Category Archives: Politics

Leave birthright citizenship alone!

THE US CONSTITUTIONDonald Trump,  Gov. Scott Walker,  Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul (so far) don’t believe that children born in the United States are automatically citizens of the United States. In other words, they are in favor of either “revisiting” or repealing the “birthright citizenship” provisions of the XIV Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Donald Trump, from today’s Huffington Post.

 What happens is [Mexicans], they’re going to have a baby, they move over here for a couple of days, they have the baby — [the lawyers are] saying it’s not going to hold up in court.


I don’t think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — and I know some will disagree — but many of them agree with me and you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship.

Continue reading Leave birthright citizenship alone!

The Carrion Eaters: Collection agencies in the 20th century

“Finance company,” is an almost archaic term for a company that lends small amounts of money to sub-prime borrowers, short term and at high interest rates. Exorbitant fees and frequent rollovers were the goals.

Their 21st century equivalents are so-called payday loan companies. Unlike most payday loan companies, though, finance company loans were usually collateralized by cars, 2nd mortgages, and even household furniture.

As in today’s credit-heavy/income-lite [sic] society, debtors who fell behind were often harassed encouraged to pay by collectors, who specialized in harassing motivating past-due debtors to bring their accounts current.

I wrote  the 1st draft of this song i n 1978 and have been updating it ever since—most recently yesterday afternoon. I could have told the story from the viewpoint of the debtor; instead I decided it would be more interesting to tell the tale from the collector’s point of view.

Since posting it on YouTube, comments have ranged from the sympathetic to the condemnatory. I fall into the first category; I’ll leave you to guess with whom.

And, if you, dear reader, have an opinion you’d like to share, well that’s what the little comment box below is for.

The 9-Second Election, Part 2

The 9-seccond election, Part 2 | Roger Scime | Critical Journalism
Business Week, June 1994

I hope you all enjoyed the “Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ video in my last post. It’s well worth a watch.

In Part 1 of this series, I pointed out that politicians’ platforms, positions, and queries are often reported via sound bites . . . which are becoming shorter every election cycle.

Here are a few examples of the average length of quotes by public officials as broadcast on television news, as reported by the New York Times in 1992.”

  • 1968 – 43 seconds
  • 1972 – 25.2 seconds
  • 1976 – 18.2 seconds
  • 1980 – 12.2 seconds
  • 1984 – 9.9 seconds
  • 1988 – 8.9 seconds

Recently, the Boston Globe published an article titled, “The incredible shrinking sound bite,” in which it cited a recently published study by David M. Ryfe (an Associate Professor here at the UNR Reynold’s School of Journalism, by the way. Ahem) and Markus Kemmelmeier on just this topic. The conclusion: the sound bite had made its way back to 9 seconds by 1992 (at least at CBS).

The author of the Globe piece, Craig Fehrman, stated that shorter sound bites weren’t necessarily a bad thing:

Letting politicians ramble doesn’t necessarily produce a better or more informative political discourse.

However, he notes some drawbacks:

First, and most obviously, [voters] miss out on the variety and authenticity of hearing people speak at length, and in their own words. Short snippets seem to encourage coverage that focuses on candidates’ gaffes and catch phrases. Sometimes, it feels like we get more of the journalists than of the politicians.

Media expert Neil Postman, however, would disagree strongly with this observation. In fact he he believes that shorter sound bites not only harm political discourse and are both a symptom and a cause of an epistemological shift that has dire consequences for our democracy, our nation, and–in fact!–everything else!

To learn how how, you’ll have to read Part 3 of this series.


The 9-Second Election, Part 1

Roger Scime's Critical Journalism BlogGentle reader, I’d like you to try an experiment: Choose a 1-hour TV show you watched last night and pretend you’re relating the story to somebody who is generally familiar with concept of the show—perhaps some of the characters, its location, and general setting—and try to describe that night’s episode as quickly as you can, while conveying enough information for the imaginary listener to understand the storyline. Time yourself. And, when you’re finished, see how long it took. Chances are it was longer than 2 minutes. Probably closer to—I don’t know—maybe 15 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe even longer if it had a complicated plot.

Now, I’d like you to think back to the 2008 vice-presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. The format of the October 8 debate was this:

  • The moderator (Gwen Ifill) asked each candidate a question, to which
  • they had 90 seconds to respond.
  • An open discussion period of 2 minutes followed, and,
  • finally, each candidate was given 90 seconds to provide a closing statement.

Next, compare those times with what I asked you to do in my first paragraph. Which was longer, more complete, nuanced, contextualized, and informative? I’ll bet your imaginary listener left with a better understand of—say—One Tree Hill—than about the candidates’ views on foreign policy in the Middle East, or the effects of new taxes on the deficit.

Would it surprise anybody reading this that during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates during the 19th century, the format was a little different and that

Douglas would speak first, for an hour; Lincoln would take an hour and a half to reply; Douglas, a half hour to rebut Lincoln’s reply.

One of Palin’s responses in 2008: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

One of Lincoln’s, in 1858

It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say I an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground.

Slightly different: in length, complexity, and context, wouldn’t you say? In one sentence, Lincoln acknowledges the time differential between his and Douglas’s declamations; that Douglass has covered several topics; and asks the audience’s forgiveness for not rebutting each and every argument.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

This next series of blog posts will deal with the fact that journalists have accepted, perhaps even promoted, the notion that their readers require less and less information with which to form their opinions. Whether it’s deciding to begin watching a TV series or deciding the next leaders of the free world.

Today, our elected officials need not spell out complicated and detailed campaign platforms, nor provide solid, informative answers to difficult questions. In the 21st Century, a 9-second sound bite is usually all that it takes.

Stay tuned.

Lincoln’s quotes are from: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business