Pale Wire (Popscene)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Oh, duh.
I have a new blog

Just in case anybody cares, last month I started up a new version of the blog over at You should now consider this Web site inactive.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Short Version
Where you been?

In the days, rather weeks, of my absence (abdication?), I've been doing little of which we can be proud, yet much of which I could report, a condition I'm sure must be a terrifying prospect for you, kind reader. I promise to keep it short. My coffee is getting cold and the staff here at Amphora, Vienna's finest 24-hour Greek diner, seems ready to welcome the departure of this loitering blogger.

In between settling in at my new job, finding a permanent home for myself in Washington, and fulfilling the final requirements of my graduate program, I've managed to drive many thousands of miles in several long, tiresome treks and read several books in many short, invigorating bursts.

I finally did my duty and read the lodestar of my would-be profession, Woodward and Bernstein's All The President's Men, as well as the pair's authoritative summation of their antagonist's decline, The Final Days. While the former book is credited with setting the templates of manner and means for a generation of reporters, the latter's innovation of the practices that Woodward would go on to employ in erecting a shelf full of inside stories on subjects varying from Belushi to Bush deserves mention. As does Woodward's oftentimes boring, albeit occasionally revelatory, writing. August Kleinzahler's collection of poems, The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, provided more spark, but in fitful, inchoate moments ferreted away from the day, rather than in any sustained, satisifying meal. Mahmood Mamdani's Good Muslim, Bad Muslim taught me many things about Muslim societies, put American foreign policy in a historical context considerably different than what I'm accustomed to, and provoked me to examine a few assumptions about how exactly this world of ours works. It's shame he doesn't give Soviet policy in Afghanistan the same scrutiny as America's. Backstory, Ken Auletta's collection of New Yorker pieces on newspapers and the media, went well. I enjoy how he can put all the players on the board in what seems such an facile way. His writing makes me feel like I get it. And the steady focus on the business side of the media business is refreshing in comparison to the windy prate that passes for so much of media criticism. John Baxter's memoir A Pound of Paper didn't teach me much, but the guy did make a great drinking partner. Baxter is like A.J. Liebling without the deadline, a gourmand on the make. The now departed Saul Bellow's ode to his departed friend Allan Bloom, Ravelstein, introduced me to another grand homme, this one more literary than the last only in commensuration to his Jewishness.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Does C-SPAN have a copyright lawyer?
Ah, whatever, this is too funny to be illegal.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Shooters Roll
Tune in to that NOLA Bounce

As I write, results are beginning to trickle in after the opening round in New Orleans' first mayoral election since hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region last fall (Times-Picayune coverage). The elite media is refocusing yet again, and New York Times music critic Kelefa Sanneh is wondering why a particular part of the city's highly touted heritage is going unappreciated (link).

There was a blitz of benefit concerts, including "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy," a pair of shows held simultaneously at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall last September. A New Orleans jam session closed the show at the Grammy Awards in February. There have been scads of well-intentioned compilations, including "Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast" (Nonesuch), "Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now" (Concord) and "Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert" (Blue Note), a live album recorded at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Benefit. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month, a video segment paid tribute to New Orleans music through the years, from Louis Armstrong to the Neville Brothers; there was also the inevitable New Orleans jam session.

But one thing all these tributes have in common is that they all ignored the thrilling — and wildly popular — sound of New Orleans hip-hop, the music that has been the city's true soundtrack through the last few decades.

Rap music remains by far New Orleans's most popular musical export. Lil Wayne, Master P, Juvenile, Mannie Fresh, B. G., Mystikal and many other pioneers have sold millions of albums, and they have helped make their city an indispensable part of the hip-hop world. Unlike all the other musicians celebrated at post-Katrina tributes, these ones still show up on the pop charts, often near the top. (Juvenile's most recent album made its debut at No. 1, last month.) Yet when tourists and journalists descend upon the city next weekend, for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, they'll find only one local rapper on the schedule: Juvenile, who is to appear on the Congo Square Louisiana Rebirth Stage at 6 p.m. Saturday.

I largely agree with Sanneh's thesis. Despite its widespread popularity with young Americans and the commericalization that's come along with success, hip-hop is still too young, too wild, too black to share the warm embrace the state and society now extend to blues, jazz and rock musicians shunned a generation ago.

But, while Ray Nagin and George Bush may not be throwing Juvenile any shoutouts this election year, there is still an underground effort going on to memorialize NOLA's hip-hop history.

Thanks to a tip from David Drake (blog), I've discovered an .mp3 mix of early New Orleans hip-hop (a variant strain known as "bounce music") uploaded by the elegantly named cocaineblunts last September. It's called Bounce for Relief. It's hot. It's here. And it's free for download, although dude asks that any downloaders make a contribution to Katrina charities. If you give it a go, leave your impression in the comments. We'll chat.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

If there was a Pulitzer Prize for patience
I'd nominate you, my friends.

Sorry I've been so inactive this past month. There's no good excuse. I've been busy with things even I'm not stupid enough to blog about and simply have not made the time.

As a peace offering, here's a blooper I just captured from I think we're all continually crestfallen by the milquetoast headlines the Webdesk churns out for the paper's online offerings1, but this is an entirely different thing.

Image hosting by Photobucket

I can't say which story I want to read less.

1I'm unable find it just now, but I swear I read a story the other day that profiled news sites dumbing down their headlines in hopes of attracting greater attention from search engines, which send spiders to crawl the Web in pursuit of certain basic keywords. Maybe that's good excuse. But I don't see how it alone could explain away lines as bland as "Sprucing up the Place" or as vague as "DeLay Charge Stays Outs," both of which adorned the same page I clipped up above.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Anatomically Incorrect
Does Bill O'Reilly know his way around a brain pan?


Midway through Nicholas Lemann's profile of Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly in this week's edition of The New Yorker, which you can read in its entirety by following this link, we're treated to what is fast becoming one of my favorite reportorial devices: quoting from your subject's vanity novel.

While nowhere near as revelatory as the bizarre bestiality scenes New Yorker writer Lauren Collins uncovered last year in Scooter Libby's Japanese historical fantasy "The Apprentice" (link), the graphic murder scene Lemann pulls from O'Reilly's 1998 thriller "Those Who Trespass1" is still telling. And particularly so once you appreciate that the victim is a stand in for CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and the killer's hand belongs to you know who.

The assailant’s right hand, now holding the oval base of the spoon, rocketed upward, jamming the stainless stem through the roof of Ron Costello’s mouth. The soft tissue gave way quickly and the steel penetrated the correspondent’s brain stem. Ron Costello was clinically dead in four seconds.

At different times likening O'Reilly's "amazingly nimble talent" to a beat cop, boxer and jungle cat, Lemann tries to capture the essence of the man who is the essence of cable news. In the context of the article, the book quote is there to hammer home how vindictive O'Reilly can be when he feels slighted.

What Lemann declines to do is point out that the quote can tell us something else, something that doesn't require any armchair analysis. That is this: Bill O'Reilly is a bad writer.

Let's look at it again, shall we. The chain of events O'Reilly describes has a spoon shooting upward through the roof of his victim's mouth and into the brain stem. The problem is that the brain stem, a column consisting of the midbrain, the pons and the medulla oblongata which serves as the relay station between the spinal cord and the forebrain, stands behind the mouth, not above it.


But, then again, this is O'Reilly. Maybe we just need to factor in the spin.

1Two editions of the book retail on, each with a slightly different title. The hardcover is "Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Murder and Television;" the paperback is "Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Television and Murder." You can also buy the audiobook, which was recorded by the author himself.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Articles of Faith
Following al Qaeda's paper trail

On Friday military intelligence quietly declassified a few Qaeda-related documents not included to last month's Harmony report (link). It's nearly always an illuminating thing to read Bin Laden and Co.'s internal correspondance, but after a couple years spent absorbing this stuff, it's the little things that really get me.

Things like how despite al Qaeda's generous vacation policy1 members still had to submit requests for time off "2 1/2 months prior to travel" (link). And the fact that vacations are the second thing listed in its constitution. Or how about the stunning banality of the forms given to new applicants at training camps in Afghanistan (link)? I couldn't make this up: They actually asked applicants to list their hobbies.

Speaking of the military, on Wednesday I got an email back from our friend Penny Mellies in Fort Leavenworth. I sent her a short note asking for an explanation of the bizarre bar chart I wrote about earlier this week (link). Her complete response:
From a US perspective, it is meant to reflect the strategic importance of that region.

I've already sent her a reply that expressed my confusion about the lack of labels on the chart's x and y axes and requested further clarification on how something like strategic importance could be measured. She has yet to answer.

1One week per month if you're married; five days if you're single. You also may interested to learn that a married member made 6.5 times more money than a single member, pulling in 6500 Pakistan rupees each month, compared to a bachelor's 1000 rupee salary.

Someone call Jack Bauer!
Ben set his hair on fire again.

Excluding from consideration the perpetually dumbfounding realm of the cosmos, and the numbing rows of zeros we line up in a feeble human effort to account for its grand arc, there is, every once in a great while, a statistic that just blows my little mind.

For a time, my pet marvel was the estimate that 20,000 coal miners die each year in Chinese mines1. That's Sago times 1,666.667.

My new nugget comes out of the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2006 pocket book. Here, dear reader, is a listing of the prohibited items intercepted at American airports in 2003 and 2004. It's too wide for my blog, so you'll have to click on the picture to see it at a decent size.

Yes, that is 22,000 box cutters2.

1In fairness, the Chinese government's official estimate is 6,000 deaths per year (link). The Hong Kong based Chinese Labour Bulletin put forward the 20,000 estimate (link). In fact, I now see that CLB just put out a new mining safety report on Thursday. Unfortunately I can't read Chinese. If you can, go here and report back what it says.
2Box cutters were the primary weapons used by many of the September 11 hijackers (link)

Category 3_

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

WMD, it ain't
But my does it look pressing.

Anyone who can tell me what that chart means wins the sandwich of their choice. I swear to goodness itself that I found it in the U.S. Army's new pocket guide to Arab culture. I suspect it's supposed to be a breakdown of the regions where Arab people live, but its lack of supporting information and the mysterious header give it a geopolitical bent that boggles the mind.

You can read the whole thing by clicking here.

The chart is in on the fourth page, along with these tasty nuggets:

I've sent an email asking for clarification to Penny Mellies, the contact person listed for the guide's creator, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. If you want to call her, her phone number is listed as 913.684.7920/DSN552-7920.

If you could tell me what that DSN means, I'd appreciate that too. But no sandwich.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Gospel Gap
Someone link Bernie Goldberg


The Project of Excellence in Journalism just released their third annual State of the News Media report, which includes the poll results displayed above. The chart sets responses from members of the local and national media next to those harvested from the general public in a 2002 Pew Center poll (link).

What we see is that journalists are, if not largely godless, at least much more secular in their outlook than a large segment of their audience. Look, even the journalists who describe themselves as conservative lean toward secular sources of principle.

How all this affects the media's work, the numbers can't say, but the gap itself is interesting. There's an argument to be made here about rationality and Enlightenment principles and yadda yadda. What do you think?

That's just one nugget. There's plenty more to be digested over at the official site.