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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The politics of journalist subpoenas

Is the current subpoena-happy climate for journalism a cyclical phenomenon? Is it a result of the political climate? Is it rooted in ideology? Is it driven by the events of the War in Iraq or the War on Terror? Is it a combination of all of the above?

This seed was first planted last summer in an interview with Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter Dana Priest. When describing how journalism is under attack (and how until recently the public was willing to go along), she said:

"I think it’s event driven and is led by 9-11 and how we think of ourselves in light of 9-11. Our job might be hard, but it’s so critically important right now. The stakes are huge of what we’re doing and how we’re moving forward and away from 9-11. I don’t know who else is going to help people through that—in terms of figuring out what’s still right and wrong and what we really want to do about really hard questions. Some of the answers get us nowhere near where we want to be. Unfortunately, most of those issues are wrapped in secrecy right now."

Her own prize-winning reporting about the CIA black prisons was attacked by the Bush Administration, although no one ever claimed that what she reported was wrong. And yet in the back of her mind rests the notion that she may be subpoenaed to testify about her story, which was exclusively sourced by confidential sources. I asked her if she was worried about being subpoenaed.

"I get asked that a lot. There are so many things to worry about, why worry about things you can’t control? I do think about it though. I guess a shield law would help, but there’s not really a legislative remedy for this. All government wants to control information. During the war in Kosovo, someone decided not to reveal how many cruise missiles were launched the first night. When it was learned there were civilian casualties, Pentagon officials were finally forced to talk about “accidents.”

The difference in this government is that there is a freeze on real dialogue between professionals – me and them inside – it’s like they don’t understand dialogue in public is fundamental to building consensus even if it means getting jabbed when you go in the wrong direction. There’s a difference between trying to control information and retaliating when you can’t."

"When you start talking war, you start talking about a different political climate (for covering government) that infects proceedings like that involving Scooter Libby,"says Donald Zachary, attorney practicing media law with the LA-firm Fox Spillane Schaefer.

He may be charged with perjury and obstruction, but at its core, Scooter Libby's trial is about controlling information and the ensuing retaliation and cover-up that occurred when a maverick decided he and the information he possessed would not be "controlled" by the administration.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The impact testifying has on journalism

John Dickerson is in the courtroom covering the trial for Slate when suddenly his name is mentioned from the witness in the box (Ari Fleischer) and his visage projected across the big screen in the courtroom.

His name is on the potential witness list. What does he do now? Should he recuse himself from covering the trial? His name is mentioned in connection to his work with Time magazine. Does it matter that he's at a different news organization now?

While bloggers, journalists and news junkies ponder some of these big-picture questions, the public seems to care little for the big and little aspects of the Scooter Libby trial. Here in Cleveland, the trial hasn't warranted coverage before A4 and today's AP story about former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer's testimony yesterday trickled down the gutter. Though I'm certain Vice President Dick Cheney's testimony would warrant front-page coverage.

Regardless of how it's playing in the heartland, this is a huge story in Washington where the compulsion to know something before anyone else drives all else. Outside the Beltway it seems to have less significance.

"You would have to talk to 30 people to find one who knows who Scooter Libby is," says Lincoln D. Bandlow, an media law attorney with Fox Spillane Shaeffer in Los Angeles and a visiting professor at USC's Annenberg School of Journalism. (In LA yesterday, the top story was the Screen Actor's Guild Awards.) "If there hadn’t been a shift in Congress in November, I think the Democrats would be trying to get more weight out of the story. As it is, the Bush Administration has been sufficiently spanked by voters," he said.

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified today, the first of the many reporters potentially being called. While journalists have testified at trials before, Thomas McPhail, professor of media studies at University of Missouri - St. Louis makes the distinction that such testimony has not occurred in a high-profile federal case in which the sitting vice president is a witness.

How does this impact the credibility of journalists and the organizations for which they work?

Miller's credibility as a journalist has already been skewered. "She is seen as a stenographer for the White House," says McPhail. "She was doing Libby’s bidding in terms of covering the run-up to the war in Iraq. She was making the White House case (for weapons of mass destruction) without telling readers that she got all that information from White House. She mislead the public." The implications for such faulty reporting are also huge for her paper. "The New York Times is an agenda setter," he said. What it covers has ripple affect on other news organizations since her faulty reporting was picked up by papers across the country.

Miller's testimony, which doesn't seem to draw as much fervor considering she is the only reporter who spent time in jail (85 days) protecting the identity of Libby, is overshadowed by the upcoming testimony of Tim Russert of "Meet the Press." Libby contends that it was Russert who told him of Plame's identity. Russert denies this.

McPhail explains: "Russert is the gold standard of television news and political commentary. When he is on the witness stand and under cross examination, he will divulge how close he was to various key White House people. We've heard how the vice president was writing media notes; God forbid Russert was actually using them."

There's also a great deal of concern in the journalism industry about how this trial will impact the reporter/source relationship, particularly for the Washington Press Corps. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and his predecessor John Ashcroft have repeatedly shown they are ready to throw journalists into jail if they don't get the information they want, and they do so with little regard for the First Amendment.

While some trumpet the merits of a Federal Shield Law, it's doubtful that such a law would help in this case. Bandlow says it's difficult terrain for applying reporters privilege because it's a battle between the First Amendment and the Sixth Amendment (specifically to compel witnesses to testify on his or her behalf).

"If experience is any judge, media will always aggressively fight back on revealing source issues," says Bandlow. "But it will be difficult to win because this paradigm situation is when reporters privilege is undermined. The First and Sixth amendment issues conflict. This is different then when a prosecutor is asking for information to build a case. A defendant says, 'If I don’t get this information, I’m going to jail.'Which takes precedence?"

Bandlow doesn't believe a Federal Shield Law would help much because it's not enough to trump a constitutional amendment right. "The shield law’s applicability would be doubtful under the case of criminal defendant's right to defend himself," he said.

If we go back to the beginnings of this incident, we find journalists who were calling vociferously for an investigation into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak (His original column is no longer available. This is Slate's Jack Shafer's take.)

"Members of the media did not think all the way through this issue," says Bandlow. "The media attitude was, 'We want to get to bottom of who leaked this in order destroy the reputation of an administration critic. But if that means revealing confidential sources, we’re not willing to get to bottom of it.' "

The crime itself was only evidenced by conversations with reporters. The only way to get to the bottom of it was to go to the reporters, says Bandlow.

"Media's big pitch always is and should be the public has a right to know. At the same time, they turn around and say, 'I’m not gonna tell you about this.' It looks suspect because they are talking out of both sides of their mouth," he says.

McPhail sees several things coming out of this trial as a result of journalists' testimony. "I tend to think that it’s going to expose some of the journalists who have an all-too-cozy relationship with their sources," he says, calling into question the claim of objectivity and neutrality paramount to western journalism.

But he says the case could ultimately help journalism because it has exposed and provided a case study on how preoccupied the White House was—and is—with media coverage. That the vice president spends his days trying to come up with talking points to counter what's being reported seems a bit paranoid.

"This testimony gives us evidence that the media is important to this administration and that although (President) Bush claims not to read the news, that (Karl) Rove and (Dick) Cheney do almost to the exclusion of other issues they should be dealing with," says McPhail.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Trial exposes Washington journalism

How will journalism emerge from the Scooter Libby Trial? It remains to be seen, but here are some early snippets that don't bode well.

Dana Millbank of the Washington Post reports from former Cheney communications director Cathie Martin's testimony just how the Office of the Vice President sought to control its message. Whether or not Russert thinks he's being controlled, the perception in the White House is that he can be. That's strike one for his credibility.

Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the "Meet the Press" host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Option 1: "MTP-VP," she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under "pro," she wrote: "control message."

"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."

And then there's this from BTC News that I'll explore in more detail in follow up post this morning.

There may in fact have been not a single Washington reporter who didn’t know more or less who leaked what, and when, and why, at least a year before their readers did.

In the meantime they reported statements from the administration that they knew to be false. The most notable of those involve Fleischer’s successor, Scott McClellan, and his carefully worded self-exculpatory assurances that no one in the White House was responsible for the leak — and specifically Rove, Libby and Elliot Abrams, the national security advisor who was pardoned by the elder Bush after his conviction on charges of lying to Congress in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal — but even the most cursory review of stories on the case during the period between the beginning of the investigation and the indictment of Libby will turn up a host of others.

And of course there remains much that reporters know and we don’t. If the Cooper to Dickerson to Viveca Novak relay of Rove’s involvement is any guide, a whole bunch of reporters know which senior administration official blew the whistle to the Post’s Mike Allen and Dana Priest on the two “top White House officials” who leaked Wilson’s identity to a half-dozen journalists before her name was revealed in print. The Allen-Priest story motivated Fleischer to seek immunity from Fitzgerald, which is how Dickerson’s face wound up on a big screen monitor at the trial today.

Confidential sources can play an important role in reporting. Very few press watchers would advocate doing away with them. But reporters should not allow confidentiality to force them into reporting lies. Reporters who find themselves in that position should recuse themselves from writing those stories. In this case that apparently might have precluded most of the Washington press corps from covering the leak.

What do journalists know? When do they know it? How do they know it? When do they report it? Are they obligated to report it when they know it? If not, whose interest are they serving? All legitimate questions to be asked.

Elements of a successful query letter

Because Greta asked, thought I'd share this column I wrote last summer for SPJ's Quill magazine

Quill magazine / August 2006
Elements of a successful query letter

By Wendy A. Hoke

A fair amount of successful freelance writing involves good salesmanship. While that may be anathema to the newsroom journalist, it’s not as far-fetched as you may think.

“Sales” in this case involves selling both your ideas and your ability to execute those ideas in the written and reported form. If you’re a newsroom journalist, it’s akin to plopping down in your editor’s office and selling him or her your story ideas.

In the case of freelancers, many of those sales are not going to happen face to face. They are largely electronic and given the deluge of e-mails received by editors these days, your sales skills must rise above the tide.

Some Web sites and writers will promise you the “surefire” query letter. For the newcomer, a query letter is simply a pitch letter to an editor used to sell a story idea. While I’m not buying that one-size-fits-all letter, there are common elements to a successful query.

How to send
Before you sit down to write your pitch, research how the publication prefers to receive its pitches. Some of the national magazines still prefer snail mail, but most will accept electronic pitches. Check out Writers Market or contact to the magazine to find out its preference.

When sending e-mail queries, think about your own inbox and craft a subject line that will get the editor’s attention. I always begin my subjects with “QUERY:” so it’s clear that I’m sending a pitch. Spare the hyperbole. If you use certain words (like sex, mortgage, drugs, words ending in exclamations, etc.) you’re pitch will likely be dumped by spam filters.

The lede leads
Your lede paragraph of your pitch or query is the potential lede (newspaper jargon for first paragraph) of your story. Write compellingly and concisely about your subject. That means having a clear vision of your story before you ever craft a pitch. Never begin with: "I'm interested in writing a story about…"

This doesn’t mean there’s no room for tweaking the arc of the story as you go along, but in the world of national magazine freelancing, editors want to know that they’re going to receive what you promise to deliver on the front end.

The nut graf
What is this story about and why should readers of this magazine care? This is a question you must answer in your query.

Improve your chances for a sale by thoroughly researching the publication in advance. Don’t just read the latest issue, head to the library and look over the last year’s issues. Get a feel for the tone of the magazine, the subject matter it covers and read the media kit (usually found online) to learn about its demographics.

Pay close attention to the magazines departments and suggest where your piece could fit. Does it make sense as part of a monthly mini-profile section? Can it work in a front-of-the-book short? Is it a back-page essay? Be helpful with your suggestions, but not too bossy.

Research, research research
By the third paragraph, the editor is wondering how you’re going to pull off this masterpiece. Who are you planning to interview? What kind of access do you have to the subject? What kind of background data do you have to support your story’s pitch? What kind of specialized or first-hand experience do you have that lends your reporting credibility?

One of the hardest things to balance in freelance writing is the line between doing enough work to sell an idea and wasting your time without guarantee of a sale.
Each writer has to determine for him or herself where to draw that line. But you have to be comfortable enough with your research that you can back up your pitch. It will be tested and fact-checked.

So be specific. List the sources you plan to interview. When appropriate, briefly discuss your methodology and how you plan to report the story. Does it involve attending certain events or meetings? Does it require on-site research? Do you anticipate the need to travel? Don’t leave the editor guessing.

The brag graph
If the editor is interested in the pitch, their final question is going to be, “Why should you do this story?” Wind up your query with a paragraph that briefly describes your expertise with the subject matter, related articles you’ve published, where your articles have appeared, how long you’ve been writing, etc.

Remember to keep your bio relevant to the publication and story you’re pitching. If you’re writing about a new fitness rage, include your experience writing on other health and wellness topics. Offer to send a few—emphasize few—relevant clips. If you’re sending links, make sure they work before you bother to include.

Thank the editor for his or her time, indicated a date when you will follow up and include your full contact information, including mailing address.

Remember that different magazines and types of story pitches require different approaches, which is why queries are so time-consuming. But like anything in life, you get better the more you write them.

Put yourself in the editor’s shoes and think about what you’d like to see from a writer. If you’re planning to write humor, you better be humorous in your pitch. If you’re pitching an essay, the editor is going to want to see the full piece, not a two-graph summary.

Your queries will not always succeed, even when well written and researched. The timing may be off, editorial calendar may have changed, etc. But continue to pitch magazines you want to write for because persistence pays off the first time your Caller ID reads, “Time Inc.”

Wendy Hoke is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. After 18 months of trying, she recently sold her first piece to Continental Magazine.

© Copyright 2006 Wendy A. Hoke

Friday, January 26, 2007

Add this to my book list

Just got the regular update from the The Merton Center with a new list of publications by, about or inspired by Thomas Merton.

Put this one on my list.

Here's a partial description from the book publisher, New Seeds:

Merton’s thoughts on writing have never been compiled into a single volume until now. Robert Inchausti has mined the vast Merton literature to discover what he had to say on a whole spectrum of literary topics, including writing as a spiritual calling, the role of the Christian writer in a secular society, the joys and mysteries of poetry, and evaluations of his own literary work. Also included are fascinating glimpses of his take on a range of other writers, including Henry David Thoreau, Flannery O’Connor, Dylan Thomas, Albert Camus, James Joyce, and even Henry Miller, along with many others.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Writing an important story

Had an epiphany today. Well, maybe epiphany is too strong a word. Let's just call it an awakening to the obvious, a "D'oh!" moment, if you will.

For the past three weeks I've been taking an online class to help with my query writing. I was hesitant at first. After all, it's not as if I've never written or had queries accepted. But as a lifelong learner—and on the recommendation of several writers whom I admire—I decided to make the investment of money and time. Plus, this class promised it wasn't for newbies, only serious writers need apply.

Due to a hectic travel schedule the past couple of weeks, I'm a little behind in my workload. Before I began, I started to look through some of the other 12 writers' ideas and queries. Some were very good, very trendy and definitely saleable. Others were headed in the right direction, just needing some tightening of focus or more research. Still others did little to interest me, though I'm sure with the many valuable suggestions given those, too, will become potential articles in national magazines.

I had four ideas I'm working on, though I've already scratched one from the list. But as I worked up my story nuggets (for they are not yet in query format) I realized that the traditional fare of women's magazines and parenting magazines left me uninspired. I could write for them, of this I'm certain, but I'm not inspired to write those kinds of stories. You know … disease of the week, things that will ruin your children for life, 50 ways to clean your house or 101 ways to simplify your life, etc. Not that I don't read these from time to time, they just don't move me to hurry up and pitch.

My interest is in serious journalism with an investigative/public service bent. That's why I've been so slow to pitch. I have a lot of regular work assignments that help to pay the bills right now, which is both a good and bad thing. Good for obvious reasons, but bad because I need to keep pushing my writing to nourish my creativity.

Here's the rub: The kind of stories I want to pursue require time, research and, in some cases, money to travel. As I lamented to Jill this morning, these stories are so involved and unwieldy and in need of refining and focus that can only be accomplished through more research that I'm stymied to the point of inaction. Not good.

Fortunately, the course is helping. I've thrown some broad ideas out that the group has responded to enthusiastically, offering some great suggestions and possible markets for the work. It's definitely worth the money. With three topics, I think I can manage to get some solid queries together on these serious subjects. One may have to wait because it involves getting the participation of a minor who is central to the story. But the other two are beginning to take shape in my brain.

As I sit here tonight, contemplating the fruits of my day's labor, I'm surprisingly optimistic that I can make this happen. I'm motivated to make this happen. It will likely involve extra hours in the evening and weekends, just as some of the research required tonight. But if I can land that first serious news assignment, covering that important story that needs to be told, I'll be on my way toward the writing career of which I dreamt.

"What are you working on, Mom?" Patrick asked tonight. I told him the first story I'm interested in pitching.

"Mom, that's a great story. You have to write it. Other people have to know about this," he responded.

He's right. It is important and I'm the person who can tell it best. How's that for newfound confidence?!

I'm in denial

The big brown envelope in the mailbox today was addressed to the parents of Ryan Hoke. I looked at the return address and shuddered — Guidance Department, Bay High School. Yikes! We've got an orientation meeting on Monday night for high school. Can't believe my son is going to be in high school later this year.

Of course it's the natural order of things, but high school brings us closer to college and the thought of him not being around the house, flopping on couches, making us laugh is too depressing for words.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wells claims journalists have faulty memory

Slate's John Dickerson comments on how Libby defense attorney Ted Wells plans to portray some journalists testifying in the trial:

"He was most effective picking apart the three reporters whose recollections contradict Libby's. He suggested that Tim Russert had the faulty memory. The host of Meet the Press says he didn't tell Libby about Wilson's wife because he didn't know about her status as a CIA employee, but Wells argued that Russert may have been in a position to have known. David Gregory, the NBC White House reporter who works with Russert, had been told by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Wells argued that Gregory or his colleague Andrea Mitchell, who also claimed to know, would have passed this information on to Russert before he had his conversation with Libby.

"Wells pointed out that Matt Cooper, my former Time colleague, had extensive notes about his interview with Karl Rove, who passed along the information about Wilson's wife, but had no record of Libby's secondary role in confirming that information. To discredit Judith Miller, Wells relied on the former New York Times reporter's own testimony, in which she repeatedly referred to her bad memory, tendency to conflate events, and fuzziness about details."

The question looming over this for journalists is how their testimony will affect their credibility as reporters. One could argue that Judith Miller's credibility as a journalist was toast long before the indictment came down. What is most disconcerting, especially if you were one of her editors at the New York Times is this statement: "Wells relied on the former New York Times reporter's own testimony, in which she repeatedly referred to her bad memory, tendency to conflate events, and fuzziness about details."

On another note, one of Libby's boyhood chums penned this piece for Salon. It's a bit gushing and well-timed to make him seem more human, more vulnerable. At one point, author Nick Bromell likens Libby and the tragedy he now faces to that of Isabel Archer in Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady."

But it was hard not to pause at this remark:

"Always the model student without a single demerit to blot his report card, he suddenly finds himself an accused felon. While the men who benefited from his desire to serve them are still at their desks and phones across the Potomac River, Scooter is looking in the mirror, knotting his tie, and preparing himself for another day in court. It's understandable that he would regard himself as a victim of his superiors. He is one. But it's also telling that the villain his lawyers point toward is Karl Rove, not the master himself, Dick Cheney. Betrayed or not, Scooter's loyalty endures."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The nature of salvation

Is salvation universal?

Will God ultimately accept everyone—good and evil, sinner and saint?

If you believe in an all-loving and merciful God, then the answer has to be yes. If you believe that God is love and life, then the answer has to be yes. If you believe God loves even with our imperfections, then the answer has to be yes.

We'll get back to that in a moment, but for now let's wrestle with one of the great moral dilemmas of our time: what it means to be good.

If you keep church law because you are afraid of the consequences that's not goodness, it's just being scared. Good and evil are not just about what you do, but about what you love.

Goodness is loving what's good and that, knowing it's opposite, you still choose the good. We kicked off the second half of RCIA class last night with a reading of Chapter 2 of St. Paul to the Ephesians:

Generosity of God's Plan. You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient.

All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), rasied us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

The launching point for discussion was the first passage, "You were dead in your transgressions and sins…." What does that mean? That we are damned, stained, flawed? As we began to talk this through, the absurdity of what we've been taught begins to take hold and we, or at least I, begin to wonder why we never questioned the teaching before.

If we believe that we are stained and need to make up for our flaws then we are saying we believe in a God who says, "I made you imperfect and now I'm going to hate you for it so you'll have to do an awful lot to make up for it."

"If you have that stained, damned, good/evil mentality then you don't trust God," says Father Bob. "And that's a big problem in Christianity." Because you can love something that's flawed and imperfect. In fact, all human love is that way. Father Bob says that's the way in which God loves us. The false possibility of perfection is what makes us neurotic.

He introduced us to the notion that we need to hold different views in tension, not elevate or exaggerate one over the others. For example, Jesus' death as sacrifice became a dominant theme in Christianity. A such, his death is seen as a ransom to an angry God. There's truth in that statement, but it's not all true.

Take, for example, our notion of sin. The Bible is not terribly concerned with personal sin. And yet we are obsessed with it. The Bible is concerned with "corporate" sin, as in "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." It is more concerned with sins against humanity — genocide, slavery, persecution, etc.

Catholics are obsessed about sins involving the body. The Bible sees salvation as corporate, we see it as personal. Jesus preached against corporate evil. Most of the big personal sinners in invited into his fold. We see salvation as private.

"I've got to get to heaven. If you do that's great, but I've got to worry about me." The whole notion of church is that we help each other to reach salvation. But in reality, our modern Catholic churches are more akin to buses — we're all going in the same direction but we don't care who else is on board. Unless, of course, it earns us points by helping them.

In the Old Testament, the Jews viewed salvation as corporate — everybody gets it, good and bad. We see salvation as our choice. Jesus' revelation is that God's love is universal and complete for all humanity and it is not contingent upon us earning it.

Just look at our own relationships. Are they predicated on having to earn each other's love or to live up to a standard that's been set? If so, they probably won't last because then we're only playing at love, not actually loving.

Likewise, the church is not an agent of salvation. No human institution can control God's salvation.

And what, then, is the nature of evil? Is it necessary? In affect, evil is necessary. There is evil and there are people who love evil and choose evil over good. I don't believe in a personified evil. But I do recognize there is tremendous evil in the world. But the devil can be seen as an easy out. "The devil made me do it." But if the devil made you do it, then you don't have free will.

What of God's will? Is it preprogrammed? Someone dies and people often remark that it was God's will or that God took him. But it can't be preordained. Is it your will that your children lead a happy life? Of course. Can you make that happen? No, but you can impact it indirectly by loving, listening, being there, showing them good, etc. We can't guarantee they will be happy, but we can help. It's the same with God's will.

This lead eventually to the question of eternal life. We are working our way through a chapter on salvation that includes this definition of eternal life:

"We are mortal like every creature, mortal with our whole being—body and soul—but we are also kept in the eternal life before we lived on the earth, whilewe are living in time, and after our time has come to and end."

In other words, God is always present to us even though we may not be present to God. What we are called to seek is union with God. It's what the mystics wanted and it's what the Buddhists and Hindus know through different means. So why don't Christians understand this?

Because we are all deeply influenced by Plato (who, of course, was not a Christian). For Plato, the physical is not real, only the spiritual. For Plato, what is most real about a person is your soul. Your body dies but you soul goes on. That's common Catholic/Platonic thinking.

But Jesus was a Jew and he did not believe he had a soul. For Jews, God's life is inside of you. God's breath ("ruwach" in Hebrew) is what makes humans different from animals (contrary to the oft-taught Sunday school maxim that our souls made us different from the animals).

What makes us different from other living creatures is that God made us in his image. "This makes the resurrection so much more meaningful. The whole person is revivified," says Father Bob. We're looking forward to that discussion.

So what does total union with God look like? Father Bob believes it is freedom from desire. We can't imagine that and we don't want to imagine it. Death is the enemy in Christianity and Father Bob says our fears are fundamentally related to trust. We blame God for death. We are finite creatures and we hate that we're not God. We're also afraid we'll be disappointed in death. That the surprise will not be that great and it will be a huge letdown. We laughed at this description, but it's probably closer to the truth than any of us cares to admit.

Salvation, however, is about giving up control.

Politico debut

Have you checked out the new Politico site yet? I haven't had the time to peruse, but hope to later this afternoon.

Citizen media goes mainstream

There's been a lot of talk in the traditional media about bloggers getting credentials to cover the Scooter Libby case. Some of that coverage has been overly defensive (no surprise there), just look at Miles O'Brien's drippingly defensive report from last Friday's CNN This Morning.

It strikes me as I look down the potential witness list (which includes the names of 26 journalists from news organizations including The Washington Post, New York Times, Time Magazine, The New Republic, The New Yorker, NBC News, Wall Street Journal, CBS News, MSNBC News, Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday and Newsweek) that this is independent media's story.

The major news organizations are so enmeshed in the story, having become a party to the proceedings, that this is an opportunity for citizen media to fill in the role of news reporters in addition to commentators. The powers that be in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., were smart to invite citizens into the proceedings to witness firsthand rather than comment on what the mainstream is reporting. We'll be watching to see how the coverage unfolds.

So far, I see a great deal of care being taken on the part of the MBA bloggers. Let's hope this experiment proves successful and opens the doors to other institutions.

Fitzgerald opens the Libby trial

The Libby Trial is underway and Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has set the tone for the proceedings. The backdrop of this case is the build up to the Iraq War. Click here for a good look at how 16 words uttered during President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address set this chain of events in motion.

Monday, January 22, 2007

OTB and Libby trial

James Joyner has a brief piece on the larger ramifications of the Libby trial. More to come here on this subject as the trial proceeds.

A problem with TV coverage

Bob Cox reports on the problem with television's attempted coverage at something like the Scooter Libby Trial. Maybe the public doesn't want to see how the sausage is made in TV news, but this is an example of how events at a lengthy, often tiresome proceeding can be pushed out of context by those attempting to capture only a snippet of the event.

It isn't sexy sitting in a trial day after day, hour after hour. In fact, much of the time is spent trying to stay sufficiently caffeinated and interested in the event. But the thing about trials is, you never really know when the bomb will drop or the revelation be made or the smoking gun be uncovered. It requires time — some of it fruitful, some not — that most news organizations now find themselves hard-pressed to give up.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Libby, Miller and journalism

My interest in the Scooter Libby trial is in its implications for journalists. In October 2005, I had an exclusive interview with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Here's that article from Quill magazine.

Standing target
In a candid conversation with Quill, Judith Miller discusses her case, answers questions about her future and offers advice for other journalists.

By Wendy A. Hoke

After weeks of laser attacks by mainstream media and the blogosphere, embattled former New York Times reporter Judith Miller braved her second public appearance since being released from jail. She spoke out in favor of a federal shield law at the 2005 SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas.

During an exclusive interview with Quill following her Oct. 18 speech, Miller said she has no regrets about going to jail to protect a source. But the time since she’s been released has been “as, if not more, stressful” than spending 85 days in jail.

Her motives and methods have been called into question, and her very presence at the convention made her and SPJ a lightning rod for publicity, even capturing the lead item in the local gossip column.

“Event organizers confirmed they were adding security after Internet bloggers urged people to protest (Miller’s) appearance at the Aladdin-based convention, where she is receiving the First Amendment Award from the SPJ for going to jail to protect a source,” wrote Norm Clarke, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, himself a keynote speaker at the convention.

But in her speech to a ballroom full of journalists and in the private interview that followed, she made it clear that she valued strongly the First Amendment Award. Before sitting down to talk about her case, she asked that the award be sent directly to her home to reside next to her Pulitzer Prize.

“Without whining, it has not been easy,” she said, particularly of being released after 85 days in the Alexandria Detention Center.

“(The press reaction) strikes me as being a little unfair to the Times, to me and to journalism. This has been very hard on my family,” she said.

So how does she maintain perspective in the face of such attacks?

“You remember that you did what you did for principle. You remember it again and again. You remember it when you read horrific gossip about yourself, your family and your colleagues and your friends. You remember that it’s not about you or your institution. You remember that what you do as a journalist is to inform the public, and you’re going to take some hits. That’s life,” she said.

Miller indicated she is eager to turn the spotlight away from her and onto the larger issue of enacting a federal shield law. The proposed law would protect journalists from being compelled to reveal sources except in the extreme cases of imminent national security threats. Miller testified on behalf of the law before the Senate Judiciary Committee the day after her speech to SPJ.

“I’m here because I hope you will agree that an uncoerced, uncoerceable press, though at times irritating, is vital to the perpetuation of freedom and democracy we so often take for granted,” she said in her testimony, which was published on the Senate Web site.

Before she made that appearance, an unusual move for a Times reporter, Miller openly worried about how the media reaction to her decision to testify before the federal grand jury after getting a personal and voluntary waiver from her source, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, would affect the 20 other journalists facing federal subpoenas to testify.

“I do worry about the impact on people not now protected by a shield law who may soon have to wrestle with the decisions that I did. Because if you know you’re going to spend 85 days in jail and still come out and be savagely attacked by some who claim to be journalists, some people may not want to take the risks or make the stand. I don’t blame them,” she said.

Journalists don’t get to choose when is a good time to make a stand on principle, Miller said. Admittedly, her case was not perfect, and the confusion and unanswered questions have infuriated some of her Times colleagues, who have since lashed out publicly.

For now she is planning to take some time to process the ordeal.

“I want to apologize to my family and friends. I made the stand on principle, and I just expected them to stand with me. They did, and it’s been very hard on them. I owe them time and attention right now,” she said.

She is hopeful that her case provides an opportunity to galvanize support for the passage of a federal shield law.

But there are questions that remain unanswered, and for the time being Miller and The New York Times will remain a journalistic target.

Asked if she felt she was used by her source, regardless of never having written a story identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, Miller said, “journalism is all about being used and using people.

“It’s about getting information out. Of course people want to spin. It is not a headline that the White House attempts to spin reporters. We see it every day. The danger of my case is we could be seeing the criminalization of political discourse in America,” she said.

And if the U.S. Department of Justice begins to move against people who talk to reporters, the result is a chilling affect on that discourse and, ultimately, the inability to serve the public well.

Miller stopped talking for a moment and then explained why she thinks she has become such a magnet for controversy.

“My case has been confused with the broader debate over the war in Iraq and over the Bush Administration,” she said. “Some people are so against the war and against this administration for bringing us into this war, that they care more about “punishing” the officials who led us into this war than about protecting the First Amendment.”

She denied being a funnel for the Bush Administration’s policies. “I would feel the same way about protecting a source in the Bush Administration or the Clinton Administration or any administration as long as he or she was a good-faith source,” she said.

Miller used the term “good-faith source” in her own account that ran in the Oct. 16 edition of The New York Times. During her speech, she defined a good-faith source as a person who relays what she believes to be an accurate version of events.

“Because the furor over my WMD reporting has been confused with an important principle at stake, the principle (of protecting confidential sources) is at risk,” she said.

“People can be angry at me, but I did not take this country to war. President Bush took this country to war. I will stand up for the principle that enables other reporters and me, hopefully, to bring Americans the information that next time may prevent a war. We can’t do that if people are so enraged that they are willing to sacrifice the First Amendment for a partisan goal,” she said.

Miller is hopeful that when people calm down they will begin to see what’s at stake.

She offered some lessons learned that she wanted to share with other journalists, particularly students.

“Learn a lot more about the law and your legal obligations as a journalist. I hadn’t paid very close attention, and I’m very sorry I didn’t. When you’re involved in sensitive national security reporting, it’s increasingly clear that we need to know more about how to protect ourselves,” she said.

And it’s not up to lawyers alone.

She also advised journalists to think hard about the reporter/source relationship.

“What do you do when a source lies to you? I know what I do. I cut him or her off. I confront them and tell them they actively mislead me,” she said, adding there’s a difference between a source being wrong and lying.

“Scooter Libby had been a good-faith source, and I had never found out that he had lied to me. I may find that out with the special prosecutor, but I did what I did to protect him because I believed him,” she said.

Her final advice was to think about your notes —- how long you keep them and how detailed they are.

“We like to think we will write a great journalistic memoir one day, which is why we keep our notes. But the risks, the danger to our sources may be so great, absent a shield law, that we no longer have that luxury. The world may have to limp along without our great memoirs,” she said, laughing.

Despite the beating she’s taken, Miller said she welcomed the blogosphere and felt it makes an enormous contribution. But her anger flared when the subject turned to the rumors about her case and her motives.

“Shame on the mainstream media if it fails to distinguish between gossip and news and if it carries gossip masquerading as news. That’s what happens all too often, and that’s what happened in this case, and yes, I’m angry,” she said.

“I welcome any blogger who subjects him or herself to the standards of mainstream media news –- get comment, try and be fair, distinguish editorial opinion from factually based reporting, and when you make a mistake, write a correction,” she said.

Miller wouldn’t speculate on whether or not there was any wrongdoing on the part of the Bush Administration in the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity. But she sighed heavily when asked if this all comes to nothing.

“We will soon learn what the government believes. Whether or not it can prove its case is a separate matter,” she said.

Wendy A. Hoke is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

© Copyright 2005 Wendy A. Hoke

Bipartisan letter asks AG to drop subpoenas in BALCO case

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Washington -- The new Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Thursday urged the Justice Department to withdraw its subpoenas for two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, which seek to force them to name their confidential sources for federal grand jury testimony in which top athletes admitted illegal steroid use.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers of Michigan and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales criticizing the agency's efforts to jail Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada for refusing to comply with the subpoenas.

"The subpoenas issued to those reporters and their newspaper seeking confidential source information are troubling both on the specific facts of their case and because of the great damage they could cause to our nation's press and the First Amendment," the lawmakers wrote.

Covering the Libby Trial

I've just learned that I'll be contributing to the Media Bloggers Association RSS feed. Here's my official description:

Wendy Hoke will provide analysis and commentary on the implications of the Libby Trial on journalism - journalistic credibility, public perception of journalists, implications for a possible federal shield law and other statutory journalistic protections.

There's a pool of MBA bloggers sharing two credentials for coverage of the trial in Washington, D.C. MBA President Bob Cox is in DC now covering voir dire and lays out the judge's groundrules for bloggers here.

MSNBC Fact File has some good background on the players involved. Libby is on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to investigators inquiring about the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

My interest in the case is that 26 journalists are on the potential witness list. This also has been one of the cases in which proponents declare the need for a federal shield law.

The trial is off today with voir dire resuming on Monday. Opening arguments are scheduled to begin on Tuesday though from the sounds of things, seating a jury may go into midweek.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On the road again

It's traveling time again. I'll be heading to first to Vermilion tonight for the semi-finals of the West Shore Conference 8th grade boys basketball tournament. If the Rockets win, I'll sadly have to miss the championship game tomorrow night.

Tomorrow I'm off to Columbus for a KnowledgeWorks Foundation writing workshop. Looking forward to reconvening with fellow writers across the state to discuss our writing about education reform.

I'm home for February and then it's off again in March to Anniston, Ala., for a Narrative Writing Workshop featuring Gay Talese, Rick Bragg and Tom Hallman Jr. It's back to Indy in late March and again in mid-May and early June. There may be an April trip to Detroit.

Most of this traveling is, of course, on behalf of SPJ. If you haven't visited the Web site recently, I highly recommend you do. Freelancers will want to participate in the new Freelance Database, which took me 18 months and getting on staff to make a reality. But there you have it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

What DC means to the rest of us

Enjoy this largely entertaining look and what Washington, D.C., means to the rest of the country through the eyes of local columnists, including Connie Schultz.

The super collider in my basement

Maybe I'm just being territorial, but I tend to think of maintenance of the basement and the garage as being outside of mom's domain. In the grand scheme of home ownership, these are traditionally male-dominated realms holding little attraction to the female, save for a way to get in and out of the car without traipsing through the elements. This, of course, is particularly important when one makes the morning school drop-off in slippers and PJs.

Yesterday, as I surveyed the damage following a double sleepover, I decided I couldn't take the mess. At one time, the basement was a little boy playroom, replete with Legos and Hot Wheels and army dudes and trucks and Little Tikes gear. Today, it is fast-becoming a teen hangout — Xbox, sofa, weight-lifting bench, card-playing table, treadmill and a never-ending bucket of basketballs and footballs in assorted sizes and states of inflation.

As I stepped on another piece of plastic I-don't-know-what, I yelled, "That's it!" to no one in particular.

Of course no one budged to discover the source of my exasperation. It's just as well. I grabbed the vacuum and set about trying to get some order. But as I turned on the vacuum I was nearly blown back by the debris ricocheting into and out of the sweeper. What the heck is on this floor?

Soon, however, I discovered the source. In the back room known as "Dad's workroom" (an oxymoron if ever there was one) I found on the workbench a hammer and various old VHS tapes and Hot Wheels cars that had been smashed to bits.

In effect, we had our own little super collider experiment right in our basement. At first I was furious at the destruction. What were they thinking?

But then I stopped and had to switch over to little boy brain. Since we no longer own a VHS player (and we're way too old), there would certainly be no need for "Elmo's World." So let's find out what's inside a tape. Yeah! That's what we'll do.

SMASH! "Cool. What else can we smash?"

"How about this car?"

"Sweet! Find some other stuff."

I'm no eyewitness to this event, mind you, but if I had to guess, the person leading this "experiment" would be Patrick. He's the mechanical one and finding out how stuff works has always been a fascination. But the fetcher of items to smash would have to be Michael. As the youngest, his job is two-fold — errand boy and lookout.

And Ryan? Well, I'm sure he was watching ESPN while all of this was unfolding and probably said something like, "What are you idiots doing?" That's if he realized it was happening and he certainly would not have moved from the sofa to find out.

It's a mystery as to when this happened. They weren't smart enough to clean up the evidence and I tend not to get into the basement (other than my laundry room) very often. So rather than start pointing fingers about who did what (little boys can be like dogs, they don't remember the stuff they did so it's no use bringing up ancient history), I calmly asked them to clean up the debris in the workroom. With wastebasket held by one, the other swept it all into the trash. They never even mentioned the source of the debris or why they were being asked to clean it up. Maybe it was just a consequence of their sleepover. Maybe the old lady is just crabbing again. Either way, she's got that face going so we just better do what she says.

Later on, I laughed as I tried to picture them with hammer in hand. Fortunately, the safety goggles were out, too, so someone (Patrick, I suppose) had the foresight to protect his eyes.

I suppose I should applaud their curiosity. I mean, they could become physicists and take their smashing of items to the point of discovering the key to string theory.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Media Bloggers gets Libby trial seat

I haven't had the time to read the whole thing, but I think this is a big first step toward elevating blogging. I'd like to throw my hat into the pool of MBA bloggers to cover this trial. Hmmm, we'll see if I can swing a few days in DC.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The vividness of memory

"There are people who stick in one's memory much more clearly after a brief acquaintance than others whom one sees day after day over a long period. Aunt Eva was certainly one of those vivid people, someone my memory and imagination have conspired to preserve in living color for twenty years. I have sometimes used Aunt Eva to fill the shoes of characters in books, or figures in history; for example, she stepped in automatically when I encountered Madame Merle, the personable schemer in Henry James' Portrait of a Lady."
— Character of Paul in The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

There are those people we meet and perhaps get to know whose impact on our world is so profound that their visage will play on in continuous mental loop rewarding us with their Technicolor likeness even when cataracts prohibit us from clearly seeing our own image in a mirror.

Ode to Mr. Ramen Noodle

Enjoy this ode to the creator of ramen noodles.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Observations from a weekend of movie-watching

Cabin fever has been hovering just outside the screen door, waiting to pounce on me with a vengeance. Yet I've resisted getting out while I just try to get over this bad cold. I'm heading back out on the road again this month, including Indianapolis this week and Columbus next. I need to be rested and well (as I take a moment to slug some more green tea).

As my family prepared for yet another night of football on Saturday, I was finally fed up. "I'm going to see a movie," I declared.

"By yourself?"

"Yep. Because none of you want to see anything I'm interested in seeing."

I grabbed the movie section and perused the offerings at Crocker Park. Sadly, nothing said, "Must see! Must spend $8.50!" to me. Those I'm interested in seeing were at the Cedar Lee Theatre. But it was already 6:30 and I'd never make it east in time for the 7-ish shows. I wasn't up for the Rocky Horror crowd at the later shows.

Exasperated, I headed out to the video store. I said I was getting movies I wanted to watch and that they could all watch football in the basement. Heh!

Here are some brief observations on my selections.

British actor Jude Law made a surprisingly good Jack Burden in "All the King's Men." Though I have to say that no movie could ever compare with the mastery and complexity of Robert Penn Warren's book. It's one of my all-time favorites and must-reading for any history or literature geek.

As I was watching the DVD extras, which I always do after a movie, I noticed the guy who plays Sugar Boy looked very familiar. And then it dawned on me -- he's Kelly from the original "Bad News Bears." Thank God for wireless, I was able to check that little tidbit out while watching. And I was correct. Sugar Boy was played by Jackie Earle Haley, otherwise known as Kelly Leak.

"Capote" put me to sleep, literally. Philip Seymour Hoffman was great in his embodiment of the eccentric Truman Capote, but I found the story dragged along and I'm not really sure what the point of it was — that Capote changed writing? That covering such a tragedy nearly killed him (via the drink)? That it killed his writing? The movie looked good in its starkness, but I just didn't find it entertaining.

On a lark, and because I was so riveted by the movie back in high school, I rented "All the President's Men." First, the dialogue is so hushed that I had to jack up the volume to hear anything. While I still get a kick out of the process of reporting, I couldn't help but wonder, does anyone not involved in the profession really care? And how about the tediousness of finding people pre-Internet. I mean, Robert Redford as Bob Woodward is searching through various city White Pages looking for Kenneth Dalhberg. Imagine the time he'd save if he had Google. It was interesting to view the movie having read "Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate" and learning the behind-the-scenes on the movie. But it all seems very quaint and dated in a way that other classics, ("Casablanca") do not.

The gem in my selection was "The Motorcycle Diaries," which follows a whimsical journey of Ernesto "Che" Guevara before he comes a Socialist icon. Ernesto and his friend Alberto Granado decide to take a break from all the book learning and discover Latin America on the back of a dilapidated motorcycle. Gael Garcia Bernal is luminous as a young, idealistic Ernesto. And his friend Alberto is downright playful as portrayed by Rodrigo de la Serna.

Their final stay at a leper colony along the Amazon River is a touching lesson in the potential beauty of humankind toward one another.

Valerie Plame is silenced for now

It seems Valerie Plame may be a bit more important to the CIA than originally posited by the Bush Administration. Either that or the CIA Publications Review Board is excessively paranoid about an ex-operative who brought negative attention to the agency and, through her husband, the Bush Administration.

In related matters, Media Bloggers Association of which I'm a member, has announced that U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., has granted credentials for two MBA seats to cover the upcoming Scooter Libby trial. Libby is accused of outing Valerie Plame in 2003.

This is exciting news because it's only the tip of the iceberg in getting credentials for bloggers to cover major news events.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Shoo flu

We're on Day 7 of a flu-ishness marked by on and off fever for day or day and a half followed by cold symptoms — cough, runny nose, congestion, headache and sneezing.

The last, and I would argue worst, of the bunch just dragged in from work with the headache and chills. My own bout struck on Saturday as a fog rolled into Bay Village and I sat watching Patrick consume a cold cut combo at Subway. My teeth began to ache, my head pound and I was unable to regulate my body temperature.

Thankfully, I'm on the mend at about 90 percent today. The big guy isn't so lucky.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

News Gems of 2006

Jon Marshall of News Gems has compiled an amazing list of well-written and reported news stories from 2006. This is journalism done well. If you're going to read just one, try Oil: A travelogue of addiction / A tank of gas, a world of trouble by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune. It's an amazing story.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The seasonal nature of writing

Instead of reviewing "Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance" by Julia Cameron I decided to share the nugget I found most helpful. But first, a little background.

Cameron's book, which she writes while battling the fringes of depression and the ever constant battle to maintain sobriety (after more than two decades of recovery), can at times be a downer. She's writing to the co-dependent in all of us, linking some similarities between the alcoholic mindset and the creative personality, cautioning us to stick to routine (which she repeats throughout).

I understand the great benefit routine plays into maintaining sobriety. I've seen it work in action and know how instrumental it can be. Likewise, I do believe that professional writers also need to adhere to some kind of routine that keeps them productive (think: Just do it) and keeps them from sinking into the angst and drama that inhibits good writing. (I am prone to just such destructive spells.)

But I'm also a believer that good writers also leave a little room for serendipity and so would caution against creating such a rigid schedule as she advises. I have, however, taken up her idea of Morning Pages, where I awake early and write a few pages in my journal. It's a practice I used to have when my kids were little. It's nice to pick up again and I have a bunch of new journals my sister gave me for Christmas in which to begin.

Back to the useful nugget of Cameron's book. In the chapter, "Uncovering a Sense of Perspective" she writes, "You are asked to imagine yourself larger and more surefooted than you may feel yourself to be."

"When we are incubating something creatively, we, too, follow a cycle of seasons. We begin locked in winter, when we look and feel devoid of ideas, although the ideas are there for us, simply dormant. Our wintry hearts lurch toward spring and suddenly an idea puts out a hopeful bud … As surely as the seasons turn, our brightly budded ideas must now ripen and mature … Now come the long days of labor. We must work to bring forth the fruit of what we have envisioned."

If you're a professional writer, you're probably scratching your head about being "devoid of ideas." My problem is that I have too many ideas that are not sharply focused or that I'm unsure how to explore or transform into paying work. Stay with me. Cameron continues and here's where I found myself in her writing.

"Some of us remain locked in winter, unable to go forward because we doubt the strength of our ideas. Others make it to spring, shooting forward with rapid growth but unable to bring things to fulfillment, unable to put in the heavy labor necessary to cultivate our crop. Still others, myself included here, bring work all the way to completion but lack the resolution and bravado necessary to sell the work that we have done. A critical failure of nerve at the last moment causes us to doubt the worthiness of the projects we have birthed. Novels go into desk drawers. Plays languish on shelves. The pumpkin rots on the vine." (Bold is mine.)

Of course, the answer is perseverance, pushing forward when we lack the courage, "imagining yourself more surefooted than you may feel yourself to be." Because creativity happens when we operate just outside of our comfort zone.

Cameron's advice when we have been rejected is not to ask, "Why me?" but to instead ask, "What's next?" I think I'll try that in 2007. How about you? What will you do differently this year?