"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 March 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 03.22.01


Hit & Run XXVI
html jockey #1: "I heard there are some Sucksters at this party."

Suckster: ["playing" stupid] "Really? What's suck?"

html jockey #2: "Oh, that's Suck." [points to screen] "I wish our site would get Sucked."

Suckster: [still "stupid"] "You mean it'd be a badge of honor?"

html jockey #2: "Yeah, it's, like, our dream."

Five years ago today in Suck.

Internet World landed on Los Angeles last week, with a wet, squishy thud. The tri-annual orgy of Internet-as-churning-engine-of-commerce was eerily timed to coincide with the anniversary of the bubble bursting, and the usual raucous celebration of unlimited upside was nearly drowned out by the grinding sound the NASDAQ made as it hit bottom. The slowdown was the main topic of conversation, as 50,000 people all noted that "attendance seems low this time." Of course, only people steeped in every New Economy excess could possibly think that free daiquiris, backrubs, candy, swag bags, cappuccino, shirts, cars, Palm Vs, indoor golf, tap-dance demonstrations (complete with drummers raised on cranes), and guys on eight-foot unicycles removing themselves from straight jackets while talking about firewall security mark some sort of bland disappointment. Any civilian who accidentally stumbled into the LA Convention Center and tried to reconcile what he saw with his eyes and what he heard with his ears could only emerge with one conclusion: What a bunch of freakin' cry babies.

Americans, Saddam Hussein once said, care more about dogs and cats than about humans. Granted, the Bully of Baghdad never seemed like much of a people person himself, but consider the strange case of MSNBC's "Images of 2000" voting. In an effort to relive some of the excitement of the recently ended year, in which Y2K-related iron lung disasters competed with the premier of Madigan Men for the attention of news junkies, Microsoft's flagship news site has been holding an online poll to select users' most cherished news photos. As tends to happen with such things, the poll immediately attracted an international ingathering of advocates, not unlike the one that made Mustafa Kamal Ataturk Time's Man of the Century. For the past month or so, various versions of a Please-Vote-For spam have gone into circulation, urging all and sundry to show support for the Palestinians by voting for "A Death In Gaza," France TV's infamous picture of the last seconds of the life of 12-year-old Mohammed Aldura on September 30. "[T]here is a great lobbying in the USA and world by pro Israel groups for the picture NOT to be the picture of the year," the email warned darkly, providing a handy voting link and an exhortation to send a message to the international community.

As it turned out, however, the "great lobbying" was not necessary, as "A Death In Gaza" only made it to second place. Top honors were reserved for "Tough Pup," a picture of a two-legged Golden Retriever walking with the help of a special doggy wheelchair. "Tough Pup" won comfortably with 475,846 votes to "Death"'s 454,191. Conspiracy-minded Levantines might have suspected a plot to keep the controversial Gaza photo out of the running, but a survey of the rest of the top ten indicates the memory of young Mohammed was erased mainly by our collective fondness for furry critters. Also in the winners' circle: "So near, so far," a photo of a fenced-in mutt eyeing a fire hydrant; "Peeka-bow-wow" (self-explanatory); and "Mother instinct," which shows a cat caring for a chick.

At least, that's how the voting stood just before MSNBC shut down the contest, explaining, "Although we continue to present the best images of 2000, we have disengaged the ability to vote on the pictures...[O]ur internal logs indicate that electronic ballot stuffing was occurring. It became clear that individuals, through technical means, were voting for the same image hundreds, if not thousands of times. As this violated our intent in creating the Reader's Choice vote, asking for individual opinions, we decided to end the voting option." The site has now arbitrarily set up "The millennium’s red glare" — a photo of fireworks over an Iwo Jima memorial, a picture that never came anywhere near to winning — as the readers' choice for 2000.

Whatever disturbing questions the whole episode may raise about the misuses or suppression of incendiary images, there's only one possible advice for the activists of the future: "Hang in there, baby."

There must be a silver lining somewhere in Salon's new tuition plan (or, as Salon used to call it in happier days, "secession from the web"). Tempting as it is to just abandon the better angels of our natures and join the half-pint Howard Kurtzes with their brusque dismissals of all business plans, we know the pain of trying to stay in business too intimately by now. And if there's a selling point for this new premium content thing, we'll try and find it: First, consider that the deal they're offering is actually better than what you'd get from a print magazine, in which you pay for your subscription and still have to put up with the ads. Of course, that's if putting up with ads is something you really find intolerable — we don't, but judging by the commentary it appears we're in the minority. But there's a more fundamental level where online content — even if you have to pay for it — beats print media hands down. That's the fact that you don't have to have it cluttering up your apartment. From the grotesque stacks of Sports Illustrateds to the safety-hazard of loose Industry Standards to all those unopened Observers, it's a rare day that we don't look around the Suck office and wail "Why, God, Why?" And that's without even purchasing that massive, exuviating pachyderm, that horror beyond description, that vast, peace-shattering, indigestible crock of supplements, that implacable Jehovah's Witness darkening all doors with its horror and banality, the Sunday New York Times. If there's one way, beyond all others, in which online publishing has proven to be a friend of all literate people, it's the fact that web publishing has no actual mass. Pay for Salon or not, but just be thankful that, in not asking to be taken into your home, Salon is doing you a favor.

Reader Kyle Ancowitz, in a bid to get his bad self some Suck stickers, wrote in to notify us that he had posted a plug for Polly Esther's recent Women to Avoid issue in a bulletin board at Underwire, MSN's "fun for women" webspace. We hopped on over to check Kyle's bona fides, and found an amusing piece of content. Well, actually it wasn't the content that was amusing, but the gesture: Underwire is keeping the laughter alive for its readers with a special issue on — you guessed it — women to avoid. Since you don't have to worry until the Microsoft copy starts getting better than the original, the homage left us untroubled. But there's also a "men to avoid" issue (a better version of which you can read here too, as it happens). Strangely, we never did find Kyle's plug for the original anywhere on those bulletin boards, and can only conclude some sharp-eyed moderator cracked down on the infringement. But for giving us a look into the sordid underbelly which will someday digest us, Kyle is getting some free, suitable-for-framing Suck stickers.

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