Saturday, October 29, 2005
A CURIOUS CONVERSATION WITH A NEW YORK TIMES CUSTOMER CARE REP:
Today, one of us reported during our less-frequent-than-they-should-be conference calls, The New York Times was not on the doorstep in the morning, for the first time in several years.
That’s because the weekend-only subscription in question was canceled Wednesday, primarily for economic reasons. However, TimesSelect, and more importantly, the ongoing Judith Miller fiasco were factors as well.
We figured that we’d give the paper the latter reason when we made the call. 1-800-NYTIMES requires that you do this by talking to an actual person they route you to, instead of just pressing buttons in the voice menu.
Apparently the Times doesn’t outsource this work. Or at least keeps some of it in-house.
When we were asked why we were canceling, we said, loud and clear, “The paper’s failure to come clean about Judith Miller.”
We full expected that we’d just hear, “OK, sir, thank you very much,” and the call would soon be over, and that we’d have said our piece, for what little it was worth.
We are perhaps too jaded by the modern experience customer service. The woman on the other end said, instead, in a voice that sounded like she’d suddenly had a great burden lifted from her shoulders, “Sir, may I forward this on? Thank you very much for saying this.”
We were pleased but still assumed this was standard practice. Better than most companies do. One of our early experiences in cynicization was in (what else?) telemarketing, selling subscriptions to several small newspapers, some of which turned out to be on their last legs. We were told when being trained that if people said they’d had past bad experiences with papers delivered late or into, say, the shrubbery, to say “OK sir/ma’am, I’ll make a note of that.”
“And that’s it,” explained the manager. “Just say that, don’t write anything down. If the paper didn’t have these problems, they wouldn’t need us to sell subscriptions.” Nothing like being instructed to lie to customers to make you enthusiastic about your job (as if anyone doing that because they had to could possibly be, to be fair).
Anyway ... back to the present. The woman on the other end of the phone continued to sound incredibly relieved. She thanked us again. Something seemed to be up.
“Have you had a lot of people canceling for this reason?” we asked. We couldn’t imagine many other people doing this. People talk a lot about how they cancel or will cancel periodical subscriptions as a protest, but rarely do they actually do it (After the Stephen Glass debacle, we did, however, let our TNR subscription run out without renewing it. And haven’t since). For a certain sector of society, the comforting feel of whiling away at least part of the weekend on a big comfortable sofa, with a nice cup of coffee, lazily thumbing through the Grey Lady section by section, is just too much a part of one’s identity to cut out that easily. Sure, we can read everything online still, but it’s just not the same reading magazine articles without that nice, compact, glossy feel of the paper in your fingers and that newsprint scent wafting upwards.
“You’re not alone, sir. You’re not alone.”
“Thank you,” we replied.
She went on. “Thank you for all the support. It’s been a really frustrating two weeks here.” (She must have actually been somewhere in the bowels of 221 West 43rd, we realized).
She made some comments that agreed with our feeling, the general feeling, that Miller’s time at the Times is over, permanently over, no matter whether she gets indicted or not. “But she’s still just a scapegoat, if what we all suspect is going to happen happens.”
“Could this go all the way to Pinch?” We relayed blogospheric gossip that at least one other Sulzberger is quietly lining up support to oust Miller’s patron.
We can’t remember at the moment exactly what she said in response to that, so stunned were we at this response from the sort of person who usually manages to impress us as being slightly less human than the voice menu, but we can safely say that she didn’t deny this possibility being afoot. “There’s going to be a lot of changes made around here,” she elaborated, a little later.
This is pretty serious. If the office-gossip loop at the Times takes in even the lowly customer-care people, if they can tell us this much, we’d say Pinch is pretty much a dead Sulzberger walking.
You read it here first.
posted by Sully 10/29/2005 01:20:00 PM
Monday, October 24, 2005
MENSTRUAL BLOOD (OR, CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THE SEARCH ENGINE HITS THIS POST GENERATES):
Taranto’s snide homophobia notwithstanding, let us take the time to clear up the use of the misleading term “menstrual blood.”
It may look like blood. But it certainly doesn’t smell like it. We’ve often wondered just what is the right adjective to characterize that smell ... it’s not necessarily something that offends the nose unless you know what it is and are repulsed by the very thought (or, of course, it’s on some used, uh, product or article of clothing that should have long since been disposed of, which is no different from any other organic substance). There’s this sort of marine quality to it — we swear to once having smelled something like it down by the docks somewhere when we were in our younger years. But anyway ... it does not always have the same texture as blood due to the mucus that makes up a fair amount. Nor does it always have the same bright red color.
In short, it is not blood and should not be referred to as blood, even if blood lends it a lot of its color and mystique. Take it away, Wikipedia!Menstruation manifests itself to the outer world in the form of the menses (also menstruum): essentially part of the endometrium and blood products that pass out of the body through the vagina. Although this is commonly referred to as blood, it differs in composition from venous blood.BTW, wikicrew, although we know you’re justifiably proud that not only did this get to featured-article status, it made the main page at the end of August (even if it was only out of being on the old “brilliant prose” list and not the current nomination process), this section is all there is and rather light. Perhaps there could be more explanation of how this is different from regular blood, or indeed a separate menses article?
“Fake menses” would do just fine for these descriptions of the Gitmo tortures.
posted by Sully 10/24/2005 11:00:00 PM
SULLIVAN, MILLER, AND CULPABILITY:
It should be pointed out in all Sullivan’s commentary on the Gray Lady and the Miller mess that he ought at least to acknowledge some degree of complicity in this.
We were spurred to these thoughts a while back when he ran that quote from Boyd about how it was some subordinate’s job to get Miller’s stories into the paper. It figures, we thought ... he still has that knife out for Howell Raines.
Now, given that Miller was as protected by Raines as she was by Keller, how can Sullivan and his constant calls for Raines’ ouster be responsible in a very tiny way for the Times current predicament? Especially given that Miller’s ultimate protector at 221 West 43rd isn’t any of the “editors” she constantly claims at least one of was aware of her security clearance ... it’s Pinch Sulzberger (who we think is the real person that knew, and who we suppose counts as an “editor” in only the most elastic sense of the term. It shall be interesting to see if he gets called before the grand jury).
One imagines that Judy might have been reined in a little better by a certain consistency at the top, even if Raines may not have been the one to provide it. But his and Boyd’s unceremonious ouster created a leadership vacuum for a while that Miller could easily exploit.
Is it just a coincidence that the June meetings with Scooter Libby that got Judy in such hot water lately took place in the immediate aftermath of the Blair scandal, with Joe Lelyveld (another past Miller booster, of course) tending the helm while Bill Keller was in the wings being groomed. Would those have led to what they led to if someone already well-established in the top job had been there and not trying to find his feet? Even if he once was the paper’s managing editor? It’s an open question.
Don’t expect Smalltown Boy to entertain it, however.
See, he has his own experience with a Little Miss Run Amok (Ruth Shalit, see blogroll and greatest hits) to reckon with. One wonders if he is biting back a certain sympathy for Raines at the moment.
posted by Sully 10/24/2005 10:45:00 PM
Sunday, October 23, 2005
DEEPLY BURIED LEDES DEPT.:
One reason we haven’t been blogging so much lately is that events, particularly the Plame investigation, have been speaking for themselves.
But in that vein, and off Sullivan for a moment, it seems no one else in the blogosphere noticed this tidbit buried near the end of today’s Times piece on Scooter Libby, about the network of neocons around Libby (You probably can’t get to it without TimesSelect, so we just typed it in from the dead-tree edition).Mr. Libby’s deputy, John Hannah, had close ties to John R. Bolton, then the undersecretary of state for arms control.Big hmmmm, everybody.
As we all know, one of the less-discussed but quite plausible theories about how Plamegate ultimately happened was that Bolton was the original leaker, having learned from the unredacted NSA intercepts of State Department phone conversations between his nominal bosses and coworkers of Plame’s status as a CIA NOC. That explains the administration’s extraordinary, even by its own standards, reluctance to release those intercepts to even Senate Republicans during last spring’s hearings on Bolton’s appointment as U.N. ambassador, and Bush’s decision to wait till a recess appointment opened up to short-circuit the process.
Now consider also that Hannah is often named as Fitzgerald’s cooperative witness inside the White House.
This further confirms the belief that Bolton was the original leaker, the one who did violate the IIPA, that Rove, Libby et al really believed they weren’t doing anything wrong (the terms of their SF 312s to the contrary) because they were only telling the media and others what someone else, i.e. Bolton, had told them (regardless of whether they later saw it in classified documents).
Perhaps they may yet avoid serious charges yet if they flip Bolton.
Which wouldn’t be any less embarrassing to the administration.
posted by Sully 10/23/2005 04:15:00 PM
USAGE WATCH:Resplendent: adjective attractive and impressive through being richly colourful or sumptuousThanks Oxford. One is resplendent in an evening dress; we have never heard, on either side of the Atlantic, of a syndicated columnist being resplendent, or anyone being just “resplendent” for that matter.
It’s certainly within the realm of possible uses for the word, but don’t you really think Sully meant to say just “splendid”?
posted by Sully 10/23/2005 04:05:00 PM
LONG TIME, NO POST:
Fifteen days. That is probably the longest we’ve ever gone over here without posting.
We’ve been incredibly busy. There’s so much like to say or have said, but for know we’ll leave you with TAPped’s critique of Sullivan’s response to Derbyshire’s (justifiable, we think) fears for the future of conservatism as we know it.I don’t know much about British political history. But Ronald Reagan ran in 1980 promising to cut government. He won. In 1981 he did it. It was extraordinarily unpopular. In 1982 his party suffered a major defeat in the midterm elections. Reagan then spent 1983-88 compromising with congressional Democrats and rolling back his tax cuts; by the time he left office federal spending as a share of GDP was right where it was when he first came in. Newt Gingrich promised to cut government in 1994. He won. He tried it in 1995. It was massively unpopular. In 1996 the GOP lost seats and got trounced in the presidential election. Republicans haven’t tried to slash government since then and if they know what’s good for them they won’t try it again.We really wonder if, in years to come, fin de siécle Anglo-American conservatism will be of historical interest mainly as a paradoxical case study of a political ideology that was a sure ticket to electoral success in most times and places ... as long as you enacted merely a sliver of the agenda you ran on.
Of course, that excludes the fact that other aspects of the right-wing agenda — the paring away of any sort of regulatory infrastructure, for example — have not aroused as much voter ire as cutting social-welfare services.
posted by Sully 10/23/2005 03:57:00 PM