Dinosaur Sez: “Don’t Give In To The Asteroid!”

John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper’s Magazine and a monthly contributor to The Providence Journal, among other publications. This essay is one of this year’s Delacorte Lectures at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The Delacorte Lectures, presented each week in the spring semester, examine aspects of magazine journalism by a leader in the field of magazine publishing.

Long before I took myself off Facebook, I doubted the so-called revolutionary potential of the Internet. In part my viewpoint was formed early on by the annoying smugness of the pre-crash dot.com “entrepreneurs,” who always seemed to be murmuring initial public offering nonsense at a table next to mine in tony restaurants.

I recall one such occasion in the year 2000 when Lewis Lapham, then editor of Harper’s Magazine, and I were dining in indirectly lit luxury, somewhere near San Francisco on our promotion tour to celebrate the magazine’s 150th anniversary.

Lewis was born skeptical, but when he heard the three men at the next table discussing in hushed tones what sounded like easy money, he couldn’t help himself and he inquired about how we could get in on the ground floor. “It depends,” said one of them smoothly, “on what kind of platform you want to establish, how you want to present your content.” I said that I wanted to publish a magazine filled with sentences, not build a tree house, and the conversation came to an abrupt halt.

Click through for the whole thing. It is … fascinating, at least. And will make you look around to see whose lawn you should be getting off of.

Someone Should Send This To Congress


Click the image for a concise and sobering description of how people who never in a million years would infringe a copyright can have their online lives disrupted beyond repair under SOPA. Written by a former Google, now Twitter, lawyer.

Our Amazing Interwebs, Episode CCXXIV


In case you haven’t heard, a guy named Gene Marks wrote a column for Forbes magazine called “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.” Mr. Marks is manifestly not (and never has been) a poor black kid, and his column is full of all sorts of helpful advice – including a rah-rah listing of technology (Mr. Marks’s usual beat is business tech) – to help someone who is a poor black kid overcome the disadvantages of being a poor black kid, just like Mr. Marks never had to.

Here is Mr. Marks’s column, which has been virally infesting all corners of the Internet this afternoon. Go read it. Then click the logo above and read Jeff Yang’s reply column, posted on wnyc.org. Mr. Yang, like Mr. Marks, is not a poor black kid. Nor is he a rich white dude, but he has written a column ostensibly from the perspective of a poor black kid, full of actually useful advice about how a rich white dude can avoid coming across as a snotty, ignorant jackass when discussing something about which he is entirely uninformed. (Spoiler: It involves getting informed.)

I am not confident that Mr. Marks will learn anything from this episode. The snark and derision of the Interwebs are more likely to make him defensive than contrite. And rich white dudes are so hard to teach. But one can dream.

Can’t say I’m surprised

According to torrentfreak.com, a raft of music and video have been downloaded through IP addresses associated with several major content owners (Sony Pictures, Fox Entertainment, NBC Universal, etc.). These are, of course, the companies that are lobbying hard for the right to shut down websites accused of promoting or encouraging copyright infringement, without actually having to prove the infringement in court; the same companies that send the authorities after suspected downloaders of infringing materials; the same companies that have tried to bolster their failing business model by assuming their customers are all criminals.

My favorite part of this story is the “our IP address was spoofed” defense being raised by at least one of these companies that were caught red-handed swiping mass quantities of other people’s content. Because, as the article points out, if IP-spoofing is so easy and widespread, then those content owners are going to see a rash of accused infringers raising that very same defense. Good luck and have at it!

Linguist Llama


Dammit. I am no longer a linguist, so these things are mostly going right over my head.

But it’s a llama. Goddam comedy gold.

How amazing would it be if a lolllama meme made me want to study linguistics again? (Not to mention how unlikely. There may be some Tennessee whiskey involved in my current thought processes.)

But come on. A llama. And linguistics. It’s destiny.

QOTD for October 10, 2011

“You may not see it now, but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else. . . . Whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”

– Reason to Milo, The Phantom Tollbooth

Terrific piece in The New Yorker on the 50th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth.