Saturday, November 23, 2002
The New York Times
October 20, 2002, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section 1; Page 37; Column 2; Metropolitan Desk; Second Front
LENGTH: 1457 words
HEADLINE: Crimes Admitted, But Not Committed;
Confessing Can Seem Easy After Hours in a Hard Light
BYLINE: By JIM DWYER
Yes, the interrogation had taken a long time, but the murderer had freely answered the questions, the lead detective said, each ghastly detail cheerfully supplied upon request. "There was no reason to persuade him; he was very cooperative," the detective, Joseph Di Prima, testified. "The thing didn't flow from him, because he was slow in responding. All I had to say to him was, 'What happened next, George?' "
A thousand people had been questioned before that one man, George Whitmore Jr., answered for the "career-girl murders," the killing of two young women on the Upper East Side, a crime that all New York had heard about in the summer of 1963. Mr. Whitmore, as it turned out, had nothing to do with it. Yet after 22 hours in the custody of detectives who had picked him up in Brooklyn as a suspect in another case, Mr. Whitmore eventually decided that he had plenty to say about whatever they wanted to talk about.
"Composed and alert," as a prosecutor later described him, Mr. Whitmore told interrogators that he had ridden a train to Times Square on Aug. 28, 1963, then wandered uptown and by chance walked into the building on East 88th Street, climbed three flights of stairs, and found Apartment 3-C unlocked. He told the police about assaulting and killing the two young women, Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert, and how he had taken the murder weapons, kitchen knives, and stepped on the blades to break them. He even named the brand on the three soda bottles that were smashed during the attacks. These were details only the killer would know, a senior police official announced.
His admission was clear, convincing and totally untrue, a lurid fabrication that took shape deep in the night. The Whitmore confession was exposed, in time, by lawyers and reporters who found that the simple, easily-led man had a solid alibi for the day he claimed to have murdered the two young women. The spectacular collapse of the case led to important changes, not only in New York but across the nation.
The Whitmore case weighed heavily in legislative debates in 1965, when the state dropped the death penalty for most crimes. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court mentioned the Whitmore confession in the landmark Miranda ruling, which held that a person suspected of a crime must be informed of the right to a lawyer and of the right to remain silent. In a television movie, the Wylie-Hoffert killings were renamed the Marcus-Nelson murders, featuring a fictional lollipop-licking bald detective named Kojak. A television series ran for years.
The laws changed. "Kojak" drifted into the thin air of reruns.
And people are still confessing to terrible things that they did not do, while many people -- maybe most people -- believe that the very idea of false confessions ranges from the implausible to the utterly preposterous.
Those realities are poised to collide once more. A new inquiry into the convictions of five Harlem teenagers in the 1989 Central Park jogger case has come up, so far, with almost nothing to back the original findings of guilt and with quite a bit that undermines them. The original convictions were largely based on a series of videotaped statements made by four of the five teenagers, admitting some involvement in an attack on a 28-year-old investment banker.
A murderer and serial rapist, who had never been charged in the case, has come forward to say that he alone attacked the woman, and insists that the five men convicted of the crime had nothing to do with it. His DNA matches evidence from the crime.
The Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, has arranged for additional DNA tests that may yet corroborate the original confessions, but he has said the tests are a "long shot."
In this case, the classic false-confession argument has been joined. So far, the polarities of that debate can be roughly summarized in two words:
History provides a few more dimensions to the discussion, even some insights, though they are not universally applicable. The use of physical force to obtain confessions was banned in 1933 by the Supreme Court, after it heard the case of three black men in Mississippi who had been tied to a tree and whipped until they confessed. The right to counsel has been drilled into the head of anyone who has ever watched "Kojak," "Dragnet" and all their progeny.
Despite these changes, false confessions still have a bizarre internal rationale, a kind of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot logic, representing a way out for a cornered mind.
In place of the rubber hose, the law grants wide latitude in the use of psychological pressures -- the kind of cajoling good-cop-bad-cop routines seen on "NYPD Blue" that are part of standard police training manuals. That these techniques produce thousands of authentic confessions from criminals every year is beyond dispute. That these same techniques also produce a number of false confessions is also beyond dispute.
Who confesses, and why?
Two years ago, a man admitted during questioning that he had used a chunk of concrete to crush the head of a young woman on a Midtown Manhattan sidewalk. The case was dropped when a videotape from a surveillance camera in a record store showed that the man was browsing inside at the time of the attack. The man, who had psychiatric problems, said he had been pressed hard by his questioners.
In California, Michael Crowe, 14, and two friends confessed in 1998 to murdering his sister in her bedroom. When the defense lawyers argued that the confessions were coerced, the prosecutor raised an obvious rebuttal: How could three people each give a false confession to the same crime? Part of the explanation, say social scientists who examined the case, is that the teenagers were tricked and told that they had failed a "voice stress" test that showed they were lying. They were also told that their friends were implicating them in the crime. Under those circumstances, the social scientists say, a false confession may seem like an exit ramp from an impossible predicament, just as a bear might chew off its own foot to escape from a trap.
As it turned out, the police had already collected the clothing of a mentally ill 31-year-old man who had been knocking on doors in the neighborhood that night. Three spots of the victim's blood were found on his clothes. That man was charged with the killing in May. The charges against the teenagers have been dropped, and the state attorney general says they were not involved in the murder.
Just last Thursday, in Illinois, Gov. George Ryan pardoned four men who had been sent to prison as teenagers for the rape and murder of a medical student. Two of them had confessed and implicated the other two. None of them, DNA tests later showed, had anything to do with the attacks. That same DNA evidence recently implicated two other men. Why did the first group falsely confess? One man said he figured that at age 17, by cutting a deal, he would get out of prison by the time he was 23. The second man had an I.Q. between 65 and 70, according to his lawyer, and quickly buckled under questioning.
Nearly 40 years ago, Eric Seiff was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan when George Whitmore was accused of the career-girl murders. Today, he is the lawyer for Kharey Wise, one of the five men seeking to overturn convictions in the Central Park case.
Mr. Seiff, who was not personally involved in the Whitmore case, recalls pulling out the transcript of questions and answers of Mr. Whitmore.
"I sat down and read it, and I saw nothing wrong with the Q. and A. -- the whole 50-, 60-page fictitious confession," he said.
Decades later, he watched the videotaped interrogations of Mr. Wise, conducted by another assistant district attorney, Elizabeth Lederer.
"She was completely professional in her approach," Mr. Seiff said.
Mr. Wise changes his story at several points, each time increasing his culpability. To Mr. Seiff's eyes, his client is betraying not his guilt but his eagerness to please, time and again. "You have power against submissiveness -- and I don't say that to fault Elizabeth Lederer in the slightest," Mr. Seiff said.
At one spot on the videotape, Ms. Lederer remarked that there was a can of soda in front of Mr. Wise -- a minor detail, but one she pointedly took note of, most likely to protect against later claims that the prisoner had not been fed or given anything to drink during his hours in custody.
As soon as she mentioned the soda, though, Mr. Wise immediately apologized for having it, and seemed to look for a place to discard it. No, Ms. Lederer assured him, it was O.K. for him to have it. So he kept it.
GRAPHIC: Photo (Illustration by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)
Friday, November 22, 2002
The New York Times
September 23, 2002, Monday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section E; Page 1; Column 4; The Arts/Cultural Desk
LENGTH: 1261 words
HEADLINE: WRITERS ON WRITING;
The Eye of the Reporter, The Heart of the Novelist
SERIES: WRITERS ON WRITING: Facts Beget Fiction
BYLINE: By ANNA QUINDLEN
There's always a notebook in my purse. I learned my lesson one day many years ago when I found myself at the scene of a crime, taking notes on the back of checking account deposit slips. Before I was a novelist, I was a columnist; and before I was a columnist, I was a reporter; and the reporter is always there, jumbled amid the Altoids, the keys and the lipstick, there forever in the notebook.
The connection between the two incarnations, between the newspaper and the novel, is clear to me but confusing to readers. Here is the question they ask most often, the one that underlines the covertly snobbish way in which we delineate the professions from the so-called arts: How did you manage to make the leap from journalism to fiction? I used to answer flatly that there's not much difference between the two, that good writing is good writing wherever you find it. But that answer really threw people into a swivet, speaking to their deepest suspicions about both lines of work. It turned out that when I was writing about the people I actually met and the places I actually went, the enterprise was enshadowed by reader suspicion that we reporters made everything up. But when I made things up as a novelist, readers always suspected I was presenting a thinly disguised version of the facts of my own life.
So the facts were assumed to be fiction, and the fiction fact. Go figure, as the guys at Katz's delicatessen used to say. The quotation is somewhere in one of my old notebooks; I know it's true.
The truth is that the best preparation I could have had for a life as a novelist was life as a reporter. At a time when more impressionistic renderings of events were beginning to creep into the news pages, I learned to look always for the telling detail: the Yankees cap, the neon sign in the club window, the striped towel on the deserted beach. Those things that, taken incrementally, make a convincing picture of real life, and maybe get you onto Page 1, too.
I learned to distinguish between those details that simply existed and those that revealed. Those telling details are the essence of fiction that feels real. The command of those details explains why Charles Dickens, a onetime reporter, has a byline for the ages.
I learned, from decades of writing down their words verbatim in notebooks, how real people talk. I learned that syntax and rhythm were almost as individual as a fingerprint, and that one quotation, precisely transcribed and intentionally untidied, could delineate a character in a way that pages of exposition never could.
All of us in journalism know of the times we've read a neat little quotation that seemed to sum up the entire point of a story, and we thought, almost reflexively, "It's piped," reporter's jargon for "It's invented." It's just too pat, too flat, too homogenized, too perfect at one level, too impersonal at another. That happens in fiction, too, the line of dialogue that sounds like a speech or a stage direction or a maxim instead of a sentence. You can hear the fake with a reporter's ear.
I learned in newspapers to make every word count. All those years of being given 1,200 words, of having the 1,200 pared to 900 at 3 o'clock, of having to take out another 100 to shoehorn it into the hole in the layout: it teaches you to make the distinction between what is necessary and illuminating and what is simply you in love with the sound of your own voice.
A novelist doesn't write to space, of course; 80,000 words, 100,000, it's up to the writer to say when the story is done. Some have a harder time than others. The most common shortcoming I find in good novels nowadays is excess; many of them should be 50 pages shorter than they are. I learned how to cut where cutting is commonplace, swift and draconian.
In that same place, crowded and noisy and redolent of adrenaline in the late afternoons, I learned about writer's block, too. People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. That's not the way it works, and one of the best places to learn that is a newspaper, which in its instant obsolescence is infinitely forgiving.
Some days you plod, some days you soar, but always you churn out copy on demand, whether you feel the muse or not. (Where is the muse, by the way? Does she ever show up?) Occasionally you hit it, grinning behind the nominal privacy of your partition like a Mardi Gras mask.
Jacques Barzun once wrote: "Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper, not eternal bronze: let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands." Journalism is the professional embodiment of that soothing sentiment.
Of course, it is also the professional embodiment of fact-finding, and that, more than anything else, is why a switch to fiction by a journalist perplexes readers and even colleagues. "I could never make it up," one of the very best reporters I've ever known said to me a little accusingly. But that notion of untrammeled invention becomes illusory after a while, even in the most freewheeling novel. (Although, as a former reporter, I undoubtedly find a thrill in being able to take a name that is unwieldy and simply to change it, poof!)
If you manage to build characters from the ground up carefully, make them really real, your ability to invent decreases as their verisimilitude grows. Certain people will only behave in certain ways; certain behaviors will only lead to certain other behaviors. The entire range of possible events decreases as characters choose one road, not another. Plot is like a perspective drawing, its possible permutations growing narrower and narrower, until it reaches a fixed point in the distance. That point is the ending. Life is like that. Fiction is like life, at least if it is good.
I always wanted to write fiction. It said in my high school prophecy, "Ambition: to write the great American novel." (I'm just reporting the facts here, mortifying as they may be.) I only went into the newspaper business to pay the rent. And then I discovered that, for a Catholic girl with napkin-on-the-lap manners, the professional obligation to go places I was not welcome and ask questions that were intrusive and even rude was as exhilarating as work could be.
I drank bourbon at noon in the police shack and got spit on at town meetings by folks who couldn't inveigh without expectorating. I rode in a search-and-rescue plane in a snowstorm, and I rode in a limo with the mayor in high dudgeon. Geez, what a deal.
I taught myself a shorthand of my own invention, and I use it still. But now, memory being what it is, or more often isn't, my notes are the ideas for a new novel that occur to me as real life eddies around me. "Rd hr," means one character will be a redhead, and "Viet Wr?" means another may have fought in that conflict. It's just that the scene I see is not, as in my past life, in Flatbush or on Fifth Avenue.
The story, the people, the neighborhood: they're all in my own mind. But the notebook still helps to keep the details fresh and true, to hold the quotations clear as consonants, to provide those little touchstones that will rescue me from the slough of writer's despondency. I am a reporter of invented stories now, but no less a reporter because of that.
Writers on Writing
Articles in this series are presenting writers' exploration of literary themes. Previous contributions are online: nytimes.com/books/columns
GRAPHIC: Photo: "I learned how to cut where cutting is commonplace, swift and draconian," says Anna Quindlen. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)(pg. E2)
Subject: The rest of the story
Story Number One:
World War II produced many heroes. One such man was
Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to an
Lexington in the South Pacific.
One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission.
After he was airborne, he
looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone
had forgotten to top off
his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to
complete his mission and get
back to his ship. His flight leader told him to
return to the carrier.
Reluctantly he dropped out of formation and headed
back to thefleet. As he
was returning to the mother ship, he saw something
that turned his blood
cold. A squadron of Japanese bombers was speeding
their way toward the
American fleet. The American fighters were gone on
a sortie and thefleet
was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his
squadron and bring themback
in time to save the fleet. Nor, could he warn the
fleet of theapproaching
danger. There was only one thing to do. He must
somehow divert them fromthe
Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he
dove into the formationof
Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed
as he charged in,
attacking one surprised enemy plane and then
another. Butch,weaving in and
out of the now broken formation and fired at as
many planes as possible
until finally all his ammunition was spent.
Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the
planes, trying to at
least clip off a wing or tail, in hopes of damaging
as many enemy planesas
possible and rendering them unfit to fly. He was
desperate to doanything he
could to keep them from reaching the American
Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off
Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered
fighter limped back tothe
carrier. Upon arrival he reported in and related
the event surroundinghis
return. The film from the camera mounted on his
plane told the tale. It
showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to
protect his fleet. He had
destroyed five enemy bombers.
That was on February 20, 1942, and for that action
he became the Navy's
first Ace of WWII and the first Naval Aviator to
win the CongressionalMedal
A year later he was killed in aerial combat at the
age of 29. His hometown
would not allow the memory of that heroic action
die. And today, O'Hare
Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the
courage of this great man.
So the next time you're in O'Hare visit his
memorial with his statue and
Medal of Honor. It is located between terminal 1
Story Number two:
Some years earlier there was a man in Chicago
called Easy Eddie. At that
time, Al Capone virtually owned the city. Capone
wasn't famous foranything
heroic. His exploits were anything but
praiseworthy. He was, however,
notorious for enmeshing the city of Chicago in
booze and prostitution to murder.
Easy Eddie was Capone's lawyer and for a good
reason. He was very good!In
fact, his skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al
out of jail for a long
time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him
very well. Not only wasthe
money big; Eddie got special dividends. For
instance, he and his family
occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and
all of theconveniences
of the day. The estate was so large that it filled
an entire Chicagocity
block. Yes, Eddie lived the high life of the
Chicago mob and gave little
consideration to the atrocity that went on around
Eddy did have one soft spot, however. He had a son
that he loved dearly.
Eddy saw to it that his young son had the best of
and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price
was no object. And,
despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie
even tried to teachhim
right from wrong. Yes, Eddie tried to teach his son
to rise above hisown
sordid life. He wanted him to be a better man than
he was. Yet, with allhis
wealth and influence, there were two things that
Eddie couldn't give his
son. Two things that Eddie sacrificed to the Capone
mob that he couldnot
pass on to his beloved son: a good name and a good
example. One day,Easy
Eddie reached a difficult decision. Offering his
son a good name was far
more important than all the riches he could lavish
on him. He had torectify
all the wrong that he had done.
He would go to the authorities and tell the truth
about Scar-face AlCapone.
He would try to clean up his tarnished name and
offer his son somesemblance
of integrity. To do this he must testify against
The Mob, and he knewthat
the cost would be great. But more than anything, he
wanted to be anexample
to his son. He wanted to do his best to make
restoration and hopefullyhave
a good name to leave his son.
So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's
life ended in a blaze of
gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. He had given
his son the greatestgift
he had to offer at the greatest price he would ever
pay. I know whatyou're
thinking. What do these two stories have to do with
Well, you see, Butch O'Hare was Easy Eddie's son.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Dubai Solves Beach Shortage, Building Palm-Shaped Island
By STEVE STECKLOW
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 18, 2002
DUBAI -- There's a buildup going on in the Persian Gulf these days, but this
one has nothing to do with a possible war with Iraq.
A mile off the coast of this thriving emirate, huge dredges are sucking sand
off the bottom of the sea and spraying it along the edges of one of the
world's most unusual construction projects -- a giant, artificial island in
the shape of a palm tree. Due to open in 2006, the Palm Island resort will
stretch roughly three miles from base to tip and is expected to include 49
hotels and nearly 4,500 luxury villas and apartments, with a total price tag
of about $5.5 billion.
Fred Done, an executive from Manchester, England, says a possible war with
Iraq -- about 540 miles away -- was only "slightly" a consideration
decided in May to plunk down a 10% deposit on a $1.4 million villa. "I
think it'll be a long war. And these places are not going to be done for the
next couple of years. So I think it will be done and dusted by the time I
move in there," he says.
Mr. Done says he picked Palm Island for a vacation home over Aspen, Colo.,
Florida and Monte Carlo, even though he does no business in Dubai. "It's
totally unique," he says, adding, "I cannot believe that the company
sheikhs would put their name to anything that is second-class." Indeed,
lately has become a hot tourist destination for Britons and other Europeans,
who are drawn to its sunny climate, shopping bargains and lively nightlife;
the city even boasts its own Time Out entertainment magazine.
Palm Island's developer, a company controlled by the Dubai government,
insists that the prospect of warship flotillas cruising up the Gulf hasn't
damped enthusiasm for the project. Construction is months ahead of schedule.
In May, 2,000 villas, priced between $463,000 and $1.4 million and still
unbuilt, sold out in just five days. Nearly a third of the buyers were
foreigners from outside the Gulf states.
"It was chaos -- people were pushing each other," says Sultan Ahmed
Sulayem, chairman of the island's development company and a high-level
government official. He says more than 3,000 people already have joined a
waiting list to buy another 2,000 planned apartments, which haven't even been
The Dubai government is so confident Palm Island will be a success that in
September it began building a second, even larger palm-shaped island, 13
miles up the coast. "Dubai will never be affected by any crisis that
in the region," declares Saeed Ahmed Saeed, one of the project's managing
directors. Although no place is free from the threat of terrorism today,
Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, is stable both economically
and politically, Mr. Saeed and other Palm Island development-company
A pair of palm-shaped, artificial islands will hardly seem out of place in
this port city, which derives its income from trading, tourism and oil. Dubai
is in the midst of an eccentric building boom that has spawned wildly shaped
skyscrapers and ritzy shopping malls, including a "Renaissance
There's also Burj Al Arab, a sailboat-shaped hotel that features an
underwater seafood restaurant accessible by submarine.
The first Palm Island will be multithemed, with plans calling for 40
different architectural styles. One section is supposed to resemble Venice
with canals and gondolas. Another will aim to recreate Okinawa, Japan, with
pagodas and rock gardens. Still another will try to copy the Art Deco
architecture of Miami Beach.
Mr. Saeed says the project developers haven't dropped plans for a
Bali-inspired theme, despite the recent terrorist bombing on that Indonesian
island. In fact, he argues the incident will help Dubai tourism. "People
come here now," he reasons. "They don't have to go to the real
Dubai officials say they dreamed up Palm Island as a solution to a beach
shortage. Dubai's 20 miles of commercial seafront are nearly all developed.
With the government predicting that tourism will quadruple to 15 million
visitors annually by 2010, planners set out several years ago to figure out
how to get a lot more beach space.
Once they settled upon an artificial island, the next question was how people
would get to it. When Mr. Bin Sulayem presented the matter to Dubai's crown
prince, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prince suggested a
bridge. On a piece of paper, he drew one, along with spokes from the island
where hotels and houses could be built. The drawing resembled a tree, or more
precisely, a date palm.
Mr. Bin Sulayem says he and the prince at first didn't believe creating a
palm-shaped island was possible. "If someone looked at what we were drawing
and we told them what we wanted to do, they'd think we're crazy," says Mr.
Bin Sulayem. The project would be one of the largest manmade islands in the
world, behind the new Hong Kong International Airport, which began as a
small, natural island that was greatly expanded with landfill.
The building of the Dubai project is spearheaded by American and Canadian
companies. Robert Berger, the project director, who works for the
construction-management company Hill International Inc., of Marlton, N.J.,
says some of his friends in the U.S. believe building a palm-shaped island is
"bizarre," but he finds it "creative." Mr. Berger says his
island-building experience was in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where he helped create
a smaller island to divert ice floes from oil-drilling platforms.
On a recent boat tour, 23-year-old salesman Hamza Mustafa pointed out the
first phase of the project, a crescent-shaped breakwater. "What you're
looking at is approximately 100 million cubic feet of rock and sand," he
said. "That's more rock than the pyramids." Mr. Saeed says the rocks,
by barges from regional quarries, weigh an estimated 10 million tons, and
that the entire island will be designed to hold 40,000 people.
Mr. Mustafa also pointed out Mr. Bin Sulayem's 171-foot yacht, the Ocean
Star, and, parked next to it, a peculiar vessel -- a Toyota minivan without
wheels, bolted on top of a boat hull. It's used as a water taxi to transport
visitors to the construction site. "The purpose is, when we take out guests
to see the island, they don't get wet," Mr. Mustafa explained.
But wouldn't any boat with an enclosed cabin do that? The young salesman
seemed bewildered by the question. "Wouldn't you want to go on this
asked, adding: "It's quite impressive, no?"
Write to Steve Stecklow at HREF="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com
URL for this article:
College Town in Jordan Is Full of Internet Cafes
By Lee Gomes
The Wall Street Journal
November 18, 2002
IRBID, JORDAN -- If you ask a Jordanian about the Internet, he'll invariably
tell you how this college town in the country's north holds the Guinness
world record for "the most Internet cafes in a single kilometer."
In fact, the Guinness folks in London say there's no such record. Too bad,
because Irbid deserves it.
Irbid, with its three big universities, is a busy, vigorous, but frankly, not
very pretty small city. Plain brick buildings dominate, their facades usually
plastered with billboards, most in Arabic but many in mercantile English,
like the "Big Taste of America" Viceroy cigarette ads.
Internet cafes are everywhere, like pay phones, with names like Apollo and
StarGate. One two-story minimal had five. The cafes are an easy way for
someone to have a small business. It helps that Jordan's young,
Western-educated King Abdullah II is a big techno-buff.
The royal enthusiasm for the Internet, though, is not unabashed.
Antigovernment sites that are especially irksome, like the London-based HREF="http://www.arabtimes.com/">
www.arabtimes.com, are simply blocked, China-style.
tell you the tricks they use to get around the blockades.
I spent some time in Speed 2, the sister cafe to Speed 1. Speed 2's 24 PCs,
which rent for about $1.50 an hour, make it one of Irbid's bigger cafes.
Most of the students I saw were in Western-style clothes, even an occasional
T-shirt and jeans. Most spoke English, often learned in school and perfected
in Web chat sessions. They were all strikingly friendly.
Hamad Al-Kalbany, a 30-year-old law student, was checking his e-mail, hoping
to find a note from his wife, who is going to school in England. I asked to
see his inbox, and discovered that while a largely Muslim country might be
able to ban pork-based Spam, it is powerless against spam, the e-mail kind.
The inbox was stuffed with Arabic riffs on the usual come-ons: "Claim your
gift certificate NOW, Hamad."
"How did they get my e-mail address?" asks Mr. Al-Kalbany. It's the
question of e-mail users everywhere.
A while later, a serious-looking woman with a covered head walked in to make
a printout of a formal-looking document half-Arabic, half-English. I sneak a
peek at a copy. It's a Certificate of Participation in a local volleyball
team. My first Middle Eastern soccer mom.
A few machines away, Yassir Quran and Hazem Khundhier, two second-year
physics students, are using Microsoft Word to finish a report for their
Mr. Quran says he often chats online with people from all over the world, but
that when he does so with Americans, he is invariably asked if he's a
terrorist. What his online chat partners can't see is that the 20-year-old
Mr. Quran is a wisp of a lad, weighing barely more than the PC monitor next
to him. Not only is he not a terrorist, he says, "but if I tried to shoot a
rifle, it would just knock me over."
He smiles at his joke. You can see, though, the hurt feelings underneath the
smile, since you couldn't meet a sweeter guy if you tried. All he really
wants to do is use the Web to make new friends, maybe play some chess. You
can usually find Mr. Quran on the World Chess Network.
Access times at Speed 2 are OK for simple tasks like e-mail and browsing, too
slow for, say, massive downloading of MP3s, unless you have a lot of time on
your hands. Akram Ali, the Speed 2 manager, has that time, since he works
12-hour shifts, six days a week. He proudly showed me his multigigabyte
Napster collection -- of mostly Western pop music.
Irbid is less than an hour's drive from Syria, Israel and the West Bank.
Little wonder the Internet here can sometimes have a special vividness.
Bahaa Faisal, a 24-year-old Palestinian who is a year away from finishing
medical school, is looking at some photos when I walk up to him to chat.
They're pictures of Haifa, Israel. He says he comes to Speed 2 a few times a
week to make virtual visits to the city. He explains how his family was
driven from Haifa by Israeli settlers in the 1940s. The Internet offers him
his own way of following the injunction to "never forget."
But the Web is not simply for reminiscing. Mr. Faisal also uses it to plan
for his future. He says he keeps up on Haifa because he plans to go back one
day to marry an Arab woman. "It's my home, too," he says.
I visited Speed 2 the day after the U.S. midterm elections. Mr. Ali said his
Republican chat friends in the U.S. were busy celebrating. Everyone in the
cafe knew so much about my country. I wondered how much most Americans know
Back in Amman, I needed to take care of some credit-card business, and called
the stateside number listed on my card for use by people traveling overseas.
I told the woman who answered at the international customer-help desk where I
"Jordan. ... Jordan," she said. "Is that a city or a
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
A Laugh a Minute? In TV Today, That's Not Nearly Fast Enough
By EMILY NELSON
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 13, 2002
When "ER" premiered eight years ago on NBC, its dialogue was so rapid-fire that scripts ran 60 pages, about 10 pages longer than the typical one-hour drama. Viewers loved it, and the show was a huge hit.
Today, the show isn't a minute longer. But its scripts now run more than 80 pages.
Across the TV dial, actors are saying more lines per episode, and they're often uttering them more quickly. Humorous repartee and regular conversation happen "turbo fast," says Aaron Sorkin, the creator and executive producer of "The West Wing." Says Mr. Sorkin: "My parents will call me every Wednesday night and say 'Great show. Tell them to talk slower.' "
The chatter serves a deliberate purpose. Hollywood producers think people seem smarter if they talk faster, a strategy in use on "The West Wing." In "Gilmore Girls," a show about a mother and her teenage daughter, fast talk lends a hip feel to a small-town setting. In "American Dreams," a family drama set in the 1960s, characters talk quickly -- and over each other -- at the dinner table to appeal to teenagers whose own family lives are like that. Fast talk is also a way for broadcast networks to make shows seem edgy when they can't feature the sex, violence and bad language of HBO.
The fast pace is a humor-insurance policy, TV writers say. "If someone doesn't think one scene is funny, another one is coming right by," says Bill Lawrence, executive producer and creator of "Scrubs," a sitcom about medical residents that recently had an episode of 24 scenes of less than a minute each.
The additional lines and scenes complicate the jobs of everyone from network executives to cameramen. "The West Wing" and "Gilmore Girls" had to hire dialogue coaches to help the actors with their lines and to watch tapings for dropped words. "Friends" moved its tapings, which are done with a live audience, to 3 p.m. from 7 p.m. several years ago because the work had been going on till midnight.
Amy Sherman-Palladino, the executive producer and creator of "Gilmore Girls," avoids close-ups because they slow things down by lingering on just one actor. To keep the dialogue from ever letting up, she often employs a technique called "walk-and-talks" -- particularly difficult scenes to film because the actors are moving while speaking, and directors can't splice together different takes when somebody muffs a line. If an actor says "but" instead of "and," that may well be considered enough of a mistake to scrap the take.
One morning recently, a walk-and-talk scene called for actress Lauren Graham to walk along a path at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., with Kelly Bishop, who plays Mrs. Gilmore. The two women discuss Mrs. Gilmore's courtship: "And then he would talk of the paintings he had seen in Paris and the colors of Titian, and by the end of the date, you thought he was the most brilliant man in the entire world," Ms. Bishop says in the scene.
"Using Titian to score? Even Titian didn't do that," Ms. Graham says.
After each take of the three-page scene, the script supervisor called off the elapsed time to Ms. Sherman-Palladino. One take was one minute, 23 seconds -- too slow for Ms. Sherman-Palladino. Finally, she was pleased with take 13. It lasted one minute, 20 seconds. She writes "Gilmore Girls" for 20-to-25 seconds a page of dialogue, more than twice as fast as the standard screenwriters' page-a-minute formula.
Ms. Graham describes her life as "a feeling you're cramming for exams 17 hours a day." When Ms. Graham's co-star, Alexis Bledel, watches TV in the morning, she says she remembers the newscasts pretty much verbatim because she is so conditioned to memorizing long scripts.
Whenever "The West Wing" script calls for a walk-and-talk, the crew typically has a betting pool on how many takes the cast will need. The record high is about 35, says Allison Janney, who plays the press secretary C.J. Cregg on the show.
As recently as 10 years ago, a typical situation comedy had five to 10 scenes, labeled A, B, C, and so on. "Seinfeld," a fast-talk pioneer, would routinely exhaust the alphabet and label scenes AA, BB, etc. To make space for that, scenes were shorter and conversation faster.
TV writers can get away with it, particularly with younger viewers raised on cartoons and MTV, who are accustomed to lots of information coming at them quickly in small bits. "People are more and more media literate," says Linwood Boomer, executive producer of the current Fox hit "Malcolm in the Middle." As a result, he can also employ speeding-up tricks to make more time for dialogue, such as showing a character at a doorway one second and all the way across the room the next; viewers understand that he has just walked across the room without having to witness it. In the editing room, "Malcolm in the Middle," as other shows do, too, cuts out "air," basically slivers of a second between an actor speaking and another responding. "The pilot was very, very fast-paced and hectic, and we do everything almost twice as fast now," says Mr. Boomer, the show's creator. "I don't think it's reached the limit yet."
TV, unlike movies with their sweeping vista shots and high-tech special effects, is still about the writing. Over the years, hit shows, such as "I Love Lucy," "Happy Days," and "Diff'rent Strokes" all followed the pattern of a setup and then a big joke to end a scene. Then came "Moonlighting," which ran from 1985 to 1989, and was considered a breakthrough for its fast-paced dialogue. Its stars Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis fought, talking rapidly and at the same time.
These days, though, the fast talk isn't so self-conscious; it seems quite normal. Much is said, and shows have more plot twists and quick-cut scenes in every episode. Viewers can expect to see still more shows with ensemble casts, which make multiple story lines easier to write. More shows also are ending with photo montages, set to music, to wind down viewers and send them on their way without their heads spinning.
Write to Emily Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted to MediaNews Letters
November 12, 2002
Let go of the "lite" dream
From ERIC GILLIN: While it is noble that Don Hewitt would love to craft a newsmagazine for college-aged students, I hope he doesn't get that chance. By dubbing such a show "60 Minutes Lite," Hewitt reveals his true thoughts on what he feels college kids can process and what they can't. Typical. Whenever it comes time to market to my generation, the knee-jerk reaction is to hack stories into bullet points so we don't strain out precious brains thinking.
Instead of lightening the editorial load, editorial directors would be wise to pick entirely different ways of looking at the same old stuff. Twentysomethings don't want less -- we want something different. Howsabout this tried and true formula that has been knocking readers' socks off for years -- run stories about the issues young people face, written by excellent young writers. Sounds like the early days of Rolling Stone, long before the magazine went corporate.
But in this horrible economic environment, no one wants to take the risk of putting the effort into something high quality that breaks the stereotype that college kids are nothing more than drunken louts. And so, when these half-assed attempts to reach an audience with "lite" fare fail, media execs can claim they made an effort. College kids don't read, they'll conclude. And people wonder why magazines are struggling. Innovation has been chucked out the window in favor of chasing whatever worked last -- like Maxim. And what passes as innovation these days is pathetic and poorly executed -- we keep getting more Frankenmagazines that combine fashion and entertainment to lend sizzle to something like science or politics.
When the door opens for people my age, the content will reflect what we want to read. Until then, we'll get 70-year-old men blindly guessing.
Monday, November 11, 2002
The Boston Globe
October 8, 2000, Sunday ,THIRD EDITION
SECTION: NATIONAL/FOREIGN; Pg. A1
LENGTH: 1464 words
HEADLINE: VOTERS' NEW PRIORITIES MAKE POLL-TAKING A TOUGH CALL
BYLINE: By John Aloysius Farrell, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON - Call waiting. Caller ID. Answering machines. Computer modems. Cell phones. Home fax machines. Voice mail. Pushy telemarketers.
For most of us, they are conveniences or annoyances of modern life. For opinion pollsters, they can add up to big trouble. As the numbers and varieties of polls spiral, it's growing harder to get people to answer their questions, and harder to get accurate results.
"Response rates are not what they used to be," said pollster John Zogby, referring to the willingness of those called to participate in polls. "When I started in this business in 1984, they were averaging around 65 percent. Now we are down around 33 or 35 percent." Indeed, changes in technology and the attitude of Americans have lent an unexpected wrinkle to Campaign 2000: The science of measuring public opinion has come in for increased scrutiny and debate.
In recent weeks, several well-known polls have reported questionable shifts in public opinion, leaving pollsters self-critical and defensive and prompting what GOP pollster Ed Goeas called "the debate over polling." At least two major polling operations have had to adjust their techniques.
The controversy started in mid-September, when three respected polling operations announced dramatically different views of the presidential race.
A Sept. 15 Newsweek poll gave Vice President Al Gore a 14-point lead, while the bipartisan Voter.com-Battleground poll had Governor George W. Bush ahead of his rival by between 2 and 5 points. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup nightly tracking poll, meanwhile, was somewhere in the middle.
Newsweek subsequently adjusted its methodology by adding to the size of the polling sample. And Goeas, who conducts the Voter.com-Battleground poll with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, tinkered with the order of its questions, and acknowledged that they may have been using a sampling method more suited for the final days of the campaign, when opinions are firm, than for mid-September, when the situation is more fluid.
The flap over the campaign polls is more than just inside baseball. It is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon that could affect the American political, media, and marketing worlds in the years ahead.
At stake is the validity of polling as we know it, in which polling firms contact 250 to 500 respondents by telephone on a given night and ask them about their voting, shopping, or entertainment habits. Candidates, corporations, and advertising agencies all rely on such random sampling to tell them what the public thinks.
Part of the challenge is technical: The increased number of voters who have caller ID, computer modems, and similar devices in their homes has made the polling business more complex, costly, and difficult than ever. It used to take Republican pollster Frank Luntz three phone calls, on average, to reach a respondent. Now it takes six.
But there have been attitudinal changes as well. At the same time that they are tying up their phone lines with new equipment, Americans are showing growing impatience with intrusive telemarketers who want to sell them on long distance service, a hot stock, or a local charity. A call from a polling organization is not much more welcome.
Polls are no longer a novelty. People who might once have been flattered to be interviewed by a big news organization now see it as an imposition, especially at the end of a long, busy workday.
And so pollsters are getting more busy signals, recorded messages, and abrupt (and sometimes rude) goodbyes.
Regional differences further complicate the problem. A Midwestern state like Missouri or Iowa, for example, is a pollster's dream: Folks get in from the farm or factory at suppertime, join their families for dinner, and show a native politeness to callers.
Texas is more difficult, notorious for its huge number of telephone answering machines. And New York is a nightmare. Known for being blunt if not downright surly, many New Yorkers work past dark, have a long commute, and arrive home later each night, giving pollsters a narrow window to catch them before bedtime. On the three coasts, the number of non-English-speaking people only increases the difficulty of building a good sample.
As they grapple with such changes, pollsters are arguing about methodology. Democratic pollster Peter Hart, for instance, surveys registered voters until the final weeks of a campaign, when interest in the race peaks and he can better determine who are the highly-prized "likely voters."
Goeas, on the other hand, thinks it is better to screen for the "likely voters" earlier in the race, particularly by discounting younger voters, who tend not to follow through on their intent to vote, and people who register in "motor-voter" drives, then don't show up on Election Day.
Though 60 percent of young voters tell pollsters that they intend to vote, only 33 percent cast a ballot, said Goeas. "By allowing more of those young voters into your sample you are going to see more volatility."
Goeas prefers to poll only on weeknights, because busy suburban families are more likely to be out of the house on weekends, tilting weekend results toward the Democrats.
"On weekends you get a more Democratic, blue-collar sample. You are under-reporting Republicans, especially married voters," said Goeas. "Quite frankly, a mother who will take 20 minutes on a weekend to talk to a pollster is not a normal person."
When Zogby took the temperature of the New York Senate race last weekend, he found Hillary Clinton leading Representative Rick Lazio 48 to 44 percent with a whopping 71 to 23 percent advantage among an important minority that always turns out at the polls: New York's Jewish voters.
But Goeas challenged the accuracy of the poll because Zogby did his polling over the Rosh Hashana weekend, the Jewish New Year. The Republican pollster claimed that the most Orthodox Jewish voters - cultural conservatives who were more likely to vote Republican - were observing the High Holy Days and unlikely to respond to a pollster's phone calls.
Because Orthodox Jews were underrepresented, Goeas asserted, the Zogby results must be skewed, and Lazio is in better shape than he seems.
Not so, said Zogby: His firm had made adjustments in its methodology to correct for Rosh Hashana. It is Goeas whose polls are out of kilter for refusing to poll on weekends, when Democrats are more likely to be home, Zogby said.
"I've also heard you don't poll in East Texas on Wednesdays because everyone is at the Assembly of God Church. And that you don't call Manhattan in July because everyone is in the Hamptons," Zogby said, dismissing Goeas's theory with a chuckle. "I put not polling on Rosh Hashana in that category."
Given time and money, said Zogby, pollsters have shown great skill at compensating for regional, technical, and attitudinal changes.
"Has it made it impossible to do our job? No," he said. "You can overcome these difficulties. We are not in a crisis situation."
Still, not every client has time and money to spend on a thorough survey. To feed the voracious demand of the media, some polling firms are rushing into the field on a tight budget, relying on smaller or poorly screened samples and sacrificing accuracy, said Luntz, the GOP pollster.
The media, always looking for the most dramatic results, then compound the problem by hyping the polls that show the widest margins or shifts of opinion, instead of averaging the various polls to find a norm.
"The use of polls in this election cycle is completely and totally out of control," Luntz said.
The closeness of this year's presidential race, says Hart, has served to magnify the differences among the polls.
Even the best poll has a 3- to 5-point margin of error, Hart noted. So a poll giving Bush a 2- or 3-point lead can be just as accurate as another poll giving Gore a 2- or 3-point lead the very same night. Declaring that either candidate has seized momentum on the basis of one night's tracking is foolhardy, said Hart, who warned the public: "Don't fall into that trap."
Goeas noted there were also wide disparities among the polls during the 1996 campaign, but they weren't as noticeable because they all agreed on the overall trend: Bill Clinton was running well ahead of Republican Bob Dole.
In the 2000 campaign, the trend is that Gore and Bush are running neck and neck. A swing of a few points can put one or another in the lead - changing the face of the race - and so differences are magnified.
The good news is that, as voters reach decisions and pollsters identify and question "likely" voters, "it all becomes more reliable as you move toward the election," Goeas said.
SIDEBAR: TWO POLLS, TWO RESULTS PLEASE REFER TO MICROFILM FOR CHART DATA.
Friday, November 08, 2002
Why Some Pollsters' Findings
Were So Wrong on Election Day
By JOHN HARWOOD and SHIRLEY LEUNG
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 8, 2002
Just before Election Day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a stunning poll about the governor's race in Illinois: GOP candidate Jim Ryan was ahead.
The Republican's 43.5%-43.2% edge over Democrat Rod Blagojevich, though tiny and statistically insignificant, landed with a bang in the world of Illinois politics because many earlier surveys had shown Mr. Ryan to be far behind. Moreover, it was conducted by nationally known pollster John Zogby, who had been acclaimed for his accuracy in the last two presidential campaigns. Mr. Zogby told the Post-Dispatch that he had personally reviewed the result and had affirmed its accuracy.
Oops: forty-eight hours later, Mr. Ryan lost big after all.
"We blew it," Mr. Zogby says now.
And so, it appears, did many other political pollsters. The reasons may be as various as the recent popularity of caller ID and cellphones, which hamper efforts to reach voters, and the nation's increasing ethnic diversity, which makes it harder to get an accurate statistical sampling of the electorate.
The GOP tilt of the midterm election surprised millions of Americans who had been following pre-election news coverage and commentary. Some survey results did reflect the late Republican surge, which was fueled by President Bush's campaigning. But those that didn't underscored mounting problems faced by an industry that looms ever larger in U.S. politics as the number and use of polls proliferate.
Mr. Zogby goes so far as to say that "the industry is at a crossroads." Other pollsters tartly say that poor methodology in individual cases, not an industry-wide crisis, is usually the cause of bad polls. In some cases, the media's use of polls taken well before Election Day to forecast the outcome of campaigns is responsible for leaving the public with the wrong impression.
Yet nearly everyone in the business acknowledges that new challenges are making polling more difficult and expensive -- if not unreliable. In an era when Republicans and Democrats remain at near-parity nationally, those problems increase the likelihood that political pollsters will end up with egg on their faces for the foreseeable future.
"I call polling an ABC science -- Almost Being Certain," says veteran pollster Richard Wirthlin, whose clients have included President Reagan. All polls have margins for error, Mr. Wirthlin notes, so "when you have a close election, you're likely to fall short."
A Lack of Cooperation
Aside from statistical variation, pollsters face a range of problems stemming from the changing mood and makeup of the American electorate. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is declining cooperation from people who simply don't want to be bothered. Many Americans use caller-ID telephone technology to screen out calls from survey takers. Others hang up in exasperation because they are tired of calls from telemarketers.
Twenty years ago, two-thirds or more of Americans were willing to accept calls from interviewers and linger on the phone for the 20 minutes or so that it takes to conduct the survey, according to Mr. Wirthlin. Today, that proportion has been cut in half, forcing pollsters to question their old assumption that nonresponses wouldn't distort results.
"There's no question it's getting harder," says Bill McInturff, a leading pollster for Republican candidates. "How do you decide that people who are willing to respond are like those who aren't?"
The country's continuing stream of immigration also makes accurate polling more difficult, since racial and ethnic groups tend to have distinctive voting patterns. It used to be that pollsters could be satisfied with representative numbers of whites and blacks in their survey samples.
Now, in states such as California and Texas, pollsters must account for Hispanics and Asians too. And beyond merely measuring the sentiments of various groups, pollsters have the further challenge of divining how to "weight" their ethnic samples to reflect the expected rate at which demographic groups will actually turn out at the polls on Election Day. In reasonably close elections, assigning different weights to various groups can markedly change a pollster's assessment of who's likely to win. And often that process is little better than educated guesswork.
That's not as big a problem in states that are relatively racially homogeneous, such as South Dakota, where polls consistently showed the Senate race between Democrat Tim Johnson and Republican John Thune as close as it turned out to be on Election Day. (Mr. Johnson beat Mr. Thune by a slender margin of less than one percentage point.) But with the Census Bureau projecting that the U.S. overall will became a nation of minorities by the year 2055, that problem will grow, not recede.
A Generation Gap
Changing lifestyles represent another problem. "One thing that has gotten harder is interviewing people under the age of 40," says Geoff Garin, a top Democratic pollster. The reason: many younger Americans have come to rely on cellular telephones rather than conventional telephones. Pollsters use conventional phone numbers to reach random samples of respondents. That may mean that cellphone devotees are largely undersampled.
A related challenge is that more women are in the country's work force, leaving fewer Americans at home to pick up the phone when pollsters call. Achieving a statistically accurate random sample requires pollsters to place repeated "callbacks" to households in which a potentially respondent isn't at home on the first try.
Pollsters sometimes decide that repeated callbacks are too costly and time consuming, and quickly select different households to call. These "convenience samples" are easier to obtain, Mr. McInturff says, but their results can be distorted. "It's incompetence" that causes most bad poll results, he argues.
To compensate for problems with telephone surveys, some research firms are moving toward alternative means of data collection, such as the Internet. The growth of online polling has been hindered by the bias in sampling that results from the fact that Internet users aren't representative of the general population. Harris Interactive, based in Rochester, N.Y., argues that it has developed "weighting" methods to overcome that problem, while citing other advantages of the method. For example, online polls can survey many more respondents than telephone polls can, and can incorporate visual cues. (Harris Interactive does polling for The Wall Street Journal on business and health issues.)
Traditional pollsters remain skeptical of the method. Mr. Wirthlin, for one, says polling firms may need to turn back to the low-tech solution of having researchers sample opinion through in-person interviews -- long since discarded as the industry standard because of their cost.
This year's election should have been relatively easy for pollsters. Those people who vote in midterm elections include disproportionate numbers of older voters. They are easier for pollsters to reach because they are more likely to be home than younger working people.
But you couldn't tell it from some surveys this election season. "There was a lot of bad polling this year," says Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. Some of the consequences, he adds, are now being felt inside the Democratic Party because the Republican takeover of both houses of Congress represented "a fundamental violation of our expectations."
Getting It Wrong in Georgia
One of the prime examples of races that confounded pollsters was in Georgia. Poll after poll showed Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes leading. His $20 million campaign war chest dwarfed Republican challenger Sonny Perdue's $3 million fund.
A week before the election, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/WSB-TV poll of 800 likely voters showed Gov. Barnes with 51% of the vote and Mr. Perdue with 40%, with a three-percentage-point margin of error. What happened on Election Day: Mr. Perdue took 51% of the vote, while Gov. Barnes captured 46%.
Jeff Shusterman, vice president of The Marketing Workshop Inc., Norcross, Ga., the research firm that conducted the poll for the AJC/WSB-TV, says its poll missed Mr. Perdue's come-from-behind victory because it polled people the last week of October, before the Republicans got out its vote.
After the election, Mr. Shusterman re-examined polling data from the last week of October and noticed that Mr. Perdue was rising, while Gov. Barnes was falling. "Having seen that, I feel confident had anybody done a scientific poll that polled through the weekend, they would have seen a Perdue victory," says Mr. Shusterman.
"Media polls are evil," says Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan, who says the pollsters didn't pick up nuances of voter sentiment in areas such as middle Georgia, the Democratic-leaning part of the state from which Mr. Perdue hails. It becomes an excuse for the media "to create a story and report on it."
Mr. Barnes' campaign manager, Tim Phillips, says the newspaper-TV poll mirrored the campaign's own polls, which showed the governor was up nine to 11 points. Those assessments were faulty, he concludes, because they underestimated the surge in Republican voter turnout.
The Minnesota Senate race, rocked by the death of Democratic incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone in an Oct. 25 plane crash, was the scene of one of the most striking polling disparities of all. On Nov. 3, two days before voters went to the polls, the Minneapolis Star Tribune poll showed former Vice President Walter Mondale leading Republican Norm Coleman by 46% to 41%. On the very same day, a St. Paul Pioneer Press survey conducted by Mason-Dixon showed a near-perfect mirror image: Mr. Coleman 47%, Mr. Mondale 41%.
Factoring in the margin of error for each poll, the surveys both showed a race too close to call, says Lawrence Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Yet they left Minnesotans with opposing impressions about the direction of a contest that Mr. Coleman ended up winning by 50% to Mr. Mondale's 47%.
Mondale campaign spokesman Jim Farrell says the fast-moving swirl of emotion in the state -- which began with Mr. Wellstone's death, then shifted direction after a much-politicized memorial service and an election-eve candidate debate -- made polling difficult for everyone. "With the death of Sen. Wellstone, the relevance of all the polls went out the window," says Mr. Farrell.
There was less explanation for seemingly errant surveys in the Colorado Senate race. A Rocky Mountain News/KCNC-TV poll close to Election Day put Democratic challenger Tom Strickland leading Republican incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard by 42% to 38%. A Denver Post/9News/KOA Radio poll indicated the race was too close to call, with Mr. Strickland at 42% to the senator's 41%.
Then there was Mr. Zogby's poll. His MSNBC/Zogby poll put Mr. Strickland ahead with 53% to Sen. Allard's 44%. On election day, Mr. Allard won comfortably with 51% to Mr. Strickland's 46%.
Some pollsters "were on a different planet," grouses Dick Wadhams, Mr. Allard's campaign manager. He says the campaign's internal polls showed that Sen. Allard consistently held a five to eight point lead.
"This was not our best year," says Mr. Zogby, whose firm Zogby International is based in Utica, N.Y. He put part of the blame on a late Republican surge that was difficult for all but the latest polls to detect. He also pointed to the swelling number of independents, whose voting intentions are "softest" and most susceptible to change.
Election polling may be even more difficult in 2004, he added, because of glitches in the new election-day system of "exit polls" that the Voter News Service supplied to major television networks this year. Since pollsters rely on the previous election's exit polls to develop models for how demographic groups show up to vote, it may be harder next time around for pollsters to weight their pre-election samples, properly, he said.
Other pollsters insist that methodological problems can be overcome by spending enough money to obtain proper samples and rigorously analyzing the data. At the same time, they caution that candidates and ordinary Americans alike need to remember that even accurate polls merely take a snapshot of sentiment at a particular moment and can't predict how sentiment will evolve and end up on Election Day.
"We're pretty good at predicting the present," Mr. Mellman quips. But "pollsters are not very good at predicting the future -- even if the future is only one day away."
Write to John Harwood at email@example.com and Shirley Leung at firstname.lastname@example.org
URL for this article:
Hyperlinks in this Article:
By Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services
Yellowknife (Nov 04/02) - Territorial politicians are like mushrooms,
hunched in the dark where cabinet refuses to shine the light of
Or, the territorial government is fast sinking on a ship without
bailing buckets. Worse, the political sailors trying to cup the water
out of the boat are drunk, maybe even completely trashed.
When it comes to important issues before the legislature, politicians
play a little game of one-upmanship, each trying to spit out the most
memorable metaphor, and the quips above tumbled from the mouths of
It's about chasing soundbites and it can be good fun for political
In the last few days, debates about abstract issues like "confidence
in government" have bred a mosquito's brood of zingy metaphors and
Water metaphors seemed to be particularly popular, especially since
some people think the government is, quite simply, drowning in a sea
of acrimony and non-confidence.
Take Floyd Roland, for example. The outspoken MLA from Inuvik said
consensus government should be about a team of politicians paddling in
the same direction, but sadly it's often about people thrashing water
as they try to point the boat in different ways.
But the metaphor took a dramatic twist: apparently the canoe wasn't on
the Mackenzie, it was hurtling down the Niagara River.
"It's not until we're heading down Niagara Falls, it seems, that the
cry for help comes," said Roland.
The occasional Northern metaphor is called for as well, and Roland was
at bat again, this time talking about the pattern of wrongdoing
involved in the conflict-of-interest scandal.
"There is a trail here that the poorest tracker can find," he said.
"It can get rather boring for people in there. If you look at some of
the legislation we deal with (it) is very flat. People have a hard
time relating to them. When you relate it to some of your life
experiences, people out there can relate to it," he said.
But Sandy Lee may have won the contest during this session when she
said the GNWT is spending money like "drunken sailors."
Not only were her remarks repeated several times in the assembly, but
another MLA played verbal construction, building on the metaphor.
Lee was initially speaking about a forecasted $60 million deficit.
When the legislature was later told the budget could be as high as
$100 million, Bell came back with: "If we were a little tipsy at $60
million, certainly we're bombed now."
"It's kind of fun to break away from the straight and narrow and use
metaphors," said Paul Delorey. "It puts a little more humour into
member's statement. In some cases it strengthens them as well."
And legislators know that calling the government names can be an
effective tactic at undermining opponents -- particularly when the
enemy is cabinet.
Brendan Bell unleashed a cutting string of metaphors when he called
the government both a "banana republic" and a "Third
in the same sentence earlier this week.
For politicians, language is highly important. Careers in public
service can sink or swim on what a person says -- and how they say it.
Monday, November 04, 2002
E-mail from Ryan Schuiling
Strong, opinionated, and focused. Thematic and rhythmic, dripping with
healthy anti-rhetoric. Could border on the sanctimonious or self-enlightened,
but that is also the heart of its power and appeal. Having a point and having
an opinion will make you a controversial figure, will draw crticism, and may
even make enemies ... but every successful columnist/radio host in America
has been cut from this cloth. Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Schlesinger,
Don Imus, George Will, etc.
This smacks of very McCain-ist Republican views - bravo! It even shades into
the realm of ... gulp ... communism? Responsibilty to and from the community
is a very socialist tendency (community - communism), one that flies in the
face of capitalism, self-reliance, free market, lasseiz-faire, competitive
American life. I am very aware and supportive of "helping thy
neighbor" ... but am more a fan of "help thy neighbor help himself" ... i.e. teach
him to fish, rather than giving him fish.
The Republican in me shudders at the thought of government handouts, people
milking the system through laziness and technicalities and litigation. It is
not the government's - or anyone else's - responsibility to provide for or
care for you (figurative) or your family. You are not entitled to anything,
except death. The less involved the government - or anyone else - is in my
life, the better. I also despise laziness and people who look for the easy
way out. Hard work, effort, determination, drive, passion, zest, etc.
On the other hand, I am a staunch supporter of the military, police, fire
fighters, and other volunteer government forces which help keep our country
safe. I also support volunteer organizations with philanthropic motives,
serving the greater good and making the country a better place. I donate
money to the Disabled American Veterans, and clothes/household supplies to
the Vietnam Veterans Assoc. Anyone who would put their life in harm's way for
my benefit, without even knowing me, deserves my respect and support.
I also support public schools STAUNCHLY. We MUST have an elite public school
system in place to ensure the highest educational level of our population.
Private schools, while a nice added-on bonus, have no place as the mainstream
source of education in this country - it will only further polarize the gap
between haves and have-nots, and perpetuate class warfare, as well as
ethnic/racial inequalities. Public schools must be funded highly, but also
intelligently - so that the moneys directly benefit those who are most
important - the STUDENTS, NOT the teachers. Teacher salaries must be
secondary to equipment, supplies, technology, books, curriculum, etc. in the
Under the Schuiling plan - welfare programs would be slashed, with
"workfare" programs put into place, designed to motivate, encourage, and FORCE people to
get jobs and keep them. Teacher salaries would be directly proportional to
student performance/improvement, with funding going to the schools that need
it most - for educational/athletic/fine arts for students. Military, police,
and fire funding would be increased significantly. There would be more police
and higher pay for them. Income taxes would be cut - especially for the
middle class, with excise taxes raised (sales, use, cigarettes, gasoline,
etc.) People would not be taxed for making money, but rather taxed on how
they spend it.
Abortion would be legal and safe, but strongly discouraged (requiring
parental notification/consent) with increased awareness/education in schools
and public health centers regarding birth control - which would be free, more
easily accessible, and confidential. Abortion should be phased out as the
method of birth control of last resort. It is morally wrong and unnecessary
in an educated, informed modern society.
Gun ownership should be legal, but strictly regulated. It is more of a
responsibility than a right. Waiting periods, background checks, and
mandatory professional gun training courses should be required elements. A
person must take a set amount of driver's training in order to operate a
vehicle - yet does not require any training to discharge a firearm. That's a
We should drill the hell out of Anwar. Without a second thought. Sever all
ties of dependency on the Middle East for Oil, with oil prices out of control
and terrorists using oil as extortion. Develop new clean fuel alternatives,
incorporate the auto companies into them (ethanol, solar/electric cars, etc)
... and in the meantime, sustain our own oil supply with reserves like Anwar.
Preserve the integrity of the wildlife regions, but not at the expense of our
economy or safety.
Child care facilities should be operated at a corporate level. Huge tax
credits would be given to those companies who provide employees with on-site
child care. Mothers and fathers should be able to work and raise a family
without having to sacrifice one for the other. Corporations should develop
more family-friendly work environments, including programs and incentives
designed to encourage working moms and dads to come work for that company.
Productivity and morale would increase astronomically.
There is my political philosophy in a nutshell. Ready to jump on board for
the campaign? Share your thoughts and counterpoints.
By Nathan Bierma
David Dark has deepened my resolve not to get home delivery of to the New York Times, though my newsstand expenses nearly justify it. Neither he nor I mean to knock on the Times; it's one of the few remaining resources of responsible journalism, quality writing, and curiosity about world affairs. It's about the only newspaper worth actually reading, not just glancing through, and it seems like an oasis of wisdom when compared with the News McNuggets of USA Today and television newscasts. Its daily world culture journal on page A4 is refreshing reading. As a journalist myself I could do worse than to start my day by opening its pages.
But reading the Times is not just an act of responsible citizenry and perpetual education, it's also an act of faith--faith in order, faith in structure, faith in the media's arbitrary standards and filters of what is newsworthy. The events of the world, the Times' unwavering layout suggests, can be neatly confined and boxed within the templates of the page, an arrogant assignment of order to a chaotic world. It matters not what horror may be unfolding somewhere in the world; the daily drama of evil in creation and the resulting human anguish can be evenly related in the "dispassionate objectivity" and rectitudinous columns of newsprint. "Expect the World," beckons a Times subscription offer. But the Times' world, as its front page slogan says, is "fit to print."
This is no way to live, it seems to me after reading David Dark's provocative new book Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons, a stirring call to living perceptively and skeptically within our cultural context. It's about how to live with nerve endings. So numbed are we by our social norms and institutions, Dark writes, that we forget we are living in a pseudo-world, one "founded upon the reduction of nature, creativity, and human life itself to whatever will benefit and perpetuate 'market forces.'" Dark invokes The Truman Show, whose creepy sovereign, executive producer Christof, says, "We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented." Truly, we need the apocalyptic genre to awaken us to "question the reigning takes on reality." We usually interpret the word "apocalypse” as a dramatic destruction, Dark says, but the word actually means revelation and epiphany. Apocalyptic art "testifies concerning a world both beyond and presently among the world of appearances." In a way, Dark is calling us to "expect the world," but in an unexpected way.
Dark's book is a collection of the art and culture he says can accomplish such an awakening--a chapter each on, among others, Flannery O'Connor, The Simpsons, Radiohead, and Joel and Ethan Coen, makers of Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou? His commentary satisfies the reader with both the knowledgeable command of the English teacher he is at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville and the contagious pleasure of a lover of illuminating storytelling. To pull this off requires a rejection of the most familiar religious impulses toward popular culture, which Dark identifies as a pious condescension. "It's as if such religious faith has no greater calling than counting bad words, spotting the sexual innuendo, and walking away in a loud, well-publicized huff."
Everyday Apocalypse is more than a model for enjoyment and discernment of the most thoughtful popular culture (which turns out not to be an oxymoron, after all). It is an inspiring call to live in the world with what Walter Bruggeman calls "exilic consciousness"--the realization that we are exiled in a culture whose worldview we can not tolerate, even as we must coexist with it. Dark hints at the irony that Christians are the ones who, with their professed fear of popular culture (but devoted financial support of it), typically accept the generic values of mainstream culture while supposedly godless artists are truly awake in the world. He would agree with William Romanowski, who writes in Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture that North American Christians "tend to privatize their faith, confining religion to family and local congregations, while conducting their affairs in business, politics, education, social life, and the arts much like everyone else."
Dark points out that although Christians are to be culturally subversive, "a political-economic order has nothing to fear from a sentimental, fully 'spiritualized' faith." Instead, he sees the stubborn rebels in The Matrix as a metaphor for our mission: "[The world] is under siege. But there is a resistance movement... This mobile, beleaguered city functions in the world, seeking to free creation from its momentary bondage to decay." How odd, Dark notes, that at a time "when the self-proclaimed representatives of 'the gospel' have reduced the good news to 'how to get to heaven when you die,' it's profoundly ironic that a science fiction action film would serve to bring the reality-altering significance of the Jewish and Christian revelations up on the cultural radar."
Taken that far, Dark's book is a welcome wake-up call. But what Dark does not resolve is just how far to carry this cry. How fine a line is there between "alternative consciousness" and dysfunctional cynicism? We must live, he writes, with a fundamental discomfort with "the way things are," which "the powers that be" have, in Orwellian fashion, trained us to consider synonymous with "the way things ought to be" and "the only way things could have gone." But is there any appropriate level of acceptance of our cultural norms, and is this not necessary for fruitful cultural engagement--to work, as Jeremiah calls us, for the shalom of the city in which we find ourselves exiled? Dark's analysis almost leaves you with the feeling that if you have any fondness whatsoever for capitalism, you've sold out to the dark side. I have very little, but I do wonder if beating up on capitalism is so routine that it's lost its keenness in alternative rock, especially since, as Dark acknowledges, Radiohead makes millions for a huge corporation.
There is, to both our moral peril and mental health, a functionality to some level of cultural conformity. It is difficult, if not downright depressing, to endure the cognitive dissonance that comes from a continuous rejection of the values of one's cultural context. And we need not. For example, those sensations of patriotism we felt after September 11 were legitimate--provided we did not cultivate them to the point of an idolatrous Manifest Destiny, or accept the media’s tales of altruism at Ground Zero (and the Times’ own glistening “Portraits of Grief” obituary series) as fodder for a belief in inherent human goodness and a denial of our depravity. But a tension Dark leaves too loose is our dual calling to be both prophets and priests--lone voices of an alternative consciousness and leaders who confirm the ideals of a community. An unpleasant world would be inhabited by everyone constantly questioning everything. Or, as Nicholas-Sebastien Chamfort admonishes: "The contemplative life is often miserable. You should do more, think less, and not watch yourself living." We are not to be such Epicureans, but as Dark repeats Kafka's pronouncement that "if reading a literary text doesn't facilitate a skull-hammering awakening, we're wasting our time," I wonder: who can endure such a steady delivery of blows to the head?
While Dark's passionate prose inspires us to find a new framework for daily living, he offers little in the way of what such a framework might be. He praises apocalyptic's function of "unmasking the fictions we inhabit," but says little about apocalyptic's ability to enlighten us as to what is not fictitious, or how to tell the difference. Thus Dark makes apocalyptic seem primarily deconstructive (which Dark may argue it actually is--but it would be worth his mentioning this, and proceeding to suggest what we are to do with our newly destructed outlook on life). He especially praises O'Connor and The Simpsons for satirizing our ideals, revealing our absurdities, and questioning our assumptions. But after such a demolition, what do we have left? To counter the dangers of my fondness for the New York Times, for example, I read the bastion of irony, The Onion, which masterfully deconstructs the mythology of the establishment media. But The Onion is decidedly incapable of helping me form a coherent worldview. "Everybody's lookin' for answers," Dark quotes George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou? Can the enlightened soul, awakened by apocalyptic, offer any? "As a Coen film ends," writes Dark, "I have the distinct pleasure of knowing I've seen something good without knowing exactly why." Can we hope to do no better?
Dark cautions against invoking words like "God, truth, glory, good, life, humanity" with much certainty, at the risk of believing we've "gotten to the bottom of what we're talking about." But this admonishment may lead us to abandon many useful questions: What is good? What is quality? Why are joy and suffering worth knowing? Where are we going? Part of the time, Dark seems to suggest the purpose of art is to rediscover grace, and part of the time the point seems to be that life is a mystery. But on the latter point, I am reminded of my dissatisfaction with Enya. Her soul-soothing strains awaken me to a latent harmony in creation, "the music of the spheres," as the hymn puts it. But after listening to Enya I have nothing but a vague sense of calm--she never articulates what beauty is and cannot introduce me to its author. So is she apocalyptic, since she awakens me from my daily numbness to a deeper beauty in creation? Or is she just airy and aimless? Or all at once? I'd be interested in Dark's take.
The beauty of art is its ability to edify as well as erode, to aggressively articulate what is real as well as what is a lie. Take two examples which Dark applauds in passing but which warrant more treatment in his book. Moulin Rouge is a vivid spectacle that enriches our appreciation of the four virtues its Bohemians repeatedly profess: "truth, beauty, freedom and love." These potential religious buzzwords are given inventive flair in the captivating love story of Christian and Satine, which pivots on the question of what is true and beautiful behind the glamorous façade, and contrasts freedom and love with the cruel bondage of the Duke. Likewise, Shrek is deconstructive--its sole inspiration seems to be the chance to thumb its nose at Disney--but it also reconstructs, twisting the standard Cinderella narrative and bending it into a more authentic tale of soul-deep beauty and unglamorous love. The real power of art, of which these movies suggest popular culture is capable, is not only to awaken us to an alternative consciousness, but to help us define what our alternate reality is.
Dark's analysis of the truly apocalyptic The Matrix brings to mind another blind spot, a confusion that arises from my aspirations to be a good Calvinist. Calvinism firmly directs our gaze to the inherent evil in humanity, and yet we must simultaneously have universal compassion, finding Christ in the faces we see around us. As Dark writes, "When we look at the face of a human being, we're gazing upon a living mystery of infinite worth." But can our view of humanity's total depravity, and our apocalyptic awareness that we are resisting a system others are captive to, lead us to be somewhat misanthropic--to generally disdain humankind? Such a dilemma tugs at Neo in The Matrix. The people he sees on the streets are in the fixed grip of the system, and since special agents come to embody human beings during confrontations, he must shoot his fellow humans. They are, Morpheus, tells him, "the very people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of the system and that makes them our enemy." Is Neo misanthropic as he strolls the streets? How does he balance his empathy for humankind with his knowledge that they are all deceived by their minds? And since we must adopt The Matrix as a metaphor for our exilic consciousness, how do we reconcile our awareness of total depravity with what Richard Mouw calls our "empathy mandate"? Perhaps this will be a theme of the two Matrix sequels to be released next summer, when Neo must enter the Matrix and pluck more lost souls. But to have explored this contradiction would have made the original Matrix and even better movie, easing its reliance on the standard cowboy-shoots-bad-guys narrative, and would have made Everyday Apocalypse an even better book.
I'm sure David Dark reads the New York Times, at least once in a while, and I'm not going to give it up either. But if apocalyptic means waking up every day and letting the mystery of existence hit you in the face like crisp morning air, then we should be careful to adopt narrow routines of the mind that constrict our thinking and numb us to our alternative consciousness. Since we inevitably will, Dark's book can be an taken as encouragement that there will always be The Simpsons to jolt us off our stride.
Chicago Tribune RedEye
By Nathan Bierma
submitted draft/published Nov. 3, 2002, page 2
We have seen the future of politics. If you missed it, catch the re-run next spring.
Last month [Oct. 19], John McCain hosted Saturday Night Live, in a rare case of a sitting senator doing stand-up.
As I watched McCain's impersonation of attorney general John Ashcroft, which you had to see to believe, I couldn’t help but think that McCain was on to something.
No doubt curmudgeonly political observers saw the latest instance of a statesman on a comedy variety show—a ritual undertaken periodically, but seldom convincingly, ever since Richard Nixon appeared on “Laugh-In”—as the most recent sign of the downfall of civilization. But I’m not so sure.
As I saw it, here was a prominent politician, a graying member of the Congressional senior tour, trying intently to communicate to a generation disaffected by politics. He knew he wouldn't reach us with a speech filtered through a focus group. He knows we have hyper-developed B.S. detectors.
McCain wasn’t the first politician to appear on a comedy show, but he may have been the most sincere to do so, and the most adept at trading in SNL's currency: irony. Most politicians come across with the irony and humor of oat bran.
But because of his political character, McCain’s appearance was resonant, where candidate George W. Bush’s 2000 appearance on Letterman, complete with awkward jokes about David Letterman’s heart surgery, was merely strange. Ronald Reagan, meanwhile, had entertainment genes, but was a personal enigma, more of a projection than a person.
Sooner or later, politicians will have to discover what it means to be both authentic and ironic, as McCain can be, if they are to recapture the imagination of a detached generation.
In the meantime, we know that no matter how next week’s elections turn out, chances are that young voters--Generation X, Generation Y, Generation W (for "whatever these ludicrous labels are supposed to mean") are going to get blamed for not doing our part.
We turn out for elections in dreadful numbers in elections. Over the last three decades, voter turnout has dropped from one half to one third in the 18-24 age range, and from three fourths to one half for people age 25-44, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy.
But the way I see it, it takes two to disengage.
Just look at the four candidates for Illinois attorney general and governor, who collectively have the charisma of corrugated cardboard. Their authenticity and passion seems stripped away after long careers of walking the corridors of power.
They probably know that the minute they make a strong statement, they lose the endorsement of Chicago Citizens for Predictable Politics, or whatever organization whose support they crave.
Are we young voters so delinquent for despairing of finding a true leader among this lot?
Politicians could take a lesson from John McCain. Now there was a candidate who said what he meant, meant what he said, and made us care about his saying it. He knows how to connect with the public, as his SNL appearance attests, and his passion for public service is contagious.
But just when we began to get excited about McCain’s candidacy in the 2000 primaries, special interests poured money into low-blow attack ads, correctly calculating that their tea parties with the powerful would be in jeopardy should the people’s candidate remain unscathed. McCain never recovered.
This is the political process for which we’re supposed to summon so much enthusiasm?
I'm not trying to excuse skipping out on the polls. You may hate your mom's goulash, but you still should come to the table. People have bled and died for democracy, and what better do you have to do anyway, watch “8 Simple Rules”?
I’m just saying that our leaders owe us something, too. They owe us authenticity, integrity, and maybe even a little inspiration. If democracy is worth dying for, than it’s worth the boldness of our minds.
The S.S.Badger makes its last Lake Michigan crossing for the year
By Charles Leroux
Tribune senior correspondent
Published October 25, 2002
MANITOWOC, Wis. -- Roadside sweet corn stands have given way to roadside pumpkin stands. Packer baseball caps are being replaced by warmer Packer stocking caps. Along the Lake Michigan shore here, 80 miles north of Milwaukee, the air is chilled and the maple, oak and sumac leaves blush with color.
It's undeniable. Summer is over.
And so are the Tempo road trips. Our jaunts to offbeat, interesting places, events and folks around the Midwest will be up on blocks for the winter. This, the last such journey until spring, takes us to a community that, more than most, honors its nautical past and appreciates its nautical present.
Like most port cities on Lake Michigan, Manitowoc has a history of commercial fishing; and, again like most, that industry has played out. Another industry that has mostly moved on is shipbuilding. In the latter half of the 19th Century, there were 10 shipbuilders here. Now there's one, the Burger Boat Co. which custom-makes yachts for customers such as Scottie Pippen (the Lady Larsa, named for the basketball star's wife ).
In the 1940s, shipyards in Manitowoc built 28 submarines as well as landing craft, minesweepers and subchasers. In recognition of that service to the war effort, the U.S. Navy donated a submarine of the same class as those made here to the Wisconsin Marine Museum. The U.S.S. Cobia is now moored downtown in the Manitowoc River next to the museum.
All those nautical connections make it appropriate that a sure sign of the coming and going of summer here is the first appearance and the last sight of the S.S. Badger. The Badger is a 4,244-ton, 410-foot-long, coal-fired, steam-driven car ferry capable of carrying 625 passengers, 180 vehicles and about 60 crew. It makes daily round trips (twice daily in the heart of summer) between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, two cities within a few degrees of latitude of each other at a relatively narrow part of the lake. The 60-mile crossing takes four hours in this steel-plate behemoth with a top speed of about 18 miles per hour.
The ship is designated as Federal Highway 10 in that it joins Federal 10 in Michigan to Federal 10 in Wisconsin. Also, the Society of Mechanical Engineers has declared it an international historic landmark because of its unique Skinner Unaflow steam engines.
The Badger began this past season on a cold, nasty day in mid-May, when it pulled into Manitowoc's Charles "Chuck" Conrad Wharf. The season-ending sailing came, appropriately, on Columbus Day, a sunny, low-50s charmer.
"It was a nice, quiet crossing from Michigan," said Capt. Dean Hobbs, senior of the two captains who alternate trips. "The younger guys say they like the challenge of rough weather. Me [he's 48], I've been through enough of that to appreciate a lake that's smooth as glass."
As head of a floating community of officers, crew and passengers, Hobbs also has come to appreciate the sometimes tricky currents of human nature. "There have been guys who have asked me to marry them and their girlfriends onboard because they know perfectly well it's not going to be legal," he said. "Some passengers wonder if they'll see porpoises."
One man walked through the firmly moored boat from stern to bow, stood looking out at the lake and asked, "Where's the boat?" Hobbs has marveled at the big signs held up by men on shore, ("most of them on the Michigan side," he said, must be something about Michigan people") that say, "Joanne -- or whoever -- marry me!"
One of the human interactions he has enjoyed most is that between the many college students who have been hired on as summer help and the navigation crew, professional, longtime sailors. Those latter crew members work the traditional naval shifts of 4 hours on, 4 hours off, sleep on board, and they might not leave the Badger for five months.
"At first, there was some awkwardness," Hobbs said. "The old-timers are a quieter bunch. But it was really neat to see how they eventually took the kids under their wings, taught them what they needed to know."
Childhood on the water
The education of Captain Hobbs began in a childhood spent around, and on, the water. He grew up in Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on the river that connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron. At 19, after an unsatisfying attempt at a land-based career, he decided to follow in the wake of Samuel Clemens on the Mississippi River.
"I was paid $100 a week, first sailing from Greenville, Miss., to Chicago by way of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, the `Chicago ditch,'" he said. Later he pushed barges of caustic soda up from Cumberland, Ky., to Lemont, Ill. Passing through Peoria one day, he had the epiphany that a year-round, low-paid Life on the Mississippi lacked the glamor he had hoped for.
"It was 10 below," he said. "I was wearing my closet, every piece of clothing I had, and I suddenly understood the value of an education."
He applied to the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Mich., was accepted, and, after three years, graduated and took jobs with the fleets of Amoco and, later, Inland Steel.
In 1995, he got an offer from the Lake Michigan Car Ferry Co. The offer was to be a captain. The company was headquartered near his home in Traverse City. He jumped aboard.
Lake Michigan ferries date back to 1875 when the Flint & Pere Marquette Railway began service between Ludington and Sheboygan hauling grain, freight and passengers. In 1892, loaded freight cars were shipped across the lake, saving as much as a week compared to a land route. Car ferries in which the "car" stood for automobiles came later.
The Badger and its sister ship, the Spartan, were built in 1952 and joined the City of Midland in a fleet operated by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The golden era of Lake Michigan car ferries in which many ports were served on both sides of the lake lasted about 20 years.
By the mid-1970s, increased labor, fuel and maintenance costs forced car ferry owners to cut back operations. In 1982, nearly 100 years of ferry service to Manitowoc ended. The C&O's three ferries were sold and wound up as the property of the Lake Michigan Carferry Service headed by the aforementioned Charles "Chuck" Conrad, who promised to return ferry service to the lake.
"He was an eccentric, energetic, brilliant guy," said Kevin Crawford, Manitowoc mayor since 1989. "He fueled himself with popcorn and used to call me at 2:30 in the morning to discuss bringing a ferry back to Manitowoc."
Badger docks at Manitowoc
In 1992, Conrad made good on his promise when, on May 15, the Badger docked at Manitowoc. (The City of Midland was converted to a barge and renamed the Pere Marquette 41. The Spartan is moored in Ludington and is used for parts for the Badger.)
"Ever since, it's not only been Christmas in July but Christmas for the whole season," said Mayor Crawford, referring to the estimated $17 million in additional city revenue brought to the city from the 225,000 travelers who pass through going to and from the ferry. That's a big bonus to a city of 34,500.
On his first day on the job, Hobbs said, "one of the older hands took me around the outside of the Badger and pointed out the dents that previous captains had made." Hobbs has made his mark, too.
"Yes, I touched a dock," he said. "I immediately sent some of the crew out to camouflage the scrape."
It's easy to see how one might `touch' something. To dock, the Badger backs in, its movement controlled in the aft wheelhouse, a smaller version of the forward one used while crossing the lake. Both feature brass and wood navigation equipment, "Titanic electronics," Hobbs joked. (Not quite; much of the technology installed in 1952 is WWII surplus.) "Newer ships are steered with a little joystick thing," he said. He fondly gripped the turned spokes of the big, traditional, varnished wheel. "I get wood."
The Badger is one of only a handful of coal-fired steamers left in the world, its two 3,500-horsepower engines burning 48 tons in a round trip. Most ships now have diesel engines, a big saving in labor. The rarity of the ship's engine room drew fireman Rodney Ruell to work there. A lifelong marine fireman determined to retire a fireman, native Londoner Ruell comes to Ludington each season to labor in the bowels of the Badger.
Though rare and somewhat antique, the engines are sturdy. Piston rings from one were removed recently for the first time in 30 years. They were cleaned, inspected and put back. They were fine.
The structure of the ship is similarly stout.
"Over time," Hobbs said, "if there was an area that seemed weak, they'd just add another inch of steel."
Each season, the Badger puts on enough miles to go around the world more than twice. In its 50-year lifetime, it has logged the equivalent of 180 global circuits.
Fall's last ferry
On Columbus Day, Don Short was the aft wheelman, deftly carrying out Hobbs' docking orders while his music of choice, Mozart, played in the background. The other wheelman, Bob Palmer, prefers easy listening. The Badger has a port and a starboard engine. For docking, one engine is reversed so that, Hobbs said; "We can sort of `walk' into the dock."
Then, in a sort of giant mooning, the Badger drops its back gate, beginning the off-loading then re-loading of passengers and vehicles. One arrival from Michigan this day was Karla Brown, who is walking a looping, 9,000-mile path around America to raise funds for epilepsy awareness, a disease from which she suffered until brain surgery left her free of seizures. On a crossing a few years ago, actor George Wendt (Norm on the TV show "Cheers") was aboard on his way from a family home in Michigan to a taping in Chicago.
"He was really interested in the crew and how things worked," Hobbs said. "He was about to start making a movie called Lakeboat [released in 2000, based on a David Mamet play with Wendt as First Mate Collins] about a Great Lakes freighter. I rented it when it came out on video but had a hard time staying awake."
In 1943, a 15-year-old girl and her mother left Ludington on the ferry City of Saginaw bound for Milwaukee. While aboard, she met a young soldier returning from a leave to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. They walked the deck, talked and fell in love. Because she was so young, her mother refused to let her date, but the boy found a car ferry letterhead envelope, wrote his address on it and gave it to her.
Pen pals correspond
The two corresponded until his unit was called up to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. Listed as Missing in Action for three months, he was later found in a hospital in England. The war ended, he came home and, on Sept. 7, 1947, married his pen pal.
Albin and Bonnie Hughes have three grown children now, and are retired in Arcadia, Mich. Earlier this month, the Hughes boarded the S.S Badger for a special cruise -- a present from their children -- to commemorate their 55th wedding anniversary. Bonnie, by the way, still has that car ferry envelope.
At this time of year, with only one round trip a day, the Badger arrives at noon and departs at 2:30. During the layover, Capt. Hobbs often takes what his crew calls "The Captain's Cardiac Walk," to Beerntsen's old-fashioned candy store, on to the Cedar Crest ice cream shop, then Moretti's Italian deli. He doesn't go to Van's Liquors despite its charming ad -- "Coldest Beer in the Diocese."
On this the last crossing until spring, there's a special treat waiting back in Ludington.
"It's an old naval tradition," said Bob Manglitz, president of Lake Michigan Carferry Service, who had sailed over from Ludington that day, "that once the ship is secured to the dock and the fires are out, there's a party." The company supplies the food and the hall; the crew brings the booze. Manglitz, son-in-law of the late Charles Conrad, planned to attend but to get out before things got crazy. There's also a Christmas party attended by employees and alumni who show up from all over the country.
In the off-season, Hobbs will teach at the Maritime Academy. British fireman Ruell plans to work on the maintenance of the guitars in his extensive collection. The college kids will return to school. The Badger will be readied for next year. Manitowoc will hunker down for winter.
Wrapped in sweaters and insulated vests against the rising wind off the water, nine people bid farewell to the ferry that day. They waved and took photos as the ferry chugged slowly to the end of the breakwater and turned out onto the lake. Then, they -- like the Badger -- headed home.