Monday, December 31, 2007

Fighting Words: 12/31/07 Cartoon...

"The Democrat Whisperer"...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More on conservatism, 2008 election...

Speedy list of articles for this week's 'toon:
  • Gary Kamiya examines why Bush-era conservatives are so willing and eager to abandon their core principles in support of "Manichaean moralizing and militarist triumphalism." It has always been more than a little puzzling to encounter people who say they're "conservative" because they support small government and the principles of libertarianism, and then to hear them argue in support of George W. Bush, who is now officially the biggest spender to occupy the White House since LBJ.

    See also Harold Meyerson, who takes a look at the moral hypocrisy of the "Christianized" Republican party. We can thank the party's subordination to religious extremists for the freakshow that is the roster of Republican candidates for president... in particular, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

  • On the campaign trail (as always), Matt Taibbi says, "I think that’s part of this whole con of American politics. We’ve been convinced that it’s more important to vote against the guy on the other side than to vote for someone who supports your interests." See here for another interview in which Taibbi talks about (among other things) the advanced hawkishness of Rudy Giuliani, and here for a column where he offers this classic evaluation of Romney:
    Romney is an utter tool; he represents nothing so much as the very banality of our system of campaigning, a poll-chasing stuffed suit with a Max Headroom hairdo who will say (or won't say, for that matter) whatever the fuck it takes to get elected.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fighting Words: 12/24/07 Cartoon...

"Alien Society, #6"...

Previous episodes:

Monday, December 17, 2007

More on baseball, Mitchell report...

I won't bore you with a huge list of articles for this week's 'toon. Chances are, if you're interested in this story, you've already kept up-to-date on it. I will bore you with my opinion, though... I take baseball seriously, dammit. The most telling aspect of the story, from my perspective, is that there were no real heartbreaking revelations in the Mitchell report... I already thought most of the guys named were arrogant jerks anyway. There was no Kirby Puckett or Tony Gwynn (my favorite players growing up). No Edgar Martinez or other prominent Mariners on those great teams from the 90's/00's. Just guys like Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, and Roger Clemens (didn't he try to bean his wife once in a family exhibition game?).

I think the records these guys get and the stats they amass should stand without asterisks or anything, but I don't think they should get into the Hall of Fame. On the one hand, you can't really pretend that the games they played in never happened. Is every hitter who Clemens ever struck out going to get his at-bats back? On the other hand, if Joe Jackson and Pete Rose can't get into the Hall, then there's no way McGwire, Bonds, or Clemens should get in. Joe Cowley makes a good point, when he says, "God forbid we mix the guys rubbing cream on their body with the racists, wife beaters, bat-corkers, adulterers and murder suspects that currently reside in a collection of dust and baseballs that is the Baseball Hall of Fame." However, it would be kind of hard to kick, say, Ty Cobb out of the Hall after he's been in for so many years. The voters still have a choice as to whether or not to let these steroid guys in.

The other point in their favor is that these players are still human, and humans do dumb stuff sometimes. But they're also extremely well-paid humans, and fans have the right to decide whether they like these guys or not. It's here where the real power of the Mitchell report lies... it really has no importance as a legal document. Allen Barra argues that Major League Baseball's real objective was make a public example of these guys, and to turn the steroids scandal into a huge spectacle so Congress would do the real investigating for them.

Fighting Words: 12/17/07 Cartoon...

"History Machine: Tradin' Baseball Cards"...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Rant On Newspapers...

This is the blog post that I intended to do in conjunction with this cartoon from a few weeks ago. Lo and behold, fellow Cartoonist With Attitude Ted Rall has beat me to the punch with an excellent three-part series of columns on the plight of newspapers and their content providers. I will add a few things here that have been bothering me, but be sure to check out Ted's columns. We have slightly different views on the future of the Internet for newspapers, but I think we share the same desire to see them work out their problems in a way that recognizes the importance of having quality content.

In the "Media Menu" cartoon, I describe newspapers as "wallowing in self-pity" as their product steadily shrinks into oblivion. Many people believe that print newspapers are an endangered species, not long for the digital world. Given the unlimited potential of the Internet as a method of communicating information, the growth of handheld wireless devices, and the simple truth that the print medium is an inefficient and wasteful means of conveying the daily news, I have to agree. Bill Gates recently made the claim that "reading is going to go completely online" sometime in the near future (although some like Cass Sunstein argue that "the Internet is making us stupid"). The countdown is on to see which major daily newspaper will be the first to kill its print edition. While most papers are seeing their print circulation steadily declining, some are finding that their worldwide online readerships far outweigh their print readerships. Likewise, while ad revenue in general is tanking, online profit margins (while still small) are "skyrocketing." Papers are beginning to work together to find new ways to make an online model work.

These developments notwithstanding, the overall consensus seems to be that the transition up to this point has been "mangled." One analyst says "there is absolutely no question that the next 10 years are going to be really bad for the newspaper business." As a result, papers continue to cut costs to the bone, as we saw recently when the Houston Chronicle cut out a full page of comics, and they are generally refusing to pay for any new content. They gingerly dip their toes into vast waters of the Internet (e.g. by jumping on the "blogging bandwagon") and hope like hell they won't have to incur any new costs.

It seems to me that there's an underlying resistance within the newspaper business to new blood and new ideas as we enter the brave new Internet world. Hal Crowther makes the point that while print newspapers may be expendable in the new world, tradition and professionalism are not. I have as much respect as anyone for the traditions of journalism and the people who came before me (I have a family history in the industry). However, Crowther also complains that journalists with 40 years of experience are being replaced by "volunteers," or "anyone with an Apple and an attitude." I would argue that the overriding reason for this (as Crowther himself notes later when he re-labels the newbies as "vigilantes") is today's journalists' neglect of their own standards of professionalism. Those who attempted to step into the void were motivated to do so after, time and time again, the media failed to represent our interests in the greater discussion on issues of consequence. As we witnessed the mainstream media lead the parade as we marched to war in Iraq, people like me stopped believing a damn thing they had to say and fled for bloggers like Juan Cole or Glenn Greenwald (who I would hardly call "amateurs") or watchdog sites like Media Matters. Or, some of us simply started to do the research and commentary ourselves.

The problem is that these new media "volunteers" cannot work for free forever, and they are getting impatient. This is precisely what makes the Hollywood writers' strike an interesting test-case for the future of online content providers. Sites like the Huffington Post cannot expect to continue getting their content for free without suffering a "revolt of the serfs." This is not the model for newspapers to follow.

What's the solution? Veteran newsman Charles Lewis believes the answer may lie in the models used by non-profit media organizations such as NPR and AP, which are "flourishing" today. By seeking contributions from readers, charitable foundations, and other sources, Lewis believes newspapers may be able to ease the transition until online advertising revenue can catch up to editorial payroll levels:
Civic-minded, wealthy individuals who believe in the concept of an "informed citizenry" and public service journalism -- local, regional, national, international...Great work itself will begin to attract "buzz" online, and other revenue sources could open up, from advertising, to subscribers/members, to paid partnerships with existing hollowed out media corporations desperately seeking content, etc.

One important detail that will need to be worked out is exactly what our commitment will be to the principle of "net neutrality." For a brief moment, when I started to grasp the dilemma facing newspapers today, I wondered whether this situation may be the flip-side of the net neutrality coin (a rare shift to the political right for me). Clearly, people are reluctant to pay for things on the Internet, which is why subscription walls have been failing for news sites. It occurred to me that in order to change the fundamental nature of the Internet, it might be necessary for service providers to put in place a system similar to pay cable TV in order to start generating some revenue for the people who provide the content. In other words, there may have to be some kind of "tollbooth" to get on the information superhighway. Blogger and net neutrality guru David Isenberg quickly helped bring this back into perspective for me:
I understand the impulse to say that if the newspapers can't pay you, maybe the telcos can. But I'd call this a bit Stockholm-ish . . . "look, the guards have bread, if we become their friends, and even act like them, maybe we can have bread too . . ."

The downside when NN goes away is fairly profound. The early scenarios, where the cablecos block bittorrent, which carries "the other video," to "manage" their networks, or where telcos sell "enhanced" connections so you can do VOIP instead of using their telephony, is just the beginning.

The Internet access providers' end game is to determine the "willingness to pay" for each transaction on "their" network and charge by that value -- it will be "yield management" on steroids. Along the way, once the machinery to do that is working, if a business partner (e.g., with a business plan that's cratering due to the Internet) has an interest in blocking or enhancing certain sites, or if a government wants to manage its citizens' information or behavior, well, hey, the Internet access provider knows who its friends are.

In other words, who do I trust more to treat me fairly: newspapers or giant telecommunications corporations? That's an easy one... since I'm pretty sure newspapers aren't currently helping the government to eavesdrop on my cell phone conversations.

Along with everybody else, I eagerly await a solution to the newspaper problem, whether it be through the help of philanthropic entities or a new, comprehensive ad revenue model specifically designed for the Internet. Either way, newspapers, it's time for you guys to step on the gas, stop wallowing in self-pity, and figure out how you're going to fix this problem.

More on Bush/Cheney Iran lies...

This week's 'toon may require you to have previously seen professional darts on TV to get the joke. Here's a couple of clips if you haven't had the pleasure. Funniest thing ever... a bunch of dumpy, sweaty guys playing a bar game, but the crowd and the announcers act like they're watching Michael Jordan in his prime. IT'S DARTS! I had a lot more British colloquialisms in the cartoon (as I understand them), but I had to weed them out because I didn't feel like the joke would translate well in written form.

Here are some articles:
  • Seymour Hersh had it a year ago that Bush knew there was no conclusive evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. If you don't want to believe a Pulitzer Prize winner, then take it from Bush's own NSA, Stephen Hadley, who says that senior members of the Bush administration were told "beginning in July" about the new intelligence. Bush's excuse (which some call "preposterous"), that DNI Mike McConnell told him "they had new information" but didn't tell him what it was, even if true, is meaningless. The entire administration bears responsibility for what comes out of Bush's mouth... does anybody think he comes up with a single thought himself? When Bush made threats in October about the coming of "World War III," it was a lie and they all knew it. Do they deserve any benefit of the doubt whatsoever after Iraq and WMD's? Bush on Dec. 5:
    "The Iranians have a strategic choice to make,” Bush said in Omaha, Nebraska. “They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept the longstanding offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation that is not in the best interest of the Iranian people. The choice is up to the Iranian regime."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this pretty much the same damn "choice" we gave Iraq when all along we were just going to invade them anyway??

  • Cheney (just back from another hunting trip) is now being forced to make the hilarious admission that he has "no reason to question the intelligence released this week showing that Iran is not an imminent nuclear threat." Even more ridiculous, he claims that his position "has not changed" that we need to deal with Iran "diplomatically." Riiiiiiight...

    Reportedly, Dick and his pals are "infuriated" by this "breathtaking repudiation of [their] policy arguments."

  • Greg Sargent has been all over the media's role in this one. The funniest thing I've seen: CNN was forced to postpone their "speculative documentary" titled "We Were Warned -- Iran Goes Nuclear." The show was described as being a "what-if scenario" where "fictional cabinet members" debate how to deal with the Iranian threat.

    Yeah... that's good journalism.

  • The truth is (and I believe people like Noam Chomsky have been saying this for years) that Iran is a rational actor, despite the scary stories told to us by Israel and the Bush administration. As such, the NIE found that "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fighting Words: 12/10/07 Cartoon...

"World Darts Championship"...

Similar 'toons:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fighting Words News: Who am I?!?!

So yeah, I've been lying to you this whole time. Actually, not really... my middle name really is Benjamin, I've just never gone by that name in real life. When I started this whole crazy cartoon project, I thought I wanted a pseudonym to provide a little "personal zone" to keep ME separate from MY WORK. I just wasn't creative enough to think of anything besides my middle name. I've been thinking about dropping it for a while, though, since it has occurred to me that unless I'm a secret agent or a porn star, it's really kinda stupid to have a fake name. Really, I just want to give Fighting Words a little "evolutionary kick-start," so to speak...

Sorry, I swear I'll never lie to you again. Damn, just did it again...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More on Christmas, consumerism...

Quick list of articles for this week's 'toon:
  • Check out a damn funny article, by a City Pages writer who attempts to spend a whole week inside Minnesota's Mall of America. He's warned at the beginning, "spend too much time here, and you'll go insane." In the end... yeah, he basically goes insane.

  • I haven't seen the new Morgan Spurlock-produced "What Would Jesus Buy" yet, but I've seen some clips and read a few articles. While I'm a fan of Spurlock and I definitely agree with the message of this film (discouraging out-of-control Christmas consumerism), I don't think I'll bother to watch this one. I've never really been a fan of "prank humor," unless the purveyor is damn good at making some kind of comment about why the victim of the prank is a moron (think Borat or the Daily Show), and not just making the victim look like a moron for the hell of it. In this case, the prankster is a New York performance artist who calls himself "Reverend Billy" and walks around with a megaphone and a mock church choir hassling the $5.85/hour kids working the counter at Starbucks. I think this kind of satire would be better suited for a commentary on televangelism; here, it just seems pointless. Plus, Reverend Billy is not all that great at articulating the message. The interview he did with the always subdued and businesslike Amy Goodman was painful to watch (he called her "sister Amy" repeatedly, and she never cracked a smile).

  • Check out some great commentary on the enigmatic phenomena known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and why the media is complicit in forcing these corporate-invented pseudo-holidays down our throats.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fighting Words: 12/3/07 Cartoon...

"The Great American Yuppanzee, #3"...

Previous episodes: