Archive for December, 2004

Weak Strategery

December 29, 2004

An insightful WaPo op-ed today from liberal activist Michael Gecan. Here’s the meat:

Scores of thousands of people, many of them paid (how else do you squander $200 million?), knocked on millions of doors during this campaign. The Democratic-leaning canvassers left information, repeated a canned sales pitch and moved along. They did not engage the people in real conversation. They did not listen to their concerns. They did not recruit real volunteers to work on their own blocks. They did not take the time to find out which pastor or rabbi was a leader in an area and which congregations people attended. They were progressive salespeople with a high quota of contacts and no time to relate, who disappeared from people’s towns and lives the very moment, on election night, that they learned the sale had not been made.

It was as if they had never been there. And in a way, they never were. These two tendencies — celebrity worship and quick-hit canvassing — betray the central problem at the heart of the Democratic Party’s political culture. The party has no time or patience for the complex work needed to listen to Americans, to understand their range of views and positions, and to engage them on their deepest interests. Even worse, many in the hierarchy of the Democratic Party have contempt for ordinary Americans — for their red faces and moderate churches and mixed, often moderate, views.

We didn’t get a lot of Democratic canvassing in very Republican Cobb County, Georgia, but Gecan’s description tracks very closely with the kids I saw in Seattle last summer campaigning for Kerry against Bush. Back then, I had the strong suspicion that they weren’t going to be terribly effective; they were just repeating cant, and obnoxious cant at that. Even if you agreed with them, you weren’t likely to stick around and listen to the same canned script for very long–and if you didn’t agree, you were going to shrug them off in a heartbeat.

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The Airing of Grievances

December 23, 2004

I was all ready to post a “Happy Festivus” note this morning, and then that no-good law prof from Dentally Challenged U. goes and beats me to the punch (as usual). And damn if he didn’t dredge up a great article about it, too.

Sometimes I hate that guy.

Brief Update

December 22, 2004

Just checking in briefly here. To answer everybody’s first question, no, I don’t know what’s up with Steve. Haven’t heard from him in about three weeks, and I’m guessing he’s busy. I know I am. As for myself, I’m going to be incommunicado between Christmas Eve and New Year’s, so unless Martini Boy pops up, y’all probably shouldn’t count on finding anything new here next week.

In the meantime, here are a couple of things that caught my eye this morning. On the college football obsession front, I am reacting to the Associated Press sending a cease-and-desist order to the BCS with unmitigated glee. Now the AP needs to take the next logical step and cancel its football poll altogether until and unless a playoff is instituted in Division 1-A.

Everybody with a blog is going to link to Lileks’ demolition of snob-blogger James Wolcott. Never let it be said that we here in the Vodkasphere are afraid to join the crowd when it’s called for–and in this case, it’s called for.

I’m going to be in the market for a large, flat-screen HDTV in 2005. I’ve been leaning plasma, since they’re just entirely freakin’ cool, but now I read that Sony is abandoning plasma technology in favor of large-scale LCDs. My question is, how large, and how much? LCDs have been small and pricey compared to the other formats thus far. If Sony can make them large and cheap (well, okay, just not astronomical), that’ll have a major impact on my decision, and I imagine a lot of others, too. On the other hand, the Motley Fools think Sony is just getting out of a business that’s on its way to being commoditized and less profitable. Hmm.

Okay, so this guy is probably a nerd’s nerd. It’s still a heck of a lot cooler than a homemade Tron costume.

In case you missed it, Christopher Caldwell has an interesting piece on the Islamification of the Netherlands and recent repercussions. Well worth the read.

UPDATE: A reader points to this article, in which Sony denies they’re getting out of the plasma business. My suggestion to Sony: send me a freebie for evaluation, and I’ll advise you on whether or not to build any more…

Fake Journalism from the CSM

December 16, 2004

Brad Knickerbocker, described as a “staff writer” for the Christian Science Monitor, weighed in today with a heavily-slanted piece reporting that morale in the US military has tanked. Knickerbocker’s piece, full of suggestive but unsubstantiated phrases like,

While some don’t see much defiance – and, in fact, have been surprised by the depth of solidarity – others see an unusual amount of tension surfacing for an all-volunteer military force.

He continues with the following startling charge:

Evidence includes numbers of deserters (reportedly in the thousands)

Unfortunately for his readers, Knickerbocker didn’t provide any context or sourcing for the “thousands of deserters” statement. Fortunately for us, Pamela Hess, UPI’s Pentagon correspondent, did some actual (and serendipitous) reporting on the subject today:

The number of annual military desertions is down to the lowest level since before 2001, according to the Pentagon.

The Army said the number of new deserters in 2004 — 2,376 — was just half the number of those who deserted prior to Sept. 11, 2001. That number was 4,597.

The numbers of deserters has dropped annually since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The fiscal year 2004 total number of Army deserters is the lowest since before 1998, according to Army data.

Advantage: Hess! Caught committing slanted and dishonest “journalism”: Knickerbocker!

Most Blatant Plea For An Instalanche, Ever

December 14, 2004

The subject line is a joke. The post isn’t:

Every December, Time Magazine selects what used to be called its “Man Of The Year.” That name was changed to allow for political correctness a while back, but ostensibly the MOTY is given to the individual (or group, or ridiculously in one case, a planet) who in Time’s estimation, had the largest impact on the preceding year’s news.

Many of Time’s prior selections have been dumb (the aforementioned award to “Planet Earth” in 1988, a silly dodge avoid to giving the title to a victorious George H.W. Bush) or specious (Soviet dictator Gorbachev as “Man of the Decade” in 1989), but also occasionally interesting (Andy Grove in 1997), inspired (The American Soldier in 2003), and even uplifting (the crew of Apollo 8 in 1968). Others have been unpleasant, but still accurate (Khomeini in 1979).

Newly-elected presidents almost always win the POY, while second-term presidents tend to be snubbed following their re-election. In general, commanders-in-chief fare badly in any second appearances. A besieged Richard Nixon shared the cover with Kissinger in 1972, Ronald Reagan with the despot Yuri Andropov (euphemistically called a “politician” by Time) in 1983, Bush 41 with himself in 1990 (maybe the dumbest cover ever), and Bill Clinton with Kenneth Starr in 1998, a combination that probably offended everyone who saw it.

At any rate, I don’t expect George W. Bush to be named Man of the Year in 2004, and this post is not an effort to nominate him. While the ’04 election was certainly more “about” Bush than any other individual, I think it’d be appropriate this year to look beyond the big picture of the election results, and concentrate on one way in which the election of 2004 was fundamentally different than any in the past: the existence and influence of the Blogosphere.

In 1996, the web as we know it today barely existed. In 2000, the internet was a buzz-word and a curiosity, but the only serious impact it had on the presidential race was when Al Gore claimed to have invented it. Prior to 2004, it was inconceivable that an ad-hoc group of graphic designers and political aficionados could knock down a network anchorman in a matter of hours, or that two political activists with laptops could have a major impact on the defeat of a senior US Senator, or that an entirely different grass-roots campaign could elevate an obscure vanity candidate to a front-runner, albeit briefly.

All of those things and more happened in 2004. A year ago, the words “blog” and “blogger” were obscure techno-ese. Today, they’re on the lips of every pundit on television, and the print journos who haven’t talked about the Blogosphere are now avoiding mentioning it out of spite, not ignorance.

So should the Blogosphere be named “Sphere of the Year” in 2004? I don’t think so–mostly because I dislike anthropomorphising broad, indistinct phenomena. And besides, Time already gave the ‘award’ to a large (and deserving) group just last year. Let’s return the title to its roots, and settle on an individual.

There are plenty of worthy candidates. Like him or not, Markos Zuniga and Daily Kos had a significant impact in terms of readership and fundraising–if not in actually winning any races. Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs and the team at Powerline drove a wooden stake into the flailing undead corpse of Dan Rather’s career–and the mainstream press in general. Joe Trippi and the Deaniacs online changed the way Democrats raise political money, and their methods transposed to the eventual nominee gave John Kerry a fighting chance in the general election.

But there’s really only one choice that represents the Blogosphere at its best, and at its most influential. He’s still the focal point, still the prime reference, and still the standard by which all others are judged.

He’s Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, and he ought to be the Man of the Year.

I’m Will Collier, and I approved this message.

UPDATE: A reader, er, suggests that Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne crew would be great MOTY nominees. I agree. I bet Glenn does, too.

Greatest “Holiday” Website Ever

December 13, 2004

DING! Already a modern classic.

Encouraging Signs

December 13, 2004

Just a bit of a follow-up here on the BCS/Associated Press poll discussion below (sorry, folks, but until Steve gets off his ass healthy, you’re stuck with me and my college football obsessions).

Since last week’s final polls and the ensuing hullabaloos, there’ve been some encouraging signs regarding the future of the college football polls. One paper, the Charlotte Observer, has announced that it is resigning from the AP writer’s poll:

The credibility of this newspaper is more important than the prestige of voting in the AP poll. [Observer writer Ken] Tysiac will complete this season, the last in which a reporter from the Observer will vote in a poll tied to the BCS.

The AP basketball poll? We don’t have a vote this season, but we would consider voting in the future. That poll is for fun and to drive fan interest, and it’s basically meaningless because the NCAA basketball champion is determined in a playoff.

Now that’s a responsible, and long-overdue decision. While no other papers have followed the Observer’s lead to date, a growing number of sports writers have noted their own discomfort with the conflicted and arbitrary nature of the media polls: Carey Estes of the Birmingham Post-Herald (scroll down) notes,

For the past few weeks, many members of the media — myself included — have trashed the mad-scientist formula known as the Bowl Championship Series, a system that fails miserably in its attempt to produce an undisputed college football national champion.
Strangely, however, there has been little media outrage over the media’s role in all this BCS B.S. Namely, that newspaper reporters and other media members vote in the Associated Press college-football poll, which is one of the components used to determine the BCS rankings.

This means that journalists, who are supposed to be nothing more than objective observers and reporters of events, have now crossed over and become actual factors in how these events play out. We are now part of the game.

Why does this not seem to bother the journalistic community?

I work around these guys. Most of them are far from being in any sort of athletic shape. Some have a hard time completing the 40-foot dash to the pregame buffet. It should be an insult to every hard-working college football player that this motley collection of Oscar Madisons has any influence on championship and bowl matchups.

But we do. A few reporters bump up Texas in the polls, for whatever reason, and suddenly the Longhorns are headed to the Rose Bowl in place of California. I’m not saying Cal is more deserving of a Rose Bowl trip than Texas. I’m saying it is not the place of the media to help make such a decision at all.

You don’t see Dumpy Inkstain from the Omaha Daily-Fishwrap sitting in with the selection committee to determine who makes the field of 65 for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. So why should he, or any of us who don’t play the game, be able to so significantly impact the football postseason?

That was never meant to be our task. And it shouldn’t be any more. Because as long as the media persist in playing a part in the BCS process, then there is no need for anybody to pay attention to the media’s complaints about the BCS.

Mike Vaccarro of the New York Post chimes in with,

This has to end, of course. That much is clear. We can’t make the news and cover the news. We can’t complain that systems are flawed when we’re part of that system. It has to end.

Do away with the writers poll. And that includes the radio and TV sycophants who would gladly snatch a writer’s ballot before it hits the ground. Sorry, if we’re going to be allowed to rip the coach in Sunday’s newspapers, we shouldn’t be allowed to vote that coach’s team out of the Top 25 on Monday, too.

There’s plenty more, from Loren Nelson of the Bradenton Herald and Chris Lang of the Arizona Daily Sun, and no doubt a few others that I’ve missed.

All of these guys make it a point to single out the Huntsville Times’ Paul Gattis as an innocent victim of the BCS system’s whims. I disagree with them on that, (although their point about the writers’ public votes being unjustly subject to more heat than the secret coaches’ poll is more than fair), but the ridiculousness of holding a popularity contest to determine bowl matchups and even “championships” is finally, finally being seriously debated, and that’s the best news that college football has seen in many a moon.

Now, sports media, is your chance to do the right thing: abolish the polls, unilaterally. Shame the conferences and the schools into ditching this archaic and corrupt system in favor of a playoff. You’ll be doing yourselves a favor, and the sport an invaulable service.

UPDATE: As noted above, there’s no reason to single out the writers’ poll; the coaches are at least as ridiculous, and have worked out a system to avoid public records laws regarding written communication:

In response to the AJC’s public records request, American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff sent a memo informing the group’s 61 member voters they weren’t legally obligated to share their votes.

The Dec. 2 memo, labeled “Important & Confidential” and obtained by the AJC, stated: “The standard method of collecting the votes by USA TODAY is for coaches to phone in their weekly votes via voice mail; therefore, formal records by coaches are unlikely to be kept.”

Teaff, reached Monday at his office in Waco, Texas, said he’d “never heard” of a coach voting by e-mail or fax, documentation that would make ballots available under public records laws in many states.

There’s one word for this: outrageous.

It Didn’t Start (Or Stop) With Politics

December 10, 2004

Newsroom arrogance certainly isn’t limited to the political or “news” desks. Check out these two columns, by sportswriters voting in the Associated Press college football poll. Both are well-nigh obsessed with emails received from football fans who (gasp!) dared to question the all-knowing wisdom of the writers in question.

The first, by Huntsville Times (AL) beat writer Paul Gattis, was so nasty that the Times’ editor, Melinda Gorham, was moved to run a public apology for it two days later. The second, by Ann Arbor News (MI) writer Jim Carty, hasn’t (as far as I know) generated as much controversy, but it does include gems like this one, directed at Carty’s readership:

The real e-mails were often more than 1,000 words long, each containing schedule breakdowns, game-by-game analysis of the weakside linebacker, and historical PROOF that the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences are heads and shoulders above the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences.

We’re talking geeks here.

Giant, boring, absolutely no-chance-of-getting-a-life geeks.

Dozens of them a day.

For future reference, in case you’re ever unemployed with a lot of time to kill and tempted to do this yourself, let me share what your average Top 25 voter does with these e-mails: Immediately deletes them, and then makes fun of the people who send them to anyone who will listen.

But Jim, you ask, isn’t that arrogant? Don’t you think someone out there could possibly make a good point or teach you something you don’t know about Auburn and Texas?

The answer? Absolutely. That insightful man or woman is most certainly out there.

Unfortunately, for every person with a good point there are 100 more trying to get me to change my vote by making a scientific case for Auburn’s right guard being better than Oklahoma’s or that beating Louisiana-Monroe is a much, much, MUCH more quality cupcake than Bowling Green or that everyone playing Pac-10 football is a bunch of wussy boys.

To those people, two pieces of advice: 1. Spell-check. Learn it. Love it. Live it. 2. There are outlets for your madness. There are local groups of Star Trek fans, Linux programmers and New World Order militias that will welcome you as one of their own.

Got that? Quick translation: If you didn’t waste four years of your life getting a journalism degree, and ten more covering junior-high track meets, you aren’t worthy of having any say on an issue that you follow on a day-by-day basis–and you’re certainly below the notice of any Very Important Sportswriter For A Mid-Market Newspaper.

Regardless of what you think about how the BCS and other football polls turned out (and I’m not trying to start another argument about them here, one was enough), the rant above is not terribly far removed from dismissing bloggers as “[some] guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas.”

Memo to the sportswriters, as well as everybody else they work with: Insulting your best customers–i.e., the people who read your work the most carefully–is a really dumb way to do business. It tends to get subscriptions cancelled and your stuff ignored. More importantly (especially for those of you who hide behind stock phrases like “journalistic integrity”), it devalues your work and your reputation.

It also makes you look like a bunch of jerks. Columns like Carty’s and Gattis’s are among the major reasons why most people can’t stand the press.

From The Bleachers

December 8, 2004

This year’s penultimate Auburn football column is (finally) up, over at my site, covering the SEC Championship Game. There are also a few words about the media “championship” awards.

UPDATE: Auburn convert Fred Barnes has a very nice column about the Tigers on the Weekly Standard’s site this week.