Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 7:03 pm

Odds and ends for April 22

Sorry for the posting drought. Stuff happens. A lot of stuff.

Another reason I’m not quite ready to canonize Pope Francis: On Tuesday, he accepted the resignation of an American bishop who had been convicted of failing to report child-porn images on a priest’s computer. Which would be fine except that the conviction was three years ago.

Speaking of illegal sexual acts, Amy Schumer and Josh Charles offer up something I thought didn’t exist — a note-perfect way to joke about rape. (The fact that it parodies “Friday Night Lights,” which, frankly, I’ve always thought overrated, is just a bonus.)

Apparently, it’s quite all right with the Obama administration if, under the TPP and other trade agreements, corporations get away with murder.

Really, New York Times? Peter Schweitzer, author of “Clinton Cash,” a book charging improprieties regarding contributions to the Clinton Foundation, has admitted he can’t prove his charges. The Times, apparently having learned nothing from its fusterclucked coverage of Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, and Iraq, breathlessly promoted the book anyway, and the paper’s ombudsman — traveling and quasi-off the grid, she says — has yet to say a word.

Who sponsored First Amendment Day festivities at Iowa State? The Charles Koch Foundation. No, I am not making this up.

Florida legislative Republicans illegally went behind closed doors to plan resistance to Medicaid expansion. Fortunately, AP reporter Ken Rideout was able to hear what was going on through a crack in the door and brief his colleagues.

Between 2009 and 2013, median household income in North Carolina stayed flat or fell for all but the top 5% of earners. So do tell me again why the rich need another tax cut. And tell me again how this state’s misbegotten economic-development program is working so well. Jesus wept.

The N.C. legislature continues to indulge its Confederacy fetish, this time with a bill to (try to) nullify federal gun laws. Dudes, we’ve had that discussion already. In 1861-1865. Your side lost.

Drinking water in wells near many Duke Energy coal-ash sites is contaminated. Perhaps the state of North Carolina will lift a finger. I’m not holding my breath. Friendly reminder: Gov. Pat McCrory was a longtime Duke employee before heading to Raleigh. Coincidence? I think not.

Another legislative measure to chill your First Amendment rights is in the works, this one going after whistleblowers in the agriculture industry. I suppose this would be an appropriate time to mention that I don’t recall Big Ag or ALEC ever asking me for my vote.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the poster boy for the Visigoth wing of the Republican Party, will be the N.C. GOP’s keynote speaker in June.

One of many reasons why North Carolina’s HB 456 is a bad idea.

I suppose there might be a decent argument for not just blowing up Downtown Greensboro Inc. and starting over (or just leaving the rubble where it falls), but at this point I can’t imagine what it would be.

Offered without comment: Former UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Linda Brady talks with the student newspaper, The Carolinian, about what she thinks went wrong in her administration.

My friend and former boss John Robinson talks about the day eight years ago that was the beginning of the end for the News & Record. He’s hard on himself, but John has never been a bullshitter, and he isn’t starting now.

Someone needs to explain to me why Paul Rodgers and The Replacements are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go on. I’ll wait.

America’s next top blogger

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 6:54 pm
Tags: ,

Ladies and gentlemen, my niece Whitney Alexander. She’s got game.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:34 pm

SB 36: Baby, meet bathwater

A couple of folks in the local blogosphere — e.g., George Hartzman, here — have suggested that SB 36, State Sen. Trudy Wade’s misbegotten monkeying around with the city of Greensboro’s election system, will be good for Greensboro because it will rid the city of a corrupt City Council. Their thinking is that because the redistricting that SB 36 calls for would place several council members in one district, forcing them to run against each other, several inevitably would be voted off the council.

If in fact most or all council members are corrupt, then this is a legitimate point. So let’s examine it.

Caveat: I’m not prepared right now to say as a fact that one or more members of the council are corrupt — or not corrupt, for that matter. So, for the purposes of this post, let’s posit that all nine of them are dirtier than a ’57 Buick’s oil pan. Let’s further posit that, for whatever reason, law enforcement cannot or will not deal with the corruption for us.

SB 36 still would be the wrong solution to the problem.

Why? Simple. Although it might get rid of some incumbent council members, there’s no guarantee that it would get rid of those who actually are corrupt. Moreover, because it would give voters a say over fewer seats on the council (one district member plus a mostly-non-voting mayor, as opposed to a district member, three at-large members and a voting mayor on the nine-member panel under the current system), it would make unseating future corrupt council members even more difficult than it is now — to say nothing of the fact that council members would face voters only every four years, instead of every two as they do now.

So SB 36 would be, at best, an uncertain and temporary solution to a problem that, history shows, tends to recur among politicians. And it would make dealing with recurrences of the problem even harder.

Look, if you think that a council member is corrupt, your path is clear: WORK TO GET HIM/HER VOTED OUT. Unlike congressional and legislative districts, Greensboro City Council districts aren’t gerrymandered. Nobody’s seat is safe, particularly if he or she is corrupt. We already have a sufficient mechanism in place to replace corrupt council members. SB 36 remains what it always has been: a solution in search of a problem and an attempt by anonymous corporate interests to win through their puppet legislature what they cannot win in Greensboro’s ballot boxes.

Odds and ends for April 15

Got your taxes done? Good.

Mars might not be hostile to life so much as just kind of grumpy toward it: The Martian rover Curiosity has found the first evidence of liquid water, considered a necessity for life, just beneath the planet’s surface.

The refusal of some red states to adopt Obamacare/expand Medicaid means that more than half a million Americans with serious mental illness are going untreated. You know, the courage of some Republicans in the face of other people’s suffering is a wonder to behold.

What is the economic cost of American gun violence? Mother Jones magazine purports to tell us.

The New York Times looks at the legacy of the company formerly known as Blackwater and its founder, Erik Prince. Less well examined: why in hell the U.S. government chose unaccountable private contractors to do work traditionally handled by the military in the first place.

If Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the GOP’s idea of appealing to Latino voters, well, as Charlie Pierce so often says, I despair of the rebranding.

Silicon Valley big men on campus? Women have had it with your shit, and they’re going elsewhere. Good for them.

Tennessee may ban fake guns near schools. Real ones will still be OK.

The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board offers some medium-high-quality snark toward legislators and others in state government who appear hell-bent on ignoring both the law and the public.

 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 7:42 pm

Who really won the Civil War?

It’s a weird question, right? Only not as weird as you might think. I first started thinking about it when I found myself so often having to respond to this or that point on social media with, “We already had that conversation. In 1860-65. Your side lost.” But did it?

Sure, the Confederacy as a military and governmental entity collapsed in 1865. But the ideas that animated it — antidemocratic rule by gentry, brutal suppression of minorities, refusal to recognize federal democratic rule — today animate the Tea Party base of the GOP and have an unhealthy influence on U.S. politics and governance.

Consider this take from Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift:

[Jefferson Davis’s plan to escape to Texas and raise a new army to continue the Civil War after Appomattox] sounded crazy until I read about Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a mysterious blank period between Lincoln’s assassination and Edison’s light bulb. Congress impeached Andrew Johnson for some reason, the transcontinental railroad got built, corruption scandals engulfed the Grant administration, and Custer lost at Little Big Horn. But none of it seemed to have much to do with present-day events.

And oh, those blacks Lincoln emancipated? Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, they vanished like the Lost Tribes of Israel. They wouldn’t re-enter history until the 1950s, when for some reason they still weren’t free.

Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.” I think that would have gotten my attention.

It wasn’t just that Confederates wanted to continue the war. They did continue it, and they ultimately prevailed. They weren’t crazy, they were just stubborn.

It’s certainly true in the South, where Reconstruction ended prematurely in 1877 as part of a deal that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the White House.

If the Napoleonic Wars were your model, then it was obvious that the Confederacy lost in 1865: Its capital fell, its commander surrendered, its president was jailed, and its territories were occupied by the opposing army. If that’s not defeat, what is?

But now we have a better model than Napoleon: Iraq.

After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877. Before and after 1877, the insurgents usedlynchings and occasionalpitchedbattles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place. [2]

By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control, and the three constitutional amendments that supposedly had codified the U.S.A’s victory over the C.S.A.– the 13th, 14th, and 15th — had been effectively nullified in every Confederate state. The Civil Rights Acts had been gutted by the Supreme Court, and were all but forgotten by the time similar proposals resurfaced in the 1960s. Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws. Tens of thousands of them were still physically shackled and subject to being whipped, a story historian Douglas Blackmon told in his Pulitzer-winning Slavery By Another Name.

So Lincoln and Grant may have had their mission-accomplished moment, but ultimately the Confederates won. The real Civil War — the one that stretched from 1861 to 1877 — was the first war the United States lost.

That system continues to hold sway over far too much of U.S. politics and governance today, and it is profoundly antidemocratic. Muder writes:

But the enduring Confederate influence on American politics goes far beyond a few rhetorical tropes. The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.

That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

That was the victory plan of Reconstruction. Black equality under the law was guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But in the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand.

In the 20th century, the Confederate pattern of resistance was repeated against the Civil Rights movement. And though we like to claim that Martin Luther King won, in many ways he did not. School desegregation, for example, was never viewed as legitimate, and was resisted at every level. And it has been overcome. By most measures, schools are as segregated as ever, and the opportunities in white schools still far exceed the opportunities in non-white schools.

Today, ObamaCare cannot be accepted. No matter that it was passed by Congress, signed by the President, found constitutional by the Supreme Court, and ratified by the people when they re-elected President Obama. It cannot be allowed to stand, and so the tactics for destroying it get ever more extreme. The point of violence has not yet been reached, but the resistance is still young.

Violence is a key component of the present-day strategy against abortion rights, as Judge Myron Thompson’s recent ruling makes clear. Legal, political, social, economic, and violent methods of resistance mesh seamlessly. The Alabama legislature cannot ban abortion clinics directly, so it creates reasonable-sounding regulations the clinics cannot satisfy, like the requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Why can’t they fulfill that requirement? Because hospitals impose the reasonable-sounding rule that their doctors live and practice nearby, while many Alabama abortionists live out of state. The clinics can’t replace them with local doctors, because protesters will harass the those doctors’ non-abortion patients and drive the doctors out of any business but abortion. A doctor who chooses that path will face threats to his/her home and family. And doctors who ignore such threats have been murdered.

Legislators, of course, express horror at the murder of doctors, just as the pillars of 1960s Mississippi society expressed horror at the Mississippi Burning murders, and the planter aristocrats shook their heads sadly at the brutality of the KKK and the White Leagues. But the strategy is all of a piece and always has been. Change cannot stand, no matter what documents it is based on or who votes for them. If violence is necessary, so be it.

And if you think for a moment that Muder’s take on the movement’s violent bent is fanciful or exaggerated, consider this.

This mindset has found a focus point, and a path to at least a modicum of power, through the Tea Party, which now effectively holds sway over one of our two major political parties and is directly responsible what much of America — and the world — finds so odious about today’s GOP and our country. (Credit where due, by the way: The blogger Driftglass has written on this theme for years.)

Muder concludes:

Our modern Confederates are quick to tell the rest of us that we don’t understand them because we don’t know our American history. And they’re right. If you knew more American history, you would realize just how dangerous these people are.

 

Odds and ends for April 14

We have seen our enemies, and they are weak. Seriously. Relative to us, weak on a world-historical scale.

In Idaho, the batshittery of the right-wing nut jobs carries an eight-digit price tag.

New Mexico has become the second state to ban the civil forfeiture of innocent people’s property. This needs to happen nationwide.

When cops misbehave, body cams are not, by themselves, helpful. The video must be publicly available. D.C. appears headed in the opposite direction. (That issue is still up in the air here in Greensboro.)

Speaking of misbehaving cops, The Baltimorie Sun proves that there are still a few reporters out there kicking ass and taking names.

Researchers have found patterns in then-President Ronald Reagan’s speech that indicated Alzheimer’s disease years before Reagan received his diagnosis in 1994. I mention this not to take a dig at Reagan but to point out that this approach may be a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in people sooner than has been possible up ’til now.

My friend Louis Bekoe is running for president, and I’ve got to say that right now he’s the best choice out there.

Speaking of running for president, supposed contender Chris Christie apparently will be campaigning on a platform to cut Social Security and Medicare. Unlike Bush 43, at least he’s being upfront about it.

And candidate Rand Paul‘s wife insists that he doesn’t have a problem with women because he has worked with female surgeons. OK, then, if she says so.

Non-local folks, this is particularly for you: The National Folk Festival will be here in Greensboro this year and for the next two years as well. Here’s info. This is a big deal.

Damn. Percy Sledge is dead at 73.

 

Monday, April 13, 2015 9:52 pm

Odds and ends for April 13

Gunter Grass, the Pulitzer Nobel Prize-winning author (and, ironically, former Waffen SS soldier) whose work forced German culture to confront the horror of Naziism, is dead at 87.

Apparently Marco Rubio is running for president. Here are seven reasons that’d be a bad idea.

Sigh. One more example of out-of-control cops. At least no one died this time.

Duke Energy’s contributions to the Republican Governors’ Association increased by an order of magnitude after the Dan River spill. Duke says that’s just coincidence. Yeah. Sure. Right.

The former executive director of the State Employees Association of N.C., Dana Cope, appears to have spent close to half a million bucks that wasn’t his.

Why make North Carolina workers safer when you can just rig the numbers?

How bad has this legislative session been for North Carolinians? Let us count the ways.

It’s a uterus, not a clown car: A 65-year-old German woman who has 13 kids and seven grandkids is pregnant with quadruplets.

The Lost Colony? Maybe not so lost after all.

Friday, April 10, 2015 9:24 pm

I’ll just let the TSA rock you to sleep tonight; or, One random business traveller sees how it could happen

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:24 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I recently went on a business trip, which, unfortunately, involved interaction with the U.S. commercial aviation system. If you fly, I don’t have to tell you how pure-T miserable the experience has become. But this trip included a lagniappe.

I was flying back from … well, I won’t say, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. The important thing is that I had in my suitcase a box of the small Flip brand video cameras that we use in our work. The TSA at airports usually gets very interested in them, because on X-ray they and their accessories look like, well, a bunch of small, rectangular things with wires and batteries. In other words, awfully like a bomb.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised when they opened up my suitcase and took out the box, and then opened the box and emptied it completely. That had happened before. They emptied my suitcase completely, too, and checked everything for explosive residue. Finding none, they repacked it all (or so I thought), and my flight went on uncomfortably but uneventfully.

Only when I got home did I discover that one of the cameras was missing. I had counted them before we left the client’s offices, and they had all been there. I called the client to be sure; no camera there. But I was definitely one short. The only thing I could figure was that when TSA tossed my suitcase, they’d taken out all the cameras and somehow failed to put one back in the box.

TSA actually has a lost-and-found page you can check for numbers to call if you’ve lost something, so I called. After a bit of phone tag, I got a supervisor who asked about my flight, date, time, airport, and so forth, and said he could pull the video of the search and also check with that airport’s TSA folks to see if the camera had turned up. When he called me back, long story short, neither his colleagues nor the video had had any useful info. In fact, he said, the video appeared to show that everything taken out of that box had, indeed, been put back in.

“Did you gate-check your bag?” he asked me.

Well, yes, I did. Because on most domestic flights, the overhead bins fill up well before the seats do, so I pretty much had to. I suppose I could check my bag, but, particularly on a flight with connections, as surely as I do, my luggage will get lost (with the cameras in the suitcase) and I’ll arrive at a client’s unable to do what we’re being paid to do. So if I don’t want to check my bag, principles of Newtonian physics dictate that I inevitably have to gate-check it.

And that’s the thing, the supervisor said. There was a time there after you gate-checked your bag where your bag was unattended. Maybe, he said, that’s when the camera disappeared.

Never mind the implausibility of someone opening the suitcase AND opening the box inside and just taking one camera, rather than simply snatching the whole box (smaller than a shoebox, though much heavier).

“So you’re saying that my bag was unattended during gate-check and so somebody opened it up and stole the camera then?” I said. “Does it bother you at all that if someone could have done that, they also could have put an explosive device in the bag and blown the plane out of the sky?”

“I know,” was all he said. “I know.” Over and over. “I know.”

Wow.

We as a nation have spent an ungodly amount of money since 9/11 on making sure American commercial aviation is as safe as it can be — or so we’re told. But apparently it’s still possible for someone to steal a camera from — or place explosives within — a bag that has been checked and is supposedly being supervised. And I got that straight from a TSA supervisor.

Enjoy your next flight. I know I will.

 

Odds and ends for April 10

Vox.com has created an interactive map showing at least some information on each of more than 5,600 officer-involved homicides dating to 2000. The data are badly incomplete, and Steve Buttry and others have noted that it would be nice if the data were searchable in some ways that they currently are not. But what’s there is scary, and depressing, enough.

Looks like overzealous New York cops may have finally messed with someone with the resources to mess back.

It isn’t Facebook whose mantra is “Don’t be evil,” and here’s one reason why.

Some liberal sites like Newscorpse are arguing that this Roger Ailes statement means he’s admitting Fox News isn’t news but entertainment. That’s true, but I don’t think Ailes is admitting it. Rather, I think he’s talking about competing with TNT, USA, and ESPN merely in terms of audience ratings and share, not content, and that the other interpretation is an unsupported reach.

I admire Simon Schräder’s initiative and creativity even as I hope and expect that his freedom-of-information request will be unsuccessful.

So with its very viability under attack by the N.C. General Assembly, the UNC system decides that its biggest problem is … raising salaries for chancellors? Way to paint a bulls-eye on yourselves, guys.

Its leaders keep saying the legislature’s top priority is jobs, but as the man said in “48HRS,” we all know the truth’s a little different. My friend Susan Ladd continues to call out the legislature for its efforts to shrink state government until it fits inside your uterus.

Duke Energy got off with a $25 million slap on the wrist for contaminating groundwater in New Hanover County. Naturally, it is whining about that.

Two magistrates who left their jobs rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as now required in N.C. by court order are — duh — suing, claiming that their religious rights were violated. Here’s hoping a court swiftly and violently upsides them with the clue stick because I have had it with religious wingnuts and their oh-so-tender fee-fees. If y’all want to know what violation of religious liberty really looks like, Kenya can show you.

The News & Record’s Joe Killian eviscerates the Rhino Times’s fake poll on SB 36, Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill to create a GOP-controlled City Council in a city that’s two-thirds Democratic because they can’t seem to win at the polls.

My friend Linda Hoopes, a psychology Ph.D. with a special interest in resilience — how people respond to and recover from adversity — now has a weekly radio show and podcast, Resilience Radio. It airs live at 4 p.m. Eastern time on Mondays.

Damn. CLT Blog, one of the most innovative and journalistically successful citizen-journalism efforts around, has given up the ghost after 6-plus years. (h/t: @underoak)

Study: People who curse a lot are f—–g awesome.

Thursday, April 9, 2015 8:22 pm

Odds and ends for April 9

Sorry, guys, I was on the road today, so I ain’t got much.

The Rhino Times commissioned a push poll by a conservative chop shop to make it appear there is more support for a measure to redistrict Greensboro City Council than there actually is. Doug Clark at the N&R calls them out on it.

Meanwhile, some Wake County voters have sued over the recent changes to the Wake Board of Commissioners imposed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

In other popular stuff carried out by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, a lot of middle-class North Carolinians saw their state income taxes go up this year. But hey! Tax cuts for the wealthy and big bidness!

Why Stephen Curry, and not James Harden, should be this year’s NBA MVP. (I mean, besides Davidson. Duh.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 9:00 pm

Odds and ends for April 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:00 pm

Oops! Thought I posted this but didn’t. Sorry!

A South Carolina police officer faces murder charges after he was caught on video firing eight shots at the back of a fleeing suspect. Incredible. And, yet, not so much, sadly.

When you strip away their lofty rhetoric, most elected Republicans really only want to do two things: steal your money and kick people when they’re down.

More people who aren’t doing Christianity right: A bill in Tennessee would allow counseling students (and students in social work or psychology) to discriminate against gays, non-Christians, or anyone else on the basis of the student’s religious belief.

That hoovering of phone calls that the DEA was doing years before 9/11? Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing to stop it. Good.

How former pro football star Darren Sharper’s multi-state rape spree was enabled by police hesitation to act.

We’re now manufacturing tools and other objects in space, with 3-D printing. We live in an age of wonders. Seriously.

Speaking of wonders, credit where due — here’s one thing the Republicans in the N.C. legislature are doing right: pushing to expand solar energy.

On the flip side, they’re going farther into science denialism and sticking government farther into our uteri.

North Carolina’s failure to educate its K-12 students soon may become a legal problem.

Some good news for a change: Netflix is picking up another 17 episodes of “Arrested Development.” It and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” are the two funniest things on TV right now.

And the brontosaurus is back. Pluto remains a “minor planet,” however.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 8:57 pm

Odds and ends for April 7

First, congratulations to Duke!

Sure, a ban on medical schools teaching abortion wouldn’t survive constitutional scrutiny. But suppose it did: Legislators would be sentencing a nontrivial number of women to death. How about we ban your fucking heart valves, you goddamned sociopaths? I’m sorry, but in what universe am I supposed to treat this as just another policy proposal to be dispassionately debated?

The DEA secretly recorded billions of Americans’ international calls years before 9/11. And not one damn person will go to jail behind it.

My online friend Chris Dashiell went on a bit of a rant Monday on Twitter about what the backlash against the Rolling Stone UVa/rape story says about our toxic media environment. I’ve Storified it so that you can enjoy it, too.

Here are five Texas firefighters who I think will really enjoy prison.

In Chicago, Mayor (and all-around jackass) Rahm Emanuel could be out on his ass. As Al Capone is reputed to have said after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, I’ll send flowers.

Rand Paul formally declared for the presidency today. If his batshit insanity, leavened with enough isolated sane positions to attract some low-info voters, isn’t enough to turn you off, consider this: His campaign website is selling an “NSA spy-cam blocker.” Grifters gonna grift.

While I have argued that voter fraud — real voter fraud — is vanishingly rare, I’ve never argued that it doesn’t exist. Now, some N.C. cases have led to criminal charges. The cases involve two felons who hadn’t had their rights restored, a guy who voted in both North Carolina and Florida, and one person who wasn’t a citizen of the United States. It is unclear at best whether the state’s voter-ID law would have prevented the latter case, and clear that it wouldn’t have prevented the other three. (h/t: Fred)

And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is running for re-election, presumably because we kids still haven’t gotten off his lawn.

Aluminum batteries could replace our lithium ones, extending battery life. But probably not anytime soon.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott initially said he couldn’t “in good conscience” reject Medicaid expansion. So much for conscience.

The New York Times takes a look at the redistricting dispute in Greensboro and other cases in North Carolina. Oddly, the article doesn’t present any larger context or perspective on the fact that this is a national, ALEC-driven effort.

Speaking of the Times, perhaps I should ask it for a million bucks just to see what would happen.

A day or two ago I mentioned a Long Island high-school student who had been accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. Well, turns out, North Carolina has one of them, too.

Monday, April 6, 2015 7:39 pm

Odds and ends for April 6

Apparently Jeb Bush listed himself as Hispanic when he most recently registered to vote in Florida, which would be hilarious and all except that putting false info on a Florida voter-registration form is a third-degree felony.

Now that Columbia University’s report on the now-retracted Rolling Stone article about rape at the University of Virginia has been made public, how successful is the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity likely to be in its planned lawsuit against the magazine? Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post discusses it.

The Supreme Court is letting a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina over its new voting restrictions move ahead to trial. Good.

Today’s Braves-Marlins game in Miami was delayed by rain in the second inning. Despite the stadium’s having a retractable roof.

Now he’s just showing off: Long Island high-school senior Harold Ekeh got accepted at all eight Ivy League colleges.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2015 10:35 pm

The post-mortem on Rolling Stone’s rape-at-UVa article: You say your mother loves you? Check it out.

UPDATED below.

Report by Columbia here; the key bits (emphasis mine):

The particulars of Rolling Stone‘s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail. … The magazine’s records and interviews with participants show that the failure of “A Rape on Campus” was not due to a lack of resources. The problem was methodology, compounded by an environment where several journalists with decades of collective experience failed to surface and debate problems about their reporting or to heed the questions they did receive from a fact-checking colleague.

In retrospect, [Will] Dana, the managing editor, who has worked at Rolling Stone since 1996, said the story’s breakdown reflected both an “individual failure” and “procedural failure, an institutional failure. … Every single person at every level of this thing had opportunities to pull the strings a little harder, to question things a little more deeply, and that was not done.” …

Yet the explanation that Rolling Stone failed because it deferred to a victim cannot adequately account for what went wrong. [Article author Sabrina] Erdely’s reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie [the pseudonym the magazine used for the purported victim] had made no request that they refrain. The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie’s position. …

In hindsight, the most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was to accept that Erdely had not contacted the three friends who spoke with Jackie on the night she said she was raped. That was the reporting path, if taken, that would have almost certainly led the magazine’s editors to change plans.

I may or may not have more to say about the details later, after I have re-read the report, but I can say this just as I did soon after questions about the report arose: Failure to independently verify a primary source’s claims is journalistic malpractice, and the article’s author, Sabrina Erdely, manifestly failed to independently verify her primary source’s claims — and in some instances didn’t even try. And the article’s editor, Sean Woods, and the magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, were aware of holes in Erdely’s reporting and let the article run anyway.

Rolling Stone’s fact-checker assigned to the case raised questions that the editors ultimately failed to answer. The report quotes Coco McPherson, the fact-checking chief, as saying, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.” It’s not clear whether McPherson means “around” as a synonym for “about” (an increasingly common usage I despise precisely because it creates confusion like this) or whether she means that the policies are fine but were bypassed in this case.

At any rate, fact-checking is worthless if discrepancies that are found aren’t fully investigated. Rolling Stone’s fact-checker (who isn’t named in the report because she had no control over the ultimate content of the article) appears to have done her job — and to have been ignored by Erdely, with the complicity of Woods and Dana. McPherson, the fact-checking chief, is basically saying that Woods and Dana ignored her employee’s work because of the sensitivity of working with a primary source who claimed to have been a sexual-assault victim. If in fact that was the case, well, that’s not good enough.

I don’t think, contrary to some accusations, that Erdely fabricated the story. But she deferred excessively to a source whom even minimal attempts at verification would have shown to be questionable. And Wills and Dana didn’t demand enough documentation. The question remains why. McPherson has her theory, but Wills and Dana themselves don’t say. We may never know. We can only speculate. And I imagine that the culture warriors all along the spectrum are ready, willing, and able to serve up piping-hot scenarios that might or might not bear any relationship to reality.

Beyond that, this episode has probably made life harder for women who have been sexually assaulted — it provides fodder for people of bad faith who want to argue that sexual assault isn’t a big problem or a big deal, and that false reports are common. Erdely, Woods, and Dana owe their readers an apology, but they owe these survivors an even bigger one.

As of this writing, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is saying no one at the magazine will be disciplined, and Erdely will continue to write for the magazine, because he believes that the errors were unintentional. Not that what I think matters, but I think all three should be fired. Checking facts is Journalism 101, even for news outlets without the resources and fact-checking infrastructure of a Rolling Stone. The quantity and quality of the unforced errors that led to the publication of this unsupported story are simply too egregious to be ignored.

UPDATE: Reaction from some others in or formerly in media.

UPDATE: Columbia Journalism Review interviews the report authors.

UPDATE: Erdely’s public apology. Note that she did not apologize to Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity named in the article and an organization that suffered real, albeit not life-shattering, consequences.

UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple summarizes the report and lists those victimized by the Rolling Stone article.

I also recommend that you read press critic Jay Rosen’s take whenever it appears on his site, Pressthink.org. As of midnight Sunday, he hadn’t posted yet, but he has said his take is in progress. UPDATE: It’s here, and I quote from it Rosen’s discussion of an important angle that the report authors didn’t consider in any depth:

5. The most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was made at the beginning: to settle on a narrative and go in search of the story that would work just right for that narrative. The key term isemblematic. The report has too little to say about that fateful decision, probably because it’s not a breach of procedure but standard procedure in magazine-style journalism. (Should it be?) This is my primary criticism of the Columbia report: it has too little to say about the “emblem of…” problem.

6. Not that it’s entirely missing. The basic facts are there:

Erdely said she was searching for a single, emblematic college rape case that would show “what it’s like to be on campus now … where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there’s this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture,” according to Erdely’s notes of the conversation.

Idea: Maybe “a single, emblematic college rape case” does not exist. Maybe the hunt for such was ill-conceived from the start. Maybe that’s the wrong way for Rolling Stone to have begun.

7. This is from Paul Farhi’s Nov. 28 account in the Washington Post:

So, for six weeks starting in June, Erdely interviewed students from across the country. She talked to people at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. None of those schools felt quite right. But one did: the University of Virginia, a public school, Southern and genteel, brimming with what Erdely calls “super-smart kids” and steeped in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.

None of those schools felt quite right. What kind of “feel” is this? It’s feeling for a fit between discovered story and a prior — given — narrative.

8. “Mr. Dana said the article stemmed from a feeling he and other senior editors had over summer that the issue of unpunished campus rapes would make a compelling and important story,” read Ravi Somaiya’s Dec. 7 report in the New York Times. There’s the prior narrative I mentioned. It didn’t start with Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She was sent on a search for where to set it.

Rosen also makes clear just how badly Rolling Stone screwed up in its reliance on “Jackie” as a primary source:

14. Part of what made Rolling Stone editors vulnerable to the “emblem of…” problem was some seriously dated thinking about credibility, in which it’s said to be sort of like charisma. You have charisma or you don’t. You “have” credibility or you don’t. If a source is felt to be credible, the entire story can ride on that. Your colleagues are credible, so it doesn’t occur you to ask if they could all be missing something.

A dramatic high point for this kind of thinking comes during Hannah Rosin’s incredible podcast interview with Sabrina Erdely. Rosin asks near the end of it: If you were Jackie’s lawyer, how would you prove her case? (Go to 6:35 on this clip and listen.) The author’s reply: “I found her story to be very— I found her to be very credible.”

15. It’s almost like, if you have credibility you don’t need proof. That’s an absurd statement, of course, but here’s how they got there (without realizing it.) Instead of asking: what have we done in telling Jackie’s story to earn the skeptical user’s belief? you say: I’m a skeptical journalist, I found her story believable, so will the users. Voilà! Credibility. Will Dana is one of the best editors in New York. Who “has” more credibility than him? No one! He finds her story believable. Doesn’t that “give” it credibility too?

In short, journalism is supposed to be built around the discipline of verification … and the people and process that led to Rolling Stone’s story were utterly undisciplined.

UPDATE: Mediagazer links to other sources on the story, some of which duplicate items above, here.

UPDATE: Several years ago, the Center for Public Integrity published a series of articles on campus sexual assault. While the details of the cases discussed might not be as spectacular as those in Rolling Stone’s article, the reporting is far better documented.

UPDATE: I should have disclosed earlier that I once sold an article to Rolling Stone, back in 1986. I’ve had no dealings with them since.

Odds and ends for April 5

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Cops in California are using a 1930s-era anti-lynching statute to intimidate protesters. Prosecutors so far have declined to press those charges, but it’s only a matter of time until a right-wing nutjob decides to try to make an example of someone.

Speaking of California, its people are in serious denial about its extreme drought, now in its fourth year. About 94% of the state considers the drought serious, but 61% still favor voluntary measures to deal with it. Y’all need to wake up.

Likely presidential contender and perennial horse’s ass Mike Huckabee thinks I’m a member of the “militant gay community,” inasmuch as that’s whom he’s blaming for the backlash against Indiana’s bigoted “religious freedom” statute. Who knew that Christians who take the Second Great Commandment seriously were militant gays? My wife certainly had no idea.

We have a system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent and this case proves it.” (Previously.)

In Florida, relatives of officers of for-profit charter-school companies are enacting legislation to divert money from public schools to charter schools. But none dare call it a conflict of interest, let alone a crime.

Randi Harper, somewhat unwillingly turned into an activist by GamerGaters and perpetrators of online violent and/or sexual threats, got SWATed — someone called in a false tip to police that led a SWAT team to raid her apartment. Her experience could have ended with her dead, or at least her dog. Fortunately, both are alive and well. She talks about what you need to do to protect yourself from such potentially deadly “pranks.” For the record, given the risk of gunplay anytime heavily armed cops storm a home, I think this “prank” should be treated as attempted manslaughter, at least. (h/t: Chip)

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh draws a useful distinction between what he does and much of the “news” you see in print and online today: Instead of taking a tip and building it into a story, too many reporters just run the tip.

 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 7:48 pm

Odds and ends for April 1

I hate April Fool’s Day. Morons spend the day trying to prank news outlets, it’s Amateur Night for everyone you know who has a bad sense of humor, and social media becomes absolutely worthless. That said, all these items either are factually true, untrue only by accident, or my opinion.

Again, this is not an April Fool’s “joke”: The Palestinian Authority is now a member of the International Criminal Court. I think I’ll just hold my breath while Hamas militants are prosecuted for war crimes. Not.

Also not a joke: Generous welfare benefits make people more, not less, likely to want to work, a study finds.

Surprise! N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s privatized lottery plan has failed. And Big Chicken wants to take his “ideas” national.

Some very conservative Roman Catholic priests and lay people are rebelling against Pope Francis’s modest efforts to restore Christianity to the church. The Vatican’s response? “Excommunication is automatic.” Boom!

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has been indicted on public corruption charges in Florida, where he is accused of using his office to promote the business of a big donor.

First, Rep. Tom Cotton and the Gang of 47 tried to take over foreign policy with Israel. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to take over foreign policy as it relates to climate change. Fortunately for the world, McConnell seems to have the reverse Midas touch: Everything he touches turns to shit.

The liberal news/analysis magazine The Nation is suing the federal government over its monitoring of the magazine’s international communications. Seems a good time to remind folks that the Patriot Act sunsets this year unless Congress extends it. Now would be a good time to tell your congresscritter to consign that law to the scrap heap of history and for us all to remember that we’re Americans, not East Germans.

Indiana is discovering that “religious freedom” means different things to different people. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination has decided to move its 2017 convention from Indianapolis to some other, less benighted venue.

Arkansas follows Indiana’s lead with a so-called “religious freedom” bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ folk, despite Walmart’s — Walmart’s! — plea for it not to do so. It’s so bad that pro-Tea Partier Asa Hutchinson, who is the governor and used to be a congresscritter, said he’ll veto the bill unless some of the most extreme parts are deleted. If you’ve gone so far off the deep end that Asa Hutchinson refuses to go with you, you really need to turn around.

North Carolina’s own version of that law has begun to attract opposition not only from Democrats and liberals but also from Republicans and some businesses, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he won’t sign it. (That’s not an outright vow to veto, however.)

Within 30 years — within my kids’ lifetimes, and possibly within mine — North Carolina’s sea level could rise almost 10 1/2 inches, with widespread and expensive ramifications. The legislature has semi-crippled state government’s ability even to talk intelligently about the problem. But, as this blog is fond of saying, you can ignore reality, but reality will not ignore you.

To the extent that North Carolina is growing, it is doing so because of its urban areas, particularly Raleigh and Wake County. So why do state Republicans hate them so?

And although Republicans in the Lege claim their top priorities are jobs, roads, and education, the evidence shows that it’s actually regulating ladyparts and the ladies who use them.

 

 

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