Saturday, February 23, 2008

People Person

Artists and writers often seek to be alone, in order to work, and to quiet the voices in their heads, and to find that essential silence, without which it can be exceedingly difficult to create anything with meaning.

Journalists, traditionally, are different. We grew used to working in the midst of the chaos typical of newsrooms. Thus, for most of my adult life, I have been able to get my work done regardless of how many people happen to be around me, asking questions, interrupting my train of thought, needing attention.

Truth is, I like it like that.

But it's also a blessing when I find myself alone here, in a flat that sometimes seems to be a replica of Grand Central Station. At first, when nobody at all is around, the silence is deafening.

Soon, however, the music begins.

It's not a music emanating from a radio, or a sound system, or my computer, which contains around 100 of my favorite YouTube performances.

It's the softer music of a tiny bird perched for a moment in my apple tree, or the sweet cadence of a neighbor talking on her cellphone. It might be a cat howling his mating call, or some Latino roofers joking as they repair storm damage next door.

Sometimes, it's the silent music of plum blossoms coating our sidewalks with pink petals dropped to point the way.

On rainy nights, like tonight, even passing cars make music, as their tires kick up moisture from the street.

There is a clock ticking somewhere.

At moments like this, I am able to write unhindered by distractions. But if this were the only life I knew, I'd soon become bored. Therefore, the optimal mix is silences broken by social times.

Luckily, there are so many people in my life, socializing is never much of a problem. I do love people, and everyone interests me in some way. The mix of silence (writing, painting, imagining) and togetherness (work, teaching, meetings, parties, hugging, talking, sharing) makes being alive fun for me.

What about you?

p.s. I am indebted to Junko for the topic of this post.


Friday, February 22, 2008

My other blog's a ...

...lot more potentially profitable than this one is.

In order to be able to continue to afford the relative luxury of this personal blog, I am hoping to succeed at building traffic behind my professional blog at b/Net.

And, while it would be unethical for me to ask you to visit the advertising sponsors of this blog, which would make me a little bit of money, there is no conflict for me to urge you to visit my b/Net blogs early and often.

That's because unlike Google AdSense, my compensation at b/Net is entirely based on traffic + comments + votes and other user data.

So, if you wish to help this modest entrepreneur, this unlikely businessperson find a small stream of revenue, please visit my latest post about the business of media, and/or the previous entry as well, plus the first of the series.

Thank you!

This New Year ( 新年快樂,大家!)

It's the year of the rat.

China's fall and rise during my lifetime has been one of the signature events I've witnessed from afar.

There was a time that I repeated quotes from Chairman Mao that I'd heard from others. Although his was never a kind of writing I could study without falling asleep, the ideological statements of the Chinese Communist Party were held up by some as the most revolutionary of all leftist teachings.

In fact, they were foolish rubbish. Meanwhile, the Chinese people were enslaved by an autocratic system that held them in perpetual poverty, prevented them from exercising basic human rights, and sharply curtailed their right to have children.

The last element, the one-child policy, may prove to have been Mao's one great contribution to humanity. Because, unlike neighboring India, whose population has never stopped growing at a frightening pace, China has actually given humanity a somewhat better chance at surviving the coming climate change crisis by significantly slowing down its own population growth for decades.

Meanwhile, American children now celebrate Chinese traditions, at least here in San Francisco. Today's performance was one of those occasions.

And, yes, the Kitchen God's image was indeed visible on his ashes after he was sacrificed, because nobody violated the principle by touching those sacred ashes.

Happy New Year, everyone.



Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spring Feverish

If for everything there is a season, Spring is surely the season for hope. We may be bogged down in a pointless war, our economy may be tanking, gas prices may be rising, and millions of people are out of work, about to lose their homes thanks to the sub-prime mortgage scandal, or at risk of suffering a health crisis because they don't have insurance.

Even with all of this, Nature is in the process of reviving our environment, which in most places has been relatively dormant for months. Outside, in my own backyard, a lacy gown of green buds clings to the branches of our plum tree. Clover, sourgrass, herbs and lettuces are flourishing.

The weather here alternates between sunny days suitable for sunbathing or outdoor basketball and rainy days better suited to reading or hot baths.

Out front, my "garden" in pots is sprouting -- little radishes like those I grew in Michigan in my youth, kaiware daikon, green onions, and regular daikon.


Meanwhile, a check from a class-action settlement compensating me (and probably many others) for the fraudulent mismanagement of a company called WorldCom, which I invested some of my family's precious savings in around 2000, has arrived!

That is the good news.

The bad news is the check is for $0.69. I don't even remember how many thousands of dollars I lost, courtesy of this particular cast of white collar thieves.

But, when it comes to the symbolic value of this worthless check, I must reject the implied mutual pleasure of the amount some distant authority has chosen to send me. Hey, there's a much better way to view this ridiculous settlement, but that violent word is not suitable for a family website.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bigger than us

photo credit: NASA

Driving north from San Jose tonight, after a fascinating two-day visit to Santa Clara University, where the quality of ideas seem to be much more valued than the sound of money, (which I've heard, breathed, swallowed and choked on in neighboring Silicon Valley), those of us commuting northward were treated to a rare visual treat.

Courtesy of NPR, I know that tonight's eastern sky held the third of three lunar eclipses in this past year, and that this also was the last one until late 2010, almost three years from now.

Our Bay Area skies were cloudy, so I expected no chance to view this relatively rare event.

But as I crested I-280's last rise and merged eastward onto the 380 connector to Highway 101, there it was! A soft smudge in the eastern sky, nothing like a normal view.

In fact, as this odd image hovered over the broad, well-lighted expanse of SFO, I couldn't help but wonder whether those who say they have sighted UFOs, and those who claim to have witnessed guiding lights from the heavens, throughout human history, may not simply have been in the right place at the right astronomical time?

If so, that does not diminish their experience, in my view, but perhaps confirms it. Being there, witnessing that, validates our smallness, as humans, before the awful glory of forces so much grander than ourselves, that none of our conventional tools can explain.

Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in God? Can you reconcile the relentless logical beauty of science with the ambiguity of faith in a source not palpable, not reachable, not attainable in our status as mere wretched humans?

If you cannot, and you also saw tonight's magnificent heavenly display, it just may be a time to reconsider your beliefs. If so, you are as one with me. To glimpse the awful beauty of something much greater than ourselves raises a conundrum for intellectuals. It's a place we do not willingly go.

In future months, at this space, I will be traveling these spiritual paths, and I hope, dear reader, you are willing to stick around for the ride!


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Boomerang Effect


As Barack Obama swept to a larger than expected victory in Wisconsin tonight, Hillary Clinton was sent a devastating message:

Attacking Obama causes us to turn against you.

As usual, I watched the candidates' speeches on TV in my hotel room tonight and then turned off the sound so I could escape the spinners.

One of my buddies active in the Obama campaign told me last night their internal polls predicted a 5-point advantage in Wisconsin as of yesterday. In fact, it appears he won by 17%.

My friends, whether you like math or not, this is a landslide, come from behind victory for Sen. Obama. In politics, this was a confirming result -- confirming trends we all recognized and eliminating any doubt about the margin of error in the various poll methodologies.

Not only is Obama the strong front runner now, Clinton probably faces a series of "last stand" primaries, especially in Ohio and Texas, and in Pennsylvania if the contest goes that much longer.

All Democratic constituencies break for Obama now except women, who understandably will be the last to desert Clinton's sinking ship.

There's still time for a turnaround, but now it depends on an Obama error, not on a Clinton surge. Looking at the trend lines among all major demographic groups, including women, Clinton already has lost.

So now it's Obama's nomination to lose.

So much of the individual decision about how to vote is private and personal that no poll yet invented can accurately gauge voter behavior as long as a contest remains dynamic and underdeveloped.

But, partially because this primary season has been so long, there's precious little development time left for anybody. The Republican race, regrettably in my opinion, is over. McCain has it wrapped up, and therefore the two most interesting candidates on the right, Huck and Paul, do not have any chance at all.

That's too bad. Blame it on Mitt.

McCain is already attacking Obama and I wonder if his advisors will learn in time what the Clintons have learned.

A candidate whose popularity rises when you attack him is a formidable candidate indeed. Go negative and you lose.

It will be revealing to watch the old warrior, McCain, who has a strong case for Americans frightened by the prospect of more terrorist attacks and the perception that the world is an increasingly dangerous place, try to compete against the younger, much more inspiring Obama.

He will attack, and in that way, I believe, he will lose.

It's a little early to come to conclusions, but, ladies and gentlemen, the next President of the United States is a black man, a former street organizer in Chicago, a globalist who just might have a shot at repairing our woeful image around the world. A person who might just be able to get a big enough mandate to unify this fractious nation and wage peace as aggressively as the fear mongers wage war.

That just might be something worth praying for.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Letter to a young writer

Please imagine that we are having this conversation a few years from now, when you are no longer a student, but out in what we call the "real world."

The reason I ask you to imagine this is because you truly have a unique historical opportunity. The emergence of new media forms is happening right here, right now, today, tomorrow, and the next day.

Blogging, for example, did not emerge centuries ago in some faraway place – there are no Dead Sea Scrolls to be discovered from the early days of blogging.

It’s all brand new, so much so that we do not yet have an agreed-upon set of standards to teach you. That’s something you students and we teachers have in common – we’re both discovering the world of new media on the fly.

The explosion of blogs, websites, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc., means that any person who wishes to can now become a publisher.

Think about that for a second. When you were born, the only publishers of any note were the formal established companies producing newspapers, magazines and books.

The broadcast media consisted mainly of commercial radio stations, and the three major television news networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), though a slew of very young cable TV networks were already aggressively biting at their heels.

That was then.

Today, everything has changed, and your generation is now at the epicenter of these changes.

For a sense of how volatile the media environment is, just tune into CNN on any random primary night this election season. Led by Wolf Blitzer, this team jumps around from one panel of political pundits to another, all the while proclaiming that they are the "best political team on television," as if anybody was keeping score.

Each of CNN's panels of three sit at desks with -- not one -- but two laptops in front of them (a Mac and a PC). CNN reporters routinely check in with the so-called “blogosphere,” and make references to comments or questions coming in via text messaging from Blackberries, iPhones, and other PDAs.

CNN also features a large touch-tone screen that allows their main political correspondent, John King, to zoom in on the various precincts in states in the hope of illuminating the demographic patterns that identify supporters of the various candidates.

None of these gimmicks were in use a few years ago and some of them will, no doubt, be abandoned in the years to come. Meanwhile, your generation will graduate and move out into this dynamic media environment with a major advantage over the people who currently work as journalists.

Why is that? Think about it. Most of these guys came to journalism decades ago, before any of the current tool sets even existed.

They have had to re-school themselves, learn how to use new devices, and pick up new technical skills, but most of them remain lost in the '50s or '60s or 70's or (pick your decade).

By contrast, how many of you send text messages to your friends via your cellphones?

Texting is the new shorthand, and it can function as such when you are interviewing sources. This is an advantage for young people.

Interactivity is the common feature of all new communication tools and avenues. Email was the first, biggest, and still most important of these tools. In barely more than a decade it has become ubiquitous.

Imagine a reporter’s life before email? People used telephones much more.

Imagine her life before cellphones? People had to work much harder to reach one another.

Imagine what it was like before GPS, MapQuest, and other navigational aides. People got lost more often and had more trouble locating the places they needed to go.

In this flat new media world, everyone is a publisher and everyone is a consumer. Everything we say is up for grabs. If you can establish your own voice and take advantage of Web 2.0 tools to distribute your work in the social networking sites, you may be able to build your own entrepreneurial media business from scratch.

Just remember this: Journalism has never been about the bells or the whistles. Those things come and go, and always are changing.

It’s not about computers or cellphones; it’s about the networks of people you can build.

It always takes time for the established institutions of society (like mainstream journalism) to adapt to new technologies and to periods of rapid social change.

In this age of yours, one opportunity above all beckons – globalization. Think about your ability to connect not only with friends on campus but with others all over this planet!

This is an awesome new power, never before so broadly available. Human ecology is changing as a result; here too you can have an advantage by recognizing this early, and by thinking hard about how you can contribute through your work to solving global problems.

Good luck.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Where there's an absence of belief...(どこにあるの信念の欠如... )

A tragedy of monstrous proportions is becoming evident in our closest Asian ally nation, Japan, and it should resonate here in the land of guns, where alienated boys gun down as many of their contemporaries as possible before turning their death weapons on themselves.

These horrible slaughters continue to happen in school after school all over the U.S. Every single time, after the dead have been carried away, we are inundated with reports seeking to answer the question: "Why?"

In Japan, meanwhile, an unarmed nation, there are reportedly over one million young men known as hikikomori, who withdraw totally from society, never leaving their rooms in their parents' homes, and often turning violent, not against outsiders, but against their parents, the only people who care for them.

An extremely disturbing study of the hikikomori was published by an American writer in 2006.

If you read this book, you may get insights into our own troubled young killers that evades us here. After all, when a gun is readily available, all sorts of momentary errors may occur.

But in Japan, where these same types of tortured boys have no potent weapon available, their main violence is self-inflicted; and, as they deterioriate, turned onto those who love them -- their parents.

It's hard for an atheist to read this kind of book. For it remains true that humans yearn for meaning in our lives. Thus, we have created great religions. At their best, these schools of faith have helped us moderate our extremist impulses and find the peace we need to grow comfortable in our own skin, and shut out the violent impulses of a killer species.

Sadly, in our time, religious extremists are exploiting the unhappiness of youth to incite religious war all over the world.

But none of this means we cannot find a better way, perhaps a path based on belief, such as that inherent in the greatest song ever written from a life of sin, Amazing Grace.



これらの学校で起こる身の毛もよだつslaughters継続してオーバーした後、米国のすべての学校ごとに1つの時間は、死んだ後に行われて去っても、我々は殺到する質問に答えることを求める報告書: "なぜ? "

日本では、一方で、武器を持たない国では、若い男性と伝えやり直す1000000 hikikomoriとして知られ、社会から完全に撤退者は、決して自分の部屋に残し、親の家で、よくターニング暴力は、部外者に反対しないが、両親に反対は、人々の世話をするだけだ。



しかし、日本では、これらのどこにもない男の子と同じ種類の拷問を受けた利用できる強力な武器は、自分の主な暴力行為は、自分自身に課す;と、 deterioriateとして彼らは、人々の愛曲がってしています-両親です。