Dot Dot Dot: The smell of bastards and truth

The Rum Diary: The Daily Dot's programming summit goes to the movies, leaves with the smell of ink, bastards, and kittens. 


Owen Thomas


Published Nov 10, 2011   Updated Jun 3, 2021, 1:29 am CDT

The great thing about running a virtual newsroom is that we don’t have to smell our coworkers every day. That way, when we do get together, we kind of miss each other. When I heard our development team was having a product powwow in Austin, I insisted on crashing it.

Last night we went out to see The Rum Diary, the new Johnny Depp vehicle based on the early Hunter S. Thompson novel, in which a struggling novelist shows up at a washed-up newspaper in Puerto Rico and tries to expose corruption and injustice while drinking the entire island dry.

We left shouting grandiose declarations about gonzo journalism at each other: “It’s the smell of bastards. It’s also the smell of truth. I smell ink!”

Certain grumpy people give us a hard time for writing about, say, kittens. Now, true, one can take an affection for furry animals too far.

But I have a philosophy about what the Daily Dot writes about. It’s this: If you’re interested, we’re interested. To be curious about other people’s curiosity isn’t pandering. It’s this thing called empathy.

That empathy and curiosity lead us to find fascinating people like Alfra Martini, the head of an indie music label based in Brooklyn, who mashed up cute cats and classic rock—think “David Meowie” or “The Furry Underground”—to get a following she might not otherwise have gathered.

We cover kittens. We also cover corruption, the kind Hunter S. Thompson’s Paul Kemp would have been all over. If Kemp were a real journalist alive today, he’d probably be on Twitter covering a police raid on a brothel in Cambodia, like Nick Kristof.

Or he’d be in Nuevo Laredo, finding out who’s killing all the bloggers who dare speak out against the drug cartels.

Or maybe he’d be in lower Manhattan, where the weather’s turning cold fast. The Occupy Wall Street movement, which has camped out in lower Manhattan to protest the corrupting influence of money in American politics and the increasing inequality of our society, has raised money to put up some military-style tents to last the winter outdoors. They’re also thinking about taking the protest to Los Angeles.

I have a simpler proposal: Occupy the Web.

Wall Street isn’t on Wall Street anyway. Most of the banks are headquartered in Midtown these days. And their operations are distributed in data centers. It’s all faceless and automated.

Yes, the tents downtown are symbolic. But they don’t disrupt any business operations, except a farmer’s market.

Anonymous has shown that you can strike fear in people from the comfort of your parents’ heated basement.

Then again, maybe Anonymous isn’t so fearsome after all. November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, a tribal holiday for the hacker collective, came and went without much fuss. The one arguable success, Bank Transfer Day, resulted in a lot of people closing accounts with banks and depositing their cash with credit unions.

Which is great, except that the credit unions likely turned around and invested that cash in short-term securities managed by those same global banks. And guess what? Most checking-account customers are unprofitable or break-even at best for banks. So the participants in Operation Cash Run probably did Bank of America and company a favor by moving their cash out.

In The Rum Diary, Aaron Eckhart’s character, Hank Sanderson, a corrupt ex-journalist, tries to lure Paul Kemp into promoting a development scheme. “I need someone with the right set of eyes … for looking at that—an ocean of money,” he tells Kemp as he gestures to the Caribbean.

The global pool of money continues to wash around the world unabated.

All we can do is hope to pour a little ink into it.

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*First Published: Nov 10, 2011, 11:46 am CST