“G-L-A-M-O-U-R-O-U-S”

fredcover.jpgBlogger and columnist James Lileks has cornered the market in digging up old display advertisements and other printed reminders of the best-forgotten. Readers in LA should not miss his parsing of the 1977 Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue, which used to be something only people in this city knew about.

Page after page after page of big hair, big zippers (or, as they call them "unzippers"), and copy written by a genius of sleaze and strategic capitalization.

DRAPE SHAPE Draped-and-shaped cowl neck adds fabulous FLATTERY to your bustline. Back-zipped TUNIC and pull-on flare PANTS in Chevacette Acetate knit.

CLING THING Cuddle your curves in a SUPER-SMOOTH clingy dress. Slight gather add extra emphasis. Slips on and OFF in an instant. Peach or mint polyester knit.

Most of the graphics are drawings, but almost every page has one photo of a woman with a humongous pile of hair on her head with one word next to it: "WIG!"

If you're my age, 1977 didn't seem like so long ago. But now I know for sure, it was a way way long time ago, because I don't remember meeting anyone in those clothes…maybe you had to be this guy.

(Thanks to Boing-Boing's Mark Frauenfelder.)

The Good Idea Shortage

Frances Fukuyama is getting great publicity for his new book, "America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy," in which he parts company with his former neocon allies. I don't have the book, nor the time to read it now, so I was glad the Wall Street Journal published an essay he co-wrote that would present the meat of his argument.

The piece, by Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle, is called, modestly, "A Better Idea." Given the morass Iraq has become, given the continued fears of a major terrorist attack, I'm not alone in hoping a better idea is out there somewhere, and that one of the 2008 presidential candidates finds it.

Bush was the post-9/11 firefighter. He reacted to the horrible tragedy of that morning, and his reactive stance has rippled through all his policy decisions — for better and for worse. He and his administration were in the battle, day-by-day, trying this, trying that. Everything was done with utmost urgency, with no pause for considered strategy. It was not the way to win a war.

If John Kerry'd had a better idea, he could've beaten Bush in 2004, and given us a fresh start on a more comprehensive strategy. To say the least, Kerry proved a terrible disappointment, both intellectually and as a political craftsman. So the fireman is still on duty. He deserves some credit. But we need a new approach.

So that's what was in the back of my mind in approaching Fukuyama. I didn't care that he was turning his back on former allies. That's a good press angle to sell books, but just frosting from my point of view.

Unfortunately, Fukuyama's got no game. I'll paste in a few quotes, but overall, his WSJ essay reminds me of a speech by Kerry: 'I'd pursue the same policies, but differently.' (That's not a quote — it's just my summary of every Kerry speech on the war and the battle against Islamo-fascism.) Here's what I mean:

That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now.

The essential problem with the administration's approach is that it conflates two issues that are separate. The first has to do with violent, antimodern radical Islamism (on display both in the reaction to the Danish cartoons and in the mosque bombing in Samarra); the second concerns the dysfunctionality of political and social institutions in much of the Arab world.

(snip)

What the administration sees as one problem ought to be seen as two. Radical Islamism needs to be dealt with separately from democracy promotion. This involves doing everything we can to ensure the political success of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also involves killing, capturing or otherwise neutralizing hard-core terrorists in many parts of the world, and keeping dangerous materials out of their hands, in what will look less like a war than like police and intelligence operations.

(snip)

To put it mildly, the Iraq war has not increased the prestige of the U.S. and American ideas like liberal democracy in the Middle East. The U.S. does not have abundant moral authority for promoting the rule of law, since the first thing people in the region associate with America today is prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. Many Americans have explained these events to themselves by saying that the abuse was an aberration that has been hyped by enemies of the U.S., and that in any event such things just happen during wartime. Perhaps; but the fact remains that Guantanamo is still open, and nobody except for a couple of lowly enlisted soldiers have been prosecuted for prisoner abuse by the Bush administration. Fair or not, American insistence on rule of law and human rights looks simply hypocritical.

(snip)

Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.

How empty. How lacking in new thought or vision. Much of what he recommends is basically already happening on a tactical level. The rest is just repurposed criticism of Bush's war plans–criticisms that Bush, among others, have long accepted.

Does this mean there really aren't any better ideas out there?

This is why the Democratic party is so frustrating. They are the opposition. But they've interpreted that role like the Monty Python character who advertises he'll give you an argument but just provides contradiction. "Gotcha" is not a philosophy. "Told ya so" is not a strategy. Liberals used to be seen as the intellectuals in public policy, but they've run dry at the worst possible time.

I have a fearful suspicion that 2008 will end up ratifying Bush's strategy instead of changing it, and that this will be true whichever party wins. There just might not be any better ideas out there.

“Only by letting more people in can we keep the bad guys out.”

I admit I'm attracted to the idea that anyone who wants to move to the United States should obey our laws, put in an immigration application and wait for their number to come up. That would be fairer and more orderly.

However, our slow-moving legal immigration system seems disconnected from the reality that our economy is robust, perpetually growing, and needs more workers. The American public seems to know this intuitively and has, therefore, tolerated decades of illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, but also from other countries. We hear about the supposedly rising tide of anger about illegal immigration, especially on talk radio, but we don't vote that way, not even in the border states where the impact of illegal immigration is most felt.

Issues associated with illegal immigration do cause political backlash. Twelve years ago, it was Proposition 187, which passed overwhelmingly, but was reversed by the courts. That proposition was impractical, but I understood the sentiment behind it as an attempt to achieve rough justice. Yes, immigrants are coming, and if they're coming here to work, fine. But if they're coming here for welfare, then that's not fine.

Prop 187 foolishly went beyond welfare. It wanted to keep illegal immigrants out of public hospitals and health clinics, and their kids out of public schools. On its face, this was not entirely unreasonable. The dollars to pay for these services are scarce. The school and public health systems were designed for the native population, and can't easily absorb hundreds of thousands of non-citizens without diluting the overall delivery of services to everyone.

But let's get real. Do we really want hundreds of thousands of our neighbors with no access to health services, and with their kids receiving no education? That's a decision with devastating consequences for society as a whole. Overcrowded schools and health facilities aren't acceptable either, but if you had to make a choice between two bad outcomes, it's better to muddle through with the system we have. And don't forget, illegal immigrants pay some taxes, including the property and sales taxes that local and state governments use for the public health and education systems.

September 11 created a new slant on the problem. We already knew that a certain proportion of criminals were slipping through the border via the great migration. Isn't it now likely that among their number are members of terrorist organizations?

That's the impetus behind the spate of lawmaking on the issue of illegal immigration, which has reopened the larger debate. My brother Seth Stodder, who was a high-ranking Homeland Security official and is now an attorney in Los Angeles, cowrote with Brian C. Goebel an article now online at the New Republic's website that zeroes in on the national security dimension of the issue. Their thesis: "Only by letting more people in can we keep the bad guys out."

Each year, more people seek to cross our land borders illegally than the Border Patrol, a component of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has the resources to apprehend. The Border Patrol apprehended a million illegal immigrants last year–but it is generally believed that another 300,000 evaded law enforcement officers and successfully entered the country.

The vast majority of these people are not security risks. Instead, they are economic migrants from impoverished regions of Latin America. But intermingled in this flood of economic migrants lurk dangers, including drug smugglers and potential terrorists. Indeed, the Border Patrol apprehends thousands of people each year from countries in South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia where Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda and its affiliates are active. Recent press reports suggest that Al Qaeda has started recruiting in Central America and has considered smuggling a weapon of mass destruction into the United States through Mexico.

Given the principal border security challenge facing the Border Patrol–identifying and apprehending a fairly small number of potential terrorists, drug smugglers, and criminals in the midst of well over a million people–Bush and moderates in both parties have correctly asserted that substantially reducing illegal crossings by economic migrants would improve our border security: With a reduced flood of economic migrants, the real dangers would stick out more prominently.

The best way to reduce the ranks of economic migrants crossing our borders illegally is to create a guest worker program.

The advocates of a guest worker program — including President Bush — are routinely condemned on talk radio as capitulating to illegal immigration advocates. But the logic of Seth and Brian's position is pretty strong. We're asking the Border Patrol to do two jobs: Protect the country from terrorists and organized crime, and enforce unrealistic immigration laws. The first job is clearly more important than the second, but the second job is making the first one near to impossible. The hard-line position would not make our country safer.

I hope Seth and Brian are given the chance to expound their views on the anti-immigrant talk radio programs and let their logic begin to dissolve the unreasoning anger out there. It would be a good idea to refocus the illegal immigration debate on what should be our most important objective — keeping our country safe from another 9/11.

The Mystery of Plagiarism

Whenever the topic of plagiarism rears its head in the media, I scratch my head. People write because they want to express themselves and gain recognition. Where's the psychic satisfaction in letting the world think someone else's words are yours? The potential for material gain provides little incentive. For intelligent people like writers, there are usually better choices available if their objective is to make money.

To steal language from someone else's movie review squib, as now-disgraced Washington Post blogger Ben Domenech admits to have done, is somewhat like a bank employee getting caught for embezzling pens. What could Domenech have gotten paid by National Review Online for those movie reviews? $200? Why bother? And it's not like the prose he ripped off was all that scintillating.

ben domenech.jpgAre plagiarists just too busy to do their own writing? I suppose that what motivates college term paper plagiarists. Too many classes, too much partying, oh hell I'll just buy a paper on the Internet. And maybe that was Domenech's excuse. He was a young man in a hurry, perhaps, and needed to see his name ubiquitiously in print. But this kid is 24. He barely remembers a time before e-mail. He should know how easy it is to put a complete sentence or paragraph in a search engine and find its match if one exists. He risked, and lost his reputation for nothing, committing a transgression so easily detected.

Domenech's apologists talk about his selflessness for the cause of conservatism. The blog from whence he came, RedState, initially defended him against the left-wingers who discovered his plagiarism, but then had to backtrack:

If you, as many have done, dedicate thousands of man-hours to scrutinizing of (Domenech's) life's work, you'll find two things: First, you'll find several instances of this behavior, some attributable to youth, and some not. Second, you'll find an amazingly talented writer, a man of principle, and an earnest young activist seeking not to advance himself — though advance he did — but the things he believed in.

Certainly it may seem strange today to describe him as a "man of principle." But those who know Ben — and all of us on the RS leadership team do — know that he is passionate in his beliefs. They also know that he is human. It was ignoring this humanity that led to our earlier posts about the situation. It is fitting then, that he chose “Augustine” as his nom de plume here at RedState – for who could serve as a better reminder of the full potential of fallibility and sin – and yet existing within that peril – real hope of forgiveness.

So let me get this straight. Domenech's copycat reviews of mediocre movies served the holy conservative cause because it allowed Domenech to gain greater fame, such that the Washington Post would sponsor his blog, and thereby bring the good word into the temple of the liberal media? Something like that. How oddly expedient, for a movement that regards itself as the house of principle.

(I guess the right-wing blogosphere does not believe the old media is dead or irrelevant. In their heart of hearts, they want to convert the Washington Post, not kill it. Certainly, even before Domenech's perfidy was exposed, there was uproar on the left about his blog, one that clearly exposed the left's primary foible — a titanic level of intolerance for differing viewpoints. Just ask Sen. Joe Lieberman, he of the Americans for Democratic Action liberal rating of between 85-95, what happens when you vary from the orthodoxy.)

A couple of notable historians have been caught for plagiarism, like Doris Kearns Goodwin. According to Atlantic Monthly, she has never appeared on PBS since she admitted lifting phrases from a Kennedy book for her own. Her plagiarism seems more like an accident. Biographers assemble their work over the course of years from thousands of three-by-five cards (or the digital equivalent) with bits and pieces of information on them along with bibliographic information. When writing the book in question, perhaps Goodwin expropriated the prose on the notecard, unaware that it wasn't her notes at all, but direct quotes. I accept her excuse, even if Jim Lehrer doesn't, especially because she now seems sincerely ashamed at the error.

I would feel differently if it turned out Goodwin did it on purpose. But it would also strike me as mysterious. She obviously loves history and the people she writes about. She's already enjoyed a high level of success. Everyone's bank account could be a little bigger, but I doubt the difference between a house in Tahiti and one in New Jersey came down to a copying a few paragraphs from a writer far more obscure than she.

My attitude toward plagiarism comes from my mother. That I'm a writer at all is due to her insistence that I never copy prose from the encyclopedia for my school assignments. I'm sure every other fourth-grader who had to write about salamanders or Gen. Lafayette took sentences straight from the Brittanica, but my mother wouldn't allow it. So I had to rephrase everything, but it had to be just as good as my source. I spent many hours trying to do this, and emerged from the experience as a writer.

Then, of couse, I went into a profession — PR — that not only condones plagiarism, but ofttimes insists on it. Once your client has settled on "key messages," you're supposed to insert them in all the copy that flows from them. In media training, you tell your clients to "bridge" back to those key messages during interviews, e.g. "That's not the real question, Katie. The real question is, how are we going to (insert key message here.)"

The mind-numbing repetition of the same handful of sentences is supposed to help the client's message to "break through." That's one of those PR magic spells I'm beginning to think has worn off. Nobody watches politicians on the news interview shows anymore, according to the ratings. And why? Because all they do is repeat themselves and they don't answer actual questions. Does repeating the same answer over and over again work if no one's listening? When I hear someone talk, I want to be surprised by the originality of their thoughts and the way they express them. A heavily media-trained interview subject is a guaranteed bore. When were you ever persuaded by a bore?

Whether you're a writer or a speaker, plagiarism is malpractice for writers and speakers. That goes equally for self-plagiarism and plagiarizing your own PR people.

The Hee Seop Choi in All of Us

Sometimes, I could identify with Hee Seop Choi.  Couldn’t you?  You try your best, you maintain a positive attitude, you experience some success, certainly on a par with your peers. But someone just doesn’t like you.

Choi.jpgFor the Dodger first baseman, it probably came down to the fact that he was the most visible symbol of a controversial 2004 trade made by former GM Paul DePodesta.  He got Choi and pitcher Brad Penny in a swap that included beloved (but overrated) Dodger catcher Paul LoDuca. 

That trade came to symbolize not only DePodesta, but the entire sabermetric (aka “Moneyball”) philosophy: No sentiment. No respect for a guy like Dukie who could hit in “clutch” situations (sabermetricians think “clutchiness” is a myth.)  Over-regard for a hitter like Choi whose eye for the strike zone resulted in many bases on balls.  Sabermetricians love bases on balls. Over-regard for “replacement level” players who didn’t cost much.  That was the key, for Choi defenders.  Was Choi great? No, but for what the Dodgers paid him, he more than earned it.

One guy who hated the LoDuca trade was former manager Jim Tracy.  He missed LoDuca so much, he took over his uniform number.  He took his despair and anger out on Choi, benching him as often as he could.  For example, when it became clear that Jason Phillips was an incompetent catcher, Tracy moved Phillips to first base, displacing Choi, who was a much better hitter and fielder.  Phillips was the kind of guy sentimentalists loved.  He played hard; poorly, but hard.  Choi was sort of happy go lucky.  He worked hard, but it didn’t show.  When he stood at the plate, working the count and often getting a walk, he appeared to sentimentalists to be unaggressive. 

Choi was a pretty decent power hitter. If he came up with men on base and the game on the line, Dodger fans loved to chant his metronymic name:  HEE SEOP CHOI!  HEE SEOP CHOI!  He had a kind of sunny charisma.  But the more fans cheered for him, the more determined Tracy was to stick him on the bench.

When Ned Colletti was hired to replace DePodesta, he quite apparently wanted to put his own stamp on the team. Of course, he wasn’t about to oust successful DePodesta acquisitions like Jeff Kent, Derek Lowe or J.D. Drew.  So it would have to be Choi.  With less than two weeks to go before Opening Day, the Dodgers today placed Choi on waivers.  The Boston Red Sox claimed him.  Choi has a fair chance of playing in Boston, because the Sox are starved for power.  Plus, the Sox GM, Theo Epstein, is the most successful sabermetric executive in the game.

There was a lot of affection for Choi on the great blog Dodger Thoughts, and many of its regular posters will continue to cheer him on.  There were also a few posters who didn’t get the love at all.  Choi’s departure promises to halt many bitter arguments that took place on that site and other Dodger blogs — but not for awhile, not til everyone gets last licks.

I think the affection for Choi comes from a place we all have inside us.  We want to please everyone, but we just can’t.  And sometimes our adversary wins.  It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s life, and life goes on.   Choi might be in a better place now — Fenway Park, late summer game against the hated Yankees, the crowd yelling HEE SEOP CHOI! HEE SEOP CHOI! And Choi, blasting it out of the park.  Or maybe walking.  Good enough.

Still Speaking Up for John Lennon

John Lennon.jpgPublicist and former local radio personality Elliot Mintz was moved to speak on behalf of his friend and former client John Lennon today, attacking two productions that seem to wallow in the same kinds of morbid fantasies about the singer that motivated his killer to murder him in the first place.

The pay-per-view outfit IN DEMAND has announced plans for a pay-per-view seance to contact Lennon, which will "show psychics travelling to sites of significance to the former Beatle, including the Dakota apartment building and a town in India where he went on a spiritual retreat. The show will culminate as psychics, colleagues and confidantes sit at a seance table for 30 minutes surrounded by infra-red cameras that can capture any 'presence' or spirit that enters the room."

Meanwhile, Peace Arch Entertainment Group is in production on a film called "Chapter 27," which is based on the life of Lennon's deranged murderer, Mark David Chapman, who is to be portrayed by Jared Leto. The film is due to be released next year.

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has issued no comment on the seance, so Mintz spoke for himself. From the BBC website:

"John Lennon was an amazing communicator of heart, mind and spirit," Mr Mintz said. "He still speaks to those who choose to listen to his recordings. That was the medium he chose to speak with us."

The programme was "another example of the misuse of John's affirmation of life as opposed to the preoccupation of his death", he said. "The proposed show strikes me as being tasteless, tacky and exploitative."

And from Reuters, this reaction to the Leto film:

"The producers of the film will be granting an assassin's dream. It will also send out a message to other disturbed people that there is a fast track to international fame," said Mintz….

Paul Sharrat, producer of the pay-per-view seance thinks what he's doing is okay because "Lennon was very interested in the spiritual world." The producer of such probing documentaries as "Unlocking Da Vinci's Code," and "The Secret KGB UFO Files," Sharrat had previously produced a lucrative pay-per-view seance to contact Princess Diana — which, alas, failed to find the doomed lady in the ether. But, Sharratt apparently figures, since he can get millions to pay for it, why not try again with John? He said he is "making a serious attempt to do something that many millions of people around the world think is possible."

Students, that last sentence is a good example of bad spin. How hard was it to notice that Sharrat didn't specifically include himself among the "millions?" So if you are a believer in talking to the dead, what Sharrat really did was insult all of you while plotting to take your money.

iDon’t Get It

The digital smackdown between France and Apple over a pending French law that would require the iTunes Music store to allow music downloads onto devices other than iPods is another reminder of a digital-age phenemenon that I don’t get.

What is the value proposition that causes iPod and iTunes to be the dominant portable music format?

If you buy an iPod, you can only get music from one place: iTunes. On iTunes, you can only listen to fragments of songs. If you want to hear the whole thing, you have to buy it, for 99 cents. At that point you own the song, just as if you’d bought a CD of one song for 99 cents. Which is great, if you’re sure you want to keep playing that song the rest of your life. You can burn it onto a CD. But you can’t put the song onto any other portable device–only an iPod.

There’s another alternative. You can become a subscriber to another online music store, such as Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music or Napster. You pay them a monthy fee. There are usually two pricing tiers — neither of them more than the price of a typical CD. The lower price allows you to stream almost anything they have, i.e. listen to the whole song as often as you want on your computer, or to burn it and keep it like iMusic does, for an additional fee of about 79-89 cents.

For the slightly higher price, you can also “subscribe” to tracks, which means you can store them on your computer to play even when you’re offline, and you can download them onto your portable device. Eventually, your “rights” to that song will expire if you don’t reconnect your device with the subscription service. And you can’t burn it onto a CD, unless you pay that extra fee.

Myriad portable devices can take downloads off these competing music services, from dozens of manufacturers. Microsoft has finagled its way into this picture with the “Plays for Sure” logo, which is actually helpful. When I got a Creative Zen for my birthday, I was able to give my Rio to my son, knowing that I could put subscription music onto his and mine from the same service.

That’s a very different world from the restrictive one that Apple has built.

Go back to the lower-tier price. If you have a laptop and can pick up wi-fi, the ability to stream music means you can set up a playlist of, say, 200 songs (any number really), plug the earphones into your computer and just listen while you work. I’ve done this many times. Sometimes I’m in the mood for Handel. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the Rolling Stones. Rhapsody lets its listeners create playlists, and sometimes I listen to one of those. One weird day, I even created a Bee Gees playlist. Not too bad, actually!

You can’t do that on iTunes, unless you’re happy with 200 30-second fragments.

johnny_cash.jpgI am not endorsing weird French laws. Mon Dieu, non. If Apple wants iTunes to only play on iPods, that’s their right.

But thanks to subscriptions and streaming, I’ve been able to discover, or re-discover, vast libraries of music I would’ve never paid to try. Not just the Bee Gees, but a long list of current rock bands, old jazz masters, and favorites who just had more music out there than I could have kept up with before.

Take Johnny Cash. Most everyone knows the great version of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” that Cash recorded with producer Rick Rubin a few years before he died. But Cash completed four CDs with Rubin, and more songs that didn’t fit into those CDs were released later. A great version of the Beatles’ “In My Life,” the country chestnut “Streets of Laredo,” and literally dozens of others. Who has the money to buy all of that? But now I’ve heard a lot of it. Recent box set surveys of Duke Ellington and the Band are now, almost in their entireties, on my MP3 player.

neko.jpgAnother example: I bypassed CDs by the New Pornographers many times, just because I didn’t like their name (still don’t.) But checking them out on Rhapsody has turned me into a huge fan of their expertly crafted pop-rock (imagine the Mamas and the Papas, backed by Led Zeppelin, singing songs by Brian Wilson). Listening to the New Pornographers turned me on to one of the band’s singers, Neko Case, who has grown from a Patsy Cline-like alt-country cowgirl into a brilliant, uncategorizable singer-songwriter. If you want to listen to her new album, “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” you could test-drive it on Rhapsody before deciding if you want to buy it. Or, if you’re a subscriber, you could put it on your MP3 player — as long as it’s not an iPod.

That’s what confuses me. iPod gives you fewer choices, but it’s far and away the standard, outselling everything else. When Donald Fagen released his new single “H Gang,” the press release said it was available for purchase on iTunes. And it was. But it was also available for streaming, downloading or purchase on Rhapsody and presumably other services, but that fact was not mentioned in the news releases. Is it supposed to be a secret?

This might be a PR problem. The benefits of subscription services have not been reduced to a soundbite. Napster, Yahoo! and Rhapsody are all competitors against each other as well as Apple. Apple is selling hardware as well as its online service, so its incentive to market heavily is greater.

To me, it’s a hiccup in the market, one I hope is corrected, because the subscription model opens doors for people to get exposed to new music in ways iTunes’ does not. And with the demise of commercial radio as a proselytizer of music, I would hate to see the subscription alternative fail.

Out With the Old, In With the New

In the coverage I saw about the Los Angeles’ new deal with BFI’s Sunshine Canyon and Councilman Greig Smith’s plan to guide the city to “zero waste,” in part through converting trash to energy, one word I missed was: LANCER. Am I the only person in LA who remembers LANCER?

When I joined Mayor Bradley’s office in 1986, the City Council was in the process of authorizing the project, a plant at 41st and Alameda that would burn trash at high temperatures and convert it into electricity. Bradley’s appointees to Public Works were championing the project, the late Councilman Gil Lindsey wanted it in his district, and it seemed as if the mayor was behind it, too. (Although, at a later point, he reminded me that he’d hadn’t taken a position on it yet. He was canny that way.)

When I got reassigned in early 1987 from his press office to the position of Senior Advisor for environmental policy, LANCER was one of the issues I had to figure out. The mayor was coming off a landslide defeat in his second try for governor, and some of George Deukmejian’s surrogates had made hay with the city’s leaky wastewater system spilling raw sewage into Santa Monica Bay. This not only hurt Bradley’s chances to rally the Democratic troops against the incumbent, but it also created an opening for Bradley to be challenged in 1989 from the left, by a candidate who would promise a more environmental administration. That candidate looked to be then-Councilman, now-Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

My new assignment led to a Charlie Brown moment. I was playing softball at Will Rogers Park with a group that included a bunch of local Democratic operatives and activists. I didn’t know all of them. When a friend introduced me as “the guy whose job is to make Tom Bradley look like a good environmentalist,” the team’s reaction was: Haaa-haaaa-haaaa-haaaa!

That can get a guy motivated. After the game, I went home and started reading EIRs. What is this environment thing? How does it work? And, I delved deeply into LANCER. The mainstream environmental groups were quiet about it. The Sierra Club, more influential locally then than now, was officially neutral. But one outlier group, Citizens for a Better Environment (now Communities for a Better Environment) and a then-new group, Concerned Citizens of South-Central Los Angeles, had gotten organized and were starting to raise the issue of how a trash-burning plant in South-Central would affect the health of nearby residents. They pointed out that no one was talking about building a plant like this in West LA or the Valley. Why should South-Central take anyone’s word that LANCER was safe if the rest of the city didn’t want it in their backyard?

Juanita Tate.jpgThe fight against LANCER was one of the first “environmental justice” campaigns. Concerned Citizens was an outstanding example of grassroots organizing. It was led by three of the most dynamic people I met during my City Hall years: Juanita Tate, and the Cannon sisters, Robin and Sheila. Juanita Tate passed away in July 2004, too young at 66, having developed Concerned Citizens into a powerful force not only for activism, but economic development. I loved meeting with Juanita. She was fierce but never angry, and she greeted everyone like a friend, even her foes. She reminded me of Tip O’Neill, except with longer fingernails.

It was so long ago, I can’t remember the precise sequence of events — the loud protests, the quiet meetings, the disasterous public hearings — but in the end, my conclusion was the Mayor should oppose LANCER and in its place call for a citywide recycling program. At that time, the only curbside recycling going on in LA was a pilot program in Pacific Palisades that seemed designed to prove only that recycling was expensive. Until Los Angeles was recycling as much as it could, I believed the public would halt every other waste disposal idea — whether it was waste-to-energy or new landfills. I also didn’t see how the city would be able to follow through on the plan of building a dozen waste-to-energy plants because of the cumulative air emissions. But building only one didn’t make sense, because its impact on trash diversion would be so minimal.

Bradley did not want to simply kill the LANCER project without announcing recycling as an alternative, so I needed to get the Bureau of Sanitation to agree that a citywide recycling program was feasible, or at least to agree not to shoot it down. At first they resisted, and tried to “educate” me out of citywide recycling. But to give credit where it’s due, after they realized recycling was their future, they embraced it, and over the next few years established the largest municipal curbside recycling program in the nation. It was Del Biagi, the bureau’s director, who said, “Why don’t we commit to recycling 50 percent of our waste?” And that became our goal. AB 939, the state law that mandated 50 percent recycling statewide, came later, its authors clearly empowered by Los Angeles’ ambitious target.

Things have moved quickly. Councilman’s Smith’s RENEW LA plan sets a goal of 100 percent recycling — zero waste. But it also talks about “harnessing the energy potential of ‘waste’ by utilizing new technology to convert the material directly into green fuel, gas and/or electricity.” Of course, that was the fine idea behind LANCER.

Sunshine Canyon.jpgDon’t get me wrong. That was then, and this is now. I’ve read over some of Councilman Smith’s plan and it is clearly about as comprehensive as one could hope for. Greig Smith got elected knowing the Sunshine Canyon landfill was his albatross, so he made himself an expert on all the recycling and reuse options out there. And he’s right on the money when he compares the costs of recycling and reuse with the anticipated future cost of the only other option — hauling the trash hundreds of miles away to distant mega-landfills via train or truck. However much waste the City can divert from that expensive, polluting parade, all to the good.

I don’t know anything about the state-of-the-art in waste-to-energy nowadays, but even in 1987, we were told that someday, this technology would come back. The fun will start when they try to decide on the first site.

Hands and Lungs

This flu, or cold, or whatever, is lingering, so my posting is probably going to be short & sweet & infrequent for a few more days.  (Short? Ha! you say.)

It’s too late to help me, but given all the publicity given to the threat of avian flu, this Family Flublog might help you.  Here’s the kind of advice you’ll find.

Children catch flu easily and are a potent source for infecting the whole community by bringing pandemic flu home to their families. A child coming down with pandemic flu will spread it for up to two days before he feels sick. What can schools do to minimize this risk?

CLEAN HANDS
Alcohol-based cleansers are quick and easy to use and better than soap and water for killing flu virus, given the way most people wash their hands. (Squirt a small pool of cleanser into one palm and continue rubbing it over both fronts and backs and between fingers until the hands are dry. Takes about thirty seconds.)

Each child should get a squirt of this cleanser each time she enters the class room. An easy way to do this is for the teacher to give each child a squirt as the line goes past her coming in each morning and coming back from recess and lunch.

This blog just started, but it already has a number of good, sensible posts.  It’s flu — and avian flu panic — prevention.

And I wonder why this blog isn’t being sponsored by a major health insurer, or the federal government? It’s a labor of love and, perhaps, self-promotion by a registered nurse and health care consultant named Mary B. Townsend.

(Hat tip to ScienceBlog, my new favorite site.)

Mighty, Mighty Stress

I wonder if talk-radio fans get embarassed when they hear who sponsors their favorite programs: Peddlers of marginal cures for obesity, baldness and tax problems. I assume there is some basis for their claims, however slight, but it is delightfully surreal to listen to hard-heads like Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt tout herbal cures that promise to build your brain or restore your eyesight without glasses. The most disquieting ad I’ve heard is for a product that will make your children taller. Please, parents are competitive enough already!

This digression leads into a startling fact I learned this morning via Boing-Boing: Severe stress can cause children to stop growing. The most famous case of psychogenic dwarfism is JM Barrie, author of “Peter Pan.” The site’s Cory Doctorow wants to draw your attention to a couple of “mind-opening” lectures by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford researcher and expert on the physiology of stress, now available via podcast. The links are here on Boing-Boing and on BrainConnection.com, which includes a short summary of Sapolsky’s lectures:

Sapolsky related a story about a boy from a very psychologically-abusive setting who was hospitalized in a New York hospital with zero growth hormone in his bloodstream. Over the next two months he developed a close relationship with the nurse at the hospital–undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever had–and soon, amazingly enough, the growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. The nurse then went on vacation and the levels dropped again, rising once more immediately after her return.

“Think about it,” Sapolsky said, commenting upon the story. “The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.” He added that while this standard textbook version of stressed dwarfism is rare, there is nevertheless “major league psychopathology” throughout society, retarding human growth.

“Major stress is the police and social workers breaking down the door of the apartment, finding the kids who have been locked in the closet for two months, the food slipped under the door. Total nightmare situations that turn out often in history. . . kids in war zones, kids in areas of civil strife.”

The problem with human beings, Saplosky says, is that unlike animals, we expose ourselves to sustained periods of stress — sometimes through undergoing a prolonged, horrific experience like war or abuse, sometimes because we anticipate, or remember stressful experiences…and sometimes because we choose stress as a lifestyle.

Stress is fundamental to our economy. We make heroes out of people whose work habits are unhealthy, and tell young employees to model themselves after stress addicts. Without asking the question directly, employers try to assess potential employees’ ability to handle stress. Job applicants understand this game, too. They know it won’t be helpful to their employment prospects if show too much curiosity about the company’s “work-life balance policies.” Better to say, “I’m used to working long hours,” or even “I don’t have a life.”

The only job interviews where prospects raise “work-life balance” occur when the prospect knows they have many competitors for their services. But even in cases where bidding is heavy, the potential employee’s perceived market value is usually associated more with their ability to carry a huge workload than their talents. “He’s a horse,” a boss will say admiringly. “She’s got such energy.”

The glorification of stress may never change, but the employer eventually pays a price, Sapolsky research suggests. Stressed-out workers slowly become stupider.

Until recently…it was commonly believed that if you lost brain cells they were lost forever. “You can make new neurons in your brain after all,” Sapolsky said, “and especially in the Hippocampus in response to things like learning and environmental stimulation. But stress will block the formation of new neurons.”

While the hippocampus does have the capacity to regenerate, it’s far from certain that this will occur, Sapolsky asserted. People who have endured horrible stress, such as Vietnam combat veterans and victims of prolonged childhood sexual abuse, are often fated to suffer permanent damage to the hippocampus, resulting in memory loss.

Depression, “what Sapolsky termed the common cold of psychopathology,” also attacked the hippocampus with stress hormones. Massive long-term depression, he said, was almost certain to cause permanent damage in the form of memory loss.

Companies that want to “invest in their employees” need to keep this in mind. Your best employees’ long hours might make them more profitable, but the brainpower-per-square-inch will decline unless you take some of the pressure off.

“What If…”

Here, from the Times of London’s Gerard Baker, a “what if” scenario to commemorate the third anniversary of the Iraq War:

In March 2003 Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, of the UN, secured a remarkable, last-minute deal that averted war and seemed to guarantee the disarmament of Iraq. “Saddam Hussein has finally consented to eliminate all his weapons of mass destruction,” they said, in a signing ceremony with the Iraqi leader.

Saddam, flanked by his two sons, Uday and Qusay, accepted the plaudits of the UN with pomp and grace. Beaming as he smiled at a hastily assembled crowd of French, German and Russian children, he said he had saved the world from the bloodlust of George Bush and Tony Blair with a magnanimous gesture of international friendship. There were approving murmurs of support in many Western capitals. In Oslo there was talk of a Nobel Peace prize.

The last sentence I quoted gives away Baker’s bias. Read the whole thing to see how it plays out. Baker believes that, as catastrophic as the war has proven to be, a far worse outcome has been averted, at least for now. I tend to agree. If you’re like most of my friends and family, most of you strongly disagree. But Baker’s looking at the war the way we all should, as a fork in the road leading to two very different futures. If the players three years ago had chosen a different course, where would the Islamist war stand? What would be happening in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia? Have we averted a more dangerous future, or created one?

If you want to answer this question, all I ask is: Be thoughtful, and be specific. Use your imagination. Follow the falling dominoes. Where do they lead?

Two Days in Orange County

My son is part of a high school theater festival at Fullerton College today and tomorrow, so we’re staying in a motel to avoid two additional trips on the 91. Fullerton has a cute downtown area that is entirely wi-fi: Paradise. But old habits die hard, so I’m working from a high-ceilinged Starbucks at the corner of Chapman and Harbor, at least until my wi-fi-enabled motel room is ready.

Eating breakfast at Denny’s, I perused the Orange County Register, which I used to like, but now seems less zesty. I remember it as more of a Mulligan stew — hard-right, Brylcreem’d editorials and op-eds, alongside sunbaked New Age lifestyle pieces. Today’s edition seemed bland. But maybe that’s because, over time, the hard right and New Age began to resemble one another and became dominant strands in our culture — two sides of the same individualistic mentality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Here are a few things I would not have known if I hadn’t read this morning’s Register. (By the way, registration is required to see these stories online, but it’s free):

Music critic Ben Wener freely admits that he lusted after Robert Hilburn’s position as LA Times music critic. From reading today’s column, I think he could have been a good choice. Lamenting that moving to a new condo prevented him from covering the hot new band of the moment, the Arctic Monkeys, Wener shows he’s one newspaperman who sees the writing on the wall:

Here’s the thing, though: I really don’t think you care.

See, we’ve seen these demographic reports lately that say the majority of folks reading doorstep rags are typically over 40, largely uninterested in music writing and still consumed with all the usual baby boomer heroes El Hilburn has been discussing for decades.

Which is why recently I’ve written about 10 inches on the most exciting band right now – and four times as much on Kool & the Gang. I don’t get e-mail when I babble enthusiastically about fresh talent; I get dozens when I write an essay praising the Kinks.

So why should I care that I missed Arctic Monkeys, right? I shouldn’t let it eat at me, lead me to think I’m falling down on the job. If I believe surveys, you have no interest anyway, and I’d only be banging my head against a wall to convince you to listen.

On a more serious note: The SEC’s head of contingency planning thinks the U.S. stock markets should operate normally, even if an avian flu pandemic breaks out. From a Reuters story that appeared in the Register’s print edition:

“We really believe that with proper planning, the markets can stay open, even with the most severe pandemic,” said Alton Harvey, who heads contingency planning for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We think this is doable,” he told a conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Because we have to — we have no choice — we will work it out. The markets will trade.”

(snip)

Stephen Malphrus of the Federal Reserve Board agreed. The Federal Open Market Committee, which sets U.S. economic and interest rate policy can meet by telephone if necessary, he said. “The financial sector is generally out in the lead,” Malphrus said. “I would think it would be prudent to have a first draft of a plan … certainly by this summer.”

Phew! Good to know that 100 million severely ill and dying people won’t disrupt bankers’ meeting schedules!

Back to lotus-land: Did you know there was a spa glut?

When Maureen Vipperman took over The Spa at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort in Dana Point last year, she quickly added unique treatments to ensure the spa stood out among the 150 in Orange County.

She introduced the Thai-Su, a blend of Eastern-inspired Thai and Shiatsu massages. She added a microdermabrasion facial. She also started accepting discounted spa gift certificates sold at Costco.

“Right now, the fact that there are so many of us to choose from is a big challenge,” Vipperman said. “Trying to distinguish ourselves from the rest has been an ongoing task for many resort/destination spas.”

Other spas around the country are rolling out frequent-flier-style loyalty programs, calling former visitors at home to check on their weight-loss progress and offering discounts to guests who rebook their next visit while they’re still at the spa.

The efforts come on the heels of the industry’s swift growth, which has left consumers with a dizzying array of spa options.

Lastly, back to a more serious topic. At yesterday’s huge Conference on Aging in Anaheim, one expert delivered a plea for understanding on behalf of a heretofore stigmatized group: “Grumpy Old Men.”

“What I’m really talking about are men who are drinking. Men who are isolated. Men at senior centers who are aggressive, who are really angry, who are cynical, who are sarcastic,” said Patrick Arbore, an educator and an expert in suicide and grief-related services for the elderly.

“That’s how they’re masking their pain.”

(snip)

(H)e cited some grim statistics: Men are more than four times more likely to commit suicide than women, and the suicide rate for men 85 and older is more than six times higher than the general population.

What’s wrong, according to Arbore, is that men have been conditioned that it’s not manly to express any emotion except anger, or to cry or feel vulnerable, or to accept and express feelings of helplessness, frailty, sensitivity and empathy.

“It’s not that men are bad or dangerous creatures, but some men are so closed off from their real selves, they’re acting out,” he said.

So, if you see Bob Dole coming down the sidewalk, don’t cross the street to avoid him. Bob Dole needs a hug!

Blame it on the Asteroid

Another good post on Science Blog, which I just stumbled across today: A report on a controversial new theory to account for global warming.

On June 30, 1908, there was a cataclysmic event in Siberia that is still not completely understood. According to one eyewitness, a Shanyagir tribesman:

We had a hut by the river with my brother Chekaren. We were sleeping. Suddenly we both woke up at the same time. Somebody shoved us. We heard whistling and felt strong wind. Chekaren said, “can you hear all those birds flying overhead?” We were both in the hut, couldn’t see what was going on outside. Suddenly, I got shoved again, this time so hard I fell into the fire. I got scared. Chekaren got scared too. We started crying out for father, mother, brother, but no one answered. There was noise beyond the hut, we could hear trees falling down. Me and Chekaren got out of our sleeping bags and wanted to run out, but then the thunder struck. This was the first thunder. The Earth began to move and rock, wind hit our hut and knocked it over. My body was pushed down by sticks, but my head was in the clear. Then I saw a wonder: trees were falling, the branches were on fire, it became mighty bright, how can I say this, as if there was a second sun, my eyes were hurting, I even closed them. It was like what the Russians call lightning. And immediately there was a loud thunderclap. This was the second thunder. The morning was sunny, there were no clouds, our Sun was shining brightly as usual, and suddenly there came a second one!

Me and Chekaren had some difficulty getting under from the remains of our hut. Then we saw that above, but in a different place, there was another flash, and loud thunder came. This was the third thunder strike. Wind came again, knocked us off our feet, struck against the fallen trees.

We looked at the fallen trees, watched the tree tops get snapped off, watched the fires. Suddenly Chekaren yelled “Look up” and pointed with his hand. I looked there and saw another flash, and it made another thunder. But the noise was less than before. This was the fourth strike, like normal thunder.

Now I remember well there was also one more thunder strike, but it was small, and somewhere far away, where the Sun goes to sleep.

tunguska.jpgThis was the “Tunguska event.” The scientific near-consensus is that it was caused by the airburst from a meteorite, comet or asteroid hurtling toward Earth, exploding 6-10 kilometers above the surface. It destroyed, among other things, 60 million trees. But it left no crater, which indicates the object exploded into flaming dust before impact, releasing 10-15 megatons of energy into the air. The skies above Europe glowed at night for several evenings afterward — bright enough to read by.

Vladimir Shaidurov from the Russian Academy of Science now believes this cosmic event might be responsible for the pronounced climate change that began early in the 20th Century– global warming.  According to Shaidurov’s theory, “changes in the amount of ice crystals at high altitude could damage the layer of thin, high altitude clouds found in the mesosphere that reduce the amount of warming solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface.” This effect could be the result of the Tunguska event. From Science Blog’s post:

(T)he most potent greenhouse gas is water, explains Shaidurov and it is this compound on which his study focuses. According to Shaidurov, only small changes in the atmospheric levels of water, in the form of vapour and ice crystals can contribute to significant changes to the temperature of the earth’s surface, which far outweighs the effects of carbon dioxide and other gases released by human activities. Just a rise of 1% of water vapour could raise the global average temperature of Earth’s surface more then 4 degrees Celsius.

(snip)

Water vapour levels are even less within our control than CO2 levels. According to Andrew E. Dessler of the Texas A & M University writing in ‘The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change’, “Human activities do not control all greenhouse gases, however. The most powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water vapour, he says, “Human activities have little direct control over its atmospheric abundance, which is controlled instead by the worldwide balance between evaporation from the oceans and precipitation.”

As such, Shaidurov has concluded that only an enormous natural phenomenon, such as an asteroid or comet impact or airburst, could seriously disturb atmospheric water levels, destroying persistent so-called ‘silver’, or noctilucent, clouds composed of ice crystals in the high altitude mesosphere (50 to 85km). The Tunguska Event was just such an event, and coincides with the period of time during which global temperatures appear to have been rising the most steadily – the twentieth century.

Shaidurov’s theory, of course, flies in the face of the more widespread view that the Industrial Revolution of the past 200 years, during which human society unleashed tons of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, has triggered the global warming that most scientists believe is underway. Shaidurov says, however, that global temperatures were trending downward prior to a period between 1906-09, a few years before the explosion.

It seems strange to me that an event of this magnitude is mostly known only to science fiction and “X Files” fans. Undoubtedly, this is due purely to the remoteness of this part of the world. If such a thing had landed in Ohio, or Paris, our society would be very different. The memory of such a trauma would reverberate across generations.

Whether or not Tunguska can be blamed for global warming, the event demonstrates that nothing can change history faster than a random chunk of debris from outer space.

I’ll leave to another day the policy impact of Shaidurov’s theory. If this is the cause of global warming, can it be reversed? Will the earth’s upper atmosphere “right” itself, given time? Will Kyoto-type programs help? Geological history certainly suggests that the 5,000 years or so of Earth’s history during which mankind established civilizations and evolved technology has been a period of atypically good weather. Is our luck about to run out? Can our technology help us adjust to what might be an inevitably transformed environment?

More Cayenne Smoothies, Anyone?

I make a mean smoothie, in more ways than one. It has all the requisite ingredients to make it delicious — strawberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries, blackberries, whatever I have handy (usually frozen). Some whey protein powder and a natural organic fiber. Some juice, some almond milk, some yogurt, maybe a little honey.

But then I add two ingredients that cause most sane people to run the other way: Spirulina and cayenne powder.

Spirulina people get, conceptually. It’s a “superfood,” laden with vitamins, protein, amino acids and many other things. But it’s green, it’s made out of seaweed and some people would just rather not have it.

But cayenne? Is this some hair-shirt type of thing?

I started adding cayenne because a nutritionist who practiced briefly at a wonderful Yoga massage place I visit in Borrego Springs (Devas Day Spa) told me I could address a health problem I had a couple years ago by drinking a gallon of water laced with honey, apple vinegar and cayenne pepper every day. I followed that regimen for about two days until I realized that no one has time to go to the bathroom that often. But she did manage to convince me cayenne was a good thing for circulation. And now that I’m used to it, I rather like the combination of fruity-sweet and spicy-hot. Maybe it distracts me from the spirulina.

And now, some validation, in this post from the Science Blog:

Capsaicin, the stuff that turns up the heat in jalapeños, not only causes the tongue to burn, it also drives prostate cancer cells to kill themselves, according to studies published in the March 15 issue of Cancer Research.

According to a team of researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in collaboration with colleagues from UCLA, the pepper component caused human prostate cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death or apoptosis.

Capsaicin induced approximately 80 percent of prostate cancer cells growing in mice to follow the molecular pathways leading to apoptosis. Prostate cancer tumors treated with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of tumors in non-treated mice.

“Capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells in culture,” said Sören Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., visiting scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA School of Medicine. “It also dramatically slowed the development of prostate tumors formed by those human cell lines grown in mouse models.”

Lehmann estimated that the dose of pepper extract fed orally to the mice was equivalent to giving 400 milligrams of capsaicin three times a week to a 200 pound man, roughly equivalent to between three and eight fresh habañera peppers – depending on the pepper’s capsaicin content. Habañeras are the highest rated pepper for capsaicin content according to the Scoville heat index. Habañero peppers, which are native to the Yucatan, typically contain up to 300,000 Scoville units. The more popular Jalapeño variety from Oaxaca, Mexico, and the southwest United States, contains 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units.

Cayenne pepper is another good source of capsaicin, less than the habanero, but more than the jalapeno. If I need more, I guess I could throw in some habaneros….

Post-Knight-Ridder Selloff Trauma

Jeff Jarvis’ invaluable Buzz Machine posts a revealing debate, sort of, between himself and an anonymous journalist who calls himself, er, “journalist.” 

It started yesterday with a post about the sale of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain to the McClatchy family, and the McClatchy family’s subsequent announcement that it would turn around and sell most of the biggest papers in the chain, including the San Jose Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Jarvis said the underlying message of the transaction was this:

What the (news) industry needs now is tough, strategic management that drives the news business away from its dependence on paper to a very different future in any media. You have to shrink to grow.  

Newspaper industry analysts believe the former Knight-Ridder papers McClatchy plans to sell have virtually no growth potential, however profitable they might be now. When these papers are sold again, significant cutbacks will be the result.  Jarvis suggested that other “big, one-size-fits-all media companies” will suffer the same fate because “they are saddled with big costs while smaller, nimbler, more effective, targeted, and efficient competitors eat at them.”

“Journalist” was enraged at what he discerned to be Jarvis’ “internet evangelism.” His full comment must be read, but the essence of his argument was:

If you want to make a killing, sell pet rocks. The business of informing society should not be merely a cash cow for the greedy.

Today, in a lengthy response that also demands a full reading, Jarvis begins this way:

(S)omeone calling herself or himself “journalist” left a long comment that perfectly encapsulates the kinds of arguments I hear from some newsroom residents who quake with fear at the new world outside their doors and try desperately to protect their old world inside.

Jarvis is fair to this writer, but demolishes his pretentious sense of entitlement nonetheless. “Journalist” believes moving papers online will result in a sort of feudal society in which the few who are computer-literate rule over the losers in the digital divide. To which Jarvis replies:

My library has the internet for free. Soon Philadelphia — whose Knight Ridder papers are among those doomed to resale and uncertain futures — will have inexpensive universal broadband.

So I don’t buy your argument anymore…. Your argument says we should hold back progress to wait until the last person is on the rocketship: ‘If we can’t all afford to go to the moon, then no one should go.’ That attitude will get you precisely nowhere.

I love newspapers too, and don’t want to see them go. But if their final line of defense are self-satisfied scribes who are too refined, or too scared, to compete for our attention, then it might be time to pack it in. 

“Journalist” doesn’t have a strategy for newspapers to rebound. He’s given up on trying to attract readers by offering a better product. Instead, he suggests there is no room for improvement — so now it’s up to the public to subsidize them.  That’s not advocacy; that’s fatalism. “Journalist” needs to make way for a more vigorous breed of reporters who are interested in informing, rather than condemning, their audience.

Proselytizing for Fun and Profit

rob zombie.jpgIf you want to read a succinct case study of successful Word of Mouth marketing/PR campaigns, the Los Angeles Times has it for you today. Charles Duhigg profiles the eight-year old, Silver Lake-based firm M80 that charges its entertainment clients healthy fees to find the “superfans” of entertainers like Rob Zombie or TV shows like “Highlander” and then get them to make superfans of others they encounter, especially on the Internet.

The fans don’t get paid. You can’t fake their kind of passion and you can’t buy it. Do the superfans feel used? Not really. They’re fans. My son will be eternally grateful to the superfans M80 unleashed on behalf of the satirical cartoon “Family Guy.” Deployed to promote the DVD, their activism forced Fox to order new episodes of the show.

But that’s not all the superfans get out of the experience, according to the Times:

Who are M80’s superfans? Kathleen Mayo of Austin, Texas, discovered the company when she was surfing the Internet to confirm rumors that one of her favorite television shows, the sci-fi epic “Highlander,” was about to come out on DVD.

Mayo, 32, had spent much of her life feeling socially uncomfortable. In high school, she said, “maybe 10 people out of 3,600 even knew my name. I was used to being ignored.”

But through M80, she discovered a community of other “Highlander” fans who were eager to teach her how to be outgoing enough to approach strangers online.

“M80 gave me a reason to put myself out there,” said Mayo, who estimated that she spent as many as 10 hours a week volunteering. “M80 team members taught me how to start a conversation. It’s been so important in helping me come out of my shell.”

You can check out M80’s “Online Team” site for yourself. They’re recruiting fans for eight or nine different entertainment properties, from a WWII show called “Over There,” to DVDs of chestnuts like “Hill Street Blues” and the movie “9 to 5,” to a singer named Rocco Deluca, “recommended if you like: Jeff Buckley, Ben Harper, Travis.”  You can even become a member if you want to unleash your inner superfan…or overcome social anxiety disorder.

Score One for the Flu

Spirulina.jpgI think it’s the spirulina. Organic spirulina from Hawaii, in powder form, purchased from Whole Foods. I mix it into fruit smoothies that I drink 3-4 times a week. Spirulina has immensely strengthened my immune system, or so I believe. And that’s why I never get sick any more. My wife, my son, everyone around me can be sick, but not me, thanks to my hero, the Mighty Spirulina.

‘Til now. I got it. Throat sore, feverish, overall exhaustion, chest congestion. The flu.

I still recommend spirulina. I’ll still mix it into my smoothies. But I’ll never look at it quite the same way again.

On the Record

Corporate Blog Specialist (which sounds like a space commander’s rank on Star Trek) B.L. Ochman reminds you, me and everyone who writes a blog or comments on a blog that everything we say here is, potentially, fair game for journalists to quote — including things you posted but later changed.

Dead and edited posts can survive indefinitely as cached content on search engines until the search engine removes them. That’s how errors sometimes become factoids on the Web — even after you’ve corrected them on your site, the old, mistaken version might still find its way into another blog, and eventually a news story.

One especially obnoxious way for that to happen, Ochman warns, is through a “stealth inteview,” in which a “lazy” or time-constrained reporter or blogger will copy-paste something you wrote on a website, and present it as if you said it in answer to their probing questions. In fact, they didn’t take the time to track you down with any questions at all. Instead, they typed your name into a search engine and…

Online, for all the world to see, will be every post you ever made to a blog, forum, discussion group or mail list; every mention of your name on Websites, newsletters and blogs anywhere on the Internet; articles you have written or been mentioned or featured in; and if they are properly search engine optimized: all the press releases you have issued.

Unless you’re closely monitoring what’s being said about you and your company, you may never even know you’ve been included in a story via a Stealth Interview. Whether that encounter hurts you or helps you has a lot to do with whether you know how not to come across like a jerk.

If you said something brilliant or something wonderful was said about you, you’re in great shape. If you ever wrote an insipid or nasty comment in a chat room, responded less than perfectly to an interviewer’s question in a story that was printed, posted or streamed online it won’t be a secret.

It’s perfectly reasonable for a reporter to quote something written online. It’s all on the record. However, given the wealth of statements that reside forever on the web and the myriad contexts in which they were made, I believe it should become standard practice for reporters to tell readers precisely where their quotes came from. If the subject said something to you, you can say, “In an interview with me…” If they posted it as a comment on a blog in 2002, you must say, “Four years ago, commenting on a web post concerning XYZ, he said….”

It’s surprising to me that this would even be an issue. A reporter who covered a speech by the president wouldn’t think of presenting quotes from the speech as if they’d been said in an interview, would they?  Or 10-year-old quotes as if they were stated yesterday?  Of course not — I hope.  And aren’t reporters upset, supposedly, that bloggers who got PR talking points from Wal-Mart via Edelman didn’t always cite the PR agency as their source?

What goes for bloggers should be go equally for reporters.  For those of you who might be a reporter’s target, however, be forewarned. This obvious mandate to disclose context is not an ethic all reporters follow.

LAX’s New Constituency: Empowered by Blogs

Since the City of Los Angeles started working on the LAX Master Plan in the early 1990s, the constituencies to whom the decision-makers paid attention to were: The airlines, the communities surrounding LAX who were concerned about traffic and noise, and the labor unions whose members would obtain high-paying jobs to perform the massive construction job.

Given the two stakeholders favoring the upgrade and possible expansion were motivated by the prospect of pecuniary gain (although the airlines were conflicted, because they were also on the hook for paying for it), and the constituency who opposed it could credibly portray themselves as victims, the paradigm of “the people against the powerful” got attached to this issue, and still is.

I was part of the PR campaign for the LAX Master Plan for three years, from 1995-8. I and others tried to figure out how to get the real stakeholders to weigh in — the millions of Angelenos who use the airport every year. The point of upgrading LAX was, after all, to make the increasingly overcrowded airport more efficient, convenient and safer.

But there were limits on what a city-funded campaign could legally do. We could educate the public about the environmental review process, but we could not advocate for a particular solution without increasing the city’s vulnerability to lawsuits attacking the whole EIR process. Some labor leaders joined with a few business-community advocates to try to create an independent, non-profit advocacy group, but there was not enough interest in it to get a visible campaign funded. We had a well-attended, widely covered event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce that seemed to galvanize the business community, but in the end, other issues mattered to them more, and they didn’t relish taking on the project’s foes. (This was about when I learned that the organized “business community” was not the same thing as the business sector, which generally was too busy with its own matters to participate in groups.)

And so, over the past decade, through the administrations of mayors Riordan and Hahn, the dance between the Los Angeles World Airports department and the surrounding communities has continued to a standoff. Two mayors have gotten elected in part by attacking the LAX Master Plan and promising a new plan. Two mayors have left office with their preferred plans left for dead.

The chimerical “regional approach,” in which airline traffic that wants access to LAX could be reassigned to other Southern California airports confuses things further because it injects an element of unreality in the debate. It takes a very complicated problem and makes it sounds simple. The Meanwhile, LAX just keeps getting older, more crowded, and less safe.

Our new mayor is poised to tackle the problem again. But while the roles are now played by different actors, it has been hard for me to see what’s going to make this go-round any more successful.

Until I read The Advice Goddess. That’s right, Amy Alkon, the LA-based syndicated columnist who also writes a blog. Here’s what the Goddess had to say about LAX:

I’m sitting in the Westin Hotel at the Northwest Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport. I flew in for the weekend to be with my boyfriend, who’s in town for his work — but I’d fly to Detroit just to stay at this hotel and never leave the airport.

The new Northwest terminal here is great — airy, with high ceilings, and filled with light, with cool stores, and giant TV screens playing CNN while you’re waiting for your flight. Contrast that with LAX, where I waited for my flight in a dark, smelly, cave-like gate area, littered with candy wrappers and newspapers, with too few of the dismal brown vinyl seats to accomodate all the passengers. Ellis Island with wings!

In Detroit, there are lots of places to sit throughout the airport — in all the places it would seem like a person might want to sit down. After a recent flight to LAX, I was nauseated and needed to sit down, but there was not a bench to be seen in baggage claim. I was forced to pile my stuff on the floor and lean on it while my boyfriend waited for my bags. Again dismal and totally inhospitable. And LA’s supposed to be a vacation spot?

Oh yeah, and in Detroit there’s Wifi available throughout the terminal. I got off my plane in the morning, opened my computer, logged into my T-Mobile account, posted three blog items, and toddled off to baggage claim. Zilcho at LAX, although there are a few uncomfortable, usually-broken connect-to-the Internet phones here and there.

I don’t have time to go to a bunch of meetings, and Detroit does a lot of stuff stupidly, but the new terminal here is just great — and worth copying inch for inch, as much as possible.

This is exactly the kind of thing we never heard at the public hearings I attended in the mid-1990s. It is the kind of perspective the local newspapers and other media never presents. The case for upgrading LAX was always made by airport officials and the FAA, as if they somehow were the beneficiaries. The presentations were dry and relied mostly on numbers and trend charts. Counterposed with angry homeowners armed with anecdotes about sleep-deprivation and ruined birthday parties, it was no contest, and no wonder that elected officials always lined up against whatever the reigning Master Plan idea was at the time.

The fact is, LAX needs to be fixed because it has become a civic embarassment from the perspective of every Angeleno who travels. Here’s one of the comments Amy got to her post:

My biggest complaint about LAX (aside from the crappy and seat-deficient waiting areas) is how long it takes to get checked luggage. On a return trip from Denver last month, we waited almost an hour for our luggage! Compare that to JFK (an airport that certainly has it’s share of problems), where every single time my luggage is circling the carousel when I get there.

Not to say flyers are callous about the homeowners who have to hear the jets fly over them. But common sense says this problem can be dealt with through compromise, so long as neither side gets too greedy. Common sense also says there is no connection between jet noise and the issues that bug travelers. It’s not a win-lose situation.

Alkon’s thoughts were initially conveyed to Westchester/Venice-area Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who, she says, asked for input from constituents. I can’t find this request on his councilmanic website, but I’ll take Amy’s word for it. If you want to write the councilman, his e-mail address is councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org. Rosendahl, of course, campaigned for his council seat on a promise to find a “regional solution.” I wish him good luck with that, but I hope he will be honest about the fact that it won’t be easy to do and will take decades; and acknowledge that changes to LAX must be allowed to proceed while the regional solution is negotiated.

What I find most exciting about reading Alkon’s writings is that it demonstrates how blogs can potentially change a political dynamic that his been stuck in the mud for too long. LA bloggers should all write about LAX. Moreover, the problems at LAX are one good reason to start your own blog. In the near future, smart politicians will search for blogs originating from their districts, or covering issues they are associated with, to discern public opinion, instead of relying on “spokesmen” for special interests. If enough people blog about LAX’s problems, I suspect the political dynamics of this issue will change.

In politics and PR, there is an expression — the “bigger megaphone.” The elected officials, the business organizations, media personalities, and well-organized groups — they had the bigger megaphone, so they had a disproportionate effect on the debate on any issue. Maybe they still have the bigger megaphone, but the unorganized who don’t have access to the media or their names on a group’s letterhead — now you have a voice, too.

Dave Barry on “the mutant version of news that is evolving online”

barry, dave.jpgOn CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this morning, former Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry was questioned about a recent comment that “Newspapers are Dead.” From the transcript of the interview by host Howard Kurtz:

BARRY: …I think about my son, who is 25, very smart, likes to think of himself as well-informed. Neither he nor anybody that he knows, as far as I can tell, reads a newspaper. He might call me up sometimes and ask me if there was something in the newspaper that I should tell him about, but that’s a widespread — I mean, I’m not the first person to observe that. And…

KURTZ: Is that because he is reading news online, or is he just tuned out of news altogether?

BARRY: I think it’s a combination. I used to say they were reading the news online, and I think they still sort of are, but they read this kind of mutant version of news that is evolving online where there’s the traditional news sources like “The Washington Post,” but there’s also blogs and there’s also email and there’s also who knows what. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

I just think newspapers — and again, I’m not the first to observe this — have to sort of accept the fact that it’s not so much the news that people don’t want, it’s the paper that’s getting harder and harder to be — you know, to include in people’s lives. Especially younger people.

KURTZ: Is that because newspapers, in an age of caution and political correctness and all of that have gotten boring?

BARRY: Yes. That is part of the reason.

I mean, I really believe that if I were to try to start my career now, writing essentially the same kind of just sort of weird column I wrote, it would be much more difficult for me to be accepted because I think editors, because of the shrinking readership and because of the limited news hole (ph) now, are much more cautious about what they’re willing to put in there, and they’re competing against media that are not cautious, that are — that like to be edgy, and we know who wins that fight usually.

So I think that’s — that’s one reason. But I also think that people kind of — including people my age — are spoil(ed) by the Internet. We like the idea that we can affect it, that it’s not just the — you know, the all-powerful news medium telling us what’s true and what’s not, and that’s that. And maybe we can write a letter to the editor, and maybe three weeks later they’ll print it.

Now people don’t accept that. They like to know, well, what is your source, and what other sources are there, and who disagrees with you? And they like to be able to put something on the Internet themselves if they find a flaw. And obviously we get lots of nut balls doing that, but there’s lots of really smart people doing that too.

(snip)

KURTZ: But that’s fascinating to me that you feel that if you were starting out today with the same column, you would have trouble, you know, getting a foothold in the business.

What about these podcasts? Your wife, you mentioned, Miami Herald sportswriter. And she recently covered the Olympics, and I understand her editors asked her to do podcasts.

What was your reaction to that?

BARRY: I thought that was pretty stupid. I mean, you know, it’s like, the newspaper business is kind of grabbing at everything now. For a while they didn’t even know what a blog was. Then they didn’t want any part of them.

Now they want everybody to have a blog. So now they’ve heard about podcasts, and they suddenly think everybody should be doing those. Or at least some people do. And it’s nuts to — in the case of my wife.

Here she is, she’s going over to cover the Olympics. They want her to be at the speed-skating venue and record something that, you know, can appear on the Internet as an — as an audio file about an event that’s on television.

You know, it seems like a little bit — we’ll get it all sorted out. I’m not — you know, I think there’s probably a place for podcasts. I just don’t think, you know, essentially reading a news story into a — into some kind of recording device is the answer.

Nothing terribly unfamiliar, but interesting coming from one of the most successful newspaper writers of our time. Worth pondering in light of Reuters’ CEO Tom Glocer’s recent comments about bringing the blogosphere into the mainstream news media.  If Glocer’s words are taken to mean, as Barry says, “essentially reading a news story into … some kind of recording device,” that sounds like a dead end.

Must… Avoid… Sopranos… Spoilers…*UPDATED for 2007

*Update, 3/7/07.  I’ve noticed this year-old post is getting a lot of traffic lately.  I’m sorry. This was about the first half of the new season.  I still won’t spoil it in case you are waiting to watch it on DVD, but for the rest of you…hey, how about that, whoo, imagine that, mm-mm-mm.

The thing I can’t figure out about The Sopranos is, how much of what happens is foreshadowing of the ultimate end of the story, and how much of it is just stuff that happens in episodic TV?  I think of the Sopranos as like a novel, unfolding chapter by chapter until a climatic end.  But what if it isn’t?  What if it’s just a show, like “Bewitched,” where, other than the characters getting older and paunchier, there is no final resolution. 

Those castaways never got rescued from “Gilligan’s Island,” after all. (At least not during the series’ run.) There’s no guarantee Tony will end up in witness protection, dead or in prison.  It might just … end.  How would you feel if that happened?

Here is the original post:  

Tony Soprano.jpgThis is probably a good weekend to avoid too much random Internet surfing if you’re a Sopranos fan. Hundreds of TV critics got copies of a DVD with the new season’s first four episodes and, as a result, hints are being left all over the place about some big thing that’s supposed to happen during Sunday night’s premiere.

I don’t know what’s odder; someone who would post the secret and then label it “spoiler alert,” or someone who can’t resist the temptation to find out. I’m certainly not in the first category, and for the next 48 hours I must try to avoid fitting into the second.

Because so many people use TiVo, even if you’re not a TV critic, you should be careful not to disclose twists. My brother Seth and I are both fans of “24,” where, on Monday, a beloved character met a horrific fate. I wanted to get Seth’s reaction, but luckily I didn’t assume he’d seen it and wrote him a somewhat vague e-mail.

He probably still hasn’t seen it, so for his sake anyway, I will say no more.

Eagle Like Me

Bush with Eagle.JPGBack in 2002, before he soured on George W. Bush and the Iraq war, uberblogger Andrew Sullivan coined the term “eagles” to describe “a new group of people out there who are socially liberal but also foreign policy realists, especially among those who have been awakened to political engagement by September 11.”

For some reason I thought of that now-forgotten political taxonomy when my brother Mark sent me this photo he took this morning of the president.

Mark is on the board of the National Newspaper Association, who Bush addressed today. I looked up the transcript and found in this exchange a revealing stream-of-consciousness look at how 9/11 and everything after has affected Bush’s mind:

Q I’m from Aurora, Colorado. In our town a teacher was suspended for remarks critical of your State of the Union message, made the talk shows, et cetera — compared you to Hitler and — actually, I’ve heard the tape and he didn’t, he said, “Hitler-esque,” but it’s not –

THE PRESIDENT: He’s not the only one. (Laughter.)

Q And it’s not the content that my question is about. My question is about your sense of the free speech right in the classroom or in public to criticize you without being considered unpatriotic.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think people should be allowed to criticize me all they want, and they do. (Laughter.) Now what are you all laughing at over there? (Laughter.) Don’t cheer him on. (Laughter.)

Look, there are some certain basic freedoms that we’ve got to protect. The freedom of people to express themselves must be protected. The freedom of people to be able to worship freely. That freedom is valuable. I tell people all the time, you’re equally American if you’re a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. You’re equally American if you believe in an Almighty or don’t believe in an Almighty. That’s a sacred freedom.

The right for people to express themselves in the public square is a freedom. Obviously, there’s limitations. If, for example, someone is inciting violence, or the destruction of property, or public — causing somebody harm. But the idea of being able to express yourself is a sacred part of our society. And that’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. And that’s important for Americans to understand.

We’re in an ideological struggle. And one way for people to connect the ideological struggle with reality is to think about what life was like for people under the rule of the Taliban. If you didn’t agree with their view of religion, you were punished. If you tried to send your little girl to school, you were punished. These people have a backward view. I don’t believe — I believe religion is peaceful. I believe people who have religion in their heart are peaceful people. And I believe these people have subverted a great religion to accomplish a political end.

So thank you for bringing that up; I appreciate it. People say to me, my buddies in Texas, how do you handle all this stuff? After a while, you get used to it. (Laughter.) But you have to believe in what you’re doing, see. You have to believe in certain principles and beliefs. And you can’t let the public opinion polls and focus groups, one, cause you to abandon what you believe and become the reason for making decisions.

People who talk in public all day for a living are prey to dumb sentences like “you have to believe in certain principles and beliefs,” so no fair picking on him for that. But I do think it’s curious that he feels that we’re in an “ideological struggle” with the Taliban. The notion of ideological struggle is a Cold War construct that I don’t think fits the current situation.

To be sure, fanatical beliefs drive the Taliban, Al Queda and the other jihadist forces. But unlike the Communists, I don’t think the Islamists are about offering anyone a choice. Ideology is what it sounds like — a system based on ideas, ideas sprung from the heads of people with a vision of a better society, here on earth. That’s not for the Islamists. If it could be proven that a Koran-based global system would lead to mass poverty and death, they would not flinch from it. It’s God’s way. The Islamists don’t expect to win any elections or any PR battles. What they seek is not consent but the power to impose their beliefs on the world. They don’t promise fairness, justice or prosperity. Those are wordly concerns, irrelevant to the jealous God they conceive as calling all of us to heaven.

The Islamists will always be a minority of extremists; and I don’t think they expect things to be different until they gain the power they seek. The issue we face is whether the Islamists’ extreme tactics of intimidation and terror, and their willingness to die for their cause, can lead them to victory.

The Soviet Union and its proxies wanted power, but they wanted to enjoy the fruits of power, and weren’t interested in dying to achieve their ends. Far from it. Their ideology had no heaven. The Islamist movement’s members are willing to die, to kill innocents, to kidnap women and children and use them to barter for concessions, and they are willing to threaten these extreme tactics against what we would consider minor provocations.

When that’s the nature of your enemy, it is inevitable that some will want to compromise with or concede to them. Cartoons that mock the Prophet might symbolize expression of free speech, but if you thought your family might be killed by a lunatic if you published them in your paper, you probably wouldn’t do it. The Islamists are counting on being able to trigger a million little decisions like this so they can incrementally capture power they couldn’t have earned any other way.

Some of the Bush Administration’s responses to this threat can be problematic and off-the-mark. In search of greater security, they’ve clearly overshot in many areas. I’m looking forward to the election of 2008, quite frankly, because that will be the first real post-9/11 election, where the different candidates and parties can be judged on the soundness of their strategies to deal with a mestastisizing global crisis. Bush and his crew clearly have been improvising for the past five years, while the Democrats have displayed a petulance and political opportunism that seems far beneath what a great party should display at a time like this. I’ll be glad when this period in our politics is finally over.

Mark told me that after the speech, there was a rope line where he was able to stop the president and ask about his Administration’s mania for secrecy. Mark told the president that the problem with throwing a blanket of secrecy over government decisions removes accountability. Bush seemed taken aback by this thoughts. “Why, I’m all for accountability,” he protested. “Okay, but how can we be sure, if you keep everything a secret?” Mark replied.

Meanwhile, I’m sure these two were taking careful notes….McClellan and Rove.JPG

Here’s one more picture Mark took that I liked:Bush at podium.JPG

The Wal-Mart Blog Controversy

The New York Timesstory about Wal-Mart’s PR firm, Edelman, sending e-mails to pro-Wal-Mart bloggers should have portrayed the campaign tactic as a predictable, incremental evolution in corporate media outreach, instead of the scandal that some suggest it is, or the great innovation others claim it to be. I’m late on this. Many, many bloggers who focus on media and PR have already commented, some praising Edelman and Wal-Mart, and some condemning them.

With an extra day to think about it, a few things jumped out at me. The Times says:

Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.

Yet, the point of many of Edelman’s senior account supervisor Marshall Manson’s e-mails to blogger Rob Port at SayAnything.com is that the mainstream media has given Wal-Mart exactly the kind of coverage they want.  Manson links to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News, the Charleston Daily Mail, the Wall Street Journal and widely-syndicated columnist George Will — a range of media outlets that all ran pro-Wal-Mart, anti-union commentary. It would’ve been more accurate for the Times to report that Wal-Mart’s opponents in organized labor are under assault.

Also, I didn’t see any “exclusive nuggets of news” in anything Manson sent; mostly links to already-published materials that could easily be found via Google.  Oh, and the invitation to tour Wal-Mart’s headquarters. Did that ever happen?

It’s exactly the kind of stuff a company like Wal-Mart, in the midst of legislative battles and in need of issue management, would have sent to activists, community leaders and sympathetic officials in the pre-blog era. Only now, some activists have blogs. What’s the big deal?

I don’t see how anyone’s mind is being changed by this campaign. Say Anything and the other bloggers with whom Manson corresponded are self-styled conservative, free-marketeers. It’s part of their creed that companies shouldn’t be forced by the government to provide health benefits, nor should they be forced to help unions organize their employees. They didn’t just start thinking like this because some PR guy wrote them an e-mail. This is what they already believe as a matter of principle. Wal-Mart’s case happens to fit that paradigm..

Manson took note of these conservative bloggers, and supplied them — with their permission — some more facts and quotes that he thought might help them make their case. For all the e-mails Manson sent — it’s a bit smothering — these bloggers didn’t react by becoming obsessive Wal-Mart posters. These bloggers have a sense of their audience, just like newspaper editors do. This was a good issue, but there were hotter issues. Which, I’m sure, the folks at Edelman expected, since reporters have been telling PR people the same thing for 100 years: “It’s a good story all right, but I’m not sure we want to do it right now.”

The Wal-Mart foes’ reaction to the Times’ scoop was rather Pavlovian. From WakeUpWalMart.com‘s campaign director Paul Blank:

“In an effort to salvage its declining image, Wal-Mart is now using conservative bloggers to promote its right wing agenda. Borrowing a page from Karl Rove’s playbook, Wal-Mart’s public relations team is trying to create a false sense of support for a flawed business model which is hurting families.

The truth is the American people deserve more from Wal-Mart than manufactured rhetoric and false notions of support. The American people will not tolerate deception. For example, there is no such group ‘Working Families for Wal-Mart.’ The group is a front, comprised of several paid consultants and business associates and staffed by Wal-Mart’s own public relations firm.

These dirty campaign tricks didn’t work for big tobacco and they won’t work for Wal-Mart…. “

If Paul Blank’s nose is a little longer today than it was yesterday, don’t be surprised. “Working Families for Wal-Mart” and “Wake Up Wal-Mart” are mirror images of one another. Two fake grassroots campaigns trying to convince elected officials that they’ve got the masses on their side. His pretend outrage at the dastardly tactics of Wal-Mart will not deter his campaign from using the exact same tactics — probably on the same day he issued his pronunciamento.

In fact, organized labor has been way, way ahead of corporate America in its use of the Internet to organize and educate its supporters. The first time I ran into a union-funded “astroturf” campaign, which appeared to be about one issue but was in fact meant to leverage an organizing campaign, was 1995. This union’s use of the Web was highly sophisticated and effective for its time; and labor has continued to do impressive things. I’m frankly surprised it took corporate America this long to pick up on labor’s tactics.

Richard Edelman (who I should disclose I used to work for) is a smart, forward-looking thinker. He uses his blog to define the PR industry’s continued relevance in the new communications era — what he has dubbed the Me2 Revolution:

The traditional approach to corporate communications envisages a controlled process of scripted messages delivered by the chief executive, first to investors, then to other opinion-formers, and only later to the mass audiences of employees and consumers. In the past five years, this pyramid-of influence model has been gradually supplanted by a peer-to-peer, horizontal discussion among multiple stakeholders. The employee is the new credible source for information about a company, giving insight from the front lines. The consumer has become a co-creator, demanding transparency on decisions from sourcing to new-product positioning.

(snip)

How can companies embrace this future of empowered stakeholders? Speak from the inside out, telling your employees and customers what is happening so they can spread the word for you. Be transparent, revealing what you know when you know it while committing to updating as you learn more. Be willing to yield control of the message in favor of a rich dialogue, in which you learn by listening. Recognize the importance of repetition of the story in multiple venues, because nobody believes something he or she hears or sees for the first time. Embrace new technologies, from employee blogs to podcasts, because audiences are becoming ever more segmented. Co-create a brand by taking on an issue that makes sense for your business, such as GE’s Ecomagination campaign where green is truly green.

Edelman’s vision is coherent and potentially inspiring. But sometimes clients get in the way of great PR campaigns.

A Wal-Mart campaign that relied on employees telling their stories via voluntary, regionalized, uncensored group blogs would be gripping reading, something legislators could not ignore. Whatever it might lose by a few employees saying politically incorrect things, it would gain back in authenticity. In all its fights with labor, Wal-Mart’s message has been, in essence: Our employees like things the way they are.

There is one sure way to prove that: Let the employees say it themselves. Risky, sure, but if they pulled it off, the union-sponsored campaigns would crumble.

The Blogosphere Pushes the Media to Ponder Change

may2005_glocer_portrait.jpgTom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, published an op-ed in the Financial Times yesterday that represents another educated guess, this time from a traditional news content provider, of what the future holds.

Last year, Glocer’s crystal ball told him the media needs to expect its consumers want to be their own editors of multiple streams of content–news “my way.” Now, Glocer says, the pace of change has accelerated. We don’t just want to read the news we want to read. We want to create our own content, using the mainstream media’s content as one element:

(W)e have seen an explosion of creativity. Conservative estimates suggest 80,000 new blogging sites are launched every week. David Miliband will soon be the first British cabinet minister to have his own blog site.

But it is not just bloggers – it is citizen journalists armed with their 1.3 megapixel camera phones, people “mashing” together music and images to create new music videos, kids making their own movies and posting them on sites such as Stupidvideos.com or MySpace.com. In fact, Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of MySpace.com, one of the most popular of the online forums, is probably the best indication yet that home-made content has made it to the boardroom decision-makers.

What can the mainstream media add to this outburst of creativity? Glocer suggests three things:

  • “(M)edia companies need to be ‘seeders of clouds.’ To have access to high-value new content, we need to attract a community around us. To achieve that we have to produce high-quality content ourselves, then display it and let people interact with it. If you attract an audience to your content and build a brand, people will want to join your community. This is as true for traditional “letters to the editor” as for MySpace.com.”
  • “(W)e need to be ‘the provider of tools.’ This means promoting open standards and interoperability, which will allow a diverse set of consumer-creators to combine disparate types of content.”
  • “(W)e must improve on our skills as the ‘filter and editor.’ Media have always had these functions. The world will always need editing: consumers place value in others making decisions about what is good and what is not.”

He’s on the right track, but I have concerns about each of these suggestions.

True, if every news story and opinion piece on (the example I’ll use throughout) the LA Times‘ website was open to comments, you might get some engaging discussions going. But there are good and bad online communities. I’m thinking of one site that covers LA politics whose reader comments are heavily weighted toward anonymous accusations and rumor-mongering. Some bloggers are also pseudonymous, but their “brand” must be accountable or they will lose audience. Not so with commenters, who can freely hit-and-run. I’ve heard of comment boards where “trolls” assume two different fake identities and argue with each other, just to whip everyone else into a frenzy. That gets boring. So, if Glocer wants media outlets to create a community around them, community members need to accept some level of accountability.

A better idea might be to open the doors to citizen journalists (CJ’s) who would take responsibility for what they write under their own names. Adding a corps of CJ’s to the Times‘ website who would file their own reports as well as commenting on the staff’s work could give their site significantly greater depth and reach. How well does the Times even pretend to cover the Inland Empire, Orange County or the South Bay? CJ’s could fill in the many gaps in the Times‘ coverage. How well do Times’ reporters understand the industries they cover? I got particularly exercised a few weeks ago about an LAX story that betrayed little knowledge of the airline industry. This town is full of aviation, aerospace and defense specialists. Wouldn’t one of them make a great CJ?

As for having the media outlets become “providers of tools,” my question would be, what value do you add? WordPress lets me blog here for free, and they make it easy. If I want to post a photo, I can, or I can insert a link to pictures on Flickr. I haven’t messed with video, but if I did, I could put up my content on Youtube.com, and point you toward it. Within a year or two, I bet WordPress or its competitors will incorporate the ability to download or link to video directly into their templates.

To be sure, the state-of-the-art will change. Perhaps the media can run ahead of the curve to find new and better tools that aren’t already available. But if you owned stock in the Tribune Co., would you feel comfortable if the Times invested money in developing or picking the next generation of tools? Maybe.

The “filter and editor” role that Glocer suggests throws up a yellow flag to me. It’s precisely because so many intelligent people no longer trust the media to be a fair, comprehensive or accurate “filter and editor” that political blogs get so many hits. (For a good example, read the item “Cherry Picking” from this column).

I’m not entirely happy about this. The perception of an unfair media has right wingers reading only right wing sites that apply a right wing filter. Likewise, the left-wing sites. Their most loyal readers live in ideological bubbles now. Will these readers suddenly start trusting the LA Times to tell them, “these blogs are good, those blogs are bad?” It’s analogous to criticism of government industrial policy. Government is not qualified to pick winners and losers among competing technologies. Newspapers might be qualified to pick winners and losers among blogs, but they aren’t trusted with that role.

wheel on fire.jpgThe fact is, the blogosphere doesn’t need any favors from the mainstream media, except to get out of the way. This wheel’s on fire, it’s rolling down the road and no one going to stop it or co-opt it. However, the media can learn from what works in the blogosphere, and make their products more valuable by creatively integrating part of what has been developed out on the frontiers.

(A major hat tip to Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine, for pointing to this op-ed, which he heard first as a speech Glocer gave at the Online Publishers’ Association.)

The Marketers Still Want Me!

As I watched my 15-year-old son approach adulthood, and as I spent time talking to friends and former employees still in their 20’s and 30’s, I believed that, slowly but surely, the world was passing me by.

Especially the world of consumer marketing. So often have I read that advertisers only want to peddle their wares on media aimed at the 18- to 49-year-old demographic–a land where I once dwelled but departed with fond memories a few months ago–I figured nobody wanted my money anymore.

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So I would spend the years of my dotage seeing ads for products I don’t need, don’t want, and don’t even understand. I would grow increasingly cranky as stores filled with foods that would send me immediately to the emergency room; clothing that would never fit me made from synthetics fabrics that give me a rash; and iPods with screens so small my fading eyesight would only register colorful swirls, like the light shows they used to play behind Grateful Dead concerts–only much, much smaller.

I was wrong. From Forbes.com, the following review of a book that dispels that myth:

In his new book The 50-Plus Market ($40, Kogan Page, 2006), Dick Stroud refers to this slightly older group as the “Charmed Generation,” the last to hail from an era of reliable defined-benefit pensions, low debt and low-cost home ownership. Retiring to relative comfort, they figure to be steady spenders for many years to come. For businesses, capturing these people is not only advantageous but imperative, Stroud argues, since the group that’s coming in behind them is so saddled with debt and future commitments.

Only 5% of all worldwide advertising budgets are geared to consumers 50 and over, while 80% is poured into the 18-34 segment–a shrinking market. That’s like Eastman Kodak putting 80% of its marketing and research and development budgets into traditional film and standing by while competitors cash in on the explosion in digital photography. The argument that the money on youth marketing is well spent because you’re “hooking ‘em for life”? Forget it, he says, there’s no such thing. People of all ages try new brands all the time. A person will always leave your brand if he perceives a better value elsewhere.

Wellll…I don’t know how “charmed” I am exactly…. but the point seems valid. The reviewer continues:

Marketing strategy, (Stroud) argues, is being driven more by stereotypes than by evidence.

“Marketing theory isn’t affected by age bias, but marketers themselves are,” Stroud writes, blaming the bias on a marketing industry population that skews under 35 on the lack of an institutional commitment to break out of a comfort zone.

That includes technology, where studies show that two-thirds of Americans over 55 are now online. Few companies are selling to them effectively through the Web, though, since most Web sites are built by young people for young people. Older customers are there and ready to buy, Stroud argues. Make the design and sales process a little simpler, and you’ll get them.

I used to be concerned, when I worked at a PR agency, that as I got older, I would get out of touch. I saw examples all around me of executives even older than me, using expressions that dated back to the 1940s in pitches aimed at a bunch of 20-somethings. “We can do everything, from soup to nuts,” was the title of one of our PowerPoint slides. I wasn’t convinced that was the best title for the slide. Did these people really think the two extremes are “soup” and “nuts,” and that everything the would-be clients want falls in between? Doubtful.

But by trying to stay ahead of the times, PR and marketing people have, in fact, fallen behind the times. Young is the new old. Old is the new young. And even though I’m in my 50s, smart marketers will still try to hunt me down. I better buy some new shoes so I can outrun ‘em. Maybe something endorsed by Joe Montana.

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Mas Fukai, R.I.P.

fukai park.jpgMas Fukai, a 28-year veteran of the Gardena City Council and a longtime deputy to the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn has died. His passing made Page One in the Daily Breeze today:

Fukai was born in Gardena on Jan. 2, 1927, attended local schools and worked on his family’s farm until World War II, when they were relocated to an internment camp in Gila, Ariz.

He then joined the Army, where he made the rank of corporal, and returned to Gardena in 1947. He then attended Los Angeles Trade Tech College and ran his own auto repair shop for 13 years. He then went back to school, attending the California School of Insurance and later becoming successful in the insurance industry.

Before he was elected to the City Council, Fukai created an organization for Asian youth to encourage their participation in sports, she said. Part of the focus of the group was to divert teens from drug use.

It was this program that sparked Fukai’s long and illustrious career in politics as it got the attention of then-county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who named Fukai to his anti-drug commission.

In his first run for council in 1974, Fukai unseated an incumbent and beat his closest competitor by nearly 50 percentage points. A year later, Hahn hired him as a deputy.

And:

Fukai leaves behind a lasting legacy in Gardena, particularly among residents of Japanese descent, Tanaka said. As a young and overwhelmed Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy looking for a room in Gardena to host a recruitment fair, (Mayor Paul Tanaka) vividly remembers the first time he met Fukai.

“Not only did he arrange the room at no cost, he showed up on a Saturday to see if everything was fine. He was the first person I met in an important position. He made such an impression on me.”

Using his standing as a city councilman and position as Hahn’s chief of staff, Fukai opened doors for Japanese-Americans interested in government, former state Assemblyman George Nakano said.

Tough-talking and dedicated, Fukai was a leader who simply got things done, Councilman Steve Bradford said.

“Mas was the politician’s politician,” Bradford said. “It really best summed him up.”

James Cragin, a former councilman, said Fukai would never hesitate to speak his mind.

When a naysayer once mouthed off at a City Council meeting, “Mas Fukai told him, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you jerk,’ ” Cragin said. “Then he went down and chased him out. … He put his fist where his mouth was.”

Fukai was also an avid golfer and his name graces a park in the center of town.

The obit is, appropriately enough, Gardena-focused. But to the dozens of political staffers who worked on the 8th floor of the LA County Hall of Administration during the long reign of Supervisor Hahn, Mas Fukai had another, slightly different persona.

Hahn (father of the former mayor) was one of the most personable politicians in Los Angeles history. He glad-handed, told stories, spoke from the gut and spread a kind of creative chaos wherever he went. Hahn was the opposite of methodical.

For many years, Mas Fukai was Supervisor Hahn’s balance-wheel. Quiet, low-key, unexcitable, the Mas Fukai of my recollection always stood silently near near Kenny to make notes, preparing for the inevitable follow-up work to fulfill the many promises with which Hahn littered his path. Hahn didn’t have much patience for details; Fukai was all about details.

As a young deputy to Supervisor Ed Edelman in the mid-80s, I worked with Fukai on many issues, and respected him tremendously. He was tough, smart and loyal.  His concept of loyalty to his boss was to not say much. Other supervisors and their staffs had their own impressions of Kenny, whose maverick, populist ways annoyed all his colleagues at one time or another. Many questions came to Fukai in this form: “Can’t you get your boss to….?” Fukai never rose to the bait. A little smile might creep across his face for a moment, but that’s all he was going to give you.

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Father and Son in Baghdad

From Iraq the Model, one of the most widely-read Iraqi blogs, a tragic dialogue, held in a bomb shelter, a short while after an indiscriminately-fired mortar shell landed 60 yards from the blogger’s father’s home. I the M describes his father as a man who “lived through the times of the monarchy, the first republic, the pan-Arab nationalists and the Ba’ath and he’s from the generation that ruled Iraq for decades and many of our current politicians belong to this generation,” who understands “the way his generation thinks….”

Me: How is this mess going to resolve dad?

Dad: it is not.

Me: Are you positive? Why?

Dad: People find solutions only if they wanted to and I think many of the political players do not want a solution.

Me: Is there a chance the situation will further escalate?

Dad: Most likely yes, we are a state still run by sentiments rather than reason which means it’s a brittle state and any sentimental overreaction can turn the tide it in either direction.

Me: what kinds of challenges can make things worse?

Dad: Virtually anything…assassinating a leader, a fatwa, attack on a shrine like last time; we do not possess the institutions that can abolish the effects of severe sentimental reactions.

Me: Is there going to be no role for politics?

Dad: What politics are you talking about?! We are dealing with deeply-rooted beliefs…Yes, in politics everything is possible but with religion you find yourself before very few options to choose from and our people have mostly voted for the religious.

Me: And what’s America’s role here? Will they stand by and watch while things go against what the way they desire?

Dad: Why do you always put America in the face of the canon? America is a super power but it’s not superman. These are our problems now and America has nothing to do with it. We have to fix our mess or no one will.

And:

Me: Why do our politicians seek confrontation?

Dad: The religious seek death because after death comes heaven they believe…Do you want to deny them this dream?

Me: No but …will they really go to heaven?

Dad: hell, no!

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Kirby Puckett, R.I.P.

kirby puckett.jpgI’ve missed watching Kirby Puckett play ball since he retired in 1996 due to the sudden onset of glaucoma. The classic overachiever, a 5’8″ guy who could track a ball in the outfield like a falcon and instantly fire it back to the infield to nail a runner; who could swing his little bat like a whip and knock singles or home runs, even off bad pitches, almost to order.

Guys like me who still love baseball, long after we probably should’ve moved on to something less juvenile, were continually renewed in our love for the sport by players like Puckett, who died today at 45, one day after suffering a stroke in his Arizona home.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s online obit captures the feeling of Puckett, and recounts some of his great exploits. Here are a few bites:

Puckett had been raised in the Robert Taylor Homes, a south Chicago housing project. He received no college scholarship offers, so he went to work after high school on an assembly line for Ford Motor Co.

“I never forgot where I came from,” Puckett said when he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

The Twins drafted him in 1982, and he reached the big leagues on May 8, 1984. He celebrated his arrival by getting four hits against the team then called the California Angels.

Puckett lore piled up quickly in 1987, when he led the Twins in hits as they rallied from a 3-2 deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the best-of-seven series and won their first World Series title. He now had unqualified success to go with his uninhibited style.

“A 7- or 8-year-old kid watching the game would pick him out, and he just looked different,” sportscaster Bob Costas said. “He had an affection for the game, and there was a kind of energy about it that was fun.

“I’m sure he took it seriously. You have to take it seriously in order to be a great player, but there was nothing grim about the way he went about it.”

In 1991, the Twins again found themselves trailing in the World Series 3-2, this time to the Atlanta Braves.

But Puckett went around telling teammates to hop on his back for Game 6, that he would carry them to victory. Then he delivered two signature moments.

First, he made a leaping catch against the Metrodome’s outfield Plexiglas in the third inning and robbed Ron Gant of an extra-base hit, potentially saving a run from scoring. Then, in the 11th inning, Puckett became the ninth player in major league history to win a World Series game with a home run, hitting a changeup from Charlie Leibrandt over the outfield wall and pumping his arms in celebration as he rounded the bases.

“You couldn’t hear yourself think in the ballpark,” former Twins hitting coach Terry Crowley said Monday from Baltimore Orioles camp. “Kirby was on deck. The manager went to the mound, and Kirby said to me, ‘If they leave this guy in the game, the game is over.’

“Sure enough, they left [Leibrandt] in the game. Puckett hit a home run, rounded the bases, and as I went to shake hands with him, he gave me a bear hug and said, ‘Crow, I told you!’ That will stay in my mind forever.”

The obit also covers his personal downfall, the allegations that he violently abused women. He was acquitted in his only trial on the charges, but they took their toll:

After a nine-day trial, a jury ruled Puckett not guilty of false imprisonment, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct and fifth-degree assault.

“I just want to go home,” Puckett said that day, when the verdicts were released.

He relinquished his role as Twins executive vice president. The team, which retired Puckett’s jersey in 1997, tried maintaining ties to him, but he continued to withdraw.

When friends saw him, they grew increasingly concerned about the weight he was putting on his short frame, with estimates that he was well beyond 300 pounds.

But for those who saw him in Arizona at Harmon Killebrew’s charity golf tournament in November, there was renewed hope. Puckett had spoken of taking better care of himself. Recently, there was news that he planned to remarry in June.

I always wondered what it would be like to be someone like Puckett after retirement, knowing the greatest moments of your life were behind you. The compensation would be all the people who would come up to you to share memories of watching you play. Not just the famous World Series exploits, but the mid-season games no one would remember unless they were in the stands. Games you might not even remember yourself. “Damn, I did that?”

Kirby Puckett deserved many more years to hear the replays through the voices of his fans.

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