Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Lessons Never Learned At Fox News 

Michael Ryan has written, directed and produced films, television, and theater, published several books of humor and satire, and worked as a Washington and foreign correspondent and editor for major magazines.

Quantity, not quality, seems to get you places in this world, whether you are an academic or a conservative pundit.

Archer John Porter Martin died recently, and, as I read his obituary, I found myself thinking about people like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Tucker Carlson. Unlike them, Archer Martin took to heart the lesson that Mister Ed tried to teach us all a generation ago: he never spoke unless he had something to say. If only the Fox News crowd had the same amount of horse sense.

Archer Martin would never have been a success on Fox News, or talk radio, or tabloid newspapers.

Those of you who wasted long undergraduate afternoons in chemistry laboratories might remember Professor Martin as the inventor of partition chromatography; those of you who didn’t...well, trust me, you don’t even want to know about it.

He was a scientist with, as far as I could tell, little interest in politics, but I found myself mentally comparing his career to those of the wind-em-up-and-let-’em-blab right wing performance artists who afflict our lives. You can’t turn on cable TV -- at least not Fox or CNN -- without seeing one of them. You can’t pick up a paper -- at least not the New York Post or the Boston Herald and God knows how many others coast to coast -- without reading them. You can’t turn on talk radio without hearing them blab away.

For years, I’ve been wondering where they get the time to compose the millions of words they regurgitate every week. Granted, it doesn’t take much thought to come up with the sort of blather they retail, but just the time it takes to type the number of words they produce is truly awesome.

When you consider that some of the conserva-blabbers, like George Will, have separate subspecialties in things like baseball, you can only gasp in awe at the superhuman strength it takes to produce enough words to fill the Encyclopedia Brittanica, all day, every day.

Which brings us back to Archer Martin, an unassuming chemist who, from his obit, seemed painfully lacking in the skills of bureaucratic infighting.

Six decades ago, he needed to find out how to separate various amino acids in organic tissue, and set about to find a way to do it. He succeeded. He was lured away from his comfy gig at a British university to take a job at the University of Houston, where he taught part-time for many years, until they declined to renew his contract. The reason: in his entire life, he published only 70 papers. The average chemist would have published at least 280. Obviously, he was not up to snuff.

The university bureaucrats seemed to have forgotten that Paper Number Nine won Archer Martin the Nobel Prize.

Apparently, the good professor took it all with good grace, and went back to Britain to spend his declining years. No doubt he was replaced in Houston by someone whose obituary will not be printed around the world, but who at least produced hundreds upon hundreds of papers.

Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if Sean Hannity only made 70 public appearances in a lifetime, but actually had something worth saying at each of them.

In a world like that, maybe even Ann Coulter could win the Nobel prize.

This is Michael Ryan for TomPaine.com.

Lust for learning in library
August 27 2002

The National Library of Australia may soon start collecting pornographic Web sites to add to its extensive collection of erotica.

Its electronic materials librarian, Edgar Crook, said in a newsletter that the sites would be added to the National Collection of Electronic Publications, "thus giving a representative picture of Australian erotica on the Internet".

He said the library already had such "weighty volumes" as Big 'n' Bouncy and Bra Busters, among other magazines.

Mr Crook said the erotica collection was a valuable part of the library.

"The examination of society and culture of a period by necessity involves the study of its sexual life," he said.

"The erotic matter created in, for example, the Victorian era is of great interest to the modern historian.

"The surviving sexual diaries and pornographic novels of this era provide insight into ordinary lives that are just as important as those provided by the many 'improving' works or the social novels that are still so widely enjoyed."

Since the 1970s the library has also collected gay erotica.

Mr Crook said the library did not collect the material for "the salacious enjoyment of the contemporary reader".

"[It is] an indicator of social mores, standards and public attitudes to matters sexual," Mr Crook said. "With this in mind, it is clear that there is no merit in being coy today and therefore delivering an incomplete picture to future researchers."

The library's guiding policy says material should not be rejected on the grounds that its content is controversial or likely to offend some library users.
Why feel guilty pleasure in others’ woes?


Friday, August 16, 2002

Seven of the 20th Century's Nobel Prize winners for Literature were alcoholics.

Some of the most influential writers in Western literature - Hemingway, Faulkner and O'Neill - reached their artistic maturity during this period when drinking was practically an obligation. Their drunken habits provided a model to younger writers, perpetuating the idea of the drinking writer.

"I keep all my books and display them on a number of bookshelves.

In this way I can look back over time and see what has influence my growth as a person, and maybe find an indication as to who to blame".
--- D.J.Douglas

Lets blame those literary lushes for our drinking problems - Any Bloggers Lawyers?

Mail chauvinism
August 16 2002

Is that your inbox bulging? Virginia Matthews examines the new gender divide as emails rewrite the world of office politics.

Far from simplifying communications between the genders, the advent of remote communications has simply widened the chasm, says Monica Seeley, who believes that when it comes to email, men and women really are from Mars and Venus.

Seeley, the founder of the British-based Mesmo Consultancy which helps senior executives with the tricky world of IT and e-commerce, says in her forthcoming book, Managing in the World of Email, that as with other things in life, size matters for men with a "never-mind-the-quality, feel-the-width" approach to their bulging inboxes.

Brainwashed into believing that touch-typing is for women, most men are unable to type using more than two fingers. As a result, emails from men tend to be short, and are often one-liners. By contrast, women take more care, writing and rewriting and agonising over the impact of messages before committing them to cyberspace.

Seeley says the quantity of emails received in any day has for men become "the modern equivalent of what was once termed meetings one-upmanship". The more you receive, the more important you are considered and the more status you are accorded by colleagues. More than 100 emails a day equals rising star or senior manager, while fewer than 10 signifies office worm or non-player.

To play office politics effectively, says Seeley, "those with overflowing inboxes should advertise the fact to colleagues, and moan loudly about the time spent dealing with them". Those who receive fewer than 10 a day should lie.

Like meetings, most emails are a waste of time, with only a few containing critical information. Seeley adds that practically all the messages sent to men will be deleted within minutes of receipt. "While women hoard the 'nice-to-receive' mail, and file anything else remotely useful, men just get rid of everything, including the stuff they really need. Senior managers pleading with technical staff to help them recapture inadvertently deleted data is a common occurrence among men, but the problem is far rarer with women."

But while men's emails are seen as efficient and concise, women who adopt a more time-efficient, male style are dismissed as cold and even authoritarian, according to Seeley's research. "Although most women are naturally more chatty in email, I am meeting many senior women who prefer to ape men's more staccato e-messaging style. The problem is that when women send off minimalist messages they are seen as authoritarian rather than efficient."

Brian Sutton, an information communication technology director at Learn Direct, which offers computer-based courses, says women's emails tend to take longer to write, but denote greater emotional intelligence. "Like management style, a woman's email persona will be less confrontational, less point-scoring and less nakedly ambitious than a man's, but it will also be more human and communicative."

Sutton admits to adopting a different email approach if his recipient is female ("I take more care when I'm sending to a woman in case I hurt her feelings"), but castigates the brutality of male-to-male message styles: "Men shoot from the hip and send ridiculously confrontational emails before thinking through the impact they may have. They are more likely to vent their spleen via email and may even, by being too hasty, trigger an all-out email war with colleagues."

But Ruth Bishop, a human resources director at Securitas Security Services, says women are just as bad as men at "bickering by email". Although she encourages staff to sort out their differences face-to-face, they continue to squabble and fight electronically. "Part of the problem is that people expect things to magically happen or be resolved just because an email has been sent telling someone to do something. While emailing may make the sender feel efficient, the recipient often fails to be moved."

Although few workers would wish to dispense with the convenience of email, Sutton detects a return to face-to-face communication, or letter, in many workplaces - especially among women. "Men are lazier and therefore like the time they save with email, but women often prefer to use the telephone or see people's reaction to things face-to-face. They also appreciate personal notes and letters when they have excelled themselves."

After taking part in an email management workshop, Bishop went on "email strike" to encourage her colleagues to rely less on email. This failed dismally.

But she agrees with Sutton that men are "lazier" senders and users than women. "Men abbreviate in emails too much and, being skim readers, may fail to read to the end of their messages. Which means that you are forced to add to the email mountain by sending the whole thing again."

Emails are a useful tool for routine work and office gossip, but inappropriate for praising or disciplining a colleague. And, adds Seeley, men should remember that "email really is no substitute for real life".

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Sloth: Bloggers Look Where Hard Work Got Us

Working harder only gives us more sloth-inducing gadgets.

For several hundred years, the great innovations in science, technology and engineering--the wheel, the bellows, the cotton gin--were focused on reducing the amount of backbreaking labor humans must endure.
More recent technological innovations--the three-in-one remote, the sit-down lawn mower, the clapper--have seemed somewhat less momentous. By the time cruise control was invented, we had clearly run out of things to make more efficient. Pushing one’s toes on a pedal was too arduous, someone at the General Motors apparently thought, perhaps assuming the ultimate goal was allowing us to sleep while we drive.

In other words, for some time now, progress has moved beyond preserving human dignity to encouraging human sloth. Far from being a sin, it has become an aspiration.

Why was it put on the list in the first place? Originally, the term used was “sadness,” not sloth. The Catholic Church changed it to “sloth” in the 17th century, just in time for the industrial revolution. Both qualities were deemed sinful because they meant we were not sufficiently energetic in doing good deeds and therefore working towards salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it.”

Then, Protestants came along, with their annoying “work ethic,” teaching that mopey people don’t just help fewer lepers, they build fewer gizmos--and they impede progress. Sloth hurts God, God’s creations, and your fellow humans.

And sloth can still cause great hardships for others, at least according to my wife. A slothful person forces labor on to others (“Where’d you put the remote?” “Over there” “Can I have it?” “That would mean me getting out of my chair…”) Lethargic people can suck the energy out of a room. In that sense, sloth isn’t the completely victimless crime we might think it is.

But as someone who has been known to buy new underwear to avoid having to do a load of wash, I believe sloth should be stricken from the list of deadly sins. Let's admit that in modern times, this "sin" has become mired in a theological cul de sac: sloth is bad because it impedes progress; progress is good because it enables us to be slothful.

We should start recognizing the benefits of lethargy. Laziness is a costless protection against the really serious sins like greed, lust and wrath, which, say what you will, do require great amounts of energy. If the Enron executives hadn’t been quite so peppy, would we be facing today’s financial crisis? And few truly slothful people have the stamina to be wrathful, lustful or envious (except to envy one’s neighbor for having a better three-in-one remote)

At first I thought, given Christianity's critical view of sloth, I might get the ammunition for my argument from Buddhism. After all, there’s the old joke, "I've taken up meditation--beats sitting around doing nothing." Any religion that has heated debates about whether it’s better to chant or sit (during meditation), clearly sees the splendor of inaction. But it turns out the Buddhists are anti-sloth too. A sacred text called “The Five Mental Hindrances,” part of the Pali Canon, exhorts us to “rouse one’s energy” and gives helpful hints: less overeating, better “bodily posture,” contemplation of “the perception of light,” fresh air, “noble friendship,” and “suitable conversation.”

Most of the world’s religions seem to be down on laziness, apparently believing that we have an obligation to affirmatively take advantage of what God has given us and improve the lives of those less fortunate. Go figure.

Still, if we're going to point fingers, I think the emphasis should be shifted away from the slothful and towards those encouraging us to be this way, i.e. whoever invented the electric tooth flosser. As they say in the War on Drugs, go after the dealers, not the users.

Sloth ultimately seems to be less a sin than a run-of-the-mill negative personality trait. But by that token, the list of sins should also include “Laughing at Own Jokes,” or “Frequently Repeating Same Story.” Better yet, just delete sloth from the list of sins and make the list shorter. Then it would take less time to read.

BY Steven Waldman


Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Authors Write Their Own Five-star Reviews

Some of Britain's bestselling authors are giving their own novels glowing reviews on Amazon, the internet booksellers, by pretending to be readers.

Jane Green and Isabel Wolff, two of the leading lights of the so-called "chick-lit" genre popularised by Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, are among a number of writers who have given themselves "five-star" reviews in order to boost their popularity and sell more books.

Shock horror
All is fair in love and publishing

There is obvious pleasure in exposing wine snobs, even more than Literature snobs. So can world experts tell a red from a white in a blind test?.

Red or White

Saturday, August 03, 2002

How About Them Bones?

Alice Sebold's breakout fiction debut moves into a class by itself

With an impressive 925,000 copies in print after 11 printings, Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones has outpaced the sales of any other first novel in memory, reaching Oprah-level numbers in its first month on sale without the endorsement of any TV or newspaper book club. Booksellers are already comparing it to such long-running blockbusters as Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, only to dismiss those examples in the same breath, because they took off much more slowly.

The book hit #1 on Amazon.com six weeks before its publication date, immediately after Anna Quindlen appeared on the Today Show for a summer reading roundup on May 22 and said, "If you read one book this summer, it should be The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It's destined to be a classic along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird, and it's one of the best books I've read in years." Ten days later, New York Times book critic Janet Maslin fanned the flames by touting it on CBS Sunday Morning, while Seventeen magazine ran a first serial in the July issue. Sealing the novel's critical success, Michiko Kakutani described it as "an elegy, much like Alice McDermott's That Night," and deemed it "deeply affecting" in her June 18 review on the front page of the New York Times Arts section. By July 1, just a few days before the book's official pub date, Time magazine's Lev Grossman was confidently declaring it "the breakout fiction debut of the year."

Ever since the book landed at #10 on PW's bestseller list on July 10, it's been a miracle of upward motion. At Borders, the book has remained the #1 hardcover fiction bestseller since July 14. "Often, when there's a buzz on a book, demand peaks out before it even pubs," commented fiction buyer Bridget Mason. "But this one just keeps building bigger and bigger. It's because of the strength of the novel, and it's also very timely," she said, referring to the highly publicized murders of several young girls in the last six months, which echo the book's central drama.

Some stories circulate endlessly, like hot blood, cold river or black economy
Free Markets Promote Unrest, Not Democracy

A recent U.N. report flies in the face of Washington's mantra that free markets are the only path to economic growth and democracy.

The Human Development Report 2002 warns that many countries that took steps toward democracy following the Cold War are either stalling or ''slipping back to authoritarian rule.'' The application of free-market nostrums in the developing world in fact has aggravated poverty. It has led to declining standards of living and widening income disparities. By the end of the 1990s, 52 countries wound up poorer than at the beginning of the decade, according to the report.

Despite this, Washington has long proposed that countries should first focus on economic growth and trust that lagging social indicators will follow. In a speech delivered last year to Latin American leaders alarmed at the Argentine implosion, President Bush insisted that ``nationals throughout our hemisphere need to strengthen our commitment to market-based reform, not weaken it.''

Today 211 million out of Latin America's population of 510 million live in poverty, with 86 million too poor to purchase even the most basic necessities. Seventy percent of those polled for the report in the region complain of increasing levels of poverty, crime, corruption, drug trafficking and addiction.

Overt Poverty

Friday, August 02, 2002

article of 29

31 July 2002
‘The names have been changed to protect the guilty’
Frederic Beigbeder

We were in the South Kensington basement of London’s Institut Francais for a conversation between Matt Beaumont, author of e (not ecstasy, but e-mail; an extremely funny novel about the public relations industry), and French writer Frederic Beigbeder. The latter’s book, first published under the title 99 francs (subsequently republished as 14.99 euros) was a huge success in France. It hit UK bookshelves as £9.99.

Frederic Beigbeder – Are you sure it’s my evening? Oh great! Well, I apologise for my accent, but if you hate the French accent, then you shouldn’t be here! Okay, I’m drunk. [Takes up book, which has been provided and begins to read without a noticeable change of tone.]

My name is Octave and I’m dressed from head to foot in Tom Ford. I’m an advertising executive; yup, that’s right, I pollute the universe. I’m the guy who sells you shit [‘Sorry!’] Who makes you dream of things you’ll never have. The sky’s always blue, the girls are never ugly, perfect happiness touched up on Photoshop. Immaculate images, in-yer-face music. When, after painstaking [‘painstaking? painstacking’] saving, you manage to buy the car of your dreams (the one I shot in my last campaign), I will already have made it look out of date.

I’m three trends ahead [‘As you can see’], and I make sure you’re always frustrated. Glamour is a country that no one ever gets to. [‘Except me of course!’] I intoxicate you with new things, and the advantage with the new is that it never stays new for long. There are always new things to make the last lot look old. I want to make you drool. [‘What does it mean…drool? Ah! baver…baver. Thank you Adriana – she’s a very good translator! Where is this shy translator? Ah! A BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THE TRANSLATOR’. Applause.] I want to make you drool – that’s my vocation. No one in my profession actually wants you to be happy, because happy people don’t spend.

Your suffering boosts sales. In our own jargon we call this the ‘post-purchase downer’. There’s some product that you just have to have, but as soon as you’ve got it there’s something else you have to have. Hedonism isn’t humanism; it’s cash flow. What does it say? ‘I spend, therefore I am.’ But in order to create a need I have to arouse jealousy, pain and dissatisfaction: they are my weapons. And my target…is you. [‘Do I continue, or is it boring?’ I’m fishing for compliments.’ Cries of ‘No, no!’ and ‘yes, yes!’ ‘Beg me if you want me to continue. Okay, okay, no more of that!’ Beigbeder continues.]

I spend my life lying to you, and I’m paid a shed-load for it. I earn around £12K a month (excluding the expenses, the company car, the stock options and the golden parachute). I should say 19,440 euros really, because I would look richer. Still, do you know many guys earning this much at my age? I manipulate you and they give me the new Mercedes SLK (the one with the roof which slides automatically into the boot) or the BMW Z8 or the Porsche Boxster or the Mazda MX5. (Personally, I’m a sucker for the BMW Z8 roadster: the aerodynamic aesthetics of its bodywork combined with the grace and power of its straight six-cylinder engine producing 400 bhp and giving a 0 to 60 time of 5.4 seconds. Better still, the thing looks like a giant suppository, just right for giving the world one up the arse). [‘Very sorry for this vulgar bit.’]

I interrupt your films on TV to bombard you with my logos, and they give me a holiday in St Barths or Phuket or St Moritz. I bang on and on at you with my slogans in your favourite magazines, and they offer me a chateau in the Perigord or a manor house in Gloucestershire [‘I think it isn’t pronounced like this?’ To murmurs of approval, his pronunciation is corrected.] …or a villa in Tuscany or a condo in Aspen or a palace in Morocco or a catamaran in the Caribbean or a yacht in St Tropez. I’m everywhere. [‘Mmm – I’m everywhere; in French, je suis partout, is the name of a collaborationist newspaper during the war.’]

You’ll never get away from me. Wherever you look, you’ll find one of my ads centre stage. I forbid you to be bored. I stop you thinking. The terrorist cult of the new helps me to sell empty space. Ask any surfer: to stay on the surface you have to have a gap, a pocket of air, underneath you. Surfing is just sliding over an abyss (whiz-kids on the Internet know that as well as the Malibu champions). I decree what is True, what is Beautiful and what is Good. I cast the models who’ll be giving you a hard-on in six months’ time. I plaster their images in so many places that you call them supermodels; these young girls of mine will traumatise every woman over fourteen. You idolise my choices. This winter, you’ve got to have breasts up above your shoulders and a seriously underpopulated pussy. [‘Sorry, I’m not laughing at my work. I’m laughing because it is the first time I read it in English, in front of people…I’m laughing at myself, in fact.’] The more I play with your subconscious, the more you obey me. If I sing the praises of a new yoghurt on the walls of your town, I can guarantee that you’re going to buy it. You think you’ve got your own free will, but sooner or later you’ll recognise my product on a supermarket shelf and you’ll buy it, just like that, just to taste it. Believe me. I know my job.

Believe me I know My Job