Monthly Archives: June 2016


A terrible development in a long and distinguished journalism career.

Author Gay Talese disavows his latest book amid credibility questions

Paul Farhi, The Washington Post:

In his forthcoming book, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” acclaimed journalist and nonfiction author Gay Talese chronicles the bizarre story of Gerald Foos, who allegedly spied on guests at his Colorado motel from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.

But Talese overlooked a key fact in his book: Foos sold the motel, located in Aurora, Colo., in 1980 and didn’t reacquire it until eight years later, according to local property records. His absence from the motel raises doubt about some of the things Foos told Talese he saw — enough that the author himself now has deep reservations about the truth of some material he presents.

“I should not have believed a word he said,” the 84-year-old author said after The Washington Post informed him of property records that showed Foos did not own the motel from 1980 to 1988.

Raping while drunk

The Stanford sex offender’s beliefs about sexual assault are surprisingly widespread

For many college kids, forcing another person to have sex against their will sometimes isn’t rape. Particularly when one or both people have been drinking.

Meanwhile, here in the world of sane people, forcing someone to have sex against their will is the actual definition of rape. And one or both people being drunk doesn’t make it better. It makes it worse.

You are still responsible for the things you do when you are drunk.

[Danielle Paquette/The Washington Post]

Tick tock

The world’s oldest computer is still revealing its secrets

The Antikythera computer, 2,100 years old, is still yielding secrets, after being uncovered from an ancient Greek shipwreck more than a century ago.

In its prime, about 2,100 years ago, the Antikythera (an-ti-KEE-thur-a) Mechanism was a complex, whirling, clockwork instrument comprising at least 30 bronze gears bearing thousands of interlocking tiny teeth. Powered by a single hand crank, the machine modeled the passage of time and the movements of celestial bodies with astonishing precision. It had dials that counted the days according to at least three different calendars, and another that could be used to calculate the timing of the Olympics. Pointers representing the stars and planets revolved around its front face, indicating their position in relation to Earth. A tiny, painted model of the moon rotated on a spindly axis, flashing black and white to mimic the real moon’s waxing and waning.

The sum of all these moving parts was far and away the most sophisticated piece of machinery found from ancient Greece. Nothing like it would appear again until the 14th century, when the earliest geared clocks began to be built in Europe. For the first half century after its discovery, researchers believed that the Antikythera Mechanism had to be something simpler than it seemed, like an astrolabe. How could the Greeks have developed the technology needed to create something so precise, so perfect — only to have it vanish for 1,400 years?

21st Century X-Ray and imaging technology is making new discoveries about what’s underneath the mechanism’s calcified surface.

[Sarah Kaplan/The Washington Post]

On the other hand

Be Honest, Can You Really Tell Left from Right?

A large percentage of perfectly healthy and normal adults have difficulty telling left from right. They rely on workarounds like miming writing or wearing a watch.

I’d rate my own sense of my own body and visualization as fair-to-poor, but I have no trouble telling left from right. I do have to use a workaround; I imagine I can feel my heart in the left side of my chest, and know that’s left. The heart is actually in the center of the chest, but I still imagine I can feel it on the left.

[Diane Peters/JSTOR Daily]

Money talks 

The shadowy war on the press: How the rich silence journalists

The Gawker lawsuit, financed in secret by by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, is the latest example of the rich using wealth and influence to get back at journalists who report critically on them.  The Koch brothers hired private investigators to dig up dirt on a journalist who was writing a book about them. Another wealthy person founded a his own news site for the purpose of going after journalists who criticized him.

Targets of media have always sought to retaliate, but the means of fighting back has reached mass scale. An entire industry has been created, some of it underground, some of it wide open, all of it aimed at discrediting a journalist’s critical take. Companies and interest groups, often coached by aggressive PR firms, are investing in bare-knuckled strategies to give their media rebuttals more teeth and a wider audience. They launch negative online ad campaigns against particular journalists and master the art of ensuring their stories reach Google’s top rankings. In some cases, the goal is as explicit as ruining a journalist’s reputation, so that when someone types the writer’s name into a Google search, a page full of humiliating, defamatory content appears.

[Damaris Colhoun/Columbia Journalism Review]


The next prime minister of the UK will have a no-win job: Option A is pull the trigger on Brexit, in which case you’re leading the country on a disastrous policy that even its erstwhile supporters aren’t enthusiastic about anymore, and which could lead to the UK going the way of the USSR.

Option B is defy the will of the electorate and reject Brexit.

I wonder whether Boris Johnson saw the odds and said screw it I’ll be the Prime Minister AFTER the unlucky bastard who presides over that train wreck.

Having started this mess, Cameron had an obligation to see it through, and his resignation was — as we dignified journalist types say — a dick move.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson says he will not run for British prime minister

[Griff Witte – The Washington Post]

Back to Evernote

I’m getting back into using Evernote more. Primarily for interview notes and research materials for articles. I haven’t found anything as good for mixing media types (plain text notes, PDFs, and images), and I like the synch between multiple platforms. The recent price increase doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t look like much money, frankly.

I had nearly abandoned Evernote in 2014 or so because it was bloated and slow on my then-primary computer, a 2010 MacBook Pro. And I really didn’t like the public statements by then-CEO Phil Libin about the way the company was going to go. It looked like Evernote was going to get worse, not better, adding more useless features in an attempt to steal Google’s mission of organizing the world’s information.

I’m encouraged by comments by the new CEO that they’re looking to refocus on note taking, rather than being a company that sells socks and software to take food selfies. Maybe they’ll even kill work chat, which nobody likes.

I’m still writing in Ulysses, though I’m not using it to take notes anymore. One thing I liked when I was taking notes in Ulysses was that the notes and article would be together in a single folder. My solution now that I’m using different apps for research and writing: Tags. I tag each article, starting with the letter n to be sure all the tags are grouped in the list, followed by company name or keyword, short code for day of the week, followed by the date I start work on the article. Example: “n Microsoft Thu 2016-06-30”. I use the same tag for every document, Ulysses sheet, and Evernote note related to that article. Seems like that will work. Ask me again in a year.

I found a note in my journal from three years ago saying I’m getting back into Evernote. So this is not my first turn on that merry go round.

Does watching video on 1.5+x speed make it better?

Apparently, watching video online at 1.5-2x is popular.

I’ve occasionally wondered whether that’s technically possible without requiring sophisticated software, but never gone further with it than wondering. After reading this article, I tried it with a short Mental Floss video and liked it.

I routinely listen to podcasts and audiobooks at 1.5x or so.

The ability to watch at high speed and scrub forward and backward is changing our relationship with TV, movies, and other video. Video becomes personal, like reading, says Jeff Guo at The Washington Post

Reading went through the same transition a thousand years ago, Guo says. Until then, reading was done with one person aloud to a group of a half-dozen others. People who could read to themselves silently were rare and remarkable. Monks who’d taken vows of silence were allowed to mumble while doing calligraphy, because mumbling was considered essential to reading.

I have found a new way to watch TV, and it changes everything



Beatings. Stabbings. An Escape. My four months as a private prison guard.

Journalist Shane Bauer worked undercover as a guard at Winn Correctional Center, a privately run prison in Winnfield, Louisiana.

Guards are paid a starting salary of $9 per hour — a pittance even by Louisiana standards. As one prisoner notes, the only difference between the guards and prisoners is that the guards are only there 12 hours a day. Prison staff is kept short by the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the facility for profit. The prisoners have a lot of time on their hands and many figure they have nothing to lose. That makes the power relationship between the two groups … complicated.

Conditions at the prison would brutalize anyone, whether they are a guard or a prisoner.

Bauer’s experience as a prison guard changed him, and not for the better.

Bauer’s article is long — it took me about four days to read — magnificent, and deeply disturbing. It’s an instant classic of journalism.

Mass incarceration is a blot on America’s claim to be the land of freedom, opportunity, and respect for civil rights.


In class that day, we learn about the use of force. A middle-aged black instructor I’ll call Mr. Tucker comes into the classroom, his black fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. He’s the head of Winn’s Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, the prison’s SWAT-like tactical unit. “If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?” he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, “I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit.”

Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. “If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him,” he says, pacing slowly. “If a inmate hit me, I’m go’ hit his ass right back. I don’t care if the camera’s rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he’s gonna have a very bad day.” Mr. Tucker says we should call for backup in any confrontation. “If a midget spit on you, guess what? You still supposed to call for backup. You don’t supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I’ll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him.”

He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.

“I’d probably call somebody,” a cadet offers.

“I’d sit there and holler ‘stop,'” says a veteran guard.

Mr. Tucker points at her. “Damn right. That’s it. If they don’t pay attention to you, hey, there ain’t nothing else you can do.”

He cups his hands around his mouth. “Stop fighting,” he says to some invisible prisoners. “I said, ‘Stop fighting.'” His voice is nonchalant. “Y’all ain’t go’ to stop, huh?” He makes like he’s backing out of a door and slams it shut. “Leave your ass in there!”

“Somebody’s go’ win. Somebody’s go’ lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!” The classroom erupts in laughter.

We could try to break up a fight if we wanted, he says, but since we won’t have pepper spray or a nightstick, he wouldn’t recommend it. “We are not going to pay you that much,” he says emphatically. “The next raise you get is not going to be much more than the one you got last time. The only thing that’s important to us is that we go home at the end of the day. Period. So if them fools want to cut each other, well, happy cutting.”