Where’s the Pork?

NPR reporter Julia Simon had a story today that exemplifies the best and worst of public media.

She starts with an incredibly good question: all educated Americans know that the US gives mega money to Egypt annually, but what does that money actually buy?

In a  very easy to understand narrative Simon takes us on a guided tour of what happens with this money.  SPOILER ALERT!  It never leaves the USA.  It actually purchases a bunch of bloated, American-made cold-war weapons systems of which Egypt already has plenty.  Best quote:

There’s no conceivable scenario in which they’d need all those tanks short of an alien invasion.

– Shana Marshall, Insert Relevant Institution Here

Simon then follows with specific examples of companies who lobby Washington to keep these purchases going.

So far so awesome. ¬†But then the story just ends. ¬†There is the requisite comment that this is just how things are and the inertia of existing programs is difficult to change etc. ¬†We’ll just have to leave it there.

Conventional wisdom achieved: the military industrial complex is what it is, sigh.

But there’s a giant Nile crocodile in the room that is utterly absent from this story of a corrupt developing country spending proxy billions of American taxpayer money on unnecessary American made weapons, isn’t there?



Oh wait!  Corruption!

The subtext of the story for those actually paying attention is that someone, somewhere, is getting a lot of kickback for these deals.  Probably a lot of someones.  In fact a lack of corruption in this set-up would be so astonishing as to deserve its own mention.

But I guess that sort of exploration is for the kind of investigative reporting that either doesn’t exist much anymore or is too focussed on Anthony’s Wiener.

Mara Liason: naive, or just bored?

The following exchange took place yesterday in one of the infinite “two-way” reports spending one last night in bed with the still-warm body of Rick Santorum’s stillborn campaign:

SIEGEL: Speaking of his future, of course much depends on whether the Republicans win or lose the White House, but what is his future?

LIASSON: Well, he could be in a Romney Cabinet. He certainly will be a conservative social issue leader in the Republican Party. 2016, he could run again. He’ll have a heck of a lot of competition if [he] does that, though.

It’s really not hard to know what Santorum’s future is. ¬†It’s going to look a lot like his immediate pre-primary past. ¬†As Joshua Green put it in Bloomberg:

He did some lobbying, hooked up with a think tank, and sat on a few boards

Sound familiar?  Basically being handed a bunch of money for his extraordinary ability to be Rick Santorum.

So what’s up, Mara? ¬†Do you not know this? ¬†Either you are extremely naive about what out of work politicians do or you think it isn’t interesting enough to just say it. ¬†Too true to be good.

But I find it extremely interesting that out of work politicians make a bunch of money simply for being out of work politicians. ¬†It’s a sickness at the heart of our politics, and I find it very, very worth discussing.

In fact I find it much more worth discussing than the questionable poll results you and your kind perseverate over daily.

But you, Mara, seem to be wed to the old school reportage.  Make it exciting!  Gin up a real fight!  Make it about the contest.  2016!!  You actually said it!  I think you might be the first!  Yay!

And today on Morning Edition you even fired the starter pistol on the race between Romney and Obama, characterizing it as completely evenly matched.  How conveniently exciting for you and all your horse-race monger compatriots.

War is Peace!  Ignorance is Strength!  Everything is Equivalent!

A Radio Show About Nothing

“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, dar√ľber muss man schweigen.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Loosely translated: “About which we cannot speak, we must remain silent.”¬† In other words if you don’t have something intelligent or useful to say, just be quiet.

If Public Radio lived by Ludwig’s rule then some things would change.¬† “Speaking of Faith” would have been called “Not Speaking of Faith” and would have consisted of an hour of blessed silence.¬† Of course that show, which I think I’ve mentioned once or twice on this blog, has been born again as “Krista Tippett on Being.”¬† It would have to become “Krista Tippett on Nothing,” which can only be an improvement.

But the main thing that would happen, freeing up countless hours of currently wasted time, is that NPR would have to cease its breathless, obsessive handicapping of upcoming elections.  I have railed against the horse-race nature of what passes for political coverage on NPR several times before but, shockingly, it appears to be having no effect.  In fact things are getting worse.

How many radio hours have been wasted in the last month breathlessly poring over the latest poll numbers and pre-announcing the imminent demise of the Democratic majority?¬† Even more than the number of hours spent during the approach of last year’s “nothing to see here” off-year elections.¬† Remember how it was supposed to be a big revolution?

I have three explanations for the amount of blather on this topic.¬† First of all the press thrives on reporting on conflict and change, so the prospect of party turnover interests them far more than what the new party in power will actually try to do.¬† Second the coverage of polls is a low risk for them politically because they’re just talking about poll results so they can go on for hours without worrying about appearing to be, God forbid, non objective.

Finally it’s easy.¬† Which makes me think they are lazy.¬† It’s like filler.¬† “Hey, guys, can you fill up ten minutes talking about poll results?”¬† “No problem!!”

I’m a Beale-eiver

Okay, now I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.¬† (more after the image)

Crazy Like a Fox...Network

Evidently Republicans turn off the movie Network when they get to the part, only a few minutes in, where everyone is encouraged to run to their window, throw it open and yell the famous phrase.  Maybe Republicans become hypnotized and actually obey these instructions, so they miss the rest of the movie in favor of waking their neighbors.

But it seems that political commentators never make it all the way to the end either, though they seem to have a slightly longer attention span.¬† Take today’s well stated but still missing-the-point commentary by Mike Pesca.¬† He does better than most. He makes an important connection that Republicans seem to miss: the fact that the character Howard Beale, accidental savior, is stark raving mad.¬† Beale’s not held up as a noble hero by the the screenwriter, Paddy Chayevsky (yet another Greatest Generation casual genius).

But Pesca, like every other Network-mentioner I’ve heard since Glenn Beck created his Howard Beale tribute-band persona, fails to mention the most important and relevant aspect of the film.¬† You see Howard Beale is crazy in Network, but he nevertheless spouts quite a lot of truth in his highly-rated Jeremiads.¬† Many of these truths have to do with the failure of television to actually inform.¬† But the truths that really get him into trouble are those which inveigh against his corporate masters, the mega-company that owns his network.

As a result the company subjects him to an artificial epiphany in the form of the god-like presence of (believe it or not) Ned Beatty, one of the exalted executives from the parent company.  He converts Beale to the sort of Ayn Randianism favored by major multi-nationals. You can watch this scene here.

God Inc.
God Inc.

Beale becomes a Eunuch, singing the corporate message beautifully, all the sound and fury drained of significance.

And thus we have Glenn Beck, whose religion is apparently that which helps the bottom line of Rupert effing Murdoch.

Postscript: The 90s version of Network is The Matrix.¬† While the dialog is far less artful, the message is even more subversive.¬† Plus there’s awesome Kung Fu.

Wall Street Journal Standards Falling Already

Language evolves. I understand that.

In fact, I predict that more and more dictionaries will come to include one or all of our our commander in chief’s pronunciations of “nuclear” (noo-kyoo-ler, or sometimes nuclar, or even new-kee-ler) until they are fully accepted as correct.

But I and other right-thinking people can certainly try our damnedest to fight it every step of the way.

I don’t really mind so much when some benighted southern yokel pronounces it incorrectly. After all, they may never have actually heard anyone pronounce it properly.

But I start to twitch when the people who can’t say the word have some intimate or expert connection to it. I’ve heard nuclear weapons experts screw it up. And Bush himself really should try harder given that he (A) attended Yale and (B) has his finger on the trigger of the largest nookyewwlur weapons arsenal in the known universe.

Imagine how annoyed you would be if his petulant voice suddenly drawled over the Emergency Broadcast System saying “I regret to inform you folks that I have, uhh, authorized a full scale newwkyoulair attack on the former Soviet Union”? The only thing worse than anthropogenic apocalypse would be having Bush cause it while not being able to pronounce it.

Which brings me to Jay Solomon, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal who did a two-way today with Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. He was discussing last year’s refreshingly non-apocalypse-causing attack by Israeli jets on a mysterious Syrian target.

Mr. Solomon’s position at the Journal implies an impressive pedigree, though a hasty google was unable to turn it up. Additionally, in the way that reporters must become quick experts on the subjects they cover, he can be considered something of an expert on nuclear politics.

Yet there he was, nucucumberylering it every time he said the word during the report. Shouldn’t we expect the system that selects from the cream of the ivy league cream to work at papers like the NY Times and the WS Journal to produce people who can pronounce nuclear?

And why didn’t Siegel correct him? Too shy? If Siegel and Solomon’s mother haven’t done it by now then I guess it’s up to me. After all, proper pronunciation of the word is quite simple.

Feel free to anonymously email a link to this post to anyone who needs to know:

How to Pronounce “Nuclear” Almost Like an Educated English Speaker

( Soon to be a popular YouTube video, I feel sure )

Step 1. Say “New”, as in “New York Times”.

Step 2. Say “Clear” , as in “the journal strives for clear writing!”

Step 3. Now say them quickly as in “After my dermabrasion I’m enjoying my new clear skin!”

Step 4. Now every time you have to say “nuclear” say “new clear” instead. It really works!!

There, isn’t that so much easier than getting a job at the Wall Street Journal was? Since you could do that I just knew you could say “new clear”.

Bush, however, I’m not sure about. One school of thought posits that his folksy spoonerisms, malaprops, and anencephalies are intentional. But I don’t believe that theory. I don’t think the unholy stem-cell love clone made from combined mouth swabs of Tom Hanks and Billy-Bob Thornton would be that good at playing brain-injured.

So, Jay, fight the lobotomy Rupert Murdoch is in the process of performing on your famous paper!

Help us hold the line on the proper pronunciation of what is probably the scariest word in the entire English language!

Or else stick to typing it and stay off the radio.

Good get

Today’s Morning Edition embodied some of the positive trends I see in NPR reportage.

There are subject areas that demand constant coverage and attention as opposed to the “declare a crisis every ten years and forget about it” syndrome Mainstream Media is so often prey to.

American and global energy use and abuse certainly falls into this category, as does the problem of educating underprivileged legacy-challenged children.

A brief 27-second item foreshadows future dramatic oil price and pollution increases as Chinese are said to have a lust for just the kind of gas guzzlers that American car companies are desperate to supply.

A longer piece describes a Newt Gingrich-inspired program of rewarding poor urban kids with cash if they improve their grades. Of course this kind of idea is unpleasantly crass and serves as a sad commentary on a society that so often makes it impossible for public schools to do the job we ask of them. But at this point anything is worth trying. And who could really be against rewarding poor kids for academic performance? After all many of them already have after school jobs, legal or otherwise. Isn’t paying them to study in order to succeed in the long term a better option, at least in theory?

Wonderfully for the fatuous jerk-a-knee behind the newspaper comic “Mallard Fillmore” (doesn’t the title really say everything that needs to be said about it) reporter Odette Yousef manages to find a cartoonish academic, associate professor in educational policy Richard Lakes, who actually says the following:

“This message really reinforces that these low-income kids are destined to a life of wage-earning,” said Richard Lakes, associate professor in educational policy at Georgia State University, who called the program “morally bankrupt.”

“It reinforces that these children in particular are going to be servants of the middle and upper classes,” he said.

This is where the radio format really comes in handy. I probably would have believed that statement to be an invented Jayson Blair kind of quote by a made-up person if I hadn’t heard him with my own ears.

“A life of wage earning?” Really? And that’s a bad thing? Compared to what, exactly? Being an associate professor? I guess Georgia State pays Professor Lakes in magic beans and the laughter of children?

And in what world is paying kids to do better in school more likely to land them a wage-slave “career” than not paying them to make good grades.

This is the kind of mindless, aesthetic, pre-determined-by-politics response normally associated with the focus-grouped paranoid fantasies of Coulter, Hannity, and Limbaugh.

Professor Lakes has taught me something: previously I thought straw men only came to life in the Land of Oz.

Gjelten Saves the Day

A few weeks ago I chided Public Radio (and NPR specifically) for not covering the threat of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Finally today’s morning edition aired a scary but very informative story on this subject by Tom Gjelten. Great work, guys! But stay on it.

Almost as scary is a story about how quickly and easily the British are becoming a surveillance society for the purpose of rooting out all levels of crime including littering.

I hope that isn’t what extra awareness of nuclear terrorism inevitably leads to…

Hypocritical Mass

From meteorologists we know that storm systems are created when air masses with different qualities encounter each other. High pressure meets low, warm meets cold, dry meets moist.

In politics and business hypocrisy is created when two idea masses with different agendas collide. Generally the conflict is between what needs to be said and what needs to be done, or between what should be done and what various interests would prefer to have done instead.

Any regular public radio listener can tell that the world is enduring a perfect storm of hypocrisy, and it seems to be intensifying.

A small case in point: I don’t actually believe writers should use the worn out cliche “perfect storm”, but there it is anyway. It is what it is.

Actually, I really don’t approve of that ever more popular tautology, “it is what it is,” either.

And I hate blogs!

In light of these unfortunate facts, I feel I must apologize to my family, most importantly, and, of course, to the American people.

Let’s take a look at the map of the category 5 hypocricanes that have made landfall recently, each covered by brave public radio correspondents on the scene yelling into their microphones in an attempt to be heard over powerful, putrid winds.

The Florida & Michigan primaries

Florida is a well-known magnet for hypocricanes, but rarely do they stretch north all the way to Michigan. Obama and Clinton have each created high-minded sounding arguments why the primary fiascoes in those states should be handled one way or the other. By amazing coincidence each camp’s moral calculus has come out in such a way that they support the answer most likely to give them advantage in the delegate count. What are the odds? Wouldn’t it be refreshing if each just said “Look, I’m running for president. I’m obviously going to want the solution that serves my cause, no matter what the rules said when the states intentionally broke them.”

The Boeing/Airbus Contract

This is another massive system stretching from Washington, D.C. to Washington state, and reaching as far south as Alabama. Like the aforementioned Hypocricane, this one is accompanied by a deafening whining sound.

Autonomically allegiance-pledging Boeing union workers interviewed on Morning Edition had the nerve to mouth flag-draped inanities like “hey, we’re not going to have a French-made product protecting the United States!”

First of all, France is our ally, not our enemy, as much as Republican demagoguery would have you think otherwise. Second, you work for Boeing, you jingoistic meat-head. Think about it for one second. Who buys billions of dollars of Boeing-made military equipment? That’s right, OTHER COUNTRIES!!!! What if they, like you, sit around their union halls (somehow making double-overtime I’m sure) demanding that only planes made by domestic companies (i.e. not Boeing…see where I’m headed?) are good enough to protect their troops?

This particularly transparent example of American exceptionalism is so stupid that it will, if its principle is followed to its logical conclusion, result in the opposite of its own thinly disguised agenda.

Then of course we have the politicians. By another stunning coincidence the feelings of the various congress-people involved in this matter line up exactly with money the states they represent stand to gain or lose. Coincidences are to hypocricanes what downed tree limbs are to hurricanes.

Eliot Spitzer

A crusader against corruption and, so sadly for him, prostitution rings, is found to be an enthusiastic repeat customer of “Emperor’s Club VIP”. I guess VIP stands for Very Ironic Politicians.

Full disclosure: I, myself, once tried their much more reasonably priced service, Emperor’s Club VIB. (Very Ignored Bloggers) I don’t recommend it.

Okay, Spitzer looks bad and everyone is calling for his resignation, especially Republicans. I wonder if ostentatious non-resigners Senators David Vitter (R-Louisiana) or Larry Craig (R-Men’s Room) are among them? God, for the sake of this blog entry, I certainly hope so. And let’s hear from our self-appointed moral compass gazers on the religious right about this matter. Somebody get the reaction of the not very reverend Ted Haggard.

(Hey, Bob and Brooke, isn’t it lucky for OTM that the Spitzer thing came out on a Monday?)

In Conclusion and In Summary

As a staunch small-government conservative I propose a massive new federal program based on FEMA to help deal with damage caused by these terrible hypocricanes. Let’s call it FIMA, the Federal Irony Management Agency. I’d like to suggest we appoint someone as brilliant as Michael Brown to run it. How about Senator Tim Calhoun?

We’re going to need enough FIMA trailers for the whole nation at this point. Aren’t you excited to discover what industrial poisons their insulation is ironically made of.

Putting the “L.A.” in Gangland

If you love HBO’s The Wire but find it insufficiently depressing then you’ll be happy to know The Wire continues on … in real life!

Listen to an incredibly valuable set of reports on today’s Day to Day.

Gang culture and violence is one of those problems that won’t go away. This means the press and pop culture tend to ignore it since the real currency of the media is change. If a story stays the same there’s nothing new to cover.

Day to Day has used a recent up-tick in tragically lethal incidents to focus a potentially helpful amount of attention on the festering problems of South Los Angeles. (Re-branded from the notorious “South Central Los Angeles”. Taste the difference!)

Give it a listen, but don’t expect any answers or hope. The forces involved are not subject to anyone’s control, especially not parents, public school teachers, politicians, police, or prayer.

But you already knew that from watching The Wire.

Special recognition should go to the chronically excellent Mandalit Del Barco’s segment.

Reaching Out (ewww!)

There’s another public radio linguistic tic that’s spreading faster than Lindsay Lohan at an Italian waiter convention!

It is the phrase “reaching out,” used to mean contact, appeal to, please, solicit, as in “Mitt Romney is not yet reaching out to the all-important gay animal tamer vote.”

The phrase “Reaching out” isn’t new, but its frequency is suddenly off the charts with the intense (albeit superficial) campaign coverage of the last few months. Listening to recent reports might convince you the presidential candidates had mutated into thousand-armed Hindu deities.

Take Day To Day’s two-way between reporter Anthony Brooks and Republican strategist Dan Schnur today. Here’s a highlight:

Schnur: “…it gives him the party’s leading conservative spokespersons from the president on down to help him reach out to the party’s conservative base and try to motivate them toward a fall election.”

To which Brooks responds: “And what does he have to do though to really reach out and convince them…”

And what about all the unintended nasty overtones of the phrase “reaching out?” Some scuzzy guy going for a grope on the subway. Zombies’ rotting hands emerging from their graves. Fill in your own.

I imagine AT&T still regrets being associated with the slogan “reach out and touch someone.” They may be the “new” AT&T now, but I’ll bet they’re still listed in the Meghan’s law database.

Of course the habit is not limited to public radio. A quick google of “clinton” and the phrase “reaching out” generates almost a million hits. But one of the themes of this blog is that public media, to demonstrate why it matters and deserves listeners’ donations, must rise above the rest of the silly fish-wrap* manufacturers.

So, if you are a public radio host or a campaign reporter, think about reaching out to a thesaurus in the very near future.

* I adore the phrase “fish-wrap.” I love nothing more than referring to the New York Times as “the fish-wrap of record.” (c)(tm)2008 Airbag Moments.

But finger-staining news is inexorably evaporating into carpal- tunnel- inducing news, so we need a digital version of this perfect put-down.

Reader(s): Please suggest a replacement for “fish-wrap” that will take us into the 21st century!

Sense of Omission

Since I just wrote about PRI’s The World’s routinely excellent global coverage I think it’s appropriate to point out where this kind of reporting isn’t adequate. Luckily I have former foreign policy adviser to the Edwards campaign Michael Signer to do it for me. (With a name like “Signer”, shouldn’t he be the presidential candidate? Or maybe he has a brother named “Bill”…)

His recent Washington Post commentary “It’s a Scary World, Don’t Campaign Reporters Care?” spanks the media for ignoring or only superficially covering the foreign policy positions of the candidates, even though such policy statements have (shocker!) proven historically to be accurate predictors of policy.

Interestingly, from a Public Radio point of view, he states the following:

In November, I got a call from a major national radio program saying that they’d be doing a substantive piece on the candidates’ foreign policies — how they were developed and what the process revealed about the candidates’ thinking.

Perfect! I thought. At last. I was in Iowa City and drove 45 minutes through blinding snow to a small studio for an hour-long interview. When the segment aired, my heart sank. It had changed into a quick-and-dirty recitation of a few policy proposals from all the candidates, Republican and Democrat — not the substantive compare-and-contrast that had been promised.

I can’t say for sure whether or not this was National Public Radio, but a little Googling strongly indicts a report by Martha Wexler on All Things Considered of December 9, 2007. Signer doesn’t even merit a sound-bite from his hour long interview.

Whatever the purpose of this NPR report, and however appropriate or not Signer’s interview was for that purpose, his point is very, very important. We live in extremely dangerous times. The entire news media, and Public Radio in particular, need to make international coverage a huge priority.

Take just one foreign policy example. I was sentient during the cold war and woke up sweating from my share of Terminator-style atom bomb nightmares, but I feel the US is at more risk of Nuclear attack then at any time in our history.

Sure, my opinion doesn’t matter, I’m just a grumpy blogger.

But what about this fact? Both Bush and Kerry, men who agree on little, were asked during a 2004 debate what the greatest threat facing our nation was, and both immediately responded “nuclear proliferation,” specifically nukes in the hands of terrorists. (Ok, Bush started to answer “Jesus” out of debate habit but then caught himself. And what he really said was “nukuler perlimifiration,” but the point remains.)

Am I the only one who remembers that? Am I the only one who actually believes it?

What has the Bush administration done about it since? Precisely nothing, as far as I can tell, but I can’t really be sure because the media barely covers it!

Note to the the media: stop waiting to cover problems only after they explode and try to do some predicting. I know it’s no fun to be Cassandra, but it is your chosen profession.

Case in point: Daniel Zwerdling on ATC did an unbelievably good job warning us about a Hurricane flooding catastrophe in New Orleans in a lengthy 2-part report aired in 2003!. For people who love New Orleans listening to that story wasn’t a Driveway Moment it was an entire Driveway Afternoon. (Did he get a Pulitzer for that? He should have.)

Maybe the media can try that kind of coverage with a few scarily important international conundrums?

Cokie Adds Life (and Sense)

Maybe NPR correspondents get paid by the “sense”?

NPR saint/matriarch and sometime seagull at the television news landfill of conventional wisdom Cokie Roberts (you’re better than that, Cokie!) commented on the Democratic primary on Morning Edition today.

I was disappointed to hear the following at the very top of her “three-way” with Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep:

“…because there’s a lot of sense that these primaries tomorrow are the make or break primaries for her campaign and there’s been you know so much criticism that she’s is not human enough and these shows give some sense of humanity…”

Steve & Renee make the extra effort to avoid asking for a sense (thanks, guys!), but she volunteers two senses in one sentence anyway!¬† The initial one is described as “a lot” of sense.¬† What a bargain!

There’s a lot of sense among a lot of us here at Airbag Moments that the phrase “a lot of sense” is really unattractive, not to mention that it has a lot of sense of meaningless.¬† How many senses is a lot?¬† I think six is a lot, since we humans use only five.¬† But maybe a lot is more like a hundred senses.¬† I’ve heard that OT-8 scientologists like Tom Cruise and Vinnie Barbarino have that many.

Let’s decide on a new grammatical term for these “sense” constructions.¬† Literary style mavens implore us to avoid the passive voice, often for good reason.¬† I propose we should name these phrases that use sense in this way something like “ultra-passive voice”.

Any other ideas?

The Best Show On Public Radio Is…

Just in time for Oscar night!

Okay, my favorite NPR program is “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me“, but I feel the need to give the award to something with redeeming social value.

The best serious show is clearly NPR’s “On The Media“, hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield.

Let me count the whys.

  • The piquant bouquet of truth, unexpected from an advertising industry guy (host Bob Garfield), that cuts right through the more outlandish inanities of mediated consensual reality. On second thought it makes complete sense that an ad guy would have the most sensitive “lie-dar”(c )2008 Airbag Moments(tm).
  • The pointed interviews are the most probing in American public radio. The questions are usually genuinely challenging without the strident partisan sneer indulged in by the modern BBC.
  • The wry attitudes of Brooke and Bob. It’s not so much one of liberal bias as it is a refreshing and healthy amazement/incredulity at the news of the day. Isn’t that how everyone who pays attention to current events and trends feels? Isn’t it odd when newsreaders and correspondents lack that tone?
  • It’s actually funny on purpose. Most public radio attempts at humor (“Wait, Wait” excepted of course) fall flat due to rigorously enforced harmlessness. Witness the many recent attempts to explore political humor during the writers’ strike. OTM manages to make it work more often than not, which is saying a lot for public radio.
  • Keeping the “sense” questions to a minimum. Enough said.
  • Consistency. Of course not every story is as gripping as every other, but in the main they pursue consequential topics with admirable clarity and thoroughness.
  • The cute little pause after “Edited…” and before “…by Brooke.” This weekly touch implies a warm but healthily competitive relationship between the hosts.

What’s not to like? The most tedious stories tend to involve Baby Boomer preoccupations. How long was that piece on the Beatles & the Maharishi last weekend? 20 minutes? I love the Beatles, but suddenly the show felt a bit like an overstaying dinner guest who keeps failing to notice the hosts loudly doing the dishes. How must it have seemed to people who share no interest in Beatlesiana? (I’ll explore in a future post how 20-minute segments featuring esoteric and/or ancient musicians is Kryptonite to way too many public radio programs.)

But these problems are nothing in the face of years of important stories which are often ignored by the rest of the media.

So congratulations, Brooke & Bob, you win this year’s “baggie”. You’ll be receiving your little statuette soon.

Hillary Clinton “Ya Know” watch, Day 12

Ya know, maybe Hillary’s new love of “ya know” is just a “tell”, ie that little unconscious thing a person does while playing Poker, such as cocking an eyebrow, that spoils their attempt to bluff the other players.

Here’s a Hillary quote from Mara Liasson’s Morning Edition story today on Clinton’s recent embarrassment of primary losses:

Ya know, this is a long journey to the nomination, ahh ya know, some weeks, uhh, ya know, uhh, one of us is up and the other’s down…”

At that point the sound faded out so I couldn’t get a larger sample of Ya Knowing, but it’s clear that at this rate she is close to depleting our nation’s precious strategic “ya know” reserve.

If she wants to be taken seriously as a green candidate she absolutely must reduce her “ya know” consumption from three per sentence to less than one!

Otherwise how will she be able to criticize McCain’s gluttonous squandering of the phrase “my friends” without looking like a hypocrite?

Ya know?

Other hilights from today’s ME:

If you are a fan of extra-plummy female British accents, as opposed to the noisome one affected by Fiona Chutney, Nigella Lawson is a pure pleasure. To paraphrase my great uncle, I have no idea what she was talking about, but I loved it.

I also enjoyed the interview with Norman Lear, in spite of its blandness.

Finally, there was a terrific listener letter making the useful point that if Mitt Romney and other Mormons feel that the nation was prejudiced against him because of his religion, maybe they should realize how unfair it is that an atheist running for national office would suffer even greater bigotry…from them. (How about a little more coverage of that, NPR?)

Note: I feel I should say that I don’t dislike Mormons. On the contrary, if any generalization about the Mormons I’ve known can be made it is that they are friendly, helpful, sunny, hard-working people. It’s just that I find their young belief system risibly vulnerable to debunking, historical, archaeological, and otherwise. Someone said a cult is a small, unpopular religion and a religion is a large, popular cult. Mormonism is a perfect example. (See Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.)

If we had only mainstream Mormons available as a study sample we might even draw some sort of causal connection between theological gullibility and personal goodness. But there are just so many counter-examples…

Now that Romney is out of the race I’m sure public radio shows, and thus this blog, will find less reason to mention Mormonism.

Putting the Zero in “Studio 360”

Weekend public radio is astonishingly hit-or-miss: the cacophonous cackles of “Car Talk”, the funereal earnestness of “Speaking of Faith”, and yes, the creepily ubiquitous harmlessness of “Prairie Home Companion.”

Surely there is no one person who enjoys every bit of programming public radio networks find to pass the Judeo-Christian Sabbaths. Of course, as I was once chastised by a local public radio reporter whose story on regional mortarless stone bridges I found so dull as to consider it a public health risk, “the great thing about radio is that if you wait long enough something you do like will come on.”

If what’s on next is PRI’s “Studio 360″¬†I can pretty much guarantee that my wait will be at least an hour.

The show is hosted and created by Kurt “if he co-founded Spy Magazine shouldn’t he be funny?” Andersen, and his choices of topic and style of execution have a lot in common with many other tragically failed treatments for narcolepsy.

The show’s token humorist, Iris Bahr, plays the character of a flibbertigibbet British reporter named Fiona Chutney in what I have to believe is some kind of post-post-post-modern attempt to make fun of making fun of making fun of things. The humor gets hopelessly lost somewhere along the way in most of her sketches, but in today’s episode it becomes clear why.

She makes the classic mistake of trying to parody the fashion world, which is a humor black-hole so dense that not even light comedy can escape.

Think about it. What’s Sasha (Borat/Ali G) Cohen’s only consistently unfunny character? Bruno, the gay fashion world reporter. Which of Ben Stiller’s many bad movies is the worst? “Zoolander” the unhilarious send-up of that zany world we call “fashion.”

The fashion world is already a parody of itself in both unintentional and intentional ways, and parodizing parody just doesn’t work very well. It is to humor what trying to divide by zero is to math.

To make matters less pleasant she employs an accent that is an exact female version of chronic self-amuser Cash Peters of “Marketplace” and “Savvy Traveler” public radio fame.

Bahr’s personal website flaunts an impressively diverse CV that includes service in the Israeli army and Neuropsychology training at Brown, so it’s comforting to know that if she “keeps her day job” she’ll have a lot to fall back on.

Fun fact about Kurt Andersen: he has claimed that Lynne “Aww shucks me and Dick are just folks, what’s all this Darth Vader stuff?” Cheney has pursued a long term “extravagant” flirtation with an unidentified “friend” of his. “Friend”, Kurt? Really? Is it the same anonymous “friend” on whose behalf you solicited free psycho-pharmacological advice from a guest at your last cocktail party?


My personal advice to your “friend” would be to go for it! Join the mile high club on “Marine One”! Personally inspect the endowments of the former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities! Head out on a cougar hunt with the second lady, but beware of accidental discharge…I think Dick taught her everything she knows.

Okay, I’ll stop.

To be fair, given the show’s sterling list of contributors and Andersen’s intelligence and Rolodex, I’m certain they’ve produced many great segments and will produce more in the future. I just haven’t heard any yet. (If you have, post links here!)

Sounds like a piece of, I mean on, Lynne Cheney would be a hoot…

I’m just sayin’.

Monday ME Low/High Points

Low Point: Cokie Roberts, Matriarch of the Roberts family NPR Dynasty, and her autonomic meaningless poll result recitation.


“Even the pollsters will tell you not to focus on the horse-race and look at the other things…but the horse-race is irresistible.” Did New Hampshire teach them nothing?

High Points: Report on the Sacramento River Delta describing the enormous and inevitable problems there. Chillingly calls to mind the prescient and lengthy NPR reports on New Orleans’ vulnerability to Hurricane flooding prior to Katrina.

Also shades of Zwerdling (see previous post) when a Hillary Clinton recording was played in which she called the office of the president the “highest and hardest glass ceiling.”