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The Times They Are A Changin'

New - 22 September 2008

Sub Titled: The Intrigue of Living in a Dual Universe

Recently I stopped at my favorite Starbucks and as was my custom I glanced at the headlines of those newspapers conveniently placed on racks for sale (and/or free perusal by the likes of me). One headline in particular – that of The New York Times -- caught my attention (as of course, it was intended to do).




Based on the nation’s (and the world's?) current rush into a nineteen thirties style depression, this was pretty much ho hum material. [And for the less financial minded among you, please note that the $700 billion is for those denizens whose primary residence is on Wall Street… and is not a reference to Saint Wall of infamous fame.]

As it turned out, I also noticed the sub banner located just below and to the right, to wit:



Few Strings Attached

-- Meetings Begin

For Congress

For whatever reason, I noticed in particular the phrase: “Few Strings Attached”. The very idea of few strings is like saying there really is a free lunch… when clearly there never has been. Such a phrase is more likely to be interpreted as “Few If Any Apparent Strings Attached”, OR we’re not going to commit to writing exactly who is going to reap the benefits on both sides of this nearly one trillion dollar transaction. It’s just none of your business… even if you and your descendants will be paying through the nose for decades to come. Many, many decades.

But, as I say, this is pretty much old hat. Still… one aspect of it did arouse a degree of curiosity in me.

Accordingly, I continued to peruse (for free) the complete article for additional clues, hints, entertainment and amusement... until I was interrupted by my friend, Terry, who arrived just in time to distract me. As it turned out, Terry had decided to buy a copy of the Times for her own use and take it with her to a friend’s house where she was going to help her friend paint (Terry’s that kind of people). Of course, being a woman of impeccable tastes, Terry did not want the top copy (one that had been crinkled, probably from transport, and/or touched innumerable times by freeloaders such as myself). She instead took the second, comparatively clean copy from the stack.

Terry is also an intelligent, well read lady and I thought I might point out the “Few Strings Attached” phrase as a means to initiate a brief conversation -- and give her an excuse to delay heading off for her painting gig.

However… there was no such title in Terry's newspaper. What the sub banner read (on Terry’s version) was:



Treasury Would Face

Few Restrictions on

Buying Bad Debt

This momentarily perplexed me and only after Terry had left did I return to the crinkled version to make sure I had seen what I thought I had seen. And sure enough, it was just as I had seen… “Few Strings Attached”. I then checked the next copies in the stack, all of which appeared to duplicate Terry’s version.

I then set the two copies side by side in order to compare them. I even went to the extreme action of actually buying the two disparate copies! Oy… the costs of creative research!

The results of my comparison were both perplexing and enlightening.

First of all, both copies claimed to be the “National Edition” of The New York Times for Sunday, September 21, 2008, copyrighted 2008 The New York Times, and printed in Colorado. After that things were strangely complex. While the stories were comparable in some respects, it is clear that one newspaper was the heavily edited version of the other. As to which came first… that might be a which came first: the chicken or the egg question… Or perhaps maybe not.

While a degree of editing might seem innocuous between printings (as opposed to editions), consider also that the Crinkly Version had a cover photo of Sarah Palin and John McCain and an article beginning on the front page about the upcoming debates. Terry’s Version had in the place of this article, a color photo article about a bomb exploding at a Hotel in Pakistan’s Capital, Killing at Least 40.

For me, this came under the category of strangely weird. Had I somehow come unglued from the space-time continuum (as in the fashion of Kurt Vonnegut’s hero in Slaughter House Five) and consequently found myself existing in two different but strangely similar parallel universes? Wasn’t this taking duality to extremes?

And why by the way did this juxtaposition of universes include Tom and Thayer, the Starbucks guys who tried to assist me in my investigating journalism endeavors by taking Polaroid shots of the two version?

Meanwhile, I was motivated in part by the possibly contrary interpretations of the “No strings” and “Few Restrictions” headlines. This suggested that a more careful review of the parallel universe contents was in order.

Consider the following arbitrarily elected portions of the two versions:

Crinkly Version

Terry’s Version

Simple Proposal

Few Strings Attached

-- Meetings Begin

For Congress

Goes to Congress

Treasury Would Face

Few Restrictions on

Buying Bad Debt

“The Bush administration on Saturday formally proposed to Congress what could become the largest financial bailout in United States history, requesting virtually unfettered authority for the Treasury to buy up to $700 billion in mortgage-related assets from financial institutions based in the United States.

“The proposal was stunning for its stark simplicity: less than three pages, it would raise the national debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion. And it would place no restrictions on the administration other than requiring semiannual reports to Congress, allowing the Treasury to buy and resell mortgage debt as it sees fit.”


“The Bush administration on Saturday formally proposed a vast bailout of the United States financial system, requesting unfettered authority for the Treasury Department to buy up to $700 billion in mortgage-related assets from financial institutions based in the United States.

“The proposal, not quite three pages long, was stunning for its stark simplicity. It would raise the national debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion. And it would place no restrictions on the administration other than requiring semiannual reports to Congress, granting the Treasury secretary unprecedented power to buy and sell mortgage debt.”

The remainder of the article consisted of 191 lines, plus a large figure on page 19 that showed graphically the stock prices of financial companies as 15 of 18 collapsed from 29 to 100% of their peak prices.


The remainder of the article consisted of 360 lines, but replaced the large figure with a much smaller figure that showed the national debt going from roughly 6 trillion (2000) to well over 9 trillion (2008).

There was a front page photo of Palin and McCain and an article, “Campaigns Agree on Debates: Palin-Biden Is Less Free-Form”, with a sub banner on Page 21: “With the Candidates’ Debates Drawing Nearer, a Lot of Talk About Talking”

There was only a small bottom of front-page reference with photo of Palin to the complete article on Page 21: “Pact on Debates Lets McCain and Obama Spar, Their Running Mates Less So.” [Otherwise the articles are comparable.]

There was also on Page 21: “Palin’s Entry Complicates Michelle Obama’s Task” (with photo of Michelle Obama), and the added banner, “Going after the vote of working women and staying gracious.”


There was also on Page 21: “With Elbows in Check, Making a Pitch to Women” a story about Michelle Obama (same photo), with the added banner, “Michelle Obama’s twin tasks: Criticize and empathize.”

Small bottom of front-page reference to “At Least 40 Are Killed In Blast at Pakistan Hotel”. Article on Page 12 had banner of “A favorite hotel of foreigners had been attacked twice before” (missing on Terry’s Version). Article had 65 lines.


There was a front-page photo and article, “Bomb Explodes at Hotel in Pakistan’s Capital, Killing at Least 40.” There was one additional photo on Page 12. This article had 213 lines.

Also on Page 12: “Pakistani President Offers Militants an Olive Branch, Backed by the Threat of Force”, photo of Asif Ali Zardari, and contained 177 lines.


Also on Page 12: “Pakistani President Delivers Broadside Against Terrorism and U. S. Intervention.” (no photo) Article contained 130 lines.

Story on South African President Mbeki’s resignation, with sub banners: “Avoiding the humiliation of a no-confidence vote in Parliament” and “Mandel’s successor accumulated as many enemies as friends.”

Story on South African President Mbeki’s resignation, without highlighted phrases, but with a new article, “Niger Delta Rebels Say They Hit Another Pipeline in ‘Oil War’. (Otherwise comparable)


This brief comparison raises three questions. The first is: “What the F***?”

The second has to do with the very idea of the lack of uniqueness of the Sunday, September 21, 2008 edition of The New York Times. Is this re-editing… in many cases, extensive re-editing (or equivalently, history revisionism) common in the trade? Is your copy of the Times – or any news magazine, newspaper, book, comic book, and so forth – the same as my copy… even if I didn’t exactly buy “my copy”?

A third question involves the possibility of political motivations in the re-editing. Take the headline, for example, of the Pakistani President offering “militants an olive branch” as opposed to delivering a “broadside against terrorism and U. S. intervention.” Consider, for example, that if you were a strong supporter of the Bush Administration (and by extension, the policy of the Bush Administration’s dealings with Pakistan)… which of the two headlines would you prefer? Probably the Crinkly edition, right?

Come to think of it, Bushites might also not want to hear about:

  • Niger Delta Rebels and an “Oil War” (as in Terry’s Version),
  • The greater amount of coverage on the bomb blast in Pakistan (again Terry’s version) – but perhaps be okay with the fact that the hotel had already been attacked twice before, and thus, possibly, the latest outrage was not a result of the current U. S. intervention in Pakistan (as in the Crinkly Version),
  • The lack of Palin’s photo front and center, or that McCain went to a lot of trouble (as per the headline in Terry’s Version) to reduce the free-form debate for the novice Governor against the more experienced Biden “bulldog”,
  • The national debt graphically shown going from a slight down slope in 2000 to a nearly exponentially increasing debt 2008 (Terry’s Version), i.e., just how bad the Bushites have destroyed the nation’s economy. Of course, the Crinkly version did note the near complete collapse of the financial stocks (but hey! from the view of the Wall Street Journal, that’s just capitalism!), and
  • Reference to the Treasury Secretary’s “unprecedented power” to buy and sell, as opposed to the Treasury being allowed to buy and sell “as it sees fit”. Terry’s version puts the onus of unprecedented power on one man, as opposed to the Department of the Treasury being able to collectively? call the shots.

So… is Terry’s Version (despite any actual political preferences on her part) the… shall we say… more Democratic version, while the Crinkly Version is more… Republican? Is this some great plan on the part of The New York Times to reach across the aisle and embrace both Democrats and Republicans by printing custom editions for either party?

It is certainly a heart-warming thought… although I would have to ask… how do they ensure that each reader gets the version of his or her political leaning? Okay, maybe they got it right with Terry, but what am I supposed to do with the confusion of both copies? (Of course, how many people buy two copies and read them both... even compare them?) Another problem: When I quote from The New York Times, how will I designate which version I’m using, AND what happens when someone is checking my references and fails utterly to find the appropriate quote when his version is not even nearly the same as mine?

The revisionist history concept we briefly mentioned above as our second question – and which will now be enlarged upon – may need to be applied to a much larger span of human endeavor. References to specifics in books may be at far more risk than we might ever have expected. It’s one thing to deal with different translations (with slights or not-so-slight differences in meaning). But when researchers can’t even depend upon a single day’s edition being the same for all readers, then we may be in something of a pickle.

This pickle is, fortunately, totally eliminated if we use the newspapers to best advantage by papering the birdcage with them, or as possibly in Terry’s case, using the paper to cover the floor while painting the walls and ceiling.

Published books do have revised editions… but at least they’re identified as such. Even fictional novels can be revised (I do it all the time). Another example is John Fowles’ The Magus, where my 1977 revised edition includes “a stylistic revision”, a number of largely rewritten scenes, and “one or two new ones.” In movies, it’s all about the brilliantly conceived “Director’s Cut”, deleted scenes available on the DVD which show just how badly some actors can stumble about, and lastly and leastly the demented movie studio’s slash and burn editing performed by idiots and accountants, without the barest semblance of artistic integrity… the latter that is, alas, shown in the movie theater.

Clearly, even the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is ludicrous. All written, performed, audio and visual presentations are fiction… all… and variable fiction at that. So-called non-fiction is simply fiction that is to some degree based on facts, reality, and what might actually have constituted a degree of attempted objective observation.

If there is any moral here… an unlikely possibility considering that we’re dealing with newspapers, magazines, movies, and the like… that moral is that the attributions of opinions of specific authors and the like have almost no value whatsoever… BUT THAT the meat of what has been said may have tremendous value. In fact, said tremendous value can exist regardless of who claimed or is purported to have first said things in a particular fashion. Clearly, it is going to become ever more difficult to give “credit” to the appropriate source of an idea or a clever phrase. But then… why should anyone be given credit for what they said? It was probably just intuition, aka divine intervention... so why are they laughing all of the way to the bank (assuming that the bank has not recently closed its doors... in which case the laughter might ring slightly less true).

Still... in an age of electronic communications (without all that messy printing, binding and distribution of forest eating paper books and the like), why do we really need to give credit to wrote what first?

Come to think of it, why should the fat cats on Wall Street be given $700 Billion worth of credit? You know… I can’t imagine a single good reason. Obviously, their problems are not even particularly novel [pardon the pun].

Media         Kali Yuga

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Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees

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