For the Week of July 12, 2004
This ain't TV. So go back to last week's issue and now hear my decision. One and two, although if three came to me I'd be very happy indeed.
The turning point wasn't when a kindly reader walked up to me outside breakfast, excitedly shouted "Moore's Lore!" and then let me entertain him for an hour over eggs and coffee. (Although considering that Cousin Dash Crofts was never recognized, it was cool.)
The turning point came the next day, on a very quiet boat still celebrating the after-effects of Formal Night and the parties following. Unable to sleep from second-hand smoke I began wandering the ship, and found myself writing, in my head, some pretty neat stuff. I wanted a typewriter, bad.
And that was the answer. Regardless of where I go or what I write about, writing remains the center of my being. It always has been. Within a year of getting my first typewriter, in 1963, I had churned out a (bad) 56-page novella. It's not just what I do, it's not my career, it's who I am. Nothing, even poverty, can change that.
Besides, thanks to careful planning college and retirement aren't urgent concerns. My main motivation for seeking money is the validation of the market, the knowledge that what I'm doing matters there.
And I've been writing of exactly why and how it doesn't, or can't yet, for years now. There are solutions out there, if anyone wants to pursue them:
- Downloaded Newspapers - Strip out the AP wire and all syndicated content, tighten a few of the stories, squeeze your geographic definitions, and the "news hole" of a local paper would fit into a few typed pages each morning. Combine the resources of your list, local courthouses, time to dig and just a smidge of writing attitude and you can create a print product that you sell online, easily, with space for ads. You can cut the price, down to nothing, as the number of ads increases - and that won't draw objections if those are truly local ads.
- Cellular Alerts - Deputize commuters as traffic reporters, keep an eye out for parties and events happening right now, and you have a service you can sell to young hipsters that's truly valuable. Here the audience is defined demographically, people from 22-28, single and looking for fun. Your editor must be squarely in the center of that demographic. In fact the name of your service can be the name of the editor. The alert goes out and people will avoid, or flash mob, any location of your choosing.
- Very Vertical Newsletters - The tough part here is simply finding those few hundred readers who will pay $500/year to know what you do. A few of my readers have already tried this. One key, I think, is to PDF these files so they can be automatically printed, and so you can get out "extras" when events call for them. These need to be very narrow, however. You could do one on Zigbee, or UltraWideband, or Wireless Security, or Wireless Medical. You could do a whole chain of 'em.
These are just the most obvious ideas, where the technology and market conditions for success exist right now. There are other things you can try. Novels-by-subscription (from folks other than Stephen King). Documentaries done as a series of shorts, downloaded in the same way. (With broadband, video e-mails become an important market, so long as they use the best opt-in technique of all, cash.)
Personally I think this is a new dawn for writing about technology. If your gig is politics this is 1999. Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore will be seen as people of their time just as Jerry Yang and David Weatherall are now seen (correctly) as children of the 1990s. It's overbought, and regardless of what happens in November there will be a settlement, a new re-alignment of forces, that will drive millions to seek relief outside that realm. (The same is probably true of real estate - the crash is coming on fast now.)
The decision of the people will help decide which business niches succeed going forward. Will they be military or civilian? Will they be based on basic materials or new technologies? Good reporters and writers can swing either way, as I intend to.
It's good to be back home.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am presently searching for opportunities.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
A writer's world is circumscribed by the words on the typewriter or, now, the screen. You create it and send it out, but may have no idea whether it makes a sound.
In the last few weeks I've been blessed to learn that my work does indeed make a sound. It's not always the clink-clink of change in the pocket. Rather it's the honest sound of sincere friendship, arms round the shoulder and pulled tight when most needed.
The last few issues of a-clue.com have brought an outpouring of advice, counsel, and true friendship.
Peter Reuter forwarded me a link to Bill Myers , who is making money delivering the same kind of advice I've given away for years. Paul Pease suggested a lecture tour. Michael Bledsoe liked all the ideas, and added, "I like your idea of AND." Jon Lowder mentioned that he has a business doing small, customized newsletters that could use good writing. Ed Dodds mentioned Syncmag . Karen Stefani and Karla from TempleofThai sent best wishes.
Science fiction legend Jerry Pournelle sent several notes, which was touching in itself. And he offered this story:
"Cliff Simak was a country newspaper editor all his life. He was also pretty well known as a science fiction writer.
"He used to tell young writers 'You can always find half an hour a day and
you can write a page in half an hour.' I once told David Drake 'four pages a day is four books a year' and he thought about it and quit his day job."
The best news, however, came from my beloved wife. She informed me we're on track for retirement, and the kids' college funds are in good shape, too. She said I have a job.
And I do. It's good to be back for you.
Last week Verizon Wireless introduced what it called Mobile Web 2.0. . It was a true triple play - it's not mobile, it's not the Web, it's not even new.
Verizon insists on running its data efforts as a walled garden, with all applications written in Qualcomm's Brew, and with Verizon controlling the store. The new "service" locks Verizon down as the home page, and was actually produced by Infospace and Vindigo. Only a few phones can access it, and they're charging $5/month, plus airtime.
It's all nonsense, as Mike Masnick of TheFeature notes . The Web is based on open standards, and these are all closed. We have such standards, like Java and XHTML MP. All they've really done is to take some basic Web concepts, like "clickable headlines," and put them into a proprietary interface, through other people. There's no investment, and no benefit.
This is precisely what America Online did "back in the day," and we know what finally happened. Having one person, even a smart person, in control is always going to fail, once users can choose the whole world instead. AOL was able to roll along for years, throughout the Internet boom, despite its closed system, and finally sold out for more than half of the Time Warner empire.
But we know that game. Verizon won't do that well. As soon as the true Mobile Internet comes along, through Cingular and T-Mobile and Nextel, perhaps as soon as next year, and as soon as the mainstream media starts talking about the difference between an AOL approach and the Web itself, Verizon will start paying a rising penalty for its arrogance, in market share, even as the cost of its switching to a truly open platform rises exponentially.
Verizon thinks it can force people to do what it wants, that the only real question is how much capacity a mobile network has . That's like thinking your Internet profits are bounded by your backhaul capacity, and you don't even have to follow standards.
It's arrogant and Clueless. It's short-term thinking at its worst.
Con Game: Polemic Alert
DANGER. If you don't like my political polemics, skip this piece of self-indulgence. I wrote it on the boat and poured it into the screen as soon as I got home.
I can speak with some authority on this, having been a victim of a con myself recently.
To make a long story short, a corporate bank account is a test of character. Those with character treat it as a shared trust. Those without character treat it as a private piggy bank.
Cons continue for two reasons. One is conspiracy, in which cons share the gains. The other, more common reason is guilt, a denial by victims followed by fear that a whistle blower will pull them down, too, and finally condemnation of the whistle blower.
We've seen a lot of that lately. And the temptation is to create a mastermind, blaming the guy at the top. Nicholas Kristof of the Times says, in the case of George W. Bush, that animus is misplaced .
In some ways he is right. Bush is, at best, a front. He's far too dim to have pulled such an elaborate con himself. Presidential politics, as Nixon said, is like riding a wild animal. It's the animal's will that controls the game.
In fact this con was propelled, as we know, by three distinct groups of people, three movements which, through Bush, captured the Republican Party and set us on the course we have followed these last four years.
There were the American Ayatollahs, people like Pat Robertson, who laid their plans in the 1980s, first taking over churches, then TV sets.
There were the neo-cons, men like David Horowitz, who went from the Far Left straight to the Far Right, and whose view of men and power was that the former were sheep while the latter was a dark zero-sum game.
There were the anti-tax "starve the beast" men, like Grover Norquist, who sought to strip government of any hope for doing good and thus become courtiers in a class structure like that of 18th century Europe.
Enough has been said on all of that. The fact is all these movements crystallized under Bush. They captured him and swallowed him whole. They exercise all his power. They are mutually dependent, they are one. If he falls they are exposed, and if they fall he is.
The great joke, of course, is who is being conned here. I believe the conned are those of the conservative movement, the rising that began in the early 1960s with William F. Buckley's Sharon Statement and Barry Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative."
It may be hard to remember, now, the raw American idealism that fueled those movements, so corrupted have they become by what then was their lunatic fringe. But Goldwater did love liberty - the inherent right of every individual to be themselves, free insofar as possible of government interference. There was idealism in Karl Marx, too, until his name was used by Lenin's Bolsheviks to create dictatorships which, at their height, controlled nearly half the world's people.
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, said Goldwater. But he was wrong, for in extremism there can be no liberty. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, he added, but again he was wrong. Without moderation there is no justice.
The good news is we don't have to convince all this con's victims that they have been had. The bad news is that the cons have cleverly brought many of the nation's largest corporations into the game, on their side.
I'm not talking here just of firms like Halliburton and Enron, which directly benefitted from the massive frauds of the last four years. I'm talking here of the great media companies - Disney and Viacom, GE and Fox - who bought in through media concentration laws that let them exchange their responsibilities as competing businesses for the oligopoly of easy profit and unquestioned power.
Why doesn't ABC stand up to this Administration? Could it be that Michael Eisner remains secure in office at parent Disney, despite his abominable profit record? Why doesn't CBS stand up? Could it be that Sumner Redstone's personal control of Viacom has been vindicated? How about GE? Its attempts to monopolize many basic industries remain unfought, so NBC stands silent. Time Warner has spent the last few years struggling for survival, in no position to object to anything. Rupert Murdoch, of course, thinks he's not just in on the game, but directing it.
This is how conspiracies hold together. This is how gangs work. Everyone believes they're in charge. Everyone else feels that, if they speak out, they will be destroyed by those who are in charge. Omerta.
But this is also every conspiracy's weakness. Because as in any organized crime the main conspirators have contradictory motives. A Christian America can't exist without a strong government to enforce its edicts. Nor can the neo-conservative dictatorship exist without ample funding, funding opposed by the "starve the beast" crowd.
It's much like America's previous great con, the Confederacy. It couldn't compete without a strong central authority, yet its reason for being was total opposition to such a center. So its states defied Richmond, and counties often defied the states. The men in charge used the language of liberty to justify the enslavement of one-third their number, in black men and women. As Jefferson Davis himself wrote at the time, "If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a Theory."
The internal contradictions in this conspiracy will also bring it flying apart, even if Bush should win re-election. The only difference, as it was for the Confederates, is that the short-term success will result in the total destruction of the nation. And we're all in that nation.
The question Democrats have asked themselves throughout this cycle is how can we best break this conspiracy, now, and reverse the total destruction of everything America represents? In many ways these have mirrored the debates over Communism in the last century. The strongest anti-Conservatives, like Howard Dean, demanded a firm line, fighting tit-for-tat, standing up to the bully, employing his own weapons against him. The more moderate camp, that of Kerry, Gephardt, and the Democratic Committee, argued that the con should play itself out, that (as with Communism) it would fall of its own contradictions, in its own time, that if we merely acted moderate, and non-threatening, people would come slowly our way.
In the end Democrats chose the Kerry approach, and rejected the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party. They did this deliberately, much as Republicans in 1952 chose Eisenhower over Taft.
But no campaign consists only of its leaders. A Kerry Administration would not consist of just John Kerry and a few hand-picked favorites. In America, parties rule, not people. And in great contests like this one parties win, not just candidates.
The coming campaign will be, no matter how John Kerry would not wish it to be, for Kerry and Democracy. Kerry himself will be a figurehead, just as George W. Bush will be a figurehead. What will matter is who can hold their coalition together best, who can tell the most compelling story, who can get their people out in greater numbers when it counts.
I have said here for the last year that our best hope for victory lies in pulling parts of the Republican coalition off from Bush, and I still believe that. There are great targets of opportunity there, libertarians who feel conned by the Ayatollahs, religious leaders who feel conned by the absolutism of the chosen, foreign policy realists leery of crusades, even small government conservatives who fear the growing power of this government.
The debate I want to initiate, today, is over how we can peel 5%, 10%, 15% of that Great Con apart from its center, not as snitches, not as converts, but as Americans who know that one election is, and should, be always followed by another, and another. We need to convince some unknown number of millions to either skip this Election Day, or decide, just once, to give the other side a chance, if only to see that their leaders are right, and that we're incapable of properly governing.
Give us a chance, Democrats will ask Republicans, so you can regain control of your own party from its lunatic fringe, and give it back to its own roots, in Goldwater and Reagan, of Dole and Ford. You've been had, conned, and you have one last chance to get out of it, to take your party back.
We don't have much time.
Clued-in is Bill Myers , who has not just worked at finding ways for you to profit from online content, but ways in which he can as well.
Clueless is News.Com ,and the unwillingness of the rest of the press to report that this emperor now has no clothes.
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