This Post Is about Ethics in Journalism

Don't worry that I'm going to rehash what #gamergate is; I'm not. If you need a rundown or refresher, the most recent solid take on the history, nature, and problems with it as a movement that may have good people in it but which is entirely corrupted by its, uh, history, nature, and ersatz leaders is from the good Dr. Nerdlove. Read his analysis. (You should also watch this short video that does an academic dissection of GamerGate as a set of  "base assumptions.")

I'd like to talk about journalistic ethics. No, seriously, I would.

I've been a writer most of my life, and started to get paid for it in 1994. I began to report for major publications, like the New York Times, Fortune, Wired, and the Economist in the late 1990s, as well as write for a variety of so-called trade magazines and sites (both consumer and industry). Every single publication I've worked for has had some kind of minimal to exceedingly detailed policy about conflicts of interest and disclosure. The trade pubs are often much more specific and restrictive than mainstream publications about what is and isn't acceptable.

As a freelancer, I have to be very careful about my actions because working for multiple publications means an intersecting superset of rules that I should be following. But I'll be honest: it's really not hard, because I disclose early and often to my editors, and make intelligent decisions of my own before pitching a story or working on one where a conflict clearly exists.

As a reporter, I'm obliged to avoid conflicts of interest, but when they are present, I'm obliged to tell my editors. I have written many times about people I know, and when it's relevant to the story, it's mentioned in it. In every case, I tell my editors; in every case, my editors decide whether to disclose friendships or other connections. I've never pitched nor written a story in which I had a stake in a financial outcome of the firm in question as a result of the story.

I give money to Kickstarters, I buy products, and I support Patreon and other campaigns. Because I'm paying money out, unless the amount is large or I've dissatisfied with the project, or if I gain special access to someone or something as a result of paying, it's not typically considered a conflict because I don't have a financial stake: I, in fact, lose money through the action, rather than gain it. If I backed a Kickstarter and it never fulfilled or the product was terrible, it's absolutely required that if I were to write about it, I tell my editor, because it is very likely it would color my writing, and readers should be aware of that, should I be allowed to write about it. (As a blogger, I also disclose such things in my blog entries.)

Many GamerGaters, whether sincerely or otherwise, beat the drum of "ethics in journalism" as a rallying cry, but the most genuine portion of their concerns seem to focus on related to clear guidelines, disclosure, and the ability to provide feedback as readers on perceived bias that won't be ignored. Why the most well-intentioned individuals aren't taken seriously is that they typically aren't addressing the right part of the equation or are asking for things that already exist.

In many cases, the people they are criticizing aren't journalists at all: they are opinion writers or essayists who work in the games industry (or unrelated industries) who are expected to disclose conflicts but are engaged in either analysis from a specific philosophical standpoint or from personal experience.

Let's break this down into a few categories:

Facts and intimacy

I know it seems obvious that reporting requires facts, and anyone reading this shouldn't have trouble with this notion. But I see over the last few months that we have a narrative problem. A set of vociferous people point to first-person accounts and hearsay (people relaying what they were told by other people, sometimes through a chain of people) as truth. Truth requires verification. A story without verification is a rumor.

The infamous essay about a breakup that sparked some of the ongoing churn of rage is one individual's highly personal account from his perspective. The assertion by others, who do not have his lived experience, that everything he represented is true is not valid. One can accept that this is his perception of what he lived through; but one doesn't use as the basis of journalism the unquestioned acceptance of a personal account.

There is the additional factor of whether the personal details of an average person's life should be examined in the media. Investigating and reporting on intimate details is typically reserved for tabloids unless both the figure is well-known and an intentional celebrity (actor, politician, book author, etc.) and the matter relates specifically to criminal or sometimes hypocritical behavior.

The essay in question wasn't reported on widely initially, because it wasn't credible or noteworthy. The person writing it and the subjects of it wouldn't meet any legal test for being public figures in most jurisdictions. The allegations contained in it were non-specific and lacked details to verify. The nature of it was prurient. The amount of money at stake, if any, was tiny (regarding reviews that would increase anyone's revenue).

The credibility issue isn't that the writer was necessarily reworking a story or making things up; rather that, on its face, its veracity couldn't be determined; without actual harm or noteworthiness, there was no point to verify details.

By calling for this essay to be reported on a fact and then many later, much more poorly sourced (and often fabricated) story elements to be told, those demanding such coverage were asking publications to behave unethically and against specific widely accepted reporting practices, which I'll get into later under ethics policies.

Game developers obtaining favorable coverage

I'll exclude the specific accusations at the core of GamerGate, as they have been debunked. But the general principle is worth examining. Did a person or company use a romantic relationship, a friendship, an advertising contract, or access to events or advance review copies to get an article or review written from a certain slant, modified after publication, or removed? Did a product, event, or industry figure obtain the coverage they wanted by manipulating editorial decisionmaking and fairness? And if so, then what?

In GamerGate, one of the principal problems is that game developers are being heavily critiqued for allegedly engaging in these sorts of behavior, and typically independent game devs who are studios of one to less than a dozen people, who have little money or funding.

But game devs aren't journalists. They didn't sign up for any code of conduct with a professional organization related to publications, and they don't owe a publication any specific fealty. One can argue everyone should be held to an ethical standard in life, but that is separate from attempting to hold firms making games to what one can reasonably expect from a publication that claims to use facts and analysis as the basis of what they put out into the world.

Whether on their own or through press relations (PR) professionals, nearly all creators and companies try to get stories written at all, and preferably favorable ones, about their work. I get dozens of press requests a week from companies with staff ranging from one part-time owner to 200,000 worldwide employees.

If someone promoting their products misuses a connection or uses coercion, a publication is responsible for the outcome. (The person or company engaging in that behavior may be behaving unethically or illegally as well.)

As a reader or any interested party, you contact the publication, preferably the editor of the piece (if known) or the editor of the publication. You lay out the facts and sources of the facts. In many cases, an editor may be unaware of a writer's affiliation or relationship with a source or subject. There are regularly reports from the travel-writing world in which a writer received something free or discounted from a resort, airline, or the like, and didn't tell an editor because that was in contravention of the publication's policies. Ditto, restaurant and food reviewers who obtain free things or special treatment who don't tell their editors. When uncovered, there's often a big stink, and some of the writers involved may never write for hire again.  (There are many food and travel sites that don't have such strict policies, and that's an actual ethics problem for believing coverage.)

If the publication refuses to acknowledge what you present, and you believe the facts tell a story, then you choose how to disseminate that. This is when it's critical to have verified facts of your own that stand up, because you could wind up accused of libel, and a publication with deep pockets or an angry owner might choose to sue you. This is very unlikely, though: very few web sites, in particular, have sued individuals who claim errors or bias in stories.

Many of the stories that allege ethical problems aren't about conflicts at all, but rather about political bias. While using the term ethics, the complaints relate to the specific inclusion of modes of thought. Some in GamerGate, for instance, object to critiquing the content of a videogame in a review as opposed to just its mechanics. That isn't an ethical issue.

Suggesting a writer be fired because you disagree with a review score or an opinion (especially due to a post labeled as opinion, analysis, op-ed, or an industry insight) seems extreme unless it's part of a provable pattern. Asking for them to be fired indicates you support the site, but disagree with its editorial judgment in providing that writer with work. If that's true, then the better course of action is to provide calm critique and documentation—or, ultimately, stop reading the site.

Many documented concerns and actual incidents (some proven, some alleged) about ethics don't show up on the GamerGate radar at all, because they often involve companies that make products the movement's participants like best. Leigh Alexander did a rundown. Recently, the makers of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Warner Brothers) were called out when its social-media PR firm required YouTube reviews to only post positive reviews if they wanted to get software codes in advance of release. This wasn't disclosed to those watching the YouTube videos (though some reviewers did so after the news came out). While YouTube reviewers may not be games journalists, they aren't far from it.

(I have, in fact, been given review agreements for hardware and software on a handful of occasions that stated that I couldn't write negative things about the product if I accepted the review copy or loaner. In the trade press, most reviewers are allowed to keep software licenses, but all hardware above a nominal value—well below $50—must be returned. I refused loans or licenses when those terms were offered.)

Collusion

A related ethics complaint is that after the creation of the tag #gamergate, a number of sites and publications published over a period of about two days stories that were headlined "the death of gamers," and which took varying approaches to talking about the end of a majority audience of a specific kind (young men); that gaming had expanded into a mainstream phenomenon in which many of the participants wouldn't use the term "gamer."

The meme spread immediately that many sites had colluded to produce essays simultaneously with a similar title, ignoring that a series of external events, including the tag created by a celebrity, pushed the subject into the news. The idea that games sites, fiercely competing for readers and advertising dollars, would collude to produce essays that ostensibly (but not if actually read) were intended insult many of their readers and were a coordinated attack fails the smell test.

But beyond that, the essays appeared not just on some games sites; rather, they included stories in tech site Ars Technica (which has libertarians at its helm and is owned by Condé Nast), Daily Beast (owned by the International Business Times), Buzzfeed (massively well financed independent journalism/meme outlet), Financial Post, Vice (indie media) the Guardian, and others. It would be a remarkable story if a political agenda and cabal spanned all of those publications writing about something newsworthy. The fact that most took a similar tack didn't occur to many critics as a sign that many different people (and their editors) had come to the same conclusions watching the same behavior and market changes unfold.

Related, some complain that there is a covert progressive agenda to rework the way in which videogames are reviewed to always include critiques based on feminism and the like, subtly or not so subtly pushing the review scores of games down so that those that don't toe a line of political correctness suffer in the marketplace and lead game studios to shift focus to narratives that many who align with GamerGate find politically oppressive.

Conspiracies that require many participants don't stand up to scrutiny, because everyone has separate agendas. The notion that hundreds of people across many sites are working together towards a groupthink was aided by the release of messages from a games journalist list, in which writers and editors talked in part about how to deal with some of the worst elements of gaming and their effects on their sites.

Nonetheless, for this conspiracy to be true, it requires participation across the many sites that make up the consumer-facing Metacritic score for games, and for multi-billion-dollar gaming companies to ignore the direct feedback of their customers and their field testing, and to accept that a coordinated political effort in reviews will change what the market wants.

More games may exist with broader and more subtle themes, but the games that rake in the most cash now will continue to zoom along so long as a market for them remains.

Ethics policies

A repeated cry for the last few weeks has been, "If only the sites would adopt ethics policies and stick to them!" But some sites have such policies; others should! Kotaku links from its About page to an extensive post from June 2013. Kotaku also said Patreon donations are off-limits to its writers in August 2014. Polygon has a specific ethics policy page that dates back to its launch in October 2012 (confirmed via the Wayback Machine). Joystiq has one. The Escapist (Defy Media) added a specific page recently. I can't find a policy on Gamasutra, IGN, or Giant Bomb, but the latter devoted a podcast to discussing games journalism ethics in 2012.

So there's certainly not a concerted effort to avoid the topic; some of the sites that have been most heavily criticized have had a policy in place for years.

I have seen many tweets and other posts that urge sites to adopt the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) ethics code, which is fascinating for laypeople to seize upon. There are many policies, and the SPJ isn't a guild or a licensing authority, which is how they are seemingly bandied about by gamers concerned with bias. I fear those urging this policy don't read the section entitled Minimize Harm, but only point to the Act Independently portion, such as: "Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do."

The SPJ doesn't investigate and enforce policy violations. This is a living document that offers a set of best practices for publications. It's not a contract nor legally binding. All readers rely on the integrity of the publication that they are reading; the ethics guidelines help serve as a guide for how to trust them and a way to hold them accountable for hypocrisy.

It's not about the ethics

Ethical problems emerge in any industry that has its own trade publications, because the publishers typically obtain most of their money from those about which they write. As a long-time tech reporter, I've fortunately not experienced coercion or been offered bribes, but I have certainly heard and seen many occasions on which companies try to cross the line, as well as journalists offer to cross it.

The duty we owe our readers is honesty, not cringing fealty. Games journalism publishers, editors, and writers should produce work free of entanglements that materially affect their coverage and published pieces, but they shouldn't be barred from having friends and relationships, or having advertisers and sponsors. Disclosure is the name of the game, rather than the impossible notion of avoiding connections with others, especially in small industries, and making a clean breast of things when wrong decisions are made or writers or editors are misled.

(Comments are enabled unless they get out of hand. I moderate for civility and logic.)

Disappearing Choking Black Men

A few days ago, our neighborhood mailing list lit up with a report of a violent crime. The location was in a park near our house on a paved road that is no longer open to cars, and on which I walk nearly every day to and from my co-working office. The first account was from a neighbor, who forwarded a note from "a friend" who had happened upon the police response to the crime. A woman was choked by a black assailant, tumbled down a slope, and fell unconscious.

This struck me as initially dubious. We were already at a thirdhand-ish account (neighbor's friend relating conversation with victim after assault) which involved a black man in a hoodie in a relatively well-trafficked area in the middle of the day. Perhaps in the Ferguson era, where details are scant except a black man (who hasn't been found) in a very white city, I'm sensitized to this sort of report.

I asked a contact at the Seattle Police Department's public affairs office if they had more information (as a citizen, not a reporter). They filed a police blotter account the next day.

The facts as the police represent them:

  • No sexual assault.
  • Nothing stolen.
  • No suspects found.

The blotter account is very carefully written. It attributes everything to the reported victim, except that her "skin and clothes" were soiled with dirt.

The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog offered a more expansive account, which reads as more authoritative, though appears to be relying entirely on the victim's account. It also published redacted excerpts from the preliminary police report. This includes that when the victim came to, she told police that she spotted two black men nearby, one walking briskly away, the other "staring" at her from across the road. She ran to a cross street, stopped someone (presumably not black), and was able to use that person's cell phone to call for help. The police reported no visible signs of an altercation on the ground nor of injury on the victim.

A neighbor (?) posted this sign on a kiosk at the park's entrance (via KOMO News). This sign is part of a telephone game. The victim's account is that she was choked by an unknown party and saw two men nearby when she regained her wits. She wasn't accosted; she was attacked from behind, says the police report of her statement.

Could this be a fabricated report? It has so many hallmarks of urban mythology that I did some digging to see if I could find an identical story elsewhere on the Internet and could not. The police were called, as was a medic unit, so there was an actual person who did make law-enforcement contact.

The woman can't identify her assailant, as she was attacked from behind. The two men she described to police were nearby when she recovered, but one was moving away and the other stood and stared, by her report. She did not ask the nearby black man for help, but ran to find someone else.

I recommend never reading the comments, but the remarks on all the local stories (Capitol Hill News Blog, Seattle P-I, Seattle Times, KOMO-TV News) show how readily commenters make racially biased statements about crime and culture.

The odds of someone filing a detailed fabricated police report seem slim. The notion that this woman slid down a slope and then ran out of the park, stopped someone, called 911, and went through this charade would require a high degree of mental instability or — something.

While the bits and pieces don't feel like they add up, it is most likely that this was a real attack gone bad and the victim is fortunate that she wasn't robbed or sexually assaulted. It's almost certain that unless either or both of the men the victim saw were assailants and commit further crimes, we will never get enough information for this to feel complete.

Various Thoughts on Shuttering The Magazine

I was interviewed at a few places about my decision to cease publication of The Magazine after our December 2014 issues — read more about that here — and it was neat to get a chance to explain how wonderful the whole experience was of editing it for two years, and owning and producing it for a year and a half. I have no regrets, I learned a lot, and while exhausting, exhilarating — like parenting!

The fine folks at three publications gave me a chance to explain myself:

The Kickstarter campaign for our book drawn from our second year of publication, October 2013–October 2014, is going strong, nearing 30% funded in the first few days.


The Social Tandem

The social tandem contains no more than two members at any given time. It is a chat room that two invited parties participate in. There are no identifiers, except what the parties decide to reveal. The conversations are streamed realtime on the public site and archived.

At any time, there are two participants. Each participant's session remains active for ten minutes, offset by five minutes with the other. Thirty seconds before the end of a session, the system provides a reminder and an increasingly frequent countdown. Thus each participant has encounters with two people. All interactions are in-band, meaning any information they wish to reveal is public.

Participants apply to be placed into queue. It costs a nonrefundable $5 to be placed into queue and requires a valid email address to validate one's hold position. Queue positions are determined randomly and automatically and open up continuously across all hours of the day. Email is sent 12 to 24 hours ahead of one's queued position. One may post the time one has been offered to let others watch and know it is you. You may defer the queue slot offered free of charge and you will be offered another no sooner than 24 hours later.

As demand ebbs and flows for slots, the fee will dynamically adjust. One may sell slots privately, as the slot will be triggered by a code, not an account. Secondary markets are welcome and encouraged.

People may discuss anything. Material deemed offensive or of a private or sensitive nature may be deleted from archives or turned over to law enforcement. IP addresses will be logged. Confirmation email addresses will be stored for a relatively short period of time, no more than a month or so, and then permanently deleted from active storage and backups.

There are no guarantees implied or otherwise.

Private I: a New Column at Macworld

My inaugural outing as a columnist at Macworld appeared today under the name Private I. I'll be writing weekly about security and privacy as they relate to Mac and iOS users. How does new security exploit X affect you as a Mac OS X user? How does mobile hack Y reveal your location to advertisers? Oh, there's enough to fill a column every day, and I'll be hard pressed to pick a single notion a week.

The Magazine is making a book (again) and shutting down (what?!)

My labor of love the last two years has been The Magazine, first as its hired hand and then, in May 2013, as its owner. The sad truth has been that, while profitable from week one, the publication has had a declining subscription base since February 2013. It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn't replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough. We're a general-interest magazine that appeals to people who like technology, and that makes it very hard to market. "Pivoting" to a different editorial focus would have lost subscribers even faster. (Ads wouldn't work; we simply don't churn out enough content for that model. I wrote this a year ago and it's still true.)

So we lasted as long as we could while turning a buck so that I could make an increasingly smaller portion of my living from it, while enjoying the heck out of working with so many great writers and publishing stories about so many people and things, historical and present, geeky and sweet, sad and hilarious. It's been great.

Our last subscription issue will be December 17, 2014, after which we will discontinue and refund subscription on a pro-rated basis and may produce some ebooks or special projects thereafter.

Working cover of our Year Two anthology

Working cover of our Year Two anthology

But in the meantime, we're going to go out with a bang by producing another beautiful offset hardcover book drawn from our second year in publication, which we're celebrating today. Funding this Year Two book means we can pay all the writers reprint fees and get their work and the stories of people they tell out to a bigger audience, too.

Help us make this book by backing it and get a gorgeous hardcover book. You can even pledge at a patron or angel level and get signed copies — I and all the contributors will sign those editions.

We're also giving away the digital editions of the Year One book to help raise awareness of this new project, and we're pledging — if funded — to give away the digital editions of this new collection as well!

(Addendum: My friend Jeff Carlson wrote some kind words and filled in a few blanks that I forget about sometimes even though I run this darned thing.)

 

Glenn writes a lot about satellites and space: links

I've developed an obsession with space in the last couple of years, particularly with satellites, probes, landers, rovers, and other gadgets that we send into it. When I was a kid, I used to read and dream about space, but wandered off into other meadows. Returning to it is a blast (sorry) as my decades studying, working with, and reporting with technology gives me an entrée into the world (or worlds) of mission planning, launches, travel, landing, and deployment. 

Glenn visits Curiosity's sibling at JPL in Pasadena.

Glenn visits Curiosity's sibling at JPL in Pasadena.

Here's a collection of what I've been writing about, largely at the Economist.

Voyager 1 & 2

The Voyagers continue to function nearly four decades after launch, delivering useful science. Most recently, Voyager 1 passed the edge of the solar magnetic bubble (the heliosphere), crossing the heliopause into the interstellar medium! (It's still within the solar system, as defined by the sun's gravitational pull, however.)

In a bit of nice timing, I visited the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena in January 2013 for a bunch of reporting, and wrote up a visit with Ed Stone for the Economist, the principal investigator of the Voyager missions from their start in the 1970s and still a

In March 2013, the first paper appeared suggesting that Voyage 1 had broken through the heliopause. I wrote an Economist Explains about it. Later in the year, after more analysis had appeared and more scientific consensus was reached, I filed a long report for Boing Boing on Voyager 1's progress and ostensible current location.

My long-time Economist editor, Tom Standage, co-wrote a feature for Technology Quarterly, "In Praise of Celestial Mechanics," about keeping all this gear alive when it's in orbit around Earth or billions of miles away. (In typical Economist fashion, I wrote a long draft from my JPL visit and other research, Tom tinkered with it and extended material from his expertise, and I was delighted with the final result.)

Nanosatellites and Other Small Birds

The cost per kilogram of pushing something from Earth into orbit, however high, has dropped substantially over the last few decades, and is poised to drop another order of magnitude if SpaceX perfects its reusable craft. However, it's still relatively expensive. But instead of relying on cheaper launches, sending up more compact and capable gear sheds cost, too! Nanosatellites — 10 cm cubes weight about 1 kg — and both somewhat smaller and larger gear are already revolutionizing how information will be gathered from near space.

I did some more travel for this piece, interestingly to San Francisco, where several firms are making bijou satellites inside of ordinary office spaces and small warehouses. Thousands of small satellites will launch in the next couple of years, bringing information from space within reach — anything a satellite can measure up, down, or sideways. I filed this Technology Quarterly cover story, "Nanosats are go!"

As part of this reporting, I wrote about the KickSat, a partially crowdfunded three-unit nanosat (30 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm) that contained over 100 femtosatellites, the size of postage stamps. It launched, but wasn't able to complete its mission — a charging problem left it unable to trigger its spring release in time. The first piece was "Magic Dust"; the follow-up, "An elegy for satellites like maple-tree seeds."

I also wrote about NASA's PhoneSat project, which takes the innards of ordinary Android phones and beefs up the battery and radio components and then puts them into space. These missions go up fast, iterate quickly, and produce useful results.

Other Pieces

An ancient spaceship was captured (with permission) by citizen scientists, and I wrote a three stories about it. First, after NASA granted permission and a team was booting up communications ("How to revive a satellite"). Then, when it seemed likely they'd be able to put the satellite into a new permanent orbit ("An old workhorse satellite spins back up"). And, finally, when it still seemed possible that the new trajectory would be possible ("The ancient mariner"). Sadly, the old bird was only able to make a few residual firings before it was determined the tanks were depleted — not strange for living decades past its original sell-by date.

I also filed this story on nanosatellites potentially reigniting interest in aerospace engineer careers, which had fallen on some hard times in recent years as internet engineering jobs took off.

It Takes a Hidden Village

I love Kevin Kelly's work and life, and had a great talk with him months ago for my podcast, The New Disruptors. But during his talk at the 2014 XOXO festival a week ago, I felt a distinct chill when, in describing his book Cool Tools, he said it was the work of two people over a few months, and then went on to note their use of Elance and other distributed work tools.

Tim Maly felt the same chill, and wrote a very interesting essay riffing on that and related issue: independent creators are dependent on the work of so many others, most of whom aren't afforded the same opportunities at advancement and independence. Tim followed the thread of labor down to the Chinese workers referenced in another talk by the creators of the NeoLucida; the two guys behind that project traveled to China and spent two weeks in the factory that was making their gear.

I know that Kevin didn't mean to disparage or denigrate the work of the hundreds of people who put in minutes or hours through various freelance/contract aggregation services. In fact, in our podcast, he spoke specifically about these folks (full transcript):

In the end, I probably redesigned at least 90 percent of the pages, but they were delivered at such a stage that it was possible for me to refine them. We were generating I forget how many pages a day from all the freelancers. They were first class. They were really great.

He also noted:

What it is doing is arbitrage. It’s matching the needs of one person with the abilities of the other in a very low friction way. I think that’s what really comes forward. Sometimes you don’t need necessarily the design power. You want something a bit more modest, and this is a way to kind of connect with that person very directly, very quickly within a matter of hours. I think that’s really the beauty of this system.

He can speak for himself, but from a similar position, I know what he meant: it only required a couple of dedicated people, not working exclusively on the project, to coordinate and bring it into being; something that not long ago would have required a team of several and a year and maybe an order of magnitude or factors above that in cost. He was the motive force; without his interest, energy, and money, the book would never have come to pass.

When I created The Magazine: The Book (Year One) earlier this year, it was my idea. I came up with it, coordinated it, raised the funds, hired people, and handled nearly all the details. But, of course, dozens of people were involved in it directly, tens of thousands at one remove, and millions at another.

The book required the expertise of a graphic design and production team of three and my contract editorial team of two (managing editor and proofreader); a few dozen writers, artists, and photographers; paper and ink, printing presses, postal and shipping services. You can crank the aperture wide or small about how many people were involved depending on what level of detail you want to discuss. Someone had to mine ore, smelt it, refine it, and stamp out machine parts for the equipment that embossed the covers of the hardback edition.

We are ourselves often cogs in someone else's machine. The lower level the task, the less likelihood we have to control our own destiny. I don't think Kevin has lost sight of that at all — he began his life's work by traveling the world to find disappearing societies and met people forgotten by everyone else. But our independence is always positional, relying on the constraints of others to make the raw stuff on which we depend.

Important Dishwasher Update

I realize that all five of you have been wondering about the update to the dishwasher situation. It turned out worse case/best case.

To recap: everything went to hell in and around our house and then order resumed. The dishwasher, however, continued to leak. We talked to a highly rated local repairman, who advised us based on age and model to replace it. We tried. The installers came and claimed (maybe true) that they couldn't squeeze the replacement in. (Thanks, Sears, for charging my card and not refunding the price nearly four weeks later. Second pissy email sent, and will be filing a complaint with my credit-card company next.)

So we convinced the repairman to come out, who charged us $55 for an hour or more of testing and consultation, during which he determined that even if we put $300 of parts and a few hours of his time in, the thing might still leak and it wasn't worth keeping alive.

Cue figuring out how to get a well-reviewed dishwasher that didn't cost $1,200 and that would fit in the space. We needed a "short tub" (under 33 1/2 inches tall), which are for some reason also in the ADA Compliant category. I gather that they have lower racks, perhaps, and thus easier to load with disabilities? Not sure.

We wound up ordering from a local appliance company, Albert Lee, a Bosch SGE63E15UC. Not cheap at about $800 with free delivery, but the only thing that would both fit and people didn't hate. (Other suggested units had terrible reviews.)

We then also had to hire our regular contractor, now mostly retired but willing to do some work for us, to come out because the plumbing and electrical weren't quite right. The folks who three-quarter-assedly renovated the house when they owned it 25 years ago put the cutoff valve for the water behind the dishwasher, instead of under the sink. And it was also too high off the floor. The Bosch likely wouldn't have fit, because it had nearly no clearance above the valve.

Our contractor cut a bunch of holes, swore a lot, dropped a few things, and managed to replumb it to work. Then the Bosch arrived with some strange attachments, and he drilled a few more big holes, and got it all together, leveled, and running. We'll probably owe him $300 or so for his hours of work.

Not cheap, but in a family of four with two growing boys, I think necessary. Lynn grew up washing dishes by hand, and it's not terrible to do so. But the new dishwashers are actually relatively efficient compared with handwashing: time, energy, and water consumed. Based on initial loading of the new machine, I think it might hold twice as many dishes as the old one, as bizarre as that seems as it takes up the same space. And it looks like it's even more energy efficient than the model it replaced, as well as using less water. So we might use 25% to 33% the water and energy per dish, and thus pay back the high cost quickly enough to take the sting away.