- A Reporter’s Life—Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
Cronkite starts his life story in Moscow, in 1948. He worked for UPI. He tells us that his wife took a job with the US embassy while they were there, but,
Although my United Press salary wasn’t exactly munificent, it wasn’t the extra income that attracted her to this job. It was more a matter of necessity to keep us fed.
He then explains how they had to buy food just as other Muscovites did, which is to say, through Soviet food rations and what little they could acquire through the Soviet markets. Only on the next page does he explain that “not for the money but to keep us fed” meant that the embassy provided their employees with food from the states. They did not provide this food to private citizens in Moscow, something he still holds against them:
The only other Americans living in Moscow were the eight news correspondents, but the State Department, in its bureaucratic wisdom, determined it would somehow violate its sacred rules to take care of us as well.
I can understand the desire to be taken care of by one’s government, but it’s a little ironic that, seeing how poorly the Soviet system worked, he wanted the US to emulate it for him. He doesn’t claim to have asked UPI to provide some of his pay in the form of care packages; the government should have provided.
Cronkite then returns to his formative years in Kansas City, Missouri. About his high school mentor, Houston journalist Fred Birney, Cronkite writes:
Birney, as far as I know, was never taught to teach. His strength was in his deep practical knowledge of his subject, his love of it, and his intense desire to communicate that knowledge and that love to others. That must be the secret of all great teachers, and the shame is that there are probably thousands of them out there who are denied a chance to practice that talent because of crowded facilities, disciplinary overload and stultifying work rules imposed by bureaucratic administrations and selfish unions.
After newspaper work in Houston, he went to work as the news staff of a Kansas City radio station. Here, he was also shanghaied by the police to take part in vote fraud for Kansas City’s Boss Pendergast, voting at least twice when they drove him to the polling place and gave him the name of the people he was voting as each time.
And then he goes to World War II, where his anecdotes read even more like urban legends; having read the entire book, I’m still not sure I trust them.
- The Prince of Darkness—Saturday, September 7th, 2013
Of all of the memoirs I’ve read for the tDoPB project, The Prince of Darkness made me most want to meet the author. He gets his name from his supposedly pessimistic personality, though it doesn’t show through in the book, at least toward the end. And, while Novak doesn’t say it, it appears that it partially comes from his “swarthy” appearance. Back in the 1968 Humphrey campaign, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Crouse wrote that Novak was
…short and squat, with swarthy skin, dark gray hair, a slightly rumpled suit, and an apparently permanent scowl. He kept his hands in his pockets and looked at the floor. Some of the other reporters pointed him out and whispered about him almost as if he were a cop come to shush up a good party.
“Novak looks evil,” said a gentle, middle-aged Timesman.
Novak talks about the early years on the campaign beat as a blast, “a poker game most nights, and drinking around the clock.” But you certainly can come out this book thinking that life sucks in DC. Friendships do not easily survive this town in Novak’s telling. Sometimes it has to happen: when there’s a special prosecutor looking into who you talked to and what you said to them, the person you actually did talk to is probably going to be under orders from their lawyers not to add to the list (Karl Rove).
Others are less necessary, such as co-workers who either disagree with your politics or who choose to use your misfortune to further their standing (James Carville).
I have also learned that there are two kinds of restaurants in DC: restaurants where you want to be seen, and restaurants where you do not want to be seen. The former are divided into those frequented by lobbyists and politicians, and those frequented by journalists and politicians. When Rowly Evans wanted to talk to Novak about doing a column together,
He picked Blackie’s House of Beef, an inexpensive steak house frequented by government workers. For one of Washington’s upscale journalists to pick such a downscale place suggested he did not want us to be seen by anybody he knew.
- The Vision of the Anointed—Friday, August 9th, 2013
Thomas Sowell’s Vision of the Anointed is Sowell’s attempt to explain what, to rational outside observers, appears to be the irrational behavior of politicians and social leaders. They implement programs to fix problems, the problems grow worse under the solutions even in defiance of predictions of doing nothing—and they expand the programs. As if they believe doing the same thing harder won’t have the effect of even further exacerbating the problem.
Sowell’s thesis is that this is just what they believe. That rather than believing in a world of systemic processes—logic and science—the political elite believe in a world of intentions and anointed heroes—a world, in other words (not Sowell’s), of magic and sorcery. In this world where intentions have physical effects upon the world, their intentions are good, while the intentions of their enemies—the benighted—are bad. This is by definition: their intentions are, by definition, good, and so anyone who disagrees with them is, by that same definition, bad.
Thus, when a well-intentioned program fails to achieve its stated goals, this is not, to the anointed, a refutation of a testable theory, but proof of the interference of evil intentions.
One of my favorite quotes is George Bernard Shaw’s about the “unreasonable man”:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.—George Bernard Shaw (Man and Superman)
This is a thrilling view of the world. It succinctly encapsulates the vision of the anointed: that there is a small band of special people whose intentions change the world.
Let’s apply Shaw’s statement to some specific part of the world, however:
The reasonable man adapts to gravity; the unreasonable one persists in trying to change the laws of gravity.
- San Diego Saudade Con—Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
I was feeling a little bit of it today as I biked into work on the opening day of the San Diego Comic-Con. The shuttle signs are up, the traffic’s building, and I’m going to work. I even had tickets, but decided a few months ago to sell them back, both to get a little extra money and because it’s become progressively less enjoyable.
In other words, it’s not as fun as it used to be.
I think one of the catalysts was going to ComicFest last year. My first comic-con was 1989; I was living in Hollywood going to guitar school, and had friends in San Diego. I’d visit them occasionally because it was easier to get to the beach by going to San Diego than it was to navigate traffic west to Los Angeles’s beaches. One summer weekend visit, I mentioned to one of my friends that there was this really big comic book convention in San Diego—he should find out when it is, and we should go.
This was before the Internet was big enough that you could just go online and find everything. You had to search it out. So I didn’t find out until I was back in Los Angeles on Monday, when I got a phone call from him that the convention was the very next weekend, do you want to go? This was one of the summers of Ninja Turtle Mania, and the Turtles themselves were showing up; one of my apartment-mates in Los Angeles was a huge fan, so we had to go. Walked up to the doors at the San Diego Concourse Convention and Performing Arts Center, bought our tickets, and went in. There were, according to Wikipedia, 11,000 people that year.
Within a couple of years I was meeting three groups of people: Usenet junkies, academics, and indie folks (due partly to having been to the much tinier Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1995 or so). I heard about the Comic Arts Conference in its second year, 1993, when it was still off-site at the Horton Grand.
I’m definitely going to miss the Comic Arts Conference. Even as Comic-Con became a sea of insanity, CAC remained an island of calm.
- Towel day is on its way—Saturday, May 4th, 2013
- American Rhapsody—Saturday, December 29th, 2012
Joe Eszterhas wants to be Hunter S. Thompson, but he’s not. He fills American Rhapsody with wild rantings, and then offsets it with wilder rantings from his “darker side”, meant to make his rantings seem more truthful.
Some of it rings true, such as when he talks about Hillary Clinton strategizing her husband’s political resurrection. Some of it rings false, such as when he implies that he smoked thai with Sharon Stone—who he created, he tells us, since he wrote Basic Instinct—and then had sex with her by her dollhouse drinking Cristal. Hell, it’s Hollywood, it easily could have happened, but it sounds like a high school student making up a story about the prom queen.
Unlike Thompson, there is no greater meaning to the wild rant, no greater truth illuminated by the semi-truths and complete fabrications. He’s a Hunter Thompson for Hollywood.
He has little in the way of introspection. With one hand he can write about how ridiculous it is for conservatives to think the media is out to get them. With the other he can write things like “There were a few people in Hollywood so far out on the radical Left that they smiled when Ronald Reagan was shot.” Eszterhas himself wanted to do a movie in the Clinton years excoriating the “resurgence of right-wing militias” as racist and anti-Semitic. He refused to make his villains more human when asked to to improve the story.
And then with his third hand he masturbates in public. Toward the middle of the controversy he writes an entire chapter on Clinton’s habit of masturbating rather than completing the sex act. Clinton, he writes, could have “freed men and women everywhere from the disdain and prejudice they were victims of.” Instead, Clinton skulked away like PeeWee Herman did, “ashamed of what he’d been caught doing—what most of us had sometimes done—in that theater.”
He also goes back and forth here between talking about “militant onanists” and “the awesome and vast silent majority”, between “them” and “us” as if he rewrote this section poorly perhaps after realizing that maybe the “vast majority” of Americans have not masturbated in public, and would definitely be ashamed to be caught doing so.
Among all the faux-gonzo, the weirdest story, to me, is that according to Eszterhas Monica Lewinsky learned how to please President Clinton by reading Gennifer Flowers’s book about their affair. I knew that there had been accusations before, at the time. I don’t recall knowing that at least one of the accusers had already had a book out about it.
Another thing I didn’t know—so I guess I learned something from the book—is that the Starr report also said “They engaged in oral-anal contact as well.”
- Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News—Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
If you tell someone who’s not an alcoholic that he’s drinking too much, he’ll take an interest in your statement. He might be incredulous, but he’ll ask things like, “Do you really think I’m drinking too much? Have I gotten out of hand?” Your allegation might come as a surprise to him, and he might doubt you, but he’d probably be curious to find out if maybe he does have a problem, or if, at least, he’s engaged in behavior suggesting he’s got a problem.
He’ll actually cast his mind back to nights when he was drinking, trying to remember if he did something embarrassing.
Now, take an alcoholic who knows goddamned well he’s an alcoholic and has chosen to continue being an alcoholic and is pretty goddamned sick of people telling him he’s an alcoholic because he just wants to keep on drinking at an alcoholic level. Now tell him he’s got a problem. He’ll tell you “I don’t have a problem, you have a problem, now why don’t you mind your own business instead of sticking your nose into other people’s lack of problems?”
He’ll be angry about it because 1, he knows you’re right, but 2, he has no intention of ever changing this and just wants you to stop noticing he’s an alcoholic.
You can see the same dynamic more generally in any relationship. Person 1 makes an unfounded accusation against person 2, and person 2 will make an honest, possibly confused attempt to think back on what they could have done to elicit such an accusation. Person 3 makes a well-founded accusation against person 4, and person 4 goes ballistic.
This echoes what Goldberg wrote, toward the end of his book:
What a bunch of hypocrites, I kept thinking, these people who examine anybody and everybody’s life but will “never” forgive me for writing about their liberal bias.
The Dan Rathers of the world don’t try to crush you if they think you’re full of crap. They simply ignore you. It’s when you taunt them with the truth that they get really frantic and try to inflict pain, if for no other reason than to show everybody else in the newsroom that the cost of breaking the sacred code of omerta will be very high.
Ace hadn’t read Goldberg. It’s just an obvious point. Goldberg slammed into the same thing in 1996 when he, as a CBS employee, wrote about media bias for the Wall Street Journal. Goldberg got into trouble at CBS for writing what was basically a fisking of a CBS colleague’s on-air condescension toward Republican primary contender Steve Forbes’s flat tax proposal.
- You can’t handle the truth—Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
Warren Lewis revealed the source of wisdom today: Pittsburgh.
At two o’clock in the morning in a bar in Pittsburgh in a place you’re never going to be again, a guy puts his arm around your shoulders and tells you the truth.
Tess Gerritsen revealed the secret of being an author during the keynote at lunch:
As authors we race headlong into conflict. We take a bad situation and make it worse.
We race headlong into conflict. What everyone else is fleeing, we must embrace, if we want to be true to our craft.