Saturday, June 30, 2007

Snake Oil Blogster

Note to file: I still don't know what I'm doing. In professional terms, I am trying to work out the writing voice I'll need to transition from journalism to memoir.

But that effort is an uneven process. I'm still more of a journalist than a journal writer. As big news stories break, I get distracted. There is so much news that is poorly covered in this country. American foreign policy, such as it is, is a complete disaster. The continuing failure of any political leaders to take bold action to assist the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast post-Katrina is our national shame.

The immigration debate in this society reflects some deeply racist and exclusionary tendencies that need to wither and die so our multinational future can begin. (I figure I can do my part by dating Asians, okay?)

Around here, my large extended family is coming and going. The little guys are headed east tonight after a week of heavy partying with their Tennessee "cousins."

Meanwhile, my older kids and their partners are headed back home as our family starts planning for the wedding on July 21st. As they arrive, a few dozen bottles reflecting our color experiments will greet them. Like father, like daughter: My youngest is handling the bottle project now.

Everything is growing and blooming and ripening all around me. I've reached an age I appreciate small details of live around me -- the birds, the flowers, the way the light illuminates our rainbow bottles (presented originally in honor of Gay Pride Weekend.)

Baby Bonds now has 750 home runs, and is five from tying Hank Aaron's record. Thanks to our hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, and its misconceived attempt to destroy Bonds' reputation by publishing select portions of secret grand jury testimony leaked by an attorney trying to deflect attention from his client's role in the steroid scandal.

Bonds has never tested positive for steroids. Even if he used the substances the Chronicle alleges he did, they were not illegal in Major League Baseball at that time. And, he was hardly alone. It appears that many, perhaps most players used performance enhancers, not only in baseball, but also in all major sports.

Fine-slicing the rules seeking an advantage is an old tradition in sports. Therefore, one can only conclude that the heated national outrage directed at Bonds relies for its fuel, ultimately, on racism. It's not that he supposedly cheated; it's that he is an arrogant black man who allegedly cheated.

As any statistician knows, it is essentially irrelevant whether Bonds used steroids. He achieved a level no one else ever reached -- 500 stolen bases and 500 home runs -- before the steroids era hit its peak. On the basis of those achievements alone, he qualifies as an all-time great, and no one can deny him those honors.

Now he's old (42), has weak knees, and faces horrible outpourings of hate everywhere he plays (except in San Francisco.) Nevertheless, he is batting close to .300, has 16 HRs in less than a half season, has stolen a bunch of bases, and leads the planet in walks, intentional walks, and on-base-percentage.

No one alleges he is using steroids now, so what explains his continued success at an age most players are retired?

I, for one, will stand and cheer when he breaks Aaron's record. He's worked hard and endured more abuse than anyone in sports to get to the top. he belongs there.


Friday, June 29, 2007

First Principles

I don't always I know what you're doing here, but I like reading it. -- from Cecilia (excerpt of her most recent comment)

Thank you, Cecilia. It's time that I took a moment to explain myself and the purpose of this particular blog. Its origin in April 2006 was due to two factors. I was trying to survive a painful breakup with a person I thought was my soul mate. When it became clear that there was no other clear outlet for my pain, my oldest daughter (who is a gifted writer) suggested that I create a blog, and just post whatever I was feeling in the course of that breakup and my subsequent recovery.

It is funny and perhaps ironic that although I had been following the emergence of blogs, and even co-taught the art of blogging at Stanford during my three years as a visiting professor there, it had never occurred to me to become a blogger myself.

After all, isn't the so-called blogosphere supposedly an outlet for "citizen journalists," and others who feel shut out of the conventional media world?

If so, I could never qualify. I've published hundreds of articles, including a smattering in some of the biggest and best publications here and overseas. I've published books, journal articles, a textbook (of sorts), chapters in various additional books, fiction (under pseudonyms), columns, and written screenplays as well as the story for a film that was a Warner Brothers release in the early '80s.

I've also been the central character in a documentary, and a contributing producer to several others; I've been the executive producer of many radio programs on public radio; and a guest on many other shows, both radio and TV, here and overseas.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I am hardly an outsider in the world of media, though I have always been mainly attached to the alternative channels of communication, not the corporate mainstream.

Despite this personal history (and I hope it does not sound as if I am promoting myself here -- these are the simple facts of my career), nothing I have done previously or accomplished prepared me for the state I found myself in April 2006:

Older, lonely, alone, isolated, alienated, depressed, very sad, flirting with suicidal tendencies, enough so that I had a plan (which I now know is a very bad sign indeed.)

So, following my daughter's advice, I started laying out in this space my honest emotional state. It is very hard, however, for me to remain focused on my own story, and in fact antithetical to my professional training and personal inclinations.

My professional life has been devoted to telling other people's stories, especially those who lack a voice. I've written articles and books and helped produce documentaries about those in Third World countries who continue to suffer from the effects documented in my first book, Circle of Poison (co-authored with my buddy, Mark Schapiro).

I also continue to devote myself to helping young journalists develop (my favorite activity),as captured in my second book, Raising Hell (co-authored with my buddy, Dan Noyes).

By the mid-80s, I was focusing on the prospect of global environmental disaster; thus, my third book, The Bhopal Syndrome.

Then, abruptly, my personal life took a violent and unexpected turn down a different path. I became obsessed with fiction, but doubted my ability to create anything of value. Thus, I have never published any fiction whatsoever under my own name.

In a much more important realm, I continued to be blessed by creating children -- wonderful, beautiful, brilliant children, six in all, during marriages to two lovely wives.

I, however, proved to be a very difficult husband, with many more problems than the space here (though unlimited) could ever accommodate were I to be descriptively explicit.

So, with no specific agenda and without hope of finding one, I have simply committed myself to write night after night, and to post at this URL. I'm a compulsive writer and photographer, and I post other material elsewhere, on numerous blogs.

I hope this helps reintroduce me to you, dear reader. I have no idea what this blog is about, now I have recovered and moved on from the state that precipitated it. It's all improv these days. I don't even know when I sit down and begin where I am going or why.

This is just what I do, and therefore who I am.

A simple writer, hoping my stories somehow help anyone who encounters them.



Thursday, June 28, 2007

Management Theory, Part Two

Tonight, I'm again going to quote from Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink. As my buddy Alana points out, this is hardly his best book, but it is packed with useful, counter-intuitive advice for those of us concerned about how to survive in the post-modern workforce. Unlike the world our parents knew (after the Depression and World War II, that is), our world has few continuities now. Jobs, relationships, marriages, and the homes we live in, our friendships all seem subject to change in ways mostly out of our control.

Nothing seems to last very long. But, within this discontinuous framework, I often sense that a new intimacy may be emerging. It is possible to remain networked with many people on a superficial level through email and social networking sites, or on a more profound level through frequent email or virtual meetings and chats. The boundaries that used to confine us no longer do so. With email, webcams, IM, Skype, Flickr, and now iPhones, we can as easily pursue relationships across continents and oceans as next door or down the street.

Of course, the physical element may be lacking until and unless you can be together in the flesh. But all other aspects of intimacy -- talking, sharing, honesty, staying connected, talking, listening -- are so easily and freely accomplished now, it simply astonishes me when "friends" choose to go silent. I fail to understand this choice. I always am happy to stay in touch with those I love and those I like, and I would never dream of cutting anyone I care at all about off.

Silence is never golden in this new world. There is a mutual obligation, of the nature the Japanese concept of giri conveys, to take care of one another by observing the principles of repricocity. Not talking to someone you know cares for you means only one thing: You don't care back.


What, you say, does this rant have to do with management theory? Let me, finally, turn back to Gladwell. In the following passage he is weighing the difference between logical thinkers who are biased toward gathering a massive amount of empirical evidence before making decisions, and those who are perhaps more impulsive, relying on their intuitive sense to move quickly, take risks, and attempt to innovate.

The first group favors safe, proven choices, concentrating on exploiting others' ideas in some way that proves profitable.

The second are disruptive opportunists, who sense the moment, and try to change the direction of history.

BTW, almost none of this has anything to do with Gladwell, so don't hold him accountable for my sins. This is pure Weir Theory. But Gladwell has this to say: "...extra information is more than useless. It's harmful. It confuses the issues." He also notes that "in fact, you need to know very little to find the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon."

The photo above captures a brainstorming meeting at work, and if you look closely, my buddy Mark's reflection is apparent.

As long as any of us are working together with an opportunity to accomplish something -- anything -- my view is that we should not be wasting that precious chance. It's all about impact.

The world actually needs us to resolve our personal dilemmas and become active. But that is an insight well beyond conventional management theory. I'll have more to say about this soon...


Silly, shameful old CIA tricks

(Click on image to view.)

Back in the day, working as a full-time investigative reporter, I developed the habit of consuming my news unfiltered. Rather than "watch" or listen" or "read" the news, I spent my energy discovering it, and making it.

I was hardly unique. We were a generation of young muckrakers, much more inclined to produce news than consume it. When I first got inside the new, emerging web-based media companies, in the mid-'90s, it didn't take long to see that the dominant impulse online was to repackage, gossip or rant about the news.

The irony, to me, was all the talk of "disintermediation." Eliminating the middleman -- that's supposedly what the Internet was all about. So, travel agents would be headed to the garbage heap of history, along with car salesmen, pharmacists, insurance agents, real estate agents, and, following this line of thinking, journalists.

The problem is, as opposed to all those other middlemen, journalists were actual producers of a product (news), not resellers or repackagers. But they did such a bad job of telling their story that in my adult memory journalists fell from the rank of highly esteemed, poorly paid, hard-drinking professionals to widely despised, randomly paid, hard drinking individuals.

Inside the profession itself (and the academic branches that study it) is the concept of the Noble Reporter, rather like the Noble Savage, you might suppose. In this case, the concept is that whole gaggle of types of people, just out their doing their daily jobs, without much fanfare, collectively keep power accountable and therefore serve the public good, enabling democracy.

It takes an army of journalists to track down the powerful, expose the abuses of power, and illustrate the social injustice that results. In place of that idea, we've all been forced to witness the unveiling of Superstar "Journalists," who for my purposes will henceforth be known as Fake Journalists.

Fake Journalists include Jerry Rivers (stage name: Geraldo Rivera), Dan Rather, all news anchors, the 60 Minutes correspondents, all pundits, all sports radio hosts, and everyone on the payroll of Fox News, among many, many other posers and imposters. None of these people actually do any reporting; they sell and repackage a tiny portion of what actually matters in this world with various marketing strategies from the banal to the sensational.


It should not be surprising, therefore, that the current head of the CIA could attract quite a fair portion of "news" coverage the other day when he announced the supposed release of all kinds of declassified skeletons from the CIA's old closets. The Director had a marketing plan; he labeled these musty files the "Family Jewels."

Thus, is our colorful language casually cheapened by bureaucrats, liars, and magic potion salesmen.

I took the time last night to read through all the documents, only to discover they are old friends, papers I've read many times before, 30 years ago, when they were initially made public. I've reproduced one page from the CIA files above just to show the kind of documents we are talking about here.

If anything, enough details have been freshly blacked out of these pages that they actually amount to a slightly cleaned up skeleton from what we got the last time around. There's nothing new here, other than the CIA believed it could hoodwink us, and partially rewrite history by redacting certain embarrassing details.

No deal. Some of us have good enough memories, plus some of us even save things! As previously revealed in this space, I am a pack rat, and among the volumes on my many bookshelves are Congressional printings of these same document caches, without the recent round of censorship clumsily instituted by the agency's keystone cop division.

The truth is the Bush administration is trying desperately to turn attention away from the horrible abuses at Abu Ghareb, Gitmo, and elsewhere by CIA and military agents in our time. Although these historical documents are worth a read, especially by those who were not involved in monitoring these revelations in the post-Watergate years, even more important is to pay attention to each new report by Sy Hersh and the small band of other reporters who continue to probe what the current CIA is doing in the name of another fakery -- the fake "War on Terror."


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Management Theory

First, I had hoped, dear reader, that I might be over this colored bottle obsession by now. No such luck. I continue to be driven to experiment with colors, combined with glass. Unlike many of my male friends, I am not color-blind. Rather I am blinded by the richness of the various colors along the rainbow. Each shade has its own sensuality. Any color you can mention evokes in me a deep primordial response. This is a physical experience I am sharing on my blog -- the attraction I feel toward these colors, their warmth, their coldness, their closeness and their remoteness.

However, this post is not even indirectly meant to be about colors or bottles. Nope, this is my attempt to create one of those uninteresting seminars on management theory. I have been managing employees all of my adult life. I don't why. It appears simply to have been my fate.

Therefore, I have developed a theory about how to play the role of manager in our economy. My approach transcends organizational type, I believe. It doesn't matter if you are in the private sector (my current job and one-third of my ~36 year career to date); the non-profit sector (another one-third); the academe or government (one-sixth); or self-employed/consultant (the last one-sixth).

No matter in which of these roles you find yourself, you need a theory that guides your management philosophy. The hardest person I ever met for me to manage is, in fact, me. So, that is a starting point. As your own manager of your own career, how do you best motivate yourself, hold yourself accountable, and drive toward success?

Anyone who can solve these dilemmas has the potential to manage others. When we reach that point, the issues migrate slightly to how can we motivate those who report to us to be the best they possibly can be?

I will not deny that the answer includes some aspect of manipulation. But I think Malcolm Gladwell captured what I think works in his book, BLINK. He was describing a military man's approach in a war games exercise, but I believe this applies much more broadly across employment categories.

"This kind of management system clearly has its risks. It meant (the manager) didn't always have a clear idea of what his troops were up to. It meant he had to place a lot of trust in his subordinates. It was, by his own admission, a "messy" way to make decisions. But it had one overwhelming advantage: allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves constantly...It enables rapid cognition."

That, in a nutshell, is the gamble I take every time I roll the dice by encouraging my employees to trust their own instincts in tackling problems. Rapid cognition.

I love it!


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dropped fruit

Today, I gathered many ripe plums that shook their way off our tree in the backyard. Some were damaged in their fall. All have scars, breaks, or other evidence of their fall from the relative safety of being hooked to the tree to their (not final) resting place in my backyard.

I love eating these fruits. They are fresh, tree-ripened, and virginal. Their open rips bleed lovely deep red-purple blood, and they are both sweeter and spicier than the fruit that ships to the supermarkets around here.

I had almost forgotten how good they taste until I sucked one in this morning. Its tastiness stayed with me, like the aroma of making sweet love, long after I finished it, and much like lovemaking, I couldn't wait to get home to do it again tonight.

Sure enough, the winds and birds had done their duty and delivered a large bounty for me tonight. I have sketched the results here for you, and I apologize if it is not as tasty a photo as you might like.

Which brings me to the dicey subject of, ahem, pornography.

I've already posted about the live web cam business based in Asia that I suspected was exploiting young women in the Philippines and elsewhere who have few other options to support themselves and those who depend on them.

Upon further investigation, I now have to revise that opinion. It may be the result of the well-known tendency of males to project their view upon the women they meet (or in this case, virtually meet.)

My new view, after further exploration and conversation, is that this may be one aspect of a new global connectedness between people the world over. Physical attraction is often the initial reason people find each other. It's almost ineffable, this reality, but Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink, documents how important first impressions can be.

Try to remember how you felt the first time you met a person. Yesterday, I pointed out how few American men are actually tall (defined as 6 feet and above) but how disproportionately those who aare occupy positions of power in our society. That is an example of the power of first impressions...

I will not here pretend to be capable of discussing the aspects of females that attract men, because the truth is that almost any way of being a female will attract certain men. We are so hard-wired for sexual reproduction that you can be tall, short, skinny, fat, old or young, dark or light, with any color combination of eyes, hair and skin, or anywhere along the long spectrum of female personality types; it matters not, there will be men for you.

Slowly, it seems, women come to understand this, when it comes to the men whom they attract.

Think about it this way. If you were not inherently and genetically attractive to a critical mass of men, the ruthless selection of evolutionary history would have rendered you extinct.

Therefore, yes, for every woman there is a man, and vice versa. And, given that we have so massively over reproduced in this world, there actually are a lot of potential mates for you, whoever or however you are.

And, of course whatever I have said here applies to men who love men, women who love women, and cross-genderism as well. All is natural; if you are given to believing in a God of some sort, that is her gift to you.

The gift of knowing you can easily be loved, because you are inherently beautiful, and exactly what another somewhere here among us all is seeking -- just you, just the way you are -- is what I want to give you this night.

Tonight, I more or less overdid myself. Count 'em, it was me and eight kids, five boys and three girls, ranging from 8-14 or so. We consumed the better portion of five pizzas, a gallon of ice cream, several video games, a movie, several CDs, a book (perused), and the shared stories of our collective ~145 years on this planet.

We talked about lots of things, it was a running conversation here in my Mission flat. The eight of them collectively have me by a quarter century or so, but I am more than four times as old as the oldest among them.

These are all, each in their own ways, sweet kids, loving, respectful, observant and jaded by what they've seen of their parents' shattering lives. Yet they persist, hopeful, flirtatious, future-oriented, as is their right. Soon, they will reach the reproductive age, they will control resources, and their choices will determine the future of our species, and this planet.

I don't know about you, but I am anticipating an old age where I might be available to offer advice, but not responsible to control, their choices. If they wish to listen, I will speak. If they don't wish to listen, I will continue to do what I am doing here -- blogging without any feedback or any sense whatsoever whether these writings are useful, or just so many digital keystrokes, destined to cycle endlessly in cyberspace, much as a dying satellite spins hopelessly in orbit, held by gravity, but no longer relevant to those who launched it there in the first place.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Living in the moment

Would you like to have an Anytime Wedding? In Spanish, that would be En caulquier momento bodas.
If so, contact my neighborhood or me. We specialize in that here, much like Las Vegas.

You know what's great about baseball? Your favorite team (let's pretend they are the Giants) can totally suck (which they do) but watching games is still fun. It was the old Reds/Tigers manager, Sparky Anderson, who first taught me what's so impossible about the Giants' current position.

They are in last place, roughly 10-12 games out, but that's not the real problem. They have four teams ahead of them. Only a computer could compute the odds that they can not only play much better ball the rest of this season, but everyone else in their division will collapse.

Sorry, ain't gonna happen.

But even though this season turns out to be an embarrassing failure for the Giants, there are a few things to keep us interested.

Barry Bonds, with 749 home runs, sits just six behind Hank Aaron, and will probably pass him within the next few weeks. Then, despite all of his steroid-mistress-unfriendly baggage, he will break the most cherished record in all of sports, U.S.-style.

Those who hate him are primarily motivated by racism, sorry to say. I've read all of the critics and their arguments don't hold water unless you hate a black man who does what white men can't do.

The Giants are truly a last-place team. Presumably, this is Bonds' last season with the team, and most of the other veterans (this is an old team) will be gone as well. The new Giants have a bunch of impressive young pitchers and even a few position players on their roster, or waiting down at the AAA Fresno Giants.

Rumors are the team will also try to acquire the best hitter in baseball now -- A-Rod -- when the Yankees slugger becomes a free agent this off-season.

As for me, I celebrate being able to watch Barry Bonds play baseball all these years. And, on Saturday, when the team broke out of its 8-game losing streak by beating the Yankees in 13 innings, the dugout emptied out and jumped around hugging each other as if they had won the World Series.

But I suspect this team will be dismantled later this summer; old guys sold off for prospects. And, next year, a younger team will rejoin the quest for a championship, the one thing that has never quite happened here in the city by the Bay.

p.s. Meanwhile, how about Apple? And how about my grandson, James, whose likeness is now on my favorite coffee cup? Or, all of that ripe fruit, hanging low, here in California this sumer?


Sunday, June 24, 2007


(This post has been renamed & rewritten slightly.)

Here is a quiz:

Q1 How many American men are six feet tall or more?
Q2 What is the average height of American men?
Q3 What percentage of CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are six feet tall or more?

I owe Malcolm Gladwell and his book, Blink, for these questions, as well as the answers, which appear at the bottom of this post.


It's summer here, as you know, which means it is barbecue season in The Mission. So, that's what we did here at my place, cooking chicken in the backyard under the plum tree, with its leaves hanging low, rich with ripening fruit, so red and tempting.

Rather like my elusive smoker, in her short terrycloth robe, with a tattoo on her shoulder. She's such a mystery.

People come, and then they go. In and out of sight. You might never see them again. or you might.

A1 -- ~14.5% (about one in seven)
A2 -- 5 Ft. 9 inches
A3 -- 58%

Gladwell calls this (awarding men on the basis of their height) the "Warren Harding Error." Harding was a tall, handsome man that Americans elected President because he looked "Presidential" -- even though he was completely unqualified, and is generally recognized by historians as our worst President ever.

Of course, the books are not yet closed on his likely successor to that dubious title: George W. Bush.


Sea Treasures

I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.
-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Yesterday, I finally got the tides right. The result was a harvest of green glass and pebbles.

Of course, I couldn't resist picking up other colors as well, but green is my mission. When you're walking a beach, head down, examining the many "gifts of the sea,"* there's much to choose from. Thinking of the elegant simplicity of the writing style of the small band of American literary environmentalists, whose work in the '50s, introduced me to the principles of ecology, I was lost in the moment.

Those writers, too, knew the unique pleasure of strolling along the beach, just at the edge of the waves' reach, seeking small treasures. You can't be too greedy about it; the sea will give you what it pleases, when it pleases.

But, persistence has its rewards. I was so engrossed in my search that I barely took note of the others around me -- people and dogs. At one point, approaching a rock outcropping that one can breach only at low tide, I noticed one oddity -- a beach patrol jeep drove past me, up to that spot, then hung a U-y and started back. I waved to the driver, who then stopped and lowered his window.

"We're looking for a lost Chihuahua mix, about 15 pounds, black, black collar, no tags," he explained. "Since I can't drive any further, will you keep an eye out?"

"Sure," I answered, wondering what was in the mix. The only Chihuahuas I'd ever known of couldn't tip the scales beyond, say, six pounds, but whatever.

I rounded the outcrop and continued southward on Ocean Beach. It was windy and the waves were impressive enough that surfers were paddling out to the highest breakers offshore.

Soon, I was into good seaglass territory -- it appears in clusters, similarly sized to the pebbles and shell fragments surrounding it. In these banks of natural (and man-made) detritus from the sea is written a history of the relentless combined power of currents, sand, sun, and waves, grinding everything solid into a softened, polished fragment of its former self.

Sort of like age does to us. Only the core, finally, remains.


p.s. I hope they found the lost dog.

* The title of one of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's books