Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Good Press, Bad Press...

     I'm informed that no Press is the worst Press, but it depends on who you ask.

     Reading Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check (1919) is like looking in a funhouse mirror.  Sinclair was a socialist, of the American early-twentieth Century type, meaning he ran with union organizers, Wobblies and people who set up co-operative stores, living arrangements and other communal ventures; think of him as Bernie Sanders with much more sweat equity and a whole lot less free money from the government.  The book is an expose of American journalism in his day, and that's where it gets interesting: the newspapers and magazines of his time were nearly all controlled by large and quite conservative businesses; publishers were highly interventionist and it was not uncommon for editors to have a list of people and events who were not to get positive coverage -- and others who were never to be mentioned in a negative way.

     Sound familiar?

     I find Sinclair a bit tiresome; his style is arch and slightly whiny and he has the same "true believer" mindset you can find all across the political spectrum: everyone on his side is well-intentioned if not downright saintly, the movers and shakers on the other side are uniformly villains, reporters and editors are craven at best and often willing accomplices.

     Still sound familiar?

     It's still much the same game.  Oh, the interests and focuses of the movers and shakers are different; the methods are more subtle, and there are a whole lot more voices and "publications," on paper, on the air and online.  Some of Sinclair's fondest dreams came true -- a 40-hour week, overtime, old-age pensions, and the like.  But the game plays on -- and the warning is the same: don't believe everything you see in the paper (etc.); don't be surprised when eyewitness testimony and new reports seem askew.

     Outliers like Upton Sinclair are the canaries in the coal mine.  Oh, they often faint dramatically, but they serve a useful function.

     The Press both guide and reflect popular sentiment, and they cast public figures into simple molds.  Simple and often inaccurate.  Of necessity, reporting removes context: they can't tell you everything, so they focus on what they deem important and that's a subjective process. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dignity Matters

     Look, I'm sorry, but dignity matters.  Especially if you're the village preacher, the Mayor...or President of the United States.  You wear a nice suit and you mind what you say.  As President Coolidge observed, in public office, "...the American public wants a solemn ass...."

     I just spent ten minutes looking up the source of a Presidentially-applied nickname, thanks to Mr. Trump using it (as he has for at least six years) and a social-media teapot-tempest that erupted over it.  Sources I can trust to take a jaundiced view of President Trump, from a Left-leaning Israeli newspaper to the Washington Post, not to mention the guy who carries the nickname himself, assure me that "sleepy eyes" has barely got legs as an anti-Semitic slur.  It stands up well as a nickname right out of a rejected Little Rascals script, and that's probably about as deep as it gets.

     But dammit, why am I even wasting time looking this up?  Doesn't he have a surgical scar from a gall-bladder operation he can show us, an enemies list to compile or an intern to chase around the desk in the Oval Office?  A homicidal rabbit to clobber?

     Some days, I miss Nan Britton.  But I miss Calvin Coolidge even more.

Monday, April 23, 2018

I Cleaned The Gutters Sunday

     I raked leaves afterwards, too.  This is about as physically active as I have been in months, so it's a big deal.

     Gutter screens are on my "to-do" list this year -- the roof is dangerously steep and I'm not getting any younger.

     Hoping to pick up some bags of good dirt and wildflower seeds for the front flower bed this week.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Meet The -- I Say, Kid, Listen To Me When I'm Talkin' To Ya, Listen -- Press

     NBC's long-running political talk show is starting to resemble Foghorn Leghorn provoking George P. Dog in its efforts to get a rise out of the President -- who is himself as willing to do futile battle as the WB cartoon dog.

     It's a far cry from H. L. Mencken and yet we owe the Baltimore cynic for Meet The Press.  Tamara's addicted to it, so I get to hear it -- and her occasional mocking laugh or chiding words -- every Sunday.   The program began in 1945 on the Mutual (radio) network* as American Mercury Presents: Meet The Press, to promote the Mencken-founded American Mercury magazine, which Lawrence Spivak had purchased after years as its business manager.†  In 1947, General Foods bought the television rights and the TV version aired on NBC.  The radio host/producer, who served in the same role on the TV version for several years, was Martha Rountree (just in case you thought women doing serious news on TV was a recent development).

     Mr. Spivak and Ms. Rountree are long gone; American Mercury was run into the ditch -- or perhaps the sewer -- by later owners; Meet The Press soldiers on and while Chuck Todd's politics are predictable, he genuinely loves his beat and I think does a good job covering it. 

     But I am still sourly amused when they sneak up on a hot topic like a cartoon rooster carrying a gong towards a sleeping barnyard dog, and go clattering and banging away, hoping to get a storm of outraged attention.  I suppose it keeps all the participants from finding worse mischief.
* Yes, there were four radio radio networks for a long while.  Mutual was the smallest and in many ways the cheapest, but their journalism was as good as any of their competitors.  And they owed it all (or quite a bit, anyway) to the The Lone Ranger!

† If you're an SF or mystery  fan, "Mercury Press" might sound a little familiar: Spivak's company also published the highly-regarded Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in their early years.  Small world, hey?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Goodbye, Barbara Bush

     I didn't leap on the bandwagon when she passed but I'll miss Barbara Bush.  She was a dependable image of what a First Lady ought to be, supportive of her husband but willing to voice her own opinions, gracious but not distant.  She was a good example to subsequent First Ladies -- not all of them heeded it, but that's how it goes.  I think she did her honest best.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What's In A Name?

     Sometimes a name becomes too closely linked to a group to ever get free of the associations -- modern-day Communists prefer "Socialist," and hope you'll think of voluntary self-help societies, food co-ops and early unions, not food shortages and Tienanmen Square.  Only the most rabid of Nazis fly that banner openly, and so on--

     And yet, as the Greatest Generation dies off, we have no shortage of "America First" groups.  Putting one's own country first seems sensible enough, and it's a handy slogan -- but it's got a history.

     The oldest America First Committee tried to keep this country out of WW II.  Aviator Charles Lindbergh was one of its most visible faces and the group explicitly rejected racism and and anti-semitism; when war came, the organizers packed up and got behind the war effort: "We have been stepping closer to war for many months. Now it has come and we must meet it as united Americans regardless of our attitude in the past toward the policy our government has followed. Whether or not that policy has been wise, our country has been attacked by force of arms and by force of arms we must retaliate." (Lindbergh, 1941). On 11 December, 1941, in the wake of a formal declaration of war against Japan, the leaders voted to dissolve the committee.  --But despite good intentions, they had not been able to control the messengers: Aviatrix Laura Houghtaling Ingalls had been giving speeches for the committee of a distinctly pro-German or even pro-Nazi bent; the FBI had been keeping a close eye on her and in December of 1941, she was arrested, tried and convicted of being an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

     That left a bit of a taint on the name and it was about to get worse.  Gerald L. K. Smith,† a former associate of "Kingfish" Huey P. Long and one-time director of Long's "Share The Wealth" program,* decided to use the name for a political party in 1943 -- and Mr. Smith was a former Silver Shirt who'd been rejected by the old America First Committee for anti-semitism. The America First Party ran its own slate of candidates and barely made a dent in the national consciousness; in 1947, perhaps a bit wary of their own past, they changed their name to the Christian Nationalist Party; in 1952, both that party and a remnant or reorganized America First Party tagged General Douglas MacArthur to be their Presidential nominee, though neither bothered to ask his permission.  The America First Party name has resurfaced periodically since, generally by candidates on the far-Right to over-the-right-edge side of the spectrum.

     So when I get a message on my phone from Mike Pence, telling me he'll be speaking at an America First rally this weekend, my awareness of history makes me flinch; at best, using the tag is appallingly tone-deaf.  At worst?  I think we can rely on the Press to find plenty of "at worst."  As for me, at one time I always voted for the GOP's candidate whenever there wasn't a Libertarian seeking the same office; now I'm going to need to do a lot more homework on the downticket candidates.

     I miss the boring old state-level Republican Party of my youth.
* The degree to which the former populist and even Socialist political types came to overlap the very far Right is a bit surprising, at least to me.

† In Studs Terkel's Hard Times, Smith, then consigned to the political wilderness, is given remarkably even-handed treatment.  Terkel was after a snapshot of the Depression and Gerald L. K. Smith was certainly one of the more striking images.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Went To The Doctor Yesterday

     Actually, I went to the doc-in-a-box, my own doctor having a lead time on appointments of over a month, but it comes to the same thing, right?  They're like automobile mechanics: it's not easy to find a really good one but when something breaks, you can usually find some outfit to get your car running.  And most of them are honest workers, or as honest as they have to be.

     I left with a referral to a specialist and a prescription for better painkillers -- non-opioid, which suits me fine; this is not a high-minded stance about addiction, it's the intestinal slowdown opioids cause that I find extremely offputting. 

     Went back to bed after a quick meal when I got home and I feel better now.  Hoping it will last.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I'm Going Back To Bed

     Just an hour or two more of sleep and then to the doctor.  I went to bed at eight last night, never slept longer than three hours at a stretch, and woke at six as tired as when I went to bed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hey, It's Not Snowing

     It snowed most of the day yesterday, though here in Indianapolis, none of it stuck.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sleight Of Word

     Yesterday's blog post had been drastically edited from the original.  I am once again having some mild but annoying health issues, and I started to whine.  Oh, dear!  So -- remove a few words here, trim a couple of paragraphs there, add a photo and taa-daa, nice walks and ice cream!

     I loathe whining.  Oh, I do it well, as well as most people if not better, and there's a certain dull, childish comfort in it.  But it solves nothing, cures nothing and invites hapless onlookers to indulge in well-meaning -- if often half-baked -- quack-doctoring.

     The weekend had good points.  It had not-so-good points and I'm starting the week with a little uncertainty -- well, so do we all, every week.  I shall drink my water and take my acetaminophen and ibuprofen and in all probability, my health will be fine.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

How To Spend Saturday Morning

     Yesterday, Tam and I walked to The Gallery Pasty Shop for their delicious weekend brunch, and (because I had only an omelet, no sides) on the way home, I got a small vanilla ice cream cone, in a real waffle cone, at Tiny House Treats.

     A wonderful late-morning it was. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

If House Cats Were Larger

     Acquaintances -- non cat-people acquaintances -- have told me, "Cats aren't really domesticated.  They're vicious predators.  If they were larger, they would hunt us and eat us."

     This is, of course, arrant nonsense, a vile canard.  Out cats love us.  If they were larger, they wouldn't eat us, they'd eat our neighbors; our neighbor's cats would eat us.