blagojevich, F___ them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Unnamed Scandal Update:

Their Finest Hour

WE TRIED TO WARN THEM. You have to admire the selfless heroism on display here. NBC is going down in financial flames, Newsweek and NPR are laying off employees right and left, and even The New York Times is faced with mortgaging Punch's Palace to keep creditors at bay, while the rest of the newspaper industry is confronting plunging ad and subscription revenues that threaten to wipe them out across the board. Yet what is their response when a juicy scandal falls into their laps even earlier in the Obama era than it did in the recordbreaking Clinton era? They are moved to explain away the scandal completely and assure all us curious American dumbshits that there's nothing to see here, really, so move on. One mentally disturbed government official with a foul-mouthed slut of a wife went completely nuts for no reason, and we shouldn't even be interested in pursuing our natural but ill-founded questions about how this might reflect on the president-elect and his closest advisers on the transition team.

Wow. Double wow. Dare I say it? Triple wow. That's quite a stand to take when your whole industry, and the livelihoods of everyone in that industry, depends on public curiosity about the rich, powerful people who presume to lead us. Curious about Chicago politics? Forget it. The governor is just some accidental loon. Are, or were, Obama and the governor of Illinois close colleagues and have they spoken recently? Waste of time to even ask. No point. Unthinkable. Did you hear the kind of language the slut-wife used? Well, then. There you go. Barack and Michelle would never associate with that kind of trash for a moment. All of this is just a big misunderstanding, you'll see. Jesse Jackson, Jr? Didn't you hear the thrill of emotion in his voice when he denied knowing that some anonymous idiot -- also obviously crazy as a bedbug -- offered Buggevitch a bunch of money for Obama's senate seat? There you go.

And don't think this is partisan. Fox News is standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the MSM. You should have seen the disgusted look on Steve Doocy's face yesterday when Chicago DJ Mancow reported that in Chicago at least, where political corruption is the very air they breathe, people were speculating that Candidate 5 -- the one bidding a half-mill for Obama's legacy black senate seat -- was Jesse Jackson, Jr. He was icy in his declaration that there was no evidence of that whatsoever. And today, when the Jackson rumor was confirmed as fact, Doocy was absolute in his assertion that none of the wiretaps involved principals, only unnamed whoevers. So there.

With this kind of evident, patriotic integrity, it's harder than ever to understand why people just aren't buying newspapers and news magazines anymore. Why the mass media have an approval rating approaching the catastrophic levels of the U.S. Congress. Why people are gradually tuning out on the cable news networks. Why journalism as a supposed profession is widely seen as dead as a doornail.

Consider the irony. How many years -- how many decades? -- have people complained that the press brings us only the bad news and never the good. Now, when they've made it clear that the news about Obama will be forever, absolutely and incontrovertibly good, they stillwant to kill the messenger. So much the unfairness of things.

I'd leave it there for all of you to stew about in the rank landfills of your degraded consciences, but there's one more point that has to be made. When you circle the wagons around the tents of those who must be protected at all costs, who are you protecting them against? In this case, I guess, it would be the U.S. Cavalry, the constitutionally authorized forces of law and order whom the MSM have long known to be the true ogres on the American scene. That's a formidable enemy to be sure, and it explains more than anything else ever could why the members of the fourth estate are apparently willing to cut the throats of their own businesses, and themselves, to save the One from harm, in advance of the facts they have no interest in reporting.

If The New York Times should somehow survive for another thousand years days, people will always say of them, "Truly, this was their finest hour."

That sure beats doing their damn job. Don't it?

P.S. [A Notation in the "InstaPunk is always right" file] Here's what I said back in July:

All of which makes me wonder big-time if the MSM understands how huge a catastrophe for themselves all the salaaming before the Obamessiah is bringing down on their own thoughtless heads...

Continue being the same adoring cheerleaders you've been so far -- through the inevitable crises and missteps and blunders and failures -- and the already tottering structure of the MSM will collapse in cataclysmic ruin. You will bore your dwindling audience absolutely to death, and they will begin seeking honest news reporting elsewhere. (As they have been, btw, for some time now; how's NYT stock doing these days, kemo sabe?)

The nature of your bet thus far is idiotic -- that Obama really is the absolute answer to everyone's prayers you so want him to be. He isn't. He's a flesh-and-blood man who will stumble and err and make some truly awful decisions. When that happens, your extravagantly uncritical support for his rise to power will make you accountable to many Americans before you cover the first act of his administration. And when he does take office, the fact that you have let him rewrite all the rules of what is and is not fair coverage in political reporting will do you in no matter what course you choose. Criticize him and be branded with some of the worst labels available in these United States. (The New Yorker is anti-muslim? Anyone? Please.) Suck up to him and go rapidly out of business -- not to mention lose all the power you have so jealously acquired and used so self-righteously in the last hundred years.

Take your pick.

Or, in the current environment, pick your poison. Who was it who said something about "chickens coming home to roost"? I forget. How about you?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

YouTube Wednesday:

Obama's Fantastic Voyage

Be patient. We'll get to the relevance. In the meantime, enjoy Raquel.

ATONEMENT FOR YESTERDAY. You've gotta love the new scandal erupting in Illinois. (Anyone want to place any bets on whether the MSM will dub it "ChicagoGate," "GovernorGate," or "SenatorGate"? We're offering 10-1 against.) To me it seems there are already two major stories being ignored as the lions of the media start ripping at the carcass of Governor Buggevitch. How many more stories will (not) emerge as this sorry melodrama plays itself out on TV and in the papers? Well, those are questions for later on. Right now we're concerned with just two.

How is this not a huge story about mass media negligence? Why are the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Boston Globe not being printed on red paper today, or at least pink, signifying the utter embrarrassment they should be feeling? The cesspool of Illinois and Chicago-style machine politics that's being revealed just now was surely relevant to the voters' ability to assess the career of Barack Obama, since all his time in elected office before he started running for the presidency (in Year One of his tenure as a U.S. Senator) occurred in Chicago, Illinois. Think about it. All the crooks we are suddenly learning about, and will be learning about in weeks to come, should have been household names a year ago, revealed by the national media's professional determination to vet a wholly unknown aspirant to the highest office in the land. We should already know everything about politics-as-usual in a state where two previous governors are serving prison terms for corruption and the current mayor of Chicago is the son of the most successful -- and openly acknowledged, to the point of humor -- old-time political boss in the United States, Richard J. Daley. But truthfully, everything we're learning today is news to us. All of us. What a mess. Obama came from this? How exactly? In short, we should already know every jot and tittle of the second huge unmentioned story, which is...

The Fantastic Voyage of Barack Obama. So. Somehow, Barack Obama started his political career in this sewer of corruption, rose to elected office and fame without ever being slowed, sidetracked, or done in by the ubuquitous dirty dealing, and has now ascended to the presidency of the United States just as the whole rotten political infrastructure he cut his teeth on is collapsing, and he is still miraculously above suspicion of doing anything that's not squeaky squeaky clean. Well, hell. That's a tremendous story if there ever was one. No wonder his supporters speak of him in Christ-like terms.

But how exactly does someone -- anyone -- do that? It's almost as if his entire journey through the diseased body of Chicago politics occurred inside a specially constructed cocoon of sterility, something like a tiny, high-tech hospital ship. I'm prepared to believe that. I suppose. But some explanation, based on research and hard factual reporting, would be a big help. All I've got at the moment is a kind of blurry science fiction image that's long on dramatic music and short on, well, everything else.

I can't make it out. Is that Michelle fighting off those corrupt antibodies?
Is that the Rezko deal? Or something more sinister? Waitig for WAPO...

Or do you see something I don't?

Some Simple Arithmetic

THEY ACTUALLY BUILT THIS DAMN THING. I hate to interrupt all the high-finance chatter about the pros and cons of the projected Detroit bailout. I really do. But I've just performed one act of addition and one act of division (on my Microsoft onscreen calculator), and I have a question: What the hell is going on here?

Let's get right to it. Here are revenue figures for General Motors in 2007.

Ford Revenues for the same year.

And for DaimlerChrysler.

With me so far? All that adds up to $557,666,400,000. Which is 557 billion dollars.

Are you starting to get it? What percent of $557 billion is $15 billion. The answer?


What is that? How to make it real and understandable to us ordinary folk? Let's say you're a struggling entrepreneur with business problems so acute you can't survive without an immediate infusion of cash. Let's say you're a one-man business and you're presently taking in $100 a day. Would you hand over an ownership interest and some degree of management control of all your future operations for $2.60 a day? That's not a bailout. It's a pittance. It's a slap in the face. It's tip money. You could achieve the same financial effect by trading your daily Starbucks Vente for a cup of java from McDonald's. Even if your business is in immediate danger of closing its doors forever, $2.60 a day or $13 a week isn't going to save it. Even if you can get the whole $676 total right now, it's not going to save your ass. It's barely more than one week of income. It's just a bad joke.

What the hell is going on here?

It's not a bailout. It's a sellout. The CEOs of the American auto industry are in the process of delivering a huge chunk of the American economy into the hands of the federal government for the purpose of absolving themselves of all responsibility. The computation they've performed doesn't even require a calculator: "In for a penny, in for a pound." That's their arithmetic. Once the tap opens, they figure they'll be able to drink from it endlessly forever as wholly owned vassals of the state. $15 billion? Try a long-term pricetag of $15 trillion, with no end in sight. This insultingly cheap and easy betrayal of their shareholders and the American public makes Judas's 30 pieces of silver look like a princely fortune. They're pretending they can save their grossly mismanaged companies for the corporate equivalent of a cup of coffee a day.

How do you feel about that? Do you want to consider gravely the oh-so-complicated yes/no question of the Great Detroit Bailout? Or do you want to grab a pitchfork and head to Detroit and Dearborn to administer a serious ass whuppin'?

I know how I feel. But why can't anybody else in the MSM or the financial press perform two simple operations of arithmetic? I'd love it if somebody could explain that to me.

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