Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Two worlds collide

I hate wrap up lists generally, particularly when they're from news orgs because List journalism is usually just lazy. But I love Seth Stevenson's column on slate.com about advertising.

In the end, this column about the worst ads of the year is so great and I love it so much that I'm blogging list journalism. I mean, as a guy I'm perpetually a child and find humour in poop jokes. One of this year's nominees ... Charmin's cartoon bears discussing toilet paper.

Great line: And then this ad in which a young bear bends over, post-wipe, to display tattered t.p. still dangling from his furry taint. The scene is disturbing, and, to my dismay, causes me to contemplate the contents of the bear's stool.

I fear what lies beyond 2010

A recent informal survey of ex-Los Angeles Times staffers, revealed that a slim majority expected the newspaper to fold. God, how I hope that will never happen. The Los Angeles Times has been doing amazing work in the last year-ish covering the drug war in Mexico. The latest story, reported and written by San Pedro, a suburb of Monterrey, Mexico's industrial capital, boasts multinational corporate headquarters, Ferrari dealerships, pristine streets and parks, the top luxury hotels. At one typically orderly intersection rises a copy of Michelangelo's David larger than the original.

In an interview in a City Hall office decorated with paintings by Mexico's top contemporary artists, Fernandez dismissed comparisons between the intelligence units and death squads or Colombia-style paramilitaries, saying his units are "more like detectives," albeit answerable only to him. He refused to provide any details as to who serves on the squads or how they operate.In some parts of the country, priests have used money from traffickers to pay for church repairs, special chapels or other community projects. One senior priest was quoted a couple of years ago praising the drug lords' propensity to tithe.

"They make us accomplices," said another outspoken bishop, Raul Vera of Saltillo. "A steeple built with drug money has blood gushing from its rafters."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Credit where it's due

To the beleagured, overstretched staff of the Los Angeles Times, I must say thank you because today's paper was filled with great stories.

My favorite was Borzou Daragahi's story about a blind man who leads an all-female orchestra in Shiraz, Iran. Were he not blind, religious customs in Shiraz would never permit a male to be in the company of 30 women who he is not related to teaching them music on a weekly basis. But in this case, his blindness has become an opportunity to create something powerful. Here's the best quote I've read about music/the arts in a loooooooong time, from one of the musicians:

"We have something to say in this world of art, no matter how small," says Helen Parchami, a violinist in her 20s. "The instrument is strength. It's power. It's the freedom of my soul. When I play here I feel proud of all the women here. Only women play. We show that we can stand on our own feet."

But that's not the only reason the LAT was a great read today:

• David Zucchino's story about a recently elected city councilman in Asheville, N.C. who is an atheist. Local conservatives are threatening to sue the city because his public service is, according to them, in direct violation of the state's arcane constitution which bars those who don't believe in god from serving in public office in North Carolina. Classic case of "Is this 2010 in America?":

Six other states have provisions outlawing atheists in public office. The North Carolina clause was in the state constitution when it was drafted in 1868. In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that states were prohibited under the U.S. Constitution from requiring a religious test to serve in office. The court ruled in favor of an atheist in Maryland seeking to serve as a notary public.

• A great examination into how easily teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District "earn" tenure by Jason Felch, Jessica Garrison and Jason Felch. Without the newspaper, how would we learn about this?

* The reviews are so lacking in rigor as to be meaningless, many instructors say. Before a teacher gets tenure, school administrators are required to conduct only a single, pre-announced classroom visit per year. About half the observations last 30 minutes or less. Principals are rarely held responsible for how they perform the reviews.

* The district's evaluation of teachers does not take into account whether students are learning. Principals are not required to consider testing data, student work or grades. L.A. Unified, like other districts in California, essentially ignores a state law that since the 1970s has required districts to weigh pupil progress in assessing teachers and administrators.

The LAT's work was so important that Supt. Ramon C. Cortines announced that change was coming. After hearing The Times' findings more than a week ago, the superintendent pledged to scrutinize probationary teachers more closely so poor instructors are ousted before they become tenured.

"Too many ineffective teachers are falling into tenured positions -- the equivalent of jobs for life," he said.

• Finally, this incredibly powerful photo essay from Marissa Roth, a freelance photojournalist who documented her photos and interviews with war widows through the last 20+ years.

In her words:
While working on assignment as a Times photographer in Pakistan in 1988, I was drawn to tell the story of the Afghan war widows, who at the time numbered about 100,000 after 10 years of war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. I went into Afghan refugee camps in Thal and Peshawar and photographed women and children, for what I considered to be an underreported story of that war.

My experiences in Pakistan inspired me to continue photographing other women affected by other wars, a photo essay that has turned into a 20-year personal project dedicated to documenting the lives of women who have been directly affected by armed conflicts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The ulimate betrayal

I have been losing my hair with some rapidity since around 2000, so when I was 25 (despite what two of my stylists have said while trying to assuage my anxiety over my ironic vanity. I say ironic because I never had like actual good hair) I started preparing myself for the inevitable.

But even though my scalp is very exposed at least what hair I had left was black. Well, until recently.

Today while I was washing my hands in the bathroom down the hall from my office, I saw it. A short white hair near my left temple. I couldn't believe how my hair stabbed me in the head and extinguished whatever self-respect I had left.

I kid, I kid. But 'tis sad, goddammit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

wtf, barack

This from the Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. "We'll tell the pharmaceutical companies 'thanks, but no, thanks' for the overpriced drugs -- drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada," he said back then.

On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor -- and President Obama forgot the "no, thanks" part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed.

"It's got to be a little awkward," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

It's even more awkward for millions of Americans who are forced to pay up to 10 times the prices Canadians and Europeans pay for identical medication, often produced in the same facilities by the same manufacturers, simply because the U.S. government refuses to rein in drug prices.

Those favoring cheaper prescriptions amassed an impressive ideological coalition, from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). But they were no match for industry-friendly senators backed by the administration, who on Tuesday night easily voted down "reimportation," as it is called.

No surprise here: Lawmakers, and the White House, are addicted to drug money. The industry has pumped upwards of $130 million into federal elections over the past decade and is now among the top 10 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. At the same time, the White House needed the industry to spend its millions of dollars in advertising money on support of the health-care legislation, not against it.

The drug-money addiction could explain why the administration struck a sweetheart deal with the industry, which offered to give up $80 billion in revenue in exchange for an understanding that the government would not push for deeper concessions. The White House was determined not to go back on the deal -- even though the industry had demonstrated bad faith by raising prescription prices nearly 10 percent this year. So when Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) brought his reimportation proposal to the floor, the administration pushed back with a letter from Food and Drug Administration chief Margaret Hamburg warning of "significant safety concerns."

Continued here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Awesome links of this particular day

From The coolest Wude in the universe comes a link to this story about a small group of Swedes who started manufacturing jeans in North Korea. Whoa.

I don't have much to add to this other than, thankfully there are Swedes, denim, storyreporters and an Internet to unite them.

Originally, this post was "Awesome link of this particular day" but then Amanda sent me this ode to SkyMall and it was forced to become linkS. All I know is that when my headache wouldn't let me read a book while flying from Chicago to Los Angeles, my mind could handle going from the wall-sized crossword puzzle to the continued iterations of Successories low-level-executive posters to Lord of the Rings chess sets.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Where never-was friendships go to live

That was how I once described Facebook to Scott in one of our mocking IM conversations about the seemingly ubiquitous social networking site. Though, I regularly (though not frequently) Google people from my past (primarily college friends—the subgroup from which I've lost touch with the most people), I have staunchly resisted FB. Through, e-mail, phone calls, IMs, text messages and even annual xmas cards, I am in touch with the people I truly care to be in touch with. Honestly, not to sound smug, but if I've lost touch with you it's your fault.

That's why it's always been odd to me, when people use the "don't you want to know what (insert name here) is up to?" as some kind of FB incentive. To be honest, not at all, which brings me to the point of this blogpost.

Someone I know on a very cursory level (not a colleague, source or boss) from my days as a newspaper reporter, contacted me on LinkedIn. Now why am I on LinkedIn when I am anti-FB? LinkedIn is more professionally targeted. I can see what my friends are up to professionally, like promotions, transfers, in some cases moves, or the most basic thing, learn what their goddamned jobs are in the first place. Like I said, it's supposed to be professional.

And yet, despite LinkedIn's more professional slant, it's still a place where barely-was-relationships can stay on life support. I suppose in this case it's where never-were colleagues can pretend that they might puruse a joint venture in the future?

The person who contacted me is not someone I worked with, but he had been at the Albany Times Union before I got there and was still friends with several of my co-workers, so we saw each socially a few times. I don't harbor any particular ill feelings toward this person. I'd register my feelings as neutral. Once I left I never expected to see him or hear from him again and I was perfectly OK with that.

I am going to leave the "invite" unanswered. I highly doubt he really cares what I'm up to or about teen journalism. I suspect he's collecting contacts. After all, who doesn't take note of how many "friends" or "contacts" a person has on their FB or other social networking page? But even though I look at someone's contact number, I don't want to be a collector of languishing-online-relationships.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A case for the fine arts in education

In third grade I lied to my parents and told them that third graders were too young to take instrumental music lessons from school, even though third graders who expressed serious interest were permitted to start a year earlier than typically. I don't know why I said that, given that I'd always thought of taking violin. But by fourth grade, when I think parents were notified through a letter sent home, I was in. I signed up for clarinet lessons, in part because a clarinet would fit in my backpack.

Nine years later, I would graduate as the concert master of my high school band. That just meant I was the first chair, first clarinet and that I tuned the band before concerts, even though I didn't have the ear to really understand intonation.

I thought that would be the end of my perfoming life, but in college my desire to attend University of Arizona basketball home games won out over my desire to drop music and fall semester of freshman year I joined the marching band, because only marching band members could audition for pep band (and pep band was the only way to guarantee good student seats to every home game).

Four years later, I graduated having sat courtside for a basketball national championship, but more importantly having cried my eyes out before, during and after my final marching performance at a football game. I knew that was the end of a chapter in my life.

I am so thankful that my parents encouraged me to try marching band. It was there that I learned to be accountable, how to lead people and equally as importantly how not to, to take pride in being a band geek, to see that different genres and styles of music are all just music and ultimately take my first steps becoming the person I am today.

And I am also equally grateful that I had those opportunities growing up and in college. It's why I am so passionate about the fine arts maintaining a thriving presence in public education. Sure, like with football and basketball, most high school violinists, tuba players, percussionists and oboe players won't become professionals. But they'll be forever changed by the experience, in almost every case, for the better.

It's one of the reasons I love the new show Glee so much, too. It really took me until I moved to Los Angeles to fully, proudly and publicly embrace loving musical theater, marching band, Star Trek and all those other subcultures of pop-culture-stereotyped popular kid ridicule. And now that there's a buzz-worthy show about high school kids who sing and dance ... wow. The only bad thing about Glee is that it makes me regret not supporting the other fine arts students at my high school, particularly abdicating my responsibilities to help out by doing pit orchestra for the musicals. I sucked. But as amazing as Glee is, it's a television show with ridiculously (at-times) over-produced numbers.

So perhaps to really appreciate the role and importance of the fine arts, check. out. this performance from the kids at PS 22 in NYC. (thanks, Jacquie for passing this along. I was chills for virtually the entire time.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Public Option Please

I love talent and intelligence, hence I love my friend Amy. She's a talented graphic designer and illustrator, fellow ultra-liberal, indie-music lover and also a pretty fucking good writer. I don't love her quite so much for that because honestly, what left do I have to bring to the friendship, right?

Anyway, she recently entered a contest to design a poster for the Public Option Please campaign, which implores Congress not to forget that healthcare reform should actually maximize making people more healthy. Of course, since she's talented and smart, she WON!

Check it out here or like below, too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I want a party of ideas

During the past few years I've become a big fan of NYT Op-Ed columnist David Brooks. He represents a rare conservative voice in the NYT opinion section, though not one that aligns much with the current Republican Party. Brooks frequently harkens back to the GOP of old, which touted itself as the party of ideas. Not the party that uses "elite" as an insult, particularly when referring to college-educated people who work for newspapers (earning middle class salaries) and magazines (often living paycheck to paycheck as freeelancers) who happen to disagree with the concept of wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of the very few (actual elitism ironically).

This mass amoeba of thoughtlessness has annointed Sarah Palin it's savior. Gawd, I fucking hope not ... from The Huffington Post via LAObserved:

December 1 2009 11:27 AM

In her new book "Going Rogue," best-selling author Sarah Palin claims to wrap herself in the flag of UCLA legend John Wooden. But, um, the quote she attributes to Coach Wooden is actually from Native American activist John Wooden Legs, writing in some left-wing journal. You'd think the stuff about the land and, in the original full quote, where Cheyennes talk the Cheyenne language, would have tipped off Palin and her people. Apparently not, as Palin watcher Geoffrey Dunn chortles at the Huffington Post:

There have been so many lies and distortions pointed out in Sarah Palin's Going Rogue since it was released last week that her memoir has already become something of a gag line.

But perhaps the most embarrassing gaffe so far is her mis-attributed quote to UCLA basketball legend John Wooden....

There's also no small amount of irony in the quote, given Palin's abysmal record on Alaska Native issues during her truncated term as governor.

He offers Palin some real Wooden quotes, such as "It's the little details that are vital" and "be more concerned with your character than your reputation" — and "never mistake activity for achievement."