Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

Liberty enlightening the world—Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
    • Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    • With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    • Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    • A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    • Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    • Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    • Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    • The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    • “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    • With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    • Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
    • The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    • Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
    • I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Letters to a Young Journalist—Monday, October 27th, 2014

He starts his memoirish collection of advice where one should start, the beginning, with plucky young reporters, wise old sages, and the inevitably burned-out hacks.

The reporters whom I got to know over the coming weeks seemed drawn in equal parts from the past and the future. There was an old-timer named Forrest who liked to avoid being assigned obituaries by hiding under his desk. One of his contemporaries, Maggie, sometimes fell asleep at her desk, letting her wig slide off. Phil, one of the editors, chewed cigars.1 I couldn’t dismiss the whole generation, though, because it also included Jack Gill, the streetwise skeptic who covered Plainfield, and Hollis Burke, an idealist who had done a midlife turn in the Peace Corps. They had about them not only experience but wisdom.

The youngsters in the newsroom came from hip backgrounds, including disc jockeys and poets.

Sam Meddis, one of the investigative reporters, had talked his way into the paper with a bunch of poems he’d written as a Rutgers undergrad.

Freedman himself always prefers the path less traveled. If someone else is covering the same story, it’s already passé.

If you give me a choice, I will always prefer to write about someone obscure than someone famous. And, as much as I savor the company of fellow journalists at a party or in a newsroom, I feel like I’ve done something wrong if I bump into any of them reporting the same story as I am.

Ah, but journalism has gone to hell since the days before cable television, when television news was a single voice with three heads and the news media in general spoke in unison.

My own bitter joke is that I remember when the New York Post published nonfiction. By that I mean that I remember it before it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. I’m not generally a believer in the Great Man Theory of History, but in Murdoch’s case, his despotic genius has been to infect contemporary American journalism with some of its most pernicious diseases. He transformed the Post from a spunky and serious paper to a gossip-and-sensationalism rag, created the tawdry genre of tabloid television with the show A Current Affair, and bankrolled Fox News Channel, a political movement masquerading as a news organization. No individual bears more responsibility for degrading the profession I practice and adore, and I would feel no differently if Murdoch had been a demagogue of the Left rather than the Right.

Inside the Beltway: A Guide to Washington Reporting—Friday, October 24th, 2014

Unlike the next book I’m going to review, Inside the Beltway is a nuts-and-bolts guide to committing journalism—print journalism—in Washington, DC. Don Campbell covers the various basic kinds of beltway reporting and follows each section with a list of resources.

The number one concern of the new beltway journalist is making contacts. Campbell describes DC as “a company town”, but it’s a company with constantly shifting lines of authority. It is very important to build contacts before the contacts are needed: once they’re needed, everybody wants to talk to them.

The reporters who get their phone calls returned in even-numbered years are the ones who phone you and have lunch with you in the odd-numbered years.

By the time the primaries and caucuses begin in February, much of the fun of covering a presidential campaign is over for print journalists. With the arrival of television crews, campaigns become a blur of photo opportunities and inane press conferences, a battle of TV ads and expectations, upon all of which the voters have the audacity to intrude briefly every week or so.

Campbell gives equal treatment to records searches and archival research as he does to making contacts and knowing people, but,

…Washington is a town of networks within networks within networks, as noted by the Wall Street Journal’s crack investigator Edward Pound: “People are more important here because connections—who you know, whether you know the right lawyers in town, the right investigators—that’s more important in Washington than records.”

Washington is a town of egos, and most people’s egos exceed their grasp. This is true both of reporters and of candidates. “The best political reporters are people who like politicians,” but when reporters are assigned to a candidate, it naturally gives them a vested interest in that candidate. Not only do they tend to start to like the candidate, but the candidate’s success is their own success.

Evil and religion in the modern media—Friday, October 17th, 2014

Over at the Ace of Spades HQ, Ace writes about the media’s partisanship:

I’ve been saying this for a while: The press claims to be nonpartisan and to only be interested in “good stories,” no matter which party they might damage.

They can’t really make these claims in the age of Twitter. Because their reading list—the Twitter accounts they follow daily—is public information.

You’d think these guys would at least try to “make it look good” by adding in a few of the more credible, less strident twitter accounts of right-leaning writers. But no—no one bothers even to follow University of Tennessee Law School Professor Glenn Reynolds.

They don’t follow conservative ideas because conservatives are evil. When you are part of a movement, you don’t look for balance. You look for allies and enemies. Since the media is progressive, conservatives are their enemies. They are the devil, and you don’t look to the devil for reason and truth. Any compromise between good and evil is evil. Any compromise between the truth and a lie is itself a lie.

And when you are part of a movement, any alternative views are lies.

I recently read Samuel G. Freedman’s Letters to a Young Journalist. In it, he decries the loss of alternative views in the media—and also decries the existence of alternative views on the right. Despite having somewhat conservative views himself, he must, to be accepted as a journalist, share the same views as his colleagues.

Ace continues, pointing out that while members of the press don’t follow even moderate conservatives,

On the other hand, many follow the over-the-top hard-left rantings of Jay Rosen of NYU University, a media critic who frequently declares that the media must drop even the pretense of impartiality and embrace a resolutely left-liberal advocacy position, because there is no “balance” possible between Truth and Lies.

Now, Rosen is, in fact, partially correct. There is no balance between truth and lie. Facts themselves are not a compromise. But he’s also wrong: you don’t know which is fact and which is not without putting both in the scales and measuring them. To think you can know the truth without measurement is to have a religion.

As a journalist or a scientist you only get to choose which is truth and which is false after you have sifted the evidence. Only priests get to decide truth by recourse to a higher cause. Only priests—and liars.

Most Open and Transparent Lies Ever—Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Here is something I knew but didn’t remember: last year, the exchange prices were all out on October 1. This year the administration has chosen specifically to delay listing them, over a month, until after the election.

There are multiple meanings of transparent. And open, for that matter. When we were promised the most open and transparent administration ever, what we were promised were open disregard and transparent lies.

ia Writer for iOS and Mac OS—Monday, October 13th, 2014
ia Writer shopping list

Because ia Writer is available on Mac and iOS, and uses iCloud to sync, it is great for simple lists such as shopping lists.

Most of my non-fiction writing nowadays is in ia Writer.1 I first picked up ia Writer on the iPad because I needed a good program for writing blog posts on the fly. Because the same app worked on both the iPad and the iPhone, I ended up using it for simple lists, such as my grocery list. It uses iCloud to seamlessly synchronize between the two devices, as long as I come near a WiFi network on the iPad. Which, increasingly, is not a problem.

When I saw that there was a Mac OS version of ia Writer, I immediately picked that up, too; it means that I can switch immediately from iPad to iMac for serious writing, and for quick changes use the iPhone on the run. I use ia Writer on Mac OS probably more than any other app; I’m writing this review in it, for example.

When I’m done, ia Writer on iOS can export to HTML, PDF, and “formatted text” for pasting into other apps. Of course, as a Markdown app the text can be copied exactly into Editorial or any other Markdown app. And of course ia Writer on Mac OS can export to PDF just like any other app; and it can copy to HTML, which I will use to paste this into my blog software.

Combined with ThisService, ia Writer on the Mac is a great part of my writing workflow.

What keeps me using ia Writer, besides its presence on all three of my devices, is that it is designed around writing. This is especially obvious when using the iPad’s built-in keyboard. It features a bar on the top that contains automatic smart quotes and automatic parentheses. It also puts the dash, asterisk, and pound front-and-center for use in Markdown, characters normally hidden behind going to numbers and then going from numbers to special characters on the default iOS keyboard.

GU24: Government-enforced energy-wasting lamps—Thursday, October 9th, 2014
GU24 fluorescent bulb

Government technology, bringing you the marvels of yesterday today!

We just had a hallway ceiling light go out; the way it flickered before going dark let me know it was a fluorescent bulb, and I looked forward to replacing it with one of the newer, less expensive and more energy-saving LED bulbs I’ve got in the closet for just such an opportunity.

Until I pulled it out and saw the two-legged alien creature inside. I was right about the fluorescent—it’s a 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb, 60-watt. Perfect for replacing with one of the cooler 10-watt LEDs in the closet. Except, of course, that none of them will fit as a replacement.

I did a quick search on two-pronged light bulb and discovered that this is a GU24 pin-base that “ensures that lighting systems intended for high-efficiency lamps cannot be used with incandescent lamps”. This is government-driven technology change. California, for example, in 2008, basically required the use of them for “all residential remodels and new construction”.

A high efficacy lamp screwed into a low efficacy luminaire will still be considered to be a low efficacy lighting system for Title 24 projects.

It was a government plan to enforce low-energy lighting, yet, now, in the socket that has one of these, I’m probably going to have to put in a 30% more power-hungry bulb than if it had the standard screw-in socket. A bulb that will have to be thrown out sooner, and that contains mercury.

Back in 2011 BuildingGreen.com claimed that GU24 sockets were “gaining momentum”. But their bulbs remain expensive now, three years later—especially for the better LED bulbs. GU24 LED bulbs do exist, but instead of costing $4.49 from Ikea the cheapest I’ve been able to find is a $23.95 one on Amazon. So either I buy an adapter and risk extending the length of the socket too much for the fixture, or I get a $5.78 fluorescent that uses more power and will have to be thrown out sooner.

This is what happens when government enforces a technology: technology moves much faster than government, and the mandate eventually breaks what it was meant to fix.

Paying liberty forward—Monday, October 6th, 2014

“The story of freedom is long; it’s written by an author who plans millenniums in advance.”

(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.)

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