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Lewis Lapham: Machine-Made News

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

The Kindle Reader, after Renoir by Mike Licht

A decade ago, I wrote a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, about the world I had worked in for a quarter-century. I already had at least some sense, then, of what was bearing down on the book. Keep in mind that this was a couple of years before Facebook was launched and years before the Kindle, the Nook, or the iPad saw the light of day. Still, back then, for my novel’s characters — mostly authors and book editors like me — I imagined an electronic book-in-the-making, which I dubbed the “Q.” It was the “Q-print,” officially, with that initial standing for “quasar”– for, that is, a primordial force in the universe.

When one of my younger characters, an editorial assistant, unveils it — still in prototype form — it’s described as “a sleek, steno-pad sized object… a flickering jewel of light and color.” And he imagines its future this way: “Someday it’ll hold a universal library and you’ll be able to talk with an author, catch scenes from the movie, access any newspaper on earth, plan your trip to Tibet, or check out a friend on screen, and that probably won’t be the half of it.”

An older publishing type, on the other hand, describes its possibilities in this fashion: “In a future Middlemarch, the church will offer public service ads when Casaubon appears, the drug companies will support Lydgate, and architectural firms can pitch their wares while Dorothea reorganizes the housing of the poor.” A decade later, that may still be a little ahead of the game, but not by so much. The inexpensive version of the Kindle is awash in ads by now and, books and all, the iPad, of course, is a riot of activity.

Don’t think of me, though, as the Nostradamus of online publishing. It was evident even then that the coming machines of our electronic lives, no matter the tasks they might be dedicated to, including reading The Book, would have little choice but to “generalize’ into all-purpose entities. The urge for email, a video camera, ads, apps, you name it, has indeed proved overwhelming.

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Tomgram: Stephan Salisbury, How Muslim-Bashing Loses Elections

6:32 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Last week, I asked you to consider writing friends, colleagues, relatives, and others to urge them to go to the "subscribe" window at the upper right of TD's main screen, put in their email addresses, hit “submit,” answer the “opt-in” email that instantly arrives in your email box (or, unfortunately, your spam folder), and receive notices whenever a new TD post goes up. (Word of mouth is still the major kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and, in the midst of a steamy summer, TD got a nice stream of new subscribers! Many thanks indeed to those who acted.  If you didn’t, but have the urge, please indulge it!  Tom]

Here in Washington, everyone, it seems, has an idea about how to solve Washington’s debt drama. Many Democrats, including the White House, want a “balanced” deal, a $4-trillion grab-bag that mixes spending cuts and new revenues achieved through closing tax loopholes or ending tax breaks. Top Republicans in Congress want all cuts and no tax hikes, while the GOP’s Tea Party wing in the House of Representatives opposes raising the nation’s $14.3-trillion debt ceiling at all, seeing default and economic catastrophe as the chosen path to an American reckoning for a profligate government.

There’s one group, however, we’ve heard little from: Republican presidential candidates. When they’ve spoken up at all, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and the rest have largely ducked, hewing to the party line on the policy battle gripping the nation’s capital. Only Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the flame-throwing leader of Congress’s Tea Party caucus, has loudly rejected any debt ceiling increase unless Democrats agree to a Christmas-in-July deal that would slash spending to the bone and repeal President Obama’s health insurance reform bill. Godspeed, Michele.

Presidential candidates live and die by polling data, and so it’s not surprising they’ve been relatively mum on the debt talks. After all, majorities of Americans in multiple polls support a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (and oppose any meddling with the Social Security system, Medicare, or Medicaid). A GOP candidate who stumped for tax increases in a red-hot state like Iowa could count on kissing his White House dreams goodbye, but going too strongly on the record against revenue raising could be unhealthy in a race against President Obama next year.

On the other hand, Muslim-bashing as a campaign tactic is an absolute no-brainer, a surefire way to win over the far right, get attention, and triumph in elections — or is it? Sometimes, common knowledge is so common that no one bothers to check it out, and sometimes it’s wrong.  So prepare yourself for a surprise when, alone among his journalistic peers, TomDispatch regular Stephan Salisbury explores just how effective railing against Islam has actually been in past election campaigns and the role it might play in 2012. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses the changing feelings of Americans regarding Muslims and Islam in the context of the 2012 election, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Andy Kroll


Islam-Baiting Doesn’t Work 
It Failed in Campaign 2010 and Will Do Worse in 2012 

By Stephan Salisbury

During the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the Beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals.

“Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in the wake of the 2010 election. His assumption was shared by many then and is still widely accepted today.

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