Slate Strikes Again

Modern journalism at its finest once again.

William Saletan has a (risible) piece up at Slate challenging the Olympic 100m butterfly victory of Michael Phelps.

Sorry, but none of these assurances holds water. The scoreboard doesn’t tell you which swimmer arrived, touched, or got his hand on the wall first. It tells you which swimmer, in the milliseconds after touching the wall, applied enough force to trigger an electronic touch pad. As to whether Phelps touched first, there’s plenty of unresolved doubt.

The human eye, in real time and basic video replay, suggests Cavic won. But that could be an optical illusion. Cavic takes one big stroke toward the wall, then glides to it with fingers extended. Phelps does the opposite: He shortens his stroke so he can squeeze in one more truncated stroke. He gambles that the speed he gets from the extra launch will make up for the additional time it requires. Cavic leads but closes the distance to the wall slowly; Phelps trails but closes the distance fast. In ultraslow-motion replays, it looks as though Cavic has reached the wall while Phelps is still closing. But these replays break down Cavic’s glide to such short increments that you can’t really tell whether he has stopped.

I’m kinda speechless here.

Because even media-disconnected me managed to get to see the Sports Illustrated (yeah, not a mainstream magazine that big-time journalists like Saletan might have looked at in doing his research…) spread on the finish?

Remind me again why I’m supposed to take mainstream journalists seriously?

Seriously,. the problem with trivial stories like this one is that it cracks the mantle of credibility that the journalists need – because it’s really the only thing they have to sell.

The Problem With Journalists

…is neatly summed up with Slate Editor in Chief’s personal opinion piece – “If Obama Loses : Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him.

It’s a pretty clear insight into how he thinks.

What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage in the presidential race, is running only neck-and-neck against John McCain, a sub-par Republican nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums, and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, lacks clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two of them appear to be tied. What gives?

If it makes you feel better, you can rationalize Obama’s missing 10-point lead on the basis of Clintonite sulkiness, his slowness in responding to attacks, or the concern that Obama may be too handsome, brilliant, and cool to be elected. But let’s be honest: If you break the numbers down, the reason Obama isn’t ahead right now is that he trails badly among one group, older white voters. He does so for a simple reason: the color of his skin.

Now, obviously – in his universe – we’re blessed that Obama has chosen to step forward as the potential leader of the world, and certainly it’s true that his handsomeness, brilliance, and cool are gifts that he deigns to allow the rest of us to glimpse – kind of like Brittany allowed the photographers to glimpse her best – or most interesting to Google searches – gifts back during her partying days.

But you know, for the rest of us? We just want to elect some person as our President for four or eight years, and we want to believe that at the end of those years, the country will be a little better off than it is now, and that we’ll be able to fend off the challenges we face and not hand them off to our grandkids.

And while it’s absolutely true that there is some (I believe small) slice of voters who will let their inner Bull Connors out when the curtains close on the polling booth, I think that they are matched by both the absolute solidarity that Obama will get in the African-American vote and by the very real group of people – kinda like me – who are in no small part favorably disposed to him because of his skin color.

Look Obama doesn’t even have the resume of a Jack Kennedy to run on. He made it to this point in no small part because of the African American politics of South Chicago which teed him up as a state legislator and then helped him step forward as a Senator.

So when journalists like Weisberg echo my buddy the Gallery Guy, you have to wonder how those kinds of attitudes bleed out into the quality of work that they produce. I believe that they are professionals, and see themselves as working for organizations less marginal than, say, Mother Jones, and so they make efforts to balance hiring and coverage.

But I also believe that the toxic pall of smug is something our journalistic – and political – worlds would be far better off without.


It looks like an agreement is close between the Iraqi government and the US government on a schedule for ramping down the US military presence in Iraq – a timetable. Many of the antiwar folks who have been pressing for the US government to announce such a timetable have been – to use a charitable term – crowing, including my grudgingly approved candidate, Senator Obama:

“I am glad that the administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq…”

The difference, of course, is between a timetable that we unilaterally impose regardless of the desires of the Iraqis and the conditions on the ground, and a timetable that is arrived at as a consequence of agreement between our government and the Iraqi one. It seems to me such an obvious thing, and yet no one else seems to be raising it.

Kevin Drum has a good cautionary comment, and links to another good one from Megan McArdle.

From the Las Vegas Sun, here’s a nice snapshot of the complex bundle of issues that the war represents in this election:

By 2006, however, as the war continued to rage, the public had lost patience. On Election Day, voters punished Republicans across the country for mismanaging the conflict.

Overjoyed, Democrats believed their time had come to ride the wave. They opened the 2008 campaigns brimming with confidence that the war would propel their candidates into the White House and Congress.

But now, with just 11 weeks remaining in the campaigns, that assumption is being tested.

Interviews with 20 voters this week found the war has evolved into a much more complicated issue than in the past two elections.

Many voters said they think the war was a bad idea, which is consistent with findings of national polls. But with the war no longer front and center in the national consciousness, the interviews suggested the issue is no longer an automatic boost for Democrats.

Instead, the war is at times cutting against stereotype.


Was just part of a junket which culminated in a meeting with the president of Blackwater (yes, that Blackwater…). I’m still digesting a lot of it, and will have more comments. But one thing he said really hit me – that with 300 of his troops (the news story says 250, but his comment was for 300) and 600 elite troops they would pick and mentor from the AU forces, they could shut down the genocide in Darfur.

I didn’t ask what he charges for his forces, but imagine that it’s $50,000/month/pair of boots. That’s $15 million a month – $180 million for the year. Why aren’t we having a telethon with Hollywood celebrities raising money for this?

Heeeey, Paula!

I almost forgot, but this showed up in my newsfeed:

Raise your copy of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. Author Paula Danziger would have been 64 today.

While Gymsuit was her best-known book (and her first), the former teacher wrote 30 other books, including her Amber Brown tales, and was memorable off the page. As the New York Times once noted, Danziger might have become a stand-up comic. And for public appearances, the Times said, ”she decked herself out with rhinestone-trimmed glasses, feather hats and beaded outfits, talked fast and was funny.”

That last point held true even after she died in July 2004 from complications following a heart attack. Her paid death notice in the Times said, ”’Paula Danziger, beloved children’s book writer, would like to inform you that she isn’t avoiding your calls, she passed away.

My famous cousin was, in fact, a hoot. I would have hated to be her parent or sibling, though, because her wit was sharp and merciless – as I imagine must be true of all good writers.

Ironically, she became great friends with Norm Geras’ wife, Adele. When Norm and I met for dinner, we realized that and marvelled at the odd coincidence of the world.

So heeeey, Paula (as I used to tease her) … happy birthday.