Friday, December 15, 2006

Get Well Soon, Senator! (I mean, really)

I, for one, am not troubled by the spectacle of discussion about the dramatic change in the political landscape that might result from the death of a single politician, rather than mere concern for his well-being.

This is one of the things that journalists get a bad rap for, unfairly: the most newsworthy thing about the condition of Tim Johnson, the relatively-obscure South Dakota senator upon whom surgery was conducted to stop bleeding on his brain, is that if he must be replaced the power in the Senate could revert to Republicans despite the hard-fought and dramatic mid-terms elections which gave Democrats a one-seat majority.

One of the interesting questions is what muse South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds, would heed should it be necessary that he select a successor:
  • Would he see the wisdom in replacing one elected Democrat with another?
  • Would he support the spirit of the mid-term by not taking this opportunity to undo the impact of the election?
  • Would he do what any partisan is permitted, by making the most of an opportunity?
It's bad enough that the Democratic majority in the next Congress depends on the contentment of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has good reason to consider the Democrats fair-weather friends. Now we have to worry about those couple of dozen states that have Republican governors and more than a dozen Democratic U.S. Senators among them.

Perhaps the last word of reason will be provided by Trent Lott, who knows a lot about saying the wrong thing:

On the state of the Senate, some have taken the high road, complaining that talking about politics at this time remains rather ghoulish. (Senator Trent Lott, the incoming minority whip, said that while he’d like to have Republicans in the majority, he would not want it this way.)

Digital Breadcrumbs

Reuters CEO Tom Glocer publishes the text of a recent speech in his blog in which he says that the news organization is partnering with Canon, which makes the pro-grade digital cameras Reuters uses, and Adobe, of image-editing software fame, to create a "solution" that will report what changes have been made to photographs.

This is a direct result of an incident last summer in which two photos Reuters published had been doctored in a way which changed their meaning and thus no longer accurately portrayed what had been shot.

I am pleased to announce today that we are working with Adobe and Canon to create a solution that enables photo editors to view an audit trail of changes to a digital image, which is permanently embedded in the photograph, ensuring the accuracy of the image.

We are still working through the details and hope this will be a new standard for Reuters and I believe should be the new industry standard.

It is important to say that we sought this technical solution, not because we don’t trust our photographers – far from it. I am incredibly proud of the amazing and dangerous work our photographers and journalists do. They all too often risk their lives to get the photograph that tells the true story of a conflict or captures the horror of war. The threat of injury or death is a daily hazard for many.

No, we sought a technical solution so that we had total and full transparency of our work. It’s what we stand for. It’s what we’ve always stood for. And we hope that it will provide reassurance to editors and consumers of our services.

Clearly, there needs to be a more detailed description of this, which I hope will be forthcoming. But for now I'm not sure how this will "ensure the accuracy of the image," per se, because it will not programatically prevent the publication -- even by Reuters, apparently -- of an image whose audit trail is not inspected. And in the online world images are published by the provider -- Reuters, AP, AFP, etc. -- directly on client sites, not by the Yahoos of the world.

There is also the matter of what weight this embedded information might add: will the audit trail data merely report what Photoshop tools had been used -- crop, autolevels, clone -- or will it include thumbnails of the before and after, which strikes me as the only way to know if a legal tool had been used legally? If the latter, this could add considerable weight, which is anathema in the online world, even in the era of broadband.

Reuters has some pretty specific rules about what can be done to a news photo. The short answer is, very little. It can be cropped to remove extraneous scenery (zeroing in on the action) but not to alter the appearance of the scene (like cutting out your boyfriend from a picture taken in happier times). An editor cannot make an overcast day look like a gathering storm, add a hockey puck or copy and paste smoke clouds from a bombing site.

And herein likes the problem: unless it is specific tools that must be left in the chest -- thus making it possible to automatically stop an image in its tracks on the production line -- computer-assisted auditing may provide an editor with nothing more helpful than her keen obervational and forensic skills. Each of the two embarrassing incidents of last August were detected by scrutinizing amateurs, not by digital analysis. This suggests to me that it is time that is needed most, not something new for the toolbelt.

And also unmentioned is how Reuters would vet the photographs from amateurs it is now soliciting with Yahoo. These will contain no information beyond the usual EXIF stuff, if that. Reuters intended to make these available for use in news stories, and Reuters Media President Chris Ahearn has raised the stakes to about as high as they can go by saying, "What if everybody in the world were my stringers?"

I did some programming when I was at Reuters and discovered a basic principle: Figure out which are machine decisions and which are human decisions. Shield humans from the machine decisions and never let the machine make a human one.

This Reuters initiative is well-intentioned and it may help. But my fear is that it will provide Reuters with nothing more than a false sense of security, and if anything goes wrong it won't be Canon or Adobe -- or Glocer -- who gets to fall on his sword.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What's the Hurry?

President Bush has delayed any announcement of any new strategy in the Iraq War until next year. I won't be rushed, Bush says.

Reuters reports that among the reasons Bush needs more time is so that Robert Gates, who takes over as defense secretary next week, has time to settle in:
Bush, speaking after talks with top Pentagon officials, said one reason for the delay was to give the incoming defense secretary, Robert Gates, to be able to provide input on Iraq when he takes over from Donald Rumsfeld on Monday.
That would be the same Gates who was on the Iraq Study Group until he was tapped to run the Pentagon. That would be the same Iraq Study Group which unanimously came up with a 79-point plan, the key provisions of which Bush has said he doesn't necessarily intend to heed.

So, he hasn't yet sat down in the big chair but Gates is apparently to blame for further dithering.

Great boss.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Bush on Iraq: Mr. Hide or Dr. Jekyll?

We won't know for a couple of week, when the president is likely to announce his Santa Clause strategy for Iraq to the nation, but I wonder if the pushback is a negotiating tactic -- with himself, even -- or a sign that Bush intends to remain thick-skinned and bunkered against difficult realities.

Evidence of the latter is easy to see, as it comes in a news conference with last best friend concerning Iraq policy, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, giving visual assurance that Bush does not stand alone (although the New York Times includes a somewhat contrary picture of the two, backs to the camera, walking out of the room).

Evidence of the former is tougher, though words seem to take on whatever meaning a cunning politician wants them to. So, there may be no "direct talks" with Iran and Syria, but indirect talks conducted by third parties are semantically possible and often these are more productive (hint: Blair was in town, he believes in engaging these two states, and he is not a member of the U.S. government).

If you buy that, then characterizing the state of affairs when minimal forces remain in Iraq and are not primarily engaged in combat duties by, say, late 2007 early 2008 could easily be characterized as having been achieved by a) conditions on the ground and b) Iraq's ability to pick up the slack (hint: Al-Malaki says his boys will be ready by June). Mission Accomplished!

The point/counterpoint debates and "gotcha" screamfests have nothing to do with what may be going on. We already know that the administration doesn't always believe what it says in public -- Rumsfeld is not here to stay, alas. It is also very difficult to appear to be moderating if one is constantly baited about how extreme and one-dimensional one is. Smart negotiators don't tell a kidnapper how stupid they were to give up hostages for a pizza and a pack of cigarettes. Even dumb ones probably don't.

This president has shown little desire to give up on some ideas easily, but he does. We hear nothing these days about Social Security reform -- but we would if someone got in his face. He doesn't bring up immigration policy, but hit him with a bar rag and you would hear that tune again.

The next meaningful words coming from his mouth will be around Christmas. Until then, this is all just looks like dodging and weaving the crossfire and I put very little stock in any of it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Iraq: Cut and Walk

"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path than can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved."
So begins the eagerly-anticipated report of the Iraq Study Group, which criticizes the goals, strategy and tactics of the war. It remains to be seen how this analysis will be attacked, and thus how it will resonate among the caretakers of this problem, but there are very few long knives out in the early hours of its release, which bodes extremely well.

President Bush, who last week was nearly pronouncing the report preemptively DOA, today was was speaking like a uniter not a divider when he ascribed to it the power to be basis for common ground. That is a very positive step. It costs him nothing, but magnanimity isn't his style, so perhaps this means something.

The rapid pace of change of attitude towards the war has been astonishing, of course, because of the resounding expression of disgust in the mid-term election just a month ago. But the torrent -- starting with Rumsfeld's resignation (and subsequent leak, one presumes, of his legacy-imprinting 21 Big Ideas) to Robert Gate's two word answer, "No, sir," to Carl Levin's only slightly more loquacious question whether the United States "is currently winning the war in Iraq" -- seems to have completely obliterated all happy talk, at least outside the White House briefing room.

There is no more talk of "fighting them there so we don't have to fight them there," just of not abandoning Iraq so that a bad situation of our creation doesn't become worse; there are no more jibes about "cut and run" whenever anyone suggests a timetable to leave, because Republican royalty is now suggesting it; no denigration of attaching conditions to performance by telling Iraq -- ISG recommendation # 41 -- that the U.S. needs to redeploy even if Iraq doesn't prepare itself properly for this eventuality; no squawk about a redefinition of the mission from being part of the global war on terror to training police and military to hold together a young, struggling nation teetering on edge of implosion.

The report speaks of possible success but not of winning the war, even though it speaks of the dangers of handing Al Quaeda a propoganda victory.

As I've said before, the momentum seems to be squarely behind the ISG report as the focal point for an exit strategy. It seems inconceivable that the president, having lost credibility, moral and political capital, and the last election, will continue to blithley lose the peace by not embracing the basic logic of this document.

Friday, December 1, 2006

ISG Shoes Dropping with Regularity Now

The drip drip drip from the Iraq Study Group continues with a Washington Post report that the panel will recommend the withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2008, leaving behind only trainers and advisors (making this war Vietnam in reverse).

Iraqi PM Al-Malaki again upstages President Bush by promising that'll be plenty of time, since his army should be all trained up by the middle of next year.

So, who is going to rain on this parade? Not Bush, who has threatened only that he won't countenance a graceful withdrawal for the sake of a graceful withdrawal. Not Congress, some of whose Democratic leaders might grouse that even early 2008 is too far into the future to put things right (even though this is eons better than Bush's prediction months ago that extricating from Iraq will be the next president's problem) while others take vaciarious credit for a suggestion that is not a whole lot different from what Jack Murtha was saying a year ago.

What the ISQ is saying, if it is saying this at all -- the report won't be "released" until Dec. 6 -- is that it believes it ought to be possible to accomplish this redefinition of goal and strategy in a year, not that it is advisable to do so come Hell or high water. After all, only a fool says he is never going to change course even if only his wife and dog are his only supporters.

My money is on it becoming suddenly possible.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sticks and Carrots in Iraq

After suddenly coming down with a so serious a case of the vapors that he could not attend a meeting with the President of the United States, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki got some good news: yes, the Iraq Study Group is going to recommend redeployment of a substantial number of US troops in his country, but no, there won't be any pesky timetables -- for now.

Al-Malaki was allowed to twist slowly, slowly in the wind for only a few hours. Bush folksily declared him "the right guy for Iraq" -- like this was just another whirlwind campaign appearance for a member of congress whose seat was in jeopardy -- shortly after someone in his administration leaked a Nov. 8 memo from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley that questioned al-Malaki's commitment, honesty or competence (your pick).

I hope one of the US exports to Iraq these days are episodes of "The Sopranos," because this sure looks like the diplomatic equivalent of a serious warning from a White House. If the new posture is, "We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way," there might be an end in sight.

It may mean nothing since Bush is not known for necessarily picking his words carefully, but one could infer from his "my pal Nuri" remarks that the offshoring of responsibility is accelerating:
"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," the president said during a joint news conference with Mr. Maliki, referring to the panel's reports that are expected next week. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there." (emphasis added)
Bush has said both of these things, but they are twinned, and in a highly relevant context. I can't take the comment as a DOA pronouncement with that kind of wiggle room.

If preemptive criticism of the ISG report is valid, that it is intended to do nothing more than provide cover to politicians trapped in webs of their own creation, then perhaps a something-for-everyone approach is just what we need.

How better to give the administration the chance to check and raise than to omit -- ahem, defer to a higher authority -- talk a performance schedule? According to the New York Times report, the ISG will be tough enough on the White House for ignoring meaningful diplomacy. No need to rap both sets of knuckles.

If both Congress and the White House decide to conclude that the ISG recommendations don't go far enough that might provide some common ground. The trick will be to not tree the administration. But it is hard to imagine it being consigned to the dustbin of history.

Sticks and Carrots.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A War By Any Other Name?

They say you are always wise to pick your fights, but did NBC expect a fight by deciding that the Iraq fighting had become a civil war?

The decision not to stay the course was revealed, of all places, on the "Today" Show, and no discussion of what would seem a fairly momentus change was yet on The Daily Nightly, the mostly Brian Williams blog, by the time of the evening network newscast.

This is not the posture of a newsroom that was braced for criticism of a delicate semantic choice.

Donald Rumsfeld is in no position to complain but the White House is, and is. "While the situation on the ground is very serious, neither (Iraqi) Prime Minister Maliki nor we believe that Iraq is in a civil war," the administration said in a statement.

There are no rules on who gets to decide these things, but newsrooms always -- always -- need to describe things accurately. Sometimes the same thing can be called two things by two different sides -- quick: is it Myanmar, or Burma? -- so any decision, and no decision, is seen either wrong.

Sometimes reporters avoid words and phrases that they believe carry inherent perjorative meaning, as my old haunt, Reuters, did by eschewing the use of the word "terrorist" and its various forms for quite some time after the 9/11 attacks. Can anyone forget that catchy phrase, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter?"

The NBC Nightly News began with this intro: "A critical week for the president and the civil war in Iraq," stating as fact what yesterday was not considered a fact. Reuters, and other major MSM, is still, as of today, using some formulation of "sectarian" strife/conflict/violence to describe the increasingly violent Iraqi-on-Iraqi attacks. But that's today.

There are plenty who say that asserting Iraq is in the midst of a civil war merely states the obvious, and others who argue that NBC doesn't get to decide these things, and thus is advancing an agenda by trying to influence events rather than report on them. MSNBC, to its credit, had at least one critic on the the air today who was unbridled in her contempt for the decision.

For whatever it is worth, after the architect of this war is forced to resign; Kissinger says the war can't be won; the Democrats are elected to control both houses of Congress; and everyone is waiting for James Baker to provide political cover for some kind of exit strategy, NBC's decision can't seriously be seen as going out on a very long limb.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When OJ Simpson thinks you've crossed line ...

Simpson tells AP he knew 'If I Did It' profits would be 'blood money'

"In the course of the interview I said, 'This is blood money and I hope nobody reads it,'" Simpson told the AP.

So it's official: the music has stopped and the only person involved with the OJ Simpson book and TV-special deal that hasn't said it was a bad idea yet is Janice Regan, who published the book and conducted the interview that was to have aired on Fox next week.

In the AP interview Simpson says the book is no confession but a needed shot in the arm to his finances. "Everybody who has written a book about this has taken blood money; you can't have selective morality," Simpson tells the AP.

Oh yeah -- News Corp Chairman Murdoch is getting off easy in the court of public opinion, OJ says, and that's just not fair. "I'm taking heat and I deserve it," Simpson said. "But Murdoch should not be taking the high road either."

There might be a little something to this, if the New York Times article is correct in its reporting that Murdoch sanctioned the project from the start.

Simpson got his money -- less than the $3.5 million bandied about, he says -- and there is still money to be made on auctioned copies of the book, all of whose copies were ostensibly returned to the publisher.

Monday, November 20, 2006

When Rupert Murdoch thinks you've crossed a line, well ...

Fox TV's schedule for the week of Nov. 26, which did not yet reflect the canceled Simpson programs shortly after they were pulled.

News Corp, the corporate parent of the broadcast network that brought you "The Littlest Groom," Temptation Island" -- I, II and III -- and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancee," has decided that pimping O.J. Simpson's tell-nothing fantasy non-confessional book and Fox TV interview just goes too far.

At last, we have found a bottom.
"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," said Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman. "We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
There had been some backlash from some Fox affiliates, who said they would not air the show, and tons of criticism, from expected and unexpected places. With no obvious connection to his life other than his folksy contempt for things vile, CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer used his "Face the Nation" commentary last Sunday to say that until the latest Simpson saga "I thought the Congressional Page scandal would surely win the most disgusting story of the year prize."

Fox News stars Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Riviera also felt just fine biting the hand that feeds them. (Of course O'Reilly couldn't resist accusing what he calls the "so-called 'media elite'" of underplaying the story).

With friends like these, pitchforks and torches can't be far behind.

This whole thing was doomed from the start, of course, even though in the midst of the firestorm Barnes and Noble and Borders said they would carry the book. When I was a reporter in New York City in 1989 Barnes and Noble wasn't even stocking "The Satanic Verses" when Salman Rushdie was first under a death threat from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Times change, I guess.

What remains astonishing about this entire, thankfully brief episode is how these projects percolated up and down the food chain for so long -- how long? -- only to be squashed days before they saw the light of day.

Did every insider underestimate the potential for revulsion? Is it even remotely possible that Janet Regan can survive this?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kissinger Lays Groundwork for Redeployment?

The AP is picking up a BBC interview with Henry Kissinger in which he says "military victory" in Iraq as no longer a plausible outcome. The story backs up the headline, Kissinger: Iraq Military Win Impossible, with this quote:
"If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Leaving aside the snide aside that one impediment to victory might be lack of resolve by the citizens of the U.S and what remains of its coalition partners, this looks like a campaign to soften the enemy in preparation for advancing troops.

The AP item was rip-read by Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" and was immediate fodder for a question to an unprepared Sen. Lyndsay Graham (R-SC), who left us only with "I disagree." That sort of moment happens rarely on TV, so that news team regarded the item as significant.

Less noticed, perhaps, is an interview conducted last week and published today by the LA Times, conducted by veteran correspondent Doyle McManus, in which Kissinger is said to make some familiar points but which the author asserts amounts
"to a sharp critique of the administration's course."
"As long as he (Bush) was told he was winning, he had every reason to pursue the recommended strategy" that his advisors (sic) had proposed, Kissinger said.

He declined to elaborate, except to add that it was impossible to portray the current state of affairs in Iraq as "winning."

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that what we're seeing now would be an odd appearance for a victory," he said.
With the Iraq Study Group on the verge of providing what may be an intervention, is this evidence that tough love is in the offing? Watch for new talking points on the primary importance of establishing stability rather than democracy.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Publish and Perish

Janice Regan's various explanations for why she has published O.J. Simpson's latest pleas for attention, "If I Did It," just make no sense. And In tying up with someone who is widely thought to be beyond redemption, Regan has done herself and her imprint irreparable damage. For what?

The silliest of her explanations is the notion that publishing Simpson would ensure that the world was not deprived of the "... historical value in such work; there is value for law enforcement, for students of psychology, for anyone who wants to gain insight into the mind of a sociopath."

Let's say there is some benefit to hearing more from Simpson. He can publish himself. Lots of aspiring writers resort to this. He can blog. Between DOS attacks he'd probably get plenty of attention.

Then there is the chance to purge her own demons. Perhaps she should consider writing a book of her own ...

This public service must include the proposition that ReganBooks expects to make money. And that Simpson expects something in return.
"What I do know is I didn't pay him. I contracted through a third party who owns the rights, and I was told the money would go to his children. That much I could live with."
Sounds like an iron-clad contract to me. And it must be very consoling to the families of the victims, who have yet to receive the full amount of the civil judgment they were awarded.

The line between fact and fiction was blurred by James Frey, but this is a new twist. Regan considers the Simpson book a confession. The book is being touted as a work of fiction. There is no legal necessity for Simpson to finesse anything since he cannot be criminally charged in the murders again and already has a civil judgment against him.

Borders and Barnes and Noble say they will carry the book. The former will donate proceeds to charity, the latter not. But everyone should have done a little checking about the marketability of Simpson. His last book on his favorite subject is still available, on There are 352 copies available, in hardcover, starting at one penny.

My favorite quote on the prospect of marketing Simpson comes in the Nov. 15 edition of the NYTimes:
Rebecca Marks, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal Television, said the network passed (on a packaged broadcast interview conducted by Regan) because “from an advertising point of view, from a public relations point of view, everything, it was impossible.”

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nancy Fumbles, Trent Returns

The U.S. Congress (photo by tsnyther)
This might not rank up there with the enduring mystery of why Bush 41 a) picked and then b) stuck with Dan Quayle, but incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's very public support of Jack Murtha for majority leader seems oddly naive for a veteran politician.

Not that Murtha didn't deserve a shout out -- he will chair a powerful defense appropriations subcommittee anyway -- but he erased any doubt that a leadership post exceeded his skill set when, just before the election process, he called Pelosi's pet ethics reform rules "total crap." Real men curse, of course, but not about the things that are important to prospective bosses.

Quite a bit is being made of the spectacle of Pelosi being so thoroughly rebuked. I doubt many people are paying much attention, and Republicans deserve to have a laugh at the Democrats expense. It's been tough for them recently.

But why didn't a seasoned pol like Pelosi work in the shadows, at arms length, so she could pay whatever debt she felt she had to Murtha while appearing above it all? Why risk handing your enemies snicker material? I don't think taking a stand and losing -- especially your first fight -- ever reflects back well, unless you can spin that losing was what you had in mind the whole time.

We'll see if this turns out to be emblamatic of poor political judgement or deft long game politics. Speaking of which, for a textbook lesson on how the long game is played read about how Trent Lott battled his way back to the number two Senate Republican post after a humiliating fall from Majority Leader nearly four years ago.

As the NYTimes reports -- and they have covered Lott's lot a lot -- the former number-one earned his way back by stoically paying dues all over again: showing up to and participating in all the hearings, accepting hall monitor assignments, the whole come-in-early-stay-late thing.

And how do you act when you've done all this and clearly have the right to brag on yourself a little? As the NYTimes reports:
Today, Mr. Lott declined the opportunity to gloat. Asked if he felt vindicated, he said: “I’m going to shock you by starting off with the right frame of mind. I defer on this occasion to our leader, and we’ll work together with him and talking about substance more later. The spotlight belongs on him."
John McCain was a big supporter of Lott's resurrection, the NYTimes reports, so this could be as much a story about McCain's influence as the presumptive Republican presidential front-runner as it is about his U.S. Senate colleague's tenacity.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Parting the Curtain

it may be that Schlesinger is the most senior editorial executive blogging (though not the highest paid. See Katie Couric or Brian Williams or Charles Gibson for that.)
There is something new going on at the traditionally stodgy place where I used to work. I've already written about Reuters' foray into covering non-events from a place that doesn't exist by opening a "bureau" in the Sims-like online community, Second Life. This may be too hip to be cool or too cool to be hip, but either way it is iconic rather than informative.

Now, the global managing editor at Reuters, David Schlesinger, is taking the lead in blogging for senior editors at the news agency. This is notable in at least three respects:
  • Reuters has always been exceptionally insulated, not behaving as if it were terribly concerned with public image
  • Reuters has tended to be at best reluctantly reactive to the discussion of journalism hot topics, engaging in public discourse only when necessary and usually only to defend itself
  • Reuters has been slavishly devoted to the notion of not appearing to take sides on anything
So now we have a conversation about news coverage in general and Reuters' approach to it in particular laid out by the executive most responsible for it, for all the world to see.

As a former insider I am, frankly, astonished. In the two weeks or so since inception Schlesinger has already taken up citizen journalism and deciding what's news in his occasional entries. Global Editor for Political and General News Paul Holmes has blogged about the plight of Iraqi nationals who work for Reuters covering the war. He responded to a number of tough questions about the pay and conditions for these local hires, whose contribution to the world's knowledge about what is going on there is scandalously unappreciated and even unknown by the general public.

I haven't made an exhaustive study of this, but it may be that Schlesinger is the most senior editorial executive blogging (though not the highest paid. See Katie Couric or Brian Williams or Charles Gibson for that.)

I don't expect the Reuters Editor blog to be quite as transparent or prolific as the those by the U.S. TV networks, and it isn't exactly an ombudsman's space either. But it does seem to be a sincere attempt to go public by a congenitally non-publicity-seeking company.

It may be that I may be able to say so and that David couldn't possibly comment, but since he is an old Asia hand with extensive knowledge of China culture, history and politics, I would wager that the irony cannot possibly have escaped him.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

I'd Like To Believe Him, But …

Kerry's post "botched joke" news conference
Give me five more John Kerry’s,” says Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). “He’s a fighter, and he puts his money where his mouth is.” – Roll Call, 5.1.06, as quoted on

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
IMUS: Did you say you were going back to Washington?
KERRY: I’m going to go back to Washington. And I’m going to go back to tackle this, you bet.
IMUS: OK. You’re not going to Tennessee for Harold Ford, are you?
IMUS: Good.
KERRY: I was not going down there.
IMUS: Thank you...
-- Imus in the Morning, Nov 1, 2006, as transcribed by MSNBC
Say what you will about whether Republicans are making fair hay of Sen. John Kerry's remarks in California last Sunday (no, they are not, and yes, it is good politics), but even the most liberal of liberal die-hard Democrats have to admit this was an avoidable gaffe by a criminally inept campaigner. This time it didn't take even swift-boating to get Kerry on the ropes he can never seem to disentangle himself from because he is happy to steam over his own tow line. My goodness – even when he gets indignant he sounds insincere.

Here is the problem: it is traditional liberal dogma that the armed forces are overweighted with underclass people. This was a rallying cry during Vietnam and is an especially potent charge when there is a draft, since the privileged can usually get deferments or easier duty than being sent to the front.

Some who espouse the point of view that the U.S. military is endemically comprised of poor, undereducated kids -- unlike, say, Israel's -- take it a step or two further, alleging that macro economic forces are manipulated so that poor, undereducated kids see military service in a better light than they would if there were more good jobs in the private sector to be had.

So, the more conspiratorial theory goes, why bother going to too much trouble to protect domestic jobs when you need a steady supply of recruits? President Reagan fueled this fire a bit by including the military in jobless rates reporting. Critics said this was a disingenuous way of hiding the true rate of unemployment. Reagan said it reflected the reality that service in the military is a job.

Kerry has to know all this, and what a sensitive subject it remains, even if he didn't read the Heritage Foundation report on this subject which came out two days earlier. Maybe he even believes some of it. I think in his aristocratic version of liberalism it's possible he'd be tone deaf to what is implicit in the basic argument – when you suggest that dupes are being manipulated by evil people, you aren't just calling your enemies evil but your friends dupes. This is a trap that people who want to do good sometimes trip, in all innocence.

So that's why I think Kerry has been caught completely off-guard by this, and why his people are struggling to find the envelope the original joke was written on. The defense is that Kerry left one word was left out. So it comes down to the meaning of "us."

Sadly, none of this had to happen. Kerry is running for nothing. He lost the last presidential election that few believed a Democrat could lose. Not nearly enough time has elapsed for a Gore-ification. So why is Kerry even campaigning for the Phil Angelides, a sacrificial lamb who is going to be slaughtered by Arnold Schwarzenegger? I mean, what is the point?

Kerry has, thankfully, decided to cancel his upcoming campaign appearances, affirming my strategic advice to his 2004 presidential team (in my mind): if only you will be quiet and stop campaigning, maybe you will win.

This time, listen to Imus: please stop it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I Was Never Here ...

About 10 years ago it was considered heresy at Reuters to propose building a web site with real-time news and rich multimedia content. So the North American Editor secretly conspired to build one even though he had been specifically told to do no such thing.

Of course, our prescient leader knew a thing or two about the company and guessed -- correctly, as it turned out -- that it was just a matter of time before his superiors told him that what they had meant was build a web site with real-time news and rich multimedia content.

So it is with some amusement that I read this week -- 155 years later in Internet time -- that Reuters has "opened" a news bureau in the virtual world, Second Life. Reuters is getting scads of press attention -- all positive, for a pleasant change -- and the company seems to have made genuine inroads at establishing the street cred which had not so much eluded it as they seemed to intentionally evade. Now, with all the positive reinforcement, can a decision to embed a reporter with some team in World of Warcraft be far behind?

Everything is timing, as they say, and it helps to have a CEO who at least says he is into these things to get everyone to agree to what is then clearly a great idea.

None of this may be as loopy as it sounds, and it does sound odd. This could be pure science -- brainstorming and riding the wave and trying to be hip and cool, looking for new ways to reach a new and soon-to-be influential audience, just like doing business with Yahoo and AOL was in the early and mid 1990s. Or could it be purposeful R&D to engineer the perfect business model for a news gathering organization? Let's see:
  • Offshore packaging desks (only reporters need to be in expensive places)
  • Citizen journalism (we don't need reporters in all expensive places)
  • Cover the story from your room (we don't need reporters in any expensive places)
Naturally, if Osama and Bernanke decide to make news in The Matrix, everyone is off to the races. Or the whole thing could be killed off if Congress decides to tax it.

Either way, this is the sort of idea that will eventually make a lot of people look either like geniuses or dopes. And it is a little tough for a journalist to justify covering non-events in a place that doesn't exist.

In fact, I think there was a time when doing that would have gotten you fired. But maybe only if you put in for travel expenses.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ask Osama

"What I say to the American people when I am out there is, all you got to do is listen to what Osama bin Laden says."
-- President Bush, 10/11/06

Taking his acclaimed truth-telling to the next level, Osama is now here to help you understand life, love and relationships. Letters of no more than 250 words are welcomed – no calls please! Due to the heavy volume of material received, personal replies are not possible.

Dear Osama,

I'm a little reluctant to use email again, but my sponsor says getting used to doing the little everyday things again is a big part of the rehabilitation process – so (deep breath) here goes!

I recently decided to quit my job and left Washington on the same day after someone special – someone to whom I thought I was special -- "humiliated" me in public. I feel very "betrayed" but mostly I am "hurt" because "we" meant more to "me" than to "this person." I guess I was "mature one" in this "relationship" but right now it is all I can do not to cry into my pillow all day long.

My family tells me that I should "move on." Some people who used to "advise" me in my "old job" say the last thing I should do is "get in touch" with my "special someone."

But I feel like have to know "for sure" if this could be the "real thing." Or even if we could "just" "be" "bff."

MAF from FLA

PS: Congratulations on that endorsement from the president! I can't tell you how much one of those would mean to me. Mostly
now my former "friends" want me to eat shit and die.
****** ****** ****** ****** ******
Dear MAF,

Don't get me started on family – mine will have nothing to do with me, so you are up one up on Osama there. Friends are also mercurial, although you know who
really only loves you for you when you have a $25 million price on your head.

I guess you know what my advice is -- Oh So Go For It, Boyfriend! Remember: you only regret the things in life you didn't do! It sounds like we both have So Much Unfinished Business :)

Death to America,

Dear Osama

I have a government job which which carries a unique and awesome responsibility. I can't really say what my colleagues and I
do or how we do what we do, but every month or so we get together and then announce an important decision at 2:15 p.m.

Here's my problem: When I was a professor at an Ivy League University a little while ago I could pretty much do whatever I wanted and nobody cared. Even though I was still pretty important it wasn't like I was living under a microscope. Now I can't even make small talk with a cute CNBC reporter without it leaving Vegas – Hello! What happened to cocktail party confidential!

I know I haven't given myself much time to get used to the way things are now
, but I hate the spotlight. I'm not happy, but I don't think I can go home again.

Alone in a Crowd
****** ****** ****** ****** ******
Dear Alone in a Crowd,

My heart breaks for you. It is so telling that you would quote Thomas Wolfe's final novel before he died unexpectedly. And surely you know the novel's historical backdrop, when the United States endured near economic collapse and annihilation (what my posse calls the "good old days").

Listen carefully, because you don't have much time: you need to quit your job and leave Washington immediately – don't let anybody know, don't look back, don't worry about the repercussions and whatever you do, don't answer your phone. The world will get alone fine without you. And, anyway, what's life like without a little mystery?!
Remember, it is all about you.

Trust me – you need to live for the now. Can you even be sure you won't be dead tomorrow? (I'm just sayin').

Death to America,

Dear Osama,
I have a friend who, let's say, likes to play this video game. He keeps playing it the same way over and over again even though he keeps on losing. We have acquaintances in common who have played this game (and even won) but my friend just gets agitated and defensive and pretty nasty when I suggest we all go out for coffee or something and brainstorm about alternative strategies or maybe even, you know, just not play anymore and concentrate on other, more important things (like dealing with this guy who keeps setting off bigger and bigger firecrackers in our neighborhood – another letter!).

We're close, but my friend is very sure of himself and dismissive of everyone he says doesn't understand this "very different video game."

Many of us are beginning to think it is time for an intervention. I feel somehow responsible for my friend's obsession but I'm also really tired of all the stress of dealing with him. What should I do?

A Friend Indeed
****** ****** ****** ****** ******
Dear "Friend"

Heal thyself, asshole.

The obsession you should be concerned about is your obsession not to deal with your own issues while you worry about everything and everybody except your own empty sinkhole of a life.

Confront this: you are both a pathetic excuse for a friend and a human being. You disgust me.

Death to America,

Monday, October 9, 2006

Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

Joe Maguire, an editor at Reuters, has lost his job. That fact may be the only one not in dispute; while neither Reuters nor Maguire say he was dismissed, the proximate cause was the imminent publication of his book, Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter.

Reuters has an iron-clad editorial policy requiring freedom from bias but it does allow its employees write books. As the New York Times reports, Maguire got "conditional approval" for his and it quotes him as saying: "I thought I had met the conditions, and proceeded accordingly. As a result, I no longer work there.”

Freedom from bias in one's reporting is not a debatable point at Reuters, and it shouldn't be anywhere journalism is done. Still, some critics of MSM see it everywhere and some of those do so, I believe, to justify taking sides in their own "reporting."

When I was a reporter at Reuters neutrality was just one of those things that permeated the air. Tiny transgressions of the "She looked smart in a grey suit as she descended the courthouse steps" variety were held up to merciless ridicule by the editing desk.

But during those many years I (and I presume everyone around me) voted in every election. I never shied from a no-hold-barred political discussions with peers, superiors or competitors and they didn't either.

In 1992 I got a letter published in the New York Times about what I thought was weak network television coverage of that year's Democratic National Convention. A letter by (CBS network anchor) Dan Rather on the same subject came right after mine. His affiliation was printed. Mine was too -- I was Reuters' Boston Bureau Chief at the time. I don't think Dan got any grief, though he did have to leave his job under a cloud 14 years later. I, however, was severely rebuked that very dayby the top editor in the United States, who put a letter in my file which included the phrase, "I have decided not to end your assignment at this time." (Conspiracy buffs should also note that I left Reuters almost a year to the day before Dan left CBS.)

The purpose of a policy against biased reporting isn't to weed out people who have opinions, which would be impossible even if it were legal. It is meant to help convince readers that neutrality matters to the publisher and to be on the record with reporters that opinions are to be kept out of reporting. Professionals know how to do this even if amateurs can't understand how it can be done, and opportunists pretend not to comprehend.

So I wonder what Maguire's offense is. His opinions did not rise up as if fertilized by his book project. Reuters surely never asked him to swear he had no opinions on anything. Publishing an opinionated book doesn't lead to biased reporting, and it couldn't seriously provide anyone with an "Aha!" moment. His book isn't about killing babies or praising Nazis (by the way, protected speech anyway). It neither criticizes a client nor is promoted as being written from his perch as a Reuters journalist, as my letter to the Times could be construed as having done. And its subject matter isn't remotely related to what he was doing for Reuters: running a desk covering financial markets.

Anyway, like the Times says, at least he'll have plenty of time to promote his book now.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Mark Cuban, ONA Conference Keynote

YouTube is toast (when copyright holders decide to enforce their rights)
Google would be crazy to buy YouTube (or moronic, as Cuban subsquently blogs)

Best line of questioning:
Does it pass the smell test to:
  1. do private research into a tradeable company,
  2. take a position in that company based on your private research that will likely result in a gain if the facts were disclosed,
  3. disclose the information and simultaneously,
  4. disclose that you have taken a position for the purpose of making a gain,
thus creating, end to end, the conditions to benefit financially from the research you commissioned?

Best question after the event:
"Wasn't that a keynote Cuban was supposed to deliver?"

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

A "4" on the Foley Scale

photo by jsmjr

Former U.S Rep. Mark Foley has now hit for the cycle:
  1. I'm am alcoholic
  2. I'm gay
  3. I was abused as a teen,
  4. By a clergyman
None of these are excuses, of course, his lawyer says, for his client's having made a number of provocative overtures in emails and instant messages to a number of teen pages. Whatever.

What needs to happen is this:
  1. Nobody turns this into a gay-related scandal. This is sexual abuse of the most garden variety type: a man in a position of power trying to seduce subordinates.
  2. Nobody proposes legislation to restrict email or instant messaging.
  3. Nobody says "molested over the Internet" anymore. Democratic Rep. Patty Wetterling has already done so in an election ad.

Free Speech is Good, Right?

No, that is not me making a comment about Brian Rohrbough's comments. That is what the embedded YouTube player does all by itself. Isn't it ironic ...

The new CBS Evening News feature Free Speech can I suppose be seen as an honest attempt to bring an aspect of community to what is an ivory tower enterprise -- nobody is calling it guest video blogging yet. I am not going to hold my breath -- but I think it is one of those things that will be difficult to declare a success, and there are two reasons they probably shouldn't even try.

One is the admittedly losing argument that network TV news programs have precious little time anyway and anything not devoted to news is wrong. It may be wrong but there is nothing wrong with success, per se, and the new CBS Evening News is successful, with an audience that the networks aspire to have, even though its total numbers have declined since Katie Couric took over. If, to continue to be a viable delivery mechanism that draws attention to at least some "important" news, one must draw in a new kind of audience that has different expectations from their parents, who is anyone to bemoan the way of the world? But I do anyway.

Empowering the Powerful

My other gripe was that the segments, until the last couple of days, seem to be granted only to people who already had a platform: Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Guiliani, Natan Scharansky, a conservative Israeli politician and former Soviet prisoner of conscience who gently scolded Americans for likening the United States to regimes who rationalize the use of torture. We are nothing like the USSR because we can publicly protest that our government mistreats prisoners of war and because have a free press, he reminds.

It could be that the Floyd Turbos of the world just aren't telegenic enough and that we viewers place far too high a premium on this quality whether we realize it or not, and that CBS does. It could be that it is difficult to choose among the clammering fray and risk -- by making rope-line decisions about who gets to exercise CBS-branded Free Speech -- the wrath of blogging spreadsheet statisticians poised to expose bias. The matter of balance has already been taken up by the CBS News blog "Public Eye," which responded to criticism that there were no Democrats or progressives among the earliest Free Speech invitees. It can only get worse.

But the "regular person" issue was addressed a bit the other day when the father of a Columbine victim was given the nod within the early news cycle of the Amish school shooting.

Despite my misgivings about this whole thing, CBS didn't shy from letting Brian Rohrbough weigh in and assert as a cause of school violence some things that just hadn't occured to me. Like teaching evolution.
"This country is in a moral free fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value. We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children."
Phew! Say what you will, but I don't hear stuff like that very often, and I pay close attention to conservatives like Pat Buchanan and George Willjust so I can hear arguments my brain can't make itself. So where else are people like me going to hear these dots connected the Rohrbough way?

The decision to go with Rorbough -- his piece pre-empted another which was scheduled for that evening -- has generated quite a bit of criticism, some within CBS, Howard Kutz reports in the Washington Post. Katie Couric, in her blog, alludes to the considerable mail they have received and how many times the word "Shame" has been used (and makes what I think is an inappropriate attempt at humor -- it isn't necessary in every post, after all: "We took a few packages that were ticking and threw them in the creek…)" That would be the creek yonder at the fork in the road on West 57th St., I guess.

A Slippery Slope

Couric goes on to say that support of Rorbough is picking up. This is part of the slippery slope, CBS. It doesn't matter how many people agree or disagree. Entertaining these numbers just gets you into the "fair and balanced" game, which has nothing to do with free speech.

I'm still not sure Free Speech is a good idea, partly because since it cannot and ought not be democratically vetted it will generate more heat about process than content, and will be dropped at exactly the wrong moment, when it is deemed to have gone too far.

But it also doesn't seem to be exactly a public interest imperative to take a minute or so from the mere 22 available for what I still think should be a solid summary of the day's top stories and longer pieces about important things that don't provide breaking news angles.

But if CBS intends to bar no holds, at least it will be intriguing television from time to time.

The Rorbaugh clip as hosted by CBS is here, and RealPlayer is required.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

2.3 Million Little Bucks

When I wrote about the James Frey controversy in January I ended the entry by observing, with some sarcasm, that there was talk of a possible class-action lawsuit, alleging fraud. There was one and apparently it has been settled. There you go.

The settlement reportedly calls for Frey and Random House to pay out no more than $2.35 million, which covers not only refunds but lawyers' fees and "an unspecified donation to charity." People who bought the "memoir" before the day the publisher acknowledged some of it was fiction would need to swear they thought it was a memoir and show proof that they bought and still owned it to be eligible for a full refund.

The "prove you own it" part is simple: for the hardcover, return page 163 and for the paperback, the cover. The "prove you bought it" part is nettlesome. It requires a receipt or "some other proof of purchase." They might decide just to accept affidavits.

So far, so good. But let's do some math, shall we?

According to Nielsen Media Research, quoted by Wikipedia, some 3.5 million copies of the book had been sold through May or thereabouts. About half were US sales. Using only the undiscounted paperback price for argument's sake (hardcovers were $23.95 but comparatively fewer are sold, and not many people pay the full jacket price anyway), Random House grossed $26 million in the US market alone (1,750,000 x 14.95 = 26,162,500). Add in the other half from overseas and conservatively call it a cool $50 million. The publisher's take is 60%: $30 million.

Frey's and Random House's exposure would be $2.35 million tops -- 8% of world gross (2,350,000 / 30,000,000 x 100 = 7.8%) -- again, using the best figures I can find. Let's say $850,000 goes for lawyer's fees and charity, leaving $1.5 million for actual refunds.

If only paperback buyers demand a refund -- to use an illustration that maximizes the number of disatisfied customers who could benefit from a fixed settlement fund -- then just a bit more than 100,000 refunds are possible (1,500,000 / 14.95 = 100,334). I'm not sure that the pre-January 26 sales figures are a matter of record, but "A Million Little Pieces" was a best seller long before the publisher revealed that parts of it were ficition, so I would expect the lion's share to be before. But let's stay conservative and say half of all US sales were before. That would be 3.5 million / 2 (US sales) / 2 (pre-acknowledgement) = 875,000.

Even if the "rebate effect" occurs -- something like 50% of rebates are unredeemed because people don't claim them, or don't follow instructions correctly -- Nearly 80% of the egible US poll wuold be disenfranchised -- (1.0 - (100,000 / (875,000 / 2))) x 100 = 77%).

So, the maximum exposure is about 8% of gross revenues and will almost certainly be a significantly smaller fraction of that. And a maximum of 6% of eligible fraud victims can be made whole (100,000 / 1,770,000 x 100 = 5.6%).

Neither Frey nor Random House admit any wrongdoing under the proposed settlement, as reported, though in a post-hoax editions"note to the reader" the author acknowledges making embellishments and alterations to factual events in his life.

Frey also stresses in the note that he believes " ... and I understand others strongly disagree, that memoir allows the writer to work from memory instead of from a strict journalistic or historical standard." I am not sure if Frey is saying he did the best he could from memory, without concern for fact-checking, because that standard is OK in the memoir genre, or that he made embelishments and alterations, as he also writes in the note, to enable "the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require."

It seems only one or the other is possible -- that he went with his best unchallenged recollections or that his best memory lacked sufficient punch, so he jazzed it up.

Either way, "A Million Little Pieces" is still ranked about 1,000 at Barnes & Noble.

Good deal!

Blog or Perish

Professor Katie King makes a point to her "Introduction to Online Journalism" class at George Washington University

I had a great time and very little to do to get Katie King's Intro to Online Journalism class up and running with their own blogs. Katie has made blogging central to her instruction and grading system: to qualify for an "A" a student must publish at least one blog entry per week.

"These are not personal journals, but public writing by the student about the journalism industry," the course description says. "Students will use the blogs to report on and analyze themes and ideas presented in class, as well as to post writing assignments."

So, in this introduction course Katie has confronted her students with a very recent and compelling truth: Writers have at their disposal, for the first time, not only a printing press but an efficient means of delivery to anyone, anywhere.

In the era of blogging, writers are obligated to blog. I look forward to reading what the class does.

To any of the students who might be reading this: here are a couple of things I thought of later:
  • At the risk of again harping on about RSS, you ought to consider making the feed to your blog public, and subscribing to each other’s blog. There are some bad feelings by Facebook users over the service's unilateral decision to send alerts to friends when users update their own sites. But peer review, including posted comments and/or questions by your classmates, may be an interesting motivator.
  • Someone asked whether content was available from the Creative Commons organization. Not exactly, but they have a search interface to look for CC-tagged content via Google and Yahoo and on flicker and
Thanks again for being so attentive and receptive. Good luck! Please don't hesitate to email me any questoins, and I hope you will share your blogs with me.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Plutonic Relationship

It isn't you -- it's me. But I hope we can still be friends.

I minored in astronomy in college, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The subject's appeal to me was fueled by the tantilizing prospect of other intelligent (or intelligent) life in the universe. SETI was a hot topic a generation or so before SETI@Home made us all universe scanners and way before Aricebo graduate Jodie Foster made Contact -- or did she? -- with a race that also liked TV too much. The prospect that we are not alone and the seeming inevitability, a mere half-dozen years after "Star Trek" got cancelled, of long-distance human space travel was enough for me to read astronomy books even on school breaks.

Long after my academic days ended we did in fact find evidence of life, or at least evidence of evidence life, right here in our own solar system. That was cool, but fosilized remains of microbes and places water might have been doesn't pack much dramatic punch.

There is, on the other hand, something ironically sensational when a planet is voted off the island. Here is this, well, thing out there now that many of us have ever only known as a planet and it isn't any more. Just the best-known ice cube in space.

This is going to take some getting used to. But maybe we can turn this into a learning opportunity. I'm sure the many mnemonic devices teachers have used to help students remember the order and names of the planets will just need a little tinkering, and maybe in the process we can improve them.
  • My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas
Well, pizza isn't very good for you anyway. We should make no references to fast food which, by the way, shouldn't be served in schools. Or soda. How about "My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nectarines?" Gives fruit a plug. Too bad we can't slip in "five servings".
  • Merlin’s Very Extravagant Mother Just Sent Us Ninety Parrakeets
Don't hang out with people named "Merlin." And what the heck are we supposed to do with 90 birds? Gee, thanks. Perhaps we should discourage the trade in exotic animals and give Merlin's mom a personality makeover when we re-write this one. Let's go with "Merlin's Very Extravagant Mother Just Seems Utterly Normal"
  • Mother Very Early Made John Some Unusually Nice Pies
OK -- knocking mom and pie and moms who make pie is a no-no. And they are said to be unusually nice pies. And she got up very early to make them. And my name is John. But we have to draw the line. "Mother Very Early Made John Some Undercooked Nachos" Well, that brings us back to fast food. And it sounds like mom had been drinking. Let's stick a pin in that one and move on for now.
  • My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets
This one is a total loss.

Some of this will be easier. For example, songs that feature the planets could probably just be shortened, like this one, sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell".
Saturn has great rings.
We wondered what they were,
Now we know they're blocks of ice
which we saw as a blur.
Ummm ... when was this ditty written? Oh well. It continues:
With atmospheres that swirl
& wispy white clouds too
Uranus and Neptune
are so cold that you'd turn blue.
You'd turn blue. Yeah. That'd be your big problem.
Pluto's last in line.
It's farthest from the Sun.
It's small and cold and icy too.
To land there won't be fun.
Well kid, you won't have to fret that one any more. Would all the planets in the solar system please take one step forward -- not so fast there, Pluto!

I'm guessing my my period of adjustment will be relatively painless, though perhaps less so for others. Pluto doesn't come up in coversation much anymore, and probably a lot less starting tomorrow when it gets stopped at the door of the planet union hall.

But pity, which is the top hit when you Google "Pluto". They are so going to need to get a new domain. And is so taken.