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August 20, 2003

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Breaking Views

Breaking Views

A weblog by
Tribune columnist Eric Zorn

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Older links may be expired. If current links are broken or you'd like to suggest new links, rattle my cage or otherwise respond to something here or in my column, e-mail me.
For information about my column, this blog and many other fascinating things, visit my personal website.
For my most recent columns, click here

Thoroughly Scientific Poll August 15

I believe the expression "back in the day" now cloys and ought to be mothballed. My wife thinks it's great and that I am a sour old man. Who is right?
You are right. "Back in the day" should be history.
You are right, though you probably are a sour old man anyway.
Your wife is right. Again.

Thoroughly Scientific Poll: August 14

Don't you love these little polls?
Yes, I click on them all the time and obsessively read the results
No, I think they are silly and so unscientific as to be dangerously misleading
My indifference to this sort of interactive device is indescribably large
"Love" overstates it, but I do find them mildly entertaining

Weblogs of interest

Altercation (Eric Alterman)
Best of the Web (James Taranto)
California Insider
Calpundit (Kevin Drum)
Chicago Report
Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan)
Daniel Drezner
Dave Barry
Dynamist (Virginia Postrel)
Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds)
Kausfiles (Mickey Kaus)
Media Log (Dan Kennedy)
Secular Talk Radio and Arts Gas Tank (Jay Marvin)
Media News (Jim Romenesko)
Random Act of Kindness (Illinois politics focus)
Milt's File (Milt Rosenberg)
Nancy Nall
Talking Points Memo (Joshua Micah Marshall)
Talk Radio Daily News
Whatever (John Scalzi)

Matthew Yglesias

E-mail me

A frequently updated online journal containing observations, reports, tips, referrals, tirades and whatever else happens to be in my notebook.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
updated: 4:08 PM
THE BATTLE FOR HISTORY IS JOINED: CalPundit Kevin Drum defends Joe Conason today against attacks from the right about Conason's claim that history vindicates liberalism. I've been making that claim for years.
THE NAME'S THE THING: O.K , so maybe "Breaking Views" isn't the greatest title in town, but I had to come up with something, per tradition. Thinking up titles is hard, though � -- it took me longer to come up with BV than it did for my wife and me to name our kids. A good title for a blog, book, magazine, TV or radio show or organization is informative, resonant, welcoming and even intriguing. A bad title, well...

When I was a reporting intern for the Miami Herald in 1979 I interviewed author Richard Hagen about his intriguing book "The Bio-Sexual Factor." In it, he argued rather well that fundamental differences exist between men and women that cause us all sorts of grief. The title made it sound like a college text and Hagen's book sank. But his basic idea, when re-packaged by John Gray in 1993 as "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," soared.

So I put this question to Breaking Views readers: Which local publication, TV or radio show or organization has the least informative, least resonant, least welcoming and/or least intriguing title? Submit entries NOW!!! (as they might say on "Banzai.") I'll select the top few nominations, then put the matter to a vote in one of my Thoroughly Scientific Polls on this page.
DID YOU HEAR THAT GEORGE CARLIN HAS WRITTEN A GREAT ARTICLE ABOUT THE PARADOXES OF OUR TIME? Well, he hasn't, no matter how many times the essay with his byline shows up in your e-mail in-box. As reports here, "credit belongs with Dr. Bob Moorehead, former pastor of Seattle's Overlake Christian Church," who was himself something of a paradox.

Also, FYI, most things you receive that purport to have been written by Andy Rooney weren't. (See also here and here).
MEMO TO MAYOR DALEY: The name of the Illinois prison is "Stateville," not "Statesville." (nod to WLS-AM reporter Bill Cameron, who pointed this out Tuesday on "Chicago PM," the 6-to-7 p.m. daily debriefing that often features extended mayoral declamations)
UNSOLICITED PLUG Do you have "Daywatch" delivered by e-mail each morning? I do. It's free, and even if you're a subscriber to the Tribune you'll find it a useful digest that will point you to stories you might have missed. I recommend it, and not just because the online staff at the paper has been really helpful to me setting up this blog. Sign up here.
MINI RHUBARB Susan E. Fox, Executive Director of the American Association of Law Libraries, wrote to take issue with my stance (see RED HERRING ALERT below ) on the now-delayed FCC regulations on unsolicited commercial faxes:

You are all wrong when it comes to the FCC rule on broadcast fax. The organizations that are fighting it are not for-profit spammers, but non-profit associations such as mine that would be prevented from communicating with our members without prior written consent.

That's crazy. I'm as frustrated as you are with the spamming shysters, but the FCC rule (now under a stay, thank goodness) needed to be stopped. That ruling was too broad and too blunt to get at the real culprits -- who you know would keep spamming, rule or no rule, while the rest of us would turn ourselves into pretzels to comply, and at a pretty high cost.

I responded: My understanding of the proposed new rules is that the FCC is not going to become the FAX police, but rather respond to complaints. My experience is that complaints will only be generated when organizations flagrantly and persistently violate the letter and spirit of the regulations, and that neither recipients nor regulators will try to bring the hammer down if, say, the American Association of Law Libraries faxes over the occasional dues notice or convention announcement to its member libraries.

Further, it doesn't seem to me overly burdensome to ask member organizations to sign permission-to-fax forms as part of their renewals. Or (and this is quite possible) am I missing something?

Last word to Susan Fox: True, the proposed new rules will not turn the FCC into the FAX police. As much as we would hope that "neither recipients nor regulators will try to bring the hammer down � over the occasional dues notice or convention announcement�" the truth is it takes only one cranky litigant to launch a lawsuit.

According to the proposed rules, associations would be liable for up to $1,500 per violation, giving incentive to those with an ax to grind. Many of us think that's where the real danger lies. Even if innocent, the cost of fighting a lawsuit could cripple an association with already extremely limited resources. Who wants to spend their reserve fund on legal fees? To what good?

The way the FCC wrote the rules, obtaining written permissions would not be as efficient as asking "member organizations to sign permission-to-fax forms as part of their renewals." If the rule had gone into effect, the FCC would have forced us to obtain written permission (not faxed, but via US mail) immediately from, in our case, all 5,000 of our members. We also would have had to obtain written permission from our key vendors, from prospects, or even from anyone with a casual request. Maybe the casual requester wouldn't have an issue about our sending them a fax without first obtaining signed permission, but cranky litigant could easily use that as an example of yet another violation.

The other objectionable piece to this is the human resources that would be needed to maintain the permissions system. Think of it: whenever we receive notice that an individual or organization has moved, changed their fax number, changed their name, or that a new contact person had taken over the organization, we would have to send out new permission forms, and then insure their proper completion and return. Maintaining a database is complicated enough as it is without adding yet another layer of tracking details. As with so much in life, what appears fairly simple on paper is much less so in execution.

More than 1,400 associations registered their objection to the FCC and on Tuesday the American Society of Association Executives succeeded in obtaining a stay for a period of 16 months, until January 1, 2005. We clearly need more clarification and debate.

Meanwhile, whatever ultimately happens among us honest folk, you can be sure the spammers will continue to happily spam away.

VANITY, THY NAME IS BETTE: The Trib and the Sun Times prominently feature the controversy in North Chicago over Mayor Bette Thomas' decision to put a photo of herself on the city's new vehicle sticker.

Local aldermen voted unanimously to ban any living person from appearing on the sticker, which "normally showed scenes of North Chicago -- from City Hall to the Great Lakes base." our Susan Kuczka reports.

The aldermanic vote is too late and the legislative action too small. Clearly what we need is a state law to rein in political vanity on public property. No more buildings named after sitting elected officials (this means you, John Stroger) and no more including the names of officeholders on directional and informational signs.
CUT THAT OUT! The Illinois Leader, your convenient source for news from the rascally right, reports this week that Rep Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) is leading an effort of more than 30 legislators "calling for the University of Illinois Board of Trustees to reverse their decision to spend $400,000 on providing health care for 100 employees' same sex partners."

The Leader quotes Rose: "With the state's budget crisis and the cuts that have come along with it, I am stunned that the University has placed same-sex benefits higher on the priority list than its core educational mission or good jobs for our working families."

I'm surprised at a couple of things. One is how comparatively little this advance in fairness is costing. Two is how many lawmakers are getting themselves mired in such a transparent and futile anti-gay effort.

UPDATE In a follow-up story Wednesday The Leader quotes U of I spokesman Tom Hardy as being very skeptical that trustees will change their minds: "The fact is that if we don't offer health care benefits for same sex partners, the quality of faculty will be affected The Big Ten schools already offer these benefits, and how our faculty is treated is something potential faculty members weigh in making their employment decisions."

NICKNAME WATCH: Before signing off his phone-in appearance on Bruce DuMont's syndicated "Beyond the Beltway" program (heard locally on WLS-AM) Sunday evening, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean tried to give a gracious shout-out to in-studio panelist Steve Rauschenberger, a GOP state senator from Elgin and likely U.S. Senate contender.

"My campaign manager tells me that Ralph Rosenberg is a pretty good guy for a Republican," said Dean.

  • Mary Schmich (Trib) riffs on news reports yesterday that the annual survey by the Princeton Review has named DePaul University students the happiest in America. Is this necessarily a positive development? "A good college education will prepare you for patches of happiness later in life," she writes "It will introduce you to people and passions that stick for good--but a good college experience is not necessarily one that in the moment you'd call happy."
  • Carol Marin (Trib) who certainly deserves the props she has been getting for her op-ed columnizing, salutes recently retired Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard: " Last year a Chicago police officer was struck and killed by a train while doing drug surveillance. Hillard arrived within minutes. Younger officers on the scene were ordered to stay back. It was Hillard himself with several of his deputies who gathered the officer's remains. It's the walk, not the talk that counts most."
  • Clarence Page (Trib) uses the occasion of an upcoming TV special on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech to argue against the "racial privacy" ballot initiative in California: "It is King's vision of a better society that Americans and the world remember today far more widely than they remember the sense of debt and `obligation' that he references in the early part of his speech. Everybody, it seems, would like to see a free, just and equalized society. We only argue about how to get there. That tendency leads some people to speak of ways to achieve King's dream that run precisely counter to what King actually wanted �In fact, King believed Americans would have to be quite color-conscious in order to achieve his dream."
  • Jack Mabley (Daily Herald) discusses the difficulty even experts have in predicting the future as he leads into this sad and timely point: "The planners of the invasion of Iraq are guilty of a staggering failure to prepare for the aftermath of our military pushover of Hussein's ragtag army. They figured, maybe correctly, that 80 percent of Iraqis would welcome us. They ignored the 20 percent who would resist us to the death."
  • Cindy Richards (Sun Times), a victim of one of the recent computer viruses, writes of "writh(ing) from the pain of seeing four years' worth of work evaporate in a computer that no longer will reboot unless the operating system is reinstalled, wiping out all my data."
    I totally sympathize. And though I don't pretend to understand exactly how these things work, I do know that making home computers reliable, redundant and impervious to all the sorts of attacks they undergo must be though is not Job One for Microsoft. I also find it odd that data is apparently so easily "lost" when we all know that if Cindy Richards happened to be a child pornographer, law enforcement agencies would have no trouble recovering that data even if she tried to drown her computer in the bathtub as they were breaking down her front door.
  • Steve Neal (Sun Times) echoes Saturday's Tom Roeser column in the CST anointing Andrew McKenna the favorite of the GOP establishment in the U.S. Senate primary. Conclusion: "Although (Democratic candidate Daniel) Hynes and McKenna are the establishment's men, their insurgent rivals shouldn't be underestimated."
  • Jay Mariotti (Sun Times) becomes the latest journalist to tour the inside of the new Soldier field and find it pleasing. He's "stunned at how cool it is," in fact.
    I can't recall critics doubting that the stadium would be pleasing once you got inside it. It's the outside, where, as Mark Brown has pointed out, most Chicagoans will always be, that's the issue. And that remains an eyesore.
    Serious questions about ends and means remain, though those of use who continue to raise them are seeming more and more like the soldiers lost in the wilderness who are unaware that the war is over and continuing to fight.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

CLARIFICATION:Our computer columnist Jim Coates gently corrects my assertion today that I was the "first columnist to invite e-mail, 1993 (and the) first columnist with own Web site, 1997." As "Binary Beat" columnist he beat me by several months to the e-mail punch and two years to the website idea. Tech columnists are in a different league atogether -- I've eaten their dust for so long I hardly recognize it. Regrets. I should have specified news (non-tech) columnist.

A SHOPPING FETISH? (ALLEGED) The athletic director and women's volleyball coach at the Illinois Institute of Technology was arrested for "trying to videotape a woman shopper" at North Riverside Park Mall according to this brief. The 51 year old man is innocent until proven guilty (on charges of disorderly conduct and unauthorized videotaping), of course, but is retail voyeurism a kink we should be aware of? I've got a call in to the North Riverside PD.
UPDATE Chief George Kratchovil of the NRPD told me the alleged taping allegedly took place in a "common area" of the mall (actually, I added all the allegedlies) and not in a dressing area; that the victim/subject of the taping was not even made aware of the incident and that the suspect told police that he'd picked her out at random. Kratchovil said he's been on the job in NR since the mall opened in 1976 and "never heard of anything like it." So that's a relief.
YOUR DETAILS� Getting spammed today with mail that asks you to "please see the attached file for details" and to download a .pif file called "your_details?" I've had at least 15 so far.Don't download it or, to be on the safe side, any unsolicited file attachments, no matter who it appears to be from.
PIER REVIEW So the Chicago Park District is planning to build a big honkin' pier out into Monroe Harbor and the Friends of the Parks are ginning up opposition. We could all pay attention and debate the merits of the effect of the project on the beauty of the downtown lakefront but, honestly, what good would it do? If Mayor Daley wants it, it will be done. If he doesn't, it won't. This frees us all up to follow the pennant races.
  • My column (Trib) launches this feature. The headline, "Someday is now for Tribune's new Web log" is either a salute to my S.I.N Society or a dig at my frequent forays outside of the column box. I don't write the headlines, and I'm not sure I want to know.
  • Ed Sherman (Trib) notes that TV ratings for the final day of the PGA were off 41 percent from last year when Tiger Woods was in the hunt. This year, no big names contended and we didn't even get the pleasure of seeing Vijay Singh blow it.
  • Burt Constable (Daily Herald) offers this thought among a series of post-vacation musings: "If I had a dog, I'd name him Fleabiscuit."
    My plan, when our family re-dogs in a few years, is to push for the name "Bingo." The only reason is so that when people say "Oh, like in `There was a farmer, had a dog and Bingo was his name-o?" I can look at them in total bafflement and say "Huh?"
  • Leonard Pitts (Trib) is troubled by the high school in New York City for gay, lesbian and transgendered students: "If the problem is straight kids harassing gay ones, I'm not convinced the best solution is to send the gay ones packing. Especially since the real world doesn't work that way, doesn't allow you to be sealed away in some safety zone from that which makes your life miserable," he writes. Instead, "Teach tolerance to the little miscreants who think hitting a gay kid somehow makes them bigger than they are. Teach it to educators and administrators who allow that behavior. And if any of them still don't get it, show them the door and help them through it."
    But as one who sends his kids to a school that arguably is a "safety zone" in which they are growing up in very peaceful surroundings, I think this idea of school as a place to experience the hard knocks of the real world is overrated, at best. Most bullies do grow up, so the best solution may be both tolerance education and separation.
  • Mary Mitchell (Sun Times) makes a good case against mandatory minimum sentencing, especially in drug cases. "Our current drug sentencing system must be changed because it has stripped too many families of the one thing that could change a bad circumstance: hope," she writes.
    This CST editorial
  • Jesse Jackson (Sun Times) inveighs against the "poisonous initiative" on California's ballot that would outlaw collection of data on race. Such information, Jackson writes, "is needed to analyze social problems, design public policy and identify positive solutions. Proposition 54 argues not for privacy, but for ignorance. It is nothing less than a recall of the historic commitment to civil rights, equal access and equal protection under the law."
  • Jay Mariotti (Sun Times) uses the occasion of Ozzy Osbourne's slurred, incoherent leadership of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" at Wrigley Field over the weekend to call for the end of the new and often embarrassing tradition. He gets off a few good lines -�"a thoroughly surreal convergence with dweebs-for-life Steve Stone and Chip Caray" � but he wouldn't be Yappy Jay if he didn't include extra swipes at the "Tribsters."

PUN PATROL "�successful gam plan�" Tempo writer Maureen Ryan in her story on the trend for publishers to put women's legs on book covers.
TIGER WATCH: I spent my boyhood in Ann Arbor rooting for the Detroit Tigers but have switched allegiances to the Cubs for practical reasons. So my eye tracks first to the top of the NL Central standings. But then, these days, it wanders to the AL Central where I'm following the Tigers effort, if that's the right word, to be the worst team in modern baseball history.

That honor belongs to the `62 Mets (40-120), but the Tigers are squeaking along now right at that same winning percentage (.250 for the `62 Mets; .252 for the `03 Tigers). The Tigers "magic number" of victories needed to avoid this ignominy is 10.
BLAME CANADA: The arrival of new parking-ticket enforcement technology billed in this Trib story seems inevitable. By using a mobile scanning device from a Montreal firm, "Revenue Department boot crews will prowl local streets (at up to 15 mph) armed with a computerized system able to read license plates of parked cars and instantly check them against a master list of plates belonging to motorists with three or more tickets," writes City Hall reporter Gary Washburn.

This advance stands to double the number of cars booted and, the company promises, the technology will pay for itself in a matter of months. It's hard to argue against such a development – boot crews already use computers, but they are slowed by the necessity of entering license plate numbers manually – just as it will be hard to argue if they city decides to use the technology to "check whether a motorist has overstayed at a time-limited parking space even if the meter is current." It's simply efficient detection of lawbreaking on public streets.

But at what point does high-tech law enforcement, no matter how permissible under our Constitution, simply go to too far for our tastes? With the light-pole monitoring cameras and the red-light-violator cameras recently installed in Chicago, it's become easier to envision a time when "pays for itself" technology automatically tickets those who roll stop signs in residential neighborhoods, for example, or those who jaywalk, park a bit too far from the curb or those who exceed the speed limit anywhere on our highway systems.

A generally unacknowledged truth is that we do and always have relied on certain inefficiencies in law enforcement to maintain our quality of life.
MORATORIUM CORNER: With a hat-tip to cartoonist Matt Groening, who every year or so generates a fresh "Forbidden Words" list to remind of all of usages, coinages and clichés that have gone stale, I hereby inaugurate "Moratorium Corner," a periodic feature in which I attempt to exercise executive authority by declaring a temporary ban on the broadcast or published use of certain terms. The first three are:
  • "The wife" or any reference to a spouse or significant other that employs the definite article instead of a possessive pronoun ("the husband" instead of "my husband," "the boyfriend" instead of "my boyfriend.")
  • "Kidding!" as a one-word interjection to signify satirical intent.
  • "Back in the day" as a slangy reference to the indefinite yet distant past.
My wife, not the wife, blasted me when I told her of my intention to declare a moratorium on "back in the day." "I like that expression," she said. "It's fun, it's interesting, it has a good rhythm. What would you say, 'Back in the olden days?' That's so boring. We need more uses of 'back in the day,' not fewer." She was not �. kidding! So I agreed to put the question to Breaking Views readers in a thoroughly scientific poll. Look down the right rail of this page and exercise your franchise. Check out some of Groening's recent lists: 2003 | 2002.,
UPDATE Trib tech veep Jay Brodsky asks if we ought not add "then he'd have to kill me" to the Moratorium list (see flash mob item below).
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST! The premier "Flash Mob" in Chicago is planned for Friday at 7:30 p.m. Organizer Charles Shaw says he could tell me exactly what will happen when a mass of people summoned by e-mail earlier in the day to a Near North Side location performs some sort harmless prank, but then he'd have to kill me.
HOLLOW VICTORY: The Trib front page tells of the 11-year sentence given to Enaam Aranout, the former Islamic charity boss. Though the feds got a guilty plea from Aranout on "a single count of racketeering conspiracy for diverting charity money to pay for boots, uniforms and other equipment for Islamic fighters in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya," the outcome fell far short of expectations created when U.S. Atty John Ashcroft came to town to strut last fall when Aranout was charged. Ashcroft was not in town yesterday to hear U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon call Aranout's alleged ties to Al Qaeda "ambiguous and innocuous" and say that prosecutors failed "to connect the dots" to show he "promoted or supported terrorist activity."
Monday, August 18, 2003 PITHY DIET ADVICE� from WLS-AM host Jay Marvin, offered on a recent program: "Get your head out of the pail!"
JUST IN TIME FOR THE RE-OPENING OF SOLDIER'S FIELD AND THE EXPANSION OF O'HARA AIRPORT: Terry Hillard (HILL-urd) has retired as Chicago Police Superintendent. Whatever else one might say about this development, it certainly moves off the news radar screen another opportunity for hosts and commentators to sound dumb by calling him "Terry Hilliard (HILLY-urd)." Many did, right up until the end. HILL-urd is not an uncommon name – roughly 25 in the Chicago White Pages, about half the number of HILLY-urds – so what explained this persistent confusion?
AM I OUT OF MY J-BLOGGIN' MIND? Maybe. Yet I am not alone.