Sunday, February 27

The Gates

Blog Retrospective

Two years ago in my blogging career I was the Eyeball on Arrival at the World Social Forum. Last year we were setting up our new headquarters in Prospect Heights. Three years ago, I was a depressed freelancer, blogging as follows:

We admit it, we are discouraged. From Verba Volant: Le d�lai stimule le journaliste. Lorsqu'il a le temps, il �crit pi�trement. That is, "Journalists are stimulated by deadlines, and do not write as well when they have plenty of time." David Eide's Sun Oasis newsletter arrives in the old inbox:

In reading over the recruiting literature some points emerge. One is to look at economic downturns as an opportunity rather than a moment of despair. Another is that you rise to the level of what you think you're worth. We know it doesn't work as easily and as quickly as that but it starts there. Of course, many writers are not the greatest employees and they view a career path a bit differently than does the corporate manager. Writing is notorious for being a profession with low salaries. It's like teaching or nursing; professions where the work itself has to bring satisfaction for those doing it.

The satisfaction of having health insurance would not be unwelcome either. I send David my Werewolf profile. Riding on the F train this morning, I am reading the New York Press and thinking, What is it I need to do to get ahead of the curve and get some salable stories? Strasbaugh's interview with the author of a prison memoir is really good. Shorter sentences, irony less broad, meet more humans in meat-person, that's the ticket. I am going to keep on keeping on.

At the time I was was working on a story about CAIR, had written a profile of my friend Ivan Lerner for The Morning News, and was trying to cover an e-learning beat. I think I was writing a column on energy as well. Hard to remember that far back. And there was this photo of the junior Mermaid:

A-One Cuisine

Dinner last night at AOC Bedford to celebrate the fact that my wife didn't leave me for a llama or a tango instructor while she was down in Chile.

The foie gras there is simply to die for, you eat it on toast points with a little of that sweet desert wine, what's it called? Ah, Muscat. And a bottle of Le Petit Cheval St Emilion Grand Cru 1986 to wash down the paella.

I'm not one of those foodie chowhounds, really, and last night's dinner was a new life achievement for me in terms of the fatness of the check. But you know what? It was freaking worth it!

That's one paper done, chips anyone? from Observer Blog

That's one paper done, chips anyone?. I am enjoying the blog being done by the editors of The Observer, so I says, says I:

This is exactly the approach to blogging I was pitching to my boss for our publication: You make the editorial process transparent and capture the informal, behind-the-scenes personality and voice of your paper, the one that normally doesn't get heard. People like that. I know I do. It's very engaging to be invited to see the human element behind the carefully scripted performance: the ballerina smoking and swapping dirty jokes with the stagehands before going on as the Dying Swan, as it were.

I wish I could show you guys the PowerPoint I did on this, but it's internal work product, very hush-hush. Just kidding, sort of. I did up this chart that shows the normal workflow for a news story or the planning of an issue--that's a recent roadmap of ours, above--then show that there are various opportunities for blogging at different junctures along the way. It allows you to reuse byproducts of the reporting process--kind of like a sausage, a newspaper is, you just stuff in all the chunks and mold it together--and gives the reader a sense of participation, of reading over your shoulder while you're correcting proofs as it were.

Of course, you have to be careful to protect the integrity of the process while you're doing it. No revealing that the interview subject has halitosis or that Deep Throat was a total *&#^@#!! and lives at 233 Elm Street ...

Saturday, February 26

Google is Not So Evil

Not evil: Google movie listings, Google SMS in general and Googlism:

not evil is trying to the prove that water isn't a liquid not evil is evil and it is designed to bind us so we cannot serve god not evil is something that can be healed from the energy field not evil is not evil is the universe not evil is because he stepped down from romafeller not evil is what he taught his people and his disciples not evil is present not evil is simply a more powerful force in some human beings than others cannot be settled by the likes of early grace not evil is supported in the gospels not evil is the promised blessing for this life or the next? not evil is a decent argument for using power point in the classroom an activity with a pedagogical value not evil is because she represents the natural processes of both creation and destruction not evil is anybody's guess not evil is possible for a god is a > separate question not evil is the same way as angelus and darla not evil is morally handicapped not evil is a fair description not evil is when he is asleep not evil is the final reality not evil is funny not evil is amazing not evil is afoot not evil is known not evil is as evil says it might do not evil is what's taking time to prove not evil is the fundamental opposite of love

Friday, February 25

Picture Book

Neuza is back from Chile, I might have mentioned. I feel much better. Wish I could have gone. Above, my aquatic niece Simona. Below, the South Pacific troubadors of tackiness, followed by Paulo and Paula, my attractive, pisco-swilling Portunhol in-laws, then the blond, blue-eyed ca�ula, Luiza, who no longer looks like a monkey as she did when newborn:

Thursday, February 24

Pisco Sour: Cocktail of the Hour

New experience: the Pisco Sour. The Foca Louca is back from 100 degree weather in Chile to find herself in the middle of a minor blizzard, bearing bottles of this South American so-called "brandy." Brandy my bunda: It's the national moonshine, the same way as cacha�a is on the other end of the Amazon watershed. Good freaking stuff. Try one!

Pisco Sour: Cocktail of the Hour

New experience: the Pisco Sour. The Foca Louca is back from 100 degree weather in Chile to find herself in the middle of a minor blizzard, bearing bottles of this South American so-called "brandy." Brandy my bunda: It's the national moonshine, the same way as cacha�a is on the other end of the Amazon watershed. Good freaking stuff. Try one!

Big Brother Sells a Pizza

When customer databases converge with antiterror databases. Funny as hell. From those indispensable pinkos at the ACLU.

The future of news, third-hand

Buzzworthy (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog), quoting Forbes.com's Paul Maidment:
Ten years into the era of publishing via the Internet, most online editions still depend upon newsprint editions for content and financial support. The catch-22 is that those newsprint editions can decreasingly afford to provide it. Television news' answer can be summed up as: Comment is cheap, but fact is expensive. So it has gone the low-cost route. ... Another option for serious journalism is that it will become the domain of nonprofits--or be reader, not advertiser, supported, along the public broadcasting model. Or perhaps newspapers will be available only to an elite, rather like the Reference News available to the Chinese Communist Party leadership but not the masses. In the U.S., the elite will be those who can afford to pay for it. That elite edition will be highly customized for each niche group of readers--with a price tag to match, and not so far from the notion of journalists talking down the telephone line to one reader at a time.

That's exactly what I was trying to say the other day! Great minds think alike, but the Forbes guy had the time and talent to write it up properly. Me, I'm just a mild-mannered editor between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and a blog crusader by what's left of the night before slipping into unconsciousness.

Wednesday, February 23

God, Mammon & St. Scorsese

I got very cheesed off when this Bloomberg columnist dissed Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" in a particularly stupid way. Writes Michael Lewis:
As bizarre and colorful as Hughes may have been, he wouldn't have been of the slightest interest to anyone had he not also been a billionaire. If you didn't already know the Hughes story, if all you had was the movie, you would assume the poor man died a pauper. And if you did know something of the Hughes story, you might come away thinking that the main qualification for dying as the world's richest man is to be certifiably insane. There's a dramatic reason for this, of course. People in the entertainment industry assume that money-making is inherently repellent, that if you show a character doing it you risk turning the audience against him.

That's so fucking stupid I can't even believe it, especially for a former art-history major. So I wrote:

I enjoyed seeing you raise this topic recently on Bloomberg.com, but I have to differ sharply with you over the idea that Hughes' business acumen was glossed over in the screenplay because "people in the entertainment industry assume that money-making is inherently repellent." Martin Scorsese is not just one more greasy producer of reality TV sucking off the teat of the schlock factory, you know. The selective focus of this film flows from an artistic vision that he has elaborated consistently throughout his powerful body of work. "Raging Bull," for example, is not merely a boxing movie: It's about LaMotta the man, inside and outside the ring, for good and ill, unsparingly and aside from all the crap that was ever written about him by the sportswriters. Scorsese, in my view, cares about one thing: the titanic spiritual struggle going on inside his vividly fallible characters. Rent "The Last Temptation of Christ" and watch it alongside "Bull" or "Taxi Driver" or "Bringing Out the Dead" sometime. They're essentially the same film, all of them: The story of a man who struggles with terrible demons and temptations, trying to hang on to what he believes is good and right, his duty to God and man. Same here. The film really ends just as Hughes clears the last obstacle to amassing that enormous pile of money you wish had received its due worship, facing down the Pan Am monopoly and the inquisition brought to bear by its bought-off Senate committee chairman and carrying the day with incredible panache in the name of free markets and open competition, all despite the terrible personal demons you saw him wrestling with. Hughes was a man who didn't give a damn about money per se, but rather with the amazing things he could do for the world by applying it to things he cared passionately about. What more positive view of the modern business hero could you possibly want? You apparently prefer the cartoonish abstractions of an Ayn Rand propaganda novel. The woman could smoke up a storm, but she sure as hell couldn't write a character of flesh and blood. Hughes was a tragically wounded and emotionally fragile man who mastered demons that would have killed you and me, lived large, risked it all just for the joy of flying his own pet projects, and opened up the airways of the world to me and you. He was an artist whose medium was working capital, imagination and five-nines engineering that only an obsessive-compulsive could have carried off. That is why, I think Scorsese identifies so closely and personally with that aspect of his life. In other words (edit this out if you run this), you're completely full of shit.

I hate ham-fisted ideological cliches in business journalism. The topic deserves better than this intellectually lazy dork. Just my personal opinion, but I hope our little rag will prosper because we try to provide something a little smarter than this--no disrespect to Bloomberg (the news organization; regarding Hizzoner, I leave him to Heaven).

Bruno the Magnificent

That's the director of Downfall, captured last night at Film Forum, where the unsparing film treatment of Hitler's last days in that Berlin bunker was opening. Bruno Ganz (below) was on hand as well--sans toothbrush mustache--but I had to stop and erase some items from the old cameraphone and missed him and his bodyguards hopping into their Mercedes SUV.

Basically, it's a slightly edgier Springtime for Hitler with more nudity and hacked-off limbs. I know, I know: It's the kind of film you can only make nervous jokes about afterwards because it ain't no spring break yuk-fest. I'd read the book it was based on, and the commitment to realism by the film makers is really quite amazing, broken only at certain points where it was obvious they had filmed at sites where the actual historical battle damage remains unrepaired, looking weathered rather than fresh. A beautiful, understated touch, that.

Naomi Tells It Like It Is

Naomi Klein's "Getting the Purple Finger" cements the lady's queen-bitch status in my book of polemicists with a brain armed with weapons of mass investigation rather than weapons of mass distraction:

The election results are in: Iraqis voted overwhelmingly to throw out the US-installed government of Iyad Allawi, who refused to ask the United States to leave. A decisive majority voted for the United Iraqi Alliance; the second plank in the UIA platform calls for "a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq." There are more single-digit messages embedded in the winning coalition's platform. Some highlights: "Adopting a social security system under which the state guarantees a job for every fit Iraqi...and offers facilities to citizens to build homes." The UIA also pledges "to write off Iraq's debts, cancel reparations and use the oil wealth for economic development projects." In short, Iraqis voted to repudiate the radical free-market policies imposed by former chief US envoy Paul Bremer and locked in by a recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund. So what's the prize? An end to occupation, as the voters demanded? Don't be silly--the US government won't submit to any "artificial timetable." Jobs for everyone, as the UIA promised? You can't vote for socialist nonsense like that. No, they get Geraldo Rivera's tears ("I felt like such a sap"), Laura Bush's motherly pride ("It was so moving for the President and me to watch people come out with purple fingers") and Betsy Hart's sincere apology for ever doubting them ("Wow--do I stand corrected"). And that should be enough. Because if it weren't for the invasion, Iraqis would not even have the freedom to vote for their liberation, and then to have that vote completely ignored. And that's the real prize: the freedom to be occupied. Wow--do I stand corrected.

From what I know--which is more than most but less than some--I agree with that assessment almost completely. More importantly, you put someone like Naomi on television with some dickhead from the Claremont Institute of Cheap Obfuscation and the humbuggery practiced over there by Claremont Men's McKenna--percent Black: 4%; average starting salary: $9,000--would become glaringly obvious. That's why they want to control the airwaves, the newsstands and the academy: to forestall meritocracy in the marketplace of ideas.

Put Naomi up against Pat Buchanan, on the other hand, and you'd get some serious conversation. Invite them to your college today. Assign term papers. Expel all hecklers.

Toys

That bad boy pictured above is a DDR-3100 digital voice recorder from Diasonic Technology. Ordered one for a new reporter who needed a phone recorder for interviews, but oh, it is so much more. Stick a few music CDs on there, download any kind of file to it. Hang it around your neck, clip on the lapel mike, and bird dog people on the street for interviews, then download to a PC for instant audioblogging, editing, and all that.

I already ordered another one for myself. Toys. Love 'em.

Fannin' the Gannon Flame

Editor and Publisher, the Information Authority for the Newspaper Industry, has this on Gannon the gay-hustling neoconservative Rottweiler (precis by that fine SPJ Press Notes newsletter:

Former Talon News reporter James Guckert obtained his first White House press credentials as a representative of the pro-Republican Web site, GOPUSA, not as a Talon News reporter, as previously believed, Press Secretary Scott McClellan told E&P today. McClellan said White House Press Office staffers considered the openly partisan site to be a legitimate news organization when they gave Guckert, a.k.a. Jeff Gannon, the first of numerous day passes in February 2003. "He faxed a letter in on his [GOPUSA] letterhead, they checked that it was a conservative news Web site he worked for," McClellan explained, referring to his staffers who handled such credentialing at the time. "There was a check to make sure it was a news organization and a news Web site. There was a determination made at that point [that it was legitimate]."

"Legitimate" as in "supports the interests of the faith-based community over the inane, paralyzing skepticism of the reality-based community." In other words, the White House propaganda secretariat installed its ideological ringer knowing full well what the creature said it was. Ain't irony delicious? The gay porn nexus, Hollowood could not have dreamed it up.

And Gannon's "editor" speaks:

The operator of an activist Republican Web site and news service said Friday night that he had known for two years that his White House correspondent went by two identities. But the operator, Robert R. Eberle, denied in an interview that the correspondent, Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert, was an administration plant or was given preferential treatment as a Republican partisan to ask soft questions at briefings. Mr. Guckert, who wrote for the Gopusa.com Web site and its offshoot Talon News, agreed. In an interview on Saturday, he said had never even made phone calls to administration officials, not even to ask routine questions or clarify basic facts. "My relationship with the White House and with Talon News was on the basis of a reporter and a reporter only. And all that, all of this other stuff out there that I was given favorable treatment, access to things — is absolutely, categorically untrue," Mr. Guckert said.

I reiterate my offer of the following prime real estate, priced to move:

Tuesday, February 22

Echo Chamber

The Echo Chamber Project is a virtual assignment desk for an open source investigative project that wants to reverse-engineer the public relations campaign used to sell the public on the war in Iraq. Hypothesis: the television news bought it lock stock and two smoking barrels.

Check out the project's media democratization model. It sounds a bit like the 9/11 commission. I'm a bit concerned about steps 8 and 9, though:

8. The journalist passes the open- and closed-source information to a panel of politically representative moderators who oversee and direct the official peer review process.

9. The panel of partisan editors collaboratively analyze the incoming factual evidence and agree on how to reform the preliminary conclusions. The reformed conclusions would incorporate the feedback from society and would be documented online. These reformed conclusions would be transmitted through additional objective news analysis articles or investigative reporting.

"Partisan editors" that "collaboratively analyze," and a "benevolent dictator" who organizes the whole process and issues the objective conclusions. Hmmm. Who's going to decide what "politically representative" means in selecting the panel of editors? As far as the open-source metaphor goes, this is a bit like handing Linux to Microsoft with a faulty GPL that allows them to patent the whole thing. We're assuming at the outset that the two major political parties are representative of the spectrum of political opinion in this country. Counterexample: Neither of them reflect MY Greenish, civil libertarian, fiscally conservative, "pro-regulation to keep the corporate scum from perpetrating more Enrons but let's subject the regulatory regime to Occam's Razor so's not to punish responsible businesss for the misdeeds of the Ken Lays of the world, on the other hand, let's nip those budding little Lays in the bud, not just throw the mob a merely technically guilty Martha once in a while to sate its bloodlust" evolving worldview. You?

Pundits are fond of saying the Republican strategy at the moment aims at one-party rule like that of the PRI in Mexico. The fact is that we already have it: It simply has two brands on the shelves, which compete against one another as a marketing strategy, like the World Wrestling Federation. It's not politics, it's political entertainment.

Why moderate it at all, if you want to be a constitutional monarchy with a benevolent Queen Liz at the top to take credit and read the ruling party's press release on Throne Day? Let the interested parties spin the data on their own time, and organize their own smart mobs to spam the forums. That's the problem with mob journalism: no accountability. You still need the moral equivalent of Sarbanes-Oxley to make sure that there's an accountable person making the tough, timely judgments and putting his or her reputatation on the line. An editor, in short.

Also sprach Zarathustra.

Monday, February 21

Slush Fun; Fear and Loathing Catches Up with HST

I always those snowstorms that melt the next morning, leaving lakes of slush in all the gutters and turning basic urban navigation into an ass-busting disaster waiting to happen.

Hunter S. Thompson is dead by his own hand:

Thompson, also known as the "Gonzo Journalist," shot and killed himself on Sunday. He was associated with the "New Journalism" movement of the 1960's, in which the journalist made himself an important component of the story.

Kind of a tutelary daemon of the contemporary bloggerati, HST. I always loved his work and at the same time felt leary about the example it set. A lot of news now has the journalist inserting himself or herself in the story and trying to pretend that's not the case. Michael Moore got a lot more gonzo with Fahrenheit 9/11 and wound up trivializing the subject matter, for instance, and making yourself a part of the story is exactly what got Dan Rather into so much trouble: The highly probable hypothesis that Bush evaded military service is all but forgotten now. Victory for the noise machine. And a recent example is Adam Davidson's "Out of Iraq." in the latest Harper's. Adam had visions of living out among the people in Baghdad and wound up fleeing like a scared rabbit because he got so intoxicated by his own vision of himself as venturesome journalistic entrepreneur that he lost his situational awareness and succumbed to massive paranoia. How Hunteresque.

Sunday, February 20

Noise Machine Watch

The Claremont Institute deems Nicholas Lemann--dean of the Columbia School of Journalism--deficient and says that The Dean Gets a D in Media Coverage 101:

Lemann wonders, finally, whether there is still a large enough public to sustain journalism that is "inquisitive and intellectually honest, that surprises and unsettles." This conclusion, that the mainstream press is suffering because people don't appreciate the nobility of its mission, would be easier to accept if Lemann and his subjects were less inclined to treat the intellectual honesty of the press as self-evident. It's hard for mere citizens to revere the boundary between journalism and propaganda, however, when the people who run CBS News disdain it. Americans may be more receptive to bracing journalism than Lemann fears, but they resent being enlightened by a press establishment that wants to have it both ways, to get credit for its ideal of objectivity while taking a "how dare you" posture to anyone who questions its political agenda.

That's not really what the Dean said, by the way, in the conclusion of his New Yorker essay:

Journalism that is inquisitive and intellectually honest, that surprises and unsettles, didn't always exist. There is no law saying that it must exist forever, and there are political and business interests that would be better off if it didn't exist and that have worked hard to undermine it. This is what journalists in the mainstream media are starting to worry about: what if people don?t believe in us, don?t want us, anymore?

It's fair enough, as far as it goes, to argue that the integrity of the press is not self-evident, and to cite a handful of counterexamples, some valid, some spurious. It's also an instance of the fallacy of the heap.

It's fair enough, as far as it goes, to satirize the profession for its sanctimony. It's like the copy editor who tells you, voice swelling with pride, that his job is to "preseve the English language." No, you're here to make sure the thing is readable by contemporary standards. That's job enough.

Journalistic ethics are pretty much a matter of rough and ready epistemological quality control: You get several sources, canvass the full range of viewpoints, and fact check and collate all those and all that stuff so you don't get burned for printing something untrue, because your business is reporting as much confirmable information as you can in the little time you have to cover the story

And sure, the notion that the press "speaks the truth to power" is a little bombastic, too.

It's really a simple matter of the government and other large organizations not especially wanting you to have important information that affects you and that you have a right to. Being able to find that stuff out is a useful skill that takes practice and perserverance to acquire, whereas anyone can pass along bunkum and rumor.

Some say journalism is a profession, some a trade. It's really more like a sport: If you do it every day, you build up muscles that enable you to download mass quantities of stuff, sort it out, write it down, and get it factually correct.

Let's leave "surprising and unsettling" out of it for the moment, however, and stick to what "intellectually honest and inquisitive" means in the workaday world. All you have to do is imagine what would happen if the investment fund managers running your private Social Security account failed to be inquisitive and intellectually honest in doing their due diligence on the companies they invested in. You'd be hosed. Reporting isn't really much more thrilling than that. Facts for all: What you do with it is your business.

Marketing, on the other hand, now there's a discipline with delusions of grandeur. Just ask William Voegeli, the very same distinguished "academic fellow" dissing the dean on behalf of the Scarfe-sponsored, "some rightsholders of academic freedom are farther to the right than others" ivory tower:

Bill Voegeli has 22 years of experience in business management, corporate development, sales, and marketing research. His professional background is in finance, market research, and information technology. Mr. Voegeli has been an executive in market and marketing research since 1991, managing internal IT, operations and client services, and responsible for statistical analysis, strategic planning for clients and client training. Most recently, he was President of a specialized marketing research company. Mr. Voegeli's consultation has been sought and utilized by some of the world's most prestigious companies.

He was also working as a program officer for the Olin Foundation back in 2003.

I'd trust this guy to teach a marketing course, but having him lecture you on journalistic ethics is like having inviting the author of "The Turner Diaries" in as a guest lecturer in Holocaust Studies. Don't you love guys from a corporate marketing background--those "political and business interests that would be better off if [honest reporting] didn't exist and that have worked hard to undermine it"--trashing the marketing-infiltrated corporate news industry? It's like the Greeks warning the Trojans about their own gifts. And what if the politics-as-marketing crowd do win? You'll be hosed. And then, my friends, the tar and feathers will come home to roost.

Woof Woof Deneuf

Neuza is totally going to want to see this French cinema program Walter Reade Theater. It's been a couple years since I've seen a flick there--a rollicking Egyptian musical about the medieval philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd)! Still can't believe I didn't just dream seeing that.

So let's hear it for the transatlantic thaw. Say what you like about the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, they do know how how to make an evening go by with wine and moving picures starring vivid lovelies agonizing over life's emotional complexities.

Sunday Gabfest

I have gotten into the habit of working from 9:00 to 1:00 on Sunday with the Sunday talk shows blabbing in the background. Then me and Neuza go off to do something, maybe just sit around in the T-Mobile hotspot at Starbucks on Seventh in Park Slope and work some more.

This week, the brainy Brazilian is in Isla Negra, Chile, seeing our nieces and making me very, very jealous and forlorn. See how I've fallen apart in just a few days since her departure: flu-ridden, gone through all the clean socks, can't find anything.

Here's Andrew Sullivan on the Chris Matthews Show, repeatedly calling Harvard women faculty members "Stalinists" for objecting to Lawrence Summers' recent remarks. Andrew Sullivan is a past master at marketing facile talking points from the noise machine as products of his own amiable stupidity. He's a total whore: Let's revoke his visa for moral turpitude. Hey, Legg Mason: You sponsor this crap, I ain't using your services.

I'm entering my team's operational structure into DotProject this morning. Installed it in about 3 seconds using the Fantastico installer in the Cpanel control panel for my domain. The whole thing rocks. You can wait for months trying to get something like this done in-house by a corporate IT department, and it won't be any more secure or reliable in the end.

Now it's Hillary on Face The Nation. Next. Oh, damn, she's on Meet the Press, too, simultaneously. Mute. Go to earphones.

More gab as it develops. Best Sunday spot in a long time was last week: Pat Buchanan debating Natan Scharansky on MSNBC. Not for the content of the views expressed so much as because it was an honest to God debate, skilfully conducted. A rare beast on TV these days.

Wall & Broad

The New York Post speculates on when the NYSE temple of democracy at Wall & Broad--across the street from the same building where George Washington took the oath of office--will get turned into a decadent nightclub:

We always joke saying that the exchange would make a great bowling alley one day,' said Bill McGowan, managing director of Interactive Brokers, a firm whose business model embraces electronic-trading technology.

Reminds me of what I consider the quote of the year last year in our paper: the guy contracted to build remote trading technology for the Iraq Stock Exchange told our reporter, "Hey, if there's no physical trading floor, there's nothing for the terrorists to blow up!"

My cynical private response: Yes, so the Kuwaitis can loot the country without getting themselves blowed up!

The problem is that some poor bastard has to do get his boots dirty cranking open the pipeline valves, fixing the electricity grid, and patrolling the desert for saboteurs, or else you'll be remotely trading subpenny stocks more valuable as toilet paper.

Saturday, February 19

Heroes and Homies


doublehero
Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Taken in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, 2002.

Traffic Jamming

I wrote a blog called The Hairy Eyeball for a couple of years, chronicling my freelance existence and travels in Brazil, venting my post-9/11 spleen, and experimenting recklessly with a tabloid-inspired prose style. I stopped updating the Eyeball when I started a one-topic blog project called Blogalization, focused on my work as a freelance translator and freelance reporter on globalization and i18n issues, which I still maintain, although I have little time for it anymore.

The crazy thing is that The Hairy Eyeball is more popular now that I don't update it than it was when I did:

750,000 visitors in a little over a year, an average of 50,000 a month. No fresh content. A back catalog full of completely unreadable nonsense and, I think, some nice pictures, like our official wedding photo. And by far the largest number of visitors come from search engines, discover that my site has nothing to with pornography featuring hairy women, and click off elsewhere in search of relevance. Top keywords:

What better proof that blogs, as the comment spammers like to say, disdainfully, are "network spammers"? By far the most popular post I ever did was a one-off mad lib on the Fantanas--a Spice Girls-inspired promotional gimmick of Coca-Cola for a fruit-flavored soda pop that comes in some very nice flavors in Brazil that you can't get here. The apple is especially good. You don't really appreciate soda pop until you've lived in the tropics.

I've been the No. 1 search result on this search string, or near it, for a long time, and I still get e-mails from time to time asking me if I've ever seen this Fantana and that Fantana naked, or do I know their telephone number?

This is a prime example of what I call "the fallacy of authority." People assume with no justification whatsoever that Google results are relevant, that Google is like a person who observes the Gricean maxims of conversational pragmatics:

  1. Quantity: Include as much information as you need to, but no more than that.
  2. Quality: Don't say anything that you think is false, and don't claim anything more than you have evidence for.
  3. Relation: Be relevant.
  4. Manner: Be clear and to the point.

This awful thing is that my blog's performance is so far out in front of what my work Web site gets that it ain't funny. But it's completely meaningless. My site draws traffic precisely by flouting the Gricean maxims at every turn in its conversation with the stupid spider bot run by Google. I used to experiment a little with meme-hacking. For example, I would regularly post all the funny search keywords that people had used to get to my site, so that when Google crawled it again, those keywords would be reinforced in the rankings, driving more irrelevant traffic to my site.

To take another example, when an idle gripe I'd posted about Citibank had become a front-page result for the joking phrase "citiwank" and "shitibank," I started receiving a lot of really anguished comments by people who felt they had been shafted. I started researching other instances of the phrases and writing post that tried to reinforce their presence to Google. It became rather clear to me that the company has put some time and effort into making sure that positive references to its brand far outweigh the negative in its Google results.

This is the basic technique of the noise machine: pseudo-relevance and hacking search weightings. If a pundit network distributes the phrase "we know he has weapons of mass destruction" widely enough, it starts to look like common sense.

My site at work, on the other hand, observes the maxims to the nth degree: the principles for good communication are basically the same as the principles for good journalism, and good journalism is what we try to do every day. People who visit our site must be relevant visitors, because we do no meme-hacking, and who else but securities operations nerds would visit us? We hardly ever use the words an idiot VP of marketing once told us are optimal for magazine cover lines: "free" and "sex." There's a joke here somewhere about how working in a corporate server farm does not tend to get you much free sex, or something.

In theory, though, my dumbass blog is a more valuable Web property than my employer's Web site, isn't it? Volume = revenue opportunity? But only because the fallacy of relevance tends to work in favor of network hacks like what the Editors Weblog calls "click fraud."

I say it again: you can click all over the blogosphere and MSM to gather at second-hand SOME of the news we aggregate and analyze, or you can click once and get everything tied up into a neat package and supported with fact-checked reporting that comes from primary sources.

The moral of the story: Links in and referrers do not measure authority, but as long as these and similar metrics are used to value interactive social networks in the same way broadcast networks are valued, this blogging phenomenon is going to be utter nonsense and empty hype.

My friends, if you really believe that I have pistols for sale or that I am bonking a Fantana, I have a really nice real estate investment opportunity I'd like to let you in on:

Friday, February 18

Blog of the Last Heptad of Fortnights

Viewfinder BLUES is a blog by a cameraman who can write like a ******f****r . My blog is by a writer and editor who can't photograph his way out of a paper bag. I am not worthy.

Quote of the Day

The quote of the day is from Wikinews' coverage of a contretemps between the Italians and the Swedes over a report on Swedish public TV that accuses Silvio Berlusconi of using the media outlets he owns to secure political power. The Italians are outraged, outraged, that anyone would dare to belabor the obvious so shamelessly. The CEO of Sveriges Television has this assessment of the Italian demarche:

This campaign is like Italian shoes. It's pointed and a bit uncomfortable.

[Rim shot]

Who knew? The French love Jerry Lewis, but the Swedes prefer Henny Youngman.

Thursday, February 17

Information-Gathering is a Full-Time Job

ThinkEquity Starts Web Log to Gather Ideas (New York Times):
BLOGGING transformed political commentary, rattled the media business and inundated the Internet. Does it have a place on Wall Street? ThinkEquity Partners, a boutique investment bank in San Francisco, will find out as it introduces a Web log today.

Nice lead graf to that story. We've been covering this, too, and hey, we are going to do a Web log, too. Maria Trombly, via IM yesterday, says she's worried they'll just start giving away their expertise and cites blogging gurus saying that the monetary value of self-aggregating open source information is falling to zero. Nonsense. Information has always been a service, not a commodity. You pay someone like Maria--who is managing director of the Freelance Business and Technology Writers Association--because she has superior reporting techniques, a wide network of contacts, and because she's on the scene in Shanghai and you're not. Most importantly, she's not someone with a dog in the fight, so you can trust her. Can you trust Wall Street analysts? Most of the time, but there have been some vivid exceptions lately. Quis custodem custodiet?

The fallacy here is the idea that what both blogs and professional news organization produce is "content," a basic commodity like water or flush toilets.

Actually, what a little team like ours produces is more like crack cocaine: It's been harvested, processed for shipment, packaged, shipped, reprocessed for distribution, concentrated, and chemically optimized to pass straight through customs at the blood-brain barrier. A gazillion hours of background research, pursuing leads, building sources, and reality-testing the claims of various parties has been condensed into a pure hit of relevant information that you can consume very quickly and act on immediately. Reading blogs is like chewing coca leaves with a little piece of limestone, the way South American peasants do. You can do it yourself, but it tends to give you muscular jaws and wear the enamel off your teeth.

The value-add here is trust. That's why the noise machine is working so hard to erode trust in journalistic institutions, unwittingly abetted by MBA content managers with little or no grounding in the journalistic profession, who are quite willing to swap quality for circ, which translates into higher advertising rates, in the short term.

Information is like electricity, it's true, but the contemporary media scene is more and more like Baghdad. That's what all these market data reforms are about in our industry: market intelligence has to be transparent in order to be actionable, but the hidden regulatory land mines just keep blowing up in the faces of industry participants.

The media scene is getting more and more like Baghdad: Insurgents keep trying to blow it up, the CPA's contractors are skimming the reconstruction budget and have no accountability, and the little money that's getting through is all going to fighting just to stay alive. People who really need the service we provide are going to use us as their back-up generator so they can keep their Web server going in the middle of all the chaos.

Hell, there's a company in town here charging $1000+ per year JUST TO AGGREGATE PRESS RELEASES in a narrow field ON A QUARTERLY BASIS. If information, as distinguished from mis- and disinformation, has no monetary value, it's because it's MORE valuable than money. Or, to put it another way, information IS money. See Cryptonomicon.

Wednesday, February 16

What Does It Mean To Say "I Know"?

Secretary Rumsfeld Interview With CNN TV Prague, 11-21-2002:
My view of the past with respect to Saddam Hussein is that he spent all of his time trying to deceive inspectors and trying to prevent them from having knowledge of exactly what he has. And we know he has weapons of mass destruction, and thus far he denies it. So that situation suggests that he is not in a position of inviting in inspectors for the purpose of proving to the world that he doesn't have those weapons.

Duh

Belaboring the obvious, Part 47:
The chairman of the Iosco Technical Committee, Andrew Sheng, says: 'The results of our survey on outsourcing indicate that financial intermediaries are outsourcing significant aspects of their business activities to service providers.'

How the Indians (Indian Indians, not woo-woo Indians) must be laughing at that measured bureaucratic conclusion, given that they saw that opportunity coming a decade ago and labored mightily to make it happen.

I find the human drama of technical committees fascinating. I guess someone has to, it might as well be me. Back in college, we used to have these interdisciplinary teams that would work on research projects that aimed at solving a complex problem. English majors, the football playing sociology majors, and science geeks trying to solve the Dutch elm disease problem in the local park. I often think, in the course of my job, that as we see every member of Adam Smith's pin-factory production line incorporating themselves and putting their little link in the chain on the open market--this is what the consultants like to call "the value chain"--that the universities are just not turning out enough generalists nowadays. Somebody has to translate techspeak into MBA-speak if we are going to bridge that "business-IT" divide. And bridge it we must. Somebody has to take the holistic view of things, even as the pundits note the fragementation of our markets. C.P. Snow, where have you gone?

I was thinking about this after my lunch with a certain corpcommun bigwig the other day. It was quite important for me to show the flag, for various reasons, and trot out our new reporter as a sign that, yes, we are aware that we urgently need to serve that segment of our readership. She was great, by the way. The main skill you have to master is not to be visibly impressed by your subject. You just keep saying to yourself, nihil human me alienum puto--translation: we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

The delightful surprise was that the bigwig turned out to be a highly congenial gentleman with Andy Rooney eyebrows who gave me quite a pleasant conversation to compensate me for the diplomatic once-over I had to endure. Yes, everyone, the professionals are still in charge of the asylum, we're just waiting for the paperwork to go through.

Part of that conversation turned to the demise of the liberal arts, in fact, and we had quite an interesting chat about where the modern academic discipline of "communications" falls short of the venerable discipline of "rhetoric," which has become a term of abuse in these decadent times of ours and is never heard without the sneering "mere" prefixed. Common ground was discovered.

That kind of made my week, which was otherwise taken up with tracking incoming word blocks in an Excel spreadsheet to try to see whether I was going to spend my Friday night with the manufacturing boys breathing down my neck as me and the slot man and the art director tried to whip the thing into shape. We had an instance of "they're" where "their" was indicated in the last issue, which was embarassing. But you know, frick it, I've seen a hell of a lot worse in my time.

On that note, the blessing count for the day, despite the stresses thereof:

  1. Chateau le Grand Faurie, Bourdeaux, 1993, 50% off at the Love Liquors.
  2. Skype, which allows you to ring a cellphone with your wife attached to it on a beach in Chile and gab for $.024/minute
  3. Turner Movie Classics
  4. Microwave popcorn
  5. Iggy:

Conduct Investigations on Employees Suspected of Inappropriate Activity

I don't know why they decided this was relevant to me, these PR folks, but this is definitely the junk e-mail of the week so far here on the editorial assignment desk:
Now, at the touch of a button, [Product X] can be remotely configured and installed FROM any computer on the network TO any computer on the network, and the recordings can be viewed from any PC on the network. With [Product X], you will have a complete record of your employees' PC and Internet activity. [Product X] automatically captures and lets you review your employees': emails sent and received, chat conversations and instant messages, files downloaded, web sites visited, applications launched and keystrokes typed. In addition, by taking screen snapshots, [Product X] creates the equivalent of a digital surveillance tape so that you can see the exact sequence of everything your employees are doing on the computer. Immediate email alerts notify you whenever certain words (and phrases) you specify are typed by the user or are contained in an email, chat, instant message or a web site. ([Product X]'s email recording is so comprehensive that it covers Outlook, Exchange, AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and any SMTP/POP3-based architecture.) The primary uses for [Product X] are to:
  1. Conduct Investigations on Employees Suspected of Inappropriate Activity
  2. Increase Employee Productivity by Reducing Frivolous and Inappropriate Activity
  3. Monitor Ongoing Employee Performance and PC Proficiency
  4. Eliminate Leaking of Confidential Information
  5. Assist Help Desk Staff with PC Recovery
  6. Enforce PC and Internet Acceptable Use Policies

Sounds like the political agenda of the current administration in Washington.

You would think that at a newsgathering organization, you would want your employees to be able to go just about anywhere online. Of course, my company was once part of a larger company with some fiduciary relationships, so I suppose that was why the censorware was so Stalinistic. When I wanted to find a serious research article on straight-through processing in online gambling, I was unable to retrieve it because the unsophisticated censorware, as far as I can tell, simply blocked my access to sites with "gambling" as a <meta> keyword. (Note to terrorist bombers: exclude "terrorist" and "bomb" from your metadata. Try "puppies" and "bunnies" instead.) As if thinking about the activity were tantamount to doing it.

So, though I was wondering if I could boot my machine from a USB pen drive with Linux and crypto on it and cruise around, now I'm very, very afraid. Ooh, the guys in IT might be watching! Poor guys, they have their hands full keeping the toasters we have running Win3.1.

While it's true that you should conduct yourself with awareness that you're in public when you're at work, don't you think monitoring what I IM to my wife is tantamount to photographing me in the can? Haven't you ever been in the middle of writing something and vented some frustration by typing "my boss is a weenie" or "this job sucks" and then backspacing over it? Keystroke monitoring will reveal even what you have decided not to write.

Resolved: All uses of the Internet are acceptable until proven otherwise. Argue among yourselves. I did have a coworker on the late shift in the computer center of a downtown lawfirm who wound up getting arrested at the end of his shift for cyberstalking some poor girl. Very bad clams: NYPD marching in and busting the guy while a senior partner was in there.

I, meanwhile, got booted from one of my first NY jobs for getting around the policy denying use of the Web to employees like me, using a service that allowed you to do an HTTP request to the server via e-mail, and would e-mail you back the contents of the URL. I thought that was cool, and frankly, it was within the letter of the company policy. But the IT guys had no sense of irony.

I can't help it: I'm a curious George, though I'm keeping out of mischief now.

Tuesday, February 15

Noise Machine Watch

'Gannon speaks' to Editor & Publisher. Robert R. Eberle, Ph.D., of Talon News, accepts the guy's resignation. BoingBoing asks, quite rightly, why is Google News carrying Power Line and not Daily Kos? Doesn't anybody understand what the Claremont Institute is all about? Have a read of The Theology of the United States.
The example of the Seal shows us why the Founders' understanding of religious liberty does not prohibit, but actually encourages, government promotion of religion, writes senior fellow Thomas G. West.

For a rebuttal, see Our Godless Constitution by The Nation's Brooke Allen.

Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate, in spite of Alexander Hamilton's flippant responses when asked about it: According to one account, he said that the new nation was not in need of "foreign aid"; according to another, he simply said "we forgot." But as Hamilton's biographer Ron Chernow points out, Hamilton never forgot anything important.

I happen to have taken graduate courses at the Claremont Graduate School and met some of these people. They're all super mixed up with the Moonies, just like the Washington Times. Sounds paranoid, I know, but it's true. Remember the coronation of Sun Myung Moon on Capitol Hill?

Monday, February 14

Colin Ux

Many better things to do, but can't keep from futzing with the Linux that runs inside Windows and bears my name. Neuza's off to Chile, we're walkie-talkie-ing back and forth as she edges through the security layers at JFK airport ...

The Mercenaries Ride Again!

Our good friend Rosalia fronted Brazil's first all-girl punk band back in the 1980s, As Mercen�rias, famous for messing up even Sid Vicious's thorough, er, deconstruction of Frank Sinatra doing "My Way." They made a comeback this month at the SESC Pomp�ia in S�o Paulo and apparently they were a huge smash. Held over and everything. Congrats. Our dream now is to promote a double bill of the Brazilian grrrrls with Frump at the Siren Festival.

What would you do if this was YO mama? Rosalia is second from right.

Online Social Networking 2005

Smart Mobs vs. the Multitudes

The Blog Herald screams Old media hypocrisy in the war on blogging:
After threatening for so long to launch an attack on bloggers and blogging, old media has formally launched its attack on blogging this week following the forced resignation of Eason Jordon from CNN. The new war was strangely launched from France, a country better known for fleeing from conflict rather than provoking war, aside from a small period in the earlier part of the 19th century, by Bertrand Pecquerie, a director for the World Association of Newspapers, who accused bloggers of McCarthyism What is unique in the war on blogging is that the battles are not one based on politics, but one based on hatred of the blogosphere by the old media as it continues to lose readership and the revenues a large readership attracts. The targets are both those on the left and right of the blogosphere. And now we have Steve Lovelady, a former editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal and now managing editor of CJR Daily, the Web site of The Columbia Journalism Review, who refers to bloggers as "salivating morons" who are part of a lynch mob.

I'd say M. Pecador is a actually a director of the WAN. And he didn't accuse bloggers or blogging in general of McCarthyism, just, as he wrote, "some bloggers"--you know, the kind who carelessly or deliberately misreport what people say. Like you. You salivating moron.

Oh, yes, the masters of the OM (the "old media," as opposed to the MSM) are shaking in their boots about the blogosphere and burning with envy. The grandiloquence! The megalomania!

"Salivating moron" does not do justice to the smartness of the mob, however. They leverage search-engine clout and self-promoting ballyhoo at conferences like Blogger Con--with a Microsoft Reader edition of "The Turner Diaries" on their laptops--to depict themselves as agenda-setting truth crusaders. I don't know much about this Eason Jordan thing--I'm too busy doing my old-media shtick involving laying out pages in Quark to be PRINTED ONTO PAPER, if you can believe that--but I tend to think he shouldn't have quit. That U.S. troops targeted journalists in Iraq is a reasonable suspicion, although Reporters Without Borders concluded that one of the most egregious cases was probably criminal negligence, not malice aforethought. Still, the casualty rates are much, much higher than in comparable conflicts, so it really does seem SOMETHING is terribly wrong here. When it comes to protecting reporters, you know, I feel a certain professional interest, even if the worst thing that can happen to most of mine is getting served cold coffee at a Wall Street press briefing. Attica! Attica!

The really frightening scenario is the synergies between "demented housewives" infotainment and yellow journalism on the 'Net. We're moving toward a mediasphere where the masses consume tripe and propaganda while we elitist plutocrats swap the straight dope amongst ourselves in semiprivately circulating hedge fund newsletters. On the hopeful side, there are a gazillion more bloggers out there writing about ornithology and the politics of their local dogcatcher election or obsessively deconstructing automobile advertising or The Artist lyrics than there are making all this noise. It's a matter of centrally-directed, culture-hacking neo-Gramscian smart mobs vs. the multitudes. My money is on the multitudes.

Sunday, February 13

Image.tp

A little high-brow art director humor. The fellow who pointed out the versatility of the beloved GIMP--he writes infundibulum--is an old linguablogger friend of the blogalization cogitation.

Copy Editor from Hell

The New York Observer--the best damned faded-peach-colored newspaper in the five boroughs on the block where it is produced--takes up arms against the firing of New York Post copy editor Dawn Eden:
Ms. Eden, a 36-year-old copy editor and headline writer at the newspaper, knew she?d probably made a mistake by working some of her own pro-life views into an article she was copy-editing on women with cancer who were having babies through in-vitro fertilization.

Ouch. The woman is blogging at 3:00 a.m. today on the press coverage her firing--ostensibly for blogging on company time--has been getting. Let me join the chorus and say that I sure would have fired her for what she did. Commonsense Journalism gets it right:

What Eden did, to my mind, is the height of arrogance. If you think your paper isn't covering an issue fairly, is missing the nuances -- is a bunch of writhing idiots -- it's still not your job to try to deliver Ireland, or the Post, from the snakes. You don't just edit stuff into a story without going back to the writer and line editor and discussing it. (Yeah, OK, on deadline there will be times that's bent. But they ought to be damn few.) That's how we get reputations on copy desks as being hacks and butchers and arrogant SOBs.

I know writers I work with sometimes feel that way about my line-editing, and deadlines mean you sometimes have to edit things by fiat--punching up the lead is a routine task, for example--but not on the copy desk and not without at least stating your reasons.

Copy editing is an esoteric craft--it's a bit like verbal watchmaking--but if you put out a request for resumes, you'll see that a lot of people who aren't copy editors by trade will put in for the job, figuring what the hell, they aced spelling in grammar school, right? And maybe it's a foot in the door to becoming the next Terkel or Royko or Herb Caen! Those people are bound to hate their job within a week, get antsy, and start missing the important stuff. You need someone experienced there who understands the whole process the story has gone through and has every detail and nuance of contemporary publishing standards embedded in their brain so they can make the right snap decision day after day, in the middle of reading tens of thousands of words, to six 9s. The satisfaction in the job is preserving the integrity of a publication's voice over time so that the words on the page become invisible--straight-through processing of the message, you could say--and steeping yourself in the contemporary evolution of our cockamamie American English. But beware the "copy editor" whose resume proclaims them as a holy guardian of the sacred tongue of Shakespeare. I gotya Shakespeah right heah, fungoo!

The number of people well-trained in this unique and demanding job is dwindling, and so is the number of line editors with enough sense to realize that the copy desk saves their bacon day after day after day, like the leathery old platoon sargeant mentoring the lieutenant fresh from West Point. I've CE'd for a gazillion pubs in this town, and I'm telling you, the gross condescension from the whelps can really get you down--as well as the fact that your work never gets noticed until you foul up.

A Capital Idea has more, by the way. And the Observer notes this about Ms. Eden:

While at the Post, she?d won a New York State Associated Press award for her headline "Hurt in the Line of Doody" (after a toilet collapsed under a city worker taking a bathroom break).She?d had many Post headline triumphs, in fact. Remember when Bob Dylan did a commercial for Victoria?s Secret and the Post headline was "Dylan Sells Out for a Thong"? Dawn Eden. Remember the headline "Amazing Gross" when The Passion of the Christ hit No. 1 at the box office, and "Felon? Groovy" after Martha Stewart?s broker took a vacation at a spa?

Talk about your decline in standards! That thong one is good, though, you have to admit. The headline I'm proud of this week:

Swift Departure Follows Network Lag

See, an exec left his job at SWIFT at a time when the IP network he was overseeing, which recently launched, was seeing few people signing up for it. Less proud of, but willing to defend:

Turrets Syndrome

With an explanatory dek. Has to to with telephone turrets for "open outcry" trading. But see previous post on writing at a sixth grade level.

See Dick Churn Jane's Wrap Account. Churn, Dick, Churn!

In Reading the Vanishing Newspaper, Tim Porter discusses an important finding of a new book by Phillip Meyer, The Vanishing Newspaper:

Today's journalists, already the most educated crop of reporters and editors ever, need more ongoing education so they can interview with sophistication, research with understanding and report with credibility, but when it's time to write Meyer suggests they shed the sheepskins and scribble their stories at a sixth- to eighth-grade level, a range he identifies as the sweet spot of newspaper readability.

That's something I really have to be aware, even in our rarified space.

Saturday, February 12

The Noise Machine Unmasked

I must be the only guy in the blogosphere who has not been all over this "Gannon" thing (Salon, $$$/ad blab--a smart biz model, btw):
Still left unanswered, though, is how a partisan novice reporter working for a fake news organization was able to gain regular access to White House briefings.

Take a wild freaking guess.

The White House press office continues to be non-responsive to Salon's questions about the credentialing process and Guckert's apparent ability to rig the system. At Thursday's daily press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan fielded several questions on the issue. He told reporters that Guckert had "never applied for a hard pass. He had a daily pass." Guckert's ineligibility for a hard pass -- the likely reason he never applied -- was left unmentioned.

My coworker finally told me about this in passing yesterday. Wow. Gay sex scandal at a gay-bashing rag given insider access to rig press conferences by the black-suited minions of a folksy prexy running on the need for outlawing gay marriage by constitutional amendment. As I told my friend, who is pessimistic about the chances of overcoming the propaganda mill, the noise machine will inevitably self-destruct. I truly believe that. These idiots have no sense of irony, they never see this kind of thing coming. It'd be great material for a Greek tragedy if, as Aristole would point out, the cast of characters were not so thoroughly ignoble ... still, there is a tragic dimenstion to, as Lou Reed says, "all the jim-jims in this town / and everybody puttin' everybody else down / and all the dead bodies piled up in mounds ..."

I Married a Playboy Coelhinha

Why Reporters Are Hard-Drinking in All the Old Movies

I can tell you from experience why, in all the old-school Hollywood "reporter flicks", the editors are all "crusty" and everyone is "hard-drinking."

It's not just the booze, its the stress-relaxation arbitrage--that exreme transition from that moment of maximum stress that coalesces around a deadline, followed immediately by the blissful rush of that Bushmill's Irish whiskey hitting your bloodstream.

Deadline stress is a booze multiplier. That whiskey feels like the hand of God forgiving you all your sins and handing you your pass to Heaven's country club.

We had a nice chat-fest at the Fraunces Tavern last night to celebrate our new reporter coming on and to introduce her around. The lady had got settled in, we got her some paper, pencils and a working computer--not without some hassle--and then quietly studied and poked and probed and had three good pitches by the end of her second full day. This was an optimal result.

We also had a happy announcement yesterday that will relieve some of the pressure. Can say no more, embargoed.

Brought the Neuz along to meet the gang as well. Afterwards we headed to the Ulysses, a Joycean bar in the shadow of the Goldman Sachs Death Star Bldg., for an intimate tete-a-tete. Out by the Bloomberg bucket--where the smokers have to congregate in the bitter cold--this inquisitive lady in a red coat and exuding a hipster vibe--turns out she's MTV corporate communications by day, Batgirl striking a blow for truth and justice by night--told me I reminded her of Rip Torn and then informed she was there researching a book on "corporate bullshit" that he had already sold the proposal for. Sat down and interviewed us. I, being a habitual contrarian, commenced to lecture her drunkenly on the contary assumption that I have to make everyday in my job--that a lot of people who buy into the "corporate bullshit" do it because they love their jobs and want desperately to make maximum use of their personal creative powers to further a cause larger than themselves. They're the true professionals that would do it even without the big bucks, like that crazy Russian database analyst I met at that high-yield bond research department I worked in once. I was feeling sentimentally drunk, I guess, but it's true, or true often enough that you'll never get people in the industry to talk to you unless you give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. That old canard about the corporate masses being smug, sinecure-seeking zombies sleepwalking through futile lives? There's that element to it, Lord knows, but the fact is that most people have a real emotional commitment to what they do. Hell, our receptionist at work is practically the second command in the company because she actually cares about being friendly and helpful, and gets a kick out of knowing everything and everyone that you can't find in our--kind of clunky and useless--corporate directory.

Neuza, of course, after a few Harps, thought the whole thing was a ploy to get next to my luscious, manly gringo curves and looked ready to bust some of the nastier moves she learned playing soccer with our hardass friends of the lesbucada down there in S�o Paulo. Don't mess with girls raised on cacha�a, syncretic Afro-Catholicism, the lambada and punk rock in a city where the rich have to live in armed compounds and drive around in armored Sububans--if they can't afford a helicopter, that is. Tragedy was averted, we sucked a couple dozen bluepoints and a slab of mid-rare beef and I managed to steer my amorous Brazilian bride in the direction of the IRT and home.

Friday, February 11

Bloggering the Obvious

Free Expression Can Be Costly When Bloggers Bad-Mouth Jobs (WaPo):
Under the pseudonym of Sarcastic Journalist, Rachel Mosteller wrote this entry on her personal Web log one day last April: "'I really hate my place of employment. Seriously. Okay, first off. They have these stupid little awards that are supposed to boost company morale. So you go and do something 'spectacular' (most likely, you're doing your JOB) and then someone says 'Why golly, that was spectacular.' then they sign your name on some paper, they bring you chocolate and some balloons." "Okay two people in the newsroom just got it. FOR DOING THEIR JOB." This post, like all entries in Mosteller's online diary, did not name her company or the writer. It did not name co-workers or bosses. It did not say where the company was based. But apparently, Mosteller's supervisors and co-workers at the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun were well aware of her Web log. The day after that posting, she was fired. ... Mosteller, 25, said the blog was one of the reasons she was given for losing her job, and she is still in shock. "Considering I treated the blog as a smoke break, I didn't think of it as a problem."

Ah, the young. You'd never catch me blogging that kind of stuff about my company. Part of it's that I'm a minor middle manager now and part of my job is to keep morale up by not magnifying the small stuff into mountains. Sufficient unto the day are the hassles thereof. But a big part of it, too, is the simple fact that life experience teaches us: all organizations are dysfunctional. Nature made us for geselleschaft, not gemeineschaft. Or is it the other way around? I mean to say that we'd rather belong to tribes than to armies, and the cathedral is always built by people who would rather be at the bazaar. That's why they call it "work" and not "daily self-fulfillment periods." That's why they have to bribe us to do it. To complain about it is to belabor the obvious. The Protestant Ethic, yada yada, read your Max Weber, take a night class, improve your mind.

My company's no different, and I can and do gripe all the time about this nonsense and that, but mostly I try to work it out with the people involved and not talk behind their backs to the Internet masses about how stupid they are. People often behave badly or stupidly for a good reason that they just don't have time to tell you, so you do well to give them the benefit of the doubt before you write 'em off forever.

On the other hand--and I'm not just saying this in case they're reading this--I do appreciate our CEO having some of us into breakfast every week. Smart guy, comes right out and asks for the latest rumors, fields gripes, either gives you a straight answer or tells you straight why he can't. Also looks a lot like Capt. Kirk and doesn't seem to mind if you say so. Works well in an SME company like ours. The guy does his CEO job: gives you confidence, makes you feel good about things getting better if you just hang on. Sure, maybe I'm naive, he might be pulling a Nixon on us--I've had it happen to me--but I really don't think so. The plan of the new owners makes sense, seems to have a good chance of keeping my job, which I like, going, so sign me up, I'll do what I can and be honest with you about what I can't.

So I'm just not sure that Rachel here is a poster child for the endangered First Amendment. If I were her boss, I'd be telling to spend her energy trying to at least cope with the things she doesn't like so she can get on with what we're paying her for. I'd rather see her blogging about what she learned at work today, for example: How to spell 'spelunking,' punctuate a "not only ... but also" construction, or wangle information out of the county coroner.

Why, I myself told the nice young lady in HR yesterday that she was my "work valentine" just because she went out of her way to do a good job and help me in a timely manner. We're all big kids, really: We like it when teacher puts a smilie face on our spelling test. Hey, I know I do.

Tuesday, February 8

Lumpy Headline Found in Hapless Competitor

Looking over the news coverage page at the Managed Funds Association, I see two headlines about the same development:
  1. Trade Groups Join Patent Wars
  2. FIA and MFA Enter TT versus Espeed Fracas

Now, which is the better headline? There's more info in (2), but then again it's got three acronyms and a nominalization (the noun phrase "TT versus Espeed" used adjectivally to modify "fracas") that is so awful your tongue breaks out in blisters when you read it. Or mine does. And "fight" has the same number of letters as "fracas," so why go weird when the simple Anglo-Saxon word is available, not to mention the other options among words denoting conflict. "Wars," for example.

AND they do violence to the company's trademark without normalizing it in a useful or consistent way. See, eSpeed, not Espeed, is how the firm writes it; we use it that way except where it needs an initial cap, in which case it becomes ESpeed. E*TRADE, everyone agrees, is just too much to bear when you're writing about that firm, but futzing around with upper and lower case and no space or hyphen joining elements seems reasonable, it requires no special typography or assaults upon the principles of readability and legibility. After all, we let PricewaterhouseCoopers get away with THAT nonsense, right?

You will have guessed by now that (1) is our headline. It was a front page top right, so it had to be brief and balanced. Notice that it has more or less the same grammatical form as the classic "Headless Body Found in Topless Bar," except that the verb is active, not passive. The lead immediately specifies what trade groups and what patent wars, so I didn't see the need to put the names of the parties in the headline.

Little points of pride that make you feel like you're worth a damn.

WSJ | Probe of NYSE Specialists Now Includes U.S. Attorney

Probe of NYSE Specialists Now Includes U.S. Attorney (WSJ, $$):

The firms involved in the settlement were Bear Stearns Cos. subsidiary Bear Wagner Specialists, Fleet Specialist Inc., now part of Bank of America Corp., LaBranche & Co., Van der Moolen Specialists and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. subsidiary Spear, Leeds & Kellogg.

These are the market makers who match buy orders with sell orders on the floor. Very convenient to make them out to be hotbeds of criminality just as regulators are preparing to regulate them out of existence. Van der Moolen is a sponsor of this big conference my pub will soon be covering. Think they'll answer our questions about this?

Bad for business, bad for the industry. You can see why people get heated up about whether investment professionals should be considered fiduciaries or not. Depressing.

The Haters

Hate Messages on Google Site Draw Concern:

Communities have been created around a shared interest in photography, Miles Davis's music and travel to offbeat places. A small minority, however, advance a hatred for Jews, blacks or gays, including a 'Death to the Jews' site and a site called 'Death to Blacks." The hatemongering is fast becoming an embarrassment for Google, the world's most popular search engine, particularly because the company has adopted "don't be evil" as its motto. The potential for tarnishing Google's gold-plated brand name also underscores the risks the company faces as it expands into new Internet businesses in which it has less experience. For Google, the trouble on Orkut--which is still in beta, or test, form--could easily escalate. A prosecutor in Brazil, where the service is especially popular, has already initiated an investigation into some of the more virulent Orkut sites.

Orkut is somewhat more than especially popular in Brazil: 65% of its users are Brazilians, and among the haters are a number of "who let the foreigners and their stinking jabber in here?" communities. I applied for a content manager position there recently on the grounds that I speak fluent Portuguese (well, sorta fluent) and told them they would never be able to manage problems like this without me. They didn't bite, and I'm not about to swap the glories of Brooklyn for the plastic fantastic Silicon Valley.

Don't see how Google can be held responsible for this kind of thing, though. I'm an absolute libertarian on this kind of thing. Hey, if people want to expose their hateful views publicly, it's our duty to debate them. My hero is the ACLU attorney who helped the KKK get a parade permit for Wall Street, then joined the thousands who turned out to rebut the handful of dumbass racists in their white sheets. To me, that reflects our society well: We still have a problem with racism in this country, but the vast majority of people won't tolerate it. If you want to associate yourself publicly with 'Death to Blacks,' prepare to have scorn heaped upon you, and don't expect to get a lot of Christmas cards. If Osama had started up a "Determined to Attack America" forum on Orkut, maybe Condi Rice would have sat up and paid attention.

Monday, February 7

Gostosa Rebolando!

The Mina sends me a nice feature on this year's gostosas do Carnaval down South American way. Not family viewing for gringos, although it doesn't seem to bother the otherwise devout and socially conservative Brazilians quite so much.

And on the other end of the spectrum, Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil getting ready to step out with the Filhos de Ghandi in Salvador:

This is what we're missing out on as we swink and swyve and sweat blood as we go about our endless toil here in our Yankee beehive ... We have a little house in a nice part of S�o Paulo and Rio is just an hour away by air. One more terrorist attack or television appearance by Tom Ridge and I will start thinking seriously about flight to the tropics ....

The Best Mindf**k Is The One Not Labeled "This Is a Mindf**k"

US Army: controversial payments to reporters overseas (Editors Weblog, from E&P which got it off the AP wire.)
The Associated Press reports on a new investigation by the Pentagon into the military's practice of paying journalists to write articles and commentary for a Web site particularly aimed at influencing public opinion in the Balkans. The Balkans website, called Southeast European Times, as well as a second with similar intentions called Magharebia, aimed at audiences in North Africa, have no immediate obvious connection to the U.S. government. Yet each site contains a linked disclaimer that says they are "sponsored by the U.S. European Command." The command is an organization based in Germany responsible for U.S. forces and military activities in Europe and parts of Africa. Both websites constitute what the military calls "information operations," designed to counter what the Pentagon considers misinformation circulating in the international news media. The Pentagon's use of the web sites has raised questions about blurring the lines between legitimate news and what some may consider government propaganda.

This should not shock anyone, though it should continue to disgust us. On my old Blogalization blog--I still have to import all the old entries into the new site--I translated an interview in Brazilian paper with a former FBI senior agent at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil who said bluntly that his main job was manipulating the press in favor of U.S. interests.

Heck, if the Web site had a disclaimer saying "This site brought to you by your friendly neighborhood smart-bomb-dropping gringo," then ethically, they're all right. Here's how they work, according to the AP/E&P story:

Kaufman said information warfare experts at European Command do not edit the stories written by contributing journalists for Southeast European Times, but they ?review? the stories after they are processed by Anteon editors, and they sometimes change the headlines. He cited as an example a proposed headline that originally read, ?Croatian Prime Minister Remembers Holocaust Victims,? which European Command changed to ?Croatian Prime Minister Remarks on Dangers of Extremism,? which Kaufman said ?more closely reinforced? the U.S. message.

That's actually not so awfully bad, if true. Of course, this Pentagon has a reputation for epistemological equivocation--i.e., lying their asses off--so we'll have to stay tuned.

Sunday, February 6

The Second Coming of Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates, a Project for Central Park, New York City is coming this spring. You can joke all you want about Saran-wrapping stuff as art, but this is going to be byootiful and we New Yorkers are going to dig it.

One of my first freelance gigs in NYC was copyediting and fact-checking for a certain international arts journal published in a unique square format. We had a hell of a time finding out what Christo's real name is. He has a Romanian surname of some kind but shrouding it in mystery seems to be an extension of his aesthetic project. Not your standard day at the office.

Saturday, February 5

XP Reduced Spyware Edition

EU Nixes 'Reduced Media Edition' Name (BetaNews):
The European Union Commission is apparently not amused with the naming scheme Microsoft has chosen for its upcoming version of Windows that is free of Windows Media Player. EU officials have requested that Microsoft name the operating system so it is more appealing to consumers.

Well, let's see: My XP Pro-powered mobile blogalization machine hangs, hangs, hangs, hangs, what the hell is going on? Finally, a movie trailer for Alien vs. Predator begins in full-screen mode. It requires multiple clicks to stop the fucking thing. Final insult: "Install skin? Yes No." No. Fuck you.

Therefore, I propose that the EU force Microsoft to market the product as XP Reduced Spyware Edition, or Enhanced Privacy Edition.

In the interests of fairness, I try to base all my Microsoft-bashing on my own user experience as a fairly tech-savvy English major. It's not hard.

My computer is not a television. It is my personal space and I reserve the right to control the allocation of its processing power. I accept ads on the public TV networks because they are readily muted, and I have the option of ad-free programming by paying a premium to my cable guys. Also, TV is generally something I do when I am NOT trying to be productive. This Window Media spyware is fucking with my productivity curve and making choices about allocation of resources without my specific opt-in. I need my media player to go directly to that earnings report I need to absorb before I interview someone on the phone in 30 minutes.

Here's a marketing angle for Redmond: Let's call it XP Ownership Society Edition. A man's CPU is his castle. A woman has the right to control her own extended electronic body. Don't you think? Appeals to Waco-traumatized red staters and Net libertarians alike ...

Wednesday, February 2

Elvis Christ

Our very own velvet Elvis arrived today and now occupies a place of honor over the TV, providing spiritual guidance to our $8 Sonny Chiba career retrospective boxed set--with about 50 hours of chop-socky and dark charisma, a must have for the old fallout shelter. Yes, folks, hand-painted on real purple velvet. I briefly belonged to a band called Elvis Christ and the Beatles in college--one original song: "Because I'm a Slut," with the prophetic line, "I'm the president of the United States / Because I'm a slut!"--so the thing holds special nostalgic meaning for me.

This is why we work seven days a week, 12 hours a day: so we can belong to the Velvet Elvis ownership society and get lots of cold calls from "investment advisers" that are actually sales motherfuckers who just wanna throw your retirement savings into a wrap account and churn the hell out of it 'til it's all gone ...

Self-Serving CNN.com | Bloggers get set for State of the Union

What nonsense:
"[Blogs] are a further evolution of media generally," said Nick Schulz, editor of the online magazine TechCentralStation, which serves as a gateway for bloggers analyzing the president's speech. 'There are certain limitations to media--print or TV. One thing I think blogs do is to provide an intelligent, shorthand way of quickly getting into issues more deeply.' TechCentralStation says it will provide a 'one-stop shop' of links to live bloggers posting on their Web sites. CNN.com will carry blogs by CNN political commentators Paul Begala and Robert Novak. Tens of thousands of other political bloggers will take up their keyboard to comment, criticize and defend partisan politics.

I smell an undiclosed mutual marketing agreement by which CNN gets blog-hipster cred for Paul Begala and Robert Novak and TechCentralStation--a neoconservative talking points factory by the neocon law professor who brought you Instapundit--gets New Journalism cred for himself and rags like The National Interest he writes for.

Great. Lobbyists who find it more convenient to bypass the press instead of trying to trick and suborn it in order to influence opinion on public policy, like the think-tank-subsidized corporate defense team at Powerline. See Blog of the Year Goes to Extremes (Nick Coleman, Star Tribune):

These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing. They attack the Mainstream Media for not being fair while pursuing a right-wing agenda cooked up in conservative think tanks funded by millionaire power brokers. They should call themselves "Powertool." They don't speak truth to power. They just speak for power. The lads behind Powerline are a bank vice president named Scott Johnson and a lawyer named John Hinderaker. If you read Powerline, you know them better by their fantasy names, Big Trunk (that's Johnson) and Hind Rocket (Hinderaker). I will leave it to the appropriate professionals to determine what they are compensating for, but they have received enormous attention from the despised Mainstream Media and deserve more. I wish I didn't have to do it, because I already get ripped a lot on the site, which thankfully also has had some nice photos of bikini-clad candidates for Miss Universe to keep me company. But I accept Powerline's contempt; I am only a Mainstream Media man, while Big Trunk and Hind Rocket are way cool. They blog. I work for a dopey old newspaper committed to covering the news fairly while Powerline doesn't make boring commitments. They are not Mainstream Media. They are Extreme Media. Call them reliable partisan hacks.

Do you really need to read a blog about something you just watched on TV? I guess it's nice that everyone, not just journalists, get invited to Spin Alley afterwards, but really, if we all just stopped going, maybe they'd all stop spinning. Filling airtime and column inches with predictable sound bites from the usual suspects does not add value to coverage, and it's lazy, but news outlets do it because time is short and doing news coverage right gets expensive.

That's why the MSM likes to inflate the reputation of the partisan hacks (Jon Stewart's description of Begala and Carlson) it trots out as distinguished observers of the contemporary scene. It doesn't want us to know that it finds it too freaking hard to package less telegenic, sometimes quite boring, people who might have something actually pertinent to say.

10,000 bloggers typing in front of their television: this is the New Journalism? I can see the television fine from here (it's tuned to the Independent Film Channel's showing of Andy Warhol's Dracula, which the wife is deeply into). 10,000 bloggers blogging Network TV is a noise machine trying to convince us that its the Nielsen Ratings. 10,000 bloggers going out into the world and tell me about 10,000 different things I can't see just fine for myself is the New Journalism, but no one seems to be paying much attention to that.

Azzaman in English: Democratic Elections?

Azzaman in English (Baghdad, Iraq): Did We Have a Democratic Election?
As the sun set on Sunday and electoral officials began collecting ballot boxes, a new era is supposed to have dawned in our nation?s history. At least that is what those who wanted the elections to take place would like us now to believe. But weren?t they the same people who spoke the same language as U.S. ?liberation troops? landed in Baghdad? Didn?t they also speak of ?a new era? with the demise of dictatorship in March 2003? Carried away by our enthusiasm and glee to see the end of the former oppressive regime, most of us initially had faith in what they said. However, it did not take us long to see our hopes and ambitions of a civil, democratic and secure society falling apart before our own eyes. The infamous Governing Council ? whose emergence was also hailed as ?a new era? ? dismally failed to cure any of our diseases. On the contrary, its policies and wrangling plunged the country deeper into violence and lawlessness. Then we were made to believe that our occupiers wanted to give us back our sovereignty ? a step they also described for us as ?a new era.? Little did we know that the interim government would be merely a new face of the defunct Governing Council, working as a front for the occupation. In the interim government?s ?new era? which lasted six months, things worsened beyond the worst of predictions. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis became refugees in their own country; at least two major cities were re-invaded; Baghdad, the capital turned into a wild city; the government lost control of Mosul, the country?s third largest city; and most of the country, apart from the Kurdish north, descended into lawlessness and violence. Now we have less fuel, less electricity, less security, less food, higher corruption and embezzlement than any time before. Amid these circumstances we are at the threshold of yet another ?new era? which portends far more risks and dangers for the hapless Iraqis than those before it. Those boycotting the elections ? and in no way they can be ignored ? will not stand idle, as the winners of the polls ? who are not hard to tell in a vote with foregone conclusion ? steer ?the new era.? The whole of post-Saddam epoch started on the wrong foot. It divided the country and the nation into regions, sects, religions, minorities, zones and triangles. No serious attempt has been made to correct the plunders that accompanied the foreign occupation. There is no reason to believe those administering ?the new era? will do any better. Witness: their past two ?new eras? which had been a disaster for the nation.

Tuesday, February 1

Oops, Sorry

Emergency Broadcast Test Mistakenly Calls For State Evacuation:
Despite what residents may have seen on television, the state of Connecticut was not ordered evacuated on Tuesday. State emergency management officials believe someone pressed the wrong button, and instead of running a test of the emergency alert system, midday television viewers and radio listeners were told that the state was being evacuated. 'There is absolutely no evacuation or state emergency,' said Kerry Flaherty, of the Office of Emergency Management. 'It was an erroneous message.' The department is investigating how the alert was sent.

Via IM from my buddy Kajagoogle, an expectation manager at a Big 3 consultancy or something.

Reasons not to be cheerful, Part II.