Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Permission to be Trolled, Sir!

STANDARD PREFACE: I’m no longer in the journalism business, and happy to be out. That does not mean I’m forbidden from writing occasionally on the subject.

A while back, I wrote about the growing practice of journalists using social media posts in their stories without first seeking permission from the poster to use them.

I can’t say it’s something I wouldn’t have done as a journalist – after all, this information and opinion is out there on a public forum, just the same as if I’d heard it shouted on the street or gotten it in a quote during an interview.

Or is it?

When I hear someone shout in the street, common sense – and probably a lot of editors – would tell me to go talk to that person, get their name, ask why they’re shouting and such. It seems the standard for social media reporting is just to take what’s said and use it.

By doing so, the reporter saves time, no doubt.

And can also end up using something put out there by one of these Russian election trolls we’ve heard so much about, such as was reported at Slate.com this week.

There’s a blend of fast-paced and lazy in this world – both are on opposite side of the coin. I most often fall into the lazy camp, as some of my former journalism colleagues would attest.

Better to be fast-paced.

I’m still haunted by my laziness and stupidity.

And so it goes.

The old saw goes “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Same ought to go for social media scraping. Lest ye be trolled.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Secondhand Reports: A Walkout Bust

Before the walkout happened, we talked about it at home.

I wanted to know, genuinely, if our three kids had heard any talk about the walkout – planned nationwide as either a call for gun control or in honor of the 17 students and staff killed by a young gunman in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year – at their own schools here in Idaho.

Oldest, a high schooler, had seen posters about it at school, but didn’t plan to participate himself. He’s not much up to the social scene, so this was not surprising.

Middle child, also a high schooler, had heard nothing about it, despite the presence of the posters. “There are too many posters on the walls. I don’t read them,” she said.

Youngest, at middle school, had heard there was a protest planned at his school, and he wanted to go. Because unlike his brother, he is wildly social.

Both the Idaho State Board of Education and the local school district said they believed the safest place for students at the time was in school with their teachers, but they recognized students’ rights protected under the First Amendment, so they would allow the protests without punishment.

As expected, the oldest did not participate.

The middle child was in the thick of things, watching spittle-emitting from protesters and counterprotesters. Clearly, they have learned much from the older generations.

Third child attended the protest and saw nothing but friends hanging out with friends, with no discussion of the issue that had prompted the walkout in the first place.

That’s the First Amendment in action, we told our middle childhood. Freedom of expression is messy, often nasty.

What will come of it, aside from headlines for a day?

If it’s only for a day, then nothing. Nothing will come of it. Past protests, with their spittle-emitting, indifference, social showoffiness and all, took sustained action, not one 17-minute protest, no matter how well-received, to accomplish any action.

“Wait A Minute, is it Right or Wrong?”

WARNING: Richard Milhous Nixon ponderings to follow.

The most significant thing ever said about politics in the last century comes from Ted White’s book “Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon”:

In a campaign there is no conflict between ends and means. The end is to win victory, and, as in war, the means do not matter -- deception, lying, intelligence operations are common in all campaigns; a campaign is no place for squeamish men. But what happens, said one of Richard Nixon's advance men of 1960 long afterward in 1974, what happens when the advance men become government? "What happens when they all sit in the same room in Washington and the President trusts them and nobody is squeamish, nobody is there to say, Wait a minute, is it right or wrong?"

I talk about that a bit here.

This quote has come to the fore again as I read John W. Dean’s “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It,” wherein Dean (I’m just in the opening chapters) is laying the groundwork that to show Nixon’s loyalty to his men was chief among his flaws that led to his doomed presidency.
Whom do we have right now in government saying “Wait a minute, is it right or wrong?”

While individual members of either dominant political party in the United States might be saying it, the parties themselves are not. The parties are interested in promulgating the party, and look at any sense of right or wrong through the lens of party loyalty. Some of the individual platform planks of each party might be in the right, but on the whole, the parties are not saying “Wait a minute, is it right or wrong?”

Nixon’s loyalty to his men met up with his paranoia to lead him to believe his men above the cost of everything else. That loyalty combined with paranoia, I believe, led him to consider other paths to protect his men when he saw their guilt, at the cost of his presidency.

And his men did him few favors. Something from Dean’s book:

“I told him about the Liddy thing,” Haldeman explained,” because he’s going to find it out right away anyway, and it was better to let him know there was a guy.” But Haldeman also had new information to tell Nixon dealing with Liddy’s involvement in Watergate. “What we’re talking about is, we’re going to write a scenario – in fact, we’re going to have Liddy write it – which bring all of the loose ends that might lead anywhere at all to him. He’s going to say that, yeah, he was doing this, he wasn’t authorized.” Haldeman, of course, and not only been told by Gordon Strachan, his aide and liaison to the reelection committee, that Liddys’ intelligence operation budget had been approved, by the had also given Strachan instructions in ear4ly April 1972 to have Liddy change his focus from Muskie to McGovern. It was still not clear form these conversations whether Haldeman knew if Mitchell had authorized an illegal break-in and bugging at the DNC, but he clearly suspected it. Haldeman was certainly aware, however, that Jeb Magruder would not have authorized such an action without Mitchell’s blessing, and that Magruder was directly involved in the Watergate operation.

“Well, what else?” Nixon pressed for more of the scenario.

Haldeman obliged by spinning out the story he had discussed with Mitchell. “He thought it was an honorable thing to do. He thought it was important. Obviously, it was wrong. He didn’t think he should ask for authorization, because he knew it was something he didn’t want to put anybody else in a position of authorizing. How did he get the money? See, we’ve got that one problem, the check from Dahlberg. What happened is, and that works out nicely, because the check came in after the spending limit thing [on April 7]. So it was given to him with the instruction to return it to the Dahlberg. Instead he subverted it to this other purpose, deposited it in the bank. That explains where the money came from. That explains everything. And they’re [Mitchell and his aides] working on writing out a scenario.” I think that’s the answer to this, and admit that, by God, there was campaign involvement.”

But without Michell’s knowledge,’ the president qualified, and Haldeman repeated “But without Mitchell’s knowledge.”

“Or authorization,” Nixon further confirmed. Haldeman echoed, “Or authorization.”

“He’s fired.”

“And he’s fired,” Haldeman assured the president.

“What does he get out of it? What’s his penalty?” the president asked.

“Oh, not too much. They don’t think it will be any big problem,” Haldeman said. Then he added, “Whatever it is, we’ll take care of him.”

Nixon could not imagine this having taking place without Mitchell’s authority, but then, he told Haldeman, he was still not sure. Haldeman speculated, “I can’t imagine that he knew specifically that this is what they were doing. I think he said, for God’s sake, get out and get this [expletive deleted] information, don’t pussyfoot around.”

The president wanted to know about the money. “How’d he [Liddy] get the check?”

“He was processing the checks. It was an illegal check,” Haldeman concluded, incorrectly placing a worst-case potential on it by blending fact with the fiction of the scenario; when all the facts were gathered, it turned out to be a legal contribution. Haldeman guessed, “You know, he was going to run it down to Mexico and put it into cash or something.”

“The what did we do, return the money to the guy? What, what happened?” the president asked, confused about what was the true story and the bogus scenario.

The thing is about telling lies, and mixing lies with truth, is pretty soon you don’t remember what the truth is, and what the lies are, and how you mixed them together.

And those depending on you, well, they often don’t know you’re lying to them. Until it’s too late.
What do we have in Washington now, but politicians on both sides of the fence who value loyalty to individual or party above everything else – where compromise is a dirtier word than partisanship?

Far be it from a naif like me to suggest something: Maybe the people our politicians employ in their campaigns should have the kind of integrity that would make their candidate call on their better self, not their baser self. We’ve seen both parties succumb to wanting to win so badly they throw integrity out the window. And then keep the windows locked.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hey! There's Something You Don't See in A Toilet Every Day!

Here's the kind of day I had:

Took my glasses off during a potty break, because I WANTED TO TAKE THEM OFF NEVERMIND WHY. And I promptly lost them. Looked for them for more than an hour, eventually enlisting other office-mates in the search. I looked through the trash. I looked INSIDE the paper towel dispenser, because it was open at the time of the Great Losing. I PAWED THROUGH BATHROOM TRASH. Figured, eventually, that I'd pulled a Henry Kissinger with them and gave up.

Sat down at my desk and decided, in all my blurry glory, that I'd at least fix my loose boot. And found my glasses TUCKED INTO MY BOOT.

Your tax dollars at work, folks.

(What does it mean, to "pull a Henry Kissinger"? Behold:)

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Importance of Peer Review, or George is Gettin' Upset!

I probably should wait 24 hours to write this, but part of me knows it’s important to write it now.

George is gettin’ upset.

Why is George gettin’ upset?

Someone had the audacity to tell him he’s not a perfect writer.

Can you believe that? Me! Two someones, in fact, said I’d written some stuff that wasn’t up to snuff. Stuff that wasn’t meeting standards. Stuff that needed to be fixed. They dared tell me I WAS NOT USING ENOUGH COMMAS.

You can see why I’m mad, right? I mean, I’ve been writing professionally – PROFESSIONALLY – for more than 22 years. Ten years as a journalist. Twelve years as a technical writer. I have a DEGREE in technical writing, for heaven’s sake. I know what I’m doing.

So . . .

I’m listening.

I’m listening to them.

Because as much as I dislike being told I’m wrong – BECAUSE I’M NEVER WRONG – one thing I’ve learned after writing professionally for more than 22 years,  it’s this:

I’m often wrong.

I get rushed. I get lazy. I get complacent.

I’m also a bit prideful. I’ve been working solo for more than five years, and suddenly I’m part of a group and am being asked to have my work checked again by others.

You know what else I need to get?

Teachable. And humble. Because like every other writer on the planet, I’ve got some stuff to learn.
So I’m learning it.

I hope this is how you see peer review. I know firsthand how much it irritates to be told you’ve done something wrong. That’s why I like to point out the things you’ve done right, too. Because you can learn from the good stuff as well.

But being humble and teachable enough to learn from our mistakes, well, that’s how we learn, right? I mean, this all sounds so familiar:

As the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we serve. Understand that they, like us, are imperfect. They, like us, make mistakes. They, like us, want others to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Never give up on anyone. And that includes not giving up on yourself.

I believe that every one of us, at one time or another, can identify with the servant in Christ’s parable who owed money to the king and who pled with the king, saying, “Lord, have patience with me.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2010 General Conference

Peer review can teach us patience. And patience is a glorious thing to possess.

George is calming down a bit now. He’s ready to learn again.

Friday, March 9, 2018

They Will Be Shot by Ice Pick Harry!!

When Dad sent letters or left notes, you paid attention. You never knew what you were getting into . . .

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Ours is an Alexa house.

Two in the basement.

One on the main floor.

Three upstairs.

I’m often upset at her because of her small repertoire of novelty songs – she does have the Allan Sherman “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” song, which is a blessing – and her nit-pickiness over how to select classical music. (If you don’t know the specific album or the list of movements and such, just forget it. Alexa allows for NO classical music shorthand.)

But we haven’t heard any Alexa random larffs.

The only disembodied voice we hear is when I wake at 4:30 to go to work and have to wander into our youngest son’s room to tell Alexa to stop playing ESPN radio. He swears up and down he sets a timer. Sometimes, clearly, he either forgets or the timer doesn’t take.

If our Alexa where to laugh randomly, I’d like it to be like Witch Hazel, from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, viz:

Hearing Witch Hazel laugh randomly at me from the darkness of my own home would be something to wet my pants about.

And here’s the funny thing – there’s a lot of paranoia out there about Alexa and other such services “listening in” on what we’re doing, recording it all, and then sending it all to some nefarious organization that’ll USE WHAT WE SAY against us.

I don’t feel the paranoia. At all. Which is weird, since in our family, paranoia is kind of a hobby.
My brain already acts in the nefarious ways we’re attributing to Alexa. Wednesday night, I drove past a building and my brain dredged up something very stupid I did there, more than twelve years ago. I’m not sure Alexa could do anything to add to that pain.