Thursday, January 29, 2009

28 years ago...SF newspapers were "stitching their own noose"

A reader unearthed this old 1981 news broadcast which poked fun of San Francisco newspapers who put content online for free...back when the newspapers cost twenty cents and online charges(for greenscreens) were five bucks an hour, with very slow connections
and no graphics.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vicious Snarkfest annoys critic, who tries to profit from the trend. But 'snot so snarky!

"New Yorker critic rails at web malice," tsks the Guardian in London. One doubts that the old school hacks just can't hack it. All this ersatz brouhaha appears to have been concocted mostly to promote Denby's latest slim volume, shown above in all its snot green glory (photographed by cogdogblog, the cur.) Snark's not a mythical critter as in the 'Hunting of the Snark' by Lewis Carroll, but a snide/remark [snark, geddit?] posted in a flame fest of sarcasm. It's what the Guardian might refer to as an irascibly arch comment if it wasn't trying to be bloggy and jiggy widdit. So embarassing all this boomer pandering to the younger, cooler set.

It is the bane of the modern world. It is cheap, nasty and heralds a new cultural dark age. It is "snark".

Or at least it is according to David Denby, a leading critic on the New Yorker magazine, who has sparked a literary debate over snark which pits the printed word against the new world of the internet.

Denby has written a slim polemical book called Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal and It's Ruining Our Conversation, that has created headlines across America. It is a ruthless assault on a tone of writing that combines malice, humour and aggressiveness. While Denby traces the origins of "snark" back to the ancient Greeks, he postulates that it is flowering in the media culture created by the internet. He says that internet message boards, gossip websites such as Gawker and Perez Hilton and the proliferation of millions of blogs have come to dominate modern media with a tone of vicious, unpleasant humour usually delivered in just a paragraph or two. He says that tone has now spread to newspapers and magazines and it is destroying American public life.

Not that Denby himself is shy of using an insult or two. "Indolent parasitism as a work ethos," he says of those who write for Gawker and its ilk. He continues: "The trouble with today's snarky pipsqueaks ... spinning around in the media from moment to moment, is they don't stand for anything or push for anything. They're mere opportunists without dedication and they don't win any victories."

Many commentators and reviewers have welcomed Denby's book as a long overdue corrective. 'God save us from Gawker's world,' opined one review in the Los Angeles Times. But others have seen Denby's outcry as the last gasp of an older media world that is being reshaped by a new generation.

"Some snarkiness is nasty, cynical and damaging. Some is insightful and serves the public good. Young people are right to see that the sometimes personally nasty satire of the Daily Show often offers more insightful political commentary than mainstream newspapers," said Professor TV Reed, a popular culture expert at Washington State University.

Not surprisingly, the reaction among the websites and columnists targeted by Denby has been less than polite. Perhaps it has even been a little ... snarky. Gawker posted a piece on the book under the headline: "Please buy David Denby's book, so he can stop talking."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Transcript: Rev. Joseph Lowery's inaugural benediction

Prayers for the new admin come in 60s vernacular. This, spoken by an 87 year old reverend, brought a smile to many boomers and somehow outraged some of the more sanctimonious conservatives as being flippant and playing the race card.

The following is a transcript of the inaugural benediction delivered by Rev. Joseph Lowery:

God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption -- and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, first lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around . . .

. . . when yellow will be mellow . . .

. . . when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

..January 20, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gaza doctor's tragedy caught on Israeli TV

Because Israelis were able to eavesdrop on this Hebrew-speaking doctor's personal tragedy on live tv, they were emotionally moved. In fact, the broadcasters used army contacts to get this doctor's surviving daughters transferred over the border at Erez, so two of the wounded girls may live. (Three are dead). This is the exception: wounded civilians have not had access to medical care across the border in Israel for the most part; some 4998 injured are treated inside Gaza, at hospitals and clinics that are being shelled.

'And Then They Came For Me'

Worth reading a j'accuse from the Grave by Lasantha Wickramatunga, an eminent Sri Lankan journalist cut down on the job

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka's ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expos‚s we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been - ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Marilyn Monroe still a million dollar image

Often imitated, yet unsurpassed, the image of the late Marilyn Monroe is extremely lucrative even though she has been dead for nearly half a century. This week, a lawsuit was settled for $1.7m dollars for salvaged shots from the last photo shoot the incandescent star did for Vogue magazine, shortly before her suicide.
The outtakes of the sex siren had been sent on to Eros magazine, now defunct.
Bert Stern, a septagenarian snapper who got litigious, owns tens of thousands of Monroe proofsheets and prints. He had been convinced that the film had been stolen after he loaned it to Eros The photographer had never had the courtesy of getting his prints back from the magazine editors (a quaint predicament much less prevalent in the digital age...) It took 47 years later found out what happened:

Photographers Donald Penny and Michael Weiss said their colleague Robert Bryan had found the film in curbside garbage in midtown Manhattan in the 1970s and kept it in a shoe box as memorabilia for the last 35 years.
Their lawyer, Jamie Brickell, said Stern acknowledges in the settlement that his clients did nothing wrong. Brickell said Penny, Weiss and Bryan never asked Stern for any money; he said they only discussed returning the transparencies in exchange for a set of prints that they could keep.
Brickell and Stern's lawyer, Stephen Weingrad, said Stern, Penny and Weiss will develop nine sets of photos from the transparencies and sell them. He said the issue of how the proceeds are to be distributed is confidential.
"Since only nine sets of seven prints each will be produced, we are very excited," Weiss of Mount Kisco, N.Y., and Penny of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., said through Brickell. "These are great shots of Marilyn Monroe. With the original film and the digital tools we now have at hand, we will be able to create wonderful, unique one-of-a-kind prints."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

'Joe the Plumber' on his way to Gaza

Wrenching news. Joe the Plumber is gonna take your job. Foreign correspondents are shaking their heads in disbelief.

Yup, that trend of celebrity reporting has hit a new low. A notable numb skull from Ohio, who was personally addressed 23 times in the presidential debates, now is volunteering for a rather nasty task. He says he's coming to Israel for a ten-day stint of amateur war reporting in the waning days of the Republican regime.

"[I'll] go over there and let their average joes share their story," said
Joe the Plumber. He'll make the call on good guys vs bad guys for for the conservative website Right. Better he fix the sewage problems of the blighted Gaza Strip.

Samuel J Wurzelbacher, dubbed America's most famous plumber since Watergate by McClatchy's Middle East Correspondent, famously told Fox news "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel," despite Obama's speech to AIPAC pledging friendship to the Jewish Nation. The celebrity hack aims to tell "Joe Six-Packs" what they want to hear. Well, Sean Penn reported from Iraq for the SF Chronicle, and Bono edited a "red edition" of the London Independent. Ben Affleck reported on the Congo situation for Time Magazine. SO maybe now it's time for this airhead to go on air, apparently.

Do American viewers understand the difference between fame and notoriety?
Do they care? The Feral Beast wagers that he won't get accredited or go any further than the standard celeb tour of Sderot taken by Mayor Bloomberg.
Perhaps Joe, the unlicensed plumber and unaccredited war correspondent, just might get to the bottom of things. Don't hold your breath.

(Hat tip to Checkpoint Jerusalem for this startling news.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bush's Beastly Behaviour in bulletpoints

Don't miss these 20 forgotten disgraces of shrubya, as featured on the Daily Beast. Best thing the aggravating aggregate site has released so far.

Sex and Shoplifting

1) In March 2006, Claude Allen, Bush's top domestic policy aide, was arrested when he tried to return items he had shoplifted from Target for cash refunds. Allen, who made $161,000 a year, blamed stress from Hurricane Katrina.

2) In 2005, bloggers perked up their ears when a reporter named Jeff Gannon asked a softball question at a Bush press conference. Some sleuthing turned up nude photos of Gannon—whose real name was James Guckert—on male escort websites.

3) Randall Tobias, Bush’s AIDS Czar, mandated that organizations must oppose prostitution in order to receive American aid. It later emerged that Tobias purchased services through the notorious D.C. Madam, though Tobias maintained he only bought “massages.”

4) The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service would not seem to be the sexiest government agency. But a departmental investigation last year found that officials had “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”

Where’d the Money Go?

5) When testifying before Congress in 2007, L. Paul Bremer, the former ambassador to Iraq, was unable to account for as much as $12 billion—about half of his budget—as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority between May 2003 and June 2004. According to a report by Rep. Henry Waxman, contractors brought bags to meetings in order to collect shrink-wrapped bundles of money.

6) In 2004, Pentagon auditors found that Halliburton had not adequately accounted for $1.8 billion of the bill it sent to the United States government for its work in Iraq and Kuwait.

7) Also that year, Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corp of Engineers' chief contracting officer, charged that KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, unfairly received billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts in Iraq. Greenhouse was demoted in 2005.


8) In 2002, Canadian citizen Maher Arar was detained at an airport in New York and spirited away to Syria where he was tortured and held for 10 months by his captors before being returned home. Canadian officials investigated Arar's case, declared he was innocent, and paid him $9 million in compensation. American officials refused to admit the mistake and instead kept Arar on a terrorist watch list.

9) Army Captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain in Guantanamo Bay, was hooded, shackled, and detained in solitary confinement for 76 days on charges of espionage. Within a year the case against Yee had collapsed and the Army tried to save face by charging him with hoarding pornography.

All the President’s Wordsmiths

10) In an e-mail to friends, Danielle Crittenden, the wife of White House speechwriter David Frum, bragged that her husband had written Bush’s famous “Axis of Evil” line. The e-mail leaked to, causing a minor scandal.

11) Part of the self-created mythology of White House speechwriter Michael Gerson was that he composed his speeches in longhand. But as fellow scribe Matthew Scully later noted: “At the precise moment when the State of the Union address was being drafted at the White House by John [McConnell] and me, Mike was off pretending to craft the State of the Union in longhand for the benefit of a reporter.”

12) First, there was Columnist Gate: In 2005, USA Today reported that conservative commentator Armstrong Williams received a $240,000 contract from the Department of Education to promote No Child Left Behind on his television show and to sell other African American journalists on the legislation. Later, The Washington Post uncovered a similar deal with columnist Maggie Gallagher to promote a marriage initiative for the Department of Health.

13) A Defense Department report in 2006 urged the military to end its practice of paying Iraqi journalists to publish pro-American stories in their newspapers, arguing the tactic would "undermine the concept of a free press."

14) According to The New York Times, Karl Rove scored lobbyist Ralph Reed in a lucrative contract with Enron in 1997 to gain his support in the 2000 presidential race.

15) David Safavian, the former chief of staff of the General Services Administration, was convicted of helping Jack Abramoff on a shady land deal as well as concealing a "lavish weeklong golf trip" paid for by Abramoff.

16) As head of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign in disgrace after he helped his "female companion," Shaha Riza, score a $60,000 pay raise and promotion—and then tried to cover it up.

Down the Memory Hole

17) Bush fundraiser Lurita Doan's gig as chair of the General Services Administration went down in flames when she was accused of asking agency staff to help Republican candidates win elections. Doan denied any wrongdoing. When witnesses said she asked her staff at a meeting "How can we use GSA to help our candidates in the next election?" Doan claimed she had no memory of the presentation.

18) Though Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, was suspected of being the anthrax mailer, that didn't keep Bush and Cheney from openly speculating that Al Qaeda was behind the attacks and even going so far as to pressure FBI officials to come up with a Bin Laden connection, according to the New York Daily News.

Mission Accomplished

19) In 2003, Bush went to a warehouse in St. Louis to give a speech entitled “Strengthening America’s Economy.” But the boxes laid out before the presidential podium bore the label "Made in China." The labels were then obscured with white paper. The White House blamed an "overzealous advance volunteer.”

The Last Word

20) The administration ethos was nicely summarized during the attorney-general scandal investigation in a testy exchange between former White House Political Director Sara Taylor and Sen. Patrick Leahy. Taylor: "I took an oath to the president. … And I believe that taking that oath means that I need to respect, and do respect, my service to the President." Leahy: "No, the oath says that you take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. That is your paramount duty. I know that the President refers to the government being his government—it's not."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

POWER magazine tolerates Facebook, then sacks clueless young blogger for anti-work

The dangers of Facebook and other communications in the workplace are rife. Anthony Spaeth of POWER magazine sacked a young woman who, though supposedly a professional journalist, was blogging away on company time-- at a just-launched publication! Here's the link to the original piece.

Do you know what your “Millennial” staffers are doing on their computers all day long? You won’t believe it. This is the "run of the millennial" hack these days, according to an influential editor in Hong Kong.

SARA WAS a very young aspiring journalist with a masters degree from a fine US journalism school. She was ambitious, plugged-in and seemed to fit the job I gave her as a writer at POWER.

But Sara had a secret life, or that’s how I, a middle-aged manager, would describe it. In fact, it was the opposite. Sara wrote a blog.

On her blog Sara detailed all the stories we were working on, months into the future. She derided the people we were interviewing, disparaged the magazine’s management and her co-workers, and ridiculed me. Sara made it clear that after three whole years in journalism she deserved superior talents to work with, more profound story assignments and a city with a better climate.

Sara opened her blog for anyone to read and one of our interview subjects, a Hollywood actor, read it. She dissed the actor. He righteously complained. I fired Sara a few hours later, after the lawyers got back from lunch.

The Power Up column is normally about physical health. This month’s is about the psychology of your staff and a generation gap affecting all offices. In today’s workplace, everyone sits in front of a computer grimacing at the screen and swearing under the breath. In ours, Stephen is laboring over a cover story; Jayson’s rejigging a page design; Robin is sweating out a delayed printing schedule.

Over in the corner, Sara was always glued to her computer screen, fingers flying.

How could we have known that she, like many people of her generation, was doing everything but work?

Sara was doing anti-work.

when i entered the workplace in the 1970s, there was a clear line between work and personal pursuits. If you read a magazine at your desk, anyone could see whether it was Forbes or People. You wouldn’t have dreamt of using the fax machine – the size of a Honda sedan – for personal communications because only offices had them. The telephone was a temptation, especially for young women, and they were stiffly warned against social calls.

Computers have simultaneously brought an unforeseen universe to our desktops – Rotten Tomato movie reviews, instant messages from horny friends – and given each worker a zone of privacy managers can’t easily breach.

As a manager, you already know that because you too surf the Net from the office for sports scores and answer emails from old buddies. It provides a nice break. You think that’s as far as it goes with your employees in their cubicles.

Not if they’re Sara’s generation.

Today’s managers are Baby Boomers or members of Generation X. Our youngest employees are called Millennials because they entered the workplace in the 21st century. For the older crowd, computer communication has replaced earlier forms such as mail, faxes or phone calls. It’s good (who likes licking stamps?) and it’s bad (will these emails ever cease?). But there’s a continuum.

In contrast, the Millennials are “digital natives.” They grew up in front of computer screens and their use of the Internet is more profound than ours. In our offices, they’re dangerous aliens.

Exhibit Number One is Facebook, a social networking site popularized by teens but now used by people of all ages. When you’re “on” Facebook, as the locution goes, you select the friends you want to communicate with and, when you change jobs or email addresses, one message reaches all.
Innocent enough – until it gets out of control. Once you have an account, it’s hard to resist adding more Facebook “friends,” and soon you’re communicating with people you never could abide or high school classmates you can’t recall. I have 157 Facebook friends, and on checking my account this morning, 66 of them have sent me “status updates.”

This could be important: someone may have moved or had a baby. Here’s what’s happening, right now, with my friends:

* Tim M is, unbelievably, almost out of turkey leftovers.
* Peter V can’t wait for this week to finish.
* Dilip C worries that Kolkata was eerily quiet and Delhi dark on return … are we sulking or have we let them scare us?
* Shiraz S hopes both sides will show restraint.
* Andy H is in Trakai.
* Lou B is thinking about his friend James Thomas Anthony Valvano while watching “Jimmy V Week” on ESPN …
* Carroll B has leaky radiators.
* Sheela S is writing like a writing fiend.
* Cecelia W is going to get some herbal tea somewhere.
* Don A is working … and working … and working …
* John K is mellow on the outside.
* Joost A is.

I kid you not, and I could go on. None of these people are teenagers; some are middle-aged. All of them have college educations, careers, lives.
Checking my friends’ status updates took me 12 minutes. And that’s without responding to any. Many people respond. If you care to, you can read the responses. You can respond to them. And then read the responses to your response …

Millennials live for this shit.

When I had newborn children, I took pictures of them, brought the film to the shop and sent copies to my parents and in-laws by snail mail. Email makes it easier to send photos to family and select friends. Social networking takes it to a different plane. You can post cute snapshots of your children for all of your friends to see (including that bozo from high school you can’t remember) and to comment on. Comment they will. You will have to respond. How much time will that take? It’s a pertinent question, because Millennials check their Facebook page first thing in the morning – in the office. And many times during the day.

Facebook is one of many such sites, and social networking is just one manner in which Millennials live on the Internet. (Separate from her blog, Sara had a website that invited visitors to “take a tour of a few of the places Sara has called home.”) Note that I didn’t say, “communicate on the Internet.” It’s a lot broader and stranger than that. Is communication telling people that you’ve eaten leftover turkey or that your radiators leak? That you’re working or that you need a “vay cay shun”?

Joost’s posting hits the mark. He’s telling his “friends” – many of whom he hasn’t seen or talked to in years, if ever – that he exists.
That’s the point for the Millennials.

For Sara, blogging about the frustration of working as a journalist was more satisfying than doing the journalism. I suspect it was irresistibly compelling. Me, my assignments and the less-experienced researcher (by three years) sitting next to her became topics of personal grievance that her cyber-buddies could lavish thoughtless sympathy upon. Instantly! Every morning Sara could look forward to responses from loved ones or cretinous strangers all around the globe to pore over and respond to ad infinitum.

In other words, the swift gratification of talking about oneself over the Net ate away at the life of a real journalist: writing stories about other people for readers you will never meet. Who needs that, or them, anymore? With dedication and labor, journalism offers the chance of accomplishment but that’s not what Millennials are about. They crave constant affirmation. They’ll spend endless hours at the computer seeding clouds in cyberspace and collecting whatever crap precipitates.

In the office, that looks like work.

I’m writing this column at home on a weekend because I find it easier to concentrate without emails, text messages and the connectedness of our working day. My world is through the looking glass from that of the Millennials. Sara’s Internet existence was like a succubus, overwhelming her professional life and intruding into our office. I didn’t pay her to write a self-glorifying and self-pitying blog that would get her fired. But Sara posted it at 7:55 on a Thursday evening. It had a title that was intended to be sarcastic but ended up ironic: “In Words We Trust – Huh?”

Sara’s words taught me about her and her generation. She needed validation from distant friends and strangers reading about the trivialities of her career or Hong Kong’s humidity, and leaving behind their reactions.
This is mine.

Illustration by Aude Van Ryn
Copyright © 2008 Infinity Media Hong Kong Limited. All rights reserved

Thursday, January 1, 2009

End of Year roundup, by Uncle Jay

This is the future of news, guys...but it's funny nonetheless!