What I read

March 28, 2010

Probably Enough to Keep Me Busy

My name is Mark and I am an addict.  My drug of choice is information, particularly on current events.

I started really reading in junior high, but it got out of hand in high school.  At first it was two newspapers a day (Chicago Tribune and the Arlington Herald).  Sports first, then the other stuff.  My reading an article about a rape trial got me “the talk” from my dad. I was in Student Congress in high school and there wasn’t a current topic that was off-limits, so preparing meant covering a wide landscape.  The guy behind the periodical desk at the library came to dislike me.  That experience introduced me to the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, as well as a broader range of general and not so general interest magazines.  Foreign Policy, anyone?  It was a gateway drug.

I went into remission in college, then resumed consuming thereafter.  It’s now really out of hand with both internet’s accessibility and my not having a job.  But even when I worked, I still always had about 40 pages of articles I’d reformatted into two-column, 10-point font to carry with me.  Walking to a meeting, waiting for a lunch partner, lunching by myself, on the train, and in other places appropriate or not, my appetite for news could be described as insatiable.  In the last couple years, I’ve fallen in love with podcasting, so now I’ve got news in through my ears and eyes, often at the same time.  If you see me with my headphones, chances are good that I’m tuned into Fresh Air or something similar, rather than Green Day.

I don’t watch much TV; mostly sports and a few entertainment shows (Modern Family tops the list, Wednesdays at 9/8CT).  I only occasionally watch cable news, and that’s only because I like the way certain people write their material, not because it adds much to my knowledge or understanding of a topic.  Cable TV does all of us a disservice by conflating the ideas of “governing” and “politics” and treating both in the same way CNBC treats the stock market or ESPN treats the baseball season.  It’s not a game.  Policy-making, like history, happens over a long arc of time and does not change eight times within 24 hours. I couldn’t help but notice how the so-called conventional wisdom on President Obama turned 180 degrees in the moments following signing the health care bill (and publication of David Frum’s “Waterloo” analysis). One moment, he’s a political blunderer, the next a genius.  It was never either one and there wasn’t a switch magically flipped on Sunday.  While there are addition points made in this this NY Review of Books piece, it encapsulates my feelings on the topic pretty well.

I used to have a business relationship with CNN and conversations with their executives taught me much about how they think and their need to “feed the monster”.  Essentially, their argument was:  We’re on for 24 hours and have to have something to talk about, so we take small things, small differences, highlight them and if we’re lucky, we’ll get a run of a couple days out of a story.  If that happens, it’s that many fewer other little stories that we’ll have to report. It was akin to taking crap and throwing it against the wall to see what would stick, then talking about it until it fell off the wall.  It works great at first (e.g., the first Gulf War), but with the proliferation of channels, the hosts of these shows have to continually come up with unique things to be outraged about, lest they lose their gigs (think Beck and Olbermann; Hannity and Ed).  If there’s nothing to be outraged about, what’s the point of having them on the air?  So outraged they are.  And we lose the concept of rational discourse in the process.

But I digress.

So, I read.  Don’t tell my business colleagues, but reading about business bores me.

I occasionally get asked what I read.  Unlike someone who came to national prominence in the last couple years and was unprepared for that question, I have an answer.  It’s a long one.  I’m exhausted looking at it.  You’ll note that it doesn’t include Time, Newsweek or any of the other “general interest” magazines.  My sense has been that if they’re only going to publish weekly, their analysis had better be excellent because it comes so late; I find their websites generally uninteresting, too (too much celebrity coverage).  The last time I checked, I didn’t think it warranted the effort.

It’s a habit I can’t kick.  I read the occasional book, but while doing that, I’m thinking of the other current things I could be reading about, so it sort of sucks the pleasure out of it.  The only exception is when I get my hands on a good history book, since I can put myself in the historical context and read it as if it was a current event.  It’s more confusing to explain than to do.

So here’s the list.

Physical media:

Online – consistently (I pay for access to the WSJ.  I would pay for content at other providers, too.  The notion that this stuff all has to be free is flawed as far as I’m concerned):

Online – occasional


  • PTI
  • C-SPAN After Words (from Book TV)
  • Fresh Air
  • NPR’s It’s All Politics
  • NPR’s Planet Money
  • PBS NewsHour
  • Slate’s Culture Gabfest
  • Slate’s Hang Up and Listen
  • Slate’s Political Gabfest
  • Countdown
  • This American Life
  • On The Media
  • Today in the Past

No Politico, Talking Points Memo or Daily Beast.

If I’m missing something, let me know.  There’s always room on the browser and in the stack of papers for another view.

Obama: The Luckiest Politician Ever

June 9, 2009
Crazy like a Fox?

Crazy like a Fox?

It has to be true that no one in political life has been more fortunate in their choice of opponents than Barack Obama (i.e., Peter Fitzgerald, Carol Mosely Braun, Blair Hull and the seven dwarfs of the 2004 Democratic Senatorial primary , Jack Ryan, Alan Keyes, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and now the rest of the circular firing squad known as the GOP leadership).  How else to explain Newt Gingrich stepping into a Reagan-loving minefield with his comments today?

Reagan at the U.N. on 6/19/82: “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world. … My people have sent me here today to speak for them as citizens of the world, which they truly are, for we Americans are drawn from every nationality represented in this chamber today.”

Newt today: “I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous.”

Newt said this with no sense of irony.  As political theatre, it’s awesome to watch, in the same way a tornado is awesome to watch–that is, from a distance.  This may be Newt’s “Tonya Harding Moment”–one where he whacks an opponent, only to realize that doing it sinks himself and that the lunkheads that helped him do it, were, in fact, lunkheads.  Whoever writes Newt’s speeches or does his research should be handed over to Cheney and Addington for enhanced interrogation.  Does they not understand that people have access to the Google and can trace these things? If this was an accident, and he didn’t know that Reagan had said this, it may be the equivalent of Jerry Ford freeing the Poles from Soviet domination in the 1976 Presidential Debate with Jimmy Carter–the foot-shooting moment that everyone remembered as they went into the voting booth a few days later.

Perhaps I’m wrong.  Perhaps criticizing Reagan’s foreign policy is Newt’s new strategy to grab the mantle of leadership of the Republican Party.  After all, not many conservatives were comfortable with Reagan’s embrace of Gorby at Reykjavik.  Maybe he’s figuring that the best way to separate himself from the Republican pack is to separate himself from Reagan.  I doubt it, but can’t think of any other explanation (other than “oops, get me rewrite!”)

The good news for the Republicans is that it’s an eternity until anybody other than goobers like me start paying attention.  Time will tell.

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