Journalism by Body Count

May 30, 2006

I get a chance about 3-4 times a day to listen to a podcast for a major news service. Virtually the only thing I ever hear about what is going on in Iraq is a daily body count: how many people were injured, how many died, how many Americans have died since the invasion, etc. One of these days, I’m expecting to log onto CNN or MSNBC and see something that looks like a hit counter for a web site, which regularly updates to show the latest number of deaths. It could save reporters the trouble of actually writing a story, since it is virtually all that is reported.

Now, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the American public knowing that both Americans and Iraqis are losing their lives. Thats very important. But it seems to me that those deaths need to fit into some sort-of context in terms of what is (or isn’t) being accomplished. If the American public is going to hold an informed opinion about what is to be done in Iraq, a lot more needs to be said.

For example, I have no idea: (1) How widespread is the acceptance for the new government? (2) Is there a sense that the new government is legitimate? (3) Why is there still so much violence? (4) To what extent are American troops responsible for the violence? Is this a reaction to America? Or is it just a lot of age-old animosity that is coming out because we won’t crack down on misbehavior like a dictator would?

I consider myself to be relatively well informed, yet I don’t have much of a clue about any of this.

Here are my questions of the day:
a. Is the journalism-by-body-count approach being employed simply because it is the best way to bring down Bush’s approval numbers? (I think a persuasive argument can be made for this)
b. Is it just journalistic laziness?
c. Is the problem that our collective attention span is so short that the ONLY thing that can be reported with any sense of coherence is a body count?

I’m growing cynical. I’m convinced that neither the government nor the media are communicating the full story. In other words, we are forced to choose between either (a) the overly optimistic Republican party line OR (b) the overly simplified body count that is being reported by the media. Neither of those views reveal the difficult complexities of the situation.

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Highly Effective People: Wrath

May 29, 2006

Nothing screams “I’m important!” like a man screaming “I’m important!” into his cell phone.

This line comes from a Bud Light Real Men of Genius radio commercial. It is my favorite in the current Rangers radio rotation because its rings true. Almost every time I enter a large venue filled with business people, usually an airport, I hear almost exactly that – angry folks shouting in their cell phone, demanding attention because they’re important by golly!

Along with civilization came restrictions on what people can do to each other. Assault and murder are no longer permissible forms of behavior. But anger, intimidation, and verbal abuse – well, at least in the workplace, there is virtually no rule against these things.

I’ve had a chance to observe the workings of a lot of organizations during the last twenty years. Many of them – not all of them, but a lot of them – are run by people who are angry. Angry about everything. If there’s bad news, its the person who everyone wants to avoid. When things are out of control, rage is the mechanism that is used to cope with the situation.

A few observations about commercial success and anger:
– There seems to be a relationship between competence and temperment. The more a person seems to know about what they are doing, the less likely they are to respond to things with anger. Tactics of anger and intimidation often mask a lack of confidence in one’s ability. Angry people are often those who have been over promoted, who are overlevereged, or who otherwise feel like the situation is over their head.
– I think that anger usually arises out of one of two things: (a) a sense of being “cornered” without any options or (b) a sense that one is being secretly undermined by others.
– Almost invariably, the angry, successful person is highly invested in his business or job. Tie up everything – your money, your self image, your ability have the right “friends”, and your emotional well being – into your business or career. Lose your wife and family over it. Then, watch and see what happens when it is threatened. One’s business/job literally becomes one’s life. People who are vengeful and spiteful in the workplace often act that way because they are fighting for their life. They have nothing else. Everything they had outside of their business/work has been sacrificed on the altar of the cult of success.
– Interestingly, I’ve observed that the angry person ultimately becomes a victum of his own paranoia. He understands all too well what he is capable of doing to hold onto what he has. He assumes that everyone else will be that way, too. Thus, he lives in constant fear of plots to destroy or undermine him. Fear becomes a bizarre, lonely prison. It is a miserable existence.

Deadly sin #5 for highly effective people, then, is wrath: the hatred and anger that grows out of a sense that one’s life is one’s work, and that one must therefore fight for their life.

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Worth the Effort

May 27, 2006

NT Wright is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. Having only limited training in New Testament studies and theology, I struggle to keep up with him, but the hard work that is involved in reading and re-reading his books, page by page, pays off in huge dividends. In fact, in my book, he may soon assume Jedi Master status, alongside Dallas Willard.

I just picked up Wright’s book Paul: In Fresh Perspective. I haven’t even managed to work through the first chapter yet, but it looks like he will be answering a lot of my questions about Paul’s writings – particularly my concern that the interpretations of Paul that are common in evangelical circles are inconsistent with the gospel that Jesus taught.

More to come later. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learing more about Bishop Wright, you can listen to his lecture on “Why Christianity Makes Sense” here.

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Summertime, Summertime, Sum-summer, Summertime

May 25, 2006

On my own mental calendar, the last day of school and the Memorial Day Weekend mark the beginning of the most glorious time of year: Summer.

Yeah, I realize that things get really hot here in Texas during the summer, and that tends to make some people a little annoyed. But, by contrast, Summer nights in West Texas are absolutely glorious.

Snow cones. Swimming. Daylight until 9 at night. Late night basketball in the back yard. All the baseball and soccer I want to listen to or watch. Homemade ice cream. Grilled burgers, steaks, and chicken. Fireworks. Outdoor concerts. Whats not to like?

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May 23, 2006

Church Sanctuary the Size of a Sports Colliseum? $250 million plus.

Home in Exclusive Tampa Neighborhood? $2.7 million.

A Mercedes for You and a Bentley for the Wife? $150,000 plus.

Per-bottle profit from sale of Omega Fatty Acid pills? $5.00.

Cost to produce infomercial in which you “guarantee… emphatically and unequivocally” that Omega Fatty Acid pills “are going to change your life”? $7,000 plus.

Satisfaction that comes from knowing that you can use your notoriety and influence as a spiritual leader to make a few more bucks?

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Addison Road on DaVinci

May 23, 2006

If you haven’t seen it already, head over to Addison road and read Chad’s post on The DaVinci Code. Its hilarious.

Super Scores

May 22, 2006

This summer, I’m looking forward to Superman Returns more than any other film. This iteration of the Superman legend will purportedly be a continuation of the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve films of the late 70s and early 80s. I really loved those films – and still do to this day.

As was the case with Star Wars, a part of the defining experience of the first Superman film was the music of John Williams. To this day, I think about the familiar fanfare and march from Williams’ score whenever I see the triangular-shaped “S” that symbolizes the man of steel.

I was something of an orchestral film score aficionado during my youth. Here are my favorites from those days:
1. The Empire Strikes Back. By far, Williams’ greatest work. More beautiful, original music in this score than what you would expect to find in TWO or even THREE films. Its that good. All of the music that you associate with Yoda, Darth Vader, and the romance between Han Solo and Leia originate in this film. In addition, lots of great music never made it to other films – like the music from the asteroid chase and the music from the battle in the snow. The mournful strings that transition from the cliffhanger ending into the end credits is one of my favorite moments in all six films.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bet the march from this film is rising into your conscious mind even as you read this, isn’t it? For me, the Desert Chase track and the theme for Marion are just as good. Likewise, the music from the scene where the ark is opened is very powerful.
3. Superman
4. Star Trek: the Motion Picture. Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme, which was never a part of the original series, would define not only the film series but the second TV series. It has now replaced the surreal strings-and-vocals theme from the original program as the theme that people think about when the words “Star Trek” are spoken.
5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. James Horner’s score for this film, a stark contrast to Goldsmith’s from the first, featured wonderfully over-the-top percussion and screaming french horns. The perfect punctuation for this much darker film.
6. ET. The final scene involving the ascension of ET is made by the powerful Williams score that crescendos as the film reaches its end. Unfortunately, the rest of this score, for the most part, doesn’t offer much that interests me.
7. Batman. Michael Keaton’s character was eerily reflected in Danny Elfman’s dark, brooding melodies. The only end-of-film fanfare that beats this one is the aforementioned score for ET.
8. For Your Eyes Only. In addition to being the best Roger Moore film, this one featured an intense, fusion jazz score that kept the action sequences light and fun. I prefer this type of scoring for Bond action sequences, as opposed to the blaring trumpets that seem to characterize most recent bond films.

Anyone want to add to the list?

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