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August 01, 2003
The Long Boom

From MIT researcher Tad Hirsch, in a press release announcing the creation of the American Action Market: "The Pentagon felt that a market in terrorism futures could predict terrorism. If the market is indeed such a powerful tool, then it should be directed at the most urgent question facing the world: what will the White House do next? And the second most urgent: what is it doing right now?"

According to the project's website, you'll be able to trade contracts on such things as "the next White House lie to break into the news, "the next country the White House will threaten," "the next foreign leader to move from the CIA payroll to White House 'most wanted' list," "the lifespan of various DARPA projects, such as Total Information Awareness," and "the first White House staffer to resign in disgrace."

The market is scheduled to start running on October 1st. If this project attracts substantial media attention, I'm betting that a more patriotic version of the concept will be announced in, oh, two weeks.

Posted by G. Beato at 08:19 AM | Comments (458)
July 31, 2003
It Came From 1998

Elizabeth Wurtzel turns 36 today. To celebrate, a link to Gear and Clothing in Las Vegas, my 1998 ode to Wurtzel, Hunter S. Thompson, and the magazine-writing business that is probably incomprehensible now (and maybe even then) to anyone but me... but you have to love those Terry Colon illustrations.

Posted by G. Beato at 08:51 AM | Comments (209)
Caption Contest Alert

Only a few more hours left to submit a caption to this week's caption contest.

Posted by G. Beato at 08:16 AM | Comments (97)
July 30, 2003
Bechtel Eyes Huge Iraq Payday

From the SF Chronicle: "During the next five years, the full cost of needed repairs to Iraq's infrastructure may be $20 billion, according to an estimate Bechtel prepared for USAID. That figure may rise as Bechtel and its Iraqi subcontractors get a closer look at some of the facilities they will repair..."

Also from the Chronicle: David Baker, who's in Iraq to cover Bechtel, is publishing a journal too.

Posted by G. Beato at 01:36 PM | Comments (193)
July 29, 2003
We Can Call it "Blogging"

Meghan O'Rourke, in Slate: "Maybe we even need a new magazine genre, somewhere between fact and fiction."

(Link via TMFTML.)

Posted by G. Beato at 02:21 PM | Comments (224)
Behind the Online Music (Remix Version)

"While it's true there are finally a few music-industry endorsed services where users can legally buy online music (like Apple's iTunes,'s Rhapsody, and newly-launched's buymusic), the models are clunky and still need to be tweaked. That it took so long to get them reveals how unresponsive the industry is to the changing marketplace and consumer demand."
-- Sonia Arrison, Tech Central Station

Took so long to get legitimate online music services? Napster reached critical mass in early 2000. Legitimate online music services became relatively worthwhile in late 2002. That's not lighting-quick, but given the circumstances, it's not that slow either. Try telling any other multi-billion dollar industry that it has to radically change the way it does business because technology has made payment voluntary and see how quickly it adapts...

Furthermore, Arrison's description of Rhapsody as "clunky" makes me wonder if she's actually ever tried the service. Rhapsody isn't a perfect solution - there's no Mac version, it's only available in the U.S., iits catalog only consists of 300,000 or so songs, it's still a little expensive if you plan to do a lot of burning.

But despite those shortcomings, I would hardly call it "clunky." Instead, it's extremely easy to use, and compared to early versions of, say, AOL or CompuServe, well, there is no comparison. In terms of performance, interface, and value, it's much further along than those services were after a couple of years of operation.

Today, in search of clunkiness, I decided to use Rhapsody to burn a CD for the first time. (Until now, I've only used the service to listen to streaming songs and albums on demand.)

It took me maybe ten or fifteen minutes or so to pick out 12 songs and burn them to a CD. Most of that time I simply worked on other applications while waiting for the burning process to finish. The cost: 79 cents per track, or $9.48 total for a twelve-song CD. Then, I took that CD and converted the tracks to MP3s and put them back on my computer. In other words, it seems like you have the flexibility to take your burned CD and get it into whatever format you want.

And even though I'm pretty clueless when it comes to burning/ripping in general, I found the process very easy - nothing clunky about it.

So how best to improve Rhapsody and the other legitimate services? Not by complaining about how "clunky" they are, but rather by using them. More users means more sales, which means more record companies will be willing to license more content. More users will also mean more competition, which will ultimately mean lower prices. Indeed, it appears that Rhapsody is already trying to undercut iTunes by charging 79 cents per download instead of 99 cents. (Of course, with Rhapsody, there's a $9.95 monthly fee that iTunes users don't have to pay.)

How low will they go? It all depends on how many users are really willing to pay something for online music. In other words, the quickest way to make music as close to free as possible is to start paying for it.

Posted by G. Beato at 11:00 AM
Hell Not Freezing Over Just Yet

For the first time ever, I thought that Glenn Reynolds had said something genuinely witty. But it sounds like the phrase "going for the capillary" is a time-tested D.C. putdown...

But while Reynolds didn't mint that particular phrase, he did invent the liberal blogosphere. Here he is explaining how he did it in the Yale Law Report: "For the first six months to a year of the blogosphere, [lefty bloggers] barely existed, so I linked to a bunch of them that would have been pretty marginal in terms of their quality...Some of them, I'm slightly regretful of it, since they seem to spend a lot of their space calling me names."

Posted by G. Beato at 10:47 AM | Comments (336)
Game Theory

"Well, what I'm complaining of are false reporting and very biased reporting [of satellite networks Al-Jazeera and al Arabiya] that has the effect of inciting violence against our troops. And these governments should stop and realize that this is not a game, that they're endangering the lives of American troops...And, you know, they have a way when they want to cover somebody favorably, including Saddam Hussein in the old days, of slanting the news incredibly. Well, a little bit of honesty would help and a lack of -- in ending this incitement would be what we'd like to see."
-- Paul Wolfowitz, during a Fox News appearance on 07/27/03.

"The war on terror has come to this: The Pentagon is setting up a commodity-style market to use real investors -- putting down real money -- to help its generals predict terrorist attacks, coups d'etat, and other turmoil around the globe...anybody with money to start a trading account could sign up. The theory is that those who buy such futures contracts would be specialists in their fields...they would be asked to gamble on such questions as 'Will terrorists attack Israel with bioweapons in the next year?' according to DARPA websites and other government documents. Other potential subjects include whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated.'"
-- The Boston Globe, 07/28/03

Paul Wolfowitz isn't exactly known for his consistency, but apparently even he realizes that betting larges sums of money on the possibility of terrorist acts might have a catalytic effect of its own: at Atrios' blog, Leah says that the game-averse Deputy Secretary of Defense "has announced that the [Pentagon's terrorism market] is being discontinued."

Hope William Bennett is taking the news OK...

UPDATE: The Guardian has more on Wolfowitz's critique of Al Jazeera.

Posted by G. Beato at 09:51 AM | Comments (203)
July 28, 2003
Cartoon Caption Contest

Busy work day? Don't despair - we're having another caption contest at It's your excuse to drop everything and search for the perfect line to this Terry Colon sketch.

Posted by G. Beato at 10:05 AM | Comments (219)