the times-picayune and passion

Great piece in the LAT on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s heroic post-Katrina coverage. The reporter asks: “The newspaper’s success in the face of disaster raises a question: Are objectivity and dispassion in journalism overrated?”
Which is, of course, the wrong question to ask. Objectivity is not overrated. But dispassion is another thing entirely. Newspapers get in trouble when they confuse the two. Being an objective source of information does not mean being a cold fish. We should be passionate. We should inspire our readers to be passionate. We should make them gleeful and angry and sad — hopefully all three every day. Newspapers need a personality, and the T-P — by becoming a clear, angry voice on behalf of its city — has accomplished that.
Here’s the terrific Chris Rose column the LAT piece refers to. It’s amazing, and you should read it first. People, it may be about to be 2006, but I beg of you: Please don’t make New Orleans yesterday’s news. The city needs our love.

overcoming dyslexia…for dummies?

As an education reporter, I get education-related books in the mail all the time. Publishers want us to review them, even though that never happens. (I’ve reviewed one book in five-plus years here.)
Anyway, today I got this book in the mail. It’s one of the famed “Dummies” series of books, several of which I’ve found useful in the past.
But this book, released just yesterday, is called “Overcoming Dyslexia for Dummies.”
Wrong message, perhaps?

the long dynasty

A great article from 1966 on the Long political dynasty of Louisiana, by a then-young Stephen Hess. While it was 31 years after Huey’s death and six after Earl’s, the piece is optimistic about the Longs’ continuing power and influence in Louisiana, saying that Huey’s son Russell was a rising national figure and cousins Gillis and Speedy were comers.
It didn’t work out that way. Speedy and Gillis swapped the 8th District seat in Congress between them for a while, but to no great effect. Russell became a drunk. (Or, more accurately, was exposed as a drunk. That’s what the “tempestuous, moody, unpredictable charmer” quote from Russell Baker was about.) And no one else seemed to pick up the Long mantle after that. I guess Jimmy Long was in the state House for a while, but that’s about it.
I’ve always been surprised some enterprising Long hasn’t jumped back into the ring. The name still means something in Louisiana — if not as much as it used to, since anyone who once voted for Huey is dead and the last to vote for Earl are now in their late 60s.
A polished 30-something Long could play the same divide Russell did: being a Long gives you populist credibility among the poor, but being a city-slicker can get you the business interests. And there’d be no shortage of media attention. The closest analog I can think of would be Richard M. Daley following his dad, the old boss, Richard J., as mayor of Chicago. (Richard J. and Huey would have gotten along just fine.)
(I’ve been on something of an Earl Long kick lately. Here’s a great subjective take on him by Jason Berry, one of the state’s best journos. He’s the guy who broke a lot of the first priest abuse stories in the 1980s. And here’s a Rick Bragg piece on the remaining Longs [that, frustratingly, doesn’t get at my above question]. Key quote: “People feared Huey, and loved Earl.”)

the bottom of the box office barrel

It’s great fun looking at the weekend’s box office totals — particularly if you focus on the lower end, not the top.
Take this past weekend. Instead of worrying about King Kong’s financial health, look at the film that finished in last place: something called Ellie Parker, starring the pulchritudinous Australian Naomi Watts. (Who, ironically, also stars in “King Kong.”)
It’s apparently not that great a movie, although Ebert seemed to like it. But it certainly didn’t deserve a weekend take as demeaning as what it received: Its total gross box office was $62.
As in, less money than I have in my wallet right now. As in, what, maybe eight people total saw the movie over an entire weekend? Despite cameos by Keanu Reeves and Chevy Chase? Sad.
Although I must say that a key plot point — a man has sex with Naomi Watts and, at that moment, realizes he is gay because he spent the entire act thinking of Johnny Depp — seems to push the bounds of reality. The act of having sex with Naomi Watts, I would imagine, crosses all lines of sexual proclivity and would be enjoyable by all, would it not?
I mean, I remember this guy in college who was a devout heterosexual, but also a devout David Bowie fan. He was such a fan that, if at some future date David Bowie decided he wanted to have sex with him, he’d be fine with it. “I mean, we’re talking David Bowie!” he said. “Of course I’d have sex with him!” I like to think of Naomi Watts as the gay analog.

magnolia electric co. live

A bunch of Magnolia Electric Co. live shows available for download. They’re in the unwieldy FLAC format, but you can easily convert that down to MP3. (My fellow Mac users can use xACT; Windozers would use something from here, I suppose.)
I’ve been finding myself wildly intrigued by Magnolia Electric Co. lately, even though much of their oeuvre is nothing to write home about. I just keep listening to the apocalyptic Youngian (and hell, Jungian) propulsion of “Farewell Transmission.” It’s like Bob Seger after a little whiskey and a kick to the kidneys. Or maybe a grim, paranoid Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s a lot of power in there for a deceptively simple song.
You’ll want the MP3 here.
(And, if we want to be technical, “Farewell Transmission” is actually by the band Songs: Ohia, on their last album, which was entitled “Magnolia Electric Co.” After that album, they changed the band’s name to Magnolia Electric Co. If you want to be technical.)

malcolm gladwell and stereotype threat

I remember, a few days before my college graduation, running across an article in The New Yorker about genetic variability. I thought it was just about the most fascinating thing I’d ever read. For some reason, I felt the urge to track it down: here it is. The best quote, from a Yale researcher: “I would say, without a doubt, that in almost any single African population — a tribe or however you want to define it-there is more genetic variation than in all the rest of the world put together.”
I think this whole subset of issues — particularly the issue of how self-perception impacts achievement, in sports or academics — is really interesting. And really important. (I wrote a column about the academic end of things last year.)
I always find it a little jarring when Malcolm Gladwell (the author of the piece) talks about being the subject of black stereotypes, though. He’s part West Indian, but when he wrote the piece, he looked like this. He’s grown out his ‘fro since then, but I doubt many folks seeing him on the street as a kid would have pegged him as black. But hey, it’s not my life, and what do I know?