Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Business Balls and NYC Traffic

It scares me a little when my mom drives in NYC because every other car is aggressive. My mom is a meek driver and doesn't protect her space in the lane. Inevitably, a car inches over and cuts her off, causing anxiety for my mom and usually anger from others that my mom lags behind. (OK, that might be me, but it happens to me when I see other meek drivers on the road).

We, in my current job, are so afraid of losing a customer who is having problems becoming self-sufficient that we are doing 10s of hours of content processing for them for free. Every week. No end in site. As a result, we are unhappy because of increased costs ($Ks) and they are unhappy because they are not self sufficient.

Instead, we should have said no and demand they process their own content or charge them a fee. This would have given them the incentive they needed to become self-sufficient.

Now we have an unhappy client and significant costs all because we don't have the marbles to draw reasonable lines with our clients. Clients, like NYC taxi cabs, will always inch for more. There is nothing wrong with accomodating them to keep going, but at a certain point you got to protect your space on the road if you want to get where you are going.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The "Ism" Stigma - Shutting down difference

It can be quite scary to recognize difference in an idealistic society that believes in utopian ideals of equality. Yet difference is found everywhere in nature among species.

Take for example the Galapagos cactus. On islands with turtles (who eat the cactus) the cactuses grow taller, out of turtle reach. On the other islands, just miles away, the cactuses grow right off the ground. One simple evolutionary difference in environmental pressure over many generations changed the traits within a species. What a banal and simple point that most would accept.

Now, let's take on the same subject and make it completely objectionable. The African American male for several generations in a slavery society faced an increased pressure on physicality: size, endurance, and strength. The result is that after many generations, African American males are larger than their African counterparts, including first or second generation African Americans. WHOA!!! Now that's racist. Now let's talk about IQ ... just kidding. I wouldn't approach that topic but if evolutionary pressures affect height or strength ... Let the explosions begin, and maybe rightfully so.

The evolution card has been extended by Social Darwinists to lay claims about the fitness of races, and thus provoke racist notions of superiority justifying the subjugation or elimination of races. But take away any desire to suppress a race, as well as any generic notion of fitness, and lastly the notion that any generality is not specific to any individual. Are we dealing with truth, regardless of the effect on stubborn notions of equality? Evolution is a scientific theory, not a moral judgement.

If you look at natural history, evolution is racist. It is sexist. It is heightist. And it is fatist. In Galapagos turtles, it is even neckist. Could the differences between us draw a guide to past evolutionary pressures? If so, what do your differences say about your genetic history? What about the differences of others?

Sometimes the truth is a tight rope walk, especially with "isms". But equality is an illusion. So take that ideal and put it in your "ism."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Evolution is Too Damn Slow

As I approach Thanksgiving and my much awaited post on "Why I Would Have an Eating Disorder if I Were a Girl," let's approach the subject by talking about evolution - of course.

I am reading a fascinating book (thanks, Meredith) on the role of evolution in our social behavior, The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright. For those of you struggling with the sexual roles and stereotypes of men and women, this is a great book. Wait, that's all of you ...

But instead of delving in just yet, I want to touch on the uneasiness I tend to feel about being content with my life. Often I feel like I am not accomplishing what I should be. I am not who I was meant to be. Intead of the grandiose dreams implanted in me from years of television, I am going to blame evolution, at least partly. Maybe evolution didn't design me right.

For example, our common "sweet tooth" is a remnant of times long past where fruits were hard to come by, yet nutritionally important. A sweet tooth was a positive incentive, now it is hazardous to our health. Our desire to eat rich, fatty foods similarly comes from a time when such foods were scarce, so the incentive led to better habits. Now it leads to heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Our natural instincts lead us to struggle against our current reality, and guess what, most people fail and many become miserable because of it.

And frankly I know that for the past million years my genes weren't being groomed and evolved to sit in a chair all day looking at this computer screen. Now my back and neck hurts, I have early signs of carpal tunnel, and I'll bet I won't be able to see well when I am 40, without glasses that is.

If it takes 5000 generations to turn a wolf into a chihuaha or under different pressures a Saint Bernard, how long is it going to take my genes to adjust to the new world? You can't kill all the undesirables like you could with dogs.

Maybe my fundamental unrest is because I am not designed for the 21st century, or the 21st century just ain't designed for me. Damn, that evolution. It's just too damn slow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Too Full To Listen: Lessons in Timing

Seth Godin, Internet Marketing God, writes a spot on article on timing, and why politicians have had to spend a shocking $2B on repetitive advertising just to get mindshare. He points out that we are all so overloaded with messaging that we are "full." At some point, just a moment, we become "unfull" and you have to be there at that moment, and you have to have been there before as a primer. "So, all marketing analyses that ignore time are wrong," he says.

I have seen this countless times with Internet marketing. Did you know that twice as many people will open your marketing email in the aftenoon then in the morning? If you get to work and have 30 new emails (aka you are full) you just delete. In the afternoon, after lunch, you ease back into work and look there is an email you might take a look at. Same is true Mondays and Fridays, versus during the week. The statistics are truly amazing.

So when you approach someone about something important, do you think about whether they are full at the moment? Wait until they are not full and leave the politicians to being full of it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bland Politicians

Following my post on cookie cutter politicians ( ) comes a NY Times op-ed piece by a Swarthmore psychology professor who wrote the book "Why More is Less." He explains the psychology of picking the less "bad" candidate rather than the better candidate. Well, I fear after this election, we will still have more of less.

Praying for numbers in London ...

Monday, November 06, 2006

When Righteous Just Ain't Right

Remember when "confirmation" in religious circles didn't mean validating a case of homosexuality, pedophilia, or both? First Foley, now Haggard. Well, not "first" Foley. No, first the Catholic Church. No, no. First (insert "righteous" leader here). There is such a long line of "righteous" people doing terrible things, it gives good principles a bad name.

It is well accepted in psychology that those that are fiercely homophobic harbor homosexual tendencies. What does that say about our most "righteous" leaders. Time to connect the dots, America ...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Two Must Read Articles in NY Times

I am too frustrated to document the expansive farce of this election, so there is always Thomas Friedman and Frank Rich ( Here is Rich's article since both require Times Select:

Throw the Truthiness Bums Out
Published: November 5, 2006
EACH voter will have a favorite moment from the fabulous midterms of 2006. Forced to pick my own, I’d go for Lynne Cheney’s pre-Halloween slapdown of Wolf Blitzer on CNN. It’s not in every political campaign that you get to watch the wife of the vice president of the United States slug it out about lesbian sex while promoting a children’s book titled “Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America.”

The pretext for this improbable dust-up was a last-ditch strategy by the flailing incumbent Republican senator of Virginia, George Allen. Desperate to resuscitate his campaign, Senator Allen attacked his opponent, Jim Webb, for writing sexually explicit passages in his acclaimed novels about the Vietnam War. Mr. Webb fought back by pointing out, among other Republican hypocrisies, Mrs. Cheney’s authorship of an out-of-print 1981 novel, “Sisters,” with steamy sexual interludes suitable for “The L Word.”

When Mr. Blitzer brought up “Sisters” on live television, Mrs. Cheney went ballistic, calling Mr. Webb a liar. The exchange would have been a TiVo keeper had only the CNN anchor called Mrs. Cheney out by reading aloud just one of the many “Sisters” passages floating around the Internet: “The women who embraced in the wagon were Adam and Eve crossing a dark cathedral stage — no, Eve and Eve, loving one another as they would not be able to once they ate of the fruit and knew themselves as they truly were.” But you can’t have everything.
Even without Eve and Eve, this silly episode will stay with me as a representative sample of this election year. It wasn’t just that the entire Cheney-Blitzer-Webb-Allen fracas had nothing to do with the issues that confront the country. It was completely detached from reality. Mr. Allen, who has been caught on video in real life spewing a racial epithet, didn’t attack Mr. Webb for any actual bad behavior, but merely for the imaginary behavior of invented characters in a book. As if it weren’t enough for Mrs. Cheney to regurgitate Mr. Allen’s ludicrous argument, she fudged the contents of her own novel, further fictionalizing what was fiction to start with. Then she turned around and attacked CNN for broadcasting nonfiction — a k a news — like her husband’s endorsement of waterboarding in a widely disseminated radio interview.

The incessant shell game played with fiction and reality turned this episode of Mr. Blitzer’s program, “The Situation Room,” into a sober inversion of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” in which Stephen Colbert’s satirical Fox-style TV blowhard interviews real-life politicians. Here the interviewer, Mr. Blitzer, was real, but the politician, Mrs. Cheney, was bogus, shamelessly making everything up and hoping her playacting would make her outrageous fictions credible. Maybe in some precincts it did.

The 2002 midterms were ridiculed as the “Seinfeld” election — about nothing — and 2006 often does seem like the “Colbert” election, so suffused is it with unreality, or what Mr. Colbert calls “truthiness.” Or perhaps the “Borat” election, after the character created by Mr. Colbert’s equally popular British counterpart, Sacha Baron Cohen, whose mockumentary about the American travels of a crude fictional TV reporter from Kazakhstan opened to great acclaim this weekend. Like both these comedians, our politicians and their media surrogates have been going to extremes this year to blur the difference between truth and truthiness, all the better to confuse the audience.

But there’s one important difference. When Mr. Colbert’s fake talking head provokes a real congressman into making a fool of himself or Mr. Baron Cohen’s fake reporter tries to storm the real White House’s gates, it’s a merry prank for our entertainment. By contrast, the clowns on the ballot busily falsifying reality are vying to be in charge of our real world at one of the most perilous times in our history.

While lying politicians and hyperbolic negative TV campaign ads are American staples, the artificial realities created this year are on a scale worthy of Disney, if not Stalin. In the campaign’s final stretch, Congress and President Bush passed with great fanfare a new law to erect a 700-mile border fence to keep out rampaging Mexican immigrants, but guaranteed no money to actually build it. Rush Limbaugh tried to persuade his devoted audience that Michael J. Fox had exaggerated his Parkinson’s symptoms in an ad for candidates who support stem-cell research purely as an act.

In a class by itself is the president’s down-to-the-wire effort to brand his party as the defender of “traditional” marriage even as the same-sex scandals of conservative leaders on and off Capitol Hill make “La Cage aux Folles” look like “The Sound of Music.” Just in recent days, the Rev. Ted Haggard, a favored Bush spiritual adviser and visitor to the Oval Office (if not the Lincoln Bedroom), resigned as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals after accusations that he patronized a male prostitute, and the Talking Points Memo blog broke the story of the Republican Party taking money from a gay-porn distributor whose stars include active-duty soldiers. (A film version of Mrs. Cheney’s “Sisters,” alas, still awaits.)
And always, always there’s the false reality imposed on Iraq: “Absolutely, we’re winning!” in the president’s recent formulation. After all this time, you’d think the Iraq fictions wouldn’t work anymore. The overwhelming majority of Americans now know that we were conned into this mess in the first place by two fake story lines manufactured by the White House, a connection between 9/11 and Saddam and an imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon. Both were trotted out in our last midterm campaign to rush a feckless Congress into voting for a war authorization before Election Day. As the administration pulls the same ploy four years later, this time to keep the fiasco going, you have to wonder if it can get away with lying once more.

Given the polls, I would have said no, but last week’s John Kerry farce gives me pause. Whatever lame joke or snide remark the senator was trying to impart, it was no more relevant to the reality unfolding in Iraq than the sex scenes in Jim Webb’s novels. But as the White House ingeniously inflated a molehill by a noncandidate into a mountain of fake news, real news from Iraq was often downplayed or ignored entirely. It was a chilling example of how even now a skit ginned up by the administration screenwriters can dwarf and obliterate reality in our media culture.

On the same day Mr. Kerry blundered, the United States suffered a palpable and major defeat in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, once again doing the bidding of the anti-American leader Moktada al-Sadr, somehow coerced American forces into dismantling their cordon of Sadr City, where they were searching for a kidnapped soldier. As the melodramatic debates over how much Mr. Kerry should apologize dragged on longer, still more real news got short shrift: the October death toll for Americans in Iraq was the highest in nearly two years. Some 90 percent of the dead were enlisted men and nearly a third were on extended tours of duty or their second or third tours. Their average age was 24.

When the premises for war were being sold four years ago, you could turn to the fake news of Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” to find the skepticism that might poke holes in the propaganda. Four years later, the press is much chastened by its failure to do its job back then, but not all of the press. While both Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert made sport of the media’s overkill on the Kerry story, their counterparts in “real” television news, especially but not exclusively on cable, flogged it incessantly. Only after The New York Times uncovered a classified Pentagon chart documenting Iraq’s rapid descent into chaos did reality begin to intrude on the contrived contretemps posed by another tone-deaf flub from a former presidential candidate not even on the ballot.

In retrospect, the defining moment of the 2006 campaign may well have been back in April, when Mr. Colbert appeared at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Call it a cultural primary. His performance was judged a bomb by the Washington press corps, which yukked it up instead for a Bush impersonator who joined the president in a benign sketch commissioned by the White House. But millions of Americans watching C-Span and the Web did get Mr. Colbert’s routine. They recognized that the Beltway establishment sitting stone-faced in his audience was the butt of his jokes, especially the very news media that had parroted Bush administration fictions leading America into the quagmire of Iraq.

Five months later, a video of Mr. Colbert’s dinner speech is still a runaway iTunes hit and his comic contempt for Washington is more popular than ever. It’s enough to give you hope that the voters may rally for reality on this crucial Election Day even as desperate politicians and some of their media enablers try one more time to stay their fictional course.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bush and Kerry Are Right

Bush was right about Kerry. What Kerry said was insulting and demeaning to our military. Of course, it was also true. The fact that the military heavily recruits to the lesser educated has been made before in "Fahrenheit 9/11", albeit more tastefully. And the recent legislation no longer requiring a HS degree or a GED makes it quite clear from where the military is expecting to get recuits. So get over it. It's true. Sad, but true.

The political machine has made it nearly impossible to say anything controversial without consequence. More than ever, our politicians have to walk on eggshells rather than provide visionary leadership. Is it any surprise that we have a bunch of politicians that all sway in line, stay the course, and don't challenge the status quo. It is too costly.

Why is Kerry on the front page? It was a joke. Tasteless and stupid, but a joke. The fact that it might have ramifications on Nov 7th is ridiculous. Bad humor should not make the front page, although I might make an exception for Dick Cheney who responded: "I guess we didn't get the nuance. He was for the joke before he was against it." Now that is pretty funny...