Archives for July 2002
I love reading Holman W. Jenkins Jr.’s Wall Street Journal column for its insights into how business leaders think. Not for Jenkins is the conciliatory, “let’s look at things from the other side’s point of view” approach of his colleague Al Hunt, the Journal’s token near-liberal. Jenkins provides the unvarnished master-of-the-universe capitalist perspective — you can practically hear the squeak of the armchair leather, the chomp of the cigar. This, say his columns, is the way the world works. (Interestingly, Jenkins’ bio suggests he has spent his entire career in journalism and has no business experience.)
Today Jenkins reviews the business careers of our president and vice president and exonerates them of any wrongdoing. So what if Bush benefited from some sweetheart transactions? So what if Cheney sold Halliburton high before asbestos laid it low? They’re businessmen, dammit — this is what they do!
Look, you government-handout-seeking lefties: “Mr. Cheney was hired to open doors… Not to belabor the obvious, but a big part of Mr. Bush’s value to partners and investors was his political visibility too.” What are you, an idiot? Of course businesses hire politicians because of who they know!
Such honesty is disarming. Strangely, though, in Jenkins’ analysis, the moment Bush and Cheney got elected, everything changed: “Only a moron suspects Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney went to the trouble to become president and vice president to throw bones to business cronies.”
In other words, when out of office, Bush and Cheney got paid the big bucks to win friends and influence people, because they were so well-connected; but once they took office, they suddenly cast off all ties to their “cronies” and were transformed into even-handed public citizens.
Permit me to be moronic, then, for a moment: Maybe Bush and Cheney did not become president and vice president solely to “throw bones to cronies”; maybe they got elected with the help of those cronies’ cash and intend to repay the help with far more than bones. Maybe the “you wash my hands, I’ll wash yours” deals that made Bush his fortune as a private citizen bear a striking resemblance to the “you wash our hands, we’ll wash yours” relationship his administration has maintained with its friends in business. Maybe it’s the way the world works that’s moronic.
Last winter the economics establishment reviewed its numbers and declared that we’d entered a “light” recession in 2001 but that it was so brief — only one quarter of actual “negative growth” (economist-speak for “decline”) — that it didn’t even technically qualify as a recession (two consecutive quarters of “negative growth”). This came as heartening news to the legions of laid-off workers, who could at least console themselves with the knowledge that the Bush administration was planning to bank some of their Social Security money in the collapsing stock market.
Now it turns out that the economy actually shrank for the first three quarters of 2001 (most of which predated the 9/11 disaster). Yes, Virginia, there was a Bush recession. For much of the U.S., there still is.
Our media class has a hard time focusing on more than one subject at a time. Keith Olbermann’s latest column suggests that the media’s (and political elite’s) mad quest to convict Bill Clinton of adultery helped push more important topics — like our vulnerability to terrorist attack — off the national agenda. It’s a great piece: “Ann Coulter didn’t cause Sept. 11… But with hindsight one has to ask why the prospect of a country unprepared for terrorism wasn’t a sexy enough topic for her and the others to use to pound Clinton and the Democrats.” Remember, during Monicamania, any time the Clinton administration decided to do anything in the international sphere — like firing missiles at bin Laden’s Afghanistan training camp — it was accused of pulling a “Wag the Dog” stunt to divert the national dialogue from the more pressing matter of the presidential genitalia.
Howard Kurtz says bloggers help keep big media honest by exposing errors and analyzing bias. I agree: ” To lazy reporters, the world of blogs represents their worst nightmare: It’s an endless parade of experts in every conceivable subject they might write about, all equipped with Internet-style megaphones ready to pounce on errors.”
Trouble is, every time someone points this out, many journalists — instead of welcoming the chance to improve their profession — get defensive and think that their paychecks are being jeopardized. This us vs. them mentality gets us nowhere.
Here’s my take, from May 1999:
|The emergence of weblogs doesn’t eclipse the importance of timely news and entertainment on the Web — if anything, it enhances the value of such original content. Mostly, it’s a sign that we’re only beginning to discover the best tools and strategies for helping Web users cope with the vast media terrain we all now inhabit. The webloggers have found a new and fertile niche in the Web’s information ecology. They’re fulfilling the predictions by Internet visionaries of the rise of a new breed of personal journalism online — only instead of pounding the physical pavement, they forage for news on the Net itself.|
|Morgan Sandquist, in Gnosis, finds an “almost Shakespearian tone of irony” in the Arcata Eye’s police log. Like vast numbers of other people in the blogosphere Morgan is also reading this diary of a porn store clerk, which apparently was featured recently on This American Life.|
|The word sounds wonderful — like some sort of hot-rodded “Mad Max” machine skittering just at the edge of your field of vision — but I can’t say I had any idea what a “scramjet” was till just now. Thanks to David Harris’s science-news blog, I’m learning: “Scramjets are oxygen-breathing engines that work at hypersonic speeds, giving off water as the only by-product and only needing some hydrogen to run.” …And it seems they’ve just tested one in Australia successfully — or at least more successfully than in the past, when the things exploded.|
|Dave Cullen’s dueling-leads poll has a winner.|
|Michael Bishop is blogging about comics in Words and Pictures Weblog.|
Joe, of the People are Stupid blog, posted the entire text of Kafka’s grim “Parable of the Doorkeeper.” Today, he reports a “Kafkaesque experience”: he got laid off from a technology startup. Life imitates blog?
Salon Blogs is a week old. Several hundred people have downloaded and installed the software. We had some slow patches with the server the first few days but we think those are a thing of the past (let me know if they’re not).
I’ve seen some posts out there in blogland critical of the fact that Salon is charging for this service. I make no apology for that. As we acknowledge in our FAQ, we know there are plenty of free alternatives out there, and that’s just fine — the Net’s a big place and there’s room for lots of different approaches. But hosting and maintaining a service costs money, and in these post-bubble times it seems reasonable to ask users for a modest fee in return for good service and good software.
I’ve also seen some questions raised about Salon’s viability. Well, we made our latest financing announcement yesterday. Certainly this has been a difficult business in the current downturn. But in the past, everyone who’s bet against our survival has lost. People asked us the same kind of question a year and a half ago when we launched Salon Premium; most of those people have stuck around to renew their subscriptions after the first year.
Wozz offers tips on finding “open source music” — artists who follow the old Grateful Dead model of allowing fans to tape and trade recordings of live shows.
|You’ve probably read about the new bankruptcy bill that Congress is this close to passing — it makes it tougher for consumers to declare bankruptcy and wipe out their credit-card debts. The credit card companies are wildly in favor of this, of course (I’d have more sympathy for them if they didn’t so avidly market high-interest cards to people with marginal credit histories). The bill has now gotten tangled up in crossfire between factions in the abortion wars. The Bush Impeachment Countdown has an intriguing Machiavellian explanation for what’s happening.|
In tonight’s Salon cover story, Farhad Manjoo surveys the sorry state of the online music world. Much of the file-trading world has been hobbled by the RIAA’s legal assault, yet the music industry has not stepped forward with an alternative that makes sense.
In its prime, Audiogalaxy was beautiful, even better than Napster — it allowed us to hunt for an obscurity even when the people who had the track weren’t currently online, then download it once they reconnected. I used Audiogalaxy to fill out the odd corners of my library with live recordings and rarities; every artist whose work I downloaded and kept was one whose entire recorded commercial oeuvre I’ve already paid for in CD form.
My demographic profile may not be exactly what the record companies are after (I’m 43), but I’ve probably spent $1000 a year on music for the last decade or so; it’s my biggest personal-entertainment expense by far. My music purchases soared during the heyday of Napster and Audiogalaxy, when I could easily sample new bands and new work; in recent months my purchases have tapered off. If the music industry wants to know where its sales have gone, there’s one clue.
In the meantime, anyone who’s looking for an online music service that offers variety and depth and doesn’t try to control your behavior or limit how you can listen to the music you pay for, I recommend EMusic. For $10 a month you get unlimited access to their catalog. No, they don’t have the major labels’ hot hits. But they have enough interesting stuff to keep the alternative/indie fan happy for months — like vast quantities of Guided by Voices, They Might Be Giants, Yo La Tengo and Pavement — plus oldies, jazz and other eclectica.((Full disclosure: EMusic has worked with Salon on the music mixes we offer our Premium subscribers. I’m not involved with that — and I gladly pay the company for its service.)
No sooner does the news break that Bertelsmann boss Thomas Middelhoff has lost his job than we hear that he is mulling over a job offer from AOL Time Warner. Next: Will departed AOL honcho Robert Pittman be signed by Vivendi, which recently ousted its leader, Jean-Marie Messier? Will Messier, overcoming centuries of Franco-German rivalry, consider an offer from Bertelsmann? When the music stops, will any of these men — who know more about marketing and hype than about media, new or old — be out of a job? Maybe it’s time for some new blood at the top of these companies, since the folks who have run them for the last several years made such a colossal mess.