Sunday, May 10, 2009

Right-wing paranoia

I have received a curious comment on my April 20 post, "The right-wing malcontents are bashing Obama." It was written by a highly educated, articulate reader who occasionally visits and comments on my blog.

She wrote: "Just because [Obama] is coming after the Christians, veterans, pro-lifers, etc...doesn't mean the Jews are safe."

I expected disagreement, of course, with my view of President Obama's opponents. But what could have produced such an hysterical response to my criticism about the recent series of anti-Obama" tea parties." At those events, I had written, "paranoid Obama-bashers vented their spleen about taxes, soaring government spending for financial bailouts, and what they regard as government encroachment into their private lives"?

President Obama is a Christian, and his much-publicized search for a church to attend on Sundays suggests that he is an observant believer. I have seen no evidence that he is "coming after" his fellow Christians. And why would he do that?

Nor as a World War II veteran have I seen any evidence that he is about to do something awful to my fellow veterans. Indeed, as some one who has been frustrated by my rare dealings with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, I am impressed by President Obama's appointment of retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. A critic of the Bush Administration's Iraq war, he is a refreshing change from the incompetent political hacks who have headed the department in recent years.

But what really strikes me about my respondent's comment is her frightening claim that Obama's policies do not mean that "the Jews are safe." What does she mean? The only explanation that I can imagine for the provocative comment is her knowledge that I am a Jewish-American who has an intense interest in Israel.

Her point, I guess, is to warn me that Obama is will be less sympathetic to Israel than his predecessor. President George W. Bush's policies were indeed very favorable to the Jewish state. I believe that this was largely because of benign neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, rather than of any profound pro-Israel sentiment on Bush's part.

President Obama has demonstrated that he will take an aggressive stance to settle the Middle East conflict. Presumably, this would mean pressure on Israel to make concessions that could affect its security.

I had recognized that this might occur if Obama became President. Nevertheless, I voted enthusiastically for him, and I strongly admire what he has accomplished so far. Like many ardent Jewish-American partisans of the Israeli cause, I am not a single-issue voter.

While I am seriously concerned about Israeli security, I am also interested in other important issues--national security, health, education, and other matters dealing with foreign affairs.

So my respondent's warning that the Jews might not be "safe" because Obama is "coming after the Christians, veterans, pro-lifers, etc." makes no sense.

I resent the use of the term "pro-life" by those who want to ban abortion, and I support efforts to preserve a woman's right to have one. I thus do not worry that Obama is "coming after...the pro-lifers."

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lamenting the decline of the print media

In the previous post on this blog (April 28), I published a poem by my wife Sybil, lamenting her entrance into the ranks of the octogenarians. Now I have a lament of my own to write. But mine involves a matter far removed from the personal issue of aging.

My lament is about the declining importance of the print media as a factor in modern society. As a journalist who was employed by news magazines and daily newspapers for more than 35 years until retiring 20 years ago, I find the trend particularly painful.

Last year, 15% percent of the nation's newspapers and countless magazines were shut down. So far this year, major newspapers in Denver and Seattle have folded and the circulation of the nation's top daily papers continues to plummet.

As a result, daily papers and magazines of all types are trimming their staffs, reducing their publication frequency, and taking other measures to cut operating costs.

The current economic crisis is forcing publishers to take drastic steps as advertising revenue falls precipitously. For the first time ever, for example, the New York Times is carrying advertising on its first page--a traumatic policy change for the Old Gray Lady of journalism.

In addition to the economic crisis, of course, there is another reason for the print media's decline. Readers are being drawn away by the Internet. More than a half-century ago, television began to lure readers from dependence on newspapers and magazines. Now the Internet is proving to be an even more formidable rival.

I may be an old grouch, but I also worry that the print media's decline reflects the general dumbing-down of America and diminished interest--particularly among young people--in the news of the day. Increasingly, I find people satisfied with what I regard as superficial coverage of vital current events.

I subscribe to my local daily paper and to several weekly news and special-interest publications. I also read nearly a dozen on-line news outlets that are e-mailed regularly to me. The Internet sources deal with specialized subjects or often supplement what I learn from print media.

But in terms of in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis, very few of the Internet news outlets offer what the print media--or, at least, publications like the New York Times--can provide.

Moreover, the strain of reading on a computer screen for lengthy periods of time cannot compare with the ease of reading a printed newspaper or magazine. I don't understand how one can comfortably sustain the attention required for prolonged reading material on line.

But that's probably because I'm a cranky old man with both diminished stamina and vision.

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