Radio cubed

Because I am, as Charlie Sykes once called me, a “media ho,” I will be on the radio three times over the next two days.

I will start by being on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ideas Network’s Joy Cardin Week in Review segment Friday at 8 a.m. for one of the last times. (Cardin announced earlier this week she’s retiring; her last show will be Sept. 29.)

As I’ve said for almost a decade, Joy Cardin and all the other Ideas Network programming can be heard on WLBL (930 AM) in Auburndale, WHID (88.1 FM) in Green Bay, WHWC (88.3 FM) in Menomonie, WRFW (88.7 FM) in River Falls, WEPS (88.9 FM) in Elgin, Ill., WHAA (89.1 FM) in Adams, WHBM (90.3 FM) in Park Falls, WHLA (90.3 FM) in La Crosse, WRST (90.3 FM) in Oshkosh, WHAD (90.7 FM) in Delafield, W215AQ (90.9 FM) in Middleton, KUWS (91.3 FM) in Superior, WHHI (91.3 FM) in Highland, WSHS (91.7 FM) in Sheboygan, WHDI (91.9 FM) in Sister Bay, WLBL (91.9 FM) in Wausau, W275AF (102.9 FM) in Ashland, W300BM (107.9 FM) in Madison, and of course online at www.wpr.org.

My opponent will be Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now.

Since as you know I always seem to appear around holidays, this appearance may be in commemoration of Birth Control Pills Day, Helium Discovery Day, National Bad Poetry Day, National Fajita Day, National Ice Cream Pie Day, National Soft Ice Cream Day, or perhaps National Men’s Grooming Day.

Less than 12 hours later I will be announcing my first high school football game of the season — Benton/Scales Mound, the nation’s first two-state co-op team, against Potosi/Cassville, a brand new co-op team, at superhits106.com. That will be followed less than 18 hours later by the first game in the Six Rivers Jamboree, Belmont and North Crawford from UW–Platteville, on ESPN Radio AM 1590 WPVL.

Two losses

There were two more reminders of the passage of time this past week.

One was reported by Rolling Stone:

Glen Campbell, the indelible voice behind 21 Top 40 hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” died Tuesday. He was 81. A rep for Universal Music Group, Campbell’s record label, confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone. During a career that spanned six decades, Campbell sold over 45 million records. In 1968, one of his biggest years, he outsold the Beatles. …

Campbell was a rare breed in the music business, with various careers as a top-level studio guitarist, chart-topping singer and hit television host. His late-career battle with Alzheimer’s—he allowed a documentary crew to film on his final tour for the 2014 award-winning I’ll Be Me—made him a public face for the disease, a role President Bill Clinton suggested would one day be remembered even more than his music.

“He had that beautiful tenor with a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone during a 2011 profile of Campbell. “It moved me.”

Campbell was a hugely popular singer, which may have obscured his guitar talent.

The other is reported by Channel3000.com:

Phyllis Leckrone, 81, the wife of UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone, and the woman known to band members as “band mom” has died.

UW Marching Band spokesperson Jay Rath said, “She was a mother to generations of band students and her impact will live on in those countless lives.”

“She loved the whole Badger Band Family. She was known to many alumni members as the band mom,” a post on the UW Band Alumni Association Facebook page said.

A native of North Manchester, Ind., Phyllis and Mike met in junior high school and became childhood sweethearts. They were married 62 years. Phyllis taught with the Middleton-Cross Plains school district for more than 25 years, according to a news release.

Leckrone died early Tuesday morning surrounded by family after a long illness, Rath said. She is survived by her husband, five children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. …

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorials be made to Phyliss’s favorite charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, www.stjude.org/donate.

The first thing to know about the Leckrones is that they were married for 61 years.

I saw Phyllis a couple of times every year — on the two epic road trips we took, to the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and Las Vegas, and at the annual UW Marching Band banquet in the Memorial Union. (Three words: “Fudge Bottom Pie.”) Compared to performance Mike, she was quiet. For that matter, non-performance Mike is quiet compared to performance Mike. I went to their house a couple of times as a rank leader; the Leckrones invited band leaders to their house before rehearsals began.

I also have become Facebook Friends with some of their kids. The only consolation I can offer is that it is the natural order of life that parents die before their children; no one who is a parent wants the reverse to happen. (There are, sadly, several people I marched with who have since passed away.)

Mike Leckrone became the UW Band director in 1969. So Phyllis had to share Mike with 200 to 250 college students every year for nearly 50 years. We remember Phyllis fondly.

As journalism sinks into the abyss …

Brigham Young University may not be known as a powerhouse journalism school. But given the state of journalism these days, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, BYU Magazine has interesting insights from its faculty and alumni about the state of journalism today from a more, well, flyover-country perspective than the navel-gazing you’re likely to read from the sophisticates on the coasts:

Journalism has a lofty goal—one epitomized by the career of R. John Hughes.

The emeritus BYU professor won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his coverage of an attempted communist coup and its bloody aftermath in Indonesia. Over his career as a writer for and then editor of the Christian Science Monitor, he covered revolutions and interviewed world leaders.

“Journalism was almost like a religion to me, to get the story, and get it right, to help evince change,” Hughes says. “It’s a kind of love affair for most journalists, shining light in dark corners.”

Journalists call themselves the watchdogs, the truth seekers. The press is dubbed the Fourth Estate after all, the final check on all three branches of government. Democracy requires informed citizens; the press make up the informants. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” goes the new Washington Post tagline.

That’s the why of modern journalism.

The how—being objective, non-partisan—“is rather a new phenomenon in the history of news,” says Campbell.

It has always depended on who’s paying.

Wealthy traders and merchants underwrote the first news in the Americas, and it was all route intel. In the colonial period political parties footed the bill for most papers—party organs that were far more partisan and acrimonious than what we cry foul at today. It wasn’t until the penny-press era—the 1830s on—that a new funding model developed: scale up the circulation, then sell readers’ attention to advertisers. That advertising revenue could bring the cost of the paper down to something many could afford.

Writing to a mass audience, publishers began to recognize there was a market for real, honest news that could cross political divides and speak with a relatively neutral voice. This paved the way for professional journalism standards. And for most of the 20th century, it made newsrooms the information power brokers.

Then the internet smashed the model.

“For the last decade, we have seen a steady erosion of the advertising economy for newspapers,” says Campbell. That’s the nice way of saying it. Revenue streams have been gutted.

Department stores and auto malls, the go-to advertisers, cut back on ads, facing their own disruptions: e-commerce competition and recession. Craigslist happened to the classifieds. And reader eyeballs, once concentrated among a few media outlets, are now diverted to Facebook, YouTube, and that thing you just Googled—and the bulk of advertising has followed them.

As they say in the industry, the digital transition traded print dollars for digital dimes and, in turn, digital dimes for mobile pennies.

One thing is certain: it’s a fascinating time to study the news. Alum Seth C. Lewis (BA ’02) holds the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media at the University of Oregon and is a leading scholar on the digital transformation of journalism.

“We’ve gone from media monopoly to media disruption and ubiquity,” says Lewis. And in ubiquity, no one gets a sizable piece of the economic pie.

Lewis suggests that maybe the last century of advertising-based news subsidy—which fostered these objective, non-partisan notions—“was just a happy accident. Maybe instead we’re returning to other forms of funding and thinking about the news.” …

Jon M. Du Pre (’85), anchor of ABC’s KTBS 3 in Shreveport, Louisiana, used to pass a day creating stories for the 6 and the 10 o’clock news. Now it’s the 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10 o’clock—plus posting on five digital platforms and Facebook Live-ing throughout the gathering process.

“It’s sometimes physically impossible to . . . feed all those beasts,” he says. It’s the hardest job he’s had in 32 years in TV.

Gone is the production cycle where a reporter would work on a story all day, turn it in, and see it published the next morning. Event coverage has to be up immediately, even if it’s just three paragraphs, the rest written via updates.

Accuracy—or, at the very least, thoroughness—has become a casualty, contends Lewis. “You cannot have your news instantly and have it well done,” he says. “More content created by fewer people makes the likelihood for mistakes and problems greater.”

That’s the story at the news organizations that still exist. Countless others have been forced to close.

The hardest hit: local news, the most important news, in Campbell’s eyes. “That’s where we need watchdogs,” he says—most government money is spent locally.

“We’ve moved from deathwatch to life support,” Campbell says of the local-news survivors. Yet the equation remains: “To do in-depth—to give it context, to really understand a community—costs money.” The budgets for watchdogging, more and more, don’t exist.

And then there’s lost turf. A majority of Americans now get news from Facebook and the like, making social-media giants the new gatekeepers and distributors. In addition, the boundaries of the journalism profession are blurring: anyone with a Twitter account can disseminate news, and institutions of all sorts now post their own articles rather than leave their narratives to the press.

Lewis says this leaves consumers wading through an overabundance of sources. “News now populates spaces you might not have expected, and we haven’t really understood how to interpret news we see in those places. This has led a lot of people to throw up their hands and tune out, to say, ‘Because I can’t trust much of what I see, therefore I can’t trust anything.’”

Americans once took in news by appointment—making time for it at the breakfast table or watching the evening newscast before bed. Appointment reading fostered breadth—maybe a baseball story caught your eye, but you got bits on Iran and EPA regulation along the way.

“That used to be a great function of newspapers, the serendipity of falling into something,” says Edward L. Carter (BA ’96, JD ’03), director of the BYU School of Communications.

News consumption now is largely incidental. We seek it out less; our attention span for it is shorter. On a given day, it may be reduced to what pieces of journalism are trending in our social media streams. “And the stories that catch on social media are different,” says Sarah Cannon Weaver (BA ’94), editor of the Church News.

Incidental consumption online pits the news against the juggernauts of Internet clicks: cute babies, cat videos, and all the other stuff Facebook has deemed “news” to you. There have always been things competing for our attention—but never so many on one screen at one time.

In the fight to be heard, journalists now turn to search-engine optimization (SEO)—tagging every story with its most trend-worthy terms. They bend stories into clickbait.

It’s a trend that can’t be ignored, says D. Hunter Schwarz (BA ’12), coauthor of CNN’s Coverline, a politics–pop culture mash-up. “Your average person is not watching a bill progress,” says Schwarz. And so his newsletter and podcast weave Britney Spears and the Kardashians into the political coverage.

Because of the all-mighty click, story selection and presentation are changing: newsrooms are increasingly chasing the stuff we like.

“It’s eye-candy journalism,” says Campbell: sports, “list-icles,” the slideshow of 10 things. “The eyes stay with them a long time. They make money.”

It’s celebrity anything, says alumna Marti Johnson, a freelance reporter for the Associated Press and a C-SPAN announcer. “[Americans] just hoover up information on celebrities.”

Whatever it is, it represents a seismic shift in journalism. “We’ve gone from where news editors selected what they wanted the public to see to where now the public says, ‘No, this isn’t what I want to read about,’” says Weaver. “You can’t make people interested in city council. . . . We can’t thrust it upon them the way we used to.”

Further complicating the news mix: the fact that most traditional news outlets are now owned by publicly held corporations—companies that answer to stockholders. “They care about profit,” says journalism professor Dale L. Cressman (BA ’85, MA ’89), “not news.”

Advertisers can see in real time exactly what catches the audience’s eye, putting the press at the public’s mercy.

There’s no other way to say it, says Campbell: “SEO and analytics are driving a stake into the heart of journalism.”

Suspend the question of media bias for a moment (we’ll get there) and allow the journalists to turn the table:

“Are the consumers of the products we produce biased?” asks Du Pre.

At least on this point—in an America more polarized politically than at any point in recent history—the answer is clearly yes.

Du Pre says that no matter how straight the attempt, there is no longer a news topic that isn’t a lightning rod. “You do a story on crime, it turns into a political debate,” he says. “The environment? Political debate. Health? Somehow, it turns into a political debate.”

Meanwhile, for news outlets desperate for traffic to translate into ad revenue, polarization creates tempting target audiences.

“Some practitioners of journalism . . . have taken to an entirely different business model,” says Du Pre. “And that is ‘Which audience do we want to seek out?’”

Fox News, for example, set up shop as an alternative to mainstream media. A slew of outlets have taken root on the left and right. Where there used to be just a handful of TV and radio broadcasts, newspapers, and magazines driving the national news agenda, there are now scores of websites, each trying to carve out a niche and then pander to it relentlessly. For Fox and MSNBC, it seems to pay the bills.

This model is reinforced by—and fuels—another internet phenomenon: the echo chamber. The term describes how, in our online worlds, we are interacting more with the information we like and less with information that challenges us.

McKay A. Coppins (’10), who covers politics for the Atlantic, says many aren’t even seeking truth anymore—they’re seeking confirmation of their beliefs. “They can kind of ensconce themselves in an information and media bubble where that’s all they hear,” he says. “Whatever little media bubble you’re in is telling you the rest of the media is wrong.”

Some of this selective credulity is deliberate: readers tend to pick media teams and loyally drown out other news sources. Some of it, however, comes courtesy of social media and search engines, which get to know you better with every click. Based on your interests, views, and likes, Facebook algorithms serve up your Daily Me.

On your streams there is no equal airtime for different views. “These systems we interact with really have no function for saying, ‘Maybe that’s enough extremism for you today,’” says Lewis.

Research is digging into the effects of the social media echo chamber: we share stories without reading more than a headline, place more trust in who is sharing the story than who produced it, and clearly give our time to stories that reinforce our own views. …

The First Amendment is pretty clear that all can have their say, agree the experts. Carter says, “At BYU we teach the ‘marketplace of ideas,’”—the philosophy that embraces discordant voices under the premise that the best ideas rise to the top. “The function of journalism is to help us sift through them.”

But he says there’s a catch: “The marketplace ultimately depends on the wisdom of the people, that they won’t be deceived.”

It would be easier if bias were found only at outlets with an obvious bent. Bias seeps in across the board, in varying amounts, concede our experts.

But, they caution, it’s not as one-sided as we might think.

The claim that the mainstream media are liberal, says Cressman, first gained traction in the civil-rights-era South. “Southerners did not like national media coming in and reporting on segregation.” The liberal-media accusation was lodged then—and countless times since. More journalists identify as Democrats than as Republicans, says Cressman (though even more identify as independent). But he suggests that what is judged as bias may be merely core journalistic values.

“Part of journalism’s ethos is giving voice to the voiceless, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted,” Cressman says. “Those can be perceived as liberal ideas.”

Also at play, says Coppins, are cultural and geographic biases. With the collapse of newspapers nationwide, there’s been a sort of coastal-ization of news; the national news, especially, is made in urban enclaves. “Readers and viewers increasingly don’t see their values represented,” says Coppins. “They increasingly feel like they are getting news from people who are sort of outside their world, and it can often feel condescending and patronizing.”

The quality of reporting in the mainstream media ultimately comes down to the individual reporter, says Campbell. And while the goal is to pursue truth as objectively as possible, our experts say journalists can’t help but approach the truth with their own predispositions.

“The whole idea of journalistic objectivity is a false god,” says Coppins. “No human being is truly objective.”

Though journalists cannot be impartial, their methods, like the scientific method, can, says Cressman. Through a rigorous discipline of verification and transparency, a consistent method of testing information, journalism can uncover not just facts, but the truth.

“The best we can do,” says Du Pre, “is practice journalism as best we can, telling every story in a way that’s true to the facts and fair to the people involved and the people who are impacted by that story. And then hope there are enough people who are enlightened enough that they recognize it when they see it—and then they demand it.”

Contrasting views of Star Trek

First, from the way left, A.M. Gittlitz:

In the postwar period, however, scientists inspired by Cosmism launched Sputnik. The satellite’s faint blinking in the night sky signaled an era of immense human potential to escape all limitations natural and political, with the equal probability of destroying everything in a matter of hours.

Feeding on this tension, science fiction and futurism entered their “golden age” by the 1950s and ’60s, both predicting the bright future that would replace the Cold War. Technological advances would automate society; the necessity of work would fade away. Industrial wealth would be distributed as a universal basic income, and an age of leisure and vitality would follow. Humans would continue to voyage into space, creating off-Earth colonies and perhaps making new, extraterrestrial friends in the process. In a rare 1966 collaboration across the Iron Curtain, the astronomer Carl Sagan co-wrote “Intelligent Life in the Universe” with Iosif Shklovosky. This work of astrobiological optimism proposed that humans attempt to contact their galactic neighbors.

Interest in alien life was not just the domain of scientists and fiction writers. U.F.O. flaps worldwide captured pop cultural attention, and many believed that flying saucers were here to warn us, or even save us, from the danger of nuclear weapons. In the midst of the worldwide worker and student uprisings in 1968, the Argentine Trotskyist leader known as J. Posadas wrote an essay proposing solidarity between the working class and the alien visitors. He argued that their technological advancement indicated they would be socialists and could deliver us the technology to free Earth from the grip of Yankee imperialism and the bureaucratic workers’ states.

Such views were less fringe and more influential than you might think. Beginning in 1966, the plot of “Star Trek” closely followed Posadas’s propositions. After a nuclear third world war (which Posadas also believed would lead to socialist revolution), Vulcan aliens visit Earth, welcoming them into a galactic federation and delivering replicator technology that would abolish scarcity. Humans soon unify as a species, formally abolishing money and all hierarchies of race, gender and class.

“A lot has changed in the past 300 years,” Captain Picard explains to a cryogenically unfrozen businessman from the 20th century in an episode of a later “Star Trek” franchise, “The Next Generation.” “People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”

For all its continued popularity, such optimism was unusual in the genre. The new wave of sci-fi in the late ’60s, typified by J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick in the United States and by the Strugatsky brothers and Stanislaw Lem in the East, presented narratives that undercut this theme of humans’ saving themselves through their own rationality.

The grand proposals of the ’60s futurists also faded away, as the Fordist period of postwar economic growth abruptly about-faced. Instead of automation and guaranteed income, workers got austerity and deregulation. The Marxist theorist Franco Berardi described this period as one in which an inherent optimism for the future, implied by socialism and progressivism, faded into the “no future” nihilism of neoliberalism and Thatcherite economics, which insisted that “there is no alternative.”

The fall of the Soviet Union cemented this “end of history,” in Francis Fukuyama’s phrase, and signaled a return to late-capitalist dystopian narratives of the future, like that of “The Time Machine.” Two of the most popular sci-fi films of the ’90s were “Terminator 2” and “The Matrix,” which both showcased a world in which capital had triumphed and its machinery would not liberate mankind, but govern it. The recent success of “The Road,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Walking Dead” similarly predict violent futures where only small underground resistance movements struggle to keep the dying flame of humanity alight.

Released the same year as “Star Trek: First Contact” — and grossing three times as much — “Independence Day” told a story directly opposed to Posadism, in which those who gather to greet the aliens and protest military engagement with them are the first to be incinerated by the extraterrestrials’ directed-energy weapons. (In Wells’s 1897 vision of alien invasion, “The War of the Worlds,” the white flag-waving welcoming party of humans is similarly dispatched.)

The grotesque work of 1970s white supremacist speculative fiction, “The Camp of the Saints” by Jean Raspail — recently referenced by the White House strategist Steve Bannon — has a similar story line. A fleet of refugee ships appears off the coast of France, asking for safe harbor, but it soon becomes apparent that the ship is a Trojan horse. Its admission triggers an invasion of Europe and the United States.

The recent rise of right-wing populism indicates a widening crack in the neoliberal consensus of ideological centrism. From this breach, past visions of the future are once again pouring out. Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg feel empowered to propose science fiction premises, like space colonization and post-scarcity economics, as solutions to actual social problems. Absent, however, are the mass social movements of the 20th century calling for the democratization of social wealth and politics. While rapid changes in the social order that are the dream of Silicon Valley’s disruptors are acquiring an aura of inevitability, a world absent of intense poverty and bigoted hostility feels unimaginable.

Shortly after World War II, [H.G] Wells became so convinced of humanity’s doom, without a world revolution, that he revised the last chapter of “A Short History of the World” to include the extinction of mankind. Today we are left with a similar fatalism, allowing the eliminiationist suggestions of the far right to argue, in effect, for a walling-off of the world along lines of class, nationality and race, even if this might condemn millions to death.

If humanity in the 21st century is to be rescued from its tailspin descent into the abyss, we must recall the choice offered by the alien visitor from the 1951 sci-fi film classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

“Join us and live in peace,” Klaatu said, “or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”

I think of it as science fiction’s useful paraphrasing of Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary ultimatum: “socialism or barbarism.”

The last sentence reminds me of the UW–Madison journalism class where I had to sit through a lecture about Luxemburg. That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.

Be that as it may, I suppose it might never occur to a writer “who specializes in counterculture and radical politics” that socialism understood as everybody sharing everything preceded Karl Marx, to include various Greek philosophers and the 12 Apostles. (By choice, not government edict, in the case of the Apostles.) It is always tiresome to hear or read those who believe the world revolves around them.

I doubt creator Gene Roddenberry was a socialist. He was, however, a progressive, and progressives believe mankind can be improved with the right people in power. That utopian view has been proven false in the 100 years or so since the Progressive Era, to everyone but progressives.

I blogged an opposing view from the Claremont Institute, from which I excerpt:

Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

This could have been declaimed by Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner), of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, who, as literature professor Paul Cantor observes in his essay “Shakespeare in the Original Klingon,” is “a Cold Warrior very much on the model of JFK.” In episodes like “The Omega Glory,” in which Kirk rapturously quotes the preamble to the Constitution, or “Friday’s Child,” where he struggles to outwit the Klingons (stand-ins for the Soviet menace) in negotiations over the resources of a planet modeled on Middle Eastern petroleum states, Kirk stands fixedly, even obstinately, for the principles of universal freedom and against collectivism, ignorance, and passivity. In “Errand of Mercy,” the episode that first introduces the show’s most infamous villains, he cannot comprehend why the placid Organians are willing to let themselves be enslaved by the Klingon Empire. Their pacifism disgusts him. Kirk loves peace, but he recognizes that peace without freedom is not truly peace.

This was not just a political point; it rested on a deeper philosophical commitment. In Star Trek’s humanist vision, totalitarianism was only one manifestation of the dehumanizing forces that deprive mankind (and aliens) of the opportunities and challenges in which their existence finds meaning. In “Return of the Archons,” for example, Kirk and company infiltrate a theocratic world monitored and dominated by the god Landru. The natives are placid, but theirs is the mindless placidity of cattle. In the past, one explains, “there was war. Convulsions. The world was destroying itself. Landru…took us back, back to a simple time.” The people now live in ignorant, stagnant bliss. Landru has removed conflict by depriving them of responsibility, and with it their right to govern themselves. When Kirk discovers that Landru is actually an ancient computer left behind by an extinct race, he challenges it to justify its enslavement of the people. “The good,” it answers, is “harmonious continuation…peace, tranquility.” Kirk retorts: “What have you done to do justice to the full potential of every individual? Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life.” He persuades Landru that coddling the people has stifled the souls it purported to defend, and the god-machine self-destructs.

This theme is made more explicit in “The Apple,” perhaps the quintessential episode of the original Star Trek. Here Kirk unashamedly violates the “Prime Directive”—the rule forbidding starship captains from interfering with the cultures they contact—by ordering the Enterprise to destroy Vaal, another computer tyrant ruling over an idyllic planet. Like Landru, Vaal is an omniscient totalitarian, and he demands sacrifices. The natives, known only as “people of Vaal,” have no culture, no freedom, no science—they do not even know how to farm—and no children, as Vaal has forbidden sex along with all other individualistic impulses. This sets Kirk’s teeth on edge. There are objective goods and evils, and slavery is evil because it deprives life forms of their right to self-government and self-development.

What differentiates “The Apple” from “Archons” is Spock’s reaction. In the earlier episode, he joined Kirk in condemning Landru; now the half human/half Vulcan is reluctant to interfere with what he calls “a splendid example of reciprocity.” When chief medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) protests, Spock accuses him of “applying human standards to non-human cultures.” To this cool relativism, McCoy replies, “There are certain absolutes, Mr. Spock, and one of them is the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth.”

Kirk agrees with McCoy. Spock—who in later episodes invokes the Vulcan slogan celebrating “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”—is comfortable observing Vaal’s servants nonjudgmentally, like specimens behind glass. But Kirk believes there must be deeper, universal principles underlying and limiting diversity, to prevent its degeneration into relativism and nihilism.

This is an insight Kirk shares with Abraham Lincoln, who—as we learn in a later episode—is Kirk’s personal hero. When in 1858 Stephen Douglas claimed to be so committed to democracy that he did not care whether American states and territories adopted pro- or anti-slavery constitutions, Lincoln parodied his relativism as meaning “that if one man would enslave another, no third man should object.” Instead, Lincoln insisted, the basis of legitimate democracy was the principle of equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Without that frame firmly in place, democracy could claim no moral superiority to tyranny. Spock, by regarding this as a merely “human standard,” and defending Vaal’s suzerainty as “a system which seems to work,” falls into the same relativistic trap as Douglas. By contrast, as Paul Cantor notes, Kirk believes “that all rational beings are created equal,” and extends the Declaration’s proposition “literally throughout the universe.” Kirk orders the Enterprise to destroy Vaal. “You’ll learn to care for yourselves,” he tells the people. “You’ll learn to build for yourselves, think for yourselves, work for yourselves, and what you create is yours. That’s what we call freedom.”

Spock’s hesitation here is an early glimmer of the relativism that would eventually engulf the Star Trek universe. Roddenberry’s generation emerged from World War II committed to a liberalism that believed in prosperity, technological progress, and the universal humanity they hoped the United Nations would champion. In the Kennedy years, this technocratic liberalism sought to apply science, the welfare state, and secular culture to raise the standard of living and foster individual happiness worldwide. Then came the rise of the New Left—a movement that saw the alleged evils of society as the consequence not merely of capitalism but of technology and reason itself. Civilization was not the perfection of nature or even a protection against nature, but an alienation from nature. Throw off its shackles, and man could reunite with the universe; unfairness would fall away, and peaceful coexistence would reign. “Peaceful coexistence” was especially crucial. The war in Vietnam and other crises helped foster a debunking culture that saw American principles of justice as a sham, as cynical rationalizations for American greed, racism, and imperialism. The older generation of liberals—and their literary proxies, including Captain Kirk—hardly knew what to make of it, or of the “turn on, tune in, drop out” escapism that often accompanied it.

The original Star Trek savagely parodied such Age of Aquarius romanticism in the episode “The Way to Eden,” in which theEnterprise encounters a group of space-age hippies searching for a legendary planet where all will be equal, without technology or modernity, living off the land. Almost all of Kirk’s crew regard these star-children as deluded, and their longing for prelapsarian harmony does turn out to be a deadly illusion: the Eden planet they find is literally poison—all the trees and even the grass are full of an acid that kills them almost the instant they arrive. Kirk is hardly surprised. All Edens, in his eyes, are illusions, and all illusions are dangerous.

Spock is more indulgent. “There are many who are uncomfortable with what we have created,” he tells the captain, “the planned communities, the programming, the sterilized, artfully balanced atmospheres.” Spock insists he does not share their views, yet he secretly admires them, and devotes his considerable scientific skills to helping locate their paradise planet. Later he tells one of the few survivors of the acid, “It is my sincere wish that you do not give up your search for Eden. I have no doubt but that you will find it, or make it yourselves.” The skeptical, spirited Kirk could never utter such words.

Kirk, it turns out, has personal reasons for his skepticism. In “The Conscience of the King,” we learn that he is something of a Holocaust survivor himself. When he was young, he and his parents barely escaped death at the hands of the dictator Kodos the Executioner, who slaughtered half the population of the colony on Tarsus IV. Having eluded capture, Kodos lived 20 years under an assumed name, making a living as a Shakespearean actor, until one of Kirk’s fellow survivors tracks him down. Now Kirk must decide whether the actor is really the killer.

Aired in 1966, this episode is a commentary on the pursuit of Nazi war criminals, and it typifies the original Star Trek’s moral outlook. During the show’s three seasons, over 20 former Nazis were tried for their roles in the Holocaust, including five who only two weeks after this episode aired were convicted for working at the Sobibór extermination camp. Intellectuals like Hannah Arendt were preoccupied with the moral and jurisprudential questions of Nazi-hunting. “Conscience” puts these dilemmas into an ambitiously Shakespearean frame.

Like Hamlet, Kirk faces a crisis of certainty. “Logic is not enough,” he says, echoing Hamlet’s “What a rogue and peasant slave am I” soliloquy. “I’ve got to feel my way—make absolutely sure.” Yet one thing Kirk is already sure about is justice. Hamlet may curse the fact that he was ever born to set things right, but he knows it is his duty. Likewise Kirk. When McCoy asks him what good it will do to punish Kodos after a lapse of two decades—“Do you play god, carry his head through the corridors in triumph? That won’t bring back the dead”—Kirk answers, “No. But they may rest easier.”

For Shakespeare, justice is less about the good prospering and the bad suffering than about a harmony between the world of facts in which we live and the world of words we inhabit as beings endowed with speech. When the two fall out of sync—when Claudius’s crime knocks time “out of joint”—the result is only a perverse and temporary illusion. And Kirk is, again, not impressed by illusions. “Who are you to [judge]?” demands Kodos’s daughter. Kirk’s devastating reply: “Who do I have to be?” …

By 1987, when the new Enterprise was being launched on the new series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the liberal landscape had changed. The show premiered a year after feminist philosopher of science Sandra Harding referred to Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual,” and a year before Jesse Jackson led Stanford student protesters chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!” The Kennedy-esque anti-Communist in the White House was now Ronald Reagan, a former Democrat and union leader who thought the party had left him.

Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was more committed to coexistence and non-intervention than to universal liberty and anti-totalitarianism. Following Spock’s lead, Picard would elevate the Prime Directive into a morally obtuse dogma and would seek ways to evade the responsibility of moral judgment. Time and again, the show featured false equivalency on a grand scale, coupled with the hands-off attitude that the Kirk of “The Apple” had dismissed as complicity with evil. …

What accounts for this incoherent foreign policy? Nothing less than Picard’s commitment to non-commitment. He represents a new, non-judgmental liberalism far shallower than that embraced in Roddenberry’s era. Where Kirk pursues justice, Picard avoids conflict. Just as Kirk’s devotion to universal principles goes deeper than politics, so does Picard’s sentimentalism. When it comes to the universe of real suffering, real need, and a real search for truth, he is content not to decide, not to take responsibility, and not to know.

The Claremont piece is much better than the New York Times piece, not merely because I agree with the Claremont point of view more than the Times’ point of view. Kirk is an idealist, as is The Original Series, but he is not naïve. Kirk also has much more moral fortitude than Picard, as seen in episodes of each series. In TOS’ “A Taste of Armageddon,” Kirk brings about the end of a computer-run war between two planets by destroying the computers that conduct the war:

I’ve given you back the horrors of war. The Vendikans now assume that you’ve broken your agreement and that you’re preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They’ll want do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers in a computer. They’ll destroy cities, devastate your planet. You of course will want to retaliate. If I were you, I’d start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace.

The conflict in The Next Generation episode “The Hunted”  is between a planet’s leadership and its war veterans, at the end of the last act Picard is asked to intervene, but answers:

In your own words, this is not our affair. We cannot interfere in the natural course of your society’s development. And I’d say it’s going to develop significantly in the next few minutes.

What kind of answer is that? We don’t care if you blow yourselves up in the next few minutes; that’s your problem. (Reportedly a different ending was shelved due to cost considerations, but a better ending could have been set entirely on the Enterprise bridge, with Worf reporting explosions on the planet’s surface. That would stick a knife in the heart of that Enterprise’s moral preening.) There are other examples (“Syubiosis” and “Pen Pals,” to name two) where Picard’s first impulse is to leave the primitives be, even if that means they die. That’s like washing your hands of what you’ve heard taking place in Nazi Germany to Jews in World War II.

 

The media equivalent of global warming

James Freeman:

Last month this column noted that the actions of the New York Times suggest that the people who put out the newspaper don’t think burning carbon is as dangerous as one would think from reading their product. How else to explain their marketing effort to persuade well-heeled readers to increase emissions by travelling the globe aboard a barely-filled Boeing ? And now, one particularly industrious Times reader submits evidence of another reason to resist the paper’s climate faith. In this case the skepticism about global warming comes not from refusing to take the paper seriously but from taking it too seriously.

Anyone old enough to have been a Times reader in the late 1980s may recall a series of stories that helped educate the public on how cool our planet used to be. Here’s one report from March of 1988:

One of the scientists, Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, said he used the 30-year period 1950-1980, when the average global temperature was 59 degrees Fahrenheit, as a base to determine temperature variations.

The paper returned to the topic in June of that year, and reminded readers of the planet’s colder past:

Dr. Hansen, who records temperatures from readings at monitoring stations around the world, had previously reported that four of the hottest years on record occurred in the 1980’s. Compared with a 30-year base period from 1950 to 1980, when the global temperature averaged 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature was one-third of a degree higher last year.

The following year, the paper reported a new record high in global temperatures and affirmed its climate history, which seemed to be the consensus view—at least among scientists quoted by the Times:

The British readings showed that the average global temperature in 1988 was 0.612 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the long-term average for the period 1950 through 1979, which is a base for comparing global temperatures. The average worldwide temperature for that 30-year period is roughly 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the British researchers said.

In 1991, the Times reported yet another record high, and published yet another reminder of how cool the planet used to be:

The Goddard group found that the record average surface temperature for the globe was eight-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit above the 1951-1980 average of 59 degrees. The British group found it seventh-tenths of a degree higher than the 1951-80 average.

By that point a reasonable consumer might have been ardently hoping to return to that magical era in which global temperatures averaged just 59 degrees. But in the ensuing years it must have been difficult for Times readers to stay hopeful. As the years and then the decades rolled by, The Times routinely reported record or near-record highs as global temperatures appeared to march ever higher.

In January of this year, the newspaper published a feature entitled, “How 2016 Became Earth’s Hottest Year on Record.” The Times noted the disturbing news that “2016 was the first time that the hottest year on record occurred three times in a row.” And things could be about to get much worse. “We expect records to continue to be broken as global warming proceeds,” climate enthusiast Michael Mann told the Times.

Is there any way to return to the salad days of 59 degrees? Well, it turns out to be easier than you might think. In January, as the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was reporting the third consecutive year of record highs, it noted that the average global temperature in 2016 had surged to a sizzling… 58.69 degrees.

Over the years researchers seem to have concluded that the planet was not as hot as they thought. Oops.

The most important facts in the climate debate are subject to frequent revisions. This doesn’t mean the global warming thesis is wrong, but it argues for skepticism. The Journal’s Holman Jenkins noted in 2015:

By the count of researcher Marcia Wyatt in a widely circulated presentation, the U.S. government’s published temperature data for the years 1880 to 2010 has been tinkered with 16 times in the past three years.

While waiting for the science to settle, this column’s advice to Times readers is to go ahead and fly around the world on the newspaper’s luxurious jet—if you don’t mind the company.

Silenced sports voices

Two figures in Wisconsin sports media history died last week.

The first is reported by the Wisconsin State Journal:

Don Lindstrom, a former prep and University of Wisconsin sportswriter and columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, passed away at 92 years old on July 13 in Madison. A cause of death was not disclosed.

The Nebraska native’s newspaper career covered 43 years as a sports editor of the Holdrege (Neb.) Daily Citizen, a sports writer for the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune and finally at the State Journal for 29 years. He retired in 1988.

Lindstrom was honored with selections to the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame in cross country in 1995, basketball in 2001 and football in 2002. He received an additional award from the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. He also was a member of the Baseball Writers of America, earned Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year nominations and was the ninth president of the Madison Sports Hall of Fame.

Lindstrom also served in the U.S. Navy Amphibious Corps Pacific Theater during World War II. He and his wife, Barbara, would have been married 64 years on Aug. 31.

I read Don well before I knew him, along with late State Journal sportswriter Tom Butler. So when I started covering games and then saw them in the flesh, it was a sign that it one of them was there, the game I was covering was a big deal that night. One wonders if, given media companies’ shedding of employees, if someone will think that after seeing one of today’s sports reporters covering an event.

That included the March 12, 1982 boys basketbail sectional semifinal game between two of the three conference tri-champions, Madison La Follette and Madison West, about which you have read, including …

The scene was wild enough for Don Lindstrom, a Wisconsin State Journal sportswriter who had previously covered approximately 11 million basketball games, to comment thereupon:

“I thought we had lost it,” yelled La Follette Coach Pete Olson amid postgame bedlam. “We worked so hard but I never thought we could do it. These kids are amazing.”

The other is reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Long before the arrival of cable television, decades before people live-streamed baseball games on tablets or checked their cell phones for ScribbleLive updates, this is how you followed your favorite team, when you weren’t actually sitting in the stadium:

You turned on the boxy radio in the kitchen or held a transistor radio to your ear and moved the tiny plastic dial in microscopic increments until the static faded and the station came in, occasionally loud and clear.

In Milwaukee, this rich era of radio produced the likes of Earl Gillespie and Blaine Walsh, Merle Harmon and Tom Collins – familiar, honeyed voices drifting through the air on hot summer nights.

Collins (left) and Merle Harmon, who I once met, probably announcing a Brewers loss.

“You weren’t involved with baseball unless you listened to the radio,” said Eddie Doucette, a member of the Brewers’ broadcast team in 1973-’74.

Yet another link to that bygone era is no more with the passing of Collins, who died Thursday in Wisconsin Rapids of congestive heart failure. He was 95.

Gillespie and Walsh, who called Braves games in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Harmon, who bridged the Braves and Brewers, preceded Collins in death – Walsh in 1985, Gillespie in 2003, Harmon in 2009.

“When you stop and think about all the good guys that have come out of that market, it was really some quality, quality talent,” said Doucette, who gained greater fame as the radio voice of the Milwaukee Bucks. “It was a sad day for me when Merle died. And now Tom. It’s almost the end of an era.”

Like many play-by-play men of his generation, Collins had no formal training in radio. After serving as a Marine Corps gunner during World War II, he returned to his hometown of Neenah and worked as a millwright in the paper mills.

He got his start in radio doing a Sunday morning polka/country music show on WNAM and later did play-by-play for local high school sports teams. In 1959, he took a job with WEMP-AM in Milwaukee, which held the rights to Braves games.

“He came to WEMP as a newsman,” said Collins’ son, Patrick. “He worked his way up to his own morning show before he got into sports. He did the Braves’ pregame show for three or four years before he started doing play-by-play.”

The Braves left Milwaukee after the 1965 season and when the Brewers arrived in 1970, Collins was part of the broadcast team that included Harmon and a young Bob Uecker, who started in 1971 and is still going strong.

“Working with Tom and Merle was a big deal for me,” Uecker said. “I had already done the ‘Tonight Show’ stuff but I was more nervous about doing play-by-play on radio than the appearance stuff I did. I came here with nothing. I never did any games. Everything was a learning experience with Tom and Merle.

“They were great guys. Funny guys, too. I always did one inning of play-by-play, the fifth inning, and one day Tom and Merle introduced me and got up and left. I was begging them to come back and in the sixth inning the engineer said, ‘You better get going, Bob. There’s one out.’ ”

Collins also did the play-by-play for Marquette University basketball games for 15 years, many of them with Uecker. Collins and coach Al McGuire became close friends and went out on top together – the last game Collins called was the 1977 NCAA championship game.

In recent years, Collins suffered from Alzheimer’s, but still worked crossword puzzles in pen. Even after he forgot his grandchildren’s names, he could name the starting lineups for Braves teams.

“He was an unbelievable storyteller,” said grandson Matt Collins. “He had a very vivid memory. If you closed your eyes you felt like you were standing over his shoulder, watching what he was describing.”

Patrick Collins said the family planned to celebrate his father’s life with a “big, old-fashioned Irish wake” in Neenah in late September or early October.

“I was sad when I found out the other day that he passed away, but 95 years, that’s a pretty good run for anybody,” Uecker said. “It’s always sad, the inevitable, but Tom was a longtime friend and we had a lot of laughs. He was a great guy.”

I cannot find Collins’ obituary, so I don’t know if that was his real name. If it was (and even if it wasn’t), he had the perfect on-air name for a Wisconsin media personality. (For those unaware, the Tom Collins drink is gin (to prevent malaria), lemon juice (to prevent scurvy), simple syrup and club soda.)

I don’t recall hearing Collins, who did radio until 1972, did two more years on TV, and then did the Brewers’ first cable TV broadcasts for the SelecTV subscription service in 1981 (available only in the Milwaukee area) with current Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione. He was more of a broadcaster than a sportscaster in that he was in Milwaukee radio outside the Brewers and, for their last three years of existence, the Milwaukee Braves.)

So why do I recall this announcer, eulogized in the New York Times?

I had never met Bob Wolff, who died Saturday night, but like many people in the New York and Washington sports markets, I knew Bob. To me, he was the television voice of the Knicks during their 1970 and 1973 N.B.A. championship runs. To fans of the Washington Senators, he was the voice of a franchise from 1947 to 1961 (including its first season as the Minnesota Twins) that was invariably awful.

And for just about everyone who listened to him over the course of a remarkably long career, he was that smart, joyful, genial voice who loved what he was doing, who worked hard to appear that he wasn’t working hard, who made you feel that there was a friend behind the microphone. …

Later in 1990, I drove out to his apartment, which overlooked the Tappan Zee Bridge in South Nyack, N.Y. On his dining room table on that autumn afternoon was a single object: a cassette recorder. Inside it was a tape of the radio broadcast of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, [Don] Larsen versus Sal Maglie of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Let’s listen,” Wolff said.

He turned it on and we concentrated as if the game were happening for the first time. Bob leaned toward the recorder as if he had not heard the game — as if he had not called it.

But there was the voice of the then 35-year-old Wolff, calling the second half of the game after Bob Neal had finished the first half. Wolff got the better of the deal. It was enthralling to listen to the game for the first time across the table from this very exuberant man who often told me how he equated calling games to singing, how his voice rose and fell with the events of the game, how he hit his high notes with the enthusiasm of a tenor onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

He did not declare Larsen’s gem perfect until the final out. But when it ended, he excitedly said, “Man, oh man, how about that, a perfect game for Don Larsen!”

Two years later, he was again in the right place at the right time when he called the 1958 N.F.L. championship game won in overtime by the Baltimore Colts, 23-17, over the Giants. “The Colts are the world champions — Ameche scores!

And if you listen, you will hear his voice begin to crescendo before landing on those last two words. It was a lyric to Wolff, not a call — words to sing, not shout.

These are transitional times in sportscasting. Vin Scully (whose birth date, Nov. 29, was the same as Wolff’s) retired from the Dodgers last year after 67 seasons. Verne Lundquist and Chris Berman have drastically scaled back their workload (and Berman’s wife, Kathy, died in a car crash in May). Brent Musburger left the booth to join his family’s sports handicapping business.

But Wolff’s death ended a remarkable era. He began his career on radio while at Duke in 1939 and ended it with a commentary in February on News 12 Long Island. He had not retired, not at 96, when he still had something to say or an event to cover. No sportscaster has had a longer career — Guinness World Records backs up that claim — and few have had one that was more varied.

A long time ago, Wolff followed with fidelity the advice of his college baseball coach when he asked him what he thought of his chances of playing in the major leagues.

“If you want to make it to the majors,” the coach told him, “keep talking.”

So he did. Wolff was a generalist who called football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and he was a deft and friendly interviewer whose subjects included Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. One of his more intriguing ventures began on road trips with the Senators: It resulted in the formation of a choral group, with Wolff on his ukulele, and players like Jim Lemon, Roy Sievers and Tex Clevenger singing along.

“We’d be on the train singing, and I’d do some harmony groups,” he told The Washington Post in 2005. “Over time, because guys got traded or retired, I had three different groups, and the last one actually went on the ‘Today’ show.”

In 1995, Wolff soloed in a hotel bar in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the night before he received the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He propped his foot on a chair and accompanied himself on “When You’re Smiling,” “Heart of My Heart” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

After the applause died down, he said, “You folks obviously know talent.”

And as his father sat down, Rick Wolff jokingly said, “Now you know what we grew up with.”

So many of us grew up with him as well: a decent, hardworking sportscaster and entertainer with the heart of a journalist and the soul of a happy ham.

Because Wolff’s list of assignments included the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, held in Madison Square Garden and covered by MSG, formerly carried by USA Network. He also announced the 1958 World Series with Collins’ former Braves partner, Earl Gillespie:

 

Start National Junk Food day with …

I will be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ideas Network’s Joy Cardin Week in Review segment today at 8 a.m.

As I keep saying, Joy Cardin and all the other Ideas Network programming can be heard on WLBL (930 AM) in Auburndale, WHID (88.1 FM) in Green Bay, WHWC (88.3 FM) in Menomonie, WRFW (88.7 FM) in River Falls, WEPS (88.9 FM) in Elgin, Ill., WHAA (89.1 FM) in Adams, WHBM (90.3 FM) in Park Falls, WHLA (90.3 FM) in La Crosse, WRST (90.3 FM) in Oshkosh, WHAD (90.7 FM) in Delafield, W215AQ (90.9 FM) in Middleton, KUWS (91.3 FM) in Superior, WHHI (91.3 FM) in Highland, WSHS (91.7 FM) in Sheboygan, WHDI (91.9 FM) in Sister Bay, WLBL (91.9 FM) in Wausau, W275AF (102.9 FM) in Ashland, W300BM (107.9 FM) in Madison, and of course online at www.wpr.org.

My opponent is former state Rep. Spencer Black (D–Madison), thus allowing me to indulge my loathing for my hometown.

This being public radio and a serious show, here is something you will not hear today, from Rick McNeal and Len Nelson of WAPL (105.7 FM) in Appleton, who each Friday morning present the Weenie of the Week (and sometimes second-place Cocktail Frank of the Week):

HELP! I’m having a hard time deciding who should be this week’s Rick and Len Show Weenie of the Week. Remember, to be WotW all you need is to do is to have donesomething “weenie-like” in Wisconsin or specifically affecting Wisconsin during the past week. This week we have six solid possibilities, so far, and I can’t make up my mind. What are your thoughts about which of the six should be our Weenie?

1. The captain who crashed his ship into the Ray Nitschke Bridge in Green Bay Sunday.
2. The still-at-large culprit who stole a rare Russian tortoise from the Menominee Park Zoo in Oshkosh.
3. The Manitowoc alderman who, after allegedly driving drunk, was arrested attempting to climb a 50 foot fiberglass cow.
4. The La Crosse man who called police to report the batch of meth he was sold was bad.
5. The Oshkosh man who reportedly broke into an Appleton home, drank their whiskey and ate their blueberry muffins before taking off his clothes and sleeping naked in the homeowners bed.
6. The reportedly drunk and stoned Manitowoc man who was standing naked in the street and allegedly threatening to “gut his neighbors with a knife” before having his facial and chest hair catch fire when police accidentally hit his cigarette lighter while attempting to taser him.

Your thoughts?

I posted that all six should be Weenies of the Week, not to give each Millennial-style participation trophies, but because each of the six by himself would deserve to be the WOTW. All six of these occurred in the same week. (Who do you call to report bad met, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection?) It would be an offense against humanity if all six were not (dis)honored for their affronts to public decorum.

The media vs. the market

James Freeman:

Skepticism toward the media is most often associated with conservatives in Middle America, some of whom eat something other than artisanal sandwiches. But this week brings more evidence that investors worldwide have become very reluctant to buy what many established news organizations are selling. How else to explain the collective shrug of the shoulders in financial markets to the latest breathless media reports about alleged collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia?

Such reports have dominated this week’s news as much of the professional commentariat has pondered out loud whether treason has been committed in the President’s inner circle. Yet after an ever-so-slight hiccup on Tuesday following Donald Trump Jr.’s release of emails regarding a meeting he took last June with a Russian lawyer, stocks drifted higher. Since then, investors have spent much of their time parsing the remarks of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.Reassured by her questionable suggestion that interest rates won’t have to rise very fast or very far in the years ahead, they continue to keep market indexes near record levels.

Investors in the aggregate obviously don’t believe that the republic is coming to an end, nor do they seem to expect a wrenching change in U.S. leadership. There have been similar episodes over the last several months of sharp divergence between the collective analytical judgment of journalists and that of investors. This era of reported turmoil has been marked by a striking lack of volatility in the financial markets. Stocks aren’t cheap by historical standards and corrections do happen.

Yet the world’s investors still like U.S. equities, despite constant media reports that U.S. constitutional governance is hanging in the balance. Now let’s look at the general population in the U.S. A new report from the Pew Research Center also suggests that the news media’s credibility problem reaches well beyond the hard-core MAGA crowd. A full 85% of Republicans and those who lean Republican have a negative view of the national news media. And even among Democrats and those who lean Democratic, the press corps is underwater, with 46% holding a negative view compared to 44% holding a positive one.

Each respondent may distrust the media for a different reason. And perhaps investors are not so much ignoring the reported news as they are trying to strike a balance between conflicting reports. For example, let’s say that an investor has concluded that the New York Times and the Washington Times are equally trustworthy. A reader of this story from the New York paper is bound to take away a very pessimistic view of the current White House:

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump’s advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last. It culminated on Tuesday with a release of emails making clear that Mr. Trump’s son believed the Russian lawyer was seeking to meet with him to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The Russia story has become the brier patch from which the president seemingly cannot escape.

But an investor reading this Washington Times story published the same day may conclude that the real danger to the republic was narrowly avoided last November:

While the mainstream news media hunts for evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, the public record shows that Democrats have willfully used Moscow disinformation to influence the presidential election against Donald Trump and attack his administration.

The disinformation came in the form of a Russian-fed dossier written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. It contains a series of unverified criminal charges against Mr. Trump’s campaign aides, such as coordinating Moscow’s hacking of Democratic Party computers.

Some Democrats have widely circulated the discredited information. Mr. Steele was paid by the Democrat-funded opposition research firm Fusion GPS with money from a Hillary Clinton backer. Fusion GPS distributed the dossier among Democrats and journalists. The information fell into the hands of the FBI, which used it in part to investigate Mr. Trump’s campaign aides.

Mr. Steele makes clear that his unproven charges came almost exclusively from sources linked to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He identified his sources as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” a former “top level Russian intelligence officer active inside the Kremlin,” a “senior Kremlin official” and a “senior Russian government official.”

While investors may be unnerved to learn how many political operators of both parties seem eager to glean opposition research from Russian sources, they apparently still don’t see it as a threat to American prosperity, or the rule of law on which it depends.

The Roddenberry Box

At the risk of generalizing, fans of the original Star Trek series have not been happy with the J.J. Abrams-led reboot, and they haven’t been particularly happy with the prospect of the Star Trek: Discovery TV series.

Entertainment Weekly gives those fans ammunition, perhaps:

Star Trek: Discovery is shedding a creative restriction that’s long frustrated top writers on previous shows in the franchise.

Showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg — working from a creative roadmap laid out by executive producer Bryan Fuller — are delivering a Trek saga that gets rid of one the franchise’s decades-old limitations in an effort to evolve the series.

As part of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future (and one that Trek franchise executive producer Rick Berman carried on after Roddenberry’s death in 1991), writers on Trek shows were urged to avoid having Starfleet crew members in significant conflict with one another (unless a crew member is, say, possessed by an alien force), or from being shown in any seriously negative way.

This guideline wasn’t strictly followed across all 700 previous franchise episodes, of course. But in an aspirational effort to make the future more idyllic, Starfleet crew members typically weren’t supposed to demonstrate baser human flaws. For writers on Trek shows, the restriction has been a point of behind-the-scenes contention (one TNG and Voyager writer, Michael Piller, famously dubbed it “Roddenberry’s Box”). Drama is conflict, after all, and if all the conflict stems from non-Starfleet members on a show whose regular cast consists almost entirely of Starfleet officers, it hugely limits the types of stories that can be told.

So for the CBS All Access series coming Sept. 26, that restriction has been lifted and the writers are allowed to tell types of stories that were discouraged for decades.

“We’re trying to do stories that are complicated, with characters with strong points of view and strong passions,” Harberts said. “People have to make mistakes — mistakes are still going to be made in the future. We’re still going to argue in the future.”

“The rules of Starfleet remain the same,” Berg added. “But while we’re human or alien in various ways, none of us are perfect.”

The handling of these inner-Starfleet conflicts will still draw inspiration from Roddenberry’s ideals, however. “The thing we’re taking from Roddenberry is how we solve those conflicts,” Harberts said. “So we do have our characters in conflict, we do have them struggling with each other, but it’s about how they find a solution and work through their problems.” …

There’s also the fact the last Trek series (Star Trek: Enterprise) went off the air 12 years ago and the TV drama storytelling has evolved to be more realistic since then — and so has sci-fi. A former Trek writer, Ron Moore (who, like Piller, was outspoken about Trek‘s limitations), conceived of his acclaimed 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot as a way of telling the types of morally murky stories that Deep Space Nine and Voyager wouldn’t allow. Moore, Piller and Discovery‘s Fuller all worked on late 1990s Trek shows, collectively trying to push the format’s creative envelope in bold new ways. Mind you, Discovery isn’t nearly as dark as BSG — it’s very much Star Trek and Starfleet officers have still evolved in all respects from where we are now. As always, they’re admirable people you wish you knew in real life. But the show will also depict a wider and more realistic bandwidth of human (and alien!) drama.

It may well be that this is EW’s attempt to hype the series, possibly for money. So keep that grain of salt in mind as you read on.

The no-conflict rule, like the Prime Directive, was honored more in theory than in practice, particularly in The Original Series. It was beyond doubt the worst feature of The Next Generation. When you have to import conflict by importing aliens, that’s writer laziness. Starfleet, remember, is, or will be, a semi-military organization. Conflict exists in the military, but subordinates follow lawful orders and respect the rank, if not necessarily the person holding the rank.

The Roddenberry Box is one of several Star Trek weaknesses that will probably not be fixed. Humans have existed for between thousands and millions of years, depending on your religious and scientific worldview. The idea that humans will evolve beyond conflict in just 300 or so years makes as much sense as the TOS episode “Spock’s Brain.” (How are we evolving with conflict now?) Roddenberry was as wrong as the creators of the Progressive Era in their mistaken belief that mankind can be improved.

The answer to this and the supposed evolution away from capitalism is that thanks to replicators, to quote Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in TNG’s “The Neutral Zone,” “We have eliminated need.” I’ve written before here how ludicrous that is. Basically if resources are unlimited, there should be no need for an all-powerful Federation and its Starfleet enforcement arm to administer those unlimited resources. Since not everyone in the Federation has a starship, obviously resources are in fact scarce.

The concern Star Trek fans have, and this is a valid concern, is that the new Star Trek will be full of the reboots’ explosions and lens flares, with bad stories and none of what made TOS and TNG work — the relationships between characters. (Sci-fi fans know that the Battlestar Galactica reboot was closer to “House of Cards” than to the original.) The no-conflict rule was a bad idea, but going completely in the opposite direction — say, the first officer scheming against her captain, or lieutenants looking to undercut each other — is no better.

As for how else to do a better Star Trek, read here.