Category Archives: My Comments on the News

Bruce et al v. Gore and Al Jazeera: Why the sale of Current is undeniably a good thing for any neutral observer

Imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter last night to find that “Al Gore” was trending, considering I happen to follow him and he hadn’t really tweeted all day. Then imagine my surprise to click it and find the headline:

Al-Jazeera in talks to buy Current TV

“Huh”, I think. “That’s interesting, and makes a bit of sense. It’s not too different from when Al Gore bought the old NWI network in the first place – effectively inheriting existing distribution deals. Al Jazeera has made zero inroads at penetrating the American market, while beIN Sport has been more successful, for certain definitions of “successful” (scroll about halfway down), suggesting their reputation might not necessarily be a deal-breaker given the right circumstances. It’d be interesting to see what sort of a splash Current could make with Al Jazeera’s financial and journalistic resources.”

Then I see the actual tweets:

I wonder how @algore is going to spend all his oil money he received from selling Current?

Is it me or does it seems like prominent climate activists (Matt Damon & Al Gore) seem very happy to take money from oil rich Arab nations.

Inconvenient Truth: Environmentalist Al Gore sold out to oil money, did so just in time to take advantage of tax benefits for the very rich

Al Gore is trending because he just made 100 million dollars from the oil he’s been railing against for the last couple decades.

Needless to say, this pretty much mirrors the reaction of the conservative blogosphere (along with accusing Gore of trying to push a deal through before tax hikes kicked in, ignoring the larger liberal justification for high taxes on the upper classes).

Alright, let’s set the record straight here. Oversimplifying Al Jazeera to “oil money” sells them short quite a bit, and accusing Gore of cashing out without regard for his principles seems to overlook the broader picture. First of all, on a basic and obvious level, Al Jazeera first became a dirty word for Americans with their release of Osama bin Laden’s tapes, so they have a history of running afoul of Republicans, making them and Al Gore good bedfellows. But more broadly, it highlights a sort of journalism it’s impossible to imagine today’s American “journalists” ever pulling off. As much as simply hearing the name (or even the “Al” followed by a word that triggers spell check) can cause some Americans to instinctively retch, Al Jazeera’s record really is top-notch; specifically, it’s clear that Al Jazeera isn’t a lapdog for Arab oil sheiks, given their record of reporting on the Arab Spring and other rebellions in the region, suggesting the prospect of a surprisingly smooth transition for Current, as Gore would himself point out. Given the state of American “journalism” these days, perhaps we could use Al Jazeera to show everyone how it’s really done.

It’s true that Al Jazeera is in fact owned by an Arab oil sheikh on behalf of the ruler of Qatar, but that brings us to the next point: as much as the oil-rich nations of the Gulf get rich off of selling us the fuel we need to power our cars, and as much as OPEC tries to make sure we continue to do so, they’re also well aware the oil river won’t run forever and have invested heavily in developing their countries to be economic powers even beyond their oil production, which news-watchers saw hints of in the Twitter-fueled response to the disputed 2008 Iranian election, and later in the more tech-savvy elements of the Arab Spring. In Qatar’s case in particular, said ruler has presided over, besides the launch of Al Jazeera, the institution of women’s suffrage, legalization of labor unions, and the introduction of a written constitution and Christianity; it’s hard to find another Arab nation quite so Westernized, certainly not one that hasn’t had Americans push “regime change” on them. (They’re still too small and hot to host a World Cup, though.) Admittedly, it has long been the single most polluting nation per capita in the world, but it’s easy to see that dropping faster than most other Arab nations.

It’s also true that Al Jazeera will be shuttering Current’s current (heh) format in favor of more of a straight news channel, bolstering the image of Gore abandoning his principles when someone comes calling with a multi-billion-dollar check. But it’s worth noting that since Gore bought NWI, MSNBC has become the liberal news channel Gore originally hoped to build, rendering Current superfluous; Current essentially lucked into taking up Gore’s original vision when MSNBC fired Keith Olbermann, but it was never going to measure up to MSNBC, certainly not after firing Olbermann itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gore had eventually sold Current to someone else for less. If anything, while Al Jazeera’s apparent plans to create another clone of its usual operations are noble, they might well betray a lack of understanding of the American news market, where people would rather hear people complain, preach, and bicker about the news than actually report it. At the very least, I’d strongly urge them to avoid the “Al Jazeera” name, which might well still be a poison pill for most Americans, if not for the name itself then certainly for its “foreign” connotations. (There’s a reason BBC News has a very limited American presence; indeed upon learning of the deal, Time Warner Cable couldn’t drop the channel fast enough.)

Discounting such questions on the wisdom and practicality of the matter, this court finds the prospect of a somewhat widely distributed network run by Al Jazeera to be a cause for unbridled hope for those fearful for the state of journalism on American television, assuming Al Jazeera can properly appeal to the American market. Given this, and given the long-term prospects of Current in its current form considering the rest of the marketplace, the court finds that despite unsavory appearances, there is no reason to believe that Gore’s sale of Current was done without regard to his own stated and personal principles, but rather was done out of genuine appreciation of their vision for the channel, and indeed the court suspects Gore would actually prefer their vision but was pessimistic about its practicality when he originally made noise about a liberal news channel. While he cannot be let completely off the hook for effectively selling to the ruler of one of the dirtiest countries in the world, the court has reason to believe that Gore can justifiably claim that it is not a betrayal of his own cause. This court rules in favor of Al Gore and Al Jazeera, with some reservations, including serious lingering ones regarding the timing of the matter vis-a-vis new tax rules.

What Bob Costas’ halftime commentary should have been

As seems to so often be the case, whenever a tragedy happens that shakes us to our very core we’re left unable to figure out how we should feel, knowing only that however we feel, someone is going to tell us we’re wrong. Such is the case with the shocking murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher on Saturday, which have left many of us unsure what to make of any of it.

We like to put people into black-and-white categories as a society – we like to have someone to blame and someone to be the victim. We like to fit everything into a nice and neat story. No one would put any blame on the girlfriend who was killed or the young girl who was orphaned; they are both clearly victims. But let’s face it, neither are they the story here. No one even knew who either of them were until they were reported in the aftermath of the tragedy. The reason this has become a national story is because the man who did it was an NFL player.

Certainly it’s hard to sympathize with Jovan Belcher, who took the life of his girlfriend and then himself, leaving his young daughter without any parents and rattling the Kansas City Chiefs organization to its core. It’s tempting to blame him, to turn him into a monster. But ultimately, it’s hard to blame him either; Belcher’s actions were in keeping with suffering from mental illness. Which brings us to the elephant in the room, the question of whether Belcher’s living, playing the particularly physical position of linebacker, had anything to do with his death.

Five and a half years ago, professional wrestler Chris Benoit took the life of his wife – and didn’t spare his son – before hanging himself. His brain was subsequently examined by neurosurgeons at West Virginia University, who compared it to that of “an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient”, and his father attributed his actions to the effects of repeated bumps to the head over the course of his wrestling career. For a league already haunted by the specter of concussions, as the Saints’ Bountygate appeals continue to drag on, to witness such a chillingly similar turn of events should serve as a reminder of the consequences of this sport’s brutality.

The case of Chris Benoit also, perhaps, suggests exactly what we should make of this tragedy. Before his death, Benoit was one of the more beloved figures in wrestling, but that adoration quickly turned to sadness and anger as most of Benoit’s career was all but forgotten and Benoit himself became a symbol of the effects of the culture of wrestling. Jovan Belcher was hardly a superstar, so perhaps it’s telling that we find ourselves conflicted in how to feel about him all the same. Regardless, while it’s too early to know exactly why Belcher did what he did, it’s entirely possible that in a few years, Jovan Belcher could be every bit as much a symbol of the NFL’s concussion problem as Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears safety who committed suicide nearly two years ago.

USA Today and the Future of Journalism

USA Today recently laid off a number of sports columnists as part of a broader restructuring of its sports department – and the vision they’ve set for their sports department going forward may well be a vision of the future for newspapers all over the country.

A leaked memo from publisher Larry Kramer effectively completely redefines USA Today Sports’ mission:

As we recast ourselves into a multi-platform sports organization, it is clear that we must be more aggressive and proactive about how we cover breaking news. While the newspaper remains an important source of news for our sports consumers, we can no longer operate with a print-first mentality. Stories move 24-7 and we need to move at that same rapid pace. The USA TODAY Sports Media Group intends to be the conversation starter, breaking news in Sports faster and in greater depth than anyone else.

It’s been said in the past that the Internet completely obliterates the traditional “news cycle”, giving people access to breaking news instantaneously. This has had its pluses and minuses, foremost among the latter the race to get scoops first potentially coming at the expense of getting them right. USA Today has effectively recognized that they are facing a future in which newspapers look increasingly obsolete, a drain on resources from the web site, and that the new world of the Internet is a far different world than the print world they’re leaving behind. This appears to be at least a first step towards embracing the new rules of the game. USA Today has generally been one of the “little three” of national general sports websites (alongside Sporting News/Fanhouse and NBC, and behind ESPN, CBS, Fox, SI, and Yahoo in some order), and they appear to be taking proactive steps to emerge from that status.

There’s a lesson here for newspapers all over the country looking to recast themselves in the new Internet age. They must effectively become less like newspapers, as they have known the term up to this point, gathering up all the stories they can for a single daily or weekly edition, and more like twenty-four-hour news networks, reporting the news as it happens. Certainly there will be people who just want to get the news in one big dose, but the core of that one big dose will utterly depend on being able to stay on top of all the news the moment it develops.

Understanding the News: Ignoring the Day of Reckoning

Note: As this was heavily edited down from a post three times the size, I’ll issue another post greatly expanding on this one.

On January 8, 2011, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot US Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head during a meeting she was holding with constituents near Tucson, Arizona. Although Loughner was a mentally disturbed man who held extreme views on all sides of the political spectrum and paid more attention to conspiracy theories than anything that could be called “news”, the shooting came as a shock to a country deeply divided between left and right. Attention turned to a map made by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections showing candidates in vulnerable districts targeted by crosshairs.

People on both sides called for bipartisanship, civility, and toning down the political discourse, and later that month at the State of the Union Address, congressmen of both houses sat in the chamber regardless of political affiliation, breaking with tradition. Even Keith Olbermann, who arguably was one of the standardbearers of the division of the political discourse on the left, apologized for anything he may have ever said that might have been construed as supporting violence. Later that month, Olbermann’s MSNBC show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, was abruptly cancelled.

Did anything result from all the calls for bipartisanship? Not really. Other than Olbermann, the same figures are the most public representatives of left and right, and I see no evidence any of them have changed their MO. Radio host Laura Ingraham recently expressly rejected another call for unity from President Obama, and another radio host, Mike Malloy, suggested that the Navy SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden should have taken out George W. Bush instead. And I found these incidents from, respectively, Media Matters for America, which had a column calling Obama’s haters “deranged“, and Newsbusters, which called one recent claim of radio host Randi Rhodes “lunacy“. Even Keith Olbermann will restart Countdown on Current TV next month – and it’s worth noting that the breakup with MSNBC may have been in the works ever since Olbermann was suspended the previous November for donating to Democratic congressional candidates.

In my view, the left seemed more self-aware about their sins than the right. While Olbermann fell on his sword, no comparable conservative figure shared the same fate that I know of (with Glenn Beck’s Fox News program only being cancelled in April). While Olbermann apologized for any perceived sins, Palin – from whom one could have drawn a more direct line to the shootings in Tucson – refused to take any responsibility and instead attacked the media for allegedly jumping to blame the right for the attacks. In the end, the left’s reluctance to play the same game as the right only came out as a win for the right – one side pulls the conversation as far right as they want, but the other side is too reluctant to do likewise. I’d like to think it wouldn’t take a conservative figure being shot to shock the right out of their complacency, but I’m not sure if even that would work. But if an assassination attempt can’t bring “red America” and “blue America” together, what can?


Tribalism is a natural result of the human experience. We like to think that we’ve risen above tribalism, but we merely live in bigger tribes today, and smaller sub-tribes among them. One of the most important aspects of any group of people are the moral precepts and core beliefs holding the tribe together. These core principles are at the heart of the tribe’s identity; they allow its members to identify other members of the tribe, beyond those they personally know, and they serve a more practical purpose in keeping the tribe together by creating social controls against those who undermine the rest of the tribe. These controls, and the principles themselves, can have nasty consequences. Anyone who disagrees with a group’s core principles will not remain a member of that group for long.

So it is that our two great political persuasions have purged themselves of heretics and seek complete purity. The other side is pure evil; it is the enemy; to even consider it for a moment is to introduce an impurity. When these core beliefs are held in unanimity, they can be self-reinforcing, and as such they are often deeply held, thought to be self-evident, so now the enemy becomes stupid too, if not outright liars; after all, aren’t our positions so obviously right? At this point, they have become fundamentally religious beliefs, so deeply held that those who hold them cannot make any decisions, cannot even function, if they find themselves forced to throw them out.

In the case of our two great political persuasions, it is thought that the course of action most in accordance with these core beliefs is always in the best interests of America, in every situation and on every issue, regardless of whether or not it contradicts other beliefs they claim to be just as core; to claim otherwise is an absurdity, a heresy. Regardless of what they may claim their principles to be, both parties will sacrifice their principles to support their true clientele. Republicans will always seek the best result for corporations, while I suspect there is some truth to the Republican cariacture of Democrats as not-so-closet socialists.

To make matters worse, the media – Fox News, MSNBC, and major radio companies such as Clear Channel, but all the media to some extent – have gleefully exploited and furthered the political divide. By providing mass outlets for those who would drive each party further into the fringes, they further legitimize such extreme positions and in fact make the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann instantly mainstream. That it is eminently understandable (outrageous positions attract attention and ratings) does not make it any less shameful.

The media are responsible for the divide, and they have a responsibility to put that divide back together. In previous posts I’ve mentioned my frustration with CNN for trying to stand in the middle rather than on both edges, and specifically that letting Jon Stewart shame them into cancelling Crossfire was a mistake. But while that’s still important, I now suspect it’s doomed to failure without more sweeping changes, because the divide is now being driven by forces outside the media, and there’s probably no convincing Fox News to stop furthering the divide.

I don’t know anymore how to really begin healing the divide, or even stopping its growth. It will take a humanization of the enemy – a realization that there are real people who are persuaded by the other side, and they aren’t all misled or delusional – a recognition that we are all Americans who have to live with the people and ideas of the other side; a recognition that politics is not some sort of zero-sum game where the only goal is to “win” but something with real consequences; a sober assessment of our values, what they mean, why they’re desirable, and when they can be too much of a good thing; and above all, it will require a recognition that the partisan gridlock now afflicting Congress – a natural reflection, and microcosm, of the division of the country – is preventing us from moving forward.

I’m not sure if either side really wants to do any of this, and I’m not sure how to get them to – our political persuasions are so entrenched it seems impossible to pull them out of the trenches. But something needs to be done… or else I fear the shots that were fired near Tucson will prove to be the first shots of a new civil war.

Understanding the News: Introduction

I have long considered myself a bit of a philosopher; in fact, for most if not all of Da Blog’s existence, philosophy was my main plan for my future, despite misgivings, hopes for Da Blog itself, and dabbling in other areas. However, I am not a philosophy major in college, because I find what is currently called “philosophy” to be too esoteric and ivory-tower, and overly focused on irrelevant and purely hypothetical questions.

Philosophy is not merely concerned with such esoteric speculations. I consider philosophy to be of the greatest importance for unpacking the critical questions of human nature. Philosophy has long been concerned with building a framework with which to understand human behavior. The conclusions reached have not always been entirely accurate – in particular often denigrating or denying the social aspect of human life – but it has been a common and constant theme in philosophy since at least the days of Plato’s Republic.

That philosophy has largely abandoned this ground, and made itself irrelevant and laughable to the extent that it has stayed, is quite unfortunate, because in my view, there is no question more important. For all that has been said about the wonder of the universe, the promise of technology, the hunt for the Higgs boson, and all the other myriad triumphs of the physical sciences, it is the simple question of human nature that has had and will have the biggest impact on the course of history, because it is, ultimately, humanity that sets that course.

Why are politicians so corrupt? Why are corporations so ruthlessly greedy? How come we can’t feed everyone? How come we aren’t doing anything about global warming? Why do wars happen? Where does religion come from? Where does evil come from? And most importantly, how can we fix all of the above?* The answers to these questions, and many more besides, are rooted in an understanding of how humans actually work and behave, and why. They are the most important questions for our modern world, not questions of the physical sciences or metaphysics.

(*Obviously, this question assumes that religion is something to be fixed, which you may disagree with.)

I’m currently taking a sociology class that has an assignment to write blog posts connecting current events to the numerous social theories developed over the years about the modern world. It’s a project that quite frankly, I should have started early last month, but I haven’t yet shaken my procrastination issues; I’ll be releasing two posts a week to compensate. (After my numerous attempts to compensate for the lack of an Internet connection at home were a minor theme of Da Blog for the first four years of its existence, someone from Comcast convinced my mom to finally get an Internet connection at the worst possible time, when my inability to complete even my modest class schedule is putting a severe damper on my finances.) However, I may not stop when I’ve completed the obligations of the assignment; I may continue the project indefinitely into the future, as a regular feature on Da Blog. In fact, this project may well be the start of something that becomes the most important part of MorganWick.com in the future.

As a storage place for the new project as well as a way to organize all the posts related to it in one place, I’ll be introducing a new category to Da Blog, “Understanding the News”. The category will start out a subcategory to “My Comments on the News”, but I may move it to the “Philosophy” category if I feel the need to (the fact that this very post isn’t a good fit to “My Comments on the News” may be a sign I may need to move it). It’s not the best of names, but I hope it gets across the notion that this project is about finding a better understanding of why the world is the way it is, and the forces behind everything that happens in the world that might not be obvious.

The twilight of the National Football League

Watching Friday’s “Pardon the Interruption” last night, as Tony and Mike interviewed bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell (whose books I haven’t read but am very interested in nonetheless) about his New Yorker piece on the brains of NFL players, I was struck by a sudden realization.

The NFL – the undisputed king of the American sports landscape – could be in the waning days of its popularity if not existence.

For decades now, especially as boxing faded away with the decline of Ali and Tyson, the NFL has been the dominant sport on the landscape by appealing to our bloodlust. People tune in to the NFL each week, in part, because they want to see violence, brutality, and pain. Even if that may not be strictly true, it is true that for non-fans (especially for baseball fans), football is identified with that sort of violence and brutality, which fans are willing to take a blind eye to.

American culture, as well as other developments, may be turning against that tolerance to the NFL’s brutality. There’s been a confluence of events that’s started to show that people are starting to care more about the NFL’s brutality than in the past. Most of them are in the background for now, like the ongoing pension fight between retired players and the Player’s Association and pieces like Gladwell’s that actually quantify the effects (even in college and high school) and have led to an increased emphasis on concussions, but we’ve also seen the NFL itself make rule changes that have been seen by some as appealing to pollyannas, especially when it comes to protecting the quarterback. The NFL is becoming a more conscientious place about the well-being of its players, with “safety” becoming the watchword of the day, but nothing it can do might protect them as well as keeping them out in the first place.

I can’t link to a video of the PTI interview because ESPN hides almost all video from PTI and “Around the Horn” behind its “Insider” subscription wall, but I can tell you that the interview did touch on this very possibility. Gladwell suggested that to completely make the NFL safe might require massive rule changes that would turn the game into something else, and the prospect was raised of Congress potentially deciding the NFL needed to be banned and driven underground. Perhaps the most likely doomsday scenario, though, may involve parents deciding they cannot, in good conscience, allow their kids to play such a violent sport – or even kids making that decision themselves.

There’s another cultural development that doesn’t bode well for the NFL: our bloodlust is starting to move on back to combat sports, specifically MMA. If young people decide they would rather get their bloodlust filled by MMA, leaving the remaining new potential NFL fans no longer considering violence as a criterion in its favor (and maybe as a criterion against), there might be less direct connection to the league and the NFL may start suffering in comparison to less violent sports. Maybe this means baseball and basketball, maybe it means something new like soccer.

And this might affect the popularity of football on all levels, not just the NFL. Which would be one way to end college football’s playoff debate…

Let’s look at the big picture.

First, in order to keep Extra Innings the cable companies swung a deal that gave MLB Network wide distribution, not just on the Sports Entertainment Pack.

Then, Comcast and the NFL spontaneously settled their differences out of the blue, and Comcast agreed to give the NFL Network wide distribution as well. At the same time, Comcast also finally reached an agreement with ESPNU, and that’ll involve wide distribution as well.

Now, in the past week, Comcast has engaged in similar distribution-broadening with the NHL Network, and now NBATV. (Although the NBATV deal was reported on as early as March.)

That doesn’t even mention the end of the impasse between Comcast and Big Ten Network last year; outside the Big Ten footprint it was placed on the Sports Entertainment Pack.

So I have to ask: Is Comcast giving up on its Sports Entertainment Pack?

What’s next? Will CBS College Sports or the FCS networks get bumped up? What about the Tennis Channel? Will new channels like GOL TV get added to make up for the losses? Is ESPN Classic getting bumped down, as was rumored? Could I even have the opportunity to get the mtn. outside that conference’s footprint?
(I’m certainly not complaining about the sudden jolt in options, and the ability to watch all the cool new stuff, especially on NFLN and ESPNU.)

My take on the latest abuse photo controversy

Honestly, as Orwellian as it sounds, we don’t need to see more abuse photos. I think we can all agree that we did some scary bleep out there and leave it at that. No need to make people angry with the details, just promise we won’t do it again.

It’s not "swine flu" anymore.

I want you to book it from this moment: if, in my entire lifetime (indeed all the way until the death of civilization), I see any potential pandemic referred to by a name that names them after an animal you can’t get it from in any way, no matter how much it may make sense in some other way, they should be whacked over the head for their idiocy and proof of the old saying about what happens when you don’t learn from history.

No more calling out the mainstream media for Favremania, mmmkay?

The Jets released Brett Favre from their “reserve/retired” list yesterday, an auspicious move considering so far as I can tell players on the R/R list don’t count against roster or salary caps, but ordinarily a fairly routine move, at least for any player not named Brett Favre.

So naturally you’d expect plenty of “does this mean he’s thinking of coming back?” speculation from ESPN and the like, and you’d expect the blogosphere to do plenty of “there they go again, obsessing over Brett Favre” and thumbing their nose because they’re so above that…

…hold on, it appears the number 1 topic on SportsCenter’s “Blog Buzz” segment this morning was Favre’s release. Seems not even the blogosphere is immune to Favremania when a plane traveling between Minneapolis and Hattiesburg and back again sends them going “OMG OMG OMG IT ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH BRETT FAVRE BECAUSE HE IS THE ONLY PERSON IN ALL OF HATTIESBURG THAT EVER HAS TO TRAVEL OMG!!!!!11!!1!!!eleven!”