Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday Reading

Til Death Do You Blog: People are literally killing themselves to blog.

A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.

Of course, the bloggers can work elsewhere, and they profess a love of the nonstop action and perhaps the chance to create a global media outlet without a major up-front investment. At the same time, some are starting to wonder if something has gone very wrong. In the last few months, two among their ranks have died suddenly.

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

The pressure even gets to those who work for themselves — and are being well-compensated for it.

“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

“This is not sustainable,” he said.

[…]

In the case of Mr. Shaw, it is not clear what role stress played in his death. Ellen Green, who had been dating him for 13 months, said the pressure, though self-imposed, was severe. She said she and Mr. Shaw had been talking a lot about how he could create a healthier lifestyle, particularly after the death of his friend, Mr. Orchant.

“The blogger community is looking at this and saying: ‘Oh no, it happened so fast to two really vital people in the field,’ ” she said. They are wondering, “What does that have to do with me?”

For his part, Mr. Shaw did not die at his desk. He died in a hotel in San Jose, Calif., where he had flown to cover a technology conference. He had written a last e-mail dispatch to his editor at ZDNet: “Have come down with something. Resting now posts to resume later today or tomorrow.”

To paraphrase playwright Robert Anderson, “You can’t make a living in blogging, but you can make a killing.”

Tell It to the Net: Meanwhile, people are using the internet as their outlet for personal grief and pain.

A daughter lashes out at strangers criticizing her mother’s role in her best friend’s murder.

A man defends the war in Iraq, just days after his soldier wife was killed there.

A mother mourns her two sons, murdered at sea, their bodies never found.

Grief and suffering — usually the most private of emotions — are increasingly playing out before the public’s eyes on the Internet.

Online forums, on social networking sites like MySpace and in comment sections on newspaper websites, have become a safe venue for people to live out their private moments publicly.

”The Internet lets people lose their inhibitions,” said Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association. ”People feel they shouldn’t keep things to themselves anymore.”

Illinois resident Shirley Branam Clow knows from experience.

In September, she saw posts on MiamiHerald.com from readers commenting on the deadly voyage for the crew of The Joe Cool, a 47-foot sport fishing yacht. The charter boat’s four-member crew had been murdered, allegedly by two passengers on board.

Clow, whose two sons and daughter-in-law were killed, couldn’t keep quiet after seeing a comment from someone who said Clow’s loved ones — Jake Branam, 27, Scott Gamble, 35, and daughter-in-law Kelley Branam, 30 — were hiding on an island, drinking mai tai cocktails, while waiting for an insurance settlement.

”People were saying garbage that wasn’t true,” Clow, 54, said Friday. She posted several comments over the course of a few weeks, then forced herself to stop. ”It was horrible. I was in so much pain, but I had to defend my family.”

The internet also provides people with the opportunity to be complete jerks.

R.I.P. Salon’s Blog Report: After three years and 12,0000 posts from the left, right and center, Salon.com is shutting down The Blog Report. It started out as The Daou Report, and every so often it would link to one of my posts here at Bark Bark Woof Woof, which would boost my readership ten-fold for the day. It’s also where I found links to a lot of good writing in the blogosphere. Thanks, Peter Daou and Steve Benen, for all your effort, and thanks to all you readers who found this little site courtesy of their work.

Charlton Heston 1924-2008: He played everything from Moses (The Ten Commandments) to an astronaut (Planet of the Apes) to a consumer advocate (Soylent Green).

Charlton Heston, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career but who is remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses, Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by a spokesman for the family, Bill Powers, who declined to discuss the cause. In August 2002, Mr. Heston announced that he had been diagnosed with neurological symptoms “consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.”

“I’m neither giving up nor giving in,” he said.

Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the public memory, and Mr. Heston’s life changed forever when he caught the eye of the director Cecil B. De Mille. De Mille, who was planning his next biblical spectacular, “The Ten Commandments,” looked at the young, physically imposing Mr. Heston and saw his Moses.

When the film was released in 1956, more than three and a half hours long and the most expensive that De Mille had ever made, Mr. Heston became a marquee name. Whether leading the Israelites through the wilderness, parting the Red Sea or coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets from God in hand, he was a Moses to remember.

Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.

The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off-screen, for the causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control. Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe on a Constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.

In Mr. Heston, the N.R.A. found its embodiment of pioneer values — pride, independence and valor. In a speech at the N.R.A.’s annual convention in 2000, he brought the audience to its feet with a ringing attack on gun-control advocates. Paraphrasing an N.R.A. bumper sticker (“I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands”) he waved a replica of a colonial musket above his head and shouted defiantly, “From my cold, dead hands!”

Mr. Heston’s screen presence was so commanding that he was never dominated by mammoth sets, spectacular effects or throngs of spear-waving extras. In his films, whether playing Buffalo Bill, an airline pilot, a naval captain or the commander of a spaceship, he essentially projected the same image — muscular, steely-eyed, courageous. If critics regularly used terms like “marble-monumental” or “granitic” to describe his acting style, they just as often praised his forthright, no-nonsense characterizations.

While I disagreed with his recent political views, I respected his talent and his craft. I’m sure the right-wingers will only remember him for his work with the N.R.A., but that would be a disservice to his fifty years of work in the film industry where politics — the Washington type, at least — played very small parts. Besides, in the 1960’s, Mr. Heston was a vigorous advocate for civil rights and Dr. Martin Luther King. And he also had a good sense of humor, showing a remarkable ability for self-deprecating antics, including doing a shower scene on an episode of Friends and hosting Saturday Night Live. R.I.P.

Frank Rich: What Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are saying about John McCain’s plans for Iraq (“willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq”) is wrong and unfair. And besides, it misses what he really plans for the Middle East, which is much worse.

Everything else Mr. McCain has to say about Iraq is more troubling, and I don’t mean just his recent serial gaffe conflating Shiite Iran and Sunni Qaeda. The sum total of his public record suggests that he could well prolong the war for another century — not because he’s the crazed militarist portrayed by Democrats, but through sheer inertia, bad judgment and blundering.

So far his bizarre pronouncements have been drowned out by the Democrats’ din. They’ve also been underplayed by a press that coddles Ol’ Man Straight Talk and that rarely looks more deeply into the “surge is success” propaganda than it did into Mr. Bush’s announcement of the end of “major combat operations” five years ago. The electorate doesn’t want to hear much anyway about a war it long ago soundly rejected.

For the majority of Americans who haven’t met any of the brave troops who’ve been cavalierly tossed into the quagmire, the war is out of sight and mind in a way Vietnam never was. Only 28 percent of Americans knew American casualties in Iraq were nearing 4,000 last month, according to the Pew Research Center. The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that by March 2008 the percentage of prominent news stories that were about Iraq had fallen to about one-fifth of what it was in January 2007. It’s a poignant commentary on the whole war that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nonpartisan advocacy group, was reduced to protesting the lack of coverage.

That’s why it’s no surprise that so few stopped to absorb the disastrous six-day battle of Basra that ended last week — a mini-Tet that belied the “success” of the surge. Even fewer noticed that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed at least as oblivious to what was going down as President Bush, no tiny feat.

[…]

“We’re succeeding,” Mr. McCain said after his last trip to Iraq. “I don’t care what anybody says.” Again, it’s the last sentence that’s accurate. When General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress again this week — against the backdrop of a million-Iraqi, anti-American protest called by Mr. Sadr — Mr. McCain will ram home all this “success” no matter the facts.

The difference between the Democrats and Mr. McCain going forward is clear enough: They want to find a way out of the morass, however provisional and imperfect, and he equates staying the disastrous course with patriotism. Mr. McCain’s doomed promise of military “victory” in Iraq is akin to Wile E. Coyote’s perpetual pursuit of the Road Runner, with much higher carnage. This isn’t patriotism. As the old saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again and hoping you’ll get a different result is the definition of insanity.

The Democrats should also stop repeating their 100-years-war calumny against Mr. McCain. There’s too much at stake for America for them to add their own petty distortions to an epic tragedy that only a long-overdue national reckoning with hard truths can bring to an end.

Doonesbury: It’s figment time again.

Opus: Dream on.