aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, December 19, 2005
Don’t fence them in
Also on the front page of the Times today (though oddly not in any of the RSS feeds I subscribe to), In Minnesota, an Odd Request:
In 40 years here, Dennis Hron has never worried about the women living across the street - not even the murderers, the robbers and the kidnappers among them.
What Mr. Hron and other residents are up in arms about now is a plan to wall them off.
The women live in the Minnesota Correctional Facility, separated from the tidy suburban neighborhood that surrounds it by nothing more than a three-foot hedge, pruned to ground stubble in some spots in winter.
State corrections officials, concerned about the rising number of violent women in prison, want to cordon the facility off with a 12-foot fence. They argue that it is the only prison in the country with a maximum-security wing and no perimeter wall.
But residents and city officials say good fences would be wasted on good neighbors.
Then there are these wise words:
“We have to think about assimilating them back into society,” said Mr. Hron, a former county commissioner. “Now they come out and play ball, they see us cutting our lawns or coming and going, they see what life is like out there, that people are enjoying it. It gives them a good picture, something to aspire to.”
Mayor John Schmitt suggested that the fence might actually inspire more walkaways. “If suddenly you’re inside a wall, and you can’t see your neighbors,” Mayor Schmitt said, “it will give you other thoughts. Your natural inclination is to say, ‘I want to get outside those walls.’ ”
Sick monsters should be hung II
Justin’s dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children’s closed bedroom doors.
The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars - with nicknames like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez - whose images are traded online long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents announce schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for the performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even buy “private shows,” in which teenagers sexually perform while following real-time instructions.
A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting the attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of illicit, self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution of sites where minors sold images of themselves for money.
This story must be read in full; to answer the Romenesko reader’s question, this is the Times at its very best. It’s exposed a problem that we must address but one where I’m afraid that because of our distorted dealings with the myriad issues raised effective action is unlikely.
For the nightmare here is not only child sexual abuse. It is parental abuse and neglect, law enforcement targeting the wrong people and using the wrong strategies - egged on, significantly, by our sensationalist pundocracy - businesses large and small, legit and illegit cashing in and, most significantly, the problem of pornography.
I have resisted coming out broadly and completely against pornography, buying into liberal adult freedom of speech arguments. Today I let that go. I am against the closet because of the shame based damage it does. I am against pornography for many reasons, but shame based damage is high among them.
As to my headline, I don’t actually believe the people doing this are sick monsters; I believe it would be an easier problem to address if they were. This story suggests the USA Today article I quoted the other day is sadly wrong, and that each of us is going to have to come to terms with the monsters in our midst.
Modernism, here and there
I am a I was a New Yorker who looked up. I love the skyline; I’m dazzled by it. I want to look at it, appreciate it, stand there and be awed and overwhelmed by it. A proud amateur who once gave his own walking tours - to friends, family and anyone else who tagged along - modeled on those I took with… was it Mosette Broderick while a student at NYU? Oh, the memory lapses.
I also interviewed Paul Goldberger (then at the Times, now The New Yorker architecture critic) for a student documentary on the Times Square redevelopment plan. In those days I absorbed both an admiration for modernism’s intentions and the critique of it as an assault on the American cityscape - cheap architecture masquerading as modern architecture undermined modernism’s moment. I’m still inclined to like the postmodernist design guideline development of, for example, a Battery Park City.
The building I work in now is the only modernist building - by a New York architect no less - within a 40 mile radius of our town. It reflects modernism’s aspirations. It tries, it has elements I like and that the students like and in some instances it comes close to achieving its aspirations. But it is considered by many who are born and raised there as an architectural assault on the town and the campus.
No columns, no culture.
Like Norman Foster‘s ”shiny missile shooting out of [its] stone launching pad” - the Hearst Headquarters building in New York - our new building is attached to a beloved old campus structure, but Paul Goldberger’s not there to interpret this for us. Me, I can’t do it either. And that’s because, frankly, I don’t get it.
I’m enough of a post modernist fan that I agree with those in my town who want, at least, some gesture towards the rest of the campus. Or maybe it’s just that the building is not a strong enough modernist accomplishment to persuade me on its own.
Foster is at his best when solving puzzles like this one; unlike most ÃƒÂ©lite architects, he isn’t obsessed with creating his own pure forms. His gift for building a meaningful conversation between new and old architecture became apparent six years ago, with the unveiling of the renovated Reichstag, in Berlin: Foster placed a glass dome atop an ornate nineteenth-century masonry structure, reinterpreting the building’s monumentality in modernist terms. And, in 2000, he enlivened the courtyard of the British Museum with a steel-and-glass canopy that casts a delicate geometric shadow on the floor.
Foster’s gift is one the ÃƒÂ©lite HHPA architect assigned to our project may not have. In our building, there’s no conversation between new and old. If anything, there’s an argument; though I am quick to add that students do love a good argument.
When I looked up at the Hearst Headquarters building last night it wasn’t immediately clear that the building worked for me. It’s an awe-inspiring structure, fascinating to look at and in an awesome setting. The AOL Time Warner headquarters is just a block away, with its 95’ illuminated prow light sculpture (this was the first time I’d seen it working).
I’ll be eager to come back when it’s open and I can see it alive in the city and walk through what Goldberger calls “one of the most dramatic entrances of any tower in New York.” And back home in my town where a culture of conformity is the norm, I will welcome our modernist argument. It’s exactly as it should be that this is the building I work in.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Norman Foster: The Mozart of Modernism
My friends agree it’s a thrilling addition to midtown Manhattan. Knowing I’m an architecture fan, they took my to see it:
In the nineteen-twenties, William Randolph Hearst commissioned Joseph Urban to design his company’s first headquarters: six stories of megalomaniacal pomp on Eighth Avenue between Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Streets. Despite its low height, everything about the yellowish stone structure suggests grandiosity, especially the monumental fluted columns that stretch higher than the building itself, giving it the look of a base for a much taller structure. (Hearst and Urban had planned to add a tower, but they never did.) The Hearst Corporation long ago outgrew this zany palazzo, dispatching most of its employees to rented space nearby. When the company decided to gather its operations under one roof, its executives smartly concluded that Urban’s building was too much fun to give up. Hearst hired Foster to build something on top of it, and in October, 2001, he unveiled a scheme to add forty stories to the original headquarters. It was the first major construction project to be announced in New York after September 11th.
As with all Foster designs, the Hearst tower is sleek, refined, and filled with new technology. It looks nothing like the Jazz Age confection on which it sits. The addition is sheathed in glass and stainless steel-a shiny missile shooting out of Urban’s stone launching pad. The tower’s most prominent feature is the brash geometric pattern of its glass and steel, which the architect calls a “diagrid”: a diagonal grid of supporting trusses, covering the faÃƒÂ§ade with a series of four-story-high triangles. These make up much of the building’s supporting structure, and they do it with impressive economy: the pattern uses twenty per cent less steel than a conventional skyscraper frame would require.
Foster’s brilliance can be seen in the way that he exploits this engineering trick for aesthetic pleasure. The triangles are the playful opposites of the dark Xs that slash the faÃƒÂ§ade of the John Hancock Center, in Chicago. They give the building a jubilantly jagged shape. Foster started with a box, then sliced off the corners and ran triangles up and down the sides, pulling them in and out-a gargantuan exercise in nip and tuck. The result resembles a many-faceted diamond. The corners of the shaft slant in and out as the tower rises, and the whole form shimmers.
Altar your thinking, church rulez!
More NY Theater fun. This one first appeared at the 2004 New York Musical Theater Festival:
They croon, they flirt, they glide and hop and bop in perfect synchronicity. Oh, and they also praise the Lord.
The boy band is dead, it is said, victim of the fickle hearts of teenage girls. Thus the arrival Off Broadway of ”Altar Boyz,” a sweetly satirical show about a Christian pop group made up of five potential Teen People cover boys, raises a thorny question: Is the musical theater where pop music goes to die?
Let’s table that one for now, actually. The talented actors impersonating the honey-voiced, swivel-hipped believers in “Altar Boyz” would certainly be able to convince you otherwise, for one thing. Their ebullient performances ensure that this smoothly executed show, which might have been a quick-fizzling joke, is an enjoyably silly diversion. [...]
Staking no claims to artistic significance, it makes a nice sound, looks pretty (if you like pretty boys) and sends you home with a smile.
Devout Christians are not the target audience here, unless they share the show’s authors’ view that there is something absurd about proselytizing for religion through pop music. True fans of Christian rock and pop could reasonably take offense at the sly parodies cooked up by the skilled songwriters Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, with winking choruses like, “Girl, you make me want to wait.” [And sly lyric refrains like “God put it in me” and “Get the hell out of here."]
But the material is delivered with such a light touch that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the catchier tunes had won a following among the young faithful. The songs’ tongue-in-cheek lyrics come wrapped in smoothly funky synthesizer riffs, and they are sung with a sincerity that softens the sting.
I’d like to think there’s an audience for this show in Atlanta. Of the five actors, two graduated from Brigham Young University and the lead thanks God in his playbill bio. It’s good wholesome 21st century American fun. Here’s an opening night video sampler.
On the way home from Pizza at Otto’s we ran across a crowd gathering under the Washington Square arch. My friend saw the boomboxes and reccognized it as Phil Kline’s massive mobile concert, Unsilent Night:
Every year since 1992 I’ve presented Unsilent Night, an outdoor ambient music piece for an INFINITE number of boom box tape players. It’s like a Christmas carolling party except that we don’t sing, but rather carry boom boxes, each playing a separate tape which is part of the piece. In effect, we become a city block long stereo system!
In 2005 the New York event will happen on Sunday December 18th. We will meet at the Arch in Washington Square at 6:45 pm, begin at 7 pm and proceed eastward to Tompkins Square Park, where the piece will end around 8 o’clock.
It would be really cool if you could join us and bring a boom box. The more tapes we run, the bigger and more amazing the sound will be. This past Christmas we had 100 boomboxes and over 500 people total, it was really spectacular… If you’d like to do it, please email me at so I will know how many tapes to make. If you’d like to do it but don’t have a boombox, I have several dozen and you can grab one...and if you want to come and just listen, that’s cool, too. Help us make a BIG (and joyful) noise.
If you live outside of New York and would like to arrange a performance in your area, email to the above address for details. In 2004 Unsilent Night was presented in Philadelphia, Tallahassee, San Diego, San Francisco, Vancouver and Middlesborough, England, in addition to New York. 2005 will see the additions of Sydney, Australia, Tucson, Arizona and Whitehorse, Yukon.
I wonder if that might work in my little town…
Hope in Ohio
A key part of the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and special rights for couples living together violates the U.S. Constitution, a local judge has ruled.
The year-old state amendment strips rights from domestic-violence victims who are not married to their batterers and leaves married victims with greater protections, Domestic Relations Judge James Celebrezze found. That violates the equal-protection clause of the federal Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the judge declared.
Celebrezze’s Nov. 28 opinion by itself does not nullify the disputed part of the state amendment. But it may force the Ohio Supreme Court - and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court - to decide whether Celebrezze’s ruling is right. If it is, half of the amendment would be gutted.
Declaring war on O’Reilly’s War
Look, I put up a “Christmas tree,” rather than a “holiday tree,” and I’m sure Mr. O’Reilly is right that political correctness leads to absurd contortions this time of year. But when you’ve seen what real war does, you don’t lightly use the word to describe disagreements about Christmas greetings. And does it really make sense to offer 58 segments on political correctness and zero on genocide?
Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I’ve spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O’Reilly - demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money. And I always tell moderate Muslims that they need to stand up to blustery blowhards - so today, I’m taking my own advice.
Like the fundamentalist Islamic preachers, Mr. O’Reilly is a talented showman, and my sense is that his ranting is a calculated performance. The couple of times I’ve been on his show, he was mild mannered and amiable until the camera light went on - and then he burst into aggrieved indignation, because he knew it made good theater.
Your TimesSelect money’s worth in just one day!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Catch the wave
WHAT if they held a culture war and no one fired a shot? That’s the compelling tale of “Brokeback Mountain.” Here is a heavily promoted American movie depicting two men having sex - the precise sex act that was still a crime in some states until the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws just two and a half years ago - but there is no controversy, no Fox News tar and feathering, no roar from the religious right. “Brokeback Mountain” has instead become the unlikely Oscar favorite, propelled by its bicoastal sweep of critics’ awards, by its unexpected dominance of the far less highfalutin Golden Globes and, perhaps most of all, by the lure of a gold rush. Last weekend it opened to the highest per-screen average of any movie this year.
Those screens were in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco - hardly national bellwethers. But I’ll rashly predict that the big Hollywood question posed on the front page of The Los Angeles Times after those stunning weekend grosses - “Can ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Move the Heartland?” - will be answered with a resounding yes. All the signs of a runaway phenomenon are present, from an instant parody on “Saturday Night Live” to the report that a multiplex in Plano, Tex., sold more advance tickets for the so-called “gay cowboy picture” than for “King Kong.” “The culture is finding us,” James Schamus, the “Brokeback Mountain” producer, told USA Today. “Grown-up movies have never had that kind of per-screen average. You only get those numbers when you’re vacuuming up enormous interest from all walks of life.”
In the packed theater where I caught “Brokeback Mountain,” the trailers included a National Guard recruitment spiel, and the audience was demographically all over the map. The culture is seeking out this movie not just because it is a powerful, four-hankie account of a doomed love affair and is beautifully acted by everyone, starting with the riveting Heath Ledger. The X factor is that the film delivers a story previously untold by A-list Hollywood. It’s a story America may be more than ready to hear a year after its president cynically flogged a legally superfluous (and unpassable) constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the sole purpose of whipping up the basest hostilities of his electoral base.
By coincidence, “Brokeback Mountain,” a movie that is all the more subversive for having no overt politics, is a rebuke and antidote to that sordid episode. Whether it proves a movie for the ages or as transient as “Love Story,” it is a landmark in the troubled history of America’s relationship to homosexuality. It brings something different to the pop culture marketplace at just the pivotal moment to catch a wave. [...]
Though “Brokeback Mountain” is not a western, it’s been directed by Ang Lee with the austerity and languorous gait of a John Ford epic. These aesthetics couldn’t be more country miles removed from “The Birdcage” or “Will & Grace.” The audience is forced to recognize that gay people were fixtures in the red state of Wyoming (and every other corner of the country, too) long before Matthew Shepard and Mary Cheney were born. Without a single polemical speech, this laconic film dramatizes homosexuality as an inherent and immutable identity, rather than some aberrant and elective “agenda” concocted by conspiratorial “elites” in Chelsea, the Castro and South Beach, as anti-gay proselytizers would have it. Ennis and Jack long for a life together, not for what gay baiters pejoratively label a “lifestyle.”
But in truth the audience doesn’t have to be coerced to get it. This is where the country has been steadily moving of late. “Brokeback Mountain,” a Hollywood product after all, is not leading a revolution but ratifying one, fleshing out - quite literally - what most Americans now believe. It’s not for nothing that the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage vanished as soon as the election was over. Polls show that a large American majority support equal rights for gay couples as long as the unions aren’t labeled “marriage” - and given the current swift pace of change, that reservation, too, will probably fade in the next 5 to 10 years.
Doug gets in Monday; we’ll be seeing it together. I wish that it were playing in my hometown, because then we’d go see it with my nieces and nephews too.
Peanuts on crack!
[T]he world created by Charles M. Schulz hasn’t changed much since it first appeared in 1950, which makes the premise of the disposable parody “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” so irresistible: what would happen to Charlie Brown and his friends if they grew up?
It’s 10 years later, and - prepare yourself - Snoopy has been put to sleep after killing Woodstock. Linus has become Van (Keith Nobbs), a stoner who smoked the burned remains of his security blanket. Pigpen has cleaned up into a violent jock (Ian Somerhalder, from “Lost"). Lucy, known only as Van’s sister (Eliza Dushku, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), is a lithium-addled pyromaniac who has slept with, believe it or not, Charlie Brown, or CB (Eddie Kaye Thomas), as he’s called, a popular kid with a mean streak…
This is the third incarnation of this black comedy (it opened at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival), and the cutie-pie young actors in the new cast are the kind of marginal celebrities who make audiences wonder, “Isn’t he the guy who starred in ... ?”
For those still wondering, yes, Mr. Thomas was the kid with bowel issues in “American Pie.” He plays CB as an empty slate who goes along with the crowd. That might not be a problem if the part didn’t call for him to express some emotion. In an unexpected plot turn, CB falls in love with Beethoven (think Schroeder), the pianist who has been long abused by the popular kids. Just as in a real Hollywood teenager movie, the nerd is played by someone so handsome - Logan Marshall-Green (from “The OC") - that he must overdo his awkwardness, adding a pair of glasses to really prove the point.
I thoroughly enjoyed the young cast, including Thomas and Marshall-Green. The show is everything I miss from theater in New York.
UPDATE: I assumed they had to get copyright clearance to do this show. They did not. Read another bad review, though he liked performances the Times didn’t. Apparently the Fringe Festival original was much better. Much as I loved this one, I wish I’d seen it!
Movies in decline
I saw King Kong last night with my niece and her fiance. What’s the fuss? Bob Mondello likes the script, loves the movie and says you can shave only two minutes from the three hour film. I’d shave half of it.
Meanwhile, here’s an example of the increasingly regular article reporting that theaters are taking action to bring us back:
With evidence increasing that the American moviegoing habit is in decline, theater owners are undertaking a concerted campaign to bring it back.
The National Association of Theater Owners, the primary trade group for exhibitors, is pushing to improve the theatrical experience by addressing complaints about on-screen advertisements, cellphones in theaters and other disruptions, while planning a public relations campaign to promote going out to the movies.
Some exhibitors are hiring more ushers to ride herd on inconsiderate patrons and are thinking about banning children after a certain hour, to cut down on crying babies in the theater, said John Fithian, president of the trade group.
Shop or Stop:
GAY CONSUMERS ARE making a list and checking it twice… To assist consumers who want to spend their money with gay-friendly companies, the Human Rights Campaign published “Buying for Equality: A Guide to Companies and Products that Support Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Equality.”
The guide includes 22 categories and hundreds of products. Each company is rated from one to 100, and for visual clarity, the corporations are placed in green zones (80 and above), yellow zones (50 to 79) and red zones (49 and below)...The index is culled from a multi-page questionnaire sent to corporations containing questions on topics from domestic partner benefits to diversity training programs.
Here’s the full list.
My Highlights: Sears, yes (100, I’m still hoping the K-Mart (43!) in my town will make the switch). Target, yes (86). Wal-Mart, no (57). Best Buy, yes (100). Circuit City, no (43). FedEx and Amazon disappointing maybes. Heinz, no (29!). Alltel, my phone company, no (29!). Nissan, no (29). We all should know about Exxon - the merger took away benefits from Mobil’s gay workers - no (14).
Friday, December 16, 2005
An argument for the noble loss
I am not entirely inexperienced in the area of federal court cases. During my 8 years on the Board of Directors of Manhattan Neighborhood Network we went to federal court a time or two. We were threatened with court cases regularly.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of some of them, extremists of every flavor arguing that by changing their program’s timeslot, or enforcing an allocation intended to give equal access to all, we were trampling their individual rights. Of course, the way that you heard these stories, through the media filter, was that some outrageous group was on television when the public had just assumed that such views could not be.
I spent a good amount of time with our top-shelf legal team.
In these cases I consistently advocated that we should argue a Cass Sunsteinian view of the First Amendment: That the privilege afforded to my right to say whatever I want to say is rooted in the democratic desire for a polity informed through exposure to a multiplicity of viewpoints. That our role as a public access television center was to give as broad a range of people as possible access and, significantly, to serve the broadest community possible as well.
This is not an argument for any individual viewpoint or for any specific range of viewpoints, and the details of implementation could - and should - be endlessly discussed. But I never got there. I could never get by the First Amendment case law and entrenched dogma that the only element to be considered was the individual’s right to say whatever.
So why did I want to put that argument out there and lose? BECAUSE IT WAS RIGHT! And it might, just might, find its way into a dissent and one day be picked up and turned into law.
Now we on the left (and increasingly these days they’re doing it on the right) are always strategically deciding our moves rather than going right out there and arguing for what we believe. I’m in favor of the noble loss. We’re scared of that right now with same sex marriage. I’m not. If we lose I’m going to be worse off than I am right now? If we lose maybe we’ll know we lost and fight harder!
Google Book Search is the subject at hand. The case lays bare how literally technical the copyright claim is: that the technical need to copy - rather than use, say, some artificial savant intelligence that could read and absorb the full text content then call it up from memory - obliterates our ever-shrinking fair use claim that we have a legal right to index and access these snippets.
If Google looses, we all lose. But I for one am not going to blame Google for trying. I will, on the other hand, blame them if they - like Clinton with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell - sell us out in settlement.
If Google settles
There was a Google Book Search debate at the American Bar Association in New York on Wednesday night. Ben Vershbow at if:Book has a good wrap-up. He discusses the point where Google apparently lost the crowd.
Allan Adler of the Association of American Publishers said Google betrayed the weakness of its fair use claim in the way it has continually revised its description of the program:
Almost exactly one year ago, Google unveiled its “library initiative” only to re-brand it several months later as a “publisher program” following a wave of negative press. This, however, did little to ease tensions and eventually Google decided to halt all book scanning (until this past November) while they tried to smooth things over with the publishers. Even so, lawsuits were filed, despite Google’s offer of an “opt-out” option for publishers, allowing them to request that certain titles not be included in the search index. This more or less created an analog to the “implied consent” principle that legitimates search engines caching web pages with “spider” programs that crawl the net looking for new material.
In that case, there is a machine-to-machine communication taking place and web page owners are free to insert programs that instruct spiders not to cache, or can simply place certain content behind a firewall. By offering an “opt-out” option to publishers, Google enables essentially the same sort of communication. Adler’s point (and this was echoed more succinctly by a smart question from the audience) was that if Google’s fair use claim is so air-tight, then why offer this middle ground? Why all these efforts to mollify publishers without actually negotiating a license? (I am definitely concerned that Google’s efforts to quell what probably should have been an anticipated negative reaction from the publishing industry will end up undercutting its legal position.)
Now here’s a scenario I imagine. The brash hubris of the billionaire founders who want to “do no evil” and “organize the world’s information” means they really thought they could do things differently; be a different kind of corporation.
In an effort to be more quick and nimble than any giant corporation can reasonably be, there was indeed naivetÃƒÂ© when they put this ambitious project out there. And so yes, they’ve had to “clarify” as they’ve gone forward. The tragedy will be if that undermines their position.
Now I would have preferred if they had never used the implied consent privilege as their model. Opt-out was a mistake; Fair Use Abeyence was the best I could come up with, and I’d have no problem with such an arrangement with publishers.
But now the concern implied by Susan Crawford, one of those arguing in favor of Google’s position on the ALA panel in her wrap-up - “I very much hope that Google won’t settle this case. We need these issues decided.” - that Google might settle, is one that worries me too.
I’m thinking, “Once burned, twice shy.”
As much as I suspect that the lawyers weren’t driving this project at its start, I’m guessing their currency has risen considerably since. And you just know they want to settle. I only hope Page and Brin can stick to their guns, do no evil, and take this fight to the end. Even if in the end they lose, I will applaud and support their ambition.
More fake news
So it’s not just the administration directly paying for fake news, their lobbyists have been paying for it too. I guess those poor think tank fellows couldn’t make ends meet from their right wing benefactors alone. Romenesko:
Copley News Service syndicated columnist Doug Bandow says he accepted money from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing as many as 24 op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff’s clients. “It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it,” says Bandow, who has resigned his senior fellow position with the Cato Institute. (Read some of Bandow’s columns.)
Tom Giovanetti, the president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, unlike his Cato cousins, saw no reason to seem to be appalled by pundit payola: “If somebody pinned me down and said, ‘Do you think this is wrong or unethical?’ I’d say no.” Critics, he said, are applying a “naive purity standard… I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements.”
I think so too, and I’m just a naive American!
Atrios calls for a blogger ethics discussion. Me, I hope Jimbo has suspended Bandow’s Wikipedia account.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
A friend tipped me off to Bill Maher’s comments on Larry King. A caller asked whether he believed that child molesters could be rehabilitated:
MAHER: Santa Claus? Child molesters. Probably not. I mean, they themselves admit that they can’t. They themselves. I’ve heard this many times, read it that a child molester will say, you know what? If you let me out, I am going to do it again.
It’s such a sick thing that that kind of makes sense. I mean, if that is what you really want to do, it doesn’t seem like that is something that is going to go away. It’s much like the right wings thinks that you can reform homosexuals, that if you send them away to camp and get them to pray enough about Jesus, that they’ll start to like women again.
That’s just silly. People have these—I mean, that’s a tough question. Because what do you do with a child molester after they’ve served their time? If you send them back into society, you’re almost asking for it.
He’s got the anecdotes and public opinion right, but he’s wrong on the facts and the prognosis.
On the National Institute of Corrections website they have Myths and Facts about sex offenders which states, “It is noteworthy that recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than for the general criminal population.”
In May, John Q. La Fond, author of Preventing Sexual Violence: How Society Should Cope With Sex Offenders said on NPR’s Science Friday that studies have shown a 20% recidivism rate 5 years out.
And in August USA Today reported sex crimes against children have dropped dramatically. Our perceptions don’t match the facts.
But Mahr caps his mistaken perception with the unfortunate parallel of sending gay kids to Christian camps, thereby linking - by his association - gay people and child molesters.
Personally, I’d like to send Mahr off to a camp to teach rich libertarian comedians to think before they speak.
More holiday travel woes
A snowstorm today and tomorrow. Then I arrive in NYC - via auto of all the ridiculous things to take into that city - on Saturday morning. Not only is there a threat of a transit strike, now the cabbies may go out in sympathy.
Last time around I was living there. I don’t remember a thing about it, probably because I lived in the village then and could walk anywhere I wanted to go. I’ll be staying in the village this trip, too, so the only trek I’ll have to make is too see Sweeney!
I do have to get Doug into the city from JFK on Monday night so maybe it will be good to have the car…
UPDATE: Strike vote delayed until Tuesday.
Michael Stickings sent me a note confirming my gut reaction to yesterday’s speech:
Essentially, Bush neglected to mention the political filter that connected the “wrong” intelligence to his “decision” to go to war. It was that filter that selectively picked out the intelligence that turned out to be wrong, ignoring warnings from the intelligence community. Plus, Bush blamed other intelligence communities for making the same mistakes and deflected ultimate responsibility by declaring that the war was Saddam’s choice, not his own—how’s that for leadership?
His excellent post breaks it down in detail.
RELATED: The NYTimes looks at all four of his recent speeches and finds that the path forward has many ifs.
The AFA thought they had a deal
Now they’re threatening a boycott:
The American Family Association says that Ford Motor Company reneged on some agreements reached in discussions with the automobile giant, and the organization is considering its next move.
“We had an agreement with Ford, worked out in good faith. Unfortunately, some Ford Motor Company officials made the decision to violate the good faith agreement. We are now considering our response to the violation and expect to reach a decision very soon,” said Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of AFA.
AFA had called for a boycott of Ford last spring because of Ford’s support for the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage but suspended the boycott for six months at the request of a group of Ford dealers. Wildmon said AFA and Ford officials hammered out an agreement in the interim that was accepted by both parties.
“All we wanted was for Ford to refrain from choosing sides in the cultural war, and supporting groups which promote same-sex marriage is not remaining neutral,” Wildmon stated.
He stated that because Ford broke the agreement, the option of a boycott is now very much alive.
They now say this was about Ford “refraining from choosing sides” by supporting gay groups. No. AFA said this was about Ford promoting “gay marriage” by advertising its products to gay consumers, by providing its gay employees with company benefits, and by including sexual orientation discrimination in the company’s diversity training.
Remember folks, gay and straight alike, thank Ford! This is bigger than just Ford; if we can hang on to this victory any company threatened by the AFA will know they need not cave to their demands.
Glad I left yesterday
The faith-based book
Scholar Bart Ehrman’s new book explores how scribes—through both omission and intention—changed the Bible. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why is the result of years of reading the texts in their original languages.
An interesting show, worth a listen. In the context of our discussion of the accuracy of Wikipedia, dare I point out the huge percentage of folks in this country who read the Bible as technically accurate literal truth?
Now, I’m no Bible scholar, not even an amateur, but I know that the technology of the day required that it came down to us either as oral stories, or it was hand written and copied. Then we toss in the vagaries of translation.
But still today I live in a country where 45 out 50 states prohibit legal recognition of my committed life-partnership based largely on people’s faith in the accuracy of that book.
And we’re upset that Wikipedia is badly written and has errors?
Whose Faith-Based encyclopedia?
Robert McHenry, a former Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica, calls Wikipedia a faith-based encyclopedia:
A little more than a year ago I first wrote about Wikipedia. In that article I attempted to make two points: that the basic premise of the project is fatally flawed and can only be embraced as an article of faith, and that the project lacks a proper concern for ordinary users, those who are not in on the game.
I’ve already addressed his notion that the word encyclopedia “carries a powerful connotation of reliability.” And disputing the notion that the expert hands down wisdom to the amateur - rather than that it is a process that works the other way around too - is a recurring theme of mine.
Here I’d rather discuss his take on the editorial process:
I was once an encyclopedia editor, but I wasn’t one just because I said so. It’s not like being an artist, after all. When I began I first learned to proofread, then to fiddle about with galleys and page proofs, then to fact-check, then to write clearly and concisely, and so on; at length I learned (so we agreed to say) editorial judgment. Late in my days I took a hand in training others. There really is something to the job—skills, knowledge, experience, and maybe even a touch of talent.
My bottom line is that today we all have to develop our own “editorial judgment;” that technology gives us the tools and we no longer need accept the fiction that there is one definitive authority. In my view, Britannica was the faith-based encyclopedia, and they, steeped in their belief system, are upset that they will no longer be.
I see Wikipedia as part of a welcome return to an oral tradition. In that argument, I say that I won’t miss the lack of technical accuracy. To be clear, I won’t miss it in the oral tradition, or the Wikipedia entry, because I agree with Ray Kurzweil that old paradigms don’t die. We’re not talking about replacing the encyclopedia. We’re talking about an additional information source that can inform the others.
I don’t want one definitive source. I don’t need one definitive source. George Orwell described a world with one definitive source. I want to be empowered to make my own decision. And the freedom to choose the consensus choice or the popular choice or the contrary choice or to propose my own choice!
You know what, I’m wrong. I DO WANT A DEFINITIVE SOURCE. Unfortunately, I can’t have one. I can’t impose mine on you. You can’t impose yours on me. And that’s as it should be. Now given that, I want as much choice - and INPUT - as possible.
Via James Joyner.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Britannica averages 3 bugs per entry; Wikipedia averages 4
Nature, the renowned science journal, asked scientific experts to blind-compare selected entries in Wikipedia to their Encylopoedia Britannica counterparts. The reviewers concluded that Britannica has a marginally lower error-rate than Wikipedia.
The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three. [...]
“People will find it shocking to see how many errors there are in Britannica,” Twidale adds. “Print encyclopaedias are often set up as the gold standards of information quality against which the failings of faster or cheaper resources can be compared. These findings remind us that we have an 18-carat standard, not a 24-carat one.”
Hear that Orlowski?
John says, “we won!”
According to the AFA and media reports over the past two weeks, in order to avoid a boycott from the extremist gay-hating organization, Ford allegedly agreed to:
1. No longer run ads promoting Jaguar or Land Rover in the gay press.
2. No longer support gay events or organizations.
3. Continue running Volvo ads in the gay press, but no longer tailor those ads to the gay community (i.e., in the future such ads would be the same ads that are run in the mainstream media, rather than the crafting the ads to appeal to a gay readership).
Ford addressed and resolved each of our three concerns regarding the above:
1. Ford announced that it will continue to support gay organizations and gay events in the coming year and beyond.
2. Ford is going to run advertisements in the gay media NOT ONLY promoting the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, but the ads will promote ALL of Fords brands, by name, including Jaguar and Land Rover.
3. Ford states unequivocally that it will continue to tailor its ads for the specific audience it is trying to reach, and then goes one step further. Ford challenges us to keep an eye out on their upcoming ads in order to verify that they will in fact be tailored.
Doug’s in Germany setting up a study abroad program, so I got card duty this year. We had our picture taken (not the best but it is authentic and it was for a good cause - our local animal shelter) and bought our photo cards together. But I was left to print the photos, stuff them into cards, address and mail or otherwise deliver them. A much bigger job than I’d imagined.
As I was hand delivering them all over campus yesterday, it occurred to me that our simple cards are something of a political act. Because, you see, on mantels all around my little town - in amongst the “Good Tidings of Cheer” and “Felice Navidad and “Delight in the true gifts from our savior this Christmas” - there will be me, Doug and our two dogs. Two gay guys sitting between a stuffed Santa and a Christmas Tree.
I like that.
I’m leaving now for a long lonely drive north, made manageable by Madonna , Neil Young, Stevie Wonder and a passel of podcasts! I’ve got my laptop, and a list of Panera Bread shops (where I happily click the EULA without reading it. I can only hope it’s not a non-leaky clickthrough!), so posting should continue unabated.