On this day, 3/31, in 1940, New York's La Guardia Airport opened, almost 57 years after the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to traffic. (See below)
. . . Meanwhile, back in Chicago Sat. 3/29 after an Eastern trip (NY & PA), the constant reader finds Chi Trib with two big collateral-damage color pix on page one -- one of coffins with white-wrapped bodies of people killed in an explosion at a busy Baghad market (an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile gone astray, said the Brits later, not quoted in the story here), the other of a family, folks like you and me, running past an Iraqi tank in Basra. No pix of U.S. soldiers.
(But next day, front and center pic of Marine doctor holding little girl who had survived crossfire and below another of marines at service honoring two dead comrades in flag-draped coffins with helmets atop.)
On 3/29 Michael Martinez has "lawlessness feared" in Basra because local law-abiders gave up guns and can't protect selves vs. Sadaam-friendly Baath Party marauders and looters. John Birch of Oak Brook -- prolific publicist for Concealed Carry Inc. and repeated accuser of Mayor Daley of complicity in citizens' violent deaths in an unarmed Chicago, where bad guys have guns but good guys don't -- would find this a warning sign and case in point.
And Stephen J. Hedges and Douglas Holt in Washington quote "some active and retired military officers and analysts" as thinking "a battle against the Republican Guard will be a crucial moment in the war" -- a point that's been made so many times by so many, including government sources, that you have to wonder for whom Hedges and Holt are writing. It's another case of The Lumbering Tribune Story.
. . . In sharp contrast has been war coverage by USA Today
, once derided in j-circles as McPaper but giving every sign of being very tightly edited. Vivid and timely too, as in on-scene report 3/27 by Army Times
reporter Sean D. Naylor of a motor convoy's dash through blazing gunfire
and flying grenades. A reporter could do worse than tell of the Humvee driver steering with knees and one hand while firing off bullets and grenades with the other at the bad guys at roadside 100 yards away.
Tight editing was especially apparent in a war overview in which highlights were pulled together by a rewrite man in 2,000 words or so. And all 2,000 made sense.
NY Times, on the other hand, was presenting diffuse and repetitive accounts. It was as if the paper was padded to look impressive. Nor was the material easy to read. One asks, where are the copy editors? There's an overall lack of focus but two other things: 1) There's insufficient discipline as regards traditional reporting constraints. Somewhere between Sgt. Friday's "the facts, ma'am" and editorializing there has to be respect for the reader in holding back opinions and judgments and in being perfectly clear. 2) There seems to be a sort of cult of the immediate and the unedited, which is the same objection stated differently.
. . . Returning to Chi Trib and its oddly aimed (off-target?) page one, it must be added that the rest of the paper fulfills its high Saturday expectations. It's full of news to at least page 15, with darn few ads and lots of meat. The Trib may be the only paper in the world whose Saturday edition upstages its Sunday edition, in which a newspaper tries to be a magazine.
Then came Sunday in wartime, and the above argument fell to the ground. News was actually the order of the day 3/30, with only two stand-back-and-reflect pieces: "Critics: U.S. took guerillas lightly" and "In the Arab world: U.S. can't shake image of malevolent, imperialist power." An "anguish of war" piece about worried-sick soldier families rounded out the essential worried-reflection contributions.
What are you gonna do? It's The Trib. But the top head and one other were war reportage, and inside was lots of news, most of it hard and clear. Newsies come through when fast-action chips arae down.
. . . Then came later Sunday morning (3/30) on WGN-AM -- Dateline 720, a news-interview program hosted by David Stewart -- and another demonstration by Chicago's own Studs Terkel of his ability to shock and awe, in this case by calling U.S. airmen terrorists. As in much of his diatribe, against Bush and his administration, he alluded specifically to the Viet Nam war, but in answer to the timidly offered objection from Stewart about the Iraq invasion being part of our war on terrorism. Studs clearly meant our airmen in this war.
At least once before, right after 9/11, he said something like that, voicing sympathy for the attackers so as to earn sharp reprimand from columnist Steve Neal of the Sun-Times. To this Studs responded with a letter claiming a context defense but also attacking Neal as a boot-licking ingrate whom Studs had befriended years earlier when he was new in Chicago.
It isn't easy being a public person.
. . . On the other hand, "Believe it or not, we're winning"
is Mark Steyn's column the same day, in Sun-Times
, where he distinguishes himself as a phrase-maker in addition to shrewd analyst and thorough reporter. For instance, "the sob sisters of the American networks" could not get into high gear about coalition casualties in the first few days because most of them were British. Sob sisters. That's good.
"The best way to honor the dead is to press on to victory," however, as even Fleet Street's "unrepentant Stalinists" and others know. On this street of British newspapers are not "a lot of mushy ninnies for whom a run of bad luck is cause to question the entire strategy."
Item by item, we viewers, listeners, and readers get a steady diet of bad news. But "keep your eye on the big picture, not the radio-serial cliffhangers," Steyn advises. "The 'story of the day' is not the story."
. . . Earlier in the week, NY Post of 3/25 had a "Page Six" item exposing the correctness climate at NY Times, where British MP Boris Johnson had submitted an op-ed on request. The op-ed ran 3/16, but only after a "bizarre, hourlong negotiation" with the harried-wretch editor in which Johnson was told there could be no "deprecatory" comments about a black African country and no use of "Gee, thanks" because (wow) "Gee" is short for Jesus (it is?) and the Times, owned as it is by Jews, has to be "very careful" about offending Christians. (It does?) Johnson told the London Spectator all about it, calling it "insane," which sounds about right.
. . . Did you hear the guy ask Rumsfeld at a D.C. p.c. if the govt. was falsifying injury reports in Iraq? Seriously. An accredited journalist. R. was almost speechless, said in effect he knew not how someone would think that of our government. (He didn't?)
And what of the guy getting a round of applause from fellow and sister reporters at a Dohar-Quatar briefing when he asked if the million-dollar briefing room was worth their being diddled by government spokespeople?
Just after they cheered news of the wiped-out Iraqi tank battalion. Just kidding.
. . . In the middle of the 3/24 NY Times, a gem of sorts, a Julie Salamon story about Azar Nafisi, Iranian English teacher now at Johns Hopkins. Asked by students whether the Zora Neale Hurston heroine Janie (from her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God) was a feminist, Nafisi said, "Who cares?" Janie's "contradictions" were what made her "interesting."
This Ms. Nafisi taught western authors in Iran and almost caused riots, but students there paid very close attention. Now at Johns Hopkins, they are polite not excited. Her new book, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, was due out in a few days from Random House.
On U.S.-Middle Eastern relations, the overriding issue is neither politics nor economics but the culture, she told Salamon, especially as regards women. Bin Laden, for instance -- "not a poor man" -- sees his "whole way of being" jeopardized by Western culture, she argued.
The Hurston novel, by the way, makes the miles and hours go quickly on one's way to Brooklyn, New York, and its famous bridge -- played on tape, of course, as narrated by a gifted reader. I say that because I'm a white man seeking comfort, according to black critics of the 1930s and 40s. This is a white man's book, they felt. For instance, Richard Wright dismissed it, saying, "It carries no theme, no message."
Alice Walker, of Color Purple fame, thought differently. In Their Eyes etc., Hurston "was exposing not simply an adequate culture but a superior one," said Walker, who discovered her for herself in the 1970s and brought her back to the world's attention. Hurston had published nothing after 1948 and had died poor in 1960.
. . . Yes, there's that bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan and how nice it is to walk across it on a beautiful day in March. In the distance is the Statue of Liberty. Right up close are cables knotted and tied. You can grab them and shake them in a silly effort to bring the whole thing down, Samson-like. Below one level is the auto traffic. On your level half the walkway is for pedestrians, half for bicycles. What a work.
It took 14 years, from 1870, when the site was cleared for the Brooklyn-side tower, to 1883, when it was opened to traffic. It connected what was then the two cities of Brooklyn and New York and was also known as the Great East River Bridge. Great indeed.
There is also Coney Island Beach, in Brooklyn, which dwarfs the biggest of Chicago Lake Michigan beaches. It's all there for you tourists to the Big Apple. And if for some reason you like to read the Times, they sell it at cut-rate prices there, you know. What a deal.
Friday March 21, First Day of Spring:
. . . Posting a message to the troops at Center for Individual Freedom Message board, I wrote: Godspeed to all you men and women (troops). You make the world a safer place. Safer for democracy and little children, to name two.
As I wrote it, I realized I was using WW1 language, the making world safe for democracy part. It's a bold, bold thing we are trying, throwing our weight around in a spurt of (egad) Wilsonian and Rooseveltian idealism, with some of Harry Truman while we're at it.
I say "we" and "our," you notice, which would not fly in today's preferred journalistic references, which are almost all to "the Bush administration." The mainstream mostly finds itself at odds with our elected leader -- he won the electoral college and was inaugurated, as we know -- and distances itself (themselves).
. . . For instance, consider questioners at today's p.c. of Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers who asked (a) long questions, the longer to be on camera, that (b) what's been asked before, apparently to catch Rummy in his speech. (They didn't.)
One beauty came from a fellow who in the end elicited a clarification from Rumsfeld that the Iraqi regime has killed hundreds of thousands. If you think it's a little late for him to have to explain that, what of (same guy) asking whether the Baghdad citizenry would not "hunker down" under "shock & awe" bombing of their beloved leaders' bunkers and meeting halls and experience a steeling of their resolve to resist the invader.
Not all of this was explicit, but it was contained in this gent's question, which referred explicitly to the citizens of Hanoi, Britain, Japan, and other cities and countries that did not knuckle under. He thinks of Mrs. Miniver, apparently, but maybe of the St. Crispin's Day soldiers -- "We few, we happy few." Wouldn't give up on it either, asking whether more citizens will die because there are so many missiles after Rumsfeld alluded for the 15th time to their accuracy.
The guy was apparently so convinced of massive civilian casualties -- he had Guernica in mind? -- that he couldn't believe the accuracy claim and was dying for Rumsfeld to slip and talk about the need to break eggs to make an omelet -- what the NY Times man said in the 30s about the Russian Revolution.
I say give that guy a Nieman Fellowship. He can go to Harvard and study history.
. . . And while we are giving fellowships, let's given an award to Chicago Trib's Michael Tackett -- its Washington-based "senior correspondent" and chief provider of "analysis" for its news pages nestled in with real news stories as a trap for the unwary -- for smoking out Joe Lockhart for his 3/21 piece.
Lockhart was Clinton's 2nd press secretary, following on the heels of the wise-cracking Mike McCauley. Recently he has (a) hosted and joshed with moviemaker Michael Moore at Aspen and (b) told Rush Limbaugh to "keep his mouth shut" about Clinton's alleged and never denied rape of the Broaddrick woman in 1978 and his refusing extradition of Osama Bin Laden when the Sudanese wanted to get rid of him in 1996.
Tackett got to Lockhart for analysis of how the military's "embedding" of reporters in its ranks, as the headline has it, "helps . . . sell the war." His analysis is embedded with news stories, as I said, so it sneaks up on the reader.
Joe had this to say: "I think the White House and the military establishment have programmed an irresistible story for journalists in this country. For every hour of battle planning, there's another room where they are figuring out, '"How do we present this in a way that will bring support to what we are doing?'
"The risk is that you don't present a fair version of what is going on. It's much harder to be open about mistakes than about heroic efforts of our soldiers. And I can guarantee you that mistakes are made. They always are."
Thank you, Joe Lockhart, and thanks to you, Michael Tackett for pulling off that difficult interview.
. . . Two other news-pages-embedded Tackett analyses for the week were headed "Bush focused, firm in outlining goals," 3/20, and "Bush taps America's new fear," 3/18, the first of which is unusually favorable to our commander-in-chief, the second oddly negative. Tapping our fear this time around seems reasonable; Tackett doesn't have newfound fear to tap since 9/11?
The fourth Tackett analysis of the week is headed "Big hype, less hope for Bush's goodwill efforts," 3/15, which shows you can't keep a good nay-sayer down.
. . . This "Access to media helps military sell the war" (today's analysis), by the way, taps our yearning for the latest from academic groves, especially where high-level journalistic consideration takes place on a regular basis.
Thus in addition to Lockhart, Tackett got to press pundits at Syracuse U. ("This war almost resembles the Olympics . . . a miniseries") and U. of Pennsylvania ("There is the possibility that you humanize the soldiers and some of them come home in a body bag"). Alas, this was buried on page 6.
. . . Elsewhere in the world of journalism, Sun-Times's Paige Wiser asks why Scottish Americans can't "aim a little higher" than a parade, which they have just gotten a permit for from the city. "If they feel the need to compete with Chicago's Irish, they could have held out for something really cool, like dyeing the river plaid."
The trouble with quoting Ms. Wiser is, there's a cumulative effect in her columns. Sentence meshes with sentence, paragraph with paragraph. You are all commanded to read her every day. (3/21/03)
HEADLINES TO MAKE ONE WEEP . . . Chicago Tribune headlines are the '00s equivalent of the '30s radio commentator HV (Hans von) Kaltenborn, who often introduced his nightly report with the bracing line, "There's bad news tonight." So on 3/17/03 Trib front page had "British pullout would strain U.S." and "Glitches riddle database to track foreign students."
The day before had "Global warning issued on pneumonia outbreak"; "Captures [of high-ranking Al Q men] reopen tribunal questions: Terrorism suspects seen as candidates," a civil rights story, and "Profit motive [egad!] feared in patenting of breast cancer cells."
Also: "Loving a soldier, hating a war" with head shots of son-sergeant on way to battle and war-protesting mother amd "Baghdad calm amid threat of new war." To this Reuters responded next day with "Baghdad residents suddenly jittery as war looms." Both were stories out of Baghdad, where blind men were giving us various versions of the elephant.
Another: "Pay gap closing," male-female, that is, "with an asterisk: The explanation: Men's wages fell."
The heads are gloomy enough, but they also reflect hoked-up stories. The loving-soldier, hating-war head is heartstrings stuff with an anti-war twist. The pay-gap and tribunal-for-terrorists stories directly address largely liberal concerns. The profit-motive head is laughable in itself and will bring yawns to jaws of capitalists everywhere. Pneumonia outbreak is a real story; the sub-head should say "real news here."
OFF THE FRONT PAGE . . . Trib knows how to deliver mostly straight news, of course, being full of professional people. See its Metro section, where on Sunday 3/16 the thumbs came out of sucking position and we had these headlines: "Bond set in suffocation death: Baby-sitter accused of killing 16-month-old" [bad news but hard]; "Officer returns fire, kills gunman"; "Car Crash leaves 2 teens dead"; and "Military chaplains answer 2 callings: Church's pastors may see action."
As for "Locals fight for farmland: The U. of I. plans to sell land to the state for grassland restoration, but some believe a legal quirk may help thwart the transaction," one can only ask, Would you please repeat that?
On Monday 3/17, Metro had "Demonstrators say no to war"; "Partner in tiger ring set for trial: Participant says killings were legal," about slaughtering beasts for body parts [!]; "Officer given tribute as hero"; "Graffiti crew hits 10-year mark," 10th-anniversary story of city "Graffiti Blasters" program; and "I-57 rehab is sure to be paved with traffic delays."
There are two kinds of bad news. Hard and bad means you gotta tell it, soft and bad means you don't. Soft comes too often from the wrinkled brow of editor and writer trying to say something IMPORTANT. Hard comes from the need to report it. Chi Trib too often saves its ability to go hard for its Metro section. Why is that?
TOO BUSY . . . Here's an item that Trib editors may feel is beneath them, something the right-wing conspiracy might concoct, except it's from a the U.S. Lt. Colonel who carried the "nuclear football" for Clinton and was to remain within 40 feet of him at all times, from a new book by the man, how retired Lt. Col. Robert Patterson, Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America's National Security.
Among eyewitnessed items are these: Clinton once lost the nuclear warhead codes (on the day the Monica story broke), and they had to be changed; he couldn't be reached when we had Osama in our sights and needed his OK to zap him, in the fall of 1998; and he was tied up watching a golf match in 1996 and could not OK a bombing mission on Iraq.
A BANNER DAY . . . At least two OP churches had banners Sunday 3/16, saying, "Peace is the church's business." How about "Truth is the church's business"? Naaah. Truth is a dirty word. You have to be a fanatic to think you have it. "I am the way and the life" is what Jesus says now.
DEAR PARENT . . . Letters have gone out to parents of 1,000 or so incoming Air Force Academy students telling them sexual attackers and their facilitators and cover-providers "will be brought to justice and disciplined appropriately." Lest mothers and fathers hesitate to send daughters into a bad situation, apparently.
BEWARE RE-MUSLIMIZED TURKEY? . . . "'Democratization' of Turkey means Islamicization," says Srdja (Serge) Trifkovic in the January Chronicles. Turkey may be on its way to becoming an Islamic republic, what with the recent election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a Muslim ticket.
But Islamic republic status is not compatible with Euro, NATO, and US values, says Trifkovic, an outspoken opponent of Islamic militancy in the Balkans, and Erdogan must know that. Trifkovic wrote this before the Erdogan government -- oddly, without Erdogan, who, banned for prior Islamic activism, joined it later -- denied access to U.S. troops for the impending war on Iraq.
Trifkovic sees the U.S. "doomed to repeat her Iranian experience" in Turkey if there is no "informed debate on implications" of the recent election. It was a landslide victory (Nov. 3) for the Islamic party over the secularizers who brought Turkey into the modern world and Western orbit, says Trifkovic.
BEING GOOD . . . Clergy bend under the strain of being and looking good, John Whale observes in his 12/20/02 review in TLS (Times [of London] Literary Supplement) of Godly and Righteous, Peevish and Perverse: Clergy and religious in literature and letters: an anthology (SCM), edited by Raymond Chapman. They look worse than layman doing the same misdeeds. That's understandable, says Whale, former editor of Church Times and former asst. ed. of Sunday Times (of London).
But it's also unfair, because "Christianity is not a system for making people good [but] for helping people live with their failure to be good." (Oh?) But it also offers "difficult moral aspirations as part of that help"; so "outsiders are naturally amused when . . . the guardians of those aspirations cannot live up to them." Amused isn't the word for it here in U.S. these days. But Whale speeks well, except that moral aspirations espoused but not achieved do remind one of one's failure.
EGGING US ON . . ."In her desire for freshness," the classics scholar Jane Ellen Harrison "over-egged her prose," says Frances Spalding in her 11/29/02 TLS review of Annabel Robinson's Life & Work of Harrison (Oxford), citing Harrison's critics. In Themis, her study of ancient Greek religion and its social origins, for instance, she showed "an excess of sympathy, an over-eagerness to catch at coincidences, indiscriminate use of evidence and want of sustained thinking."
That wasn't all. She also was considered "too much a victim of a single idea at any one time, and [engaged in] bending her evidence to suit her theory," reported Spalding.
Other than that, I'll bet the critics liked her work a lot.
Moreover, Harrison convicts herself with this comment about her work: "There will always be an army of sound scholars coming along behind to clean up." Some students loved her, on the other hand, for her (unbridled?) enthusiasm and love of learning.
As for the above over-egging of prose, might I as a male over-fertilize mine? In an excess of intellectual spermatozoa? Interesting question.
PRAISEWORTHY . . . From TLS, 11/29/02: "Based on a thorough study of the sources, the book [Lloyd George: War Leader, 1916-1918 (Allen Lane The Penguin Press)] offers the reader a firm, political narrative. [Author John] Grigg's style is elegant, but economical; his treatment of details attentive, but discriminating; his narrative dramatic when required, but never artificial. His four volumes are remarkable for their subtlety, and for the psychological and political insight with which he analyses his subject and his surroundings. His comments are authoritative, yet witty; and his grasp of the subject matter is commanding," said reviewer T.G. Otte, who teaches international history at the U. of the West of England, Bristol.
Book writers everywhere might clip and pin that to their walls as a capsule how-to-do-it.
CHURCH-GOING . . . I told the lady of the house I was heading out for church and would return a changed man. She smiled and said she would pray for me.
Not changed entirely, of course. Rather, I will have chipped away at the very few faults remaining after decades of examination and rehabilitation, and with luck will have made one-point-oh-oh-oh-one steps forward before making the usual whole step backward prior to my next church-going.
You're not supposed to talk that way today in some circles, where church as spiritual pick-me-up is not the idea at all. Rather, the mass is a communal expression. You go to be cemented further to your worshiping community, like the saints of old in a first-century house church with apostles and deaconesses.
Service-station mass-going is out in these circles. For the rest of us, it's a matter of resuscitation, with a view to making at least slightly better decisions in the week to come. (3/20/2003)