Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Real Problems of the Schools

Education Myths

By Jamie September 28, 2005

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Jay P. Greene, the head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of the new book Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why It Isn't So.

FP: Jay Greene, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Greene: Thank you for inviting me.

FP: What inspired you to write this book?

Greene: When talking with people about education policy, from reporters to policymakers to friends at parties, I found that they would often assert as known fact claims that I believed were completely at odds with the evidence. Before being able to consider education reform seriously in these conversations I would first have to clear away the clutter of these education myths. After doing this over and over it struck me that it might be useful to have a book that tried to dispel these often-repeated but unsupported claims. The book could be a handbook for reformers, providing them with the evidence and arguments they need to get beyond myths and get to real solutions.

FP: Tell us some of the main myths advanced by special interest groups dominating public education.

Greene: The most common myth -- and probably the most inconsistent with the evidence – is the Money Myth. The Money Myth is the claim that schools are currently horribly under-funded and would perform significantly better if only we gave them more money. When people repeat this myth they usually have little idea of how much we already spend on schools nor do they have a clear understanding of how much we have increased spending over the last several decades with virtually no improvement in school quality to show for it. We are now spending almost $10,000 per pupil in public K-12 schools each year. That is almost $500 billion, which is more than we spend on national defense – even more than the entire GDP of Russia converted into US dollars. And the amount we spend per student has doubled over the last three decades, adjusted for inflation.

So, we are spending a great deal of money each year on public education, we’ve been increasing that spending for several decades, and yet student achievement has been stagnant. The performance of 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is the Department of Education’s best long-term measure of student achievement, shows that math and reading scores are no different than they were during the Nixon Administration. Science scores have actually slipped a little as have high school graduation rates. If schools just need more money to do their job well, then we should have seen some benefits from all of this increasing spending. Clearly schools need stronger incentives to use their money more effectively. Without stronger incentives there is little reason to think that the next doubling of per pupil spending will produce anything different than the last doubling.

FP: How do advocates for more spending respond to these facts?

Greene: Proponents of the Money Myth have advanced a variety of additional myths to rescue it. They claim that spending hasn’t really increased very much because increases have been diverted into special education -- the Special Ed Myth. They claim that schools can hardly be expected to show improvement given how increasingly disadvantaged students are – the Myth of Helplessness. Or they argue that spending increases would produce significant improvement if we were to use them to reduce class size (the Class Size Myth), hire more certified teachers (the Certification Myth), or raise the salaries for horribly underpaid teachers (the Teacher Pay Myth). Each one of these claims is inconsistent with the evidence and the book devotes a chapter to debunking each one.

FP: You mentioned that to improve student achievement schools need stronger incentives to use their money more effectively…what’s wrong with incentives in education?

Greene: Right now the amount of resources that most public schools receive has nothing to do with how well they improve student learning. By detaching revenues from performance we have undermined the incentives that schools and educators have to perform better. Perversely, in some cases, the worse that schools do the stronger their argument is to receive additional funding. New York City schools, for example, are set to receive a huge court-ordered increase in spending because their students are not receiving an “adequate” education. While there are many people of goodwill in education who work hard because they care about kids, we can’t develop an effective education system based solely on goodwill. There isn’t enough goodwill to go around and even well-intentioned people tend to work harder and better when they are provided with incentives to do so.

FP: How can we strengthen those incentives?

Greene: There are two broad reform strategies that show promise – accountability and choice. Accountability systems present schools and educators with rewards or sanctions based on their performance. Schools and educators that succeed may be given praise or additional resources while schools that fall short may be threatened with the loss of resources, reorganization, or public embarrassment. There are chapters in the book devoted to dispelling the myths that accountability systems just produce teaching to the test, cheating, or manipulation of results (the High Stakes Myth), that accountability systems push more students to dropout of school (the Push-Out Myth), and that implementing accountability systems such as the federal No Child Left Behind program requires huge increases in spending (the Accountability Burden Myth).

Expanding school choice strengthens the incentives of schools and educators to perform better by making schools have to attract and retain students and the resources those students generate. Simply assigning students to schools based on where they live undermines incentives by making those students a captured clientele (unless they are wealthy enough to move to an area with desired schools or purchase a private school tuition). Public schools receive the same per pupil dollars whether they serve students well or poorly, which increases the odds that they will be served poorly. The book rebuts the Inconclusive Research Myth, that says that the evidence is unclear on whether vouchers improve the academic performance of students who use them to attend a private school; the Exeter Myth, that says that private schools only do better because they have more money and are able to select better students; the Draining Myth, that says that expanding school choice harms public schools by draining them of talent and resources; the Disabled Need Not Apply Myth, that says that private schools don’t serve disabled students; and the Democratic Values and Segregation Myths, that say that private schools promote segregation and undermine civic values. As it turns out, none of these commonly repeated claims about school choice is supported by the evidence.

FP: Who are the special interest groups promoting these myths and why are the myths so prevalent?

Greene: Most of us feel very familiar with schools. We all spent many years in schools. We may have sent our own children through school. Many of us have even worked in schools. So, we are tempted to think that our direct experiences provide us with all of the evidence we need about education policy. Unfortunately, these direct experiences are necessarily limited, distorted by our own involvement, and so not sufficient for making education policy. We have to look at the systematic evidence, not just at our own experiences. In addition, education policy is emotionally charged because it involves the well-being of children. We might be reluctant to question the need for increased spending or raising teacher pay because we would rather not be viewed as being stingy when it comes to children. The emotional nature of education policy discussions may cloud our reasoning and make us vulnerable to myths.

But the most important reason why we have so many myths about education is that there are special interest groups promoting them. Teachers unions, school board associations, and education bureaucracies will use evidence to advance their agenda if they can but will also use myths if they must. They are relatively indifferent to whether an argument is supported by evidence or is a myth when trying to maximize their financial interests. This makes them no worse and no better than any other interest group. But we are particularly vulnerable to education special interest groups because they play upon our emotions to fool us into seeing them as advocates for the well being of children rather than as normal interest groups. When we hear sugar producers make their case for increasing sugar price supports we take their arguments with a large grain of sugar and closely scrutinize whether their claims are supported by evidence or just myths. But with education interest groups our defenses are down. Just because groups represent teachers or schools doesn’t mean that they are primarily concerned with the needs of children. We need to treat these groups as normal interest groups and only support their claims after reviewing the evidence.

FP: Mr. Greene, thank you for joining us today.

Greene: It was a pleasure.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Soviet Studies. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s new book Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of the new book The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Crucify Her!

In twenty years, if that’s all they’ve got on this person, they really have to be pulling out all the stops to persecute her. I wonder what the Democrats have on the editors of the Star-Bulletin?

Lingle’s pick has criminal record
State Rep. Bev Harbin was found guilty of passing bad checks

By Richard Borreca

The record of Harbin's conviction was found by searching the public file of the Criminal Justice Data Center, which is administered by the attorney general.

According to the data center record, Harbin was found guilty of three counts of "negotiating a worthless instrument." On Oct. 5, 1987, Harbin was given a suspended six-month sentence, but could have faced up to a year in jail. The three counts were considered misdemeanors, which would not prevent her from serving in the Legislature.

"The media circus that began with my appointment to the vacant seat in the 28th Representative District seems to be sustaining its momentum," she wrote. "My inclination is to ignore it and address the issues that face the district."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Future of the Newspaper

Korean online newspaper enlists army of 'citizen reporters' Multitudes log on daily to read and respond to stories - Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff WriterSunday, September 18, 2005

Seoul -- The staff at OhmyNews fills only two floors of a small office building in downtown Seoul, but it edits stories from thousands of "citizen reporters" across South Korea.

The 150 or so stories posted on the site each day range from breaking news about huge protests to sophisticated political analysis, from hit pieces to tales of the daily ups and downs of people who feel ignored by established media.

OhmyNews readers can offer instant feedback online and -- if they really like a piece -- monetary tips. Readers poured nearly 30 million won ($30,000) into columnist Kim Young Ok's account in increments of $10 or less in one week after he criticized the constitutional court of South Korea last year.

"They're like street musicians or performers," Jean Min, director of the international news division, said of the citizen reporters.

OhmyNews is much more than a soapbox, though. It is a cross between an online news site and a sophisticated blog. Koreans flock to it. The site gets 1.7 million to 2 million page views each day, a number that shot up to 25 million during the December 2002 presidential election.

When reformer Roh Moo Hyun won the tight presidential race, he granted his first domestic interview to OhmyNews -- a slap to the conservative corporate daily papers that supported his rival.

The privately held Web site has been profitable since September 2003 and is projected to pull in $10 million this year, Min said. By contrast, in San Francisco pulled in $6.6 million in fiscal year 2005 and had 1.1 million average daily page views in July, according to market research firm comScore Media Metrix. The DailyKos, a popular liberal blog written in Berkeley, had 96,774 average daily page views, and conservative blog Instapundit had 32,258 in July.

The success of OhmyNews can be attributed in part to the high level of public engagement in this heavily wired, young democracy, where less than two decades have passed since military rule ended. Street protests are common, and citizens are eager to speak out online.

With the motto "every citizen is a reporter," 5-year-old OhmyNews has engaged its audience in ways that U.S. print and television news outlets, faced with a steep decline in readers and viewers, only dream of.

The site has a cultlike following, among both writers thrilled to see their views spread widely and readers who say they like getting an uncensored, if uneven, version of the news.

"It is composed of so many citizens. It's more free than other journals," said Kim Won Joong, 24, a journalism student at Chunnam University in Daejeon, in central South Korea. "But the opinions are scattered all over."

The site began an English-language edition in May, at, and now has its sights set overseas. Several hundred citizen reporters have already signed up. So far, about 36 percent of English-language edition readers are from North America, 38.5 percent from Europe, and 16.7 percent from Asia outside South Korea.

For publicity, the company relies on stories in other media, word-of-mouth and the efforts of its reporters, many of whom are active bloggers, Min said.

"Our readers don't simply sit there and read. They interrogate each other," Min said during a slick hourlong presentation at the company's headquarters. One of his charts called OhmyNews a "post-modern 'we media' versus traditional 'elite media.' "

"People want to share their experience. It's more fun than simply watching television," Min said.

Min and founder Oh Yeon Ho, a former alternative magazine editor and reporter, have traveled to Europe, Japan and North America for the past two years to talk about citizen journalism and OhmyNews' business model.

"So here we hoist our flag and declare war on the old media system. ... We are overthrowing the basic principles of news reporting, which for many years has been taken for granted by many of the world's newspapers," declares one of the company's brochures.

Similar to newspapers, about 70 percent of OhmyNews' revenue is from ad sales. But instead of the remainder going to subscriptions, as at newspapers, Min said OhmyNews gets 20 percent of its revenue from syndication sales, and just 10 percent from paid subscriptions for premium content.

In South Korea, OhmyNews has fast gained prominence and popularity, though critics say its reporting can be biased.

OhmyNews uses emotional appeals rather than acting as a neutral forum for citizens, media observers say. Last year, the site began a reader drive to help fund the production of an encyclopedia of people who collaborated with the Japanese under colonial rule, after a columnist suggested the fundraising.

During huge protests against the impeachment of President Roh last year, 38 OhmyNews reporters fanned out into the streets and sent in photos, video and copy by various wireless connections.

The professional staff of 54 copy editors, editors and reporters -- which OhmyNews calls its "news guerrilla desk" -- reject about one-third of submissions. They fact-check and vet everything they post. For example, OhmyNews contacted Samsung for comment before publishing a Samsung worker's expose of how employees were forced to spend months of company time planning the vacation to Germany of the electronics company's chairman, Lee Kun Hee. It even considered sending a staff reporter to Berlin.

Just four lawsuits have been filed against OhmyNews over articles written by its staff reporters. None of the disputes has been resolved.
Citizen reporters receive $2 to $20 for each story OhmyNews uses, based on its merit. About 76 percent of the citizen reporters are men. Twenty percent are college students, 6 percent are small business owners, and 73 percent are 20 to 39 years old.

Min said reader response helps OhmyNews reporters improve over time. More than 70 staff and citizen reporters have landed book deals since the site opened, he said.

Writer Kim Hye Won thanked her online critics for making her a better writer, even though she considered quitting after reading their harsh comments.

"I feel my limitations ... compared to professional reporters who specialize in particular areas or have accumulated tons of experience. I heard that my articles lack breadth and depth," she said in a speech at a conference of citizen reporters in June sponsored by OhmyNews.

Harry Lee, an editor in chief of Korea Press International, an independent news service in Washington, D.C., who freelances for the English-language edition of OhmyNews, describes the site as the "Hyde Park of journalism."

"(It's) a forum where all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas and ideologies participate in all kinds of subjects."

This story has been corrected since it appeared in print editions.

E-mail Vanessa Hua at

Friday, September 23, 2005

Maybe They Should All Be Portuguese

Lingle appointee will not heed calls to step down

Harbin says criticism over her party switch and unpaid taxes is mudslinging "politics"

By Jaymes Song
Associated Press

Newly sworn-in state Rep. Beverly Wolff Harbin said yesterday that she was committed to serving out her term, despite intense public scrutiny into her personal finances and calls from her own party to step down.

Democrats say she changed parties to qualify for the appointment

Harbin was sworn in Monday after Gov. Linda Lingle appointed her to succeed Kenneth Hiraki, who resigned to become a lobbyist for Hawaiian Telcom. The Republican governor was required to appoint a Democrat to replace Hiraki, because he was a Democrat. But the Democratic Party has accused Lingle of handpicking one of her own.

Harbin, whose term expires in November 2006, said she has deep roots as a Democrat and accused the party of being threatened by her desire to change the "status quo."

"Am I surprised? Of course, not. Anybody that has any type of intelligence or knowledge and any type of passion for our state is considered a threat to the imploding old-boy network," she said.

Lingle chose Harbin over four candidates recommended by the Democratic Party. She said Harbin was selected because of her extensive small-business background and because she has worked, lived and been active in the 28th House District (Kakaako, downtown).

Harbin explained that she ran as a Republican more than two decades ago to oppose a Kalanianaole Highway expansion project that was supported by a Democrat.

Calls to resign "made me mad," she said. "I'm a three-generation Portuguese person, and you know what? I don't sit down and take crap from anybody," she said.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hawaii’s Greatest Problem

About every two weeks or so, the newspapers will run commentary by their anointed experts, that Hawaii is the most geographically isolated archipelago, and so all the rules of common sense and sensibility don’t apply here. In fact, the previous governor saw it as his chief duty to discredit all outside information sources as knowing nothing because they were not born, raised and educated exclusively in Hawaii, where the rules of Paradise prevail.

These outrageous assertions were dutifully reported in the newspapers as “fact,” of which the editor’s newspapers would vouchsafe that that was in fact true in their editorials and the careful selection of supportive letters to the editor. The president of both the teachers unions and university professors, would volunteer that the reason the University was not as esteemed as Harvard, was that the salaries were not as generous as Harvard’s, and that the University could not expect to field the best football team in the country unless the coach was the most highly-paid in the nation. In this world far from the realities of everywhere else, the effect was the cause -- and everything else was backwards.

Thus we have the newly implemented gas caps with discussions already underway that the solutions to the problems they've created, is more gas caps at every level -- to go along with our world-famous, state of the art recycling program, still awaiting that "tweak" to make it an overwhelming success. Of course there is no shortage of gas as long as prices go higher. And not only are prices higher, but we now have lines, when there were no lines before.

What will they think up next? A rail system connecting all the islands? That would certainly create a lot of high paying government jobs that would keep multiplying every year -- and of course, the problem would get worse.

For a moment, let’s suspend realities in Hawaii and pretend for just a moment, that good ideas are the best ideas.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Real Significance of the Information Revolution

You won’t read about it in the newspapers, or learn about it in the schools and universities, because the Information Revolution we do hear about, is not just the increasing availability of clever new gadgets -- but is the overthrow of the old hierarchy that controlled the availability and flow of information. Yet the guardians of the old status quo are still trying to put the toothpaste back into the tubes -- pretending that nothing much has changed, and when one gets on the Internet, he’d better be careful because there won’t be a trusted friend at the newspaper (school, university) to guide them unfailingly through the treacherous world of abundant information.

The rules have changed -- and now the first will be last. They will be last not because they can’t adapt to the new -- but because vested in the old world order, they will defend it to the last -- while those who never participated before because of the barriers to entry, will be the first adaptors because they now have a way that was not available before. They have no old habits to unlearn. Thus they go straight to the head of the class.

The people having the most difficulty embracing the new world order will be those who were the greatest beneficiaries of the old world order. They don’t like it when half way through the game they thought would be forever, suddenly all the rules are changed, and all their treasures turn to dust. But more likely than not, everything looks the same but all the perceptions, assumptions and relationships have changed. It’s like the fabled neutron bomb -- all the buildings are left standing, but all the people are dead. That’s a totally different way of seeing the world.

But that’s precisely the kind of changes that have taken place. Everybody and everything looks the same -- but all the relationships have been altered. The powerful are now the weak; the weak know no limitations. But even while the doors have been unlocked, it takes a while for the prisoners to realize that they are actually free -- and what to do with that freedom is something that does not come naturally, without practice.

So while the electronic forums are only in their infancy, the leading edge has already eclipsed the old mass media in its penetration and participation of those who are most creative and innovative in society -- who have always been the leading edge of changing culture and society. The older forms cannot evolve any further even if they wanted to because the organization is rooted in the premises of an earlier time, technologies and relationships -- that can no longer be sustained by the new realities. Chief among them is that uncompromisingly, only the best survives.

Yet it is not a heartless world -- because everybody gets to play, and nobody is shut out by the self-appointed few who determine who can play and who can’t -- arbitrarily. Only individuals can make that decision for themselves -- and not those claiming to be acting in everybody’s best interest, because they know what is best. That is the authoritarian world and arbitrary rule Hawaii is emerging from.

It doesn’t happen overnight with just a new administration in place. It has to be a sustainable culture of feeling everybody can participate in the new world order. “Yes, you can.”

Friday, September 16, 2005

Is the Mass Solution the Best Solution?

The major difference between the Democrats and Republicans in Hawaii seems to be that Democrats feel the need in Hawaii is for MORE government, while the Republicans think the need is for BETTER government -- which requires less government. Because of that difference, the Democrats have a fondness for the mass solution -- favored by the mass media, mass education, mass transportation interests, and any other group favoring the mass orientation rather than individual initiatives in the solving of most problems. That is to say, they feel that government should be the problem-solver of last resort -- and not the preferred, or only choice. The MASS orientation begins as the “preferred alternative,” that in time, has a nasty habit of becoming the only "choice" -- as in mass education, mass transportation, mass media, etc.

The latest episode of such a “discussion,” played out at the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization’s forum in which there was no provision for an effective input of public interest, but the group was ostensibly gathered to go through the motions of seeming to be a legitimate process of a public forum approving their already preconceived ideas of what they wanted to do -- which was never directly said, but implied the rail solution as the best choice. After providing their well-prepared “options,” any audience questions or discussion could be shouted to the moderator, who would summarize them to the audience on the microphone she would not lend to the public speakers.

That led many to realize very early on, that the whole affair was a joke -- and left, shaking their heads and muttering, “And these are the people who want to design a mass transit system for us -- when they can’t even run an effective meeting.” People were heavily encouraged to submit their ideas on a form provided and place them in a secretive ballot box before they left. Of course we could take the questionnaires home and provide them more reflective and thoughtful answers, but our speedy responses were encouraged.

They could do BETTER if they wanted to.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mediacracy: How the Mediocre Became the Ideal

Hopefully, there comes a time in everybody’s life at which they outgrow their youthful conditioning, and realize that the objective of their lives is not to reflexively compete with everybody else for first place in everything -- and that it is all right simply to be the best at being the person one is, at which everybody can be a world champion at. That’s why the wisest of the wise have advised throughout the ages, “Know yourself,” because in doing so, one will be a highly-motivated expert of his own life and times.

Unfortunately, contemporary education teaches us that personal experience is not important but that generalizations are more valid than one’s own, personal experience, which causes a lot of problems for those who fall out of the range of “average” in anything. On some scale, everyone is exceptional in some, if not many aspects -- which was virtually an obscure but in the long-run, most valuable observation of the time -- made by a biochemist who noted the tremendous variability among people to the extent that it was proper to speak of those differences not in terms of percents, but folds. That is to say, that what one person might find annoying and another not notice at all, there might be one exceptional individual, who might actually die from that exposure.

This was in a time in which researchers quite confidently and smugly pronounced, “There is no intolerance for dairy products -- or aspirin.” And then for that matter, the fitness levels of everyone could be definitively measured by their performance on a treadmill stress test. It didn’t seem to bother the developers of such an idea that most world-class athletes (which should be a standard of something), almost always fell out of the range of normal -- because they were exceptional. But in the new social engineering, the average became the normal, and then the ideal. Thus the mediocre became the standard -- rather than the exceptional and extraordinary.

So while researchers were determining conclusively what was the average, they showed little interest in what produced the exceptional, which might have been a more valuable, significant finding. The mass media, guardians of popular culture, promoted the average as the ideal, into the tyranny of the consensus, majority, mob rule. What the average person thought, was more important than what the best ideas were. In every case, the best ideas should submit to the most popular notions -- whether they were valid or not. It was truth by whomever could sell their idea the best, and control the thinking of the majority, of which they found themselves conveniently in control. It was a temptation too great not to abuse.

The popular media became too powerful -- and that became the seeds of its own destruction, arrogance and abuse. It never learned to handle power responsibly -- which is always fatal. That may be one of the great lessons in disciplining oneself for athletic participation -- that one learns about his own power, and can control it. Very powerful individuals are especially proud of their “gentle touch” -- their delicate control of prodigious power and skill. A weakling will think that a show of brute force, intimidation, bullying is all that is required to appear to be powerful.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sound like anybody we know?


DEMOPATHS:Demopaths are people who use democratic language and invoke human rights only when it serves their interests, and not when it calls for self-criticism or self-restraint. Demopaths demand stringent levels of human “rights” but do not apply these basic standards for the “other” to their own behavior. The most lethal demopaths use democratic rights to destroy democracy.

Demopaths differ from civil-society free-riders; the latter enjoy more rights than they grant to others simply out of selfishness or laziness. Demopaths are fundamentally hostile to granting others’ rights, and secretly despise the values of civil society (which demands that they tolerate and respect others). Instead of coming along for the ride, they want to sink the boat.

Demopaths use the jargon of civil society and human rights to convince their targets. Through this progressive discourse, demopaths exploit on people eager to believe that civic values can resolve the problem. Sometimes demopaths are completely hostile to the cultures in which they live, and manipulate human rights as a Trojan horse to enter the city and sack it.

Demopathy is a zero-sum to negative-sum game. It pursues the destruction of the system (demopaths win and reestablish plunder-or-be-plundered aristocracy); in the process, it destroys the system’s very capacity to produce what made it attractive to plunder in the first place. Demopaths do not view opponents as members of a positive-sum collective, but as enemies to be destroyed. In its most virulent stages, demopathy is violently paranoid.


- Radical imbalance between their insistence on asserting their own rights, and their lack of interest in defending the rights of others. - Moral rhetoric expressing great indignation when appealing for personal rights.- Tendency to tell demonizing tales of the enemies (of “human rights”)- Tendency to think in conspiratorial terms (they are conspirators themselves), and to project ill will onto opponents/enemies.- Do minimal (required) work protecting the rights of others, especially opponents/enemies.

A demopathic organization would protest the media portraying its ethnic/religious affiliates as “terrorists” (inadmissible negative stereotyping), but would not protest the terrorist acts perpetrated by members of their ethnic/religious group (permissible wanton murder of civilians).

As long as civil society is healthy, demopaths stay hidden. Ever since the bombings in London, the number of demopaths revealed by the investigative energy of its own reporters or the brazenness of the demopaths themselves has risen substantially. Since most cases of demopathy must be approached carefully without pre-judging the evidence, we prefer to use these examples and leave the larger questions to each individual.

Bad Joke?

According to one version, the definition of chutzpah is when someone kills their parents and pleads to the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. The joking definition of a demopath, then might be the foreigner who applies for a loan from the agricultural department in a democratic country in order to buy a crop duster with outsized tanks. Although his intention is to spray poison on the local population, when his loan is refused because he is a foreigner with no obvious need for a crop duster, he accuses the agency of racist xenophobia. Is this an urban legend?


Demopaths believe that all interaction between people works according to the principle “rule or be ruled” – the dominating imperative. In order for me to prevent you from dominating me, I must dominate you first. This approach to others normally produces prime divider societies where the elite (aristocracy) use their power to dominate the masses. But civil society clips the wings of those who would use force to dominate others. In such conditions, people who refuse to give up the dominating imperative go underground and become demopaths, using all the freedom that civil societies offer to work for their destruction. Until recently, the attitude of civil societies has been to grandfather demopathic tendencies, assuming that the benefits of civic abundance will win over all but the most mean-spirited player.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What's Going On?

I Webbed the news today — oh boy!
By Merrill Brown

There's a dramatic revolution taking place in the news business today and it isn't about TV-anchor changes, scandals at storied newspapers or even the fierce tensions between government and the press.

The future course of news, the basic assumptions about how we consume news and information and make decisions in a democratic society, are being altered, perhaps irrevocably, by technologically savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways.

While the news business is in the news more than industry leaders might prefer, the most important issue they face revolves around the news habits of today's news consumers, and, in particular, those of young people.

There's an inescapable conclusion to be drawn from research I completed earlier this year for the Carnegie Corp. of New York about the news habits of 18- to 34-year-olds. In short, the future of the U.S. news industry is seriously threatened by the seemingly irrevocable move by young people away from traditional sources of news.

Through Internet portal sites, handheld devices, blogs and instant messaging, people are accessing and processing information in ways that challenge the historic function of the news business; meanwhile, new forms of newsgathering and distribution, grass-roots or citizen journalism and blogging sites are changing the very nature of who produces news.

Data from the Carnegie project indicate that today's young adults intend to continue to increase their use of the Internet as a primary news source, while newspapers and national television-broadcast news fare poorly in the research.

Internet portals emerge in the survey as the most frequently cited daily news source — with 44 percent of the study group using portals such as Yahoo at least once a day for news. By this same measurement, local TV comes in second at 37 percent, followed by network or cable TV Web sites, and newspapers, at 19 percent each.

And by other measures, the Internet is already clearly ahead of other media among the young. According to the survey, prepared for this project by Frank N. Magid Associates, 41 percent of young news consumers say that the Internet is "the most useful way to learn," compared with 15 percent for second-ranked local TV. And 49 percent say the Internet provides news "only when I want it" — a critical factor for this group — versus 15 percent for second-ranked local TV.

Preparing for the future

As a result of all these changing habits, American news organizations and many around the world are going through significant upheaval. Clearly, young people don't want to rely on the morning paper on their doorstep or the dinnertime newscast for up-to-date information; in fact, they — as well as others — want their news on demand, when it works for them.

And, say many experts, in this new world of journalism, young people want a personal level of engagement and want those presenting the news to them to be transparent in their assumptions, biases and history.

While it is premature to definitively judge the impact of this revolution on public affairs, political discourse or on journalism itself, the writing is on the wall: The way the news will be delivered in the future has already been altered and more changes are undoubtedly on the way. How can we expect anything else, when the average age of a print newspaper reader is 53 and the average age of both broadcast and cable-news viewers is about the same?

Baby boomers read newspapers one-third less than their parents, and the Gen Xers read newspapers another one-third less than the boomers. And the issues these trends suggest can no longer be swept aside by the news giants that ruled for so long.

Indeed, those who gather, report and administer the delivery of the news are increasingly focusing on the reality that technology, the enormous variety of media choices, demographics and, to a certain extent, the struggles of traditional news organizations and the journalism community to adjust to change have left mass audiences and mass-media news gathering and dissemination in peril.

As a result every news organization today is in an intensive, in some places frantic, search for answers, for new business models, for new ways to stop the bleeding.

Questionable losses?

To be sure, some observers and critics of news gathering institutions don't fear a weakening industry and see any loss of clout by big media — often referred to as mainstream media or "MSM" — as liberating. And there's certainly merit to the Internet's capability of allowing thousands of new "publishers," writers of Weblogs or creators of Internet sites, to emerge.

But there are important questions at play in this revolution, many of which revolve around the resources required to cover the news and not simply comment on it.

Who will cover lengthy, costly national political campaigns if traditional news organizations can't afford to? Who will cover international conflict or health crises around the world? Bloggers? Columnists? Organizations like Google or Yahoo that may be assembling news but are fundamentally technology companies?

Already news organizations are straining to cover the Middle East and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What if over the next 10 years large news organizations and the public companies that control them move from just limiting their international coverage to abandoning it altogether?

This discussion, therefore, isn't simply about newspapers, broadcasters or public companies facing marketplace challenges. The questions raised by the young people abandoning the news go to the heart of how we'll learn about the complex world we live in and make informed decisions about its future.

Ignoring the traditional

Already there is little evidence that today's politicians accept the notion that it's mandatory to connect to the population via a national press corps, often choosing to go around the press and communicate through their own Internet sites, friendly talk shows and blog forums. The Bush administration often ignores traditional White House norms of engaging with the national press corps.

Meanwhile, news professionals, until recently, generally were avoiding the bad news about young people's habits by taking comfort in the historic trends that indicate that as younger readers mature, they typically return to the familiar newspapers.

But there's no denying that the numbers are changing. The deterioration of the newspaper marketplace has been steady among young people and would appear to be accelerating. From 1972 to 1998, the percentage of people ages 30 to 39 who read a paper every day dropped from 73 to 30 percent. The audience has permanently changed — and technology is a big part of the reason why.

The good news is that the digital-news revolution has opened up an entirely new, huge and utterly unanticipated marketplace for news and information that didn't exist as the '90s began — the at-work demand for news, sports, stocks quotes, weather and any other type of information you can imagine. It involves millions of people who access data, text, video, applications and headlines via the Internet at their desktops.

But that same circumstance — the easy availability of up-to-the-minute news at the workplace — makes the morning paper seem obsolete to Internet news consumers.

Creating new products

For journalism institutions, this suggests risks of extraordinary magnitude. History suggests that the news industry has at least on occasion created new products tailored to meet the emerging needs of different times and different generations.

Business coverage, for example, an afterthought in many newspapers until the 1980s and '90s, now gets vastly more attention from most news organizations. So-called "women's news" evolved into something far different in magazines and newspapers. The network newscasts of the 21st century look significantly different than those just a few years ago.

But perhaps an even more pressing concern, beyond simply beefing up coverage in one category or another or adding younger faces to a network newscast, is whether approaches to stories and prevailing traditions can really change.

Can storytelling evolve to include more interactivity, citizen participation, younger newsmakers and the use of music, innovative pacing and more engaging graphic and presentation elements? Is the growing movement toward citizen journalism — the creation of publications written by activists without news training — a notion inviting chaos and irresponsibility, or a new level of civic engagement?

Citizen journalism

What the survey data, as well as the message that's coming in loud and clear from bloggers and their readers, are telling us is that there are new forms of participatory or citizen journalism that can re-engage disengaged publics.

Last year, The Bakersfield Californian launched The Northwest Voice (, a community weekly paper and Internet site. Most of the content is produced by members of the community and submitted by way of the Internet. A new company called Back Fence (I am an adviser) is preparing to launch community-journalism sites around the country and is already operating in suburban Washington, D.C.

While many news executives cringe at the idea of such projects, these are bold concepts and their premise — that news can actually be generated by readers — may be precisely what many young, dissatisfied news consumers will respond to.

Meanwhile, news organizations need to invest in building new ways to connect to consumers and join the virtual-online conversations that are a central place where news is discussed. Television networks are exploring new TV services that would reach viewers on rock-music channels and other places — such as on their computers at work, and at home — where they're accessing video products.

While making investments is imperative, the news industry needs to do so while simultaneously embracing new, creative business approaches. Few news organizations think methodically and creatively about product development, and resources allocated to studying and inventing new news products are generally minuscule.

At universities and think tanks, research on these critical topics is limited. It is time to tie together the disparate worlds of research, education and news in order to maximize intellectual capability and limited resources.

Experiment with bloggers

Meanwhile, the news industry should recognize the importance of what's going on in places like Bakersfield and with another similar project in Greensboro, N.C., and experiment with bloggers and other independent journalists and citizens. With safeguards, and appropriate standards as a requirement, news organizations large and small should bring the public into their news gathering and news delivery planning processes in previously unimaginable ways.

From the simple touches, like making every news professional's e-mail address available, to the more complex, such as engaging with news sources and the citizenry at large in meaningful dialogue, there are clearly methods for providing the accessibility younger audiences are likely to embrace.

In other words, news executives need to think about their products as participatory community institutions, not merely as distributors of their own creative output and open themselves to input, feedback, ideas and journalism from outside their own organizations.

In addition, news organizations must recognize the value of the one piece of technology that's in virtually every hand around the world — the cellphone — so that the mobile revolution is, in fact, part of a news revolution.

While the outright collapse of large news organizations is hardly imminent, as the new century progresses it's hard to escape the fact that their franchises have eroded and their futures are far from certain. Remember the New York Herald Tribune? Remember when CBS News was considered something quite special?

Turnarounds in these businesses are certainly possible, but only for those news organizations willing to invest time, thought and resources into engaging their audiences, especially younger consumers. The trend lines are clear. But in my view, so is the importance of a dynamic news business to our civic life, to our educational future, and to our democracy.

Merrill Brown was the founding editor in chief of and is a former executive with RealNetworks. He presently is a New York-based media consultant and was recently appointed national editorial director of the News 21 project, a part of a journalism initiative launched this spring by the Carnegie and Knight foundations. This commentary is based on a longer essay published in the Spring 2005 issue of the Carnegie Reporter.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Telling the Truth

Some people’s idea of “telling the truth,” is saying anything they think they can get away with -- relying on other people not to be able to tell the difference. Unfortunately, that is especially true of those who work “in the media” -- primarily functioning to propagate that information, disinformation, or ignorance. The kind of people drawn to such positions, and the need to relentlessly compete against every other for fickle public attention, is not conducive to thoughtful reflection and unpressured independence and integrity of judgment. In fact, it may be the ultimate herd mentality, the need to conform, as the arbiter of truth. That manner of determining, assures that the most improbable and outrageous assertions cannot be tested for truth and therefore will be accepted as “fact,” because nobody will bother to dignify and dispute it.

Thus, it will be accepted as an unchallenged truth in that way -- because it is so outrageously ridiculous as to escape sober and rational examination, substantiation and verification. Demagogues, recognizing that vulnerability, know then that the more ridiculous and preposterous their claims, the more they are likely to defy refutation. Then the popular dialogue and conversation is dominated by the absurd, the ridiculous, the preposterous -- while self-evident truths are derided as too simplistic to be sophisticated, and complicated enough to be proof of superior intellect. Of course those suffering from inferiority complexes are easily cowed and impressed. They fear being the first to admit their ignorance -- of that which intelligent people know as patently false.

In a den of thieves, the biggest liar, the greatest con-artist, the most ruthless, is king. In many professions now, that is the criteria of success in that field -- which ultimately must undermine the whole endeavor for legitimacy and credibility. One should be able to be well-informed without being vulnerable to all the nonsense that those clamoring for unfair advantage are corrupted by. Rather than investigative rigor, many reporters are intimidated into accepting the untrue because of their inability to determine the truth for themselves -- and are at the mercy of their informant, to be fair with them. That gullibility is exploited by the unscrupulous.

The ultimate quality of information is limited by the audience it is communicated to. Good information is of no value, or no difference to the undiscriminating. They will believe whatever they are told to believe. It does not even occur to them that they can question authority and validity. That may even be “somebody else’s job.” In many instances, it turns out to be nobody’s job. So the integrity and validity of information is largely dependent on the mutual respect of the informer and the informed.

The old broadcast model of information and communication is almost totally controlled by the informant -- without regard for the capabilities and input of the informed. In fact, that relationship may even be adversarial -- each undermining the other, until all exchanges are counter-informative. In such an adversarial relationship, the interaction destroys the capability of the information receiver rather than enhancing their capabilities. It is a negative-sum game. The less one knows of that kind of “information,” the better off one is.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Democrat Mass Transit Plan Seems to be Working

If the gas caps force prices any higher, everybody will be riding the bus.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Amazing -- what the daily newspapers won't tell us

Campaign Spending History Not Stellar or Aggressive Before Watada

In fact, the first executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission was Robert Klein, who later was appointed a Hawaii Supreme Court judge. Klein, who served as the executive director from 1974 to 1975, is now a political operative and attorney for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, former Mayoral Candidate Duke Bainum and the Bishop Estate.

Wally Weatherwax, another "old boy," followed Klein to head the Campaign Spending Commission. Weatherwax, who took over the Campaign Spending Commission for three years beginning in 1975 – has throughout his career, been surrounded by corruption and scandal. Weatherwax was recently fired as the city Liquor Commission executive director. That was in part because on May 24, 2002, eight of 15 Honolulu Liquor Commission inspectors, working under the Democrat-appointed liquor commissioner, were indicted on 57 counts of racketeering and extortion for allegedly taking bribes from bar owners in return for ignoring liquor law violations. The bribes and money extorted from the liquor licensees ranged from $20 to $1,000 per night. They targeted 45 Asian "hostess" clubs and other strip clubs of the more than 1,500 liquor licensees on the island of Oahu for cash. The 8 liquor inspectors were convicted and serving time in federal prison. The U.S. Attorney and the 2005 city audit of the liquor commission pointed to Weatherwax’s failed leadership for a variety of problems including once rampant corruption in his department.

After Weatherwax left the commission, he was replaced by Jack Gonzalves until 1994, when Gonzalves was fired as executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission after being arrested by federal agents for his involvement in a ponzi scheme. Gonsalves is still serving the 16 years he was sentenced to in federal prison.

Watada, who was a commissioner on the State Campaign Spending Commission at the time of Gonsalves’ arrest, took over the position for the next decade.

The question for the five State Campaign Spending Commissioners selecting Watada’s replacement will be whether they want Hawaii’s well-documented political corruption to be investigated and prosecuted aggressively or whether they will select someone who will let Hawaii return to the way it once was. Certainly in the history of the state Campaign Spending Commission, Watada was an anomaly.

Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor and president of Hawaii Reporter, via email at

Reminds me of that Evan Dobelle episode -- in which the editor of the Advertiser was promoting him as the "greatest scholar in America" -- rather than as he turned out to be.

In the past, even the newspapers were not so easily archived and researched -- and so the old newspaper culture thought they could say one thing one day and something entirely different the next -- that nobody reads old newspapers anyway. With the Internet, yesterday's information is as fresh as today's.

Hawaii owes a debt of gratitude to Malia Zimmerman for bringing us the stories that the union/Democrat newspapers have long suppressed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Beginning of the End

I hope it doesn’t take a hurricane of biblical proportions for Hawaii to move into the 21st century -- but societies and cultures have a poor track record of evolving willingly. Usually it requires the Hand of God to get them moving in the right direction.

There’s a lot of inertia in the Islands. The media, schools, even the University promotes it. They even claim history merely repeats itself mindlessly and hopelessly -- rather than evolving intelligently. It is even fashionable in these times for the universities, of all places, to teach the despair in human will and ability to improve. Then what are they there for and what do they have of value to teach?

The major sources of traditional information seem unwittingly determined to undermine their own function and purpose. The newspapers no longer even make a pretense of objectivity anymore but are openly partisan and self-serving. In interviewing experts on the education problem, you never see them ask the headmaster of Punahou or Iolani or Mid-Pacific as the cutting edge thoughts on successfully achieving it. No, they interview the HSTA president, whose only solution for everything is more pay for the teachers -- so he can have more pay for himself!

And then the newspaper reporter will defend the next day, that according to studies provided by another union lobbyist, the pay for nurses in Hawaii are the highest in the nation -- but adjusted for the cost-of-living (union provided), is really the lowest in the nation. It reminds one of the years of the previous administration in which anytime a study came out showing Hawaii’s educational performance to be the lowest, the governor or the union would make an “adjustment for Hawaii,” that showed them at the top of the performance charts. And instead of challenging such outrageous assertions, the newspapers would be spreading the good news.

And so they became worthless -- as sources of credible and intelligent information, and in fact, one was likely to be less well-informed -- but misinformed, disinformed and ignorant by consulting those sources. The one area that should never be unionized is the media, schools and universities, because they should be the sources of independent and objective information -- and not a tight circle promoting their own narrow self-interests. That is the beginning of the end.

Lessons for Hawaii?

A Two-City Tale
New Orleans and Houston offer a study in contrasts.
by Noemie Emery 09/06/2005 4:36:00 PM

Late last week, as New Orleans was sliding into savage conditions, some talking heads were glowing with pleasure at the idea of a moral meltdown of such immense proportions that it would not only bury George Bush in its rubble, but erode forever the country's self confidence. Or, as Robert Scheer would happily write, "Instead of the much-celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people abroad, we have seen a callous official incompetence that puts even Third World rulers to shame."

Not quite. The reason New Orleans slid so quickly from civilization into Third World conditions was that it was pretty much a Third World city already, and didn't have too far to go. In its violence, in its corruption, in its reliance on ambience and tourism as its critical industry, in its one-party rule, in its model of graftocracy built on a depressed and crime-ridden underclass that was largely kept out of the sight and the mind of vacationing revelers, it was much more like a Caribbean resort than a normal American city. Its crime and murder rates were way above national averages, its corruption level astounding. The latter was written off as being picturesque and perversely adorable, until it suddenly wasn't, as it paid off in hundreds of buses--that could have borne thousands of stranded people to safety--sitting submerged in water, and police either looting or AWOL.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville defined a long set of traits that made Americans "different," and
that remain today just as valid: Americans are restless, inventive, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, socially mobile, and so future-oriented they are ready and eager sometimes to let go of the past. None of these things defined what once was New Orleans; in fact, that poor destroyed city played them in reverse: It was socially static, fairly caste-ridden, non-entrepreneurial (read hostile to business), and wholly immersed in its past, to the point where its main industry is marketing ambience and nostalgia. "New Orleans's dominant industry lies not in creating its future but selling its past," wrote Joel Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal's "Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans's economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure. This can be seen in New Orleans's perennially high rates of underemployment, crime and poverty." New Orleans, in short, was the place you went to take a vacation, not to prosper in life and start a family, much less start a business. This lack of opportunity, or the upward ladder of social mobility, is perhaps one reason so many evacuees felt they were breathing fresh air when they landed in Houston, and are deciding to make it their home.

Let us look now at Houston, for it is the second city in this cosmic drama, and one in which Tocqueville would feel right at home. Like so many cities in the Sunbelt, it is expanding, entrepreneurial, based on the future, and the place where the "much celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people" comes roaring to life. "In l920, New Orleans's population was nearly three times that of Houston," says Kotkin. "During the '90s, the Miami and Houston areas grew almost six times as fast as greater New Orleans, and flourished as major destinations for immigrants . . . These newcomers have helped transform Miami and Houston into primary centers for trade, investment and services, from finance and accounting to medical care for the entire Caribbean basin. They have started businesses, staffed factories, and become players in civic life."

It is now no surprise that Houston is the place where in days they built a new city in and around the Astrodome, that has taken in 25,000 refugees from New Orleans, and is planning to feed, house, employ, and relocate most of them. Houston is the place where the heads of all the religious groups in the city--Baptists and Catholics, Muslims and Jews--came together to raise $4.4 million to feed the evacuees for 30 days, and to supply 720 volunteers a day to prepare and serve meals. If New Orleans was where the Third World broke through, Houston was where the First World began beating it back, and asserting its primacy. Are we surprised that the star of this show has been Texas, home of Karl Rove and both Bushes, widely despised by the glitterati as sub-literate, biased, oppressive, and retrograde? No.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Problem that is the Media

Media Mangle
A Gathering Storm for the Media

Misreporting on hurricane further eroding public's trust of media
By Jon Ham

September 06, 2005

RALEIGH — There is a fetid stink in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s not coming just from the fouled waters flooding New Orleans. It also wafts from the putrid reporting of the disaster by the mainstream media.

From the moment Katrina made landfall the media focused on anything that could redound to the detriment of President Bush or inflame race and class tensions. Reporters and commentators ignored the dismal performance of New Orleans’ Democratic mayor and Louisiana’s Democratic governor, blaming every problem that arose on the Bush administration.

Racial demagogues accused Bush and his administration of reacting slowly because most of the victims were black. Environmental activists said Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty caused Katrina’s severity. Democratic operatives said the administration’s decision to cut funding for a long-term study of flood control caused the levees to breach.

All of this is stuff and nonsense. The tragedy is that the media know it too, but they still printed it.

The media know that the first response to natural disasters is always from the local and state governments. They’ve covered enough hurricanes to understand that. They know, or should know, that the response from the federal government, especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is always in the second phase of recovery, not the first. They know, or should know, that a state’s National Guard is commanded by the governor, not the president. They know, or should know, that active-duty U.S. military personnel cannot act as law enforcement. But none of this was reported.

As for a president’s role, it has traditionally been in declaring disaster areas so that the victims can get grants and low-interest loans to rebuild, and ordering FEMA into the area. His role also traditionally includes a visit to the stricken area. That’s pretty much it, unless you’re George W. Bush; then that’s not enough. Not reported was that it was Bush himself who, before the storm hit, pleaded with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to order a mandatory evacuation.

The misreporting of the tragedy, and the false impression it has left with some, is even being used now for other political advantage. On Sunday, NBC’s Matt Lauer interviewed “Meet the Press” anchor Tim Russert about Bush’s Supreme Court appointments. Russert said “there was a perception created of incompetence, some even said callousness and he needs to replace it with compassion” by appointing a moderate, a liberal or even a minority to the high court.

At least Russert was correct on one point. There was a “perception created.” The incessant drone of the media story line that Bush was to blame is what created that impression, and one that is entirely false. As with the run-up to the military operation in Afghanistan and Iraq, the media display a convenient amnesia about what they wrote in the past.

The story line today is that things were self-evidently so catastrophic as Katrina made landfall that everyone knew that drastic measures were called for. But was that the case? Here’s what The News & Observer of Raleigh’s public editor, Ted Vaden, wrote on Sunday:

“The N&O, like many other papers, was slow to wake up to the dimensions of the crisis but gradually ramped up the coverage in terms of space and reporters committed to the story,” he wrote. “The media were fooled the first day of the hurricane, when Katrina didn’t make a direct hit on New Orleans as expected. ‘I think that everybody got a head fake from this thing,’ said Dan Barkin, deputy managing editor. ‘I think we were kind of lulled.’”

Vaden pointed out that “the follow-up coverage on Wednesday likewise was restrained.” This candid assessment pretty much reflects the way most of the media covered the storm at the beginning. It was only after the incompetence of the mayor of New Orleans and the state’s governor in not forcing a pre-storm evacuation that the extent of the human tragedy unfolded. But instead of reporting this truth, it became a Bush bash fest.

And it continues. An Associated Press report from this morning was headlined: “Bush finally spending time on hurricane relief.” Finally. That’s the template word now. I saw that one coming Friday afternoon when I heard it used at least 10 times on National Public Radio to describe Bush’s actions regarding the hurricane.

Polls show that, unlike the media, the public does not blame Bush for the hurricane, the rioting, the looting, the stranded pets, the drowning deaths or the levee breaks. That means that the public doesn’t believe what the media are reporting. That’s the real gathering storm.

Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of its newspaper, Carolina Journal.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Could this happen here in Hawaii?

The Big Easy rocked, but didn't roll
By Mark Steyn(Filed: 06/09/2005)

Readers may recall my words from a week ago on the approaching Katrina: "We relish the opportunity to rise to the occasion. And on the whole we do. Oh, to be sure, there are always folks who panic or loot. But most people don't, and many are capable of extraordinary acts of hastily improvised heroism."

What the hell was I thinking? I should be fired for that. Well, someone should be fired. I say that in the spirit of the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the Anti-Giuliani, a Mayor Culpa who always knows where to point the finger.

For some reason, I failed to consider the possibility that the panickers would include Hizzoner the Mayor and the looters would include significant numbers of the police department, though in fairness I wasn't the only one. As General Blum said at Saturday's Defence Department briefing: "No one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans."

Indeed, they eroded faster than the levees. Several hundred cops are reported to have walked off the job. To give the city credit, it has a lovely "Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan" for hurricanes. The only flaw in the plan is that the person charged with putting it into effect is the mayor. And he didn't.

But I don't want to blame any single figure: the anti-Bush crowd have that act pretty much sewn up. I'd say New Orleans's political failure is symptomatic of a broader failure.

I got an e-mail over the weekend from a US Army surgeon just back in Afghanistan after his wedding. Changing planes in Kuwait for the final leg to Bagram and confronted by yet another charity box for Katrina relief, he decided that this time he'd pass. "I'd had it up to here," he wrote, "with the passivity, the whining, and the when-are-they-going-to-do-something blame game."

Let it be said that no one should die in a 100F windowless attic because he fled upstairs when the flood waters rose and now can't get out. But, in his general characterisation of "the Big Easy", my correspondent is not wrong. The point is, what are you like when it's not so easy?

Congressman Billy Tauzin once said of his state: "One half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment." Last week, four fifths of New Orleans was under water and the other four fifths should be under indictment - which is the kind of arithmetic the state's deeply entrenched kleptocrat political culture will have no trouble making add up.

Consider the signature image of the flood: an aerial shot of 255 school buses neatly parked at one city lot, their fuel tanks leaking gasoline into the urban lake. An enterprising blogger, Bryan Preston, worked out that each bus had 66 seats, which meant that the vehicles at just that one lot could have ferried out 16,830 people. Instead of entrusting its most vulnerable citizens to the gang-infested faecal hell of the Superdome, New Orleans had more than enough municipal transport on hand to have got almost everyone out in a couple of runs last Sunday.

Why didn't they? Well, the mayor didn't give the order. OK, but how about school board officials, or the fellows with the public schools transportation department, or the guy who runs that motor pool, or the individual bus drivers? If it ever occurred to any of them that these were potentially useful evacuation assets, they kept it to themselves.

So the first school bus to escape New Orleans and make it to safety in Texas was one that had been abandoned on a city street. A party of sodden citizens, ranging from the elderly to an eight-day-old baby, were desperate to get out, hopped aboard and got teenager Jabbor Gibson to drive them 13 hours non-stop to Houston. He'd never driven a bus before, and the authorities back in New Orleans may yet prosecute him. For rescuing people without a permit?

My Afghanistan army guy's observations on "passivity" reminded me of something I wrote for this paper a few days after 9/11, about how the airline cabin was the embodiment of the "culture of passivity". It's the most regulated environment most of us ever enter.

So on three of those flights everyone faithfully followed the Federal Aviation Administration's 1970s hijack procedures until it was too late. On the fourth plane, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Thomas Burnett, Mark Bingham and other forgotten heroes figured out what was going on and rushed their hijackers, preventing the plane from proceeding to its target - believed to be the White House or Congress. On a morning when the government did nothing for those passengers, those passengers did something for the government.

On 9/11, the federal government failed the people; last week, local and state government failed the people. On 9/11, they stuck to the 30-year-old plan; last week, they didn't bother implementing the state-of-the-art 21st-century plan. Why argue about which level of bureaucracy you prefer to be let down by?

My mistake was to think that the citizenry of the Big Easy would rise to the great rallying cry of Todd Beamer: "Are you ready, guys? Let's roll!" Instead, the spirit of the week was summed up by a gentleman called Mike Franklin, taking time out of his hectic schedule of looting to speak to the Associated Press: "People who are oppressed all their lives, man, it's an opportunity to get back at society."

Unlike 9/11, when the cult of victimhood was temporarily suspended in honour of the many real, actual victims under the rubble, in New Orleans everyone claimed the mantle of victim, from the incompetent mayor to the "oppressed" guys wading through the water with new DVD players under each arm.

Welfare culture is bad not just because, as in Europe, it's bankrupting the state, but because it enfeebles the citizenry, it erodes self-reliance and resourcefulness.

New Orleans is a party town in the middle of a welfare swamp and, like many parties, it doesn't look so good when someone puts the lights up. I'll always be grateful to a burg that gave us Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, and I'll always love Satch's great record of Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? But, after this last week, I'm not sure I would.

The Battle of New Orleans

Katrina, left and right
September 5th, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftermath has filled the media and blogosphere. As a wakeup call about the fragility of civilization, even in the world's most powerful country, it's a worthy story. And as a story, it's vastly beyond politics, too, but politics goes wherever human events are.

Sharp differences are emerging between left and right in this crisis. It's evident in the blogosphere, which now drives the framing of U.S. political debate. Bloggers on the left are awash in finger-pointing, using this catastrophe as their grand opportunity to Blame Bush, once and for all.

But on the right, there's quite a bit less of that. True to the American spirit, most right-leaning bloggers are mobilizing aid for the rescue of the people in the city of New Orleans. They seem to be mainly urging people to give, give, give for hurricane relief. This says a lot about the character of the two sides. On the left, it doesn't seem to matter that there's an overwhelming humanitarian crisis right now. Politics, upon which they are intensely focused, like a hungry beggar outside a bakery window, is drawing their attention. And they are struggling to fit the vast event into their narrow simplistic political template, which isn't easy.

Here is why: Looking at New Orleans, there's mixed political picture - Louisiana is a red state, but New Orleans is a blue city whose voters elect Democrats. Casting blame should be a self-canceling political picture, rendering ideology unimportant against the great humanitarian need. Besides this, the big U.S. charities that can help New Orleans' marooned castaways are generally run by liberals, which should make them an attractive cause for left advocacy. But for some reason, the left isn't interested. Leftists instead are yelling about Bush, and throwing in some of the most far-fetched retro race-baiting ever, relying on words and not action.

By contrast, on the right, bloggers are fiercely urging donations to aid relief. They don't care about who votes for whom in New Orleans' elections, nor do they care about the ideologies of the charities so long as they get the cash to the needy.

It should be noted that the people of New Orleans struggling for survival don't care about politics either, suggesting a political comity.

Through thousands of private efforts, a little here and a little there, a vast great American spirit of pitching in is emerging from their direction, acting, not talking, with no political litmus test. At Val Prieto's Babalu blog, all blogging has been suspended until $5000 in donations is reached. Deeds before words.

A likely explanation for this pattern of behavior is in the nature of left and right ideologies. The left has little faith in anything except Big Government to take care of all needs. Therefore, one wonders if their wrath at Bush is grounded in a firm belief that the federal government and only the federal government can do anything to alleviate the catastrophe.

Charities don't register on their mental thermometer, only government does.

Since they don't like the leader of the government, it's pretty difficult for them - and thus their yawps against Bush are especially loud.The single interesting exception on the left is Bill Clinton, who to his great credit agreed to help lead the relief effort along with President Bush Senior. That he is on the outs with most of the Democratic Party is further indicative of their political fever. It's no coincidence that one of Clinton's more memorable statements is that 'the era of Big Government is over.'

On the right there is a belief that individuals in the private sector are not just handout receptacles from Big Government, but empowered citizens who can act on their own and make a difference. So we see a fierce effort to get involved and make a positive difference - fully in the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville who first chronicled this cultural action in his Democracy in America.

On the right they are even, as believers in markets and competition, apparently competing with each other on NZ Bear's site to see who can donate the most to charity. Who such a contest to raise the most cash ultimately helps becomes obvious when one thinks of the photos of poor people in wheelchairs awaiting help in New Orleans. A look at those blogs in the running for donations shows a paucity of left-leaning blogs seeking to raise aid.

What does this mean? The reactive exclamations from the left, focused on Bush, all talk and no action, are a sure sign that the left still isn't ready for prime time in the political arena. Until they scrap their selfish concern about their political prospects and embrace pitching in and seeking a solution greater than Big Government, they're going to remain in the political wilderness for a long long time.

A.M. Mora y Leon

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"How to write us"

“The Star-Bulletin welcomes letters that are crisp and to the point (150 to 200 words). The Star-Bulletin reserves the right to edit letters for clarity and length. Please direct comments to the issues; personal attacks will not be published. Letters must be signed and include a daytime telephone number.”

Although the Star-Bulletin says personal attacks will not be published in the letters to the editors page, they publish daily a personal attack against the President of the United States. How any person of good judgment could not clearly see that -- is one of the great wonders in Hawaii, and brings into question the fairness of the writers and editors at that paper.

To prove a point, I once took one of their letters published in that section vilifying President Bush for no substantive reason (as usual), and in every reference to the President, merely substituted “the editor of the Star-Bulletin,” and quickly got back infuriated emails from editors who had gone ballistic that someone would dare talk of them that way. I pointed out that that was the vile that they themselves were spewing -- as representative of the finest thoughts of the citizenry of Hawaii, and asked them to desist from publishing (propagating) such personal attacks (against anybody) and hate-mongering, in their misguided efforts to generate controversy they think will generate interest in their newspaper.

They also reserve the right to edit for distortion and misinformation -- as I pointed out when I submitted items to them that were occasionally published but “edited” not for clarity, but to convey a quite different impression and intent (many have complained about this as though it were an isolated incident rather than intentional), which was deliberate and malicious. That kind of manipulation has been going on for a long time now in the mass media (newspapers) in Hawaii, which accounts for their declining credibility and readership.

A former editor of the Star-Bulletin, would typically begin her rants with her belief that, “As the editor of the Star-Bulletin, it is my right and duty to speak for the people of Hawaii.” No, it is the right and duty of these editors to speak their own truth as best as they can express -- and let others speak their own truth -- in their own way, and in their own words, rather than suppressing, censoring and manipulating the other voices to assert their claims of primacy, superiority and how "objective" they are.

But that state of journalism has created the basis for the next generation of information and communication exchanges that are the rapid proliferation of these blogs. Even the New York Times is now merely a blog -- only as good as the information and insight they can actually deliver. And maybe as a sign of the times, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans became exclusively a blog out of necessity during the recent hurricane. The last place one can expect to read about this sea change is in the local newspapers -- where they’re still trying to convince us that we’re getting “all the news that’s fit to print.” The best of the readers and writers have already made the migration. Welcome.

Friday, September 02, 2005

You Read It Here First

In the recent GET/rail debates, there was tremendous suppression of viewpoints other than what the union media wanted to portray as the sentiment of the people on such matters. What most people are not aware of is that private commercial media is not the “objective” voice of all the people, although they like to claim they are The People -- just as I suppose, HSTA teachers are always demanding pay increases -- “for the children.” This kind of shameless self-serving "public service announcements" are distinctive of “media” in Hawaii. The only effective counter to such lopsided manipulation of information are the alternatives -- like the blogs that will increasingly dominate the function of the old broadcast media for providing information and communication.

Broadcast media is about control, manipulation, distortion, propaganda -- not by the government, but in serving their own interests -- which is to be the power broker in controlling the flow of information (communications). Schools and universities have also been granted these similar monopolies. They claim to serve society’s interests but increasingly -- serve their own, in the name of the people. And that is the status quo of the old information and communication hierarchies -- but which blogs like these will increasingly supplant.

The strength of the blogs is that the writer is not claiming to speak for any other than himself -- as the editors of the newspapers like to imply, or the president of otherwise non-existent non-profits wish to allude. And that is the dawn of a new age in Hawaii.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Leadership of Wishful-Thinking

As much as people don’t want to hear it and are in denial, high fuel prices are not the problem; high fuel prices are the solution -- to traffic congestion, pollution, death and destruction by autos, the lack of exercise, etc. The usual healthy response when prices rise in any commodity, is to cut back on the consumption -- into alternatives, but instead, we see people more determined than ever to consume as much as they like -- as though they can run the table against a superior bankroll.

When people during the ‘90s started buying SUVs and Hummers without consideration for today’s present energy crisis possibilities, we were obviously headed for trouble. The only action that will moderate fuel price rises is to reduce demand -- in a world in which the worldwide consumption is increasing rapidly because of the emerging affluence of the major populations of China and India.

A rail system may sound like a solution twenty years from now but people need to do something today, right now, to solve the problem by switching to high fuel consumption alternatives -- like biking, walking, buses, car and van pools, electric scooters, etc., and if they do so now, there might not be a problem to solve twenty years from now. These panaceas promised at some distant time in the future undermines the will to solve these problems in the present moment -- and that changes the future.

Otherwise, we merely have leadership by wishful-thinking.