Monday, January 31, 2005


Headlines and photographs shape (or reflect) our opinion of events. The ink-stained forefingers of Iraqi voters made for arresting and heartening images yesterday and today. The headlines I saw slowly morphed from variants on Bush Says the election is a success (but who can really believe him?) to The Election is a Success!

Strangely enough, The New York Times apparently worked backwards, growing more despondent as the day progressed:
TIME HEADLINE [the headlined article itself did not change during the day]
09:24 High Turnout in Baghdad Points to Early Success
10:24 Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets
18:26 Insurgent Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Kill at Least 24
20:50 Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Reportedly Kill Several Dozen
Today they grudgingly editorialized:
This page has not hesitated to criticize the Bush administration over its policies in Iraq, and we continue to have grave doubts about the overall direction of American strategy there. Yet today, along with other Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people. For now at least, the multiple political failures that marked the run-up to the voting stand eclipsed by a remarkably successful election day.
When even the naysayers admit to "remarkable" success, it is truly a remarkable event.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


Keep folks from getting married or encourage them to get divorced:
The marriage gap is one of the most important cleavages in electoral politics… The marriage gap is a defining dynamic in today’s politics, eclipsing the gender gap, with marital status a significant predictor of the vote, independent of the effects of age, race, income, education or gender.
(Via Steve Sailer, who performs a victory dance of vindication)

The Warrior Monk's comment: Aha! You've acceded to the patriarchy! [He then performed his own dorky and ribald victory dance]

Friday, January 28, 2005


The Coleman v. Blogdom sparring we all enjoyed so much back in December keeps reverberating. Now Editor & Publisher has got hold of it and graced us with some new Coleman quotes:
So is this the future of blog-newspaper relations in 2005 and beyond? According to Coleman, yes, and not in a good way. He says traditional news outlets need to keep tabs on the blogs and shoot back when necessary. "Editors and writers in mainstream media are very naive," he says. "Readership and power of the blogs is increasing." He also claims that the blogs are dangerous because they are not under the same ethical restrictions as mainstream media and seek to stay on the attack, facts be damned. He contends "the mainstream media is under assault."
(Via People's Republic of Minnesota)

That Coleman. So ethical. Plus he knows stuff, like how to whack people with a hockey stick. Now he's one MSMer who's ready to shoot back at those dangerous blogs! Everyone feel safer now?


The seven year old is off to sleep over at her friend's house tonight. I'm a bit wary of sleep-overs because a year or two ago her hostess' parent completely fell for the seven year old's pathetic "I'm scared! [whimper]" act and ended up trying every soothing trick they could think of: OK! you can fall asleep in our bed ... still awake and whimpering? OK! we'll go to sleep on the floor in your room ... still whimpering? OK! you can watch the movie we're watching ... and so on. Very little sleep was had by anyone and I felt terribly guilty. So this time I warned the mom: don't coddle her! Be very matter of fact if she whines and don't reward any silly complaints with gooey sympathy.

The seven year old is an exceedingly bashful and anxious soul so I long ago learned to match my sympathetic responses to the reasonableness of the complaint: bit tongues get hugs and coos (but not for terribly long), complaints that she "didn't have fun today" get a perfunctory ("well, I'm sorry you feel that way"). If we cuddle and make much of her when she's "scared," she seems to feel it more intensely, not less.

You get more of what you reward -- this seems like a truism to me. But not to the (now fading, I hope) self-esteem gurus who recently endured another nail in their beloved theorem:
In fact, according to a study by Donald Forsyth at Virginia Commonwealth University, college students with mediocre grades who got regular self-esteem strokes from their professors ended up doing worse on final exams than students who were told to suck it up and try harder.
(Via Functional Ambivalent)

If the students got strokes for mediocrity what's the big surprise that they didn't try hard to preven it from happening in the future?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


St. Paul Pioneer Press Columnist Mark Yost interviewed the Northern Alliance this past weekend (for the most part, the interview took place live, on air) . The result:
It's fair to say that Power Line, where astute fact checkers nearly brought down Dan Rather, were the cyber stars of 2004. And rightfully so.

But Power Line is just the tip of the iceberg. Minnesota is replete with bloggers, including Fraters Libertas (www.fraterslibertas.com), part of the Northern Alliance, which includes SCSU Scholars, Captain's Quarters, Shot in the Dark and others.
"Others"! Spitbull finally has found a nickname to go with its snazzy new tagline: bland and padded with clichés.

But not everyone was as pleased with the results of the interview. Some felt there were important omissions. Others sniffed that the resulting editorial merely showed the MSM had little power to increase hit counts. Still others decided to seek the truth by posting a transcript of the interview:
Yost: I’m doing a story on the Fraters and understand that you are an avid reader of theirs. Do you mind if I ask a few questions?

NIGP: I’d be happy to talk about blogging. I initially started blogging to keep in touch with friends.

Yost: I’m not asking you about blogging. I’m asking about the reasons you read the Fraters. So, how long have you been reading the Fraters?

NIGP: I’ve been blogging for about two years. I started as a favor to the Fraters, adding my contributions to their site to help them build readership.

Yost: They never mentioned that.
They report, you decide.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Protest tipping point missed:
If one more person had come through for us, Bush would have had a moment of clarity and changed his entire approach to governing America.


To the disappointment of Heiko [who organized the protest through his website TurnYourBackOnBush.org] and his fellow protesters, Bush was able to continue to ignore widespread criticism, because of the one person who didn't show up.
The Onion reports on this and other bungled protest opportunities.

I have never protested anything. I feel more powerful than I have in years.

Monday, January 24, 2005


Even when I lived in New York City I used to leave my purse everywhere. Amazingly, I always got it back somehow and now, years later, seem to have finally learned that I should have it with me when I walk out of a place.

Dangerously, I now possess both a mobile telephone and a pocket PC, both of which are two of the most frequently forgotten objects in taxicabs according to a recent survey:
Taxi drivers in nine cities also said they had found a range of other items left by passengers, including a harp, 37 milk bottles, dentures and artificial limbs. One driver said he even found a baby in his taxi.
But fortunately I rarely have reason to take a taxi anymore now that I live in the Twin Cities.

The Warrior Monk has a habit of leaving objects on top of his car (while dealing with packages, kids, car seats and so on) and then driving off. Anyone finding a pair of horn-rimmed glasses in the street of Southwest Minneapolis, please drop us an e-mail.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Sisyphus at Nihilist in Golf Pants, wishing to "attract a higher class of clientele," has recently "decided to become more proactive" by "exploit[ing his] insights into art and art history." His maiden voyage discusses Manet, Goya, and Munch and features links to a representative work by each artist.

I think this is an excellent idea, Sisyphus, and I applaud your efforts. Too often the blogosphere seems like an unsupervised playroom for ADD kids who have run out of Ritalin. Bloggers and their readers have a distressing tendency to skitter from topic to topic without ever really penetrating the surface. Sound and fury signifying nothing, all heat and no light, et cetera. Sometimes the blogosphere even approaches the pornographic in its endless, compulsive pursuit of ultimately meaningless encounters.

It's essential that we step back now and then to take a--what's the best word?--broader view, to really look at the important things in life without stooping to cheap gags or other juvenile tactics. Art appreciation is a wonderful way to do this. And so I shall return serve to Sisyphus by highlighting another painter of note.

Egon Schiele was an Austrian who died at the tragically young age of 28 in 1918. A superb draftsman, he came under the sway of Gustav Klimt and became a leading expressionist. His mature style is typified by a jagged angularity of line and an intensity or even garishness of color that is off-putting to some viewers but arresting and compelling to many others. Here are three fine examples of his work.

Perhaps I like Sisyphus will devote some future posts to art appreciation. Provided I haven't just violated some sort of FCC regulation.


An ad agency survey reveals: Bush voters prefer Wal-Mart; Kerry voters prefer Target.

(Via Agenda)

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Air America's losing altitude in Philly:
... Arbitron ratings for fall were released last week. Though specific numbers are not available for Franken's time slot, a check of Rhodes' finds that WHAT's ratings have dropped.

Among total listeners ages 12 and older, the station managed a 0.5 rating in fall 2003; it got a 0.3 this time. The "cume," the cumulative number of weekly listeners, fell from 22,000 to 17,800. By comparison, Sean Hannity and Dom Giordano on talk rival WPHT-AM (1210) had a 4.4 rating and cume of 217,800 weekly listeners; the top afternoon-drive station was WBEB-FM (101.1), with a 7.6 rating and a cume of 441,100.

At its flagship station in New York, Air America finished 24th in the fall.
(Via VodkaPundit)

But, on the bright side, Al Franken has picked up a new gig writing copy for coffee cups. Or, as Starbucks puts it "a collection of thoughts, opinions and expressions provided by notable figures." A collection of thoughts that apparently requires the following disclaimer on every cup:
Please note: The opinions put forth by contributors to “The Way I See It” do not necessarily reflect the views of Starbucks.
(Via Adfreaks)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Via Dilley Blog I see that NARNian Captain Ed "of the popular conservative blog Captain’s Quarters" is quoted in City Journal. He is tapped to explain why America's college campuses are drifting right:
these kids "grew up on . . . moral relativism and internationalism, constantly fed the line that there was no such thing as evil in the world, only misunderstandings.” Suddenly, on 9/11, this generation discovered that “there are enemies and they wanted to kill Americans in large numbers, and that a good portion of what they’d been taught was drizzly pap."
If asked, Spitbull would have said that the kids finally figured out Volvos are awfully expensive and kind of unreliable, but we weren't asked. Maybe next time.


In two months the venerable SAT will include a written essay! The Washington Post goes behind-the-scenes at a sample essay scoring session:
Brian A. Bremen, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, notes that the writer provides only one real example. Nevertheless, he says, the writer displays "a clear chain of thought" and should be rewarded, "despite his Republican tendencies."
(Via Marginal Revolution)

Hey! Two can play at that game: I give the scoring scheme a 3 (out of a range of 1-6), despite its makeup of "a team of English professors and psychometricians."

Monday, January 17, 2005


Professor Ann Althouse comes to the defense of both Malcolm Gladwell and Judge Posner, the first in response to a charge (made by Judge Posner) that the prose in Gladwell's new book Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is "bland and padded with clichés," the second, more weakly, responding to a profile of Posner (not authored by Gladwell but published a few years ago in The New Yorker, Gladwell's usual literary haunt) that called him "ectoplasmic."

Althouse posits that the padding in Gladwell's writing is The New Yorker's fault:
Somebody, somewhere along the line at that magazine, a long time ago, decided the writer has to paint a picture for the reader. So whether you're interviewing a movie star or a scientist, you've got to give us some words about the person's face, what the room was like, what food was consumed, whether a dog trotted into the room.
Since Blink did not itself appear in The New Yorker, I guess this boils down to a claim that Gladwell's slightly flabby writing style was learned at that magazine's knee. But Althouse's rueful re-quoting of the somewhat uncomplimentary Posner profile from the same magazine belies this charge: "he has about him the distant, omniscient, ectoplasmic air of the butler in a haunted house" does, I believe, add a dimension to the understanding of how Posner can write such original let's-get-to-the-point-right-away legal opinions--as well as books--all at an unholy and clerk-destroying pace. It's not a superfluous description (and Althouse herself lauds the article as "rich").

Much as I respect Professor Althouse (and Malcolm Gladwell too--I own and have read The Tipping Point and greatly enjoy his contributions to The New Yorker over the years), I think she is wrong to believe that Posner's criticism of Gladwell is payback for the ectoplasmic remarks: remember, this man chuckles when accused of holding views "bordering on fascism." He also praised The New Yorker profile as "witty, perceptive, and on the whole accurate, though there are a few points that I would take issue with." (The Warrior Monk posted this about the "inhuman monster" last year)

I think if Posner is irked at Gladwell's--or The New Yorker's--literary style, it is more likely due to Posner's preference for spare and sometimes vicious prose as demonstrated in his own writing. For example, his review of
Evan Gerstmann's book Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution contains this jab:
It is a strange implication of Gerstmann's approach that if a man wanted to marry his sterile sister, his eighty-year-old grandmother, three other women, two men, and his chihuahua, a court would have to turn somersaults to come up with a "compelling state interest" that would forbid these matches.
(the review prompted, in part, this previous post here)

Even the very phrase Althouse has taken issue with has a certain appeal. Although Spitbull's current motto/descriptor reads "an effete and impudent blog" I now intend to petition The Warrior Monk to change it to "
bland and padded with clichés." A much better tagline than we could ever have come up with.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Jim Boyd (yes, that Jim Boyd) weighs in on the is-the-U.S.-stingy debate in today's Strib. He pooh-poohs the case that traditional measures of foreign aid ignore or significantly underestimate the extent of private giving, characterizing it as "based on a single article" in Foreign Affairs by a "conservative" (bad, bad!) Hudson Institute analyst whose figures he claims "do not stand up to even cursory scrutiny." He relies instead on the "Commitment to Development Index" (CDI) created by the Center for Global Development in conjunction with Foreign Policy magazine. By that measure, the U.S. ranks seventh out of the 21 countries evaluated--hardly miserly, but not the epitome of charity.

(Curiously, Boyd provides the URL for the CDI study but not for the Foreign Affairs article; indeed, he doesn't even identify the author. Well, a little googling reveals that her name is Carol Adelman, that her article is available from Foreign Affairs' online archive for a fee [the first 500 words are available as a preview for free], and that the entire article can be read for nothing on the Hudson Institute's web site. Was Boyd's omission inadvertent, incompetent, or intentional?)

As is usually the case with policy debates framed in either/or terms, the real answer is both unclear and, insofar as it can be made clear, seems to be somewhere in the middle. For one, that's the impression I get from Daniel Drezner, who has blogged and written about this issue a lot and who seems quite objective and even-handed in his approach. (He also served on the Board of Advisors for the CDI study, a fact which he freely discloses.) His analysis demonstrates that, in creating foreign-aid rankings, there are a number of thorny issues about which components to include as a conceptual matter and how to measure them as a practical matter.

One big issue is foreign remittances--that is, amounts which foreign nationals working abroad send back to their families in their home countries. Adelman says that $18 billion flowed out of the U.S. in this way in 2000--making up over half of her $35 billion estimate of private U.S. foreign aid. The CDI study omitted this money, apparently because "[a]vailable data on remittances are improving, but still incomplete." (Adelman's article, it should be noted, provides no source for the $18 billion number, and there do indeed seem to be difficulties in getting an accurate handle on the precise amount of these flows.) For his part, Boyd rejects the inclusion of foreign remittances, not on measurement grounds but because he thinks they are categorically unworthy of being counted: this money, he says, "scarcely constitutes what most people think of as 'private foreign aid.'"

But so what? How is the actual effect of this money distinguishable from the actual effect of official aid or private charitable aid, at least in terms of increasing the wealth of the donees? And why should it matter "what most people think" about this--keeping in mind that the debunking of conventional wisdom was the ostensible point of Boyd's piece?

Drezner stakes out the middle ground:
Remittance flows are clearly important, but counting them as examples of American generosity strikes me as a bit off-kilter. Americans aren't remitting this money -- foreign nationals are. The U.S. deserves a measure of credit for permitting foreign workers into the country and sending money back -- indeed, I agree with Tyler Cowen that remittances are, "the most effective welfare programs ever devised." However, this policy is of a different kind than either public or private aid.

I don't think Adelman is incorrect in her core thesis. But lumping remittances in with charity flows exaggerates the generosity of Americans as a people.
Maybe, maybe not. Putting aside the measurement difficulties, the debate over whether to include remittances in assessing foreign aid seems to be just another variation on the age-old battle between intentionalist and consequentialist ethics. What's more important: how virtuous or venal Americans are in the realm of foreign aid--how yummy or icky we feel about ourselves, or perhaps more truthfully, about our political opponents? Or should we be concerned instead with the real, overall impact of the U.S. and its economy on increasing the wealth of poor countries? I'll give one more nod to my caution above about either/or debates before concluding that my cold economic heart beats decidedly harder for the latter option.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Is the "War on Terror" a misnomer?:
My argument is that the "War on Terror" is a pretty bad name for what's going on because you're fighting a tactic. You have to personalize this and show what group of people we're fighting. Then the objective becomes pretty clear. The objective in the "War on Terror" is not clear; it's not clear how you know you've won. But a "War on Jihadis" is pretty clear.
The Northern Alliance radioists are interviewing the author of this statement, Yale military historian Professor Mary Habeck, right now on AM1280 The Patriot. Listen up!

Friday, January 14, 2005


I live close enough to downtown that on days like today (-20 degrees) I am at my office by the time my car warms up.

On a more positive note, the dishwasher didn't freeze this morning as it has the previous ten years of cold snaps. Last year we finally got wise and insulated its back end. Now that's thinking ahead!

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Who's dissing CBS News now?:
... it has no credibility. And no audience, no morale, no long-term emblematic anchorperson and no cohesive management structure. Outside of those annoyances, it shouldn't be that hard to fix.


... I stopped watching it some time ago. The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me. I still check in, but less and less frequently. I increasingly drift to NBC News and Fox and MSNBC.
Surprise! It's Van Gordon Sauter, former president of CBS News. (Via Romenesko)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Apologies for our silence to date on the Captain's World Relief Day. It should not be interpreted as opposition or apathy--it's just that I was waiting to see what sort of tsunami relief program my employer would adopt, and, as it turns out, they will be doing a double match. So, from a bang-for-buck standpoint, it makes sense for us to funnel most of our giving through them. On the other hand, their program is limited to three charities, and World Vision isn't one of them. So, we promise that we'll throw some money the Captain's way before the end of the day. And you should too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Jane Galt discusses the national aspirations of The New York Times in light of their poor national circulation numbers (vis-a-vis The Wall Street Journal and USA Today) and concludes:
I imagine the folks at Times headquarters are as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Spitbull doesn't know how to stop the rocking, but predicts many lives for the Times crossword puzzle feature, and fewer than nine for their Editorials/Op-Ed section.

Monday, January 10, 2005


It has come to our attention that on the rare occasion that the length of our post exceeds the length of our blogroll, our post loses. That is, it gets truncated.

On the rare occasion that you actually want or need to read the end of the truncated post, here's the solution: toggle your "Favorites" sidebar on and off by clicking on the "[Star] Favorites" button on your toolbar at the top of this page. Or you can download the FireFox browser (the truncation bug seems to only happen with Internet Explorer).

I sent an e-mail to Blogger but I don't know when we'll get a fix.


Early on the morning of December 31 I had some complimentary words for Nick Coleman's Strib column of that day about the ordeal of Mary Peek. However, just as I was finishing up my post I discovered through a simple Google search for "Mary Peek" that the Strib column looked a lot like a rehash of a column Coleman had written about Peek for the Pioneer Press back in 2002.

For instance, this how the Pioneer Press column opened:
The pieces of shrapnel in Mary Peek's arms look like little specks of coal beneath her fair skin. At one time, there were so many she only went to see the doctor for help removing the big pieces. The little ones she took care of herself, using a razor blade to cut them out when they made their way to the surface.
Reading this took me aback, because Coleman expressed the same arresting image in nearly identical terms in the December 31 Strib column:
They looked like pieces of coal beneath her skin, and over the years, as they worked their way out, she used a razor to remove them when they got close to the surface.
There are other examples; read for yourself and judge. I should note that the Pioneer Press column is about twice as long (and even more compelling) than the Strib column, and that the Strib column includes some material that wasn't in the Pioneer Press column, such as the news of Peek's death and funeral arrangements and new quotes from Peek's husband and son. But all in all I'd say that at least two-thirds of the Strib column looks to have been lifted in substantially identical form from the Pioneer Press column. Also (and this to me is very significant), nothing in the Strib column divulged the existence of the Pioneer Press column, or, for that matter, that Coleman had ever written about Peek before in any forum.

I updated my post to note this discovery, threw in a snarky comment about professional standards, and went to bed. After sleeping on it, I felt a little less snarky and a little more genuinely curious. So I sent an e-mail to the Strib's new reader's representative, Kate Parry, asking her what the paper's policy was in this regard.

While I waited for her response, I did some online research about what standards, if any, govern self-plagiarism (if that is indeed the best term to characterize this situation). Most of the ethics codes I found (and there are a gaggle of them--a sure sign that nobody who opines on journalistic standards really knows what the hell they are talking about) were vague or otherwise unhelpful. For instance, here in its entirety is what the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists has to say about plagiarism: "Never plagiarize." Pithy and refreshingly direct, but not particularly useful. The Society has gone a little further by compiling some excerpts on plagiarism from various other ethics codes (available at journalism.org). Most of these are more detailed, some significantly so, but none addresses the issue of reusing one's own work.

However, I did find one source that addresses it head on: an article by Roy Peter Clark entitled "The Unoriginal Sin" that originally appeared in the March 1983 issue of Washington Journalism Review and is currently available online at poynter.org. The article discussed several flavors of plagiarism before coming to the relevant one:
RECYCLING YOUR OLD STORIES. A low-grade ethical problem is the borrowing by a writer of his own work. Even Ann Landers has been caught and criticized for passing off old work as new. As writers move from newspaper to newspaper, they take files of their stories with them and are not above copying themselves when pressed. Such exhumation should be done with the permission of the newspaper in which the story first appeared and with a note of explanation to the reader. [Emphasis mine.]
So, if we take as our first approximation of a governing principle the sentence I marked in bold, it's hard not to conclude that Coleman's Strib column is "ethical[ly] problem[atic]," albeit in a "low-grade" way. While it's possible that the Pioneer Press consented to the recycling of the prior column, a "note of explanation to the reader" in the Strib was, as I mentioned above, conspicuously lacking.

In addition to this top-down, code-driven approach, I tried a bottom-up, common-law angle. In other words, are there any concrete examples of objections being raised to a journalist's reuse of his own work? If so, how seriously were the objections taken?

As it turns out, the answers are "yes" and "very." In April 2004, the Houston Chronicle suspended sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz for recycling without attribution a piece he had written for another paper. A few months later, the Miami Herald actually terminated arts critic Octavio Roca of the Miami Herald for reusing several reviews, again without attribution, he had first published in other papers.

The Chronicle had this to say about Herskowitz:
A Mickey Herskowitz column published in the Sunday, March 21 Chronicle was virtually identical to one he wrote for the Houston Post in 1990. This is a clear violation of journalism standards and the writer has been suspended.

Herskowitz's column about legendary basketball coach John Wooden contained little new information and many duplicative phrases. A further examination also found other examples of short passages in Post columns that later appeared in the Chronicle.

While this is not plagiarism, it is bad form. The Chronicle believes that readers deserve original work. Columnists often draw from earlier writing, but anything previously reported or quoted should be labeled as such. What our writer did was wrong and we apologize.
And here is what the Herald had to say about Roca's case:
In the past week, we parted ways with a talented arts writer and critic, Octavio Roca, who had produced several articles for The Herald that had been copied substantially from those he had written for newspapers where he previously worked.

When confronted, he sought to justify his recycling by likening himself to a college professor who delivers the same lecture to different students. And he argued that, because he was repeating his own words, he hadn't committed plagiarism, which is the theft of another's work.

But that rationale stood reason upside down. A reporter is less akin to a professor than to a student who is assigned to research a subject and to return with a report. The lazy student who submits the same term paper to satisfy the requirements of different courses would certainly be flunked in both classes. Such ''self plagiarism'' violates the fundamental expectation that, in a learning environment, all work must be original.

In this newsroom we have another term: breaking faith with readers, who expect that the articles in The Herald are fresh and timely unless it's otherwise made clear.
The Herald has also updated its Ethics Guidelines on plagiarism:
NEVER plagiarize. Never. Give credit when you use the work of others. Readers expect work appearing in The Herald to be original. You shouldn’t, for instance, recycle work you've published elsewhere and present it as original in The Herald.
By Wednesday morning, January 5, I still hadn't heard back from the Strib's Parry or even received an acknowledgment of my e-mail (not to be churlish, but given that anyone using Microsoft Outlook can, in about 30 seconds, set it up to generate automatic responses like "I'll be out of the office until X," is it too much to ask that the e-mail box of a newspaper's self-styled reader's representative have a similar mechanism in place so that readers can be assured that their correspondence has been received?). So I sent another e-mail. This time I did get a response. Parry noted that the high volume of inquiries precludes an individual response to each one (understandable, and I wouldn't trade jobs with her for all the money in the world; still . . . anything wrong with automated acknowledgments?). Then she characterized the December 31 column as a "follow-up" and concluded that, as such, it wasn't recycling.

I responded with a long e-mail relating much of what I set forth above. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that much of that material and the material which follows in this post is taken en masse or in substance from my e-mails to Kate Parry. This post is the first time I've actually published it; but still, just so you know.) Parry responded again. She said that she takes "accusations of plagiarism very, very seriously" but that this wasn't plagiarism because Coleman had reported some new information and "confirmed background previously published on the case."

Here was my parry (sorry, sorry; couldn't resist):
I'm not sure why the fact that Coleman spoke again to Peek's husband and son and quoted them in the Dec. 31 column would give him license to fill the rest of that column with previously published material without (and this is really the crux of the matter) telling the reader that this material was previously published. Also, I would think that the best source on (say) Dr. Horrigan would be Dr. Horrigan, not Peek's relatives. Did Coleman talk to Dr. Horrigan again? There is nothing in the Dec. 31 column to indicate that he did; on the contrary, the fact that the quote from Dr. Horrigan is virtually identical to the one appearing in the Pioneer Press column suggests that he didn't.

It might be helpful to step back from the rather ominous word "plagiarism" and consider exactly what it is about plagiarism that's objectionable. In the typical case--that is, when one writer uses another writer's work--I'd say there are two problems: there is a theft (suffered by the true writer) and there is a misrepresentation of originality (suffered by the reader). When a writer reuses his own work, the problem of theft disappears, but the problem of misrepresentation doesn't.

Moreover, there is a very simple remedy for the misrepresentation--simply tell the reader that the material was previously published. Or, as Roy Peter Clark puts it, "Such exhumation should be done with the permission of the newspaper in which the story first appeared and with a note of explanation to the reader." Or, as the Houston Chronicle puts it, "Columnists often draw from earlier writing, but anything previously reported or quoted should be labeled as such." Or, as the Miami Herald's Ethical Guidelines put it, "Readers expect work appearing in The Herald to be original. You shouldn’t, for instance, recycle work you've published elsewhere and present it as original in The Herald."

At the end of the day, I think I'm with Clark in seeing this as a "low-grade ethical problem," and I suspect that the severity of the Chronicle's and Herald's punishments of Roca and Herskowitz stemmed at least in part from a post-Jayson-Blair hyper-fastidiousness. But a low-grade ethical problem is not the same thing as no ethical problem at all. Coleman's Dec. 31 column gave the impression that it was based entirely on original reporting and writing; this impression was false. Would the column have been *worse* somehow if the readers had been told that it was partly based on previously published material? And if, as you say, you admire Roy Peter Clark's work, is there some identifiable reason why the Star Tribune's policy should differ from his on this issue?
Parry responded again, but she addressed neither of the two questions which ended my e-mail and which I continue to think are the key ones. Instead she claimed that I was arguing that he "just" lifted material from a previous column in a different newspaper (I think it's clear that Coleman didn't "just" do this and that I'm not arguing that he did) and that "each sentence, quote or paragraph" should be labelled as new or old (a reductio ad absurdum that neither I nor anyone else would seriously advocate).

Now I was getting a little peeved. Here is the bulk of my response:
I think you are creating straw men. My position is very simple:

(1) Any objective observer who read both the Dec. 31 Star Tribune column and the earlier Pioneer Press column would conclude that a substantial portion of the Dec. 31 column--NOT all, but also NOT a de minimis amount--bore a very close resemblance to material from the Pioneer Press column.

(2) NOWHERE does the Dec. 31 column divulge the existence of the prior column.

(3) This creates a misleading impression.

(4) The misleading impression would have been easily and completely dispelled by including SOMEWHERE in the column--NOT in "each sentence, quote or paragraph," just ONCE--a note that Coleman had written about Peek before, either in the text of the column itself (e.g., "I first wrote about Peek a few years ago. Her story deserves to be shared again.") or in a postscript (e.g., "This column is based in part on previously published material.")

Do you disagree with any of these four points? If so, why?

Also, I think there is no difference between my position and those taken by Roy Peter Clark, the Houston Chronicle, and the Miami Herald. Do you disagree? If so, why?
Parry responded again, but again refused to address what I thought then and still think now are the key questions. Instead she said we were "going in circles" (which we were, though I think the fault lay with her on that count) and that the time had come for her to turn her attention to other matters.

If we boil this all down, I think there are three possible conclusions. (1) This was not an ethical problem, either because it's never an ethical problem (not a particularly defensible position, but one that some have taken) or because it wasn't an ethical problem in this particular case (because Coleman did some original work; this would seem to be Parry's position). (2) This was a minor ethical problem, one that would have been easily avoided by simply disclosing the prior work (my position--and, it seems to me, the general position of Roy Peter Clark, the Houston Chronicle, and the Miami Herald). (3) This was a major ethical problem, warranting some sort of discipline (the position of the Houston Chronicle and the Miami Herald as applied to the cases of Herskowitz and Roca--cases which, I hasten to emphasize, are distinguishably more severe in that both writers appear to have done little or no original work in their later pieces).

I think I argued cogently for conclusion (2), and I think Parry argued not very cogently for conclusion (1). Still, I could be wrong and she could be right. I don't pretend to be an expert--is my analysis missing something one way or the other? I throw it open to the blogosphere.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Last night the Big Trunk from Power Line marked what would have been Elvis Presley's 70th birthday by publishing another installment in his recent series of posts about the King, this time listing and commenting on ten of his greatest songs. The first five come from the legendary Sun Sessions of 1954 and 1955. This may seem disproportionate, given that Elvis's career continued for over two decades more before his sad and premature demise. In point of fact, it doesn't give enough weight to those recordings.

What Elvis did in the cramped rooms of 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee was invent rock and roll. This makes the Sun Sessions one of the pivotal creative works of the 20th Century, equal to what (say) Joyce, Eliot, Stravinsky, and Picasso accomplished in their spheres. And no, I'm not kidding (and I'm big on Joyce, so I don't offer such praise lightly). Elvis took three distinctly American forms of folk music--blues, country, and gospel--and wove them into a fourth. Through the spark of his genius as both a creator and a performer, this fourth form of American folk music became massively and transformatively popular, for good or ill (mostly good, in my opinion, but that's a topic for another day). If you don't already own the Sun Sessions, I command you to go forth and purchase it immediately--here's the version the Big Trunk recommended; here's a one-disc, masters-only version; there's also the excellent box set "The Complete 50's Masters," the first disc of which includes all the Sun sides.

One more thing about the Sun Sessions deserves mention: the contribution of guitarist Scotty Moore. Nothing he plays is terribly virtuostic--even I can pick out passable versions of his work on tracks like "Mystery Train," "That's All Right," and "Good Rockin' Tonight"--but the way he plays it, the reverb-drenched chockety-chockety that his fingers wrung out of his 1953 Gibson ES 295, is an absolutely crucial element of the sound. Peter Guralnick puts it in these words in his liner notes for "The Complete 50's Masters":
Scotty's hero was Chet Atkins, and [Sun Records'] Sam [Phillips] appreciated Chet Atkins' pretty thumb-picking, too, he appreciated it very much--but he was always on Scotty to emphasize the rhythm. "I told him, 'We don't want none of that soft bullshit. We want some biting bullshit!' Everything had to be a stinger--and it had to have great rhythm."

By the last few sides--with "Baby Let's Play House" and "Mystery Train" and the unreleased "Trying to Get to You"--you can hear the change, you can hear Scotty's guitar driving the song with slashing chords similar to the Memphis blues school, you sense that the instruments are fused in a fashion that Scotty described as "a total rhythm thing--it didn't bother Sam if we missed a note, you just kept going and hung on."

Saturday, January 08, 2005


Remember when John Kerry brought up Mary Cheney during the debates? I thought that was out of bounds, not because of the gay thing (whatever that might mean), but because it seemed like a breach of etiquette. In public discourse, especially between foes, here's how the rules work. (1) You can discuss your interlocutor's children to praise him--e.g., your kids turned out great so you must be doing something right (the tack Bush took when he mentioned Kerry's children, by the way). (2) You can discuss your own children to poke fun at yourself--e.g., my kids always roll their eyes when I do X. But, (3) it's tacky to discuss your own children to praise yourself--e.g., going on and on about how smart or talented or successful your little Eustace is. And (4) it's really tacky to discuss your interlocutor's children in a non-complimentary way, even indirectly--e.g., using his kids to score points against him (in other words, what Kerry did).

Well, methinks the Lileks-Wolcott feud (bang pow, if you missed it the first time around) has just taken a turn for the ugly. Now, I'll admit, Lileks walks the tightrope on Rule 3 a lot, and sometimes he wobbles the wrong way. But Rule 3 is a misdemeanor. Rule 4 is a felony, and Wolcott just committed it. Did the ocicats barb really sting that much?

UPDATE: Vanderleun from Side-Lines shares my reaction. Doug from Bogus Gold doesn't (closed circuit to Doug: Where have I been? Er, um . . . you know, busy. Yeah, busy!). Cameron from Way Off Bass rubs his hands in anticipation of a dust-up.

Friday, January 07, 2005


I usually think conspiracy theorists are just crazy loners who perhaps mutter to themselves and wear inappropriate clothing; I tell myself that if I see one I should just cross the street without attracting its attention. So it kind of blows my world view when I discover that the BBC is egging them on in its exploration of how the US base at Diego Garcia managed to avoid casualties in last week's horrific tsunami:
Is America a power for good or ill in the world? Was there a malign hand at work, or has America's role in the crisis in fact been a model of humanitarian leadership.

Let us know what you think. Is this just anti-US sentiment on the web or something more worrying?
(Via Natalie Solent at Biased BBC).

Makes our local rag seem the model of moderate reasonableness by comparison.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


So I get home from work, and after pouring a Manhattan (perfect, on the rocks, Maker's Mark; would've had a cherry too but we're out) and settling into my easy chair, Eloise tells me the bizarre news that Richard Gere has recorded a public service announcement on behalf of the entire world urging Palestinians to vote.

"Where did you see that?" I ask.

"Little Green Footballs," she replies.


"How far into the comments before someone mentioned gerbils?" I ask.


"Number 11," she replies.

UPDATE by Eloise: my favorite gerbil gibe was comment number 44:
I believe they told RG that if he made this speech, he'd get 72 gerbils...
(Mr. Pretty Man's co-star in the PSA was the Sheik Taissir Tamimi, the head of the Islamic court in the West Bank and Gaza Strip). And yes, I know the whole gerbil story is an urban legend that lives on to supply all of us with cheap jokes, my favorite kind...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


The real reason for Instapundit's regal blogstatus is his hard work opining on digital cameras and designer cookware. I forsee a similar meteoric rise for Fraters Libertas now that Atomizer plans to wade into the garbage disposal market.

Inquiring mice, I mean minds, want to know.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Danger! Danger! Texas has begun a pilot program of offering wi-fi Internet access at the campgrounds of five state parks. While regretting the "erosion of woodland peace and quiet, thanks to visitors who fetch along boomboxes, cellphones and televisions," our local paper feels a line must really be drawn at the tap-tap of laptop keys:
The Texas department's observation that laptops won't generate noise, and therefore are more benign than boomboxes, is true but beside the point. And the assertion that wi-fi campers will be using their laptops to plan hikes, check weather or identify warblers -- well, that's a stretch. Undoubtedly most will be sending e-mails, checking their stocks and surfing for smut, just like they do in regular life.
Yep, gotta make sure those RV'ers can't get at their smut (the wi-fi attennas are being set up at every tent pad and trailer slot)--you know how they are.

(Thanks Nancy!)


Former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark is working on a sitcom. (Via Brainwash)

Monday, January 03, 2005


A recent post at Mark Gisleson's Norwegianity does a curious 180-degree pivot on a hoary old lefty bugaboo. There's not too much Christianity in public life--there's not enough
And now that I’m thinking about it, do we even know if the Northern Alliance is comprised of Christians, or are they just being politically manipulative, talking Jesus once in a while to help keep the coalition in line? If they’re really Christians, why have I never seen any links to religious sites in their blogrolls? Where are the Bible quotes? The Powerline dudes especially have a six-figure readership now — why aren’t they witnessing their faith?
You know, he's got a point, at least about Power Line. Especially Scott "The Big Trunk" Johnson and Paul "Deacon" Mirengoff. What a bunch of hypocrites those guys are!

Saturday, January 01, 2005


Every once in a while I slum through some of the far left blogs looking for post material. Local columnist Nick Coleman often provides great material but recently he has become somewhat overexposed or, come se dice? "jumped the shark" (but I'm sure he'll be back -- you go girl!). So I've noticed that lefty bloggers and commenters often use the term "wingnut" as a pejorative to describe folks on the right. Here, at random, is one example:
The wingnuts are full of venon. Notice they never make a reasonable point about something that raises Righteous anger. They make stuff up or pretend that invading Iraq is on the same grand footing as joining a World War to prevent real time genocide.
The writers all appear very satisfied that they've issued a horrific insult but the term just doesn't seem all that nasty to me.

So, I googled it. Here's what I found:
  • Create poetry at Wingnut-etc.
  • An interview with Robert "Wingnut" Weaver, reportedly "a modern version of a Sixties Surfer" from Surfmag.com.
  • A producer of vegan artisan truffles. Wingnut Confections, whose motto is "candy with a conscience," boasts: "Each truffle is hand-made and delivered by bicycle especially for you!"
  • Wingnut Galleries' home page currently features a photo of a naked woman entitled "The Womb."
  • The "Caucasian Wingnut" or Pterocarya fraxinifolia is "a relic of the Teriary flora on the southern flanks of the Caucasus Mountains and was introduced to France in 1784 but not until after 1800 in Britain."
  • Wingnut Games is releasing Solid!: The D20 Blaxploitation Experience to stores this February. One review gushes:
    Solid! allows players to experience the soul, power, and action of the movies that defined a generation. Includes new advanced classes like the Private Dick, Foxy Lady, Hustler, Preacher, Hoodlum, Police Detective, and Politician ...
  • Meet Wingnut, the band. Who are they?
    Wingnut music is mostly instrumental, drawing from jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul, trance and other genres. With high regard for dynamics, the groups original compositions transform from funky Hammond B3 organ groove to deeply melodic piano passages into tear-your-head-off distorted fender rhodes evil. Wingnut music is exploratory but maturely composed, balancing intense, aggressive improvisation with solid foundation and structure...
Perhaps the lefties ought to pick a slur with less baggage, or at the very least, a slur lacking such stereotypically left leaning baggage. The corresponding rightwing insult, "moonbat," doesn't seem all that nasty either (it evokes "wombat," which is kind of cute) , but at least it has the virtue of being a completely new word so perhaps it will acquire some venom.

Clearly more evidence of Karl Rove's evil genius at work.