Monday, June 28, 2010

David Weigel, Journolist, and the Washington Post

There's so much to say, but let's start with this little dare from Weigel in his self-congratulatory, "I shall return" essay for Big Government:
No serious journalist has defended the leak of my private e-mails; no one who works in politics or journalism would accept a situation where the things they said off the record could immediately become public. (Side note: On a conservative listserv, there is, apparently, an internal debate going on about leaks, after I learned of its existence and content. These conservatives have not opted to publish their private e-mails, and they shouldn’t.) But no serious journalist — as I want to be, as I am — should be so rude about the people he covers.
I'll take that action. Not only is the leak of Weigel's rantings defensible, it was nearly a professional duty for any serious reporters who witnessed them on Journolist. Not doing so is like having been at the infamous Strom Thurmond birthday party and deciding not to mention what Trent Lott said. Weigel was revealing himself on a (semi?) frequent basis to be something opposite what he was advertising to readers and the public. He was making himself a story. Hiding behind some sort of Journolist Omerta policy wouldn't fly for a person of note who was overheard making bigoted remarks at a private club. It shouldn't shield Weigel. Whoever leaked his writings was a whistleblower performing a public service.

(Also, "private emails" is a deceptive term of art. What Weigel was doing was more akin to posting on a bulletin board that he believed could never be seen by outsiders. Writing something that is read by a circle of 400 people, at least some of whom you have never had any formal contact with, is not sending a "private email.)

The Weigel incident creates so many unhappy questions--about why 20-somethings are encouraged to pontificate instead of report; about why the Post never even bothered to call someone at Reason and ask about their prospective hire; about why any media employer would tolerate reporters being participants in a project like Journolist. One of the niggling questions that bothers me is why, in the wake of scandal, people feel the need to air-brush fallen bright young things. Remember all the chin-tugging about Jayson Blair? Oh sure, he was a plagiarist (fabulist?), but it was a double tragedy because he was such an immense talent! Ditto Stephen Glass. There's a lot of this going around with Weigel: Oh, sure, he was privately a jerk making terribly uncouth generalizations about people he was supposed to be covering fairly, but the real tragedy is that he was such a great reporter!

Really? Maybe by the standards of blogging. I can't claim intimacy with his entire oeuvre, but I can't think of a single, blockbuster piece of Weigel's. David Grann? Great reporter. Matt Labash? Great reporter. Mark Bowden? Great reporter. On the next level down you have guys like Ryan Lizza and Tom Edsall. Below that, guys like the Politico crew and the platoon that does NYT and WSJ work. (Go read Brooks Barnes some time to see what great, every-day reporting looks like.) Below that I'd put a class of writers who deal with numbers and theory, as opposed to personalities and palace intrigue--people like Michael Barone and Jay Cost. They don't pound the shoe leather, but they spend a lot of time researching what they write.

It seems safe to say that Weigel would be so far down the list that it's not even worth doing the math. What people mean, I suppose, is that compared to other 20-something bloggers, Weigel makes more than the average number of phone calls and goes on more than the average number of field trips. And hey, that's great. We'd rather have more of that in the blog world. But let's not re-touch this in post to make him into Bob Woodward. Or Jeff Toobin. Or even Adam Nagourney, for that matter.

Finally, there's Ezra Klein's explanation that he needed to keep Journolist a liberals-only group in order to make it a safe-space, trust-tree, etc. This seems exactly wrong.

Being free from the consequences of your writing is rarely a good thing. Take a look at message boards that allow anonymous comments. It allows discourse to devolve into, well, ratfucking and back-biting. The best way to have kept a group like Journolist civil and productive would have been to put people together who had reason to mistrust one another. It would have encouraged self-policing and, if the circle was well-chosen, might have gotten participants to engage with the best of each other's arguments, rather than the worst. By larding up with fellow-travelers and pretending that the dialogue would always-and-forever be off-the-record, Klein was creating a rant box, doomed to implode exactly as it now has.

For whatever it's worth, the idea of having smart people openly engaging one another on topics of great import and in good faith is worth pursuing. And there is a fantastic conservative version of it, too.

It's called the Claremont Review of Books.

Update: Say what you will about Ross Douthat, but he'll never be a traitor to his class. After defending Weigel initially, Douthat now calls Weigel's "I shall return" essay "a model mea culpa: Forthright and self-critical rather than defensive and self-justifying." Sure.
"I’m a reporter. I’ve been a reporter since high school."
"It was the hubris of someone who rose — objectively speaking — a bit too fast . . ."
"Anyone who wanted to force me out of this business will have to settle for the consolation prize of me having to tediously inform sources of a new e-mail address."
And that leaves aside Weigel's coloring of his firing from Reason to make himself a martyr--which does not square with Matt Welch's version of events.

Douthat then defends Weigel by saying that lots of other Journolist participants surely said worse and didn't lose their jobs, so Weigel shouldn't have lost his. Okay. Of course, there are people walking around today who committed murder and were never caught. Should the justice system not prosecute someone who is discovered committing robbery? 

Finally, Douthat can't help referring to Weigel as a "talented reporter." QED, this says more about Douthat's work, than it does about Weigel's.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ron Fournier Is Andrew Sullivan's New Boss--Updated

Galley Friend P.G. sends word that Fournier has been named "editor in chief" of the National Journal Group. Who knows what that title implies in terms of org chart authority.

What we do know is that two years ago Sullivan wrote this about Fournier in an item headlined "The AP Going Fox?"
Ron Fournier's dramatic use of opinion in the first paragraph of the Biden story going out on all the wires is an aggressive Republican spin. Fournier has already weakened the AP's rep for pretty straight-up reportage. It just got a lot weaker. Last spring, by the way, Fournier was lambasting Obama for arrogance. Now, apparently, it's a lack of confidence. Whatever works, I guess. But please, get a blog.
Update: Boy, Sullivan really doesn't like Fournier. Makes you wonder how he could possibly--in good conscience--work under him.

On Fournier's skills as a political analyst.

On a Fournier column about the possibility of criminal charges being filed against Dick Cheney.

Anatomy of a Soccer Scold

Pursuant to this post from last week, Santino sends along the following to posts from Nation writer Dave Zirin. I'll let Santino do the talking:
Zirin on June 14: Conservatives should love soccer but don't, because they're racist.
Zirin on June 23: It's a shame conservatives love soccer so much right now because it promotes ugly American cultural hegemony.
You can't make this up. What you also can't make up is this bit from Zirin's post yesterday:
I was watching the game in the offices at National Public Radio in Washington, DC, waiting to go on the air to discuss the outcome. Remember, this is NPR: the station that defines calm, even-tempered talk. Let's just say that almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.
They don't shout or cheer at NPR. They "yelp."

Also precious, but not quite as fantastic is Zirin proclaiming:
The United States is not my favorite team by a long stretch. I'm an Argentina guy, myself. 
But of course.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In-Game Alert: Isner vs. Mahut

If you're able, go find some Wimbledon coverage. Jon Isner is all knotted up at 43-43 against Nicolas Mahut in the fifth.

You read that right.

Match time approaching 8 hours. Isner has 85 aces and is 73 of 112 net points. Serving at 73 percent.


Update: The decision to suspend play was exactly right. You don't want a match--particularly a historical epic like this one--to be decided by low-light. (Which is a problem not just for the players, but for the linesmen.) Mahut shouldn't have had to ask for it, though. I would have hoped that the tournament referee would have been thinking through the decision since about 50-50.

The stats on the match are really impressive. Isner served at 74 percent for the affair so far. Both players are something like +170 on winners/unforced errors. Only 2 breaks of serve total (none since the second set) and only 16 total break chances. That's pretty clean tennis for a couple of guys who must be about to drop for exhaustion.

My default setting is to root for Isner. But after watching Mahut give up his body on those two ridiculous dives--who dives on the baseline?--his fighting spirit and reckless disregard for injury were mighty impressive. Isner was clearly trying to manage his service games and coast where he could. Mahut was fighting for every point. God bless the both of them.

It will be terrible to see someone lose tomorrow. I'm reminded of something the great Dikembe Mutombo said during Game 7 of the 1994 Finals. During half-time, Mutombo was asked about Ewing and Olajuwon and Deke said (I'm quoting from memory, so this may not be quite right), "It it like seeing two great men in the desert who come upon a glass of water and you wish so badly that they both could drink."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Contra Walter Russell Mead

WRM has a typically incisive post on Brazil's retreat from its Iranian indiscretion. However, he includes this strange note:

[t]he light and casual way in which the world’s pundits (many of them utterly ignorant about Brazil’s long history of diplomatic disappointment) concluded from a single, ill-advised diplomatic initiative that Brazil had decisively changed its place in the world is evidence of just how little reflection and experience goes into world politics today.
Second, we should think about why so much commentary (and, unfortunately, serious policy making) is so frequently seduced by quick and silly analysis. 
Says the writer with Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds placed prominently on his blog roll. (Go ahead and look. I'm serious.)
The answer to Mead's question--or at least a very large part of the answer--is the internet, which favors speed over deliberation and rewards people like Andrew Sullivan rather than people like, well, Walter Russell Mead.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Manute Bol, RIP

I note with sadness the passing of Manute Bol, one of the great characters of the NBA. More importantly, he was the sport's most courageous humanitarian. His life serves as something of an indictment to many current players.

I saw him play once as a kid. The Bullets were visiting the Sixers at the Spectrum and I was there way early. Before the pre-game shoot around, Bol came out to shoot on his. I watched as he bombed away from the 3-point line for several minutes. I don't think he made a single one. Sometimes his shots would miss everything. I think he clanged one off the top of the backboard.

Despite being 7'7", Bol wanted to be a 3-point threat. So much so that during the 1988-1989 season he took 91 attempts from behind the arc. Just think about that for a minute.

What's really amazing is that he finished his career shooting .210 from 3-point range. (In his final season he was a gaudy 3 for 5.) .210 doesn't sound like much, but I doubt I could ever get that accurate, while being defended, from the old NBA distance. Like everything else in his life, it was a testament to a man who believed--really and truly, not simply as a sentiment--that anything is possible.

Top Gun

Caught a large chunk of Top Gun in Glorious High-Definition over the weekend, and a few thoughts occur to me:

* You could argue that the movie would not have succeeded without the brilliant second-unit photography which opens the film. It's gorgeous, amazing stuff and it captures the world of naval aviators better than anything which follows it. In fact, without it I don't know that the rest of the movie really works. I wonder if Tony Scott did it himself or let one of the assistant DP's do it, as is usual.

* If Top Gun was made today, it would be heavily reliant on CGI effects and it would be lousy. Nothing reminds you of the limits of CGI like seeing real planes flying. Sure, you don't get the sexy camerawork, you don't get missile-eye POV shots, you don't get long, arial tracking shots that swing around one plane and then zoom to another.

What you do get, however, is infinitely more powerful.

* It is nearly inconceivable that the movie never got a sequel. A sequel would have been terrible, of course. But if Top Gun was released today, no studio head alive would be able to resist trying to turn it into a franchise.

* I've said it before and I'll say it again: We'll all be sad when we don't have Tom Cruise to kick around as a leading man anymore. He's not a great actor, but he's always better than he has to be. And unlike most of his contemporaries, he takes being a movie star seriously: He never, ever mails it in. And even when he's bad, he adds value.

* Also adding value: Michael Ironside. In every damn scene he's in. Nothing against Tom Skerritt, but I'll bet that Ironside also read for the Viper role. And if it had been up to me, I would have switched those parts.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chris Nolan Speaks

AICN has the transcript. Some interesting stuff. Most tantalizing insight:

He doesn’t have email or cell phone. “It gives me a little more time to think.”

Makes you love him all the more. Also, he has reservations about 3D at the technical level:

“On a technical level I think it’s fascinating. On an experiential level I find the dimness of the image extremely alienating. The truth of it is, when you watch a film you’re looking at 16 foot-lamberts. When you watch it through any of the conventional 3-D processes you get about 3 foot-lamberts. It’s a massive difference.

You’re not that aware of it because once you’re in that world your eye compensates, but having struggled for years to get theaters to get up to the proper brightness you’re now sticking polarized filters into this thing and we’re going back worse than we were.”

- Also from a shooting standpoint, Nolan has even more issues with 3-D: “It requires shooting on video, if you mask it to 2.40 you’re only getting 800 or 900 lines of resolution. You have to use a beam-splitter.”

- Nolan doesn’t use use zoom lenses, only primes, because the image quality isn’t sharp enough on the long end of a zoom, so the idea of shooting a whole film through a beam-splitter doesn’t appeal to him. “There are enormous compromises, in other words.”

"Nothing that a good set of leggings can't cover."

Arrested Development is back in the saddle, thanks to Orbit.

It's not selling out if it's funny.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Join me, and together we will . . .

And you think I take Star Wars too seriously? Galley Friend T.J. sends notice that a team of French psychiatrists have released a study concluding that Darth Vader was mentally ill.
their report, which was recently published in the medical journal Psychiatry Research, concludes that young Anakin Skywalker exhibited behavior that is consistent with borderline personality disorder, which may in turn explain his decision to embrace the dark side and become Emperor Palpatine's apprentice. 
American shrinks are pushing back, though:

"Anakin shows borderline traits, but these do not persist into his adulthood," UCLA psychiatrist Dr. H. Eric Bender said. "It's important to note that any person, when put in highly stressful situations, may display certain traits, such as impulsivity, which are associated with borderline personality disorder." The paper, he said, failed to prove that Skywalker had "enduring and maladaptive patterns" over the course of his entire lifetime, which would be necessary to adopt a formal diagnosis. 
Dr. Sue Varma, assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone School of Medicine, agrees.
"Teenagers are impulsive and can practice risky behavior," she said. "They are trying to find out who they are and in playing around with identities, they show characteristics similar to borderline. But this is not enough for a diagnosis. Most teens come out the other side by their 20s."

Geeks Gone Wild

Galley Reader M.C. sends along this fantastic story about how the Rube Goldberg contraption in the instant-classic OK Go video was built. Turns out, it was partly some NASA scientists geeking out in their spare time:
There were a few guiding principles behind the machine. No magic: Mechanisms should be understandable and built from found objects where possible. Small to big: The size of the modules and parts becomes bigger over the course of the video. One take: As in their other videos, the band wanted the entire piece shot in one piece by a single handheld camera. . . .
We learned something very important about physics in the process of making this video. It is much harder to make small things reliable. Temperature, friction, even dust all greatly effect the repeatability and timing of the small stuff. The first minute of the video failed at a rate that was tenfold of the rest of the machine. Remembering that rule about getting everything in one shot -- if your module is further down the line in the video, you're in big trouble if it doesn't work! The machine took half an hour and 20 people to reset. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Ritual Attack of the Soccer Scolds

It's happening again.

The most puzzling part of anti-American soccer obsession is that it's not like Americans don't like the game of soccer. We all play it at the youth level and--for the most part--have a good time. It's just that we graduate up to other sports and don't have much of an appetite for soccer played at the elite level.

And what's wrong with that? Our interest level in soccer is the mirror image of our interest level in football, which, comparatively few people play at the youth level, but which has great popularity at the professional level.

But the thing is, you never hear football--or baseball, or ultimate frisbee, or tennis, or cycling, or hockey, or curling--or any other kind of fans railing against people who don't share their passion as if there's something morally and politically wrong with them. Why is it that soccer fans care so much about what American's don't care about?

We'll never know.

I, for one, choose to be soccer agnostic in an attempt to facilitate world peace. Imagine, for a moment, if Americans really did care about high-level soccer and put real effort into producing professional-caliber players.

Now imagine what would have happened if, in 2006, the U.S. had won the World Cup with the dastardly George W. Bush as president!

Really, the rest of the world should be grateful that we don't care about their sport.

Update: The Czabe holds forth on why soccer doesn't blow his skirt up:

There are many stupid things about soccer, but the lack of scoring remains the stupidest.
A 1-0 deficit, and your side is playing with the burden of 11 elephants on their backs.
A 2-0 deficit and you are now just out there getting some exercise.
A 3-0 defeat and the newspapers back home will call you an “embarassment.”
This level of scoring just doesn't make sense. It is so hard to score in soccer, it would be like basketball played on 30 foot rims.
Soccer eliminates the most fundamentally exciting thing about sports: the comeback.

Tom Bissell

Elsewhere I have a review of Tom Bissell's very interesting new book Extra Lives. Extra Lives is something new, I think: a travel book about video games. If you're interested in games qua games, I highly recommend it.

The most interesting section is about Jonathan Blow's Braid and the problem of dynamical meaning in video-game narrative. It's worth the price of the book on its own.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From the Vault

Was talking with someone about the (criminally underrated) Minority Report the other day and immediately thought of Peter Stormare's crazy, off-kilter performance in it, which is pleasantly unsettles the film and creates the kind of nearly-out-of-control atmosphere which you never see in Spielberg pictures.

And like Dennis Hopper, I'd argue that one of Stormare's finest performances is in a commercial. What time is it?

Time to un-pimp za auto . . .

Pure. Gold.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

For NYC Readers

I just got my copy of Galley Friend and Superstar Foodie Sherri Eisenberg's book about Brooklyn restaurants, The Food Lovers' Guide to Brooklyn.

If you live in (or visit) New York a lot, I highly recommend it.

Sherri has a blog about the book which is a fun read, too.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Galley Friend and Super Smark A.H. just passed along the most interesting article on steroids I've ever seen: A 2003 Stuart Stevens piece in Outside:
I'd read reams about cheating as an issue, but I'd never read anything describing what it felt like to do it. Obviously, the allure of victory was incredibly powerful—why else would the best athletes in the world risk their health and lives abusing these drugs? So I wondered, Do performance drugs make you just 1 percent faster and stronger? Or 10 percent? Are the enhancements so subtle that only elite athletes gain an edge, or are they powerful enough that an everyday wannabe like me would notice a dramatic change?
What follows is the author's story of spending a year taking roids, and describing the experience. Fantastic stuff.

Update: Galley Reader J.O. says that this Sports Illustrated piece (mentioned only in passing in the Outside essay) is even better.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Belated Dennis Hopper

It says something--though I'm not sure what--that a large part of what people under a certain age remember most about Dennis Hopper is his Nike commercials.

That said, those commercials provided Galley Brother B.J. and I with hours of catch-phrase enjoyment: "I hear the footsteps." "Like a freight-train--with stick-um!" "Like cosmic twins."

Pure gold.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Just for the Record

I had the Clintons plus the points.

Also, I take it all back: Federer is clearly still an untouchable giant at the height of his powers.

PS: Hatred for The Swiss? Commenter A.K. doesn't quite know what he's talking about . . .