Sunday’s Snippets

Ted Koppel has an excellent op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times today about the increasing manner in which network news caters to the desires of advertisers.

Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.
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The accusation that television news has a political agenda misses the point. Right now, the main agenda is to give people what they want. It is not partisanship but profitability that shapes what you see.
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Reaching across the entire spectrum of American television viewers is precisely the broadcast networks’ greatest strength. By focusing only on key demographics, by choosing to ignore their total viewership, they have surrendered their greatest advantage.

Remainders

I managed to miss posting the link to this interview with Jonathan Lethem, which is required reading for everyone who cares about literature or art or anything, or, well, just anyone.

The IHT/NYT blog reports that tomorrow at the World Economic Forum, Bono will announce a multi-million dollar corporate backed campaign for The Global Fund.

Courtney Love is Paula Fox’s granddaughter? And Gabriel Garcia Marquez has stopped writing?

Nicholas Kristof reviews two new books about genocide in Sudan in the current New York Review of Books. The highlights:

You expect that from time to time, a government may attack some part of its own people, but you might hope that by the twenty-first century the world would react. Alas, that hasn’t happened. Indeed, the Armenian genocide of 1915 arguably provoked greater popular outrage in America at the time than the Darfur genocide does today.
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The most feasible option is to convert [African Union Forces] into a “blue-hat” UN force and add to them UN and NATO forces. The US could easily enforce a no-fly zone in Darfur by using the nearby Chadian air base in Abeché. Then it could make a strong effort to arrange for tribal conferences—the traditional method of conflict settlement in Darfur—and there is reason to hope that such conferences could work to achieve peace. The Arab tribes have been hurt by the war as well, and the tribal elders are much more willing to negotiate than the Sudan government and the rebel leaders who are the parties to the current peace negotiations.
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Some organizations, like Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, have also produced a series of excellent reports on Darfur—underscoring that this time the nations of the world know exactly what they are turning away from and cannot claim ignorance.
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Once again, the international response has been to debate whether the word “genocide” is really appropriate, to point out that the situation is immensely complex, to shrug that it’s horrifying but that there’s nothing much we can do. The slogan “Never Again” is being transformed into “One More Time.”

Perhaps, the media should devote less coverage to James Frey and more to Sudan? Or at least to J.T. LeRoy, whose work and fabrications are far more impressive than Frey’s.

All this should be balanced by a little levity: The Worst Job Ever.

Garrison Keillor tears apart Bernard-Henri Lévy’s new book, American Vertigo, in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Levy responds in the New York Sun.

NYT coverage of internet privacy

The Times has some interesting articles in today’s paper beginning with an article on the increasing use of privacy software and internet anonymizers:

A few reasons exist for the surge, which is hard to measure – it is nearly impossible to track how many people have made themselves invisible online. People who want to continue to swap music via the Internet but fear lawsuits brought by the recording industry want to hide their identity. Some people wish to describe personal experiences that could land them in jail. And some Web authors share their thoughts about repressive regimes and face government reprisal if they are caught.

Additionally, Kate Hafner has an analysis of the government’s subpoenas of search engine companies and how internet users have been responding. She writes:

The government has been more aggressive recently in its efforts to obtain data on Internet activity, invoking the fight against terrorism and the prosecution of online crime. A surveillance program in which the National Security Agency intercepted certain international phone calls and e-mail in the United States without court-approved warrants prompted an outcry among civil libertarians. And under the antiterrorism USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department has demanded records on library patrons’ Internet use.

Those actions have put some Internet users on edge, as they confront the complications and contradictions of online life.

Adam Liptak writes that the subpoena really has nothing to do with the privacy of Google’s users:

the case itself, according to people involved in it and scholars who are following it, has almost nothing to do with privacy. It will turn, instead, on serious but relatively routine questions about trade secrets and civil procedure.

Google, who has thus far resisted the government’s subpoena and request for information, is launching a Chinese version of its web services at Google.cn.

Google is citing a number of reasons for resisting the government’s subpoena, including concern about trade secrets and the burden of compliance. While it does not directly assert that surrendering the data would expose personal information, it has told the government that “one can envision scenarios where queries alone could reveal identifying information about a specific Google user, which is another outcome that Google cannot accept.”
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Google’s new Chinese platform, which will not allow users to create personal links with Google e-mail or blog sites, will comply with Chinese law and censor information deemed inappropriate or illegal by the Chinese authorities. This approach might help the company navigate the legal thickets that competitors have encountered in China.

Foreign companies say they must abide by Chinese laws and pass personal information about users on to the Chinese government. In one case two years ago, Yahoo provided information that helped the government convict a Chinese journalist, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, on charges of leaking state secrets to a foreign Web site.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy has grown to the fourth largest in the world.

Gone for good

Mario Lemieux retired from the NHL today, saying, “I can no longer play at the level that I was accustomed to in the past and that has been very, very frustrating to me.”


The Year of Magical Thinking Revisited

Jonathan Yardley remembers John Gregory Dunne in Sunday’s Washington Post. He likens Dunne to my favorite author:

In certain respects, the American writer whom Dunne most resembles is his fellow Irishman and fellow (lapsed) Catholic, F. Scott Fitzgerald. To be sure, Fitzgerald was an outsider who wanted in, while Dunne liked the outside just fine, thank you, but each of them cast a cool eye on American crudity and kitsch, and each found something to admire in the American who longed to move from corruption to respectability. Dunne’s relatively neglected novel Playland is his riff on The Great Gatsby , its narrator Jack Broderick is his Nick Carraway, and its repentant mobster Jake King is his Jay Gatsby.

Yardley had previously reviewed Didion’s memoir here.

So: is Google a good thing?

John Lanchester asks, “Is Google a good thing?” in the London Review of Books and concludes:

The best historical analogy for where Google is today probably comes from the time when the railroads were being built. Everyone knew that trains and railways would change the world, but no one predicted the invention of suburbs. Google, and the increased flow of information on which it rides and from which it benefits, is the railway. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the first suburbs.

Amy Tan Reading at Kepler’s Tonight

Amy Tan will be reading at Kepler’s on Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30 pm. This is the only event that has been announced so far for the winter literary season. I’m wondering where all the other events are. There are many authors with books coming out in the next few months that we’re interested in: Colson Whitehead, William Easterly, Frances Mayes, Amartya Sen, Lawrence Weschler. Will Kepler’s get any of these authors to do in-store events? We’ll see.