Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for July 2007

Duff: YouTube debate satisfied craving to see politicians answer to real people

Duff: YouTube debate satisfied craving to see politicians answer to real people

American politics changed Monday. We can’t see the whole shape of it yet, but the CNN/YouTube debate broke up the pattern of boring, predictable debate questions and brought the concerns of ordinary people to the forefront.

Too often it seems like our political system is made of granite blocks – giant, ponderous forces that are invulnerable to change.

The YouTube questions took a big chunk out of that system, and the politicians are scrambling to deal with it.

The questions were a spin doctor’s nightmare – rude, shrewd and merciless. The YouTube contributors stripped away the protective layers of PR and asked point-blank questions about issues the politicians would rather avoid.

Candidates were left stammering and off-balance, struggling to cope with questions that no rational process could prepare them for.

It was deeply satisfying, in a way, to see politicians answer questions from people who, in a normal campaign, couldn’t have made it through security.

The oddball queries elevated some candidates and made others look hollow. A questioner asked Chris Dodd how he was going to be different, and he bragged about being the same for 30 years.

Someone asked Hillary Clinton if she was a liberal, and she arguably hit it out of the park, proudly calling herself a progressive and (correctly) explaining how the word had changed over the years.

The best inquiry came from Saheedb. He asked which Republican the candidates would pick as a running mate. This question is remarkable because it gets to the heart of how politics really works.

I’m fascinated by this experiment because Internet culture is fundamentally the opposite of political culture. Political communication is all about reserve, control and good manners. Internet communication is about candor – ruthless, unfiltered honesty. Those two cultures clashed Monday, and I think the process is better for it.

The citizens asked smart, tough questions, with a few rude ones thrown in for flavor. I didn’t need to know if Hillary was woman enough or if Obama was black enough, but it was fun watching them answer.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 27, 2007 at 14:52

Posted in Columns, Politics

The CNN/YouTube Debate

American politics changed on Monday. We can't see the whole shape of it yet, but the CNN/YouTube debate broke up the pattern of boring, predictable debate questions and brought the concerns of ordinary people to the forefront.

Too often it seems like our political system is made of granite blocks — giant, ponderous forces that are invulnerable to change. The YouTube questions took a big chunk out of that system and the politicians are scrambling to deal with it.

The questions were a spin doctor's nightmare — rude, shrewd and merciless. The YouTube contributors stripped away the protective layers of PR and asked point-blank questions about issues that the politicians would rather avoid.

Candidates were left stammering and off-balance, struggling to cope with questions that no rational process could prepare them for. It was deeply satisfying in a way, to see politicians answer questions from people who normally couldn't have made it through security.

The oddball questions elevated some candidates and made others look hollow. A questioner asked Chris Dodd how he was going to be different and he bragged about being the same for 30 years.

Someone asked Hillary Clinton if she was a liberal and she arguably hit it out of the park, proudly calling herself a progressive and (correctly) explaining how the word had changed over the years.

The best question came from “Saheedb.” He asked which Republican the candidates would pick as a running mate. A great question that gets to the heart of how politics really works.

I'm fascinated by this experiment because Internet culture is fundamentally the opposite of political culture. Political communication is all about reserve, control and good manners. Internet communication is about candor — about ruthless, unfiltered honesty. Those two cultures clashed on Monday, and I think the process is better for it.

The citizens asked smart, tough questions, with a few rude ones thrown in for flavor. I didn't need to know if Hillary was woman enough or if Obama was black enough, but it was fun watching them answer.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 24, 2007 at 09:09

Posted in Politics, Video

No spoilers, please!

I'm so paranoid about having Harry Potter #7 spoiled for me, I have had to resort to radical measures.

I can't surf blogs, I can't view my Livejournal friends page, I can't risk reading reviews. I can't even talk to my friends about it, beyond this quick one-sentence review from my buddy Mack.

“It's really surprising and a bit of a bloodbath.”

In a book where anything can and probably will happen, Rowling has done what few pop authors would dream of. She has established a reputation for killing major characters. She has no reason to carry on this universe past book 7 and quite a few reasons not to.

Most writers keep at this stuff because they need the money. Rowling could buy Buckingham Palace and turn the whole thing into a skating rink, so the usual incentive structure does not apply to her.

I sit here, bookless and frightened, wondering if my imaginary friends are being slaughtered in a bookstore across town.

I'll have the book soon enough. In the meantime, I can't even risk being in General chats on World of Warcraft.

Lubbock Online has put on a full court press for this release. We've got stories, video, galleries, and all kinds of post-Potter coverage coming over the weekend. Pics and features will be trickling in today and tomorrow, so check back frequently and see if you've been Spotted.

All available on a front page near you.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 21, 2007 at 12:32

Posted in Books

Duff: Why Dvorak is wrong about the iPhone

Duff: Columnist goes off the deep end over iPhone

I usually try to stay away from easy targets, but when a big-name columnist sticks his neck out, sometimes I can’t help myself. John C. Dvorak is the Mike Wallace of technology columnists. He was writing a column for PC Magazine when I was learning my way around the halls of Monterey High School.

But wrong is wrong, and I feel like someone should speak up when an emperor of Dvorak’s caliber decides to take a stroll without his clothes.

In a January column for MarketWatch, Dvorak tries to talk down the iPhone. He agrees with Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, who can’t see it being that successful. For evidence, Dvorak mentions a European phone called a Neonode, also with a touch screen, that is “more of a fashion accessory and conversation piece than anything else.”

He dismisses the iPhone as “an iPod with benefits.” All of these observations are within the realm of reasonable discourse. Smart people may disagree about the state of the industry and the utility of Apple products, but then Dvorak goes off the deep end.

He says the iPhone hype is due to Steve Jobs’ “reality-distortion field.” Specifically, he thinks Jobs has mastered some kind of Transcendental Meditation technique that gives him influence over the minds of men.

It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths rational people will go to in an effort to deny the obvious. Apple products don’t succeed because Steve Jobs has magical powers. Apple products succeed because they work. They are beautiful, functional and easy to use. Most companies can master two of these requirements, but to create a product that can satisfy all three – that takes real work.

I wouldn’t be caught dead with a Mac on my desk, but I love my iPod, and my brief encounter with an iPhone overcame my concerns. The touch screen works. It’s fast, clean and responsive. The device is remarkably intuitive, and you don’t have to understand the details to appreciate it.

Apple’s competitors underestimate them because they don’t know how to balance these elements. They give us ugly, functional products – or they saddle us with pretty ones that are hard to use. Apple’s success comes from the fusion of function and design. Consumers think these products are worth paying for, and to people who don’t get it, the results look like magic.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 20, 2007 at 14:53

Posted in Apple, Columns

Harry Potter mania sweeps Lubbock Online

Okay, so I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix yesterday. Don't have time for a full review, let me just say — in every film that comes out, the opening logo gets darker and darker. By the time we get to #7 it's going to be jet black and dripping blood.

And it's not just the logo getting darker. Hogwarts is perpetually cloudy and assaulted by thunderstorms. The lighting gets darker with each film. Presumably #7 will be four kids with flashlights, casting spells in a cave. Oh wait, that was Book 6.

Here at the A-J, the online department usually maintains an ironic distance from pop culture events. We don't get excited about lectures, concerts, or your average big-budget movie opening.

But Pottermania has us all going nuts over here. We're a department full of nerds, and we're bouncing off the walls here waiting for Book 7.

We're planning all kinds of coverage for the book release (although I'm still trying to get Mack to dress in costume). Most days work is just work, but events like this make it fun to be in news.

P.S. Yesterday my sock puppet prank attracted a score of anonymous comments. Some people signed my name and posted comments that made me look like a delusional megalomaniac. This characterization is broadly accurate. But then some guy came on and accused me of going to “church camp.” That's a filthy lie.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 19, 2007 at 08:26

Posted in Books, Movies

The hand that holds the sock puppet

In Internet parlance, “sock puppetrey” refers to the practice of creating a fake identity to back up your own arguments.

Monday the New York Times ran an article about Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Mackey used a fake identity on some Yahoo message boards so he could defend his company and “talk up” their projects without revealing himself as the CEO.

Sock puppetry is a flagrant abuse of Internet anonymity and people who do it are routinely shunned. It's seen as an act of abject cowardice and intellectual bankruptcy.

Imagine being caught at this. Your position is so weak that you have to invent an imaginary friend to back you up. Mackey went beyond the realm of defending his company's polices and used a sock puppet to flatter himself, saying at one point, “I like Mackey's haircut. I think he looks cute!”

I don't need to write a punch line for that one, folks. Mackey's insecurity speaks quite eloquently for itself.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 18, 2007 at 08:36

Posted in Culture

Duff: Favorite films improved by fan editors

Duff: Favorite films improved by fan editors

Imagine “The Phantom Menance” without Jar Jar. Imagine “Star Trek: Generations” without Kirk. Imagine scenes from Lois and Clark, cut together to make a full movie. These, and much stranger hybrids, are available at Fanedit.Org.

It started with The Phantom Edit, a labor of love from editor Mike J. Nichols – a man who loved “Star Wars” so much he decided to fix it. Disappointed with George Lucas and thoroughly disgusted by Jar Jar, Nichols cut large chunks out of the film, actually making the story stronger in the process.

And although The Phantom Edit is his most famous fan work, it’s not his best. Nichols also edited “Attack of the Clones,” removing redundancy, adding in deleted scenes – proving that editing is a storyteller’s craft, not just a surgical exercise. Nichols’ “Attack of the Phantom” actually improves the narrative in “Attack of the Clones,” going beyond the realm of fan service and turning fan edits into a kind of criticism.

Nichols’ commentary track defines the edit as a labor of love – a heartfelt celebration of storytelling – almost a manifesto. He feels Lucas sacrificed narrative integrity on the altar of special effects, so he cut the film to correct it.

Fan editors are dismissed as pirates, amateurs and vandals by Hollywood, but Nichols’ work gets to the heart of the matter. Most people who watch films think of editing as an afterthought. Some think we don’t need editors at all. I go as far as anyone when it comes to defending a creator’s rights, but a creator who tries to be his own editor has a fool for a client.

So if fan edits are so great, why can’t you buy them at your local video store? It’s not illegal to edit a major motion picture, but it can be illegal to share it. Distributing motion pictures, even extensively edited ones, can be a crime. Creators say fan edits should only be viewed by people who own the original work and should never be sold for profit.

I love the idea of fan edits, and I wish there was a way to make them legal. Editing chores that used to require studios can now be done in your living room. Skills that used to require expensive schooling can now be refined in cyberspace.

Sitting at the intersection of art and piracy, challenging our notions of criticism and ownership, fan edits represent the potential, and the pitfalls, of the digital age.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 13, 2007 at 14:57

Posted in Columns, Movies

Miss New Jersey blackmail pics revealed



The Internet is buzzing about Miss New Jersey this afternoon, and the strictly PG-rated blackmail pics that threatened to take her crown. Judges condemned her for acting “not in a ladylike manner” but ultimately decided she could keep her title.

Amy Polumbo was blackmailed by someone calling themselves The Committee to Save Miss America. They grabbed the photos off her semi-private Facebook site and clumsily tried to ruin her life. No evidence yet, but this stunt has “jilted stalker” written all over it.

Gossip blog TMZ has the pics. I've seen sexier stuff in a Sears catalog, but senior citizens and church deacons may wish to avoid them.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 12, 2007 at 17:00

Posted in Gossip

Jack Nicholson and the Giant Sandwich



Take the word “Nicholson” out of that headline and it would look like a children's book title. Imagine you're the most powerful actor in Hollywood. You've made a hundred movies, made millions of dollars, and dated the most beautiful women of your generation. When all the debauchery is said and done, what would you do?

Personally, I would sail down to France and eat a giant sandwich. Jack Nicholson apparently had the same idea.

Notice the progression here: sandwich, beer, cigarette. That's how a man enjoys a sandwich.

Jack, for boldly being yourself, enjoying your sandwich in the sun, without regard for critics, sunburns, or clicking shutters, we salute you.

P.S. Hey Karen, what's the etiquette for eating sandwiches on a boat? Is there a dress code?

P.P.S. Thanks to Jason Rhode for bringing this vital issue to my attention.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 12, 2007 at 10:41

Posted in Gossip

iPhone in a blender

Sure you love your new iPhone. It can text, it can call, it can surf. But will it blend?

Written by Not Jaffo

July 11, 2007 at 12:58

Posted in Apple

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