Against snark, he pits smarm, that horrible scolding attitude that inevitably prefers to distract attention away from substance in the name of tone. Smarmers hate rudeness more than they hate the fact that some people are freezing and dying while others are complaining about having the wrong brand of cereal. Smarmers can't be bothered to think past their single-celled program that meanness is the woooooorst. OMG, not MEANNESS. SO MEAN. Meanwhile, acts of actual cruelty, vast ignorance, and widespread hypocrisy and shallowness persist, and discussions among those with differences of opinions are dismissed as inhumane, regardless of the value and quality of the thinking behind those opinions.
Smarm is the wet dream of PR.
When you hear a voice say "Everyone's a critic," listen for the echo: "Everyone's a publicist."
Scocca also exposes David Denby's supremely smarmy (and white-guy paranoid) response to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
Yeah, it's long, but here, see what you think.
Seymour Hersh, writing in the London Review of Books:
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
Both The New Yorker and The Washington Post declined to run this story, with the Post reportedly expressing concerns about Hersh's sourcing. The Obama administration has called the thrust of Hersh's story "simply false."
Remember the Christian radio host who accused Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism?
The Christian Post has a story on the fallout from the accusations, the centerpiece of which is a blog post from a recently departed producer on the accusation-making radio show (bolds mine):
All I can share is that there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes. You may not go up against the machine. That is all. Mark Driscoll clearly plagiarized and those who could have underscored the seriousness of it and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex.....Those who have the temerity to call out a celebrity have tremendous courage. The easiest thing in the world is to do fluffy interviews with fluffy guests on fluffy books. So hats off to those like Janet who have the courage to ask at all. And my own opinion on Mr. Driscoll is that despite the bravado, despite the near silence of his Reformed peers and enablers, his brand is damaged, and damaged by his own hand.
Read the whole thing here.
(Speaking of Mark Driscoll, have you read Lindy West's exhaustive roundup of his awfulness? You must!)
We here at Slog are big fans of Seattlish, the GIF-happy city blog made up of former Seattlest staffers. If you want a peek behind the scenes, the newest Ordinary Madness podcast features an interview with Alex Hudson, Hanna Brooks Olsen and Sarah Anne Lloyd about Seattlish-ish topics ranging from Kshama Sawant, negative comments, and why eagles are total dicks. Go take a listen.
Tom Scocca's very long post on Gawker today about the enemies of snark makes for very interesting reading. I don't think this post will stand as a transformative manifesto, the way Heidi Julavits's argument against snark in The Believer's debut issue has become a serious topic of discussion in recent years. It doesn't so much work as a manifesto as a very long list of examples. But it does put a name to a very alarming internet trend: The press-release friendly, only-positive news sites that refuse to apply critical thinking when critical thinking is absolutely necessary. The word is smarm.
And that's exactly right. When he talks about smarm, Scocca is talking about BuzzFeed and Upworthy and other sites that refuse to be negative on all but the most safely unpopular topics, but he might as well be referring to advertorial neighborhood blogs, or tech blogs that play nice because they rely on access from the companies they're supposed to be covering, or cheerleading industry blogs that don't take a stand against anyone. These are outlets that I've complained about for years, but tagging them as smarmy is perfect; that one word articulates everything that I dislike about them. They're self-congratulatory and not at all helpful.
Here are a couple of relevant passages from Scocca's essay, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:
Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.
Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?
At some point, in a piece like this, convention calls for the admission that the complaints against snark are not entirely without merit. Fine. Some snark is harmful and rotten and stupid. Just as, to various degrees, some poems and Page-One newspaper stories and sermons and football gambling advice columns are harmful and rotten and stupid. Like every other mode, snark can sometimes be done badly or to bad purposes.
Smarm, on the other hand, is never a force for good. A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all. It is a civilization that says "Don't Be Evil," rather than making sure it does not do evil.
I'm forever in Scocca's debt for weaponizing the word "smarm" as a catchall for the tumorous nicey-nice that's pervaded internet culture. Smarm is everywhere, and now it finally has a name.
Three or four are reported dead in the ongoing Bangkok protests (most places are publishing four, but a few are publishing three) and over the weekend crowds forced prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to flee from a police compound where she was going to give a television address.
Crowds of pro-Shinawatra Red Shirts from the countryside showed up by the busload, presumably to hassle the anti-Shinawatra urban protesters, but didn't stick around long:
On Saturday, around 70,000 Red Shirts, who had gathered near Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium to show support for the current administration, clashed with students, mainly antigovernment Yellow Shirts, emerging from neighboring Ramkhamhaeng University. About 8 p.m. local time, one person was killed when a shot was fired into the campus. Red Shirts had emerged from the stadium to support their comrades after several people were pulled from cars and beaten on the belief that they were Thaksin [Shinawatra] supporters.
Fighting continued in the surrounding area into the night, and by morning busloads of Red Shirt supporters were leaving the capital after leaders said their safety could not be guaranteed. “With the main group being sent home, hopefully we won’t see that conflict between these two mass movements,” says Robertson. “But there’s always a worry of agent provocateurs from one side or another trying to cause problems.”
The protesters' actions are dramatic and, some say, suggest the tacit support of the military, which has been very restrained in the past few days. Their demands are equally dramatic and, I'm guessing, not going to impress democratically elected world leaders:
But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who met Yingluck on Sunday night, has said he won't be satisfied with her resignation or new elections. Instead, he wants an unelected "people's council" to pick a new prime minister.
"I don't know how we can proceed" with that, she said. "We don't know how to make it happen. Right now we don't see any way to resolve the problem under the constitution," she said in the brief 12-minute news conference.
Meanwhile, the street battles are giving reporters in Thailand an excuse to try out new "drone journalism":
Insert obligatory Amazon/Bezos reference here.
Because there is no actual news the day before Thanksgiving, apparently, the internet has decided the cover of this morning's New York Times is very interesting. I refuse to argue with the entire internet. The big, front-page photo that accompanies this story shows a breast-cancer survivor who had a smidge of areola showing. Dan tossed the image into the morning news (without mentioning the breast). But elsewhere, people are agog. Slate's Amanda Marcotte began:
Mark Duffy at Gawker:
The fact that BuzzFeed puts "CUTE" stickers on their termination paperwork shouldn't surprise me, but it does.
My guess is that KING 5's Linda Brill was attempting to humanize council member-elect Kshama Sawant with those cringe-worthy interview questions she asked last week. But if you think that Brill, however condescending her questions, was tilting at windmills in her effort to elicit an emotional response, think again.
Over at TruthDig, assistant editor Alexander Reed Kelly avoids asking such leading questions and just lets Sawant tell her own story in her own words. The result: Exactly the sort of emotional moment Brill would have killed to catch on video.
Raised in Mumbai, India, in neither excessive wealth nor poverty, she had enough chances to witness the horrors of inequality directly. “It wasn’t just a question of feeling outraged,” she told me, describing the experiences of her childhood, “it was also a logical question: How is it possible that human society hasn’t figured out a way of eliminating this enormous misery that is unleashed on billions of people while there is clearly so much wealth?” Why the persistence of “extreme degradation and indignity that is foisted upon people with no choice? … Even now I feel like the same child that I was that just basically felt it unbearable to think of any human being subject to that without crying out in outrage.”
I asked her to recall a specific instance that prompted this recognition. “I used to take the bus and the train on a regular basis,” she said. “I remember one time I was coming out of the train station. I was walking outside to the bus stop where I was going to take the bus back to my house. I remember this woman, an older woman who was begging for alms on the side of the street.” At this point Sawant stopped to clear her throat. She turned her eyes to the table between us. “And she, you know, she was completely damaged from leprosy.” She stopped again. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a tissue which she pressed to her watering eyes. “And um, I carry that image with me everywhere. And it’s so many years since that but I can never take it out of my—that image is burned on my brain.” She fell silent again. A few moments later she apologized for getting emotional.
It's a well done interview with some thoughtful analysis. Read the whole thing.
And the star of the show turns out to be... Linda Brill. Or maybe Kshama Sawant's patience? This happened last week, but it's worth checking out, since KING 5 decided to post a long, unedited version of the interview with the newly elected city council member online.
Sample questions from Brill:
"Here's what I think is so amazing: You're this little girl in India, and before you know it, you're on your way to being a city council person. Is that surprising?"
"What caste were you?"
"Will you end your sentences more quickly? 'Cause you are a talker."
"What do you have against corporations? What do you have against millionaires?"
Congratulations to Slate's Matthew Yglesias for demonstrating his proud contrarian street cred by declaring that socialism is already "off to a poor start" in Seattle. Yglesias makes fun of Kshama Sawant for talking about collectivizing Boeing's Everett plant, as well as her call to defend existing housing from unscrupulous developers.
"Look... there's someone even lefterer than me! Aren't they quaint!" exclaims Yglesias, (if not exactly in those words).
First, let's just be clear that socialism can't have possibly gotten off to a poor start in Seattle, because it hasn't started yet. With certification a week away, Sawant hasn't even officially won the election yet, let alone been sworn in. So grabbing an old out-of-context campaign quote (as Yglesias does with Sawant's comment on land use) and presenting it as a "poor start" to her term in office is just plain lazy.
As for that quote—"The first thing we need is a council that will defend existing housing and not destroy existing housing in the name of density and sustainability"—that's 25 words taken out of a 42-minute conversation with the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition. Indeed, this quote comes specifically in response to a question about the impact of speculation on the availability of affordable housing: "This is speculative investment masquerading as solutions of density," Sawant explains. "They are destroying existing affordable housing while saying they are creating affordable housing," decries Sawant, calling it "doublespeak."
Sawant goes on to criticize her opponent for pandering to developers in the name of density, while ignoring environmental sustainability and neighborhood plans that are already in place. "It's not a question of density, it's a question of who is calling the shots," explains Sawant. And clearly, she believes that the shots are too firmly in the hands of powerful developers.
Yglesias uses this out-of-context quote to make some smug comparison to "urban planning in the communist bloc." Gimme a fucking break. Again, that's just lazy.
As for the Boeing thing, yeah, I understand that Sawant's suggestion that workers "take over" Boeing's Everett plant may strike some as a bit shocking. Of course it's shocking. That's the whole point! That's part of what Sawant brings to the table—a refusal to just submissively accept whatever fate allotted by our corporate overlords. Yglesias, on the other hand, not so much:
This is a mistake for the history books:
Nov 20 (Reuters) - An advertisement placed in The Seattle Times on Wednesday by a group hoping to encourage Washington state to keep up its fight to secure the coveted work on the new Boeing 777 includes a notable miscue.
At the top of the full-page ad, under the all-caps text "The Future of Washington," is pictured not a Boeing jet, but rather an A320 from archrival Airbus.
The ad, which prominently displays the logo of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, a coalition of business, labor and government groups championing the industry, urges state lawmakers to pass a large-scale roads-and-transit tax package that Boeing executives have said would make the state a more desirable venue for future projects.
The Washington Aerospace Partnership includes the cities of Auburn, Everett, Kent, Marysville, Redmond, and so on, as well as the ports of Seattle, Everett, and Port Angeles, and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which placed the ad.
The screwed up ad is a sideshow, but it's a sharp reminder of our screwed up real-life situation: Washington state has agreed to give Boeing $8.7 billion in tax breaks—the biggest state tax break to a business in US history—to keep it here, but the machinists have voted down another part of the Boeing plan.
As Tim Egan summed up the pathetic (on the political level) and greedy (at the corporate level) state of affairs a few days ago in the NYT:
The events of the last few days show the utter bankruptcy of economic policy prescriptions offered by both political parties. You want tax breaks and deregulation — the Republican mantra? The $8.7 billion granted Boeing this week is the largest single state-tax giveaway in the nation’s history. It wasn’t enough. You want government training for schools and highly skilled workers — the Democratic alternative? There was plenty of that, to Boeing’s liking, in the package.
What Boeing wants is very simple: to pay the people who make its airplanes as little money as it can get away with. It needs to do this, we’re told, to stay competitive. It has all the leverage, because enough states — and countries — are willing to give it everything it asks for. Who wouldn’t want a gleaming factory stuffed with jet assemblers, a payroll guaranteed for a generation?
Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year. It is not impelled, as the auto industry was five years ago, in the midst of bailouts and cutbacks. Boeing could afford to be generous, or at least not onerous. But it’s easier to play state against state, the race to the bottom.
Meanwhile, councilperson-elect Kshama Sawant is suggesting that Boeing workers "re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses" instead of "war machines." Which does not seem like an auspicious start for the newly elected socialist's uphill battle to make socialism seem sensible to the rest of the city—and the country.
Are you someone who checks in on a regular basis to see if Anita Sarkeesian has posted another video in her "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" series? Well, then let me save you the trouble, because here's the newest one:
If you've forgotten about Sarkeesian, here's a bit of back story.
This newest video in the series came out a couple of days ago (the internet is a race, etc.) and it's the start of analyzing a new trope. While the first three videos were about the Damsel in Distress archetype, this starts to talk about what Sarkeesian dubs the Ms. Male Character trope, in which female characters are just male characters with a pink bow on their head. (Or eyelashes, or lipstick, or jewelry, or all of the above.) There's a detour into Personality Female Syndrome and the Smurfette Principle, she compares Eve to Ms. Pac-Man, and there's an old-school Lily Tomlin cameo. What more do you need?
This is one where you really need to watch the whole thing to get the full argument Sarkeesian is making—after 10 minutes, I wasn't sure I understood her approach, but by the end I got the larger concept and I needed to have gone through all the beginning stuff to get there. And this one seems particularly academic and less goofy; I wonder if that'll turn some people off.
The Seattle Times editorial board concern-trolls Mayor Mike McGinn:
MAYOR Mike McGinn should rescind his executive order to Seattle child-care providers to meet with union leaders or lose city funding. The mayor should consider whether he wants to squander his remaining time in office on impractical and, in this case, possibly illegal policies.
[...] McGinn’s claim to be interested only in improving preschool teacher quality is undercut by his directive’s interesting timing. As noted by Times reporter Lynn Thompson, McGinn issued the order in the middle of his tough re-election campaign against state Sen. Ed Murray. McGinn lost, but was endorsed by SEIU and the federation.
I could easily spend a thousand words thoroughly fisking this stunningly unselfconscious piece of anti-labor bullshit, but instead I'll just resort to a handful of bullet points. I mean, why put any more effort into this than they did?
Bloomberg says Forbes magazine is for sale:
Forbes Media LLC, the closely held publisher founded by the family of former U.S presidential candidate Steve Forbes, is exploring a sale after getting interest from potential buyers.
I only ever read about Forbes when they publish moronic shit like this and this. I imagine if it sells, it'll probably go to a more conservative buyer, and then the magazine will lean so far to the right that any practical use Forbes may have served in the past will completely dissipate.
It's sad, really, that perhaps the best newspaper journalist in Seattle doesn't write for a Seattle newspaper. Timothy Egan on Boeing in the New York Times:
This is how the middle class dies, not with a bang, but a forced squeeze. After a global corporation posts record profits, it asks the state that has long nurtured its growth for the nation’s biggest single tax break, and then tells the people who make its products that their pension plan will be frozen, their benefits slashed, their pay raises meager. Take it or we leave. And everyone caves.
[...] What Boeing wants is very simple: to pay the people who make its airplanes as little money as it can get away with. It needs to do this, we’re told, to stay competitive. It has all the leverage, because enough states — and countries — are willing to give it everything it asks for. Who wouldn’t want a gleaming factory stuffed with jet assemblers, a payroll guaranteed for a generation?
Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year. It is not impelled, as the auto industry was five years ago, in the midst of bailouts and cutbacks. Boeing could afford to be generous, or at least not onerous. But it’s easier to play state against state, the race to the bottom.
Union members need to understand where management is coming from. To Boeing, the decision about where to build the 777X is about how to price the airplane today for delivery in the early 2020s. The company has to figure out how much it can charge for a 777X and how much it must pay to get it built. Boeing’s offer to the Machinists was aimed to fix a price.
By saying “no,” the union has set a higher price for building the airplane in Washington.
Is all lost for building the 777X in Everett? That’s unclear. But if District 751 wants to build that plane here, the union — leadership and rank and file together — should make the next overture to Boeing, and soon.
Yup. This is all the Machinists fault. And they're getting what they deserve. Or something.
On every count, both the opinion and the prose, this editorial is a disgrace.
Published in the Harrisburg, PA Patriot & Union, a little less than 150 years ago:
We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.
Those "silly remarks" were the Gettysburg Address. Today, the paper, which is now known as the Patriot-News, has issued a retraction:
In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.
I regret that The Stranger's annual Regrets issues will never run a regret quite that incredible.
I've already thoroughly fisked Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan's earlier post on the topic, and this anti-$15 minimum wage column is mostly a retread. But Pian Chan does give us one revealing new tidbit of inadvertent honesty:
Please let this discussion die a Seattle death by committee.
As I'd previously explained, when the Seattle Times editorial board argued that "Seattle leaders ... should watch what happens in SeaTac" rather than "act quickly to follow suit," what they were really advocating was an effort to slow down the minimum wage debate long enough to kill it. It was a close reading that Pian Chan now confirms.
Kshama Sawant's surprisingly strong support was as close to a proxy vote on the $15 minimum wage as we could get in Seattle without actually putting a measure on the ballot. The proposal has momentum. And it has the public endorsement of a majority of council members and our newly elected mayor. The time to act is now.
Of all the media fervor over yesterday's stunning reversal in the Sawant-Conlin race, the headline that most caught my attention was this one from Q13Fox: "Who is Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant?"
Um... isn't that a question you might have wanted to ask on behalf of your viewers before the election?
I keep hearing from critics that had more voters truly understood who Sawant is and the Socialist agenda she promotes, Seattle voters might have been more reluctant to hazard a vote on her. I don't think so. Though maybe. But the point is, even as Sawant surged, most of our news media treated Sawant and her Socialist Alternative comrades as little more than a novelty: "Ha, ha! A Socialist! Isn't that cute!" Or something.
Six months ago I could at least understand their skepticism. But once Sawant won an impressive 35 percent of the vote in a three-way primary, that narrative should have changed. She was winning over crowds at candidate forums. She was attracting volunteers and raising money. She was gaining momentum. Even without the benefit of hindsight it was clear that Sawant had a chance of winning. Not a huge chance, but a chance. But few in our local media took Sawant as seriously as, say, chamber-backed 33-percent-winner Albert Shen.
And that's why a week after the election some journalists are left asking questions about Sawant that they should have asked weeks before.
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
As with the Dixiecrats, the fight is not over a particular program — although Obamacare comes close — but about a tectonic shift of attitudes.
That's right, having to "repress a gag reflex" at the thought of interracial marriage (and lesbians!) is "not racist," according to Cohen, because today's GOP is just like the Dixiecrats! (Who, of course, were racist.)
Hey, Jeff Bezos: You sign this guy's paycheck!
But Time decided to headline its story "The Elephant in the Room" in big print on the cover of the magazine, along with a silhouette shot of Christie that you can see, to the left there, is hardly flattering in its choice of lighting and angle. The cover has taken a lot of heat from writers all over the internet. Politico says Time executive editor Michael Duffy defended the choice on MSNBC:
“Well, he’s obviously a big guy. He’s obviously a big Republican. But he’s also done a really huge thing here this week,” Duffy said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” when asked what was meant by the headline. “He stood astride the Republican Party and said, ‘Stop. We don’t have to make our whole appeal about narrow base issues.’ And that campaign showed it with the demographics you talked about.”
People have been making fat jokes about Christie for years now. Perenial shitty nickname-giver George W. Bush even dubbed Christie "Big Boy," because George W. Bush has the imagination of a stool sample. And Christie welcomed the jokes in a very funny bit on Letterman, saying that he didn't mind as long as they were funny.
Personally, I think Time shouldn't have done the headline. It's lazy. It's thoughtless. It's rude. I think it's a dumb trap to obsess over Christie's size when his words and his deeds are so alarming. But as a writer, the biggest problem I have with Time naming the story "The Elephant in the Room" is that it works on a couple of different levels—there's the whole Republicans/elephants thing, and the size thing—but it doesn't work on the surface level, which is that an elephant in a room is a huge thing that nobody talks about or acknowledges. And everybody on Earth is talking about Chris Christie's presidential ambitions. It's the furthest thing from an elephant in the room that I can imagine. Which means that the headline just doesn't work, which means they should've picked another headline. But what do you think?
"My five-year-old cut off my three-year-old's hair," writes NPR reporter Jeff Cohen on the Public Radio Exchange. "A few weeks later, I decided to interview them and get their explanations." What follows is a serious, edited interview about the terrible haircut.
Assorted questions/answers include:
Dad: "And what did you do with the hair?"
Sadie: "I hid it under the radiator."
Dad: "Did you think we were gonna like it?"
Sadie: "No. I didn't know you gonna scream like that, though."
Sadie: "That was really, really, really terrible, but everyone does that kind of stuff sometimes. It happens like once... or twice... or three times in every life. Or twice. I mean, once."
Enjoy! (A picture of the haircut is at the link.)
Key bits: The lashing Paul's getting from newspapers in his home state (belying his claims that the entire plagiarism hubbub is the work of lefty haters), and Maddow's noting that if this is how Paul responds to mild criticism during his junior senatorship, can we seriously consider him for the actually high-pressure job of the presidency? Whatever the case, watch.
Isaac Fitzgerald, a cofounder of The Rumpus and a former employee of McSweeney's, is now BuzzFeed's books editor, Poynter's Andrew Beaujon reports. It's good that they're hiring someone with a books background and not just some schmuck from Thought Catalog who read a book once, but I'm really troubled by this quote from Fitzgerald:
BuzzFeed will do book reviews, Fitzgerald said, but he hasn’t figured out yet what form they’ll take. It won’t do negative reviews: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about books, that it is something that people have worked incredibly hard on, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place.”
He will follow what he calls the “Bambi Rule” (though he acknowledges the quote in fact comes from Thumper): “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
I agree that you should publish way more positive book reviews than negative book reviews, but if you only publish positive book reviews, you're not a critical outlet; you're a consumer goods promotion site. Part of the reason why book culture has marginalized itself on the internet over the last ten years is this goody-two-shoes, let's-all-play-nice-together culture that has permeated book blogs. Everybody is a cheerleader for Team Books, and that's great. But with self-publishing exploding and publishers catering to a more and more insular audience, we need negative book reviews more than ever.
Without a negative review every now and again, there's no way to align your tastes to a critic; you need the poles of a positive and a negative review in order to understand what a critic considers a good book to be. If a critic loves everything, there's no drama, there's no understanding of what the critic dislikes, and every review becomes meaningless.
Ten years ago, there were plenty of literary blogs, and every day those blogs had news and gossip to report. People got into arguments. Authors fought with each other. Lofty discussions about the future broke out everywhere. Now, it seems, everyone is just smiling and nodding primly to each other. It's so cutesy-pie that nobody cares. You're pro-literacy. I'm pro-literacy. Everybody who reads about books agrees that more people should read more books. That's great! Now tell us why. Be passionate. Make mistakes. Tell us who's doing it wrong. Tell us who's doing it right. Argue with me about e-books. Make it lively. Make it fun. Make people want to see what you're going to write next. But for fuck's sake, don't just promise handshakes and rainbows from day one. The publishers and authors might love you for it, but real human beings will tune you out immediately. If book culture continues to go down this cheerleader path, we'll diminish ourselves culturally to the point where we're a tiny insular Smurf village of love and peace and happiness. And nobody will ever give a shit.
In other news, Fitzgerald also says the section will focus on "shareable content," so you've got that to look forward to.
In a final parting shot at SeaTac Proposition 1, the Seattle Times' Jonathan Martin repeats a familiar No campaign talking point:
Tucked into the SeaTac $15 minimum wage ordinance is a big exemption to the landmark proposal.
In the Waivers section of the proposed ordinance, available on the City of SeaTac website, Proposition 1 gives employers a break from the minimum wage, the paid sick days and other employee protections – as long as the business is unionized.
Except, no, that's not what the Waivers section says. Being unionized does not automatically give employers a break from Proposition 1's provisions, as Martin's summary of it implies.
Proposition 1 allows unions to agree to waive its provisions "in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement." Big difference. And it makes sense. Seattle's paid sick leave ordinance includes a similar provision. Unions often negotiate pay and benefits against each other, for example, lower pay raises in exchange for higher healthcare benefits, or vice versa. Proposition 1 merely allows unions (and unionized employers) to retain such negotiating flexibility. But whatever the mix, a union would be crazy to negotiate a smaller total compensation package than the floor mandated by Proposition 1.
Does the union waiver in Prop. 1 make you more or less likely to vote for it?
Hey, way to turn your op-ed page into a push-poll.
But regardless, the entire premise of this attack is bizarre: That it's somehow unseemly for unions to contribute money to an initiative that might benefit unions. Well, duh-uh. I don't see the editorial page expressing outrage at the airline, hotel, and restaurant industries investing money in the No campaign in a blatant effort to preserve their profit margins. Because that's how politics works.
I fell down an internet hole this morning tracing all the nuances of a little tidbit Poynter published that begins, "A woman interviewed by former Columbia professor Bruce Porter has sued him, the Columbia Journalism Review and a documentary filmmaker." Jesus H. Christ, does this story make longtime reporter and Columbia Journalism School professor Porter look like a colossal dickhead.
First, he published a cover story in Newsweek in 1967, an interview with a hippie teen runaway, after promising her anonymity—but then, for no apparently logical reason, he printed her real first name and her hometown, saying later that his editor just "liked the sound of" her first name, and that the fact that she'd be easily identifiable to her parents if he also named the town she was from was "something I hadn't bothered to consider." Really?! She was not happy about being identified, and he heard she was unhappy, and he was heartbroken.
This all caused a 40-year-long chain reaction of events, including the girl's sad phone call to her mother (warning her about the Newsweek article) being played on the radio, Porter telling her story over and over down through the years as a cautionary tale to his journalism students, and then his decision a couple of years ago to track her down so he could apologize—and deciding to bring a documentary filmmaker along on his quest to apologize to her for publicizing her identity. Obviously, over the course of finding her and documenting his finding her, he manages to further publicize her identity, get a story about her printed in her hometown newspaper—he also misleads a reporter for that paper—and he writes a new story about the apology quest without telling her. (Also, he managed to misspell her last name in the new story on her. CLASSY.)
It's a big tangled rats nest, but it makes for fascinating reading on a Friday afternoon. Start with Porter's own 2012 account of it all, then his kinda-sorta apology after that, then the excoriating overview of the various betrayals involved pulled together by Rhonda Roland Shearer at media watchdog site iMediaEthics.
Clearly, I wasn't the only reader irritated by Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan's fact-free commentary on SeaTac's $15 an hour minimum wage initiative. I posted my thorough smackdown yesterday. And today the Seattle Times posts a critical letter to the editor from Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE) president Benjamin Sung Henry:
I am an advocate for Pacific Islander communities and a son of an immigrant small-business owner. I disagree with Sharon Pian Chan’s commentary on SeaTac’s Proposition 1 [How a $15 minimum wage would devastate immigrant businesses,” Online, Oct. 30].
While appearing to champion the cause of immigrant small-business owners, Chan conflates the issues and ignores the fact that SeaTac’s initiative exempts some of them from the $15-an-hour wage rate. Further, grandiose claims that “a higher minimum wage would sound a death knell” lack empirical evidence. What we do know is that small businesses in other airport cities (L.A., San Francisco, Oakland) that have raised the minimum wage have remained strong and vibrant.
Minimum-wage workers do indeed “dream of something bigger” — but how can they possibly achieve those dreams when their realities are a never-ending struggle for basic survival? Proposition 1 gives workers a fair shot at prosperity.
Here are the facts: Raising the minimum wage in SeaTac will benefit an airport workforce that is disproportionately immigrant. It would create opportunities for workers so their children have better access to education, their families can get on the road to financial stability, they can have better health outcomes and they can afford the training and education needed for career advancement.
That is the American dream.
Benjamin Sung Henry, Beacon Hill
The paper's editorial page editors—Pian Chan and Kate Riley—made several minor and justifiable edits for the sake of readability. But one edit jumps out: In the original text of the letter (appended after the the jump) Henry describes himself as an advocate for "Asian Pacific Islander" communities, which the editors curiously truncate to just "Pacific Islander." Further, Henry was writing in his role as "President, Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment", a signature the editors changed to "Benjamin Sung Henry, Beacon Hill," omitting all reference to the fact that Henry was writing as an advocate for the interests of, you know, Asians. (Henry himself is the son of a Korean American immigrant mother.)
Which is weird. Because Pian Chan's commentary was largely framed as a defense of Asian immigrants, backed up by her personal experience as the daughter of Asian immigrants: "My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1975," Pian Chan wrote in an effort to establish street cred on the subject. So Henry's claim to represent the Asian community as well would seem entirely relevant to his critique.
To be clear: "Asian Pacific Islander community" is the politically correct term around these parts. I can't tell you how many times I've slipped up, referring to the "Asian" community only to be politely reminded by an Asian politician or community leader that it is "Asian Pacific Islander." And a quick glance finds plenty of Asian Americans on the APACE board. So to edit Henry's letter as to leave the false impression that he only advocates on behalf of "Pacific Islanders," well, that's not just misleading, it's insulting.
Likewise, the editor's refusal to acknowledge Henry's title and organization in his signature seems totally arbitrary. Yes, the usual format in their letters to the editor is to list the author's name and neighborhood, but that's not a hard and fast rule. So why don't Henry and APACE deserve the same consideration the page showed, say, "Isiaah Crawford, Ph.D., Provost, Seattle University," in his October 20 letter appropriately credited as such?
Again, weird. It's almost as if the Seattle Times editorial page believes itself to be the arbiter of who can legitimately speak on behalf of Asian Americans.
The headline on TPM screams that a new poll finds that "More Americans Want To Keep Or Expand Obamacare Than Repeal It." True enough. The Kaiser Family Foundation poll of 1,513 Americans ages 18 and over finds that 47 percent of respondents want to keep or expand Obamacare, compared to only 37 percent who want to repeal it or replace it with a Republican alternative. Interesting.
But even more interesting is that when you go to Kaiser's website you find that their main takeaway from their October tracking poll is that "the public’s overall views of the ACA have held relatively steady." For example, Obamacare's favorable/unfavorable ratio was 38-44 in October compared to 39-43 in September and 35-43 in June. And while the September poll does not ask the same exact question on repeal, you can extrapolate the results quite easily: Only 81 percent those respondents with an unfavorable view of Obamacare in September expressed support for repeal. That comes to just 35 percent support in favor of repeal.
How is this possible? Well, only 33 percent of respondents in the September poll who held an unfavorable view of Obamacare expressed the opinion that the law went too far. Another 7 percent of respondents express disfavor because the law doesn't go far enough! It is a distinction that most media outlets gloss over in feeding the Republican frame that Obamacare is broadly unpopular with American voters. In fact, a significant chunk of public dissatisfaction with the law has always come from voters who would prefer a more sweeping public option or single payer system.
The top line favorable/unfavorable ratio has always been misleading as it lumps together the disparate reasons for disfavor while ignoring the fact that many voters are realistic about the choices before them. We've all voted for candidates we don't like, because the alternative was worse. In fact, a substantial majority of Americans who express an opinion support moving forward with Obamacare. Period. But you wouldn't know this from watching cable news.