Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where it's against the law to videotape the police

Or videotape other people. Radley Balko looks at the different state laws, and examines the meaning of Maryland's law, which includes the expectation of privacy rule (which interactions with police does the officer have a reasonable expectation of privacy?).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Obama simultaneously scolds base and tells them to help him

This is probably not going to be effective. (via TPM).

Monday, September 27, 2010

What bad stuff we're doing

I was skeptical when I saw the headline "What will future generations condemn us for?"in the Sunday Outlook section of the Post. I mean, it's a great topic, but I was skeptical it would get to something we hadn't all thought of.

But while the piece, by Anthony Appiah, ends up with some expected suspects (factory farming, our prison system), what's neat is the way it gets there, laying out a historical pattern for what kinds of things are signs that it's going to be something we'll later see in a bad light.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

WashPost Includes Bank Bailout in List of Obama Administration Actions

On Sunday's front page, the Washington Post serves up a sad gaffe. "Tea party has nation's attention. Now what?" by Amy Gardner tells the story of what Tea Party groups are up to and how they came to where they are now. In paragraph three:
Soon a scattering of other groups sprung up nearby, including the Lower Bucks County Tea Party Patriots, which hosted meetings where friends and neighbors could gather to share their frustration over the $814 billion federal stimulus package, bank and auto company bailouts, and other actions of the Obama administration.
Those bank bailouts, yeah! The bailouts are indeed cited frequently by critics as a wrong of the Obama Administration. In a Pew poll conducted in early July, 47% thought TARP was passed and signed into law under Obama, 34% said under Bush, and 19% said they didn't know.

Of course, TARP was signed into law by President Bush in October of 2008.

To be sure, Senator Obama voted in favor of the bailout, and as president he has said it was necessary. So it's not that the policy would have necessarily been particularly different if he had been president. The issue is that huge numbers of people, including many in the right wing, are angry at Obama for something Bush did. Yes, there were some conservatives who criticized Bush at the time for the decision, but they weren't exactly out in the streets about it much.

It's one thing for a tea party group to get it wrong, another for the Washington Post to get it wrong, let alone above the fold on Sunday's front page in an enterprise story.

Update: A Week After TARP Error, Post Prints Letter Noting Mistake -- But Doesn't Correct Error

Update 2: WashPost Notes Public Misconception that Obama Created TARP -- But Still Hasn't Corrected Its Own Error on the Matter

Friday, September 24, 2010


In The Nation, Dana Goldstein reviews Waiting for Superman, the new movie on education that the mags are so giddy about.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Carrying stuff carefully

"Proposal bans texting by haz-mat truck drivers" is the headline. That is to say, currently, texting while hazmat driving is just fine.

Of course, laws against texting while driving are hard to enforce, at least within existing methods. So this won't suddenly fix the problem, though it's going in the right direction.

If and when you solve the problem of texting (US DOT's big focus at the moment), there's still the issue of talking on the phone. Lots of state legislatures thought they found a great compromise by requiring hands-free operation. Problem is the research so far says that's barely different than holding the phone.

The answers are not good. We're talking probably a couple thousand deaths a year. That status quo is the 'easy' option policy wise, while telling people they can't talk and drive is the hard one. You might think it should go the other way. In any case, a few economists have already been working this one for years trying to quantify the economic loss if you banned talking and driving. It'll be interesting to see to what extent each side of the debate does or doesn't embrace a numeric cost-benefit frame on the issue.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Washington Post Columnist Mocks IMF Demonstrators She Previously Covered in News Pages

Petula Dvorak, currently a Washington Post columnist, covered several protests of the International Monetary Fund back when she was a staff reporter. She co-authored the paper's main report on the "A16" demonstrations ("Police, Protesters Claim Victory; Scattered Scuffles and Arrests Punctuate a Largely Peaceful Day", 4/17/00, via Nexis) and has also covered such demonstrations in 2002 and in 2005.

On the one hand, Dvorak's accounts focused generally on the demonstrator-police happenings and not the actual issues (might be beyond her control, hard to know), but on the other her articles avoided the anti-demonstrator hyperbole that goes in many of these articles.

Surely Dvorak formed opinions about the issues, as is her right. It would be odd if she didn't.

We learn about those views in her column this morning on the Stewart/Colbert rallies (ooh, they spelled her name "Petual Dvorak" after the jump). She says:
Or we see the protesters in gas masks and distressed Mad Max costumes, beating drums, not showering, burning incense and unsure what, exactly, the International Monetary Fund does. But it's seriously evil, dude.
Hah, funny! They even burn incense! Who does that anymore?!

I guess it's impressive and laudable that Dvorak kept these views well out of print while she was a reporter. But it's also troubling to think: if you view the demonstrators as Dvorak does, would you give the actual substantive issues at hand much real examination? I mean, these demonstrators supposedly don't even know what the IMF does.

I come away from this all with mixed feelings. I find Dvorak's paragraph there today fairly cliche and lazy, but I'm also interested to know that that's how she sees it. She can say whatever she wants as a columnist, and even if she were still in the news section, I don't think hiding her opinions would help anything (see this argument). But now that we know those opinions, it will change how I look back at those articles.

We're likely (hopefully) moving toward a world where people in the news biz don't have to hide their opinions, and then those opinions can be critiqued. Which was exactly my purpose here.

Monday, September 20, 2010 Busy Printing Bizarre Comedy Pieces By Edit Page Staffer

Humor writing is hard. Not very many people can do it well. And if you aren't good enough, it often just comes out really weird, forced and/or painful.

The Washington Post, it turns out, is trying to be hip these days by (among other things) having humor writing on its editorial/opinion blog. The editorial section's blog is a strange place already: it's where you go to read Jonathan Capehart and Steven Stromberg keep you updated on the acceptable range of political debate, where self congratulation goes to an extreme (i.e. "I agree with Jonathan that Wil Haygood wrote a terrific piece this morning..." -- good thing, I wouldn't have read the article if only one of them had recommended it!). The blog has its good writers, but unfortunately once you've enjoyed a Colby King gem it's soon back to Jackson Diehl and his recurring series, Where We Should Attack Next.

It was about two months ago that the blog started printing humor columns from one Alexandra Petri, apparently an intern at the time.

Petri writes on everything. She took on the Glenn Beck rally:
With a few additions and subtractions of a small sort, this Glenn Beck rally on the Mall vs. Al Sharpton rally on the Mall vs. Memory of Dr. King rally on the Mall episode essentially has the same plot as Bride Wars, except that the weddings have been replaced with a group of people yelling partisan slogans and waving poorly-worded signs.
Get it? They're all crazy people! Oh and with signs, though most people at the Beck rally didn't, in fact, have signs. Whatever.

When her colleague got giddy about Obama criticizing the petulant left (his words), she giddied on board, doing a post repeating the same basic point but trying to make it funnier, and knocked down a straw man (the left thinks Obama has failed to save the world!) that the Post has been plenty busy knocking down over and over already.

At some point Petri became a staffer within the editorial section, and then got space for an op-ed in the print edition. It was a strange, nonsensical, rambling thing:
Older people are always terrified when they see Facebook groups with more than 30 members. They have this antiquated notion that if we ever got worked up enough, we might show up somewhere in person. True, we might, but only to check in on Foursquare.
Oh and she promoted her own twitter feed in the piece! If you can get that past the editors, well, I suppose I tip my hat.

It's not that she can't be funny; there's some clever writing in there if you look.

But this isn't about a person, it's about how the Post treats its readers. If you want to get more readers on your website (or to your op-ed page), you need high quality content. This whole internet thing isn't just "oh look what we put up on our blog today, we're being edgy!" It's, how do we produce online content that will have a chance of being as good as what the competition is putting up?

The Post, in other words, needs to aim higher. Maybe the edit page's blog should bring in some outside writers, for example. And maybe a humor writer is indeed an idea worth trying. But if you're going to do it, go out there and contract the best person available on the market.

Update: A clarification about that last bit. I don't mean to be saying the Post, with its smaller budget, can produce a website that matches the breadth of the Times' website. But it needs to aim far higher with the content it creates.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

NYT takes a hard look at its own polling on the deficit

FAIR Blog points out this bit from the NYT article a few days ago on their latest poll:
The economy and jobs are increasingly and overwhelmingly cited by Americans as the most important problems facing the country, while the deficit barely registers as a topic of concern when survey respondents were asked to volunteer their worries.
Indeed. The full results are here. On page 4 are the numbers for "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?" Economy gets 32%, Jobs 28%, and nothing else gets more than a few percentage points. Deficit gets 3%.

Previously on bsom: NYT Alleges 'Widespread Public Anger at Deficits'

Friday, September 17, 2010

After the storm

There's extensive damage in Brooklyn and Queens from the storms that struck at 5-something yesterday evening. NYT has this gallery of reader-submitted photos.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Times' Kansas City bureau is up

The NYT announced the other month that they are re-opening the Kansas City bureau. Very good. So what news will there be?

Today brings the first story, and it's well-written and all but it's something about some weird dude who has a small replica of the Golden Gate Bridge that he built nine years ago...

I'm wondering if this money wouldn't have been better spent on an additional staffer for say the Mexico City bureau.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You're really trying hard to be a serious national newspaper when...

You use a question mark in the headline on a story on the top-right of A1?

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Skateboarder Foils Would-Be Koran Burner In Texas"

A neat little story out of Amarillo, via TPM:
"I snuck up behind him and took his Koran, he said something about burning the Koran, I said 'Dude you have no Koran,' and ran off."
Update! Turns out the would-be Koran burner is an armed guard at a nuclear weapons facility.

WaPo Edit Page: "Almost Everyone Agrees" Rhee Has Been "Stellar"

The Washington Post editorial page is getting desperate when it comes to the DC mayoral race, and now their out-of-touchness has emerged on further display.

The paper already endorsed Fenty for mayor several weeks ago. But in Sunday's paper, the edit page came back to the topic in an unusual final plea ("Preserving D.C.'s hard-won gains"). The piece serves up this logic:
There have been complaints about Mr. Fenty's tendency to go outside the city's political establishment to staff his administration, yet almost everyone agrees that his key appointments -- police chief, schools chancellor, fire chief, transportation chief and more -- have been stellar.
If Fenty's schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, really was viewed positively by "almost everyone", this reelection bid could be looking much better for Fenty. But she isn't.

Good, recent polling data on the subject is available from... The Washington Post. The paper published a poll that included relevant questions just two weeks ago. From that article:
Talk of Rhee's performance and future is a constant on the campaign trail, but the deep polarization over the chancellor does not give either candidate a clear advantage. In the latest poll, 41 percent of Democrats say her record is a reason to vote for Fenty; 40 percent say it is a factor against Fenty. Among white voters polled, 68 percent say Rhee is a reason to support Fenty, but 54 percent of African Americans consider Rhee a strike against him.
Sure, those numbers for Rhee aren't absolutely terrible, but the explanation there gets it right -- she is the subject of deep polarization.

Jo-Ann Armao and Fred Hiatt are welcome to think Rhee is "stellar" if they want, but declaring that "almost everyone" shares this view -- when the polling is clear otherwise -- is an insult.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pentagon says it's improving rules for journos at Gitmo

It certainly sounds like DOD is fixing a big chunk of the problems; see McClatchy's article. Quotes their own Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, ace of the Gitmo reporters, saying that the changes
"leave room for optimism, particularly the portion that makes crystal clear it is not a violation to publish already public information, even if they call it 'protected.' But we have to wait until we get to Guantanamo to see how these are implemented on the ground by the U.S. forces."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Recipe Time: Late Summer Salsas

It's that time folks. Use these wonderful ingredients before it's too late.

These salsas can be eaten straight up on a tortilla chip, but they can also be used atop chicken, grilled fish (i.e. catfish, tilapia), tofu, a fried egg, an open faced-grill cheese, etc. Enjoy.

Salsa Fresca

From NYTimes, 2006

2 large fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ large white onion, peeled and minced
¼ teaspoon minced raw garlic, or to taste
1 habanero or jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced, or to taste
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice or 1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper.

Combine all ingredients, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Let the flavors marry for 15 minutes or so before serving, but serve within a couple of hours. Makes about 2 cups.

Mango Salsa
From Rebecca G

1/2 jalapeno
2 mangos
1 avocado
1/2 red pepper
3-4 scallions
1 tsp lime peel
2 limes, juice of
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh ginger
1/4 C chopped cilantro


Peach Salsa With Lime Juice and Honey

From, uh,

4 small peaches, peeled and diced
Juice of 2 limes, about 1/4 cup juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 to 3 tablespoons diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon finely minced jalapeno pepper, or to taste
1 heaping tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion or sweet onion

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving time. The flavors are best if the salsa is refrigerated for 4 hours or overnight. Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Media bias, big-picture views of

Paul Waldman in The American Prospect:
The charge of liberal bias had a practical purpose, to "work the refs," as Republican Party Chair Rich Bond in 1992 memorably called it. But this charge was also woven deeply into conservative ideology, such that despising the media became part of what it meant to be an American conservative, even as the media became increasingly responsive to the right.

The left didn't agree with the conservative critique, but it didn't entirely disagree, either. Liberals believed in the fundamental mission of journalism and expected journalists to hold a broadly liberal worldview. Not that reporters were actively rooting for Democrats, but liberals saw them as advocates of government openness, inclined toward rationalism and skeptical of power. Progressives may not have thought journalists were on our side, but we did believe we were on journalism's side -- and that serious, substantive, and fair reporting would make the rightness of progressive ideas clear, without intervention. This assumption turned out to be extraordinarily naive.

See more in "Whose Media Bias? Progressives' attempt to reshape the media has had some successes, but the failures may be more instructive."

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day post

Sorry to be so negative, but here's a little look at the state of the power of American labor:

(Based on BLS stats; via Doug Henwood, h/t Mathieu)

Friday, September 03, 2010

If the administration says the war in Iraq is over...

AP Standards Editor:
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A classic, remixed

Pippi Longstocking theme, the dance remix:

Plus! The original. Guy with ukulele. Angst version.

The problem of Brian Ross

Sometimes Brian Ross of ABC does good stuff. The problem is, other times he is completely wrong. Justin Elliott of Salon chronicles how Ross blew the latest "terrorism" story -- the guys on the plane from Chicago.

Federer's shot

Between the legs.