A couple weeks ago, the New York Times came out with this article about the distribution of labor within American marriages, which reached the top of their "most-emailed" list. And guess what? According to the author of the piece, Lisa Belkin, things aren't equal.
No, things are awful. And people are irrational. (As one of the experts quoted in the article explains, “When you look at this rationally, it is very difficult to understand why things are the way they are.”)
You see, men have things very good, and women have things very bad. Why? Because wives do a lot more housework than their husbands. (She claims that this only counts unpleasant work like cooking, not fun stuff like reading to your kids.)
Hmm. But ... wait a minute. Is that all that matters? Think about it. What's missing?
Last year, an article in Slate by Joel Waldfogel summarized the findings of a new international study:
Throughout the world, men spend more time on market work, while women spend more time on homework. In the United States and other rich countries, men average 5.2 hours of market work a day and 2.7 hours of homework each day, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of homework per day. Adding these up, men work an average of 7.9 hours per day, while women work an average of—drum roll, please—7.9 hours per day.OK, so one article says things are horribly unequal, and the other says things are exactly equal, down to the fraction of an hour.
So who's right? Well, the Slate article looked at housework and employment (which the article clumsily calls "homework" and "market work"). The New York Times article looks only at housework, and ignores employment.
That certainly looks to me like the New York Times will omit whatever relevant information it has to from a story, as long as this will lead to a conclusion that men are lazy and uncaring, while women are overworked and sympathetic.
But I don't want people to go away from this thinking, "So he agrees with the article that says men and women do equal amounts of work, and he disagrees with the article that says women have it rough." Nope. I don't necessarily believe that.
For one thing, the Slate article is, as I said, about ... men and women. Did you notice what's missing? We don't know their marital status! All the data cited in the article seem to lump single men and women together with married couples. So you can't leap to conclusions about whether marriages are equitable. The article just isn't about that.
But of course, just because Slate left something out is no excuse for the Times to leave something else out. And in fact, the New York Times' omission is much worse.
See, the Slate article wasn't claiming to say anything important about marriages in particular (just men and women of any marital status). Incomplete? Sure. Actively misleading? Not really.
Belkin, on the other hand, is trying her hardest to get you to think, "Well, gee, marriage is incredibly unfair to women!"
Admittedly, Belkin didn't completely ignore this point. No, it's worse than that! She brings up the point to make it look like she's addressed it, but without providing enough information to really judge whether marriages are inequitable:
[Francine Deutsch, one of the researchers,] was struck by how often the wife’s job was seen by both spouses as being more flexible than the husband’s. By way of example she describes two actual couples, one in which he is a college professor and she is a physician and one in which she is a college professor and he is a physician. In either case, Deutsch says “both the husband and wife claimed the man’s job was less flexible.”Well, the "college professor" vs. "physician" examples may be a cute way to illustrate that narrow psychological point. But what about the much more important question:
How much do men and women actually work in the workplace? And if men work more, is it enough to cancel out the housework disparity? We never find out; we're only told the figures for work done at home.
To be fair, the article does break the housework statistics down into broad categories of how much the husband and wife work at the workplace: we find out that the housework disparity exists even when both spouses have "full-time paying jobs," and we're told that this "makes no sense at all."
But that's just not good enough. Some full-time jobs have much longer hours than others, and it wouldn't be surprising if men tended to work the longer full-time jobs. Why are we told the specific number of hours of housework, but not the specific number of hours worked at the workplace? Without that information, it's impossible to know how big a disparity (if any) there is.
[UPDATE: I could have been a little more precise in making that point. She does give a statistic that looks on its face like it's telling you exactly how many hours men and women work at the workplace, but you can't usefully compare it with any of her other statistics because it's from a different study. And it's buried about as deep into the article as possible. See this update for a long, boring explanation.]
Keep in mind, this is a long, long article with a seemingly endless parade of characters, quips, and anecdotes. There was enough space for a diaphanous point like this: "Messages, loud and soft, direct and oblique, reinforce contextual choice." But they didn't have enough space for the crucial data about how much work husbands and wives do in the workplace.
And on top of all that, Belkin insists on looking just at quantity, not quality, of housework. If the wife spends two hours cooking and cleaning, while the husband spends an hour and a half on car repairs and carpentry, who would you rather be? It's far from obvious.
Once you start looking at the complex qualitative distinctions, the quantitative distinctions stop seeming like the only thing that matters. But again, the Times seems determined to leave out whatever information it has to so that it looks like women are the ones getting the raw deal.
And to combine the two points: what about the qualitative features of men's vs. women's employment? There are some pretty unpleasant jobs that are disproportionately likely to be done by men -- not because of discrimination but because men are just more willing to do certain jobs. Firefighter and trash collector spring to mind. There's no evidence that Belkin is even thinking about that, let alone looking at the relevant data.
Maybe the distribution of work in marriages is unfair to women ... or maybe it's unfair to men. Or maybe everything evens out in the end. I don't know the truth. But at least I know that I don't know.
(Photo of woman drying clothes by SF Buckaroo. Photo of father and daughter by Jamie Goodridge.)
UPDATE: Thanks so much to Instapundit and my mom for linking to this post.
Monday, June 30, 2008
A couple weeks ago, the New York Times came out with this article about the distribution of labor within American marriages, which reached the top of their "most-emailed" list. And guess what? According to the author of the piece, Lisa Belkin, things aren't equal.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Even more music I've been listening to: Shout Out Louds, Ms. John Soda, The Knife, Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Continuing with the more concise format from last Music Friday, here's some more new music I've been enjoying in the last few months.
As usual, each YouTube link goes to one of their songs (in extra-large format -- click on the screen if you want the regular format), and each MySpace link goes to their official profile with free streaming songs.
Shout Out Louds (photo) -- ripping off, and improving on, The Cure
Ms. John Soda -- as enigmatic as their name
The Knife -- reminiscent of Bjork but closer to old-school techno
Sophie Ellis-Bextor -- decadently gorgeous disco/pop
one of the 100 best tracks of 2007 (#87).
The British Sophie Ellis-Bextor (does her accent make it obvious enough?) seems to be pretty obscure in the US but popular in Europe -- her song Murder on the Dance Floor was a ubiquitous dance-club presence when I lived in London.
BONUS: She'd "rather go naked than wear fur."
(Photo of Shout Out Louds by this guy, via the band.)
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Yes, I admit it's a shamelessly attention-getting heading, but it really was the best summary I could think of! Let me explain...
The other night we went to the Mexican restaurant Vivo, which has a nice, leafy, secluded outdoor patio. Unfortunately, that area was full, so we ate inside, which is in worse taste.
The walls are covered with huge, tacky paintings, most of which are ... trying to be of beautiful women.
I was about to write, "paintings of beautiful women," but then I realized there seems to be a gap in the English language: there should be a word for obvious, lowest-common-denominator beauty, devoid of subtlety or complexity.
In an unusually discriminatory touch, the waitstaff hand every female customer a rose as she left.
When I moved to Austin a year ago, one of the things I was looking forward to was the cool cafes and restaurants like Vivo, with their vibrant colors and off-beat gimmicks. But sitting there the other night, I felt overcome by a sense of superficiality and artifice.
Even though this was a Mexican restaurant, almost all the women on the walls seemed to be non-Hispanic whites, mostly blondes. (You can see some of them here if you let the photos scroll by.) They were either seductive close-ups or cartoonish nudes with minimal artistic merit.
We have a culture of glorifying sexy white women. I assume the thinking is: "Men are attracted to them, and women relate to them, so you get the best of both worlds." Women are famously less turned on by visuals, and men don't need a visual prompt to appreciate their own gender's significance. (As for minorities, well, they're used to not being represented, and there are fewer of them in the potential customer base anyway -- so the thinking presumably goes.)
I'm brought back to the halls of my old law school, which are covered with posters of minority women. Maybe that's the academic equivalent of the Vivo walls. Again, the thinking seems to be: "Men are already confident in their dominance, so there's no harm in failing to remind them of it. Meanwhile, isn't it good of us to adopt this soothing veneer of diversity?"
I'm keeping a list of disadvantages of being a man in the United States. Logically, "disadvantages of being a man" means the same thing as "advantages of being a woman." So, should I add the glorification of blandly sexy women to my list? Depends on whether you think being put on a pedestal is an "advantage."
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Well, I think I've devoted enough words to explaining why media sexism was not responsible for Hillary Clinton's loss in 2008. (1, 2, 3.) Now I just want to say something about the bigger picture. And this would apply even if you disagree with the previous posts -- that is, even if you're still convinced that media sexism played a role in her defeat.
Any presidential candidate is going to have to deal with the reality that the way the candidates are treated is always arbitrary and unfair. To the extent that Hillary Clinton's supporters are threatening to vote for John McCain despite all common sense (they should obviously prefer Obama on the merits), they're suggesting that they're simply unable to deal with reality.
I believe a woman can become president -- let's not shortchange her accomplishment in proving that a woman could be taken seriously as a Commander-in-Chief -- and I hope it happens sooner rather than later. But Hillary Clinton doesn't represent all women, and you're not doing women any favors if you suggest otherwise. She's one specific women, with all her many strengths and weaknesses. If it was wrong for Chris Matthews to doubt that she won her Senate seat "on her [own] merit," then it's just as wrong to doubt that she lost the nomination on her own merit too.
Her own staffers have offered up a litany of plausible-sounding explanations for why she lost. None of them have to do with media bias; they're about her own poor strategic decisions. Sample: "There was not any plan in place from beginning to end on how to win the nomination." Slight oversight. One staffer had this surprising assessment: "I just don't think she was hungry enough for it in the beginning." And of course, "the campaign inexplicably wrote off many states entirely."
And she lost because Obama ran such a brilliant campaign.
Oh, and remember the invasion of Iraq? That was kind of important.
I'm not saying she shouldn't run again in the future -- maybe she could rework her strategy and message, and win. That'd be OK with me. But if you're a Democrat who's interested in moving the country away from the disastrous Bush administration and into the future with a Democratic White House and Congress, you need to face reality. The reality is that politics is tough and unfair. You don't win by running a failed campaign and then spinning out alternate scenarios that would have been more fair and would have made your candidate win. You win by winning in the real world as it actually is right now . . . with all its flaws and prejudices and unfairness and silliness and arbitrariness.
If you disagree with this, you disagree with Hillary Clinton. After all, for most of her campaign, her number-one theme was that you should pick the person who'll be an effective "agent" -- the one who can actually get things done in the real world.
I mean, how was she planning on behaving as president? If she supported some piece of legislation that Congress failed to pass, was she planning on raising the (legitimate) complaint that the structure of the Senate is unfair to larger states, and then claiming a moral victory? That's what you would have to expect based on how she and her surrogates conducted themselves during the primaries.
And by the way, if you believe that the sexism in the primaries was unbearable -- literally, in the sense that it was so intense that she lost because of it -- then it's hard to see how you could agree with her that she would have been the most electable candidate. I mean, wouldn't you expect there to be more sexism against her in the general election than in the primaries?
But, of course, that's all irrelevant now. Or at least, it should be. If you want the kinds of policies that were advocated in the Democratic primaries (which Hillary admitted were largely identical from candidate to candidate) to be implemented sooner rather than later, the person who's going to do it is not going to be the loser Hillary Clinton, or the Republican John McCain, or the irrelevant Ralph Nader. If anyone's going to do it, it's going to be the winner, Barack Obama.
Monday, June 23, 2008
This is the kind of thing that I see in the news, and for a split-second, I think, "Oh, good, I can totally blog that!" But then I think, "Oh, yet another example of adults the world would be better off without, considering how they think it's acceptable to treat children."
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the dilemma of sending humanitarian aid to foreign countries that might not go to good use. It's not clear that foreign aid sent to evil regimes is worthwhile even if it is used appropriately, let alone if it gets siphoned off by dictators.
That post was about Burma, but then I saw this more recent instance of the same general problem in Zimbabwe:
Zimbabwean authorities confiscated a truck loaded with 20 tons of American food aid for poor schoolchildren and ordered that the wheat and pinto beans aboard be handed out to supporters of President Robert Mugabe at a political rally instead....As background: "agricultural production has collapsed over the past decade and millions of people would go hungry each year without emergency aid."
It's hard to imagine a more descipable handling of a humanitarian crisis ... but the Zimbabwe government has come up with a way. You see, they didn't just divert food earmarked for the hungry to use as political bribes. No, they went the extra mile and claimed they had to stop the humanitarian aid because Mugabe's opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, was using the aid as bribes!
Tsvangirai withdrew from the election, saying that Mugabe was rendering it impossible to remove him from power.
In the end, the food-truck incident is probably a negligible piece of the overall problem. The immediate factor in cutting short the election seemed to be more overt violence. At a rally yesterday (right before the opposition withdrew), "rowdy youths, armed with iron bars and sticks, beat up people who had come to cheer for Mr. Tsvangirai." (See that link for a photo.) It's a war, not an election, the opposition leader said.
Marwick Khumalo, the leader of a watchdog group, helpfully explained: “How can you have an election where people are killed and hacked to death as the sun goes down? How can you have an election where the leader of one party is not even allowed to conduct rallies?”
A bit of perspective for Americans, with our endless back-and-forth whining about which side is suffering from worse media bias. For all the outrage over supposed unfairness, the fact is that we're free to say and do whatever we want in political campaigns. Our hair-trigger reactions to trumped-up injustices do a disservice to people in the world whose liberties are actually being curtailed.
And if you think that's pointing out such an obvious distinction that it goes without saying, well, remember that Hillary Clinton had a hard time seeing the difference between our elections and Zimbabwe's. Oh, that reminds me -- Hillary Clinton -- I'll get back to her soon...
(Photo of children in Zimbabwe by Steve Evans.)
Friday, June 20, 2008
For the first two Music Fridays, I talked about a few of the most exciting new bands/artists I've been listening to lately. Here are some quicker snapshots of other new music that I highly recommend ("new" as in the last few years -- my musical tastes exist on a pretty wide time-scale, as does this very blog).
As usual, each YouTube link goes to one of their songs (in extra-large format -- click on the screen if you want the regular format), and each MySpace link goes to their official profile with free streaming songs.
Camera Obscura -- throwback to '60s girl groups with a jaded '00s twist
Jaga Jazzist -- electronic jazz, or jazzy electronica (instrumental)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
As I said in my previous post on the idea that the media was sexist against Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, I still haven't gotten to what bothers me the most about that charge. So here it is.
A lot of the criticisms are based on the fact that some of the comments made about her have been superficial and trivial: her speaking voice, her display of cleavage.
I admit that when I see references to her legs or the fact that she wears pant suits, my reaction is: hey, that's sexist and unfair. So I'm not saying I approve of all this. (As I said before, though, it doesn't bother me for people to talk about her voice or cleavage.)
But it doesn't make sense to go from saying that the media's criticisms of her have been superficial ... to saying that Hillary in particular was hurt by sexism.
A presidential race is a zero-sum game. That means that anything that hurts one candidate has to help the other candidate. Therefore, if something "hurts" all the candidates, it really hurts none of them.
Well, I agree that there have been some unfair criticisms of her. But to imply that male candidates aren't treated just as unfairly, or that the discussion of them isn't just as superficial? I mean, maybe you could believe that ... if you had never observed how any other presidential candidate has ever been treated.
I have some news for Clinton supporters who think that superficial criticisms of her are evidence of sexism:
Barack Obama is criticized for not wearing an American flag pin on his lapel. His exotic name is a major topic of discussion among serious commentators.
John Edwards is ridiculed for seeming to spend too much time and money on his appearance.
Mitt Romney is criticized for being too polished and robotic, and his own staffers worry that his hair is "too perfect."
Bill Richardson receives little media attention despite having a more impressive resume than Clinton, Edwards, or Obama, and you have to wonder if maybe the fact that he's not as physically attractive as those three candidates has something to do with it.
Before he officially enters the race, the media focuses on Fred Thompson more than any of his Republican rivals even though he doesn't have especially interesting ideas or accomplishments. The discussion in the media largely focuses on his perceived "sex appeal" and masculinity.
Dennis Kucinich is mocked as an elf-like creature whose wife is too attractive for him. While he is certainly too far left to have a real chance at becoming president, you have to wonder if he'd receive more favorable coverage if he had equally liberal positions but were a suave 6'4" man with a baritone voice.
John Kerry is criticized more for his stodgy demeanor than his policy stances -- which the media don't report on because they're too busy mocking his rhetorically clumsy but substantively defensible statement that "I voted for it [one particular Iraq appropriations bill] before I voted against it [a related but significantly different bill]." It becomes common to talk about his horse face.
After Howard Dean loses the Iowa caucus in 2004, the media never report on him without mentioning that he let out an ill-considered yelp (which is always referred to as "the Dean scream") in an understandable effort to rally his supporters after a shocking defeat.
Dick Gephardt is routinely derided for lacking a "rock star" quality even though he's actually one of the most passionate speakers among the 2004 candidates.
Al Gore is criticized for seeming "stiff" and "wooden," for sighing heavily in a debate, for wearing "earth tones," and for walking over toward Bush in an awkward manner. He receives an enormous amount of attention for aggressively kissing his wife Tipper at the Democratic Convention -- a stunt clearly intended to broadcast his male sexuality.
George W. Bush is regularly mocked for stumbling over his words.
Bill Clinton is regularly mocked as fat.
George H.W. Bush is famously called a "wimp" on the cover of Newsweek magazine and is criticized for asking for a "splash" of coffee.
John F. Kennedy has a better tan and shave than Richard Nixon in a debate. This is widely seen as being a major factor in Kennedy's victory.
Presidential races are superficial and unfair. That's true whether the candidate is a Democratic or a Republican. It's true whether the candidate is a man or a woman. And it's unlikely to change in the near future.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Tim Russert's son, Luke Russert, has given his first interview since his father's death.
It's amazing to see him so composed and upbeat, just three days after the shock of last Friday. What an inspiration.
Here's the video (via HuffPo):
Luke, in case you ever Google your own name and find this post, this is for you.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Yesterday's Meet the Press was, of course, a tribute to Tim Russert. You can watch the whole show here.
As you can probably guess from my post about how shocked I was by Russert's death and how important the show was, I found it hard to watch at points. (I was talking to A____ yesterday, who told me: "I read your post on Tim Russert. Now I want to hug you and buy you a drink." Thanks! I'll take you up on that.)
If you watch starting just a few seconds before 46:00, you can see Tom Brokaw had a hard time getting through the show too.
The clip at the very end is just heart-breaking.
I thought the tribute was well-done overall, but I couldn't help but notice one omission.
When George Harrison or Peter Jennings died at a too-young-to-die age, every single reference to their death in the media was accompanied by "and he died because he was a smoker!"
Yet out of all the media coverage of Russert's death (and I've soaked up more than enough of it this past dreary weekend), I've seen only one reference to his weight problem:
Dr. Michael A. Newman, Mr. Russert’s internist, just told Andrea Mitchell that Mr. Russert had coronary artery disease, but no symptoms. He had done everything he was supposed to do to manage the disease, although his weight was a problem. The doctor said that such attacks can’t be anticipated, but a defibrillator can make a difference.And that's not even akin to the statements that were made about Harrison or Jennings. The above quote about Russert's weight is safely couched in the words of a doctor, but when George Harrison died, everyone seemed to feel free to connect it to smoking.
Now, I do think it's slightly crass to use someone's death as a springboard for lecturing the public about health, but I can accept that that's going to happen. There shouldn't be a rule that you're not allowed to mention a few of someone's faults as you're eulogizing them. And there's something to be said for the idea that if it saves a single life by prompting someone to quit smoking (for instance), it's worth it.
But what seems inexplicable is a double standard in which a famous person who's obviously very overweight can drop dead of a heart attack in his 50s, and no one in the media points out that his weight problem killed him.
If I had to come up with some principled basis for this, the one distinction would be: eating right is complicated. It's hard to know how to stay fit, and it's harder for some people than others. And it's not just eating, but also exercise, and some of it could be genetic, and so on.
Weight is also complicated by the fact that being underweight can be worse than the opposite. I would love to see Americans loosen up their attitudes about weight if it would reduce the incidence of anorexia and bulimia ... or if it would help people who might prefer to lose 10 or 20 pounds feel good about themselves the way they are.
So America's weight problem is complicated even though it's serious. Our smoking problem isn't just serious; it's simple. You shouldn't smoke at all, end of story. It's correct to say "The less smoking, the better," but it'd be idiotic to say "The less eating, the better" -- or even "The more exercise, the better."
But let's face it. Smoking doesn't guarantee you'll die of cancer (or another smoking-related illness), just as obesity doesn't guarantee you'll die of a heart attack (or another obesity-related illness). They're both bad simply because they raise the risk of death.
It's not that smoking always leads to death; it's that it specifically caused George Harrison's death. And it's not that being severely overweight always leads to death; it's that it specifically caused Tim Russert's death.
So, I don't see the distinction.
According to Russert's doctor (from the same article linked above), he was very conscious of his heart disease and was trying to do something about:
Mr. Russert was managing his risk factors well, through diet and exercise. He had a stress test April 29, got to a high level of exercise and was pleased with himself. This very morning [the day he died], he was on his tread mill and was always excited about how he pushed himself.By all means, let's remember him and admire him as someone who was fighting against his problem. But let's not forget that it was a problem.
And another reason why it's worth bringing up: there are specific reasons to believe that Russert himself would have wanted us to talk about it.
What makes me think that? Well, a couple of instances:
1. I remember watching an episode of Meet the Press where the guest was Ralph Nader. Russert proactively brought up the fact that Nader had criticized Michael Moore for his weight problem. Nader -- who, back in his pre-reprehensible days, was an impassioned advocate for consumer protection -- put his criticism of Moore in the context of America's increasingly serious weight problem.
So, Russert himself was willing to have someone talk about the health consequences of someone's weight problem to his face. Granted, Nader didn't explicitly mention Russert's problem. But Russert was a smart guy -- he knew what he was getting into by bringing up the subject.
2. On Russert's other show (The Tim Russert Show), he was showing clips of Johnny Carson, who had recently died. You could plainly see Carson smoking a cigarette in the clips. After each one, Russert would talk about how terrible it was: "He was addicted!" (He also mentioned that he, Russert, was never a smoker, and that his guest on the show, Mike Wallace, used to be a heavy smoker but had quit.)
So, Russert himself approved of the idea of using Carson's death as an opportunity to criticize his health practices.
As we've been hearing over and over since Friday, one of Russert's favorite things to do was exposing people's inconsistencies on important issues. Surely if Russert could see the coverage of his own death, he would point out -- with his characteristic exuberance -- the media's double standard.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I make a point not to get particularly emotional about celebrity deaths. It seems kind of mawkish when there are so many ordinary people in the world suffering, dying, or struggling to get by.
But I can't think of any time in my life when I've felt so awful about the death of a single individual I've never met.
Does anyone else even come close? There was Kurt Cobain, of course. That was more objectively shocking — but I was so young when he died that I couldn't fully absorb it, and I only really got into his music in the aftermath of the suicide. There was George Harrison — the Beatles are my favorite band, and I especially look up to him as a guitarist — but he was well past his prime, and we had had plenty of time to resign ourselves to the fact that he was going to die soon.
No, the death of Tim Russert is different from all the others I've lived through. At 58, he was so clearly in the middle of his prime, with no good reason why he shouldn't have gone on for at least another decade as the skeptical voice of a nation.
Seeing the news was so shocking I didn't know how to take it in. Since I got the news from my mom, who I've often watched Meet the Press with, I emailed her. I can't think of anything to say except:
I can't believe Tim Russert is dead!!!She responds:
I know! I'm so shocked, and I feel a great sense of personal loss. It really mattered to hear Russert present the news.I post a status message on Facebook (the little messages about your friends that say, "John is doing such-and-such"):
John can't remember ever feeling more shocked at the news of a famous person's death than now.I check Facebook's feed of status messages from my friends, and the next 4 in a row are all about Russert. Samples:
_____ says rest in peace Tim. You were a hell of a journalist. [12m ago]And so on. I still can't believe it. But yes, it's true...
_____ is so saddened by the death of Tim Russert. [43m ago]
I don't have a TV. So if you had told me last week that I'd soon be upset at the death of a TV star, I would have said you're crazy. But one of the main reasons I don't have a TV is that I can always download the current episode of Meet the Press from MSNBC's website. After I found out the news yesterday afternoon at work, I kept thinking about the episodes I have saved in my iTunes, and how I had to go home and re-watch them.
I had the show's opening faux-Beethoven theme music stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Bum bum bum bahhhh da-da DUM DUM ...
I keep telling myself — but I can't make myself believe — that I'm never going to start my Sunday hearing that music with his voice intoning: "Our issues this Sunday..." He died while recording one of these opening sequences.
The show's intro was a little manufactured and overblown, as the show itself could be at times when it would focus more on horse-race politics than on policy issues.
But I still had to watch. Every Sunday. He just made the news seem so much more serious, even momentous, than anyone else did.
Above all, he forced our leaders to explain themselves — to answer the tough questions that everyone was raising about them.
And he did this with everyone, never seeming to discriminate based on party or ideology. I remember when John Edwards had a disastrous performance on Meet the Press in the 2004 race — many commentators saw it as a major obstacle to him in trying to win the Democratic nomination. And I remember seeing him interview John McCain back in 2006, when he was just a "probable presidential candidate" (transcript). Without being unfair, and even though he gave McCain ample time to defend himself, Russert left no doubt that McCain had shifted far to the right of his maverick/centrist past in preparation for the Republican primaries. At the end of the interview, McCain acknowledged his discomfort: "I haven’t had so much fun since my last interrogation."
Russert has been criticized for valuing "gotcha" journalism over serious discussion of the issues, but that's confusing his trademark with his overall method. Yes, his trademark move was to put two quotes up on the screen, both from the guest, and then ask the guest to explain the discrepancy. Well, this alone was a valuable service, and actually went beyond what the New York Times does in a typical news story.
But that was just one of the tools in his tool chest — it wasn't the only one. He also regularly confronted guests with opinions from other people — politicians, pundits, experts — that seemed to debunk the guest's position. That may sound basic, but it's surprisingly rare. It certainly takes more initiative than almost any American TV journalist has. Well, we expect TV news to be shallower than the text version ... but even the newspapers often couldn't match Russert.
Even when the newspaper reporter makes sure to include quotes representing both sides of an issue, there's no substitute for what Russert mastered: sitting down with the people from the highest echelons of power and holding them accountable in real time, for all to see. I'm sorry, maybe I'm naive, but I think that's really important.
I remember having drinks with B____, who's a big follower of politics but, surprisingly, had never seen the show. I told him about how great it is and that he had to watch it. So the next day, we watched the current episode — the guest was John Kerry, who was the Democratic presidential nominee at that point. I realize that most people's idea of a good time isn't hanging out with your friends watching an interview with John Kerry. But B____ instantly got it: "Wow." It wasn't a particularly dramatic or newsworthy interview. But to watch just the first few minutes of it was to suddenly see Kerry's thinking on foreign policy laid bare in a way you hadn't seen in months and months of campaign coverage.
Last week's episode — the last of Russert's life — featured a group of pundits analyzing the end of the Democratic primaries and the beginning of the general election. That seems so small and arbitrary for the swan song of a great man. Anyway, he told this anecdote:
I remember reading those polls ... in South Carolina where Senator Clinton was ahead amongst African-American voters. Then came some of the comments that Bill Clinton made. I went to Cleveland, Ohio, to do the debate with Clinton and Obama, and a big, black security guard came up to me and said, "You see Bill Clinton, you tell him thanks for making us 90-10 for Obama," and I just, "Whoa, I don't—not in the business of transmitting messages, sir, but I appreciate your comment."(During that last line, he tilted up his palms in a "taken aback" gesture.) I think this trivial little moment says something about him — not just that he had a knack for a vivid anecdote, but also that he talked to us the way people talk to each other in real life. "So this big black guy comes up to me and..." — that's not the way people are supposed to talk on television. He knew he didn't make the warmest impression on TV — he was just trying to be accurate and real.
Not many journalists in the United States are willing to look a presidential candidate in the eyes and tell them they've made "a direct contradiction." Russert was.
He didn't follow other people's standards — he set the standard. And it's hard for me to imagine anyone taking his place. I'm sure the show will keep going, and I'm sure they'll have very competent guest hosts (as they sometimes have in the past) such as Andrea Mitchell or David Gregory until they figure out a permanent replacement. But it won't be the same.
Russert's single moment that may be remembered above all the rest involves a bizarre fluke at the end of an interview with Colin Powell. It was back when Powell was still Secretary of State but after our intelligence leading up to the Iraq war had been discredited.
Just as Russert is prefacing his question with a description of Powell's crucial pre-war presentation 0f WMD evidence — around when he starts talking about how "you placed your enormous personal credibility before the United Nations..." — the camera jerks away so that it's showing a palm tree instead of Powell. You can hear muttering in the background between Powell and an unseen woman.
At this point, most interviewers would try to smooth over the awkwardness as calmly as possible. But Russert doesn't smooth anything over — he heightens the tension by letting an awkward silence go by.
Then he sternly tells Powell:
"I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate."
The YouTube clip doesn't show the ending, but as I remember from watching it at the time, Russert continues with his line of questioning and seems all the more insistent for being a little flustered. After the interview, Russert forcefully tells us:
And that was an unedited interview with the secretary of state taped earlier this morning from Jordan. We appreciate Secretary Powell's willingness to overrule his press aide's attempt to abruptly cut off our discussion as I began to ask my final question.Evidently, the staffer thought that NBC would go along with their wishes and edit out the awkward stuff so that it appeared to be a nice, normal interview. Indeed, though you can't make out a complete sentence, you can faintly hear the staffer say something about "editing." Well, anyone who thought they could get away with an airbrushed interview with Russert didn't understand what he was all about.
Thank you, Tim Russert, for informing us and standing up to the powerful. We need people like you to have a functioning democracy.
One last thing before I wrap up this overly long post: I have to pass along this great little portrait from a commenter on The New Republic's website:
I have a recent and extremely pleasant memory of Mr. Russert. I was watching the election returns after, I think Super Tuesday, and he was on with a couple other guys. The close nature of the Democratic race had become stunningly apparent. Mr. Russert was beside himself with glee. He was obviously, genuinely excited about being a witness at Democracy. He was no longer an anchor or pundit; he was instead savoring the fruits of our Constitution--our elections--and thus his face, with its stupid grin and wild, child's eyes, was the face of a patriot. I hope Tim Russert is now on a bar stool in Heaven, next to guys with their sleeves rolled up and their shirt collars unbuttoned, running an infinite tab and laying odds with new friends and old on who wins Virginia--Obama or McCain.Crying over the loss of a television personality seems ridiculous. But I can't help but feel sad about something that had become so ordinary to me, that had such a settled place in my life.
You were my Sunday mornings. They're not going to be the same without you.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Music I've been listening to (instrumental version): Daedelus, Uri Caine, Mouse on Mars, The Bad Plus
In this blog's second Music Friday, I'm going to tell you about the instrumental music I've been listening to lately -- some jazz, some electronic.
Fair warning: a lot of this music will appeal to a more twisted palate than last week's. Definitely not for everyone.
Again, YouTube links are in extra-large format. If you prefer standard format, play the clip and then click on the moving image once it starts.
Daedelus (photo to the left) -- He's in the same general vein as people like Mouse on Mars (see below) and Amon Tobin, but with samples from a quaint, bygone era. You can hear his more old-timey side on his first two albums, Invention and Of Snowdonia.
More recently, he's deemphasized the old-fashioned stuff and has gotten heavily into tropical beats, but he's still just as bizarre:
Uri Caine -- A____ and I saw his "Uri Caine Trio" play a mesmerizing double set at the Village Vanguard a couple summers ago. In a tangentially related vein, his "Uri Caine Ensemble" recently came out with an album of jazz performances based on various Mozart movements. It's much better than you'd think a jazz-Mozart album would be. You can hear a sample by going here and clicking on the blue album ("2006"):
Mouse on Mars -- Interesting electronic group. I've had their most recent album, Varcharz, for a while, and that's supposed to be some of their most challenging stuff. It's difficult listening, but I like it. More recently, I've been listening to an early album of theirs, Autoditacker. It's very different, much more accessible -- and some of the best instrumental electronic music I've heard in a while. Here's a representative song from Autoditacker:
The Bad Plus (photo to the right) -- I got into them after seeing the pianist, Ethan Iverson (the guy in the light-colored suit), play with Charlie Haden at the Village Vanguard. (I blogged about the show here in light of the Burma cyclone.) They're exactly my kind of jazz: innovative and new without being contrived, and not focused on virtuosity or trading solos. Their myspace has some good samples from their recent album Prog:
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Continuing with yesterday's discussion of the charges of anti-Hillary media sexism ...
The criticism of Chris Matthews's statement -- that Hillary's Senate win resulted from public sympathy for her following the Lewinsky scandal -- is completely unfounded, as my mom explained in a discussion with the pro-Clinton blogger Jeralyn Merritt (video).
Matthews tends to get very excited about whatever point he's making in a way that often causes him to overstate things. He often seems to value being vivid and blunt over being accurate. So the guy isn't perfect, and he was certainly overstating things to say that her Senate win was entirely dependent on people feeling sorry for her for being wronged by Bill Clinton. (I should note that he later apologized profusely for saying it.)
But can you really say it's sexist? Wasn't there some truth to what he was saying -- that Hillary benefitted politically by being publicly seen as the wronged spouse who had to bring her family back together? More importantly, even if you do think it's sexist, why would you think that the sexism hurt Hillary Clinton rather than helping her by adding to the self-flagellating media frenzy over media sexism?
Then there are two related complaints: the media discussed Hillary's cleavage and voice.
As for the cleavage, I'm biased because my mom (in addition to Robin Givhan) got some attention for writing about it:
I see a deliberate, controlled gesture that was exactly what she wanted to do, what she thought would be advantageous. ... Givhan uses words like 'teasing' and 'surreptitious,' but I'm thinking: subtle, deniable, diplomatic."Now, do I agree with that specific analysis? I don't know. I don't have much of an opinion on Hillary's attire, and it's not something I would have chosen to blog about at the time. But I do have a strong opinion about this: you're allowed to analyze a politician's choice of clothing. The politician is trying to manipulate you; you're allowed to scrutinize this phenomenon at a more rational level than the politician would prefer.
But of course, many people disagree with this and say that talking about Hillary's cleavage is plainly sexist. Well ... I don't think there's anyone who knows my mom personally who thinks she's a misogynist. And whatever faults people might find in me, I don't think anyone who knows me personally has ever thought to themselves, "Oh, that John -- what a misogynist!" Would you honestly be willing to look someone in the eyes who thinks it's OK to talk about Hillary Clinton's cleavage or her voice and tell them: "You're a misogynist"? I hope not.
And speaking of Clinton's voice, I'm sorry, but she does have a bad speaking voice. I'm sure consultants have worked with her on it, because she did an excellent job of modulating it in the debates to make it more pleasant and less grating. I actually admired these performances: she had started with a weakness that wasn't really her fault, and she did a pretty good job of overcoming it. But if you watch a random clip of her giving a stump speech, it's not so good. Charisma actually matters in a president (I've written that I wish the media would talk about this more), and one's speaking voice is part of that.
Media pundits are certainly not holding back from trashing McCain for his poor speaking skills -- even the pundits who agree with his message. I'm baffled by the suggestion that they should have refrained from criticizing Clinton's speaking skills, and that includes her speaking voice.
If saying that Hillary has a bad speaking voice is sexist, then I must be sexist. Well, I don't think I'm sexist.
I'm still not zeroing in on what bothers me most about the myth of anti-Hillary media sexism, but I'll have to leave that for next week.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Now that Hillary Clinton has so passionately and eloquently called on all her supporters to help elect Barack Obama, it sort of feels besides the point to analyze the details of what happened in the Democratic primary season. But the notion that the media's sexism played a major role in sinking the Clinton campaign, and that this might sway some of her supporters on Election Day, is pervasive enough that I think it's worth explaining why the argument is unfounded and ahistorical.
Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has been one of the many people trying to stoke the anger over this idea:
There has been an enormous amount of sexism in this campaign on the part of the media, including the mainstream media. ... And there are a lot of women in this country who -- there's two issues here. One is one candidate is ahead and one is not. That happens all the time in primaries, and you get over that. What you don't get over is deep wounds that have been inflicted on somebody because they happen to be a woman running for president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Kelly, John McCain has spent the week reaching out to Senator Clinton, praising her, condemning the media for the way they treated her, trying to embrace some of the constituencies that are important to Senator Clinton--women, blue collar workers, Hispanics. What did the McCain campaign watch and how did they react yesterday as opposed to Tuesday?(In fairness to McCain, he's also tried to win them over with his musical taste.)
MS. O'DONNELL: Well, I think they viewed the span between Tuesday and Saturday as helpful to them. If there was still a sense among Hillary Clinton's supporters that they had somehow been wronged or disappointed, that's an opportunity for John McCain to embrace Hillary Clinton as he did. Now, throughout the campaign, we saw him much less contentious when it ever came to Hillary Clinton. He would always save his fire for Obama. So he's been preparing for this because they knew all along her voters could potentially be their voters. So it was certainly a warm embrace over and over in these last several days.
But what exactly is the media-sexism meme really about? It's often just assumed, with no support, that she must have been deeply wronged. But when supposed examples are given, the list often includes:
- Chris Matthews declaring that “the reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around,”
- MSNBC reporter David Schuster asking whether Chelsea Clinton was being “pimped out” for her mom's campaign,
- the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan writing about Clinton's cleavage,
- criticisms of her speaking voice.
And while they're not "media," one of the most commonly cited examples of anti-Hillary sexism is a couple guys who stood up in the middle of one of her campaign events and chanted "iron my shirts" out of the blue.
One woman who watched a YouTube clip show that purported to string together evidence of anti-Hillary media sexism wrote this in the comments section of a blog:
Just got through watching this with my 18 yr. old daughter and frankly, I was crying like a baby. ... Hoped it would be different for her when I brought her home from the hospital 18 yrs. ago. ... To see what is systematically being done to her by the press / blogosphere / public at large just fills me with such rage and such despair.Well, I'm not going to say people shouldn't be upset about the existence of sexism in "the public at large." Sure there's sexism in society, and it's deplorable that she lost any votes due to sexism. But that has more to do with sexism among ordinary citizens. I see no reason why Hillary supporters should get upset -- let alone "filled with rage and despair" (!) -- about sexism in the media.
Of course, the rules of political correctness say that you're not allowed to criticize ordinary citizens. No, anytime you're making a scathing social critique, you always have to pick some authority figure to level the charges against. "The media" is often a handy scapegoat -- it's so huge and amorphous that it's very hard to refute any assertion that _____ exists in "the media." I could make up any ridiculous claim, like "The media is obsessed with turtles" or "The media has an anti-avocado bias," and I'm sure I could find evidence to support it if I wanted to.
By the way, I mentioned that the charge has been repeated often. Well, repeated where? In ... the media! And what do you think is the ratio of (a) references to supposed media sexism to (b) actual sexist comments made in the media? I would guess it's at least 100 to 1. Well, (a) is favorable to Hillary since it creates the impression that she's being treated unfairly. That suggests a pro-Hillary bias in the media.
Anyway, let's start with the easiest case: the "iron my shirts" idiots. I suspect that the reason this is so often mentioned is that it's one of the few clear-cut examples of sexism: the guys were implying she should be doing housework instead of running for president.
And yeah, I know most instances of sexism aren't clear-cut and that we need to be cognizant of more insidious sexism, etc., etc. But Hillary Clinton's supporters often seem to forget that it wasn't her vs. Mr. Generic Presidential Candidate. We're talking about her vs. a black candidate named Barack Obama in a country with a long, terrible history of racism (and a candidate whom many voters incorrectly believe to be a Muslim just a few years after we were attacked on our own soil by Muslim terrorists). It would be odd, very odd, to just assume that Clinton faced more prejudice than Obama did. So the burden of proof is on Clinton supporters if they're claiming she was the one who was more badly hurt by prejudice. (This is especially true given the large number of votes Hillary received that were cast by racists and/or Republicans who didn't actually prefer her on the merits.)
Here's the problem: the "iron my shirts" incident doesn't make sense as evidence that she was hurt by sexism. The guys yelling that phrase were completely unsympathetic. Does anyone honestly believe they persuaded a single person not to vote for her? In fact, the incident probably helped her, since people tend to sympathize with her more when they perceive her as a victim of sexism.
David Shuster's "pimped out" comment was obviously foolish. It was an overstated criticism of someone campaigning for their parent who's running for president -- something that's usually not criticized at all no matter what gender anyone is. But I fail to see how the "pimped out" incident proves sexism by even the person who said it, let alone the media at large. What it shows is that talking heads get paid to churn out hour after hour of vaguely titillating pseudo-analysis about politics, and sometimes they get desperate for points to make and resort to dumb comments that don't make much sense like "Chelsea Clinton is being pimped out."
As an aside, that incident also shows that while the Clinton campaign should have been focused on trying to ... you know ... convince actual voters to vote for her (i.e. bottom-up politics), the campaign was wasting its contributors' money on futile top-down strategies like trying to make people lose their jobs for making isolated dumb comments. Not only did they use that strategy against David Shuster to get him briefly suspended, but they also used it against Samantha Power, the woman who was advising Obama on foreign policy and has been acclaimed for her work fighting genocide. I've read some of her book A Problem from Hell and have watched an interview with her; she has at least as much passion and intellect as Hillary Clinton herself. Do Clinton's fans really see making that brilliant woman lose her job (the Obama campaign fired her under intense pressure) as a ringing victory for women's rights because Power called Clinton a nasty word ("monster")?
I still have to address "Chris Matthews," "cleavage," "voice," and some other stuff, but that'll have to wait till tomorrow...
Monday, June 9, 2008
This is a sequel to the previous 44 moments on the path to becoming the 44th President of the United States of America.
Some of these are genuine "updates" in the sense that they happened after I posted the previous list, but there are also others that I just didn't get to last time.
As with the previous list, I've usually left out the speakers so that you can use this as a test of your campaign knowledge. If you feel like it.
And as with previous list, I owe a huge thanks to the Veracifier YouTube channel operated by Josh Marshall's great blog Talking Points Memo, where I got many of these clips from.
Here you go:
45. "I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that [our] campaign was in any way raising."
[blog with video]
46. "Can I ask you about your ... uh ... why you're so angry?"
47. "It'll be dispirited. It'll be spirited. Because there are stark differences. I'm a proud, conservative, liberal Republican. Conservative Republican."
48. Obama on aliens
[video, 1:25 - end]
49. "Based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either."
[video at 1:45]
50. "I'll tell you what, I'm not going to put my lot in with economists."
[video, 2:15 - 3:00]
51. "Would you be happy with that being a home of a U.S. garrison like Guantanamo or Germany all those years, where we'd have 50,000 troops permanently stationed in that country?" "No, I would hope that we could bring them all home."
52. "I've now been in 57 states."
53. "I can't make her younger.... There's lots of things I can't do."
54. "If you have something that just directly contradicts the facts, and it's coming from a former president, I think that's a problem."
55. "I think that it's possible ... having the spotlight was something attractive to him."
56. "Do you think Rev. Wright loves America as much as you do?"
[video at 2:20]
57. "You're not wearing a lapel pin, are you?"
58. "It's no more than an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history."
[video at 1:30]
59. "Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again."
[video at 0:20 - 0:35]
60. "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
61. "You said that the Iranians are training Al Qaeda. They're training extremist terrorists." "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda."
[video, 0:55 - 1:15]
62. "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."
63. "Thanks for the question, you little jerk."
64. "A rare audience outburst over the agreement between 'rejecting' and 'denouncing.'"
65. "WHAT DI DHE DO AFORE HOW LONG AND WITH WHO ?? PLS TELL BOB HELLO BOB"
66. "They were published on 9/11, and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more, and what they did was set bombs, and in some instances people died. ... I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising."
[video, 4:00 - 4:45]
67. "I approve this message. And not the other one."
68. "Actually, I don't know where you got that quote from."
[video, 1:30 - 2:00]
69. "There is nothing to base that on -- as far as I know."
[blog + video]
70. "Racism works in two different directions. I think they're attacking me because I'm white."
71. "I see many of them in the audience here today."
72. "We disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree: you are the candidate of change."
[video at 2:00 - 2:15]
73. Obama dancing
74. "I think you could argue that Americans overall are better off."
[video, 2:15 - 2:30]
75. "Your problem ... is you don't know what you're talking about. ... You don't understand there's a difference between talking to the enemy, and appeasing."
76. "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.... We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
77. "Boy, you'd better be president. You've gotta be president!"
(Photo of John McCain by Chris Dunn. Photo of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from Suresh K. Photo of Bill Clinton by Roger H. Goun. Photo of Mitt Romney by Tim Somero. Photo of Obama with daughter from Obama.)
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
New blog feature: Music Friday!
So, N____ sent me and some other friends an email:
now, my musicphile friends, i have a special request. ... in the spirit of spring cleaning, i'm trying to knock the cobwebs out of my itunes library. ... i think its time to expand my horizons. can you help guide me to greener pastures? what are you listening to lately? what should i be listening to?Once I'd written out my response, I realized it was extensive enough that I should also save it for posterity.
So the following is the first chunk of my email response (with added pictures, frills, etc. for blog purposes). I'm saving up some more to use for future Music Fridays. This first post will highlight a few singer/songwriter-based bands/artists; next week's will be about instrumental music of various ilks.
St. Vincent -- Based on the few 2007 albums I've heard, hers was far and away the best album of 2007. She's a seasoned indie guitarist who played with Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree (under her real name, Annie Clark), but this was her solo debut. This is exactly the kind of genre-defying music I'm searching out right now, so I'm hoping this is the beginning of an amazing career for her. Marry Me" (which has a bridge with lyrics that were probably quoted in every review of her album) has already been drunkenly covered by the Dresden Dolls' singer, Amanda Palmer.
feel to them that's pretty rare in music -- the only way I can describe it is that you (or at least I) get this feeling of "This is it -- this is what it's all about." I plan to analyze this general phenomenon in a later post.
Goldfrapp -- Their new album, Seventh Tree, is one of just a couple 2008 albums I've heard in full, but it seems destined to end up on every "best of 2008" list. Their older stuff was very anchored in the '80s, but the new album is different -- more of a '60s/'70s vibe. There's something poignant about how earnestly retro they are. If you have any interest in buying physical CDs anymore, get Seventh Tree for the packaging (bonus DVD, nice artwork, etc.). Here are two great songs from it:
Mika -- Infectious! I have the sense that he's big in Europe but not that well known in the US. (He was initially raised in Lebanon, then his family moved to Europe to escape the conditions there.) Here's a song in which he totally rips off Queen (even alluding to it in the pre-chorus) but still comes up with something kind of original:
Stay tuned for next week's Music Friday ...