Quote of the Day

Posted July 7th, 2009 in Media, Politics by Scott Forbes

President Obama, in Russia, announcing an agreement that will reduce by one-fourth the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals:

You know, this is part of American culture. Michael Jackson, like Elvis, like Sinatra, when somebody who’s captivated the imagination of the country for that long passes away, people pay attention and I assume at some point people will start focusing again on things like nuclear weapons.

Making the news

Posted June 21st, 2009 in Media, Politics by Scott Forbes

In 1991 there was a short-lived coup in Russia — and I almost missed it, because I didn’t have cable television at the time. CNN was running round-the-clock coverage, but I only found out later, by glancing at newspaper headlines, that Boris Yeltsin had climbed onto a tank and stared down the coup plotters.

In 1997 Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, and I learned about it from CNN.com — I happened to be in front of the computer at the time of the crash, and the news came in as I refreshed. It was the first major world event that I learned about from the web.

Today Iran is going through its greatest political upheaval since the Shah died, and the best sources for Persian news are from YouTube, Twitter, and Andrew Sullivan, who has turned his blog into an absolutely indispensable clearinghouse for all things Iran. Sullivan’s aggregating content from literally thousands of sources; it’s raw, unfiltered and “unverified” per the traditional canons of journalism — but the sheer quantity of reporting verifies itself, and captures a more realistic “you are there” feeling of events than Edward R. Murrow ever dreamed.

Iranian protesters equipped with cameras and cell phones are, in every sense possible, making the news.

A while ago I wrote about the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and how the ongoing collapse of the newspaper industry leaves a gap in the field of investigative journalism: The beat reporter who knows City Hall inside and out isn’t getting paid in the new post-newspaper era. (For that matter the foreign correspondent got lost in the budget cuts quite a while ago, which is part of why the best reporting from Iran is on YouTube.) I don’t know whether investigative reporting can always be crowd-sourced, but the way this week’s top story is being circulated could be a glimpse into the future of journalism.

Our new dog

Posted May 25th, 2009 in Uncategorized by Scott Forbes

Our new dog

My wife has wanted a dog for as long as I’ve known her, and now that we actually own a house it was only a matter of time: “Lady” is a two year-old (we think) Staffordshire Terrier mix, rescued from an animal shelter that was hours away from putting her down; the shelter says she was a stray, but we find that hard to believe given her temperament — this dog has been indoors and around people all her life.

The shelter she came from was in eastern Washington state, so we suspect she may be one of several dozen dogs that were forced out of Moses Lake, WA after the city council passed an ordinance requiring pit bull1 owners to carry hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability insurance.

  1. The American Staffordshire Terrier is a “bully” breed and is often lumped in with the pit bull as a dangerous breed; Lady is about as dangerous as a children’s plush toy, unless you’re the rug in our dining room. []

Quote of the Day

Posted May 12th, 2009 in Politics by Scott Forbes

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who as an ex-Navy SEAL is one of the few politicians in America with first-hand knowledge of waterboarding:

You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

They ain’t making any more of it

Posted May 10th, 2009 in Science by Scott Forbes

Via Kevin Drum comes this report of once-habitable Pacific islands that aren’t anymore:

The evacuation of the Carteret Islands have begun. This morning I stood on black volcanic sand, pressed up right against the jungle, and watched a small white boat powered by a single outboard engine run in against the shore. On board were five men from the Islands, the fathers of five families, who have come to finish building houses and gardens already begun in a cleared patch of jungle at Tinputz, on the east coast of Bougainville. When these homes are ready the five will return to the Carterets, to fetch their wives and children back. Life, they hope, will be better for them here. On the Carterets, king tides have washed away their crops and rising sea levels poisoned those that remain with salt. The people have been forced to move.

As I recall there are parts of Australia which were once suitable for farming, but as irrigation drew down the subterranean water table, the sea came in to take its place — killing the crops with salt.

iPhone Lite predictions

Posted May 2nd, 2009 in Tech by Scott Forbes

As John Gruber analyzes the latest iPhone rumors, I’ll build on his description of a “new, lower-priced, smaller, and more adorable iPhone” with some baseless speculation:

I think the iPhone Lite will simplify the iPhone’s overly complex one-button interface — it’ll have no buttons, and no microphone or speaker. It will require the use of a headset, and Apple will introduce a new Bluetooth headset with volume controls to accompany it.

Take an iPhone, remove the button on the front, the internal speaker, the microphone, the volume controls and maybe the camera, and you’re left with a device about the size of a credit card and the thickness of the new iPod Shuffle. The most popular carrying case doubles as a bifold wallet.

Ferris Bueller’s Felonious Day Off

Posted April 28th, 2009 in Humor by Scott Forbes

Too funny to pass up: A list, citing the relevant state and federal laws, of crimes committed by Ferris Bueller and friends during his joyride / truancy / impersonation of a police officer / and the list goes on.

(via Kottke)

What Hilzoy said

Posted April 20th, 2009 in Politics by Scott Forbes

I don’t do “what she said” posts often (actually never, come to think of it), but Hilzoy’s post on why we should prosecute war criminals, even if they were high-ranking members of the executive branch — especially if they were high-ranking members of the executive branch — pretty much covers it. This isn’t a partisan issue, unless you believe the rule of law shouldn’t apply to members of your own party.

Clay Shirky on newspapers

Posted March 15th, 2009 in Media, Seattle by Scott Forbes

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

I mentioned Clay Shirky in passing when I wrote about the imminent demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (now just days away), and now Clay himself has written a longer article discussing how newspapers solve a problem which no longer exists, economically speaking: The cost of distributing news is no longer tied to the physical printing press. How we cover the costs of collecting news, of performing investigative journalism, rooting out corruption, etc., is the interesting question going forward.

(Link via Boing Boing.)

The Last Newspaper

Posted February 18th, 2009 in Media, Politics, Seattle by Scott Forbes

Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District Democrats hosted an interesting panel discussion last night about the imminent demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is due to close next month if no buyer steps forward. Panelists included the managing editor of the P-I, editors from the paper’s print rivals, the Seattle Times and alt-weekly The Stranger, a city councilman, and the chair of an organization trying to preserve Seattle’s status as a two-paper town.

As I listened to the panelists I was thinking about the writings of Clay Shirky, and about two ways in which the web has fundamentally undercut print journalism:

  1. Craigslist has destroyed the financial foundation of the daily newspaper, by taking away the main source of advertising dollars: Classified ads. Nobody starts a job search these days by cracking open the local paper and skimming the want ads, and every year more people turn to the internet when shopping for cars, real estate and other goods that used to dominate print advertising.
  2. Print newspapers require editors and fact-checkers to maintain the quality of their product; the printed page necessarily limits what gets published, and gatekeepers are required to filter out dreck and errata. The web allows anyone to publish anything, and makes no up-front effort to screen out nonsense; instead, it relies on an army of volunteers to find quality articles after the fact. People like Jason Kottke are the 21st century’s newspaper editors, trolling the web and linking to interesting or “newsworthy” stories, and the web makes that job both easier and less financially rewarding.

So the question isn’t really whether Seattle will become a one-paper town: It is, as the panelists agreed, what will happen when Seattle (and most other cities) become zero-paper towns within the next decade. The panel’s concern was that in-depth local reporting of, say, political corruption or city schools — stories that required months of legwork — would be lost; the web is ruthlessly efficient at wide-and-shallow reporting, on everything from sports scores to presidential campaigns, but no one has figured out how to make narrow-and-deep investigative journalism profitable in a post-newspaper world.

I think the answer, which probably won’t please the professional journalists on yesterday’s panel, is that we need to start making reducing the effort required to expose corruption or research the performance of city schools — that it’s time to bring tools like the Freedom of Information Act up to date, such that any information subject to a FOIA request is already online and available to armchair journalists. Publicly traded companies should be required to keep “live” financial reports online, instead of offering mere quarterly reports to under-informed investors — and a scam like Bernie Madoff’s should be impossible to pull off because everyone can see what he’s doing.

This is, unfortunately, not the best news for today’s professional journalists: The majority of them will be forced to find paying work in some other field. The market is unwilling to pay professionals for work that a swarm of amateurs will perform for free, whether it’s an opinions-page article on the city council meeting or an interview with the coach of the Seahawks — so it becomes a question of what amateurs aren’t doing for free, and how we can allow the amateurs to do those things cheaply and effectively.

The panel’s suggestion, in fits and starts, was to find ways for the public to fund investigative journalism as a public good — but I think that approach is a dead-end, and indeed one of the panelists was vocal about the dangers of allowing public officials to fund investigations of public corruption. It’s possible to imagine a PBS-like entity which performs the in-depth journalism functions of a city newspaper, but it’s also easy to imagine the conflicts of interest that would arise.

I’m also not thrilled with the right-wing Seattle Times being the only paper in town, but unless I come up with several hundred million dollars in the next thirty days, I don’t see how that’s going to be avoided. If I’m right, though, it’ll only be that way for a few more years.