It's a Market!

Eyes are on Aliso Viejo company

1998 was the year e-commerce almost lived up to its hype. No budding industry could possibly meet the expectations heaped upon Internet business, of course, but the electronic buying frenzy that hit this holiday season ("It's Christmas! Consume!") made a lot of Internet pundits very happy, and on their behalf, I thank you.

Previously unknown companies like online auction house eBay and book retailer are now household names like Pottery Barn and Borders. Amazon's sales topped $1 billion this year; AOL members spent $1 billion online during the holiday season alone. And the aforementioned pundits are looking for this mass consumption to continue into 1999.

The Industry Standard, in fact, has singled out 10 companies and personalities it thinks will top the Internet-commerce heap this year. The Industry Standard, an Internet magazine covering e-commerce, avoided obvious choices like Bill "Bow Down Before Me" Gates and Netscape's Marc Andreesen. Instead, it focused on those it thought would be leading the charge to make the Internet a mass-market player. And among such august companies as America Online and L.L. Bean was an Aliso Viejo company called made a bit of a splash in November, when it announced its plans to become an "online superstore" at the Comdex convention in Las Vegas. The computer retailer has expanded its business to become an online media mall, offering everything from books and videos to games and other computer products, with a music "store" coming this month. The expansion brings it up against such online giants as Amazon and CDNow.

Its strategy is to compete on price. boasts it has the lowest prices on Earth, maintained by continually searching its competitors' sites and beating their offers. In Industry Standard, one retail analyst observed that Internet newbies care far more about pricing than current Internet consumers do. So if online commerce takes off this year, may be one to watch.

For the benefit of those who lack a television set but have managed to lay their hands on a computer with high-speed Internet access, the Los Angeles Times site (, among others, offered a Webcast of our new gov's inauguration on Jan. 4. (The video was supplied by CSPAN.)

Unfortunately, watching it was a bit like gazing at a giant, flesh-colored peanut in a business suit-perhaps my cable modem was not equal to the grandeur and majesty of the occasion. When I wasn't being distracted by the jerky gyrations of the peanut ("Starring Gray Davis as the Blob!"), I could think of only one thing: new medium, same old crap.

Some would argue that my negative attitude toward the inauguration was just a result of my generation's cynicism, and Lord knows society has given us enough to be cynical about. But compare, if you will, my apathy toward Davis' "society of high expectations" with my downright glee over the inauguration of Jesse "The Governor" Ventura. I loved the commercial in which his "political action figure" (constructed from G.I. Joe, Nightwing and Ken dolls) battled Evil Special Interest Man. I loved his plans (later scrapped) to rappel from a helicopter to the waiting crowds at his inauguration. Most of all, I loved the sense I got when listening to Ventura speak that this was an actual person, not an elaborate faÁade carefully constructed by 17 handlers and welded onto a cardboard cutout.

What we unlucky Californians got was more of the same, despite Davis' high-minded rhetoric about new beginnings. We got bland pronouncements about education, about coming together, about an end to the era of political divisiveness. The Democratic audience loved it; I had to put a cold cloth on my eyes to relieve the strain of excessive rolling.

The Internet was supposed to have brought about a change in politics, an unprecedented level of direct democracy. So it was really depressing to sit before my computer monitor, watching a politician mouth the same platitudes politicians have been mouthing since time immemorial-even more depressing than turning on the tube and watching the same platitudes on CSPAN.

Speaking of the failure of direct democracy, I've been feeling so disenfranchised lately I'm spending an inordinate amount of time swearing and kicking wastebaskets. I wrote letters, I sent e-mail, I made phone calls-and those bastards in the House still ignored me, 60 percent of the country, and the opinions of several hundred lawyers and constitutional scholars and impeached the president. I can't tell you how cranky this has made me.

But Netizens aren't giving up. There's still the trial in the Senate, after all, and although few people think Clinton's enemies (read: Republicans) can get the required two-thirds majority to overthrow the 1996 election, few thought in November that the House could get the votes to impeach. And a number of campaigns have sprung up online to urge the Senate to-unlike their colleagues in the House-ignore partisan politics and do the right thing.

I told you a few months ago that I'd alert you to issues in Congress on which you might want to express an opinion. Issues in Congress don't come any bigger than this. The following are sites opposed to Clinton's removal from office. Many urge censure as a sensible resolution to the crisis, and they could use your support. They'll make it easier for you to express your opinion to the Senate. And who knows? There's an off chance our elected representatives might actually pay attention to us this time.

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