Sunday, April 30, 2006

Don't take it too seriously

Dennis the Peasant has a great blog style. He packs his blog with personal insights pertinent to topical issues along with random silliness and digressions. And he has no grand overarching design to rule the blogosphere. DtP (aka Kenton E. Kelly) blogs for himself.

DtP explained the sausage factory that is big-league blogging in a series of entertaining posts. He's only partly kidding, methinks.

Sample tip on building your blog persona:

"By now it should be obvious that the last thing you want to do is present yourself honestly to your audience. One of the keys to blogging for big cash is to convince your audience that you are what they would want to be, if they could be someone other than the loser they are. You cannot do this by being open and honest about yourself: Not that many people want to look like Buddy Hackett, sound like Curly Howard, think like Britney Spears and write like Sean Penn.

"Remember: If you were a city, you’d be Cleveland."

Okay, enough of that. Gotta run to the yacht club now for the christening of my new boat.


Welcome, North County Times Readers!

So you were curious enough to visit my new blog after reading the column about it in the North County Times. I'm flattered, and grateful. Please look around -- I suggest reading from the bottom to the top.

There's a grab bag of items here that reflect my varied tastes in journalism, science and personal activities. Be sure to look at my links to Web sites I like. Perhaps you'll like them too.

I apologize for the sometimes amateurish layout, especially for the early items. In the industry jargon, I'm a "print geek," mainly concerned with words. Layout and typography are not my strong suits. At the North County Times, other people handle that for me. But since this is a personal blog of mine, (see the inevitable disclaimer underneath my blog name) I don't get the benefit of that help.

Although this is my personal venture, I hope this blog will teach me skills applicable at my day job. The North County Times is increasingly a Web-based and interactive publication. And as far as interactivity goes, I plan to enable comments here in the not too distant future. But I'm still very new at this, and don't want to start something I can't do well. For the immediate future, just keeping this blog regularly updated is enough of a challenge.

But if you wish to send me your impressions of the site, good and bad, and advice for how to make it better, please do so. For the moment, you can e-mail me at bradley (at) sandiego dot com or my work address, bfikes (at) nctimes dot com. (Automated programs called spambots harvest email addresses off of Web sites, so spelling out the e-mail addresses is necessary).

Once again, thank you for spending some time here, and I hope you find it worth your while.



Saturday, April 29, 2006

The LA Times sorta said what Hiltzik did

The Los Angeles Times did indeed mention that Michael Hiltzik posted comments on his blog and other Web sites dealing with his column and the Times. Matt Welch, newly minted LA Times editorial page staffer and blog moderator, pointed that out. But I still think the explanation is inadequate. Here's what I submitted to the Times opinon blog.

(Quoting Welch)
"While you may lament the reluctance to use the phrase "sock puppet," there is nothing unambiguous about the wording: "using pseudonyms to post [...] comments [...] that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper."

Point taken. But Hiltzik didn't just post comments that "dealt" with his column and the newspaper, he attacked critics and praised himself. The Times statement is still maddingly oblique as to just what occured.

Further muddying the waters, the editors' note states:

"But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of The Times' ethics guidelines: Staff members must not misrepresent themselves and must not conceal their affiliation with The Times. This rule applies equally to the newspaper and the Web world."

The misleading pseudonym = deception meme rears its ugly head once again. The Times does not seem to have thought this issue through enough.

If a reporter with a disease posted pseudonymous comments on a Web site asking for help in dealing with the affliction, not for a story, but out of personal need, would that be considered a violation of Times policy?

Or, if a Times reporter took part in a blog discussion about sports (and the reporter was not covering sports), should the reporter automatically be required to reveal his/her identity? Would that be required of the reporter walking into a bar discussion?

This blog discussion is a good start to making the Times more transparent. But anyone seeking the most complete and accurate information about what happened with one of the Times' own employees would have to go elsewhere, namely Patterico. That is a sad commentary on the Times' refusal to answer questions and criticisms about its own workings -- the same information it demands from everyone else.
Matt Welch provided more interpretation of the info-poor editor's note in response to a followup post of mine:

"I do think that the editor's reaction, in both word and deed, demonstrates that a serious chunk of the offense was using the pseudonymity to comment on institution- and author-related matters."

That is marginally helpful, but still far short of a clear explanation as to what the Times objected to in Hiltzik's actions. A "serious chunk"? Is that more or less than a nanosecond? Bigger than a breadbox? Smaller than an epigram?

Matt's explanation goes no further to unwrapping the riddle of how serious an offense the Times thought mere pseudonymity constituted.

I know Matt can't speak for the LA Times editor and doesn't speak for anyone. But one would expect the editor of the LA Times has the communication skills to speak for himself and define precisely what the offense consisted of. Instead, we get a terse, opaquely written note with the obligatory gratuitious slam at the Web.

Although Matt demurred at being described as a mediator, that is exactly what he is. Matt is a journalist steeped in the traditions of the Web, a rara avis indeed. He is trying to help the Times understand how to reach out to the growing number of people who get their information through the Web and interact with each other through the Web.

Matt is doing his part, but the uncomprehending LA Times top editors are not doing theirs. The Los Angeles Times has done next to nothing to inform its readers about this matter. People have had to turn to the blogs, particularly that of Patterico, to get the full story. Incidents like this convince people that a dead-tree subscription to the LA Times isn't worthwhile. You won't get the full story there, so why bother?

If Dean Baquet and the other Times editors don't understand by now that this evasion detracts from the Times' credibility, it's unlikely they ever will.


More Global Warming "Experts" That Aren't

Here are three more entries for my list of dubious global warming experts who signed a letter to Canada's prime minister cautioning against global warming "alarmists" (one of the buzzwords of the global warming denialist movement).

Remember, these people signed a letter that begins, "As accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines . . ." I did a quick search, and found at least 10 that did not show any sign of being an accredited expert in anything close to climate science. Here I am giving specific citations for my findings. This makes six out of 60 so far.

Arthur Rorsch
is listed on the letter as an emeritus professor of molecular genetics at Leiden University. He has no degree that I've found in any climate-related discipline, although he has written opinion pieces on global warming.

I did find this scientific paper Rorsch co-wrote, in PubMed. Title: "Comparison of the resA1 and polA1 Mutations in Isogenic Strains of Escherichia coli K-12"

Art Robinson is described as the founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, where he is listed as a professor of chemistry. A former colleague of Linus Pauling who had a nasty falling-out with him, Robinson founded the six-member institute with his late wife, Lauralee. Much of the institute's work is on issues such as home schooling and homeland security.

The institute's Web page also links to a site on "Nutrition and Cancer," which has the subhed: "Beating Cancer with a Diet of Raw Fruits and Vegetables." In it, Robinson describes anecdotal evidence (not peer-reviewed research) that eating fruits and veggies can defeat cancer. Here's an article about Robinson, his scientific and political views.

I'd say Robinson is as much an "expert" on global warming as he is on cancer.

Alister McFarquhar is listed on the letter as an "international economist". I found a reference in the Autumn, 2005 issue of his college's newsletter (in PDF) to his Ph.D., received in 1962.

"Dr Alister McFarquhar obtained his PhD in 1962 following which he was a Research Officer at the School of Agriculture and then a lecturer in the Dept of Land Economy 1968–99. This year he joined a UK DTI Trade Mission to the Philippines spending most of his time in Manila with old colleagues in the Asian Development Bank for whom he has been a consultant since 1986 on various development strategy missions to Sri Lanka, Nepal and China and in their Policy Department. After the Mission he sailed to Subic Bay and Clark Airfield on Luzon Island where the US have huge air and naval
bases currently mothballed, and returned via Bangkok and Jakarta."

Very interesting to be sure, but not exactly the stuff one would expect of "accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines."

It seems the global warming denialists are counting on people not looking too closely at the qualifications of those who signed this letter.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Hiltzik loses blog and column

Click the hed -- Patterico has the scoop. He links to a post by Mack Reed of LA Voice that gets to the heart of the matter. Reed points out that the LA Times still has not seen fit to describe Hiltzik's offense, other to vaguely say his posting under a pseudonym was misrepresentation.

"But from a blogger's point of view, Hiltzik's sin wasn't posting under a pseudonym. Half the bloggers on the web do that, and some even make a living at it.

"No, he stumbled by manufacturing two of his greatest fans, posing as them on his own blog and others, and trying to mislead the public as to his own popularity - both the height of vanity and the depth of stupidity for a blogger. It was only a matter of time before someone exposed him. If you proclaim yourself a truth-teller and analyst of fact, you can't get away with lying for long in this venue."

The LA Times has consistently dodged this issue and issued in its editors' note what I can only call disinformation:

"Over the past few days, some analysts have used this episode to portray the Web as a new frontier for newspapers, saying that it raises fresh and compelling ethical questions. Times editors don’t see it that way. The Web makes it easier to conceal one’s identity, and the tone of exchanges is often harsh. But the Web doesn’t change the rules for Times journalists."

Here they go again: The old dodge of mischaracterizing an argument you don't want to answer. But refusing to discuss the issue won't make it go away. The Times' evasions fool no one, any more than did Hiltzik's.

This unwillingness to face reality sheds light on the Times' culture of self-deception, a culture that let Hiltzik think he could get away with deceiving others.


Andrea Clark not safe

Courtesy of Blue Crab Boulevard, word that the deal to transfer Andrea Clark to a Chicago hospital has fallen through.


Irwin M. Jacobs chosen Salk chairman-elect

Irwin M. Jacobs, co-founder of wireless giant and San Diego legend Qualcomm Inc., was named today as chairman-elect of the Salk Institute's Board of Trustees. He will take the title in November.

The vote was unanimous, according to a Salk press release announcing the appointment. It was not exactly a surprise; as Jacobs was elected vice chair in March. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of San Diego's major biomedical research centers. It was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, who led the team that developed the first effective polio vaccine. That killed-virus vaccine is still in use.

Jacobs, who led Qualcomm to global prominence with its CDMA cell phone technology, has taken on a higher role in the biological sciences in recent years. He and his wife, Joan, first became involved with the Salk Institute in 2004 when they helped establish the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology. This center uses computation-based modeling methods to understand how the brain processes information. (Crick, of course, is the late Francis Crick, a co-discoverer of the function of DNA, and a longtime Salk faculty member).

The Jacobses are major patrons of the arts. They have donated to the San Diego Symphony, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the La Jolla Playhouse, and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Irwin Jacobs recently retired as CEO of Qualcomm in favor of his son Paul. Qualcomm is the most highly valued company in San Diego, with a market capitalization currently over $80 billion.

I remember that not too long ago Qualcomm was more famous for its Eudora email software than for CDMA. It was a joke among Qualcommers when guests would stop by and comment on their surprise that all these engineers would be working on Eudora.


Blogification alert!

My redoubtable former business editor, John Van Doorn, is entering the blogosphere. John is a senior editor at the North County Times, where I work.

Click the title to see the musings, sentiments and experiences of John, a Buckeye native turned Noo Yawka turned Left Coast sybarite.

Here is John with Sammy, the Wonder Dog. (John is the one in the chair, with a rapturous expression on his face). Sammy is a Great Pyrenees, and a fine specimen of the breed he is indeed. Even if he does drool a bit. Okay, a lot. And he sheds. And he thinks he's a human. But he's a gentle giant.


Liberal and conservative, life and death

Considering the often-venomous liberal/conservative blogosphere sniping, the degree of transideological cooperation on the Andrea Clark matter was remarkable.

For those who didn't follow the link, Clark is the hospitalized Texas woman whose sister said her hospital was about to "pull the plug" on her for financial reasons. The hospital said Clark's medical condition had deteriorated to the point where further care was futile. After much protest, the matter has been resolved. Clark is being transported at the hospital's expense to Chicago, and will receive care there from another hospital.

Unlike the Terri Schiavo case, Clark is not brain-dead, and her family members are united in wanting her to continue getting care. Her sister's pleas touched the hearts of everyone from the Democratic Underground to the WizbangBloggers.

Now, I don't pretend to know whether Clark's condition is really "futile." IANAP (I Am Not A Physician). And it is easy to demonize a hospital or insurance company for not providing unlimited care. But the hard fact is that money is limited. If you give more money to care for one patient, less money will be available for others. I don't envy at all those who have to make such decisions.

But it's indisputably clear that the piteous spectacle of Clark's sister, Melanie Childers, pleading for her life has re-energized the debate over what to do for patients when the medical system (or at least the part charged with caring or paying for a particular patient) says it can't do any more. Who gets to make the call, and who pays for it?

If Andrea Clark does pull through, she can thank the co-operation of people across ideological lines -- and her extraordinarily eloquent sister.

Now, can the left and right continue to work together on finding a workable plan to make sure this doesn't happen again?


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Plus ça change . . .

Yet another boring article on yet another boring journalist talking heads panel on how to defend anonymous sourcing.

The article, entitled "Lively Discussion on Anonymous Sourcing Breaks Out at ASNE" (American Society of Newspaper Editors), contained all the standard defenses of the need to keep anonymous sources from being revealed, and pious exhortations to use them only when truly needed.

Here's the snoozer lede (I've written a number of them, so I know 'em when I see 'em):

"Anonymous sources must be defended in the wake of new government efforts to uncover them, but also used only sparingly so they don't reduce the credibility of newspapers, a group of editors and reporters from some of the nation’s top newspapers agreed Wednesday."

The classic journo position on anonymous sourcing is much like that of Bill Clinton on abortion -- it should be safe, legal and rare.

Trouble is, anonymous sourcing isn't rare. It's profligate, and usually without any great need.

Just to illustrate, I went to the Washington Post's search page and looked for a phrase fragment often used with anonymous sources: "to be identified", as in "declined to be identified" or "did not want to be identified."

Here's a sample of what the search revealed Thursday evening:

"Olmert will stress in his Washington visit threats against Israel leveled by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the sources who declined to be identified pending a White House announcement of the visit." -- AP story on visit of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, April 27

"Sources, who declined to be identified because of the confidentiality of the proceedings, said a key reason the talks failed was that the board declined to remove some trustees who had been seen as most prominent in the decision to award the severance package." -- Post story on calls for reform at American University, April 27

" '(The price) is pretty much in line with expectations,' said a London-based analyst, who declined to be identified." -- Reuters story on a corporate acquisition, April 27.

" 'Our options are a peace initiative that would fall short of direct recognition of Israel, cement ties with President Mahmoud Abbas to overcome world isolation, or go underground and end the truce with Israel,' said a third Hamas official, who declined to be identified." Another Reuters story, on options for the terrorist organization Hamas.

And so on . . . there's plenty more stories you can find that fit this mold. What I found doesn't confirm Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell's contention, quoted in the ASNE story, "that the highest percentage of anonymous sources are not in national stories, as some believe, but in sports, with national stories ranking fourth."

Perhaps anonymous source phrasing is different for sportswriters, but I didn't see any sports stories in my quick stroll through the archives. I wonder what Howell's source is for her statement?

Read Jack Shafer, a longtime crusader against "anonymice," on their infestation of a recent New York Times story.

To use another analogy, the overabundance of anonymous sourcing is like the weather. All the editors talk about it, but . . .


Mean. Mean. Mean. I love it!

Independent Sources, which helped expose Michael Hiltzik's sock puppetry, has made a Top 10 list of excuses he can use. (But they should have begun with Excuse No. 10 and worked up . . .)

This is totally unfair and unbalanced journalism. John R. Lott never got such a list!


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I report. You decide.

Islamic expert Juan Cole is steamed about a derogatory article about him in the Wall Street Journal's opinion section (not to be confused with its news sections). Cole, a frequent commentator about Iraq, is steamed that opinion writer John Fund bashed him as a "notorious anti-Israel academic," among other charges.

Cole wrote that Fund's article was full of lies and defamation, citing several examples. But Cole didn't deny he favored censorship of Fox News Channel, a network popular with conservatives. Fund didn't give a reference, but I found the quote in an otherwise flattering profile in the Detroit Metro Times.

I e-mailed Cole Tuesday night and asked if he had been accurately quoted. He sent me a courteous reply this morning affirming the quote represented his view about Fox News's television operations. Here's both e-mails.


Hello Juan,

You said there were a lot of inaccuracies in John Fund's piece about you. I plan to write about this issue for my blog (, and want to get a response for you for my piece.

The item I'm writing is about one of Fund's charges you apparently didn't discuss in your rebuttals. It is that you said you wanted the Fox News Channel subjected to government censorship. Just so you know, I don't think there should be any government censorship, period. It's a First Amendment issue. (Being a reporter for my day job might have something to do with that view).

With that background out of the way, I want to check with you before posting anything, considering Fund's animus against you. Did Fund accurately characterize your statement? If so, do you still stand by it?

Just for ease of response, here is the Fund quote:

"Mr. Cole wants to enforce his own taboos on free expression. In February, he told the Detroit Metro Times that the federal government should close the leading cable news channel. "I think it is outrageous that Fox Cable News is allowed to run that operation the way it runs it," he said in summarizing his view that Fox "is polluting the information environment." He went on to claim that "in the 1960s the FCC would have closed it down. It's an index of how corrupt our governmental institutions have become, that the FCC lets this go on."

While Fund didn't provide a reference, I found the actual news story he was citing here:

"There's a lot of criticism of the media, but the way the media is used is the objectionable thing. I think it is outrageous that Fox Cable News is allowed to run that operation the way it runs it. It is a highly ideological, explicitly ideological operation, and it is polluting the information environment. You have anchors who attack guests for simply stating the facts; you've got anchors who show an attitude to spin stories in a particular way. Frankly, I think in the 1960s the FCC would have closed it down. It's an index of how corrupt our governmental institutions have become, that the FCC lets this go on."

Did that Metro News article accurately characterize your view about what the FCC should do about Fox News Channel? If so, do you still hold that opinion?

Thank you,

Bradley J. Fikes

Dear Bradley:
My point about Fox News editorial policy is that it skews *everything* in the news and in its interviews toward Republican Party positions. It is a partisan activity. Clips are rebroadcast over the public airways on Fox affiliates. The FCC was set up to ensure that the public airwaves are used for public, not consistently partisan, purposes.
cheers Juan


Playing Dumb

Sigh. Patterico points out yet another article on the Michael Hiltzik sock puppet meltdown that ignores the true offense: the intent to deceive.

Here's the article's wholly misleading introduction:

Reporters are quoting Internet postings in their articles, but, in a medium rife with false identities, how can they verify that the Web writers are who they purport to be? And if everyone's using false identities, why can't journalists?

Let's take this one question at a time. First question: There is a difference between having a pseudonym and having a false identity. The former is simply a means of anonymity. The latter is an attempt to deceive by pretending to be someone you're not.

The second question is of the wife-beating category. No, everyone's not using false identities, and the practice is deceptive. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth. Got it?

The author digresses into MySpace and other areas of the Web where pseudonyms and false identities are often used. But that's simply an attempt to confuse the issue: The deception conflation of reporter and the public. Hiltzik wrote as a reporter, then commented on the same issues and praised himself, ostensibly as a member of the public.

Getting to Hiltzik's sorry case, the author manages to seamlessly confuse truth and fiction:

In posting to his own blog under a fake name, Hiltzik was clearly abusing the trust the paper had placed in him, and the Times has a right to protect the reputation that its brand depends on. But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful. It just implies that Hiltzik isn't confident enough in his own writing to let it speak for itself (surprising for a Pulitzer-winning journalist).

The first sentence: True. The second one: False. Any practice that raises doubts about the truthfulness of a journalist harms the entire profession.

The third sentence: True and False. Yes Hiltzik obviously lacks confidence (and allies). But the deception also says something is lacking in Hiltzik's character, just as in the case of another confessed sock puppeteer, John Lott. I wouldn't want Hiltzik for a colleague. And I wouldn't use Lott as a source.

But even if he himself hadn't written the fake comments, he could as easily have gotten a friend to write similar comments under a fake name, thus sidestepping the writer-dealing-with-the-public problem. Whose "crime" would it be then?

Hiltzik's. And the "crime" is deception. This guy hasn't a clue about ethics, and yet E&P lets him opine about something of vast importance to journalists who suffer from the perception (and often reality) of low ethics and lack of accuracy.

Any journalists out there wondering why our profession has such a problem with lack of trust should know that such miserable evasions are a big reason why this is the case.


There is no such thing as a blog(ger)

Simon Dumenco's Net-savvy insights are a refreshing alternative to the clueless Ludditry of so many who opine on bloggers.

"OK, you might argue, blogging is aesthetically a different beast -- it's instantaneous media. (Well, since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, pretty much all media has had to learn how to be instantaneous.) It's unpolished. (The best blogs I read are as sophisticated as anything old-school media publishes.) It's voice-y. (The best old-school media I read tends to be voice-y.) It's about opinion, not reporting. (The best reporting to come out of MacWorld in San Francisco last week was published on blogs.) It's, well, often sloppy and reckless (and Judy Miller wasn't?)."

That was January of 2006. Let's back up to a June, 2002 column by Arnold Kling at the amazing Web hub called Corante. Kling discusses several aspects of how blogs work in spreading information, comparing the dynamics with those of the traditional mass media.

"My prediction is that in niches where the ratio of information value to entertainment value is high, blogs will prove to be superior mechanism for disseminating news. For example, local politics tends to have lower entertainment value than national politics. To me, that implies that at some point we will start to see elections for school board or city council influenced more by coverage in blogs than by coverage in newspapers."

There's a lot of diversity here, and this is just in media. You can find many reasons why individual bloggers blog. The only thing that unites them all is the technology they use.While this technology certainly has its implications (insert inevitable McLuhan reference here), generalizing about the blogosphere paints a deceptively uniform, and distorted picture.

Stephen Jay Gould, the science popularizer, made much the same point about the diversity of species that I am making about bloggers. Just as there is no such thing as "the bat" or "the dog", there is no such thing as "the blogger".

The stereotype of the pajama-clad political warrior or poster of lurid Internet material is just that. These certainly exist, but they are not the typical blogger. In fact, it's hard to define a typical blogger. People blog for many reasons. And there is no reason to expect bloggers to be any better or worse than the rest of society. So, surprise! there will be criminal bloggers. Writers who warn about the dark side of bloggers with an anecdote about a cannibal blogger (see "Clueless Ludditry") only show the shallowness of their understanding.

This sort of thing was excusable, perhaps, in the 1990s when the Internets were new. The Heaven's Gate stories made much of the group's having a Web site. This led to much chatter about how dangerous cults can use the Internet, perhaps to recruit your child. Protect your family against this frightening technology. Tune in at 11 and investigative reporters Bob Blowdry and Kitty Chatty will show you how.
Now excuse me while I post new messages about my cult (cash donations only, please), troll for lurid Internet photos, and provoke a flame war with political partisans. Soon, I'll have to get out of my pajamas and go to my day job.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Info-grazing tip from Patterico

.It's called Bloglines, a nifty free service that lets you scan the latest news feeds and other postings of multiple Web sites at a glance. You plug in the URLs of the Web sites you want to scan. When you log in, Bloglines shows in bold face the number of new postings on each site since you've last checked.

Bloglines is somewhat of a misnomer, because it doesn't just work with blogs, strictly speaking. It's also customizable for how recently it scans for new posts -- 1 hour, 6 hours, 24 hours, etc. There is no software to download and it works on mobile devices. And you don't have to be a conservative/Libertarian blogger like he is to use it.

Patterico, aka Patrick Frey, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, posts like a madman to his blog as well as handling his day job. So I figured he must have some secret to keeping up with the Internets. I asked him, and here it is.


Gouging the truth

From the Washington Post:
Bush Orders Probe Into Gas Pricing

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Steven Mufson and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 25, 2006; 10:03 AM

President Bush has asked the Energy and Justice departments to investigate whether gasoline prices have been illegally manipulated, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters this morning.

The White House is also asking states to guard against unfair pricing. . ."


I know it's not popular to say this . . . but high gas prices are a good thing for us in the medium to long-term. High prices are a signal that a commodity is scarce, and that signal tells producers to make more of it, or to find substitutes. Trying to artificially drive prices down discourages producers and suppliers.

There are a number of well-known factors for the rising price of gas, such as the high price of crude oil (due to political tensions and rising demand elsewhere). And I know the oil companies are juicy targets, but their profits are not extraordinarily high in percentage terms. Their profits are big in absolute terms because they are large companies.

Exxon Mobile, for example, has a profit margin of about 11 percent and an operating margin of 16 percent. That's substantially lower than the media business. For example, Gannett has a profit margin of 16 percent and an operating margin of 27 percent. Just imagine where gas prices would be the oil companies had Gannett's porcine profit margins.

This is just basic economics. But when the public gets mad, especially in an election year, politics intrudes. Bush is acting politically to head off political attacks from Democrats. He has to appear to do something -- whether or not the idea of "gouging" or "unfair" pricing has any real marketplace meaning.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Blogger Madness

Despite such honorable exceptions as tech columnist Walter Mossberg, some of the Wall Street Journal's content seems positively Luddite. There's not a lot in the way of hyperlinks in its online content. And for certain writers the Internet, particularly, blogs, are still treated as some exotic and rather scary place.

In the 1930s we had "Reefer Madness." In the Wall Street Journal, we get "Blogger Madness." This column by Daniel Henninger on all those wacky, depraved and raunchy bloggers is a good example.

Henninger's opening is an anecdote on the cannibal who kept a "blog." (Placing the word in quotes at this late date tells me a lot about Henninger's blog awareness.) While Henninger disclaims any intention to brand bloggers as cannibals, he's being disingenuous. He choose a shock lede with the most lurid example he could find.

It's frankly depressing to read Henninger's baffled, baby-talk description of this world.

"Typically, a blogger creates a Web site and then, in the pale glow of a PC screen, types onto a keyboard what's on his or her mind. A blog nearly always invites readers to share their "comments," which they do, and which the blogger posts seriatim."

Yes, Henninger put quote marks around "comments."

But credit Henninger for performing research. He cites an actual AOL press release on a blog study. He goes on to mention a researcher by name, psychologist John Suler. This researcher studies "dissociative anonymity," "solipsistic introjection" and even "dissociative imagination." Henninger devotes 61 words and a full paragraph to these phenomena.

Henninger even belly-flops into that pool of depravity known as MySpace:

"Example: The Web site currently famous for enabling and aggregating millions of personal blogs is called If you opened its "blogs" page this week, the first thing you saw was a blogger's video of a guy swilling beer and sticking his middle finger through a car window. Right below that were two blogs by women in their underwear."

Women in their undies!!? Wait till Henninger discovers the department store lingerie ads.

As for the shock of getting the middle finger in a car window while someone drinks and drives, well, Henninger has a point: That's the kind of stuff you only see on the Internet.

With an instant expert's certainty, Henninger sums it all up with this pronunciamento:

"At the risk of enabling, does the Internet mean that all the rest of us are being made unwitting participants in the personal and political life of, um, crazy people? As populist psychiatry, maybe this is a good thing; the Web allows large numbers of people to contribute to others' therapy. It takes a village.

'But researchers note that the isolation of Web life results in many missed social cues. It is similar to the experience of riding an indoor roller coaster, what is known in that industry as a "dark ride." This dark ride could be a very long one."

True to form, Henninger doesn't include citations or links to back up his comments on those other nameless "researchers".

Even us uninhibited asocial, beer-swilling cannibal bloggers know to do that.


Remarkably inaccurate NYT article on Hiltzik

"I've begun thinking of the MSM as 'news for people who aren't really paying attention.' " --
Comment on the Web site of Patterico (aka Patrick Frey) regarding Michael Hiltzik's use of sock puppets (Internet aliases a dishonest person creates to back him up in Internet forums ).

Speaking as a card-carryiing MSM member: Ouch!

More than a grain of truth to that comment, I'm afraid, considering the near-total failure of the MSM (mainstream media) to accurately report what Hiltzik did.

The comment was in response to a post by Patterico over yet another article that fails to spell out the exact nature of Hiltzik's offense: Posting under aliases as well as his own name to back up arguments and attack critics. This creates the illusion for those deceived that Hiltzik had more support than he actually did.

The combination is critical. The aliases are like a ventriloquist's dummy or a sock puppet, giving the illusion of independence yet actually controlled by someone else. Except in the case of ventriloquism, everyone knows it's an act. Hiltzik tried to fool people.

The closest the New York Times article came to spelling it out is this sentence:

"Michael A. Hiltzik, 53, a business columnist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the paper, acknowledged using the names Mikekoshi and Nofanofcablecos not only in posts to his own blog, but on other Web sites as well."

Patterico, aka prosecutor Patrick Frey, was also incorrectly described in the NYT article:

"Along those lines: I haven't mentioned this until now, but now that it's in the freaking New York Times: I am a Deputy District Attorney. You hear that? Deputy! Every single article that has come out on this, including the NYT piece, has called me an "assistant Los Angeles district attorney." That's gotta come as news to the actual Assistant District Attorneys in our office. There are only three of them, and they are among the five top-ranking supervisors in the entire office of 900+ attorneys."

Even worse, writes Patterico:

"By the way: no. None of these news organizations has ever called me in connection with this story. The only person I ever heard from was Hugh Hewitt's producer."

The New York Times article doesn't even quote from Patterico's blog, although it does quote from Hiltzik's column and blog.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Health insurance woes

Cathy Seipp writes about her personal experiences battling the health care bureaucracy while battling lung cancer, both on her blog, and in a Los Angeles Times article. (You'll notice in the hyperlink to the LAT story that whoever coded the link misspelled Seipp's name.)

By all means read both blog and article.

Get well soon, Cathy!


Michael Crichton: Psychic, global warming expert

Those who get their science on global warming from Michael Crichton should consider this, a classic post from commentator Patterico (Patrick Frey):

"I really like Michael Crichton. I think he’s a brilliant man. And he writes interesting books. I’ve read most of them. So when I first read Travels, I tried to be open-minded. I tried to see my aura, and to bend spoons. I really did.

But none of it worked. I decided that the “auras” he was describing were just an optical illusion. And I couldn’t bend spoons. And I didn’t want to take peyote and wander in the desert. I started to get the feeling that perhaps Crichton had taken one too many hits of peyote himself."


Richard Lindzen, contrarian

Thanks to Science Blogger Janet D. Stemwedel for pointing out this revealing personal glimpse of Richard Lindzen, one of the most qualified global warming skeptics (He's actually scientifically trained in the field, not a professional pontificator):

Among the scientists taking a public position sceptical of global warming, Richard Lindzen has always seemed the most credible. Unlike nearly all “sceptics”, he’s a real climate scientist who has done significant research on climate change, and, also unlike most of them, there’s no evidence that he has a partisan or financial axe to grind. His view that the evidence on climate change is insufficient to include that the observed increase in temperature is due to human activity therefore seems like one that should be taken seriously.

Or it would do if it were not for a 2001 Newsweek interview (no good link available, but Google a sentence or two and you can find it) What’s interesting here is not the (now somewhat out of date) statement of Lindzen’s views on climate change, but the following paragraph

Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.

Anyone who could draw this conclusion in the light of the evidence, and act on it as Lindzen has done, is clearly useless as a source of advice on any issue involving the analysis of statistical evidence.

Also, read Tim Lambert on the global warming deniers who started out as tobacco danger deniers.

There's a word for scientists who sell their research and name, and it's not a very pretty one.

It's the sock puppetry, stupid!

Most of the media comment on the Michael Hiltzik melt-down misses the point: sock puppetry, not anonymity, is the offense. Patterico explains it -- once again.

Update: I searched Google News (about 2 p.m. PDT) for the terms "Michael Hiltzik" and "sock puppet". There was only one hit; for Cathy Seipp's NRO column. Either the other MSM reporters don't get the point, or they don't think readers will understand. Neither interpretation is flattering.

Global warming disinformation countered

Tim Lambert has a juicy post on a rebuttal to the letter to Canada's prime minister by 60 scientists (and nonscientists) attacking global warming theory as alarmist.

Lambert points to a counter-letter on the subject, signed by 90 scientists. Moreover, according to Canadian artificial intelligence engineer Coby Beck, they are:

"all from Canadian institutions
"working in climate science fields
"unfamiliar names to me (i.e. busy doing their jobs rather than op-eds and Fox News interviews)"

I was going to post on the original letter before, because it makes the provably false claim at the very beginning that the signers are "accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines . . ." This is the short version of my intended fisking as to those purported "accredited experts".

(Update: Just to be clear, I am not denying that most of those signing have such credentials. But a significant number, about 10 from my preliminary findings, don't appear to have such climate-related accreditation. This post is on three signers who I can show this to be the case with reasonable certainty. I may do a more extended version later, if need be. As for the other seven, I've not taken the time to look into their qualifications as fully as I'd like to.)

Signer Benny Peiser is a social anthropologist. He approaches global warming from that perspective. His home page states: "His research focuses on the effects of environmental change and catastrophic events on contemporary thought and societal evolution."

Whatever the merits of Peiser's research, as a social scientist, he is plainly not a primary source on climate-related issues.

Another signer, the eminent physicist Freeman J. Dyson, also has no apparent accreditation in climate-related fields. His expertise is in quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. Look at his own description of his education and contributions to research (provided in the link) and see if you find any mention of climate-related research. While some might be able to twist to find a distant connection, his scientific career has obviously been spent far afield from climatology.

Another signer, Paul Reiter, specializes in tropical diseases such as malaria. Here is his own account of his expertise, written last year. You be the judge of whether he's an accredited expert in climate-related fields:

'I am a specialist in the natural history and biology of mosquitoes, the epidemiology of the diseases they transmit, and strategies for their control. My entire career, more than thirty years, has been devoted to this complex subject."

A number of gullible conservative global warming skeptics have cited this letter without actually looking at the qualifications of its signers closely. They should.

No double standards

Just a brief comment this morning . . .
The Hiltzik debacle (see below) adds more fuel to the argument on media bias. Some people say the ideal of objectivity is false, others can't agree what it is.

My own personal view is that a good working definition of objectivity is no double standards. Think of principles of good journalism, and apply them everywhere. That means one doesn't change the rules depending upon whose ox is Gored. (or Bushed).

The Hiltzik meltdown is a good example of this in practice. Journalists of all political stripes need to adhere to ethical standards, such as not taking payola and not deceiving people.

Hiltzik, a strident foe of conservatives, committed the latter offense by his sock puppetry (see below). He made up Internet identities to defend himself and attack critics. Aside from the sheer pathos of a Pulitzer Prize winner inventing imaginary allies, the action shows a lack of integrity.

Michael Fumento, a strident foe of liberals, was discredited by his acceptance and continued (fruitless) solicitation of payola. See Cathy Seipp here and my own take here.

Fumento whined that he was the victim of a liberal "witch hunt" and that he did nothing wrong. Only the most partisan right-wingers bought the argument. (BTW, Fumento has been accused by Tim Lambert of doing sock puppetry. Fumento has tried to ridicule the allegations. But in light of Fumento's unethical behavior, which he still defends, his word is worthless).

Payola and sock puppetry are violations of journalistic ethics. I hope journalists of all political stripes are paying attention.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rutten misses the point

I like Tim Rutten's media column in the Los Angeles Times. But Rutten appears trapped in his own bubble regarding the dislike of the mainstream media among many conservatives. While making some perfectly legitimate points about the absurd statements of such buffoonish figures as William Bennett, Rutten uses them as a foil to caricature all conservatives.

Rutten seems convinced that the only reason the MSM is criticized by right-wingers is that it is too effective. But Rutten is in deep denial that MSM errors or bias are a legitimate cause or contributing factor for this dislike.

"As it turns out, though, addressing those things isn't what the critics have in mind. They don't want an unbiased news media, they want a press that reflects their bias," Rutten's latest column claims.

His next sentence is revealing:

"They'd like a press that is wholly blue or wholly red, one that stops bothering a nation increasingly divided in this very fashion with inconvenient facts and doubts."

Come off the phony balance, Rutten. Your entire column is dedicated to criticizing conservatives who, in your opinion, want a press that is wholly red. You don't discuss ultra-liberals who want to do the analagous thing. (They do exist, like their ultra-conservative counterparts).

There is a deep disconnect between many MSM types and conservatives, a lack of communication and understanding. Since our profession is communication, journalists, of all people, should be able to recognize this disconnect and find good-faith ways to bridge it. One of those ways is to admit that much of the criticism is legitimate, and to be willing to criticize peers who violate ethical boundaries.

Yes, there will be some conservatives who will not accept anything short of complete capitulation. But what of those who honestly don't understand what we do? Aren't they owed an explanation, despite the clownish antics of the William J. Bennetts?

Digression alert:

I had a small experience in such dialogue just after the 2004 election, when I took a call at my paper, the North County Times. It was from a Republican subscriber who was upset at what he thought was a biased subheadline putting Kerry first in mentioning the results, even though Bush had won. He was thinking of cancelling his subscription.

What followed was a very polite 45-minute conversation without any name-calling or spittle ejection from either side. This reader was genuinely puzzled over the way the headline was constructed. I told him I didn't know, but that at our paper, we don't tolerate deliberate bias, because it is dishonest. (Unconscious bias is much more tricky to deal with, and that's the subject for another time.) I also pointed out that the main headline did say that Bush had won.

Unable to resolve the matter, I took his name and number and gave it to an editor. Later, I found out that the headline was in material provided by the Associated Press. If you'll remember, exit polls had Kerry winning, so my best guess is that the format was decided earlier in the afternoon. While the headline was correct and the facts were up to date, the format was not changed. That is tough to do on a paper when minutes count.

Whether I was right or wrong in my deductions, the subscriber appreciated that I took the time to try to figure out what had happened. This is the way such matters should be handled. And while a few callers have not been so mannerly, I don't generalize.

Back to Rutten:

The Michael Hiltzik meltdown should have given Rutten pause. Hiltzik used his now-suspended Golden State blog mostly as a vehicle to ridicule those who disagreed with him. There was rarely even a pretense of politeness or trying to understand the point of view of his conservative critics. (For whatever reason, Hiltzik focused on the follies of the right, and never seemed to acknowledge those on the left).

To its credit, the Los Angeles Times has left the blog on its site. Go and read some of Hiltzik's columns and especially his replies to commenters. Sample Hiltzik language on his nemesis, conservative blogger Patterico: "The Patterico comment threads are generally filled with quacking lunatics agreeing with each other, punctuated by the occasional voice of reason."

Rutten's account doesn't even mention Hiltzik's purple-faced screaming fits, which make any derision by Patterico look mild. (Patterico calls the LA Times the "Dog Trainer"). Instead, Rutten focuses on Hugh Hewitt, who often unfairly stacks the deck in his arguments. This is no defense of Hewitt by any means. But read Rutten's distorted view as he quotes Hewitt:

"The incident has provoked a kind of cybernetic thunderstorm, and one of the most revealing claps came from talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who used his popular blog to argue against what The Times had done.

"In his (Hewitt's -- ed) view, "The paper should admit that their journalists are just polemicists who carry their opinions with them into battles they care deeply about. They are as biased as the day is long and getting longer. They aren't objective, and never have been…. Hiltzik may be the most honest guy at the Times."

Hewitt's aspersions are nasty and unproven. Unless Hewitt knows most of the LA Times staff, he has no way to judge their motivations, However, Hewitt is just one critic. Cherry-picking a quote from Hewitt does not do justice to the legitimate arguments against Hiltzik.

In the interests of fairness, here is Hewitt's reply to Rutten. Hewitt noticed as I did that Rutten failed entirely to discuss Patterico, who assembled an utterly damning case that Hiltzik had dishonestly used Internet sock puppets to praise himself and bash critics.

Funny thing is, Hewitt helped provoke Hiltzik's neck vein-throbbing downfall with a rather mild gibe at the LA Times's declining circulation:

"Cue the doom music.

"So what will the Los Angeles Times do?

"Double the number of Joel Stein columns?"


Hewitt made an entirely apolitical allusion to the Times' tone-deafness in its opinion section, which is an embarrassment for a top-tier paper. Stein is a nonentity whose one-note schtick is that he's trying to be famous for being famous.

So what does Hiltzik do? On April 14, in full purple-faced screaming ragegasm, Hiltzik published a statistically worthless piece attempting to show that Hewitt's blog circulation is plummeting. As a business columnist, Hiltzik should have known better than to take two months of Hewitt's Web traffic and extrapolate. That decline comes after a sharp spike in January. And we don't have a full year's data for Hewitt's blog on Site Meter, the service he uses.

Take a look at Hewitt's traffic on Site Meter. Note that Hewitt signed up for Site Meter in July, 2005, and April is not yet finished. One of the things Hiltzik got dinged for by critics is failing to provide hyperlinks to his data. That's because Hiltzik, by his own account, recorded the data manually, looking at Hewitt's Site Meter ratings every day. So the suspicion of critics is that Hiltzik didn't want to show evidence that would contradict his claim -- a claim he later e-mailed me was not made seriously. It was just supposed to show the ridiculousness of Hewitt's own methodology.

Of course!

The rest is now blogosphere legend. Hiltzik's insult-match was noted on other blogs. The purple-faced pundit also got into a dispute over cable and telco policies on Independent Sources under what was later found to be a fake name. In fact, the abusive language was so similar to Hiltzik's style that people immediately suspected something.

Meanwhile, Patterico, who long had noticed peculiar patterns in some of the pro-Hiltzik commentators, was assembling a case for sock puppetry on Hiltzik's part. Independent Sources got into the act when they outed a pseudonymous commentator, the snarling "Nofanofcablecos", as Hiltzik.

Finally, Patterico published his utterly devastating dissection of Hiltzik's Sybil-like posting habits .

During this meltdown, I had had some email exchanges with Hiltzik, who chided me for being taken in by his critics. I promised to wait for his response before saying anything. Hiltzik did not explicitly deny sock puppetry, not did I explicitly ask if he had engaged in it, but he said the issue was unimportant.

So I decided to wait, looking for Patterico, in reality prosecutor Patrick Frey, to keep his word that he would prove his case "beyond a reasonable doubt."

And Patterico more than kept his word. His precisely detailed piece threw a net of evidence around Hiltzik from several directions. Barring some fakery or massive blunder on Patterico's part, it looked to me as if Hiltzik was a serial sock puppeteer. That puts him in the category of John R. Lott, an association which will please neither. It also revealed a techno-cluelessness of Hiltzik's, or possibly his underestimation of Patterico, whom he held in such contempt.

But I waited before writing anything characterizing the evidence, because I wanted to first give Hiltzik a chance to reply, as I had promised him. And if Patterico had not proven his case beyond a reasonable doubt, I would have condemned him and profusely apologized to Hiltzik.

Hiltzik quickly ascended to his blog throne and wrote a scathing non-denial. Hiltzik attacked Patterico for hypocrisy in tolerating anonymous postings from supporters, but not from critics such as Hiltzik.

". . .He makes a stab at rationalizing his selective exposure of one out of his scores of pseudonymous commenters by complaining that my comments were "acid-tongued" or "insulting." This is a curious cavil, given the overall tone of his blog, characterized by his pigeonholing of his postings about "left-wing" newspapers (among other targets) under the category "morons," his habit of accusing editors and writers of the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers of deliberately slanting news articles, and the coded racism of his rants about illegal immigration. . ."

This fooled no one. Patterico clearly stated from the beginning that sock puppetry, not anonymity or pseudonymity, was the offense. And Hiltzik implicitly admitted using sock puppets.

One other point bears noting: Patterico used a kind of rhetorical jujitsu against Hiltzik. As Hiltzik got more hysterical, Patterico toned down his rhetoric. Patterico let the facts speak for themselves.

So here we are: A Pulitizer Prize winner has turned his reputation into a steaming pile of rubble, the victim of his own hubris and unwillingness to take any of his critics seriously.

Sounds like a good media column for Tim Rutten. The question is, will Rutten write it?

Update: Thanks to Richard Graham for his eagle-eyed typo catch.


Friday, April 21, 2006

More about Chris Mooney in San Diego

Just got this additional information about science writer Chris Mooney's visit to San Diego:

. . .

In addition to the Monday, May 1 lecture and book signing, author Chris Mooney will be featured on two UCSD-TV broadcasts. Air dates below. Both programs will also be available for viewing (on-demand) from the UCSD-TV website ( at a later date.

"The Republican War on Science”
Renowned science scholar Naomi Oreskes hosts Chris Mooney, author of the best-selling book “The Republican War on Science,” a “well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists” (Scientific American)
Airs on UCSD-TV:
Wednesday, May 3 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Author Chris Mooney details what he sees as a “Republican War on Science” in this keynote address to Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties.
Airs on UCSD-TV:
Mon, May 22, 2006 8:30pm
Tue, May 23, 2006 10:30pm
Fri, May 26, 2006 7:00pm
Sun, May 28, 2006 8:30pm
Mon, May 29, 2006 9:30pm
Tue, May 30, 2006 11:30pm
*Schedule also on-line

UCSD-TV airs on:
Cox Cable Ch. 66
North County Cox Cable Ch. 69
Time Warner Cable Ch. 18
Adelphia Del Mar Ch. 68
(or) UHF (no cable) Ch. 35
For more information, program schedules and more, visit

Don't crow, educate

Wise words from Armed Liberal in light of the Hiltzik melt-down:
"Transparency, respect, an interest in a mutually beneficial dialog with one's audience. That's the future of mass media.

"Arrogance, secrecy, and a death-grip on the megaphone is the past.

"The Times will eventually embrace the former; I genuinely hope that future is now. The form of dialog without the substance - a willingness to talk and listen - is, as this episode has shown, not going to get them there.

"We, in the blogging community, can encourage them by not crowing, not attacking the Times or Hiltzik, and instead trying to encourage them down the path toward their - and our - future."

Check your facts

Patterico has the right idea for the wrong reason about what should be done with Michael Hiltzik, the confessed sock puppeteer and LA Times business columnist. I agree that there's no need to further discipline him; his humiliation and suspension of the Golden State blog should be enough.

But Patterico's reason, that his colleagues get away with such stuff all the time, is nonsense. That's an excuse to do nothing.

The Times should start with a simple commitment to accuracy and correcting erors, uh, errors. The Times should hire Brady Westwater at LA Cowboy, who has documented scores of errors over the last year. If the budget is tight, can the wretched Joel Stein.

Here's a recent example of the Times' factual inaccuracy: In yesterday’s Times, Jonah Goldberg falsely stated that “60 climatologists from around the world” wrote Canada’s prime minister that computer models of climate change cannot be trusted. Here is the letter. Many of the people on the list are not climatologists, some are not even scientists.

Yes, I know, that's in the opinion section. But as the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Goldberg is not a scientist, he's not even a science writer. He's a political columnist striving to make political points on an issue he's evidently not familiar with. All the more reason for him to do his homework. It's not as if the information isn't available. I found that letter in a few seconds on the Internet. (I checked other sources to make sure it was not some parody such as the LA Times fell for in December).

Had Goldberg just Googled the letter and checked the signers' affiliations, he wouldn't have made that mistake, one which had the effect of making his argument look stronger than it really is.

Goldberg also naively swallows the arguments of Richard Lindzen, a true scientific expert, whose dishonest handling of the evidence I've discussed earlier in this blog. While Lindzen has the scientific training, he's also a professional global warming skeptic who is much in the scientific minority. Goldberg shows no signs of having talked to some of the vast majority of Linzden's peers who disagree with him. He should read the work of science writer Chris Mooney, who neatly debunks Lindzen's disinformation. I suspect that Lindzen's fact-juggling, easily detectable by anyone conversant with the science on even a basic level, flew right over Goldberg's head.

Rehashing other peoples' work to make the desired political point may be par for the course with Goldberg, but the Times should put a stop to to this hackery.

Update: I corrected a couplel of spelling errors and added a word that I left out. But I am working here with no editor. Goldberg doesn't have that excuse.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Patterico gets results . . .
Or, the wages of deceit is exposure

Notice from the Editors

The Times has suspended Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State blog on Hiltzik admitted Thursday that he posted items on the paper’s website, and on other websites, under names other than his own. That is a violation of The Times ethics policy, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public. The policy applies to both the print and online editions of the newspaper. The Times is investigating the postings."

Thanks to ajf for posting this on Patterico.

It's San Diego State UNIVERSITY!!

Courtesy of my pal and fellow Aztecker Jamie Reno,* I found this blasphemy on the Associated Press, from reporter Larry Neumeister:

Retrial opens in 9/11 questioning case


NEW YORK -- A college student hampered investigators looking into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by lying about his associations with one of two hijackers, a prosecutor told a jury at the start of a perjury retrial.

"He lied repeatedly," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire said Wednesday of 25-year-old Osama Awadallah.

McGuire told the U.S. District Court jury that Awadallah lied just days after the 2001 attacks, when investigators were trying to learn all they could about the terrorists and "every piece of information was important, every detail mattered."

Awadallah, a San Diego State College student, denied to a grand jury probing the attacks that he had written the name of a hijacker in an exam book, but realized his mistake and fixed it five days later, his lawyer said. . .


*PS -- Jamie is San Diego correspondent for Newsweek, which unfortunately is hosted on MSNBC's Web site. (Microsoft and journalism don't mix well.)

Hiltzik's sock puppet train wreck

I've had the chance to look over both Patterico's piece on Hiltzik's use of sock puppets and Hiltzik's reply. Hugh Hewitt has accurately characterized the reply as a "non-denial."

One thing stood out in Hiltzik's reply: Not once did Hiltzik so much as mention the term "sock puppet", although Patterico mentioned it in his lead:

"Is an L.A. Times columnist leaving comments on the Internet under assumed “sock puppet” identities — identities which he pretends is someone other than himself?"

Here is Wikipedia's definition of "sock puppet"
'An Internet sock puppet (sometimes known also as a mule) is an additional account created by an existing member of an Internet community. This account allows them to pose as a completely different user, sometimes to manufacture the illusion of support in a vote or argument."

In his piece, Patterico says Hiltzik did precisely that with sock puppet "Mikekoshi":

"But the weirdest thing about Mikekoshi is the way that he and Hiltzik praise each other, and back each other up — all the while pretending that they are different people. I have already mentioned how Mikekoshi defended one of Hiltzik’s first posts on his L.A. Times blog, and how Mikekoshi argued with a critic of Hiltzik’s on L.A. Observed.

"But the admiration doesn’t just flow one way. Hiltzik has also praised Mikekoshi — when Mikekoshi was (in Hiltzik’s estimation) showing up an enemy of Hiltzik’s in an argument."

So how does Hiltzik reply to the sock puppetry charge? He changes the subject. The misdirection starts with the title of his post, "On Anonymity in Blogland"

"Some years ago, the New Yorker ran an amusing cartoon about one of the supposed virtues of the Internet, its anonymity. It showed two dogs in front a computer. One was saying to the other (I am working from memory), "On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog."

The right-wing blogger Patterico has apparently worked himself into a four-star ragegasm (Tbogg’s inimitable coinage) at the notion of anonymous or pseudonymous postings on his website by me. This is amusing, because most of the comments posted on his website are anonymous or pseudonymous. "Patterico" is itself a pseudonym for an Assistant Los Angeles District Attorney named Patrick Frey. Anonymity for commenters is a feature of his blog, as it is of mine. It’s a feature that he can withdraw from his public any time he wishes. He has chosen to do that in one case only, and we might properly ask why. The answer is that he’s ticked off that someone would disagree with him."

. . .

"But Frey doesn’t really have an issue with pseudonymous posting. If he did, he could eliminate it from his blog with the click of a mouse button. By offering anonymity, does he implicitly commit himself to honoring it? I’d say so. Otherwise, he’s telling all his site visitors and commenters that they visit and post at their peril; if he doesn’t like what they say, he’ll invade their privacy (and concoct a "principled" pretext for doing so)."

I wonder what "principled pretext" Hiltzik will offer for not answering the substance of what Patterico wrote?

Commentators on Hiltzik's blog aren't buying his failed attempt at obsfucation. As one wrote:
"Best thing to do right now is fess up completely: you are nicked, my son.

The longer you try to spin this, the better Patterico will look. Curl up into a fetal position and keep your kidneys covered..."

LA Observed's Kevin Roderick also thinks Hiltzik's reply is inadequate:

"Since he didn't address it, I wonder if we'll hear from any Times editors about whether they condone a staff columnist padding the "pro" comments on a Times blog by switching between identities. Isn't that something like a Times reporter penning a fictitious letter to the editor praising his own story? It certainly misled the readers of Hiltzik's blog."

Hiltzik's prosecution speaks

Faster than I expected, the blogger Patterico has released the evidence for his claim that Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik has posted under pseudonyms. I saw this via Blue Crab Boulevard. Thanks!

I will not comment on how strong or weak I think the evidence is until Hiltzik has had a chance to respond. Hiltzik should address the issue on his blog.

Hiltzik has responded.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Chris Mooney, author of
"Republican War on Science"
to speak in San Diego

Chris Mooney, one of the ur-bloggers at, is scheduled to appear at UCSD on May 1. Mooney has been a strong and articulate critic of conservative Republican policy on access to contraception, global warming, intelligent design creationism and other issues.

Mooney is careful with his facts, and manages to combine strong debunking skills with being civil. He is busily promoting his book on tour. Disagree with Mooney? Think up some tough questions for him and let's see how they're handled.

Here is Mooney on a recent global warming skeptic article in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion section. Mooney's reaction to it parallels mine.

Richard Lindzen, the author, is a qualified scientist trained in the relevant areas. But he is misrepresenting the arguments by the global warming "alarmists," as Lindzen calls them. That's just dishonest. It is one thing to disagree with evidence one disputes, quite another to ignore it entirely, make up something else, and then disagree with what one has concocted. Read Lindzen's piece carefully, then read Mooney. Note the difference between tropical and extratropical storms, which Lindzen glosses over. My take on Lindzen's disinformation will be published next Sunday.

Here's the details on Mooney's San Diego appearance:


May 1, 2006

UCSD Science Studies Lecture in Science and Public Policy
Science and politics writer Chris Mooney, author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed book “The Republican War on Science,” will give a talk of the same title, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., in the Natural Sciences Building Auditorium, Rm. 1205, on the UCSD campus, 9500 Gilman Drive. Book signing to follow. Information: (858) 534-4786.

Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and senior correspondent for the American Prospect. His book, recently announced as a finalist for a 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, has been described as “a landmark in contemporary political reporting” by and a “well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists” by Scientific American.

Gag me with a body thetan

Can Cruise turn his image round?

It has been a rollercoaster of a year for Tom Cruise - even by the standards of the average celebrity.

He has generated mountains of publicity, but also a media backlash as he became more outspoken about his personal views and his relationship with actress Katie Holmes.

In less than a year he has begun dating Holmes - best known for her role in teen TV drama Dawson' s Creek - announced their engagement and had a child with her. . .

Hilton's peril

Rumors floating around the Internets have said the Capitol Hilton is not renewing the lease of Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse because of liability issues about its hosting dinners for disabled veterans or some kind of anti-vet mentality. Those unconfirmed rumors have prompted outrage from right-wing veterans groups that are heatedly calling for a boycott of Hilton.

To my knowledge, no evidence has surfaced proving any anti-veteran bias or liability concern. Still, Hilton has a problem. Truth is no defense against an Internet rumor many people are eager to believe.

My blogging pals over at Blue Crab Boulevard have warned:

"Hilton does not know what is going to hit them because of this. They are ignoring bloggers at their peril."

True, although the Blue Crabbers give more credence to the tale than I. The facts are of little defense, however, once an Internet rumor takes hold.

The only "evidence"I have seen that the disabled veterans are the cause is speculation by the likes of Buzz Patterson, a veteran activist.

Patterson's email said in part:

"I've also discovered since then that the Hilton Corporation will not be renewing the lease. Apparently, there are too many "liability issues" in accommodating American heroes in wheelchairs."

Below Patterson's email in the Mudville Gazette was another making the same claim:

"Apparently Hal's support of our wounded veterans is playing a MAJOR part in Hilton's decision to shut him down. Part of it is that Hilton has refused to put in wheelchair access to the restaurant and their concern over liability if one of the amputees should be injured in the restaurant."

My response: How do you know that, gentlemen? Who told you Hilton has a "concern over liability"?

Here is another writeup, with questions answered by Hilton. Note that the hotel is offering to keep the veterans' dinner on site, which goes against the liability theory.

Yes, I could be missing something, as Gaius and the other Azure Crustaceans have told me. But sources are only as good as their information. Just ask Dan Rather.

Just a suggestion, guys: How about trying the carrot first? Get lots of traffic into Hilton, taking the hotel chain at its word that it will continue the dinners. Show your good faith in their good faith. And you still have the boycott as an option if Hilton does not follow through.

Right now, Hilton is in a lose-lose situation for ever having allowed the dinners in the first place. Is that the lesson the protesters want to send?

BTW, I plan to turn comments on in a few days, probably over the weekend. This is a baby blog, just 8 days old. I need to figure out a strategy for dealing with comments, mainly to avoid being overrun with spam.

The Reporyterye's Tayle . . .

Faux Chaucerian headline aside, former LA Times reporter Evan Maxwell has written a most engaging account on the Patterico blog of his experiences there as an ink-stained wretch of "somewhat conservative bent." It's in three parts, here, here and here.

I could never be an Ent . . .

. . . because I am too hasty. If Patterico's allegations against Michael Hiltzik (referenced below) can't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then we will both look stupid. So watch this space.

Hiltzik emailed me to say I had this all wrong, and that I was giving undue emphasis to this anonymity issue. He pointed out that many of Patterico's commentators go under pseudonyms.

Here is my reply:

Hi Michael:

As you may know from my blog posting, I said that Independent Sources probably did violate its own privacy policy, and Nofan had a right to be pissed off. I should have made this clear on my comment on Independent Sources. But man o man, if what Patterico says is true, it doesn't look good for you. One of you will have egg on his face. (And me too, if Patterico can't back up what he said).

Tell you what: If Patterico can't prove his case, I'll profusely apologize to you in comments on Independent Sources and my blog AND condemn Patterico's allegation. This shouldn't take more than a few days to resolve.

Getting back to the privacy policy: If a Web site changes it policy, and announces the change, then people are warned. The big issue here is whether the site is obeying its rules, and whether posters are adequately informed.And there is a reasonable rationale for not allowing people to post both under their own name and a pseudonym: it can be deceptive.

"Fundamentally, this whole hue and cry about anonymity or pseudonyms on blogs is just ridiculous. Most of Patterico's commenters post anonymously. Is he saying they're all me? Or just the ones who contradict him?"

There is nothing at all wrong with anonymity per se. However, I can see where it can be used for deception. John Lott and his pseudonym "Mary Rosh" is an extreme example. NOT that I am saying this is like what happened here. In general, anyone who posts under multiple identities is in danger of being found out by easily available technology such as IP logging.

For the record, I agree that cable companies and telephone companies are acting in an unholy monopolistic manner, with at least one honorable exception (Cox Communications, which seems to be adhering to net neutrality). And I have written about my disdain for AT&T/SBC's monopolistic greed.

Qualcomm's surge

Wireless giant Qualcomm has reached a market capitalization higher than that of Genentech or Amgen, the two biggest biotech companies, or the Walt Disney Company. Qualcomm's is almost $87 billion, Genentech's just under $85 billion and Amgen's just over $80 billion. Disney's market cap is slightly over $53 billion.

If I'm not mistaken, San Diego-based Qualcomm is at present the most highly valued public company in Southern California. This has happened before, but then Qualcomm's stock slid back, while that of the two biotechs rose. And to put matters into further perspective, Qualcomm is still far below its all time high, reached at the start of 2000.

Still, Qualcomm's huge jump in market value over the last year is impressive.

Hiltzik accused of sock puppetry

Michael Hiltzik, the Los Angeles Times business columnist, faces another accusation from his nemesis, the blogger Patterico. Hiltzik "regularly leaves nasty comments under assumed names," sez Patterico, the nom de blog for Patrick Frey.

Frey, a prosecutor by trade, wrote that he has evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Hiltzik is doing this.

One piece of evidence is matching IP addresses, but Patterico said there is much more.

In fairness to Hiltzik, let's hear from him on this. Hiltzik can always discuss it on his blog, where his identity will be unquestioned.

The controversy started at independent Sources, where an anonymous comment by "Nofanofcablecos" opened with this pleasantry: "Boy, you guys are stupid."

Nofan's comment was made regarding an Independent Sources posting about high cable company rates. Hiltzik had written about the subject in his latest column.

Later in the comment thread, Hiltzik was identified (correctly or incorrectly) as Nofan.

"He was clearly worked up over his spat with Paterico and took it out on the first blog that came up in his Google blog search on his name (which is how he landed here). I’ll give him credit for working late from the office on a Saturday night, I though most of those guys worked from home and emailed in their stories and maybe he is pissed off about that too. Whatever it is he can’t be too happy about Senior Administration Official’s deconstruction of his Hewitt claims. No doubt our next visit from him will be under the name “nofanofAlexa”."

Nofan replied that by trying to out an anonymous commentator, Independent Sources violated its own privacy policy. (Me speaking: it probably did violate that privacy policy. Hiltzik has a right to be pissed off).

Independent Sources replied that it did not violate the privacy policy.

"Insider discussed how he surmised nofan was Hiltzik, but did not reveal nofan’s IP addresses, ISPs, or any other information that a third party could use for nefarious purposes. As we say in the policy, we will never do that.

Nofan could be a researcher googling “Hiltzik” from the LA Times on a Saturday night. We can’t tell — although the bilious “I’m smart, anyone not on the left is stupid” arrogance is typically Hiltzikian."

It would have been better if Independent Sources simply first announced that its privacy policy does not necessarily apply to people who post under pseudonyms as well as under their real name. The policy could be -- use your real name or a pseudonym, but not both. Then such future postings could be revealed without controversy.

However, give the blog credit for admitted it erred:

"On this one I think we messed up. Nofan wasn’t promoting Hiltzik’s Monday piece on telco video; he didn’t represent himself to be someone he wasn’t; he wasn’t using multiple aliases; and his identity had no intersection with the content of his comments and so was irrelevant. IMO we should have just let the comments stand on their own."

But if Patterico is right, and he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hiltzik has repeatedly posted nasty comments under pseudonyms, not just there but on other sites, Hiltzik isn't going to look very good.

Thanks to this educational debacle, I am abandoning my plans to furiously attack a certain Web metering company under the pseudonym: "Alexaisaprivacyinvadingmonstrositythatplanstorobusofourpreciousbodilyfluids."


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