January 30, 2004
Pardon the self-promotion, but I just linked something up in Convergence Chaser that I think is crazy interesting.
The context is online journalism. The speaker is Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of New York Times Digital. And the really interesting part is this:
But imagine taking a world like Ultima Online -- designed for massive numbers of videogame players -- and apply it to the real world, where the players are reporting from all corners of the planet. This is a vibrant, interactive real-time view of the world. Users in this context can zoom into the ongoing storyline taking place in dozens or even hundreds of locations. In this context, there is not a simply John Burns reporter in Bahgdad. There is a kind of ongoing John Burns channel that brings with it a continuous record. [...]
I'll admit, I don't know exactly what this means. But I like the way it sounds, and I love the fact that it's coming from someone at the NYT. If it were, say, Howard Rheingold proposing a game-like news-o-sphere with "journalist channels" sprinkled around the globe, that would be one thing. But this is the top guy at one of the top online news companies in the world.
Now, Nisenholtz isn't a journalist. He's been an academic and an interactive advertising guy. So his vision could be met with scoffs and sighs by the people who actually do the reporting.
But I don't think it ought to be. As I explain in my Chaser post, I think the idea of journalism as a flow of information -- not as a discrete story, which is the "work product" that gets all the attention and acclaim in today's business -- is a strong one. (And I think that's what Nisenholtz is talking about.)
The popularity of blogs points us in that direction. One of the things (certainly not the only thing) that draws people to blogs is their frequency -- they're like electronic IV drips of information (or opinion, or weirdness) that are always going.
I think the world could use some better drips; just imagine, as Nisenholtz suggests, a "John Burns channel" out of Baghdad, with frequent notes and updates from the man himself.
Somehow I doubt John Burns would actually go for that. But I suspect a new generation of journalists might. Count me in.
January 28, 2004
Hey, if anyone wants to nominate anything I've written for a Pulitzer Prize, I'll totally return the favor. We've got three days left.
Just Two Short Months Ago
Sigh. I sort of miss the days when we could just daydream possibilities, entirely unperturbed by things like "primaries" or "votes" or any other little reverie-ruining nasties like that. Reality has this uncanny way of biting you on the ass.
William Safire is playing fairy godpundit to conservatives, complete with random Hillary Clinton reference.
Honestly, I don't understand all the excitement among Dems about the prospect of a brokered convention. Yes, it's nice for the candidates to have an exciting three-way (possibly four-way, but I can't see Clark going too much further) political race going on, but after March, it would get real old, real fast. The more these three candidates are mired in the need to beat each other, the more they polarize their supporters among each other. Already, bitter-but-defeated Dean supporters have decided they just can't support John Kerry, so they'll probably be sitting this one out. I imagine a good number of Kerry's supporters feel the same way, or will, by the end of an even rougher nomination battle. Whoever emerges from such a bloody fight can't be in good shape to take on the incumbent President. Can they?
I mean, I know our national attention span is short, but are the months between July and November long enough for Dean/Kerry/Edwards/Clark supporters to forgive and forget their grievances, and rally behind the nominee?
At any rate, Robin was right that the expectations game cuts like a knife. A week ago, Dean was absolutely finished. Then on Thursday, things began turning around, and he had to take second in order to hang on. Anything less than second, and he was done. By Monday, his poll numbers were trending up, and he had to take a solid second to remain competitive, not just edge out a Mo-powered Edwards or Clark. Now, the story is apparently that although his second placing was solid, it wasn't close enough to Kerry to count as a victory of any sort. Remarkable.
January 25, 2004
Have You Ever Googled Your Birthday?
If you ask the History Channel, it won't mention anything particularly notable that happened on November 18, 1980.
On November 18, 1980, President and Mrs. Carter watch the movie "It's My Turn" before retiring to bed.
A huge, triangular UFO floats around a 100-mile span in Northern Missouri and Kansas, according to reports.
The sixth season of "Laverne and Shirley" begins with the dizzy duo moving to Los Angeles, ushering in a whole new era of hijinx and hilarity for the popular show.
A 19-year-old gangbanger named Gil Porras is beaten to death by rival gang members in East L.A. Police arrest one man for the murder, Josť Luis Frutis, then accidentally shoot him in the chest during questioning, while Frutis is handcuffed to a chair. Frutis spends 18 years in prison before another inmate, Joey Garcia, confesses to the crime.
A judge dismisses the lawsuit brought by the Citizens Against UFO Secrecy to gain access to National Security Agency UFO-related documents. The judge writes in his decision that "the continued need for secrecy far outweighed the public's right to know."
Terri announces to her diary: I have a feeling that Ron and I are going to be together for a long, long time ... it just feels "right." I know how patently cornball that sounds - and I know that Iíve said it a thousand times before, about other men in my life - but I really MEAN it this time.*
Fabolous, a rapper who will become famous for his inability to correctly spell the word "fabulous," is born.
Aliens in Ontario abduct a woman and experiment on her before returning her to Earth.
Elsewhere in Ontario, a woman named Pat Thompson has a baby, and names him ...
January 21, 2004
I have nothing additional to say about silica aerogel save that I wouldn't mind a blanket made of the stuff.
(That's another Collision Detection link, yo.)
Sad, Sad Ovoid
You've seen those Zoloft commercials with the sketchy little ovoid characters, right? Clive Thompson has an example, and a very mature disclaimer that I agree wholeheartedly with.
That said -- this Flash parody made me laugh so hard I snorted grape juice out my nose! Well, almost.
It's the Context, Stupid
What's that? Daily news is caught up in the moment, you say, with little or no context to explain what is going on and why it matters?
USATODAY.com is here to help with a State of the Union analysis called "Behind the address: A reality check on what Bush said on key issues."
Okay, this piece isn't all it could have been. I wish it didn't read so much like a dispatch from the Center for American Progress, intended only to debunk and counter-spin.
However, a story that breaks such an important public statement down issue by issue, each one with the subheds "What Bush said" and "Context," is clearly a big step forward.
I'd love to see one of these pieces (they're so short and easy!) every time the President -- or a Presidential candidate -- gives a major speech. Something about the clear division really makes sense to me. I've no doubt that many good politics stories contain this information; I just like the fact that USA TODAY makes it so plain.
(Sudden depressing thought: What if USA TODAY has been doing these all along and I've been missing them??)
Anyway, props to the authors of this story, and to The Campaign Desk for linking it up.
January 20, 2004
A story about President Bush (well, sort've) from page A1 of The Globe and Mail, presented without comment.
January 18, 2004
Confessions of the Unread
Ohhhh, That Liberal Media
This strikes me as a not-very-cricket lede for a news article:
The U.S. military death toll after 10 months of engagement in Iraq reached 500 on Saturday, roughly matching the number of U.S. military personnel who died in the first four years of the U.S. military engagement in Vietnam.
This strikes me as inappropriate for a couple reasons. I'll, of course, expound.
1) The WaPo never explains why they're making this seemingly random connection. I mean, why not mention the death toll from the Spanish-American War? Or why not "...roughly matching the size of The Price Is Right's studio audience" or something as seemingly arbitrary? Obviously, we know what the WaPo's insinuating (In less than a year, we've racked up the death toll of over four years in Vietnam!!! This war is at least four times worse!!), but they may as well come out and say it, and defend the connection they're trying to draw.
2) Even though they didn't say it say it, I think they can be attacked for saying it anyway. The wars in Iraq and Vietnam are similar in that they involved the U.S. sending soldiers to a foreign country, and the similarities pretty much end there. And the Post knows this:
Noting that many Americans polled before the war began said they anticipated about 1,000 combat deaths, Kull said, "There are no signs of the population going toward a Vietnam-style response, in which a large minority or even a majority says, 'pull out.' " That goal has steady support among 15 to 17 percent of the public. ...
The casualties remain far lower than those incurred during the 14-year U.S. engagement in Vietnam, when a total of 58,198 troops were killed, including 47,413 combat deaths and 10,785 nonhostile deaths.
So ... a lot of people expected at least this many deaths in the first place, and at any rate, it doesn't seem like 60,000 people are going to die anytime soon over in Iraq. If the Nasra Cong start getting all guerilla on our asses Tet-style, then we'll reassess this comparison. Meanwhile, WaPo, you can't have your quagmire and eat it too.
January 15, 2004
You know, really, not that many American soldiers have been killed in this war in Iraq so far, comparatively. Add up all the coalition combat and non-combat deaths, and you get something like 592 soldiers. Compared to Vietnam's 58K or Korea's 54K, that's nothing.
At least, that's the narrative I hear in the back of my head sometimes.
But I opened my Esquire magazine this month and found one story that really reminds me why war is always a sad thing, even if the deaths don't number many tens of thousands, even if it turns out to be necessary. The magazine asked the families of the fallen to pass along the soldiers' last letters home. Read one:... Read more ....
Another Scene From the Drug War
Writing my prior post on the drug war, I cited a statistic given by Eric Schlosser in 1997, that more people are in prison for marijuana violations than for manslaughter or rape.
But five years is a little while for stats like that, and I wondered when I posted it if that amount had changed. Well, according to AlterNet, last year's stats actually paint a starker picture.
The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report reveals that police arrested an estimated 697,082 persons for marijuana violations in 2002, or nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States. This amounts to one marijuana-related arrest every 45 seconds.
The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88 percent were charged with possession only. The remaining 12 percent were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes cultivation for personal and medical use.
January 14, 2004
Soon People Will Be Like, "TV? What's That?"
First there was the Pew study earlier this week that revealed young people's rapid shift away from network TV as a source of political news. Mostly, they're going to the Internet, but also to cable TV and newsmagazines.
Ask not for whom the page loads, TV. It loads for thee.
Call me a net-centric techno-nerd, but I see absolutely no downside to a public shift from TV to the Internet, especially in the realm of political coverage. Am I missing something?
(P.S. If you actually call me a net-centric techno-nerd you'll get hurt.)
January 13, 2004
Who's the Actor?
Really interesting MetaFilter thread on how the Oscars should handle the potential nomination of Gollum. If they wanted to give out a Best Supporting Actor nod, who gets it -- Serkis or the animators?
Obligatory link to Gollum's MTV Movie Award appearance (Quicktime, 8 megs).
Pool of Laws
Edge.org's big question this year is: "What's your law?"
Third culture impresario John Brockman explains:
There is some bit of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like pattern, either grand or small, that you've noticed in the universe that might as well be named after you. Gordon Moore has one; Johannes Kepler and Michael Faraday, too. So does Murphy.
Since you are so bright, you probably have at least two you can articulate. Send me two laws based on your empirical work and observations you would not mind having tagged with your name. Stick to science and to those scientific areas where you have expertise. Avoid flippancy. Remember, your name will be attached to your law.
Some are cynical (a la Murphy). Many are obtuse. But some are pretty cool.
Polymath Kai Krause:
Kai's Example Dilemma
A good analogy is like a diagonal frog.
Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett:
Dennett's Law of Needy Readers... Read more ....
On any important topic, we tend to have a dim idea of what we hope to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments. Needy readers have an asymptote at illiteracy; if a text doesn't say the one thing they need to read, it might as well be in a foreign language. To be open-minded, you have to recognize, and counteract, your own doxastic hungers.
January 12, 2004
Debating The New Republic
What is going on over at TNR?
Last week, they announced the guffaw-inducing endorsement of Joe Lieberman for the Democratic candidacy. "Only Lieberman--the supposed candidate of appeasement--is challenging his party, enduring boos at event after event, to articulate a different, better vision of what it means to be a Democrat," the editors wrote.
Only Lieberman has the strength of character to draw boos from his own party!
"If you've lost The New Republic," goes Howard Kurtz's quote, prominently displayed at the top of the "TNR Primary" main page, "you've dug yourself a hole in the Democratic primaries." And they said irony was dead.
Not content to merely consign the magazine to irrelevance for the remainder of the primary cycle, however, someone had the bright idea to make this "point-counterpoint" about the endorsement into a centerpiece article.
Only it's more of a "point-point," seeing as how the authors don't actually disagree. They're both arguing that the endorsement was a really, really crackheaded idea.
And they're right. But we've already established that the endorsement had about as much of an effect on electoral politics as Britney's marriage (when you've lost the New Haven Register, you've dug yourself a hole blah blah blah...). How do they expect someone to care about this excruciating metacoverage of an article no one cared about in the first place? Or is Peter Beinart just seriously into self-torture?
Answers, please, anyone...
January 11, 2004
Lord of the Blogs?
OK, it's not a blog exactly, but it's pretty cool, whatever you want to call it. The King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, publishes handwritten missives to his people every day on his website.
I wish President Bush did that. Oh wait. I don't.
He's So Angry!
Scenes from the Drug War
From "More Reefer Madness," by Eric Schlosser, The Atlantic:
In California thirty-one state and federal drug agents raided Donald P. Scott's 200-acre Malibu ranch on the pretext that marijuana was growing there. Scott was inadvertently killed during the raid. No evidence of marijuana cultivation was discovered, and a subsequent investigation by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office found that the drug agents had been motivated partly by a desire to seize the $5 million ranch.
If you haven't read the article that begat the book, give it a whirl. It's a catalogue of hypocrisy, futility, ruined lives, and government corruption, all borne out of an initiative that cost $10 billion for law enforcement in 2003, and $19 billion overall (PDF).
So far, in 2003, 50,342 people have been arrested as part of the War on Drugs, reports the War On Drugs Clock. Oh wait, make that 50,346. Almost half of these arrests are for marijuana offenses. "More people are now incarcerated in the nation's prisons for marijuana than for manslaughter or rape," said Eric Schlosser in 1997.
January 10, 2004
Welcome to Blogs
Do you think people who've never heard of a blog actually find this article interesting?
The linked journals also form a community, an intriguing, unchecked experiment in silent group therapy -- a hive mind in which everyone commiserates about how it feels to be an outsider, in perfect choral unison.
Well isn't that poignant.
Really, what is the New York Times Magazine's target audience? I'm more and more beginning to suspect it's a group of time travelers from half a year ago, curious about what cultural developments have transpired in the interim. Next week in the NYTM: What is a "metrosexual"?
UPDATE: There's some quality snark about this article flying over on MetaFilter. Sample:
"It was early September, the start of the school year in an affluent high school in Westchester County, just north of New York City, where I was focusing my teen-blogging expedition. The halls were filled with students and the walls were covered with posters urging extracurricular activities. (''Instant popularity, minus the hazing,'' read one.) I had come looking for J., a boy I'd never seen, though I knew many of the details of his life." - Such the brave anthropologist, this Nussbaum, hacking her way with a machete through the dense tropical jungles which encircle NYC, to dare to meet the exotic, tribalistic young savages of the Westchester County suburbs!
She's lucky that these bone-in-the-nose primitives did not just throw her into a big kettle and boil her for dinner.
January 5, 2004
Back to Vermont
At a moment when every profile of Howard Dean seems to be trying to define the man, it's nice to read an article that's content to just describe him.
January 3, 2004
This Is a Little Depressing
January 1, 2004
I could comment on this article as being another repudiation of the CW that a monolithic group of Clinton insiders -- and thus somehow Clinton himself -- is dead set against Howard Dean, but I want to focus instead on the very last thing in the article. Check out the e-mail address Sidney Blumenthal gave to the Guardian. Yes, that's right: Sidney_Blumenthal@yahoo.com.
Do you mean to tell me that the right-hand man of the former American president and current Godfather of the Democratic party can not find an e-mail address more fitting his station than a ghetto free Yahoo account? I mean, Sid. Come on. SBlumenthal.com is totally not taken. And it looks like SidneyBlumenthal.com has been registered by a D.C. consultant (with, I might add, an only slightly less ghetto AOL address... dodgy!), whose kneecaps I'm sure you can have broken if he's not authorized to use your name or likeness or whatever.
I mean, I'm pretty certain that any e-mail addressed to Sidney_Blumenthal@yahoo.com would receive a reply from Mailer-Daemon@LeadersOfTheFreeWorld.net entitled "Hapless Peon, Your Request for Communication Has Been Denied; Prepare to Die," but still, that is like the lamest calling card ever.