May 06, 2008
Newspapers Last Stand, Onion Says
The Onion reports that newspapers, breathing their last breath, can still cover something important: the story of newspapers breathing their last breath. READ ALL ABOUT IT.
As a reporter, blogger, and fan, it's distressing, of course, not only to see the industry under such fire from outside, but to be employing such mediocre management inside.
After reading two days of Kentucky Derby coverage, I'm particularly bothered. Not one of the 13 papers I checked, reported anything but that Eight Belles--the Kentucky filly that was shot in the head on the Derby track Saturday-- was "euthanized."
I even heard people who heard the term assume that the horse was given a painless lethal injection.
Sorry. In trying to make everything safe and inoffensive, our publications have become spineless. None told it how it was. And many, including the New York Times, lambasted NBC for being too slow to report what happened to the horse in its live coverage.
As if that vindicated the print media, being a bit less lame than the broadcast counterpart?
The truth is, the shooting of a horse like that, which would bring charges of animal cruelty if anyone else did it, should open a broad debate on the cruelty of horse racing.
How is it that Michael Vick gets sentenced to years in jail for dog fighting, but these horse murderers walk scot free?
A horse that can be treated off the field and have its legs fixed, won't bring the insurance dollars of one that dies during a race.
In Europe, horses aren't allowed to race until they are three, and their legs are fully developed. Here it is 18 months, and you see what can happen.
These are some of the questions people should be asking today, but with "euthanized" journalism, the real issues never come up.
March 18, 2008
A Tech Story Most of the Media Missed
Here's a fun, quirky and fascinating story about UFOs in the LA TIMES. Only here can you hear the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey says.
I sent this idea to my LA Times friend, introducing him to two former cops who have become private eyes....and are on the case of a mysterious UFO spotted not far from my home.
No, I didn't set up the drone picture. There are enough people who take the picture seriously to pay these guys to search for this mysterious telephone pole. Personally, since I know what can be done in Photoshop, I'm a bit skeptical.
Two of my favorite quotes got cut from Glionna's story by editors, (who are too often drones themselves).
One was TK Davis's theory of why UFO hunting is back in, with shows on the history channel and magazines devoted to them. He said that with all the controversy in hard news, and the way the country is split, UFOs provide some relief. Also, he said, they are aliens that no one is condemning.
And, there are all kinds of interpretations of what the writing on the drone says here.
My favorite had me laughing out loud: "All your base are belong to us." The editors-surprise- didn't get it.
The other speculations show there is great humor in the techie world (Invasion from planet Jiffy Pop; Martians for Obama).
March 13, 2008
New York Times Says You're No Luddite for Stickin' with AOL
So, just when I was the butt of jokes for still having an AOL address, along comes Miguel Helft, a former Mercury News comrade, now at the New York Times, with a story praising "late adopters."
Like the rare few who stay married to the same person for a lifetime despite being propositioned, like some ageless Mick Jagger, by a horde of pretty young things.
Says Paul Saffo: “Laggards have a bad rap, but they are crucial in pacing the nature of change. Innovation requires the push of early adopters and the pull of laypeople asking whether something really works. If this was a world in which only early adopters got to choose, we’d all be using CB radios and quadraphonic stereo.”
Remember that plenty had dial up less than a good decade ago, including me. Somehow, I just can't completely cut the tie to my old school AOL addresses. And hey, you mean the rest of you don't have quadraphonic stereos?
February 26, 2008
Pakistan Shuts Down World's Access to YouTube...
The New York Times buried this story today. That's what happens when there's no sex in a news story. But this one sends chills down my spine.
The gist of Brad Stone's story is that Pakistan, which was seeking to prevent its Muslim countrymen and women from seeing a video that might offend their Islamic faith, not only barred YouTube from its borders, but closed the site to the world for two hours. Stone calls it an act of "information provincialism."
I find it scary. Does anyone else see a sci-fi idea come to reality? I've always figured that the next attack on the U.S. won't come on a building from a hijacked passenger plane, but will be an attack on business and commerce via the Internet.
This story shows just how fragile and porous the system is. Like a dog that saw a squirrel in a tree a year ago and still looks up at that tree every time it passes, Homeland Security is busy looking for bombs in tennis shoes and wanting to build a wall along the Mexican border, but I have serious doubts that it is doing enough to protect the electronic frontier.
Those of you who are the best and brightest techies....am I barking up the wrong tree here?
February 23, 2008
The U.S. Joins China In Shutting Down An Important Website
While news outlets are crumpling under the weight of having to pay reporters, while ad dollars shrink, public journalism has been growing.
Then, last week, a Federal judge in San Francisco shut down the website Wikileaks, a primary source journalism site that is an important tool for the kind of investigating that media outlets have given up on. No Paris Hilton news here.
The site was shut after a complaint from a bank, about public display of its documents and an investigation of its practices that protect suspicious transactions. In other words, it's just the kind of thing the government should want public in the interest of homeland security.
Analysts compare the closure to the attempts by the Nixon administration to hold back the Pentagon Papers. This is chilling...the sort of thing you'd expect in China, not here.
PS: the site can still be accessed in mirror sites. The creators were prepared for censorship...but not from the U.S. Read more here.
February 16, 2008
Conservative Radio Hosts Take A Big Hit With McCain...Or Do They?
After weeks of bashing John McCain, the Arizona Republican's rise to the top of the party's heap has come as a shock to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and their ilk.
For the first time since the dawn of the conservative radio in the late 1980s, it is a sign that not even middle -of-the-road Republicans believe these ranters. Despite having the highest ratings in radio (Limbaugh and Hannity are Nos 1 and 2, with as many as 20 million listeners for Limbaugh), their ideas are more fringe than I suspected. Thankfully so.
Limbaugh backed Mitt Romney and Hannity was all for Rudy Giuliani. Both spent hours and hours of airtime hyping their candidates and demonizing McCain as too liberal because he reaches out to Democrats, didn't approve the Bush tax cuts and isn't tough enough on illegal immigration.
But the Republican voters threw all the hype back in their faces. The cartoonish Coulter, who is to punditry what Fred Flintstone is to deep thought, has threatened to support Hillary Clinton over McCain.
Limbaugh even gave a rare interview to the New York Times Thursday, as if to show people his power is unaffected by the fact that his listeners didn't follow his party line.
I take great comfort in the fact that the vast majority of people haven't fallen for the demagoguery this time and in the fact that it shows that these ranters, loud and omnipresent on the airwaves as they are, really represent just a fringe, not the mainstream they claim.
February 09, 2008
Over and Done With So Soon?
I haven't trolled many of the political sites (traditional media or blogs) since Romney stepped aside on Thursday, but I haven't seen anyone express surprise at the fact that it's already over. The Republican convention is almost seven months away.
When was the last time a non-incumbent was coronated so quickly? You don't have to be a conspiracist to imagine that they all got together after Tuesday and said, "How do we win in November?"
So you have to admire them. I'm grateful that so much material will now be unavailable for media noise. And I suppose that this was the point of having a single day with so many primaries, so it worked from a structural standpoint. McCain also at least had to fight back. It wasn't like our recent fake mayoral election here in SF, with Gavin Newsom running against your Aunt Evelyn.
But what is the press going to write about? Ahh, the Democrats. Pity them. Clinton and Obama may battle it out with mutual respect, but their followers and the media will stir up all the animosities cooked into our electoral stew. Blacks and whites. Men and women. Blacks and other non-whites.
Meantime McCain gets to calm the conservatives, and even if he only does a mealy job, it's easy to envision that the Democratic voting blocs who lose out in the primary fight will be so alienated they'll stay home in November.
February 04, 2008
And The Meek Shall Inherit Hypothermia
I was stuck in the I-5 mess in Southern California for three or four hours a couple of weeks ago. My day had started in Hartford 20 hours earlier and included a scintillating three hours of 95-mph driving behind a BMW jackrabbit across the Sonoran desert between Phoenix and Palm Springs.
Then I hit the storm in the LA basin, just as daylight was leaving. It was a treat to see a Pacific Northwest landscape in Southern California, the mountains obscured by energetic clouds rather than ambient smog.
Two more hours of driving in snow and rain and I was on the access road from 138 to I-5. Hundreds of tractor-trailers lined the highway and ramps, their reflectors like the lights of a distant small town. Not a vehicle was moving. No cops or emergency rigs or road crews were visible (nor would be for four hours).
There were three types of drivers: Truckers who were just stuck; car drivers who sat behind trucks; and car drivers who were going to get through no matter what.
I am not always the most aggressive person, but the road surface was becoming a skating rink, the convertible was stuffed with vases and paintings and the gas tank was empty. I could sit there and freeze all night sitting up in my driver's seat or I could get home some other way.
The couple from New Jersey who pulled in behind me felt the same way, so after we bonded in our East Coast superiority over how absurd this situation was with a few measly inches of snow, we picked our way through the white maze in our simple passenger cars, no 4WD and no snow tires.
(One of the things that struck me the next day was that there wasn't much snow, really. You would think that the most important highway in the nation's most industrious state would be worth keeping open no matter what. Third-world country, here we come.)
It took four hours to cover four miles. There were five lanes of highway, two breakdown lanes and the median ditch available to us. When we hit a blockage we got out and surveyed. We knocked on the cabs of truckers and asked them to inch forward and back. A band of cars began to follow us, sensing.....leadership?
Humanity was on display. One trucker was so shy about taking a leak that he moved his rig off at an angle to shield him from view. One of his colleagues, by contrast, relieved himself in the middle of the highway for our entertainment.
I interrupted one couple well on their way to having sex. A small clan huddled like hobos around a burning oil drum. One group was getting stoned, another eating burritos. It was Mad Max on Ice meets The Odyssey.
After a final perilous balance-beam trip along the right edge of the road we made it to the Gorman exit and perhaps the most welcome petrol station I've ever seen, where we were able to turn around and find another way to San Francisco.
We all waved to each other in parting. (The New Jersey couple called me the next morning to see if I made it - I love when people do that kind of thing).
I-5 southbound to Santa Clarita was beautiful, as empty of cars as you will ever see, with a near-full moon shining on the snowy San Gabriels, resting between storms. I only made it as far as Ventura on the 101 before I had to sleep for the night, but at least I was positioned for home on Thursday.
Some other drivers also took charge and made it out. Most huddled in their cars, surrounded by 18-wheelers, assuring me that the highway was going to be closed until dawn at least and there was nothing to do but wait. These were the folks who needed help from the CHP and the Red Cross the next morning.
After turning around, I passed the long thick line of clogged vehicles. I could see the path that so many of the drivers could have taken to get out of the jam. The lesson?
Take chances and keep your legs moving. Don't wait for a leader. Find a way from here to your desired result. It will make you happier and keep you alive longer. Duh, but the obvious lessons are the best ones, because they remind us that we have lost track of something important.
February 02, 2008
Silicon Valley is Still the Wild West: and if it Ain't New, Who Cares?
John Markoff's story in today's New York Times about Microsoft's proposal to buy Yahoo, in order to battle Google, shows just how fast things move on the tech frontier.
Microsoft, an ancient company at 32 years, wants to buy aging Yahoo, at 13, to stack up against upstart Google, 10.
Markoff concludes that Google has already won, with which I agree. Google won the day it became a verb and others didn't. And it won again, when it spent a billion on Youtube-- the video service that seems to anyone logical to be little more than a giant copyright suit waiting to happen, another Napster, if you will --and it only got more popular.
(One aside: Is Google still as good as its ubiquity? Are you satisfied with the results when you Google yourself? I'm not. I get listings from years back, and have trouble finding more relevant ones.)
Everyone in this valley is looking for the Next Big Thing and has little patience with last year's model, the story concludes.
Living here is like the wild west, as exciting as it must have been during the Gold Rush, and as open to ingenuity.
November 17, 2007
Wal-Mart: Bigger than the Big Apple?
At some point in the last fiscal quarter, Wal-Mart’s total U.S. retail square footage surpassed the land mass of Manhattan, at 22.98 square miles versus 22.7.
In addition to the mind-bending image that this creates, this development is interesting because the two giants don’t like each other. Wal-Mart’s efforts to gain a foothold in the borough have been vigorously repelled by the natives. In response, the Wal-Mart CEO had the following to say in a March interview with The New York Times.
“I don’t care if we are ever here.” With which gestures do you think New Yorkers let him know the feeling was mutual? “It’s too hard to make money here.” You don’t say. Nobody in New York ever worries about this.
The biggest criticism of Wal-Mart is that it ruins communities by pricing local retailers out of business while offering only low-paying jobs with no benefits. Another complaint is that Wal-Mart is just too big; even investors are grumbling about store saturation.
Put all this together and you have a very plausible conspiracy theory: Wal-Mart intends to transplant all of its stores to Manhattan, completely covering the island and forcing everyone and everything to leave.
They could assemble the stores and with a very large winch – available at Always Low Prices – lift them over the borough and just drop them. A considerable one-time expense, but it would be sweet revenge and a clever way to reduce by a large number the liberal media and union workers, two of Wal-Mart’s most pesky foes.
I’d like to propose a more constructive strategy. Move the stores to Tuvalu. Tuvalu is the fourth-smallest country in the United Nations, a collection of nine coral atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. At 10.04 square miles, the nation’s land mass is less than one third of Wal-Mart’s worldwide retail space.
Tuvalu has become a global warming symbol. The island’s high point is 16 feet above sea level, and some climate change models anticipate that rising ocean levels will likely swamp the nation and its 12,000 residents at some point in this century.
(Have you noticed that climate change research is full of “may,” “likely,” and “probably”? “Sea levels may rise ten feet.” “I may win the lottery this week.” “The planet will probably see air temperatures rise three degrees." "My husband will probably take out the garbage tonight.”). So for the environmental crowd and our fear-loving media, the plight of Tuvalu has become a favored citation of our certain doom.
The benefits of such a move would be considerable for the company. Labor costs would plummet and sluggish same-store sales growth figures would vanish. As a green maneuver, it would please and confuse liberals and at least for a time stop them from burning crosses on Wal-Mart’s lawns. As the only employer on the island, Wal-Mart would have considerable leverage over the local population. “They want unions? Let ‘em eat kelp.”
For the islanders, the benefits would be even more pronounced. In addition to full employment, adding the stores would raise the island’s elevation by at least 30 feet. Everyone could live in low-cost company housing built on the roofs. As sea levels rose, provisions would simply be moved to higher shelves, easily retrieved via low-cost trapdoors and ladders.
Wal-Mart Travel would deliver to the South Pacific - in low-cost planes and cruise ships - bereft American shoppers, longing for the opportunity to again experience Always Low Prices, and now in a spectacular single package destination. “It’s a small store, after all.”
Perhaps it would make sense to expand the operation to the nation of Nauru, also in the South Pacific and at 8.11 square miles even smaller than Tuvalu.
That would leave a few square miles of U.S. stores, which could be exported to the only two members of the United Nations smaller than these islands. At .75 square miles, Wal-Mart Monaco would replace Europe’s most fashionable casinos with a much-needed dose of low-end American retail, leaving plenty of store footprint for Wal-Mart Vatican City, featuring the PopePourri product line.
There are innumerable cost inefficiencies in The New Testament, what with fig trees that don’t produce fruit when desired and swine being cast into the sea. Imagine what Wal-Mart could do for all of us if it expanded its reach beyond the secular realm with the help of its new partners in Rome. Heaven is long overdue for re-branding.
The downside would be the loss of about 1.4 million American jobs. But the liberal politicians can solve that problem. And we can start complaining about Target.