Saturday, March 07, 2009

Plenty of good seats available

Just for the halibut I decided to check out ticket prices for tomorrow's game at StubHub.

Let's see -- Upper Level Corner, Section 222, Row Y -- as high in the rafters as you can get: $395 per. Lower level, near courtside: A cool two grand. Oh yeah, we'd have to pay for plane fare, too.

Makes those tickets we could have bought for the UC-Santa Barbara game in November for $219 apiece (at UCSB) a screaming bargain.

Think we'll go to LoDo's Bar and Grill (we're in that photo album, keep clicking) instead and hang out with 100 or so of our best Tar Heel friends.

Go Heels!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Shape of things to come

The features departments at the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer are merging.

I wonder why that hasn't happened more frequently.

In fact, though I worked with some very talented feature writers and editors at three general-interest dailies, you have to ask what they bring to the table that's not now being replicated by their counterparts at alternative weeklies. Other than frequency of publication.

Just before the Rocky closed, I had a conversation with a veteran from the paper who's been there for several decades, and he said he'd been asking himself the same thing for years.

Why wouldn't the Rocky (or the Post) benefit by getting rid of their feature depaprtments (and the 15-20 employees) entirely and simply inserting a copy of the Denver alt-weekly Westword in every Thursday edition? The daily could pay for the weekly's extra copies (Westword's print run may be 80,000, or about one-third the circulation of either daily).

Westword gains a lot of extra readers, which would presumably let it boost its ad rates. The daily can provide its readers local arts and entertainment coverage without replicating the efforts of the alt-weekly.

The main downside I see is that the daily might cringe a bit at the salty language in the weekly, not to mention all the sex ads. And the weekly might lose its eagerness to serve as an independent critic of the daily's new coverage.

But that might be a price each side is willing to pay -- particularly a daily that's struggling to stay in business.

Breaking news from the Rocky

Or at least from former Rocky reporters.

The Web site, founded by a number of staffers when the paper was put up for sale, has become an outlet for those former reporters to continue breaking news until they land on their feet, launch their own specialized Web sites (as transportation reporter Kevin Flynn appears poised to do), or -- potentially -- the site drives enough traffic as an aggregator of local news that it someday stands on its own.

As Flynn notes, there's still appears to be no revenue model that could make a general-interest news site like IWantMyRocky profitable. But should one arise, former Rocky employees could surely offer the software -- the expertise, sources and reporting chops -- that could generate the content to make site like that a must-read.

The Yanks owe A-Rod how much? For how long?

Alex Rodriguez will undergo surgery next week to remove a cyst from his hip. Unless you're a fantasy baseball player or a Yankees season ticket holder, the obvious question is, could his admitted use of steroids have contributed to this condition?

My lovely and talented intended, who's a nurse, suggested as much when she first heard this. And it turns out that at a minimum, frequent use of anabolic steroids could make it possible for osteoarthritis to set in prematurely, as the abstract of this study from the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation concludes.

Which makes the statement Yanks GM Brian Cashman made after A-Rod's mid-February press conference even more telling:

Well, we're not in a position to go backwards on this. The position we're in is to try to move forward and make sure that we can help him get through this. We've got nine years of Alex remaining. … We've invested in him as an asset. And because of that, this is an asset that is going through a crisis. So we'll do everything we can to protect that asset and support that asset and try to salvage that asset.

The value of that asset's dropping faster than shares of Citi.

UPDATE: Apparently the Yanks and A-Rod have chosen rest and rehab over surgery on his torn labrum. Still, we wonder if this unusual injury resulted from unnatural causes. And whether it's a chronic condition he'll have to deal with for years to come.

Dow 3,600?*

As I write, the Dow 30 is at 6,673, meaning the index has lost nearly half its value in about 10 months.

President Obama offered advice to investors Wednesday, and they responded by dumping shares as fast as they could get their brokers on the line.

My former colleagues at Investor's Business Daily offered a critique of his views of the market, and, as usual, their analysis is on point.

But Obama's comments also affirmed another place I take issue with those who argue that the new president is, to borrow from Bugs Bunny, a wolf in cheap clothing -- a barely closeted socialist, a genuine radical, Bill Ayers without the bombs.

Instead, Obama (and congressional Democrats) aren't that at all. They're power-hungry, to be sure. But that's as far as it goes. They don't want to really remake the economy because I don't think they're smart or principled enough to try to pull that off. They continue to rhetorically embrace entrepreneurship and capitalism, even though they have no understanding of the processes guiding either. Instead, they want to keep the labor unions and welfare-state activists and environmentalists and cultural liberals and the other special interest groups that got them into office well fed -- so that they can build electoral majorities. If we become Eurosocialists in the process, big deal.

Take health care. If Obama were really a doctrinaire socialist, he would have either backed single payer or called for individual or employer mandates for medical insurance. He's repeately rejected all those options. Granted, his pay-or-play ideas would eventually result in a system even more dominated by government. But why bypass the middle man, as it were, when you have big majorities in a friendly Congress?

It's why Obama's bizarre comparison of the stock market to public opinion polls is so telling. If he truly believes capital markets are merely popularity contests, then he's not a socialist, by any definition I've ever seen. He's merely a very slick, extremely talented, articulate panderer. He certainly wants to concentrate political power in the White House but has very little understanding of the way the world works.

Not that I find that conclusion at all reassuring.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds considers the alternatives (socialist or pol?) and suggests

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence, and after the Geithner/Daschle/Richardson/Killefer/Carrion/Kirk problems, incompetence is looking like the strong horse. [That's what they're expecting you to think! -- ed. Ah, it's all becoming clear now . . . .]

You make the call.

*With apologies to Jim Glassman, who I know, like and respect.

Obama's fake birth certificate

I knew I'd get one -- an e-mail response to the NRO piece saying the MSM couldn't be trusted because they wouldn't report on Obama's fake birth certificate. Guy laid out the case and everything.

I replied the only way I knew how:

And I suppose 9/11 was an inside job.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Milstead on the Rocky's final chapter

Mike Roberts at Westword publishes a lengthy, fascinating Q&A with David Milstead, the Rocky's finance editor, who produced more hard-nosed journalism about the Rocky's demise than anyone.

The Rocky's business section under the leadership of Rob Reuteman was top-notch, thanks to reporters like Dave, who explains what separates solid daily business journalism from something else:

Business at the Rocky Mountain News was a section where the people there wanted to be working there. They were generally career business journalists. We hired experienced business journalists from the outside. We had three people who'd been at Reuters. I had been at the Wall Street Journal. And we had another person who'd been at Bloomberg. We had people who took business journalism seriously and were making it their first priority career choice. ... If you have serious, smart, career journalists working in your business section and you treat it like a real section, then it's going to be good. I joke that there were bad old days of business sections, where if you were too drunk to be a sportswriter, they put you in business. And that has not been the philosophy of the Rocky Mountain News during my time there. And that pleased me, and that's what kept me there.

He's also the sort of reporter who followed the story to its logical conclusion, which some right-wing media bashers might want to take into account.

Consider his tough treatment of the state's public pension system, the Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association:

I think I got a reputation through that coverage as being one of Colorado's most prominent conservative journalists -- which I'm not, actually. But my criticism of the pension plan fell right into the hands of the right-wing ideologues who hate pensions and want to see everyone in 401(k)s. And I don't believe that at all. I just believe that if you promise people a certain amount of benefits, you ought to be able to pay for it. And their financial position for much of my time here hasn't shown the ability to pay for it. That's what concerned me about PERA several years ago, when I began looking at them -- these projections that showed them going into insolvency in about thirty or forty years. But yet at the same time telling the members there was nothing to worry about. If the member was 80-years old, that was true. If the member was 30-years old, it wasn't.

And he's the commissioner of the fantasy baseball league that I still hope to join. Not to mention a Dodger fan, though I'll give him a mulligan for that.

We won't know what we won't know

Infinite Monkey Ben Boychuk offers his own take on my NRO piece with typical aplomb.

It's not that the media does a fabulous job all of the time. And God knows the nation's newsrooms are teeming with liberal do-gooders. The news media is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. Deadline pressures and an often poor grasp of the nuances of particular issues and industries undermine good journalism. It was ever thus, and probably always will be.

But who's going to rake the muck when the last city reporter is hanged by the entrails of the last advertising manager? Glenn Reynolds? Your next door neighbor? You?

From the e-mail reactions I've received to the piece so far, some well-read, thoughtful conservatives still harbor a striking amount of ignorance about the role of newspapers. It's not to validate your worldview, whatever that might be. The news and business sections are supposed to inform readers about the workings of government and other public institutions and how they affect your world.

One writer, from Santa Cruz, Calif., pointed out that his local paper is hopelessly in the tank for county government and that two school board members were actually on staff at the paper. All I could do was offer my sympathies. I echo those sentiments for anyone living in California these days.

Several wrote in generic terms to condemn the Rocky for not digging deeply enough into Barack Obama's past to prove that he was too dangerous to elect to the presidency. A couple actually praised the Chicago dailies for doing just that without acknowledging the irony. Obama's from Chicago. We're in Denver. The local media in the Windy City did its job, and guess what? You could read their coverage online.

The Denver dailies were more interested in using their limited resources to cover local politics. The newsrooms of both papers were a good deal smaller in 2008 than they were for the last election, so there were fewer people to cover the campaigns. Were they supposed to further neglect the races close to home and parachute into Chicago to dig up dirt on Obama?

This is another blind spot conservatives have a hard time acknowledging. They flay the mainstream media and heap praises on Fox News without recognizing that Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity will not cover the days and days of hearings during which Colorado's regulations covering oil and natural gas exploration were rewritten. If you want to understand the intricacies of that process, and how they will affect energy production, tourism, wildlife protection and economic growth, you've got to rely on newspaper or wire service reporters. Rush won't do it for you.

New media allow local outlets to be more intensely local than ever before. Why should they stray from their own backyards -- especially when you can easily track down coverage from other folks' backyards for free on the Web?

Another correspondent said he canceled his subscriptions to the Rocky and the Post because he thought both were hopelessly left-wing, and as evidence cited this story from yesteday's Denver Post about a, shall we say, unconventional family.

First of all, the story was in the Lifestyles section. It wasn't a news report. But my correspondent said the story made it obvious that the Post believes gay marriage should be celebrated, raising kids in nontraditional homes is no different than male/female arrangements, etc., and that "there is no reason for me to pay for those opinions."

Read the whole thing. Without question, it's a very sympathetic portrayal of a nontraditional family. But it doesn't pretend that everything's rosy in this mixed household. Besides, it's a fascinating story, though the presumed message it sent about gay parenting was beyond the pale, in my correspondent's view.

To that, all I can say is what Claude Sitton, former editorial page editor of the News and Observer in Raleigh, wrote to me a quarter century ago when I complained to him about the strident anti-free-market positions he took in his columns: If you don't like what I write, you can surely find something to enjoy in the other parts of the newspaper.

I took his advice. Sad to say, a lot of conservatives seem to be less willing to overlook those objectionable parts than I was. And our civic culture is less informed as a result.

The Polis thing ain't over 'til we say it's over

Retired Rocky film critic Bob Denerstein takes a whack at the Polis story, too.

Never mind that it takes years to become a skilled reporter. Never mind that it takes time, tact and savvy to develop sources. Never mind that talk radio has given us a pretty good idea of what a broadened expression of opinion can be worth. Never mind that some of the best bloggers in the world ply their trade on Old Media sites. Never mind that bloggers had little or nothing to do with the demise of the Rocky Mountain News.

All I can say is that if Polis' grasp of other issues is in any way comparable to his understanding of this one, his constituents should be afraid. Very afraid. So with apologies to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, I'm naming Jared Polis today's worst person in Colorado, even if he happens to be in D.C. at the moment.

I may actually start referring to the 2nd District congressman as Rep. Jared Polis, D-Not Ready for Prime Time.

Why conservatives and libertarians shouldn't celebrate the fall of newspapers

My friend John Miller at National Review invited me to reflect on the Rocky's demise for the mag's online edition, and rather than lament the loss of our editorial page, I chose to talk about the loss of a valued civic institution.

Newspapers pay people to sit through endless city-council and land-use-planning and legislative-committee hearings, enduring the sausage-making process that is modern government. These reporters tell readers what’s going on and — when they’re at their journalistic best — what it all means. They take the trouble to analyze court decisions and search government records and decipher regulatory filings and pore through leaks from public-spirited civil servants.

They don’t get every story right, and they’re often captives of their sources. But even reporters who are lazy or incompetent or hopelessly compromised provide an irreplaceable service. They keep self-government possible, perhaps even manageable, at a time when the state is growing ever larger and more difficult to understand.

Meantime, my former boss Vincent Carroll and colleague Mike Littwin take on Jared Polis for gloating about the Rocky's collapse.

My piece went to NRO on Sunday, before reports about Polis' victory dance became public. But Littwin had the same reaction to Polis as me.

Polis ... issued an apology Tuesday to "anyone who was offended."

It's the typical, politician's, old- media-style, non-apology apology, in which he apologizes for, uh, getting caught saying what he really thinks.

As for Vincent, he notes what is not exactly the reaction you'd expect from an elected official in these circumstances:

If Polis welcomes newspapers' demise, so be it. If he had a particular grudge against the Rocky, who cares at this point? His comments Saturday and his damage control this week are disturbing not for what they say about his media tastes but rather because of what they reveal about his character.

When people lose their jobs, the normal human reaction is one of compassion. When a politician's constituents lose their jobs — and a number of former Rocky staffers do live in the 2nd District — the obligatory reaction is one of concern.

Polis revealed no trace of either emotion in his remarks at the Net- roots Nation in Your Neighborhood event in Westminster. In fact, he seemed to giggle — or smirk out loud — on a couple of occasions in referring to the Rocky's death. And he never so much as noted the human consequences of the closure.

Then there's Jeffrey Goldberg's post at The Atlantic:

I don't know too many Democrats who think that the death of a newspaper is a positive development for society. And by the way, "All of us" are the new media? I'd like to read the investigations of government corruption produced by "all of us." I imagine there are many journalists -- and advocates of government accountability -- wishing for the death of Polis's congressional career right about now.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Talking on the Interwebs

My podcast with Ben Boychuk and Jim Lakely of Infinite Monkeys fame is here.

We talked about the Rocky, the role of free-market thinktanks and Obamanomics. Enjoy!

Tap is back

Spinal Tap's "Unwigged and Unplugged" tour is on.

So who's the unfortunate drummer?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Not waiting for the corpse to get cold

Newly elected U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, isn't likely to get many Christmas cards from former staffers at the Rocky Mountain News.

The Denver Post and report the far-left, super-rich Internet entrepreneur crowed about the Rocky's closure at a Nutroots, er, Netroots gathering in the Denver suburbs the day after the Rocky's final edition.

"We killed the Rocky Mountain News... Long live new media," said Polis.

It took Polis about a second and a half to start weaseling his way out when contacted by the Post Monday:

The end of the Rocky Mountain News was a blow to all of us in Colorado. We were proud to have a city that had two powerful voices, two daily venues for informing the public, and a diversity of editorial voices. Not only has Colorado lost over 200 jobs, but the voice of the RMN has been silenced.

Indeed, some of the blame rests with new media. While there are many other factors that have contributed such as the recession and a decline in advertising, the very fact that we are discussing this issue here, in the online forum of the DP, is demonstrative of the rise of new media. The newspaper industry has yet to figure out how to monetize online traffic, and until they do, I worry not only about the demise of the RMN but I worry about the future of a strong third estate across our great nation.

As the Post pointed out, journalism is the fourth estate, not the third estate, but hey, statists are too busy dancing on the Rocky's grave to bother with details.

HOV lane to serfdom?

Yesterday, my friend Ben Boychuk invited me to participate in the podcast he and his RedBlueAmerica running mate, Joel Mathis, produce weekly. Joel wasn't available, so fellow Infinite Monkey Jim Lakely (aka Dr. Zaius) joined Ben and me. When Ben gets the audio edited, I'll post a link.

Jim made the point that Barack Obama has done more to remake the relationship between individuals and the U.S. government in one month than has taken place by any administration in recent memory. (Can't remember if he referenced FDR, but it'll be in the podcast.)

As I suggested, Obama appears to be familiar with some of the work done by the "Chicago boys" at the University of Chicago, led by Milton Friedman, F.A. von Hayek and George Stigler. Problem is, he's taken the wrong lessons.

In 1984, Milton and Rose Friedman published Tyranny of the Status Quo, a book asking why it's difficult for political reformers to maintain momentum after their early days in office. Looking at the administrations of Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand and Ronald Reagan, the Friedmans concluded that any new head of state has between six and nine months to implement whatever meaningful reforms they will accomplish.

After that, the "iron triangle" of politicians, regulators and special interests that prospered under the previous regime would reassert their authority and halt if not reverse the new leader's changes.

If Obama studied his Friedmans, he knew that he had to propose an initial budget that would have seemed unconscionable in the fall of 2008 -- including all its expansions of the welfare state and the bureaucracy. Because he wouldn't get a second chance. Talk about change ...

The next year will be a test of the Friedmans' idea. I see a potential problem with it, because Obama's policies are pandering to the regulators, the special interests that benefit from bigger government and the politicians (at least of his own party) who want to bribe people with their own money.

If in this case, however, the Friedmans mean "the status quo" is republican self-government, then we can only pray that their thesis holds up.

The Rocky's Final Edition

As you've probably heard, the Rocky Mountain News, where I spent three fantastic years as an editorial writer, closed Friday.

Here's a 20-minute video produced by the staff about the paper's final weeks. Riveting stuff, but then again, I'm an insider.

You can read the entire final edition online (of course) here.