June 30, 2006

Bumper Sticker Seen in DC

"Regime Change Begins at Home"

--accompanied by a nice unburned American flag

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June 28, 2006

NPR Hosts War of Words Debate

Yesterday National Public Radio ran this segment on the language being used by both sides in the debate over the Iraq War and the 2006 election. It was a clash of the two language heavyweights mentioned in my September 17, 2005 post entitled "War of Words," Jedi Master George Lakoff for the Democrats and Darth Lord Frank Luntz for the Republicans.

Lakoff, author of the influential book "Don't Think of an Elephant!" put his linguistics skills to work immediately, saying that the U.S. is no longer fighting a "war" in Iraq. He said the U.S. won that war three years ago when it defeated Saddam Hussein's army to capture Iraq. Since then, according to Lakoff, the U.S. has prosecuted an "occupation" of Iraq. He said there is no way to win an occupation, it merely ends when the occupier decides to leave.

Lakoff's terminology seemed to get to Luntz, who said it would be a "challenge" if Iraq were framed in terms of an "occupation" before the 2006 election. Ironically, Luntz stated that Lakoff kept repeating the word "occupation" in order to have it sink in to the American conscience. Both the host of the program and Lakoff called Luntz on this, noting that, with Luntz's help, the Republicans for years have been disciplined Storm Troopers in the art of repeating phrases like "cut and run" so that they become part of the vernacular, which, in the words of the host, gives the creator of the phrase an immediate advantage in the political argument. My Sept. 17 post contained several examples of these loaded GOP phrases, such as "death tax" and "pro-life." With Lakoff's help, the Democrats are merely playing catch-up.

When one takes a step back from the flying fur and spewing vitriol that is America's political debate to listen to the actual words being used and the frequency with which they are being used, something magical and fun happens. It's like cracking the Matrix, removing the wool from one's eyes, pulling the curtain away from behind the Wizard, and stripping the Emperor of his new clothes all at once. And that is where the truth lies.

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June 22, 2006

If it Quacks Like a Canard

The media are reporting tonight that FBI agents have arrested a number of terrorist suspects in connection with an alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, as well as other prominent buildings. Aside from the questionable timing of the arrests, coming a full year after the group of suspects was infiltrated and investigated by law enforcement officials and much closer to the 2006 elections, one has to ask the question: if you believe the slogan put forth by President Bush and his supporters that "we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here," then why on earth are there terrorists here to fight? Obviously, that slogan is a canard. Don't forget that it is merely the latest in a long line of justifications for invading Iraq. The so-called "terrorists" were not in Iraq, and the "insurgents" in Iraq did not become insurgents, until the U.S. invaded there. The falsity of the slogan is also revealed by the Bush administration domestic spying programs -- both the warrantless illegal NSA interception of domestic phone calls and the warrantless illegal collection of our phone call data (and now, as has just been reported, the scrutiny of millions of Americans' bank records by federal agents). Again, if fighting "terrorists" in Iraq truly was a substitute for fighting them here at home, such warrantless spying would be unnecessary.

At least half the country knows that the silly slogan about fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here is a canard. The other half also know it, but they want to believe that it is true, so they ignore reality.

Don't let them.

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June 19, 2006

Today's Favorite Bumper Sticker -- Nassau County, NY

"W Stands For Worst"

Anyone see a pattern here?

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June 15, 2006

Today's Best Bumper Sticker

"I Never Thought I'd Miss Richard Nixon"

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June 04, 2006

Bumper Sticker of the Day

"There's lies, damn lies, and Weapons of Mass Destruction"

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June 03, 2006

Bumper Sticker Mania

Bumper stickers represent the ultimate media for the masses. Therefore, they qualify as Media Concepts. Here in the DC area, there is perhaps an unusually high percentage of cars with bumper stickers. Drivers here love to wear their politics -- or their religion, philosophy, values, children's education status or other personal information -- on their cars' sleeves. These bumper stickers can be extremely entertaining. Therefore, I am instituting the first installment of Bumper Sticker Mania. I'll be on the lookout for the most unusual or entertaining bumper stickers, and will post them when I see them. Hopefully commenters will send in ones they spot as well. Metal fish shapes will also qualify. Photos encouraged! Here is the first batch, from the past couple of weeks:

1. "Oh Jesus! We've Got Frank Burns As President!"

2. "Bartlet For President" (accompanied by "B4A" logo)

3. Fish-type shape with the word "Yoda" inside. Come to think of it, the shape is more like Yoda's mouth.

4. (My favorite of the batch) "My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student"

Let me know any good ones that you spot!

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June 01, 2006

Grey Lady Down

In my May 17, 2006 post entitled Man Bites Gator, I wrote about the tabloidization of the 24-hour cable "news" networks. Now it is the newspapers' turn. The vehicle is Hillary Clinton and her marriage to Bill Clinton.

As you may have seen, the media frenzy over Hillary Clinton's possible Presidential aspirations has begun, and it isn't pretty. The 2008 election is nearly two and one half years away, and Hillary has not even hinted that she is interested in running (I can think of numerous reasons why she won't win the Democratic nomination even if she does run), but that has not stopped the wild speculation and tawdry commentary. The New York Times, the Grey Lady herself, weighed in with a front page, top left column one (a newspaper's most prime real estate) article on May 23 entitled "For Clintons, Delicate Dance of Married and Public Lives." The article was written by Patrick Healy, and was neither grey nor ladylike. Coincidentally, just yesterday I was reading the screenplay for the movie "There's Something About Mary." In it, there's a sleazy insurance investigator brilliantly played by Matt Dillon. He is described as looking and acting more like a used car salesman than insurance man, and, using an arsenal of devious dirty tricks, he sleazes and scams his way, temporarily, into Mary's heart. His name: Patrick Healy.

In his Times article, Healy describes the Clinton's marriage as one of time spent apart. Healy writes, "Nights out find him [Bill Clinton] zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle, or hitting parties and fund-raisers in Manhattan." Healy even mentions another woman, in the following innuendo-filled passage whose logic adheres like sawdust: "Because of Mr. Clinton's behavior in the White House, tabloid gossip sticks to him like iron filings to a magnet. Several prominent New York Democrats, in interviews, volunteered that they became concerned last year over a tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving B.L.T. Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician. The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages."

Notice what Healy has done: First, Bill Clinton goes to dinner with a dozen people, including a female Canadian politician. Ok, sounds normal so far. Then, Clinton leaves the restaurant after dinner. Hmm, that's usually what one does after dinner. Healy doesn't say that Clinton left with a woman, alone or even in a group. But the Times reports that a "tabloid photograph" fueled speculation in the "gossip pages." A photograph of what? Speculation about what? In effect, the Times legitimizes as real news what was previously limited to the gossip pages and the tabloids -- a discussion of the private nature of the Clintons' marriage.

Then what happens is that other legitimate news outlets report on the Times story, hiding behind the cover that, since the Times has reported it, it's a legitimate news story. This is precisely what has happened on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews." Chris has been obsessed with the Clinton's marriage ever since the Times story was published. For example, today Chris's leadoff question to former Clinton Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman had to do with the Times article and the state of the Clinton's marriage. A few minutes later, Matthews asked the same questions of Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. Chris' comment to Ms. Rosen said it all: "This isn't the first time a story was made tabloid." Then he said, "This wasn't fed by the Republicans, this was the Times' decision." To Republican strategist Ed Rollins, Matthews said "The New York Times ran this story, they opened the gates." Yesterday, Matthews opened the program with Hillary Clinton advisor Howard Wolfson. Matthews led off the questioning of Wolfson with reference to the Times article, and insinuated that this is what voters care about primarily. Matthews did the same thing to another Howard, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, as well as Matthews' other guests, a few days earlier.
This obsesssion has superceded Chris's prior obsession with Hillary Clinton's Presidential chances. At least the prior story, if a bit premature, was a true political story worthy of Hardball.

This repeating of tabloid and gossip stories by major media outlets happened to Bill Clinton before. Who remembers Gennifer Flowers? During the 2000 Presidential campaign, Flowers admitted to being approached by agents of the Republican party to go public on an alleged affair with then-governor Clinton. Flowers did so in a front page story in the National Enquirer accompanied by a press conference. Major newspapers and television networks then ran the story, saying that they were merely reporting what was already out there. This time, however, the journalistic standard has been lowered even further by the Times article, since (1) Hillary Clinton is not an announced Presidential candidate; (2) there is no allegation in the Times article or the tabloid stories that Hillary has committed any wrongdoing or done anything that can be regarded as a character issue that might be relevant to voters; and (3) there has been no press conference to air this sleazy, salacious gossip.

When MSNBC, and even the New York Times, rationalize that they are merely playing to the public taste, that was the excuse the Roman emperors gave for staging gladiator contests and lions eating Christians in the Colosseum. This only leads to a downward spiral of our media and our society. Call me a mamby-pamby, a Bill Bennett without the gambling habit, but I believe this lowering of cultural standards, as reflected in the media, bodes ill for our future. Of course, perceived public appetite for sleaze and salaciousness fuels the media coverage in question. As is the case with our politicians, we get the media we deserve. But surely there are enough tabloids and gossip columns that one can read or view for tawdry stories of the marital situation of public figures. It is a sad day indeed when the purely private marital life of a public official makes it to the top of the front page of the New York Times.

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