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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The mystery of the missing dead

  There are images in the news media of Haiti that have no correlation here, though there were images that came close during Katrina. I'm not speaking of the devastation: I'm speaking of who may be shown as victims, whose bodies are acceptable to display as news.

We live in a country that has banned all manner of images of our own war dead, even draped in our flag; where controversy remains over the depiction of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks in art, fiction, literature, and news; where the victims of even the daily automobile accidents that claim so many lives are draped before any image is taken.

There are rules: the rules are strict. But they do not pertain to all of us in the same way.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:17 PM

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A newspaper that is better than a newspaper

  McSweeney's Issue 33 PanoramaThere was an enormous newspaper on my front steps earlier this week, a Sunday-sized, full-color log of a paper in a plastic bag. I don't subscribe to the local papers, so I was wondering if there was a mistake. But it is no mistake: it is McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Issue #33 ( This particular issue is The San Francisco Panorama, an experiment in homage and tribute to daily newspapers, and what newspapers could be.

As with all issues of McSweeney's, this issue is beautifully designed; unlike most issues, it emphasizes non-fiction topics, is chock full of photography on sprawling, enormous pages, and contains a sports section and posters. It also comes with extensive notes and statistics on how it was produced (at what cost), and contains encouragement for the many writers, reporters, and others who have been laid off from their corporate publishing jobs to consider having a go on their own.

It isn't just physically substantive - it is substantive all around, and makes great use of the scale of full-newspaper sized pages.

When was the last time you really saw the scale of a newspaper REALLY used? Aside, perhaps, from a clever ad in some other city's paper?


The decline of newspapers has been much bemoaned, but my area hasn't had any truly spectacular newspapers to value. The local papers here have been pro-establishment, pro-big business, anti-labor, and pro-society-fashion forever. There is little for me there as an anti-establishment, pro-small business employee who could care less what anyone wore to the opera. While there are some great local columnists, the news reporting has often felt like it was written by hermits from other cultures.

I recall attending a pro-choice rally and silent protest against a fundamentalist group that came to the City from afar to march. The primary local paper's report presented the event as 'a group of innocents were harassed by random counter-culture freaks,' somehow failing to notice that the fundamentalists bussed people into a place they openly scorned from around the state to attend; that the mayor (whom they ordinarily adore) and nearly every major city official spoke out against fundamentalism at the event; that the anti-fundamentalists showed up in number and were well represented cross-culturally; and that the proceedings were largely peaceful. (I wrote to the paper noting that the narrow reporting was oddly incomplete and failed to describe the event I attended, and received a heated reply from the reporter, with whom I had a peculiar, non-objective exchange.) The paper gushed routinely about corporate and society parties, but could also find little positive to say about non-establishment events such as peace marches, rendering people with strollers and their families invisible so they could emphasize a handful of child suburban anarchists as being representative of... well, everything they disapproved of, in a "you kids get off my lawn" kind of way. Don't even ask about their coverage during a key mayoral race.

*yawn* Explain why I should pay for that?

Other papers in my state often appear to be nothing more than advertising circulars; I read papers from the east coast, plus websites from news organizations back east and abroad, for news. I read local weeklies for current events, light political reporting, and popular media reviews.

I only use my local paper's website for its weather radar page, and the occasional item they HAVE to cover, like repairs on the Bay Bridge.


The long-term decline of newspapers has been blamed on the internet, but one of the things I love about an informative flyer in this new McSweeney's is that it points out that newspapers have different strengths than internet news services do, and should play to those strengths. One example they give is comics, which can be printed larger and in great color in papers, but aren't good to read on the 'net. Newspapers can print local stories with great depth over many pages. The headlines-only format of television news has spread to the internet, where most articles are amazingly short: newspapers could top those headlines with substance in a heartbeat.

But do they? Some of the decline has been circular (ahem): the newspapers do less and less with all of that amazing paper real estate to save money, and have let go of countless reporters and writers to rely on the same wire services that everyone else has; in doing so, have less to differentiate them from their competitors or from the web.


I've barely made a dent in the 350,000 words of Panorama, but I'm already impressed by the very idea of reconceptualizing the traditional paper newspaper, and playing up its strengths.


posted by Arlene (Beth)5:09 PM

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Even more reasons to love turmeric...more

  It is a natural dye, an Ayurvedic medicine, and one of my favorite spices: turmeric. I love it passionately already, but now there are even more reasons to like it. BBC NEWS | Health | Curry spice 'kills cancer cells' (, 10/2/09):
An extract found in the bright yellow curry spice turmeric can kill off cancer cells, scientists have shown.
The article doesn't explain the methodology used, or what is required to make the extract, and it sounds a bit like they want something topical that you can rub into your cancer cells every night before bed. Doesn't it?

Another thing that goes unmentioned is that it's easiest to study just one compound in a natural substance at a time. A spice might have many compounds in it that are beneficial, but it is quite humiliating to neither be able to say which one/ones are acting on a condition, and which others are hanging out. It seemed to take a long time after the key dietary vitamins were all named for researchers to figure out what bioflavinoids do, even though bioflavinoids were in just about every food that scientists were studying for benefits: it sounds like there were just too many compounds to consider, and no one wanted to look foolish by announcing that whole oranges are really good for you. (Duh.)

So articles like this one will point out that one compound they can identify does one particular thing, and this is celebrated. Which is nice. I suppose.

The obvious ending is missing from the article: "And it tastes really good in yellow curry."

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:27 PM

Monday, October 12, 2009

Go west, young lady

  Did you ever see Xiu Xiu, the Sent Down Girl? I have film festivals for myself, and during my Asian Women in Bad Situations mini-festival, I watched this drama about an idealistic Communist girl who was eager to share her ideals with the undeveloped western regions of China, only to find herself trapped and hopeless. The film alluded to the "sending down" and "down to the countryside" programs in China, in which the government managed urban youth and political dissidents by sending them far away on supposedly short term rural development projects... and never allowing them to return.

Art can be so educational: you read about things you wouldn't have heard of otherwise.

Now the BBC has an upbeat article about urban youth being sent to the countryside to share their ideals with the undeveloped western regions. Which sounds so... familiar. BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China's reverse migration (10/11/09) is ostensibly about having the government organize a little time in the country for the heavily-educated.
Since 2003 more than 1,400 young people from Shanghai have been sent by the Communist Youth League to the interior of China.
In the media we should have, there would be a nice comment in this article noting that this is nothing like those other, creepy, earlier projects, and that no one even worries about that sort of thing anymore. Or, otherwise, if the case is otherwise. Anything but pretending that sending urban youth to the countryside to share their ideals with the undeveloped western regions is a completely new idea.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:11 AM

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