James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘stock market’

Raging apes, octopuses and Foxes; when animals attack the stock market

Posted by James McPherson on March 7, 2009

Forget simple bears and bulls: CNN reports that “animal spirits” are guiding the stock market. After careful study of media reports, I now think I’ve figured out exactly what animal it is that’s wreaking havoc–not a killer chimpanzee or other smart simian, but a creature that sinks even lower than the American economy has gone: the octopus.

I’m not talking about Octomom. In fact, if I’ll digress for a moment to plead with the media to please, please, please forget Octomom. Especially you sleazebags at Fox News, who start a story with the line, “You may want to take a shower after reading this,” then go on to give us the rest of a pointless, porn-promoting piece about something that will never happen (much like everything else Glenn Beck has been talking about lately).

Back to the non-Fox terror: “Octopuses are highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other form of invertebrates (apparently including spineless Congressional Democrats),” according to the all-knowing Wikipedia. Putting aside the questionable veracity of Wikipedia, this item must be true: The animals are so intelligent that British scientists are even giving them Rubik’s Cubes “to ease their stress levels.”

Incidentally, “octopuses” apparently is the plural of octopus preferred by most dictionaries, and some–I’m not kidding about this–consider octopi to be linguistically objectionable and perhaps even sexist. Little did I know that if the James Bond folks wanted to make a truly objectionable villainess, they’d have named her “Octopi” instead of “Octopussy.”

Apparently no one has informed either octopus.com or “Enter the Octopus” of that, since they still uses “octopi.” But also demonstrating that the cephalopods are more socially enlightened than we are, octopuses apparently also do not see color (though some can change their own color, apparently to deal with less-enlightened creatures).

At any rate, the mainstream news media have been keeping us informed of a rash of octopus-related incidents (including a CBS report about their inky cousins, the squid, “invading” California). The other day news organizations around the world reported that an octopus “got inside a lunchbox” in a Boston aquarium. (The fact that the creature was inside his own lunchbox, not making an escape bid, wasn’t newsworthy enough to make the headline so that readers might avoid clicking on a tease for an essentially meaningless story.)

Still, less than two weeks ago, another octopus made national news when it managed to pull a plug and flood the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, perhaps in an attempt to help other sea creatures escape. Or perhaps it was just watching to see how humans might react, and has something more sinister in mind for the future.

“The tiny octopus, which is about the size of a human forearm when its appendages are extended, floated lazily in the water that remained in its tank,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “It watched intently through glass walls and portholes as workers struggled to dry the place out in time for the day’s first busload of schoolchildren to arrive on a 9:30 a.m. field trip.” (emphasis added)

The Times reminds us (and thank God we have the news media to keep us abreast of terrifying trends) that this was not the first “cephaloplug” incident. More than a decade ago–before scientists thought of the Rubik’s Cube trick–a giant octopus commited suicide (as Fox News tells us Octomom also has apparently threatened to do) by sabotaging its own tank.

And if you want to see more frightening octopus news (and really, isn’t it better than watching Fox News or CNBC or checking out your 401K?), check out “Enter the Octopus” for links to numerous stories about octopus deeds and misdeeds, including a report from Slate that states:

Aristotle didn’t have a high opinion of the octopus. “The octopus is a stupid creature,” he wrote, “for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water.” Twenty-four centuries later, this “stupid” creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish).

Other YouTube videos show an octopus squeezing through a tiny hole, and others that are practicing learning to walk. No wonder scientists are developing faster submarines and searching for “other earths“–preferable earths without octopuses. Or Octopussy. Or Octomoms.

Posted in Journalism, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Obama the conservative, America’s decline, and stock market yo-yo

Posted by James McPherson on November 21, 2008

Though only compulsive gamblers, business junkies and the masochists are following the day-to-day fluctuations of the stock market, those fluctuations have reminded us that the market sometimes seemingly jumps or dives for little apparent reason. A stray comment from the Fed chairman is enough to make the Dow act like a kid’s kite encountering wind shear.

Today CNN reports that today’s gains came apparently as a result of reports “that President-elect Barack Obama will nominate New York Federal Bank president Timothy Geithner as his new Treasury Secretary.” I don’t know anything about Geithner, and I’m increasingly convinced that no one knows much about the economy. But the suggestion that Obama’s possible actions can help the market do give some support to my earlier contention that his election might save the country from economic collapse.

On the other hand, seeing the conservative (even neoconservative) nature of Obama’s possible appointments–including, apparently, Hillary Clinton–I’m more inclined to see his presidency as another step in the decline of America’s power–not because he’s a Muslim, a Communist or a New Dealer, but because at heart he’s a conservative. For their part, Asians won’t be surprised by the power shift.

Monday update: Geithner is the guy–or one of them–and the market continues to boom under Obamamania. No one knows how long it will last. Probably just long enough for me to shift more of my retirement funds back to stocks.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

More conservative disarray: National Review loses founder’s son

Posted by James McPherson on October 14, 2008

After endorsing Barack Obama in a piece titled, “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama,” Christopher Buckley felt compelled to leave the National Review, perhaps still the best conservative magazine in American despite its unfortunate descent into neoconservatism. Buckley’s endorsement and resulting departure are most noteworthy, of course, because “Dad” in this case founded the National Review at the remarkably tender age of 29.

Indeed, William F. Buckley was one of the founders of the modern conservative movement, and as such gets a fair amount of ink in my new book. As the younger Buckley points out, “The only reason my vote would be of any interest to anyone is that my last name happens to be Buckley—a name I inherited.”

There’s another reason to be interested in Buckley’s vote, however: because he is the latest in a line of conservative intellectuals to jump from the sinking McCain/Palin ship. Much of the blame is directed a Sarah Palin, about whom George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat all have expressed reservations. David Brooks has called her a “fatal cancer” for the Republicans. Kathleen Parker has called on her to drop out of the race, prompting conservative critics to call her a traitor and an idiot whose “mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should ‘off’ myself.” Gotta love those family values.

On the other had, though it seems fairly clear that unless something dramatic and unexpected happens McCain will lose by a significant margin, it is worth remembering that many conservatives warned before the nomination that McCain “couldn’t win” the general election. My own suggestion back in June that McCain pick Palin as a running mate now looks a bit silly, though at least I can argue that I only spent a couple of hours on researching the issue and didn’t have a staff or tons of campaign funds to vet her (assuming the McCain camp did so). Still, Palin’s pick did energize the conservative base, and gave McCain a boost that perhaps no one else would have. Had he picked someone else, he might have been this far behind even sooner.

And did you notice that the day after Obama offered his economic plan and the stock market soared, McCain offered his plan this morning and the Dow fell by 302 points to close 76 points lower than where it started the day? Just coincidence, I’m sure. And the one argument that many conservatives have been trying to make, about Obama’s “associations,” may have taken a serious hit with today’s Huffington Post revelation that McCain’s presidential transition chief was a lobbyist for Saddam Hussein.

By the way, unlike some of my liberal friends, I don’t consider the term “conservative intellectual” to be an oxymoron–at least not yet, though Brooks is among those who points out that we may be headed that direction, noting, “What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” Brooks also notes accurately that the anti-intellectual conservative criticism of virtually all educated groups–journalists, educators, doctors, lawyers–gives young conservatives little incentive to enter those professions.

I would argue that other factors such as more education, a higher regard for public service, and less regard for personal wealth contribute more to the more relative (though far from absolute) scarcity of conservatives in journalism and education, but Brooks’ central point remains valid–if you favor leadership by stupid people, you’re more likely to get stupid policies.

Incidentally, the erudite William F. Buckley–who held relatively little regard for neoconservatives and once suggested that George W. Bush should resign over his inept foreign policy–would have made the same argument. With Buckley’s wit and wisdom, I wouldn’t put it past him to have died earlier this year just to avoid having to endorse Obama himself.

Saturday update: In her Wall Street Journal column, former Reagan staffer Peggy Noonan writes: “In the end, the Palin candidacy is a sympton and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for politics and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.” Noonan said she expects criticism from the same anti-intellectual conservatives who have attacked Buckley, adding, “At any rate, come and get me, copper.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

McCain as Eeyore, and the “Dow of poo”

Posted by James McPherson on October 7, 2008

John McCain’s Desperation Express continues, with McCain and Sarah Palin furiously throwing mud as fast as they can, inciting crowds to scream hateful and scary epithets, hoping something will stick to Barack Obama–even as they hope that such tactics don’t bring too much attention to such things as McCain’s involvement with the Keating Five or his involvement with the radical Council of World Freedom (think neocons plus Iran-Contra scandal–gee, what could go wrong?). Not to mention Palin’s “Troopergate” problems, her “witch doctor” pastor, or her husband’s involvement with a separatist organization that advocates Alaska’s possible succession from the union.

It’s turning so ugly that even the slash-and-burn media that normally thrive on scandal and controversy are becoming disgusted by it. In the meantime, the tactics–once denounced by McCain–don’t seem to be working anyway, and are turning off even some conservatives who weren’t already abandoning ship because of Palin’s clear lack of qualifications, and who recognize that the attacks are an attempt to avoid discussion of the economy.

Obviously many Republicans still think McCain can win (as do skittish Democrats, particularly those concerned about the possibility of stolen elections in Ohio, Florida, fictional Springfield, and elsewhere). With a month to go, they’re right, but McCain’s odds grow longer each day. Barring unforeseen and dramatic events, the final two debates are his last chance to turn the tide, and even there his timing is bad. While time as a POW forty years ago doesn’t qualify anyone to be president or make someone a foreign politcy expert, such experience is even less relevant to economic expertise–McCain’s admitted weakness.

Tonight’s debate will feature the “town hall forum” that McCain generally likes, but such forums work best for candidates who are viewed as affable and compassionate. The strategy adopted by the McCain campaign, however, is neither of those, and he may find himself on the defensive against an audience (which, unlike with his previous forums, will not be made up of Republican supporters) that is more concerned with keeping their own jobs (or someday being able to retire from them) than with helping some rich guy from either party get a new job.

A defensive McCain can come across as an angry McCain, probably the worst tone he could adopt tonight. As Slate’s John Dickerson points out, “One thing we know: You don’t want Joe Six Pack calling you out.” Or a hockey mom, for that matter. One oddity not discussed enough in the media is how McCain keeps blaming his propensity for lying on Obama’s unwillingness to engage in more town hall meetings. Another problem for a candidate trying to make up ground, based on a half-dozen conversations I’ve had today, is that potential debate viewers disdane what has happened to the process. “I’ll probably watch part of it, but if it’s like the campaign has been lately, I’ll turn it off,” one coworker said about the debate.

What most Americans care most about right now is the plunging Dow and other negative economic aspects. Like Winnie the Pooh, their concerns are relatively simple and immediate, not about someone who engaged in bad behavior when Obama was 8 years old or McCain’s experience as a POW. And while the donkey is a Democratic symbol, it is McCain who is coming across as the old, gray, pessimistic, thistle-eating Eeyore who is yet again about to lose his tail.

Assuming the next two debates don’t dramatically change the electoral map–and I predict they won’t–I have another bit of advice for John McCain: “Live up to your motto, ‘Country first.’ Admit that your campaign is essentially defeated, and that it’s time to get to work on problems. Start talking about how conservatives and liberals can work together to solve tough problems. Note the great things about being an American, and how you’ll continue to work with anyone to make the country even stronger. Send Palin home to Alaska, tell your surrogates to shut up, and offer to turn over any money left over from your campaign to people who are losing their homes or jobs. Now that would be a ‘maverick’ thing to do. It might even restore your once positive image, and conceivably turn the election from a potential rout to a close contest.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Leaders & would-be leaders fail in bailout

Posted by James McPherson on September 29, 2008

George Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain all supported the bailout that failed today in the House of Representatives. Admittedly Obama and McCain are senators, but they clearly are not viewed as strong enough leaders to pursuade the House members of their own parties to vote convincingly for a bill that might have kept the economy from tanking.

And that whole reach-across-the-aisle thing? Ain’t happenin’. Some Republicans blamed a partison speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Barney Frank pointed out the self-centered goofiness of the claim: Because somebody hurt their feelings they decide to punish the country. … I mean, that’s hardly plausible … I’ll make an offer. Give me those 12 people’s names [12 more votes were needed to pass the bill] and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them.”

Considering the fall of the stock market, each of those 12 votes apparently was worth about 65 points on the Dow.

The situation is worse for Bush and McCain than for Obama, of course–at least the majority of Obama’s party voted for the bill. Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about the bill, but as I’ve written before, Bush himself is to blame for the fact that people now know he can’t be trusted. When in doubt, people tend to favor doing nothing over potentially doing something wrong–especially if that wrong might enrich the same people who have been ripping us off for the past seven years.

As I’ve also pointed out, the news media also share the blame for the failing economy, and our pitiful understanding of it. On the other hand, if opponents of the “doomsday machine” are correct, we won’t have to worry about something as trivial as the world economy for long.

Assuming they’re wrong and the world doesn’t explode within the next few days, I’ll be back next week. I’m off tomorrow to a conference in Seattle, one of my favorite cities, and usually try to avoid blogging when I travel. We all need an occasional break, and I’m obsessive enough about it when I’m here–tomorrow will be only the fourth day this month that I didn’t post at least once, with more than one post on several days.

Same day update: The Dow closed lower today than when Bush took office. In short, if you invested money in the market when he was sworn in and haven’t touched it since then, you’ve actually managed to lose money in those seven years. Put another way, you would have done better by stuffing that same money in your mattress. Presidents usually get too much credit when the economy does well and too much blame when it does poorly, but in this case, thanks to the impact of Bush’s dishonesty, he deserves a bigger share than usual.

Same day update #2: The stock losses were estimated at $1.2 trillion, or $500 billion more than the bailout plan.

Have a great week, if you can. And if you’re interested in more while I’m gone, check out the links at right or some of my previous favorites below:

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

In search of Sarah, and where Congress spends your money

Craig Ferguson: “If you don’t vote, you’re a moron”

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »