The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Some US political history stuff online

The not search but serendipity principle on which the net seems to operate requires one to snap up URLs when they come to hand, not when one needs them.

In that spirit, one or two interesting pieces germane to the stuff you'll find around here:

A book (in HTML chunks) called The New York Rapid Transit Decision of 1900:
Economy, Society, Politics
by Wallace B Katz - a period in New York City politics last discussed here in connection with the career of William Travers Jerome on January 10. (It looks like there's plenty of other interesting stuff on the New York Subway site.)

Then there's a 16,000 word piece profiling a number of pols, many of whom are friends of the blog: Frank Hague, Ed Crump, James Curley, Huey Long, Eugene Talmadge, Tom Pendergast, Theodore Bilbo, Arthur Samish (the only one I'd never heard of - from California), and Richard Daley.

And a gallimaufry of fact and gossip about Franklin Roosevelt (the FDR Scandal Page).

Beyond the general admonition caveat lector, this sort of piece is naturally to be read with more than a little scepticism: it's of value for providing leads to be checked out, not for its reliability.

(It seems to me that the trouble with FDR, much hated in his time (as, evidently, by the author of the Scandal Page!), is that most of the biographies and the like that the Great Unwashed are likely to stumble over in libraries and regular bookshops tend to the hagiographic. I recall reading Albert Fried's FDR and his Enemies, according to which - though memory may be playing tricks - without exception, said enemies either came round to FDR's way of thinking, or proved themselves in some way of inferior worth.)

I find I mentioned Samuel P Orth's The Boss and the Machine in a piece on August 8 2003 on prosecutors who turned their fame into political capital.


Couple of gems in Guardian Hutton op-eds

I tend no to go much on op-eds, which tend to be piles of commonplaces gift-wrapped in celebrity. Or tendentious bollocks, if you will.

The Guardian's are usually pretty bad: unlike its straighter reporting, which also comes with the quick loading online and the free archive going back to late 1998 [1].

Today, though: a piece by old hand Max Hastings has a delightful anecdote about Peter Mandelson, once Blair's Svengali (or so it seemed at the time), and a guy whose grip on the truth is relaxed to non-existent.

The theme of the piece is that all pols lie; Hutton took their words as gospel; the exoneration followed from this appreciation.

As for the hacks, the effect of the almost total one-sidedness of the report is a call to arms:
Hutton's implicit beatification of Blair, Campbell, Hoon and their colleagues makes it intolerable to see our grubby trade face the music alone.

In a second piece by lefty scribe John Kampfner, there's quoted Alastair Campbell's famous description of the BBC as a
downmarket, dumbed-down, over-staffed, over-bureaucratic, ridiculous organisation
whose role should be to allow
democratically-elected politicians to speak for themselves, free and unedited.

Rather similar to George Bush's Filter idea, in fact. Great minds...

The intial keenness of the Number 10 machine to put the boot in - with spokesman Tom Kelly, the guy who joked with a journalist about the (by then dead) David Kelly having been a Walter Mitty character, warning the BBC that its initial apology was insufficient - is some indication that the Campbell view of the Corporation is far from dead in Blair's inner circle of advisers.

(Only the unconditional surrender of the subsequent Richard Ryder apology brought a little restraint from HMG.)

  1. The only name US paper with a decent free archive is the San Francisco Chronicle - which goes back to 1995, from memory. Or did - haven't checked recently.


Just working away at the Hutton Report, and note on p182 remarks of Alastair Campbell [1] to compare and contrast with those quoted above:
I believe the BBC is one of the country's greatest assets and I have long been an admirer of its ethos, much of its journalism and many of its journalists.

  1. In a letter dated July 5 2003 to then BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies.


New York Times writer threatens libel suit against critical blogger

[Corrected 5:10 AM]

I flagged (January 29) Jack Shafer's piece on his doubts about an article by Peter Landesman on sex slaves in America.

In the interim, all hell broke loose: Shafer's latest piece leads to all the relevant links.

The blogger concerned is Daniel Radosh, who had the temerity to link, interrogatively and by allusion, the Landesman case with - let's just say a party with whom Landesman had no desire to be linked. (Ever heard of forum-shopping? Not that Mr Landesman would ever consider such a thing. Which would be completely legal if he did. Just to clear that up.)

The editor of the Times Magazine, Gerry Marzorati, wrote to Shafer, in response to an email on the threats from Landesman to Radosh, saying
When I found out about it yesterday, I e-mailed an apology to Radosh, and Landesman, I believe, has apologized to him, too. If you too felt or feel threatened, that apology extends to you, sincerely. I want you to understand that there will be absolutely no repercussions from me, the Times, or Landesman for expressing your opinions.

Which is fine.

Except that Shafer says
I e-mailed Landesman asking if he still planned to send his lawyers after Radosh. His response in full: "No comment."

Marzorati's no repercussions assurance only applies in terms to Shafer. I'm unclear whether the apology given by Marzorati to Radosh included an assurance that no further action would be take against him
  1. by the Times; or

  2. by either the Times and by Landesman.

And, if the latter, whether Marzorati had Landesman's authority to give such an assurance.

I am also unclear to what extent the Times may have contractual rights to affect whether and how Landesman takes legal action in relation to work published by it. Is he an employee of the NYT Company - his description at the bottom of the article is contributing writer - which sounds as if it might equally be a staff writer or a freelance. One would imagine that the Times' control over actions taken by a freelance - an independent contractor - might be less than over those taken by an employee. But no doubt a freelance contract could be drafted to cover the point.

The will on the part of Marzorati seems, to judge from his email to Shafer, to be that the matter be treat as closed. Landesman's email to Shafer seems more directed at the manner of his contact with Radosh, rather than the substance.

Emails from the pair to Radosh, not reproduced by Shafer, are in the same sense, as Shafer describes them.

Clearly, the Times has a commercial interest in seeing that its journalists do not precipitately commence legal suits in relation to work it publishes. I cannot believe that the contractual arrangements it makes with all its writers, whatever their legal status, do not protect it in this respect.

A case to keep an eye on.

[I had misread the Shafer piece so far as not to credit Marzorati with his evident desire to avoid further repercussions arising from the incident.

However, the questions remain whether Landesman will pursue legal action against Radosh; and what, if anything, the Times can do to interfere with that action.]


Alterman has the word for Tom Friedman

Eric Alterman has a piece on liberal hawks and whether they've adjusted or recanted their support for the war.

I suspect axes may be grinding here; but he has a nice line on Thomas Friedman, aka Friedman of Arabia - who is still a warnik, talking about
...his inclination to give the US side the benefit of every conceivable doubt
[1] and referring to
his oft-proclaimed optimism--a more accurate term might be "ahistorical naïveté"

And isn't there a lot of that about...

  1. You don't think he was devilling for Hutton, for pin money?

Friday, January 30, 2004

The New McCarthyism down Florida way

Students at Archbishop McCarthy High, in Broward County, get a civics lesson from the judges of the Florida State Thespians District 13 one-act play competition (South Florida Sun-Sentinel January 30).

In a freelance act of interposition that would gladden the hearts of old White Citizens Council hands, one Melody Wicht (a local teacher judging the competition) decided that the AMH offering should be disqualified because the action of the play involved the cutting up of the US flag.

(The pìece, The Children's Story by James Clavell, is set in a US under foreign occupation. It's a patriotic play.)

Unfortunately, certain of the audience who failed to get the point of the play decided to whinge (grievance-mongering is an equal opportunity occupation) and, needless to say, the line of least resistance was taken. (Whether there was an ambulance-chaser in the hall touting for business so as to suggest that a shakedown was in prospect, I know not.)

Not that Ms Wicht isn't something of a legal expert herself, it seems:
Wicht said she based her decision on Florida Statute 876.52, which says "Whoever publicly mutilates, defaces or tramples with intent to insult any flag ... of the United States shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree."

Now, I want some 5Ws here: at what stage did Wicht become aware of this statute? Who drew it to her attention? That sort of thing.

Unfortunately, for Wicht, it seems that the Supremes have already visited the question of flag-desecration laws, and found them to be unconstitutional, in Texas v Johnson (1989) [1]. If there is a valid distinction between the Texas law struck down and the Florida brandished by Wicht, I can't see it.

Any chance of action by the AMH kids to vindicate their constitutional rights? It's not clear. But one of the parents is
is worried that the incident will mean an enduring bias against McCarthy's drama club
which shows about as much fighting spirit as the judges. On the other hand she does say
she's glad they stirred things up.

So perhaps she might be open to stirring things up a bit more.

At least as far as Wicht paying a visit to AMH to point out her legal error. As an act of pedagogy, if not of contrition.

  1. Scalia voting with the good guys; Injustice O'Connor joining in Rehnquist's dissent.


Schwarzenegger and the California prison goons - how's he doing?

Over the other side of the country, the media-friendly side of politics is preoccupying folks: the polls, the speeches, the candidates' wives - all the news that's fit for Diane Sawyer to mou about.

In the Golden State, it's all rather different.

Last year, the focus was on the Indian casino racket [1]. The 'generosity' of white pols (aided and abetted by a population that - to be charitable - may not have entirely appreciated the object of the exercise [2]) has spawned an industry producing revenues of around $5 billion a year. The gratitude of the Indians has been amply demonstrated - too amply, in the case of MEChA Man of La Raza Cruz Bustamante, whose wampum shipments were adjudged illegal during the gubernatorial campaign last September [3].

The Indians, so far as I'm aware, got away with their stash purely through the greed and folly of the paleface. Nobody got physically hurt.

A very different kettle of fish is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association [4], which, together with California politicians of both parties, seems to represent a variation on the combination of politics and organised crime that characterised American politics through much of the 20th century.

Unlike his two predecessors, Arnold Schwarzenegger took no money from the CCPOA in getting to be Governor. He is therefore, one might have thought, handily placed to set the criminal investigatory resources of the state (the fifth largest economy in the world, from memory) to taking the CCPOA apart and seeing its malefactors brought to justice.

(I suspect that there are a whole host of legislators, Republican as well as Democrat, who have come to rely on CCPOA money, and who would take unkindly to anything that stemmed the flow. And Arnie has budgets to pass, and so forth.

But, when Arnie said politics as usual had to go [5], he wasn't contemplating re-election, was he?)

His first notable action in the area leaves some room for doubt: he's decided to shut down the Office of Inspector-General, an independent watchdog responsible for monitoring the California Department of Corrections (San Francisco Chronicle January 28). And the Inspector-General himself, John Chen, has been fired.

The OIG received some attention from erstwhile governor Gray Davis (who was up to his neck in CCPOA moolah). According to the piece,
In the past two years, the inspector general's budget has been cut by 77 percent; it has only 19 employees now.

The budget moving in inverse ratio to the volume of CCPOA criminality? Or to the volume of CCPOA contributions?

Arnie says
I think that if there is a way of doing it and really letting the inspector general do the work that he is really needs to do, then I would consider that. But I have not seen that. Right now it has been a waste.

(Also this.)

Whatever way round the causality works, it seems that the OIG has been ineffective; as an editorial in the Pasadena Star-News says, referring to a gang of prison guards at Salinas Valley State Prison (January 28),
Given that the IG first uncovered the Green Wall gang in 1999 and is charged with oversight of the entire correction system, we'd say this dog is toothless.

So perhaps a new team, close to Arnie's office, with the face-time with the big man, and the budget, it needs, is the way to kick-start the effort to clean up the prisons, and the CCPOA.

But going along will be so much easier - by a factor of zillions. The experience seems to be that busting union rackets is hard work. And when the union concerned has got into the body politic like a virus - which the CCPOA seems to have managed - it's easy to argue that the cure is worse than the disease.

(My impression is that guards in public prisons are barred from striking by California law. But I suspect it would not take much goon-led disruption to bring the whole system to crisis point in fairly short order.)

Over to Arnie...

  1. Discussed more generally on October 16.

  2. To provide a large and regular cash flow, from which pols might expect to receive kickbacks - to their campaign funds, natch. All perfectly legal.

  3. Though the pols, like naive settlers of 100 years earlier, were not prudent in what they signed: long-term compacts (think of a dud car in a crusher) and the nonsense of tribal sovereignty leaves them with little leverage to put things right. Unless the gaming tribes - to which most Indians don't belong - decide to be extra greedy. And what are the odds...

  4. Last discussed on January 24.

  5. He said
    For the people to win, politics as usual must lose
    according to this.


A suitable late Christmas present for Lord Hutton

Idle mooching on our beloved net lit upon this serendipitous piece (PDF), from students at McMaster University; which led me to think that those who puzzle at Hutton's strange inability to discern the possibility of wrongdoing amongst the denizens of Number 10 Downing Street [1] might find enlightenment in Oliver Sacks' book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.

The state is apparently called agnosia. The cause in Sacks' patient was a large brain tumour - I am not clear whether that is the only possible cause of the symptoms displayed.

I suspect that Hutton's very specialised agnosia may have other causes. We shall see over the next wee while how the newshounds fare in tracking them down.

  1. Compared with his eagle eye for error at the BBC.


WMD dissembling - Economist surpasses itself

Now I find I have access to the full version via the local library, I've been tasting the merchandise. And pretty thin gruel it tends to be.

Firstly, it's completely dead, net-wise: no links at all.

Secondly, its pieces make following up elements of the story particularly tricky: the sort of 5Ws material that Mr Google needs to function at all is often sparingly given.

Thirdly, the tone of sophomoric smugness.

A piece [1] on WMD (via Crooked Timber) is a more than worthy exemplar.

The Economist, to the best of my recollection, was a staunch supporter of the war. Now, the WMD quest appears futile. And fig-leaves are sought.

(Regular readers may be surprised at the controversy: when the Great UN Flap was on, in the era of the Saleable Six, the Jack and Dominique Show in the open Security Council meetings - dozens of pieces in the archives here from January 2003 onwards - all the talk was of breaches of UN Security Council resolutions. I had all the numbers in my head, ready.

And the legal justification, as supplied by the English Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, for the Iraq invasion was entirely based on such breaches.

Now, George has had his war. And I couldn't be certain about a singled blessed UNSCR number. Pre-emption, shpre-emption!)

The piece asks
did the president of the United States and the British prime minister lie?

And the answer?
Not a scrap of evidence has emerged since the war to suggest that Mr Bush or Mr Blair doubted the truth of their central claim.

Sez the Economist. And if it means that no taped confession has emerged, that's certainly right.

The question was always whether the
  1. the extreme anxiety of Bush to invade Iraq, and Blair's eagerness to stay onside with the Americans, was a correct frame of mind with which to approach the intelligence material; and

  2. the quality of the intelligence was so diabolically bad that its acceptance as accurate inevitably led to a conclusion of bad faith in those so doing.

(We are told that Dabbagh, the source of the 45 minute intelligence - the crock of shit - is now in hiding (January 28). As well he might be.)

The piece suggests that the intelligence (as it appeared at the time) wasn't that bad; or, at least, had been consistent for some time. And, intelligence aside,
If he had nothing to hide, why forgo billions of dollars of oil revenues instead of ending sanctions by showing the inspectors he had fully disarmed?

No smoke without fire. It says
a country with Iraq's record deserved no presumption of innocence.

Whereas what it's actually talking about is a presumption of guilt. This is not one of those foreign policy questions that are lites [2]: clearly, to impose a standard of proof on the balance of probabilities (the usual standard of proof in civil litigation in common-law jurisdictions) would be inapposite.

But that doesn't mean that a country can legally invade any other that it damned well likes on the merest suspicion that it might pose some level of threat to some country (the invader or a third country) at some future unspecified time.

It's prepared to admit that the pols were not entirely blameless: its subhed is
Not fibbing, but stretching

(It's toying with us now, clearly.)

Did president and prime minister, sincerely believing their central claim against Iraq, allow their conviction to distort the evidence they put before their people? It looks that way.

It mentions the Saddam-al Qaida fantasy; and Blair's decision to allow public misunderstanding of the meaning of the 45 minute intelligence to continue.

But offers no expression of disapproval, even. If Saddam had ditched his WMD and not told anyone, then being invaded was his own silly fault.

So much for international law.

Economist pieces are almost always scribed anonymously. But I think I can discern an enormous Rummy smirk on the faces of the editorial team as they pressed the button on that one...

  1. I'm not sure how long this will remain free. My suspicion is that that loadsa folks (in what used to be called the English-speaking world) get free access via their local library. It may not be a service that is widely advertised (if my library is any guide).

  2. A lis (definition) is a lawsuit; more generally, any dispute that is assimilable to a lawsuit - with parties and an issue that can be submitted to a third party and resolved by an examination of the facts and the application of law.

    For instance, though he never used the word, Lord Hutton was very keen to suggest that his inquiry was not a lis. Some international disputes are (most cases brought before the International Court of Justice are lites); some clearly aren't (eg, the invasion of Poland in 1939).


Why isn't the Civil Rights Division defending the First Amendment?

I'm having a quick skim over at Erin O'Connor's fine, though depressing, blog, and at the top find three pieces in a row (starting here) on the abortive attempt to remove the (a?) speech code at Emory University.

And the thought springs to mind: why isn't the DOJ all over this? Isn't there are Civil Rights Division or something?

I mosey over, and find the various sections of the CRD listed. Nothing remotely First Amendment oriented. The overview page says
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice was established in 1957. The Division is the program institution within the federal government responsible for enforcing federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, handicap, religion, and national origin.

Except it also deals with
the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act
which doesn't sound to me germane to the categories specified.

And also the
...Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980, which authorizes the Attorney General to seek relief for persons confined in public institutions where conditions exist that deprive residents of their constitutional rights

So clearly it can seek to enforce constitutional, as well as statutory, rights.

Since Good Ol' George is spending cash like it's going out of fashion, why not make a start by putting the Feds onto ripping out these blatantly unconstitutional speech codes in public colleges? Then perhaps folks will get the idea that pols are not only interested in the First Amendment to cripple campaign funding laws.


The best line on Hutton to date

Not mine, I'm afraid, but that of Ben Pimlott, political academic and part of the Labour establishment. In his piece in the Guardian - where else? - today, he says of the jobs of an inquiry is to avoid any whisper of a suggestion of partiality. Another is to command credibility. In these respects, the report is almost naive in its lack of equivocation.

That is just about as fine a piece of mandarin prose as you're ever likely to see.

So good that I fear his chances of a peerage may now depend on the next prime minister...

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Gilligan as ideologue: where's the evidence?

It seems that a good number of the blogospherical section of the War Party [1] are currently creaming their jeans over the Hutton Report - or what they've read about what it might do to the hated BBC.

Joining in the immoderate glee is blogosphere journalism guru (and a newspaper journalist by training) Jeff Jarvis, who has a cornucopia of pieces on the Report, the earliest of which is this one [2].

For those for whom the 330 pages of the actual report are a little too much, he offers the offers the following pithy summary of the conclusions:
Tony Blair was right, the BBC was wrong.

Head up its arse.

He has judged the tone of the thing perfectly:
just heard Tony Blair's speech to Parliament on the Hutton report. Brilliant: to the point, direct, demanding. He calls on those who lied about him to recant. We're waiting.

Recant so very much the word. The Inquisition would scarcely have required a rack to persuade the heretics had it been able to call on the services of the good Lord H.

The lather is foaming nicely:
This is not a good day for big, old, traditional news media. It is, however, a good day for the truth.

The BBC accused the Blair government of lying about war when, in fact, the BBC lied about Blair. Now Lord Hutton has handed the Beeb its privates on a platter and we wait to see whether the blind, pompous, and self-righteous heads of BBC News -- Gavyn Davies, Greg Dyke, and Richard Sambrook -- plus the alleged reporter who started all this, Andrew Gilligan, first repudiate the lies, second apologize for lying, and third quit in shame.

Readers may recall, in the Mr Smith Goes To Washington, the scene at the Press Club when the assembled hacks give the hapless Jefferson Smith a sort of tag-team lecture on Truth and the essential decency of journalism. Smith does not realise that they are all whores and hypocrites, as demonstrated by subsequent events in the movie; his excuse is that he's a cartoon character: real-life grown-ups know, or should do, that there is no such thing as the truth. And to distrust the motives of those who suggest that there is.

The most loathed of the BBC crew is Gilligan; Samaritans, take note:
the British journalists' union does even worse. They should be chasing him out as the shame of the business but instead:
However, the National Union of Journalists, which represented Gilligan, today hit out at the report's conclusions.

"Whatever Lord Hutton may think, it is clear from the evidence he heard that the dossier was 'sexed up', that many in the intelligence services were unhappy about it, and that Andrew Gilligan's story was substantially correct," said Jeremy Dear, the president of the NUJ, which is representing Gilligan.

Who is, it seems, so vile as not even to deserve representation [3].

Keen observers will have noted (they can obviously verify the original) that Jarvis is taking the Hutton conclusions as gospel. As a slice of that truth he mentions. And, when he finds that there are one or two others who are just a tad sceptical about Hutton's findings:
There's pathetic denial going on in certain circles over the Hutton verdict. The Independent (surprise!) says, "Hutton is accused of a 'whitewash.'" Tee-hee.

Such lack of faith is ridiculous, clearly.

And then, finally, an appearance of balance:
Blair was merely a psychotic liar

If you haven't guessed, he's talking here about Jayson Blair. And Jarvis judges that, in a Jayson Blair head-to-head with Gilligan on journalistic standards,
Gilligan is worse because he does try to act like a real journalist, even as he single-handedly devalues the credibility of the craft.

Gilligan is worse because he operates on an agenda -- anti-war, anti-American, anti-Blair.

Gilligan is worse because he has defenders who share his agenda -- BBC executives, numbnutty journalist unions -- and who will fall with Gilligan and risk bringing down the BBC and, again, the credibility of jouranlism with them.

Gilligan is worse because he does not have even the same decency as a psychotic liar; he does not have the decency to save his network and his profession; he does not have the decency to quit now.

Gilligan is a bad reporter. He is poison to journalism. The last act of his bosses should be to sack him before they then quit.

I love that Old Time Religion [4].

I have yet to see a proper analysis of Gilligan's work covering the dozen years or so that I gather he's been a journalist. And I'm thinking that Jarvis hasn't either - given the way Gilligan looms so large as a hate figure for the guy, he'd surely have quoted it if it existed.

But take this piece from the (London) Telegraph - from June 6 2003.

Now, although the Telegraph has traditionally supported the Conservative Party (indeed is known, with more or less irony, as the Torygraph), it was a keen supporter of Tony Blair's policy in Iraq before the war, and of his decision to join the invasion [5].

Moreover, the paper is itself a long-time severe critic of the BBC, going so far as to launch a BBC Bias Watch campaign in September 2003.

Any comfort from the Telegraph for Gilligan is therefore evidence given against interest - the best sort one can have.

The June 6 piece is - unlike the Hutton Report (to pluck an example out of the air) - not a one-sided affair. Gilligan is not an unmitigated blessing to a news organisation, that is clear. But
...despite the frequency with which he has clashed with Labour it is understood that Gilligan has no party affiliations or overt political sympathies...

For all his idiosyncrasies, however, it is hard to fault Gilligan's record. A newspaper executive who worked with him says: "Some people regarded him as a chancer. But he was always scrupulous about accuracy and the use of words."

It also suggests that
...Gilligan has a mild propensity to editorialise

But the piece goes on to point out that
Gilligan now appears to have been vindicated over his WMD story.

One might be tempted to compare the measured approach of this piece with
Tony Blair was right, the BBC was wrong.

Head up its arse.

Finally, one has today's instalment:
BBC honcho Greg Dyke resigns. This is the same sanctimonious prig who lectured U.S. media: "For any news organisation to act as a cheerleader for government is to undermine your credibility. They should be... balancing their coverage, not banging the drum for one side or the other." Mr. Dykes (sic), for any news organization to act as a cheerleader against governent (sic) is to undermind your credibility, wouldn't you say?

Next: Bring us the head of Andrew Gilligan

I'm not sure there weren't one or two Americans who had their doubts about US media coverage of the war [6].

Does he really mean any news organisation? I'm no expert, of course; but I seem to remember that there were one or two US papers that were regularly pretty strident about then President Clinton.

Besides which, he adduces no evidence for his allegation that the BBC is cheerleading against Blair [7]. There is plenty of evidence - furnished to Lord Hutton, and available for all to read on the Inquiry site - that allegations of bias were systematically used by Alastair Campbell and his fellow Blair spinners as a wedge to attempt to secure more favourable BBC coverage for Blair.

All told, it's a striking piece of work. There is, for example, not the slightest hint of the context of the UK media scene. The role Rupert Murdoch (owner of the Sun and Times) plays, as controlling, via News Corp and Sky, a large slice of UK media cash flow [8] - and the extraordinary, mutually beneficial relationship between Murdoch and Blair.

The role of the Sun as Blair cheerleader par excellence has not gone unnoticed this side of the pond. Murdoch even speaks personally for Blair at his hour of need.

Nor the eagerest sign of scepticism towards the process by which Lord Hutton arrived at his conclusions; of comparison of the evidence he took with those conclusions - of the application of any critical faculty whatever.

Now, a skim down the homepage of this blog will reveal that I am no apologist for journalists or journalism. And some of Gilligan's output clearly left a lot to be desired.

A reader of Jarvis' pieces on the Hutton Report may feel invited to make a comparison of the quality of the critical work with that of the work criticised. Unlike the Hutton Report, the evaluation may turn out not to be entirely one-sided.

  1. Which war? Parodists should be seeking out the old Hermione Gingold favourite, Which Witch, I fancy.

  2. I shan't repeat the links he gives. My piece follows his chronologically.

  3. Unlike, say...oops, Godwin's Law alert!

  4. Inherit The Wind reflux.

  5. An editorial on the subject from March 18 2003.

  6. Notably, Christiane Amanpour of CNN, of course, à propos of whom Fox's Irena Briganti memorably said
    Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.

  7. My impression - no more - is that the BBC is far too large and shambolically organised to cheerlead for anything.

  8. Over £3 billion in revenues in 2003 - not far short of total BBC revenues. The health of Murdoch's Sky revenues - in particular, the expansion in its UK media businesses - are dependent on regulations and regulators.


BBC journalism, tough interviewing, not getting carried away...

The NPR ombud Jeffrey Dvorkin has a piece on the Dick Cheney interview on Morning Edition on January 22. There'd been complaints about softball questioning.

Which led to Dvorkin raising the BBC comparison:
Many asked why NPR is not more like the BBC. However the "in-your-face" interview style as practiced by the BBC ("Oh come on Prime Minister. Do you really expect anyone to believe that?") is not done on NPR and American political interviews -- for a number of journalistic, cultural and stylistic reasons that are probably good subjects for a future column.

Strangely, it's a technique most associated with the Today programme that broadcast the Andrew Gilligan report that was the sine qua non of the Hutton Inquiry.

The bozos who run the show thinks it makes for incisive journalism that gets at the facts; in fact, it's a ritual as contentless as Changing the Guard over at Buck House. (The futility of the political interview last discussed on January 23.)

For what should be the way forward in broadcast journalism, go to the BBC's File on Four page - with transcripts or streaming of a number of past editions.

FoF are forty minute radio shows directed, usually, at a narrow topic, narrated by the reporter, with shorts interview clips cut in. Top three on the list of the last series' shows are:
9 December - Romania: Child protection

2 December - Public Interest Immunity

25th November - Armed forces cutbacks

The narration is usually clear and logical, states a point to prove at the outset, introduces the evidence, and sums up on the extent to which QED has been achieved.

(The presenters often interview ministers; and these are usually the most unsatisfactory parts of the programme.)

Often, the programme produces a complete slam-dunk against the government of the day. But the Not Invented Here mindset of - to pick an outfit off the top of the head - the producers of the Today programme mean that the painstaking journalism done by the FoF people is not picked up by other shows. There's no momentum [1]. so the story trickles into the sand.

This is what I think of as real journalism: the standard political interview, whether polite or snippy, is empty calories.

If the Hutton Report meant that the BBC would quit the format altogether, then it would have been of some benefit to humanity. They won't, and it isn't.

  1. In fact, it's very much like Joementum.


A couple of Hutton conspiracy theories

Just to be quite clear here: I don't believe either of these theories, for the simple reason that there is no cogent evidence to support either. They're merely stated for the purpose of identification and elimination; and, of course, to stand ready in case such evidence emerges later on.

Theory #1

Far from being disappointed that Hutton should have produced such a blatantly one-sided report, Blair actually planned it that way.

Following various media débâcles, and a continuous low-level war against the BBC, he wanted to demonstrate its mastery of an essential part of the British Filter. For Hutton to have issued a fair report would have been useless - no evidence of mastery there. What Blair needed to demonstrate the potency of his machine was to engineer a blatantly unfair report - a report inconsistent on its face, and with the evidence that Joe Blow could read on the Hutton website. A completely indefensible report.

And to make the BBC accept it. And kow-tow, and apologise for everything. (Which, indeed, is exactly what has happened, with acting chairman Richard Ryder's [1] abject and unspecific).

Theory #2

Hutton produced his nullification under some kind of duress. He sat as a so-called Diplock judge on various terrorist cases in Northern Ireland, and HMG is in possession of certain knowledge which, if released to ex-terrorists (or - more accurately - terrorists currently on furlough), would make him an assassination target.

Or there is some other, non-Ulster-related matter with which he has been blackmailed.

As I said, I don't believe either theory. But if new evidence emerges, reconsideration may become necessary.

  1. Deputy Chairman Lord Ryder, formerly Tory Chief Whip. The implication of the apology, since it does not specify the elements of reporting that it is apologising for, is that the BBC is withdrawing all its allegations on the dossier.


Further pondering produces a further conspiracy theory, going further back into chronology:

Alastair Campbell, veteran political hack before his appointment as top Labour spinner in 1994 (from memory), knows the machinations of the BBC well - from personal experience, as well as endless hours in pubs with complaining BBC johnnies.

Consider whether the forward strategy adopted by Campbell in opposition, and then continued after Blair's victory in 1997 was not conceived with an occurrence like the Gilligan affair in mind.

AC would cry wolf every hour on the hour. And his trained seals would do likewise. All specific stuff, needing man-hours of BBC research to answer.

Broadcasting snafus were pretty much guaranteed, but, in themselves, were unlikely to give AC his casus belli. But the wolf policy made likely a complaints snafu that would compound the situation in such a way as to breach the threshold for all-out war.

It was a win-win for AC: the regular artillery barrage would keep the BBC under the cosh, and liable to flinch, rather than defend the defensible. And, eventually, things would go nuclear with a Gilligan-type situation.

The strategy is not a million miles away from the Likud strategy in Israel [1]. Just as carpet-bombing Gaza is not (for the moment) politically possible, neither is reducing the BBC to subscription-only (by taking away the licence-fee, its main source of income.)

AC picks at the BBC to encourage it to come after the government, and escalate the conflict; Israel expands settlements, builds the Wall (oops, Fence), restricts movement into Israel proper.

Eventually, the BBC/Palestinian response crosses the line and - bingo! the BBC's Charter is torn up; the less-than-friendly bombs drop on Gaza.

As with the other two, it's just a theory: and stays theoretical until good evidence is forthcoming.

And, even if AC had the plan (were still hypothetical here), I suspect he might have kept prissy-knickers Blair in the dark about it.

  1. It's a cartoon representation, an abstraction for argument's sake - of course, it's much more complicated in reality.


RSS - looks as if it's back to normal

Pro tem, the old feed - on the old URL - is back - and the old link has been put back in the left-hand column. The Atom buggeration is over.

No guarantees on how long it'll last...


Primary turnout stats, VEPs and VAPs

Tracking down stats on the net is a bitch, as mentioned here several times before.

Looking at the numbers generally for New Hampshire on the newspaper sites (one or two of them), I could find no turnout numbers.

The United States Election Project has turnout stats for 2000 and 2004, state by state. The 2000 turnout percentage was 44% (on VEP - see below); according to this, the 2004 turnout was Dems around 220,000 [1], GOP around 58,000 - total; around 280,000). That last number makes a turnout percentage (again, VEP) of 29%.

Which, considering the Mouse That Roared absurdity of the First in the Nation bollocks, does not exactly scream commitment on the part of Granite State voters. (Even adjusting for the 2004 GOP walkover, and for the general statistical non-comparability of registration numbers - as described at the top of the USEP page).

Terminology: VAP is voting age population; VEP is voting-eligible population (VAP minus the illegals and other foreigners, and other ineligibles). I'd wondered what the right terminology was: this will do for the moment.

  1. Why in hell's name don't they give a total at the bottom of the votes column?


Has Jack Shafer landed another Jimmy's World?

Pick up the story (and URLs) from his latest piece.

We're talking about Peter Landesman's sex slaves article for the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, and various TV shows he did to plug the piece. Shafer cites some good circumstantial evidence that needs explaining - stuff throwing doubt on credibility.

But this looks in a different league (talking about his lead subject, Andrea):
On Fresh Air, Landesman damages Andrea's status as a source when he mentions that she "suffers from multiple personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder," facts not contained in his Magazine piece. If this is the case, how much of Andrea's story should we believe? Were his editors aware of the mental condition of one of his primary sources? Has Landesman corroborated any of her testimony or is he taking it all at face value?

Since we're now witnessing an explosion of rejoicing [1] in certain sections of the US portion of the blogosphere about the discomfiture of the BBC over the Hutton Report, it may be as well to note the regular evidence (of one degree of cogency and another) of persistent editorial ineptitude and indolence at the acme of American journalism [2].

Where they have an ombudsman but (January 14) no fact-checking department.

Is Landesman's piece yet quite in the class of Janet Cooke's Jimmy's World? Perhaps not on what Shafer's got so far. But it looks as if he's keeping on digging.

  1. I'm reminded of the famous (in the UK, for those of a certain age) cover of the soi-disant satirical magazine Private Eye of Zulu warriors prancing with assegais, with the caption
    Verwoerd: A Nation Mourns
    following the guy's assassination in 1966.

    The bloggers are nowhere near as ecstatic as Rupert Murdoch, of course, who is looking to see the 2006 BBC Charter cast the Corporation into the dungeon of subscription-only highbrow TV. Blair and Murdoch: the continuation of a beautiful friendship...

  2. How are journalistic standards over at the neocon's closest rag, the Moonies' Washington Times, I wonder? Is the fact we hear so much less about the Wash Times' snafus because it makes so few? Or is so much better at covering them up? Or because most people don't take the blindest notice of what's written there? Now I'm curious...

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

That old American speech thermometer heads slowly South

It is, right now, just -18F in International Falls, MN. Positively Amazonian compared to the temperature of speech in the US right now, to judge from the succession of bad-news cases [1].

Jeff Jacoby (who should can his photo byline stat, by the way) is talking about Omaha's Trevor Richards, the real African-American (last seen here on January 23); and about Jennifer Cundiff:
Back in February 2001, the Southwest Airlines flight attendant was trying to coax passengers boarding a flight from Las Vegas to Kansas City to find their seats quickly so the plane could take off. "Eenie meenie minie moe," she said over the intercom, "pick a seat, we gotta go."

Off went the klaxon, and the shakedown was on:
...two black passengers...Louise Sawyer and Grace Fuller, who are sisters, interpreted Cundiff's couplet as a racist insult and said they were sure it was intended to humiliate them. It was so upsetting, Fuller claimed, that it triggered a seizure and left her bedridden for days. Eventually the women sued, charging Southwest with violating their civil rights and inflicting physical and emotional distress.

(Was Jesse Jackson contacted? If so, did he participate in the shakedown? Did he enquire as to the standard of pulchritude of the plaintiffs?)

Cundiff, no doubt, showed a shocking lack of racial awareness. Eeny meeny is not for mixed company, surely. Except, according to Jacoby,
Unless you're old enough to remember flappers and speakeasies, you probably don't know that the words that originally followed "eenie, meenie, minie, moe" were "catch a nigger by the toe." Cundiff, who was 22, certainly didn't know. Like most of us, she grew up saying "catch a tiger by the toe" -- she had never heard the older, uglier version

Well, Prohibition [2] was long gone when my cord was cut, and there was only ever one version I heard. And tigers weren't in it.

The shakedown was on; and, it seems, US District Judge Kathryn Vratil blew out the motion for summary judgement. Just like as if it was Ally McBeal and entertainment justified nullification. The jury killed the shakedown - Hallelujah! But the defendants picked up their own tab, as I believe is usual.

Jacoby picks the essential, speech-chilling, point.

In a way, the shakedown artists may have done Jennifer Cundiff a favour: because the airline had been sued, it could hardly fire her. Not while the case was ongoing (one to watch, clearly).

But the word will clearly have gone out to cabin crew to cut out the improv, or else.

The most depressing thing about the speech-chilling business is the evident lack of fight in large swathes of those whose hard-won liberties are being eroded. And, in a lot of cases were free speech is under attack, the protection of the First Amendment is not relevant (because the speech-chilling is not being done by a public body), and therefore only political pressure is available to defend speech rights.

All the more puzzling to one who comes from a country where the ultimate legal safeguard of free speech is this monstrosity (Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights):
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information an ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The guy [3] who drafted that must have had a Rummy smirk when he'd finished! It's the equivalent of the Civil Rights Act of 1957: a civil rights act without any civil rights in it [4].

  1. The stuff is anecdotal, and that's certainly a worry. Would good news on free speech actually be news as far as Big Media is concerned? My guess is yes, in many cases - a college that tore up its speech code, that welcomed affirmative action bake sales, that established robust rules to bar shakedowns like the one fictionalised in The Human Stain. Yep, I reckon those would make the papers. Or rather, the whining from the usual suspects would.

    But proper quantitative research is needed. Unless it's there and I haven't seen it. And how likely is that?

  2. Rivalling affirmative action as a piece of social engineering that seemed a good idea at the time.

  3. From memory, he was British! The ECHR was meant to be the UK's gift of constitutionality to the banana republics of the Continent that slipped into authoritarianism, Communism or worse at the drop of a hat. At a time when HMG assumed that Britain was not included in any political use of the word Europe. Although, as a member of the Council of Europe, the ECHR applied to the UK from the start (1950ish), I think British pols thought we were so self-evidently democratic that it wouldn't actually affect us.

    And never forget that the French had their last successful military coup in 1958.

  4. Well, perhaps a few. The Keith Finley thesis and Robert Caro's Master of the Senate have the story. It's the locus classicus for Senate legislative management. There's a Shakespearian (as well as soap-opera) quality about the thing: and, for a dyed-in-the-wool villain, Lyndon Johnson is well worthy of the Bard. And knocks fellow Texan JR Ewing into a cocked-hat.

This mildly interesting op-ed includes the information that Westside High School rebel-with-a-cause real African-American Trevor Richard's buddies in the postering caper were - 16-year-old twins Paul and Scott Rambo.


Teflon Tony just a bit too greedy on Hutton nullification?

Blair to Hutton: You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

(Extensive comments on Hutton Inquiry evidence in the August to October archives.)

Rounding up some initial impressions:
  1. Par for the course would have been a fudge: some blame (nothing fatal) spread generously around. Instead, except in minor detail, HMG comes away Persil-white, while the BBC is cast into the well of slurry.

    Problem is, that's not what the evidence says that the good Lord Hutton took for all those weeks. The ins and outs of the nullification clearly need to be looked at.

  2. The report runs to barely more than 300 pages, instead of the 800-1000 promised. And most of the content is quotes from materials already on the website. So what was taking him all that time? And why did the publication date slip from November to almost February, if it was the amount of writing he had to do?

  3. An initial skim through the 45 minute question part of the report finds, without the least digging, the following oddity (para 164 - emphasis mine):
    The JIC, which meets once a week in the Cabinet Office, is responsible for the presentation of assessed intelligence to the Prime Minister and theGovernment. Since September 2001 the Chairman of the JIC has been Mr John Scarlett and the other members of that Committee are the heads of the three intelligence agencies...together with the Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence (DCDI), and senior officials from the major policy departments of the Government, the FCO, the MoD, the Home Office, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry. Sir David Omand is also a member of the JIC. The JIC is therefore composed of very senior and experienced persons in the field of intelligence ...
    The point is not the evident crass misunderstanding of the meaning of the word consist, but the evidently brazen disregard for the fact, noted in the same sentence, that a good number of the JIC are not intelligence people.

Meanwhile, one may take note of two other developments:

  1. According to the Guardian (January 27) the conduit for the orginal intelligence on the 45 minute point, Nick Theros, the Washington representative of Iyad Allawi, who headed the Iraqi National Accord in exile, has said he passed the 45, along with a large amount of information to MI6:
    We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it.
    Apparently, talking to the BBC Today programme (yes, that one),
    Mr Theros said the information now seemed to be a "crock of shit".
    The supposed purveyor of said crock,
    The former INA spy, who calls himself Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, although this is not his full name, is now said to be "in hiding".
    Dabbagh was, of course, the source for the absurd Con Coughlin of the Telegraph.

  2. Heading towards the Grassy Knoll end of town, some experts are questioning whether David Kelly's death was, in fact suicide (letter to Guardian yesterday, also this). Obviously, the name of Vince Foster flashes up in neon lights right there: any claim like this starts with zero credibility. I have no idea whether the technical queries they raise have any validity. They need evidence to call into question the competence and integrity of those who concluded it was suicide.


One mystery solved: the report as published in PDF form (which several UK news sites were offering) did not include the Appendices (as the offical page makes clear). The Appendices are documents already available on the site. The total is within the expected 800-1,000 range, or just below.


RSS - no solution, but a workaround

It's happened before, and, no doubt, it'll happen again: the old short cut, going north to go south, round the houses: as I've pointed out before, we're still very much in the get out and get under era of the internet.

My apologies for testing the patience of RSS readers - but I can at least now offer a return to normalcy. Pretty much.

The new RSS/XML link you see to your left (as the tour guides say) is the Blogstreet link. Which works in my AmphetaDesk, so I suspect should work in most newsreaders.

There is a slight problem with the Blogstreet feeds: they don't update automatically - you [1] have to go over to the Blogstreet site and give the thing a kick. Metaphorically speaking.

This time, it's not just me, and has nothing to do with Atom. That I can see.

So that's what I'll have to do. Annoyance, yes; but a couple of minutes a go, so doable.

However, if I forget, the RSS copy and HTML copy will be different. I thought I should explain.

As for the not so mighty Atom, I suspect it's probably at the same stage of development as the helicopter - in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci...

  1. Meaning, me.


Inherit The Wind - another for the It Ain't Necessarily So pile

The URL comes to hand of a 1997 piece (by one Carol Inannone, then of New York Univerity's Gallatin School of Individualized Study - it's in regular English, not MLA-speak, though) comparing the story of the play and film with what actually happened in Dayton, TN in 1925 to John Scopes, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan (in the fiction, Bertram Cates, Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady).

One of many cases where fact, with all its complexity, is more interesting than fantasy. Not so much a case of debunking history, more like bunking with history...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A Bill Clinton Mystery. Really.

Well it is to me.

It's all a question of a gap in the narrative. Clinton, my information is, resigned as Governor of Arkansas on December 12 1992. He was, it says, succeeded in that office by Lieutenant-Governor Jim Guy Tucker, who apparently faced re-election only once - in 1994.

The Political Graveyard page for Arkansas Governors indicates the losing candidates in the general elections in 1990 and 1994, but not 1992.

So, the quick question is, Was there an election for Arkansas Governor in 1992 at all?

Article 6 §1 of the Arkansas Constitution says that
The executive department of this State shall consist of a Governor...all of whom shall keep their offices in person at the seat of government and hold their offices for the term of two years and until their successors are elected and qualified...

Art 6 §3 says
The Governor...shall be elected by the qualified electors of the State at large at the time and places of voting for members of the General Assembly

Which according to the annotation to Art 3 §8 is
the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November in every even-numbered year.
No provision not to have an election where the incumbent just happens to be in a US presidential election on the same day!

It gets more puzzling. According to Art 6 §12,
In case of the...resignation...of the Governor, the powers, duties and emoluments of the office for the remainder of the term..., or a Governor elected and qualified, shall devolve upon and accrue to the President of the Senate.

And (§14)
Whenever the office of Governor shall have become vacant by...resignation..., provided such vacancy shall not happen within twelve months next before the expiration of the term of office for which the late Governor shall have been elected, the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, exercising the powers of Governor for the time being, shall immediately cause an election to be held to fill such vacancy, giving by proclamation sixty days' previous notice thereof, which election shall be governed by the same rules prescribed for general elections of Governor as far as applicable...

According to what I read, therefore, Jim Bob Tucker should, ex officio, have come nowhere near the Governorship: the President of the Senate (whoever he was) would have taken over; and then called an election for early 1993 to fill the vacancy left by the resigned Clinton.

So what gives? This should be a political geek's trivia question par excellence - discussed all over the net. So far as I can see, nada.


Clinton impeachment, when Mark Steyn was funny...

Via Samizdata, some Steyn pieces that may not be long on his site.

A sample, dated January 25th 1999:
Finding myself under siege at Castle Monica, I decided to stay in and watch a film available on the hotel's adult video channel: White House Interns...I was gripped from start to finish. White House Interns is a minor masterpiece. The President is played superbly by Vince Voyeur (possibly not his real name), a dead ringer for Mr Clinton except in respect of his nipple ring and his distinguishing characteristics. When first we see him, the President is quizzing an intern immersed in paperwork. `It's budget fluctuations for the past three years,' she says.

`Well, the only thing fluctuating here is in my pants,' he replies. `Why don't we get out the Commander-in-Chief?'


A flash or two of gold amongst the ombud dross

If the will and effectiveness of the media's effort to be accountable are to be judged by the ombud pieces (as rounded up by Romenesko each week), there's not much of either.

This week's crop include endless obsessing about getting names right [1] - and, from Daniel Okrent, the ombud most in the spotlight, post-Jayson Blair, an abject piece (of all of 240 words) on his misquoting a Times hack in an earlier piece.

Michael Getler at least puts his head above the parapet in a parenthetical comment on the Bush imminent threat controversy - in any otherwise uninspiring piece.

Some joy, though, in the Toronto Star in the form of anecdotage used to illustrate the fact that most stuff in quotation marks is not direct quotation.

Early this week, the Star recalled former U.S. vice-president Dan Quayle visited Nicaragua in 1990 after "telling reporters he was boning up on his Latin in order to talk to the locals."

Here's the full quote long linked to the stumble-prone politico: "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so that I could converse with those people."

Terrific. Except as Laura Minter, Quayle's secretary, reports by e-mail: "He never said it." She said it began on late-night TV as "a joke that became mainstream media" until The Washington Post ran an editorial acknowledging the mistake.

One Web site ( attributes the remark to U.S. congresswoman Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island, who told it as a joke, only to see Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek and Time report it as fact.

And there's the tale of British hack Max Hastings and a supposed quote from Conrad Black (the Hollinger incubus) about his ability to drown kittens...

  1. An important part of quality control - but at the most mechanical end of the spectrum. If your an ombudsman, and you've only got one short piece a week - it's evidence of such a warped order of priorities as to suggest a snow-job. Perhaps its a start-of-year thing: one piece a year would be understandable. But no more.


Quality control not always an aid to understanding - spell-checking the piece as I do (pause for ribaldry...) I find an instance of ombdud. My bequest to the (media) nation...


The RSS problem...

...continues. I've decided to treat it, not as a snafu but as a challenge: hopefully thereby postponing the onset of cardiac arrest and dementia long enough to sort matters out for patient RSS customers. (Who, as an interim measure, might like to try this RSS URL, courtesy of Blogstreet - as mentioned before.)

There's a book by mathematician George Polya, How To Solve It, that suggests, amongst other things, [1]
If you cannot solve the proposed problem try to solve first some related problem.

I can't figure how switching on Atom should have turned the product of the blog from XML-compatible to the reverse.

But suppose - this may be true - that this change means that the XML conversion device [2] expects a simple character set like UTF-8 (which, so far as I can tell, is the simplest charset going), rather than the Windows 1252, in which the blog is actually produced.

That should mean that a blog originated in UTF-8 should have no problems with Atom. And UTF-8 has no problem in rendering Western European language accents.

I've tried it on a test blog; and it doesn't work [3].

The puzzle persists.

  1. A crib-sheet taken from the book.

  2. How lay can you get?

  3. A few minutes of head-scratching before manually changing the encoding on the window displaying the blog page to UTF-8 (via View>Encoding).


The more I read - and I so do not want to have to do so! - the more I find that Atom is still in the geek stage, for those who speak XML more fluently than their mother-tongue. In the hands of rank amateur, such as your humble blogger, it is unsafe at any speed.

Take this BBS-type piece from a nerd hangout: it's headed Does Atom work?

Uh oh! If the geeks can't get the fucking thing to work, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Atom, it seems, is not RSS. It's even, maybe, anti-RSS. Newsreaders that read RSS with no difficulties need a translator to understand Atom.

And, just in that piece, I find the dread expression UTF-8:
I did leave in one slight modification, added "encoding="UTF-8", as that seems to be mandatory, according to the start of this sample, minimal entry from the specs site...

Needless to say, the geniuses at Blogger do not give the civilian the option of any such tweaking.

Such civilian might suppose that that was because the interface they are given is foolproof.

Quite clearly, it isn't.

The problem is, you learn a sort of protocol of what you can do with assurance (get up most websites, for instance) and what you must never do (open email attachments you're not extra sure of).

I never knew the morons at Blogger would invite the Great Unwashed to play around with something so dangerous that looks so innocuous.

More fool me.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Passing, spooks, fake Americans, etc

It just so happens that The Human Stain has just opened in the UK. Which movie concerns an academic who happened to be passing (a question last touched on here on January 25).

His thought-crime, which kicks the plot off, I gather, is to refer to two of his students in their absence - because of their absence - as spooks.

The whole grievance pantomime ensues, as to be expected. But the word put me in mind of a BBC series of that name that apparently aired in the US under the title MI-5. The Globe & Mail suggests the change was made for PC reasons - rather than for divided by a common language ones.

(In fact, Webster notices the spy meaning and not the derogatory reference to those of African descent.)

The cream of the jest is, of course, that the guy playing the academic who passes is Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman passing as American. And not doing so terribly convincingly, from snippets I've heard!


The Dean enigma - as alive as he is

Now, I don't the horse-race here (others have it covered); but I note that the Diane Sawyer Frankenstein treatment on Howard Dean seems to be working in New Hampshire [1].

Which keeps alive, for practical purposes, the various question-marks over the man.

As well as The Yell [2], there was the question brought up here (discussed most recently on January 17) of Dean's strange account of his Damascene racial awakening as a Yale freshman.

And the Dr Judy question(s). Now, I've read the transcript, and seen the first ten minutes of the Sawyer interview streamed. Which is not enough to be anything but tentative on the matters arising.

But I'm left more puzzled than before. I need (I'm not suggesting that this stuff is not already in the public domain) to be walked through exactly how the pair functioned in Burlington whilst Dean was Governor.

For instance, being a local doctor would surely make Judy something of a personage in Burlington, regardless of her husband's job. Wouldn't she naturally be expected to take part in community life?

Yet the impression I get is that, her medical work aside, she was an invisible Trappist all that time. So far that the Sawyer interview was the first TV interview she'd ever given. There are, I see, several TV stations based in Burlington. And other media too, of course.

And that makes a whole lot of dead air to fill with local stuff that isn't high state politics (if Vermont even has such a thing). Flower shows, school events, theatrical performances - all that small town stuff. And Dr Judy never got to be interviewed.

And the relationship between them is a puzzle. There was their January 8 People interview (reprinted here), which, no doubt, was meant to be humanising but, even on a second reading, made me wince on several occasions; for instance,
: What drew your eye?

Howard: I don't know exactly. I was sitting next to a friend of mine and I just said, "That girl's adorable. Who is she?"

Judy: (laughing) That was a long time ago.

Howard: You're still adorable, dear.

Q: Could you see yourself presiding as hostess over a state dinner with world leaders and celebrities?

Judy: Well, I haven't really thought about it. I think I could probably do it — with a little help.

I assume she's playing dumb here [3] - and, with the lack of practice, overdoing it. (Dean, who has had practice, is no slouch when it comes to overdoing it either, be it said.)

There's (mildy) embarrassing personal stuff which comes over as (perhaps a tad more than) mildly embarrassing. But that was evidently all part of the reason for the piece.

But - if you're a doctor, practising on your own in a small town (population 39,000 in 2000), you surely need, quietly and methodically, to take command of situations. And, even these days, the fact of being a woman makes the authority question even trickier. A wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, even if married to the Governor, wouldn't last five minutes in the job.

On the personal side, the Sawyer interview was much of the same.

Now, all couples are different and this is stuff about their private life that the average American doctor, say, would not put out on network TV in a million years. But the Deans are inviting us to judge them in this bizarre way, and it's somehow hard to resist the invitation.

Most puzzling, perhaps, is Judy's views on Dean running for President. I haven't followed the soap-opera, and I'm sure the story is out there, but... She so obviously (to me) hates the very idea of him becoming President with a ferocious passion.

I suppose that becoming Governor wasn't that much of a family wrench at all: they kept living in Burlington, Howard would do the 40 miles down the road to Montpelier as necessary. But the Presidency is obviously completely different.

All the talk in the Sawyer interview about her having a medical practice in the White House - bet the Secret Service are just loving that prospect! - suggests that either she is in serious denial about the whole thing, or thinks he's a racing certainty to fail, or she's making the pretence to avoid looking like the little woman following her man in the baggage-train.

It's like a Mr Smith Goes To Washington where the Smith character is dragged kicking and screaming to the capital.

There's a TV movie quality to the dilemma: she loves him, he wants it, she can't stand it: should she take four (eight?) years of misery to give him what he wants? As if Aaron Sorkin's writing the script (medical First Lady connection oblige).

I don't get it. But if Dean wins in New Hampshire, perhaps I'll have another try at the puzzle.

  1. The Zogby poll for January 26 shows (if I'm reading it right) that a large proportion of Leaners are leaning for Dean. Including leaners, the gap with Kerry narrows from 7 points to 3 - must be within the margin of error.

  2. To adapt Crocodile Dundee, call that a yell? Shelby Foote's description of the Rebel Yell on Ken Burns' Civil War docco suggested a sound far more worthy of the name. If the old tale that a Southerner could whip ten Yankees was - a tad overegging it - when it comes to yelling, I suspect the Southrons might have the advantage.

  3. She went to several White House functions when Dean was Chairman of the Governors' Association, as I recall.


Defensive school-boarding, again

Most recently seen here in the case of the white African-American (January 23).

This time, it's schools (AP January 24 - link via Joanne Jacobs) asking permission from students' parents before publishing an honor roll. Or, as in the case of Nashville, scrapping honor rolls altogether.

That other fine American institution, the spelling bee [1] is also under threat. And Principal Steven Baum of Julia Green Elementary in Nashville sounds like a Communist to me:
I discourage competitive games at school. They just don't fit my world view of what a school should be.

Where's HUAC where you need it?

Meanwhile, there's an outside chance that the Trial Lawyers of America may have their boy in the White House this time next year.

(Regular viewers of South Park will need no reminding of the tale of Sexual Harassment Panda and the splendid work done by one notable trial lawyer (Kyle's Dad) in nearly bankrupting the local school board.

Not so much a comedy, more a business plan. Do Trey Parker and Matt Stone get a cut of the lawyers' cut? D'you know, I reckon those boys need to see a trial lawyer, stat!)

  1. Recently celebrated on celluloid in Spellbound.


And, mentioning editing on Big Media...

Via Atrios, an op-ed of mind-numbing triviality from Thomas Friedman.

If - as claimed (see January 11 piece) - the guy is really fluent in Arabic, he should be using these rare talents [1] for producing worthwhile analysis, not sophomoric druther-fests.

(Query: perhaps his NYT editors tell him, Write Messianic stuff, but go steady on the detail: give them the stirring stuff, but not too many als and els.)

My eye then drifts to the bottom of the page, which links a piece entitled When a Kleptocratic, Megalomanûacal Dictator Goes Bad. It's behind the pay wall, but I go to the summary: same spelling.

Is this an allusion (it's not one I get)? Or a prank? Or a product of a can't be arsed culture than disdains the very idea of having a fact-checking department [2], even after the depredations of Jayson Blair?

There was apparently a lot of talk at the World Economic Forum at Davos about the threat that blogging poses for Big Media. Bloviation, most of it, I suspect. But the combination of regular [3] pisspoor performance and finger-in-the-eye arrogance will have a corrosive, rather than an explosive, effect on Big Media standing. The damage may not be apparent for a good long while.

  1. Rare in US journalism, I mean.

  2. Something last mentioned in relation to the infamous Judy Dean bus incident (January 21)

  3. Far from universal; there is certainly a lot of good stuff coming from Big Media.

Atrios quotes a commenter's 'haiku' on Friedman:
If we had some ham
We could have some ham and eggs
If we had some eggs.

What he said...


The radio blog-fest - comments

Before dozing off, I caught the first half an hour or so of the Minnesota Public Radio [1] show on The Blogging of the President.

Firstly, it struck me how essentially low-octane radio is; a serial medium, like magnetic tape, with the corresponding need to go through the whole thing to get all the goodness. Which is fine if you're doing something else (driving, cooking), only have half a mind to give to the programme, and therefore need the content to come out slow, and repeated, so you don't miss anything.

Whereas with net content in text form, it often takes barely a second to get enough information to decide whether to read or zap. Judging a book by its cover - by looking at the title page, flipping through - is such an essential quality control tool for print product, that, to a large extent, is mimicked with net text.

Second, of radio styles, the one used for the MPR show is usually one of the lowest-octane of all: the barely structured chat with guests plus phone-in. Occasionally, by some good chance, you'll strike gold. But not last night.

The title was - I hadn't picked it - a play on Theodore White's The Making of a President.

And the first guest was some guy who'd written JFK and Nixon bios, who was there to compare and contrast political communication then and now. It sort of got started but pretty much trickled away into the sand.

Which is a pity, because I think there's a genuine history to be done on the subject in which I, for one, would be seriously interested. The problem is, a genuine history takes time to put together. And a lot of moolah. And radio is done the way of the MPR show because it doesn't take much moolah.

(These built programmes are under threat at the BBC, too. Anything which avoids time in the editing suite is at a premium.)

Third, Joshua Micah Marshall, of Talking Points Memo fame, replying to complaints about the quality control of blogs, said something to the effect that his blog was edited: he edited it himself! Of course, there may have been a Rummy smirk there - but I got the feeling he was being serious.

A lawyer who represents himself, they say, has a fool for a client. And self-editing is just as precarious an activity - speaking from considerable experience! The fact that the general standard of editing in the Big Media is, on the whole, so bad gives the amateur a modicum of comfort.

But let's not pretend that good editing doesn't add vastly to the quality of any text.

  1. Way back around 1990, the BBC ran one or two link-ups with foreign radio stations; MPR was one - some special programmes, but a fair amount of eavesdropping on shows intended for the local audience. The first time I'd heard American radio, other than playing in the background in TV shows, or coming and going on short wave. Very weird the differential intimacy (compared with TV and movies) of FM radio with American voices.


The RSS is fried - again (a moral here...)

Just recently, RSS for this blog has been appearing nice as pie, whenever I've checked.

Now, I happen upon the fact that the good people - check, people - at Blogger have brought out their own RSS - Atom - with (need one ask) oodles of development possibilities. It's there, it's free, and I was tempted.

As a result - I know not how - I can get neither the old RSS nor Atom to work. It seems that, in activating Atom, the Blogger people arranged so that UTF-8 characters are the only ones that can be read; and - the killer - that the feed grinds to halt at the first non-UTF-8 character it comes across (rather than merely reproducing it as garbage).

Unfortunately, my stuff is jam-packed with such characters - which the nice Mr Gates' Windows 1252 is happy to accommodate. And, of course, any blogger who has the temerity to blog in any language other than English needs those extra characters. (It's the Randy Newman foreign policy in digital form: Perle must be pleased.)

Until I can find out what the fuck is going on, RSS is off the menu, I'm afraid.

That, I think, is what they call progress.


Just for the sheer fun of it, I went over to BlogStreet to see if it could produce one of its DIY RSS feeds for the Plawg. Two shakes of a lamb's tale, and there it was! No error message: just the blog contents. (I have no idea whether the link will work in your newsreader - no harm in trying, though).

I am well beyond my (highly limited) technical competence here: here be more hippogriffs than you can shake a stick at. Regrouping necessary...

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Cot death caper: biggest miscarriage of justice factory in the world?

I last touched on the matter on December 11, in the light of the English Court of Appeal decision [1] in the case of Angela Cannings.

It now appears (Observer today) that British ministers were warned as early as 1996 that the voodoo science of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP) was creating miscarriages of justice.

There is not merely the problem (bad enough, in all conscience) of women convicted of murder on account of the mumbo-jumbo of witch-doctor extraordinaire, Sir Roy Meadow [2]. But also of thousands of children snatched away from their parents on his say-so and fostered - adopted, some of them - in other families.

And the credulity in this charlatan is not limited, it seems, to Britain: in many parts of the world, his mantra - Meadow's Law [3] - was the object of ridiculous genuflection, as by a rabble of blacked-up extras rolling their eyes before some cheap native's magic trick in a 1930s Tarzan movie.

In the total sum of human misery he has inflicted, directly and indirectly, Meadow is certainly in the class of recent suicide Harold Shipman. Perhaps approaching that of other medical men whose mention would tend to infringe Godwin's Law...

  1. Full text of the judgements.

  2. Is his an honour that can be withdrawn? Surely, if it can be, it should be.

  3. One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise.


Harvey Weinstein loves his speech at 273 below...

The last time, it was Gregg Easterbrook and his Kill Bill review [1].

From memory, on that occasion, Weinstein was more of a bit player - the role of the lead villain being taken by Mickey Mouse's boy, Michael Eisner, on account of Eisner's hacks canning Easterbrook from his ESPN gig. Anticipating the Great Man's wishes, rather than on his orders, I think is the better view.

Now, we get some speech-chilling news on Weinstein, courtesy of (of all places?) Women's Wear Daily:
When Vanity Fair contributor Peter Biskind was working on "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film," Weinstein first tried to bribe him.

According to the forward of Biskind's book, Weinstein asked him, "Don’t you have a book idea that’s really close to your heart?" When Biskind innocently responded that he’d always wanted to write a book about the science of politics, Weinstein told him, "Great. We could sell a million copies! Forget about that other book."

Evidently, Biskind didn't.

So, WWD continues,
a worried Weinstein did a couple of things. First, according to two sources who spoke with Biskind about the matter, a person close to Weinstein masqueraded as a source for Biskind, took copious notes on the book’s contents and brought them back to the Miramax boss. Then, according to another source, Weinstein turned to David Boies, the famous attorney who won the Microsoft anti-trust suit and repped Al Gore in the Florida presidential recount, and they appealed all the way up to Viacom boss Sumner Redstone and had a less-than-successful mogul-to-mogul talk.

One gets a warm glow to think of the owners of CBS [2] declining to yield before the blandishments of private interests.

(Remember the Reagan miniseries farrago?)

And Weinstein doesn't seem to have done more than ask nicely (or, perhaps, not so nicely) for the book to be pulped. A necessary element to the speech-chilling crime would be the use of some means of extortion. Like threatening to fire someone. Or cancel contracts. Or dump stock. Or tell tales to regulators. Or squeeze advertisers. Or hijack talent.

Harvey wouldn't do anything like that, would he?

  1. Last discussed here on January 8 - where find links back to several earlier pieces here.

  2. The Who Owns What? page on the CJR site is worth bookmarking.


For want of a radio, six squaddies copped it...

A very long time ago - actually, on November 19 2002, to be precise - I flagged the serious problem of British Army procurement of communications systems. I had in mind mainly friendly fire incidents - blue on blue or fratricide - but mentioned the general problem with Army radio equipment.

Now, it seems, the six British soldiers can be attributable to radio failure - according to the London Observer today:
An army inquiry into the deaths of six British military policemen in Iraq last year has found that the men were unable to send a single radio message requesting assistance.

It points out that
Soldiers in the Gulf last year were using 25-year-old 'Clansman' radios because of delays in the introduction of new communication technology. Clansman radios are known as bulky, insecure and prone to failing because of their poor batteries.

Saint Tony Blair loves the one-handed ecstasy of starting these crusades - not so keen on paying for his crusaders to be properly equipped!

(What's puzzling me is: they had no radios, but presumably they had their weapons: why didn't they take a couple of dozen of the Arabushes with them?)


Education news - try the Gadfly

From Joanne Jacobs, a new one on me: the Education Gadfly with what it calls A Weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis on education matters.

Looks good to me, speaking as a pure layman. Its top article is on the latest study on urban districts in selected locations by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It walks the reader through the numbers - and in regular English, not MLA-speak - and explains plausibly the difficulties in explaining the differences between the performance in the various cities.


The American Dilemma on passing

I pondered yesterday why the author Charles W Chesnutt - who, from his photo, could certainly have passed for white - had not done so.

Having fished out Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma [1] for enlightenment, I find it not to be lacking!

There are a couple of pages on passing starting on p129 (Ch 5 Sect 7), mentioning the difficulties of quantifying the extent to which passing had taken place; and a longer section (p683ff - Ch 31 Sect 4), looking at the practice in more detail.

He considers what is needed for a Negro to be able to pass; and suggests that physiognomy alone is not determinative: he quotes the example (p683n) of his Negro assistant who travelled with him in the Deep South. Naturally, on the road, the assistant lodged in the Negro quarter of the town; but he would come to Myrdal's hotel room to work with him.

Myrdal says that his assistant, though he had
some unmistakeable Negro features
was able to enter the hotel and go up to Myrdal's room without being stopped: Myrdal surmises this is because the white hotel staff do not believe their own eyes. The cognitive dissonance [2] between the actions and the race of the actor left them stunned.

He points (p685) to a group of Negroes who pass professionally - but stay within the Negro world socially. (Passing, he says, is much less likely in the South than in Northern and Border states, on account of the consequences of discovery.) Even in the North, lots of desirable jobs were effectively closed to Negroes. The logic is clear.

He says that
Professional passing often seems to be a transitional stage of life.
Given the quantification difficulties noted above, this is clearly more or less of a personal impression. However, it's sometimes a stepping stone to full passing.

He then (p686) turns to the question of why not all Negroes able (by their faces, abilities and circumstances) to pass actually do so.

He cites a Negro who passed to get into a white college, graduated but went to teach as a Negro [3]. The man cites four reasons for returning to the Negro world:
  1. He thereby avoided the strain of keeping up his fictitious existence in company.

  2. His job and looks gave him high status in the Negro community that they would not had given him in the white community.

  3. Because there were fewer qualified Negroes in his line of work, he got his job more easily than if he'd been competing for the same type of job in the white world.

  4. Social life in the Negro community was pleasanter; the guy (rather than Myrdal) said he thought this was a reaction to segregation: DIY was the only option!

Following through on the notion that Negroes preferred to be the big fish in the small pond, Myrdal says (p687) that
Light-skinned and "good-featured" Negro women are preferred as marriage partners by Negro men, while their chances on the white marriage market as lonely [4] women without a known or presentable family must be slight.

He suggests that there is often a sort of conspiracy of silence between Negroes who have passed and their Negro friends and acquaintances, with the latter taking pleasure in the deception of the white man. Others, envious, have a
compensatory feeling of race pride

To finish the section, he touches on the tragic mulatto myth, and suggests that there might be some truth in it; though, given the lack of information on the whole business,
the picture of their difficulty is hard to define.

Finally, in Ch 31 note 26 (p1380), he touches on the question of whites passing as Negro. He says he came across two examples of white women who passed to enable them to marry Negroes. In Research Memorandum on Minority People in the Depression by Donald Young, it's suggested whites might pass
because of a preference for Negro associations and for employment opportunities, as in a colored orchestra.

And Myrdal mentions white orphans, brought up in Negro households (dealt with in Wirth and Goldhammer's piece in Characteristics of the American Negro.)

Thus spake Myrdal. I'm not clear how the state of knowledge about passing has progressed in the last sixty years. As the Sharfstein piece noted on January 20 made clear, there was a conscious attempt in the South at communal amnesia on racial origins over the period (the couple of decades either side of 1900) during which passing was liable to be at its height.

And, in the North, there was no general public legal imperative to take cognizance of racial status.

The Negro student's reasons for not passing made sense to Myrdal - and seem reasonable to me. The option, for a Negro who could, of refusing to pass is not - in the game theory sense - a dominated strategy. There were significant pros and cons either way.

One thing that the matter does highlight is the peculiar loss suffered by the Negro community when Jim Crow was dismantled. The big fish in the small pond was (though scarcely suddenly) netted and placed in the big pond with all the other fish. And, next to them, he wasn't quite so big.

Another complicated topic for another time...

  1. The copyright notice (1944) gives no sign it's not a first edition. But I have in mind that other early editions are in two volumes, rather than my singleton.

  2. I believe is the phrase - caveat lector!

  3. It's not clear in what area of the US his teaching post was. And there's the question of his reconciling to his employers the fact that, though presenting himself as Negro, he has a degree certificate to a white college! I infer from what Myrdal says about him that he's teaching in an all-Negro institution.

  4. I think he means single.


A couple of pieces that might be worth following up, whilst the URLs are to hand: a 1944 review by Ralph Ellison gives a contemporary Negro perspective; and a 2000 piece by Paul Craig Roberts (Who he? Ed) blaming Gunnar Myrdal for putting the idea in his mate Felix Frankfurter's head that lead to Brown v Board of Education (of Topeka, natch) being a second Dred Scott, rather than something more judicially becoming.

(I have a counterfactual simmering on the back-burner to the effect that Brown was the equivalent, in the 1950s, to the Fugitive Slave Act - as a sine qua non of the minor race war that ensued over Jim Crow. Needs a lot more meat before it's advanced to the front-burner, though...)


The full US Supreme Court opinions in the Dred Scott case available here - the dissents of Justices McLean and Curtis (oops, I feel another trivia treasure-hunt coming on...) as well as the opinion of the court from the Founder of the Feast Chief Justice Roger Taney (pronounced tawny - as I learnt first watching Ken Burns' Civil War series - Commager's Documents of American History had left that embarrassment-avoiding detail out).

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