July 25, 2005
Going Fishing. Back next week.
July 22, 2005
I'm clicking through the coverage of London, the latest reports of police gunning down a man they chased through the Tube, the split-personality reporting after Round 2 of the transportation-system bombings - Brits defiant, Brits wary.
Philly Future helpfully collected a series of local posts yesterday as bloggers came to grips with the reports of the four bombing attempts. It's reminding me of what it was like to travel across Europe in the days and weeks and months after Sept. 11, which I missed - at least missed the way most Americans experienced it. I was in Frankfurt, reporting on the auto show, when it happened, and after a friend sent me a text message about the second plane, I raced back to the media room, where rows of reporters were still typing about the latest Ford.
I remember stopping an American executive and his young assistant, apologizing, but asking if they knew anything. They looked at me as if I had interrupted the most important discussion on the continent. The reporter next to me, Steve Komarow from USA Today, was right on the money. "I have the feeling that everything we do for the next few years will have to do with today." He's been to Afghanistan and Iraq more than a dozen times since.
Two days later I was on a train to Hamburg, where three of the terror pilots had lived. I remember a small, older German woman watching me on the train, as I read the International Herald Tribune. "Are you American?" she asked, her English good.
She came over and squeezed my forearm.
"We have to be strong," she said.
She then laid out a several-plank strategy of attacking the problem as a group, of the need to win hearts and minds. Europe, she said, knows something about living with terror. It was one of many conversations in those days that made me feel closer to home.
I guess this is all coming back up because it looks like London is under sustained threat, and I'm wondering what to make of it as I remember for the first time in a while what it felt like to be flying right after Sept. 11 and look over everyone on the plane.
A lot of the coverage yesterday talked about how this is a B team or a C team at best. I watched a few network terror experts sing that song. Nothing has made me as uncomfortable this morning as reading the post by Billmon on Whiskey Bar. I don't know who he is - he is an anonymous Philadelphia-area blogger - but his slugging percentage is very high. Yesterday he found a blog by systems analyst John Robb called Global Guerrillas, and most of Billmon's post digs into Robb's theories of the post-Sept 11 al Qaida.
Together they do a good job of putting flesh on the idea of open-source terror -- how the Internet makes it easy for ideology and blueprints to spread:
Robb's point, if I understand him correctly, is that modern technology -- particularly communications technology -- plus the simultaneous spread of market mechanisms and old-fashioned tribal social identities, has made it possible for terrorist networks to survive and operate in highly decentralized, yet globally interconnected forms.
The good news, Robb writes, is that coordinated and spectacular operations are hard to plan in this environment. The bad news is that U.S. and Israeli-style efforts to kill the snake by cutting off the head don't work so well any more.
Billmon writes: The appropriate biological metaphor, I guess, is a fungus: organized structures (i.e. mushrooms) spout up and can be identified and picked relatively easily, but the bulk of the organism is still below the surface, randomly interwoven with dirt and rotting vegetation. Good luck trying to pull that stuff out. And of course, as soon as the gardener turns his/her attention elsewhere, up pop the mushrooms again.
So the terrorist plan is not to create devastation as much as to cause "cascading failures," Robb writes -- confusion, panic, disruption. Like setting off a bomb, as in the July 7 incidents, in subways.
This group even added their own innovation to the development of the systems disruption model (for other groups to adopt in the future): the bombs were exploded while the trains were in the tunnels rather than in the stations. This maximized disruption at the expense of body count.
Back to Billmon:
Presumably, as the Al Qaeda network becomes more adapted to "open source" operations, and as more experienced terrorists return from Iraq and pass the lessons learned on to new recruits, bombers will become more effective at identifying pressure points. In which case future attacks are likely to be progressively more targeted at knocking out infrastructure rather than causing mass casualties.
It may already be happening: Al Qaeda wanted to kill a large number of people in the first London attack -- to send a big propaganda message to the G8 summit. Today's bombs, on the other hand, may have been intended primarily to disrupt. If or when they start hitting electrical substations and telephone exchanges, we'll know our junior league terrorists are starting to get the hang of it.
Ok, time for coffee and the sports page. But, thought I'd share my anxiety with you first.
So what will it be today -- a feature on the new Walnut Bridge Coffee House near Penn (“a number of delicious teas can be had”) or a photo essay with sound of the Italian Market (“They don’t take nothing that’s been killed already,” a chicken vendor says of his customers’ demands for freshness).
Let’s start with the chicken man.
I’m not sure what to call Dragonfire, Drexel University’s new interactive magazine/digital digest -- other than promising. While its mission is time-honored – find good stories that are not reported elsewhere – the way it expresses them is firmly 21st Century.
Its photo essay on the Italian Market is illustrated in a noisy panorama that lets you hear interviews with vendors and customers as you scroll across Ninth Street. A feature on Evolved Fighting (think kickboxing plus martial arts throwing) at a Delaware Avenue club brings to life characters like Mark “the Oaktree” Brown, who suddenly starts huffing and puffing about his unstoppable team of South Jersey lightweights as the cursor passes his photo.
Ask editor Amy. L. Webb what her new project reminds her most of, and she answers, “a kibbutz,” for its funky, heartfelt sense of community. Young staffers work long, irregular hours, she says, but she can’t envision burn-out. “Dragonfire was born out of frustration,”says Webb, 30, a former Newsweek correspondent in Tokyo. For a long time, “it was hard to get news published that was not about war or the economy…. I really thought that people wanted more, or different kinds of information. We tried to create a place where people would get context.”
Webb, hired in January, is the only full-time staffer. The rest are either students, moonlighting professionals or a fleet of free-lancers spread over 30 countries. One way she attracts talent is by setting no story lengths. “We’re not going to take a 10,000-word piece, obviously, unless it’s great and needs to be that long. We’re trying to give people a real chance to forget about all the formulas, templates and pre-conceived ideas. Stories should be accurate, fact-checked and copy-edited. They should answer a certain number of questions. Other than that, it is ok to use the capital I and use some color.”
Dragonfire’s way of exploring Middle East conflict is by profiling forgotten foreign workers in the Gaza Strip whose lives will be changed upon Israeli’s withdrawal from 21 settlements. All stories are free. Translators are at work to make them available to readers around the world. “I don’t know if there is a market” for that, she says. “I believe information should be available to people no matter what their language is.”
Quite different, but also finding its voice is the Phillyist, which debuted two weeks ago, a mauve-toned cyber city mag modeled after New York’s Gothamist. It's edited by John Carroll, a Philly-reared Penn grad of the most recent vintage. He's worked at 34th Street Magazine and the reborn Evening Bulletin. Carroll has recruited Star C. Foster, author of Sarcasmo's Corner. Also Katie Donnelly, and a host of others.
It is aiming for a younger, scene-seeking audience. Phillyist has profiled bands like the Caesars, the stars of the iPod Shuffle ads, before their Philly appearance. It offers recipes for chocolate cookies, tuna on the grill and hangover remedies:
“Fry a hanger steak with some potatoes and onions in butter and Worcestershire sauce, scramble some eggs along with it, butter up some sourdough toast … Wash that down with a shot of Bushmill’s in some chicory coffee, plenty of water and a couple of aspirin.”
The best thing about Phillyist is that its staff seems to get around. They’ve sussed out the Rejection Hotline – for those dumped on dates - knew how to find free tickets to a Fat Joe flash concert, and fret earnestly over the Phillies.
No wonder they need hangover remedies.
July 21, 2005
Deja Vu in London. Three subway small explosions in the underground, and a double-decker bus's windows blown out. No fatalities. Happened after lunch hour, local time. Police chased an injured suspect into a hospital. Botched? Copy cat? Chaotic initial reports of the events that less successfully mirror the attacks that left 56 dead and more than 700 injured exacly two weeks earlier.
"There was a mass panic." Eyewitness reports here.
Police Commissioner Ian Blair's statement on the incidents, which were nearly simultaneous: "At the moment the casualty numbers appear to be very low in the explosions. The bombs appear to be smaller than on the last occasion."
The BBC reporters at the scenes have a blog. Pretty gripping stuff:
"We've had an email handed to us saying police asked staff to be on the lookout for a man on their behalf. It said people should look for a black or possibly Asian man, of about six feet two inches tall, wearing a blue top with a hole, and possibly having wires protruding from the shirt. People were told not to approach this man if they saw him but to dial 999."
They write that the commissioner called the botched bombings "a potential breakthrough, as the forensic and other evidence they are gathering now could help them with other enquiries." One reporter interviewed traveler Sarah Rafique:
"It really worries you, when I step onto a Tube or a bus now, I think twice."
The Guardian blog reports:
It is now becoming clear that there were three attempted bombings today - at Oval station, at Warren Street station, and on a 26 bus in Hackney. Speculation suggests the detonators on these devices went off, but the bombs themselves did not. Should this be the case, there are clearly going to be huge risks in disarming the devices. But in the bombs there is the potential for clues as to who, exactly, is behind this.
Add Shepherd's Bush station to the list.
Guardian main story here.
Going Underground, a London Tube blog, is live as well.
First account of the chaos, which occurred after 1 p.m. London time:
no no no no no .. !
"One hospital, near Warren St station, has started its emergency plan.
Sosiane Mohellavi, 35, was traveling from Oxford Circus to Walthamstow when she was evacuated from a train at Warren Street.
"I was in the carriage and we smelt smoke - it was like something was burning.
"Everyone was panicked and people were screaming. We had to pull the alarm. I am still shaking."
Police drew automatic weapons and arrested man outside No. 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Tony Blair's residence. "Unconnected," the police commissioner later said.
Blair on TV about these incidents: They are done to scare people, to make them anxious and worried. Fortunately in this instance there appear to have been no casualities.... I think we've just got to react calmly.
Let Freedom Ringtone
They're available on WFMU's Beware of the Blog. And they're free.
Yes, friends, you too can be alerting to incomings with such classics as:
"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
Or the currently-taught-at-Georgetown-and-Tufts:
"My answer to that question is, is that, again, I repeat what I said earlier, heh, the, the, uhm, heh, y'know, we were shooting cruise missiles, and, heh, they dont protect us from killers. Uh, y'know, as I say, you're, you're catching me totally fresh, hah, uh gosh, I, y'know, I, I would, I, heh, the, the, uhm, heh."
(We thank Akkam's Razor for the tip.)
Roll Over Bono
The fastest-selling online song ever is the Live8 version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that Paul McCartney sang with U2, the Guardian reports.
But that doesn't hold a candle to the boy from Bonn.
The BBC gave away digital versions of Ludwig van Beethoven's works in June, and the complete nine symphonies alone were downloaded 1.4 million times, the Beeb reported.
The Beatle-Bono sung version of Sgt. Pepper's started off strong, but has sold just 20,000 times online in the two weeks that it's been available.
The classical music industry is trying to figure out why listeners went loony over Ludwig.
To put another perspective on the success of the Beethoven downloads, according to Matthew Cosgrove, director of Warner Classics, it would take a commercial CD recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies "upwards of five years" to sell as many downloads as were shifted from the BBC website in two weeks. The BBC has been stunned by the response - so much so that its director general, Mark Thompson, opened his annual report with Beethoven's inscription on the score of the Missa Solemnis: "From the heart ... May it go again to the heart!" ... Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3, said it was "clear that people had been coming to Beethoven for the first time" through the Beethoven downloads. This was clear, he said, since more people downloaded Symphonies No. 1 and 2 then No. 3, the Eroica, which even Blinq can hum.
To put another perspective on the success of the Beethoven downloads, according to Matthew Cosgrove, director of Warner Classics, it would take a commercial CD recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies "upwards of five years" to sell as many downloads as were shifted from the BBC website in two weeks. The BBC has been stunned by the response - so much so that its director general, Mark Thompson, opened his annual report with Beethoven's inscription on the score of the Missa Solemnis: "From the heart ... May it go again to the heart!" ...
Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3, said it was "clear that people had been coming to Beethoven for the first time" through the Beethoven downloads. This was clear, he said, since more people downloaded Symphonies No. 1 and 2 then No. 3, the Eroica, which even Blinq can hum.
You think of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith right away, when asked which films drop the most f-bombs, but you'd never think anyone actually spent time charting this potty-mouth parlor game on a graph.
Wikipedia has what you're looking for. A list of the films that use the word the most, including a f-per-minute rate.
You think you know the winner?
Smith scores particularly high, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back coming in at No. 15, Chasing Amy tied for 39th and Dogma at 40. Tarantino is a deacon compared to that, with only two raters: Pulp Fiction scoring number 11 and Jackie Brown at 33.
The winning 1997 flick uses the term 470 times in its 128 minutes. If you censored the film, the script would be 5 pages. (I made that up.) But that's almost once every 15 seconds.
Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth, a British film set in working-class London, gets the prize. IMDB's trivia page shows that the movie was semi-autobiographical.
Oldman dedicated it "to my father." That #$%^*
July 20, 2005
"I Can Feel My Trousers Vibrating"
Sorry we missed the Death Star subwoofer on Ebay. Can't resist something with testimonial quotes like, "Jesus Christ, what's that?"
A little over-engineered, but the 900W sucker will loosen fillings during all Deep Purple songs.
The good news is that life-sized Rocky statue we wrote about a few weeks back is still available. (Back story here.)
Nine days left in this, the umpteeth time the owner has tried to auction off the big little guy with heart. Benefits the International Institute for Sport and Olympic History, which seems to be as much of an underdog as the Italian Stallion.
Roll Over Tiny Tim
Something slightly odd here.
But lovely just the same.
Name is Jake Shimabukuro.
Cat can play.
Google For the Defense
How about beating traffic tickets?
A story making the rounds today comes from a New York City driver, using a laptop in court to discredit a police officer's testimony. Saved $200 plus points. Story here in Gear Live.