Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We're living in a new Gilded Age, but this time we have Paul Krugman to bash the Robber Barons


The greatest single benefit of the New York Times dropping its Times Select pay wall is that there is once again free access, not only to Paul Krugman's column, but now also to his new blog, The Conscience of a Liberal. -- which also happens to be the title of his new book. What do you call a blog by Paul Krugman?? Ezra Klein calls it a Krug.

This nifty graph appears in his introductory post. It illustrates the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income over the past 90 years –- "an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality." Get the feeling we're living in a new Gilded Age? We are -- a phenomenal rise in income inequality that Krugman calls "the great divergence."
Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change; I believe that politics has also played an important role in rising inequality since the 1970s. It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.

On the political side, you might have expected rising inequality to produce a populist backlash. Instead, however, the era of rising inequality has also been the era of “movement conservatism,” the term both supporters and opponents use for the highly cohesive set of interlocking institutions that brought Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich to power, and reached its culmination, taking control of all three branches of the federal government, under George W. Bush. (Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy.)
Krugman says he'll use the blog to share charts and stats and other information he can't fit into his NYT columns. Blogging has proven hazardous to some other practitioners of the columnist's trade. But I have the feeling Krugman can handle it. Welcome to the blogosphere!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Without ever using the word blog, the NYT admits bloggers were right and kills Times Select

So it took two years to the day for the New York Times to admit they miscalculated -- or rather, by fundamentally misunderstanding Internet readership patterns, shot themselves in the foot. But finally, effective midnight tonight, Times Select is dead.
The Times said the project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.

“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

“What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” Ms. Schiller said.
This is funny stuff. In its explanation, the Times uses euphemisms like "links on other sites," "indirect readers" and "some others" to avoid using the dread word "blog."

This really wasn't about Google and Yahoo, and talking about them in this context was nothing but an attempt to save face. What Times Select mainly walled off behind their pay wall were their columnists, and a search engine is an inefficent way to find a specific column.

What really used to drive traffic to the columnists was commentary by thousands of bloggers, small and large, left or right, getting people fired up and providing a link to take them to the site. Once there, they would tend to click on other links, each one offering additional advertising opportunities..

The NYT finally figured out that these are eyeballs and clicks for which advertisers are willing to pay more than the subscription fee they had been charging for Times Select access. What remains to be seen is whether their columnists will ever regain the prominence they had until the Times shot itself in the foot. A lot of people have moved on.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Adolescent Great Blue Herons on a First Date in Vilas Park?

Adolescent Great Blue Herons on a First Date in Vilas Park?
What an incredible moment as we were biking through Vilas Park yesterday. This is at the railing just above the little dam where Lake Wingra runs into Wingra Creek. At first, I thought the bird standing tall was a Sandhill Crane, and that the bird on the right was another kind of bird altogether. But they don't seem to be cranes. Near as I can make out, they seem to be immature Great Blue Herons -- they have that distinctive black slash at the back of their heads, but not the black tuft reaching out behind.

That's why I wondered if they were adolescents on their first date. I have no idea of which was male and which was female, but the one on the right postured and preened and craned its neck at the one on the left. Eventually the one on the right turned around, walked over to the hole some drunken strongman had apparently made in the railing just for this purpose, came through the fence and walked back to the other. When it reached the other bird, it stood up. Then, with a couple of strong flaps of their vast wings, the two birds took off and flew into Vilas park, right over my head.

For once I really wished I had a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) with me. The birds made an incredible sight as they flew right toward me in the early evening light, but with the shutter lag and the low ISO, I had no chance to get a picture. Sigh.

On the other hand -- would I have had a DSLR with me on my bike? Probably not, or it would have been in a backpack, equally useless for a quick shot.

Note: Does my take on what the birds are make sense to any birders out there? Leave a note in the comments. Thanks.

Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan setting the Union Terrace on fire Saturday night

Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan at the World Music Festival
Rajasthan, a province in northwest India, is the home of the Dhoad Gypsies, who made themselves at home on the Union Terrace Saturday night. The group, performing at the World music festival, is made up of representatives of several different religious and cultural groups. Their artistic director is 25-year-old Rahis Bharti, second from left.

Emily Mills wrote about the festival in the Isthmus Daily Page and had this to say about the Dhoad Gypsies:
Out on the terrace again, the Dhoad Gypsies exploded onto the scene with an intense tabla (two drums played with fast, staccato notes) solo, followed by a number of traditional Rajasthani gypsy tunes. Most of their work was centered around percussive instruments: the tabla and other hand drums plus castanet like pieces of wood played with a rapid fire cadence. The Gypsies' show included performances by one man who balanced a jar of water on up to four small glasses at a time on top of his head while dancing. He also stood on a bed of nails and three curved swords and breathed fire in time with the music -- extra fun if you happened to be sitting right up against the stage like I was.

This show gathered perhaps the most enthusiastic audience of the night. A contingent of students who spoke the same language and knew some of the songs were all singing and dancing along, encouraging others to get up and do the same. Two encores were demanded and the band was only too happy to oblige.
I had left my temporary perch by the stage by the time the fire eater put on his percussive performance and couldn't get a photo, but it was truly amazing -- quick, repeated billowing bursts of flame in time with the music. Great night on the Terrace. Incredible music, with a flashy finish.