Story So Good, ‘Times’ Runs It Twice

I wonder if anybody at the Los Angeles Times realizes that today the newspaper ran an article twice.

Well, not exactly, the articles were written by different people, but both the Calendar (page D4) and the Business (B3) sections featured articles on a new Web site called RunPee.com that alerts moviegoers to appropriate spots in films to run to the bathroom and not miss anything.

As for RunPee.com and moviegoers, I’ve got a better idea–don’t bother wasting your money on the movies Hollywood wastes your time on. Try reading a book instead.

Difference Between ‘Don’t Do Evil’ and ‘Don’t Be Evil’

Those of you who follow all things Google because of your work or involvement in the Web will no doubt know the name of Matt Cutts, who has become the ubiquitous spokesperson for the search giant, especially in matters of SEO (search engine optimization).

I’d always heard that Google had an official policy on avoiding evil, that is, on not doing evil. In a recent online discussion, however, the same Matt Cutts corrected someone who cited the Googlian policy as "Don’t do evil."

Wrong, said Cutts. The official policy is "Don’t be evil."

This struck me as a bit curious because, in my reasoning anyway, one could follow the dictum of "Don’t be evil" but still "do evil."

You know, one could justify an action that resulted in harm, perhaps even deliberate harm, by using the "white lie" logic that parents use when they don’t tell their kids the unvarnished truth. Or one could even live in denial about one’s action while still claiming one is not evil, like those who throw coworkers under the bus to save their jobs while justifying it as "he had it coming," or whatever the excuse du jour might be.

My sentences are getting a little convoluted here from using one too often, but I hope my point gets across. Most of us live by situational ethics and we’ll do whatever is necessary, even if it’s wrong or evil, to further ourselves or to protect our lives, livelihoods and loved ones. In short, we’re totally capable of doing evil and convincing ourselves that we’re not being evil.

That’s why I find Google’s choice of words peculiar–and full of wiggle room to actually do evil.

Dennis Kneale Is Right, Except in His English Usage

CNBC host Dennis Kneale, who appears at 5 p.m. PDT and 8 p.m. EDT, etc., is taking a lot of heat from the blogosphere for proclaiming the recession over. I happen to agree with him that we’ve come out of the depths and are moving back up, and in fact I date it earlier than Kneale dpes. I say the depth was reached in February, but it had nothing to do with Obama or his inauguration. Right about the time of Puxatawny Phil’s spring-into-action on Feb. 2, the depths had reached us as the Lehman/GM shock began taking perspective. In fact, about a month later (a lagging indicator, as they all are except for us sages), the stock market started going up in fairly dramatic fashion, and consumer confidence started returning.

Lately, however, we’ve had a lot of Obama arbitrage and profit-taking from other people’s woes–investors and companies hunkering down and hoarding up on profits (or money however they can get it–think layofrfs) as a hedge against maniacal Obamaic plans to raise taxes, raise the minimum wage, rip off corporations in the name of nonexistent global warming, socialize the banking and auto industries, unionize every firm in America, and turn health care back to the dark ages when it was cheap (because nonexistent).

All that being said, my main point is that Kneale was right in calling the recession over. For the next months, or years, until Obama comes to his senses, the arbitrage and profiteering will be the logical response to illogical governmental actions. The recovery will stay on hold until then, but it’s over if we can get the government to realize it and take a two-year vacation.

Where I part with Kneale is in his choice of words when he was fighting back against bloggers who were calling for everything from his dismissal from the network to decapitation on public television. At one point, he referred to "homoerotic" bloggers who accused him of being gay (which he denies). However, that was surely the wrong word. What he meant was "homophobic," unless he was referring to bloggers who get orgasms by blogging against him. Then, that would truly be "homoerotic." Sadly, though, it may also be close to the truth.

Quotes from the King of Pop Show Some Soul

I was no doubt born a century too late and on the wrong side of the pond. I would’ve been perfect in 19th-century Italy–spending my evenings at Verdi operas.

That being said, you must realize that I know next to nothing about the music of Michael Jackson–just the lurid headlines.

However, I stumbled upon a page of quotations today from the King of Pop, and I was impressed.

Two really struck me:

If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.

The meaning of life is contained in every single expression of life. It is present in the infinity of forms and phenomena that exist in all of creation.

Shakespeare a Plagiarist and Copyright Scofflaw?

Consider this from Michael Masnick at TechDirt:

If the current US Copyright Law had been in effect over Shakespeare, I think he could have been sued by many authors for copyright infringement for writing that masterpiece.

Count how many lawsuits there could have been just for King Lear alone:

Shakespeare’s play is based on various accounts of the semi-legendary Celtic mythological figure Lear/Lir. Shakespeare’s most important source is thought to be the second edition of The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande by Raphael Holinshed, published in 1587. Holinshed himself found the story in the earlier Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, which was written in the 12th century. Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, published 1590, also contains a character named Cordelia, who also dies from hanging, as in King Lear.

Other possible sources are A Mirror for Magistrates (1574), by John Higgins; The Malcontent (1604), by John Marston; The London Prodigal (1605); Arcadia (1580-1590), by Sir Philip Sidney, from which Shakespeare took the main outline of the Gloucester subplot; Montaigne’s Essays, which were translated into English by John Florio in 1603; An Historical Description of Iland of Britaine, by William Harrison; Remaines Concerning Britaine, by William Camden (1606); Albion’s England, by William Warner, (1589); and A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, by Samuel Harsnett (1603), which provided some of the language used by Edgar while he feigns madness. King Lear is also a literary variant of a common fairy tale, in which a father rejects his youngest daughter for a statement of her love that does not please him.

The source of the subplot involving Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund is a tale in Philip Sidney’s Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, with a blind Paphlagonian king and his two sons, Leonatus and Plexitrus.

Found: A Living, Breathing Proofreader

I stumbled across a real, live proofreader today writing about her profession for an online publication called MedPage Today. Not only was it refreshing to read about someone’s plying an honorable but almost extinct journalistic trade, but Liz O’Brien also had two great links. (I wonder if Ms. O’Brien would catch what’s seriously wrong with my previous sentence.)

First, she linked to a story about a proofreader who died at his desk and wasn’t discovered for five days. His legendary name is George Turklebaum, and you can read about him here.

What’s even better is a collection of un- or mis-proofread headlines that are worth more than a few chuckles.

Surprise Source for Newspapers’ Woes

A lot of what’s causing heartache for newspaper finances across the land is flying under the radar. Most pundits point to the availability of news online, which is all very good as one contributing factor, and others chart the migration of ads from print to online–or to oblivion in these trying times.

However, as both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Cleveland Plain Dealer announced restructurings over the weekend (the Star Tribune through bankruptcy), the bedrock of newspapers’ financial survival has been gobbled up by Craigslist and other free online advertising venues.

That would be the least flashiest aspect of the business–newspaper classified ads.

So, while newspaper readership is marginally down, classified advertising is hemhorraging. Analyze it as you may, but the bottom line is that newspapers are an endangered species, at least the big-city variety.

Which is all too sad.

There’s Strength in Numbers, Or Is There?

Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon have come out with a new book, and a Web site of the same name, called I Hate People.

What it reveals–and what took me almost my entire professional career to figure out–is that you can’t trust anyone at work. They’ll all stab you in the back or throw you under the bus in an instant–if it somehow helps them.

Now, back to my headline. I could examine the saying, "There’s strength in numbers," from a perspective of where it came from and what it means, but I’d rather cue it into the book, I Hate People.

The authors reveal that forty or so years ago, Fortune magazine did a survey of qualities employers most sought in employees. Teamwork ranked tenth. In a similar survey done by the magazine in 2005, teamwork had jumped to number one.

How depressing, considering that the only people who love teams are those who command their appearance and those blowhards who worm their way into taking charge of them to feed their egos.

Hershon and Littman cite an experiment by a French engineer named Maximilien Ringelmann, who measured people’s efforts pulling on a rope attached to a strain gauge. Pulling in groups, people exerted themselves less; pulling alone, they gave it their all.

This has come to be known as "social loafing," or simply the "Ringelmann Effect."

Either way, it accounts for the futility of throwing teams at a problem. Better to give a million monkeys one typewriter each and see how long it takes them to recreate the Great Books of the Western World.

Must Reading: ‘Short History of Financial Euphoria’

I’m not sure when he wrote the first edition of his A Short History of Financial Euphoria, but the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith updated it in 1990 following the stock market crash of 1987 and then the savings and loan meltdown of the late 1980s. Those times seem tame compared to what’s transpiring now. Unfortunately, Mr. Galbraith is no longer around to blame our all current problems on Republicans, as he does in this book. (At least in his The Great Crash 1929, he finds plenty of blame to spread around, including to the Federal Reserve.)

I call this book, which is really only a hundred or so pages long and can be read in an hour, must reading because it confirms what should be obvious: Crashes develop because of greed and speculation. What may not be obvious–in fact, I know it’s not that obvious to the general publi–is that greed and speculation arise only after the government fans the flames of, well, greed and speculation by…

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Mastering the Art of French English Writing

I recently picked up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the late and absolutely great chef Julia Child in preparation for a book I was and still am considering to write

While I’ve tried, so far, one of her recipes–the first one, in fact, for Potage Promentier (potato-leek soup)–what truly impresses me about this book is the the absolutely simple, clear and understandable English that Julia used in writing it. No wonder it became the revolutionary cookbook that changed American cooking and eating habits.

Julia Child was an American, of course, who found herself in France with her husband while he was on a diplomatic mission. She soon mastered the French language but also French cuisine, whch she shares in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Even if you have no intention of learning to cook French food, Julia’s book–at least the introduction in which she tells the story of her years in Paris–is a must read to see how beautiful simply written English can be.

Back in her day, people communicated largely by letter since phones were still too expensive and still pretty scarce. People were foced to learn how to make themselves understood in writing. It clearly shows in this masterful work.