Friday, March 29, 2002

Guestimonial II
Yesterday I watched Noam Chomsky in "Manufacturing Consent" three times as I was programming. The programming came to nothing much; I'm trying to figure out MIDI functions using Java.

Anyway, I'm thinking of becoming an activist. What an inspirational story. Of course, the whole time I was thinking of Media Diet and how great it is that I can use the Internet now (it wasn't nearly as possible in 1992, and I wonder what Noam has to say of the possibilities). But it is only useful if people communicate: what happened to me today, what happened to you.

Well, thanks Heath for this forum. I now listen to WUMB-FM's folk shows on Live365. I bet you can hear my local station KBOO-FM online too.

I had a resolution of sailing at least once a week. I think I'll amend writing to Heath and Media Diet, if he takes it.
-- Rob Upson
Humor Me IV

Pow! Magazine #2, November 1966, Humor-Vision Inc., NYC, NY (bimonthly, 30 cents)

Publisher: Robert C. Sproul
Editor: Milton Duggan
Production: Ray Brunshaw
Artists and Writers: Andy Dutton, Ward Williams, Thomas Lorton, Vic Twinner, Shirley Saunders, Ben K. Lorton, Frank Frumkin, Arlene Peyton, Charlie Place, Mel Craft, Arnie Brickmush, and Iggy Noonan
Water Cooler: supplied by the Gunga Den Wet Water West Company Inc.

Cover: John Severin image of Powman! running toward an out-of-order telephone booth as a giant lizard monster tramples through town. Cover lines: Humor-Vision Presents; A Monstrous Barrage of Mighty Mirth!; The Magazine That Contains Instant Laughs; Fab Bonus -- A Crazy Champ "Camp" Certificate

Inside front cover... Photo funnies including a scene from Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Best joke: "Which hand has the M&M's?"

p. 4 Pow! Mail Call Reader letters about features in #1

p. 5 Super Heros in Advertising d/McCartney... Products are pitched by a Captain Marvel-like superhero, Buttman and Nick O'Teen, and Wonder Peddler

p. 9 Like It's Happening Now! Photo funnies aiming at iced tea, tennis, and baseball cards include scenes from Hercules and the Princess of Troy and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

p. 10 Camping Out d/Richard Doxsee... The outdoors life is funny. And scary

p. 12 Ultra Realistic Dolls d/McCartney... Action figures and their accessories based on racketeers, beatniks, communists, Wall Street brokers, Bridget Bardot, college basketball players, and vampires

p. 16 I Wake Up Screening! d/Golden... TV makes it necessary to edit movies' original widescreen. Now that's funny!

p. 20 Pow's Pix Strike Again! Photo funnies jab at Kentucky, hair dye, and the Chinese mafia

p. 21 The Man on the Ledge d/McCartney... The South will rise again!

p. 22 Handshakes d/Will Elder(?)... Hip grips for doctors, prizefighters, panhandlers, bowlers, hitchhikers, modern artists, farmers, bartenders, and drama critics

p. 24 Build This Beautful Color TV Set How not to make a TV

p. 26 Robbin Hood and His Band of Merrie Men d/Will Elder(?)... What if Robin Hood weren't so pure?

p. 29 Phone Services for Tots and Teens d/John Severin... Sexy, sexy toe dialing; pocketbook phones; monster fan phones; health faddist phones; and other telecommunications innovations. Additionally, Telephone roulette and classroom services

p. 34 G.I. Remember Those Days! Photo funnies drawing on U.S. Army stock photography. Best joke: "Play 'Melancholy Baby'!! (Hic!!)"

p. 36 Dinosaurs Are Sweeping the Country d/John Forte

p. 38 More Nuts A-Go-Go! Five gag panels by Don Orehek, O'Brien, and others

p. 39 Fresh, Fast & Funny! Photo funnies featuring scenes from Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Crack in the World. Best joke: "Of course I don't know how to do the frug. This is 1809, remember?"

p. 40 The Testimonial Dinner d/Burgos... It turns into a roast once the chef's son perfects the truth serum

p. 42 Stories of the Month d/Kirschen... Three strips about a panhandler. Rather Snappy Answers for Stupid Questions in quality

Inside back cover... Two photo funnies from Cat Ballou and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

Extras: Pow's Fun Premium, a camp certificate that recognizes the bearer for collecting kitsch such as a banjo pick used by Eddie Peabody

Marginalia: "I bet I've been in 20,000 phone booths during my lifetime. Would you believe 5,000?" -- Superman; Q: "Why does Batman wear a yellow belt?" A: "To hold up his blue shorts!"; Q: "Where does King Kong sleep?" A: "Anywhere he wants to, buddy!"; Q: "For which newspaper does Brenda Starr work?" A: "Whichever paper buys the strip!"; Q: "How tall is Dagwood?" A: "About 25 sandwiches high!"; Q: "How old is Little Orphan Annie?" A: "12... going on 37!"; Q: "How old is Prince Valiant?" A: "XXI!"; Q: "What's Mandrake the Magician's greatest trick?" A: "Making all those other magician comic strips disappear!"; Q: "Why does Dick Tracy wear a yellow hat?" A: "To hold up his black hair;" Q: "Why does Tarzan always yell, 'Aaawwhoo?'" A: "Because the lion skin he wears itches!"; Q: "Does Terry always battle the pirates?" A: "No. Sometimes he plays against the Dodgers and the Mets!"; Q: "How tough is Steve Canyon?" A: "Tough enough to get into 1,000 newspapers!"
Humor Me III

Pow! Magazine #1, August 1966, Humor-Vision Inc., NYC, NY (bimonthly, 30 cents)

Publisher: Robert C. Sproul
Editor: Milton Duggan
Production: Ray Brunshaw
Artists and Writers: Andy Dutton, Victor Martin, Donald Austin, Bill King, Shirley Saunders, Ben K. Lorton, Fred Quimmby, Arlene Peyton, Charlie Place, John Carterson, and Mel Craft
Coffee Breaks: catered by the Godzilla-Fream Gypsy Tea Room

Cover: John Severin image of fighting television and movie actors. Cover lines: It's Loaded with Exploding Humor!; Collector's Edition -- Special Giant Summer Issue!; A Wacky Look at Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!; Free Bonus! Travel Stickers That Go-go-go!

Inside front cover... Photo funnies featuring fight scenes, including one from Hercules and the Princess of Troy. Best joke: "The tiger in the tank just ate the muffler!"

p. 4 Pow! Mail Call Reader letters "swiped" from Lifee, Saturday Evening Pest, and Newsweak addressing Mickey Mantle; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Truman Capote; Santa Claus; Sonny and Cher; and socks

p. 5 Super Hero Confidential d/Vic Martin... Details of the trials and tribulations of Powman! as he goes to jail, tries the dating scene, joins the military, causes a labor dispute, and becomes an advertising pitchman

p. 10 Pow! Puts You in the Laughing Seat Photo funnies featuring scenes from Crack in the World and Seaside Swingers. Best joke: "I sure hope this bomb doesn't go off. I just bought a long-playing record!"

p. 11 Mail This Risky Coupon Now! Fake ad for Johnson Smith-like correspondence courses and products. Learn how to make short men look tall, and "don't make these here mistakes in English"

p. 12 Alfred Hitchshnook Presents Hitch himself gets into a fight with the advertising sponsor from Benro Wrist Watches before presenting the Case of the Case. The sponsor offs him before the Sherlockian sleuth can even get to Melvin's ancestral castle in King's-County-on-the-Thames

p. 15 Arrowed Shirts for the Smart Looking Man d/Don Orehek... Fake ad. Best jokes: "Just flip flap over folded flap and flip on board," and "Packed by real Indians. Worn by real men"

p. 16 How to Play Pool d/John Severin... Billiards how to addressing trick shots, distractions, game strategy, hustlers, and equipment

p. 20 Wacky Inventions d/Don Sinnott... Blueprints and usage examples for a boomerang book, personalized tornado kit, all-commercial TV set, and other imagined products

p. 22 The Airline with the Most d/John Severin... Fake ad extolling Ignited Air Line's DC-9 Jet Brainliner's comfort, service, and imported Swiss ski jump. Nice Bob Dobbs image

p. 24 Historical Telegrams... That Never Got There Bitter riffs on the Titanic, American flag, Custer's last stand, Gettysburg address, Dewey v. Truman, Paul Revere's midnight ride, the Hindenberg disaster, and other events

p. 26 Remember! Forest Fires Can Prevent Bears! d/Russ Heath... Poster that depicts, well, guess

p. 27 Pow's Pix!! Photo funnes making fun of the Japanese, wash-and-wear clothing, and medical insurance

p. 28 Digest Magazines d/John Severin... Four spoofs of Reader's Digest aimed at monsters, cotton pickers, psychotics, and soldiers. Best article titles: "Putting profit into blood," "Union sluts aren't in vogue," "After the truth serum, what?" and "We don't say fall out around here"

p. 32 Have Grunion; Will Travel d/G. Peltz... A Fish Police-like Western. Yawn

p. 35 Nuts A Go-Go Five gag panels by Don Orehek, Pete Wyman, and some guy named O'Brien. His strips on bar life and sign painting are the best

p. 36 Quiz Time The puzzle pieces don't match up, but it's supposedly C. Aubrey Smith. Uh, ha?

p. 37 Zwordo d/Burgos... Zorro parody poking at, oh, this is horrible

p. 40 Grins That Won the West! Photo funnies including scenes from Stagecoach and Seaside Swingers. Best joke: "It may not look like much, but I get 20 miles to a bag of oats!"

p. 42 Stories of the Month d/Kirschen... Three silly but well-drawn strips about coffee, upstairs neighbors, and the postal service

Inside back cover... Fake cigarette ad

Extras: Pow's Power-Packed Premium, ungummed travel stickers imprinted with jokes riffing on Spain, the Bronx, and Canada

Marginalia: "Show me a man who can smile when everything goes wrong, and I'll show you Smilin' Jack!" Tailspin Tommy; "I wish I had a crew cut!" Prince Valiant; "Sure wish Al Capp would buy me a new pair of pants! I jus don't look neat!" Li'l Abner; "I'm not really such a bad kid, once you get to know me!" Dennis the Menace; "Last week, I took a walk in the park and almost got lost!" Mark Trail; "I had a girl in every port, but the trouble was that they all looked like Olive Oyl!" Popeye; "It's not fair! They won't let me get out of the Army!" Beetle Bailey; "You won't believe it, but when I was a lad, I wanted to be a fireman instead of a policeman!" Dick Tracy; "I wish I had enough money to buy my own telephone booth!" Superman; "Wanna know something? I like steak much better than corn beef and cabbage!" Jiggs; "I've been in high school for so many years, I'll soon be collecting social security!" Archie; "How's tricks? How's tricks? All day long, that's all people ask me!" Mandrake the Magician; "I bet I spend $20 a week on sandwich meat alone!" Blondie; "My father was an old newspaperman, but he gave it up. There was no money in old newspapers!" Brenda Starr; "I must be growing up. Yesterday, I carried Little Orphan Annie's books home from school!" Dondi
Humor Me II

Grin #3, April 1973, APAG House Publications Inc., NYC, NY (40 cents)

Presented by Gerald Rothberg

Cover: d/ Tony Tallarico. Cover lines: The American Funny Book; Salute to the Stars -- Little Richard & Dr. K; Film of the Year -- Deliverancid; Book of the Year -- Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Sex; Plus: The Teeny Weenie Boppers.

p. 7 Deliverancid (or Up Creek Without a Paddle) w/D.J. Arneson, d/Henry Scarpell... A shallow interpretation of the "message movie" Deliverance, which seems to be about a river that's about to be dammed and four men who set out to find it -- and themselves. Best joke: "Ya ate a bear whole? Nope, just the bear."

p. 16 Grin Predicts w/D.J. Arneson, d/Tony Tallarico... The satire mag's predictions for 1973 blend stock art and illustrations to touch on law enforcement, commerce, Disneyworld, gender relations, fine art, lifestyle sports, and militarism. Two weak acupuncture jokes indicate it was all the rage

p. 20 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (So Why Didn't You Ask Already?) w/John Norment, d/Tony Tallarico... An alphabetical analysis of Woody Allen's approach to the subject. Tallarico's interesting blend of photos and illos pokes fun at celibacy, STD's, phone booth graffiti, Henry Kissinger, the Supreme Court, geishas, and Chinese restaurants. A war reference makes me wonder whether the racist bits were inspired by the Vietnam War

p. 25 Pollution Is a Nine Letter Word w/D.J. Arneson, d/Al Scaduto... The prolific Arneson and long-active Scaduto team up to eke some humor out of environmentalism. The Mad-like look at reuse and recycling elbow abandoned refrigerators, hair implants, the wastefulness of disposable batteries, and used records. The decidedly unfunny piece fails to comment on the pros or cons of recycling or surprise the reader with innovative inventions. Still notable for its Mad influence -- and Scaduto

p. 28 The Teeny Weenie Boppers w/Fred Wolfe, d/Jose Delbo... Pre-pubescent musical superstars bump up against hard rock musicians in a popcult panning of societal mores in music, the duplicity of the pop music industry, slang, and innocence

p. 31 King Richard and Frankenkissinger w/Joe Kiernam, d/Tony Tallarico... A half-assed musical parody set in Transylvania in which Dick Nixon creates a Kissinger-esque monster who can't solve the economic and societal problems in the kingdom. Lots of one-liners. Best joke: "What about our air? It's so thick, birds are walking south for the winter." OK; that's a two-liner

p. 37 Knowstalgia d/Al Scaduto... Cometbus-esque lettering opens this piece, which is a forward-thinking look at nostalgia. The economics of free sex, gender roles in the home, Kissinger, hair transplants, Ralph Nader, celibacy, cross-dressing, and aging pornographers all receive a drubbing

p. 40 Battycek w/Fred Wolfe, d/Jack Abel... The movie-cum-TV Polish detective Banacek is parodied. Ethnic jokes flow heavily while the actual humor comes at a trickle

Ads: American Cancer Society p. 4, Movie Buys p. 5, Columbia House Tape Club p. 6, Columbia House Record Club p. 48, Circus magazine p. 50
Extras: Calendar featuring Bela Lugosi Dracula stock art and text: Open your hearts; Says poster boy Willie Joe Dracula; Give generously in the privacy of your own home to our 1973 blood drive; Support vampirism in your community; Give on the full moon of every month; Our representative will call on you, just leave a window open
Join the Comics Club II
Along the same lines of Antony Johnston's recent essay on Ninth Art, Lindsay Duff analyzes some of the comics industry's efforts to attract new readers -- including the upcoming Free Comic Book Day. Lindsay states that instead of trying to lure comic-book newcomers into comic shops -- decidedly unfriendly and arcane places for people not already comfortable in them -- we need to address other aspects of comic retail and fandom. Things like:

  • Educating people about the comics form and subtle variations within genres
  • Redesigning high-profile comics conventions so they're more friendly to newcomers (parallel to the argument about comic shops) so we can take advantage of their place in the public eye
  • Educating people about comics that are actually worth reading, not just the mainstream dreck you can find everywhere
  • Avoiding marketing gimmicks such as variant covers that fuel speculative comics buying patterns and undermine the industry
  • Designing an ongoing, concerted outreach effort, not just offering free comics the day after the Spider-Man movie debuts

    All good points, but I don't think Lindsay goes far enough. We need to stop thinking about bringing people who don't read comic to comics and into comic shops -- and instead think about creating comics that can find a home outside of direct sales outlets. Let's get comics into libraries. Let's get comics into schools. Let's get comics into book stores. This isn't about comic shops. It's about making good comics.
  • Join the Comics Club
    Antony Johnston makes an interesting suggestion to the comics industry: Take some cues from record and book clubs -- and the media tie-in reading habits of Babylon Five fans -- to create a club for comic book readers. It's an interesting idea -- but one that already exists in several ways.

    If you frequent a comic shop, you can already sign up for their pull service and "subscribe" to titles you buy frequently. Also, through online and mail-based services such as Comics Now, Mile High Comics' NICE Subscription Club, and Westfield Comics, people can already subscribe to comics and place special orders as new releases are announced and published.

    I agree that a Book of the Month Club for comics readers is interesting. But I think the idea needs to be fleshed out more fully before it's a better method than, say, Westfield. Of course, that's only if such a club is aimed at people already reading comics or frequenting comics shops. Antony's right that another model might work better for folks immersed in other pop culture adjacent to comics. But even if that's the case, if you look at science-fiction digests such as Asimov's and Analog, while they do have ads for the Sci-Fi Channel, the book club they advertise is a writing book club -- not the Science Fiction Book Club. That strikes me as odd. Does the Sci-Fi Channel advertise Asimov's? I'd be surprised.
    Rock Shows of Note IX
    Andi has posted some pictures of the Also-Rans festivities Tuesday. There's even one of me, mugging in my usual manner.
    Your Local Use-Paper II
    Kudos to the San Francisco Chronicle for a recent Question Man column that tapped into Bay Area residents on the question, "If you were a reporter, what would you write about?" Newspapers and magazines do focus groups all the time to gauge how they're doing and what their readers and potential readers are thinking, needing, and doing. But it's rare that publications actually share what people said -- in print for other readers to see. I hope this isn't just a one-time thing.

    Thursday, March 28, 2002

    Music to My Ears VI
    A three-pack of new record reviews!

    Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: "The Tyranny of Distance" CD
    I've held off on reviewing this local record because, well, it's not what I expect from Lookout! and its Bay Area pop-punk past and because Ted didn't really resonate with me at first. I've yet to see the Pharmacists live, but on record, Ted has always hit me as a Paul Heaton-meets-Push Kings power pop wunderkind (a la Grand Royal's Ben Lee, who doesn't remind me of the aforementioned folks, but still). Now, in part thanks to Brad's accolades, I'm giving Ted another chance. Color me a push over, but the record's not bad! In fact, it's amazing. There's a lot of mersh pop superheroics that I'm sure the Harvard-bred-yet-Bay Area-transplanted Push Kings wish they were party to, but Ted's catchy, slightly kitschy and solid pop phenomenon is quite impressive. Take "Parallel or Together"'s bubblegum repetition and, damn it, lyrical direction toward my ex. Nice sax (I think) in "Under the Hedge." And "Timorous Me" nods toward Ben Folds, sans piano, and "Stove by a Whale" recalls Brett Rosenberg's Kinks leanings. "The Great Communicator" is the Replacements plus the Tar Babies with some Morrisey vocals mixed in. The record is that weird, and I don't know why I dismissed it at first. Maybe it's the insidious influence of Brad and Amie.

    Massive Distribution: CompHellation 2000 CD-R
    My CD player at home wouldn't play this at first, but it did eventually. The comp opens up with a burst of crowd noise and a sample, and Elf P's "The Pond Song" is an unimpressive lo-fi dirge. Godbuls' "Live at the Green St." is a more interesting smidge of crowd noise, segueing into Donkey Disaster's "Let's Rock," reminding me of the early Runt of the Litter comps and Bill T. Miller's "Heavy Hardcore Headroom" comp, which helped launch Toxic Narcotic and Showcase Showdown. This comp is a mix of the categoric comp and the freeform fantastic. "What's fantastic?" you ask. A good question. I listened to this comp so you don't have to. Deerhoof's brief Suzanne Vega-like vocals on "Live at HappyPunk" are interesting, as is Devil Music's spoof of Karate's post-rock posturing (unintended, perhaps). Tunnel of Love's Slim Cessna-esque approach to the death song "California" is a highlight. Other neat bits: 2000 Flushes' amateurish scratching and beat boxing; the Judd$' bad-ass, cut-off country caterwauling; the Frogs' brief Fugs-led-by-Sander Hicks imposition; Jimmy Cousin's "Hole in My Hat;" Tristan Dunster's Maestro Subgum-manhandled opera "Male Sexuality;" J.K.'s "Sun Theme" and its guitar-driven revelations; Stinky Treats' "Love Them Ho's"' undersung Beastie Boys beatifics; and X-Members' wind-ridden "Left and Right Speakers." This comp is similar in many ways to Darryl's Black Apple comps. Thank the gods that we have Massive Distro now that Darryl's moved to LA. A good look under the covers of the Boston indie-rock, hip-hop, and no-wave scenes. Call 617-427-3267 for more information.

    The Eric Zinman Trio CD-R
    Eric begrudgingly lent me some tapes to issue on my now-defunct cassette label Tulip Tapes years ago, so I'm rather psyched that he's finally released his own CD. Featuring Laurence Cook on drums and Craig Schildhauer on bass, this set of piano trio recordings captures much of the original tape, given that it was recorded in 1996, before I moved to Massachusetts. I'm guessing that Eric remixed and mastered many of the original sessions to release this. "Lightning" is a quick hit at five minutes, and "Shopping" is a playful ode to what might be Eric's favorite pastime (given that he lived near the glass-encased Chestnut Hill Mall when I first sat in his living room to learn about the history of and players in the Boston jazz scene back in 1996 or 1997). I'm trying not to make Ahmad Jamal or Keith Jarrett comparisons, but Lowell Davidson's "Stately" begs their mention. Eric doesn't deal in your average pinky-twinkly piano jazz, but his music isn't overly exciting or enervating. The ending of "On Demand" gets somewhat intense, and the opening to "Marx Brothers" is OK, as is that piece's drum work and the little bit of chaos at the end, but for the most part, I think that this is background music. Background music infused with subtle humor, yes, but nothing that's too far forward.
    Read But Dead V
    Misleading headline alert! Do not be fooled by Media Bistro's proclamation that long-missed megazine Ben Is Dead is not dead. It still is, as far as I know. But the Bistro uses that teaser of a headline to top off Bill Lessard's study of blogging's roots in the zine world. The dude knows his history and context, name dropping Obscure, Crank, Murder Can Be Fun, and Factsheet Five as precursors to Web sites such as Memepool, Metafilter, and Kuro5hin. His kitchy pop commentary on '80s icons such as Miami Vice and Mad Max hampers the impact of his parallel, relegating zines to the cute and quaint bin, but on the whole, the connections are valid and visible.

    Now, if only Bunnyhop would relaunch. That'd be a reincarnation I'd be quite pleased to see.
    The Perfect Pitch
    I guess I'm surprised to see this given the state of publishing and freelancing these days, but Media Bistro features a helpful how to on pitching stories to Inc. magazine, Fast Company's sister publication. The piece looks at recent changes in the magazine, as well as the book's architecture, suggesting that freelances query based on feature category and section. Good luck getting pieces placed!
    Rules for Fools IV
    Rule No. 6: If they change the security code on the door to your office, you need to start using the new security code. The old security code won't work.

    It'll probably take me a few days to get this one down.
    Mary Mattrimony
    Sigh! Two relatively recent friends (meaning I've just started to get to know them) are getting married. They're the cutest indie-rock couple ever, and they've known each other for a looong time. Congratulations!
    NextGen Journalism
    Dan Gillmor experienced an epiphany at PC Forum. He's calling next-generation journalism Journalism 3.0 (yawn; and thanks a lot Esther for promoting this awful naming conceit), and says that its principles include the following ideas:

  • My readers know more than I do
  • That is not a threat, but rather an opportunity
  • We can use this together to create something between a seminar and a conversation, educating all of us
  • Interactivity and communications technology -- in the form of email, Web logs, discussion boards, Web sites and more -- make it happen

    Solid thinking. I'll look for more from Dan on this.
  • Treacher's Pet Project
    Jim Treacher, creator of Clip-Art Nonsense, just rolled his own blog. One day old, I Know My First Name Is Jim explains why Jim started a blog -- "I started this blog because I was emailing all sorts of stupid crap to people, and it occurred to me that it would be less effort to just start a blog and put it here," and "Everybody else is doing it." -- comments on Michael Moore, makes fun of the French, and recounts some lackluster Oscars jokes. We'll see where this one goes!

    Wednesday, March 27, 2002

    Other People's Reading Piles II
    Grovel is a new review site out of the UK that's a self-proclaimed "source for graphic novels." On the main page, they feature commentaries on Dave Sim's "Cerebus: High Society," Eddie Campbell's "Alec: The King Canute Crowd" and other, more commercial work such as Alan Moore's "Tom Strong" and Warren Ellis' "Transmetropolitan: Back on the Streets." The reviews aren't overly short, and the editor gives equal consideration to the art and writing. He's also not afraid to call things like he sees 'em -- case in point: his review of Garth Ennis' "Just a Pilgrim." So far, there are just more than 15 reviews up, covering work published between 1986 and 2001, but Grovel hints at a fair future.
    Among the Literati
    The Baltimore City Paper profiles Neal Pollack this week, considering his journalistic background, fictional literary persona, the silliness and swagger of self-promotion, and why it's better to act like a rock star than Norman Mailer.
    Using Your Head
    A 73-year-old woman got stuck in a newspaper coin-op distribution box outside of an Illinois Wal-Mart. She put some coins in the slot, reached in to get her paper, and the next thing she knew, the door slammed shut, catching on the hood of her coat and trapping her.

    Initially, a Wal-Mart employee refused to free her, saying that they couldn't give discounts or tamper with the box. After 20 minutes in the cold, store staff finally agreed to release her, popping two quarters in the slot and grumbling that she just didn't want to pay for the paper herself.

    For her troubles, the woman got a gift certificate and letter of apology from the Wal-Mart manager... and a free month's subscription to the paper.

    Beware misleadingly humble newspaper honor boxes. They're organizing, and they're out to get us.
    Bust Goes, Well, Bust II
    Good news! Despite reports in November 2001 that Bust magazine was going under, it's just not so. According to a recent news release from the fine folks at Bust, even though the mag's previous publisher folded, the staff was able to buy back the name and plans to continue to publish "independent-stylie once more." Expect a new issue this spring.

    Do yourself and the Bust staff a favor and subscribe to help support one of the best and most interesting megazines around.
    Theater and the Porn Sindustry
    Waaay back in January, Kendra and I went to see a reading of my friend Victoria Stewart's play "Live Girls." Directed by Jeremy Johnson at the Market Theater in Cambridge, the reading was done by Carol Parker (in the role of Sarah Brown, a performance artist researching her next piece), Marin Ireland (Sonia Ridge, an erotic performer), Kate Fitz Kelly (Allison, Sarah's assistant), and Dale Place (male voice). "Live Girls" is set in a hotel room during an interview with an erotic performer, as well as on a stage during a performance of the piece that developed out of that interview. Largely, the play is an analysis of the motivations to perform erotically, but the play is also about the interview process and the dramatic elements inherent in an interview. I interviewed Victoria via email.

    What was the original idea and concept behind Live Girls?

    Originally the play was the interview between Sarah Brown and Sonia Ridge and the performance that Sarah creates from the interview. As I worked on the play, I started to add more development behind the scenes, especially because people were very interested in the relationship between Allison the assistant and Sarah Brown, the performance artist.

    How do the relationships between Sarah and Sonia -- and Sarah and Allison -- compare? Do you think there are any parallels in terms of their methods and motivations?

    I think the similiarities are the issues of exploitation. Sarah, without realizing it (or thinks that it's OK to do so), exploits Sonia in a similar way that she exploits Allison. Everything is the means to her end, and Sarah feels justified. Both Allison and Sonia get theirs back in different ways. Both violate her personally for injustices she has perpetrated on them. I think their betrayals are more serious -- understandable but more vicious. Sarah, a woman who doesn't trust anybody, makes the mistake of trusting them both, not realizing the magnitude of their resentment.

    Were you inspired by any particular experience, book, or news item in particular?

    The concept originated when I was working for Anna Deveare Smith, who is a political performance artist who uses interviews as her source material. I do want to take pains to say that the character is not Anna -- I have used no personal information gained from dealing with her. But I was very influenced by the interview process in general, something that we as an audience take as reality, but in fact, in many ways, it is a performance.

    Interview as performance? Do you think interviewers and interviewees adopt roles during the interview itself? How do you think that happens?

    Certainly, when you watch someone who knows how to interview, you see a performance. They lean their bodies in or back in a specific way that's meant to get a certain reaction. Often they lean back to say, "You tell me." There's definitely a setting of the scene. The chairs are set up in a specific alignment. They ask the same questions to start off and break the ice, and then they improvise. They're not themselves. They are a blank wall. It's not a conversation.

    The interviewed is trying to be the wittiest, most glorious side of herself. (Or in Sonia's case, she shows up with a political story -- her victimization by the police -- because that's what she thinks Sarah wants to hear.) People always tell the same stories because they know they tell them well. But what I was interested in was how Sarah peels away the layers of Sonia to make her tell something that she doesn't tell people -- about her father's murder of her mother.

    I think people fall into roles in an interview because of what they want.The interviewer wants a good story. How can they set the person at ease to get the best story? The interviewed wants to be immortalized in the right way. For instance, right now I'm trying to sound erudite -- whereas if you and I were sitting in a bar, I wouldn't think about trying to sound smart. I would just mouth off.

    But let me get back to the play's inspiration. One night while working for Anna, i was watching Howard Stern as he interviewed a porn star whose father shot her mother before he killed himself. The two images merged. Porn as real sex vs. reality-based theater and the way one is denigrated by liberals while one is put on a pedestal by the same group of well-educated people.

    What parallels do you see between porn as performance and reality-based theater as performance? Why do you think one is elevated and the other is denigrated?

    A huge amount of the draw of reality-based theater, especially confessional theater i.e. "This happened to me: this rape, this injustice," is that an audience says, "That really happened. Wow." If it were in a play, if it were fiction, people would say it was unbelievable. But it's real. So it gets more attention and credibility. (Even though seeing a fictional play may be ultimately more satisfying.)

    Porn is the same way. Those people are really having sex. (But is porn actually sexier than good fiction?) Porn is great as a metaphor because even though people are really having sex, you can see in the film that it's a job -- the clock is ticking. The connection between art and exploitation is very apparent in porn.

    But porn gets a bad name because bad things happen to people involved in it. Doing the research, I read a lot of porn actors defending it, but in general they seemed like scarred survivors. They were drawn to it because of something really deep inside them, and this was how they found solace in some way. Certainly, theater has that same draw. You don't make a lot of money. The hours are long. But you work outside of the "normal world." In fact, most theater people (and porn stars) just can't work in the normal world. It drives them around the bend.

    Also, porn is pretty misognynistic. There's a line in the play that is actually a quote from a porn producer: "Men want to come on the faces of women who reject them." But hey, theater is misogynistic, too.

    Lastly, there is the sense that one woman shows are often "reality based." For some reason, we don't take women seriously unless they have someone's else's words (or their own tales of victimization) behind them. That was just floated by a feminist professor here when we talked about the play, but I don't know.

    How did you research the topic and industry?

    There are a lot of great books about porn. The two the influenced me most were "Coming Attractions" and "A Woman's Right to Pornography" -- especially interviews in both books with Nina Hartley, who is one of the Erotic Eleven, the group of porn stars found guilty of pandering and felony lesbianism, which is the event that Sonia has come to talk about.

    Tell me more about felony lesbianism. I'm not familiar with that.

    I don't know much about it, to be honest. But that's the actual charge in the Erotic Eleven case -- that it's a federal crime to be a lesbian? Or to be a lesbian in public? It could be an old law that didn't get taken off the books.

    In terms of interview-based theater, I was influenced by Anna's book, "Talk To Me," but also the play "The Laramie Project," Moises Kaufman's play about the Matthew Shepard murder and the Vagina Monologues. In general, reality TV was getting hot and heavy at the same time, so every week in the New York Times there was another
    article about reality-based art.

    Was there a particular message you were trying to convey with the play?

    This is the first time I've tried to explain the theme of the play so I may be inarticulate. I think I wanted to question the prevalence of reality-based theater -- why do we as an audience buy into it without questioning the agenda? Obviously, a lot of reality-based work has been heavily manipulated by the author, thus making it artifice. Yet we buy it as truth. For me, the play is also about selling a performance and what happens when money enters art. Even the most noble enterprise is exploitative when money enters the picture and an artist makes money off of someone else's words. (Not like they are getting rich or anything, but there is the sense that because their art is good for us, it's OK that they get the copyright and the royalties.) On an elemental basis, I feel we "get off" on the reality on some level. We like the voyeurism of "This is real," not unlike the way we get off on the reality of porn, that sex is really happening. What happens when it is exposed as artifice -- does it lose its impact?

    Do you think this is also true for monologists such as Spalding Grey?

    I do think so. I love Spalding Gray, but a huge amount of the humor is that you think, "You really did that?" He, as far as I know, doesn't disavow his work as a character. I've only seen two of his pieces, and they seem to be about him. That's a part of what makes them work. He also happens to be a great writer. So is Anna. Eve Ensler, I'm not sold on. And you know a huge amount of the Vagina Monologues is this sense of "Wow! Women really talked about their vaginas like that?" Well, no. They didn't. Eve Ensler changed their words a lot. But I think she actually doesn't make a lot of money off of the Vagina Monologues -- she gives away the royalties, lets schools do it for free, etc.

    The pull of reality is still there.
    Rock Shows of Note VIII
    Went to see the Also-Rans last night at the Middle East Upstairs. They played with Carrigan and True Love Always, and it was the auspicious debut of their new CD EP on SincAudio. Their set was great. Chris and Denny were in fine jump-around form. My only complaint and concern was that Mary's vocals were mixed a tad too low. I could hardly hear her during the loudest moments, and while her detail singing was nice when the point was the male-female counterpoint, she could be a little more up front in the mix.

    I left shortly after several of my friends left, sticking around for a couple of songs by Carrigan (I think.). They were OK, but nothing too exciting or impressive.

    Tuesday, March 26, 2002

    Mention Me! V
    A blast from the past, but worth, well, mentioning. This 1995 edition of Small Press Review recounts the panel about zines and reviewing I participated in at the Underground Press Conference in Chicago. Notice the Karl Wenclas mention. He was cranky then, and he's cranky now.
    The Games People Pray
    The video game development industry has been hit by the economic downturn, just like most industries. Kurt Squire recently went to the Game Developers Conference, and he reports that moods are mellower, caution has currency, and the slow economy is encouraging experimentation. The rest of the business world could learn from these technology developers often viewed incorrectly as hobbyists.
    Back-Issue Bombshell
    Let's say you read and collect comic books. Let's say your house was broken into and your comics were stolen two years ago. Let's say you think the thieves hocked your comics at a local comic shop. Would you barricade yourself in the store armed with explosives and threaten to blow up the back issues and shop staff?

    Gosh, I hope not.
    The Movie I Watched Last Night XIII
    Sorry to take so long to publish these. I wrote 'em before, but then my browser froze. Bad browser! Bad! Even moments ago, after I'd written the previous sentences, my browser crashed. I think it's a conspiracy. A conspiracy against the movies.

    Tuesday: V: The Original Miniseries
    This originally aired in 1983, when I was 10. And it blew my mind. My friend Richie and I would cut V ads out of TV Guide and tape them to our bedroom doors. The book terrified me. On TV, Diana was the hottest. Mike was my hero -- and probably my inspiration to become a journalist. (Just kidding.) But watching this again on DVD almost 20 years later, I'm impressed. The story holds up well. The production isn't awful, given the year it was made. And I now understand layers of the story that completely flew over my head when I saw V as a kid. What did I miss? While I got the whole War of the Worlds-style alien invasion elements and the political realities of the resulting police state, I didn't understand the Holocaust allusions (even the blatant Anne Frank homage) or the McCarthy parallels of the ostracization of the scientists. V was a miniseries ahead of its time, and it takes the test of time well. Worth revisiting.

    Wednesday: American Beauty
    About time I watch this 1999 Oscar winner, eh? And just before A Beautiful Mind snagged its awards, too. Not sure why I waited so long. The movie is excellent in terms of balancing the tensions and edge of the solid characterizations and plotline with an understated, almost-hesitant subtlety. This movie could've gone over the top. Instead, the cast takes us just below the horizon, hinting at what's over the top, but restraining and refraining from overplaying their hand. The story's your basic male midlife crisis narrative (My friend Alex said, "It's such a man's movie!"), but it's really the story of self-examination, self-discovery, and self-expression. While it's a slight shame that Kevin Spacey's character reverts to teenage boyhood, the overall message is good: Know yourself. Then let others know who you are. Keeping secrets and quelling emotions doesn't help anyone. Even if it nets you an Oscar.
    From the In Box: Off-Site Insight
    You could always hit up the Portland Phoenix for activities.

    Oh, watch out for dog poop. There is, or was, a severe poop problem up there last time I visited. And if the weather's warm and the sidewalks get damp... you get the picture.

    I'm not a big fan of Portland myself. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, offers a much better experience with an hour less driving time involved. Go to Portsmouth, have a meal at the Friendly Toast, have colorful drinks at the King Tiki, hang out in the park overlooking the water, listen to music at the Press Room, buy music at Bull Moose Music, window shop, drive into Maine and get yourself lost in Kittery and York.

    Or maybe you've been there before.
    -- Matt Saunders

    I have been there before -- lost in Kittery and York, that is. Never been to Portsmouth. Some context for Media Dieticians. Matt was in a phenomenal beat pop band called the Oscillators when he lived in New Hampshire. Now he's rocking out with the Also-Rans, who have a show tonight at the Middle East Upstairs. Be there or be somewhere else.

    In the meantime, I'll save Portsmouth for my next existential explosion off-site site.
    It's an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World V
    Nike gets written up in today's Globe for beginning a guerrilla marketing and T station domination play in Boston leading up to the Boston Marathon. Nike's under fire for trumping Adidas, an official sponsor of the marathon, and for making an end run around the race's marketing rules. Instead of signing up to support the marathon (which it couldn't do, given Adidas' presence), Nike turned to the MBTA, ponying up $75,000 to dominate the Bay Back T station, which is near the planned finish line. Adidas, slower out of the starting gate, won't start its area marketing and station domination of Park Street until April 1. Fools.
    Rules for Fools III
    Rule No. 5: If you don't put coffee grounds in the coffee maker, you won't make coffee -- just hot, dingy water.

    I'm at work "early" this morning -- 8:30 a.m. -- for a morning meeting with one of the founding editors. And while I got a good night's sleep last night after moving my boxes to Joe's house, I'm a little slow this morning. Just made coffee without adding the packet of grounds. I haven't done anything like that in a looong time.

    Monday, March 25, 2002

    Off-Site Insight
    Inspired in part by a recent Fast Company off-site and a conversation with Mike Wittenstein this afternoon, I'm going to go to Portland, Maine, this weekend for a little personal break from Boston -- and some introspection and reflection.

    If you have any suggestions of things to do or places to go in Portland, let me know.
    Existential Explosion!
    I'm in the midst of a little crisis of faith. What do you do when you start to question who you are, much less what you're doing? Right now I'm not sure whether I

  • like my self
  • like my life
  • like my job
  • like my friends

    Yesterday I was all jazzed about just dumping everything and moving to an island off the coast of Maine. I'd have to take a ferry to the mainland, and I'm sure Net access would be a challenge, but I think I've got a lot of existential dust that needs to settle.
  • Antisocial Anomaly II
    Oh. I also skipped the Beantown Zinetown zines and comics fest this past weekend. Sorry TD. I said I'd help work the Highwater Books table.
    From the In Box: Rabble Rall-ser II
    I didn't draw them. I can't draw. -- Jim Treacher

    Jim's right. I was less than accurate. Clip-Art Nonsense strips are clip-art comics. Jim didn't draw the clip art. But he did create and write the comics.
    Dollars for Dougnuts
    Woke with the sun around 6 a.m. today, but didn't get up and out until a little after 8 -- I've really been enjoying the sun and cool breezes with bird song these recent mornings... as well as no real need to get into work at a specific time. I used to sleep in because of the ex. Now I just sleep in because I can.

    Skipped breakfast at home despite some fresh bananas on the fridge to get to work as quickly as I could, stopping at the Haymarket Dunkin' Donuts for a glazed cruller and a blueberry cake doughnut. I haven't broken fast at a Dunkin' Donuts for about a year. There was a time when I'd alternate mornings between Dunkin' Donuts and a cafe/deli near work for an egg and cheese English muffin.

    But you know what? Dunkin' Donuts isn't very good. I know it's the predominant doughnut chain in New England. And I know that some people in the area absolutely love Dunkin' Donuts, even the coffee. I don't think I do. I'd much rather have a Krispy Kreme or a doughnut from the little bakery on the way to Bear Skin Neck in Rockport. And this morning, I'd even rather have had a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios at home.

    Dunkin' Donuts: Blech.
    Antisocial Anomaly
    This weekend was a very antisocial weekend. Sure, I hung out with Alex on Friday night. Sure, I went to the comic shop and Charlie's (chatted with Anne!) on Saturday. But otherwise, I was housebound. Skipped the Chicks on Speed show Saturday night. Skipped three shows -- Lawrence Arms, River City Rebels, a show at the Kendall -- Sunday to go the grocery store, do laundry, sit on the big blue couch, and read a lot of magazines. Sent out Easter cards. Finished a couple of books I've been taking my time to read.

    While I'm sure my antisocial weekend was OK, I feel weird today. Kinda like the weekend didn't happen. Kinda distant because of the silence of friends. Kinda like I should've been a little less antisocial.

    Friday, March 22, 2002

    Teens on Media
    The March 2002 issue of New Youth Connections is a special "Taking on the Media" issue and contains several articles written by teens taking journalists to task in terms of covering international events -- and teen magazines for being too obsessed with looks. (To its credit, YM magazine will no longer publish articles about dieting, starting with the April 2002 issue.) The issue also features a critique of hip-hop and R&B videos.
    Magazine Me VIII
    Why am I learning about this for the first time in the April issue of Esquire?

    A Magazine That Scares Us
    R.U. Sirius calls himself a zeitgeist idiot savant. In 1989 he founded Mondo 2000, the prescient tech journal whose influence far exceeded its circulation, and now he's executive editor of The Thresher, a fiery new political magazine whose first issue, published several months before September 11, contained an interview with Hot Zone author Richard Preston about biological warfare, excerpt from a new book on the militarization of domestic law enforcement, and an essay asserting that "a modern [American] president has to kill lots and lots of people." We don't know what's in the second issue, but it comes out this month. Brace yourself.

    It used to be that I'd know about these things. I must be losing my touch. Since September? Sheesh.
    Pieces, Particles
    The following media-related stories recently spotted in print publications might be worth a look. Heads and decks, only. Heads and decks.

    The Building of a Bombshell, by Stephen Rebello, Movieline, April 2002 (?)
    No one packaged mass seduction like old-time Hollywood, but getting actresses to look the part was hardly an overnight achievement.

    Notes from a Parallel Universe, by Jennifer Kahn, Discover, April 2002
    Inside the X-Files at the University of California at Berkeley, the line between theory and fantasy, science and supposition, starts to dissolve. The authors of these dissertations are obsessed -- and scientists are nearly as obsessed with them.

    Shopping Rebellion, by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, March 18, 2002
    What the kids want.

    Top Maine Videos, by Paul Doiron, Down East, April 2002
    The only way to find out if any of these widely touted video tapes about the Pine Tree State is worth watching -- or buying -- is to sit down and watch them all. Which I did.

    If you work for a magazine and would like to sign me up for a complimentary subscription, please feel free to do so. My address is in the grey bar over on the left.
    It's An Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World IV
    After announcing that it plans to buy Greendale, Wisconsin-based Reiman Publications, home of ad-free, folksy magazines such as Country Woman and Farm & Ranch Living, Reader's Digest Association Inc. also announced that it will not introduce advertising to Reiman's already successful publishing efforts.

    Checking Reiman's stable of magazines, I notice that they don't publish any titles that begin with "m." I bet that's why. All the "m" magazines are getting ads these days.
    Big Brother Is Watching IV
    Attention tourists: In Washington, DC, the National Park Service will install 24-7 surveillance cameras at all major monuments on the Mall. Supporters of the plan say that the cameras will be placed in "public areas where there is no expectation of privacy," but civil libertarians are concerned that camera placement will discourage public protests, demonstrations, and other direct action.

    If anything, the Park Service is opening a new open-air theater for the Surveillance Camera Players. Now we can save our protests for posterity!
    Comics Commotion
    Lev Yilmaz has created 17 Quicktime movies of him drawing comics while narrating what he terms "Tales of Mere Existence." His approach to real-time animation -- drawing while filming -- is quite innovative and attention-holding, and his narration is deadpan yet thought-provoking. My favorite movies so far? "Cigarettes" and "Branding." Make with the clicky click!
    Blogging About Blogging XVII
    Paul Boutin is brilliant. On Wednesday he threw down the gauntlet and ran the gantlet, posting an entry titled "Bloggers Vs. Journalists." It's the most insightful look at the recent skirmishes between traditional, print-based journalists and columnists and the upstart bloggers practicing "way new journalism." Many mainstream journalists think blogs are quaint -- echoes of the coverage zines received in the mid-'90s ("Oh, look! They're trying to make their own little magazine!"). And many bloggers -- myself included, given what I've posted in response to John Dvorak's recent piece in PC Magazine -- think that mainstream journos just don't get it.

    Paul suggests that the two camps are closer than we think and that, like Maddie and David in Moonlighting, we're going to slap each other in the face only to collapse into each other's arms with a passionate embrace. Easily said by a writer who contributes to print publications and maintains his own infrequent blog (Paul) -- and easily digested by another writer who does the same (me). Over the course of the piece, Paul considers the slightly incestuous viral nature of blogging in terms of people responding to people's responses to people's opinions, the value of grassroots journalism on the Web, and the threat blogs pose to opinion columnists. Brilliant.

    Thanks to Joe Sizzle for bringing this to my attention.
    It's an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World III
    James Lileks' Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots features more than 20 marketing mascots once used widely in newspaper and magazine advertisements. The problem, Lileks says, is that when products and companies go away, they leave their mascots behind -- unemployed and orphaned. So he's digging into the microfilm archives of Minneapolis newspapers to unearth mascots such as Mr. Coffee Nerves, the Coughing-Fit Brothers, and Happy Egg. If you're interested, you can even adopt them. While it seems that the site hasn't been updated since early 2001, I hope that Lileks continues his fine work. Email him some encouragement.
    White Collar Crime
    Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, writing for the Multinational Monitor, challenge President Bush's 10-point plan to "improve corporate responsibility and help protect America's shareholders" in the wake of Enron, Global Crossing, and Arthur Andersen. Their beef? That the plan includes nothing new -- that the federal government already can, should -- but for some reason -- won't enforce laws already on the books.

    Mokhiber and Weissman take the Treasury Department, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (which created guidelines for sentencing corporate criminals just 10 years ago), and Capitol Hill to task, saying that Bush can make all the points he wants -- but that if the government doesn't have the willpower to enforce existing laws, involving the public in the process, chances are slim to none that big business will show the willpower to abide by those laws.

    Thursday, March 21, 2002

    Rabble Rall-ser III
    Another Ted Rall roundup courtesy of Jim Treacher. Conservative columnist Alan Keyes contributed a column to MSNBC last week suggesting that editorial cartoons such as Rall's recent work shouldn't be covered by the first amendment. The column even includes the shockingly mutually exclusive subhead "Pornography and Patriotism," which heads a section in which Keyes contends that Rall's work is pornographic, not debate or civic discourse. Rall's work pornographic? I've got your pornography right here, Mr. Keyes.

    The Association for American Editorial Cartoonists has released a statement in Rall's defense, and in's Splash section, Rall responds to Keyes' commentary via some Comicon reportage:

    The SPLASH tracked down Ted Rall in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he is currently on assignment for Gear magazine. Rall told the SPLASH: "Alan Keyes has proven that if you scratch some right-winger there's a fascist lurking underneath. His proposal to submit opinions to government censors smacks of totalitarianism of the highest order; he evidently despises everything that America stands for and would love to see a Nazi-style regime imposed here."

    Rall went on to say: "Furthermore, his assertion that my little cartoon is weakening America's resolve regarding the war on terror is laughable to the point of absurdity. First of all, any war effort that could be derailed by a political cartoon probably doesn't have much support to sustain it. Second of all, many Americans -- like me -- see the 'war on terror' for what it is. This isn't about making us safer; it's about scoring a few bucks for Bush's rich friends while making more and more foreigners hate our guts. I doubt there'll be any more 'resolve' for this cynical enterprise than there was for Vietnam once the truth gets out."
    It's an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World II
    Maybe this is a sickness specific to magazines with names starting with the letter "m," but following in the footsteps of Mad, Ms. magazine, which has been ad free for more than a decade, will soon accept ads. But it's going one better than AOL-Time-Warner-owned Mad. Ms. will become a nonprofit and only accept ads from nonprofit companies.

    The magazine, which will soon move from New York to Beverly Hills, hardly a hot spot for feminism, will publish quarterly -- eventually moving to a bimonthly schedule in a year.

    Thanks to Clint Schaff for the head's up.
    Read Letter Day
    An email today from Ben Russell, columns editor for PopImage, reminded me that I haven't visited the site for awhile. Checking in, I came across an interview with Nate Piekos of Blambot Design Services. He shares his experiences designing fonts, lettering comics, and his own self-publishing projects.

    Letterers are often the unsung heroes -- sometimes deservedly so given the current state of crappy computer lettering -- of the comics world. Nate has a good head for what works, why, and how others can learn how to do it themselves.
    In Your Face, Cyberspace!
    It's been awhile since I've been interested in or followed the policy debates of ICANN, the IETF, and the EFF, but a recent Nettime transmission struck my fancy. I reprint the following statement with the permission of its author, John Perry Barlow.

    The Accra Manifesto
    Accra, Ghana
    Tuesday, March 12, 2002
    (revised Wednesday, March 13, 2002)

    Since its beginnings, Cyberspace has provided new approaches for the benign ordering of human affairs. As we begin to develop institutions to govern the digital world, we must avoid returning to industrial models that have generally failed in the analog world to assure equity, liberty, and human inclusion. Instead, let us build upon the promise of what has already proven effective in this social experiment.

    The paramount governing values that have so far emerged in this grand collective enterprise are openness, inclusion, technical practicality, emergent form, decentralization, transparency, tolerance, diversity, and a fierce willingness to defend free expression and the preservation of identity. These are appropriate values. They are working.

    They should be allowed to go on working, both in the eventual systems for allocating domain names and numbers and in all other matters of Cyberspace governance. Neither the current operations of ICANN nor the current proposal put forward by its president appear to place much faith in them.

    Cyberspace has thus far been an environment where architecture is politics. ICANN has turned this practical formulation on its head by attempting to make politics architecture.

    To assist in designing a governing process that will promote these values and thus direct us toward the future and away from the past the undersigned propose the following to the ICANN meeting in Accra:

    1. It appears to us that ICANN has so far failed to generate the moral authority necessary to govern an environment where authority must be based on the general respect of the governed rather than its ability to impose solutions by fiat.

    2. It has failed for a variety of reasons. Chief among these are its impulse to adapt existing and mechanical models of government to a social space that cannot easily be coerced into submission. It attempts to impose government instead of proposing governance.

    3. ICANN is overly centralized and, by virtue of its incorporation in the United States and its practical dependency on American contractors, perpetuates the dangerous belief that the Internet is an American environment. We believe that root should not be based in the U.S.

    4. ICANN was established in a gray area of institutional reality that makes it nearly invulnerable to legal or political rebuke. If ICANN were a function of the U.S. Government, at least it could be brought into court and held accountable for unconstitutional behavior. The current structure provides almost no opportunity for redress in the area of domain names and none at all in the area of domain numbering. It's power is vast and growing. Its accountability is small and shrinking.

    5. By abandoning the simple and fair system of "first come, first served" domain name allocation that served the Internet well from the beginning, ICANN has created a quagmire of unnecessary disputes and suppressed expression, and has irrationally conflated trademark law with domain assignment.

    6. Efforts to turn Cyberspace into a traditional democracy, however laudable in principle, may never work well in a social space where it is extremely difficult to define either the electorate or a credible system whereby the people might express their will. Nonetheless, public representation on the board is so important that we can't afford to give up on it. It would be well to remember that democracy is more than a mechanical process of providing that every single member of a constituency has a say. Rather it is a system of governance that seeks the consent of the governed, however that assent is conveyed. To assure that ICANN is democratic in this sense, there must be a low entry barrier to unofficial involvement its decision-making processes, and, possibly, a decentralized, community based system for selecting "at large" board members.

    7. The current proposal before ICANN would fix this problem by inserting existing nation states into a space where they have no natural sovereignty. While this might, at first pass, lend the popular accountability of governments to its processes, it's likely to result in a system as ineffectual as the ITU or the United Nations. Further, given the wave of negative reaction to the Lynn proposal, its adoption would likely further reduce ICANN's credibility.

    8. ICANN, by its cumbersome deliberative processes, already slows the adoption of new technology and might prevent the timely alteration of the technical underpinnings of the Internet in the event of an impending collapse of the system. The addition of even more ponderous governments to the stew of authority would only exacerbate the potential for failure.

    9. The current structure of the root servers, as documented in the MDR meeting, has the servers distributed between government, commercial, academic, and non-profit organizations distributed around the world. Such a structure is highly resistant to capture and leads to the robustness and diversity of the Internet. One possible outcome of the Lynn proposal is that the root servers are contractually bound to a single organization. This inherently is less stable and more susceptible to capture than the current structure which should be protected as a fundamental architectural principle.

    10. The best way to assure inclusion is to derive systems that are easy for those governed to understand. ICANN is already too complex in its practices to admit informed participation. The Lynn proposal would only add to this complexity.

    11. The IETF once provided a good model for governing processes that are well-suited to Cyberspace. It was a system for governance by ideas, rather than by people, laws, or "stake-holders," in that the most elegant solutions were adopted by the consensus of a self-defining community, regardless of the standing of those who proposed them. That the IETF has become less successful in solving problems results less from a flaw in this model than its having been high-jacked by corporate interests. ICANN, in its original design and current state, ignores the value of these proven approaches.

    12. To address these failures, we propose that ICANN decentralize and convey operational authority to the communities that naturally define themselves around the top-level domains, restricting its duties to the resolution of disputes that cannot be resolved within the communities. In other words, we believe that ICANN should become a loose confederation of autonomous domains, rather like the federal government of the United States during Jefferson's time.

    13. Prior to delegating its operational functions to the domains, we believe that ICANN might demonstrate its understanding of these principles by defining at least two new public domains. Among these we suggest .lib (for libraries) and .pub (for entities, whether organizations or individuals, working for the common good). It is our belief that the systems of self-governance such communities are likely to develop might serve to instruct other domains in the ordering of their own affairs.

    14. One of the areas where existing systems of government have worked, to varying degrees of effectiveness, has been in conveying and preserving such human rights as free expression and protection from unchecked corporate self-interest. ICANN might have a continued role in directing itself to the assurance of such rights in Cyberspace. A reformed ICANN might also propose broad policies and technical solutions, but would do so as respected leaders and not as a junta.

    15. The previously existing systems for governance in Cyberspace have shown the practical efficiency of fixing only that which is broken. This is a principle ICANN would do well to emulate.

    Cyberspace is not a place. It is a dialog of cultures. We believe that if ICANN were to adopt the above principles, it might, through light-handed arbitration of real, rather than projected, problems, acquire the moral authority that has so far evaded it. We fear that if it fails to consider the concerns that have driven us to make this declaration, it will find itself in the unenviable position of trying to impose its will on a global community with neither a mandate nor force of arms. At best, it will become irrelevant as the citizens of Cyberspace develop methods to work around it. At worst, it will be directly dangerous to the health of the Internet. The chaos that might follow either development will not serve our descendents well.

    While many of the undersigned do not accept every single one of the above statements, we are in sufficient agreement with the spirit of this statement that we hereby attach our names and hope that the governing board of ICANN will make a sincere effort to incorporate its beliefs and adopt its recommendations.

    John Perry Barlow, co-founder and vice chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
    Happy Birthday to Media Dieticians
    Not only did Cardhouse celebrate its seventh anniversary yesterday, but today's the birthday of Media Dietician Tom Hopkins.

    He wished me a happy birthday late last month, and I'd like to do the same here: Happy birthday Tom!

    File under guestimonials, courtesy of Tom: "Crikey! I'm having a hard time keeping up with Media Diet. You're blogging warp speed!"

    Are you having a hard time keeping up? Discuss.
    Weather Report V
    As reported previously, it rained and snowed for most of yesterday afternoon and evening, contributing to the puddles and slush along Washington Avenue and on Central Square -- and enabling some rapid traffic splashing. Neil and I were supposed to move my boxes from Anni and Jonathan's basement to Joe's basement -- I'm hopping box hostels -- but the wet created a large puddle behind Anni and Jonathan's house by the basement entrance. Like two inches of standing, slushy, slippery water.

    We could've have managed with the rain, but the puddle was too much. So we had to change our plans. Monday might now be moving day. Fingers crossed on the weather.

    Today is beautiful. A bit cold, but sunny, clear, and crisp. I woke with the sun again but stayed in bed enjoying the cool early morning breeze until about 8. Wonderful.
    Hardly Working
    I just jumped in and out of a naming brainstorm for Fast Company's FastTalk events. Are they gatherings? Experiences? Happenings?

    What they aren't are super-cali-fragi-listic-conver-celebrations. We know that much. Thanks to E-Bus for that brilliant contribution.
    The Heroism of Lens Men
    On the V: The Original Miniseries DVD, there's a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the movie and the meanings behind its messages. Marc Singer, who plays Mike Donovan, a gung-ho TV news videographer, discusses how he prepared for the role, why a TV cameraman makes a good hero, and the role of TV journalism.

    "The guy I'm playing is Mike Donovan. He's a person who tries his best to live up to the promise of being a human being. He feels a sense of responsibility toward other people so he doesn't lie down under the yoke when the Earth is being taken over. He fights back. He becomes the strong arm of the Resistance. He does what the man on the other side of this lens does in real life.

    "He's a photographer -- a news cameraman is what he is -- and that allows him access into the alien craft and also gives him a nice viewpoint to view all of humanity. Very often, newsmen are allowed to go places that the rest of us civilians aren't able to go, so it provides a good format for this guy to get in where the bad guys are and see what they're doing.

    "I had to do some very strenuous special preparation for this. I had to keep down the bubble of enthusiasm and joy so that when I got on the set I looked like a professional and wasn't giggling in front of the cameras all the time. The second thing I had to do was... Our producer Chuck Bowman [?] was very kind in establishing liaisons between myself and real news photographers and real news teams, and in that way I was able to assimilate some of the real aspects of the heroism of these people's professions.

    "I don't think that any of us know exactly what kind of heroes are in different trades in our society, but I think that some of the greatest heroes that exist are in the news profession: those people that bring us tapes from destruction in El Salvador ad people who bring us tapes of the Vietnam crisis and things like that. These are people that lay their lives on the line so that humanity can be informed as to what it's doing and how to rectify situations it doesn't like."

    Cmdr. Ilana has organized an extensive V-related Web site.
    See You in the Funny Pages VII
    I've been a subscriber to Modern Tales since I first learned about it earlier this month, and while I visit several times a week, almost every day, it's rather hit and miss. But today -- oh, today -- is why I signed up in the first place. For today Modern Tales gives us a doozy of a double dose: a new "Hutch Owens" page by Tom Hart and a new "Fancy Froglin" page by James Kochalka. Woot!

    By the way, I would have said, "Woohoo!" above, but it seems that everybody's saying "Woot!" these days in blogspace, etc.

    What the heck does "Woot!" mean? Discuss.
    Tick Tock, You... Stop
    Two writers for Metropolis magazine mourn the loss of an architectural detail that they didn't ever really like in the first place -- but now miss something fierce: the oversized clock in Grand Central Terminal. They raise some interesting points about how preservation should allow for anomaly and how architecture must have ordinary spaces to have good ones, and the removal of the clock as part of the terminal's renovation got me thinking about things I about the places I've lived:

  • The movie theater in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
  • Lounge Ax in Chicago
  • The Tasty on Harvard Square
  • The old Lucy Parsons block on Central Square
  • The Willow Jazz Club near Ball Square

    What do you miss? Discuss.
  • Awarding Acrimony
    More news from Providence: The Providence Newspaper Guild, which has been in conflict with the Providence Journal since the late '90s, is protesting the recent naming of the ProJo as metropolitan newspaper of the year by the New England Newspaper Association. While the Journal crows about the award -- indicating that it's outdistancing the Boston Globe -- Guild members say the award "would come at a most unlikely time -- when this once-award-winning newspaper has taken a very public dive in quality. Such an award would strike every Rhode Islander as bizarre."

    Maybe they should all go see Mary Lou Lord on Saturday.
    Pulling the Plug II
    If it's any consolation to those of us who miss Other Music, Newbury Comics just opened a new store in the Providence Place Mall in Rhode Island. The regional chain is celebrating the opening of its first-ever mall store with a 10%-off sale (for email club members only) and an afternoon Mary Lou Lord in-store performance Saturday. Um, it's not much consolation, really.

    Wednesday, March 20, 2002

    Magazine Me VII
    Not that I'm out to scoop anyone with Media Diet, but I think it's pretty neat that I posted the finalists for this year's National Magazine Award before the American Society of Magazine Editors announced them. Their news release is dated today, 3 p.m. I posted the finalists almost four hours earlier. It's like I'm a poor man's Matt Drudge or something. We break the news; others fix it.
    Weather Report IV
    I've been awake since 5:30 a.m. Woke with the sun -- something I've been doing lately as the sun continues to rise earlier and earlier -- and had no more sleep in my system. So I showered, failed to shave, and got into work around 7. The T runs quite slowly around 6 -- the waits were insane.

    In any event, I've hit a wall and a lull in the day. I've accomplished quite a bit at work, and I don't really have anything to do this evening until 8, when I need to move my boxes out of Anni and Jonathan's basement and into Joe's. Ah, box hostel hopping.

    So I went outside just now for a quick walk around the block. I find that quick walks during the day help me get out of the office -- and help me get organized in terms of prioritizing what I have to do for the rest of the work day. This afternoon, having hit this wall and lull, I'm at a loss.

    But it's snowing. It's raining, too. I've been up since 5:30, and it's oddly overcast and beautiful in the North End right now. You should go outside.
    Comics at a Loss
    Eddie Campbell says that comics are not an art form -- and that they don't even exist. That's some pretty big talk.
    Magazine Me VI
    Judges for the American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine Awards gathered yesterday to select the finalists. Here they are:

    General Excellence: Under 200,000
  • Paris Review
  • Oxford American
  • American Scholar
  • City
  • MBA Jungle
  • Nest
  • Print

    General Excellence: 200-500,000
  • Details
  • National Geographic Adventurer
  • Texas Monthly
  • Saveur
  • Sports Illustrated for Women

    General Excellence: 500-1,000,000
  • Gourmet
  • Wired
  • Vibe
  • Jane
  • New Yorker

    General Excellence: 1,000,000-2,000,000
  • Fortune
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Vanity Fair
  • ESPN
  • InStyle

    General Excellence: 2 million and up
  • Better Homes and Gardens
  • National Geographic
  • O
  • Newsweek
  • Time

    Personal Service
  • MBA Jungle
  • Worth
  • Money
  • National Geographic Adventurer

    Leisure Interests
  • Vogue
  • Philosophy
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Travel & Leisure
  • Field & Stream
  • O

  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Time
  • Fortune
  • Yankee
  • New Yorker

    Public Interest
  • Atlantic Monthly
  • SF magazine
  • Governing
  • Self
  • Sports Illustrated

    Feature Writing
  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Men's Journal
  • Esquire
  • New Yorker
  • LA magazine

    Columns and Commentary
  • GQ
  • New York
  • Newsweek (twice)
  • Oxford American

  • American Scholar
  • New Yorker (twice)
  • Men's Journal
  • Harper's

  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Government
  • GQ
  • Harper's
  • New Yorker

  • Esquire
  • GQ
  • Harper's
  • LA magazine
  • New Yorker

    Single Topic Issue
  • Cincinnati
  • Time
  • Gourmet
  • The Nation
  • New Yorker

  • National Geographic Adventurer
  • Newsweek
  • Time
  • Vanity Fair
  • Vogue

  • Audobon
  • Details
  • Esquire
  • Nest
  • Surface

  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Harper's
  • New Yorker
  • Paris Review
  • Zoetrope

  • Beliefnet
  • Chronicle of Higher Education
  • National Geographic Interactive
  • Slate
  • Magazine Me V
    Joining magazines such as POV (RIP) and Real Joe that offer an alternative to the general interest magazines aimed at men -- Esquire, GQ, Maxim, etc. -- some folks in Baltimore have launched a new periodical called Adam. Targeting "the original man," Adam can be found at Barnes & Noble, 7-11, and newsstands across the country. A single issue costs $3, but you can subscribe for six issues at an introductory rate of $9.99. The Web site is still pretty skimpy.

    The current issue of Adam includes an article titled "21 Ways to Make Your Community a Better Place" by Scott Beale, mastermind behind the Millenial Politics project.
    How to Go on a Media Diet
    The following was excerpted and translated from an article by Marco Visscher, "Wijsheid is geen nieuws" ("Wisdom is No News") that ran in the March 2002 issue of Ode, an Utne Reader-like magazine in the Netherlands. It was posted without permission on the Nettime mailing list. I do the same here.

    Three Suggestions For a "News Diet" (detox program):

  • Never read today's paper, always yesterday's. This will automatically lead to a certain distance.

  • Never watch the news on television, but watch it half an hour later on video tape instead. You will find you'll skip over the uninteresting bits and that the sum total of news you watch will drop. (Bonus tip: With everything the news reader says, ask yourself aloud, "Oh, is that so?")

  • (Advanced technique) Once a week, put your newspaper aside immediately. Do not use for litter box. Do not read; stick to reading yesterday's paper during the rest of the week. Read the extra paper only after two (or three, or four) weeks. You will find that many articles have become redundant or are simply boring. You will have missed nothing.

    Translated by Pieter.
  • One Man's Alternative Media Strategy II
    I realize that Sander's recent missive is a rough draft, but I wrote a response of sorts last night. It's not really a rebuttal or critique of Sander's essay, but I used his thoughts as a trigger to consider and solidify my own. This, too, is open to feedback.

    Regardless of the laudable and romantic path Sander took to find himself creating and consuming what he terms "alternative media," I take issue with his contention that participating in alternative media -- if you're of the anti-war, anti-imperialist sort -- makes people part of the American Left.

    The Left, while continuing to represent some valid and vibrant ideas and ideals, is no longer useful as a political determinant, much less as a productive actor on the societal stage. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the Left has become a cartoon of itself, with the New Left being an oxymoron since the SDS' and SNCC's fracturing and factionalization and the end of the countercultural evolution of the late '60s -- much like the New South has lacked a solid foundation as a concept since the end of post-slavery industrialization. At the same time, many lefty -- my preferred descriptor -- activists (myself included) continue to idolize and idealize some of the more visible participants in the political and social reorganization efforts that took place in the '60s. Even if we go back even further to the initial labor organizing icons of early industrialization for inspiration and education, we are left without a current generation of heroes and leaders. Particularly in the media space.

    Let's consider some of the lefty holdovers currently involved in media. Abe Peck, formerly an editor of the Chicago Seed, rests near the top of the journalism department at Northwestern University and -- at least while I was a student there in the early '90s -- was blissfully unaware of zines, arguably the heir to the throne he and his comrades once occupied. Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone, a once-important (politically and philosophically) countercultural outlet, has aged badly along with his magazine, continuing to employ graying lapsed leftists such as the despicably irresponsible P.J. O'Rourke (the Dave Barry of political posturing) as he orchestrates a circle jerk for baby boomer has beens, catering just enough to the younger set to maintain popcult credibility -- and including just enough political content to be consider slightly radical.

    Those are the more visible examples. To find true media heroes coming out of the Left, we need to look further afield -- to Paul Krassner and his end-of-the-line diatribes in the Realist; to Bruce Anderson of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, who had to move to the mountains of Northern California to find his political voice and position in a community; and to Fred Woodworth, whose low-tech print shop continues to crank out the Match and which lent Luddite luminescence to the ever-cranky Zine World (now the abominably named Reader's Guide to the Underground Press). These three are on the outside of the outside, often countering even the countercultures that embrace them. And I'd be surprised if any of them considered themselves part of the American Left, even if they have lefty tendencies.

    But it's not just the dependence on historic and romantic figures that bothers me about the Left -- and Sander's fascination with it. It's the language and accessibility of the movement. The Left -- particularly the New Left -- has almost always been an academic, policy-oriented, and arcane clique, not speaking in a tongue understood by many working-class people -- and certainly not palatable to the masses. Even anarchy, which should be one of the most easily digestible political philosophies -- self-interested responsibility to the community -- has couched its message either in violence (the window breaking during the WTO protests) or in mumbo jumbo (John Zerzan's ongoing neo-primitive attacks on the beautifully befuddled yet cleverly critical Murray Bookchin). And it's all because of communication, right? Just like Saul Alinsky -- to name drop another oldie but goodie -- said.

    Media, then, is the platform on which -- the agar in which -- communication grows and happens. Sander's right that political activists need to gain control of media production. This is how we -- if there is a unified we -- can best get our messages out. But is this access to power through production as cut and dried as Sander suggests: "taken out of the hands of the fat cats"? I don't think so. I also don't think that a unionized and state-run media is the answer, either. A media dictatorship is a media dictatorship. The fall, foibles, and follies of Communism shows just how an appealing and attractive political philosophy (Marxism, natch) can be misinterpreted and inadequately applied.

    If we don't follow the traditional leftist track of class warfare, union organization, and state ownership, what are we to do? I'd like to suggest three possible courses of action.

    Deprofessionalize journalism
    Professional journalism is flawed in two major ways. One, the professionalization of the trade has removed the responsibility of the reporter -- remember, my experience is largely limited to print and print-modeled journalism -- placing the respect, resources, and resolve largely in the hands of the media organizations that employ us and hold our copyrights if what we do is work for hire. As respected as Daniel Pearl might be, he's respected in part because of his association with the Wall Street Journal. This doesn't apply to Pearl, per se, but with comfort comes complicity. This removal of responsibility is made manifest mainly through the myth of objectivity. Objectivity doesn't exist. Fairness and accuracy do. But instead of media pandering to the masses and business owners with a he said/she said namby-pamby waffling, I'd rather see newspapers with a political and social platform, writers with a strident and striving voice, and media with very clear biases. Readers -- media consumers -- should have a hand in creating and contesting those voices and biases.

    Because, two, journalism and media production's professionalization has distanced writers and producers from the readers and consumers. I often joke that all journalists do is talk to people others can't talk to -- and then tell others what they talked about. This is true. We should all be able to gain access to our social, political, and cultural leaders. We should all be able to voice our opinions. And we should all be -- regardless of our role and status in society -- visible, accessible, and responsible for the impact we have on the world.

    Mini-movements such as community journalism, self-publishing online and offline, and media-driven community organizing experiments are all solid steps toward the goal of media being a socially democratic platform on which people tell each other their own stories instead of waiting for the mainstream media powers that be to give them the nod. Journalists and media producers should help us make sense of the world -- not make cents off the world. And our first responsibility should be to the readers and media consumers, not to an abstract profession or a business's stockholders.

    Smash the media state from inside
    Another admittedly cartoony corpse of the counterculture, Hunter Thompson, who now writes for but failed to weigh in on 911 for Rolling Stone, put it best: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." If you're at all interested in the ideas and ideals that Sander -- and I -- espouse, get a "real" media job. We saw this happen quite often during the zine boom of the '90s. Mike Gunderloy, who founded Factsheet Five and ran a publishing imprint named after Civil War-era abolitionist and anarchist attorney Lysander Spooner, got a book contract. As did kitcschy popcult commentator Pagan Kennedy. Noel Ignatiev, publisher of Race Traitor, taught briefly at Harvard. Jim Romenesko got a gig at the Poynter Institute. Lookout! and Epitaph records continue to walk the fine line between commercial credibility and punk-rock positivity. Geeky zine maven Chip Rowe holds forth as the Playboy Advisor. And Might alumni David Moodie and Dave Eggers innovatively influenced Spin and Esquire before the McSweeney's phenomenon. (I, not to enroll myself in the same school as the above, work full time for Fast Company magazine, which is published by Gruner & Jahr, a division of Bertlesmann. Please enjoy the irony of that with me.)

    Let's infect mainstream media. Let's create workplaces and media that reflect our collective value and values. Let's hold our managers and owners accountable to the needs of the readers, viewers, and other media consumers. Let's use mainstream media to create communities and affinity groups sinilar to those we support with our alternative media activity. Let's show people that they can do what we do, too. As people involved in media production, no matter to what extent, we come from a place of privilege. Let's use that power to help kids living in housing projects publish poetry chapbooks, give radio shows to the homeless and the elderly, and produce records by the developmentally disabled. doesn't need to be outsider art, but we do need to consider and tap into outside voices.

    But let's do all of the above paying heed to some of the lessons learned by mainstream media -- the practice of our trade; the importance of active, well-reasoned, and fair editing and filtering; the possibilities offered by professional presentation (delightful design); and the need to meet people's -- the market's -- needs. The market isn't the problem. The abuse and manipulation of the market is.

    Offer viable parallel options
    This is where we are now and where we've been since the '20s if not earlier -- and we're still not very good at it. We don't need a counterculture, an under-the-counter culture, or an underground. What we need is a parallel media space that's more exciting, important, and useful than the mainstream.

    In creating this, we face two major challenges. One, the problem isn't access to production. As Sander demonstrates, the production tools are available. Through photocopying, desktop publishing, home recording, microbroadcasting (the only aspect of this that's still illegal or -- on the Web -- soon to be), blogging, web printing, and Web publishing, we can already make our own media. The hurdles we face are more deeply rooted in distribution and promotion. I'll address this in a minute. Two, Sturgeon's Law -- that 90% of everything is crud -- is even more true for alternative and independent media. There's a reason why some poets have to self-publish. There's a reason why some bands, including mine, can't get shows. The reason? They're not very good. Viable alternative media needs to move beyond democracy in the sense that anyone can do anything. Oh, they can. I know. I used to review 400 personal Web pages every month. And they should. It's just that the rest of us might not need to know.

    My solutions for these two challenges? First, a more collaborative and cooperative approach to distribution and promotion. There's little thanks, money, or glory in it, but it's necessary. Remember Blacklist Mailorder, the record distro MRR ran out of the back room of Epicenter in San Francisco? Hella better and more personal that Remember the grassroots minicomics distros Spit-and-a-Half, Puppy Toss, and Wow Cool? More direct than Diamond. Remember Hello Records, They Might Be Giants' CD subscription service? Gone. Luckily, projects like Free Speech TV are still around. We need more affinity groups cross-promoting participants' media products and services. We need more music collectives like Elephant Six and Handstand Command, in which my band, the Anchormen, is active, cross-promoting shows, cooperatively releasing records, and building something larger than its parts -- but still with art and heart.

    Secondly, we need to encourage quality and ongoing improvement -- of effort, of production, and of response. Since my exposure to independent and micromedia in 1988, I've seen a hesitancy to criticize just because it's an alternative. "Support the scene!" people wail. Yes, support the scene. But constructively criticize your compatriots' books, records, zines, comics, Web sites, radio shows, and public-access TV shows. Independence isn't an excuse for being immature, impolite, or incompetent. Instead, it gives us more dire reasons to be ballsier, better, and bigger than our mainstream counterparts. Of course, I think everyone should be supported for doing it themselves, but I think lacks a culture of constructive criticism. Let's collectively help each other improve -- and hold up the quality creators and positive projects as viable alternatives to the loathsome noise of the mainstream.

    You'll notice that none of the above potential solutions mentions the Left, unions, state ownership, or class conflict. I agree with Sander in that my thinking is informed by such elements of what we do. But I think that a true alternative media will be built on collaboration, cooperation, creativity, and criticism much more than it will be bolstered by the ideologies of the Left, old, new, or now.

    End note
    Riffing on my comments on the flaws of objectivity, I'd like to touch on Sander's consideration of the Right. One, the Right is a construct just like the Left, and it has little currency as such. We need to move beyond bipartisan and bipolar categorization -- past a three-party system in which Ralph Nader is repeatedly held up to represent the Greens -- and toward a society in which multiple viewpoints can be held personally, responsibly, and transparently. The reason why the Right is evil is because they try to hide their evils -- just as the Left is tempted to hide its shortcomings (H. Rapp Brown, anyone?). If held personally responsible, do you think business executives would have let Andersen, Enron, or Global Crossing happen? Two, this comes down again at root to the myth of objectivity. I'm not calling for a fence-sitting subjectivity in which all opinions are equally valid, but a subjectivity in which all opinions and biases are open and clear. Despite the need for media literacy work, people aren't stupid. Increased accountability will increase honesty, and vice versa. If media organizations and journalists take the first step and model positive behavior by putting down their masks and shields -- acting like people instead of institutions -- we'd all be the better off for it. And, perhaps, the rest of the world will follow.