Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Reading

Leonard Pitts, Jr. — Mass communications doesn’t always mean mass understanding.

Two weeks ago, no one had ever heard of Jones, podunk pastor of a tiny church — 50 members — in Gainesville, Fla. Twenty years ago, his proclaimed intention to burn the Quran might have gotten him a few minutes on the rump end of the local TV newscast.

But that was before mass media exploded and every one of us became a news purveyor unto him- or herself. Jones’ bigoted idiocy — and yes, he has a constitutional right to be a bigoted idiot — has won him worldwide attention out of all proportion to any intrinsic significance of the man himself. As one Muslim leader noted Thursday night, Jones has more cameras following him than church members.

If the stakes were not so high, if his threatened action did not portend international riots, increase the danger to American troops, and jeopardize the nation’s global standing, the whole thing would be downright laughable. And the funniest part would be that we did this to ourselves.

There is an enduring human conceit which holds that improved communication equals improved understanding equals peace. That conceit is as old as the folks who wondered how there could be a Civil War since North and South were linked by telegraph, and as modern as the Ellen Page commercial for Cisco Systems where children in the United States video chat with kids in China.

Our faith in communication to bring people together has occasionally been validated; think of how cellphone video of a dying woman named Neda brought the world to the side of Iranian protesters.

But often, that faith seems naive, if not misplaced. Mass media are omnivorous and uncritical, magnifying the bizarre and deservedly obscure until history itself spins on the whims of any lone lunatic who is willing to be crazy enough.

We have yet to figure a way to embrace the promise of new media but avoid the pitfalls. Until we do, we will always be vulnerable to the ability of that lunatic to hold the whole world hostage.

Our attention is the only weapon he needs.

More below the fold.

Golfing Buddies — House Speaker wannabe John Boehner (R-OH) sure goes to great lengths to play a lot of golf with lobbyists. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

House Democrats were preparing late last year for the first floor vote on the financial regulatory overhaul when Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders summoned more than 100 industry lobbyists and conservative political activists to Capitol Hill for a private strategy session.

The bill’s passage in the House already seemed inevitable. But Mr. Boehner and his deputies told the Wall Street lobbyists and trade association leaders that by teaming up, they could still perhaps block its final passage or at least water it down.

“We need you to get out there and speak up against this,” Mr. Boehner said that December afternoon, according to three people familiar with his remarks, while also warning against cutting side deals with Democrats.

That sort of alliance — they won a few skirmishes, though they lost the war on the regulatory bill — is business as usual for Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader and would-be speaker if Republicans win the House in November. He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.

They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.

Some of the lobbyists readily acknowledge routinely seeking his office’s help — calling the congressman and his aides as often as several times a week — to advance their agenda in Washington. And in many cases, Mr. Boehner has helped them out.

As Democrats increasingly try to cast the Ohio congressman as the face of the Republican Party — President Obama mentioned his name eight times in a speech last week — and as Mr. Boehner becomes more visible, his ties to lobbyists, cultivated since he arrived here in 1991, are coming under attack.

Frank Rich — Obama bites back.

For Obama to make Americans believe he does understand their problems and close the enthusiasm gap, he cannot merely make changes of campaign style. Sporadic photo ops in shirtsleeves or factory settings persuade no one; a few terrific speeches can’t always ride to the rescue. Nor would there be much point in firing Summers and Geithner — a political nonstarter anyway, now that it’s been opportunistically proposed by the G.O.P. leader John Boehner (his one good idea). Certainly Obama can add powerful new hands who might actually fight to protect ordinary Americans from the sharks; the star consumer advocate, Elizabeth Warren, should have been front and center, even in a Senate confirmation battle, long ago. But in the short term between now and Election Day, Obama may have the most to gain by sharpening his attack on those “powerful interests” who liken him to a dog. A top dog bites back (with a smile).

The Creative World of James Franco — The actor who will play Allen Ginsburg in Howl is more than the sum.

As the filmmakers raised money, Mr. Franco was able to prepare with his usual gusto: watching interviews, reading biographies, talking to experts, wearing the nerdy Ginsberg glasses (still available at Moscot in New York). His take — that the young poet was an eager communicator even as he was just discovering what he wanted to say — applies to his own path. And it’s clear on screen, where Mr. Franco vibrates with intellectual energy while recognizably laconic in his delivery. “I have joked that he’s a 21st-century beatnik,” Mr. Epstein said of Mr. Franco, “but he really does have that sensibility. He’s really interested and excited about experimentation and exploring the possibilities of how one can be an artist.”

While preparing for “Howl” Mr. Franco was enrolled in master’s programs at New York University (for film) and Columbia University and Brooklyn College (for writing). For months he would walk to class listening to Ginsberg read “Howl” on his iPod. “I’d have the little book with me, and I’d listen to him, and I’d just read along with him to just ingrain that voice in my head,” he said. Mr. Franco has made three short films about poems for school and is at work on a feature about Hart Crane that he will adapt (from Paul L. Mariani’s biography), direct and star in. And he is in his fifth semester in yet another graduate program, for poetry, at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, N.C.

Debra Allbery, the director of that program, where students work remotely except for 10 days on campus each semester, declined to talk about Mr. Franco’s writing specifically. “This is a place where he can come be an apprentice like everybody else,” she said. “We worked very hard to protect him here.” But she allowed that he managed to fit in. “As far as the commitment, the focus, the dedication, the skill, he’s right in line,” she said.

Doonesbury — Legends of the small.