Posts from April 2002

I’d like to thank…: I’m

I’d like to thank…
: I’m very proud and happy that two of my sites — Epicurious and — were nominated for Webbys.

Nonetheless, I was disappointed that the high-falutin’ “International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences” did not see fit to notice and award the only new trend on the Internet in two years: Weblogs.

That’s what is wrong with awards. They are always two steps behind.

Extra! Extra!
: Click here to subscribe to the new L.A. paper. No, it doesn’t exist yet. But if you all show passionate interest in the thing, then it will exist.

: Bennett on the paper.

A year after
: ABC plans to devote a full day of programming to the one-year anniversary come Sept. 11.

: Quick responds quickly to the post below.

A nation of ideas and

A nation of ideas and ideals
: I spent last week vacationing in Williamsburg, soaking in history along with sunlight (thank you, God) and beer (ditto) and Busch Gardens water rides (a price of paternity).

Now it so happens that my son soon has to appear as Thomas Jefferson in a fourth-grade wax museum (no, I don’t know what that is; it sounds like a teacher’s clever way to get a little quiet — “Johnny, make like wax!”). Anyway, it was fortuitous that an ersatz Thomas Jefferson happened to be speaking to a large assemblage of citizens (and tourists) behind the Governor’s Palace the day we were there. My son stood at the feet of the great man and soaked up his ever word on a digital recorder. 1774 meets 2002.

I soaked up his words as well, for I found everything he had to say all the more relevant these days.

After the speech, while taking a walk with my son, I told him that now is a particularly good time for us to study our history, for we need to remind ourselves of what we’re defending as others attack us; we need to remember the ideas and ideals we stand for; we need to reaffirm our belief in America. I’m not usually quite that dull and pontifical a dad (or at least I hope I’m not), but I meant what I said, for that afternoon, I heard Thomas eloquently recite our democratic creed:

We believe in the right to free assembly and free speech.

We believe in the right of a people to elect their government.

We believe in the right of a people to self-determination.

We believe in freedom of religion.

We believe it is the responsibility of the majority to protect the rights of the minority.

We believe a government should represent its people.

We believe all people are created equal.

This is what we believe as Americans. This is what we as Americans brought to the world now more than two centuries ago. This is the touchstone of modern civilization. This is democracy.

Now look at the combatants in the Middle East. How many uphold the right of their people to elect their government? One. How many do not allow their citizens free assembly and free speech and freedom of religion? Too many. How many treat all their people as equal? Too few. How many are fighting against the right of the Jews and the Palestinians to self-determination? How many of these people are attacking us for these beliefs, these ideals and ideals?

Sorry to be so basic, so obvious, so fundamental. But I do think it is time to remind ourselves of these fundmentals. And I could tell that most or all of the 200-or-so citizen-tourists on that green lawn were inspired to hear Thomas Jefferson remind us of them, especially now

: Andrea Harris echoes the same sentiment, less sentimentally:

One effect of September 11th, on me anyway, was the immediate banishment from my psyche of any vestiges of the belief that there was something inherently wrong with being an American. Anyway, Opinion Journal is starting a new pro-Western Civilization column: The Western Front. Some might quibble: how much more pro-Western can the Wall Street Journal be? But not me.

That column at Opinion Journal begins with something that will warm the hearts of many a blogger: a slap at a journalism prof.

“The problem with America,” a college professor told me recently, “is that it can’t get over the idea that it is somehow special among nations.” His name is Robert Jensen and he teaches journalism at the University of Texas, Austin. He’s flat wrong. The problem with America and Western civilization in general is that it lost confidence in itself and started accepting relativist arguments….

The main purpose of this column will be to argue for rebuilding confidence in the West’s ideal of human freedom–spiritual, political and economic liberty….

Now it’s time for Western culture to stand up again. Worries about imperialism, especially cultural imperialism, should be cast off. Global free trade isn’t imperialistic; it’s the spread of a natural right, economic freedom. Demanding that a country respect its people’s basic rights isn’t imperialistic, and neither is standing for an unfettered media.

The column has its predictably shrill moments (trying to blame the media for a lack of pride in all Western civilization… oh, give it up, Journal). And we still need to guard against jingoism and blind nationalism and smug superiority. We are not better because we are American. It is our ideas and ideals that are better. Indeed, as the column ends:

Yet whatever its failures, the West is worth defending. Indeed, it is in rising above these shortcomings that give hope to the world, establish peace among men and spread freedom to lands that have known only tyranny. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Let’s start acting like it.

Tom would be proud.

Searching searches
: Via Matthew Haughey, an impressive new meeting of Alexa and Google: search for a site and find out what people who visit that site also visit and find the links and a traffic ranking. Try (I am apparently disadvantaged by switching urls to; it hasn’t scraped me for a bit under the new address.)

Remember anthrax
: The NY Post — with its cousin, the Weekly Standard — have a sizable package today demanding action on anthrax and arguing that it’s lazy of the feds to assume that this was a domestic attack. Here’s the Standard piece, plus a Podhoretz column taking on the FBI, plus a Post editorial:

Sadly, we have no answers this morning – just a growing conviction that Washington, and the FBI in particular, aren’t even asking questions.

The power of celebrity
: Here’s an observation Lileks and fellow parents of young ones will understand; others won’t.

Tonight, Nick Jr. had a special saying goodbye to Steve, the host of Blue’s Clues (he’s “going to college”) and saying hello to his “brother,” Joe, the new host of the show. It was an event in my 5-year-old’s life.

What’s amazing is that even young children now understand the power of celebrity.

This, too, is American.

Los Ahngeles in the summah
: It’s sad when a Californian — a Southern Californian, a Southern Californian politician — tries to act all continental cosmopolitan — and fails.

I was listening to NPR this afternoon report on the breakup of Los Angeles (potentially losing the Valley, the port, and Hollywood and leaving… what?) when the mayor complained that he didn’t want to see the city become just a bunch of enclaves.

But he didn’t say enclave. That is, he didn’t say en-CLAYVE or ahn-CLAYVE.

He said ahn-clahve.

It was a small moment. But I enjoyed it.

Rossi’s art show is on
: Details here.

The Mr. Bill Show: I’ve

The Mr. Bill Show
: I’ve seen the rumors that Bill Clinton is up to replace Bryant Gumbel in a few places.

I love the idea for one reason: It would be different. CBS has failed many times to create a successful morning show by copying the other successful shows.

Clinton would be entertaining. If you love him or hate him, you’ll be entertained by him in any case. He’s smart. He’s born for media. He’s charming. He’s a supreme communicator. He’d have something to say. And wouldn’t that be fun to watch?

Search me
: Nick Denton added a cool Google search of his site to his page. I plan to steal it if he lets me.

: I just did it anyway. My son showed me how to create the Google search, then I stole Nick’s adaptation of it. Thanks, Nick.

: Kottke is trying to tell someone something:

You know how after you poke a hornet’s nest with a stick and all the hornets come streaming out and they are all buzzing around pissed off and they sting you with their stingers but it’s not really their fault because they’re hornets and that’s all hornets know how to do even though all you would like is for them to stop stinging you and go back into their nest? Yeah, that.

Get me rewrite
: Ken Layne is right: It’s apparently a good thing when Matt Welch loses his internet access for 40 hours, for he spends the time staring intently at the LA Times until the newsprint spontaneously combusts and then he writes about it. Go there and start with “One last note about the LA Times…” (well, that’s a lie if I ever saw one) and keep reading. He gives you what should be a 101 course in journalism at the University of the Streets.

Matt demonstrates why a reporter showing off his writing style (“He works amid ghosts. Downtown ghosts. Buildings and streets that once held a city together…”) is a service to no reader (save perhaps the writer’s possibly proud mother). I hate having to read a story for 10 paragraphs before getting to the point.

That, students, is why God invented The Lead (or, if you insist on not getting to the point in the first paragraph, at least get to it by the third in what became known as The Hook Graph). Getting to the point is the most basic service to the reader. The reader is busy. The reader bought a newspaper to find out what the hell is going on. So tell your dear reader.

When I was TV critic at People, I started ending my reviews with grades (which later became the essential conceit of Entertainment Weekly) and many colleagues actually got mad at me; they said that people wouldn’t read the review if they could get a summary in one letter; I said that was exactly why I did it: It’s a service to get to the point.

I’ve been telling some people lately that this is one lesson print can take back from the Web: Print, too, needs a good user interface. On the Web, we have very little space and time to get to the point and to entice our readers to invest the time in a scroll or a click. Print reporters and headline writers would do well to remember this even when writing for their captive readers: Get to the point in the head and lead and spare us your show-off style.

Matt then respectfully takes the Times to task for not reporting until now on the new newspaper project, he, Ken, and a few others are working on. Reporting on yourself and your own industry is tough but necessary and it’s pitiful that the Times came in last here. He also tweaks them for printing an unsubstantiated rumor that Rupert Murdoch is an investor. I wish Murdoch were involved and if he isn’t, I hope the rumor at least gives him the idea. LA could use a NY Post. It is a far better model for an alternative paper than the NY Sun. The Post isn’t about journalism. The Post isn’t about showing off. The Post is about New York.

I love tabloids because they get to the point. They think like a reader. They fight on behalf of the reader. They respect for readers’ time and don’t waste it on pud-pulling stylistics. They aren’t afraid to say something.

And then (or actually, this being a weblog, first) Matt uses a Howard Rosenberg TV column to give a wise lecture on the virtues of covering news — yes, even crime — instead of just sucking thumbs in 17-part series, as too many columnists and prize-hungry newspaper editors do; again, they are more interested in showing off than actually serving the reader’s needs.

Read it all. And get ready to subscribe to the paper coming from Matt, Ken, et al.

: I hate that I often dredge up stories from my professional past here. It’s so damned egotistical (it’s showing off) and it makes me seem like some old warhorse hack (it makes me feel as if I should start writing my memoirs… but I’m only half the age of Jim Bellows, who just wrote his).

Anyway, Matt’s post about TV criticism in the LA Times reminded me of the time I almost went to work for the Times. So here’s one last story from my past (that’s a lie):

After I left San Francisco for New York, I quickly missed California. At first, I missed Northern California but soon it was generic California, anyplace with iceplant on the freeways. So I went job-hunting at the LA Times. I ended up seeing the then-editor of the entertainment section and he wanted to hire me as a second TV critic, besides Rosenberg. He said he wanted a critic “who actually watches TV.” (I don’t mean to slap Rosenberg; he has always been very nice to me,but it’s what the guy said). I loved the idea; was going to take the job. But then, at the last minute, the entertainment editor got bad news: He wasn’t allowed to hire another TV critic; office politics, he explained. But a top editor offered me a consolation prize: I could come to the paper to cover the LA Olympics Arts Festival. Me? Arts? I’m a TV guy, a tabloid guy, a mass guy, a guy of the people, a cultural slob! I don’t do ballet. I don’t do ethnic folk dance. I don’t do performance art. What the hell would I do in that job except growl? I said no. My mentor and pal at People, Peter Travers (now the movie critic and more at Rolling Stone) used all this, without my knowledge, to get my other mentor at People, then-editor Pat Ryan, to make me TV critic at the magazine. And that’s how I became a TV critic afterall. And the rest is… Entertainment Weekly.

: Howard Owens also weighs in on the LA paper here (he could use permalinks; I went to some effort to get you this one), raising some concerns about the business of papers. I say it depends on the business plan. The new paper is not going to defeat the Times in classified ads or big display advertising; it can work as a business with extremely low costs and targeted advertising and a loyal audience paying a fair price. My one business concern for them is distribution. It’s easy to distribute in New York; we have newsstands — and we have sidewalks on which to place them. We also have homeless people happy to don ugly T-shirts and sell newspapers to people walking on said sidewalks. LA is going to be tough. They need creative distribution — say, along with the morning copies of Variety, on freeway exit ramps, and such. Maybe parking valets can double as hawkers.

Ovation: I predict that when

: I predict that when the Spiderman movie shows the World Trade Center towers, audiences everywhere will erupt in applause.

: We are not the only country to suffer the tragedy of school shootings.

Welcome home: Mr. Hartung’s LakeFX

Welcome home
: Mr. Hartung’s LakeFX is back.

Reply to sender
: Efrem (below) forwards the response he got from

Thanks Efram. We think the United States of Israel is a great little country too. Maybe one day it will be our fourteenth province. Just kidding.

And Will Vehrs sends this to the Saudis:

Align yourselves with freedom and democracy, not with

violence and oppression. Support peace with Israel, not the Intifada. Urge the Palestinians to accept the boundries of a new state and help them build a nation based on a free people and free markets. Seek the US as your partner in peace and prosperity; stop the support of dark forces that attempt to undermine the only nation that can offer you military and economic security.

You stand at a historic crossroads. Follow the suicide bombers and radical Islamofascists into the dustbin of history, or embrace peace and freedom, teach it to your children, and achieve greatness.

Tell the Saudis what you

Tell the Saudis what you think of them…
: Not that they listen but… Let’s have a little fun.

So the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is threatening to threaten us with playing the oil card.

VodkaPundit says what the Prince can do with his threats.

Better yet, why don’t we all tell the Prince ourselves!

The Saudi embassy has its own email address:

So send them email directly — just in case they don’t read blogs.

While you’re at it, also CC this address I just created — so we can all share.

: And already, the mail bag starts filling up. This from Efrem Zionist Jr.:

Hi! How y’all doin’? Hey, I just wanted to let you guys know that I think–and I’m speaking as an American here–I think you’ve got a great little country. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s not just 865,000 square miles of crude oil, suicide pilots, and anti-Semitism. I think you’re going to make a fine 51st state. Don’t worry, the Pledge of Allegiance is easy to learn!

No, no, just kidding. I’m sure you’ll start off as a terrortory of the United States. I mean territory. But no! I’m just joking, really. You know how us Jew-lovers are, always cracking wise.

So, which hand should I chop off for sending this? Kidding!

A is for Andrew…
: Jim Treacher starts the blogictionary. One true entry:

Instalanche: A sudden influx of thousands of hits that threatens to crush your server, brought on by a link from Glenn Reynolds at

Appropriate for today, I suggest blogspotty: The reliability of Blogspot.

The Wall, cont.
: Eric Olsen weighs in on the wall.

: And a reader, Steven Postrel, counters on Olsen’s site.

We will soon build a wall between prowall and antiwall bloggers.

Maybe the French are right
: Well that headline gets your attention, eh?

Those protesting French are protesting not only their own insane election returns but also the corporate performance at Vivendi. Shareholders and employees “stormed” (that’s what the French always do: storm) the company’s annual meeting.

A wonderful idea.

What if we did the same at AOL Time Warner’s annual meeting? I said when the merger with AOL occurred that it was a big, fat mistake, that it was just Time Warner being frightened of its own future (and lack of strategy for it), that AOL was not worth anywhere near what was being calculated in the deal. Time Inc. had done things like this before; when I was there, they were afraid that Chris Whittle’s company (which put magazine’s in doctors’ waiting rooms) was going to eat its lunch and so they bought a big piece of his pie for too much money. They ended up writing all that off when Whittle croaked.

So now it turns out that the AOL Time Warner merger was a $54 billion boo-boo.

I still own too much of their stock, having worked there for a decade.

I’m depressed.

Maybe I should do some storming.

: I meant:

Blogger : Journalist :: Butterfly : Caterpillar.

It makes a big difference.

Blogging is to heroin as….:

Blogging is to heroin as….
: Bo Weevil is soliciting SAT questions. I nominate: Blogger : Journalist :: Caterpillar : Butterfly.

The Wall
: Nick Denton joins the calls for building a wall between Arabs and Jews, between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as the only sensible course left to bring peace.

I understand the desire: Enough of all you hate-motivated Middle Easterners, enough of your murders, enough of your hate leeching out of the region and killing others — us — all around the world, enough! Just stay away from each other, damnit. It’s like shouting at the kids in the back seat. Every parent in the world wants to build a wall between their kids sometimes. We want to build one between the Arabs and the Jews.

And Denton has a point: A wall may just buy the two generations the region needs to find peace.

But I doubt it.

A Wall was East Germany’s solution to a different problem — it was built to keep people in not out — and it didn’t work.

The first problem is Jerusalem. It, just like Berlin, wants to be an international city, a free zone, and that will complicate any plan to build a wall. No one will reasonably be able to keep Muslims from the Temple Mount and Jews from the Wailing Wall and Christians from their holy places. Jerusalem must be free. So if you make Jerusalem an international city, you build a big hole in the wall where bombers masquerading as pilgrims can pass through. You are soon forced to build a wall within the wall. You might as well not build a wall at all.

The second problem is image: The last thing Israel needs right now is to be seen as the wall-builders of our era.

The third problem, is that building a wall just avoids the problem, the real problem: the hate.

Fine, so a wall would make it yet harder for suicide-murderers to wander by a market or a hotel or a bus and trigger terror. But these merchants of hate, these people who will stop at nothing — even selling their own children into death and murder and hell — will find new ways to detonate hate. They invented the 737 bomb. They invented the woman bomb. They invented the child bomb. For all we know, they invented new, improved anthrax. A wall will not stop their weapons. A wall will not stop the retaliation. A wall will not stop the killing. A wall will not stop the hate.

I spent a lot of time in Berlin when the Wall was still up (I was working on a very bad novel about it that no one will ever read). When I first crossed over Checkpoint Charlie, I certainly was no fan of Communism, but I didn’t fully realize the damage it caused. By the time I came back across to the West, I saw the damage clearly. I saw it in a simple sign: I can’t tell you how happy I was to see the first Coke sign on our side; I celebrated all the choice we had.

The Berlin Wall only accentuated that contrast; it turned gray to black and white. And the media that flew over the Wall — in the extreme, our decadent Dallas and Dynasty at the end — only made the contrast more striking for people on the other side. The Wall turned out to be porous; it let images and ideas and jealousies and competition and dreams through from this side to that until such pressure built up on the other side and it simply had to blow. Media exploded that wall.

An Israeli wall would be just as pourous. The hate would still flow through.

And if this wall does prevent Palestinians from killing Israelis, the pressure will still build up; they and their alleged allies will aim their hatred elsewhere. They will attack Israeli’s friends. They will kill us.

I wish I had a solution, like Denton. I don’t. I know too little about the Middle East.

I wish a wall were a solution. I fear it is not.

The solution must come from self-interest, the need to begin cooperation or the need to end defeat. Mutual self-interest may well be impossible to find.

: Update: Don Wolff writes in email that I missed a successful wall: the DMZ in Korea. He says this keeps people of murderous intent from distrupting a democratic society.

Motive matters in how you judge success. If your aim is to cut off North Korea to the point that they’re starved, then perhaps that wall is successful. You could measure the wall of water around Cuba similarly. If the goal of the Israeli wall were to cut off Palestine and starve them of attention and economics, I’m afraid that wouldn’t work. The Palestinians have murderous allies.

Rub-off: We can all tell

: We can all tell from our traffic when we get an Instapundit link, as I was fortunate to get today for two posts (on Moussaoui and my hate mail from Bill Cosby, below).

I can also tell from my traffic when Blogspot is down, as it is right now; I get fewer links from all those Blogspot blogs and my traffic gets hit.

My luck that Blogspot goes down just as gives me a nod.

: Mediaminded throws in the towel.

But Letter From Gotham gets back in the ring.

Old way v. new way
: The accepted wisdom is that the Web is a rotten way to read newspapers. That’s what I always thought and said.

But this week, I’m south of the center of the universe (and I’m on a dial-up connection) and so I’m reading the Washington Post on paper, the first I’ve done that in ages.

Especially since Sept. 11, I’ve been reading the Post online — and I have to say, I prefer that. It’s a combination of factors: The Post’s web site it that good: well-organized, easy to browse, clean to read. And the Post on paper is oddly small; the size of the paper (the web, as we call it in the trade) is much narrower than the NY Times (to save money on paper) and it seems they try to cram more into that smaller space. I’m not alone. My wife found the Post hard to read.

Accepted wisdom is sometimes wrong.

Leave it to Moussaoui
: We’ll be watching Robert Blake on trial on TV when what we should be watching is Zacarias Moussaoui on the tube — not because it would be entertaining to see this bozo defending himself but because it would project the perfect — that is, perfectly accurate — image of Muslim fanatics as dangerous and demented and just plain stupid.

This is why we should have cameras in all courtrooms, to let us see the truth.