He Looks Pretty Good Now, In Comparison

Checkers v. “I am not a crook”


One of the greatest, and most infamous, examples of the power of storytelling occurred on this date 59 years ago. The world would little remember the details of the speech Richard Nixon delivered on Sept. 23, 1952 –in fact, would consider the campaign finance kerfuffle to be almost charming in contrast to today’s multimillion-dollar campaign binges — were it not for Tricia Nixon’s little dog, Checkers.

Yes, today is the anniversary of the Checkers Speech. It’s appropriate that we mark the occasion, because we’ve been thinking a lot lately about both storytelling and non-apologetic apologies.

Richard Milhouse Nixon was campaigning in 1952 for the vice presidency of the United States as the running mate of Dwight D. Eisenhower. (SPOILER ALERT: They won.) Someone discovered that Republican fat cats had established a secret $18,000 slush fund that “reimbursed” candidate Nixon for campaign expenses. Such slush funds were not uncommon or even illegal at the time, but some people were shocked — shocked! — that Nixon was accepting money and favors from people to whom he might later owe favors.

Nixon could have issued a denial. He could have released campaign finance ledgers. But instead, he held a half-hour live television special to tell his stories.

He started by talking about his modest upbringing in California, helping out at the family store. He talked about serving in World War II. He said he and Pat Nixon had $10,000 in savings — the equivalent of about $120,000 today — all in government treasury bonds. He and Pat didn’t invest in the stock market.

We lived rather modestly. For four years we lived in an apartment in Parkfairfax, in Alexandria, Virginia. The rent was $80 a month. And we saved for the time that we could buy a house. Now, that was what we took in. What did we do with this money? What do we have today to show for it? This will surprise you, because it is so little, I suppose, as standards generally go, of people in public life.

He talked about his two-year-old Oldsmobile, and about taking out loans from his parents, and about his mortgages, and his modestly furnished home in California, where his aging parents now lived.

Well, that’s about it. That’s what we have and that’s what we owe. It isn’t very much but Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we’ve got is honestly ours. I should say this—that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she’d look good in anything.


Pat Nixon sat in a chair off to the side, gazing adoringly at her husband as he continued:

One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something—a gift—after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.


Get the name of the dog! It’s what I teach journalism students today. Get the details: Little girl, Tricia, 6 years old, has been wanting a dog, and here comes a surprise: a cute little black and white cocker spaniel. The kids love the dog. He would never disappoint the kids.

So no, he’s NOT going to apologize for accepting the black and white cocker spaniel that so delights his little girls. He is, in fact, even more determined than ever to keep doing exactly what he was doing before, despite the smears, the “misunderstandings,” because you know, darn it, he Loves His Country.

And as far as this is concerned, I intend to continue the fight. Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I feel that in spite of the smears, the misunderstandings, the necessity for a man to come up here and bare his soul as I have? Why is it necessary for me to continue this fight? And I want to tell you why. Because, you see, I love my country.

One of the television cameramen had tears streaming down his face. Nixon had invited a small crowd of Young Republicans to the television studio, and they cheered. Yet Nixon was convinced he had blown it.

Nixon biographer Stephen (“Undaunted Courage”) Ambrose wrote that the Checkers Speech was “one of the most sickening, disgusting, maudlin performances ever experienced.” But millions of Americans disagreed, flooding the Republican National Committee with telegrams, postcards, letters and phone calls in support. Checkers received truckloads of gifts: bones, ribbons, collars, a year’s worth of dog food. Nixon was hailed as “an honest man” by Mamie Eisenhower.


The slush fund? What slush fund? It was forgotten. Nixon celebrated the anniversary of “the fund speech” for years afterward. He said it saved his career and paved the way to his presidency.

But somewhere along the way he forgot the power of storytelling. Somewhere along the way, the Checkers Speech evolved into the succinct and less successful “I am not a crook.”

My Friend Gary

Remembering Gary Chapman

Posted by Peter Lewis | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-12-2010

Gary Chapman, a teacher and writer whose views helped define debates on the ethics of modern technology, died Dec. 14 while kayaking in the highlands of Guatemala. He was 58 years old and lived in Austin, Texas.

The cause was a heart attack, according to an emergency room physician who was a member of the kayaking team. But that cannot be. Those of us who knew Gary, and knew the size of his heart, suspect that he was simply so full of life that he floated away.

Gary was a Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Texas’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He was also the founding director of The 21st Century Project at the University of Texas. The Project specializes in the social implications and trends of new developments in information technology. Its projects range from open government to reform of mental healthcare.

Before coming to Texas in 1993 Gary was executive director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a public interest group formed by researchers and scientists at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Stanford University to raise awareness of the potential risks of computer technology in weapons systems. The group gained international prominence for its opposition to the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as the “Star Wars” space-based anti-missile system), and soon expanded its efforts to influence public policy on nonmilitary issues including privacy, electronic voting systems, critical infrastructure, and telecommunications policy.

He was a nationally syndicated columnist on technology issues for The Los Angeles Times, and later wrote a column for The Austin American-Statesman. His writings also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Boston Globe, Technology Review, and other major publications. Although he was not trained as a computer scientist, he was a member of the selection committee for the Turing Award, administered by the Association of Computing Machinery and often described as the “Nobel Prize for computer science.” In announcing his appointment to the Turing selection committee, the ACM described Gary as “the leading thinker on the social implications of technology.”

I could go on and on about my friend’s many professional accomplishments and honors, but such lists create only a partial portrait of this extraordinary man. Here are some other things you should know about Gary:

He was deeply in love with Carol Flake, his wife and life partner. The only time I can remember him showing anger was when someone wronged her.

He and Carol were planning to meet at the Guatemalan Mayan ruin of Tikal on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, to witness the full lunar eclipse.

He was a talented artist, and was an art major in college before switching to political science.

He got drafted during the Viet Nam war. In boot camp, as a raw grunt, he refused a drill sergeant’s order that he said demeaned his fellow grunts. An officer ordered him to obey. “Sir, no SIR,” Gary said, displaying the integrity that was his hallmark for the rest of his life. “That’s an illegal order.” It was a test, and Gary was the only soldier in his barracks to refuse to comply. The officer plucked Gary from the group and, citing his display of character and leadership, recommended him for advancement.

He became a Green Beret in the Army’s Special Forces, and yet he was gentle and soft-spoken.

He was so soft-spoken most of the time that when he did erupt, it was memorable. Gary’s obituary in The New York Times recounted this tale: “Eric Roberts, a computer science professor at Stanford, recalled that at a C.P.S.R. board meeting on the Stanford campus in 1988, Mr. Chapman banged his fist on the table to make his case. “Just at that moment we had an earthquake,” Professor Roberts said, “and we all thought, ‘He commands forces greater than we know.’ ”

As a Special Forces soldier Gary saw the worst that men are capable of doing, and yet he was compassionate and optimistic and never lost faith in the essential goodness of humanity. He saw the hypocrisy of politicians and the venality of corporate executives and the incompetence of bureaucrats but never became cynical.

His eyes got wide with wonder when he saw or heard something that delighted him. And when he told you about it, his eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened even more and he laughed, and you couldn’t help laughing as well.

Dave, his favorite dog, made him laugh. He loved his dogs: Joey, Dave, Zippy, and Molly.

He would drive hours to talk to a group of farmers who were confused about a new plan for rural broadband access. He volunteered whenever needed to help bring computer technology to kids in East Austin and other economically deprived areas.

He was an extraordinarily talented cook. He appreciated fine wine. But he was not a wine snob.

He loved kayaking and loved being on the water. His friend Grant Thomas remembers a kayaking trip on the Guadalupe River when they stopped for lunch. “Another guy and I grabbed a couple of cheap beers, and here was Gary with a bottle of wine,” Grant says. Gary pulled out a corkscrew and a portable wine glass, the kind that comes in two parts. He screwed the stem into the bowl and popped the cork. “We couldn’t help but laugh and say, ‘That’s class right there,’ ” Grant says. “That’s how Gary was.”

He loved shooting at sporting clays and owned a custom-made Italian shotgun. But he didn’t hunt. He loved birds and nature. He and Carol made their home just a short distance from the river.

He built a shed for his collection of kayaks. Like everything else he did, it was classy.

He loved music. He somehow got Buffalo Springfield to play for his high school prom in California. He used to drive several hours round-trip from his Army base up to Ashbury Park, N.J., to hear a new group called Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.

He loved music, but was a lousy dancer opinions about his dancing ability varied. Couldn’t sing, either.

He and Carol loved Italy. They loved going to their favorite hotel on their favorite lake in northern Italy. They loved going to the outdoor opera in Verona.

But they also loved going to out-of-the-way bars in New Orleans to hear the music. Gary had an encyclopedic knowledge of bands and singers and songwriters.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of just about any topic you could think of.

As his friend Jack Nokes says, Gary was brilliant and humble. “He was the smartest guy in the room but acted like he was just like everyone else,” Jack says.

We invited Gary to join our men’s book club just before a meeting. The book was Robert Wright’s “The Moral Animal,” and all the other guys in the group — professors, lawyers, doctors, writers, captains of industry, alpha males all –were enamored of it. Gary hadn’t read the book, but after we were done gushing he joined the conversation and for the next hour helped us dissect the arguments and implications of it, and basically shredded the author’s thesis on philosophical, scientific and feminist terms. It was a bravura performance.

Gary lifted almost every conversation to a higher, more interesting or more entertaining level.

He was prematurely gray. His hair was already going white when I first met him in the 1980s.

He suffered from tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ears. It drove him nuts. Being around the roar of falling water gave him some relief.

He never quite grasped the concept of a firm handshake. It drove us nuts.

No matter what he did, he always did it well. He always concocted the best costume for our annual Mardi Gras party. And he always made the best mix tapes for the Mardi Gras party dance music.

Gary said he used to think of success in terms of prestige or power or money. But recently, he told Carol, he came to realize that success, for him, was making a difference in the lives of his students. He loved working with kids and agonized over whether he was reaching them. He devised games and exercises to help them learn. One of his students, a tough kid from a tough part of Houston, was probably the first in his family not just to go to college, but to graduate from high school. He struggled with college work. Gary told him, “I’m probably not going to give you a grade better than a C, because you don’t have the writing and reading skills that other kids have who had more resources growing up than you, but if you work with me, I promise I’ll make you a better student.” The kid showed up whenever Gary had office hours, sometimes to go over schoolwork, but most of the time just to talk. By the end of the semester he was writing better, and more important, excited and proud to be writing better. Gary was delighted to give him a B.

Gary spent hours writing letters of recommendation for his students, writing and rewriting, not satisfied until the letters were perfect.

He had an early flight on the morning he left for the whitewater kayaking trip to Guatemala. But, Carol said, he got up at 4 a.m. to finish a letter of recommendation he had promised to write for one of his students.

Gary wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I applied for a teaching job at Stanford, where he had taught years before, before he walked away from a Ph.D. in political science to take his job with Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

I got the job, and afterward asked the director of Stanford’s graduate journalism program why I was chosen over the other candidates. “It was the letter of recommendation from Gary Chapman, your friend at the University of Texas,” she said.

Kathryn and I had dinner with Gary and Carol just before he left for Guatemala. I’m grateful I had the chance to thank him for his help. Which, of course, he shrugged off with his aw shucks humility.

The other guys on the kayaking trip said Gary was stricken while paddling on a relatively quiet stretch of river. He was there one minute, as full of life as any man can be, and gone the next. It was a beautiful stretch of river, his fellow kayakers said, the kind of place that seems almost sacred in its beauty and peacefulness. A few minutes earlier, they said, Gary was as happy as they had ever seen him.

Heart attack? More likely, he just found himself in a place that was so close to heaven on earth that he just paddled on through.

Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Gary went to the river because he lived deliberately. He learned what life had to teach, and he became a great teacher. He loved Carol deeply and passionately. And she loved Gary. We all loved Gary.

And now, in death, he is teaching us about life, especially the most important lesson of all: Love is the most important thing there is.

Old Stuff To Make This Blog Look Less Virginal

Luke Hayman

Luke Hayman, a partner in the international design services firm Pentagram, was asked recently to discuss how Apple’s forthcoming iPad would change the world of magazines. Hayman, a graduate of London’s Central St. Martin’s School of Art (where my daughter Laura also studied) is a brilliant design strategist whose work is evident in the fresh new looks he has given to such magazines as Time, New York, Travel + Leisure, Consumer Reports, The Atlantic, and many others. I certainly wouldn’t challenge Luke Hayman’s expertise in magazine design. But I do question his thinking on how consumer technology – and the iPad in particular — will “revolutionize the way we read magazines.”

“Combining the rich visual content of a print publication, the ever-changing immediacy of a website, and the portability of an e-book reader, the iPad … will, in fact, revolutionize the way we read magazines,” Pentagram opines.

We? As in “…revolutionize the way WE read magazines”? The version of the iPad that allows the gee-whiz immediacy and connectivity that Pentagram extols will cost $829 plus monthly data fees, well above the threshold of a mass-market consumer technology device. And then there’s the question of demographics. Hayman points to the Amazon Kindle as evidence that technology can change a person’s reading habits. But the average age of a Kindle buyer is 49, based on responses to the “Average Kindle Owner’s Age” forum on Amazon. My 91-year-old father and ageless mother-in-law are both avid Kindle users. This is not the young, hipster demographic that most magazine publishers covet, except perhaps for AARP. No doubt a multipurpose, iPod-based tablet computer from Apple will have a younger audience than the Amazon Kindle. But will that younger audience take time out from music, videogames and social networking to read digital magazines? I’m not convinced. Read the rest of this entry »

More intimate than a laptop

February 1st, 2010

Now that the initial frenzy over the Apple iPad has subsided a bit, let’s take a swipe at what the new device means for consumers.

Based on my all-too-brief hands-on experience with an iPad prototype immediately following the introduction last week – Apple made 40 of its estimated 50 working prototypes available for fondling– it was apparent that all the razzle dazzle was premature. The iPad is very much a “one dot uh-oh” product that will need to ripen considerably in the 60 to 90 days before it goes on sale.

When I got back home to Palo Alto a couple of hours after last Wednesday’s announcement, I walked past the Apple Store on University Avenue expecting to see it festooned with iPad banners and posters. Instead, the posters were all about the iPod Touch, a product that made its debut in September 2007. It was as if the iPad did not exist. And in a very real sense, the iPad doesn’t exist. Yet.

One expects to be carpet-bombed by advertising after a major Apple product introduction. Apple’s marketing machine, orchestrated by Senior Vice President and Red Sox fan Philip W. Schiller, is so finely tuned that one can walk into an Apple product announcement with only vague clues as to what is to come, and walk out two hours later to see dazzling new advertisements plastered on the sides of buildings and on passing city buses and just about everywhere one looks. The effect on those emerging from an Apple event is that somehow the world has changed in those two hours they were inside, changed in a happy way that makes you want to dance, and that Apple, by showing us how to “think different,” has made our lives a little bit better or easier or just more fun.

No doubt the main reason the iPad effectively vanished after the big announcement is that the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t yet approved it for sale. Apple can’t legally sell one until the FCC certifies that the WiFi and 3G transceivers in the iPads won’t interfere with police radios or cause airliners to crash or wreak other electromagnetic mayhem. Apparently Apple can’t even take pre-orders on the iPad.

There’s no reason to think the FCC won’t approve the iPad; it just takes a month or so. Apple didn’t want to apply for certification in advance because the details of the filing would be public record, and the media and blogosphere would start ripping and slobbering. Apple would lose the element of surprise, which is worth millions of dollars in free launch-day publicity.

But I suspect another reason is also in play: The iPad is not ready for prime time, and vice versa. Read the rest of this entry »

The Apple iPad, Take 1.0

January 28th, 2010

Plans to real-time blog from the Apple event yesterday were thwarted by several hundred other journalists who were trying to live-blog from the same room at the same time. By the time Steve Jobs took the stage, the wireless network was as frozen as the bullet scenes in The Matrix. So I turned to AT&T (no, really) to Tweet from my iPhone.
After the smoke cleared, I filed the following to WYNC in New York City, where a lot of big media companies were wondering how the iPad would save them. (Spoiler alert: Sorry, folks, you’re still screwed.)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA January 27, 2010 —After months of fevered rumor and speculation, Apple today unveiled a surprisingly inexpensive new mobile product that fits halfway between the popular iPhone smartphone and the company’s MacBook laptops. The Apple iPad will go on sale starting in 60 to 90 days at prices ranging from $499 to $829.

The iPad is a flat, 10-inch, color touch-screen computer that resembles a larger version of Apple’s iPhone. Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, said the iPad is the best device yet for such tasks as web-browsing, e-mail, sharing photos, watching videos, enjoying music, playing games and reading electronic books. Analysts and reporters attending the announcement today stopped short of fully endorsing Mr. Jobs’s praise of the iPad, but many said their lack of rapturous adoration of the machine was at least partially the result of the unrestrained media hype that preceded its introduction.

To read the rest of the post, follow this: http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/149066

Finally, an End to the Hype

January 27th, 2010

Me, I’m waiting for the personal hovercraft.

It is now officially Wednesday, January 27, 2010, on the Pacific coast, which means the secret new product from Apple will be unveiled TODAY. Would this day never come? At last, an end to all the blogged-and-tweeted speculation about the rumored Apple iPad, or iSlate, or iTablet, or iAyiyi, or whatever the heck they’re going to call it. I haven’t been this weary of an unannounced product in almost a decade. Yes, I’m going to be in the audience when the iPad-Whatever is unveiled, and I’ll love every minute of the spectacle, but as for “it” saving journalism and killing the Kindle and revolutionizing television … eh. Please, let’s not get carried away. It’s a gizmo.

Flashback: Remember IT? Remember Ginger? The leaks started in 2000. Steve Jobs invested in it and reportedly said “IT” was more important than the personal computer. Jobs predicted that John Hennessy, the president of Stanford University and himself a brilliant engineer, would “shit his pants” when he saw “IT.” John Doerr, managing partner of the premier Silicon Valley venture capital partnership Kleiner Perkins, said the company that made “IT” would hit $1 billion in sales faster than any company in history. (Fortunately for him, both literally and figuratively, his subsequent investment in Google fulfilled the pledge.) Dean Kamen, the brilliant and successful inventor, said cities would be redesigned around “IT.” Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said there would be no need to advertise “IT” because it would be impossible to keep up with demand.

“IT” turned out to be the Segway Personal Transporter. Mall cops and nerds and parking meter readers ride them. Shriners from Oklahoma ride them in parades as the 21st century upgrade on midget clown cars. It turns out that not only did cities NOT redesign the roads for Segways, but in many cases banned them from sidewalks.

If the pre-announcement rumors are close to target, the iPad-Whatever will be a thin, lightweight, color touch-screen computer about halfway in size between the iPod and the Read the rest of this entry »

Ruminations on the iPad

January 21st, 2010

The Internet punishes inefficiency. Internet companies that devise clever ways to compete against inefficient business models have the potential to transform their industries. Dell proved the point in personal computers. Amazon knocked the cover off bookselling and shuttered more than a few retail storefronts. Apple’s iTunes upended the music retail industry. Craigslist clobbered the newspaper classified adverting business. There are scores of other examples.

Of course there are also lots of theoretically efficient Internet businesses that flop for one reason or another, typically related to recto-cranial inversion. But in general if you can identify an inefficient market, devise a more efficient Internet-based alternative, assemble a killer management team and execute a sufficiently capitalized business plan, entire industries will fall at your feet.

Which brings us to the forthcoming iPad, widely believed to be the star of the lovefest Apple will convene next Wednesday in San Francisco. The device itself may or may not be typically Apple elegant. What really matters is the back end. Just as the iPod and the iPhone achieved greatness mainly because of iTunes and the iTunes App Store — the iPhone sure as hell didn’t succeed because of AT&T — the forthcoming iPad will be judged by how well its back-end services address the glaring inefficiencies in the media and entertainment businesses. Read the rest of this entry »

Martin Luther King

January 18th, 2010

… “You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

“… We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws …”

Excerpts from “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” August 1963

Full text in The Atlantic:

Under Construction

January 10th, 2010

Pardon the mess. After using other blogging clients and hosts over the past few years I’m switching to WordPress as part of a project at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where I spend most of my time. This site will eventually evolve into a three-level blog incorporating my interests in technology, the environment, and the future of journalism. For the time being it is a sandbox for testing new features and designs.