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Archive for April, 2009

As a blogger who writes mainly but not entirely about politics, I do my level best to approach political topics with some degree of objectivity.

Naturally, complete objectivity isn’t possible. We all have our biases and they creep unnoticed into our writings. And then we are castigated by someone because we’ve lost our objectivity.

My own strategy for attaining an objective outlook is twofold. To begin with, I maintain a minimal amount of face contact with politician. In fact, I prefer not to meet them in person at all.

My experience has taught me that once we meet someone, our perspective of them is subtlety altered. If we like a person, we find ourselves having difficulty criticizing a decision or including cogent facts about him or her in an article.

The reverse is also a common occurrence. If we are put off by someone’s demeanor, we may, again, without conscious intent, easily criticize him or her and include irrelevant negative information about  them in our writings.

I often sum up this phenomenon by observing, “When we like someone, they can do no wrong. When we dislike someone, they can do no right.”

There are exceptions, of course. Some people are able to maintain a sense of objectivity even when analyzing the actions of someone they thoroughly dislike. My guess is that these disciplined people are few in number.

A second approach that I’ve found effective in handing my political biases is to pay as little attention as possible to the words of politicians and concentrate on the results of their actions.

Think about politicians as somewhat similar to poker players. Wiley players often portray themselves as winners by accident. They can’t explain their good fortune in taking your money regularly. Regardless of their explanation, however, they continue to clean your plate at every opportunity.

You might conclude, as I do, that they fully intend to empty your billfold and that their words are so much hot air.

Politicians should be regarded similarly, not as intending to take your money (not always, anyway). We should push their words aside and take a look at the effects of the laws they support or don’t support. Who wins and who loses will give us a better indication of intent than all of the words in a dictionary.

Richard Nixon may have said it best in an unguarded moment. “Don’t pay any attention to what I say. Watch what I do.”  Professional politicians are aware if this. That’s why they spend a great deal of time diverting attention with hot air.

But even when we look at results rather than listen to words, we may not be as objective as we wish. We can merely do our level best and let it go. I think an astronaut once remarked that perfection is unattainable. Excellence is the best we can hope for.

In my own personal case, I am satisfied knowing that I have done my level best to present objective opinions. However, I know the perils. The following anecdote may illustrate my point.

Once, as a young intern with a smart mouth, I grew so tired of the boss cautioning us about objectivity that I defined two of his favorite buzz words and jokingly circulated them to the staff in a memo.

Objectivity, I wrote, is when the boss objects to everything you do. Subjectivity is when everything you do is subject to criticism and change by the boss.

This is as true today as it was then. Presenting an objective front has always been one of the most difficult aspects of journalism…and of the ever-increasing role of bloggers in circulating the news.

Quick Wrapup Analysis: Occasionally, all I can think of to write about someone is, “You miserabe, rotten, no-good son of a bitch.” It’s may be  wrong but it feels so right.

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Now that Mr. and Mrs. Gavo have released a list of their wedding gifts and everyone has had a chance to sneer about the number of picture frames and crock pots, our intrepid staff thought we ought to compile our own list of original gifts we would have given had the Newsom camp had the good taste to invite us to Montana.

Here are the products of our combined left hemispheres. Feel free to co-opt our ideas for your own wedding if you haven’t already done so.

  1. A set of His-Her Condoms mounted in a Genuine Horse Hair Frame
  2. A Thomas the Train Honeymoon Sleeper, Including an Overnight Stay at the Amtrak Station in Winnemucca NV
  3. A Genetically Engineered (fill in heart’s desire here)
  4. A Controlling Share of SFist Stock
  5. An Engraved Invitation to the 2011 Governor’s Inauguration Ball from the Newly Elected Governor Jerry Brown
  6. A Dan Noyes Dancing Doll
  7. An Illustrated Sex Manual for Newlyweds with Captions in Chinese
  8. A Recording of Peter Ragone Singing “Come on Baby Light My Fire”

Personally, we prefer Numbers 1 and 8,

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Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne envisions a world without print journalism in his on-line column today. It isn’t pretty for the legions of working journalists and would-be-journalists.

Under the rules of a capitalist economic system, print journalism will be replaced by some form of electronically-transmitted news.  Dionne uses a nice analogy, however, to hold out hope for inveterate news readers.

General Motors may disappear under the capitalistic onslaught, but cars will continue to be manufactured by other companies.

In like manner, hard-copy newspapers may fade away, but the news will always with us, albeit in a different form and transmitted by different means.

To legions of old-line newspaper readers, that could be a life-altering experience. Scrolling through a news source with a mouse in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other just doesn’t seem like the proper way to start a day.

Needless to say, the newspaper industry is striving mightily to remain relevant and competitive with internet news sources, but it has been a losing battle. Major papers from coast to coast have disappeared and more may follow.

If there is a bright spot, it may lie in small town papers. Many have also bitten the dust, but there are still a few thousand daily papers rolling off the presses every day.

Another saving approach could lie in specialization. Most newspapers, large and small, attempt to satisfy everyone. Thus, papers are crammed with embellishments like crossword puzzles, Sudoko challenges, recipes, comic strips, and society gossip, to name a few. Economics has already forced many papers out of the generalist business by eliminating some of these special features.

Further specialization in the kind of news a paper chooses to include may also reduce content, as papers strive to appeal to a special audience, such as those interested solely in politics, business, or cultural matters.

Business publications have enjoyed a modicum of economic stability for a long time. Other specialized models may follow as the survival shakeout continues.

I am reminded of a small, foreign language newspaper in Hawaii once edited by a friend of mine. Honolulu has had two major dailies for centuries, yet the state of Hawaii also has several smaller papers aimed at specific ethnic groups.

The paper I am thinking about is the Hawaii Hochi. It’s small as papers go, but it prints its front page in English and its inner content in Japanese, and to meet its needs, the paper employs both an English-page editor and a Japanese news editor.

The remarkable aspect about the Hochi is its continued existence despite a shrinking population of Japanese readers. Even so, it has seen its own hard times in the face of a declining readership. It has managed to stay around by branching into other fields, such as job printing. At one time, it published special editions funded by businesses, governments, or educational institutions that wish to commemorate special occasions.

In short, the Hochi has adapted to the capitalist business mode and has stuck it out through thick and thin.

Could such a model work elsewhere? Yes, but it would require a reevaluation of just what is print journalism. For one thing, journalists would need to perform multi-functions. One day, a journalist might cover city hall. The next day, he or she may be assigned to collect information about a company’s history and write the copy for a centennial edition.

Whichever model comes out a winner in the long run, I am sure of one thing. Hard-copy newspapers are not going to disappear entirely. It’s just too satisfying to lean back and prop your feet up during your morning coffee break and doze behind the safety of a large newspaper.

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Let me see if I have this right. North Korea fires another missile that fizzled and all of a sudden the United Nations Security Council calls an emergency meeting to meet the “threat.”

Help me count the number of times the following script has played out. I’ve lost track, but never mind. It’s so predictable. Kim Jong Il blusters. No one pays any attention. He blusters a little more. Same response. Finally, he fires off another dud, and the world goes berserk.

Or does it? Is it just media hype? Is the big ole United States and all of the industrial states of the world, most of whom have the nuclear capacity to destroy the world a thousand times, really frightened of an obsolete and irrelevant dictator? I doubt it. And if I am right, what is our purpose in reacting to an irrelevancy?

I think it’s expected of us. We’ve been reacting similarly toward North Korea since the end of the Korean War. We’re in a rut. We don’t know what else to do. We have to chase the remnants of communism to the gates of hell and destroy them all.

Never mind that North Korea is not now and never has been a communist state. It’s merely a petty dictatorship much as Cuba is. Neither has achieved the vaunted Marxist ideal utopian condition, pure (or even partial) communism, in which the state withers away and dies and everyone lives happily ever after.

If anyone believes humans will live peacefully together as equals without governments (or God, in Heaven) to scare the pants off of them when they dissent, see me. I have a vault in an Army fort in Kentucky that I’ll sell for a dollar, cash. Some sucker named Knox sold it to my granddad when Nixon was elected President and it’s been in my family since then.

For those who doubt my insight into North Korea, consider: Kim Jong Il has long been a lover of American movies, and according to those who know, he has a supply of roughly 20,000 of the latest tapes  and DVDs. Periodically, he dispatches a few trusted aides to Tokyo where they stock up on new releases and replenishes his store of Scotch whiskey.

Would Kim actually chance the destruction of his coveted semi-Western life style by firing a working missile armed with a real live atomic warhead at the U.S. or one of its allies? He may be insane, but no one has certified him as suicidal. There should be no doubt that the result of such an action would be catastrophic for North Korea. The country would cease to exist.

Knowing what we now know, how should the U.S. handle Kim’s threats and fizzled missiles? Enter into intensive diplomatic negotiations with the Government of Japan to place an embargo on Kim’s supply of movies and Scotch? As an alternative proposal, should the U.S. offer him a beach villa in Hawaii with a lifetime supply of porn and booze if he will abdicate.

On the other hand, and realistically speaking, we could continue with our predictable responses. After all, Kim’s actions serve a domestic U.S. political purpose by firing up the kill-’em-all crowd. Newt Gingrich, who said he would have intercepted Kim’s missile, is the perfect politician to lead his third party (if he ever forms one) into the second half of the 19th Century, while Democrats run around in circles, bemoaning Kim’s aggressive acts at the top of their chirps.

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2010 will be the year of elections in California. The Primary Election will be held on June 8. Five months later, on November 2, the General Election will decide the outcome of several statewide offices, including Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, among others.

The one race that has captured almost everyone’s attention so far is the contest for the Democratic nominee for Governor. The names most frequently floated are San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and California Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Although nothing is locked in concrete, recent polls strongly suggest that Dianne Feinstein would win handily if she entered the contest and if the primary were held today. She recently garnered a 38-percent favorable rating from those surveyed in a statewide poll while Jerry Brown tied Mayor Tony in second place with 16 percent. Newsom’s percentage was 10.

Each of these candidates has one or more potentially fatal electoral factors weighing against his or her chances. Feinstein, for example, supported the Bush waterboarding policy and practice by voting to confirm Michael Mukasey as Bush’s Attornry General, which could become a negative along the liberal Pacific Coast. She may pick up support in California’s interior but whether her waterboarding stand will help or hinder her overall remains to be adequately gauged.

Both Mayor Tony and Mayor Gavo have histories of moral lapses that received worldwide press coverage. These will count as negatives in the interior. Newsom also carries the weight of his stands on gay marriage and San Francisco’s so-called sanctuary ordinance. He will encounter stiff resistance statewide on all counts.

Jerry Brown has a cleaner record plus the administrative experience to prove his capabilities. Some believe his primary negative is his age (71), which may make him unsuitable to younger voters. But Feinstein is also seventy-one. Moreover, her long tenure in Washington, D.C. will make her susceptible to campaign tactics that paint her as a retrograde thinker and a carpetbagger.

Jerry is largely unknown to the youth culture and to the Twitter crowd and will have to labor mightily if he is to overcome this handicap. He has established a Facebook page, but so far, it hasn’t attracted many fans.

One of the major factors that the Democratic Party’s leaders will undoubtedly concern themselves with will be this question: Who among the Democratic candidates will stand the best chance against the Republican candidate in the General Election?

At the moment, Jerry Brown looks like the best bet. He may be 71, but in this day and age that’s a strong, healthy middle age. With two terms as governor and one as Mayor of Oakland behind him, he has the credentials that the governor of a state as large and ethnically diverse as California needs. All told, he stands a better chance than the other Democratic candidates of meeting the challenges of California’s financial difficulties.

For Jerry to win the primary election, two factors will be paramount considerations: whether or not Dianne Feinstein enters the race; and the success of his campaign managers in getting his message across to the youthful Twitter and Facebook generations.

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