Monday, November 29, 2010

No, we're not better than that

Today's letter from Philip Gates referring to W's enthusiasm for torture and stating that we should never do it has drawn some predictably bloodthirsty responses in the comments. "Sheesh Deluxe" responds, "Yes our enemies torture, but we are better than they are, and we do not." I think the tone of the comments shows that this is an ideal, not a fact.

A former President not just admits to it, but brags about prosecuting war crimes, and his partisans, all of whom I'm sure believe that they are morally superior beings, defend both the man and the practice with every infantile argument they can muster. Starla Ryer (aka Ryder) asks, "Shall we just sit idle and allow the current atrocities to continue or shall we retaliate and fight fire with their sort of fire?," apparently blind to the inevitability of this sort of behavior not only extending the atrocities, but escalating them.

There is of course no real intellectual debate about this. Military, intelligence and lawnforcement professionals agree categorically that torture does not produce useful intelligence, it impedes investigations and prosecutions, and it aggravates conflicts, creating more enemies than it eliminates. It's both morally and tactically indefensible. We know it's not just wrong, it's stupid. Yet a large body of us, including a recent President and Vice-President, continue to encourage the use of torture, evidently (from the comments) because it satisfies their lust for revenge.

Every religion and philosopher warns against this sort of passion. It is utterly destructive, and leads inevitably to terrible results. To the extent that we give in to it, regardless of the power of our cities, we are uncivilized.

This sort of thinking is a growing cancer in America, and we have to resist it everywhere. The tinpot Teapublican "patriots" who wrap themselves in flags even as they trample American values in the dirt would enthusiastically turn this country into a fascist, imperialist dictatorship on a scale that even Mussolini could not have imagined. Wherever reasonable, moral people fail to respond and maintain control, they win a little ground.

No, we're not better than this, and that's why we have to work harder to control our animal passions and defend our better values. Maybe one day we will be better, and this debate will be an antique curiosity. For now, it's an active threat to all Americans, and the world.

Comments jump the shark

Wednesday's awfully headlined "Man who used his cashier girlfriend to steal from store sentenced to probation" has attracted a bunch of comments from the girlfriend and the boy's father debating the relative goodness of people who "made a mistake" with the hang-'em-high crowd. It's a laff riot, and I think it bodes where our media may be headed.

Just around the corner, we may start to see perps, witnesses, neighbors and friends on teevee and in the papers, not responding to reporters' questions, but volunteering their points of view unedited and having their conflicts out in public, using their computers, cellphones, whatever.

This would be a new iteration of a phenomenon that's lately been out of style, the "open letter," in which people would use local papers to express themselves. I have copies of open-letter correspondence written by my great-grandfather and great-grandmother as they hashed out the grounds and defense for their impending divorce on the news page of the Kankakee Daily Gazette in 1920. It was ugly.

Like "reality teevee," I'm not sure that direct access to media like this will do much to edify society. But it will be "entertaining," so it will sell advertising.

Attention to detail

A couple of things caught my eye in today's edition that lead me to think someone left the controls on autopilot over the holiday weekend.

In the editorial highlighting local charities, the unnamed editor writes, "Two women are renovating, room by room, an old hotel for displaced veterans, which they have named the Downtown Prescott Inn." He's referring of course to what oldtimers remember as the AJ Head Hotel on North Cortez, renamed Downtown Prescott Inn years ago by some new owners who hoped to gentrify it. It resisted. The new people are just reusing the old name and signage. So the sentence is wrong in fact, and anyone who's been in town as long as the editor ought to know that backward and would not refer to the Head, the last historic, working residence hotel in town, as "an old hotel."

Over on the news side, "Elk's raffle under way" glares with an excess apostrophe, as if no one writing or editing the piece knows what the Elks Theatre is or understands basic punctuation. There's another one in the body of the piece ("Elk's building") right among better-punctuated references, so it's not just the hapless headline writer.

Roll your eyes at my pedantry if you like, but editors are supposed above all to be careful readers. These slips aren't small. So did the Courier staff farm out the weekend paper to a pasteup house in India, or what?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday paper

There's gonna be a lot of dumb fluff in Thursday's paper. You have my permission to skip it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The State of Hate

Stephen Lemons has a piece in Phoenix New Times on rising hate crime rates in AZ where everywhere else they're going down. Read "Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce and Jan Brewer's Arizona: Hate Crime Stats Climb."

Column: The quiet side of Mexicans and their heritage

This op-ed conveys a bittersweet story of the death of Dora Borjon while on a sister-city delegation to Caborca in Sonora, and the town's support in returning her remains to Prescott Valley. I don't normally read the obits, and I missed hers when it was published on Oct 23.

For a media-watcher like me, there's a striking angle to this story. Ms Borjon was part of what cannot be described as anything less than a diplomatic delegation from our city. She died unexpectedly, and there was further news value in the aftermath of her death. This ought to have been a front-page story, not just an obit. Where was the Courier? Where was, at the very least, the followup on the obit? What makes this story unworthy of news coverage?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Brewer picks Brutinel for Arizona Supreme Court seat

Congrats to Judge Bob Brutinel, whom I know to be a pretty right guy, for making the Supreme Court cut at last.

Update/correction, Monday: I confirmed over the weekend that, contrary to the previous version of this post, there is no Senate confirmation process for AZ Supreme Court justices.  I got wrong information from a trusted source, sorry about that.

Editorial: Trust ideology over sense

After wasting half his column on the 1070-boycott non-story, the unnamed Courier editor turns to the heroic efforts of our state legislators to address our historic lack of government revenue by reducing revenues further.

Building on Saturday's report on the ATRA presentation at the capitol, the editor touts the fabulous new ideas of our two newbie legislators, which, oddly, sound a lot like their old ideas: cut taxes on business.

That supply-side argument has been utterly demolished by facts on the ground since the Reagan debacle, but they can't let it go. After all, isn't it just common sense that less taxation of business will create more jobs? Isn't it just common sense that a mystical supreme being made all the rocks and bushes by hand? Faith springs eternal.

The JLBC, our state accountants, gave a presentation to legislators last week stating unequivocally that recent proposals to further cut taxes on business will be completely counterproductive and should not go forward. Our legislators, thrust into leadership positions without the experience to back them up, are simply discarding the advice of staff experts who've been working on our budgets in many cases for decades.

They admit that these tax-cut proposals are not even supposed to have any effect on the current downturn, phasing them in over years. It's purely an ideological move. Further, the JLBC reports that "Between FY 2007 and FY 2010,
Corporate tax receipts declined from $986 million to $413 million," indicating not only that businesses are paying half the taxes they were three years ago, but their total contribution to an 8.5-billion-clam budget is already very low.

And while it's true that personal-property taxes are much lower relative to business property taxes, shifting the burden from profitable businesses to strapped and fixed-income homeowners is just not gonna fly, so we can count on seeing that piece negotiated away in the legislative process, leaving us with more looming revenue losses.

These guys are fiddling with ideology while the state burns out. The editor ought to be able to see that and call it for what it is.

It's only unethical when it's called 'news'

On today's op-ed page, Tina Dupuy laments that the left doesn't have a strong, coordinated messaging operation, and makes the case for a sensible parallel to Fox News, leaving out the 'news' canard. Maybe she's missed it, but the left does indeed have the core of such a messaging operation, though we haven't had the wit to capitalize and build on it. It's called Comedy Central.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Mahr are doing their best to counter the right's agitprop in a more ethical and positive way, with common sense, facts and above all good humor. They treat voters with respect for their intelligence and encourage greater connection to the political world, in ways that no news organization can. This is exactly what Dupuy is asking for.

Because of the pervasive loss of journalistic integrity in our media across the board, younger voters especially are turned off by news and straight punditry. They build personalized information menus for themselves out of everything from Foreign Policy to Facebook, and teevee news is at best a minor player in the mix.

Progressives would do well to take the comics more seriously as a model for communication. Note that while they are not journalists in the traditional sense, they are very long on the integrity of their information. This is the key, engaging people, building trust over time and maintaining it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Editorial: An example needs to be made of Rangel (updated)

Here's an example of how squandering your journalistic credibility makes you look idiotic later.

The unnamed Courier editor sits in ponderous judgment of Charlie Rangel, a legislator who's done more good for the country than the Courier could ever do in its entire history. And Rangel did indeed do some dumb things and bring some tarnish on the House, and a clean ethics process is good for government, so I have to say that the editor and I agree on the bones of the issue.

But for the decade and a half that I've been watching this newspaper, the editor has uniformly failed to support a clean ethics process when Republicans were in the dock for much more egregious abuse of their offices, or when they should have been, but Republican majorities turned a blind eye. That makes the editor's position now clearly partisan, undermining the values that he hopes to uphold. This is confirmed in that he avoids mention that Rangel has been brought to account entirely by Democratic leadership. We haven't seen Republicans cleaning their own house in this manner.

Further, the paper's record of racist leanings regarding the browner members of our community forces the reader to consider the idea that the editor's upbraiding of Rangel, who is black and represents an important black constituency, may have darker motivations.

The paper would do well to look harder at itself before casting stones.

Addendum, 1pm: I just happen to be reading a little on the history of the Yavapai people, and I noticed a reference to an editorial in the Arizona Miner, one of the Courier's progenitors, calling for their extermination. That racist history goes back to the beginning.

Update,  Nov 24: With today's conviction of the amazingly shameless fixer and Dancing With the Stars contestant Tom Delay, threatening a sentence of up to life in prison, I'll look forward to the Courier editorial urging the court to throw the book at him. Any minute now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Simple crime story gives editor stinkfoot

In "Man arrested on charges of fraudulent use of a city credit card" we hear about a former City employee getting busted for unauthorized use of a City credit card, either retained in his possession for over a year after he left City employ, or lifted while he was working there. No big deal, perfectly legitimate story. But then the editor stepped in it.

Unable to resist the rhythms of City credit-card causing trouble for two people sharing a common Mexican surname, the reporter asked Prescott PD whether the alleged perp in this story is related to Dawn Castaneda of Elks Theatre fame, and the cop confirmed that he's her brother-in-law.

Smelling news-value blood, the editor overcame good sense and journalistic practice and allowed the impertinent connection into the story. That's bad to start, as it's prejudicial to both cases and there's no connection between them. But then the comments came rolling in, and it seems that the brother-in-law thing is just wrong.

Yes, Arthur Castaneda and Dawn's husband Gabriel are from the same large Prescott family, but, say apparently authoritative commenters, related as cousins rather than siblings. It's a stupid goof-up that the reporter or the editor could have averted with one phone call.

But the lesson the editor (Steve?) should take away is this: work harder to separate the pertinent factors from the prurient ones, and blue-pencil the latter. They have no place in responsible journalism.

And rather than waste ink this way, I'd have had that reporter asking sharp and persistent questions of Mr Castaneda's former supervisors about how that card got away from them. That's where the public interest truly lies.

Answer the question, Tim!

The latest entry in the Ask the Editors web feature starts, "I'd like to know who owns the Elks building on Gurley Street, and the business." Tim responds "The City of Prescott owns the building and runs the business side. (To clarify, the city owns the Opera House portion and a law firm owns the office space above the Opera House.) The Elks Opera House Foundation is a fund-raising organization that hopes one day to buy the theater from the city."

This is wrong in several ways. The questioner clearly knows more about the situation than Tim does. The Elks Building is the office structure on Gurley St with Bill the Elk on top. The Elks Theatre* is on the alley behind the Elks Building, with a condominium wall and an easement through the first floor of the Elks Building for the lobby. The building is not "above" the theatre in any way.

The direct answer to the question is this: The Elks Building has been owned for many years by the partners in the law firm Murphy, Schmitt, Hathaway and Wilson via the shell corporation Prescott Elks Building LLC.

The Elks Opera House Foundation has nothing to do with owning the building or the theatre.

This is all perfectly public information. One has to wonder why Tim would feel the need to obfuscate so completely in his answer.

*: Is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Keep your commie mitts off my freedom fries!

Today's edition includes two bits about local authorities trying to do the tiniest little thing about childhood obesity and getting only black eyes for it.

In "Flagstaff schools send home warnings about overweight students," school officials decided to try a gentle notice to parents that half their elementary kids are headed for long-term psychological and physical problems, along with tips for healthier habits. The commenters go crazy, of course, foaming about this horrifying intrusion into the personal lives of children. (If the kid is overheard talking about sex or a joint, however, they're all for massive official intervention.)

Meanwhile over on the op-ed page the unnamed Courier editor is railing about taking toys out of Happy Meals and crackdowns on fast-food joints, crying, "We don't need government protecting Americans against themselves," except, presumably, if those Americans want to adjust their consciousness in some way, enjoy themselves sexually or experience art that involves naughty words.

You can't have it both ways, editor: either you believe in the libertarian ideal of no government intervention in any private choice, or you believe that government has a legitimate role to play in informing people about what they can do to protect and improve their own health and well-being.

If government doesn't do it, who will? McDonald's? It seems to me that government entities are best situated to provide that sort of information. Notice, carefully, that neither the Flag schools nor the California cities are requiring people to make any kind of choice. Rather, they are working within their mandates, the well-being of their people. And if you find yourself miffed about the idea that government cares whether you're overweight, maybe it's time to finally get that gym membership, bubba.

The insane obesity of Americans in general should be a matter of strong concern for all of us, as we're all going to be paying for it through our health-care systems and loss of economic productivity for generations. Get over it, and get healthier.

Update, Tuesday: And like the bad joke everyone can see coming, the editor steps right up today to blithely contradict his position yesterday.

This illustrates how many people form opinions based neither on facts nor philosophy, but rather on whether they trust the person espousing the opinion. It's good lesson for political action.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Veterans' Day Spiel

If you really want to honor the men and women of our military forces, get them the hell out of stupid, pointless wars and stop wasting their lives and skills.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The reactionary impulse, again

Today's editorial follows the grand Courier tradition of repeating chunks of yesterday's Page 1 story and adding a few lines of opinion. What motivated the story on what's been generically known as 'spice' for six years seems to be a talk with someone at Prescott PD who's working on a bid to make the stuff illegal. Lisa filled out her research with this Wikipedia entry and called it good, somehow leaving out the bit about "extremely large doses may cause negative effects" in favor of the PPD's clearly unscientific fear-mongering.

The editor, roused from his accustomed fog, immediately jumps to his computer to crib even more from Wikipedia and call for legal controls. Kids are doing stupid things, sound the alarm!

The reactionaries won't consider sanctions against economy-killing mortgage hustlers or elected torturers, but something that might make you sick if you really bomb out on it is worth new legislation. They'll do all they can to prevent schools from teaching kids about their bodies, reserving that role to parents, but not even parents are allowed to teach their kids about getting high. They'll defend parents who keep guns where kids can get to them, but if the kid finds a new way to alter consciousness, they call a cop.This is where, in a logical world, they would be ringing the bell of Freedom. But in right-wing Bizarro World, they ring the bell on the front of the Keystone Kops Kar.

The commenters have it right -- you ban the harmless drug of choice for many generations of Americans and you toss its users in the hoosegow, and you're surprised that people come up with legal ways to serve an active and growing market. It's completely insane.

Monday, November 1, 2010

News flash: Ideological purity rules Reps

I just got what I think is some important information for those who haven't yet voted: Rep Lucy Mason has been kicked off the speaker list at tonight's Republican rally on the square. It seems she hasn't been sufficiently pure ideologically to suit the current local party hacks, apparently including Rep Tobin, Rep Burges and others, so they gave her the bum's rush from behind the screen of the organizers. Couldn't even say it to her face. Imagine what they'll be like when they get back behind closed doors in Phoenix. Tell your Republican friends.

Update, 10pm: She showed up anyway, got an introduction and spoke despite them. That's the way to do it.

Mr Norwood's lonely, please write

Busy day, but I just noticed the quote by City Manager Norwood saying that he'd got not one email about the proposal to increase everyone's water rates by 40+% over the coming five years to pay for projects that should have been done over the past 20. I dunno about you, but for me that stings in the context of my own efforts to conserve and no mention of a more stringent structure of tiered rates for those who use too much.

It may be that Mr Norwood hasn't heard from you because he doesn't give out an email address. You can link to an email form for him here.