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Save Us, Jack Donaghy

In Connecting the Dots on Tuesday, 13 May 2008 at 13:52

We haven’t blogged much about the presidential campaign of late. You’re welcome. But this week, as Hillary Clinton (or at least her advisers) appear to be slowly accepting defeat, there’s been some worthwhile analysis. It’s always intriguing to see what the objective Brits at The Economist have to say about the wacky American politicians, and Time has an uncommonly good piece about the calculated moves on Obama’s path to success. Plus, the conversation about the race between journalism giants Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose is worth watching.

And while the media’s got its eyes superglued to Hillarack, one Mr. Alec Baldwin might be staging his great political coming out … one can only hope.

But Who’s Signing the Checks?

In Connecting the Dots on Monday, 12 May 2008 at 15:52

With all these reports of questionable medical experts showing up on public broadcast shows, we’re wondering if maybe we should just take two aspirin and call back in the morning. Salon reports on a PBS show featuring Dr. Daniel Amen, who posits that Alzheimer’s is curable — the problem is, the show is produced by Amen with very little vetting, and it sort of looks like an infomercial. And all this just days after Slate told us that public radio show The Infinite Mind had strong ties to drug companies. (Thanks to current top Brijiteer John Lister for the heads-up!)

Speaking of conflicts of interest, The New York Times weighed in on former Bush honcho Karl Rove’s transformation into a pundit — he’s offering advice on the airwaves and pages of Fox News, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. And while his tips for Barack Obama were only so-so, he wrote a colorful profile of John McCain, someone on his side of the aisle. The Times piece points out that even if he’s not really independent, readers know what they’re getting into with Rove. Want to read them for yourself? Start here.

Maternal Affairs

In Connecting the Dots on Friday, 9 May 2008 at 11:31

Mother’s Day is Sunday, which means procrastinators are buying last-minute cards, florists are putting their game faces on, and siblings are trying not to wring each others’ necks as they fight over where to take Mom for brunch. And as anyone with siblings knows, at times like this it’s best to have an arsenal of insults at the ready — like the one we Dugg up — the more original, the better.

For those of us with dysfunctional families, it’s refreshing to hear about those that make ours seem like Ozzie and Harriet — like the Paskowitz family, all 11 of whom lived in a camper and traveled around surfing. (“Gnarly barrel, Ma!”) Or Margot Livesey, whose story in Vogue details how she escaped her actual family and adopted another. And then there’s the confrontation between a born-again Christian and his lesbian sister on an especially good familial episode of This American Life from last month.

The best Mother’s Day gift? Write a book about Mom, like Jimmy Carter did. But since time is short, yours can be made out of construction paper, for old time’s sake.

On The Daily Show, No Laughing Matter

In Connecting the Dots on Thursday, 8 May 2008 at 14:40

John McCain joined The Daily Show last night, rounding out its run of hosting one presidential contender in each of the past three months. It was a flimsy ordeal of dodged questions and easy answers, and while the interview marked the Arizona senator’s 13th visit on the show, familiarity wasn’t the only reason for Stewart’s slow pitches — the other candidates got the same treatment. When Barack Obama came on the show in April, he similarly used it as a platform for talking points, while Stewart salvaged the interview with some apolitical zingers (including one about Obama enslaving the white race). And like Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s visit in March was also plagued by a lagging satellite feed, which meant Stewart again had to yield to the candidate’s sound bites.

Granted, you can’t expect any presidential hopeful to pull a surprise this late in the game, when gaffe coverage has overtaken policy. And a TV professional might make the argument that staying germane to high-profile visitors will keep the guestbook full. But philosophy aside, Stewart and the show’s producers should ratchet up the pressure on political guests, if only for the education of its audience. The Daily Show is comedy first — as Stewart noted in 2006 during his brilliant plea on Crossfire — but it’s hard to make people laugh when you leave the joke-writing up to senators.

Making a Joke of Justice

In Connecting the Dots on Wednesday, 7 May 2008 at 11:20

In case you forgot, the US is still holding people at Guantanamo Bay without telling them why — 775 detainees to be exact since 2002 — and the Washington Post reports that not a single one has gone to trial, and President Bush ain’t likely to make it a priority in his last year. (And don’t forget the March three-dot piece from the Los Angeles Times describing a day in the life of a Guantanamo detainee.) What’s equally horrifying, The New York Times uncovered that 66 people died in immigration custody in less than four years, including a man who died in a coma after suffering a skull fracture and brain hemorrhages. These two pieces are enough to make you agree with the lately-ubiquitous Fareed Zakaria, who’s on the PR tour for his book, The Post-American World. Watch his Daily Show interview — at least there’s a bit of Jon Stewart’s humor thrown in to an otherwise bleak reminder that America’s international reputation is in shambles.

In Profile

In Connecting the Dots on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 11:56

Calling The New Yorker a good magazine might be like calling the Beatles popular, but they’ve done a particularly commendable job this week, offering a quartet of profiles that span the artistic spectrum. We first recommend Alex Ross’ portrait of Alaska composer John Luther Adams, whose seismic symphony is literally conducted by the mountains that surround him. There’s also an unpretentious piece about London architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick, whose fluid, organic forms can also function. From the fashion industry we get a profile of top digital touch-up artist Pascal Dangin, and the story of Grant Achatz leads in the tragic irony department — the Chicago chef lost his sense of taste to tongue cancer but still pioneers in the world of molecular gastronomy.

Bachelor’s Degrees are So Passé

In Connecting the Dots on Monday, 5 May 2008 at 13:53

I graduated from college with a degree in English, which to some means I have a BA in absolutely nothing. I prefer to believe the parents and professors out there who claim that a liberal arts education is about learning how to think (yes, often at the expense of actual workplace skills). Perhaps I am naive; The Chronicle of Higher Education published a discouraging piece about the worthlessness of the bachelor’s degree. Graduation rates are down, the quality of the education is in question, and the degree itself means less and less. But for those still excited about heading off to college — and congrats on getting in, it’s harder than ever — the Washington Post offers a very basic primer about what to expect. The Post also printed a refreshing essay arguing that many of the students matriculating at top-tier schools are impressively brainy and ambitious — but not exactly kind. And as for recent graduates, take comfort (or not) in knowing that entry-level wages have been falling since 2001. You may be destitute, but you are not alone.

When You’ve Got a Hammer…

In Connecting the Dots on Friday, 2 May 2008 at 11:25

Dear New York Times: Last Friday you told us that — surprise! — rich people are feeling the housing crisis like the rest of us. And we didn’t even roll our eyes — we’ll walk a mile in their Manolos before we criticize. But when you file two reports, just a week apart, that lipstick and elective surgery are economic indicators, we have to wonder if you’re reaching for a story. Granted, we’ve all got pages to fill, and we’ll admit your profile of recession-friendly clothing chain Steve & Barry’s was a winner. Just don’t tell us on Monday that newspaper sales are depressed by the economy as well.

Gloria Gaynor Would Be Proud!

In Connecting the Dots, Uncategorized on Thursday, 1 May 2008 at 12:22

In business and politics, as in nature, only the strong survive. There’ve been some great stories of survival this week, beginning with a quirky piece in the NYT about a culinary expert who’s hoping to save rare species by putting them on the menu. New York‘s cover story this week carefully dissected the controversial firing of Zoe Cruz, one of Wall Street’s most powerful women, and former heir-apparent to the CEO slot at Morgan Stanley. Perhaps Cruz couldn’t cut it in the competitive world of Wall Street, but some are crying foul, claiming the episode is blatant sexism. Meanwhile, there’s another brand of prejudice being perpetuated around the world: biobigotry. Do you swoon over charismatic megafauna — the big, furry zoo animals — and ignore — or worse, revile — the less cuddly organisms of equal ecological importance? You’re a biobigot, according to another curious science piece from the Times — or maybe you’re just a human with a healthy imagination.

Defining Elitism

In Connecting the Dots on Wednesday, 30 April 2008 at 11:31

In the wake of Bittergate, the chattering classes are taking another look at America’s elite — and deconstructing what the term “elite” really means. Politicians eschew the label, of course — cue the whiskey shots and Budweiser chasers — though Fred Barnes argues that Barack Obama is the poster boy for elitism in the US. (The Harvard Law School line on his resume is a dead giveaway, man-of-the-people Barnes contends.) Meanwhile, David Rothkopf describes a “global elite” consisting of 6,000 leaders and influential people, while John Renehan recently took up some prime real estate in The Washington Post to implore the sons and daughters of privilege to sign up for the armed services. Even if Little Lord Fauntleroy doesn’t join the army, it may be of some consolation to everyone else that the better schools in the US are increasingly looking to make the tuition burden easier for everyone defined as non-elite.