Monthly Archives: July 2010

Advertorial: Poisonous and Destructive

Commenter Devonian wraps things up in the ScienceBlogs/Pepsi thread on Metafilter:

One of the most poisonous and destructive forms of paid-for content is advertorial: adverts disguised as editorial. It is something that is constantly -and I mean constantly -pushed at publications, even those who resolutely refuse to take it. Ad sales people are constantly offered large deals to get the stuff in, PRs try every trick in the book, and the smarter advertisers are adept at trying to slip it in by the way they design their collateral or asking for this or that ambiguous aspect to a deal.

Advertorial destroys trust. It is deceiving the readership. It taints the entire publication. It is, in my view, one of the worst things a publication with any pretence to objectivity can do.

You wouldn’t believe how much time and effort goes into stopping it, and how many shades of grey there are, and how differently those shades look from different parts of a publisher. I’m lucky in that I work for one that has support for editorial from the top down, and backs up editors that say no. But there is always, always pressure to give advertisers stuff. These are hard times, and it is hard to say no, we won’t do that, it deceives the readers.

Yet there are ways to take the advertisers money, be faithful to the readership, and be transparent about what’s going on, and SB didn’t get that bit right.

ScienceBlogs Diaspora RSS feed

[This post has been rewritten to make sense of all the updates.]

Carl Zimmer has started a list of sites where ScienceBloggers who have left due to the ethics violations of their host have landed.

One of the benefits of having all those fine bloggers on the same server was the combined RSS feed, and those bloggers who leave SB no longer have the benefit of being on that feed. So as a convenience for readers who’d like to keep track of those who’ve left, and as a small gesture of support for the Sbexiles, I’ve put together a feed incorporating the new sites Carl listed.

This is the feed address. The page at Yahoo Pipes where you may copy, fork, amend or add to the feed is here.

This is the Feedburner Version.

This is the OPML file. (sources updated July 20, 2010 10:54PM PDT)

Let me know if you know of another diasporating ScienceBlogger whose feed should be concatenated here.

I don’t see how this could possibly end badly

ScienceBlogs has launched a new food science blog with content written by PepsiCo.

I’d find the utter and complete violation of any semblance of journalistic and publishing ethics utterly laughable, except for one thing: dozens of good people have put years of work into, most of them paid little if at all, and now — with one stupid decision —  their publisher has eroded their credibility by association. That sucks.

I left a comment on the AstroTurfScienceBlog. Screenshot below as I don’t expect it to see the light of day.

I’m really glad I declined ScienceBlogs’ offer to host Creek Running North a couple years back. I mean, damn.


Updated to add: Unsurprisingly, a number of bloggers are considering suspending or closing their blogs if the decision to host Pepsico’s paid blog isn’t rescinded. What is surprising to me is the number of “SciBlings” who seem to be adopting a “wait and see” attitude about it. They’re not all as dense as this regrettable person seems to be: In fact, some usually very smart people seem to be under the impression that this is all something new, justifying a fair-minded, “wait and see” empiricism.

If I may: empiricism does not mean neglecting your due diligence to read prior literature. This is nothing new. I recognize that scientists who write have several justifiable bones to pick with journalists, but in this instance those scientists apparently have a big, basic, non-rocket-science lesson they desperately need to learn from said journalists. That lesson: never let the firewall between advertising and editorial drop. Never. Not for a second. Not for a page. If you do, it means you’re not serious about what you’re doing. It means you’re not working for a credible publishing organization. Even mediocre, burned-out hack journalists get this, and obey it almost involuntarily. Yes, there is troubling advertiser influence, especially in these days of increasing corporatization of publishing. It’s hard to resist sometimes, particularly if your publisher is a sleazebag. But even the worst sleazebags generally keep editorial and advertising distinct. If your goal is to better the state of science journalism using the new, more democratic tools available these days, tossing out a century and a half of painfully-worked-out journalistic codes of ethics is not the right place to start.

Sunset is always under construction

I wrote the title of this poem on a friend’s Facebook thread, in a sentence describing road work in my neighborhood. A fellow named Ethan Black responded:

“Sunset is always under construction.” I know you mean the road, but…

And it got me thinking. So I wrote this. Now I can sleep.

Sunset is always under construction.

Sunset is always under construction.
Sunset is thrown together of light,
The guileless wobble of rock as it spins
Above an unremarkable star.
Raccoons, opossums come to build its stage;
They jury-rig it: twist-ties, trash-can lids.
Nighthawks and bats come, too, and they sweep
Sunset’s path clear of flies and bits of moth.

Sunset is always under construction.
Sun settles in at each day’s dawn
To glean from Earth all the things it will need
The hasty plans, the half-reached wisdom,
The sudden widows’ sharp sodden grief,
Triumphs not yet undermined and loves
Not yet-time-ravaged, the quiet solitary joys,
Seeds sown, new born, cells splintering into cells,
The Sun collects them all, and arcing west it builds
Its Set of all of them in turn,
Weaving each night’s blues and fire and blood.

Carly Fiorina is a lying, anti-environmentalist sack of crap

Via On The Public Record, Mike Taugher, the Contra Costa Times’ environmental reporter, has a great piece on Carly Fiorina — the rich incompetent wingnut now trying to replace Barbara Boxer as senator from California — and her attempts to blame California’s economic woes on the Endangered Species Act:

For [US Senate candidate] Fiorina, the issue is simple. Less water from the Delta should be dedicated to fish.

“In the short term, an amendment needs to pass the United States Senate to override the biological assessment on the smelt that caused the water to be turned off,” Fiorina said. “The reason she’s not doing it is she’s in the pockets of extreme environmentalists.”

Fiorina blames Boxer for voting against an amendment by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint in September that would have removed limits on Delta pumps to help fish populations, and for putting the needs of “a small fish ahead of the livelihoods of California’s farmers and farmworkers,” according to her website.

Fiorina said the Delta water crisis is a “huge piece of my platform,” in which she argues that an increase in water supply is essential for creating jobs.

But her attacks are not always accurate. Delta pumps were never turned off last year. They were dialed down, but that was mostly because of dry conditions and not endangered species rules. And she has exaggerated the number of jobs lost.

Boxer, meanwhile, has maintained a relatively low profile on the issue.

There’s more. It’s good. Read it.

A treasured relationship sadly fades

We’re sitting at home today, and in between carting loads of laundry down to the laundry room — taking advantage of the fact that other folks in the apartment seem to be out of town for the holiday weekend, thus freeing the major appliances from the usual conflicting tenant demand — I’m sipping a glass of iced coffee.

It’s my third dose of coffee of the day. That’s one more than I should probably have, but I’ve been out of sorts the last few days. My sleep schedule has been messed up. A combination of financial anxiety and sciatica — the latter of the two, at least, slowly being resolved — has kept me awake, and noisy neighbors don’t help much. I may regret the coffee later. Still, I want to get a few things done today and it was just sitting there in the pot.

It’s the first time I’ve had more than two cups of coffee in a day for the last month or so. It’s a strange and sudden change in my lifestyle. I have been ingesting near-toxic daily amounts of caffeine since Gerald Ford was President. We’re talking double-digit numbers of cups of coffee per day. Back when I was living in Zeke’s house with an espresso machine at hand, I’d drink perhaps 14 double espressos on a good day.

I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the situation. Five years ago I even made a grandiose pledge on the old blog to quit drinking coffee. That resolution lasted maybe two weeks. I couldn’t quit. When I drank alcohol, I drank coffee to sober up or get through hangovers. When I stopped drinking alcohol, I drank coffee to help me manage the ADD that the alcohol had helped me manage. When I started taking wellbutrin to manage the ADD, I drank coffee because caffeine was a monkey on my back. A monkey that had sunk its leech-like roots into the highway of my nervous system. A monkey that I could not toss overboard without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I was a caffeine addict.

In April, though, the Kaiser pshrink changed my Wellbutrin scrip from 300 mg staggered throughout the course of the day to 300 slow-release mg taken all at once first thing in the morning. I soon began to notice that I was unpleasantly speedy in the afternoons and evenings. Trouble was, as you are no doubt expecting me to say, brewing. One day in early June I tried to drink a third cup of coffee and I just couldn’t do it.

As I write this, I’m beginning to feel the effects of that unusual cup number three. They aren’t altogether pleasant, though the throbbing headache now growing in my left temple is warmly familiar.

Have you ever woken up one morning and found that you no longer recognized the loved one slowly waking next to you? That the companion whose company you once craved above all others had suddenly become just a little tiresome? Why, no, me neither now that you mention it. But if I had had that experience, this thing with the coffee suddenly turning on me would probably remind me of it some. It’s just a little poignant, and I might well be picturing a montage of happy, content past moments I shared with my cup of coffee if doing so didn’t give me a slight case of heartburn.

Maybe we’ll patch things up. Maybe we’re just going through a rough spot. Our first moments together in the morning are still wonderful, still give me that little spinal thrill and the feeling that all might just be right with the world.

I wonder if my pshrink could refer me to some kind of joint counseling.

July 4 2006, Central Valley CA

[Way back in the first decade of the 21st Century I was briefly a guest-poster over at Michael Bérubé‘s joint, and during that period in which Michael had inexplicably entrusted me with his readership I posted this as a July 4 travelog-essay. I was on my way to the US-Mexico border in the Arizona desert to report on environmental aspects of the cross-border migrant issue. (Thankfully, we’ve got that heartbreaking dilemma completely and humanely resolved now.) I holed myself up in a motel room on the night of July 4 2006 and wrote this. Seemed like an appropriate weekend to dredge it out of Michael’s archives and share it again.]

July 4, Central Valley CA

I spent the Fourth in as American a fashion as possible. I drove a pickup truck at 85 miles per hour in a straight line for four hours. At that, I was slower than some of the traffic I encountered: an obstacle to Angelenos’ speedy transit of California’s Central Valley. Unless your eye is attuned to the pale blonde slopes of the Inner Coast Ranges, unless you find entertainment in counting the red tailed hawks sitting on fence posts or sputtering outrage watching the inexorable spread of suburb from the Bay Area southward, Interstate Five can be a trifle monotonous, and so people hurry through it.

Not to me. I always find something to write home about. Today there were long stripes of discarded tomatoes left by the harvesters, pale green windrows on fields so flat they could have been brown corduroy ironed on a kitchen table, and on one such windrow two ravens jumped in glee at finding so much food. One discarded tomato in a hundred had ripened in the heat, enough to feed a thousand ravens to bursting.

But I have odd tastes, relishing the swoop of barnswallows on the semis’ pressure waves. I’ve traveled this road since my early twenties, a quarter century next year, and I’ve watched the terra cotta carcinoma spreading. If the price of oil does not spike, and soon, the valley will be one suburb from the Grapevine to Sacramento. In 1987 my friend Matthew and I chased the Perseids out to Grant Line Road near Tracy, lay on our backs on the dark shoulder of the road and watched the shooting stars until three in the morning. That stretch of road butts up against an outlet mall these days. I fear the day when Los Angeles drivers find more to interest them along I-5.

Oddly, none of them seem to take advantage of the alternative. Head east on any of a hundred high-speed two-lanes, each of them seemingly termed “Blood Alley” by their respective locals, and you will reach the older, more settled north-south route through the Valley: Highway 99. 99 traverses the Valley of literature. This is the land of oil rigs and orange stands, packing sheds and dusty oleander hedges. William Saroyan, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gary Soto, Gerry Haslam, Cherie Moraga, Merle Haggard: does any other piece of real estate in the country boast so many fine writers? The Colorado Plateau, perhaps. And Manhattan I suppose, although that little island’s parochialism wouldn’t last long in a Fresno summer. Wasn’t it a Manhattan-based newspaper that referred to the Californian author of Angle Of Repose as “William Stegner”?

A bank of thunderheads sat atop the Sierra Nevada today, ready to wash more soil down into the Valley. The Valley’s soil, in places, is more than a mile deep. Twentieth-century farmers took so much Pleistocene water from the depths that the land began to settle out from under them. One cannot pump too much from this landscape too quickly. I drove today across the bed of the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Or it was. Tulare Lake fell victim to the cotton growers a lifetime ago, its feeder river dammed to irrigate fields, and the lake disappeared: an American Aral.

Turn on the radio most places in the Central Valley and all you will hear is country music. That said, you do have a choice of several different countries.  Norteño and Banda dominate the AM spectrum, a bridge to the homeland for those who braved the crossing to El Norte so that Victor Davis Hanson could exploit their labor on his hobby farm outside Fresno, and a link to the old ways for their American kids. Flip through the FM band and Hmoob, Hindustani and Basque join the broadcast Babel. Sometimes, as I did today, you will get lucky and tune to a station just as they start a torrid Vietnamese torch song by Duy Khanh or Than Tuyen, or a staccato Spanish commercial for auto insurance will fade into Shakira asking where the thieves are.

Brand spanking new pickup trucks and 25-year-old sedans with dragging mufflers. Viscid water sidling along irrigation ditches. In Wasco, a dozen roadside businesses advertise pastrami. I turn east onto state route 46: James Dean went the other way in the last hour of his life. Dorothea Lange might have shot some of the houses I passed today, squeezed up against the stuccoed walls of newly metastasized “communities.” This was once a chain of flower-filled ponds four hundred miles north to south. From there it was supposed to become a haven for the farm family, giant federal projects designed to irrigate plots no larger than a couple hundred acres. The families that use that water nowadays are named Tenneco, Cargill, and J.G. Boswell, and the swelling cities enjoy the dirtiest air and water in the country.

America in capsule form, if you ask me. Happy Fourth.