Friday, March 21, 2008

Block the Vote!

Now I’ve screwed everything up.

On March 18, through an electronic poll, asked its readers how they, as Floridians, feel about getting the state's Democratic delegates from the state’s Jan. 29 primary counted at the Democratic National Convention.

As you probably know, the Democratic National Committee told Florida Democrats that their votes won’t count because the state scheduled its primary too early.

There was talk of a mail-in do-over primary, although now it looks that won’t happen.

The question remains whether the delegates could be included without a do-over. posted a Web reader poll on the issue. The only trouble is, the poll allowed readers from outside Florida to vote, raising the question of whether the results reflect the opinions of none but Floridians.

I know of one case in which a wise guy from the Northeast skewed the results by participating in the poll. Even though he is registered to vote in Massachusetts, he participated even though the issue of the delegates affects him less directly than it does Florida residents.

The Herald asked

a) if delegates should represent the state, with or without a do-over. [``Why should the voters be punished?’’] b) if delegates should be excluded. [``The rules were broken and not counting the votes is the consequence,’’] or c) the delegates should count only if the primary were held again.

So what the heck, although I am registered with the newspaper’s Web site as a Massachusetts resident, I voted, and the Web site did not block my vote.

Of the whopping 257 votes that had been cast, I was one of 47 who, in accordance with my newly discovered principals regarding nominations, clicked on ``C.’’ I was in the minority, among 19 percent, which means that maybe I’m not afraid to espouse unpopular positions.

Option A took 58 percent, B, 47 percent.

Not that my participation made much difference. My vote counted for less than four tenths of 1 percent of the total tally. Also, the poll was crap to begin with. Consider the utter dubiousness of the notion that 257 is representative of the population of Florida. No scientific attempt to poll a demographic cross section was made. Instead it is confined to readers who feel like taking the poll.

It also did not ask whether the poll-taker was registered Democratic or Republican. (I am a Democrat.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Natalia Muñoz and La Prensa

To the links on this page I have added LinksLatinos Blog Zone, by Natalia Muñoz, who I used to work with in the Northampton, Mass. office of the Union-News.
Muñoz is the founder and editor of La Prensa, a newspaper for Latinos in western Massachusetts. The blog is dynamite. Read ``All Talk'' and ``Five Easy Questions for the Green Candidate,'' for starters.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Don't Tell Me What to Read, Buddy...

The Internet has put many thousands of news sources, as they say, ``just a mouse click away’’ (ouch!). Now there is a mammoth pile of punditry and reports about the mind-numblingly myriad (are the alliterations bugging you? They’re killing me) events out there. Readers must choose between what to take in and what to neglect.

Gone are the days when you can read a few newspapers and catch TV news from one of four networks and consider yourself informed about current events.

I sympathize profoundly with Jan Rooth of Hollandale, Fla. In a March 3 letter to The Miami Herald, Rooth argued that the media provided a great deal of space to the flap regarding Louis Farrakahn’s endorsement of Barack Obama, and the Democratic candidate’s renunciation of Farrakhan, but have done little to point out

[T]he cozy relationship between the Republican Party and dangerous radicals like Hagee.

Rooth was referring to the endorsement of John McCain last month by mega-church evangelist Pastor John Hagee. Hagee has been criticized for attacking catholicism and urging military action against Iran to protect Israel.

Hagee has described the Catholic Church as a ``great whore,’’ and ``the anti-Christ,’’ among other things.

Arguably not a man to have in your camp if you’re trying to win votes.

However, The Washington Post and The New York Times covered the Feb. 27 endorsement and the controversy days before Rooth’s letter appeared. But who could blame Rooth for missing those stories? Although the print version of the Times must be available in southern Florida, the story ran on page 8, according to

Is the print edition of the Post available where Rooth lives? I don’t know. I live in western Massachusetts, which is also far from D.C., and I can get only the Sunday edition. I missed the Times and Post stories, too. I didn’t look them up on the Internet until I read Rooth’s letter, which is the first I’d heard of the endorsement.

The first mention of the endorsement on appeared in the bottom of a Feb. 27 article. The paper next referred to it on March 1.

This overwhelmed ``news consumer’’ (ouch!) thanks you, Jan Rooth.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Starbucks, au Courant

Are the times a-changin’ at Starbucks?

For the Hartford Courant, enough time has for customers to wake up and assess whether they get more of rush from patronizing one of the Seattle-based chain’s cafes than they did a week ago.

Starbucks has taken action to avoid sinking like a stone. On Feb. 26, days after it announced the layoff of 600 employees, Starbucks closed 7,100 stores from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. to train more than 135,000 employees in the fine art of brewing espresso.

Just one week later, on March 4, the Courant ran a verdict story.

Was the Starbucks experience conspicuously improved? Or is it all foam?

One reader called the training a corporate stunt.

Another said Starbucks is great and that she doesn’t mind paying the ``extra few cents.'' A writer, boldly self-identified as ``JP,’’ said ``Pretentious BS, like calling the minimum-wage counter drones `Baristas,’ ‘’ should be ignored. JP doesn't mind five bucks a cup for some brews.

``It’s a cup of coffee,’’ another reader noted. Baristas – Starbucks also calls them ``store partners,’’

[C]ould probably care less and are just being exploited for meager wages by pretentious suburbanites who feel an undeserved sense of entitlement.

By pretentious suburbanites, was this commentator was referring to Starbucks corporate execs or customers, or both? Not clear.

Will Starbucks become a more fun place?

Maybe yes.

Maybe no.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cracking Tough Nuts

The fun, and often the challenge, in reading letters to newspapers in Bloomsburg, Penn., many of them dating to the 18th century, is that they are written by folks who are convinced that their message is clear when, to a 21st century reader who has never been to Bloomsburg, they are baffling. The fun part is witnessing writers stumble. I admit that I often laughed at the attempts at communication from people whom I suspect were often lonely or angry and too confused to know how to say what they wanted to say.

Reading ``Letters to the Editor: Two Hundred Years in the Life of an American Town,’’ can also be tough for the same reason – many of the letters are cryptic. Because I obviously don’t know the background story behind the letters, I had to make a great effort to understand that which is far from self explanatory. Just proves the point that people need to make sense of what’s around them, even if they must momentarily suspend their laughter.

Many letters are charming – or troubling– because they often say more about the writer than what the writer considers to be his or her main point. It’s not what they say, but how they say it.

When he wrote to The Bloomsburg Daily in 1899, W.J. Lanyon (page 125) either didn’t know, or was just finding out, that the Philipine Incursion was not going to be much fun. After shipping off,

``bands playing, guns firing, banners flying and the officers making speeches and all of us singing patriotic songs,’’
the disillusionment of war wastes no time setting in:
``A great many of us are getting seasick now.’’

One of the letters from Christian Reice, on page 118, uses a matter-of-fact tone that makes the letter turn eerie when he describes shooting a man.

``[W]e are within six hundred yards of the Insurgents outpost and they keep firing at us all night. I shot one out of a tree a few days ago. … As soon as I saw him I took aim and fired. The shot took effect but some of his comrades came and carried him away.’’

I have no idea how he felt about shooting the insurgent. Reading between the lines, I see this as a story of a young man who doesn’t know what to make of killing. For the time being, his use of the bloodless ``took effect’’ is the best he can do.

There is Dikeman, who on page 42 objects to young men using canes as an accessory. Apparently canes were just coming into fashion then.

``With what admiration, bordering on ecstasy, would persons from the country look at some of the town exquisites promenading the streets of our goodly borough, with that useful, beautiful and important aid to their walking organs…’’

Dikeman probably was painfully aware that he would never be considered an ``exquisite’’ around town.

Chiming in on page 42 is Harriet, who finds Dikeman’s intolerance insufferable. If we follow Dikeman’s example, Harriet fears, the town might end up cursed by

``some contemptible whiffet scribbling against the use of wigs, curls, lacing, and all the paraphernalia of a lady’s toilette.’’
(A whiffet is a little whiff or puff.)

But earlier, Harriet said there’s no reason why using a cane ``should so excite the spleen of the petty scribbler.’’ Look who’s talking about scribblers with excited spleens, Harriet. Of course, a woman has a right to defend her paraphernalia.

And a fellow has a right to eat. ``One of the Gang,’’ on page 58, admits that his gang was noisy the other night, but they didn’t steal a chicken. They ate a chicken, but they didn’t steal it.

``We hope that no act of ours will ever cause a disturbing wave to ruffle the calm peacefulness of our town, and in the future, should our palates tickle for chicken we will – well – we will eat chicken.’’

The Globe Quietly Scoops the Times

The Boston Globe did it right.

The New York Times’ dubious piece that asserted that John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist whose ``clients often had with business before McCain’s Senate committee’’ – and thereby violating egregiously the public trust – was really nothing more than a stale recapitulation of a story of a man who has crusaded for government ethics. And who also has a habit of pushing ethical boundaries.

To keep the story from being nothing but old news, the Times added the hook of the Affair-that-Probably-Wasn’t to make it smell like fresh information.

On March 29, the Globe actually got something, no sex necessary. The paper reported that McCain, co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign financing bill, is trying to get out of his own, legally binding, commitment to spending limits dictated by a law that dates to the Nixon Administration.

McCain applied for public funding – with a stipulated limit on campaign spending – when his campaign was broke. Now that he is raising tons of cash, he is trying to get out of the arrangement.

The Globe says McCain’s campaign used his eligibility for public funding to get on the ballots in Delaware and Ohio, ``instead of taking the time – and expense – of gathering signatures.’’

If McCain, the apparent Republican nominee, is not allowed to spend more than the law’s $85 million limit, he won’t be able to ``pay for ads, mailings, polls or travel,’’ until September, when the general election season begins.

McCain and Barack Obama had agreed to abide by the law if they face each other in the general election. Now that he is raising his own load of money, Obama is having second thoughts.