cut on the bias

keeping an eye on the spins and weirdness of media, crime and everyday life

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

SUN SOLD OUT: After reading about the rebirthed New York Sun online today, I went to my local news kiosk across from the PATH station in Jersey City and found just one left. I went straight to it, pulled it out from under the weight and went to the counter to pay – it was very obvious I came just for that.

The newspaper guy said, “Where did you hear about that?”

“Online,” says me. “I read this guy’s website, and wanted to get his paper. Have they sold well?”

“We sold out the 10 here, you got the last one,” he said. “I put them out by accident, then went somewhere, when I got back they said, three of those papers had sold.” He gestured to a stack of papers behind the counter on a chair. “They make us take some of these papers, and the ones I know won’t sell I don’t put out. This one I hadn’t heard of, and I wouldn’t have put it out. But they all sold.”

“Buy more,” was my advice.

And it’s a very good little paper too – little because it doesn’t have the pages most do, not yet at any rate. The design is very New York Times and Wall Street Journal-ish, none of that modern block-design stuff for them. It gives the paper a feel of history, as does the wider broadsheet pages. I naturally read Glenn Reynolds’s column about Supreme Court Justice Byron White first, then browsed through the rest. Very nicely done.

I think I’ll visit the kiosk daily for a while, just to keep the Sun rising each day.

HUNGRY FOR RELEVANCE: Philip Murphy at The Invisible Hand takes down Anna Quindlen’s latest, feeling the pain of the underfed in… Greenwich, Connecticut?

I’M ALMOST AFRAID TO LINK but Bryan Preston has some good stuff over at his site, JunkYardBlog, including tracking down information on a group that apparently thinks that Mike Spann, the CIA agent murdered in Afghanistan, is actually a war criminal; a perspective on “Johnny Bin Walker” and certain photos (Bryan, as former military, has standing to comment too); and a nice little addition to the recent “I don’t care if you read me or not” spat of posts, most notably from Instapundit and Sgt. Stryker. If you recall, I do in fact care if you read my meanderings, but nonetheless I think you’d enjoy some time over at Bryan’s place today too.

LIFE IS VERY VERY GOOD, at least today. I was up till 5:30 this morning finishing a proposal for school that, finished, is 7 pages of bibliographic references – over 80 in all – about media and police. Today the PhD Committee at my school will review it. If they approve it, I will study all the materials and take an exam on them in the fall. If they don’t approve it, then they’ll tell me what’s wrong, I’ll fix it and resubmit in the fall. Either way, it’s a milestone to get this submitted, so I’m very tired but happy! And if you want to know what life as a PhD student can be like, here’s what the exam is: they’ll shut me up in a room with a computer and all the materials, give me a question on that topic, and I will have 8 hours to write no more than 20 pages in answering it. Twenty pages in 8 hours? I think I’m up for it (an English professor of mine actually gave one of my fellow students credit when he put my name down as the sole definition for “loquacious”). This section of the degree is called the core area (i.e. my major area of interest), and I’ll be doing my dissertation on an expansion of the same topic. This summer I’ll be studying for the core area exam and putting together the first draft of my dissertation prospectus, which I hope to defend in late fall.

Now I’m at work with two hours of sleep under my belt and a realization that sometimes my aversion to coffee is not a good thing. Pepsi, please?

Monday, April 15, 2002

THE ANGRY CLAM reports from Berkeley - now in a permalink list near you (i.e., mine). Pretty cool, complete with photos (I need to figure out how to do that).

MAYBE IT’S NOT THE NOTEPADS after all that tripped up Michael Bellesilles. Should we be looking at what bars in the country have historical probate records?

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON – IN LIFE, IN DEATH: Sheriff Sam Catron of Pulaski County, Kentucky, shot to death on Saturday by a sniper’s bullet, died as his father did 38 years ago when Sam Catron would have been about 10 years old. His father, Harold, was also sheriff, and was killed in the line of duty. In part because of that, Sam Catron wore a bullet-proof vest, which he had on on Saturday – and the bullet hit him in the face. Sounds like the shooter knew Catron’s habits.

I knew Sam Catron in passing, as I mentioned in the post below, and in the photo still up on the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department website as of this posting he looks very like he did 17 years ago when I worked for the newspaper there. His death reminds me of the many conversations I’ve had with police officers over the years; as much as I get annoyed at police for a variety of reasons, I am an admirer of the profession, and I have seen close up the high caliber of men and women who often serve as sworn officers. Some things that come to mind:

· One state police detective I knew in another part of Kentucky grew up in the same county as I did, although 25 years before me. His father was also a sheriff, and was shot while on duty in an isolated part of the county, dying while crawling for help. The detective himself, when a trooper, once left his trooper hat on the headrest of his cruiser while he slipped into the bushes in a remote country area to take a whiz; when he returned to the car, there was a bullet hole in the hat.

· A state trooper friend once blue-lighted a car on an interstate in Kentucky; instead of pulling over, the car sped away and my friend gave chase. After going at speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour for a little distance, the car blew its engine and coasted to the side of the road. My friend couldn’t call for backup – it was the wee hours of the morning and he was the only trooper on duty for many miles around. He told the man to put his hands on the steering wheel, approached the car, checking the trunk and back seat for other people, then reached the driver’s side of the car – only to see a loaded semi-automatic gun on the seat beside the man. The arrest went smoothly, but, later, when the car was impounded, they discovered a load of stolen goods from a robbery in another state. Close call? Maybe, but not untypical. My trooper friend also wore a bullet-proof vest. But that doesn’t stop a head shot.

· Once, when I was going ride-along with a police officer in an Arizona suburb of Phoenix, he answered a call to an abandoned gas station at the edge of an empty field, where a man was supposedly holed up with a gun, threatening suicide. He made me lie down in the seat of the cruiser while he went looking for the suicidal man. Although they didn’t find him, it was scary lying in the dark, in a police cruiser, waiting to hear a shot.

All of those men I knew personally, and would trust my life to implicitly. And we do, you and I, every day. We trust our lives to the police and, in our time of war, we trust our lives to the military men and women fighting for us in the Middle East. Neither group gets it right, all the time. But some time today, take a few minutes to imagine yourself with gun in hand, looking for someone who wants to kill you because you are a symbol for the safety of a bunch of other people, some of whom hate you too. Then say a prayer of thanks for the soldiers, for the police, and for the Sam Catrons of this world.

REPUBLICAN WIMPS? Apparently the buzz in Washington right now is that Republicans are whining because James Carville and Paul Begala, newly on Crossfire, are “too good at what they do”, so the word is out to boycott. Naturally, this causes crowing on the Left. I have to say that when I saw the matchup – Begala/Carville vs. Novak/some-guy-I-have-never-heard-of (yes, I’m not up on all the political guys), I thought… wow. Somebody screwed up. Not that the Republican side isn’t smart, and savvy, but Carville is a killer, spinning issues until his victims don’t know truth from fiction (hint: If Carville is saying it, then suspect fiction), then strafing with word bullets until reasonable discourse is dead. It isn’t that they are too good at policy discussion, it’s that CNN has put killers up against thinkers. They need to have killers vs killers, which will be exciting but ultimately unuseful as debate, or thinkers vs thinkers, which will help debate but no one will watch it except my mom. Or maybe a third option – thinkers with some killer moves, on both sides. Hmmm… I always liked Michael Kinsley as an opponent – I could stand to watch him even if I couldn’t stand his positions. Carville I can’t stand to see, whether in an ad, on television, or in any medium where he appears. (And to be very honest, I really have a struggle to care much for Mary Matalin, given that she is married to him. It makes me wonder about the honesty of either person’s ideological professions.)

IT’LL BE A WHILE: Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is waiting for someone, anyone, to call Saddam Hussein a baby-killer for shutting off oil exports. He’s right, it won’t happen, but what may happen is that someone calls the US baby-killers again because Saddam was forced into this action by our threats. There’s always a way to make it our fault.

IS HE OR ISN’T HE? The big question has been whether Osama Bin Laden lies dead in some bombed-out hole in Afghanistan, or if he is alive, well and plotting a new attack somewhere in the Middle East. The Qatar news station Al-Jazeera showed a video excerpt today which included footage of Bin Laden, but it isn’t clear when the footage was taken – they’ve said they will show the full video on Thursday. It’ll be interesting to watch this video get dissected, but at the end I doubt anyone’s mind will be changed – many supporters will continue to say he’s alive, and we’ll keep thinking he’s dead. I’m not quite sure at this point what proof short of DNA would convince us otherwise; I don’t think even that would convince the other side.

DADS AND DNA: The non-fathers are back in the news as California considers a new "paternity reform bill" aimed at helping men who are paying child support for children who are not biologically theirs. The two sides of the argument:

Pro-non-father child-support - Men should assume responsibility for children they have been "father" to in a social way even when they aren't the biological father, especially if they didn't contest the paternity within two years of the child's birth. The children need support; it is psychologically damaging to lose their father-figure once they recognize him as such; the law says you have to pay so you do, and if you don't contest it early enough, too bad.

Anti-non-father child-support - The laws are too comprehensive, pulling in men who didn't even know they were named the father until served with papers on child support; biological children suffer when their father's money is taken to support a non-biological child; the laws are anti-male, ignoring their rights in favor of the mother and child, creating an unfair and discriminatory situation.

This issue hit the news hard about two years ago, but the law in the area is still evolving. Part of the rationale for non-fathers paying for child support is common law where a man assumes responsibility for any children born to his wife during the marriage; this is based on a society with a much different social structure from ours today, where people have revolving-door relationships and one woman may have children by several men without marrying any of them. It seems to me that, instead of getting into the emotions of this, we need to step back and clearly define who is a parent, then use that as a basis for determinations. Paternity tests should be a standard part of child support orders - the burden of proof needs to be on the mother in a case where the father is not there accepting responsibility or, if he is not available for a DNA test, once he is found the option of DNA testing should always be open. Putting the burden for contesting on someone who may often have no knowledge of the criminal justice system is just ridiculous. If a man is the biological father, then whatever needs to happen to get reasonable child support is appropriate. If the man has legally assumed responsibility - say, he adopts his wife's child from a previous relationship, then they divorce - he has the same responsibilities as a biological father. To say a man must pay child support for many years because he missed a procedural hearing is asinine.

IT'S A BIAS AGAINST LIBERALS, not conservatives, that plagues the media, according to this article in The American Prospect. Writer Geoffrey Nunberg did a search of several top newspaper publications in response to the accusations of ideology-labeling bias in the media, especially the broadcast media. His search shows that liberals are identified more frequently as liberals than conservatives are as conservatives. He thinks, in addition, that liberals are distancing themselves from the "liberal" label out of fear:

To tell the truth, Goldberg's claim about the use of labels didn't sound that implausible to me -- not because I assumed the media were biased, but because the word liberal itself has become an embarrassment to so many people. Two decades of conservative derision have turned it into "the L-word," to the point where some Democrats won't own up to the label and others are careful to prefix it with "neo-," so as to distance themselves from those "unreconstructed" tax-and-spend stereotypes. And on the left, where suspicion of liberals has always run deep, most people have thrown the word over the side in favor of "progressive." But no one ever talks about "the C-word," and conservatives invariably wear that label proudly. So it wouldn't be surprising to find that the media, too, were more diffident about calling people liberals than about calling them conservatives.

I'm skeptical of that "no one ever talks about 'the C-word'" statement. If the term has shifted any, I'd say it's more in the direction of using other terms intended to be more clearly perjorative, such as "fundamentalist Christian" - an odd phrase to be used as a term of derision yet, it seems to me from an anecdotal standpoint, in wider usage than before. And "conservative derision" has caused a change in use from "liberal" to "progressive"? Would that we could have an impact even on such an ideologically-unimportant shift.

This war of the word searches seems to me to be a decent start, but it's not precisely scientific. There are so many other factors that can have an impact on impression creation in the media that the lists result in more questions than answers. Get back to me in six months - one of my research projects is updating a meta-analysis of media bias studies in the criminal justice field.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

THE SATURDAY RAMBLE is up, only a day late - Of concrete canyons and crawdads.

SLAVES TO THE STATE: I know that the US and state governments have been aggressive in their efforts to stamp out smoking for a number of years. It has seemed bizarre to me how the arguments have shaped up - blaming corporations for causing people to smoke, and then conversely harshly treating these "victims" when they engage in their "unstoppable addiction" in public places. Cigarette smoke sometimes gives me severe headaches, so I'm not unhappy that there are now smoke-free places for me to eat or to hang out in public spaces. But on principle, I believe it is an encroachment on freedom to try to stamp out smoking completely through taxes and public shaming. In recent years, the effort has started to try to get a "fat tax" on rich or non-nutritional foods (i.e. ones for which the negatives outweigh the positives, nutritionally speaking). The rationale has always been that people needed saving from themselves - a rather evangelistic, social engineering approach. However, I saw an article today which spooked me - I don't think the information was new, just that it suddenly clicked with me:

The agency [Center for Disease Control] estimated the nation's smoking-related medical costs at $3.45 per pack, and said job productivity lost because of premature death from smoking amounted to $3.73 per pack, for a total of $7.18...

"There's a big difference in the cost to society and what society is getting back in tax," said the CDC's Terry Pechacek. "We believe society is bearing a burden for the individual behavioral choices of the smokers."

...A spokesman for tobacco giant Brown & Williamson objected to the study, saying it presents the figures in a vacuum, without comparing smoking to the financial burdens other people — nonsmokers with diabetes, for example — place on society.

Do you hear that "society" mantra, over and over? And look closely at what the Brown & Williamson spokesman said, then think about this:

About 61% of Americans, or 127 million people, weigh too much, according to the latest government statistics. And 26%, or 54 million are obese — that is, 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight. That's up from 15% in the late 1970s...

Weighing too much contributes to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and other ailments, and the U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher recently issued a call to action to put the brakes on the epidemic of overweight and obesity in this country...

[Kelly Brownell, a psychologist and director of the Yale University Center for Eating and Weight Disorders] advocates a tax on junk food, sometimes referred to as the Twinkie Tax or Fat Tax, which would subsidize the price of healthy foods so they cost less...

Brownell thinks the tax would work. "The process of change seems completely daunting, because food habits are so engrained, and the food companies are massively powerful.

"But if you look back 30 years ago, you would have said the tobacco industry was massively powerful, and no one would have thought there was any hope for changes. But now you can't smoke in public places, there are sky-high taxes on cigarettes, and states have sued tobacco companies," Brownell says. "I think we are at the very beginning of a similar movement with food."

This is nothing new. But look at something from Brownell's past - a conclusion from a study he headed up at Yale:

The study also notes that the economic cost of diet-related diseases has been conservatively estimated to be at least $71 billion annually.

Cost to whom? Why, to society. The tobacco people are pointing to the food industry and saying, hey! we don't cause more damage than they do, so let us be! The government - and social engineers like Brownell - are pointing back and saying, you're right! so instead of letting you be, we'll bust both tobacco and food! And what is the foundation, again, that they use as an argument? Cost to society.

So why is this important? Because it is not just a continuing encroachment on individual self-determination, but it is also an accelerated shift to a societal level utilitarian philosophy - not because the individuals in the nation decided they wanted that approach, but because some elites who think they know best for the country are wanting to design this nation's people into creatures that serve the greatest good to the state (and this isn't a moral good, this is economic good, although the same group is quick to blame our system of economics for all ills). I don't think they would argue it from that perspective, but it is the practical result of their actions and intents. We are told we must provide health care to everyone because it is their right, then we are told that because the state is providing health care to everyone, it is the state's right to tell us we're costing too much so we have to quit smoking, or stop eating Twinkies, or whatever the next advance will be. Will there be a "lazy tax" where you have to pay a certain amount if you don't exercise? Where will it stop?

Obviously society has to have structure and laws, to be a society rather than anarchy, chaos. But what basis do we use for that law and structure? The most basic one is a libertarian philosophy where the government serves a strictly limited role, focused primarily on security for the collective with little involvement in individual life choices. The opposite is a totalitarian government, where everyone lives and serves at the pleasure of the state, which generally has its power vested in one person. Our country chose its path in the late 1700s with our Constitution and its supporting documents, which was more about self-determination and less about paternalism. What we see now is a major shift in an approach to self-determination and rights, a shift that's been going on for many years, but is delving ever more intently into the minutiae of life. The argumentation is becoming self-referent - we are doing A because you need help, but your behavior is interfering with us helping you, so we are going to punish you for not helping us help you, even though most of you didn't want the help in the first place. You are costing us too much.

I don't know what the answer is. I keep being reminded of the story I've heard about boiling a frog: If you drop a frog in boiling water, it'll jump out. If you put it in cool water and very gradually change the temperature, it will cook to death without any effort at self-preservation.

I think most of us are being good little frogs, "helped" until we die as individuals and our lives become a reflection of what a certain elite sees as best for society as a whole.

R.I.P. – Sam Catron was a law enforcement officer in Pulaski County, Kentucky, when I worked there as a reporter in the mid-1980s. The sheriff at the time was an interesting man, and I won’t say more than that. Catron succeeded him, elected as sheriff in 1985; he was up for re-election this year. Last night, someone shot and killed him at a fish fry and political rally in Pulaski County. As of this writing no one knows why. I haven’t been back to Pulaski County in over 15 years, so I have no idea what kind of sheriff Catron was. But it’s just shocking to hear that someone you knew died so suddenly and violently, and any time a law enforcement officer is murdered, it is a blow to the order of our country. I will be following this case, to see what develops as motive.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

FINALLY the New York Times covered the trial of Spc. Lillie Morgan, an American soldier in Germany who drowned her two children in the bathtub last September. Reader Bill Kirtley called my attention to the article in today's Times, which he said was on A3 and 14 inches long - i.e. short and buried. She got a life sentence with potential for parole in 20 years. The article is interesting for the mainly neutral tone, even though it makes a parallel to Andrea Yates's case - everything from evil religious influences to childhood abuse to an awful husband. I'm sympathetic; if all of that is true she has had a difficult time of it. But I still want to know - given all the similarities - why her case was not covered extensively, or really at all, in the United States.

GIRL GOT BOOTY: You won't believe this.

DON'T EVEN GO THERE: Instapundit points out an article where Florida Solicitor General Tom Warner says:

When national security is threatened, there are times when the United States cannot afford the luxury of adhering to the Constitution...

No, no, no, a thousand times no. It's when we're at war that we have to be the most assiduous about adhering to it strictly. It is our Constitution that defines us as a nation, and it is the blueprint of our success. Mr. Warner should be impeached (or fired, if he's not elected) for even suggesting this, because it's obvious that he is not committed to our law.

It's like a preacher saying he doesn't believe in God.

LOW POSTING AGAIN TODAY: I have a major project due Monday for school, my car has to be fixed and other life details have to be taken care of. I'll likely post some throughout the day, but not a lot until tonight. Go out and enjoy your Saturday.

MICROCONTENTNEWS has a follow-up to the blogging ethics code article posted Thursday. The follow-up is on the blog page, and you'll have to scroll down a bit to find it - first post under Friday, April 12. I couldn't find how to link that particular post - which is justice, I suppose, since my archives are being coy and he couldn't find how to link directly to my earlier post. Oy vey. But his follow-up covers the response to his earlier piece, so it's worth your time.

Friday, April 12, 2002

SLAP THE BAD PARENTS: The Last Page does it again. Some days I think I should just post "go see Page" and then get on with my life. Today is one of those days. She has an excellent post in her usual style:

Plain and simple, there is a raging epidemic of bad parenting going on in the U.S. Between "time-outs," "the Corner" and taking away the Nintendo that they've already played to the point of acquiring unnaturally large thumbs, the nation's youth are going straight to hell and they will be taking Western civilization with them.

Yep. I pretty much agree with her right down the line, except I don't think I'll be going for the tubal ligation any time soon.

A DAY OF RESEARCH: Professors and students from my program are making brief presentations most of today about their current research. While I'm not presenting anything, I'm going to be there, so no more blogging at least until tonight. However, given how long the post below is, you'll probably need all day to absorb it all. Have a great day.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

JOURNALISM, ETHICS AND BLOGGING: John Hiler of Microcontentnews has a good column today about whether bloggers could – or should - be considered journalists on the merits of their blogging alone; in the interests of full disclosure, I talked to John via email about some of the issues he discusses in the column, a fact he mentions here. And while I don’t think he “got it all wrong in this piece” – in fact, I thought it was very well done and a great opening to the discussion - I do have some significant disagreements with portions of it.

First, my bona fides to comment. While I’m not now working as a paid journalist (which apparently is what John uses to define “professional” journalist), my undergraduate degree is in journalism and I worked four years as a reporter/photographer and sometime columnist before going to graduate school. Since that time I’ve worked some as a freelance journalist, although not recently. Currently I’m working on a doctorate in criminal justice, in the early stages of developing my dissertation proposal on the topic of the intersection of media and police, which includes a look at media bias in relation to policing and criminal justice. In both capacities – journalist and academic – I have spent a lot of time thinking about the issue of media bias. In addition, I’ve been a part of the online community since 1994, a blog reader since late last fall and a blogger myself since February.

The very fact that I felt the need to establish bona fides goes to the heart of what John says:

The fundamental principle of trust between reader and writer holds equally true for journalist and blogger alike.

That’s the heart of John’s column, and that is true. But he gives professional journalism too much leeway to establish that, and gives bloggers too little room for defining it. Let’s look at it more closely.

John tells us that during a conversation with a “real journalist” friend, he called what he does “online journalism”. His buddy bristled:

"Wait, how can that be real journalism?" he interrupted. "You're totally biased because you work in the industry. A lot of journalists don't even register with a political party so they can write about politics objectively!" And that was just the beginning of my crimes against journalism: "You don't even have an editor, so none of your articles are even peer-reviewed!"

John’s buddy is showing a peculiar tunnel vision that journalists develop and, if they have journalism degrees, they’ve paid good money to gain. That tunnel vision is the concept that journalists, and thus journalism, are in any shape, form, or fashion objective. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines objective as:

expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations

Any human who is truly objective is also truly dead. It’s not possible to turn off everything you have been up to the point you begin reporting something and, I would argue, it’s neither necessary nor desirable. Yet we have this distorted view that journalists can be, SHOULD be, objective, promulgated by them and believed by the audience to the damage of both.

But think about what happens from event to story: Events A, B and C occur at the same time, same day, same town. Editor has two reporters. She decides (based on what?) to send reporters to A and C; B gets no coverage. One reporter is a veteran, one a newbie. Which reporter goes to which event? Once there, who does each reporter talk to? Is a photographer sent along? Once the reporter returns, how long is the story? How long does he have to develop it? Which copy editor does it go to? What other news is happening in the world? What factors are considered in putting Event A on Page 1 and Event B on Page 12 under the advertisement for corset girdles? And the list goes on. At each stage, the personal experiences, preferences, training and honesty of the journalists involved subtly (or not so subtly) affect the final product and its presentation. This doesn’t even include reporter-initiated stories, which beat reporters are required to produce consistently to maintain their position, or agenda pieces where a reporter, editor or publisher thinks a particular social issue needs to be addressed – selecting one over the other, I would argue, represents some type of bias. It is true that journalists develop a sense of what is important to their readers, and they have a sense themselves of what is important, but both of those are subjective. There is no objectivity, merely varying levels of consensus.

John’s “real journalist” friend also, somewhat naively, seems to think that not registering with a particular political party somehow indicates political impartiality. That is false on its face, and again is actually opposite from what would be best – knowing a reporter has liberal or conservative leanings helps me evaluate his or her work. How does it help me, as a reader, that Reporter A doesn’t register as a Democrat, when she voted for Bill Clinton twice, and Hillary once? The ideology doesn’t go away just because you don’t sign up under it. And what peer review is there when the assignment editor, reporter, copy editor, page editor and publisher all voted for Clinton (or, for that matter, Bush)? When they’re good – when it matters to them – they check things, and they try to compensate for their own biases. But if news media organizations as a whole are massive pools of peer review fact checking and ideology busting, how did all the glowing articles about historian Michael Bellesiles get published without a single outlet figuring out that his basic premise was deeply flawed because of fundamental, fairly easily discovered, inaccuracies? And how did the false calculation of Afghan war civilian casualties get purchase in the mainstream media?

This all leads to what John identifies as a major weakness of blogging:

…amateur journalists often have agendas of their own

Yes, this is true. Usually people who start a blog, who take the time to speak out, have something they’re passionate about; otherwise, they’d watch TV or play golf. But that doesn’t mean they are less likely to be accurate in their facts, or less fair, than the paid journalist – they’re just more likely to mix opinion with the fact, and that’s okay because the very nature of the medium warns you that such is the case. But “real journalists” have agendas too – look at Paul Krugman, as Andrew Sullivan has so intently (you'll have to link around his archives, but there's lots there). Look at Eric Alterman, as Matt Welch has done. And whole hard drives could be stuffed with the bytes generated on blogs debunking the American and foreign media’s faulty coverage of the Afghan war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even science (for instance, the piece I did taking apart a biased presentation of research about gun suicides by black youths).

John explores the professional ethics code of journalists (which could inspire an entire column on its own), and gives a personal story to illustrate the heavy responsibility journalists carry to present their information properly. I agree the responsibility exists, but from John’s story I think the culprit was not John – who wrote a carefully explained story on Google Bombing – but the BBC, whom he says drastically edited the story and then used a dramatic photo only tangentially associated with the story’s topic which conveyed a completely false impression to the casual observer. The “real journalists” screwed up by either following an agenda or seeking to entertain rather than accurately inform. So down goes the journalism code of ethics as a practical indicator of the state of the art in today’s news media. It’s a nice idea imperfectly followed.

So what about bloggers? John wants to set up a code of ethics for bloggers, which is again a nice idea, but limiting in a libertarian environment like the Internet. John doesn’t advocate objectivity for bloggers – and it’s a good thing too – but he says full disclosure is crucial. Well, what does full disclosure mean? Where does it end? If I tell you I’m a conservative with a graduate degree, do you know enough? Is it important to know that I’m a Christian? Well, what stripe – high church, low church, no church but the forest? Do you need to know if I am pro- or anti-abortion? Is it important that I’m a southerner, with rural roots, that math makes my head hurt? All of those things could be important, depending on what I’m writing about. But still, for both bloggers and “real journalists”, it comes to this:


This is where John and I reconverge. What we as readers need to know is, can I trust you to be fair? Can I trust that you will say, “I have this bias about this topic so take my story with a grain of salt, but I will make every effort to be fair”? John gives good examples of how this works, and another article in TechCentralStation on the economics of old media vs. blogging gives a good perspective on why it is more efficient to trust, say, the New York Times vs. cut on the bias. But while I think the world of blogging and the world of old media will blend together at the edges even more as time passes, they both serve their purposes and have important roles to play. Are bloggers as good as “real” journalists? For the purposes of Constitutional protection of free speech and freedom of information, yes. In quality of reporting (when we do it), writing and fair presentation of material, many times yes as well (in this category, don’t think of New York Times vs. cut on the bias, think of, say, Arab News vs. Instapundit). In terms of identifying bias? Well, no, not there.

Usually, we’re better than they are.

A CASE IN POINT: I mentioned below the successes of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, taking on the world - literally - as brilliant, capable people, not defined by themselves or others as operating from a racially-defined context. I couldn't have timed it better if I'd tried - which I didn't - because all you need to know about what it looks like when people are defining themselves as primarily of a particular victim group is covered in the newest City Journal, in an article by John H. McWhorter called "The Mau-Mauing at Harvard". It covers "(t)he fracas between Harvard’s new president and its top Afro-American studies profs..." The first sentence does it all - the rest is just support:

"Dignity is all a black person in America has,” Harvard professor Cornel West solemnly told listeners during the kick-off episode of black pundit Tavis Smiley’s new NPR radio show.

No, Professor West - some black people also have talent and intelligence, and the respect for themselves and others to use those in the arena of ideas without becoming caricatures. Which, incidentally, imparts true dignity - something you apparently haven't learned the definition of, much less shown any evidence of yourself.

THERE'S NOTHING TO ADD to the rant by James Lileks about the accusations that warbloggers are profiteering, and that their writings are not critical analysis but rhetorical hyperbole, and boring and boorish to boot. Go read.

And his kid's really cute too.

ANNIVERSARIES: Asparagirl remembers the LA riots and general turmoil in NYC following the not-guilty verdict of the LA police officers in the Rodney King beating, 10 years ago this month. That turmoil leads her back to another day, six months ago today - the WTC attacks. Worth reading, and remembering, especially that we aren't done yet with those who killed our people last September, and wish the rest of us dead or subjugated to their will.

IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT: Orchid sees the Tribute in Lights in Manhattan from a different perspective. She has a point.

HE JUST IS: I've been meaning to say this for a while, because I've been thinking it. Regardless of what you think of Sect'y of State Colin Powell and his current role in the Middle East, you have to admit one thing: neither he nor anyone else is saying anything about the fact that he is black. No "he should understand the Palestinians because he as a black man would understand oppression", no "he should understand the Israelis because he as a black man would know about discrimination", no "Powell, the first black sect'y of state" etc. I'm sure whatever experiences he has had in life are informing his actions now - military, spiritual, tragic, educational - which is as it should be. But Powell, and to a lesser public degree Condoleeza Rice, are immersed in the most important world crisis so far in our generation, and they are gaining accolades and taking hits for their policy decisions, their behavior under pressure, and their ability to follow through on what they say without anyone trying to protect or deride them based on race. I think this is in part because they are conservatives - if they were Democrats, I think their race (and Rice's gender) would be mentioned in nearly every story about them and it would be used as a basis for praise. Instead, they are in the party of pragmatists, who say, show me what you can do. And they are doing just that, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not. But they are also giving a quiet, powerful lesson: it's not about who you are, it's about what you do. And when you're good, you don't have to hide behind excuses.

LIGHTS! CAMERAS! END OF ACTION! Hawaii is ending its program for issuing speeding tickets using sensors and cameras as the proof of speeding, which should make Matt Labash very happy:

HONOLULU - Gov. Ben Cayetano on Wednesday ordered a halt to the use of cameras to catch speeders, a safety measure many Hawaii motorists considered so underhanded they tried to subvert the system.

Cayetano said the Legislature was about to repeal the program anyway. "The traffic van cam law is the creation of the Legislature, and if they want to now cancel the program it will be canceled," he said in a statement.

The van-mounted cameras, introduced on Oahu two months ago and operated by a private company, were coupled with radar and automatically photographed a speeder's license plate. A ticket was then issued by mail to the car's owner.

Some drivers mockingly called them the "talivans."...

Drivers and civil liberties lawyers complained the system unfairly assumed the owner of the car was the person behind the wheel. They also said the cameras were an invasion of privacy.

Judges threw out the first batch of citations on a technicality that was later fixed. But lawyers then successfully argued that tickets issued to drivers going less than 10 mph over the speed limit should be dismissed because it conflicted with Honolulu Police Department practice.

While many states use cameras to catch people running red lights, Hawaii was the first state to pass a law allowing photo-enforced radar along state roads.

Now, if we can just spread the joy.

BIAS IDENTIFICATION TRAINING EXERCISE: Sometimes it’s good to set articles side by side to see just precisely how a journalist goes about spinning his work. Today the writers are the NY Time’s ever-objective David Sanger, with today’s sidekick David Rosenbaum, vs. an anonymous Reuters writer or writers. Sanger’s article is in Politics, but is not identified as a “news analysis”, so should be a straight detailing of the political game playing. The Reuter article is focusing on Joe Lieberman’s promise to filibuster over the Alaskan oil drilling issue, Sanger on a White House announcement about it, events one day apart.

I’m going to pull out a couple of examples of bias – see if you can find more.

1) Use of evocative language:

SANGER: …Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said today, using a somewhat aggressive estimate of the amount of reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

…the administration vigorously opposed an effort in the Senate to raise fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and trucks sold in the United States…

White House officials insisted there was no contradiction in the policy, contending that by mandating stricter mileage standards, Congress would force auto companies to produce more small, unsafe cars.

Last month, by a vote of 62 to 38, the Senate rejected a bill to require that the average mileage of vehicles sold in the United States rise to 36 miles a gallon by 2016, from about 24 miles a gallon now. Several Democrats from automobile-producing states broke ranks and voted with the Republicans.

REUTERS: Under the Senate's complicated rules, controversial measures like drilling in the ANWR need the support of 60 of the chamber's 100 lawmakers to end debate and permit a vote.

…However, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers already voted against modifying the energy bill to significantly boost vehicle fuel standards.

COMMENT: Sanger characterizes the administration’s efforts as aggressive and vigorous, indicating a very strong, almost hostile attitude; the terms “insisting” and “contending” raise questions about honesty – you usually see them when the person presenting the information doesn’t believe the source. And in the comment about how the vote fell out on vehicle fuel standards, Sanger says the Democrats “broke ranks” – a battle term indicating going over to the other side. Compare the Reuters information: controversial indicates disagreement without choosing sides, especially in this context (sometimes “controversy” is used where there is none in the hopes of instigating it, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here). And the discussion of the vehicle fuel standards is very low-key and non-judgmental.

2) Identifying sources:

SANGER: Democrats countered that even if drilling in the refuge began today, no new oil would be available for a decade. They said the Republicans' refusal to support tougher fuel-efficiency requirements showed they were not truly concerned about energy independence.

"The Middle East crisis is far too complicated to be calmed by drilling in the Arctic, and the fact that we're hearing such a far-flung argument tells me that our opponents don't have the votes," Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said.

REUTERS: ``The fact remains that drilling in the refuge would not produce a drop of oil for a decade, far beyond the time of the current crisis, and even then far too little to change the skewed foreign oil dependence equation,'' Lieberman told reporters.

Lieberman was joined by other lawmakers and environmental groups at a Capitol Hill news conference to protest drilling in the refuge.

``The Middle East crisis is far too complicated to be calmed by drilling in the Arctic, and the fact that we're hearing such a far-flung argument tells me that our opponents don't have the votes,'' Lieberman said.

COMMENT: All of the information Sanger uses here is from Lieberman; the Democrats behind him on the platform don't count. It wasn’t “Democrats”, it was Lieberman. Using “they” gives Lieberman’s comments more weight, as if several independently said the same thing. But then, as I’ve discussed at some great length previously, Sanger isn’t too concerned about mixing it up with hidden sources, attributions and pronouns like “they” vs. “he”.

3) What’s with the name thing? This isn’t bias, just funny.

SANGER: Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut
REUTERS: Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut

COMMENT: The two articles identify Lieberman somewhat differently. This is actually most likely a difference in style between the NY Times, which tends to be more formal, and the news service Reuters. Interesting that the copy editors don’t adjust wire service articles to conform with NY Times style.

DUELING PSYCHIATRISTS: The trial of Spc. Lillie Morgan continues in Germany; Tuesday a psychiatrist for the defense testified, and yesterday it was Dr. Park Dietz, a well-known forensic psychiatrist who has testified for the prosecution in a number of high profile homicide cases including the trial of Andrea Yates. Morgan, an American soldier stationed in Germany, drowned her two children in September in what both sides say was an effort to get revenge on her husband for unspecified misbehavior. Despite the many parallels between this case and Yates's, the American media has been silent on it, which means so have the feminists and the others who rallied around Yates. I discussed why this was true earlier.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

HEATHER LOCKLEAR, RACIAL MINORITY: In a society where most of us are racial and/or ethnic mutts, of the Heinz 57 kind, it's becoming harder and harder to say who is and is not a particular race for the purpose of preference or discrimination. This is, in my mind, a good thing, although it makes life a bit more complex for those who play racial politics. The case of Heather Locklear - Racial Minority is illustrative:

Another family whose name is a giveaway for their African heritage is that of Locklear - yes, the same one that Heather, the blond bombshell of the TV series, "Melrose Place," claims as her own. Although as Anglo Saxon sounding as you can make it, the name is, in fact, an Indian one and in the language of the Tuscarora tribes means "hold fast." Indeed, it would appear that Ms. Locklear's family, at least on her father's side, once belonged to a segment of the population which in academic terminology is referred to as a tri-racial isolate - a community of individuals whose ancestry is a mixture of European, Indian and Black and who intermarried only with each other.

So our quintessential blonde actress is actually... black? I can't really tell from this little article, but it surely at least suggests that. They also make another point:

It should be noted that the modern ethnological word for such groups - isolates- is misleading. It reflects the restrictive social conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the "one drop" rule defining an African American would not be legally instituted anywhere in the nation until after Reconstruction, this definition does not take into account the fact that throughout the seventeen and early eighteen hundreds free people of black and white ancestry intermarried not only among themselves but with families of Indian and white ancestry. Furthermore, members of mixed race families intermarried with the surrounding whites, despite the fact that many states had passed laws outlawing such unions.

Hmmmm.... this seems important in the light of recent reparations demands. How do you parcel it out? And are you going to start using the "one drop" rule again, only this time for whites? "You are 1/16th white, therefore your reparation will be reduced by that amount..."

Locklear is also Native American, according to this article, so maybe she could start a casino with her reparation.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS, HIDDEN FAILURES: My parents are both retired teachers; three of my four grandparents were public school teachers; my sister is an elementary school librarian; more than a dozen aunts, uncles and cousins are teachers; I have taught college classes and so has my brother. I know a little about the public education system in this country, and right now I find it appalling. I understand the point behind tenure, just as I understand the point behind civil service, having worked as a government employee off and on for a number of years. But I think both systems have become a hiding place for a lot of deadwood that suck up huge amounts of tax money while providing no value to the system, and at the same time create an impression in the public's mind that is not fair to the many many teachers and government employees who are skilled, passionate and competent. I could go on about this at some length, but fortunately Tony Woodlief at Sand in the Gears did it for me, at least on the school issue. I would make some refinements on his comments, and I'm big on home-schooling, but on the whole I say - amen, brother.

A SLOW DAY: Not the news, but me. There will be very little blogging today as I am pushed both at work and at school. I can recommend any of the blogs listed on the left, or, if you're feeling really energetic, why don't you take a little time and write me an email? I always like to read eloquent, well-written discursions on the day's events. But you'll do. So write, already!

I LIVE FOR MY TIP JAR: I’m not quite sure where the idea of tip-jar-as-profiteering emerged, perhaps from the guy who’s accusing various bloggers of profiteering off the war, but it seems odd that this would gain purchase. (Yes, pun intended, I like puns.) The cry is taken up today by Aussie blogger Neale Talbot at WrongWayGoBack, who points out how mature, high-minded and unmaterialistic he is and how low, immature and craven warbloggers are. He then lists a group of bloggers who have tip jars. It included me! Yeehaw! He says:

…if each of these warbloggers makes a dollar a day, after a year they'll have collectively made almost $10,000. $10,000 that could have gone to the victims of 9/11.

This sounds remarkably like the “if you don’t support (insert your business here), the terrorists will have won” advertisements that were so distasteful and annoying there for a while. In this case the comparison is lacking merit. Patronage of “the arts” has been standard for centuries, and because of that we have many great artworks that otherwise would not have been done. And getting paid for bringing attention to atrocities isn’t precisely new – let’s look closely at, say, all news media, many movies and novels, and even, yes, Picasso – was he profiteering when he painted “Guernica”?

Certainly blogging is a “low art”, if art at all, but it takes effort and time and passion. I don’t have a problem with a tip jar, and people who get all hoity about it are welcome to their opinion too. As for profiteering, I’ve made a grand total of $0 from my tip jar in my admittedly short blogging history; I will confess to having dropped maybe $50 total in other tip jars. I doubt that I would ever make enough from mine, even if some readers got all excited and dropped a few coins in there, to have any impact on my decision about whether or not to blog – I already spend too much time on it, given that I work full time and ostensibly am in graduate school as well. So this argument by Talbot is actually precisely the kind of thing he decries himself:

…petty insults and a focus on irrelevant details…become the order of the day.

Of course answering his post this way is rather like killing a fly with a shotgun (with much less accuracy required), but I was just feeling contrary this morning and thought I’d take Talbot on. Not that he cares, or will read it, but I feel better already, and that’s the whole point of the blogging thing ultimately, isn’t it? Getting it off your chest and into the minds of other people who can laugh or smirk or cry or consider. Whether or not they tip.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

TELETHON FOR SUICIDE BOMBERS: Saudi Arabia continues to actively support the Palestinians, this time with a telethon:

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd yesterday reiterated Saudi Arabia’s unwavering support for the Palestinians and ordered a nationwide telethon to raise funds for them. He also donated SR10 million to the fund...

King Fahd inaugurated the fund-raising campaign by donating SR10 million. Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, gave SR5 million and Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, SR3 million...

King Fahd also ordered the dispatch of emergency relief supplies to the Palestinian people in the form of thousands of tons of food and medicines. The last telethon for the Palestinians saw support pour from all over the world and by the end of the day SR40 million was raised. “The new fundraising campaign comes at a time when the Palestinian people are facing tragic circumstances. Saudis and expatriates are requested to support the Palestinians by providing them with food, medicine and clothes and contributing to rebuild the shattered infrastructure,” the committee said in a statement.

“The committee will continue to provide direct assistance to the families of Palestinian martyrs and those wounded while resisting the occupation,” the statement said.

Emphasis mine. What is going on here? Why are we hearing about just the support of Saddam for the suicide bombers when Saudi Arabia is openly supporting them - having a telethon!! - to raise money for it? The leadership of Saudi Arabia, including Abdullah-of-the-peace-plan, are contributing SR18 million (I don't know what that is in US dollars) up front to kick things off. What kind of entertainment are they going to have in the telethon - rotating replays of the videos left behind by the young people who spewed hate then blew up dozens of innocent people? Dramatic readings of the "blood pastry" propaganda? It's not just the fact of this event, but the boldness that is incredible.

Will there be a response on the part of our government? Americans? Europeans? Anyone? I'll be looking.

And if you want a little light Saudi humor, visit here. Be sure to link through several day's worth.

CRAVEN ADMISSION: In the midst of the recent stir of "I don't care how many hits I get on my blog because I have a life" comments, I will raise my hand and say I care. Someday, most likely when I'm dead, I won't care anymore when people read what I write. Until then, I care, I'm glad you're here, and I hope you'll be back again, soon, and 10 minutes won't be too soon. Just kidding, I won't have it updated by then. Probably not for at least 15 minutes.

So I feel no shame in saying, YAY! Today is the six-week anniversary of this blog, and today I got the 10,000th hit! It was someone in New Jersey, and I won't give the domain name in case it's someone at work who should be counting beans instead. This is small potatoes for the likes of Instapundit, who has that many hits before breakfast and twice that before he decides whether to have the white or wheat for lunch, and that's okay, I'm not a law professor either. In the interests of open disclosure, "hits" on my counter is the number of people who come by - I do have repeat visitors, so my actual "unique visitor" count is lower, but if they are back within an hour of their last visit it counts as another page view instead of a hit. But hey, if it's the same 100 people checking the page obsessively, it's nice to know I'm not alone in having no life. My "page views" are at 13,736, if anyone cares, and that includes the 10 times a day I check my own page because I can't get SiteMeter not to recognize my home computer.

This is more math-ish than I like (for details, see my comment on No Watermelon's most recent math post). But it's happy math, so I'll get over it.

CHECKMATE: James Lileks says what I think in his post today about checks for suicides:

If someone convinced my daughter to blow herself up in a restaurant, and one of Saddam’s men came around later with a check to buy us off, I would return it. And by “return” I mean I would kick his body over until his face is in the dirt and shove the check in the hole in the back of his head.

Are we clear?

Very clear, and ditto here. What I don’t understand is why the Palestinians don’t get it. That quote is from a post where Lileks explores another possibility for escalation in the horrors of suicide bombers, which follows a very good post about tech help. Weird mix, but it works.

AND THE BEAT GOES ON: The Pulitzer committee is still reviewing Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer from 1995; Goodwin was herself a member of the Pulitzer committee until this year, when the issue of plagiarism in her books became too big and too well-substantiated to ignore.

Now, when is the Bancroft committee going to review Michael Bellesiles’s award?

Link via Drudge.

PULITZERS II: The previous post was too serious to allow for a light moment of mocking the Pulitzers, but I can't resist here. From the Pulitzer website:

Unlike the elaborate ceremonies and royal banquets attendant upon the presentation of the Nobel Prizes in Stockholm and Oslo, Pulitzer winners receive their prizes from the president of Columbia University at a modest luncheon in May in the rotunda of the Low Library in the presence of family members, professional associates, board members, and the faculty of the School of Journalism. The board has declined offers to transform the occasion into a television extravaganza.

It really speaks for itself. All together now: "meeeooowwwww!"

CONGRATS ON THE PULITZERS, BUT… It’s not surprising that the September 11 coverage dominated this year’s Pulitzers, given the magnitude and breaking news nature of the event. And it’s likely that most of the recipients deserved the awards; I don’t have the resources of the Pulitzer committee to make a judgment on that. But one controversy in the mix this year highlights the dangers in big-media journalism – playing favorites vs going for accuracy. It is especially unfortunate that this situation happened in the light of Pulitzer winner Doris Kearns Goodwin’s recently identified problems with plagiarism which were not identified by their awards committee when she was awarded her prize in 1995.

Here is The Seattle Times telling the basics:

The Seattle Times was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting, for a five-part series examining two failed clinical trials at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The series, published March 11-15, 2001, reported that patients died prematurely in two failed clinical trials in the 1980s in which the center and its doctors had a potential financial interest. The patients and their families were not told about those monetary connections, nor were they fully informed about the risks.

The stories, reported by Duff Wilson and David Heath, generated controversy over the past few weeks when Wall Street Journal Assistant Managing Editor Laura Landro, a former Hutch patient and now a patron, wrote an op-ed piece blasting the series as "reckless" and "fundamentally false." The Times stood by the series, as a debate over its merits ensued in the journalism world.

The beginning of The Seattle Times series is here; I haven’t read the series and I haven’t read Ms. Landro’s editorial, or the Wall Street Journal’s defense here and here. What concerns me is the comments from the Pulitzer prize administrator about the controversy, and the attitude by the New York Times. First, the NY Times:

In an unusual move by a potential Pulitzer competitor, the Journal on March 19 published a critique of the series by assistant managing editor Laura Landro, who survived leukemia after a 1992 bone-marrow transplant at the Hutchinson center.

Landro's column labeled the series ``fundamentally false'' and called it ``a textbook case on how the media can convey biased and misleading information about biomedical research. It left out crucial facts, distorted others and ignored everything that didn't fit its sensational thesis.''

Fancher said Landro failed ``to offer a single factual inaccuracy.''

Now, Seymour Topping, prize administrator of the Pulitzer and journalism professor at Columbia School of Journalism, a premier journalism program:

``On the merits, in competition with the other entries, The Seattle Times simply lost out,'' said Seymour Topping, administrator of the prizes and a Pulitzer board member.

He declined to address the controversy involving the two newspapers, but said complaints from both the Journal and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center did not cost the Times the prize. The entry was a finalist in the investigative reporting category.

``The fact that The Seattle Times did not win the prize had nothing at all to do with any of the complaints that were lodged,'' Topping said.

This is chilling – the NY Times identifying the controversy as an issue between competitors for a prize, and the Pulitzer representative saying the criticism had no impact on awarding the prize. Journalism has to be about trust between the readers and the media organization or there is no value in the exercise. It is this lack of trust that has undermined the public’s view of journalism in recent decades, and events like Goodwin’s plagiarism woes and the proven inaccuracy of Michael Bellesiles’s much vaunted Arming of America, which won a prestigious Bancroft Prize for History, don’t help matters much. It shouldn’t escape anyone that Columbia University, a liberal institution in New York City, oversees the awarding of both the Pulitzers and the Bancrofts. Now we have a dispute about the accuracy of a nominee for a Pulitzer and while it did not win, the representative of the Pulitzer committee is saying publicly that the accusations of inaccuracy did not have a role in that decision.

I don’t know if The Seattle Times reporters were inaccurate. I don’t know whether Ms. Landro’s patronage of the clinic featured in the Times expose affected her attitude about the series; apparently she was also a patient there at one time. What I do know is that if serious questions about inaccuracy are raised, the Pulitzer committee has a responsibility to consider that in its deliberations. Not doing so is an abrogation of their purpose – recognizing honest, accurate journalism that has made a real difference in our society. I think it likely the criticism was considered, but admitting it would cast into doubt the selection processes of all the other prize committees who have given awards to the Seattle Times for that series, and would create a major rift between the Seattle Times and those on the Pulitzer selection committee – and higher echelon journalism is a small society as is any higher-echelon level of business. Either way, the Pulitzer committee does not come off well: either they are ignoring accuracy questions which throws into doubt all their selections; or they are lying about their selection process. And either way, the Pulitzers come under a cloud again.

Monday, April 08, 2002

NEXT FASHION TREND: GUANTANAMO HEADRAGS? In a spectacular blow for peace and humanity unlike any seen since "We Are The World", the Australian fashion magazine Australian Style's April issue has a full fashion spread on - refugee fashions.

...the team [was] quite serious in their decision to devote an entire fashion asylum seekers - complete with models in designer threads and sporting this season's must-have accessory: stitched lips.

That's right, the models have faux sewn mouths, so chic and yet so poignant. Not that they use those mouths for food, something they might in fact have in common with the refugees.

The Australians have been struggling for months with the plight of asylum seekers who some say should be sent back to their countries, and others say should be allowed to stay in Australia. Meanwhile, the refugees live in camps with few amenities, a fact that isn't lost on the fashion industry.

"We had something to say, that we don't agree with the way these people are being treated. We wanted to symbolically represent that through a fashion shoot," [Australian Style editor Jacqueline] Khiu said quite seriously from her Surry Hills office...

Australian Fashion Week organiser Simon Lock offered this thought-provoking gem: "Australian fashion designers draw their inspiration from our social, cultural and environmental diversity. These are the influences that define Australian style, a style that is as eclectic as the designers themselves. Asylum seekers and immigrants can form an important part of that inspiration, adding to the cultural diversity of this great nation."

I think Halle Berry was just out-Halle'd. Is there an Academy Award for self-mocking gestures?

BRILLIANT DEDUCTIONS: Steven Brill of the defunct Brill's Content is turning his attentions to the Walker-Lindh case, arguing for the defense in this article in Newsweek. For a more lawyerly take, I suggest you read the website of Henry Mark Holzer, professor emeritus of the Brooklyn Law School, who is dissecting the case motion by motion.

AND DON'T FORGET EGYPT: Instapundit points out this article which talks about "the Arab street" in Egypt, as Secty of State Colin Powell is scheduled to meet with the leadership there. This article discusses how the unrest is dangerous for the governments themselves. I think the Instapundit tag line is good: reaping the whirlwind.

"ARAB STREET" IN AMERICA: Over the weekend, Muslims in New Jersey demonstrated against US policy in the Middle East:

Chanting provocative slogans and hoisting the colors of the Palestinian flag, hundreds of Muslims rallied in Paterson and Teaneck on Friday afternoon to condemn Israel's military assault on the West Bank and criticize the Bush administration for its response.

I'm not quite sure how this fits the premise of Arab anger incited by Arab governments - these people live in the US and many are likely US citizens. It's definitely something to keep an eye on.

THREAT FROM THE ARAB STREET: We’ve heard about “the Arab street” since the beginning of the war on terrorism, with the clear message – implicit or explicit – that it’s a powerful force just on the verge of being released against the United States. The implication is that it will be a wave we can’t turn back, and we should be seeking to appease the crowd before we are swept away.

It has seemed to me that it was being used as a threat, and the articles in today’s NY Times reinforce that feeling – and it is a feeling similar to the one I get when I hear Arafat saying, I can’t stop the terrorists, they’re just ungovernable. Where has this hatred of the United States come from? I understand that US policies have not always been what the Arab countries wish they were, but I think the “anger” being reported now is as much an artifact of deliberate incitement by the governments involved and the tone of media coverage as any natural response to US policy.

What do the articles say? The first is about a young man killed during an attack on the American embassy in Bahrain – his family and others claim he was killed by US weaponry, the US Marines deny it. There is some indication he may have been killed by Bahrain police. But that isn’t the word on “the Arab street”, and

“…his death (is) feeding a brooding resentment of the extensive American presence on this Persian Gulf island.

"America's blind support for Israel and its silence encourage Israel to kill more Palestinians, just as America did in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Ibrahim Abdullah, one of a steady stream of mourners who made their way to the dead man's dusty grave on the edge of a poor village populated by Shiite Muslims just north of Manama, the capital.

"The American base is very dangerous here," Mr. Abdullah said. "Because of their presence we feel crippled. They will stand with the government against the people. They are against Islam. Americans hate Islam."

Where did he get this idea? I don’t hate Islam, and the tone in the United States from September 11 onward has been one of making clear distinctions between extreme Islamoterrorists and the average Muslim. Could it be that his attitude is fomented by Arab leadership, including Arafat? There is apparently also a backlash in Bahrain because Ronald Neuman, US Ambassador to Bahrain:

…had requested that a model United Nations school assembly observe a moment of silence for Israeli victims of suicide bombings. His suggestion came after a student asked the assembly to stand to observe a moment of silence for the Palestinians…

"Maybe the ambassador thought what he was doing was fair," said Mansoor al-Jamri, a former spokesman in exile for the Bahrain Freedom Movement, an Islamist opposition group, who has come home under a general amnesty. "But to Muslim people around the world who feel the Americans value them at less than zero, this sparked everything."

Again, who has encouraged “the Arab street” to feel “Americans value them at less than zero”? It’s not emerged from “the American street”.

Another article makes the tone into a more explicit threat:

Arab governments — particularly Egypt and Jordan, but also Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other gulf states — might have to face the decision whether to crack down violently against agitated crowds of stone-throwing students protesting the Israeli incursion into the West Bank and expressing their disillusionment with American policy and Arab leadership…

…Arab leaders "don't see themselves as having any viable political options" or arguments with which they can calm the daily demonstrations that, thus far, have been contained with minimal violence, a senior Western diplomat here said.

All it would take is for a large crowd to break through police lines and race toward the Israeli or American embassies.

"By the time they got a half mile down the road, tens of thousands could join them, and then you would have a real crisis," an Egyptian official said. American diplomats in the region, all of them living with hundreds of Arab soldiers stationed nearby to protect them, were rattled by the breach of the American Embassy compound in Bahrain on Friday, when about 20 demonstrators broke off from a crowd of several thousand and scaled the wall.

What does this say?

1) The “Arab street” is angry
2) The Arab leadership is losing ability to contain the anger
3) The anger is the fault of the US
4) The tipping point would be a large “Arab street” assault on a US embassy
5) It’s already happened on a small scale
6) A larger scale one is only a matter of time unless the US buckles to whatever it is “the Arab street” wants, which is removal from the region (and I doubt that means removal of US money too – removing that would likely further incite “the Arab street”)

It seems that the stage is being set for precisely the kind of attack described here, and fault is being apportioned now so that when it happens the response can be, “I told you so”. And where has this happened before?

The image [of the Bahrain attack] evoked memories of 1979, when Iranian students loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized the United States Embassy in Tehran and held 50 American diplomats hostage in a crisis that undermined the Carter administration.

Is this a deliberate construction of an atmosphere conducive both to attacks on Americans in these countries, and to laying the blame for such attacks on American policy and hatred of Islam? I don’t know that it’s all deliberate – that would be a complex undertaking – but I do think forces in the Middle East are manipulating conditions that have arisen from decades of Arab government mismanagement and vilification of the US to bring about their own ends. And I don’t think those ends are about either religion or making things better for the “Arab street” – I think it’s about making things better for the pockets and the power-mongering goals of the ones who have been responsible for “the Arab streets” for a long time.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

OUT OF ARABIA: For a serious give and take about what we should do vis a vis Saudi Arabia, go check out the exchange at Instapundit. I haven't said much about this because I have a pretty clear idea of what I think should happen, and haven't really come across many articles saying it. So I'll say it now, and then leave the larger discussion to better minds.

My take:

I think we should develop our own sources of oil and alternative fuels. I think we should pull out of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Middle East in general as far as buying oil is concerned. We should set strict limits on any type of aid that is given, and follow those limits closely. The kind of limits I'm talking about include: no aid if there is any evidence of supporting terrorism, no aid if the government's money is flowing into the coffers of individuals instead of going to build the country's infrastructure; no aid if women are treated poorly or not allowed education. The list would be longer, but you get the idea. As for us trying to engage in social engineering of those countries - if you want the money, you meet the requirements. No one is forcing them to take our money. And the money we provide should be precious little, and then only for specific projects such as building initial infrastructure or schools. No long-term subsidizing of any nation-states. Nada, zilch.

I'm ready to pay the price for such a decision, realizing that it could mean less oil in the short term and more expensive everything short and long term. If it means I live a simpler, more expensive life, so be it. Principle and safety are more important than riding the wave of luxury straight to hell.

Some days it already feels like the wave is cresting.

RESERVING JUDGMENT: Israel decided late Sunday to call up senior reservists to serve in Northern Israel after seven Israeli soldiers were injured there by Hezbollah fire. Lebanon and Syria are claiming they disapprove of Hezbollah's actions but can't stop it. Meanwhile:

A member of the American administration estimated that Hezbollah had recently received large weapons caches from Iran, some of which were unknown to Syria.

"Some of which"? And what's this about Iran being involved, aren't they supposed to be our allies or at least on the "marginally friendly" list? Sounds like we need to have another little discussion with Syria, and bring Iran in for a heart to heart too. "Stopping it", Syria, could include using your influence to keep arms out of Hezbollah's hands, and to convince the Hezbollah guerrillas that you accept Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon as complete.

And both countries are moving troops to Israel's border. Sounds very peaceful to me.

UPDATE: Well, I clearly had a serious brain hiccup with Iran, somehow blanking out the entire "Axis of Evil" speech. I claim chocolate nirvana as the cause - I was drinking Godiva hot chocolate at the time I wrote it. Fortunately, Scutum gently corrected me in Comments, and I appreciate that he didn't use any of the many variations of "brainless twit" available and appropriate to the situation. I think I will avoid further humiliation and end posting for the night. See you tomorrow.

IT’S SO…MOTEL 6: Sometimes my comments only get in the way. Excerpts from an article on lawns in Miami:

WHEN you have a name like Raymond Jungles, maybe you are fated to rip up lawns to bring the jungle back to South Florida...Mr. Jungles, a landscape architect based in Key West, is fighting the kind of tyranny that makes a yard in Oregon look like a yard in Texas.

"The landscape is so disgusting around here," (Jungles) said as he drove his BMW along a winding road in Coconut Grove. "Florida McMansions and these plops of plant combinations on an overabundance of lawn."

...He stopped short in his tour of the gardens. "Ooh, that's got to go," he said, frowning at a Philodendron selloum, as common as a zinnia, quickly reproducing itself at the base of a beautiful grove of black bamboo.

"It's so mundane," he said. "And it's going to obscure the bamboo." He went off and spoke to the gardener in Spanish...

(Jungles) found converts in Victoria DiNardo and Stephen Montifiore, who gave up a loft in SoHo, with a huge roof garden, for a waterfront Art Deco paradise in Miami Beach. When the couple saw the house four years ago, its clean lines were hidden under latticework and Italianesque columns, and the yard had the usual hodgepodge of plants.

"It was all lawn with these dopey royal palms across the beach," Ms. DiNardo said...The little pool house reminded Mr. Montifiore, a clothing designer and manufacturer who grew up in Miami, of a Motel 6. But he liked the lines of the house. He could see its potential.

...(But Ms. DiNardo) couldn't picture the tall Alexander palms...soaring 40 feet over the L-shape wing of the low house. "But Raymond would run over and stand there with his arms up, to help me see the verticals," she said. "He bounds all over the garden, like a Labrador retriever."

I think they deserve each other, don't you? As for me, I'm just going to save Jungles's photo as my monitor wallpaper and water my plebeian houseplants with drool.

SIX DEGREES OF MYTH: A Psychology Today Online article posted last week debunks Stanley Milgram's "small world experiment" as a myth, noting that his first test of it had a 5 percent success rate, and the second had a 30 percent success rate - hardly compelling. Milgram's premise was that any person is within six acquaintances of any other person - a concept which took root in popular culture through the Kevin Bacon Game, to the point that Bacon is now starring in a credit card commercial using it. The Psychology Today authors claim the widely popular "six degrees of separation" is an urban myth, promulgated by our need for security - a "small world" feels safer - rather than rigorous scientific findings. They also posit another reason - look closely, this is a sneaky slide into bias:

And small-world experiences that we encounter naturally buttress people’s religious faith as evidence of “design.”

A nice little dig at religion as myth - I personally was moved to a much deeper faith by the sense that six people separate me from Kevin Bacon. My belief in a merciful God would have been shaken had I been, in fact, even closer to Bacon; clearly I'm under supernatural protection. Seriously, I find it hard to imagine any "people of faith" that I know latching on to the Kevin Bacon Game as evidence for God. This was a passing swipe with no support or reason for existence other than what must be a particularly deep aversion to religious faith on the part of the authors.

Be that as it may, the premise of narrow layers of association separating us from anyone else in the world is an interesting one, and Columbia University has launched an email version of Milgram's test of the Small World Phenomenon. The best part is - you too can be a part of it. This website shows you how.

But if I get any of those emails, they're going right in the trash bin. I don't want any Psychology Today writer to accuse me of myth mongering.

UPDATE: Well, as it turns out, I'm operating on two degrees of separation - today (Monday) Instapundit linked me... and I got an email from my previous landlord, who lives in another state and whom I haven't had contact with in almost three years! He reads Instapundit, saw my name, linked over to my site...and Voila! wrote to find out if it was really the same susanna. And, of course, it was. A very fun thing to have happen. But (sorry PT) it wasn't quite a religious experience.

IT MUST MEAN SOMETHING: Steven Den Beste at USS Clueless, an excellent writer and thinker, touches our hearts with a view from the other side, then explains why the Palistinian leaders may not be able to stop the suicide bombings. He doesn't say it's right; he just makes it clear why the Palestinian people have to think it is. There is no exit strategy other than winning, for them. The same is true of Israel. So how do we find peace?

THE PATIO VIEW OF PUNDITRY: Martin Devon, our fine Patio Pundit, does the heavy lifting for us this morning on the Sunday pundits in the NY Times and the Washington Post, dealing with Maureen Dowd, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Tom Friedman and an assortment of WaPo writers including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Join him on the patio before adjourning to the deep and sometimes dark rooms of the nation’s newspapers. His excellent insights may free up your morning.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

GUNS N MOSES II: No sooner did Diane E. at Letter from Gotham identify gun ownership as a possible factor in fewer terror and anti-Semitic attacks in the US as compared to Europe and Israel than The Boston Globe informs us that personal gun ownership is burgeoning in Israel:

Gun sales have surged in Israel, particularly since an Israeli shoe salesman used his own weapon to fatally shoot a 46-year-old Palestinian who had opened fire in a Tel Aviv restaurant March 5 and killed three Israelis. The Interior Ministry says applications for licenses have tripled during the past month, overwhelming its staff and forcing it to shift employees from other departments to handle the deluge.

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has moved to ease once-tight restrictions on owning a gun, and some right-wing members of Parliament have demanded that anyone who has completed military service, which is obligatory for nearly all Israeli Jews, be allowed to carry a firearm.

''This is the realization that if we don't protect ourselves, nobody will,'' said Knesset member Eliezer Zandberg. ''There is a loss of trust in the government actions to protect the citizens. So we will act appropriately.''

I like this Zandberg guy. Interesting that the demands of the right-wing members of Parliament sound remarkably like the conservative interpretation of the "militia" in the Constitution, and the comments of Zandberg echo the comments of many American gun-rights proponents.

Meanwhile, the anti-gun crowd in Israel has apparently also been taking lessons from their American counterparts:

The trend has upset a vocal minority inside Israel represented by leftist members of Parliament and women's groups who fear that access to guns could worsen domestic violence. Others worry about an onset of vigilantism that mirrors a rise of militancy in the Palestinian territories, potentially undermining the authority of the government.

''If the state is relinquishing its monopoly by giving arms to the citizens, it becomes less of a state,'' said Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University. ''The first function of government is to defend the security of the citizens. When it cannot do that, the contract between the citizens and the government is broken.''

They're against it because: domestic violence could go up; vigilantism could go up; the state would lose its authority. Looking at the potential for increased domestic violence would require a review of crime statistics in Israel as compared to recent terrorist killings, but dying in the supermarket from a terrorist attack is a very real danger that could offset the potential for domestic violence. Using the United States as an example, vigilantism is not a likely consequence. As for the last - the state "relinquishing" authority - a democracy, which Israel claims to be, is a government whose authority emerges from the people rather than an entity that grants rights, as an absolute depository of authority, to its citizens. I think the government will lose rather than shore up its authority if it tries to prevent the people from protecting themselves. And when citizens cannot trust the government to act in their interests rather than its own, the contract is already broken.

The new gun owner whose example opens the Globe article is:

...not one of the Jewish settlers who have brazenly toted their assault rifles among Palestinians who consider them colonizers. Nor is he a hard-line supporter of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has openly spoke of forcing the Palestinians to submit by force. He is a member of Israel's shrinking left, someone who opposes the Israeli occupation and demands Israel withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Diane said, on Wednesday:

It's true that gun ownership among Jews, who are mostly urban and liberal, is probably low. But in this country, there's always a chance that your intended victim might pull out a .45 and clock you.

Now even liberal Jews get the point. Smart woman, Diane. Maybe we should send her to replace Zinni.

CLONED BABY IN UTERO? Dr Severino Antinori, a fertility specialist who previously promised to clone a human by 2001, announced this week that a woman is eight weeks pregnant with the first cloned human, according to the Sydney Herald, quoting The Gulf News:

Dr Antinori made the announcement at a conference on genetic engineering in Abu Dhabi, according to a report in Gulf News. His office refused to comment on the report.

The Gulf News quoted Dr Antinori as saying: "Our project is at a very advanced stage. One woman among thousands of infertile couples in the program is eight weeks pregnant. We have nearly 5,000 couples in this project now."

A spokesman at the International Centre for the Study of Physiopathy of Human Reproduction would not confirm or deny the claim.

A search for Antinori at The Gulf News will show the article, published on April 3; the page that opens with the article does not have a URL. The NY Times ran a short piece on it yesterday.

What do we do if this is true? I don't know. We are so enmeshed in moral equivalence in terms of scientific advances that I don't think any ethics rules from the UN or anyone else will make any difference at all. The post earlier today about embryo development for the purpose of stem cell research illustrates that. I feel sometimes that we're in the days before Noah's flood again, where the world moves forward, marrying and giving in marriage (a phrase meaning, life as usual, living for the day), approaching each development of policy or science or social engineering as a progressive (thus, good) move without sincere contemplation of the long-range consequences. The voices crying, consider the consequences of your action, are being ignored - and those consequences could be devastating. I'm not anti-science at all, nor am I a Luddite. But I also don't believe that just because we can do something, we should.

UPDATE: My hysteria seems pre-mature, because Antinori is refusing to confirm the cloning story and fertility specialists are skeptical and, as one said, "very angry." Does anyone besides me find it somewhat amusing that Antinori announced this in the Middle East, that bastion of veracity and rock-ribbed scrupulousness?

SAME CRIME, DIFFERENT COVERAGE: Desert Pundit wrote to alert me about the case of Spc. Lillie Morgan, which I had not heard of. I bet most of you haven't either. What did she do?

Army Spc. Morgan, stationed in Germany, drowned her two children - 3-year-old son, Joshua, and 2-month-old daughter, Jazmin - in the bathtub on September 18, 2001; testimony is ongoing in her court-martial. Granted, her crime happened while our nation was literally reeling from the terrorist attacks on September 11. But that wasn't true during Andrea Yates's trial - there would have been plenty of opportunity to find out about this similar case, and include it in the coverage. I discussed at some length before about the difference in coverage of Yates and Adair Garcia, who killed five of his six children and tried to kill himself about the time of Yates's trial. In this instance, I searched Google, Yahoo!, the NY Times, the LA Times and the Washington Post, and found no mention of Morgan other than three Stars & Stripes articles and one brief in the Oakland (CA) Tribune.

Why the difference in coverage? There could be several factors, none of which say much positive about the media. The main ones, in my view, are laziness and time frame - the Morgan killings happened in the wake of the biggest story in decades, and by the time of the Yates trial the media weren't interested in digging for information that would deepen or broaden their carefully constructed analyses. Now that Morgan is on trial, we're in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian story and the mainstream media, if they know about Morgan at all, likely have a sense of "been there, done that with Yates, no need for a redux when we can be causing trouble in the Middle East".

Another possibility is that the Garcia and Morgan cases don't have a "like me" component for the majority of the big media's audience - Garcia is poor and Hispanic, Morgan is black and military. As much as the mainstream media whine and gavotte about race, if you notice the coverage is usually framed for white consumption - either setting up minority culture as something for whites to admire or emulate, or serving up white guilt for breakfast. Coverage of Garcia and Morgan would require treatment of the two as humans, not as racial entities - because their crimes are not connected in any way to their race -and that is not acceptable for most big media. Minorities are the minority of their audience, and if the cases can't be turned to appeal positively or negatively to the largest audience - whites - the media doesn't want to know.

Finally, neither Garcia nor Morgan fit the frame the media placed around the Yates case - that of a mentally ill, religiously oppressed, I-did-the-best-I-could mom who just reached the end of her rope as anyone would. There were, in the media's Yates frame, juicy hotbuttons to push - fanatical religion, mistreatment of women and misunderstanding of mental illness. Garcia fell out because he is a man, and thus can lay no claim to any oppressed class other than Hispanic, and the media wouldn't touch the possibility that his ethnicity had an influence on his crime (which, in that case, was good because I think it highly unlikely that it had any role at all). Morgan fell out because she did not fit the woman-as-victim frame the media uses for such crimes - there is some evidence that her crime was done as a means to get back at her husband, and she does not appear to have been either isolated or non-functioning in her daily life.

There is a lot of room for meaningful analysis in the light of these parent-child killings. But, in that as in so many ways, the media has failed us again.