Contact Me By Email

Contact Me By Email

Sunday, January 29, 2006

State of the Union - New York Times

State of the Union - New York TimesJanuary 27, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
State of the Union

On Tuesday President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address and map out priorities for his last three years. The direction in which America needs to go is obvious: toward energy independence. If Mr. Bush steps up to that challenge, this speech could be a new beginning for his presidency. If he doesn't, you can stick a fork in this administration. It will be done — because it will have abdicated leadership on the biggest issue of our day. Here's the speech I'll be listening for:

My fellow Americans, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy gave an extraordinary State of the Union address in which he called on the nation to marshal all of its resources to put a man on the Moon. By setting that lofty goal, Kennedy was trying to summon all of our industrial and scientific talent, and a willingness to sacrifice financially, to catch up with the Soviet Union, which had overtaken America in the field of large rocket engines.

"While we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first," Kennedy said, "we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last."

I come to you this evening with a similar challenge. President Kennedy was worried about the threat that communism posed to our way of life. I am here to tell you that if we don't move away from our dependence on oil and shift to renewable fuels, it will change our way of life for the worse — and soon — much, much more than communism ever could have. Making this transition is the calling of our era.

Why? First, we are in a war with a violent strain of Middle East Islam that is indirectly financed by our consumption of oil. Second, with millions of Indians and Chinese buying cars and homes as they join the great global middle class, we must quickly move away from burning fossil fuels or we're going to create enough global warming to melt the North Pole. Because of that, green cars, homes, offices, appliances, designs and renewable energies will be the biggest growth industry of the 21st century. If we don't dominate that industry, China, India, Japan or Europe surely will.

But to lead, we must impose the highest energy-efficiency standards on our own automakers and other industries so we force them to be the most innovative. I want to inspire girls and boys across America to study math, science and engineering to help our nation achieve green energy independence. President Kennedy said, Let's put a man on the Moon. I say, Let's make oil obsolete.

Finally, my call for spreading democracy will never be achieved if some of the worst regimes on the planet — Iran, Sudan, Venezuela — have so much oil money they can misbehave and ignore the world, and if the rest of us — Europe, America, China and India — are forever coddling them to get access to their crude.

With all of this in mind, I am sending Congress the Bush Energy Freedom Act. It is based on ideas first offered by the energy expert Philip Verleger and it argues the following:

Transportation accounts for most of our oil consumption. And many Americans have purchased big cars and S.U.V.'s, expecting gasoline to remain cheap. That is no longer the case. Therefore, I propose creating a government agency that will buy up any gas-guzzling car or truck in America at the original new or used price, and crush it. This national buy-back program will be financed by a $2-a-gallon gasoline tax that will be phased in by 10 cents a month beginning in 2008 — so people know what is coming and start buying fuel-efficient cars right now.

By removing so many gas guzzlers, we will quickly reduce our oil consumption and create a huge demand for new energy-efficient cars from Detroit, which will rescue our auto industry. We have to do something drastic. The Harley-Davidson motorcycle company is worth more today than General Motors! But by sharply raising the gasoline tax, we'll also make sure that Detroit shifts its fleet to energy-saving plug-in hybrids and hydrogen- and ethanol-fueled vehicles, which will force Detroit to out-innovate Toyota. And by generating so much income from a gasoline tax, we will be able to give gas-tax rebates to lower-income folks and have plenty left over to pay for new investment in education and scientific research.

Impossible? Read my lips: Nothing is impossible when Americans put their hearts and minds to it.

One last thing: I have accepted the resignation of Vice President Dick Cheney, who felt he could not be a salesman for the Energy Freedom Act. I am nominating Jeffrey Immelt — the C.E.O. of General Electric, who has focused G.E.'s innovation around "eco-imagination" — as Mr. Cheney's replacement.

Good night, and God bless America.

And Now, a Word for Our Demographic - New York Times

And Now, a Word for Our Demographic - New York TimesJanuary 29, 2006
Guest Columnist
And Now, a Word for Our Demographic


NOT all reporters have an unfinished novel gathering dust but many, including this one, do. If that isn't enough of a cliché, this novel's hero is a television anchor (always plant your pen in familiar turf) who, in the course of a minor traffic accident, bites the tip off his tongue. The ensuing speech impediment is sufficient to end his on-air career and he finds himself, recently divorced, now unemployed, at home and watching altogether too much television.

After several weeks of isolation he discovers on his voice mail a message from an old friend, the opinion-page editor of his hometown newspaper. She is urging him to write a piece about television news, which, after some hesitation, he does — with a vengeance:

The earls and dukes and barons of television news have grown sleek and fat eating road kill. The victims, dispatched by political or special interest hit-and-run squads, are then hung up, displayed and consumed with unwholesome relish on television.

They wander the battlefields of other people's wars, these knights of the airwaves, disposing of the wounded from both armies, gorging themselves like the electronic vultures they are.

The popular illusion that television journalists are liberals does them too much honor. Like all mercenaries they fight for money, not ideology; but unlike true mercenaries, their loyalty is not for sale. It cannot be engaged because it does not exist. Their total lack of commitment to any cause has come to be defined as objectivity. Their daily preoccupation with the trivial and the banal has accumulated large audiences, which, in turn, has encouraged a descent into the search for items of even greater banality.

A wounded and bitter fellow, this fictional hero of mine, but his bilious arguments hardly seem all that dated. Now here I sit, having recently left ABC News after 42 years, and who should call but an editor friend of mine who, in a quirky convolution of real life's imitating unpublished fiction, has asked me to write this column examining the state of television news today.

Where to begin? Confession of the obvious seems like a reasonable starting point: I have become well known and well-off traveling the world on ABC's dime, charged only with ensuring that our viewers be well informed about important issues. For the better part of those 42 years, this arrangement worked to our mutual benefit and satisfaction. At the same time, I cannot help but see that the industry in which I have spent my entire adult life is in decline and in distress.

Once, 30 or 40 years ago, the target audience for network news was made up of everyone with a television, and the most common criticism lodged against us was that we were tempted to operate on a lowest-common-denominator basis.

This, however, was in the days before deregulation, when the Federal Communications Commission was still perceived to have teeth, and its mandate that broadcasters operate in "the public interest, convenience and necessity" was enough to give each licensee pause.

Network owners nurtured their news divisions, encouraged them to tackle serious issues, cultivated them as shields to be brandished before Congressional committees whenever questions were raised about the quality of entertainment programs and the vast sums earned by those programs. News divisions occasionally came under political pressures but rarely commercial ones. The expectation was that they would search out issues of importance, sift out the trivial and then tell the public what it needed to know.

With the advent of cable, satellite and broadband technology, today's marketplace has become so overcrowded that network news divisions are increasingly vulnerable to the dictatorship of the demographic. Now, every division of every network is expected to make a profit. And so we have entered the age of boutique journalism. The goal for the traditional broadcast networks now is to identify those segments of the audience considered most desirable by the advertising community and then to cater to them.

Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

Indeed, in television news these days, the programs are being shaped to attract, most particularly, 18-to-34-year-old viewers. They, in turn, are presumed to be partly brain-dead — though not so insensible as to be unmoved by the blandishments of sponsors.

Exceptions, it should be noted, remain. Thus it is that the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC are liberally studded with advertisements that clearly cater to older Americans. But this is a holdover from another era: the last gathering of more than 30 million tribal elders, as they clench their dentures while struggling to control esophageal eruptions of stomach acid to watch "The News." That number still commands respect, but even the evening news programs, you will find (after the first block of headline material), are struggling to find a new format that will somehow appeal to younger viewers.

Washington news, for example, is covered with less and less enthusiasm and aggressiveness. The networks' foreign bureaus have, for some years now, been seen as too expensive to merit survival. Judged on the frequency with which their reports get airtime, they can no longer be deemed cost-effective. Most have either been closed or reduced in size to the point of irrelevance.

Simply stated, no audience is perceived to be clamoring for foreign news, the exceptions being wars in their early months that involve American troops, acts of terrorism and, for a couple of weeks or so, natural disasters of truly epic proportions.

You will still see foreign stories on the evening news broadcasts, but examine them carefully. They are either reported by one of a half-dozen or so remaining foreign correspondents who now cover the world for each network, or the anchor simply narrates a piece of videotape shot by some other news agency. For big events, an anchor might parachute in for a couple of days of high drama coverage. But the age of the foreign correspondent, who knew a country or region intimately, is long over.

No television news executive is likely to acknowledge indifference to major events overseas or in our nation's capital, but he may, on occasion, concede that the viewers don't care, and therein lies the essential malignancy.

The accusation that television news has a political agenda misses the point. Right now, the main agenda is to give people what they want. It is not partisanship but profitability that shapes what you see.

Most particularly on cable news, a calculated subjectivity has, indeed, displaced the old-fashioned goal of conveying the news dispassionately. But that, too, has less to do with partisan politics than simple capitalism. Thus, one cable network experiments with the subjectivity of tender engagement: "I care and therefore you should care." Another opts for chest-thumping certitude: "I know and therefore you should care."

Even Fox News's product has less to do with ideology and more to do with changing business models. Fox has succeeded financially because it tapped into a deep, rich vein of unfulfilled yearning among conservative American television viewers, but it created programming to satisfy the market, not the other way around. CNN, meanwhile, finds itself largely outmaneuvered, unwilling to accept the label of liberal alternative, experimenting instead with a form of journalism that stresses empathy over detachment.

Now, television news should not become a sort of intellectual broccoli to be jammed down our viewers' unwilling throats. We are obliged to make our offerings as palatable as possible. But there are too many important things happening in the world today to allow the diet to be determined to such a degree by the popular tastes of a relatively narrow and apparently uninterested demographic.

What is, ultimately, most confusing about the behavior of the big three networks is why they ever allowed themselves to be drawn onto a battlefield that so favors their cable competitors. At almost any time, the audience of a single network news program on just one broadcast network is greater than the combined audiences of CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

Reaching across the entire spectrum of American television viewers is precisely the broadcast networks' greatest strength. By focusing only on key demographics, by choosing to ignore their total viewership, they have surrendered their greatest advantage.

Oddly enough, there is a looming demographic reality that could help steer television news back toward its original purpose. There are tens of millions of baby boomers in their 40's and 50's and entering their 60's who have far more spending power than their 18-to-34-year-old counterparts. Television news may be debasing itself before the wrong demographic.

If the network news divisions cannot be convinced that their future depends on attracting all demographic groups, then perhaps, at least, they can be persuaded to aim for the largest single demographic with the most disposable income — one that may actually have an appetite for serious news. That would seem like a no-brainer. It's regrettable, perhaps, that only money and the inclination to spend it will ultimately determine the face of television news, but, as a distinguished colleague of mine used to say: "That's the way it is."

Ted Koppel, who retired as anchor and managing editor of the ABC program "Nightline" in November, is a contributing columnist for The Times and managing editor of The Discovery Network.

Frank Rich is on book leave.

Monday, January 23, 2006

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Clinton vs. Rice? Now, that's the ticket!

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Clinton vs. Rice? Now, that's the ticket!Clinton vs. Rice? Now, that's the ticket!

First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Rice left Washington last week for Liberia. They were flying to attend the inauguration of the first female president in all of Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

When the First Lady was asked by CNN when she thought this country would elect a woman, she answered that she thought it would happen fairly soon, perhaps in the next two presidential elections. The reporter then asked who she thought would be a good candidate for the job. Bush said she would want the woman to be a Republican and that she thought Rice would be just fine, even though Rice has said that she has no interest in running.

Things have changed so much in our nation since the civil rights era that there was no talk of Rice's ethnicity. All Bush said after acknowledging the secretary's stated lack of interest was, "I'd love to see her run. She's terrific."

I don't know if the First Lady was voicing an opinion that has a strong standing in the Republican Party, since many of its members have learned to wear high collars that keep their red necks from view. But we cannot be sure of anything at this moment, especially since one of the most remarkable developments in the 20th century was Lyndon Johnson evolving from a segregationist into the nation's most revolutionary President in the arena of civil rights since Abraham Lincoln.

If a strong call for Rice begins to build, those elephants who are more politicians than they are suspicious of black people in power might just leave their hoods in the closet for good and start an unprecedented campaign for the White House. They might then live up to their history of being "the party of Abraham Lincoln," which seemed even more ironic during Richard Nixon's presidency when the "Southern strategy" meant opening the arms of the party to Southern rednecks disenchanted by the destruction of segregation by the Democrats.

Colin Powell might have been the first black American President if he had run against Bill Clinton because big guns would have backed him and he was, at that time, a man who would have given Clinton far stronger competition than Bob Dole did. But things would be rough for Rice if she were to run.

Because she is an elephant and because she will have been in the Bush administration through two terms, her "authenticity" will be called into question. Because she is neither a hard- nor a soft-core leftist, Rice is considered a "race traitor," a problem special to black people who do not adhere to an agenda from the Black Power era of the late 1960s.

That is the kind of single-mindedness that keeps black Americans out of big-time politics. That is because the "leadership" always seems to be calling for a reservation modeled on Leisure World, not high-quality public education, safer communities and a chance to compete.

Whatever Rice is and whatever she represents, she has the right to be what she wants and has no obligation to repeat the clichés of the civil rights establishment, which have become little more than predictable clouds of hot air. If she and Hillary Clinton were to square off in 2008, that campaign would be one of the most exciting in our time. Let's hope we see it.

Originally published on January 15, 2006

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Plank


Wow, Ray Nagin is the gift that keeps on giving. Following up on his MLK Day speech, in which (as I inexcusably failed to note in this post) he proclaimed that God wanted New Orleans to be a "chocolate" city, today Nagin had this to say:

"How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about. . . . New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special."

Maybe "mocha city" would have been the better phrase. All joking aside, however, Nagin is, in his own blundering way, making a worthwhile point. While he was certainly dumb to say that God wanted New Orleans to remain a majority-black city, the issue of how the city is rebuilt--and whether, in the process, it gets intentionally whitened--is a serious one. And Nagin, and other black New Orlineans, aren't being paranoid when they worry that some white people in the city are secretly, and not so secretly, hoping that a rebuilt New Orleans is decidedly more vanilla, or, to use Nagin's terminology, white milk-like. Of course, the most important thing is that the city be rebuilt in a way that not only allows its black residents to return there, if they so choose, but also allows them to return to neighborhoods that are not squalid and dysfunctional and impoverished in the way they were before Katrina. I don't know if Nagin has any sort of gastronomic analogies to make that point, but I'd love to hear them.

--Jason Zengerle

Monday, January 09, 2006

[print version] Treo 700w: A marriage not made in heaven | CNET

[print version] Treo 700w: A marriage not made in heaven | CNET News.comTreo 700w: A marriage not made in heaven

By David Pogue

Story last modified Sun Jan 08 06:00:00 PST 2006

Click Here

You thought the apocalypse was upon us when Apple Computer switched to processor chips from Intel, which Mac fans had considered the Dark Side for more than 20 years?

Well, try this on for size: Palm's new Treo 700w cell phone-organizer runs on software from Microsoft. Yes, that Microsoft, whose palmtop software was mocked by Palm employees for years as bloated and inefficient.

What's next--a new radio show with Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken as co-hosts?

New York Times

For the latest breaking news, visit

Sign up to receive top headlines

Get Dealbook, a daily corporate finance email briefing

Search the jobs listings at


The first question, in Palm's case, is: why? The answer is: corporate sales.

For years, Palm has stood by, gnashing its teeth and losing market share, as corporate tech buyers lived and breathed the credo, "Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft." So maybe, thought Palm, it could join that party by offering its much-admired Treo phone with Microsoft inside.

The second question is: how?

From the beginning, Palm's and Microsoft's design philosophies were miles apart. Microsoft lived for long lists of features and 65 different ways to get at them, while Palm strove for simplicity and directness. (At one point, Palm actually employed a tap counter--a guy whose job it was to make sure no task required more than three taps on the PalmPilot's touch screen.) How on earth can these two approaches be reconciled?
Click here to Play

Video: A look at the new Treo
Palm's Treo 700w comes with Windows OS

As it turns out, not very easily. The Treo 700w ($400 with a two-year Verizon commitment) is a Frankensteinian mishmash. Some of its features are so inspired and well executed, you can't help grinning, while others are so clumsy, you smack your forehead.

In the first category, you'll find a cluttered but fantastically useful new Today screen, your starting point and home base. It offers speed-dial buttons for your most frequently called contacts, displayed either as names or, cleverly, as photos.

The Today screen's Search box summons names from your address book as you type on the excellent micro-keyboard. In fine Treo tradition, you can generally pluck one name out of a thousand in your address book just by typing the person's initials. One more button press places the call or sends a message. You can also set up the Treo's alphabet keys as speed-dial buttons--B for Big Boss, for example.

The Today screen also lists your appointments and the number of unread e-mail messages. All of this information is synched effortlessly from Outlook on your Windows PC, either via a USB cable or (if your corporation uses Microsoft Exchange Server) wirelessly, over the air. Added-cost Macintosh compatibility is in the works from MarkSpace.

Finally, the Today screen includes a Google search box that takes you directly to the Web. (Google? Does Microsoft know about this?)

Those are only some of the ways in which Palm has improved on the standard Windows Mobile operating system. You can tap VCR-like buttons (Play, Skip, Delete and so on) when checking your voice mail so you don't have to memorize keystrokes.

Conference calling is practically effortless on the Treo, compared with the standard Windows Mobile method (which involves shuttling between the Contacts and Phone programs). Palm has gone well beyond Microsoft's limited use of sound cues, too. For example, you can use MIDI files, MP3 files or even video clips as ringers for individual callers, as alert sounds or even as alarms to wake you in the morning.

All of this comes in the sleekest Treo yet, a gleaming slab whose glowing, domed keys and buttons are a delight to the fingertips. (Palm says that it has ironed out the hardware glitches that drew complaints on earlier models.) The usual Treo hardware goodies are here: a switch that instantly silences all sounds, a camera (with improved resolution--1.3 megapixels), speakerphone, a beefy battery (4.5 hours of talk time), a slot for an SD memory card (to hold music, photos and videos), and a five-way rocker switch that lets you operate most functions with one hand and no stylus.

The Treo has always been a great little Internet machine, but the 700w takes a leap forward in speed. Because it can use Verizon Wireless's high-speed Internet network--called EV-DO by geeks and Broadband Access by Verizon--the 700w gets you online at nearly the speed of a cable modem, at least in major cities. (Verizon Wireless offers bundles like $80 a month for 450 minutes of calls, or $110 for 1,350 minutes, with unlimited EV-DO Internet use.)

Alas, even after all that plastic surgery, you can't escape the fact that you're basically running Windows.

For instance, you open programs from a tiny Start menu, which you activate by pressing a dedicated Windows-logo key. Fine, except that the Start menu has room to list only seven programs. For access to anything else, you must open the Programs folder. But even here, only nine icons fit on each screen, and no list view is available. So you have to do a lot of scrolling.
Alas, even after all that plastic surgery, you can't escape the fact that you're basically running Windows.

Like it or not, Windows Mobile also teaches you about memory management. Every time you open a program, it stays open in the background, even if you close its window. Sooner or later, you'll run into the "Program Memory Low" error message, requiring you to shut down programs manually in a special list box.

The 700w's beefed-up memory (60MB free) makes this situation less frequent. Still, the whole ritual should be unnecessary. Doesn't anyone at Microsoft realize how silly it sounds to say, "Just a minute--I have to quit some programs on my phone"?

That's not the only hit to efficiency. Microsoft must believe that all its customers bill by the hour. Just rotating a photo requires four steps. The Treo 700w no longer has buttons for Calendar and Address Book, either; those functions are now buried in menus that require more steps to reach. Buttons for Mute and Speakerphone used to appear right on the Treo screen during calls. These, too, are now in menus. What once required one step now requires two--if you even know where to look for them.

Here's another example: On older Treos, you could write a new appointment directly onto, say, the 3:30 p.m. line of the calendar's Day view. Microsoft's version offers no such instant gratification. Instead, creating a new appointment requires choosing starting and ending times from pop-up menus inside a dialogue box. Only half-hour increments are available; let's hope you never have a 4:45 train to catch.

Palm didn't help matters by adding a prominent OK key, which actually means just the opposite. That is, instead of Yes, Go or Forward, it means Cancel, Back or Stop. You use it, for example, to cancel out of a dialogue box or window, to backtrack to a previous screen, or to close a menu without making a choice. It must have been designed by the same person who, in the full-blown Windows, put the Shut Down command in the Start menu.

Speaking of steps backward, Treonauts should note that the 700w's screen resolution is only 240 by 240 pixels, far coarser than the previous model's. (Palm maintains that this restriction is imposed by Microsoft's software.)

Verizon Wireless is the first carrier of this Treo--a surprising development since it was the last major cellular company to offer the previous Treo model.

Yet Verizon Wireless is partly responsible for the 700w's crippled Bluetooth (short-range wireless) features. For example, Verizon has turned off the feature that lets your laptop get online using the Treo as a wireless antenna. You can use a wireless headset, but the phone works only with some Bluetooth-equipped cars; the Toyota Prius, for example, isn't on the list. (If history is any guide, these features will be available from other carriers when they get the Treo 700w later this year.)
In other news:

* CES 2006: Gadget glitz in Vegas (Complete show coverage)
* Capitol cookie caper
* iPod rivals ready for prime time at last?

There are certainly bright spots in the 700w. It's brisk and responsive, it feels great in your hand and it does a lot of stuff. (In fact, the only modern cell phone feature missing is Wi-Fi wireless networking, which you can add with Palm's $100 SD Wi-Fi card.)

But considering that Palm's designers once worshipped at the altar of interface excellence, it's a shame that Microsoft's convoluted software has produced such an awkward marriage with the hardware. Longtime Treo fans, in particular, will be absolutely baffled by the new software layout.

Then again, the 700w wasn't built for longtime Treo fans (who, in any case, can still buy the older 650 model). It was built for corporate buyers, whose top priorities may not include providing the most pleasurable experience possible for the worker bees.