Showing posts with label Journalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Journalism. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Court Hears Case on Textbok 1979

 Authors' suit charges racial bias in history book

By CHAT BLAKEMAN Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
Tue, August 29, 1979

Is a ninth-grade classroom the place where Mississippians should learn that there have been more lynchings in their state than in any other? Will a photograph of white policemen arresting black demonstrators stir racial hatred or lead students to a true understanding of their past? These types of questions are at the heart of a battle that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenville before Judge Orma Smith. Although the issue is alleged racism in Mississippi schools, the, topic is not unequal facilities, alleged physical abuse, private academies or busing. The topic is a pair of books. The suit is being brought by a group that includes Millsaps College history professor Charles Sal-las and former Tougaloo College professor James Loewen, joint editors of a textbook on Mississippi history rejected by the State Textbook Purchasing Board in 1974.

The text, "Mississippi: Conflict and Change," presents what the authors contend is a candid but accurate picture of state history. It details subjects such as the treatment of slaves, blacks' accomplishments during Reconstruction, their plight in the years that followed and the sharecropper system that kept many Mississippians in virtual economic bondage. The authors charge that the Textbook Purchasing Board's rejection of "Conflict and Change" and approval of "Your Mississippi," the text now used, constituted pro-white bias in favor of texts that "minimize and denigrate the roles of black people in American and Mississippi history." The suit alleges, moreover, that the system by which the state approves school texts "is and has been an instrument of state propaganda to exclude controversial viewpoints, operates as a state instrument of unconstitutional state censorship, and fails to provide due process of law." Joined by representatives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson, the Jefferson County School Board and others, the authors ask that the court order "Conflict and Change" added to the list of approved texts and decide whether the book adoption system is valid. The board chooses books based on the recommendation of a rating committee and can approve as many as five books in each category. Acceptance of one text does not require rejection of others.

Although the rating committee rejected "Conflict and Change" on a 5-2 vote (five white members voted against the book and two blacks for it), the state maintains race was not a factor in the decision. The action, the state contends, was based on "racially neutral educational and academic standards." In statements made for the court, and in the ratings made in 1974, board members said that "Conflict and Change" did not include a teacher's manual when it was submitted for approval, employed a vocabulary too advanced for the average Mississippi ninth-grader and did not give "proper emphasis to the economic, social and spiritual development" of Mississippians. Others cited as offensive a photograph in "Conflict and Change" showing the remains of a black man who had been lynched and burned. Gathered around the bonfire is a crowd of whites. "I feel that this book contains too many controversial issues to fit properly into the curriculum of the schools of Mississippi," wrote committee member Harold E. Railes in his evaluation written in 1974. Another member called the book "too racially oriented." Frank Parker, the attorney representing the "Conflict and Change" group, maintains that race and controversy are the real reasons behind the committee's action. The other reasons are "rationalizations after the fact," Parker contends. ."There have been more lynchings in Mississippi than in any other state and you can't ignore that," Parker said. "Your Mississippi" was written by historian John K.Bettersworth, who retired last year as academic vice president of Mississippi State University. In its latest revisions, the book has been used in state schools since 1968 for required ninth-grade state history courses. In an attempt to show that "Conflict and Change" is the better book, the suit challenges the history presented in "Your Mississippi," citing among other examples: That it devotes only four paragraphs to the treatment of slaves and that those passages "minimize the brutality of the system and accentuate mitigating factors." For example, the suit cites Bettersworth's statement that "some slaves who were house servants received an education" and notes the book fails to mention the prohibitions against educating slaves and only 5 percent of the slaves were domestics. That In summing up the modern civil rights era, Bettersworth recounts that, "Gradually Mississippians, black and white, found they could get along together as they always had," without discussing adequately the reasons behind the civil rights movements. That in its use of photographs, the book discriminates against blacks.

"Your Mississippi" has only three photographs or 5 percent showing blacks only, while "Conflict and Change" has 20 or 25.6 percent. Bettersworth, a historian best known for his research into Mississippi society during the Civil War, dismisses the criticism, saying his book does not distort the role of blacks. Mississippi's system of adopting textbooks is shared in some form by roughly half the 50 states and most southern states. The system, provides textbooks free to public and parochial school students. Individual school boards may use whatever texts they want, but only those on the state's list can be purchased with state funds.

In practice, choices are limited to books on the list, which is revised every six years. The suit involving "Your Mississippi" and "Conflict and Change" is expected to last several weeks and it may be several months before the court renders a decision, lawyers for both sides said. Here are examples of disparities between the textbooks "Your Mississippi" and "Mississippi: Conflict and Change": ON SLAVERY Your Mississippi "While there were a number of cases of cruelty to slaves, public opinion and state law tried to see that the slaves were not mistreated. Plantation owners cautioned their overseers against using brutal practices, but overseers were noted for cruelty The code (of 1832) required the master to keep all of his slaves in good health and physical well-being from the cradle to the grave. In general, slaves were treated well or badly on the basis of how good or bad their owners were." Conflict and Change: "When the slaveowner or overseer felt that a slave had done wrong, he sometimes punished the offender severely . . .

One slave recalled a whipping that he had witnessed: 'I saw Old Master get mad at Truman, and he buckled him down across a barrel and whipped him till he cut the blood out of him, and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places.' . . .This harsh treatment had other aims... it made them fear white men, and it attempted to make them feel that whites were 'naturally' superior to blacks." ON RECONSTRUCTION Your Mississippi: By 1874, taxpayers were ready to revolt. ..

Vicksburg and Warren County were scenes of the first incidents. Most of the city and county offices were held by blacks. Since whites paid ninety-nine percent of the taxes, they were very unhappy. The city and county debt, which had been only thirteen thousand dollars in 1869, had climbed to $1.4 million for Vicksburg alone by 1874 .

After 1875 the old hatreds began to fade. Mississippi was back under the control of native whites." Conflict and Change: "Many Mississippians still believe the 'myth of Reconstruction,' that the period directly after the Civil War was a time of bad government, 'Negro domination,' and racial tension. We now know that most of this myth is not true Many of the black leaders in Mississippi were educated; several were college graduates. Those who were honest and able were usually supported by both black and white voters.

All they asked was equal rights before the law. On the whole, Mississippi was especially fortunate in having capable black leaders during these years." ..,...:'.; 

ON THE '60s , " Your Mississippi- "The 1960s were years of crisis. A showdown over desegregation and civil rights occurred. As a result, Mississippi's relationships with the national government were strained. After the Supreme Court's desegregation decision of 1954, Mississippians took vigorous measures to resist. One of those was the organization of a group known as the White Citizens' Council." Conflict and Change: "In 1954, the Supreme Court finally ruled school desegregation illegal. A few white people agreed with the decision but did not speak out effectively. Others organized the Citizens' Councils and passed new laws to resist integration. At the same time, a few black people began to express their dissatisfaction with segregation.". 

ON THE MISSISSIPPI SOVEREIGNTY COMMISSION Your Mississippi "In 1956 a State Sovereignty Commission was set up to take the Mississippi case to the rest of the country." . Conflict and Change: "One of the most important acts passed in 1956 established a State Sovereignty Commission to preserve segregation. The commission promptly hired secret investigators to inquire into 'subversive activities' ... The commission also operated a public relations department to publicize to the nation the benefits of Mississippi's segregated way of life." 

Early Adoption of Mississippi Conflict and Change

Private schools take little interest in controversial text

Clarion Ledger Thursday, January 22, 1981


Jackson's private high schools have taken little interest in the controversial text "Mississippi: Conflict and Change" since the book first appeared in 1974. "Conflict and Change" was added to the state's list of approved textbooks last month after a five-year court battle. Out of 13 private high schools in the city, only one - St. Andrew's Episcopal School uses the ninth-grade history book written by Charles Sallis and James E. Loewen.

St. Andrew's has used the book ever since it came out, said Headmaster David Hicks. The book was chosen by history teachers at St. Andrew's after it was approved by an academic affairs committee made up of department chairmen, Hicks said. "We selected 'Conflict and Change' because it gives a more comprehensive and a more thematic study than 'Your Mississippi' by John K. Bettersworth," Hicks said. "It is clear from reading that book ('Your Mississippi') that it is your Mississippi so long as you're white. It just doesn't deal with the conflict between the races." " 

Hicks said "Conflict and Change" uses the theme of the conflict between races rather than simply presenting Mississippi's chronological history. "It ('Conflict and Change') is thought provoking," Hicks said. "We've had some great discussions by using the book." "Conflict and Change" is not perfect, Hicks admitted.

"If whatever you want to talk about doesn't fit into the theme, it gets minimized or left out," Hicks said. " 'Your Mississippi" leaves out a lot, but it has no excuse for doing that.' " No parents or students at St. Andrew's have complained about using the controversial textbook since Hicks' term as headmaster. "The students seem to like the book," Hicks said. "It's not very difficult." Steven Bass, a Mississippi history teacher at Mississippi Baptist High School, said he uses "Conflict and Change" as a reference guide for his classes.

Students use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" as their textbook, he said. "Students are very interested in looking at the book ('Conflict and Change')," Bass said. "It gives a side of Mississippi we aren't used to seeing. It covers civil rights and modern writers very well." Bass said "Conflict and Change" was written at a fifth-grade reading level. "Ninth-graders could take the book and we'd be finished in a month," he said.

Students at Jackson Preparatory School won't find "Conflict and Change" used as a textbook, said Jesse L. Howell Jr., headmaster. The controversial book, however, is in the school's library for use as a reference guide. "We've had no mention by teachers or parents about the book," Howell said. Jackson Prep is free to use books from any source as textbooks, Howell said.

Unlike public schools, the school does not have to choose books on the state's approved list, Howell said. Robert Luckett, principal at St. Joseph High School, expects ninth-graders at the Catholic school to begin using "Conflict and Change" as soon as possible. The students currently use Betters-worth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." Luckett said textbooks for the school are chosen strictly from the state approved list because the school receives federal funding. "If we're thinking about changing texts, we'll get the teachers in the subject area together to look at the books available and then consult our school board members." Luckett said a few parents were concerned about "Conflict and Change" when it was banned by the Mississippi Textbook Purchasing Board's Rating Commmittee in 1974.

The seven-member rating committee said the book was too advanced for ninth-graders and over-emphasized race. The textbook was ordered to be added to the list of approved school books by U.S. District Judge Orma R. Smith last April. At Woodland Hills Baptist Academy ninth-graders use "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." "We haven't found a textbook better than Betterworth's," Woodland Hills Headmaster David Derrick said, adding that he believed Bettersworth's book lacked continuity between where the author stopped writing and the events of modern history.

"We don't feel like another book is better written or covers the material better." Derrick said neither parents nor teachers had suggested "Conflict and Change" be used. When the school changes textbooks, a committee of teachers examine the books available in regard to the reading levels and "what's best for the student," Derrick said. At Manhattan Academy, which uses Bettersworth's "Your Mississippi," there has been no inquiry by parents or students about changing Mississippi history textbooks, Headmaster Ray Wooten said. A committee of Manhattan teachers choose the school's textbooks, using the state approved list as a guide. Because the school is private, textbooks chosen do not have to come from the approved list, Wooten said.

Jackson Academy ninth-graders use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." Glenn A. Cam, headmaster at Jackson Academy, said the school was not ready to consider changing books because it purchased new Mississippi history books about three years ago. Because Mississippi history is taught only for half a year, the textbooks are used a little longer than those for courses taught the entire year, Cain said. Cain has received no mention of using "Conflict and Change" from parents or salesmen, he said. "Conflict and Change" will be evaluated when the school is in the market for new books, he said.

Cain said he had not read "Conflict and Change." Students at Madison-Ridgeland Academy use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." Dominic A. Bevalaque, headmaster at MRA, said the school buys new books every five years, depending on inflation and the condition of the books. MRA uses the state adoption list as a guide but is free to obtain books not on the list, Bevalaque said. Bevalaque said the school's teachers consider all books on the market when choosing a textbook. ' At Natchez Trace Academy, the use of Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" is an economic matter, Administrator Margaret Beal said.

The school, now in its first year of operation, uses texts formally used by Jackson Christian Academy. Natchez Trace Academy has received no comments about using its Mississippi history book, Mrs. Beal said. "No one has said, 'If you use that book ('Conflict and Change') I'll take my child out,' " Mrs. Beal said.

Mrs. Beal said "Conflict and Change" would probably be introduced in the ninth-grade classes as a reference book available in the library. At Capital City Baptist School, Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" is the only book on the state approved list that is used, James Johnson, principal, said. All other textbooks come from the Accelerated Christian Education Curriculum in Texas, Johnson said. Johnson, in his fourth year as principal, said he had received no mention of using "Conflict and Change." Johnson remembered some of the controversy "Conflict and Change" caused when it was first published but was not familiar with the book's contents.

McCluer Academy uses Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." "Right now, the reason we're using it is that we've had it a long time and we have plenty of copies," said McCluer Headmaster Bobby Jones. "We just haven't updated the Mississippi history books and looked at any other books." Jones said. Jones said he was familiar with the book. Jones, in his second week as headmaster at the South Jackson school, knew of no one asking to use "Conflict and Change" as a textbook or requesting the book for a relerence guide in the school's library. Ninth-graders at Central Hinds Academy use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today," Headmaster Wade Hammack said.

"I do not know anything about the book ('Conflict and Change') other than what I have read in the paper," Hammack said. No teachers or parents have requested "Conflict and Change" be used, he said. William S. Purvis, headmaster at Magnolia Academy, said the school was using Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" before this one ( Conflict and Change') was in print and saw no reason to change." Purvis said Magnolia Academy had just purchased new editions of Betters-worth's book and he had had no parents or students suggest using "Conflict and Change." Purvis said he was not familiar with the contents of "Conflict and Change" but had heard about the controversy it sparked. 

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Fight over a Mississippi Textbook

Civil Rights, Culture Wars: The Fight over a Mississippi Textbook by Charles W. Eagles

I've just been made aware of this book, but I'm moving it up on my reading list because it's pretty important to me.  The history of the struggle for civil rights is, in many ways, my own history.  Born in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi, to a very political family, this is the world I entered into just as the fight was getting more heated.  

For the past several months, I've been doing a really deep dive into the integration of Galloway United Methodist Church, and my plan is to do Millsaps next.  This book is about incidents that happened later on, more into the early and mid-seventies.

Mississippi Conflict and Change was a textbook about Mississippi history written by James W. Loewen, who taught at Tougaloo, and Charles Sallis, who taught at Millsaps.  It was the first Mississippi History textbook to include anything about the civil rights movement.  There's where the conflict and change about the book itself came in.

Mississippi has a free textbook law.  That means students of the public schools (and some parochial schools) are provided free textbooks paid for by the State of Mississippi.  In order to qualify for these funds, the books have to go through an approval and adoption process as set out in the law.  This is true for all the states that have a free textbook law, which I believe is all the states now.  

Approving textbooks can be very political.  With so many concerns about Critical Race Theory and anything about people with different sexualities, approving textbooks has become much more political than has been in many years.  In the seventies, there was considerable pressure to keep the civil rights movement out of any Mississippi History textbook.  Authors Lowen and Sallis, having struggled to get the book published in the first place, were determined to have it adopted by the state Textbook board, so they filed suit, accusing the board of rejecting their book illegally.

Eagle's Book "Civil Rights, Culture Wars: The Fight over a Mississippi Textbook," tells the story of the fight over getting "Conflict and Change" published.   

At St. Andrews, I was taught Mississippi History using Conflict and Change.  A very young priest named Jerry McBride taught it.  I didn't know it at the time, but St. Andrews was the only school in the nation that had ordered the book for classroom use.  I knew this because my father and grandfather ran the Mississippi State Textbook Depository.

My dad was asked to give a deposition in the case.  Considering the very political nature of his business, both at Missco and Trustmark and St Dominics, he really didn't want to get mixed up in this, but he also was pretty determined to get the book adopted.  Dr. Sallis was an important member of the Millsaps History Department.  Bill Goodman represented the State of Mississippi in this and many other matters.  He was also a life trustee of Millsaps College.  Mr. Goodman's advice was that the state not fight this, that fighting it would make us look pretty bad.  

At the time, there were political figures in Mississippi who had much to gain for taking a stance against a civil rights textbook.  Sadly, those days may have returned.  There was considerable political wrangling over this.  I don't know how much is in Eagle's book, but it involved a lot of icons of my youth.

Ultimately, cooler heads were able to prevail, and the book was adopted after considerable political and legal pressure.  I'm very interested to see how much of this lines up with my own memory of that period.  I was thirteen and fourteen.  Interestingly, the only reviewer of the book on Amazon is Bob King, former Dean at Millsaps College.

They have Mississippi Conflict and Change listed as almost $1,500 on Amazon.  I think I have two copies.  

Civil Rights, Culture Wars: The Fight over a Mississippi Textbook is available in hardcover, softcover, and kindle formats on I'll write a review once I've finished it.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jon Stewart Vs CNBC

Much has been made of the battle between the staff at CNBC and Jon Stewart over a bit Stewart did criticizing CNBC for their bullish comments before the bear market kicked in.

Business news makers, commentators and journalists are used to operating in their own little sphere, hardly noticed by the rest of the world, but when the economy became the biggest story in the world, they found themselves suddenly thrust into a much larger spotlight and they're not at all comfortable there.

These guys are just going to have to butch up about it though, because the market crash and the credit freeze and the housing bubble happened on their watch. It was their job to warn us about this disaster before it hit and most of them didn't.

There's going to be a lot more uncomfortable comments thrown their way in the days ahead, so they'd better get used to it.

Jon Stewart's initial Volly

Jim Cramer at CNBC Responds

Stewart responds to Cramer's Response

Oh yeah, by the way, Cramer's advice to sell everything at the bottom of a Bear Market? Not a good idea.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to Smoke a Cat

For many years, scientists have argued whether or not marijuana smoking has any detrimental effects on the brain, particularly in the areas of logic and cognitive functions. Recently a story out of Nebraska provided evidence to support the argument that pot can really fuck up your mind.

Police sought Twenty-year-old Acea Schomaker of Lincoln Nebraska on marijuana charges. When they found him, he was smoking a home-made bong made of plexiglas and rubber tubing, with a six-month-old kitten duct-taped inside.

Schomaker said he put the kitten inside the bong because it was high-strung and needed the marijuana smoke to calm down. Police incarcerated Schomaker, seized the bong and took custody of the cat who was turned over to an animal shelter to be checked out by a vet to see if the experience damaged its health.

Schomaker said he had smoked the cat several times before. Police charged him with animal cruelty and possession of marijuana. So far, the kitten seems to be recovering.

Link: KETV Omaha Nebraska

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bert Case Kicks Dogs Ass

Many people remember the now infamous incident where former governor Kirk Fordice threatened to kick the ass of Jackson reporter, Bert Case for revealing the home Fordice bought for his girlfriend. (Why the heck can't I find video of this?)
Link: Weekly

It turns out Fordice might have made a mistake threatening Case, because Bert's a bad-ass.

Below is video of Bert getting attacked by a pair of Pitt bull terriers while investigating another story. Looks like the pit-bulls picked on the wrong dude and Bert emerges victorious.

My favorite part is that Bert ends the scuffle with the command "You GO!" gesturing with is free hand, and the dog does!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Miss-Matched Presidential Hands

Ok, I feel competent to comment on this story since I'm in it. Believe it or not, Barack Obama has white hands.

Among a lot of other novelty items, I sell Cardboard Standups. They're kooky, they're fun at parties and they come in all your favorite characters: including the new president of the United States, Barack Obama.

A week ago, I get a phone call from what sounds like a young, black woman asking about the Obama standup. That part wasn't all that unusual as I'd been getting calls about it for weeks. She didn't want to buy one though, she wanted me to look at its hands.

At this point, I should admit that I'd long suspected the photograph from the Obama Standup was photoshopped. The grain and focus of the head is pretty different from the body. Other than that, I never gave it much thought.

The caller wants to know if I notice anything unusual about the hands. "Not really" I said. That's when her questions start getting really pointed. "Who is this?" I ask.

She identifies herself as Dayo Olopade, saying she's a reporter for the Washington Post. For people of my generation, the Washington Post has something of a gilded reputation because of their part in Watergate. Needless to say, that caught my attention.

I'd never talked to a reporter from the Washington Post before, and I guess I had really high expectations of Post reporters, because this young woman wasn't at all what I expected one to be like. She didn't seem very professional, especially since we're ten minutes into the conversation and she's just now told me she's a reporter for the Washington Post or anybody else.

First she wants me to look at the hands. "What's he holding?" she asks. I can't really tell, it looks kind of like a blackberry, which I thought would be cool since Obama seems to be a crackberry addict. "Look closer" she says. It's glasses in his hands. "Obama doesn't wear glasses" she says.

"Well, Duh!" I'm thinking. That's because it's not his hands. The body is a stock image. To make a cardboard standup you have to start with a head-to-toe photograph and it's unlikely Advanced Graphics, the maker of the standup could have found one in the early days of the Obama campaign when they came out with the Obama standup, so they improvised, putting Obama's head on a stock image body. Several of their political standups are made the same way.

"Do you think those are white hands?" She asks. "Oh, boy" I'm thinking. This conversation just got serious. There's a young black woman from the Washington Post asking me if a product I'm selling of the first black president, just a few days from his historic inauguration has white hands.

The thing is, I'd been staring at the hands for a few minutes trying to figure out what he's holding, and it never occurs to me that they're white! We'd sold a bunch of these by this time and nobody else had noticed they were white either.

"What was your name again?" I ask. I'd been searching the Washington Post website for any mention of her name, spelling it in several different names and nothing's coming up. "You're with the Washington Post?"

That's when she adds that it's not the Post she works for but a news magazine they own called The Root. She directs me to, and sure enough her name's on there, so I take more questions.

The thing is she's not asking questions, she's making statements and not particularly asking me anything. This lady is mad that Obama has white hands. For some reason, she has it in her head the body belongs to Tom Daschle, because he wears glasses and Obama doesn't.

I try to explain to her what photoshop is and what stock images are and she's just not getting it. "And who owns this stock image company?" She asks. I don't know! There are dozens and dozens of them, maybe even hundreds. Asking me who owns the stock image company is kind of like asking me where they bought their cameras.

At this point I'm beginning to suspect that my caller isn't who she says she is. She's not a reporter. Reporters ask questions and all this lady wants is to give me a schoolin'. Tom Daschle's hands? Give me a break.

I'd never heard of The Root, but if the Post owns it they must have some sort of professional standards and whoever it is on the phone sounds more like an angry college student than a professional reporter. "Are you sure you're a reporter?" I ask.

She offers to have her editor confirm her identity. "Sure, let me speak to him." He's not available, but he can email me. I agree he should do so.

Finally, she starts asking questions:

"Are these Tom Dashle's hands?" "I doubt it." Why is she obsessed with Daschle?
"Was it just sloppy work?" "Not particularly."
"Am I ashamed the hands aren't black?" "Not particularly."

I try to explain to her that President Obama's skin isn't very dark, and it may have been easier to start with a white model's hands and darken them than to start with a black model's hands and lighten them.

The color of the hands on the standup are a fairly good match to the face, good enough that I'd been looking at the image for months and not noticed and none of the people we sold them to had noticed either. She even admits in her column that she'd taken a photograph of herself kissing the standup before she noticed either. (Not sure a reporter should admit to kissing the photograph of any politician. So much for the media not having a bias, I guess)

By this time, she's getting belligerent and not asking any questions and I'm convinced she's not who she says she is so I end the conversation.

About an hour later, I get email from an editor at confirming that the person who called me does indeed work for them. By this time I'd been able to find out more about the company. It's a black perspective blog with about eight or nine writers. There are a lot of black folks who live in DC so I'm assuming that's the connection with the Washington Post.

I call the telephone number listed on the editor's email. He doesn't answer but, Olopade does. (hmmmm...) At this point, I'm wondering if he sent me the email or if she did. I'm willing to believe she is who she says she is this time though, because her photograph on their website looks like she's in her mid-twenties and her other articles tell me she's not so much of a reporter as she is a commentator.

The editor, who may or may not have sent me the email, (I never got to speak to him) looks from his photograph to be about my age. I'm wondering if he's really going to publish her piece when it's finished because this lady's kinna crazy. Well, he does.

Not surprisingly, Olopade doesn't quote me correctly even once. It never seemed to me like she was taking notes like a reporter might. She's already made up her mind what to write, she's just looking for somebody to pin her assumptions on, other than herself. Fortunately she doesn't say I told her they were Tom Daschle's hands.

Well, that's the end of that, I think. Alexia puts's readership low enough that I don't see many people ever reading the story. That might have been the end of it, but she repeats a truncated version of the story on some sort of weird tag-team blog over at

Two things happen at this point. The websites that repost the Slate's RSS feed reprint the story and NPR picks up the story, doing a short piece on it in their Morning Edition broadcast. Fortunately, I'm not in any of those. They at least manage to get an interview with Steve Hoagland who works for Advanced Graphics and he does a pretty good job at explaining the situation.

While all this is going on, stock levels on the original White-Hands Obama Standup are getting really low. The original standup was made fairly hastily at the beginning of the campaign and Advanced Graphics intends to replace it with two new designs now that Obama won the election.

I try and make the case that they should continue offering the original white-hands version, because with all the press it's now a collector's item and might sell even better than before. They decline.

So, no, you can't get the original white-hands Obama standup from us. If you already have one you got from us, hold on to it because you can probably sell it on ebay for more than what you paid for it. You can get the new design for the Barack Obama Cardboard Standup here, and the second design Obama speaking from the presidential podium here.

As for Olopade, she may be a really good writer one day, but for the moment, not so much. Woodward and Bernstein have nothing to worry about from her.

For a brief moment there, I thought I was really being interviewed by the Washington Post, which wasn't really a life's goal of mine, but would have been pretty cool.

As to whether it was morally wrong to use a white model's hands on a Barack Obama standup, I really don't think so. If his face were much darker then maybe it would have been an issue, but the fact that none of my other customers noticed says something. Race is mostly a social construction. When it gets down to actual skin tone, the differences aren't always as great as you might thing.

I have to wonder if Olopade would have still kissed her Obama standup had she known he had a white man's body. Let's not tell her Obama's momma was white. That might ruin the whole experience for her.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Blame The Media, Again?

Dan Gillmor writes a pretty interesting piece suggesting financial journalists should have played a larger role over the last ten years in warning the country about the looming financial crisis:
"Journalists are notoriously thin-skinned, defensive about even legitimate criticism. But this lapse has been too blatant even for reporters to miss. Two-thirds of financial journalists in a recent survey said the news media "dropped the ball" in the period before the crisis became apparent. (Still, almost none of them assigned the press any responsibility for what has occurred.)"
Gillmor goes on to suggest that the media should play a larger role in warning the country about this and other disasters:
That common practice suggests an opportunity. When we can predict an inevitable calamity if we continue along the current path, we owe it to the public to do everything we can to encourage a change in that destructive behavior.

In practice, this means activism. It means relentless campaigning to point out what's going wrong, and demanding corrective action from those who can do something about it."
Although I like Gilmor's article very much there are some things I'd like to point out:

First, he's overly critical of print media journalists, suggesting their reporting might have been skewed in favor of their advertisers, even though, from my perspective print media journalists (and blog journalists) were much more responsible in reporting about the building bubble than electronic media journalists.

Secondly, he makes no mention of the obvious fact that although financial journalists were far too optimistic five years ago, helping build the bubble, they have also swung too far the other way now and their pessimism might slow the recovery.

I'm very much in favor of activism among journalism, but you have to temper it a good bit, because, sometimes these guys have no clue what they're talking about. If you're going to follow an activist journalist on any issue, it pays to also read another one on the opposite side of the issue so you can forge your own sense of the truth out of the middle.

It should be pointed out that Gilmor himself is a print (and blog) media financial journalist, who made a name for himself writing about the bubble, but failed to accurately predict its ultimate bursting.

You can read the entirety of Gilmor's article here: The Media's Role In The Financial Crisis

I recommend it, but with the reservations noted above.

Peter Schiff is Insane

Peter Schiff gets a lot of credit these days for going on television and predicting the banking collapse of the current recession, even though some other economists missed it. Through his television appearances, Schiff earned the nickname "Dr. Doom" because of his dire predictions.

So, is Schiff the brilliant prognosticator of the future? Not necessarily. Lots of other people saw the current economic crisis coming, especially the housing bubble, they just lacked the desire or the personality to go on television. Yes, some of Schiff's predictions came true, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Before you sell all your belongings and follow Schiff, there are a few things you might want to consider:

He's one tin-foil hat away from being a full blown survivalist, yet he graduated from Berkley. Like Stan Lee says "nuff said".

His father is currently in prison for income tax evasion, not because he's a crook, but because he's a tax protester.

Many of Sciff's investment clients took a beating in 2008. It turns out, hiding your money in Singapore wasn't such a good idea after all.

Sciff follows the Austrian school of economics, or as I like to call it, the "Mad Max" school of economics, whose main tenets are that human beings are too evil and too stupid to ever govern effectively, so the only solution is the thunderdome of absolute laissez-faire.

"Dr. Doom" is a financial adviser for "Dr No." Schiff works for Ron Paul. Birds of a feather flock together, especially when they're both radical libertarians who want to bring down the government.

He was wrong about the dollar and wrong about gold and on his radio show Jan 14, 2009, he said Americans should stock up on guns and ammunition to fight off the wandering hordes of the coming apocalypse. That's just great radio...If you're Art Bell!

Schiff was right that Americans didn't save enough and spent too much on consumer crap made in Asia. Duh! You didn't have to go to Berkley to know that. This has been a known criticism of the American economy far and wide for forty years.

A bear market doesn't make survivalists suddenly brilliant and "right" any more than a bull market means you should invest in rose-colored glasses. A little faith in each other tempered with some common sense will carry you pretty far in this old world. In the mean time, try and avoid the people trying to grab your attention at either end of the pendulum. They're not necessarily all that bright or right.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Print is Dead, and I Don't Feel So Good Myself

In the 1984 film, Ghostbusters, mousy secretary Janine tries to sex up uber-nerd scientist Egon Spengler by impressing him with the books she's read, to which Egon replies: "Print is Dead."

It's no secret I get frustrated with electronic journalism. Conservative, liberal, politics, showbiz, lifestyle, all of them, they just disappoint the crap out of me sometimes. When I was a kid, there were some truly great journalists working in the electronic media, but, the only one left in the business is Barbara Walters and she's a hundred and eight(sorry, Barbara).

For fifty years, print journalism was able to compete by offering more depth, and better quality. Newspapers survived by doing the same things TV and Radio news did, only better, even though they were less convenient. They were even pretty profitable.

Then along came the web, and you could get the same data (the exact same articles in many cases) without having to deal with a stack of printed pages. It could have been really cool. Newspapers could do pretty much what they always had, but without the expense of having to print anything.

The problem was, it's a lot harder to sell advertising on the web. Most advertisers only want to pay for web advertising if the end user actually clicks on their ad. Nobody wants to pay just for the exposure without somebody clicking on the ad, even though anybody who's ever studied advertising will tell you, exposure is the most valuable part of advertising. There's also no way to insert a whole page of advertising in the middle of the news on the web.

Newspapers are in the business of publishing the news, but they made their money by selling advertising, which gave the end user the expectation that the news itself is either free or nearly free. Double that on the web where almost all the non-pornographic content is free and it became almost impossible for newspapers to profitably make the transition from printed paper to the internet.

I think you'll see many of the best writers and comic artists and some of the most fleet-footed mastheads successfully make the transition over to web journalism, but it will be a painful transition and the newspaper printed on paper itself will be an anachronism in fifteen years. Ironically, I think we'll probably retain the term "newspaper" for text based journalism long after there's no actual paper involved.

This will be painful, and I can't promise that what we'll get will be nearly as good as what we had, but I don't think there's any way to change the path we're on either.

Seth Godin makes an interesting blog entry on what he'll miss about newspapers. He's kind of an asshole about it, but he makes some good points.

Brownie points and kudos if you can name the newspaper writer I ripped off for the title of this article.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oops CNN Does it again

Here's the headline: Retail sales drop for 6th straight month

Here's the Sub Head: Slump is the longest in at least four decades.

Pretty dire huh? Ready to cut your wrists yet?

Don't give up hope yet though, buried deep in the article is this: Of the $9.4B drop in sales between November and December, just over half was due to the plunge in gas prices, which pushed gas sales down by $4.9B, or 15.9%.

So, rather than going with a headline that says something like "Retail Sales Drop Driven by Falling Gas Prices", which would be true, instead they go with the end of the world scenario.

Never mind that six months ago gas prices were at an all time high and people were ready to go through the village with torches and pitchforks to hunt down oil executives, or that the real drop in retail sales is more like under 2.4%, let's REALLY scare the crap out of people with our headlines!

People are frightened about their economic future and that's understandable, but it would really help if the fourth estate would step up to the bar and start trying to make things better rather than worse. All they have to do is start reporting the news rather than trying to sell it with supermarket tabloid headlines.

read the article here

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Not To Write A Headline

On, the headline reads: Worst Holiday Shopping Season Since '70

Now, to read just the headline, you would think CNN is saying that retailers sold about as much in 2008 as they did thirty-eight years ago in 1970, which would have been an unmitigated disaster.

Fortunately, if you read the article, you'd discover that they really meant holiday retail sales were down around four percent from last years holiday retail sales, which is the worse year-to-year decline since 1970.

In terms of actual dollars, retailers actually sold over three times as much in 2008 as they did in 1970.

Considering the state of the economy, that year-to-year sales were down no more than four percent would actually be pretty good news if it weren't for the massive markdowns retailers took to try and maintain their revenue.

Still a four per-cent decline isn't news that the sky is falling. In fact, retail sales beat in 2008 beat some projections and some retailers like reported their best Christmas sales ever.

A big part of any recession is the pessimism people feel about the state of the economy which curbs spending. With that in mind, one would hope that a responsible news agency would forgo incendiary headlines in favor of more factual ones so not to inflate people's fears.

This doesn't seem to be the case over at

You can read the article here:

The lesson here may be that if one really wants to understand the news they have to go a good bit beyond the headlines, and even then it's best not to trust just one source for your news. The downside is that it's actually a lot of work to keep yourself informed.

Official Ted Lasso