Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Most important things you can read this week

As you prepare to vote next week (unless, like me, you've already voted absentee), here's some food for thought:
  • After Pat's Birthday -- If you haven't yet read this scorching essay by Kevin Tillman, posted on truthdig.com, you should. It is past time, as the saying goes, to "speak truth to power."
  • "The Army has recently completed a new center in San Antonio specializing in amputation, [called] the Intrepid Center...." -- This passing mention came in the next-to-the-last paragraph of a lovely NYT article about service dogs being trained to assist disabled veterans of the Iraq War. Just think about that. Then think about the more than 100 U.S. service members killed this month alone, and who knows how many more severely injured and disabled for life. This is the Iraq War. No plan, no strategy, no way out. No end in sight. Don't you think it's time to shake up the deadly status quo in DC?
Challenge authority. Do good. Make a difference.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What's that smell?

I first thing I noticed was a small group of people, four or five, clustered under a tree, some kneeling, some bending over at the waist, picking up something off the ground. Then, when I got closer, I got a whiff of that smell.

"Eew," said a passing student. "What is that? Did somebody throw up?"

Not a bad guess. The sidewalk was littered with small golden-orange blobs of something...and the odor was, well, foul.

It reminded me of dog doo...you know, the pungent fresh-laid, mustardy kind that gets lodged in the treads of your shoes at the worst possible moment...like when you're on your way to a nice restaurant, or late for a meeting...when you're headed to the kind of place where a big stink and a yellow crust on the bottom of your shoe will tend to get noticed. That kind.

But clearly, this was more than one dog could doo. And why were these people picking it up?

They all wore plastic gloves, at least on the hand that was doing the picking...a wise move, I thought, considering. I stepped off the sidewalk and spotted more blobs on the grass under the tree.

"What are they?" I asked the nearest person, an older Asian woman. She glanced up, but decided to ignore me.

I paused a moment, watching as they gathered the foul golden blobs and placed them in plastic cups and old plastic grocery sacks. A breeze rustled the leaves of the tree overhead, and more golden blobs fell to the ground. Ah! One question answered.

A woman wearing a scarf was piling hers on sheets of newspaper laid atop of a brick wall. She separated each fleshy golden blob from its inner core -- a seed? a nut? -- and put it in a small blue bag.

I tried again. "What are these?

"Ginko," she said.

"What do you use them for?"

Her English was heavily accented and somewhat limited (hey, my Chinese is non-existent), but the gist of it is that she makes a dessert out of it...the meat of the nut, that is, not the stinky, pulpy flesh.

First, she said, you have to remove the seed from the flesh, and wash the seed and let it dry. Then you crack the seed open, remove the nut meat, and pound it into a paste that can be used in cooking.

Must be a very special dish to be worth all that work and all that smell.

Another woman scooched down on the ground beneath the tree, processing a pile of the golden fruit. It was her first time harvesting Ginkos, she said, and she was doing it for her mother and grandmother who remembered harvesting Ginko fruit in China. You can buy them sometimes at the market for about $3 per pound, she added, but they aren't as fresh and freshness is important.

She continued separating the seeds from the smelly pulp, dropping them one by one into a large plastic Jamba Juice cup. I thanked her, took a couple pictures, and continued on my way.

When I got to my chiropractor's office a few minutes later, I realized I'd brought something with me.

"Eew, what's that smell?"

I hurried to the restroom, grabbed some paper towels and tried to wipe the yellow pulpy residue off the soles of my shoes. But even if you rinse the soles of your shoes under a faucet, that yellow crap stays in the cracks.

I sure hope the smell goes away when it dries.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Say it isn't so, Steve!

Talk about disillusioned! It turns out that one of my favorite bloggers, Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion (and of Edelman PR), has lately been a party to PR fraud.

Eew! Say it isn't so, Steve!

In case you've been stuck in the same closet I've apparently been in, and missed all the ruckus, Edelman PR created a couple of fake blogs or "flogs" (some call them "astroturf") for its client, Wal-Mart (gee, why am I not surprised!).

You can read all about it in this article on BusinessWeek.com, which first exposed the fraud. BW notes:
It all started last month, when a folksy blog called Wal-Marting Across America was set up. The site featured the musings of a couple known only as Jim and Laura as they drove cross country in an RV, and included regular interviews with Wal-Mart workers, who were dependably happy about the company and their working conditions.
But it turned out "Jim and Laura" weren't real RVers, or real bloggers...they were paid schills for Wal-Mart.

Apparently Edelman PR organized the RV trip and accompanying "flog" through a fake-populist group called Working Families for Wal-Mart, which BW notes is funded by Wal-Mart. Once BW pulled back the curtains and exposed the fraud, it took Edelman over a week to admit to making it all up...so much for its vaunted quick-response crisis communications.

For a tongue-in-cheek (or maybe not) rant on this situation, check out strumpette's call for Edelman and Rubel to resign.

A bit extreme? Maybe. But I do seem to recall some sections of the PRSA Code of Ethics that relate to this kind of situation. For example:
HONESTY: We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.
Yeah, right. Well, as much as I enjoy reading Rubel's explorations of new/social media, maybe he needs to take a "time out" to brush up on the basics.

Friday, October 13, 2006

$5 million new media challenge

"Turn the web on its head. Show us how online news can help people improve their lives and shape their communities."

That's the challenge recently issued by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It's called the Knight Brothers 21st Century News Challenge, and it's a worldwide call for new ideas, pilot projects, commercial products and leadership initiatives that will improve the flow of information and news in the public interest.

To back up its challenge, the foundation is putting its money where its mouth is...in 2007, it plans to award $5 million to those individuals, organizations or businesses that can show how their ideas will transform community life.

Interested? The deadline for applying and submitting a letter of inquiry is Dec. 31, 2006.

The categories for this initiative are:
  • Ideas
  • Pilot project
  • Leadership
  • Commercial products and investments
  • Open (for great ideas that don't seem to fit in the other categories)
Specifically, the Knight Foundation is looking for:
  • New ways to understand news and act on it, including new ways to collect, prepare and distribute information, news and journalism that reveals hard-to-know facts, identifies common problems, clarifies community issues and points out practical courses of action.

  • New ways for people to communicate interactively to better understand one another, to generate real passion in solving local problems and to share the know-how they need to improve their communities;

  • New ways for people to use information, news and journalism to imagine their collective possibilities as communities, and to set and reach common community goals.
Also be sure to check out what they're not looking for, so you don't waste their time...or yours.

Questions? Check out their FAQ page. Think you've got the next big idea? Here's how to apply.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Seize the donuts, seize the day!

If I had kids in college, or thinking about going to college, this is the commentary I'd urge them to read: Seize the Weight by Marisha Pessl. You can find it in today's New York Times.