Archive for August, 2007

31
Aug
07

Hypocrisy Takes Center Stage in August

I hadn’t planned on writing any more about the Senator Craig incident after my earlier post this week. However, watching events as they’ve unfolded, I’ve decided that the hypocrisy of the Republican party is worthy of analysis. They’re engaged in the type of behavior I hate the most: holier-than-thou finger pointing.

To be clear, this blog is not about politics per se. In fact, I do not identify myself as either Republican or Democrat. This blog is about the way people use words to spread ideas, both good and bad. In this instance, I’m disgusted by the rhetoric that’s filled the airwaves and newspapers. While I expressed my earlier disappointment with the way Craig chose to handle the situation, I saw no need for him to resign.

Odds were high he planned to announce his retirement next month. I saw little value in holding this man’s feet over the fire. His reputation, in spite of several decades of solid public service, is destroyed. His family has endured scrutiny that would make even the toughest of souls cringe. On top of that, there’s enough he said/he said between the officer and the senator that I doubt anyone will know exactly what happened, in spite of Craig’s guilty plea.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, made my job incredibly easy with her wrap up of Republican hypocrisy:

“Senator Ted Stevens maintains his position on the Appropriations Committee despite being the subject of a major criminal investigation, including an FBI raid on his Alaska home and Senator David Vitter maintains his assignments despite admitting to the crime of soliciting a prostitute.”

Sloan noted that in response to CREW’s calls for Sen. Stevens to step down from his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee where he has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice’s budget, Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell demurred, defending Sen. Stevens. Sloan continued, “A disorderly conduct plea requires a member to give up his committee assignment, but a full-fledged bribery investigation does not. Apparently, in the view of the Republican conference there is almost nothing more serious than a member attempting to engage in gay sex.”

“For consistency’s sake, Senators Stevens and Vitter should both be forced to give up their committee assignments as well.” (link)

I’m inclined to agree with Sloan—it takes more than a garden-variety sex scandal to shock Republicans. But indicate the two parties are of the same gender and watch the calls for resignation fly around the Capital.

I’m still shaking my head over Craig’s behavior, but you’re telling me his disorderly conduct charge isn’t trumped by Vitter’s solicitation of a prostitute? I have a theory about why you’ve heard calls for Craig’s resignation versus Vitter’s.

Louisiana’s current governor is a Democrat. If Vitter resigned, it’s certain Gov. Kathleen Blanco would appoint a Democrat replacement, further shifting power in the Senate to the Democrats. I suspect Republicans would also claim that Vitter’s transgression happened prior to taking his Senate seat. However, to the best of my knowledge, he was an elected U.S. Representative. The same rules don’t apply because there were no criminal charges filed?

However, Idaho is a solidly Republican state, with a Republican governor. Lawmakers risk nothing by expressing their “righteous indignation” over Craig’s behavior. Should they browbeat him into retiring before his term expires, a Republican will replace him in the Senate. Regardless of the rationale used to justify Vitter’s and Stevens’ behavior, the outrage of politicians like Sens. McCain and Coleman appears a little less than genuine when one considers these circumstances.

Politicians have a crappy reputation for a reason. Enough of them keep proving the stereotype true. My biggest disappointment with Craig wasn’t the supposed bathroom antics, it’s what happened afterwards. I’m more disturbed by the officer’s report that Craig pulled out a business card identifying him as a senator and then implied that somehow made him “special.” That’s an abuse of power I refuse to tolerate from any elected official. You may write the laws. That doesn’t place you above them.

So here’s to the Republicans for taking potshots at an easy target and avoiding the real “evil-doers” among their ranks. My hats off to you for making me even more disgusted with the American political system than usual. I hope you enjoy your Labor Day weekend.

Comments?

31
Aug
07

Social Networks Sparking Ideas

The problem with people actually reading your blog is that you then have expectations to live up to. For instance, my friend Chris Brogan has kindly highlighted by blog courtesy of Happy Blog Day. He goes so far as to say that my “pieces come off like good essays, and they make me stop and think.” I appreciate the compliment. His words also triggered this thought: can content and ideas ever be generated without influence from some outside source?

I know it’s a little deep for a Friday morning, but I’m intrigued by the notion that pieces I write, and the books I read or really anything else I find appealing, started from some catalyst I may not even realize or understand. I’m beginning to think this underlying factor of discovery is the engine that drives both traditional and emerging social networks. In essence, it’s the possibility of what we might accomplish or produce based on our interactions with others. These social networks allow us to satisfy both our selfish and altruistic selves.

As a writer, I’m always observing what’s going on around me. While I enjoy doing things for the people I care about, I also enjoy the insight these relationships give me into human behavior. I take that information, sift through it for patterns, and write about my experiences. My ability to write would be severely hampered if I didn’t have these relationships. The catalyst for my thoughts doesn’t come out of thin air. They started somewhere, and through my writing, I try to figure out the source.

I willingly admit that a good 75-80% of what I write about is sparked by something I read or something someone else said. I may follow the idea down another tangent, but I can’t take credit for the original concept. Like today’s post, for example. Based on Chris’s remarks about my blog, I wondered what it takes to prod people to think and why we’re interested in being prodded. This train of thought eventually led to my earlier question about the source of content and ideas. It’s all connected, and I find it absolutely amazing. In this instance, I can trace, from beginning to end, where this post came from, not an option in all instances.

And at that, simply publishing this post doesn’t put it at an end. I don’t know what I may spark with today’s musings. When I stop and think about what is possible now versus what we thought possible even ten years ago, I can’t wait to see what the future holds ten years from now. Now there’s a idea to run with.

Comments?

29
Aug
07

The Trap of “Good Enough”

What do you think when someone says to you, “That’s good enough.” Do you feel a sense of relief? Do you feel like you can move on to something new and exciting? Matt Asay over at CNET explores how this concept has taken hold in the tech world:

“Good enough” frees up time and resources to experiment with new approaches to technology, rather than fixating on perfecting old approaches. For example, I’ve long criticized Google for spitting out so many half-baked projects that never approach relevance.

But perhaps that’s the point. “Good enough” is just that: good enough for some people for some things and likely not good enough for others. The things that work, work. The things that don’t…reside in eternal beta.

I applaud the original intent of “good enough,” but I question the individuals and entities that make it part of a daily routine. We’ve gotten lazy (again) with how we use “good enough.” While I may use “good enough” to describe my approach to bed making, I’d be embarrassed to use it to describe the quality of work for my clients. I wonder, if in our push towards the latest shiny thing, we’re sacrificing too much in the name of “good enough.”

I’m not a perfectionist, at least not in every area of my life. I’m guilty of subscribing to “good enough” in several areas: mowing the lawn in semi-straight lines, getting most of the bugs of while washing a car, and ignoring the stacked clothes on the floor of my closet. As Matt says, “the things that work, work.” The lawn is still mowed, the car is still cleaner than it was before, and I can still open and close my closet doors. These areas of my life are not negatively affected by the “good enough” philosophy. It’s where many people draw the line, however, that concerns me.

One of the reasons I finally decided to start my own business was frustration with work quality. When you aren’t the boss, someone else is in charge of determining “good enough.” Based on my experience, this practice happened way too often, and we paid the price for not meeting expectations, but it never seemed to affect the application of “good enough.” The biggest problem with “good enough” is that very few people are skilled at consistently and realistically making that call. Too often, we deviate on the side of “not good enough,” but don’t recognize it until it’s too late.

Perhaps my musings feel like they’re going in circles. Or perhaps that’s the real point—what’s to stop you from invoking “good enough” every time you make the circuit on a project or in a relationship? At the end of his post, Asay points out that:

On the IT side, Baker poses a hugely important question: is good enough good enough? If so (and, frankly, it should be for most every application), then our options expand dramatically as to how we resolve our needs. If not, we’re likely going to be forced into a system that requires that we live by its rules, rather than having innovative software that adapts to ours.

That’s the trade-off. Innovation and cost for “perfection.” Suddenly, “good enough” never sounded so good.

Why don’t we say, instead of “good enough,” that something is our “best effort?” Isn’t that a more accurate definition of what we’re trying to accomplish? Asay highlights the sacrifice of “perfection” for innovation and cost. More than money, I suspect “good enough” can eventually cost us part of our selves, the part that seeks after doing better and pushing the limit on our abilities. “Good enough” should never become our excuse for mediocrity.

Comments?

28
Aug
07

Word Gambling in a Minnesota Bathroom

The lure of word gambling strikes again. I’ve talked about this topic several times, but I’m still amazed by the stupidity and shortsightedness of most public officials. The recent hoopla over Senator Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) disorderly conduct arrest again proves my theory. (Smoking Gun has the original police report.) As I wrote back in April:

Consider how many politicians get in trouble, not for the act itself, but instead for the cover-up and the lies used to conceal the act. The guilty would rather get caught in a bold lie that compounds the consequences than simply take responsibility for the original sin. These word gamblers, rather than betting on cards or dice, risk everything on a smooth tongue and take the chance that they will be believed.

In this particular instance, Craig didn’t necessarily lie, except perhaps by omission. Now, he’s playing catch-up. Imagine, if instead of waiting for Roll Call to break the news, Craig announced news of the guilty plea back at the beginning of August. Even better, what if he publicized the original arrest back in June with his version of events?

Unfortunately, he did none of the above and has zero control of the story. This choice has left Craig scrambling, issuing statements that accomplish little:

“At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct.

“I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously.” (link)

Why, why, why didn’t he realize that such statements would have done him more good four weeks ago? His argument, “that they were misconstruing my actions,” is a little difficult to believe given that it comes after the fact. Here’s the thing, I don’t care about politicians’ personal peccadilloes as long as they aren’t breaking the law. And if they’ve been accused of breaking the law, I’m even inclined to give the benefit of the doubt if they’re upfront about the situation instead of hoping and praying a reporter doesn’t stumble across the arrest report. What is there to gain from hoping something goes away? We’re too connected, too observant, and too willing to chase after the story. These are no longer the days of letters and telegrams.

Given these circumstances, the words we chose choose and how we use them is even more important. Our thoughts and words are no longer captured on paper, to disintegrate over time. They’re digital. For all intents as purposes, they’re immortal. And yet more than ever, we are casual with our words. We‘re underestimate the power of words and their effect on others. As long as I write this blog, I suspect my mantra will always be, “The words matter.” One would think Senator Craig had learned this lesson a long time ago. His actions clearly indicate that if he had the lesson, he’s forgotten it.

Comments?

27
Aug
07

Moving On to New Opportunities

The recent resignation of Alberto Gonzales as the Attorney General started my brain a-whirling about resignations in general. If you’ve been working for any length of time, odds are good you’ve probably resigned at least once. Every time I’ve given notice, I’ve written a resignation letter that gave me a rush of satisfaction. For me, the resignation letter was a sign of progress, proof I was moving ahead with my life. However, we’re all keenly aware that not every resignation letter is written with such pleasure.

Richard Nixon, one of history’s more well-known resignees, kept his letter short. He used only eleven words, not counting the salutation or closing:

I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States. (link)

You’ll notice none of those words included the reason behind his resignation. Resignations are intriguing because we so rarely hear the real reason behind them. Common, catch-all explanations include the infamous “spending more time with family” or the equally common “moving on to new opportunities.” Gonzales used “this is the right time for my family and I to begin a new chapter in our lives,” a nice combination of the two. (link) Again, no mention of the obvious factors that might be driving his decision.

Why are we so disinclined to write the real reason? In most cases, we already know the reason. What prompts us to use the “polite” explanation for our exit? I’m guilty of relying on the “new opportunities” explanation. I didn’t think it politic to list my reason as, “I can no longer force myself to get out of bed to come to work for you.”

The Web is filled with resignation letters, some real some fake, but definitely entertaining. I’m uncertain about the validity of this particular letter, but part of me hopes it’s real:

From: [REDACTED] Sent: Thursday, May 27, 2004 1:11 PM Subject: FW: Goodbye…

As many of you are aware, today is my last day at the firm. It is time for me to move on and I want you to know that I have accepted a position as “Trophy Husband”. This decision was quite easy and took little consideration. However, I am confident this new role represents a welcome change in my life and a step up from my current situation. While I have a high degree of personal respect for PHJW as a law firm, and I have made wonderful friendships during my time here, I am no longer comfortable working for a group largely populated by gossips, backstabbers and Napoleonic personalities. In fact, I dare say that I would rather be dressed up like a pinata and beaten than remain with this group any longer. I wish you continued success in your goals to turn vibrant, productive, dedicated associates into an aimless, shambling group of dry, lifeless husks.

May the smoke from any bridges I burn today be seen far and wide.

Respectfully submitted,

[SIGNED]

ps. Achilles absent, was Achilles still. (Homer)

Not every resignation is for negative reasons. Sometimes, you’re truly moving on to new and better things. There’s also the reality that the people/reasons your leaving won’t be affected by a beat down. As in many situations, the company as a whole, upper management, or something else my direct superior had no control over caused me to say “enough.” Why take out my unhappiness on people I still felt affection and respect for?

That still leaves the other reason behind resignations—public pressure. Again, the majority of people know the reasons. They’re analyzed by pundits and dissected in blogs. We all know what drove Gonzales’ resignation, perhaps not the final catalyst, but the general rationale for him to say “enough.” Why not say, “I quit. I’m tired of seeing story after story highlighting my missteps as Attorney General. I’m sick of seeing editorials demanding my resignation. I’ve had enough of public life.” Imagine how much fun the pundits and bloggers could have with that resignation.

Comments?

23
Aug
07

Making Your Jaw Drop

Do you remember that initial moment when you discovered something that made your jaw drop? The first time I flew at age nine, my jaw dropped. My first flight also happened to take place a week after the horrifying crash in Sioux City, Iowa, of a United jet. Let’s just say I was a bit nervous.

I originally had the middle seat, but a very kind lady offered her window seat so I could see everything. Flying into Las Vegas, at night, was incredible. The lights from the Strip were visible from miles away. For a girl used to living out in the country, with her closest neighbor a quarter-of-a-mile away, it didn’t seem real.

As you get older, the jaw-dropping moments become fewer in number, but no less desirable. What I’ve found interesting is the increasing number of people who are certain they can make your jaw drop. Realistically, not everyone can be a Steve Jobs presenting an iPod or iPhone, but that doesn’t keep people from trying. Then, it becomes a question of authenticity.

More companies than I care to think about settle for over-promising instead of delivering a real jaw dropper. Infomercials are a perfect example of this practice. We’re talking about kitchen gadgets, weight-loss supplements, or exercise equipment. These categories are not jaw dropping, but marketers frame them as such. This inaccurate positioning does little to convince the viewer logically of a product’s value. But because we want to have a jaw-dropping experience, we call the 800 number and agree to three easy payments. Invariably, we’re disappointed because it isn’t real.

The disappointment doesn’t keep us from searching for the next one. I think that’s why you see lines snaking around Apple stores for hours on end. We’re willing to keep trying to satisfy the need to be amazed. We enjoy the rush of adrenaline, the initial moment of awe where our brain can only say, “Wow. That’s so cool.” I only wish it lasted a bit longer, because once it’s over, the hunt for the next moment is on again. And I’m afraid a knife that can slice through cans or shoes isn’t going cut it (pun intended).

Comments?

22
Aug
07

Send Gifts to Junior.com

Apparently naming your kids just got more complicated. Prior to filling out your newborn’s birth certificate, you’d better check and see if the domain name is available. Wired News covers the story of how parents are snapping up domain names at birth “just in case:”

A small but growing number of parents are getting domain names for their young kids, long before they can do more than peck aimlessly at a keyboard.

It’s not known exactly how many, but the practice is no longer limited to parents in Web design or information technology.

They worry that the name of choice might not be available by the time their babies become teens or adults, just as someone claimed the “.com” for Britney Spears’ 11-month-old son before she could.

The trend hints at the potential importance of domain names in establishing one’s future digital identity.

Yikes. I barely registered mine a couple of months ago. I guess I lucked out that no one else with my name beat me to it. While I applaud parents for being forward-thinking, I’m not sure what to think of the parents who based their name choice on whether a domain name was available:

In fact, before naming his child, Mark Pankow checked to make sure “BennettPankow.com” hadn’t already been claimed.

“One of the criteria was, if we liked the name, the domain had to be available,” Pankow said. It was, and Pankow quickly grabbed Bennett’s online identity.

Personally, I think your children will appreciate you more if you check what kind of nicknames can be derived from a potential name and choose accordingly. The playground is much meaner than the Internet for most nine year olds.

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