October 30, 2008

What the Pickens

T. Boone Pickens met with American City Business Journals editors at their annual meeting this week. Pickens explained his plan for diversifying America's energy sources.

His opinion on the two major parties' presidential candidates is particularly interesting: "They do not know anything about energy."

Pickens spent an hour and a half with ACBJ's editors. As of this writing, two video excerpts have been posted. I anticipate more to come.

October 28, 2008

Mainstream media fails the electorate--again

Orson Scott Card handed out some harsh medicine to local dailies in this opinion piece:

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?

In which he accuses daily newspapers of bias in failing to cover Barack Obama's part in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis. An excerpt:

If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats -- including Barack Obama -- and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans -- then you are not journalists by any standard.

Card's point is cogent, and eloquently put.

But many in the media are equally guilty of a less obvious bias: As long as mainstream media outlets continue to pretend that the Big Two are the only parties in this country, they cripple the democratic process.

An informed electorate is one of the keys to a successful democracy. Traditionally, Americans have looked to the media to consolidate the vast amount of information available. But when journalists employ bias in the process, or when they ignore third-party candidates simply because those parties are statistically unlikely to win, they prove themselves unworthy of the task.

The City Club of Cleveland hosted a debate today between Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr, independent candidate Ralph Nader, and Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin. C-Span recorded the debate for addition to its archives.

I'm glad someone is paying attention. Because when I checked the "Election" tab at Google news, the only mention I found of any of these gentlemen was in this AP story, which is about a poll, not the debate.

So far, the blogosphere is picking up the slack, if you can pick through the slag. While I was picking, I came across this article, which shows that 55 percent of likely voters felt Barr should be included in the presidential debates. But the commission that organizes the debates will only admit a candidate who has "a mathematical chance of winning a majority of Electoral College votes, and . . . at least 15% support in national public opinion polls before the debates."

Get this, though--younger respondents were more likely to say that third-party candidates should be included. Because of this, the parties--and the media--need to change their approaches.

The more the love-hate triangle between the Democrats and the media and the Republicans continues to follow the same worn-out plot, the more disaffected voters are going to look for someone telling a new story in a new way.

October 24, 2008

Do the clothes make the woman?

Or is it the other way around?

Everyone, it seems, is in a tizzy about the Republican Party having given Governor Palin a designer-clothing shopping spree so she would look appropriately vice-presidential on the campaign trail.

"What a waste!" They claim. "Wretched excess!"

Of course, you realize that if Governor Palin campaigned in her usual Wasilla togs, no one would praise her frugality and down-homedness.

"What a slouch!" They would howl. "Wretched stinginess!"

We like to pretend that we judge people, as Dr. King once said, on the content of their character.

Baloney. Americans judge by image more often than not.

And, as Senator Clinton and House Speaker Pelosi already learned, female politicians are much more likely than their male counterparts to be judged by their dress. Or pants, as the case may be.

Wealth of notions

Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, who was questioned by members of congress yesterday about his role in the economy’s breakdown, put another nail in Adam Smith's coffin, admitting that it was a mistake to presume that “the self-interest of organizations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders.”

During the 18 years Greenspan was the country’s central banker, he fervently opposed regulation. Now, he admits the industry needs more oversight.

I am a firm a believer in the free market, and regulation can certainly be taken to painful extremes, but the subprime mortgage derivatives market was questionable from the start. Greenspan's current position, that corporations packaging derivatives be required to hold some of them in their own portfolios, can be filed under the heading "too little, too late.

October 17, 2008

The Oracle has spoken

You know, when I hand out investment advice, I'm really not very surprised when people ignore me.

But I did think that when Warren Buffet handed out investment advice, people would pay attention.

In today's New York Times, Buffet writes, "Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky’s advice: 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.'"

The man is a genius. Pay attention.

October 15, 2008

Libertarians use Internet to make flanking maneuver

This just in, from the Barr 2008 Presidential Committee:

"Using the latest advances in campaign social networking and Internet communication, Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Bob Barr will be participating in a real time, virtual debate during the televised debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. Barr's virtual debate will be streamed live over the Internet" beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

I point this out not to endorse Barr, but because the Big Two have dominated American politics for far too long. Someone should have broken this stranglehold a long time ago. Ross Perot and Ralph Nader each gave it a good try, but let's be honest. Both of their parties proved to be too flaky to pull it off.

Russell Verney, Barr's campaign manager, says "It's important that voters hear all the voices in this election, especially since Republicans and Democrats—on whose watch all of these problems were created—have proven they don't have the answers Americans are looking for. The advances in Internet communication are making it harder and harder for the two-party system to shut out alternative voices, which American voters are desperate to hear."

I'm not sure the electorate is "desperate" to hear third-party voices. I fear most of them have forgotten there even are other parties than the Big Two.

October 13, 2008

'Fun' with M$ Office.1

I love Microsoft Office. I really do. But just as the people we love sometimes drive us crazy with their quirky little habits, the software we love has foibles that drive us mad.

Because I work in a "production environment," I have a font management program that controls what fonts are active or not at any given time.

Unfortunately, some applications--and MS Word happens to be one of them--don't group fonts by "family." Every font gets its own line in the menu, which is rather distracting when you have a font that has multiple types (such as Display, Caption, and Standard), and then sub-types within each type (Display Black, Display Bold, Display Italic). You get the idea.

So to trim down my font menu, I turned off a bunch of fonts in my font manager.

Suddenly, my dictionary in Word no longer displayed definitions.

Oddly enough, if I cut the text (which I couldn't see) from the dictionary pane and pasted it into a document, I could then see it.


As it turned out, the culprit was "Verdana," which is the font the dictionary uses. Once I turned it back on, my problem was solved.

A rather silly tech support story, I suppose, and a little embarassing. PEBKAC*, and all that. But I post it in hopes that someday, it will help some poor Googling soul who has the same problem.

* — Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

October 9, 2008

Publicity requires forethought

Every day, I—and many people in newsroom jobs similar to mine—receive press releases that immediately go to the bit bucket.

Or, in the case of the one that was on my desk the other day, the real-world recycle bin.

This dead-tree release, which came by fax, goes along the lines of "[Firstname Lastname] recently addressed a meeting of [nonprofit group or industry association], speaking on the topic of [something probably very interesting that my readers might have cared to listen to].

The problem, of course, is that I have been told after the fact, when it is too late to tell my readers so they could attend.

If the senders of these notices—and I get dozens of them every month—ever read OBJ, they would realize that we don't publish this sort of post-event notice.

Look at this front page story from the Oct. 3 issue of OBJ. Had we been sent a release after the meeting that said "Dr. Deborah German recently addressed a meeting of BioOrlando, speaking on the topic of recruitment and funding at the UCF School of Medicine," we would not have known there was a story.

But our reporter was notified of the meeting beforehand, so she could attend, glean information from the talk, learn more about the subject, and transmit that news to our readers.

Getting such notices before the event allows us to
• Publicize speakers our readers might be interested in hearing for themselves
• Send a reporter to an event where appropriate

But Kristen, if Firstname Lastname's talk would be interesting to the readers, why not write about it afterward?

Because we weren't there to hear the talk firsthand.

Mr. Lastname's discussion may have been very interesting. But if he wishes to convey his knowledge to our readers, he needs to notify us of the event early enough for us to list it in our calendar section so the readers can attend.

Sending the release after the event tells me that he's not interested in conveying his knowledge to our readers. He's just seeking publicity for his public-speaking career. Sending a post-event release is not the best way to do that.

Here's the right way for a public speaker or other topic expert to get publicity:

• Invite media to attend events. (Mind you, I can't guarantee they'll show. Budgets are tight, and at many papers, staffs are shrinking. But if the event, like BioOrlando, is one that draws industry leaders, reporters might attend. Good reporters are always looking for new sources.)

• Provide editors and news directors with a bullet-point list of topics on which the expert is available for interview. (Don't expect to get a whole article written about you this way, but you might get quoted as a third-party expert in a story about someone or something else.)

• Submit bylined articles. (but— you must read the publication and customize your article for its style and readership.)

Of course, one could always pay for advertising, but few people seem to like that option.

October 6, 2008

Great Leadership

In Demon-haunted World, Carl Sagan pointed out that the founders of our nation were a highly educated group of philosophical thinkers—products of the Enlightenment.

Sagan noted that, at the founding, the population was about 2.5 million. At the time he wrote, the population was about ten times more. Now, it is even greater. Then, Sagan asks this profound question:

"If there were ten people of the caliber of Thomas Jefferson then, there ought to be 10 x 100 = 1,000 Thomas Jeffersons today.

"Where are they?"

Sagan wrote that book in 1995. We're still waiting for the answer. Ronald Reagan suggested that the great leaders were probably in business, but given what's been going on in the Wall Street soap opera these days, I'm not so sure.

Here, courtesy of The Teaching Company, are a couple of freebies--lectures that examine two great leaders: Lincoln and Churchill.

We still may not have leaders of this caliber today, but we can still look to the past--since hindsight is so much more acute than foresight--for what defines a great leader.

October 3, 2008

What this election is really about

Oddly enough, before the vice presidential candidates' debate started last night, I wasn't sure there was any point in it.

But when the candidates were speaking about health care, not only the debate but the whole election became clear to me.

Both candidates want to:
• Fix the economy
• Provide health care
• Create jobs
• Decrease the country's reliance on foreign energy sources

This election isn't about goals. It isn't even about change.

It's about methods.

The Democratic Party's method to solving these and other problems is to let the government manage them. The Republican Party's method, as Sen. Joe Biden sarcastically remarked, is to let the free market handle them.

Whom you choose to vote for, then, depends upon whether you want the federal government to control these elements of our society, or whether you think, as Gov. Palin said repeatedly, the government should get out of the way.*

Personally, I think there is a middle ground, in which matters are left to the free market as far as it is feasible to do so, and in which the government steps in with regulation or federal management only when the free market fails.

But the Republican and Democratic parties are so polarized now, having moved so far to the respective extremes of deregulation and government management, they have left the middle ground a vast, empty no man's land.

* It bears mentioning that the Libertarian Party, which has been excluded from the televised debates, is even more resistant to government intervention than the Republicans. If you didn't think it was possible to be further to the right than the Republican Party, this may come as a surprise.