Posts from March 2002

What, me buy?: I don’t

What, me buy?
: I don’t know why this amuses and amazes me, but the Lands’ End catalogue we just got stars Alfred E. Newman on the cover, in a polo shirt.

The Dennys test
: I agree with Professor Instant about the nondebate over steel:

…try this experiment in comparative interest: go out on the street, buttonhole the first five people you see, and demand to know “Where’s the outrage on steel tariffs? Steel tariffs, man! Steel tariffs!” Watch their blank looks turn to caution, then hostility. Then be polite to the nice men when they come for you. There’s more interest in steel tariffs in the Blogosphere than outside it. Trust me.

Nick Denton is trying to shame us — and not without virtuous reason — into talking steel and free trade and protectionism and globalization and foreign policy and fairness and all that in blogdom. But with all due respect to my blog mentor (here’s Luke rebelling against Yoda), that’s big, old mediathink. Newspaper and magazine editors like to tell you what you should know and what you should think about (if not think). But the truth is, the people think and talk about what they want to think and talk about. Just go to a Dennys and listen to The People talking about last night’s Sex and the City or sex or their kids or jobs or dogs or whatever. You’ll not often hear them talking about politics. And that’s their right. I’ve often said that the Web — and blogdom — are like a booth at Dennys. We talk about what we want to talk about.

: Matthew Yglesias sides with Denton.

: Ted Barlow sides with Layne.

Note that we’re not actually arguing about steel. We’re arguing about not arguing about steel.

IM bomb
: But Denton is the master of the last word. Last night, when I chose to side with Layne in the nondebate over steel, saying that I prefered to post on Howard Stern, man of the masses that I am, Denton waited until the dead of night, when he knew I would be snoring, old man that I am, and he opened up an IM session on me so his comment would stay on my screen all night, unchallenged, his deft cut just two last words:

“gossip columnist”

What he said: Nick Denton

What he said
: Nick Denton and Ken Layne are sniping at each other over steel and whether they should be writing about it. Steel as in tarriffs, as in protective trade, as in antiglobalization, as in good neighborliness, and all that. I have to side with Layne on this one, for it was Denton himself — my blog mentor — who taught me that we shouldn’t all be piling on the same subject all the time. Layne says that others, like ex-Economist Denton, will have more intelligent things to say about steel and so those with something to say should say it. I’m going to keep commenting on Howard Stern. I’m a man of the masses.

On
: Nick Denton says the Towers of Light memorial should not be turned off after a month. I agree and I think New York may become attached to the light. By the way, hope for a foggy, wet, polluted day on Monday for then the light will be far more visible.

The latest heroes
: I was struck last night watching the mother and sister of one of the soldiers who just died fighting in Afghanistan and and the parents of another. I was struck by this hard reminder of war’s price. They were stoic and proud; they knew the risks and so did their sons; they took the blow for all of us. But nothing can salve the pain for these families anymore than it could for the 3,000 families of 9.11. And we should not lose sight of that pain as we contemplate the continuing war in Afghanistan and the spreading war we may need to fight against other terrorist havens. I’m not losing my nerve or resolve or trying to go back into the pacifist closet. But I am saying that it is wise and necessary to take our time and to do this when necessary and to do this wisely. The chorus of hawks screeching for Iraqi blood may be right but they should give their man George the room he needs to assure victory. It’s a little too easy for us to sit at connected keyboards and call the bombing strikes because we have not seen much pain this time; there has been, thankfully, less of it than in past wars. In Vietnam, we saw the blood and terror on TV over dinner; we knew the dead and their families, there were so many; we had good reason to doubt whether this was necessary or wise. Here, we don’t see any of that. But war is still war. It’s about killing. It’s about dying. It’s about loss. It’s not a computer game.

I was here
: My friend and colleague Janice Abrahams points me to Earthcam’s WTC camera, which happens to be aimed at just the spot where I stopped and stood after I ran out of the World Trade Center and watched the horror, the spot where I was standing when the second jet hit the second tower. Here you see the Century 21 department store (just reopened) on the left; the hotel is just out of sight on the right; across the street to the right was WTC 5, straight ahead was WTC 1. Now it is a hole.

Nosybodies
: This does not make me feel safe. Now Ashcroft is enlisting neighborhood watch groups to keep an eye out for terrorists. And while they’re at it, they can rat on people who water their lawns during our drought.

Howard update
: Howard spoke with Drudge this morning about his report (below) that Howard’s Mel the K’s favorite to replace Letterman if he dons the Disney ears. Howard said he would take the job. He also says that Letterman is staying. My assumption is that Howard is doing Mel the favor of putting the pincer on Dave, letting him know that they would/could let him go and put Howard in the slot. Advertiser problems? “For $30 million, you’d behave,” said Robin.

Howard Power, cont.
: Ken Goldstein at the Donkey continues my riff about Howard Stern’s power via Justin Slotman.Goldstein confesses to Howard fandom:

The show has a raw honesty completely unheard of in any form of media, and it’s incredibly refreshing. Second, the sense that at least for the hour morning commute, before spending another day doing other people’s bidding, it’s okay to not have to feel so bad and guilty about things, especially about instinctual emotions or reactions. It’s a private thing, I think, at least for most people. You’re in your car, alone, nobody to tsk-tsk you, so go ahead and laugh! It’s all right!

I am unashamed to say that I am a Howard fan. I’ve said so in print and on TV and here on the Web.

Jersey Power!
: I note that both gentleman above are from New Jersey. So is Andrew Hofer. I think it’s time to start organizing the Jersey Blogfest. Ba da bing.

Link Power
: I’m glad to see Amy Langfield and Reid Stott quoting Rossi; glad to see her fan club growing.

Instapundites, click here: Looking for

Instapundites, click here
: Looking for David Brenner’s rant on airport security, as recommended by Instapundit, click here. (By the way, I have found traffic heaven: Getting mentioned in Instapundit just before the professor leaves for the day, thus my link is not buried under his usual two tons of links per hour and my traffic stays high. It feels like popularity.)

Pen v. pen
: Jim Treacher gives us a cartoon lampoon of Ted Rall’s obnoxious terror widows cartoon that was pulled from the NY Times for being obnoxious.

: Protein Wisdom gives us another here.

Howard shifts
: Drudge reports that CBS is considering putting Howard Stern into David Letterman’s slot if he jumps to ABC. Not sure I buy it. Not sure there is room for three such shows and Stern knows he’d be the new kid. Yes, he is beloved of CBS Viacom boss Mel Karmazin and he has cooled his feud with CBS TV chief Les Moonves (because they have a prime time series in development together). Yes, Stern said the other day that if they gave him $20 million, he’d do it. But the odds are that Dave will stay at CBS and I don’t see Stern working for Disney. An amusing concept, but far-fetched.

9.11 tape
: Caryn James in the NY Times has a powerful review — and defense — of the 9.11 show on CBS this Sunday.

It feels like you’re being buried alive. You’re on the ground, gray ash falling everywhere, as if it were being shoveled over you, and you can hear debris rattling on a car overhead, dropping like hail. From the perspective of Jules Naudet’s camera, you have run on the street after escaping from the lobby of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center just six or eight minutes before it would collapse. When it does, you are pushed to the ground, and soon everything gets dark. Then a piece of paper flutters in front of the camera lens. A voice yells, “Let’s go before the car blows up.”

Although it has been only six months since the World Trade Center was attacked, already it seems as if we can’t be shocked by those events anymore. But this extraordinary piece of film, to be shown in a two-hour special called “9/11″ on CBS (Sunday night at 9), has such immediacy that it brings back how unimaginable the events of that day once seemed. An important, firsthand piece of history, the program is also amazing to watch….

You may still find it impossible to take your eyes away for a second….

James defends the show against idiotic attacks by those who say we’re too fragile to watch this and who argue that CBS shouldn’t show the harsh reality. I cannot abide attacks on shows by people who have not seen those shows; it happens all the time. These preemptive strikes are wrong-headed because they are uninformed and they are insulting to the audience; these attackers assume the authority to protect us from something they have not even seen. The critic’s defense:

There is nothing here that shouldn’t be shown and much that is immensely moving. The minor flap surrounding the film is appalling, and an extreme example came yesterday morning on the Fox News Channel when the anchor, Jon Scott, delivered loaded questions to Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who said some victims’ families were concerned about the “graphic depiction” of deaths on screen.

Well, there are no such depictions. Mr. Scott asked, “Is it irresponsible of CBS to put it on now?” but he didn’t ask if the senator had seen the film. And when Mr. Scott said the program was made by “French filmmakers” he managed to make the word “French” sound like “Al Qaeda.”…

The film is timely because it reveals how quickly even the most horrifying images of Sept. 11 have been absorbed, have come to seem ordinary: a necessary way to grasp a terrible reality but also a dangerously forgetful change….

At the news conference after the screening of “9/11″ Jules Naudet said he thought that continuing to film that day was a way of distancing himself from the horrible reality around him, reducing it, as he said, to “that little L.E.D. screen” on his camera. For us, the small screen offers the opposite: a way of moving into those terrible moments that we all lived through in vastly different ways. The film offers a way of reclaiming that experience even as it recedes into history.

Also visit the discussion on Metafilter on the topic. There are some incredibly stupid, insipid, and offensive comments (e.g., “I suppose flaming death and mass graves are not really my idea of entertainment. Truth be told, I’m getting kind of sick of ER, too.” Asswipe.)

But here is a comment supporting James’ review:

i hope that people stop with the angel pins and the flagwaving and actually confront the horror of what happened. at this six month distance, people seem to have abstracted themselves from it, and think of what happened merely as fodder for superbowl halftime. it is my hope that showing the film makes it less of an entertainment proposition rather than more.

I have faith in the intelligence of the audience. We deserve the opportunity to choose to watch this.

I need to watch this show, just as I needed to visit the Here is New York gallery and just as I needed to buy books about Sept. 11, to see others’ images of the day because, even though I was there — no, because I was there — I find it hard to grasp the memories, to convince myself that it was real, that this was not just a nightmare, that this evil took flight and flame — and that there is life after the cloud of death and darkness and destruction cleared.

It is important to remember and it is not too soon to work at it.

Letterman redux
: Mark my words: My idea to repeat David Letterman the night day in the early evening for all us aging boomers who have to get to bed will take hold. Note that ESPN is branching into entertainment to boost ratings; Letterman reruns would be a perfect addition. CBS, too, has plenty of cable networks now; Letterman reruns would be VH1′s first hit. They’re going to spend a lot of money on Dave and they’re going to get more value out of the investment by bringing in more audience. That is the way of TV today.

Nuke nightmares
: Andrew Sullivan is having nuke nightmares. Join the club! Many of us living here on the Axis of Good — the East Coast — are losing sleep. There is nothing these fanatic fascists would not do if they could. Nothing.

Rage
: Thomas Friedman in the NY Times on the roots of Muslim rage:

As a U.S. diplomat in the Middle East said to me, Israel ó not Iraq, not India ó is “a constant reminder to Muslims of their own powerlessness.” How could a tiny Jewish state amass so much military and economic power if the Islamic way of life ó not Christianity or Judaism ó is God’s most ideal religious path?….

I have long believed that it is this poverty of dignity, not a poverty of money, that is behind a lot of Muslim rage today and the reason this rage is sharpest among educated, but frustrated, Muslim youth. It is they who perpetrated 9/11 and who slit the throat of the Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl ó after reportedly forcing him to declare on film, “I am a Jew and my mother is a Jew.”

Relative
: Andrew Hofer has an compelling post on a morality play that starts on a subway and winds its way through crack dens and is really about the moral choices we are making in this war.

Sometimes we trade evils. We take chances that we can trade long term good for short term compromises, or that some short term relief is worth a chance on a more abstract moral hazard…. Sometimes we just punt….

Art
: A new Rossi Rant is up:

Yet here I am, all these months later.

I wake up every morning and look out the window to make sure The Empire State Building is still there.

I feel like crying whenever I see a firefighter.

My heart crawls into my throat at the sight of a plane descending, (they always seem to be flying too low).

When I look at any construction site I always drift back to the smoking wreck that was the WTC.

The list goes on.

So do the good things that have happened to me, hopefully, permanently.

I pet my cats more.

I say “I love you” to my family and to my friends.

I try to make sure that I am always doing something, anything for someone besides myself.

I think about Israel — a lot.

After September 11th, I went back to painting and discovered that without planning on it, or even trying, my work had changed. The colors were softer … child-friendly.

Rossi has found other artists softening. And so she has decided to produce a show to bring together artists and show how their work has changed after September 11th and to benefit artists in the process. I want to go just to meet this Rossi person, whose writing I like.

The show will be held May 3-10 at DNA Studio Gallery, 2174 3rd Ave between 118th and 119th. Details here.

Homeland idiots: Comedian David Brenner

Homeland idiots
: Comedian David Brenner just ranted on Fox News about airport security. They’re just idiots, he says. The plan to pay them more will do nothing: “Give an idiot $2 more and you have an idiot with $2.” He quoted the head of security at one airport as saying: “All computers must be tooken out of their bags. Tooken!… Let ‘em go back to asking, ‘Do you want a lid on that, do you want fries?’ ” Now when he gets pulled out of line, he pulls out a picture of the Most Wanted terrorists and says, “This is what you are looking for, not a Jew comic.”

Homeland stress
: The Wall Street Journal reports that we are undergoing a new wave of emotional stress after Sept. 11:

…in recent few weeks, calls to employee-assistance programs and private counselors in the city have started up again….

“Our reserves were used up by 9/11,” adds Ellen McGrath, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Brooklyn. She says the period of greatest danger after a traumatic incident is from the six-month anniversary to the one-year mark and beyond. “This is the season when it starts,” says Dr. McGrath, who fears an upsurge in rages, self-destructive behavior and even suicides. “The despair, the helplessness get so intense. Ö It bursts out.”

We were warned
: We were warned in 1995 that terrorists associated with bin Laden were planning to hijack jets and use them as weapons against key U.S. buildings, says Fox News. Imagine if we had listened. Imagine if we had increased airport security. Imagine if we had fortified cockpit doors. Imagine if we had paid attention at our borders. Imagine.

U.S. law-enforcement authorities knew as early as 1995 that Middle Eastern men were training at American flight schools and had discussed crashing planes into federal buildings, but did not follow up on the information, according to documents and interviews with American and Filipino authorities.

The information came to light during Filipino police questioning of Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakin Murad, the two men arrested in 1995 after a chemical fire at a Manila apartment accidentally revealed a major terror plot with ties to Usama bin Laden.

Murad and Yousef, who also had ties to the New Jersey-based group of terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, are serving life sentences in the United States for an elaborate plot to blow up a dozen U.S. trans-Pacific airliners in one day.

But secret Filipino records, as well as police and intelligence personnel in that country who spoke to the Associated Press, indicate that Murad’s intentions were even grander.

“Murad’s idea is that he will board any American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger, then he will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA headquarters,” one Filipino police report from 1995 said.

“There will be no bomb or any explosive that he will use in its execution. It is a suicidal mission that he is very much willing to execute,” it continued.

The Filipino authorities said that they gave the information immediately to the FBI office in Manila, but that the Americans disregarded the hijacking plans to focus on the better-developed and more immediately threatening airliner-bombing plot.

9.11 video
: NY Daily News critic David Bianculli reviews the CBS 9.11 show, scheduled for this Sunday: “An astonishing, riveting, remarkable piece of filmmaking.”

Blogfest
: I was waiting for Amy Langfield‘s NYC Blogfest report.

We met at Mary Ann’s but neglected to come up with any secret code that would help us identify each other once inside the crowded bar. I thought I’d spotted the group, and then realized I would have to walk up and say something like, “Excuse me are you the bloggers?” As the thought developed in my head, I realized if it was the wrong group, my line would meet with the same confusion as if I’d asked, “Excuse me, did you go to high school in Bakersfield?”

The price of spam
: A few days ago, I noted the arrival of spam from a California gubernatorial candidate. Now, because of his spamming, the candidate’s site has been shut down. I await the freedom-of-speech argument. [via Rand Simberg]

Howard Power!: So I wandered

Howard Power!
: So I wandered into another newsstand today and asked for the new FHM (featuring Howard’s girlfriend, Beth Ostrosky on the cover).

“No yet,” said the guy working there, a gentleman of Arab origin.

A lot of people asking for it? I ask.

“All the time, all the time, all the time,” he says, smiling. “That guy and his girlfriend,” he says.

I realize that he’s asking me what the appeal is and repeats the question, insistently: “That guy or his girlfriend? That guy or his girlfriend?”

I explain that that guy is very popular and the people all want to see his girlfriend. “They’re jealous,” I say.

The guy in the newsstand laughs. I either think I’ve bridged a cultural divide — it’s a guy thing — or this fellow has seen the true decadence of American society and he is about to order a 10 kiloton airstrike on 42nd and Sixth.

In any case, never doubt the power of Howard Stern. He is, truly, the King of All Media.

There’s all this hubbub right now about David Letterman going or not going to ABC from CBS for $20 or $30 million, depending on whom you believe (Howard says he’ll stay at CBS and he leaked the ABC story to put them in a bind). I like Dave.

But Howard is bigger than Dave. He captivates America — mostly male America — every morning. I first discovered him when I watched his show for TV Guide and I was surprised how much I liked him. I wrote then that contrary to what you’d think, Howard is best taken in large doses. He’s a taste you acquire quickly. So I started listening to him. I quoted him to my friends in the office after my morning commute. They all started listening to him. We all listen to him. Howard is a media virus. He spreads.

Howard should be making at least what Dave and Jay make; he should be in every market; he is bigger than his competitors or detractors want to admit.

Just ask the guy in the newsstand. “All the time, all the time, all the time.”

Expect the virus
: Virus warning, fellow bloggers: I’ve been getting your basic virus email that asks, “Hi! How are you?” But what separates this one is that I have received a good 80 copies of the same email and attachment instead of the usual one or two. If this spreads widely and if every other recipient is getting 80 copies (and still coming) then ISPs will clog up like a constipated grandpa.

And, no, “Hi, Jack” is not funny, either
: Bad day for airport humor. A joke gift of a toy grenade clears out LAX. And former funnyman Kevin Meany gets into a scuffle at SFO, allegedly being stupid enough to video security operations (a no-no) and grab a National Guardsman’s gun (beyond no-no).

Happiness is a warm gun
: Yoko Ono is spending some of John’s money to buy a big billboard in London to promote world peace. It will quote just one line from a song of his. No, not the line above. Instead: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” She has bought posters in Times Square as well.

Tribute in Lights
: It appears that the memorial in lights at the World Trade Center is on schedule to be lit next Monday, on the six-month anniversary of the tragedy. Here is the NY Times report. Says a designer: “It is a presence, but ethereal rather than concrete.”

So you know, one of the sites in my company, NJ.com, has a New York Skyline Cam pointed at Manhattan that will show you the memorial, live.

And for the very curious, thanks to the intrepid crew at NJ.com, here’s where the lights will be located.

Nevermind homeland security… it’s backyard security we need
: The NY Daily News reports that the current administration is reshaping the NYPD to handle war and not just crime by hiring military and CIA veterans.

“All our lives changed; the world changed,” the commissioner said in an interview last week. “We’re configuring the department to respond to the reality of post-Sept. 11. We have to accept we’ve been targeted four times.”

Kelly said hiring retired Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti as deputy commissioner for counterterrorism marks the first time a city police force will have a military aspect.

“We’re at war, and we have to be able to defend ourselves in a variety of ways,” Kelly said. “The military experience is really perfect for what we have to do.”

Calling Mr. Cheney: Gary Farber

Calling Mr. Cheney
: Gary Farber at the impossibly named blog amygdalagf blog tells us just where the shadow government his hiding. For this he, meanwhile, is being flown to Club Fed as we speak.

Fun City
: A fun report on More than Zero on NY’s Blogfest.

More nuke nightmares
: Now add this to your nuclear nightmares: Time reports that in October, intelligence said that bin Laden had stolen a nuclear weapon from the Soviets and that it was destined for New York City. The government told no one.

They had made a chilling realization: if terrorists did manage to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the city, there was almost nothing anyone could do about it.

In the days after Sept. 11, doomsday scenarios like a nuclear attack on Manhattan suddenly seemed plausible. But during the six months that followed, as the U.S. struck back and the anthrax scare petered out and the fires at Ground Zero finally died down, the national nightmare about another calamitous terrorist strike went away.

The terrorists did not. Counterterrorism experts and government officials interviewed by Time say that for all the relative calm since Sept. 11, America’s luck will probably run out again, sooner or later. “It’s going to be worse, and a lot of people are going to die,” warns a U.S. counterterrorism official. “I don’t think there’s a damn thing we’re going to be able to do about it.” The government is so certain of another attack that it has assigned 100 civilian government officials to 24-hour rotations in underground bunkers, in a program that became known last week as the “shadow government,” ready to take the reins if the next megaterror target turns out to be Washington.

Add this to the items yesterday (below) with the Washington Post hinting that nuclear terrorism is nearer than we think. The government has created a shadow government in case. The goverment has stepped up its monitoring for nuclear devices coming into the country.

The government is clearly worried about nuclear weapons. So am I.

Islamic hate squads
: Barry Rosen, a hostage in Iran 20 years ago, writes in Beliefnet that the death of Daniel Pearl brought back frightening memories:

When the news broke that Daniel Pearl’s final words before getting gruesomely murdered by Muslim terrorists were “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am a Jew,” I started to go through one of my infrequent but emotionally downward spirals. I am certain that other Americans were deeply impacted by The Wall Street Journal reporter’s horrific death, but I feel an unimaginably strong affinity with himóboth because I am a Jew and I was a victim of a cruel hostage crisis: More than twenty years ago, I was the American press attachÈ in Teheran and one of the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days…

He threw a piece of paper on the deskóthe sheet on which I was to write my confessionóand said, “Admit it, you are a Jewish spy, you work for Jerusalem, and you head a ring of spies. You have ten seconds to answer. If you don’t, we’ll shoot your head off.”

Remember anthrax?
: The head of the FBI defends his go-nowhere investigation of the anthrax attacks. What’s the defense? The murderer is still out there.

Sermon: I’m posting less right

Sermon
: I’m posting less right now in part because I’m writing a six-months-after sermon I’ll deliver next Sunday, the 10th, at my little Congregational church in New Jersey. If you’re nearby, come at 10:30 a.m.

Taliban Dunderhead
: The Aussie Taliban is one screwed up puppy. Says news.com.au:

AUSTRALIAN Taliban fighter David Hicks used to steal cars, inject himself with animal steroids and eat rotten chicken to prepare himself for war.

Hicks was also in constant trouble at school, according to his school principal, and became a father for the first time at age 17.

Party tardy
: I’m so sorry to have missed the NYC Blogfest (lotso’links here). I was running pizzas to my kid’s elementary-school funfest, held in an incredibly loud cafeteria, which now explains why lunchroom ladies are all grumpy. Love my kids but I would have liked to have been in a loud bar instead. I’ll attend the next.

Nuke nerves
: The Washington Post is hinting broadly that we’re under a nuclear terrorist threat. First came the scoop on the shadow government, a plan created specifically for the possibility of a nuclear attack on Washington.

Now, in Sunday’s paper, the Post says that the government is more concerned than we knew about bin Laden’s nuclear capabilities. Bush has ordered nuclear sensors on borders and other sensitive places and the Delta Force has been activated to take over any nuclear devices found.The Post warns:

…the intelligence community, they said, believes that al Qaeda could already control a stolen Soviet-era tactical nuclear warhead or enough weapons-grade material to fashion a functioning, if less efficient, atomic bomb. Even before more recent discoveries, some analysts regarded that prospect as substantial…. The consensus government view is now that al Qaeda probably has acquired the lower-level radionuclides strontium 90 and cesium 137, many thefts of which have been documented in recent years. These materials cannot produce a nuclear detonation, but they are radioactive contaminants. Conventional explosives could scatter them in what is known as a radiological dispersion device, colloquially called a “dirty bomb.”

Here’s the freakier part — the part about Bush himself being freaked:

Bush’s emphasis on nuclear terrorism dates from a briefing in the Situation Room during the last week of October. According to knowledgeable sources, Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet walked the president through an accumulation of fresh evidence about al Qaeda’s nuclear ambition. Described by one consumer of intelligence as “an incomplete mosaic” of fact, inference and potentially false leads, Tenet’s briefing raised fears that “sent the president through the roof.” With considerable emotion, two officials said, Bush ordered his national security team to give nuclear terrorism priority over every other threat to the United States….At the October briefing, Bush learned of a remark by a senior member of al Qaeda’s operational command. The operative had been an accurate, though imprecise, harbinger of al Qaeda plans in the past. After U.S. bombing began in Afghanistan, an American official said, the same man was reliably reported to have said “there will be another attack and it’s going to be much bigger” than the one that toppled the World Trade Center and destroyed a wing of the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

“What the hell did that mean?” the official said, recalling the stunned reaction of those briefed on the remark.

The Post worries about its own backyard as a target. I worry about mine, too.

Mogul Mayor
: Now I understand why New York’s Mayor Bloomberg leaves to undisclosed locations every weekend. He’s running a shadow government. Of course.

Not-so-Late-Show: I’ve been a big

Not-so-Late-Show
: I’ve been a big David Letterman fan since his start. Jay Leno even called me once to whine about my review of him in TV Guide and my Dave preference. Dave sent me a thank-you note I filed next to my hate mail from Bill Cosby. I like Dave. But now that I’m an old fart with young children and a long, early commute, I am too pathetically tired to see him every night. So I have one favor to ask whoever ends up with Letterman — CBS or ABC : Rerun the previous night’s show the next evening on cable so poor old guys like me can watch him again.

I’m spoiled by HBO’s repeats. I used to hate them; I thought they were ripping me off, especially on a pay channel. But now I love it; if I miss Six Feet Under this Sunday (or pathetically fall asleep before it’s over), I know I can watch later in the week.

I want the same for Dave.

Howard Power
: Howard Stern’s girlfriend is on the cover of the April FHM magazine. Here in New York, it’s not on most newsstands but in every newsstand I’ve been in today, guys are coming in asking for the magazine. It will sell out. Howard is the king of all media.

The 9.11 tapes
: One group of 9.11 victims’ families asked CBS not to show its March 10 special with tape from inside the World Trade Center during the attacks. I disagree strongly. I certainly understand that many people will not want to watch; these families said in their letter that the show might distrupt their “fragile psychological equilibrium they are so desperately attempting to regain and maintain.”

But I need to watch; I have a continuing need to remember that day. Another group of families agrees with me; they said to the Times: “One, some people want to see what happened inside the building. Or two, they don’t want people to forget.”

When it comes to this show or memorials at the World Trade Center or payments from the government, the families need to be careful not to try to rule the debate and discussion. They have a right to lead it; they have suffered more than any others. But there are other views, other needs, other opinions from people who were there, from neighbors, from other New Yorkers, from other Americans.

Spreadsheets spread the wealth, spread the lies
: Michael Wolff has a wonderful column in New York Magazine arguing that we’re about to witness the end of The Business Era — thanks to the Popping of The Bubble and Enron and all that — and blaming the birth of that era on the invention of the spreadsheet. There’s elegant truth there.

If you could work a spreadsheet, money suddenly became a highly fluid concept — the buck never stopped anywhere (oddly, during the eighties, bottom line became a metaphor for something absolute and irreducible when, in fact, the bottom line was becoming ever more elusive). Financial strategy became like a war game. If you played it one way, you risked the end of the world, but if you changed a variable, you were safe and secure. Business reality became wonderfully plastic (running numbers has about the same relationship to actual business as sex fantasies do to sex — indeed, running numbers gets to be a sort of fetish).

True. I lost my financial virginity back when I worked at what was then Time Inc., when I was a mere writer. I, too, thought the bottom line was the bottom line; I thought words could lie but numbers couldn’t. Ah, the innocence of youth. A college friend of mine worked at the company on the finance side and I remember the day he told me he couldn’t have lunch — a tearful tragedy in that company then — because his boss had just called him to “find another million dollars” before the quarter closed. How? I was shocked. I thought the rules wouldn’t allow that. But I learned that these rules were meant to be played around, like big guys on a football field.

Then I came up with the idea for Entertainment Weekly, which spent six years in gestation. During that time, I saw “business models” fly. Reality, however, was an entirely different model. The magazine is profitable today, pulling in $300 million a year, according to Ad Age; that makes it worth more than a billion. But along the way, some crazy models caused a lot of wrong turns and cost a lot of money. Somebody stuck a number in a little box and behind that number was the belief — the hope — that this magazine would sell as many copies on the newsstand as People; but the truth was that this magazine could not (and never has) because it is a guide (like TV Guide); it cannot goose sales by trafficking in the bodily fluids of the stars (as People does brilliantly). But because of that little number in that little box, millions of copies of EW were sent to places where people would not buy them (KMart checkouts); millions were wasted; task forces were launched; profitablity was delayed. All because of a little number in a little box in a mere model.

Now I work in the Internet and I’ve seen lots of Internet companies that never were anything other than models (and a few PowerPoint slides).

Wolff continues:

Financial engineering (the term of art for the business that grew up around working a spreadsheet) becomes as complex as any activity becomes when you increase the variables exponentially. “Can he keep track of the moving pieces?” was what got asked about prospective managers of high-flying companies. The question was not, “Can he work hard and focus on the many details of the business?”…

In short order, business became way too complex for mere businessmen — the pallid, gray dad types of the past. Business suddenly demanded a different caliber of brain power and temperament.

Wolff says the spreadsheet thus led to nothing less than a cultural revolution. Business, dull, grey, suited, cublicled, martinied, cigarred, flabby business became the hot testosterone thing; Wolff’s subversive college friends were becoming investment bankers before he knew what the hell an investment banker banked.

Every day it was happening: Absolute nobodies, with only heart and imagination — and strange new ideas about how to analyze and manipulate numbers — took over heretofore unassailable, invulnerable, and oppressively dreary great American corporations. It was a class overthrow: outsiders against insiders, smarties against dopes, risk takers against old farts.

Business, which used to be a specialized, opaque, conservative activity — something like the military — became the national pastime….

Everybody was in business. Everything became business — technology, entertainment, news, even academia.

And then Wolff — who’s never afraid of the tough question or criticism (isn’t that what media is supposed to be?) — asks the toughest question of all:

The question now, the embarrassing question (to say the least), is to what extent the business culture — our culture — was just a twenty-year Ponzi scheme.

Now we don’t want to ask that question; we want to believe Sir Greenspan yesterday when he said this is/was a mild recession; we want to nod our heads at the analysts (even if they were the same frigging idiots who said “buy Enron” and “buy Global Crossing” and “buy AtHome”) when they said on the radio last night that our economy is in phenomenal shape to have survived The Bubble and September 11; we don’t want anything to upset the delicate psyche of The Market; we want things — or at least our 401Ks and portfolios — to return to the “normal” of the last millenium.

But I think the best thing we can do is to ask the question Wolff asks and get the reexamination and revaluing over with — reaching the sunny day when, at last, F’dcompany itself goes out of business for lack of anything more to say. For then we will get back to the prespreadsheet normal when business was dull because it was about paying attention to details and fundamentals and that is supposed to be dull. I see it happening even now: I hear business people talking real numbers and business fundamentals; I hear them talking about “cash” and “break-even” and “profit” and “return on investment” and not the jargon of the go-go years, the business disco; the music has died and what we hear again is the sound of adding machines, dull adding machines, and that is good. If I never again hear a phrase like “fund newco,” I will die happy.

Anyway, read Wolff’s column; he has much more to say about why media and the academe did not rescue us from this fate but I didn’t want to quote all his best stuff — especially his last two paragraphs. This is one of those columns I’m going to remember and quote for sometime; he has pegged the era.

Only the shadow knows
: Today’s Washington Post story about the shadow government — the 100 or so Federal bureaucrats being guarded in secret bunkers in case Washington is nuked — raises all kinds of fascinating questions:

: Politically, if you’re picked for bunker duty, does that mean you’re important enough to run the government if there isn’t one or that you’re a pain in the ass and your boss finally had the excuse to get rid of you? I’d vote for the latter.

: You’re not allowed to tell anyone you’re in the bunker; you’re just “on a business trip.” Can you tell your family? And — shades of Cold War nuke movies of the past — when you know the attack is coming down, can you call your family to tell them to get the hell out of D.C.? I doubt it.

: Do you do real work in the bunker or doomsday makework? The latter, I’d bet.

: Do the bunkerites, in their most secret dreams, fantasize about the dark day when they have to take over? Don’t at least a few of them relish finally being in charge after spending years working up the civil service slope? I’d betcha.

This is so ripe with paranoid possibilities, I assume Oliver Stone is optioning the Post story as we read this.

Links
: A clever story in the Guardian tells the tale of an Eastenders story twist in links. We love it when old media notices the new.