A thought for a revolutionary era:
All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. — J. K. Galbraith
By Chris Daly
Tonight’s coverage of the budget crisis in Wisconsin brings a revealing look into Huffington Post and its approach to other people’s work.
First, look at the photo below, which appeared Thursday evening on the homepage of “Talking Points Memo.” Note that it carries a credit line saying it was taken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That is hardly surprising. When news like this breaks, that is where you would expect the best coverage — from the biggest newspaper that covers the subject on a regular basis. Who else is going to know the cops, guards, and custodians in the capitol building? Who else is going to know how to get to that vantage point? It’s going to be the newspaper with the biggest remaining commitment to covering state government (or maybe the Associated Press), and that’s usually it.
I should also say it is a striking image — and a hat-tip to the photog. (From a visit to the Journal Sentinel online, I would guess that it was taken by Tom Lynn.)
Now, look at the photo below.
This photo appeared on the homepage of “The Huffington Post” on Thursday evening. Note that it carries no credit line. I cannot imagine that HuffPo paid a staff photographer (do they even have one?) to fly to Wisconsin to take this photo. Someone else took the photo, and HuffPo took it from them. That shows a rotten disregard for the original work of other people.
Here’s what I am trying to teach my journalism students: Create it, or credit it.
How hard is that to remember?
Here is a story I have been looking for. Today’s NYTimes has a page 1 story that puts together the best explanation I have seen yet for the mechanics of Egypt’s suppression of the Internet.
By Chris Daly
This story was, I suppose, inevitable. But it is important to establish the historical record of the Bush years.
Here’s the nub of what the Iraqi source known by his nickname “Curveball” told the Guardian this week:
Everything he had said about the inner workings of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons programme was a flight of fantasy – one that, he now claims was aimed at ousting the Iraqi dictator. Janabi, a chemical engineering graduate who had worked in the Iraqi industry, says he looked on in shock as Powell’s presentation revealed that the Bush administration’s hawkish decisionmakers had swallowed the lot. Something else left him even more amazed; until that point he had not met a US official, let alone been interviewed by one.
“I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime,” he told the Guardian in a series of interviews carried out in his native Arabic and German. “I and my sons are proud of that, and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”
What’s missing are comments from:
President George W. Bush
Secretary of State Colin Powell
National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice
CIA Director George Tenet
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Journalists should be staking out every one of these people and demanding answers.
By Chris Daly
For my two cents, here goes: the amount of taxpayer funds as a fraction of the total of all PBS and NPR budgets is very small. Public broadcasting would be better off without it. They should send the check back to the Treasury today, and then they can tell Republicans how they really feel about them. That would take a club out of the hands of Republicans (who never liked public broadcasting from its inception late in the Johnson administration), and it would unite public broadcasting with the real source of its strength — the audience.
Rip off that band-aid, and I will double my annual pledge.
By Chris Daly
Today’s Times includes a “sidebar” piece (column?) by legal correspondent Adam Liptak. I found it frustrating for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it is a bit of a mystery why it is running now (except for the thin reed of the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court). There is no discernible “news peg.” But that’s not really important.
What is more frustrating is that the piece provides so few links to the scholarly literature on this vast subject. That’s where the Times could have really used the Web to help its readers go deeper. I am going to try to find some of this material and post those links here.
Meanwhile, let me throw out a thought: At the time the Founders enshrined the idea of “freedom of the press” in the Bill of Rights, the press of the day was small, local, independent, and opinionated. The typical form of ownership was a “sole proprietorship” — that is, the printer who ran the press owned the business entirely himself. But even then, many “job printers” handled printing chores for all manner of customers, including customers whom they disagreed with. So, in that scenario, who enjoyed press freedom? The owner of the business that facilitated the mass communication? The author of the words? Both?
Keep in mind, the main goal of the founders was to prevent “prior restraint” — the use of government power to prevent certain facts or ideas from ever getting published in the first place. That seems like as worthy a goal as ever. Therefore, the rights of all individual human beings who want to communicate with other individual human beings should be protected from government interference. That, it seems to me, ought to be the operating principle here.
By Chris Daly
By popular demand, I am re-posting the following essay I wrote, which is about skating on ponds outside Boston when I was a kid. Every winter, I get asked about it, and I am delighted to share it. The essay was originally published in The Atlantic in March, 1995 (just before the point at which the magazine arbitrarily decided to start routinely putting its contents online). It has also been anthologized in several “readers” intended to help high school and college-age students learn to write essays. It also used to appear on my old blog, but when I switched blog hosts last year, my old content did not follow into my new home. Thus, it is impossible to find a complete copy on the Web.
So, here goes:
HOW THE LAWYERS STOLE WINTER
Pond skating in the changed context of childhood
By Christopher B. Daly
When I was a boy, my friends and I would come home from school each day, change our clothes (because we were not allowed to wear “play clothes” to school) and go outside until dinnertime. In the early 1960s in Medford, a city on the outskirts of Boston, that was pretty much what everybody did. Sometimes, there might be flute lessons or an organized Little League game, but usually not. Usually, we kids went out and played.
In winter, on our way home from the Gleason School, we usually went past Brooks Pond to check the ice. By throwing heavy stones onto it, hammering it with downed branches and, finally, jumping on it, we could figure out if the ice was ready for skating. If it was, we would hurry home, grab our skates, our sticks, and whatever other gear we had, and then return to play hockey for the rest of the day. When the streetlights came on, we knew it was time to jam our cold, stiff feet back into our green rubber snow boots and get home for dinner.
I had all these memories in mind recently when I moved, with my wife and our two young boys, into a house near a lake even closer to Boston, in the city of Newton. As soon as Crystal Lake froze over, I grabbed my skates and headed out. I was not the first one there, though: the lawyers had beaten me to the lake. They had warned the town Recreation Department to put it off limits. So I found a sign that said:
Knowing a thing or two about words myself, I put my own gloss on the sign. I took it to mean, When the ice is thin, then there is danger, and there should be no skating.
Fair enough, I thought, but I knew that the obverse was also true: When the ice is thick, then it is safe, and there should be skating.
Finding the ice plenty thick, I laced up my skates and glided out onto the miraculous glassy surface of a frozen lake. My wife, a native of Manhattan, would not let me take our two boys with me. But for as long as I could, I enjoyed the free, open-air delight of skating as it should be. After a few days, others joined me, and we became an outlaw band of skaters.
What we were doing was once the heart of winter in New England – and a lot of other places, too. It was clean, free exercise that needed no Stairmasters, no health clubs, no appointments, and hardly any gear. Sadly, it is in danger of passing away. Nowadays it seems that every city and town and almost all property holders are so worried about liability and lawsuits that they simply throw up a sign or a fence and declare that henceforth there shall be no skating, and that’s the end of it.
As a result, kids today live in a world of leagues, rinks, rules, uniforms, adults, and rides – rides here, rides there, rides everywhere. It is not clear that they are better off, and in some ways they are clearly not better off.
* * *
When I was a boy skating on Brooks Pond, there were no grown-ups around. Once or twice a year, on a weekend day or a holiday, some parents might come by, with a thermos of hot cocoa. Maybe they would build a fire — which we were forbidden to do — and we would gather round.
But for the most part the pond was the domain of children. In the absence of adults, we made and enforced our own rules. We had hardly any gear – just some borrowed hockey gloves, some hand-me-down skates, maybe an elbow pad or two – so we played a clean form of hockey, with no high-sticking, no punching, and almost no checking. A single fight could ruin the whole afternoon. Indeed, as I remember it 30 years later, it was the purest form of hockey I ever saw – until I got to see the Russian national team play the game.
But before we could play, we had to check the ice. We became serious junior meteorologists, true connoisseurs of cold. We learned that the best weather for pond skating is plain, clear cold, with starry nights and no snow. (Snow not only mucks up the skating surface but also insulates the ice from the colder air above.) And we learned that moving water, even the gently flowing Mystic River, is a lot less likely to freeze than standing water. So we skated only on the pond. We learned all the weird whooping and cracking sounds that ice makes as it expands and contracts, and thus when to leave the ice.
Do kids learn these things today? I don’t know. How would they? We don’t even let them. Instead, we post signs. Ruled by lawyers, cities and towns everywhere try to eliminate their legal liability. But try as they might, they cannot eliminate the underlying risk. Liability is a social construct; risk is a natural fact. When it is cold enough, ponds freeze. No sign or fence or ordinance can change that.
In fact, by focusing on liability and not teaching our kids how to take risks, we are making their world more dangerous. When we were children, we had to learn to evaluate risks and handle them on our own. We had to learn, quite literally, to test the waters. As a result, we grew up to be more savvy about ice and ponds than any kid could be who has skated only under adult supervision on a rink.
When I was a boy, despite the risks we took on the ice no one I knew ever drowned. The only people I ever heard about who drowned were graduate students at Harvard or MIT who came from the tropics who were living through their first winters. Not knowing about how ice forms on moving water (After all, how could they?), they would innocently venture out onto the half-frozen Charles River, fall through, and die. They were literally out of their element.
Are we raising a generation of children who will be out of their element? And if so, what can we do about it? We cannot just roll back the calendar. I cannot tell my six-year-old to head down to the lake by himself to play all afternoon – if for no other reason, he will not find twenty or thirty other kids there, full of the collective wisdom about cold and ice that they have inherited from their older brothers and sisters. Somewhere along the line that link got broken.
The whole setting of childhood has changed. We cannot change it again overnight. I cannot send them out by themselves yet, but at least some of the time, I can go out there with them. Maybe that is a start.
* * *
As for us, last winter was a very unusual one. We had ferocious cold (near-zero temperatures on many nights) and tremendous snows (about a hundred inches in all). Eventually a strange thing happened. The city gave in – sort of. Sometime in January, the recreation department “opened” a section of the lake, and even dispatched a snowplow truck to clear a good-sized patch of ice. I brought the boys, and we skated the rest of winter. Ever vigilant, the city officials kept the “Thin Ice” signs up, even though their own truck could safely drive on the frozen surface. And they brought in “lifeguards” and all sorts of rules about the hours we could skate and where we had to stay.
But at least we were able to skate in the open air, on real ice.
And it was still free.
[© copyright by Christopher B. Daly. To re-publish, contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published in The Atlantic Monthly in March 1995]