"To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?" -- C.S. Lewis

Friday, January 7, 2005

The Gassing Of The Kurds: Slate's "Chatterbox," by Timothy Noah, was pretty firm yesterday in its denouncement of Al Jazeera for airing an "op-ed" claiming that Saddam never gassed the Kurds:

The Al Jazeera op-ed's most outrageous claim is that the Central Intelligence Agency recently concluded that "the Iranians perpetrated that attack as a media war tactic." It did no such thing, and there has never been any evidence to support this claim.

Noah adds that Saddam's gassing of the Kurds is "well-documented by various journalists, human rights groups, and the United Nations."

I've seen only one major piece opposing Noah's defense of the commonly understood Halabja narrative. On Jan. 31, 2003, Stephen Pelletiere, the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, questioned the charge against Saddam in a NY Times op-ed:

...immediately after the battle the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas.

The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent — that is, a cyanide-based gas — which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.

Maybe this is the source for Al Jazeera's "op-ed." I've e-mailed Timothy Noah. Maybe he'll do a follow-up.

If Pelletiere can be dismissed, I'd like to know why. And, if not, I'd like to know that, too.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Big Media & U.S. Politics: When political campaigns spend enormous sums of money on advertising, who benefits? Big Media. Whose job is it to cover elections fairly and rigorously? Big Media's. But, while the corporately owned media are quite happy to suck campaign coffers dry, they don't re-invest much of that money in quality news coverage. Local news leads with traffic accidents; and national news leads with show trials. Expanded news programming usually focuses on unsolved murders or investigates trendy weight-loss programs.

Robert McChesney, the founder and president of Free Press, chimes in:

Most Americans don't know that the presidential candidates and allied groups shattered all campaign finance records in 2004, spending $2 billion. That's right: billion. Most of that money bought political ads from the biggest media companies ... who gave us back deplorable election coverage.

As McChesney points out later in his column, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is expected to be re-opened within this calendar year. It's time for grass roots organizations such as McChesney's to prepare for the fight.

Get ready, because Clintonian Democrats and most Republicans are preparing to help the media serve you less.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Memogate: The independent investigation of Dan Rather's Memogate is due out any time. Meanwhile, the Columbia Journalism Review has published a pretty solid piece critiquing the Mainstream Media's coverage of the scandal. CJR is especially interested in the journalistic sloppiness of certain bloggers and "experts" who spearheaded the original charges against Rather. CJR also rightfully points out that the Mainstream Media did a piss poor job of informing readers and viewers that many of the sources most often cited in stories on Memogate were hard line conservative.

Did Rather screw up? Oh, yes. CJR isn't disputing that. But Rather's critics didn't always dot their "i's" and cross their "t's." And the Mainstream Media should have noticed.

Still, the author of the CJR piece, Corey Pein, oversteps a bit, and betrays his own agenda at several points in the piece. Most noteworthy is his defense of Dan Rather's source for the memos, Bill Burkett:

[Fried Man Blog] classifies Burkett as a member of the “loony left,” based on [Burkett's] Web posts. In these, Burkett says corporations will strip Iraq, obliquely compares Bush to Napoleon and “Adolf,” and calls for the defense of constitutional principles. These supposedly damning rants, alluded to in USA Today ,The Washington Post, and elsewhere, are not really any loonier than an essay in Harper’s or a conversation at a Democratic party gathering during the campaign.

If Pein thinks comparisons of Bush to Hitler are sane, rather than "loony," then he must hang in some pretty partisan circles himself. And, if Harper's and Dem party members are overly free with the Hitler labeling, then they deserve indictments as loony lefties, too.

Again, overall, this CJR piece is a valuable contribution to the Memogate story. But if Corey Pein is going to critique media performances, he needs to put a little more effort into his own objectivity.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

HD Radio: Many local radio stations are beginning to broadcast digital signals. This new form of terrestrial audio transmission has been labeled HD Radio. The main advantage offered by HD Radio is its reduced vulnerability to interference from electrical lines, TV and computer monitors, etc. FM signals, and especially AM signals, will no longer suffer from pops and fizzles caused by various electrical sources around your home and town.

But what of overall sound quality? Here, you may not notice much. On FM in particular you won't hear a difference which is in any way comparable to the gulf in visual quality between HDTV and rabbit ears.

Also, you don't currently own a radio with HD reception capability. If you were to go shopping today, you'd have to spend anywhere from $349 to $999 to acquire your first HD radio.

Some broadcasters--especially those in public radio--are excited about one of the perks of HD Radio: Multiple channels--effectively, multiple stations--can be broadcast on one frequency. If you convert an FM signal to digital, you will then be able to split it into two or three additional channels--and have room for a wider variety of content. One of the financial backers of HD Radio, Fred Wilson, considerably overstates this advantage:

The beauty of radio is that there are thousands of stations, each with its own general manager, who has a lot of autonomy to do what they want on their stations.

Wilson is living in 1985, I think. Autonomy is something that few radio stations enjoy. These days they take all their meaningful cues from corporate headquarters. Mark Glaser, the author of the above link, is absolutely right to ask: "How can more channels in the same hands improve quality for the listeners?"

Right. The same people who serve up radio stations with 300-song playlists will now have two or three extra channels per station with which to bore you. Can't wait.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Geek Alert: Alrighty, a follow-up on my Geek Alert from December 20th. I've watched the Return of the King extended edition DVD and taken in the Gandalf scenes which didn't make the theatrical version of the film. Prepare yourself for spoilers if you haven't yet seen the extended edition.

Gandalf vs. Saruman: Overall, a solid scene. Compared to many other moments in the movie trilogy, the plot deviations from the books aren't hard to forgive. From listening to the cast audio commentaries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Christopher Lee (Saruman) is a sincere fan of Tolkien and, for his part, tries to keep Tolkien's voice alive in the movies where he can. I've often wondered if Lee would have been the better choice for the role of Gandalf, and, given his evident devotion to the books, I'm becoming more and more comfortable with that position.

Gandalf vs. the Witch King: For fans of the books, this scene was insulting. A major spoiler here: Peter Jackson has the Witch King destroy Gandalf's staff. Gandalf then lies on the ground, seemingly helpless, awaiting the Nazgul's next blow. Of course, Rohan arrives in the nick of time, the Witch King rushes back to the battle proper, and Gandalf is left to continue his affairs.

Given Peter Jackson's ongoing slander of Gandalf's character throughout these films, this scene shouldn't come as a shock. I listened to the director's and writers' commentary track, hoping to hear their justification for the breaking of Gandalf's staff (something that does not occur in the book); but none is offered.
I don't know what reasoning could be offered, really. Gandalf the Grey was able to defeat a Balrog. But we're to believe that Gandalf the White, a Maia--wearing the red elven ring, mind you--is no match at all for a man armed with one of the nine rings of men? Besides the fact that Gandalf's staff isn't broken in the books, this plot change can claim absolutely no support whatsoever from the magical power structure in Tolkien's universe. Well, enough. Next...

Gandalf vs. the Mouth of Sauron: Here, Peter Jackson has swapped protagonists. For the movie trilogy, this scene becomes Aragorn vs. the Mouth of Sauron. Maybe this is for the best. Maybe. But Gandalf's behavior during the scene adds still more pussy-fication to the silver screen adaptation of my favorite wizard. On the cast commentary track, to my horror, I discovered that Ian McKellen arrived at the set on the day of this scene's filming not exactly knowing who Gandalf the White is. Well, that explains a lot. When the Mouth of Sauron throws Frodo's mithril coat at McKellen's Gandalf, he responds by cowering and beginning to cry. Pathetic, Ian. John Huston's cartoon Gandalf has you beat.

I will say this: the Mouth of Sauron is perfect. Peter Jackson does do an excellent job in bringing this character to life. Too bad the Mouth of Sauron didn't make the theatrical cut.

In closing, I am a fan of these movies. But I'm a much bigger fan of the books, and that's where my allegiances lie.

To be fair, there are many places where Peter Jackson succeeds in his films. To McKellen's credit, for example, he nails the scene in which his Gandalf greets an awakening Frodo in Minas Tirith with a smile that turns to laughter. That is Gandalf.

So please understand that, while I've filed a few complaints, I do enjoy the movies. I own them all--the extended versions and the theatrical cuts. But, if you only know Tolkien through Peter Jackson, I highly recommend a trip to the book store.

Oh...: Happy New Year!

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