Saturday, March 23, 2002

You forgot my name, didn't you?
Susanna Cornett observes that the online Maxim makes no mention of the "Greatest City" survey. That is, extending the metaphor Maxim itself used -- "like a guy juggling different girlfriends, we told them all they were No. 1" -- this must mean they "must not have brought it home to meet the parents." Hee hee.

But if that's true, then when they shipped the New York edition to Philadelphia by mistake, they called out the wrong name in bed.

Life Lessons

My hometown newspaper printed an essay by recent Yale graduate Shawna Gale. The readers at Romenesco's MediaNews had plenty to say about it (as did the readers at Plastic.com, as did Moira Breen, Alice in TV Land and Neal Boortz), but somehow I can't resist taking my own shot.
Even a Yale pedigree could leave one unemployed
By SHAWNA GALE

I worked hard in junior high. I worked harder in high school.

I took home more straight A report cards than any kid in my class. I scored just shy of 1400 on my SATs.
1310 here, not far behind you. And I did it in the days before they recalibrated the scale.
I rode horses. I played tennis and basketball. I taught English as a second language.

I had no social life until I was 17.
How strange. Did you corral a wild horse? Did you play tennis and basketball alone? Did you teach English to an empty room? How could you possibly have done any of these things without interacting with other human beings?

Oh, I see. Those were not social activities. Those were merely boxes on a checklist, variables in an equation that was supposed to solve for some value for U greater than $100K/year. (That was a math joke, y'see... Never mind.)
But I got into Yale. Then I worked harder than I ever had.
You didn't say who paid for it. I'll draw no conclusions. If you earned the money yourself, congratulations. If your parents paid for it, tell them you love them.
I was sure the payoff would be a multitude of attractive, not to mention lucrative, job offers upon graduation. Then the bottom dropped out of the economy.

So far, my Yale degree has secured me an e-mail forwarding address and a lifetime of alumni dues notices. Not exactly what I expected.

I was an English major which, for most people, roughly translates into "I have no marketable skills." But that's not so. I have many valuable skills honed during my days with Dickens, my nights with Nabokov, those wee hours with Woolf.

First of all, you know I can read. And I don't mean read like "Hooked on Phonics" read. I can read long, wordy, small printed works with relative speed and what's more, I can remember what I have read and write long, wordy, papers about it without any trouble. I have developed impressive analytical skills. I am trained to think -- really think -- about everything I read. And I am accomplished at putting those thoughts on paper.
Surely someone who can read -- and not merely read, but read "wordy, small printed works" (like the back of a cereal box?) -- knows the difference between "valuable skills" and "marketable skills." Your confusion of the two, therefore, puzzles me, unless you are angling for a political career. I can't think in what other position the ability to deliberately obfuscate might be a "valuable skill". Law, perhaps.

I was similarly puzzled by the "impressive analytical skills" that nonetheless do not equip you to cope in a competitive world, the nature of which you might have deduced had you applied those skills to ongoing reports in any daily newspaper. I was puzzled, until I realized that the ability to analyze wordy works and put thoughts on paper about them does not translate into the ability to understand those wordy works, or the world they attempt to describe.

At what point did you decide what kind of work you wanted to do for a living? You neglected to mention it. And which of your faculty advisors told you that a major in English was the way to accomplish it? If I were looking for the point where It All Went Wrong, I'd start there.
So where does that all leave me? Unemployed.
You are spectacularly well qualified to teach English. It should be relatively short work for you to satisfy certification requirements: You could be in a classroom by September.
I have taken that Yale degree to marketing firms, publishing companies, advertising agencies, and it has not worked any magic. If I leave the degree behind, I am hired on the spot to wait tables for $10 to $20 an hour depending on tips (and since I have well-developed public relations skills from that internship with the Commission on Human Rights, I will get closer to $20 an hour).

Erase Yale from my past and with little trouble I land a retail position helping rich ladies whose most prized degree is their "Mrs." find handbags to match the only type of investment they know how to make: shoes. Take that degree off my wall and I easily obtain a position at a local Starbucks, serving up nonfat lattes to busy professionals and harried college kids who don't know that the degree they are currently working their butts off for will be worth less than their stainless steel coffee mugs.

So I can earn $0 an hour not working at a marketing firm with my Yale degree, or potentially earn a couple of hundred bucks a night serving up fajitas at Chili's.

I can forfeit a paycheck while not employed with a publishing company, or I can earn seven bucks an hour plus commission folding sweaters at that boutique down the street. I can be broke while the ad agencies keep sending me letters beginning with, "Thank you for submitting your r�sum�. . . ," but you get the picture.
Oh, yeah, I get the picture. Despite everything you're learning about the real-world market value of a degree in English from Yale, you still believe that Yale is right, the rest of the world is wrong, and anyone who can't see that obvious fact is not worth your valuable time.

Find the person at Yale who promised you a cushy job when you graduated and sue. I wouldn't give you such loony advice if I weren't fairly confident that nobody made any such promise. But really, that's the only response your education has prepared you to make.

It is in Yale's -- any college's -- financial interest to keep you in school and continue paying tuition. Whether you're qualified for a job when you leave doesn't affect them at all. Perhaps you've seen those late-night commercials for training institutes promising you a lucrative future in dental hygiene. Compare and contrast with Yale's recruitment brochures.
Will someone please tell me where I went wrong?
Well, here are some suggestions:

Whoever told you that working for a living was beneath you didn't do you any favors.

You can shop your resume in the daytime while slinging fajitas at night, you know. I daresay most of the the waitstaff at my local Chili's are not working their way up the ranks to deputy assistant shift supervisor -- they're just paying the bills.

You have spent the last seventeen years (I'm assuming kindergarten through grade twelve, plus four years of college) being told that school will prepare you for Life. Unfortunately, that's true, but you don't get the biggest lessons until after you graduate:

School is not like Real Life. Education doesn't end when you get your diploma. Now that you're safely away from the halls of ivy, you can start learning something useful. You've just completed the "theoretical" portion of your life's lessons. Now it's time to start on the "practical". If all goes well, this phase lasts the rest of your life.

Education is the key to your future. However, sometimes the future doesn't drive a BMW. Try that key in a second-hand Chevrolet.
More Moore?
Michael Moore is spending an awful lot of time on Fox News these days, which seems like a courageous move given his politics, but even the contentious Bill O'Reilly wasn't moved to challenge him much.

This weekend he will make another appearance on Judith Regan Tonight. Is anybody going to point out that Judith Regan is his publisher?
War news
Look, I realize that it can be frustrating to cover the Pentagon, especially when it seems that they can't (or won't) get their facts straight. But...

[Victoria] Clarke [assistant secretary of defense for public affairs] rejects such criticism. "Everything you hear and see and read out there says the American people have an extraordinary understanding of this ... very unconventional war," she said.
"I think we've made lots of progress" in providing access and information, Clarke said. "I don't think we'll satisfy everybody completely, nor should we."

(Emphasis mine.) Translation: Don't you people know there's a war on?

Friday, March 22, 2002

Short takes
Sarah Brady bought a gun.

The Taliban were working on biological weapons.

The Democrats just set a soft-money donation record! (Is this their way of forcing President Bush to sign the Incumbent Protection Act? "Look what we'll do if you don't"?) (Link requires free registration.)

InstaPundit likes this column by Mark Steyn. So do I.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Short takes
In an interesting twist on the multiple-cover "collectors' issues" many magazines indulge in (knock it off already!), Maxim magazine released thirteen different versions of its current issue, each released in a different geographical region, each naming a different city as the "Greatest City on the Earth". The Freep blows the whistle, and the NY Press explains it. (Uh-oh: The "New York" issues got sent to Philadelphia newsstands. Oops.)

Look, I know that teachers sometimes show movies to their classes, but what were they thinking when they chose Mel Brooks' "History of the World, Part One"?

And what a relief it is that "Live" can go on without Regis or Kelly.
Don't mince words, James, what do you really think?
If I had the ego that Michael Moore has, I'd say something like, "Ah, I see James Lileks agrees with me," as if Lileks noticed my description of Moore as being Insufficiently Medicated and decided to expand on it. (As if James Lileks knows or cares who I am, as if I should be presuming to address him by first name.)

If you're offended by that on Michael Moore's behalf, then for God's sake don't go here.
The Digital Divide
Robert J. Samuelson debunks the Digital Divide in today's Washington Post. (Glenn Reynolds, where you probably saw it first, has some further comments.) It's badly in need of debunking after Tom Brokaw's shameless pandering last Sunday on MSNBC's "Silicon Summit III".

Last year, Brokaw brought a schoolgirl onstage to ask the Assembled Big Domes, "Why can't you make computers less expensive? I'm not going to be able to keep up in school without a computer, and we can't afford one." And three of the panelists fell over themselves to give her computers. (If there were a Digital Divide, would that be the answer?)

This year, they brought the girl back to wave to the television audience. "I'm smarter," she said. "It's like I have a whole new brain." A half-hearted attempt was made to observe that just-plain literacy is more important than computer literacy, and the key to that is teachers, not computers. A somewhat-lesser attempt to say that computers are the cheapest they've ever been finished the segment before returning to the subject of piracy (they never strayed far from it).

For some reason, no one was prepared to argue that a personal computer is not an entitlement, nor that you can learn perfectly well without one. There are two big reasons for that: One is that the panel was comprised of big-name players in the computer industry (all of whom can afford all the computers they want), and it's not in their interest to say that you don't really need one. The second reason: As someone with children in elementary and middle schools, I can confirm that many teachers do assume you have access to a computer when they make certain homework assignments. Students without have to use the computers in the school library (which is only available limited hours). You really will fall behind without one.

Nor did anyone suggest that giving a computer to every student who asks for one might not be necessary. Computers are a commodity now. If they get any less expensive, they'll be giving them away with breakfast cereal. Yet this notion of a "digital divide" simply won't go away.
Hanging with the big boys
My God. I've been mentioned at FoxNews.com, dragged in on the pithy coattails of Andrea Harris (Ye Olde Blogge).

Her "top story" at Fox is her reaction to Harry Browne's recent comments about the Afghan war, a reaction I share wholeheartedly. And if you don't know who Harry Browne is, well, after this I'd say that's the best thing that could happen to him.

As to how her conversation came to include me: Some days ago, in response to reports from Saudi Arabia that they're chasing girls back into burning buildings rather than let them leave without head coverings, I asked, "How can such a society survive?" Andrea replied, "It can't." There's more: go read it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Jaw drops in astonishment
Somebody head over to den Beste's place and make sure he's all right...
Be careful what you say in a weblog
It may come back to haunt you...
(Well, Megan actually found it...)
Just plane good news (ow)
Some time back, I mentioned the good people of Lewisporte and Gander, Newfoundland, whose normal activities came to a halt on September 11 when 37 transatlantic flights were forced to land there and remain there for five days.

Good deeds are occasionally rewarded, as this press release from Delta details.

For more information about the Gander Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, visit the Gander Connection.

(Thanks, Ron!)

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Nothing is real
The New York Times (link requires free registration) and the Wall Street Journal (link requires paid registration) have both recently published articles that expose the "man behind the curtain" in their respective media.

The NYT story is about television news. About forty TV stations around the country have news operations without newsroom "sets". Instead, the anchors report in front of a blue (or sometimes green) screen, and the room they appear to be in is computer-generated. In Lubbock, TX, in fact, the same newsroom serves two different stations, with completely different "looks". The current state of the art is such that the camera, and the reporter, can even move around the room, and the computer can match the perspective of the virtual set "on the fly". (That requires a more expensive Silicon Graphics workstation: If your cameras and anchors sit still, you can do it with Windows NT.)

We already know that much of local news is neither local, nor really news: Video "press releases" pop up in numerous markets, with introductions performed by local talent. Segments are borrowed from the network or from other affiliate or co-owned stations, lightly tailored for each market.

But there's still a local news anchor and content-gathering organization: It hasn't been completely replaced. Unlike radio.

The WSJ story is about "Cabana Boy Geoff" Alan, DJ for KISS San Diego. No, wait, make it KISS Santa Barbara. Boise. Medford OR. No, make it Channel 933.

It's all of the above. With a computerized mixing board, Alan can assemble a five-hour shift in less than an hour, dropping digitally-recorded voice clips into a preformatted schedule. Unless they subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, the people of Boise don't know that Geoff phones his show in from San Diego.

In-studio celebrity guests play along with the deception, pretending to be visiting Boise (or wherever).

An early indication of the impact came in Dayton, Ohio, in 1999. Dozens of teenagers showed up at a Clear Channel pop station early one morning looking for the Backstreet Boys, after hearing an interview with the band that morning. The teenagers were politely told that the band wasn't available and given promotional items. The interview was actually done earlier in Los Angeles.
"That's when we knew this could be huge," says Sean Compton, Clear Channel vice president and national program coordinator.

Nowadays, Boise's KISS has only one DJ who's actually in Boise. And one intern, known as "Smooch", who does personal appearances and answers the phone. Clear Channel uses voice-tracked programming extensively across its stations, especially among its KISS-branded FM franchise (there are 47 KISS stations). Their call-in contests feature a "fine print" burst of words informing the listener that the contest is national, the only hint that all is not as it sounds.

Is this fraud?

LATER: I still haven't decided.

In the case of television, I don't think it is. Fraud, I mean. I've been wondering for years whether the evening news is actually as live as it appears to be. The disclaimer "portions of this programming have been mechanically reproduced" covers a lot of ground. Live remotes from places where news isn't happening seem gratuitous to me. But I find I don't really care whether the set is real. Some of the financial shows on cable have placed their talking heads in front of a subtly-shifting abstract background that wouldn't be out of place as a Windows wallpaper or screensaver, not bothering to create the illusion of a newsroom, and that can be a pleasing effect.

But, so far, the television production facilities do not seem to be trying to digitally "place" a reporter in a venue he never visited. In radio, that subterfuge seems to be increasingly common.

Is it fraud to run a show from out-of-town? Certainly not -- if you admit it. There are dozens of nationally syndicated radio shows that don't pretend to be local to the markets they air in. For music-based shows, given the station format, the music is pretty much the same anyway. I don't think it's possible to run a talk show that way, and I'm not aware of any that try. (Kim Komando is probably the most up-front about it, reminding listeners that if they want to get on the air, they have to call when she's live -- and telling them when that is, and where.)

But the parts of the WSJ article I didn't quote (it is an article you have to pay to read, I don't intend to give it all away) make it clear that KISS Boise (actually KSAS-FM 103.3), their primary example, does everything they can to create the illusion that the on-air talent is live and local. Program director Hoss Grigg maintains an internal web page full of local research, events and trivia for his out-of-town talent.

A recent day began ... with a cellphone call from Mr. Grigg, who told [Cabana Boy Geoff Alan] of a Boise-area Olympic hopeful and recapped a station-sponsored party the night before at a Boise restaurant.
Sipping a large cup of coffee, Mr. Alan tried to convince himself it was 10 a.m., the time his show would air. With Mr. Grigg's briefing in mind, he told the Boise audience that last night's event was "a wild and crazy party," though of course he hadn't attended. "I personally saw a number of you hook up with people you had never hooked up with before."

Rival station KZMG ("Magic 93.1") promotes itself as "live and local", and takes calls from listeners on the air, something that "Cabana Boy Geoff" can't do. It doesn't seem to matter. KISS is ahead in the ratings -- and saving a ton of money on salaries.
It's a blogalanche!
I've just finished a major reorganization of the links on the left. Actually, to say I've reorganized them is giving too much credit to how they were organized before. In any case, I've removed no links, fixed a few, and added many more, since it's just occurred to me that many pages I visit daily aren't represented here. I've attempted to categorize them, the better to manage an increasingly unruly list, but some aren't easily pigeonholed.

The new links are: Jeff Jarvis, James Lileks, The Last Page, Moira Breen, Shiloh Bucher, Joanne Jacobs, Andrea See, Natalie Solent, Boing Boing, E-Media Tidbits, Lucianne, MediaNews, the Corner, the Obscure Store, Tech Central Station, and Ye Olde Blogge.

"LinkSwapping" means pretty much that: I'll link to anybody who'll link to me. I've found much of interest on those pages, and I hope you do too. "BlogRolling" is pretty much the same thing, with the following, perhaps trivial, distinction: The blogrollers have mentioned me in passing, in comments that will roll off into their archives; the linkswaps have "permanent" (or as permanent as anything is on the web) links back to me. And bolded links not in those two categories have also linked back to me. Me, me, it's all about me, ain't it?

You'll note there is no category for "warblogs". I've never understood what the label was meant to say.

Oh, and there is one "anti-link", I guess you might call it. I won't often link to pages I'd rather not go to, but Michael Moore is such an outstanding example of whatever he is that I can't resist.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Barbarians
"SAUDI Arabia's religious police are reported to have forced schoolgirls back into a blazing building because they were not wearing Islamic headscarves and black robes."

They keep telling us, in every way they can, that life is cheap in the Muslim world. And yet they continue to surprise us, to shock us.

In this country, the police would have found blankets, jackets, anything. Passersby would have offered their own scarves, coats, whatever they had. In Saudi Arabia, they beat children with sticks and send them back into a burning building rather than let them leave without a head covering. How can such a society survive?
A face of Afghanistan
Old news, I know, but miracles know no season. They found her, the woman who was the girl on the cover of National Geographic magazine in June 1985.

She doesn't know how old she is, let alone old she was when the original photo was taken. Thirteen, perhaps. Her parents had been dead for half her life already, when her startling, breathtaking, intense face was captured in a fleeting moment by Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Then she disappeared. She didn't trust Americans, had no reason to. She didn't know she was being looked for, and once she learned of it she had no desire to be found. Foreigners who search for you seldom mean you well.

Youth is not innocence in Afghanistan.

Friday, March 15, 2002

Signs of the apocalypse
Mary Kate Olsen, Emmy nominee? (And is this the beginning of the end for poor Ashley?)

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Body count
I just said that most errors in newspaper coverage are corrected promptly. I believe that's true. This isn't one of those errors.

Dr Mark Herold, of the University of New Hampshire, has published estimated figures of Afghan civilian casualties, and he'll tell you how he arrived at them: The count has been challenged by, among others, Iain Murray at Tech Central Station.

A lot of media outlets are picking up Dr Herold's numbers, either because they sympathize with the anti-war groups that are using those numbers to promote their cause, or perhaps because they simply don't know the numbers are contested. When a newspaper reports any ideologically-biased set of statistics as The Truth, it produces the most insidious kind of lie -- because the newspaper report becomes source material for dissertations, term papers, and subsequent reports for decades to come.

Newspapers have no greater responsibility than to Get It Right. I believe that corrections are the single most important thing any newspaper publishes, and if it were within my power to require it, they would always be placed on the front page. I don't expect 'em to be perfect, just open and honest.

It seems to me that a few truths are incontestible, and have not yet been mentioned in this context. Allow me.

When you're fighting an enemy that dresses like civilians, hides behind civilians, and intentionally targets civilians, you're going to get civilian casualties.

You're going to inflict some of those casualties yourself. Your enemies are going to inflate those numbers however they can, either by lying to the press or by killing more people and blaming you. They don't care: They know you do.

When a conflict exists between American and Afghan counts of civilian casualties, I can think of no reason to assume that the Afghan counts are right.

By the least friendly interpretation of the casualty numbers, America is still responsible for fewer civilian casualties than her enemies are -- far fewer, when viewed as a ratio of civilian-to-military casualties.

The only alternative is not to fight. That's the alternative we've been choosing for the last ten years. It hasn't worked.

LATER: Ethics question: Let us say, as seems likely, "noncombatants" helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan. If they had been killed in the attempt, would they be counted as civilians or military casualties?
Real censorship
The Weekly Standard reprints the full transcript of President Bush's address last month to Tsinghua University in China -- including those portions of the speech the Official Chinese Media chose not to share with their readers. Judge for yourself whether any nuances were lost. (Via Media Minded.)

While you're at it, wave your flag a little. In this country, when the press is wrong, it's most often one of two things: An honest mistake (usually corrected in the next edition) or a misinterpretation due to ideological tunnel vision. This was a deliberate action by the Chinese government to limit what its people know.

Monday, March 11, 2002

"I'll take the Effing Obvious for $100, Alex" Headline of the Week
Long-Time Pot Users Show Mental Deficits
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Long-time, heavy marijuana users may eventually see their memory and attention span go up in smoke, new research suggests.
...The findings show that over time, marijuana smoking can cause intellectual impairments that "endure beyond the period of intoxication" and worsen the longer a person uses the drug, the study authors report in the March 6th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
On the other hand, it makes it that much harder to become a long-time heavy marijuana user if you can't remember where you hid your stash...

(Drawn to my attention by Asparagirl.)

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Old technology
This page is laid out with old-fashioned borderless HTML tables. I do not understand some people's insistence that web pages should, indeed must, be laid out in Cascading Style Sheets.

I acknowledge that CSS allows you to create effects that cannot be duplicated in plain HTML. Since most people seem to use it to create low-contrast grey type on pale grey backgrounds, I question whether these effects are necessary. Tables, while they may require more coding (and thence download more slowly), look pretty much the same on everything.

Using CSS is inherently arrogant: Implicit is the assumption that your content is worth downloading software I don't otherwise need to see it correctly. For some of you, this is true. I have no attention of saying any such thing to either of my readers.


LATER: OK. I admit it. This may be the least-thought-out thing I've said since I started blogging. I'm just an old fart who doesn't want to learn new technology. I remember when tables were the Next New Thing, and people were complaining about having to upgrade their browsers to see them correctly. Then it was table background graphics and colors (which my page uses: These floating boxes are borderless table cells with individual background colors, separated by background-less table cells through which the page background shows). Now it's CSS. *sigh* I reckon I'll larn it 'ventually...

I remember writing web pages in Notepad. Now I use Dreamweaver 3.0. I don't want to go back... Does the current version do WYSIWYG CSS? Does anything?

And yes, Andrea, that's exactly what I meant. :)

LATER STILL: C'mon, Walker, PhotoDude and TurkeyBlog, I apologized, okay?

Saturday, March 09, 2002

Election controversy
The madness is spreading. Thank goodness the resolution didn't involve military intervention -- this time. (Although the Labor Department is still mulling whether it should investigate.)

I shouldn't even mention this, but now that elections -- I mean, *ahem*, "real" elections -- are approaching, I anticipate watching the op-ed pages fill with exhumed accusations and counter-accusations (The Supreme Court hijacked the election! No, the Supreme Court reclaimed the election from its attempted hijackers! No, you got chocolate on my peanut butter! Tastes great! Less filling!) as the Democrats search for some way to run against an 80%-plus approval rating. If there is a lesson to be learned from the SAG misfire, it is that we now know what the Democrats wanted: To start over. Everybody go back and vote again.

And the laws of the land still preclude that option. You'll just have to fill out the ballot right the first time. And if you can't manage it, you deserve not to have your vote counted.
And what's wrong with purple?
"It's not like you painted it purple or some hideous color..." --Sean Hannity, Friday night on Hannity and Colmes, to Stephen Gonzalez, who has run afoul of his local neighborhood covenants by decorating his house in red, white and blue in honor of his daughter serving in Afghanistan. (I'm not able to find the story reported elsewhere...)

I'll have you know purple is a perfectly good color...

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Letterman vs Koppel
Why is this getting so much attention? I mean, I'll agree it's an unusual story, but the news channels are treating it like... well, like 9-11 itself. Everyone from Brian Williams to Greta van Susteren devoted a segment to it, Williams' running a good twenty minutes or so (an eternity in cable news), so pronounced were the shockwaves felt throughout the industry.

The best explanation I've come up with is that there is nothing that fascinates newspeople more than... themselves.

I had no idea that Ted Koppel had supplanted Walter Cronkite as America's Best Loved Newsman, but I guess when your competition is distinctly un-lovable Dan Rather, marble-mouthed Tom Brokaw, and "I'm above all this -- I'm really Canadian, you know" Peter Jennings, you take the title by default. He has been running "Nightline" for 22 years, which is prehistoric as TV reckons time. And, all joking aside, he is very good at what he does.

It was pretty cheesy of Letterman to say he'd come to ABC if they were thinking of retiring "Nightline" anyway, hint hint, don't let the door slam you in the butt on the way out, Ted. What about Bill Maher? Who? (Was there ever a more mis-matched hour of television than "Nightline" and "Politically Incorrect"?)

But c'mon, how important is this, really? It's only television. They seem to think that news will be dead with "Nightline" gone, but what about all those 20/20s, 60 Minutes's, and Datelines? And with five 24/7 news networks, is Koppel's competition really Leno and Letterman, or is it Williams, O'Reilly, Aaron Brown, and Ashleigh Banfield?

No matter where Letterman goes, Koppel will work as much as he wants to. He already only works three days a week. Maybe this is a good time to give him a weekly prime-time news hour to play with; see how Katie Couric and Mike Wallace like that.

The only thing you can count on is, no matter what Letterman and Koppel do, they'll do it with buckets of money. Hard to call that losing.

LATER: Well, I'm glad that's over.
It's worse
What do you mean, the incinerator isn't broken?

LATER: I refuse to even consider the accusation that Marsh had something naughty on his hard drive. (We webloggers often use the non-word "pr0n" rather than risk turning up in some Googlesearches we'd rather not.) It is my belief that nine out of any ten randomly-selected hard drives will contain at least one picture that someone would label "pr0n", thus its presence on a hard drive is indicative of absolutely nothing. The word is no longer an objective label, if it ever was: It is a value judgment.

And I can think of any number of valid reasons why someone who makes his living dealing with dead bodies might have a need for pictures of some of them.

This story is grotesque enough without turning it into a witch hunt. When was the last time you cleaned out your hard drive?

LATER STILL: OK, I admit it, I'm weakening on the "pictures of dead bodies" argument.

But I still insist that the presence of naughty images on Marsh's hard drive is the most normal thing we've heard about this case, and utterly irrelevant.
Hug your children
I mean, recent comments aside, I'm not the type to send kitschy touchy-feely e-mails to a few hundred of my closest friends, but some days it just seems like open season on children. And because I have a couple of whom I am very fond, these things affect me strongly.

Take this story, in which a 17-year-old girl, just "playing around", put her two-year-old niece into a front-loading coin-operated washing machine. She had no idea that the door locks when the cycle starts... The child is fine, I hasten to add, thanks to an alert attendant who pulled the machine's plug and broke the door to get her out.

So are the children who started this fire playing in the closet with a lighter. About 20 people are temporarily homeless, though.

Less fortunate is 19-month-old Hunter Neel, who fell from a ninth-floor balcony at Atlanta's Omni Hotel. The more you read, the more disgusted you'll probably get. Mom was in the exercise room with a male friend (there's no innuendo-free way to say that); Dad is a soldier in Afghanistan (on our side); Mom paid for the party (the trip from Savannah, three adjoining rooms, assorted alcohol and marijuana, eight children total -- some hers, some just friends) with Dad's hazard pay. Sounds like a real piece of work.

At this hour, I won't wake my kids, but I'll hug them extra hard before I send them off to school tomorrow...

I'm trying to decide whether to show them these stories. On the one hand, I've always thought we should learn from other people's mistakes: We won't live long enough to make them all ourselves. And, in two of the three cases, the kids are OK. On the other hand...
Marketing machines
I made a promise to myself long ago never to buy anything from anyone who programs a machine to call me to tell me about it. I have never had any reason to regret this. I am not a big fan of telemarketing -- I'm sure they are perfectly nice people with families who love them, and you gotta make a living, but surely you could have found a more honorable profession. Isn't McDonald's hiring?

The only thing worse than telemarketers is robotic telemarketers. If you are going to waste my time trying to sell me siding, you can damned well waste your own time too.

So imagine my surprise when Steven den Beste, being buffeted by political dialing machines in the days leading up to the California primary, said:

It's a violation [of] federal law to use a device which calls a number and plays a recording to whomever picks up the phone.

Oh, really?

But wait: My daughter's middle school uses one to keep the parents informed of upcoming events. The public library uses one to phone us when the book my wife ordered on interlibrary loan arrives. (You should hear how the voice-synthesis-droid pronounces her name...) Are those illegal, too?

Actually, I rather hope they are. They could just as easily use e-mail (the middle school already does). Ah, technology.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

One less reason to blog...
...is when I find a page like Cut on the Bias that says so many of the things I've been thinking but haven't had the wit to say.

Saturday, March 02, 2002

Through a mirror darkly
"Roger Franklin ponders on the quirk of fate that has left confessed philanderer Bill Clinton in high public demand, but confessed philanderer Gary Condit facing ruin."

Good point. What's the difference? (And why did it take a columnist from New Zealand to point it out?)
About that Georgia crematorium...
Jay Zilber wonders why the blogosphere hasn't latched onto this. If you haven't heard (and how is that possible?), the Tri-State Crematory in Walker County, Georgia (just south of Chattanooga, serving funeral homes in northwest Georgia, northeast Alabama, and south-central Tennessee) is the center of what has become an national story, bordering on international -- and it just gets stranger every day.

Apparently, the actual oven itself hasn't worked in... well, nobody knows how long. And nobody would have known about it, but that a woman walking her dog nearby stumbled onto a human skull.

It's getting to the point that every mound of dirt you stick a shovel in, every closet or crypt you open, you find more bodies -- bodies that were sent to Tri-State for cremation and never cremated. The count is up to 339 as of yesterday, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, of which 82 have been identified. They're getting ready to drain the nearby lake, and nobody is guessing what they'll find.

Families are having their urns tested, and discovering that they contain cement dust. Or worse, they contain human remains -- but the body of their loved one was discovered more-or-less intact on the crematory grounds, so who's in the urn?

I would think that the gas company could check its metering records and deduce when the crematory stopped working, but no such announcement has been made. Perhaps it's covered under the gag order. It's darned conspicuous in its absence.

The General Assembly (the State House) has discovered to their chagrin that mishandling a corpse as such isn't against the law. The owner of the crematorium is facing two misdemeanor charges of fraud per identified body: One for accepting money for a service never performed, and one for misrepresenting the contents of the urns being returned to the families. Which is to say he'd get off pretty light if there were only one or two bodies...

What was he thinking? Nobody knows. Maybe he was preparing a diorama of downtown Noble, Ga. Maybe he wanted to collect the set.

Aside from the mounting numbers of bodies, how can this story get worse?

Now, I ask you: Does this sound like a bloggable topic?

LATER: I guess it does. Cut on the Bias asks, "Where are the articles on the family?" That's certainly a valid question, since some reports claim that some of these bodies pre-date Ray Marsh's taking over the business (though that's not said as clearly as I just said it). That question, too, is oddly and conspicuously not asked, along with the "How long has this been going on?" issue.

As incredible as it seems based on what we've heard so far, I have a sick feeling we haven't heard the half of it yet.

LATER YET: Honesty compels me to report that Fritz Schranck of Sneaking Suspicions was there first.


MUCH LATER YET: What do you mean, the incinerator isn't broken?
Some things are more important than blogging
This, from Rich Hailey's Shots Across the Bow, is one of them.
The wave of the future is mired in the past
Oh, you must read Tom Mangan's collection of words and expressions that should be Banned For Life... er, that is, "forever banned from the nation's news reports".

My own pet peeves (since there's no obvious way to contribute to Tom's list, I'll post them here):

"[Something] remains to be seen" when referring to any future event or unresolved question. Isn't it obvious?
"This much is certain": I expect you to be certain of everything you tell me, else why bother?
"First annual": You can't know it'll be annual until the second one happens.
"Diva": I don't think it means what you think it means. It's not a compliment.
"Jewelry": It's pronounced ju-el-ry, not ju-le-ry. Oddly, even people who make their living selling it make this mistake.

And speak in complete sentences, please! Next time you're watching a news report, count 'em. I don't mean comments from so-called normal people: I mean the deliberately-scripted choppy fragments that news anchors string together and call "reporting" these days.
The lovers, the dreamers, and me

You are Kermit!
Though you're technically the star, you're pretty mellow and don't mind letting others share the spotlight. You are also something of a dreamer.


I don't usually do the quiz thing, but I couldn't resist this one.

Friday, March 01, 2002

"We think we communicated our message."
Imagine, for the moment, that you live in Texas. You've just received a piece of mail on letterhead stationery reading "Tony Sanchez for Texas Gonernor". Do you bother reading further? How much credibility does this campaign have, if they can't spell "Governor"?

The letter was written to the Texas State Teachers Association, thanking them for their endorsement. (No surprise there, teachers' associations always endorse Democrats.) He got the name of the organization wrong: He thought "Teachers" took an apostrophe, and it doesn't.

Unfortunately, the letter doesn't get better after that. Instead, it betrays the fact that the writer didn't get enough attention from those teachers back when it might have helped. Campaign manager Glenn Smith acknowledges the errors, but judges them trivial. "The substance of the letter speaks much louder than the small errors in the writing might," the Chronicle quotes him as saying. "We think we communicated our message."

Yep. You sure did. Grammar don't matter, so long as ya votes fer us.

LATER: Sanchez won the primary: He'll face incumbent Rick Perry (Bush's Lieutenant, er, Gonernor) in Nonember.

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Franken-scope
Actually, this is pretty cool. Professor Jeffrey Hillman of the University of Florida may just have eliminated tooth decay.

Tooth decay is caused by bacterium that live in the mouth and feed on the sugar that remains on your teeth when you don't brush. Dr Hillman has genetically altered these bacterium and produced a variant that doesn't produce the acid that causes decay. In animal testing, the mutant bacterium displaces the native form, eliminating a lifetime of tooth decay with a single inexpensive treatment.

Wow.

And I immediately thought of a science-fiction novel, Steel Beach by John Varley, in which the Central Computer that runs the Moon solves this problem essentially the same way. It's a small scene in a 500-plus page book, so of course I can't find it just this minute. But I wonder if Dr Hillman has read it?

LATER: Found it. Early in the book (page 116 in the Ace paperback), Hildy sarcastically asks the CC to do something about "the way my mouth feels when I get up in the morning before I brush my teeth. We're so goddam advanced, you'd think we'd have done something about that by now, wouldn't you?" Well, Hildy's in a Mood, and not expecting anything to come of this.

Some days later (page 205), Hildy wakes up with a mouth that tastes like peppermint. The CC explained:
"You asked me to work on that. I did. ...I synthesized a nanobot that goes after the things that would normally rot in your mouth while you are sleeping, and changes them into things that taste good."
"I'm afraid to ask how you slipped this stuff to me."
"It's in the water supply. You don't need much of it."
"So every Lunarian is waking up today and tasting peppermint?"
"It comes in six delicious flavors."
"...Do me a favor, don't tell anyone this is my fault."

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Hide! A Cow's Outside!
You can relax now, they caught the cow.

"The cow escaped from the meatpacking plant by jumping a six-foot fence." It did what? I thought that moon thing was a fairy tale. Cows can jump?

No way can I take this seriously. Especially with offers flowing in from all over the country offering the cow "sanctuary".

"A cow ... managed to elude capture for 10 days..."? There's never a cowboy around when you need one. Quick, where's the nearest rodeo? (Failing that, those cow-tipping high school kids...)

LATER: More on the cow's fate.
Pile on!
Glenn Reynolds didn't warn us what was coming, and I won't warn you either, but you must read this piece by James Lileks.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Is this another GoogleGame?
Is this another inside joke that I'm on the outside of? Why is everyone Googling "What was the name of the first personal computer"? (And why aren't you Asking Jeeves, which can parse a plain English question?) Not that I'm not happy for the page views...

You may be trying to find this page of Personal Computer Milestones, which concludes that... Oh, why spoil their fun. Go there and see for yourself. I'll accept their answer.

Their definition includes this provision: "It must be simple enough to use that it requires no special training beyond an instruction manual." By those standards, I would argue, we haven't built one yet.

(By the way: I asked Jeeves. Nanny nanny.)

Sunday, February 24, 2002

When is a private conversation private?
Lengthy quote from Punditwatch follows, then a comment:

Pundit of the Week was David Brooks. He was witty on the subject of campaign finance reform and expressed the pro-administration spin on the GAO suit most eloquently:

We have always assumed when a bill goes up to Congress from the Administration, the question is is that bill, is that piece of legislation good for the country? But now, under the logic of the GAO, the question becomes was it conceived in immaculate conception? Did the aides in the White House have impure thoughts or did they meet with impure people while they were drafting this piece of legislation? And that is like Cotton Mather taking over the government looking for impurities in the drafting of legislation.

It seems to me the fundamental question -- and the lawyers will settle that -- for the rest of us, the fundamental question is who cares? Who cares what they met with? The piece of legislation Cheney came up with and the Administration came up with is out there. The principle should be is the legislation good legislation -- not who did they meet with or what did they eat or talk about.


I can't argue with that. Is it good legislation? That's all that should matter.

However, the open secret that no one dares acknowledge in Washington is that nobody knows what half of these bills say. It's far easier to identify the hands that made them and vote on that basis than to actually read all these laws. Who has time for that?

Goodbye, Daniel Pearl

My degree is in newspaper journalism. Fresh out of college, I had an opportunity -- well, a potential opportunity, an offer to interview -- to actually work in the field, for actual money one presumes. I never found out, because I didn't pursue it. It would have meant a move to a city I didn't know, and I wasn't ready to do that. Little did I know it was the closest I would ever come to a career in journalism.

So, in what way is this about Daniel Pearl?

Because it illustrates a gulf that separates him from me. I wasn't willing to move across the state: He traveled to, and met his fate on, the other side of the planet, in a country that hates the religion he practiced.

Our world is diminished because he is no longer in it.

The killers of a storyteller deserve neither mercy nor negotiation. But in Pakistan, the murder of a Jew is not a capital crime. Some there would say it isn't a crime at all. And these are our allies...?

LATER: As is often the case, Natalija Radic at Libertarian Samizdata said it first and better.

LATER STILL: I'm beginning to regret having written this. Why? Because it's depressing to check my site meter and see how many people are searching for "Daniel Pearl videotape".