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July 20, 2004
It's Big Ball Of Cheese Day
*It was on this day 203 years ago that President Thomas Jefferson was presented with a 1,235-pound ball of cheese.

From QuickTakes, of course. Today's entry also offers us this gem:

News Item: Bush-Cheney campaign organizes Republican Vietnam vets who served with John Kerry to speak out against him.

Nothing wrong here. The Kerry-Edwards campaign would do the very same to President Bush.

If it could find anyone who served with him.


The thing about politicians is that so many of them lie and they cheat and they steal. Repeatedly.

Is the press finally stepping up to the plate?

The birth of the modern media political campaign.

War is expensive. Spending money killing people instead of spending money on education or healthcare or something else sensible is stupid. Buying bullets costs money that could be better spent elsewhere. The manpower could be better used elsewhere, as well.

Peace talks in Darfur didn't go well and the story of the region remains murky.

What I think when I read something like this isn't about the possible fraud...it's that it's stupid and McCarthyesque to make someone sign a "loyalty oath" in the first place.

More prisoner abuse allegations.

I'm disturbed by the story that the new Iraqi PM personally executed six prisoners but from what I read of it online, there was a certain amount of confusion, even contradiction, in the story. I'm withholding judgment.

Confused by the news? The next generation of journalists is, too.

Check it out. Apparently one of the things the site is going to be offering is downloadable copies of government documents. You know the kind of thing, it's available on-line, but finding it is a nightmare. These folks aim to change that.

And in case anyone is interested in my opinion, I'm against the creation of a cabinet-level "intelligence czar" post.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:35 AM


Anne: you know, news days like this one make me think that technocratic autocracy isn't the worst idea humanity's ever had.

But without a serious ethical cleansing, US politics is in serious danger of implosion. I mean that: we are witnessing a crucial stage from which we can recover or we can descend into full-fledged kleptocracy. I fear.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at July 20, 2004 01:56 PM

There are days (many of them) when the idea of sticking my head back into the political sand and refusing to know what's going on, well, there are days when that sounds like an exceptionally good idea.

The more I read of this country's history, especially from the last hundred years, the more I realize that not only are we not who I was pretending we were, we were never even close.

I may not be able to make any difference, but I refuse to go down without a fight.

Posted by: Anne at July 20, 2004 02:29 PM

Potato chips taste good but they are bad for me. They are quick snack food, full of salt and carbohydrates that break down quickly in my body. They are addictive. They don't give me the nutrients my body needs.

Avendon Carol writes in a literary style similar to potato chips - brief, quick, tasty sentences that get me to click through to the stories she links. But she doesn't give me enough information for me to determine if I'll be interested, so I end up clicking through to stories that don't interest me. So I've been forcing myself not to read her site. Her posts are tasty, but they are addctive without necessarily giving me the stories I'm actually interested in.

I've noticed that lately you've been drifting toward a similar style. I hope you don't go all the way down that road. I like your longer, more thoughtful pieces.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 20, 2004 05:32 PM

"The more I read of this country's history, especially from the last hundred years, the more I realize that not only are we not who I was pretending we were, we were never even close."

I was raised by radical left parents, so I was never able to have a period of innocense about America. I'm 37 years old, and I am as close to being a red baby as anyone of my generation, that I've met so far. Rather, my adult life has been a movement in the opposite direction - finding out how much good America has done the world. As I read history books, I'm constantly surprised by how much real good America did in every field and on every continent. The bad stuff never surprises me as I was raised to expect it, but the good is a constant, unexpected delight.

But I am left with a great curiosity about what people think of American when they are not exposed to radical left ideas in their childhood. What did you think America was? What surprises you?

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 20, 2004 05:39 PM

Have you read Kevin Phillip's book, Wealth and Democracy? One of the best non-fiction books of the last 5 years. If you read it, I'm sure you'll like it.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 20, 2004 05:40 PM

Lawrence - Taking your comments in order:

#1 - I am enormously fond of Avedon Carol's blog and it's one of my favorite stops each day, so any comparison between it and this blog can only flatter me. :)

In any case, while I do tend to wander into ranting all-too frequently, I don't have time to post like that every day. I've always posted lots of, "here are some links I found interesting" entries, you know.

#2 - That's going to require an entire post to answer, so I'll address it separately.

#3 - In fact, I was about to post a plea for some "positive" books with reliable, reasonably complete facts to offer, to balance some of the more negative reading I've been doing. I've never read Phillips' book but I'll get a copy. Thanks for the suggestion.

Posted by: Anne at July 21, 2004 09:16 AM

Lawrence - I've been thinking about #2.

To put it simply, I grew up in a small town in Kansas in the 60s and in spite of the turmoil of the world at the time, I grew up believing the whitewashed lies and sanitized version of 'history' that showed up in my school history books. That was all I was exposed to and it was what I believed. I was well over 30 before I discovered that textbooks can be inaccurate, even that they can tell outright lies.

And there was nothing in my home life to contradict school. "News" was something my father watched when he got home from work and my primary function during that critical hour was to keep quiet.

"Newspapers" were better than "news" because they had the comics. There was a lot of other stuff in newspapers, but I didn't read that (well, mostly us kids were handed the "comics" section separately). It all had to do with people and places I knew nothing about and knew, with a comforting security, would never really matter.

It's hard to describe. In that time, in that place, and at least in my family, children weren't really encouraged to question what they were told. And we weren't told much.

My parents lived the American Dream, right in front of my eyes. Every seven or eight years, we moved to a larger, more expensive house in a nicer neighborhood. My father bought newer and nicer cars. We took better vacations, had more money for allowances, got more clothes, and all of the rest of it.

(The amount of work, saving, and effort that went on behind the scenes to provide this ever-improving lifestyle wasn't really explained to me when I was young. Nor am I at all certain I'd have been sympathetic. To a child trapped in the never-ending nightmare of school*, the idea of having a place where you could do what you wanted, and got to dress up and go out and "work" every day, was utopian.)

(* I'm not knocking school, okay? I grew to love it when I reached college. It's just that in the early years, especially grades 1-5, I thought it was a specific kind of torture created just for me, to make my life miserable.

I never understood why it was necessary to be imprisoned for nine months out of the year so teachers could spoon-feed you bits and pieces out of textbooks you'd read from cover to finish in the first couple of weeks of school. Or to let other kids deliberately refuse to learn material that any normal person could learn in a month. (They did it on purpose, just to aggravate me. I was quite convinced of that.)

After I learned that teachers didn't actually want to hear the "right" answer when they asked the class a question (if you give them the "right" answer too fast, they don't have anything to "teach"), I pretty much quit even bothering.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

But that's all an entirely different rant, isn't it?)

I'm pretty sure there was a topic around here somewhere when I started this.

The question of race was never mentioned in my family. Although I'd grow to know (30 years later) that that was because my mother was of mixed race (Caucasian/American Indian/African-American) and my father, arguably, was a bigot (complicated story), it had the result at the time of pretty much leaving "the whole race thing" a blank. I was entirely unaware that there was a "race problem" in the country, so any casual references to racial discrimination I might have heard failed to sink in. I knew people with skins of different colors and I didn't think it was important.

"War" was another similar problem. It was something grown-ups did. They made war and killed people. Completely unfathomable to me, so I ignored it.

(Heck 98% of everything grown-ups did was unfathomable to me, so I ignored it.)

Other countries...well, no one talked about them except in Geography class.

I'm not sure it's that I wasn't raised "liberal" that really explains it. I just wasn't raised political. I didn't question what I learned because I didn't care that much.

Posted by: Anne at July 21, 2004 12:13 PM

I think you're brilliant and I think your weblog is a constant delight of insights about the world. Maybe it is because your upbringing was so different than mine that I find your viewpoint so refreshing. Though I have several times found myself disagreeing with you, I've always liked the alternative viewpoint you offer. I grew up in a household where every night, at dinner, the family was expected to come together and argue about politics. The main source of conflict was between my very liberal parents (my dad was a liberal, my mom was hard-left) and my oldest brother who'd decided to become a right-winger. Those were knock-down, drag out fights, all about how great Reagan was (my brother) and Reagan was the worst President we'd ever had (my parents). With an upbringing like that, I've grown up always wondering what people think about America when they are not so politisized at a young age. For most of my friends, politics is something they discovered in their 20s, not their pre-teens.

Thanks for explaining what your childhood was like. If you have the time, I'd be interested in hearing more about what it was like for you to wake up to politics.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 21, 2004 12:28 PM

How do you read so much news? I can't even keep up with your blog, let alone go and read all the articles that you link to.

"Confused by the news? The next generation of journalists is, too."

I do wonder if media attempts at "objectivity" lead to some of the ignorance that this article talks about. I assume that most of the ignorance that is here discussed arises simply from the fact that most people are not interested in what does not affect them, but as to the rest, I wonder how much can be blamed on the colorless blandness that some media outlets adopt in their efforts to achieve "objectivity".

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 26, 2004 09:08 PM

#1 - I read very, very quickly, which helps. :) Also, I read the first two and last two paragraphs of the article to see where the author is starting and where they wind up. That tells me what I'll be interested in.

#2 - I know I diss the professional media, but I'm not unaware of the balancing act they have to walk...providing coverage that's as objective as they can manage while not stripping the life out of every topic.

I have the same thoughts about textbooks, something I referred to recently when talking about history textbooks. When I was in grade school, they were dry, bland, tedious exercises in memorizing dates.

It wasn't until I started reading about how textbook publishers have to try to please everyone, and about how they can't refer negatively to this, that, or the other person for fear of losing an entire state's textbook order, that I realized there was a reason school history was so boring.

Everything that could possibly offend anyone has been removed, to maximize sales. That leaves a series of names and dates to be memorized.

My point is that news is in danger of suffering the same fate and while I want "objective" coverage, I certainly dont' want the kind of dry blandness that characterized my history textbooks (which were, after all, just "yesterday's news.")

As you point out, and as we all know, there is a lot of news out there and most of us needs some kind of 'perspective' with the coverage we read/hear/see in order to help us evaluate the "news." But how do you provide "perspective" without bias?

I've had this political blog for almost two years. I know that, as a blogger, I spend more time reading and discussing the news than most people. I know that I get interested in topics and take on 'research projects' just to satisfy my curiousity.

And it's been fun as a hobby, but it's unrealistic to expect everyone to pay this much attention to what's going on. (As far as that goes, as much time as I spend, I don't get through a third of what's out there every day!) I'm lucky that I'm single and childless. I have time to spend, but even I'm finding that it's getting more and more difficult to balance my "real life" with the time I spend either blogging or researching and writing.

There's no way the "average person" with a spouse, maybe a couple of kids, a dog, and a yard to mow is going to be able to do more than skim the very surface of the news daily. For this person, some kind of "perspective" is essential.

I'm sort of talking out loud, or musing to myself, here, but in the end, what I think is that we all know that "bias" and "perspective" are in the eyes of the beholder. We can't eliminate those from news coverage, so maybe what we should be pushing for it honest bias? I mean, as long as a newspaper or television station is up front about their left/right slant and as long as they present the facts honestly before starting in to offer perspective, maybe that's the best we can do?

Posted by: Anne at July 27, 2004 06:48 PM

P.S. For what it's worth, while I thank you for the "I think you're brilliant" compliment above, it makes me a bit uneasy.

Mainly because I don't need the pressure of brilliance. :) I like to think that if I want to blog about doing laundry, it's okay because no one has high expectations of what they'll find if they visit this blog.

But more seriously, this is a blog, that's all. I started it because I was musing on politics at the moment and because, well, because in a strictly amateur way, I'm a writer. Lacking, as I was at the time, any other writing project to hold my interest, I started blogging. Just sort of keeping my hand in.

I liked blogging because no one interrupted me. :) I could talk for as long as I wanted, which suited me just fine (and probably pleased my friends who no longer had to listen to me even more).

I rarely think before I write. I think as I write. 70% of the time I don't know what I think about something until I've written it. (Maybe I just think with my fingers? I know there are days my brains aren't in my head.) I open a Word document and a browser window, skim the headlines, and type whatever comes into my head.

I never started out to redefine democracy in the 21st century, or anything else. I was just writing, okay? Stream of consciousness., babbling, typing whatever came into my head.

I'm just saying. "Brilliant" is egotistically fun to hear, but I've considered the idea and decided not to try to live up to it.

Posted by: Anne at July 27, 2004 06:59 PM