Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More Blog Tools: BlogBeat

I have just installed BlogBeat's traffic measurement system here, for their 30 day free trial.

It sounds like it takes a few days worth of data to create any meaningful information...

I'll report back once I see what it can do.

Take a look at this Techcrunch article for a thorough explanation on Blogbeat.

Anyone using it? Anyone opted for to pay for the service?
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Monday, February 27, 2006

Literacy through Same Language Subtitles

Mahashunyam has an amazing article on Bubblegeneration about PlanetRead's Same Language Subtitling project to increase literacy.

The project, which just won a Google Grant, teaches literacy to adults by showing movies with same language subtitles--so they can read and listen at the same time.

GoogleBlog has more details on PlanetRead and the GoogleGrant they won.

Possibly the most amazing part: "Every U.S. dollar covers regular reading for 10,000 people – for a year."




The article caught my eye partly because we're running a similar experiment in our house right now.

I'm Canadian, and my first language is English, but I learned French through the school system, and living in France and Quebec. Now I'm living in the US, concerned about losing my French, and my husband who studied French briefly in school is eager to learn it at a function level.

So we rent French movies. For now, we watch them with the English subtitles--so he can follow them, and tune his ear in. As his French gets better, our next step is to watch selected scenes with the English subtitles, and then with the French.

The PlanetRead story reassures me that we're on a good track, or as they say, le bon chemin!

(Right now we're in the middle of the 4-part miniseries of The Counte of Monte Cristo, and it is fabulous.)

The article also reminds me of how, when I lived in Japan, I learned to read a number of Chinese characters (kanji)...by listening/reading along when friends were singing karaoke.

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Blogging Live With Performancing

Don't you love running experiements in a live production environment?

I am composing this post with the href="https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=1730 Blog Editor extension for Firefox.

I have noticed recently that I want access to a number of blogging tools and features that Blogger doesn't offer, but I also don't want to change blog platforms at this time. So, I've been looking into third-party services that will provide the tools I want and integrate with Blogger.

More specifically, I've been looking for easier ways to send (outbound) trackbacks, to add technorati and del.icio.us tags, and to spell-check and edit with a more robust tool than the spellchecker built into Blogger.

I had heard some good things about href="http://ecto.kung-foo.tv/" as blog editing software, but decided to try Performancing first. Aside from the (pertinent!) fact that Performancing is free, and that I am already a Firefox user, Performancing seems to offer more support for a variety of tags.

Any Ecto or Performancing users out there? I'd love to hear why you chose one over the other and how you like using it.
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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Squeet vs Feedblitz

Feedburner is partnered with Squeet and Feedblitz to let readers receive to your blog update notifications by email.

I haven't worked with either one, before. At a cursory glance, their offerings don't seem to be distinctly different. (Yes, I know, I need to take a closer look.)

Does anyone use either of them. Do you have any feedback on them?

Thanks for any light you can shed!
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Brace Yerself, Effie

I am, at long last, getting around to some long belated tech upgrades here. (Yes, a template change is in the works as well.)

As we yochi-yochi* through these changes, I really, really, really appreciate your feedback. If you find any bugs, I'll try to be as responsive as possible, within my own troubleshooting capabilities. And if are happy with a change, please let me know!

Today, I've added a Feedburner feed, in the top right corner. If you'd prefer to read Tsuredzuregusa though a syndicated RSS or Atom feed, give it a shot, and let me know what you think.

I may yet drag this blog into the 21st century. Captain.



*Yochi-yochi, by the way, is a delightful Japanese word to describe how toddlers walk.

Next time you see a little guy or girl stumbling along, think to yourself "yochi yochi yochi." Isn't it apt?

One of my favourite words.
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Friday, February 24, 2006

Captain, there's a message coming in from the blogosphere.

A little gift for everyone who enjoyed the Superhero Personality Quiz:

Which Star Trek character are you?

I am Uhura


You are a good communicator with a pleasant soft-spoken voice. Also a talented singer.

Click here to take the "Which Star Trek character are you?" quiz...


Hmm...I think the gender-biased questions skewed me as Uhura on this one, because I definitely sing and wear mini-skirts. Without the gender-identifying questions, I suspect I would have scored higher as Picard.
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Distruptive Technology Alert

Via Jim Calloway's Practice Tips (yes, you'd be surprised at the range of blogs I read in a day), I've just learned that Google has released the Google Page Creator, a design-your-own-webpage tool.

Google says:
"No technical knowledge required. Build high-quality web pages without having to learn HTML or use complex software...Your web pages will live on your own site at http://yourgmailusername.googlepages.com"
Jim Calloway's response was that professionals need their own domain name and not one at Google pages, but any web presence is better than none.

My reaction is that while Google's new tool continues to democratize the web, it is also going to cause nightmares for professional web designers who create pages in the $500-$1000 market.
Professional Designer: Sure, we can make a professionally designed for ACME Anvils. That will run you $750.
Angry Client: Hey, why should I pay you all that money when my kid made a great page for his World of Warcraft Guild for free?
I wasn't paying attention back then, but I'm guessing that the launch of Geocities caused a similar ripple at the bottom pricing tier of the web design community. Anyone around who remembers and can comment? And Geocities can't be happy about today's new development; I don't imagine the Google Pages launch bodes well for Geocities' ad revenue.

The solutions for professional web designers:
  • be aware of the market change and anticipate the customer position;
  • distinguish your company with superior product and services;
  • be prepared to explain the value that you bring as a professional, and in turn, be prepared to deliver real value;
  • ideally, reposition your company into a higher-level market.
In general, I've always believed that the safest long term strategy is to position a business or service at the top of your own competency, continue to develop your skills, and offer a superior product/service along with superior customer service around that offering.

Otherwise, I don't know how entrepreneurs and especially small business people could be excited about getting up in the morning to work so hard.

By the way, Google has already maxed out their current Google Page accounts, but you can enter your email for an update when you accounts are made available.

I also wonder if Google Pages will have high-authority with the Google Search engine, so you can boost the rank of an independent site with outbound links like you can with an Orkut profile. Does anyone know yet? Jim Calloway links to an article on Google Blogoscoped that also wonders if Google Pages is a new gift to Search Engine Optimization.


Update Mark Evans (no relation, even though he is Canadian) has an interesting post up discussing Google's scattered strategy of introducing new tools. Well worth reading. Also, note that the Google Blogoscoped article includes screenshots if you're curious about what the new tool looks like.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I've been Kawasakied

Guy Kawaski lamented today on his blog Let the Good Times Roll in a post on naming companies that one of his big disappointments in life is that his name "has too many syllables to become a verb."

Mr. Kawaski, I beg to differ. For I have just been Kawasakied.

To kawasaki:
1. To be generous with web links.
Also, to be kawasakied:
2. To be indundated with traffic from a generous, high-traffic blogger.

In other words, welcome to the new readers who are joining us via the link on Guy's blog.

Tsuredzuregusa is my personal blog, where I write about political strategy--particularly as it relates to grassroots campaigning and internet tools; the craft of blogging, french films, books, and anything else that catches my eclectic and wide-ranging interests.

New visitors are always welcome, and I invite and encourage you to join in the conversations here in the comments.

Ironically, I am about to launch a new blog connected with a new business venture...and I've been restraining myself from commenting on business blogs until the new site was up, or at least until I overhauled the template here at Tsuredzuregusa, but I couldn't resist jumping into the thread at Guy's blog.

Ah well. Life's like that. Sometimes you get Kawasakied when you least expect it.

New readers may enjoy starting with Tsuredzuregusa's greatest hits, the most popular posts over the last two years, including:
If you're interested in a heads up when the new business blog goes live, please check back here, leave a comment, or drop me an email. And, please make yourself at home right here and jump into the comments on any thread. I do receive notifications of comments on older threads and reply to them, so don't feel restricted to the main page. I look forward to meeting you.

And hey! Given that the power of naming is in the air, I'd love it if you'd consider jumping in and adding your thoughts to this post on the topic of blog names.


Update Guy adds very charmingly in the comments on his blog that "the verb "to shaula" would mean "to add value to a blog."" Thanks, Guy.

Which prompts me to ask the obvious question: if your name were a verb, what would it mean?
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Caché: What's Hidden is the Ending

We had a good, quiet long weekend here, with a lot of French films: Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games) and Le Sang des Betes (Blood of the Beasts) on DVD, and Caché (Hidden), with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, last night at the Westhampton Theatre.

(Pardon the ambiguous syntax: let me clarify that they were in the movie, not watching it with us. Although I'd really love to hang out and watch great French films with Auteuil or Binoche if the chance ever presented itself. I'll keep you posted.)

Jeux Interdits - Magnificent. If you have a Netflix account, put it at the top of your queue now. More on this later.

Le Sang des Betes - an extra on the DVD of Les yeux sans visage (Eyes without a face), which we watched earlier in the week. Beautiful short documentary on the abbatoirs of Paris. Very black and white, absolutely gorgeous, very French. Exceptionally good way to give up veal and beef (and horsemeat) if you haven't already.

Warning: Spoiler Ahead

I really love Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil as actors, and the trailer for Caché looked great.

Well, the film opened with a long, long, long static shot. And I whispered to my husband, "This movie could either be really good, or turn out to be painfully bad."

The ostensible plot revolves around a stalker who terrorizes Binoche and Auteuil's family, by video taping them and then leaving the tapes on their doorstep.

Part way through the film I whispered to my husband, "I wonder if they are going to pull a weasle and just not explain who is making the tapes."

My powers of foreshadowing appear to be too strong for my own good.

The movie has no ending. It was amazing. It was like they ran out of film and...just stopped.

No resolution. No denouement. No explanations. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

People were snorting in disbelief in the theatre.

On our way out, I said to the woman from the theatre in the lobby, "This one looks to be a short run," and she shook her head and said, "Uh huh. That's what *everybody's* saying."

Now, Binoche and Auteuil put in spectacular performances, in difficult roles, as does Maurice Bénichou in the pivotal supporting role of Majid. Relative newcomer to French film Walid Afkir puts in an excellent turn in the small role of Majid's unnamed son, and is also incredibly good looking. Lately, we've watched Auteuil in a string of frothy French comedies including Après vous (After You), Le bossu (The Hunchback), and Le Placard (The Closet), so it was a particular pleasure to see him stretch his dramatic acting abilities. For reasons I couldn't fathom, the wardrobe department on this film went to great lengths to make the usually gorgeous Binoche look like a frumpy wife...but, despite the shapeless linen sacks she was dressed in, she was still sexy. Maybe frustration with the wardrobe horrors helped her get into character.

This movie does blood effects well. Auteuil's character has flashbacks to childhood memories with a strong theme of blood...and the blood is not over-the-top or gratuitous. In fact, I'd like to think that the late Georges Franju, director of Le Sang des Betes would approve. A violent confrontation takes place late in the film that is one of the most powerful and disturbing scenes I've ever seen in a movie--and it takes place within the confines of the narritive, in fact it is critical to the development of the narrative, while serving to move the plot forward (as much as this plot ever moves).

The movie the emotional equivalent of a trip through a laundry mangler: at the end I felt well wrung. It provides all of the catharsis, high emotion, and violent passion surrogate that a thriller should.

But then it just stops, fairly abruptly, leaving plot lines hanging, set-ups un-paid-off, questions un-answered.

Putting on my dusty Liberal Art Flake (TM) hat, I can be generous and credit writer/director Michael Haneke with making a movie that examines the unreliability of different forms of narrative: Autueil's character is an unreliable narrator of incidents from his childhood; the content of the videotapes is differently interpreted and misconstrued by different audiences within the film; we the theatre audience impose our own faulty interpretations on Haneke's movie. The whole movie can be viewed as a Kafka-esqe or externalization of Auteuil's character's guilt over his childhood and how that guilt manifests in his relationships with the people around him, as if his supressed interior life excapes and takes on an independent existence. (Maybe Gogol-esque would be a better choice of term.) All very po-mo with a dose of French existentialist angst thrown in for good measure.

I am not wedded to conventional or linear narritives. I really enjoy well-executed ambiguity in film and literature, but, I need to believe that the author knows where all the paths lead. If I feel like the author has written him or herself into a corner and then given up...I have little patience with "artistic ambiguity" as an excuse for good writing. In the same way, the long, static shots from the voyeur's video-cam may be an attempt at cinéma vérité, but in the theatre seats it just felt like a self-indulgent absence of editing once the point had been established.

Most of all, I just wish Haneke had invested in even three more minutes of film to tie it all up for us.

All of that being said, if you love Auteuil or Binoche, or if you want to see an truly excellent usage of on-screen blood, there are great things to see in this film. It is just a great shame that all of the great components weren't packaged up to fulfill their potential and make a great film.
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Barometer Girl says...

Thanks to all of these east coast snow storms and weather shifts, my blood pressure is ridiculously low.

The result is that, while I am absolutely fine, I feel a bit like an overcooked noodle. (If you threw me against the wall, would I stick? Who can say....)

I am more inclined to curl up in bed with a cup of tea and finish my Thomas Merton book than try to write inspired prose--or blog posts, for that matter.

In the meantime, I'm teeming with ideas I want to write about, sans the concentration to get them on the page, and I am still chewing on Martha Bridegam's questions on to what extent it is appropriate to consider voters as customers. I'll owe you an epic post, Martha, by the time I get my thoughts together.
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Saturday, February 18, 2006

(Un)Magnificent Obsessions

I am fairly regularly Googled by someone in Vienna, Virginia, with a Cox internet account, at IP address 68.100.142.164. Most recently at 21:18:04 last night.

Now, I used to live in Vienna, and I have a number of great friends in Northern Virginia. But, I would expect them to just get in touch with me directly.

I consider myself to be quite an open person (an assumption which my Johari Window may or may not confirm), so I'd like to issue an invitation to whoever it is that has taken up Googling me as a new hobby:

Pipe up. Introduce yourself. Contact me directly. Leave a message here or send me an email.

Whatever you're trying to figure out...I'll probably be happy to just up and tell you, if you'd care to ask me directly.

And, if you choose to continue lurking, well, I'll just hope that without any further guidance I can find a way to generate entertaining Google results for you.
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Faster Than a Speeding Blogger...

Your results:
You are Superman



You are mild-mannered, good, strong and you love to help others.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Thanks for the quiz to Harrison (a/k/a Spiderman), at All Day Permanent Red.

I must say, I'm happier being Superman than the watered-down Supergirl. My RCMP-ethos must have nabbed that one for me. Although, as I am hardly known for my super-human strength in real life, methinks the quiz may be a little flawed.

Come on now, fess up folks: which superhero are you?
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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Yes, I am a gamer

I don't know if hardcore gamers would consider me a capital-G "Gamer," but computer games (which I still label mentally as "video games") have been a good companion and divertissement for me through the insomnia years.

I play Sims2 (Sims players can see my lot uploads here) and TheMovies. When I am completely exhausted I can play SpiderSolitaire for hours on end. I really love all of the EyezMaze games, especially Tontie (I'm now up to level 14). And I play WildDivine--except that it has been in an unpacked box, somewhere, since our last move. And, I'm really excited about the new release of A Force More Powerful.

Our regular bedtime wind-down game is the free online version of Bookworm--which, being great geeks, we are playing in bed on the laptop right now.

My husband and I used to play the Baldur's Gate series together on our network (at a point when we had 22 computers stacked on each other at the end of our livingroom--some day I'll post a pic of the Great Wall of Networking). Again, the game is in a box. Somewhere.

We are looking around for other multiplayer games we can play together on our network-but they all seem to be shoot-em-up games. My tolerance for game violence maxxes out around the level of Baldur's Gate. I do much better with sandbox games, tycoon games, and civilization-building games.

I should add that we are looking for games that we can play together, not against each other. While the idea of firing weapons at a spouse might appeal to some, that's not our thing.

Unfortunately, games aren't designed with women in mind. Some women like some violent games, obviously...but if you aren't into violent games, especially first-person shooters, there doesn't seem to be much left, especially for multi-player games.

I've heard good things about Black & White by Lionhead Studios (same company as TheMovies), but I haven't tried it out yet.

Are there any other husband-wife (or husband-husband or wife-wife) gaming teams here? Can anyone recommmend multi-player games we might do well with?

Ironically, I started playing Sims and TheMovies...after reading about them on blogs.


Update

I meant to add, that I started playing games online with Legend of the Red Dragon (any other L.O.R.D. veterans here), which I logged into on a local BBS with my 14400k modem.

I also played Genesis (via telnet) for *years.* It is a great, free, text-based MUD--in fact, it is the original LPMud. I'm more interested in the concepts than visuals that someone else has designed, so I do very well with text-based games.

This winter, my husband and I tried the free starter version of Doofus. The economic system inside the game fascinates me, and even though the game is from France, the graphics are supremely Japanese. But, I'm too cheap to pay for a game like that, and the game play in the free area is very limited, so we maxxed it out quickly.
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Dating Etiquette Question

Consider this a belated, topical romance post for Valentine's Day.

A girlfriend emailed me recently with a question on dating etiquette.

She's been on a (good) first date that was set up by a mutual friend. She was about to return the guy's call, and was looking forward to second date.

Her question: on the second date, who is supposed to pay?

My answer was that I like to be very upfront about things. I would just politely ask the guy what his expectations were--which strikes me as the easiest way of finding out.

Please note that tactics like this regularly frightened guys back when I was on the dating circuit. However, when I finally found a guy I couldn't scare off, I married him. It worked.

Back to my friend. She, unsurprisingly, was horrified at my advice and didn't find it helpful at all.

So, it turn it over to you, my expert panel. Is there a "standard" for who pays on the second date? How do you figure it out? And what would you do?
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How much is that blogger in the window?

The Johari Window is a metaphorical tool intended to help people better understand their interpersonal communication and relationships--and the blindspots in their self-image.

Via Zeeb and Nancy White I came across an interactive johari window.

Ah, what heights of blogging narcissism.

Go on, peek in my (Johari) window, and let me know what you think of...me.

And let me know if you start your own.
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Blog Craft Question

What do you do when you have a brilliant idea (for they are all brilliant ideas, after all) for a blog post, but don't have time to write?

I am finding right now that I email links to myself in Gmail. I also having a running draft post, saved with a futuristic date, for ideas on progress, here in the back end of Google.

Neither of these methods are completely satisfactory.

I'm really interested in how the rest of you blog. Thoughts?
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A Force More Powerful

Fabulous news! The great people at A Force More Powerful announced that their new non-violent strategy game goes on sale today and will ship on February 22.
Featuring ten scenarios inspired by history, A Force More Powerful simulates nonviolent struggles to win freedom and secure human rights against dictators, occupiers, colonizers, and corrupt regimes, as well as campaigns for political and human rights for minorities and women. The game models real-world experience, allowing players to devise strategies, apply tactics and see the results.
I am so excited.

I have placed my order already (of course!) and I look forward to regaling you with a full review as soon as my copy arrives.

Go read all about the game and the Force More Powerful team's other great projects if you aren't familiar with them already.
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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Loyal Political Customers

Charles Warnock, of marketing-interactive.net, writes in Marketing Wisdom for 2006:
"For additional insights, listen to how your loyal customers describe your products and their benefits to others, and tap into word-of-mouth."
Warnock's words make me wonder, do the Institutionalized Democrats have any idea of what we small-d democrats out here in voting-America think of the party? Or what we care about?

I would love to see the DNC put together a contest: in 250 words or less, explain why you are a Democrat. The prize could be a flight and accommodations for 2 to attend a big glitzy DC political bash, or something, or a lunch with Howard Dean, or...something interesting. Something that would feel like a *prize* so that word of the contest would spread virally.

In the process, they could gather email addresses and build up their lists. They could add a form for volunteers to opt-in to share their demographic info. And, in the process, they could find out who their loyal customers are and why they are loyal--and then sift that data and make the information available to Democratic campaigns across the country, cross-tabbed by region and demographics.

Wouldn't it be exciting to be in a political conversation where you know who you are talking to? Wouldn't it be exciting to see a political campaign that reflected the values and issues and priorities that you are passionate about?
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What Marketers Know But Democrats Don't

I am reading the fascinating free e-book, Marketing Wisdom for 2006: 110 Marketers and Agencies Share Real Life Tips [pdf] from Marketing Sherpa, and I was struck the number one marketing trend identified by Marketing Sherpa President Anne Holland:
Broader Copy Kills Results
The upshot is that when marketers and copywriters changed the content of websites, email, and other marketing vehicles in an attempt to attract the broadest possible audience instead of a specific, targetted audience, "the less it appealed to anyone."

The passage reminded me of one of the broadest current distinctions between Republican and Democratic political marketing strategies in the U.S.

Republicans have identified their base, and they market very specific, highly-targetted messages to their base.

Democrats, on the other hand, are so busy neglecting their base to chase swing voters with messages designed to be bland, centrist or right-of-center, offend no one and appeal to everyone...that they make no unique offerings, they alienate their base, and they make no real ground with swing voters.

As any marketing or copywriting intern could tell them.

The lesson?
Identify and target a specific audience. (Better yet, segment and micro-target your audience!)
Identify your product (in politics, that's what that party or candidate can do for me).
Identify your Unique Selling Proposition (what your product can do for me that other products can't).
Deliver specific, targetted messages that sell the benefits of your product to your specific audience.
Win.
And if this doesn't make sense, or you can't see how to do it, lock up your policy people in a small room with some top marketing people until they work it out.
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Friday, February 10, 2006

Weave your own tartan

Via Donna at Changing Places we bring you:

Weave Your Own Tartan

Not only can you design your own tartan online, but it looks like the company will also really weave it for you.

Go on. Weave a tartan. All the cool kids are doing it.
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Find of the Day: BlogFlux Button Maker

Blog Flux offers a Free Button Creator to help you make those niftly little blog buttons, just like this:

Button Creator for Free

Naturally, you need to host the image yourself.

If you play around with it, let me know. I'd love to see your creations!
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Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Green Knight

Just a quick post today...

I have just finished reading, or more accurately put, devouring, Iris Murdoch's Green Knight.

What can I say without spoiling it for those who haven't read it? The pivotal "Act 2" dinner party scene is fabulous, in the true sense of the word. I would love to stage it as a one act play, possibly for a theatre festival, although I don't know if it would be possible to do justice to the complex relationships and motives and entanglements without all the background information. The "revelation" of Humphrey Hook at the end is equally marvelous, verging on impish.

Best of all, I'd love to see the people who translate Kazuo Ishiguro's novels to film have a go at some of Murdoch's work.

Does anyone else here read Murdoch? I have only just started reading her, and I feel like I am making up for lost time.

To read her, I can only wonder at the rich interior life she must have/must have had. (You may be aware that she now has Alzheimer's.)

I love the very craft of her writing--the same way I love it in P.D. James, Aldous Huxley, or Graham Greene.

I shall gobble up her body of work fairly quickly--I can go through a novel in a day. What other authors would readers of Murdoch recommend?
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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Big Brownies, Little Brownies

I assume you have all already caught first round of the George Deutsch saga in the weekend news:

24-year-old Deustch became newsworthy for 3 reasons: he worked in PR at NASA, he was a Bush appointee there, and according to The Holmes Report, Deutsch sent out a memo to scientists preparing a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students that required the word "theory" be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The money quote:
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator…. This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA."
But the story gets better.

I just learned via Just a Bump in the Beltway that young master Deutsch has resigned...wait for it, wait for it..."on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted."

According to the New York Times, while Mr. Deutch's résumé claim to a "Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Class of 2003" was fraudelent, "no one has disputed" the portions that specify Deutsch "was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee."

Hey! You all know this verse, too, so sing along:
Lying on resumes! Political hacks with no qualifications! Incompetent cronies! Cronyism, corruption, and incompetence!
I have to begin my next comment by pointing out the framework within which I read these news stories. I worked for many years as a technical and executive search recruiter (i.e., a "headhunter"). It was imperative that, before recommending a job candidate to one of my clients, I had thoroughly checked references and verified the veracity of the resume.

Now, I realize that a royal presidential appointment complicates matters, but I am curious how it could come about that NASA would hire someone without performing a proper background check. I'm not pointing fingers, I am asking, and if anyone is familiar with how hiring procedures and background checks work at NASA or other federal agencies, I would appreciate any light you can shed on the matter.

Back to the larger issue of Bush's political appointees. The story of an unqualified political hack appointed as a reward for campaign services reminds me instantly of Ellen Sauerbrey. In case you missed it, on January 4, the same day the New York Times editorialized that Bush should take advantage of the recess to rethink his "lamentable choice" and instead "find someone with solid credentials," the White House announced that Bush had bypassed the Senate and installed Sauerbrey on his own by using a recess appointment. These people have no sense of irony.

Once you add in the element of lying on a resume, though, the story is even more reminiscent of Michael "Brownie" Brown, whom Bush appointed to FEMA after Brown was forced to resign as a Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. Brown headed FEMA's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, then resigned in disgrace on September 9, after which Brown's employment with FEMA was continued on a contract basis, at a rate of $148,000 per year, by fellow Bush-appointee Michael Chertoff.

If George Deutsch is upset about anything, it may be that he wasn't promoted and given a raise.

I confess that faced with the outright absurdity of Bush's political appointments, I find it hard to discuss them in a measured, mature manner. I likewise confess that I find it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between news and satire. I keep hoping P.T. Barnum will announce the past five years have all been a big hoax, and we can now go back to our familiar, dependable, reality-based reality.

But, making a great effort, I can admit that I feel sorry for the likes of Deutsch, Sauerbrey, and Brown. Not sorry in a schaudenfreude, "I'm so sorry" sort of way, but genuinely compassionate. When I worked as a recruiter, I saw first hand how absolutely miserable people were placed in jobs where they were over their heads. Drowning in a job that's too big affects not only those people, their departments, and their organizations, but also their families, their personal relationships, and by extention trickles out into their communities. I can not imagine George Deutsch, Ellen Sauerbrey, Michael Brown, or for that matter George Bush, to be happy people.

The larger problem of course is that their actions in these jobs for which they are not qualified affect so many other people--censoring and harrassing scientists, playing politics with AIDS and family-planning programs, leaving people to die in the Gulf during the hurricane(s).

It pains me that Bush thinks so little of his subjects that he would appoint political hacks to important positions regardless of the damage that they may do to the country. Even knowing that the Bush family refers to American people as Fodder Units, even knowing that Republicans operate government as a profit center, and even knowing that Bush makes more money from creating disasters than from preventing them, at an emotional level, this wilful negligence and abuse America, of the American people, of American knowledge and institutions makes no sense to me at all at. I wonder sometimes if people don't find it more comfortable to write-off George Bush as incompetent because the idea of an unqualified, bungling president is so much less frightening than the reality that Bush does all of theses things on purpose.

The real story behind the story of George Deutsch's unglorious exploits at NASA is that he is the rule, not the exception. Not an abberation. Not a quirky little story. The story of George Deutsch is representative of how George Bush's America works, and fails to work.
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Make me say Amen

Quick recap: in a post entitled, "Corretta Would Have Said Amen, Terrance at Republic of T wrote that Rev. Joseph Lowry received a standing ovation during his remarks at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.

In response Nio, one of T's commenters, wrote: "...what bothers me most is the politicalization of funerals. I’m all for protesting and speaking my mind, talking truth to power, but *not* at funerals."

Now, I'm not talking about (or picking on) Nio. I'm also not talking about Coretta Scott King, or Rosa Parks, or Paul Wellstone. What I have to say here, I have to say about me.
My request for a funeral service,
hopefully far in the future

If I die before any of you, I hope you'll make it to my funeral--or at least consider yourselves invited.

If you make it to my funeral, I hope you'll make me say Amen.

I want you to stand up and testify,

tell truth to power.

sing and shout, and break a sweat, let your slip show, let your hair muss up.

Don't be ladylike or gentlemanly, mouth homilies and platitudes, pass little sandwiches on doilied platters, talk about the weather.

Go on and raise a stink.

Don't sanctify me, cannonize me, deify me, whitewash me.

Don't smooth off the rough edges, tuck in the corners, make me nice.

Don't make me boring, just because I'm dead.

Tell it like it is.

Rock the boat, ruffle feathers. Make someone laugh. Make someone cry.

Make me laugh. Make me cry.

Raise a joyful noise, a joyful noise.

Make me say Amen.


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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I'm nerdier than I thought!

I found this test via the Gurteen Knowledge Website and I'm delighted to report that I am much nerdier than I ever dared to hope.

I am nerdier than 74% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Come on, fess up: just how nerdy are the rest of you?
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Best of the Blogs: Best Posts of 2005

A/K/A What did I miss?

I know that a treasure trove of exceptional writing "rolled off the page" while I was away from my keyboard last year. Plus, I'd love to know what you have all been up to yourselves.

Thus, my question to you today is two-fold:

1. What was your own best post last year?

2. What was your favourite blog post that someone else wrote?

My favourite post from my own writing would be an article I posted on BOP, entitled "Please Comment. Seriously., that launched a conversation with reader there about why they do and don't comment. To be honest, I wrote a handful of political pieces that I was quite pleased with at the time as well, but I think Please Comment. is the most important thing I wrote last year: because I learned so much from it, because it changed my relationship with the readers and my role as a writer, and because it managed to engage so many of the readers in a real conversation.

Despite the number of exceptionally well-written posts I read on other blogs last year, the winner is easy: a hands-done, uncontested win goes to Dru Blood for Grave Digging 101. Do yourself a favour and go read one of the funniest things written, ever. Make sure you put your coffee down first, too (or, in my case, tea). And note that Dru's eponymous blog has recently moved to a new home, at drublood.com/, so update your blogrolls.

What are your picks? What did I miss? I look forward, with your help, to getting "caught up" here.
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Monday, February 06, 2006

Today's question: Blog Names

Bear with me through an elliptical introduction to our topic.

Last night I started reading The Courage for Truth, the collected letters of American Trappist monk Thomas Merton to a range of 20th century authors. In a series of letters to French Catholic philospher Jacques Maritain composed in 1960, he describes the opposition of his Trappist order to his correspondence and collaboration with Japanese Zen monk and author D.T. Suzkuki:
...this little Zen man [D. T.] Suzuki. Together we have tried to write about the Desert Fathers, he from his view point and I from mine, and now I am in the soup with our consors of the Order for communicating with pagans and unbelievers!
[February 22, 1960]

...Last year, having translated a part of the Verba Seniorum (sc. Deserti), I wrote to Suzuki, a Buddhist, to ask him for a short essay on the FAthers who, in many ways, resemble Zen master. He was kind enough to write a very interesting essay on Paradize, on the contemplative life as a resturn to Paradise, on innocence and the "emptiness" of the wisdom of Paradise in contrast to the complications and illusions of the human sicence which is at once superficial and "dualist." Of course, it's Zen but it sounds a great deal like St. Augustine and St. Bernard. It was not exactly something that an unprepared reader could easily understand. Therefore I also wrote an essay containing many quotations from ST. Augustine, etc. We wanted to publish both essays with the translations of the [Dessert] Fathers. ...Then the censors of the Order intervened to prohibit this communicatio cum infideli [communication with an infidel].
[April 8, 1960]
Now on one hand it struck me how much progress we have made in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue since 1960--and, how we, and particularly people of my generation and younger who were born into the fruits of this progress, take our current state of social progress for granted, failing to realize just how recent many advancements and milestones are.

On another hand (I'm feeling very handy today; no telling how many hands may wind up in this post), and on a more secular if not blasphemous note, I thought to myself: "communicatio cum infideli" would make a helluva name for a blog. Wouldn't it? I mean, isn't that the polar opposite of "preaching to the choir?"

All of which brings us through a grand circumlocution to the topic at hand: names of blogs.

I am very interested in how you picked the name for your own blog. Where does it come from and what does it mean?

Also, would you like to change your blog's name? If you were to change it, what name would you pick, and why would you pick a different name?

And finally, what do you consider to be great blog names? (And why.) That is, not the names of your favourite blogs, but names of blogs that you consider to be great names.

And, once again, I'm very interested to hear your answers.

While I've been away, I've had a lot of time to think about how we blog, about meta-blogging issues. So, while I promise to "actually write stuff" as well, I expect I'll also have all kinds of questions for you about how you do your own blogging.
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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Best of Blogs: Utility

I just discovered Rajesh Setty's blog, Beyond Code, and yesterday he put up a great post on the power of leverage, where he sites this example of compiling a list of "useful" blogs at a workshop:
Everyone had to mention one website that they found it extremely useful for their life and/or career. There was a volunteer writing down these websites. If the website was already on the board, the next person had to choose something else. With about twenty people, we got about twenty different websites (apart from Google, Yahoo, MSN etc.) and the reason why they were the favorites for those people.

At the end of the exercise, I asked everyone whether each one of them got at least one website that they were not aware of before. The answer was a big positive YES.
His point is, of course, that "(a)s a group you are always more powerful and have higher leverage than as individuals."

His post also got me thinking about blogs I consider "useful," and my pick would be another new (to me) discovery: Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide. It is now on my daily read list, and it is consistently useful plus a pleasure to read.

So...let's build our own list. What blog(s) do you read that you find useful for your life or career? I'm interested to find out what else I've been missing out on.

And if you don't know Rajesh already, go check out Beyond Code yourself -- it is a great blog.
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Still kicking

Hello, all -- those of you, at least, who out of optimism or negligence still have me on your blogrolls.

I have not been around in quite a while. Short version: I was more sick. Now, relatively, I am less sick.

The winter has always been the worst time of year for me for dealing with health issues. I am coming to the conclusion that I am a solar-powered blogger.

It's like being the Punxsutawney Phil of the blogosphere: you know that when Tsuredzuregusa Shaula starts writing, spring can't be far off.

In fact, the sun is shining here in beautiful Richmond, Virginia. (Richmond really is a beautiful city. Make a point to visit it one day if you can. And then look me up!) And, the worst of my health problems currently look to be on the wane.

If this positive trend holds, I expect to be writing more often, as well as much-belatedly catching up on replies to comments while I was gone, and tying up some loose threads from the conversations in last year's blogging.

I hope you have all been doing well. I *have* stuck my nose in at some of my favourite blogs while I've been away, so even if I've been quiet, I've been thinking of you, and sometimes even reading you.

And, I'm looking forward to picking up our conversation...

What have I missed?
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