Tribune Thursday: slow news day

Sorry about the recent delay in posting. I’m going to be busy with some things for a while, so I might not be back until next week’s Tribune post. Here’s today’s:

  1. A canvass of New York Republicans indicates that Charles Evans Hughes is likely to be renominated for Governor.

  3. The police have caught Clementi Terasi, whom they believe to be a leader of the “Black Hand.”

  5. In an attempt to deter drivers from speeding over railroad crossings, the President of the Long Island Railroad announced that he is going to assign men to record the license plate numbers of reckless drivers at railroad crossings and then publicize the names of the owners in the newspapers.

  7. It appears that President Roosevelt will not try to intervene in the New York Gubernatorial nomination process and will leave it up to the delegates to the convention to decide.

  9. The United States and Great Britain have agreed to a “modus vivendi” concerning the Newfoundland fisheries for 1908 but are still working on a more formal settlement.

  11. Governor Hughes laid the cornerstone for a new YMCA building in Plattsburg.


Evan Bayh hasn’t even been nominated for Vice President, and already the puns are everywhere: “Walk on Bayh”; “Bayh Bayh, Bayh”; “Bye-Bye Bayh”; “Stop Bayh” (this one is not necessarily a pun); and no doubt others I haven’t seen. But at least there’s some variety to these turns of phrase.*

Georgia, on the other hand, is on a lot of people’s minds. I’m not going to come up with any better pun – I don’t think the midnight trains are running, anyway – but I will recommend this piece in the London Review of Books on Georgia by Neal Ascherson from 2004 as background.

*If he is nominated and the Obama/Bayh ticket loses, I expect to see: “Bayh-er’s Remorse”

Categorized as journalism

the latest headlines

From the teaser for that Atlantic article on the Clinton campaign many people are talking about:

The eight-page blockbuster, “The Front-Runner’s Fall,”

Hmm. Hasn’t that title been used before? Maybe in a “blockbuster” insider article about the failure of a Democratic primary campaign? Like this one?:

In “The Front-Runner’s Fall” in the May 2004 Atlantic, Maslin tells the inside story of the Dean campaign—shedding new light on its failures and its successes.

freeway density

Don't worry about the street view pedestrian - there's a light rail station down there
Don't worry about the street view pedestrian - there's a light rail station down there

I’m going to be in the Los Angeles area (technically I’m not staying in LA itself) for the weekend. I don’t really have any plans. I might drive over to take the light rail somewhere.

(link to labeled map)

Tribune Thursday: Greenland partially revealed

  1. Charles W. Morse is trying to end the receivership of the National Bank of North America, but there are a few minor obstacles to that plan:

    it is far from certain that he will be successful in accomplishing this object before he and Alfred H. Curtis, the former president of the bank, will be called to plead in the United States Circuit Court next October to indictments charging them with making false entries in their reports as officers of the bank to the Controller of Currency and with misapplication of the funds of the bank.

    1. The 200 passengers aboard the steamer Cincinnati managed to escape their sinking boat after it “struck a submerged spile in Cahutaugua Lake” not far from the landing pier.
    2. Service was delayed on the New Haven railroad after lightning struck a wire.
    3. A call for public financing, or just a fundraising pitch in the guise of one?:

      Believing that each voter should give two cents a month, or 25 cents a year, toward creating a national campaign fund, and estimating that there are 150,000 Democratic voters in Oklahoma, the Democracy of the state is asked by the leaders to give $150,000 toward the Bryan campaing, or 25 cents a year for the four years since the last campaign.

  2. Danish explorer Mylius Erichsen and two others on an expedition in Greenland, have died in a snowstorm. The article adds, hopefully:

    Otherwise the exploring party has been successful. Large tracts of unknown land have been mapped out and the entire northeastern coast of Greenland has been charted.

    Below, the paper runs an obituary for Erichsen.


  4. The so-called city of light, c’est-à-dire Paris, was without power for a couple of hours while electricians at a plant attempted to go on strike.

    1. The Equitable Life Assurance Society denied reports that they are planning to build a one thousand foot tall building at their current location, 120 Broadway, saying that they have “adopted no definite plans as yet for any new building.”
    2. Senator Norris Brown predicts that Taft will sweep Nebraska against Bryan.

  7. It’s not clear if Governor Charles Evans Hughes will be renominated, but maneuvering inside the Republican party suggests that a decision will come soon.

Illustration: map of Greenland.

driving behavior

I don’t know how much you can tell about a city’s drivers by walking around. Probably not much. I remember walking in San Francisco in 2000 and being very conscious of the fact that I had seen reports on the local news saying that the city had a poor pedestrian safety record. But of course I was a pedestrian.

Last year I spent a few months in Washington, D.C. and as a pedestrian I felt fine. But the driving behavior I saw at a few places – including two intersections in particular near the Takoma Metro station that I walked by every day on my way to and from the place I was staying – looked pretty dangerous. People would race down two lane streets to try to be the first to reach the spot where the street collapsed into a single lane; people would pass on one-lane streets by pretending to wait to turn right and then slamming down on the gas to go forward as soon as the light changed; people would cut off oncoming traffic to turn left when lights changed; and in general people did not leave much time to make turns. Had these been a few isolated incidents here and there, I wouldn’t have thought much about it, but I regularly found myself thinking “that was insane!” after witnessing something crazy from the sidewalk. But I never saw an accident.

Recently I saw a story in the Examiner (via somewhere I don’t remember): “D.C. drivers most accident-prone in nation, insurance study finds”:

D.C. drivers are more likely to be in auto accidents than drivers in any other city in the country, and Alexandria and Arlington drivers follow closely behind, according to a new study.

D.C. drivers average one accident every 5.4 years, making them almost three times more collision-prone that drivers in Sioux Falls, S.D., which ranked as the safest driving city in the 2008 Allstate America’s Best Drivers report.

The number means D.C. drivers are 84 percent more likely to be in an accident than the average driver nationally and places the city as the most dangerous for drivers among the 193 studied.

The rankings can be found here (under 2008 data). Note that San Francisco also does poorly in the rankings at 185, but there’s a huge gap between D.C. and almost all of the other listed cities in terms of “Relative Collision Likelihood” (compared to the national average): D.C. comes in at nearly 84% more likely and S.F. at just over 44% more likely. I haven’t looked into the methodology, but the Examiner says that the numbers are based on claims filed in 2006 – so that’s before I went to D.C.

That Examiner article also provides some information about congestion:

The Washington area ranks as the second-most-congested in the country, tying with Atlanta and San Francisco and trailing only Los Angeles.

The interesting thing there is that the Washington area, Atlanta, and San Francisco (assuming this means the San Francisco area) are the three regions that built similar heavy-rail transit lines after the second world war. I suppose a transit skeptic would take this as evidence that the rail lines haven’t done their job, but the fact that Los Angeles, which did not build any lines back then ranks lower, suggests that the costs of not building transit could have been higher. It also suggests that the transit projects facilitated growth (and at least in the case of BART, that was one of the goals).

if at first you do succeed

I kind of hope [Birch] Evan Bayh [III] gets the vice presidential nomination, just to see who comes up with the most embarrassing pun on his name. Actually, like Ari, I don’t. But if he did, I wonder if people would pay attention to his being from a politician family? The Bushes and the Clintons are nationally famous, but there are a fair amount of state and local level families people don’t always know about. See also Christopher John Dodd among others past and present.

Technically: The Clintons and the Bayhs don’t meet the Political Graveyard “three or more politician members” make a family requirement. Unless you’re talking about these Clintons.

indirect sunlight

The Senate has never been a model of efficiency – and in some ways was specifically designed not to be – but this continues to be absurd:

Under current rules, Senate offices must print out their campaign finance reports, which lawmakers store electronically, and mail them to the Sec. of the Senate on Capitol Hill (the reports must be postmarked, though not received, by the specific deadline). The Sec. of the Senate then scans them and emails the digitalized versions to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC posts the non-searchable images online, but also prints another set of hard copies, which are driven to the offices of a government contractor in Virginia; the contractor then keys the information back into the computer in its final, searchable form.

The process takes between four to six weeks, experts say, and costs taxpayers roughly $250,000 per year.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The House moved to mandatory electronic filing at the start of 2001. The Senate was exempt at the time (and remains so) because that law applied only to those filing directly with the FEC. (The Senate, recall, files first to the Sec. of the Senate.) Searchable House records are available online almost immediately after members file.

[Note: Some sections of the linked article seem to imply that the forms are unavailable to the public until they are put into a searchable form. I don’t think that’s true. The page images are posted on the FEC website relatively soon after the forms are filed. The scans are often of poor quality and sometimes it’s hard to make out certain numbers or letters, but they’re still viewable. It’s a real pain to deal with, though, and certainly a deterrent to those who want to do an intensive analysis of the data. Some filings are hundreds of pages in length.]

So why hasn’t the Senate followed the House’s example?

Supporters of the move to electronic filing have long wondered why any lawmaker would oppose the shift. After all, the bill doesn’t demand fuller disclosure, simply speeds up the process. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit campaign-finance reform advocate, said that, in tight election years, that could be reason enough. “A lot of times in politics, timing is everything,” McGehee said. “This is about control of information.”

That sounds right to me. The impression I’ve gotten from following this election* fairly closely is that the way political reporting works, particularly election reporting, a lot of stories come out very quickly after the campaign finance reports are filed (the big reports are filed quarterly). Many of these are aggregate numbers stories – “took in X, has Y cash on hand” – but there are other stories about candidates’ ties to particular donors or candidates’ expenditures on things like ads or legal representation (like when a candidate is, say, under investigation or even indictment, not that recent members of Congress have had this problem). But after enough time has passed, the filings start to go stale: they lose the immediacy of “news” in the sense of “breaking news.” The information they provide might still be incorporated into a later article but the reporter will not be able to write: “FEC reports filed today/yesterday reveal…” Moreover, the delay in processing becomes increasingly important as election day nears:

In 2006, for example, voters in six of the 10 tightest Senate races had no access to third-quarter contributions — those donated in July, August and September — a week before the election. In 2004, 85 percent of third-quarter contributions were unavailable to voters in all Senate races, CFI [Campaign Finance Institute] found.

And anyway, how often is someone helped electorally by the information in their own campaign filings? I can think of Obama’s small-donor success, but not much else. So for candidates with potentially damaging information in their reports there’s an incentive to keep things the way they are. And because it’s not always clear beforehand what information could cause trouble, that’s a potentially large group.

Meanwhile, just as proponents of electronic filing can claim that the change would not entail any new disclosures, opponents can claim that they’re not against disclosure (they’re just against applying the latest technology to existing requirements). Plus, because these kinds of campaign process issues don’t get much attention – I bet most of you have stopped reading this post – and probably don’t sway that many votes, the cost of opposing the change may not be all that high.

That said, some of the opponents’ tactics have been more complicated than simply saying “no”:

Though a Senate bill would modernize the chamber’s disclosure process, GOP opposition has stalled it for more than a year. Most recently, the delay was caused by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who objected to the bill when he wasn’t permitted to attach a controversial amendment. Ensign’s addition would have required groups that file complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose their donors — something charities and other non-profits are often loathe to do.

“It’s basically a poison pill amendment,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance lobbyist at Public Citizen.

There may be legitimate arguments in favor of requiring certain types of non-profits** to disclose their donors, but the restriction of disclosure requirements to only those groups that file complaints makes this attempt to pit transparency against transparency look transparently disingenuous.


*This is the first cycle I’ve followed this closely. In 2006 and 2004 I relied mostly on the mainstream news and a small number of political blogs.

**Here’s a story on 501(c)(4)s, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s mostly an overview and not an explicit argument in favor of disclosure requirements, but it does give you a sense of why it would not be crazy to think that those kinds of groups should make their donor lists public.

crafty historians

Thinking more about this

An undamaged (so to speak) brain perceives direct experience as continuous, but direct experience is not the same as history. Silas Weir Mitchell (in the linked post) wrote about injured Civil War veterans; Marc Bloch uses the following example in The Historian’s Craft:

Let us suppose that a military commander has just won a victory. That, immediately, he sets to work writing an account with his own hand. That it was he who conceived the plan of the battle, and that it was he who directed it. And finally that, thanks to the moderate size of the field (for in order to sharpen the argument, we are imagining a battle of former times, drawn up in a confined space), he has been able to see almost the entire conflict develop before his eyes. Nevertheless, we cannot doubt that, in more than one essential episode, he will be forced to refer to the reports of his lieutenants. In acting thus as narrator, he would only be behaving as he had a few hours before in the action. Then as commander, regulating the movements of his troops to the swaying tide of battle, what sort of information shall we think to have served him best? Was it the rather confused scenes viewed through his binoculars, or the reports brought in hot haste by the couriers and aides-de-camp? Seldom can a leader of troops be his own observer. Meanwhile, even in so favorable a hypothesis as this, what has become of that marvel of “direct” observation which is claimed as the prerogative of the studies of the present?

No doubt the commander’s experience of the battle was continuous; no doubt his account of the battle will fail to replicate that continuity. But it is not accurate to say that the former is the product of a healthy brain while the latter, no matter how thoroughly constructed, is doomed to resemble the product of a damaged one. The commander, in producing his account, is trying to capture more than what he experienced – more than what any single participant in the battle experienced, and indeed, more than any single person could have experienced. If history always fails to reproduce the past as it appeared to the people who lived in it, it is not just because historians’ access to the past is necessarily limited, it is also because historians are asked to do things no historical actor ever does when the past is still the present, and no living person does when the past is recalled as memory – history, at least in the form we know it today, is fundamentally unnatural.

Later Bloch writes:

Because the individual, narrowly restricted by his senses and power of concentration, never perceives more than a tiny patch of the vast tapestry of events, deeds, and words which form the destinies of a group, and because, moreover, he possesses an immediate awareness of only his own mental state, all knowledge of mankind, to whatever time it applies, will always derive a large part of its evidence from others. In this respect, the student of the present is scarcely any better off than the historian of the past.

If what historians do is more like producing than reproducing, why pay so much attention to the so-called irreproducibility of the past?

It is easy to see why this remoteness of the scholar from the object of his knowledge makes so strong an impression upon many historical theorists. It is because they think of history primarily in terms of events, even of episodes – of a history which, rightly or wrongly (and it is immaterial at the moment) attaches an extreme importance to the exact reconstruction of the actions, words, or attitudes of a few personages, brought together for a relatively brief scene, in which as in a classic tragedy, are marshaled all the forces of the critical moment: the day of a revolution, a battle, or a diplomatic interview.

Bloch concludes the paragraph with an example that shows why the brain-damage analogy can sound so plausible:

It is related that on September 2, 1792, the head of the Princess de Lamballe was paraded on the end of a pike under the windows of the royal family. Is this true or false? M. Pierre Caron, who has written an admirably honest book on the September Massacres, does not venture an opinion. Had he been permitted to watch the ghastly cortege in person from a tower in the Temple, he would have known what to think – at least if, preserving his scholarly detachment in these circumstances (as might be expected), and properly mistrustful of his own memory, he had further taken the precaution of making a note of his obvervations on the spot. Unquestionably, in such cases, the historian is mortified by comparing his position with that of a reliable witness of a present event. He is as if at the rear of a column, in which the news travels from the head back through the ranks. It is not a good vantage-point from which to gather correct information. Not so very long ago, during a relief march at night, I saw the word passed down the length of a column in this manner. “Look out! Shell holes to the left!” The last man received it in the form, “To the left!” took a step in that direction, and fell in.