St. Louis Ruse: In how many cities does this go on? 12:28 A.M.
Remember how Paul Bremer threw Iraqi insurgents off balance by handing over "sovereignty" two days earlier than planned? Terrorists who had timed their attacks for the formal handoff date were left flatfooted. Why not employ a similar strategy for the upcoming elections? It may be too late to move up the date from January 30, but with Iraqi officials themselves warning of "vicious" attacks on polling stations and some Iraqis fleeing the country, why not pull a fast one by allowing absentee balloting before then? Voters could sneak in and out before the terrorists could time their attacks. They could even vote and flee! ... Alternatively, officials could suddenly, on or near election day, announce that voting would be allowed for one or two days after January 30. That would (in theory) let voters wait until the insurgents had shot their wad. ...At least it might force the insurgents to improvise operations that would be easier to detect or thwart. ... 11:28 P.M.
Susan Estrich is appropriately angry over the decision of California Democratic legislators to block the reappointment of fellow Democrat Reed Hastings to the state board of education, apparently because he fails "the bilingual education litmus test." (Hastings opposes bilingual education and wants to require English instruction for a couple of hours a day, even for those students whose parents opt for bilingual programs). Eduwonk agrees with Estrich. ... Here's an LAT news account. ... Garry South, Gray Davis' campaign guru, is quoted to the effect that:
"We're in serious trouble if Democrats are going to go on a purge and get rid of every single Democrat who has moderate, mainstream views and doesn't adhere to total orthodoxy as members of the Legislature define it."
A good illustration of why Schwarzenegger's anti-gerrymandering proposal--which would help elect not Republicans so much as more moderate Democrats instead of the safe seat Suslovs we now have--is badly needed out here. ... P.S.: A Times editorial praises Hastings for refusing to water down standards on No Child Left Behind testing. He also supports charter schools. Hmmm. Are those secret reasons he was defeated--with the Democrats carrying the teachers' unions water, but letting Latinos take the lead? The unions might not want to be seen publicly opposing someone like Hastings who had been effective at getting more money for schools. ... ["Suslovs" was the best you could do?--ed Yes. California Dems are still in their Brezhnev era! If you have a better "S"-word, though, I'd be interested in hearing it.] 3:45 A.M.
Friday January 14, 2005
From the WSJ's story on Jonathan Klein of CNN ...
One of his first acts was to order up a 25-part series of segments and a two-hour special called "Defending America" that will fill CNN's airwaves leading up to President Bush's inauguration next week. [Emph. added]
Set your TIVOs! I can't wait. ... P.S.: On Romenesko's letter page, Tim Graham writes:
Klein seems to be suggesting his fight against feisty Fox is going to be made by dropping the "head-butting" shows, making CNN a pure "news" channel. But I'd say Klein is trying to impress the liberal media elite, not the general public. He's trying to suggest CNN is marching closer in concept to a 24-hour Jim Lehrer NewsHour channel, which would have to make Fox want to hold a secret three-hour meeting with the sole agenda item of laughing themselves silly.
Sounds right to me. So right that I think Klein can't actually be serious about beating Fox with "the power of storytelling." He's not stupid. His current anti-Crossfire jag seems more like a holding action, a way to generate some cheap publicity while he tools up the non-storytelling shows that will actually make or break his attempt to take on Fox. ... P.P.S.: On the same letters page, Dan Mitchell seems to be under the impression that the "emotional ride" Klein wants "storytelling" to provide will be part of some kind of high-brow viewing experience, as opposed to the "rank, lowbrow entertainment" of pundits shouting about politics and policy. Isn't it more likely that the drive for an "emotional ride" will produce hack, treacly schlock? Up close and personal golden moments? Maybe there is an "emotional" way to dramatize the dilemma of Social Security privatization's transition costs--but I can't think of it. Mitchell should be forced to watch all 25 parts of "Defending America." ... [Have you beaten this subject to death now?--ed. Klein is my Brad and Jen.] 6:27 P.M.
Thursday January 13, 2005
First, Poland ... : "Smart piece," as they used to say at Newsweek. The Web may not have liberated all that much, yet--but (I say again!) it has liberated Howard Fineman. I don't think he'd ever write this article for Newsweek itself--for one thing, by the end of the week he'd have had another idea. ... . ... 12:22 A.M.
Wednesday January 12, 2005
CNN's Jonathan Klein shows off his crackling, Web-savvy intelligence:
I don't think that blogging, which is, you know, glorified Web-site hosting—that's what it is.
P.S.: He added, "Sometimes you leave people behind." Oh wait. That was Chris Bangle, not Klein. Sorry. I get my arrogant-know-it-alls-in-the-middle-of-degrading-large-institutions all mixed up. ... Mash-up blogging--it's the latest thing. 5:42 P.M.
John Ellis said he was through blogging. ("I will no longer "blog" regularly or irregularly. The demands of my real job require a single focus.") He lied! A week later, the CBS "Memo" report comes out and he's unable to resist. Nor should he! ... Ellis is surprisingly sympathetic to the Thornburgh/Boccardi report, thinks Heyward was given only a temporary reprieve, and tells bloggers to cool it! Hugh Hewitt will not approve. ... But Shafer was right. Ellis would be a good NYT op-ed columnist--the drink-stirring kind, like Safire. ... P.S.: Ellis also rightly steers our attention to the comedic intervention of the aptly named Col. Hackworth on page 95 of the CBS report. ... 12:59 A.M.
Tuesday January 11, 2005
Schwarzenegger Antigerrymander Bandwagon ... gaining momentum! California political columnist Jill Stewart says: "I've had more email from people who want to 'sign up' and 'donate' and "who do I call ?' and 'I never knew!' on my column on gerrymandering than anything I've written since the recall." ... Here's exactly that column, which a) anticipates Schwarzenegger's move; b) reminds us of the previous failed efforts to change California's map-drawing procedures, including one that blemished the record of actor Jack Lemmon; and c) suggests a possible winning slogan that boils down the issue for voters: "Safe Seats." [Is that like 'safe water'?--ed Make that "No Safe Seats." I have to stand? There're No Safe Painkillers either-ed] ... Update: Several e-mailers point out that the current district map isn't a "partisan" gerrymander designed to maximize the number of Democrats elected. It's a "protect all incumbents" gerrymander designed to give existing members of both parties near-guaranteed seats. ... If the state's ruling Democrats really wanted to maximize their majorities, they'd create fewer districts with huge Democratic margins (e.g. 60-40%) and instead make many more districts with merely moderate Democratic majorities (54-46%). In a normal year, the Democrats would win all of those semi-competitive seats and have a huge legislative advantage. They just wouldn't be safe in a pro-GOP tide. ... That means the fairer, more competitive redistricting sought by Schwarzenegger might well result in more Democrats elected to the legislature and Congress. So? Doesn't Schwarzenegger get points for proposing a goo-goo reform that might work against his party's interests? ... But Schwarzenegger may believe his personal appeal is so great he can turn the tide in any even slightly competitive districts. ... P.S.: And even if a more neutral, "competitive" redistricting resulted in more Democrats, they'd probably be a different species of Democrat. As the Sacramento Bee's Dan Walters noted last November, the current all-safe-seat gerrymander has "made it almost impossible ... for moderates to win legislative seats." A Dem who wants to prevail in a 54-46 district will behave differently from a Dem sitting pretty in a 60-40 district. ... Valuable online resource: You can examine California's gerrymandered district lines at this site. An example of a long, skinny district that a non-partisan body probably wouldn't draw is this one. ... See also this Bay Area jigsaw puzzle. ... 5:56 P.M.
Now we know the difference between CBS and Drudge. 19 percent.
"Ninety-nine percent of the stories we do are accurate and solid"-- CBS President Les Moonves
"President Bush was reelected, and Dan Rather wasn't." That's Howie Kurtz and Dana Milbank's lede in their WaPo analysis. Are they trying to say that the CBS memo inquest would have turned out differently if Kerry had been elected? That Mapes, Howard, Murphy and West wouldn't have been fired if CBS didn't need to kiss up to the White House? No. It turns out they are trying to get an initial reader jolt by hinting at those arguments in a piece that doesn't even dare bring them up, let alone provide any evidence for them. Cheap! [And you think?--ed CBS might well not have fired all four if Bush had lost, but that would reflect badly on CBS. If a journalistic screw-up this big doesn't get you fired, what does? Heyward too? Sure! At least for failing to rein in Rather & Co. during their amateurish, damaging 10-day defense after the story aired. You'd think Heyward would realize after, say, 3 days that the anti-Rather bloggers were winning the debate. His defense: 'I was only giving orders.' But handing out little directives to subordinates and then going off to lunch, or wherever, when your network is imploding isn't managing, is it? You're supposed to stay on the case and see that what you ordered actually gets done. If Heyward was intimidated by Rather--well, it's his job not to be intimidated by Rather.] ... P.S.: But I still don't see what was wrong with Mary Mapes' call to Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign. If the way to loosen up a source is to let him talk to a campaign, then why not do it? I'd do it. ... 12:39 P.M.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Lost Remote on the genius of Jonathan Klein's "on track" CNN strategy. ... I know when I sit down at my computer for five minutes with a cup of coffee what I really want is to click on some great storytellin'! How about you? ... True, I can't make it through more than two paragraphs of a printed piece even on a subject I'm interested in. But, hey, I could stare at Wolf Blitzer forever! ... 3:17 P.M.
Instapundit makes a good point about why a conversion to a paid subscription web model--always risky--would be especially risky for the New York Times:
[T]he Times would lose a lot of influence if it made this move, since it would only be talking to the true believers.
Right. Now the NYT has broad influence even among people who detest it (e.g., Republicans) because it's sort of lying around everywhere. But if Sulzberger makes readers stop, think, and maybe choose another news outlet, the Times could become as cocooned as Fox (an "oversized Salon.com," as Reynolds puts it). ... 2:33 P.M.
A venerable institution in crisis: The WSJ documents the Chris Bangle Disaster at BMW. You can always sell lots of cars if you cut the price! But in fact sales of key models redesigned by Bangle seem to be falling:
The brand-new 5 Series suffered a 3% drop. That's a jarring reception for a car that rivals routinely admit to using as a benchmark when designing their own luxury models. Sales of the Bangle-designed 7 Series and Z4 roadster fell 21%, and 33%, respectively.
If the new, Daewoo-like 3-series also flops, can Helmut Panke--the MBA-style CEO who orchestrated these changes--survive? [Isn't Panke on the board of directors of the company that currently owns Slate?--ed Yes. But maybe he doesn't know it!] ... P.S.: Panke's transformation seems to have been based on consumer lifestyle research that categorized people as "yuppies," "upper liberals" and "post-moderns." Sounds right to me! But the researchers presumably didn't say the cars offered to these groups should be flamboyantly awkward-looking. ... P.P.S.: Bangle responds with characteristic grace and humility: "Sometimes you leave people behind." Maybe Dan Rather should have tried that one. ... 2:22 P.M.
Here's the best defense of the administration's record on torture that I've read. Heather Mac Donald pretty much destroys the easy, win-win idea that harsher methods don't yield useful information, and she documents the high-level imposition of sometimes absurdly strict rules to protect even prisoners like Mohamed al-Kahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker. Sample:
"It was ridiculous the things we couldn't do," recalls an army interrogator. "One guy said he would talk if he could see the ocean. It wasn't approved, because it would be a change of scenery"—a privilege that discriminated in favor of a cooperating detainee, as opposed to being available to all, regardless of their behavior.
Even Mac Donald doesn't defend the notorious "Bybee memo," or (of course) the abuses at Abu Ghraib, which she attributes to a near-total breakdown of discipline:
As the avalanche of prisoners taken in the street fighting overwhelmed the inadequate contingent of guards and officers at Abu Ghraib, order within the ranks broke down as thoroughly as order in the operation of the prison itself. Soldiers talked back to their superiors, refused to wear uniforms, operated prostitution and bootlegging rings, engaged in rampant and public sexual misbehavior, covered the facilities with graffiti, and indulged in drinking binges while on duty. No one knew who was in command. The guards' sadistic and sexualized treatment of prisoners was just an extension of the chaos they were already wallowing in with no restraint from above.
In how many other instances did actual military practice diverge from the often absurdly civilized restrictions the lawyers were debating back in Washington? Mac Donald doesn't adequately address that question. But she undermines the "torture narrative" that traces all abuses back to President Bush's exclusion of al-Qaeda prisoners from formal Geneva treatment, and plausibly warns that the pendulum may have swung back too far. Even the old "Mutt and Jeff" technique is now proscribed, she reports:
Reeling under the PR disaster of Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon shut down every stress technique but one—isolation—and that can be used only after extensive review. An interrogator who so much as requests permission to question a detainee into the night could be putting his career in jeopardy. Even the traditional army psychological approaches have fallen under a deep cloud of suspicion: deflating a detainee's ego, aggressive but non-physical histrionics, and good cop–bad cop have been banished along with sleep deprivation.
P.S.: Mac Donald is no pro-Bush apparatchik. In a pre-invasion survey, she told Slate, "The war on Iraq is a dangerous diversion from the war on al-Qaida. Indeed, an Iraq invasion is likely to inspire retaliatory terrorism from Islamists everywhere." 3:41 A.M.
I'm not alone in thinking that the potential Staudt libel angle may be playing a big part in CBS's Danron/"Memogate" response. My guess (which may be disproved within hours!) is that CBS would want to settle any disputes with Col. Staudt before releasing any report that could provide him with evidentiary ammunition. Settlement negotiations have been known to occasionally drag on. ... 2:21 A.M.
Getting on the antigerrymanderwagon: The Houston Chronicle's Cragg Hines, like me, used to think only naively apolitical goo-goo twits believed politicians shouldn't draw district lines. But Hines has busted these mental blocks and concludes that this is one big new task the judges or non-partisan commissions should take on. (I'd even be for the courts intervening, Baker v. Carr-style, but agree with Hines that the change is better accomplished democratically.) Now, thanks to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the issue is on the front burner. Even Schwarzenegger's old friends at the L.A. Times agree with him! (In his state of the state speech, Schwarzenegger argued, "153 of California's congressional and legislative seats were up in the last election and not one -- I repeat -- not one changed parties. What kind of democracy is that?") ... P.S.: Note, as did the LAT, the familiar, pathetic, whistling-past-the-graveyard reaction of Democratic Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, which will be familiar to students of the heroic Gray Davis Retention Campaign. The issue, Nunez said, "is of no concern to the public and only to political insiders." But it's a much more valid and significant issue than term-limits, a procedural nostrum that was a huge popular cause only a few years ago. ... [Link via RCP] 12:54 A.M..
Saturday, January 8, 2005
OK, That's Enough Storytelling! The results from Thursday:
CNN's"Saving The Children" tsunami special: 717,000 viewers
Fox ("a series of chat shows linked by snippets of fragmentary information"): 1, 438,000 viewers.
P.S.: Is that Jeff Jarvis half-backing-off his defense of CNN chief Jonathan Klein? I think it is! Jarvis' previous defense was "Oh, come on. It's show biz!" Now he's talking like a J-school professor about whether Crossfire is good for "the public [Klein] serves"! But of course there was a way to cancel Crossfire and explain the decision without dissing Tucker Carlson (the one Crossfire host who had actually served notice that he was quitting the show because he, too, was uncomfortable with its format). ... CNN won't be a better network because people will be reluctant to go work for a guy who'll not only end your contract one day but then badmouth you in the press. ... Tonight at 9:00--"Schmucks of the Tsunami" But I confess I have a simpler perspective: Klein comes to his leadership position with a reputation as an executive, the same way Howell Raines had a reputation as an executive. It's not a good reputation. Do we give Klein a fair chance to make his mark at CNN and then judge him by the results? Duh! Of course not. This is the blogosphere, where we can jump on the first bit of evidence that he really is what he's reputed to be! This impulse is independent of any desire to better journalism or see CNN's audience more adequately served. It comes from a lower-order desire to not, if you can help it, let schmucks get away with being schmucks just because they are, you know, powerful schmucks. It's storytelling! ... P.P.S.: If I thought Jonathan Klein was going to be a schmuck in the cause of better journalism, I'd have second thoughts. But I see no evidence of that. ... 6:39 P.M.
Friday, January 7, 2005
Twilight of the Schmucks, Part XVIII: Boy, people at CNN do not like Jonathan Klein! Doesn't he realize it's hard to be a highly unpopular boss in the Web era, especially at a big media enterprise the press will pay inordinate attention to? Ask Howell Raines. ... Expect lots of anti-Klein anecdotes to be leaked to the obvious outlets in the weeks ahead. The zone will be flooded! ... 11:26 A.M.
Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides! Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty. Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left. Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog. B-Log--Blog of spirituality! Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk