Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Library; with whining, the web, a would-be user, a wish, and some wandering

The library closed early today - just as I got there in fact, at 5pm. Why is it necessary to close one hour early on New Years Eve? You're not going to miss the Blessed Event if it closes at the normal 6pm, that leaves you six hours, you could practically drive to LA by then... yes, this is whining. Apologies.

More complainingfeedback, re website usability (or patron blindness): went to the site, which is crammed with links; the "locations and hours" didn't show anything special, the "holiday hours" did exist but was off to the right and did not attract attention...and the page took 19 seconds to load with a dial-up line at 45k. This being a largely rural county, many (most?) users do have dial-up (i.e. slow) access.

Perhaps the library could get itself a simple, informal weblog? where the natural thing to post on, if you're closing early, is that you're closing early? It's a good way to make very clear what's new news and what information is more static.

So I visited some library-themed weblogs to get/give an idea of the possibilities.

Sample library weblogs:
And there's a plethora of librarians' weblogs out there. Most prominent is the Shifted Librarian; Ex Libris has a page of Quotes, among them these:
From Teresa Nielsen Hayden:
What’s in old libraries*? You don’t know until you find it. But in order for that to happen, you have to preserve the old holdings and original documents...
* occasionally, old smallpox scabs

From Carol Megathlin:
The quality and self-respect of a people can be gauged -- not exclusively, but succinctly -- in their libraries. The open door of a library says we are ignorant without excuse. The boarded-up door says we are simply ignorant.
Also these pearls:

The Expert User Is Dead (via) :
We should design our websites, out databases, our webguides, our instruction, our reference interviews for who our users are, not who we would like them to be.
We don't read pages, we scan them. We don't make optimal choices, we satisfice. We don't figure out how things work, we muddle through."

When users come to a library page, or to one of our database pages, they don't suddenly shed these characteristics...
Update: here's a news article on
librarian blogs

Finally, some legal advice on making agreements with Sauron.

Polite fiction

I would attempt to write something worthwhile rather than just doing the copy-paste thing but it's too late, it's tomorrow already. So -

Ali, via Hunting the Muse:
One of my favorite concepts in anthropology is that of the polite fiction. It's something nobody believes, but we all pretend to because it makes life so much easier. My favorite example was of a Pygmy couple. Pygmy divorce involves quite literally breaking up the home: the couple tears apart their house (it's easy - the houses are made of leaves) and once it's down, the union is dissolved. One anthropologist was watching a long-married couple have a fight. It escalated until the wife threatened to leave, and the husband yelled something along the lines of "Fine!" and there was nothing the wife could do but start tearing down the house. She began tearing the roof off, clearly miserable. The husband looked wretched too, but at this point neither could back down without losing face and by now the whole village was watching.
Finally, the husband called out the Pygmy equivalent of "You're right, honey! The roof is dirty! It'll look much better once we get those leaves washed!" The two of them started carrying leaves down to the river, soon with the help of the whole village, and then washed and rebuilt the whole roof. When the anthropologist later discreetly asked how often one washes the roof, everyone looked at him like he was a complete doofus.

Monday, December 29, 2003

'Tis the season to be chilly

There's snow on the ground, and I would have walked over and gotten a photo of snow on the town, but a) the broken toe doesn't enjoy travel and b) the Nevada City Live webcam will (in daytime) show you just as well. (FYI: as of this writing, you can't view the webcam if your browser security is set to High.)

The technical term for what I've heard called "popcorn snow" is graupel: "an unstable air mass produced unusual icy pellets that looked like snow. The frozen pellets, which resemble hail, are called graupel...what looked like frozen white peas coated backyards..."

As discovered last spring: to keep warm if you don't want to enrich (or un-bankrupt) PG&E, cut off the leg from an old pair of jeans, sew one end shut, pour about 5 pounds of pre-baked (to reduce moisture) dried rice in the other end, knot or tie firmly. Heat in microwave. It works as well as a hot water bottle and those pesky leaks are considerably less disturbing.

Updated with tips:
  • from Sally - if your car door lock is frozen, heat your key? the lock? with a cigarette lighter.
  • Keep frost off your windshield by putting your sunshade on the _outside_. Or, better yet, park under an evergreen.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Friday, December 19, 2003

women's night

Virginia Woolf, visionary: from Reid Robinson's Dec. 15 letter in the Toronto Globe and Mail (via Marcelo Vieta, via netwoman):
In a...prescient comment in a letter to Lady Robert Cecil in 1909, Virginia Woolf...writes: "There should be threads floating in the air, which would merely have to be taken hold of in order to talk. You would walk about the world like a spider in the middle of a web. In 100 years time, I daresay these psychical people will have made all this apparent, now seen only by the eye of genius."
Wish I could write like Shelley, aka Burningbird. Start of her latest:
Out on errands tonight I noticed how few lights there were about this year, how few homes seem decorated for the Christmas season. Last year at this time, you could easily know you were in the midst of a town that celebrated Christmas seriously. This year, most of the homes seem dark and shuttered...
Sheila Lennon's
Subterranean Homepage News has a wealth of great links:
  • Margaret Wheatley:
    I've begun to invite the people I meet into conversation by asking: "What is it that you love about America? What things must be protected at all costs?" This question leads to wonderful explorations. People are energized to talk about what they love, what it means to live here as an immigrant, what they've learned about freedom, imagination, the human spirit, creativity, democracy. Even if these ideals are receding from our day-to-day experience, we realize how important it is to claim them as our own...
  • from an article in Wired, this:
    University of Maine's Still Water new media lab has produced the Pool, a collaborative online environment for creating and sharing images, music, videos, programming code and texts.

    "We are training revolutionaries -- not by indoctrinating them with dogma but by exposing them to a process in which sharing culture rather than hoarding it is the norm," said Joline Blais, a professor of new media...
  • on electability:
    [ American culture today] equates violence with strength and power with potency. It is a rogue thing that does not honor the principles of civilization or the processes of governance.
    ...following the rules is for girls and sissies...
    But this is looking at manhood from a child's perspective. Adults realize why there are rules, and honor them. A child just understands power -- you have to be fair only because adults say so. And if you're strong enough and it's your ball, you can make up the rules...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

land of the free

ChoicePoint is Big Brother's little helper, bringing literature to life...
Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. ... Not only any actual misdemeanor, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected. He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever.
Excerpt from a discussion over at CalPundit on the potential for fraud in electronic voting: a general rule, as the world's alleged leading democracy one would think we would institute the most tamper-resistant technology possible, not the most easily tampered with...

"no piece of technology is perfect and a paper trail is a good idea in case of software failure or a simple need to do a recount."

Don't worry about it Kevin - if anything needs to fixed in this country, someone else will fix it - we don't have to worry.
update: thank God for Wired's reporting on the e-voting dangers. The latest is this:
At least five convicted felons secured management positions at a manufacturer of electronic voting machines...[including] a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records.

According to a public court document released before GES hired him, [the programmer] served time in a Washington state correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files in a scheme that "involved a high degree of sophistication and planning."
Delivered into Hell, courtesy of the United States

from Metafilter:
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is a force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
- George Washington, terrorist/freedom fighter
In Newsweek, A Net of Control:
Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for.
Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet.

Old, often posted, increasingly relevant, They thought they were free, on life in 1930s Germany:
What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security...

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

process improvement for the political weblog ecosystem

Philosoraptor wields the nailgun once again (update: inexplicably failed to also credit a fine post on this subject by the lovely and talented Amygdala) in questioning the enormous investment of time and energy that goes into writing political weblogs which then have minimal impact, due to their inherent tropisms toward preaching to the choir and toward demolishing the most idiotic of the opposition's writings:
I want to make it clear that I don't think that everyone I disagree with is stupid or dishonest, though I'm often prompted to respond to the worst stuff I run across, and that stuff is often written by people who do, in fact, have one of the two defects in question. Maybe that's my problem. Perhaps I need to start responding to more sensible people.]

I think that is the point. Weblog culture needs to change in order for it to succeed at more than oral froth generation - there's a crying need for integrated group weblogs with unlike-minded authors who are willing to address and acknowledge each others' strongest points rather than remaining silent on them, to discuss issues in a respectful fashion rather than alienating and demonising, to commit to engage in honest enquiry rather than point scoring, to look for common ground rather than just differences.

Put the Crooked Timbers and the Volokhs together, illuminate with the Light of Reason, sit back and watch the synergy...

Extend the Blogging Loosely Applied Practices credo to include commitments to discussing in good faith, to not repeating demonstrably false "facts", to acknowledging when your opinion or judgement on an issue has changed. Find - and use - a new term for "playing fair" that discards the "competition" connotation. And make it a badge of honor to adhere to these practices.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Rhetorical sampler

There's a lot of good information over on Rhetorica:
  • In here, in the section "Bias in the news media", enumeration and description of the structural biases of journalism:
    • commercial
    • temporal
    • visual
    • bad news
    • narrative
    • status quo
    • fairness
    • expediency

  • In Pass the propaganda, the various ways that a speech can be used to convey a point without ever coming out and making the point explicitly:
    Literalists will argue that [X] never said in so many words yadda yadda yadda. This willfully misunderstands rhetoric. [X] didn't have to say it in so many words. The pathos and enthymemes of the speech did the persuading. Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, demonstrated how to get an audience to complete an argument by adding in the stuff that isn't specifically said.

    Journalists could report persuasive tactics as verifiable events if they knew how. Instead, they rely on partisan pundits to tell them what it all means. And the result is their reporting does more to transmit propaganda than to interrupt or challenge it.
  • Analyzing Argument:
    The problem with Aristotle's logic (concerning his desire for logic) is that argument by the syllogism is often deadly dull. Humans are passionate creatures whose hearts and minds are moved with appeals to emotion (pathos), character (ethos), as well as logic (logos)...

never underestimate the power of the press

and recycle frequently.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

the current event

Excellent news from Iraq. here's hoping it deflates the bubble of violence and the rebuilding can get on track.

interesting though - I got the news by way of a right-wing weblog, in which the writer's second (after "hooray, we got Saddam") was along the lines of "all those lefties are going to be very disappointed when they find this out". HUH?

and elsewhere, on a more left-leaning blog, the author was saying "now I hope all the lefties will remember that this is a good thing for our country". HUH?

Another good thing for this country would be if we could get a little better at distinguishing myth from reality - and from what I've seen, the Saddamite lefties lie in the first category.

It's easy to fall into seeing - and demonizing - others from the "you're either with us or against us" perspective, but people do come in more flavors than "ally" and "enemy".

update: unfortunately, the disappointeds are not as mythical as I had thought. Not common, though.

update II: the Philosoraptor nails it again.

update III: in The 'Republic of Fear' Is Dead:
In his wrenching book on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the dissident writer Kanan Makiya explained that the most powerful force keeping the cruel regime in power--more important than brute strength--was "an all-embracing atmosphere of fear"...
i.e., civil civic discourse was not high on his list of priorities.

cries for help (not)

via Orcinus, fascinating article published last year in the Billings [Montana] Outpost
The "School Yard Bullies" report, compiled by network co-directors Ken Toole and Christine Kaufmann and other staff members, details more than 40 recent incidents of near-violence, threats, vandalism and degradation aimed at individuals and organizations involved in environmental causes in northwestern Montana.

"The purpose of the report is to inform the community and give people information they need to speak out against intimidation and reclaim civility in the public debate," Ms. Kaufmann says.
Similar tactics detailed in The war against the greens (book) by David Helvarg (here's an interview, with some pretty disturbing details)

Friday, December 12, 2003

local cribbing

in case any local types aren't reading The Union and therefore missed this (yeah, i know, fat chance that you'd be here, if you're both a) local and b) not a Union reader...) -
Anatomy of The Union's letter-writers - "The Analyst...the comedian...the bewildered...the bomb-thrower..."
it's pretty good. especially this, which seems far stronger than anything The Union has dared to publish in the past:
We try to screen out the personal attacks and the bloodthirsty language - not to "censor," as some of them charge, but because that's not the kind of opinion page we want in The Union. If you allow too much of that behavior, then the page becomes a freak show instead of a community forum.

However, a freak show is what some readers would like to see. One writer said he gets pumped up when, walking down the street after writing a particularly vicious broadside, his friends high-five him for enraging his political or social enemies.

Unfortunately, sometimes this angry behavior doesn't stop with letters. I was dismayed to hear from a person who had written a well-reasoned letter to the editor about a local issue, then received a threatening, anonymous note in the mail.

Fear of things like this undoubtedly keeps many from writing letters or Other Voices guest columns...

Also Anger Management: set me to thinking about the nature of the angry personality - what fosters it, and what outlets it uses.
The recent story we told about one Grass Valley editor caning another back in the 1860s led me to another theory: that the origin of anger here goes back to the independent, "I want mine" nature of those 49ers who stampeded to the gold fields.
and, once they got there, set to work driving off and killing the indigenous residents...

local blogs unearthed, and a thought

Turns out the Bill of Rights Defense Committee has a blog, as do (did? they're stale) Jim Weir (our former Supe, who ran a valiant campaign for Calif. governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger this past fall) and his wife Gail.

Here's the thought- very rough -

The press in all its forms, be it newspaper or weblog or radio or TV, should encourage fairness, freedom of speech, and the airing of a diversity of viewpoints.

And in a civilized society, in order to help the reader to best see the truth, they should encourage those with opposing views to discuss the issues in a civil manner, with no threats, namecalling, or other smearing.

But what do you do when these goals conflict? When a particular political viewpoint is classically held by a personality type that _doesn't_ easily toe the straight-and-rational, that gets hot under the collar, someone who's inherently more a fighter than a thinker? For example, Roger Ebert said this:
There's an interesting pattern going on. When I write a political column for the Chicago Sun-Times, when [X]s disagree with me, they send in long, logical e-mails explaining all my errors. I hardly ever get well-reasoned articles from the [Ys]. People just tell me to shut up. That's the message: "Shut up. Don't write anymore about this. Who do you think you are?"
In browsing the blogosphere you become struck by how there's a distinct confrontational tone that some weblogs, and presumably their authors, have, that _is_ correlated with a political view - there's a joy in putting down other people, a rejoicing in the incredible, pathetic foolishness of The Other, to the extent that - well, you get the feeling that they'd miss it, if they couldn't experience it. Then there's another class of blogs whose authors seem equally oppositional but don't seem to have a good time with it at all, it's more like they're enslaved by their anger.

So, is it fair to insist that, when these classes of people wish to participate in a forum that's in neutral territory, they must constrain their behavior in ways that are unnatural to them? In a way it's like requiring a literacy test for voter registration, or making them express themselves in a foreign language.

on the other hand, the alternative is to allow the street fighters into the drawing-room(1), with predictable results.

[added Oct 04]
1: Joshua Micah Marshall:
...the niceties of conflict resolution are hardly appropriate or sensible if you're trapped in a dark alley with a couple mafia goons

more doc on the future of radio

...At some point we need to face the facts. AM and FM broadcasting suck down huge amounts of electricity. Their towers bristle from swamps and mountaintops. And their technologies were developed before the middle of the last century. They use old brute-force technology to deliver what can be done far more efficiently by more "cellular" means. The low number of channels, and high costs of occupying them, makes the industry available to a few grandfathered incumbents. Why shouldn't there be an unlimited number of stations, just like there are an unlimited number of Web sites, of blogs, or or any breed of source on the Net? No reason at all. Unlimited opportunity will truly let the market decide what it can support.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

disruptive technology will make waves in radio

Doc Searls lately with a couple of pieces. First, How radio can unsuck itself:
Old Fashioned Broadcasting - AM, FM, TV, Shortwave... - is railroads. Internet Radio, by individuals and small organizations, is cars. We still have railroads, of course. But what cars did was give us a way to make our own transportation. To go where we wanted to go, in our own way, thank you very much. The same thing will happen, has to happen, to radio.
then Rant Radio:
...the big difference between Rant Radio and Ranting Bloggers is that I can't avoid the former and I can the latter.

On the road yesterday I wanted some traffic and weather. Fine, but scanning the dial, I had to put up with a load of ranting to find what I wanted. I had to listen to choose, weed through to find. Radio has no index. No search by content.

On the web, I put what I want in a search and I get the info. I may have to scan a Google list but I don't have to read the content of each. Yes, I set my "favorites" like my dial, but no one is controlling the content or limiting the choices...

and - in keeping with yesterday's post below- discovered a fine film review writer, Jeannette Catsoulis, here on LOTR. If your film is a dog, you do not want her reviewing it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

this was an irritating post

...which nonetheless expressed sincere pleasure that Mike and Barbara Getz are buying the Del Oro Theater in Grass Valley. Post deleted, except for the links (to the news story, and to the non-Getz-owned Magic Theatre and to a First Amendment expression by Ross, The Magic Theatre's former owner). Be thankful.

Also excellent news: the wise and credible Terry McAteer will be taking the helm and rejuvenating FCAT. It is heartening to see him making his own decisions already, i.e. not kowtowing to what established interests think he should do. I don't know how he'll handle the commercialization issues, but I have more faith that he'll do the right thing than i have certainty as to what it is.

weblog critique from Miriam Webster

Main Entry: tur·gid
Pronunciation: 't&r-j&d
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin turgidus, from turgere to be swollen
Date: 1620
2 : excessively embellished in style or language : BOMBASTIC, POMPOUS


Monday, December 08, 2003

food for thought

The Story of a Truly Contaminated Election:
...bizarre plot by the Rajneeshees, a religious cult, to steal a county election in Oregon in 1984.
The amazing story of the Wasco County election scandal was Leslie L. Zaitz, an investigative reporter for The Oregonian, and Dr. John Livengood, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control.
Cult informers confessed to numerous crimes, including plots to kill the U.S. attorney, the state attorney general, and the guru's doctor...

Zaitz and his investigative reporting team produced a twenty-part series on the Rajneeshees for The Oregonian starting in June 1985. After the commune collapsed they went back and produced a follow-up series. Among other things, they learned that the Rajneeshees had secretly put together a top-ten hit list on which Zaitz's name appeared as number three.

"If anything, the local news media were restrained and conservative in their coverage of the salmonella episode," Zaitz told the conference. "There was nothing alarmist, nothing to trigger a public panic. More aggressive coverage perhaps would have heated up already tense community relations with the commune. Yet the benign treatment also gave the Rajneeshees comfort that they could get away with it . . . . Fortunately, the commune collapsed before that could happen. But consider this: If they knew reporters were watching closely, would they have even tried?"
on the other hand
For epidemiologist Livengood, however, who had been dispatched to Wasco County to solve the cause of the mysterious outbreak, the story had a different, simpler moral: "Don't eat at salad bars."

blogroll additions in process, and a treat

(note for beginners: that pile of links on the sidebar on the left is the blogroll)

The Light of Reason - Diogenes's searches may not have yielded an honest man, but mine yielded a civil libertarian who thinks for himself. (that's "civil" as in civil, as well as civil as in liberties)

City Comforts, via LA Observed. "Cities, architecture, the 'new urbanism,' real estate, historic preservation, urban design, land use law, landscape, transport etc etc from a mildly libertarian stance."

A weblog written by The Mayor (not one of ours, as far as I know)

and for those whose orientation is more visual than textile, a) how on earth did you get here? and b) check out the frozen cheesecake.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

values and politics

Must-read from Orcinus on the personal and the political - long, but very much worth it:
There's one thing about growing up in a place like Idaho: If you can't make friends with conservatives, you won't have many friends.

And as my oldest friends can tell you, the truth is that I used to be fairly conservative myself. I come from a working-class family -- my mother's side of the family was in road construction, and my dad's was mostly a farming family, though his father actually was an auto mechanic.

Working-class values, and my belief in blue-collar virtues -- like integrity, decency, hard work, honesty, common sense, and fair play -- all were quite deeply ingrained...

The Attack on Citizen Participation in Civic Life - Yubanet article excerpt

From the Jan 7, 2003 Yubanet article, Property Rights Politics In Nevada County, CA:
The Attack on Citizen Participation in Civic Life

Starting in the spring of 2002, local property rights activists have come under fire in statewide media for publishing information of a private nature about private citizens in direct mail campaigns and websites, including homes addresses and photos of their properties. Citizens targeted in these mailings had endorsed Smart Growth 4th District candidate Izzy Martin.

Although this kind of intimidation can cause many citizens to drop out of civic life, others are defending themselves by filing police reports and harassment charges to protect their privacy and right to participate in community affairs without having to pay a personal price.

Other recent examples of harassment in Nevada County include: In October 2002, a Rough & Ready resident filed a police report after an eviscerated cat was left on her porch, the day after she participated in a local radio call-in show with candidates. Two weeks earlier, a candidate running in the 4th District race, filed a police report after someone had driven nails into the inside walls of his back tires while he was participating in a debate.

Intimidation tactics are hardly unique to Nevada County, as other rural communities around the country have had to deal with their own groups that engage in reckless, anti-government rhetoric that divides the community, whips people into an emotional frenzy and can encourage fragile people to go over the edge and commit acts of violence. Fortunately, citizens in Nevada County are banding together to insist on civility in public discourse while condemning acts of intimidation.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Weighing in on The Union's coverage of the Weismann "murder for hire" case

Nov. 2004 - would like to un-reiterate, if such is possible, but am leaving this text in its original condition.
(to reiterate - with the exception of the coverage of this one case, The Union has become an exceedingly good source of information, I no longer find myself ripping hanks of pelage from scalp when reading it, it's been taking a stand on issues of personal freedom and on considering the consequences of our actions and on defending civil public discourse; in short, it has become a newspaper to be proud of. Except for this one case...)

(relevant URLs: Weismann's letters to the editor of The Union,
Dreams end in desolation, `My parents never knew what hit them')

I would not want to be in the shoes of either Editor or Publisher of The Union. Covering William Weismann's attempt to get his neighbor killed is a no-win situation - when a prominent member of a group backed by a powerful faction in the county is arrested for something like this, the newspaper faces a choice between treating the alleged perp like any other arrestee and thereby antagonizing their advertising base and the county Powers That Be, or giving him more deferential treatment and thereby antagonizing those who expect the newspaper to aim for "big city" journalism quality.

It's further complicated by the fact that, while the person most responsible for The Union's financial health has political sympathies much in line with Weismann's, the person most responsible for the news reporting hails from the Columbia UniversityUniversity of Missouri School of Journalism. (That they are still working together is a marvel, and says much for interpersonal skills.)

Given The Union's status as small town paper, it probably is unrealistic to expect it to practice Big City Journalism in a case like this. If they want to treat Mr. Weismann gently, and omit mention of his inflammatory and revelatory letters (although analogous letters in the Herve "road rage" death case were published), so be it - most likely the letters - and other salient facts - will come out eventually in court, be it criminal or civil.

It's one thing to go easy on Bill Weismann; it's another thing to cause harm to reputations, both of the man he wanted dead and of the man who alerted authorities, neither of whom is (presumably) free to respond until the case is settled; and it is worse yet, to defend these actions - and the detrimental effects of the reporting on the justice system - as though they were ethically above reproach.

Here's what I (in role of Monday morning quarterback) would have done differently:

I would not have published derogatory information about the man Mr. Weismann sought to have murdered, particularly information provided by Weismann or his family, friends, associates or attorney.

I would not defend the publishing of such information by saying "we tried to get the would-be-victim's side of the story, but he wouldn't talk to us".* This excuse is either naive or disingenuous; until a case is settled, the District Attorney will instruct witnesses for the prosecution not to talk to the press, lest they jeopardize the upcoming trial. (if I'm wrong on this, please correct me.) So he couldn't speak to the press, he was not free to do so. This doesn't mean the press gets carte blanche to cast aspersions on his character.

I would not have published a statement from one of Mr. Weismann's family members deliberately exposing negative information about the whistleblower's** distant past, information that the court did not feel was germane to the case. This man too has presumably been told not to speak to the press until the case is settled, thus he too is currently not free to defend himself. Plus, for The Union to publish the info - even in the form of a quote from Weismann's daughter - shows disrespect for the legal system that sought to protect the whistleblower's privacy.

Regarding detrimental effects of the reporting on the justice system***: readers were concerned that the coverage would taint the jury pool by giving potential jurors information (irrespective of bias and accuracy) about the case. The editor responded: "I doubt there will be a problem finding a jury for this case, if it goes to trial (and it's doubtful it will). There are plenty of news-averse people in Nevada County who have no clue who the president of the United States is, let alone Bill Weismann." OK. Granted, coverage or no coverage, those seats in the courtroom will be occupied by warm bodies. But will justice be served if the jurors must now be chosen from the most news-averse and clueless people in the county?

One more question for editor and publisher of The Union: if the whole truth does come out, and it shows Weismann's target and whistleblower to be the decent human beings that I suspect they are (and yes, i could be wrong) - will you pledge to apologize publicly to these two men?

The Union is a mighty fine paper these days. Here's hoping the coverage of the Weismann case is - and remains - an aberration. And that the truth does come out.

* re one-sided story: true, it was also defended by saying (more or less) "we tried as hard as we could to get Wess's side of the story from court documents and statements of friends etc"; but this is weak, it's still not fair until Wess is free to speak in his own defense.

** There is probably a much better term to use here. What I mean is, the guy that Weismann approached about killing Wess.

*** There are detrimental effects of news coverage before a trial. There are also positive effects of news coverage before a trial. It's the denial that the former exist, that seems troublesome.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Local: Weissman "murder for hire" coverage

commentary to follow in future post; here are facts, links and some minor innuendo and digression. I think this covers all the salient articles; if not, please send email...

(For non-local readers, William Weismann is a prominent local property-rights advocate who was arrested last spring for trying to hire a hit man to kill his neighbor. There is some question (in my mind at least) as to whether the county newspaper has treated the story fairly.)

from April 2003 ncfocus archives,

Sept 5 2003, Murder-for-hire case back in court
September 2003, normally wise fair and thoughtful Union editor drinks bad Labor Day hootch, is possessed by a demon of a hangover*:
  • Sept 5, 2003, Dreams end in desolation for Mr. Weismann, an extraordinarily sympathetic recounting -
    A year ago, William Weismann - a Bay Area businessman who had retired to his dream home on the shores of Lake of the Pines - was a community leader, one of those leading a fight for property rights and for the election defeat of two county supervisors whom he felt threatened those rights...

  • Sept 5, 2003, `My parents never knew what hit them' - interview with the daughter:
    She feels her father, in taking such a drastic action [trying to get his neighbor killed], was crying out for help..."My father was never a violent man, and isn't today."..."The district attorney's attempt to obscure [the man Weismann wanted to hire]'s [long-ago] criminal background through a series of court orders is puzzling, too," she said. "Aren't they supposed to be the ones interested in getting the truth out, not hiding it?"**

  • Sept 6, 2003, Editor defends The Union's coverage against claims that it was unfair and that it has tainted the jury pool:
    ...some people who say we're being "used" by the defense.

    That's called "spin," and everybody does it. Lawyers and business people have seminars on the technique. Journalists counter it by being open to everyone. We'll listen to anything anyone wants to tell us...
    Wess[the intended victim] has not talked to The Union or any other news organization since the day Weismann was arrested, despite repeated attempts by us to contact him as recently as Thursday...
    I doubt there will be a problem finding a jury for this case, if it goes to trial (and it's doubtful it will). There are plenty of news-averse people in Nevada County who have no clue who the president of the United States is, let alone Bill Weismann.

October 2003 coverage:
  • Oct 11 2003, civil case dropped for now
  • Oct 20 2003, plea bargain in process:
    William Weismann, the Lake of the Pines man accused of trying to have his neighbor killed by a hit man, has pleaded no contest to two counts of soliciting a murder...

  • Oct 21 2003, update:
    [defense attorney James Roberts says Weismann ]could be released from jail in as little as two years.
    "I can't comment, but this is more complex than just the Wesses and the Weismanns," [Wess] said. ...
    Roberts said his client never wanted Wess killed, only harmed.
"not a violent man"...yeah, I always breathe a sigh of relief when I find that my neighbors only want to harm me.

* Regarding this unfortunate lapse: the hootch is pure fabrication, libel, whatever, but the evidence for possession by malign spirits is incontrovertible. Normally he shows excellent judgment.

** Re ferreting out and publicizing long-ago misdeeds of whistleblowers - Sure, a fine idea, so let's name rape victims who report the crime, and publish their photos and sexual histories at every supermarket checkout line! (including, alas, SPD's, which was disillusioning, I had thought they might have stronger principles.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

pop (and poink) sociology, best not critically examined

A recurrent theme in the blogging community, most recently cresting a month or so ago (summary), is why it should be that the A-List (ie most-read, most-linked) bloggers are almost exclusively male. The answer was revealed to your fortunate correspondent last weekend: many parts of the blogosphere resemble a lek:
[the male blogger] makes quite a scene with its theatrical mating displays. In the spring, before daybreak and sometimes by moonlight, on breeding grounds known as leks where the birds return year after year, the male[s] fan their tails peacock-fashion, puff out their chests, which swell like heaving white bellows, and fill the bright yellow air sacs on their throats, emitting acoustically impressive popping and poinking sounds as they strut amidst the low sage. Hoping to attract the apparently aloof and elusive hens, the males face off with each other like dancers engaged in a ceremonial karate match.
i could provide urls to buttress this observation but that would be skating on very thin ice...

update (not buttressing, but related) - Matt Groening (via) -
Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.
Also Dating Design Patterns