Saturday, October 31, 2009

Letter: Election snafus frustrate council member

There are a couple of interesting inside-baseball aspects to this letter from Councilwoman Lopas.

Lora sent this to Courierwatch as a comment on The Katan Saga on Oct 17, so I have a clear comparison. I presume that she sent it to the Courier on the same day, and, since the text is the same but for editorial changes, that she sent it electronically, so there was no mail delay or typing time involved.

Despite the high profile of Ms Lopas, the timely nature of what she had to say and the importance of the issue, it took the editors fully two weeks to get her letter into print, and then not as a Talk of the Town or other column, but as a simple letter. That looks a lot like disrespect to me.

I also notice that the editor knocked down Lora's consistent (and perfectly correct) capitalization of "Council," "Charter," "City" and "Mayor," but left "City Manager" and "City Attorney" capitalized. Even if the editor chooses to argue this on the basis of house style, it was clearly applied inconsistently, and in a way that favors the staff with more respect.

Once again, my position on this is that editors can and should maintain a hands-off policy regarding letters, comments and bylined outside columns wherever possible. If it has someone's name on it, the reader should be able to trust that the person wrote it. Fiddling around of this sort is nothing short of arbitrary control of the message, and must not be tolerated.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday came quicker than usual this week, and brought some cold air with it. In honor of that, some basics on temperature and how we can make things really cold.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Today, the Friday before Election Day, the unnamed Courier editor awards his endorsements for candidates to City Council. I expect the timing of this event is something of a tradition in the Courier editorial suite. Too bad the election is not so traditional, and most of the ballots have already been turned in. The editor has apparently failed to account for the change to a mail-only election and so pretty well completely undercut any clout he might still have with the voters. Pity.

Younger readers may not remember when local newspapers kept a sharp eye on the people's business, a finger on the pulse of public opinion and a full reporter's notebook on every candidate for public office. In those days we could rely on managing editors to have a comprehensive view and access to information forming a perspective that we readers couldn't hope to gain in the course of a campaign. An editorial endorsement meant something, even when you could also count on a paper to be clear and unashamed of its political bias.

Today in Everybody's Hometown it seems that the editor is just going through the motions and his Barcalounger is once again doing all the work. I suppose it's just as well. But he'd be wise to reflect on whether the negligible credibility of his opinion page has anything to do with his plummeting ad sales.

The Mystery Deepens

In today's installment on the DeMocker murder trial, Bruce Colbert uses and defines the term "Chronis hearing." I'm completely baffled about what he's referring to, all I can be sure of is that 'chronis' not an English word and does not appear on the web in any context other than as a person's name. I suspect it's a misspelling, but I haven't found the right word. Can anyone help?

Today's Chuckle

A lobbying group gives Rep Tobin one of a pile of cheapo plaques (I've seen this sort of thing littering the walls and furniture of many legislative offices), he thinks that's special enough to write a press release about it, and the Courier editors think it's so newsworthy that they print it verbatim (hint: that's what "Special to the Courier" means).

The reader should ask: is this the best the Representative can show us? Is this the best good-news story the Courier can come up with about the district's junior representative, who's also in leadership?

Finally: Why does Mr Tobin insist on labeling himself "R-Paulden" rather than just "AZ District 1 Representative" or "Majority Whip"? Would he maybe prefer to distance himself from the voters in Prescott and Cottonwood who elected him?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Today's Chuckle

"Community activist" Paul Baskin recommends that we bring back the King.

Editorial: Others should follow CV course

The unnamed Courier editor comes out in favor of a small energy project in Chino Valley that will save the town a ton of money pretty quick. The numbers make it a dead obvious choice, so obvious that it should be unremarkable. But to the editor, and to an unaccountably large number of our fellow citizens, solar energy projects are still thought of as exotic and experimental.

After the reader slogs through his customary cut-and-paste from the front-page story a couple of days ago, the editor whacks out, "one of the nation's most pressing imperatives is to adopt a program on the order of President John F. Kennedy's effort to reach the moon before 1970 to achieve independence from foreign energy, especially oil." This sort of rhetoric was inspiring when Jimmy Carter presented it to us in the '70s. Now it seems more than a little antique.

The challenges we face with climate change and dwindling petroleum resources should be carrying us to a vision of not just independence from foreign oil, but total independence from fossil carbon as an energy source. As the Chino Valley project and a vast number of other more ambitious plans and projects are proving every day, we have the economically obvious technology in hand. What we don't have is the political will to reduce the market incentives favoring petro energy and big corporations, or to level the playing field for clean energy and smaller-scale production. That's the sort of vision that the editor could be offering, and, for the good of us all, should be offering.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Editorial: New laws could be model for nation

Yes, Russel Pearce's ideas, as recounted by the unnamed Courier editor, could indeed be a model for the nation. But which nation? Given the xenophobic, isolationist police state they advance, I'll nominate North Korea.

Blaming the foreigners for (your issue here) is an easy sell most times in this country, where people generally have so little contact with non-Americans, but it's especially easy in hard economic times. As the political right descends further into extremism and madness, immigration is about all it has left to attract reasonable people to vote with it. It's inevitable that the extremists will present proposals like this, so we should get used to seeing them. What we shouldn't do is accept that this country must therefore continue down the path of increasing xenophobia and subsequent economic ruin.

From his quotes even Sen Pierce does not expect to pass his agenda through the Legislature. This is a game to hold the media spotlight, keep the dwindling radical base whipped up and maintain the untoward power he holds in the Capitol.

But if these proposals were to pass -- and that's not out of the question, make no mistake -- here's what we'd get.

By expanding the jurisdiction of local police to immigration status, we get harassment of all Latinos in less tolerant communities, which will selectively cripple those local economies as people leave, and create decades of court battles as these practices are litigated and the laws slowly thrown out as unconstitutional. Meanwhile local and federal taxes will go up or important services will be squeezed out to pay for all that extra enforcement.

Attempting to make it criminal for undocumented workers to solicit day labor will cause harassment of brown-skinned day laborers (and most of them are certainly legal), triggering suits and more economic problems, catch almost no illegals, and lead law enforcement to demand new forms of ID for legal workers. Consider how you'll feel when you're standing on the corner waiting for a friend and a cop asks for your papers.

What the unnamed Courier editor identifies as the piece missing from Pearce's proposals, a rational and effective guest-worker program, is in truth the only piece we need to accomplish every practical goal most Americans want. It won't, however, accomplish what the radical right wants, and that's to whip up racism and win elections on fear.

It appears that the editor is a bit dubious about Pearce, but he can't quite bring himself to renounce a plan that is sure to "backfire badly." Perhaps he sees the danger to our own local economy, but he also sees benefits in harassing Latinos wholesale for political gain. Until he's willing to stand up and say no, he's a big part of the problem.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Today's Chuckle

Check out Tim's pathetic attempt to control what the commenters can say in response to his pseudoblog entry.

Update, Saturday: An interesting followup question would be whether readers changed their votes because of the events of the past few weeks, and how.

News from my favorite planet for Feed-Your-Head Friday!

Editorial: Democracy gets boost, takes shot

The unnamed Courier editor puts on his sage hat and weighs democratic principle against -- what?

In the front half of the piece, the editor makes a clear case for upholding the integrity of the voting process. Admirable.

In the back half he undercuts that and tries to say that principle can be fairly balanced by practical considerations. We shouldn't necessarily hold up the initiative process to serve the guy who came almost last in the primary, right?

Well, let's look at why we have primary elections. The clear purpose of doing two elections rather than just one is to have the general election ballot produce a useful result. A simple election involving (say) ten candidates for three seats would inevitably lead to people being elected by minority votes. The primary reduces the candidate list to produce majority results.

We also know from clear experience that how people vote can change as they receive new information. The space between the primary and general allows voters to focus on the general candidates and refine their judgments of them.

In characterizing Mr Katan as "a candidate who got a Dear John letter from voters at the polls already" and saying, "The people did speak, after all," the editor asserts that the results are already in. By that logic, there is no need for a general election at all and Ms Linn and Messrs Hanna and Blair, the top three primary vote-winners, should simply be seated on Council. Top candidate Hanna got a little less than 6,000 of the over 13,000 votes cast in a constituency of about 25,000 voters. A clear majority didn't vote for him, but he and two others supported by even fewer votes would become the representatives of all.

The only result that counts is the general. The people have not yet spoken, and getting on that ballot is essential to any hope of a fair contest. Mr Katan received exactly 25 fewer votes than Mr Peters did. I'd say their chances of winning a seat are very similar.

In training poll workers, election staff drills into us that we're to err on the side of inclusion. We're to do all we can to facilitate rather than impede the voter. At the front end of the election, we want everyone in, because participation is a sacred right and more is better for the process. Qualifying the ballots and weeding out the mistakes come later.

We should clearly follow the same principle in the candidacy process, for the same reasons. Where there's uncertainty, we should err on the side of inclusion, and that's what the City Clerk should have done to head off the situation we find ourselves in.

The editor's argument that it's reasonable to proceed with the election despite the dispute is completely specious and inimical to the democratic process. My ancestors didn't participate in the Revolution because democracy would be simpler, cheaper or easier, and to the extent that we allow those values to enter the conversation now, we're tossing our heritage and way of life on the dump.

Rural areas protest proposed water cuts

Important bits are missing from Joanna's story today.

First, ADWR management anticipated the state budget shortfall and was ahead of other agencies in implementing cuts in its own budget, thinking reasonably that this would insulate it from arbitrary cuts later. This proved optimistic when instead the Legislature demanded uniform cuts from all agencies on the same baseline, regardless of what they'd already done. No good deed goes unpunished, after all, and this scattershot approach essentially punished responsible agencies more than the slackers.

Second, LD1 Rep Andy Tobin and Sen Steve Pierce have been leaders in blocking any effort to raise revenues to partially make up the shortfall and prevent this story from happening. At the same time they have pushed for substantial cuts in taxes on business.

I understand that no newspaper story can convey the entire web of factors contributing to a given event, but voters should always bear in mind that there's more to the story, and reporters must attend to the fifth basic question: why.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Legal wrangling continues as city ballots reach voters

Cindy's piece today brings in information from this week's court filings, and it would have been enough to report that without the massive rehash of past events that obscures the new info. But that's no big deal.

The characterizations of the legal process as "wrangling" that "drags on," however, seem at odds with reality. The courts have been right on it in this case, responding to the short timelines left for clearing up the mess before the election deadlines. At the end of the article Judge Gemmill says the court will "try to get a decision out shortly" after Monday's hearing. That's a quick decision, in my experience.

The reader would be wise to consider that in recasting this efficient, pretty-quick court process as dragged-out wrangling, the editors are creating a subtext implying that this eminently reasonable legal issue is a waste of everyone's time. That's a standard tactic in yellow journalism.

Editorial: Park trailer plan not a good idea

The unnamed Courier editor has a problem with mobile homes, but he won't quite say why.

Go ahead and look, you won't find it. He says they're small, and that's "not the way most of us would choose to live." So what? Does the county propose to require that everyone live in mobile homes? I guess I missed that part.

No, the editor's problem is that mobile homes are less expensive, meaning they're preferred by people with less-than-princely incomes. And those people are, at least in the editor's neighborhood, undesirable.

This is where the "reduces my property value" argument tends to show up. Somebody puts Mom up in her own trailer across the back yard, and the grasping, snobbish neighbor down the road thinks that's ugly. He wouldn't like to buy in to "that sort" of neighborhood, so he infers that no one would, and from that he infers a threat to the value of his house. (For my money, if a condition keeps the snobs out, I'm all for it. They make rotten neighbors.)

Has the editor ever come across the Catch-22 wherein if you want to build your own house on your own county land, up to now you weren't allowed to live there while you did it? I wonder how the pioneers the editor pretends to so admire might react to that kind of restriction.

We all know real the dynamic at work here. So why can't the editor just say it out loud? Only because that might make him look like a grasping snob who can't abide the lesser classes. Here's a clue, editor: we already knew that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Medical examiner: Blows Kennedy received could have been fatal

Someone in the comments pointed it out before me: an awful, awful headline. It'd be laughable if it weren't about a brutal murder.

Letter: Chamber should seek volunteers, not money

Andrea Smith suggests that the Chamber seek volunteers rather than cash to put up Xmas lights. Better yet, let the Chamber hire people to do this and so contribute to the local economy. Its interest in the Xmas display is purely as business promotion, after all. Why should businesses get this service for free?

Editorial: Holiday forecast looks brighter

Here's another entry from the unnamed Courier editor's empty Barcalounger.

Excepting the last line (a wan suggestion that readers spend more, presumably at retailers who advertise in the Courier), this is nothing more than a business-page filler. A waste of time for both writer (even if the writer is just a chair) and reader.

Interesting that it didn't show up on the website till after 3pm. Maybe the staff was just ashamed and hoped no one would see it. I know I would.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Election update

And so the City-election vaudeville continues. The appeals court stays the stay, and the election that was on and then off is on again. A few thousand people will need replacement ballots that the court will review again next week to determine whether they should have Mr Katan's name on them. It may decide to prescribe a new, separate ballot for Council after results of the current ballots are in. Winners on the current ballot could be different on the new ballot. There will be additional expense, the people's business will be held up, voters will be confused about what to do, and even the unnamed Courier editor agrees that the City botched the job and needs to start from scratch. What a Chinese fire drill.

So what's a voter to do? This is the most important question the Courier should be addressing rather than focusing entirely on the legal wrangling. The answer is simple and reassuring.

If you threw away the first ballot, call or visit the registrar's office to get a replacement. If you want to vote for Paul Katan, write his name on the line under the other candidates and fill in the oval. If you want to give him (or any other candidate) a little better chance of winning, don't vote for anyone else. Mail the ballot, right away. If another ballot comes, vote that one too. And if you really want to help, make sure your friends and family know what to do.

Above all don't blame Mr Katan for this. The City staff screwed the pooch here, and deserve to take every bit of the heat.

Update. 4:30pm: Council held an exec session on this subject this afternoon. Perhaps we'll hear more from Council members on how they feel about the situation now that they're (I hope) fully in the loop.

Climate change film debut draws supporters, critics

Ken's piece, which might be appropriate for the entertainment section, finds its way to the front page -- why? What makes this not just news, but urgent news?

This was a political event masquerading as an academic presentation. That's obvious to anyone with half a brain. The arguments are hackneyed, anti-science and fully discredited, on a par with the Black Helicopter and Chemtrail conspiracy theories.

There is no justifying this coverage as credible news. The editorial decision to front-page this rot clearly indicates the bias of the paper's managers, and it should inform readers about everything they see in the Courier about climate change and politics.

Our society and our planet cannot afford to continue allowing the media to pretend that this sort of thing is an equal viewpoint offering balance. There is no equivalency here, no debate. This is nothing more than insane obstructionism against defending ourselves from a clearly known and existential threat. Large corporate interests fund it, and it's being sold to people who are ill-equipped intellectually to understand the complexity of the situation, so they retreat into la-la-I-can't-hear-you denial of the deeply scary scenarios we're rushing into headlong. We must resist that in ourselves and in our media.

Monday, October 19, 2009

County sheds light on dark sky ordinances

Here's another case where the headline writer is so interested in a pathetic attempt at cleverness that s/he obscures the story. County P&Z is actually proposing more exemptions to the lighting ordinances, further eroding the nighttime view county-wide.

Elks contract, incorporation top Prescott city agenda

I find it fascinating that Mr Norwood is proposing accounting tricks to shift stimulus funds designed for energy conservation over to the Elks Theatre. It's creative and for an arguably good cause, but it sorta smells like fraud to me. I just don't see how you can use conservation money to buy early 20th-century plaster decorations. I wonder what Mr Lamerson might have to say about that.

My boilerplate on the Elks:
* The theatre will only survive if we put the money into equipment and major improvements to make it work better and be truly rentable. Every dime spent on decoration is wasted if artists and promoters can't use it.
* Bring theatre pros in as primary advisers, designers and contractors. Unspecialized architects and contractors will screw it up every time.
* It is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.

On the incorporation of Williamson Valley, I think it would be dead stupid to add yet another separate municipality to Quad City. This area needs coordinated planning, shared resources and a stronger sense of shared community. For a practical future we should be eliminating arbitrary boundaries, not making more. It will be far better in the long run to annex WV into Prescott than create another parochial suburb and sales-tax competitor.

Editorial: The right call at the right time

The unnamed Courier editor thinks good ol' boy and reliable Republican Kenton Jones is a good choice as judge. I'm so surprised. Yawn.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Katan saga

So far the Courier's coverage of the current flap over Paul Katan's ballot status seems pretty straightforward, better then it has been on occasion. The comments are fascinating, in that so many people can blame him for filing suit and "costing the taxpayers money" after the judge has agreed that yes, the City screwed up and really is legally out of bounds.

Should Paul have done the big-man thing and quietly retired from contention when the City told him to sit down and shut up? I expect that argument only flies with those who would have liked him to sit down, shut up and not run again. And perhaps Paul learned a thing or two from Bush v. Gore a few years ago.

I've known Paul since he started getting involved politically years ago at Access13. In those days he similarly refused to shut up and sit down, it caused friction with the established order and got him chucked out of the room a couple of times. But he usually had a point, and the establishment learned that chucking him out did no good. We also learned that he is honest and conscientious, and while he keeps an eye on his ideals, he also knows how to express them in practical terms and work to build useful consensus.

I know directly that this lawsuit is not the path Paul would have chosen, rather that he feels bound by principle and loyalty to the people supporting his campaign. The City can't be allowed to get away with scotching his bid for office out of hand, no matter what his real chances are of winning. Our system of law is not based on who's the strongest. It's about a fair shake for everyone, and I applaud Paul for taking that stand.

Why things fall apart. A little on entropy for your Friday instant mind-expansion.

Editorial: SRP profligacy no real surprise

And the unnamed Courier editor's petty outrage is no surprise, either. But seriously, so what?

The editor fulminates breathlessly about executives of a big, overprivileged corporation throwing money around as if it's news. Sorry, editor, that's the norm in this country, and a large proportion of our voters are so used to it that they'll defend to the death a rich guy's right to spend the shareholders' dividends and the employee pension fund on whatever makes him happy, simply because that's how we measure success, after all.

I'd love to see the editor extend this logically and point out how drug and health-insurance companies hold us all hostage to their expense accounts, or how arms manufacturers find ways to gin up convenient wars. The editor might even find some common ground with Michael Moore on this if he were to really think it through.

But that's a forlorn hope. The editor is only peeved that SRP, using entirely legal means, is slowing down a certain massive public-works boondoggle that the editor thinks is a Good Thing. So he undertakes the only political tactic he can remember, which is to smear the opponent in hopes of making ill-informed people mad. This worked so well for Karl Rove, after all. Unfortunately all the public outrage in the world would have exactly zero effect on SRP. The company simply does not care, and it's above regulation.

I'm no fan of SRP, and I'm looking forward to the day the Legislature gathers enough political will to begin limiting the company's purview and power. So rather than sling gratuitous mud at SRP, I suggest that the editor put some effort into research on why the company's constitutionally secure position is a Bad Thing and what we can all do about it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our worst problem is hipshot media

Ben Hansen's pseudo-blog, purportedly about "words, media and ethics," today carries another of his extremely occasional columns, this on one of his favorite themes: "power, perquisites, pork and paramours," a formulation he's used eight other times in editorials in just the last three years.

The premise is painfully simplistic, that when a person is elected to Congress, s/he is immediately consumed by a Washington "culture of corruption" and becomes a depraved, power-mad pork-dispenser.

Somehow Ben can see no difference between Jeff Flake and Rick Renzi, between William Jefferson and Raul Grijalva, or between John Ensign and Olympia Snowe. To him they're all the same. What this tells me is that Ben knows literally nothing about what happens in Congress, and is making his accustomed hipshot at an easy, accustomed target. I'd love to be on the extension if Mr Flake were to call Ben on this insult to his integrity. He won't, of course, because, thanks to this sort of thing, a Courier editorial swings so little weight.

There's no question that there are some rotten apples in the Congressional barrel, and neither party can claim purity. That's true of every human organization, and it should be dead obvious to anyone over the age of twelve. But focusing on the rotten fifteen percent and tarring the rest with the same brush is insulting to the good ones and handicaps them in getting anything positive done.

The real tell on this is that if these ideas actually mattered to Ben, his editorial endorsements of candidates would focus more on their personal integrity than on the political positions that they say they espouse. Ben's record on this shows quite the opposite, reflexively endorsing corporatists and authoritarian radicals whatever their integrity problems. He endorsed Rick Renzi once after it was clear he was a carpetbagger sent in as a representative of the Pentagon rather than Arizona, and a second time after the Bush Justice Department called him on his extortion and land schemes.

Aside: I first met Renzi in July of '03, when he was just six months in office, and after talking with the guy for half an hour I knew exactly what he was and what would become of him. One would think that a man of Ben's experience and position would have had many opportunities to sniff out such a stinker. Why didn't he?

Ben, if you want to raise the bar on someone, start with your own profession. The American media in general and your paper in particular have failed us spectacularly over the past two decades, because people just like you put ideology ahead of citizenship. Drive the snakes from your own nest first.

The sweat-lodge story -- twice!

Today's paper offers an interesting perspective on the editing process by carrying two different edits of the same AP story.

I suppose it's remotely possible that this was a newsroom screwup, wherein two different Courier editors pulled different versions of the same story and shoveled them into the paper without checking. But that would be just too amazingly dumb to believe.

So readers have the opportunity to view some of the inner workings of how a story can drift and change with the editing process. For example, in one, "Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said Tuesday that authorities have not yet spoken with Ray," while in the other, "Authorities said Ray has refused to speak with authorities." Same fact, different slants. Collect 'em all!

Why are there multiple versions? Different papers want different slants on the news. Here we see the focus-on-the-family version vs the focus-on-the-perp version. If he wanted both perspectives, a good editor would have merged the stories rather than repeat so much verbatim. Usually, though, editors choose the version that resonates with their own prejudices, which is what they think their readers really prefer.

OK, it was a colossal screwup, no matter how it came about. No getting around it.

Something else to consider: have you noticed how little we read about Sedona or the Verde Valley in the Courier? Might there be a prejudice in play in the editorial office that puts more value on this particular story?

Finally, this event took place adjacent to Senator McCain's place, nearer Cottonwood than Sedona. But the stories are all datelined Sedona, purely because of the 'new-age' event involved imho, and McCain's name has been kept out of it despite its human-interest value.

Talk of My Ass: Prop. 401 seeks to kill pipeline

Bluntly as ever, the Mayor states what is obvious to anyone who's been less than half asleep for the past two years. What he doesn't get is that if voters understand that 401 will lead to a vote on the pipeline, they're more likely to support it. With this piece he's working against his own interests.

I've never agreed with the 401 group's strategy of trying to separate the initiative campaign from the pipeline issue. That was doomed from the start as a laughable fig-leaf tactic any four-year-old would see through. What they don't fully get is that there is very broad discomfort with how the pipeline issue has been handled officially, and people will vote against it, the only question is how many.

If CWAG had sponsored an initiative to stop the pipeline itself, I think it would have a good chance of success. Mayor Wilson knows this too, hence his ill-considered position on 401. (If he really thinks the voters support the pipeline, 401 would be not much of a threat.)

The good argument against 401 is that it will be a permanent block on any kind of major infrastructure project, hampering future Councils in making big commitments that we may need to create the sort of city we really want.

Editorial: The recession is over? It's news to most

The unnamed Courier editor once again demonstrates his pitifully poor understanding of the English language.

"Recession" in this context means "reverse growth," i.e. a shrinking economy. It does not mean the effects of economic shrinkage. The end of a recession is the economic low point, crudely speaking, and it takes sustained expansion to make up the lost growth. This is not difficult to understand at all.

But the editor is confusing the technical pronouncements of economists with what he wants to hear about real-world effects on investment and employment. One might defend this as keeping intellectual pace with his audience, but I'd really prefer to avoid such cynicism.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Big G, the most important force in the universe. It's Feed-Your-Head Friday!

Editorial: Tracker, friends, deputies do their jobs

Oh great, another copy-and-paste of yesterday's front page in case you missed it. More hard-hitting analysis from the unnamed Courier editor's Barcalounger.

Honestly, guys, this is so boring.

ToT: Cap and Trade novel is all too realistic

Retired engineer Don Harney illustrates why the media don't usually interview retired engineers about economics. See, they are quite different skill sets.

Mr Harney spins a yarn about awful things resulting from a hypothetical cap-and-trade system, and concludes that instituting one would be just awful. This is how a retired engineer does economic research: by "writing a novel" in his head.

An economist, or dare I say anyone with a working brain, would do the research by looking at existing systems empirically. Like all of Europe, which has been trading emission credits since 2005 following a three-year test in the UK.

The results have been mixed, depending largely on how the credits are allocated, but the criticisms of the program include nothing like what Mr Harney writes in his imaginary novel.

You'd think the editors, in considering this piece for Talk of the Town status, might evaluate it for its possible value to the readers. But apparently talking straight out of your ass about something the editor reflexively doesn't like is enough to get you a column in the Courier. I know, maybe we could just mentally slug these as Talk of My Ass instead.

You can't make this stuff up

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Talk of the Town: Special interests don't care about jobs

Rep Kirkpatrick defends her vote against cap-and-trade. Apparently the heat has not gone down since this hit the news several months ago, and she's feeling it.

Let's start at the top. The Representative characterizes the League of Conservation Voters as a "special interest," and the headline writer collectively characterized them as uncaring about jobs. Rep Kirkpatrick did not say that anywhere in the piece. That's the opinion of the editor, who insists on seeing all environmental advocates as zealots.

The Representative asserts that "global warming is the most important environmental issue affecting our country," yet somehow doing something real to curb carbon emissions and address global warming is not in the interest of rural Arizonans. The logical disconnect here is palpable. Climate change will pretty clearly hurt Arizona more than most other states, and rural areas more than urban. But the representative believes that saving a few pennies on our electricity bills in the short term is the greater good.

Yes, this is a disappointment. I had hoped for a stronger sense of leadership and willingness to take on the very serious challenges that we face, both as a state and as a nation. Coal is literally killing us, Representative. Keeping it a little cheaper is not the way to a secure future. Rather, introducing real market mechanisms to deal with the real cost of environmental damage will reduce the market disadvantage of cleaner energy technologies that will create substantially more jobs and economic activity than coal and oil do now.

PS: Does anyone have a take on what she might mean by "greater Arizona"? I'm pretty sure she doesn't mean that Arizona has claim to territory outside its borders (Sonora, perhaps?), so this smells like she thinks the reader thinks that Arizona is Maricopa and Pima Counties and needs reminding that there's more to the state. It's just a really odd construction to give to home-district press, and she used four times.

Arizonans can see first-ever crash of rockets into moon

Another fail for the headline writer, who saw "We've never done this before" in the story from a NASA press release and apparently jumped to the conclusion that crashing a rocket into the Moon had never been done before.

Moon exploration actually began with just this sort of experiment -- Luna 2, a Soviet vehicle, hit the Moon on Sept 14 1959, three months before the US put a Rhesus monkey on Little Joe 2 and got him all of 85 km up into the atmosphere.

Update, midnight: The comments on this story are just too funny/scary. Could all these people really be this dumb? Houston, we have a problem!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to write more readable comments

Today a couple of commenters asked how I'm able to write paragraph breaks into my comments on I replied there, but it occurs to me that others may like to know and the blog is a better spot to reference it.

Punch the 'comment' button below this post and you'll get a comment box with some notes just below it showing example HTML calls you can use. At least some of those commands will work on the Courier site as well. I've only tried the basics, and I ask that everyone be conservative about this stuff to avoid screwing up the comments and pissing off the IT department.

p = paragraph break
br = line break
b = bold on
/b = bold off
i = italic on
/i = italic off
href=http:\\[your link here] = start hyperlink
a = finish hyperlink

All HTML commands go between left and right carets.

It's easy. I also usually compose comments in Notepad or another simple text editor before copying them to the comment box, the better to proof them before publishing.

Editorial: Budget balances get even tighter

The unnamed Courier editor opines on the state budget impasse. Too bad he has no knowledgable sources. I gather that Fox News isn't covering it.

The editor quotes freshman legislator Steve Pierce (R-Las Vegas Ranch) asserting that the governor did "not only reject parts of the budget she had agreed to earlier in the year, 'she increased taxes, and increased spending, and left the state's finances unconstitutionally out of balance.'"

Had the editor bothered to check with the senior member of our legislative delegation, Lucy Mason, or any reporter covering the legislature, he'd have learned that the governor line-item-vetoed specific parts of the budget package to hold them as bargaining chips to draw legislative leaders, including Mr Pierce, back to the table to talk about revenues. The budget the legislature passed out was far from balanced, as required by the constitution, because the far right, including Mr Pierce, refused to talk about enhancing revenues to bring about balance.

The governor did not, in fact, raise taxes in any way. She is proposing that the legislature simply allow an initiative to go to the voters that would raise the sales tax temporarily, and she refused to accept substantial cuts in business taxes, again as a negotiating tactic -- she will eventually. She can't "raise spending," that's the province of the legislature. (The governor controls a big pile of federal cash, but that's outside the budget process.) The editor is either fundamentally misunderstanding both the process of government and the facts on the ground, or he is consciously lying to his readers.

As for the governor having "alienated many of the lawmakers who were trying to help keep the house from falling," it takes two to tango, and as I read it there are a whole lot of moderates in both houses who are more peeved with the tactics of certain far-right members than they are with the governor.

This is a Republican-on-Republican fight, pitting experienced moderates like Brewer and Mason against radicals like Pam Gorman, Ron Gould, Russell Pearce and their little clutch of neophyte sycophants. It's interesting that the editor is happy to take the word of a legislator still learning the ropes over that of Brewer, who has more experience in the legislature and administration than most anyone down there, as well as strong conservative credentials.

The editor has clearly chosen the side of the antigovernment radicals. I have no problem with that per se. My issue is that he is attempting to influence public opinion in their favor by misleading readers about what's really going on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Editorial: Decision on Afghanistan is past due

The unnamed Courier editor, speaking with all the experience and authority granted him by his rec-room Barcalounger, is unhappy that the Commander-in Chief doesn't jump when one of his subordinates says 'frog.'

Oddly enough, in the six years of Afghan involvement under the previous administration, as the commanders on the ground begged for more resources only to see them transferred to the Iraq adventure and run into the ground, I don't recall the editor ever once using the word "dither." I must have missed it.

Clearly the editor prefers the accustomed American strategy in the area, eschewing all thought in favor of rash, heroic action. Never mind that this has so far resulted only in grinding a whole lot of young Americans and a thousands and thousands of Afghans and Iraquis young and old into little bits of meat and bone. No doubt the editor would employ the ol' sausage-making metaphor there.

I dunno about you, dear reader, but whenever I run up against a problem that's not responding to my ideas about solving it, I have a tendency to stop, back off a few paces and take a good look at the situation to see if I can't think up a better solution.

And if I'm supervising a team on a project and one of my subordinates starts telling everyone how much better things would go if he had his way, he would pretty quickly be off the team -- not because his idea was bad or good, but because he doesn't know how to work on a team. That's called insubordination.

Apparently the editor thinks that's an appropriate action for a general in time of war -- but only when his commander is a Democrat.

Again, the editor should stick with local issues, where his paper's interest and responsibilities lie. An editorial column is supposed to be the authoritative word of someone with his finger on the pulse of events, not basement-bar sports commentary. Every time you do this, guys, you further reduce the credibility of the paper. That's bad for you, and bad for the community.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Amster: Incivilities aside, can we all get along?

Randall, always the diplomat, says, "Spirited debate and vigorous dialogue are healthy things for any society, ...." Any sensible person must agree, but I have to add a caveat: the spirited debate must be over real issues and based in the best facts available, and the vigorous dialogue must be handled with respect and without fear. Without those conditions, you get the what we are experiencing, a food fight in a burning house.

OK, I'm gonna go off for a bit here.

However civil, dialogue does us no good if we're talking about the wrong things. The great power of Madison Avenue is making us think about things that don't matter in order to sell stuff. Advertising strategists long ago realized that this tactic works far better on people who are already insecure. It was no stretch at all to apply these principles for political purposes, and it's no surprise that they are most often employed by corporate interests, which have the most practice at it.

Two fundamental forces shape every society, and the character of a society is largely determined by the balance struck between them. The dynamic force looks outward, for instance seeking food in a previously unknown valley. The static force looks inward, protecting the old hunting grounds and relying on the knowledge that what was successful before will be again. Both are correct and useful, and neither alone is healthy. The basic expression of dynamism is curiosity. The basic expression of stasis is fear. This is why reactionaries are more easily distracted by fear-based propaganda.

Try talking to someone who's in fear, and you'll generally get the same result: you wind up talking about what scares them, not about what really matters.

I'm afraid we can't look forward to a less scary future in which reactionaries will be more comfortable and therefore more reasonable. As Alvin and Heidi Toffler so adroitly pointed out decades ago, change is inevitable and happening with increasing speed. It fundamentally frightens people, and it is causing predictable societal backlash everywhere. We see it in the spread of religious fundamentalism and rising nativism as people try to make sense of the world with ancient, blunt intellectual tools, trying to do surgery with stone axes. Most people want simple answers, even as the problems grow increasingly complex. Their answer to this tidal wave of change is to try to hold fast to the pier, when they should be thinking in terms of surfing.

What's biting reactionaries in the ass is that they're so easily manipulated with fear, and they stampede over the intellectual cliffs. What's biting progressives in the ass is disdain for fearfulness and blaming people for being who they are, when the real villains are the manipulators. We need each other to address huge challenges from change that we cannot even begin to slow down, and the stakes are existential and rising. But we wind up talking past one another over trivialities.

So how to break this impasse? Easy. Have more parties. Invite everyone.

I'm serious. People don't yell at (hate, kill, insult, deprive, conquer) each other as much when they recognize each other as members of a shared society, real people with real lives and a dish to share. Build trust and you build understanding and cooperation. It's not coincidence that public discourse has deteriorated as Americans have become increasingly isolated from one another, reducing social activities and community involvement in favor of home activities, personal demons and teevee.

So Randall, rather than farble on stating the problem, how about offering some solutions? You're a Professor of Peace Studies, fergadsake - how about using your column space to teach?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Editorial: Environmental causes at odds with sovereignty

So I was wrong, and I laughed out loud.

The unnamed Courier editor did read the Nava-Hopi Observer piece after all. And while he didn't see fit to assign a word of news space to it, that his readers might have a few facts on hand, he jumped right in with his opinion -- one that goes no deeper than the skin of an apple, demonstrating again his disdain for research and disinterest in issues beyond what will make his preselected political point. It veers wildly beyond reason, as well, unless the editor can somehow show a mechanism for how the Sierra Club can "dictate" anything to the tribes. Federal courts, on the other hand ... but then the editor would be arguing against adherence to federal law.

There are a quite few facts missing from this hipshot, and it would be nice if the Courier kept its readers sufficiently abreast of developments to allow better informed opinion. The history of this goes back at least into the Nixon administration, and the overall problem has persisted since the discovery of coal on Hopi early last century.* It's a complex issue involving tribal economics, corporate hardball, inter- and intra-tribal politics, federal abuse and neglect, massive water and environmental degradation, religious issues, energy and development, and, of course, greed at the center of everything.

As recently as December, Dineh and Hopi groups were petitioning the feds for more environmental and other protections against Peabody and filing lawsuits. The editor's slapdash assumption that the people speaking for environmental issues are all rich white liberal outsiders is just wrong. The tribe's expulsion of environmental groups is not to enforce sovereignty by removing outsiders from the issue, that's the cover story. Rather, at least in large part, it is to silence internal dissent by cutting off access to publicity and legal resources.

The reader may wonder why we in Yavapai County should care. After all, they are duly elected tribal governments doing as they like with their own land, right? If only it were that simple. But bear in mind that federal and corporate interests created this issue in the first place and have fueled and manipulated it ever since. Bear in mind that the damage to water resources and the environment will not be confined by the reservation boundary. Bear in mind that the limited sovereignty of the reservation system does not in any way limit the rights of native citizens under the Constitution. Bear in mind that we also share state money with the tribes for education and other sensible purposes. Bear in mind that these are our neighbors, and this is our neighborhood.
*It used to be on Hopi, anyway. I remember clearly the first time I came through Arizona, in 1970, the maps showed the Hopi rez as a rectangle. It's shrunk quite a bit since then, in large part because of coal.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Today's Chuckle

Check out the comment exchange between the first anonymous commenter and the too-too Chris Bergman under Editorial: Tax aiding schools a vital investment. Nice smackdown!

Can we really reduce such complexity to a simple equation? Your Friday instant mind-expansion:

Hopi Tribal Council bans environmental groups

Fascinating story in the latest Nava-Hopi Observer: It seems that the Council is willing to go pretty far to protect the profits of Peabody Coal. Note the comments. I see Joe Shirley is right there with them: "Environmental activists and organizations are among the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty, tribal self determination, and our quest for independence."

This is a great platform for some muscular debate about all sorts of regional issues. Too bad we won't see anything about it in the Courier.

The temptations of headline-writing

Back in the '80s, when I was learning the trade, my boss was an energetic Scot with a droll wit. He kept us in stitches by writing snarky, painfully alliterative and punny headlines making fun of the client's content.

But we never actually used them, of course.

Today the paper offers us several examples of over-the-top headline-writing:

Exercise instructor makes the stretch to open Pilates studio
Police need help smoking out cigarette thief
Fossil Creek fish flap comes to a head Saturday
PV resident raises stink over skunks
Glass business owner casts stones

They're all very cute -- the Fossil Creek example is even multilevel, working in "fish ... head" while subtly referencing the headwater chub in the story -- and I'm sure there were chuckles around the newsroom on a slow day. (Seems like most days have been pretty slow this week.) But rather than sparking up the paper with the spirit of fun, publishing them just indicates a bored editor convinced of his mental superiority and lacking respect for his copy or his customers at the helm. The last one above even manages to directly insult the letter-writer.

Bad form, boys. Keep it on the sports page, where it belongs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Humboldt water company snares $20K grant for solar electric equipment

Here's an example of the frequent result of employing reporters and editors who have little other background: "Humboldt Water will use the money to install a 12,313-kilowatt solar photovoltaic electric generation system on its Humboldt well pump." A 12-megawatt pump would be able to move enough water for the entire state. Doug should have written 12.313 kilowatts. The comma in place of the decimal point altered his number by three orders of magnitude.

Beyond keeping alert to ensure the numbers are correct, pro editors have to be widely read and up-to-date in technical and specialty fields to avoid this sort of error.