When I was living in Center City Philadelphia in 2007, it was impossible to avoid a particularly awful free newspaper called Metro. Not only were there newspaper boxes full of it everywhere, but it was also distributed by the armful by flunkies in front of the train stations, who thrust it into the face of anyone who didn’t object. Stray copies of it littered regional rail and subway cars and, Philadelphia being its usual filthy self, the streets.

The special terribleness of Metro was its abridgment. As this blog shows, I much prefer longform writing to pat sound bites. Metro took brevity to an extreme. It didn’t just abridge wire reports; it mutilated them. It was hard to tell exactly what parts Jeffrey Dahmer had lopped off and put in the basement freezer, but something was obviously missing, often something important.

One of the few negative vibes that I picked up in Philadelphia that year was the disquiet that I felt when I saw just how popular this rag was. Almost nobody declined a copy from the hawkers outside Market East, and I regularly saw people grab copies from the boxes, which required a degree of  initiative completely unfitting such a shit publication. Seeing this sad spectacle, my confidence in the judgment and maturity of my fellow Philadelphians was shaken. I knew full well that a lot of readers liked lowbrow crap, and even our paper of record, the Inquirer, was a joke for a city of over a million, but Metro plumbed new depths and, sickeningly, became immensely popular by doing so.

I had always assumed that the public had some modicum of discernment, but evidently not. Free content really had become king, although Metro’s articles about the coronation were never exactly coherent. This piece of trash that everyone was now reading couldn’t even properly be called a newspaper if the same term was to be applied to the New York Times, the Philadelphia Daily News, or even a slow week at one of the free weeklies with twenty pages of weird sex ads in the back. Calling Metro a newspaper and applying the same name to the competition was a bit like saying that an old-school, wood-fired Italian quattro formaggio is a pizza, and a slice from Domino’s is a pizza, and a government cheese-on-hardtack atrocity of the sort served in public schools without enough money or noisy parents is also a pizza. That’s all well and good until some schizophrenic walks down Eighth Avenue, grabs some used napkins out of a trash can, smears them with dog shit, and asks passersby, “Hey, mister, care for a slice?” The sick thing in Philly was that the customers were saying yes.

We live in schizoid times, simultaneously bombarded by Randian/Friedmanite shills who insist that a price be put on everything, leaving no quarter for people with non-mercenary virtues, and by naive, simpleminded hipsters who carry on about how everything, no matter how valuable, should be free. These factions are equally insane, or perhaps equally evil. Actually, there’s no reason they couldn’t be both.

Since we were just on the subject of shit, I’d be remiss at this point not to mention the Emmaus brown bag lunch special, an exercise of free-market commerce which Milton Friedman is surely looking down on with a benevolent smirk. Be warned, though, it’s super gnar-gnar.

I learned of the Emmaus brown bag lunch special thirdhand from an employee of my uncle and aunt’s who had lived for a time with a girlfriend in Emmaus, PA. Either the girlfriend’s brother or a buddy of her brother’s (I forget which) was hard up for money on account of his routinely spending it all on cocaine. Then, one afternoon, while he was having a bowel movement at the Emmaus Burger King, he heard someone outside the stall making sniffing noises. When he emerged, a man standing in front of the stall door looked at him with a creepy earnestness and told him, “I like what you got.” Confused, the cokehead asked him what he meant. After repeating himself once, Sniffer stopped being cryptic and cut to the chase: he would pay the cokehead $20 a week if he stopped by the Burger King on Wednesdays at noon and shit into a paper bag; Sniffer would provide the bag, Cokehead would provide the goods, and no sexual services or other impositions would be requested of him. Just one hearty dump a week into a lunch sack and he could go home with a shiny new Jackson. Or use part of it in the restaurant to reload. He just couldn’t spoil his appetite on Wednesday mornings, because that was one meal that he had to prepare and serve, made to order.

Amazingly, Cokehead accepted the job offer. The next week, he brought a full rectum, Sniffer brought a brown paper bag, and the transaction was completed on terms mutually agreeable to both parties without government interference or regulation. The Health Department might not have approved, but the Austrian School of economics would have. Cokehead degraded himself in this fashion for something like eight weeks. It was his summer job.

And you thought prostitution was seedy.

Let’s leave aside the applied ethics of the sorry arrangements that pass for work in times of poverty, desperation, unchallenged bullying from management, and regulatory free-for-all: Jackass movies, Jerry Springer, the post-1985 meatpacking industry, Wal-Mart, you shit on my chest and then lick it off in order to pay your heating bill. All of these are worthy of consideration, and sometimes the newspapers do consider them, but not often. When the “alternative” press considers the last item, which it does disturbingly often, it misses the economic angle because shitting on strangers’ chests is the sort of thing that well-adjusted, unrepressed hedonists do for the fun of it, not for the money, kind of like college kids do when they work as unpaid secretaries or researchers for large corporations. If you go to the right college, you can get academic credit for either activity.

My subject here is free content. Here was something that Sniffer valued highly, and he was willing to pay another person for going to the trouble of providing it. Regardless of what else was wrong with Sniffer (a lot), one thing he wasn’t was a schnorrer. He didn’t expect Cokehead to provide him with free content. All he asked Cokehead to do was crap in the bag, not the bowl, and that was a twenty dollar job in his estimation. He didn’t expect Cokehead to write a few million lines of code and build a server farm, then let him use it for free. Sniffer didn’t bitch and moan about greedy dinosaurs who charge money for their feces in an age when the new paradigm compels giving them away because, dude, free shit is rad. Nobody should have to, like, pay for shit ’cause, dude, that’s, like, so 1990.

In other words, Sniffer recognized the value of work and wasn’t running a con. Neither is true of the technohipsters who keep telling the rest of us what to think and how to live, to our mumbling dissent at worst. Avoidance of work comes naturally, especially if that work is unpleasant or not particularly lucrative, but widespread laziness often leads to things like starvation, poverty and squalor.

That’s why functioning, stable societies encourage productive work as a virtue. They honor it and hold those who perform it in high esteem. Of course, there are often surly beats or hipsters on the margins, or looking in from without, who find it contemptibly square. These were the ones who got involved in things like colonial joint stock companies, where the goal was to rape the lands of savages for profit and not be some kind of scrupulous roundhat sourpuss. The Virginians of this ilk are the ones we Americans have to thank for race-based slavery. They weren’t as racist as their descendants, but obviously that kind of work was better suited to a negro in chains than to an English gentleman, and buying such savages from Dutch sailors was a much more gentlemanly pursuit than digging in a swamp all the fucking time. The Spaniards had a similar attitude towards the Dutch, because being a proud craftsman or merchant was unbearably boring and square if there was an outside chance of pillaging New World silver from heathens in the name of crown and church. Fuck the brede midenstand; only a loser would go through life with such an earnest uprightness instead of provoking resource wars or lining up like piglets at some courtly or ecclesiastic tit.

But a funny thing happened on the way to an all-bullshit economy: the economy started to choke on bullshit. Not having learned the Spanish lesson, the Dutch decided to drop the brede midenstand shtick, too, in favor of idiocy like tulip speculation. Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s why we call it New York. The brede midenstand’s values may be boring, but the alternatives are money sinks at the societal level because everyone’s too busy running confidence games to contribute any real wealth to the economy. Speculation, clerical featherbedding, courtly social climbing, resource colonization, rent-seeking: each one is great work if you can get it, but only as long as there are enough earnest, principled toilers and gullible marks to feed the useless eaters. When the working class, in the sense of everyone doing productive work, can no longer produce enough surplus to maintain the dead weight–well, balls. The loose hands of the English will be taking New Amsterdam this time, then, and all we can do is let them bruise us like they do their children.

Try explaining any of this to technohipsters. You might as well teach a rabbit calculus. Free content is king, man! The new paradigm says so, and expecting people to pay for stuff is, like, totally square and backwards, dated like the Lawrence Welk Champagne Music Makers and their orange-on-brown-on-green suits. Aw, come on, man, did you really have to delete the Arcade Fire downloads, throw the iPod in the trash, and put on an LP with the live version of “Winchester Cathedral?” And side two has Dick Dale singing “The Wichita Lineman?” God. Who the hell uses landlines anymore?

Here’s an idea. I have a new agricultural paradigm that will revolutionize the way we grow pineapples. It turns out that pineapples actually grow themselves, because they’ve reached such a level of awesomeness that other plants wither away in the mere presence of their awesome pineappleness.

What say you? Some kind of fraud? Psychotic? You’d better believe it. That’s UFC-heavyweight-wrestler-fucking-dropkicked-that-dumb-bitch-I-did psychotic. The thing is, business models in the tech world are no longer governed by observed truths about economics and markets. They’re governed by affirmations of cornucopian pineapply goodness. Yum.

Freeloading is now a virtue because paying for something that might be had for free has become a moral hazard, which it has become because the partisans of free stuff have declared it so. Kind of a tautology, yes, but we aren’t talking about the sharpest tools in the philosophical shed. These are intellectual simpletons, or perhaps savvy frauds, who have a financial interest in convincing the public to use their free services and an exceptional knack for diverting attention from the drawbacks of their services. To quote the Eagles out of context, every form of refuge has its price, and the prices for free content can be troubling; more on that below.

Free-content technohipsters are abetted not only by smooth-talking, coiffed blowhards on cable television but, sickeningly, by their moral and intellectual superiors in reputable print journalism, who turn evenhandedness and impartiality into reductiones ad absurdum:

“Richard Strange Johnson, a veteran Middle East reporter, former Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Tel Aviv and Cairo, and visiting professor of journalism at Ball State University, argues that bloggers and other amateur journalists have an appropriate role as sources for professional journalists but cannot replace their experience, expertise, versatility or contacts….According to Jimmy Dzhackmijov, the founder and CEO of fuckyourpaywall.com, a popular news website, Mr. Johnson’s position on these matters is ‘total fucking bullshit. Jesus Christ, what an idiot. Get with the program, dude.’ Mr. Dzhackmijov said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv that his website has a unique ability to aggregate stories from print newspapers and magazines, radio and television broadcasts, and eyewitness reports. ‘Believe me, the LA Times can’t do that shit,’ he said. Mr. Dzhackmijov insisted that, contrary to complaints from Mr. Johnson and other critics, he and his staff are adept at finding and cultivating contacts. ‘I’m currently working a scoop on the Iranian missile program that I got from a female Mossad agent,’ he said. ‘She’s talking to me on background, of course, but when we met at the club she told me that she was Mossad, and back at my apartment she showed me her ID card while she was taking her clothes off. Conventional journalists are too restricted by old-fashioned ethical worries to develop sources like her. She’s hot as shit, great in the sack, and a priceless source on Iranian nuclear proliferation.’ …Mr. Johnson, who has interviewed numerous Mossad officials, expressed skepticism about Mr. Dzhackmijov’s claims. ‘The Mossad thoroughly trains its agents to keep their personal and work lives separate,’ he said. ‘Agents don’t even tell their spouses about their missions, let alone strangers they met at dance clubs. They’ve been known to conduct “honeypot” operations using sex as a lure for high-profile targets like Mordechai Vanunu,’ Mr. Johnson said, referring to the Israeli nuclear scientist and defector who was captured in such an operation after a girlfriend lured him from Great Britain to Italy, ‘but they don’t carry their ID cards on operations like that. Those guys aren’t amateurs. This lady Dzhackmijov met at the club sounds like a prankster who likes to pull tricks on stupid Americans.’ …Mr. Dzhackmijov disputed the suggestion that he had been misled. Referring to Mr. Johnson, he said, ‘He’s lying and I’ll sue his ass.’ Other observers say that regardless of the merits and outcome of Mr. Dzhackmijov’s threatened defamation suit against Mr. Johnson, their dispute illustrates the dangers faced by print journalists in a time of competition from electronic media….Mr. Johnson said that he was ultimately pessimistic about the future of print journalism. ‘The fact that you’re even talking to that clown,’ he said, referring to Mr. Dzhackmijov, ‘suggests to me that our industry is totally fucked.'”

The sad truth is that papers of record, and especially their business sections, often earnestly print whatever self-interested rubbish they gleaned from one of their “analysts,” “industry observers,” or “business leaders.” Their editors, working closely with in-house attorneys, the AP Libel Manual close at hand, often redact honest opinions about schmucks and doofuses given by the adults in the room. Rarely will papers print quotations to the effect of, “look, it’s time for a rectification of names, here. That guy is an idiot.” My example in the previous paragraph is the sort of honesty that only the Onion will print. On the other hand, no one is forcing newspapers to present at face value the ravings of clowns and con artists; that’s their own fault, a self-inflicted wound endured in the name of objectivity. Fair and balanced aren’t just for Fox News anymore.

That’s why, on the one hand, some say that bloggers are limited in the scope of their reportage, but on the other hand, others argue that some guy sitting in his underwear in Mother’s basement and writing opinion pieces based on stuff he saw on CNN while also masturbating to online pornography is the journalistic equivalent of Dexter Filkins. Hey, it’s a busy world, and you can get a lot more done by multitasking.

Point, counterpoint. New articles in the Opposing Viewpoints series: “Gravity: physical law” vs. “Gravity: are you sure about that?” “Hanging: it’ll kill you” vs. “Some people survive C1-C2 vertebral fractures and prolonged strangulation.” “The Huns: not so hot on infrastructure” vs. “The Huns: finally, roads and aqueducts for Rome.” “Two plus two: probably four” vs. “Two plus two: whatever you want it to be.”

As it happens, I’m closer to the loser-in-his-undies model of citizen journalism than I am to the Dexter Filkins model of real journalism. I’d like to think that I’m making a valuable contribution to the belles lettres and to the analysis of our world (or worlds), and I’ve received some very positive feedback from readers, but in point of fact what I write in this blog are long-form screeds. I can’t tell you what tribal movers and shakers in the semigovernable parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan have to say about Arabs on beautiful horses, but Dexter Filkins can.

The problem with the new paradigm model of the unpaid citizen-journalist as sole or primary news reporter is that it’s totally naive. Say what you will about the mercenary motives of some journalists, or the notion that unpaid journalists do their work for the love of the craft rather than allowing crass considerations of money enter into the equation, or about the major news outlets being profoundly corrupt. Then answer this: how the fuck is it possible to get reporting on the likes of tribal politics along the AfPak border without paying for it? The average Pakistani emigrant has no contacts in the Tribal Areas because they’re ass-backwards places that the locals don’t escape. Foreign correspondents aren’t in it just for the money; if they were, they’d be attorneys or stock brokers instead; but at the same time they aren’t amenable to working for months on end in Waziristan for Burger King wages.

Now, let’s be idiotic and assume that there are people who will do the job for $7.25 an hour and a free shift meal, or for college credit. Next, let’s disentangle them from the confining embraces of their editors, publishers, and legal departments, so that they can be the flexible freelancer citizens that all journalists are supposed to be under the new paradigm. Under these circumstances, how the hell will they get their stories to an audience without being buried in an avalanche of the stinking garbage that fills most of WordPress’ blogs? How would anyone be able to find serious reports from the Tribal Areas in the midst of cookie recipes, diary banalities, and top ten lists of things not to say on a first date? As an amateur essayist who puts more than fifteen seconds’ thought into what I write, I get disgusted glancing at what’s offered by some of these clowns. Trying to get serious reporting from a dangerous part of the world through to an audience using such a platform would be a lost cause.

Plenty of bad things can be, and usually are, said about them, but newspapers have an invaluable role as gatekeepers for important reporting. They alert the public to important news items by conferring their imprimatur.

Unfortunately, newspapers also sometimes give their imprimatur to such things as Jayson Blair’s short fiction pieces and Judith Miller’s geopolitical fantasy novellas, giving new paradigm zealots ammunition in their war to crowdsource all news instead of relying on stodgy old throwbacks like editors in office buildings.

Sorry, you can’t crowdsource foreign reporting on the medieval parts of Pakistan. The only Westerners in town are the professionals; otherwise, we don’t get information from those parts because the locals aren’t part of our crowd. If we tried to crowdsource it, Northwest Pakistan would become a morass of unknown unknowns. Even Donald Rumsfeld would throw up his hands.

We bloggers stand on the shoulders of giants. Some bloggers realize this, but more than a few, aided and abetted by new paradigm dolts, instead carp about how much it costs to feed the giants, and about how the giants occasionally get wasted, losing their aim and their continence. Matt Drudge or some loon on WorldNetDaily complains about the Times publishing one of Jayson Blair’s stinkers, and the bitching is treated as real news rather than a case of Chelsea Handler chastising Lindsay Lohan for throwing up at a singles’ mixer.

Hey, mister, care for a slice?

We’ve established that it costs money to gather, report and publish the news. Or maybe we haven’t; this is, after all, a country where church leaders have overruled decades’ worth of epidemiological research on venereal diseases by making noise about those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, because God disapproves of sexual immorality and, quod est demonstrandum, condoms don’t work. Equally stupid beliefs about the economy are considered perfectly acceptable.

Never mind, in the three dimensions of the known universe, the ones that even street corner schizophrenics in Inglewood can be convinced to use as the dimensions governing the route of the Metro 40 bus to Union Station and approach paths to LAX, it takes money to run a newspaper, or at least a real one. The remaining question is what universe the hipsters who say otherwise are inhabiting (answer: not ours).

Next, let’s establish that it costs money to run blogs. This is a hard concept to convey to people whose reaction to a free service is to assume that it has no operating costs, but it’s the truth. Assuming that a blog service has all its coding and management done pro bono using open-source code, where will it get the free electricity to run its server farms? Answer: it won’t. It’ll pay for the electricity, just like any other customer. The difference is that it will pay through the nose because server farms use shitloads of electricity.

This cost is seemingly impossible to explain to most people for two reasons. First, it involves a cost that the customer never sees because it’s externalized onto the service provider. Second, it involves electricity, that magical stuff that just kind of comes out of the wall whenever we need it. I’m afraid that I can count on one hand the number of acquaintances with whom I’m able to have a conversation, as opposed to a pedantic instructional monologue, about where and how American electricity is produced. I often count myself lucky when I tell a true story about, say, California grid loads, LADWP’s behemoth plants in Delta, UT, or the BPA North-South Intertie, and don’t have to follow it up with a justification of why I know anything about the American electrical grid or an argument that I’m not really a freak. It stands to reason that a people so ignorant of the sources of their electricity as Americans are would believe in such things as hybrid cars that can be plugged directly into a windmill through a high-voltage outlet, or carbon offsets. If I wanted to, I could probably concoct equally crazy stories about the grid, although like Eric Cantor I have  trouble keeping a straight face when I tell fibs.

It’s hard to explain that something that’s just kinda there all the time has to be paid for, especially when it’s a thing that can now be had abundantly for no marginal cost at Starbucks, along with the cream and sugar. Here’s one way of explaining electricity: you get a bill for it at the end of the month, and if you don’t pay the bill, after a while you get a shutoff notice, and a while later the utility makes sure that it isn’t there anymore until you pay up. The same thing would happen to WordPress or Google for nonpayment of their utility bills. The reasons for this arrangement have less to do with the greed of privatized utilities (sometimes a factor in real life, always a factor for petulant leftists) than with the utilities having to pay for things like trainloads of coal and electricians to stand by at all hours, ready to handle one-inch gauge wiring at 2:00 am in a snowstorm. Verily, the Wichita Lineman wasn’t a football player. (Actually, he wasn’t an electrical lineman, either, but a throwback to the days when you couldn’t carry around a telephone in your pocket because it had to be connected to wires and shit. And when it was considered acceptable to wear a plaid dress shirt with an orange suit.)

Perhaps I’ve overstated popular ignorance about electricity. I say this because some tech companies, in particular Google, consider their electric bills a very touchy subject. Google considers its electricity usage a company secret, ostensibly because revealing it would enable competitors to reverse engineer its logarithms. Doing so would also enable journalists and laymen to quantify the fucking ginormous shitload of juice that Google needs in order not to sputter to a halt. This might have some unsettling implications for those who want to give the finger to the brick-and-mortar world and transfer everything into the cloud; say, the public might not be so enthusiastic about the project upon hearing that the city of Portland could be lit with the same wattage used to run Google’s server farm in The Dalles. These figures are guesses, but not such wild-ass guesses as they might be.

Having run my mouth about electricity, I should mention another major cost for the tech sector: payroll. Far be it from Google to get Jimmy Wales and a bunch of other idealists together in a warehouse in Dubuque to write Linux all night for free. Google is too cool for Fremont. Only the best for its staff: waterfront office space in Mountain View, a main campus that makes Embassy Suites and 24 Hour Fitness look like Cumberland piker outfits, and one of the largest mass transit systems in the Bay Area, all of these things free perks for a staff with a salary floor of $60k.

How do they pay for it all? Successfully hyping the hell out of a non-dividend paying stock for years on end raises some cash. The animal spirits like themselves some crazy talk about high tech; good juju make Dow rise long-time. But that’s just one dodgy fundraiser in a company replete with dodgy fundraisers and PR gimmicks. Google milks everyone but its official customers for cash, mainly in the forms of search engine pay-for-play and advertising slots. Did you send an e-mail about college to a friend or relative? Gmail would like you to know that the University of Phoenix is an accredited university offering bachelors and masters degrees in a variety of subjects. “I am the director of oncology nursing at the Mayo Clinic, and I am a Phoenix.” Google just might dabble in some data mining, and just like coal, that ore is for sale to the highest bidder. Fun times in a brave new world.

Google’s motto is “don’t be evil.” In that spirit, let’s consider some of the things that are not evil: helping the People’s Republic of China police up its dissidents; ostentatiously buying Priuses in the United States while using a straw buyer to purchase a used 767  in Australia for use as an executive jet; telling the public that the amount of electricity used by one’s company is none of their business because it’s a trade secret, but really because research about the tech sector for the purpose of enabling well-considered, public-spirited policymaking must always defer to Google’s interest in not getting pie on its face for sucking up the Grand Coulee Dam’s output like Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. All right, that was kind of gross and gratuitous, but y’all just read about that which is nasty in Emmaus, so it wasn’t exactly out of character or out of line. Semen-stained sidebars and all, you now know about Google’s novel and inventive ways of not being evil.

Facebook’s motto is “never trust anyone old enough to shave.” A friend summed it up brilliantly: “Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire before he was old enough to rent a car.” This friend, as it happens, is doubly a friend, in the real-world sense and in the virtual sense. We’re all friends now, and friends share secrets with one another. Right? Your friends at Facebook can be trusted with your secrets. So can the NSA, since it’s friends with Facebook. Good friends, and friends share secrets. 10-4, good buddy, that’s some quality MI5.

Another thing friends do is tell each other what to think and how to express it: “Barack Obama and 482 other friends posted about Thanksgiving.” Meanwhile, none of my friends posted about the mockery that Obama made of the pardon process over Thanksgiving, because that’s one turkey that isn’t served in the hologram.

Fuck it, the bastards aren’t pigeonholing me. I discovered over Thanksgiving that Facebook is at a loss to collate posts written in Pig Latin. Arkme Uckerbergze couldn’t tell my iendsfre that I’d ostedpe about Anksthe Ivingeday. If the dauphinless Boy King of All Friends couldn’t decipher that, there’s a good chance that the NSA couldn’t, either. They have a hard time finding people to translate Arabic, a real and relevant language, so if they’re solving Pig Latin puzzles you can be sure that they’re screwing the pooch.

Regardless, I enjoy making them choke on superfluous information, especially Internet links. In that spirit, here are three more fun tidbits for the NSA: 1) I hope y’all are reading this, because I just love government voyeurism by oddballs in the outer asteroid belts of suburban Maryland; 2)  Mark Zuckerberg has the same name in Pig Georgian; 3) durka durka Mohammed Atta jihad fatwa Waziristan bin Laden. That’s all for now.

That last paragraph contained an example of good old SEO. Search engine optimization is vital in a world of free content because there’s no alternative to making sure, by any means necessary, that one’s own turds are at the top of the pile; otherwise, they’ll be buried in the avalanche of shit. Tidbit 1 might possibly have attracted the NSA’s attention if anyone in Laurel is on the lookout for perverts, but it was a bit on the complicated side syntactically and it expressed a complex thought, so it was a bit lacking for SEO. Tidbit 2 was too banal to be of any consequence; anyone who investigates Pig Georgian needs to go to Inglewood and talk LAX approach paths with the local outpatients. Tidbit 3, on the other hand: bingo! As they say in Pig Hebrew, a language that I pretty much made up, although the Holy Rollers had a part in it, too, ish-kabish-kaBAM! God blesses those who bless Israel. The supercomputers monitoring this blog can eat their hearts out; not only did I string together a bunch of hot-button terrorism words, I also threw in some Israel Lobby hoodoo in English and in Gibberish.

What it takes to get noticed by the NSA and duly filed away deep in the bowels of its server farms is more or less what it takes to get noticed on Google or Facebook. The motives are different (mind-fucking domestic spook goons and getting page clicks for fun or profit, respectively), but the methodologies are similar. The goal isn’t to be coherent, relevant or readable so much as to throw extraneous words into the mix as a way of getting hits.

This tends to degrade the ethics and the quality of writing. The bullshit parts of my two previous paragraphs about Mohammed Atta and Pig Georgian were a cut above the effluent from the average SEO sewer. That’s the case partly because I’m a good writer, but also because I’m not trying to scam my audience or get its attention on false pretenses. Sadly, that’s about what writing has come to in the dot-com era. I keep an eye on Craigslist writing  jobs, and I find the ubiquity of SEO jobs demoralizing and disgusting. That sneaky bullshit artistry is all over the place, and meanwhile the business operations of serious newspapers are circling the drain, along with newsroom morale.

The prevalence of SEO help-wanted ads isn’t just a function of Craigslist being a magnet for shady characters. The bullshit artistry is concentrated in a few specific boards: writing jobs, other media jobs (a lot of dubious unpaid internships, often with vague promises of payment down the pike), personals (be my sugar daddy in a mutually beneficial relationship, have to like BBWs haha; i.e., prostitution with an insecure fat chick), and, maybe even worse than the personals, rideshare, which is a bunch of freeloaders trying to finagle $40-100 trips with offers of “munchies, tunes and good vibes.” (I didn’t leave that dude with “good vibes” conducive to “having a wonderful day” when I backed out of driving him from Arcata to Sac in exchange for a bag of trail mix and got myself a free Amtrak ticket to San Diego instead.) This sort of outright fraud and greed is pretty rare on most Craiglist job and housing boards, and in the latter fora most of it is the work of spambots, not the real people who advertise for SEO copywriters.

Alien Aunt has gotten in on the SEO craze. During Grandma’s death vigil she wrote a couple of freelance “customer reviews,” i.e., mercenary advertising copy, for a content farm. She described the bidding process for these jobs, which required her to sit by the computer for several hours straight and paid amounts equivalent to something like $4 an hour, as “a feeding frenzy.” As a lapsed member of the California Bar, Alien Aunt could easily do equally immoral but less frantic work for $25 an hour, but she has some kind of block on lawyering, and I’m not astrophysicist enough to really understand it.

There’s no telling what I might do for a paycheck if I became desperate enough, because frankly there’s no telling what anyone might do, but I honestly think I’d pass on SEO copywriting, especially under the conditions that Alien Aunt tolerated. Better to walk the streets looking for stray pennies. If push came to shove, I could fly a mean sign on Broadway. (At least two of the regulars at the Bayshore Mall share a sign that reads “will take verbal abuse for food.”)

And they might be hiring at the Burger King. By “they,” of course, I mean Sniffer. If somebody likes what you got, he should pay you for it. I don’t know what the market rate is for a turd in a lunch sack, and it’s disturbing to think that there might actually be an identifiable market rate, but in any event Sniffer’s flat rate is very attractive when converted into an hourly wage. It’s better than Priority Mail flat rates (although, like Priority Mail, if it fits, it ships), and hands down it beats the measly crumbs offered by SEO taskmasters for equally degrading work.

Come to think of it, the end product is about the same.