Monday, May 26, 2014

In Grateful Memory - Memorial Day 2014

Willamette National Cemetery

In grateful memory to those who died defending us and those who have served and passed on.

Memorial (Decoration) Day:
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
. . .
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Merkley: "Tuition is too darn high!" But His Fix Keeps Students Paying High Tuition.

Sen. Jeff Merkley
In an email with the subject line "Tuition is too darn high!", Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley says he's working on legislation to address the problem. But the legislation has nothing to do with tuition or any other direct higher education costs. 

No, Senator Merkley's big, bold move is to cut the amount of interest students might owe after borrowing to pay those "too darn high!" tuition rates.

Here's the text from the email:
Tuition is too darn high!
Sent By: Senator Jeff Merkley
On:May 05/22/14 
Making College Affordable 
It’s graduation season, and as many Oregon families understand too well, it is increasingly harder to afford higher education in America. We need an alternative to the broken model of mountains of debt and increasing interest rates. That’s why Jeff recently teamed up with Elizabeth Warren to introduce legislation that will provide immediate relief to students and graduates mired in debt. The Bank on Students Emergency Loans Refinancing Act would allow student borrowers to refinance their private and public student loans at a lower, fixed rate. As the first in his family to attend college, Jeff is personally invested in this issue. Pushing this bill is the latest in a series of steps he has taken to make college attainable and affordable for all Americans. 
Read more in the Register-Guard: "Bill might ease student loan squeeze"
[emphasis added]
Senatorial leadership at it's best. Keep paying the high tuition, but if you borrow to pay it, you might not have to pay quite as much interest. Sheesh.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Automated Jobs Coming; Higher Minimum Wage a Factor

From the New York Sun:
Retail restaurant robots are coming soon to a checkout counter near you.
. . .
McDonald’s announced this month that it will deploy computer kiosks at 7,000 restaurants in Europe, allowing customers to place their own orders and pay by swiping their own credit card. Another restaurant chain, Panera, is deploying the computer kiosks for customers in the U.S., a development that Bloomberg News reported under the headline, “More Kiosks, Fewer Cashiers Coming Soon To Panera.”
. . .
And it’s not only restaurants. Even Costco, a firm that President Obama has praised for its labor practices, features self-checkout lanes where customers scan the bar codes on their own purchases, then pay by swiping a credit card and signing on a computer scanner. No cash-register employee needed, whether at minimum wage or “living wage.”
Of course, it's not just raising the minimum wage. It's adding mandatory benefits like Obamacare, sick leave and paid vacations. Machines do have down time, maintenance and repairs. But there are no worries about IRS audits and penalties for adding or removing machines or how many hours a week they work.

Few legislators think of the unintended consequences of the legislation they approve. Worse, the "progressives" who "care" about low wage employees don't care enough to boycott businesses that automate or pay extra to those businesses that cannot or do not. Unfortunately, it's about feel good rather than do good.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Are You and What Have You Done with the Oregonian Editors?

The Oregonian editorial board has shown good sense in the last week and argued for common sense and against politically correct activists.

On May 9, the editors argued against a ban on smoking in public parks.
What goes unsaid, however, is that smokers are at the center of an ethical public health dilemma, and their targeting places government on a slippery slope: Many public officials simply do not like the idea of smoking and so regulate to that ideal. In so doing, they undermine democracy and personal liberty. More narrowly, they make a joke of health policymakers whose decisions require evidence and the public's trust.
. . .
. . . "The evidence of harm to nonsmokers on the beach or in a park from someone smoking is virtually non-existent." So why, then, are governments ban-happy? [Professor Ronald] Bayer explained in its own scholarly paper: "We conclude that the impetus is the imperative to denormalize smoking as part of a broader public health campaign to reduce tobacco-related illness and death."

Which, in the instance of a ban in public parks, would reduce public assets to instruments of propaganda.
[emphasis added]
Oregonian editors backed this up on May 13 with an editorial against banning smoking in public parks targeted specifically at stopping littering.
Because unjustified intolerance deserves a response whenever it surfaces, we write occasionally about proposed smoking bans in outdoor areas, where secondhand smoke isn't going to hurt anyone. Inevitably, somebody points out – correctly – that a lot of smokers are litterbugs. For this reason, the thinking goes, smokers don't deserve the privilege of indulging their habit in some places.
. . .
In any case, plenty of those who bring food and drinks into the South Park Blocks, like those who bring cigarettes, throw their garbage on the ground. Is this a reason to ban eating in public parks? No more than the loss of dog toys is a reason to ban pets or the presence of discarded clothing is a reason to mandate nudity.
. . .
Third, if people are fed up with littering in parks – and they should be – perhaps they ought to push for better littering enforcement. Picking on one group of politically unpopular people, particularly given limitations on enforcement, would be more vindictive than productive.
[emphasis added]
Erik Lukens, editorial/commentary editor, even said in a comment he liked the smell of tobacco smoke. Gasp!
Not a smoker. This is the first time, by the way, I've read a defense of smoking bans in open air venues (or anywhere, really) based upon a smoker's odor. As for how I like following a smoker on a sidewalk, I'm absolutely fine with it. I like the smell of tobacco smoke, and I know it poses no threat in the open air to anyone but the smoker himself or herself.
I'm not a smoker either and have family members who are allergic to tobacco smoke. Still, I have a congenital allergy to people who want to control other people's lives just because they don't agree with their choices. If one does not like tobacco smoke (or free speech) and can easily move away and still do what one came to do a number of feet or yards away, that's part of the give and take of respecting people and their differences. So, good for the Oregonian!

A third editorial, published today sticks up the sale of state forest land to timber companies in the face of environmental group opposition.
The Elliott State Forest, covering about 90,000 acres in the Coast Range near Coos Bay, provides a large and dependable stream of cash for the Common School Fund, which in turn sends millions of dollars to the state's public schools every year. Well, that's the theory, anyway. In reality, timber harvests have been constrained so severely by environmental litigation and Endangered Species Act restrictions that the Elliott cost the Common School Fund about $3 million in 2013.
. . .
"That's something that's not sustainable," says [Department of State Lands spokeswoman Julie] Curtis of the red ink, noting that the State Land Board "is concerned about it because they're the trustees" of the Common School Fund. Those who consider selling off state land an extreme response should consider the composition of the State Land Board, which made the call. Gov. John Kitzhaber, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Kate Brown are not the Clear-cut Club. They're responding reasonably to an extreme situation brought about by federal policymakers and by litigious environmental groups.
. . .
If timber companies want to buy the property with the expectation of logging it, that's fine. Their management will sustain jobs and provide tax revenue, and the new owners will be required to follow state and federal laws protecting threatened species.

It's also fine if bits and pieces of the Elliot are snapped up by conservation interests who don't want to touch a twig.
[emphasis added]
The Oregonian editors not only come out for the state not losing money, sustaining timber jobs and more tax revenue, but indirectly tweak "conservation interests" like the Audubon Society and Cascadia Wildlands for not putting their money where their mouth is and taking up a collection to buy the land themselves.

Who would have thought to read such good sense on the Oregonian editorial page in the face of politically correct activism and loud opposition by powerful environmentalist lobbies like the Audubon Society?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Ballot Measure 25-156 Is a Tough One

One so much wants to slap the Portland City Council up the side of the head and take away jurisdiction of water and sewer oversight.

As on so many other issues (roads!) they have funded their own pet projects rather than paying attention to water and sewer needs of the people. If this passes, it is in part a legacy of Randy Leonard's arrogance.  The City Council's misuse of power should have consequences. But, is this even a plausible fix?

With awful reluctance, I have to say no.

First, the problem is not that the City has jurisdiction. The problem is the people City of Portland voters elect to oversee the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services. The same voters will elect the new board. How likely is it that the same voters will now show good sense in electing the new water and sewer district directors while not showing good sense in electing Portland city commissioners?

Second, there is a spotlight on current Water Bureau decisions because there is always a spotlight on the City Council. But, there won't be the same level of scrutiny or news reporting on the new board just as there is not the same scrutiny on Metro or Multnomah County Library District decisions that there is on the Portland City Council or Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. It's just life that the bigger fish get more attention. So, stupid and wasteful decisions by the new board will not be as noticed or reported as they are now.

Third, this adds another layer of bureaucracy of seven unpaid (for how long?) directors.

Finally, there is no indication that any jobs will go away. There will be new auditing expenses as the City Auditor will no longer be charged with this function. There will undoubtedly be other additions in recruiting, mail delivery, information technology support, etc. Paid staff which are now provided by the larger City bureaucracy will have to be funded by the new district itself. It would be crazy if the new employees were not transferred over from current Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services staffs since they know the system and aren't at fault for the boondoggle decisions the City Council has made. The only clear difference is seven new elected directors will make decisions in place of the current five members of the Portland City Council.

If there was any real chance that the new elected directors would be chosen by wiser people than those currently electing City Council members, I would lean toward this fix even with the added bureaucracy and expense. But this change seems to be more in the category of cutting off your nose to spite your face than in doing any real good.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Poynter Takes Another Try at Making Sense of AAM's Newspaper Circulation Data

I've already posted on Andrew Beaujon's attempt at making sense of the May 1st Alliance for Audited Media report. Sam Kirkland recently joined his colleague Beaujon at Poynter in trying to make sense of AAM's new statistical framework. The opening sentence is a spoiler:
We’ve written quite a bit at Poynter about how newspaper circulation numbers are basically meaningless now. 
Yep. That's about it on AAM's numbers: "basically meaningless". But, Kirkland gives it a whirl.

Kirland narrows in on one category "digital nonreplica" to see if there is any substance there because it "reflects mobile app use and paywall subscribers, two of the major growth areas for newspapers trying to counter print declines."  Here's his chart:

Kirkland notes the drop in the last 6 months at a number of major newspapers. Why? Well, AAM rules are flexible and newspapers get to choose how they apply them. AAM speculates that some of the newspapers with lower figures may already be changing to a possible upcoming rule change.
A reader currently counts as a circulation unit as long as he or she accesses an app or paywalled website at least once per month. If AAM changes that, the reader would count only for the days he or she accesses it — more like how print circulation is calculated.
Thus, a newspaper that counted Mary for a 30 day reader per month may now count her only as the 15 or 20 day digital reader that she actually is.

Then there are "ups and downs from promotional subscription rates and the introduction and retirement of various digital products."

But Kirkland suggests that the figures may not be due to changing measuring standards or introduction/retirement of digital products. Maybe newspapers have reached their high point in digital circulation.
Alternatively, these numbers really could mean digital circulation has plateaued for some newspapers. But it’s hard to tell, especially because newspapers continue to write press releases disguised as news stories whenever the numbers are released rather than providing meaningful context.
[emphasis added]
Sam Kirkland seems to have hit on the key to newspaper circulation decline even though he writes about it only in conjunction with reporting on newspaper circulation figures. Newspapers are no longer focused on giving good news stories. (As my friend MaxRedline often points out), too often newspapers regurgitate press releases from organizations they are supposed to be covering and frame that as news coverage.

So, in light of all this, what is Kirkland's answer to the question of whether AAM digital circulation data has any meaning?
So here’s the moral of the story: Digital circulation numbers might mean something when it comes to taking the newspaper industry’s temperature, but it’s exceedingly difficult to find out if they do given the pace of change, both in the products newspapers offer and how AAM counts readers. It’s almost impossible to find apples-to-apples comparisons in such a bizarre fruit salad.
[emphasis added]
Pace of change in newspaper products and AAM counting rules make AAM stats "almost impossible" to compare and really useless as any sort of indicator of how newspapers are doing in comparison to the past and in comparison to each other today. That's why there is no longer an AAM top 25 newspaper list. No one, not even AAM, has any idea how to compare current newspaper circulation in a meaningful way.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Patrick Brennan Shows that Incompetence in Writing and Thinking is Alive and Well at National Review

Apparently, Patrick Brennan (and National Review) believe that Sarah Palin is "disgusting" for mentioning baptism and water boarding in the same sentence. Not only is Palin disgusting, but even more so are National Rifle Association members who heard and approved the comparison.

Here's a quote (from Rod Dreher, who used to work at National Review) approvingly presented in the Brennan piece:
but even more disgusting, those NRA members, many of whom are no doubt Christians, cheered wildly for her. . . . Palin and all those who cheered her sacrilegious jibe ought to be ashamed of themselves. For us Christians, baptism is the entry into new life. Palin invoked it to celebrate torture. Even if you don’t believe that waterboarding is torture, surely you agree that it should not be compared to baptism, and that such a comparison should be laughed at.
First of all, if it's such a "sacrilegious" comparison, surely it is not to be "laughed at". One wonders if sacrilege is funny in Brennan and Dreher's Christianity. More likely, neither is very good at expressing a coherent thought.

Secondly, neither Brennan nor Dreher has ever bothered to look up baptism in a dictionary. Or even done much listening to average American speech. There's a phrase often used in sports and other activities about a "baptism by fire"--which means going through a hard experience in starting an activity or profession.

It's strange that Brennan and Dreher, being professional writers, have never heard of baptism used in a sense other than as a Christian sacrament. But, there it is. Unfortunately, incompetence in writing and thinking is alive and well at National Review.

H/T Doug Brady

Monday, May 05, 2014

Candidate Mark Callahan Jaquisses Nigel Jaquiss and Willamette Week

[Updated with video]

This blog has featured a number of comments praising Nigel Jaquiss for his courage and ability to confront the famous and powerful with their misconduct.

Jaquiss is the Willamette Week reporter who exposed the seamy underside of Oregon Democrats Neil Goldschmidt, Sam Adams and, most recently, Jefferson Smith and the Oregon news media powerhouses that covered for them. In fact Jaquiss won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the Neil Goldschmidt scandal which also featured commentary on the Oregonian cover-up of the story.

Unfortunately, Jaquiss has inhaled the praise he received and now believes (along with his Willamette Week colleagues) that he is above normal civility. He was not ashamed enough to apologize when caught writing in his reporter's notes "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" as summation of a candidate's views he and two Willamette Week editors were interviewing.

[video of full session here]

In the interview, candidate Mark Callahan gave Jaquiss a lesson in how to confront the powerful with their errors.  He confronted Jaquiss with being disrespectful. Jaquiss didn't repond with even a light apology. Instead Jaquiss responded with a sneering question: "Where are you on the Easter Bunny?"

The sad thing was not so much Nigel Jaquiss writing, "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah".

It was unnecessarily rude. Those aren't notes of any use in recalling specifics--which is what notes are for. It was needlessly stupid. Jaquiss of all people should know about the dangers of people in a public setting writing notes that others can read.

The really sad thing is that neither Nigel Jaquiss nor Willamette Week editors feel bad about being gratuitously stupid and rude. Nothing was gained. Neither Joe Rae Perkins (the blah, blah, blah lady) nor Mark Callahan (the Jaquiss-style confronter) were outed as horrible human beings or corrupt politicians.  Actually, Callahan was shown as a man who calls out unfairness wherever he sees it in a rather powerful way. Not a go along to get along guy. (I think that deserves a campaign contribution--which will duly be sent.)

Monica Wehby and Jason Conger, the big guns in the race, had good answers on a number of questions. But, didn't have the courage or quick sense for even a mild comment in defense of either Perkins or Callahan.

I've already sent a contribution to one of them. I'm kind of sorry I did. I wonder if either of them would be able to stand courageously on important moral issues if they can't stand on a low, common sense response to the rudeness of those who can give them political help or do them political harm.

Last, I hope Nigel Jaquiss revisits this and is man enough to learn and mature from the reproofs of life. I have a lot of regard for him and wish him the best.

The one who refuses correction despises himself,
but whoever hears reproof acquires understanding.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Cure for Diabetes?

Encapsulife has a new patch that can act like the pancreas. From Deroy Murdock at National Review:
Briefly and simply, Encapsulife's patch would be inserted beneath a diabetic's skin through a simple, minimally invasive, outpatient surgical procedure. The silver-dollar-sized patch contains thousands of islet cells, derived from either live human donors or medically raised pigs. These cells biologically produce insulin when they encounter glucose. The patch's multiple layers shield the islets from the body's white blood cells and other immune mechanisms while letting the insulin diffuse into the diabetic's blood stream. The result is, essentially, an artificial pancreas that automatically generates insulin and avoids rejection without immunosuppressant drugs. (Such medicines can trigger harmful side effects, including limiting the body's defenses against opportunistic infections.)
"Multi-layer capsule systems similar in concept to a Russian matryoshka doll, with the islet cells being the inner-most doll are technically difficult to fabricate and rely on Dr. Wang's innovations," says Encapsulife president Tom Gibson. "Our multi-layer system is the only one that successfully has reversed diabetes in canines and primates." Gibson adds that this patch involves "no batteries, no mechanical break-downs, no kinks in pump lines, no injections, no finger-prick blood tests four to eight times a day, no guessing how much insulin to inject to match meals, no dangerous (potentially fatal) hypoglycemic lows, etc."

If You Think the Oregonian's Web Page Is Bad, Look at the Statesman Journal's Page

Below are screen shots from today's web page for "news" for the Statesman Journal and the Oregonian.

The Statesman Journal seems to think that lots of pictures (with text de-emphasized) is the key to a useful, attractive web page. It's almost like a flickr albums page. It does have a "list" view option, but the list doesn't help a lot. (see last image)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is not a great search or summing up tool.

SJ's "list" view of the news page:

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Alliance for Audited Media Is a Joke: Newspaper Circulation Up 94% Since Last Year?

Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulations) released its March 2014 report today. Here's AAM's summary:
- The report contains data for 610 U.S. newspapers.
- Approximately 300 newspapers reported a Monday-Friday average, while others reported additional multiday averages.
- 531 newspapers reported digital editions.
- 127 reported branded editions as part of their total circulation.
- The top three U.S. newspapers by total average circulation are: USA Today (3,255,157), Wall Street Journal (2,294,093) and New York Times (2,149,012).
[emphasis added]
Only three "total average circulation" figures are listed. That should be fairly easy to comment on.

But, as of 4 pm (ET), Editor&Publisher has not taken a swing at it other than to post a link to the AAM blog post cited above. Neither has Mediabistro (whose last report on AAM circulation releases was a year ago). Not even the intrepid Newsosaur Allan Mutter has tried to analyze the AAM data.

The only unflinching attempt at making some sense of the figures comes from Poynter's Andrew Beaujon. He manfully tries to explain the figures and compare them to previous reports. Good luck on that.

Let's just take the AAM figure for the New York Times "total average circulation": 2,149,012. It doesn't appear in Beaujon's analysis. Nor does the phrase "total average circulation".  Beaujon writes of Monday-Friday circulation and Sunday circulation, but not "total" circulation. Here's Beaujon:
Average Monday-Friday circulation at The New York Times was 15 percent higher for the six months ending March 2014 than it was in the same period the year before, new figures from the Alliance for Audited Media say. But that figure includes 126,162 branded editions, which AAM rules allow newspapers to roll in alongside print and digital circulation. (A branded edition could be a total market coverage publication containing coupons, for example, or a Spanish-language edition.)
The Times has never before included branded editions in its circulation totals, Times spokesperson Linda Zebian told Poynter in an email. Those figures “are comprised of the International New York Times, and are included in the circulation for every day except Sunday,” Zebian wrote.
Subtract those and the gain is a little more than 8 percent. The paper’s average Sunday circulation went up 8 percent over the year before, to 2,517,307, a figure that does not roll in any branded editions.
[emphasis added]
Beaujon helpfully supplies a "15 percent higher" circulation notation and explains that 126,162 of that number is from "branded editions" which means an actual increase of "a little more than 8 percent". But, if you can figure out anything certain from Beaujon's analysis and the AAM blog information, you're better at this than I am.

How about USA Today's 3,255,157? Nope.
USA Today posted another eye-popping circulation increase that fully avails itself of AAM’s rules: A 94 percent rise in average Monday-Friday circulation that includes 668,054 branded editions, as well as 1,365,388 “digital nonreplica” editions, which includes app users. (Sam Kirkland wrote about USA Today’s renewed approach to circulation figures last year.)
Gannett began including a “butterfly edition” of USA Today in some of its local papers last year.
[emphasis added]
The Wall Street Journal's 2,294,093? Yes, finally!
Average Monday-Friday circulation at The Wall Street Journal fell by 3.5 percent, to 2,294,093. Circulation of its weekend edition was also down 3.5 percent, to 2,321,996.
[emphasis added]
Beaujon does give us a puzzle piece here. AAM's "total average circulation" equals "average Monday-Friday circulation". It's also clear, from the omission of "branded", "digital nonreplica" and "butterfly edition" in the Wall Street Journal stats that they are probably comparable to previous circulation figures.

Newspaper circulation hasn't gone up 15% (AAM NYT figures), let alone 94% (AAM USA Today) in the last year. It probably has fallen by about 3.5% (AAM Wall Street Journal).

The funny thing is even AAM realizes its current reporting is useless. In celebration of its 100th anniversary this year, AAM published just last month some 1914 reports and some contemporary reports of various newspapers. But, AAM didn't wait 30 days for the March 2014 report and a real 100th anniversary visual celebration.  Instead it included its first and last helpful reports: December 1914 and March 2013. Visually, AAM was celebrating its 99th anniversary. Not using the 100th year March 2014 report as the point of comparison is a sad and telling omission.

As of its 99th year, Alliance for Audited Media has turned itself into a joke.