Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why don't liberals fall for glurge?

What the hell is glurge, anyway? Snopes says this. My experience is that glurge never comes from liberals. Instead, conservatives forward it on, breathlessly attesting to its truth. Sometimes I write them back (somewhere on the Internet someone is wrong!), and they often express their first skepticism at my debunking. Their friend who sent it to them checked it out. I guess they miss the handy link to real skepticism that I provide.

It's not just glurge; it's also warnings about the danger of gang wannabes following you home and putting your lights out if you flash your headlights to get them to turn theirs on. Or it's warnings of danger to women, who might be taken advantage of somewhere in an unnamed city. No matter how often you point them to, even after it becomes part of their vocabulary, their first impulse is to believe.

Liberals aren't taken in by these just-so stories, or so it seems to me. I'm sure we have our blind spots, too; they just aren't so glaring.

I think that an elemental conservatism is the default response of a social animal habituated to a tribal environment. The reflex to believe what one's prejudice shouts loud and clear is socially useful to keep the tribe united.

Liberals have a different more modern approach. We engage our brains to test our beliefs. This makes us amenable to learning, liberal arts, and the compromises of democratic government.

Conservatives once had some of these characteristics, too, but they've given them over. I think it happened about the time the Wall Street Journal started common cause between its core readers, the wealthies, and the fundies it thought it could co-opt to the great Bushist cause of obtaining more money for the already rich and powerful.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In case the bullshit finds you

The Republican spin machine has been in high gear over the stimulus, alleging that it's merely pork as a reward for traditional Democratic constituencies. Of course, that's what they would do - and what they negotiated for and then spurned in the way of tax cuts.

The truth is much more positive, not perfect of course, but this stimulus is the best bill yet passed over the financial crisis. The money is strongly front-loaded, there's significant though not full reform, and most of the money is stimulative. Yes, all would be better. Conservative Martin Feldstein is right about the weakness of the Republican-demanded tax cuts, but he's just wrong about this:

A large fraction of the stimulus proposal is devoted to infrastructure projects that will spend out very slowly, not with the speed needed to help the economy in 2009 and 2010.
(Note that Paul Krugman's blog headline "Bad" is about the second half of TARP and criticizes Obama's financial policy, not his economic stimulus.)

One key question: Who will manage anti-recessionary funds better, the Obama administration or the late, unlamented Bush administration? Really, if you can spit and shit in the same day, you know that answer to that question.

Once, Republicans were good at money. Now, they're just kleptocrats. The price for their support is too high.

If I were Obama, I'd go all in on this, ask the Congressional Democrats to amend this bill to be a better, more Democratic bill, go in front of the American people to say that we Democrats will take full responsibility for fixing the problems left by the past administration, pass it without Republican votes again, and take all the credit when it works.

Smiling sweetly all the time.

Man bites dog

Joe Lieberman says something nice about a ... wait for it ... Democrat.

CNN slyly shows us a picture of Joe with John McCain.

Severe crop of Getty image used without permission under Fair Use.

Chicago street fight

I'd love to see a laughing President Obama kick Rush Limbaugh's deserving, well-upholstered ass. When finished, our fit and youthful first among equals could say, "Yeah, you frighten me."

Sadly for TV, such a spectacle would be beneath the dignity of one of the participants. The other has no dignity, just a nose for publicity.

For all the gripers

I often see wingnut gripers object that a story about a corrupt Democrat fails to identify him by party. Here's the shoe on the other foot. Wes Cooley is a Republican.

You see, unbeknownst to you, many news outlets have editorial standards that call on them not to report party affiliation when the corruption is not directly related to performance of duties.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

No shame

The amazing thing to me about this story of bullshit Republican charges of voter fraud is not that the Republican special prosecutor could not find even a single instance of fraud beyond the one guy whose conscience made him confess.

“Ultimately,” Special Prosecutor Michael O’Neill wrote in a report, “the investigators discovered ‘get-out-the-vote’ practices, sponsored by community organizations, which took full advantage of this unique absentee-voting period, but no evidence these practices violated Ohio law.”
It's certainly not that Joe Deters, a Republican official who was also a McCain campaign apparatchik, touted charges he couldn't substantiate.

What's amazing to me as a human being with a normal level of conscience is that the blowhard Republican who started all this bullshit is so unashamed of his behavior that he can still say things like:
“There were allegations of massive voter fraud and within 48 hours – when Mr. Burke and other were screaming ‘witch hunt’ – we turned it over to a special prosecutor,” Deters said. “We don’t investigate by clairvoyance like Mr. Burke does.”
Deters is a man who is still using his own credulous acceptance of convenient bullshit as evidence of his own virtue. This man is a serious narcissist.

Will the wingnut simpletons now stop screeching "ACORN, ACORN, ACORN" like lucky blind pigs? Of course not.

(h/t Thers)

Why TV news is useless

It can't even balance sane and insane, much less analyze difficult policy decisions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Strip the Republican crap out in conference

When the stimulus passes the Senate, the Democrats should make sure it has been significantly amended. The bill that comes out of conference committee for final passage should lose all the sweeteners that the Republicans in the House asked for.

I used to be too nice to hold a grudge. Now I say hurt those assholes. I would really love to see some Chicago politics applied to them. They need to understand that there's a severe political price that they'll have to pay for such obstructionism.

Oh, the blue dogs? Offices in the basement and assignment to the basket-weaving committees.

Conservictionary on 'bipartisan'

In the alternate universe of the conservative brain, bipartisan still means "do it our way, or we'll negotiate in bad and still spite you by not supporting our own compromise."

"This Democrat bill won't stimulate anything but more government and more debt," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., on Tuesday. "House Democrats [will] use a time of national crisis to fund big government priorities under the guise of stimulating the economy."
Imagine! A Republican flaying Democrats for his own party's constant sin.

Hypocrisy, it's what they do.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The course of Humean events

If my old pen pal David Hume is relevant to the news, the least I can do is link to the story.

Hume was a very bright guy, not as well reputed among modern philosophers as he should be because he could write a clear sentence, paragraph, and essay. (Unlike Immanuel Kant, for example, who built Germanic ontological fractals.) Hume is understandable, so those who are accustomed to equating difficult with deep, mistake the measure of him.

Unlike Amity Schlaes groupie John Cochrane, to whom Brad Delong applies fiscal education without giving in to the understandable urge to butt-whip his economic toddler ass, Hume knew that simplicity and clarity are not the same as simple-mindedness and clearinghouses.

Conservatives are looking for and lusting for a simple answer. The best liberals are looking for the simplest and lustiest answer that still matches reality well enough to work.

Pardon me, sometimes I get carried away!

Incenting the pump and dump

Timothy Geithner may have, uh, misfiled his taxes, but he hits the bullseye here:

“Excessive executive compensation that provides inappropriate incentives,” Mr. Geithner said, “has played a role in exacerbating the financial crisis.”
CEOs with captive compensation committees have been ripping off their shareholders. Legally.

If they did it with guns, everyone - not just us liberals - would be outraged. Why is it that conservatives forgot that their best trait was the ability to watch the money?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's always something

Y'know, I had a dog once that had goop in its eyes. Ever' mornin', more goop. It-a was this white, creamy snot-like substance that, you get it on ya finger, ya can't get it off. Ya try a flick it off, it's like a big snot yo-yo. Ya try to rub it back on a dog, it won' stick. There it is, a big eye booger on your finger, you can't get rid of it. Wha' ya gonna do?

Yep, this is where we are with the Guantánamo 247 (or whatever). Some of them are bad people, but we can't prove which ones. That eye booger? Man, it sticks. Can't shake it off. Can't wipe it off. Sure as hell don't want to eat it.

The Bushists never gave the slightest shit for justice. They were so het up for war that any appearance of legal process was anathema to them. They never felt the need to establish factually which of their prisoners were evil. It was enough to call them all evil based on the 1% doctrine.

What they've left for Obama is a huge festering sore that there's no reliable cure for. I can't help suspecting that the Cheneyites did it on purpose.

I can haz Israel in 4 B.C.?

History will little note nor long remember what I say here...

... because my audience isn't very large and Atrios has already linked to MediaMatters. But this Jamison Foser piece is what conservatives don't get about journalism. They also don't get it about NPOV at Wikipedia (hence Conservapedia, or is it Wikiwingnut). They don't get it about economics. Or gay sex (h/t Pharyngula). Or science. Or any number of other things that they're too convinced of to concern themselves with comparing to reality.

Conservatives believe, because their feelings are so strong, that reality should be the way they want it to be. No, not should, it must be as they devoutly wish it. If it isn't, they're like 1960s TV robots: "Does not compute."

It's a self-fulfilling stupidity that no amount of argument can ablate.

Update (1/26): How often can a title mash up LOLcats with "Jesus Christ Superstar"? What the hell decade does that belong in?

De devil made me do it

What's Sunday without something funny!

Off his nut

When I previously said that I thought Rod Blagojevich (D-Outer Space) was bipolar, I was having some fun (although I did think it was possible). Now, I think he'll be on lithium before his daughter's birthday, although he'll be out of office and possibly hospitalized. Ironic that the Globe's headline refers to "Ill governor". (I omitted the period for rhetorical purposes.)

Bipolar is a serious illness. My late uncle and a friend have suffered from it. The manias lead to otherwise unaccountable behavior such as Blagojevich's. It's his last chance to be on talk shows! Never mind that his life is burning to the ground around him.


Whose ass is CNN kissing when winning the Presidential election by seven points only wins political capital "arguably"? What wingnut lunatic has to be faux balanced by failing to report the objective fact that Obama has won serious clout by winning the Presidency?

The only rational way Obama as President would not have earned political capital would be if we lived in anarchy.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Too good to be true

Sal DiMasi has worn out his welcome with the stink of insider dealing. Is it possible that reelection to the Speakership could have been his swan song? Here's hoping, but I'm not expecting that hope to come true.

Click photo for CCA ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Update (1/25): It appears that my pessimism was unwarranted. Man, I just can't get used to politics giving me what I want.

At this point, I'm sure there are many legislators who are kicking themselves for reelecting this guy Speaker three short weeks ago, but over time, betting on long shots like this sudden resignation would statistically not be good service to your constituents. So, to my friends who are freshly in the legislature, look forward, and don't worry about voting as you did on Jan. 7.

We don't drink, nor smoke, Norfolk

If you don't laugh out loud at the gray lady trying and failing to keep its British stiff upper lip, you're either dead or in serious need of antidepressants.

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing lewd names.
Gotta keep the traditional lewdness.

Update (1/25): I should note that here in Massachusetts the town and county of Norfolk are routinely pronounced 'norfork' (in a state that leaves the 'ahs' out of 'Hahvahd'!) because the traditional pronunciation, 'norfək', has become lewd ever since dictionaries first began to have the word 'fuck' in them.

Starbucks the clinic

More research shows that coffee is good for you. Wonder if decaf works, too...

Now if we could just get a sunny day to raise our vitamin D levels up here in the frozen north.

Click photo for CCA 2.0 license.

Friday, January 23, 2009


The Boston Globe is unwilling to state what's plain as the nose on their face:

With a few strokes of his pen, President Obama charted a new path yesterday in the fight against terrorism, signing executive orders ... to ban harsh interrogation tactics, such as waterboarding, that the Bush administration endorsed but that critics consider torture.
Look, we've prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime. Not someone we disagree with - we ourselves did this. Objectively, waterboarding is torture, and any media worth having would say so in no uncertain terms. Instead, our media acquiesces to the Bushists' redefinition of the word, as if that makes it a point that's arguable.

Of course, the pro-torture pantywaists are out in force commenting about the impending end of the world due to the new fact that America has again forsworn torture. I'm sorry but they can no longer get their thrills from imagining Jack Bauer at Guantánamo wiring up the scrotums of inmates to 120 volts.

We beat the Nazis, the fascists, and the Soviets without resorting to torture as a matter of policy. I think we can handle a bunch of 13th century throwbacks.

Click photo for CCA 3.0 Unported license info.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The Washington Post, typically, got this lead wrong:

A wage discrimination bill that heralds the pro-labor policies of the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House cleared the Senate Thursday and could be on President Barack Obama's desk within days.
It's now fixed:
A wage-discrimination bill that narrowly failed less than a year ago moved closer to becoming law last night, when the Senate passed the legislation and sent it back to the House for final consideration.
This bill is pro-people, pro-woman, and pro-good-sense. It has nothing to do with pro-labor. The Supreme Court's Lily v. Ledbetter bare majority decision really did make the law an ass. This fixes it, something the Republicans filibustered in the last session.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Be prepared

The Republicans don't care about comity. They'll fuck you up for the sheer fun of it. Or to establish that they can pitch a hissy any time they like.

If the Democrats don't fight back, they're going to encourage a lot of tantrums. I suggest that screaming fits be met with a swift slap to the diaper-clad buttocks of Mitch McConnell.

If he doesn't like it, move his damn office to a public restroom in the Capitol. See how much he likes urine-soaked marble.

Laid the groundwork

Howard Dean did yeoman's work to put the Democratic Party in a position to run the table in 2008, and it's well worth remembering that the lily-livered Washington Democrats didn't want him to be DNC chair.

The insurgent activists in the grassroots carried the day. No one should ever think that all procedural votes are piddling little things that don't matter. This one was big.

Back to costume critiques

CNN really, really cares whether the President wears a suit jacket at all times in the Oval Office. They think Duhbya's rules of haberdashery were major. The first time Obama is late to an event, we'll probably hear about how prompt Duhbya was.

What a bunch of silly people playing dress-up as reporters, as government officials, as pundits.

I bet the damn House of Saud didn't have to wear jackets.

Happy days are here again

I need to take a moment to be happy. From top to bottom, the elected officials who represent me are Democrats.

That in itself is good enough, but any group large enough to be a political party has its share of knuckleheads that you have to grin and bear. Not this subset - these Ds are particularly excellent.

I wouldn't trade my state rep for yours. Mine's better. On election night, I told her that all she owed me was her best effort and her good conscience, and I have no doubt I'll come out way ahead on both.

I wouldn't trade my state senator. He has proven his conscience by putting his career on the line for what he believes, and he has made it work out, too.

I'm ecstatic that Jim McGovern represents me in Congress. On the rare occasions when I disagree with him (say, his support of Hillary), I have to think hard about whether I'm wrong (not in this case!).

Even though I have some ambivalence about John Kerry, I love Ted Kennedy, warts and all, for whatever time we still have him.

I've had a beer with Tim Murray. Actually, he had a beer. I had Irish whiskey, and we chatted with a biker who was petitioning to repeal the helmet law.

Deval Patrick is a good man, whom I'm delighted to have as governor.

Barack Obama is better than we deserve, cooler, calmer, more intelligent, and better able to put aside selfishness to lead all the Americans who are willing. As he walked through the Capitol yesterday on the way to take the oath of office, he seemed finally to be feeling the weight he now bears. He needs my small help, and he has it.

There will be worse days ahead. What faces my country and my state will not be easy.

In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
But the people I have in place in my government can solve our shared problems if anyone can. I'm proud that I played a part, large or small, in electing each of them. Their presence restores my faith in democracy, which was sorely tested in the eight years now mercifully past.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The torch has been passed

Of course, I hope that Ted Kennedy surmounts this latest health crisis, but his brother's words ring in my ears, "Let the word go forth from this day forward that the torch has been passed to a new generation."

This new generation will miss those who led the Civil Rights movement, as well as those such as Robert Byrd, also ill and infirm, who overcame the prejudices they had been taught to be convinced of its justness.

Internet slammed today

Millions of Americans will see history later today in person. Many of my friends will be among them, shivering from the cold and the excitement indistinguishably.

Hundreds of millions will not be there. We will depend on TV to show us the momentous events in Washington.

Or those of us at workplaces that don't block streaming video will be trying to find a server at C-Span or one of the networks that hasn't been brought to a frame rate of one per five minutes by the overwhelming demand.

So, loons, dimbulbs, wingnuts, and moonbats, just because the Internet doesn't work tomorrow, that doesn't necessarily mean something bad has happened.

Update: Well, no, not only is our government still working, the Internet is, too.

Update: The slam happened later than I expected. It was funny that CNN cable continued to tout its web site, when all I could get out of that was page load failures.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We Shall Overcome

The tears have come - I knew they would. It's strange that they took so long.

My mom called with her joyful tears and choked me up. She recalled 1964 when she was barely an adult and I was just learning about the wider world. Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman had gone missing, murdered by KKK racists in Mississippi, just beyond the meaningless boundary from where we lived in Memphis. I was barely old enough to understand, no, I'm still too young to understand, how vicious those evil people were. What I remember from that time is that my parents were holding their breath for the time when the bodies were found.

Mom recounted how from her own youth she had no longer considered her Methodist pastor to be Christian after his objections to Brown v. the Board of Education. Too early, he had preached, when too late was the truth.

Now, though, all that work, all those compromises, all that waiting is over. I had not thought that this day would come so soon, but I am glad that it has. Barack Obama won me over with his speech on race not just to support but to belief in his ability to transform America.

Someday? Someday is here.

B-bu-but Obama hasn't changed my diaper

A large number of the people who voted not to change a thing about the disastrous way the Republicans have run America into the ground now go onto comments sections and whine that Obama is not changing anything.

First, they were mad because he was supposedly going to bring socialism. Now, they're mad because he hasn't brought socialism.

First, they were mad because he had defeated Hillary, for whom they suddenly found great weeping reservoirs of affection they had never known they had in the 1990s. Now, they're mad that he keeps appointing old Clinton hands to his administration.

Give the guy a break. He's only been President for about two and a half months. Snort, chuckle, tee-hee.

Personally, I'd like to hope that this post would make them mad, but I realize that it's beyond my power to make them mad, since that's what they've always been and always will be.

Today's stupid wingnut comment

Not to imply that there's only one, but here's something from XENOPHONIC-1 (January 19, 7:25 AM) that caught my eye:

Adding to the frustration is the way the court system bends over backwards to be sure these gangbangers get their "due Process". Even if the perp is illiterate the judge enters a "Not Guilty" plea on the perps behalf. Then their are the advocates that pray for mercy because the perp didn't have the advantages or came from a broken home or a single parent household. Being a detective has to be frustrating knowing that just catching a scum bag and building a case isn't enough. In fairness some over zealous prosecuters are more concerned with getting the conviction i.e. winning than getting at the truth. Time for vigilantes?
Ah, Gitmo justice for the streets of Boston!  This guy thinks he's a true blue American, but he's against due process, and he's against the presumption of innocence.  He thinks the mostly mythical soft-headed judges of the movies of the 1970s just turn everyone loose after conviction. 

And, even though he acknowledges overzealous prosecutors, he's ready for vigilantism.

Basically, XENO got all his public policy experience out of a Dirty Harry movie.

With Nancy on this

Barack is trying to be a transformative figure in American politics, and I wish him success.  Toward that end, he wants to let bygones be bygones.  He also seems to lack any appetite for battling the Republicans.  Maybe he's choosing his battles.

Nancy Pelosi wants to repeal the Bush tax giveaways to the wealthy right away instead of merely letting them lapse, and we seriously need to claw back a tiny portion of the money the rich have looted from the government and from the financial system.

Pelosi also wants to investigate the U.S. Attorney firing scandal and the Justice Department hiring scandal.  I'm not sure that's where I'd start, but Americans and history really need full disclosure of the way the Bushists ran the government as if they owned it in fee simple.

There have to be consequences for the Republicans greater than harsh language.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bullshit fricassee

Ed Henry loves the bullshit story out of 2001 that Clinton staffers vandalized their keyboards.  He loves it so much that even though it has been debunked as a Bushist slander, he just can't help but repeat it in a way that flatters Duhbya.

If I ran CNN, I would fire his lazy, no-account ass for putting out this story.

If you want to know what's wrong with American media, this complete inability to give up a favorite story even if it is a lie would have to be close to the worst.

So much stupidity, so little time, I

Last week, I started a long post in response to antediluvian flood (heh) of stupidity in the comments section of this Boston Globe story. on the "debate" (similar to the bullshit, trumped-up "debate" between evolutionary biologists and creationist PR flacks) about the effectiveness of the New Deal. I mean, Amity Schlaes! (And some of her proponents - yes, the ever weak-ass globeisatrocious - can't even spell her name right!)

But my post ran several hundred words and wasn't close to finished. After all, modern American discourse generates such copious quantities of bullshit that even Hercules couldn't clean it all up. (He was a horseshit specialist anyway.)

So, I'll try to shovel away the wingnut bullshit one cow patty at a time. Here's the talk radio talking point that one clearly evident moron called jkkite (January 15, 7:41 AM) has taken away from Rush or some other manipulating dipshit:
everyone knows the wealthiest people in this country pay about 90% of all the tax revenues. it's a fact. please keep your uneducated comments out of this, thx.
This an exaggeration of a Republican talking point, and it's a, well, outright lie that depends on the ignorance of those who want to believe it. Here's the Republican talking point, dressed up as best it can be, though still carefully ignoring the reality of the vast expansion of payroll taxes, which hit the working poor and the middle class, labelled "Percent of Federal Income Taxes Paid, 1980–2004" by the Hoover Institute (which couldn't have a more appropriate name):

The top 1% of incomes earn around $350,000 a year and up (2005 numbers here). If we match up these incomes with jkkite's "wealthiest people," we find in fact that they pay roughly 38% of income taxes (not all taxes by any stretch). In wingnut-world, that's totally close to 90%, right?

If 38% still seems like a lot, here's a funny thing: The top 1% of the wealthy own 40% of the private financial wealth in America (and 33% of the bigger pie that includes owner occupied housing). That tax rate doesn't seem so unfair now, does it? (Note: The top 1% of incomes and the top 1% of wealth are not exactly the same, but they overlap strongly.)

Furthermore, income tax receipts are a large part of Federal revenue, but they are just a little over 40% of the total, which makes the top 1%'s burden about 16% of the whole bundle.

The biggest other source? Payroll taxes - Social Security and Medicare - which are flat taxes up to their caps but then become completely regressive. The average rape and pillage CEO pays exactly the same amount on these as anyone earning over the cap of $102,000 (p. 61 of the 1040 booklet I received this year).

Soooo, if jkkite really cared about keeping uneducated comments out of the discussion, he'd have to SHUT UP!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Barack and his BlackBerry

Why is the Secret Service worried about Barack Obama carrying a BlackBerry? The news media hasn't said. They've pretended the question has to do with the Presidential Records Act, or they've quoted Obama alluding to the insecurity of his email.

Neither one of these explanations makes any sense whatsoever. I have a theory: The transmissions of any email PDA or even an ordinary cell phone make it a good locator beacon if you can hack its signal, and these commercial products weren't built for this level of secure use.

You'd think the President is easy to locate - just look for the zillion-car, heavily armed motorcade. But which vehicle is he in? That could really matter, and not in a good way.

Pro-torture and not decent enough to be ashamed

One clear revelation of the Bushist embrace of torture to further military and foreign policy is that a substantial number of Americans are openly pro-torture (be sure to read at least the first fifteen comments). When I was growing up playing WWII in the back yard twenty years after the world nearly burned down, it was unthinkable that Americans would ever become the torturers.

Now, there's a vocal segment of the conservative movement for whom the us-against-them values of tribalism far outweigh the dispassionate rule of law upon which our nation was founded. Their fear, a central characteristic of their worldview, drives them. Why they are not more stalwart in the face of danger - when that is one of the few national virtues they and I cherish in common - is a puzzle to me.

What you might see at the ophthalmologist

Fox News is making inroad everywhere.  It's in doctors' offices.  It's even in the cafeteria at work.

Yesterday, though, during eager non-stop (heh) coverage of the USAir flight that ditched in the Hudson River, I realized the truth about Fox's coverage - and its ratings success.

The intent of Fox News is not to inform.  It's not even merely to entertain.  They are trying to induce emotions in their viewers, not thoughts.  That's why they bring on gushing psychologists to anticipate post-traumatic stress disorder in the passengers and crew.  That's why their platinum blonde newsreaders maunder on about how terrible the fear must have been.

Whenever you see TV news coverage, you should understand that you're making buying decisions all along.  Most people decide to buy - whether products or stories - based on emotion, not on careful, dispassionate consideration.  Roger Ailes (the evil one) knows this, and he doesn't mind manipulating his audience.

The past that won't die

If you imagined that racism was limited to the benighted South, try again.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm joyful that my state has an African-American governor and that the President-elect is African American, a fact that still stuns me with its pure, unexpected surprise.

My mother prays for Barack Obama.  I say my small heathen prayers for him, too.  That's what you do when you have no control over his fate.  All I can say is that the Secret Service had better be on their toes.

I really hope that these alleged arsonists don't have any children - or at least don't participate in their raising.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now, we're ready to share power

Jack Cafferty tacks back away from his flirtation with the non-Republicans to ask this stupid question:

Why can’t the Democrats and Republicans work together instead of against each other?
When the Republicans held power, they told the Dems to piss off on a daily basis. And everything went straight to hell.

Now, though, the Republicans want a piece of that good ol' bipartisanship. As long as the Democrats get all the blame for the things that inevitably will go wrong and the Republicans get credit for things they are only peripherally involved in...

I'd smile sweetly at the GOP and let them be peripherally involved. Very peripherally.

We don't work with them well because they believe all sorts of truly nutty things about government, the economy, and the world. Their solutions are more of the same bitter and unhelpful nonsense that got us here. Why would any sane person want to compromise with that!?

I'd let them go on TV all the time with their gripes. I'd get tape. Then when the Democratic plan does work out, I'd smack the Republicans around for the true fact that they only wanted to obstruct the Democrats, but we wouldn't let them and America is better off for that.

But then I'd be a Democrat with backbone even in Washington.

Holder of the bag

Joe Conason's column on the Marc Rich pardon is very interesting. It's thinly sourced and thus awaits confirmation, but any pundit who puts down these words has the credibility that comes from the demonstrated ability to sniff bullshit:

Holder listened as Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of the leading windbags of our time, held forth on how dreadful Rich is and how awful the pardon was.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dead cat bounce

... is my preferred phrase for Duhbya's improved popularity among his dead-enders. Notice: Even they needed him to disappear off their TV screens before they could again claim to like him scurvy ass.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If I had a rocket launcher

Why can the Taliban still get away with this?

[I]n the guerrilla war that has unfolded across southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have made schools one of their special targets.


“Don’t Let Your Daughters Go to School,” one of [the posters] said.
I have a daughter. She might say something like this.
“The people who did this,” [Shamsia] said, “do not feel the pain of others.”
They need to feel their own pain.

Here's the difference between me and the wingnut. I'd hurt, severely, the perpetrators, but I wouldn't hurt all the other people - i.e. other Muslims - who look a little like the perps.

Long run, they're all dead

Zyprexa is not an exception. The organization of American corporations, as applied to pharmaceuticals, guarantees that executives and sales people will injure their customers to make a quick buck. These people have to be paid well to overcome any moral qualms they might have, but in any case, they will move on with their bonuses and stock grants long before any process to assign legal liability can retrieve them.

This is the reason we see so many bad drugs in the marketplace.

Long-term clawback provisions in statute, not left to mere case law, could help align incentives with a longer term set of interests and efficiencies that take into account something beyond the current quarter.

Fiction stranger than fact

The shit of the wingnutted bull is all over the conservative, uh, movement.

Pro-torture wingnuts once again appeal to fictive imagination in lieu of, hell, reality. Reality is so much less tractable and more messy. It's so unpleasant to find out that the world is not what you had fantasized that it would be.

Of course, the Republicans also make economic decisions based on the ridiculous absurdities in Atlas Shrugged. Many of them also derive their science from a 2000-year-old book that contains a full display of every naturalistic ignorance of the age of its origin, none of which should be mistaken for reality in the 21st century.

(h/t Atrios)

Click image for CCA license.


... doesn't necessarily require affection.

If Obama can smile while Maureen Dowd gossips fripperies in that awful voice of hers, if he can be anywhere in the vicinity of William Kristol and David Brooks without crinkling his nose from the stench, he can deal with the bluffs and confidentialities of politics, foreign and domestic.

Rachel Maddow, on the other hand, would be worth talking to.

Equal time

Sarah Palin's back in the news (when will we see the back of her in the news?), so it's time for a picture of a beautiful woman (no, not Angelina Jolie).

Since quite a few of you may be women or gay men, here's a stunning guy, too (no, not Brad Pitt).


She also said news organizations have unduly criticized the upcoming marriage of her 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, to Levi Johnston, a former electrical apprentice in the North Slope oil field.
Levi has already washed out of his apprenticeship. This kid is in no way prepared for marriage.

Images from Wikimedia Commons. Click to see license details.

The sins of the Republicans

... are visited upon the Democrats. Because Duhbya and Henry Paulson were completely irresponsible with the bailout money, the GOP will screw Obama.

The ultimate destruction of the Republican Party would benefit America, as long as it was replaced by something better. If you read the comments on any news story that's vaguely political, it's tough to be sure the replacement would be an improvement.

We're in deep shit, America. Obama wants to use a Keynesian stimulus to paddle out of it - with way too much bullshit tax cutting to try to mollify the congenitally irresponsible Republican caucus. The Republicans, of course, reward him by flinging poo at him. They're a bunch of two-year-olds, so what did Obama expect?

Don't be optimistic about a short recession. It doesn't make any sense. Between actively evil Republicans and lily-livered Democrats who aren't nearly tough enough, I see another Great Depression coming. Whether any of these political institutions survive, including the United States itself, will be an open question if a depression happens.

I'm going to learn brewing, wine-making, and distilling. Those are depression-proof industries, and I have a family history of bootlegging. (No, I'm not an arriviste Kennedy. My people were most recently making their own whiskey way before Prohibition.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taxes bring out the loonies

Don't raise taxes, just raise the subject of taxes, and total tax-free lunatics crawl out of the talk radio woodwork and explode their know-nothing bile all over everyone. The degree of their ignorance would be stunning but for long experience.

Gov. Deval Patrick is now open to raising the gas tax to fund the Turnpike Authority in servicing the debt incurred in building the Big Dig. Here's some of the reaction:

  • will00407 assesses the condition of the economy by talking to one (one!) sales clerk of no known expertise. This suggests the level of will's expertise. Update (1/14): Real numbers from CNBC to show what a total dipshit will00407 is as he fantasizes about that one cute sales clerk.
  • Timo-2 wants to revolt over this proposal because he thinks he doesn't use ... something he doesn't identify, but let's be charitable and assume he means the Big Dig. It's curious how he thinks goods get to him. Did someone finally invent a way to beam it down? I know, he gets it from the supermarket, end of story.
  • XENOPHON-1 objects to legislator pensions, probably still angry from yesterday. The subtext of that story could have been how lousy legislator pensions actually are.
  • sweetlandofliberty thinks the small, automatic legislator pay raises can pay for it all. Sure, if the Big Dig only needed a couple hundred thou. Learn to count? Not the tax haters.
  • daviedooski thinks New Hampshire has no taxes at all. Government there is an air fern! He's an idiot.
  • kickyoubutt is just mad, mad, mad. He hated Deval from the start and thinks we're all morons for not hating him.
  • walpoleHSparent and bostonBBB can't remember two weeks ago or October, not even the cut of 1000 jobs from the payroll. The state never cuts its budget, except when they're conveniently not looking.
  • teacher55, casinowriter, and dsilenzi want to start paying tolls on their local roads and highways, I guess, since they don't want to pay for our local roads and highways.
  • -Hoss thinks he's smart to cut the tolltakers. Guess what? Already going on. Further, the MTA needs revenue, not because there's an operating shortfall, but because the Big Dig debt was moved onto the MTA for accounting purposes.
Well, that's enough stupidity for one day.

One other think: The American Petroleum Institute, which apparently now calls itself API (without all those other letters), ranks Massachusetts (PDF) below the national average for taxing gasoline.

In order of importance

I can understand why the Catholic Church would deem abortion worse than sex slavery. I don't agree - ensoulment at conception is not only made up of nothing, there's no evidence or rationale for it - but I can understand.

What I can't understand is how the Church could possibly deem mere birth control worse than sex slavery. Most of their parishioners practice it, and not by the rhythm method either.

My tax dollars are funding this moral blind spot.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Take this job and shove it

Thought bubble: "I can't stand you. I can't stand your question. I can't stand standing up here under all these lights. Leave me the hell alone. I wanna go home."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Not funny

... but true.

Click image for full Tony Auth cartoon. Don't expect funny.

Must be in my other pants

Click image for full Signe Wilkinson cartoon.

So much for mea culpa

Duhbya advocates change!

Of course, it's change back to the past, when he, Karl Rove, and the Republicans could fool enough of the people with bullshit about being compassionate conservatives. What Duhbya wants is to rekindle a story line, not to change any policy:

"I think that we shouldn't change our philosophy." But [Bush] added, "We may want to change our message."
He of course even continues to defend torture:

While President-elect Barack Obama spoke out in an ABC interview that aired today against an interrogation technique known as water-boarding, President Bush defended his administration's policies as legal and necessary. He said he would be concerned if Obama abandoned the techniques used by his administration.

"Obviously, I feel like it would be a problem," Bush said, "because these are tools that we have in place. I do want to -- you know, I firmly reject the word torture.

Yep, it's the word that he rejects, the word that has meant torture for generations. He thinks he can redefine it as his spoiled, rich-boy convenience.

The good news: Duhbya is going to take four years to write his bullshit book.* I'd advise him to wait for the market for wingnut tripe to recover, too. I mean, we all know he's not going to write it himself, and a ghost writer could easily knock out a memoir, uh, amnesoir, in six months. A coloring book? Even faster.

* Yes, I'm prejudging Duhbya's "work". While I'd love to hear him own up to the clusterfuck that is was his administration, expecting anything other than rank festering bullshit from him would answer to the classic Einsteinian definition of insanity.

Esthetic of football

Tuned in late to Pittsburgh vs. San Diego. From birth, I've been trained to root for the underdog, and I like LT despite his irate slanders against my Patriots. (OK, Bill Belichick is probably an asshole, but he's about 40 IQ points ahead of the average NFL idiot coach, and after this brilliant, difficult season, I'd put him in charge of any underperforming organization. He knows how to build doable assignments.)

But the Steelers don't have Bill Cowher in charge any more, with the whiny gestures only someone with his shovel jaw could get away with, and I like Mike Tomlin's impassive focus. That last drive for the third touchdown was so grittily beautiful that I may have root for Pittsburgh.

On the other hand, I really enjoy watching Darren Sproles run.

Can you believe the Chevy ads on this game? All Chevy has is macho bullshit. Ford appears to have all the innovative features. Howie Long would really prefer a heated steering wheel if he still lived here in Massachusetts, where he grew up. Boy's gittin' above his raisin'.

Republicans sold out to Iran

If this potentially lethal technology leakage had happened under a Democratic administration, the Republicans in Congress, on the Sunday talk shows, and on hate radio would be frothing with rage over it. The media would dutifully echo the wingnut noise machine with "some have questions."

How do I know this? Remember Bill Clinton and China?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pocket veto

Congress has fifteen days to consider the White House request for a $350 billion golden parachute. I suggest that the legislature take ten before acting, sort of a Congressional pocket veto.

Or, they could just laugh their asses off and shout NO as one.

News stack

A news stack is a layering of subject areas that a consumer of current events needs to be well informed. (As far as I know, the term 'news stack' is my own coinage.) It's akin in concept to a tech stack of components for software.

Major daily newspapers try to cover at least this stack:

  • World news
  • National news
  • Metro/local
  • Sports
  • Business
  • Health/technology/science
  • Opinion
Oh, sure, they often fill in from wire services, corporate partners, alliances, and syndication what they can't or won't produce for themselves. Really, the quality of a paper is usually proportional to its filling this stack - with additions - with their own content.

However, all newspapers have been acting as news aggregators for years. One of the newspapers I read as a child was the Knoxville News-Sentinel, where international coverage consisted of occasional pulls of lead paragraphs off the wire services in small type.

TV news has had a shorter and more distributed news stack. The national and cable networks have taken the national and world news. Local affiliate broadcasts handle local news and sports, and they add an orgy of weather coverage presented over and over again in a way that has a low information density but lots of graphics and pictures that even the village idiot can relate to. Local access cable (remember that?) handles the really local stuff and a little bloglike bloviating that seldom gets any attention (hey, like me!), but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Delivering the entire news stack to readers on paper requires a single organization. Not so on the Internet. Not even so on TV. Already, anything lucrative and integral has been unbundled. Weather is on the Weather Channel, even though its content is all basically dressed up from NOAA data (cheap!). Sports is on all sorts of specialty channels; ESPN can proxy for all of them.

On the Internet, we all get to pick our own news stacks. Mine is, more or less:
Is there any way for an aggregator to cover this stack in a marketable way? So far, aggregators have sucked. They've tried to automate delivery of content from many sources. Uh, guys, it may be cheap, but you have it backwards. The sources you aggregate are already too mass market generic, and you're just mixing all the watercolors and getting brown. I don't know if there's a customizable alternative other than all of us finding our own way with search engines, but aggregation has to empower the single reader.

So, is Google the end-all of news aggregation? Maybe, but only for junkies like me. Google will remain the tool for drilling into a story beyond even what an aggregator provides - because there's always more to a story that obsesses readers - like Jon-Benet Ramsey or nuclear non-proliferation.

What I do know is that there is no longer any reason related to distribution medium that all the layers of the news stack need to be filled by the same organization. This means that news organizations need to identify which layer they can compete in (and for many it will be at most one).

There are still scale advantages in adjacent layers. Effective and resourceful organizations will still try to expand into them. Witness the dispute between the Globe and Gatehouse Media over local aggregation.

But trying to fill the whole stack without aggregating? No one who's left doing journalism is going to succeed at that.

Blame the Republican

The AP says that "partisan wrangling" is holding up a wilderness bill. In fact, Republican Tom Coburn is the only one wrangling. He does this all the time. He is well known on both sides of the aisle for his willingness to stand alone in the way of anything his stony little cinder of a brain doesn't like.

Why do we have reporters if they can't keep up with context?

Update (1/11): AP continues to ignore Coburn's career-long obstructionism. No matter, the bill passed overwhelmingly.

STFU, Republican gasbags

Joe Conason says what I've also been saying for weeks: Put up or shut up about election theft in Minnesota. So far, *crickets*.

Conason and I are both shouting into the whirlwind. The wankernuts on the right are not evidence-based. They don't care about the facts. They don't care about the will of the people. They only care about power.

They will always be lying liars, which is why they hate Al Franken so much.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Expressed remorse? Really?

Tom Finneran's only continuing his appeals because...?

It's a rare occasion when I side with Mitt Romney, but "no comment" is about the furthest I could imagine going toward yes if asked to support a pardon for Finneran. Actually, I'm not even going that far.

Of course, the special bonus for me is that Eric Fehrnstrom had to restrain his usual outrageous invidious knife-twisting rhetoric.

Steal this joke

Newscoma writes about Sanjay Gupta:

I guess it’s better than Surgeon General Lou Dobbs.

Of the acreage, by the acreage, for the acreage

This is bar none the stupidest thing I've seen this year among items pretending to be smart. There's a reason no one outside the garment district has ever heard of Hemline school of law.

Driving around Cades Cove, Tennessee, I used to enjoy seeing startled woodchucks bolt for their dens. Now I have them living in my back yard, where they're still likely to bolt for the shelter of the nearest juniper in response to any unusual noise. I suspect that Vermont Woodchuck, over amid the Beavis and Butt-head entertainment of New England Republican (we're laughing at you guys, not with you), may wish he had a hole to bolt to:

Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law St. Paul, Minnesota points out some interesting facts concerning the Presidential election...
Here's the Preamble to the Constitution, as taught at this non-existent law school:
We the Acres of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Land Mass, establish Empty Space, insure domestic Fatuity, provide for the common sagebrush, promote the general Lack of Human contact, and secure the Blessings of Wide Open Spaces to no one and no one at all, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of Sparsely Populated Counties.
Acres and counties vote Republican because, you know, they're dumb as dirt. Look for this report on Fox, if it hasn't been there already.

Oh, by the way, 'Chuckie has been Snopesed. Open mouth, then engage brain. If ever. This is why he's a conservative.

(Hamline University? Yeah, that's real.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Irreverence in the Democratic sanctuary

Yesterday, I mostly held my tongue. Today, though, I needed to report to a friend who couldn't be there, and humor was the order of the day. This is an adaptation of an email I sent her:

The swearing in was a lot like government - at some moments interesting and filled with excitement and joy, but surrounded by lots of waiting. Fortunately, there were lots of people around to talk to, which made the otherwise dull moments fun, too. I spent a lot of time with the gang, as well as with my new State Rep's mom. One of the core group brought her son, and he gave us a tour of the State House - amazing the history soaked into those walls. I took a couple of photos of him for his mom, since I could get away with it while she might elicit one of those teenage son looks.

Then came the crush for the actual ceremony. The sergeant-at-arms staff wouldn't let my Rep's husband in with their children, so I gave up my ticket. Of course, I wanted to see her raise her right hand, but I knew her kids had to. But then everyone got into the gallery in the end, so both happened. When I looked down, I could see the younger two leaning on their mom, with the oldest a little off to the side - he's getting that preteen reticence, I guess. Lots of families were there, including Sal DiMasi's teenage children, among them a son who reluctantly stood when the Speaker made him. There was even one babe in arms on the floor of the House.

My Rep didn't doom herself to immediate exile and voted for DiMasi. C'est la vie. In her shoes, I would have, too. At least James Marzilli and Dianne Wilkerson were gone, gone, gone.

Oh, DiMasi's speech! He went on for forty minutes. Someday, politicians are going to figure out that we don't live in the time of Handel's Messiah anymore. I'm a political junkie, and I don't have the attention span, especially not when my stomach's growling. Brad Jones, the Minorty Leader and 9 to 7 winner over Present, restrained himself to about twenty minutes, and his speech was a little more interesting as it vacillated between bipartisan comity and helpless impotent warnings. The Clerk doesn't speak in public very often, but at least he kept his remarks to a couple of minutes, bless him! At that point, the last of us bolted out of the gallery to join everyone else in the lunch line. Eating of course leads directly to hobnobbing, and there was a lot of that to do.

When I got back to my car at 3:30, a tire was flat, and I couldn't find the locking lug nut tool. I didn't even know I had locking lug nuts. It took two calls to VW dealers before Boston VW was able to tell me that the tool was easy to miss. They gave me enough hints that I found it. Then I had to pore over the arcane Germanic VW procedure - change a tire, how hard could it be?! Bolt caps and a puller, an alignment tool that didn't work, a weird cantilevered jack, and oddly translated English. Elapsed time: about an hour. To the good: no known stains on my suit...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Temple of revolutionary liberalism

I spent the day in the Massachusetts State House attending the swearing in of freshman legislators. Can I just stop all my bitter cynical bullshit and bullshit sensitivity for a moment to say that it was a naive thrill to be there?

This opened the 186th biennial session of the Great and General Court, which is just a fancy and old-fashioned way of saying the legislature. Three hundred and seventy years! The pols love to call this an "august body," whatever that means, but I have to admit that its continuous existence from 1639 to now is impressive.

Wander around the State House or take the tour, and you can't help but be impressed with its role as a temple of American liberty. Add in the pomp and circumstance of the opening session, and there's a resemblance to mass at St. Peter's. Some of the rituals done in utmost seriousness have grown a bit ridiculously out of date, but their seriousness is fitting anyway.

It's also undeniable that Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of American liberalism, now perhaps more than ever. It's a challenging time to be a Democrat even here, even with the Republican Party a neutered, if slightly fractious, house pet. There's little revenue to build that city on the hill, but there's great responsibility to triage the budget to preserve as best we can what we have already built.

Yes, Sal DiMasi was overwhelmingly reelected Speaker, and his scandals make that far less than ideal. But his list of legislative accomplishments was indeed impressive - America's highest rate of health insurance, very strong environment work, equal marriage for gays and lesbians, and strong commitments of money that have made Massachusetts public education the envy of the rest of the nation and among the best in the world.

Satire, I hope

Hard to tell sometimes, but I fervently hope that no one is really this insane:

On a story about tongue piercings of all things. The alternative explanation to satire is a pioneer in the new fad of brain-piercing.

(Although, the mere presence of such a bullshit story does signal a return to normalcy after Al Franken's victory in Minnesota.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Unfairness doctrine

The frothing wingnuts are everywhere, spilling bile as if it were water. Now and then I find one willing to spill blood (Matt at January 5th, 2009 4:12 pm ET):

The end of democracy as we know it. This is whithout [sic] a doubt the most fixed election ever. There was no standard other than cheat enough to have Franken pull ahead and then stop counting.

When democracy ceases to function and if you pay enough money you can subvert the will of the people to your whims. Then there is only one thing left for the comman man to do.

Civil War.

Reading the hate and ignorance in any mass market comments section makes me less than sanguine of the happy fate of democracy. Sanguinary? Yeah.

There's plenty of ignorance on the left, though it comes nowhere near matching the sheer stupidity of the right, but the real yawning abyss of disparity is in hate. We make fun of them, despise some of them, hate a select few. They hate us all.

The wingnuts have forgotten their kindergarten lessons - how to use their inside voices, how to play nice with others, how to use their words instead of their puny little fists to settle disputes, how not to bite their classmates, how to accept not getting their infantile narcissistic way right goddamn now from mommy every goddamn time, how not to throw a tantrum even if they're disappointed. They have no sense whatsoever of a commonwealth that extends beyond them.

They have lost this most basic socialization - hey, they're against socialism, why not be against socialization - because of the swill they listen to on talk radio and Fox News. They have public models of ugliness that allow them cover to revise and extend that ugliness forever.

And that gives their petty little 2-year-old's ids such a thrill of delight that only isolation could ever make them stop. Instead, they have a permanent play date with their mutual dittoheads, with whom they have constant self-reinforcing tantrums.

America is much the lesser for it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mystery achievement

Here's what I want to know: How can it be that I can anticipate so many of the points of one prescient economist (PDF), when I don't have a Ph.D. or even an undergraduate major in economics? Clips (all typos mine since the fricking document won't allow cut and paste):

Competition forces them to flirt continuously with the limits of illiquidity.
My main concern has to do with incentives. ...
First, the way compensation relates to returns implies there is typically less downside and more upside from generating investment returns. Managers, therefore, have greater incentive to take risks. Second, their performance relative to other peer managers matters, either because it is directly embedded in their compensation, or because investors enter or exit funds on that basis.

The knowledge that managers are being evaluated against others can induce superior performance, but also a variety of perverse behavior.

One is the incentive to take risks that are concealed from investors - since risk and return are related, the manager then looks as if he outperforms peers given the risks he takes. Typically, the kinds of risk that can be concealed most easily, given the requirement of periodic reporting, are risks that generate severe adverse consequences with small probability but, in return, offer generous compensation the rest of the time. ...

A second form of perverse behavior is the incentive to herd with other investment managers on investment choices because herding provides insurance the manager will not underperform his peers.
I think it's my constitutional lack of blind obeisance - to Alan Greenspan, in this case - and my hair-trigger bullshit detector.

Not to say that I didn't learn a lot from reading the paper. I did. Not that the financial markets aren't much more complex than I even understand. They are. Nonetheless, I saw the clear outlines and their dangerous implications.

It was probably because I was reading Paul Krugman.

(h/t the estimable Krugman)

Oldie but goodie

Strangelovian! How did I miss this when it was published?

Click image for full Dan Wasserman/Boston Globe cartoon.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


A late return to the spirit of after-Christmas returns.

Click image for full Dan Wasserman/Boston Globe cartoon.

Shallow thought

If you LOL at your own comment somewhere on a blog or in a comment section, the chance that you've actually said anything funny to even one other living person approaches zero. While there are also many examples from my side, here's a wingnut named Ken (January 4th, 2009 2:20 pm ET) who hid in plain sight from CNN's moderator:

They're dropping like flies already and the Obamessiah hasn't even taken office yet!! LOL!!

I think an Obama administration may outdo the Clinton's for most corrupt administration ever.

Way to go, dems, you're off to a great start!!!

Profuse exclamation points also suggest nothing much to say but an inversely proportional itch to say it.

Future of news, if any

"Networking, Ad Revenue and Reinvention", by my blog friend Newscoma on the new site NewsTechZilla, which she shares with a partner, has me thinking about the parlous future of the news business. It costs money to find out the facts, and yet hardly anyone is willing to pay for it.

Reader unwillingness to pay is not new. Advertisers pay the bills, not readers, and they always have (where 'always' means 'in my lifetime').

Goodbye paper

One future we all know: Paper's over. No point discussing it.

As soon as advertisers figure out that they can get into just as many eyeball-deploying wallets on line as they get from dead trees, the whole expensive process of distributing inky gray newsprint to every suburb will immediately become too uneconomical to continue. I've read a daily newspaper for more than 40 years, but I dropped my Boston Globe subscription last fall. I feel like a sponger sometimes, but I was tired of recycling unopened papers.

Newspaper advertisers have been overpaying for years, anyway, and that wasn't going to go on forever. When I do get a paper, the first thing I do is to recycle the circulars. Sooner or later, the sponsors are going to figure that out. A little time watching a conveyor at a newsprint recycling plant should be enough.

The demise of paper has one consequence that newspapers have long realized: Video and audio clips are now part of the newspaper, just as text is part of news sites descended from TV such as One of the New York Times's chief competitors is in fact CNN.

Slice and dice

Once you're on line, though, the viewport of a news site is different from a newspaper. Why would a local paper even try to compete with the New York Times in national and international coverage? Truth is, local papers haven't been competing with the NYT forever (same definition). Part of my childhood, I read the Knoxville News-Sentinel, whose idea of international coverage was four one-paragraph blurbs - lead paragraphs off the wires - twice a week. They outsourced their national coverage to the AP and UPI or, preferably, the other Scripps papers. Nonetheless, the Sentinel pretended to cover all the news.

On line, local papers are learning not even to pretend. The MetroWest Daily News only puts local content on line. National stories without a local tie? Maybe they make the dead tree edition, maybe not. On line, the Nov. 5th headline was "MetroWest voters help elect first black president".

Why should they pretend? Their readers are already on line, where they can easily get far better and more complete coverage. As Newscoma puts it, quoting Vibinc:
Readers can get the AP feed ANYWHERE.
What's happening is the end of the vertical integration of news-gathering. Very few organizations will have the profits to compete at all levels and in all general interest areas. Really, how many national newspapers do we need? There will be some larger regional newspapers, too. The LA Times and the Chicago Tribune may have to settle for regional, though at worst the LA Times's potential region is pretty damn huge.

Location, location, location

Everyone else is going to need a niche where they can be the big dog. Some of those niches are going to be verrry small. Current well-reputed semi-national papers such as the Globe had better have terrific, detailed, and much more easily navigated sports coverage. If they don't, sites will spring up to cream off those highly motivated readers. (Hmm, business idea?)

Local coverage is a vital competitive advantage for professional reporters. Instead, newspaper consortiums are hollowing out. Community Newspaper Co., now owned by Gatehouse Media, has done this in an attempt to capture economies of scale. The problem is that Gatehouse and their predecessors have interpreted that as calling for staff cuts. They can always pull in a story from the next town over, as they do in the weekly I still subscribe to (and used to write for). Problem is, their readers want to read about their own town, not what the school committee did about mold in their elementary school.

At the bottom end are the amateurs and semi-pros who report news. Maybe they report about quilting. Or maybe they actually cover the police and fire reports in their towns. Some of them with an extreme tolerance for boredom, occasionally punctuated with real drama, may even cover the meetings of local political boards. All of these topics are valuable to someone, which is why Gatehouse Media is suing the Globe over its knock-off of Gatehouse's local aggregation pages.

Unfortunately, it appears that the subversives at the Globe who are trying bring it into the blog age don't have enough executive buy-in to get convenient links from the front web page. I'm no newbie, but I still have trouble finding the new media and had to search to find Your Town. In fact, the Globe site overall needs much better organization. CNC, unbelievably, is ahead.

It could be that the Globe executives are still pushing paper and that they want their site to be hard to use. If so, they've succeeded, though that word is an oxymoron in this context. They're only cutting their own throats.


Like 'Coma, I don't know how to pay for it. Only the Wall Street Journal has succeeded at getting revenue from on-line subscribers, and that's because of its special and tax-deductible specialty as the indispensable business paper. Even the New York Times, America's number one national general interest newspaper, failed with TimesSelect.

I'd like to think that a micropayment system might work, but I just don't believe it. No one wants to read with the meter running. (Micropayments would be a far better solution to email spam, as Bob Metcalfe long ago argued in the departed dead tree edition of InfoWorld.)

Ad it all up

That means we're stuck with advertising. Web browsers make many wicked annoying ad types possible. The Globe now pops up ads when you click a link. I kill them as fast as I can. Pop-unders are hardly better. But the worst ad type is a hijacking ad; the Minneapolis Star Tribune pops up borderless ads with transparent backgrounds. Try to click a link under the ad pane and you get jerked over to a commerce site that you're probably not interested in since you were trying to click something else. In fact, the Star Tribune probably gets to charge its sponsors more money because they generated a click-through, even if that does border on fraud.

There are going to be product placements, too. When I used to still be willing to watch all the fluff on CNN TV, about half the stories felt like placements to me. The conscientious sites will label ads. Many others won't.


Crystal balls are notorious producers of bullshit. This one may be no exception.

Print media already serve a market segment rather than everyone who wants news. Most people don't read much if they can avoid it. They'd rather see pretty pictures. Print-oriented news sites that descend from newspapers need to recognize that not everyone wants to read, and they should serve those who do want to read. No doubt, they still need to be visually attractive and easy to use, both for their core customers and to attract new ones.

Print media companies will not be virtual corporations, though sometimes they will look like them. Instead, they will have their niches, and they will aggregate everything else. Each day will be a rap track that samples heavily from other sources. Assigning rights and payments will be a matter for lawsuits, evolving markets, and eventually statutes.

To this point, news aggregators mainly suck. Most aggregation sites are automated, ugly, and hard to navigate. I use the blog aggregator BlogNetNews, but the learning curve there is steep, and their rankings are easily manipulated. Technical problems will be solved, not by magic but first by proprietary software and then by open source. Or maybe open source will get there first, last, and only.

The sites that the aggregators aggregate will have all sorts of sizes and specialties. The advertisers will determine which ones survive as businesses and which are left to hobbyists. If I claimed I could tell in advance what type of organizations would be best suited for the new environment, well, I might be the Bernie Madoff of new media.

One thing that will be especially hard to judge is the relationship of one site to others. Do you share traffic, or are you competing for the same traffic? With this post, I want to share NewsTechZilla's traffic. Since I'm not working this subject every day, that's probably fine with my blog friends, but what if I did want to poach on their preserve? Is building a larger conversation more important than hosting the conversation? It will depend...

The answer will affect how much link-sharing sites want to do. The Globe links to me, primarily I'm sure because I asked early. They'll get stingier later. Most of the Globe site, in fact, is already verrry stingy with links, which is one of the reasons I suspect that their business people really don't understand how doomed their current business model is. (Or maybe their owners at the NYT are making them, as a hedge. Except that the NYT does not encourage its commenters to link, either.)

My suggestion for a rule: If you have even one order of magnitude more traffic, link away. You'll help the little site, and its owner will be grateful. (Against that, CNN used to give me links, and I constantly bit the hand that fed me.)

The new media winners will be good enough that they can link freely to interesting and vivid one-offs without losing their readers to the linked site. Their readers will continue to trust them to find - and sometimes, to re-report - nuggets that would otherwise wind up buried in the avalanche of mostly crappy content. Chances are, for example, if you won't help your commenters link to their blogs or whatever, you don't have enough confidence in the uniqueness and quality of your content to build a permanent audience.

I don't make the news

What's the upshot for reporters and columnists? The generalist days are probably gone, and this is a loss. Both reporters and columnists need areas of special expertise. Don't blame me; I'm just calling it as I see it.

Tom Friedman and Bill Kristol have been superficial or wrong so many times that it's a wonder they still have jobs that don't involve upselling French fries. Many political bloggers do a better job without expense accounts, though of course you have to find them. That will be the future role of op-ed editors.

Reporters need forensic accounting or business experience or foreign studies or public administration or something else that will permit them to do much more than rewrite press releases. They need math and science. (Sorry!) Because so many of us crazy semi-pros and amateurs are willing to spend Sunday afternoon writing analyses like this, reporters need knowledge that is rare, and English usage is not rare enough.

Reporters will need one integrated skill that columnists are supposed to have: the willingness to call bullshit and make it stick by deft display of facts. They don't need a visible point of view; there's plenty of that for free. But the jejune, faux balanced story structure pioneered by Time Magazine of thesis-antithesis-superior shrug is not going to cut it.

Reporters will need to be able to write short. Yeah, I still need to figure that one out. But at least I gave you cut-lines.

Update (1/5): One classic example of expertise that takes one slice of news stack and owns it is Nate Silver's 538.