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

Friday, October 30, 2009

Danish cartoons spawn gutlessness

The Yale University Press has carried political correctness to amazing depths: it has published a book about the 12 controversial Danish cartoons without printing a single one of them!
It is as if an author wrote a life of Christ without mentioning the Sermon on the Mount, omitting the Good Samaritan parable or failing to cite the passage from John about the woman “taken in adultery.”
Muslims worldwide were incensed by the cartoons, particularly one showing the prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.
Rioting, burning and vandalizing ensued. About 200 people were killed. Ambassadors were withdrawn. A boycott of Danish goods was demanded.
But what provoked such outrage was difficult for Americans to assess. Almost no U.S. newspaper printed the cartoons. This censorship is understandable. Newspapers are short on courage.
Even the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, supposedly devoted to truth and learning, did not show one cartoon at a seminar supposedly about the Danish cartoons. What a wonderful lesson for journalism students: it’s OK to censor some things.
Irony aside, censorship is inexcusable in the Academy. And it is inexcusable for a university press.
The Yale book is called “The Cartoons That Shook the World” yet readers are unable to see what is so world-shaking.
The press also refused to publish such an innocuous illustration of Muhammad as a drawing for a children’s book. It refused to publish a sketch by French artist Gustave Doré showing the prophet being tormented, a scene from Dante’s “The Inferno.” Never mind that the scene has been depicted by famed artists like Blake, Botticelli, Dali and Rodin.
Reza Aslan, author and religious scholar, rightly deplored publishing the book without illustrations.
“What kind of a publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people?” he asked. “This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press. It’s not just academic cowardice. It is just silly.”
So let’s give an award to the Yale University Press: the Most Gutless Publisher in History.

Only in America
Sarah Palin, the erstwhile governor of Alaska and whilom pretender to the vice presidency, is a dimwit with nothing important to say. Yet the publisher of her 400-page memoir has already printed 1.5 million copies.
As the great H.L. Mencken wrote: no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

Ad link curse
The newspaper business has always been plagued by its reliance on advertisers.
The latest baneful example comes from Hartford, Conn. The consumer affairs columnist for the Hartford Courant was fired for the “crime” of offending advertisers.
The columnist, George Gombossy, had been with the Courant for 40 years. He started the consumer watchdog column three years ago after getting excellent performance reviews as business editor for 12 years. His popular column was heavily promoted by the paper.
But things changed in March. The Chicago-based Tribune Company took over the Courant and installed a business manager as publisher.
Gombossy was pressured by the new management to “be nice” to the angry advertisers. But he rightly insisted that “being nice” was a gross violation of newspaper ethics.
The last straw for management was his column about a state investigation of Sleepy’s, a mattress maker and a major advertiser. Sleepy’s was accused of selling used mattresses as new.
Gombossy was fired in August. “Crime” does not pay.

Chronicle deserves to die
I wrote this letter to the San Francisco Chronicle:
“I sympathize with the terrible plight of the newspaper business in this Digital Age, circulation declining and advertising plummeting. But severe dilution of the quality of your paper will hardly reverse the trend.
“You no longer publish Mark Morford, acerbic and excellent essayist. You no longer publish liberal columnist Robert Scheer,. You no longer publish liberal columnist E.J. Dionne. But you do publish many rabid conservatives.
“When you tear the guts out of your newspaper you deserve the death that many industry watchers forecast for newspapers.”
The letter was not printed.
You would think Scheer and Dionne perfectly suited for the liberal Bay Area. But Scheer made one intolerable “mistake”: castigating Israeli policies.
The truth is that the Chron is not really a liberal newspaper. America does not have one. The New York Times is Establishment to the core although it is liberal socially.
The Sparks Tribune stands out in the gloomy newspaper landscape. My column has regularly criticized the Jewish state. The column is socialistic and atheistic. It constantly criticizes U.S. policies at home and abroad.
It criticizes newspapers, universities and the seamy history of America. It criticizes mankind, manners and morals. It is often vitriolic.
Yet the Trib has run it for 21 years. No other newspaper or magazine would. My gratitude is immense.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama all hat, no cattle

An absurd world got more absurd recently when President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Republicans, right for the first time since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, asked what Obama had done for peace. The answer is obvious: nothing.

Obama is fighting two and one-half wars. He maintains a perpetual warfare state. He commands armed forces in 144 countries. He has just ordered 13,000 more troops to the wasteland of Afghanistan. That hardly merits a peace prize.

Obama, as they say in Texas, is all hat and no cattle. He makes wonderful promises but never delivers.

A man of integrity would have refused the prize, declaring that he was not worthy of it.

Obama admitted: “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by the prize, men and women who have inspired me and the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”

Nevertheless, he will accept the award as “a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.” Noble rhetoric. But, alas, just words.
Obama’s one accomplishment is establishing an anti-Bush tone in the White House. He wants to cooperate with the world, not rule it unilaterally. He repudiates Bush’s imperial presidency. But that too is hardly worth a peace prize.

Moreover, it is just his pledge to close Guantánamo and deal with its prisoners constitutionally. It is just his pledge to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It is just his pledge to combat global warming. It is just his pledge to abide by the Geneva Convention. It is just his pledge to end the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. He is just his pledge to achieve gay marriage.

Obama pledged universal health coverage but gave away the store by abandoning the public option in order to get Senate approval of a worthless bill.

He pledges to bring peace to the Middle East. But he lacks the intestinal fortitude to crack down on Israel’s refusal to do anything about its illegal settlements. Withdrawal of some of the billions in U.S. aid to Israel would greatly concentrate the mind of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Now look at some of the “illustrious company” Obama says he will join as peace prize winners:
• President Roosevelt (1906), cited for his “role in bringing to an end the bloody war” between Russia and Japan. Yet Roosevelt was a warmonger, helping seize Cuba from Spain, conquering the Philippines and congratulating one of his generals who massacred 600 harmless Filipino villagers.

• President Wilson (1919), cited for playing a decisive role in winning World War I. Yet he involved America in that bloody, senseless war. His bombardments of Mexico were despicable. His troops occupied Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

• Secretary of State Kissinger (1973), cited for negotiating a ceasefire and pullout of American troops from Vietnam. Yet Kissinger was a war criminal. He expanded the war unnecessarily and viciously into Cambodia and Laos. As songwriter Tom Lehrer put it: satire died the day they gave Kissinger a peace prize.

The Nobel Foundation in Norway has not always been that ridiculous. It did choose some worthy Americans. Among them:

• Martin Luther King (1964), cited for “being the first person in the Western World to have shown us that a struggle (for justice) can be waged without violence.” That struggle smashed apartheid in the South. King was the greatest moral leader in America since John Brown, who was so fanatic and so insane he urged freedom for four million slaves.

• Chemist Linus Pauling (1962), cited for his campaign against nuclear testing, opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons and antagonism to “warfare as a means of solving international conflicts.”

• George Marshall (1953), defense secretary and secretary of state, for the Marshall Plan aiding a Europe shattered by World War II.

• Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1945), cited for his role in establishing the United Nations.

• Jane Addams (1931), cited for setting up settlement houses, including Hull House in Chicago, to improve social conditions for the Have Nots: night school for continuing education, kindergarten, kitchen and bathhouse, coffeehouse, art gallery, gym, music school, a library and classes to combat the ugly tentacles of capitalism.

• Secretary of State Frank Kellogg (1929), cited for the Kellogg-Briand Treaty to renounce war as an instrument of national policy.

In short, the Nobel Peace Prize has ranged from the ridiculous--Obama, Roosevelt, Wilson and Kissinger--to the sublime, King, Pauling, Marshall and Addams.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wall Street and money rule

We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.
-- Economist John Maynard Keynes

Michael Moore has capitalism dead-on: it is immoral. Profits are all that matter to the immoralists.
The nation is governed by Wall Street, corporations, lobbyists and campaign bribes to members of Congress. Money and politics rule, not the pretense that the people rule.
For politicians it is mandatory to proclaim that America is a great country. Moore makes it plain it is not.
He ridicules the preamble to the Constitution which makes the false promise to “establish justice…(and) promote the general welfare.”
Moore’s answer to capitalism is socialism. Capitalism is taking. Socialism is sharing. Socialism is humane, caring, sensitive, everything capitalism is not.
Capitalism is a plutonomy. It means wealth for the few, skimping for the many. Capitalism is mean, oblivious to everything but big profits. It is evil. It is unfit for human beings.
Moore establishes these truths in his latest film, “Capitalism: a Love Story.”
He notes that the Treasury department and Wall Street run the country. Capitalism busts unions. It slashes pay and eliminates pensions. It exploits people. It pays low wages while overworking its employees.
Moore points out that capitalism has even hijacked Jesus, whose teaching argues for everything that capitalism opposes.
Capitalism is ghoulish. An insured employee is worth more dead than alive.
Some corporations are candid about it, referring to “dead peasants.” Yes, peasants, serfs, mere soil-tillers, uneducated, low class.
A grim joke in the airline industry: “Just don’t apply for welfare in uniform.” Many students leave college owing $100,000 and taking 20 years to pay it off. Civilized nations provide free college education.
Moore opens the film in ancient Rome, the rulers gathering all the money, the masses appeased by bread and circuses. He closes with a jazzy version of the leftist fight song, “The Internationale,” with its stirring phrase “a better world’s in birth.”
Moore shows that the federal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was once a well deserved 90 percent. Reagan and Bush II changed that, completing the reaction with tax cuts for the wealthy and abetting the capitalistic beast with deregulation.
Reagan once exulted in a speech to Wall Streeters: “You can now turn the bull loose!”
“Capitalism is the legalization of greed,” Moore said in an interview with Naomi Klein of The Nation. "We have a totalitarian situation allowing the richest 1 percent to have more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined.”
America has socialism for the wealthy, privatization for nearly everyone else.
Moore plays himself: wearing jeans in sharp contrast to the “suits” with their white shirts, neckties and jackets. As always, he wears his baseball cap,
He speaks slowly, solemnly, despairingly, mournfully. But he has the happy faculty of soothing his anger with humor.
He cordons off Wall Street with crime-scene yellow tape. He speaks of the “condo vultures” who get rich in Florida’s housing bust.
The one problem is Moore’s incurable optimism. He talks movingly of people rebelling. He speaks glowing of the few workers that win fights against capitalism. He brings tears to the eyes with accounts of struggling people.
But the incidents are so few. Moore forgets that so many people vote against their best economic interests. He forgets that the bulk of American people will reject socialism despite the far fairer life it offers.
He forgets that Americans are conditioned by schools, the media, churches and society. They drum in the message that capitalism is good, socialism is bad.
Moreover, the propaganda of the system is effective, the wonders of free enterprise and the idea that everyone can get rich.
No wonder America is a frightfully conservative country.
Nevertheless, Moore convincingly proves the point made by Chris Hedges earlier this year in a Truthout online article, “America is in need if a moral bailout”:
“We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding.
“The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered.”
Moore is always on the side of the angels. His films have included “Roger & Me,” an indictment of the auto industry; “Sicko,” a plea for universal health insurance; and “Bowling for Columbine,” a scathing look at America’s lust for guns.
He is the most important documentary filmmaker in America today. He speaks for the disenfranchised. He is one of America’s few heroes.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tracy Moore: reggae DJ

Tracy Moore is an ebullient, passionate, personable, aimable, smiling, upbeat, joyous and happy apostle of reggae in the Truckee Meadows.
Yet on his radio show he is cool, calm, soft-spoken and low key. The contrast is deliberate. He wants people who tune in to relax.
“I know one guy who listens every Sunday in his bathroom, draws water in the tub, lights a candle and lies back contentedly for two hours,” Moore says. (The show is on KTHX, 100.1 FM, from 8 p.m. to 10 Sundays.)
“Reggae moves me,” Tracy says. “It touches my heart. I enjoy reggae so much I want to share it with other people. When I hear a new song I can’t wait to play it on the air.”
Moore, in a recent interview, said he got his love of music from his jazz musician father who played tenor sax in Reno casinos. His dad, Babe Moore, is 94--and still noodles on the sax.
“I recall as a boy he’d call me in from playing outside and have me listen to a record,” Tracy says. “When it was over, he’d pick up the needle and say: ‘That’s Count Basie.’ ”
Another thing Tracy likes about reggae: it is message music. Its constant themes are liberation, freedom, justice, brotherhood and anti-racism.
Slavery is deeply embedded in the memory of Jamaicans. Even the ordinary guy on the beach knows that history with its “voice of the slave descendent and the darkness and pain of suppression.”
(Jamaica was seized by the British in 1655 and became a distribution point for slave ships arriving from Africa.)
Moore enthuses about Marcus Garvey, Jamaican-born exponent of black empowerment and the return of blacks to Africa. Like Malcolm X after him, Garvey proclaimed his blackness and his pride in it.
Another of Tracy’s musical heroes is the late Bob Marley, who he calls the greatest reggae singer ever.
“Marley was not only a profound lyricist who became an icon for people of the Third World, he was immensely influential in defining reggae’s musical approach,” he says. “Today’s artists are largely standing on the foundation he helped to lay.”
Moore agrees with Webster’s definition of reggae: “Popular music of Jamaican origin that combines native styles with elements of rock ‘n’ roll soul music and performed at moderate tempos with the accent on the off beat.”
Tracy, 47, graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1988 with a degree in psychology and a minor in journalism.
He wears his environmenal concerns “on his sleeve.” At the interview he wore a green T-shirt adorned with those graceful power-generating wind propellers.
He is blondish with long, stringy hair. Wire glasses rest on his nose between a small goatee and an ever receding hairline.
Tracy hosted Reno’s first reggae radio show, “The Kingston Jam,” on KUNR from 1988 to 1998. In 2003 he started the Reggae Shack program on KTHX, broadcasting under his DJ name, Too Dread.
Too dread is patois for someone who deeply understands reggae and feels its vibes. “You have a sense of kinship, a deep-in-your-heart feeling.” Or, as the communists say: comrade.
Tracy has been to the Land of Reggae seven times, loving the laid- back people, the mountains and the beaches splashed by the Caribbean Sea.
For a living, Tracy drives for the Northern Nevada International Center. He plays host and guides visitors who come to Reno for conferences and special events.
But his heart is in reggae. He started as a keyboardist and vocalist in 1989 for Reno-based reggae bands.
Tracy writes songs and performs at breast cancer fund-raisers with his band Jahzilla. It’s out of compassion, yes, but pays tribute to his mother who died of lung cancer.
One of his songs reflects joy over his infant daughter, lyla (correct) Sage Lore, 11 months old. (Her mother is Rubio.)
One stanza of the song, “Because This Baby,” goes: “In her smiling eyes / Even when she cries / How her spirit flies / Like a flower essence sweetly unfurled.”
I knew nothing about reggae and couldn’t have cared less--until I talked with Tracy.
I am a classical music old fogy. Beethoven and Bach, Mozart and Haydn, Schubert and Tchaikovsky, Dvorák and Mahler, Rossini and Berlioz, Verdi and Puccini, Franck and Offenbach, Ponchielli and Wagner.
To my ears, reggae is caterwauling, cacophony. Harsh sounds, shrieks, groans, shouting, chanting, whistling, raving, pounding, drum beat and futuristic sounds.
Yes, there are some toe-tapping rhythms. And I heartily approve of the message lyrics. But it’s not my kind of music. Nevertheless, as the French say, Chacun à son goût.
When it comes to reggae, Tracy’s taste matters, not mine.