We’re not where we used to be

You should be redirected to the new address. If that doesn't happen in a second, visit
Oh, and update your bookmarks. Thanks.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Migration in progress: Short Sharp Shock

After almost five and a half years, it's time for a change. Culchavox is now Short Sharp Shock (with all apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan, whom Pink Floyd owe an apology as well). Everything put together here in that time — from politics to pop culture, commentary on global affairs to analysis of America's wrestle with race and ethnicity — is in a new place.

The reason? Partly visceral -- I got tired of explaining what it meant and how to say it -- and partly strategic. I'm developing a new site, CULCHA, meant to be the seed of what could be something different for the Internets: crowd-powered entertainment news and reviews, social media and a few other wrinkles still in the works. It's in beta, but feel free to have a look anyway.

So ... it's not goodbye. We're just moving across the street. Come peek in the window if you're so inclined. Thanks for all you do.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three takes on 4/20

What the hell is it about the twentieth of April anyway. For generations now the 110th day of the year has been a source of fascination bordering on … well, not bordering on anything so much as tipped over into obsession. For numerologists, the number 420 has meant deception, fraud and subterfuge. Fans of nursery rhymes point to the line in “Sing a Song of Sixpence” (four and twenty black birds baked in a pie”). Fans of rock point to Stephen Stills plaintive “4+20,” what you get when you multiply the numbers in the title of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

For the rest of us, the date April 20 usually, or at least often, comes to three things:

There’s Adolf’s birthday. Yes, even demons have birthdays. The enduring symbol of how the cult of personality can be twisted into monumental evil was born this day in 1889, in what was then Austria-Hungary. The rest is history more ably recounted elsewhere, and lived, to one degree or another, everywhere. It’s a comforting idea, the idea that by common consent any associations between Adolf Hitler and April 20 could be expunged from the record of our collective memory, the better to reinforce his expulsion from the garden of humanity.

But thanks to white supremacists a lot like those who descended on Los Angeles over the weekend for a thwarted demonstration at City Hall, or those who offer the Fuhrer hosannas on his natal day via Stormfront and other deep-extremist Web sites, the link between Hitler and April 20 is pretty much indelible and immovable, ready to inspire people to madness where you least expect it.

Like at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., 11 years ago today, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two seniors in black trenchcoated disguise, walked into the school cafeteria and shot and killed 13 people — 12 students and a teacher — with a stockpile of shotguns and pipe bombs, before turning the weapons on themselves.

It’s not clear if the Columbine killers had any specific affinity for Adolf Hitler. They clearly admired his work, and the fashion sense of the SS. And they had a grimly powerful read of how one brutal action can ring into the future for years, whether it’s one decade ago or 60 years in the past.

◊ ◊ ◊

Happily, we can thank stoner culture for another reason to remember 4/20. In 1971, a group of high school students in San Rafael, Calif., decided to gather one day after school at 4: 20 in the afternoon to smoke marijuana while searching for … a missing crop of marijuana thought to be growing near Point Reyes. Ryan Grim recounts their exploits in today’s Huffington Post.

Since then, herbal aficionados have gathered on 420 to celebrate cannabis culture and the increasingly confident movement toward decriminalization of marijuana. (My alma mater, the University of Colorado at Boulder, celebrates the day in high style; more than 10,000 students showed up at last year’s celebration. This year’s turnout? Depends on who you talk to.

From the Colorado Daily:
The university estimates that 8,000 people showed up for Tuesday's unofficial smoke-out, about the same number as last year, said Bronson Hilliard, spokesman for the Boulder campus. Police officers took the rough crowd measurement while standing on a top floor in Norlin Library so they could get a bird's-eye view of the quad, he said.
But Alex Douglas, executive director of the CU chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, estimates there were at least 15,000 people assembled on [Norlin Quad].
Whatever their actual number, we can thank this group of necessary yahoos for rescuing April 20 from being the downer that history says it should be.

“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot wrote in “The Waste Land.”

But not necessarily.

Image credits: Hitler: Deutsches Bundesarchiv. Klebold and Harris at Columbine: In-school closed circuit image from 1999. Marijuana: Chemistry World blog. Boulder 4/20 celebration smoker: Daily Camera/Mark Leffingwell.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alicia Keys, Monster Super Woman

Until the deadline closes for the position, the unemployed online have a new friend in our corner, and one of us maybe even has a job waiting. Thank Alicia Keys for that.

Recently, subscribers to the monster.com job search service got a pleasant wake-up call in the early morning monster posting: an ad by an employer seeking an employee. What an ad. What an employer:

Some things work better than coffee for putting steam in the morning stride. This has been one of them.

Ms. Keys seeks a “head blogger” for her new IAAS.com Web site, which will focus on news and empowerment advice for women. If you’ve got mad soash skills, Ms. Keys would like to hear from you and maybe put you to work helping her in reinventing her persona for the Web, and in expanding access to news pertinent to women online.

The vetting window closes on May 3.

Besides knowing Web culture and having an active blog or social site to prove that with, here’s some of what’s required:

A background in Public Relations, Marketing / Web Marketing, Media Relations, Communications, Journalism, Writing, Digital Media, Internet Canvassing, and/or Social Media.
• Experience using web development tools and software such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft on Demand, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, WordPress, LiveJournal, and Digital Media Platforms.

Here’s what else is required:

2-3 years of related work experience.
• A Bachelors Degree or equivalent experience.
• Must be authorized to work in the United States. Unable to sponsor or transfer H1 visas at this time.
• Must be available for frequent domestic and international travel. Must have valid passport, and must complete any additional paperwork necessary for government travel clearances.
• Final candidates will be interviewed in New York City as part of a news segment on a national TV network morning show on or about May 17-20, 2010, and in London, UK at the Black Ball on or about May 27, 2010. Candidates must be able to travel to and participate in the interviews.
• Submit to a thorough background and reference check.
• Must be willing and able to report to work in New York City, NY.

And you pick up the tab for relocation. To New York City. Take it from one who knows: that can be a full-time job in itself.

But still, for the right person, this could be (as Ms. Keys advertises it) “an Opportunity of a Lifetime!”

For the rest of us in the hunt … it’s at least the best-looking jobs ad we’ve seen all year.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Black journalists’ good bad days

On Monday we discovered just how much of two minds, of at least two distinct American realities the American media can be on matters of who advances in the nation’s newsrooms and who doesn’t, and the curious calculus by which that’s decided.

Richard Prince’s excellent Journal-Isms column (a longtime fixture of the Maynard Institute Web site and most recently syndicated in The Root) broke it down in one place for readers on Monday — Pulitzer Day.

Among the winners of the most prestigious and recognized prize in American journalism were The Denver Post, which won for feature photography; and for the Philadelphia Daily News, which won for investigative reporting.

Greg Moore is the editor of The Denver Post; Michael Days is executive editor of the Daily News.

For the first time, mainstream American dailies helmed by not one but two African American editors won two of the more coveted Pulitzer Prizes, the recognition for the two elements of modern print journalism — powerful photography and the compelling shoe-leather public-interest news story — that still resonate with the American public (or the percentage of the public that still read newspapers).

It was a good day right after a bad one.

◊ ◊ ◊

See, on Sunday, we got the results of the 2010 newsroom census from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, its findings a perfect distilling reason why black Americans, and especially black journalists, often characterize progress as one step forward, one step back (or is it two steps back? We forget sometimes).

The ASNE newsroom report found that, overall, the percentage of minorities in newsrooms was 13.26 percent, a drop of .15 of a percentage point from a year ago.

But black journalists got hit the hardest of everyone. The ASNE survey found there were 929 fewer African American journalists than were recorded in 2001, a falloff of 31.5 percent. The ranks of Native American journalists fell by 52, or 20.9 percent in the same time. Hispanic representation declined by 145, or 7 percent. The number of white journalists fell by 10,400, or 20.9 percent.

Newsroom jobs held by black journalists were cut by 19.2 percent in 2009, nearly six percentage points higher than the previous year.

◊ ◊ ◊

In a statement released Tuesday, Kathy Y. Times, the president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), called it “a travesty that minority journalists would be targeted disproportionately in staff cuts. Despite the economy we must keep our newsrooms and voices at least on parity with the communities we serve.”

Communities are not of one color and neither should newsroom decision makers,” she said.

“It’s about accuracy,” NABJ Diversity Director Bobbi Bowman said of the census objective, in the same NABJ statement. “Can you accurately cover your community if you have a newsroom that doesn’t look like your community?”

“Readers are very smart and readers know whether or not their newspaper is covering news that is important and relevant to them,” she said Tuesday.

And we might have known this would follow. The NABJ said on Tuesday that its board "is scheduled to meet in the Washington, D.C.-area this weekend to discuss the recent ASNE findings and develop an action plan for improving newsroom hiring and retention of black journalists."

This latest broadside on the media’s institutional lethargy could well be the moment of the gauntlet throwdown. As media orgs rebound from the economy and begin rehiring, as many of the bigger players start to conceptualize how to cover the 2010 race (and begin to decide who gets to do it); as the country grapples again with race as the volatile, powderkeg subtext for everything political in the country ... watch for fireworks, or maybe just some overdue surprises.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The elephant’s nervous breakdown

It was another bright, warm day in April, the clocks were again sounding thirteen, and the workers dragged the chairs out of cubicles and grouped them in the middle of the hall in the Riverside Hilton in New Orleans, in preparation for the start of the Republican Southern Leadership Conference, the Three Days Hate.

◊ ◊ ◊

Like a similar event attended by Winston Smith, the protagonist of Orwell’s “1984” (shamelessly mangled in the previous graph), the Republicans convened a kind of Hate Week over the weekend as their kickoff to the 2012 election season. There was a refreshingly high-minded purpose to some of the proceedings.

“Over and over, Republican speakers said their party had gone astray when it held in power; it was time, they argued, to get the party back on track with a focus on fiscal restraint and a break with the party's recent past,” reported Brian Montopoli today at CBS News. But elsewhere there was evidence of the bashing and condemnation that’s been a ritual enacted by party leadership in Congress, and (with a lot less eloquence) by party partisans in the streets.

Liz Cheney, surrogate for the former vice president, set the table for the event on Thursday. “The Obama administration is putting us on the path to decline,” she said, explaining the three-pronged Obama doctrine: "apologize for America, abandon our allies and appease our enemies."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the Obama White House “a secular socialist machine” on Thursday. “This is the most radical administration in American history. … If you think about the group that meets together in the White House, their experience is the machine politics of Chicago, the corruption of Springfield and the radicalism of [Saul] Alinsky.” Gingrich then proposed that “when” the Republicans retake the Congress in January, the Obama administration should be handcuffed by a congressional refusal to fund any of its policies and agencies — a threat to shut down the United States government.

Nominal former Alaska governor and political personality Sarah Palin took aim on Friday at “the makings of the Obama doctrine, which is coddling enemies and alienating allies … Don’t retreat, reload — and that is not a call for violence. … Yes we can kowtow to enemies, criticize allies, vacillate, bow, dither ... but somebody needs to tell the president just because we can doesn’t mean that we should.”

And not to be outdone by those in New Orleans, the head of the Republican Governors Association, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, set a spell with CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday and continued the repeal of rational thinking announced (and amended) last week by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who’d previously decided that slavery in Virginia was no B.F. Deal, before he decided that it was after all.

Barbour (who’s actually been considered a possible presidential contender, bless his heart), told Crowley on “State of the Union” that McDonnell was right about slavery.
CROWLEY: The [Virginia] Governor didn’t even mention slavery in his proclamation. Was that a mistake?

BARBOUR: Well, I don’t think so ... I don’t know what you would say about slavery, but anyone who thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing — I think it goes without saying. ...

CROWLEY: You know what I’m trying to get at. There’s a sort of feeling that it’s insensitive, that you clearly don’t agree ...

BARBOUR: To me it’s a sort of feeling that it’s just a nit. That it is not significant. It’s trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn’t matter for diddly.
All props to Barbour, staying the course of his constituents, all praise for fidelity to the past on the part of the governor of the state of Mississippi, a holdout on ratification of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution (the one prohibiting slavery) until 1995.

◊ ◊ ◊

The desperation with which the elements of the moderate-to-extremist right have hurled themselves against any hint of deliberative compromise with the Obama White House has been sadly astonishing — like that of a sleeper thrashing in his slumber against an unseen enemy, fighting with all his might against a phantom of the mind.

It’s a case of mental illness as political metaphor. There’s mounting evidence that the conservative movement and the Republican Party are jointly and rapidly approaching the low point of an identity crisis, that some kind of psychic snap is coming shortly. The GOP is having a nervous breakdown.

A predisposition toward instability was first suspected during the 2008 presidential campaign, in which the party standard-bearer, Sen. John McCain, displayed the ethical duality and tendency to ruthlessness common to the political diagnosis.

Some would say the condition first fully presented in the Joint Session of Congress in January 2009, when South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson cemented himself in the history books for at least one memorable achievement during his time in the House (“You lie!”). In the fourteen months since then, and especially as the health-care debate wound its way torturously through Congress into law, the Republicans and their more emotional proxies in the Tea Party movement, engaged in cheap shots and a breathtaking range of character assassinations.

This disorder may be contagious. The conservative ranks might actually be spreading this condition around the country. It’s already got people confused. Americans don’t know who to vote for if they want an alternative to the Democrats. With conservatives staking out their territory separate from the Republicans staking out their territory as a thing apart from the Tea Party crew … right now the American people are faced with three flavors of conservative identity: Traditional, Deep-Fried Partisan and Extra Hysterical.

How do you choose between the three in November? Do you even bother to try? How can you be expected to make up your mind when the big-C and small-c conservatives can’t seem to make up their own minds about who and what they are?

◊ ◊ ◊

Last week Bob McDonnell forgot to mention slavery in a state proclamation honoring the Confederacy. Then the Republican Southern Leadership Conference convened in New Orleans and forgot to mention the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

That amnesia of convenience, the philosophical schizophrenia, the strategies of opposition ranging from Palin’s passive-aggressive snark to the Tea Party crowd’s more graphically corrosive racism … it’s all proof of the Republican Party experiencing an episode of unprecedented high anxiety.

As President Obama gets ready to nominate his second Supreme Court Justice, watch for the condition to get that much worse. Watch for Hate Week to be convened somewhere else in America.

Image credits: Palin: Gerald Herbert/AP. Wilson: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP. Republican tea: CBS.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Revisionist history in Virginia

Six hundred twenty thousand Americans dead. Another 412,000 wounded. Cities and towns destroyed, an economic infrastructure agonizingly transformed. A president assassinated. That’s the grim snapshot hallmark of the Civil War, never so much the War Between the States as it was the War Between the Confederacy and the United States. Among that conflict’s legacies is its lingering presence in this nation; among the most painful ironies we recognize about the Civil War is the one we’d most like to forget: it’s a war that’s still being waged today.

Bob McDonnell, the newly-minted Republican governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, reminded us of that.

Reviving a tradition discontinued in two previous (Democratic) administrations, McDonnell issued a proclamation on Friday declaring April to be Confederate History Month in Virginia, doing so at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization of descendants of rebel soldiers with members from Trent Lott to MSNBC’s Pat Buchanan, from Charlie Daniels to Clint Eastwood.

McDonnell was the first Virginia governor to so recognize the Confederacy since Republican Jim Gilmore did it in 2001. But McDonnell made his Friday proclamation with no mention of slavery, the peculiar institution that gave the Confederacy its very oxygen. Slavery in the state of Virginia, erased by decree.

That’s when everything went, well, deep south. Condemnation exploded in various corners, including high-ranking political figures, and progressive lawmakers and organizations.

Tim Kaine, who preceded McDonnell as governor and is now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said McDonnell’s tribute to the Confederacy "without condemning, or even acknowledging, the pernicious stain of slavery or its role in the war disregards history, is insensitive to the extraordinary efforts of Americans to eliminate slavery and bind the nation's wounds."

The outrage from the cable TV department of the punditburo, and an equal amount of discontent from the online commentariat was just as loud. It all prompted McDonnell (or someone on his staff with a better grasp of historical cause and effect than the governor) to amend the proclamation.

On Wednesday the governor finally came more or less correct — not politically correct but humanistically correct — with an edited version of the proclamation, and a mea culpa:

“The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.”

“It is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war, and was an evil and inhuman practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights.”

McDonnell’s backing and filling was punctuated by a news conference on Wednesday that reportedly showed the governor well off his game, fumbling and stumbling to explain what he was thinking. He performed damage control the best he could, but less than three months into the job, McDonnell has shown he’s tone-deaf on stagecraft, and apparently even clueless about the breadth of his constituency, which includes not just the people who voted for him but everyone in the state of Virginia. Even 1.54 million people who don’t look a thing like him. People who know what slavery had to do with the state they live in.

◊ ◊ ◊

McDonnell’s epic fail was wrong on so many levels. It reflected a shallow reading of history as a collection of figures in a diorama, the stuff of a reenactment, tweakable and cherry-picked at will. This was the dumbest, most politically expedient kind of revisionist history. It was revisionist history that celebrated a tradition while overlooking the antecedents that made that tradition possible. Without slavery, there’d have been no anti-slavery position for Abraham Lincoln to run on and win an election with; without Lincoln’s election, the rationale for secession and the Confederacy vanishes.

In his freshman governor’s bid to shore up bona fides with his political base, McDonnell made a reflexive rush to the Stars & Bars without thinking things through. Just months into his brilliant career, he may have just had his macaca moment.

Even before he won the governorship last year, McDonnell was being quietly bruited as the next telegenic, tousle-haired Bright Young Thing in Republican politics. Now? Maybe not so much. We will see. Whatever his political future holds, he’s just demonstrated one trait the GOP leadership will find familiar, if not exactly comforting: Clearly, Bob McDonnell can already gaffe with the best of them. And the worst.

Image credits: Bob McDonnell: © 2010 Gage Skidmore, republished under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.