Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Read these guys instead

Forgot where I found Peter Levine, but he's good:

What does it mean to be civic?
Do we [as a community] seriously consider a broad range of positions? Do good arguments and reasons count, or has politics become just a clash of money and power? Can we achieve progress on the goals that we happen to share, or have our disagreements become so sharp and personal that we cannot ever cooperate?

Being civic means asking these questions. It is compatible with fighting hard for a position-even a radical one-but it requires avoiding collateral damage to the civic infrastructure. It asks us to worry about long-term civic health, not just immediate tactical victory. And it obliges us to care about our public institutions, not just particular policies.

Also his post on how conservative and progressive are misnomers

Along the same vein (as "what does it mean to be civic), Tamim Ansary on What Does It Mean to Be Patriotic?

Philosoraptor on collateral damage:
when you feel like ranting or flaming, at least you should force yourself to answer this question: will whatever good this rant/flame/etc. will accomplish outweight whatever harm it will do to the overall level of civility and reasonableness (in this discussion in particular and on the web in general (and in society in general))?

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

If your vote continues to count, thank Bev Harris

Excellent, long Wired special report on How E-Voting Threatens Democracy.

Hoping this belongs in the tinfoil hat department - founder of company that solved the e-voting ballot verification problem recently died in a traffic crash, a week after article extolling his solution was published. Follow the link for details on company, solution, timing... and think about whether you want your children to live in a democracy.

How to create boxed text in your Blogger weblog

(This post is for bloggers only, will be of no use to anyone else.)

How to make your Blogger template do boxed text:

First, in a post, start the soon-to-be-boxed text with
<div class="blockquote">
put text here
then end it with

Now edit your Template so it knows how to handle it:
You'll need the "boxed text" style specifications for the "blockquote" tag - I found and adapted the one that's in the Daily Kos stylesheet, at, so it looks like this:
.blockquote {
font-family: verdana, georgia, arial, sans-serif;
border:1px #00;
Copy the lines and paste them into your template, before the "</style>" tag (it'll be towards the top of your template).

Don't go plunking it in the middle of some already-bracketed info, obviously.

Now Preview your Template to test. And Save, if it looks right.

NOTE: the text does _not_ show up as boxed on Blogger's "Edit post" page, at least not with the "Classic" (meaning "old") Blogger interface - so don't be alarmed about this.

User manual - ncfocus blogging conventions

A very kind and very infrequent reader points out that it is often not clear which writing on this weblog is original and which is thieveryquotation. Basically, any text that's
indented (and, from now on, gray)
is a quotation; typically there's a link to its source before the quote. If I add anything to the quoted text, the additions will be in square brackets (if intended to clarify what the writer meant) or in italics (if my commentary).

Occasionally the typist may err, but that's the standard being aimed for.

Monday, March 29, 2004

I see voices

This post contains no original content.

Misc quotes that have spoken to me of late -

From the Portland Communique - Citizen Journalism at its finest -
...we are sticklers for the idea that anyone who believes people should have more access to government should also believe people should have more access to people running to be in charge of that government...
...In the event that either of these two campaigns are paying attention in return, we reiterate our earlier advice: Put your plans online so mere mortals such as ourselves and our readers have access to them.
News story about the Portland Communique

Billmon with editorials, logic, and Monty Python. JJG In comments:
...the word is that the WSJ news staff is first rate, professional and unbiased. But the editorial staff is lunatic wing nut.
So you can believe the reporting, and ignore anything on the editorial page.
via Jeff Jarvis, The National Debate inspires greater accountability from The [NY] Times Op-Ed columnists -
...while opinion columnists are under no obligation to "play fair" [In New York; surely Nevada County is a different story] they are under the same obligation as any other writer to be factually correct and when an error appears in their column the record needs to be corrected whether they like it or not...
and, getting really miscellaneous...
A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.
- Adlai Stevenson
To hear people talk, every social problem in society can be solved with a liberal application of weblogs like some sort of magic first aid creme for society...
- an email to Sean Bonner
it's not marriage that is the bedrock of's...wait for it...CIVILity.
- john lyon somewhere in Dan Gillmor comments
...quote from Emerson, I believe it goes like this, " Whenever they speak loudest of their honesty, the sooner you should count your silver".
- ?
from Slate:
In fact, democracy works better when politicians don't disguise their true nature.

and, sinking even deeper than the true nature of a politician...

a wardrobe malfunction in Virginia

reaching the end, what's special about Sodomites (via):
Ezekiel 16:48-49 - "This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God's eyes."

The House Op-Ed -- Madonna or Hoe?

Boxed up the quoted text.

I suspect that I have some terminology wrong (although readers are either too polite or too appalled to correct it) -
  • a "Newspaper Editorial" is the unsigned "institutional voice" that I'm calling a House Op-Ed in this post?
  • Is an Op-Ed one thing, or are Ops and Eds actually different?
  • Op-Eds are always signed?
  • Letters to the editor are neither Ops nor Eds?
  • Difference between a "column" and an Op-Ed?
  • Is there a dictionary out there that would clarify the terminological confusion, or is this more Alice in Wonderland material?

"Hoe" is typically spelled with an apostrophe in place of the "e".

Usually intended, though generally unstated, disclaimer - this is what I believe to be true, but I could be wrong, so if I'm missing something (logically or factually) please let me know.

And yes, reality is not likely to be this clear cut. Generalizations were made.

"As I tried to explain to you...(apparently unsuccessfully),...."
I think the reason I've had so much trouble with the idea that a [local] newspaper could put out an editorial* (the subject of posts below) whose reasoning no one was willing to justify, comes from confusion as the purpose, standards and expectations for the "House Op-Ed" (HOE).

And for something found so close to journalism - often they're printed on opposite sides of the same page - it's surprising how little attention it seems to get from the pundits of journalism, and what little consensus there is among the hoi polloi as to its meaning and function. Among the varied interpretations:
  1. My former, optimistic, "bringing light to truth" assumption was that the HOE is where those who are closest to the news tell you their best/strongest/clearest impression as to what the news reporting really boils down to. Particularly if reporters adhere to the unhelpful, stereotypical "balanced" "he said-she said" reporting, many/most readers will lack the background to "read between the lines", so the HOE can explain what is written between those lines.

    A tangent, from BDL comments:
    "I'll put it between the lines and trust my readers to make the final judgment" is every [not terribly brave] journalist's excuse for not wanting to anger the people in power about whom they write. A reporter's job is to inform readers of factual context as well as central facts. Saying "oh, they'll read between the lines" is presuming that readers are already well enough informed not to need the reporter in the first place.
  2. Another person believes that the HOE is where the newspaper tells you the filter that it's 'wearing' in its reporting - if the HOEs don't line up with your perception of reality, it's telling you that the news articles have the same (albeit less obvious) slant.

  3. Others are more cynical. Out of context quote from Crescat Sententia:
    a friend/co-blogger suggested last night that op-eds and similar journalism rarely serve any purpose other than to state the author's position, and that the reasoning included in an op-ed is mere windowdressing to the real business, where the author says, "I, who you trust, tell you to believe Z."
    (i.e. scantily-clad Lady Logic is instructed who to love, rather than being free to make her own choices)
    If this interpretation is correct, then - to the extent that the standards for HOEs are left unstated - the situation is much the same as the one exposed by last year's disclosure that web magazine Tech Central Station was (then secretly) owned by a right-wing lobbyist(s?), who "planted" stories favorable to their clients in amongst the more honest content - i.e., to extrapolate to the HOEs, the ethical and honest reporters who write the rest of the paper are delivering credibility to the HOE instigator, who spends that credibility for his own ends.

    TCS Dynamics and background explained in the confessions of this former Tech Central Station protein sheath (long, so I'll quote):
    ...there is good reason to suspect the whole kit and kaboodle is an engineered media virus with the honest convictions of all blogger-contributors composing a sort of protein sheath....The evidence is circumstantial but substantial. Corporate sponsors are getting, for their bucks, not hundreds of blogger-written columns but a few - perhaps very few, but valued - corporate advertisements not clearly identified as such.
    (BTW, interesting off-topic comment from Russell Arben Fox at the bottom)
So the HOE can be a Madonna, bringing light to truth; a DSM-IV, indicating what sort of delusions inform the rest of the paper; or a "Hoe", where the publisher makes use of the paper's authority (acquired via accurate news reporting) to push his causes. And nothing on the editorial page tells you which kind of HOE it is.

One indicator, though, is gross inconsistency between the news and editorial pages - this is evidence for the "Hoe" form of HOE. This split is found even in top newspapers, as others have noticed:
Maybe someone who reads the [Washington] Post more often than I do can explain: is it turning into the new Wall Street Journal, with editorial and news pages apparently from parallel universes?
HOEs motivated by other than factual concerns can come back to embarrass the paper, in the form of retrospective evaluations of their accuracy by reporters like Chris Mooney. Not surprisingly, their authors aren't eager to examine how they got so out of touch with reality:
attempts to prompt self-reflection from the six editorial page editors about [their] astonishing failure met with only moderate success...

Is there a widely accepted set of HOE ethics? disclaimers? clearly stated expectations that we the readers should or should not have? (this would be helpful, but not truly sufficient, since we humans inherently give more weight to the utterances of authority - if the HOE notes that the earth is flat, some readers will invariably take this as truth no matter how well it's marked with disclaimers)

Or is the HOE the one section of the paper that neither has nor wants clear ground rules?

Should newspapers have HOEs, given the inevitable temptation/pressure to play fast and loose with the facts and logic in an attempt to persuade?

Yes. It's like having a litter box for indoor cats, or a toilet in the house - if you don't provide a designated space for pontification/swaying/manipulating/persuading, they'll end up doing it everywhere. However, it would be good to encourage more oversight - for example by somehow making it incumbent on the writers to respond to [good] arguments against their conclusions.

(BTW if you know of anything's actually been _written_ on structure/function/design/pathology of Op-Eds, let me know, since I haven't found it and it's not likely that this is virgin territory.)

The writers of "Madonna" and "DSM-IV" HOEs are likely to be sincere, and to sincerely believe in the accuracy of their statements; but in the case of a "Hoe" HOE, logical justifications are not something the authors will be interested in engaging in. Likewise, someone writing a Hoe will be more inclined to "editorial inaccuracies" (e.g. making things up).

Not to be outdone by The Union, The NY Times is also catching it for problems (in this case, a made up anecdote which was the only evidence supporting the editorial's conclusion) in an Op-Ed, as recounted in This Modern World. A commenter suggests the following as an NYT Op-Ed disclaimer more in line with practice:
EDITOR'S NOTICE: Even though some of the things in the following column may sound to any reasonable reader like statements of objective "fact," everything that follows is actually nothing more than a statement of the author's "beliefs," which, while they may be illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, are nevertheless exempt in every respect from the Times' error correction policy.
and the errant columnist rationalizes...
"An opinion may be wrongheaded," Safire told [weblog proprietor Tom Tomorrow] by e-mail last week, "but it is never wrong. A belief or a conviction, no matter how illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, is an idea subject to vigorous dispute but is not an assertion subject to editorial or legal correction."
In other words, Safire just makes ['facts' up...]
The attempt to make a distinction between convictions and assertions is amusing. If you take an assertion and preface it with "We have no doubt that...", does that mean you no longer need supporting evidence?

Miscellaneous relevant Poynter articles:
  • Some clues as to how Hoes often(? always? usually?) work, from an interview with Doug Floyd, editorial page editor of The Spokesman-Review:
    It's the publisher's role to make the final calls on our editorial policy. It's my job to execute it.

    I'm capable, if called upon, to write in the institutional voice, making the case as strongly as I can...
  • on transparency:
    a number of descriptions of a transparent press had a one-way mirror feel to them: We editors will explain to you readers what we think you should know about us.

    "Leadership requires us to write down our ethical principles, our news and business values, our standards and practices. We promise to revisit these regularly and, with your advice, to revise them when necessary. More than that, we will publish them, every day on our website and at least once a year in the newspaper. Please read them, and hold us accountable."
  • Secrecy breeds skepticism:
    ... too many of our readers - on whom we are dependent for our own success - believe that we use our independence to justify being aloof, arrogant, and unaccountable.
  • Pull Back the Curtain: Let Readers See the Process
    Because the ethical process isn't simple, the least we can do is make it transparent.


* the offending editorial was a standout; the vast majority are much better reasoned, for example this one from last Saturday.

Flaws and likely inaccuracies:
I'm mixing up different kinds of editorials here (Friedman is not the embodiment of the NY Times, for example), and bringing up the Tech Central Station flap from memory, some of it may not be correct. And it's late...

Saturday, March 27, 2004

State of The Union - glimmer of dawn in editorial pages

...if it's not the oncoming train

Just wanted to say that a heartening sign I've noticed of late is that, on occasion, a beam of light will shine down upon a letter to the editor, illuminating its context in ways that, while likely unappreciated by the writer, can be extremely informative to the reader.

For example, see the bit at the end of this editorial shedding light on an apparently groundless accusation of plagiarism regarding this letter.

I hope there will be a follow-up to this story - one wonders what could be going through someone's mind, to make a false accusation and then say "Google it for yourself if you don't believe me!" If the last line of the accuser's letter ("Kindly remember that points are awarded for originality") is correct, then he gets top score.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Response from the management

Long, detailed post, which will be exceedingly boring to anyone who is not local (and to most who are), with possible exception of the final section. When/if I figure out how to do nested boxed text, will clean up the rest of the layout.

Added Nevada City Free Press response below.

more misc. minor editing, added response from Yubanet, quoted more fully from S.'s email including disputed assertions, appended resonant links and quotes. Have tried to mark more recently added original content with italics.

Editor Richard Somerville of The Union responds to recent post (March 22) which complained of insufficiently communicative small-town newspaper with egregious pre-election editorial; here I print his responses, and have the last word.

(Some of his response is quoted out of order. Links present in the March 22 post are (mostly) not replicated here. Apologies for the repeated text - wanted to provide too much info rather than too little. And if the tone sounds snippy on my part, it's not deliberate. Also, the "make it clearer, make it clearer" refrain below may just be exposing my ignorance; I haven't actually _looked_ to see if the info is there. Although if it is, nobody seems to realize it.)

Executive summary:
First section: great progress can be made on improving communication between newspaper and would-be contributor. Apparently likewise for within-newspaper communication.
Second section: reflections on editorials, facts, logic, dialog, trust, the future...

A general comment: it is good to have clarification of The Union's policies, but this clarification should go to all readers; unfortunately, publishing it on this weblog is not going to reach very many of them.

> I normally don't engage in extended email dialogue, since I get hundreds
> of emails a day and thus would be doing nothing but typing. However...

Overworked editor is deluged with reader responses, so rarely can make the time to respond in depth. But why does it work this way? Is it the most efficient use of editor's time, to make and read very similar comments over and over again? Is it the most efficient use of reader#98's time, to compose an email making a point that readers #35 through 70 already made? Wouldn't it be better if, for example, there was an online forum, where readers could see other readers' questions and editor's responses?

Because there is no transparency, it's inefficient for everyone.

For example of how transparency might work, see PressThink posts' comments. Bloggers - even journalist bloggers - bravely open up to their community in this way. (Although it's true that in Nevada County there would need to be a civility/rationality filter. It's a pity so many are on well water, there's no efficient way to medicate it...)

> > [A:]
> > Upon reading (on Feb. 12) that Grass Valley had approved a request to cut
> > down the city's historic Giant Sequoia, Mahlon and Bobbi Wilkes submitted
> > (on Feb. 17) an Other Voices column opposing this decision, extolling the
> > history and significance of the tree ("...the sequoia on Neal Street appears
> > to be surpassed in size by only one other planted sequoia in the world, one
> > growing near Madrid..."). Unfortunately, however, "The Union held [the
> > article] for two and a half weeks after we submitted it -- until the tree
> > was cut down (March 2) -- before deigning to publish it." (March 5) and "No,
> > we heard nothing [from The Union, after sending them the article] until it
> > was published".

> [S:]
> I'm always amazed at people who send in a letter or Other Voices and
> expect it to be published instantaneously, as if there weren't 50 other
> letters and a dozen other Other Voices ahead of them in line. These people
> sent their Other Voices to us at the height of the pre-primary period when
> we were having to run a lot of election-related material.

It's not clear that they had any choice as to the timing.

> They heard something from us after sending the article - we asked for
> their photos, and they declined.

Bobbi Wilkes (PhD biomedical consultant) responds:
This is not true at all. We submitted our photos with the original submission. In fact, we added a paragraph to the letter the next day and sent in a new version, to which we also attached our photos. There was never any request for photos from the Union. There was never any contact at any time.
There is a problem here. I emailed Somerville back noting this discrepancy and the one below; he responded:
If somebody has a complaint about their letter or article, they can contact me personally.

"> I'm always amazed ..."
- To translate this attitude/response from the media to a more typical business:
Our customers are foolish or obstinate... Why can't they make use of our product in the way that's intuitively obvious to us, instead of complaining that there's a problem with it when in fact they're just using it wrong?
The best response to this attitude I've seen was (roughly):
Are these users part of your intended customer base? if so, the fact that many of them are making the same mistake indicates that there's a problem in how we communicate to them how the product works and what it can and cannot do.
Suggestion: communicate with people up front as to what they can expect, and (if it's election season) make it clear that the wait will be longer.

> [S:]
> Sorry the column didn't get in till after the tree
> went down; perhaps they feel they could have stopped it. I don't, but

I expect the authors assumed that the time-sensitive nature of this article was obvious. Agreed, sometimes what's obvious to us is obscure to others.

> ..that's my opinion. Lesson: if you HAVE to have the column in by a certain
> day, let us know so we can either say we can do that or sorry we can't
> (they didn't).

How about a "So you're thinking of writing an "Other Voices" column..." section that makes all of this clear? Reduce the surprises...

> > [A:]
> > One person submitted a letter which got published without incident.
> [S: as are most]

I spoke too soon: after receiving S.'s reply, I asked this submitter if he'd received any acknowledgement from The Union. His response (emphasis mine):
As I recall, I was surprised that I didn't get the usual acknowledgment before my letter appeared in the paper.
> > Another person sent a letter, via The Union's "letters submission" webpage,
> > before the announced deadline for pre-election letters, but his letter was
> > neither acknowledged nor published. From subsequent correspondence:
> > [Submitter asks what happened:]
> > I thought your policy was to run all the letters. Anyway, is there some
> > particular reason mine didn't run?
> >
> > [The Union's representative responds:]
> > We always call to verify the letters before we put them into the paper. If
> > not, we might not have received it...
> >
> > [Submitter persists:]
> > Is there anyway to tell if the letter got there? Or, if one shouldn't submit
> > over the internet? I'd be a [lot] more comfortable if I knew someone didn't
> > zap the letter because they disagreed.
> >
> > [as of six days later, no reply from newspaper representative]

> [S:]
> All letters are acknowledged and verified upon receipt.

Apparently not always; see other submitters' experiences above.

> If the writer
> does not hear from us, then we did not get the letter (this most often
> happens online, and may be because of the sender using a bad email
> address).

So if they don't hear anything (via email or phone) within [?time period?], they should call to check?
Is this made clear on the submission form (and wherever else the "letters" email address is printed)? If not, it's another usability defect (easy to repair, which generates trust and goodwill...)

Also, the questions/concerns raised here
("Is there anyway to tell if the letter got there? Or, if one shouldn't submit over the internet? I'd be a [lot] more comfortable if I knew someone didn't zap the letter because they disagreed.")
- are valid, and were not addressed either by newspaper representative or by Editor. Surely the rep. should have been able to check that the letter was received? And the webmaster and/or IT department could (also) implement an Autoreply feature so that the sender _knows_ that their submission was received? Again, an unsurprised correspondent is a satisfied correspondent.

> [S:]
>...I try to respond to all email...

This is honorable and appreciated, but not clear ahead of time to the reader. And standards apparently differ: The Union's publisher does not always make the same effort, but AFAIK there's no way for someone to know this either. It's a black box, transparency is lacking.

> > [A:]
> > ...I sent a total of four emails over two weeks,
> > from two separate email accounts, to Union publisher Jeff Ackerman asking
> > for progressively less and less explanation (final one: "Please acknowledge
> > that you have received this and the previous emails - for ex. by replying
> > with just an ACK in the subject line, if you don't want to engage in
> > that I can know that you have received them."); Mr. Ackerman did
> > not acknowledge any of these emails. (Editor Richard Somerville did reply to
> > the email I sent him, but did not answer any of my questions.)
> >
> > (For background on the editorial....

> [S:]
> ...The key message of the election editorial relating to Ms. Diaz is that her
> late anti-Beason mailing - which certainly was her right to do - reflected
> a flawed campaign strategy. That's The Union's opinion.

I agree that the mailer's last-minute _timing_ was "a flawed campaign strategy", but I read the editorial's "key message" as being an objection to the mailer's providing excerpts of prior inflammatory and hostile writings by Diaz's opponent (he was responding to these two columns) that were difficult to reconcile with his calm, inoffensive, "nonpartisan" campaign demeanor. From the editorial: the campaign winds down, we have been disappointed that two candidates have been tempted to stray from focusing on issues. District 1 supervisor candidate Olivia Diaz's recent mailer misuses partial quotes by her opponent...
the crucial question in evaluating this judgement is, is it a "misuse" if the impression it leaves with the reader is the same impression that the reader would get from reading the full column?

> [S:]
> We offer letters
> to the editor and Other Voices columns to those who want to voice an
> alternative view, which is more than any other news medium in Nevada
> County does.

Can this assertion be backed up with examples of thoughtful, civil, well reasoned "opposing views" that _were_ rejected by Yubanet and/or the Nevada City Free Press?

I emailed Yubanet and the Nevada City Free Press in an attempt to verify it - response from Yubanet follows:
Of course we would publish a letter that disagrees with our "opinion" as long as it complies with the editorial policy described here.

The same goes for the local radio stations who both have call-in shows. It's my understanding that no call screening takes place at either KVMR or KNCO.

Received email March 30 from the Nevada City Free Press:
...we offer those with a different viewpoint an opportunity to
publish in the Nevada City Free Press just like The Union. Unfortunately, not that many folks take us up on the offer....
> As I tried to explain to you...(apparently unsuccessfully), The
> Union's editorials are the product of the newspaper's Editorial Board, not
> of any one individual. Mr. Ackerman or myself do not speak for the entire
> Editorial Board, although we can offer our personal opinion if we wish. I
> do not choose to discuss my personal political opinions because I am in
> charge of the news columns of The Union, and people often jump to the
> (inaccurate) conclusion that if I have a personal opinion, I arrange to
> slant the newspaper in that direction. Mr. Ackerman, in accord with the
> practices of publishers throughout the newspaper business, separates
> himself from the news production of the paper and thus is more free to
> offer his opinion. However, in the case you mention, I believe he
> forwarded your query to me for response and did not feel he needed to
> repeat.

nor acknowledge receipt

> But it is not policy, nor is it possible, for the Editorial Board to
> engage in an email debate with readers over editorials. Editorials are
> crafted very deliberately to say what we want them to say, and no more.

Perhaps someone could articulate why this explanation feels so unsatisfying...

> > [A:]
> > I'd really like to get responses from The Union's editorial board as to what
> > they think the ground rules for a fair campaign should be - particularly on
> > this:
> > When a candidate does grossly misrepresent himself in an attempt to fool the
> > voters, who has the responsibility to bring this to light, and how? Or is it
> > always wrong to, in Olivia Diaz's words, "let people know what the other guy
> > is doing"?

> > Anybody have ideas as to how we could get answers? If they were interested in
> > fostering a constructive community dialog, wouldn't "what's ethical and fair
> > in campaigning for and holding public office" be an extraordinarily valuable
> > topic for discussion?

I'll answer my own question: "yes"

> > [A:]
> > The Union is owned by Swift Newspapers. From the Swift Newspapers website:
> > With commitment to integrity
> > We bring light to truth
> > Excellence to endeavor
> > And strength to community

> > How do we get our newspaper to be like that? ...

> [S:]
> In my personal opinion, The Union is [as fine an] exemplar of these
> qualities as any newspaper in the country. *

Agreed on the news side, though not for the editorial pages (although they are much improved from the cesspits of yesteryear, before R.S. arrived and cleaned them up. (old style samples of letters to editor)).

But note the interesting dynamic here. Paper is criticized, examples are given. Paper is defended vociferously [warning, SLANTED HYPERBOLE ahead]:
  • We don't do those things you said we did
  • Those people should have more reasonable expectations
  • They should know what our processes are, without our having to tell them
  • We're excellent
  • Our editorials are NOT open for discussion, they (and our thought processes) are FINISHED - you can respond if you want (via email, letter to editor, longer column) but WE don't feel any obligation to address any of the points you make (because we don't want to)

i.e. the reaction seems maybe a little bit defensive and not very open to feedback or reason.

In large part this is probably a reaction to airing the issues in public - if you're used to _being_ the public forum, and thereby being in control of the community cacophany, and reserving the biggest megaphone for your own use, it presumably feels uncomfortable, unpleasant, and unjust to be deprived of that position.

But suppose you were a paragon of rationality, above all petty human emotions, with commitment to integrity, and you wanted to bring light to truth, excellence to endeavor, and strength to community - while you might respond to criticism by saying "I'm mighty fine" (it being largely correct), you wouldn't limit it to that - you'd take a look at where and how you could do better.

And two such areas are better communication (as covered above) and (yes, this is a stretch) a whole different focus to the editorial pages. What if it _was_ a discussion instead of a cacophany of serial monologues? What if writers were encouraged to back up their assertions with references? What if publishing on those pages committed you to responding to feedback? Wouldn't that "bring light to truth and excellence to endeavor"? It would certainly make for a stronger community.

Like it or not, the editorial pages are part of the paper, and the quality of discourse found there affects people's impression of the paper as a whole. As long as the editorials are poorly reasoned, suspiciously motivated tracts lobbed down from the castle parapets, the townsfolk will rightly view the paper with mistrust. A paper that fostered constructive, interactive give-and-take in a county as divided as this one still is - and that could both dish it out _and_ take it - would be the embodiment of commitment to integrity.

and flocks of prodigal subscribers would return.


Relevant links and quotes:

Cypherpunk quoted by Rosen:
I think the truth is obvious...journalism is about power, [so] it is unsurprising that input from the public is unwelcome. People are there to be molded and influenced, not to complain and argue. At best, public input is useful feedback to determine how well the journalists are exercising their influence...
Rosen on Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty:
...when customers are dissatisfied...they have three basic options: exit, voice and loyalty. Exit is when you stop...Voice is when you speak up...loyalty..."holds exit at bay and activates voice." A loyal reader of the Oregonian might well get angry at her newspaper. But loyalty means she will stick with the paper, despite that. It also means she will choose voice-- speak up, write a letter, make a call to the public editor. "To resort to voice, rather than exit, is for the customer or member to make an attempt at changing the practices, policies and outputs..."

> * [S:]
> I know this must be true [Bzzzt! faulty logic]
> because we see mirror responses similar to yours from the true believers
> on the other end of the political spectrum.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Troop support

edited to make it a little clearer who said what, added some links/quotes

"Gah. That was powerful. I have nothing else to say." - Erik at Whiskey Bar

Unforgettable piece by Nevada City's own Bill Larsen in last Sunday's S.F. Chronicle here - "I'm no pacifist, but I do have a rigorous standard for sending human beings to war. I call it the "Mike McParlane Taste Test..." **

Also essential - in Whiskey Bar, Billmon's post The Old Bloody Shirt:
...Terry Holt, the chief spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign was quoted saying in the Washington Post today:
"John Kerry's campaign seems to be summed up this way: I went to Vietnam, yadda, yadda, yadda, I want to be president."
...I have this image of some GOP flack in the year 2032, talking to some smart-ass reporter from the Washington Post, and bashing his guy's opponent for running on his Iraq war resume: "His whole campaign is: I went to Iraq, yadda, yadda, yadda. I want to be president."
Powerful post, powerful commentary from readers. Read their stories. Make sure you don't miss the posts by Jack ("Something I forgot about Nam", March 23 10:58) and Julia (March 24, 2004 12:16 AM).
"Those who deny weakness and have no compassion for others because they fear that very weakness are wretched beyond words. And they sure as hell should never be in power. " - Stoy

"The way the Right treats soldiers and vets is sickening. We owe them better than to let them bleed and die for a pack of lies. We owe them better than "yadda, yadda, yadda."" - alsafi

"Vietnam remains a tragedy in large measure because we apparently didn't learn a f_cking thing from it." - ?

"I'd ask my cousin Jack whether "Yadda, Yadda, Yadda" described *his* Nam experience, except there's a small problem. Jack ... doesn't do *any* talking these days. "

Remembering Bob Zangas, who died earlier this month in an ambush in Iraq. Here's his weblog

Previously-linked-to interview with a medic

**In Larsen's article, Mike's name was printed as Mike MacParlane, which is incorrect, it's McParlane. "Had a guy call who checked his name against the listings on the Vietnam vets memorial, and questioned my authenticity. But his name is there--June 3, 1969..."

It does put the "woe is me we have an imperfect county newspaper" handwringing in perspective.

Monday, March 22, 2004

How can you get management at an old-fashioned small-town newspaper to engage in dialog?

Fri: it's up, and as coherent as it's likely to get. See March 26 post.
Wed: still no time, and still waiting for clarification, and mind is elsewhere.
Tuesday update: Got permission, but no time, and some things are unresolved. Not tonight.

[Mon.] Evening update: Union editor Richard Somerville has responded; I've asked for permission to post his email in or near its entirety. Also today Jim Hurleyexpresses much the same reaction as mine to the pre-election editorial, although his points are better.

Jay Rosen had an essay in PressThink last week in which he wrote on how rightwing blogger Patterico's automatic negative assumptions about the LA Times were not borne out ("He e-mailed what he knew about news the paper had missed, alerting it: you have a problem of fairness here...")

Sadly, there's a contrast between what Patterico experienced and what some of us have encountered lately from our local newspaper, The Union. Here's what happened with all the people I know who've had dealings with the paper in about the last five weeks:
  1. Upon reading (on Feb. 12) that Grass Valley had approved a request to cut down the city's historic Giant Sequoia, Mahlon and Bobbi Wilkes submitted (on Feb. 17) an Other Voices column opposing this decision, extolling the history and significance of the tree ("...the sequoia on Neal Street appears to be surpassed in size by only one other planted sequoia in the world, one growing near Madrid..."). Unfortunately, however, "The Union held [the article] for two and a half weeks after we submitted it -- until the tree was cut down (March 2) -- before deigning to publish it." (March 5) and "No, we heard nothing [from The Union, after sending them the article] until it was published".

  2. One person submitted a letter which got published without incident.

  3. Another person sent a letter, via The Union's "letters submission" webpage, before the announced deadline for pre-election letters, but his letter was neither acknowledged nor published. From subsequent correspondence:
    [Submitter asks what happened:]
    I thought your policy was to run all the letters. Anyway, is there some particular reason mine didn't run?

    [The Union's representative responds:]
    We always call to verify the letters before we put them into the paper. If not, we might not have received it...

    [Submitter persists:]
    Is there anyway to tell if the letter got there? Or, if one shouldn't submit over the internet? I'd be a [lot] more comfortable if I knew someone didn't zap the letter because they disagreed.

    [as of six days later, no reply from newspaper representative]
  4. After the publication - three days before the election - of an (unfair and misleading, in my opinion) editorial (post about it, including text of my email with questions, here), I sent a total of four emails over two weeks, from two separate email accounts, to Union publisher Jeff Ackerman asking for progressively less and less explanation (final one: "Please acknowledge that you have received this and the previous emails - for ex. by replying with just an ACK in the subject line, if you don't want to engage in that I can know that you have received them."); Mr. Ackerman did not acknowledge any of these emails. (Editor Richard Somerville did reply to the email I sent him, but did not answer any of my questions.)

    (For background on the editorial - please follow the links and judge for yourself if [what I find to be] the most egregious section ("...Olivia Diaz's recent mailer misuses partial quotes by her opponent, Nate Beason...") seems fair and reasonable to you:
    Here's a representative sample Beason column, responding to these columns by Larry Shumaker and Hank Starr. If you want more details and links on difference between candidate now and pre-candidate then, see the Straight Talk post)

    I'd really like to get responses from The Union's editorial board as to what they think the ground rules for a fair campaign should be - particularly on this:
    When a candidate does grossly misrepresent himself in an attempt to fool the voters, who has the responsibility to bring this to light, and how? Or is it always wrong to, in Olivia Diaz's words, "let people know what the other guy is doing"?

    Anybody have ideas as to how I could get answers? If they were interested in fostering a constructive community dialog, wouldn't "what's ethical and fair in campaigning for and holding public office" be an extraordinarily valuable topic for discussion?

The Union is owned by Swift Newspapers. From the Swift Newspapers website:
With commitment to integrity
We bring light to truth
Excellence to endeavor
And strength to community
How do we get our newspaper to be like that?

I will be emailing Union publisher Jeff Ackerman and editor Richard Somerville alerting them to this post, and I hope to update it with their responses. I don't want to be unfair or to slam them; I do want Nevada County to get a newspaper that's a constructive and civilizing influence on our community, and while The Union has improved a lot in the last year or so, it isn't quite there yet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Heard by the Shifted Librarian:
"We're in a room full of Lisa Simpsons, but the world is full of Barts." - Stephen Abrams (approximate quote)

"85% of kids under age 25 have an IM account, usually more than one. They're having conversations on the web. When they get into the workforce, they are not going to want to get letters from their librarians." - Stephen Abrams
Lewis says of the parents of a Net Gen kid, "Technology had made them immigrants."
During my first fieldwork in Zimbabwe, I was intensely phobic about domestic service...I knew that domestic workers in southern Africa were exploited. So I was determined to wash all my own clothes and clean my own apartment...
The family who lived in the small home behind my apartment building had a different opinion about domestic service, since they provided it for everyone else in the building. From their perspective, I was a selfish prick.
One of the many, many things that the ...current administration appears incapable of learning is that our soft power is a great deal harder and more powerful than our hard power. If China is a partner rather than an adversary in fifty years, it will not be because of the 82nd Airborne Division, it will be because the economic, social, and cultural links between the U.S. and China are so strong that its politics will have reshaped themselves to some degree in our image and its people will see how much they have to gain from peace and how much we all have to lose from confrontation.
From Best of the Blogs:
The most overused and overrated word in the political lexicon is "change." All politicians are for it, even those who've been around for a hundred years and have never actually changed anything except their combovers. "Change" is one of those soothing, non-specific words that implies that the candidate promising it feels your pain and is going to do something to make your life better but hasn't quite figured out what that might be yet but will certainly do so should you vote for him or her.
Contempt for reason manifests itself differently on the Right and on the Left. The extreme Left of the spectrum...tends to denigrate truth, reason, and objectivity on (preposterously shaky) theoretical grounds and reject them even as ideals. Consequently, skepticism, relativism, and nihilism are common on the Left. On the right, it is common to pay lip service to the ideals of truth, reason, and objectivity, while in fact blatantly flaunting those ideals.
Reasoning that aims at actually discovering answers is inquiry. Pseudo-reasoning, reasoning that aims at making the strongest possible case for an arbitrarily selected "conclusion" (arbitrarily selected from the perspective of reason, that is) is not inquiry, it is, rather, debate. Debate is bad enough, since, as a contest, it encourages participants to refuse to admit when they are in error, thus basically eliminating any possibility of progress. Debate as entertainment is even worse, since it tends to exaggerate the worst aspects of debate. It encourages conflict and incivility and discourages the kind of extended, calm give-and-take that is required by real political inquiry.
Jay Rosen commenting in here: way of judging whether there is an "enemies" discourse going on is whether clear areas of agreement are, in fact, noted when they exist, or ignored.

nurturing civic discourse

I've been thinking about Carl Zimmer's fMRI article (see Thurs. post below) on the difference between "gut level" decisions and ones based on logical reasoning, and the problem that our guts are equally vociferous but much less trustworthy when in a new environment that they weren't designed for, and that, particularly in this new environment, my gut and your gut seem to want to go mano a mano. How do you successfully engage with people whose gut level decisions are different from yours, to make rational decisions as a community?

The straw Deborah Tannen "you just don't understand" response would be "you all need to make an effort to understand each other". Which would be fine, if we all did it, but as with men and women's conversation, the bulk of the effort made tends to be unilateral.

There's a very simple little book called "Getting to Yes" from the Harvard Negotiation project, that offers some guidance. Much of what the authors say boils down to "you and your counterpart need to get into a space where you're working together on a problem, where you're not seeing each other as enemies or competitors, where your viscera aren't fighting each other, where you're thinking rationally and creatively about possible solutions". And one of the things they say is, in order to get into that kind of constructive working relationship, if you can't agree on the issues, then you take a step back and try to agree together on the process for negotiating on the issues - the ground rules, as it were. In light of the fMRI work it make sense that this would help, because by taking that step back you're becoming less viscerally involved, you're able to think more calmly and clearly.

In the same vein - can't remember what "how to be a more mature human being" book I saw this in, a long time ago - when you're a parent faced with a child who's erupting emotionally, author said you should try to fire up Junior's logical brain by asking him questions that require that he actually think about what he's doing in order to answer, and that this shift (at least in the book, where author has the power to make all anecdotes come out successfully) calms him down into a more rational frame of mind.

In discussing politics, this would mean elevating the discussion to hypotheticals - what would make you seriously rethink your opinions, what are your values, and if your values were applied what kind of a world will result? e.g. if we shouldn't support a candidate who's against the kind of growth that created his neighborhood, how will good planning ever come to that area?

However there is a fly in the ointment, namely that while shifting the discussion to a more abstract level would work on the kind of personality that tends toward being reflective, in the case of many other personality types, those who are possessed by them would just run screaming for the hills (or screaming at your face) if you were to attempt this.

Actually, seeing as how we are in the hills up here, it could explain a lot.

Monday, March 15, 2004

We teach what we most need to learn

- or, hypocrisy begins at home

Sean Bonner (via Doc), after getting e-insults for posting links to factual information on America for Sale:
I would love to start a website with several bloggers from the left, and several from the right who were committed to discussing the issues at hand, rationally, with intelligent back and forth, and facts to back up their claims but I don't know if I can find people to do it. I would love to read a blog like that, but where is it?'s a pretty sad state of affairs that the default response to hearing something you don't agree with is to insult whoever said it, rather than talking to them to find out what makes them feel that way, and trying to explain what makes you feel the way you do.
Problem is, the only people who think they can learn from a discussion with unlike-minded people are liberals.
This lofty and self-serving observation brought to you by someone who has run a "broadcast-only", no-comments weblog for over a year now....

Hence NCFocus is bravely going where almost all other weblogs have gone before -
So -
If you're capable of calm and rational discussion, if you're able to back up your assertions with evidence - note the new "Comments" link at end of the post. Please to read and abide by the provisional Comments Policy at bottom of sidebar, and to keep in mind that this is a weblog - not a cockpit, not Lions and Christians, not hand-to-gut combat - and only contribute your thoughts if you can do so with a cool, rational, and open mind. i.e. you probably don't want to be someone Timothy Burke describes here:
...I think most of the [ZZZs] have backed themselves into the same predicament: there is nothing that could ever falsify their case, nothing that would make them re-think, no event or information that would require a careful reconsideration of their arguments...

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Friday, March 12, 2004

"evil doesn't exist on a neuronal level"

Long, fascinating, very worthwhile Carl Zimmer article on neuromorality as revealed by fMRI on people faced with moral quandaries:
Most of us would like to believe that when we say something is right or wrong, we are using our powers of reason alone. But Greene argues that our emotions also play a powerful role in our moral judgments, triggering instinctive responses that are the product of millions of years of evolution. "A lot of our deeply felt moral convictions may be quirks of our evolutionary history," he says.

[Hume said] people call an act good not because they rationally determine it to be so, but because it makes them feel good. They call an act bad because it fills them with disgust.
[Greene:] "[In contrast, when we do logical thinking] We're using our brains [dorsolateral prefrontal cortex] to make decisions about things that evolution hasn't wired us up for"

..."When you have this understanding, you have a bit of distance between yourself and your gut reaction," he says. "You may not abandon your core values, but it makes you a more reasonable person. Instead of saying, 'I am just right and you are just nuts,' you say, 'This is what I care about, and we have a conflict of interest we have to work around.'"
In his weblog The Loom, Zimmer applies this info to Bush's Council on Bioethics:
Kass [the head] has written in the past about how we should base our moral judgments in part on what he calls "the wisdom of repugnance." In other words, the feeling you get in your bones that something is wrong is a reliable guide to what really is wrong. The Council on Bioethics ...have declared that happiness exists to let us recognize what is good in life, while real anger and sadness reveal to us what is evil and unjust.
...Jonathan Cohen...suggested that we need to understand that moral intuitions are not automatically moral truths--particularly when they're applied to complicated ethical quandaries about science and technology that our ancestors never had to confront.
and a commenter draws an excellent parallel.

Update: it also fits with this from Alterman:
A professor once asked my class to assume he could prove that more lives would be saved if we took all the money spent on coal mine rescue equipment and spent it on preventing cave-ins in the first place. Would we do it? The answer was no -- "there's a peculiar kind of horror" (his phrase) of being buried alive with no hope of rescue. There's a not-happy medium between pure utilitarianism in what research we fund and the need to "do something" and provide some hope.

It also sheds light on thePuzzle of Imaginative Resistance-[from Tamar Gendler paper]: the puzzle of explaining our comparative difficulty in imagining fictional worlds that we take to be morally deviant

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Link globally, think locally

The dawn of a new age - in OJR, weblogs casting sunshine on the workings of editorial boards, taking "one giant leap toward openness" -
The Dallas Morning News editorial board leads the way with a group weblog:
"[The blog] shows the reader how we reach our decisions," Willey told me. "We argue about things and we arm-wrestle and we dispute one another. [Readers] like to see that what appears in the paper is the result of an exercise. We get enormously positive reader feedback. Even in instances where people disagree with our point of view, they say, 'We like your openness, it helps us understand how you reach your point of view..'"
As newspapers fight for readership and relevance in an increasingly segmented media audience, the time is right for editorial boards to make deeper connections to the readers they serve. It will take effort...but the payoff will be an informed citizenry and an engaged Web audience.
Note that "engaged" is spelled with 2 g's, and no r.

From Tim Porter:
The irony is that the greatest threat to newspapers' struggle for continued relevance may be not the new media companies, but members of the disenfranchised public who cannot find the news they want or need in their local paper so they're, to borrow from Scoop Nisker, going out and making some of their own.
newspapers will live or die on how well they reflect and connect to their communities.
In the 'Likewise for local radio' department, Tom Mangan comments-
Boggles my mind how obvious it is that local news is the only guaranteed niche we have, yet so many papers...think they must have all this national sure seems a lot of our energy devoted to nation/world coverage might be better diverted into local.
Citizen Journalism is alive and well in Madison, Wisconsin - "All it takes is one citizen who cares... and a keyboard.", says Jeff Jarvis (also see his Citizens media meets bulldog journalism; finds the future of news)

Chapter 1 draft of Dan Gillmor's We Media

MIT Media Lab Offers a Simple Recipe for Publishing Homegrown News: (via)
Veteran journalist Jack Driscoll's research group has teamed up with senior centers and schools around the world to teach would-be journalists how to write and publish community news. The program gives participants simple online publishing tools -- and a few key lessons in how to be reporters and editors.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

of mouths opened in wisdom and in foolishness

Jan. Boston Globe Ideas article on town meetings:
Real democracy, Bryan insists, is what the ancient Athenians did -- citizens coming together under one roof to debate and resolve their problems face-to-face, not simply going to the polls to elect leaders. It's also what New Englanders do each year at town meetings across the region.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn [praised] the town meeting of Cavendish, the "sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy where the local population decides most of its problems on its own, not waiting for higher authorities"...H.L. Mencken, on the other hand, called town meetings the source of "some of the most idiotic decisions ever come to mortal man."
the legacy of town meetings explain[s] why New England is at or near the top of the nation in many measures of "civic capital" -- including social tolerance, voting rates, and charitable contributions.
[beware of reporters:]
"I have in my files hundreds of pictures of town meetings," [unwary person speaking to reporter] says. "Just pick one out at random and look at the people sitting there. You see -- I'm not sure I should say this, maybe you shouldn't quote me -- people with no teeth, you see fat people, you see rednecks, you see people in suits, L.L. Bean-types who just moved into town. You tell me they aren't `the People."'

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Sorry about the emetic

letters from the Free Republic - compilation and commentary:
(if you think the commentary is biased, go read the letters)
...the Left consciously defends and represents such ideals as equality, fraternity, sorority, liberty, tolerance, compassion -- whether it lives up to them or not -- and this somewhat hampers its rhetorical style in the hate department. The grassroots hardline Right, as we see here, labours under no such handicap.
The rightwing demagogues promote this kind of hate-fest almost as ...inviting their "friends" to the next scheduled public stoning or hanging, as it were. It's both an entertainment and a ritual, like cock-fighting or bear-baiting. Like cock-fighting and bear-baiting it is a ritual closely linked to essentialist notions about masculinity and male pride...
(via TNH, whose particles are a fount of invariably excellent links - for comic relief, try the (long) goats eating gingerbread, for ex.:
"...if you pick [goats] up legs down, like cats, they crane their heads back with gentle curiosity, and thus gore you in the face with their little horns...Alternately, you can pick them up and hold them upside down, legs up in the air. This is even worse, because it puts them in prime kissing position, and their lips go exploring your face. Lifting goats is like invading Middle Eastern countries -- whether they stab you or kiss you, there's no winning.."

Monday, March 08, 2004

here's to Right Christians and oldmen

The Right Christians look at sexual mores in the Bible (via)

Found loitering over in Brad DeLong's comments, the oldman, who appears to have garnered more than his share of wisdom -
...neither ['equality of outcome' nor 'equality of opportunity'] has ever existed. The key is to create a redistribution function that maintains social mobility between haves and have-nots based upon talent and effort. Also at stake is that emphemereal concept of egalitarianism. Essentially, no one should be regarded as intrinsically superior whatever the inequality of extrinsic outcomes.
From his website here:
As an old-time Republican from a family of Republicans from a politically conservative area, I have to say that at this point I'd rather vote for a yellow dog than vote for GW Bush. I don't hate Bush. His father got my vote. In '96 Dole was looking good compared to Clinton. However in 2000, the oldman weighed the balance of outcomes and held his nose and voted Democrat for the first time in his entire life...

Sunday, March 07, 2004


Crooked Timber comparing (and finding much similarity in) the controversies over Irish divorces and U.S. same-sex marriages:
The rhetoric of the Irish divorce debate (legalized in 1995) is strikingly similar to what we're hearing today about gay marriage in the United States
in terms of sheer pressure on the social order, the legalization of divorce is a much more serious event than the prospect of gay marriage. Civil divorce reconfigures property rights, redistributes assets and income, creates a multiplicity of new kin ties and makes one of the most important life choices much more open-ended for everyone. And on each of these dimensions, legalizing divorce directly and indirectly affects far more people than legalizing gay marriage.
In comments:
as I remember the 1986 referendum on divorce, it failed largely because of fears among the farming community about inheritance rights. The worry (whipped up by the anti crowd) was that after a divorce, the ungrateful, interloping ex-wife would get half the farm. And there is no force as conservative as a threatened land-owner.
via same thread, account of a documentary on Irish antidivorce activist group:
The result was a fascinating documentary which brought Scully to public prominence for the first time, and which ended with one of the most memorable lines in recent Irish television history. It was Una Bean Nic Mhathuna's count day retort to a pro-divorce activist: he and his colleagues were nothing more than ''a bunch of wife-swapping sodomites''.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Never Apologize, Never Explain

Eric Alterman takes note of Mooney's piece (post below) with a fine one of his own summarizing Mooney's reporting of irrationality and hubris on the editorial page: would think those honest analysts who placed their faith in the administration's arguments for war and its ability to carry out a successful plan for Iraqi reconstruction would rethink that support as a result. This would be particularly true, one would imagine, for the editorial voices of America's major newspapers, whose roles in their respective communities -to say nothing of their charges under the First Amendment-depend on their established record for honesty and clear-sightedness. Alas, based on a thorough examination of the arguments of the editorial pages of four major U.S. newspapers by the journalist Chris Mooney in the new issue of Columbia Journalism Review, those newspapers that supported the Bush administration not only failed their readers during the run-up to the war; they have failed them ever since it ended as well.
...During the debate over the war, the [Washington Post] adopted the McCarthyite tactic-much in favor at the Journal as well-of accusing those who thought Bush's war plans [were unwise] to be "standing with Saddam."
We got a bit of that here at home too.

As for editorials closer to home, I'm still waiting to hear from The Union publisher Jeff Ackerman (for unknown reasons, could be email delivery failure due to Netsky B virus attack timing) answering my questions; editor Richard Somerville has responded with the succinct statement "The editorial speaks for itself".

I could use some help on the translation though, preferably into this language ("Imagine how different politics would be if debates were conducted in Tariana, an Amazonian language in which it is a grammatical error to report something without saying how you found it out") - which shares much with science language (with footnotes) and weblog language (with links). Not, alas, with newspaper editorial language.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

We ought to do this more often

Excellent analysis by Chris Mooney of major newspapers' editorials from a year ago on the leadup to war:
of the six papers we studied, for the most part, the ones that supported war also accepted Bush's justifications for it.
The Wall Street Journal - whose editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, declined to be interviewed for this article - pushed questionable al Qaeda theories the hardest. ...
In examining the generally dismissive reactions to the UN's chief nuclear inspector, one comes face to face with the strongly nationalistic character of many U.S. editorial pages' writings in the run-up to war with Iraq. As the Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, a dissenter from his paper's editorial stance on Iraq, put it during the weeks preceding war, "Here in America, there is general agreement that we are right and everybody else on Earth is wrong."
The article is covered here too:
The only national news organization that emerges the low-profile Washington bureau of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain--which includes the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News.
What do the editorial page editors say in their own defense? "We don't discuss the process that goes into writing the editorials," ... "I do wish we'd been more skeptical of Powell's WMD claims before the UN." Others remain faithful to their own discredited narratives.
it was too little, too late: When we needed [the press] most, they weren't there. CJR gave the last word to the intelligence writer Thomas Powers. "All these papers are on notice," Powers ["highly respected writer on intelligence issues for The New York Review of Books and author of Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to al-Qaeda"] said. "They've seen what happened. They were hustled."
Also from the Mooney article:
In Powers's recent NYRB article "The Vanishing Case for War," he reached this jaw-dropping conclusion:
In the six months since the President declared an end to major combat in Iraq not a single one of the factual claims about Iraqi weapons and links to al-Qaeda has been robustly confirmed, and in most cases there has been no confirmation of any kind whatsoever.

stem cell update

100 bioethicists speak out against the sacking of May and Blackburn

17 new stem cell lines, albeit only for privately funded research.

After five minutes of long and arduous thought, I have come up with the solution to the stem cell controversy - make the federal funding voluntary. We already have a checkbox on our income tax forms to direct $1 of our taxes to the presidential campaign fund; have a second one for embryonic stem cell research. And, when this research yields cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes etc, reserve the 'tainted' cures for those persons who checked the box.

Update (why are we not surprised):
Washington Post article quoted in Amygdala:
Asked why Blackburn and May had been let go, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the two members' terms had expired in January, and they were on "holdover status." Asked whether, in fact, all the council members' terms had formally expired in January, she said they had.

Pressed on why Blackburn and May had been singled out for dismissal, she said: "We've decided to go ahead and appoint other individuals with different expertise and experience." She would not elaborate further.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

On stem cell research

When new science ignites a firestorm - very nice piece in S.F. Chronicle, putting it into personal and historical context.

Talking to bioethicist William F. May (recently sacked by Bush) on priorities:(via)
...he does say that religious conservatives need to understand that one valid principle can collide with another.
He recalled what [May's] own doctor said to him about the question of stem-cell research.

"Bill," May recounted, "if you're in a burning building with a freezer full of hundreds of pre-implanted embryos and with a 2-year-old child, and you had to pick one or the other, which would you save?"

Monday, March 01, 2004

Echoes in the broader world

Haiku recipe for political rickets (not sure the link is still good):
bring discourse to boil
strain substance and set aside
garnish with discord
Slacktivist on schoolhouse logic:
...Mikey, one of your students, comes running into your office, visibly upset. You ask him what's the matter.

Mikey tells you that one of the other students, George, beat up his little sister as part of a racket in which he's been stealing lunch money from the first graders.

"I hate that guy," Mikey says, looking like he means it. "He oughtta be expelled."

So you send Mikey back to class and you call George into your office to confront him point blank about the accusations.

"Who told you that?" George asks, "Mikey? You can't trust what he says about me. He hates me. He thinks I oughtta be expelled."
If you're a good principal, you'll realize that you can't sort this out sitting at your desk pondering abstractions and getting "balanced" quotes from both sides to ensure fairness. The issue is not who said what, but the substance of the charges.
From Nate over at Dan Gillmor's -
It's a common dishonest argumentative technique, used by all sides in all contexts when you don't have an answer for the key issues, to pick on small errors on the edges while ignoring the elephant in the middle.

That's what the anti-[X] crowd is doing. Unable to face up to the [elephant], they are reduced to waving their hands and saying, "Oooh, look at this error over here."
I've seen this technique used over and over again. The most effective rebuttal is either to ...keep on pounding away with facts ... or confront...with variations of, "Yes, but you ignored the main point of the article. Please respond to that."
From Busy Busy Busy, the Shorter Charles Krauthammer on The Democrats' Smear Race:
Democrats ruthlessly critique Mr. Bush's policies and actions, making him look bad, yet they say Republicans are mean!
Name that religion -
Andrew Sullivan shares the spiritual teachings of Mel Gibson
(and, speaking of spiritual teachings...)