Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ad dollars unspent or misspent till lately

Aid plan for biz a letdown

City allotted $400K to help merchants along rail construction route

© 2007, Quicksilver Publishing Group. All rights reserved. May not be disseminated or reproduced without express written permission.

by David Tell, Messenger Editor

Despite the advent of a $400,000 city program to help advertise and promote struggling merchants along Midtown’s light rail construction route, business owners and their advocates remain decidedly unhappy.
That sentiment bubbled over at a Nov. 8 meeting among the parties, also attended by some interested representatives of local media.
Ferment about the dire impact of light rail construction on Midtown businesses has been growing since articles appeared last spring about the light rail’s construction bonus program, under which contractors are paid extra monies for responding to complaints about business access, signage, and even items such as broken water mains affecting commercial properties.
Dan Abrams of Abrams Realty, among others, objected to the bonus program as illegitimately and wastefully paying contractors for work—remedying the negative impacts of the construction activity—that they are already being paid for under their contracts with Valley Metro, the light rail agency.
While the Arizona Republic broke that story, it was subsequent reporting on the controversy in the June issue of The Midtown Messenger that seemed to light a fire under city officials, according to Abrams, who praised the article. He and Charles Jones of the Pierson Place neighborhood group met with Mayor Phil Gordon and District 4 Councilman Tom Simplot after the Messenger article appeared, and the result was the establishment of a program specifically using city funds to aid the merchant community. That program, to have kicked off around Labor Day, was announced in a letter to the editor authored by Jones appearing in the September Midtown Messenger.
In addition, according to a Metro release published in the July issue, the agency was allocating an additional $150,000 toward addressing access issues, and the city was dedicating two staff members as light rail traffic managers to look for access problems and other issues, and fix them.
For its June article on the need for public spending to support struggling merchants rather than to gratuitously reward contractors, The Midtown Messenger spoke to several business owners whose accounts of flagging customer traffic and grave dips in revenue due to the light rail construction portrayed the severity of the need.
In its touted plan to do promotional spending—the nearly half-million-dollar advertising program—the city’s effort has been a resounding disappointment, according to Abrams.
At the Nov. 8 meeting, “We had a very good discussion. A lot of the merchants who were there got up and spoke, and expressed their dissatisfaction and disgust with what the city’s been doing with advertising,” Abrams said. “Primarily they’ve done radio, half on a Latino station, which is virtually of no value.”
[Editor’s note: A clarification concerning the foregoing quote will appear in the Dec. 17 issue of the paper.]
The other main avenue of promotion the city has been pursuing involves a website called, with the idea that multiple merchants would come up with special offers promoting their businesses on the site, and the city would spend advertising dollars to get people to visit the site to find those specials.
The Midtown Messenger’s experience with this proposed advertising program may be illustrative of that of other local, community-oriented print media. In mid-September, the paper began contacting the city to find out with whom to share its advertising and rate information. The paper received no responses to messages left for Maria Hyatt, the official in the City Manager’s Office with responsibility for light rail issues. It finally learned her subordinate Albert Santana was coordinating the advertising program for the merchants affected by the light rail, and he was then provided with the newspaper’s information.
Calls to Simplot’s office in September also brought dissatisfying results. A Simplot aide finally reached said she didn’t think the program was intended to include print advertising, and that the paper should approach Valley Metro directly for such advertising. Metro has in fact advertised in this paper in the past, but curtailed their latest contract short of the agreed number of ads due to a budget shortfall, its media buying agency said.
Santana left a message with the newspaper in response to a call reminding him of November’s ad deadlines, after nothing materialized in September or October. His message explained that timing of advertising under the program was tricky, in that it would be ineffective if launched before there is enough participation in the shop-the-line website.
As an example of other print outlets’ interest not only in the general issue but in getting advertising under the program, Abrams noted that Teri Carnicelli of North Central News and Phoenix Downtown’s Forrest Martin were both at the Nov. 8 meeting.
“[The city’s] been doing radio remotes, postcards, the Internet site—the website has been virtually worthless,” Abrams said. “We asked that they spend money advertising in community newspapers—The Midtown Messenger, North Central News, a paper in Moon Valley, Phoenix Downtown. We don’t want to see money in the Republic, it’s too expensive. We felt for the cost of those [more locally targeted] ads, if they did a $100 coupon—get $100 off on merchandise—it would be very effective, especially now coming up before Christmas.”
Abrams said city staff were told “‘It’s do or die, hit it hard with your advertising right now or you’ll miss out and waste your money.’ Albert didn’t seem to understand, just seemed to want to go off explaining his own ideas,” he said.
The Midtown Messenger’s reminder message to Santana a couple weeks before the November ad deadline pointed out it would be the city’s last effective opportunity to help the merchants with any advertising at the height of the holiday shopping season. The paper normally prints the third Monday of the month, and its next issue after November’s prints Dec. 17.
Too, “We contacted him a week and a half before the [Nov. 8] meeting, asked for a complete timeline of their plans, asked for a budget, what they were spending on what,” Abrams said, noting that he received no information in response. “Going back to August, we were asking, ‘Where were they going to advertise, what publications?’ and they just kept stalling us.”
Simplot called back during the writing of this article, in response to a message left on his Council cell phone on the Veteran’s Day holiday. In addition to his Council role, he’s also chairman of the board of Metro light rail, and the line segment construction affecting Midtown merchants lies largely in his district.
Simplot said he is aware of the problems. “We’re going to be shifting our advertising dollars. There was a specific request that we advertise in The Midtown Messenger, Phoenix Downtown, North Central News,” he acknowledged. “City staff and Metro staff have been very willing to be fluid in how they respond to the needs of the merchants.”
In response to concerns that staff have been pursuing ideas for the program to the exclusion of requests in the community, and that the new intent to try different avenues comes somewhat late to aid the merchants at a key season, Simplot qualified his assurances: “They’re flexible, for government. When you’re changing a big ship like the city of Phoenix and Metro, it’s going to be frustrating. Considering where we are, compared to where we were last spring, it’s promising. There’s going to be a lot of change,” he said. “I know that Dan is frustrated with Albert, but he also has to work within this bureaucracy. It rarely happens that one person can be the entity that drives something or that kills it. He has the responsibility for turning the ship.
“[Santana] understands the policy change, which comes from my office, and me, in fact,” Simplot added. “I share the frustration.”
He went on to cite an area where the program has made progress: “The restaurants who have not been at the BOMARC [Business Owners & Merchants Along the Rail Coalition] meetings in great numbers have come together with their own plans. Dan and Charley don’t know about that,” Simplot said. “We are working on a home and office delivery system that we should be getting going in the next seven to 10 days.”
Apprised of the planned delivery program, Abrams was not very impressed. He noted that there has been in place a “Two-for Tuesdays” promotion to boost restaurant patronage at least that one day a week. Jones, who has generously sent out mass e-mails on behalf of that and other transit-related issues and programs for months, cited other attention to restaurateurs along Central Avenue paid by the city and the press recently. “If you’re a restaurant or have some connections in that area, you may get some help,” he said. “If you’re a shoe store, you’re out of luck.”
A few hours after the conversation with Simplot, Santana called to inquire whether it would still be possible to get an ad—one simply urging people to patronize business along the construction route during the holidays—into the the Messenger’s November issue. With layout still in flux, the paper was happy to oblige, not only for the revenue, but in its desire to help the struggling parts of the business community in whatever way possible. That ad appears on page 3.
In the meantime, a member of another business advocacy group with concerns about the light rail’s impacts and processes e-mailed The Midtown Messenger in early September in response to inquiries based on news tips. The correspondent wrote that he thought Metro staffers, during community advisory board (CAB) meetings, were acting excessively as “advocates or lobbyists” for contractors under the construction bonus program. The source said he considered that alleged advocacy “unethical and a dereliction of their duties while having a fiduciary responsibility to the city of Phoenix/Valley Metro rail on behalf of the taxpayers footing the bill for the bonuses, which were intended to be awarded ‘only’ for performing duties above and beyond the specified contract provisions.”
The correspondent said that advocacy included “allowing actual voting tallies [on potential bonuses] to be overruled by floor motions to increase the scores because they did not think some Community Advisory Board members were being fair in their assessments of the contractors’ performance.”
This paper has been working for weeks to get details on the allegations and related concerns for this article, which has been planned for publication whether or not it ever won any light-rail-related advertising.
Howard Steere, Metro’s public Involvement manager, said Metro staff do not interfere in the process of deciding the construction bonuses. He said the process can be complex and somewhat confusing, as it was for a new member at a morning CAB meeting on Nov. 13, but that it is transparent and driven by the members—volunteer community representatives.
He said there have been cases of revotes on a particular score or bonus question, but that those have not been prompted by Metro staff.
The Midtown Messenger’s informant also said an effort to end the program was partly motivated by some CAB members’ votes allegedly being influenced by improper, undisclosed financial considerations. The Midtown Messenger spoke to this correspondent and an associate several times over a period of weeks seeking further details about the allegations, but as of press time for this issue, the individuals indicated they preferred not to disclose additional information, and would instead be waiting to see how the program continued to play out.
Absent details or corroborating evidence, The Midtown Messenger asked Metro’s Communications Manager Marty McNeil if she had heard any such charges. She said she had not, and agreed that one would think anyone sincerely interested in the ethical operations of the CABs and the appropriate expenditure of public money under the bonus program would want to make officials aware of any misfeasance. “I don‘t think there’s any doubt that that is what everyone wants. If someone has some information or documentation, we hope they will provide it to us,” McNeil said.
“That’s a pretty significant thing. The integrity of the CAB process is extremely important to us, if someone has evidence or documentation related to that, they should bring it to our attention.”
Abrams noted that votes to end the bonus program had repeatedly failed at least through the August timeframe.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

MM Daily Dispatch

Birth of a Legend

Yeshua wasn't the first little Jewish boy to be considered too precious by his mommy to be fully of this world—nor the last. (Just the most famous.)

By David Tell, (c) 1999, Merkureal Communications. All Rights Reserved

A child was once born in the stable at an inn. But that is not how this story begins ...

A weltering breeze played through the vineyards. A few more olives dropped to join those in stages of waste. Earlier windfallen were beginning to suffer of neglect, losing their plumpness and sheen and on their way to joining those of last season they lay among, themselves almost raisin-like—wrinkled, wizened.
Yosef sat under a palm, a skin of raw wine at hand, a rough platter with crumbs of honey-cake and the stems of several figs attracting ants on the ground nearby. A disturbance of dust in the track a few score yards away dissipated enough on its nearing to unveil a familiar merchant and his overladen asses.
“Yeshua!” called Yosef to the young child engrossed in something in the earth, close to the track. Though the traveler, his and his animals’ pace an ambling one anyway and slowing now, presented little danger to the child, Yosef spoke again, more sharply. “Ye-shua! By my side! Attend!” The boy scrambled to him, some kind of many-legged prize in his grubby hands. “My lord, abba, here I am!” cried the boy.
Yosef signed to the merchant, no need to stop, no chance of a sale. To Yeshua, mock-sternly now, a dusty eyebrow raised queryingly: “You want a potch im tukas?” An “in-joke” and endearment: He knew what it meant, the boy knew what it meant; it was all the more fun, and—when necessary—potent in effect for all that it was nonsense-talk to anyone else.
“Abba, abba, I wanted to save it!” Father and child inspected the ruin of a little “city” by the roadside, pebble structures and clay walls toppled by the hoofsteps, dung beetles plodding amid, oblivious. A tear left a track on the boy’s dust-smeared cheek.
“In our secret heart, a son should grow up savior of all our cities,” muttered Yosef. “You want to be a great judge, or a healer?” He tickled the boy. “I want to be king!” he cried. “Eh, my scion of David,” said Yosef. “Or you could be, maybe, a rabbi, why not?”
He snaked his right arm around the boy’s middle and hoisted him up to his hip, outthrust to support him like a sack of millet, Yeshua with hands free to guard his prize and legs trailing. And giggling at Yosef’s hardly feigned grunts and clumsy efforts to hike him up, get his hip under the increasingly solid weight of the boy.
“Miryam! A sack of grain for you to grind! Throw this good-for-naught sack in the cellar, get it out of my sight. What a load!”
“Forget the nonsense, what did you leave roadside, eh? Get me the platter, and bring in the wine, no more for you, you goodfornothing.”
“Mama, look what I saved!”
“Eh, what is it? Saved, for what?” she sniffed. “Eh (nonplused, disgust all a show), vermin you bring in. Yosef! Make this crawling thing scarce, and you with it. Bring me the things, then patch the netting before all the olives are a waste, trodden into the dirt, eh? Eh! Let no more wine pass your lips, and you had better not have trafficked in the way with our bit of silver, or my sweet-cakes, for that matter.”
“I ate them myself!” he protested thickly, drawing from her a scathing glance, and another sniff.
“Ate, and drank, and drank some more, you goodfornothing,” she said. “Yeshua, what a man I’m tied to, what a figure. Him you show how to live,” she added, addressing Yosef, though not looking his way. “What a man. What man? What husband?”
“Ema!” cried the boy. “Please don’t yell at abba.”
“Some daddy!”
With the side of a long finger, Yosef rapped the boy sharply on the shoulder, glanced a silencing glance.
“Don’t touch the boy!” shrilled Miryam. “My precious. My baby. My angel!”
Yosef went to embrace her, to silence her, too, but she stiff-elbowed him from her even as his arms barely clasped her around the shoulders. Yeshua ran to join the embrace he hoped he saw, but as Miryam’s elbows burst Yosef’s hug, his arm flung the boy away too, his bony knuckles rapping the boy’s temple so that he cried out.
“Yi! You hit this boy? You, you, you goodfornothing!”
Yosef suddenly stood on his dignity. “Do not speak to your husband, this child’s father, so! Shame! Know your place, know ye mine!”
The boy’s and mother’s attention were both caught in this outburst. But Miryam laughed. “Your place? Your place is in the market, where you squander your time, our hard-earned coppers, our harvest, our hopes. What are you? Your place? Your place is out there, neither by this hearth nor in my bed. This child’s father? What a father. I’ll tell you father. As much a father as you are, God almighty should be his father. Unseen, yea, as much a father as you to him He is, what little we have by His leave, thank you for it I will not!
“Yeshua, Yeshua, my precious, my little lord, so beautiful, sweet and perfect, he could have come only from the Lord Himself! Ha, when thou liest out in the dust in drunkenness, who liest with me? For such an issue, only the Lord God Himself could have known me. Never you! Never thy stinking, drunken, pawing embrace, to bring such a child. The Lord God is his father! Don’t dare seek such due. It is above you to claim!”
Yosef glowered. Yeshua looked wide-eyed from one to the other. Yosef’s brimming anger spilled over onto the boy, how could it not? He strode out—Miryam clutched the child to her—the child, eyes bright, brimming too, though no hot tear fell.
Over time, after much of the same, Yosef became embittered and estranged. Who could blame him? When Yeshua left home, he fumed and drank even more, and Miryam loudly disavowed him.
A rare visit home for Yeshua, father and son simmered with resentment.
“If you won’t trim your hair, at least comb it,” said Yosef. “And that beard—if it can even be called that, you young Sadducee!” Yeshua just looked at him disdainfully.
“And why don’t you get a job—will you?” bleated Yosef. “Oh, like you?” Yeshua couldn’t resist retorting.
As if he hadn’t heard, Yosef went on: “Maybe then you can find a respectable girl. A nice girl, what’s so wrong, start a family. Make an old man happy. Even yourself, you should be so lucky.”
It was all Yeshua could do to turn the other cheek. “You’re not good enough to kiss the ground my Miryam walks upon. My Miryam Magdalena—don’t you utter her name. Nor that of my saintly mother, you ...”
“Ha, saintly!” spat Yosef, but grinning. “Reminds me your hallowed birth. To hear your mother tell it, great sages bowed down, kissed your little baby feet, anointed your pupick, bestowed great gifts. What a joke. Traveling salesmen, no more. Here for a convention. Balm and unguents? What’s a little pip like you want ’em for? They fancied your mama, the swine. Golden bands that graced her neck oh so dainty, the vagrants almost forgot: how cute on your humid little brow, too. Best I can say for her, she was clueless their motives—she sure did covet their wares, though.”
Silence ensued. Yeshua left with a controlled calm, a tense dignity. An aggrieved humility.
This tiff did nothing to temper his obstinate provocations to authority: local, temporal, imperial, priestly, divine. Passive-aggressive, some called it: “King of the Jews?” “That’s what you say.” Nyah. Still, kind of unassuming. And it was hard to put your finger on anything wrong in what he himself said, though by the time it reverberated through the throngs and rabble, is it a surprise he’d be fingered for an example? Nice Jewish kid gone wrong—not so wrong, but you know, wrong place-wrong time, family-of-origin issues, how it goes.
Later—bearing up pretty well, considering—he reflected. “Abba, abba, why did you forsake me?” he moaned.

This short story has been rejected by Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy and The New Yorker magazines.

Monday, August 13, 2007

MM Daily Dispatch

I go there in my mind

The improbability of anything turning out as intended disproves Intelligent Design

I just read a column in another local publication, titled "There’s no way that just happened!" This was a religion column, and — beyond a number of the doctrinal and hortatory points it made — one of the notable things about it was the number of words printed in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. (Now, I’m sure this was completely intentional. We sometimes hear the advice as to e-mail etiquette, "Don’t type in all caps, it looks like you’re yelling." Here, I’m sure that was the intended effect: This pastor was writing as if delivering a sermon, and at various points in that sermon, I know he would be rather worked up and joyously enthusiastic, and he wanted you to feel that, even while reading quietly to yourself. And I did feel it.)
The other thing notable about his column, though, is that, starting with its title, it takes the opposite view from the one in an essay I recently wrote for my evangelical Jewish friend, who lives in Washington. D.C. Yes, you heard me, this is a right-wing, evangelical Jew (no, not a "messianic Jew," not one of those so-called "Jews for Jesus"). He’s an avid supporter of "intelligent design," and of President Bush, along with all of his policies (except his refusing to veto excessive spending). He’s also virulently anti-"choice," considers Jack Abramoff an upstanding fellow, says liberals and the New York Times are all a bunch of liars promoting a radically secular agenda, etc., etc.
He and I have been arguing over a number of these issues, especially evolution, ID and scientific vs. Biblical explanations for things, via e-mail for about 5 years now.
Side note: Interestingly, this friend and I go back to the 7th grade, and in that era, there was no particular clue he would turn out to be a right-wing wacko. Within certain margins, he seemed quite normal, including being normally rebellious. He introduced me to some good rock albums when I first joined a record club. He also sold me his electric guitar. In the 8th grade, we got sent to the principal’s office for gambling on the school bus. (We were just playing gin and Ohell, for a half-cent a point. Is that gambling?! I ask you.) We tried growing pot out at his once-reprobate-bachelor Dad’s old babe-lair cabin in the woods … just to name a few mutual, harmless adolescent exploits. (Actually, speaking of pastors, visiting him at college once, a preacher’s daughter seduced me at a frat party. Dating her later, I took her out to said cabin one weekend. "David, is this wrong?" she drawled, apparently in shock at the now non-drunken, premeditated brazenness of our trysting.)
Back to bizness. Well, I had a brainstorm recently and figured I might finally be able to explain the correctness of evolution to my old friend — to everyone, in fact — in simple, easy-to-understand terms. Like the reverend’s column I just read, it has to do with what’s more likely: improbable things happening by blind, random chance, or, alternatively, "on purpose"? The idea is so easy, so universally comprehensible, I even sent it to Newsweek as a "My Turn" column. Still waiting to hear back on that. In the meantime, I offer it here, where lesser renown and notoriety, or even pillorying may await me:

The proof is now available. Kind of like with profound mathematical and physics theories, I can now prove the veracity of evolution and the falsity of intelligent design "theory" by way of a thought experiment.
In doing this, I think I am emulating the ID proponents. They construct thought experiments that "prove" ID by showing it defies common sense to think certain things in nature could happen by chance; therefore they must have come about due to an underlying, purposeful mind--probably God, but who knows? It could be those aliens who left the monoliths around littering the solar system, in order to further our evolution from dumb, doomed australopithecines to aggressive, therefore thriving, hominids (and beyond!).
Now, in response, scientists tend to come up with points that get around the IDers’ objections to evolution. I’m not going to go into those back-and-forths. I will instead comment on how philosophers of science--and without having to know much actual science either--can also identify the fallacies in IDers’ thinking, at a more fundamental level.
For instance, a few months ago, one of those liberal-secular New York Times contributors pointed out that one reason ID seems appealing as an explanation is because people basically have trouble truly grasping the immensity of time and space--and, I would add, the amazingly fertile hubbub in the realm of the very small and fast. In other words, if people other than cosmologists, subatomic physicists, geologists, microbiologists and so on could really get their heads around how zillions of events (most of them leading to nothing much interesting), over huge spans of time, at a minuscule, frantic scale and pace could and have led and do lead to all observable natural phenomena (even the most complex and autonomous, such as most "higher" animals, and many people), they would have much less problem allowing the explanatory power of evolution.
By contrast, since many people have very little imagination concerning scientific concepts, and limited ability to hold several abstractions in mind long enough to connect them into an intellectual framework, they think a number of what I consider superstitious, pseudo-explanations for things are more likely, and simpler. But pushing the question of complexity back one step to a Mind capable of coming up with nature’s forms and processes doesn’t really explain anything, even if it might perchance be true. That’s probably why the Founding Fathers were Deists, if by it they meant that a God may be the "First Mover," but the way in which it then all works out over the eons is a fascinating subject for scientific inquiry, not faith-based nostrums. (Nate also disputes what he calls the "propaganda" that says the Founders were Deists and promoted "separation of church and state." Oy vey, vas ist dis mishugahss?)
So, back to my thought experiment:
I have a concept called, "Couldn’t have done that if you tried." [Editor’s note: See, there’s the contrast with the pastor’s title, "There’s no way that just happened."] You know, like when you toss a piece of trash at the wastebasket and it happens to perch precariously on the edge, just barely teetering there (maybe with the help of the wall--but it’s still pretty cool, and highly unlikely). Or something else, say a slightly crumpled envelope, playing card or piece of a box, or a dollar bill (or, for the less flush, a quarter): you toss it or drop it, and it lands--and stands or leans--on its side or in the slot in a way that you could never have achieved in a million years if you were trying. I’m sure everyone can come up with their own examples. (Many of mine have to do with throwing something and it balancing improbably somehow--must be my inferiority complex about how I’ve never been able to get a basketball anywhere near the basket, let alone propped on the rim, against the backboard. By contrast, my old friend was pretty good with a ball, and still has a nickname associated with some player named Hal _____, number 15 …)
But I digress (again). The bottom line is, my thought experiment (really more just a notion, actually) proves that evolution is correct. The most amazing things happen by chance, more amazing than what tends to happen by design, and the more amazing, the more likely it is that it couldn’t have happened "on purpose." (OK, so it’s just a variation on the old saw, "Truth is stranger than fiction.")
Same for evolution: Only chance could account for all the amazing occurrences that have led to all the complex and bizarre forms we know in nature. Such as Michael Jackson. (Ta-dum.) No way anyone--even a God, or a super-brainy and unaccountably benevolent alien--could have done it all on purpose. That would defy the odds, for sure.

So, now you’ve been given some exposure to simple, common-sense based, easy-to-understand formulas for the opposing viewpoints on a major issue of our time. Which side do you come down on? Let us know.
— Or, maybe, you happen to have landed kind of on edge, improbably balanced on an ear, shoulder and hip-bone, not even immediately apt to fall over one way or the other. But if you write to tell me about it, I have only one request: Avoid all-capital-letters.
--David Tell

Saturday, August 11, 2007

MM Daily Dispatch

Rights group assails exploitation of baby greens in salads

From ‘Ban foie gras’ to ‘Don’t walk on the grass’?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) offshoot PET-V announced in a release distributed to major news outlets yesterday that it is calling for a boycott of the growers and purveyors of baby greens, widely used in--and increasingly, as--salads in homes and eateries around the world.

Originally a trendy niche item like sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and “designer” salty snacks such as Pringles and Sun Chips, the little-understood “bistro effect” has led to a broad demand for the confetti-like mixtures of young spinach, callow arugula, immature lettuce and something tantalizingly dubbed “escarole” by savvy marketers.

Now that ordinary supermarkets sell the forage by the bagful directly to unwitting consumers, PET-V has put its foot down, it says (though only on designated paved walkways). Following on successful campaigns of decades past to raise awareness of the brutal clubbing of baby seals for their oh-so-silky pelts, PET-V says as a parallel effort to the boycott, thousands of volunteers will commit civil disobedience, trespassing at organic farms throughout California’s Central Valley, lying in the path of mechanical harvesters before they neatly, inhumanely, and with chilling efficiency, shear off millions of the young sprouts in the prime of infancy.

PET-V’s release pointed to the seminal example of the late anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, whose training as a Yaqui Indian medicine man included not only talking to plants, but constantly apologizing to them, especially to the female specimens of dioecious, or sexually differentiated, varieties. Shortly prior to his death a decade ago, Castaneda said plants, including fresh salads, had finally begun talking back to him, and that--while, unlike erstwhile comedian and noted amateur early childhood development specialist Steve Martin, he does not “speak baby talk”--he could detect especially heart-rending sighs and plaintive-sounding whispers when consuming underage salad ingredients, especially chervil.

Addressing how, in addition to just eschewing “baby greens” whenever detected on menus and in stores, consumers might recognize them in unlabeled situations, the PET-V release said, “they’re not crunchy, and they don’t taste very good.” The lack of turgor pressure “crispness” otherwise normally found in fresh samples of Romaine, and, especially, iceberg-based salads, “also means the leaves of juvenile lactucas are much too flaccid to really support the frequently added walnuts and cranberries, not to mention leaden globs of goat-cheese-laced dressing,” the release noted. “Observing these rules of thumb may also help consumers avoid regular, but very wilted, salads,” it added.

A visit to the PETA website also turned up news of the imminent formation of PET-M, one of whose first campaigns will be to seek alternatives to the brutal culinary grinding of natural, defenseless sea salt--a practice that harks to the grinding of human bones to make bread for giants, who cited their need for the additional high-quality dietary calcium and phosphorus in justifying the now frowned-upon practice.

Meanwhile, civil rights groups have called for activists as well as members of the media to cease the demeaning use of “boycott” in their promulgation and coverage of rights campaigns.

--David Tell

Thursday, August 9, 2007

MM Daily Dispatch

Dried salted shrimp adulterated with eye crusties, regulators say

Accidental discovery puts agencies on spot to develop new tests

Almost unnoticed in the recent spate of tainted imports from China, an alert consumer has found another compromised product category: dried salted shrimp. Tiny specimens of the crustacean--a slightly less puny version of the shellfish typically served by the wheelbarrow at Red Lobster restaurants--are customarily sold, shell-on, in small bags of only an ounce or so. Used as a seasoning in Chinese cooking, their tangy pungency contributes a subtle zing to a variety of traditional recipes.
Used as directed, the adulteration of the seasoning might never have been caught. However, Boise, Idaho resident Angelica K. Lowery, who eats the crunchy, tawny, translucent little arthropods “out of hand” as a salty snack, recently noticed one of the tiny “shrimp” apparently wrapped around an eyelash.
“I knew right away it wasn’t just one of their feelers”--bits of antennae often mixed in with the shrimp--“because it was jet black and lustrous, like in some of those mascara commercials where they have really pretty Asian girls,” Lowery explained. “I was so lucky it stood out so I noticed it. I absent-mindedly eat my own boogers just like anybody else, but eating somebody else’s eyelash and gunk woulda really grossed me out.”
In fact, “I like to vomited” when she realized the little “shrimp” was originally a large-ish gift to some unidentified Chinaman from The Sandman, according to an affidavit filed as part of a $66.3 million lawsuit for emotional distress against Vietnamese packager Suk Lam Dik, Chinese distributor Long Yum Wong, Singaporean shipper West Oceania Consolidated Maritime Freight, Inc., the U.S. Customs Service, the Food and Drug Administration, Ranch 88 Mercado supermarket and the Food Network’s "Iron Chef" television program, from which she originally learned of the tasty condiment.
Besides the eyelash, another tip-off to the ersatz nature of the insect-like tidbit she almost consumed was its absence of the little black eyes normally present on the authentic version, the lawsuit said. Other than that, the eye crusty closely resembled one of the crunchy little crustaceans in its color, contorted curvature, apparent consistency--and even its seeming segmentation and the presence of leglike offshoots, Lowery claimed.
In other recent product safety scares involving Chinese imports, thousands of American dogs, cats and gerbils have died from tainted pet food; farmed fish has been found to contain banned antibiotics; unapproved antifreeze ingredients have been detected in “people” toothpaste; and lead has been found in the paint on “Thomas the Tank Engine” train toys often recommended as reusable “teething biscuits” by the U.S. WIC mother and infant nutrition program.
The FDA, which sets maximums for the number of roach parts, rat feces, and other inevitable contaminants that literally creep into the United States’ bountiful and otherwise wholesome grain supplies, said it would have to develop regulations imposing similar limits for “eye sandies” in imported dried salted shellfish.
Consumer groups urged the agency to be proactive and take the crisis as an opportunity to also regulate nail clippings, toe jam, regular (nasal) boogers, pubic hair, dental fillings, dandruff and the like, and to develop the needed chemical tests or inspection regimes for detecting these and myriad other forms of "foreigner" human detritus. However, in a joint release, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Democratic Leadership Council noted that, as of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings following his 1991 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, pubic hair contamination has a domestic and not just an international component.
Risks from such contamination of the Oriental seasonings, imports of which measure in the hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars annually, “absolutely” militate in favor of extensive new inspection programs, according to a government spokesman, who said the project would likely be outsourced to contractor subsidiaries of Halliburton and Bechtel corporations and Goodwill Industries, under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers. In the meantime, consumers have been advised to carefully examine packages of the seafood they may already have in their pantries, especially those from lot number Chs87DLkjf [irreproducible Vietnamese ideograms] AiuX1222222ZLk.
--David Tell

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

MM Daily Dispatch

President Bush’s colonoscopy finds blockage due to those little fruit label stickers

Delicate removal procedure adds tense minutes to Cheney's term as acting president

Long the bane of consumers who trim their fingernails too short and of fastidious housewives annoyed at finding them pasted all over the kitchen, the little stickers adopted years ago by supermarkets to individually identify each vegetable or piece of fruit have now claimed a more significant victim: President Bush.
Little reported following the president’s recent colonoscopy—which put Vice President Cheney openly in charge of the world for a few hours and turned up a few more innocuous polyps—was a near-complete blockage of President George W. Bush’s ascending colon due to an accumulation of the obnoxious (though not actually toxic) little stickers.
"I've been wonderin' why my 'output' didn't seem, as, uh, to match my intake," remarked the president before his regular radio address the following week, apparently not aware he was on the air. He added he hadn't felt especially bloated. But, even using Metamucil, "my spool did seem kinda rabbity," he said.
After he fainted briefly choking on a pretzel during his first term in office, the president’s handlers have closely monitored his noshing, in an attempt to assure his safety. “We watch him like a hawk when it comes to stems, pits and seeds,” as well as other, already implicated choking hazards in the form of salty snacks, said a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, on condition of anonymity. “We’ve observed the president successfully removing the fruit labels, so we felt we had no reason to be concerned in that area.”
However, “He seemed to be a bit bewildered what to do with the label from a banana” following a state luncheon at Camp David, confided Queen Elizabeth II to Entertainment Tonight about her recent visit stateside. “He finally just put it in his mouth, which did seem a little odd.”
Such "pica" behavior—the eating of inedible materials such as lead paint chips, bits of dirt and memos concerning fired U.S. attorneys and warrantless wiretap programs—usually tends to be limited to the very young.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, originally an emergency room physician, said the president’s approach to the labels—removing them first, eating them afterward—is probably habitual, even with fruits whose peel is normally eaten. “If he was just eating the labels along with the skin, not bothering to remove them first, the natural laxative effect of the fruit would probably have carried the stickers out of the system,” Carmona speculated.
The White House chef corps insisted they aren’t partly responsible for the blockage. “Af course we remove ze labels from ze frooeet and ze vegetables before we cook zem”—even from potatoes during the Freedom Fries episode—transliterated Deputy Chef Jacques Argenteuil. “Do you sink we are barbarians?”
Doctors say the blockage, though significant, was never life-threatening, though they were concerned it posed a risk of cutting off the flow of nutrients to the president’s brain, especially when clearing brush. More interestingly, they said, it may have affected his judgment during the estimated decade during which the stickers formed an almost inch-thick layer. Ironically, they may have interfered with the absorption of vitamin W, a newly discovered compound present in trace amounts in the left parietal lobe of the normal adult male Bush brain. The vitamin’s precise function is not known, but initial studies have shown that members of the political dynasty whose ascending colon has been removed have less of it in the brain and display a propensity to praise the incompetent and invade the wrong country.
—David Tell

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Midtown Messenger's District 7 City Council endorsement

Marston: the real deal, indeed!

Whatever your affiliation in this technically non-partisan race, she
is the best pick for Dist. 7, hands down

© 2007, Quicksilver Publishing Group/The Midtown Messenger. All rights reserved.

For anyone who thought this endorsement was a foregone conclusion, based on our long acquaintance with the endorsee and our alignment of interests given this paper’s mission and scope—we wrestled with it. We had misgivings (see next few paragraphs). And in the end, foregone or not (believe what you will), we think we can defend it, decisively.
Before we get really rolling on the whys and wherefores of the endorsement, we have a confession to make. While City Council elections are officially non-partisan, the reality is, party still matters. As readers may have intuited from our public Valentine to District 4 Councilman Simplot last winter, our only issue with him in his races for his Council seat in 2003 and 2005 was that he wasn’t the Democrat. Perhaps partly for that sin, he came within a few dozen votes of losing to the interim appointed incumbent, Jessica Florez, who replaced Phil Gordon upon his run for mayor.
Here at Midtown central, we’re died-in-the-wool Democrats, a fact of which my parents are proud (they raised three for three, they point out). While on one hand I’m all for personal responsibility, dislike the public K-12 education establishment (teachers unions and colleges) and support many traditional “family values” (and am a biker, a gun rights supporter, erstwhile hunter, etc., blah blah blah)—I also vehemently oppose school vouchers, the current administration, and the Republican tilt in general toward corporate welfare and creeping infringement on civil rights and liberties and the economic well-being of the middle, working and underclasses.
That said, that’s why, faced with two reasonably competent and honest candidates, I will always vote for the Democrat. I am a registered Democrat. I vote a straight ticket in statewide and national elections. There are two other simple reasons for this:
One may personally know, like and feel aligned, sometimes, with the candidate of the other party. To my Dad’s irritation, my mother once softheadedly voted for a Republican candidate for city council (back East) because he had been my piano teacher. However, how would you like to have given someone you wouldn’t ordinarily vote for because of their party affiliation their first elective office, only to find them later rising to high public office as an outed demagogue and fascist? I wouldn’t. That would be adding injury to the “insult” of having crossed party lines in the first place. (That’s the “Oops! I voted for young Hitler or David Duke!” argument.)
Second, as my father always pointed out, in legislatures, the outcome on many critical issues comes down to party-line votes, where with arm-twisting enforcement of discipline by party leaders, the result is often a matter of simple arithmetic. Would you want a key legislative issue to go the wrong way because you helped put a member of the opposite party in the Legislature—just because you liked him or her? As I’ve seen it expressed elsewhere recently, party identification is shorthand for the likelihood that Candidate A probably shares more of your values than the one from the other party. (What’s that you say? Independents? They’re the agnostics of the American political scene, and, as my senior Honors thesis was in philosophy of religion, you don’t want to get me started on agnosticism …)
So, on to the District 7 candidates, who are vying to replace longtime incumbent Doug Lingner. First, let’s note that most of the city’s historic districts and many other vulnerable neighborhoods lie in District 7. And like the city as a whole, there is great change—development and its associated tensions, pressures and controversies—going on in the district. That said, we’re focusing on the Midtown end of the district and what we feel is best for it. (What’s best for it is probably best overall.)
For starters, we’re not endorsing Art Harding. He seems like a good guy, granted—earnest, knowledgeable, experienced in governmental matters and processes. But in his answers to our candidate questionnaires, published last month, he notably seemed less than fully sensitive to the issues raised by last year’s passage of Proposition 207, which authorizes lawsuits over alleged loss of value to properties based on government actions such as historic preservation zoning. While Art has his finger on the pulse of the wider electorate on this issue, he seems to lack a nuanced view of and sensitivity to the excessive impediments such lawsuits throw up against some appropriate, protective rezonings. That position, as well as some other general leanings appertaining to Art’s political persona, was enough for us to rule him out.
Then there’s Michael Nowakowski. Frankly, the guy scares us. (Either it’s him or his shrewd and aggressive communications director, Stephen Molldrem, but in any case, we have to identify a candidate with his campaign’s style and tactics, even if he is not the author of all of them.) Nowakowski’s campaign has seemed to us nakedly and abusively opportunistic from the get-go. OK, it’s nice he realizes the value of campaigning in this end of the district, where educated and informed voters turn out in higher numbers than elsewhere, it’s believed. It’s great that Michael and his aides recognize the existence of the historic neighborhoods, and their activities and issues (and this newspaper). However, we felt beaten over the head right out of the starting gate last winter with notice of Michael’s appearances at the Willo Home Tour, the Encanto Clubhouse, his requests for meetings and coverage, you name it.
You may see nothing wrong with that, and there isn’t, until you also see how the campaign has glommed onto active controversies in the ’hoods to weigh in on, such as the Willo streetscape issue, where he’s apparently going to bang heads together in the city to get it resolved. Sure. And, Mike, can you come fix my leaky dormer? Maybe you’ve also got some front porch benches to hand out. Oh, and my neighbor parks in front of my house. Anything you can do there, if elected?
That’s not to say the Willo issue isn’t a valid one requiring some leadership in the city and in the district’s Council office. It’s the way the Nowakowski campaign has cynically identified some hot-button neighborhood issues to inject himself into that offends us.
For instance, there’s also his participation on one of the 2006 bond committees last year, leading to claims in his campaign literature that he got the big bucks allotted for preservation items. Yeah! Like his campaign signs around Midtown, that he’s “preserving historic homes,” and "enforcing the law" or whatever the wording is. Yep. Mike Nowakowski is out there on the right side of whatever your concern is in Midtown, you betcha!
Seems to me the guy just wants the office real bad.
More seriously, folks, then there’s Laura Pastor. She and Nowakowski have been slugging it out for months, each trying to lock up coveted endorsements: the Firefighters Association, Police organizations, the Chavez family, etc., etc. Still, if these were the sum of the candidates, she’d probably have our vote. She’s the daughter of the effective and respected Rep. Ed Pastor. She’s paid some dues in community, civic, political involvement and educational and professional experiences. But we’re also a little put off at the way the presumed Democratic establishment in central Phoenix has virtually stampeded in her support. It’s a juggernaut! (Except for a few pickings for Nowakowski.) I guess her dad’s position carries corresponding influence, not to mention that in the many officially, putatively nonpartisan power circles in downtown Phoenix, being Democratic is increasingly chic. (Except for Mayor Phil, who in his latest endorsement—we’ll kindly call it a gaffe, though there are other names for it—has said [according to reports] he’s behind Sen. John McCain for president, no matter whom the Democrats field next year. As when Phil endorsed both Earl Wilcox and Democratic primary rival Bill Brotherton for a state Senate seat four years ago … well, what can we say that less restrained rags such as the New Times haven’t already said more pithily?)
But Laura isn’t the last word in this race. We’ve discussed Midtown’s “favorite son” candidates with a number of local neighborhood and community leaders, and some of them like her. They have found her to be a good listener, to be someone who wants to find out from the community (especially from them) what it needs, and act accordingly.
From our point of view, that’s partly because she doesn’t know or understand the community and its issues as well as many others do (including the remaining candidate, Ruth Ann Marston).
Frankly, as nice and thoughtful as I believe she is, our distinct impression is that Laura is not the brightest light in the firmament. Do we want someone who needs to be led, or do we want someone who is a true leader? Do we want someone who needs to have the issues explained to them (and then, who knows from whom she takes her final cues in her votes and advocacy?), or do we want someone who knows the territory and its issues inside and out, and, while opinionated (sometimes immodestly so), at least knows not only the community, but her own mind, and is guided by long experience and sound principles? —Someone who can and will hold their own with community leaders, moneyed interests, Council colleagues and city staff alike (not to mention players in other levels and branches of government). That said, Ruth Ann is always courteous, measured and respectful in her demeanor and interactions.
In my view, we’ve had just about enough of political dynasties in this country. I like the Kennedys, but look at the latest generation—in particular, Patrick. I don’t like the Bushes, and look at Jeb—a competent but highly partisan governor—and worse, his brother, our (I choke on this) president. Let’s not give another Pastor our vote just based on name recognition, family pull and party affiliation, notwithstanding my partisan preamble above. As far as that goes, for Ruth Ann, the District 7 Council seat may be the capstone of her long career in public involvement, to which she can be expected to fully devote her substantial experience and energies. For Laura, it’s probably just positioning herself for higher office—i.e., succeeding her dad in Congress?
Forgetting Laura for the moment, let’s just home in on Ruth Ann’s positive attributes and accomplishments that qualify her for the Council seat: Longtime educator in Midtown, in leadership roles. Longtime member (including as chair) of the Encanto Village Planning Committee, the citizens-level body that gets the first shot to hear zoning and other land use issues, and helps work out the most effective compromises between property owners and other residents. Director of the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition, a forum for airing and addressing issues facing those neighborhoods. Key participant in the Downtown Voices Coalition, which seeks to support a place in downtown’s cultural and economic life for the vitalizing and civilizing role of artists and small independent businesses, by addressing potential incursions by more powerful interests and attempting to hold the city to its own policies and ordinances, as well as promoting progressive and innovative solutions.
The number of difficult and sensitive public policy issues Ruth Ann has already personally helped mediate and resolve is … innumerable.
Ruth Ann is a longtime Phoenix resident, who raised a family and still lives in a modest house in Willo, where she remains approachable to residents with concerns. She has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience of the city, the state and the district. She, of course, could tell you more about her experience and other qualifications. If you’ve got any doubts or questions, why don’t you let her? We think you’ll become a believer.
With that, we throw out this challenge to Ruth Ann: Whether you win or lose, we urge you, some respectable period of time after the election, to switch parties. You say you’re a “Goldwater Republican,” while acknowledging the party has changed both locally and nationally since that label made much sense—or had much of a place under the tent. In fact we were surprised to learn you’re a Republican. (Likely, in our view, it stems less from a youthful infatuation with Barry than as a holdover from the days when, to be taken seriously politically in this state, to be a real player, you pretty much did have to be a Republican. But the times they are a changin’.) And you can switch. You should. You belong as one of us. Be like Reagan: You can say “You didn’t leave the Republican Party … it left you.” Just do it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hometown publisher, international profile

The Midtown Messenger gets a letter printed leading page A13, Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2007

July 10 commentary piece pooh-poohing the furor over the threat Rupert Murdoch's takeover of Dow Jones represents to the Journal's excellence and editorial independence leads this editor to weigh in on the issue

Our letter, those by others, appear above the essay that instigated them. Ours in particular demonstrates that, as an editor ourself, we know how to get a letter published: Flatter the editor of the page, and obliquely disparage his or her right-wing, corporate-toady ass-kissing colleagues across the fold on the editorial page, and the overlords at the top of the masthead. (Note: We didn't write the "Independence Dies ..." headline; they did!)

Independence Dies When a Newspaper Owner Has One Goal—Profit
July 19, 2007; Page A13

Jim Prevor's editorial-page commentary "The Roots of Editorial 'Independence'," July 10, begins with a good premise but draws a conclusion that does not follow. Editorial independence may, in large degree, stem from an editor's willingness to be fired. However, that a publication's owner is for some reason the best guarantor of that independence is a non sequitur. That an owner would hold a publication's credibility uppermost would be the ideal case, from the point of view of editors and most readers.

However, clearly, an owner or publisher considers many things beyond editorial integrity and excellence in his or her decision-making: Currying favor with or not alienating readers, advertisers or policymakers are typically factors that carry weight with owners more than with editors. Whether a board of some kind to insulate editors from the whims, biases or self-interest of an owner is the best solution for Dow Jones, I do not profess to know. But in the specific case of Rupert Murdoch's prospective ownership of the company and of The Wall Street Journal, it seems it is precisely being fired (or interfered with) by him that Journal editors, the Bancroft family, and many members of the public who appreciate the Journal's excellent news coverage if not always its editorial page stances, rightly fear.

David Tell
Editor and Publisher
The Midtown Messenger: News for Phoenix's Historic Districts

Jim Prevor's commentary is a naïve view of the media business and Rupert Murdoch that one can only hope the Bancrofts do not share. He is correct in his assertion that a board designated to protect editorial independence will not work, but his reasoning is seriously flawed.

Reading the New York Post's Page 6 or the The Sun's Page 3 demonstrates the importance of "editorial integrity" to Rupert Murdoch. News Corp. has one goal: profit. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, but let us not kid ourselves into believing that editorial integrity is what sells newspapers.

The Bancrofts must decide to either sell the business and recognize that they will have no say in what goes on at Dow Jones, or keep control of Dow Jones and maintain its editorial reputation. Neither decision is necessarily better than the other, but it is disingenuous to act as if there is any middle ground.

Michael Trachtenberg
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Mr. Prevor's throw-away reference to the tenure of Henry Ford II at the Ford Foundation does a disservice both to Henry II and to the enormous impact he had on the institution his father founded.

Henry II served on the foundation's Board of Trustees for 33 years, both as chairman and president. One of his many great acts of leadership was commissioning a blue-ribbon panel to determine how best the organization could use it vast resources to fulfill its charter. He did this in 1950, already seven years at the helm. The goals he and his fellow trustees unanimously embraced -- reducing poverty, promoting democratic values, striving for peace and building knowledge and understanding -- cleave closely to his father's original vision and remain at the heart of the foundation's mission.

While Henry Ford II did offer incisive, constructive criticism of the foundation at the time he retired in 1977, he also heaped it with praise. "The Foundation already has a magnificent record of achievement," he said. "I'm confident that it is capable of still more significant contributions to the world in the years to come. . . . The future of the foundation is in capable hands."

Marta L. Tellado
Vice President of Communications
Ford Foundation
New York


The Roots of Editorial 'Independence'

July 10, 2007; Page A21

The controversy over the possible sale of Dow Jones and particularly The Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. may be predictable, and the efforts of the Bancroft family to maintain the editorial integrity of the publication may be laudable. Yet the complicated negotiations to create a board that would secure editorial independence are a mistake. They misinterpret the nature of editorial independence and miss the point that the owner of a publication is the person most likely to defend its editorial integrity.

Editorial independence is always a function of one thing and one thing only: an editor's willingness to be fired. In his autobiographical book "Making It," Norman Podhoretz, the long-time editor of Commentary magazine, reflected on how he could both have independence as an editor, yet work for a magazine owned by the American Jewish Committee, which had decided interests and opinions:

"The editorial independence which the American Jewish Committee had always granted to Commentary consisted simply in this: no person except the editor or anyone he might voluntarily wish to consult could read articles in advance of publication or could dictate what should or should not appear in the magazine . . . The editor of Commentary, like any chief executive of any operation owned by others, only had as much freedom -- which is to say power -- as he was willing to risk exercising. If he did something he thought right and of which the AJC then disapproved, it was not enough merely to defend himself and hold firmly to his ground; he also had to make certain that he would not be deterred in the future by the fear of similar trouble from taking an action which he believed to be in the best interests of the magazine. There was only one way I or anyone else could be faithful to this principle: I had to be ready at any moment to lose my job. The AJC could fire me at its pleasure; that was its protection against me. My protection against it was my willingness to get fired; the minute I lost that willingness, I would lose my freedom and consequently my power to do the best editorial job I was capable of doing."

All of the mechanisms being discussed as possible ways to maintain editorial independence for The Wall Street Journal in a possible post-Bancroft era are designed to evade this fundamental fact: If the editor in chief of a publication is not willing to lose his job, he will always operate in a manner designed to please those who can assure his employment. The only thing that elaborate mechanisms such as independent committees to hire and fire chief editors, etc., will achieve is changing the names of the people to whom the editor will be subservient.

Now, some would say that Rupert Murdoch is some kind of uniquely sinister force in journalism and they would, in fact, be pleased to see a system set up to make sure that anyone other than him makes the important editorial decisions. Yet the incentive system is such that the owner of a publication, in this case presumptively Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., is the one with the greatest incentive to maintain the publication's reputation.

Readers turn to publications for information and insight on various subjects. If a publication is taken over and is losing money, as in the case of News Corp.'s purchase of the New York Post, the owner may look to change editorial approaches because the old one was not a component of a successful business model. But what is the alternative? Allow an independent board to dictate an editorial approach that does not attract readership and leads to bankruptcy?

A large, reputable and profitable company such as Dow Jones offers a very different set of risks and rewards to an owner. Any attempts to utilize the publication for personal benefit by, for example, talking up friends and attacking enemies, would be greeted with resignations by top editors who refuse to prostitute the editorial content in that way.

These resignations would be widely reported, and the word would quickly get out that readers are being fed propaganda, not news and analysis. This loss of reputation leads to a loss of readership and imposes on the owners an enormous loss of value. So ownership, though perhaps tempted to use editorial coverage to its advantage, has powerful incentives not to do so.

On the other hand, independent, self-perpetuating committees have nothing to lose and so they are not restrained in their actions. Typically, this means the publication will become a bore because the members of the independent board will look to appoint people who are admired by their friends and represent the mainstream viewpoint of their social class.

We should expect that a self-perpetuating board would eventually stray very far from what its founders intended. A good example is the board of directors at major foundations. Henry Ford II felt compelled to resign in disgust from the Ford Foundation explaining that: "In effect, the Foundation is a creature of capitalism, a statement that, I'm sure, would be shocking to many professional staff people in the field of philanthropy. It is hard to discern recognition of this fact in anything the Foundation does. It is even more difficult to find an understanding of this in many of the institutions, particularly the universities, that are the beneficiaries of the Foundation's grant programs."

Publications do not edit themselves, so editors must be hired, and they are always answerable to somebody. Even if the editor happens to own the publication, he is only free to act as he chooses to the extent he is indifferent to the effects of those actions on subscriptions, readership and advertising.

Setting up self-perpetuating boards only serves to switch the names of those the editor is answerable to. A board with a lack of interest in the business success of a publication is unlikely to lead to successful and thus greatly important and influential publications.

This whole exercise of trying to ensure editorial independence is somewhat insulting to the editors of Dow Jones publications, now and in the future, as it implies that they are so desperate for employment that they need to be protected against a demanding or opinionated boss.

Great publications always come from editors on fire with ideas and with a vision for their publication. Their independence comes always and simply from their willingness to be fired. No committee can change that truth.

Mr. Prevor is founder and editor in chief of Phoenix Media Network, Inc.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Literary Offenses of ... some obscure scribbler

They say everybody’s a critic. So? Everyone else thinks they’re an author
The case contra on-demand publishing

On the second anniversary of the appearance of this essay in the print publication, we post it here the better for other anal-retentives to bask in its glow and bathe in its delights. Or something like that.

Ahem. Allow me to present Prof. Frumly Lymphschtickenraad, to deliver the latest in his series of lectures on the decline in American letters since Feb. 29, 1997. The professor (whose seminal study of cheese as metaphor in Moldovan literature during the brief post-prandial renaissance of 984 to 1011 we are all familiar with), has in this essay—which he will present with the aid of Ashlee Simpson using a laser pointer to keep him focused on his TelePrompTer—updated Herr Mark Twain’s rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction, which that luminary applied so incisively to the work of Mr. J.F. Cooper. Ms. Simpson—please—no—The laser pointer is only to be used with the briefest of applications to the professor’s sensitive nasal lesions and diaphanous wattle, just to keep him alert—no—no!—please, not in his eyes. OK, then.

Wusses! Have we yet failed to to exorcise, expectorate and scuff into the dust, like a worm, the last castings of the putrid, pusillanimous pastiche of sensibilities and execrable esthetic errors that characterized the ’60s and ’70s? While there is the ages-old maxim, “Dance with the one what brung ya,” must we be Brautigan and again back to this sad and laughable era? What Merry Pranksters have visited this viscid and flaccid “literary” corpse upon us? O exquisite corpse, would that you did not, like wide-gauze-bandaged mummy or pale and ghoulish zombie, visit and revisit yourself upon us, spreading pestilent prose, dusty declamation, and chalky snowblindness upon those who would gaze upon your papery raiment?
Well. Let us now, for the purposes of our elucidation, distill the illustrious Prof. Twain’s 19 or so rules governing the art of fiction to a mere two or three:
  1. Do not, unless with artful skill and satiric intent, sully sublime notions, vulgarize eternal mysteries, excrete on the ethereal essences.
  2. Do not depict chemically-altered psychic excursions, or physic ecstasies, unless with clarity of vision and dextrousness of narration that would suffice to suggest why the depraved seek (yet, paradoxically, fear) these debased states.
  3. If, indeed, you are authentically acquainted first-hand with these states, would you, nonetheless, mind terribly refraining from writing whilst in them?
  4. Employ your language of choice in such manner as to avoid boring or repulsing the reader.
(OK, four.)
Here, we assess the literary efforts of one Henry Wingfield; and, to adumbrate our conclusion, we find that H.W., a fervid if not continuously employed massage therapist, ought reserve the laying on of his hands, not to the alphabetic keyboard, but to the human or (if also a pet masseur) animalian corpus. H.W., having graduated in his literary output from a book relatively blank and at least inoffensive in its austerity (Imagine Art) to one busy, verily squirming, with words, ought to be sent back a grade.
The subsequent tome is notable. It is remarkable. It is even admirable (if one admires crime consistently, predictably and reliably committed) in the breaking of at least two of the four foregoing rules in nigh every paragraph of H.W.’s novel Ancient Lovers—and of all four on virtually every page! Multiple times, in many instances.
Synoptically, we describe the book as mucking about in the notion of “past lives”—as far as we can tell. Apparently, in the main, modern phase of the novel, certain antiquated paramours’ spirits dwell or manifest in the embarrassingly juicy and concupiscent flesh of modern humans, who, without prior contemporary acquaintance, then justify their hedonistic couplings—not to mention their nostalgic gazings one into another’s eyes—by their ineradicable and soulfully “deep” connection across time and space. (A process and a connection, we venture, not unlike when VP search committee chief Cheney became George Walker Bush’s vice-presidential running mate Dick.)
How do these fallible figures know they have this connection? Via one of the most clumsily banal faults of the book (and, simultaneously, one of the most egregious violations of Rule Number One - or Two - or Four): They see it (among other things) in each other’s eyes, as if watching a movie in said orbs:

Pedro and Abby sat next to each other. They held hands. Pedro turned and fell into Abby’s eyes. This time she concocted the results. It was mesmerizing. Pedro again sat hypnotized, entranced. Almost a minute passed, but what Pedro saw he knew lapsed back 2100 years. He blinked and withdrew his stare from Abby, expounding, “It is absolutely, spellbindingly unbelievable to me. I have no other way to express it. I do not understand it. What I just saw was us—you and me—but we were different people in a different time, in a different place, and we were lovers. I knew that. In fact, we were together as a couple. I want to say “married,” but I know we were not because they did not have that back then, and somehow I just know that. I do not believe this is a form of reincarnation, although I do believe in reincarnation. This is something else. I am watching a movie of ancient times in your eyes, and we are the actors. I see myself in the form of some other body with what appears to be a burlap sack on my body as clothing. I might be 15 years of age, but I feel older. You are plain and yet stunning because I love you so much. Your complexion is olive and your eyes are different than what I see now, but they are just as beautiful. You are so gentle and full of love—new love fresh with every breath. You are very happy. You might be 13 or older. Can I go back there again?” Abby, quickly with sincerity, “Not now. We should go back to the clinic. Will you take me? I need to rest. We’ll explore again soon.”
Pedro, “Of course. How insensitive of me. You must make those arrangements.” pp. 28-29

Contrary to supposition, Abby and Pedro are not engaged in a brief constitutional during a furlough off the grounds of an inpatient mental health sanitarium. But nor, whatever other purposes it serves, is this necessarily a fitting paragraph to hold up against the harsh requirements of the rules of fiction-writing. For, whatever errors and gaffes, lamenesses and atonalities might appear in it, who is to say Mr. Wingfield did not knowingly intend his speakers to sound thus, in a subtle exposition of their particular foibles?
No, it is in the narrative and descriptive stretches of Mr. Wingfield’s writing that we can most instructively apply the rules. Such a segment may be found on virtually any page of the book; we marveled at these paragraphs found as early as page 13, at the beginning of the second chapter:

Abby and Stephan, her husband, had been vacationing in Central America since January 1st, 1997. Their jeep overturned January 22nd in Guatemala, and Stephan was killed They were madly in love with one another and shared a bountiful life together, but had no children. Abby did not know the long-range ramifications of what was about to transpire with this dreadful, fatal single-car accident.
Abby suffered a broken leg, cuts and bruises and a concussion. She was transported to Callebocca, Guatemala, on the east coast near the Caribbean Sea to a small public medical clinic. She was unconscious for five days while under Pedro’s care and supervision. He took an unusually special interest in Abby. Something touched him with her beauty. He could somehow see a past life from deep inside her eyes. Pedro checked them every day for consciousness or awareness, but instead saw into her past like a movie flashing before his eyes. He recognized a main character as himself in someone else’s body It was, in fact, a movie he was watching inside Abby’s eyes. He was fascinated by this, not freaked out or scared. He fell deeper into the plot, but really did not know where it was going.

Here let us digress a scoche, and refer to Herr Twain’s Rule 9 as applied to Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer, one of those of which the four above are a distillation: “The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.” Foremost among the remarkable things in the above paragraph is that Pedro was “not freaked out or scared.” So often this is the dilemma in popular entertainment: that in the face of unworldly experience that no one would at first believe—all the evidence of their senses notwithstanding—how credulous to make the protagonist? We do not yet know or care enough about Pedro to feel relief that he is not “freaked out or scared”—but in truth, do we believe it? Here is a man who is dutifully tending a patient in a prolonged swoon, and checking her eyes for awareness or consciousness, and it’s like he’s a kid at Harkins in 1966, kicked back, watching “One Million Years B.C.”
On points more mundane—but, in their pervasiveness, equally grave—Rule 4 of our abridged set finds ample play. To begin, writing with good English requires avoiding clichés, as well as empty, gushy descriptives lacking in concreteness and specificity. (To its credit, the Moldovan tongue and literary canon also support these virtues.) Note the number of words and phrases violating this prescriptive in this brief passage: “madly in love,” “bountiful life,” “about to transpire,” “care and supervision,” “like a movie flashing before his eyes,” “freaked out,” “fell deeper.”
Too, Mr. Wingfield seems much in haste to get wherever it is he is going—maybe to the “movies” of the sex scenes, ja?—rather than attend to basic matters of the storyteller’s art: painting the setting, imagery—concrete specifics—that would place us in the characters’ world, and in turn, keep them from resembling Punch and Judy animated by a drunken puppeteer. We learn merely that the star-crossed couple were “vacationing” “in Central America,” that their jeep overturned “in a dreadful, fatal single-car accident.” It might further the verisimilitude of the tale to know something about how they were spending their vacation, and, especially, what they were doing that resulted in the tragic upending of their Jeep. Were they miles beyond ordinary, enjoying a few Coronas? Did the flash of a bright-plumed macaw or menacing jagular catch Stephan’s eye and cause him, mortally, to swerve? Was Abby engaged unseemly with the gear shifter? Sadly, we do not know.
On additional inspection, the generally clumsy, cluttered stacking up of words without care for sound, sense or meaning grates on the reader throughout the passage. For example, that Abby “did not know the long-range ramifications of what was to transpire” should surprise us so little as to require no mention, as we had not been previousy advised that she possessed any extraordinary faculty of prescience.
To say she “suffered” “a broken leg, cuts and bruises and a concussion” comes off as a mere statistic, as Herr Twain would say. It reads as if quoted from the clinic’s chart, not the imagination’s tabula rasa. Truly she may have “suffered,” and from the broken leg most of all, yet it is only in the academic sense that the word is used, i.e., as in “sustained a copious bleeding from the ears.” Cuts and bruises, and a broken leg—Oh my!
Abby was “transported” to Calleboca, about whose geographical situating we learn much; while about the particulars of her life-threatening trip thence, nothing. “She was unconscious five days while under Pedro’s care and supervision.” Do we here detect the suggestion of a causal connection, so that when Pedro relinquished her care and supervision to another practitioner, her condition improved? (If so, Pedro, at least, took not only a special interest in Abby (in her vulnerable state), but an “unusually special interest.” Hmmm. Nurse, please remain in the room at all times.)
Here’s our favorite: “Something touched him with her beauty.” Now, we all know what Wingfield here means. But that is not his fault. It’s due only to our toleration for syntactical impreciseness, as veteran language users, that we understand him. We take him to mean, “In some indefinable way, her beauty touched him.” And so he should have put it. Or, it could be as simple a fix as by the choice and placement of preposition; viz.: “Something in her beauty touched him.” Or: “He was touched by her beauty.” As it reads on the page, however (“Some thing [nom., subject] touched [v.t.] him [d.o.] with [i.e., “using,” “with the instrumentality of”] her beauty.”), it is as if something—perhaps a wandering howler monkey—somehow actually held Abby’s beauty in its simian grasp, and poked (or merely stroked) Pedro with it, as if with a leafy tree-limb. Clearly, as an abstract, even Ideal-partaking Platonic form informing and infusing the substance of Abby’s human visage, her “beauty” is not something to be bandied about like a stick in such manner. So one should not write as if it was.
Too, not only should the writer stick to the possible, or at least dabble in rendering the improbable plausible—he should avoid the use of such fake and facile realism-intensifiers as “in fact,” “literally” and suchlike clichés, reminding ourselves anyway that they are mental placeholders serving largely to give thinking a holiday. “He recognized a main character as himself in someone else’s body. It was, in fact, a movie he was watching inside Abby’s eyes.” (Emphasis reluctantly added.)
First, a hint please, as to how Pedro “recognized a main character as himself in someone else’s body”? —We are not being coy. Please make something up—anything: a tic, a certain leer of lip, a piebaldness, or one eye being a different colour than the other—to justify and explain how he recognized himself in someone else’s body; not a regular occurrence, after all.
Then, no matter how sincerely Mr. Wingfield wants us to believe Pedro’s experience is like watching a movie play in Abby’s eyes, let us not abandon and deny the essential artifice of simile and insist there is literal cinema-going going on here. For I doubt Mr. Wingfield envisions a little film projector—nor even a tiny iPod Photo—perched on Abby’s nose, or hidden inside a sinus or tear duct or Eustachian tube, “in fact” projecting a movie in her eyes there for Pedro to see. No, no matter how much he would like to indulge—sloppily, incoherently, and impossibly—to the contrary, there are no such miniature movie projectors in the jungle (or on the coast) of Guatemala. Nor is there sufficient bio-mechanical expertise in that largely agrarian economy to implant such technology and operate it—much less maintain it. Nor did they have the filmmaking equipment “way back then” to make the movies now “in fact” playing in Abby’s eyes ... in the time, as if in ancient Greece, that the original souls lived and loved under the moonilght by the wine-dark sea, la-de-doo-dah (just like they “didn’t have marriage” then, either). (Well, OK: Maybe gay marriage.)
— D. Tell

Editor’s note: The foregoing is loosely—maybe feebly—modeled on two classic, hilarious essays by Mark Twain on the “literary offenses of Fenimore Cooper.” The first of them may be found online at cooper.html. We also advise our readers that Henry Wingfield, as a good sport, agreed to see a review published that took this tack. Still, fortunately for Cooper, perhaps, he had established his literary fame and reputation—and had been dead for over 40 years—before Twain published his calumnies. (And, as it turned out, Wingfield was not so sanguine after seeing the published review.)
Ancient Lovers can be ordered from Xlibris, 1-888-795-4274,,

Monday, April 30, 2007

The things you'd never know if it were up to our local MSM

Bond campaign loses $1.3M suit
‘Building Our Future’ committee ran illegal ads, says Superior Court judge

By David Tell, Messenger editor

From the April 16 issue of
The Midtown Messenger

Last year’s city bond proposal proved fairly controversial for a ballot item the details and general thrust of which tended to have a “my-eyes-glaze-over” quality. Still, when you’re borrowing and spending more than $800 million that city taxpayers will have to pay back, there are folks who want to see all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed on everyone’s behalf.
En route to doing so, one set of watchdogs last fall won a $1.3 million judgment against the political committee, Building Our Future, set up to promote the bond proposal. Superior Court Judge Michael D. Jones agreed with the plaintiffs that the committee had clearly violated state law governing required disclosures in its ads and signs touting the bond, and, per statute, awarded plaintiffs three times the amount spent on the illegal advertising.
With the city’s and state’s main mass-circulation daily paper, The Arizona Republic, closely tied to downtown power interests and thus largely mute if not an outright cheerleader on many such matters, it was the feisty folks at the Cave Creek weekly the Sonoran News who gave the bond proposal a needed critical eye. That coverage was what led to the lawsuit, as the reporter was goaded to action not only by the resistance and red tape she encountered complaining about the problematic ads, but also by the blowback she received as she began to publish her findings.
Linda Bentley, at the paper since 2001 (her entire journalistic career), was the reporter responsible for some well-researched articles on the bond that pulled no punches either in body or headline.
An article in the Feb. 8 - 14, 2006 issue began to look at the apparent advertising violations under A.R.S. (Arizona Revised Statutes) § 16-912.01. The story was headlined “Phoenix blows off campaign advertising violations” with a subhead “Mayor pimps for propositions,” and it outlined apparent violations of disclosures (when even present) as inadequate in text size, and more importantly, failing to identify, as required, the top four financial donors to the bond campaign effort.

Lawsuit Is Less Meaningful Redress
The article also detailed the reporter’s frustration with the labyrinthine route she followed attempting to find out who might be responsible for enforcing compliance on the committee as to its advertising.
That’s a key point, because, as plaintiff’s attorney Carol Lynn de Szendeffy said, “If you don’t enforce [the statute’s requirements] prior to the election, what good is the election?” Good enough to get the bond passed, clearly—but fallen well short as to the public’s right to know who was behind the huge bill they’ll be footing.
Statute seeks to mandate the disclosure of that information so that citizens might get some insight into who potentially stands to benefit from the money to be spent.
“All these companies stand to gain big contracts,” Bentley said in an interview. “Promises have been made, I would think.”
Among the seven propositions that made up the overall bond are a number of spending items for neighborhoods and historic preservation.
Even in the cases where the donors were disclosed, Bentley found, the identifications were often inaccurate. For the most part, the ads “weren’t disclosing who was funding the campaign,” Bentley said. One funder was “Macerich Corp., parent company of [Phoenix-based shopping center developer] Westcor. They had just purchased Westcor. [Macerich] only became a foreign corporation in Arizona the day before the election, weren’t allowed to do business in the state until a day before the election,” she said. The company contributed $50,000.
“If one of your highest funding sources is from out of state, you have to disclose that as well. They didn’t do that even, cited Westcor as a top funder,” Bentley said. “All the advertising that says Westcor is incorrect.” If seemingly a technicality, the identification mixup applies only to ads that contained the disclosure; as stated, many if not most did not, at least at first.

Proponents ‘Buying the Election’
“My interest in becoming a plaintiff [emerged as it became] very blatantly obvious that they were buying this election,” Bentley said.
“I covered it prior to filing the lawsuit; I filed a complaint when I saw they had illegal advertising; [then City Clerk] Vicky Miel said they forwarded it on to the city attorney. But the advertising continued on” in violation, Bentley said. “They just thought they were going to blow me off.”
Energized, Bentley said she “went thought their campaign finance report, which was mumbo jumbo—did they put all their receipts in a shoebox and shake it? I think they did it the way they did to keep people from being able to understand it, see dates and the order of donations and expenditures. I sorted it out, put it in a spreadsheet.”
One of the committee’s defenses about absent disclosures was that they thought yard signs could be categorized with campaign promotional items such as pen, pencils and buttons, which are obviously too small to contain much printed information. Judge Jones laughed that one out of court, writing “The enumerated [exempted] items in the statute are all quite small in actual size. Although a yard sign is small in comparison to a billboard advertisement, it would be a stretch to place it in the same category as the other items listed within the statute under this ‘small item exemption,’ such as buttons, pens and bumper stickers. A yard sign would have more in common with other sign advertisements and billboards, which clearly are not included in this list of exceptions. Thus, reason compels me to conclude that the yard signs are not ‘small items’ and are not exempt from the disclosure requirement.”

Defense ‘Tortures’ Law’s Meaning
The statute also requires that disclosure be in a size as the majority of the text in the advertisement. The committee, in an attempt to comply after being notified of disclosure deficiencies, went around putting stickers containing disclosures on signs, in fine print, at a word length purporting to make the disclosure itself the majority of the text. That didn’t fly with the judge either.
“Defendant argues that, because the disclosure contains more words than the main text of the ad, the disclosure itself constitutes the majority of the printed text. This interpretation leads to the absurd result that BOF’s disclosure could be virtually any size, as the disclosure will always be as large as itself,” Judge Jones wrote. “Such an interpretation tortures the plain meaning of the statute.”
It’s not that the city did nothing in response to Bentley’s complaint, though they may have dragged their feet even when she found the right channels to go through. Larry Felix, an attorney in the Law Department, said he did advise the committee that Bentley was correct in the complaints she was pressing.

City: We Told Them to Cut It Out
“We did get complaints filed with us about the advertising, and we directed the people to make some corrections. The opinion pretty much agrees with what we told the people,” Felix said. He added that he did not advise the committee they could satisfy the text size requirement by adding words in the disclosure. ‘We never said that; we said if you put the stickers on, they had to have the proper size of the text. We never felt that the disclosure language could be considered when determining what size text had to be used.”
In a subsequent article, Bentley questioned proponents’ assertion that the bond would not raise taxes, and argued that it was padded with projects for favored entities elevated above others in what would otherwise be a competitive grantmaking or prioritized budgeting process. She was not the only one making such allegations; in fact she quoted, among others, Ahwatukee activist Greta Rogers, who in this paper’s Viewpoints section argued that the bond was improperly seeking to fund the capital projects of a variety of non-profit groups. Others objected to the inclusion of ASU’s downtown campus—state-level facilities—in the funds. “Friends of ASU” was one of the top four donors to the campaign, at $34,500.
“I’m not surprised that [the violations and lawsuit] happened,” Rogers said. “The [lack of ] oversight that goes on down there [at City Hall] in very many cases—many more than this—nobody’s brought to their attention by using the legal system.” She said the city in its size and complexity has outgrown the skills of City Manager Frank Fairbanks, whom she called a legacy employee whose father worked in City Hall before him, she believes.
Rogers said what surprised her was that she hadn’t seen report of the suit and the award; then she corrected herself, saying Republic reporters “are kept on a short leash.”
As for city management in general and the bond campaign in particular, “Former Mayor Paul Johnson was the chairman of the executive bond committee; he and [Mayor] Phil Gordon are like Mutt and Jeff but two peas in a pod,” Rogers said. “I read in the paper this morning that Gordon’s going to have a new executive assistant. He [previously] got George Weiss, who got it after [Gordon’s former chief of staff and Sky Harbor Administrator David] Krietor was bumped up to the 12th floor; [Weiss] has been a political hack at the state and city, he just bounces from one place to the other. [Former Deputy City Manager and now Gordon’s new Deputy Chief of Staff Ray] Bladine, he was executive assistant to Johnson. I thought, ‘Isn’t this just cuter than kids in nursery school.’”
Johnson chaired the bond campaign, and he said he “was involved” in promoting the bond, “but not in this issue [remedying the deficient disclosures].”
He said the committee’s attorney Andrew Gordon, or a campaign consultant named Gary Casa, would be best able to respond to any questions.

Disclosure, Message Vie for Space?
“The only issue that was given to us during that period, via Andy Gordon [was], if what they were requesting was true, three-quarters or one-half of your sign would have your disclosure and you wouldn’t have room for your message. If that was the case, you couldn’t get your message out,” Johnson said. “It was a free speech issue; he was very exercised about it.”
Johnson said the law is complicated and thus difficult to comply with but that he understands its ultimate point, that for voters, “The one issue is the public disclosure” in properly understanding possible agendas behind raising and spending public monies.
Judge Jones in his ruling found that under a variety of precedents, the “state interest” in providing voters with pertinent disclosures outweighed alleged free speech issues, and that the statute’s disclosure requirements are sufficiently “narrowly tailored” in upholding that interest to be constitutional.
Gordon did not return a call seeking comment.

Us, Comply? No One Else Had to
Jones’ ruling has been appealed to the state Court of Appeals; “Basically they want to challenge the constitutionality” on free speech grounds, de Szendeffy said. In her view, in his ruling, “Judge Jones goes through each point they raised and addresses it. They were grabbing at straws. Judge Jones’ opinion is very succinct and does a good job of explaining what the law is. One of their arguments was actually ‘They shouldn’t have to comply with the law because nobody did before.’”
On that point, Bentley said the suit was the first test of the statute, revised in 2001; de Szendeffy wasn’t sure of that. But again, the suit after the fact and its remedies skirt the real issue, which is that the election could have gone the other way if promoted fairly. De Szendeffy provided an example of a previous instance, where the County Attorney’s Office sued the campaign committee “Yes on 400” to gain their compliance on disclosures during the 2006 campaign for that initiative, among many placed on the statewide ballot last year.
De Szendeffy believes in this case it should have been up to the City Attorney’s Office to better secure compliance on advertising a city ballot proposition, and she wrote not only to Felix (and Paul Johnson) but to Felix’s boss, City Attorney Gary Verburg, seeking that they proactively enforce the statute on the bond committee. Only when they did not did the lawsuit ensue.
Bentley said, as the real remedy, she feels the election result should have been overturned.
As for Bentley’s role as a plaintiff, journalistic ethics looks askance at a reporter becoming part of the story they’re covering. Granted, Arizona is home to a number of editors and publishers who have become prominent activists on their soapbox issues as journalists. A ready example is Chris Simcox, editor and publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed, who has helped spearhead the anti-illegal immigration Minutemen group. The cover tagline of the Sonoran News is “The Conservative Voice of Arizona,” and perusal of a recent issue also showed much of its editorial hole occupied with articles concerning the hot-button illegal immigration issue.
For Bentley, covering a case she’d decided to get involved in was a practical necessity on a paper the size of hers, which has only one other reporter, she said. And her involvement had the publisher’s blessing.
As for her general activist and muckraking credentials, Bentley said she wasn’t really a rabble-rouser prior to becoming a reporter. “I used to write a letter to the editor now and then, engaged in a lawsuit against Army of Corps of Engineers” but was by no means a serial litigator, she said. Prior to joining the Sonoran News, “I ran a general contracting company and did tilesetting,” Bentley said. As a citizen and a journalist, her interest is “pretty much [in] the rule of law. I gave the information [on the advertising violations] to the city, they got to continue advertising illegally; the only way to stop it is to sue them.”
Bentley said she tried to interest others in bringing the suit. “What you find out, most people, you give them the information, they just don’t know what to do. There’s only so much time you have in your life, you can give them the information, but they want you to fix it for them too. I see something corrupt, I want to fix it,” she said. “A police officer comes across something wrong in the course of his duties, he doesn’t want to look the other way.”

‘Pretty Cut and Dried’ Case
When she began considering bringing the legal action herself, she got advice that said anyone could bring suit, but that she needed to find an attorney outside of Phoenix: “Not far outside, but you’re not going to get anyone in the city to touch it,” Bentley said she was told. “I showed it to Carol, she thought it looked pretty cut and dried; said she would take it on contingency.”
She said she also asked her friend Rusty Childress, owner of Childress Buick-Kia and an activist formerly on Proposition 200 and other issues, if he was willing to be a plaintiff. “I didn’t want them to bring up standing” for lack of a city plaintiff in the suit, she said.

After Threats, Got a Gun Permit
As a measure of the interests at stake, after her first article on the bond was published, “I started getting death threats,” Bentley said. “I had an idea who it might be, I still have the recordings. After I got the first death threat, I got a concealed carry permit” for a handgun. She said she received a second threat on her voice mail while at the Ben Avery Center off Highway 74 practicing with her gun, the day after her second story on the bond appeared.
Bentley said she believes she knows the source of the threats; “however, I can’t prove it. A friend sent me a recording; the guy did a radio interview, my friend e-mailed me a recording and I listened to it and the hair on the back of my neck stood up—he phrased his sentences the same way.”
Bentley said she complained to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated. “Voice print matching isn’t as sophisticated as I thought it was, they couldn’t rule him out, couldn’t rule him in either,” Bentley said. “The detective said he tried to get them to say some of the same things [as were said in the threats to her, but was unsuccessful].”
The first threat, she said, was “Hey, Linda, you better grow some eyes behind your fucking head because you’re not going to live to see next month.” The second went “What’s up, you fuckin’ whore? I’m watching you. It’s Thursday around three and we have our eyes on you, you fuckin’ whore. You’re gonna die.”
Not only did her superiors support her lawsuit, “Actually, my boss said he was jealous because he’d never received a death threat. John Dougherty from New Times said ‘Those look great on a resume,’” Bentley wrote in an e-mail. She said the threats stopped after she detailed them in an article.
As for the lack of awareness within the city of the bond campaign violations and the successful lawsuit, Bentley blames the Republic’s dismissiveness. (The Midtown Messenger was alerted to the lawsuit by another critic of the bond.) Republic reporter “Monica Alonzo Dunsmoor kind of mentioned it when we filed it,” Bentley said. But after they won, Dunsmoor refused to do another article or was handcuffed by an editor, she said. “They’re a propaganda mill,” she said of the Republic.
David Tell, holder of a concealed weapon carry permit since 2004, was his class’s winner for excellence in both the classroom and field (marksmanship) phases of his training course. And that was back when refresher training was still required every four years to keep the permit and the burden of proof was still on the person using deadly force in self-defense. (In this statement, he’s not trying to warn or intimidate, much less challenge, any potential threateners—he’s just bragging about how well he still does back in school.)