Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paris brings out the superlatives

PARIS—This is the greatest city in the world. It overflows with priceless art. It abounds in fine museums and famous and historic landmarks.
But August is a terrible time to visit. Many Parisians shutter their businesses then, leaving the city to the hordes of worldwide tourists who rob Paris of much of its pleasure.
Contemplation of the “Venus de Milo” and the “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre is impossible because of the swarms of people with their constant photographing.
Nevertheless, Paris is worth enduring such a pestilence.
Père Lachaise, for instance, is the best cemetery in the world. It houses the famous like Molìere amid the thousands of nonentities buried in a jumble of graves.
The city of the dead has streets, avenues and boulevards lined with trees. One street leads to the tomb of Oscar Wilde. A sign warns visitors not to deface it. But they do, smoothering it with lipstick kisses, scrawling messages in many languages and sullying it with graffiti.
A must visit at Père Lachise for leftists is the wall where 147 Communards were slaughtered by French firing squads in 1871. Not everyone has forgotten the noble socialist Commune. On the day I visited a fresh pot of deep red roses was placed before the wall.
You can spend hours looking for the graves of the celebrated but one section not to be missed is dedicated to the dead in the Nazi concentration camps. A particularly moving memorial is a bronze skeleton twisted in the agony of a frightful death.
Another celebrity buried in Père Lachaise is Edith Piaf, chanteuse who wrote “La Vie en Rose.” She once said: “I don’t believe in God but I believe in St. Teresa.” Worldwide believers in St. Teresa of Lisieux included the saintly Doris Day of Catholic Worker fame.

Paris is full of those detestable McDonald’s and Starbucks, global capitalism having spread its ugly tentacles. No self-respecting Frenchman goes into such places…The Michelin guide to superb dining in France is now global. It lists 66 three-star restaurants in 10 countries. Namely: 26 in France, 9 in Germany, 8 in Japan, 7 in Spain, 5 in Italy, 4 in America, 3 in Britain, 2 in Switzerland 1 in Belgium and 1 in the Netherlands.

Paris is indeed the city of love. Lovers embrace, kiss lingeringly along the banks of the Seine, on park benches, under arcades and in Métro stations…Cellphones are as ubiquitious in Paris and as annoying as they are in America. Anyone yakking on a cell is not a serious person.

The International Herald Tribune reports that President Bush has approved the execution of a soldier convicted of rape and murder, the first such action by a U.S. president since 1957.
Bush is retrograde by only 175 years. Lamartine, poet, politician and historian, denounced capital punishment in the French National Assembly in 1833.

Le Monde is France’s best newspaper, going into depth as only the New York Times does in America. But Homer sometimes nods.
Le Monde reported twice in one story that Teddy Roosevelt was re-elected in 1904. He was not, first gaining office through assassination. The same story referred to Walter Lippmann, newspaper guru of yesteryear, as Lippman. Hardly federal cases. But once an editor always an editor, even in another language.

Balzac, great French author of “Le Père Goriot,” was addicted to coffee. His sole objection: “coffee only makes boring people more boring.” Which is another way of saying that teetotalers can be bores.

Napoléon, still a hero in France because he brought it la gloire, lies in a beautiful sarcophagus in Les Invalides. But the truth is he sold out the French Revolution. And, as poet Alfred de Vigny wrote: “he sacrificed his country to his personal ambitions.”

It’s a truism that you can’t go home again. Another might be that you shouldn’t visit the same place again. I didn’t mind the one-hour wait to climb the 400 steps of the tower of Notre Dame. But at the top I was enclosed in wire netting and could not walk among the wonderful gargoyles as I did years ago. Ditto at Stonehenge. Decades ago I was able to walk among the monoliths. Today, alas, you cannot.

At the west end of the Isle de la Cité where the Pont Neuf crosses the Seine stands a fine statue of King Henry IV, le vert galant (ladies’ man). He’s astride a horse, bearded, smiling.
He switched from Protestanism to Catholicism in 1590 to secure the French crown, remarking: “Paris vaut bien une messe.” (Paris is well worth a mass.)
Indeed it is.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bush leaves calamitous legacy

We talk about a representative government. But what a monster of a government is that where the noblest faculties of the mind and the whole heart are not represented.
--“A Plea for Captain John Brown,” Thoreau speech, 1859

It’s legacy time for a president in his final five months in office. For President Bush, that legacy is all bad.
He is the worst president the nation has ever suffered. America under Bush is the No. 1 rogue regime in the world, hated by most people abroad. He is a warmonger and a war criminal at the apex of U.S. global hegemony.
He has turned the “land of the free” into a quasi-police state, the so-called war on terror warring on the American people and their Constitution.
Bush has transformed the nation into a perpetual War Machine, the New Rome with bases all over the planet. The Pentagon, misnamed the Defense Department, has an annual budget of $1 trillion.
Iraq is the pivot of that military empire. It is draining America physically, financially and morally--delighting Osama bin Laden. The U.S. has built more than 100 mega-bases in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is another Bush calamity.
Generals parade like wooden soldiers before Congress, spouting the “national interest” line for staying in Iraq. The propaganda does nothing for the shattered credibility of Bush.
Bush has approved torture, enraging the world and embarrassing America. He uses the typical administration euphemism, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But torture, is torture, is torture.
Justice Brandeis, dissenting in the 1928 case of Olmstead, noted: “Our government is the potent and omnipotent teacher…it teaches the whole people by its example.”
The Bush example is catastrophic.
U.S. atrocities at interrogation centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba would make a Third World dictator blush.
Bush ignores federal law and international treaties. The United States is AWOL when 111 nations ban cluster bombs. A federal district judge recently blew the whistle on an underhanded atttempt by the Bushites to impose an onerous Medicaid regulation.
As the New York Times editorialized: “The administration has been caught in a flagrant attempt to ignore the will of Congress and unilaterally chart its own path.”
The outrages of the Bush administration have occurred almost weekly. Right-wing politics triumphs over science. The so-called Justice Department is rampant with politics rather than nonpartisan justice.
Key positions in government in the agencies are filled by hacks who do Bush’s bidding. Cronyism and incompetence reign. It is ward-heeler government.
Bush is a quintessential environmental outlaw, mandating the trashing of the nation’s glorious heritage. Mountain tops are stripped bare for coal, the debris falling below and causing health problems. It is OK to explore for uranium just outside the Grand Canyon, one of the great natural wonders of the world. And, yes, snowmobiling in the temple of Yellowstone is all right.
The administration sneakily defies a federal court order as it implements new rules permitting logging in national forests. Its EPA vetoes California’s efforts to reduce tailpipe emissions. Bush stops the EPA from lowering ozone limits. His NASA public relations flacks distort accounts of research on global warming.
The secrecry by the Bush administration has been unparalled, seeking to avoid any scrutiny of its misdeeds. It fosters what former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, calls the culture of deception. No photos are permitted of coffins shipped from Iraq.
Habeas corpus, that sacred writ, is ignored by Bush.
He ostentatiously gives up golf while U.S soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he opposes a new GI Bill of Rights, declariing fatuously that it is too expensive and discourages reenlistment.
The compassionate conservatism that Bush promised is an oxymoron, exemplified by the phony war on drugs that targets patients prescribed marijuana by their doctors.
Bush absurdly accuses Barack Obama of appeasement for suggesting diplomatic talks with nations he perceives as evil. Bush refuses to admit the truth of Muslim hatred: occupation of Islamic lands and theft of Arabic oil.
He socializes losses to boost laissez-faire capitalism. He scorns labor. The enforcement of wage-and-hour laws has dropped drastically in the GOP regime. His Labor Department is so anti-labor that it has become the Department of Business.
Bush insists on permanent tax cuts for the wealthy and elimination of capital gains and inheritance taxes.
His whole presidency belies his purported Christianity.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

John Brown and ugly Americans

French symbolist poet Mallarmé wrote wearily: “The flesh is sad, alas, and I have read all the books.”
Naturally neither he nor I read all the books. But his point is valid. No illusions left. No surprises. The political reality is so gloomy, America so retrograde.
Yet sometimes you do read something significant that you had not read before: Thoreau’s 1859 essay, “A Plea for Captain John Brown.”
Thoreau’s anger and passion for the hero of the Harper’s Ferry raid are palpable. Brown was an American giant put down as insane.
Thoreau on Brown: “He is not Old Brown any longer. He is an angel of light”…who sought the “liberation of four million slaves”…And asks: “When were the good and brave ever in a majority.”

Gas-swallowing sport utility vehicles and big pickup trucks are not selling because of soaring gas prices. Ugly Americans never get wise until they feel the economic pinch.
President Carter was farsighted in a 1977 speech, urging Americans to conserve energy, develop solar power and research for alternative fuels.
The American people, not just scoffed at His Crankiness, but threw him out of office.

Linda Greenhouse, New York Times reporter retiring from the Supreme Court beat after three decades, noted in her “farewell address” that “as the court’s makeup changes so does the law.”
She certainly should know. The law of the land has changed vastly from the liberal Warren Court (1953-1969) to the reactionary Roberts Court of today.

At a recent G8 summit in Japan focused on solving the world’s food crisis, the world leaders feasted on a 6-course lunch and an 18-course dinner. The tony food included caviar, milk-fed lamb and sea urchins. Fine wines were imported from Europe and America.
The irony and hypocrisy were obvious, the difference between fhe Haves and Have Nots striking.

The thieves of the Transportation Security Administration confiscated a tube of toothpaste and a harmless container of after-shave lotion from my carry-on luggage at the Reno airport.
On my return from Oakland, the TSA purloiners took an innocent jar of marmalade given to me by my daughter.
The aggravation is enormous, the absurdity manifest.

At Central Park theater in New York recently, Hamlet came on stage in bare feet. I don’t object to modern dress for Shakespeare plays if the magnificent language is kept. But undress?
Bare feet are a distraction in the most intellectual of Shakespeare’s plays. It reminds me of Jacqueline de Pré, a British cellist during the 1980s. Blonde, golden girl, stunningly gifted. She once performed at a concert barebreasted while caressing her Stradivarius cello. Distracting gimmickry.

One disgrace deserves another. South Carolina has long flown the Confederate flag over its statehouse. Now the state is issuing a license plate showing a Christian cross with the slogan “I Believe.”

Leftists rightly lament the drift to the right of European nations. But European policies remain far to the left of America’s.

The old-fashioned zoo with animals pacing up and down in small cages is, blessedly, a thing of the past. But what many people don’t know is that zoos have become centers of education, species conservation and scientific research.

Newspaper headline: “Flip-flops are not the best shoes for walking, study finds.” It needs no study to reveal that.

I recently watched on video the Woody Allen movie, “Annie Hall.” When it was released in 1977 I thought it a funny film.
So I laughed anew at the Allen quips. But after about an hour I quit. A little bit of Woody Allen now goes a long way.

Shameful, just shameful. I recently read a Reno Gazette-Journal Sunday paper in 10 minutes, five of them on sports.
It is obvious you don’t have to be any good when you have a monopoly. It is also no way to cut newspaper circulation loses.
The same day the New York Times book section did not have one review worth reading. As usual, most of the reviews dealt with third-rate novels. The nonfiction books reeked of the Establishment. The memoirs were by nonentities.
A San Francisco group giving itself the glorious name of the Presidential Memorial Commission is seeking voter support of a petition to change the name of a water treatment plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.
All true patriots will support the noble effort.

Caution: lobbyists for penny at work

Why does the government still mint pennies when each one costs 1.26 cents to make?
Lobbyists for the zinc industry and Coinstar. The penny is made of 97.5 percent zinc and Coinstar is a company that makes coin-counting machines converting coins to bills.
Probably half the waste in government could be eliminated by doing away with lobbyists. But, alas, it will never happen.
The First Amendment establishes the right to petition the government (although it is hard to see how the metallic content of a penny is redressing a legitimate grievance).

Character is a word seldom heard these days in the old-fashioned sense of decency, honor and concern for other people.
Socrates, as portrayed in Plato’s “Phaedo,” is minutes away from death yet he says: “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius. Will you remember to pay the debt?”
That’s character.
Before drinking the hemlock, Socrates says: “I think that I had better repair to the bath first in order that the women may not have the trouble of washing my body after I am dead.”
Thoreau in “Walden” tells of borrowing an ax. Then writes: “I returned it sharper than I received it.”
The greatest irony of modern history may be this: America at the end of World War II imposed a constitution on Japan calling for perpetual peace yet has itself launched several unprovoked, unilateral wars.
Opinion vs. fact
The ombudsman, public grievance editor, of the New York Times recently discussed the issue of a columnist stepping over the line between opinion and writing inaccurately.
Opinion can be provocative, even outrageous to many readers. All columnists “stack the deck,” emphasizing the points that bolster their argument and knocking down those of the opposite view.
But facts are sacred in the newspaper business. I have written columns for four decades. Never once did I deliberately write something false. The factual errors in my columns have been rightly pointed out by readers, causing me great embarrassment and forcing me to make profuse apologies.
Life imitates art

I recently saw a painting, “Whistlejacket,” by George Stubbs, British animal artist. It is a 1762 portrait of a big, brown, powerful, prancing horse with the look of a champion.
I thought immediately of Big Brown, a big, brown, powerful champion. Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. But he lost the Belmont Stakes in an attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed 30 years ago.
Accounting for Big Brown’s loss, a friend notes that the realistic Stubbs painting did not reveal the slight crack in the colt’s left front hoof.
‘Leaves of Grass’
William Carlos Williams, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, writes an introduction to a Modern Library edition of “Leaves of Grass” claiming that poems are made of words not ideas.
Nonsense. Whitman wrote the poem “To a Common Prostitute” with this line: “Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you.” Surely that is an idea. It is a line pleading for understanding, tolerance and humanity.
Media trivia
A reporter from National Public Radio was recently interviewing a John McCain staffer about possible choices for vice president. The aide gave a good rundown of five or six possible choices, noting the strengths and weaknesses each would bring to the GOP ticket. Then the reporter closed brightly: “And which choice might be more enjoyable around the barbeque?”
Please! Broadcast already has far too much entertainment at the expense of news without the serious NPR also entertaining.
Blogger and columnist Arianna Huffington contends that she heard Sen. John McCain say he did not vote for President Bush in 2000. Not true, McCain says.
The question is not whether he voted for Bush. The question is why he would have voted for Bush. The Bush campaign in 2000 smeared McCain so frightfully that you would have thought that he was a Democrat.
Short takes
Gas is more than $4 a gallon, which should soon drive those terrible SUVs off the roads. It’s no consolation but gas costs twice as much in Europe…It’s still a man’s world as any woman will tell you. Because of Title IX, girls in high school and women in college are participating in sports in record numbers. However, men dominate the coaching jobs, coaching 57 percent of women’s college sports teams.