Why I will keep a low profile during Misinfocon in Washington DC

I am really looking forward to Misinfocon in Washington DC. I am.

In part that's because I'm very interested in the topic of misinformation. (Currently that's the most common word I've seen used to avoid having to say “fake news” and perpetuating a phrase that the current occupant of the White House uses as an epithet to describe “news.”)

This is something I study a lot in my role as the founder of the Certified Content Coalition, a project of innovation suite from CableLabs.

But the real reason I’m looking forward to the conference is that I want to redeem myself after the last Misinfocon in Kyiv.

Why do I need to redeem myself?

Well, it's a little embarrassing, but in the spirit of transparency, bla bla bla, here goes:

An American in Kyiv

This was my first Misinfocon, and so I didn't know much of what to expect. I did read that it was a hackathon, and I've seen, participated in, and judged those many times in the startup world, so I was familiar with the format.

I just had never seen one outside of the world of startups. How would that work in the world of trying to root out bad actors trying to weaponize content for political gain? I was excited to find out.

Especially in Kyiv. I had to give credit to the organizers for taking this conference right to what could be considered Ground Zero in the fake news world. On the plane on the way over I had watched Winter on Fire at the recommendation of a friend who had been there. Kyiv is an amazing city. More on that in a bit.

The speakers that started off the day were excellent, and I learned a ton from people like Yevhen Fedchenko, a co-founder of StopFake.org and Veronika Víchová from Kremlin Watch.

Veronika gets special props for her Twitter picture:

Facts and chocolate

I understood going in that the problems were complex, and saw some of that first hand at the kick-off meeting for the Journalism Trust Initiative from Reporters Without Borders the week before.

But the speakers and many of the attendees helped me understand what was going on even a bit more.

After the first day of the conference, I fell asleep quickly, exhausted by the busy day, the Ukrainian beer, and the jet lag.

The next day brings what you might think of as a play in three acts:

Act I: Our Protagonist Goes On A Journey

I woke up very early the next day, and one story dominated the news.

At first, I thought maybe my VPN was busted because one of the top stories I was getting on Google News was from Kyiv, but it turns out that it was just a top global story, and it happened to be a quick Uber ride away from where the conference was happening.

Guradian-Babchenko Dead

Holy Crap!

This caused me to go into full freak-out for a bunch of reasons.

  1. Holy crap!
  2. It happened really close to where I was.
  3. My wife and son were at home, and might get this news, not sure. I didn't know if I should call and tell them I'm fine, alerting them to the fact that fake news fighters are being gunned down right down the street from where I was fighting fake news. Or if I shouldn't call.
  4. Holy crap!
  5. Misinfocon was all about figuring this information warfare, and here's a guy literally on the front lines of that war who became a casualty.
  6. So close.
  7. Holy crap!
  8. What does it mean to be fighting fake news if we can't even keep reporters alive?

I immediately shot off a note to the conference organizers. Dwight Knell made a nice mention of him to open the day, and then we kept going.

But wait, I kept thinking, is this it? Shouldn't we be doing more?

Once we broke into working groups -- and I'm not proud of this -- I pretty much hijacked the agenda of our group. We were supposed to be coming up with ideas of how to fight fake news. We did that, but all in the context of this one death.

Now, I should have been more circumspect. I mean, this was not the first journalist killed. Indeed, there were at least 65 just last year.

And while killing journalists is horrific, it’s not really central to the issues of misinformation. At least it hadn't been. That changed, as we will see.

None of that mattered. I was the excitable American, and Something Must Be Done. THIS SHALL NOT STAND!

I thought, anyway.

Act II, Our Protagonist Leads A (Small) Uprising

The format for the “hack” part of Day 2 was that we broke up into three groups. Building on the work that had been done the previous day, we were supposed to come up with some real, tangible solutions. The rules were that we were to come up with ideas with no concerns about budget or approvals. Just assume that we can get all that, and go to town.

So we did.

I went to our group and made an impassioned plea. The death of this journalist — right here in the city where we were meeting — could not go without note.

So fired up, I was, that the group all got into the action.

Misinfocon_305

Here I am, in the early stages of making an arse of myself. (Photo courtesy Misinfocon.)

 

We came up with a whole plan. I had the brilliant idea that we should make a statue of the fallen journalist, and put it right in the central square of Kyiv. 

Some of the others in the group suggested that we maybe do something that would actually honor journalism, not just this guy. It's so good this was a group project, and not an individual one, or I really would have looked like a moron.

So we came up with a whole list of things, starting with the statue, but then moving very quickly past that to ideas that would make a difference.

  1. A statue in Maidan, the central area of Kyiv made so famous in the winter of 2014 when protesters took over the square. More than 100 died, but the protests eventually led to the ouster of  the Kremlin-installed president, Viktor Yanukovich, who remains in exile in Russia to this day.
  2. Matching statues in major capitals around the world to highlight the importance of journalists and the fact that so many are killed.
  3. An endowment to pay for some number of journalists to report from war-torn areas. With the changing economics for newsrooms, very few news publishers pay to send reporters into the most dangerous regions, even when those are the exact regions that most need the cleansing power of sunshine from an audience paying attention to the facts.
  4. Along with paying the journalists, paying for extensive security for them, and for their families back home.
  5. This one was grim, but was a great idea that came from one of the local participants: Life Insurance for the reporter. The family needs to carry on if the worst happens, and if they don't have to carry on in poverty, it will certainly help. Any children left behind won't need to worry about a roof over their heads, and will be able to afford to go to college.
  6. I don't know if we were channeling Warren Zevon, but it seemed like we were thinking Send Lawyers, Guns and Money. The next item was to set up lawyers to help these journalists navigate the legal minefields while they are in the literal minefields.

I then went on to a crowdsourcing platform and found a guy who turned a photo of Arakady into something that looked like a statue.

The freelancer tried it a couple of ways, one of them with a green hue that was supposed to look a bit like the green of the Statue of Liberty. Another one of the participants from Kyiv nixed that one. It was news to me, but a well known local story is of the Little Green Men — soldiers who tried to be known as the “Polite People” were actually Russian soldiers wearing green uniforms with no insignia. Putin thought he could get away with denying that they were Russian soldiers, and in some ways he did.

Anyway, no green Arkady.

We finally decided on one that just looked like marble, and we'd put an orange safety vest on the statue. Then we'd place it in the central square. We used a tourist picture I'd snapped on my first night Kyiv, and with that, we had our presentation.

Arkady statue

I then was hoping someone else would go on stage and present, but they all looked at me to do it, and so I did.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 2.37.40 PM

 I then had to leave to get to the airport to fly to Lisbon, via Frankfurt. About as far of a trip as you can make without leaving Europe. (Most people in Ukraine really wants to be part of the EU, and Putin wants Ukraine to be part of Russia, hence the conflict.)

Because the first leg of the flight was a bit late, I had to run through the massive Frankfurt airport, I was basically out of communication with the outside world for about six hours.

What a six hours that was for the world of Fake News.

Act III: Our Protagonist Learns His Lesson

My plan was that as soon as I was safe in Lisbon, I was going to call home to let my family know that I was safe.

But by then, well, the only thing that was in danger was my reputation.

You’ve certainly heard the news: The brave journalist was not, in fact, dead. The blood seen near his body was pigs blood. The story is that this journalist was involved in a plot to fake his own death did so to help authorities find those who really did want him dead.

I've read all kinds of stories about this, including one that came out just before I sat down to write this, and I still don’t really know what's going on.

One thing that clearly did happen is that the killing of journalists is now firmly in the territory of misinformation. Right after Arkady Babchenko showed up at the press conference about his own death, Russians said that they were shocked, SHOCKED, that people would accuse them of killing journalists, and this one wasn't even dead. Maybe some of the other dead journalists aren't really even dead.

image from cdn.newsapi.com.au

What have I done?, Babchenko seems to be thinking. Created a mess, is the answer. (Photo from news.com.au)

 

It's hard these days to say that Kremlin agitprop has a point, but in this case, well, they weren't wrong.

This is something pointed out in a story I read the next morning in my Lisbon hotel room from the New York Times that quoted a tweet from Christophe Deloire about how dangerous this was for journalism.

Then I walked over to the Global Editors Network conference and the first two people I saw were Christophe Deloire and Olaf Steenfadt from Reporters Without Borders. 

I couldn't believe that they were quoted in the New York Times, and they couldn't believe that I'd been in Kyiv for the whole outré episode.

We agreed that we may never know exactly what happened, but we do know they'll be talking about it in journalism schools for the next 50 years.

Lesson learned?

I did learn three things, however.

  1. Misinfocon is a great conference. I don't know what will happen there in D.C. exactly — that’s the beauty of a hackathon. But if the one in Kyiv is any kind of guide, it will have all the right people in the right place and something magical may just come out of it.
  2. It might be better if I just keep quiet for this one. If I lead a team it may produce a result that won't be judged well in the light of history.
  3. Slow down and listen. Let me explain that one a bit more:

While we were in a bit of a break at the last event, one of the participants who was from Kyiv told me about their most famous poet, Taras Shevchenko.

I was in such a hurry to Do Something, that I thought it was quaint and possibly a bit annoying that someone would be talking to me about someone who’d been dead for 150-odd years. I’m trying to be a better listener, though, so I pulled up his Wikipedia page while I was talking to her, and then promptly forgot all about it.

A couple of weeks later, when I was finally closing all the tabs from that trip, I found that page. 

Here's the last part of a poem that apparently just about everyone in Ukraine knows:

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

 

Oh bury me, then rise ye up.

The woman who told me about this poet didn’t know that Arkady Babchenko — at just about that exact moment in a room a mile or so from where we were sitting — was figuratively “rising up.” 

But something about this whole thing compelled her to share that with me, and now I share it with you.

Freedom of the press is under assault right now, but a lot of us our fighting back. We are all working on different pieces of it, but we are all a lot like a family... as Taras Shevchenko might say, the family of the free.

That family is gathering Monday, and I am so glad that I'll be there for this family meeting.

But if something big happens in the news on Monday night, I won’t say a word about it on Tuesday.

Not. One. Word.

 


Everything bad is Bill Clinton's Fault. Except for Man-Buns.

I challenge you to find fault with any the following:

  1. If the #metoo movement would have been around, Bill Clinton wouldn't have survived being governor of Arkansas, let alone survive a Democratic primary for President.
  2. Bill Clinton's abuse of Monica Lewinsky was horrifying.
  3. It was so horrifying, that a respected reporter was completely correct to try to report it. 
  4. The true story of what Bill Clinton did to Lewinsky was killed by Newsweek editors.
  5. The killed story made its way to what was then an obscure website called the Drudge Report.
  6. The Drudge Report became one of the top sites on the internet after that.
  7. As it grew it sent huge amounts of traffic to a site called Breitbart, making it a huge success.
  8. One of Breitbart's founders was Steve Bannon.
  9. At Breitbard, Bannon worked with investor Robert Mercer.
  10. Mercer funded Cambridge Analytica, which also hired Bannon.
  11. Cambridge Analytica, Bannon, and Mercer were key players in getting Donald Trump elected.

Is there any fault in any of that progression? Any of those facts?

Now, a logical conclusion is that without that set of facts, maybe we wouldn't have Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon would still be a third-rate movie producer, and maybe a few thousand voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would not have voted for Trump.

Unlike the numbered facts above, it's debatable. 

Bill Clinton didn't just create a world where Trump could beat his wife, he created a world where it was Trump, and not someone else, would challenge his wife. "How do we maximize Trump?" was a memo that actually circulated in the Clinton campaign, according to an inside account.

What's not debatable is that Bill Clinton sowed the seeds that made things bad for Hillary, Monica, and women in general.

He also made things bad for immigrants, way before Trump figured out how to make that an issue.

But Bill Clinton made things good for friends like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Donald Trump.

 

image from i.dailymail.co.uk

So, while we can't blame Bill Clinton for man-buns, just about everything else that's really bad right now can be traced back to him.


Trump Watergate Timeline Comparison - Separated at Birth?

After reading a tweet from Kurt Andersen (without a doubt the smartest and best boss I ever had) I got thinking more about the timeline of Watergate and our current president.

I worked for Kurt at the old Spy Magazine. I'd like to think that this is the sort of thing that Spy would have done. (The headline is an homage to a regular feature in Spy, Separated at Birth?)

If I had all day, I'd do more of a Spy thing, and ask the design team to make this look better, and ask the photo research team to come up with some amazing photos that draw connections, etc. But in the spirit of DONE, here it is.

I hope this is helpful to people all over the political spectrum.

  • For people that want Trump gone tomorrow, this shows pretty clearly that as of July we were really only about half done with the process. There's a long way to go.
  • For people that are tired of the drip-drip-drip, perhaps this will show why it almost has to happen that way.
  • For supporters of President Trump who are currently comforted by the fact that he's still in office despite what you perceive to be relentless media attacks, you won't find comfort, exactly, but with luck you'll see that those on the other side politically are not delusional about Trump, and that the sweep of history is not on Trump's side.

OK, here's the highlights, with lots of help from this page, this Watergate timeline and this Trump/Russia timeline:

 

Nixon/Watergate Trump/Russia
1972 2016
June 17     Burglars break into the DNC headquarters at Watergate June 9    Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner meet with Russian government official promising damaging info about Clinton. Trump tweets later that day for the first time about "33,000 emails."
June 20    Washington Post reports connection between burglary and Hunt July 18    Washington Post reports Trump wants GOP to go soft on Russia
Sept. 15   Hunt, Liddy and burglars indicted Oct. 7    DHS and DNI announce that Russia is interfering in election
Nov. 7      Nixon reelected  Nov. 8    Trump elected
1973 2017
Jan. 8    Burglary trial begins Jan. 4    Mike Flynn reports that he is under investigation
Jan. 11  Hunt pleads guilty Jan. 6    CIA, FBI and NSA report that Putin ordered a campaign to influence the election
Jan. 15    Other burglars plead guilty Jan. 10  Sessions tells congress that he “did not have communications” with the Russians
Jan. 20    Nixon inauguration Jan. 20    Trump inauguration
Jan. 30    Liddy convicted Jan. 30    Trump fires Yates
Feb. 28    FBI director tells congress that Dean had “probably lied” to FBI. Feb. 28    Trump staff instructed to preserve any Russia-related communications because of investigation
March 17 McCord refutes previous denial that he was working for the White House March 17 Page refutes previous denial that he never met with Kislyak
April 27    FBI Director Gray resigns April 5    Nunes recuses himself
April 30    Ehrlichman, Haldeman resign, Dean fired. April 11   Comey tells Rosenstein about “serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI”
May 17    Senate Watergate Committee begins hearings May 9    Trump fires Comey

May 19
    Cox appointed as special prosecutor

May 17  Mueller appointed special counsel
June 3    Dean testifies that he discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times June 8    Comey testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee, worried about president lying, says he hopes there are tapes
July 13    13 months after Watergate burglary, New York Times reports on Oval Office tapes of phone calls and meetings July 8    13 months after meeting of Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner with person they believe to be Russian government official, New York Times reports on that meeting

Oct. 20    "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of special prosecutor.

Oct. 30    "Manafort Monday" Manafort, Gates arrested. Special Prosecutor's office also unseals previous indictment and plea deal with Papadopoulos

Oct. 19 John Dean enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors. 

Dec. 1 Mike Flynn enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors.

Nov. 17    "I am not a crook" speech

Nearly Every Day Trump tweets something saying Russia investigation is phony.

Dec. 7  White House can't explain 18-minute gap in tapes.

Dec. 11 White House can't explain 18-day period that Mike Flynn wasn't fired.

1974

2018

March 1    Nixon named as "unindicted co-conspirator" along with the "Watergate Seven"

 

April 16    Special prosecutor subpoenas tapes

 

May 9    Impeachment hearings begin

 

June 27    House passes Articles of Impeachment 

 

Aug. 9    Nixon resigns from office

 

One last note:

One of the young staffers working on Watergate for the House Judiciary Committee was Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Watergate-hillary

We may not have learned all the lessons we needed to learn from Watergate, but perhaps there's a young staffer working behind the scenes right now who will one day run for president, and if she doesn't come to fame as the wife of a guy who was once impeached himself... and if the election isn't tampered with... maybe she'll even win.


What Comes Next?

Last year I decided to step down as CEO of BlogMutt. While I'm still founder and board chairman, I'm no longer involved day-to-day.

What comes next?

Sunrise-scott-yates


Well, I'm now realizing that I'm not interested in starting another company, not at the moment. I don't mind hard work, but creating another startup from scratch right now just feels… lonely.

However, there's a problem: I don't play golf. 

I don't ski.

I don't want to train for a marathon, a triathlon, a decathlon or even the Butt-Numb-Athon.

In short, I gotta get back in the game. I wanna be in it, solving problems, making customers happy, bringing new approaches to sticky problems.

A bunch of friends asked me what I want to do when I announced I was leaving, and I didn't really have a good answer. After a bit of a break, and thinking about it for a while, I finally have one, so this post is essentially the answer to that question.

Here's three scenarios of what might make sense:

 

Scenario One: Entrepreneur In Residence

Let's say you are in an established company. Maybe a growth-stage tech company, maybe a media operation. Maybe even a non-profit that's got a good track record.

Things are going well enough for you, but you realize that the world is changing fast, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't really keeping up. What you'd like is for someone to come into your operation and do a few things without upsetting the apple cart too much. 

What kind of things?

  • Talk to the team, see what entrepreneurial ideas are lurking around, but aren't getting any daylight.
  • Launch a new low-impact initiative, maybe a podcast or something that everyone thinks is a good idea, but it never seems to get done.
  • Evaluate other new ideas, see if there's any traction.

The concept of an Entrepreneur In Residence is catching on at places like Target, Cisco, AARP, and even the federal government.

Typically an EIR just comes in for a defined time, usually one year. After that you'll have a much better sense of the future, and you'll have a program in place if you want to bring in another fresh set of eyes a year from now.

 

Scenario Two: New Product Leader

Let's say you have a new product idea, but your current team is busy with the current product. You've got some indication that this new product could do well, but you need to know how well it will integrate with what you do now, and you need to figure out what you don't know about actually launching this thing.

You want someone to come in who won't freak everybody out, but will also move the concept forward, and fast. That I can do.

 

Scenario Three: CEO Transition

I just ran a process to gently ease a CEO out of his position, run a search that he liked, and then found a great new CEO who is now kicking ass.

It's true, I was the first CEO in question there, but I have to say that I really did a good job at that.

Do you know a CEO who is, perhaps, a bit restless? Or perhaps that CEO just is no longer a good fit for what the company needs? And that CEO knows it, but just doesn't know how to let go?

I can help. I can help the CEO really look at the situation without a lot of emotional baggage. I can give hope to that person to see what the world might be like having moved on? And I can run a search to find the perfect new candidate, and then make sure that new CEO gets going in the right direction.

It would be hard, if not impossible, for someone who hasn't been in those CEO shoes to have that conversation. There are a lot of recruiters out there, but this is something entirely different. I've been there. I can empathize, strategize, and then move things forward for the person, and for the company.

 

Scenario Four: ??????

I realize that what will actually happen may be a bit different from what I plan on happening. Always works that way, right?

But if you are someone, or if you know someone, who might be interested in talking to me about one of these scenarios, or something entirely different, be in touch

Thanks.


Jackson vs. Hamilton: Which one should we dump from US Currency? [Infographic]


The current controversy over putting a woman on the $10 bill — instead of the $20 — is helpful because it sheds a bright light on the powerful history, and all it represents today.

But history can be hard, so to help make it easier here's a helpful infographic. Feel free to share, embed, print, post, and then share some more. Let's bring history home, and ensure that no injustice is done in the paper we carry in our pockets every day.

Jackson v Hamilton

The full PDF for your full use is here.

For more reading, I recommend Ron Chernow's essay, and that you make plans to go see Hamilton on Broadway.


It was the best of times, it was… Screw it. Dickens can eat my shorts

I could easily come up with a list of the top 10 days of my life. And… if I had to... I could also come up with the worst 10, too.

But never — ever — have I had a day that would compete to be on both lists.

Until today.

Here's the story:

In addition to my work as a CEO and my regular family life, there have been two main things that have occupied my attention over the last year: Daylight Saving Time and Alexander Hamilton.

I've written at great length about DST. I haven't written as much about Hamilton.

My fascination grew in tandem with my son. Several years ago we watched this video. If you haven't seen it, or even if you have, here it is again:

 

My son actually memorized that whole rap, and last summer when we were touring around Philly and New York City he performed it several times.

One of those times he performed it was for the National Park Ranger who was the leading Hamilton expert in Philly. It was from him that we learned about some Hamilton events happening in New York City, and it was there we learned about the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, and went on a walking tour of Hamilton sites. We attended a fascinating lecture about Hamilton, one pointing out how he was absolutely the most important founding father after Washington himself. We attended a dramatic reading of the letters between Hamilton and Burr at the Hamilton Grange.

Then we visited Hamilton's grave on the anniversary of the day of his death. It was all my son could do to keep from correcting the tour guides who kept mangling the facts of his death, and never even mentioned that they were standing above his remains on the very day he died. They all made the same lame joke about New Jersey, and then moved on.

After that I picked up the book that inspired Miranda, Chernow's overwhelmingly compelling biography.

And so when Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that the play about Hamilton would be opening at the Public Theater, we snapped up two tickets on a night when the cast would be answering questions after the play (my son loves that stuff) and when he would only miss one day of school. We got a great deal on some tickets on Southwest, and planned to have a geek-out father-son fun trip to see the play about the "Ten dollar Founding Father without a father."

Then the play opened, and the reviews started coming in. They weren't just good, they were stupendous, they wore out the thesaurus. I don't typically even like theater and I really don't like musicals, but these reviews were so good that I got crazy excited.

Then the celebrities started showing up. It started slowly, with actors who were well known and highly respected. John Lithgow was the first one I noticed.

Then the celebrities kept getting bigger and bigger. The Clintons went last week, but the one that impressed me most was Weird Al Yankovik, who declared it a "Work of Genius."

B_C4ZW2XAAEh3Hm

A guy who clearly is a genius doesn't toss words like that around lightly.

So our excitement was off the charts, even before we knew that Paul McCartney went to see the play the night before we were scheduled to go.

B_TrzzeWoAET0YX

We woke up to reports of bad weather, but we figured it would be OK. We're from Colorado, a little cold and snow is no big deal.

Then the flight was delayed a half hour, then an hour.

Then — just after clearing security and walking on the cool bridge at Denver International Airport (the only structure in the world that a 747 can taxi under) with the Native American music playing — I got the text. Flight Cancelled.

We didn't know it at the time, but there was a very good reason why.

B_WM7UYW8AAOv0Q-2

We scrambled around at the airport, trying to figure out if there was some way to go to some other nearby airport, but to no avail. 

There would be no trip.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 5.47.31 AM

So then there was the matter of the tickets. We came up with a plan to try to find someone else who had tickets for some future performance, and would be willing to trade with us. Through the magic of social media… Maybe?

Even Lin-Manuel Miranda himself retweeted my plea. Stand-up guy.

But it didn't work. We did have some offers to buy the tickets, and given that they are getting scalped for more than $1,800 a pop, and there are still none available, it's no wonder.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.22.48 PM

Luckily we have some great friends in New York who were able to get through the muck to see the show. As I'm writing this I haven't heard any reports yet, but I expect they will be glowing. Which is great, it really is.

Still, it hurts. Still sitting in my suitcase is my copy of the Chernow biography of Hamilton that inspired Miranda. I was going to bring it on the off chance that Chernow might be there the same night as our tickets. 

He was.

So painful… And yet...

This is also one of the greatest days of my life. You see, on this day an idea I had for a way to fix it so we won't have to change our clocks back and forth twice per year actually got introduced into a state legislature. The text I wrote is now part of the legislative process.

Put another way, I had an idea that started at the dinner table with my family, and that idea became an official draft resolution being considered by the legislature of one of the 50 US States, and it will be real in other states soon.

I'll be writing much more about that over on the Time blog, but suffice it to say that this is the very first real step in growing that idea into a reality.

So, is this one of the greatest days of my life, or one of the worst?

I know what Alexander Hamilton would call a day with stunning highs and lows and a production of a couple of thousand words of prose.

He'd call it "Thursday."

Remember, this is a guy who had stunning public victories.

  • As a teenager he wrote more persuasively than anyone about why the colonies should revolt against Britain.
  • He became Washington's indispensable chief of staff.
  • He lead troops to a decisive and yet honorable victory during the war, one of the few battles the Revolutionary troops actually won without help from the French.
  • He was the only founding father that didn't own slaves and worked harder than any other to ban slavery.
  • Nearly single-handedly pushed for the Constitutional Convention, and then lobbied harder than anyone to get the U.S. Constitution passed, something that was not at all a sure thing at the time.
  • Decided that it would help if the new federal government had a working guideline, so pushed for the creation of the Federalist Papers and wrote a huge majority of them himself.
  • Again nearly on his own, he pushed for a strong central government and forcefully but respectfully put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • Founded the Federal Bank, the Coast Guard, a college set up to embrace the Native Americans, and the New York Post.

And crushing personal losses:

  • He was alone with his mother when she died a horrible death.
  • The cousin who became his caretaker committed suicide.
  • The ship that brought him to America caught fire and was nearly lost at sea.
  • He saw the slave-trade up close.
  • He was lured into a America's first tawdry political sex scandal.
  • His oldest son died in a duel defending his father's honor.
  • And then with the same pistol that killed his son, he was shot down by repugnant little man in a duel over nothing.

Perhaps most impressive to me given my not-exactly-staggering literary output is that Hamilton would regularly crank out a few thousand words in a day, and he did it with a quill and ink.

I may not have gotten to see the play, but I got the message. The Hamilton play is probably the best thing to happen to hip-hop since the Sugar Hill Gang, the best thing to happen to theater since West Side Story, and the best thing to happen to American history since Schoolhouse Rock.

But Hamilton's story is not a feel-good story. It's not designed to make you happy to sit back and watch.

It's a call to action.

As it says on the poster for the play: Who gets to tell your story?

Hamilton-play

Embedded in that question is the larger question: What is the story of your life going to be? The play Hamilton (I'm figuring) and more to the point the man who was Alexander Hamilton challenge all of us to do more. We are not meant to watch, but to jump in with great vigor.

So instead of moping about not getting to come to New York, you can see me on HuffPo Live Friday morning (via a hangout instead of in person, alas) trying to take a stand and then later today you'll see me and my son down at the state capitol doing our best to advocate as best we can for a better world.

I hope Hamilton would approve.


Shameless self-promotion

This blog is typically an erudite repository of the most profound thoughts... or something.

Right now I just want to put a post up with some links to cool things going on in the world of Scott Yates, partially for self-promotion and partially so all the links are in one spot.

First, the business writing service I co-founded was selected to appear at VCIR. When you see the list of presenting companies, well, it's quite an honor indeed.

Second, I made my second appearance on 9News, the best station in Denver forever.

Blogmutt-9news

The first appearance went well, also, but now it seems like a thing so I wanted to post this here to let you know that if you have a tech startup, do feel free to contact me using the contact info on this blog to suggest other companies that I should take a look at on 9News.

Thanks!


Who said this?

Take a look at this quote: 

"They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government ... shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional ________s view the world, and I think most ______s understand that individuals can't go it alone, that there is no such society that I'm aware of where we've had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture."

I cut a little for this experiment (full quote is here), but what word did I leave a blank for? You could make a strong case that you could put the world "liberal" in there both times and imagine many Republicans making this statement.

Turns out that it was Rick Santorum who said this about the Barry Goldwater-style conservatives.

I post this only to make two points:

  1. Wonks like Shawn Mitchell are right that if Santorum is the nominee Obama will probably win all 50 states, and,
  2. Liberals have way more in common with a Santorum than they would ever admit.

I know we are coming into a season of high pique, but my goal for me in this year is to really try to find common ground and say as many positive things as possible about those inside and outside of politics, and the amazing thing is that I don't think it will really be that hard.


The Zeitgeist of 2011

Have you seen the great Google Zeitgeist? It's a remarkable look at the trends in search over the previous year.

Why is it called the "Zeitgeist"? Because it's a great word that sums up the somewhat subtle notion that is more encompassing than "trends" and more lithe than "analytics."

I'm convinced, however, that Google would call that page, "Google aggregation of billions of queries people typed into Google search using data from multiple sources, including Insights for Search and internal data tools" and not Google Zeitgeist if not for one man: Kurt Andersen.

Andersen has been capturing the Zeitgeist better than anyone for the last 25 years or so, most famously in Spy Magazine as he did here.

He has done so again recently when Time tapped him to write about the Person of the Year, the Protester

It's a great story, I recommend purchasing the magazine if you can still find it, or reading it in the "reader" function on Safari to minimize all the junk that Time throws up to make it hard to read. 

The story is informative without being dull, global yet personal. It perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, and because it's written by Andersen, even encapsulates the word.

So 2011 was unlike any year since 1968 — but more consequential because more protesters have more skin in the game. Their protests weren't part of a countercultural pageant, as in '68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down regimes and immediately changing the course of history. It was, in other words, unlike anything in any of our lifetimes, probably unlike any year since 1848, when one street protest in Paris blossomed into a three-day revolution that turned a monarchy into a republican democracy and then — within weeks, thanks in part to new technologies (telegraphy, railroads, rotary printing presses) — inspired an unstoppable cascade of protest and insurrection in Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Venice and dozens of other places across Europe, as well as a huge peaceful demonstration of democratic solidarity in New York that marched down Broadway and occupied a public park a few blocks north of Wall Street. How perfect that the German word Zeitgeist was transplanted into English in that unprecedented, uncanny year of insurrection.

So really, stop whatever you are doing and go read the story.


Management (and other) lessons from the movies

The best scene in Moneyball is not in the trailers, is not available (yet) online, and isn't even in the first version of the screenplay or the book.

But it's the scene that years from now will be shown in management classes and will inspire generations of those who try new things.

Sports movies are often described as motivational, usually because there's some stirring speech given by a coach before the player goes out and does something miraculous. That's great… I've loved plenty of those movies, but they don't hold much intrinsic value because most of us are not the kind of freaks of nature that can see a round ball hurling toward us at 90 MPH and use a round bat to hit the ball real far the other way, even if we do get a motivational speech just before.

The best single scene for management types from any movie before Moneyball, I think, is this one:

 



So what's the scene in Moneyball that ranks right up there with that one from Apollo 13? It's near the end, when Billy Beane is talking to the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.

That scene is not on YouTube, and isn't in the original script, as I mentioned, so I don't have the exact quotes here. I do know that it's not just fiction, however, because Henry reportedly told the screenwriters about the scene later, and Beane agreed that it was a better recollection of what was said. 

In it's essence, Henry says that what Beane has done is nothing short of revolutionizing the game. He knows the numbers cold. Beane knows them, too, of course, but says that "baseball" doesn't like it. 

Henry's response is the pinnacle of the movie, "The first one through the wall always gets bloody." He says that what Beane is doing is bringing real change and people who are comfortable with the way things have been are naturally going to resist the change. 

It's an important lesson for me. I'm co-founder of a company that's disruptive. It won't get as much attention, but it could end up having more of a direct positive effect on the lives of more people. I mean, if the As beat the Sox or the Sox beat the As, it doesn't give writers something new and meaningful to do. Blogmutt does.

Luckily for me the Blogmutt customers like what we are doing and the writers like doing the writing. There are some writers who are comfortable with the way things are right now in the world, however, and are resisting the changes coming. I think that comes out in subtle ways by the very writers who are covering our blog writing service. It seems we get more love from a Robot Dinosaur than from some writers.

I hope that I learn both sides of the lesson, that I'm one who's comfortable creating some discomfort. And on the flip side, I hope that I'm not one who tries to "bloody" the first one through the wall, no matter what that wall is.

I mean, my background is in writing, and I could easily be one who casts stones at guys trying to build a business that relies on writers without paying them nearly as much as a reporter at the New York Times makes. If I were still writing full time I hope I would be able to recognize that Blogmutt is creating a new market for writing, that the customers of Blogmutt are not the kinds of businesses that have ever hired writers before. I hope I'd see that in an era when there are only rotten opportunities for writers to get legitimate writing work, Blogmutt is a hugely positive big-picture change for writers everywhere.

And so I need to watch myself that I'm not critical of other new ideas just because they are new.

Here's one, for instance: Scientists want to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. The modification? That the mosquitoes will produce offspring that will self-destruct.

My first reaction is that self-destructing organisms released into the wild is a stunningly bad idea.

But maybe I'm just being one of those critics, one of those who only wants to put up walls in front of something new.

On second thought, however… no. This is a post about learning lessons from movies, and I've seen enough movies where experiments like this go haywire to know that genetically modified self-destructing organisms are just a bad bad bad idea.

Just the thought of that is too much. The only antidote?

 

A bit of sweet music from Moneyball. One minute and seven seconds that can just about break your heart. Sort of like baseball itself.


Are we done now?

All day yesterday I had this poem going through my head:

REMEMBER me when I am gone away.

  Gone far away into the silent land;

  When you can no more hold me by the hand, 

Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.  

Remember me when no more day by day,

You tell me of our future that you plann'd: 

  Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while 

  And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

  For if the darkness and corruption leave  

  A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,  

Better by far you should forget and smile  

  Than that you should remember and be sad.

 


Deleted TechCrunch post by Paul Carr

With all due fear of violating terms of whatever, bla bla bla, I hereby present the post that appeared ever so briefly on TechCrunch at http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/08/not-leaving-quietly/

Screen shot 2011-09-08 at 7.30.27 PM

If someone tells me to take this down, I probably will because I'm a wimp, but for now here it is. It had a byline of -- who else -- Paul Carr.

 

UPDATE: now it appears to be working, so I'll be editing this post shortly, but in case it goes down again, here's the original post:

NEW UPDATE: It still appears to be up, but someone wrote to me and said thanks for posting because it was down for them.

LAST UPDATE: OK, I'm pretty sure it's working, but I've gotten a couple of other notes of thanks for doing this so I'll just leave it up until someone tells me that I'm doing something wrong. For sure you should try to click the regular link so that Paul and TechCrunch get all the credit, etc. This is the post as it appeared in my RSS feed:

 

by Paul Carr

Oh boy. At this point, even the shit-show is becoming a shit-show. According to Dan Primack at Fortune, Mike Arrington has been fired by AOL. My inbox is full of emails from journalists, friends and total strangers — all asking if I can explain what’s going on. The vast majority of those correspondents are clearly hoping for a mass walk-out of writers if Mike is really gone. The Atlantic is already predicting what might happen post-walkout.

Meantime, Mike has gone to ground — presumably somewhere in his fortified Seattle compound — although with apparently as little idea as any of us what the final outcome will be. Primack’s story says it’s a fait accompli, while others say the situation is “still developing”. I spoke to a senior staffer at TCHQ yesterday who told me “No-one knows anything. It’s bizarre. Surreal.”

Rather than replying to a billion emails, or appearing on Bloomberg, or talking to PBS or Tweeting somethingthreatening-but-ambiguous; here’s my position. And it’s basically unchanged from where I was last week.

TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence. Right now, that means TechCrunch — in the person of its founding editor — must be allowed to pick its next Editor In Chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control. That means whoever she might pick as “editor” will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding. That’s so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we’ve all worked for these past years.

Sure, the brand will live on — and as long as we keep writing about cool apps we’ll probably still get amazing traffic. But traffic and a famous domain name is not why I — or most of the TechCrunch staff and editors I’ve spoken to in the past few days — came to work here. As Fred Wilson wrote earlier today: “TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a “fuck you” attitude that comes from Mike… They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.” Damn fucking right.

Presumably, given how much TechCrunch and AOL both have riding on the success of next week’s Disrupt conference, an announcement as to TechCrunch’s future leadership must be imminent. I’m not going to speak for the other members of the team, but my own position is clear: unless Mike Arrington appoints his own successor, guaranteeing that TechCrunch retains its editorial independence, I’m gone. Done. Out of the door.

Ceding control to the Huffington Post will be the death of everything — the voice, the swagger, the “fuck you” attitude — that makes TechCrunch great; and I’m not going to stay around to watch that happen.

Ok, glad to have cleared that up. Now I’m going for lunch.


The TechCrunch Also Rises

I've loved reading TechCrunch for the last few years. Just loved it. It's had a vibrancy and a visceral sort of honesty that's made it something you just couldn't take your eyes off of.

And I also soaked it in because I knew the magic couldn't last.

I know, I've been there.

Paris-1920sNot everyone gets to have a chance to live in a Paris-in-the-20s kind of time. If it's real, the myth of it becomes larger than life. Hell, there are now college courses about the original one. The people who were in it revelled in it, but they were so young that they didn't know that it couldn't last. They went on to great fame, but there was always that looking back.

That thing that happened, though, really was positive for the world, not just for those who sat at that table drinking coffee. Without Paris in the 20s, readers of novels in English would have remained stuck with nothing to read but Edith Wharton novels about struggles with upper crust society conventions. Without that group of writers, literature would have been one long run of masterpiece theatre. Gag.

I'm not sure if there was another such moment until the 1960s at the New York Herald Tribune, which is where Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Charles Portis, Nat Hentoff, Gloria Steinem, Langston Hughes, Nora Ephron and others who would go on to remake journalism all got their start. Of course, the Herald Tribune couldn't last. I wonder if part of the reason readers liked it so much then was that they knew they were watching a bright-burning flame that can not be sustained.

It pales, of course, but my chance at mythological Paris in the 20s was SPY Magazine in the 1980s. I was young, so I didn't really fully appreciate how great of a thing I was in the middle of. I only realized it later, constantly wondering why I didn't have editors as erudite as Kurt Andersen, or larger than life like Graydon Carter. Why didn't I have publishers as forward thinking as Tom Phillips, or coworkers as talented as... OK, if I start naming all the names this post will grow too long.

SPY in those days, just as with the others, really did make the world better. Nearly everyone who worked there has gone on to do great things in journalism, television, media and more. TV shows like the Simpsons and the Daily Show have had SPY staffers making it better. Before blogs, it wasn't easy to make fun of Donald Trump or tell the story behind the story with Big Journalism. Now it happens all the time. Part of that is the technology, but part of it, I think, is the ice that was broken by SPY. Just like with Paris in the 20s, and the Herald Tribune, SPY made the world better, but just couldn't last.

And so now it is with TechCrunch, which is now without a doubt the zeitgeist leader of blogs and tech journalism. Was, anyway. The moment is now gone.

Just because of momentum, TechCrunch will certainly keep publishing, but the fire has now died out. I had hope that the magic might stick around after AOL gobbled up TechCrunch, but the events of the last couple days make it clear that's just not going to happen. 

Paul Carr certainly saw this coming. His post about the events is pure Paul. It's clear. It shows what went on behind the scenes. It's brilliantly written. And I can't help but read it and think that Paul knows better than anyone that the gig is up.

I expect we'll see great things from the TechCrunch gang for many years to come, and I expect journalism will never be the same because of what TechCrunch did. Journalism and the internet will be better, but the next thing won't be some TechCrunch competitor nipping around right now, it will be something really amazing that nobody really saw coming until suddenly it will be gone, too.

I'll be looking for it, though. Change comes faster these days, so maybe it won't be too far off.

Thanks for the great times, TechCrunch. You've earned your spot in history.


Stalking the Billion-Footed Facebook Beast

How big is Facebook?

A movie about Facebook is a huge hit, may win an Oscar™, and even so there are more people who spend time on the actual Facebook every day than the total number of people who have ever seen the movie.

What's going on?

I've got one theory that is enough different from the many others I've looked at that I thought I might try it out here. It's a theory that doesn't have much to do with the film, but one scene in the film gets to what I'm on to. It's the scene where the Napster guy has just "hooked up" with a Stanford student. He goes to use her computer and finds TheFacebook.com. He asks her what it is and she tells him, and says that she is "totally addicted." Why?

To understand this theory of why Facebook is so gripping and so absorbing for half a billion people, I need to take you backwards, though an analysis of something that I've been thinking about since I moved to New York City in the late 1980s and started reading Tom Wolfe. By reading, I mean devouring. I read everything I could find. In those days that meant trudging down to the library and photocopying old magazine articles.

So, there I was in New York when Harper's published Wolfe's essay "Stalking the Billion-footed Beast." It caused quite the stir in certain circles, but for me it was like an instruction manual. There he was laying out exactly how young journalists -- That was me! -- could go out and write the "Right Stuff."

That article is brilliant, and still reads as fresh for me today as it did then, sitting in the J-school lobby a half-block from Washington Square. It's all online now, so go read it if you have a moment.

After that, I went back to my microscopic apartment and read again his introduction to The New Journalism. In that essay he made crystal clear the instructions of how to write journalism that could read like a novel. He laid our four specific steps at some length. He then revisited those four steps in much shorter form in an essay 30 years later, referring to his style of New Journalism as a "naturalistic novel." This appeared in his book Hooking Up.:

Four specific devices give the naturalistic novel its "gripping," "absorbing" quality: 

(1) scene-by-scene construction, i.e., telling the story by moving from scene to scene rather than by resorting to sheer historical narrative; 

(2) the liberal use of realistic dialogue, which reveals character in the most immediate way and resonates more profoundly with the reader than any form of description; 

(3) interior point of view, i.e., putting the reader inside the head of a character and having him view the scene through his eyes; and 

(4) the notation of status details, the cues that tell people how they rank in the human pecking order, how they are doing in the struggle to maintain or improve their position in life or in an immediate situation, everything from clothing and furniture to accents, modes of treating superiors or inferiors, subtle gestures that show respect or disrespect -- "dissing," to use a marvelous new piece of late-twentieth-century slang -- the entire complex of signals that tell the human beast whether it is succeeding or failing and has or hasn't warded off that enemy of happiness that is more powerful than death: humiliation.

In The New Journalism he wrote that of the four, the last was the least understood, but the most important.

OK, I've gone on for a while now, and you may recall that way back yonder at the beginning of this post you thought that I was going to be writing about Facebook. So..........................

Why do people enjoy reading Facebook? What is it that is so "gripping" and "absorbing"? ::::::: Hey! Where have we seen those words? Just up at the top of Wolfe's set of four devices used by those who understand the importance of realism.

This, right here, is my "aha!" moment. Reading Facebook is like reading Tom Wolfe! Or Dickens!!! Maybe even Steinbeck or Balzac or any of the others who grasped this power.(!) 

Really?

I'm not actually sure, but let's take a look:

1. Scene-by-scene construction.

Unlike so many of the people who play with words and produce books or even films that bounce all around in some attempt to be clever, there's no way that Facebook posts can be anything other than linear. (Yes, I understand that Facebook has instituted some algorithm to organize posts by order of "importance" if you've been away for a while, but even part of that algorithm is time, and from any particular friend -- or, character, if you will -- the updates are always chronological.) Facebook's home page is, essentially, one scene after another.

2. Realistic dialogue.

 Why has the "OH" become so common as to deserve it's own acronymous treatment? Because it sets the scene in two letters and lets the reader get right to the absolute best stuff... the quote. Anyone who's worked as a reporter understands that best way to get someone to read a part of a story is to put that bit in quotes. Everyone innately understand this, which is why, I think, so many non-writers are so prone to put things in quotation marks as a way of saying, "This is important! Read this!" That is why the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks will never run out of material.

3. Interior point of view.

Posts on the social media sites have become the essence of an interior monologue. Why do people post that they can't believe they ate all those pancakes for breakfast? Is it because they really think that others will be entertained? Probably not. I think it's that they just think they are interesting people, and that the essence of their interior monologue is worthy of posting, even if it's to an audience of less than a dozen. It's what any close reader of Wolfe understands right away as the logical evolution of the people of the "Me" Decade (Wolfe's description of the 1970s), which was never so much about selfishness as it was about an identification of the self as something unique and worthy of having thoughts that should get documentation and dissemination. That's at the heart of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, up to and including, if it must be said, sco.tt.

4. Status details.

This may be the hardest to capture, and yet in one way is the easiest because of one simple fact: What is the window called that we post our little datums to in Facebook? That's right! "Status." 

This is at the heart of why I think these social networks have been so successful. What they've allowed each of us to do is participate in an ongoing novel of epic proportions (Five hundred million times two is, mathematically, the first actual billion-footed beast, in the case of Facebook.) In this novel are characters with dialogue, one scene following another, interior monologue, and people who occupy certain ranks within the human pecking order. 

You don't even have to be part of that novel at all. You can just enjoy watching as some of the more enjoyable characters report to you things that they said, or that they heard in scenes that are involving because you know the characters so well. A great Facebook post might be about the kind of food served at some event. You can't taste that food. Why would the writer write about it and why is it fun to read it? Because it's a great status detail. If the hosts serve food that is exceptionally good, the writer is letting you know that they essentially exceeded the expectations of the status of that moment. That's the kind of detail you would find in, say, Dickens, with descriptions of either the gruel for Oliver Twist, or, for instance, a "jolly round of beef, ham of the first magnitude and sundry towers of buttered Yorkshire cake" for some of the dandies.

Similarly, do you have other "friends" who are just entertaining? They work or go to school or hang out in circles you have no interest in whatsoever, but they report about that circle with such aplomb, humor or with such a deft touch that you just enjoy hearing the reports and you think about them and look forward to the next time they let you know what's going on.

That's why we have so many friends on Facebook that are not the kind of friends you could call on to help you move a couch.

The great part is that you get to create this novel, in part. You hear about "friends" that are funny or interesting and, almost always, you can add them to your ongoing novel. And if a character becomes a bore, with one click you can "hide" that person and suddenly your novel is so much richer by comparison.

Now, are you a part of this novel? I think it's likely. This post is certainly long enough already, so I'll save for another post the way that we write our own novels, but here's one part of how I think we do take part in the novel just by reading. It goes like this:

Do you have "Friends" or people that you "Follow" because you have some aspiration to a social strata that they inhabit? (You don't have to answer out loud, so it's OK to be truthful.)

Fix one person in your mind for whom you think this might be the case. You know that you can't just go to that person and say, "I admire you and think I would enjoy life a bit more if I worked/partied/vacationed/hung out in a similar place, read the things that you read, wore the clothes that you wore, etc., and so I'd like to watch all those things about you, and -- when appropriate -- emulate them to that end." You just wouldn't do that in real life but I'm going to guess that you do that every time you catch up on Facebook. It's not that you rush to the store and buy a blue T-shirt if someone you admire posts a picture in one, but it might influence what you wear just a little the next time you go out to some similar event, even if that person will not be there. 

Think of it just in the micro-environment of Facebook. If a person you knew in high school talks with idolatry about, say, American Idol, and a person that occupies a social circle you aspire to mocks the proliferation of American Idol posts, you will be unlikely to post about watching the show, even if you did and even if you have something really clever to say. You may be the first to say on the 'net that, strictly as an example that J.Lo's hair looks like it came straight out of 1976. You won't, however, because you don't want to be one of the people mocked by the person you admire, even if you suspect that person hid you long, long ago.

Those tiny, but telling, status updates............................ Those are the exact thing Wolfe was writing about.

OK, enough. More on the cognitive psychology of Facebook next time.

 


Wikileaks Shows Generational Divide (And a Startup Lesson)

The whole Wikileaks event is fascinating on so many levels. There's been ton's of great coverage. I've read lots of it, but there's one thing that hasn't really been said: This seems like essentially a generational issue, yet another sign that the world is changing fast and the Hey-man-let's-change-the-world Boomers are the ones standing in the way of history.

Let me explain.

For all the hand-wringing, the actual upshot of the leaks has been... zilch. No covert operatives have been frogmarched down the streets of Moscow or Beijing. No foreign secretaries have been sacked.

(In the funniest tweet I've seen in a long time, my old Spy Magazine colleague Nell Scovell said: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thinks Hillary Clinton should resign. Does he know NOTHING about the Clintons???")

Clinton, of course, will not resign and neither will anyone else. If anyone was harmed even a little, all the governments and journalists so outraged about the leaks would point to that harm as an example of why the leaks are so dangerous. They've got nothing.

The only reason they are so upset is that they like keeping their little secrets. It makes them feel important. So far, however, the leaks show that the government of Russia is corrupt (Say it aint so!) and in most cases that diplomats have done a pretty good job. If all this stuff hadn't been leaked information, this "news" would be classified as "not news."

How is all this related to startups? I recently saw a presentation from one of the best startup guys working these days: Eric Ries. Ries is an advocate of taking the absolute minimum product that you can create and putting it on the web so you can see if and how people will use it. Then you learn your lessons, iterate quickly and keep moving. Someone asked him how it was possible to do this without alerting your competition to what it is you are doing.

Reis' answer was spot-on. In essence, he said that your competition is just busy trying to do whatever it is they are doing, and really won't be paying much attention to what a startup is trying to do in the same space. He said that you could actually take all the code you've written and send it to your closest competitor, and the chances are that they really wouldn't know what to do with it. So don't worry about them, Ries said, worry about your biggest challenge, which is to just do a good job of figuring out what your customers want and providing it to them.

So it is with all these "secrets" that are now out. They are only secret because of the legacy of the positions the people hold who are doing the communicating.

That's why I say this is a generational issue. People over 45 or so have this assumption that all communication is private. Gen Xers and younger -- the people who regularly post on the 'net where they are eating lunch -- understand that all communication is essentially public.

The reason there's been so much handwringing among the older parts of the media is that they liked the world back in the day when they, and they alone, would get to see all the private stuff and publicize it when they felt that it was interesting. The gatekeepers are just not that useful any more. What's useful is a search engine that allows anyone interested to find what they are looking for.

For those of you keeping score at home, gatekeepers are the Boomers, and search engines are from Gen X.

The person who allegedly provided all those cables to Wikileaks? A kid. The one calling for that kid to be executed? A presidential candidate, a boomer, who cloaks himself in Christianity. (Hypocrisy infects all generations, but its most friendly host is the Baby Boomer.)

So just remember these two things: First, if you really want something to be private, don't put it on the 'net. Second, ask yourself why you want it to be private. Chances are that if you try to keep it private, it will just make really boring stuff that much more sensational.


I refudiate Sarah Palin!

I am not a prescriptionist. I embrace a living language as much as any modern lexicographer.

I'm also not a hater. When George W. Bush had nary a friend in the world, I still wanted him to do well because I wanted the country to do well.

And when he coined the word "Misunderestimate" I went along. The word filled a hole in the language, and was a clever mash-up. It also sort of summed up his presidency.

Now comes Sarah Palin.

In a tweet, she called on her tweeps to "refudiate" something. 

Several things...

First: To her credit, it's clear that she types her own tweets. That's good. 

(The alternate thought, that she has someone so inept with language working for her as a writer, is simply too horrible to imagine.)

Second: She saw it was a mistake and pulled the offense to the language. Good for her.

Third: She compounded the error in the worst way possible, tweeting this:

"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!

OK, just to be clear: "Refudiate" may have started life as a malaprop, just as with misunderestimate, but it will die there. It's not a new concept and it doesn't have any kind of clear meaning the way that misunderestimate does. 

Misunderestimate is clear from the word itself. Does "refudiate" mean to refuse to repudiate, or to repudiate more? I suppose it might creep into the language incorrectly (see irregardless, penultimate, etc.), but I don't think it will. At least I hope not.

"Repudiate" is a fine word. As with all strong verbs, it carries any sentence smartly. "Refudiate" is risible. 

Palin's worst offense against language, however, is her invocation of Shakespeare. You can almost see the little hamster wheel spinning in Palin's head here: She learned -- during one of her brief interludes at one of her sundry institutions of higher learning -- that the Bard coined many of the words he wrote. She hung on to that little factoid for a moment just such as this. 

I can just... see her... sitting in the back of class... twirling her hair while languorously doodling strings of made-up words on the construction-paper cover of Introduction to English Literature. She hears that Shakespeare invented words and then spends the rest of the class thinking about how she is just like him but she is trapped in the cruel world of academia -- until a squirrel went by outside the window.

What she missed in that class is that there was no dictionary to consult for Shakespeare. The language had no guide then. If he wanted to write about a character who was something less pernicious than "cheap" he needed to invent "frugal."

So, I say that we repudiate "refudiate" except in one very narrow sense: If we find a person using the language improperly, and then claiming the mantle of Shakespeare in becoming a faux-neologist, I say that we rise up and refudiate that person in the strongest terms possible.

Sarah Palin, I refudiate you!


The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010: Politics and Water don't mix

A few liberal writers have been critical of President Obama because his speech about the BP oil disaster was weak. I find myself agreeing with even more liberal friends of mine who posted on Facebook (so I won't link to them) that they thought that criticism unfair.

The mainstream media writers seemed to think that unlike the president's speech on race in Philadelphia, the speech about the oil spill didn't do anything to fix the problem. 

That's just dumb. Racial issues are issues of perception and attitude, and a great speech can help elevate everyone's perceptions and attitudes. The oil spill disaster is one of engineering and physics. No speech is going to fix that.

So, while I agree with my really liberal friends, I also find myself agreeing with conservative friends like Greg Walcher, who writes about how many of the solutions that really could help in the Gulf of Mexico are all illegal

And my perspective on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Well, because of my book I see everything through water-colored glasses right now. I'm working on the chapter about what desalination will look like in the future, and so I've been looking at the volume of water in the oceans.

Bottom line: there's a lot.

The Gulf of Mexico is only the ninth biggest body of water in the world. The Pacific Ocean holds 283 times the volume of water in the Gulf, and still, the Gulf of Mexico is big. It's so big that even using the worst estimates for how much oil is gushing out every day, and even assuming they won't get it fixed until mid-August, the total amount of oil will add up to somewhere between a quarter and a half of one part per billion of the volume of water in the Gulf.

Now, I don't want to minimize the spill. The oil is a huge problem for all kinds of reasons, but it's mostly a problem on the surface (where most of the oil rises) and along the shores. In terms of contaminating the volume of water in the Gulf, it will add up to an amount that is way lower than the allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water. A drop in a bucket is HUGE compared to the amount of oil in the Gulf.

And as for the future of desalination of water... You'll just have to wait for the book!

--

Icon By the way, totally changing topics here, but I've been doing a bunch of the research for the book using a new search engine, DuckDuckGo. Google is googly in lots of googleliciuos ways, but I've really enjoyed the clean results pages and summary results that come up on search results pages while trying to learn about the Future of Water. 

(I am not getting paid for the link, but I do want to spread the news, which is why I used a link that the DuckDuckGo guy set up.)


TechCrunch Meetup in Denver

As of this morning at 8, nobody had volunteered to be the TechCrunch meetup organizer for Denver for the big fifth anniversary party. So I raised my hand.

I've been reading for most of those five years, and admire what Mike Arrington has done a lot.

And it's not exactly hard to get me to go to a bar on a Friday afternoon. I mean, I've posted on my permanent Scott Yates contact page that the best way to reach me on Friday Happy Hour is to go to the Pub on Pearl.

So, if you read this, I hope you can stop by starting around 5. But in honor of Arrington, let's not shake hands.


Elena Kagan is gay. Or she isn't. Big media is, however, dead for sure.

Members of the Supreme Court are the pinnacle celebrities of the legal geek world. As Kobe Bryant is to sports geeks, Steve Jobs or (but not "and") Bill Gates are to computer geeks, as Justin Bieber is to millions (so I read, anyway), the nine members of the high court are big celebrities.

So it makes sense that lots of people are interested in them.

I remember when John Roberts was nominated to the court, I read a bunch of the stories about him. They all had an "info box" or a "sidebar" that listed the highlights of his work history, his education, and his family, which included information about his wife and his two adopted kids.

I did the same reading about Elena Kagan. The stories were similar, both had lots of details showing how brilliant they are, bla bla bla. The one difference is that there was no "Family" section of the info box for Kagan. New York Times. Washington Post. ABC. Nothing.

It's as if everyone in the big media is all saying at the same time, "Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here. Move along."

To learn more, I turned away from the big media to a gay man, a Brit, and a thoughtful commentator, Andrew Sullivan. He has a number of posts on the topic, one of the most interesting, I thought, showed that a relatively new technological tool from (who else?) Google makes it clear that lots of people are interested, and are making their interest known by searching.

Here's my screen grab from this morning:

Google-kagan-gay
Clearly I'm not the only one who wants to know.

If Big Media had done it's job of just reporting, rather than trying to keep information out of stories and hope that we don't notice, I'm sure those Google suggested searches would look much different.

Look, it's not that I hope she is gay or isn't gay. The reality is that I don't care that much, except that I care about the people on the high court; I want to know what sort of people they are. I can find out all kinds of details about what kind of music she likes (opera), what her nickname was when she was a clerk (shorty), how she dressed for her high school yearbook photo (in judicial robes with a gavel), etc., but I'm not allowed to know if she's gay or straight?

This post isn't about her, it's about Big Media, what my old professor Jay Rosen calls the "Church of the Savvy."

Indeed just this morning he pointed me to the best long story I've read in a while by the always excellent James Fallows. It's about the future of news as being shaped by Google

The quote that fits this best is here:

“Usually, you see essentially the same approach taken by a thousand publications at the same time. Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says approximately the same thing.”

That's from a guy who's been watching Google News since the start, and he is absolutely right. I used to be part of that church. I did well, but I always bristled about the idea of knowing something and not being able to get it into the paper, and so I had some mighty fights with editors, and eventually left journalism and started my own business where I could put everything I knew out there.

(By the way, continuing my ongoing series on how rotten Gibbs is as press secretary, he has completely flubbed the White House response. He screwed this up, as he has with so many other issues, because he sees himself as one of the new high priests of the Church of the Savvy, and can't quite figure out how to recognize that the world is changing. His boss does, but in this case I think both President Obama and Kagan herself have erred in trying to keep it all in the closet, so that does put Gibbs in a tricky spot, but one that he could have worked out of more gracefully than he did here.)

The story will only grow and grow, not because it's fueled by haters on the right -- which is whom Gibbs blames -- or anyone else with an agenda. It will be fueled by people bristling at information being kept from them. Those Google suggested words are generated by a computer analyzing millions of searches. There's no conspiracy, vast or otherwise, driving what people all over the world type in their search engine windows.

Luckily for me and for all readers the walls are tumbling down, and it is possible to find other sources of news that are not in the Church of the Savvy.


Obama, health care, parents, and Field of Dreams

I'm a big fan of politics, and of movies, and I often think about politics in terms of what makes for a good plot.

The health care bill makes for a great plot. (Lots and lots of others will argue about if it's good policy, I won't do that here.)

First you have the whole political back story, the failure of Hillarycare. Now HRC is nowhere to be seen near HCR. Even a trip that she planned for the President had to be scrubbed so that he could push health care reform to home base.

But that's a minor backstory compared to the personal one: I really get the feeling that this fight was deeply personal for the president.

President Obama speaks about his health care victory. Image from Reuters

Consider these words from his book:

My thoughts turned to my mother and her final days, after cancer had spread through her body and it was clear that there was no coming back. She had admitted to me during the course of her illness that she was not ready to die; the suddenness of it all had taken her by surprise, as if the physical world she loved so much had turned on her, betrayed her. And although she fought valiantly, endured the pain and chemotherapy with grace and good humor to the very end, more than once I saw fear flash across her eyes. More than fear of pain or fear of the unknown, it was the sheer loneliness of death that frightened her, I think.

Clearly this was emotionally charged stuff, and while it's possible to get angry at cancer, cancer itself doesn't make a very good bad guy. Insurance companies make excellent bad guys. Here's what he said during the campaign in Dayton, Ohio, October 9, 2008:

This issue is personal for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I'll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn't want to pay for treatment. If I am president, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again.

Think about that as you look at that picture above. To whom is his gaze rising?

He hasn't mentioned his mother in the speeches from recent days that I've seen, but I can see her looking at him in everything that he is doing, using the tools that movies have to pull off such things. And him looking back.

Consider this passage taken from his remarks the day before the final vote: "Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself." Sure, we all have good hopes for ourselves, but nobody has higher hopes for us than our mothers. I think President Obama swore to fight back against those who dashed the hopes of his mother and made her suffer with such indignity. And he did.

Look, I'm not saying this was a giant Oedipal play, or that President Obama has an unhealthy grudge. Remember, the best movies become great when the hero does something that saves the world AND rescues the girl or saves his family at the same time.

There are dozens of examples, but Field of Dreams comes to mind for me. Remember watching that for the first time? You had no idea that Ray Kinsella was saving his relationship with his dad until it suddenly became clear that of course he was saving his relationship with his dad, and saving the reputation of Shoeless Joe and, by the way, Following Your Dreams, Farming and America's Love Affair With Baseball to boot. 

Remember? Remember near the end when Shoeless Joe tells Ray, "If you build it, he..." nodding toward the catcher "...will come." Ray stands up, and says, "Oh, my God" and tells his wife that it is his father. You can see the lump rising in his throat. (I felt it rising in my own throat, I still do just writing about it.)

Ray then says a line that baseball fans can all appreciate for its profundity, even though he is so choked up he can barely whisper it: "Say it ain't so, Joe."

Joe responds, "I'm afraid it is, kid." Ray then quotes one of the lines from the corn that moved him to build the field, "Ease his pain" and begins to understand that it wasn't Joe's pain, but his father's pain. Joe then says, sounding a lot like The Voice in the final command from the field, "Go the distance."

Then the clip below picks up, but the part that's most related to President Obama is above. 

He went the distance, and eased her pain.

What a movie!


Techstars AND Founder Institute! This is going to be a great summer in Colorado

Update: Brad Feld/Jim Franklin just linked to this post, so I thought it might be a good idea to include an update. I'm now a Founder Institute graduate, and I've seen many TechStars company up close, and I agree with Brad/Jim that they are both great programs, and it's worth checking them both out. Note that the deadlines are for last year, they are different this year. Other than that, this guide is still helpful, I hope. -Scott

 

Colorado is going to have a great summer; the weather will be awesome and there are lots of great chances to hear music, hike, etc. That's always been the case.

What's new is that there will be two startup accelerators (we don't call them incubators any more.) The big kid on the block is TechStars, which has a track record that is getting up into the Harlem Globetrotter realm for win percentage. The program has done so well that it has expanded, but the Boulder program is the bedrock. Anyone interested in the tech scene in Colorado can tell you the energy and enthusiasm from the companies working in "The Bunker" is infectious.

I'm also now excited about another entrant, the Founder Institute, which was founded by legendary starup guy Adeo Ressi, who started TheFunded, a pretty disruptive (in a good way) site in the VC world. Adeo started that after a string of successful exits.

He's also landed a big name to be the lead mentor for the Denver version of Founder Institute, Jon Nordmark of eBags fame.

Now, if I think TechStars is so great, why did I apply to the Founder Institute?

Well, the answer lies in one of the items in the grid below. I'm busy enough with my other projects that it would be hard for me to get to Boulder every day for three months. Also, I don't really have an idea that fits into the TechStars motif, and I also don't have a co-founder. Most of the TechStars teams are just that: teams.

So I will be be attending the classes, and I have a new business idea that may fit perfectly into the Founder Institute system, but Adeo keeps saying that with Founder Institute it's really all about the Founder, and not about the idea. I've heard David Cohen say similar things about TechStars, but the application does ask several questions about the business plan, market, and the like. Even if the plan changes during TechStars, it's clear most of those accepted go in with a plan. I'll be going into Founder Institute with just the vague outline of a business idea.

There are other accelerators around the country, and they are getting plenty of attention, but I can't think of a better place to be than Colorado in the summertime.

Bottom line, Colorado is going to be an amazing place to start a company this year. If you want to be part of it, now is the time to check it out. No matter what your situation, there's an accelerator ready and waiting for you here. You just need to apply!

Colorado New Technology Accelerators

A Comparison Chart

Name Founder Institute TechStars
Founded in San Francisco/Silicon Valley; 2009 Boulder; 2007
Now also in Seattle, LA, San Diego, NY, DC, Singapore and Paris Boston, Seattle
Colorado application due April 25, 2010 March 22, 2010
Cost of application $50 None
Application Personality/Aptitude test, LinkedIn profile Background, business concept
Team application? Allowed, but not needed Generally needed for acceptance
Economics You pay $600, and contribute 3.5 percent equity of your company into a pool that is owned by all founders and mentors in your class You receive $6,000 per founder (up to 3), and you contribute 6 percent common / founder equity of your company to TechStars
Full-time in program Not required, many keep their "day job" Immersive, full-time for three months
Time Commitment One night a week, plus extra work on your own, for four months Yes
Companies in each session 10-45 10
Percent women historically About 25 About 10
Average Age About 37 About 27
"Big Names" Jon Nordmark for Colo., Adeo Ressi of The Funded started it David Cohen started it, with involvement and support from Brad Feld
Acceptance based on Aptitude test, strength of founder; idea not part of application Combined strength of company idea and team
Mentors Only successful startup CEOs Successful startup CEOs, VCs, lawyers and others
Also included Free or super-reduced legal and other services from 40 partners Office space in "The Bunker" in Boulder, some legal and other services

The Future of the Future

A few months ago I wrote about some of what I was up to. It helps in a few ways to do that, I think, so here's the latest.

The two biggest bits of news are that I am writing a book, and I've been accepted to the Founder Institute.

First the book...

The American Water Works Association has been wanting to do a book for while that looks forward to all the changes coming over the next few decades in the world of water. So, the people there created a team of Steve Maxwell and me. Steve knows the water business inside and out, and AWWA is not just an association of water providers, it really is the authoritative resource on safe water. I bring to the team my skills at making complicated topics accessible.

One thing I know for sure already: The way we think about water will be changing -- radically -- over the next 30-50 years. You probably don't really think about water much right now. Most people don't. The ways that we've handled water over the last 50 years, however, just won't work over the next 50, and that's why so many radical changes are coming.

I'll work hard to make sure this will not be a depressing book, but it should be eye-opening.

So watch this space for an announcement about when you'll be able to pick up your own copy of The Future of Water. If all goes well, it should hit bookshelves this fall.

Next, the Founder Institute...

The institute is sort of like the awesome TechStars, or a few others, but instead of asking participants to to quit whatever they are doing and subsist on pizza and Red Bull for six months, it allows people to keep their day jobs while a new company gets rolling.

They are launching a Denver version, and I've been accepted as a founder. (I'm guessing I'll be older than the average student, and have founded two companies already, but I like the concept of this school so I will be participating gladly. I look at it a bit like continuing education, with a bunch of great potential side benefits depending on the kind of company I decide to start.)

I'm sure I'll have much more to report about that in the months to come.

In addition to those two big things, I'm also fiddling around with some other concepts:

  • I'm working with an excellent Denver web design shop on an idea that has the potential to substantially improve the employer-employee relationship around the world. Can't say more now, but it could be revolutionary, and a great thing for workers and manager everywhere. Stay tuned.
  • I created an easy to use Applicant Tracking System. A lot of businesses just get flooded with resumes when they post a job, and they don't have a way to handle all of the applications. Many of them just use a spreadsheet. So, I invented a quick and easy way to keep track of all the applications. I've never created a page and tried to have it ad supported, so this is my small experiment with that.
  • I may have a small but explosively cool new application emerging in time for Earth Day. That one will be fun.

There are a few other projects in the works. By my next report three months from now, I'll tell you all about them!


Those who don't watch West Wing are doomed to repeat it?

Maybe this will become an ongoing series of life just being better on the show the West Wing as opposed to the real world of the West Wing. Here's my first entry on pardoning turkeys.

This one is more subtle, but watch at about 4 minutes into this video. With the polite tone that is befitting the setting, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen delivered a stunning rebuke of a question posed by a senator.



Here's the better version. The sound quality is rotten, but it's the only one I could find on YouTube:




"The problem is that's what they were saying about me 50 years ago. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed."

If only Fitzwallace could have been there to smack down the senators.


Denver Public Schools (DPS) Calendar update

I just finished updating the DPS calendar for next school year.

This year they actually released it at a reasonable time, and didn't wait until well into February (after most summer camps require a deposit) to let us know when school would start.

I do this each year for myself, not wanting to refer to the ridiculously obtuse official calendar. (Do green-and-black checkerboards mean early release and blue octagons mean assessment day, or is it the other way around?) Last year I figured it could help a lot of other parents, so that's why I post it here on my blog. If there's something I can do to make it more useful, please let me know.


The New New New Technology Examiner, Peaches and Crowdsourcing. Confused Yet?

Sometimes I just can't help myself...

This morning I'm cruising through my blogs, and I read a great post by Nate Silver about some very fishy survey results about Oklahoma students.

I've been meaning to write in this space about how I'm now the new "new technology" Examiner over on Examiner.com, but I haven't.

So, do I compose a nice post here, introducing my work over there? No, I gotta go mixing things up and helping Nate solve the problem of not having enough data to show that the survey results are bogus. How? Using crowdsourcing, something I've been reading a lot about lately.

Totally confused? Yes, sorry, I understand. I'd sit down and write a post explaining it all, but I really want to get to the Farmer's Market before they run out of peaches. I'll have much more in the coming days, but at least now you have some explanation of why I wrote on Examiner.com this morning that we could use Crowdsourcing to prove that Oklahomans are not that dumb.


Gay Marriage, Marijuana, and the march of time...

Several quick odds and ends before my next post, which will be a big and very positive review of The Unlikely Disciple...

  • Two excellent posts in a row from the FiveThirtyEight guys, showing how gay marriage and marijuana are on an almost inevitable march toward legalization. Those guys nailed it during the election, and they are still finding their footing now with no election to talk about, but with those two posts I expect to learn a lot from them in the coming years.
  • In the marijuana post, it points out -- without comment -- that my generation (X) smoked less pot than either the boomers or the millennials. Doesn't really surprise me... even at NYU in the 80s, I saw very little pot smoking. Maybe I just ran with a nerdier crowd. I'm not advocating for or against legalization here, but I will say that I think smoking pot in general is somewhat narcissistic, which is why it makes so much sense that both the boomers and the millennials toke up. 
  • My post from April Fool's Day was, mostly, a joke. I am not crowdsourceing my life. I have to say, however, the idea was posted as a joke but the more I thought about it the more it grew on me. I guess I want it both ways: I don't want to do it right now, but I do want to be thought of as the first person to ever crowdsource his own life. Hmmmmm.
  • Baseball is back. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Drudge let's me down a second time

The first time Drudge let me down, I figured he just had a bad source. He announced to the world that Evan Bayh would be Obama's Veep.


This time, though, he's really shooting himself in the foot.

Comeback Through headlines and pictures, he's trying to create the illusion that McCain is making a big comeback. He's not

(And remember, I like Drudge. With a friend, I invented the Drudge Widget!)

There's also some noise that he may or may not come out with a big new plan to help the economy.

The problem is that McCain is in a trap that Obama has laid down. He did this with the Clintons, which was masterful. Now he's done it with McCain without even breaking a sweat.

The trap? He's made the case that McCain is "erratic." So, now if McCain sticks to his same (losing) strategy he'll lose, and if he tries to make a big change, well, he'll just be more erratic. McCain really may never know what hit him.

I'm certainly glad to see, by the way, that McCain has started in small ways to tamp down some of the anger out there. I've been banned from talking on this blog about anything that could be perceived as a threat by anyone against any potential new president. I'm not allowed to talk about it, but let's just say that I'm really really glad that McCain is saying that Obama is a good, decent, family man and a citizen.

Hey, speaking of family man, I think all those people that are so afraid of Obama are mostly older, and they have a lot of fear about the economy, and just change in general. Change is scary! All of those who are scared should look to none other than the heartthrob of Wasilla, Levi Johnston. There's a guy who should be scared. He's a high school drop-out with a pregnant girlfriend, and a mother-in-law-to-be who is a lifelong NRA member and has a lot of guns and may, in fact, be crazy. (She certainly is delusional.)

But is he afraid? Doesn't sound like it to me:

"We're up for it. I'm excited to have my first kid. It's going to be a lot of hard work but we can handle it."...


What about Johnston's politics?

The young man said he wasn't an expert on politics by any stretch. Asked about Barack Obama, he replied: "I don't know anything about him. He seems like a good guy. I like him."


Sure, he says he will be voting for the Republicans. I would be to, if I was him; having the Palins several thousand miles away probably sounds like a good idea!


On The Road

246652498_5a0b047d6a Like any political junky, I've been watching the polls. My new favorite poll watching site is put together by a couple of baseball stat freaks who have turned into political stat freaks. (They are liberal, and want Obama to be elected but they treat politics like baseball in that they have favorite teams, but they really just love the game and the stats.)


They do lots of great analysis of all the polls, having recently helped debunk the whole myth of the Bradley Effect. I love a blog that's not afraid to use terms like "regression analysis."

One of the writers has started doing something that big newspapers used to do back when they had decent size reporting staffs and travel budgets. He's hit the road.

In true blogger style, he's doing it while quoting Jack Kerouac plenty. I read yesterday that he was going to be in Denver, so after doing some politicking of my own last night (more on that later) I went over to the bar where Kerouac would go to celebrate stealing cars with Neal Cassady, My Brother's Bar. 

(You know, I never thought about this, but the bar is called My Brother's Bar and it was Cassady's brother who was a bartender there. Did the bar have the same name then? I better head back there and ask!)

So I figured that if the 538 guy is in Denver, and he's a Kerouac fan, he's gotta be there, right? Well, if he was, I missed him. I did run into an old friend I hadn't seen in years, though, so that made it a great night. 


Wall St. Journal Imitates the Onion

Over on the right of this page there is a link to my contributions to James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today" column from the Wall St. Journal.


I haven't made as many lately, I've just been busy, but one of his best ongoing jokes is "Life Imitates The Onion." It's when the Onion is funniest, when actual headlines prove prescient, such as this pairing:

  • "Estate Sale Proves Everything Man Worked For in Life Worth $5,235.78"--headline, Onion, May 17, 2006
  • "Man Auctions Life, but Disappointed at Bid Price"--headline, Associated Press, June 30, 2008

    Normally I might clip this article about Barack Obama being too skinny to be president and send it to Taranto urging that he put it in his column paired with the video below, but because the article was actually in the Wall St. Journal, I'm guessing that just isn't going to happen.



    As Obese Population Rises, More Candidates Courting The Fat Vote 


  • Do you know knols?

    Knol-logo

    I wrote about the new effort by Google to create a Wikipedia killer when I first heard about it late last year.

    At the time I compared the effort to the National Enquirer. Most major media refuse to pay for actual news, but the Enquirer does. 

    The difference between Google's new thing "Knol" and Wikipedia is that it pays for content. As I wrote then, I don't see anything wrong with that. If someone wants to write something and get paid for writing it, then I know why they are writing it. If they spend a bunch of time on a Wiki article, well, are they just doing it for their 15 minutes of fame, or what?

    Well, Google has been working on this for at least six months, and it just came out.

    First impressions? It's amazing how few articles they have, and how much they pay attention to health. Is the doctor business really so bad that they can write articles to go on the Internet in hopes of making 10 bucks for some clickthrus?

    That said, where most journalists, even really good ones, are predicting that the best way to make money in Knol is to write articles about popular topics, say Obama and McCain. That's what TechCrunch wrote. But I would actually predict that the field that will get flooded first is the articles about health, especially those conditions that can either be treated with a fancy pharmaceutical or that some lawyer can sue someone for. I read once that "mesothelioma" is the highest possible Cost-per-click word you could use because people type that looking for lawyers to sue in the junk science cases against asbestos manufacturers.

    In spite of the people out there willing to sell their vote on ebay, I don't think a lot of people are following a lot of text ads for candidates. They do follow links for stuff they think will make them healthy or rich without having to work. I'll try to check back in another six months and see if my prediction comes true.