Monthly Archives: August 2013

The surveillance state (cont.)

by Christopher B. Daly 

imgres3Why do we have to find out what our government is doing from newspapers?

(And while we are thinking about that, let’s give thanks to those papers that are big enough and tough enough and devoted enough to pry these secrets out of the government on behalf of all of us. A tip of the hat to the Post and the Times.)

Here’s the Post’s Thursday story. (Which includes a nice graphics package unpacking the “Black Budget,” which we were never supposed to see.)

Here’s today’s Times story.

Turns out, we spend more than $50 billion a year on spying (some of it illegally aimed at law-abiding American citizens).


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Warning: Study history before entering the Mideast

By Christopher B. Daly

With the United States government poised on the brink of intervening militarily in the Mideast, this would be a good time (if it’s not too late) to study the history of the region. Too often, we go wading ashore or dropping bombs on countries that we know nothing about. We expect the people in those countries to be just like us, or else they better get ready to become just like us. Of course, they are not just like us, and they have no intention of changing.

One place to start is today’s op-ed by David Brooks, who (heaven help him) at least tries to do some homework before sounding off.

A much better place to go is the history of the region written by David Fromkin (a BU colleague). His 1989 history, A Peace to End All Peace, tells the sad tale of how the Great Powers carved up the imagesMideast at the end of World War I. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, European diplomats and bureaucrats drew lines in the sand ( actually, they drew lines on maps) and declared the results to be “nations,” even if the people drawing the lines had never been to those places. Ever since, those “nations” have been beset by internal conflicts, such as the one playing out in Syria, because they are made up of unnatural groupings of different peoples, many of whom have ancient hatreds and resentments of people who are supposed to be their countrymen.

If only a single high-ranking member of the George W. Bush administration had read Fromkin’s book, we might never have invaded Iraq. Now, we better hope that someone in the Obama administration has read the history.

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Seamus Heaney, RIP

By Christopher B. Daly

Alas, we have lost the great Irish poet of our time. (How long can such a small island make such outsized gifts to the world’s literature?)

imagesOne thing I loved about Heaney was the way that many of his poems reminded me of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. With both poets, I could find myself reading along and thinking: well, this is awfully concrete and traditional — stuff about rocks and fields and waves. Then, whammo! Suddenly, I would realize that the poem is actually about the meaning of life or the nature of the self or the ordering of the generations or something other profound church-like theme. It’s like walking across a familiar field and finding yourself on the edge of a deep well.

Also not to be missed: Heaney’s great translation of “Beowulf.” Here’s a way to appreciate it:

Step 1: Clear your decks for a while.

Step 2: On YouTube, call up this version of Heaney reading his own text.

Step 3: Open the text so you can follow along as Heaney speaks.

Step 4: Fall into a great poem.

After that, enjoy these two Heaney poems, two of my favorites. Then, leave a comment with your favorite Heaney poem, fragment, or remembrance.



Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

From “The Cure at Troy”

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.



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Abolish the NCAA (cont.)

Here’s the latest confirmation that big-time college sports have no educational purpose and no reason for being on campus.

As the NYTimes reports:

The games will not just be televised by ESPN. They are creations of ESPN — demonstrations of the sports network’s power over college football.

The teams were not even on each other’s schedules until ESPN, looking to orchestrate early-season excitement and ratings, went to work. The 2013 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic came together more than two years ago when one of the network’s programming czars noticed that Alabama was not scheduled to play this Labor Dayweekend, brought the Tide on board and found a worthy opponent.

Far beyond televising games, ESPN has become the chief impresario of college football. By infusing the sport with billions of dollars it pays for television rights — more than $10 billion on college football in the last five years alone — ESPN has become both puppet-master and kingmaker, arranging games, setting schedules and bestowing the gift of nationwide exposure on its chosen universities, players and coaches.

Turns out, the college teams are just content-creators for ESPN.


Every Monday morning during the season, a group of schedulers meets on ESPN’s campus to decide which games to broadcast and which channels will carry them. Under its contracts with conferences, ESPN has the right to set kickoff times. Joe Faraoni/ESPN

Every Monday morning during the season, a group of schedulers meets on ESPN’s campus to decide which games to broadcast and which channels will carry them. Under its contracts with conferences, ESPN has the right to set kickoff times.
Joe Faraoni/ESPN

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New owner of Boston Globe: John Henry

By Christopher B. Daly

So, now we know: the new owner of the Boston Globe is John W. Henry II, a Boston-based investor who owns the Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool soccer club. Henry (not the legendary “steel-drivin’ man” of the contest against a images-1steam engine) is a son of soybean farmers who dropped out of college and made a fortune in commodity trading and other investments.

In recent years, he turned his interests to owning sports franchises and now, he is taking over ownership of the largest news organization in New England. I have no idea what his intentions are (or how he plans to handle the massive conflict of interest that Globe journalists will suffer when reporting on his other ventures). But I wish him well.





The sale completes a chapter in the long history of the New York Times, which bought the Globe 20 years ago for $1.1 billion — a record in U.S. newspaper sales. The Times owners, primarily the Sulzberger family, were forced to sell the Globe for a mere $70 million in cash (which is the kind of money that guys like John Henry spend on a house or two). In other words, the stewards of the most important journalistic institution in America just took a bath of more than $1 billion, which they could scarcely afford to lose. I don’t know how Arthur Sulzberger Jr. remains on speaking terms with his cousins.





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Glass half full: NYT posts a profit due to online readers

By Christopher B. Daly 

The NYTimes Co. reports some good news: the company operated in the black last quarter, and it did so no thanks to advertising. What carried the news operation into profitability was the surge in online readers who are actually paying for content. Here are the key results:

Circulation revenue rose 5.1 percent, to $245.1 million, from $233.3 million. But that gain was largely offset by a 5.8 percent decline in advertising revenue, to $207.5 million.

The number of paid subscribers to the Web site, e-reader and other digital editions of The Times and The International Herald Tribune grew to 699,000, a jump of more than 35 percent from the period a year earlier. Digital subscriptions to The Boston Globe and rose to 39,000, an increase of nearly 70 percent from 23,000 a year earlier.

If you are a paying customer of the Times, pat yourself on the back. If not, PAY UP!

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