Joe Gandelman on the Times‘s ham-fisted MoveOn / Petraeus play:

What’s mind-boggling is that in this highly politicized, polarized, people-looking-for-a-rant atmosphere someone at the Times could approve such language without anticipating that it would trigger howls of protest — not just from Republicans, conservatives and the White House but from all Americans who also decry and condemn any kind of political hate speech — such as administration’s and some Republicans’ attempt to brand war critics as enablers of terrorism and/or haters of American troops. That’s as equally inaccurate as “General Betray Us.”

The Times just didn’t run an ad at a discount; it helped perpetuate the seemingly inexorable trend towards lowering the bar for mass-media carried political hate speech.

The Times has suffered a series of bungles and image-shattering scandals the past few years. This won’t help it — and as Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal begins to beef up its news coverage, the Times might do well to look over its shoulder and exercise the kind of care [its “public editor”] Hoyt recommends.

Somewhere, Rupert Murdoch must be smiling.

This was the last thing the Times needed, but above all it was not a slip up in any substantive sense — merely in the sense that it revealed what critics (including me) have long believed to be true: If the New York Times was ever a fair broker, it certainly is not one now.

Losers in the corn

“Police Find Swastika Cut Into Acres Of N.J. Cornfield” — what a great way to get a lot of attention, anonymously or otherwise (anonymous attention can be quite a lot of fun), without actually achieving anything or for that matter even really hurting anyone.

The worst thing you could have done to the kids who did this would have been not to have reported it at all, which would take the kind of discipline previously reserved for people who run onto the field at ball games in order to get on TV.  This is the same level of stupidity.  The swastika is nothing, in this context, but a “Hi Mom!” sign.

Working out those wands

I’ve already commented on the wizarding economy and put forth my review of the last Harry Potter book.  I recently enunciated, in my own head, something about the whole wizarding world of Harry Potter that was bothering me.  And now, I share it with you.

Did you ever notice how none of the masters of wizardry, including the faculty at Hogwarts, is ever shown practicing, improving their own skills, or taking master lessons?

This is certainly just laziness on J.K. Rowling’s part, but it is very unfortunate, because of the unquestionable pedagogical influence of her work on young people.  They should be given to understand that no one who is great at what they do — think Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods; Yo-Yo Ma or Wynton Marsalis — remains that way merely by virtue of acquisition of a certain set of skills at the peak of his learning experience.  Great performers, artists and practitioners of all crafts practice, refine their skills, seek new challenges, and recognize their skills and abilities are either improving or deteriorating.

In the wizarding world, on the other hand, the great grown up wizards — think of Dumbledore and Snape — are evidently static in their status as wizards even though, ultimately, they are not static as characters (at least not entirely, and at least not by the end).  We never see the masters doing extra reading, or adding to their repertoires, or out on the wanding range.   No one learns but the students at Hogwarts.

That’s a real life lesson about excellence that the Harry Potter books could have taught with a few select sentences, and an opportunity lost by their by and large very highly accomplished author.  Too bad.

Bollinger saves the day?

AMERICAN DIGEST thinks so (via Insty), oddly enough, and is surprised everyone isn’t joining in on his approval of the Columbia President’s brutal introduction of his homicidal speaker in Columbia’s “Distinguished Lecturer” series.

Not moved. This was an attempt at damage control. Frankly it is never good manners to insult a guest. Separate and apart from that, it is never ethically appropriate to invite a tyrant to be your guest. Breaching the first of these principles does not cure a breach of the second. The fact that it would merely have been worse to have introduced him politely hardly helps.

UPDATE: More from little old me.  Whereas Dean Esmay sees it very differently.

Free speech not free

We are so brave here at our college (U. of Colorado) newspaper, writing bad words to the President!

Well, it is their right. I may disagree with them — and their attitude, and their childishness, and their lack of imagination — but I will defend to a very bad hangnail their right to say it in their collegiate sandbox. Similarly I will defend the right of everyone who pays for these kinderlech to play to pick up their stuff and go home:

In a letter to the University Community and Collegian readers, McSwane wrote, “While the editorial board feels strongly with regard to First Amendment issues, we have found the unintended consequences of such a bold statement to be extremely disheartening.”McSwane told 7NEWS that ads from the CSU Bookstore were pulled from the paper in response to the editorial. Bookstore managers declined to comment.

The Associated Press Saturday reported the student newspaper has lost $30,000 in advertising and had to cut pay and other budgets by 10 percent because of fallout.

What a great lesson in life. I am sure another one is looming: How soon before a mandated student-activities fund grant is made to replace the lost advertising? Just axing.

Social networking, just right

I was marking up this article in The Atlantic right on the Lexington Avenue bus, in front of everyone, that’s how well author Michael Hirschorn echoes my sentiments about Facebook. You don’t understand social networking? You will if you read this article. Hirschorn particularly hits the nail on the head in his descriptions, by contradistinction, of the anarchistic MySpace and the stiff LinkedIn. Excerpts:

The catchall term social media encompasses Web applications that allow individuals to create their own pages—filled with postings, photos, video, and portable applications generally called “widgets”—and interact with other users. The theory is that these networks will create a virtual environment in which like-minded people can find one another. In practice, as with Goldi­locks and the porridge, the gruel tends to be too hot or too cold. On MySpace, the flood of pseudo-buddies and marketing come-ons disguised as offers of friendship quickly becomes suffocating. Too hot. On a business – networking site like LinkedIn, the very nature of the concept becomes self-defeating: The subset of people you want to schmooze with and who want to schmooze with you is simply too small, and too difficult to separate from the much larger group of people you are trying to avoid or who are trying to avoid you. Too cold.

Facebook is getting the temperature just right, and in the process has been able to give social media real social capital. . . .

Openness and messiness are indeed the characteristics that make the Web so different from other forms of media, if indeed the Web can be called “media” at all. But it has always been the push-me/pull-you between order and disorder that has made the Internet more than merely a vast agglomeration of stuff. . . .

Facebook [] is imposing the right limits—it’s almost New Victorian in that regard. It is a connection engine that successfully mirrors how most of us want to live our lives. (Most people live in suburbs for a reason.) If the overall trend on the Internet is the individual user’s loss of control as corporations make money off information you unwittingly provide, Facebook is offering a way to get some of that control back.

Having said all that, I don’t spend all that much time on Facebook. The average age of members still seems to be in the “young enough to be my child” category, though everyone agrees it’s heading up fast. As Hirschorn points out, what makes the website so promising is that you can build your own networks within the overall network along any number of axes you choose, and make them open, closed, secret or, if you’re tech-savvy enough, in between. It’s good stuff — even if you don’t waste all your time on it.

Attorney Ronald D. Coleman