Thursday, November 29, 2001

"Duh!" Headline of the Week

Drinking 'may help conception'
A moderate amount of drinking may actually help a woman to become pregnant, research has found.
Scientists found that women who do not drink at all can actually take longer to become pregnant than those who drink up to two alcoholic beverages a day.
Really. Can you imagine that? Wait, there's more:
Dr Peter Bowen-Simpkin, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the study confirmed what he had long suspected.
He told BBC News Online: "I always advise women who want to get pregnant to take a glass of wine before they go to bed.
"They will more relaxed, happy and much more likely to have sex at the right time."
And they spent how much to figure out what every college student already knows? (Or, at least, hopes. Well, all but the pregnant part.)

Okay, I reformatted my blog template.

I hope it isn't obvious to those of you using some iteration of Microsoft Internet Explorer, but since it has come to my attention that somebody is reading this page with Netscape, I thought I'd remove all that nasty MS-only style sheet gunk and replace it with HTML generic enough to be seen approximately the same way on both major browsers. No sacrifice is too great, and all that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Another Overblown Teapot?

J. Max Robins, writing for TV Guide, blows the whistle on an interesting marketing arrangement.

Those of you who watch news programming from any of the NBC sisters (MSNBC, CNBC, or the broadcast network) may have seen a commercial from encouraging you to browse to a special URL for books mentioned in the broadcast you're watching. Well, says I to myself, how handy. What a public service.

Well, not exactly. It seems that NBC gets 10% of each sale generated by that page.

Robins (or at least Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and Deborah Potter, executive director of NewsLab, both of whom he quotes) is hot and bothered over blurring the line between news program and infomercial. "Undermines journalistic integrity", blah blah blah.

Big whoop. This is just an extension of something Amazon has been doing all along, their Associates program. I'm an Amazon associate myself, and that doesn't mean I'm an employee: On my ARTC page, I have a link to, and ARTC gets a cut of any purchases you make if you go there from Not the 10% NBC gets, but then I bring fewer people into the tent. So what?

(If it isn't obvious, the "Amazon associate" link above is just such a link. ARTC also gets a cut of anything you buy if you go there from here. Fair disclosure. Costs you nothing, puts a couple of pennies in the pocket of a non-profit that can use it.)

Maybe I'm missing something. Authors don't appear on talk shows at seven in the morning because they enjoy it: They enjoy seeing their books sell. This sells books, painlessly. This motivates authors to appear on the show in the first place. Television demands a steady stream of people with something to say: People who've just written a book should have something to say.

There is even an advantage to the viewers, who otherwise will be stuck at the mall the next day explaining, "I want that book by that guy about that thing. I saw it on Today. The cover's blue, I think." Everybody wins. Duh.

I swear. Next they'll be wanting to close down Oprah's Book Club.

UPDATE: You have to respect the publicists at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, though. The LA Times and the Denver Post must be on their mailing list as well: Both join TV Guide in breaking the story that the broadcast networks use their morning shows to publicize the rest of their schedules, as well as the products of their corporate siblings.

Uh, guys? They always have. I remember when Barbara Walters was the Cute Girl on Today, rather than the Grande Dame of Television News. Heck, I remember Dave Garroway and Jack Lescoulie. Those guys read their own commercials, live. Was that a conflict of interests?

Oddly, although all of these stories cite the Project for Excellence in Journalism as a source, none of them take the initiative and link to it. As they are the professionals in the field and I am an amateur, I'll risk it. (I guess they're saving the exposes of news organizations that package press releases as if they were "real reporting" for the next sweeps week.)

(And before someone else says it: Yeah, I'm doing pretty much the same thing. But I'm not getting paid.)

There Are Brains in California...

...but I think they're outnumbered.

Here, for your amusement, is an article by Rob Long (writing for the WSJ, documenting a painful realization:

You see, out here in Hollywood, we like to feel useful. And to be useful, we must first feel important. But it's hard to feel important when the biggest terrorist of them all, Osama bin Laden--really, let's face it, the guy who practically defines the A-list of villains--hasn't had the common courtesy to so much as name us in a fatwa.

And, as if to pound the point home that Los Angeles Really Does Not Matter, Steve Lopez (of the Los Angeles Times) shares what passes for judgment by KCAL's news director:

The first story on the 10 o'clock news was about a Britney Spears concert in Anaheim. ... No one in their right mind expects to be enlightened or informed by local television news. But in more ways than one, what we were watching had nothing to do with the news. We were witnessing the triumphant resurrection of bad taste.
A day or two ago Virginia Postrel and I had an exchange about Los Angeles' influence on the rest of the country vs the domination of Serious Commentary by the pundits in New York. I tried to stick up for LA, but they're not making it very easy for me. Does a "mere" serious journalist stand a chance?


I just got my 100th hit. It took three weeks. I have no idea if that's good or not: I just know most of 'em aren't me, so thanks for hanging in.

Monday, November 26, 2001

Harry Potter and MSNBC

I won't often get this specific here, but I must warn you not to watch the "special edition" of MSNBC's Headliners and Legends spotlighting Harry Potter.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last five years -- or unless you've avoided the Potter phenomenon on the advice of your minister -- you already know all the "secrets" this hour reveals. If you're new to the party and you want to be caught up to speed, you won't want the spoilers this program presents, most especially the dramatic surprise in book four (as tragedy strikes one of Harry's friends).

The approach this program takes -- that Harry Potter is a real person, and J. K. Rowling merely his biographer -- gets very old, very fast. Even the children who are Harry's primary market know better than that. The rhyming "when we come back" voiceovers that lead into each commercial break are excruciating.

Clips of Rowling speaking are moderately interesting -- although if you're going to tell people that her British publisher insisted she use her initials in her byline (the better to market the book to boys who might not like it if they know a woman wrote it), it seems conspicuous not to reveal what the initials stand for. She's the second-richest woman in England, it can do little harm now. (Joanne Kathleen. You're welcome. I just scooped MSNBC!)

Never mind. Just change the channel.

Please, don't make me defend Hillary Clinton

Did the apocalypse happen over the weekend? Is the world spinning backward and the sky orange?* (Hey, I work third shift, I might have missed it.)

Senator Clinton's by-line can be found on an opinion piece at Those who instinctively twitch whenever her name is mentioned have already queued up at their word processors, and I confess that the only reason I can bear to type the phrase "Senator Clinton" is that, after all, she isn't my senator.

But I actually read this short essay beginning to end, and you know what? (It's OK to be folksy like that since the President says it.) Much to my surprise, I found myself nodding in agreement.

Okay, she didn't waste any time reminding us she used to live in the White House. Big surprise. If I'd ever spent the night in the White House, I'd talk about it too. And, okay, she takes a little too much credit for having recognized the conditions under which women lived in Afghanistan. All you had to do was pay attention, but a lot of people weren't doing that much.

And yes, nobody asked her what she thought about Afghanistan. But everybody else has an opinion, why not her?

We cannot simply drop our bombs and depart with our best wishes, lest we find ourselves returning some years down the road to root out another terrorist regime.
I defy you to disagree with that. But wait, there's more. Does America have a right to impose its values on Afghan society?

Women's rights are human rights. They are not simply American, or western customs. They are universal values which we have a responsibility to promote throughout the world, and especially in a place like Afghanistan.
Yes, universal values. Human rights weren't created by the American Constitution, and they exist even outside American jurisdiction. Of course, other cultures have a right to exist in their own fashion, but not to the extent that they hold their own people in terror.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator [not named] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."
(Read the rest, it's fascinating.)

If we really believe that, we have an obligation, not to impose our way of life on the Afghans, but to show them the advantages of ours and to allow them the basic human right of choice.

* Sorry. It's a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. Call it my membership card in the geek club.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

Happy Thanksgiving

My family is all happy and healthy. I hope yours is too. I actually have enough time on my hands to worry about something as inconsequential as this blog.

Life is good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Please, don't make me defend Doonesbury

For those of you who didn't see last Sunday's strip (and I don't encourage you to visit it, although the link is above), Karl Rove told President Bush that the September 11 attack had helped to advance everything on the Bush agenda, to which the President replied, "Wow... What a coincidence... Thanks, Evildoers!"

Now, aside from the traditional "Bush is too dumb to be President" subtext (face it, they're never going to get tired of that), I consider this a golden example of the broken clock that's right twice a day. It's no coincidence that Bush's agenda is strengthened by the current national resolve, and I think the President knows it.

But something about this strip has attracted far too much attention.

James Taranto, of the Wall Street Journal's, says (among other things),

Worst of all, though, he can't draw--or at least he's too lazy to draw... now just about every "Doonesbury" strip we see depicts a conversation between invisible people.
Worst of all? You mean you don't mind his political statements, but dialogue from off-panel characters is the last straw?

At, multiple posters suggest... Well, let's not even go there. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to admit I ever read the page.

Even Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, asked

Will Garry Trudeau be ... denounced for 'Bush hating?'
Of course not. Among liberals, that's a badge of honor.

If it's offensive to suggest that the events of 9-11 have advanced any part of President Bush's agenda, then what are we to make of the President's own words of November 9:

This fall I had planned a new initiative called Communities of Character, designed to spark a rebirth of citizenship and character and service. The events of September the 11th have caused that initiative to happen on its own in ways we could never have imagined.

It's only a comic strip. Garry Trudeau is entitled to his opinion. And be honest, does it really come as a surprise? He's a liberal, always has been. So what? It's not like anything he says actually matters, does it?

(You really don't want to see my list of comic strips that are a waste of space...)

[Later: Oh, please. It's all over last night's O'Reilly Factor too. C'mon, people, this is a non-issue. Let it go.]

The Wonderful and Scary Thing About E-mail

So I wrote to Virginia Postrel and told her what I'd said about her below. Well, so? If you're going to complain when people do things wrong, you should occasionally say something when they do things right. Ms Postrel often does things right.

Well, I'll be superamalgamated. She answered me. (Hope she doesn't mind if I tell you what she said.)

That's all well and good if you're an actor or sitcom writer, or if you want to talk about Hollywood. But having run a political magazine for 10 years out of L.A., written a book there, and been a regular contributor to the LAT op-ed page, I can safely say that New York and Washington have an absolute death grip on that market. You might as well not exist if you're on the West Coast (or, for that matter, anywhere else in the country except the Bos-Wash corridor). As an excellent columnist, now living in New York and writing for the NYT, wrote me recently, "But to think, someone remembers my LA Times columns--that kind of thing is invisible in the East, as you probably know."
And I responded:

First, let me say thank you for your reply, far more reasonable than my tongue-in-cheek comment probably deserved.

Perhaps it it because I am a native and resident of Atlanta (a city known primarily for Ben Matlock and the Dukes of Hazzard -- and you know, most of us even wear shoes) that I reacted as I did. If the East Coast does not recognize L.A. as a hotbed of serious political thought, the Deep South attracts even less notice -- except for CNN, and I don't think I want to be judged by my proximity to them either.

Which is actually all the more reason that I should appreciate your point -- and I do.

It's my opinion that there's nothing that makes New Yorkers especially well suited to analyze politics (or anything else) for the rest of us. That's just where the media are.

Except for one medium. This one. The internet is everywhere. If you have something reasonably intelligent to bring to the table, you can.

I love the web.

Friday, November 16, 2001

Blogs away!

Virginia Postrel said:
"...this new medium may somehow break the death grip of Washington and New York opinion masters. If it weren't for that hyperblogger in Knoxville, the red hot center of me-zines would be L.A."
Do you mean to suggest that Los Angeles is collectively feeling under-represented in the nation's media? The vast majority of this country's -- perhaps the world's -- entertainment programming originates in L. A. And it is far more pervasive than a handful of news channels.

But you're certainly correct that the increasing ease of creating one's own web page is making it possible to hear other points of view. Didn't I hear someone else say that recently? Oh, yeah. It was me.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Truth in Advertising

All right, maybe I'm being too picky. I just saw a commercial for Walgreen's that explained how easy it is to do Christmas shopping there. Well, that's as may be. (For myself, if you have to do your Christmas shopping at the corner drugstore, just get me a card.)

But the commercial concluded with a counter-level shot of purchases being passed over an under-counter scanner at checkout. They were careful to show the product logos to the camera, of course.

Let me repeat that. The camera, with a scanner-level point of view, is seeing the *front* of the packages.

UPC symbols are typically on the *back* of retail packages.

Therefore, sound effects to the contrary, *none* of these packages were actually being scanned.

I'm just detail-oriented enough to be distracted by that. I mean, I *know* I'm being lied to, I just resent being lied to ineptly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

How Old is History?

That is, how long is long enough before a given event is no longer a Current Event?

Well, according to the History Channel's President and CEO, Nickolas Davatzes, it's two weeks. I'm sure that played a part in the channel's decision to run a program documenting the construction of the Twin Towers on October 17.

The feature was completed before the attack, and originally intended to run in December. I can't fault the decision to run it earlier: If History is only two weeks old, then the WTC might be ancient history by December.

No, no, I'm only kidding. I think. I'm told it was a fine show (we don't get cable in the Purple household). I'm just wondering when the other end of history is. How old does something have to be to be so remote as to be completely irrelevant?

I feel a need to ask my children's teachers that question.

"Duh!" Headline of the Week

Pilots Could Do Little if Engine Fell Off
The New York Times
The Airbus A-300 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Kennedy International Airport shed part of one of its two engines, raising the possibility that the jetliner suffered a catastrophic breakup of the engine or that the engine itself detached from the plane an event so severe that pilots do not even train for it.

The plane carried two General Electric CF-6 engines, one under each wing, and these normally would have been at or near maximum thrust on departure. Fast-rotating internal parts have been known to come lose on such engines, sometimes penetrating the outer shell of the engine and sending parts as missiles into the plane.

...The plane can fly on one engine, but if an engine fell off or broke up, it could destroy the three hydraulic systems, which are required to fly. The plane's flight control surfaces, the moveable panels that the pilots use to make it bank, climb, dive and change direction, are run by the hydraulic systems, and the loss of an engine means the automatic loss of two hydraulic systems.

(Thanks for drawing my attention to this, Ron. Get your own blog and I won't steal material from you. [g])

Well, yeah, count on the New York Times to state the obvious. Well, I guess it's obvious that when a plane falls apart in mid-air, it's going to fall.

But even as late as 11pm (when I arrived at work and heard this on MSNBC), the live anchor (Lester Holt, with the cutest little model of an Airbus A300, complete with American Airlines colors: Do they keep them around the newsroom just in case?) was clarifying this same point with an expert observer (whose name will be protected because this had to be embarrassing for him -- and besides I don't remember who it was).

Holt had him explain -- and I got the feeling from his tone that this wasn't the first time today he'd said it -- that yes, the plane could fly controllably if the engine had simply failed, but not if it actually fell off.

Do the media think we're that stupid? Or is it something unique about New Yorkers?

Or is it possible that they are right?

[Later: The chirpy morning anchor (Jeannie Ohm of MSNBC) apparently hasn't been listening to her own network's coverage. "The question that people are asking is, 'How can a plane just fall out of the air?'" Well, last I heard, even aeronautical engineers are divided over what exactly holds them up in the first place (Angle of attack! Bernoulli principle! Angle of attack! Bernoulli principle! Duck season! Wabbit season!), but somehow I don't think that's where MSNBC wanted to go. Hey, Jeannie? Check your web site. Search for "Engine falls off", if you're having trouble finding it.]

Monday, November 12, 2001

Is Urban Sprawl a Disease?

I have a lot of friends at the CDC, intelligent and hardworking people all. None of them (to my knowledge) are at a policy-making level: Thus, I hope they will remain my friends after this. One of them wrote a letter to the local newspaper (link has expired):
Starting with the Reagan era the federal employees, were tasked to do "more with less." Over the years our missions have steadily increased, even as our employee base has steadily decreased. We have continued to do "more with less."

Now we are in a time of national crisis. Suddenly the public is crying for the federal government to protect them from terrorists in the skies and diseases on the ground. They want "more."

There isn't any more. Years of cutting back has produced the size government that the taxpayers demanded, and it doesn't have the resources to take on additional workloads.

The logical response to seeing an agency's budget trimmed would be for that agency to focus on its core business, do the work for which it was created, and avoid diluting its resources on tangental or irrelevant issues. This the CDC has failed to do. Walter Olson at
The Centers for Disease Control were established to combat outbreaks of infectious disease, but have been steadily expanded and politicized to the point where the agency has recently crusaded against 'epidemics' of gun ownership, tobacco use and domestic violence. The newest initiative of agency officials? A joint effort with the Sierra Club to put over the notion that housing sprawl is a public health risk, in part because suburbanites don't get exercise walking to shops or work the way many city dwellers do.
Regrettable, perhaps. The CDC's business? No. As Virginia Postrel (who cites the Olson article) continues:
Every penny the CDC spends on telling people not to smoke, drink, eat too much, own guns, live in the suburbs, or otherwise how to live should be zeroed out of their budget and given to the folks at Ft. Detrick, who don't confuse behavior and disease.
Now that the CDC is being criticized for its response to the anthrax scare, asking for more of our money to rebuild its ability to perform this pesky Disease Control thing, will anyone ask if maybe now is a bad time for the CDC to attack urban sprawl?

[Later: *Sigh* Sometimes I get tired of finding out that InstaPundit was there first. "Bureaucratic mission-creep", Dr Reynolds calls it, and I don't think I can improve on that.]

Thursday, November 08, 2001

Unexpected Humor

All right, maybe Jim Carrey and Robin Williams aren't losing sleep. But as a former journalism student...

Well, what is a former journalism student? My degree is in journalism (much good has it ever done me), and I still observe those who use that word to describe what they do. Often I would use different words to describe their antics. Occasionally I am impressed: Ashleigh Banfield of MSNBC and Rita Cosby of Fox News have both achieved a much higher profile since the attack, and I've seen neither of them put a foot wrong. The list of those at whom I roll my eyes is too long to recount here.

But for sheer outrageous laughs, you can't beat the daily Department of Defense briefing at the Pentagon. Don't depend on the snippets you get on the evening news: Read the full transcripts. I get the idea that some of these reporters aren't sure what line of work the Department of Defense is in. Fortunately for their egos, the official transcripts do not name the reporters asking the questions.

On November 6, for instance, one reporter asked Secretary Rumsfeld to elaborate on his estimate that the Taliban could be defeated "within months".

It is clearly an estimate. I did not suggest one, two or three months; I said months rather than years. That means it could be as long as 23. (Laughter.) I've got a full range from one or two to 23. And I thought to myself when I was asked that question, I spontaneously responded to the best of my ability and said, Hmm, I'll bet you it's months, not years. Could I be wrong? I suppose. Do I think I am? No. (Laughter.)

Now, I don't know if the reporters are just dim, or accustomed to interviewing people who might challenge the definition of the word "is". But if you're going to ask the Secretary of Defense "Why are we dropping bombs?" you have to know you might get the answer "Because we want to kill them."

That might not be a thigh-slapper where you are, but it made me smile.

(Yes, of course InstaPundit was there first.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Next You'll Be Telling Us Wrestling is Fixed

For years I've been telling everybody I know not to believe everything you see on television. In some contexts I've insisted that you shouldn't believe anything you see. But I have to admit that even I, skeptical as I am, am taken aback by this story from Electronic Media Online, in which we learn that you can't even believe the word "live".

This could have been a trivial story, but that the implications are so dramatic. It seems many television stations own a gadget they call a Time Machine (manufactured by Prime Image). The Time Machine allows them to perform time-compression on a live program, on the fly. Given that our homes are being invaded by TiVo technology (which allows consumers to "pause" live television and record multiple programs simultaneously), the existence of such a machine really shouldn't be much of a surprise. The article doesn't explain what this gadget's intended, legitimate use might be.

But it seems that KDKA Pittsburgh was using the machine to "create" additional local commercial time in the Steelers / Chiefs game on Oct. 25. This might have gone unnoticed if a reporter (Dimitri Vassilaros of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) hadn't been watching the game on TV and listening to the radio play-by-play -- and noticing that "live" television was running about 30 seconds behind the "live" radio.

Even so, the only thing CBS seems to be worried about is that KDKA is contracturally forbidden from altering the programming the network offers them. The machine's existence itself isn't challenged, just the legal obligations inherent in the network / affiliate relationship. There are deeper issues here, unaddressed. Does CBS use a similar machine to regulate the length of commercial breaks in live events? The temptation must be strong: How else can you be sure that a time-out will last long enough to use two 30-second spots?

Is it used for programs other than football games? If Ellen DeGeneres sounds more like a chipmunk than usual, it is because a 24-minute "The Ellen Show" has been compressed into a 22-minute hole? Timing is everything in comedy: How can a producer be sure the network isn't fnorking the show itself to make room for another "Survivor" promo?

The same article reports that a 64-second break in the Oct 26 "King of Queens" repeat actually ran 94 seconds on KDKA. And a similar 64-second break in "Becker" stretched to 154 seconds on WJZ Baltimore. The local stations are being hung out to dry over this, but is CBS doing the same thing on a network level? How can we know?

What is "live"?

Too Bad To Last

It's fascinating, watching us cope. The world has not changed (pundits to the contrary), but our perspective on it has.

We were abruptly shown that some of the people with whom we share this planet aren't very nice. After eight years of Clinton, many of us weren't sure if we could or should do anything about that. I'm so grateful for a Chief Executive capable of setting the right tone. Someone must say it: Mass murder is intolerable.

In this respect, the 9/11 attack was a cultural Reset Button. And for several weeks, everyone was on the same page. Some things are above partisan politics. But all things seek their own level, and as we achieve some distance from the attack, our temporarily homogenized society returns to its discrete, identifiable segments.

Don't get me wrong, in a lot of ways it's encouraging to watch us get back to normal. We may never reach exactly where we were, and that's probably a good thing, but shock can't last forever. And the world, after all, did not come to an end.

It seems to me that among us Average People, recovery came pretty fast. The Media are still in crisis mode, and may never chill.

And politicians are more entertaining than ever -- until I remember that they have the power to create more law. Keep your eyes on 'em!

Thursday, November 01, 2001

They Don't Know Us Either

An interesting, under-reported thing about the world post-9/11 is the opportunity to learn -- for Americans, to learn more of a neglected corner of the world, and what our own role should be in improving the quality of life there; for the rest of the world, to learn what Americans are truly like. What we offer our neighbors, and what we expect from them; what we want, and what we are prepared to do to get it.

I wish that the people of Afghanistan had the same opportunity to learn about us.

Yes, I will concede, the average American hadn't given five minutes' thought to living conditions in Afghanistan, or elsewhere in the Middle East, previous to 9/11. The average Afghan knew even less of what life is really like here. However, we have the resources to learn, and this we have done, while the Afghans know no more than they knew then. After all, not only do they not have the books, references, or media from which they might get that information, but those media are illegal there.

This may be the single biggest crime of the Taliban, as it enforces everything else. Their human rights offenses, their treatment of their female and Christian population, the quality of their education, their lack of concern for quality of their peoples' lives -- reprehensible as these conditions are, they are underscored by the fact that the people of Afghanistan don't know there's any other way to live. They are forbidden by Taliban law to encounter anything else.

Sewage runs in open ditches beside the street in all but the best neighborhoods of the largest cities. Only boys go to school -- and they have no books. Therefore, there's no point in learning to read, so few people do. There is no clean drinking water: Everyone who can possibly afford one, owns a water purification kit of the type sold here in camping supply stores. Those who can't afford one tend to die young. (What is the point of a government if it can't even deliver drinking water?)

Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 47 years. I am 47.