Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Spirit, NCFocus style

The NCFocus news team wishes to apologize for giving the driver in front of us the finger this afternoon, in the parking lot at SPD.

And we wish to supersize our apology, since as it transpired, the driver's action did not even merit irritation, much less said finger.

that's one of the nice things about blogging, you can get apologies off your chest. Another one goes out to the Nursery Street Open House sellers from ~1989, for actions too shameful to be documented here, but which I fear they might remember as well as I.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

NCFocus archive as a Table

(modified from Anil Dash's, via Tim Bray)

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
  Jan Jan Jan Jan
Feb Feb Feb Feb Feb
Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar
Apr Apr Apr Apr Apr
May May May May May
Jun Jun Jun Jun Jun
Jul Jul Jul Jul Jul
  Aug Aug Aug Aug
Sep Sep Sep Sep Sep
Oct Oct Oct Oct Oct
Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov
Dec Dec Dec Dec Dec

NC blog aggregation

I'm trying out Suprglu as an aggregator for the active NC blogs that I'm aware of. It's not ideal, still need a way to ensure that no more than the first few lines of a post will appear.
One way would be for the various blogs' owners (Jeff, Doug, Martin...) to change their feed settings....

(FYI, don't bother trying to leave comments on Ski The Far Stars as they seem to go into a black hole)

still need to add: sesf, broadband of brothers; what else?
(and if any of you don't want to be part of the aggregation, let me know.)

but i thought it was supposed to update - yet hours later it's still not showig this post. Maybe it only updates infrequently?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thursday tedium-Commercial influence and the news

Sat. update appended.


For the record, I am not always Barbara Coffman's mouthpiece, and asking questions doesn't always mean I have the answers. I just want the issues discussed in a somewhat more straightforward manner. All the same, this case doesn't merit such a lengthy and detailed and tedious and relatively pointless treatment, so if you are a normal human being whose time has value, you shouldn't have to suffer through it; go read something else.

The Union has been raising plumes of steam from ears in Java John's recently, and for a change the ears are not mine.

Today's column by The Union Readership Editor Dixie Redfearn recounted an incident I'm somewhat familiar with, having heard the other side. It brings up questions.

From Dixie's column:
The role of a newspaper is to be the official record of what happens in a community. ... Sometimes the news isn't pleasant... remember, don't kill the messenger. We aren't committing the crime. We're telling the community about it.

One recent example is our coverage of the merchants in downtown Nevada City and the BID/Chamber of Commerce issue. If merchants weren't fighting with one another, urging boycotts and calling the police, we wouldn't be writing about it. Because it is an unpleasant topic, should we sweep it under the rug and pretend everyone gets along fine? Where is the truth in that?

Recently, a public official came into The Union office to ask that we delay printing a story that was in the works. There was nothing in the story that wasn't true. The official felt that because it dealt with the BID/Chamber issue, the story running on Wednesday might put a damper on that evening's Victorian Christmas.
"[people] should deal with bad news in ways more creative than clobbering the messenger."

Shorter Dixie Redfearn:
1. Reporting even bad news is good.
2. Therefore criticizing the paper for how it covers a conflict is misguided, it's akin to "killing the messenger".
3. Asking that the paper delay printing a negative story is misguided because ...? (it's akin to hobbling the messenger?)

Some questions for Dixie and/or The Union editor Jeff Pelline, who may be responsible for this column.
(tried calling Dixie to ask, but she's working at home today)

First, for transparency of authorship:
Was this column actually written by Dixie?
If so, was it printed substantially as Dixie wrote it?
Was the column Jeff P's idea?
Were the points in it dictated by Jeff P?

Second, the content.
Is the above "shorter Dixie Readfearn" 3-point summary accurate?
(and did I infer #3 correctly?)

If so, could we look at them one by one...

SDR#1. Reporting even bad news is good.
Agreed, generally.

SDR#2. Therefore criticizing the paper for how it covers a conflict is misguided, it's akin to "killing the messenger".
("If merchants weren't fighting with one another, urging boycotts and calling the police, we wouldn't be writing about it. Because it is an unpleasant topic, should we sweep it under the rug and pretend everyone gets along fine?...' with bad news in ways more creative than clobbering the messenger.'")

Can you think of ways of covering conflict that would deserve criticism?
(if you report on an incident, and everything you report is true, can the report still be irresponsible?)

(for example, what if it's reported in a he-said-she-said fashion, giving equal weight to "both sides" without making an effort to determine where the truth lies?)

for extra credit: what's meant by the expression "let's you and he fight"?

In Anchorage, we used to ask ourselves this question: If a Martian was coming to visit and had read a month's worth of the Daily News in advance, what would she expect to find?

Too often, our honest answer was, "a lot of really violent people who love to attend meetings."(*)
SDR#3. Asking that the paper delay printing a negative story is misguided...
("Recently, a public official came into The Union office to ask that we delay printing a story that was in the works. ...")

The "public official" was Nevada City councilmember Barbara Coffman; she asked that the story be delayed for one day, so that visitors on Victorian Christmas wouldn't see it on the front page of the local paper.

The column failed to mention that the requested delay was for just one day.
Does it seem relevant to you that the delay was this short, and that it would not meaningfully impact residents?
(Should a small town paper make small(?) commercial concessions like this, or would that be a slippery slope best avoided?
Addressing this question would be more valuable than conflating "delay for a day" with "don't publish".)

Also literally true but somewhat misleading:
> "...came into The Union office to ask..."

A minor quibble, but "called The Union to ask" would really be more accurate. Barbara said she phoned Jeff P to ask for the delay, and got his voicemail. When Jeff returned her call he requested that she come in, which she then did.
In other words, she didn't stomp down to the paper, pound her fist on the table and demand change; she came by in response to Jeff P's request.

And she's a bit steamed because - if I understand correctly - she had been led to believe that Wednesday's paper would be positive in its Nevada City coverage, but she didn't perceive it as having turned out that way.
(take with salt; there've been misunderstandings before.)


Our Armchair Opinion at NCFocus:

The NCFocus editorial board is quite uncomfortable skating this close to defending an attempt to wield commercial influence on the news side of the paper; on the other hand, we unanimously believe that Dixie's column
a) should have mentioned the extent of the 'transgression' (a one-day delay seems minor);
b) could have stated whether The Union's policy is to avoid such commercial concessions regardless of their magnitude; and
c) should _not_ have presented a false dichotomy between 1) reporting "all sweetness and light" and 2) engaging in the practice of hosting he-said-she-said cockfights. There are other options.


Update (added Sat. pm):
Emailed a heads-up re the questions in this post to editor Jeff Pelline and readership editor Dixie Redfearn; they both replied to the email, but neither answered the questions.
Also posted a heads-up and URL as an online comment to the column, but my comment did not appear. Comments are pre-moderated, so I infer that mine did not meet The Union's unwritten standards.

Paper did however publish an article today giving more context, about the history of Grass Valley's BID; at the outset it got as mixed a reception as NC's is getting now.

(Background on the news topic, for out of towners - BID=Business Improvement District (a new one in Nevada City, a decades-old one in our sibling city Grass Valley); some turf wars with NC's Chamber of Commerce; some business owners don't want to pony up the additional fees; issues of taxation and representation; free rider issues; property rights issues; loudest opponent making noises about how he's going to get a concealed weapons permit, etc. In other words it's just your basic Nevada County disagreement.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Once more, with feeling

Update: Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, what has happened to your mind? Suing the reporter (and a hair stylist) does not make you look good.

For those of you who love deja vu -
Santa Barbara Smackdown, a long, thorough AJR article documenting owner Wendy McCaw's abuses of power at the Santa Barbara News-Press. Because it's a standalone paper rather than a chain*, the management and staff had little reason to leave silently, so her actions were widely reported.

In her few public pronouncements, McCaw has blamed the turmoil on "disgruntled ex-employees" ...
...after buying the paper from the New York Times Co. in 2000 and promising to have no role in newsgathering, McCaw began whacking away, her lieutenants firing one editor after another, presiding over the dismissal or resignation of five publishers in five years...
Under McCaw, a Libertarian, News-Press editorials evolved from respectful, cautious, reasonably argued pieces to raucous assaults. ...

and more: 11-year veteran who lost her column in August after publicly declaring her support for the newsroom and the union...gave Scott Steepleton her resignation letter, said, "Fuck you" and walked out. Huff issued a press release scolding [her] for her "use of profanity"...

(via Tom Abate)

Doc Searls toured the News-Press in 2003, in a better time:
Our tour guide, the photo editor of the paper, talked about how hard it is to get new subscribers when so many readers were getting their news elsewhere, or just seemed to give too small a shit. Yet he remained no less motivated, for the simple reason that daily papers remain highly civilizing forces for the regions they serve, and he felt privileged to be part of one.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

Such a handsome young man...

(Updated below, and edited for clarity and accuracy)

...going door to door on an early weekday afternoon, peddling a homemade cleaner in refillable spray bottles

...knocking on door of a house where the shades were all drawn

...not trying the neighbors next door, nor those I asked from further up the street*.

Polite and friendly too.

Lacking a larcenous background, I have no experience, so must ask: how likely is it that he was legit?

I did call the police dept; got the sheriff's dispatcher, asked if this was something worth reporting - the answer is apparently not, unless he lacks the required peddler's license(?).

Do door-to-door evangelists need a license? If not, that'd seem a more prudent method of doing pre-burglary research.

(and do the legitimate evangelists evangelize alone, or do they always work in pairs?)

Morning-after update:
Walked across the street to City Hall after coffee and asked, and heard:

1. Yes, sounds like my handsome visitor was legit; someone of same description had come in yesterday and taken out the papers; is from out of town, I believe Sacto area.

2. Unless you're evangelizing for profit, you don't need a license to go door to door proselytizing your religion (which is obvious, in retrospect)

So the only thing left to wonder about is the one-evangelist-vs.-two question, whether they do always travel in pairs/groups when going door to door.

Confidential to reader wondering at the suspicious consider-the-worst mentality evinced here: au contraire, history ("all the data that we have so far") reveals your correspondent to be a clueless blithering idiot. Trust me on this one.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

People I would like to meet

A very incomplete list (fallible memory, narrow mind, some names removed to protect the innocent)
* Press bloggers - DeLong, Rosen, Alexander, Cline, Conovers, and others
* Dave Mitchell
* Gary Webb*
* K.C. Meadows
* Margaret Wade
* Lisa Williams
* the one true b!x
* Chris Cobler
* Arne Hoel
* Fred Sacher
* Howard Ahmanson

Monday, November 27, 2006

Deep thoughts

re the title- it's relative.

Thought #1: Recently ran across an exceedingly apt Aristotelian aphorism*, which I'm trying to wear out from overuse:
It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.

Thought #2: An open question -
I was talking with an old friend yesterday, trying to entice her onto the citizen journalism bandwagon. From a goal-oriented perspective, it did not go well. She said (echoing this MJ article but more pessimistically) -
"Why bother gathering facts? it's abundantly clear that people don't make up their minds based on facts, they just believe whatever they feel like believing, and keep on voting for corrupt candidates - look, even 'cold-cash Jefferson' got re-elected."

I placed the blame for this on the mores of the media (which, were she to join said bandwagon, she'd be helping to reform) -
"The standard he-said-she-said reporting is what's gotten us into this mess - if the press did its job and informed us, and didn't use false balance to maintain the postmodern pretense that all "realities" were equally valid, people would think and act and vote more rationally...and that's a delusion that I'm not ready to give up."

My question for you, dear thoughtful, reflective, not reflexively hostile reader*:

Is there any good, empirical evidence that it's not a delusion? or do we just take on faith, with no awareness of irony, that evidence-based "discipline-of-verification" journalism makes for a (substantially) more rational populace?

Related: Scott Atran's
... no convincing evidence presented that [scientists] know how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life and society other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based.

And if you wanted to collect data bearing on this assertion, where would you look, and how would you tease apart causation from [other reasons for] correlation?

Apologies in advance to Jerry Maguire, but: Show me the data. please.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Followup on the early November power outages

Nov. 27 update at end of post (and in italics within).
Russ Steele's comment on my Nov. 13 "power outages" post exposed the inadequacy of my "dust on the transformers*" attempt at explanation.
Rather than remaining true to blogger nature and quietly changing the subject, I emailed* PG&E spokeswoman Lisa Randle asking for more information.
(which she promptly and extensively provided; either she's extremely generous, or I was lucky and caught her on a slow afternoon, or both.)

However, I think we're still left with a mystery:

In early November, during a one-week period during calm weather, Nevada County experienced three power outages with three different reported causes (one unambiguous, 2 ultimately ambiguous), and Red Bluff had [at least] one with yet a fourth cause. In Nevada County at least, these outages were unusual on several fronts: the mere fact of their occurrence (the power has been extremely reliable the last few years; thank you PG&E), their clustering, and their association with relatively calm weather.

The Nevada County outages and their reported causes:

  1. Sat Nov. 4, about 6pm, the Cascade Shores area east of Nevada City, on a quiet, rain-free night
    L.R.: A sectionalizer had opened causing the outage but the cause was not definitive. The weather at the time was - Strong Winds,Clear;32-90 F. Not having found a specific item like a branch or animal in the line or a vehicle accident, it was most likely weather related due to the wind.

    I don't recall windy weather that evening, and apparently nor does the National Weather Service: on this page, for Nov. 4 for Sacto (are there wind records for Nevada County?):
    426 PM PST SAT NOV 4 2006
    WIND (MPH)

  2. Wed Nov. 8, 4:30 and 4:45pm, in town; an article in The Union reports that it may have been caused by lightning.
    L.R.: This outage was caused by a tree through the line, but at the time I provided information to the reporter this was not known and reports at the time had indicated possibly lightning.

  3. Later that same evening of 11/8, about 11pm, in-town Nevada City, during 'quiet' weather
    L.R.: The Cause was equipment...a fuse had blown. A fuse is a safety device that activate when fault current is detected on the line. It works just like a fuse in your circuit box at your home. It serves to protect other equipment. A line-to-ground fault was noted, but again no specific cause for the equipment action.

I don't know what if anything to make of this cluster of outages (and the seemingly contrafactual report of causal weather conditions for the first one), but it does seem curious.

Ms. Randle also shared some more general info, which will appear on NCDocuments in the next day or so.
Nov 27 update, one week later:
As with creation, a "day" is not always best understood literally.
Asked two more people, so two more data points:
1. According to an anonymous source, Petaluma also experienced an uncharacteristic power outage, back in October.
2. An Alta Sierra source informs us that power was not lost there.

Two relevant quotes (or one relevant and one red herring):
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny..."
- Isaac Asimov

Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right.
- Robert Park

Monday, November 13, 2006

Likely cause of our recent power outages

Last Wednesday's power outages were tentatively attributed in The Union (here) to lightning.
(was there lightning?)

The two comments on the article asked if anything was known about the causes of two other recent unexplained outages, which occurred when there was no weather to speak of.

Nobody responded to us.

My guess is that Nevada County's power outages stem from the same problem reported in Red Bluff recently:
North Valley PG&E spokesperson Lisa Randle said dust and other material from the summer collects in the air and rests on insulators.

Usually, quick, heavy rains are able to remove those contaminants without incident.

But this year, the rainy season started with a drizzle, not with a bang, which gave time for the dust to create a pathway for the electricity.

"Most likely, it was weather-related," she said.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election 2006 aftermath - Relief, kitchen lessons, and ethics

Updated Mon Nov 13.


I wasn't expecting the Dems to take the House and Senate - felt sure the Republican 'false flag' robocall dirty tricks - and the press's late, false-balanced, or absent coverage of them - would let the dirty tricksters walk off with the preponderance of the races in this election too.

Not so. (but it apparently did tip the balance in some races)
Welcome [oops - Ed.], and thank you. There's a lot of work to do.

Another incident of Republican lying and cheating, and some appalling press 'coverage' of the smorgasbord of dirty tricks

Sauce for the gander?

I don't pay enough attention to political maneuverings to do anything more than pass this (from Markos of Daily Kos) along -
[during the Bush administration] Republicans in the Senate and House -- secure in their perpetual majorities -- instituted a long list of policies that dramatically discriminate against the minority party in both chambers. In the House, the minority is all but invisible. And in the Senate, the filibuster is all that's left keeping the minority party from utter irrelevance (and they tried to get rid of that).

Kos is - for the moment at least - relishing the idea of keeping these policies intact and giving the new minority party a taste of its own medicine. The commenters are all over the map* - some agree, some take the "Congressional Dems should do the Right Thing, shouldn't stoop to [existing Repub.] practice" high road.
A couple good points, e.g. this-
Political civility in the halls of Congress ... is self-executing. That means there's no judge to complain to. Good behavior is enforced by making sure that what goes around comes around. In this ['game'] the moral position is to make sure that someone who abuses the process gets punished by having done to them what they did to you. Otherwise they have absolutely no incentive ever to be civil to you because they know they'll pay no penalty if they're not.

and this -
what I really want... is for significant change, for positive things to get done, and that means removing a lot of the bad, bad legislation that has been foisted on the land under this Congress, as well as passing all those things that have been so needed and so brutally repressed.

And the fact is, those anti-minority rules the republicans put in place could make it easier to get things done off the bat - as well as teach the right a much needed lesson.

So...Serve them with a dose of their own medicine while getting the top things on the agenda DONE. Then think about magnanimously changing the rules back to the way that worked all those years. And think about it publicly, transparently, with plenty of examination of what went wrong. The American people could use a few civics lessons.

Sounds good, but all the same it makes me nervous. We've seen how one-party rule does corrupt*; so how, once the Dems had experienced the ease of 'getting things done' without effective Republican opposition, would they decide that it was time to give up that power?
it feels too much like Bush et al saying "we'll give you your civil liberties back a few decades from now, when the War on Terrorism is over".

On the other hand, the press could serve here; a press to whom Lewinsky was major news would likely pay much closer attention to anti-minority-party tactics if used by Dems, so would likely serve as a Fourth Estate check on the Dem majority much better than they did on the Republican one.
(yea press - better a good ump half the time than not at all.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

why I'm not here

Russ Steele asked wtf is up here at NCFocus, besides, well, nothing.
("Tomorrow is 30 day of silence. Lets hear about what is being discussed at Java John's."*)

answer: I'm pretty much in overwhelm mode. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there comes a point when even I can see that I'm preaching to exactly two congregations - the converted, and the unreachable.

via Xark (and former Republican Kos), "still think of myself as a Republican" conservative blogger John Cole:
...I think the whole party has been hijacked by frauds and religionists and crooks and liars and corporate shills, and it frustrates me to no end to see my former friends enabling them, and I wonder 'Why can't they see what I see?" I don't think I am crazy, I don't think my beliefs have changed radically...

I hate getting up in the morning, surfing the news, and finding more and more evidence that my party is nothing but a bunch of frauds. ...
Bush has been a terrible President. The past Congresses have been horrible- spending excessively, engaging in widespread corruption, butting in to things they should have no say in ..., refusing to hold this administration accountable for ANYTHING, and using wedge issues to keep themselves in power at the expense of gays, etc. And I don't know why my friends on the right still keep fighting for these guys to stay in power.

I don't know either. But they're still doing it.


Russ, here's what you missed today at Java John's - one blogger, holding newspaper* up in front of face for privacy while fishing in pocket for kleenex, reading Tom Engelhardt's SF Chron article about Riverbend's blog in Iraq.


The Republican "Hello, I'm calling with information about [Democratic candidate]" dirty-trick robocall scam is being perpetrated nationwide ("The calls are designed to appear to be coming from Democratic candidates and seem to be targeted at Democratic and independent households across the nation...")

Pathetic, desperate sleazebags.

extremely illuminating graph (from this post) showing overwhelming predominance of negative Republican robocall spending

And do not miss this piece from Lex, on what's behind the anger against Bush. (no, it's not personal animosity, nor "politics as usual".)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

In which we are a Source: profile on The Union's former editor

The cover story in the Humboldt County North Coast Journal's Oct. 5 issue profiles The Union's former editor R.S., who was here from fall 2002 through December 2004.

Last week one of the reporters sent an email asking what, as a reader of The Union, I had observed during this period.

I said is very interesting now, to be in this position in the journo 'manufacturing' process ... usual position is standing outside pointing finger and saying 'why don't you get the real story?'

A difference of perspectives can do wonders for understanding... My first impulse was to mutter "why me" and hastily redirect her elsewhere.
(like I said, it does wonders...)

But it was clearly time to put up or shut up, so I answered her.

and also said:
if I'm not comfortable with how the story comes out, I'll want to post the gist of [my response]* on my blog. ...

May end up posting it, or some of it, on NC Documents within the next day or two. Not because I'm unhappy with the outcome, really, just that it's so...incomplete.

The story's balanced. Very balanced.

do sources always have this reaction?

[RS on the newspaper building] "...we can put skylights in there and maybe shed some light on things. So that would be great. At least we would get some sunlight in."

Skylights? The anecdote seems telling, but it's hard to say what it tells. There are several potential Somervilles it indicates, each of them with some precedent in the man's career...
"...I was getting the itch to go back in the newsroom again. I was looking for a paper that was looking for an editor that wanted to do some of this stuff. And I preferred a smaller paper. A community paper."

At that time, The Union, a 140-year-old paper in Nevada County, Calif., was undergoing tremendous change. ...
Anna Haynes, a blogger in Nevada County ( said by e-mail last week that she has Somerville to thank for turning her into "a journalism junkie." It was September 2002, and the paper had just gone through a summer with a new publisher and no editor, a period in which, she said, the paper was "a "referee-free" zone ... "with the publisher egging people on ... and so I think there was a collective sigh of relief when [Somerville] came on board. I saw him as a voice for civility in the community, I found his columns on journalism interesting," she said.

Sure, she had her criticisms. But, she said, Somerville "had to work with a fractious publisher and a fractious community," in which a "major power struggle" was going on surrounding development issues. And perhaps, she surmised, the problems she saw were just the nature of small-town newspapers.

For now, an observation (which doesn't exactly pertain to this article; the NCJ reporter's question was open-ended) from Language Log:
The journalists already know what the stories are. Their questions are not designed to discover any new facts or ideas, but rather to get quotes that will fit in to designated places in the frameworks of logic and rhetoric that they have already erected.

The selection of different parts of my response to quote would have made for a dramatically different end result.

Two observations:
  • Stories are much cleaner than realities. But maybe the writers have to shape the realities, else the stories would be too pointless and painful and sprawling to read. Our minds want/need a nice spiffed-up interface to reality.

  • Deciding what to say in response to an open-ended interview question is like deciding which direction and how sharply to turn the wheel, when you're driving blind - you know (or at least retain the illusion) that what you say will affect the outcome, but you don't know how to orient your contribution, to keep the result on the road.
    I thought the story'd be heading into the gully, so was pulling firmly to the left, and when it came to a stop the story was over on the left shoulder.*
    no oncoming traffic, fortunately...
Many thanks to the NCJ reporters for including the NCFocus URL.

  • Previous, very brief North Coast Journal mention of RS here.

  • To my reader who's come flooding in from Eureka: hello, and if you prefer gore and dismemberment to balance, try the "some of my many gripes about the paper" links near the bottom of the sidebar, on your left; this post gives an overview.

  • Disclosure, re extent of my connections to RS -
    I never met or spoke to him while he was editor of The Union, but we did correspond a fair amount by email (not printed in story: "like I said previously, S was orders of magnitude more communicative than others..."); on 3 occasions since then, we've met for coffee at my request and discussed journalism, readership, the paper etc, though not in great detail.
    We had no contact in the run-up to this story.

  • Further reflection on tone of the NCJ piece:
    in a word, masterful. The emergence of blogs gives reporters new freedom...

  • Speaking of which, the attitudinous Capt. Buhne of the Buhne Tribune weighs in. NCFocus's milquetoast blog monopoly on this story will not be challenged.

  • More from Language Log on (oral) quotes; two examples

Previous post in "In which..." series: In which we are a stabbing suspect.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I [heart] dead people

Ok, one in particular, today - George Santayana, who studied under Josiah Royce, who taught Walter Lippmann, and who said:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten
your aim.
Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without
reason and imitation without benefit.
Profound skepticism is favorable to conventions, because it doubts that
the criticism of conventions is any truer than they are.
All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else
they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be
Friendship is almost always the union of a part of one mind with the
part of another; people are friends in spots.
Fun is a good thing but only when it spoils nothing better.
Never build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others.
Scepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to
surrender it too soon or to the first comer.
The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who
have loved it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Opinion and other coverage of Constitution Day Free Speech fracas

Thursday update/summary:
  • Free speech of parade group curtailed by announcer at Constitution Day parade
    (announcer wouldn't announce group name; eventually announced name but still wouldn't announce full statement)
  • Announcer and parade president subsequently apologize to group for curtailing free speech
  • Local newspaper's unsigned editorial defends the curtailment, on dubious grounds:
    • To call for "impeachment for high crimes..." is to slander our leaders
    • Unpopular politics do not belong in a small town [Constitution Day] parade

  • NCFocus offers charity donation if unsigned editorial's author will come forward and discuss its logic
  • Author _does_ come forward, but refuses to discuss, and refuses to grant permission to reprint the email exchange.

(I'd told someone yesterday, "if he _did_ agree to discuss it, I swear I'd have a heart attack" - so while Hospice loses a donation(bad), cardiac health hazard is averted(good). Overall influence on local community health: a wash. )

(For more background see yesterday's introductory post, and the chronology posted earlier this evening.)
(And if story links require registration, try the passwords at BugMeNot.)

a 'rowback' variant:
From The Union's Mon. Sept 11 "Constitution Day parade president issues apology to group" breaking news article:
Co-announcer Greg Cook said the announcers edit statements on the spot and will sometimes omit segments for brevity.

"There was no agenda," Cook said Monday. ...
This assertion doesn't appear in the next day's Apology given in Sunday parade incident, wherein partial-statement-announcer Paul Matson explains:
"The words 'high crimes' stuck in my throat ... I felt uncomfortable with the accusations they were making. They were not words I would use at a celebration."
(Kudos to Paul for his honesty, apart from whether his reticence was justified.)

Constitution Day Parade Commission President Dennis Cassella's "nothing foul or inappropriate [in A.C.I.'s statement]" evaluation (in the Apology) of A.C.I.'s announcement was not shared by the anonymous architect of today's Union editorial, Parade announcer had a right to pause ["pause"... - ed.], which asserts that Paul was justified in omitting the second part of A.C.I.'s statement because uttering the phrase "dedicated to impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for high crimes..." would constitute slander against our nation's leaders.
[NCFocus note: This is an interesting legal argument; we'll run it by counsel tomorrow morning]
[Wed. am update: we're told it's not slander, because a) the statement doesn't assert guilt (it's of the form "they should be arrested", not "they did it") and besides b) the standards for slandering/libeling a public figure are extremely high; witness the recent ABC 9/11 drama.]

The Union's editorial anonymouse also regrets the incivility:
"It's also unfortunate that our small-town parade, intended mostly for the entertainment of citizens of all political and social persuasions, was marred by more of the same shouting and screaming that has polarized our nation."

"mostly for the entertainment"...
Nice to know the U.S. Constitution is still considered to have some value in Nevada County.

BTW, the tone of the many of The Union's reader comments can be explained: Nevada Union High School's Class List includes no civics class, although there does appear to be a U.S. Government/Economics class (no further information available) and one on American Government, with these details:
State requirement for graduation.
Course will cover:
1. Foundations of Government
2. Political Behavior.
3. The Legislative Branch.
4. The Executive Branch.
5. The Judicial Branch.
6. Comparative Political and Economic Systems.
7. State and Local Government.
I would feel a whole lot better about the future of our country if I saw the Bill of Rights featured prominently on the syllabus.


Disclosures, confessions, and views:
* Disclosure: I know several of the members of the A.C.I. group.
* View: I don't like the way the Constitution's been degraded into entertainment (it reminds me too much of what's happened to the press; and what comes next, banishing the injured in favor of blonde bombshells for Veterans' Day?).
* Confession: I haven't always appreciated previous years' Constitution Day "floats" that seemed political in nature, particularly when I didn't share the politics displayed.
* View: But allowing free expression of other viewpoints is a core requirement on Constitution Day.

(and it's all too easy to forget the meaning of impeachment, which is not "conviction", nor "eviction".)

BTW, it is widely speculated that above-referenced editorial anonymouse is in fact The Union's Publisher. Regardless of who the small furry individual quivering behind the wallboard may be, we do hope that he or she can look within, take a deep breath, and summon up the courage to emerge into the light for an open, intellectually honest discussion on the merits and logical underpinnings of this editorial.
I've made* the following offer (which, as of 9am Wed, has not yet shown up on this page) as an inducement:
I'll give $100 to Hospice if the director* of this editorial will take public credit for it and agree to answer several questions about it. (I realize the actual author may have written it under duress; I wish to speak to the person whose reasoning it reflects, not the one who was told to write and/or defend it.)

Thurs update - as mentioned above, he did subsequently self-identify, but refused to discuss it or to grant permission to reprint our email exchange.

Constitution Day fracas chronology

Updated Wed. am.

Initial "Free speech abrogated at Constitution Day Parade" summary (with links to news stories) was posted yesterday.

Here's the chronology, as I understand it:
(2nd draft; please send corrections of any inaccurate part(s) of this account)
(Does anyone know if the episode was videotaped, e.g. for NCTV?)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In Sunday's Constitution Day Parade in downtown Nevada City, the Billionaires for Bush group was followed by Americans for Constitutional Integrity (the "impeach Bush" group), which was followed by KVMR.
[This differed from the planned "parade list" order, which was BfB - KVMR - ACI.]

The standard practice is that when a parade group reaches the announcer's stand, it stops and spends about 2 minutes in the limelight, while the announcer reads the group's name and description (if the group has provided one).

Americans for Constitutional Integrity approached the announcers' booth.

They had provided this statement:
"Americans for Constitutional Integrity - dedicated to protecting the Constitution of the United States; activating the impeachment process defined in the Constitution, and impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for high crimes against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

Announcer Paul Matson announced the group: "KVMR".

The group said "no, we're not KVMR, we're Americans for Constitutional Integrity - read our statement".

Paul Matson again announced "KVMR".
The group again denied the appellation, milled around and waited, called for Paul to announce the group, for a period of one to two minutes.

Paul then announced
"Americans for Constitutional Integrity - dedicated to protecting the Constitution of the United States"
but did not read the remaining
"...activating the impeachment process defined in the Constitution, and impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for high crimes against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

ACI did not move forward, and continued to chant "Read Our Statement" (and"Free Speech"?).
This continued for several more minutes.

The watching crowd grew restless, started booing and shouting at the group, and throwing things at them.

A policeman - Dan, a Nevada City sergeant according to The Union, stepped off the curb toward the group, which was directed to move on (but not threatened with arrest) if they didn't), full announced statement or no.

They moved on.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

(Announcer and parade president have since apologized for the incident.)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The U.S. Constitution - we parade it, but don't follow it

Freedom of speech abrogated at yesterday's Constitution Day Parade in Nevada City; apology by parade president (with supremely unconvincing explanation* from one of the co-announcers) ensues.

Evidence of Nevada County's dire need for civics education abounds in the story comments.

confession: I wasn't there.
hunch: Somebody leaned on Paul (the other co-announcer), to make him do this.
(actual knowledge: none)
(Tuesday update: accuracy of hunch: none)
(Wed. am update: I'm going to provisionally retract my retraction.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Questions for Congressman John Doolittle

Tuesday Sept 12 updates:

1. Still no answers to these questions. I know I have to hire a lobbyist to get federal funding, but do I have to hire one just to get my questions answered?

I can't afford the 60k/year that Sierra College was (is?) paying to retain Pete Evich's lubricating-the-flow-of-federal-funds services, but then I don't need a $200,000 earmark either; how much does it cost for just a few true-false question answers?

2. Elsewhere, there've been Disclosures (to the extent that the anonymous can disclose) from the proprietors of the Dump Doolittle weblog

Friday Sept 15 updates:
1. Still no answers from Doolittle's offices.
2. See the blog setup disclosure below, with Oct 31 update.

The post:

Sent (again) today [Sept 8] to Chris Parilo, Congressman Doolittle's field rep. I've edited slightly and added links.

In case my email to you from last week got lost in the shuffle, here are the questions again. And if there's someone else that I should be directing them to, please let me know and I'll do so.

Over the last month or so I've tried
  • calling Congressman Doolittle's branch and D.C. offices
  • using his web "contact" form
  • faxing the questions to his spokeswoman.
These approaches have not worked.

  1. For the Earmarks joint project by The Examiner,, the Sunlight Foundation and others:
    Which of the earmarks in the upcoming Labor HHS Bill were sponsored by Mr. Doolittle?

  2. For a local project to survey and report Nevada County public servants' position on global warming -
    (I've also asked the other candidates these questions)

    1. Has he seen the film An Inconvenient Truth?

    2. Did he see the Discovery Channel 2-hour Tom Brokaw special on global warming, that aired in July, or the ABC documentary that showed more recently?

    3. Does he believe that
      1) a scientific consensus exists that global warming is occurrring and is mostly human-caused?
      2) it is a major and urgent problem that we need to address?

  3. Regarding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (I'm pretty sure he's opposed to it), would he take the "stem cell" pledge, as put forth by Jon Alter July 28 in Newsweek:

    "Because of my strong opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research, I hereby pledge that should I, at any point in the future, develop diabetes, cancer, spinal-cord injuries or Parkinson's, among other diseases, I will refuse any and all treatments derived from such research, at home or abroad, even if it costs me my life."

    (I'm not sure if it's reasonable to expect someone to take this pledge, but would still like to know)

    I've sent email asking his opponents' positions on this issue, and if they're opposed, I'll also ask them if they'll take the pledge.

  4. A belated question for the Talking Points Memo "Shay's handful" project (e.g. here ) -
    In Fall 2004, how did Congressman Doolittle vote (in the voice-vote in the GOP caucus meeting) on the DeLay rule (where the House Republican Conference's voted to change a rule requiring members in leadership positions to step down if indicted by state grand juries)?

Update, 30 min after posting this - Doolittle's field rep. (Chris P.) says he has the questions but it might take [more] time to put together responses.

Monday update - I've replied by email asking this:
How long does Congressman Doolittle's staff consider to be a reasonable period of time, between receiving questions like these from a constituent and answering them?

(I ask for two reasons - first, I'm not clear on how long I should expect to wait to get answers in this particular instance, and second, it would be a useful metric for comparison between the Congressman and the other candidates for his position.)


Disclosure (added Fri Sept 15, updated Oct 31): I have set up a blog (as yet unused) for the group Republicans For Brown (and would be happy to do likewise for a Democrats for Doolittle group, if they existed and asked (and lo, they do exist - but it seems that the group's two members - Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner and Placer County Supervisor Bill Santucci - both have unlisted phone numbers, so I'll wait to hear from them...) - details/reasons in comments here and here.
Some past* "election blog setup help" offers to candidates in local races (regardless of political orientation) are recounted here and here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New features, bittersweet farewells


Good luck, and here's hoping the town lives up to its name.

translation: rumor has it that The Union's editor will be editing elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blog comments etiquette question

Scientific experiments get their illuminatory power from the researcher's willingness to specify, before s/he sees the results, what a 'fair' process for interpreting them would be.

Thus research is the opposite of public relations - if we consider "spin" to be "creative interpretation of the data so as to support a predetermined conclusion", PR flacks try to maximize 'spin', researchers try to eliminate it.

And the way they eliminate it is by deciding ahead of time, "if the data were to come out looking like X, I would conclude Y" - in other words, by posing and answering hypothetical questions.

This is a hugely powerful tool, that goes a long way toward controlling for our natural tendency to interpret the data so as to favor our preferred conclusion.

And - coming from a science background - I hate to see a perfectly good tool lying unused, when it could be so helpful.

Which is why it drives me batty when NCFocus blog commenters refuse to answer hypothetical questions - it says to me that their goals aren't mine, they're here for fighting/winning, not for learning.

(some people would disparage this as a "litmus test" - but one man's litmus test is another woman's valuable tool for discerning mindsets.)

So, the etiquette question is this: is it reasonable for the blog owner to say "I want the comments to be worth my time, I want them to be for learning not for fighting", and to achieve this by restricting commenting to those individuals who will answer hypothetical questions?

If the site was my living room, I'd definitely want to invite learners in and not invite fighters back.

So it's tempting to do the same here, but it also brings to mind the adage "if you want to test someone's character, don't give them adversity, give them power" - i.e. this might be a very bad idea, either inherently or as the start of a slippery slope toward comment-toadyism.

And there's a BIG positive externality, that comes from having a place where people from different walks and philosophies of life talk to each other, even if nobody's mind gets changed on the specific issues - and if you narrow the functionality and prerequisites, you'll lose that.

(State: still a little bit cranky, thinking aloud, not ready to stand behind any conclusions, feeling a bit guilty about coming down too hard on today's commenter whose comment I haven't approved (yet), and definitely in need of sleep. I will be wiser tomorrow.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Councilmember Barbara Coffman selects Dix Sullivan for Planning Commissioner

An NCFocus scoop:

Earlier this morning, incoming Nevada City councilmember Barbara Coffman* selected local business owner Dix Sullivan as her planning commissioner. Mr. Sullivan owns the Golden Flower Trading Co. on Commercial Street below York St., abutting the back of Broad St.'s Posh Nosh restaurant. Sullivan was instrumental in bringing the Chinese Quarter Monument(*) into existence, and can be seen on the far right in the photo here.

According to Yubanet, incumbent councilman (and looking soon to be mayor; my idea* was never implemented) Steve Cottrell is appointing local architect Greg Wolters, who:
graduated from Cal Poly with honors, has been in business for twenty years and been involved with a wide range of architectural pursuits including passive solar and other energy-efficient designs.

According to The Union here:
  • Incumbent Councilmembers Sally Harris and David McKay's planning commissioners are John Parent and Evans Phelps, respectively.
  • Sheila Stein is appointing local attorney and software consultant Robert Bergman, saying:
    "He will bring common sense, an analytical mind, great integrity and a calm presence to the commission table...Applicants will find him to be fair, consistent and objective."

In other news, Ms. Coffman's city council suggestion box, "Tell It to Barbara", has been installed on the wall at Java John's on Broad St.
Many thanks to Mr. U. Utah Phillips for conjuring up the box, title, notebook, and inaugural suggestion*, and for co-conjuring up the original idea.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Roger Ebert reviews An Inconvenient Truth

Appended comments from Andrew Tobias.

From Ebert's review of An Inconvenient Truth:
Global warming is real, and unless it is reversed, the planet will pass a "tipping point" in about 10 years and start a slide into the destruction of civilization. ... This documentary...[is] fascinating and relentless.
In 39 years I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be "impartial" and "balanced" on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, has said, "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I hope he takes his job seriously enough to see this film. I think he has a responsibility to do that.

And Andrew Tobias:
I’ve gotten a lot of very smart people emailing me to debunk the movie. To each, I always answer: have you seen it? And in each case the answer has been: no.

The feeling of many ... is that so long as there is some chance we are not doomed, we should not act. ...

But the feeling of most who go see the movie is that everybody else ought to see the movie.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New comments policy, hopefully temporary

Too many people have been interpreting the NCFocus comments policy as literature rather than instructions, so I've instituted comment moderation for now. Comments that I don't see as adding value will not be published, and I'm a bit cranky at present, thus perhaps less able to see value which would otherwise be apparent.

Corollary: I'm instituting a moratorium on movie criticisms from people who haven't seen it.
(Although if you want to just email me with your real name and say "I would like to criticise the film although I have not seen it", I will happily publish your name with this statement; this information _is_ valuable.)

Today's words of wisdom:
Never mistake a mirror for a window.

p.s. for those who are now at loose ends, here's a constructive use for your time - the Sunlight Foundation (link) needs your help for their project to scrutinize the financial disclosures of all members of Congress and the House of Representatives.

All members; surely at least one will pique your interest.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Meanwhile, back in the state of denial

no substantive responses to yesterday's post asking for insight into how we can get a critical mass of the community to see An Inconvenient Truth.

Mind if I join you, in turning away and slapping the blinders back on?

Yesterday was the deadline for the county Recorder's Office to certify the June 6 election results*.
The final vote count (reported June 24 here) landed Barbara Coffman* upon Nevada City's City Council, by a margin of of 31 votes. She will be sworn in next Monday, July 10.
Disambiguation: she is the attorney in Nevada City, not the therapist in Grass Valley.

Articles in The Union mentioning Barbara are here.

Her office hours will be 8-9am most mornings at Java John's. However, you need not show up in person; our hyperlocal luminary is scouring the thrift stores for a Suggestion Box to hang upon the wall, that those who are shy or late to rise might nonetheless deposit their intellectual capital for our City's benefit.

(A man of many and varied talents, he also contributes the inaugural suggestion: raise revenue for infrastructure repair by holding muleback rides down into the potholes, for tourists.)

"Reality is that which, when you refuse to believe in it, doesn't go away."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth, a pressing question

edited Wed a.m.

I saw An Inconvenient Truth tonight.

"the atmosphere is as thin as a coat of varnish on a globe ..."

"we probably have about 10 years left to do something"

"it's no longer a scientific issue, it's now a moral issue."

It shows the most compelling graphs I will ever see.

Everybody whose mind isn't locked needs to see this film.

Our community leaders need to see the film.

People who tend to see government as a team sport need to see the film.
How do we reach these people, and get them to see it?

We can't just agree to disagree and freely do what we want here, we only have the one planet among us. It's the ultimate externality; we have to pull together on this one.

Apologies for the trite sincerity here, but I really _am_ stumped on how to get through the ritual warfare. The war now is against an enemy of our own making.

(Starting tomorrow it's at Del Oro for at least a week.)

Michael - and other readers for whom global warming hasn't been high on the priority list - you've got a perspective that I lack, and we need your input here - what would encourage people who're skeptical to go and see the film?

and YES I realize I'm part of the problem. I'm sorry.
Added wed. eve, via Agricola over at Xark:

Robert Samuelson's The Real Inconvenient Truth:
The practical conclusion is that, if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology.... Only an aggressive research and development program might find ways of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels or dealing with it.

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Backtracking - Qs on ethics of payola punditry

In discussion with a commenter on yesterday's "Dubner Oath" post, I realized that I jumped the gun by hauling out the Oath; it would have been better to ask about values instead. So, in accordance with best practices of the Better Late Than Never school of citizen journalism:

Russ and George, on the record, do you believe that payola punditry is an unsavory practice?
(And if there are circumstances under which it would be morally acceptable, what are they?)

Please answer in the comments here, if you want to answer, or remain silent if that's your preference; I'm asking not because I want to hound you but because I'd be remiss if I didn't ask.

(in brief, for readers: a payola pundit is someone who publicly marshals arguments and evidence to support a particular viewpoint without disclosing that he or she is being compensated, directly or indirectly, for doing so.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Resurrecting the Dubner Oath

Jeffrey Dubner started it here:
I swear that I have never taken money -- neither directly nor indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

Lex Alexander took it here:
I swear that I have never taken money -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist and/or blogger.

I took it here:
I swear that I have never taken money or received services -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or political group or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- or anyone else -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

George and Russ, will you take the Dubner Oath?
I swear that neither I nor others of my family have ever received money or services -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or political group or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- or anyone else -- in exchange for any service I have performed in my position in my organization or having to do with my or my organization's website or weblog.

You can probably word it better than I did here.

Gladwell on Levitt

Just a quote.
[during a debate between Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics author Stephen Levitt]
I glanced over at Levitt and had a realization that I'm not sure I've ever had before with an intellectual opponent - that if I made my case persuasively and cogently enough, he would change his mind. He was, in other words, listening.
(from Time, via TED)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

NCFocus response to SESF disclosure

Late Monday night I posted on the background and invisible ties of the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation; in the preface I noted that George and Russ had scooped me by posting an SESF disclosure earlier that night (here's a static copy).

Due to the advanced hour and paucity of still-functioning neurons, I said I'd address their disclosure the next day. I proceeded to not get around to it, eliciting a small (and deserved) goad from Russ earlier this evening.
OK Russ, here goes:

I've been trying to be a good citizen journalist and to "trust, but verify"; however, in this case it's difficult.

For one example, take this section of the SESF disclosure:
"[to avoid conflict of interest]
At the beginning of this year (2006) ... [SESF Board members] Mr. McDaniel and I resigned from the CABPRO Board ...[and] last month [CABPRO Board member] Dr. Lyss resigned [from SESF's board]."

CABPRO's newsletters are online (as pdfs) going back to the fall of 2000*; every newsletter lists the current Board members, and there's a brief report on each new Board member as s/he joins. So the above 'disclosure' statement should be easy to check.

Except that the newsletters from this year don't list the board members, or report any changes.

Another example -

I'd expect that the re-activation of SESF at the beginning of 2006 would have been worthy of mention in the CABPRO newsletter, particularly since it entailed the resignations of board members. It would have been interesting to see what the newsletter had to say.

Except that newsletters for the 4 months from Oct. 2005 through January 2006 are absent from the online archive.

And please correct me if I'm wrong, but is there any mention of the SESF in any of CABPRO's online 2006 newsletters? I didn't notice any.

Russ and George, 2 questions -
1. Was any deliberate effort made (by anyone, not necessarily either of you) to obscure the SESF - CABPRO connection?
2. Is there any way I could take a look at the Oct2005/Nov/Dec/Jan2006 CABPRO newsletters?


Bonus link for readers:

An enlightening quote from the latest CABPRO newsletter (pdf):
"Environmentalism is not about saving the earth for people, but from them."
It's clear that recognition of anthropogenic global warming wouldn't fit comfortably into this worldview.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A look behind the curtain - the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation


1:45 a.m. Tuesday, Nevada City [when this post was published]:
Egads, I've been scooped - prepared to hit Publish only to find that George Rebane had posted a disclosure section at the bottom of the SESF website's About page, likely within the last hour or so*.

Will comment on his disclosure tomorrow.*
late Thurs. eve - commented on the SESF's "scoop" disclosure in the following post (which comes before, on the webpage).
Sat: fixed 'Board Members' assertion in the report below, to make it accurate

NCFocus report:

The enigmatic Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (blog) is not your run-of-the-mill Nevada County nonprofit.

Local conservative blogger Russ Steele announced its launch in April:
"The Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (SESF), a Nevada County non-profit organization, has been activated by local citizen volunteers to help bring clarity and reason to the discussion of issues facing our county and its communities. SESF's goal is to do research and produce information products that promote sane and productive community debates, and support government leaders in crafting effective solutions based upon reliable information, verifiable data, and non-partisan analysis.
To promote discussion and debate, SESF has created a blog ..."

SESF's About page states: "Reasoned thinking should be based on good analysis not constrained by ideology."

A week ago, in a blog-comments exchange with Russ (who is also SESF's Director of Information), I asked him how the SESF is funded. Since then I've asked George Rebane ( SESF Executive Director, Director of Research, and blogger) as well. I've asked them via blog comment - (at NCFocus, at the SESF blog, at Russ's blog), I've asked them in a blog post, and I've asked/reminded them via email*. Last Friday afternoon I was told* that disclosures would be forthcoming, but they have still not appeared.

"If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you."*

A prominent online registry of charities reports that the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation is a 501(c)(3) environmental nonprofit with NTEE Code C99, signifying Environmental Quality, Protection, and Beautification ("Choosing a good, representative NTEE code will help your organization be more easily found by users searching our database.").

Similarly, the yellow page listings show it as an Environmental, Conservation & Ecological Organization, literally on the same page as SYRCL (the South Yuba River Citizens League), the The Nevada County Land Trust, the Placer Nature Center, Defenders of Wildlife, the Mountain Lion Foundation and others.

And reports it as an Environmental Group as well:
Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation
293 Lower Grass Valley Road
Nevada City, CA (California) 95959-3101

The listed address (293 Lower Grass Valley Rd, Nevada City; it doesn't appear on the SESF website*) - is also the address of Robinson Enterprises (known locally as Robinson Timber) and of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, aka CABPRO, a high-profile Nevada County property-rights group.

Historically, CABPRO has not exactly favored environmental protection ("What we people with commonsense are up against is neigh to incredible. A gaggle of radical leftists are trying to redefine reality for the rest of us peons and no better example is available than Wild and Scenic Rivers..."*); for background, see Mark Sabath's "The Perils Of The Property Rights Initiative: Taking Stock Of Nevada County’s Measure D", in the Harvard Environmental Law Review (PDF, as html).

The SESF website provides a one-page bio for each of its three board members - Executive Director and Director of Research George Rebane, Director of Information Russ Steele, and Director of Public Relations Michael McDaniel. These bios contain much background information, but neglect to mention that George Rebane and Michael McDaniel are bothhave both been* CABPRO Board members*, or that Russ headed Citizens for Fair and Balanced Land Use, which was CABPRO's political action committee formed in 2002 to advocate for Measure D, the narrowly defeated Nevada County property rights initiative.(pdf)

To my knowledge neither "CABPRO" nor "California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners" appears anywhere on either the SESF website or weblog.

"non-partisan", "environmental", "clarity", "reliable information", "not constrained by ideology", "discussion and debate" ...there appears to be plenty of open space between SESF's rhetoric and reality.

CABPRO's December 2001 newsletter (pdf) promotes the SESF's nonprofit status:
"Looking for a Tax Deduction AND a Good Cause?
Then make your fully deductible donation to the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Nevada County. SESF engages in research and educational activities to increase public support for balancing human needs with environmental concerns (i.e. putting people back into the picture)
SESF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Federal ID# 77-0408400. Your donation is tax deductible as a charitable contribution for federal and state tax purposes."

I didn't find the SESF in the IRS's online Search for Charities, but absence there isn't conclusive ("Some entities eligible to receive tax deductible charitable contributions may not be listed in Publication 78..."*). So yesterday I checked with the IRS (877-829-5500*); the representative informed me that SESF (77-0408400, and she had me verify the name) was not an exempt organization, and "that's all we can tell the general public".

So, Russ Steele, George Rebane and/or Michael McDaniel - I think we need you to bring clarity here.

"If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Yes, the climate is changing

There's a house finch singing outside my window, and up until a year or two ago I don't recall there being house finches in Nevada City.
Interesting - its song sounds, well, abnormal. Perhaps it's an outlier in more than geography.
(or perhaps it's just young and inexperienced)

Excellent Boston Globe article putting yesterday's National Academy of Sciences report on global warming into meaningful context:
...A graph of the data has become an icon of global warming and is often referred to as "the hockey stick" because of its shape: A shaft that shows a long period of relatively little change in Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures, and then a spike upward during the last 100 years or so that resembles the blade.
Since the first version of it was published in a scientific journal in 1998, environmentalists have seized on the graph as powerful evidence of human-induced climate change, while some critics have called it alarmist, questioning its methodology and the accuracy of its temperature data.
During a Washington press conference yesterday, other members of the panel said that they had a high level of confidence -- 90 percent to 95 percent -- that the planet is in its warmest period in 400 years and that the odds are "2 to 1" that this is probably the warmest period stretching back 1,000 years, as the original study concluded.

And what did The Union title their version of yesterday's AP story about the report? (Earth’s temperature highest in 400 years, or 2000, or a "a slight fever")?
They didn't print it.

BTW, we're told that George Rebane is currently working on a Disclosure page for the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation.