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Friday, August 29, 2003

 
VOGON POETRY

Vogon poetry is, of course, the third worst in the known universe ...

And now we've found something even worse. Worse even than the poetry of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England. Presenting (via World o' Crap) the poetry of Judge Roy Moore.

This is bad, bad, bad poetry. Writing poetry like this means that one should be held back for another year in the fourth grade. Judge Moore sets the bar as low as he can with his rhyming couplets, but fails to grasp that he should also pay some regard to meter. Not only do many of his lines trip over their extra feet, but the judge also frequently places the emPHASis on the wrong sylLABble (... to see the mess we're in / ... a life of indulgent sin).

As for the contents of this aesthetic crime, it's hard to know where to begin in describing the confused history, dubious theology and tortured constitutional interpretations Moore marshals to support his chauvinistic Constantinian rant.

This is, as I said, a very bad poem.

Read it. Marvel at it. Then conjure up every ounce of charity, every possible benefit of the doubt and measure of sympathy and empathy that can be mustered. The conclusion remains inescapable: Judge Roy Moore is an idiot, utterly incapable of discerning the good, the beautiful or the true.

If that sounds at all harsh, just read the poem again.


posted by Fred Clark 4:40 AM

 
MONEY, CONSENT AND FREE SPEECH

Intriguing Legal Affairs article credited to Heidi Fleiss as told to Nadya Labi. It's called "In Defense of Prostitution."

Fleiss, whose name you may remember from her infamous arrest as a "Hollywood Madam," argues that:

There is no downside to legalizing prostitution. The government would benefit by collecting taxes on the industry. And regulation would clean up a lot of crime and help to protect women. ...

You can't stop sex. And sex for money will happen no matter what. Why make it a criminal experience?


Two reactions:

1. Paging Dr. Drew. I'd like to run this article past Dr. Drew Pinsky, the serious side of the Lovelines program on MTV and KROQ radio in Los Angeles. The show is marketed as a call-in "sex advice" program, but more often it seems to operate as a kind of hotline. Dr. Drew is a brokenhearted, soft-spoken man with a preternatural ability to discern when a caller is really asking about "X" even though they seem to be talking about "Y." And often, tragically often, "X" turns out to be past or ongoing physical or sexual abuse.

I would be interested to hear Dr. Drew's take on this section from Fleiss' article:

I had the kind of childhood that everyone dreams about, with five brothers and sisters, camping trips, pillow fights, and marathon Monopoly games. We weren't like the Britney Spears generation -- the girls today who look like they're ready to have sex at 9. ... My mother showered me with love and my father, a pediatrician, would ask me at the dinner table, "What did you learn today?" At 19, I began dating a 57-year-old multimillionaire. The relationship was good ...

It seems to me there's something missing in this narrative. Something that's probably rather important. How, exactly, did the teen-aged Miss Fleiss begin a relationship with "a 57-year-old millionaire"? And what happened during the previous 19 years to make this seem normal and good?

Fleiss goes on to paint an idealized portrait of prostitution. It's a picture right out of Pretty Woman, and while it may be true for a tiny fraction of the millions of women in the world's sex trade, Fleiss seems oblivious to what her chosen business means for the 99.99 percent of prostitutes who aren't being paid thousands of dollars to party with Charlie Sheen.

2. Fleiss should try a First Amendment argument. Proponents of legalized prostitution might make more progress for their cause if they adopted as their standardbearer not Heidi Fleiss, but Mitch McConnell. The Republican senator from Kentucky is best known for being a fierce opponent of any form of campaign finance reform. McConnell's favorite piece of jurisprudence, Buckley v. Valeo, seems logically not only to allow, but to require the legalization of prostitution.

Fleiss and others argue that prostitution ought to be legal because it involves "consenting adults." This argument has failed because, in the case of prostitution at least, the law recognizes that money changing hands alters the nature of that alleged consent. Laws banning prostitution hold that a sexual act orchestrated through commerce is, in fact, very different from the same act orchestrated through consent. The latter is, by definition, not coercive. The former (despite the rosy picture painted by Ms. Fleiss and others) most likely involves an element of coercion.

Enter Buckley v. Valeo. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down spending restrictions for political campaigns by arguing that political spending is no different from political speech, and thus was a form of free expression protected by the First Amendment. In short, money equals speech. Or, in the case of prostitution, commerce is consent.

I personally think legalizing prostitution is a Bad Idea. I also think Buckley is a Bad Decision. But as long as Buckley is the law of the land I'm not sure how one can defend not legalizing prostitution. After all, if the Supreme Court insists on pretending there is no element in coercion in campaign fund-raising, why shouldn't they take the same view of prostitution? And if people like McConnell are legally allowed to rent out Congress to their corporate Johns, why shouldn't Heidi be allowed to rent her girls to aging Brat-packers?


posted by Fred Clark 2:38 AM


Thursday, August 28, 2003

 
LITTLE MISS DIRTY WORK

EPA's acting chief dismantles environmental protections, letting incoming chief Leavitt keep his hands clean.

The EPA just "relaxed" or "loosened" or "eased" rules requiring pollution controls at some 17,000 power plants and refineries across America. This will save millions of dollars for some of the nation's worst polluters, while meaning more sulfur dioxide and other health-threatening pollutants in the air we breathe.

Inexplicably, The Washington Post seems to think that the air we breathe is a matter of "politics" -- and has filed this story in with the rest of its horse-race political coverage. The dismantling of clean air regulations is political -- the EPA would never have taken this step if they did not think it would make the industry lobbyists and campaign contributors very happy -- but the consequences of this step, and the many others like it, go well beyond George W. Bush's standing in the polls or his ability to raise another $10 million from corporate interests.

Breathing is not, primarily, a political action -- no matter what the Post says.

The troubling aspect of this story is that this major step was taken by the EPA's acting administrator, Marrianne Horinko. Christie Whitman has departed, and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has been tapped to replace her, but he hasn't yet taken office. This action shows that the administration seems to view the interim as the opportunity to roll back even more environmental protections without making Leavitt complicit in the damage done. Horinko can do the dirty work, and Leavitt can take the helm of the crippled agency smelling like a rose.

Leavitt's confirmation hearings will likely be held in early September, and he may well be confirmed by the end of the month. Between now and then, look for more announcements from Axing Administrator Horinko.

Remember, these are the people who put fecal matter in your drinking water.

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Now that I've had a chance to read it, let me again recommend Mother Jones' excellent special report: "The Ungreening of America."

MoJo also points to reports from Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (a .pdf) and this Toxic Inventory Release database from Environmental Defense, which let's you find out what's in the air in your own neighborhood.


posted by Fred Clark 4:25 PM


Wednesday, August 27, 2003

 
REACHING YOUNGER READERS -- Part 3

I've gotten a lot of good responses to this post seeking input on the question of what newspapers could do to meet the needs of "younger readers."

This is a slightly different question than the one the big newspaper publishers actually seem to be asking -- which is, "How can we attract younger readers?" The difference between the two questions is instructive: the former is primarily concerned with meeting the needs of a certain demographic, the latter with meeting the needs of advertisers targeting that demographic. It may be impossible to reconcile these two approaches, and it may be therefore that nothing worthwhile will ever come from the newspapers' younger-reader campaigns.

(In my initial post on this topic, I noted the ways that this newfound concern at newspapers parallels the concerns of churches to reach younger would-be members. The following comments from readers are focused on the newspapers, but anyone interested in the future of the churches would also do well to pay attention to what they have to say. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.)

We'll take these five at a time. The italicized text below represents reader feedback. The occasional emphasis added is from me. I'm still seeking input on this, so please, I'd like to hear from you at slacktivist@hotmail.com.

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From Patrick Gallot:

I'd suggest splitting demographics by 13-25years old and 25-45years old.
 
The 13-25 year olds are: Starting high school, getting their first part-time jobs starting college/trade school, moving out of their parents' homes, getting their first full-time jobs, moving into their own first homes (apartments).
 
13-25 year olds have adult minds, what they don't yet have is "adult" experience. Rather than talking down to them, try treating them as if they were adults from a foreign country; ignorant of certain material but perfectly capable of grasping the content if it is explained in a reasonable way.
 
Above all, it shouldn't try to present itself as "cool", or "hip"; less attitude and more need-to-know information (except when it comes to television; television is the competition and should be derided at every opportunity as an inadequate substitute for life).
 
25-45 year olds aren't necessarily experiencing big firsts like the 13-25year olds, so the current format of most newspapers, giving them repetitive updates of sports/weather/business/columnists/comics/and news is probably fine.


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Katie Moog falls more squarely in the "younger reader" demographic than I do, but the news-junkie information diet she describes is almost exactly my own:

I have always been something of a news junkie - in middle school & high school I often read three different newspapers a day and watched McNeil/Lehrer (I was a big ol' nerd), and in college I was the only one in my dorm with a newspaper subscription. But two years ago I moved out of state and for the first time did not get a newspaper subscription.

It seems like TPTB think that young people like me (I'm 24) don't have the attention span to read a newspaper and just don't care about hard news anyway. I just don't think that's true.

I consume a lot of news and I know many of my peers do too. But we get most of our news these days online. If I am bored with a newspaper article it is usually because I read the same darn thing online yesterday afternoon!  So those insulting, dumbed-down tabloids the papers are putting out are not the answer! All you have to do is visit Yahoo! News or Google News a couple times a day and you'll read all of those wire-service blurbs. We don't need to see them again the next day. 

Other online news sources I use are Slate, and several blogs ... that have helped me find some really interesting news websites that I never knew about before. For other news, I listen to NPR in the car, I read Entertainment Weekly for my pop culture fix, and I watch Comedy Central's The Daily Show to laugh at it all.

Sadly, newspapers in their current state do nothing for me anymore. I wish I had some really good ideas on how to fix that. I think something very important would be lost if newspapers were to disappear. What do I want from a newspaper that I am not getting from other sources? I think newspapers can learn something from on-line news -- blogging in particular. A lot of the issues raised in blogs deserve some thoughtful, in-depth analysis and newspapers are the ideal place for that. And I would read a newspaper for articles like that and I think my peers would too. We are interested in politics and world affairs and such. Especially as we get older, start establishing careers, and begin families we realize that this stuff is important and can affect our lives. But we're cynical. We're afraid to trust politicians and other public figures and we need help sorting through all that. Maybe more quality reporting would get more of us to read newspapers. Or maybe its just me.


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Granted this sample is biased toward people who get news online, but the advantages of online news sources are a repeating theme in the comments I've gotten. Here's what Anna W., a 29-year-old programmer, has to say on that:

I don't read much unless it's online anymore, including news. And mostly, I get my news from a list of blogs that is as "fair and balanced" as I can find.

The biggest reason I don't read hard-copy papers is simple, they can't link to supporting articles and/or evidence. I want facts and proof, whenever possible. Also, it's good to see a bit of social fisking whenever possible. In other words, linking topics to quick discussion boards where others can have input.


Sadly, corporate media types will read comments like Anna's and start harrumphing about "interactivity," which will ultimately mean lots of irrelevant online quizzes and polls.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Kamilah Foreman falls within the category of "younger readers," but isn't one of those disaffected young people the newspapers are talking about -- she's already a subscriber, and to the Chicago Tribune, not to the RedEye. Kamilah pounds on one note that suggests an advantage newspapers can have over the more timely Internet and cable news sources: local coverage. Her concluding rant on why the "special sections" of most newspapers are not only irrelevant, but insulting, probably hits very close to the core of why newspapers are losing so many younger readers in the first place:

I'm 23, and my friends and I get lumped into the hipster category by our consumer choices. We have some disposable income, but we aren't MTV or Abercrombie. We're more college radio and thrift store.

Having said that, we read alternative weeklies faithfully, because they do in-depth reporting on subjects that never appear in mainstream papers like prison healthcare, budget crises among local theaters and service agencies, or reviews of local music. I doubt a mainstream paper *would* create a hip, serious paper for younger readers, because it would require them to do the reporting that they don't do already.

The biggest failings of alt weeklies is that many rely on freelancers, whose stories are rarely timely. Mainstream papers could capitalize on that weakness, but that returns the real problem; why don't they do that reporting anyway?

Among some of my friends, we laugh about the terrible writing in the Trib (to which I've subscribed for 3 years), and with plenty of alt news sources whether blogs or alternet or international papers, we know their reporting is terrible because we read a better article on the same issue yesterday.

While I have my doubts, I think a mainstream paper *could* make a good paper for younger readers, but it absolutely can't write about Enimem or Radiohead. It's got to cover the media fest at the neighborhood art center. It's no secret that to be hip is to consume what others don't consume, to know what others don't know. A good paper will give us more than what any idiot could find easily whether through Google or Morning Edition. A really good paper will be ... fair and balanced too. It can't give short thrift to conservative groups while giving anti-war organizations plenty of attention and vice versa.

My last comment will never happen, but I'll say it anyway. Advertising shouldn't determine content, and the articles should go beyond the target audience's disposable income. For example, housing policy, law, and news are some of my primary interests, but I never read the housing section in the paper. It can't seem to feature more than cheap vacation houses, because of the trials of suburbanites who can no longer afford two homes, yuppies who can spend tens of thousands on decorating their expensive condos, or "urban pioneers," (note: my blood boils whenever i hear that term) who make their homes in working class and ethnic neighborhoods. I think more people are smart enough to recognize class bias than are given credit for it, and most of the special sections in the newspaper (cars, housing, food, woman news, etc.) seems to rub it in our faces.

The most commonly held sentiment among my least educated, least gainfully employed friends is screw politics (and by extension, mainstream media) in part because of that socio-economic bias--that the foci of mainstream politics and mainstream news has nothing to do with them.

 
= = = = = = = = = = = =

Charles Amos writes from closer to my end of the "younger reader" demographic. His comments about "trustworthiness" seem pretty fundamental -- until I realized that in all the reading I had done about newspapers' attempts to reach out to younger readers, I hadn't seen a word written about this. Trustworthiness is the basic product newspapers sell -- to what extent have they lost younger readers because they lost younger readers' trust? I have a feeling that Charles (like the others above) would get kicked out of any corporate media focus group on this issue:

the current trend seems to be to dumb down the news as much as possible, drop in lots of info about entertainment icons, and sprinkle in little ironic stories about people doing stupid things. what the newspapers haven't figured out is that nobody ever read Details or Maxim for the news articles. [Ed.: Does this mean the papers need less fluff? Or does it mean they need more scantily clad pictures of the girls of Dawson's Creek?]

how to transcend the problem and reach this oh-so-desirable audience? don't make general assumptions about the age group.

newspapers are a place where people will go to learn more about the world around them, while maintaining a close tie with their local neighborhood. thus, how to do this for 20-somethings? build a very strong arts staff. build a very strong technology staff. sports
cross every boundary. delve into both liberal and conservative politics.  find subjects that are newsworthy in a way that is interesting to a younger audience.

salon.com seems to be a daily that has garnered more than its share of the 18-34 crowd. ... a few years ago, they ran an investigative report on Clear Channel communications. the articles were newsworthy, dealt with scandal and corruption, and were centered around the music that is core to the lives of many 18 to 34-year-olds. they never dumbed down their news, but rather did an intelligent report on a subject that is interesting to younger people. ...

one constant theme i've seen in young people is the desire to find a trustworthy news source, one that is defined not by money, but by a desire to give honest and objective news. by default, i think most dailies are out of the running on this point, but it's still a point to consider.

ultimately, it boils down to respect. respect the audience to whom you're trying to appeal. if chicago's "RedEye" writes fluffy articles on Jennifer Lopez, they will fail miserably, because the Enquirer and People already fill that market. but if they can write honest news articles, insightful features, and some intelligent fluff that is somewhere between Dan Savage and Anne Landers (everybody has days where they need a break from reality), the readers will come. and they won't just be young readers, either.

last of all, recognize that we live in 2003. make a great newspaper, but build a good web site to go with it. the newspapers who are fearing their own death simply haven't recognized that the media may change, but the desire of people -- all ages of people -- to read honest news will never go away.


posted by Fred Clark 11:47 AM


Monday, August 25, 2003

 
GAMBLING AND BASEBALL

So I'm watching the Phillies game on TV. They're playing the Expos in Montreal. The Expos, of course, are the team currently owned and managed by Major League Baseball itself.

Throughout the 6th inning, the electronic billboard behind the batter advertised "Goldenpalace.com Online Casino."

Shoeless Joe Jackson never rented a backstop to professional gambling interests. Bud Selig is doing so right now.


posted by Fred Clark 8:58 PM

 
SAD NEWS

Wesley Willis, 1963-2003

I learn via Rubber Nun that Wesley Willis has died.

For those of you who never had the pleasure of experiencing Wesley Willis' unique music, I'm not sure I can describe it for you. This site tries (and provides assorted MP3s):

His songs were simultaneously disturbing, hilarious, blunt, and intoxicating. Wesley's sheer excitement and unaffected honesty about every cultural phenomenon, defined his music as truly individual, and truly punk rock. ...

Wesley Willis stood 6'5" tall and weighed somewhere between 300 and 350 pounds prior to contracting leukemia, and liked to greet people with a headbutt. Wesley enjoyed walking the streets of Chicago, peddling his detailed ballpoint/felt-tip renderings of the city and riding around on the bus. On October 21, 1989, he began hearing voices and was shortly thereafter diagnosed as having chronic schizophrenia. Willis claimed to have "schizophrenia demons" in his head that take him off of his "harmony joy rides" to put him on "torture hell rides." In 1992 Wesley began writing songs, and soon after, guitarist Dale Meiners took Wesley in to his studio to record them. After many line-up changes, Meiners and Wesley formed the Wesley Willis Fiasco, with Wesley as frontman. Willis had built up a small cult following with his bizarre, three-chord rants about trivial everyday items, music, and people he knows. ...


I worked for a year (as a clerk, I'm not a saint) at a home for "dual-diagnosis" adults. One of the most painful and frustrating aspects of working with the individuals there was the terrible fears that ruled many of them. That their fears were irrational and delusional was little comfort for them or for those who worked with them. A clinical phrase like "auditory hallucinations" doesn't begin to convey the terror of what it really means to hear voices -- actual voices -- speaking to you and telling you the worst imaginable things about yourself and those around you.

The inspiring and contagiously affecting thing about Wesley Willis' life and music was that he seems to have made a choice. He chose to believe in the reality of the "harmony joy rides" and the unreality of the "torture hell rides."

This could not have been simply a rational choice -- Wesley's reason was captive to his schizophrenia and informed only by the unreliable narrators of his five senses. This choice was a leap of faith, as love always is. Love of life, love of others, love of bus rides, love of music, it all amounts to the same thing -- choosing joy over hell.

One of Wesley Willis' biggest fans was Jello Biafra, and his affectionate remembrance puts this better than I can:

As I got to know Wes, what really struck me was his sheer will power, his unrelenting drive to succeed and overcome his horrifically poor background, child abuse, racism, chronic schizophrenia and obesity among other things. He was the most courageous person I have ever known.

Yet through it all he had such a deep, all-encompassing love of life. Little things, big things. He loved bus rides. He loved watching trains. He loved writing songs about how much he loved his friends. He loved travelling to new towns so he could headbutt new friends. Is there any band he saw that escaped being in their own song about how much he loved their show? He was so warm, so sweet, so giving. He could be a handful when he came to visit; but as soon as he left, we'd miss him immediately.

As his long time friend Dennis Cooper said, "No More Demons." The voices in Wesley's head can't yell at him and put him down any more.



posted by Fred Clark 2:44 PM

 
FILTHY FRIDAYS

Every Friday at 5 p.m., the EPA gets rid of another environmental protection.

The Motiva refinery in Delaware City, Del., is one of the worst single site sources of pollution on the East Coast. Motiva Enterprises -- a joint project of Royal Dutch Shell and Aramco (the House of Saud) -- was convicted of homicide in the death of a worker killed in an acid spill. The company is also facing fines from the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and with civil suits that could cost it millions.

Community groups and the state of Delaware have struggled for years to force Motiva to adopt responsible emission controls at the refinery. DNREC's latest attempt was made public Friday:

Delaware regulators have cited Motiva Enterprises for a new round of violations at the Delaware City Refinery, including unauthorized construction and "serious" failures before and after a 25,000-gallon spill in early May.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control recently made public a series of pollution violation notices, including two that targeted Motiva. ...

A separate DNREC violation notice cited Motiva for making changes to a refining unit without a state permit, increasing pollution emissions by an unspecified amount.

DNREC enforcement options include fines of up to $10,000 per day of violation.


Friday was also the day that acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko announced that the administration would let power plants and refineries upgrade without pollution controls:

Under the rule change, industry could potentially save billions of dollars in pollution control equipment costs while continuing to emit hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants. ...

Under the new rule, older plants could avoid installing pollution controls when they replace equipment -- even if the upgrade increases pollution ...


The poor state agency was struggling to enforce the rules while the national agency was busy getting rid of them. On page A1 of the paper, the people of Delaware could read about DNREC's efforts to force Motiva to obey the law. On page A8 of the same paper, they could read about how the EPA was weakening the very same law.

The message for the folks at Motiva was clear: keep stalling, keep dragging your feet. Just give the EPA enough time and we'll get rid of all those laws you're breaking. Anything for our friends at the House of Saud.

Here's a project for somebody with Lexis-Nexis: run a search on "Friday" and "EPA." I'm just wondering if a single Friday has gone by without the agency scaling back or eliminating some piece of regulation needed for environmental protection.

(Haven't had a chance to read the new issue yet, but Mother Jones has a whole lot more on the administration's environmental regress.)

posted by Fred Clark 12:10 PM


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