Posts from September 2002

Dr. Blog: Woods Lot (which

Dr. Blog
: Woods Lot (which finds no end of amazing stuff from all corners of the web world) points us to a sympathetic scholarly paper on bloggering from the University of Oslo. (I just discovered I’m in the bibliography. Mom would be so impressed.)

The ratings that count
: Here is what the audience is saying about last night’s Soprano’s season premiere, on my Soprano’s forum. They’re unenthusiastic.

: Update: But now the defenders of last night’s episode are piping up.

: Soprano’s, the Jersey bus tour.

: Something they could use on the Soprano’s in this tight economy: do-it-yourself casket kits [via WSJ].

The W Network
: Doesn’t Fox go overboard broadcasting every single speech by George Bush that he makes? Are they all news?

Death to paperwork
: The Palm Beach Post reports that copy paper stores in the mailroom of the anthrax-infected tabloid HQ in Florida spores and that copying machines then distributed them throughout the building:

According to the FBI’s reconstruction of events, AMI employees unwittingly distributed the clinging spores throughout the building when taking reams of copy paper to every department in the building, including AMI’s library, executive offices and such publications as The National Enquirer, Weekly World News and National Examiner, which were published in the building.

When the copy paper was inserted into the machines and used to make copies, investigators believe, the spores dislodged and were “aerosolized” into the atmosphere by the whirring fans and other moving parts of the high-speed copiers.

: I’m delighted to have my first piece included in Eric Olsen’s It’s the piece about HBO and the Sopranos, below. It felt good to write about show biz again.

: Also, note the bad news: Eric is abandoning his other blog because he has a life; the good news: he’s now devoting his considerable energies to Blogcritics.

The HBO Weltanschauung – or

The HBO Weltanschauung – or – Why we love The Sopranos

: There’s a reason the return of The Sopranos is getting so much hype and praise. There’s a reason that HBO’s original dramas and comedies get so many awards. There’s a reason we as a nation are taking to these shows with enthusiasm, embracing them like oracles of the age. The reason:


HBO’s Weltanschauung — its world view — is the most honest you can find on TV. And it’s not a pretty view.

Analyze the lineup:

: The Sopranos is all about corruption, how a family, a business, a relationship can be corrupted by greed, power, sex, selfishness, evil.

: Six Feet Under is about family — a family who might as well be dead, like the dead they care for

: Sex and the City says we’re all terribly lonely — and as if that’s not bad enough, we’re all terribly horny, too.

: Curb Your Enthusiasm tells the story of an everyman — and says that every man can be an ass.

: Oz shows a world drained of any redeeming virtue; it invents hell.

: The Wire finds too many similarities between the means and motives of criminals and cops.

: Arli$$ says sports is show biz and show biz is bull.

: Project Greenlight took real show biz executives and exposed them for the obnoxious boors we always suspected they were.

: Taxicab Confessions brings grim, sad reality to reality TV.

: Mind of the Married Man makes Berman’s view of marriage look like Mormon propaganda.

No, it’s not pretty, not at all. Yet we love it — because it speaks to us, it speaks for us, it reflects our view of life, it reflects a view you won’t find elsewhere on TV or in movies. It’s honest.

Compare this to the story in the Wall Street Journal on Friday about how ABC/Disney is trying desperately to appeal to middle America by rounding off every edge from every show. ABC is trying to pander to us. This is not creativity. This is corporate committee think, and committees always kill creativity. This has no voice, no vision. This is essentially insulting to every single one of us in the audience — it says that we can’t feel for ourselves, that we can’t appreciate the message of art, that we want to be pandered to, that we’re all just so much cultural tapioca, media mush. Says the Journal:

It’s the opposite of the strategy earning industry praise and envy for HBO, where writers and producers create shows such as “The Sopranos” without much corporate interference. Also, in managing by consensus, ABC runs the risk of turning out middle-of-the-road shows rife with compromises. Many breakout hits — “Seinfeld,” “Hill Street Blues” and ABC’s own “NYPD Blue” — don’t test well or flout the conventions.

You see, H.L. Mencken was dead wrong. He said: “No one in this world… has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” But plenty of network executives have done just that.

HBO, on the other hand, is giving us, the great masses of plain people, the audience, credit for our considerable taste and intelligence by giving us quality shows (that are even worth paying for). But they aren’t the first to do that; NBC, in its heyday, gave us lots of quality and smart shows; alonside all the reality kitsch now filling the air (an overdose that will fade away like all fads before) there are many good shows on TV now (and they rise to the top of the ratings because we, the people, we Americans, do, contrary to popular assumption, have good taste).

No, what’s truly remarkable about HBO’s lineup is that it has the courage to be so dark and often depressing.

And what’s remarkable about America today is that we have responded to this so eagerly. We’re eager to be depressed, eh?

That says much about our true national psyche.

On the outside, we’re waving flags and fists; we’re buying cars and homes and keeping the economy going; we’re playing the strong, silent types.

But on the inside, we’re pretty damned miserable, depressed, angry, lonely, and frustrated — we’re a mopey mess — and watching HBO is our group therapy. We know the truth that HBO’s show speak about corruption is fully realized in Enron, Anderson, Worldcom, Tyco, et al. We know that show biz is bull and reality can be sad. We as nation — where too many of us are either posting personals online or searching for porn online or now getting divorces online — are too often lonely. It all rings true.

That’s why we love HBO.

Mind you, honesty doesn’t have to be dark and depressing and sad and angry — just some/much/most of the time. It’s not the mood that matters; that’s not what truly speaks to us. Instead, it is the willingness, the courage to be honest that grabs us.

That is the secret to Howard Stern‘s unprecedented popularity and success. He’s honest, unflinchingly, bravely honest. And funny.

So there is a moral to this story: If you give us credit for our intelligence and if you give creative talent the room to create and if you don’t try to lie to us, we the audience will respond and you will succeed. HBO is the proof.

Society of 9.11 Survivors: I

Society of 9.11 Survivors
: I wish someone — I wish I — had started a society of 9.11 survivors for one purpose: to thank the police and fire fighters and PATH and subway and World Trade Center workers who saved our lives, thousands and thousands of us.

I wish such a society existed for the anniversary so we could have gotten together to share our stories of that day and since and to share our gratitude and just to know that we’re not alone.

I wish I had not thought of this too late. Is it too late?

Take the point, blogger
: Matt Welch finds the blog of the times — by soldiers in Afghanistan.

Instapundit readers, take note
: The good idea to which the generous Mr. Reynolds links is below under the headline, “Go West, Old Men.” Welch and Layne link likewise, for obvious reasons. It’s about their L.A. paper.

Every picture is worth a thousand cheers
: From the arrest of terrorist scum in Pakistan. [via Focus]

: Details of the arrest from a Pakistani paper: There were three raids between Sept. 9 and 11 in Pakistan. In one, a grenade and gun battle ensued.

Sitting in a black sedan, four agents of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) watched intently as a posse of Pakistan military intelligence and police officials climbed a narrow staircase to enter a second floor apartment of a four-apartment building in Karachi’s posh residential district of Defence Society early morning on September 11….

“The Pakistani was such a motivated extremist that he inscribed Allah o’ Akbar with his blood on the wall before he died of bullet wounds on the chest and the neck,” according to a police official who confessed that the scene disturbed him emotionally….

Karachi police and other security officials suspect that the eight Yemenis arrested during the recent anti al-Qaeda crackdown may include the two Yemenis who are believed to have aided Khalid Sheikh in the killing and subsequent decapitation of [murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel] Pearl’s body.

What he says
: Reid Stott speaks the truth about Eunice Stone and the (young, male, Arab) bozos at Shoney’s who thought that terrorism is is a joke and that Americans are the butt of that joke.

: See also Donald Sensing, whom Reid quotes:

Listen up: If you are of Middle Eastern appearance and you talk or act in any way that makes me think you are a potential threat to my safety or that of my countrymen, be forewarned: I will profile your tail from here to Timbuktu. I will rat on you like the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

: The Blue Man Group produces a beautiful September 11th memorial (which I just found via Bear): a video montage of the papers that fell on one neighborhood — far from the World Trade Center — on September 11, singed remainders and reminders of the lives there.

One life, one death
: I’m sure I was one of many bloggers to get email pointing us to a memorial site for one beautiful young woman named Shiri, one of too many victims of too many terrorist attacks in Israel. There are far too many Shiris.

Beats Graceland
: Via Die Zeit, a link to a phenomenal site mapping the tombs of the pharoahs, the Theban Mapping Project. Launch the atlas and don’t miss the 3D tomb.

Reason No. 4,786,547 why AT&T is a dead empire
: AT&T screws its cable modem customers. Big time.

: From one of my favorite blogs — Holy Weblog — comes a link to a parody of those obnoxious billboards that purport to speak for God (which is just as obnoxious as bumperstickers speaking for God; they’re just as stupid but they’re a lot bigger). At, here are alternative billboards:

– I never said, “Thou shalt not think.”

Go West, old men: The

Go West, old men
: The Chicago Tribune is considering starting a tabloid aimed at the “MTV generation” (an unfortunately condescending label but let’s get past that).

A decent if ironic idea. I used to work on a tabloid in Chicago owned by Tribune: Chicago Today, the paper that had no tomorrow. Tribune Company (never say “The Tribune Company”) folded the paper in 1974.

I have a different idea for Tribune: Start this tabloid in L.A. It’s a city that could use another paper (as opposed to Chicago, which already has another). It’s the entertainment capital of the world (these people make the stuff the MTV generation watches). Don’t do it out of your recently acquired LA Times; that would be a disaster and too expensive. Instead, find a couple of smart, eager, iconoclastic journalists to do it independently; fund the venture; add a dash of synergy (in terms of ad sales and distribution); enjoy the intramural competition; enjoy, too, the extended reach into the market.

Of course, I can nominate just the two guys for the job. You can see their work here. They already have a plan. Just set them loose.

: Note, too that this beats the hell out of former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan’s plan to start an L.A. version of the NY Observer, a very good paper that, nonetheless, loses money.

Life in verse
: Will Warren has a truly startling poem today about the malignancy that terrorism is and illustrating it with a cancer diagnosis in verse. Amazing. He concludes:

On that day we awoke, and this we know:

The man of malice poses the greatest threat.

If his way be clear, our doom, and his, are met.

Our best will block his way, and each will go

As a surgeon, not exchanging eye for eye:

Excising malignity, dispatching the lie.

True American heroine
: Eunice Stone.

: now reports:

Federal sources involved in the investigation said they believe the three men – all U.S. citizens – were playing a stupid joke on another restaurant patron who gave them a suspicious look.

Not surprising. But Eunice still did the right thing and these three “jokers” will learn a lesson.

Terrorism is no joke.

What every man needs
: A lead-lined cup in his pants.

: A Microsoft researcher finds what is purported to be the first :-).

Disappointing: It wasn’t a punchline. It was a boring geek bulletin-board post proposing a new and open standard for irritatingly cute uses of punctuation. [via]
: Tim Blair gives it to Salon as only he can.

The Church of Blog: Four

The Church of Blog
: Four times as many people have read my sermon online as heard it in church last night.

: Was I making fun of California. Oh, sorry, I should have been making fun of Florida, the state filled with moldy-brained doofi.

Community, care and feeding of
: Clay Shirky has wise things to say about community (speaking to a bunch from the BBC):

The order of things in broadcast is “filter, then publish.” The order in communities is “publish, then filter.” If you go to a dinner party, you don’t submit your potential comments to the hosts, so that they can tell you which ones are good enough to air before the group, but this is how broadcast works every day. Writers submit their stories in advance, to be edited or rejected before the public ever sees them. Participants in a community, by contrast, say what they have to say, and the good is sorted from the mediocre after the fact.

Media people often criticize the content on the internet for being unedited, because everywhere one looks, there is low quality — bad writing, ugly images, poor design. What they fail to understand is that the internet is strongly edited, but the editorial judgment is applied at the edges, not the center, and it is applied after the fact, not in advance. Google edits web pages by aggregating user judgment about them, Slashdot edits posts by letting readers rate them, and of course users edit all the time, by choosing what (and who) to read.

He goes on to say that weblogs aren’t really community because there isn’t, in a weblog, a lot of community communication. They’re publishing. And he’s right.

But what has fascinated me about this world of weblogs is that as a group, they are a community. There is, to use the jargon, “intercast” communications between and among webloggers: I link to and comment on somebody, publicly; they do likewise; others join in; zap: community.

And there is also the sort of after-the-fact editing-by-community that Shirky describes above: The best (or most controversial or bombastic) get links; links beget links; Blogdex quantifies the links; that, in turn, begets links and traffic (for a day, anyway). Cream rises. (Then it quickly curdles…. This is the online equivalent of the old newspaper fishwrap metaphor: Hot today, history tomorrow.)

A vente connection
: When I left the memorial services in Manhattan yesterday, I wanted to sit down and write — and blog — just then, so I found the nearest Starbucks and, voila, I was online. I have to say, T-mobile has this working like a charm: easy and slick if too expensive. If I were still a travelin’ man, I’d be using this all the time. It almost makes me like Starbucks. Almost.

Go out of business? That assumes they ever had a business…
: A truly stupid, bit-wasting debate going on over Salon and its tasteless publication of tasteless comments on September 11th (and what was I saying about Californians and September 11th?). Damian Perry says they should go out of business, then wimps out and says he doesn’t really mean it, and then Scott Rosenberg of Salon blathers on, as only a Salonite can, about all this.

Meanwhile, Salon glub-glubs under its debt and lack of profit. Fate will take its course.

On lighter notes…
: Can’t someone take the President aside and teach him how to say “nuclear?”

: So I’m walking down Sixth Avenue today, downtown of midtown, and there are two young Greenpeace geeks wearing yellow (is it too obvious if they wear green? and by the way, why does that trucking company Yellow have an orange logo, but I digress) hitting up everyone walking by like a couple of sidewalk spammers. I walk by them twice. They hit everyone.

But they don’t hit me.

I’m wearing a gray suit and white shirt.

A colleague of mine calls that my protective coloration for my job. Works for the street, too: “Don’t bother the guy in the suit. Obviously, a greedy, earth-killing ass.”

: I’m glad September 11th is over.

: I wasn’t going to say anything about September 11th today. But here I am because I have to: Read Lileks today; even better than yesterday.

: And here I go again: A radioactive ship caught off the Jersey coast. Just when I thought it was safe…