Monday, March 28

Be the Media. Own the T-Shirt.

NowPublic.com (beta):

"Welcome to the new world of journalism, where every witness to news can report the news, thanks to the internet; where every citizen can question the powerful, thanks to the internet; where every speaker can be a pundit, thanks to the internet. Journalism is no longer the closed society of the gatekeepers. Journalism can no longer just lecture; now it must listen. News is freed from the limitations of paper and schedules and reporters' pens. Journalists should welcome the help, for journalists should believe that more information yields a more informed society and that is our goal."

Or, more succinctly:

You Own The News. Now Own the Tshirt.

Let's not teach citizen journalists that punditry is the path to notoriety and stardom. Can you say "race to the bottom"?

On the topic of being the media, the indispensable Wooster Collective has this from Banksy, that crazy guy who hung his own paintings in our local Brooklyn Museum and other elite institutions founded by robber baron philanthropists:

Friday, March 25

Google Gaga

C|NET:

Chalk it up to a difficult week for Google's automated news service, which aims to best traditional newspapers with mathematical algorithms and robots crawling the Web. The Web search giant was hit with a lawsuit from French news agency Agence France Presse, forcing it to start to pull thousands of photos and news stories from its service. Then critics lashed out over its decision to include reports from National Vanguard, a publication that espouses white supremacy. In response, Google said it will remove the publication from its index. Both are black eyes to Google's theory that computers virtually unassisted by human editors can pick the top stories of the day and beat traditional media at its own craft.

Google News has always struck me as incredibly technically proficient and incredibly journalistically naive. How else to explain banning Indymedia but including neocon think-tank blog Powerline? And if we're going to be consistent about mixing the subjournalistic into our news diet, why not add Fleshbot to the menu while we're at it? The nude twin creamed-corn wrestling fan base needs to have its voice heard so that it can compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas.

Ah, well. Google does specify that the thing is still in beta testing. And I don't think they need to best the news judgment of us editors in order to succeed, do you? I just like seeing how different news agencies cover the same story, if at all. Very useful, that. Can't we all just, get along?

Thursday, March 24

Leveraging the Legend

Perks of the job: Me and the new boss spend an evening dining with a lot of security bigwigs and the one and only Kevin Mitnick. Charming guy. Hasty impression: this security gig is an another application of social engineering, I think he appreciates the irony of getting paid to give advice and demonstrations that probably no one is going to act on as they should, corporate security being what it is. Cheerfully doing the "Catch Me If You Can" tie-in with one of his former pursuers. If he were in the securities business, he'd have been dreaming up those phantom round-trip energy trades in California and earning bonuses, or the Dr. Evil bond trading maneuver. We'd be calling him an abitrageur rather than a criminal. The self-justification in the spiel is subtle, but you get it if you listen.

After all, the man never profited from stealing firmware, and laying the costs of firming up security to shut the door again against his account does seem pretty damn unfair. People will just give you the information you say you need to do your job because they know what it's like to be a talented, motivated person stifled by bureaucracy, trying to make the enterprise succeed despite itself. The real hack was exploiting the cultural malaise of corporate America, which can't seem to learn how to align the goals of its people with the goals of its shareholders. That was the main impression I took away, actually: What bad old Mitnick had in common with the security gurus was contempt for the user, an inability to sympathize with the user's point of view. Look at the way the Fed has to force banks to inform people their data has been compromised. We're rubes to these people, too. The truth? You wouldn't know what to do with it. Just shut up and keep on inserting Tab A into Slot B. Never mind the bigger picture, your betters will take care of that.

Sorry, just calling it like I see it.

The slimy part of what he did was taking advantage of people's better impulses and despising them for their gullibility when they were really just coping with the problem of how to maintain pride in their work and solidarity with their colleagues in an environment that conspired against it, that clogged their channels with noise and nonsense until they had no time to think straight. The mushroom treatment, we've all been subjected to it: kept in the dark and fed bullshit. Give people a stake and some real responsibility and they will guard that treasure like it was their family nest egg--because it is. Maybe that's what the "ownership society" really ought to mean.

Still, if the legend of Mitnick is grossly inflated, as he likes to point out--Mitnick in control of nuclear submarines, yeah, right--who can blame him for leveraging it and taking the skim with a wry grin? If you give sound advice and no one heeds it, can you still bill the hour? Of course you can.

Sunday, March 20

Gannon Again

Questions for Jeff Gannon: Blogged Down from the NY Times mag this Sunday:

Are you suggesting that Bobby Eberle, the Republican operative who hired you to shill for his Gopusa under the guise of his Talon News service, has special access at the White House? I just don't know the answer to that question. Scott McClellan, the press secretary to President Bush, called on you and allowed you to ask questions on a nearly daily basis. What, exactly, is your relationship with him? I was just another guy in the press room. Did I try to curry favor with him? Sure. When he got married, I left a wedding card for him in the press office. People are saying this proves there is some link. But as Einstein said, 'Sometimes a wedding card is just a wedding card.'' You mean like 'sometimes a cigar is just a cigar''? That wasn't Einstein. That was Freud. Oh, Freud. O.K. I got my old Jewish men confused. You should learn the difference between them if you want to work in journalism. I'd like to get back into journalism. I'm hoping someone will offer me a job as a commentator or one of those political analysts that you see on the news shows all the time. What are we supposed to make of the fact that before reporting for Talon News, you had never had a job in journalism and apparently earned your living running a gay escort service? Don't let that confuse the issue. We have driven so many good people from public service through the politics of personal destruction. People on the left who disagreed with me decided that I needed to be punished by any means necessary.

I just can't get enough of this freak show. The bald boy toy is already linking to a Powerline deconstruction of the hostile grilling he received from the Times' Deborah Solomon, and running his own copyrighted self-justifications:

The well-funded liberal attack machine, Media Matters, filled with operatives from the DNC and failed Democratic campaigns incited activist bloggers to wage a full-scale jihad against me. All sorts of personal information about me, including my Social Security number was published on the internet. Threats against me as well as my family led to my voluntary resignation in the belief that would bring it to an end, but the bloggers were aiming for my total destruction.

The Left is engaging in "21st Century McCarthyism" in an effort to blacklist conservative journalists in order protect [sic] their domination of the media.

Yeesh. A jihad of personal destruction, no less. I love it when these people trot that one out, after impeaching Clinton for extramarital nookie.

Saturday, March 19

Bad Headline of the Week

The New York Times > National > A New Screen Test for Imax: It's the Bible vs. the Volcano: "
Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth -- fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures. The number of theaters rejecting such films is small, people in the industry say - perhaps a dozen or fewer, most in the South. But because only a few dozen Imax theaters routinely show science documentaries, the decisions of a few can have a big impact on a film's bottom line - or a producer's decision to make a documentary in the first place. People who follow trends at commercial and institutional Imax theaters say that in recent years, religious controversy has adversely affected the distribution of a number of films, including 'Cosmic Voyage,' which depicts the universe in dimensions running from the scale of subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies; 'Gal´┐Żpagos,' about the islands where Darwin theorized about evolution; and 'Volcanoes of the Deep Sea,' an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor.

The really interesting debate in this story is not between the creationist kooks and the science educators but between the marketing people and the scientists who underwrite the films.

Hyman Field, who as a science foundation official had a role in the financing of "Volcanoes," said he understood that theaters must be responsive to their audiences. But Dr. Field he said he was "furious" that a science museum would decide not to show a scientifically accurate documentary like "Volcanoes" because it mentioned evolution. "It's very alarming," he said, "all of this pressure being put on a lot of the public institutions by the fundamentalists."

Science no longers sells, so let's pull it from the shelves. It's the marketplace of ideas in action!

I'm a kind of low-key Christian myself--I tend to like those Bibles with the words of Jesus in red, which invite you to take St. Paul with a grain of salt. It bowls me over that there are seminarians out there who actually preach the literal sense of the old testament. Does the phrase "through a glass darkly" mean anything to you? It's well accepted in a number of theological traditions that God, the infinite, all-knowing, and unpredictable, knowing that we are feeble-minded little clods, communicates to us in allegories and fables to try to get us to think.

Muslims like to point with pride, in fact, to passages in the Qur'an that they interpret as embodying and endorsing the scientific standpoint. I'm down with all that. The cosmos is huge and miraculous.

Maybe we ought to just deny modern technology to people who repudiate the methods used to devise it. Don't believe in evolution? No gene-therapies for you, and if you get sent up for a crime you didn't do, no DNA testing to get you out. And the next time there's an earthquake, we won't dig you out. Hey, you don't believe in all that plate tectonics jazz, right? Fine, little piggy. Enjoy life in your house of straw.

That's an awful headline the Times came up with, by the way. One bad pun you can get away with sometimes. A bad pun connected to another one with a colon, though ....

Wednesday, March 16

Propaganda Fine and Danda: Justice

Democrats aren't the only ones angered by the Justice Department's memo to federal agencies on March 11 telling them to ignore a key finding by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO has declared that video news releases -- or prepackaged TV segments -- that fail to reveal they were produced by the government constitute illegal propaganda. "It's highly unusual for the Justice Department to take this action. Sending out a memo may be unprecedented," says David Walker, comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO. He adds, "The Justice Department is not independent on this matter." Department spokesman Kevin Madden could not say how common the issuance of a memo was, but noted that because GAO findings are nonbinding, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has final say over executive branch legal matters.

Source: Salon

Crud.

Monday, March 14

Brooklyn Zeitgeist Report, March 2005

Sunday, March 13

"Karen Ryan Reporting": Publicly Financed Propaganda

Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News (The Grey Lady):

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production."

... the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.

... It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as "independent" journalism. It is also a world where all participants benefit.

When Karen Ryan, paid shill, says she is "reporting" at the end of this government-produced clips, it's just a plain lie.

Thursday, March 10

Gripes, Groans and George

The Inn at Harvard treated us like garbage when we were up in Cambridge covering that panel on Monday, I am so peeved. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, I admit, but still, you arrive at a swanky joint and you expect your bags whisked upstairs, your reservation to have been processed properly, the freaking room service kitchen to be open during the hours listed on the menu, and the front desk to be able to hook you up with the in-house WiFi in less than 45 freaking minutes. Yes, you dumbass, that password is CASE-SENSITIVE. Ever heard of a little thing called UNIX? And if you leave your laptop power converter in the room, bailing out in a hurry after a night of covering your ears against the noise of the heater, you expect them to e-mail you that they're FedExing it to you overnight. That's what you expect if they want to book your business again, at any rate.

Not the best trip, but the event I covered was worth it. Good stuff. Had never been to the Pomona College of the East before, the hippies have all fled before the red tide of biogen yuppification to Somerville, one hears.

Went from a 24-page issue to a 36-pager in one week with little advance warning. Yeesh. Wrote another one of my patented "We are committed to covering your client fairly and thoroughly, but we would prefer that someone more professional represent them to us in the future" memos to a slimy jerk who called one of my reporters a "fucking bitch" on the phone today. Hard to understand: Without getting into the nitty gritty, there was a press release circulating about this firm by a fly-by-night lawsuit plaintiff, and our story actually counteracted the patently absurd negative spin that these sketchy folks were putting out. And here we were getting called fucking bitches for repeating the charges the other party had made only in order to put them in proper perspective. Polite offers for the client to go on the record and debate the nuisance were rejected obscenely.

Paranoia will destroy ya. PR is a career that apparently drives some people out of their gourd, whereas other people in the profession seem to grasp that getting your point across is all about understanding what the press needs from you and busting your butt to get them it. As the Staples Singers put it, "If you don't respect yourself ain't nobody gonna give a good ga-HOOT." Yeesh. You have to train some of these paranoid freaks that they're human beings like the rest of us and need to observe the golden rule in a minimal way or we can't transact.

Very tired and into an amusing little Aussie Shiraz. I take back those "shrimp on the barbie" crack I made the other day to a gentleman in the elevator. There's there there down under.

We're watching a tribute concert to George Harrison, "the quiet Beatle," on PBS. George was always my favorite Beatle. Read into that what you will. I just always liked the weird gleam in his eye.

Sunday, March 6

Remote Officing

I'll be doing my remote officing from this nice place tomorrow, covering a regulatory conference at Harvard ("fight fiercely, Hahvahd, fight, fight fight ....). Writing up the sucker on the Acela back to Penn Station that evening ... hope we can locate the quiet car ... Up and ready for the other conference we're covering on Tuesday morning, get a bunch of pages ready to ship by Wednesday or we are completely screwed.

Stressed out. Or at least, learning some advanced lessons in stress management. Going to enjoy that WiFi-equipped country inn experience tonight, though. Taking the wife along so we won't waste any togetherness time, she can hang out on Harvard Square while I tape-record the bigwigs, maybe ask a question or two.

Saturday, March 5

Freedom for bin Laden: A Rant

Lame freaking excuses (Boston Globe):

''We're on a constant hunt for bin Laden. We're keeping the pressure on him, keeping him in hiding,' Bush said at a ceremonial swearing-in for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Jesus H. Caramba! Where does he get the balls? These are the strides we're making in the war on terror? That bin Laden can no longer vacation openly on the Riviera or take a day off to take his kids to the Riyadh County Fair to ride the ferris wheel and judge the racing camels? It's like the Washington Generals saying they made the Globetrotters really work for every crushing victory.

Look, goddamnit, I'm a New Yorker. A handful of fanatics armed like penny-ante juvenile delinquents from the Bronx killed a ton of the people I rub elbows with every day and fucked up the local economy something fierce. Bazillions of my tax dollars--and I'm in a bracket that pays one of the highest rates--have gone down the black hole of the Pentagon budget since then.

If only we had a really bloodthirsty but ultimately scrupulous PR exec calling the shots here, the kind that knows that while constantly covering the client's ass as he constantly fucks up might generate more fees for him in the long run, the bang the client really needs for his buck is a whizbang PR extravaganza that'll make his brand for the next century: Put your entire resources into wiping out this bin Laden geezer within an eyeblink after that mess he put us through, look cool doing it, and turn every single opium farmer in Afghanistan into a Jeep-owning llama farmer, real estate broker and futures trader tooling down the gleaming autobahns, the circulatory system of the Afghan economic miracle.

Instead, we got a bigger narco-state in that place than ever and I not only still have to walk by this freaking hole in the ground every day, but I have to watch my tax dollars funding the costly production of lame, ad hoc excuses. Spreading freedom throughout the world. Yeah, right: Freedom to operate for terrorists who kill citizens of a city that doesn't vote Republican. Not that any Brooklynite with a conscience thinks the Dem pols running the rackets over there at Borough Hall are any prize pig. We just want results, unnerstand?

I seriously think we New Yorkers ought to secede from the Union, annex Long Island for our agricultural needs, maybe lease Iowa, hire the Brazilian Army, set up a financial paradise, let the Red States pay their own way for a change. Maybe we can convince Chicago and Toronto to join us in a sort of postmodern Hanseatic League. Why should we bust our asses for these Planet of the Apes rejects and the people who voted for 'em?

Bring me the head of Osama bin Laden. Not Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is like the mermaid in the Barnum Museum: He's a pickled monkey with a fish-ass sewn on. Not Jose Padilla the gang-banging vato loco prison Muslim. Not Martha Stewart. Not Howard Stern. Not Janet Jackson's tit. Not Dan Rather. Not Pervez Musharraf uttering absurd excuses with a straight face. Not Hamid Karzai, handsome and sartorially splendid as he is. Not Ahmed Chalabi. Not the terror alert color-code system. Not Nicky Negroponte. Not the right-wing blogging cavalcade. Not the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Not a stream of coffins arriving home in the dead of night to avoid press photographers.

I just want some modest ROI: a single human head, suitable for preservation in formaldehyde, to be displayed in a museum celebrating New York City's spirit of "what, you wanna try an' fuck wid ME??"

This has been a totally irresponsible rant and I was drunk when I wrote it.

Friday, March 4

The coming crackdown on blogging sub rosa political noise machines

The coming crackdown on blogging (CNET News.com):
Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over. In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines. Smith should know. He's one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, which is beginning the perilous process of extending a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet. In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

It's a measure that would apply in equal measure, I guess, to the neocon noise machine and the Deanblog mob, as well as e-mail driven mobs like MoveOn.

The heart of the matter: should bloggers be afforded the press exemption?

Interesting question. The press get an exemption because they are deemed to serve the public interest and are supposed to swear off advocacy speech except in clearly marked editorial zones, although it's a voluntary code and not a federal regulation.

Deep question, and I'm pressed for time. Let me just add my pissy little objection: That what we're talking about here is not blogging per se but "coordinated political activity." You know, like the 527 organizations that the campaigns swear up and down are not, techically speaking, blasting out propaganda on their behalf, but rather exercising their freedom of speech. And the noise machine.

The vast "dark blogosphere" has more to do with swapping recipes, adulating rock stars, solving programming problems, publishing awkward poetry and baby pictures, and voicing opinions about stuff we don't know a lot about but are trying to learn because it interests us. It's the "blogging industry" that's giving us a bad name by selling out to the DYI FOX News brigade because they drive traffic.

On the other hand, this regulation seems tantamount to government regulation of journalism. It's quite possible for someone to practice honest journalism on a blog, after all. The problem is that getting press credentials now depends on working for an established news organization. Down in Brazil, the opposition slammed the current government for proposing just this: an independent credentialing board to say who is a journalist and who isn't, and to punish ethical violations, as doctors and lawyers do.

Why not a voluntary campaign for bloggers who agree to follow some basic code of journalistic ethics? Most of us do it already, even if the only thing we tell the truth and nothing but the truth about is what goes on in our garden or the doings of our kids. That's journalism, too, I think.

Thursday, March 3

Adventures in Robotics

About a million Citibank credit-card customers mistakenly received letters telling them that they had been reported to a credit bureau recently. The issuer has since sent letters of apology.

Reports the Wall Street Journal. The adverb "mistakenly" modified the passive "received" is classic case of misplaced modifier in that sentence, by the way: The million made no mistake by receiving the letter. It was the sender who erred. But the meaning is clear: The automated systems fouled up in a massive way. Or has Wintermute developed a sense of humor?

Tuesday, March 1

Weird Phishing Expedition of the Day

Just received in the old e-mail inbox:

Dear Sir/Madam, we have logged your IP-address on more than 40 illegal Websites. Important: Please answer our questions! The list of questions are attached. Yours faithfully, M. John Stellford ++-++ Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI- ++-++ 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 2130 Washington, DC 20535 ++-++ (202) 324-3000 McAfee VirusScan has detected a potential threat in this e-mail sent by Officer@fbi.gov. The following actions were attempted on each suspicious part. We strongly recommend that you report this virus-related activity to Officer@fbi.gov. The attachment "indictment_cit1912.zip" is infected with the W32/Sober.l@MM!zip Virus(es). This attachment has been deleted to complete the clean process.