Cracked Earth, Crackpots and Dinosaurs

Welcome to a new year here at CJR Daily. We’re now just about midway through the Aughts. Or the Ohs. Or the Double-Ohs, if you like. Or the, um, “Naughty Aughties.” Whatever. We’re just happy hangovers only last one day.

Gothamist writes that 2005 “will be the year of Blog Backlash.” The New York Times starts things off today by attacking “the blogosphere’s tendency towards crackpot theorizing” in a story about blogs reacting to tsunami news. Gothamist, however, is fighting back, responding in the parlance of dance-crazy urban teenagers and animated Colorado fourth graders everywhere. If big media attacks this year, warns Gothamist’s Jen Chung, “it could be on.”

Oh, joy.

James Wolcott discusses an Economist piece that gives us a sense of contemporary life in Iraq, where “when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter.” “‘If anyone gets too close to us we f—king waste them,” says one lieutenant quoted in the piece. “It’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ve killed a lot of innocent people.’” We understand and accept soldiers’ need to be extremely cautious when assessing potential threats — the insurgents often masquerade as ordinary citizens, after all — but kind of a shame?

Writes Wolcott: “There’s a Peter Cook-Dudley Moore routine, one of their woolgathering dialogues, where Dud asks Pete, ‘So would you say you’ve learned from your mistakes?’ and Pete replies: ‘Oh yes, I’m certain I could repeat them exactly.’ That seems to have been the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq. Take the mistakes of Vietnam and repeat them exactly.”

Reason’s Jesse Walker was in southern Mexico when the tsunami hit, and he had to rely on CNN as his primary news source. He writes that it was a frustrating experience:

It’s one thing to know intellectually the limitations of TV news. It’s another to see those limits so starkly after being used to the depth of the ‘net. Few things are as frustrating as watching something go by on that news scroll, wanting to click through for more information, and suddenly remembering that you can’t — that you’re stuck listening to what the newscasters want to tell you, even if it’s the exact same thing they told you 10 minutes before.

What was really astonishing was to remember that 14 years earlier, when the first Gulf War was underway, CNN was the amazing new innovation, not the dinosaur in the rear-view mirror.

This blog reporter was confused over the holiday weekend by the conflicting reports concerning exactly how much aid the U.S. initially pledged to countries affected by the tsunami. The Washington Post claimed $15 million, while the New York Times reported $35 million. We also heard a $17 million figure floating around. Nonetheless, it wasn’t much, considering, and the U.S. later increased that pledge to $350 million. Oxblog’s Josh Chafetz says the administration should have promised the higher number initially. “[I]t would have been a much more intelligent piece of public diplomacy to offer a large sum immediately,” he writes. “After all, it was clear immediately that an awful lot would be needed. I can’t help but think that, once again, the Bush administration has failed to make us look good in the eyes of the world, not because it didn’t want to do something, but simply because it didn’t present its actions in an intelligent way.”

If you’ve not yet given to an organization assisting tsunami victims, it’s far from too late. Here’s a list of some of the worthwhile ones.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.