Presty the DJ for Aug. 22

Today in 1964, the Supremes reached number one by wondering …

Today in 1968, the Beatles briefly broke up when Ringo Starr quit during recording of their “White Album.” Starr rejoined the group Sept. 3, but in the meantime the remaining trio recorded “Back in the USSR” with Paul McCartney on drums and John Lennon on bass:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 22”


Biden the liar, and worse

Alana Goodman:

Joe Biden claimed twice recently that he met with Parkland, Florida, shooting survivors when he was vice president, despite the fact that he was already out of office when the attack took place. His campaign said Biden misspoke and was referring to a different meeting he had after the Sandy Hook shooting. But the flub was reminiscent of Biden’s past misstatements and his tendency to embellish biographical details.

In 1988, Biden was forced to drop out of the presidential race after he was found to have exaggerated his academic record, plagiarized a law school essay, and used quotes from other politicians in his speeches without attribution. But these are not the only questionable claims Biden has made. Here are six other times Biden was caught embellishing his biography:

1. Biden said his helicopter was “forced down” near Osama bin Laden’s lair in Afghanistan

Biden claimed in multiple speeches in 2008 that he knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding because his helicopter had been “forced down” nearby in the mountains of Afghanistan.

“If you want to know where al Qaeda lives, you want to know where bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me,” said Biden. “Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down with a three-star general and three senators at 10,500 feet in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are.” In another speech, he claimed al Qaeda is “in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan … where my helicopter was recently forced down.”

He later referred to “the superhighway of terror between Pakistan and Afghanistan where my helicopter was forced down.”

“John McCain wants to know where bin Laden and the gates of Hell are? I can tell him where,” said Biden.

The helicopter actually landed to wait out a snowstorm, according to the Associated Press.

Biden, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel were on a Senate junket in Afghanistan when their helicopter crossed paths with the storm, according to reports. The pilot landed as a precaution, and a U.S. military convoy picked up the senators and took them to the main American airbase.

“Other than getting a little cold, it was fine,” Kerry told the APwhen asked about the incident. “We were going to send Biden out to fight the Taliban with snowballs,” he joked.

2. Biden said he was a coal miner

While running for president in 2008, Biden told the United Mine Workers that he was a coal miner.

“I hope you won’t hold it against me, but I am a hard-coal miner, anthracite coal, Scranton, Pennsylvania,” Biden said. “It’s nice to be back in coal country. It’s a different accent [in Virginia], but it’s the same deal. We were taught that our faith and our family was the only really important thing, and our faith and our family informed everything we did.”

The Biden campaign later told the AP that his comment was a “joke.” But it echoed another false claim he had made about coming from a family of coal miners during his 1988 campaign.

In a 1988 speech, Biden referred to “my ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours.” That line was plagiarized from a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock, whose family actually did work in the mines.

In 2004, Biden acknowledged that he did not have family members who worked in mining.

“Hell, I might be president now if it weren’t for the fact I said I had an uncle who was a coal miner. Turns out I didn’t have anybody in the coal mines, you know what I mean? I tried that crap — it didn’t work,” he said during an interview with Jon Stewart.

3. Biden said he was “shot at” in Iraq

In 2007, Biden claimed he was “shot at” during the Iraq War while visiting the Green Zone, the heavily guarded area in the middle of Baghdad where the United States embassy is based.

“Let’s start telling the truth,” he said. “Number one, you take all the troops out — you better have helicopters ready to take those 3,000 civilians inside the Green Zone, where I have been seven times and shot at.”

When asked for details about the shooting, a Biden campaign aide told the Hill that the then-senator was staying at a hotel in the Green Zone when a mortar landed several hundred yards away.

“A soldier came by to explain what happened and said if the mortar fire continued, they would need to proceed to a shelter,” the aide said.

4. Biden said he called Slobodan Milošević a “damn war criminal” to his face

Biden met with Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević in 1993, at the height of the siege of Sarajevo. According to Biden’s book Promises to Keep, when Milošević asked what he thought about him, Biden responded: “I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one.”

In 2008, Biden aide Ted Kaufman, who was at the meeting and also worked on Biden’s 2008 campaign, told the Washington Post that the account was accurate. However, three other Biden aides who were at the meeting declined to corroborate the story.

John Ritch, a Senate aide who attended the Milošević meeting, told the Post he did not recall Biden making such a dramatic pronouncement.

“The legend grows,” said Ritch. “But Biden certainly introduced into the conversation the concept that Milošević was a war criminal. Milošević reacted with aplomb.”

5. Biden said he participated in sit-ins at segregated restaurants and movie theaters

In the 1970s and 1980s, Biden regularly claimed to have been an activist in the civil rights movement and said he participated in sit-ins along U.S. Route 40 in Delaware in 1961.

”When I was 17 years old, I participated in sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie houses in my state, and my stomach turned upon hearing the voices of Faubus and Barnett, and my soul raged upon seeing the dogs of Bull Connor,” said Biden in 1983.

Biden also claimed to have organized a boycott of a segregated restaurant in Wilmington called The Pit when he was in high school after the restaurant refused to serve a black member of his football team. “I organized a civil rights boycott because they wouldn’t serve black kids. One of our football players was black and we went there and they said they wouldn’t serve him. And I said to the others, ‘Hey, we can’t go in there.’ So we all left,” said Biden.

The football player contradicted Biden’s account and said Biden was not aware of the incident until later.

“They weren’t aware of what happened,” said the football player in 1987. “I was only 16 then. It was my problem and my battle for me to work out. They were oblivious to it until later.”

When Biden dropped out of the 1988 presidential race amid his plagiarism scandal, he said the extent of his civil rights participation was working at an all-black swimming pool for a summer in college. “During the 1960s, I was in fact very concerned about the civil rights movement. I was not an activist. I worked at an all-black swimming pool in the east side of Wilmington, Delaware,” he said. “I was involved in what they were thinking, what they were feeling. But I was not out marching. I was not down in Selma. I was not anywhere else. I was a suburbanite kid who got a dose of exposure to what was happening to black Americans.”

6. Biden said he criticized President George W. Bush during lengthy private meetings in the Oval Office

Biden claimed in 2009 that he spent “a lot of hours alone” with President George W. Bush and bluntly rebuked the president over his foreign policy decisions.

“I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office,” Biden told CNN, “‘Well, Joe,’ he said, ‘I’m a leader.’ And I said: ‘Mr. President, turn around and look behind you. No one is following.’”

Bush aides told Fox News in 2009 that they did not recall Biden ever meeting alone with the president or making such a comment.

“The president would never sit through two hours of Joe Biden,” Candida P. Wolff, Bush’s White House liaison to Congress, told Fox News. “I don’t ever remember Biden being in the Oval. He was such a blowhard on all that stuff — there wasn’t a reason to bring him in.”

Habitual lying is a sign of bad character. Another lie is even worse, as reported by Jack Fowler:

In the #MeTooMaybe hoopla over the former vice president’s hair-sniffing and hand-slipping and personal space-invading, much cataloguing of Joe Biden’s peccadillos has emerged — for example, in Jonah Goldberg’s new column. It’s a handy summary.

But missed in these lists is a deeply troubling — I guess the right word is “lie.” It is one that Biden contrived — or at least perpetuated — over a deeply painful event: the death of his first wife and daughter. The lie hides in plain sight, amongst all the other oddball anecdotes (like his vowing to use his rosary beads as a choking device), maybe because it is so amazingly brazen, and because of its complete lack of being — here, I guess the right word might be “unnecessary.”

The sad story is 29-year-old senator-elect Biden received the horrible call in December, 1972, that there was an accident in which his wife Neilia and baby daughter Naomi were killed, and his young sons Beau and Hunter severely hurt. Mrs. Biden seems to have driven into a busy intersection, into the path of an oncoming truck. Its driver was Curtis Dunn. Investigators found him blameless. Of no surprise, according to his family, his involvement in the deaths of Mrs. Biden and her daughter weighed on Dunn until his own death in 1999.

It was a heartbreaking story all around, and with officials leaving no doubt of the truck driver’s complete innocence, what was the point of doing or saying anything more than letting Neilia and Naomi Biden rest in peace? As for Joe Biden, the tragedy was so utter that the accident’s circumstances were best left unremarked. Never mind unembellished.

But embellished they became. When exactly, we don’t know. Why? That’s a question the answer to which is unfathomable — or if for political purposes, utterly deplorable. For some reason, the evidence shows, in the early 2000s, Joe Biden began to remark in public that his wife had died at the hands of someone who “allegedly . . . drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch.” That Curtis Dunn “was an errant driver who stopped to drink.” That drunk-driver story spread into news accounts. The Dunn family, who had strong sympathy for Biden, was shocked by the sullying of their now-dead father. They wrote the senator and asked him to stop and reminded him of the exonerating investigation. When that didn’t happen, they went public. Per a 2010 Biden profile in The Atlantic:

For many years, he described the driver of the truck that struck and killed his first wife and their daughter in December 1972 as drunk, which he apparently was not. The tale could hardly be more tragic; why add in a baseless charge? The family of the truck driver has labored to correct the record, but Biden made the reference to drunkenness as recently as 2007, needlessly resurrecting a false and painful accusation.

This is truly disturbing. But by our current standards, hair-sniffing rates condemnation, while the false accusation of an innocent dead man, and the embellishment of a personal tragedy — could the Biden tragedy be more tragic? — are forgotten and/or ignored.

This says so much more about Biden the man than any too-close shoulder grasp ever could. It also says plenty about the contrition junkies who influence America’s news cycle, and, as Jim Geraghty pointed out recently, about the media who for many years had dutifully served as Joe Biden’s reputational bodyguard.

I can already anticipate a liberal reading this will come up with his or her own list of Donald Trump’s lies. The question to ask that liberal is why he or she accepts behavior from a Democrat that he or she does not accept from a Republican.


Gannett vs. newspapers

John Temple:

From 20 feet away, one designer used to tell me, all newspapers look the same: vertical rectangles with black ink on them. But the announcement earlier this month that the country’s two largest newspaper companies have agreed to merge is a reminder that there are actually two very different ways to look at them. To some, local newspapers are simply cash machines, from which investors can make withdrawals until there’s nothing left. To others, they are community trusts, essential civic resources to be sustained.

The acquisition of Gannett, publisher of USA Today and other papers, by GateHouse Media represents the apotheosis of the newspaper as a financial instrument. GateHouse, the buyer, is the largest owner of U.S. newspapers by titles. Gannett is the largest owner of U.S. newspapers by circulation. The new company, to carry the Gannett name, would have a print circulation of more than 8.5 million.

Should the Department of Justice approve the deal, it would be allowing the creation of a behemoth that dwarfs other newspaper companies, one that would dominate local journalism in many states, and have unparalleled national reach in print. The new company says its first order of business will be to realize $275 million to $300 million a year in “run-rate cost synergies.” In plain English, that means many journalists will lose their jobs.

Print advertising and print circulation are declining at a rapid rate, and digital growth is not making up the difference. Gannett and GateHouse are hoping that, together, they can grow efficient enough to survive. But the deal makes me think of two drowning giants grabbing onto each other to try to save themselves. While I long ago learned to be careful about predicting the future in print, my guess is that it won’t be too many years before they pull each other under.
Just consider these recent findings from the Pew Research Center. U.S. newspaper circulation is now at its lowest level since 1940, even as the national population has grown from 132 million to nearly 330 million. Last year, daily circulation—print and digital—was down 8 percent, and Sunday circulation was down 9 percent. The numbers were even worse for print, which posted 12 and 13 percent declines, respectively. While overall digital advertising spending increased by 23 percent in 2018, that wasn’t enough to offset the losses in print advertising—total ad revenue for newspaper companies was down by 13 percent. In consequence of this decline, newspaper-newsroom employment continues to shrink. It’s down 47 percent since 2004.
But even if the new Gannett manages to beat the odds and stay afloat, the prognosis for the papers it owns is grim. Gannett papers today largely look and sound the same. They feature similar, centrally produced news reports, and offer little individuality or quirky local flavor.

Gannett was the pioneer of this approach. As it grew, from the late 1960s until the early 1980s, it boasted that its quarterly profits were always bigger than the one before. The result, according to the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ben Bagdikian in his 1983 book, The Media Monopoly, “Profit squeezes and indifference to comprehensive local news is the norm.” GateHouse came along in the late 1990s and one-upped the earlier generations of newspaper chains. It went bankrupt in 2013 after it had spread across 330 markets in 21 states. The reborn company now operates in 612 markets in 39 states.

The consequences of this approach for local communities and for the fabric of our country are already clear—and grave. If some of these papers shrivel or even shut down to produce “run-rate cost synergies”—since the merger announcement, GateHouse has already cut staff at four newspapers—we’ll end up with more news deserts, communities without local newspapers. Other papers may be so diminished that they’re local newspapers in name only. That will leave some of the country’s most vulnerable residents without the information to help them participate in public life, including by voting, or the protections that investigative reporting can bring. The decline and failure of local newspapers means fewer eyes on the powerful, higher public borrowing costs, and more.

Something like this has already happened in recent years to local television news. Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest broadcaster, is notorious for distributing packaged segments to all of its stations, and for having its anchors across different markets use exactly the same words, sometimes reflecting partisan positions.

It’s reasonable to fear that the new Gannett—which would own more than 260 daily news organizations, and hundreds of weeklies—might have a similarly negative impact on even more parts of our country.

Many dedicated, talented journalists are doing meaningful work today at both GateHouse and Gannett newspapers. I know some of them. In my role at UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, I work closely with Gannett journalists I admire. And earlier this year, I was among the judges who gave GateHouse the top award for innovation at a major newspaper conference. Not for its journalism, though. Instead, Gatehouse was recognized for its booming and profitable events business, which it has successfully replicated in many of its markets.

However, the positive efforts of some at the two companies today don’t lessen the profound reason for concern.

There has to be a different path forward, one that doesn’t call for emptying newspapers like ATMs, or consolidating them under the control of a massive corporation. Every community deserves to have a place it can turn to each day to understand itself, to see itself reflected truthfully, and where its members can learn about others who are different from themselves and get the information they need to participate in our democracy.

One promising model is being tested in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Inquirer is now a public-benefit corporation, owned by the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Instead of maximizing profit for shareholders, the Inquirer can balance meeting the needs of its community with the need to make a profit. It can seek community support in new ways because it’s acting as a community resource, not a money machine.

It’s not a given that this approach will succeed. But I think it’s our best hope. I heard Terry Egger, the paper’s publisher and CEO, speak at a conference in Las Vegas this spring. He said he tells his colleagues that they don’t work for any of the company’s print or digital titles—they work for the region’s people. He asks them to ask themselves: How are you making their lives better?

His message to the community and his staff emphasizes the importance of a free press. It’s a message that he can offer unequivocally because he’s clear about the mission of his news organization. And he’s using it to seek and receive community support, from foundations and individuals.

It’s possible to imagine a very different kind of network from the one the new Gannett promises to build. Community foundations and leaders around the country, along with people and businesses who care about the health of their local communities, can band together to support their local press.

I was the founding editor of one such news organization, Honolulu Civil Beat. We started it as a for-profit company. But after a few years, its board concluded that it needed to take a different path. As a nonprofit, it could develop deeper ties to the community that would give it a greater likelihood of sustainability.

Today I serve as an adviser to the Colorado Media Project, an effort to help meet the information needs of Coloradans by strengthening the state’s news ecosystem. This effort was triggered by the gutting of The Denver Post by its hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital; the rebellion of its editorial page; and the departure of many of its best journalists to form a new local-news organization, The Colorado Sun.

The state, and nation, are facing a crisis in local media. Our answers don’t have to be newspapers as we’ve known them until now, ink on paper. Despite what my designer friend told me years ago, newspapers were never just that. They were reflections of the fabric of their community. Some, frankly, didn’t live up to their calling. Others punched above their weight class. But no matter what, we almost always knew that a community would be worse without them.

What we need is not a giant local-news company along the lines of the new Gannett, structured to reduce expenses and buy time until it finds a way to ride the digital wave. What we need instead is a network of local-news organizations that can offer tools that enable local people to focus on the important job of telling their communities’ stories.

The result may look like a vertical rectangle covered in black ink, or take an entirely different form. But what will really differentiate it is its commitment to the service of a common cause, one that’s essential if the United States is to thrive in the 21st century.

Everyone who subscribes to the Green Bay Press–Gazette, The Post~Crescent in Appleton, the Wausau Daily Herald or the seven other Wisconsin dailies owned by Gannett know what having Gannett as your publisher is like. (Gannett purchased eight dailies from Thomson, which was no one’s idea of a quality newspaper publisher either, in 2000.) The smaller the newspaper is, the more it is like the next-door newspaper, including a couple pages of rewarmed USA Today news (which I call USA Yesterday) and a generic sports section.

I was in Appleton in June for the state baseball tournament, held at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute. I picked up The Post~Crescent on two mornings, and found not one word about state baseball, despite the fact it was held down the street from The Post~Crescent’s office.

How does the Gannett sale apply to the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel? Bruce Murphy:

Back in the fall of 2015, when the purchase of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by the Gannett chain was announced, I predicted significant cuts for the newspaper under the new ownership. Looking at the staff count at other Gannett papers, and adjusting for market size, I predicted the Journal Sentinel would lose 35 to 40 editorial staff.

I was wrong. Back then the Journal Sentinel had 117 editorial staff (editors, writers, photo, design and online people). Today that’s down to 88 staff, a loss of 29 staff, not quite as bad as I predicted. That may be because the JS has always rated near the top among newspapers in market penetration — the percent of residents subscribing to the newspaper — which makes it a slightly larger readership than its metro population might suggest. 

Still, that was a 25 percent reduction in staff, which is huge, and there is every reason to believe more cuts are to come. That’s because Gannett is having financial problems which may force more cuts, and because it could be absorbed by Gatehouse Media (under a merger plan where Gatehouse would get slightly more stock — just over 50 percent — and thus control the new company). And Gatehouse has a reputation for slashing staff even more aggressively than Gannett has.

But that deal may not go through, because MNG Enterprises, the owner of Digital First Media, has just purchased 9 percent of the stock of the parent company of Gatehouse Media, with the apparent aim of trying to kill the merger with Gannett. Why? Perhaps because Digital First has also had its eye on Gannett, but back in February Gannett’s board of directors rejected the buyout bid from the hedge fund that owns Digital First Media.

If Digital First ever got its hands on Gannett that would be disastrous. As L.A. Times reporter Matt Pearce tweeted back when it was bidding for Gannett: “Digital First Media’s hedge fund owner slashes local newsrooms to the bone, soaks them for profits and then spends money on things that aren’t journalism. If they’re knocking on the door, you should lock the deadbolt.”

With luck Gannett will avoid a buyout that ugly. But it is difficult to see any scenario — even if Gannett continues on its own — under which the JS doesn’t continue to bleed staff. Yet I don’t expect the JS to go out of business. From a market perspective there is sufficient reason to keep the paper going, yet little reason to resist more cuts in staff.

A newspaper like the Journal Sentinel has little market power in the digital ad world, which is dominated by Google, which makes nearly as much from advertising as the entire media industry. And that doesn’t take into account Facebook’s massive impact on where advertising dollars go.

Gannett’s strategy has been to build readership, market power and the ability to negotiate for better ad rates by buying up local newspapers, in essence trying to consolidate a declining industry. The company owns at least 104 local newspapers and more than 1,000 weeklies. Gannett’s goal is to gain as many local markets as possible to wrap some local coverage around its national USA Today stories, which can be republished at little cost in all of its local newspapers and weeklies.

It also consolidates costs by centralizing printing, circulation and copy editing for its newspaper chain. The JS newsroom is managed by the Gannett corporate office in Virginia. The JS website is also managed from the central office based not on the importance of a particular story, but on algorithms measuring traffic and then highlighting the most popular stories.

In short, there won’t be any sleepless nights at Gannett if a key story in city or county government is missed by the Journal Sentinel. First, because Gannet’s management doesn’t live in Wisconsin. Second, because the most popular stories at the Journal Sentinel are sports stories, typically seven to eight of the top 10 most popular stories on any given day. And third because covering city and county government is labor intensive and you can get as much (and probably more) readership at by simply republishing lifestyle or sports stories from USA Today or any of its 100-plus daily newspapers. 

When local and state news stories are published at jsonline, the algorithms take over: they might get buried by the website in half a day. The goal is to direct readers to the most popular stories and that’s typically sports and lifestyle, particularly dining, weather reports and then the national stories done by USA Today. It may also mean grabbing a story from another of its papers that did well and giving it prominence on the JS website.

The recent decision by the Journal Sentinel to put up a harder pay wall for most local and state stories has blocked all the free riders, reducing the readership even more for those stories, compared to those republished from other Gannett papers that have no pay wall.

So if you’re Gannett, from an online traffic perspective, whether it’s city, suburban or county coverage or education coverage, none of it matters much. The JS hasn’t had a full-time county reporter since Steve Schultze took a buyout some four years ago. And it barely covers City Hall any more. When future cuts come the 34 staff listed under News and Investigations will likely be the most vulnerable.

The staff you need to protect are sports reporters and the dining writer, because those stories get way more readership than news. The most important news beat is the state Capitol, because you have more potential readers impacted by state government, and there the newspaper has maintained two reporters. So far. Meanwhile there are 17 staff handling sports for the newspaper.

All of which I’m sure is killing Journal Sentinel editor George Stanley, who truly cares about covering the news, as well as the paper’s news staff. But when it’s not a priority for the owners, and when a reporter’s important but not-so-sexy story is soon buried on the website, it begins to seem silly to go to all that effort.

Apparently Murphy is OK with Stanley’s arrogance toward non-liberal readers, which is probably no surprise since Murphy is quite anti-conservative, and, for that matter, so is Journal Sentinel investigative reporter Dan Bice and whatever people make editorial decisions. Be that as it may …

Meanwhile, Gannett is doing all it can to push readers to drop print subscriptions and switch to digital readership. When everything is centralized and nationalized, an ever-thinner local print edition is not really a priority. Moreover print advertising is dying: the Sunday paper still looks fat, but that’s mostly adverting supplements prepared by businesses who simply pay an insert fee to be stuffed into the paper, which generates much less revenue than a display ad published by the newspaper.

While I have been describing the approach of Gannett, anyone who takes over that chain will operate similarly because of the brutal dynamics of the online ad market. The media is now competing with the massive international scale of monopoly companies like Google and Facebook, who can deliver ads to huge numbers of people, targeted to exactly the audience you want, say a young urban female interested in rock music. Which means news publications need the most online readership they can get, to give them more market power when competing for advertisers.

So Gannett or whoever buys the company has every incentive to keep every local newspaper going in those 100-plus cities. Gatehouse does look to combine papers in nearby cities, and should it take over Gannett would probably do some consolation of the latter company’s three newspapers in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. But Milwaukee is far too large a market and too far from any nearby city to consolidate with another newspaper. Better to keep the JS going and simply trim its staff as needed.

All of which means the Journal Sentinel won’t go out of business, but will never again be what it once was. The paper is likely to continue losing staff and importance to readers who care about the news.

Temple poses an interesting idea that may work in some markets. His ignorance of how business works shows in the assumption that “nonprofit” means you don’t have to make a profit. “Nonprofit” means that profits aren’t distributed to owners and it doesn’t pay income taxes. “Nonprofit” doesn’t mean it can spend more money than it brings in, or even spend as much money as it brings in. Any venture that doesn’t bring in more money than it spends is doomed to eventual failure.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 20

Today in 1965, the Rolling Stones released the song that would become their first number one hit, and yet Mick Jagger still claimed …

Today in 1967, the New York Times reported on a method of reducing the noise recording devices make during recording. The inventor, Ray Dolby, had pioneered the process for studio recordings, but the Times story mentioned its potential for home use.

Ray Dolby, by the way, is no known relation to the other Dolby …

Today in 1987, Lindsey Buckingham refused to go out on tour with Fleetwood Mac for its “Tango in the Night” album, perhaps thinking that the road would make him …

The band probably told him …

… but look who came back a few years later:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 20”

A mass murder motive

The Washington Post:

Before the slaughter of dozens of people in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso this year, the accused gunmen took pains to explain their fury, including their hatred of immigrants. The statements that authorities think the men posted online share another obsession: overpopulation and environmental degradation.

The alleged Christchurch shooter, who is charged with targeting Muslims and killing 51 people in March, declared himself an “eco-fascist” and railed about immigrants’ birthrates. The statement linked to the El Paso shooter, who is charged with killing 22 people in a shopping area this month, bemoans water pollution, plastic waste and an American consumer culture that is “creating a massive burden for future generations.”

The two mass shootings appear to be extreme examples of ecofascism — what Hampshire College professor emerita Betsy Hartmann calls “the greening of hate.”

Many white supremacists have latched onto environmental themes, drawing connections between the protection of nature and racial exclusion. These ideas have shown themselves to be particularly dangerous when adopted by unstable individuals prone to violence and convinced that they must take drastic actions to stave off catastrophe.

The alleged El Paso shooter’s document is full of existential despair: “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.”

In recent years, the mainstream environmental movement has moved strongly in the direction of social justice — the opposite of what hate groups seek. Now, the leaders of those organizations fear white nationalists are using green messages to lure young people to embrace racist and nativist agendas.

“Hate is always looking for an opportunity to grab hold of something,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, a vice president of the National Wildlife Federation and an expert on environmental justice. “That’s why they use this ecological language that’s been around for a while, and they try to reframe it.”

Michelle Chan, vice president of programs for Friends of the Earth, said, “The key thing to understand here is that ecofascism is more an expression of white supremacy than it is an expression of environmentalism.”

This is all happening in a rhetorically and ideologically overheated era in which public discourse is becoming toxic, not only in the dark corners of the Internet but among those occupying the highest elective offices. Environmental activists want to create a sense of urgency about climate change, the loss of biodiversity and other insults to the natural world, but they don’t want their messages to drive people into deranged ideologies.

There is a danger of “apocalypticism,” said Jon Christensen, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who has written extensively on the use and misuse of dystopian environmental scenarios.

It’s important, he said, to provide people with potential solutions and reasons to be hopeful: “There’s definitely a danger of people taking dire measures when they feel there’s no way out of it.”

Hartmann, who has tracked ecofascism for more than two decades, echoes that warning, saying environmentalists “need to steer away from this apocalyptic discourse because it too easily plays into the hands of apocalyptic white nationalism.”

The leaders of several major environmental organizations say that white supremacy is antithetical to their movement.

“What we saw in the El Paso manifesto is a myopic, hateful, deadly ideology that has no place in the environmental movement,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Echoing that was Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists: “We need to speak out so that our members know that under no circumstances are we buying into this kind of philosophy.”

The alleged gunmen in El Paso and Christchurch did not emerge from the green movement. The documents attributed to them are primarily focused on race, cultural identity, immigration and the fear of a “great replacement” of whites by people of other races. The “eco” part of the equation is arguably an add-on.

But these people did not come up with their hateful ideologies in a vacuum. They have tapped into ideas about nature that are in broad circulation among white nationalists. Before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, for example, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer published a manifesto that had a plank on protecting nature.

Ecofascism has deep roots. There is a strong element of it in the Nazi emphasis on “blood and soil,” and the fatherland, and the need for a living space purified of alien and undesirable elements.

Meanwhile, leaders of mainstream environmental groups are quick to acknowledge that their movement has an imperfect history when it comes to race, immigration and inclusiveness. Some early conservationists embraced the eugenics movement that saw “social Darwinism” as a way of improving the human race by limiting the birthrates of people considered inferior.

“There’s this idea coming out of the eugenics movement that nature, purity, conservation were linked to purity of the race,” said Hartmann, the author of “The America Syndrome: Apocalypse, War and our Call to Greatness.”

Conservationists have a long history of wrestling with questions about immigration and population growth. Some of those on the environmental left have seen the explosion in the human population — which is nearing 8 billion and has more than doubled in the past half-century — as a primary driver of the environmental crisis. That argument has then been adopted by racists.

The alleged Christchurch shooter began his online screed by writing, “It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates,” and then warned of the “invasion” by immigrants who will “replace the White people who have failed to reproduce.”

The document thought to have been posted by the alleged El Paso shooter cites birthrates among the “invaders” trying to enter the United States and asserts, “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

This line of thought is dismaying to Paul Ehrlich, 87, a professor emeritus at Stanford University whose 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb,” proved hugely influential.

“They often cite me, even though I’ve spent my life trying to fight racism,” Ehrlich said.

John Holdren, a Harvard professor who co-authored articles with Ehrlich and later served eight years as President Barack Obama’s science adviser, said the environmental movement grappled decades ago with the perceived racist undertones of the emphasis on population growth.

“A lot of people felt they were getting burned by talking about population growth and its adverse impact,” Holdren said. As a result, he said, the movement’s leaders began focusing on the education and empowerment of women, which has led to falling birthrates around the world as women take control of their reproductive lives.

A refrain among environmentalists is that if anti-immigrant groups are genuinely concerned about degradation of the natural world, they’re targeting the wrong people. Climate change hasn’t been driven by poor people struggling to get by. The activities of wealthy nations have been the main historical source of greenhouse gas emissions, the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of habitats.

Ali, the environmental justice expert, said he often hears people say population growth is the big problem today, and he shoots that down.

“My response to them is, ‘Who are the people we need to limit? Who are the people making decisions about that?’ . . . Until we have true equity and equality and a balance of power, then we know vulnerable communities are going to end up on the negative side of the ledger, whatever the tough choices are,” Ali said.

Interesting that the apocalyptic language used by environmentalists for decades is now paying off.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 18

How can two songs be the number one song in the country today in 1956? Do a Google search for the words “B side”:

(Those songs, by the way, were the first Elvis recorded with his fantastic backup singers, the Jordanaires.)

Today in 1962, the Beatles made their debut with their new drummer, Ringo Starr, following a two-hour rehearsal.

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Presty the DJ for Aug. 17

The Beatles were never known for having wild concerts. (Other than their fans, that is.)

Today in 1960, the Beatles played their first of 48 appearances at the Indra Club in Hamburg, West Germany. The Indra Club’s owner asked the Beatles to put on a “mach shau.” The Beatles responded by reportedly screaming, shouting, leaping around the stage, and playing lying on the floor of the club. John Lennon reportedly made a stage appearance wearing only his underwear, and also wore a toilet seat around his neck on stage. As they say, Sei vorsichtig mit deinen Wünschen.

Four years later, the council of Glasgow, Scotland, required that men who had Beatles haircuts would have to wear swimming caps in city pools, because men’s hair was clogging the pool filters.

Today in 1968, the Doors had their only number one album, “Waiting for the Sun”:

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What happiness is not

Earlier this week I pointed out the numerous flaws in a “news” release ranking states as places for journalists to work. (Which included a huge math error.)

Maybe I was grumpy about that because I had to write a story about making objective and societal the subjective and individual definition of happiness. (Really.)

The good thing about my job is that while I am required to write objectively about what I cover, I can also add my two cents worth in the appropriate place. Which I did.

Several years ago I passed on an opinion from a Roman Catholic priest who quoted C.S. Lewis as saying that there is no right to happiness, only to, as the Declaration of Independence says, pursue happiness. He concluded:

So we do not have a right to be happy. The assumption that we do lies behind the utopian turmoil of our times. The attempt to guarantee our right to be happy invariably leads to economic bankruptcy and societal coercion. By misunderstanding happiness and its gift-response condition, we impose on the political order a mission it cannot fulfill. We undermine that limited temporal happiness we might achieve if we are virtuous, prudent, and sensible in this finite world.

The column mentions retired UW Band director Mike Leckrone’s phrase “moments of happiness.” (Which he didn’t come up with until after I graduated. Which makes me think my leaving may have been one of his “moments of happiness.”) The column mentions that in the past few months I’ve had a few, including two sportscasting firsts (announcing the right team in a state football championship game and announcing an Illinois substate game), performing at Leckrone’s final three UW Varsity Band concerts, and seeing Chicago with my trumpet-, trombone- and guitar-playing sons.

I suppose my own definition of temporal happiness could be listening to this and this while driving a Corvette with Mrs. Presteblog as passenger on a beautiful summer day, perhaps on the way to or from eating a bacon cheeseburger, steak or shrimp, on the way to or from announcing a sporting event. But I think the aforementioned priest has it right when he says that there is no guarantee of earthly happiness.