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.

Jason Reitman, “pretty good” and pretty dumb

January 15, 2010


In the doctor’s office today, I picked up the January 18th edition of Time, a publication I rarely read. I made it as far as page ten, for it was there that I read a column titled “10 questions for Jason Reitman“. From what I gathered, this is a regularly occurring item in which readers lob softball questions into a celebrity and (s)he parries them with rapier wit.

Having seen and enjoyed some of Mr. Reitman’s work, especially his latest “Up in the Air” (a film that I enjoyed principally for two reasons: the scene in which Ryan Bingham teaches his young colleague how best to navigate the security line at the airport and the presence of George Clooney).

Softball question, glib answer. Softball question, glib answer. Reitman was nine for nine. It was the answer to the tenth question that caught me.

Q: Have you ever been fired? (Jessie K., WASHINGTON)

A: I have actually never been fired. It turns out I’m pretty good at what I do.

What did he say? Being “pretty good” prevents him from being fired? This is so wrong on at least two levels that I can hardly contain myself.

Jason, son of famous filmmaker Ivan, Reitman appears to have never done anything outside the film industry in which his father is wonderfully successful. Perhaps if he spent 10 years as “Jason Smith” instead, he might have a better idea of the way things work. For this he gets my favorite insult to priviledged people: He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

Jason, son of Ivan, makes a movie about firing people, yet all he seems to have learned out of the process is that sucking up to American Airlines gets you good perks, not the fact that there are many, many people who were not merely “pretty good” at their job who find themselves fired and out of work through no fault of their own.

In the words of a character in one of his dad’s best movies, “Nice going, asshole.”

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