Spectrum bought by AT&T? Not quite.

Was Time Warner Cable or Charter Spectrum bought by AT&T? No it wasn’t, but I understand why some people are thinking that right now. It now turns out that both Charter Communications and AT&T have a history with Time Warner, but it’s complicated.

That said, there is a rumor now that AT&T’s arch rival Verizon is considering buying Charter Communications, the company behind Spectrum. Meanwhile, AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner. Time Warner differs from Time Warner Cable.

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How the Amiga could have lived to age 30 and beyond

It was 30 years ago this week that Commodore released its landmark, long-time-coming Amiga 1000 computer–the first 1990s computer in a field full of 1970s retreads.

Yes, it was a 1990s computer in 1985. It had color and sound built in, not as expensive, clunky, hard-to-configure add-ons. It could address up to 8 megabytes of memory, though it ran admirably on a mere 512 kilobytes. Most importantly, it had fully pre-emptive multitasking, something that previously only existed in commercial workstations that cost five figures.

It was so revolutionary that even NBC is acknowledging the anniversary.

Being a decade or so ahead of its time was only the beginning of its problems, unfortunately.

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Phil Kerpen, net neutrality, and socialism: A post-mortem

I learned the hard way a few weeks ago how net neutrality can be equated with socialism, an argument that puzzles people who work on computer networks for a living and see networking as a big flow of electrons. I think it’s very important that we understand how this happens.

Here’s the tactic: Find a socialist who supports net neutrality. Anoint him the leader of the movement. Bingo, anyone who supports net neutrality follows him, and therefore is a communist.

Political lobbyist and Fox News contributor Phil Kerpen told me Robert W. McChesney was the leader of the net neutrality movement, and he sent me a quote in the form of a meme longer than the Third Epistle of St. John. Yet in a Google search for the key words from that quote, “net neutrality bring down media power structure,” I can’t find him. So then I tried Bing, where I found him quoted on a web site called sodahead.com, but I couldn’t find the primary source.

For the leader of a movement the size of net neutrality, he sure keeps a low profile. Google and Netflix are two multi-billion-dollar companies that support net neutrality. I’m sure it’s news to them that they’re taking orders from Robert W. McChesney. Read more

Facebook’s IPO doesn’t have to be the end of Silicon Valley

I saw a story on Slashdot this weekend writing Silicon Valley’s obituary at the hands of the Facebook IPO. The logic is that since social networking is an easier path to riches than traditional science, people will choose social networking.

In the short term, he may be right. But in the long term? The Facebook IPO looks more like Dotcom 2.0 to me. Read more

So what now?

The Republican Revolution is over. What went wrong?

Before I try to answer that question, a few words by Dr. Donald Prahlow, my high school history instructor, seem pertinent. In 1992 when Bill Clinton took the White House, Dr. Prahlow stood in front of a classroom full of young, mostly right-leaning students and tried to make sense of what happened. "As a historian, I have to say the best thing that can happen, when one political party has been in power for a long time, is to hand power over to the other one." He went on to give some examples. The most important thing I took from his brief aside before getting onto the day’s regularly scheduled lecture was that no president in history has ever been able to wreck the country irreparably in four or even eight years.

Not Richard Nixon. Not Warren G. Harding. Not Lyndon B. Johnson. Despite my strong feelings on that day in 1992, not William Jefferson Clinton. And regardless of your feelings on the two men, neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama will be the first.

And I believe that what went wrong with the Republican Revolution, which started with the stunning 1994 comeback in both houses of Congress, is largely the neoconservative movement and George W. Bush.

What’s sad is that the end all started with so much potential. I vividly remember Bill Clinton, interviewed on the evening news on either ABC, NBC or CBS around 2002 or 2003 talking about Bush. He said he thought Bush would be very successful early on, because of two words that are largely forgotten today: compassionate conservatism. I’m paraphrasing, but basically Clinton said that if Bush could deliver Democratic-like social programs while delivering lower taxes, it would be almost impossible for the Democratic party to compete with that.

Unfortunately, nothing ever came of that. Rather than being remembered as the president who popularized compassionate conservatism, we’ll remember the image of Bush flying over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, looking out of touch and perhaps a bit over his head. Or we’ll remember the bothced recovery effort, which was long on excuses but painfully short on results.

The other Bush promise that never turned into anything was his bipartisanship. As governor of Texas, he had the reputation for reaching out to Democrats and working with them. Unfortunately, as president, we saw a man with little tolerance for anyone who disagreed with him, even if they were members of his own party.

In all fairness, it’s difficult to know how much of what we saw was Bush, and how much of it really was Dick Cheney. And that’s another failing of the Bush presidency: He failed to stand up to Cheney when necessary and put him in his place. The ticket read Bush-Cheney, but
often it seemed the reality was Cheney-Bush.

I don’t think I need to even bring up the wars.

Ultimately, all that came back to bite John McCain. The John McCain who stood up to Bush in 2000 was largely absent in 2008. It’s entirely possible that voters would have punished McCain for the sins of Bush no matter what, but ultimately, McCain didn’t do enough to distance himself from his predecessor. Certainly he risked alienating the 28% of the population who approved of Bush in doing so, but he fell into the same trap the Democrats fell into repeatedly in the 1990s when trying to appease the far left fringes of its party. As long as McCain managed to stay to the right of the Democrats, the minority of the population who favored Bush wasn’t going to abandon him and vote for Obama. McCain needed to concentrate on getting 23% from the center of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, while McCain was failing to distance himself enough from Bush (and was showing he was perfectly capable of being out of touch), Obama was showing up on the Sunday morning political shows, demonstrating that he read things, including newspapers, including the op-ed pages, including the parts written by people he didn’t always agree with. After 8 years of an administration whose idea of keeping informed was listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Fox News, he probably seemed refreshing.

So what’s next?

The comeback doesn’t have to take as long this time. Remember, the only thing less popular than Bush right now is the Democrat-controlled Congress. They get a pass right now because they’re mostly unpopular for not standing up to Bush. But if the new, bigger Democratic majority fails to get desired results, there’s no reason to believe the electorate will be so sympathetic in two years.

So the Republican party needs to be ready. It has until the 2010 primaries to find its soul, to figure out what it stands for.

For their sake and everyone else’s, I hope it involves smaller and more efficient government and taking the Constitution in its entirety seriously.

And in the meantime, we have a man in the White House who embodies the American Dream and who personifies the result of decades of struggle. Whatever you think of his politics, he will inspire a generation or more, and a lot of good can come from that.

Fathers: Give your family a gift this Father’s Day weekend

I’m sitting here watching NBC’s tribute to Tim Russert tonight. Although he was famous for being the biggest political guru of his generation, he was also the author of two books, both about fatherhood.

He died today of a heart attack. He was only 58.

I would have liked to have asked my dad what to do to minimize the risk of heart attack. Being a doctor, he should know. But I can’t. He died of a heart attack in 1994, age 51.I think I know what Dad would say, although he would say it with a whole lot more authority, having four degrees and the title "D.O." to his name.

I’m sure Dad would point out that not all of the factors are within our control. The best we can do is control the factors that we can control. (Not that he did, sadly.)

I don’t know much about medicine (Dad didn’t want me to be a doctor, and honestly, I never had much interest), but I know plenty about controlling the factors we can, in hopes of minimizing the factors we can’t.

But diet is a big factor, and we can control it. We can (and should) eat foods lower in cholesterol. We can (and should) avoid hydrogenated oils as much as possible. And we can (and should) eat foods that seem to lower cholesterol, such as oatmeal. Soy is also rumored to lower cholesterol, but the question is whether it actually lowers cholesterol, or if it merely replaces lots of foods that are high in cholesterol.

So, here’s the gift I want fathers to give their families this week. Start eating oatmeal for breakfast at least a couple of times a week. And if you’re really ambitious, eat fake soy meat a couple of times a week instead of the real thing.

Trust me on this one. I’m a red-blooded, beef-eating Kansas City native. I grew up on the stuff. Eight years ago I gave up meat for Lent, mostly because it was something that seemed possible but extremely difficult to do. I wanted to see if I could do it. So I did it–barely. Then I went out for BBQ afterward.

Back then, I tried soy burgers. I wasn’t impressed. Trust me. They’re better now. If you don’t like one brand, try another, but my favorites are the Boca Flame Grilled. Soy bacon is good too. It doesn’t look a thing like the real stuff, but it tastes fine.

If there’s a relatively minor and tolerable adjustment that we can make to potentially increase the number of our years, and almost certainly increase the quality of those years, shouldn’t we do it?

Dateline\’s getting sued

I see that Dateline’s being sued because someone who found himself on the “To Catch a Predator” segment and killed himself. His sister is suing for $105 million.

Good.I don’t normally like lawsuits, but Dateline is the most despicable excuse for journalism in the entire world, and yes, I know that takes some doing. Remember, this is the same television show that decided that GM pickup trucks didn’t explode spectacularly enough in collisions and rigged them with explosives, then presented this dramatization as fact.

What Dateline does in its To Catch a Predator segment isn’t journalism at all. It’s entrapment, pure and simple. And capturing it on film turns it into something more closely resembling so-called “reality TV” than anything else–certainly more than journalism.

The job of a journalist is to report events. What this segment of the show does isn’t to report the events–it creates them. What’s worse is that it puts the people caught on camera on trial in the court of public opinion. Many of the people who end up on the show end up having their cases dismissed in court for lack of evidence.

If the police want to engage in this sort of activity, that’s one thing. When a sensationalistic television show does it, unintended consequences happen.

I have no sympathy for pediphiles. But engaging in entrapment to put them on television as a form of entertainment isn’t the proper or ethical way to deal with them. Plus, it certainly isn’t journalism, and it gives a bad name to those who do try to practice journalism in an ethical and principled manner.

Unfortunately, a $105 million lawsuit isn’t going to do much to change Dateline’s practices. The show stays on the air because it gets reasonably good ratings and is dirt cheap to produce. That’s why they put it on in every time slot where another show fails. Even with the occasional nine-figure lawsuit thrown in, it’s far cheaper to produce than any sitcom.

If you don’t like the direction this country or society is headed, thank shows like this. Sensationalism and celebrity gossip is what passes for news these days, so the things that really matter don’t even get mentioned.

If you want to get your news from television, watch Jim Lehrer on PBS. Liberals think it’s too conservative; conservatives think it’s too liberal. That’s usually an indication that it’s doing something right. Flawed though it may be, at least it is journalism, unlike most of what ends up on television news anymore.

I remember someone asking one of my journalism instructors (Bob Sullivan, now an MSNBC columnist) for an example of balanced journalism. Surprisingly, he didn’t hesitate. “MacNeil/Lehrer,” he said. Then he laughed. “And no one watches.”

Sad.

I can find better journalism than Dateline without switching from NBC, however. It happens every Saturday night. Yes, I’m talking about Weekend Update. And it was better even when Norm McDonald was hosting.

What the press doesn’t want to tell you about Kaycee

Dan Bowman forwarded me a string of e-mail yesterday that raised a number of questions about the press. Apparently there is at least one reporter trying to find out how many people gave gifts to “Kaycee,” and that’s raising some concerns. Why? And why does the reporter want names and phone numbers? And how do you know if the guy’s legit or if he’s making some kind of sucker list?
Being a former reporter myself, Dan solicited my opinion. Maybe he figured a former reporter would recognize one of his own. And I do.

One concern was the reporter’s apparent use of a free e-mail address. This doesn’t cause me any great concern. Not all newspapers have a mail server because not every newspaper can afford to pay a mail administrator–or maybe they’re just not willing to justify keeping a full-time IT guy on hand who’d make more than the editor in chief. Plus there’s the portability issue–use a free, Web-based mail service, and you can read your mail from anywhere with Web access. No need to mess with VPNs or direct dialins or any of that nastiness.

Another concern is why does the reporter want a phone number. Practicality is one issue; a five-minute phone conversation can glean far more information than a mail conversation that takes all day. And the reporter probably wants to hear your voice; the sound of your voice tells a lot. The reporter can’t print that information, usually, but that gut feeling provides valuable guidance. Plus the reporter needs to verify that you really exist, which is something that anyone who had any contact with “Kaycee” will understand.

But if the reporter were any good, he’d be able to track you down, right? You bet he could. But that’s ruder than establishing contact via e-mail. You want the source to be as comfortable as possible. Plus it takes time to do that. In something like this, you’ll cast a wide net as painlessly as possible. If I were writing this story, my very first step would be to go to Weblogs.com, do a search on “Kaycee,” and when I find sites that mention her name a lot, I’d read the posts to get an idea of whether there was any relationship, and if I find any indication, e-mail that person. I may e-mail 100 people. But it only takes three sources to make a story.

Will the reporter honor your wishes, like not printing your full name, or your real name? Quite possibly. I know MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan knew Julie Fullbright’s identity. (Bob taught one of my journalism classes way back when, back when he was a grad student at the University of Missouri. I e-mailed him after his story hit the Web.) He didn’t publish her name–he said her identity couldn’t be confirmed at press time. A white lie? Kind of. But I know Bob didn’t knock on Julie’s door and confirm it. I don’t know whether he called her on the phone and asked if the pictures were her yet still chose to say her identity was unconfirmed. Bob said he wanted to protect her privacy, and knowing Bob, I take him at his word on that. If this was going to turn into a three-ring circus in the press, Bob didn’t want to be the ringmaster. Once her identity became common knowledge, you started seeing her mentioned by name in the news too, and not just on the Weblogging sites.

Chances are very good that the reporter(s) will talk to dozens of people and probably run the best quotes he gets from some of them. For example, I found a nugget in one of Dan Bowman’s messages: “Shelley would really like to know who ate her cookies.” Yes, on one level that’s funny. But baking cookies for someone is a fairly universal act of love, and just about all of us–even baking-challenged superbachelors–can understand the feeling of betrayal when you bake up a batch of cookies and send them to someone, then find out they never got to that person. And if that person didn’t exist at all, it hurts even more.

If you feel like you should give the reporter a piece of information but don’t want to be quoted, use the phrase “off the record.” Most reporters honor that. If you can give them someone else who’ll corroborate what you say, the reporter is even more likely to honor it. Even if that someone else wants to remain anonymous, once three people say something, a reporter can pretty much count it as fact. And since there is some danger of retribution, a reporter will honor that. Most reporters have a soft spot in their hearts for people in danger.

I know you’re nervous about talking about this with a reporter, because I was a crime reporter. Being taken for money is one thing. People don’t like to talk about that because they don’t like to think of themselves as suckers. I know that. Any reporter you’re likely to talk to knows that. But being taken for love is entirely different. People are far less likely to talk about that. Any reporter you’re likely to talk to knows that too. All too well. He or she isn’t likely to do anything to hack you off when good sources are hard to find.

Why is the press taking this angle? Well, the root word of the word “news” is “new.” This is a very old story by news standards. This is the only angle left to take, and the national media has probably stopped caring. If it turns out that more than $1,000,000 worth of gifts were sent to Kaycee, then it’ll become a national story again. If a few hundred people sent postcards and cookies and trinkets, I doubt you’ll hear about it anywhere but in Kansas and Oklahoma newspapers. But in rural Kansas and Oklahoma, anything new that comes about in this case is news.

Why can’t the reporter just read your Weblog? There’s a decent chance s/he already has. But the reporter will want to know how you feel about this now. (That “new” thing again.) And no one wants to print exactly the same quote some other paper did. If you interview the person yourself, your chances of having verbatim quotes lessen.

Is the reporter in cahoots with the FBI or local law enforcement agencies? Probably not. That would be a conflict of interest. It crosses the boundary between reporting news and creating news.

And how can you tell if a reporter is legit? Do a Web search on the reporter’s name. Chances are it’ll show up somewhere. I did a Google search on the reporter’s name in this case, and the first hit had his name, his employer’s name, his editor’s name, and his newspaper’s phone number. If worse came to worse, I could call that number and ask for him. If he’s not there, you can ask whoever answers the phone if the reporter is working on a story along those lines. There’s no guarantee that person will know, but reporters do talk to one another, and future stories do come up in newsroom meetings.

Hopefully that helps people see this thing from a reporter’s perspective. And I suspect that’s probably the last I’ll talk about Kaycee here–the story seems to be losing momentum and people seem to be moving on. And that’s a good thing.

Integrity and fiction on the Web

I had thoughts that I thought best not shared, but then I read Frank McPherson’s excellent take on the hoax, so maybe I have something more to share after all. I’d really rather let the topic die, but since it appears there are still things for us to learn, let’s learn. Take consolation in that we can learn without me ever saying that name that begins with “K.” OK?
Here’s Frank:

For most of the last three or four months Dave Winer has been promoting the idea of amateur journalism. His point being that today’s mainstream media cannot be trusted, and does nothing but lie. Dave feels he can’t trust writers of BigPubs because they could be bought out by some person or company. He questions their integrity.

I’m trained as a professional journalist. I’ve seen the corruption from the inside. But I also know the source of the corruption, and that individuals inside can rise above it. I have classmates and former colleagues all over the place. CNet’s Troy Wolverton was in my New Media class. MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan taught my Editing class. The Associated Press’ David A. Lieb was my first editor in college. The AP’s Justin Hyde entrusted a newspaper column to me at the tender age of 19. My mentor as a columnist was Andrew Blasko, now a writer/pr contact/editor (strange combination) at The Heritage Foundation. USA Today’s Elizabeth McKinley was in my Editorial Writing class.

Those are just the people whose bylines I’ve seen recently, or who I remember for one reason or another.

I trust these people. I don’t always agree with them. I trust their ability to get the facts straight, partly because some of them were among the people who helped me learn to get the facts straight, and all of them learned to get the facts straight from the same people I did. Plus I spent a lot of time with them. I know they have integrity because I saw it. Not only do I trust them to get the story straight, but I wouldn’t think twice about tossing my car keys to any of them.

I also believe in amateur journalism. As far as I’m concerned, Mike Royko was the greatest journalist of all time. You know how Royko learned journalism? He went to the Chicago Public Library, grabbed every book on journalism and newswriting he could find, and spent a weekend reading them. He learned the principles and ethics of journalism, combined that with a God-given knack for writing that he may or may not have realized he had, and became a legend.

The key word Frank McPherson brought up is integrity. The individuals I mentioned have integrity. The National Enquirer lacks integrity. NBC’s Dateline lacks integrity. Debbie Swenson lacks integrity. Corporations are inherently no more and no less capable of integrity than individuals.

But corporations may have a slight edge in ability to maintain their integrity, because of accountability. Corporations, being made up of individuals, have a certain amount of accountability built in. Individuals can get accountability or they can reject it. I know if I say something that makes people wonder if I’ve been smoking crack, Dan Bowman or Dustin Cook or Pete Moore or a host of others will call me on it. They’ll chime in with their twenty bucks’ worth (that’s the price most people put on my words, and theirs should be worth what mine are), the truth will come out, and we’ll all be the better for it.

And that doesn’t just apply to my writing. When I teach a Bible study, there are usually two masters’ students among the audience. Those guys are slumming. While there are many preachers who have less formal training than I have, Matt and John know far more than I do. I have no idea what they can learn from me. But I appreciate them being there, because if I’m wrong, I know they’ll speak up, and they know I expect them to.

Integrity and accountability aren’t so much something you get so much as they are something you live. And yes, you should look for them, and if someone appears to lack them, then no, you shouldn’t trust them, not even for the sports scores. Don’t give them the eyeballs the advertisers look for.

Now, Frank brought up Bo Leuf, who brought up the question of fiction. Bo observed that when fiction writing first appears in a new medium, it looks like fact, and outrages people. And some people still can’t tell the difference years later. Having lived next door to people who truly believed the X Files were real, I know this firsthand.

Personally, I love the idea of a fictional weblog. We’ve been trying for years to figure out ways to exploit the unique capabilities of the Internet, and the weblog lets us do that.

The idea hit me as I read the end of this Oklahoman article. “I think [Swenson] wanted to tell a story. But she should have written a book or something.” Those were the words of Julie Fullbright, the local hero who unknowingly gave her face to the fictional character whose name I promised not to mention. That’s the kind of quotable quote a journalist lives for. I read those words just before I left work for the day, and I’ve been thinking about them all night.

I thought she was right then, and I think she’s still right now.

Now, having written a book, and having fallen victim to a publisher’s whims, I know what it’s like to try to write a book. I know what it’s like to try to get someone to publish it. And I know what it’s like to try to get someone to buy it. The difficulty increases with each step of that wretched process.

So, I’m sitting here with a novel about half-written, and no desire to have anything to do with a publisher until I’ve managed to acquire some clout. Now I don’t know for sure what having clout feels like, but I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I feel it. But I can set up another weblog. I’m comfortable with that. I can give it the following subhead: “A work of fiction by David L. Farquhar.” The novel occurs in the past. That makes life easy. I just put it on its own server, with the clock set back. When today’s entry is dated 1992 or whenever, that makes it look a whole lot more like fiction.

Besides, Murel, my cubicle neighbor, has been telling me for months that I’d end up writing my novel in pieces here and one day I’d just have to tie it all together. I think he was on to something.

I won’t make any money, but that’s OK. I didn’t make any money off the one and a half books I wrote either. At least this time I won’t go in there with that expectation. If something happens that makes it profitable down the road, fine. End aside.

The character can be no more compelling than the author. That was the problem I ran into when I initially wrote the novel. I was trying to write about a 19-year-old, but I wasn’t finished being 19 myself yet. I’m not certain that at 26 I have enough perspective. But I have more than I did then.

And yes, sometimes life is better than fiction. But fiction intertwined with life kicks royal booty. The best thing about The Great Gatsby is that Jay Gatsby’s fears and insecurities were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fears and insecurities. Jay Gatsby made his money by running drugstores that sold other stuff out the back room. F. Scott Fitzgerald made his money peddling words. But Jay Gatsby was all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s worst fears wrapped into a character. He was vulnerable and honest. Vulnerable and honest people are compelling. Heck, vulnerable and dishonest people can be compelling.

So do I launch another weblog? I’m severely tempted. This isn’t the time to do it. I need to get my server in order and start getting content migrated to this site from its predecessors and make sure everything’s working smoothly. That’ll take a while yet.

But I know the formula. I have the plot, and the plot’s captivated everyone I’ve tossed it out to. I have some characters, and they’re far more compelling than the characters in the 1994-95 draft because I’ve spent the past seven years getting to know them. A few pieces still have to come together. But I think I really want to try this experiment.

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