Tag Archives: New York Times

How to Win an Election

A leading political strategist explains how candidates use the art of storytelling to help swing elections.

Mr. McKinnon has had a long career working for politicians from both parties. As the lead media strategist for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns as well as John McCain’s winning 2008 primary campaign, he was instrumental in shaping the way we perceived his candidates and their opponents. Remember the 2004 windsurfing ad that branded John Kerry a flip-flopper? That’s his work.

But Mr. McKinnon burned out on presidential campaigns, and increasingly came to view the oversimplification and negativity at the heart of modern campaigning as a leading contributor to the toxic political climate in which we now live. So when we sat down with him, we asked him to turn over his secret playbook.

In this film, he reveals the storytelling strategies used to elect Mr. Bush with openness and candor, and in doing so lays bare the fundamental narrative strategies that remain at the core of today’s presidential campaigns. But Mr. McKinnon believes that the power of storytelling has a dark side that voters should be more aware of. His new message is a warning to all citizens: You’re being manipulated, and our democracy relies on your ability to see that .

360 degree look at the most expensive train station ever built

The new transit hub at the World Trade Center site is opening to the public this month. The design for the station was first revealed in 2004. It was projected to take five years and only $2.2 billion to complete, but after 12 years and many complications, $2.2 billion turned into $4 billion, making the Transportation Hub the most expensive train station ever. Though the main part of the station that connects to the PATH trains — known as the Oculus — will now be open, other parts, such as the retail space, are still under construction.

The hub was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who has worked on buildings in Spain, Switzerland, and Canada. He is currently designing St. Nicholas Church in Liberty Park, another building that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks.

Dying Alone in New York City

From the New York Times

This job teaches you a lot. You learn whatever material stuff you have you should use it and share it. Share yourself. People die with nobody to talk to. They die and relatives come out of the woodwork. ‘He was my uncle. He was my cousin. Give me what he had.’ Gimme, gimme. Yet when he was alive they never visited, never knew the person. From working in this office, my life changed.

Christmas & Holiday Gift Ideas for the Photographer | 2014 Edition

Looking at what to get the photographer in your life for Christmas?  Here are some ideas that are sure to make every photographers Christmas season.

Well a camera is a pretty big gift but there are some spectacular options from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax in 2014.  Take a look below.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera with 18-135mm IS STM Lens

Canon 7D Mark II with 18 135 lens and battery grip

It was the announcement that everyone was waiting for this fall and it is now here.  The Canon 7D Mark II features:

  • 20.2 MP CMOS sensor and ISO 100-16000
  • High spped continuous shooting up to 10.0 fps
  • 65-point all cross-type AF system
  • Stunning Full HD video with Custom Movie Servo AF (speed and sensitivity)
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF enables you to shoot video like a camcorder
People I know who have one (sports and wildlife shooters) have all said that it is everything that Canon said it would be already and feel that once they master the just shipped camera, it would be even better. 

Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera

While Canon has their hit camera with the Canon 7D Mark II, Nikon has their own hit with the Nikon D750 which is the successor to the famous D700. 

Nikon D750

Here are the Nikon D750’s highlights.

  • Full frame 24.3 megapixel CMOS image sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor
  • Full HD 60/50/30/25/24p video
  • Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Shoot up to 6.5 fps at full resolution
  • Pro Video feature set including: Simultaneously record uncompressed and compressed, Manually control ISO, shutter speed and aperture while recording – even use Power Aperture control for smooth iris transitions and Auto ISO for smooth exposure transitions.
  • Compact, lightweight and slim unibody (monocoque) body design with tilting Vari-angle LCD display

 The big news is that while its price is closer to the Nikon D610, its feature set is closer to the Nikon D810.

Pentax K-3 w/ 18-135mm lens

Pentax K-3

I have long been a long time Pentax user and for me, this camera personifies everything that is right with Pentax right now.  

  • 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor, selectable on/off of anti-aliasing filter
  • 8.3 frames per second continuous shooting
  • 27-point AF system with 25 cross sensors and 3 low-light AF sensors
  • ISO 80-51,200
  • 1080 60p/50p/30p/24p HD video (H.264)
It has remarkable build quality that features a weather sealed camera and an increasing number of weather resistant lens that allow you to shoot in any weather conditions.  If you are wondering about Pentax DSLR lens, check out my Pentax lens guide that I put together this summer.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Compact System Camera

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Compact Camera

  • 6 MP Four Thirds CMOS sensor with 3-axis sensor shift image stabilization
  • Up to 8 FPS continuous shooting
  • ISO 200-25600
  • 1080/30 fps HD video (H.264/Motion JPEG)
  • Raw and Raw + JPEG shooting

If you are considering making the switch to a mirrorless camera, then you really need to look at the Olympus OM-D lineup, especially the E-M1 and the lower priced E-M10.  Both using the Micro Four/Thirds mount and have in body stabilization.  The combination means there are countless lens from Olympus, Panasonic, and most recently Sigma that can all be used.

Sony RX-100, RX-100 II & RX-100 III

Sony RX-100 II

Sony has three current Sony RX-100 cameras, all at different price points.  All of them are 20 megapixels, compact, and great in low light.  The reason you want one is that they are a remarkable camera to have you at all time and are being used by photographers like Bryan Scott (publishes Winnipeg Love Hate) and CTV’s Tom Podolec who have captured amazing images with the RX-100’s over the last year or so.  The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have raved about the camera.  Basically if you don’t Sony’s RX-100, you didn’t want a compact camera in the first place.

Thinsulate Freehands Photography Gloves

So you get the perfect lens or camera on Christmas morning and then realize that it is -22 degrees Celsius out where you want to try it out.  Wonderful.  Now you have to wait till March.  

There is another solution and that is the Thinsulate Freehands photography gloves.  Keeps your hands warm while giving them the freedom to take the photos you want.

Ricoh Theta

The Theta from Ricoh is a compact and lightweight (3.3 oz.) camera that has a lens on both the front and back, allowing you to take full 360 Degree spherical panoramic images in with one shot and 3 minute videos. The device is synchronized with smartphones, where images can be immediately transmitted via Wi-Fi and viewed with a dedicated free app. The app also allows images to be pinched, swiped or rotated to edit size, shape and composition. Images uploaded to theta360.com can be shared on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, as well as Microsoft Corporation’s Photosynth. IOS and Android free apps for viewing and capturing images.

Black Rapid Camera Strap

Black Rapid Camera Strap

There is a better way to carry your camera and it is a Black Rapid strap

 Vintage Multi-Color Neck Strap

Vintage Multi Coloured Neck Strap

A great stocking stuffer for the photographer on your list.  It features an old school colourful design which is a lot more exciting then the strap that came with your camera.

Wireless Remote

No matter how good your camera is, it’s the actual shot that matters–and sometimes that means needing to time things just right, especially if the photographer also plans to be in the shot. While most cameras have a built-in timer, using the wireless remote lets you pick your moment–its 16-foot wireless range gives you the flexibility to snap the shutter right when you need it, even if you’re not behind the camera.

Olympus 50mm Lens

Often the most affordable lens in any camera lens lineup, it is a great gift for anyone still using their kit lens.
 
12 Inch Digital Photo Frame
 
This frame features a hi-res SVGA screen with LED back lighting. Importantly the frame will also play your MPEG-4 / .AVI video, JPEG photos. When the frame activates after sensing movement it can play either your photos (from where it left off in the slideshow) or videos. It has a generous 4GB memory, housed in a very small and portable USB thumb drive so you can conveniently move photos from your computer to your frame. Combined with a simple, clear remote control, it’s a breeze to get started and with a 12 inch screen, your photos will stand out in every room.
SanDisk Ultra
Everyone needs another memory card (or two).  Just make sure you know what kind they need.
 
WD My Passport Ultra HD
 
They are backing up their photos aren’t they?  That’s what I thought.  They will need one of these asap.

I Shoot People

I Shoot People

Perfect gift for the portrait photographer on your list.

Adobe Lightroom 5

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

Best photo editing software on the planet and you can get it for PC or Mac.  Amazing gift if they are still using Picasa or iPhoto.

CowboyStudio Photography/Video Portrait Umbrella Continuous Triple Lighting Kit

CowboyStudio Photography/Video Portrait Umbrella Continuous Triple Lighting Kit with Three Day Light CFL Bulbs, Three Stands, Two Umbrellas, and One Carrying Case For Product, Portrait, and Video Shoots

This kit provides 375 Watts of continuous lighting and it is a very good start for beginners. Entire kit sets up in minutes, and very easy to operate.  An incredible gift to someone who is thinking of setting up an in home or portable studio, a documentary project or just wants some good lights at their disposal.

CowboyStudio Table Top Photo Studio Light Tent Kit
 
The Optex Portable Photo Studio Kit is a bright photo tent with diffuser screens and dual concave reflectors that provide soft, daylight balanced light. A double-sided backdrop provides a background choice of blue or grey for optional contrast with light or dark objects.The portable kit includes a photo tent (16” cube), double sided backdrop (blue/grey), 2 light fixtures, bulbs and mini tripod.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25 16.1 MP Tough Digital Camera with 8x Zoom

Panasonic TS25

Sometimes it’s best you not take your DSLR with you (like into the pool or ocean).  I personally love this camera.  Small form factor, ruggedized and it takes great photos.

Polaroid Cube
This 1080p Full HD camera is only an inch by an inch.  Designed to go everywhere that you go, it is only $99.  After reading it’s specs, you understand why it is the bestselling underwater camcorder on Amazon (beating out the GoPro and Sony rivals)

AmazonBasics Backpack for SLR/DSLR Cameras and Accessories

AmazonBasics Backpack Camera Bag

You can pay a lot for a camera bag from ThinkTank, Kata, or LowePro or you can get this bag from Amazon for $30.  Your choice.

Christmas & Holiday Gift Guides

You can also find all of the rest of the 2014 Christmas Gift Guides online here.  There is a lot of great ideas for all of the important people in your life.  Good luck with your shopping and have a great holiday season!  Oh yeah, if I missed anything or you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments.

Given Cause to Make a Stand, the Clippers Settle for a Gesture

Michael Powell, one of my favourite New York Times writers has a great piece on the Los Angeles Clippers’ players making a useless gesture against their racist owner Donald Sterling

Why not remain seated?

The Los Angeles Clippers players faced a near-impossible situation Sunday. The man who owns their team, Donald Sterling, stood exposed as a gargoyle, disgorging racial and sexual animosities so atavistic as to take the breath away.

The exposure of these rants rattled N.B.A. athletes. LeBron James, the best hoops practitioner on earth, spoke out quickly and emphatically. “They have to make a stand,” he said of N.B.A. executives. “They have to be very aggressive with it. I don’t know what it will be, but we can’t have that in our league.”

Good strong words. With luck it rattled a couple windows at the N.B.A. headquarters in Manhattan.

Then eyes turned to the Clippers on Sunday afternoon. These professional athletes have trained all their lives for their shot at an N.B.A. title. They are at their physical peak, a time measured in short years. Only a glib fool would argue their choices Sunday were obvious.

The Clippers players turned their red practice jerseys inside out, like baseball players wearing silly rally caps. Then the horn sounded and they wore their real jerseys and that was that.

Yet you wondered: Was that all they had?

What if the Clippers players had remained seated and refused to take the court? The N.B.A., whose corporate leaders and owners have known of Sterling’s racial and sexual grotesqueries for decades, and of the federal lawsuit that charged he would not rent apartments to blacks, would face a moment of truth.

Would the N.B.A. executives make the Clippers, most of whose players are black, forfeit a playoff game?

And what if the Golden State Warriors players and coaches had announced in advance that they would not accept that forfeit? They could have agreed to sit out the next game, and thus force yet another embarrassment down the gullet of the N.B.A. executives.

Look, the rejoinder to this argument arrives with its own moral force. The Clippers players and coaches are no doubt mortified to have awakened in the midst of a playoff run to find that they are working for the Bull Connor of Southern California.

Maybe the players and coaches didn’t take a stand because they had already sold out.  Sterling has been known to be a racist for decades and yet everyone has remained silent.  Doc Rivers said he didn’t know Sterling was a racist before he took the job.  I am going to flat out say that he was lying.  If he didn’t know, he is an ignorant and isolated man incapable of leading a basketball team.   Sterling’s racist acts have been known for decades, challenged in court, and all over the news.  He would have known about them as a player and coach but instead took the money to play in Los Angeles with the hope that it was dealt with. 

It wasn’t and instead of taking a stand, they waited for someone else to do something.  Hardly the story of courage; it’s the story of sellouts who all signed a contract that was offered to them by someone that can’t stand the colour of many of their skins.

In Kennedy’s Death, a Turning Point for a Nation Already Torn

From the New York Times

The New York Times

The best-selling nonfiction book when he was killed was Victor Lasky’s “J.F.K: The Man and the Myth,” a dubiously researched jumble of smears and innuendo, including the stale rumor that Kennedy, an observant Catholic, had suppressed a previous marriage to a Palm Beach socialite. The book was briefly removed from circulation by its publisher, Macmillan, after Kennedy’s death.

Kennedy hatred was deepest, perhaps, in the South, where civil rights battles had grown increasingly tense. “White violence was sort of considered the status quo,” Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and is the author of “Carry Me Home,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the racial unrest of 1963, said recently.

“There had been so many bombings that people had accepted it,” Ms. McWhorter said. But in May, the city’s blacks struck back, attacking the police and firefighters and setting several businesses on fire. In September, only two months before Dallas, white supremacists in Birmingham planted a bomb in a black church, killing four young girls.

Kennedy himself was a reluctant supporter of civil rights legislation, but when at last he called for it, many Southern whites were enraged.

“I was in my gym class at the Brooke Hill School for girls,” Ms. McWhorter recalled. “Someone came in and said the president had been shot, and people cheered.”

How the GOP will win this fall

From Charles Blow

As The New York Times reported this week, Paul Ryan made the trip on Tuesday to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has pledged to spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama. No reporters were allowed in, of course.

As The Times’s editorial page pointed out on Friday:

“Last year, his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, announced that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — specifically, that it bribed Chinese officials for help in expanding its casino empire in Macau. Later, the F.B.I. became involved, and even Chinese regulators looked askance at the company’s conduct, fining it $1.6 million for violating foreign exchange rules, The Times reported on Monday.”

There was a saying I heard growing up in Louisiana: “Bad money doesn’t spend right.”

On Wednesday, a judge in Pennsylvania who is a Republican refused to block a ridiculously restrictive, Republican-backed voter identification law from going into effect in the state, which is a critical swing state. Surprise, surprise.

And to add insult to injury, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday: “On the same day a judge cleared the way for the state’s new voter identification law to take effect, the Corbett administration abandoned plans to allow voters to apply online for absentee ballots for the November election and to register online to vote.”

Corbett is Tom Corbett, the Republican governor of the state.

The ethics of bankers

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times

Citigroup is lucky that Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed when he was. The Libyan leader’s death diverted attention from a lethal article involving Citigroup that deserved more attention because it helps to explain why many average Americans have expressed support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The news was that Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.

It doesn’t get any more immoral than this. As the Securities and Exchange Commission civil complaint noted, in 2007, Citigroup exercised “significant influence” over choosing $500 million of the $1 billion worth of assets in the deal, and the global bank deliberately chose collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s, built from mortgage loans almost sure to fail. According to The Wall Street Journal, the S.E.C. complaint quoted one unnamed C.D.O. trader outside Citigroup as describing the portfolio as resembling something your dog leaves on your neighbor’s lawn. “The deal became largely worthless within months of its creation,” The Journal added. “As a result, about 15 hedge funds, investment managers and other firms that invested in the deal lost hundreds of millions of dollars, while Citigroup made $160 million in fees and trading profits.”

How does this happen?

Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from Opensecrets.org calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.

We can’t afford this any longer. We need to focus on four reforms that don’t require new bureaucracies to implement. 1) If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big and needs to be broken up. We can’t risk another trillion-dollar bailout. 2) If your bank’s deposits are federally insured by U.S. taxpayers, you can’t do any proprietary trading with those deposits — period. 3) Derivatives have to be traded on transparent exchanges where we can see if another A.I.G. is building up enormous risk. 4) Finally, an idea from the blogosphere: U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they’re taking money from. The public needs to know.

Law firm mock’s its victims

Law firm mocking the clients it forclosed on

New York police aren’t the only ones that can be clueless, a Buffalo law firm named Steven J. Baum had a Halloween party last year. Joe Nocera in the New York Times describes it.

Let me describe a few of the photos. In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: “3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served.” My source said that “I was never served” is meant to mock “the typical excuse” of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding.

A second picture shows a coffin with a picture of a woman whose eyes have been cut out. A sign on the coffin reads: “Rest in Peace. Crazy Susie.” The reference is to Susan Chana Lask, a lawyer who had filed a class-action suit against Steven J. Baum — and had posted a YouTube video denouncing the firm’s foreclosure practices. “She was a thorn in their side,” said my source.

A third photograph shows a corner of Baum’s office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed homes. Another shows a sign that reads, “Baum Estates” — needless to say, it’s also full of foreclosed houses. Most of the other pictures show either mock homeless camps or mock foreclosure signs — or both. My source told me that not every Baum department used the party to make fun of the troubled homeowners they made their living suing. But some clearly did. The adjective she’d used when she sent them to me — “appalling” — struck me as exactly right.

Law firm mocking homeless encampments

More from Nocera

When I called a press spokesman for Steven J. Baum to ask about the photographs, he sent me a statement a few hours later. “It has been suggested that some employees dress in … attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes,” the statement read. “Nothing could be further from the truth.” It described this column as “another attempt by The New York Times to attack our firm and our work.”

After the photos were posted online, the law firm apologized and said the party was in bad taste.

The head of the firm, Steven J. Baum, said in a statement to The Buffalo News on Saturday that the photos “obviously were in poor taste.”

“On behalf of the firm, I sincerely apologize for what happened last year at our Halloween party,” he said.

The failure of poverty programs

David Brooks in the New York Times.

Let’s say you want to reduce poverty. We have two traditional understandings of poverty. The first presumes people are rational. They are pursuing their goals effectively and don’t need much help in changing their behavior. The second presumes that the poor are afflicted by cultural or psychological dysfunctions that sometimes lead them to behave in shortsighted ways. Neither of these theories has produced much in the way of effective policies.

Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently, with federal help, been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.

Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.

What happened to Flight 447?

This isn’t exactly breaking news, PBS covered this last year but it’s amazing that simple $2500 pitot brought down one of the safest airliners on the market. 

Here is how the New York Time’s magazine explains the crash and disappearance of Flight 447.

Air France Airbus A330In the last four minutes before the crash, the airplane sent a series of 24 automatic fault messages to a maintenance center in France. Among these, the first to jump out at experts involved a part called the pitot probe. Pitots (pronounced PEE-toes) are small cylinders that sit outside the body of the plane to calculate airspeed. The cost of a pitot probe is not high — about $3,500 each for the model on Flight 447, which disappears in the $200 million cost of a plane — but their importance would be hard to overstate. Without them, a plane’s flight computer has no way to determine speed, and the automatic pilot shuts down. That means that if any of the pitot probes, sticking out into the wind, happen to get clogged with dirt or ice, the plane will suddenly revert to manual control, forcing pilots to take the stick of a half-million-pound aircraft in whatever conditions disrupted the pitot in the first place.

In theory, this shouldn’t cause a crash. The probes can be compared to a speedometer in a car: steady on the gas, and you’ll be fine. Pilots are trained to respond to pitot failure by maintaining pitch and thrust until the probes resume working. Most of the time, they do.

But during the period of manual control, the margin of error is thin. For a passenger jet like the A330, the ideal cruising speed is about 560 miles per hour. If you go much faster, the center of lift moves back on the wing, pushing the nose down and increasing velocity, until you soon approach the speed of sound. At that point, shockwaves develop on the wings, interrupting the flow of air and reducing lift. The nose of the plane then gets forced into a dive that the pilot may not be able to pull out of. Then again, if you go too slow, the airplane stalls and falls. A plane must maintain a minimum speed to generate lift, and the higher it travels, the faster it must go. At 35,000 feet, the gap between too fast and too slow narrows ever closer. Pilots call it coffin corner.

This is where it gets unnerving.  Air France and Airbus knew the problem existed in the part but they decided not to replace the pitot’s with an upgraded version.  Again, it’s only a $2500 part.

Looking over the recent history of pitot failure can be unnerving. Peter Goelz, the former N.T.S.B. director, recalled several episodes during his tenure, but one in particular stood out: the crash of Birgenair Flight 301 in February 1996. “We had a Boeing 757 that had been on the ground in the Dominican Republic for a month,” he said. The investigation concluded that “during that time, one of the pitot probes got an insect nest built in it. Well, the crew took off and flew the plane right into the ocean.” All 189 people onboard died.

The pitot probes on Flight 447 were even more vulnerable than most in conditions like those at Tasil Point. They were produced by a French company, Thales, and the model was known as AA. In the years leading up to the crash of Flight 447, the Thales AA was problematic in places where the meteorological conditions do funny things with water. At high altitude and low temperatures, water sometimes doesn’t freeze. Instead, it hovers, but as soon as something solid — like a pitot tube — flies through it, the water flash-freezes to form ice. Until heaters can melt the ice, the pitot probes are out.

This could happen to any kind of pitot probe, but by the summer of 2009, the problem of icing on the Thales AA was known to be especially common. Why the probes were still in use is a contentious question, but here is what we know for sure: Between 2003 and 2008, there were at least 17 cases in which the Thales AA had problems on the Airbus A330 and its sister plane, the A340. In September 2007, Airbus issued a “service bulletin” suggesting that airlines replace the AA pitots with a newer model, the BA, which was said to work better in ice.

In response, Air France’s official policy was to replace the AA pitots on its A330 planes “only when a failure occurred.” In August 2008, executives at Air France asked Airbus for proof that the BA pitots worked better in ice, and faced with the question, Airbus conceded that it did not have proof. So it removed the claim from the service bulletin. Another five months passed.

During that time, another airline, Air Caraïbes, experienced two close calls with the Thales AA on its Airbus A330s. The company’s chief executive immediately ordered the part scrapped from the fleet and alerted European regulators, who then began asking questions. In their conversations with Airbus, regulators learned of the 17 cases of icing, and they also discovered, looking at those cases, that the failures seemed to be happening more often (9 of the 17 occured in 2008). None of the failures seemed to signal an immediate danger, so the Thales AA was not removed from service. Regulators simply asked Airbus to watch the problem and report back in a year.

It gets worse.

In private, some B.E.A. investigators agree that they have found things that disturb them. After the plane’s final communication, for example, it took nearly 11 hours for a search team to be sent to Tasil Point. For the first hour, air traffic controllers generated a “virtual flight” on their computers, as is common practice, passing the plane along its intended route. For the next two hours, controllers checked periodically to see if anyone had seen the plane, and when a controller in Brazil asked a controller in Senegal if the plane had reached Cape Verde, the controller in Senegal said that Cape Verde hadn’t talked to them but not to worry; so the controller in Brazil didn’t. By the time Air France alerted a satellite search-and-rescue, 4 hours and 20 minutes had passed, and then it was another two hours before anyone notified the B.E.A. A search team lifted off in Dakar 10 hours after the last radio contact and for the next 45 minutes flew toward Cape Verde, where they assumed the plane had gone down.

When I asked the director of the B.E.A., Jean-Paul Troadec, if this was a suitable response time, he practically jumped from his seat and cried: “No! It’s not! The alert should have been much more quick!” Yet the reports from Troadec’s office draw no such conclusion. When I asked another B.E.A. investigator, Olivier Ferrante, whether it is difficult to write the reports without pointing out mistakes, he acknowledged that it is a matter of craft. “This requires discipline in report writing,” he said. “For example, we don’t use the word ‘fault.’ We prefer to use the word ‘error,’ which has more proactive connotations.”

There does seem to be an incredible lack of transparency when it comes to airline maintenance and procedures.  If Air Canada or anyone isn’t keeping up with maintenance regulations and suggestions, shouldn’t that be public knowledge?  The NTSB website isn’t bad but it isn’t proactive.  How hard is it to list airlines who are compliant or non-compliant with the bulletins.  They can even explain why they aren’t compliant if you want to present both sides of the story but as an airline passenger, I want to know if the airline I am flying on is cutting corners when it comes to airplane maintenance.

The lost art of journalism

About a month ago, venture capitalist Chris Sacca wrote this on Twitter.

Journalism: The art of ignoring all the facts that don’t support the article you’ve already written.

I retweeted this and replied:

The same could be said for my blogging….

Sacca’s quote generated some discussion on Twitter and some email as well.  Some asked if I believed it, some just trashed it, while some wondered if he was right.

Here are my personal thoughts on the subject, something I have been thinking about for over 16 years.

Lawrence Phillips In 1995, a Nebraska football player named Lawrence Phillips violently beat his his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen.  He dragged her down a flight of stairs and it was a horrific scene.  A situation in any other university, the player would be expelled.  Instead of being kicked off the team, kicked out of school, he suspended from the Husker football team by coach Tom Osborne.  He sat out a game and then started to play again.  There was some national outrage but at the local Cornhusker press conference, the local media didn’t ask Osborne a thing about it.  The media was dependent on it’s access to Osbourne and wasn’t going to let a shameful decision by the coach affect that access and was silent when security kicked the network news crew out of there for asking hard questions. 

The same thing happened during the Rick Pitino debacle in Louisville, the Jim Tressel fiasco at THE Ohio State, and basically everywhere John Calipari that has coached.  Don’t even get started with Rogers Sportsnet brining in the compulsive rumor fabricator Eklund onto their trade deadline show.  He was proven to be a liar before they ever brought him on their air.  In many media markets the local sports coverage is so dependent on it’s access to the program that it has stopped covering the program and instead becomes beholden to it and transforms into it’s P.R. arm (it doesn’t have to be that way, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and New York Post hockey writer Larry Brooks essentially hate each other)

During the same time of the Lawrence Phillips assault and whitewash, investigative journalist Gary Webb was writing a series of articles about the Dark Alliance which accused the CIA of drug smuggling.  The San Jose Mercury News stood by the story, backed away from the story and when things got tough for the paper, tossed Webb under a bus which ended his career as an investigative reporter.  After Webb committed suicide, other papers started to verify his stories but the Mercury News blinked in the face of opposition.

Probably the most famous case of mass newsroom and editorial failure was the lead up to the Iraq War.  The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and most other papers were touting the American government line that there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  At the same time some American and most of the world’s media outlets were saying that there was no weapons of mass destruction.  It was kind of surreal.  I would wake up every morning and read the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today and see compelling (and competing) arguments for the invasion of Iraq while in the evening I would come home and watch Kudlow & Cramer which had a regular series of experts (including Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector) on the show all stating that there was no WMD in Iraq.  I remember after the invasion of Iraq was complete and there was no WMDs thinking, “I got it right, CBC got it right, Kudlow & Cramer got it right, CBC got it right… why did almost everyone else get it wrong?”  The New York Times later talked about being caught up in the mood of the nation, believing Colin Powell, and their government sources.  So much for questioning everything.

We saw the same thing with the Irish media and their boosterism of the Irish economy the expansion of real estate values.  From Michael Lewis’ article in the New Yorker

The Irish IndependentKelly wrote his second newspaper article, more or less predicting the collapse of the Irish banks. He pointed out that in the last decade they and the economy had fundamentally changed. In 1997 the Irish banks were funded entirely by Irish deposits. By 2005 they were getting most of their money from abroad. The small German savers who ultimately supplied the Irish banks with deposits to re-lend in Ireland could take their money back with the click of a computer mouse. Since 2000, lending to construction and real estate had risen from 8 percent of Irish bank lending (the European norm) to 28 percent. One hundred billion euros—or basically the sum total of all Irish public bank deposits—had been handed over to Irish property developers and speculators. By 2007, Irish banks were lending 40 percent more to property developers than they had to the entire Irish population seven years earlier. “You probably think that the fact that Irish banks have given speculators €100 billion to gamble with, safe in the knowledge that taxpayers will cover most losses, is a cause of concern to the Irish Central Bank,” Kelly wrote, “but you would be quite wrong.”

This time Kelly sent his piece to a newspaper with a far bigger circulation, the Irish Independent. The Independent’s editor wrote back to say he found the article offensive and wouldn’t publish it. Kelly next turned to The Sunday Business Post, but the editor there just sat on the piece. The journalists were following the bankers’ lead and conflating a positive outlook on real-estate prices with a love of country and a commitment to Team Ireland. (“They’d all use this same phrase, ‘You’re either for us or against us,’ ” says a prominent bank analyst in Dublin.) Kelly finally went back to The Irish Times, which ran his article in September 2007.

So what causes entire newsrooms to get a big story wrong?  One local reporter suggested it was trusting different sources which kind of makes sense but it doesn’t explain why the CBC, CTV, and CNBC went a different direction than the New York Times and Washington Post.  This wasn’t the case of two reporters hearing two different stories about Jerome Igninla being traded, this was a story that sent a nation to war for years and the reporting was very one sided by the Times and Post.   Why did most of the American media buy the Pentagon sell job and most of the international media did not?

While it is popular to say that everyone got it wrong, a post by Arriana Huffington from 2004 that everyone did not.

Among them is Joe Lauria, a reporter who has covered the UN since 1990 for a variety of papers, including the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe. He bridles at Miller’s claim. "I didn’t get it wrong," he told me. "And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true."

This is no time for rewriting history, or for allowing those who helped the Bush White House market the war to fall back on the comfort and safety of a collective "we all screwed up." After all, as Jack Shafer pointed out on Thursday, even in the New York Times there were "at least four non-Miller stories published during the war’s run-up that glower with skepticism about the administration’s case and methods."

So what went wrong at the Times?  Michael Massing’s essay in the New York Review of Books offers this up.

Why, I wondered, had it taken the Times so long to report this? Around the time that Jehl’s article appeared, I ran into a senior editor at the Times and asked him about it. Well, he said, some reporters at the paper had relied heavily on Chalabi as a source and so were not going to write too critically about him.

After looking at this, he concludes

This points to a larger problem. In the period before the war, US journalists were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration. Those with dissenting views—and there were more than a few—were shut out. Reflecting this, the coverage was highly deferential to the White House. This was especially apparent on the issue of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—the heart of the President’s case for war. Despite abundant evidence of the administration’s brazen misuse of intelligence in this matter, the press repeatedly let officials get away with it. As journalists rush to chronicle the administration’s failings on Iraq, they should pay some attention to their own.

Judith Miller, who was responsible for much of the New York TImes reporting blamed her sources.  This confused Slate’s Jack Slater as Miller claimed her roll is to share the what people in official positions tell her rather than question and investigate what she is hearing.

My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction. [Click here for Miller Clip 3.]

More disturbingly, a later investigation by Byron Calame, suggested there was a fair amount of editorial incompetence in the New York Times Newsrooms as well.

By the spring of 2003, the newsroom was overwhelmed by the Jayson Blair fiasco, and Mr. Raines and the managing editor, Gerald Boyd, left the paper. When Bill Keller became executive editor on July 30, 2003, he focused on dealing with the trauma of the Blair scandal. Nevertheless, with questions growing about weapons in Iraq, he told Ms. Miller she could no longer cover those issues. But it took until May 2004 – more than a year after the war started and about a year after it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – before The Times acknowledged in an editors’ note that the coverage was flawed. Mr. Keller then directed her to stay away from all national security issues.

The Times weren’t the only ones who had jumped on the WMD bandwagon.  The Washington Post was in there as well.

On December 12, for example, The Washington Post ran a front-page story by Barton Gellman contending that al-Qaeda had obtained a nerve agent from Iraq. Most of the evidence came from administration officials, and it was so shaky as to draw the attention of Michael Getler, the paper’s ombudsman. In his weekly column, Getler wrote that the article had so many qualifiers and caveats that

the effect on the complaining readers, and on me, is to ask what, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?

The question is asked,

And why, he might have added, didn’t the Post and other papers devote more time to pursuing the claims about the administration’s manipulation of intelligence? Part of the explanation, no doubt, rests with the Bush administration’s skill at controlling the flow of news. “Their management of information is far greater than that of any administration I’ve seen,” Knight Ridder’s John Walcott observed. “They’ve made it extremely difficult to do this kind of [investigative] work.” That management could take both positive forms—rewarding sympathetic reporters with leaks, background interviews, and seats on official flights—and negative ones—freezing out reporters who didn’t play along. In a city where access is all, few wanted to risk losing it.

Which isn’t a lot different than what happened at the University of Nebraska with Tom Osbourne.  The other factor is the same that played into the Irish financial implosion (and the American housing boom), reporters were afraid of being on the wrong side of public opinion.

Such sanctions were reinforced by the national political climate. With a popular president promoting war, Democrats in Congress were reluctant to criticize him. This deprived reporters of opposition voices to quote, and of hearings to cover. Many readers, meanwhile, were intolerant of articles critical of the President. Whenever The Washington Post ran such pieces, reporter Dana Priest recalls, “We got tons of hate mail and threats, calling our patriotism into question.” Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and The Weekly Standard, among others, all stood ready to pounce on journalists who strayed, branding them liberals or traitors—labels that could permanently damage a career. Gradually, journalists began to muzzle themselves.

Not everyone censored themselves.

In the weeks following the speech, one journalist—Walter Pincus of The Washington Post—developed strong reservations about it. A longtime investigative reporter, Pincus went back and read the UN inspectors’ reports of 1998 and 1999, and he was struck to learn from them how much weaponry had been destroyed in Iraq before 1998. He also tracked down General Anthony Zinni, the former head of the US Central Command, who described the hundreds of weapons sites the United States had destroyed in its 1998 bombing. All of this, Pincus recalled, “made me go back and read Powell’s speech closely. And you could see that it was all inferential. If you analyzed all the intercepted conversations he discussed, you could see that they really didn’t prove anything.”

By mid-March, Pincus felt he had enough material for an article questioning the administration’s claims on Iraq. His editors weren’t interested. It was only after the intervention of his colleague Bob Woodward, who was researching a book on the war and who had developed similar doubts, that the editors agreed to run the piece—on page A17. Despite the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD, it began, “US intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden….” Noting the pressure intelligence analysts were feeling from the White House and Pentagon, Pincus wrote that senior officials, in making the case for war, “repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998.”

Two days later, Pincus, together with Dana Milbank, the Post‘s White House correspondent, was back with an even more critical story. “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week,” it began, “it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged—and in some cases disproved—by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports.” That story appeared on page A13.

The placement of these stories was no accident, Pincus says. “The front pages ofThe New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think,” he told me. “They’re like writing a memo to the White House.” But the Post‘s editors, he said, “went through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference.”

John Walcott of Knight Ridder The McClatchy Company suggests it was partially due to some lazy reporting.

If nothing else, the Iraq saga should cause journalists to examine the breadth of their sources. “One question worth asking,” John Walcott of Knight Ridder says, “is whether we in journalism have become too reliant on high-level officials instead of cultivating less glamorous people in the bowels of the bureaucracy. “In the case of Iraq, he added, the political appointees “really closed ranks. So if you relied exclusively on traditional news sources—assistant secretaries and above—you would not have heard things we heard.” What Walcott calls “the blue collar” employees of the agencies—the working analysts or former analysts—were drawn on extensively by Knight Ridder, but by few others.

It paints a pretty ugly picture of journalism.  The part of it that gave me hope was what happened to Judith Miller.  First of all, Maureen Dowd went to town on Miller’s reporting 

Judy admitted in the story that she ‘got it totally wrong’ about W.M.D. ‘If your sources are wrong,’ she said, ‘you are wrong.’ But investigative reporting is not stenography. . .

The next day, public editor, Byron Calame wrote,

Ms. Miller may still be best known for her role in a series of Times articles in 2002 and 2003 that strongly suggested Saddam Hussein already had or was acquiring an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction… Many of those articles turned out to be inaccurate."

Barack Obama's birth certificate Have they changed?  Well today Fox News asked their viewers regarding Barack Obama’s long form birth certificate, "is it good enough for you?"

The Nation looks back at the reporting that defined the Mission Accomplished event.  A mission so accomplished that there was another 4,000 American and a couple hundred thousand Iraqi casualties.  Try to control the grimace as you read what Maureen Dowd wrote.

George Bush - Mission Accomplished Maureen Dowd in her column declared: “Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.

“He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ”revvin’ up your engine” myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies look like Lizzie McGuire.

“This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.”

So much for the paper of record.  It asks the question, if I can’t expect the New York Times, Washington Post, or the any newspaper in Ireland to stand up to popular opinion and keep digging for the truth, why expect more from The StarPhoenix or local television stations.  While they probably aren’t offered rides on Air Force One, how do I know that selections on The StarPhoenix’s 52 things to love about Saskatoon aren’t connected to advertising buys? (especially when reading this article) or electoral coverage is not influenced by the same access issues that sucked in Judith Miller and a lot of other respected journalists?  Who knows what information that James Wood has published after Premier Brad Wall offered to help him win the office football pool?

I almost everything before this paragraph last the day that Sacca’s tweet appeared.  Since then I have been wondering, do I trust journalism.

First of all, there is a difference between news entertainment and journalism.  What FOX News practices, what MSNBC does, and what SUN TV parades out isn’t journalism.  It’s driven by ratings and is all about profit.  Now I may find Keith Olbermann a lot more entertaining and less offensive then Glenn Beck, it’s still not journalism.  Does anyone even on the right think that Sarah Palin is on FOX News for any other reason than to further her own political aspirations (faltering as they are)?

I believe in it because as I have grown older and wiser, I know it when I see it.  This winter a reporter came in and did a story where she opened with the line, “I am just going through the motions on this story but at least I don’t have to endure another day of —-.”  Seriously.  Another local reporter assured me that I was off the record and direct quoted me.  I had read of stupid reporters in Warren Kinsella’s book Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics and The War Room but thought they were confined to covering politics (or Nebraska football).  Apparently it’s not and I learned it the hard way.  Even I have a blacklist of local reporters I will no longer talk to and sadly I keep a voice recorder in my office drawer after being misquoted.

Do I trust journalism?  I don’t know but I have grown to trust specific journalists and yes, I trust many outlets.  In addition to The StarPhoenix there are papers and magazines that are an important part of my daily life, including those that have screwed up big time in the past (I’m looking at you, The New York Times and the Washington Post).  They are the papers and magazines that I toss in front of Mark and later Oliver that will teach them a global worldview, the importance of figuring out both sides of a story, and in the case of some papers, how to handle a situation when you have screwed up.  Others will teach Mark what happens when you lose your intellectual integrity and only choose to see one side of an argument so I guess Fox News does have some value after all.

Who has the best resume?

Timothy Egan points out that the best looking resume doesn’t always make the best leader.

Harry S. Truman was ridiculed as a haberdasher — a wonderful old word that fell out of use as men’s clothiers gave way to big-box retailers. He was also the only 20th-century American president without a college degree.

Yet Truman finished the war against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan and oversaw plans that got Europe back on its feet. He racially integrated the armed forces by executive order. History has been kind to him. And, by the way, he was a failed haberdasher at that; his store went bankrupt.

Ronald Reagan, that B-list actor — what could he know about running the most powerful nation in the world? Instinctively, he knew enough to make peace with a cold war adversary at the right moment rather than push him into a nuclear corner.

What’s it like to write for the New York Times

Neil Strauss vs. the New York Times copy editor.

Editing an article that quotes the Courtney Love lyric, “I’m eating you / I’m overfed” . . .

COPYEDITOR: We have to remove that quote.

What’s wrong with it?

COPYEDITOR: It’s about oral sex.

The whole article hinges on that lyric.

COPYEDITOR: If you want, I can run it past the news desk and see what they say.

Ten minutes later . . .

COPYEDITOR: The news desk says it’s about oral sex.

#

Editing a concert review in which singer Francis Dunnery describes himself as “complete scumbag white trash from the north of England” . . .

COPYEDITOR: We can’t use the word “scumbag.”

Why is that?

COPYEDITOR: Because it refers to a condom.

What’s wrong with condoms?

COPYEDITOR: It’s a family newspaper. You and I might like to talk about scumbags, but that’s on our own time.

Then there is this.

Editing an article in which country singer Steve Wariner recalls Garth Brooks signing autographs for “twenty-four hours straight without a pee break”…

COPYEDITOR: We’re going to have to send that to the news desk.

Because of the word “pee”?

COPYEDITOR: Yes, it’s scatological.

Ten minutes later . . .

COPYEDITOR: What do you want to say instead?

You mean the word pee is unacceptable?

COPYEDITOR: Let’s not argue about it.

The New York Times paywall and the future of journalism

Good editorial in the New York Times about why the New York Times has been quiet about their coming paywall.  In it there is this interesting tidbit:

The stakes for The Times, which like other newspaper companies has seen major declines in print advertising revenues, are enormous. I asked Mr. Morton to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, the strategic importance of the pending pay model to the future of the organization.

“For the future of The Times,” he replied, “I would say it is somewhere around 10, if not higher.”

If the New York Times needs this to survive, what about the other national papers like USA Today, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail.  The Wall Street Journal already has a paywall approach (which I think has become quite profitable).  I have heard that The StarPhoenix turns a profit but it would have nowhere near the newsroom and bureau cost’s of the New York Times and more or less depends exclusively on the wire services for international coverage.  Still it’s a sad day when the paper of record becomes a closed archive unless we are planning to pay (which I will be paying for).