Saturday, April 30, 2005

Web Persuades WB to Scale Back Toon Designs

CNN reports on an eleven-year-old boy who started a web site (Save Our Looney Tunes) to protest Warner Brothers's angular redesigns of its classic Looney Tune characters. It apparently has paid off: the execs have decided to make them not so menacing. Score another one for the web? Wait till fall when the new show, "Loonatics" bows on the WB.

Evening Links

Seth Finkelstein has some interesting thoughts defending Google's new "TrustRank" effort to evaluate the credibility of news sources.

Open-source developer Edd Dumbill is dissatisfied with how the GNOME developer community is overly reluctant to make decisions about using higher-level programming languages. This article is useful as an insight into the problems that sometimes plague projects developed by communities even if you aren't a Linux type. OSNews discussion.

Americans want bloggers to have the same protections as journalists, according to survey. A bill currently in the federal House judiciary committee is trying to create a quasi-journalistic immunity but it does not include bloggers, at least not explicitly.

Ezra Klein endorses controlled nuclear proliferation, at least compared to the alternative which is unrestrained weapons development. This is a pretty heretical notion in foreign policy circles but one I think will catch on. I'm glad, too, because I think the ability of Pakistan and India to nuke each other now probably will avert their desire to invade each other. I'm not sure controlled proliferation is a good policy in all cases, but it's a proven fact that nuclear nations do not attack each other.

Michelle Malkin surveys several state governments' efforts to require photo identification in order to vote. If Republicans were smart, they'd make more of an issue of Democratic opposition to such sensible laws.

Bits: BBC launches big RSS effort. Virus takes down Reuters's internal IM system which was based on MSN Messenger. Samsung to release combo hard drive/flash disk for mobile systems to reduce power consumption. Steve Jobs bans all of publisher's books from Apple stores after it prints unauthorized biography. In-depth look at Wikipedia's Wikinews project.

Toll Lanes

The nickle-and-diming of America continues apace:
A provision in the $284 billion highway bill under consideration on Capitol Hill could open the way for more tolls on the nation's congested interstates, marking a departure from long-standing federal highway policy that has traditionally frowned on collecting tolls to pay for roads built with federal tax dollars.

Under the transportation bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, states would be allowed to convert overall up to 25 segments of the interstate highway system into toll roads over the next six years. The Senate is expected to vote on similar legislation this month.
It's already happening in my neck of the woods. Naturally, the government doesn't want to give up the tolls even after the construction is paid for. What happened to the idea of public service?

Canadian Poll Bias

Ed Morrisey has been doing a spectacular job of late keeping track of the "Adscam" scandal that is currently rocking Canadian politics, including breaking a draconian censorship regime imposed by a panel investigating the affair (which involves the minority government Liberal Party misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars meant to preserve national unity and taking and giving bribes), but it looks like Ed might have fallen for some skewed polling data which purported to show lower Conservative support. Blue Maple Leaf has the details.

Any poll giving the Greens 10 percent should be automatically suspect in my book.

Related: U2 invites Prime Minister Paul Martin onstage, prompts crowd to boo him to increase foreign aid spending. Still, "he's a great leader for Canada." This came after band lead singer Bono bashed Martin on Canadian radio and told fill up his comment line with requests for more international spending to "end poverty."

And since you didn't ask, Canadian politics has always been one of my interests. The past few years have been decidedly so with the merger of two right parties, the rise of the NDP, and the ethical collapse of the Liberal party. I should also add that I'm a supporter of Quebec independence.

UPDATE: At least two Canadian MPs--Monte Soldberg of Alberta and Steven Fletcher of Manitoba--have a blog on their sites. For more on political blogging in Canada, see this from Stephen Taylor.

UPDATE: And you thought Canadian politics was boring: Conservative MP calls liberals "whores."

Weekend Television

Saturday is the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. Best two places online for coverage and comment will be gossip blog FishbowlDC and where the members are continuing their annual tradition of "freeping" the press corps in-person and making snarky remarks about their outfits online. The dinner will also be on C-SPAN starting at eight.

"Family Guy" returns to Fox, Sunday, May, 1. Will it be able to withstand the primetime grind or is it just a late-night cable phenom?

UPDATE: C-SPAN's archive of the event is here (RealPlayer required).

UPDATE: The ratings are in for "Family Guy." Not too shabby.

O'Reilly: Wallace Best Broadcaster in American History

In his most recent column, FNC host Bill O'Reilly calls "60 Minutes" veteran Mike Wallace the best. Ever.

"Word for word, the best American broadcaster in history has to be Mike Wallace. The guy turns 87 in a few days and he's still hitting cleanup for CBS on Sunday night," he writes. "Wallace must have some kind of Dorian Gray thing going on, because he looks 25 years younger than he is, and can still put your fanny on the canvas during an interview. Here's the absolute bottom line on Mike Wallace: If you see him in a restaurant, have what he's having."

One other good line: "As everyone knows, the old school of broadcasters is closing down. Brokaw, Walters, Rather, Koppel, and maybe even Jennings are cutting back. In their place are some highly skilled people without much panache. Americans are incredibly distracted with all the new gadgets, and to get their attention, you almost have to break into their homes. The age of broadcast superstars is almost over. The age of 'Who's that, again?' is just about here.

Say what you will about his personality, but Bill O'Reilly has an intuitive feel for the medium of television.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Night Links

  • Norwegian woman convicted of raping a man.

  • How do you compare to British body politic? Take this test to find out where you are on their political axes. From the same people who brought you the creatively named Political Survey.

  • I have to get me one of these, a Motorola A630. Too bad only T-Mobile has them. I'm a Cingular subscriber.

  • Congressmen Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Albert Wynn are trying to fix the mess created by the travesty formerly known as McCain-Feingold. Senators, meanwhile, want more censorship reforms. So far, the media drums are staying quiet.

  • DUers (well one of them at least) discuss "biphobia."

  • Cookies, those little bits of information online advertisers and most web sites store on surfers' computers, are apparently irksome to most people. Adrants has the goods. I generally accept cookies only from sites where it's convenient for me to be logged in next time I visit.

  • David Limbaugh: Why do [liberals] seem to think that only Christians must keep their views to themselves once they are elected to office?

  • Great article by Stewart Brand on how the environment movement needs to change and embrace technology (such as nuclear power and genetic engineering) more. I suspect in less than 10 years, there will be a significant rift in the movement between tech skeptics and tech supporters, especially when more conservatives realize there's a lot of money to be made in preserving the environment through the market. (Via Dean.)

  • Joe Gandelman rounds up the reactions to the launch of Apple's new OS release. Joe also reports that the famous "Soup Nazi" from "Seinfeld" is actually opening up a chain of restaurants across the country.

  • Joi Ito on different cultures' attitudes towards punctuality. All the stereotypes are true he thinks, but largely because punctuality is something everyone in a society has to sort of agree on.

  • Matt Yglesias dismisses complaints of a long-term Chinese threat on the grounds that the US and its Asian allies have far more resources than China. Probably true, though I don't see how this argument applies to a short-term action. He also makes some sensible points on libertarian drug policy to illustrate how knee-jerk anti-paternalism doesn't make sense.
  • A Peek at Drudge's Laptop

    Watching Matt Drudge on C-SPAN today, I happened to notice that he runs an unregistered version of the Opera on the laptop he was using. (Can't afford to register?) As far as content management goes, Drudge keeps it old-school with a text editor and WS_FTP to upload his plain-text HTML files.

    Dave Matthews Band Settles Bus Waste Case

    The Dave Matthews Band, settling a lawsuit stemming from human waste dumped from a tour bus onto people touring the Chicago River, has agreed to pay $200,000 to an environmental fund and take measures to avoid a repeat of the incident, the Illinois attorney general said Friday.

    The bus was crossing a bridge last summer when the waste poured through metal grates onto the open deck of an architectural tour boat carrying more than 100 passengers. The agreement with Attorney General Lisa Madigan does not settle several personal-injury lawsuits that also have been filed.

    The band agreed to record when and where its tour buses empty septic tanks.

    More at SF Chronicle.

    Be the Media

    Marc Danziger (aka Armed Liberal) and Roger Simon announce a new venture, Pajama Media, to serve advertising and news content to other web sites. Sounds promising.

    Pajamas Media was announced at a celebration of the LA Times's pioneering "Outside the Tent" feature where many of those present said lots about the impending death of newspapers. Coverage from:, Patterico's roundup, Ezra Klein, LA Observed, Jay Rosen, Hugh Hewitt.

    My take: newspapers are to computers what news is to data. The first two exist only for the sake of the second. Data processing is why we use computers. News is why people read the newspaper.

    For decades, the tech world has been continually updating its data delivery systems, now, the media world needs to do the same with news delivery. As a physical medium, news publications are doomed, as a virtual medium, they have a chance if they adapt. Otherwise, Pajama Media and its successors and rivals will dispose of them.

    UPDATE: The Associated Press recently set off many of its members by announcing that it will begin charging for online distribution of its content. Writing at Online Journalism Review, two Scripps Newspapers execs call for a true peer-to-peer replacement for AP. Will there be two noveau news services in the near future?

    UPDATE: Jim Pinkerton and Glenn Reynolds write about the videogame and movie industries, two sectors of media I think are destined for collision and eventual merger. One-way news is on the way out. One-way entertainment will be as well.

    UPDATE: Josh Marshall gives more details on the group blog project he's been dropping hints about.

    Contradictory Kaus

    Mickey Kaus looks at some ratings data from TVNewser and jumps to the conclusion that President Bush's approval ratings have fallen along with FNC's ratings. Nonsense. Fox's audience skews conservative and conservatives are generally more politically minded than liberals. With less political news around after the election, they've simply stopped tuning in. For further proof of this phenomenon, see this Washington Post article on how ratings are lower for talk radio as well as these Ann Althouse and Glenn Reynolds posts which inadvertently demonstrate my point.

    CNN, meanwhile, attracts the more watching-the-news-is-good-for-you types who have steadier viewing patterns. Thus, its ratings haven't fallen as much post-election.

    Another thing: if FNC's and Bush's ratings are directly proportional, doesn't this mean that the Bush-is-alienating-the-moderates idea that Kaus posted on just four hours earlier (while endorsing that Ron Brownstein piece I mentioned earlier) is wrong?

    If conservatives are tuning out Bush and FNC, then that must mean Bush needs to be even more right-wing to win them back. If there is a hole in the center, then the Bush/FNC ratings are not tied together. Both can't be true.

    Thursday, April 28, 2005

    When TV News Attacks

    As you might know, Fox Broadcasting and its owner Rupert Murdoch are extremely upset over an upcoming ABC News report on the show "American Idol," a report which Fox says is designed to discredit "Idol" during May sweeps.

    If that's true and it's wrong for ABC to do this, why did I catch a promo on Thursday's FNC informing me about a report on tomorrow's "O'Reilly Factor" investigating whether ABC has "gone too far?"

    I doubt that either media giant's news division has been asked to play the flack by the suits upstairs, but surely there is some desire to please them at work here on both sides.

    Now if only we could get them to do a reenactment of the fight scene from "Anchorman."

    Bush Social Security Conference Notes

    CBS and NBC cut off the Bush press conference before 9pm. ABC carried the whole thing.

    ABC is testing the live anchoring skills of Elizabeth Vargas by continuing into the 9:00 hour and occupying more of its Thursday deadzone. NBC rotates to "Apprentice," CBS to "Survivor."

    UPDATE: Is it just me or is George Stephanopolous starting to look more like Terry Moran?

    UPDATE: 9:07, someone's phone goes off in the background at ABC.

    UPDATE 4/29: BCBeat offers a helpful guide to telling the difference between Moran and Stephanopolous

    MediaLife reports the ratings.

    Woodruff Leaves CNN

    The next chapter in the end of 90s television anchordom: Judy Woodruff, the host of CNN's "Inside Politics," is retiring from daily work at the network in June.

    Forums: Instant reactions from Free Republic and Democratic Underground seem to indicate that both sides of the spectrum didn't have much use for her show.

    While she was a bit bland at times, I think "Inside" improved in fairness and quality in the past few months. It was also one of the few respites on cable news from trial/celebrity/missing persons stuff. I hope CNN keeps the same focus in this timeslot.

    Ratings data (old)

    Afternoon Links

  • Fusion experiment produces no energy but may lead to new drilling, scanning techniques.

  • Guardian lampoons Huffington blog project. I'm detecting a parody of blogging in general as well. Funny stuff.

  • Maybe this is just the first time I noticed them, but this morning, I discovered Slashdot is now including advertising in its XML stream. In other web news, Yahoo unveiled its revamped news service today. I like. Jason Clarke talks about Weblogs, Inc's usage of RSS.

  • Captain Ed comments on the huge scandal in Canada revolving around the Liberal Party's enrichment of itself and supporters with money meant to bribe Quebec into staying in the country. Why haven't American media outlets covered this story much, he wonders.

    I'd say its partly because they're filling their meager foreign news holes with Iraq stuff and that foreign affairs in this country is too often perceived as our dealings with Europeans. On this point, I note that Oxblog hasn't touched the scandal at all according to Google.

  • Peter Johnson, USA Today's head TV writer, has a lengthy piece in today's editions on how the broadcast networks are trying to change things now that Brokaw, Rather, and apparently Jennings, are fading into history.

  • Are Republicans reading too much into their electoral victories? Joe Gandelman is beginning to think so.

  • Speaking of misreading, the Washington Times says Bush critics are misinterpreting the final Iraq chem/bio weapon report I posted about earlier. It does not, according to the Times, deny the possibility that weapons were shipped out of Iraq. Perhaps I should get around to reading the actual report or at least the summary.
  • Microsoft Goes After PDF

    The next version of Windows will include a new document format, code-named "Metro," to print and share documents, Microsoft said Monday. Metro appears to rival Adobe Systems's PostScript and PDF (portable document format) technologies.

    Metro was demonstrated during Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates' keynote at the start of the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) on Monday in Seattle.

    The format, based on XML (extensible markup language), will be licensed royalty free and users will be able to open Metro files without a special client. In the demonstration, a Metro file was opened and printed from Internet Explorer, Microsoft's Web browser.
    More at Computerworld.

    A Not-so-Bad Copyright Law

    The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act which just passed Congress and was signed by President Bush yesterday has two major provisions. The most widely reported section gives cover to companies (such as ClearPlay) which create software that allows users to automatically skip portions of DVD movies. This provision of the bill is, in some sense, the first in a long time to give media consumers more rights to control media they already own. In other words, this was a good thing.

    To buy the support of the entertainment industry, the law has provisions making it an explicit federal offense to make a recording in a theater of a movie, and to try to crack down on people who share movies, songs, or software before their official release dates.

    Of course, this law isn't going to stop dedicated pirates who will simply move their warez to some country where it's not illegal to share them or where cyberlaw enforcement is minimal. I also think the way portions of it are worded might (accidentally) give cover to institutions whose members use their networks to pirate stuff with a value of less than $1,000 without the institution's knowledge.

    Another positive provision in the law is a title that makes it easier for libraries to make copies of "orphan movies" (non-commercially exploitable films) during the last 20 years of their copyright. We need a similar law for abandoned software for history's sake.

    Considering that this law could have been the infamous Induce Act, I think things didn't turn out so badly.

    (For those wondering, the donkey picture does not represent a Democrat, but is the logo of eMule, a popular file-sharing program. Merci à Cont@ct.)

    Related: Slashdot, DU, Hollywood Reporter, N. Todd Pritsky

    UPDATE: French judge bans DVD copy protection (hat tip: PaidContent)

    Found in the Referrers

    Opera 8 Working Again with Blogger

    After having some trouble getting my preferred browser, Opera, to work with the Blogger software, looks like someone finally fixed the incompatibility, but only partially. I can finally type text into the <textarea> but the toolbar buttons don't work. Better than nothing but still...

    Wednesday, April 27, 2005

    Get Over Yourself

    Politics, religion, art are the only areas of life where some people think they have the right to have others share their tastes.

    In the political sphere, this attitude periodically manifests itself in anguished essays saying that America is going to hell, or if the author doesn't believe in that, becoming a theocracy.

    During the late 90s after Republicans ran a crappy presidential candidate and had no message in the 1998 elections, it was the social conservatives' turn to whine about how terrible and stupid America was. Now, with the passage of many traditional marriage amendments, the victory of George W. Bush, and the terrible evil of Republicans trying to stop Terri Schiavo from dying, it's social liberals who are practically cutting themselves over how their fellow Americans suck.

    Bill Clinton and his supporters did not destroy America after winning reelection or managing to avoid being removed from office. George Bush, Rick Santorum and their supporters aren't about (or willing) to turn America into a totalitiarian religious state. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get over themselves and stop being such an extremist.

    UPDATE: Dean Esmay lampoons the "fundamentalism is upon us" folks.

    The Real Academic Diversity Problem

    Over at Right Reason, Steve Burton notes that for all the talk about Republicans and conservatives being underrepresented on college and law school faculties, in fact, they are not nearly as underrepresented as believing Christians are:

    One of the studies I mentioned previously, that by Rothman & Lichter, makes glancing reference to this phenomenon, when they note that Christians, like conservatives and Republicans, "teach at lower quality schools than their professional accomplishments would predict." But they offer no details and do not pursue the issue. What I am suggesting here is that what Rothman & Lichter have detected are not two separate phenomena, but, rather, two aspects of one and the same phenomenon: the relative under-representation of believing Christians in academia.

    Indeed, I suspect that jewish and non-religious Republicans and conservatives may have little or nothing to complain about; if anything, I suspect that they, like their Democratic and liberal colleagues (though perhaps not to the same degree) are over-represented on campus, in comparison to their numbers in the population at large. Just do the math: Jewish and non-religious Republicans make up less than 2% of all Americans. I fear that those of us who spend a lot of time in the "blogosphere" may be prone to an exaggerated idea of how many jewish and non-religious conservatives and libertarians there are out there. The answer is: not many - but we seem to engage in a disproportionate amount of internet chatter.

    Having changed majors in college a number of times and going to a few schools, I see a lot of truth in Burton's argument, particularly when it comes to socially "conservative" (or even moderate traditionalist) views. I think that liberal and libertarian intolerance for these ideas is actually the main reason there are not many believing Christians on campus. I'd bet that Orthodox Jews and moderate, believing Muslims are similarly underrepresented as well. This is a real disservice to the worthy goal of academic diversity.

    The Selling of Sex Flips Left and Right

    Writing at Dean's World, Scott Kirwin notes how when it comes to businesses selling products through sexual-based marketing, both conservatives and liberals change their principles. I don't agree with everything in the post, but he's right to note that liberals seem to want virtually no restrictions on sex-related businesses (condoms, birth-control, abortion, porn) while wanting to control the entire medical industry and that conservatives like minimal regulation of everything except sex-related businesses. Thankfully, most Americans want some amount of both. Sadly, they don't seem to be coming around to my desire to abolish the income tax.

    Huffington Partner Speaks Out

    Roger Simon reprints a letter to bloggers from his friend, Andrew Breitbart, the former Drudge editorial assistant who is leaving for the Arianna Huffington blog project:
    I've gotten a ton of e-mails asking me what I'm up to. Here it is:

    The New York Times got it right -- I am amicably leaving the Drudge Report after a long and close working relationship with Matt Drudge, a man who will rightfully take his place in the history books as an Internet news pioneer. I am also excited to be a partner in an inspired new endeavor, the Huffington Post. The last time I worked with Arianna she got a guy who didn't deserve to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery disinterred. That was cool. I admit: I like to go where the action is.

    As for my politics, I am, quite literally, an open book. 'Hollywood, Interrupted' spells it out perfectly. I am a raucous, opinionated, red meat eating libertarian-leaning conservative who refuses to be relegated to a conservative ghetto. I have lived on L.A.'s liberal Westside for all of my life. I went to the liberal Brentwood School. Most of my friends and extended family lean left and will all attest that at gatherings I gleefully disagree with them. Yet I still love them, and refuse to give up on getting them to see things my way. But the last election cycle gave me an ulcer. As a Dennis Miller/South Park kind of Republican, I am offended by both 'Bush is Hitler' rhetoric and fetus-in-a-jar political speech.

    What the world needs more of is amicable -- even jocular -- disagreement. Bringing my former boss and longtime friend Arianna 's intriguing friends to the blogosphere, the ultimate level playing field, makes perfect sense to me, and I am thrilled to be committed to such a groundbreaking project. Will my pals on the right have a place to offer their two cents at the Huffington Post? Absolutely. Will I agree with everyone's written word? Of course not. But that's precisely the point. May the best ideas win.
    I like the attitude but will he and the others be able to make a success? I'm skeptical but we'll see.

    Ingraham Has Breast Cancer Surgery

    Laura Ingraham, one of the best (conservative or liberal) radio hosts in the business, was diagnosed with breast cancer. According to her official site, the operation went well. I'm glad to hear that and wish her the best.

    Royalty-free Icons

    Many web designers or bloggers who use Windows or Mac don't know that there are scads of icons out there on the net that are available for royalty-free use because they are part of open source software or their authors have made them freely available. And because they are in PNG format, you don't need any special software to edit or view them (you will need a program like WinZip to open the files they come packaged in, though).

    Some of these free icon sets include Kids and Crystal by Everaldo Cohen, as well as the Nuvola set by David Vignoni. There are also many more (along with previews of each set) available at or

    Many free icon artists also produce art on demand for companies. If you like their work, consider hiring one of these guys to design your next business logo.

    Chicken Activist Demands Respect for Poultry

    Mark your calendars, everyone. America's next useless commemorative day is "International Respect for Chickens Day," May 4.

    Comment Spam as Marketing Strategy?

    The advent of blogging has been a boon to the free press, but it's also been capitalized on by unethical marketers who try to use blog comment sections to spam their way to a top ranking in Google. Thankfully, this practice has been made a lot more difficult thanks to efforts by Google and others.

    But are rogue marketers using the same tactics to do the opposite: use "comment spam" to bump web pages that criticize a product or company out of the top rankings by Google since the search engine penalizes pages that "stuff" keywords and links?

    In one of the more explosive media-related blog stories in a while, Nick Lewis thinks he has the evidence to prove that CNN is using comment spam to drive down the hit rankings of web sites that criticize it.

    Last week, CNN attempted an unusual marketing campaign in the blogosphere. The campaign combined blackhat search engine optimization techniques, viral marketing tactics, and guerrilla comment spam. Unlike the majority of comment spam, this spam appears to only target blogs that have discussed CNN in the past 3 months. So far, 13 separate instances of the spam have been found. Most alarmingly, CNN may have also left malicious keywords at least 3 out of 13 with the intent of using Google's keyword stuffing detectors to censor them. As of now CNN has not returned my request for a confirmation or denial. [...]

    Does CNN has the ability to carry out targeted spamming campaigns? Yes. In fact, they already have carried out similar campaigns, and my source is no less than "the paper of record."

    Why would CNN care about blogs? Well, first of all I cite that prior to Jordan’s ousting, Jon Stuart’s appearance on Crossfire. Indeed few events could have made a clearer argument to CNN that they are at the mercy of the blogs. Consider this: according to the ratings, the now famous episode of Crossfire only reached about 400,000 viewers via cable. However, the online video of Stuart’s reached an estimated 5 million people [4] – and there was nothing CNN could do to stop it. Re-read that statistic and ask yourself, “Is it likely that CNN understands the power of weblogs?”

    Many people have asked me "Why would CNN try to use keyword stuffing to censor posts that are critical? Who cares what the blogosphere is saying?" Well, as David Dunne, the director of world's largest independent PR firm explained, "Search is inextricably tied to your reputation," Dunne reminds, "Your audiences seek answers in search engines, where your messages are competing with those of NGOs, class action firms, and special interest groups." Dunne went on to emphasize that good web PR must be unified, and managing your companies reputation on Google is among the most important strategies. Dunne recommends, "You need to listen, identify trends, and watch communications around a brand to gain insight and the opportunity to respond on multiple levels."

    CNN is in the process of a major transformation that began when Eason Jordan resigned. And for the record, I thought those who attacked Jordan behaved like a lynch mob; and I consider his ousting to not be a success for the blogosphere, but rather a mark of shame. That said, CNN’s new management is a bit more open to accepting that blogs are powerful, and here to stay. Indeed, their new CEO, I think, is taking that realization one step further. I cannot emphasize how impressed I am, as much as I despise their tactics. This guerrilla marketing campaign is evidence that not only is CNN serious about using blogs to their advantage, but that they are thinking about the nature of the blogosphere on a very sophisticated level. Their competitors have not tried any strategy that comes close to topping this one.

    Did this really happen? I think it very well could have. Maverick employees or rogue marketing companies have been known to do stuff like this. But would such a strategy be approved by a corporate-level exec? But then again, the Education Department's paying of radio host Armstrong Williams certainly showed that high-level people can be dumb enough to engage in a boneheaded PR strategy. So far, CNN has not responded to Lewis's accusations. That will change if this story moves beyond the blogs.

    Using P2P to Protect Anonymous Bloggers

    One of the roundtable discussions at the upcoming BlogNashville conference will be on the topic of preserving the anonymity and safety of pseudonymous bloggers. This session is sponsored in part by the Committee to Protect Bloggers and will be focusing on several aspects including the status of online writers imprisoned overseas for daring to criticize their government, why anonymous blogging is valuable, and ways to help "anonibloggers" keep their identities secret.

    As a preliminary to the physical discussion, Curt Hopkins, who will be heading up the roundtable, started a Yahoo group discussion which is open to the public. Recently, the topic has turned to the technical aspects of allowing bloggers in repressive systems to exercise their free speech. Sites like Anonymizer and were floated as possible solutions, and indeed, they work well-enough as ways of circumventing censorware. But they don't offer enough to truly protect anonymity since they don't offer the safety of a group.

    Instead of relying on the mercies or tenacity of companies or other intermediary groups, would-be bloggers living in oppressive regimes should use an anonymous file peer-to-peer file sharing protocol which transmits all data in an encrypted format, and then have someone on the outside post the information on a blog.

    There are several anonymous file-sharing apps (sometimes called third-generation p2p clients) including Freenet, MUTE, GNUnet, and ANts. GNUnet and MUTE are the most secure with MUTE being the best since it never gives out your IP address to anyone on the network, can be configured to use common ports like HTTP, and has native clients for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

    Another (much less safe) option is to use an SSH-based darknet with proxy servers using variable IP addresses running on network ports typically associated with the web to get into a system and use a text-based browser (or by creating an SSL tunnel) to post entries on a fourth-party blog site.

    For maximum protection, secret information can be embedded and encrypted inside innocuous files with steganographic software and then distributed on a p2p network.

    In summary, if I were trying to create some sort of system for transmitting data out of a repressive government, I would do it in the following ways:

    1. Establish contact (either directly or through a cell system) with at least one trusted individual on the outside, tell that person to download whichever steganographic and p2p software will be used.

    2. Decide with that person which types of audio (do not use images since they are not as common on p2p networks) files will be used.

    3. Offer the encoded files over an anonymous network.

    4. Get the contact person to download and decrypt the file and then publish (through a secure anonymous web surfing system) the info on the blog without revealing their real name.
    No method is perfect, however, and there will always be some possibility that a user's anonymity on any third-generation file-sharing app can be discovered or that network censors will not find a way to stop or infiltrate a network. Steganography is also not perfect, either. However, I think the procedure outlined above should suffice for situations that require extreme security.

    The most likely breaking point in this scenario would be in the cellular chain or a governmental block at the point of public distribution (such as by blocking the blog host's IP). While the first is often irreparable, one could always bypass the second problem by using a different domain or IP.

    Links of interest:

    Fox Threatens ABC with 'Idol' Lawsuit

    From Drudge:

    ABC has been warned in writing it could face legal fallout for airing its scathing behind-the-scenes look at FOX's AMERICAN IDOL, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

    FOX owner Rupert Murdoch has informed executives that it appears ABC is attempting to maliciously "destroy" the nation's most-watched series as it heads into the final weeks.

    Sounds like overheated rhetoric to me though certainly ABC (or NBC and CBS) wouldn't shed any tears over lower ratings of the "Idol" juggernaut.

    Schieffer Hits All-time Ratings Low

    My earlier post on why Bob Schieffer will be a ratings loser for CBS has been proven correct by this Variety story which reveals that the ratings for "Evening News" have fallen to their lowest recorded levels.

    Low ratings for "Evening News" are a setback for CBS, which had received plenty of critical acclaim for the Schieffer-led broadcast. Schieffer scored a notable scoop on the Minnesota school shooting story in his first week on the air, and the newscast showcased his conversational style via live Q&As with correspondents.
    CBS has averaged a little more than 6.8 million viewers in Schieffer's first six weeks at the helm, down 7% from the same period last year. NBC also was down 7% in the same period from last year, while ABC was flat.

    This should come as no surprise since Dan Rather had basically managed to whittle his audience down to a small core of extremely loyal fans. With him out of the picture, the ratings will go down. With no real structural changes to the CBS news division, it's hard to see how Schieffer can win over disaffected viewers, especially those who perceive the network as liberally biased.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2005

    Morning Links

  • Mark Schmitt and Kos both have some interesting articles on the possible emergence of fusionist liberalism (not their term) among young American Democrats. Could the growth of people who care more about being liberal in toto revitalize Democratic politics which right now is very coalitional? A similar thing happened on the right through the auspices of Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan during the 1970s. I think this is a real possibility, especially since blacks and hispanics seem to be moving toward becoming bipartisan groups. As long as Republicans continue their present strategy of toeing a fine line on immigration and don't cut spending, Democrats will need to make up the difference among upper-middle-class whites to remain viable.

  • At the Media Drop, Tom Biro recounts how MTV is one of those few corporate content providers who can't get their act straight on browser compatibility. It's funny how no one in control over there can see that the company has slowly been committing public suicide for about 10 years.

  • It's official. The "weapons of mass destruction" argument in favor of the Iraq war has basically been proven wrong. You'd think after the poor human intelligence we had during the Kosovo campaign (such as falling for the classic trick of decoy tanks) that the Bush admin would not have been so confident in assertions that the Saddam Hussein regime had chem or bio weapons. Kevin Drum hopes this doesn't turn into another grassy knoll. Pennywit rightfully urges everyone to stop attempting to assess the grand scheme of things in Iraq pro- or con, especially if you have no military training and have never even been there. I say wait at least two more years before rendering judgment.

  • New car from India promises super cheap transportation. Why does it have to look like the modern-day version of Inspector Clouseau's car? (Via Dean's World)

  • Henry Blodget at Slate on China's experiments in "capitalism without democracy." Um, it's called fascism, dude. It's unfortunate that most people fail to realize fascism is just nationalistic market socialism and can be a left/right/neither phenomenon. Especially in light of the anti-Japan furor the regime is whipping up, how can you not call the Chinese government fascist?

  • Neither one of us is Catholic, but I like Jimmie Bise's question about media coverage about the "divisive" new pope was just a tad off considering that polls are showing very high approval ratings (isn't that kind of an offensive thing to poll on?) for Benedict. "I think what we saw was a combination of two things: 1) reporters not getting very far out of their own echo-chamber to find out what Catholics were really thinking, and 2) massive ignorance about the Church and its members." It's possible, though that this support is shallow and meaningless in the long run but we'll see.

  • TVNewser tracks rumors of a new MSNBC prime-time show being launched. Seems unlikely to me considering that they have all the slots except 9pm filled. If the rumors are true, that would mean that either one of the existing shows is going to get canned, or the Tucker Carlson vehicle is stillborn. I don't understand why they just don't offer Bill O'Reilly double what FNC is paying him and then build a primetime lineup around him and Chris Matthews.

  • Sold: CNET (a subsidiary of Ziff-Davis) buys, a great fan-operated reference site for television. Smart purchase. The future of reference belongs to communities working on the web to accumulate and dissect information that matters to them. No search engine can come close to the value of a group of dedicated interested people. Related: Earlier article on troubles at Wikinews, which seeks to bring this principle to news writing.

  • Last night on Cartoon Network, they had a great promo for their DVD set of the show "Harvey Birdman" which spoofed those sleazy accident lawyer commercials that always seem to be daytime television. If I can't find a vid online, I'll try to put one up.

  • Bits: Karl Rove predicts Bolton confirmation, insists on judicial votes. Saudi Arabia almost in WTO. Using sheep to grow human organs. Virginia gubernatorial candidate accused of mocking opponent's accent. Are bumperstickers less popular nowadays?
  • Monday, April 25, 2005

    Third Party Nonsense

    Every so often, a politican or hack consultant tries to float the idea that "this time," a viable third-party could emerge in the American electoral system. More often than not, such rhetoric is just a means to an end: money from people dumb enough to believe him.

    Now that LA Times writer Ron Brownstein, in cooperation with the inefficient and overrated Joe Trippi, is peddling this swill, Marshall Wittmann at the Bull Moose blog (who still hasn't dropped the annoying old media habit of referring to himself in the third person) is eating it up.

    I'm not one to rule out basically anything--but barring a tremendous, long-term electoral collapse among either party, there is almost zero chance of a smaller party becoming a national force, particularly because the existing ones are too stupid to concentrate on just one or two states. (Tthe Free State Project doesn't count since they picked the state of New Hampshire, future home of one-third of Massachusetts, thereby assuring their failure to take over the state and impose libertarian governance.)

    Many of my fellow political independents often woe the fact that the American electoral systems "create an opening in the center of the electorate" (as Trippi puts it) which no one seems to want to fill. This is true to an extent. Looked at from an up-close perspective, it seems like extremists dominate our politics. But compared to other countries' systems, the American way of doing things is remarkably stable and centrist.

    In over 200 years of existence, the U.S. hasn't had a single major coup attempt or a party trying to maintain control of the executive branch after losing an election. Compared to their foreign counterparts, the Republican and Democratic parties are resoundingly centrist. Extreme socialist or nazi movements have always had trouble getting traction in our duopolistic system. That is a remarkable record and one we should be proud of rather than frustrated at.

    Even in the event that a hole in the center does open up, both parties are too smart to let it remain empty for long. Their voters are, too. The 2004 Democratic primary was a perfect example of this. Initially, it seemed as though Howard Dean was poised to get the nomination until people realized that he was too far to the left to defeat George W. Bush. They were right. While it's true that most liberals find the current Iraq war an outrage while most conservatives deem it essential, most Americans aren't particularly for or against it. An anti-war candidate would have been creamed at the polls since Americans will support any war up to a certain point.

    For more smackdowns of the third-party fantasy argument, see this post from Ezra Klein on the problem of ballot access and this one from Brendan Nyhan on how a plurality, single-member system is conducive to two party governance.

    Link Sidebar Complete (For Now)

    I finally finished uploading all my links into the right sidebar. All of these sites are in my Bloglines account. Too bad they don't provide an easy way to export your subscription list to HTML format.

    NYT Slams Couric

    In an unusually opinionated article in today's NYT, TV writer Alessandra Stanley delivers a gutpunch to Katie Couric, saying viewers are leaving her for Diane Sawyer whose
    appeal on "Good Morning America" is not that she is new and exciting, but that she is a consistently smooth, even restful, presence. Her golden good looks never change, and she handles interviews and chatter with her genial co-host Charles Gibson with a poised, creamy insincerity that never varies or falters.

    Ms. Couric made her mark in television by being natural and unaffected, but nobody can stay that way in that job for long. "Today" might be better served by easing its anchor-centric style and giving its stars and viewers a bit of a break.

    I agree with all of this but I wonder, would a TV columnist ever say such a thing (read the article for similar digs) about a male anchor? I don't recall such things being printed about Brokaw, Jennings, or Rather. Are there certain things about female anchors it's OK to say, particularly regarding their physical appearance, that are taboo about male anchors?

    Blackberry Thumb

    As someone who's been using handheld computers with keyboards since about 1995, I nodded knowingly when I saw this Washington Post article (via Lost Remote) on Blackberry users getting tendinitis from too much thumb-typing.

    Bette R. Keltner, dean of the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, has been forced to put her BlackBerry down. After two years of constant use, her hands were in so much pain, she had to stop typing. She remembers the trigger point: It was a 10-hour conference one Saturday where she answered about 150 e-mails. "Days later, I was in excruciating pain," she said.

    The American Society of Hand Therapists issued a consumer alert in January saying that handheld electronics are causing an increasing amount of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. With that warning, the society included directions on how to properly hold the devices, urging users to take breaks and, if possible, place pillows in their laps so their wrists are in a more upright position.

    But at airports and hearing rooms and other places where handheld users while away pauses by thumbing their keyboards, there are no pillows in evidence and very few breaks from the tap-tap-click of e-mailing.

    I've never liked Blackberries because I always thought the keys were too small even compared to my trusty HP 200LX which has keys roughly about 1 x 0.5 mm. I figured out a way to type on them using four fingers on each hand to avoid thumb-typing which I found to be slower and unergonomic. Eventually, I managed to get to about 50wpm on my keyboard with no real tendon stress.

    I take issue with this line from the article:
    Also, though many handheld game devices also use thumb-operated controls, they typically don't require as much range of motion as keyboards spanning the entire alphabet as well as punctuation marks.
    In my experience, the Playstation2 controller is far more unergonomic than any handheld computer keyboard. The stress its directional pad put on my left thumb was so bad, I almost never use it.

    Incidentally, the HP 100/200LX palmtops had text-messaging on them almost a decade before it became cool. In 1994, HP debuted its StarLink service which offered two-way paging and email.

    Few Administrations Had No Lawyers

    From the useless-political-trivia dept:

    Turned on the TV app for a second and caught this little fact from C-SPAN: Including Bush and Cheney, there have been only eight presidential administrations in which no lawyers served as prez or veep.

    UPDATE: Dean Esmay posts on American politicians' predilection toward cleanshavenness. The last president to have facial hair was William Taft who left office in 1913.

    Morning Linkdump

    Radio righty Michael Savage says FNC canceled four skedded appearances for criticism of O'Reilly, Hannity.

    What would happen to the European Union if France, the lead architect of unionism, rejects the European constitution? The Times of London has details.

    Jeff Jarvis: TV is good for you and is getting better. Partly right. TV is getting better but it's also getting worse. We're just getting more of both. I think you can make the case that drama on television has improved and grownup cartoons like "King of the Hill" and "Ghost in the Shell" are far better than Roger Rabbit, but sitcoms still suck, local news is getting worse, and celebrity/trial shows are proliferating like never before.

    Disaffected Anglicans make overtures to new pope. When will people who want religion out of politics learn to keep their politics out of others' religion?

    Republican supporter targeted newspapers with hundreds of letters to editors using different names. Try starting a blog, dude. (Via Dan Gillmor)

    BBC gives microphones to anti-Conservative hecklers. Surprising, isn't it? Biased BBC's reaction: "If I were Michael Howard I'd announce that no Tory would appear on any BBC programme or answer questions from any BBC journalist until after the election."

    Microsoft's Internet Explorer team give a few details on the next version. Finally transparent PNG support. But will it be enough to stop savvier netizens from migrating to Firefox or Opera? More MS news: Apple accuses it of "shamelessly" copying. MS trades lawsuits with company over JPEG patents.

    Schieffer's Ratings Falling

    Now that I'm no longer running, I don't watch the "CBS Evening News" or any other "early prime" newscast. Apparently I'm not alone. With Bob Schieffer in the anchor's chair, the ratings of "Evening" are stagnant.

    That's kind of too bad because the format of the show is definitely better and arguably less biased (I haven't watched it enough to say definitively). By all accounts, Schieffer seems to be a nice guy, but he's too conventional and never has been known as a sharp analyst. No matter what format CBS puts him in, it's hard to see him winning over new or former viewers. Everyone in the TV biz seems to have forgotten that the only reason Schieffer managed to get himself out of third-place in the Sunday show derby was because George Stephanopolous is so terrible.

    There also don't seem to be any real structural changes made at CBS News since Rather's ouster. In the absence of that, I don't see how they can win over viewers who were offended at the CBS's record of unfairness.

    Non-commercial Bloggers Should Provide Full-text Feed

    Would everyone who runs a not-for-profit blog (ahem, Jay Rosen) please modify your XML data feeds to include the full text? I see no reason why you shouldn't considering that your motivation is to make your ideas get greater traction. Making full-text feeds is easier for people who like reading blogs in one place.

    UPDATE: Jay emails in to say that he does have a full-text feed but forgot to announce it to everyone.

    Not Everyone Should Blog

    Bill Hobbs, who along with Robert Cox, is doing yeoman's work putting together the BlogNashville conference I'll be attending the first week of May, has some admirable hopes for blogging in his homestate of Tennessee including one that probably goes to far:
    If my dream for the Tennessee blogosphere was were realized, every elected official in Tennessee above the rank of constable would blog, and every last one of them would be watch-dogged by at least two bloggers.
    I'm as much of a blog proponent as the next web writer, but if Hobbes's dream were realized, I wonder how things would get done in Tennessee. And what value to the citizenry is gained if every state senator and representative copies and pastes his talking points up on the web? And who would read the things anyway? Most people don't care much at all about local government. Would blogging really make them care?

    I think citizens would be better served by blogs run by the various parties and interest groups rather than by the government, because part of being a true blogger is to be a watchdog. I'd feel the same if government officials started printing out newspapers for the public.

    Chinese Vaporware? has an interesting article up about a new Unix distribution called Kylin which the Chinese government claims to be producing. With a featureset like "Mach-like" kernel, Linux binary compatibility, and the ability to run KDE and GNOME, it sounds interesting. I was somewhat doubtful after reading all the material that this project is for real (especially since the download page doesn't seem to work). An OSNews reader also points to this 2002 article in which the Chinese government claimed to be working on a copy of Windows 98.

    Until I actually see some binaries or source, count me as a skeptic on this one.

    Sunday, April 24, 2005

    Nuclear Backfire

    The art of persuasion has always depended, to some degree, on phraseology. In truth, what you call a thing makes no difference to someone who actually has taken the time to hear all the sides of a dispute. Most people don't, though which is why the art of politics consists in selling things to people who aren't paying attention. This requires smart language.

    Speaking of that, in the current battle over what to call the Republican idea to break the Democratic threat to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees, Josh Marshall and his readers discovered (via LexisNexis I'm sure) that it was Republican Sen. Trent Lott who actually coined the phrase "nuclear option" as bit of tough insider rhetoric. Now, Democrats have adopted "nuclear option" as their own term while Republicans are starting to use a new phrase, "constitutional option." Talk about having to eat your words.

    Marshall howls that Republican pressmeisters are trying to put the kibosh on the media's usage of "nuclear option" as a term of art to describe ending the filibuster. If I were editing big media's capitol reports, I would ban shorthand usage of both terms since they are nondescriptive and politically charged.

    Matt Yglesias thinks either side could win a judicial battle, which is a reasonable supposition in my opinion. Given that Democrats have a sound advantage in the correspondent corps, that should give them somewhat of an edge in the battle for the public mind in the event of a government shutdown (it was the real reason the "Gingrich who stole Christmas" Republicans lost to then-pres. Clinton during the shutdowns in those years)

    All of this assumes, however, that people actually will care about an intra-congressional battle. In the end, a filibuster fight will mainly serve to motivate each party's base, which will likely cause some trouble for Republican senators in Democratic states and vice versa. This makes me wonder if both parties' Senate leaderships won't work out some sort of semi-compromise given that now is a little early to have base rallying do any good. But then again, this could be part of the trend toward the permanent campaign in a congressional setting.

    One thing I think is pretty certain, though: however the filibuster fight plays out will set the tone for the Bush admin's relations with Congress for the next couple of years

    Single Greek Female Seeks Rathole

    Apparently, Arianna Huffington, the unintentionally amusing former California gubernatorial candidate, really is serious about launching her new blog site which she hopes will be a competitor of the Drudge Report.

    Gawker (which is run by rival blog entrepreneur Nick Denton and has ridiculed the venture since its initial announcement) reprints an email it says Huffington sent out claiming a launch date of next month.

    Reading this article in the NYT, I'm not quite sure why anyone would want to read her site. True, there are some interesting names in the list of promised contributors (Gary Hart, Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer, Mort Zuckerman, Tony Blankley, David Frum, etc.), but I'm not quite sure any of these people will be willing to fit within the form, particularly the older folks like Cronkite and Schlesinger who probably use a computer little, if at all.

    Also, is it just me or does this whole venture sort of seem like a remake? Back in the early days of the mag, David Talbot et al. tried to make a splash by hiring the likes of Sydney Blumenthal, Camille Paglia, David Horowitz, and Garrison Keillor and then distributing this expensive content online for nothing. It didn't work out so well. Except for Blumenthal, none of these people is left at Salon. (Incidentally, Huffington herself is on retainer there as a columnist.)

    Unless Huffington's stable of contributors is willing to work at low cost, an unlikely prospect, I don't see how this venture is going to be successful: it's got a big payroll full of prima donnas, being run by people (including former Drudge staffer Andrew Breitbart) who don't seem to understand blogs, and it's got a lame moniker: The Huffington Post.

    Two Reasons to Use KDE

    There probably is a Windows equivalent of it somewhere (shareware more than likely) but one of my favorite features of Unix is the handy little program on the KDE desktop called Klipper that keeps a history of the items you've recently copied onto the system clipboard. Just click on the icon and you can recall the most recent (I use 20) things, allowing you to switch back and forth between them.

    There is a GNOME application (GCM) of similar functionality but I don't find it very stable. I've also found the MS Office Clipboard tool interesting but ultimately not very useful since you can't use it with non-Office programs

    Another feature of KDE I really miss when using some other desktop environment is the ability to pick a program from the Alt+Tab tasklist and switch to it instantly. This is very useful when you have a whole bunch of programs running. Apple copied this feature and prettified it (making it more time-wasting in the process) into its Exposé feature.

    Click thumbnail for larger image:

    Cool Computer Wallpapers

    For some reason, until today I had never heard of Pixelgirl Presents, a web site where you can download some very attractive artwork for your computer.

    Saturday, April 23, 2005

    What Dialect Do You Speak?

    You know how everyone sometimes wishes that they'd chosen a different career sometimes? Well for me, when I get sick of all the computer stuff, I sometimes wish I'd gone into linguistics instead of media and technology.

    At any rate, I'm currently reviewing the latest version of Libranet Linux and in the course of doing so, I loaded up one of its included RSS readers and stumbled (via ChangeLog) on a fun little survey that tries to determine what American dialect you speak.

    They don't seem to make any claims of accuracy, although I think it pegged my speaking style fairly well as "General American English" considering that I grew up in basically every region of the country except the west coast. Any of my handful of readers care to share your results?

    Your Linguistic Profile:

    65% General American English

    20% Yankee

    10% Upper Midwestern

    5% Dixie

    0% Midwestern

    GM's Troubles

    It seems like every few years, one of the major American car manufacturing companies have been hit by earnings troubles. This year, it's GM's turn.

    The company needs major changes to its business model in order to survive. Here's my list:

    • Discard superfluous brands (Buick, GMC, Pontiac) that were useful back when Americans didn't have a lot of auto brand choices.

    • Relocate manufacturing to the south and western US, away from overpriced union shops. I think unions do good work ensuring that workers aren't abused, but they can be just as greedy as the companies for whom they work. No one deserves $60,000 a year to mop the floor.

    • Target young people better. Who made the dumb decision to kill off the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am in 2003 without any kind of replacement until 2006's GTO? The pitiful Pontiac Aztec and ghastly Chevy Aveo are perfect examples of how to build a car that won't appeal to anyone. And how about building more than one convertible that costs less than $50k (the just-released 2006 Pontiac Solstice finally put GM into the low-end convertible market)?

    • Stop ignoring the compact and midsize sedan markets. People want a choices in this area. Now that gas prices seem likely to stay above $2/gallon for the long-term, GM and Ford are feeling the pinch along with the American consumer.

    • Upper-middle-class people are more likely to buy new cars, and yet, GM does not court this large group of consumers with much beyond SUVs. Instead, this crowd is turning to the sporty Mazda 6 and lower-priced offerings from BMW, Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti.

    • Improve your quality. Yes, it's easier for people to buy parts and service for American vehicles, but this should not be an excuse for poor quality control. The formerly reviled Hyundai is a perfect example of how an improved commitment to reliability can boost sales and improve consumer confidence in the brand. It's gone from being perceived as the rival of Yugo, to tying with Honda as the most trusted car brand.

    • Bring more distinction to your brands. Chevrolet should be the flagship which mostly targets middle-aged men and economy buyers, Saturn should look to the young buyer, Cadillac should improve its vehicle performance, and Pontiac should produce only sports cars (if any at all).

    • One more: spin off Saab and Saturn. They're distinct enough brands to be able to survive on their own. Free them from the big conglomerate.

    Others' thoughts on GM:
    Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes, Rand Simberg, Adfunk Auto, Glenn Reynolds, Blog for America.

    News items:

    Friday, April 22, 2005

    Newspapers ≠ Print

    In an otherwise good post over at the Media Drop, Tom Biro declares, "Print is dead to the (young) world. News, however, is not."

    So magazines are dead, too? I think not. The era of the mass-circulation daily or weekly is arguably over, but I'm not sure that can be said for the niche publication.

    As much as I like getting my news through the computer or phone, there's still something about holding a finely printed book or magazine that you just can't duplicate with a meager display quality of a handheld or laptop computer which cannot even render smooth text without resorting to cheating. Print news companies can survive if they can figure out a way to combine the interactivity and choice of computer-delivered news with the comfort and readability of print.

    Print, as we know it, is destined for death, though I think it has the capability to reemerge in a different-but-similar form.

    Blog Unease with 'Connected'

    For its new show, "Connected Coast to Coast," MSNBC is having various bloggers do webcasts to report what different blogs are saying about things. I've never liked the feature because, essentially, it's not that different from reading aloud the most recent editorials from a few major newspapers.

    Dave Weinberger, who had been a blogger involved in the MNSBC segments, says he feels uncomfortable doing them:
    They want reports on what moderate left and right wing bloggers — "Nothing out of the mainstream," the producer told me yesterday — say about a "major" topic. What the hell does that have to do with blogging? And when two of the producers yesterday independently suggested that I report on the blogosphere's reaction to a Vietnam veteran spitting on Jane Fonda, I blurted out — because the flu had lowered my normal Walls of Timidity — that this wasn't a job I'm comfortable with.

    What makes the blogosphere interesting to me is not that there are moderate left and right voices talking about mainstream topics. Mainstream major stories are about issues such as freakish celebrity pedophiles, a spit match over a fight from 30 years ago that the press is hoping to revive, and whatever unfortunate child has been reported missing and presumed (better for the story) murdered. I'm in the blogosphere to escape from this degradation of values.
    Ed Cone, who has also done a few blog report segments as well, says while he is going to continue doing them, he also has some problems with the format.
    The rigid format did bite me this week, when they told me I couldn't talk about blog reactions to anti-Semitism at the Air Force Academy because there weren't two sides of the story presented (in an earlier show, they went with my suggestion to cover bipartisan blasting of Senator Cornyn's threatening remarks about judges). In this case, I argued that it was one of the most interesting blog topics of the day, and that I wasn't interested in presenting a pro-anti-Semitism POV if I found one (not they suggested I do so), but to no avail. I lose fights with editors all the time; this week's example struck me as limiting the quality of our product, but not as a hill to die for.

    That said, like David, I've been doing this for free (they did buy me a web cam and headset). The experience has been worth it, but I can't see continuing to do it on a frequent basis for nothing.
    I've been somewhat disappointed that "Connected" seems to be turning into a regular daytime cable talk show instead of the more innovative approach it started to have. The problem seems to be that the show's producers don't realize that simply saying the word blog a lot (or even a little) and reading emails isn't going to get people to tune in. You have to do something different.

    Yes, it's true that Fox News Channel has found success by reaching out to the conservative viewer (who do constitute the plurality of cable news watchers), but it's also been successful because it was willing to try new things and new people. After starting out promising on that account, "Connected" has fizzled somewhat, reverting to the old forms of "interactive" integration: reading viewer email, doing webcams, and quoting text. No one wants to see that stuff because it's both old hat (who really wants to see a webcam on TV when we can get just as good of a picture quality with a videophone from the Himalayan mountains?), and because it's not very interesting.

    Blogs work because they provoke conversation in real time. Taking that conversation and freezing it for later presentation on TV loses the meaning of the medium. The only way blogging's power can be harnessed is through integrating the people who do it with the people they talk about and critique.

    UPDATE: Weinberger's post I quoted above (here's the link again) provoked quite a bit of debate in the comments of the entry. Jeff Jarvis, who has decided along with Ed Cone to keep doing blog summaries, defended himself at his site, saying that "Blogs don't need mainstream media. Mainstream media needs blogs."

    I posted a response over at David's site (unfortunately he has no comment permalinks so you'll have to scroll a bit) but after thinking about it a bit more, I came to the conclusion that Jeff and I disagree somewhat less than I initially stated. When he said the media needs blogs, he meant that they need to learn from them.

    I sent this note to Jeff moments ago:

    After rereading your media-needs-blogs response, I came to the conclusion that we disagree less than I initially assumed. I realized then (and was later confirmed by reading your email clarification) that when you said the "media needs blogs," you meant they need to copy aspects of the blogger ethos. So essentially on that point we were saying the same thing.

    I'll amend my argument to say that systematically, the established media needs to learn from blogs, but they don't really need them to increase their marketshare. Blogs, meanwhile, definitely need the establishment media to provide facts, but also to help provide an ideal (which almost no big journalism outfit regularly meets) of depth and fairness.

    What worries me about the "Connected" segments (and the ones on CNN's "Inside Politics" as well) is that they seem to be more about marketing than about truly integrating the principles of approachability and dialogue into their overall operations.

    Instead, they seem to be more designed (at least from what I've seen from watching and from having been on them) to attract interest to shows that needs a ratings boost. If the shows don't end up making inroads against their FNC competition, I hope that won't poison the well against learning from blogs.

    I think the Larry Kudlow (the CNBC host of "Kudlow and Company" who has a blog of his own and regularly invites them on his show) approach to blog integration is ultimately more interesting and true to the blogger ethos of lively debate between the big and small media than just summarizing what people are saying. As someone who reads blogs very often and integrates them into public relations strategies for a living, I don't like summary segments. Imagine what a person who isn't obsessed with blogs thinks of them.

    Thursday, April 21, 2005

    Toward Unified Computing

    With the launch of its new user tracking search service, Google is moving another step toward the holy grail of the next generation of the internet: unified computing.

    Unified computing was first introduced as a concept in the world of local area networks (LANs) and Wide Area Networks (WANs). It allowed people to maintain the same documents and system settings no matter what computer on the network they were using.

    The next step in this process is to integrate the LAN with the Web. With more and more people acquiring second, third, and even fourth computers, people need a way to synchronize their data, especially if they can't always be connected to their home or office networks. That's where unified computing comes in. The first company to devise a way to integrate documents, emails, spreadsheets, media, passwords, bookmarks, and user settings into a system that can be accessed through local applications or the web will make a killing.

    In the past (up to a few months) ago, there was a lot of buzz in the tech world about the "portal wars" between Yahoo, MSN, Excite, and a few others. The rise of Google and the solidification of Yahoo and MSN's business ended those wars. Excite and other sites like Webcrawler, Lycos, and Altavista were the biggest casualties. As big as the portal wars were compared to the earlier browser battle between Microsoft and Netscape, the battle for unified computing will be even bigger.

    Google and Microsoft will certainly be competitors in this war for the user space, but there will be others as well. The next few years should be pretty interesting.

    Why Europeans and Americans Differ on Religion

    Anne Applebaum, one of my favorite columnists, had an interesting piece yesterday I meant to blog on but didn't get around to it. The headline is poorly chosen (especially online where the Washington Post's print-driven elipses headlines make absolutely no sense), but the writing is quite good. She argues most of the differences between the US and Europe are religious rather than political and attributes much of this to the idea that Europeans (or at least their elites) believe the extermination of Jewish people in WWII was a product of Christianity.

    There's truth in that, but I think the main reason our attitudes differ so much from theirs stems from the fact that while America and USSR dominated Europe politically after the war ended, it was France that shaped the European cultural and intellectual environment more than the decaying British Empire or the disunited and war-torn Germany. (All the countries were either too small physically or economically to make a real cultural impact.) Simply by its virtue of being on the winning side, France resumed its prior role, one it had not played in decades, as the intellectual eminence of Europe.

    To a large degree, I believe this French intellectual dominance set the tone for Europe in the area of religion. France has been the most secular country in Europe since its first revolution or even before that. It's only natural that since many other European states had similar corrupt religiopolitical regimes that this resentment would spread. Thanks to our constitutional structure, we've never had such problems, and by extension, such resentments.

    Not coming from our democratic tradition, Europeans interpret common presidential utterances like "God bless America" through a metafilter of Richlieu and Henry VIII. Will this change? That's hard to say. Applebaum, who covered Europe for years for the Post, thinks it might through a combination of a Western European pope and an influx of Muslim immigrants into the region. I'm doubtful, however. Decades of cultural history are harder to reverse than political history.

    Big Media's Favorite Fallacy

    Leonard Downie Jr., the Washington Post's executive editor gave a speech (warning link probably won't work very long) Tuesday in which he said "don't bet on" large media becoming irrelevant to the national dialogue. I'm inclined to agree with that sentiment, but there are quite a few things in the speech that bugged me. I'll write about a few more of them when I get back from court (more on that later, too).

    The most immediate rhetorical error in Downie's speech is his adoption of a fallacy that is commonly advanced by many professional writers and editors: our critics did or believe this stupid thing, therefore, their criticism is irrelevant. This is a perfectly illogical but it also happens to be a distortion as well. Quoting Downie:

    As Washington Post journalist Dana Milbank wrote recently, "outlets once seen as alternative have become a new mainstream media. Conservatives tune in to Rush Limbaugh (who has 20 million weekly listeners) or Sean Hannity (who has 12 millions) and log on to the Drudge Report (which claims 10 million daily visitors on the Internet). Liberals opt for the late-night commentary of Jon Stewart, Web sites such as Salon and Daily Kos, and films of Michael Moore. Those on either side can scan the Google’s news headlines and click on those that fit their worldview."

    It should not be surprising, as a result, that a majority of the Bush voters in the last election still believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and close ties to al Qaeda, while many who voted against him are convinced that he was coached during the presidential debates via a transmitter that made a bulge in the back of his suit jacket.

    Not satisfied with these opinionated alternative media choices, activists on the both the right and the left have been putting increasing pressure on the mainstream news media to slant the news toward their point of view. When that does not happen, these activists then attack the news media as being biased.

    Critics on the right have charged that the coverage of the war in Iraq was mostly negative, for example. But a comprehensive study for the Project for Excellent in Journalism of coverage of the war by 16 daily newspapers, the morning and evening news shows on the four major television networks, 9 different cable news shows and 9 different Web sites showed that the majority of the war coverage was either neutral or positive.

    Critics on the left, meanwhile, have charged that the mainstream news media let President Bush off easy during the 2004 election campaign. But studies showed that the coverage by major newspapers and television networks was, in fact, somewhat tougher on Bush than on John Kerry, which should be expected when a President is seeking a second term and the election is something of a referendum on his record in office.

    Unfortunately, though, most of these arguments are canards. Yes, it's true, there were a few people in the media who kept saying the American-led coalition was going to lose the initial war, but by and large, most of the coverage was pretty free from that type of poor analysis. In fact, had Downie bothered to do some research on this point, he'd have noticed that back in April of 2003, the Media Research Center gave only one national news anchor out of eight a grade of F. The rest got As and Bs.

    And really, how many liberals are there out there who really believe that President Bush had a prompt box in his suit during the first debate? I think there was some base-manipulating rhetoric to that effect but no sane person seriously believes in the Bush box.

    As for Downie's third point, he is correct that Bush came off worse in media coverage than Senator Kerry. He attributes this to the fact that Bush was running for reelection. That's only partly true. I will be updating this post when I get some time to reflect that.

    Further Adventures in Freebie Blogging

    After signing up for a Blogthing account, I discovered that the FTP access they say you can get doesn't work. Since they don't have any decent default Wordpress themes (at least I can customize my template entirely here on Blogspot) I don't think I'll be using their service.

    I'm starting to wonder how long I will be able to maintain a free blog without becoming too frustrated with all the restrictions.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    XML Feed Available

    How the other half lives. Blogger doesn't even provide a built-in syndication module into its default templates. I figured trying my hand at freebie-blogging would be restricting compared to the self-hosted stuff that I'm used to, but this is borderline ridiculous.

    Thankfully, there are plenty of companies like Feedburner out there that are willing to compensate for Google's laziness. The icon is at the bottom of the sidebar now.

    Should I even be wasting my time with Blogger, though? I poked around the web and found a site called Blogthing that offers a free WordPress installation. Should I move in over there (with its dumb-sounding domain name) or continue to slog it out with Blogger? Decisions. Decisions.

    Opinion in TV News

    On his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh said that he was approached by a cable tv news exec asking for advice on what he would do to "fix a cable network." He didn't mention which network, but that is interesting to see he was being solicited. In talking with people who work at CNN and MSNBC, I can say that this is a subject that they've spent hours wondering about.

    Everyone knows that FNC well because it fulfilled an unmet need, but it also gets eyeballs is because its hosts project an aura of likeability (even O'Reilly in his own way) but they also don't take prisoners which makes them more entertaining, which is, after all, the main reason why people watch TV in the first place.

    Related to this is an op-ed in today's NYT from my old favorite Don Hewitt, formerly of CBS, in which he says that broadcast news needs to have more labeled opinion pieces in it. He's right on the money. No one wants to watch slightly toned-down opinion pieces that talk down to them and imply that opposing policy X is the equivalent of eating your veggies. It's crap and no one under 40 wants to watch it, especially since most people think TV on-air people are airheads.

    Of course, any such effort in order to be successful needs to be both interesting and have opposing points of view. In the past, CBS tried boring balance (Remember those Clinton v. Dole segments on "60?" Neither do I.), and bombasticism (Bill Moyers). Neither went very well with the viewers. What such segments would entail would be to get people like Mark Steyn or James Wolcott to come on in solo commentaries without the dog-and-pony show "debates."