Category Archives: Journalism

Hot Air

Women, You Owe Us Explanations

Jimmy Wales, the founder and big boss of Wikipedia, told Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday that 85 percent of the contributors to the free online hive-mind encyclopedia are male. Wales says that troubles him.

Troubles me, too. Wanna know why? Because it’s so goddamned easy to contribute to Wikipedia that a child can do it. And I’d bet more children, overall, than women contribute to it.

It’s a damned shame that the info resource used by most humans on this planet largely — very largely — reflects the POV of guys. Where are you, smart women? Why aren’t you adding to the entries about Émily du Châtelet and Rosalind Franklin? Why aren’t women who study Harriet Tubman tripping all over each other to add to the abolitionist’s Wiki page?

Do you know who Henrietta Leavitt was? How about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin? Or, for that matter, Hypatia, Irène Joliot-Curie, Melissa Franklin, Zaha Hadid, or Indra Nooyi? They all have Wikipedia pages and, presumably, have been mostly defined therein by males. For that matter, why isn’t there a Wiki page on Siza Mzimela?

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[L to R] Hypatia, Melissa Franklin, Siza Mzimela

More Q’s. Why is the entry on Birth Control not a place we can read about the desire of women to enjoy sex without worry of conception? Only a woman can write that. The Birth control entry is very dry and clinical. The reasons women use birth control are not. Surely, women can dig up primary sources explicating the need and want to engage in non-procreational bonking. Instead, we’re treated to gobs of citations from vagina-fearing religionists about why birth control is worse than putting a Glock in the hands of a tot. (In fact, there’s even a separate, lengthy entry entitled Religion and birth control.

We hear a lot about mansplaining, the propensity of guys to lecture women. You know what? We could use a little womansplaining. No, wait — a lot of it, please. The tools and the opportunities are waiting. So am I.

Less News Is Bad News

I caught the news out of the corner of my eye that Al Jazeera America is going under and it saddened me. My primary news sources are NPR, the New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera America (AJAM).

I get my AJAM fix online as I long ago gave up on TV as a dependable source for news. AJAM online always seemed to me to be sober and rational, its reports mercifully absent the shrieking, alarmist, celeb-worshipping crap most stateside corporate media shovel into our ear- and eyeholes on a 24-hour-a-day basis.

Even the look of AJAM’s home page was calm, its background color midnight blue with an Arabic script logo resembling a drop of water.

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Muted

The Big Mike school of journalism holds that there are no such things as pure objectivity, real truth, and the all-too-ephemeral qualities of fairness and balance our for-profit news mongers try to sell us. Ergo, I want to see human and global issues through the eyes of many and then try to make sense of the whole chaotic mess in my own head.

If you haven’t peeked into how other countries cover the news, I highly recommend it. You’ll be shocked at how differently the folks in Lebanon, Ireland, China, and Nigeria see things. That’s why my preferred news deliverers are an American nonprofit as well as a for-profit biz, a non-profit from the UK, and a for-profit one from the Arab world.

AJAM is the television news operation owned by the House of Thani, the gang of monarchists who run the tiny Arabian peninsula nation of Qatar. These dynasts love to play both sides of the coin, allowing the US and the UK to operate an air force base there from which the Allies can run bombing missions all around the Middle East whenever our generals feel moody. Qatar also has allowed the Afghan Taliban to run an office in the country. The royals like to brag about labor unions and women’s suffrage now being allowed in the country; left unsaid is the fact that both advances were forbidden until very recently. Qatari law allows for stoning and flogging for convicted criminals. Migrant African workers flock to Qatar for what are promised to be high(er)-paying jobs but many find themselves forced into abusive servitude and suffer severe human rights violations.

For some as yet unexplained reason, the royalists who oversee this mess have sunk good dough into a pretty decent news outfit. One possible justification for investing in Al Jazeera: the Qatari kings and princes simply want to make a buck.

Which they aren’t doing via AJAM, ergo that arm of the Al Jazeera Media Network will go dark by April 30th.

When AJAM came onto the scene back in 2013 after buying up the distribution network and the other assets of Al Gore’s Current TV operation, it hoped to reach into most Americans’ living rooms. Unfortunately, the very idea that an Arab-run news source would be infiltrating our happy homes caused some of AJAM’s biggest cable carriers to drop it.

Still, a year ago AJAM was able to gain entry into more than 61 million American homes, a penetration rate of better than 52 percent. Precious few people in those American homes chose to click to the news station, though, with daily viewership hovering between 20,000 and 40,000. That’s kids stuff.

Murricans didn’t care for AJAM despite the fact that it had been established as a Delaware corporation with administrative headquarters and main studios in New York and satellite studios in eleven other US cities. Who, after all, wants to be told by Arabs what’s going on?

You know this already but it needs to be iterated: the citizenry of this holy land wants to get its info strictly from homegrown leggy blondes, tough-talking older men, and Comedy Central jokesters.

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Your Trusted News Sources

Scary Hot Air

A Profession Of Fear

I haven’t been moved much at all about all the recent news about government spying. You know, the NSA playing canasta with all our emails and the State Department eavesdropping on the belching and scratching of selected world leaders.

Characters from "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show"

I suppose that’s because I’ve studied so much of the second half of the 20th Century in general and the the 1960s in particular. For that matter, I could have been studying the Jacobean Era of British history (the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth centuries) and felt the same way about things.

Those in power have been spying on those without it since humans first started discussing things sotto voce. And governments have been prying into each others’ affairs forever.

Information is the most valuable currency human beings possess. If you’re thinking there was some grand and wonderful time when powerful people folded their hands and played nice in regard to keeping their noses out of other people’s business then you are a far, far more trusting soul than I am.

Others, though, are up in arms over Guardian newspaper and Wikileaks scoops, as well as the revelations made by former spook Edward Snowden who, if you’ll recall, is now hiding away safely in that very model of openness and candor, Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The PEN American Center recently released a report that a significant number of writers in this holy land are feeling more than queasy about what they commit to paper or the LCD screen. Some, in fact, are beginning to censor themselves. US spying efforts, the report claims, “…are having a tangible and chilling effect on writers….”

The report opens with this graphic:

From PEN American Center

Really? Honestly? PEN American Center says it surveyed more than 520 member writers to come to this conclusion. That means some 170 of that 520 who earn their daily bread by flinging words around and are so dedicated to the vocation that they pay annual PEN membership dues have been made bunny-rabbit scared by the possibility that some grown up frat boys in the FBI or CIA are giggling over their sex messaging as we speak.

Writers are the people we depend on for information about secret wars and industrial poisonings. They tell us about sweetheart deals, legislative payoffs, and clandestine entanglements.

Who else could tell us about the Koch Brothers or ALEC or even the fabulous new DePaul University basketball arena being built with a huge infusion of city funds while Chicago public schools are being closed left and right?

TV news doesn’t do this for us, it being too busy worrying about Miley Cyrus’s tongue and where it’s been.

Cyrus

This Doesn’t Take Guts

Going head to head with the big boys in power takes guts. Your state legislator isn’t going to hire you to be his publicist after you’ve made a name for yourself whistling fouls on statehouse malfeasances. Corporate vice presidents of communications might look askance at applications for copywriting positions submitted by card-carrying muckrackers.

We expect guts from our print reporters and other writers.

Now PEN American Center tells us fully one-third of them lacks said viscera.

Here’s my advice to all those writers who confess that US spying is making them quake in their boots: Quit.

Yup. Get out of the business. We don’t need you. Go get a job running the new employee orientation program at some hospital. Sell some real estate. Manage a dentist’s office. Do something. But don’t tell me you’re a writer. Because you’re not.

Gossip columnist Walter Winchell once wrote, “Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. ‘Why no,’ dead-panned Red. ‘You simply sit down at the typewriter, open up your veins, and bleed.'”

Smith, by the way, was a sports columnist. Writing, even for those in the gossip and sports rackets, takes courage. You’re exposing yourself, something you’re taught not to do from the moment you step into your kindergarten classroom.

My guess is the 170 or so writers who told PEN American Center how jittery they are over government lick-spittlers’ prying never really subjected themselves to the vital process of exposing themselves through their written words.

So I suggest to writers whose teeth are chattering because some computer geeks are accumulating email metadata that they ought to find a gig that doesn’t keep them awake at night.

Your Daily Hot Air

Just Asking For It

Let’s start with some fun. Here’s yesterday’s headline in the Daily Beast on Anthony Weiner’s decision not to withdraw from the New York City mayoral race:

Daily Beast

I mean, honestly, what do you expect a headline writer to do?

Wilde, Man

Here’s a timely quote from Oscar Wilde:

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.

Wilde

O. Wilde

Dick’s Boys Will Be Boys

Did it slip past you that Halliburton, former Veep Dick Cheney’s personal ATM, admitted to destroying evidence relating to the Gulf Oil Spill?

Probably.

Deepwater Horizon Explosion

Deepwater Horizon Burning

That’s because the corporate media was too busy making dick jokes at Anthony Weiner’s expense while simultaneously going gaga over that little brat who was born in England this week.

Halliburton was the cement contractor for the Macondo Prospect well, operated by Brit oil giant BP. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig positioned over the well exploded and sank in April, 2010, killing 11 workers and flooding the Gulf of Mexico with some 210 million gallons of crude oil.

Halliburton and BP have been blaming each other for the spill for the past three years. One of the charges Halliburton has made against BP is that the oil company did not follow the contractor’s safety recommendations.

Gulf Oil Spill

Gulf Water?

This gets a little sticky, so follow me here. Halliburton had recommended that BP use 21 metal stabilizer rings to secure the hole in the ground the company had drilled. BP decided to use only six. In the weeks after the explosion. Halliburton ran a couple of 3-D computer simulations using models for both the 21- and the six-ring set-ups. The simulations found that the extra stabilizer rings likely wouldn’t have prevented the disaster.

Uh-oh for Halliburton. IF BP’s decision to go with six rather than 21 rings didn’t make any difference in the outcome, that means Halliburton might be open to some other liability in the mishap.

Now, if you or I destroy evidence in a civil or criminal trial, say your husband stole a loaf of bread and you flush the wrapper down the toilet before the SWAT team arrives, you’re gonna be spending some serious slammer time for your efforts.

The US Department of Justice, which is handling the Gulf Spill case, issued a press release Thursday crowing about how it got Halliburton to admit to doing the nasty and adding, solemnly, that Cheney’s cash cow is about to get its ass whupped.

Cheney

“Oh, Uh, I ‘Quit’ Halliburton Long Ago.”

So, how’s Halliburton going to suffer for being such a brazen evidence destroyer? The DoJ is fining the company a grand total of $200,000.

Two hundred Gs. Jeez.

According to the US Census Bureau, the average home in this holy land in the year of Our Lord, 2010, was worth $272,900. That means all Halliburton has to do is fork over the deed to some modest ranch house in a so-so neighborhood and by doing so, its debt to society will be paid in full.

Huzzah.

Either that or Dick Cheney and a couple of other Halliburton capos can look for loose change under the sofa cushions in their offices and come up with the fine.

You think Halliburton is weeping and gnashing its teeth over this? Hah! Halliburton flacks Kelly Youngblood and Beverly Blohm can hardly stop themselves from nominating their overlords for the Nobel Peace Prize. They write in the company’s official press release on the agreement: “The Department of Justice acknowledged the company’s significant and valuable cooperation during the course of the investigation….”

Man, I hope Halliburton is paying those PR-meisters some good coin, the better to make up for the eternity in hell to which they’ve condemned themselves.

As for the former Vice President of the United States, it pays to be a Dick.

Bombs Bursting In Air

This is a banner day in the history of warfare. If blood and guts is your thing, you’re likely waving your flag and inviting all the neighbors over for a cookout.

On this day in the 20th Century alone, a number of big cheeses ordered their little curds to go out and blow the brains out of the enemy before the good old vice versa. Dig:

July 28, 1914: Austria-Hungary, bummed because its archduke was whacked a month before in the streets of Sarajevo, declared war on Serbia. See, Serbia wasn’t sufficiently apologetic for one of its wild-eyed Black-Handers gunning down the Aus-Hun big shot so all the nations of Europe decided to fight each other. Makes sense, no? Total killed: 16 million; wounded: 20 million.

WWI

“Apologize, You Bastards!”

July 28, 1942: Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin issued orders that commanders who retreat or soldiers who leave their positions are to be shot. He played this tough guy card because Hitler’s war machine was rolling through Mother Russia. Total killed in the German/Russian theater: approximately 34 million soldiers and civilians.

July 28, 1943: The biggest night of bombing in the British and American air forces’ Operation Gomorrah, designed to destroy shipyards, U-boat pens, oil refineries, and a major dynamite factory in and around Hamburg, Germany. The planners did not anticipate that concentrated bombing combined with hot, dry conditions in the city that summer would create a something called a firestorm. A virtual tornado of fire, estimated to be 1500 feet high, destroyed the city. Total killed: 42,600; total injured: 37,000. All casualties were civilian.

Hamburg

Hamburg Hell

July 28, 1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson nearly doubles the number of ground soldiers in Vietnam as the American involvement in Southeast Asia becomes serious. Total killed in Vietnam during the American involvement there: approximately 600,000 soldiers and civilians; total wounded 1.2 million.

I’ve said this before and it bears repeating: We are a fascinating species.

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