Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2009

Five rabbis, three mayors, and two state Assemblymen walk into a bar…wait, you’ve heard that one? Okay, how about: a councilman and a businessman meet in a diner? That too? What about the one about the developer, the adulterous brother-in-law and the hit-man or the governor and the boyfriend he put in charge of Homeland Security, or the Senator and the Korean entrepreneur or the union official and the…never mind. You’ve obviously heard them all. If you haven’t, read “The Soprano State, New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption” by Bob Ingel and Sandy McClure. The book never goes out of date; they just keep releasing new versions.   

The Soprano State

As anyone who is paying attention knows (and if you aren’t, New Jersey will grab you by the lapels and get all up in your face until you are), 44 people were indicted on bank fraud and corruption that involved land, body parts, and wads of cash stuffed in pockets, envelopes, and even a box of Apple Jacks. As New Jersey’s acting US attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. noted, “They existed in an ethics-free zone” which New Jersey apparently provides without the onerous taxes imposed on the rest of its citizens. No matter, btw, that some of the leading figures were from Brooklyn; Jersey will take the hit. arrest

I live in New Jersey and I’m not alone in wishing my home state would stop supplying fodder for late-night comedians (although I’m secretly hoping Andy Borowitz takes it up). But seriously, the culture of corruption is so entrenched in the Garden State, that, as Mr. Marra pointed out, the good citizens “don’t have a chance…”

I have a good friend who, though not by nature a paranoid person, pointed out something else perhaps  no one is going to address, at least not publicly: the perpetrators of this scheme appear to be Jewish. They were devout, but their devotion seems to be to the Almighty dollar. On top of madoffMadoff, this is, to my friend’s way of thinking, a disaster for anyone identified as a Jew, which would include me, notwithstanding I am thoroughly lapsed.

It hadn’t occurred to me that this could at all be tied to me. Who stereotypes like that? People stereotype in other ways (“Oh, that explains your sense of humor”) but that can’t be all bad. And yet, looking at the picture in the Times, I felt a familiar tightening of the stomach. (I also thought for some reason of a busload of elderly New York Jews heading to Atlantic City but never mind). Here we go again: Jews and money. Money and Jews. Fraud and deceit and manipulation and money laundering and Jews. Evil Empire, economic manipulation, Zionist plot, world domination. Shylock. Shylock

I know, paranoid, right? This kind of scandal hurts lots of people. Italians who are sick of being caricatured as characters out of an HBO series. Women who don’t have big hair and lots of jewelry. Long-time residents who love the state. Politicians who are just trying to do their jobs honestly. It’s about assumptions and greed and entitlement and perhaps an environment that makes it far too easy to take the money and run. I can always move to North Carolina or wherever fed-up New Jersey residents are flocking these days.

My friend is blunt: “These guys are perpetrating an image that infuriates people. And let’s not forget what happens when people become infuriated with Jews and blame them for their problems.”  Paranoid? It is. Still, one hates to feed the beast.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

When I was growing up, my dad got his news from three newspapers and three men on television. The newspapers and networks were owned by different people who had this in common: their main business was not energy or entertainment but rather, news. H&B

The three men were the veteran team of  Chet Huntley and David Brinkley over on NBC and, on CBS, the singular Walter Cronkite. My dad favored the Huntley/Brinkley report, perhaps because it so deftly combined a Washington insider feel (courtesy of Brinkley) with solid reporting on the rest of the world (Huntley’s turf). But it was hard not to watch Cronkite during the momentous events, of which there were many in the sixties and seventies. Cronkite’s style – his voice, his less than perfect face, the way he seemed on the verge of chuckling – was reassuring, even when covering the pain of the Kennedy assassination or the morass that represented the Vietnam War. His delight at the moon WK1landing was evident and paralleled our own. He would not – could not – give us the news without some sort of reaction, sometimes subtly (raising an eyebrow, removing his glasses to wipe away a tear), sometimes quite overtly (his comments about the progress of the Vietnam War). Were his reactions “appropriate” for a newscaster? No matter, they made him human, accessible, familiar and then, to millions of Americans something more:  the most trusted man in America.

That’s a heavily symbolic role to assume and Cronkite was apparently modest about assuming it. True, he spent a long time in the public eye during a continuing series of historic events. He was a part of the halcyon days of the television news program. Certainly luck and timing were responsible for his becoming so well-known and well-regarded. Brinkley broadcast during those years as well and so did Sam Donaldson over on ABC but it was Cronkite who became the icon. Perhaps the trust we placed in him spoke to our desperate need for something or someone we could count on. Nowadays, we still have that need, but we’re more likely to believe in a celebrity or a spiritualist or our personal shrink. Then, at that time in history, perhaps, it was inevitable that we would choose to invest our faith in an anchorman with a distinctive style who delivered – and occasionally showed us he was affected by – the news of the day. WK2

Read Full Post »

I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.

 

I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

Read Full Post »

 

 This July 4th,  my sister and I have been invited to help organizers of a large-scale program at the Statue of Liberty to mark the reopening of the crown for the first time in eight years.
LibertyAssorted dignitaries and invited guests are expected; some will make speeches, a marching band will play, and various veterans’ representatives will be recognized. The ceremonies will also include a group of immigrants to be sworn in. 
 I am unaccountably excited this year.  I’ve always loved parades and fireworks and hometown celebrations; I plan to catch as many as I can in and around my small community, whose fireworks over the lake are pretty terrific.  Macy’s just shifted their display over to the west side, which gives those of us from New Jersey a shot at some terrific views. 
fireworks     parade1  
July 4th by its very nature reminds me of our origins  –  of our Founding Fathers, of liberty and law, of the ideals we hold so dear and in all sincerity, of spaciousness and graciousnessEllis Island passengers on ship3a13598uw and American exceptionalism, by which I mean the remarkable confluence of history, resources, and governance and most of all, the faces of the new arrivals to this country (like my grandparents) when they first glimpsed the face of the woman with the torch. Like the faces of the new citizens will look when they are sworn in on Saturday.
The festivities this year feel hard-earned, well-deserved, and special. I honestly believe we’ve made some enormous steps in the right direction as a nation. Yes, we’re in the middle of some hard times and we’re not coming together on common ground as much as one might have hoped; there’s still far too much rancor and fear.
Then again, where but in America are you going to have an O’Reilly and an Oberman? Where else would people stay relatively patient and calm over eight excruciating months in order to find out who their representative would be, as did the good people of Minnesota? new citizensWhere else are you going to see so many people representing so much diversity waving flags and singing the national anthem and wearing red, white and blue with such pride?
 
There’s one other thing: The crown is opening for the first time since September 11, 2001. That has special resonance for me. After 9/11, our country’s leaders projected at various times, belligerence, defiance, or cluelessness. It seemed like such an awful way to remember those who died that day, including my husband, or to show the world what America could do, could be. But we survived and thrived and these days I feel strongly that we’re putting forth a truer vision of America than ever before, a vision of hope, opportunity, and resilience.
The philosophy behind the attacks had much to do with conformity, a single-minded belief system, a raft of fixed and preconceived notions about how the world is or should be. What Lady Liberty says, from her head to her toes, is just the opposite. She symbolizes tolerance, freedom, and the willingness to adapt, adopt, and change. That’s the America a groups of immigrants will join Saturday morning.  I can’t wait to see them become citizens under the watchful gaze of our most famous Statue.  

 

Liberty

 

On July 4th, 2009, a morning of festivities at the Statue of Liberty will be capped (so to speak) by the reopening of the statue’s crown. On hand will be various dignitaries, assorted participants, from veterans to at least one marching band, and a group of new immigrants ready to become citizens under the benevolent gaze of Lady Liberty. 

July 4th feels different this year.  I’ve always loved parades and hometown celebrations; I plan to catch as many as I can in and around my small community.  paradeMacy’s just shifted their display over to the west side, which gives those of us from New Jersey a shot at some terrific views. fireworks

 

July 4th by its very nature reminds me of our origins  –  of our Founding Fathers, of liberty and law, of the ideals we hold so dear and in all sincerity, of spaciousness and graciousness and American exceptionalism, by which I mean the remarkable confluence of history, resources, and governance and most of all, the faces of the new arrivals to this country (like my grandparents) when they first glimpsed the face of the woman with the torch. Like the faces of the new citizens will look when they are sworn in on Saturday. Ellis Island passengers on ship3a13598uw

The festivities this year feel hard-earned, well-deserved, and special. I honestly believe we’ve made some enormous steps in the right direction as a nation. Yes, we’re in the middle of some hard times and we’re not coming together on common ground as much as one might have hoped; there’s still far too much rancor and fear.

Then again, where but in America are you going to have an O’Reilly and an Olbermann? Where else would people stay relatively patient and calm over eight excruciating months in order to find out who their representative would be, as did the good people of Minnesota? Where else are you going to see so many people representing so much diversity waving flags and singing the national anthem and wearing red, white and blue with such pride? new citizens

There’s one other thing: The crown is opening for the first time since September 11, 2001. That has special resonance for me. After 9/11, our country’s leaders projected at various times, belligerence, defiance, or cluelessness. It seemed like such an awful way to remember those who died that day, including my husband, or to show the world what America could do, could be. But we survived and thrived and these days I feel strongly that we’re putting forth a truer vision of America than ever before, a vision of hope, opportunity, and resilience.

The philosophy behind the attacks had much to do with conformity, a single-minded belief system, a raft of fixed and preconceived notions about how the world is or should be. What Lady Liberty says, from her head to her toes, is just the opposite. She symbolizes tolerance, freedom, and the willingness to adapt, adopt, and change. That’s the America a groups of immigrants will join Saturday morning.  

Statue - iconic

Read Full Post »