Blog on the Run
Proud member of the Reality-Based Community

You also can visit my News & Record blog, The Lex Files.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Heard on my deck earlier tonight during pumpkin carving

"No, in fact, it is not a rotten spot. It is an exit wound."


Herewith, a constitutionally protected opinion

Something from the often-solipsistic universe of politically oriented blogs that you might not know but probably should is that Donald Luskin, a contributor to National Review Online (and, no, I'm not going to link to him) is a flaming horse's ass. His threatened lawsuit has nothing to do with libel and everything to do with abusing the legal system to try to unmask a so-far-anonymous critic.

But don't take my word for it. Take the Emperor Misha's.

I think Digby has it right: "Irony may be dead, but Luskin et al are energetically committing necrophilia on the corpse. ... When, exactly, did the right wing become such a bunch of lame-assed [crude plural female genital reference], anyway? These are the big, bad [Oedipals] who are going to run the world? If this is any indication of how they take a punch, Jenna Bush had better get used to wearing a burka, because Osama bin Laden is going to be sitting in the White House within the next decade."


Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Polite company

"Sweetie, know what we're gonna do tomorrow night?"

"No, Mommy -- what?"

"We're gonna carve pumpkins!"

"YAY! And scoop out the -- "


"I can't remember."

"The pulp."

"Yeah, the pulp."

"Good night, sweetie."

"Good night, Mommy."

(door closes)

"Hey, sweetie?"

"Yeah, Daddy?"

"You know what another word for pulp is?"


"Pumpkin guts!"

(giggles) "Pumpkin guts?"

"Yup, pumpkin guts. Now, that's not the kind of thing you want to say around other grownups or polite people. Around them you want to call it 'pulp.'"


"But if it's just you and me, you can call it pumpkin guts if you want."

"OK, Daddy."

"Goodnight, sweetie. I love you."

"Goodnight, Daddy Pumpkin-Guts."


Serpent's tooth

"Daddy, turn on music."

"OK, buddy." (singing along) "Tell me you will try/To slip away somehow/'Cause I need you, darlin'/I want to see you right now."

"No, Daddy!"

(singing along) "Can you slip away/Slip away/Slip away-ay-ay-ay ah,/I need you so."

"No, Daddy! Hurts my ears!"

"What?? Buddy, people actually used to pay your daddy money to sing to them. Granted, most of 'em were higher 'n paper kites, but still."

"No, Daddy! You make my ears sad!"

(sighs) "OK, buddy. I won't sing anymore."



The complaints stop here

The New York Observer has an interesting interview with Daniel Okrent, the new "public editor," or ombudsman, at The New York Times. This is the position that was created as a result of the Jayson Blair story-fabrication scandal, you'll recall. Among his more noteworthy comments:

  • "It was like Mom took an ax to Dad." (on the Blair case and its fallout)

  • "I don't know if 'weird' is the right word. You feel the weight of history. I have - like everyone else - my fair share of ego, so it's gratifying. Now my obituary won't say 'Okrent died' and 'He invented Rotisserie baseball.' Now my obit will say: 'He was the first public editor of The Times.' It's a huge step forward."

  • "[A] humiliation for the newspaper, even before the spiked columns. Just the relentlessness of it - O.K., enough. The spiked columns were inexcusable." (on The Times' coverage of Augusta National's men-only membership policy, and the temporarily spiked columns by Harvey Araton and Dave Anderson that disagreed with the paper's editorial stance on the issue)

  • "I thought it was pretty appalling. I think anyone in our business would think so. But, also, it was so clearly self-destructive. You have to want to get caught; you're just doomed when you do things like that. When the Bragg thing happened, it didn't surprise me at all. I think Bragg is a wonderful writer, but I always thought the quotes he had were just too perfect. When I interview people, they don't say things quite that wonderfully. Everyone talked brilliantly, and they had names. Or nicknames." (on Jayson Blair's fabrications and Rick Bragg's uncredited use of stringers' work -- although he seems here to be implicitly accusing Bragg of fabrication as well. Don't know what to make of that.)

    The guy's got his work cut out for him, that's for sure.


  • Monday, October 27, 2003

    Battered but unbowed

    The Tigers played their best game of the season on Saturday ... and still got killed.

    The other team wasn't particularly good, with one exception who was phenomenal: a little girl, even shorter than Victoria (who's the shortest girl on her team), who had more speed and better ball-control skills than anyone else on the field. In fact, I think she could've been competitive with 9-year-olds.

    I know for a fact that there's only one other person I've seen execute a 135-degree cut with the speed and grace she showed ... and that was the late Walter Payton.

    I think the final score was 9-3, and this girl scored seven of the other team's goals. Victoria had a goal, and if soccer recognizes assists, then she had assists on the other two. She also made some stellar defensive plays, including at least two that prevented goals, and was the only Tiger who could even come close to keeping up with the other team's little star's breakaways.

    Hard to believe, but the last game of the season is this Saturday. Memie will be here for it. Note to self: This time, let's remember to bring the camera.


    Something special?

    I'm pleased that the Panthers beat the Saints on Sunday, of course. But I'm even more pleased that the team did something I've never known it to do: It played a not-so-good game and still managed to beat a not-bad-at-all opponent.


    I'm just askin'. Again.

    Yet again, the commission investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks is finding it necessary to subpoena documents from the executive branch, this time from the White House itself.

    You know, if there's a security issue, the White House and the commission chair (Tom Kean, the Republican former governor of New Jersey) ought to be able to get together to give the commission the information it needs without compromising security, rather than the White House just rejecting requests.

    So I must ask again, as I did after the commission subpoenaed documents from the Federal Aviation Administration, why is the president not ordering everyone in the executive branch to cooperate immediately and fully with the commission?


    Media bias and politics

    Andrew Cline and Jay Rosen both have worthwhile things to say about news media, bias and being political v. being politicized, a distinction Rosen credits to political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain's 1995 book "Democracy on Trial," a short and highly readable treatise on the challenges facing democracy. (As it happens, I interviewed Elshtain for the N&R in 1996, shortly before she spoke at Greensboro College.)

    The Elshtain/Rosen distinction is a useful one, one that will get careful readers beyond the accusations of political bias -- i.e., politicization -- toward a better understanding of how media do work and ought to work. And as I've said before, Cline's description of the structural biases of journalism also describes how the industry works so well that it can be used to predict media behavior. At least, I think I've said it before, and if I haven't, I should have.


    Sunday, October 26, 2003

    Whose child is he again?

    How sweet is my 2 1/2-year-old son? I'll tell you how sweet he is:

    Ann was in bed with a bad cold. He figured that if he likes to have a ceiling fan on when he's in bed, she might, too. So he goes to big sister's room, drags the chair from her desk into our room, climbs up on it and turns on our ceiling fan.

    He must've gotten all that nice from me because Ann still has hers.


    Friday, October 24, 2003

    Dear America

    Army Sgt. Garth Talbott of my father's old unit, the 82nd Airborne, has written a letter home in which he asks some good questions.


    Gross/O'Reilly redux

    After my post on the on-air blow up between Bill O'Reilly and Terry Gross on an installment of NPR's "Fresh Air," I said I agreed with NPR's ombudsman and O'Reilly on at least one point: that Gross hadn't quite played fair with O'Reilly.

    My saying this annoyed Chloe, who wrote in the comments:

    Who cares? It was FRESH AIR - a talk show, not a newscast. So why are people complaining so? I mean, it isn't as if O'Reilly doesn't behave worse on his show. That's why I choose to not listen to O'Reilly's show. Everyone has that choice.
    Personally, I think O'Reilly went on Fresh Air with his eyes wide open, RUBBING HIS HANDS TOGETHER.

    She's right, of course, as I readily acknowledged:

    Sure he did ... because he was going to bait her into not playing by her own rules. Fair? Of course not. But since when has O'R. cared about fair?

    No disrespect to Chloe, but both she and I just scratched the surface on this. That's why there are people like Jay Rosen, the journalism dean at New York University, who, as good academics are wont to do, places this dispute within the appropriate historical context by holding it up against the ur-text of modern American politics, Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics,". This essay is so fundamental to understanding American politics that re-reading it ought to be a condition of being allowed to vote. Rosen offers this taste:

    But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

    Such is the world of politics that sometimes it's easier to advance by making enemies than by making friends.


    Thursday, October 23, 2003

    Sushi, or she sues

    Sushi is in the news this week. Rather, it shows up in two stories that are really about something else and might be far more related than just the involvement of raw fish.

    First, there's the meticulously researched sushi memo, in which a paralegal at a high-dollar Manhattan law firm prepares advice for a lawyer on where to go for good raw tuna. The lawyer apparently had ordered up the research after getting a bad order of takeout.

    "This is what people fear," said an associate at another law firm, speaking generally and anonymously out of fear of partner retribution. "It's some sense of arbitrary, dictatorial relationship that we all fear goes on between bosses and their underlings. People really do make people do these things."

    I seriously doubt I'll ever become a lawyer, but if I ever do and ask a paralegal -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to do something this ridiculous, someone please smack me.

    Meanwhile, in Los Angeles (where else?), the hottest catering trend is body sushi, "a very special presentation during which pieces of sushi [are] served on the mostly naked prone* body of a very lovely young model."

    *I'm pretty sure, to judge from this picture, that the writer meant "supine," which means face-up. "Prone" means face-down, although it's frequently used to refer to any lying-down position. I know this because when I used to target-shoot, I shot from the "prone" position. I was not allowed, despite repeated entreaties, to shoot from the supine position, and I'm still kind of bitter about that, but that's a post for another day.

    But both the subject and the article say it's not about sex. Really:

    First of all, [chef Gary] Arabia points out that the photo does not in anyway truly capture the tenor of the event. And it's true that even the most benign photos can take on a pornographic cast when viewed on the Internet -- something about the lighting. Body sushi, Arabia says, must be considered in context. "This is a celebration of beauty and food and environment," he says, leaning over a plate of very delicious crab cakes in his restaurant on the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. "It is about the beauty of the food and the beauty of the woman. This is not a bachelor party experience."

    I doubt that, but more on that in a moment.

    The story doesn't say how much the model gets paid for her 3-hour gig, but I've got to wonder whether it's enough: The job seems to combine an exquisitely distasteful combination of physical discomfort and spiritual debasement in the form of public humiliation:

    A sushi girl is required to lie perfectly still for three hours. There is a pillow for her head and she may speak to guests if she wishes, but mostly she has to concentrate on steady breathing and other muscle control.

    Arabia stresses that in body sushi, the food is the star. But looking at the photos Arabia has in his portfolio, which are similar to the one on his Web site, it is difficult to keep one's mind on the food. I found myself contemplating the often unpredictable nature of the human body and its many necessary but unappetizing biological duties. Three hours seems an awfully long time to impersonate a piece of dinnerware, even with great abs. One also wonders where exactly "body sushi girl" fits in on the resume or if the full nature of the young woman's job description has been relayed to her mother.

    For crying out loud, if you're going to take off your clothes and put food all over yourself, shouldn't it be fun? I say let's keep getting-nekkid-and-being-covered-in-raw-food behind the bedroom door, where it belongs.


    Lower prices. Guaranteed.

    Well, yeah, sure, you can do that if, like Wal-Mart, you're hiring illegal immigrants and paying them, like, 4 cents an hour, and your profit margin will still be enough to maintain the Walton family's stranglehold on the highest reaches of the Forbes 400.

    UPDATE: Oh, it wasn't 4 cents an hour, it was 25 cents an hour. So sue me.


    Tuesday, October 21, 2003

    Behind the curtains

    First John Ashcroft literally pulled curtains down over the two topless statues in the Justice Department building. Then he pulled figurative curtains over what happens to some people suspected of terrorism.

    Now he's pulling the curtains over the department's own inner workings.

    After requesting an outside audit of the department's efforts to increase its proportions of minority and female attorneys, the department sat on the report for more than a year. Then, before releasing the report, it heavily redacted it, blacking out more than half of the 186-page report, including all conclusions and recommendations.

    The study, announced in January 2002, was supposed to focus on attorney recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention policies "with respect to race, sex and national origin" -- the categories identified as "protected" by equal-employment law. But the department in February added two more categories: economic and geographic background. Now, in fairness, everything else being equal, it's certainly a good idea to hire attorneys of different economic and geographic backgrounds. But those categories aren't recognized under equal-employment law, which is what was supposed to be driving this initiative (and which Justice is responsible for enforcing in work places nationwide) -- and increasing the focus on those measures of diversity had the perverse effect of widening the net cast for ... white men.

    Which would be fine -- in the OK-we-tried-something-and-it-didn't-work-so-we'll-try-something-else sense of "fine" -- except for all this secrecy. If we can't even be sure how well the department itself is attempting to comply with equal-employment law, how can we have any confidence in how well it's enforcing the law anywhere else?

    Moreover, it's not like diversity initiatives, even in federal agencies, are the stuff of national security. So why all the redactions?

    Justice said it excised materials based on a Freedom of Information Act exemption that permits withholding internal materials. "You want to encourage government officials like me to request a critical analysis of what your agency's doing," [former Deputy Attorney General Larry] Thompson [who led the diversity initiative before leaving Justice recently] said, without fear that it will get into the public domain.

    One wishes Newsday had asked one more question: Why? Why would it be so bad if this information got into the public domain?

    Put another way, what are they hiding?

    You don't have to be a big fan of affirmative action to suspect that it's something more significant, and embarrassing, than boobs on a statue.



    It probably won't be up much longer, but this e-commerce site set up by a biz-school classmate of Ann's as a class project is pretty cool. I've got a bit of javascript that does something similar with my computer's day/date settings.

    UPDATE: This one is pretty entertaining, too.


    Stop the presses! Journalists are underpaid!

    Gerald Boyd, the former managing editor of The New York Times who was forced to resign over the Jayson Blair scandal, said something remarkably uninformed recently: He claimed that journalists are "losing touch with real people" because of their better-than-average salaries.

    What crap. And Tim Porter, bless him, calls him on it.

    I won't repeat all Tim's research here, but his findings in a nutshell: The median income for a U.S. journalist is only about 75 percent of the U.S. median. The average starting salary for a journalist last year was $26,000, and that average might well be distorted upward by a very few rookies who start off at big, Guild papers, as Jayson Blair did at the Times. (My starting salary in 1984 -- this was working full-time at a community daily newspaper within a major metro area, one whose circulation was at roughly the median for N.C. newspapers -- was a little over $16,000 in today's dollars.) Porter has found small papers in California regularly offering reporters $10/hour to start, or $20,800 annually, and a few offering only $9/hour ($18,720).

    Boyd is correct to believe that journalists are losing touch with real people. But the reasons that's happening include the facts that journalists, research has found, tend to be younger, better educated, less religiously observant, less likely to have served in the military, less likely to have worked in a non-journalism business, less likely to own their homes and less likely to be married and have children than the people they write for and about -- and because they fail to realize how those differences can add up to create a world view very different from those of their sources/subjects.

    A very, very few journalists, primarily those working for national outlets, might be losing touch with their readership because they're paid so much more, but they'd be a tiny fraction of the roughly 55,000 U.S. journalists. For most of them, whatever the reason they might be out of touch, it ain't money.


    Monday, October 20, 2003


    All three of my regular readers know that I am no fan of Fox News loudmouth Bill O'Reilly. But after listening to the NPR "Fresh Air" installment in which O'Reilly walked out on host Terry Gross, I thought O'Reilly did score one valid point: that Gross had been harder on him than on liberal writer Al Franken ("Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them").

    And speaking of fresh air, NPR's ombudsman agrees.


    Friday, October 17, 2003

    A question

    The independent commission investigating the 9/11 terror attacks has had to issue a subpoena to the Federal Aviation Administration because it was withholding tapes and records "highly relevant to our inquiry." More subpoenas are coming, the commission says.

    Last I recall, the FAA answered to the president. So why is the president not taking this opportunity to order the FAA -- and, oh, by the way, everyone else in the executive branch -- to save the taxpayers time and money by cooperating immediately and fully with the 9/11 commission, on pain of termination? (OK, I don't think he can fire the FBI director or the chairman of the Federal Reserve, but pretty much everyone else.)

    I'm just askin'.


    Thursday, October 16, 2003

    Well, that worked.

    Some stuff you just can't make up:

    WASHINGTON - Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

    News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.


    Wednesday, October 15, 2003

    "Secondhand smoking gun"

    How quickly can a smoking ban in public places reduce the incidence of heart disease? Pretty damn quickly, apparently. The bad news, of course, is that if the ban is rescinded, heart disease bounces right back up again.

    We in Greensboro were among the first voters in the nation to implement a citywide ban on smoking in (some) public places, in 1989. At the time it was pretty controversial. Now, it's the norm. And this study suggests that we're healthier and happier for it.

    Or, as a friend of mine said, your rights end where my windpipe begins. (Which could be a great last line for the villain in a martial-arts flick, but that's a topic for another day.)


    How 'bout it, Arnold?

    Here's at least one serious issue pertaining to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's becoming governor of California: his May 2001 meeting with Ken Lay, CEO of Enron, which, along with other power producers, conspired to limit supplies and raise prices to screw California electrical consumers out of billions.

    Whose side are you on, pal? Your constituents'? Or Enron's?

    Or, as another famous man has said, you're either with us or you're against us.


    Tuesday, October 14, 2003

    Protect your right to vote

    (UPDATE: I was going to be keeping this post up top, but permalinks are more important.)

    For the first and probably only time in this blog's history, I'm going to try to sell you something. But what I'm selling is so important that I'm also going to tell you how you can get it for free.

    It's a book, "Black Box Voting: Ballot-tampering in the 21st Century," by Bev Harris. The book documents that so-called "touch-screen" electronic voting machines, far from being our means of delivery from the ballot screwups of the 2000 election, are far less reliable than their makers claim and are so insecure as to make possible vote fraud on an unprecedented scale. And if there's one thing we've learned in the past couple of millennia, it's that if a system can be rigged, it will be.

    The book documents many, many performance problems with the machines. It explains why they are not secure -- and how the makers knew this fact but sold them as reliable anyway. It documents how security procedures supposedly in place to ensure the security and reliability of voting machines aren't being followed. It explores the conflicts of interest among many of the voting-machine makers' owners and executives. And it offers solutions to these problems -- but because voting machines are typically purchased by elections officials at the state or county level, it will take a true grass-roots effort to educate these officials so that they'll do the right thing to protect your right to vote and to have your vote counted.

    Full disclosure: I edited the book (and am so credited within it), as a freelance project, with the prior knowledge and permission of my employer. As a consequence, of course, I'm recusing myself from any coverage of the issue by my employer. I've been a registered Republican for 25 years, but this is not a partisan issue and the book doesn't treat it as one except in cases in which party membership is directly relevant to actual or potential conflicts of interest. Also, for every copy of the paperback that sells, I'm going to get a little spare change.

    But the author, the publisher and I agreed that the information it contains is so important, and the need to disseminate the information widely so great, that the book also is being made available for download (in *.pdf format), for free. No charge. I don't get paid that way, but as you've probably figured out by now, none of us is in this for the money.

    The paperback will be available from the publisher (,, Barnes & Noble and other outlets. But you can download several chapters now, for free, at, with more chapters to come. (Note: Bev's previous site, www.blackboxvoting.ORG, was shut down; the .com site replaces it.)

    Our political discourse has become so polarized and poisoned in the past 40 years or so that sometimes it's hard to remember that there are still a few issues on which all of us, regardless of party, ought to be able to agree. The sanctity of the vote has got to be at the top of the list, because without that, nothing much else in our politics matters.

    So whether you buy the book or download it, please get a copy, educate yourself and tell all your friends, and then get into the faces of your local elections officials. It's no exaggeration to say that the future of our political system depends upon it.


    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    My daughter's having her first slumber party Saturday night.


    Monday, October 13, 2003

    Love story

    Julia of Tequila Mockingbird tells one exceedingly well. It's about a ring, but of course it's not really about the ring.


    Higher Lower learning

    Forthwith, the lyrics to "Baby Got Back." In Latin. (Thanks to Nancy Nall.)


    Sunday, October 12, 2003

    Yeah, baby.

    Carolina Panthers 23, Indianapolis Colts 20, OT.

    Other Panthers teams would've found a way to lose a big, close game like this. This year's Panthers find a way to win. This team could be turning into something special.


    Saturday, October 11, 2003

    More on Wilson/Plame ... sort of

    Adam Felber has obtained a transcript -- or, perhaps I should say, a "transcript" -- of the conversation in which Robert Novak was leaked the info about Valerie Plame's CIA status.

    It's a hoot.


    Friday, October 10, 2003

    Well, all right, then

    Having checked and made sure that my comments system is working properly, I'm going to take the near-total absence of comments left on my posts from the past week, despite a record number of visitors (woo-hoo!), to mean that y'all agree with every damn thing I say.

    You should, of course, but it's still a little surprising. Or it could just mean that Pfred's out of town.



    I'm not sure why this blog has been such a hot spot today for visitors from Cal State and Disney Corp., but we thank you for stopping by.


    Overly proud papa, or, There's something different about those women

    With Ann and V. up in Virginia overnight, I took Hooper to dinner at Rock-Ola with Herb, Susan and the girls. At an adjacent table were a dozen or so female students from one of our local high schools, apparently enjoying a nice pregame meal before tonight's game against their school's crosstown archrival.

    The girls were all wearing matching yellow T-shirts with hand-made inscriptions extolling the virtues of their school. None had dates (In fact, the only guy was sitting at the end of the table, and he looked so out of place I figured he had to be either gay or someone's younger brother. ), and they were all cute enough that I figured their datelessness had to be intentional, that they were some kind of group -- perhaps the cheerleaders or pep squad or whatever they call those things nowadays.

    Then I noticed something. Hooper was making eyes at them and generally being his usual charming self ... but although they were making eye contact with him, they weren't reacting.

    I discussed this with a friend later this evening. He thought the girls must have been gay. I, however, know several lesbians whom Hooper has charmed effortlessly, so I'm more inclined to think they had to have been space aliens.


    Coercion ... or torture?

    Recently, three U.S. servicemen were arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle "classified information" out of the prisoner detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to this analysis, they might well be guilty of a serious crime. But one could infer from this story, they might well have been trying -- also or instead -- to report that prisoners were being tortured. Not just coerced, not just sleep-deprived, but "good old-fashioned torture, as people would have understood it in the Dark Ages," as an attorney for some of the detainees describes it.

    I have no idea what the facts are. I have no idea who's right. And God knows I understand the stakes. But I have worried from the start of our military action against terrorists that the level of secrecy and lack of due process surrounding our interrogation of these prisoners would lead to a bad end. Torture dehumanizes everyone involved with it -- victim, torturer and all those the torturer represents. It also directly and completely negates that upon which this nation was founded and which it purports to represent to the rest of the world.

    We have no way of knowing for sure, but we are told that interrogations of detainees at Gitmo have provided valuable information in combatting terrorism. But it would have to be very valuable information indeed to be worth purchase at the cost of our national soul and our individual humanity.


    Lock his *ss up

    Pat Robertson has suggested that the State Department's headquarters should be destroyed with nuclear weapons.

    No, really.

    No, really. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

    Given all the other stretches the government has made so far since 9/11, I don't think it's much of an exaggeration, if any, to say that the not-so-good Rev. Robertson has advocated armed rebellion against the United States. That's not what you call your constitutionally protected speech. It's not even civil. So let's remand him to the custody of the Department of Justice for, oh, I don't know, how 'bout the rest of his natural life?


    On being a Republican

    Kevin Drum, among the more thoughtful moderate-to-liberal bloggers, offers a plain-English version of the Texas Republican Party's platform in support of his claim that Republicans are crazy. (Kevin's links recently got messed up, so if this link doesn't take you where it's supposed to, just go to and look for the lengthy post published at 1 a.m. Oct. 9.)

    As a Republican since 1978, I'm trying to decide what to make of this. Complicating this issue is the fact that I myself have been called crazy many, many times in a variety of contexts, many of them not humorous and not all of them inappropriate.

    On the one hand, "crazy" is a subjective judgment, and Lord knows lots of Republicans have derided Democrats as "crazy," too -- so many on both sides, I think, that the term basically has lost all meaning.

    On the other hand, there's no denying what he less subjectively documents as the aims and goals of the national Republican party, the influence that the Texas Republican Party has had on the national organization, and the power that those Republicans most closely aligned with those issues hold within the national party. Many of those views, polling data suggest, are well out of the mainstream of American thought. (Of course, support for creationism is not out of the mainstream of American thought, polling data show ... which doesn't change the fact that it is just flat wrong.) And none of those views is going away anytime soon:

    If this were just a lunatic fringe we could all have a good laugh over their manifesto and then go out for a beer. But you can't dismiss it so easily. Texas-style conservatism has already put George Bush, [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay and Karl Rove in charge of the country, and it is very much the future of the Republican party. And for all the conservatives reading this: I know this doesn't necessarily represent what you believe. [Thanks, Kevin -- Lex] But whether you like it or not, this kind of thinking does represent a very strong, very fast growing segment of the leadership of your party, and this is why liberals think the Republican party is just plain scary these days. We know that this is their agenda, we know that they really truly want to do this stuff, and we know that they are steadily gaining influence.

    I'm not politically active (other than voting) for many reasons, primarily because of my job. But I think anyone seriously interested in winning on the basis of ideas and creating a permanent, or at least long-term, majority for the Republican Party ought to be going through this platform with a chain saw. This way lies intellectual, and thus economic, decline, and a host of other undesirable results as well.

    Gallup: 45% of Americans call press too liberal

    The methodology and findings of the poll on Americans' attitudes toward the press, conducted Sept. 10, are here. In most cases, findings haven't changed significantly in at least three years.

    One caveat, which I offer on the basis of not only two decades in newspapers but also several years in broadcasting and a stint in New York public relations: The notion of "liberals" and "liberalism" have been marketed by conservatives to the American public the same way you and I would market poison gas. Just as there are a lot of feminists who don't know they're feminists, there are a lot of liberals who don't know they are liberals because the entire concept of liberalism has been so distorted.

    Liberals have tried to distort the notion of conservatism, too, of course. But in my observation (your mileage may vary), they've been much less successful.


    Thursday, October 09, 2003

    Wilson/Plame and journalism ethics

    You can look elsewhere for the factual and political developments related to who "outed" Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, supposedly in retaliation for her husband Joseph Wilson's New York Times op-ed dismissing administration claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger.

    One at a time, as I have the opportunity, I'm going to try to give you one working journalist's view of the ethical issues involved. This is probably a good time to remind you that I don't speak for my employer, here or anywhere else, and that my opinions are strictly my own unless attributed to someone else.

    Here's an issue: Why haven't the six journalists who supposedly received the information besides the one who actually outed Plame, Robert Novak, come forward? And what, if anything, could be done to make them?

    In general, one would presume, they haven't come forward because they were asked for and gave a promise of confidentiality to the source. Such promises are good and bad. They're bad because in at least some jurisdictions, such as the state of Minnesota, such promises have been (and might still be) considered binding, if oral, contracts. But that's good ... because, like any other contract, such a contract can contain as much or as little as its parties wish. I seldom use anonymous sources in my stories, and these days, if I were to do so at all it would be with these two caveats: 1) The information has got to be of public benefit -- and I decide what "public benefit" means, not the source, because I'm the one who answers to the public; and 2) the information has got to be true -- not just "true to the best of my knowledge," but true, period -- or the agreement is null and void and I'm entitled to slap your name all over the front page if I see fit. (And now that I have kids, I might well add a third condition: The agreement stops at the courthouse door. These days, if a source wants a reporter willing to go to jail for him, depending on the circumstances, I might well advise him to talk to a different reporter. Some things are worth going to jail for even if you have kids, but a low-level, local political dispute damn sure isn't on my list.)

    This is not rocket science. I'm sure D.C. reporters have all thought of this before. I don't know why they don't apply similar conditions to their confidentiality agreements. Perhaps someone who actually is a D.C. reporter could enlighten me.

    But it's worth remembering that the point of using anonymous sources is to get essential but otherwise unobtainable information to you, the reader. Put another way, the reporter needs to be looking out for your interests, not those of the sources. And you should feel free to judge journalists and their work at least in part according to whether they appear to you to be doing so.

    UPDATE: Michaelangelo Signorile elaborates on this point a bit in New York Press:

    Editors and reporters have been riding the high horse of "journalistic ethics" in defending both Novak's outing and reporters' failure to identify administration leaks. But this story has little to do with ethics and everything to with self-preservation and careerism. As has been pointed out by some media critics, the journalists who were given the information on Plame (but chose not to use it) could and should have done a story about how the White House was leaking the name of a CIA agent - all without using the name of the agent or even the leaker. They chose not to for the same reason they won't now release the name of the leakers, despite the felony of exposing a covert operative. They believe that if they did, they'd lose all access to the White House, that their competition would get a leg up and that their careers would suffer.

    There are other good reasons (thought not necessarily compelling ones) not to identify the leakers, including the fear of legal action. But Signorile makes an excellent point.


    Somebody needs to investigate all the mysterious plane-crash deaths in Zambia ...

    ... because all the dead people's nephews keep contacting me about investment opportunities.


    Sixteen Spongebobs later

    Me (at 5:15 a.m. today): So, what'd we learn?

    Sleep-lab technician: You sleep better on your side than on your back.

    Me: (Pause.) That's it?

    Sleep-lab technician: That's it.

    Me: Dude? I coulda told you that without involving the insurance company.


    Investing advice, born of getting two dozen spams this morning for penny stocks

    Stick with mutual funds. If you're like me, then if you can afford a stock, you probably don't want that stock.


    Random amusement

    This site warehouses random snippets of IRC conversation and one-liners, much of which, IMHO, is pretty funny. Reload the page to get a different set of quotes. Some of the language might be a bit blue, so consider yourself warned.


    Clear Channel exhaustion

    Radio deregulation's primary result has been to make an industry behemoth out of Clear Channel, but even this distorted market is responding in ways that warm this former DJ's heart.

    KPIG, near Santa Cruz, Calif., is one station already reaping the rewards of Clear Channel exhaustion. By its own admission, KPIG has one of the weakest signals in its market. Yet it consistently ranks in the top five against all formats in all demographics in its market, and first in the 25-54 demographic and in the Triple-A (adult album alternative) format. It has owned the ratings charts there for six years. What makes KPIG unique is that in an age of format consultants and universal playlists, live deejays at KPIG still pull records off the shelves and play practically whatever occurs to them, whenever they feel like it. They even answer the phone. This is old-school rock radio. "You scan the dial and you know when it's the PIG. You may not know the song, or even the artist. You know it's us because you've never heard it before and it's good," says program director Laura Hopper. "That's our strength. There is no one else like us out there."

    You need RealOne's radio pass to listen to KPIG on the 'net, but another indepedent rock station, Cincinnati's WOXY, is available for free.

    The article also approvingly cites public radio station WNCW in Spindale, N.C., which has long been a favorite of mine when we're up in the mountains. (It plays everything from rock to old-time country, usually back-to-back.) You can hear it here.

    Deregulation ruined the radio bidness, but there are still a few good stations around.

    (Thanks to Subterranean Homepage News for the link.)


    Sixteen Spongebobs

    "Daddy, where are you going tonight?"

    "I'm going to a special doctor who's going to help me learn how to sleep better."

    "You have to take lessons?"

    "Well, no, they're just going to watch and see how my body behaves while I'm sleeping."


    "Yeah. How would you like to have to sit there and watch somebody sleep for a living?"

    "Just sit?"


    "And watch?"


    "That's silly!"

    "Well, they have machines to help watch, too."

    "How long will you be gone?"

    "About eight hours."

    "How many Spongebobs is that?"


    "Wow. That's a lot."

    "Yeah. But I'll be home in time for breakfast, OK?"

    "OK, Daddy. Sleep tight."


    Wednesday, October 08, 2003

    Believing the unbelievable

    Related to my earlier post here on the large percentage of Americans who wrongly believe that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 9/11 terror attacks, Andrew Cline's makes an excellent point: Ever since Aristotle, rhetoricians have used the unsaid to lead people to believe things that are not said (and might not be true if they were), and journalists generally aren't well-equipped to point out when rhetoricians, particularly politicians, are doing so.

    Journalists trained in rhetoric might have had a better idea how Americans came to link Iraq with 9/11. Take a look at my original analysis of President Bush's 7 October 2002 speech on Iraq. Read all that stuff highlighted in yellow.

    Literalists will argue that Bush never said in so many words yadda yadda yadda. This willfully misunderstands rhetoric. Bush didn't have to say it in so many words. The pathos and enthymemes of the speech did the persuading. Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, demonstrated how to get an audience to complete an argument by adding in the stuff that isn't specifically said.

    Journalists could report persuasive tactics as verifiable events if they knew how. Instead, they rely on partisan pundits to tell them what it all means. And the result is their reporting does more to transmit propaganda than to interrupt or challenge it.

    I would add a point that might not be popular with some of my fellow journalists or the companies that employ them: Competence has an ethical/moral component. Put another way, we can't do our jobs ethically unless we can do our jobs competently. (Part of ethical journalism is the greatest possible degree of independence, and relying on pundits to "tell you what it all means" means that a journalist/news organization is forfeiting a significant, and probably excessive, degree of independence.) That means training.

    And that means money.

    UPDATE: Link fixed.


    F****** A!

    The Federal Communications Commission has OK'd the use of the F-bomb in radio and TV broadcasts as long as the context is neither sexual nor excretory (ew!).

    Specifically, the FCC declined to sanction broadcasting licensees (some over-the-air TV stations) against which complaints were filed for airing the Jan. 19 Golden Globe Awards broadcast in which U2's lead singer, Bono, said, "This is really, really f****** brilliant" and/or "This is f****** great." In context, the commission ruled Friday, such usages do not rise, or sink, to the level of constitutionally unprotected obscene or indecent speech as defined in the U.S. Code and relevant court rulings.

    Regular users of the F-bomb and its variants, of course, have long known that sexual/excretory contexts represent only a small segment of the vast spectrum of possible uses of the word. It and its variants can serve as six of the eight English parts of speech; as a verb, it can be both transitive and intransitive. It is one of the most reliable, flexible and dependable word of the many millions in the language, and I'm delighted to see not only that the FCC recognizes that fact but that it also drew a fine and careful line between safeguarding public morality and safeguarding constitutional freedoms.

    Folks, for all its problems, this is still the greatest country on Earth.

    FOOTNOTE (which I can't highlight with asterisks because of all the asterisks above): So, if it's OK to use, why am I not using it? Because I don't want this site to show up in Google searches for porn, primarily.


    The Governator

    Looks like Gray Davis is out and Ah-nold is in.

    Legal question: Do the people who want to recall Schwarzenegger have to wait 10 days until he's actually sworn in before they start gathering signatures on petitions, or can they start immediately?



    Tuesday, October 07, 2003

    Three chords and the truth, or, Look, Ma! No dexterity!

    My nascent rock 'n' roll career pretty much died in April 1974, when the first three fingers of my left hand were crushed in the door to my eighth-grade homeroom. Accidentally, but still. Oh, sure, I could still play guitar after a fashion once the stitches came out and the bandages came off and the nails grew back in, but my skill at playing lead lines, which wasn't all that well developed to begin with, pretty much disappeared thereafter. (Hell, my skill at typing, only acquired the previous semester, pretty much disappeared thereafter, and I only got that back after about a decade of effort.)

    Anyway, I started looking then for great rock songs in which the guitar part isn't terribly complicated -- chords only, or chords plus, at most, a manageable, rhythmic lead line with no complicated solos. There are both fewer and more of these than you'd think.

    Once I had a great long list. But I've lost it. Here are the few I can remember, in no particular order:
  • "Night Moves," Bob Seger
  • "Girl of My Dreams," Bram Tchaikovsky
  • "All the Small Things," Blink 182
  • "Baba O'Riley," The Who
  • "Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)," REM

    Additional suggestions welcome. I'd like to amass a total of at least 45 minutes' worth, that being the typical length of the typical opening act's set, so that any of you who lust after rockstardom without being, like, talented can at least go get a gig opening for someone with talent to see whether the business is for you. Cuz I'm all about helping out like that. (I'm also flat unable to get to sleep tonight, which is why I'm posting this at all, let alone doing it right this second.)


  • What would Rush say (if he hadn't been kicked out on his fat *ss)?

    The Angry Bear knows. And it's a hoot.


    Citizenship ain't a spectator sport

    In a free society, citizens have at least an unwritten obligation to try to stay informed. That way, they can, as they should, base their votes and other instructions to their legislators on sound information, not fears, suppositions or outright misinformation. Because on some issues, mistaken impressions matter -- quite a lot.

    In the unlikely event that you doubted this assertion, consider these findings:

    WASHINGTON - A majority of Americans have held at least one of three mistaken impressions about the U.S.-led war in Iraq, according to a new study released Thursday, and those misperceptions contributed to much of the popular support for the war.

    The three common mistaken impressions are that:
  • U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
  • There's clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the Sept. 11 terrorists.
  • People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S.-led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it. ...

    Among those with one of the three misconceptions, 53 percent supported [the U.S. invasion of Iraq]. Among those with two, 78 percent supported it. Among those with three, 86 percent backed it. By contrast, less than a quarter of those polled who had none of the misconceptions backed the war.

  • The point here is not that invading Iraq was right or wrong, or even that the U.S. shouldn't have undertaken the invasion if a majority of Americans opposed it. (Indeed, if the government had classified information indicating that Iraq was a clear and present danger to the U.S. and that that danger could only be averted by unilateral military action, a government might have no moral choice except unilateral military action.)

    But the survey results suggest that U.S. support for the invasion would have been substantially lower if so many people had not been operating under these misperceptions.

    They also suggest that the citizens aren't the only ones who have screwed up, that both government and the media also have fallen down on the job. The government has failed its people by not fully and fairly stating what it knew, and what it did not know, about possible Iraqi involvement with 9/11 and threats to the U.S., and the media has failed by not subjecting what the government did say to any serious verification process until weeks after the war had begun.

    Oh, then there's this:

    The analysis released Thursday also correlated the misperceptions with the primary news source of the mistaken respondents. For example, 80 percent of those who said they relied on Fox News and 71 percent of those who said they relied on CBS believed at least one of the three misperceptions.

    The comparable figures were 47 percent for those who said they relied most on newspapers and magazines and 23 percent for those who said they relied on PBS or National Public Radio.

    Folks, TV is a great way to get pictures, but with very few exceptions, it's a lousy way to get news -- particularly news on anything both important and complicated. I could say more, even take a cheap shot or two, but that would be so ... Foxian.

    Instead, I'll just leave with this question, to which I honestly don't know the answer: Which is cause and which is effect, if either is? Put another way, were the uninformed people uninformed because they watched Fox? Or did they watch Fox because they didn't want to be informed, but just wanted their preconceptions and/or propaganda preached back to them? Or was there no cause-and-effect relationship either way?


    Down looks like up to me

    In one of this blog's rare forays into public service, I'd like to announce that this Thursday, Oct. 9, is National Depression Screening Day, sponsored by the National Mental Health Alliance. The organization will have more than 3,000 sites nationwide where you can go to be screened for depression (and such related disorders as bipolar syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder). The organization estimates that more than 19 million Americans experience clinical depression in a given year, but only about half are getting treated. And of those with access to care, the organization says, only about 20 percent get appropriate treatment. (I'm not quite sure how those numbers reconcile, but I don't have time to run it down at the moment.)

    Some signs of depression include:
  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Sleeping too much or too little, waking up in the middle of the night or early morning
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment (e.g. chronic pain or digestive disorders)
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

    If you can't get to a site, or don't want to, you can be screened online, confidentially, at

    More info at the association's Web site:

    Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blather.


  • News you can use

    Who has the best drive-thru fast-food service in America? According to this survey, Chik Fil-A is No. 1, followed by Taco Bell, Wendy's and Burger King.

    (More detailed info here.)

    The survey found, among other things, that more than 15% of orders industry-wide are filled inaccurately. That certainly jibes with my experience.


    Effective communication?

    Today is the city's primary election. I got a news release from one of the candidates (who, based on what I'm about to quote, probably would prefer to remain nameless) that said:

    Our aim is to develop enterprise in Greensboro's science and cultural sector to support international competitiveness and the sustainability of our city's rich culture. This is done by acquiescing the cultural competency of our community through effective communication and indendent enterprises.


    Clarification: I received this e-mail at my new, home e-mail address, so I'm not talking out of school here (or out of work, as the case may be).


    Monday, October 06, 2003

    Eminently waterable

    Molly Ivins is fond of describing some Texas legislator she used to cover as being so dumb he needed watering twice a week. That description crossed my mind on Saturday as I relaxed up in the mountains and read this in The Charlotte Observer:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger blames the breakup of his 50-year marriage partly on the stress of living near a leading American Muslim advocacy group that he and his wife worried was so close to the U.S. Capitol that "they could blow the place up."

    The nine-term Republican lawmaker, in an interview with The Charlotte Observer published Saturday, called the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- whose headquarters are across the street from his Capitol Hill home -- a "fund-raising arm" for terrorist groups and said he reported CAIR to the FBI and CIA. ...

    In addition to CAIR, he told the newspaper that another stress on the marriage was the 1995 decision by "holier-than-thou Republicans" in the House to ban gifts from lobbyists. The meals and theater tickets from lobbyists once meant "a social life for (congressional) wives," Ballenger said.

    Ballenger's wife also said the move by "do-goody Republicans" to restrict the money spent on members of Congress and their spouses had helped turn Washington into a less desirable place to live. "Just a dinner now and then" would do no harm, she said.

    It's a shame they're splitting. It sounds like two people so stupid deserve each other.

    It would be funny if it weren't so ... stupid. Ballenger, as a member of Congress, is someone you and I are paying upwards of $165,000 a year plus expenses, in significant part to assess threats to national security soberly and reasonably, and to respond with appropriate public policy. What we get instead is a guy who sees terrorists almost literally under the bed.

    Also, as someone who owns his own packaging company, Cass, would it be too much trouble for you to take the missus out to a movie or dinner on your own dime once in a while? I'm just askin'.


    Wednesday, October 01, 2003

    It doesn't take much these days to make me feel old. In fact, a line like this on the radio will do it:

    "Out on the road today I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac ..."


    ESPN and the scorpion

    In the old fable, a rabbit and a scorpion are standing at the edge of a stream. The scorpion asks the rabbit, "Will you let me ride on your back as you swim over?" The rabbit says, "No, because you'll sting me."

    The scorpion says, "Why would I do that? If I did that, I'd drown, same as you."

    So the rabbit lets the scorpion get on its back, and when it reaches the other side of the stream, the scorpion stings it.

    "I brought you safely across the stream," the dying rabbit gasps. "Why'd you sting me?"

    "Because it is in my nature," the scorpion says. "You knew what I was when you agreed to help me."

    * * *

    It's not surprising that Rush Limbaugh, in his new role as football commentator on ESPN said what he said. The only surprise is that anyone is surprised by it.

    Limbaugh suggested that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is black, had been hyped and overrated by the (liberal white) media because the media thought it was important for a black quarterback to do well. Actually, McNabb has done well. He was runner-up for league MVP in 2000 and led the Eagles to the NFC championship game the past two years. He's off to a lousy start this year -- and I've got him on my rotisserie-league team, so you don't have to tell me that -- but that start is much more likely attributable to problems with the Eagles' O-line and lingering psychological effects from McNabb's 2002 injury than it is to any inherent problems with McNabb's ability.

    So Limbaugh said something ignorant. He does it all the time. Indeed, I suspect he was hired by ESPN precisely because he says ignorant things ... that just so happen to appeal to the Moron-Americans who make up a big chunk of the audience for much sports programming.

    So who's really at fault here? Limbaugh, for doing what comes naturally to him? Or ESPN and its corporate parent, Disney, for trying to make a buck off it?

    * * *

    UPDATE: Looks like losing his ESPN gig isn't Rush's only problem.



    Bill O'Reilly thinks his lawsuit against Al Franken and Franken's publisher, which a judge almost literally laughed out of court, was justified:


    A: Not at all. This man is being run by some very powerful forces in this country, and we needed to confront it. I was ambushed at a book convention. He got up in front of a national audience and called me a liar for 20 minutes. President Andrew Jackson would have put a bullet between his eyes. Franken's job is to do exactly what Donald Segretti did for Nixon - dig up dirt on people. He is not a satirist; he is not a comedian. He's someone who wants to injure people's reputations, and I think people have got to know that.

    Oh, now I get it. Al Franken: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy.


    Also, Bill? I think your reputation is in tatters aplenty without Al Franken's help.


    That's my boy!


    "Yeah, buddy?"

    "Can we yissenna music onnawayda school?"

    "You bet."

    "Can you make it youder?"



    "Oh! 'Louder!'"


    "You bet."

    "Tangew, Daddy."