Recently in Writing, Media & Blogs Category

Interesting that almost all of the journalists covering Hillary's campaign are women. Do you think the composition of the press corps is affecting coverage? Hillary and the press corps don't.

The change seems to be a combination of more women doing political reporting in general, and many more being drawn to Clinton's potentially historic candidacy. It's made for an unusual atmosphere, with a female candidate sparring with a nearly all-female corps of reporters. It hasn't brought Clinton more positive coverage, according to those both inside the campaign and outside it. But reporters and press aides alike note that there's a different vibe nonetheless, punctuated by occasional expressions by the candidate herself of camaraderie for fellow pioneers.

But Hillary is intentionally reaching out to female reporters. Presumably she thinks their gender will affect their coverage.

Clinton has also chosen a disproportionate number of female reporters for her first extended interviews. ...

"I don't think that's by accident. It's by design and that's obviously a part of her campaign strategy," said NBC's Clinton embed, Monica Alba.

No one raises an eyebrow if mostly male journalists cover a candidate, so maybe there's nothing to see here.

If you're looking for a new science fiction book or author then check out the 2015 Hugo Award finalists. This year they're guaranteed to make puppies happy!

I recently received a review copy of "Healing the Heart of Democracy" by Parker J. Palmer and I learned from its perspective, but I fundamentally disagree with Dr. Palmer's main thesis. The book is a high-minded appeal to heal the divisions that polarize American democracy, and although it's inspiring perhaps I'm too much of a cynic to buy in.

Dr. Palmer lays out his thesis best in the introduction:

But these days, "We the People" have a great deal of trouble talking across our lines of difference about the common good -- so much trouble that many of us doubt the very concept of a "common good." Deformed by a divisive political culture, we're less inclined to differ with each other honestly than to demonize each other mercilessly. That's why it's so seductive to gather with folks who share our view of what's wrong and do little more than complain about all those "wrongdoers" who aren't in the room.

If we want to "create a politics worthy of the human spirit," [the book's subtitle -- MW] we must find ways to bridge our differences, whether they are defined by age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology. Then we must seen patches of common ground on the issues we care most about. This is more than a feel-good exercise. If we cannot reach a rough consensus on what most of us want, we have no way to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the people.

Whew, there's a lot there! Where to begin? First, let me applaud Dr. Palmer for his aspiration. At the micro-level, no one would want a family, church, or workplace as fractured as the American citizenry as a whole. So wouldn't it be nice if we citizens could agree more with each other? However, even this aspiration immediately undercuts Dr. Palmer's thesis: we get to choose our church and workplace, and we get to politely avoid controversial topics when among family. As a result of these choices, we "gather with folks who share our view of what's wrong" in order to create a more pleasant environment for ourselves.

Reading the book (and having just searched the index), it appears to me that Dr. Palmer neglects to consider the impact of the median voter theorem on America's two-party political system. This impact is two-fold (at least) as it relates to his thesis.

  1. The median voter is defined based on one or more issues that are not accepted as part of the "common good".
  2. The two parties will always be fighting for the median voter.

In the first case, any issue for which there is common ground among voters will not be the deciding factor for the median voter. The two parties may disagree on this issue (even vehemently), but the voters with strong opinions will have already gravitated to their chosen sides and will not be the median voter. Alternatively, an issue which is accepted by a sizable majority of the population will simply not be in the political spotlight. No one fights over common ground, so it's easy to ignore it. Dr. Palmer appears to do so, and makes no allowance for the huge shifts in common ground that have occurred over the past century. Issues that were once contentious are not anymore: alcohol prohibition, women's suffrage, entering World War 2, capitalism vs. communism, engagement with China, civil rights for black Americans, no-fault divorce, tolerance of homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, contraception (and for unmarried women). The list goes on and on. Within the past century these issues were politically divisive, but now our political system has successfully settled them -- many people still disagree with the majority consensus, and they're free to do so, but the divisions have few political implications. The "common ground" of American politics is huge.

As for the second implication, conflict over the median voter is not a sign of sickness, it's a sign that our democracy is working as intended. It's great for everyone to remain civil and on-topic, but the two parties should vigorously contest the issues that matter to the median voter. Eventually one position will convince enough people that the dividing line will shift and the issue at hand will no longer be a concern for the median voter. This is how the system is supposed to work.

For example, Dr. Palmer makes a brief mention of abortion but focuses entirely on a personal emotions surrounding the issue without considering the underlying political environment. The primary reason that abortion is so divisive is that Roe v. Wade undermined the normal political process by decreeing that abortion is a Constitutional right -- the Supreme Court basically took the ball away from the game and thereby prevented the citizenry from gradually reaching consensus. This was a dangerous precedent, and one way that we Americans can help improve our political climate is to strongly prefer that our differences be resolved by legislation rather than by the courts.

Finally , Dr. Palmer's list of differences is mis-aimed: "age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology". This list accuses the American citizenry of harboring deep divisions due to surface-level bigotry -- a severe misdiagnosis. It's true that some Americans are unreasoning bigots, but for the most part our disagreements are due to significant, substantial differences in our goals and beliefs. Dr. Palmer throws in the word "ideology", which in modern usage is an epithet, to discredit the legitimacy of the political disagreements. Some divisions do line up around the characteristics Dr. Palmer lists, but it's not the characteristics per se that cause the differences; cause-and-effect may run the other way entirely, or the characteristics and underlying beliefs may simply be coincident.

Ultimately, "Healing the Heart of Democracy" is a well-meaning book, but it rings hollow by relying on an underlying belief in the inherent goodness of mankind. I don't history bears out that belief, and I think that our competitive two-party political system with its separation-of-powers is a brilliant approach to mitigating our inherent selfishness. Disagreements should be civil and purposeful, but contentious politicking is not a new thing -- it's been around for millennium and isn't going anywhere. Rather than attempting to fix the surface-level symptoms of our divisions, America would be best-served by strengthening our separation-of-powers, increasing transparency, eliminating politicization in the bureaucracy, and ensuring clean elections.

I love buying used books from Amazon for $0.01 each. Sure, most sellers charge $3.99 for shipping, but I can easily find 10 books from the same seller and combine the shipping costs. Here are the books and series that are currently in my cart:

Well duh: Hermione and Ron shouldn't have been together. I enjoyed the series but I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan, which is perhaps why it was easy for me see this relationship as a bizarre error much earlier than the author. I wonder what the super-fans will say? What what about poor Rose and Hugo?

I'd like to add that I've always loathed Ginny Weasley. And Quidditch.

J.K. Rowling may rattle the wizarding fan world of "Harry Potter" with a confession about her beloved series' main characters.

The British best-selling author, 48, admitted in a Wonderland magazine interview with "Harry Potter" actress Emma Watson that she should have paired Hermione Granger with the titular character, instead of his red-headed sidekick Ron Weasley. ...

"For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron."

From The Wire and Tumblr:


And here's the Vincent Clortho School of Wizardry:

(HT: Ilya Somin, Andrew Sims, Eric Crampton (who really hates Ron).)

Charles Krauthammer figured out how to describe Drudge perfectly: "He's the greatest headline writer in the history of mankind."

I've struggled to describe Drudge to people who haven't seen his site, but now I know what to say.

Here's a fantastic piece by the Washington Post about the hazards of the Great Falls along the Potomac. The information about river hazards is interesting, but what really stands out is the superb use of graphics and animation that brings the content to life.

If Kermit Gosnell had killed hundreds of dogs or murdered children at school with a gun then you know this would be national news. But since these murders lie so closely to legal abortion the Gosnell murder trial is being buried by the media.

The grand jury report in the case of Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I've read. "This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors," it states. "The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths."

Charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, Gosnell is now standing trial in a Philadelphia courtroom. An NBC affiliate's coverage includes testimony as grisly as you'd expect. "An unlicensed medical school graduate delivered graphic testimony about the chaos at a Philadelphia clinic where he helped perform late-term abortions," the channel reports. "Stephen Massof described how he snipped the spinal cords of babies, calling it, 'literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.' He testified that at times, when women were given medicine to speed up their deliveries, 'it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.'"

Why does the left not care about these murdered children? Because what Gosnell did is basically the same thing that Planned Parenthood and every other abortion provider does every day.

From the grand jury report:

When you perform late-term "abortions" by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. By 24 weeks, most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. But that was not what the Women's Medical Society was about. Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn't call it that. He called it "ensuring fetal demise." The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that "snipping."

Over the years, there were hundreds of "snippings." Sometimes, if Gosnell was unavailable, the "snipping" was done by one of his fake doctors, or even by one of the administrative staff.

But all the employees of the Women's Medical Society knew. Everyone there acted as if it wasn't murder at all. Most of these acts cannot be prosecuted, because Gosnell destroyed the files. Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby Boy A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant -- seven and a half months -- when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could "walk me to the bus stop." Another, Baby Boy B, whose body was found at the clinic frozen in a one-gallon spring-water bottle, was at least 28 weeks of gestational age when he was killed. Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord, just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times. And these were not even the worst cases.

How can these atrocities be allowed in the United States of America? Only under the cover of legalized abortion. It's inhuman and repugnant to God and man.

While comparing the layouts of the websites of The New York Times and the Daily Mail, John Pavlus coins a pithy description of what websites are for:

In pure machine-interface terms, The Daily Mail is "for" getting visitors to click a lot (to serve ad impressions), not read a lot. So the Daily Mail provides scads of affordances for clicking, often at the expense of those for reading. And it works like gangbusters (for now, anyway). That is all a technological interface has to do: work.

I'm still hoping that a free-to-use model emerges that doesn't depend on advertising, but so far the only example I can think of are cosmetic microtransactions for free-to-play video games.

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece eviscerating MSNBC for fawning over President Obama. My favorite hit:

Impressively, David Axelrod left the White House and actually managed to find the only place on earth arguably more devoted to Barack Obama. Finally, American citizens will now be able to hear what journalism has for too long so vindictively denied them: a vibrant debate between Gibbs and Axelrod on how great Obama really is.

But anyway, there's a larger point: most of the media has lost its adversarial stance in favor of cozying up to the powerful.

In response to the ensuing criticism over how strangely happy he obviously became at being squirted in the face by Obama's then-Chief of Staff, Henry appeared on NPR where the following irony-free exchange, one of my favorite ever, actually occurred:
"NPR's BROOKE GLADSTONE: 'If these events don't influence coverage, why do you think the White House throws them? Do they just want to shoot you with a super-soaker?'

"ED HENRY: 'Maybe they wanna actually get to know us as people sometimes.'"

"Maybe they wanna actually get to know us as people sometimes": that's why Obama officials throw parties for White House journalists, said Ed Henry. That is easily one the funniest sentences ever. Did I mention that Ed Henry is the head of the White House Correspondents Association?

Ed Henry is with Fox. He thinks that the Obama White House wants to throw parties for journalists not to influence coverage but to get to know them as people. Seriously.

That you can cover what political officials do more effectively when you act adversarially and without their "cooperation" doesn't seem to occur to them. Moreover, getting to sit for personal interviews with the president usually produces anything but adversarial questioning. As even Politico admits: "some reporters inevitably worry access or the chance of a presidential interview will decrease if they get in the face of this White House."

Economic interpretation: politicians have broken the media cartel. The more favorable the coverage, the more access you get. Politicians basically get journalists to bid against each other, and whoever bids the most favorable coverage gets access. Journalists should recognize the game they're playing and wisen up. Unfortunately in an era of declining media revenue the outlets who stand firm will lose eyeballs (they fear) along with access.

Bill Kristol and Peter Wehner indict President Obama for his inattention and passivity on September 11, 2012, the night that our embassy was attacked in Benghazi, Libya.

Thanks to the congressional testimony of outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey late last week, we know they met with President Obama on Sept. 11 at 5 p.m. in a pre-scheduled meeting, when they informed the president about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The meeting lasted about a half-hour. Mr. Panetta said they spent roughly 20 minutes of the session briefing the president on the chaos at the American Embassy in Cairo and the attack in Benghazi, which eventually cost the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, security personnel Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and information officer Sean Smith.

Secretary Panetta said the president left operational details, including determination of what resources were available to help the Americans under siege, "up to us." We also learned that President Obama did not communicate in any way with Mr. Panetta or Gen. Dempsey the rest of that evening or that night. Indeed, Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey testified they had no further contact at all with anyone in the White House that evening--or, for that matter, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That's not all we discovered. We now know that despite Gen. Dempsey having been informed of Ambassador Stevens's repeated warnings about the rise of terrorist elements in Benghazi, no forces were put in place or made ready nearby to respond to possible trouble. It also seems that during the actual attacks in Benghazi, which the administration followed in real time and which lasted for some eight hours, not a single major military asset was deployed to help rescue Americans under assault.

So what happened? Ann Althouse speculates about the timeline and it's easy to imagine that she's right.

I think he is ashamed. Here's what I've been assuming happened: It looked like our people were overwhelmed and doomed, so there was shock, sadness, and acceptance. But then the fight went on for 7 or 8 hours. The White House folk decided there was nothing to do but accept the inevitable, and then they witnessed a valiant fight which they had done nothing to support. It was always too late to help. It was too late after one hour, then too late after 2 hours, then too late after 3 hours.... When were these people going to die already? After that was all over, how do you explain what you did?

President Obama should be ashamed. I'd be pleased if he resigned, for this and for a host of other reasons. The national media should also be ashamed for letting this story slide through the election -- this is much more significant than Watergate, folks. (And should we bring up Fast and Furious some more?) I think that President Obama is trying to do his best. The media, on the other hand, is more intent on covering for the President's failures than on performing its duty to the American public.

Key job for the media: interview some of the other Americans who were in Benghazi that night. Not everyone was killed. There were numerous other Americans at the embassy and the CIA safehouse who were rescued. Find them. Interview them.

So the ongoing hypocrisy of Al Gore adds a new chapter: Current TV has been sold to Al-Jazeera and Al Gore makes $100 million. James Taranto nails Gore for profiting from global warming:

Oh, and Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, which means Al Gore, the scourge of global warming, is almost certainly lining his pockets with fossil-fuel profits.

And what's more, it appears that Glenn Beck tried to buy Current TV but was refused for ideological reasons.

The Wall Street Journal caught the detail in its coverage: "Glenn Beck's The Blaze approached Current about buying the channel last year, but was told that 'the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view,' according to a person familiar with the negotiations."

So I guess we can conclude that Al Gore's point of view is aligned with that of Al-Jazeera.

Some great tips for editing your own writing. You may not follow this whole process for everything you write, but when the piece is important then you'll find it worthwhile to spend the time to do it right. My favorite tips:

Read it Out Loud

The best writing sounds smooth--almost like you're speaking, without getting colloquial. So actually listening to your written syntax is one of the best ways you can catch areas with jangling phrasing. Read your work out loud and change anything that doesn't make sense or that you stumble over. And don't be afraid to use contractions-that's how us non-robots talk, isn't it? (Imagine that last sentence without contractions. Now you see what I mean.)

Prose should flow when you read it. If you stumble over the words or phrasing when you read it out loud, then your readers will stumble in their brains.

Be Ruthless

The final step is to edit your work down. Yes, chop some of those words, sentences, and paragraphs. Like crazy. But this will help make sure that the true meat of your piece is what shines.

If you need a little help with this, here are some tips:

Keep paragraphs short: Three to four sentences is more than enough to get to the point quickly and succinctly.

Reduce each sentence to its essential parts: A well-defined subject, strong verb, and object.

Avoid the overuse of subordinate clauses: Quick little grammar refresher: A subordinate clause (also known as a dependent clause) has a subject and verb but can't stand alone as a sentence. ...

Nix adverbs and adjectives as often as possible: On your printout, mark through every adjective and adverb you see, and then add back the ones that you think are absolutely necessary. When in doubt, find a verb that says it better.

Infuse opinionated language with authority: During my freshman year of college, I got a B on a kick-ass paper. Upset, I asked my professor to explain his (obviously flawed) grading system. He said I was downgraded because I repeatedly used phrases like "seems to be" and "it appears." When you make a point, he said, throw yourself behind it. Don't give the impression that you're not sure you fully support your own argument.

I'll add another: never use the passive voice! Ever ever, like ever.

Glenn Reynolds argues that GOP supporters should quit spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unwatched ads and instead buy media enterprises that target low-information voters.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson alone donated $150 million. But Romney lost anyway, especially among unmarried women.

Which is why I think that rich people wanting to support the Republican Party might want to direct their money somewhere besides TV ads that copy, poorly, what Lee Atwater did decades ago.

My suggestion: Buy some women's magazines. No, really. Or at least some women's Web sites.

One of the groups with whom Romney did worst was female "low-information voters." Those are women who don't really follow politics, and vote based on a vague sense of who's mean and who's nice, who's cool and who's uncool.

Since, by definition, they don't pay much attention to political news, they get this sense from what they do read. And for many, that's traditional women's magazines -- Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, the Ladies Home Journal, etc. -- and the newer women's sites like YourTango, The Frisky, Yahoo! Shine, and the like.

The thing is, those magazines and Web sites see themselves, pretty consciously, as a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party. So while nine out of 10 articles may be the usual stuff on sex, diet and shopping, the 10th will always be either soft p.r. for the Democrats or soft -- or sometimes not-so-soft -- hits on Republicans.

Hey, the Los Angeles Times might be for sale soon! Or how about The New York Times?

The old adage goes, "Don't get mad, get even." For a select few Americans, that principle could be amended to "Don't get mad at your enemies, buy them." I have sometimes thought that if I were Charles Koch, instead of trying to influence American politics honestly, I would do it the way the Democrats do: I would buy the New York Times. With a current market capitalization of $1.23 billion, the New York Times Co. would hardly put a dent in Koch's net worth.

Dr. Reynolds is spot-on with his prescription. Conservatives lose elections because we've ceded the cultural space to leftists. There's no reason we have to let that continue!

This zombie-themed sports equipment ad was banned during prime time in Norway. I think it's pretty fun.

(HT: RB, Blastr.)

I don't have much desire to read "50 Shades of Grey" but the debate over whether or not it's "great literature" interests me.

There's a couple of assumptions people are taking it on their own to make: 1) that EL James is not a great novelist. 2) that the trilogy is not an epic. 3) that her characters are forgettable. I think these assumptions are unfair and that most people at this point are extremely jealous of the success EL James is enjoying. I strongly disagree with all the assumptions. Clearly the characters are not forgettable (I will not forget the above passage so easily). Clearly it's an epic (all three in the trilogy are bestsellers) and clearly the marketplace has bestowed its grace on the talented writer. Then one blogger says its "not all about sales" but that "artist should be agents of change!"

First off, what is "great literature"? Why are all of these people trying to put their own assumptions on a concept that is pretty subjective. I've never once seen a definition of "great literature". There's two ways I can think to define it: 1) if I determine something is great, but that seems somewhat arrogant. And 2) If history determines something is great, i.e. a book withstands the test of time. Many books were published in 1952, for instance, but the only one I've ever read and will probably at some point re-read is "Old Man and the Sea".

Why would something withstand the test of time? It may or may not have great writing. That seems subjective and also determined by the colloquialisms of the time. If someone wrote like Shakespeare right now, for instance, they would have a total of zero sales other than the author's mother. But it does seem like great literature touches on elements that are universal (why are we here, what is the purpose of life, etc) or push the envelope on issues that are controversial. In the past that might've been racism, slavery, poverty, class warfare, the decline of the close-knit family, sexual taboos, etc.

Clearly "50 Shades of Grey" has done something to trigger the fascination (and sales) it has. It's sold over 50 million copies to become the fastest selling book of all time not because of the quality of the quotes above but because it hits right at the core of what the boundaries of a healthy sexual relationship might be and how wide those boundaries can get. Soft-porn and romance do not do that. "50 Shades" did. We can all be so lucky to write a book so thought-provoking. Artists are often met with hostility, disturb the establishment (including the ones who try to define art). They provide a sincere map of the human condition that both entertains and resonates with a "that's how I feel!". Is EL James soft-porn, great literature, or both. Time will tell. Not random bloggers (including me).

Altucher is basically using sales as a proxy for greatness, and that fits my broad intuition. Within any niche or genre I think that quantity sold is an adequate measure of greatness... and literature snobs should agree, given the zillions of "Best Seller" lists they vie for positions on.

More abstractly, if you can't measure it then it doesn't exist. Sales numbers are a way to quantify the I-know-it-when-I-see-it metric.

I good counter-arguement would be to perform a regression analysis on the time series of sales vs. "greatness" defined by some other measure (e.g., elite opinion). Do the ratings converge over time? Diverge? What's the correlation?

David Horovitz describes how Iron Dome has protected Israel from rockets while simultaneously creating political complications.

Successive days of rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and efforts to reach Jerusalem? Well, that's worrying for sure. Those alarms are terrifying, no question. Plenty of Israelis from the center will now join the traumatized ranks of the Kassam-worn south. But injuries and death on the scale so gleefully contemplated by Hamas? Sorry. No, actually. We brought protection. We've got Iron Dome.

This being the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, even in Israel's defensive victory, even in its staggering success in keeping its people physically safe, lies the danger of defeat.

When Israel's short-sighted critics insistently refuse to look beyond the numerical asymmetry, the very effectiveness of Iron Dome becomes the latest weapon with which to attack Israel for its purported aggression. All those Gazans are suffering terribly, dozens have been killed, yet hardly any Israelis are dying? That can't be right. How can the Israelis claim to be the victims of unprovoked and indiscriminate aggression? They're still alive.

Here's the problem: it's easy for the media to report on suffering, because very few people deserve to suffer. The audience instinctively knows how to line up its sympathies and the journalists don't have to work very hard to explain anything. It would be a lot more work for journalists to explain why the audience should side against the people who are most immediately, most visibly suffering.

The success of Iron Dome can be explained in one story. Each Hamas rocket that doesn't land and kill anyone doesn't get its own treatment because the potential victims are vague and faceless. When an actual Palestinian is killed the victim is specific and has a face, and the tragedy of the suffering wrenches the heart and draws viewers.

Our world is perverse in that we glorify people who suffer without looking into the cause of their suffering. A person who suffers for doing wrong deserves our pity, but should also stand as a warning to others and not simply be excused out of sympathy. In reality the suffering of the Palestinians is caused not by Israel, but by Hamas.

And Palestinians in Gaza are dying in growing numbers because they are either directly involved in trying to kill us or -- to our genuine sorrow and Hamas's cynical delight -- they had the misfortune to be sleeping, walking, talking, studying or praying very close to a key Hamas terror chief, missile launch site, ammunition store or other element of the sprawling Hamas kill-the-Jews infrastructure.

To put it succinctly, Hamas is doing its best to kill any and all of us in Israel, while cynically seeking to protect itself from attack by emplacing its offensive capacity among Gaza's often unwitting civilians. And Israel is doing its best to prevent its citizens being killed, while trying to thwart the attacks without harming Gaza's civilians. There's the relevant asymmetry.

I just read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (yes, I was embarrassed to buy it at the airport) and it was quite entertaining except for one point: it continued the ongoing weakening of the vampire mythos.

Everyone knows that vampires are powerful and can defeat almost any human one-on-one, but what makes vampires interesting are their vulnerabilities. The only logical reason that vampires don't take over the world is that they have to sleep during the day and die almost instantly in sunlight. Even as recently as even 10 years ago (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer) the literature held to this simple formula. Because of this huge weakness vampires must depend on secrecy to protect themselves from humans. In Interview with the Vampire (Vampire Chronicles) Louis destroys the entire Paris coven by burning their theater down around them just as the sun is coming up.

Without extreme vulnerability to sunlight we get inane garbage like Twilight wherein vampires sparkle in the sun and have little reason to hide their existence from humanity. It's dumb.

Other vampire weaknesses (e.g., crosses, garlic, holy water) can fall by the wayside because they aren't really critical to the mechanics of the mythology. It's sunlight that keeps humanity alive, and no vampire story should forget it.

Happy Valentine's Day! Here's the oldest known love poem from ancient Sumeria recorded on what is called the Istanbul #2461 tablet:

Poem recited by the annual brides of King Shu-Sin (c. 4000 BC)

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber,
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.

Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savoury than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savoury than honey.

Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.

Your spirit, I know where to cheer your spirit,
Bridegroom, sleep in our house until dawn,
Your heart, I know where to gladden your heart,
Lion, sleep in our house until dawn.

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My Shu-Sin, who gladdens Enlil's heart,
Give my pray of your caresses.

Your place goodly as honey, pray lay (your) hand on it,
Bring (your) hand over like a gishban-garment,
Cup (your) hand over it like a gishban-sikin-garment.

(HT: New York Times.)

"Fact checks" are the journalistic equivalent of the cheating spouse who promises that this time they're really telling you the truth.

Mark Hemingway illustrates how the "Fact Check"-style column is generally just thinly veiled opinion that completely distorts the meaning of the word "fact".

But it seems the most outspoken fans of media fact-checking operations come from within the media themselves. "Has anyone else noticed that the Associated Press has been doing some strong fact-checking work lately, aggressively debunking all kinds of nonsense, in an authoritative way, without any of the usual he-said-she-said crap that often mars political reporting?" Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent wrote last year.

Sargent was conducting a fawning interview with the AP's Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier about the outlet's fact-checking operation. "The AP, for instance, definitively knocked down claims that [Supreme Court Justice] Elena Kagan is an 'ivory tower peacenik,'‚ÄČ" Sargent wrote.

Not surprisingly, Fournier agreed with Sargent. "What we tend to forget in journalism is that we got in the business to check facts," Fournier says. "Not just to tell people what Obama said and what Gingrich said. It is groundless to say that Kagan is antimilitary. So why not call it groundless? This is badly needed when people are being flooded with information."

Sargent and Fournier's ouroboros of self-congratulation inadvertently revealed a problem: When it comes to fact checking, the media seem oblivious to the distinction between verifying facts and passing judgment on opinions they personally find disagreeable.

The blogosphere hasn't taken "fact check" columns serious for a long time... or ever. Personally, I find the whole practice to be absurdly desperate on the part of the mainstream media. People used to listen to them and just assume they were hearing facts all the time. Now the media has to create specially-labeled "fact check" zones to let us know where the facts are (supposedly) kept amidst all the leftist clap-trap.

The reason "he-said-she-said crap" is part of most news stories is that most people give their opinions, and the reporter isn't supposed to inject himself into matters of opinion. The readers are supposed to decide which opinion-giver they find most reliable. When the readers don't line up behind the "right" opinions, the journalists get upset.

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