Little Goebbels?

So, someone from Team Clinton said Obama's use of a picture of a middle class family was just as outrageous as the image of Nazis in Skokie, Ill.

Ummm. Middle class families - Nazis. Nice work. A key advisor on the all-important health care issue becomes as irrelevant as some lurker in the message boards of a site. He becomes the essence of Godwin's Law.

It brought to mind for me Colorado's own Ward Churchill, who managed to get himself fired from a tenured job because he called the 9/11 victims "Little Eichmanns."

Here comes a theory you won't read about anywhere else...

I think the reason that Ward Churchill created such a fuss, and got fired, is that he called those victims "Little Eichmanns" and not just Nazis. If he had done that, he would have fallen into Godwin's Law and been ignored.

What's the difference? Specificity.

In the excellent book Made to Stick, the authors point out that specificity is important to making ideas that "stick."

Calling someone a Nazi, as Godwin's Law illustrates, has become so generic as to become nearly meaningless. "Little Eichmanns" was sticky.


Lobbyists acting within the law?!?!? Stop the presses!

USA Today makes a big splash about how how lobbyists are spending money on legislators.

Despite a strict new ban on gifts to lawmakers, lobbyists routinely use these prime locations to legally wine and dine members of Congress while helping them to raise money, campaign records show. The lawmakers get a venue that is often free or low-cost, a short jaunt from the Capitol. The lobbyists get precious uninterrupted moments with lawmakers — the sort of money-fueled proximity the new lobbying law was designed to curtail. The public seldom learns what happens there because the law doesn't always require fundraising details to be reported.

I had to put the emphasis on the word legally. The paper had to throw that in there because what they are doing is legal. The emphasis of the story is that something pernicious is going on. It's an old journalism trick, when you want to make something look bad, you throw in a lot of "Real Estate records show that..."

I know it is fashionable to bash the lobbyists, especially in an election year, but Congress does make laws that have an impact on businesses, and so it's OK with me if all the hardware stores in the country pitch in a few bucks to hire someone to represent their views in Washington so that their business doesn't get creamed.

Of course, the people in congress know that the laws they pass have a real impact. After all, they wrote the "lobby reform" that allows the money to be spent in the way it now is, in spite of what they may have said about it during some press conference. I don't think they are quite as shocked as USA Today wants all of us to be that money is still being spent on lobbying.


Positive Identification

Mike Arrington wrote today about a new thingamajig that makes one of the zillion social networks work better with your email inbox. He says your inbox is "not only the 'original' Internet social network, it's going to be the backbone of social networking going forward."

There are indeed a bunch of social networks, as Brad Feld wrote about a couple of days ago. He said his "head hurts" trying to think about how to coordinate one person between all those networks.

There are non-digital world examples of this kind of problem that people have faced forever. Our family faces it every year at Christmas Card time. We have a spreadsheet from when we got married that we try to update, coordinating that with email contact directories, letters sent during the year, etc. It's interesting that some people exist only in the Christmas Card list, others there and digitally in an in-box, but not on a social network.

The reason I bring all of this up is this: Yes, the whole space is complicated and yes, it's hard to keep it all straight. But I think this is all good news, really good news.

In the old days, people could use their company directory and maybe a church or school directory, plus an address book that rarely changed, to keep track of everyone in their lives. Now it's harder to keep track of everyone, but we are in contact with that many more people. Life is more complicated and interconnected, but how much richer and more well informed we are because of our direct exposure -- even if it is digitally -- to so many more people!

While it may seem like a chore keeping track of all those people across all those directories, it's a blessing indeed that you have all of those people around you in the first place.

So, no more whining!


One morning with my morning newspaper

That papers are dying is one of those facts that gets lamented on endlessly here on the Interwebs. I won't go into all that here, except to say that I'm doing my part to keep the printed paper alive. I read the Rocky Mountain News every morning, typically with my 4-year-old son in my lap, trying to keep the tradition alive.

Today was great, because there was a story about a probe nearing Mercury. Space is very big with the 4-year-olds.

Today's Rocky was also terrific for some ground-breaking layout. For 102 years, more or less, the schedule for the National Western Stock Show has been printed in an unintelligible mass of type. Tradition is everything with the Stock Show. The Rocky broke that up by doing a great spread with one column for each day, and events broken up by Horse Events, Rodeos, etc. It was great.

But then in the same section, just below the helpful rundown of all the Children's events, were two ads for "Topless Bullriding" and some other "adult" event. I had to turn the page fast -- 4-year-olds are fast with the questions.

I know that newspaper staffs have been cut to the bone marrow, but doesn't anyone check to see if ads are around appropriate editorial content anymore?

One other short item that can't be overlooked:

Garyhart
John Enslin, a terrific guy and great reporter and baseball fan, wrote a story about the opening of the new Obama office in Colorado. Gary Hart spoke. Here's an excerpt:

But what clinched his support, Hart said, was when a supporter of an Obama opponent said they "we're going to throw the kitchen sink at him."

"Everybody in this room is probably too young to remember that I ran for president," he said, drawing applause. "I had a breakthrough in New Hampshire and then they threw the kitchen sink at me."

Ummm. As I recall, Gary Hart challenged reporters to investigate him after persistent questions of his womanizing in DC, often with pal Warren Beatty. (See the politics section of this wikipedia page, which has the quote about how Warren wanted Gary's life, and Gary wanted Warren's.)

Hart told reporters that they would be bored.

Hard to say if they were bored. Watching a certain kind of film that will trip up spam sensors is boring, too. But nobody was throwing any kitchen sinks, unless you classify your own hypocrisy as a sink, kitchen or otherwise.

I'm starting to sound like an old prude, ranting about adult ads next to kids listings, and an aging statesman trying to whitewash his own sordid history. You'll have to decide for yourself it's it prudishness or enlightened commentary incorporating journalism analysis and catching the political hypocrites.

Yeah... That's it. The second one.


Literally Freezing to Death

I literally yelp for joy when I discover a great blog.

This one just tracks abuse of the word "literally" and has a handful of great links to other single-issue grammar blogs.

The item above was about the misuse of the word by a formerly leading candidate for president, though I don't think many voters turned away from her because of that. On the other hand, she did sound a bit like an unpleasant sixth-grade teacher.

Though her campaign has worked assiduously to make her appear warmer and more likable, she sounded a bit scolding at times.

"What is most important now," she said, "is that as we go on with this contest that we keep focused on the two big issues; that we answer -- correctly -- the questions that each of us has posed: How will we win in November 2008 by nominating a candidate who will be able to go the distance, and who will be the best president on Day One? I am ready for that contest."

Anyway, I hope that whomever you support for president you will join me in hoping that none of the candidates' acolytes actually does freeze to death, literally or otherwise.


Google like the National Enquirer?

Ne

I'm guessing I'm the only guy weird enough to make this connection between these two big stories in the news: Google starting a wikipedia competitor and supermarket tabloid claims that John Edwards knocked up a woman (not his wife.)

The connection is money.

The big difference between Google's new thing called "knol" and wikipedia is money, Google will allow the authors of knol pages to share in some of the ad money that comes in to that page. The basic theory is the same as if you run a site that gets lots of clicks on ads, i.e.: if you do something that creates value, you should share in that value. It makes sense. In general wikipedia is terrific, but there are some weird and rotten bits that get in there all the time.

Because nobody's making any money at helping keep the content on wikipedia good, it relies on volunteers to do a good job maintaining it. What is the motivation of people to get information out there when they won't be paid? I'm sure there are lots of answers, but it's a valid question.

Got_gossip

I once saw the editor of the National Enquirer speak on a panel. Everybody else on the panel criticized the idea of "checkbook" journalism, saying it corrupted the whole august tradition of journalism. This editor very responded by saying, essentially, "The thing about paying for information is that I know exactly what the motivation is of the people who give me information; they want money. When someone tells me some information that has value in the marketplace, and they want to give it to me and not take money, well, then I really question what their motives are."

I'm not saying Edwards did get that blond knocked up. (I'm not linking to that story. Ewww. But the graphic here really did come from the NE site.) And I'm not saying checkbook journalism is better than the Wall Street Journal or whatever, but I do know that the National Enquirer has to live under the same libel and slander laws as all the other papers.

I'm also not exactly equating Knol to the National Enquirer, but I have to say that I will feel better knowing exactly why someone wrote a Knol page (money) rather than trying to guess why someone might have written a wikipedia page.

OK, two posts in a row about Google, one comparing Google to Stalin, the other to the National Enquirer. The funny thing is, I like Google.


Learning

Two interesting posts from two kings of blogging that are only related in my mind around the theme of learning.

First is Fred Wilson, a VC writing about "scar tissue." He read about Hillary talking about her scar tissue from all the battles she's lost, and he relates that to the world of investing, saying essentially that he prefers investing in people who have failed at some venture in the past -- as long as they learned the lessons they needed to learn from the experience.

And then Mike Arrington wrote an amazingly thoughtful post about companies that failed in the last bubble. I will not do the post justice by trying to summarize, but essentially Arrington points out a fascinating dichotomy. On the one hand those who learned lessons in the last bubble may be too timid to try really new things now. On the other side is that people may make easily avoidable mistakes by not learning from what happened. Great innovation, however, only comes from bold actions.

Clearly there's no perfect answer.

One thing is clear, though: None of us can change who we are and where we have been. If you lived through the last crash, or if you didn't, you still need to do something every day.

It's possible to learn from the mistakes of others, and it's also possible to have made mistakes and not learn anything and go forward making them over and over.

I recently read something that's just stuck with me: Really successful people are different in that they've failed more because they've tried so many more things.


Ultimate in "Shocked. Shocked!"

I actually own the domain shockedshocked.com, and always thought it would be fun to assemble all the items that make me say that every day.

The line, of course, comes from Casblanca. (I watched that with a friend once who had never seen it, and he said he felt like he had because so many of the lines are part of popular culture.)

But I digress.

The ultimate in being shocked. Shocked! came today courtesy of TechCrunch, which reports that the founder of MySpace may not actually be the age he lists on his MySpace page.

How can this be?!?!?! Someone fudging the truth on the Internet?!?!?! Especially about his age!!! Who does he think is, a European Soccer Phenom????

Once again, Colbert has nailed people before he even knows it. The most important thing is not truth, but "truthiness."