Friday, January 20, 2006

google resists evil


Aren't Republican administrations supposed to be business friendly?

Why is the federal government entitled to data mine a US corporation? The Department of Justice asked nice, was politely rebuffed, and now it has gone to court. Huh?
"Google's acceding to the request would suggest that it is willing to reveal information about those who use its services. This is not a perception that Google can accept."
--Google lawyer Ashok Ramani
If Google isn't the target of an investigation, what obligation does it have to provide the US government with any information? And why are all the other -- publicly-traded! -- companies complying in some way shape or form with this request, however innocuously portrayed? Why are Yahoo! and AOL and MSN not resisting?

Is this China?

Yahoo recently drew criticism for complying with an informational request by China, which used the information convict and jail a dissident. MSN also caught heat for shutting down access to a popular Beijing blogger.

In those cases it can generously be argued that it is necessary, within some as-yet untested limits, to acquiesce to a legal order of the country where you are doing business to have any chance of continuing to do business there.

But none of these companies have anything to fear from the United States except bad favor, and that for only the next three years perhaps, while they do have quite a lot to fear possibly forever from customers and shareholders. Google closed down nearly 8.5% to mid-November levels on a day when the NASDAQ lost 2.35%. I'd ask them if hits are up or down, but they have no obligation to tell me even though I am a citizen journalist and just might take them to court :).

Yes, no doubt the market was looking for an excuse to take a breath on a pricey stock that has seen no serious downside, but being in the government's crosshairs -- even if it isn't the SEC and there is no impropriety asserted -- is not a good thing. But there is no crime here, and the Internet companies are not targets of anything.

This is just a bid to gather information the Bush administration thinks it will help revive its case to enforce the Child Online Protection Act, which the US Supreme Court has rebuffed -- the textbook definition of a fishing expedition, as the mercurynews.com describes.

Don't tread on me -- no, give me broadband

This case also raises issues I would rather not worry about, but we all increasingly must. "My name is John A, and I am totally dependent on the Internet." I am in that fortunate generation that knew the world before the World Wide Web. I can now imagine the feelings of a previous generation, born to a world without television, who now get to watch "Lost" every week.

There may be no basis in the law, or corporate bylaws, to prevent a company from interpreting its privacy policies so that it becomes an investigative arm of government, but it is horrible policy.

It is bad enough that our consumption habits are habitually collected and archived and analyzed by the Googles and TiVos and [your local supermarkets] of the world, but at least there is a quid pro quo in the form of free services, targeted ads, better technology, discounts, etc. And, of course, we get to live in a world where these is no barrier to virtually any data from anywhere at anytime.

Why can't the Justice Department should just hire a couple of teenagers for intern pay to tell them all they need to know about Internet searches?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

what's truth got to do with it?


A Million Little Lies - January 8, 2006

here's my problem. do i read it or not?

there isn't much more to say about all this. a book isn't a memoir if things are made up. you can't remember what didn't happen. when you assert something as factual when it isn't you do so to add value, to serve your purpose. it's selfish and dishonest.

but is it ok to read this book on the merits anyway? would genuine fiction by such infamous fakers as jason blair or janet cooke be banned from your reading list? speaking for myself, i am not sure.

i stumbled upon 'a million little pieces' a few weeks ago without any knowledge of it (no, i don't live in a bubble). like many others i started to read the first few passages and was taken in (pun intended) by the graphic detail and vibrant writing. it was compelling, and if it had been marketed as a non-fiction novel i doubt any of the justified criticism would have or could have been made. and i would have bought it (pun intended).

frey did himself no favors by feigning indignance when his licenses with reality were exposed. oprah, whose selection of frey's story for her book club guaranteed its success, seemed to strengthen the sometimes criticism that she is not to be taken seriously as a literary tastemaker because she dismissed frey's deceptions as irrelevant, though it will likely have no impact on her impact. and, if the work is good, maybe it shouldn't.

but suppose we could forget all the noise and read frey's book in galley form, with no bias as to its truth, no claims about what it means, much like that tale of a literary agent who could not convince a single studio to buy an unnamed story that was, in fact, the script for 'mr smith goes to washington'? would a reader appreciate the prose, the storytelling, the book in its entirety? would a reader dismiss it as drivel unless it was a true story?

what is the correct decision? return the book to target? read it and assume everything is for dramatic effect? burn it? keep it on the bookshelf as a conversation starter?

christ. there is even talk of a class-action lawsuit ...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

covering alito


i like msnbc and all -- but why cut away to scheduled programming in the midst of the alito hearings in the afternoon?!

cnn is unwatchable, with a six-screen layout. there is so little to fill this mosaic that there is a wide shot of the space between the witness table and the senators, a position shot of the u.s. capital, a position shot of the u.s supreme court and graphic that says, just to eliminate any ambiguity, "the alito hearings". somebody needs to re-read "amusing ourselves to death."

cspan (senate) isn't carrying the hearings, but cspan (house) is (?)

so, the only network that can be relied upon to carry this in a more or less straightforward way is, sigh, fox news, and the ever reliable PBS.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

and then there were none

my old boss left reuters the other day -- and just like that there was nobody left from the original gang who put reuters on the internet map.

in officially announcing bob's departure to all staff his last boss, very new to the company, was refreshingly sincere, generous and accurate, not only capturing bob's legendary zeal for the internet but his personal style. "I have benefited greatly from Bob's flawless news judgment and his guidance in the ways of Reuters," the memo says. "And this was always delivered with grace, charm and a sense of humor."

this is bob in a nutshell.

the kind note made no mention, of course, of the reasons and trigger behind the move, which i frankly do not completely know. but one of bob's many talents was a keen insight into the reality of company politics and i'm sure he knew for quite some time that the end was not only coming, but was inevitable and perhaps even necessary.

my career was intertwined with bob's to a greater extent than anyone else at reuters, and i was fortunate to have more than one influential rabbi during my 26-year stint. he joined the company only a year before i did, already a seasoned newspaper reporter while i was an entry-level punk with no skills, education or experience in the field -- who could barely type to boot. but he was one of the first to encourage me and was later in a position to see to it that i moved into positions of some authority and responsibility, where i personally thrived and, if modesty allows, justified my existence.

bob is an extremely talented writer -- who else could get away with such leads as "Dolly Parton's best features closely resemble the rolling hills of her native Tennessee"-- who moved up the food chain with some remorse. he once told me that journalism was one of those odd professions that rewards success by moving you further from what drew you to it. in the end, the only writing bob did for reuters was in emails, and if you made the mistake of getting in his sights it was like being painted by a sniper: don't bother to run, you will just die tired.

he kept his personal writing fairly secret, but since nobody reads this drivel i don't think i risk his ire by saying that bob (with collaborator and wife barbara) has written screenplays, and poetry that has been published and set to music. i hope his agitation to keep "busy" is directed this way now rather than as a paycheck-cashing drone for another incarnation of "the man."

while i always implicitly trusted bob i must confess with great embarrassment that there were fleeting moments when i resented him, when i thought _he_ was the only impediment to my further advancement -- as if a) i had his array of skills and experience and b) we actually could ever be in competition for the same job anywhere other than on the bizarro planet. and he paid this price because over and over again he did the right thing, by keeping me very close to his decision-making process on many, many things of common interest where a lesser manager would resort to asking "yes or no" questions when they hardly even mattered anymore.

the truth is much different, and even in my deepest state of obliviousness or denial i know that my temperament, my ability to deal with the caste another senior manager once described to me as "the important idiots", was limited, and that it was bob alone -- risking god only knows how much credibility -- who managed to keep me within earshot of the muckety mucks at the dias long enough to for me to soothe fears that i listened to no one and breathed fire.

he is also the guy -- the only person i would trust -- who helped me with job applications. It was always the same: he would savage my cover letters like a romanian gynamistics coach. needless to say, he was always right.

for all the energy expended on positioning oneself for career advancement the irony is that there was no future for any of us -- for the man who secretly hatched and implemented reuters' first internet strategy, who was shown the door years ago; for a string of prescient journalists who moved from editorial to the media division to bravely advance a strategy the company had not yet fully embraced; for my direct reports, a nimble team the company allowed me to hand pick and in whom it invested untold resources only to decide that off-the-shelf widgets in a cheaper country would do.

reuters will go on just fine without any vestige of the old guard, chiefs or indians. many left on their own terms to seek, and often make, fortunes in the internet dodge at other companies, and many more were simply handed their hats. i went through the same process as bob when i was reorganized out a few months ago, and nobody has died. business is business and you can't blame those with the most to lose for taking the risks they want to take. as a shareholder, i am rooting for reuters on a daily basis to continue to improve in the space it now calls its consumer business, which remains a small p&l but is regarded as one of its few growth engines.

even though no one is indispensable, some people are irreplaceable. we are now playing out the clock to the moment when nobody with institutional knowledge of reuters' fascinating internet history will be in the building. the last guy standing isn't just anyone but one of the pioneers, a person who was a witness to history when he wasn't making it, who knows all the mistakes made, all the lessons learned and, dare i say it, where all the bodies are buried.

bob helped a grateful new team find its footing and remains at its disposal for a time as a consultant. but when he turns the lights out for the last time, things could get interesting.