Veterans Tribute

UsflagIn honor of Veterans' Day, I'd like to re-post a poem I originally posted back in 2005, and reiterate our thanks to all those who have served, and are currently serving, our nation.


Quietly you've all turned gray
You did your job, you saved our way.
Our life and freedom you've preserved
We thank you less than you deserve.
You've never boasted, bragged, or asked
for adulation for your past.
You did the job you knew was right,
and quietly you cry at night
for bodies maimed and comrades lost
for sights beyond our furthest thoughts.
For what you've lived and felt and seen,
For what the cost of freedom means
You leave us blessed with every breath,
that cost you arms and legs and death.
You won the worst and greatest war -
We owe you more, we owe you more.
Thank you for your wondrous feats:
For hope, and speech and quiet streets.
For worship as we choose to pray,
For preservation of our way.
Before you go we need to show
that in your silence we still know
what accomplished and what you did
for who we are and how we live.

Thank you.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I quoted novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham in yesterday's post, and I'm going to do so again here, but relative to a different topic.

In his memoir The Summing Up, he explains the need for writers to "cut, cut, cut" their work:

Maughamsmoking"To do so now is more than ever necessary, for audiences are at once quicker-witted and more impatient than ever before in the history of theatre... Audiences in the past seem to have been willing to sit out scenes that were elaborately developed and to listen to speeches in which the characters fully explained themselves. It is very different now, and the difference has been occasioned, I suppose, by the advent of the cinema. Today, audiences... catch the gist of a scene in a few words and having caught it, their attention quickly wanders."

This was published in 1938. Isn't it amazing...he could be describing the shift from traditional broadcast and print media to the Web.

Gasland, BP and The Summing Up

Gasland So, my day job had me doing some research on media outlets in Pennsylvania and I kept coming across stories about HBO's latest documentary, Gasland, which premiered last night.

It was a [controversial] hit at Sundance, and has since been covered by the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, and the Daily Show among others. I've set my DVR to record it.

Gasland was directed by Pennsylvania-native Josh Fox and documents his multi-state investigation of natural gas companies' use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves pumping large amounts of water deep underground, fracturing rock to release natural gas. It also leads to natural gas leaking into the water supply, gas blow-ups, and according to Fox, an industry that "won't take responsibility for their actions." Sound familiar? Here's a preview:

Later in the day, I chatted with another Pennsylvania native who told me about Centralia, PA. Have you heard of it? A mine exploded (underground) here in 1962 and THE FIRE IS STILL BURNING. The town failed to install a fire-resistant clay barrier between an open trash pit and the mine, and when trash haulers proceeded to dump coal burners there...boom. Centralia's population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981, to 12 in 2005, and 9 in 2007. All properties were claimed under eminent domain and all buildings were condemned in 1992; the town's zip code was revoked in 2002. It is now a ghost town. 

Centralia [Photo via veender]

And then there is BP, which has been covered ad nauseum, but like the above show a troubling pattern in human history. From William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week:


"In moments of distress and panic, it is tempting to succumb to ideologies that promise a single, simple solution to the mess that is the human condition. Communism was blinkered like that, but so, in its purest form, is free-market capitalism. While drilling in 5,000 feet of water, the capitalists at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig made a considered decision to forgo some troublesome safety measures, to save time and about $10 million in costs. Why not risk a small fine when millions of gallons of oil were waiting? It must have seemed like the smart play at the time... This is the problem with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand’’: To work its corrective magic, it depends on occasional disastrous mistakes, depressions, death, and widespread suffering... Regulation, too, often falls short of the ideal. Consider the case of Bernie Madoff, who ran his monstrous Ponzi scheme for two decades, right under the noses of the SEC. Even after a whistle-blower came to the agency with proof that Madoff’s “investment fund’’ was a scam, the regulators did nothing...That leaves us, I'm afraid, back where we started: groping our way forward, with no surefire solutions to human fallability."

From EJ Dionne, op-ed columnist at the Washington Post:
Dionne_author-photo "Deregulation is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren't issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its Tea Party critics claim it is. But the truth is that we have dis-empowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions."

From W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938):

Thesummingup "So long as men are cursed with the sense of possession, and that I presume is as long as they exist, they will wrest what they can from those who are powerless to hold it. So long as they have the instinct of self-assertion, they will exercise it at the expense of others' happiness. In short, so long as man is man he must be prepared to face all the woes that he can bear." (p. 187)

6/23 Update: 3 more soundbytes I came across today that I needed to include here:

1) News from today that a northeastern Pennsylvania school district has reached a five-year gas lease agreement with a company that drills in the lucrative Marcellus shale field.

2) Attorney Eugene C. Kelley's blog post: Are We Doomed to Repeat History With the Marcellus Shale Deposits in Northeastern Pennsylvania?

3) Historian Margaret MacMillan, in Dangerous Games, "History should not be written to make the present generation feel good but to remind us that human affairs are complicated."

Ring out the old, ring in the new.

'Ring Out, Wild Bells'

By Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to all of my family, friends, and colleagues.

This year, I'd like to share some words of wisdom from Pace Lattin, a fellow advertising professional (reprinted here with permission):

I wish from my family to yours, a Happy Festivus.

On a serious note, during these holidays, please consider giving instead of receiving. When I opened up my browser today, the front story was about Carrie Underwood's $1M engagement ring. I can't conceive how anyone would feel in this country, where there are still children malnourished because their parents cannot afford breakfast, that we'd ever celebrate someone receiving such an extravagant gift.

It is easy to get caught up in the commercialization of everything, especially while working in the advertising industry. I daily wrestle with what is appropriate in our field, what exactly we are promoting, selling and how it affects other people’s lives.  Perhaps I’m a hypocrite, but I sincerely hope that during these holidays more of us take a little bit of our lives, a little bit of our paycheck and give it to something more promising than the wishes in a Gap Commercial.

The traditions of the various holidays almost all come from hardship, struggle, and strength in adversity. Whether it’s about a child born in barn, or the fight against oppressive rulers, or even the observance of the passing of the seasons there are messages that we can hold on to. Children are born daily in this country in houses that are no different than mangers, there are people all over the world who are persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs, and there are those who daily work the fields just to eat. Those people live a life that for most of us are so different than our lifestyle, that it’s hard to realize what is really happening.

Thus, I  offer a prayer, a wish, a meditation to all who would care to listen.

"In this season, as the winter sets in, as beloved families gather to celebrate, as you spend time with your blessed friends, may the Universe grant you Eyes of Loving Kindness so that you gain insight into the true nature of life and the universe. May you use that insight to save and help many others who suffer daily in our world."

Happy Holidays,

Pace Lattin

And Then There's This

Andthentheresthis Continuing with the social media overload theme from my last post, I went ahead and read Bill Wasek's book, And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture.

The book examines the ever-shortening life span of stories in our culture - whether it's news, gossip, or the latest best-seller - among the onslaught of email, RSS feeds, blog posts (sorry, I'm adding to that), and Tweets. He describes a world in which we have become so accustomed to a constant stream of new information, and so wary of always-encroaching boredom, that we tell stories about our society and ourselves, even when there is nothing new to say.

Besides the information glut, shortening attention spans, and overall exhaustion this creates, the really good content gets lost after its fleeting 15 minutes of fame (if that). And despite the broader array of news and opinion available to us, we have not necessarily broadened our horizons, but rather self-segregate ourselves into smaller & smaller niches of like-minded individuals.

Some of my favorite excerpts:

"Breaking news, fresh gossip, tiny scandals, trumped-up crises - every day we are distracted by a culture that rings our doorbell and runs away. Stories spread wildly and die out in mere days, to be replaced by still more stories with ever shorter life spans.

The rapid appearance and disappearance of young writers is a byproduct of niche sensationalism...the young writer comes into the public consciousness like this: he or she becomes the one must read just then, not because his or her work is good, but because it represents something about the moment, or about the youthful cohort from which the writer has sprung.

We like to fill our minds with information that confirms what we already believe; this information in turn doubles down our already existing support of what we think or dismissal of what we disbelieve. It is in this regard that the Internet and confirmation bias are conspiring to erode what remains of reasonable political discourse in this country. The Internet allows the like-minded to find one another so quickly, and with so little exposure to other points of view. Indeed, in this regard, the forward march of search technology threatens to balkanize our politics even further: the ability to ever more agilely find what we are looking for, while excluding the rest, is exactly what a citizen does not need in making his or her political choices.

This is a common meme-maker's lament: viral projects spread through decontextualized blog links and email forwards, and so viewers tend to pay no attention whatsoever to the domains that actually host the material - they never learn anything about the creators who entertain them.

In the Internet circus, a seemingly infinite cast of clowns, daredevils, and freaks each step into the spotlight, enthrall the crowd for thirty seconds or so, and then exit back into the dark with barely a bow.

We love our nanostories, their birth and death thrill us, and yet we know that they are devouring us."

The same themes were picked up in a Financial Times article last week, which noted that for many, social media has become "a more personal filter to the infinite world of the Internet." Where people use to turn to traditional portals like Yahoo! or AOL as their entry point, they are now turning to Facebook or their preferred feed aggregator, reading just the news & information that comes in from friends or other trusted sources. Ray Valdes, a media analyst from Gartner is quoted: “We are moving toward a world of ‘snackable’ news that can be shared like pieces of candy or a pack of gum...Unfortunately, we run the risk of losing substance and nutritive value.” 

Wasik closes his book with a brief look at some of the "solutions" to Internet fatigue. Among them:

  • Writer & editor Jake Silverstein's proposed Internet Ramadan, where people go offline for a month
  • NYTimes writer Mark Bittman's Secular Sabbath, an experiment in going offline for a mere 24 hours
  • Chip maker Intel's Quiet Time, where employees are encouraged to go offline each Tuesday morning in order to think (and work) more deeply

There are countless articles with similar themes:

Should we be concerned? Or is our fast-paced lifestyle just the new norm, and the attention-getting books & headlines just another example of the trumped-up crises we crave?

Social Media Overload

Remember this?


It's the Twitter Curve created by Kathy Sierra back in 2006 (referenced again here in 2007) and included in a fascinating blog post about the growth of communications channels leading to continuous partial attention, to the detriment of mankind. An excerpt:

Moore's law for the brain doesn't quite work. We're evolving much, much, much too slowly... Brain 2.0 isn't coming anytime soon. And we're all feeling the enormous weight of not being able to keep up. We can't keep up with work. We can't keep up with our social life. We can't keep up with the industry, our hobbies, our families. We can't keep up with current events. We'll never read a fraction of those books on our list. And we are hurting. Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest... being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents.

I hadn't thought about Kathy's visual in months; that is, until I saw this image making the rounds on the 'Net last week:

For the uninitiated, the letters used in making the above ransom-esque note are pulled from the most popular new media sites & tools (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo!, Gmail, eBay, Blogger, Flickr). The creator, to my knowledge, remains unknown.

But really, it could be any of us. Two years have passed since Kathy so keenly hit on the issue (and dozens of others have as well), and the problem only seems to have gotten worse.

Here's a peek into my world [which will hopefully shed light onto why my responses to some of you are so tardy...and my blog posts of late, fewer & farther apart]:

  • Current browser tabs open: 9 (that's pretty typical for me, I would say)
  • Yahoo! Inbox: 12,697 messages. I just checked and the oldest go back to 2003. This is from a time when I had all industry newsletters, retail promotions, and personal mail going to one account. I've since made this my personal-mail-only account, and generally keep up with those messages, but there are a lot of legacy ones still in there that I [stupidly] think I'll get through some day.
  • Gmail Inbox: 26,722 messages. Silly, I know. But this is where I now get all of my industry newsletters & retail promotions. I really enjoy reading them, I simply just can't keep up. So the volume continues to grow and grow (hooray for all that free storage!)
  • Hootsuite: 2 Twitter accounts (personal + professional) and 486 others that I follow (collectively)
  • LinkedIn: about 100 messages in the inbox; nevermind the live update feeds & discussions.
  • Facebook: 113 messages in the inbox; again, little time or energy for the live feed.
  • Netvibes Homepage: 94 RSS feeds from an assortment of sources - mainstream publishers like WSJ and NYTimes, as well as local sources and friends that blog. These guys have been getting the least attention of late (sorry!)

There's also, of course, the work email account, text messages on the phone (my new T-Mobile/Google Android phone which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, even though it feeds into all this craziness), and assorted activity in other accounts like Flickr, IM clients, and my social media graveyard (MySpace, Friendster). How do I manage? Well, I'm an information junkie and obsessed with emerging media, so it's my nature to consume a lot to begin with. The above outline seems out of control, but really I'm continuously scanning the headlines and subject lines and addressing the things of utmost importance [to me]. I also make time to read books, cook, and travel, among other things (lest you think I'm sitting in a dark room, illuminated by the glow of a monitor 20 hours a day).

But even I am noticing the hardship caused by continuous partial attention. It's tiring. And the value:time ratio isn't maybe as strong as it used to be, when following a lot of publishers meant I was always "in the know." Now it just means that I see a lot of the same news, in muliple places (welcome to ReTweet Nation). It's time to cut back, and/or find a trusted digital curator.

Don't get me wrong; I still love the Web and all things emerging media...I just want my life back.

From Writing Boots, channeling Kurt Vonnegut:

Here's a test: Spend one day surfing the Internet and spend another roaming your neighborhood. See how many good dinner table stories you have after each. There won't be a contest.

Edward Abbey

My friend Dan posted a great quote on his blog recently, which I'd like to share. It's attributed to author and environmentalist Edward Abbey, and it goes like this:

Franconia One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.

As we head into the weekend, get outside and enjoy!

[Source: excerpted from a speech to environmentalists in Missoula, Montana in 1978 and in Colorado, which was published in High Country News in the 1970s or early 1980s under the title "Joy, Shipmates, Joy."]