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design thru the mailslot this morning: the new iht

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I received an email from the publisher of the IHT last week warning me that my paper would look a bit different on Monday. And I must admit, as I lazed and dozed this morning, there was a little jolt of Xmas morning excitement when I rememebered what was waiting for me at the foot of the mailslot.

They’ve changed the font of both the masthead and the body text to resemble that of the mother-paper, the New York Times. The redesign as a whole is a deferred outcome of the fact that the paper used to be a joint operation of the NYT and the Washington Post until the former took over sole ownership in 2007. So this is a step towards the final rebranding of the paper into the global edition of the Times, rather than a curious hybrid of an independent international paper filled with its own content plus a crosscut of materials from two papers at home.

Looks a lot lighter and graphicalistical throughout. Especially in this land of content-light newspapers, the IHT always felt like you were reading a paper designed to maximize the amount of newsstuff per page, the equivalent of the whole NYT but crushed into twelve pages designed to make it by air efficiently to Kuala Lumpur or Montevideo. It’s always felt a bit like eating something that looked on the outside like a croissant, but left you feeling like you ate a loaf of bread by the time you were done. We’ll have to see if we feel as full when we’re done with the new one.

They’ve added more business opinion and dropped business numbers, which is only the fulfillment of a trend across the industry. The sports section has grown from two pages to three, but I’m not sure, again, they’ve added comment so much as spread it out more evenly over the pages.

Above all else, they’ve kept the crossword. Phew. I’ll have a nice opportunity later today to check if that’s any clearer and simpler and easier. Let’s hope not.

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March 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

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freepapers for all! socialize the news!

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Clearing some old links out today. The topic of this one keeps me up at night, and I basically advocate exactly what they advocate. David Swensen and Michael Schmidt in January in the New York Times:

As long as newspapers remain for-profit enterprises, they will find no refuge from their financial problems. The advertising revenues that newspaper Web sites generate are not enough to sustain robust news coverage. Though The New York Times Web site attracted 20 million unique users in October, Web-driven revenues support only an estimated 20 percent of the paper’s current staff.

As newspapers go digital, their business model erodes. A 2008 research report from Sanford C. Bernstein & Company explained, “The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face.”

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.

(Found this article, btw, via this one….)

It keeps me up at night. I’m a newsprint fetishist from way back – from the sports pages of the Newark Star-Ledger (this story almost made me cry) forward through to the fact that the thought all the way at the back of the line that one of the thrilling things about moving to England would be the wide range of papers I’d get to pick from everyday. Remember an embarrassing scene on one of my birthdays during grad school when a friend came by and saw the big ol’ stack of foreign papers my wife had so sweetly gotten me on the occassion. You, um, this is what you want for your birthday? I sheepishly nodded, yep, exactly this. And I’ve said before that one of the better barometers of my general mood and disposition is the number of papers that I buy during a day. (Today was OK, fair to good. Purchased IHT, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal-Europe, The Economist, and read the two evening freepapers. There are bigger, happier days than that… You should see me getting on a long-haul flight – pretty embarrassing.)

But the fact of the matter is that the internet is only good at recirculating what the printed papers generate. They die, and it’s nothing but endless stories about Kate Moss’s now womanly boobs and, I dunno, someone else’s boobs. Put the dying things in foundations, fund them from on high. We all walk around with stupid fantasies that we’re going to be writing local histories or photographing bridges when the shit finally really does drop during this crisis. But the best way, if anyone wanted to do a quick hitting revitalization of culture and the cultural employment market, would be to let a thousand newsprint flowers bloom and let papers local and national spend their time becoming one stop shops for information and art and all the other good things in life rather than sweating themselves to death looking for a department store to place a Saturday morning lingerie ad or someone to put their 2002 VW Jetta Wagon up for sale.

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February 17, 2009 at 11:48 pm

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in the future, everyone will be world-famous (except for me)

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Here I am at the university on Sunday, alone with the CCTV display that guards our hallway, taking pictures of myself during breaks from writing my lecture. Not necessarily visible in this picture (sorry) but I noticed at one point that I’m maybe cuter on TV than I am in real life.

Yes, it started to get a wee bit The Shining there on Sunday. And the snow hadn’t even started to fall… I’ve been working too hard lately, and it’s starting to show.

Last week, I was asked by a producer at a Major Global News Network to come on and talk on Live TV Broadcast to a Worldwide Audience about a certain recently deceased white guy from small-town Pennsylvannia, you know the one. One of my refrains, back before kids and when my wife and I used to watch a lot more TV news and pseudonews together, was that neither of us, no matter what happened, should ever go on TV to talk about stuff that we really don’t know anything about. It’s like the least you can do, but of course no one ever follows that rule, from the looks of the stuff that they put on tv. She’s done a bit of radio work, and some prerecorded talking-headery. (One occassion of which included, don’t know the technical term, generating sort of run-up filler about “her life” which involved the three of us forcibly playing in a playground in Toronto for several hours. Was a great playground, the one right in the shadow of cow-spotted OCAD, but truly sucked making the footage. At one point, I forgot that we were mic’ed, and started muttering over and over again “fuck these tv douchebags, fuck these tv douchebags, fuck these tv douchebags” until my wife silently mouthed, yep, “THEY CAN HEAR YOU IDIOT” at me. Hmmmm. I tried to turn it into some sort of children’s song that I was presumably singing to my daughter in case they hadn’t quite made out what I was saying, “fuck these tee veee dooo-ooo-sh-bags, my faaaair lay-dy…” but I’m pretty sure, from the looks I got after, les jeux sont faits already…)

Anyway, my wife, she always knows what she’s talking about when she does media stuff, but the thought of talking about a guy that, really, I probably know less about than you – no matter who you are –  in front of a Worldwide Audience (media types do that caps thing unironically, from what I can tell…) seemed like a perfect opportunity to live up to my word for once. Or at least to an opportunity to avoid vomiting on myself in front of viewers in Indonesia, Bahrain, Sweden, and Columbia and all points in between. Funny, Benjamin never brought up that up when he dissected the surgical violence that the camera commits upon the actor in front of it.

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February 2, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Posted in news, teevee

ever more nervous about nationalization

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Despite the fact that the non-nationalized corporation that he works for has just dragged its own building down to the pawnshop in order to keep paying his salary, David Sanger from the NYT still believes in the American way. Just. A Bit. Nervously. And just like our president-elect.

WASHINGTON — When President-elect Barack Obama talked on Sunday about realigning the American automobile industry he was quick to offer a caution, lest he sound more like the incoming leader of France, or perhaps Japan.

“We don’t want government to run companies,” Mr. Obama told Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press.” “Generally, government historically hasn’t done that very well.”

But what Mr. Obama went on to describe was a long-term bailout that would be conditioned on federal oversight. It could mean that the government would mandate, or at least heavily influence, what kind of cars companies make, what mileage and environmental standards they must meet and what large investments they are permitted to make — to recreate an industry that Mr. Obama said “actually works, that actually functions.”

It all sounds perilously close to a word that no one in Mr. Obama’s camp wants to be caught uttering: nationalization.

Not since Harry Truman seized America’s steel mills in 1952 rather than allow a strike to imperil the conduct of the Korean War has Washington toyed with nationalization, or its functional equivalent, on this kind of scale. Mr. Obama may be thinking what Mr. Truman told his staff: “The president has the power to keep the country from going to hell.” (The Supreme Court thought differently and forced Mr. Truman to relinquish control.)

The fact that there is so little protest in the air now — certainly less than Mr. Truman heard — reflects the desperation of the moment. But it is a strategy fraught with risks.

The first, of course, is the one the president-elect himself highlighted. Government’s record as a corporate manager is miserable, which is why the world has been on a three-decade-long privatization kick, turning national railroads, national airlines and national defense industries into private companies.

The second risk is that if the effort fails, and the American car companies collapse or are auctioned off in pieces to foreign competitors, taxpayers may lose the billions about to be spent.

And the third risk — one barely discussed so far — is that in trying to save the nation’s carmakers, the United States is violating at least the spirit of what it has preached around the world for two decades. The United States has demanded that nations treat American companies on their soil the same way they treat their home-grown industries, a concept called “national treatment.”

No need, really, for me to go into how bothered I am by Sanger’s “first risk,” is there? As basically just about every corporation in the world totters on the verge of collapse, as far as I know packages mailed via the USPS will still arrive in time for the special morning. Everyone knows why Amtrak has trouble, and Sanger should come over to the UK to experience what fully privatized rail travel is really like. I’ve heard all those privatized and deregulated airlines are doing really really well lately, but sure, yes, the privatized (um?) defense industry has done well over the past decade, that much is true.

I know it’s boring to keep posting these, but I’d like to keep a record just for record keeping’s sake. A post is coming that dares to tie the knot between my dominant preoccupations, NYT watching and nationalization, within hours or at the tops days. That Habermas piece is around here somewhere….

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December 9, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Posted in anxiety, news, socialism

frank rich’s problem and ours

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Frank Rich, as he often does in his best Sunday pieces for the NYT, gets into the seam to shout the obvious that the rest of the press cynically or idiotically ignores – in this case the fact that, for all the attention that’s been paid to Obama’s hawkish selections for State and Defense, his economic team is cut from the selfsame mold. In short, with both the imperial wars and the economic crisis, the very people who were involved in creating the problem are now going to be the ones appointed to pull us out…

This is what Rich is so good at, the emperor-has-no-clothes column, and this is what we’ve loved him for. But it is a love tinged with serious frustration as well, with this column no less than all the brilliant and brave ones he’s written about the war and terror over the past near-decade. We are frustrated because while he’s courageous at sniffing out the problem, he seems to stop just short, perpetually, of naming the real reasons for the disorder he describes.

Rich’s thesis today is that the economic team Obama’s assembled resembles the cabinet put together by Kennedy – JFK’s team of boy-wonders that somehow, despite their brilliance tumbled us into Vietnam. The payoff paragraph argues that it is an issue of personal defects, individual hubris, that makes these people make poor choices in crucial situations.

No, it’s the economic team that evokes trace memories of our dark best-and-brightest past. Lawrence Summers, the new top economic adviser, was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard’s history and is famous for never letting anyone forget his brilliance. It was his highhanded disregard for his own colleagues, not his impolitic remarks about gender and science, that forced him out of Harvard’s presidency in four years. Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, is the boy wonder president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He comes with none of Summers’s personal baggage, but his sparkling résumé is missing one crucial asset: experience outside academe and government, in the real world of business and finance. Postgraduate finishing school at Kissinger & Associates doesn’t count.

Summers and Geithner are both protégés of another master of the universe, Robert Rubin. His appearance in the photo op for Obama-transition economic advisers three days after the election was, to put it mildly, disconcerting. Ever since his acclaimed service as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, Rubin has labored as a senior adviser and director at Citigroup, now being bailed out by taxpayers to the potential tune of some $300 billion. Somehow the all-seeing Rubin didn’t notice the toxic mortgage-derivatives on Citi’s books until it was too late. The Citi may never sleep, but he snored.

Geithner was no less tardy in discovering the reckless, wholesale gambling that went on in Wall Street’s big casinos, all of which cratered while at least nominally under his regulatory watch. That a Hydra-headed banking monster like Citigroup came to be in the first place was a direct byproduct of deregulation championed by Rubin and Summers in Clinton’s Treasury Department (where Geithner also served). The New Deal reform they helped repeal, the Glass-Steagall Act, had been enacted in 1933 in part because Citigroup’s ancestor, National City Bank, had imploded after repackaging bad loans as toxic securities in the go-go 1920s.


Post-Iraq, we’re unlikely to rush into a new Vietnam. But we ignore the past’s lessons at our peril. In his 20th-anniversary reflections, Halberstam wrote that his favorite passage in his book was the one where Johnson, after his first Kennedy cabinet meeting, raved to his mentor, the speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, about all the president’s brilliant men. “You may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say,” Rayburn responded, “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”

Halberstam loved that story because it underlined the weakness of the Kennedy team: “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract quickness and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.” That difference was clearly delineated in Vietnam, where American soldiers, officials and reporters could see that the war was going badly even as McNamara brusquely wielded charts and crunched numbers to enforce his conviction that victory was assured.

But of course, lots of people are a bit too smart for their own good – probably everyone and anyone who’s likely to be appointed to run Harvard or the US economy falls into the same camp. I would be willing to bet that the hubris Rich is naming is a constant in the managerial ranks of any society. No, the deflection that Rich performs here psychologizes or even theatricalizes that which is attributable to bad ideas. It transmutes a corrupt and corrupting ideology into a personal failure, an idiosyncratic flaw.

I hate to sound reflexive, to sound like I’m parrotting the party line, but the problem with Rich’s work – now and throughout the decade – is that as brave as he is in naming what is hiding in plain sight, he systematically refuses to lay blame where blame is due. In this case, neoliberal economics – the self-suspending rope ladder of financialization. We are to blame Rubin and Summers personally, just his earlier columns urged us to blame Bush and Rumsfeld and Rice personally. Rich has all the makings of a brilliant social analyst, a wide-angle reader of the American situation. But when he brings right to the heart of the darkness that he describes, we find not systems and ideas but always a soul in crisis, a man on the verge of sin or deep in sin and trying to scrabble his way out of it. We “blame Bush” – and, as is clear even from Rich’s column today, it is becoming ever more clear that the removal of the stumbling villain from the stage might not be the cathartic crisis point that augurs the end of the horrible piece we’ve been watching.

Still, I need to take care. Rich is brave, but not brave enough. My own argument here has become a performative repetition of the very problem I’m trying to diagnose in the column. I have ended up blaming Rich for casting personal blame when broader, structural claims are required….

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December 7, 2008 at 11:33 am

news 2

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March 20, 2008 at 11:28 am

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