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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!

Best wishes for peace, health and prosperity for 2009.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, December 22, 2008

French Laicite & Cultural Identity

I've got a guest post op-ed over at Art Goldhammer's site, French Politics:

PARIS -- Two weeks ago, one of my seven-year-old son’s classmates arrived at school with pastries to pass out to the class. His mother, a non-observant “cultural Muslim,” had spent the weekend preparing the delicacies that traditionally accompany the celebration of Eid al-Adha, as a way for her son to share the cultural tradition with his friends. But when he asked for permission to hand them out, the teacher refused. The pastries, it seems, would have violated France’s strict code of laïcité forbidding among other things, the introduction of religious dress or symbolism into the public school system. . . .

[I]t would be easy to chalk the pastry incident off to an overzealous defense of a principle that, for cultural reasons, Americans have difficulty appreciating.

Except for one detail. . . . 

Click through for the rest, and let me know what you think.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes Happen

As much as anything, what struck me about the video of President Bush getting a shoe tossed at him was how old he suddenly seems. Not that he didn't demonstrate great reflexes. He did, and that guy was an Olympic-calibre shoe tosser.

But watching his remarks afterwards, at about the :55 mark, I had to shake off the feeling that it was his father speaking. Part of it must be the jetlag and fatigue of travel, and part of it is the whitening job the presidency does on people's hair. But there's also a sag in the corners of his mouth and a pouch of loose flesh around his adam's apple that I've never noticed before.

Presidents are kind of like fighters in that when they get old, it seems to happen overnight, from one press conference to the next. And Bush just got old.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, December 11, 2008


Good thing this occurred at the final curtain. Hard to see how that one could have gone on.

A friend of mine was once in the audience when the lead actor collapsed from a heart attack on stage. She said it was only when the other cast members called out for the proverbial "doctor in the house" that everyone realized it wasn't in the original script.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The End of the Automobile?

Just an observation to keep things in perspective:

When the American auto industry goes belly up, no one talks about the end of the automobile. They talk about poor corporate management in Detroit.

By comparison, when the newspaper industry starts losing readers and revenue, the end of the newspaper can't be far behind.

The difference, of course, is in the alternatives. Online news amounts to the equivalent of a fleet of volunteer chauffeurs patrolling city streets, stopping beside anyone fumbling for their car keys and helpfully offering a lift.

But online news is only free on the consumption end, mainly because of an early adapter rush to lower entry barriers to readership in order to establish brand loyalty. That will ultimately change, whether through subscription walls and/or adapted advertising models. And when it does, the revenue picture will improve dramatically, because the thirst for news is obviously greater than ever (for reasons that I'm not sure are necessarily healthy).

I'm also convinced that once the complementary roles of print and online editions have been more formally established, a residual demand for print will survive. It's a different reading experience, with different functions in terms of how and what kind of information is delivered. We're still very much in a transition period, where the vast majority of newsrooms are trying to actively evolve their operations on the fly. But the range of alternative models is increasingly taking shape, and that will lower transformation costs and facilitate the process for those that follow.

Meanwhile, newspapers are still by and large profitable, something that is left out of the doom and gloom forecasts. Which means that the ones that aren't managed like the Big Three auto companies will live to see another day.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Reincarnation of the Newspaper

A quick thought on the crisis facing the American newspaper industry, which has often been described as a battle between online vs. print, with online winning. The problem with that description, though, is that American newspapers are really pretty cutting edge in terms of their approach to online news. Like the major broadcast companies' transition from radio to television in the mid-20th century, newspapers are uniquely positioned to benefit from readers' growing preference for online news. There are also online niches where they enjoy significant advantages over their broadcast competition. As an example, they have far deeper reporting resources than most television news outlets, with lower production overhead. So when it comes to video and mulitmedia reporting for their online editions, there's an enormous upside potential.

The crisis would be more accurately described as a battle between online revenue vs. print revenue. The problem for American newspapers isn't that they're losing readers to online editions, since they are the online editions, by and large, their print readers are abandoning them for. The problem is that no one has yet figured out how to monetize online readership.

Or online anything, for that matter. Unlike television, which provided even more lucrative revenue streams for the radio broadcasters who made the transition, the internet's reach and ease of reproduction -- in other words its very strengths -- have undermined traditional intellectual copyright revenue streams in general. The recording industry faces the same challenge, and if it survives, it will be due to alternative revenue sources, such as the cost of licensing included in pre-loaded mp3 readers, internet service provider subscriptions, and brand affiliations.

Some papers have already begun experimenting with "sponsored" editorial content. But the predictable backlash confirms that a newspaper's public interest function limits the kinds of revenue arrangements it can innovate, if it wants to maintain its journalistic credibility. Licensing fees from e-readers like the Kindle, and eventually e-paper, might make up some of the print revenue that's gradually being lost. But not all of it.

Newspapers could change their business model, whether by adapting to niche print markets (trains, planes and automo... make that buses) or going non-profit, but in that case they'll be unlikely to maintain the kind of reporting resources that are their main strength. Most of the major national dailies, I'm guessing, will survive either through philanthropic foundation money, or else strategic partnerships with universities or other cash-rich public interest institutions.

That leaves the mid-level and local dailies, which is a significant loss if they do eventually go under. These are the papers that are often the first reference when a local story takes on national signficance. Think of the Anchorage Daily News' coverage of the Sarah Palin abuse of power inquiry. 

But ultimately, there's a circular logic whereby the death of print means the rebirth of print. Because anyone who thinks there will be online editions once the print newsrooms no longer exist is in for a rude shock when they check their RSS reader or the Google news homepage the day the last print edition folds. Either online becomes sustainable, which means print runs will probably survive, too, even if they are limited. Or else we're heading into the newspaper equivalent of the Cambrian mass extinction, whereby the newspaper landscape is wiped clean, only for newspapers to reemerge in some new evolutionary form. But if that happens, it's hard to see how that new form won't include some sort of print format.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

His Own Facts

James Lamond at Democracy Arsenal flags this portion of President Bush's interview with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: . . .In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. . . It's hard for me to speculate.

Of course, by the intelligence being right, Gibson means were it to have reflected reality. But for Bush, the intelligence being right means were it to have reflected his version of reality.

The man really does feel entitled to his own set of facts. Of course, we've long suspected that to be the case, but this serves as pretty incontrovertible evidence. A pretty fitting summary of the man and his presidency.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Obama's Hair

A waking thought, not yet verified through Wackipedia or Goggle, but presented for your consideration: When Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, he will have the most closely cut hair of any American president in history.

I think there's a real danger in the context of the sobriety of the moment to give in to the temptation of somberness, something reflected in Obama's tendency to adopt a minimalist, almost Spartan esthetic. Now that he's impressed with his pragmatic and competent cabinet appointments, Obama should reassure Americans that even if we have to tighten our belts and bend our shoulders to the grindstone, we can still have a good time every now and then. Which means there's only one thing to do.

Yo, O! Grow the 'fro, bro'!

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Asia Triangle

I'd like to call your attention to our latest theme issue over at World Politics Review, the Asia Triangle. In three deep analysis pieces (M.K. Bhadrakumar on India here, Jing-dong Yuan on China here, and Arif Rafiq on Pakistan here), we examine the balance of power on the South Asian subcontinent between India, Pakistan and China, and how that might impact the emerging consensus calling for a "regional approach" to turn the tide in, and ultimately stabilize, Afghanistan.

We've had this feature in development for a while now, and last week's attacks in Mumbai obviously underscore the importance of getting this right. To do so, we should start by accepting that we understand as a "regional solution" might not be the same thing as what the region understands as a "regional solution." It also seems obvious that any effort to address India-Pakistan relations has to include China, for a variety of reasons that the three pieces make evident.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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