What thing do you value most?

Chris wants to know, what thing (material possession) do you value most? I like to think that I don’t place much value on things, but that’s an easy question anyway:
I know from experience that when there’s a fire alarm, this is the first and only thing I reach for (I don’t wear it around the house). Spouse, cats, wedding band, in that order. It’s platinum, and heavy; we liked the weight. Cat’s is an exact match. The inscription reads “Senn and Kitty 2002” — our online names, since that’s where we met. It’s getting a little beat up now, and I rather like that. It’s a symbol and reminder of the best thing that ever happened to me, and is the only material possession whose loss would cause me lasting sadness.

Postcards from Buster

buster.gif PBS has decided not to distribute the “Sugartown!” episode of the children’s animated series Postcards from Buster because it features a family with two female parents. Individual affiliate stations can decide for themselves whether or not to run the episode. You can find your local PBS station here; for me, it’s Oregon Public Broadcasting. They do run Postcards from Buster, but it appears they won’t be running “Sugartown!”. My letter:

Dear OPB,
I am writing to ask you to air the “Sugartown!” episode of “Postcards from Buster”, over which Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has created an absurd controversy. (I searched both the OPB site and the TV schedule and could not find evidence that you plan to run that episode.)
I am a PBS subscriber for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I believe I can rely on PBS to promote diversity and tolerance, and to be a voice for minority groups. This is particularly important in children’s programs. A hateful but vocal minority in this country would like to see broadcast media reflexively self-censoring all mention of gay issues. Please do not let that happen. Please continue to send, particularly to our children, a message of inclusion and tolerance. Please air “Sugartown!”.
Sincerely, etc.

spellings.jpgMargaret Spellings is BushCo’s brand-new Secretary of Education. According to the LA Times, last Tuesday she wrote to PBS asking them to consider removing her department’s logo and returning public money spent on “Sugartown!”. Hatefilled nutjob and self-confessed dachsund abuser James Dobson thinks that’s just peachy, and his Focus Obsessively and Exclusively on the Straight, White, Evangelical Christian Family Foundation has provided a handy web form for use in patting Ms Spellings on the back. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I put it to better use:

Dear Ms Spellings,
I write to protest your recent complaints over the “Sugartown!” episode of the PBS children’s program “Postcards from Buster”. The positive portrayal of gay characters is in no way at odds with the educational goals that inform the public funding of such programming. According to the 2000 Census, same-sex couples make up about 1% of all US couples, and over 400,000 children live with same-sex parents. Gays and lesbians are a significant thread in the rich tapestry of American society, and the Education Dept should strongly support children’s programming which reflects that fact.
You wrote that “many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode”, and that is certainly true. Those parents are (perhaps unwittingly) harming their children, who will only suffer by taking on a regressive and intolerant outlook. It is not the job of the Education Dept to reinforce the preferences (or prejudices) of any particular group of parents. Rather, the nation relies on you to ensure that programs like “Sugartown!” are available to parents who want their children to value diversity and tolerance.
Sincerely, etc.

So, where did I hear about all this? SpeakSpeak, a website (and a 501(c)?) for those of us who are fed up with the lunatic fringe dominating public discourse:

SpeakSpeak will campaign for those of us who feel we

Why is this even a question?

Alberto Gonzales is the principal architect of the Bush administration’s policy of torture. Under cover of legal sophistries provided by Gonzales, this administration has overturned longstanding US law, rejected the Geneva Conventions and abandoned key elements of the US Constitution. On Gonzales’ advice, this president seeks to place himself above the law — all law, everywhere. The infamous abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are the public face of Gonzales’ legal counsel and an enduring stain on this nation’s history.
To appoint Gonzales to high office now would be to embrace this legacy and to declare openly that the US respects no law and cares nothing for human rights. I join Daily Kos and many others in urging the Senate to reject his appointment to the post of Attorney General.




Update 050131: The list of blogs opposing Gonzales is up to 533. The vote on Gonzales is expected this week, so if you have a blog please consider joining the list and adding the banner to your site. Whether you have a blog or not, please call your senators.




I think it’s clear what happened. I hope I’m wrong.

The Not In Our Name project has had a setback:

We had planned for the new Not In Our Name statement of conscience to run on Friday, January 21, in the New York Times. We had a contract and a confirmation number. This ad was to be our answer to the inauguration, and it was timed to appear in the middle of the inauguration news coverage.
The ad did not run. The advertising department were themselves deeply surprised by this, and have not been able to explain what happened. In fact, we were told that to their knowledge this had never happened before.
At the same time, the Times lead editorial said that this should be a time of legitimacy and acceptance for the President — and that this was especially something that the opposition has to come to terms with.
It is unacceptable that we do not yet know why something that “has never happened before” happened — a full page paid ad, accepted and slotted in, did not run. This is especially so when the content of the ad, the need to resist the course that this administration has set, is so important to the people of this country and the world. There needs to be an investigation of what went wrong and why. If it was just an honest mistake, we expect that the Times itself would want to know why in order to prevent it from occurring again.
The Times has given us a new ad reservation number and assured us that the ad will now run on this Sunday. However, there is the danger of it being buried in the back of the first section. This would be another way of marginalizing and rendering relatively invisible the voice of conscience and dissent.
We urge signers and supporters of the statement to e-mail the Times to demand that the ad run in the Sunday Week in Review section (where there will be summation of the inauguration) or in the first 10 pages of the first section. Send to the President and General Manager of the Times at president@nytimes.com and to the advertising department at advertising@nytimes.com.

You can read the statement here and sign it here. My letter, which I also sent to the NYT Ombudsman Daniel Okrent (public@nytimes.com) is as follows.

Dear Sir/Madam,
it has come to my attention that, for reasons as yet unexplained, the full-page advertisement taken out by the Not In Our Name project and scheduled to run on Friday Jan 21, did not run. The ad was accepted and a confirmation number was issued, putting the Times in clear breach of contract. Since its timing was particularly crucial to the effectiveness of the ad in question, the Times has a great deal of explaining and compensating to do.
Moreover, on the day on which the ad was scheduled to run, a Times editorial emphasized “legitimacy and acceptance” of the president and called for those who did not vote for Mr Bush to “wait for another day” to criticize him. The implication is very clear, and if the Times wants to retain public trust there must be a full, unfettered investigation into the reasons for the breach, the results of which investigation should promptly be made public. In addition, the Times must do everything possible to repair the damage done: specifically, the ad, which is now scheduled for Sunday, should run together with the inaugural coverage in the Week in Review section, or within the first ten pages of the front section. Finally, next to the ad the Times should run an apology to the Not In Our Name project.
Anything less will leave in the public mind a very strong impression that the NYT actively suppresses political dissent.
Sincerely, etc.

(via Sisyphus Shrugged)
Update 050131: Okrent replied, essentially, that it was just a screwup. I still don’t know whether the ad ran in the organisation’s second-choice position as requested.

blogging, ethics and Zephyr Teachout

Now that the dust has settled, I have a few final remarks to make about the recent storm-in-a-blogosphere-sized-teacup over Zephyr Teachout’s remarks concerning blogs, ethics and a couple of prominent bloggers.
Regarding Kos: it’s my enduring suspicion that Teachout thinks Kos somewhat less than honest, because there’s a clear difference between her unequivocal apology to Jerome and her remarks regarding Kos. To the extent that it’s because of the remaining clients that Kos won’t disclose (and presently cannot disclose because of the nature of his contracts with them), I think ZT is being both inconsistent and overly hard on Kos. He was operating in the absence of the very community mores (concerning such things as client disclosure) that I am arguing for, and that ZT seems also to regard as worthwhile and necessary. If Kos got it wrong, that’s something the blogosphere will work out with the benefit of hindsight, and it’s a bit much to expect Kos to have nailed it first time around. ZT and Joe Trippi have both made similar arguments regarding decisions that were made in the absence of any precedents during the Dean campaign. (I will add, though, that I hope a more stringent standard of disclosure will become the norm as these conversations continue to take place.)
To the extent that ZT’s attitude towards Kos has to do with history between the two of them, well, she should have kept it to herself — but I have no idea and no way of ascertaining just what that extent may be. I will say that the accusations of grandstanding leveled at ZT ring hollow to me. Plenty of people comment on other blogs then post versions of those comments on their own site, and I see no reason to assume ZT is lying about having started the blog as a way of hashing out ideas for the much-maligned Harvard blogging ethics conference. Similarly, several commenters have raised, with varying degrees of vitriol, the idea that malice born of the refusal of Armstrong/Zuniga to employ ZT is behind any of this. Having no way to know how true that may be, suspecting as I do that ZT rather dislikes Kos, and observing that ZT has a pretty sweet job now and was never wanting for employment prospects, I think I’m just going to assume that particular accusation is bullshit.
Regarding the Dean campaign: my earlier comment was partly inaccurate, since although Trippi has directly quashed the idea that Armstrong was hired so that he would give the campaign good press, he was less clear about Kos’ hiring. As I understand his remarks (in the Winer interview), Kos was hired as much to get him on side and keep him from advising others as anything. That’s also the implication I read in ZT’s narrative here. That scenario makes some sense to me, as I can’t see that Kos had much to offer the Dean campaign that they couldn’t already get from Armstrong. It seems to me both slightly unsavoury and probably standard-operating-procedure for a political campaign to have hired Kos on that basis. On that note, I don’t buy Chris Nolan’s assertion that ZT, politically astute Dean supporter, was all along carrying out a cunning political maneuver designed to boost Dean’s chances at becoming DNC Chair. If the whole “blogola” thing has had any effect on Dean it’s probably negative by way of a spurious association with pay-for-play, and if it did undermine Kos or Armstrong, well, they are both for Dean.
Finally, regarding the response to ZT: wow. I honestly didn’t realise there were so many assholes nominally on the left. Kos and Armstrong may be excused the vehemence of their reactions, but their supporters and defenders, by and large, responded with inexcusable violence. I don’t mean physical violence, but there were even threats of that — one comment that sticks with me mentioned wanting to shave ZT’s head in the manner of WWII collaborators. Jesus fuck. What’s wrong with these people? Message to everyone who felt the need to call ZT vile names and post foul imputations about everything from her motives to her sexual habits: get off my side. Really. Go join Free Republic; I hear your ilk is welcome at sites like Little Green Footballs and Instapundit.

on the coronation of king dubya

I have stayed away from news and discussion of the inauguration as much as I could; it makes me sick to think of that smirking moron at the best of times, and his $40 million orgy of self-congratulation is not the best of times. Excuse me while I sick up.
But others are not so faint of heart or weak of stomach as I, and have done a sterling job of pointing out the essential vileness of the event. Here are excerpts to whet your appetite, but in each case go read, as the kids say, the whole thing.
Juan Cole provides a pictorial commentary on Bush Minor’s relationship with the US Constitution and says:

Bush has sworn an oath to uphold the US Constitution. He won’t. But Congress can. It should insist that the sunset provisions of the so-called “Patriot Act” (which should be called the “Abrogation of the Constitution Act”) be allowed to expire in 2005 and that the extremely dangerous “Patriot Act II” be completely rolled back. Republicans who care about the Constitution should join Democrats who care about the Constitution in putting a stake through the heart of this abomination. A noble 200-year-old experiment in civil liberties and democracy, for which US troops are giving their lives, must not be ended by a single act of terrorism and a clique of authoritarians in Washington.
Bush’s speech was about bringing liberty to the rest of the world. Let’s see if he can first do something to restore to the American public the liberties we enjoyed, as free men and women, until 2001. Let’s see if he can bring US government policies back into alignment with the Geneva Conventions and other international law on human rights, to which the US is signatory. Only then would he have earned the right to even think about trying to extend liberty to others.

Brad Leiter points out that Bush’s speech amounted to the declaration of World War III:

Very dark days lie ahead for humanity. On the most charitable (and implausible) interpretation, the talk about freedom is genuine. Even so, the idea that a single country would take it upon itself to “free” all those countries ruled by tyrannies would promise a global holocaust and bloodbath of unimaginable proportions.
On the more realistic interpretation, the talk about freedom is pure rhetorical pretense: the nation that enthusiastically supported tyrants and butchers in Indonesia, in Guatemala, in the Philippines, in Iran and Chile and Brazil and the list goes on; the nation that, today, does business with tyrants and monsters in the Central Asian Republics, in Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan, and elsewhere; this nation’s profession of a commitment to “freedom” is a worldwide joke–a particularly sick joke coming from an Administration staffed by many of the architects and servants of the horrors just noted.

Max Sawicky notes the disconnect between imperialist Bush and his favourite shibboleth, “freedom”, in Liberventionism, Rising:

It will happen like this: a new tipping point giving rise to some kind of generic terrorist threat with nuclear/biological overtones. We won’t be treated to an excess of specifics. Have we ever? A provocation could stir the drink. In effect, the U.S. attacks and describes the roiled posture of the target nation as the new, imminent danger. Don’t call it conspiracy. It’s a simple plan, and an old practice.

Really, do yourself a favour and read all three. It’s restorative to realise that one is, after all, not crazy: that the inmates really have taken over the asylum, and slack-jawed horror is a perfectly appropriate reaction.

another easy one

Senator Barbara Boxer is one of the last bastions of actual liberal politics in the Democrat Party, and tomorrow she plans to ask Condoleezza Rice some hard questions during the latter’s confirmation hearing. This is what our representatives should be doing, and it’s important to support them when they do it.
Please consider signing the petition to lend your voice to Senator Boxer’s.
Update 050127: Rice was confirmed anyway. Just to have somewhere to refer back to, here’s a list of what T aptly describes as the few remaining Dems who can still look in a mirror without flinching:

Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
John Kerry, D-Mass.
Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Jack Reed, D-R.I
Mark Dayton, D-Minn.
Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii
Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Note to Democratic senators not on that list: forget about running for president. Ever. You’ll be lucky to get support for re-election in 2006; I for one will oppose you vehemently if there’s an independent or untainted Dem alternative. You maggots.


This is gonna be so cool. (B-15A is 100 miles long, moving at about a mile per day; collision is expected no later than Jan 15.) (photo credit: NASA)
Update 050116: no collision information yet, but this site is probably the best one to keep checking.
Update 050119: aw poop. It ran aground. No boom. Still some amazing images though.

Markos + Jerome != Armstrong Williams, OK?

[Attention conservation notice: update 4 is actually the best place to start reading this entry.]
The mainstream print and broadcast media in this country is a noisome tangle of weasels, vipers and scum, with a supporting cast of rightwing lickspittles, fascist apologists and barking nutbags, so it was with no surprise that I read about pundit Armstrong Williams taking $240K in payola from the Bush administration to plug their disastrous “No Child Left Behind” program. My first thought, in fact, was that Williams was just the tip of an iceberg, something Williams himself indicated.
Nonetheless, I was still surprised and disappointed to read Zephyr Teachout’s frank admission 1 that the Dean campaign paid prominent progressive bloggers Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong as consultants “largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean”. There are numerous mitigating factors — you can read all about them here and here. I’m not saying these guys rank with the ambulatory sacks of shit I listed above, or even with the dishonest and deceitful Williams (and neither, despite their whining, is Teachout). Kos had a disclosure notice up, and Armstrong was apparently on blog hiatus while under contract to Dean. Their own injured egos notwithstanding, it’s not about Kos and Armstrong. Now that I know about the contracts, I’m not going to stop reading Kos (I never have read Armstrong). I consider his disclosure inadequate but I don’t think he was bought — for one thing, his politics are pretty similar to Dean’s. Also, he has established a record of integrity which cushions him, in my view, from this lapse in judgement1.
But that record, and my willingness to cut Kos slack on account of it, is the crux of the real question here: blogs are moving up in the media world, and it’s important to ask, what kind of culture or system do we want to establish? The potential for corruption is obvious, and if bloggers want to retain the trust they now have (due in some part simply to being seen as “anti-establishment”) then they’d better take all conflicts of interest, real and potential, seriously. There are a lot of comments in the threads I linked to the effect that bloggers can’t/shouldn’t be held to press standards, and Kos makes this argument himself. It’s horseshit. Kos, for instance, wouldn’t have got the consulting gig if he hadn’t held himself out to be a pundit. The audience and the trust of that audience is part of what potential clients are buying.
The primary issue here is transparency, and b!X has got it right: drawing on journalistic ethics and Rebecca Blood‘s guidelines for weblog ethics, he lists a set of key principles to which readers can expect him to adhere. He has never been paid as a consultant, but he has taken advertising monies, about which he says:

My standard practice during the election was to include a disclosure statement in every post about those races that I accepted ads from candidates in that race. That sort of behavior needs to become the absolutely baseline below which bloggers will not sink — at least those bloggers who want credibility.

And there you have the bottom line: credibility. Standards. Teachout is looking to start an important discussion, not a slanging match. I hope the progressive blog community will step up. If blogs are going to run with the big dogs, they’d better learn to piss in the long grass.
Update: Somehow Atrios, who thought this was a good idea, is inexplicably all sneer when it comes to the idea of ethics in blogging. I wonder if it has something to do with upstart Teachout criticizing poor defenceless Kos. I don’t know who these “people” are who Atrios claims “think ‘blogger ethics rules’ will create clear bright lines to avoid controversies”; I think he made them up. I also think that standards are going to be imposed on blogs as their political influence and usefulness grows, and if bloggers who want to be taken seriously don’t take the lead on this issue, that lack of forward thinking is going to bite them in the ass. Atrios and Jesse and co. can bury their heads in the “self-policing community” and “rules are for assholes” sand all they want, but if news and views online is ever going to get beyond the Wild West stage it’s going to need ethical guidelines of some sort. Hell, maybe it’s best for all concerned if blogs remain a maverick medium, but let’s at least have the conversation.
Update the second: if this topic is of interest to you, you’ll want to read Lisa Williams’ excellent entry on blog policies.
Update the third: two of the most popular ways to blame Teachout for everything bad that ever happened appear to be as follows. First, Teachout must have known the rightwing media would grab hold of her comments and use them to cloud the Armstrong Williams issue, she shouldn’t have said anything, she must be working for the GOP, waaaaaah. For instance:

Here we are in the midst of a huge ethical scandal in the right wing noise machine, and out marches Zephyr Teachout, goddess of the left blogosphere, with a salvo virtually designed to provide the SCLM with one of their patented false equivalence arguments. And, lucky for us, it serves to marginalize the left blogosphere at the very moment that the righties are being feted like princes in the salons of the Mighty Wurlitzer as right wing heroes! What excellent timing.

Note to left wing bloggers: if you’re so terrified of the Big Bad Right Wing Media Circus that you expect others preemptively to do your cringing for you, I suggest you need a new hobby. If you’re accusing Teachout of sabotage, you need a little something called evidence.
Second, who needs an empty formality like a code of ethics? Here’s Digby again:

The larger question of blogger ethics in and of itself is a red herring. It’s suddenly a “concern” of the [so-called Liberal Media] and by extension the halls of academe, because they are taking heat from us — and people are listening — and they don’t like it. Sadly, the only bloggers who are going to be restrained by these concerns are on the left. The right wing bloggers are now a fully accepted part of the Right Wing Noise Machine — positioned in the dumb mainstream media’s collective lizard brain as fearless wild west mavericks defying the establishment. Their “ethics” are the same as any other right wing media — non-existent.
So the left blogosphere will be the focus of this crusade for online ethics. We don’t have institutions like the Claremont Institute who can hire us on as “fellows” — and launder Republican money through it to pay us. We aren’t going to get our marching orders and talking points through the coordinated “left wing” media because there is no coordinated left wing media. We are out here on our own, and when or if we say or do something controversial, there is no institutional defense of us because there is no institution. Certainly, we aren’t going to get paid big bucks to be a member of the team.
So fuck a “code of ethics.” It will only serve to marginalize us.

Right, right, ethics schmethics. You hero you. You lonely crusader for Truth and Justice, fighting the good fight out there on your own — how could you possibly benefit from any discussion of proprieties? Second free clue: it’s not about formalizing a code and etching it in a stone somewhere and calling everything good, and that’s such a flimsy straw man you should be embarrassed to tilt at it. Blogs are playing an increasing role in politics and on the media stage, and it would be useful for progressive bloggers to decide among themselves what behaviours, disclosures, financial arrangements etc. are acceptable. A quick example: what’s the best way to disclose financial involvement with someone you’re writing about — mention it the first relevant post? Every relevant post? A link on the front page? Teachout raised that question, but I’ve yet to see anyone but b!X and rebecca blood even try to answer it. Everyone in the game has their own rules for ethical blogging, whether they make them explicit or not; the value of making them explicit is in examining and discussing them and coming to a workable consensus. Again, I don’t mean a shining monument on a hill to be set up and thereafter ignored; I mean an organic set of mores like that which covers things like linking and blogrolling. To return to the disclosure example — “hat tip” and “via” links are now standard, and skipping them is considered bad form, and readers know to look for them in blog entries. I think it would be useful to have a method of disclosing financial arrangements every time they need disclosing that, like “hat tip”, becomes commonplace and doesn’t leave readers casting about for information.
That’s just one obvious example; I’m sure there are plenty more to be had, but we’re not even going to get around to talking about them if sneering assholes insist on casting Teachout as a traitor and themselves as shining paragons of virtue who should simply be trusted to get everything right and set the example for all who follow. Leaving everyone to their own devices in respect of increasingly important and complex ethical questions just because we can’t be bothered to talk about them is not only stupid on its face, it almost guarantees that someone will make a preventable fuckup and hand some serious ammunition to the Wurlitzer.
1Update the fourth: it’s not clear to me that “admission” is the right word, since ZT’s comments don’t square with what other Dean staffers have said. It’s clear that Jerome Armstrong is as clean as a whistle: he was hired because he had begun to build what became the Dean Internet Machine, and he stopped blogging while under contract. Kos’ behaviour is equally clean. Reasonable people can disagree about how much disclosure is enough, but he made perfectly good faith disclosure. In view of my argument that a widely understood set of ethical mores among bloggers is currently lacking and would be a good way to avoid such controversies, I was wrong to use the phrase “lapse in judgement” in describing Kos’ decisions. Most of my point in all of the above is that reasonable people should start disagreeing: individual judgement would be well served by pooling ideas and talking about these sorts of ethical issues.
Let’s have the short version of that: neither Kos nor Jerome Armstrong did anything wrong in respect of their work with the Dean campaign, no matter what you hear to the contrary.
That leaves the question of what exactly Teachout is saying. She asserts that

we paid Markos and Jerome Armstrong as consultants, largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean. We paid them over twice as much as we paid two staffers of similar backgrounds

where “we” means pretty clearly “the Dean campaign”. Well no, “we” didn’t, according to both Mathew Gross, Director of Internet Communications and “Blogger in Chief” for the Dean campaign at the time, and then-campaign manager Joe Trippi (mp3, interview by Dave Winer). Trippi says straight out that the decision to hire Armstrong and Kos was his, and that it had nothing to do with ensuring pro-dean commentary. What gives? I’ve left a comment on Teachout’s entry; it will be interesting to see if she responds to these direct rebuttals.
I want to say more about the larger issue of blog ethics per se (which, unfortunately, seems to have been largely drowned out by the Teachout Controversy), but that can wait for a later post. I’ve also changed the title of this post to better fit the content.