Archive for March, 2009

How to Tell If Someone Is Lying

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Via WikiHow: How to Detect Lies. Keeping you informed since 1996!

Dyson, Owen, and Romm on Climate

Friday, March 27th, 2009

A trio of pieces to keep you (and me) saturated with tendentious climate change discussion:

The Civil Heretic – from this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, a lengthy profile of Freeman Dyson, and in particular, his contrarian views on anthropogenic climate change. I’m still reading it, but am enjoying it a lot. More after I’ve finished it, probably.

Economy vs. Environment – a New Yorker piece by David Owen that argues that responses to global warming are necessarily constrained by economic considerations. Likewise, still reading.

Paging Elizabeth Kolbert – by my man crush Joseph Romm, in which he fisks the aforementioned David Owen article. As I said, I’m not done reading Owen’s argument, but I’m willing to stipulate that Romm may be going over the top a bit in taking the fight to Owen. I dunno; I’ll see how I feel after digesting all three articles, and will post an update.

blog post subhead large

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The future arrives gradually. Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, you don’t even notice. But once in a while there’s a signpost that says, “Yup. You’re living in the future.” I saw one this morning, and it arrived courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

I get most of my news from the Web these days, but I like the ritual of reading the actual paper during breakfast. I know about the accumulating cutbacks in the editorial staff, and I’ve noticed changes: Fewer investigative pieces, more stories from wire services, shrinking (and then vanishing) sections. I know it’s happening, but it’s happening gradually.

But I think we’ve reached a tipping point:


Here’s a zoomed-in version:


My kids like to point out that I almost never actually laugh. When they tell a joke, the best they can usually hope for is that I’ll crack a smile. But I actually LOL’d when Linda showed me this page in the paper today.

As someone who previously worked in a professional publishing operation, though, this is actually fairly sad. It’s not that mistakes don’t happen; they always do. It’s not that they’ve had to cut back on the layers of proofreading that would have caught this early. It’s that this was a really glaring mistake. I think there’s a chance they knew about it before they went to press, but decided to print it like this anyway.

In an earlier era, the editorial folks would have said, “No way can you print it like this. We have to eat the cost of fixing it, or our reputation for competence will suffer horribly.” But if that conversation took place, apparently the editorial folks at the Times don’t have that kind of pull anymore.

Update: Kevin Roderick, writing in his LAO Blog (So much for those later deadlines), adds a little detail, courtesy of an email he received from someone who works on the Times’ Calendar section:

“We only have late deadlines Sunday through Wednesday nights. Thursday was our regular 3 pm deadline, which was delayed almost 40 minutes by the computer system crashing, which caused the Quick Takes problem.”

So, they ran out of time due to a computer system crash? And rather than delaying, they just sent the story anyway? That makes it sound like it may have been a known-when-it-went-out-the-door problem, rather than a not-noticed-until-it-was-gone problem, as I speculated in my original post. Which, again, is kind of depressing.

I haven’t seen any official acknowledgment or explanation so far. Here’s the text of a query I sent to Jamie Gold, the LA Times’ readers’ representative, last night.

I was one of a number of people who noticed the unfortunate proofreading error in Friday’s print edition, when the “Quick Takes” sidebar on D2 had all its placeholder headings (“tag briefs subhead large”, etc.) left in place, rather than being replaced by the actual headlines. I posted about it on my blog, at

As someone who has worked in the editorial operation at a number of trade magazines, I sympathize with the pain of having an error like that go out. I’m only too aware of how easy it is for such mistakes to happen. And really, it’s one of those things that is more humorous (at least from the outside) than anything else.

Except for an aspect of it that I can’t help wondering about (and that I talked about in my blog post): To what extent might this error be related to the widely reported cutbacks in editorial staff that your paper has made in the last few years? As a long-time subscriber, I’m concerned by the possibility that the erosion of the newspaper business model resulting from things like craigslist is going to lead to more staff cuts and more mistakes like this, as well as other, more significant reductions in editorial quality.

I hope the Times will publish some account of what happened, what steps, if any, are being taken to prevent a re-occurrence, and most importantly, what a subscriber like myself, who is concerned about the effects of editorial cutbacks, should think about the incident’s significance.

I looked in today’s paper for some mention, but couldn’t find anything. Has the issue already been addressed publicly? Will it be?


Later update: Jamie Gold, the Times’ reader’s rep, responded to me via email this afternoon:

A note on Page A4 in the “For the Record” section was published that day. In this case, it was a computer glitch — the final page that editors saw before sending the pages in showed the correct headlines, but what appeared off the presses didn’t match what editors had seen earlier.

But I’ll forward your point to editors for their thoughts about your broader concerns regarding quality control and staffing cuts.

So, that’s kind of cool, that she’s working on a Sunday answering random emails. I didn’t notice the A4 “For the Record” item on Friday, and appear to have used that section since then to light the barbecue, but I’ll take her word for it.

That explanation leaves a question unanswered, though: At what stage was the problem actually noticed? Was an explicit decision made to ship the problematic version? How much zeal can a reader of the Times reasonably expect the paper to employ in pursuit of editorial quality? I’m not trying to be snarky. I’m actually curious what the answer is, and I suspect that the answer might not be the same today as it was a few years ago.

Drum on Excess Certainty

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Kevin Drum is a very smart dude: Listening to the Talking Heads. (Note: not the David Byrne Talking Heads.)

Mooney on Will on Warming

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Chris Mooney offers a really good response to that recent George Will op-ed in the Washington Post that amounted to a raft of lies about global warming: Climate change’s myths and facts.

A recent controversy over claims about climate science by Post op-ed columnist George F. Will raises a critical question: Can we ever know, on any contentious or politicized topic, how to recognize the real conclusions of science and how to distinguish them from scientific-sounding spin or misinformation?

As Mooney’s article demonstrates, yeah, actually, we can. I’m happy to see the WaPo running Mooney’s article now. But I’m disturbed by what it says that it took so long for them to do so, after all the high-profile outrage that Will’s original piece produced.

For those on the right who persist in maintaining that global warming isn’t real, remind me again why defending your right to delude yourself is worth imposing a bullshit tax on scores or hundreds of future generations. Because I’m just not seeing it.

Romm on the Media’s Conspiracy of Silence

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Joseph Romm continues to speak the truth about climate change, including in this item about non-coverage in the US media of the results of the recent Copenhagen Climate Science Congress: Conspiracy of silence.

In the last two years, our scientific understanding of business-as-usual projections for global warming has changed dramatically (see here and here). Yet, much of the U.S. public — especially conservatives — remain in the dark about just how dire the situation is (see here).

Why? Because the U.S. media is largely ignoring the story.

Romm goes on to summarize the key messages to come out of the conference, including that worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories for atmospheric CO2 concentrations (or worse) are being realized, and that “inaction is inexcusable.” Romm’s response?

What is inexcusable is US media coverage and the blinkered conservative strategy of scientific denial — what can only be described as a murder-suicide pact with the human race (see here).

Wilkerson on Guantanamo

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Knarlyknight reminded me that I’d meant to post a link to this recent article by former Colin Powell aide Lawrence Wilkerson: Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay. It’s a good round-up of some of the more depressing aspects of the situation. Nothing particularly new, but it’s good to see the truth get some more attention.

I was also, perversely, kind of happy to see that Dick Cheney was making news this past weekend by bad-mouthing Obama’s (partial) retreat from the worst aspects of the Cheney-Bush anti-terrorism policies. I was happy about that because I’ve decided that what’s going on with Obama’s go-slow approach to exposing the extent of the illegality and awfulness of the Cheney-Bush torture policies is not that Obama is objectively pro-torture or anti-civil rights per se. It seems much more likely to me that Obama is as outraged by the Cheney-Bush crimes as anyone. But Obama is, above all, a pragmatist. He knows that the Republican political strategy is to make as much heat and light about any perceived attack on the previous administration as they can. Any exposure by Obama of war crimes committed by Cheney and Bush can be spun by the Republican machine as Bush Derangement Syndrome. “Oh, that Socialist, terrorist-loving Obama!” we’ll hear 24/7 from Rush and Fox News. So it’s in Obama’s political interest to downplay that stuff. It doesn’t do him any good, politically speaking, to expose what a bunch of bastards the previous administration was.

Bush has been playing it smart, acting low-key on this stuff. But no one ever accused Cheney of playing things smart and low-key. He’s been going after Obama with both barrels. Which I think is great: I hope it works. I hope Gibbs and Obama get peppered with questions at every news conference about whether the administration is, in fact, soft on terrorism, whether they are, in fact, letting hardened killers (who Cheney and Bush had quite rightly been keeping bottled up in Guantanamo) back on the streets, where they can kill Americans.

Because that’s the only way I can see that Obama could be put in the position where it’s in his political interest to come out with the truth about Guantanamo. If Cheney is going to come after him anyway, and try to paint Obama as soft on terrorism, then Obama would have an incentive to explain to the public just how awful the previous administration had been.

Maybe that’s naive of me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Shirky on the Death of Newspapers

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

From Clay Shirky’s personal blog: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

Thorstein Veblen on the Media, 1915

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Via Dan Gillmor in Boing Boing, via Joe Costello: Thorstein Veblen, Prescient on Today’s Media.

Systematic insincerity on the part of the ostensible purveyors of information and leaders of opinion may be deplored by persons who stickle for truth and pin their hopes of social salvation on the spread of accurate information.

As a former worker in the editorial department of a magazine publisher, I think Veblen was pretty accurate in his analysis of the origins and outline of the problem. At least, his description of “the current periodical press” matched up pretty closely with my own experience.

Hoofnagle on How to Spot Pseudo-Science

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Writing for The Guardian, Mark Hoofnagle of the denialism blog covers Climate change deniers: failsafe tips on how to spot them.

At denialism blog we have identified five routine tactics that should set your pseudo-science alarm bells ringing. Spotting them doesn’t guarantee an argument is incorrect – you can argue for true things badly – but when these are the arguments you hear, be on your guard.

Sigur Ros’ Hoppipolla

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

We may be going quietly nuts, but we humans can also produce something like Sigur Ros’ Hoppipolla. So we’re not all bad.

I was wondering where I’d heard that before as it started playing over the closing sequence of Penelope. Thanks to the Sigur Ros obsessives at wikipedia, I now know the answer: It was in the trailers for Children of Men and Disney’s Earth.

Ward on Why We Are Going Quietly Nuts

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I was out of town without net access for a while, which always makes it tough for me to get back into the bloggy swing of things when I return. But it’s also that I’m still wrestling with my reaction to that Gwynn Dyer Climate Wars piece.

Ken Ward, guest blogging at Gristmill, touched on something today that resonated with my current mood. From Why we are going quietly nuts:

In our hearts we know that what we are doing is futile, but we do not know what else we should or could be doing. The constraints within which we work feel so intractable and out of human scale that we cannot imagine how to break them. Despite our best efforts, Americans just dont seem to get it or they dont care, and we are at a loss to explain this. Unable to influence our own nation, we are further dismayed by the far vaster challenge of altering the trajectory of China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the world.

What are we going to do about this? Those of you lucky enough to think this talk is just lefty alarmism have it easy. Those of us who don’t, though, have a tougher row to hoe.