Archive for May, 2006

You Do the Moral Math

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

I was in the pet store today, buying two bags of birdseed–one of black-oil sunflower, one of mixed. Our avian visitors don’t seem to prefer one or the other, but I like to give them a choice.

As I went to check out, the guy in front of me kept ducking out of line and then back in, as if he couldn’t remember what he was there for. As we got close to the register, next to the Greenies and pig ears and canine breath films, I watched him pocket a candy bar made for humans. I thought about saying something, until I saw what he’d brought for purchase: a half dozen mini cans of tuna made for cats. The cashier turned away and waved his hand in front of his nose, and when the guy turned around I could smell him, too.

I could also see his face, as red as a radish, and his bloody eyes, and figured quickly that the food (both the candy and the tuna) was for him. It’s probably the only solid stuff he’ll ingest for the next few days.


my crime-witnessing
+ my righteousness
x the guy’s public drunkenness
/ the cashier’s sales-class disdain
(over) the guy’s likely pet-food eating


what, exactly?

Bonus Question 1: Is this algebra or trig?

Bonus Question 2: Are you sure the birds have no preference?

MySpace Has Finally Made It.

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Everyone knows the rule: it’s not really a cultural phenomenon until Hugh Hefner gets the women of it to take off their clothes. (Okay, so I made the rule up, but think about it - you know I’m right.)

Well, folks, social networking is now, officially, a cultural phenomenon, as Playboy this month presents the Girls of MySpace. (Link decidedly unsafe for work, obviously.)

Personally, I’m waiting for the girls of JDate - my parents will be so proud.

SHOOTING WAR — Alive & Kicking

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Last week we launched SHOOTING WAR, Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman’s graphic novel, a near-future trip into the Iraq war through the eyes of vblogging sensation Jimmy Burns. SMITH typically sticks to non-fiction, but we wanted to present Shooting War because we believe it’s an inspired way to tell the so-true story of the war, or at least one version of that truth, in part based on what Lappé saw while reporting on the war for the Guerilla News Network. We’re serving this up in eight parts (maybe more if economic conditions allow). Chapter Two is live now.

We’ve witnessed a near-instant reaction to SHOOTING WAR (imagine how long it would have been to hear from readers if this thing was a printed comic book?). One of my favorites comes via a poster called “Dubya” who asks: “Don’t know how many ‘kitchen table’ names contribute on this site under pseudos, but it is hella fun to imagine.” Well, my friend, I’m afraid to say it’s just us: but we love our kitchen and the great people who come in on by and join us for a meal. We could always use a better table, of course.

Here’s a smorgasbord of your thoughts so far.

tingbudong: looks good, especially Goldman’s artwork. I like the concept and character, but I’m assuming the storyline behind the starbucks bombing is going to stay within conventional notions of terrorism. Maybe some group is angry at the global corporate economy and is protesting or they’re anarchists who see no future. That sort of story would be safe and have some moral lesson, but it would be disappointing to me. I hope you surprise me, but anyway it’s a creative use of new media. (more…)

Do not despair

Friday, May 19th, 2006

I thought I’d end my “guest” days with an encouraging word or two. And I’ll do so by responding to the most common question that’s been in my inbox over the past few months, which goes something like “does everything just suck? Are we doomed to stupidity and fundamentalism and fascism?” And my answer - Smithly speaking - is no.

Fascism and fundamentalism depend on people surrendering their perspectives - the narratives they’ve developed - and letting someone *else* write the story for them. Whether it’s churchgoers surrendering their understanding of God to the minister, or voters surrendering their understanding of civics to Karl Rove, the loss of access to one’s own storytelling ability is akin to losing one’s grip on reality.

That’s right: maintaining authority over the story *is* maintaining a connection to the very engines of creation. Everyone has a story, as Larry likes to say - that doesn’t mean every person’s story is interesting to every other person. But it does mean that every person has a right to his or her own story - one’s own way of connecting the dots, understanding the passage of time, and recognizing the patterns that emerge.

Too many of us are willing to deny ourselves the right to that narrative, or too ready to believe our own version of the story is just not as important, accurate, or relevant as those of some external authority. (Just because people pay to watch some story, or vote for its hero, doesn’t mean it’s any more true than yours.)

So my word of hope is this: as long as you can tell your own story, it means *their* story hasn’t yet been locked down. It means there’s still hope, still possibility, and still life.

Enough of me. Here’s to your stories.

Everybody I Meet in Real Estate is Crooked

Friday, May 19th, 2006

I can’t go into the details.

Pissing in the wind

Friday, May 19th, 2006

Does anybody read this site, yet? Or is this some kind of Beta test?

It’s reminding me of something that used to happen a long time ago. See, I was early on the cyber-scene, so I used to get interviewed for the first editions of lots of cyber-culture magazines. This was back in the early 90’s, when Wired and all the other fledgling cyberculture mags were just popping up. I’d even get on the cover of some of these, but since it was their first issue, they didn’t yet have enough of an audience for anyone to notice my mug.

This is starting to feel a bit like that.


Friday, May 19th, 2006

Still no word from the young person who stood me up for a meeting, yesterday. Maybe she *did* get mugged or something.

Again, I know this is just another sign of my age. Worrying about someone who doesn’t show up for a meeting? I mean, get real. This is 2006 - the era of multitasking and overlapping allegiances. Things come up. Hell, in Africa, if someone says “I’ll be right over” it could mean next week.

Why am *I* so hung up on time? I mean, is it some capitalist thing? Thinking that my time is *worth* something?

But my thoughts keep going back to whether something bad might have actually happened to this person. Because that’s what it meant in the old days when someone didn’t show up.


Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Something that makes me realize I’m from an “older” generation than many of my friends and associates is the fact that I spend a lot of my time waiting for them.

At bars, coffee shops, home, office, wherever. Back in the early 90’s, our relationship to time was more exact than it is today. We were occasionally late to a meeting or something, but we’d be sure to at least *pretend* to be out of breath by the time we got there.

These days, it seems customary for people to walk in 15 minutes or 30 minutes late. Making the cell phone call or sms is reserved for anything beyond that. (As if being sent an sms really does much more than give you permission to leave.)

It could be technology that has led to this change in behavior, which would explain the apparent generational link. But I suspect it’s something else. I just don’t yet know what.

Personal narrative style: I got stood up for a meeting today. I waited 45 minutes, then left. Still no email explanation or anything.

I’ll tell you tomorrow if it’s, like, she got mugged or something. But I’ve been through this enough to know it probably isn’t. So much, in fact, that I don’t even have a lump of fear that she could be in any trouble. And that’s not a way I like to feel about someone who, for all I know, could actually have gotten run over or something.

George Crile

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

George Crile was, among his many other virtues, one of the best storytellers I’ve ever known.

He knew the facts and the angles and the characters and their connections. And given his profession and the way he pursued it, it’s not surprising that many of his dinner-table tales were the sorts of things you’d see told blandly and anonymously (if at all) on the front pages of morning newspapers and as the lead stories on the evening news: about half-truth-telling military men, rogue CIA agents, decaying Soviet nuclear plants, an Afghanistan full of déjà vu, and, most presciently, about growing anti-Western sentiment in the madrassas of the Muslim world.

George was a television-news producer and a writer, the son and grandson of surgeons. His curiosity was as doctorly and thorough as his manner was charming and expansive. Once, on a trip to South Africa, he arrived at JFK without a passport. He talked himself onto the plane, off of it and out of the airport in Frankfurt, into the American consulate on a Saturday, back onto the plane, and out of the airport in Johannesburg, where a new passport was waiting.

George was an ardent student of world affairs, and knew more about who was really moving the puzzle pieces around than, well, again: more than anyone I’ve ever known. And given his convictions and the way he upheld them, his pursuit of the story often put his own life at risk.

One of his filmed reports shows him eagerly driving off in a taxi to meet with the man who arranged the killing of Daniel Pearl. (George left Pakistan only after his main and longtime contact there confessed that he could no longer feel optimitstic about George’s safety.) The last time we had dinner, George told a story from Egypt. He’d been taken to a picnic on a riverbank, where one of his three escorts told him he’d been brought there to be killed. The man admitted that his wife had threatened to leave him if he participated in the murder. So he helped to make sure George got out of the country alive.

Though it may seem selfish to say, the saddest part about all of this is not the perpetuity of tendentious generals and unaccountable intelligence agencies and a tenacious Taliban. It’s the word was.

Market Crash

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

It’s not (just) my lingering distaste for rich people thats lead me to relish in the crash in the market. It’s my increasing intolerance for pretty much everything market-oriented.

I just wrote a business book whose main message could be reduced to: “selling out sucks.” And it’s not just good personal advice; it’s actually good business advice. Once a company goes public, it is no longer doing whatever it set out to do. It has sold itself, quite literally, to another group of people with very different interests. Where Joe might have made shoes because he wanted people to have healthy feet, Joe’s new shareholders really just want their stock to go up. Sure, if they were in it for the long term, they’d understand that their stock will go up if Joe continues to make good shoes. But theyr’e not in it for the long term which is why they’d rather Joe outsource his shoe manufacturing to China, show a better balance sheet, and sell their shares for a quick profit the next quarter.

And then this approach, in turn, creates economic conditions that put the nation in debt, devalue the dollar, and perpetuate speculation.

Wall Street likes to pretend we’re in a bull market all the time. Fact is, we’ve been in a bear market for a couple of years - a stealth bear market, if you will - as smart money shifts into things other than stocks. The smartest money guys I know - chiefs of some big brokerage houses - have admitted to me that the majority of their money is in CASH (well, high-interest short-term one-week bond-things I wouldn’t know where to get).

The reason the collapse of the speculative marketplace is a good thing is that, like the felling of any idol, it will shift focus to the real. And when our focus shifts to the real - to the shoes we like making for feet we love protecting - the whole world becomes a better place.

The “personal” way of saying this? I was speaking to a literary agent last night, telling him about a book idea I had. And he said, “Sounds too lightweight for you, Doug. A book that any number of writers could do.” No - he wasn’t poo pooing the idea, as much as trying to get me to think harder. “Go deeper,” he said. “You’re an intellectual. *Be* an intellectual.”

And that was him really just telling me the lesson that I’ve been telling everyone else: rise to your own occasion.

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