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August 31, 2004

Way to go, Alabama!

It appears the Alabama delegation is not intimidated by the protestors in NYC:

"I can't believe how nice everybody is," said Bill Armistead, a legislator from Shelby County and Republican delegate. As if to prove his point, Armistead approached protesters outside the hotel who were chanting slogans against President Bush and the GOP in general.

Armistead asked where they were from, and they asked what he did for a living.

I'm a businessman," Armistead said. One responded, "Oh, so it's all about the money and not the people."

Their chit-chat ended soon after...

State Sen. Gerald Allen, also a delegate from Tuscaloosa, was less impressed.

"It would have been wonderful to see 250,000 protesters showing their support for our country and our president in this time of war," Allen said. "For them to get ugly and disrespectful, I have no regard for them."

Shelby County Commissioner and delegate Earl Cunningham also welcomed the protests but declared them relatively mild.

"After two tours in Vietnam, I've seen far worse than that. This Bronze Star winner can hold his own," Cunningham said.

Delegate Bobbie Lou Leigh, an alternate from Colbert County, was entertained by protesters.

"We just turned our backs on them and took our pictures," she said. "They all need to get a life."

Not a hand-wringer in the bunch. I love Alabama.

Posted by susanna at 03:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It's not about which side, but which butter?

My brother has three pear trees in his yard; earlier I posted a photo of pears all but dripping from it. This weekend he and his wife Traci made a lovely pear butter from fruit from the trees, so I naturally was inspired to do so myself. Operating on my life's guiding principle - There's nothing that can't be made harder if you put your mind to it - I decided I too would make pear butter, but I would make a double recipe so I could give some as gifts.

If I could embed one of the IM chat smiley icons here, I would. And not the smiling one, either - the one with exposed, gritted teeth where you can almost hear the "grrrrrrrrrrrrrr".

Pear tree small.jpg

I don't know what kind of pear tree he has, but even when the pears are ripe they're hard as basalt. I wouldn't feel out of place showing up with an apron full at a reinactment of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". But the pear butter they made was quite delicious, so I dutifully trotted out to their trees after church on Sunday and filled a plastic bag with 40+ rocks pears. They sat in the back seat of my car for 24 hours as I did other things, but even baking in the Alabama heat didn't soften them any. I finally got around to peeling them about 7 or 8 last night, and it. took. forever. By 9 or so I had a huge pot, a gift from a COTB reader, three quarters full sitting on my stove. In went the water, on went the heat. I thought to ask my brother online how long it took his to cook down to soft applesauce-y consistency. "A long time," he said.

Try "three hours".

I stirred periodically, washing dishes and installing dozens of books in my new bookshelves in the interim. It simmered with little pops of scented air until I came to stir, then it would begin boiling volcanically around my spoon. Hot pear butter popped everywhere, including on my hand, until I resorted to hiding behind a skillet splatter screen and using a hot mitt on my stirring hand. Finally about midnight I took a potato masher to them to see if that would speed things along. It seemed to help, and while it was a bit lumpy, everything was at least softened and susceptible to mashing. In went 8 cups of sugar, a teaspoon of nutmeg, an undetermined amount of cinnamon but probably twice that, and 2/3 cup of orange juice. Mmmmm. It smelled like the spiced tea I make during the holidays.

I continued to stir.

And stir.

And. stir.

I'm not one to follow a recipe that says "stir constantly" if I can't see a reason to, and I didn't here. So it was back and forth again, doing other things, as the time crept to 1 a.m... then 1:30... The recipe said to cook it "until thick enough to roundup on a spoon". What does that mean? I thought a "roundup" was what you do with cows before you sell them. I stirred some more, vaguely thinking I'd stop when the consistency appeared like apple butter. I never reached a point where I thought, "this is perfect". I reached a point where I thought, "One more stir and it's going to get poured on the rampaging tomato plants outside." That was when I turned off the heat.

But I wasn't done. Oh, no. This was canning, something I'd helped my mother with many years ago but had never done myself. I hadn't even watched my brother do it. I discussed it with my mom that afternoon, who said since I didn't have a rack for my pots to keep the jars off the bottom of the pan, to put folded dishtowels in before the jars. I said, "Put dishtowels in to boil?" Then I realized, um, Susanna? Boiling clothes used to be how they did laundry. Hello!

I had washed my new half-pint jars, lids and rings earlier, and they waited in neat regimented rows on top of the washer and dryer. Very carefully I filled each with dark brown pear butter, screwing on the lid with the ring and nestling it on the folded dishtowel in the pot. I filled the pot with water, as per instructions, to 1/2 inch over the top of the jars, and set it on the burner on high. I did the second pot - it took two to hold everything - and went back to mucking in my junk room (aka guest bedroom when it's cleaned) with periodic visits to make sure nothing exploded. It only had to boil 10 minutes, but I have a short attention span. I couldn't stand and watch that long. The pear butter had one last fun moment for me: The first time I came back to the kitchen, one of the pots was boiling rapidly and gouting sprays of water from around one side of the dishtowel. The floor, stove, and countertop were soaked with hot water. Hahaha! Just what you want at (checking clock) 2:30 a.m.! A quick shifting around of things took care of that.

Finally at 3 a.m. I had three neat rows of jars on the washing machine again, this time full of lovely pear butter. And it really does taste excellent. I went to bed exhausted, mindful that today I have a job interview at 11, lunch with a friend at 1, and a class to teach at 6:30. Why didn't I start the pear butter earlier? But at least this morning when I came into the kitchen to see my beautiful pear butter, every jar had sealed.

Maybe it was all good after all.

Pear butter resized 8-31-04.jpg

I might just call to your attention that the pear butter is sitting on the edge of my kitchen curtains, which I made last week.

UPDATE: It's a good thing I stayed past the time I meant to leave this morning, working on this post. I just got a call saying that my interview is canceled and will be rescheduled. Maybe I'll go back to bed.

After making some hot biscuits to eat with pear butter.

Posted by susanna at 09:41 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 30, 2004

Mexico City - the place to do murder

When Patrick Belton linked this article from WaPo on Oxblog, he linked it with this phrase: "". I'd say diving in human wastewater would be in the top 10 for most of us. It certainly has a very high "yuck" factor. But what caught my eye (unsurprisingly) was this graph:

Barrios, a happy-go-lucky father of three, said none of it bothers him -- not the smell, not the dangerous spinning pump blades, not even the two cadavers. He never found out who they were, because they were carried off in the flowing waters. The police were not called. The divers, who periodically encounter bodies because sewers are popular spots for dumping murder victims, only call police when they bring a body to the surface.

Emphasis mine. If I spoke Spanish and had the money, I'd be down there on the next plane researching that part of the story. They don't even bring the bodies to the surface usually! How many do they find? I'd say decomposition in that bacteria-rich environment is quite accelerated. It's also interesting to me because in one of Kathy Reich's books (and I can't remember which one), her protagonist, a forensic anthropologist, is called in to make identification when a cadaver is found in the sluge of a sewer being cleaned with heavy equipment. At the time I thought, how bizarre to put a body there. Now I realize it was equal to a killer in the US dumping a body beside of the road somewhere - just business as usual.

How people treat the dead says a lot about their general attitude toward the living. I'm intrigued by this glimpse into the collective psyche of Mexico.

Posted by susanna at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I wish they wouldn't

The NYT is naturally spinning like a top in their coverage of the Republican convention, but I'm afraid the party execs are making their job quite easy:

Republican leaders said yesterday that they would repeatedly remind the nation of the Sept. 11 attacks as their convention opens in New York City today, beginning a week in which the party seeks to pivot to the center and seize on street demonstrations to portray Democrats as extremist.

It's not a news analysis piece by name, but it is in practice with a distinctly negative tone. However, while my reasons are different, I do have to agree that a huge emphasis on 9/11 is not the best choice. For the Dems to say that the Republicans are unusually heavy in their focus on 9/11 is rank hypocrisy - the whole point of John Kerry's war hero theme is to indicate that he can lead our country through the world that followed 9/11. And it's no greater opportunism to invoke the 9/11 victims than it is to invoke the American military dead from the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the complaints is that many of the 9/11 victims would not be for Bush themselves, yet he's essentially using their deaths for his gain. Yes, a lot of the 9/11 victims in New York City were probably liberal - they lived in New York. Some were likely quite conservative. I would say you'd have a similar split with the American military casualties, except with opposite political affiliations: more conservative than liberal. Why is it more risible to "use" the 9/11 victims than to "use" the American military war dead? I think, in fact, that the Dems inflict more harm - at least the Republicans don't say the 9/11 victims were mindless idiot lower class robots lured to their death with lies.

But, in my judgment, it's no compliment to say that the Republican convention planners are no worse and possibly better than the Dem convention planners. Exploitation is exploitation. It diminishes the harm to use it as a slogan. I wish the Republicans would talk about the future, about terrorism, that they would educate the nation on what it's like to fight for our freedom, and speak about strength, not victimization. They need to talk about why it's right to love this nation, and want to see it prosper free from outside attacks. It seems to me that the Dems are tearing down their own house as rapidly as they can get their hands on each brick in the wall. When the Republicans engage in exploitation themselves, they in essence are building back the house of resistance as quickly as the Dems pull it down. Why not build a house on the rock of reason instead?

It's amazing to see the demonstrations, and realize that the people demonstrating think they're going to sway voters toward their positions. Anyone susceptible to that is already on their side; the rest of the nation gets nauseated and just a little alarmed when they see it. They think, Is this what a Kerry administration would look like? The more I see it, the more I realize the truth of the insights in this article that I posted on before.

Someone needs to ask the Republican powerful this question: Why try to shoot someone who's committing suicide? You may wind up shooting yourself by accident.

Posted by susanna at 09:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 28, 2004

What media bias - Part 1,748,201

The Scrapbook at The Weekly Standard has a great takedown of presidential "historian" (fictorian?) Douglas Brinkley. But the best is saved for last, in this little nugget at the end:

"Frigging" Reuters

Last Thursday a U.S. district court judge in New York ruled unconstitutional last year's Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, notwithstanding his finding that the surgical procedure at issue is "gruesome, brutal, barbaric, and uncivilized." The Supreme Court, Judge Richard Casey explained, had left him little latitude to decide otherwise.

Whereupon Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, sent out an email press release highlighting the importance of this fall's presidential election to the future of the Supreme Court and the practice of abortion both.

Whereupon a man named Todd Eastham, who plainly lacks the necessary temperament to serve as North American news editor for the Reuters wire service--but holds that job anyway--emailed Johnson right back, as follows:

"What's your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?"

THE SCRAPBOOK recommends that Mr. Eastham quit his current job and become a presidential historian.


Posted by susanna at 10:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

Links make a difference

Today I've spent most of my time reading dissertation abstracts to determine which dissertations I need to review for the literature review of my dissertation prospectus. Despite how dreary sounding that is, it's actually been quite fascinating, if slow going at times. And just now I came across one of a dissertation by Stanley Ketterer that I thought all of you would find interesting - it says that the more links you have an online story, the more engaged the reader will be:

Specifically, the study looked at the effects of hypertext links, story type and personality variables on readers' perceptions of crime stories in online newspapers. Crime stories were used because readers are interested in them, the media covers them extensively, and critics have charged that they often lack context. Prototypes of an online publications were used that included four types of crime stories and zero, 2 or 4 links. Half the crime stories were episodic, i.e. about a specific incident, and half were thematic, i.e. about an issue. Participants' online behavior was tracked electronically and psychographic measures were derived from a questionnaire. The results show participants who had links spent more time reading and were better informed than those who did not have links. The more links that were provided, the more links were noticed and used. The kind of link was also important. Participants had more knowledge of and liked background, chart and human interest story. They read and clicked on more links with episodic stories, but had more knowledge of thematic stories and their links.

Some of that seems logical to the point of doh!, but Big Media hasn't gotten the point yet. You don't see heavily linked pieces on their sites like you do on blogs. I understand the point of keeping people on your site, but they don't even provide internal links. What they don't understand, and this research shows, is that readers learn more, absorb their information more, when they're pulled into the issue with multiple resources at their fingertips. It makes the whole experience more interesting. And, if you're engrossed, you're more likely to read the entire thing. You're also more likely to see that publication as engaging, which means you'll come back more. Additionally, the abstract points out that the more links there were, the more links people used. That means they came back to the original article and read more. It kept their interest. It kept them on the page, so they're seeing the advertising longer - if that's the point, which it seems to be for the online media, given that they'd have articles bristling with links (just like a blog!) if their true goal was imparting information and understanding.

The abstract database that this came from is restricted to registered Rutgers students, but I gave you the bulk of it. For further reference, the bibliographic cite is in MORE.

UPDATE: Found the full abstract here. Just do a "find" search on the page, it's about a 10th of the way down (very long page). Dr. Ketterer is apparently now on the faculty of the Mass Communications Department in the Graduate College of Oklahoma State University. One wonders what he thinks of blogs? Interestingly enough, one of his areas of specialty is media credibility. He has an extensive journalism background.

Ketterer, Stanley. (2000). "The effects of links, story type and personality variables on readers' perceptions and use of crime stories in online newspapers". Dissertation. University of Missouri - Columbia. 286 pages.

Posted by susanna at 03:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The left gets it right about protests

The Village Voice gets it right about the motives, intent and likely actual result of the protestors amassing in NYC to cause trouble for the Republican Convention:

Politics is about communication. If you leave questions of what you are communicating—to the cops, to the watching public—entirely up in the air, you are not really doing politics at all.

The willful denial of this fact does not infect only 19-year-olds. Ed Hedemann has been working for peace ever since he refused induction into the military in 1969. His group, the War Resisters League, has planned its action with exquisite care, and with a strategic dignity: Figures dressed in white to represent mourning will gather at the World Trade Center site; marching across the city as close to Madison Square Garden as practicable, they will hold a " 'die-in,' a way to graphically represent all those who have been killed by the government's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." But even an old hand like Hedemann simply turns off his brain when asked about a fundamental problem in political communications: that even the most passive protesters, when arrested, are often perceived by the public—as they were in Chicago in 1968—as bringers of anarchy, and end up hurting the causes they profess to help.

The article, using as a framing tool a comparison of the 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago that nominated Hubert Humphrey with the 2004 Republican convention starting next week, is unabashedly anti-Bush. But reporter Rick Perlstein does an excellent job analyzing the protest mentality in the midst of an obvious plea that they not do what they're threatening to do. He even says of the protestors' hero, Martin Luther King Jr., "It would have taken all of King's powers of Christian love, I think, not to laugh in these people's faces." The article is so full of references to actual protestors that it's difficult to excerpt specific points without having to include paragraphs explaining who people are. But I think it's worth your time to read to understand the situation from their perspective.

Perlstein uses a number of leftist tropes to make his point: cops as evil beasts slavering to beat on protestors or anyone who tramples their egos; the "ugliness of the Bush regime"; the cattle-like fear of the average citizenry that sees just protests against an injust world as "anarchy" just because those slavering cop-beasts have to get involved. And yet his point is a good one, if you can paw through the verbal slime to get to it: You have to send a clear message to your targeted audience in a way they will hear it, not engage in self-indulgent street-plays for your own sense of self-aggrandizement and piety. Fortunately, I doubt any of his targeted audience will hear his voice of reason, and his apt uncovering of the protestors as arrogant and self-absorbed rings true. Scary that even the more reasoned on the left see the nuttiness, isn't it? I thought this passage was amusing and illustrative:

The site displays the kind of language whose vagueness might get hapless souls like Valentine put on 24-hour surveillance. It sounds innocent to write, "We must defend ourselves against possible attack like family and keep our spirits high." To Valentine, that means "just looking out for each other and taking care for each other." I point out that it might be interpreted differently by police intelligence—and that the importance of protesters' intentions not being misconstrued by paranoid cops is one of the reasons, as morally compromising as it might seem, to consult with authorities before a demonstration. She responds with self-satisfied cleverness: "We should not have to ask permission from the very people we're trying to protest."

One of the most telling aspects of the piece, however, is the opening. I'll just let Perlstein tell it, with a little help from me in the form of bolding:

One of the most exhilarating moments in Lewis Koch's life came in the summer of 1968. He was a producer for NBC News, based in Chicago, specializing in the anti-war movement—of which he was a sympathizer. Now, at the Democratic National Convention, he was an actor in what he thought was one of its glorious episodes. Cops were beating kids without provocation, and with the footage he was putting on the air, Middle America might finally realize that justice rested more with those protesting the war than those so violently defending it.

"I remember my self-satisfaction," Koch recalls, "and saying to myself, 'Oh, did you do a terrific job!' "

Then came the most traumatic moment in Lewis Koch's life.

"The phones would ring off the hook. People were furious. . . . Nothing I had intended had gone through. Actually what they saw were clear pictures of these young kids rioting. Chaos in their city." Next thing he knew, Richard Nixon had swept to presidential victory on the wings of a commercial proclaiming—above those selfsame pictures—that "the first civil right of every American is to be free from domestic violence."

Now, remind me again about journalistic objectivity, about "no agendas", about fairness, etc.? About how journalists operate in this bias-free zone where they transcend their humanness and bring no personal frames or intent to their coverage? Thank you.

UPDATE: Edited for accuracy, see comments for details.

It would be wise of protestors from the more conservative side of things to take note of this article as well. Are you listening, abortion protestors?

Posted by susanna at 08:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Just curious...

While clicking around the blogosphere, I came across this collection of drivel from Kurt Vonnegut. It's all good, at least for a laugh, but this little section caught my attention and made me think (shocking, I know):

In case you haven't noticed, we are now almost as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis were.

That's Vonnegut talking. The "we" he refers to is not, of course, him, but the United States. And yes, he's invoking Hitler, which immediately empties his argument of any validity. But on the other hand... it led me to a curious consideration.

Repeatedly the left screams about how the US is worse than Hitler, that the world hates us more than the Nazis, etc ad nauseum, with the apparent goal of waking us (the "us" here meaning "brain dead moderates or frothing right wingers in the US") up to the horror of our diminished position in certain segments of the world.

But... is a comparison to Hitler actually a negative in those parts of the world?

Just think about it. Typically the people who are supposed to hate the US more than they hate Nazis are Europeans and denizens of the Middle East. But what are the Nazis most known for? Killing Jews. And what are those certain segments of Europe and the Middle East known for? Hating Jews, especially in Israel. In this article where France is huffy about comments by Sharon, where Israel is seeking to placate, still you have this:

Roger Cukierman, president of the Jewish Community of France, said French Jews are experiencing an unprecedented level of hostility.

"I was a child of 4 when the war started -- the second World War. I have some 'souvenirs' of that period," he said. "I could have never imagined that being a Jew in France would be a problem 60 years later."

More than 300 anti-Semitic attacks have been reported in France so far this year, which is more than in all of 2003.

Almost all of those attacks, the government said, were carried out by young, North African men.

Interesting. And how about this from 2002:

DANIEL BERNARD, the French ambassador to Britain, recently uttered an ugly anti-Semitic remark at a party hosted by newspaper publisher Conrad Black. He called Israel a "shitty little country" and then asked, "Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?"

And then there's Germany, again in 2002:

The two piles of letters on the office floor are getting higher and higher; both are more than a meter tall. Stephan Kramer, the office manager of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has counted at least a thousand letters. He is piling them up because the stacks serve as a kind of yardstick, measuring a new social phenomenon that is gaining ground in Germany. Until recently, expressions of anti-Semitism had come from the far right, if at all. The bourgeois center of society never revealed its hostility and maintained an embarrassed silence...

There have always been letters like that, but most of them were anonymous pamphlets sent by the far right. But every single one of these letters piled two meters high is signed, with the senders’ full names, complete address, and many even provide telephone or fax numbers. They did not come from the rightist fringe—but rather from the center. And something else is new: These piles represent only two weeks’ worth of mail.

If you think it's gotten better in the past two years, think again.

And if you want to know what's up in the Middle East, go here. Just a little taste:

In reaction to the May 1, 2004 terrorist shooting in the offices of an oil contractor in Yunbu', Saudi Arabia, in which seven, among them two Americans, were killed, Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah ibn Abd Al-'Aziz stated at a gathering of Saudi dignitaries, including top Muslim clerics and preachers, that "the Zionists" were to blame.

And this:

Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad, director of the "Jaffa Research Center" in Cairo and columnist for Al-Liwaa Al-Islami, which is the Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party's paper, published a two-part article titled 'The Lie About The Burning of the Jews.' In his article, Ahmad stated, using the work of Western Holocaust deniers, that the burning of Jews in gas chambers during World War II was a tale made up by the Zionist movement in order to extort the West and make possible the establishment of the Zionist enterprise.

It would seem that given the level of anti-semitism in those countries, they wouldn't find Hitler to be all that risible. In some countries, it's possible that Hitler might even be thought of fondly. So to say that we'll be "hated more than Hitler!" by those countries is somewhat like saying, "you'll be hated more than chocolate!", which is to say, not much at all, really. Now, if you said, "You'll be hated more than Jews!", well, then, we should start being worried. And actually in the minds of those types, the US is often seen as a shill of Jews, so I suppose it's the same thing.

It just goes to show that the left doesn't think very hard about its arguments. Of course the "hated more than Hitler!" idea works when used against reasonable people, even those in the liberal camp, because they naturally and rightly think Hitler's actions were unmitigated evil. That's the reason it's used - not because the left cares so deeply about Jews that they too hate Hitler, but because they know that we hate Hitler. However, for them to say it is an exercise in hypocrisy and self-parody, given the left's rampant anti-semitism, adding to their already long list of risible characteristics.

As for me, I would never accuse the left of being "worse than Hitler" or "hated more than Hitler". I don't want to invoke any corollary of Godwin's Law.

Posted by susanna at 09:52 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

So happy I'm gone

If you want to see more of NJ politics on the ground, don't just follow Jim McGreevey's dirty trail - check out Jersey City:

Tension around the November election for the unexpired term of the late Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham ratcheted up several notches yesterday when acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith, a candidate in the election, placed another candidate, city Police Chief Ronald Buonocore, on unpaid leave.

In response, Buonocore issued a statement through spokesman Dave Vermillion challenging Smith and another candidate, state Assemblyman Louis Manzo, to also leave office during the campaign.

Fascinating. As you know, I worked for JCPD for over three years, the last year with Buonocore as chief. I know the majority of these players, if not personally then by name and reputation. All I can say is... I'm so happy I'm gone.

If you're interested in my blathering about Jersey City politics, feel free to read on. If not, I won't inflict it on you.

The issue is loyalties, which I learned early. My goal was always to do the best I could to bring needed funds into the department through writing grants. But since my job was about money, it was always a hot political issue - not me personally, but what I was doing. On more than one occasion, I was suspected of favoring one political faction in the department over another, and even ordered not to speak to the other side. I did personally prefer one over the other, but that would not have led to my sabotaging the other side. I did my job, I wrote grants, I ran them the best I could under the circumstances, regardless of who sat in the chief's seat (or the director's). But it did give me a look at the underbelly of Jersey City politics.

Buonocore is a classic New Jersey political operative. He's been at it over 30 years, and has woven a strong support net throughout the region. I know that all politics involves keeping an ear to the ground for what gossip and innuendo is out there, what new tidbit of information might bolster or damage your position. But in Jersey City, it attained a level I'd never seen before; nearly everyone was suspicious of almost everyone else. It was rather like a bunch of Roman emperors, all with their spies and food tasters.

So now the factions are butting heads not just in Trenton but in Jersey City. Buonocore is not going to starve even if he's taken off the payroll - he retired from the police department to take a position as head of public works in the Cunningham administration, drawing his retirement pay as well his city pay while in that position. When he became police chief, one of the things he did early in his tenure was go before the state retirement board to make his case that he should continue to receive his police retirement pay while also being paid as police chief. I suppose the point was, he did not actually rejoin the force as a sworn officer, going back into their retirement system, etc. Whatever the argument was, he won.

Be that as it may, this is definitely political shenanigans on the part of L. Harvey Smith. I remember him as a tall, slender, handsome man in his 50s who carried himself with more than a touch of arrogance. His reputation for self-interest and political game-playing was similar to Buonocore's, and his air of arrogance was, according to office gossip, quite reflective of his actual behavior.

Many of you probably could care less about this race, but it's riveting to me, from the safe distance of Alabama - just as the mayoral race in Lexington, KY, was fascinating when Teresa Isaac ran. I worked for her when she was Vice-Mayor. And her term so far has turned out precisely as I envisioned. We won't go into detail about what that vision was. I'm so thankful I don't work for either city, anymore.

The downside to Buonocore is that he's not (to my knowledge) ever run an actual political campaign for office himself. He's not been the front man. Smith has won more than one term as councilmember, but that's only from a part of the city. Who has more pull? Buonocore is white, but has the endorsement of the widow of late mayor Glenn Cunningham, who was black. Smith is black. Will race play a role? A large percentage of Jersey City's population is minority of one type or another. It's unlikely that Buonocore's core support group is all white - it's not logistically probable, in that environment. So Smith may play the race card, but Buonocore will have the wherewithal to combat it.

If I had to call it, I'd call it for Buonocore. He's just been at it too long, and is too tough. Scarily tough (which is not in any way saying I think he's done anything illegal; I never heard that about him). I don't know much about Smith's governing style, but I suspect it's similar to Buonocore's - it's about playing games, and making connections, and coming out on top. I don't doubt Buonocore's intelligence - I think he's very smart, and sharp. But he's party politics all the way. In the year that I worked for him, I didn't get the idea that he was much interested in innovation, not even hearing about it. And he was very into formal chain of command. With the two chiefs prior, I met with them personally fairly often to discuss grants, or to light a fire when I needed information I wasn't getting. When Buonocore came in, he made it very clear - through the chain of command, of course - that he didn't want to talk to anyone in my unit. If something we worked on needed his attention, it was to go to our supervisor, then through his staff and on to him. A nice way to separate yourself from any new ideas. They rarely make it through such a layered filtering process.

I left on good terms with Buonocore; he actually offered me a raise in a private meeting that was the first I'd had with him. I already planned to leave at that point, although I'd not given notice, so I couldn't in good conscience take the raise without telling him of my plans and then walk out in two months. So I told him I would be leaving, the talks ended and here I am.

Local politics. It's enough to make you eschew civilization.

Posted by susanna at 08:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2004

Lame, lame, lame

I've always liked the younger Bush set - the twins Jenna and Barbara. They seem like normal young ladies who want to get on with their life and aren't particularly interested in partaking of the glitz and glamor of "My Dad is President". Of course, when they learned to talk, they could have said, "My Granddad is Vice President", and when they were moving from child to adolescent, they could say, "My Granddad is President". And there wasn't much of a gap there before they could say, "My Dad is Governor" and then, well, you know. So I'm sure there's not much new and exciting about it all, and plenty annoying when it means your every teenage and college piccadillo is witnessed by grim security or Secret Service agents, and you're dogged by a media drooling after something to hurt your father with. So I'm sympathetic, and admiring of their independence.

I also thought it was classy of the President and Mrs. Bush to leave the extent of their daughters' participation in the campaign up to the girls, and likewise a loving gesture on the twins' part to put themselves in front of the runaway media train to support their dad. That's why I'm really really sorry the campaign has done them no favors in this, their first email for the campaign. I'll paste it here in just a second, but first I want to say this:

Either it was written by a particularly vacuous friend of the Bush girls, or it was written by a Republican marketing type who wouldn't know how to talk to the under 25s if his career depended on it. Which in this case, it may. Here we go (picture was embedded in the email too):

Dear Susanna,

We're sure that you have no doubt who we'll be voting for in November. But you should also know that we would be voting for our Dad in this election even if he had not raised us, loved us, tutored us, coached us, and even listened to a few excuses from us for late curfews. We have been privileged to know our President personally and we know he is the right person to lead our country - especially when there are so many important issues at stake.

Our Dad has qualities that are needed in a good President - loyalty, humor (embarrassing as it sometimes may be), compassion, and, most importantly, integrity. We're not the only ones who see it. In fact, our friends - from varying political backgrounds - are supporting our Dad in November. Not only because of his decisions to liberate the women of Afghanistan or bring freedom to the people of Iraq, but because during the last ten years they met a man whose title was Governor or President, but who was always happy to be known as "our Dad." He made everyone feel welcome and comfortable in our house (except for the occasional boyfriend) and our friends got to know him as a really good guy.

We know that when you get to know his record as President, you too will feel compelled to participate in this year's election - and hopefully get involved in the campaign, too. We know it can be hard to find time to think about politics. We just graduated from college and are perfectly aware that schoolwork, parties, and extra-curricular activities keep students busy, away from campaigns and voting booths. In the last election, less than half of 18- to 24-year-olds were registered to vote, and only 32% of them actually did vote. Sadly, many Americans our age did not take advantage of their right to vote.

We are asking you to get involved with this campaign not only because it is the most critical election of our lifetime, but also because we have the ability to positively change our future. Please encourage your friends to sign up on the campaign's web site ( and register to vote online. At the web site you'll also find a lot of information about how to get involved in our Dad's re-election campaign. It's an easy process, and it's the best way to have a say in this year's election.

Thanks for taking a few minutes to think about some big issues. This is a really important election, and we know that with your help our Dad will win in November.

This email manages to competely insult the 25 and under crowd. First, it's written in a I'm-pretending-to-be-a-young-thing! (giggle) tone. You sense that it fully expected the response to be, "Um, like, yeah! Cool! Like, rad! I'll vote for their dad! Heh! Did you hear? I rhymed!" Any marginally news-conscious 25-and-under is going to know enough about politics to be put off by that tone. And was it just the women in Afghanistan that were "liberated", or was it maybe the whole population excepting terrorists? It's bad enough that the girls are pictured like two little sweet things - eye candy - and not as even marginally serious young women. Why add insult to injury?

This is a failed opportunity. There are a lot of things that the Bush campaign could address that would be legitimate concerns for the Jenna-Barb age group. Students are always interested in student loans, in college tuition costs, in crime on campus. Students and graduates are extremely concerned about the job market, what they can expect to earn and whether they can even find a job on finishing school. And whether or not they actually spend much time learning the reality of the situation in Iraq, you can bet they've heard plenty and it's not been favorable to Bush. To dismiss the entire war as it has been in this email is, not to put it lightly, stupid. Breathtakingly so, actually, since it's only addressed as an opening phrase in a sentence mainly about how the President is "also 'our Dad'"! How vacuous is that? Hey, he may be out freeing countries when he's at work, but what should be most important to you is that he's our Dad! I know they're proud of him, with good reason. But their pride in him is no reason for anyone else to vote for him. Why not give the young voters something to really think about? Maybe inane campaign approaches like this is one reason so many young people don't vote. You don't make the time to vote unless you feel there's an issue important enough to make the effort, even if that issue is that you feel responsible to participate in our democratic process. No one will vote for President Bush because he's Jenna and Barbara's cool Dad!

If this is an example of the finest Republican minds reaching out to the youth of America, they'd be better off to shoot their computers now before they shoot themselves in the foot again. They'll get more votes just keeping their condescension to themselves.

UPDATE: The Associated Press has a brief article about the Bush twins' email, but it gives none of the interesting detail you see right here!

Posted by susanna at 03:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Question to self:

You made and ate Cajun 15-Bean Soup just before going to teach your class tonight.

What were you thinking??

Tasty, though.

Posted by susanna at 02:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

NJ politics as usual, with a little headline spin

If you want to see the guts of politics at work, just read this article. Anyone who harbors the tiniest thought that McGreevey isn't doing everything he can to hold on to his political future, that should deep-six it. There's no logical reason for McGreevey to hang on to November except to keep some measure of his power on the NJ Dem playing field. And I'm not saying that the other Dems - or the Republicans either - are all saintly in this. But McGreevey is not even the cleanest in a pile of dirty politics.

As a side note, it's interesting that the entire article is about the machinations in the NJ Dem party, with the Republicans mentioned only twice, in passing, half-way through the article. They're not the focus, not in the least. And yet here is the headline:

Political infighting between N.J. Dems, GOP gets nasty

If you left out the "GOP" part of that, it would be an accurate headline. One wonders what precisely, if anything, was on the mind of the headline writer. Or was (s)he just following his inner bias?

Posted by susanna at 12:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 23, 2004

Novel blogs

The novel Lady Killer by Meryl Sawyer focuses on yet another serial killer prowling for victims, this one in San Francisco. Sawyer, a veteran author, builds a good romantic suspense novel with mostly believable characters; it's certainly worth a few hours with the paperback version. But the best thing about the book? Its mention of bloggers.

Jessica Crawford is a trends columnist for an independently owned newspaper in San Francisco, the San Francisco Herald. She and her two friends Zoe and Stacy, also columnists at the newspaper, are in their early 30s and of the "Sex in the City" generation. They get together and talk about men and work; they bond by going together to get Brazilian wax jobs. When the paper's crime reporter goes into rehab, Jessica gets pulled into covering the serial killer because her father, Richard Crawford, was the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter before his retirement. He's now nearly confined to his home with Parkinson's, but that doesn't stop him from participating in the chase of the killer.

Early in the book, Jessica goes to Hawaii to research a column; she has a close encounter that results in a surprising twist when she returns to San Francisco. Teamed with Cole, the new crime reporter, and her friends, she closes down on the serial killer only to realize that she is now also a target.

The characters are likeable if, at times, stereotypically sketched and of unclear value to the storyline - social columnist Marci with an "i" and Duff-the-misfit-medical-columnist come immediately to mind. And some parts of the storyline emerge ominously only to eventually mean little. The detective work is mostly done by the journalists, current and retired, and the police are not much in evidence. But, again, it's a good light read, and I wasn't in the end disappointed. I intend to read more of her work.

The best part of the whole book for me as a blogger was Sawyer's discussion of blogs when one of her characters used them as a potential source of information. The book was published in 2003, which means it was likely completed more than a year ago, so she is quite ahead on the trend - much like her protagonist, Jessica Crawford. If you're interested, the section on blogs is on pages 345-346. Unfortunately, like some other aspects of the story, she spends a lot of time (relatively speaking) on blogs, building them up, then really not using them as a plot device - only mentioning them in passing, albeit a looonggg passing.

And for my readers, I am reproducing it in "MORE". Because you're worth it.

Lady Killer, pg. 345-346


Cole needed to write another column about the killer, but he was out of angles. Until something came through on the fabric sample or the orthopedic shoe, he didn't have a damn thing to write about. He went online to see if someone in the blog-o-sphere could give him a spark of inspiration.

Web logs known as blogs were interactive newsletters that were updated daily by individuals across the country. The best blogs had distinctive voices that leaped off the page and provided an alternative to the establishment tone of newspaper journalism, known in the quirky blog world as dead-tree pieces. They were the on line equivalent of talk shows.

The traditional media had their own blogs and had staff journalists whose sole job was to update the blog several times a day. Cole thought MSNBC was the best. Naturally, Mort was too cheap to have even a simple blog.

On 9/11 media Web sites either crashed or failed to provide timely updates. Bloggers posted minute by minute first person accounts that were surprisingly accurate. In the following days, these sites received hundreds of thousands of hits. The blog phenomenon had taken off.

Now, they were an accepted part of the alternative media. Journalism schools across the country began teaching about Web logs. The graduate school of journalism across the bay at Berkley had a course. Cole intended to take it once the serial killer was caught.

Cole surfed to He was fairly sure this guy had law enforcement experience. His posts were too professional for a lay person, and the way he answered incoming posts - squashing outrageous rumors that gave many blogs a bad name - indicated he was very intelligent. From his posts, Cole knew this blogger lived in the Bay Area.

The interactive site was full of rehashed theories about the serial killer. Nothing new. Even the bloggers were stumped.

"Got a minute?"

Cole expelled a long breath, logged off, and slowly turned to face Duff.


Posted by susanna at 11:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2004

Justice more criminal than just

Here's one reason why I think more education and criminal justice professionals need to be educated about criminal justice research:

Hundreds of Jefferson County children were shackled and forced against their will into a state lockup for juvenile delinquents by a DYS psychologist who was running a private business on the side...

[Psychologist Leroy Richardson's] "Scared Straight" program existed from 1997 until his dismissal in 2003. At least 400 children who had not been charged or convicted of any crime were shackled and locked up at the Department of Youth Services Vacca campus for up to eight hours. Some of them were locked up more than once, according to state Personnel Board records.

Vacca is the equivalent of a prison for juveniles. By state law, it's supposed to take a judge's order for a child to be sent there.

Richardson's list of misbehaviors is long, bizarre and venal, including hiring his day boss as a consultant for his private consulting firm (and apparently his day boss returned the favor by giving him glowing evaluations at work). You really need to read the whole article to understand. Even then, you'll wonder what the people who allowed this to happen were thinking. But the problem I want to focus on here is this: Richardson's "Scared Straight" type program is based on a concept that was shown to be ineffective more than 25 years ago! Again, you should read this entire article about "Scared Straight", but this will give you a flavor of it:

In 1977, Dr. James 0. Finckenauer, an associate professor in the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice submitted a proposal to the State Law Enforcement Planning Agency of New Jersey for a grant to evaluate the Juvenile Awareness Project Help [aka Scared Straight] with a team of researchers. The idea was to submit the results of the program to more intense analysis...

Quickly, during the first round [of the evaluation], the researchers noticed something odd. There is a "test" for predicting juvenile delinquency called the Glueck Social Prediction Table, developed by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in 1950, which classifies subjects into low, medium, and high probability of delinquent behavior. The Rutgers researchers discovered that over 70% of the 81 juveniles designated for the Rahway program had a low probability of delinquency according to the Glueck Table. About 20% had a medium probability, and only 8% had a high probability "If this is so," they wrote, "it raises several issues: Why do these particular kids need to attend the Project? Why are referring agencies not sending more high probability juveniles who might be more in need of deterrence? If the low probability of delinquency juveniles in fact do not become delinquent, can the JAPH claim credit?"

Training schools are for the worst and most persistent juvenile offenders, but another curiosity: not one of the 81 had ever been in a training school...

"The authors find no overriding reason at this point," they concluded, "to reject our hypothesis that the Juvenile Awareness Project has no effect on the attitudes of the juveniles attending... we maintain, until there is further evidence to the contrary, that it is probably simplistic and unrealistic to expect that a two or three hour visit to Rahway can counteract the long-term effects of all these other factors."

The article is much more detailed about the experiment conducted to evaluate the program, and its specific results. The final conclusion, though, is clear: There's no reason to think it works. And now, more than 25 years later, taxpayers are dropping piles of money in the pockets of a psychologist conducting a program proven ineffective. A lot of people in the Birmingham area were involved in getting the kids there:

Parents signed their children up for the one-day program to address misbehavior and were aware Richardson locked them up at Vacca, according to board records. The children and their parents were referred to the program by the Birmingham and Bessemer school systems, workers from the Alabama Department of Human Resources, doctors and other agencies.

Didn't they ask questions about effectiveness? Ask to see data? Something?

The lack of knowledge in the general public about the efficacy of various criminal justice programs is, well, criminal. We spend so much money on them, politicians get elected on the basis of them, all of us have opinions about them. But so few truly know much truth about them.

As another example, consider the widespread DARE program - some departments have fulltime dedicated DARE officers. What do evaluators say?

This paper examines the effectiveness of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in Charleston County, South Carolina by comparing 341 fifth grade DARE students to 367 nonDARE students. Significant differences were found in the predicted direction for alcohol use in the last year, belief in prosocial norms, association with drug using peers, positive peer association, attitudes against substance use, and assertiveness. No differences were found on cigarette, tobacco, or marijuana use in the last year, frequency of any drug use in the past month, attitudes about police, coping strategies, attachment and commitment to school, rebellious behavior, and self-esteem.

If you'll notice, the areas with "no difference" are the ones where the community is expecting it to make a difference. Here's a discussion of a review looking at evaluations of DARE from the late 1980s to 1993 (that's the year the first study above was done):

The early DARE evaluations (1987-1989) were generally favorable - showing decreased alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, increased resistance to drug use, increased self-esteem, and other positive results.

The majority of the recent evaluations of DARE (late 1989 to
present) have shown decidedly mixed results. The majority of these
recent studies attempt to measure the longer-term effects of DARE
(one or more years after the completion of the DARE curriculum).
The current consensus is that DARE does significantly and
positively affect student attitudes toward alcohol, tobacco, and
other drugs (ATOD), but the findings generally indicate that
exposure to DARE does not significantly reduce the actual use of
these drugs

In general, the better controlled studies tend to show the least
effect of DARE. In addition, follow-up studies, which track
students for several years following DARE exposure, tend to show
little or no lasting effects of DARE

Emphasis mine. When you scroll through the results of the various evaluations, you'll find a lot of improved self-esteem, improved police/student relations, improved consciousness of media influences. But by the end of evaluations - the newer ones - you aren't seeing much in the way of reduction in drug use.

And what do we have? Look here, and here, and here, and here.

There is some evidence that DARE programs help; I'd be interested to see more details about the studies that showed positive effects. But again, most of the effects reported were stated as "students, teachers and parents think it works".

I think it's clear that there's a huge breakdown between criminal justice researchers and both practitioners and end users of criminal justice products (policing, courts, corrections). Think about that the next time you hear a law 'n order politician running for office.

Posted by susanna at 09:48 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Another Marine's story

Here's a good letter from an American on the ground in Iraq.

Posted by susanna at 08:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Framing - and I don't mean photographs

I've mentioned several times that I think bias in the media evidences itself mostly in framing - how raw data is interpreted and presented by the journalist and/or medium. Theosebes has a great example of what I'm talking about.

Posted by susanna at 08:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 20, 2004

Full Metal Jacket Malkin

This column by Michelle Malkin is a great inside look at television "journalism" in action.

Although it's a very minor point in her column, I was amused by the exchange about her age. She does look very young, but I must say I never really thought about it in regards to her work. She quotes Chris Matthews as saying, '"Are you sure you are old enough to be on the show? What are you? 28?"' It seems to me that 28 is plenty old enough to be on the show and know a lot. Many journalists working for big newspapers are between 25-30 when they're handling major stories. Military men and women much younger than that are making life and death decisions daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if he'd sneered that he thought she looked 18 and that was too young, I'd find it a little more reasonable, even as a joke.

That aside, while I don't know Malkin's age, I would have guessed her as early 30s, just from seeing her confidence and ability to handle herself in rough interviews like Matthews saw fit to instigate. But I don't know. I don't care. She's tough, smart and does her homework. Does it matter how old she is?

Yes, yes, he did it as a smear, and that's funny because he'd probably say he doesn't participate in agism and sexism, PC journalist that he is. And like I said, it's vanishingly unimportant in the greater scope of the whole incident. But it just goes to show that he doesn't even try to be logical in his insults, much less his "journalism".

I don't watch the political pundits much, and that's one of the reasons why. I think a lot of them are just that way, and more than a few on the right too. One reason I like the blogosphere is because you get to know the person behind the blog in a more well-rounded way. For an example, Glenn Reynolds. I don't know him, have never met him, but just from reading his writing on a nearly daily basis for over two years, I think I have an accurate sense of his character. I think he's capable of being snide (aren't we all?), and probably has a sharp tongue when he wants to, but even in circumstances where he was angry and both disliked and disagreed with someone, I don't think he'd take that kind of pathetic potshot. In fact, he has been snide and sharp-tongued on his blog. But never pathetic or, I think, small-minded. Matthews was both, and a lot of the pundits are. And I don't trust them as far as I could throw, well, Glenn Reynolds.

And the same is true of other bloggish types. I read them enough, and they write on a broad enough range of things frequently enough, to where I know how much I can trust what they say. I'm getting to where I go to the mainstream news for raw data, and go to bloggers for context. The pundits who have blogs are more likely to get my vote of confidence too - which is why I like The Corner on NRO, and I'm glad that some writers from Weekly Standard have their own blog now.

It's starting to storm now, and I'm starting to ramble, so I'll shut my mouth and shut down the computer. My arm and back are hurting anyway - I fell, again, yesterday, I apparently have permanently claimed the title of "grace". This time I grabbed a rough wooden post to break my fall and managed to abrade about 5 inches of skin along the inside of my left forearm. Almost 24 hours later, part of it is still red and swollen around the areas that actually bled. Charming. So. Have a good evening, I'm going to go find my tube of neosporin.

Posted by susanna at 05:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 19, 2004


Maybe it wasn't a mistake:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has heard this morning from one of its own about some of the problems with airline "no fly" watch lists.

Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy says he had a close encounter with the lists when trying to take the U-S Airways shuttle out of Washington to Boston.

The ticket agent wouldnt let him on the plane. His name was on the list -- in error. After a flurry of phone calls, Kennedy was able to fly home, but then the same thing happened coming back to Washington.


Posted by susanna at 01:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Charley in full wrath

Can't get enough of Hurricane Charley? Think hurricanes are pretty cool - as long as you don't live in the path of one?

Here is a satellite image of Hurricane Charley , being sold in poster form for funds for disaster relief in Florida (for now). It's quite impressive.

Posted by susanna at 11:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

Deep and deeper

I'm buried in research right now, working on my dissertation prospectus proposal, so posting will be light for a while - although likely something will go up daily. I am planning to get the proposal to my professor by the end of next week, and hopefully get a green light from him about my research plan. If he does give the go-ahead, then I'll plunge into writing the prospectus itself with the plan of defending it sometime in mid-November. If I make that hurdle (and I plan to), then I'll do the actual research in the spring and write it up over the summer. The ultimate goal: graduating in December 2005. I think it's doable.

Right now I'm going through abstracts of dissertations from the past 20 years or so that seem to have some relevance to my own area. Very interesting. Some of the research definitely shows how the term "it's academic" came to mean, "it's overly picky and of little if any practical value". On the other hand, some are quite good and I'm looking forward to reading them.

It's increasingly obvious that news selection and issue framing are the most potent tools of the media, and that some of that emerges from institutional bias rather than ideology - although ideology is not unimportant. By "institutional bias" I mean that the media has an overarching entertainment imperative that requires that they produce not just useful information about our society for the citizens' education and use, but that they produce interesting stories. Media is a business, and a very competitive one. If you doubt that, just see whether a journalist cares about the circulation or viewer numbers of the medium he or she works for. It's a point of pride to work for a medium with a large following, and producing stories that draw and keep viewer attention is paramount to a successful career. It's about "scooping" the others, and not just with any information, but with information on an issue with inherent "story" possibilities, and public interest.

What I'm interested in looking at is how the media moves from raw material to finished product, focusing on their coverage of crimes reported to police. I'll do that by analyzing what they could have reported on vs what they did report on, and then analyzing how they presented what they did report on. Of the pool of possible, what was chosen? Of the pool of chosen, what stories were constructed? By "story" here, I don't mean specific articles. I mean what beginning, middle and end were constructed by the journalist to give the information a context; what "story" vehicle was used to convey not just the information but a social meaning to the reader.

One of the earliest researchers to do this type of investigation was Mark Fishman, in his seminal "Crime Waves as Ideology", which I've mentioned before. He looked at a "crime wave" of assaults on the elderly that developed one fall in the late 1970s. What he learned was that although the crimes against the elderly did not actually go up during that time period in NYC (where the research was done), the local media filled up a slow news time by focusing on crimes against the elderly. One paper started it and other media in the market followed suit, resulting in greater fear amongst the elderly in the area and also, not incidentally, in the formation of a police unit specifically targeted at crimes against the elderly. The reports followed a trajectory, tracked by Fishman based on number of articles.

I want to do something somewhat similar, but more comprehensive in both data collection and analysis. We'll see where it goes. I'll post my proposal when it's done.

Posted by susanna at 03:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

It's not only Britain

The US is on the same track.

Posted by susanna at 11:51 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

McGreevey: The Newsweek version

Newsweek gives McGreevey the once-over in this lenghy piece. It seems to me to be that marvelous thing, fair and balanced coverage. There's still a lot we don't know about the whole situation, so some caution in making extrapolations is warranted. Isikoff and Thomas cover both the corruption and gay angles without ever coming down on one side or the other as the most likely tipping factor, and while the immorality of his adultery is downplayed (unsurprising in today's society), the supremacy of Jersey politics in all things corrupt is given due attention.

Posted by susanna at 05:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Support an entrepreneur

As you may (or may not) have noticed, I've signed up with Blogads. This week an ad for Carlo Franco ties and dress shirts starts. Before you think I'm doing an editorial plug for a paying advertiser, I've donated the ad space to the company because I think it's cool.

My brother discovered Carlo Franco on his sartorial ramblings online. My understanding from him is that Charles and his business partner, designer Jill Speck, run the company themselves out out of a small space, choosing the fabrics, designing and making the ties in a very hands-on manner. According to Alan, who knows these things, the result is very high-end ties in terms of quality at very low prices for that kind of thing. (Not cheap, but inexpensive for the quality.) Certainly the ties - and shirts - are quite lovely. It almost makes me want to be a guy so I can wear them.

Almost. Not quite. Well, not close, but a little.

So if you're in the market for ties, I encourage you to check out Carlos Franco. It epitomizes the ideal of hard work, high quality and a respect for family, things we ought to support with our dollars. And should save you a little in the long run, too.

UPDATE: Edited for length, 7 p.m.

Posted by susanna at 11:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Think on this things

Alan at theosebes has several excellent posts. Just start at the top and scroll down.

He talks about the Canadian government strangling religious speech about issues political; about the University of North Carolina trying to force political correctness on a religious group on campus; about people choosing churches for political rather than theological reasons; about a recent find that could (or not) be associated with John the Baptist; and about a new "biography" of Mary the mother of Jesus that isn't anything I recognize as Scriptural. But then it's so... unsophisticated to be limited to the Bible! I mean, please...! We're educated adults here.

I was interested in all of that, but found myself a combination of horrified and amused at the post on people choosing churches for political reasons, because of this:

...there is a cultural divide in this country between believers and nonbelievers. The other night at a dinner, my jaw dropped when a man I had just met said of the religious right, “Those people scare me more than the terrorists do.” (Not me; I’ll take the roomful of Biblical literalists every single time.)

Clearly the people she was having dinner with haven't known many if any "Biblical literalists", but then in the circles they likely move in, there aren't any Biblical, Constitutional or even moral literalists anyway. To be a "literalist" is to set something up as wisdom outside your own preferences, and we can't have that, now, can we?

I find the intellectual elite in this country - and elsewhere, from what I've read - to be sickeningly arrogant and reprehensible. But at least I read what they write, and consider their positions, and don't think they are actively as bad as the terrorists (although I do think I wouldn't be able to eat much if I was at dinner with them - I'd be too afraid of tossing it all back up pretty quickly). And the hypocrisy...!

Some day I'll rail about the anti-literalists. But not today. Well, not any more today. Instead, I'll go to the gym and then work on my prospectus, setting aside the fact that there are pea-brained people in this world who are intent on getting us all killed as a result of their insensate stupidity.

Posted by susanna at 10:21 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Oh, really?

What's wrong with this picture?

Movie led man to strangle lover

A MAN who said the movie, The Passion of the Christ, led him to confess to strangling his girlfriend was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

I won't tell you just yet. You tell me.

Thanks to Alan for the tip.

Posted by susanna at 10:20 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

New Jersey's political death wish

I posted recently about the utter and total mess New Jersey politics is, and now here's the Wall Street Journal giving excellent detail on precisely why that's so:

New Jersey's political corruption has been legendary since the days of the late Mayor Frank Hague, who ran Jersey City for 30 years with such an iron fist that he told federal officials "I am the law." Just two years ago, Sen. Bob Torricelli had to drop his re-election bid after the Senate Ethics Committee detailed his improper relationship with a donor. A spineless state Supreme Court allowed Democrats to replace him on the ballot even though a firm deadline for doing so had passed. The state's politics are awash in allegations of conflicts of interest, raids on public treasuries and corrupt alliances between favored business interests and local officials.

It gets better. You must read that, if only to shake your head and give thanks that you don't live there. Unless you do, in which case, well, sorry. What are you going to do to change it?!

The article highlights one of my pet peeves, the NJ law that allows people to hold local and state political positions at the same time. They double-dip in the taxpayers' coin chest, and set up little fiefdoms forever. It's not surprising that Jersey City is used as an example of how bad it can get. Just before I left NJ, then-Mayor Glenn Cunningham had just won a seat in the state House of Representatives, a similar situation to the gravy train Jim McGreevey road into the statehouse. Cunningham's untimely death ended his influence, but around the time he won the state seat I heard comments from various folk about how that had secured his position as Jersey City mayor for the duration. They weren't using hyperbole.

And the Republicans are as much a problem as the Dems, although I hate to say it. I did try to volunteer to work with the Republican party when I was there, because I wanted Bret Schundler to win as governor (not because I liked him as a person; to be honest, I thought he was not a particularly good candidate. But even then I saw he was much much better than McGreevey, which apparently has borne out). I learned during that process that there were two Republican parties in Hudson County, where Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Union City and other towns are, and they had an intense rivalry. You had to identifiy which one you were with. I worked for city government in Jersey City, and politics was a daily factor to a level way beyond what it was in Lexington, KY, when I worked for the city council there.

So read the WSJ piece, and be enlightened. It's a frightening thing.

Posted by susanna at 10:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Inside Japan

If you're not reading Sean Kinsell's blog, The White Peril, on a regular basis, you should be.

And yes, I know I linked him in the post below, but reading through his blog preparing for that post is what made me decide to post this one.

Sean and I have some fundamental philosophical and theological differences, and I don't know that we'll ever resolve those. But what I appreciate about Sean is that we can talk about them sanely, and talk about other things without our differences getting in the way. Even when he posts on things on which I disagree with him, his thoughtful and interesting style help me to understand - although still not agree with - his position. And his posts on Japan are always fascinating, his love for and knowledge of that country and its citizens very apparent.

He's recently posted a series of commentary on NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey's resignation, reviewing the opinions floating around in the world of gay men and adding his own. One of my own contentions is that McGreevey's making his "outing" so prominent is to serve as a smoke screen for all the bad bidness he's been up to otherwise. He knows how to hide behind a hot social issue. Sean has a lot more insight into that than I do, and agrees with me to a point (although not directly). If you're interested in the whole McGreevey thing, I highly recommend that you read his posts. Start here, then go here and here.

And finally, for a very moving tribute to the Japanese, read his post on the anniversary of the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima. You may be surprised at his conclusion.

Posted by susanna at 09:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Oh, what a little knowledge will do!

Hysteria over nuclear power seems almost axiomatic these days; the thought that we might build new such plants doesn't seem to be in the national psyche. And situations like this one reported at a Japanese nuclear plant seem to support the wisdom of that:

...a steam leak developed in a turbine in Reactor 3 of Kansai Electric's Mihama Power Station. According to the Commission, 11 people have been wounded. According to the local Fire Department, of those, the heart and lungs of five have stopped functioning.

Many people would say, "Aha! See?", but wouldn't look closer. Sean Kinsell being the analytical type he is, did look closer and made the point that the company said no radiation was involved and there was no danger to the community - and he said it without any ominous overtones of "yeah, right". Good on Sean. Then Jim Bowen of NoWatermelons, a trained and experienced nuclear engineer himself, took up the discussion and explained in his usual great detail about precisely how the system works, what most likely happened, and why it wasn't a big nuclear risk to the community. I suggest you read through it - or skim (sorry, Jim!) if you're like me and can't take a whole lot of engineering description at one sitting - because there's a lot of interest and value in it. He also makes clear what happened to the lungs of the injured in Japan:

You might think you know a little about steam. Not under those conditions you don't. The amount of concentrated power is unlike anything you see elsewhere, and if it hits you directly it doesn't just scald you, it more or less eats you. If you inhale it live, bye-bye lungs.

"It...eats you." Now, if that isn't the stuff of nightmares...! But that's not a nuclear plant per se, but any plant that uses steam, and Jim points out that coal plants producing steam have even more dangerous conditions.

And speaking of coal, Jim takes on in another post a report that the shut down of electric-generating plants using coal during the blackout last year resulted in a sharp reduction of pollutants in the air during that period. He's skeptical, and explains why you should be too. It's a good post, and something to think about.

Jim talks over my head sometimes, but he's always got good things to say. Um, those things I can understand, that is.

Posted by susanna at 09:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Run that by me again?

According to your average liberal, their whole reason for being is to protect the downtrodden, especially minorities. Two of their favorite tools currently are their ever increasing multiculturalism and insistence on gun control.

I guess that just proves the old adage that you only hurt the ones you love.

Posted by susanna at 12:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 15, 2004

Factions and fussing

This article in the NY Times says that some Dems in Jersey want McGreevey out in time for a special election, others don't. That's not surprising. I know that the Republican party in Jersey, at least in the Jersey City area, falls into two distinct camps that really dislike each other. Sounds like the Dems have a similar dynamic. I'd say the problem is that one group wants McGreevey to stay so they can get their Dem candidate in as a placeholder before elections next year, and the other wants to win the advantage. Neither side, of course, is a) interested in a Republican getting in or b) interested on even the most minute molecular level what the average Jersey voter wants. They can yammer about "the people" all they want, but they honestly don't care as long as they keep their power base. And quite apparently the average Jersey citizen checks their brain (and morality) at the door when they vote. I say, good enough for them.

And I'm sure glad to be in Alabama.

Posted by susanna at 11:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Now that's pretty funny

I promise it's not me, but here is a Yahoo! profile someone set up for "john_heinz_kerry". And what is given as the home page? Why, COTB. ?!? What's up with that? Funny, nonetheless. One wonders if the other three listed as "Cool Links" are aware of their being honored too?

· Home Page:
· Cool Link 1:
· Cool Link 2:
· Cool Link 3:

Of all the blogs out there whacking away at JF "Wish I was a Kennedy" Kerry, how odd that someone chose mine for this spoof. Hmmm. Must be one of you, gentle readers.

Posted by susanna at 07:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 14, 2004

Love in India

Maybe arranged marriages aren't such a bad idea after all.

Posted by susanna at 07:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CNN is reporting that Lance Armstrong may be stripped of his 6th Tour de France title

In a random check for banned substances, 3 were found in Armstrong's hotel room.

The 3 substances banned by the French were:

(1) Toothpaste

(2) Deodorant

(3) Soap

The French officials also found several other items during a body cavity search which they had never seen before including a testicle and a backbone...

(Yes, yes, I know. Sent to me by someone who shall remain nameless. Pretty funny.)

Posted by susanna at 07:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 13, 2004

You Otta know

It's everything you meant to know but forgot to ask about your favorite humorist, Dave Barry Howard Stern Dave Letterman Scott Ott!

Go read - now!

Or have your Aunt Mabel read it to you if you skipped that in school...

Posted by susanna at 04:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Gotta love modern technology

It's a beautiful day in Alabama, the sun is shining and for the first time in more than two months it's cool enough (70s) to leave the windows open all day. A fan is gently blowing the crisp sunny scent of the day into my face while I sit at my computer, searching the communications and criminal justice databases at the Rutgers libraries in New Jersey. I've got the Weather Channel on, watching Hurricane Charley moving in on the west coast of Florida. For a little more personal perspective, I can go read Hatcher's account from his apartment in Sarasota.

Last night I was reading a novel set in the Regency period, and one of the lead characters was moved by her boyfriend's devotion to travel 20 miles one way to see her in the night, when he had to turn around and go right back before morning. It would have taken at least an hour each way, probably more, especially at night and even more if it was a moonless night.

Two hundred years later I sit in Alabama researching materials in New Jersey while watching the weather in Florida. Twenty miles is 20 minutes in my car.

I may sometimes think that aspects of older times were preferable to now, but that thought doesn't last past the next time I want to check my email.

It's a good life.

UPDATE: I just heard that the center of the storm is moving over Punta Gorda, FL. One of my college roommates lived there, and I spent a weekend at her parents' home in a subdivision where all the homes were on cul-de-sacs and backed up to canals. I doubt they still live there - it's been 24 years - but if they do, I hope they stay safe.

Posted by susanna at 03:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bush wins? What does the shift mean?

The AOL Straw Poll tracks the candidate preferences of its members who vote in it throughout the US, using it to estimate which candidate has current claim over what electoral votes. Obviously it is not scientific. However, the current status and the shift over the past month is interesting, especially given that the Dem convention was in July. According to the poll page, the Straw Poll starts fresh each month, and the graphic shows "archived" results, so I am assuming that means that the numbers up now are from voting in July, while the numbers shown in the graphic in July were from voting in June.

Now, Bush is winning with 427 electoral votes to Kerry's 111, which apparently is from voting in July, the month of the Democratic convention. That's not how it was when Todd at The Pragmatic Progressive posted this on July 24 (presumably based on June voting):

The AOL Straw Poll for the Democratic Primary Season predicted Kerry 1st, Edwards 2nd, Dean 3rd to the point of being scary. That straw poll predicted Clark's win in Oklahoma and Kerry's wins in NH and IA...Edwards win in NC.

Anyway, not-scientific mind you, but very curious indications :

Kerry - 398 Electoral Votes 55%
Bush - 140 EV, 43%
Nader - 0 EV, 2%

Sample: 129,869

Bush wins: ID, UT, ND, SD, OK, TX, IN, LA, MS, TN, NC, SC, GA, and Alabama. Kerry wins all other states.

Apparently the poll page is regularly updated, because when I linked over the numbers had changed. Here is what is it as of today, August 13:

Bush - 427 votes, 79%
Kerry - 111 votes, 21%
Nader - 0 votes

Sample: 45,941

Kerry wins California, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC.
Bush wins all other states.

And here is more of The Pragmatic Progressive's numbers, in key states:

Some Key battle ground states with samples 2,000+:

Ohio: 5,420 votes Kerry - 55% Bush 43%
Florida: 14,481 votes, Kerry - 55% Bush 43%
Pennsylvania: 5,750, Kerry - 58% Bush 40%
Missouri: 2,309, Kerry 56% Bush 43%
Colorado: 2,309, Kerry 52% Bush 46%
Virginia: 2,651, Kerry 52% Bush 46%
North Carolina: 3,897, Kerry 48% Bush 51%

Here are the numbers in the same states now - remember, this sample is about a third of the number who took the poll when TPP reported it:

Ohio: 2015 votes Kerry - 42% Bush 57%
Florida: 5129 votes, Kerry - 42% Bush 57%
Pennsylvania: 1947, Kerry - 47% Bush 52%
Missouri: 772, Kerry 43% Bush 56%
Colorado: 821, Kerry 45% Bush 55%
Virginia: 1596, Kerry 39% Bush 60%
North Carolina: 1313, Kerry 37% Bush 62%

And here are the states that the Poll right now gives to Kerry - some numbers aren't very wonderful:

California: 4851 votes; Kerry - 50%, Bush 48%
New York: 3324 votes; Kerry - 51%, Bush 47%
Connecticut: 686 votes; Kerry - 51%, Bush 47%
Massachusetts: 1057 votes; Kerry - 50%, Bush 48%
Vermont: 64 votes; Kerry - 66%, Bush 34%
D.C.: 96 votes; Kerry - 81%, Bush 18%

All very interesting, isn't it? Especially since as the vote numbers go higher in the Kerry states, the percentages break to the center.

Again, I emphasize that this poll is not scientific. But I do think it's not insignificant that in a few weeks time, polling the same population, AOL registered that much of a shift. I'm sure it could move back, too, but it seems to indicate that the momentum now rests with Bush, and the Republican Convention hasn't even started yet.

I'll keep track of the AOL Straw Poll, and see how it shifts in the future.

[Thanks for the heads-up about the poll from my brother Alan, of theosebes fame.]

UPDATE: On further conversation with my brother, he says the results last night were based on fewer votes than shown now, and that Kerry only had about 30 electoral votes. Perhaps by "archived" votes, the Straw Poll means it tallies them on a once-a-day basis? That makes more sense, as a month in a political campaign is a vast stretch of time. But if that's the case, then the numbers are even more interesting, because Kerry would have barely won during the month of his acceptance convention, and a mere two weeks out from it Bush is tromping him, at least amongst AOL members.

The problem, of course, is that if this gets much coverage it will blow to smithereens whatever validity the poll had up until now, because partisans on both sides will flood it with votes. While Todd at The Pragmatic Progressive noted that it's hard to "stuff the ballot box" on the poll, it would still skew the results more than they are now to have reactionary voting.

We shall see.

UPDATE II: Uhoh. Some evidence that the skewing has already occurred. The article my brother saw is this one on World Net Daily, an online publication that leans to the right. It says this:

The unscientific survey, whose results change in real time as more people vote, reveals with more than 34,000 participants, Bush takes a whopping 58 percent of the popular vote compared to 40 percent for Sen. John Kerry and 2 percent for Ralph Nader.

Those are the numbers to cite, then. For the numbers to change from 58% to 77% for Bush in the past 24 hours means that the WND readers have been exercising their right to straw poll vote.

But 58%-40% is still impressive.

Posted by susanna at 09:05 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The McGreevey spin

Let the spins begin...

As I mentioned yesterday, the focus on McGreevey's resignation is centering on his "coming out", not on the myriad of egregious ethics questions raised during his administration. I agree that it would be likely more difficult to weather a charge of a homosexual affair than a heterosexual one, as is apparent given the experience of former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton. He was found to have also had an affair during his administration that involved giving his lover breaks that could only be ordered by the governor, and then - according to her - using his gubernatorial powers to harrass her and her company when she broke it off. Like in McGreevey's case, Patton's illicit lover was not the most ethically sound person herself, but then, what do you expect from someone who has an affair with someone who's married?

But I think if McGreevey had had a homosexual affair without any of the other ethical issues permeating his behavior and that of his administration, he might have weathered this "coming out", especially in New Jersey, especially with the Democrats, especially in this political climate. I doubt seriously he would have run again, but I don't know that he would have resigned. Certainly everyone would have held up Bill Clinton as an example. It's only sex after all, isn't it?

However, it's to the Dems' benefit, and McGreevey's as well, to have the homosexual factor in this situation swamp the rest of the reasons. And of course the media is complicit in the spin. It just makes me grind my teeth. Here is a passage from the NY Times article today:

Golan Cipel, McGreevey's former lover, served in the governor's administration and earned $110,000 a year as homeland security adviser, several New Jersey political sources said. But Cipel, a published poet and a native of Israel, resigned after it was discovered that he had exaggerated his credentials, and he has since moved from one politically connected business to another.

Emphasis mine. That is in direct contradiction to this article published in December 2002 by a New Jersey newspaper (link via Drudge):

Despite his statements to the contrary, Gov. McGreevey, from the beginning, intended to make his now-departed Israeli adviser and friend, whose expertise was public relations, the state's point man on terrorism, documents obtained last week under the federal Freedom of Information Act show.

Using the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11 to justify the hiring, the governor's chief lawyer wrote a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on McGreevey's inauguration day, telling the federal agency that New Jersey wanted Cipel to coordinate increased security with all branches of government and that Cipel had the necessary "substantial experience" in public security...

When Cipel quit last August after a Gannett New Jersey report on the exaggeration of his security credentials, the governor blamed the exaggeration on a poorly worded biography issued by McGreevey's office.

But the governor's chief counsel, Paul Levinsohn, who served as McGreevey's campaign finance chairman and is a longtime confidant of the governor, was detailed when he wrote to the federal immigration service and described how Cipel was qualified to be the governor's point man on security.

Emphasis mine. And there's more in that article to support the contention that while Cipel was likely complicit in the exaggerations, the administration wasn't "shocked, shocked!" to learn he was a PR man, not a terrorism expert.

I think anyone who seeks public office should expect that evidence of misbehavior in his private life, especially during a term in public office, is germane to his public service. It speaks to integrity and trustworthiness. Homosexuality aside, McGreevey cheated on his wife and sought to give benefits to his lover using his state authority to do so. That should be the focus of this coverage, not this maudlin standardbearing of the poor heartbroken confused man finally able to touchingly embrace his true self. The point is not McGreevey is homosexual, but McGreevey is a lying scoundrel.

But this is being very carefully played, and the media is casting itself on the funeral pyre of McGreevey's political career, trying to make it something it is not. Not unexpected. Highly revolting. Likely to continue.

UPDATE: CG Hill sees the same spin. Kevin McCullough at adds another interesting tidbit:

It gets more interesting...Mr. Cipel, when he had resigned his post as New Jersey Homeland Security Director went to work for Charles Kushner who was formerly the chief fund raiser for McGreevey. Kushner was indicted 3 weeks ago on corruption charges in a case involving a New Jersey farm deal in which it is reported that McGreevey would speak in code with the owner of the farm to indicate his decision on which way he was leaning. The indictment stated that the Governor would use terms from Machiavelli. On three seperate occassions the feds wired up the farms owner and captured audio of McGreevey doing just that.

Mr. Kushner's indictment named Public Official one as being involved in the scandal but did not name McGreevey by name. What is unclear is...

Did Mr. Kushner - who already had a history of sending prostitutes to people as a way of entrapment and blackmail - decide to turn the sex wedge against McGreevey in exchange for the Governor refusing to pardon him in the federal investigation? Certainly with Cipel working with Kushner the idea and goods would have been known and discussed in terms of ways that kind of plot could be pulled off...

Kushner is also a heavy fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and has even raised funds for John Kerry...

And Jeff Jarvis, unsurprisingly, has the definitive summary of it all:

On the one hand, this was reality TV with more raw, real human drama than any reality TV ever aired and more bluntness than any political speech ever given. Knowing what was going to happen for a few hours before he came on camera, I expected a duck and feint job from a politician. Instead, we saw an emotional, forceful, courageous announcement of a man's secret.

But on the other hand, this was utterly unreal. Roiling just below the surface were a dozen other stories that were not told: There are the reports that the man who forced McGreevey's secret out was his gay lover whom McGreevey hired for a $110,000 state job for which the man was utterly unqualified. There was his wife, standing there as if stoned. There was the hard-slap realization that McGreevey had used this wife and one before and children by both marriages as his beard for his political career. There was the contention that McGreevey was now using his gayness to obscure other sins and crimes. There was the story of an apparently devout Catholic who did the sin thing. There was the anguish of a gay man in the smoke-filled closet. There was the political intrique of maneuvering to avoid an election in November and keep the governor's office in Democratic hands. There was the media's role in helping to keep McGreevey's secret. There were the other secrets waiting to come out: the story of the broken leg and God know's what else. All this down the road in the home named Drumthwacket. Unreal.

McGreevey's speech looked like a blast of steam but that hid the witches' cauldron of bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.

Usually, what we see in media -- and in politics -- is the unreal masking the real. Here, the real masked the unreal.

Read the rest of Jarvis's post too. Maybe McGreevey's broken leg came when he was flung off by the Dem spin machine? At any rate, we await further revelations and the media framing of same.

Posted by susanna at 08:12 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 12, 2004

Media bias? What media bias?

The McGreevey resignation has offered another opportunity to see the true ideology of the American newsroom - from Jeff Jarvis:

I just spoke with a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer about McGreevey's speech as a moment in television (more on that shortly) and he said that when McGreevey announced he was gay, there was applause in the newspaper newsroom.

Now, tell me in what alternate universe someone who claps like this can be objective in covering the story? Mind you, I've said repeatedly that I don't think objectivity is what's needed, but fairness, transparency and a strong attachment to accuracy. But the raging hypocrisy inherent in this kind of response, not isolated in any way, while the media cry "objectivity!" and "journalistic privilege!", is just nauseating.

Posted by susanna at 07:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

McGreevey resigns over gay affair (at least)

Not a lot to say about this (much more from Jeff Jarvis here and here):

With his wife at his side, Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey announced today that he is gay and would resign out of concern over the impact on the governor's office of his disclosure of a sexual relationship with a man.

"I am a gay American,'' Mr. McGreevey said in a short speech that was televised live from Trenton.

"I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man," he said, adding that "it was wrong, it was foolish, it was inexcusable.''

He will, of course, cover himself in the righteousness of an oppressed minority immediately, the better to cover the ethical issues surrounding his hiring of a man who may have been his lover. That's extrapolation, based on this:

Golan Cipel is reportedly going to file a sexual harrassment claim against McGreevey.

Cipel was, with great controversy, appointed as state anti-terrorism chief early in the administration...

The background on Cipel is that he was hired by McGreevey to be head of homeland security for the state -- even though he had no experience in that (other than being an Israeli).

Hiring a lover, opposite or same sex, is always a very bad idea, at the most basic level calling your judgment into question. Then there's the "not qualified" thing, in a Homeland Security! post, after 9/11! And you put the whole state government at risk of manipulation as you try to cover up your misdeeds (and I'd say we'll find out more about McGreevey's manipulations as time goes on). There is also, of course, the moral element as well:

I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.

At least he verbally acknowledges that behavior as a violation of vows he should have kept, but I suspect that was a public mea culpa, not a heartfelt repentance. "I'm so sorry (I got caught)!" But it is passe' these days to be concerned about the morals of a thing, unless it is the immorality of oppression. The language of his speech, especially as excerpted by the NYT, hits all the key oppression points: I was confused, I tried to "force an acceptable reality" on myself, I couldn't do it, I'm weak, I did wrong, move along, nothing to see here but a man's deep personal pain." No, actually, there's a lot more, things that have absolutely nothing to do with his sexuality but his ethical decisions (which I've written about extensively here in the past). But watch, he's going to hide behind his gayness in an effort to deflect criticism for other monumental failures. The Dem party in NJ will allow it, encourage and reinforce it, too, because they must keep him there long enough to prevent a special election. Anything that looks like it may topple him prior to his stated leaving date of Nov. 15 will be assiduously covered up or shouted down.

Pathetic. It's all pathetic. I have zero sympathy for him, none, nada. For his wife, parents and children, yes. For the people who believed in him, yes. For those he's taken advantage of, yes. For him, zippo.

Who wants to bet that when he leaves office he'll reconstitute himself as a gay activist?

UPDATE: The spin is already "He's gay! Leave him alone!", not "He's unethical and pond scum! Good riddance!"

I agree with this post linked on's blog:

5214. McGreevey is USING gays by MarkB, 8/12/04 17:57 ET He's using the gay issue as an excuse for his corruption and worse. Gays should be outraged at this.

Won't happen. Instead, some are moved to tears:

"I am in tears," said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, who said McGreevey had played a "heroic" role in getting New Jersey to adopt domestic partnership legislation.

"We all know how difficult it is to come out as openly gay, whether to family or other loved ones. No one could imagine what it's like to come out to 300 million -- this is totally unprecedented."

There was no bravery. None. Trust me. He did this only under duress.

Posted by susanna at 06:29 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A graphic logo

I've decided, after reading (most of) this book, that I should make a go of writing freelance in the B'ham market. I've certainly got a lot of writing experience, over a wide range of topics, and should be competitive in most areas. Marketing myself isn't one of my best talents, but it's something I could learn. And if I could establish a nice part-time business doing that, it would take a load off financially as I finish my degree work.

Using Microsoft Publisher and its clip files, I've designed a logo. Tell me what you all think, both of the name for my new writing venture, and for the logo itself.

Here's the logo:


This would be used on my business cards (without my name at the bottom of the logo, since it would be elsewhere on the card), and for any stationary, advertising, website, etc., that I decide to do if the venture's success seems to warrant it.

What do you think?

Posted by susanna at 12:21 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

False overtime claims?

The Jersey City Police and Fire Departments are apparently under scrutiny by a grand jury after accusations that police officers and firefighters claimed impossible levels of overtime in the wake of 9/11:

A Hudson County grand jury is probing possible abuses of approximately $2 million in overtime funds paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Jersey City police and fire departments during and after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A draft of an audit conducted by FEMA shows some police officers submitted claims for 16 hours of overtime a day, some for two or three consecutive days. The Jersey Journal obtained a copy of the draft, which contains overtime claims for the months of September, October and November of 2001...

FEMA wants the city to either prove overtime claims filed over a three-month period in 2001 - from Sept. 11 to Nov. 10 - or return $1.2 million the federal government has already paid to the police and fire departments...

One police superior claimed as much as $14,161 in overtime from Sept. 11 to the end of that month, according to the audit. Another officer racked up $9,283 of overtime pay over the same three-week period, the audit shows.

Overtime is a huge issue for the Jersey City Police Department. When I worked there, we got a lot of federal funds for overtime work on specialized policing details, so I'm somewhat familiar with the numbers some officers pulled down. I was there during the fall of 2001, but I didn't work with the overtime reports submitted for work at Ground Zero or for specialized details associated with it - that is to say, with the overtime associated with the funds under question. But generally speaking, working overtime is a part of the police culture in Jersey City, and some officers do pull down a lot on a regular basis.

I can't say whether these numbers are accurate, although certainly turning in 16 hours of overtime for 2-3 days in a row seems unlikely (unless the officer took vacation time and used it to work at Ground Zero, given that he'd make a lot that way). However, the amounts don't seem wildly out of line given how much the average JC police officer makes. According to my recollection, after five years on the force an officer makes $70,000/year. Base pay for sergeants, lieutenants and captains climb commensurately. If your base pay is $90,000, which for a standard 2080 hour working year (40 hours x 52 weeks) is $43.27/hour, then time and a half will be $64.90. If you worked 7 1/2 hours of overtime for 30 days straight, that'd get you the $14,161. Note that the person who got that amount was a police superior, so he's working from one of the higher base salaries.

I know of one particular superior officer who was heavily associated with disaster work for the police department, and he worked his butt off any time something big happened. I could see him working 16 hour days - not all overtime, but total - for weeks on end. He lived and breathed it. That's something to take into consideration.

I don't know whether the overtime charged was appropriate, and they have a lot more information than I do. I'm just making the case that the numbers they present aren't on their face widely outrageous. You have to consider the circumstances - 9/11 - and the base pay of the officer. Whether that kind of money should be allowed to go to one person, whether there should be limits on how many hours someone can claim, sounds like a management decision to me.

On the other hand, I can also vouch for the fact that the federal government generally isn't too picky about accountability and performance with their money. They do track whether it's actually going to people who report having worked legitimately, but they don't do rigorous evaluations of either process or effect, a fact that annoyed me mightily when I was there. Still does, as a taxpayer. So if things did go a little lax on record keeping there, it doesn't excuse it but it also could be a culture created in a vacuum of flooding federal funds with lackadaisical oversight.

Finally, I found this amusing:

Mayor L. Harvey Smith also declined to comment, but Roger Jones, his chief of staff, said the investigation was initiated by Jersey City Police Chief Ronald Buonocore. Buonocore said he could not address the probe because the investigation is ongoing, but he did say that the alleged abuses occurred under the watch of former Jersey City Police Director James Carter and former police Chief Peter Behrens.

Passing it on down the line. It is true that Carter and Behrens were in office when that happened, so it was their watch. However, Carter and Behrens were not precisely buddies - a power struggle between the two of them was a factor in Behrens' retirement. Then Buonocore replaced Behrens, and a power struggle between Buonocore and Carter was a major factor in Carter not being reappointed to his position as police director the following August (8 months after Buonocore became chief). Buonocore is the quintessential politician, landing on his feet like a cat no matter what the issue. I don't doubt he'll land there again. He's one person I would never want to tangle with. But if he tries to make some allusion to cooperation between Carter and Behrens in using these funds improperly, that won't fly, not if the grand jury talks to anyone who worked with the two men (both of whom, by the way, I respected for their strengths. And for the sake of full disclosure, I consider Peter Behrens a friend and he's written more than one recommendation for me).

Interesting goings on in Jersey City. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have to send back some dough. However, I don't think, despite the numbers the Jersey Journal has, that this is an open and shut case. But then it never is, in Jersey City. It never is.

One of the things I did at the JCPD was write presentations and sometimes work on speeches. I worked with one of the lieutenants on a presentation about the response to 9/11, and one of the photos we used I've posted below. I'm using it here because I want you to see an officer who had been working at the site. He's covered in dust of the WTC, and I can promise you he saw more disconnected body parts than you want to know about. There's no excuse for taking advantage of such a situation to line your pockets with unearned money, but don't think for a moment that most of the officers weren't there for the right reasons. They were, and it was nasty, hard, heart-breaking work.

Not unlike some of the work our soldiers are doing in Iraq right now.

I wish you could see this officer's face better, because his eyes are the most moving thing about the photo. But maybe this will give you some idea of it.


I don't know the officer's name, but I do use the photo with permission, which I got from the lieutenant before leaving the JCPD.

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August 11, 2004


Today I needed to register for the fall semester at Rutgers and get hooked up to their libraries so I could do research this fall. The registration process went fairly smoothly, with only two extra phone calls to get things to go well in the online registration process. Then I needed to change my permanent address with the school, to reflect my residence in Alabama.

That's when the trouble started.

With Rutgers, to make changes in your student record you have to have a NetID and password. I forget this between the times I use it. There was a place to retrieve my NetID, but they wouldn't send my password. I called them. They can't reset the password based on a phone call; I have to go in to Computer Services for that. I informed the technician that I now live in Alabama, which is one of the reasons I needed the NetID password, and coming physically to the Computer Services office at Newark just isn't going to happen. He was sympathetic, and said to fax a letter stating the problem, along with photocopies of my state and Rutgers IDs, and he'd see what he could do.

On to the next problem: I don't have a fax machine. However, I do have a fancy-schmancy computer that has FaxTools, so I thought, this is a good time to set that up. So I went through the setup process, only to figure out quickly that it's not set up to recognize or use a DSL modem. What to do? So right now I'm on hold with the support techs of the BVRP software company that makes FaxTools, listening to boring piano music go on and on and on. I've been waiting about five minutes now.

If they don't come to the phone soon, I'll have to photocopy my IDs on my handy dandy photocopier here, and head out into the wide world looking for a commercial-use fax machine in this little town. I'd rather not. But if that's what it takes, I guess I can handle it. But sometime I need to get this FaxTools thing to work, so I suppose I can look forward to more annoying piano music (yes, it's moved from boring to annoying in the space of time it took me to get to this part of the post).

Life isn't like chocolate. It's like dominoes.

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Japan, violence and anomie

Yesterday I was intrigued by the articles point to at this post on Instapundit. Knowing that not only does Sean Kinsell live there, but he has studied Japan and Japanese culture for years, I asked him to comment on the issue of violent kids in Japan. Is it really increasing? If so, why?

His resulting post is very much worth your time, as it looks at several things: how media frame news to fit their own preferred story lines, how Japanese culture as it is now emerged in great part from the post-WWII reconstruction, and what he sees as the flaws in that system that are showing cracks as Japan transitions to a system more in keeping with its current reality.

It's also instructive in that we are now involved in reconstruction in two other countries, albeit ones markedly different from the Japan of the post-WWII era. I wonder what lessons we can learn from the earlier experience to help us now.

Posted by susanna at 09:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 10, 2004

Difficult diagnosis

There's a rift in the field of psychotherapy, driven - unsurprisingly - by managed care companies that want to know that their money is producing results for their covered clients, and want to have the length of psychotherapy quantified rather than open-ended. On one side of the debate are psychologists who believe that empirically proven therapies should be uniformly used across the field, and those that have not been proven scientifically should be limited or not used. Other psychologists vehemently oppose efforts to rigidly structure what they see as a very complex and difficult to predict combination of elements - in their view, the most important factors in success are often the patient/therapist dynamic and the patient's willingness to heal. Those things are difficult to quantify.

As someone who has studied psychology, taught psychology and been in therapy myself at different times over the last 25 years, I find this argument both fascinating and useful. There are some therapies that are more junk than science, more new-age religion than medical intervention. At the same time, our society is increasingly prone to medicating everything, and I think that is a bad trend. Sometimes the problem is just in my head, that is to say, a problem with how I think that developed through poor coping skills and failure to be internally honest. It can even be the result of actual abuse or trauma, yet still capable of alleviation through talk therapy and learning new mental skills rather than medication. Sometimes a combination of the two is most useful, but permanent medication seems not the best choice to me in many situations because the problem in the brain isn't permanently messed up chemicals. Sometimes it is, but not as often as you'd think given the prominence of prescription drugs for mental problems.

The argument in the psychological circles seems more divisive than it has to be, based on what the article says, but then the journalist who wrote it of necessity had to limit the complicity of his presentation. It appears that some of the issue is comparing apples to oranges by saying all therapies need to be quantifiably successful because we have a range of therapies that are just that. The problem is, the range of therapies that are proven successful are very task-specific toward a range of mental dysfunction very amenable to psychological intervention:

Over the last decade, a group of academic researchers has argued for the instruction-manual approach, compiling a list of short-term therapies that studies show work for a variety of mental disorders.

The techniques are standardized, easily described in manuals for therapists, and can quickly help people with phobias, panic attacks and other problems. They include cognitive therapy, in which people learn to refute pessimistic or degrading thoughts, and exposure therapy, in which they overcome anxieties by gradually learning to face the situations they fear.

Phobias and anxiety disorders are often isolated and unreasonable pockets of dysfunction in otherwise functional and reasonable people. When they confront their problems head on in the controlled, staged environment of psychotherapy, the combination of rational therapy and their own coping skills often bring success. (This is, of course, my evaluation without reading the recent research, but my understanding based on my reading and association with the discipline.) However, more complex problems require more complex approaches that are less open to definition and thus measurement. The article makes the point that the competence of the therapist seems to be the difference between success and failure in many case, rather than the therapy chosen, and I would agree with that. It's appropriate to "shop" for a therapist, not to find one who agrees with your own diagnosis and gives you the drugs you want, but rather to find one you connect with personally and will willingly reveal your deepest thoughts and fears so you can begin the difficult process of restructuring them.

It's a dilemma. I like this thought:

Recently, however, some researchers have been trying to find some accommodation between the two camps by focusing on what it is about any therapy that makes it effective, rather than holding one method above another.

Studies suggest, for example, that factors like how motivated patients are, their readiness for change, the gifts of the therapist, and the strength of the bond between patient and therapist all make a difference in whether psychotherapy is successful.

That makes sense to me. Don't limit therapy to easily researched approaches that have proven efficacious in a broad range of patients, but rather do the hard work of teasing out not only what works but why it works.

In my psychology class this summer, we talked about homeostasis, which is basically the body's desire to stay the same. Most people are familiar with the concept of a physical setpoint for weight, the concept that our bodies are programmed to stay a certain weight and if we lose (or gain) significantly, the body will work to return to the previous, preferred weight. For example, your metabolism often slows as you lose weight and your body thinks it's being starved, thus setting you up for regaining. There's evidence that the setpoint can eventually be reset, but it's a struggle. And there's evidence that our minds have a preference for homeostasis, that is both a chemical and thought pattern thing. We have a comfort zone, a way of responding to life and coping with what goes on that is resistant to permanent change. Think of any physical habit you've tried to break. Habitual thought patterns, about both yourself and your environment, are equally - possibly more - difficult to break, because often you aren't conscious of what those patterns are. Another psychological concept, a complement to homeostasis, is cognitive dissonance - trying to hold two incompatible concepts in your mind at the same time. Eventually you will seek to return to balance, and doing so requires that you either reject the new conflicting information, or reject your old information. Which do you think is easier to do? And what influences do you think are in operation to make you choose one or the other?

Trying to formulate an aggregate measuring instrument for how people deal with such issues is quite complex, and those are not the most complex situations. The idea of following patients in the field during and after therapy is an excellent one, but will require a lot of time, money and honesty, all three things in short supply in many scientific endeavors. Meanwhile, the insurers who have to deal in realities, who need concrete therapies to make their risk predictable, will continue to push for quantification and accountability where it's not always in the patient's best interests for it to be so narrowly defined.

I'm glad to see the psychological community grappling with this problem. While I can offer some insight in understanding why it's a problem, I don't pretend to know the answer and I don't envy them the task of finding it. However, discord in such a community of thought and practice is a good thing, I think, because it forces work toward solutions that otherwise might not have occurred. You might say that the psychological community is suffering cognitive dissonance, and is working toward another period of homeostasis. I just hope the new homeostasis isn't just like the old homeostasis. I think it's time to move beyond that.

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Fay Wray dead

She was 96, and always remembered most for her costar, King Kong.

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Contemptible position?

It's ratcheting up:

A federal judge has held a Time magazine reporter in contempt of court for refusing to testify in an investigation of the leak of a CIA officer's identity, rejecting requests from two media organizations to quash federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information from the media.

U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled that the First Amendment does not insulate reporters from Time and NBC News from a requirement to testify before a criminal grand jury that is conducting the investigation into the possible illegal disclosure of classified information. He unsealed an order that demands the "confinement" of Time reporter Matthew Cooper, who has refused to testify in the probe, but stayed it pending an appeal.

According to the article, Tim Russert of NBC and Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler have both spoken to special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald on a "limited" basis, and not before a grand jury. It says that Fitzgerald has "a strong and unambiguous court ruling to demand the testimony" from both Robert Novak, who originally wrote about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, and WaPo report Walter Pincus. The latter has already been subpeonaed.

It looks like things are headed for a showdown. Some media companies are willing to take it to the US Supreme Court, and it appears Fitzgerald won't back down either. I think it's a good thing, to resolve this very clearly. I hope it does go to the Supremes. I do think the First Amendment protections are crucial to an effectively functioning democracy, and government ability to compel testimony should likewise be limited. The media's role as a government watchdog is too important to be hamstrung. At the same time, there have to be limits that are decided by entities other than journalists themselves. Of course they're going to want the broadest powers possible to do whatever they want, and of course they'll fight any limitations. But especially in this media environment, there is often little or no consideration for the dangers posed by their "scoops", the more important considerations being their reputation and their ability to gain advantage over their competition. If journalists could be expected to include in their ethics any concern for the dangers their coverage poses to our country's safety, this kind of showdown might be avoided. But it's quite clear that self-policing isn't and won't take place.

UPDATE: Tom Maguire, the inestimable Minute Man, has a roundup on the subpeonas as well as historical links and commentary on what it all means.

UPDATE: Jesse Taylor at Pandagon comments on the Plame subpeonas, his post hitting more on the journalism end of it than Tom's does. I basically agree with what he says about it. This last sentence caught my attention:

I'd hope that one's responsibility to the law overrode one's attachment to their own journalistic untouchability.

I'd hope, too, but it'd be a futile one in many instances. There are some journalists who manage to merge citizenship with journalistic integrity. But too many of them view journalism like priests of the Middle Ages viewed the Roman Catholic church - a god owed allegiance beyond citizenship obligations, beyond reasonable interpretation of their guiding document (the Bible for the priests, the Constitution for the journalists), and often beyond reason altogether. And for essentially the same reason in many cases: power. They won't admit it, but many journalists, especially the ones on the upper reaches of the profession in terms of salary and prestige, love the power their perceived and much vaunted untouchability gives them. To accede to the law or the people's will is to recognize a power greater than themselves. And they don't want to do it. To them, journalism is the modern-day insuperable "church of truth".

(Always, always read my commentary on journalistic pride as a "many of them", not "all of them" and sometimes not even "most of them". It is a pervasive problem in the profession, but hasn't eaten the whole profession whole. Yet.)

Posted by susanna at 04:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 09, 2004

India on my mind

During my first year of graduate school, I lived in an old boarding house near the University of Louisville. My next door neighbor was Kenyan, a nice man who made me a real English tea with lovely biscuits and the best hot tea I've ever tasted. We went out once, but he wasn't interested in "just friends" and I wasn't interested in moving to Kenya, so my learning about Kenya hardly went beyond the very basics - although I still feel something of a connection to the country.

I'm that way, a tendency toward emotional connections to countries of people I've met and liked. I also feel a connection to Iran because of a classmate also at U of L, who was a cousin of the Shah. She told me about her country, her family, and incidents of hatefulness toward her especially during the Iran hostage crisis. Someone once tried to run her down in a parking lot in Connecticut because of her Iranian origin. That's a difficult thing to forget.

In the top apartment in the boarding house in Louisville lived two men from India, both computer science majors. In the course of the year, I became close friends with one of them, Edmund, a kind of friendship that seemed to lean toward the romantic at times but never quite went there. He is one of the brightest men I've met (a keen intelligence is very appealing to me, one of the top four most appealing things), a math brain, which is to say, adept in an area where I generally falter. He went on to take the actuary certification exam without using a calculator. He passed.

During the year I spent time with Edmund, we talked a lot about India, and I read several books on it. He talked about his family, his history, his parents' impression of the US (his mother hated the malls). He had a Portuguese last name, a remnant of an influx of Portuguese sailors in the 1800s, and he was raised Catholic, a definite minority in that Hindu country. He grew up living in a huge apartment building in Bombay with his family of six, all of them in an apartment with only two or three rooms. Because of the crowding, he and a lot of other boys from the apartment building slept on the roof except during monsoon season. He had a long scar on one cheek, a physical memory of the time he fell while walking on top of a wrought-iron fence with spear-shaped tips on the posts. He was always funny, sharp-witted, and just a good friend. I still use a clock-radio he gave me when mine was stolen in a burglary of my apartment.

Because of Edmund, I've since then felt a strong connection to India. Of course, there were many Indians in my graduate dorm at Rutgers, and several Indian Christians attended churches where I did in the years since Edmund and I went our separate ways. I like to read about the country, and some day I would like to visit it. I love the textiles, the food (even though what was to Edmund a "sweet" curry set me on fire), and the lilting accent of Indians speaking English. One of my closest friends in New Jersey was a woman from the Caribbean whose parents emigrated there from India.

Because of my sense of connection to India, I've always been especially interested in Christians there. A number of men I know make regular trips to India to work with Christians and teach Bible classes, and several times Indian brothers have visited in the congregations I attended. I read the reports, and feel a genuine sense of family with the Christians in the photographs accompanying the reports. I hope some day to go there myself, to experience India and to work with my fellow Christians there.

In the meantime, there are always vicarious opportunities. Most recently, a good friend of mine, Bill Robinson, who preaches at the congregation I attended in Lexington, KY - University Heights - has been sending dispatches from his trip to India, a three-week stint now entering its third week. He writes clearly and interestingly, and thanks to the joys of digital photography and the Internet, he's able to keep family and friends posted about what he's doing and the environment he's doing it in. My brother Alan has posted a series of Bill's photographs on his site, theosebes. I recommend them to you.

They make me long to visit India even more.

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August 07, 2004

Happy Birthday, Molly Katherine!

3MKwballns small.jpg
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Good answer

With all the flip-flopping right now with the Swift Boat veterans, some for Kerry, some against, some possibly against but misspoke themselves, it is a little difficult to know what is true. The TV ad by the SwiftBoat Veterans for Truth is just as devastating as everyone says, so if it has credibility, if it has "legs", then it would be a hard blow to the Vietnam-obsessed Kerry campaign.

That's where posts like this one by Beldar are important. He is an attorney in Houston who, while he is not a personal friend of the "Unfit for Truth" author, John E. O'Neill, is a member of the same profession in the same city and has on one memorable occasion had cause to cross-examine O'Neill on the stand. Someone with reason to discredit both men would likely find some way to do so, if by nothing more than screaming "partisan! partisan! partisan!" at a volume they hope is loud enough to drown out legitimate criticism. But I don't see any holes to exploit in what Beldar has to say.

What Beldar does is what I think is one of the best attributes of the blogosphere - he offers personal experience as evidence in a straight-forward, detailed and unembellished way. In this instance, what he is in essence testifying to is O'Neill's integrity, the core of the argument about whether his book can be trusted. And he says O'Neill is unimpeachable.

That doesn't mean that O'Neill couldn't have gotten something wrong, especially if someone told him an untruth. But what is does indicate is that O'Neill is highly unlikely to have knowingly included information he knew to be untrue or marginal for the sake of advancing his argument. Another thing I didn't realize, and that Beldar makes very clear if not explicitly so, is that O'Neill has a prominent and sterling career in Houston, and being associated with a cheesy partisan lie-about-the-candidate book would likely harm it. He's a civil litigator, and when businesses are dealing with money they aren't going to hire an attorney they can't trust even if they do approve of his politics. O'Neill's reputation is literally money in the bank for him.

Beldar himself comes across as careful and disinclined to shout down the opposition. He comes off as an attorney making a case. And that's what he is.

The whole area around the SwiftBoat vets is getting murky, but posts like Beldar's lift up the opposition. Certainly John O'Neill's reputation as compared to, say, Mike Kranach at the Boston Globe, stands quite tall.

So take it for what it's worth, but judge on merits, not partisan preference. I think here, in my case at least, the two come together.

Posted by susanna at 10:39 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 06, 2004

Alabama views

Many years ago, when I was a journalist, I loved to take photographs and was fairly decent at it. But after four years of carrying around a camera as if it was attached to my hand, I was heartily sick of seeing every single thing as a potential photograph. And then, as the years went by, I wanted to return to photography but the sheer cost was usually sufficient to stop me. It's not cheap to use up three rolls of film to get two or three shots you like.

And now I have a digital camera - how lovely! My complaint is that I don't like to work with a 50mm lens, I prefer a zoom. But there again money is an issue, so until I can get one with more range, I'll see what I can do with what I have. I suspect I can do more than I have, and that reading the instruction booklet that came with the camera would go a long way toward helping me maximize its capabilities.

Be that as it may, I've started carrying around my camera as Glenn has recommended, and while I've yet to come across some horrific thing that needs photographing, I did snap a couple of shots yesterday at my brother's house that shows a little more about what it's like to live in Alabama. We'll see if something of greater moment happens when I've camera in hand. Until then we'll just have a continuing triptik of what it's like to be in Alabama.

A view through the pears

Pear tree small.jpg

Cow trough

Cow trough and fence 8-04.jpg

UPDATE: Removed (post only; comments remain, which may be confusing, but then, that's life, isn't it?).

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August 05, 2004

Sad but impressive

Earlier this week, Mark Hacking was arrested by police for the murder of his wife Lori on the strength of a confession made to "a credible civilian witness". Today, Hacking's older brothers Lance and Steve admitted they were the ones Mark confessed to:

Cognizant of their promise to help find Lori Hacking, they confronted Mark in his hospital room the morning of July 24, pleaded for information and gave him the afternoon to think it over.

They returned that night. And, they said, he confessed.

"My brother and I sat and hugged him for about an hour, and then we went home," Scott Hacking said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Scott Hacking confirmed that he and his brother, Lance, comprised the "reliable citizen witness," cited in an arresting document released Tuesday, who prompted police to focus on the Salt Lake County landfill for three straight days last week.

The only thing as bad as learning that someone you love was brutally murdered would be to learn that someone you dearly love committed a brutal murder. In some ways it would almost be worse, because there would be no peace with it. You would always be questioning yourself about what you could have done to make it different.

That said, many people with a family member accused of killing someone would stand between that person and the police. But not the Hacking family:

...[F]or the Hacking family, there were higher duties at play.

"Our religion is based in the LDS faith, and we believe strongly in choices and consequences," he said. "We were focused on getting Lori back and getting the consequences taken care of so that Mark can start healing. We want him back as our brother and this was the only way it is going to happen."

Scott Hacking said he was aware his brother's alleged actions could result in a death-penalty verdict.

"I certainly worried about that," he said. "My family believes in the justice system. . . . If those consequences are the ones he has to face, then again, we will support him through that point, though I hope he does not have to face that consequence."

Because of their obvious commitment to finding Lori, to finding the truth, to being there for Lori's family as much as possible, it's not difficult to believe they mean this too. They are an impressive family, and I'm so sorry for both families that this has happened. I don't understand how Mark could have fooled them for so long, but I'm sure we'll find out more about that as time goes on. I hope, for their sakes, that Mark doesn't get the death penalty. Yet there's a part of me that hopes, for Lori's sake, that he does.

Either way, Mark's actions will continue to reverberate for decades, possibly generations. It's too bad he couldn't have thought of that sooner.

On a somewhat different note, the truth of what happened to Lori's body after her death is quite grisly, and not something you hear much about. Obviously most of us (and I include me, until I saw a Fox News segment on it last night) anticipated that they would find her body more or less intact, looking like a body only dead and somewhat decomposed. Maybe a lot decomposed. But that's not what it will be:

A massive excavator and bulldozer, operated by landfill employees, moved mounds of compacted garbage into a field allowing searchers to piece through it.

"It is compacted so tightly that they need to go in and break it up," said landfill spokeswoman Jill Fletcher at the site on Wednesday. "It is kind of eerie to look at the pile."

I'm sure you get the point. Last night, on Greta Van Sustern's show on FoxNews, a consultant (I think a defense attorney) pointed out that she sould be compacted into a very small piece. I'm sure you've seen photos of compacted cars, where they go from, well, car-sized to about a yard square. Imagine that process done to a person. I'd say there's not much chance there's an intact bone over a few inches long.

That's a double sadness, because she's not just dead, but there's not going to be a body to see or to bury that needs a normal grave. It also makes things more difficult for the searchers. They aren't looking for a grave or a body. They're looking for compressed bone and flesh, that's had days to decompose in a landfill that's salted with chemicals to encourage decomposition.

Like I said, grisly. I wish the searchers luck. I think they'll need it.

Posted by susanna at 08:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Media types reveal their secularism

A number of journalists reveal their true stripes in conjunction with a PBS special on President Bush's faith in God, reports Alan at Theosebes. Worth your time.

Alan also links to an article explaining why it's clear that our nation is now pagan, something I have thought for a while. And finally, he links to information that the radical Islamists are saying they didn't blow up the Christian churches in Iraq - and their reasoning? Because if we had, we would have done a better job. Now, that makes you think of conciliation.

It might be easiest just to start at the top and scroll down.

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They just don't get it

Entertainers just don't seem to get that we don't want to know what they think as private citizens, at least not in a mix with their professional performances. The latest to fall is Don Henley.

[Thanks to my brother Alan for the link, via MSN chat]

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Sometimes you have to laugh

I don't read Atrios much, and I won't start going there frequently now. However, if he continues to make stupid and unintentionally humorous rants, I may be required to change my mind just for the postable possibilities. And, unlike Tom Maguire at Just One Minute (where I got the link), I'm going to not just step on the punchline, but dance on it like it's MayDay.

In this post, he rails at Glenn Reynolds for wearing a "Celebrate Diversity" t-shirt, claiming (without saying it in precisely these words) that he's somehow mocking or showing disrespect for Africa and, by implication, Africans or those of African ancestry. The t-shirt actually depicts a bunch of different guns, the celebration obviously being that you can pick your choice of them, and isn't that a great thing? But in Atrios's hands, it becomes sinister:

The caption is "celebrate diversity." The colors of the caption are commonly used pan-African colors: red, yellow, and green. While, for many, the "joke" (though, I'm not sure why it's funny) is that here diversity is a diversity of guns. Ha ha. But, look, the clear message here is that the way to celebrate diversity, particularly that pan-African diversity, is to buy a bunch of f***ing guns. In other words, celebrate diversity by arming yourself.

The asterisks are mine. The reason this amuses me (in an exasperated way) is three-fold. First, Atrios's hysteria about guns is just stupid, elitist and uninformed. Second, he darkly implies that somehow the "pan-African" colors of the t-shirt must be encouraging either the buying of guns by already-screwed-up blacks who are going to their ruination via guns, or the buying of guns by people (one assumes whites) who have it in for innocent descendents of Africans. That's what I get out of the second to last sentence quoted above. And, thirdly, it's just overwhelming bizarre to accuse Glenn Reynolds of some kind of deep unacknowledged prejudice, especially against Africans. I would say, from my reading of Glenn's work, that he's one of the people least likely to have racial prejudices; it just won't stick, and Atrios's back-handed accusation would push him under the waters of credibility to anyone who's read Glenn's work much at all. And to choose Africans as the object of his prejudice? And the day after Glenn again mentions his "delightful sister-in-law Victoria", who really is from Africa?

Atrios apparently needs more than two hours to do his research before getting his shorts all in a wad. Glenn Reynolds is IMHO impervious to accusations of prejudice. If I didn't already think Atrios was a useless partisan (as opposed to a useful partisan who despite being partisan sometimes actually says something worth considering), then I would be convinced of it now.

UPDATE: Yes, I was late to that party, so a lot of others have commented already. Most notably, Glenn Reynolds, the Blogfather himself.

Posted by susanna at 09:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

This is a threat of real censorship

We constantly hear cries from all over about censorship, but usually it's just someone who didn't get the coverage they thought their views deserved. The point most everyone seems to miss is that real censorship must be done by the government, an actual prevention of speech on threat of official action, not a denial by private parties of someone's ability to disseminate their views.

Unfortunately, we now have an example of an effort at true censorship being made, not unsurprisingly by liberals in the U.S. House of Representatives toward Fox News. The threat itself is bad enough, but some of these signatories are high-ranking and yet still apparently don't understand the Constitution they're sworn to uphold. That can't be good.

The post discussing it gives all the detail and horrified reaction that's necessary, so I won't say much more. I'll just give the pertinent quotes, and send you over there to read the rest:

"Several members of Congress sent a letter Tuesday to Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, to express their opposition to what they say is the network's 'unfair and unbalanced' bias towards the Republican Party."
...A spokesman for Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said there were legislative avenues that the group could pursue as a secondary measure but declined to speculate on what those might be...

"Legislative avenues"?? You mean force Fox to be "fair and balanced" -- according to the criteria this group outlines? What a hoot! Where are all the lefty "censorship" screamers on this one? This is true censorship -- when the government threatens to muzzle an outlet of expression.

As they say, RTWT. And when I say I find that frightening, I'm not using hyperbole.

Posted by susanna at 08:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As promised - left and right

There's some harmony to providing you with the "From the Left" column promised earlier on the morning after my ramblings about the definitions of liberal and conservative. I'm sure you'll take it all in the spirit it's meant.

For your convenience, and because it wound up a little different in the final version, I'm including my "From the Right" column again, in the "More" section. For reasons I've yet to ask about, they edited out my first paragraph, which made things a bit lame at the top, but I suppose that's life in the publishing world, isn't it? I'm still grateful for the opportunity to write the column.

Again, these were in a small publication called "The Library Review", put together and distributed by Elaine Greer, the librarian at the college where I teach. The "From the Left" author is also an instructor there. As a final note, I was pleased to hear from a friend there that another instructor at the school was overheard to say my article is "evil". It's nice to be loved.

Here we go.

An Essay submitted by
Dr. Ron Prochaska, Instructor, Speech Communication

The following is just an intellectual, academic exercise. Although nothing will come of it, I propose a resolution for an academic debate accusing President George W. Bush and his cohorts of being war criminals. This essay will support my case. The specific information included is easily found by doing a little research in various magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and Intervention. All the evidence is available to come to this logical conclusion. In a different international scenario George Bush would be charged with war crimes.

Bush knew for over two years that his administration was promoting policies that qualify as war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and other national and international laws. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote a January 25, 2002, memo to Bush, urging him to disregard the "obsolete" and "quaint" provisions of the Geneva Conventions protecting the basic rights afforded any captured combatant of the Afghanistan invasion. He advised Bush to do this precisely because the interrogation methods the administration were presently using on prisoners violated the Conventions, leaving US officials open to prosecution for war crimes. Gonzales' memo urged Bush to declare war in Afghanistan, which would include the detention of Taliban, along with Al Qaeda fighters. The Al Qaeda members, not being Afghani citizens then would be exempt from the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales gave his assurances that such a technicality "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on the techniques used in questioning enemy prisoners." Gonzales was not trying to find ways to follow the Geneva Accords. He was deliberately finding ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions. It would also be added that this interpretation was being strongly challenged by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Obviously, potential Supreme Court nominee Gonzales knew what the Geneva Accords stated and deliberately asserted that an "escape clause" was needed to carry out the violation. If my analysis of the issue is not persuasive, just research Colin Powell's and other high ranking Bush officials' points of view. Their conclusions on this issue are the same as mine.

To analyze all of Gonzales' distortions to circumvent the Geneva conventions would take up more space than I am afforded here. I will again mention the "non-Afghani citizen" distortion to make the point. Gonzales claims that the Geneva conventions do not cover Al Qaeda supporters captured in Afghanistan because Al Qaeda "is not a state". The actual content of the Geneva Accords reaffirms the point that members of militias or volunteer corps fighting in defense of a "signatory" are protected. The Taliban administration was, at the time, the de facto government of Afghanistan, a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, and Al Qaeda are members of a volunteer corps fighting in defense of Afghanistan.

Evidence is also mounting of a Bush administration policy of torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. A case can be made for war crime charges to be filed against all the American high officials, civilian and military, responsible for the invasion and conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq and subsequent torturing of suspects in order to secure information. Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Myers, Cambone and others should all be placed on trial. However, the U.S. Constitution does provide for the impeachment of the President or government officials charged with "high crimes and misdemeanors". Of course, this will not happen since Republicans control the body that instigates impeachment charges, the U.S. House of Representatives. It also will not happen because this indictment of Bush has nothing to do with "having a girlfriend on the side and lying about it". Now THAT is a REAL serious "crime or misdemeanor", and as we all know, was impeachable! Torturing brown-skinned terror suspects and violating the Geneva Convention Accords just are not in the same league! Oh, if somehow, a sex scandal, involving these alleged war criminals, could come to the surface, we would see Fox News get right on the investigation in its "fair and balanced" way.

My only hope is that the fair-minded and educated voting public will take a closer look at this and other issues before they go to the polls this November. Then the current "appointed" president will be given a one-way ticket back to Crawford, Texas!

And there you have it. I'll leave the fisking up to you. My column, in the way it appeared in the booklet, is below.

From the Right
An essay submitted by Susanna Cornett
Instructor, Criminal Justice

Q: What did Saddam Hussein want for his birthday?
A: Nigerian yellow cake

"Nigerian yellow cake" refers to a form of uranium ore that can be refined to use in making nuclear bombs. In early 2002, Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA - at the recommendation of his wife, a CIA employee - to investigate reports that Iraq had tried to procure yellow cake from Niger. Based on his and other reports, the intelligence community decided it was likely true, and that information formed part of the decision to go to war against Iraq last year.

During the State of the Union address in January of this year, President George Bush said the famous 16 words that caused a firestorm of protest from the Left:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

When the statement came into dispute, it quickly became the centerpiece of the anti-war Left's efforts to convince Americans and the world that President Bush and his administration deliberately lied in an effort to support the war. Wilson himself stepped forward to deny that Iraq had sought Nigerian yellow cake, and thus became the darling of the movement, appearing on television, publishing a book with "truth" in the name, and becoming a martyr by claiming that his CIA-spy wife was maliciously "outed" by the Administration. This summer, he signed on as a foreign policy advisor to John Kerry, and Kerry's campaign was paying for a website where Wilson supported Kerry - a website called "" which has since been removed from the Kerry site.

I'll let William Safire, in a column in the New York Times on July 19, tell you the bad news about just how much honesty there is in Wilson and his claims:

"Two exhaustive government reports came out last week showing that it is the President's lionized accuser, and not Mr. Bush, who has been having trouble with the truth."

The reports specifically state that not only did Wilson lie about the yellow cake after Bush's speech - several reliable sources indicate that Saddam did try to get yellow cake from Niger - but he also lied about what he himself said in his report. He lied about his wife, saying she did not recommend him for the mission, when the Senate report includes information from a memo written by Wilson's wife, outlining why he would be a good candidate for it. And an article in the July 26th issue of the conservative political magazine The Weekly Standard includes this quote from the Senate report:

"...when asked how [Wilson] "knew" that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger-Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, he told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved 'a little literary flair'."

The anti-war liberals and leftists are so intent on demonizing Bush and "his" war that they are willing to swallow any kind of rhetorical excess - even lies - to make it happen. Wilson is just one example. John Kerry says he will try to bring the French into the coalition to rebuild Iraq, but says nothing about the fact that one of the reasons the French tried to block the war was because their oil companies were making millions through an oil-for-food scam worked with Saddam. No Saddam, no millions. The liberals pant for the day when Iraq and Afghanistan are handed over to the United Nations to manage, conveniently ignoring that where the U.N. is in control now, on-going investigations are tracing millions of dollars that apparently disappeared into U.N. officials' private pockets (including that of U.N. leader Kofi Anan's son), and finding evidence that refugees in Africa and elsewhere are routinely terrorized and sexually brutalized by U.N. "peacekeeping" forces. There's even evidence that the U.N. is directly responsible for the continuing battles in Iraq that are killing Iraqis and Americans daily. This from the July 19 New York Post:

"American officials believe that millions of dollars Saddam Hussein skimmed from the scandal-plagued U.N. oil-for-food program are now being used to help fund the bloody rebel campaign against U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government, The Post has learned."

Vigorous debate and political disagreements are cornerstones of the freedoms in this country, and should be encouraged. But when leftists and liberals support horrific policies and engage in venomous rhetoric for the sake of undermining not just our President but our country, then it's gone too far. They become hypocrites, spouting platitudes of love for the world while encouraging policies that bring harm to the most vulnerable.

Perhaps we should have a new bumper sticker for the John Kerry for President crowd to send to Niger, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Bosnia, and any other country the liberals and the U.N. want to control:

"Let them eat yellow cake"
Posted by susanna at 07:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"...pants on fire"

The campaign finance law that the Democrats fought so hard for is proving to be no obstacle for their money machines - they just broke them into Baby Boosters:

In the weeks leading up to the Democratic convention, Senator John Kerry's campaign aides worried that the senator would have to begin spending his $75 million in public financing a month earlier than President Bush. They even flirted with the idea that he would delay accepting the nomination so he could keep raising and spending millions of dollars on advertising throughout August.

But August has brought a spate of what seemed to be Kerry advertisements every day. To a voter's eye, the senator's campaign marches on seamlessly - and usually on message. And the campaign is not a penny poorer for it.

The advertisements introduced this week were not paid for by Mr. Kerry's campaign, but from a newly formed arm of the Democratic Party, which is running a $6.5 million advertising campaign in Missouri and 19 others this week, and The Media Fund, which is running a $2.5 million campaign in five swing states, and the New Democratic Network, which is spending $500,000 on Spanish-language commercials in 11 cities. The advertisements from the campaign and the party are in many ways similar, emphasizing words like "win,'' "strength" and "alliances."

These groups are "not legally allowed" to communicate with Kerry's campaign, but manage to stay amazingly on message. A couple of reasons:

The Democratic National Committee is allowed to spend only about $16 million in coordination with Mr. Kerry's campaign. But it is allowed to spend as much as it wants through Ellen Moran's committee - whose consultants include former advisers to Mr. Gephardt and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina - so long as she works independently of campaign party operatives...

"The truth is we don't need to talk to the campaign or the D.N.C. to know what's moving voters this cycle,'' said Jim Jordan, a spokesman for The Media Fund and formerly Mr. Kerry's campaign manager.

[Emphasis mine.] Now, how loudly would the Dems yell if Karl Rove resigned his position, started an organization to run ads supporting Bush but keeping the monies separate, and piously said he hadn't talked to the campaign about the message? They'd yell, very loudly, and with excellent reason. The hypocrisy of this is just incredible, although I shouldn't be surprised. Fight for campaign finance "reform", then find ways around it. How honest is that?

I'm no supporter of the current campaign finance laws, and I don't object to these groups being out there with their ads. What I do have a problem with is all this piety about separation saying they obey the laws they promulgated, while in truth they give obeisance to the letter while cutting the spirit to bloody ribbons. Yet we should feel sorry for them:

Ms. Moran said she had gone so far as to stop socializing with colleagues with the Democratic Party or the Kerry campaign.

"I'm in a bunker,'' she said. "It's a lonely existence, but that's where we are right now.''

Color me crushed.

UPDATE: I'm going to coin a new term for the Dems surrounding the Kerry campaign - a no-doubt bastard child of Democrat and hypocrite: Democrites. Henceforth you'll know I'm talking about the Kerryites and irrational leftists when I use the term.

Posted by susanna at 12:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 04, 2004

Quantifying "liberal" and "conservative"

In this election season, it's a literal full-time job for some people to work at making the label "liberal" stick to Kerry and the label "conservative" stick to Bush - or "left-wing", "right-wing", or even "leftist" and "fundamentalist". However, if you talk to some on the left, Kerry is nauseatingly moderate; if you talk to some on the right, Bush is within sneezing distance of being a RINO, someone who could call Michael Bloomberg a philosophical brother without so much as a vocal tremor.

So who's correct?

It's the same problem we have to grapple with when we consider whether journalists are "liberal" or not. It's all in the definition, and in value judgments like these, how you define it depends on where you stand. Even for conservatives, whose label derives from the preference for "conserving" the old ways or the least intrusive ways, their status as "conservative" depends on whether a modern or old definition is used. I consider myself to be a borderline paleoconservative, and to the right of that on some issues - but that is in comparison to the people right now involved in the political process and busy at defining their own positions. However, if I were to talk to many people living 100 or 150 years ago in Alabama or even NYC, they would find me bizarrely liberal (on some issues) to the point of wondering whether I should be institutionalized.

The recent posts on Instapundit made me think about this, especially here where Glenn Reynolds notes that to some he is liberal and to others he is conservative. I would define him as a rational liberal hawk with some economic conservativism. That's because I know his positions pretty well from reading his writings on a daily basis for over two years now. Most people I know are much more nuanced than the "liberal/conservative" dichotomy that is set up when the choice is either/or. Which side do you fall on? It depends...

I think that's why the rabidly partisan nature of presidential campaigns so irritate me. It's not so much what anybody says, it's the humorless caricature each side paints of the other. Like any caricature, the humor lies in the exaggeration of truth, but too often in election season the exaggeration is so extreme and malicious. And sometimes, just when you think the characterizations are solely malicious, you discover that there is someone on the targeted side who are pretty close to how they're painted. But that's not true of the majority of what is said.

I think it would be more effective if a campaign took the Oreo approach. There are partisans on each side who are going to vote for that side's candidate because either they're much more intensely (pick one: liberal/conservative) than the candidate and that's the only choice; or they're somewhat less (liberal/conservative) than the candidate but way more (liberal/conservative) than other candidate. Then you have the moderates, the ones who live their lives in shades of gray, black and white on some issues but in such a mix that the result leaves them swinging between the poles. Neither label really fits, but at different times both of them do. Again, the problem is the definition. And part of the definitional problem lies in the fact that both parties have staked out issues that they "own" - abortion rights, right to life, prayer, no prayer - so that the assumption becomes if you hold a certain position on that issue, you are by definition that label. Yet you can be pro-life and anti-war, pro-war and pro-choice. Eventually the decision, for those swinging between the poles, has to become a question of preponderance - which candidate holds a preponderance of similarities to your own positions?

For those people, I think a rational approach is best, not this partisan hacking. And I can't be the only one who has come to that conclusion. So why are the smart people running both campaigns making such a huge deal of the partisanship? I suspect for two reasons: first, to energize the ones already on the candidate's side so they will actually go and vote; it serves a politician no useful purpose to have a bunch of people sitting home on election day hoping he wins. And second, the hope is that they will deflect attention from rational comparisons and focus it instead on personalities and constructed realities that the candidate can manipulate.

And now we're back to definitions, and how you construct reality. One of the most powerful ways is to do precisely what politicians do - control the definitions, the images people see when you say "liberal" or "conservative". Because that's the case, because controlling definition is to control image and impression, it seems to me that the way to combat the problem is to force the labels into ambiguity so the discussion has to revolve around issues, specifics - the wizard, not the majestic draperies projecting his image larger (and more impressive) than life. It's much more complex and difficult, but much more real and more likely to result in reasoned and thus better choices. And it would also involve actually trusting voters instead of attempting to dazzle them with a light show.

It's on both sides, although (naturally) I think the Dems are more adept and inappropriate with it. But I think this country would benefit greatly by deconstructing the standard labels.

The only problem is, then I'd need another label for people like Michael Moore, Babs Streisand, Hillary Clinton...

(I apologize for the rambling thoughts. It's pretty much stream of consciousness, take it for what it's worth.)

Posted by susanna at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"A pox on both parties"

Speaking of New Jersey, as I was in the previous post, anyone who's not aware of NJ politics can't imagine just how bad it gets. This article on NJ Gov. James McGreevey gives some clues - I'll just quote, because I can't say it any better:

Even by the ethically elastic standards of politics here, the boyish-looking governor of New Jersey has suffered one long headache this month.

First, a prominent gubernatorial fundraiser, who is a trash hauler, was indicted on charges of extorting bribes and campaign contributions from a Middlesex County farmer. (The governor made an unwitting cameo in this scandal, allegedly dropping a code word into a recorded conversation.) A week later, another top political donor, a wealthy developer, was charged with trying to derail a federal investigation of his finances by hiring prostitutes to seduce witnesses, including his brother-in-law.

In the middle of all this, the state commerce secretary -- an ordained minister with a degree in ethics -- resigned after it was revealed that he funneled contracts to the sister of his chief of staff. And the governor's former chief of staff is under investigation for getting contracts to put up billboards on public land while he was running James E. McGreevey's campaign.

"The governor hired some freaking hacks and said some stupid things, and that will hurt him," said David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics. "But there's no smoking gun. Without that, McGreevey will survive."

Anywhere else, Rebovich might sound like a stone optimist. But this is New Jersey: "I don't want to say we're corrupt, but we lead the nation in the number of former mayors in federal prisons."

Just as a side note, it's not unreasonable in NJ to equate "trash hauler" with "mob". It is the land of Tony Soprano, after all - the TV show isn't based in New Jersey for the convenience of the film crew. More quotes:

In the past two years, the U.S. attorney has obtained the convictions of 58 public officials. The U.S. attorney's spokesman told the Bergen Record: "You shake the trees, they just seem to drop more apples."

And then the best line in the whole piece:

Republican Assemblyman Bill Baroni teaches legal ethics and has watched politicians from both parties march off to prison. "New Jersey has a political culture of corruption," Baroni said. "It's not just Democrats. It's a pox on both political parties."

When I worked in Jersey City, the politics made me crazy. Former mayor Glenn Cunningham, who died suddenly of a heart attack in May, last fall won a seat in the state House of Representatives. Not only did he run his campaign while mayor, he also is allowed by state law to hold both posts simultaneously. One person commented to me that Cunningham was ensuring a forever-run as mayor by securing the state post as well. And it seemed everywhere I turned there were people holding multiple government posts on the local, county and state level. "Conflict of interest" is almost a badge of accomplishment in that environment.

And the article's assessment of McGreevey's administration as "a reasonably successful first two years in office before the scandals began to break around him" appears to be forgetting a couple of ethics issues that happened very early in his administration:

When Gov. James E. McGreevey left for Ireland this summer on his first trade mission, he predicted the trip would cost taxpayers about $20,000.

He was off by at least $85,000. State records show the weeklong trip cost taxpayers at least $105,000, with the cell phone bill alone totaling at least $16,448.

That's from a watchdog group's website, but the brouhaha over that can also be tracked through the NY Times, if you want pay the bucks for it. And then there's this:

Here are some of McGreevey's perceived lapses.

* Federal and state investigators are examining how two of McGreevey's former top aides sold space on billboards that had been erected on state land.

* McGreevey, with his wife and young daughter, accepted a trip to a beachfront Puerto Rico resort from the International Longshoreman's Association, for a planned five-day stay which they ended up cutting short. McGreevey addressed the union's convention, and was expected to promote New Jersey's ports.

Trouble was the union may face federal racketeering charges.

"This Puerto Rico trip really smelled," remarked Rider University political analyst David Rebovich...

* There was McGreevey's personal use of state police helicopters. Again the Democratic Party reimbursed the cost.

* He hired controversial former Newark top cop Joe Santiago as superintendent of the state police. Scandal -- from taking retaliatory action against some troopers to allegations that he was overtly friendly with mobsters -- followed Santiago throughout his brief tenure until he resigned in October 2001.

* An investigation is under way into whether a top McGreevey aide made a key phone call that triggered the early release from prison of reputed mobster Angelo Prisco, whose lawyer contributed to McGreevey's campaign.

And while McGreevey hasn't been directly implicated (that is to say, charged) in this most recent round, it seems highly suspicious:

The first of this month's scandals broke July 6, when the federal prosecutor indicted D'Amiano, the trash hauler, for trying to extort $40,000 in campaign donations from a dairy farmer. In exchange, D'Amiano promised to persuade state and county officials to double an offer -- to $7.4 million -- to buy the farmer's land.

To prove his political bona fides, D'Amiano promised to bring the farmer to meet with McGreevey, who is identified throughout the indictment as "Public Official 1." If the farmer brought along "mulch" and "topsoil" (in other words, the money) to that meeting, the indictment said, D'Amiano promised the governor would use a code word, Machiavelli, a reference to the Italian political philosopher.

As it happens, the governor agreed to a meeting and said jokingly that the farmer must be reading from " 'The Prince' by Machiavelli" to learn how to negotiate with state officials, the indictment said.

The governor does not deny uttering the word -- the farmer wore a wire -- but his aides describe it as an innocent exchange. The governor, they say, is a good retail politician. "If you and I are in a room, and you tell me that this person happens to be reading a certain book, there's a very high likelihood that I'll mention that book," Rasmussen said. "It was a literary reference. The other day at the convention he mentioned Lord Tennyson."

...That explanation fails to convince students of state politics. "You're a governor," said Rebovich of the Rider Institute. "Under what circumstances, unless you are with the CIA, would you speak in code to a constituent?"

Especially when the code word is "Machiavelli". How often does that sneak into common conversation? Not a lot in my circles. And I would think that a poet like Tennyson would figure more in a feel-good political talk than Machiavelli would enter into a casual chat with a farmer and stranger (not to impugn the education and intelligence of farmers, but Machiavelli isn't a philosopher often associated with farming).

The Republicans in New Jersey aren't a lot if any better, I just don't as readily have information on their latest hijinks. "A pox on both political parties" is right.

UPDATE: I've posted about McGreevey several times. Here's one on his helicopter rides and one on his Ireland trip. I can't find the one on his trip to Puerto Rico, but I wrote on that too.

Posted by susanna at 10:32 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Feds shut down passport office in NJ

Here's the basic story:

The U.S. Department of State has stopped accepting passport applications processed by the Hudson County Clerk's Office or birth certificates issued by the county as proof of citizenship, pending the outcome of an ongoing corruption investigation involving the sale of documents.

"It's a highly unusual action," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday during a briefing in Washington.

"The investigation has developed facts indicating that we cannot rely on the accuracy of information on passport applications that were processed by the county clerk's office."

...All passports and applications already issued or filed with Hudson County are still valid, Inclan said. However, birth certificates issued from the county will not be accepted when obtaining a passport. Those applying for passports need to obtain a new state-issued birth certificate.

I learned about it from FoxNews, and went to the Jersey Journal online to get more details. Hudson County is where I used to live, and the county clerk's office is in Jersey City, where I used to work, so it's of great interest to me. I'll be keeping an eye on it.

The question is, who was getting false passports or birth certificates, if anyone? The FoxNews story framed it solidly as a terrorism story; they came back to the story at least twice, and the last "expert" they interviewed was a terrorism expert who talked about "a fifth column" of radical Islamists in this country. This may turn out to be germane. However, here's what the Jersey Journal article had to say about it:

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark, which is conducting the investigation jointly with the State Department, said the activity did not appear to be terror-related.

"It did not originate as a terrorism investigation, and there is no indication whatsoever of terrorist involvement," Drewniak said.

That seems quite definitive. Jersey City has one of the most diverse populations in the US, with residents literally from all over the world. It seems plausible that authorities in the Hudson County Clerk's office may have been providing US birth certificates and passports to illegal immigrants or legal immigrants who want to travel unimpeded or get other benefits of citizenship without waiting to get legitimate citizenship. Who would question them, with a US birth certificate and passport? Certainly there would be, especially in Jersey City, real people of whatever ancestry you want to name born right there. Based on what the feds said, I'd be inclined to think it's something to do with illegals not suspected of terrorist activity. Jersey City and Hudson County in general has a huge population of residents from various Central and South American countries; not so many Mexicans, but a lot of Dominicans, Brazilians, and others interested in bringing family members here. So it's possible the passport/birth certificate activity was, in a terrorist context, benign.

Lately I've been reading again about media framing, and the way that media tries to put any new information into a category with some already-established storyline. They're going to be especially interested in finding new information that can be associated with a highly popular (that is to say, likely to get high viewer/readership) story lines. Terrorism is one of the top story lines right now, which is why I find it so intriguing that the feds make it crystal clear to the Jersey Journal that they don't think there's a terrorism connection in the closing of the office in Jersey City - but Fox News never talked to any feds or reported that denial even in passing. They focused on terrorism, and the undeniable fact that the 1993 WTC bombing was done by residents of Jersey City and masterminded by a cleric teaching at a Jersey City mosque. I'll have to look for this story in other media outlets to see if it's covered, and if so what storyline is used.

UPDATE: Nothing in the NYTimes as of right now (9:40 a.m., 8-4-04). However, this press release from 2003 looks related:

Attorney General Peter C. Harvey today announced that the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice has obtained indictments and/or criminal accusations against 16 individuals on charges they used fraudulent identification documents in order to obtain valid United States passports. The prosecutions result from continuing investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice which target the trade, sale and distribution of fraudulent documents by individuals illegally in the United States...

Vaughn L. McKoy, Director, Division of Criminal Justice, said that eight separate State Grand Jury indictments and eight criminal accusations charge the 16 individuals with forgery, tampering with public records and false swearing. The indictments and accusations allege that the defendants filed a United States Department of State passport application under assumed or fictitious names by presenting fraudulent documents or by using valid documents obtained through fraudulent means. The documents included birth certificates, social security cards, New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission (MVC) documents, and other federal, state, county or municipal identification documents.

The press release goes on to identify the individuals arrested, and all but one seems to have a name of Hispanic origin, which supports my theory above. I can't say they're harmless, since for all I know they could be criminals, but there's no indication that they're terrorists. Hudson County is among those listed as being involved in the problem:

The Division of Criminal Justice initiated the investigation after receiving referrals from the U.S. Department of State that certain individuals living in New Jersey obtained or attempted to obtain valid U.S. passports through fraudulent means. As a result, the U.S. State Department and the Division of Criminal Justice reviewed suspect passport applications that had been filed at various county clerk's offices across the state, including application offices in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic and Union counties. State investigators also scrutinized the backup documentation used by the defendants in support of their individual passport applications, obtained work histories of the defendants and reviewed all relevant information, including Social Security numbers.

Emphasis mine. The possibility of any terrorist or criminal conspiracy is addressed here:

The arrests were unrelated except for the underlying common scheme to obtain legitimate identification documents in an effort to continue illegal residency in the United States.

Again, this is from spring 2003, so it may not be connected. But it seems likely that it is.

UPDATE: The Newark Star-Ledger has an article on it too, with basically the same information. One additional interesting point is that, until the end of the investigation, no birth certificates issued from the Hudson County office can be used for passports, even those issued years ago:

The move renders useless -- at least for purposes of obtaining a passport -- any birth certificate issued by the Hudson County Clerk's office, including those issued years ago, county Clerk Javier Inclan said.

"If someone was born in Margaret Hague, if they got (their birth certificate) from my office, it's not valid for any passports," Inclan said, referring to the Jersey City maternity hospital where more than 350,000 babies were born between 1931 and 1979.

Annoying. But there are a lot of other avenues to get a copy of your birth certificate, which are also issued from the state capitol, Trenton.

Posted by susanna at 09:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 03, 2004

Busy day

Today is the last day of lecturing for my summer classes; their final exams are on Thursday. Then I have a couple of week break before fall term starts.

Yesterday was a wonderful day. In the morning I worked for several hours on my dissertation proposal, having an epiphany about how to approach that, if it passes muster, will be faster, cheaper and, I think, easier to do. Not easy, but easier, which is a good thing since I want to graduate in December 2005.

In the afternoon, my brother and his family took me to Outback Steak House for dinner. I'd never been there, shockingly enough, and I really enjoyed it. Haydon and Molly Katherine were beside themselves with excitement over a birthday and they must have said "Happy birthday, Aunt Susanna!" at least 20 times each. And that's a good thing. They sang the birthday song too, and it's so cute to hear it from Molly Katherine, with her baby voice and careful diction. Later she sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!", which in her vernacular is "Twincoo, Twincoo, little 'tar!" We made a couple of stops on the way home, and I twirled Haydon around in a shopping cart at Best Buy for a while. When we got back to Alan and Traci's, there were presents and cake. Yay! The girls were each given a gift to hand to me, and they came running in carrying them with that wild excitement that so much fun in little children. I hear that when Haydon was given one to carry, MK said, "Me, too, me too!!!", which is her favorite saying these days. So she got to carry one too. The cake was da bomb, a chocolate bundt wonder with chocolate chips and chocolate glaze. Mmmm. There was only one candle, but I didn't comment and Alan (for once) managed to refrain from making allusions to fire departments.

After the girls went to bed, we watched "Cold Mountain". Alan and Traci had seen it several times, but it was the first for me. As Alan said, such an uplifting and cheerful movie! (Not!) Excellent, nonetheless, and quite sad. I've watched a lot of mini-series and specials on the Civil War, so I enjoyed seeing it brought to life (and stark, horrifying death) in a new way. I can see why it won the awards it did.

So that was my day, made all the more blessed by the lovely greetings from all of you. Thank you. My blog is one of the most fun things I do, and I appreciate all of you more than I can say. And that's scary, because not much is beyond my ability to say and say and say!

Posted by susanna at 11:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


How do I get the code into my template for Sitemeter to count hits to individual posts as well as to the main site? I tried, but not unsurprisingly I wasn't successful.

UPDATE: Thank you! I appear to have corrected the problem. We'll see if my stats suddenly jump into the stratosphere.


Posted by susanna at 01:12 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 02, 2004

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Bday cake.jpg

I'm off to set the course for a new year. Enjoy your day! Buy yourself a cupcake in my honor!

Posted by susanna at 07:00 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

August 01, 2004

Oops! No bump after all?

Sounds like it.

Maybe it was the wussy-fist.

Posted by susanna at 03:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Lock up the borders

The interplay of politics and law is rarely more rife with tension and name-calling than in the issue of illegal immigration. The arguments for people who come in illegally are that they usually are lower income people who take jobs Americans won't take; that without them some low-margin industries (food services and farming come to mind) would suffer tremendously; that they're just following the same impetus that drew all of our ancestors to these shores, and how dare we close the door once we're safely inside this land of plenty? A majority of the people who come here, the argument goes, are law-abiding, hard-working and prime candidates to make fine citizens of the US.

The arguments against are just as vociferous and strong. When illegal immigration is high, and rarely policed, there's no way to know who's coming in, and often those who do come in are either criminals or inclined to live off the public teat. Because they are illegal, these people are vulnerable to exploitation and are highly likely to be victims of crime, when they themselves aren't committing them. And the final argument, difficult to refute, is that when illegal immigration is high, it's much easier for someone with clearly harmful intentions to ease inside our borders. While the majority of the 9/11 terrorists were here on legal visas, they for the most part had overstayed them with relative impunity.

The dangerousness of loose borders is clear:

Intelligence sources say al Qaeda plans to move non-Arab terrorists across the border with Mexico.

Authorities already have in custody a woman of Pakistani-origin arrested after crossing into Texas. She carried a South African passport with several of the pages torn out, $7,000 in cash and an airplane ticket to New York.

The politics enters in when activists get elected to public office. Their constituencies are often legal immigrants from the same countries where the illegal immigrants also originate; perhaps they are actually family members. Certainly if you are a member of an minority group, you would welcome more of your group into the population to increase your power. And if you are a politician representing that group, of course you want that population to increase even more. How else to solidify your base? Another point of solidarity is to make some group - here, the US government and anyone against unlimited immigration - the villian of the piece, and not just a villian but a greedy, unfeeling, wicked villian who doesn't care if babies die in other countries when their parents could have gotten them medical help if only they'd been in the US. Who don't care if families are separated, if businesses go under for lack of help, if people who would add value to this country are left destitute in squalor just miles from our borders. It's a ploy that works quite well.

It doesn't help when local law enforcement goes head to head with federal law enforcement - including the INS - in protecting the illegals. It is a quandary for them: They are charged with preventing and investigating crime, and if illegals are afraid to contact police for fear of deportation, then their tenuous status becomes even more fragile. They become fish in a barrel just waiting for a man with a shotgun. And too often the federal government doesn't leap into the breech and deport everyone found to be illegal, or prevent their coming across the border, so the local cops are left in a nearly untenable situation. However, even with that in mind, this is going too far:

"We really and truly want the community to know that we're not acting as agents for the immigration service," The San Jose Mercury News reported San Jose Chief of Police Rob Davis as saying, in Spanish and English, at a June 18 news conference.

"That's not something we do," he said. "We're not interested in participating in any raids, nor have we been doing so."

Now, I'm sure I'll hear from police administrators telling me how local law-enforcement agencies don't have the time, the resources or the authority to conduct immigration raids. That's all fine and good, but why on earth does the police chief, the highest-ranking law-enforcement official in the city, have to call a press conference to reassure illegal immigrants they are safe in San Jose? Currying favor with the city's politicians, perhaps?

This column at is written by a writer - Jennifer Nelson - who formerly worked in two state administrations, so we assume she knows somewhat about the problem. And she has a point - how can the police chief justify this stance? Because he knows he won't go down for it.

Meanwhile, I suspect that the San Jose department is among those seeking "Homeland Security" funding from the federal government, as that is the grant funding stream that currently has the largest pipe and strongest flow. How ironic is it that they would get funding to set up units for Homeland Security purposes while they wink at whole communities of illegal immigrants right in their own jurisdiction? I think any department that gets Homeland Security funds should have to promise to uphold immigration laws. In general I'm against the federal government taking our money and then putting caveats on it when they give it back. But if they're going to do it, then do it in a way that actually may make a difference, not just be words that no one pays attention to (which is what most of those caveats are now, anyway - it's not like there are effective evaluations done).

I'm actually quite sympathetic to the people who seek to come to the US by any means necessary. I'm very grateful to have been born here, and grateful to my ancestors for making the arduous, frightening and unpredictable trip to the New World - some before the US was the US - so that I could be born here. But sympathy for their plight doesn't equal a responsibility to let them in. If there is a need here for workers, then that need can be met legally. I think our danger from unprotected borders and unflenching acceptance of illegals is greater than the cost of uprooting those who've taken root here in the gloom of illegal status. And while I'm also sympathetic to the illegals' vulnerability to crime, and the genuine willingness (of some) to work hard, that can't cause us to damage the rights, health and economics of the people already here - the ones who did what had to be done to get here legally.

I think we need to strongly police our borders, and send home everyone we find who shouldn't be here - regardless of their country of origin, be it Mexico or Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or England or Chile. At the same time, we should make victimizing illegals an aggravating factor in crime, which means it would kick any crime up at least another notch - a minor assault normally charged at an Assault II would be an Assault I when the victim was an illegal. Then the bad guy would go to jail and the illegal would go back to his country.

It's especially difficult to stick to policing our borders when our president's heart very obviously isn't in it. While I think President Bush is incomparably better than Kerry, that doesn't mean I don't have serious problems with the job he's done. I do. And his attitude toward violations of immigration policy is high on the list of my complaints.

This would be my policy: Lock up the borders. You don't get in without a visa. Every six months all visas must be renewed and if yours isn't, a warrant is issued for your arrest. We spend the money hiring more INS and Border Patrol guards that we'd save through not having millions using our public systems without putting anything into it. We would use our clout to lean on the countries who allow widespread graft and corruption to run their decisions on who gets into the US. And if we need 3 million people to work here, then we'd allow 3 million people in to do those jobs.

It's a huge problem, and I despair of it getting fixed. As many people, including me, have said before, this country will not go under from an outside attack, but will sink under the weight of its own poor policies. I fear illegal immigration is becoming heavier all the time.

UPDATE: Michele Malkin, who speaks with insight and authority on immigration matters, has a new book about the Japanese internment of WWII and its implications for our war on terror. This post discusses it, and is worth reading.

Posted by susanna at 03:01 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

A bridge too far

Computers are grading the essay portion of many standardized exams, and may sometime in the future grade the SAT and ACT essay sections.

It's not new technology - this article in WaPo says it's been going on since at least 1999. Instead of a team of humans, the essays are graded by a computer and one human. If the difference between the two is great, then another human is brought in to mediate. The computer grades based on structure of the essays, and I can see the attraction of it. But I lean more toward agreeing with this:

"It is sort of inevitable," said Jeff Rubenstein, vice president for technology at the test-preparation company Princeton Review, "but it is also sort of regrettable." He said he knows test takers "who are brilliant writers, but they write very subtly," and when a machine is grading them, "they score terribly."

It's another way of dumbing down. How many of you would be happy with yourselves if, as adults, your writing stayed on the same level as what you learned in 9th grade? Yet that's what the testing companies are recommending students do so as to fare well with the machines. For decades, since testing became so ubiquitous in the college entrance game, critics have spoken against teaching to the test. Yet that's precisely what has evolved, of course it has, and now the question will be, will we encourage more simplistic, less sophisticated writing amongst our students so they can impress a machine?

The Princeton Review and its test-preparation rival, Kaplan Inc., which is owned by The Washington Post Co., recommend that those taking the GMAT take a conservative approach to the machine-graded essays -- using topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph and other methods they learned in ninth grade.

That's just ridiculous. There has been in recent years a high emphasis on writing skills, with writing being made a part of most curriculum areas, even ones not traditionally associated with writing (like the sciences or math). Now this technology could signal a reversal in whatever improvements in quality have resulted.

I recognize that writing like they [ostensibly] learned in 9th grade would be a step up for some people. Some of my students wouldn't know an essay if it coiled on their tables and bit them on the nose. But isn't the point of those exams to predict who would do best in the college environment? And isn't someone who writes with more sophistication than a 14 year old more likely to do well? I think so.

It's a compromise, I know, a bridge between cost and quality. It always comes down to that. It's just a shame that we've reached a point where doing better can actually damage your chances to get into the school you want to attend.

Posted by susanna at 02:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

To whom it may concern:

The battle of the invocation enters the ridiculous.

Posted by susanna at 01:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

NYT on Dem blogs - actually decent

Today's NYT covers the blogs that covered the convention without getting overly snarky or defensive. It's still obvious they don't quite get it yet, but at least they're not so obviously snooty. What the article misses is the substance of blogs - what they do that actually matters, both in synthesizing information and in serving as a watchdog on the media. However, they did manage to come up with one of the best quotes I've seen on the tension between media and blogs:

Meanwhile, the traditional news media chewed over what the arrival of online commentators — mostly untrained journalists whose stock in trade is the sharp opinion, often quippy — meant to the political process. "Obviously, the official media don't quite know how to deport themselves in relation to the blogs," said Orville Schell, dean of the graduate journalism program at the University of California, Berkeley. "If they adopt them, it's like having a spastic arm — they can't control it. But if they don't adopt it, they're missing out on the newest, edgiest trend in the media."

"A spastic arm" - I like that. The only problem with the analogy is that it's from the media's perspective. A "spastic" arm is one that flails without purpose. Blogs sometimes flail, and perhaps to the media it seems they usually flail, but the unpredictability, directness and intimacy that so disconcert the media are precisely what make blogs different and valuable. I'd extend the analogy, from the media's perspective, to "a spastic arm that sometimes swings out and smacks the snot out of you".

And yes, there's that "mostly untrained journalists" comment. I told you it wasn't overly snarky. "Untrained" journalists don't have to be a bad thing. It's just that you can hear that tone when ostensibly "trained" journalists say it.

At any rate, worth your time.

Posted by susanna at 08:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack