And That’s The Way It Was, November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite, often called “the most trusted man in America,” has died at age 92. Cronkite was anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, bringing many key moments of modern world history into American homes before the age of cable “news.”  The Washington Post writes:

CBS was widely considered the best news-gathering operation among the three major networks, and Cronkite was a major reason why. With his avuncular pipe-and-slippers presence before the camera and an easy, yet authoritative, delivery, he had an extraordinary rapport with his viewers and a level of credibility that was unmatched in the industry. In a 1973 public opinion poll by the Oliver Quayle organization, Cronkite was named the most trusted public figure in the United States, ahead of the president and the vice president.

“He was the voice of truth, the voice of reliability,” said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism professor and sociologist. “He belongs to a time when there were three networks, three oil companies, three brands of bread.” He was the personification of stability and permanence, even when, in Gitlin’s words, his message was “that things are falling apart.”

In the decades before media outlets and media audiences splintered into numberless shards, Cronkite’s broadcasts reached an estimated 20 million people a night. His name became permanently linked in the minds of millions of Americans with the major news events of his time: the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; the triumph of the first moon landing; the Watergate scandal; the return of American hostages after the Iranian Revolution; and a series of political conventions, national elections and presidential inaugurations.

Cronkite was on the air for hours after the Kennedy assassination. The video above shows Cronkite announcing the death of JFK. He was a such a strong promoter of the space program in its early years that he was called “the eighth astronaut.” When Apollo XI landed on the moon, “Cronkite was on the air for 27 of the 30 hours that Apollo XI took to complete its mission.”

Many have wondered where the media was in the build up to the Iraq war as the press frequently repeated the lies of the Bush administration without doing independent reporting. Walter Cronkite experienced a similar situation with Vietnam, ultimately becoming instrumental in changing public opinion:

Initially, Cronkite was something of a hawk on the Vietnam War, although his program did broadcast controversial segments such as Morley Safer’s famous “Zippo lighter” report. However, returning from Vietnam after the Tet offensive Cronkite addressed his massive audience with a different perspective. “It seems now more certain than ever,” he said, “that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate.” He then urged the government to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Many observers, including presidential aide Bill Moyers speculated that this was a major factor contributing to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to offer to negotiate with the enemy and not to run for President in l968.

1984 Goes Down The Memory Hole at Amazon

Being someone who spends lots of money on both books and electronic gadgets I have considered ebook readers. While there are some I might purchase, I have rejected the Kindle and cannot imagine why it is so popular beyond excellent marketing. It does have some advantages over other ebook readers such as the ability to purchase many books from Amazon wirelessly, the advantages ultimately are more for the benefit of Amazon than the consumer.

Despite its popularity, the Kindle looks like one of the weaker ebook readers on the market with the ability to read very few ebook formats. My biggest complaint is that it primarily uses its own format and that books one purchases cannot be stored and read on computers and a wide variety of other devices. My primary concern was in not being locked into a single company’s device forever but today another reason to desire a more open format came up:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

The real irony here is that the books were 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. In 1984 the protagonist had a job dumping newspaper stories which the government found inconvenient down the memory hole. Imagine  if the Kindle was the only form the book was available on. Fortunately, my copies of these books are still safe on my book shelf. I wonder if Amazon has the ability to make copies they have sold of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 burn up in people’s homes.

Update: I’m not sure why people are spending money on Orwell’s books when they are available for download in many formats on line. Boing Boing gives one such example. Under Australian copyright law the work of authors who died before 1955 are in the public domain and are easily available for download at sites such as here.  Another example is here, and I was amused to find that Amazon has an ad for the Kindle on this page.

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Conservative Values and The Family

Many conservatives and adulterers belong to The Family, a conservative religious organization which has included Mark Sanford and John Ensign. CQ Politics reports on a third affair tied to Christian House, where conservatives affiliated with The Family often spend time praying, partying, or whatever it is they do there.

A Capitol Hill townhouse that serves as a dormitory and meeting place for a band of conservative Christian lawmakers has been linked to a third episode of marital infidelity, this time in a Mississippi court filing by a former lawmaker’s estranged wife.

In an “alienation of affection” lawsuit, former Rep. Charles W. Pickering Jr.’s estranged wife, Leisha, alleges that he carried on an extramarital affair with a onetime college sweetheart while he lived at a house at 133 C Street in Southeast Washington. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., both of whom admitted to cheating on their wives in recent weeks, are members of the Christian fellowship of lawmakers known as “C Street” for the address of the house where several of the members live at any given time…

The extremely tight-knit and secretive group is described by those with knowledge of its practices as a prayer group in which members seek to discuss personal issues and “hold each other accountable.”

ACU Supports Free Market In Endorsements

Next time you hear a conservative cite their rating from the American Conservative Union you can be certain that the ACU truly backs conservative Republican principles. The ACU has now even started a free market in endorsements. From Politico:

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then the group’s president flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”

The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.

The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS. Keene did not return a message left on his cell phone.

Maury Lane, FedEx’s director of corporate communications, said: “Clearly, the ACU shopped their beliefs and UPS bought.”

Democrats Dropping Card Check

Senate Democrats are dropping card check from proposed labor legislation. I noted signs that this might be coming earlier in the year. Support among Democratic voters for this measure was mixed with the Democrats now attracting many professionals who lack traditional Democratic ties to labor. George McGovern, who never got along with organized labor (which helped deliver a landslide victory to Richard Nixon in 1972) has even made an ad opposing the plan.

The major problem with backing card check is that it doesn’t pass the elevator pitch test. If you have difficulty explaining the rational for your policy in the time span of an elevator ride you are in trouble. Some proponents have made arguments as to why card check is not as anti-democratic as it sounds but the elevator ride would be over well before they finish the first half of their explanation. We are going to have enough trouble debunking all the Republican distortions on health care reform and explaining the House bill which is over 1000 pages. Health care reform is worth the effort but I would not devote similar efforts to card check.

The ultimate problem is that we have gone through eight years of a Republican administration which repeatedly attempted to undermine democratic principles. Reestablishing democratic principles is more important than any short term goal. This is not aided by promoting a plan which, whether true or not, gives the appearance of being contrary to the principle of the secret ballot and free elections.

Update: George McGovern’s ad opposing card check: