All News is Local

Our friend Annie in Virginia shared a story today about the outsourcing of copy editing services by American newspapers to companies in India. Like much such outsourcing, the reasons for this seem logical: there’s more and cheaper labor available and no cost in product transport. For their part, Indian company reps seem typically polite and competent—the good and ready servants to global economy they’ve become.

It’s a win-win, right? We get cheap, readable news, and national newspapers stay afloat a few months longer in their long sink.

Well, not so winning for the readership, as Poynter Institute scholar Roy Peter Clark writes: “It pains me to say that the bean counters who have proposed this move have added insult to the injury of being laid off. They seemed to have reduced the craft of copy editing to its most basic functions without attention to what will be lost, including cultural literacy, institutional memory and knowledge of the community.”

Clark continues by citing some of the arcana of American cultural literacy he’d like our copy editors to know.

“…I need them to know that a Florida cracker is not something you eat, and that it may or may not be offensive to some readers. I need a Rhode Island copy editor to know that you don’t dig for clams; you dig for quahogs, a word of Indian origin — American Indian. I need copy editors who know that Jim Morrison of The Doors went to St. Pete Junior College, that beat writer Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Fla., but is buried in Lowell, Mass.”

Here, here! We want our news to be from here! (Forget for a moment that Indian copy editors could Google anything along these lines about as well as writers in Lowell, Massachusetts.)

Of course I agree. I want a lot more stuff I handle to be from here.

But I think relatively few readers will notice outsourced copy editing these days. We’re accustomed to reading news (if we do) on the Internet, which posts liberally from numerous international English language sources, and which carries also a lower standard of editing born of distribution speed and ease of correction (if they bother).

What we’re talking about here is whether there is still a viable market for local news, which begs the question, Are there still any viable locales?

I think there are, but I wonder if the locals can still be convinced to agree.

The thing I love about the high price of gas is that my neighbors are complaining; notably, they are complaining to each other, because by and large they are hanging out more in the neighborhood. I’m pleased and surprised that it only took a couple bucks extra per gallon to bring this about.

I live in a pretty big neighborhood of several hundred homes. We’ve made some good friends here, street to street, with a social network stretching about 4 blocks from our house: walking and biking distances, even for the kids. We share afternoon coffee and beers and tomatoes and childcare with our friends. We share game, since most of us hunt and all of us eat meat. We borrow pools. We cook out every weekend, somewhere.

We complain about the price of gas, but I think we’re having more fun together lately.

Is this typical? Do you think other neighborhoods (our ersatz modern villages) are starting to behave in a similar fashion to ours? I hope so. It would be a big shot in the arm to the return of the local, as a viable concept. It might even start, in neighborhoods large enough, a brushing off of the homeowners’ association newsletter (or more likely, the website). There might be a few writers around, people who stay in the ‘hood all day, and with increasingly more company as the economy continues to tank and daycare and soccer camps become too expensive. Maybe there will be a market, too, for this local news.

Look for this. Look for a resurgence of the local paper (or at least, of local news in some media) as more people are forced by high prices to stay put and thus to care about what’s going on around them.

In such a market, I doubt an Indian outsourcing company could compete so well.


Stingray has an un- PC post on the anniversary of the first atomic bomb here.

I wrote to him:

“Slightly irrelevant tale: I was at the site (October opening I think) and some hippies had set up an altar with a Shiva figurine on it (“I am become Shiva, destroyer of worlds”.)

“A ranchy- type woman was walking by with her kid, pointed at it, and said “That’s what radiation’ll do to ya– give you extra arms and legs”.

“New Mexico as we all know is a Land Of Many Cultures.

More Links

Patrick’s link in the comments below got broken but I think THIS may have been it.

In my youth I once had a romance with a woman whom I initially impressed by telling her she reminded me of Emma Peel. Unfortunately the resemblance was only to her looks…

And (on a linked subject?): what is it with these po- mo Barbies??

I mean, the leather n’ lace ones have a certain.. appeal (though for kids?!)

But what is with the Pooper Scooper Barbie, complete with… poop, apparently?

Or The Birds Barbie, with attacking crows?

UPDATE: Annie D sends in a YouTube commercial for Poop Barbie.

Around the Web…

Busy, but there are so many good and horrific things to link to, on the Usual Suspects and more and worse…

First, Asia. Look at this map from Strange Maps (courtesy of Rod) showing the “real”, ie Han, China as an island. All those places in the ocean to the north and west– Tibet, Xinjiang, “Manchuria”, various tribal states in the southwest- are vassals of the Han Empire.

Which continues its environmental meltdown. Why don’t more enviros wake up to the fact that China is doing a lot worse than we are?

Mongolia, though perpetually threatened by Han ambitions, is a cheerier place.Here, Peculiar reviews the movie Mongol, and links to a Tim Cahill piece on a trip there he and others took a few years ago. And our friend Sari from Finland, founder of Tazilist, sends this haunting YouTube video of Mongol throat singing and “moron kurs”, horsehead fiddles (that is pronounced “murun” BTW.)

Dogs: Henry’s dogs are on TV.

Writing: Liz Hand, author of this wonderful book among others, remembers Tom Disch.

Evolution: Darwin Central has a good post against “I” D here. So with the facts on his side, why in HELL does PJ Myers do things like THIS?? I’m with Freddie. And by the way– why does he pick specifically on a church which has no problem with evolution and never has? Surely he would do better with, say, “desecrating” a… Koran? Don’t hold your breath- apparently he was against the Mohammed cartoons. A brave dissenter…

In cheerier evo news, Emile at World We Don’t Live In links (with an awful pun) to new evidence on how flounder “moved” their eyes. There ARE “intermediate” forms. He also links to Laelaps for more– and if you go to his home page you will find, below this post, one on a fossil “louse” that may have clung to Dino feathers or Pterosaur fur.

Conservation: in typical Government fashion, we pay to save the ferret while simultaneously killing off its prey base. The State– “what it cannot do?” (Bonus points for knowing that quote.)

Good new “country living” blog here.

Guns. Massachusetts has an idea: make guns too expensive for all but the rich. At some point, will it be an act of civil disobedience to own a gun (Mass.) or breed a dog (California)?

Pure fun. Diana Rigg is 70 smokes, drives fast cars, and finishes off a bottle of wine every night. She is also a fan of fly- fishing. And she still looks good. Any other old Avengers fans out there in Q- Land?

John Derbyshire recently discovered funny Russian names, of which there seem to be many. I emailed him on the great 20th century Russian ornithologist Dementiev, author of the indispensable Birds of the Soviet Union. He posted this selection from Byron’s Don Juan, which includes the following (and much more):

“Still I’ll record a few, if but to increase
Our euphony: there was Strongenoff, and Strokonoff,
Meknop, Serge Lwow, Arséniew of modern Greece,
And Tschitsshakoff, and Roguenoff, and Chokenoff,
And others of twelve consonants apiece…”

Finally for now: sober mice are depressed mice!

THomas Disch: 1940- 2008

The poet, critic, and science fiction writer Thomas Disch died last week, a suicide. He was brilliant, unclassifiable, unemployable, and poor, despite having written some odd best sellers– the quintessential freelancer.

He was facing eviction from his last home after the death of his long- time companion, and in bad health. He was still writing funny acerbic things two days before his death, and has a novel coming out.

I often found his fiction funny but bleak. His poetry rhymed and scanned– unpopular these days; in a just world he would have been as well known as, say, Larkin.

He was one of the best critics around, and one of the few whose work I keep– with Dana Gioia, the only contemporary poetry critic. My copy of The Castle of Indolence has about fifty dogears marking quotable lines. (He was a fan of Frederick Turner, another brilliant but neglected writer.)

Obits and recollections here (the Times), here (First Things (HT John Farrell ), and here (many links, including amazingly a good one from Kos– that both first Things and Kos mourn him says a lot.)

And a bit from Vorpal Sword on the freelancer’s plight:

“Disch came up at a time when you could, having established yourself, make a living as a writer when you’d built up enough of a “pad” of novel royalties, and were selling regularly.

“Make no mistake, writing for a living is tough when you’re a freelancer, because you’re constantly applying for new “jobs.” Every story, every essay is a new submission. Time moves, and deadlines constantly loom. You hope you have a book that’s paying sufficient royalties, and perhaps a few steady columns — because writing money comes according to no set timetable (save what is convenient for the publisher) and a regular paycheck from a magazine is good for paying one’s rent.

“Paying one’s rent becomes a constant obsession for the free-lancer, and Thomas Disch was a free-lancer for most of his adult life.”


“In the end, the writer’s life is finally about making that next month’s rent. The business has become all but impossible for the “mid-list author” — them what sells enough books to turn a profit, but not enough to be of much interest to them publishing houses.”

Top 10 Dumbest Lists

Reid forwarded a link and a wink with this story: 10 Dumbest and Smartest Dog Breeds

Needless to say the list itself (a silly, rehashed non-story) deserves no comment; and equally needless to say, we all jumped in eagerly to comment on it.

Steve wrote in first:

I don’t even have to LOOK. Oriental sighthounds, like other primitive breeds, always come out “dumb” on these lists because they aren’t”biddable”. But try seeing them solve their own problems– or live with one and watch it train itself. (Remember I have also trained “smart” lurchersand sheepdogs as well as bird dogs– NONE learns as naturally as a real i.e., “Country Of Origin” AKA unspoiled, hunting stock) saluki.

Show Afghans and some modern salukes– what Libby calls “supermodels”– are a whole ‘nother story, which is why I have Kazakh and John Bedouin dogs.) John will doubtless have more to say when he gets back from Europe.

I am curious about all of you others’ opinions– I’m forwarding this toVladimir too, as his Laikas are also “primitives” with minds not unlike tazi-salukis (which he also has.) Patrick (as an owner of very different dogs) and Rebecca (as a pro trainer)–?

Vladimir responds: “I have both now, Laika and three Tazy (Saluki). They all are smart dogs, but not necessarily obedient; being smart is not the same as being obedient, of course.”

After taking a minute to flip through the breeds pictured, Steve says of the so-called dumbest:

At least it was an Afghan! But Aboriginal Affies, taigans etc are just like COO salukis, only even fierier (and more aloof and less biddable.) I still hope to get a taigan-blooded dog from K’Stan for my strain (from Shakula-Vladimir knows.)

The rest is as I expected. Shepherds which are fairly smart but biddable do well. Retrievers most which are dumb and biddable also do well (goldens areas dumb as rocks, Labs almost, Chessies… pretty smart but not there BECAUSE INDEPENDENT. Primitives (chows, basenjis) do poorly in these tests. Don’t really
know the modern show chow but the ones around here are smart but independent.
Ditto the Africanis breeds like basenjis.

Pekingese and beagles are genuinely dumb (most scenthounds have smart noses, but…) Pekes and the poor show bulldog can barely exist or be born without aid– who can tell about their brains, really? Mastiffs are a sort of degenerate descendant of flock protection dogs, which tend to have rather one-track minds.

Rebecca spoke up next, almost starting another kind of rowe: “The smartest dogs I’ve worked with have been mutts. Take away specialization and you’ve got a better problem solver. I could make an accipiter big falcon comparison here, but I won’t. ;-)”

I added:

Brian Plummer defined canine intelligence as “trainability” which has its merits but I think is too narrow. But any list based on show breeds and without consideration of field work is bound to be off. This list seemed to be about “which dogs looked smartest in this one picture.”

Certainly the most apparently intelligent dogs I’ve spent time with (subjective observation of course) are border collies and australian shepherds; these were dogs you could basically speak to in English and expect full compliance and evident understanding. They were attentive and would regularly (and correctly) intuit your next move.

Quick story to illustrate: We were hawking rabbits in Amarillo, TX, with a mixed pack of dogs in tow including a border collie, a whippet, a black lab and a pointer (all working dogs) and we came to a gated fence. The lab and pointer and my whippet all crowded to the latch area of the gate, bumping into each other but at least knowing which side of the gate to crowd around (pretty smart, huh?). The collie was smarter: He simply sat down about 3 feet from the gate and watched the other dogs vie for position. When I opened the gate, the first three dogs banged their heads together in a mad rush to get by, and the collie just walked through like a person.

Some of the least compliant and attentive dogs I’ve worked with were pointers and springer spaniels, FWIW. The sighthounds are always placed near the bottom of these lists, but never (we should note) by people who work with them. My past and current whippets have been smart in the sense of compliant and observant and quick to learn new tasks. But they are also game-oriented and “uncontrollable” at the times you might expect them to be.

Having just spent 4 days with my parents’ show-bred borzoi, I expected to meet a truly dumb dog. But not so. Their Barrie is a sensitive and observant animal who changes his behavior to suit his differing relationships with each family member (he is clearly the alpha animal in the house but gives Dad polite respect in public), and he figured me out pretty fast as the one of our group who was not buying his BS. He adjusted his behavior in my case too. He is a dog I could work with I’m sure.

Here was Prairie Mary’s take, agreeing part-ways with Rebecca:

“I’m gonna go with the Seven Sister colleges here and say ‘all comparisons are odious.’ ‘Smart’ is as variable in dogs as in humans, mostly because humans define the term. A dog that’s smart in one context is stupid in another and that’s the point of breeds: to fit the context.

“All-purpose mutts, looked at as individuals, are the Swiss Army Knives of dogdom. Sometimes a mongrel gets the best of the mix and sometimes they get the worst. Stupidest dog I ever knew was half English Sheepdog and half show afghan. Both halves were the worst of the breed.

“Sadie was her name. She warn’t no lady.”

Finally Patrick, grouchily:

“And the NUMBER ONE DUMBEST BREED IN THE WORLD is …. the human being.
“Television producers and press editors keep coming up with these kinds of lists, and humans, unimpeded by any real experience and possessing incredibly short attention spans and shallow memories, keep “click and treating” when this kind of stink is delivered right to their feet. The result: every day is ‘groundog day’ for humans, and stink follows them from one end of the earth to the other.”

Who else wants to comment? How can you resist? Was your favorite breed lumped in with the slow starters? Did the editors miss anything important here? (Of course they did!)