Monday, January 19, 2009

Death, Satire, and President Bush

Since the US election in November, The Onion has also been pondering the death of satire, or at least satirising death, by marking Bush's final days in office with a series of brief reports on the almost-ex-President's demise.
Almost as amusing (or not, depending on what you consider funny) is the debate and hand-wringing these stories have caused in places such as the Huffington Post (scroll down for the first of many pages of comments).

UPDATE: The Onion found time to squeeze in one more on inauguration day: Bush Dies Peacefully In His Sleep (January 20).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Situations Vacant

When the frequency of layoffs in the publishing industry has increased to the point where they seem almost commonplace, you'd think that the announcement of a print publication actually expanding its workforce would be a cause for celebration. However, this report about hipster bible Vice taking on seven new staff seems profoundly depressing next to the news that The Economist is losing 13 staff.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Palm Reading: I see an iPhone in your future

The news that Palm is about to re-enter the smartphone market with the Pré is unlikely to tempt many users away from buying a BlackBerry or iPhone. That includes me, a long-term Palm PDA user.

The one thing that has given me cause to reconsider is the realisation that my Palm Zire 71 has worked without hassle or serious complaint for six years now. That's six whole years. Translated into human terms, it's the gadget equivalent of living to the age of 200. But, while senility hasn't set in yet (it still remembers my dates and addresses without error), it doesn't have the energy it used to and now requires far more frequent trips to the charger. The end, I fear, is nigh.

Of course, there's no place for silly feelings like nostalgia or pity when it comes to technology (unlike, say, blind adherence to trends and the whims of fashion) so I will soon be replacing it with something shiny, new, and - more likely than not - made by Apple. Proof, if any were needed, that even making really good, reliable products is no guarantee of success these days.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who's First Against the Wall?

In these economically troubled times, why can't more layoffs be reported like this, courtesy of Keith J Kelly last week at the New York Post?
Stone cold: The recession isn't bothering Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, at least in his personal life. He's busy skiing at his multi-million dollar home in Sun Valley, Idaho on his annual prolonged winter ski holiday. But that doesn't mean the minions at Wenner Media are being spared. About 10 people were axed so far this week, including the head of production, Lou Terracciano, hired only six months ago, and more are expected to go today, insiders are saying. Men's Journal is expected to be particularly hard-hit.

And then there's this article in the Telegraph on the financial problems faced by billionaire publisher and businessman Anthony O'Reilly. After outlining "the parlous state of the Independent, the flagship newspaper, which is losing between £12 million and £14 million a year," the normally business-friendly Torygraph dares to point out that:
"The [Independent News & Media] group's five senior directors were paid a total of £7.97 million, including bonuses and pensions last year, with Sir Anthony receiving £2.2 million – a 20 per cent rise on last year. However, the board has approved large-scale redundancies as a cost-cutting measure."
Of course, both these examples have something in common: they're media stories. Publishing companies are suffering acutely in these hard times, and rival publications seem to be taking particular relish in turning on each other like starving dogs. But what of Wall Street?

I long for the day when the business executives whose catastrophic mismanagement got us into the current financial crisis are tarred and feathered and run through the streets like the criminals they are. In the meantime, I'll settle for them being named and shamed. It isn't much, but it would be a start.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stationery Porn: Leitz Folders

I recently took delivery of these Leitz hanging files. I won't bore you with the reasons I needed to source some longer European A4 folders rather than standard US letter ones, but it took a surprisingly long time to find an American supplier that stocked such subversively sized pieces of stationery. I guess there isn't much call for metric filing round these parts; indeed, the mere act of ordering them probably means my name will shortly appear on some Homeland Security watch list or other.

And little wonder: these functional, utilitarian beauties certainly look as if they might have Communist sympathies. They are German-made, and look bleakly efficient in a Lives of Others sort of way. The simple act of filing may never be quite the same for me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

UPDATE: Satire Not Dead After All

I spoke too soon: satire isn't really dead. It's not even resting. It's just a bit ill. In his introduction to Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper’s Magazine, Roger D Hodge agrees there is a problem, but he identifies it as a mere disease, one he calls "self satirizing syndrome":
The disease manifested itself almost everywhere at once, but the superficial effects were most spectacular in our national mirror: the Media, which absorbed and digested the once proud opposition of the Press and made of it a mere legitimizer of horrors. The self-refuting absurdity of the Bush presidency, with its pretensions to manufacture an imperial reality, parallels the rise of the aggressively oxymoronic genre of “Reality Television,” with all its unintentional ironies. Among so-called news programming, Fox’s “Fair and Balanced: We Report, You Decide” is of a piece with Anderson Cooper’s “Keeping Them Honest” ... More perniciously, the self-importance with which the quality newspapers fawned on George W. Bush and his retainers in the decisive years after September 11, 2001, particularly in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, bears comparison with the bitter satires of G. K. Chesterton and Evelyn Waugh.
Put in this context, Obama's election victory didn't represent the final death knell for satire (as so many commentators seem to think) but the opposite, a day when the world become slightly less ridiculous. If nothing else, the inauguration on January 20 will mean humorists finally having to put some effort into lampooning the president, rather than just pointing and laughing like they can just now.