by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XXII

This Week's Clue: Do The Right Thing

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This Week's Clue: Do The Right Thing
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Propagandization
The Business End of Blogging
Moore's Last Sigh
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of May 31, 2004

Secretary of State Colin Powell went to Wake Forest University recently, to give a commencement address. He criticized how the war in Iraq has gone, and the intelligence he was given which helped bring it about. Critics said he was breaking from the Administration. Cynics said he was looking for forgiveness.

His theme was a call to ethics. Do the right thing, he preached. You may be unpopular, you may be alone, but do the right thing.

Again, the critics and cynics charged, easy for you to say. And, by the way, did you?

But the right thing is harder to do than the critics and cynics know, as I found out recently.

My son plays soccer. It's a recreation league. He's no David Beckham, but his team has talent. Last fall they played in a tournament. But they were done in at the first game by a team which, our coach charged, was an "all-star team" filled with "ringers." Well, they were excellent, and some of the players looked very grown-up. We fought like tigers, falling 3-1, and had nothing left for the rest of our games. We lost them all.

This spring we were loaded. Then coach learned that four of his best players would be going on a school trip the week of the district tournament. They would be able to play, however, if we won that competition and made it to state.

So I took my son to his first tournament game, expecting defeat. And what did I see on the field but a tall, thin, wiz of a player, whom coach was calling by the name of one of our absent boys. He blew by the opposition, scoring once and setting up two more. The rest of our kids played inspired defense behind him. Even my son did fairly well. That afternoon the new kid was missing, and we lost.

I saw the coach between games. He shook my hand. He was enthusiastic. The parants and players were, too. Personally, I was too shocked to react.

What I should have done was taken my son, gone off to find the tournament director, and turned in the team right then. I didn't. I went along. And for that I am ashamed.

My wife went to the tournament the second day, and saw the same kid. We won twice. We were district champs. All the parents were ecstatic. They were heading to state. And when the medals were awarded, my wife said, and the absent player's name was called, this other kid stood up and took the award. The parents all cheered.

Now these are good people, these parents, I thought. Some are leaders in my community. We all knew this kid was a ringer. But that weekend, no one said a word.

In the end good triumphed, the team was thrown out of the tournament, and everyone now feels sick at heart. I had felt the pressure, the pressure to conform, to keep my mouth shut, the pressure to stay in the conspiracy. It was a very small conspiracy, with very small stakes. But the pressure was very real.

They say, "act like a grown-up," but what I learned is that, in the end, most grown-up morality doesn't go much further than that of a 12-year old boy. When my son came home from the tournament, with his mother, he went straight to his room, looking for all the world like a loser. I was proud of him then.

I no longer belittle or dismiss Colin Powell when he says, "do the right thing." Neither should you, until you walk in his shoes.

The right thing is often the hardest thing you'll ever do.

But do it anyway.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am presently searching for opportunities.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

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Shameless Promotion

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Takes on the News

Propagandization

The court jester may be the most "misunderestimated" figure in the medieval pantheon.

It's said his role was to sit at the King's shoulder and remind him of his mortality. The role is played today entirely for laughs. But the jester was also the first free press. For his japes to hit home they had to bite. They had to tell the truth, and skirt that dangerous line between truth-telling and sedition. Laughter got the medicine down.

The role was vital, because Kings who didn't hear the other side, or who refused to listen, could become deluded. They would over-reach and fall, hard, losing not just their own lives but those of their families and all their worldly goods. "The play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King." Without a conscience, a King was just a tyrant who had no legitimacy.

Journalism plays this role today. Journalists must be the conscience of their time. But jesting is in eclipse. Art Buchwald has gone into semi-retirement , and his successors, Trudeau and O'Rourke , are seen as biased by the "other side," so their wit doesn't bite.

What's worse is the (mostly conservative) delusion that lack of bias means bias, thus bias is unbiased, and truth is what you get away with. Fox' slogan "Fair and Balanced" is pure propaganda, a complete falsehood. Yet millions of people, including most of the current Administration, insist on believing the lie is true, and believing that anything told by unbiased sources is, thus, a lie.

It's this corruption of the press that may be the most dangerous act of our time, the last straw that causes our downfall as a nation.

Consider that in 1991 CNN provided coverage of the First Gulf War to the whole world, including the Arab world. Under Ted Turner the network was always careful to avoid propaganda, and it was respected for that. But now the torch has passed, in the Middle East, to networks like Al-Jazeera . Call it what names you will, and call me names for mentioning it if you like. But the fact is that in the Muslim world they're believed, and CNN is not.

The propagandization of the American press has also caused the Administration to assume it can do anything, to anyone, and get away with it. The view that the Abu Ghraib horror was created by "the press," that "the press" is to blame for the resulting uproar, is widespread. I read it recently not from an expected source, but from Annette Johnson , a black female journalism professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "It may cost lives," she said.

Yes, it may. But if we do evil, we must pay for it. Just as when anyone else does evil. If we refuse to pay, if we see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, then I guarantee you that greater evil will be done, maybe to you, and who will hear your screams then?

Evil rises when good men do nothing. It takes courage to call people on it, because the whistleblower suffers doubly. But without whistleblowers, the distance between Bush and Hitler is only what their own conscience decides is necessity, and that can be a very short trip in any man.

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The Business End of Blogging

The problem with defining blogging as a business is that it's not one.

Most bloggers get their money from begging , from foundations , or by having second jobs that guarantee their income. (In my case it's that of my wife, Jenni.) The entire blogosphere is subject to takeover, at any time, by anyone with a fat checkbook .

Nick Denton has been trying to build a journalism business on blogging for two years, and he's plainly frustrated . Even with the best bloggers, the best subjects, and the best style in both writing and design, he's barely hanging in. His so-called arch-rival, Jason Calacanis, is more upbeat, but he's just looking for money.

So let me repeat the key Clue one more time. Blogging is not journalism. You can do journalism through blogging, just as you can do journalism with a TV or radio signal. But TV isn't journalism, and neither is blogging.

Blogging is instant publishing. It's a way for any type of file -- text, graphics, objects -- to become accessible, even attractive, from a Web interface.

Blogging, in fact, isn't designed as a writing tool at all. It's a groupware tool. Sign up the members of your workgroup as a blog, post your shared work product, limit access to those who need it -- instant groupware.

While blogging enables journalism, blogging doesn't bring journalism's business model with it. Just because the out-of-pocket (as opposed to labor) costs are nil doesn't mean there's cash flow to fill that gap, let alone provide a profit.

Once you get the Clue, however, you're going to find something amazing happen. Suddenly, it will dawn on you that blogging is the metaphor by which any Web site can be created. And the lessons of Denton -- short, attitude-filled posts, leading people inside -- these can be applied by any Web site using that metaphor. Amazingly enough, this lesson has already been learned, and applied. Just compare the traffic numbers at www.deanforamerica.com and blog.deanforamerica.com.

LLBean.Com could be a blog. The blog would lead people in, it would be constantly changing, pointing people to other resources (OK, in a store you open new windows -- many blogs do), building a community of interest around each product, letting your customers provide customer service to each other. The blogging metaphor would make the whole site easier to update, and since it would conform to common standards, it could be based on easy-to-buy software, which many people could be trained to use quickly.

If any group of bloggers is interested in building a business around their efforts, however, here is how to start:

  • Form a ring. Incorporate it. Everyone gets a share based on their current circulation. These must all be high-quality blogs with a fairly defined point of view.
  • Choose a single audit standard, so potential advertisers can know what they're buying, and evaluate results across the network.
  • Get shared accounts with Blogads and Google AdSense. Let both organizations know you'll go exclusive with whichever delivers the best results.
  • Create another space for sponsorships, ads that will run across the network, and for "skins" that can surround all blogs that are members of the group.
  • Create a shared logo, and start selling merchandise around it.
  • Take on a PR agent who can solicit money-making opportunities for the whole lot -- speaking, writing, books, TV, whatever.
  • Create legal and financial arrangements that let your stars leave, and a process by which new blogs can be added to the ring.
  • Remember: Protect The Brand.

I think most of the jobs to be created here could be filled among the bloggers themselves, at least at first. Eventually everyone finds their role, their niche, their voice.

Don't beg. Build.

Moore's Last Sigh

Gordon Moore's 1964 prediction was based on the idea that we could shrink the size of components indefinitely.

If you limit your look at Moore to that one point, last week's announcement by Intel that it will change the way it looks at chips is, indeed, Gordon Moore's Last Sigh.

The Von Neumann method for increasing chip speeds is, henceforth, inoperative.

But Moore's Law is going to keep on keeping on. Moore's article cited one method for making chips faster, but Moore's Law itself was really a challenge to the industry, to keep those improvements going.

What has done in Moore's ideas about line shrinkage isn't cost, but heat. Intel has hit a "thermal wall." CEO Craig Barrett was forthright about it: "Our strategy is to go 200 miles per hour until we hit a brick wall. At the same time, we go down parallel tracks to make sure we're ready to move in new directions when we have to."

The new way of computing is parallel processing, and the new father of computing may well be Danny Hillis . Hillis co-founded Thinking Machines, a company that pioneered the concept in the mid-1980s. The idea is that work is parceled-out among several machines, then re-assembled. The time lost on the front end is made up on the back end.

Parallel processing works. Parallel processing made SETI@Home possible. It made Google possible. It let some guys build a super-fast supercomputer out of game machines.

And now, Intel is going to begin go apply those lessons directly into chips. The torch has been passed to a new generation, mine. If you see Danny give him a high-five for me.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Brightmail taking $370 million and selling out to Symantec. . Just make sure the check don't bounce.

Clueless is Symantec paying $370 million for Brightmail . They have trailing year revenues of $26 million, for pity's sake! Someone's smoking that 1999 spliff again.

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