Thursday, September 25, 2008

Return of the morning news meeting

Flipping through the M&M archives I noticed it was one year ago today that we posted our first morning news meeting, a little pre-workday back-and-forth between Michelle and me about the Seattle papers' front pages: on that day, coverage of the new "Halo" video game, a rant about the Seattle Times' ongoing disease-of-the-week barf-fest and a tandem head-scratch about the P-I's lame centerpiece feature.

Actually, we had dabbled with a morning news meeting precursor a couple of other times. But it was on this date last year that we gave the feature its name, and it was something I kept going pretty religiously for a long time. Eventually, I guess, it began to feel like an obligation and I gave up doing it regularly.

Lately I haven't been doing much blogging at all. I haven't felt well and I just haven't been into it. But in honor of the M&M MNM-iversary, and with all the news out there right now, I decided to cast my grumpy eye on the day's headlines.

Predictably, the local papers and big sites are all leading with some combination of the Wall Street bailout and the McCain debate pullout. As they should. But so far I haven't seen the story I'd like to see someone tackle: What, exactly, would happen if Congress doesn't approve this $700 billion, kingmaking, unreviewable checkbook for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson? Yes, I heard President Bush say last night that "our entire economy is in danger" without the public money. But how? What does that mean? What are the steps of the implied collapse? I imagine trouble for the last standing investment banks and for big institutional investors. But then what? Do local banks go down, small businesses close, people lose their jobs? Why? How? When? I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone try to run these questions down yet. About the closest thing I've seen is today's New York Times op-ed column by my friend Tim Egan, who does it by implication, retelling some tales from the Great Depression.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, losing 40 percent of its value over a brutal autumn, barely 2 percent of Americans owned stocks. People asked, sensibly: how could this affect me? ... Banks were largely unregulated then, free to gamble people’s savings on stock market long-shots. When the market collapsed, the uninsured deposits went with it. By the end of 1932, one fourth of all banks were shuttered, and 9 million people lost their savings.
While we're assigning stories this morning, how about a piece honestly assessing blame for this mess? And by that I mean not just the piggishness of Wall Street and the blindness of the politicians and bureaucrats who are supposed to be watching it (that's been noted, and rightly so), but also the stupid, irresponsible and unquenchable desire of everyday Americans, millions and millions of them, to have everything they want, right now. Yes, part of that was their easily exploited wish to buy more house than they could afford, to believe that real estate prices would rise endlessly, virtually erasing the risk of both mortgage borrower and maker, or so they thought. But there is also the pull of "the porn," as we call the weekly Best Buy circular around here. There's that gleaming 50-inch 1080p plasma LG staring you in the face -- no payments until 2010! -- but do you really need another TV, on credit? How does the consumer spending binge figure into all this? When the president told us months ago that it was our patriotic duty to buy stuff to help the economy, was that really right?

I mean, I love the porn too. I'm typing this on my trusty MacBook Pro, and I'm sure I'll reread it later on my swank iPhone. But come on, people. If everyone forgoes a purchase or two, is that going to hurt the economy, or help it? I'd buy a newspaper that attempted to answer that question.

In local news, Michelle and I were at the Mariners' historic game last night. It was their 100th defeat of the season (we were also on hand for loss No. 1, on the season's second day), but what made it historic was the fact that the M's are the first team ever to lose at least 100 games while also spending at least $100 million on its players' salaries. That should have been on A1 today. Next year, with Richie Sexson gone and with the ability to fire another overpriced loser or two, it's possible the Mariners could dip below the $100 million payroll mark. I wouldn't bet on the team losing any fewer games though.

Finally, a couple of misanthropic notes in my pet-peevey tightass copy editor mode:

The Seattle Times has a front-page headline today, over a story about a new charitable foundation started by a retired baseball player, that says, "One teacher can impact so many kids." Argh! I know this is a quote and everything, but surely someone on the desk knows that impact is not properly a verb in this sense. Jeez. One dumb headline can impact so many kids. Well, not really, since kids don't read the paper. But still. Shape up, people.

The P-I's Robert Jamieson writes today about crime in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood, and I was with him until I got to this sentence: "Nearby street hustlers howled right along with sartorially attired patrons who'd just left Viceroy, an upscale bar." Um, sartorially attired? Doesn't that just mean they were attired in ... clothes?

Lesson for writers: Don't use ten-dollar words when a two-bit one will do, especially when you don't know what the spendier word means. You can't afford it, vocabularywise. Didn't you hear? Our entire economy is in danger.


freda said...

So sorry you haven't been feeling well, hope you are recovered. Good to hear from you. I have to run, checking out more houses.

Mike said...

Great grumping, bro. Missed your commentary lately.
M's remind me of some of my own dumb budget moves this year...The Joes are going to finish 4th overall, thanks to money wasted on Snell, Gorzelanny and Smoltz.
BTW: Did you notice it was a South Eugene High grad (Blake Stepp of Gonzaga) who crippled the defending champ in the WSOP main event?

Jason Bellamy said...

So I guess the year-ago post explains the goat in the M&M masthead? Always wondered about that. Take this however you want, but given M&M's personalities, it kind of works as a non sequitur. So I never asked.

Anyway, this is my first MNM. And I don't want you to feel obligated to keep them up, but I hope they get some kind of reunion tour. This is great stuff.

Good points all around, especially given that we've seen this crisis coming for a while now, even though it did get considerably worse recently. To be honest, I worry less that I'm being manipulated by the government in ths case and more that the true reality is that they don't have a single fucking clue how to get out of this mess. One thing's for sure, necessary or not, I'm not going to greet Congress like they're liberators.

While we're at the desk, can we request stories? I'd like a column on how to save the Mariners and where they rank against some of the other pathetic MLB franchises. And I remember the iPhone debate, but has there ever been an official iPhone review? Did I miss it? And since I believe Not Yet Dead Money spawned this blog, I wonder: With gas prices so high and jobs getting cut, etc., have you noticed any differences in business at the casino? Or are Americans getting over their losses by losing more, in the hopes of winning it back?

Ronelle said...

Ahhhh...I am back to thinking about things again! Welcome back -I missed you. Thanks for stretching my mind a little bit and I will come clean now and say that I feel a little bit guilty when you tslk about the Best Buy circular. Thanks for the Mariners update though because that eased the blow of the Yankees not making the playoffs and the end of Yankee Stadium. By the way -Sexson only lasted a few weeks in NY - I bet he is sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a drink with an umbrella in it - paid for by the price of your admission ticket!
I miss you both and relive your visit in my mind all the time. I wish we were watching Michelle hitting one out of the park and eating Windmill hot dogs right now.
Feel better!

mich said...

God, Mark, we've just got to get you back into a newsroom.

(And in the we-always-think-alike category, I've been begging for the same story about what the economic collapse would really look like.)

I look forward to more of these. I'll even feed you an item now and then if that helps.

Rita said...

So glad you flipped through the archives and decided to honor the MNM-iversary. It's great to see you back at what you do best.

Continue to feel better and continue to make our day with M&M smarts.

Mark said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. It's nice to draw a few formerly regular commenters out of the woodwork.

Jason, these are excellent story ideas you've assigned. To quote two "job" offers I've received recently, how would you like to write for this blog for free? You're right, I've been meaning to come across with an iPhone review for some time. Consider that an assignment accepted. I also love the poker/economy idea.

And the lame-ballteam analysis would be fun to undertake -- and maybe to read for failed fantasy-baseball players like Mike and brooding Yankees fans like Ronelle.

On that score, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't take much digging to determine that without Richie's "contribution" the Yanks would still be in contention.

The only suspense now is which team will turn out to be the major leagues' worst this season, the M's or Jason's adopted Washington Nationals.

It's like the Seattle newspaper market: a race to the bottom.

kateco said...

yay! Morning meeting is back!