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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

UNDERSTANDING ARLEN SPECTER: Pennsylvania’s senior senator cast his lot with the liberal intelligentsia decades ago. He’s a throwback to the old Ripon Society wing of the GOP, the country club Republicans who worried about whether Nelson Rockefeller was straying too far toward moderation when he didn’t hand over Attica prison to an incendiary mob. Despite paying lip service to conservatives who briefly threatened his tenure as chair of Senate judiciary, Specter’s brave fight against cancer has probably motivated him to return to his liberal roots, consequences be damned. So his call for Bush to postpone naming O’Connor’s replacement to the high court isn’t exactly surprising. It’s Arlen Specter making clear he feels he owes no allegiance to anyone — including the president who supported him over a rock ribbed conservative during a tough primary battle.Read more »

Monday, September 19, 2005

RATHER SAD DAN: Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather says the climate of fear running through newsrooms is stronger than he has ever seen in his more than 40 years in journalism. In other words, the left's longstanding "we define reality as our worldview dictates" policy is today a tower whose ivory has been stripped away like a bad formica job. In further words, the culture that once gave Rather and his ilk leave to define as "news" as they pleased, is gone. Dan and his pals are scared — running scared.

Citing pressure to create "dumbed-down, tarted-up" coverage, Rather decries the creation of a "bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms." What Rather doesn't like is being called a moron or a con artist when his hamhanded attempt to pass off forged documents as real is exposed as a scheme worthy of The Marx Brothers. Rather pines for the day when the new media will be exposed as a passing fad, when Limbaugh, Drudge, Fox News and and the non-left Blogosphere will just pack up their tents and go away. He and his crowd devoutly long for the day when Republican leaders were get-along, go-along guys like Bob Michael, Hugh Scott, and Everett Dirkson.

Of course that's what he wants — but he ain't gonna get his way. The new media is here to stay; it will morph into forms not yet imagined. Dan's feeling weepy because his day has come and gone, and he knows a whole lot of influential, smart, sophisticated people see him for what he is: an empty trenchcoat waiting for the next storm.

In his landmark 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued that facts are embedded in social practices or “paradigms.” The old leftwing media and today's countervailing media forms are, in Kuhn’s sense, two fundamentally different paradigms that illuminate different kinds of phenomena, data, experiences, or apprehensions. Each paradigm brings forth different kinds of experience and different types of outcomes. Whenever a new (and real) paradigm enacts and brings forth new data, said Kuhn, the old worldviews and theories are thrown into a crisis. Practitioners of the old paradigm typically respond by rededicating themselves to business as usual and by dismissing the new paradigm as flawed, distorted, invalid, just plain wrong.

A paradigm shift occurs when a discipline reaches a crisis state that calls into question the explanatory powers of existing perspectives and practices. That's what's been happening in American media for more than a decade. Rush looked into his telescope and reported: Hey, everybody: the left isn't the center of the universe. Galileo got locked up for saying something like that. Rush? He got ratings — big time.

For a while, the left could get away with not copping to their own conceptual blindspots, projected outward in the form of contempt toward the new forms of media. They continue to wait for the new media to disappear so they can resume their rightful place on the throne. The most appropriate response: "Dan Rather? I knew you looked familiar. Didn't you used to be somebody?"

Sunday, September 18, 2005

NEW ORLEANS NORMALCY: Early signs emerge as to why we need to go very slow in the Katrina recovery period. Recipients of the much-discussed debit cards have used them to buy Louis Vuitton handbags and to pay for visits to strip clubs. But it gets better. At a time of historic surplus of rental properties throughout the South, plans are being floated to put "the poor" in mobile homes. Terrific. Let's find every conceivable way to ensure that poor people continue living as poor people in communities of poor people who lack the education and mindset necessary to make better lives. Doing so will make it easier for pandering politicians to get entire neighborhoods to the polls on election day, to vote yes on a new generation of entitlement programs. Sorry for my cynicism, but it's hard to summon hope when the GOP seems to be scampering to play the same old game of promising pork rather than making the hard choices that await — like deciding which current spending programs to cut in order to fund plans to turn New Orleans into a rising phoenix. It goes without saying: many debit card recipients used theirs to buy food, water, and other core necessities. But let's also realize that poverty, in addition to being a state of moneylessness, is a phenomenon that typically has to do with how that state of being gets generated and maintained across generations. Like everyone I know, I'm sickened by the sheer scale of the suffering. The human losses are incalculable. Efforts must be made to help the helpless. And yet — I have a simple question in response to the growing clamor that New Orleans must be rebuilt to its previous scale. Why and by whom? There may be very good answers, but let's start hearing them before we launch a plan that makes the WPA look like an average suburban family's Saturday morning to-do list. A plan that would of course become a precedent for every subsequent natural disaster.