Friday, March 27, 2009

In Case You've Noticed ...

... I'm WAY behind on my posts. In fairness, however, I have a perfectly good reason: my beautiful stepdaughter got married this past weekend. Those of you who were there know what a great event it was; as for those of you who weren't there ... well, the least I can do is post a picture of her and my terrific new son-in-law.

Mazel tov, Shayna and David! I'll try to be back on a regular schedule next week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This Post Is NOT About Ron Silver

Writing about the recently deceased is always a tricky process. The dead have families and friends in mourning, to which I can personally relate. There is no exception to this in the case of Ron Silver, whose talent I admired and whose post-9/11 politics I disagreed with. But when the dead are turned into political pawns by the living, a decent respect for the Opinions of Mankind (to borrow a phrase) demands a rebuttal.

In yesterday's edition of The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch's money-losing print outlet in the Big Apple, a certain gossip column best known by its page number ran an item to the effect that Silver was "blacklisted" after he spoke on behalf of former President George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Silver himself was quoted as saying the following: "After I made that speech ... Hollywood and Broadway dried up on me ... The phone stopped ringing . . . nada . . . not a thing." You can see the item by clicking on the following link:

Unfortunately for this column, and the dissemblers in charge of writing it, the Internet bears witness to a somewhat different story. Silver hardly had a thriving career on Broadway. He won acclaim for his performance in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" in 1988, but he only appeared in two shows before that, and none after ( His entire performing career on Broadway spanned a total of roughly 30 months in slightly over 30 years; it ended back when Bush's biggest ambition was buying the Texas Rangers.

As for film and television work, Silver's entry in ( is hardly the history of someone barred from Hollywood's studios. There are no fewer than nine entries for the post-2004 period, including one project that was in pre-production at the time of his death. And this, of course, includes his role as Bruno Gianelli on that well-know icon of liberal television viewing, "The West Wing."

Why, then, did Silver say what he said? At this point, who knows? There may have been incidents that, rightly or not, created for him the perception that there were producers who wouldn't hire him because of his politics. Then again, all actors feel that they should be working all the time (I'm no exception to this rule).

What matters is the willingness of The Post to use its minions to fill its pages with willful distortions of the truth, for no other reason than to desperately attempt to prop up its own discredited political agenda. Perhaps one shouldn't expect more from a paper that ran an editorial cartoon comparing President Obama to a monkey, and whose losses under Murdoch easily run into nine figures. But that doesn't mean that it should be allowed to exploit a human tragedy for self-serving ends.

The facts are the facts: liberals, no matter how much they disagreed with Silver's politics, respected his talent and put it to good use. They, along with those who were close to him personally, are prepared to let him rest in peace. The Post should do the same.

And the gossip columnist? IMHO, he and his assistants should be deep-Sixed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Earl's Smarter Than Govenor Jindal

Like many of you, I was stunned by the jaw-dropping, gee-whiskers performance of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in responding to President Obama's first address to Congress. The banality of the content (less government is always better, blah, blah blah) is pretty much what I expected; after all, it's what today's Republicans say all the time, even when (as now) no one believes it's true. What was more surprising was the almost juvenile style and tone with which it was delivered. If he's truly the GOP's idea of a rising star, their talent base is even more depleted than I thought. I'm not sure which is worse, from the perspective of Jindal or his party: being compared to Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock," or having Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock" come on a late-night talk show to ridicule the comparison. But, of course, that could never happen .... Oh, wait (as Mickey Kaus likes to say):

However, one piece of the content stands out in my mind: his use of volcano monitoring as an example of wasteful and excessive Federal spending. Well, Govenor Jindal, try telling that to the thousands of Americans who live near any one of the 169 active volcanoes in the United States, or to the airline passengers whose flight paths may lie over one or more of those volcanoes (reference: I suspect that some of them may wonder why their tax dollars are used to subsidize the clean-up of hurricane damage to people who choose to live in hurricane-prone areas. Know any states that fit that description, Kenneth (I mean, Bobby)?

As a society, we have endlessly debated the proper role and reach of government in our society. It's a debate that predates the existence of the Republic, and one that (I suspect) will continue for decades to come. But it seems to me that, whatever else government should or should not be doing, it ought to be tackling and solving the problems for which there exists no solution or remedy in the market place (either because their is no market-based solution, or one hasn't yet been created). And, in a society governed by democracy, we ought to be able to meet each other's needs even when doing so doesn't directly benefit us. If democracy is about anything, it is about cooperation and collaboration among interests that are not otherwise naturally aligned. One day, we may be the helping hand; the next day, we may need yesterday's victim to be the helping hand.

This seems like such an obvious point. And yet, given the success of conservative politicians and special interests in ragging on government over the past three decades (while helping themselves to generous portions of it), I have sometimes despaired that there was any possibility that, one day, most Americans would get it. And then, from the most unlikely of sources, I found a ray of hope.

The source, in this case, is a rerun of an episode of My Name is Earl. For the benefit of those of you who have never watched the show, its title character spends all of his time trying to create good "karma" for himself by righting various misdeeds from his past, and them crossing them off his "list." Most of the comedy in the show (such as there is) stems from the fact that Earl is neither well-educated nor sophisticated in his approach to people, and this leads him into all sorts of trouble as he tries to improve his karma.

As a case in point, in the episode I saw, Earl tries to pay the government back taxes that he owes, and runs into bureaucratic obfuscation every step of the way. Like most people who have run up against the brick wall of civil service, Earl starts to wonder what good it does at all to pay taxes for government. Finally, he decides that he only way to get the government to accept his money is to trespass on a water tower, so that he can pay the money as a fine. In the process of doing so, Earl and his brother Randy fall through the roof of the empty tower, and are trapped inside until rescue workers finally arrive to take them out. Earl is finally able to pay his back taxes, which (as it turns out) just covers the cost of the rescue effort.

But what really stayed with me is Earl's realization (in a voice-over as he is pulled from the tower) that government, even when it's not help you personally, is out there helping someone. That made me almost wish I had a copy of the show to send to Governor Jindal and the rest of the GOP. If Earl can get it, why can't they?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Print Journalism; Quo Vadis?

Many of you already have heard or read about the closing of The Rocky Mountain News. I'm not sure there's any better way to document the pain caused by the loss of a local journalism institution like this one than to hear it in the words of its now-former employees. Toward that end, click on the following link:

If you have as much respect for journalism and journalists as I do (and I confess to having a lot), the comments made by the staffers for the Rocky make for tough reading. I suspect that many of them, if not most, will find other jobs. Some, if they have not done so already, will enter the burgeoning field of blogging, as others have done;-). But the fact that the Internet has become an alternative for many print journalists should force us all to reflect on the future of journalism, and the impact of the Internet on the profession.

As more of us get an ever-increasing amount of information and opinion electronically, newspapers are expanding their online editions, at the expense of their print versions. In fact, it is entirely fair to say that newspapers, in their traditional form, are literally dying by inches. My hometown newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, has shrunk so much from its former broadsheet dimensions that it is easy to imagine it becoming a tabloid in the near future. It is no less easy to imagine it disappearing altogether sometime after that. Such may be the fate of the Seattle Post-Intelligencier; the Hearst Corporation has announced that it will become an online-only publication unless a buyer for the print version emerges. The Christian Science Monitor, formerly a daily newspaper, is now only a weekly in print; it uses its Web site to publish daily news.

Should we worry about this? After all, isn't this just the consequence of the emergence of a new technology, much as movable type once displaced clerks with quill pens? Unfortunately, I think the answer is "Yes." Online newspapers, for the most part, emerged during the early days of the Internet, when it was a medium that could only be accessed for limited periods of time from PCs. Most of these online journals were electronic versions of existing newspapers, choosing to put their print content online. The cost of doing so was minimal, the site created a new source of advertising revenue, and everybody was happy.

Fast forward to now: the Internet can be accessed from almost anywhere through an increasingly varied array of portable devices, at relatively minimal cost. This means fewer readers for print journals, as well as less revenue from circulation and advertising. On the other hand, even in their increasingly dessicated state, they still bring in more revenue than their electronic cousins. In the process, they continue to effectively subsidize the costs of those cousins. This is the business paradox in which most newspapers (and news magazines as well) now find themselves. The print versions should be allowed to die the natural death that a newer, superior medium has prepared for them. But the financial role that they play in subsidizing that medium prevents them from dying.

Like it or not, print news papers are going to die anyway. No enterprise can continue to hemorrhage money indefinitely. As a consequence, journalism faces one of two possible futures. In one, formal news gathering organizations, including editors and bureaus, will cease to exist, and online journalists en masse will fill the gap, subsidized by advertising and, perhaps, alternative employment. This might have a kind of Utopian appeal for some. But it is not likely to produce the quality of journalism that society not only needs but expects. Some news makers and news events (certainly those that involve the Federal government, for example) are so inherently big and complex that they cannot be reported adequately or at all by one or more individuals acting independently. They have to be covered by a variety of journalists with different skills and backgrounds, and they have to have someone--an editor, a publisher, call him or her what you will--directing their work and shaping their product.

But news organizations cost money. And, if they are to have a truly national or international scope, they require more money than Web sites can produce from advertising revenue alone. If that were not the case, most publishers would have already abandoned their print editions by now. The seemingly obvious answer is to charge a fee for access to the Web versions, but those newspapers that have experimented with this (i.e., The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times) have met with more resistance from their readers than they could handle. It seems more likely than not that the concept of free access to individual Web sites is so ingrained in our culture that not even sheer economic or journalistic necessity can dislodge it.

It may be the case that the appropriate economic model can be found in cable television. Currently, cable services provide access to a number of channels for a flat fee, and charge additional fees for so-called premium or on-demand services. Perhaps one or more news organizations could "bundle" their offerings as part of some sort of premium package, for which users could pay an additional flat, monthly fee and thereby gain access to a wide variety of online newspapers and magazines, which they could surf at their leisure. Or newspapers could go back to doing what they did in the early days of the Internet: offering their content directly through the online service itself, with the service paying for the content and spreading the costs among all of their subscribers and advertisers, not just the ones using the online publications.

Or, in a worst-case scenario, newspaper publishers could just bite the bullet, shut down their hard-copy editions, and say to their reading public "If you want to find us, go on the Web--for a price. This is what the newspaper is now. Subscribing to our Web site is no different from subscribing to the old-fashioned paper. If you subscribe now, you'll pay less than you would later, and the longer your subscription, the less you'll pay. You may not want to 'read the paper' this way, but the alternative is no paper at all, including no local news coverage. It's a world of choices, and we've now made one. We do so recognizing that you are free to do the same, and hope that you will stay with us."

No one, including me, knows which of these scenarios is likely. But, since newspapers cannot lose money forever, one of them is going to happen. The rewards will fall to the publishers who recognize this fact, and attempt to embrace one or more of these alternatives. Here's hoping that one or more of them do so soon. I love newspapers, and I hate seeing them die piece by piece. We are all better off if "print journalism" decides where it is going--and soon.