|If I’d known yesterday’s page was going to be splashed up on a screen in a conference room, I would have chosen a better picture. (Not that the one above is any better – it’s an ancient warehouse in the Warehouse District. Relevance to today's work: nil) Got up earlier than usual, put on grown-up clothes instead of the shorts-and-T-shirt summer uniform, and drove Gnat off to school. Forty minutes out, in the rain. I was due downtown in 50 minutes at the South Asian Journalists Association, where I was expected to jarvis away on a panel about blogs. (Yes, "jarvis" is now a verb, or should be.) Upon checking the directions before I left the house I learned that I was expected to speak for ten minutes on the subject – not a problem. Nothing about “speaking cogently and entertainingly,” after all. I made it in time. Panel co-hosts included Scott Johnson of Powerline; the moderator was the ineffably cultured Sreenath Sreenivasan of Columbia J school; he could have run the entire panel if he wished. I’m not as evangelical about the medium as some, having seen a few internet change-the-world ideas come and go and leave the mantle of the planet more or less untouched, but I do like blogs and was happy to make several enthusiastic and somewhat contradictory points. The current Bleat was put up on a screen, and I thought: why is it showing the font at default size instead of 2? What other peculiar mysteries of Windows Firefox will ever elude me? Afterwards I spoke with a young woman who's running a Malaysian group blog. There we are in a downtown Minneapolis hotel, the dork from NoDak and a young woman from San Francisco, discussing the benefits of the internet for letting independent voices in Malaysia speak without fear of censure. The mind, sometimes, still reels - not because these things are extraordinary, but because they're not. He said, handing out bromides like breath mints.
Afterwards I drove home listening to more old radio, since new radio was not doing anything for me. Modern radio news is the worst; top o’ the hour to you, and here’s some bad news unmoored from its deeper contexts. I got my hands on some old WW2 news broadcasts the other day; the announcer was John Charles Daly, known to “What’s My Line” enthusiasts as the moderator. They’re quite remarkable for their length, level of diction, calm tone, and focus. I heard today via HH that CBS is seeking to retool its evening news by going hard and fast up front, followed by a “60 Minutes” type piece, concluding with something funny. This is news? That’s been the standard format for as long as I can remember. “Our top story tonight: a nuclear bomb has gone off in Moscow. After a commercial break, domestic news: “Something looms or threatens in some city most of our CBS news staff has never visited, except for the intern, who grew up in its suburbs but was of little help. Here’s a report from our national correspondent, complete with tone-deaf references to local clichés.” At the end of the show, a reminder that they will continue to follow the nuclear devastation of Moscow tomorrow, and in conclusion, a heartwarming story about a little girl who brought her pony back to life by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Cue the ersatz John Williams music. (Or the real thing, if it’s NBC.)
Anyway: the radio show has reports from correspondents all over the world, and the tone is rather restrained – pro-Allies, of course, but no shrieking and shouting about the need for TOTAL WAR to SMASH THE JAPS. If anything, they’re boring: lots of detailed explanation about what is happening and why, and what it means.
There’s no equal time for Republicans who disagreed with the course of the war. Listening to the report, it’s almost impossible to imagine them switching over to a report on people opposed to the war. It’s not that there weren’t such people, of course – but after 17 minutes of discussions of the situation in Europe and North Africa and the Pacific and how the island landings would affect Japanese sub deployments and resource allocation, a report from an isolationalist rally in Cold Bumfark, Vermont just wouldn’t seem particularly relevant. One also suspects that the news producers were rather disinterested in that aspect of current events, anyway. My point? I don’t know. Not trying to make one, and the analogy between then and now isn’t tidy. While I wouldn’t want to live under the Monoculture, I am fascinated by its artifacts, and the radio shows give you the flavor of a time when there was at least the veneer of national unity. Whether imposed or assumed is debatable, but we can probably agree it was a combination of both.
Yes, Mr. Decisive Analysis strikes again.
Went home, kicked around, went to get Gnat. I am heartily sick of this big drive, and I’m glad today was the last day of the week. (There are two weeks left, however. Next week should be easier, as I have the routine down pat. It means we have to get up early in the morning, though; Gnat hates that as much as I do, and it’s amusing that I’m now the guy who sweeps through the house tasering everyone awake and bustling them down to breakfast.) Then it was Chuck E. Cheese’s, and yes, I got the high-score at Skee Ball. Didn’t do so well on the pinball machine, the craptacular “Roller Coaster Tycoon.” I’m surprised it was designed by the same guy who did “The Addams Family” and “Twilight Zone,” two tables I have regularly humiliated. This one just lacks something – the ball drops in the A-B-C slots, then dribbles down to the left until it passes by one of those stubby vestigial flippers incapable of doing anything but shooting the ball into the right-side drain. Eventually you learn to leave the ball alone when it comes down, but even so there’s a 50-50 chance the ball will hit a bumper and drain down the left. O fun. I’m a good pinball player, incidentally. I can walk up to any table and beat it after two or three games. I was keeping three balls in play AND slapping magna-serve when you button-mashing kids were testing the absorption capacity of your Pampers, so don’t start dissin’ Pops on this subject. But “Roller Coaster Tycoon” just defies me – and not in a good way, like Eight-Ball Deluxe.
Ah, Eight-Ball Deluxe. Best skill shot, ever. Best table, ever. And by “defies me in a good way” I mean you could bend that machine to your will, play it like Pablo Casals played the cello, make it weep and sing and knock out free games like some garrulous spirit banging the table at a séance, and the next day it would own you completely. The next day you could no more get the table to do your bidding than you could push a donkey down a well. There was a reason EBD suffered so much during its time at the Valli; nearly every day, one of its devotees reared back and kicked it right in the cashbox with such force the machine went black and reset.
The guy who used to kick it the most is now an insurance salesman, I understand.
Finished our meal, such as it was; drove home so I could do the Hewitt show. Which was fun as usual. Walked the dog. Now this. I have a column to write, so off I go. Oh: one more thing about the cultural wasteland of suburbia. I hit a drive-through coffeeshop, and the clerk – your typical fresh-scrubbed suburban young lady, very attractive – looked through my window, noted the book “Krakatoa” on the seat, and inquired: “How is that? I’ve wondered.”
Teenage wasteland, eh.