The Odd Disinterest in a Real-Life Spy Thriller

The U.S. is attempting to deport Mosab Hassan Yousef based on his autobiography, Son of Hamas, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t gotten more attention.

Yousef’s father was a co-founder of Hamas, the terrorist organization that masquerades as the government of the Gaza Strip.  I just finished reading the younger Yousef’s book, published earlier this year, which describes how he spent a decade spying on Hamas on behalf of the Israeli government.  In the process he converted to Christianity, which all by itself is reason enough for the “Religion of Peace” to mark him for death.

Yousef initially started following in his father’s footsteps, but quickly soured on the violence, and began tipping off Israel’s Shin Bet security service about planned terror attacks, or when he learned of the location of wanted terrorists.  Eventually he tired of the tension and the danger, and sought asylum in the United States.

Now Homeland Security is using the book to try to deport Yousef for providing “material support” for terrorists — despite the fact that he was saving Israeli lives from those very terrorists.

Why isn’t this bigger news?

I get only 33 hits when I Google for “Mosab”, and a handful of those aren’t even about the same Mosab.  (Googling for “Yousef” unleashes a 3 million-hit deluge, mostly about other Yousefs.) The Wall Street Journal editorial page did its part, weighing in earlier this month:

The problem seems to be that, under a provision of U.S. immigration law, anyone who is shown to have provided “material support” for terrorist organizations is automatically denied asylum. In the relentless way that bureaucracy works, this is being interpreted as leaving little discretion for deserving exceptions like the case of Mr. Yousef.

Mr. Yousef is a native of the West Bank, which is where he would presumably return if he is deported and where Hamas would immediately seek to kill him. … It would dishonor the U.S. to deport a convert in the war on terror because our immigration bureaucracy is too obtuse to make even life and death distinctions.

But aside from the Journal, most of the scant interest in Yousef has come from Jewish and Christian media outlets.  Here’s a well-done report from the Christian Broadcasting Network:

Yousef’s deportation hearing in San Diego is next Wednesday — presumably we’ll all be reading more about him then.  In the meantime you can buy Yousef’s book from my Amazon widget at right.

Zakaria Lays the Right Oily Blame at the Foot of the Wrong Target

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek International and CNN is a bright man and an insightful commentator.  In this 2:26 video, he does as good a job as I’ve seen of describing the ridiculous spectacle that the gulf oil disaster has become — from President Obama’s demeaning efforts to appear sufficiently angry, to the temporary neglect  of other pressing issues where the president’s personal involvement might actually be helpful.  (Hat tip: Glen Gill)

But Zakaria blames this on the news media, and I think that gets it backwards.  Yes, the media has been milking the drama for everything it’s worth (Day 60!) — but that’s what the media does.  It’s up to Obama to keep the media tail from wagging the presidential dog.  I would much rather see Obama leave the oil crisis in the hands of the experts and stick to his scheduled visit with Asian allies — instead of blowing them off for the second time.

Sometimes a president has to rise above public opinion and do what’s right.  George Bush showed how to do that by insisting on the surge in Iraq in the face of intense public pressure — and it worked so well that his successor, who campaigned on a platform of surrender at all costs, had little choice but to stay the course.

I guess you could argue that Obama showed similar fortitude by sticking with the immensely unpopular health care “reform” legislation.  But I’d call that rising above public opinion to do what’s wrong.

Brush With “Greatness”: Following in Helen Thomas’s Footsteps

(Home News photo by Dick Costello)

I have the (pick an adjective) distinction of being only the second journalist to interview Jimmy Carter after he left office in early 1981.  The first, Carter told me, was Helen Thomas, the long-time White House correspondent who resigned under pressure today after making astonishingly offensive comments to the effect that “the Jews” should get the hell out of “Palestine” and go “home” to Germany and Poland.

But enough about Helen Thomas. That handsome young fellow on the right in the photo is me, nearly 30 years (and 40 pounds) ago.  You’ll recognize Jimmy, and of course the other two guys are Secret Service.  I was frankly surprised that I got as close to the former President as I did without being frisked, or at least asked to open my coat.  This was before Reagan was shot, but after the unsuccessful attempts on President Ford.

I was a recently minted Princeton graduate working as a cub reporter at The Home News, a small (but high-quality!) daily newspaper in New Brunswick, NJ.  Carter was visiting Princeton to check out potential colleges for his daughter Amy, and we had heard that his habit was to go out for a run in the early morning hours.  Princeton bordered on towns in our circulation area — close enough to authorize mileage reimbursement for a long-shot assignment.  The assignment editor said he picked me because I knew the campus, but I suspect it had more to do with the 6 a.m. start time and my lack of seniority.

Carter stayed at one of the gated mansions the university owns just off campus (for Princeton buffs, it was either Palmer House or Lowrie House, I forget which).  There were two gates to the property, and I walked back and forth from one to the other, sometimes stamping my feet to stay warm.  I’m pretty sure it was in March.  Between my Princeton loans and my unprincely salary, generic white sneakers were the best I could do for footwear.

All of a sudden the gate swung open — the gate I wasn’t at, of course — and Carter walked out with his bodyguards.  I trotted over, told him my name and affiliation, and said I had recently graduated from Princeton.  He said something like, “good, you can give me a tour, then.” Turns out he had forgotten his running shoes, so we walked.  Much better for note-taking.

About that time Dick Costello arrived.  He was the paper’s senior photographer, and he took the photo.  These days he would upload it wirelessly to the paper’s FTP site, but on that day he grinned and waved and dashed for his car, hoping he had something in focus as he raced up Route 1 to swish smelly chemicals in a darkened room.

We crossed Nassau Street… strike that.

The former President and I crossed Nassau Street — probably at the light, although I certainly would have jaywalked if I were alone — and walked through the FitzRandolph Gates in front of Nassau Hall.  I can’t remember whether I had the presence of mind to tell him that Nassau Hall briefly was the seat of the fledgling United States government during the Revolutionary War.  I do remember telling him, in my role as tour guide, that “these are mostly dormitories” around us.  I think I said that twice.  (Holy crap, this guy was President just a few months ago!)

Despite the passage of time, I’m kind of astonished at how little I remember of our walk.  I had voted against the man twice (John Anderson in 1980 and… um… Eugene McCarthy in 1976).  The previous spring, after shedding the objectivity shackles of my work for the student newspaper, I had marched in demonstrations protesting Carter’s decision to reinstate registration for the draft.

All that was as if it had never been.  I was star-struck.  I was 22.

The Home News was one of the last afternoon papers in the country, and the front-page deadlines were in the early morning.  I found a pay phone and called in a few factoids in time for the One-Star Edition, then I headed for my own car.

As soon as I walked in to the newsroom I started hearing murmurs.  He didn’t ask this, he didn’t ask that.  He got nothing.  What a wasted opportunity.  My self-esteem meter was perpetually frozen in the “I suck” position, and it didn’t take much to deflate me.

I was asked to write a second-day, “I-interviewed-Jimmy-Carter” article, and I turned in a draft that focused on how much I suck.  I can still remember Tom Hester, the City Editor, holding the delete button while a couple of self-rebuking paragraphs scrolled off the screen.  “Listen, these guys didn’t get the story.  YOU got the story.”

I think the clips are up in the attic somewhere, but I’m not up for confronting whatever else lurks in those boxes.  (The photo has been hanging on my dining room wall since I rediscovered it a decade ago.)  I remember I asked Carter if he ever planned to run for office again, and I solemnly reported (for the first time!) that he said he would not.  If I’d thought about it, I could have fleshed out the story by saying that he also had no plans to join the Apollo space program or try out for the Mets.

Jimmy Carter went on to become either the best ex-president in history or the worst, depending on whom you ask.  Amy went to Brown University.  The Home News merged first with The News Tribune of Woodbridge and then with the Courier News of Somerville.  The combined operation sells fewer papers than The Home News alone sold in 1981 — although it still dwarfs my blog readership.  “Cos” retired a few years ago, and I got to catch up with old friends at his retirement party.  Hester graduated to the Star-Ledger of Newark, where he won a piece of a Pulitzer covering Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation in 2005.  I’ve made some progress with my self-esteem issues.

And Helen Thomas, whom Taranto has consistently described as “American journalism’s crazy old aunt in the attic,” is approximately four times as old as I was that day in 1981, although less than twice as old as I am now.  I have no idea what that signifies, but it seemed to make sense to close with something about her.

“Hide the Decline”: Global Warmists Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

These two may be endangered, but is the species?

These two may be endangered, but is the species?

Long-time readers (hi, Sweetie!) know that I am not a fan of Rush Limbaugh.  Even though my credentials as a critic of President Obama can be easily verified by skimming the Obama tag on my website,  I thought it was disgraceful, bordering on unpatriotic, when Limbaugh said of the Commander-in-Chief-elect, “I hope he fails.”

But I am a fan of a lot of conservative bloggers and pundits, which makes it impossible to avoid some exposure to Limbaugh’s oeuvre.  So I know that for years, Limbaugh has relentlessly referred to climate-change concerns as “the global warming hoax“.  I dismissed this as one more instance of Limbaugh preaching to the dittoheads.

I’ve long been skeptical about the sense of urgency that (some) climate activists display, but I’m not ready to back Limbaugh’s play and call global warming itself a hoax.  I think there is enough evidence to warrant concern about global warming, and I certainly think it’s a good idea to explore ways of reducing our dependence on carbon-based fuels such as oil — if for no other reason, because much of the world’s oil supply is under the control of regimes hostile to the United States.

But while referring to “the global warming hoax” may be a step too far, I think it’s clear now that there have been multiple global warming “hoaxes“.  If you have no idea what I’m leading up to, you might want to consider broadening your information sources.

I’m talking about a trove of data, code and emails acquired (“stolen,” if you prefer) last week from the influential Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England — which for years has collated much of the data used to substantiate the danger of global warming.  You won’t find much about it in the mainstream news media, but here’s the email that is quickly becoming iconic in the world of global warming skepticism:

From: Phil Jones
To: ray bradley ,,
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000
Cc: k.briffa@xxx.xx.xx,

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or
first thing tomorrow.
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two…

The “decline” in question appears to be a prediction of recent global cooling that would result from a computer model used to “calculate” long-ago global temperatures — if that model were carried  through to  the current day.  In other words, the model has been used to establish low baselines for long-ago temperatures, to set up the case for recent global warming.  But if the assumptions of the model are carried through to the last few decades, for which we have actual data on global temperatures, the model says temperatures should be declining — which is inconvenient if you are trying to make the case that global warming is a serious threat.  So in generating data based on their model, they use the (suspicious) model data for the early years, and substitute “real temps” for recent years.

In other, other words: They cooked the books.

There’s much more than a single damning email from 10 years ago.  Watt’s Up With That has a relentless compilation of CRU programmer and database notes that indicate CRU personnel repeatedly falsified data when necessary to avoid inconvenient results.  Pajamas Media has been all over the story (unfortunately  the functionality of their compilation page sucks), as have Taranto, Instapundit and National Review.

Soon even the MSM will be forced to take notice — the evidence is just too damning, senior Republicans are talking about congressional hearings, and the start of the UN’s long-anticipated Copenhagen climate conference is little more than a week away.

These revelations do not “settle”  the global warming issue — but they certainly should unsettle the so-called “consensus”.  Can we at least have an end to Ellen Goodman’s morally tone-deaf meme that “global-warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers”?

(Hat tip: “Global Warmists” in my title is an homage to Taranto, who told me in a private email that he came up with the term, but is not certain he was the first to do so.)

MSM Discovers Van Jones — After He Resigns

Van Jones“Green Jobs Czar” and 9/11 “Truther” Van Jones resigned this morning, shortly after midnight on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Echos of Chas Freeman: Once again an Obama appointee has been forced out amid controversy — before much of the mainstream media got around to covering the controversy.

As Jennifer Rubin of Commentary‘s Contentions blog wrote before the resignation was announced shortly after midnight this morning, It’s hard to believe this isn’t a fictional character dreamed up by Obama’s conservative critics.”  The latest revelation was that he participated in an anti-American recording narrated by convicted cop-killer and far-left poster child Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Even now, the online New York Times feels the story is worth only a bland headline in tiny type near the bottom of the homepage: “White House Adviser on ‘Green Jobs’ Resigns.”  The Washington Post, to its (comparative) credit, has a prominent link near the top of the homepage: “Embattled Obama Aide Resigns.”

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall coverage that would have ensued if a Bush appointee were discovered to have views that far out on the opposite fringe?

R.I.P., President Obama’s Honeymoon

minus-2 - obama_index_june_22_2009It’s been a while since I’ve updated the Honeymoon-Over Watch.  According to David J. Rothkopf at Foreign Policy, this should be the last update needed:

Mark it on your calendars.  It was in June 2009 that Barack Obama’s honeymoon officially ended.  And to be more specific, it was this past week.  Through some mysterious alchemy, this was the week that Bush’s economy became Obama’s, Bush’s wars became Obama’s, and the ups and downs of a real workaday relationship with the press also introduced Obama to a more accurate sense of what life was like for Bush and for all his other modern predecessors.

Last week was when Obama’s Presidential Approval Index, as measured by Rasmussen Reports, slipped into negative territory, although it has since recovered to +1 as of today’s report.  Rasmussen focuses on “strongly approve” vs. “strongly disapprove.”  I’m not sure whether this is more significant than measuring total approval vs. total disapproval, but it works against Obama, who in every poll (including Rasmussen’s) is firmly in positive territory on a total approval basis.  (Near the end of the Bush Presidency, GWB logged in at -30 on Rasmussen’s strong-opinion index.)

I’m no Obama-hater, nor do I want him to “fail,” but I’ve been rooting for the end of the honeymoon since before the inauguration.  The media’s near-deification of “The One” has been, at its worst, nothing less than appalling.  Open-minded skepticism (as opposed to cynicism) is generally the right starting point for a journalist, and more of them are getting there, as seen in additional “honeymoon-over” coverage from around the web.

In Newsweek — among the worst Obama up-suckers, as parodied by National Review — Howard Fineman focuses this week on Obama’s evolving relationship with the White House press corps:

Bottom line: things are getting a little testy and are about to get more so. … [T]he problem is that they are too cute by half. They assume they can manipulate, manage and guide the media flawlessly. They think they can ride the wave all the way every time. And why shouldn’t they? Obama’s presidential campaign, after all, was perhaps the shrewdest, most disciplined message machine ever assembled in modern electoral politics. And the coverage, overall, was often close to hagiographic. The presidency is a harder course, and the risk is that, by over-managing, the president and his aides will damage their own credibility with the press and, more important, with the public.

Europeans famously preferred Obama to McCain last fall, but the honeymoon may be over on the other side of the pond as well.  According to Der Spiegel, which James Lileks aptly called the world’s most German-sounding newspaper, America has gone from the “war president” to the “debt president”.  The newspaper predicts a day of reckoning soon:

It is often said that the Chinese and the Japanese will buy [U.S.] government bonds. But the truth of the matter is that trust in the gravitas and reliability of the United States has suffered to such a great degree that fewer and fewer foreigners are purchasing its government bonds. That’s why the Federal Reserve is now buying securities that it has printed itself. The Fed’s balance sheet has more than doubled since 2007, making the US central bank one of the world’s fastest-growing companies. The purpose of this company, though, is to create money out of thin air. …

The German response to the excesses of the Bush era was refusal and obstinacy. Gerhard Schröder refused to go to war in Iraq with America and he organized a European resistance front the reached from Moscow to Paris.

Germany still hasn’t provided its response to the Obama administration’s fiscal policy excesses. Perhaps its time for Merkel to take her cue from Schröder.

Professor Julian Zelizer of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School:

If there is any new dip in the economy, the public will blame President Obama rather than President Bush. This is exactly what happened with the recession in 1937, which FDR’s opponents called the “Roosevelt Recession,” using the downturn to diminish the number of New Deal liberals in the House and Senate in 1938.

Quoting Jonah Goldberg, who’s quoting others:

Thanks to a few pointed questions from the press corps at a White House news conference, the long Obama captivity of the media is at an end. The Hotline, an inside-the-Beltway tip sheet, proclaimed June 23 “The Day the Love Ended.”

The New York Daily News’s Michael Goodwin celebrates the press corps’s ability to channel the mood of the country: “By peppering the President with forceful questions . . . and by challenging some of his slippery answers, reporters captured the changing tone in the country. Like the end of a real honeymoon, blind infatuation is giving way to a more accurate view of reality.”

“The press corps gets it,” Goodwin writes. “For Obama, the hard part begins now.”

I’ll end with two more passages from the Rothkopf essay I started with, which is titled “The definitive, final, once and for all, Obama’s honeymoon-is-over story.” He helpfully includes a mini-roundup of other publications and websites that have declared this week that the honeymoon is over:

Of course, people have been writing about the end of Obama’s honeymoon since the day he arrived in office. [Pikers! My Honeymoon-Over Watch started January 15! – KP.] But let me offer 10 solid pieces of evidence that it was over by this week.  And I say this despite the unnerving fact that the Daily Kos seems to agree with my assessment…and shored up by the fact that NBC’s Chuck Todd, CNN’s Jack Cafferty, CQ, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and a host of other media outlets all seem to agree by having grappled with the issue…or, depending on how you look at it, succumbed to the conventional wisdom…in the past week or 10 days.  Just goes to show: even the conventional wisdom is right every once in a while. …

[details snipped]

The honeymoon is done. Time for a real life marriage. For better or for worse.

And for richer or poorer.  Fortunately, America doesn’t marry its leaders “until death do us part.” And no, dammit, I’m not wishing anybody dead.  I’m celebrating the fact that in three-plus years, our system will give us an opportunity for a course correction under new leadership, if enough Americans come to believe one is needed. In the meantime, Mr. Obama is my president, and on some level at least I wish him well.

CWCID: Thank You, Mr. President; Now Please Teach CBS How to Edit

Credit where credit is due: President Obama yesterday said unambiguously “we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way” in Iran.

And then, after days of complaints about the president’s lack of public support for the demonstrators, CBS, which had Obama’s words on tape in an exclusive interview, edited that statement out of the clip that ran on the CBS Evening News. (Hat tip: Allahpundit.)

The complete transcript is on the CBS News site, and the headline indicates that somebody at CBS knows what the news is: “Obama: Iran Proestors ‘Seeking Justice’“.

Here’s the text that was edited out, with Allahpundit’s highlighting:

What you’re seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and – and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we’ve seen violence out there. I think I’ve said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that’s a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for…

But the last point I want to make on this – this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran. This is an issue of the Iranian people. The fact that they are on the streets under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there’s something in that society that wants to open up.

I don’t see why Obama couldn’t have said that five days ago, but I’m glad he said it yesterday.  Maybe today CBS will run the good parts.

Going Back to Old Nassau

The Class of 1980 has what counts as a muted and tasteful class costume, by Princeton standards."

The Class of 1980 has what counts as a muted and tasteful class costume, by Princeton standards, with line drawings of Nassau Hall as design elements.

Today I had the high privilege and distinct honor of fighting the wind with the parade banner for the Princeton Class of 1980, leading a hardy band of quintagenerians in an off-year reunion march at the “Best Damn Place of All,” in the words of the song.

My senior picture.  Sheesh.

My senior picture. Sheesh.

When asked which side of the banner I would like to hold, I promptly said “I should have the right,” as the lovely Web Goddess rolled her Obama-supporting eyes.

The P-rade is an annual pilgrimage for me — since graduation I have never lived more than an hour away from campus, and while I haven’t made it back  every year, I’m sure I’ve been to more than 20 of my 29 reunions.  After the P-rade I always swing by The Daily Princetonian picnic, but this year I was disappointed at not finding any of the folks I worked with when I got my start as a writer.

I did see an old Princetonian friend earlier in the day, when Joel Achenbach ’82 ably moderated a panel titled “Money, Greed and the Economy: Views from the Fourth Estate.”  In addition to his day job as a reporter and columnist at the Washington Post, Joel is the Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, which sponsored the panel, and where I got one of my first actual paychecks as a freelance (I repurposed my Junior Paper about the arrival of casino gambling in Atlantic City, I think I got $100 for the article, which never ran).

Columnist George Will sat three spots away from tormentor Josh Marshall

Columnist George Will sat three spots away from tormentor Josh Marshall

The panel featured George F. Will *68 (the asterisk indicating a graduate degree) as the headliner.  The advance program advertised Katrina vanden Heuvel ’81, editor of The Nation; she was a no-show, but the Obstreperous Lefty chair was ably filled by Josh Marshall ’91 of Talking Points Memo, who seemed to take delight in sniping at George Will.   After accusing Will of having “an ideological stake” in what he was saying — pot, meet kettle —  he boasted that he was “the only business owner on the panel, I meet a payroll, I don’t just write a column.” Will replied mildly that his GFW Inc. meets a payroll — it appears to have six employees.

The discussion was interesting — Will got a laugh when he said the press generally has not focused on the “300 million real culprits” behind the economic collapse.  Peter Slevin ’78, the Washington Post’s Chicago bureau chief, told of interviewing people with $25,000 salaries who had $400,000 mortgages, as part of a lively discussion on personal responsibility and perverse banking incentives.

All in all, a long and tiring day, under beautiful blue skies, low humidity, and a nice breeze that I enjoyed once I stopped carrying the banner.  Next year is my 30th reunion, and there will be more classmates in attendance.  I’ve heard it said that no other university in the country makes as big a deal about reunions as Princeton, and I think that may well be true.

(Reunions photos by the Web Goddess)

“Obama Derangement Syndrome” May be Mutating; Taranto Gets a Sniffle

taranto-wsj-small1I’ve blogged before about Obama Derangement Syndrome, and its more prevalent predecessor, Bush Derangement Syndrome.  But the ODS virus now shows signs of mutating into a subtler strain.

Let’s call it Obama-Euphoria Debunking Syndrome (OEDS).

James Taranto, whose Best of the Web Today is the one blog I make certain to read every day, has always scrupulously resisted lapsing into ODS.  Today, for example, he offers this observation:

Actually, although we oppose many of the administration’s initiatives, we think reflexive opposition is irresponsible and stupid. And, because we love America, it pleases us when the administration does something we think is right.

Well put.  As another prominent blogger put it, “conservatives should support Obama when he gets something right.”

But while Taranto has avoided ODS, today’s column shows troubling symptoms of OEDS, as Taranto takes a swing at one of his favorite punching bags, Reuters.

Some background: Taranto’s scorn toward Reuters dates back at least to September 24, 2001. On that day, with the ruins still smoldering in lower Manhattan, he quoted a Reuters executive who forbade his reporters from describing the recent unpleasantness as “terrorism” because “we all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Ever since, Taranto has been on the alert for signs of hypocrisy in what the news service reports.  (Or as he likes to put it, in what the “news” service “reports.”)  In January, for example, in an item about torture allegations, he noted: “Reuters, which is careful not to use the word terrorism outside scare quotes, has no objection to using torture as if it were a regular, unloaded word.”

At other times he has referred to “the wire service’s odious anti-American bias,” “Reuterian anti-Americanism,” etc.  After an unidentified Reuters editor rewrote a Deanna Wrenn article to turn it into an America-bashing screed, he challenged a different Reuters article by saying “The piece is bylined “Joseph Logan,” but who knows if someone by that name actually wrote it; as Deanna Wrenn found out, Reuters isn’t above fraudulently affixing someone’s byline to its anti-American boilerplate.”

Like other conservative bloggers, Taranto has repeatedly commented about the sharp contrast between the news media’s treatment of Obama and Bush.  A January column was an opportunity for a two-fer: “Reuters’ pro-Obama bias seems to be tempering its usual anti-American bias,” he wrote.

Have I mentioned that Taranto doesn’t like Reuters?

I thought about coining the term “Reuters Derangement Syndrome” for this post, but Taranto is not deranged and Reuters is not that important.  Obama Euphoria-Debunking Syndrome (I’m not sure where the hyphen belongs) is a much less toxic malady.  Here’s the post today that makes me think Taranto may have an OEDS sniffle (emphasis added):

From Reuters:

U.S. homebuilder sentiment jumped to its highest level in eight months in May, a private survey showed on Monday, supporting views that the three-year housing slump might be close to an end.

Now wait a second. Another way of describing this is that homebuilder sentiment remains lower today than it was eight months ago, which was well into the three-year slump. How can this possibly support the view that the slump is close to an end?

Wait, it just occurred to us that something has changed since September that may be affecting Reuters’ evaluation of the housing market.

The change he refers to, of course, is the transition from Bush to Obama. But Taranto, who may be seeing what he is predisposed to see, overstates his case.  The Reuters report seems appropriately hedged, and at worst represents wishful thinking.  To answer Taranto’s boldfaced question: Sentiment generally has been declining for three years.  Sentiment apparently is improving now, and if it continues to improve, the slump will end. The term “slump” doesn’t appear to have a specific definition in this context, but if it’s analogous to a recession, the slump can be said to have ended at the point the sentiment changed direction.

(Pointillist drawing of Taranto is probably originally from the WSJ and may be copyrighted; I found it here.)

I Love the Look, Newsweek — But About Those Horizontal Photos…

dick-takes-manhattanThe latest Newsweek just arrived by snail mail, and I have to say I’m lovin’ the new design.  Bigger, bolder photographs… a more elegant (and yet readable!) typeface… informative fun with graphics in the “Back Story,” which Editor Jon Meacham describes as “a visual dissection or explanation of an important issue or phenomenon that will satisfy one’s curiosity or pique interest.”

The redesign is part of a broader effort to find a business model for print journalism that works.  The existing model is in deep trouble, especially with regard to newspapers.  The mighty New York Times saw fit to pay $1.1 billion in 1993 for the Boston Globe. getting-to-know-obamaBut now the entire company — which in addition to those two major dailies includes more than a dozen other U.S. dailies, the International Herald Tribune and a bunch of other stuff  like Fenway Park and the Red Sox — the whole company is worth less than $1 billion, and in recent weeks resorted to threatening to shut down the Globe to win union concessions.

Meacham essentially says that Newsweek is getting out of the business of trying to break news. They’re going to take advantage of the relatively contemplative pace of their weekly publication to pursue “the reported narrative” and “the argued essay.”

What is displaced by these categories? The chief casualty is the straightforward news piece and news written with a few (hard-won, to be sure) new details that does not move us significantly past what we already know. Will we cover breaking news? Yes, we will, but with a rigorous standard in mind: Are we truly adding to the conversation? When violence erupts in the Middle East, are we saying something original about it? Are our photographs and design values exceptional? If the answers are yes, then we are in business.

Print publications that survive will be the ones that find a way to exploit the benefits of the printed medium.  Now and forever, timeliness is going to favor the Internet.  But the web just can’t provide the kind of visual feast that a well-designed magazine can.  The inaugural episode of the aforementioned “Back Story” feature, for example, graphically shows 15 purchases that could all be made with the Obama Administration’s $3.5 trillion 2010 federal budget, starting with “everything produced in Italy in 2008” and ending with an overpriced $8.50 burrito in Manhattan.

back-story-smallIt’s fun, it’s evocative, it makes a powerful point about federal spending.  But you’re going to have to buy the current Newsweek or squint at the little scanned image at left — I can’t link to Back Story because it’s not online.  An intricate, full-page graphic just can’t work online in the same quick-read kind of way as it works in print.

The print version also makes use of photography in a way that is more difficult online.  Full-page and two-page photos come to life on paper, but photos that large online would load slowly and expose the inherent visual limitations of the web.

For reasons not clear to me, they passed up an opportunity to repurpose at least some of their photos for the web.  The two graphics at the top of the column both click through to the web versions of the respective columns… but on the web, you won’t see the extremely horizontal photographs captured in the screen grabs above.  That kind of extreme horizontal actually does work well on the web.

st_g_homepageAnd here is where I finally get to the REAL point of this post.  J’accuse, NewsweekI know the source of the inspiration for the extreme horizontals.  The lovely Web Goddess posted the updated St. George’s Episcopal Church website more than a week ago — don’t tell me that’s not where you got the idea!

That’s right, this homage to Newsweek is actually an excuse to wander back into the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM and show off my wife’s handiwork.

st_g_social_justice1The Web Goddess created St. George’s website with a handful of pages in March 2001, and has continuously enlarged and improved it ever since. It’s by far the largest church website in the Diocese of Newark, all created by one volunteer who taught herself HTML, CSS and Javascript.

In the process, the Web Goddess amassed a trove of literally thousands of photographs of St. George’s events. Some were taken by other parishioners, but many of them (including the three you see here) she took herself, with the cameras her loving husband bought her.

st_g_ponyIn recent months she felt the existing design was starting to look tired, and she wanted to expand her web skills.  So she recoded the entire site from the ground up to improve performance and make use of all those wonderful pictures. Each of the three screen grabs here links to a different section of the website, and on any page of the site you can scroll through photos with the arrows at the top of the header. All of this she accomplished outside of working hours while working full-time. (Did I mention I’m proud of her?)

So, nice job, Newsweek — but the Web Goddess was out with her redesign first.

(Regarding the horizontal photos, in the interests of full disclosure, the Web Goddess tips her hat to the website of St. Olaf College.)