Monthly Archives: May 2005

The continuing shaming of Daniel Okrent

Jonathan Chait has chapter and verse on The New Republic website: “I didn’t think Daniel Okrent, the departing New York Times public editor, could get any more cowardly. But he just did.”

Read Chait’s entire analysis. You can read the farrago here, with both Krugman’s and Okrent’s contribution and make up your own mind.

Update Brad DeLong provides the essential, annotated version.

Secrets of the great interview

Tom Peters has made his 31 points for interviewing excellence available for download.

Whatever you think of Peters, he’s a great storyteller, and that means he must be a great interviewer to ferret out all the stuff he raves about. I think his list is excellent (although his examples of great interviewers don’t strike a chord for me).

His “secret” in tip 26 resonated particularly for me: “I’m just a dumb old fart trying to figure out what goes on here. HELP ME, PLEASE.” For years, I told my journalists never to worry about saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand that. Could you explain it for me, please.” Even if you’re meant to be a financial writer and you don’t know what a floating-rate note is. The truth is just about everyone loves being an expert, and a naive question is often a cue for someone to hold forth in revealing detail.

Tom’s final, crucial point (capital letters and exclamation marks are his):


RSS madness

I eagerly logged on to the much-trumpeted TPM Cafe on its launch today. The product of Josh Marshall, author of Talking Points Memo, TPM Cafe has both a number of group blogs with some good participants (Anne-Marie Slaughter, John Ikenberry, Todd Gitlin, Ivo Daalder) and some individual blogs like Matthew Yglesias’s.

But as far as I can tell, there are no RSS feeds whatsoever. Not even the poor one- or two-line feeds that the original TPM provides, which is what I had feared pre-launch. How can a clued-up blogger like Josh Marshall do this? There also doesn’t seem to be any provision for trackbacks, which is odd, but not crucial. I don’t get it.

Just as the rest of the world is increasingly using RSS, how can a new venture — which I assume wants to maximize its audience — ignore it? I’ve sent TPM Cafe a bug report.

Update There’s a teaser feed here. Thanks to Mark Schmitt for helping me find it. (And following that syntax, you can get Matthew Yglesias’s teaser feed here.) That’s better than nothing, but it’s pretty poor. Here, for example, is what I get from Mark’s first post on TPM Cafe:

First, I’m very excited to be here, looking forward to great discussion. Josh started this off with two questions, and it’s the first, the big one, that Greg, Karen, Ed…

That’s it. There’s even no way to tell which author wrote it. Is it going to make me click through to read the entire post? Josh or someone should get in touch with Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber to see how to do decent feeds from a group blog. You can choose your flavor and the feed tells you the author, so if you prefer Kieran to John Quiggin (I like them both) that can direct your reading.

Good new blogs

I’ve encountered two excellent new-ish blogs in the last few days.

John Hagel, who was a senior partner at McKinsey & Co for years, started blogging a couple of months ago. John has an individual, high-powered consulting practice and deals with a lot of curious corporate executives. The blog will certainly be worth watching.

And via Crooked Timber I found the wonderfully titled The Duck of Minerva, a new international relations blog. If the comment on the French referendum is any indication, I’ll want to know whenever the duck quacks.

Incidentally, I’m looking forward to the many interesting people Josh Marshall has rounded up for TPM Cafe, which launches tomorrow. I sadly anticipate, however, that it will follow Josh’s habit of offering only teaser RSS feeds, which means I read only a fraction of the output because I find it so annoying. That means that essential bloggers like Matthew Yglesias will now — to a certain extent — disappear behind those near-useless feeds after years of providing full text.

I can understand some of the commercial logic, but the power of full-text feeds should overrule that impulse.

Podcasting Beethoven's symphonies

How’s this for an extraordinary public gift? The BBC is broadcasting the complete works of Beethoven on Radio 3 and the television stations BBC2 and BBC4, starting on June 5. All nine symphonies, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, will be available for free download.

Here’s Norman Lebrecht‘s prescient comment:

Noseda is no Karajan, that’s for sure, but he served a tough apprenticeship with Valery Gergiev in St Petersburg and has come on nicely in three Manchester seasons, manifesting a deft, unsentimental touch in German Romanticism, alongside his Russian and operatic specialisms. At 41 he is younger, less experienced and less established on the international circuit than any of his recorded predecessors.

Yet it may turn out that Noseda’s Beethoven becomes the household version to computer-literate millions in China, India or Korea who have never heard of Karajan or Klemperer and could, in any event, never afford the price of a DG or EMI set.

To them, Noseda and the BBC Phil are the bringers of light and arbiters of art.

When, two or three decades hence, China is the world’s largest industrial power, it will be Noseda’s Beethoven that couples recall as their formative revelation, as our grandparents once savoured Toscanini’s.

Such is the potential magnitude of the BBC’s magnanimity. The Beethoven week is a robust reminder that there is life yet in the Reithian principle: that broadcasting must educate and inform, and that there is no better way in the 21st century for nation to speak peace unto nation.

What a great institution.

Update It looks like this is a free download, not a podcast. The BBC is doing some interesting stuff in podcasting, but I suspect this isn’t it.

France says no

Good riddance to the bureaucratic snoozefest of a “constitution”. Much of the machinery it suggested is necessary, but what the EU really needs is a true constitution that can inspire and foster a pan-European democracy. Sadly, I don’t think the leadership is present to do it right the next time. More muddling through ahead.

Krugman and the NYT

I wrote last week about what I saw as the shameful parting shot of Daniel Okrent, The New York Times public editor, or ombudsman. He accused Paul Krugman of distorting statistics in his columns, with no supporting evidence.

Today the Times has a quarter-page of soppy huzzahs from readers for Okrent. (Parenthetically, why do all American publications persist in publishing letters of the ilk: “What a wonderful cover story on x”? I thought that kind of thing vanished with the collapse of the Cultural Revolution. The Times piece is even headlined: “Goodbye, Public Editor No. 1, and Thanks”. Yuk.) The last letter, however, is something different.

In Daniel Okrent’s parting shot as public editor of The New York Times, he levied a harsh charge against me: he said that I have “a disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.”

He offered no examples of my “disturbing habit,” and maybe I should stop there: surely it’s inappropriate for the public editor to attack the ethics of one of the paper’s writers without providing any supporting evidence. He responded to my request for examples with criticisms of specific columns. Those criticisms were simply wrong: in each of those columns I played entirely fair with my readers, using the standard data in the standard way.

That should be the end of the story.

I want to go back to doing what I have been doing all along: using economic data to inform my readers.

Princeton, N.J., May 24, 2005

Stay tuned to the public editor page for further instalments.

More screwy statistics from the government

I ranted the other day about the vogue for bogus statistics that seems to be rampant.

David Isenberg has a doozy from the Department of Commerce, after studies produced by the OECD and International Telecommunications Union showing the US lagging lots of countries in broadband penetration:

Mike Gallagher is hopping mad! He’s Bushco’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce in charge of the NTIA, the Executive Branch office responsible for the famous Bush Broadband Program, which would make, “universal affordable access to broadband technology by 2007.” He said,

“[T]hat is a completely inaccurate measure of the way the U.S. stands,” Gallagher said. Those who promote this statistic, he said, “are doing a disservice to the innovative atmosphere at home.” He said the United States had the greatest gross number of Internet users and broadband users — by substantial margins — and also leads the world in wireless “hot spots” and in the number of computers devoted to e-commerce. “This notion that the U.S. is 16th in the world is a disservice, disingenuous and just not true.”

So. The Bush measure of “universal affordable access to broadband” is the gross number of Internet users — dial-up users included? Or the number of computers devoted to e-commerce? Huh?

(BTW, the U.S. does lead the world in gross number of computers connected via broadband, but that’s because the U.S. is a big country. But China will lead in this statistic by 2008, and Bushco’s doing nothing to deflect this trajectory.)

Maybe next year Bushco’s broadband measure will include number of SUVs with TVs — after all SUVs are broad and TVs are usually on in an analog kind of way. Maybe it’ll be GPC — gallons per commercial — or TVPT — TVs per ton.

Invent a non-disservile measure, any measure. After all, the most obvious measure is a “disservice, disingenuous and just not true.”