Posts from January 2002

Blogger boy: A Guardian profile

Blogger boy
: A Guardian profile of Blogger’s Ev.

A monumental oops
: Thanks to the forum on F’dcompany, I’m led to a page that someone should have thought to kill off of Citysearch (no wonder they’re laying off… again): The Top of the World/World Trade Center ad, complete with 360-degree view from what used to be the top.

A fashion statement
: The NY Times explains Hamid Karzai’s wardrobe. It’s not just about looking dashing and different — though he generally does — it’s filled with symbolism:

…a carefully assembled collection of regional political symbols, combined in a way that might look swashbuckling to the West, but could be read as something else by anyone back home.

The chapan, or cape, Mr. Karzai wears with such Èlan ó he has sported two in America, one in green and the other in shimmering purple ó is typical of clothes worn by northern tribesmen.

Mr. Karzai’s hat is of an Uzbek style popular in Kabul. His tunic and loose trousers, called peran tonban, is typical of village people and fell out of favor among educated Afghans long before the Taliban.

“He is from Kandahar, the chapan is from Mazar-i-Sharif, the hat is from Kabul,” said Rafi Habibi, owner of the Afghan Market in Alexandria, Va., outside Washington. “He wears them all together because he wants peace between Pashtun, Kabuli, Uzbek. He’s showing people we are the same, no more tribal divisions, one nation, no difference between us anymore.”

Howard Stern says he dresses like a “waiter” or a “woman.” I do think the latest green thing looked a little goofy — like a coat some kindly but addled aunt sewed with arms two feet too long — but otherwise, Karzai does pull it off with style and dignity.

Proud moments in journalism, Part II
: I have many proud moments in my journalist career. Remind me to tell you someday about the time Frank Sinatra called me a “bum.” And about my hate mail from Bill Cosby. The government’s warning this week about a satellite falling to earth reminds me of my great moment of shameless promotion. I was a columnist on the SF Examiner. When Skylab was falling, we found out that that Chronicle, the competition with whom we shared a backshop, was going to offer subscribers Skylab insurance in a day. We beat them to the punch with a $10,000 offer for a piece of genuine Skylab delivered to our offices. I called NASA. There’s NO chance it would fall on land, they assured me. NO chance. But if it did, would they authenticate? Sure, they said, because there’s NO chance it would land on land. I assured the publisher of this. So we made the offer. And the next day, the Chronicle offered its insurance. We accused them of following our lead. We lied. So Sullivan me.

Anyway, the satellite did fall on land in Western Australia (Tim Blair: are you listening?). And a 17-year-old beer-truck-driver’s helper named Stan Thornton picked up pieces of black stuff from his yard and with the help of a radio station, he flew to San Francisco in time for our deadline. We had to send an editor to NASA in Huntsville, AL, where he spent a week waiting while they analyzed the black stuffl. Meanwhile, the kid was just a kid, so he had to stay with the family of the managing editor while he had his 15 minutes of fame. For a time, NASA honestly believed it was astronaut poop, but they finally decided it was balsa wood from the spacecraft. We paid the kid.

I got publicity all around the world; I still have a clip from India, even. I think this was my undoing in San Francisco; the publisher was jealous of the attention.

This, too, is journalism.

This, too, is journalism
: Two debunked stories (aka memes, these days): The story of the woman stuck pneumatically in an airline toilet is false. And the story of a bachelor being smothered by the size 72D breasts of a stripper is false. Sometimes, journalism is about taking all the fun out of life. The truth is no damned fun.

Why Korea?
: Why did Bush add North Korea to his Axis of Terror? I certainly get it that North Korea is a bad place — buying weapons as it starves its people, as Bush said. But it’s hardly a hotbed of Islamic terrorism. And is that the very point: We don’t just hate Islamic terrorists; we hate bad guys of all ethnic stripes?

From the axis
: Iran reacts to Bush’s State of the Union:

President Khatami evaluated Bush’s remarks as “intervening,

warmongering, insulting, a repetition of his past propagation, and

worse than all, truly insulting towards the Iranian nation.”

The she terrorist
: A Times of London profile of the female suicide bomber.

We are a tacky country
: Someone made 9.11 medallions from World Trade Center steel.

Fed up New Yorkers
: Matt Welch quotes another New Yorker who’s as fed up as I am with the thought of having to deal with the anti-everything twerps coming into town to protest, what, capitalism:

But the over-fed, white-boy, black-wearing trouble makers protesting instead of working, well, they can stay home. We have been through more than enough during the last four months. I have heard predictions that average New Yorkers will beat the shit out of the protesters if the boyz in black even get the slightest bit out of line.

I heard some dweeb lady on TV tonight say that they were just going to have puppet shows. Yes, that will change the world. Twerp. Dweeb. Bozo. Idiot.

: Matthew Yglesias complains about fellow liberals being associated with the twerp-dweeb-bozo-idiots tormenting New York. Agree.

And the winner is…:

And the winner is…
: gets the bloggie. The camera pans my face. I try not to look disappointed. I applaud, tough half-heartedly, not understanding.

Memories of the tragedy
: Another fine story by Jim Dwyer with Kevin Flynn in the New York Times, this one taking interviews by the NY Fire Department with people who were at the World Trade Center and piecing together some frightening scenes and facts. From this, it is now clear that the Fire Department knew from the first minute that they could not fight the fires in the towers. It is less clear when they knew that the buildings would fail — and how catastrophically they would fail. It is also clear that communications had problems that day. None of this is about blame; it is about learning. The Fire Department did a heroic job — and these stories make that all the clearer — but some lives were lost because no one knew just how bad this could get and communications problems prevented some from hearing orders to get out. The essence of it:

“The potential and the reality of a collapse was discussed early on,” Chief Hayden said. “But we were at a level of commitment. We also received numerous distress calls. We realized we had a lot of dying and fire up there.”

When [then Fire Commissioner] Mr. Von Essen, and two of his top deputies, William Feehan and Thomas Fitzpatrick, arrived in the lobby, they discussed the approach.

“I specifically remember telling Commissioner Von Essen that we were not attempting to extinguish this fire,” Chief Hayden said. “We were not trying to put this fire out. We had thousands of people coming down the stairs, and that was our focus.”

Around the time that the second plane hit, a ranking chief, Joseph Callan, had seen enough.

“Approximately 40 minutes after I arrived in the lobby, I made a decision that the building was no longer safe,” Chief Callan said. “And that was based on the conditions in the lobby. Large pieces of plaster falling, all the 20-foot-high glass panels on the exterior of the lobby were breaking. There was obvious movement of the building, and that was the reason I gave the order for all Fire Department units to leave the north tower.”

The communications, though, frustrated the commanders….

The Times also gives us dramatic excerpts from the interviews; this from one of the FDNY chaplains:

I remember a cop running along next to me. I remember this. This is great. We were running along, and a cop is running next to me. He says, “Father, can I go to confession?” I looked and said, “This is an act of war, isn’t it?” He said, “Yeah, I believe so.” I said, “Then I’m giving general absolution.” I gave everyone general absolution, and I kept running.

Terror City
: In anticipation of the anti-global twerps coming to town with the economic conference, we are seeing cops everywhere on the streets of New York. Even blocks away from the conference center — at Times Square — they line the sidewalks. Some of them are carrying their riot helmets (not a comforting site, actually). The Times reports that they are protecting symbols of American capitalism and, sure enough, on my walk to work, I saw a cop standing in front of every single Starbucks.

Frigging idiots!
: So they stop a man at San Francisco’s airport and find traces of plastic explosives on his shoes — and then they let him put the shoes back on and walk away! Idiots. Dangerous idiots! I’m still not feeling safe, here, even with cops guarding our espresso machines.

Sign o’ the Times: ads yield to anti-terrorism ads
: The White House create anti-terrorism/anti-drug commercials for the SuperBowl, says Ad Age.

Does unemployment count as community service
: Famed L.A. party thrower Brian Linse on Bush’s head-scratching call for 4,000 hours of community service from us: “Easy for GW to suggest this since most of his own family has already been ordered to do Community Service by a Judge at one time or another.”

Ha! HaHaHaHaHa!
: Saudi Arabia wants us to send them the Saudi terrorists at Gitmo. Ha!

Remember anthrax?
: I missed this story earlier: A report from New Scientist says that the two mysterious and fatal cases of anthrax may have been caused by wind carrying spores from Trenton, N.J. to New York and Connecticut. It says that the wind that day was traveling in exactly that direction. It further says that it can take just one single spore — not the tens of thousands we were told — to cause illness and, ultimately, death.

This does not make me feel good. I live in the very path of that wind from Trenton (whose stupid slogan is “Trenton Makes, The World Takes”). And one spore? I fear we have not heard the end of anthrax terrorism (even though we haven’t heard a damned thing about it lately).

The State (applause) of the (standing ovation) Union
: Artie Lang on Howard Stern’s show yesterday said the State of the Union address drives him nuts. It’s like Arsenio — nothing but applause.

Glass houses
: Sullivan won’t drop is Krugman fetish and so others won’t stop looking at it and Jay Zilber summarizes a piece by Sullivan bete noir Michelangelo Signorile looking at the tobacco-lobyist contributor to Sullivan himself.

Fear 101
: I’m so proud. I read the NY Post today and see that my star student when I taught briefly at NYU’s journalism school is the guy who picks all the disgusting things people have to eat on Fear Factor. And who says journalism school isn’t useful, huh?

I’m OK, you’re offended: Holy

I’m OK, you’re offended
: Holy Weblog points me to an essay in the LA Times on the era of “nonjudgmentalism.” I say this is an ill of the time. It is the basis of political correctness — the orthodoxy of not offending anyone, the lowest common denominator of safe opinions. Yes, it is probably what led to the downfall of John Walker Lindt, for no one would judge his stupid ways and now he is behind bars, a traitor.

Nonjudgmentalism–the practice of and belief in suspending judgment of others for the betterment of self and society–has inspired, comforted, confused and angered Americans as few other “isms” have. It has commanded praise for everything from transforming business problems into “opportunities” to promoting a more diverse, tolerant and multicultural society…. “When you are nonjudgmental, you totally accept the other person exactly as they are,” said [Jon] Schreiber, [director of the Breema Center, outside Berkeley], who offers a workshop called “The Nonjudgmental Treatment,” which through touch and relaxation techniques promises to give balance to a person. “Most people have never experienced even a moment of that because they are too closed off and fearful of being judged.”

Still, nothing raises the hackles of some people faster than nonjudgmentalism. To them, it symbolizes the threadbare moral condition of the nation and threatens to rob citizens of their ability to make clear ethical distinctions–a skill of fundamental importance to a tolerant democratic society.

Nonjudgmentalism is a bugaboo of sorts for modern times. In recent weeks it has been blamed for the traitorous behavior of an American Taliban soldier and, in part, the Enron scandal.

“As a society, we seem increasingly incapable of sitting in judgment of each other,” wrote Robert Bartley in a Wall Street Journal article about Enron. “What kind of behavior can an ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ society expect from its professionals or business leaders?”…

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote: “Devout practitioners of the self-obsessed nonjudgmentalism for which the Bay Area is renowned, [his parents] appear never to have rebuked their son or criticized his choices. In their world, there were no absolutes, no fixed truths, no mandatory behavior, no thou-shalt-nots. If they had one conviction, it was that all convictions are worthy–that nothing is intolerable except intolerance.”

Thank goodness no one can accuse blogdom of nonjudgmentalism.

Still tolerant
: That’s not to say that tolerance is a bad thing, mind you. Tolerance is a hallmark of Western civilization. In moderation and with wisdom, tolerance is a good thing. And note that tolerance is our instinct. Even after being attacked by Islamic fundamentalists, a Beliefnet/ABC poll says we still tolerate the religion:

: 41% of Americans view Islam favorably, compared to 24% whose views are unfavorable.

: 42% of Americans believe Islam teaches respect for the beliefs of non-Muslims, compared to 22% who believe it doesn’t.

: 57% of Americans don’t believe Islam encourages violence, versus 14% who view it as a violent religion.

: The percentage of Americans with an unfavorable view of Islam has been dropping. In an Oct. 9 poll 47% had a favorable view, 39% said unfavorable and 13% said they didn’t know. Today: 41% said favorable, 24% said unfavorable and 35% said don’t know.

But on TV, we are no longer kinder, gentler
: Via, word that the BBC is going to recreate an infamous ’70s prison experiment as a TV show. Just where will reality TV end: hijackings, hockey-dad beatings, Gitmo prisons?

: Many thanks to my blog friend Thomas Nephew for his kind words on the occasion of our Bloggie nomination.

Sex clicks: Nevermind everything I

Sex clicks
: Nevermind everything I said in the long post below on buzz, fame, and the Web. If we just add sex appeal to weblogs, they’ll be huge, I tell you, huge.

: After the first female suicide bomber, Muslim Pundit asks how far away we can be from kid bombs: “Sadly, if the Palestinian terror groups think it will add value to their insidious PR campaign, I wouldn’t put it past them. Palestinian kids are already programmed, and heavily brainwashed from childhood, to hate Jews and Israel. At the very least, would there be any shortage of them willing to go out and do the dirty deed?”

: There has been much buzz about buzz lately, thanks to the death of Talk magazine, not to mention America’s newfound priorities after 9.11 — and, by the way, the rise of weblogs (even as we witness other sectors of the Internet falling into a sinkhole the size of Enron’s shame).

So what does it all mean? Well, I’ll tell you.

There are really two related but distinct forces at work: buzz and celebrity. Both are cornerstones of our culture — not just the pop sort of culture in People but our economic culture; celebrity and buzz are our chief exports; they drive marketing of damned near every product except perhaps steel and soybeans; they even try to set the course of politics. They will not go away, no matter how quiet Tina Brown may be or how serious our concerns may become. Celebrities are too powerful and too important to fade away.

I was lucky enough to watch a major cultural shift when I worked for People magazine in the ’80s. I was there when the stars learned the true value of their names and faces; they sold magazines. And at that moment, the balance of power and economics shifted: Journalists were no longer the gatekeepers to the audience; PR people became the gatekeepers to the stars; they managed access and thus managed the message; they got the power. The power of celebrities will not die. They define the big time.

But I believe that our relationship to celebrities will change — or already has. We will still love to watch them and gossip about them and buy what they buy. But as a result of 9.11, I do think we’ll be less likely to listen to them when they think they have something to say (Richard Gere: just be quiet). I said this in the very first day of this weblog: “Now that we know what real heroes look like, it’s real hard to take seriously all the heroes we in the media and America created before the terror: that is, celebrities.”

Buzz is a different matter. Buzz is what we talk about. Editors, journalists, pundits, producers, stars, and flacks all like to think that they create buzz and often, they do — but in the end, it’s up to us what we buzz about. And in the arena of buzz, I’ve been lucky a second time in my career to witness a fundamental shift of power. The Internet created that shift. It is the place where we the audience — we, the people — create buzz. It is — note the address above — a buzzmachine.

And that is what is giving the bloggers such a, well, buzz: With the sheer force of opinion, we create or find a critical mass of like minds. We telegraph what’s hot to each other ahead of everybody else. We buzz.

But make no mistake about it: this is not the big time. Celebrities play to audiences of millions, weblogs to thousands. That’s not to say one is better, just bigger.

So we are seeing shifts in the landscape of fame: The opinions of the stars probably do matter less; the opinions of the audience do matter more. But this is no earthquake.

Now read what Andrew Sullivan said in The Wall Street Journal about the cultural meaning of the death of Talk and the end of the Tina Brown era:

In the 1990s, the key political word was spin, and the parallel media word was buzz. Mr. Clinton was the master of one; Ms. Brown was the mistress of the other. Between the two of them, the word substance struggled for relevance. And that’s why, in the end, Talk failed….

What did her in was the changing culture. By the turn of the millennium, you could feel a shift. The burst of the dot-com bubble, the slowing economy, the election of George W. Bush, the retreat of Hollywood from Washington, the emergence of Internet media–all these began to generate a new, more substantive mood….

Sept. 11 was the watershed for Tinaism–not because of what it did to the economy, but because of what it did for the culture. That day reminded us that there are more important things than winning the news cycle, that the old virtues still matter, that substance counts, and that the opposite of “hot” is sometimes true. This culture is here to stay for the foreseeable future and it is one in which Tina Brown, as epitomized by Talk, has simply nothing to say.

Smart quotes but I’m not so sure I buy it all. What killed Talk was primarily (a) spending too much money and (b) getting too little revenue and, perhaps, (c) not finding its voice, its place in life soon enough (I was never a faithful reader; it didn’t yet hook me). And though Sullivan is quite right that we are a more serious nation today — look around; we are — I’m not sure that’s what did in Talk. Business basics did. That’s what did in the half of the Internet that’s already dead. That is what did in Enron. Business basics.

All in the family
: One of the stupidist PR moves I’ve ever seen came this morning on Today with the appearance of Ken Lay’s wife and family. They are utterly blind . Mrs. Lay is trying to bid for sympathy because she says she’s now facing bankruptcy; all their hundreds of millions were in Enron stock. Awww, poor boobala. She also makes noises about the facts coming out in an investigation — yes, they will, honey, and who do you think was in charge of this mess: your husband. The buck stopped with him and was quickly squandered. Whether or not Lay and his lieutenants did anything illegal, they clearly pushed the limits of good sense and blew billions of dollars and along with that the livelihoods and futures of thousands and thousands of families. So we are supposed to have sympathy for the Lay family? Their PR advice is every bit as good as their financial advice.

Rossi saves Broadway: Rossi has

Rossi saves Broadway
: Rossi has a new rant:

We met at the discount ticket kiosk that generally has a line of tourists wrapped around its dividers like a giant multi-colored sausage.

How can anyone wear that much color? I’m not saying I’m opposed to colorful clothing; black, gray, dark green, beige and off-white are fine, but these folks look like they walked through a crayon factory.

Anyway, I was saddened to see only a few folks in line, but when we got to the board, we saw why. There were only two big shows on sale. Les Miserables and The Full Monty. This was good news for Broadway — meant things were sold out — bad news for us…

Rudy: We blew it
: Rudy Guliani says we blew it in not seeing the warnings of a terrorist attack. From the NY Daily News:

“In the 1930s, Hitler told us what he was going to do, and we ignored it for years and years and years. In the 1990s, the terrorists told us what they were going to do. And we ignored it.”

Giuliani, who was introduced yesterday as “America’s mayor,” lambasted U.S. handling of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Iraqi’s Saddam Hussein.

“We glorified Yasser Arafat when he was training terrorists in Palestine,” Giuliani said. “We allowed Saddam Hussein to build weapons of mass destruction as we removed inspectors. And we ignored ó I can’t say the handwriting on the wall, but maybe the handwriting just in the desk drawer that just needed to be opened.

“We should never do that again.”

He also softened his stand on the World Trade Center memorial; see my 9.11 Memorial blog.

Watch out, bozos
: If the anti-world-trade bozos coming to New York cause me the slightest inconvenience or fear as I head into the city, I swear, I will bite their noses off and spray them with mace and spit on them and find any way I can to humiliate the little twerps. The last thing New York needs is trouble and we will not tolerate it.

This makes profiling tougher
: Last night, friends told us about flying and seeing 65-year-old little old American ladies being given the complete search at airports and you have to admit that’s absurd; it’s just an effort to say, “see, we don’t profile; we search old ladies, too.” The attacks have been made by young men and it’s young (Arab or suspicious) men who should be searched.

Uh-oh. But wait. Now it appears the latest suicide bomber in Israel is a woman.

History, made
: Many are pointing to the Washington Post series ticking the hours that led us to war. It is a good and gripping account.

Tom Ridge, Inc.
: Tom Ridge and George Bush have begun to release details of their homeland security plan — see the Washington Post story and the White House fact sheet.

I can’t make sense of it yet, which is a problem — part of what we need here is a decisive strategy outlined with laser clarity to we the potential victims. Still, this is a start. The highlights:

: The $37 billion budget includes, the Post says, “$6 billion for bioterrorism prevention, including medical research on vaccines; $5 billion for aviation security; $1 billion for intelligence systems and more than $11 billion for other programs, including making structural improvements and shoring up security at government buildings.

: Ridge and Bush emphasized the $3.5 billion being proposed to help “first responders” (police, fire, et al). This includes, the White House says, “$105 million to support state and local governments in developing comprehensive plans to prepare for and respond to a terrorist attack;” $2 billion to buy equipment, including personal protective equipment, chemical and biological detection systems, and interoperable communications gear; $1.1 billion to “train firefighters, police offices, and emergency medical technicians to respond and operate in a chemical or biological environment;” $245 million to “support a coordinated, regular exercise program.”

: And there’s other talk about involving “all Americans in programs to make their homes, communities, states, and nation safer and stronger.”

I don’t mean to keep harping on Ridge but see what I mean — it’s still about vague generalities and big numbers. Let’s hope that Bush gets down to the brass tacks of what this means for our protection in the State of the Union address.:

: Some new posts today at my new blog on the 9.11 memorial in New York:

: Stories about the saving of artifacts from the destruction of the World Trade Center for future memorials and museums — molten lumps of the building, the TV tower, mangled art.

: A good essay that argues that we should not turn lower Manhattan into a city of the dead.

Denton returns
: Nick Denton was quiet while he traveled to Thailand, Mexico, London, and New York (what am I doing wrong?) but now he has settled and he’s a blogging boy again. If you haven’t checked out lately, get back in the habit now that it appears he’s back in the habit.

: A scene from his current hometown of San Francisco (I tried to convince him that he belongs in New York: “young guy, disturbed, white, weaving across a street in the Financial District, emptying piles of the Bay Guardian onto the street, throwing the newspapers violently into a puddle as if they’d done something to annoy him…” Actually, I have it on good authority that that was a crazed weblogger screeching about media bias and print dinosaurs. Unconfirmed reports suggest it could be Andrew Sullivan or any number of others.