Wednesday, August 31

Doutor Gerald�

My father-in-law is the very image of the South American lawyer-intellectual-sambista. Neruda-like in his dignity, and a delightful gentleman. Click the title for more family album shots from Juquitiba where the tiny monkeys live.

Sunday, August 28

Standards & Practicalities

Our modest little publication has a standards editor--he covers things related to technical standards, like Basel II and SWIFT messaging and Web services--but his job is nothing like that of the standards editor at the New York Time, conversing in today's edition with the paper's public editor:
MR. SIEGAL I'm supposed to be the recipient of any complaints and misgivings by the staff about how we're doing and what we're doing, the person who adjudicates differences of opinion about how we should go about reporting and editing stories. By the charter that my job was given when it was set up, I have the guaranteed right to go not just to the executive editor with any misgivings I have, but directly to the publisher. On one occasion, when I thought that there was too much opinion seeping into the news pages, I went to both of them simultaneously. But that's the only time I've felt it necessary to involve the publisher. I spend time helping staff members navigate our ethics and conflict-of-interest policies, and I'm the person who interprets those rules for them. I spend, also, a fair amount of time helping the paper decide when something should be corrected. I also believe -- and I do a certain amount of possibly tedious preaching -- that we can save ourselves a lot of pain if we don't do anything that we would be embarrassed to have readers know about, that everything we do ought to be something we're willing to describe to readers and tell them about.

Tedious preaching? Sounds like my job! Not that I have to be tedious and preachy. I try not to be. I don't think I always succeed, mostly because the alternative is a lot of Socratic process that you don't have a lot of time for on deadline. All rational conversation has the potential to end with the words "because I said so."

Q. How candid do Bill Keller, the executive editor, and Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, expect you to be if you disagree with them on a standards issue? A. Well, we preach and teach pushback here. We think that pushback was one of the crucial lessons learned in the Jayson Blair episode, that people were afraid to speak up. I lead some number of new staff orientation sessions and middle-management training in which I talk fervently about pushback as a responsibility we all have. So it would be hypocritical of me not to go to them and tell them that I have misgivings about what they're doing. And I would. It's been my experience in the last two years or so, since I've had the formal title of standards editor certainly, that Bill and Jill are very conscientious about referring a question to me before they decide the question. And they bring me lots of stuff. And they may tell me which way they're inclined to go. Or once in a while they'll say, we thought that we were probably going to have to do such-and-such, but let me know if you disagree. And they seem to mean it. It's funny, the most contentious areas these days, of that kind, are in the area of business-side relations, because the perception in the building is that revenue is so stressed and the competitive field is so demanding that we can't be quite as fussy as we used to be about certain fringe things. Not the core ethical practices.

Is it just me, or does it seem strange to have both a public editor or ombudsman, who advocates for the interests of readers, and a standards editor, who applies ethical principles to day-to-day cases? I can't quite articulate why. I guess it's because the two jobs both have to do with the fine line between "giving the readers what they want" (sexy naked girls on Page 3 or Willliam Safire on Sunday?) and "serving the public interest."

I mean, professional ethics are all about seeking the truth and serving the public interest. So isn't that already part of the standards editor's job, along with preserving the paper's patented use of honorifics? The standards editor has the power to decide things, but does not have his own column, while the public editor has no power except the power of the pen? Is that it?

Well, that line of though doesn't clarify much. All I can say is that maybe it's a good thing these guys have finally actually met ...

Friday, August 26


Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Fidelity's defense and aerospace index fund: notice the point in time at which the slope of the upward trend steepens sharply. Sometime in early to mid-2003. Hmmmmm.


Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
I actually own a few hundred bucks' worth of this baby (I only invest in mutual funds and the like because I write about public companies). Even I, a stock market ignoramus, figured Bush's war would drive up the value of the military-industrial complex ...

Wednesday, August 24

Life Imitates Your Art

June Cole takes some heat for his comments on "martyred" American journalist Stephen Vincent, killed in Basra. Cole believes the art journo and blogger's death may have been an honor killing. I have one small comment to add to the Professor's explanation of this view. He writes,
Note that I did not say, as Mrs. Vincent assumes, that he was sleeping with his interpreter, Nur al-Khal. That he was romantically involved with her is obvious from his blog, where he calls her "Leyla". I don't have any interest in their personal lives per se, but this relationship may have had something to do with his death and so is fair game for mention.

The reason this explains the case is because "Layla" could well be a reference to a love story, wildly famous among Arabic and Persian speakers, called "Leyla wa(l-)Majnoon" ("Layla (Night) and the Madman"). A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, August 23

I'm in the Moog for Looooove

I will be dating myself by confessing this, but my first exposure to technology was the crazy, mixed up Moog synthesizer music of Wendy (n�e Walter) Carlos's Switched-On Bach. On Blogdex today, the death of the inventor, Robert Moog, is registering more interest than the Moral Majoritarian Pat Robertson's gaffe about Comrade Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Not many people know this about me, but I originally set out to major in music in college. Problem was the first class I took was Electronic Music Studio with John Steele Ritter, who, despite a career as Rampal's harpsichordist, managed to blow my mind very badly with the works of Cage, Riley, Reich, Stockhausen and others.

Ain t life grand?

Sunday, August 21

"A Little More Technology Editing, Please"

A Little More Technology Editing, Please, from David Card of Jupiter Research :
This graf ran toward the end of a Wall Street Journal article:
SBC's Internet-TV boxes will be smaller than a typical cable box. Cable boxes need to be big enough to store all channel programming at once, but because Internet-based boxes stream only one channel at a time, they don't need the extra space.
Um, isn't that a little like saying: "Flat panel sets aren't as good for watching team sports becauce a CRT has more room to hide all the tiny little players"? (As a kid, my dad believed there were little men inside the TV set acting out the shows.)

Thanks for that, David. It's an issue I am constant aware of in reading tech coverage in the trade press: The assumption, for example--I will spare the offending publication the embarrassment of revealing that it garbled the phraseology of the press release rather than attempting to understand the facts--that XHTML is the same thing as HTML, so that a client-side XHTML "smart page" gets described breathlessly as "putting the document on the Web using HTML." Imagine, putting documents on the Web using HTML! What an innovation! No wonder they put out a press release!

Amen. And here's to the geek-journalist with the rare capacity to work both sides of C.P. Snow's "two cultures" ...

Devil's Advocate

Waiting for the Brazilian wife to get back from the land of pizza, I find myself following the Folha de S. Paulo's ombudsman more regularly as the powers that be down there start trying to bring down the guys running the central bank and treasury in the Lula government. This week he is mad as hell that the last issue saw the letters to the editor section get cut yet again:

Os leitores perderam hoje, novamente, o Painel que deveria ser deles.

This seems to be the only guy trying to stem the tide of factoids and innuendo staining the pages of the press yellow these days:

Os leitores j� n�o ag�entam tantas den�ncias, tantas acusa��es, tantos depoimentos contradit�rios. � papel do jornal organizar o notici�rio, saber filtrar as informa��es relevantes, hierarquiz�-las, apontar a sua import�ncia, desprezar as suposi��es, ter foco. E isso n�o � tarefa para se tentar fazer apenas nas edi��es de domingo.

Readers are fed up with all these charges, accusations and contradictory testimony. The role of the newspaper is to organize the news, to know how to filter the relevant information, put it in order of importance, explain why it is important, eschew speculation, bring focus to events. And this is a task we should be trying to fulfill every day, not just in the Sunday edition.

This is role that I am always trying to fill on my job, with post-mortems and discussions over the selection and placement of stories. I won't tell tales out of school, but I can say that I have really learned to appreciate the efforts of guys like this.

For example, he points out that a huge headline screams that a party has committed an electoral crime by accepting a solicitation from an allied party for campaign finance support in exchange for supporting the first party's legislative agenda. The accompanying story does not explain what laws apply to such situations or what the legal process is. And in fact, it quotes a public prosecutor opining that it is difficult to see any criminal infraction here given the current state of campaign finance laws. So much the worse for the state of campaign finance law, of course.

Unlike the Times public editor, he is much less prone to retreat into defensive mode, and he constantly has the competition in view, as well as his own paper, which he does not spare when the competition scoops it or gets it right when his employer does not. His mission is to point out faults in logic and sins against the holy gospel of the 5W's. He wants the paper's coverage to be complete, focused, and intellectually honest, and he combs the archive to point out lapses in continuity of coverage.

In the land of the content managers who don't actually read what they produce, the one-eyed, thoroughgoing critical reader receives no honor in his own country. Hang in there, Seu Marcelo. The devil's advocate sometimes gets tarred with the same brush as his client, but the fact is that the devil licks his chops over the fall from grace of people blinded by spiritual pride and self-righteousness, who have no one to blame but themselves.

And the sea will become sert�o and the sert�o, sea. Speaking of which, I am watching Meet the Press and just heard a senator from the government party say that he's confident that Iraq is going well because he has "faith" in the "magic of democracy." Call me a liberal elitist if you will--I'm really more of a libertarian--but I cringe to think my country is being run by magical thinkers.

I rant. When I'm blogging, I reserve that right!

Headline of the Week

Robert's Rules of Decorum wins headline of the week just because I like the fact that somebody else out there knows what "decorum" means, and thinks enough of me to assume I am sufficiently cultured to get the reference. Lately, I am feeling like I am lost in the land of the Yahoos.
Last week, researchers found several memos from the summer and fall of 1984 in which future Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, working as a Reagan White House lawyer, argued against sending presidential thank-you notes to Michael Jackson for his charitable works. But it turns out this was just the beginning of what appears to be the young lawyer's concerns about the star. Three new memos uncovered by Post reporters show Roberts described Jackson as "androgynous," "mono-gloved" and a balladeer of illegitimacy. On April 30, 1984, Roberts wrote to oppose a presidential award that was to have been given to Jackson for his efforts against drunk driving. Roberts particularly objected to award wording that described Jackson as an "outstanding example" for American youth. Roberts wrote: "If one wants the youth of America and the world sashaying around in garish sequined costumes, hair dripping with pomade, body shot full of female hormones to prevent voice change, mono-gloved, well, then, I suppose 'Michael,' as he is affectionately known in the trade, is in fact a good example. Quite apart from the problem of appearing to endorse Jackson's androgynous life style, a Presidential award would be perceived as a shallow effort by the President to share in the constant publicity surrounding Jackson. . . . The whole episode would, in my view, be demeaning to the President."

I have not followed the whole political brouhaha over this fellow--the Wikipedia article is pretty informative--but these notes paint a picture of a fellow with his head squarely on his shoulders. And he was, IMHO, on the right side of U.S. v. Microsoft. C'mon, lefties, give in! They're so scared of you that they decided to nominate somebody sane!

Unlike Bill Frist. It is hard to believe that the country that put the first guy on the moon has leaders that seriously think we ought to give people incentives not to have their kids taught the scientific method. Jebus. There are some pretty decent theological arguments for reconciling faith and reason, you know. Avail yourself of them! Coupled with that, we're making it harder for those heathen Hindus to come over here and write our software--those elephant-worshipping heathens at least seem to realize that, given that the supreme powers of the universe are unfathomable, you might at least make the best of a perplexing situation, given the tool's you've been given--and you start getting this sinking feeling, as if, before you die, you�ll live to see this great country of ours demoted from the United States to the Aggregated Squalid Shantytowns, Smoking Wastelands, and Armed, Gated Plutocratic Oases of America.

Cacha�a of the week: Nega Ful�, made in Novo Friburgo, RJ.

Friday, August 19

Blogs: the New Spam

Media Bistro has this job listing:

Gekko Blogs, LLC is the creative agency for the blogosphere. Our cool clients believe that a top-notch blog is a better way to relate to the public than old-school direct mail, spam, corporate websites, print advertisements, etc. We're looking someone with the skills to write and edit some of the world's finest blogs. That means scouring RSS feeds, magazines, books, and the web; having an editor's eye for what's newsworthy and appropriate; discovering a writer's voice that oozes passion, integrity, and professionalism without being formal, stuffy, or fluffy; adhering to high professional standards; building relationships with other bloggers; and delivering huge audiences to our clients--who, we think, deserve the attention. Dream candidates have journalism degrees, strong clips and references, and promising professional journalism careers. Having a blog you're proud of is key, too. Candidates lacking some of those things are welcome to try to knock our socks off.

Thursday, August 18

Ugly Implications

Today's top performing industry: Cigarettes.

I'm embarrassed today for my colleagues at the American Society of Business Publish Editors, on account of this "inspiring story" in the current newsletter about the "editor of the embattled nation�s [Iraq's] first trade magazine." Mr. Abid, who is "director-general of private-sector development for the Iraqi Ministry of Trade," "launched his country's first business-to-business magazine in early 2004 to spur private investment and encourage public debate on the country's shift twoard a free-market economy."

Doesn't the notion of a "business-to-business" magazine published by a government official--in order, writes Ms. Quigley of Realtor Magazine Online, to "dispel Iraqis' fears about foreign investment and privatization"--strike you as sort of semantically incoherent?

I always thought that the trade press was made up of independent journalists who, under the "service journalism" paradigm nominally endorsed and celebrated by the ASPBE itself, provide business readers with specialized reporting, under the same ethical guidelines as any journalist, mass-media or trade-press. In Mr. Adin's magazine, the contributors are "a range of people involved in government, business, or trade." Where's the independence in that?

Remember how hard when we protested when it turned out our own government was producing "news reports" promoting its policies? What is the difference here?

Not that there is anything wrong with a government promoting the economic well-being of its nation. More power to Mr. Adin. But this is public relations, not journalism.

And a difficult job of public relations, at that. Mr. Abid, the guest of honor at our recent conference, is quoted as saying,

Many Iraqis have been taught to believe foreigners will exploit them, which makes them especially resistant to foreign investment.

I have read a great deal, in my spare time, as an amateur Mideast buff (I read Arabic well) about the course of Iraqi reconstruction and the "economic shock therapy" approach taken by Ambassador Bremer during his time at the Coalition Provisional Authority. Upon his hasty departure from the country, in fact, Az-Zamman--by no means an anti-American, anti-business newspaper, as Juan Cole points out--described Bremer as second only to Saddam Hussein in the entire history of Uruk, going back to Hammurabi, as a thieving bastard. I think its fair to say that experience has taught Iraqis to believe that foreigners will exploit them. The nation produces less electricity now than before the war. State-run industries have been stripped of employees and capital goods as they await leasing to foreigner investors as shell corporations.

What exactly is the difference between Mr. Adin and the Iraqi minister of information that gave the world a belly-laugh when the U.S. tanks he denied were entering Baghdad started rolling by as he was talking? I can't see any. The free market economy is this case looks a lot like a Hobbesian state of nature, with suicide bombers and enough unsecured ammunition floating around the countryside to keep the roadside bombers going for decades. What does it have to offer the people of Iraq? Full unemployment and fewer hours of electricity per day, even, than Saddam was putting out after a decade of bombing attacks on the country's infrastructure.

You hear a lot of complaints from the noise machine that the press does not report enough of the good news out of Iraq. That's partly because 56 of them who ventured outside the Green Zone to report on what is really happening never made it back.

But let's stick to the subject, shall we? If Minister Abid is a journalist, I'm a monkey's uncle. And I would have to say the same thing for Ms. Quigley. What use are you to your readers if you just rewrite the press release? I like to think that people rely on the trade press, including the modest little tabloid I work for, to provide a little independent reality-testing, not shill for the suppliers. The trade press pays better because specialized publications with small circulation cost more, a lot more. Have we really arrived at the conclusion that our readers will pay us more to lie to them? Maybe there are business leaders of whom that is true, but you don't want to bet your pension money on their capacity to confront and transform reality in valuable ways.

How would you like to be talked into investing in a cement factory in Tikrit and then arrive to find your workforce is moonlighting for the insurgency? It�s called due diligence; our job is supposed to be to help you business folks cut to the chase. The bottom line here: The idea that free markets are going to spring up in Iraq without law and order is a massive joke. And if you don't believe me, I've great a great deal on a bridge, maybe I can get a writeup in the next edition of Realtor Magazine Online ...

Wednesday, August 17

Hipness Factor 10

Hot off the wires, the debut of Leader in Financial Podcasts. Probably the only financial podcast portal to date, too, but we will let that pass. Looks kind of fun.

Tuesday, August 16

Comparative Pizza

Officer Says Military Blocked Sharing of Files on Terrorists, writes the New York Times.
The account from Colonel Shaffer, a reservist who is also working part-time for the Pentagon, corroborates much of the information that the Sept. 11 commission has acknowledged it received about Able Danger last July from a Navy captain who was also involved with the program but whose name has not been made public. In a statement issued last week, the leaders of the commission said the panel had concluded that the intelligence program "did not turn out to be historically significant." The statement said that while the commission did learn about Able Danger in 2003 and immediately requested Pentagon files about it, none of the documents turned over by the Defense Department referred to Mr. Atta or any of the other hijackers.

What a nice way to get back into a New York state of mind after returning from Brazil.

In Brazil, I witnessed an incredibly inept and futile corruption investigation being played out in the media, and saw quite clearly, as the Brazilians say, that it would all end in "pizza"--the adversarial parties would end up going out for pizza afterwards to celebrate preserving the status quo from which they all benefit, after all.

Now I find that the 9/11 Commission was pretty much the same story.

A story full of sound and fury, signifying pizza.

Okay, now I'm mad as hell, have too much to do, and worry about religious fanatics bombing the neighborhood where I work again. Yeah, baby, I'm in a New York state of mind!

O Bicho L�

Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
That's me near our house in the Vila Beatriz (or Sumarezinho) district of Sampa during our recent vacation in Brazil. My hobby is photographing graffiti, but I didn't get to do as much as I hoped this trip.

Brazil in a Nutshell

Brazil in a Nutshell
Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
I am back from Brazil, though Neuza is staying on for a couple of weeks to put things in order down there. This photo, shot by Neuza from the Ladeira da Misercordia in Olinda, along the traditional Carnaval parade route, seems to sum it all up somehow. How so? Can't say, exactly. That's Recife off in the distance. I managed to come back with a horrible cold or flu. Those cheap cattle-car intercontinental flights with their wretched teaming masses are hell on earth.