Scott Rosenberg's Links & Comment

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Thursday, August 01, 2002 PERMALINK

Blogalalia
Dave Winer recently pointed to this essay by Meg Hourihan, "What we do when we blog," which contests the notion that blogging is exclusively a phenomenon associated with political debate or post-9/11 "war" commentary. Hourihan -- one of the original folks behind Pyra, the company that brought Blogger into the world -- writes thoughtfully on the subject, pointing out that the reverse-chronological structure of blogs can be, and is, a vehicle for any topic imaginable.

One line really jumped out at me:
  Freed from the constraints of the printed page (or any concept of "page"), an author can now blog a short thought that previously would have gone unwritten. The weblog's post unit liberates the writer from word count.

I spent years writing overnight theater reviews for the San Francisco Examiner to an exact word count (we'd agree on a number of column-inches the day before, and then I had to fill that space precisely, or write short, unless I wanted to risk having the review chopped to fit "on the flat" by a late-night copy editor's x-acto knife). Moving to the Web in 1995, I already felt "liberated from word count" -- my stories could now fill as little or as much room on the Web page as they demanded. The constraint was now not room on a piece of paper, but rather the reader's attention span.

This is a writer's paradise. It can also be a reader's hell. Word count is a discipline as well as a yoke. It forces writers to make choices; deciding what to leave out is as or more important than deciding what to put in. The discipline may matter less when one is writing for an intimate few than for a mass audience, but it remains central to effective writing. When everyone is liberated from word count, who will read the ensuing torrent of verbiage?

Maybe, of course, it doesn't matter: A blog with only a handful of readers has succeeded as long as they're the readers the writer cares about -- and who care about what the writer is saying.
comment [] 6:22:21 PM | permalink


The very phrase "Dow 36000" evokes guffaws these days, but the guys who wrote the book with that title -- James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett -- offer some cogent defense of their work in today's Wall Street Journal. Their position, in brief: They never said stocks couldn't be volatile in the short run; stocks are still undervalued; in the long run, the Dow will reach 36000. In the long run, of course, as Keynes reminded us, we're all dead.
Phillip Pearson of Second p0st has built some scripts to trawl blogland and build a snapshot of the "blogging ecosystem," collecting and ranking sites based on number of links in and out.
At tresproducers, Eric Olsen is organizing Blogcritics.com -- free music CDs from music companies looking to get their products reviewed by bloggers.

comment [] 1:08:46 PM | permalink

Barons of bankruptcy
How much money did executives at now-bankrupt companies pocket while their firms were circling the drain? The Financial Times investigates and offers this eye-opening table. (Thanks to Rafe Colburn for the link.) (Warning -- those FT links won't open if you use Opera or any other offbeat browser. Don't you hate that?) (And in the time between my posting this morning and now, 6 p.m., the Financial Times has made these articles "subscription only.")
comment [] 9:51:44 AM | permalink


Wednesday, July 31, 2002 PERMALINK

Slashdotted!
Congrats to Diego Doval's Plan B -- a blognovel. It's the first Salon blog to get a link from Slashdot, and rocket up the charts as hordes of curious geeks amble in to check out the scene.
comment [] 5:24:52 PM | permalink


Jenkins' ear
I love reading Holman W. Jenkins Jr.'s Wall Street Journal column for its insights into how business leaders think. Not for Jenkins is the conciliatory, "let's look at things from the other side's point of view" approach of his colleague Al Hunt, the Journal's token near-liberal. Jenkins provides the unvarnished master-of-the-universe capitalist perspective -- you can practically hear the squeak of the armchair leather, the chomp of the cigar. This, say his columns, is the way the world works. (Interestingly, Jenkins' bio suggests he has spent his entire career in journalism and has no business experience.)

Today Jenkins reviews the business careers of our president and vice president and exonerates them of any wrongdoing. So what if Bush benefited from some sweetheart transactions? So what if Cheney sold Halliburton high before asbestos laid it low? They're businessmen, dammit -- this is what they do!

Look, you government-handout-seeking lefties: "Mr. Cheney was hired to open doors... Not to belabor the obvious, but a big part of Mr. Bush's value to partners and investors was his political visibility too." What are you, an idiot? Of course businesses hire politicians because of who they know!

Such honesty is disarming. Strangely, though, in Jenkins' analysis, the moment Bush and Cheney got elected, everything changed: "Only a moron suspects Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney went to the trouble to become president and vice president to throw bones to business cronies."

In other words, when out of office, Bush and Cheney got paid the big bucks to win friends and influence people, because they were so well-connected; but once they took office, they suddenly cast off all ties to their "cronies" and were transformed into even-handed public citizens.

Permit me to be moronic, then, for a moment: Maybe Bush and Cheney did not become president and vice president solely to "throw bones to cronies"; maybe they got elected with the help of those cronies' cash and intend to repay the help with far more than bones. Maybe the "you wash my hands, I'll wash yours" deals that made Bush his fortune as a private citizen bear a striking resemblance to the "you wash our hands, we'll wash yours" relationship his administration has maintained with its friends in business. Maybe it's the way the world works that's moronic.
comment [] 3:03:45 PM | permalink


Recession? What recession?
Last winter the economics establishment reviewed its numbers and declared that we'd entered a "light" recession in 2001 but that it was so brief -- only one quarter of actual "negative growth" (economist-speak for "decline") -- that it didn't even technically qualify as a recession (two consecutive quarters of "negative growth"). This came as heartening news to the legions of laid-off workers, who could at least console themselves with the knowledge that the Bush administration was planning to bank some of their Social Security money in the collapsing stock market.

Now it turns out that the economy actually shrank for the first three quarters of 2001 (most of which predated the 9/11 disaster). Yes, Virginia, there was a Bush recession. For much of the U.S., there still is.
comment [] 12:29:32 PM | permalink


Olbermann vs. Coulter
Our media class has a hard time focusing on more than one subject at a time. Keith Olbermann's latest column suggests that the media's (and political elite's) mad quest to convict Bill Clinton of adultery helped push more important topics -- like our vulnerability to terrorist attack -- off the national agenda. It's a great piece: "Ann Coulter didn't cause Sept. 11... But with hindsight one has to ask why the prospect of a country unprepared for terrorism wasn't a sexy enough topic for her and the others to use to pound Clinton and the Democrats." Remember, during Monicamania, any time the Clinton administration decided to do anything in the international sphere -- like firing missiles at bin Laden's Afghanistan training camp -- it was accused of pulling a "Wag the Dog" stunt to divert the national dialogue from the more pressing matter of the presidential genitalia.
comment [] 12:12:15 PM | permalink


Bloggers vs. journalists, cont'd
Howard Kurtz says bloggers help keep big media honest by exposing errors and analyzing bias. I agree: " To lazy reporters, the world of blogs represents their worst nightmare: It's an endless parade of experts in every conceivable subject they might write about, all equipped with Internet-style megaphones ready to pounce on errors."

Trouble is, every time someone points this out, many journalists -- instead of welcoming the chance to improve their profession -- get defensive and think that their paychecks are being jeopardized. This us vs. them mentality gets us nowhere.

Here's my take, from May 1999:
  The emergence of weblogs doesn't eclipse the importance of timely news and entertainment on the Web -- if anything, it enhances the value of such original content. Mostly, it's a sign that we're only beginning to discover the best tools and strategies for helping Web users cope with the vast media terrain we all now inhabit. The webloggers have found a new and fertile niche in the Web's information ecology. They're fulfilling the predictions by Internet visionaries of the rise of a new breed of personal journalism online -- only instead of pounding the physical pavement, they forage for news on the Net itself.

comment [] 10:33:38 AM | permalink


Tuesday, July 30, 2002 PERMALINK

Salon Blog watch

Morgan Sandquist, in Gnosis, finds an "almost Shakespearian tone of irony" in the Arcata Eye's police log. Like vast numbers of other people in the blogosphere Morgan is also reading this diary of a porn store clerk, which apparently was featured recently on This American Life.
The word sounds wonderful -- like some sort of hot-rodded "Mad Max" machine skittering just at the edge of your field of vision -- but I can't say I had any idea what a "scramjet" was till just now. Thanks to David Harris's science-news blog, I'm learning: "Scramjets are oxygen-breathing engines that work at hypersonic speeds, giving off water as the only by-product and only needing some hydrogen to run." ...And it seems they've just tested one in Australia successfully -- or at least more successfully than in the past, when the things exploded.
Dave Cullen's dueling-leads poll has a winner.
Michael Bishop is blogging about comics in Words and Pictures Weblog.
Last night, Joe, of the People are Stupid blog, posted the entire text of Kafka's grim "Parable of the Doorkeeper." Today, he reports a "Kafkaesque experience": he got laid off from a technology startup. Life imitates blog?

comment [] 4:43:21 PM | permalink


Salon Blogs progress report
Salon Blogs is a week old. Several hundred people have downloaded and installed the software. We had some slow patches with the server the first few days but we think those are a thing of the past (let me know if they're not).

I've seen some posts out there in blogland critical of the fact that Salon is charging for this service. I make no apology for that. As we acknowledge in our FAQ, we know there are plenty of free alternatives out there, and that's just fine -- the Net's a big place and there's room for lots of different approaches. But hosting and maintaining a service costs money, and in these post-bubble times it seems reasonable to ask users for a modest fee in return for good service and good software.

I've also seen some questions raised about Salon's viability. Well, we made our latest financing announcement yesterday. Certainly this has been a difficult business in the current downturn. But in the past, everyone who's bet against our survival has lost. People asked us the same kind of question a year and a half ago when we launched Salon Premium; most of those people have stuck around to renew their subscriptions after the first year.
comment [] 12:14:10 PM | permalink


Salon Blog watch
Wozz offers tips on finding "open source music" -- artists who follow the old Grateful Dead model of allowing fans to tape and trade recordings of live shows.
You've probably read about the new bankruptcy bill that Congress is this close to passing -- it makes it tougher for consumers to declare bankruptcy and wipe out their credit-card debts. The credit card companies are wildly in favor of this, of course (I'd have more sympathy for them if they didn't so avidly market high-interest cards to people with marginal credit histories). The bill has now gotten tangled up in crossfire between factions in the abortion wars. The Bush Impeachment Countdown has an intriguing Machiavellian explanation for what's happening.

comment [] 7:09:20 AM | permalink


Monday, July 29, 2002 PERMALINK

Music to no one's ears
In tonight's Salon cover story, Farhad Manjoo surveys the sorry state of the online music world. Much of the file-trading world has been hobbled by the RIAA's legal assault, yet the music industry has not stepped forward with an alternative that makes sense.

In its prime, Audiogalaxy was beautiful, even better than Napster -- it allowed us to hunt for an obscurity even when the people who had the track weren't currently online, then download it once they reconnected. I used Audiogalaxy to fill out the odd corners of my library with live recordings and rarities; every artist whose work I downloaded and kept was one whose entire recorded commercial oeuvre I've already paid for in CD form.

My demographic profile may not be exactly what the record companies are after (I'm 43), but I've probably spent $1000 a year on music for the last decade or so; it's my biggest personal-entertainment expense by far. My music purchases soared during the heyday of Napster and Audiogalaxy, when I could easily sample new bands and new work; in recent months my purchases have tapered off. If the music industry wants to know where its sales have gone, there's one clue.

In the meantime, anyone who's looking for an online music service that offers variety and depth and doesn't try to control your behavior or limit how you can listen to the music you pay for, I recommend EMusic. For $10 a month you get unlimited access to their catalog. No, they don't have the major labels' hot hits. But they have enough interesting stuff to keep the alternative/indie fan happy for months -- like vast quantities of Guided by Voices, They Might Be Giants, Yo La Tengo and Pavement -- plus oldies, jazz and other eclectica.((Full disclosure: EMusic has worked with Salon on the music mixes we offer our Premium subscribers. I'm not involved with that -- and I gladly pay the company for its service.)
comment [] 9:37:27 PM | permalink


Media mogul musical chairs
No sooner does the news break that Bertelsmann boss Thomas Middelhoff has lost his job than we hear that he is mulling over a job offer from AOL Time Warner. Next: Will departed AOL honcho Robert Pittman be signed by Vivendi, which recently ousted its leader, Jean-Marie Messier? Will Messier, overcoming centuries of Franco-German rivalry, consider an offer from Bertelsmann? When the music stops, will any of these men -- who know more about marketing and hype than about media, new or old -- be out of a job? Maybe it's time for some new blood at the top of these companies, since the folks who have run them for the last several years made such a colossal mess.
comment [] 10:54:28 AM | permalink


Superfund follies
Damien Cave's Salon cover story today is a must-read. "Companies like Atlas Tack, and its parent company, Great Northern Industries, are the happy beneficiaries of the Bush administration's new Superfund policy. By refusing to clean up the sites and then collect costs from the responsible parties, Bush and the EPA have essentially given the nation's biggest corporate polluters a multimillion-dollar reprieve -- at a huge personal cost to less influential citizens."
comment [] 10:40:55 AM | permalink


Sunday, July 28, 2002 PERMALINK

Salon Blog watch
We're getting some interesting subject-specific blogs underway:
David Harris is posting on Science News.
Tor Andre is reviewing TV shows like "Monk" and "Witchblade."
And Jennifer B. Powell is blogging environmental news.

comment [] 2:14:42 PM | permalink


Those miners in Pennsylvania have been rescued. Sometimes these slow-news-week disaster stories have happy endings.
comment [] 7:23:03 AM | permalink


Saturday, July 27, 2002 PERMALINK

Salon Blog watch
Albert Delgado is posting Teacher Stories.
Matt the Heckler finds Tom Delay's anti-corporate rhetoric ringing a bit hollow.
What would Salon Blogs be without a Bush Impeachment Countdown? -- only the blog, which sports plenty of dirt on the president, does not seem to have an actual countdown. I guess that can only begins after the special prosecutor is appointed.
John Farr blogs in from Taos, New Mexico, with comments on the end of "open computing" -- and a feed of photos that will make you want to hop on the nearest mode of transport and visit his state (I do).
Diego Doval is unrolling Plan B -- a "blognovel" from cubicleland.

comment [] 12:34:58 PM | permalink


Friday, July 26, 2002 PERMALINK

Ferry 'cross the Lethe: A new album from Bryan Ferry? in 2002? On "Frantic," the sheen on Ferry's croon has cracked a bit -- with age, or disuse, or pain, I don't know. But it's becoming. The perfection of his "Avalon"-style gloss was seductive but barren -- a sort of vocal embalming had taken place. Here he sounds battered, but alive and kicking back, with a mixture of Dylan covers, dance numbers and old Roxy Music-style extravaganzas. I think it's his best work since "Siren."
comment [] 6:08:15 PM | permalink


Twilight of "open computing"? This little sentence was in John Markoff's Thursday N.Y. Times piece covering Microsoft's .NET summit:

  Microsoft also warned today that the era of "open computing," the free exchange of digital information that has defined the personal computer industry, is ending.

It had folks on Slashdot scratching their heads, wondering whether this was a trumpet blast against open-source software development (which would have been odd at the same time Microsoft was sealing a deal to bring the open-source Apache web server into the .Net tent) or a warning to file-sharers that the boom is about to be lowered on their heads (which might make sense during the same week that Hollywood-friendly congressmen introduced a bill making it legal for copyright holders to hack into your computer to see if you've been naughty).

The statement is in fact opaque. I'd guess that Microsoft is trying to say, "The free-for-all that began with the Internet boom is over -- everybody better get used to paying more for everything digital from now on." Which is probably, whether we like it or not, an accurate description of reality. The troubling thing, for Microsoft and everyone else in the technology business, is that the free-for-all also caused the Internet boom. It was the "free exchange of digital information" that enable the amazing growth rate of the '90s, along with all the sales of hardware and software. Cutting it off may be what the holders of intellectual property rights (which includes both "content" publishers and software companies) want. Cutting it off is also a recipe for stagnation and loss.
comment [] 11:47:19 AM | permalink


Salon Blog watch
Dave Cullen is posing an interesting question: Three different leads for an op-ed piece. Which is best? He's also wondering about interactivity on blogs. "I'm just supposed to rant along in monologue?" Well, the comments option is there but, the way Radio UserLand's interface is set up, the comments tend to be hidden from view. My experience is that the "interactivity" of blogs takes place *between* blogs, as bloggers comment on and link to one another's posts.
Christian Crumlish compares Radio UserLand and LiveJournal on Radio Free Blogistan.
Roots and Branches: Confucian views on the war on terror and the corruption scandals.
Ken Schellenberg appreciates E. F. Benson's "Lucia" books on his Book Blog.
2nd and Beale tracks the Memphis music scene.

comment [] 10:53:48 AM | permalink




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