Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Labor Day approaches and a baseball fan's thoughts turn to, well - baseball.
One of the best new baseball books is Satchel: The Life and Times of An American Legend by Larry Tye.
David Davis reviewed the book a while back in the Los Angeles Times and point out that there has long been mystery about Paige's age. Tye settles on the great pitcher's birthday most likely being in 1906 making him 42 when he made his major league debut!
A good book about a great baseball player and an even greater character. Good stuff also at the "official" Satchel Paige site, including this quote: "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter."
The Great Ichiro
Last Sunday's New York Times had a fine piece on the Seattle Mariner's remarkable right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, who has missed a few starts this week due to an injury.
Sometime after Labor Day, Ichiro will ring up his ninth consecutive season with 200 or more base hits. It is a remarkable achievement. The last player to have eight straight 200 hit seasons was Wee Willie Keeler - yes, he has a website - who quit playing in 1901, a century before Ichiro showed up to begin owning records.
Here is a great statistic from the Sports Network: "Suzuki hasn't gone hitless in consecutive games since August 13-15, 2008, a span of 157 straight games without going hitless in back-to-back contests. The streak is the longest in the majors since Stan Musial (174 games) in 1943-44 and the longest AL streak since Doc Cramer (191 games) in 1934-35."
Amazing. The guy is a hitting machine.
Now, Go Giants! If only those damnable Dodgers would falter...
Friday, August 28, 2009
Good guy, good writer, good blog.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Pacific Northwest has been blessed by many great ones. Jackson and Magnuson from Washington. McNary, Hatfield and Morse from Oregon. Borah, Church and McClure from Idaho. Walsh, Wheeler and Mansfield from Montana, to name but a few. Every student of the Senate has a candidate for greatness, which makes it even more impressive (or curious) that more than fifty years ago, the Senate undertook it own effort to honor the greatest who had ever served.The Senate Reception Room is one of the spectacular spaces in the U.S. Capitol. Visit if you ever have the opportunity. In 1955, the Senate authorized an effort to select five outstanding former members whose portraits would adorn the magnificent room. Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio (pictured here) was one of the five chosen, as were Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin. Young Sen. John F. Kennedy, 38 years old and fresh off winning a Pulitzer for Profiles in Courage (the book profiled eight courageous Senators) lead the committee to select the "famous five." The other committee members were Mike Mansfield of Montana, Richard Russell of Georgia (both great Senators), Styles Bridges of New Hampshire and John Bricker of Ohio. In a forward to a book about the famous five, Kennedy wrote: "The life of each of these Senators is a drama in itself. Each made a distinct historic impression during the period of his public service, and each has become a part of America's broad constitutional heritage. Clay, Webster, Calhoun, La Follette, Taft were all men who knew the value and limits of constructive partisanship, yet each also made solitary pilgrimages at times when they differed with the prevailing mood of opinion in Congress and the country." The selections of Kennedy's committee were not without controversy. A panel of 160 historians recommended the inclusion of Nebraska's great progressive George Norris, the father of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the inventor of Nebraska's unicameral legislature. Kennedy had included Norris in Profiles in Courage. But Bridges, a tough, New England conservative, had often clashed with the liberal Norris and he, along with Nebraska's two Senators at the time, blackballed the Nebraskan. Petty, personal politics, to be sure, is nothing new in the U.S. Senate, even when it comes to identifying greatness. In 2000, another Senate committee recommended the addition of Reception Room portraits of two other greats - Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Robert Wagner of New York. One suspects the U.S. Senate will soon be finding a place for Edward Moore Kennedy's portrait. The rich and fascinating history of the "world's greatest deliberative body" is extremely well presented at the Senate history website. Among other things, you'll find a page for everyone who ever served in the Senate - all the scoundrels, as well as the heroes. The book about the original greatest Senators, by the way, is by Holmes Alexander and is called The Famous Five. There are few institutions more American than the U.S. Senate - ennobling, frustrating, essential, constant. The next time you get frustrated with the pace of the place or the petty politics, just remember that giants have walked there and will again.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
- Discipline: Develop best practices and stick with them. "ONLY send content that you know your supports will value." And, have the discipline "to stay ON message."
- The Right People: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe saw to it that the new media effort wasn't organized as part of communications or finance, but as a stand alone part of the campaign. He then recruited top people from CNN, Google and Madison Avenue to staff what became an 81 person unit.
- Spotlight on Supporters: "The campaign made a concerted and deliberate effort to keep the spotlight on the people who supported Obama, and not just on the candidate."
- Nimbleness: "The campaign was able to turn on a dime and launch a fundraising email within hours of [Sarah] Palin's speech" criticizing "community organizers." The email generated $11 million in contributions in a single day.
- Authenticity: "OFA managed to do something unique - share real, inside campaign information with its supporters, while making that information accessible and meaningful. Plouffe said: "Nothing is more important than authenticity. People have very sensitive bullshit-o-meters."
- Content Matters: "From top notch emails, to 1,800 videos, to amazing graphic design, the new media team demonstrated a serious focus on content."
- Data-Driven Culture: "More than any campaign in history, OFA was a data-driven operation." The campaign created a six-person analytics team and tested and measured every aspect of the online program. "Entire projects were scrapped because the data showed they were not effective."
The Brainerd/Wilberforce report offers this observation underscoring the essential requirement of any successful campaign - skillful execution:
"Fundamentally, the most successful elements of OFA's new media program were not new. OFA's new media team simply executed the same core strategies than many nonprofits have used for years - but they did so flawlessly."
Monday, August 24, 2009
Books worth considering:
- Ashby and Gramer's Church biography is Fighting the Odds. It is the complete life and offers great insight into Idaho politics in from the 1950's to the 1980's.
- Among the newest LBJ biographies is a fine book by Randall Woods called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Not exactly a favorable treatment of LBJ, but a fully nuanced take on his remarkable accomplishments and equally remarkable failures.
- Bob Dallek's two volume bio of LBJ - Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant - helped redeem, to a degree, Johnson's reputation as a great legislative tactician.
- Robert Caro's monumental four-volume Johnson biography is still in progress. Give Caro his due - he knows more about LBJ and had written more than anyone - but he lacks either Woods' or Dallek's sense of nuance or balance. Anything Caro produces is a must read for political junkies and his emphasis is always on the exercise of power, but count on heavy emphasis of the darkest of the dark side of Lyndon Johnson.
- Finally, when it came out in 2005, William E. Leuchtenburg's The White House Looks South received less - much less - attention than it deserved. Leuchtenburg focuses on FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ as he weaves a great narrative about how those three Democratic presidents had "one foot below the Mason-Dixon Line, one foot above." His treatment of Johnson's presidency is particularly good reading.
What would Lyndon do with a Congress coming back from an August recess all spun up about what to do with health care reform? You can bet LBJ would have had an aggressive plan and he would have worked himself into a lather trying to make it succeed.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Perhaps more than anyone, Don Hewitt, the CBS News executive who died this week, invented the idea of television news. Hewitt staged the Kennedy-Nixon debates, produced the early years of Walter Cronkite's expanded 30 minute nightly broadcast, and invented "60 Minutes."
I happened to be home nursing a nasty summer cold the day the TV news pioneer's death was announced. I couldn't help thinking as I watched (which I rarely do) the continuous loop of nasty health care hearings, celebrity gossip and talking head wisdom that passes for news on cable television that little of that content has much to do with the kind of television Don Hewitt pioneered at CBS.
The irony was palpable when a cable anchor, more at home presiding over a verbal slugfest than a eulogy for a television pioneer, waxed eloquently about Hewitt's role in the development of the medium.
More irony in the nearly simultaneous passing of columnist Robert "The Prince of Darkness" Novak. With his long-time partner Roland Evans, Novak carved out an early reputation as a tough, well-sourced Washington reporter who broke big stories and stepped on big toes. The rise of cable talking head shows, the type of "news" program that places a premium on opinion (most of it blindly partisan) as opposed to real reporting, gave Novak a new audience. He seemed to relish being cast in the role of the gloomy disher of usually outraged opinion.
Still, with all his years of Washington experience, I often found myself wishing for a just little nuance, a bit of dispassionate insight from one with obviously so much depth. But, that's hoping for too much from cable and from those who play a role on cable.
We all know the news business, and television news included, continues in a steep, deep decline. The reasons are many, no doubt, including the unbelievable rise of the "new media" thanks to the Internet. I'm from the old school, however, and still want to believe real content - not just overheated opinion in the guise of entertainment - still matters.
Don Hewitt knew something about news and also something about entertainment. With "60 Minutes" he skillfully and very lucratively combined the two. Bob Novak was a good reporter who adapted skillfully and lucratively to the strictures of cable talking head shows, but what he mostly did on the tube had little to do with news.
Both these old news hands had a role, I think, in the continuing evolution of they way we gain information, particularly political information. Stay tuned for the next chapter. I am not an optimist.
I am confident someone will become the next Novak. The "expert," opinionated talking heads are a dime a dozen these days. I do wonder if there will ever be another Hewitt or worse, perhaps, if anyone really cares any longer about his kind of television.
Wheeler Center Plans Montana Media Conference
By the way, the good folks at the Burton K. Wheeler Center at Montana State University is planning a conference on Montana media issues this fall. "Failure to Inform:" Is There a Looming Media Crisis in Montana? is scheduled for Missoula September 30 and October 1. Sounds like a very timely gathering.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach (above), a Republican who endorsed Barack Obama, is the former head of the House Banking Committee and a committed fan of the humanities. Leach helped organize the humanities caucus in the House and will be a politically savvy choice to run the NEH.
Rocco Landesman is a big-time Broadway producer and will head the NEA. Mel Brook's The Producers is among his credits.
The two endowments, dating back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson, serve an incredibly important national role. The Idaho Humanities Council is the state-based affiliate of the NEH. The Idaho Commission on the Arts has a similar relationship to the NEA.
Among many wonderful benefits, the two national endowments provide grant funding for local arts programs, library reading programs, small museums and teacher institutes.
The endowments have survived an immense amount of political scrutiny since Newt Gingrich tried to eliminate federal funding back in the mid-1990's. The extremely modest budgets for the two principle national cultural organizations that reach into every corner of the United States are still below where they were when Newt swung his meat ax nearly 15 years ago.
Leach and Landesman appear to have the prestige and smarts to keep rebuilding the endowments. America culture, art, history, literature, and our pleasure will all benefit.