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Crystal Ball 2004


Freelance writers run web logs for two reasons: self-promotion and its stealth cousin, egotism. I can – I do — sit in my living room and snarl at the TV pundits or read the NYTimes, roll my eyes and mumble under my breath about the idiocy I encounter. Or I can post for you and yours to enjoy. Call it the triumph of immodesty. Shocking, eh? Herewith predictions for 2004:
Arnold will prove to be a more effective governor than people currently realize. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be liked in Sacramento, so the headlines will continue to moan and bewail his tactics as he runs rough-shod over anyone who gets in his way. But with a little luck and some economic recovery – oh, yeah, a little help from a Republican White House – he’ll end the year better than he started. And I’m still convinced he’s monkeying with Prop. 13, although I’ll happy admit that’s as much wishful thinking as anything else. Just remember Sen. John Burton’s comments comparing Schwarzenegger and Teddy Roosevelt. Apart from the fact that they fit nicely into my pet theory about workforce housing bond will pass. If it doesn’t, everyone in politics in San Francisco should hang their head. Low. And I’m talking to you Angela Alioto.
Yes, as Newsom’s political opponents will argue, there needs to be even lower-cost housing for people making just above the poverty level. That’s true. But the subsidies that create such housing don’t exist. And they will not be created. Neither the city nor the state can afford them. And the feds aren’t interested. Besides, housing is the one place in which ‘trickle down’ works. It doesn’t work perfectly. Few things do. But building more housing in San Francisco for people who make less than $100,000 a year, will drive down the price of housing for people who make even less. More supply equals lower cost because there is less demand. And yes, the buildings have to go up. But I, for one, think we can leave the smart-minded architectural criticism to the Chron’s John King. If more people paid attention to his critiques, we’d have a pretty good looking city.
Rev. Al Sharpton is going to do better in the primaries than people think. Big Media political reporters are currently distracted by Howard Dean’s fight with Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe so they’re ignoring Sharpton who is poised to start collecting hunks of votes. The better he does, the stronger his standing within the Democratic Party as the spokesman for black – specifically urban, black – America. Note that the Rev. is siding with the Democratic Party establishment in the slug-fest known as “stop Dean.” He may have started out as a race-baiting demagogue but the Rev. is one quick study when it comes to getting a place at the table. The NYTimes Saturday big ideas section (one of the best things in the paper that no one talks about) included an interesting observation about the links between grass roots organizing and hip hop. Those kids probably aren’t mobilizing for uh, Joe Lieberman, now are they? Besides, you gotta love a political campaign that touts Sharpton as “movin’ on up” (just like George Jefferson) in the polls, don’t you?
The blogger bubble will burst sometime around the last of the Democratic primaries because everyone is heartily sick of ‘bloggers and their self-congratulation. It’s not really a bubble, of course. It’s well, it’s just a trend that’s starting to work its way into the mainstream culture, in this case politics and media, two of our more hind-bound institutions. It’s kind of like smart-mobbing, which was really about text messaging and how that was working its way into adult culture via cell phones. But bloggers are smart and geeky and, in keeping with the temperaments of people who have – really and truly – changed the world or been standing next to other people when they changed the world, the bloggers’ sense of their own ability to make history will just get worse as the medium gets more popular. And then it will explode. Anil Dash gets at this a bit when he writes about the gizmo-affliction that dominates blogs and why that drives him crazy. It’s interesting that so many ‘bloggers want to stress their independence – the power of individual observation, the search for their own data, their own ability to get the facts, their displeasure with Big Media – but at the same time huddle together (link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan; points to those of you who can name all the parties shown) to talk about how their work is so important, so earth shattering. This sort of talk sometimes emanates from traditional newsrooms and it’s one reason that Big Media is so goddamned insufferable. Congratulating yourself is the first step in being able to look down on your readers. A lot of what’s being written and read on the web is interesting, insightful and providing a much-needed alternative to traditional corporate-driving mass media. But, it’s too in love with its technology. Lighten up, guys. It’s not about you. As Gawker publisher Nick Denton observed, well before he was famous, the best blogs are not about the blogger, they’re about the blogger’s ideas. The medium can be the message but sometimes – most of the time – the message is the message.
Along those same lines: There will be another newspaper scandal a la Jayson Blair that rocks the credibility of people in the business. So, get ready for another series of woe-is-us essays and deep naval gazing on the part of people who think of themselves as upholding the public good and safeguarding democracy. CBS has already started. There are some smart people working in newsrooms all over the country but for many people and many papers, the fun has gone out of the business. It never paid very much which was a filter to keep out the less than dedicated. That’s still true but the consolidation of the business -– the effects of which are larger away from New York and Washington — means wages at local papers have stayed low while corporate types have taken over newsroom management. National writers, of course, make the big bucks. And, Russell Baker recently observed those big salaries make a big difference. These days the news business attracts and rewards the power-mad. And they often see themselves as allied with corporate, political or government interests, as the best way to succeed. This is, after all, a group of people who wonder why Presidential hopeful Howard Dean never expresses any curiosity about them. That sort of thinking is the triumph of access journalism, which guides glossy magazines and TV stations: do anything to get the interview. That, of course, diminishes the story. Newsrooms are run by the gullible and staffed by the credulous. No wonder they screw up.
The guys over at Venture Blog say social networking software is silly, and no, it’s not the next big thing. They’re right. It reminds me of “interactive TV.” Which was a cool idea. Until people found the Internet which was a cooler idea that let them do the same stuff for cheaper.
Along those same lines: emergent democracy. Another silly idea. Actually it’s an old idea – as old as say, uh, John Locke – it’s just on the ‘web. That doesn’t make it as different from those musty 17th century ideas as much as emergent democracy proponents would like to believe. The message. Not the medium. And there needs to be some kind of law requiring engineers to take at least one civics class before they’re let loose on the world.
Tony Perkins ain’t never gonna finish his Google book. But John Battelle will.
Google’ll go public. The old-fashioned way. No dutch auction. There’ll be trouble, though. There’s been so much hype that some folks connected with the company are worried that the SEC, in its new “aggressive” mode (cough, cough), will raise an eyebrow or two over the “quiet period.” That’s a legit worry.
This could be a good year for hardware in Silicon Valley. Not traditional computer hardware but computer-enhanced stuff like home entertainment, radios and MP3 integration. The iTunes revolution – yes, he has done it again – is just the beginning. Video’s next. And getting all that stuff off your computer without running cords all over the house is the next hardware thing.
And finally: Martha Stewart gets some kind of conviction. And Frank Quattrone, well, if Frank is tried on the same charges – the indictment could be amended – I say he walks again.

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