Tuesday, June 17, 2003

More evidence that MoDo Has Lost It

Cut on the Bias takes Dowd to task for a completely nasty column which bashes men, stay at home moms, and Nigella Lawson. Susanna's post says almost everything that needs to be said.

I would add two points. First, Dowd quotes screenwriter Paul Rudnick: "Men only evolve with a gun at their head." Can you imagine a straight white guy getting away with saying something similar about gays or women? I suspect he would get the Full Rocker and it would start with MoDo.

Second, to slime Nigella Lawson as a purveyor of "gastro porn" is low. If you don't like cooking shows, fine. But to compare them to pornography is absurd. And it is worse than catty to imply that a successful woman only succeeded by trading on her sexuality.

Besides, as i commented over at Cut on the Bias, if men really were that shallow and we decided what cooking shows became successful, Pamela Anderson would host them, not Nigella Lawson.
Baseball

Outside the Beltway ponders the dropping fan interest in baseball. As usual, he makes very good points.

As one of those lapsed baseball fans, i think that the expanded playoffs made regular season games almost meaningless. In the NFL, regular season games have real playoff implications. Atlanta can find itself playing on the road on grass in Chicago in January because they were upset by Carolina in November. In baseball, all the Yankees lose is one home game in a seven game series if they finish second to the Red Sox after being swept by Baltimore.

But the big thing is the one OTB hit. In the NFL parity gives fans hope. Except in Cincinnati, every fan can dream of the playoffs at the start of the season. Sure most of us are disappointed in a given year, but few cities go three or four years straight with no realistic hopes. In baseball, some teams/cities are just not economically competitive anymore. Why should their fans turn out to watch the futility?
Free Agents and Draft Choices

Ben Kepple

World-wide Rant

Geographic

View from the Right

Monday, June 16, 2003

Great site

If your think Shania Twain is what country music is all about, well, sorry, you're wrong. If you know better than that, check out That Ain't Country.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Did you ever wonder

What would happen if Ann Coulter and Kevin Smith did a show for MSNBC?

I think it would be a lot like Right Thinking from the Left Coast.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Deep thoughts about blog drama

Every now and then a pseudo-war breaks out among a group of bloggers and commenters. Often it seems childish. Sometimes the stakes are real since serious charges are made that if untrue are clearly slanderous or libelous.

These kind of things aren't unique to blogs. Flame wars are as old as online communication. Petty, gossipy competition also happens with the print media. When you read the memoirs of the people who wrote for Partisan Review or Commentary or Willie Morris's Harpers, you see the same private battles behind the genteel and intellectual veneers of serious journalism. On the blogs there is simply transparency for the reader: We can read the comments and other blogs. In print, the cool stuff happened at cocktail parties readers never attended.

In watching these play out a couple of features of the "blogosphere" become apparent.

1. Some of the fights are as real as professional wrestling. It is just a ploy for hits. Even serious controversies draw in the WWF contingent.

2. Blogs are plastic in a way print is not and that is not always good. Sometimes cooler heads prevail and strident posts are taken down. But anyone who comes to the party late is left with only a partial and distorted picture of what happened.

Even worse, this quality makes the web a playground for the malicious. A lying blogger can post a "critque" of another blogger's work that never existed. Then, a short time later, the liar can claim that the offending post was removed. How can the victim of this slander prove that they never wrote the post that is being criticized? And yet, the charges will just hang out there in cyberspace.

Conversely, the post might have existed and then was taken down. In which case, how does the fisking blogger prove that they are not making stuff up?
This is just wrong

So a guy in Washington, who works for the White House Writers Group no less, decides to critique Willie Nelson on the website of a New York magazine.

The Fat Guy administers the required thrashing here.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Growing Pains

In Heretics, Chesterton writes:

"When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man's body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims." [p 17]

I think that is one of the best explanations for why most process reengineering and process improvement efforts fail to yield the results hoped for them. Most are launched when the organization is failing in the marketplace. Instead of focusing externally on aims, it turns inward to its own processes. It's not that processes are not important, but that it is more important to know why objectives are not being met in the first place and what the aims should be.

I was reminded of this when i read Right Wing News's advice for bloggers and came to this:

-- Do write about the blogosphere because bloggers as a whole tend to be narcissistic and they love to link articles that talk about what they're doing.

I think that is dead on. But to build on Chesterton, maybe an activity doesn't become an important force until it loses the narcissism and self-consciousness. When cars were a novelty, they were just a status symbol. But when they became ubiquitous, people stopped thinking "hey, I'm driving this new horseless carriage" and simply drove.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Sports Stats

Jane Galt's post on surveys touched on an important issue about an important matter-- opinion surveys often drive news coverage and public policy. I want to discuss another area where statistics are often misused but without the serious consequences-- sports.

Sports commentators love to toss around numbers. Maybe they are just in touch with their inner geek. Or maybe they just need something to talk about to fill time.

Some numbers are laughable to anyone who has had even one basic statistics class.

"The team is 13-1 with X rushes for 100 yards or more."

They imply causation. If the team just gets X his 100 yard game, then they should be on easy street. What they leave out are the other factors which produce the number. Like the fact that if you fall way behind early, you have to drop the running game while playing catch-up. So the lack of 100 yards didn't produce the defeat, it was the weak pass defense or an error-prone QB that really lost the game. The same thing happens in victory. Get up by ten and you run the ball alot and will rack up more yards. The running helped, but it was not the key to victory.

Other times they toss out stats based on absurd sample sizes-- "Pittsburgh is 3-1 in their last four home games played in the rain." Swap the Bengals for New England and maybe the Steelers are only 2-2. So that stat is tells you next to nothing

Other stats have more plausibility but that is not the same as validity. (Just looking around, the idea that the Earth is basically flat seems plausible enough).

I like the idea that you evaluate a football coach's tactical skills by his record in games decided by 3 or less points. Joe Gibbs always did well on this measure. And it is plausible. When the game is close, coaching decisions are more important than they are when Houston plays the Raiders. Maybe a great tactician gets a field goal where the average coach doesn't. Or a TD where the other guy's play calling ends up with field goal.

The hallmark of Chuck Noll's Super Bowl Years (he won 4 in 6 years, something no coach has equaled since the merger), was the Steelers outstanding record against losing teams(59-1 between 1972 and 1979.) The Steelers beat the teams they were supposed to beat, which some argue was a measure of Noll's ability to prepare his team and keep them focused when they might have taken a team lightly.

Maybe. But so much coaching genius seems transitory and non-transferable. Noll stopped looking like a genius when Bradshaw, Harris, Greene, et. al. retired. George Seifert was almost unbeatable in San Francisco. In Carolina it was a much different matter. Who would have though Steve Yound made that much difference.

Baseball, of course, is the perfect sport for stats geeks. It started out with a boatload of stats and has been adding more every year. But even in baseball not every thing is reducible to quantification (especially fielding). Also, when you have a bunch of stats you run into the problem of weighting all the various stats in order to make comparisons.

And that is the goal: to get everything reduced to a single number that represents a player's "value".

But in trying to do so we often overlook the dialectical nature of the competition. I've mentioned before the observation of Capt. Wayne P. Hughs (a Naval officer) that

"Yet one set of Dupuy's data [on land combat throughout history] shows that in modern battle a greater percentage of casualties has sometimes been inflicted by other than the most capable weapons: infantry small arms exceeded artillery in producing casualties after the range and lethality of artillery rose dramatically. Often the second-best weapons performs better because the enemy, at great cost in offensive effectiveness, takes extraordinary measures to survive the best weapon"

An opposing manager said that Roberto Clemente could win a game without making a put-out, getting an assist, or getting a hit. His defensive skills (especially his arm) were such that baserunners became more conservative and teams lost runs because of it. But that would not show up in conventional fielding statistics.

In football the best cornerbacks don't lead the league in interceptions. They are so good that teams don't even try to throw against them. Alvin Harper had a lot of big plays for Dallas, not because he was almost as good a receiver as Michael Irvin but because Irvin was so good that teams focused on him and let Harper have his opportunities.

(Anyone who knows me knows how much writing that last paragraph hurt.)

We like numbers because they seem concrete and give us something to talk about. The more complex dynamics of the game resist analysis and are frequently ignored. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.
Round-up

This sums it up nicely:

I love the title of this piece -- "Did liberal-bashers cost Garofalo her sitcom?" How about "Did Janeane Garafalo piss off so many people that they won't watch her TV show so it's not a good financial decision for ABC to support a show that no one will watch?"

The Corner on Hilliary!'s self obsession

Learning about Monica and Bill was “The worst moment that I can ever imagine anyone going through.” The worst moment…anyone?! She represents the state of New York and...the worst moment...anyone?! Have an imagination. Talk to some constituents.

Arguing With Signposts remains obsessed with the question of the Steelers status as the greatest football team ever.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Puzzled

I confess i am baffled by this post from Buzz Machine

I've said before that I worry less about the impact on the Times -- there'll always be a Times -- and more about other outlets, which will become safer and thus duller and thus less read and thus less important. Perhaps that's part of the reason the grave-dancers are doing that cha-cha; they think that if the big news outlets are diminished, they are enhanced. But that's wrong; the competitor in the news business isn't other news, it's other, more fun things to watch and do. And if one big purveyor of news suffers in credibility or compelling interest, all news suffers. In this pond, falling water grounds all boats.

Now i am hardly a grave dancer-- ramble through the posts from the last two weeks and you will see that i am more critical of Kaus and Sullivan than almost any other conservative blog.

But if it is true that the Times's loss of credibility hurts all media outlets, then we have a problem. Because that suggests that the system has a powerful bias toward bias, sloppiness, and fabrication. If criticizing bad news coverage at a rival outlet means that their own outlet gets hurt ("all news suffers"), then editors won't do much criticizing or correcting. Which means that the worst excesses will go unchecked. So news outlets will have high credibility, but it won't be deserved.

And the consumers of news won't notice?

Incidentally, couldn't the same argument be applied to political coverage? Reporting on dishonest or corrupt politicians lowers the public's trust in all politicians. Which makes it hard for government to rally support for good programs. Therefore, a liberal reporter or columnist should not write about Bush/Enron because it will hurt the chances of health care reform.

Put that way, it sounds absurd.

Lastly, if this point is true, is that not even more reason to be angry at the Times's managers whose actions hurt the credibility of all news outlets and lowered the overall consumption of news from all sources?
Must Reads

Jane Galt says some very smart things about polling and surveys.

Equally smart things on Art and Economics, especially business of publishing and writing, can be found at 2 Blowhards and God of the Machine.

And absolutely brilliant thoughts on football can be found here.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Justin Katz ponders an important question

This recalls a lingering idea that I had in college but never formulated. In the mid-to-late 1800s, American intellectuals were looking for an American voice, investigating what their precedent was and puzzling out where they should direct the trends of their thought. Something changed in the 1900s. Perhaps the American elite were humbled by the Depression (that, on the surface, looks like a joke, doesn't it?). Perhaps they were frightened by the power of the nation and the people whom they fancied themselves to lead. Perhaps they thought the European way of lording it over the non-elite to be superior. (But certainly, these are all the dramatic simplifications with which ideas begin.)

However it happened, the American elite seem to have given up on defining themselves and their country with its own character and sought to transform it — and its population — into something that it manifestly is not. In that light, an optimist can suggest that our country is "re-becoming."


I don't have an answer, but i think he has grabbed onto a really important question. Go check it out at Dust in the Light

Friday, June 06, 2003

My Sentiments Exactly

From Buzz Machine

I also expect to hear a lot of self-congratulation in the blog neighborhood over Raines. I'd like to think that blogs had impact on another story -- and I do think their nagging kept air in this balloon -- but, again, it was Blair and Raines and a newsroom that got rid of Raines.

I stopped subscribing to the Time in 1999 --- its new stories had become insufferable. Note: that is two years before Raines took over as executive editor. Whatever the newsroom was revolting against, it was not elitist reporting with a liberal slant. The newsroom, after all, wrote those stories.

And the diversity push that helped protect Jayson Blair? That started long before Raines as McGowan makes clear in Coloring the News.

So I don't expect that the Times is going to change a lot.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Good Old Boys

I ran across this over at the Junk Yard Blog.

Lyon was an old-school Texas Democrat politician, former cop turned lawyer, a conservative on most issues but basically a good old boy (and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense at all--in Texas, "good old boy" is generally a complement).

Exactly. Twenty years ago, to call someone a good old boy was a compliment. And yet the phrase is now taking on a pejorative connotation.

William Safire blamed the stock market bubble and crash on "the lax good-ol-boy stock exchanges" (7-15-02). The publisher of my local paper describes a "'me-little woman, you good-ol-boy' syndrome that somehow keeps women out of the ultimate top job in the Oval Office." (3-16-03) When Thomas Wyman resigned from Augusta National during the Martha Burk contretemps, he laid the problem at the feet of "some red neck, old-boy types down there."

What we have here is a mixing of two useful terms: "good old boy" and "old boy network". Good old boy suggests someone who is successful but is without pretension or airs, someone down to earth and comfortable with those who are not of his professional or financial status. A good old boy politician will not embarrass himself at a stock auction or tractor pull. He can josh with the crowd in the bleachers at a high school football game. He won't look uncomfortable eating funnel cakes with his fingers at a fair.

(I'm not sure you can call yourself a good old boy. It seems to me that it is an honor that can be bestowed, but not claimed. Someone who calls himself a good old boy is probably similar to all those self-described "caring" individuals who are really the most selfish of narcissists.)

An old boy is an entirely different critter. He was originally a graduate of an English public school. The old boy network was elitist to the extreme. It was the sinew of Establishment power. Old boys helped each other enter prestigious institutions, advanced each other's careers and covered up each others peccadillos. Blunt, Burgess, and the other Cambridge spies owed much of there success to their membership in the old boy network.

I first heard of the "good old boy network" in diversity training sessions. The GOBN was the cause of all the problems-- glass ceiling, discrimination, sexual harassment. I almost laughed when the diversity trainer laid that on us at First Chicago. There were no good old boys in senior management-- our chairman lived in New York-- so how could the GOBN prevent women from advancing to the EVP and SVP level?

Yet the term keeps showing up in that context. See here for example.

The "Good Old Boy" Factor

There’s no way around it,” explains Dr. Anna Duran, founder and director of Columbia University’s Executive Program on Managing Cultural Diversity, “as a result of any diversity efforts, white males will be required to share valuable resources, rewards, incentives and promotions with a wider range of people than ever before. For some, the reaction may be disappointment, for others, feelings of betrayal and even anger will color their opinions about the fact that the old rules are changing.

In terms of power, influence, and privilege, a tenured professor at Columbia is far better off than your typical good old boy. Similarly, Thomas Wyman-- graduate of Andover, Amherst, and Lausanne, executive at Pillsbury, Polaroid, CBS, and S. G. Warburg-- fits the old boy profile to a T. And i doubt that Wall Street has a lot of down to earth types doing IPOs or equity research: you certainly don't hear a lot of country accents on CNBC.

By focusing on good old boys, our elites can preach diversity and progress and never threaten their own position. As David Gelernter has noted (Drawing Life) affirmative action is not a threat to our cultural elites, it is a prescription that those elites force on the their fellow citizens. When you're trying to pull that off, it helps to have a whipping boy and that is what good old boys have become.
Red and Blue

David Gelernter is one of my favorite writes and thinkers. Here he touches on a matter that has direct relevance to both the metrocon question and the neocon matter.

But an American Middle East watcher made a fascinating comment, years ago, about the Islamic revolution in Iran: To the Iranians, he said, Americans and Soviets looked pretty much the same. There were big philosophical differences between them, but they all wore pants. Orthodox Islam peels away from the West closer to the ground than the point where communism and democratic capitalism branch apart. The divide between the elite and the public might likewise be more basic than Republican-Democrat differences. Leading Republicans speak the elite's language just as the Democrats do. (Drawing Life, page 133)

This was brought home to me when i read David Brooks Atlantic article on Red and Blue America.

Brooks is a classic metrocon. While we agree politically, the cultural differences just shine through. To him, Franklin county Pennsylvania was an exotic destination and the people were specimens. And he did not capture the essence of what it meant to live here.

As for neocons, while they may be politically aligned with red-America, culturally they are true blue.
Free Agents and Draft Choices

Occam's Toothbrush

The Rattler

Illini Girl

Publicola
new weblog showcase

I like this one by Business Pundit.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Talking about Taxes

The tax cut is probably the biggest domestic news story right now. The coverage and punditry surrounding it strike me as shallow and frequently disingenuous. Here are some reasons why.

1. The Democrats go on and on about "tax cuts for the rich," and no one calls them on it. "Rich" is a matter of wealth, the taxes we are talking about are on income. It is easy to have a high income with low net worth (think of a 35 year-old surgeon) or a high net worth with low income (retiree with a paid up mortgage in Palo Alto).

2. A tax cut is for people who pay taxes. Giving a "rebate" to people who do not pay income taxes is a transfer payment (i.e. welfare).

3. When i do financial analysis, the tax rate is included. The bottom line is income (or return) after-taxes. A change in that rate impacts the bottom line. In some cases, a change in tax rate can switch a project or investment from "no-go" to "go."

When you think of the millions of potential investments and projects that are evaluated by big and small businesses each year, even a small increase in after-tax returns can generate thousands of new "go" decisions.

Yet the press (which is filled with innumerates) treats the incentive element of tax cuts as though it is just Republican spin.

4. Big philosophical question-- what does citizenship mean in a democracy where the majority of eligible voters pay less than 5% of the income taxes. On spending issues, it is no longer a matter of "we should do this" but rather "they should pay for that."
New Discovery

The Hillbilly Sophisticate --- From beautiful West Virginia. A local look at the Jessica Lynch story as well as ground zero for a good old-fashioned scandal in the Governor's Mansion

Free Agents and Draft Choices

Hobbs Online

Ben Domenech

SCSU Scholars

Lone Prairie Art Works

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Seeking Input

Alphecca is looking for the biggest gun howlers we've seen in movies and television. You know, the 20 shot revolver PIs used to carry, etc.

This can be a lot of fun just for the nit-picking, but it also touches on a serious matter. Many voters get their knowledge of guns from shows like CSI and movies like New Jack City. So when they hear about the "assault rifle ban" they really think that gang-bangers used to routinely commit crimes with full-auto AK-47s and that Diane Feinstein stopped that.
I'm Not Surprised

Ad Age reports that states are cutting back on anti-smoking ads. Florida, for example, has dropped the budget from $24 million to $1 million.

So the state AG's sued the tobacco companies to force smokers to pay higher prices under the pretext that some of the money would be used to keep teens from smoking. Hard to fight anything that is for the children. But as soon budgets it tight, forget the children and spend the money on other priorities.

And i will wager that 60 Minutes will never investigate.

Monday, June 02, 2003

The Times Of Course

This Kurtz column has two revelations that no one cares about.


First, remember Peter Kilborn? He's the national correspondent for the Times who led the email charge against Bragg, declaring "Bragg's comments in defense of his reportorial routines are outrageous," And, "Bragg says he works in a poisonous atmosphere. He's the poison."

But thanks to Kurtz we can read this:

But former Times intern Amie Parnes says she did substantial reporting for Kilborn when he was filling in for an ailing Bragg as Miami bureau chief in 2000.

And

"I don't think he has the right to point the finger at someone and say, 'I don't do this,' when clearly he does," says Parnes, now a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter

So, one of the leaders of the internal anti-Bragg brigade appears to be a sanctimonious liar and character assassin. I find that interesting but not surprising. But apparently i am one of the few who find it interesting.

Here is the second point. Parnes told Kurtz,

"That's what boiled my blood." She adds: "There's the jealousy factor with Rick. . . . Here's a guy who isn't a Timesman, didn't go to an Ivy League college, and walked into the Times and won a Pulitzer."

Here she touches on the a disturbing undercurrent of the anti-Raines bashing. All the talk about the Bragg being a "crony", "favorite", "suck-up", lays a lot of weight on Bragg and Raines both being from Alabama. The unspoken assumption seems to be that Bragg had no talent that would justify his high reputation. No uneducated cracker could be a better writer or reporter than Todd Purdum (another Bragg basher) or Peter Kilborn. I mean Bragg didn't go to prep school or Princeton, he didn't marry Dee Dee Myers, and he didn't go to parties with the gang from the West Wing. Surely the only way he could have gotten ahead at the Times was the good old boy network.
Blogger symposium on the media

Check it out over at Right Wing News.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Saturday, May 31, 2003

This is amazing

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum on Lieberman's campaign.

political insiders don't give him much chance of winning the nomination. There are several reasons for this, but one big one is rarely discussed in public: Lieberman is a Jew.

The nonpartisan Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a survey last year showing that anti-Jewish sentiment was on the rise. It found that 17% of Americans, or about 35 million adults, "hold views about Jews that are unquestionably anti-Semitic." That represented an increase from 12% in 1998.



Ahh, those neo nazi skin-heads in the GOP right?

Not quite.

the ADL found, 35% of African Americans held strong anti-Semitic opinions.


This is one subject that my diversity sessions overlooked.
Just some interesting information


Amazon Sales Ranks

Andrew Sullivan, Virtually Normal, 41,281

Andrew Sullivan, Love Undetectable, 139,320

Mickey Kaus, The End of Equality, 262,006

Rick Bragg Ava's Man (paperback) 5,197

Rick Bragg Ava's Man (hardback) 4,436

Rick Bragg, All Over but the Shoutin' 1,017

Friday, May 30, 2003

Andrew Sullivan must be smoking crack


He printed an email from a former Bragg intern who defends Bragg and discusses his normal working methods. (Surprise, Bragg did most of the reporting on his stories). Then she writes:


You've painted him as a low life, abusive jerk - allegations that couldn't be further from the truth. He never ripped me off or mistreated me. Yoder has never made such a claim. It was clear from the beginning that the internship was unpaid, and that the NY Times would not give bylines or credits to interns or stringers. It wasn't Rick's policy, it was the Times. If I had a problem with that I wouldn't have accepted the position. What I got out of it was valuable experience researching and doing interviews for a top reporter.

To which AS replies


In my defense, I haven't characterized Bragg's character in this way. I don't know him from Adam. I've merely characterised his reporting methods. They remain dubious, to my mind, however kind or supportive he was to young and impressionable interns.

AS called Bragg a "suck-up" and a "crony" who "ripped off unpaid stringers" and passed off their work as his own. That goes beyond discussing his reporting methods.

And wasn't that a nice dig-- "young and impressionable interns"-- when someone confronts him with first hand information which contradicts the picture he is trying to paint?

NB. Those who actually worked with Bragg on stories keep saying that he did reporting on his own and their contributions were usually only a small part of the final stories. They also describe the experience as a valuable opportunity to learn and deny that there was exploitation involved. Yet Sullivan, Kaus, et. al. keep writing as though Bragg was only a rewrite guy who held onto his position only because he and Raines were from Alabama.
Good Point by Virgina Postrel

Which brings me to the mostly-unrelated question of why so many Times watchers are harping on Rick Bragg's relation to Howell Raines as a "fellow southerner." Are there really only two southerners at the Times? If so, there's something wrong with the paper. (Southerners have, if anything, a disproportionate tendency to pursue journalism careers.) If not, there's something wrong with the people who harp on that connection. Would they have written "fellow Jew" or "fellow Irish Catholic," or "fellow Harvard grad"? Ethnicity can be a common bond, but only to a limited degree. There are millions of people in the South. They don't all know each other or even get along.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Can Someone Please Explain

why Andrew Sullivan is getting a free pass as he rages against Howell Raines and Rick Bragg?

He is sitting in judgment and passing harsh sentences. Yet he never mentions that---

As editor of the New Republic he was conned by both Ruth Shalit (plagiarism) and Stephen Glass (mean spirited fabulist).

He wrote in defense of Slate when Michael Kinsley and Jack Shafer were conned by Jay Forman ("Monkey Fishing", etc). When it was his pal Mike he wrote


"I have to say I found the original piece--which conjured up images somewhere between Curious George and Mad Max--highly entertaining. I assumed it was probably a tall tale, but it was told so well I didn't really give a damn. And, since it wasn't addressing earthshaking matters like Republican-sponsored tax breaks for shipbuilders or a patients' bill of rights, I wasn't exactly scouring the prose for evidence of malfeasance. It was a jolly piece of colorful and clearly inebriated reminiscence. So what if it was embroidered a little, or even a lot? How many jolly tales aren't livened up a bit in the retelling, especially when the original expedition was conducted with a fair amount of mental lubrication?

"Turns out I was wrong. This was a grave and terrible offense. All the usual journalistic pooh-bahs descended from their pedestals to tsk-tsk. Suddenly, spanking the monkey took on a whole new meaning. The story merited a front-page, above-the-fold 'expose' in the business section of The New York Times and an apologia from one of the most talented journalists around (and a former writer of this column), Michael Kinsley. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing that magazines or newspapers should publish fibs. Kinsley wouldn't either. (Tedious full disclosure: I revere and like Kinsley, and he helped give me my start in American journalism.) But this absurd non-scandal is a symptom of something now sadly endemic in the culture: the forest/trees issue. Or, to put it another way: Can we please get a sense of perspective?"


Hard to believe that this is coming from the man now frothing about Raines, cronyism, and datelines.

And in light of the contradictions he has shown over time, shouldn't we pay a little more attention to the fact that Raines canceled his contract to write lucrative essays for the Times Magazine?
I'm so sick of the New York Times

which is probably why i have "I'm So Bored with the USA" stuck in my head.

But, no use complaining. Some one has to do the dirty work. We have a feeding frenzy and it is drenched in hypocricy. Might as well as some questions.
Sympathy for the Devil

An IRA terrorist comes to this country on a tourist visa and then overstayed it while seeking a change in status due to hs marriage to an American citizen. The INS arrested him. The Rocky Mountain News thinks this is mean. The Hard Press sets them straight.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

More on Bragg and the Times

Reading the reaction to the Rick Bragg story, it appears that we have a corollary for Jane's Law

A. Powerful established media are smug and arrogant.

B. Journalists at lesser outlets go completely crazy when they have the chance to score points against a powerful established media organ.

Here is what Andrew Sullivan has had to say:

"Bragg has a long history of faking by-lines, and ripping off unpaid stringers."

"More evidence of Raines favoritism."

"Bragg is "a Raines crony" and a "Raines suck-up" who was "pampered and protected by the big guy"

Bragg had a history of " cutting corners, passing off others' work as his own, and getting special treatment."

"Bragg regularly ripped off stringers for his pieces (with no credit)"

And Mickey Kaus tells us that:

"I suspect that what Bragg did was a worse case of stringer abuse than is typical"

"what you are reading is really the work of random, unknown 'legs' and stringers."

He also mocks Bragg's health problems: "Why not let poor, diabetic Bragg stay at home, conserve his energy, and work his 'magic' in comfort."

An emailer to Instapundit compares Bragg to Milli Vanilli for "passing off the work of someone else as your own."

Even Lileks (LILEKS!) takes a shot

"Yes, you can take some stringer’s notes and compose a story, but the difference between that an a piece you wrote from your own research is the difference between a Penthouse Forum letter and your recollection of your wedding night."

Interestingly enough, these claims are not based on original reporting but are commentary on long stories that appear in other powerful media outlets. The latter, however, paint a more complex and nuanced picture of the Bragg situation. In some cases, they contradict the charges leveled by our champions of journalistic integrity.

A. On the question of ripping off or abusing stringers:

According to this Wall Street Journal report Wes Yoder, the intern at the center of the controversy, did not feel ripped off or abused. He volunteered to help Bragg for free in order to learn from him. Of his work with Bragg he says "it was an honor to do it for Rick." Another Bragg intern (Childs Walker) says "I never felt cheated for my efforts."

B. On the "work"

Research is not reporting. The writing is more than half of the value. Research is just a pile of notes-- the organization and writing is not just a matter of style, it involves thought, judgement and talent. That is why a Ph D. with a published book is viewed as a more accomplished scholar than an ABD. Yet the critics seem to ignore this in general and as it relates to Bragg.

Even the intern who was critical of Bragg in the Journal story admitted that "he was able to capture the feeling, the essence, the aura of stories." Lileks should know this-- he is a blog-legend not because he discovers stuff none of the rest of us know, but because he can write about the common fodder and add insight, clarity, and a memorable phrase. Anyone who has read Bragg can see that he possesses similar talents.

Hundreds of reporters filed stories about Timothy McVeigh's trial and conviction. Many of them spent more hours observing the trial. But Bragg's opening sentences pack a wallop that most of their's did not:

After the explosion, people learned to write left-handed, to tie just one shoe. They learned to endure the pieces of metal and glass embedded in their flesh.


And also note that the actual interns stated that Bragg did more than take their notes and write. Yoder was on the phone with him receiving guidance while doing the intervierws. Childs Walker stated that Bragg usually conducted his own interviews after Walker had done the preliminary interview.

C. On Bragg as evidence of cronyism

This is the most laughable charge. Bragg may have been a Raines favorite, but that is hardly evidence of cronyism. He does, after all, have a Pulitzer Prize and two best selling books to his credit. Raines may have liked him simply because he was a star who added luster to the Times.

But while the charge is laughable, it is also revealing. It suggests that many of those condemning Bragg are unfamiliar with his work and are simply using it to bash Raines and the Times. Isn't that a lazy form of journalism more suitable for the posters on Lucianne.com than a sophisticated, ethical journalist?

D. On Truth and Process

The facts are all inside baseball-- datelines, bylines, etc. The critics infer that Bragg's violation of "standard practices" was dishonest and resulted in dishonest stories (hence the comparisons to Jayson Blair). But that is a big leap. To date, no one has produced anything from Bragg's Florida story which was inaccurate. In contrast, some Blair's stories were checked and easily shown to be false (e.g. the view from Jessica Lynch's house). Similarly, Robert Fisk can have a completely honest dateline and yet produce a story that is disingenuous or factually wrong.

If our concern is only honest, truthful journalism (or journalistic processes) why the hyperfocus on Bragg and the Times. As BuzzMachine, and the the junkyard blog pointed out, Bragg's practice is standard practice on television. Since more people see 60 Minutes than read one of Bragg's feature pieces, that is a much more important matter. CNN's reporting on gun control and assault weapons was misleading and factualy inaccurate. But Sullivan and Kaus devoted almost no space to that.

See more here
Help Jay

become a mammal
Guilty Pleasures

Gawker

Acidman

i wonder if this is the first time anyone linked them in the same post?

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Are Blogs a Disruptive Technology?

This article thinks maybe they are.


It doesn't really offer a lot of insight into how blogs can be used to redefine the competitive landscape. His advice won't impress many experienced bloggers.

I think that he is too optimistic about the ability of blogs to unleash an authentic human voice in communications.

Often, when information goes through a formal marketing or PR process, the end result is an attractive, expensive, stale, diluted document written in corporatespeak. This result is generally due not to any incompetence or malevolence on the part of corporate communicators but to the processes that have evolved to accommodate the costs and standards of print technology. As a result, the edge, the authenticity, and the voice of the professional speaking to his fellow professionals are lost.


He conflates two forces here. Blogs do have economic advantages compared to print which allows for faster and more varied communication. But the stale, diluted style comes from management oversight that has nothing to do with quality control or cost containment. There is a fear of clear statements and a love of weasel words that is separate from the media used.

Blogs may have marketing applications. But i think they have even more usefulness as an internal forum for strategic planning and competitive analysis. There they can have a major impact if implemented right.

Found via Business Pundit
What Rick Bragg did was no cause for suspension or the sliming of his career.

So says Buzz Machine making several of the points i made Saturday.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Great Luck

I get my first mention by Instapundit at a time when Blogspot is hosed.

That is funny in a way.

But the really sad part is that if the full Instalanche came through it probably would have helped Jay Solo's Verbosity get the hits he needed.
Lost a Blog Entry Due to a Software Hiccup?

God of the Machine is not buying it.

The Computer Ate My Blog Entry

You're kidding, right? This is actually lamer than "The dog ate my homework": there was an antediluvian era when you couldn't save your homework to your hard drive


He offers some useful advice. But he forgot to mention Info Select for all your research and writing needs. It's what all the smart kids use.
WARNING: I'm about to do the unthinkable

I'm going to defend a Timesman in the face of rightwing attacks.

Andrew Sullivan
has picked up on this NY Daily News piece about problems with this story written by Rick Bragg last year.

Sullivan describes Bragg as one of Howell Raines's "cronies" accused of "fabricating by-lines or inventing color or falsely appropriating other people's reporting" and speaks of "Blair-like" errors."

But when you read what the Times admitted it doesn't sound Blair-like at all.

The Times has reviewed the article. It found that while Mr. Bragg indeed visited Apalachicola briefly and wrote the article, the interviewing and reporting on the scene were done by a freelance journalist, J. Wes Yoder. The article should have carried Mr. Yoder's byline with Mr. Bragg's.

It sounds like Bragg may have big-footed the story and not shared credit with MR. Yoder. But note, he did not plagiarize or make stuff up a la Mr. Blair-- he wrote the story and the facts don't seem to be in question.


And note what Mr. Yoder told the Washington Post:

Yoder, now a reporter at the Anniston (Ala.) Star, said in an interview yesterday that he had volunteered to be an assistant to Bragg and was never an official Times stringer. "I just told him I wanted to come learn from him," said Yoder, who moved to New Orleans to be near Bragg.

He did interviews and other reporting for Bragg on 15 stories, with the oystermen yarn involving the most work, and didn't feel exploited when Bragg got all the credit. "We have nothing to hide," Yoder said. "We didn't do anything wrong."

While the stint was supposed to be unpaid, Bragg "probably felt sorry for me" and wound up "paying my rent and got my lunch every day and sometimes my dinner," Yoder said. "He was very generous," Yoder added, saying he believed Bragg paid these expenses out of his own pocket.


It is ironic that Sullivan-- one of the stingiest linkers among big-name bloggers-- should slam Bragg because he did not share credit with an intern. (Maybe the word I am really looking for is hypocritical).

Bragg is not the first big-name journalist to write a story based on someone else's uncredited research. As i've noted before, Goldberg and Lowery are constantly asking Corner readers for help and yet never acknowledge those who helped them in the resulting column. I know for a fact that other reporters put their by-lines on stories whose core ideas come from (nameless) others.

Looking beyond print, doesn't this happen with every installment of 60 Minutes? Mike and the gang really don't do the digging-- is it a scandal that they are called reporters? And why haven't we jumped on Fox News which clearly uses blogs to dig up interesting stuff which they then turn into segments for their network.

It is mendacious for Sullivan to imply that Bragg might get special treatment only because he is a "crony" of Howell Raines and a fellow native of Alabama. Bragg is a great writer with a Pulitzer Prize. "All Over But the Shoutin'" and "Ava's Man" are moving, eloquent, critically acclaimed, and best sellers. In short, Bragg is a star.

I also believe that Bragg, who does features after all, not hard news or investigative work, is a great reporter. He possesses an empathy for his subjects who often are poor or working class. My guess is that Bobby Varnes, the oysterman, is happy that Rick Bragg told his story rather than Paul D. Colford of the Daily News. When Bragg wrote the story he pictured a man working at his father's trade not a "colorful rustic" in his "environs." And that, in the end, was at least as important as the onsite footwork.
Check these out

Hell In a Handbasket-- who is still posting great stuff about life on a warship.

Jay Solo's Verbosity-- who appears to be posting this long weekend.

The Rattler-- who dared to compare American Idol to the NIT

The Hard Press-- Brand new blog that deserves a look.



Donald Sensing is going off

to Indiana for some race-- guess he couldn't get tickets to the big race in Charlotte.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Fresh Bloggage

It's a holiday weekend. All your favorite bloggers are going to be posting infrequently if at all.

What to do?

Come to Lead and Gold, of course.

Thanks to weather that is nothing like spring and a miserable cold, i have no excuse not to finish some of the posts i keep procrastinating on. They'll be going up all weekend and Monday too!

Plus, I will throw in a bunch of links to good bloggers who are (like me) far down on the food chain.

What a deal.

No, it's not Instapundit or SDB or ASV. But then, do you expect filet mignon when you go into the Waffle House at 3.30 am?
The Problem at the Times

Going through my old files, I came upon this story from February.

The Court of Public Fiction

When he’s not busy prosecuting sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan plays media critic. The side job consists of chronicling the myths spun by reporters covering the country’s hottest crime story. And according to Horan, there’s been a lot of work on that front.

“I must confess that I have seen more incorrect reports in this investigation than in any I’ve dealt with in the last 36 years I’ve been doing it,” Horan says. Bad information has cropped up everywhere in sniper-case coverage, like a fleet of white panel trucks: Fictional doozies have included revelations that the sniper wrote multiple tarot cards to authorities,that he was an olive-skinned man, and that he may have fled the scene of a shooting via bicycle.

When Horan spots nonsense in news accounts about Malvo and fellow suspect John Muhammad, he often laughs it off as the inevitable byproduct of overly aggressive reporters. In recent months, though, Horan has gone public with rebuttals of Page One stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times.


Yes, the Times story was by Mr. Blair. But this is what caught my eye:

In so doing, Horan has thrown into stark relief how the dailies respond when challenged on their facts: the Post, openly and humbly; the Times, secretively and arrogantly.



UN troops wait behind razor-wire as Congo's streets run with blood

The Country Store takes a look at war-crimes and peace-keeping and rightly asks:

What's wrong with this picture?
Six Quick Thoughts on Buffy

1. In the last number of seasons, there was more sex on Buffy than in Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels.

2. In the end, Xander was the bravest Scoobie, since he had to face all the dangers with no mystical powers.

3. Making Willow a Wiccan was probably a mistake. There are real life Wiccans. The writers could not be as freely allegorical with Willow as the could with other plotlines and characters.

4. While Buffy was all about female empowerment, the original Dracula was both a buddy story and a model of Anglophone cooperation. (IIR the Count is destroyed, not by a stake, but by a Bowie knife wielded by an American.)

5. While Buffy generated critical raves because of its "girl power" sensibility, it is highly unlikely that the same would be true of a story where boys became men in the old fashioned Louis L'Amour/Richard Hannay mode.

6. The best Buffy tribute/follow-up/sequel/exploitation would by Buffy on Ice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Stanley Crouch

Via Media Minded

Stanley Crouch says a controversial article led to a dismissal from Jazz Times.

Like MM i like Crouch's essays alot. He is bold and blustery and often wrong. But he is usually interesting, and fair-minded. It's too bad that several of his collections are out of print.

IMO the article did not give clear picture of his thinking. This is from the All American Skin Game:

In this climate, obnoxious, vulgar and anti-social behavior has been confused with black authenticity. This has led to blaxploitation in politics, in higher education, and in art-- to Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, and the Black Panthers, to black students at San Francisco State demanding that pimps be recruited to teach psychology classes, to the least inventive and most offensive work of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy; to the angry cartoonish coons of Spike Lee and the flat misogynist gutter verse of Ice-T and racist rap groups like Public Enemy.

And this is from Always in Pursuit:

the way feminists turned up their noses at the charges against Bill Clinton made by Paula Jones or joked about her 'white trash' looks and manner or failed to attack those who judged he merits on class and taste. I guess this means that if one is lower ranked or lower born abuse is not abuse, a kiss is not a kiss. Seems like uncolorized plantation logic to me.
Salam Pax

So i grant you that it isn't likely that his blog is a disinformation conduit for Saddam's secret police. As interesting as that theory is, the evidence just isn't conclusive. At the same time, there is a lot of evidence that he is the child of the privileged elite.

Shouldn't that matter?

Shouldn't we be deeply skeptical of the information he provides?

And shouldn't we expect that a lot of positive developments in Iraq will make him unhappy and will, therefore, be portrayed in an unfavorable manner?
Carnival of the Vanities

Is up over at Cut on the Bias. Check it out--- you're guaranteed to find good blogs to add to your favorites.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Who is Suzy Whaley?

She is the woman whose glory Annika Sorenstam stole by using a sponsor's exemption to play in the Colonial. If you thought the only issue was sexist male golfers, read this great post for the background.
In my opinion

anyone who was "rattled" by the "Blair Witch Project" forfeits any right to be taken seriously as a geopolitical strategist, political theorist, or wingman.
Wal-Mart and the NY Times


Cut on the Bias
and Ben Domenech have some very astute observations. Also, the author of this blog actually worked for the people who make Veggie Tales for a short time and gives us an inside perspective on the conspiracy to shape popular culture.

Side note: the French really should be worried. I have only limited exposure to Veggie Tales but it seems the bad guys are often represented as French Peas, complete with sneering accents. Just think, in a few years we will have millions of new voters subliminally programmed to distrust France.

Monday, May 19, 2003

The Wal*Mart Conspiracy

A couple of days ago i noted that Wal*Mart's marketpower was sometimes a good thing since it brought red-state sensibilities to the cultural marketplace. Now the New York Times has weighed in and they concur in part (red-state sensibilities) and dissent in part (a good thing).

The article tries to sound the alarm (the Philistines are coming) but it is not tightly argued and shows how urban elitism can distort a reporter's vision.

Until five years ago, few people other than devoted evangelical Christians had heard of VeggieTales, a small company's series of cartoon videos about talking cucumbers and tomatoes learning biblical lessons.

Those evangelicals, just a tiny little demographic hardly worth noticing. Except the Times's own Nicholas Kristof noted a few weeks ago that evangelicals make up 46% of the population.

Music executives say the chains have helped turn country performers like the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith and Faith Hill into superstars.

Ah, yes, those boys in Bentonville stoking the star-making machinery. What Wal*Mart did was make record buying more convenient (and cheaper) for its customer base. This probably helped sell country records. However, it is record buyers, not the seller, who make specific artists popular. Moreover, in the specific cases of the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill (and Shania Twain as well), they probably owe their superstardom to a handful of music video channels headquartered in New York.


The growing clout of Wal-Mart and the other big discount chains — they now often account for more than 50 percent of the sales of a best-selling album, more than 40 percent for a best-selling book, and more than 60 percent for a best-selling DVD — has bent American popular culture toward the tastes of their relatively traditionalist customers.

Sounds scary doesn't it. Another way to look at the matter is that "traditionalist" consumers are a market segment. Profit-motivated media companies sell stuff these consumers like through a channel they find convenient.

But with the chains' power has come criticism from authors, musicians and civil liberties groups who argue that the stores are in effect censoring and homogenizing popular culture.

I can't quite figure out how selling Veggie Tale videos or Ann Coulter books censors anything. South Park DVDs and Eric Alterman's books are still available-- you can find 50 Cent or Nelly on multiple cable channels and in thousands of stores. Similarly, adding a Coulter to an Alterman sounds like diversifying opinion not homogenizing popular culture.

"It is going to hurt sales of anything that is at all controversial, and if the stores are not going to put the CD's on the shelves, then the record companies are not going to make them," said Jay Rosenthal, a lawyer who represents the Recording Artists Coalition, a lobbying organization whose founders included the performers Don Henley and Sheryl Crow. (Wal-Mart banned one of Ms. Crow's albums because it criticized the chain for selling guns.)

I doubt many devoted Sheryl Crow fans passed on her album after Wal*Mart dropped it. After all, even in the boonies, there are places to buy CDs other than Wal*Mart.

In another worrisome trend for the entertainment business, the discount chains' narrow selection is increasing the industry's dependence on hit books, albums and videos, making it harder to call attention to new work and sell older work. "Once a book gets on the best-seller list, it becomes entrenched at the big discounters," Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said. And other bookstores offer discounts on books from the best-seller list, so in that way the chains "help determine what gets sold at traditional bookstores as well," he said.

Huh? No doubt the entertainment industry has become addicted to block-busters. But that is not because of the chain stores-- there are a host of peculiar economic factors and business practices that push the industry in that direction. Given that addiction, the industry is rightly eager to find books and CDs that it can sell through a chain that 100 million Americans visit each week. Reliance on Wal*Mart is a result of, not the cause of the block-buster syndrome.


The stores have pushed best-sellers' sales to new heights by putting deeply discounted blockbusters into the hands of millions of customers.

Read that again. The chains "put" the books and CDs into our hands. We don't buy them, they put them in our carts. Sounds sinister.

Or you could say that stores like Wal*Mart have helped increase over all sales of popular titles by cutting margins.


The mass merchandisers' ability to sell vast quantities of deeply discounted albums has disproportionately benefited performers more likely to appeal to a rural, small-town or suburban audience, generally benefiting country and hurting rap, several music executives said.

It's the Times, after all, so we can't have a story without implying some harm to minorities. But does selling more country "hurt" rap artists in any meaningful way? Isn't it better described as expanding the market for CDs and increasing the variety of available music?

Mr. Kirshbaum of AOL Time Warner's books unit said he decided to start a religious imprint because a book buyer for Wal-Mart told him that more than half its sales were Christian books.

So Wal*Mart provided useful feedback about a potential market and a publisher decided to capitalize on it. Note, Wal*Mart wasn't trying to proselytize, they just pointed out what their customers bought. So they were not actively "shaping the popular culture," just trying to gauge the true shape of it so they could make a buck.

At what point does the discounters' selling prowess combine with their restrictive standards to influence new work from record labels, book publishers and film studios? Their executives all call that possibility remote.

Wow, after all the scary insinuations we get to the end and find this admission.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Very Good Column on the Root Causes over at the NY Times

David Warsh who knows newspapers

All of which must be disappointing to a man who rode into the Times on his enthusiasm for “Total Quality Management.” In fact, Sulzberger has displayed throughout his career a softspot for management fads, “mission statements,” “leadership moments” and the like. In recent years a favorite gimmick around the Times has been to speak of “the moose in the room” – a reference to a cautionary business fable about out-of-bounds problems in which a moose is invited to dinner and no guest is willing to ask why.

Sure enough, when the Times managers held a meeting last week to permit its staff to vent complaints about the Blair affair, there on the stage of the rented movie theater was the mounted head of a moose. Expressed was much anger and dismay about the managerial style of editor Howell Raines. But at The New York Times, the name of the moose is Arthur.


Somebody had to say it

So PrestoPundit did

Well, it's nonsense, of course. Fukuyama has got to be the champion second-hand dealer in ideas of all time. He gets paid the big bucks for saying profound things like this:

The US is built on Lockean principles (derived from the British liberal philosopher John Locke). There’s a contract between state and people, and a belief in limited government. On the Continent their vision of the state owes more to (the French philosopher) Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They see the state as an expression of the ‘general will’.

While reading Fukuyama I always get the urge to scream, "Tell me something I don't know." It's like listening to the David Gergen of the college dorm philosophical bull session.



Well Said

Isntapundit has a fine post on the gun control forces:

Using several million dollars of his pocket change, McKelvey established Americans for Gun Safety (AGS) and pioneered the schistosome approach to disarmament.

Schistosomes are disgusting microscopic parasites which burrow through your skin and lay eggs in your bloodstream, eventually clogging your liver. This condition, called schistosomiasis, kills people by the carload in places like Africa.