Sunday, January 27, 2008

Extreme times call for extreme measures

Moby DickAye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth till he sprouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave.
Herman Melville, "Moby Dick, or the Whale"

Captain Ahab had a boatload of earnest accomplices on his quest for the Leviathan. Thus it ever was with change we can believe in. The presidential campaign has taken on rising stakes and a meaner tone. Any sign of nuance, from Mitt Romney's benchmarks for Iraq to Barack Obama's thoughts on Ronald Reagan, are taken for signs of weakness. Extreme values are the measure of unlikely behavior.

When Barry Goldwater said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," his words to the 1964 Republican Convention were a strange echo of Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail" a year earlier: "So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?" Whatever your concept of liberty, it's bound to be something worth fighting for.

Tribune Company's liberty was at stake whenSam Zell took over at yearend, and the company's core values changed nearly overnight. At least the 1991 corporate mission statement got a grand rewrite. It's hard to pledge yourself to "Create premier branded content." I'd rather "Play to win," particularly when the Sun-Times is spelling out the price of failure.

In catching up with the Sun-Times buyouts, I missed the news that the Sun-TImes is abandoning its Booster weekly newspapers. Oak Park's Wednesday Journal will extend its city footprint by taking over over the former Lerner imprint, along with the Booster and News-Star. East Village/Wicker Park is one of the few neighborhoods in which the two chains currently compete. Likely that will not continue. Update: The Booster's new owner confirmed that its coverage area was retreating to Lake View. )

One rogue trader may have lost the Societe Generale bank $7.14 billion, spooked futures exchanges worldwide and escalated the Fed's extreme makeover of the U.S. economy. Playing to win is sometimes literally going for broke. Said Mr. Starbuck: "God keep me!—keep us all!"

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