Saturday, July 07, 2018

Media critiques -- Nora Ephron's SCRIBBLE SCRABBLE

Nora Ephron was a famous director whose films include SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE and YOU'VE GOT MAIL.  Before she was a director, she was a screenwriter and she wrote WHEN HARRY MET SALLY . . . and co-wrote SILKWOOD.  Before that?

She was a journalist.  And a collection of her essays for ESQUIRE, media critiques, are gathered together in one of her early books SCRIBBLE SCRABBLE which was first released in 1978.  It was the follow up to CRAZY SALAD -- a collection that's often referenced today.

SCRIBBLE SCRABBLE is more overlooked.  I bought it because Ava and C.I. frequently reference it in their writing, specifically an essay that the media would rather you not know about.  But I'll get to that in a moment.

As a media critic, Nora Ephron is especially important in a world where Bob Somerby presents an ahistorical view of the press -- supposedly good and wonderful until Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992.   Bob also trashed Maureen Dowd repeatedly because (a) she's a woman and (b) she's never liked Bill or Hillary Clinton. 

Dowd works for THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Bob Somerby feels she and the paper are out of touch.  A recent development.  No.  SCRIBBLE SCRABBLE contains "The New Porn" which is Nora taking on THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Why?  They "ran a page-one story by its food writer Craig Claiborne about a four-thousand-dollar meal he and his friend Pierre Franey ate at a Paris restaurant."

She explains:

Two things were immediately clear to me when I read the article: first, the meal had been a real disappointment, though Craig only hinted at that with a few cutting remarks about the blandness of the sorrel soup and the nothingness of the sweetbread parfait; and second, that the Times had managed to give front-page play to a story that was essentially a gigantic publicity stunt for American Express. What good sports the people at American Express were about the entire episode!  How jolly they were about paying the bill!  "We were mildly astonished at first but now we're cheerful about it," a spokesman for the company said -- and well he might have been.  Four thousand dollars is a small price to pay for the amount of corporate good will the article generated -- and that outraged me; I have dealt with the people at American Express about my money on several occassions, and they have never been cheerful with me.
[. . .]
Craig Claiborne writes about consuming -- which should not be confused with consumerism, or Ralph Nader, or anything of the sort.  And in his way, he is representative of one of the major trends in publishing today; he is a purveyor of what I tend to think of as the new porn.
Before going further, I should define what I mean by porn in this context: it's anything people are ashamed of getting a kick out of.  If you want to sell porn to a mass audience, you have to begin by packaging it in a way that's acceptable; you have to give people an excuse to buy it.  Playboy's Hugh Hefner was the first person in publishing to understand this; if he has done nothing else for American culture, he has given it two of the great lies of the twenties century: "I buy it for the fiction" and "I buy it for the interview."  Of late, Hefner has been hoist with his own petard.  He has spent twenty years making the world safe for split beaver, and now he is surprised that magazines that print it are taking circulation away from his own.
The new porn has nothing to do with dirty pictures.  It's simply about money.  The new porn is the editorial basis for the rash of city and local magazines that have popped up around the country in the past ten years.  Some of these magazines are first-rate -- I am particularly partial to Texas Monthly -- but generally they are to the traditional shelter magazines what Playboy is to Hustler: they have taken food and home furnishings and plant care and surrounded them with just enough political and sociological reporting to give their readers an excuse to buy them.  People who would not be caught dead subscribing to House & Garden subscribe to New York magazine.  But whatever the quality, the serious articles in New York have nothing whatever to do with what that magazine is about.  That magazine is about buying plants, and buying chairs, and buying pastrami sandwiches, and buying wine, and buying ice cream.  It is, in short, about buying.  And let's give credit where credit is due: with the possible exception of the Neiman-Marcus catalog, which is probably the granddady of this entire trend, no one does buying better than New York magazine.

When he's slamming Gail Collins, for example, Bob is railing against New Porn -- though he's not educated enough to know it.  For a media critic, he's incredibly uninformed.

Another gem in the collection would be "How to Write a Newsmagazine Cover Story" which was probably timely when it was published but only became more so by this century.  Her "Upstairs, Downstairs" essay is a critique of the PBS aired program and is another must-red.  "The Making of Theodore H. White" takes on the pompous gas bag who was once considered a must-read.   "The Detroit News" explores the press' responsibility in a changing landscape -- what do you print, who do you name.  (It revolves around the coverage of a political campaign -- seven years prior, the candidate had an affair while married.)  These are important issues and issues Bob Somerby sometimes touches on but never seems to be aware that there was a world before Bill Clinton.  (Then again, as Ava and C.I. have pointed out, Somerby's so uninformed he repeatedly types that Pauline Kael wrote for THE NEW YORK TIMES.  She didn't, she wrote for THE NEW YORKER.)

Daniel Schorr is the topic of "Daniel Schorr" and this is an essay that makes the collection and one that is pretty much buried.  Our 'left' wanted to make Schorr a hero, he wasn't.  And so the whole story of how he was not brave and how he tried to blame Lesley Stahl for his actions is blotted out.  Schorr never should have landed at NPR after his disgrace (or at THE CHRISTIAN MONITOR) but, when he died, it was important to the liars to disappear the truth.  If you want the truth about Schorr, you need to read the essay.  ESQUIRE refused to publish it.  Nora had to publish is in MORE magazine (a journalism industry magazine).

Nora was a great writer.  She had a way with words, yes, but she is also very funny.  This collection is a strong one and you will find many points that are still being played out and argued over today in journalism. 

Reading the book will make you more informed than Bob Somerby -- a low bar, I know.  It will also entertain you and make you think.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, July 6, 2018.  Violence continues in Iraq as it gets harder and harder to pretend the Islamic State was ever defeated.  In addition, triple digits temperatures in Iraq as the drought gets worse.

The violence never ends in Iraq.  XINHUA reports:

Islamic State (IS) militants executed seven people in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala after kidnapping them, a provincial police source said on Friday.
The incident took place late on Thursday night when IS militants set up a fake checkpoint on the main road between Baghdad and the provincial capital Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, and kidnapped seven passengers from a minibus, Major Alaa al-Saadi told Xinhua.

Hayder al-Abadi based his re-election as prime minister on the claim that he had vanquished the Islamic State.  Are you starting to get why he came in third?

The US media could -- and did -- portray ISIS as defeated.  It even tricked many news consumers; however, those living in Iraq were harder to fool.

Now AFP reports on (yet another) major operation to combat ISIS.

Mustafa Saadoun (AL-MONITOR) reports:

Islamic State affiliates have increased their activity in Kirkuk province in northern Iraq and are said to be focused on attacking civilians and government institutions. Authorities believe IS seeks to destabilize security and re-establish itself after being defeated by Iraqi security and international coalition forces.
The group has been operating for months on Kirkuk's outskirts but has stepped up its efforts recently, kidnapping and killing civilians and carrying out random attacks. On June 27, an IS-affiliated group of five used light weapons to attack some villages in the Daqouk district in southern Kirkuk, killing one civilian and wounding others. Also on June 27, five people from the provinces of Anbar and Karbala who were kidnapped while working with security forces in Kirkuk were found executed on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road.


In other violence, ALSUMARIA reports 1 corpse was found dumped north of Baghdad -- the corpse was handcuffed and had been shot in the head, a roadside bombing near Baji left two people injured, a sticky bombing outside Baghdad left two people injured, a bombing to the west of Baghdad left one Iraqi soldier and one civilian injured, and a Taji bombing set a police station on fire. Dropping back to Thursday's violence, Margaret Griffis (ANTIWAR.COM) notes, "At least 25 people were killed, and eight were wounded in recent violence, while six bodies were recovered in Mosul."

As the war continues, critiques of it become more apparent.

: The is in its influence. Its , despite absurd amounts of money, sophisticated technology & well-trained officials & troops, has delivered conclusive in , , , , , ->

Replying to 
I know this is a critique from hindsight but your plan to break iraq into three pieces aka Biden plan would have caused more violence. The sectarianism was exacerbated by the US imposed gov structure and the butcher colonel James steele. The US doesn't want iraq to be stable

Replying to   and 
The US is ostensibly a secular gov't. The invasion of Iraq killed more and destroyed more lives than ISIS could dream to. Yet our analysis doesn't dare condemn or blame them. That sorta stuff is why we say "Religion causes wars" but are blind to much much worse secular violence.

Turning again to the topic of the drought in Iraq, today, the temperature in Basra right now is 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

Below is a video from last month that UNESCO put on Iraq's water issues.

Iraq suffering severe drought, upstream states hoarding water [Photos]
  1. ICYMI: Big read on water, dam-building and drought in Turkey and Iraq. By and me in the

Catastrophic Drought Threatens Iraq as Major Dams in Surrounding Countries Cut off Water to Its Great Rivers
Drought in Iraq, photos
"As Iraq begins to recover from 40 years of wars and emergences, its existence is being threatened by the rapidly falling water levels in the two great rivers on which its people depend."
bans farming summer crops as water crisis grows dire.

As we've noted repeatedly, this drought was not unexpected and politicians have had years to address it.  They have done nothing.   Histyar Qader and Awara Hamid (NIQASH) report on one failed attempt to address the issue:

The nature of those problems is a little more difficult to trace back. Money was not the issue apparently. In 2005, as the Iraqi Kurdish authorities resumed contact with the Iraqi government, Baghdad promised to put US$5 billion into the dam’s completion.
“During the al-Maliki government, we followed up on the amount of money for the project and we note that the Iraqi ministry of water resources did discuss the issue with authorities from the Kurdish region,” says Mahmoud Raza, an MP in Baghdad. “The plan for the dam changed several times. But the Kurdish authorities wouldn’t agree to it being built.”  
Apparently the problem was the level of water in the dam and its size. There was concern about how much water the dam would collect and whether this would block the flow of water into the rest of Iraq.

Alternative plans were suggested by the Kurdish authorities but these were not viable, Zafer Abdullah, an adviser to Iraq's ministry of water resources, told NIQASH. “Other plans involved reducing the water level in the dam and the size of the reservoir,” he said. “At that time, the Kurdish presidency was against the dam being constructed and some said there were political reasons behind this.”
“It was the Kurdish leadership who would not accept the construction of the dam, despite the fact that the Iraqi government gave them three alternative designs for the project,” Mohammed, head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirms.
Over the course of two weeks researching this story, NIQASH tried to contact the Kurdish government’s spokesperson, Safeen Dizayee, several times to ask why but had no response.

A large part of the “political” reason behind the lack of progress on the Bekhme dam also has to do with the fact that around 54 villages in the area would be submerged, says Karwan Karim Khan, mayor of Khalifan, where the Bekhme dam would be located.

The following community sites -- plus Jody Watley and PACIFICA EVENING NEWS -- updated: