26 Years and Counting

I happened to note today that my first-ever professional publication was in April of 1979, twenty-six long years ago. I was sixteen and in high school when my good friend Jon Pitchford and I joked about making Dungeons & Dragons monsters out of the kinds of people who were the popular folks at school. I wrote up a short humorous monster description parodying the jocks and their hangers-on and sent “Narcisstics” off with high hopes to the official D&D magazine, The Dragon.

We didn’t hear anything for some time (which I expected, it wasn’t my first attempt at publication). I turned seventeen, winter turned into spring, then one day I stopped off as usual at the game shop (Gandalf’s Den in Eugene, Oregon, where I was soon working for most of the next four years), and the latest copy had our article in it. I remember racing over to Jon’s apartment at 13th & Kincaid near the UofO campus (he’d graduated from high school the previous year) with a copy of issue #24 to show him our names in print.

It took a letter to TSR (the publisher of both D&D and The Dragon) asking timorously about payment before we got our whopping $9 check. Split between the two of us, my portion just covered the cost of the two copies of the magazine I bought.

I wouldn’t get paid anything for writing again for another sixteen years, when I did an article for Step-by-Step Graphics on Oregonian graphic artist Steve Cowden.

I’m Ready For My Close-Up, Mr. Atrios

If you’ve never been linked from one of the well-known blogs, you really should try it. As probably anyone here knows already, the Eschaton blog linked my parody TIME covers of Hitler and Stalin (based on Ann Coulter interviewer John Cloud’s comments in CJRDaily) late on Friday night:

Atrios/Eschaton link

This blog gets between 350 and 600 page views (as opposed to raw hits) each day, as a mean average, and half of those are RSS feeds: aggregators and blog readers just checking in to see if anything’s new. So, really, about 200-250 people actually looking for political stuff, the ocassional post on Macromedia Director, what have you. My big days are when I post pictures from a conference or something.

During the day before the TIME covers made it onto Atrios, I had between 13 and 38 page requests each hour. The first hour after the post, it jumped to nearly 1,100. It dropped down pretty fast, but it was the middle of Friday night. It actually got back down to single digits by the sixth hour, but as people woke up Saturday morning, it spiked again to 500-600 for several hours. The first full day after Atrios’s post, the number of page views was up to nearly 6,000.

Sunday’s traffic dropped back to near-normal levels — at least, normal for a weekday. The images were posted a number of other places (like Cup O’ Joe) and without looking at the raw data more than I care to, it’s impossible to sort out how much of that was people clicking on a link or the pictures embedded on other pages.

By Monday, most everyone visiting Eschaton had seen the images, but ripples were still going out. Cup O’ Joe accounted for over 300 raw hits on each picture. Cheers and Jeers (now featured on the front page of Daily Kos) put up a link in a prominent final position that accounted for about 500 page views. The pictures showed up on discussion boards on Democratic Underground, Smirking Chimp, and elsewhere.

Between 7pm Pacific Friday when Atrios’s post went live and 1am Tuesday morning — 78 hours — the Hitler and Stalin covers I created got over 11,500 hits each , with about 8,000 coming directly as a result of Atrios’s post and the others coming from people who’d seen them there and posted links themselves. My follow-ups (Idi Amin and David Duke) could be considered as a sort of control group, since they didn’t get mentioned on Eschaton. The Duke cover parody is getting about 40 hits per day, likely from folks like you who have bothered to keep checking back to see if I did anything else good. That’s a 150:1 ratio.

Such is the power of Atrios.

referrer links from atrios.blogspot.com

22 April 2005
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23 April 2005
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26 April 2005

Vitamin B, Stat!

Remember a few years back when Ralph Lauren was getting it from both conservatives and liberals for using what looked like heroin-addicted teens in his underwear ads?

I was doing a little research on a letter that mentioned David Horowitz, and this ad for a t-shirt company on his Front Page site jumped out at me. Then I saw the second frame of the animated GIF (the right half of this picture).

I’m not normally one to make comments about how people look, but there’s something just weary about the way these women look; a mite Coulterish. Is there something about long-haired women looking vacantly into the camera that turns conservative men on?

From the Vaults of TIME, III

Rather than stick to TIME writer John Cloud’s juxtaposition of Ann Coulter and Stalin and Hitler (or Michael Moore or Eric Alterman), I looked for someone who more closely embodies the same spirit of venom-spewing. And I remembered David Duke, onetime Louisiana state representative, author of Jewish Supremacism and other titles, felon, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. While I was looking around his site, I noticed that while he still has some choice things to say about immigrants, Jews, African-Americans, and Jews, he was against the Iraq war — apparently because he believes it to be a Jewish plot — and figured that I’d try to anticipate TIME’s response to the criticism of the Coulter cover with this fourth installment in my little series (previously featured: Hitler and Stalin, and Idi Amin). It also gave me the opportunity to do a closer parody of the original title:

David Duke: Mr. White

From the Vaults of TIME

TIME writer John Cloud in an interview with Brian Montopoli of CJRDaily about Cloud’s cover story on Ann Coulter (for which the cover line read “Ms. Right: Fair and balanced she isn’t. This conservative flamethrower enrages the left and delights the right. Is she serious or just having fun?”):

Brian, Brian, we have put Josef Stalin on the cover. We have made Adolf Hitler the person of the year.

I’ve done a little digging to find the covers of TIME in which Cloud’s interviews of Stalin and Hitler appeared, oddly enough from the same date in 1933.

Joseph Stalin: Starved For Attention

Adolf Hitler: Raising a Führer

The End of TIME

My letter to TIME magazine, 19 April 2005:

Ten years ago today, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Three years ago, this week’s cover subject, domestic terror advocate Ann Coulter, said she wished McVeigh had gone to the New York Times Building instead. My TIME renewal notice arrived in the mail today, and went straight into the recycling.

Making Stuff Up for the Oregonian

A letter to the Oregonian‘s Public Editor, Michael Arietta-Walden, 8 April 2005:

Mr. Arietta-Walden:

I’d like to once again bring your attention to the lack of factual accuracy in a syndicated column on the Oregonian‘s editorial pages.

On April 6, a column by James Lileks discussed the recent verdict in the Sandy Berger case [linked here from the Jewish World Review]. In the column, Lileks says:

Justice concluded that he didn’t really mean to destroy or cover up evidence of Clinton administration failings that might come up in 9/11 hearings. But it seems somewhat inconsistent with Berger’s own admission that he scissored the things to shreds, no? Ah, but they were copies, that’s all. Nothing more. But were they copies with damning notes in the margins, perhaps?

The last comment, echoing the conspiracy theory that Berger was covering up incriminatory handwritten notes on the pages he destroyed, was refuted by the Department of Justice’s report on the matter, as well as much of the actual reporting. Even the reliably-conservative Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page derided this point today [8 April 2005]:

On Wednesday, we quoted Justice Department prosecutor Noel Hillman that no original documents were destroyed, and that the contents of all five at issue still exist and were made available to the 9/11 Commission. But that point didn’t register with some readers, who continue to suggest a vast, well, apparently a vast left- and right-wing conspiracy. The Washington Times, the Rocky Mountain News and former Clintonite Dick Morris have also been peddling dark suspicions based on misinformation.

The confusion seems to stem from the mistaken idea that there were handwritten notes by various Clinton Administration officials in the margins of these documents, which Mr. Berger may have been able to destroy. But that’s simply an ‘urban myth,’ prosecutor Hillman tells us, based on a leak last July that was ‘so inaccurate as to be laughable.’ In fact, the five iterations of the anti-terror ‘after-action” report at issue in the case were printed out from a hard drive at the Archives and have no notations at all.

I know Lileks is syndicated by the Oregonian‘s parent company, but that’s no excuse for shoddy journalism. This isn’t a difference of “opinion.” The prosecutor in the case said there was “no evidence that Mr. Berger had intended to hide anything from the Sept. 11 commission” (New York Times). “Archives officials have said previously that Berger had copies only, and that no original documents were lost” (Washington Post).

Lileks’s entire column is premised on the idea that Berger was trying to cover up Clinton administration “malfeasance,” but that claim falls apart if the fact that he only destroyed copies from a printer enters the scene. So Lileks doesn’t mention that, either because he’s too lazy to read the news reports (but not too lazy to write several hundred words about Berger) or because he’s flat-out lying. And by printing inaccurate or deceitful “opinions” like this one, the Oregonian is perpetuating that viewpoint; one that even the Wall Street Journal editorial board doesn’t find credible any longer.

The Oval “Office”

It’s difficult to tell whether John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (writers for The Economist) were simply ignorant or deliberately deceitful in their syndicated opinion piece on European entrepreneurism seen through the lens of the wildly-successful British television series “The Office” and its currently-running American version.

The conceit of both shows is a mock documentary filmed in the divisional branch of a paper supplies company, run by an inept manager (played by Ricky Gervais, the show’s co-creator in the BBC version, and by former The Daily Show With John Stewart operative Steve Carell on NBC). The character (David Brent in the UK, Michael Scott in the US) is supremely confident in his own abilities. He believes he’s not only incredibly funny, but that he’s musically talented, and that everyone who works for him loves him and loves their job because of him. On this point he’s completely wrong. Seeing him screw up his office and the lives of the people who work under him in either version is one of the most cringe-inducing television experiences next to watching surgery. The character’s not a complete jerk — he seems to believe he’s doing a great job — but you can see the train wreck coming if you’ve got any brains.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge don’t seem to have ever watched the show, however. Or if they did, they appear to have gotten an entirely different message out of it. In their analysis, “Britons immediately identified with David Brent, the work-averse boss in the Slough office of the paper company Wernham Hogg, was because his casual ‘It’s just a giggle, really’ attitude to management reflected their own prejudice.” Oh, really?

While there is a section of the BBC site dedicated to Brent “lookalikes,” the original series rarely cast David Brent in a positive light. He was someone everyone laughed at, not with, and was certainly not portrayed as someone who should be emulated. Toward the end of the show’s run, the employees of Wernham Hogg are referring to Brent as “Bluto” and “Mr. Toad.” The first line of a 2003 Telegraph interview with Gervais reads: “Ricky Gervais is loved by audiences almost as much as David Brent, his most successful creation, is loathed.” Perhaps the character does represent British prejudices, but about managers rather than about work in general.

To anyone who actually watched the shows, the point should have been ground in by the ascension of Neil Godwin, Brent’s counterpart at another branch of the company in the second season. Godwin is given a position superior to Brent’s when the offices are merged, and he proves to be everything Brent is not: genuinely funny, professional, and caring about others. The relief among the workers when he takes charge and Brent is eventually “made redundant” is palpable.

Given these omissions and the bizarre conclusions they reached about why The Office was a hit in Europe, it’s a bit difficult to give any credulity to Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s argument that the European focus on quality of life is holding them back from entrepreneurship & mdash; unless, of course you’re Kevin Drum, who hasn’t watched it yet but thnks “they seem to be on the right track.”

Micklethwait and Wooldridge say “Brentism helps explain why Europe has no Silicon Valley, no Bill Gates, no Warren Buffett.” They have, however had people like Karl & Theo Albrecht (self-made German magnates who own Trader Joe’s, part of Albertson’s, and were listed at #3 on Forbes’s 2003 list of “The World’s Richest People”, right after Gates and Buffett) as well as four other members of the top 20 slots that year. As for Silicon Valley, it’s difficult to know whether they’re referring to the chip manufacturing (much of which is now done in Asia) or the software development (much of which is now done in Asia).

If anything, “The Office” might be seen as the perfect mirror for the current US administration — far better than any “Saturday Night Live” skit or the sophomoric comedy of the mercifully short-lived “That’s My Bush.” While Micklethwait and Wooldridge figure that Americans “don’t really ‘get’ the humor of ‘The Office’,” what is there not to “get” about the story of an incompetent, deluded guy who’s in charge of the lives of people who have to manage to survive despite his blunders? Oh, we get it.