samedi, mars 24, 2007

Iconic Love

I spent the evening with some good women friends tonight. After the kind of lovely high carb, high sugar dinner that women eat when guys aren't around, we watched Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence." Neither of them had read the book. Nor did they know the plot. Based on the Edith Wharton novel, the movie chronicles the complex relationships between Newland Archer, his girlish fiancee, May Welland, and her older cousin, Ellen Olenska. Behind, around and betwixt them as they collide are figures from old New York society in the 1870s-interbred, claustrophobic, and bound by social codes as inflexible as they are silent.

When Wharton wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in the early 1920s, the old mores were already almost gone or were certainly challenged. But she does a wonderful job of conveying the cost of rebelling against the conventions.

At one point (not to spoil the movie or the book) Newland says to Ellen (paraphrase) "You showed me a life that was real, and now you are asking me to go back to a false one."

What evocative words. Many of us are torn by the fear that we will make sacrifices for convention, or for duty, that push us away from the person we love-the man or woman our heart yearns for. It's a very powerful idea- as someone who often defies the conventions, it stirs me up in ways that I don't really even understand. And yet I am 'almost' sure that we don't have one particular great love-and nearly certain that sometimes duty can become love, or passion become duty.

It is part of Scorsese's genius as a director that you can watch the movie again and again and see new things every time. A friend of mine with experience as a screenwriter told me that, from a technical and narrative point of view, it is is one of the best movies ever made-the food scenes, for example, are minor jewels in themselves.

As down to earth as I am, there is something about the ending (both novel and movie) that gets me every time. But any other ending probably would be false to the soul of the novel. As I told a friend, wiping the tears from my eyes, I keep trying to re-write the ending in my mind. Wharton's masterly finish is probably more true to real life-in which the dream is more powerful, and perhaps more comforting, than that which is or was, real.

jeudi, mars 22, 2007

Prayer-Update

As many of you know, Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has spread to her bones.

Although the statistics from the American Cancer Society tell us that only about 26 percent of people with metastatic breast cancer survive beyond five years, John Edwards has decided to continue his campaign. With Elizabeth by his side, it was clear that it was a family decision.

While some of us probably would have made a different choice, I respect them for their bravery and positive outlook. Please put Elizabeth on your prayer list. I suspect they would agree that they are going to need all the human and celestial support they can get...the fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle, including campaign opponents, have spoken up to support Elizabeth indicates that we share a bond much deeper than the political viewpoints that divide us.

Politics and Prayer

In the eating my words department-The Hillary attack ad is not some great generational gauntlet put up on YouTube by an anonymous Gen Y Democrat. Instead, it was the work of a Democratic operative, Philip De Vellis. Blue State Digital, his former firm (De Vellis confessed, then resigned) has ties to the Obama campaign. In fact, they apparently designed the campaign website. Nonetheless, this is a "pay attention" moment. De Vellis says he stole some Apple ad footage and used Apple technology to add a dash (smash) of Hillary to the mix. Look for a flood of these kinds of ads throughout the 2008 campaign. Most of them won't have footprints.

Elizabeth Edwards- Let's keep the Edwards family in our prayers as we await an announcement about Elizabeth's health and the future of John's campaign. Mrs. Edwards, an outspoken and courageous woman, has been undergoing breast cancer treatment. Knowing that she is in the public eye, she has been honest about the cost, but inspiring about how she has kept her spirits up. Whether Democrat or Republican, we can all identify with the anguish of a family in this situation. The Edwards are a neat couple-loving, down to earth, very close to each other. In the distorting world of politics, they seem fairly grounded in day to day reality.

John and Elizabeth Edwards have two young daughters, born after the death of son Wade in 1996. Daughters who need their mom.

What parent doesn't feel a shiver this morning? Be a prayer warrior for Elizabeth and John.

mardi, mars 20, 2007

Playing at politics, gaming for love

Today Al Gore returns to Capitol Hill to testify on the dangers of global warming.

What a comeback-one that was impossible to predict seven years ago! If you are a Gore fan, you remember the agonizing days after the 2000 election, when the vote count swung back and forth between him and now President Bush. At the end, when the Supreme Court had decided the election, Gore conceded and turned his back on DC world. Now he's going to be preaching to the already converted in a Congress controlled by his party-the party that spent seven years in the doghouse.

In spite of the alleged size of his heating bill back in Nashville, though he probably did exaggerate (slightly) the size of the global warming horrors to come, I'm fond of our former Veep.


Idolized by millions (and probably disliked by almost as many) for his campaign to publicize the reality of global warming, he has oddly become a celebrity and a very wealthy guy.

Is he going to run for President? He says not....yet a lot of people already burned out on the current crop of campaigners are hoping Gore will enter the race. But as one of his friends commented-he's got to decide whether he's going to be a President or a prophet. When it comes to Presidential politics, you really can't do both.

As one scientist said on the radio this morning, Gore has been laboring in these vineyards for many years, long before most of us were paying attention. Although he occasionally irks me with his slightly sanctimonious style, I remember the years he truly was an environmental prophet beloved solely by liberal fringers...and don't begrudge him his fame.

That being said, it seems to me that it is easier being an observer, a member of the chattering classes, than a participant. Safer. Less trying. If you have any spunk, it's not a place where you are content.


I know whereof I speak.

For I am an inveterate observer, slow to put my guard down, giving the appearance of openness but protecting that most precious to me. I've been burned enough to find the background a more comfortable spot.

Yet underneath my poise there is a fierce loyalty to friends and family, a white hot heat that rarely gives up or gives in when someone I care about is in trouble or needs help.

I have to remind myself, as perhaps I would like to remind Mr. Gore, that there are no actuarial tables on winning, or on losing in politics...or in love.

You either get in the game or stand on the sidelines, wishing you had enough chutzpah to put all you have, and are, on the field, for better or for worse.


Or maybe it's for worse...or for better?

Innocent Obsessions

Last week I was asked to write a story on local orchid enthusiasts. Now, I don't know beans about orchids-to be completely honest, I hadn't really understood why people cared so much about something that grows its roots out of a pot instead of down towards the bottom like other respectable flowers.

Coincedentally, I had seen a wonderful assortment of orchidaceae when my friend Kris and I visited an old friend of my dads' last summer in North Carolina. A world famous historian, JH has grown orchids as a hobby ever since I remember. When I think of JH, an amazingly hale man in his early 90's, I shall remember him in his greenhouse, showing us his collection of what I know now are epiphytes (orchids that grow on trees, as do most of the ones that come from the tropics and the subtropics.)

In the course of getting to know some guys in the online dating environment, I've met some with less obvious obsessions. But growing orchids, while completely socially acceptable, can become as addictive. One couple almost ruined their house because they were trying to create a nice humid environment for their tropical orchids. Another has close to 700 plants. Several have either bought greenhouses or had one built. One left a career in the corporate world to sell orchids and other flowers.

As one guy explained it to me last night, growing orchids can be difficult in part because you have to create an environment that mirrors the ones in which they grew originally. Thus along with your successes you can have a lot of failures. If you want more blooms, try the hybrid orchids, which are bred for adaptability. Your obssessed orchid growers thrive on the challenge of trying-and they aren't afraid to fail.

In other words, growing orchids like dating after a divorce. The requirements for creating the right environment are much more strenuous, and the possibilities of failure a lot greater. Of course, if you are willing to date a clone, or are someone who is easy going or hungry enough to set the bar lower, your possibilities of "success" are much greater. But part of the fun of being in a relationship may be in exercising your skills to study, and predict, and provide a hospitable climate until, voila...

Just as in growing orchids, something blooms. Maybe.

lundi, mars 19, 2007

Talkin about their generation....

Check out this great example, ripped from yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, of the new wave of populism birthed by the Internet...and a hint of generational rebellion to come.

(What if the young man former Virginia Senator George Allen called a "macaca" at a campaign rally hadn't brought his own video camera, making a generational statement of his own? He might not have even been noticed in the midst of Republican enthusiasts...and Allen might still have his job.)

We may be in the midst of a generational shift. One more example: I had a young friend tell me that she and her boyfriend ran into a wall of Pentagon police when they tried to get to the anti-war rally this weekend. She and her friends are old enough to vote, sick of politics as usual, and youthful enough not to be jaded or to run with the pack (or PAC).

If we are wise, we'll be watching...and listening.


Political video smackdown
'Hillary 1984': Unauthorized Internet ad for Obama converts Apple Computer's '84 Super Bowl spot into a generational howl against Clinton's presidential bid
Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

It may be the most stunning and creative attack ad yet for a 2008 presidential candidate -- one experts say could represent a watershed moment in 21st century media and political advertising.
Yet the groundbreaking 74-second pitch for Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, which remixes the classic "1984" ad that introduced Apple computers to the world, is not on cable or network TV, but on the Internet.
(To see the video, go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h3G-lMZxjo)
And Obama's campaign says it had absolutely nothing to do with the video that attacks one of his principal Democratic rivals, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Indeed, the ad's creator is a mystery, at least for now.
The compelling "Hillary 1984" video recently introduced on YouTube represents "a new era, a new wave of politics ... because it's not about Obama," said Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a San Francisco-based think tank on politics and new media. "It's about the end of the broadcast era."
But some say the ad is just the latest attempt by outside activists to influence political campaigns -- or the newest way for campaigns to anonymously attack their opponents.
The video is a sophisticated new take on director Ridley Scott's controversial Apple ad that caused shock waves with its premiere during the 1984 Super Bowl, and shows the same blond young female athlete running with a sledgehammer toward a widescreen -- where an ominous Big Brother figure drones to a mass of zombielike followers.
But this time, the woman is wearing an iPod -- and has her candidate's slogan on her chest. And the Big Brother -- whose image she defiantly smashes with a wave of her sledgehammer -- is Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.
The tagline for the attack: "On Jan. 14, the Democratic primary will begin. And you'll see why 2008 won't be like 1984."
An updated Apple symbol -- transformed into an O -- is followed by the dramatically emerging logo: BarackObama.com.
Veteran San Francisco ad man Bob Gardner, whose work has included political campaigns for former President Gerald Ford, said the video is "very powerful" in its efforts to call for a generational change in politics.
"It puts Hillary spouting cliche nonsense to the drones -- while a fresh face breaks through," he says. "It's old versus new."
That theme -- reflecting a generational change in the relationship between media, politics, candidates and voters -- suggests that "Hillary 1984" could have the iconic power with the 21st century political generation that another classic political ad called "Daisy" represented to Baby Boomers, says Leyden. That 1964 spot for President Lyndon Johnson -- featuring images of a child plucking a daisy, which morphed ominously into a nuclear mushroom cloud -- battered GOP presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater because it, too, portrayed "a shattering of the whole world" in both political leadership, and media.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, said he is aware of the "Hillary 1984" video and has gotten calls from reporters on it -- but he insisted that the campaign is not connected to it. "It's somebody else's creation," he said, declining to comment on the ad's biting content.
Burton said he doesn't know who created the spot, but it shows "there is a lot of energy for Sen. Obama on the Web, in communities all over the country ... and frankly, that energy will manifest itself in a lot of ways."
But in the weeks since its early March debut, the expertly created video remix -- called a mashup in blogosphere circles -- has "changed the zone" between political campaigns, their followers and the Internet, said Simon Rosenberg, president of the Washington-based New Democrat Network, an influential party advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
With presidential campaigns now poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising that will blanket television before November 2008, this seemingly home-produced video -- created with software and a laptop, and likely without the benefit of a team of expensive political consultants -- opens a new window, Rosenberg said. It has dramatized a brave new world in which passionate activists outside the structure of traditional campaigns have the power to shape the message -- even for a presidential candidate.
The ad is proof that "anybody can do powerful emotional ads ... and the campaigns are no longer in control," Rosenberg said. "It will no longer be a top-down candidate message; that's a 20th century broadcast model."
It also dramatizes that today, political activists with the Internet as their ammunition have gone from being "just donors to the cause," he said, "to being partners in the fight. And they don't have to wait for permission."
But while the medium is clearly more grassroots, political campaigns have not been averse to having an outside or independent voice -- witness the efforts of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in the 2004 presidential race against Democratic Sen. John Kerry -- delivering ads that are tougher and meaner than the candidates might launch on their own.
Eric Jaye, a San Francisco political consultant and key adviser to Mayor Gavin Newsom, said the sophisticated "Hillary 1984" effort is the "best example yet" of a crop of viral videos that have blossomed on the Internet over the past 18 months.
But Jaye predicted such efforts are bound to become attractive tools for political campaigns, which will "orchestrate these videos on the down low to communicate negative messages -- without having to own them in public."
Jaye noted that Obama's campaign -- even as it insists it has no connection to the production -- reaps a clear benefit from the mashup video: "They get to call Hillary Clinton a pabulum-spewing pseudo-fascist, without having to own it."
And he says the individual viral video efforts popping up on the Internet, however creative, come with risk for political campaigns -- especially presidential runs, where nuance and caution usually win out over edginess when it comes to shaping messages that appeal to wide swaths of voters
"They tend to be more entertaining -- but they tend to be nastier. You used to have a series of apologies for what campaign bloggers said. Now you have to have a series of apologies for what people with a video camera and software editing and a laptop do."
Still, Jaye said, there's a clear benefit in the energy such efforts create.
"If people take the time to make a campaign ad, it helps generate more excitement, more laughs. It's fresher," he said. "But it also generates more issues. You have people making ads you don't authorize."
Gardner said the success of "Hillary 1984" means that now "every candidate will have to worry about some guy with a video camera and a Mac being able to do whatever he or she wants."
At the Obama campaign, he added wryly, "they are probably calling their consultant and saying, 'Why couldn't you guys come up with something as brilliant?' "
E-mail Carla Marinucci at cmarinucci@sfchronicle.com.
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/18/MNGHNONEPS1.DTL
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Three cheers for Internet democracy

I found this article by following a link from an article about the dating website True.com in today's New York Times. True.com has become famous, or infamous in the online dating industry by doing criminal background checks on its consumers...and by featuring scantily clad females in its ads.

In reaction, various parties on MySpace have organized to keep True off of the site.

Competition among the dating sites means that we will probably see more of that kind of marketing. I assume they aren't going after my business-nothing that attracts me more than pictures of nearly naked women.

But as an amateur student of the communications revolution, what I find particularly interesting is the ongoing democratization of social networking, as evinced by the growth of these new sites. Whether your interest is gaming, mountain-climbing, phone sex or football, there's a networking site for you. As the writer of the article below points out, many of them, like lifeknot (mentioned here back in February), are free-allowing members to look for dates or pursue more platonic passions.

To my mind, the birth of new sites is almost all to the good. Sites that are oriented solely towards dating really don't encourage more social interaction. A site that links one volunteer with another, or helps a lonely stay at home mom connect with someone in her neighborhood in the same predicament fosters a sense of greater community in our atomized culture. Its cool to find the love of your life while climbing Mt. Rainier. But finding a lifelong friend is as much of a miracle, isn't it?




Found on the website www.internetnews.com

Online Dating: Can Social Networks Cut In?By February 14, 2007
By Siobhan Fitzpatrick
Not enough love in your online dating world? If so, you haven’t looked very hard.
From the biggies, such as Match.com, eHarmony, Yahoo Personals, to smaller, niche Web sites like ChristianCafe.com, JDate (for Jewish singles), sites that offer match-ups, hookups and dating prospects are, well, blooming. Even the newer social network sites like MySpace, BlackPlanet, CarDomain, and Zaadz.com offer an opportunity to meet like-minded people.
It's all good for lonely hearts, but is it getting too crowded for dating sites to make money?
"The most significant new issue that large online dating services now face is the adoption of social network sites as de facto, free dating services," said Brian Shuster, founder of Redlightcenter.com, a social network virtual world modeled after Amsterdam's Red Light District (think Secondlife.com but sexed up). "Sites like Match.com have to compete with more targeted services that selectively offer pre-screened matches with a common interest, usually at no charge."
David Evans, author of Online Dating Insider, a popular blog covering the online dating industry since 2002, concurs. "I would say that free dating sites and social networks have hurt the large paid dating sites the most."
Jerry Kaplan, the former CEO of Egghead and founder of Winster.com, a free social network site where singles can meet and play games with other singles, claims social network sites are more inviting to people because they are not focused only on dating. "The problem with dating sites like Match.com is the 'meat market' effect -- everyone knows why you are there and what you are looking for."
Kaplan argued that social networks are better alternatives to traditional dating sites because, just like in the physical world, people meet as a side effect of engaging in other shared activities or interests, like dining, cars or volunteering. "The new generation of social network sites address this issue by offering shared social activities that create a comfortable environment in which to get to know other people without the heavy social pressure," he said.
Playing The Field?
Not everyone who follows the sector agrees on the social network factor. Nate Elliott, a senior analyst for JupiterResearch, said while some people find dates on social network sites, that's not the main reason they spend time there. "It's like going to church or school. You might meet someone there you'll date, but that's not why you go there. People go to dating Web sites to find a date."
That's how it worked for Gary Brown, a 41-year-old technical manager for a Chicago ad agency who met his girlfriend on Nerve.com, a site known for attracting artistic, creative professionals. "If you're looking to meet someone, you're going to go to a dating site, not a social site where there's simply a chance of meeting someone," he told internetnews.com.
Joe Tracy, publisher of the magazine Online Dating, agreed. "I think the threat to traditional dating Web sites is minimum because social network sites are not focused exclusively on dating."
Finding Dates...and Data
But not as many people are doing the online dating dance as in recent years. According to JupiterResearch, 10 percent of the online and available population used dating Web sites in 2006, a 6 percent decline from the year before.
That's just fine for online dating site TRUE, which just came in second as the best dating Web site behind Match.com, according to Top Ten Reviews, an online research company. The firm cited Match.com as the best site so far in 2007, followed by the more racy TRUE in second, and matchmaking site eHarmony.com in third place. Yahoo, which, according to a GMI Poll was the most popular dating Web site in 2006, came in ninth in this survey.
The decline helped spur chatter that Yahoo might sell the personals divison, especially as it reorganizes some of its divisions and renews its focus on its core business lines to compete with the growth of search rival Google. The buzz was only helped by Yahoo's current policy of paying Match.com to power its European Personals.
While there might be some truth to the rumor, said JupiterResearch's Elliott, it is not necessarily so. It's quite possible that executives at the colossal Yahoo have determined that Match.com might do a better job of running its dating site and save Yahoo some money. A Yahoo spokesman did not comment.
As as for the surge in TRUE popularity, Carolyn Creekmore, senior director of media analytics for Nielsen/NetRatings, cautioned that smaller and newer entrants may simply see a greater increase in traffic than the other long standing services because the challengers have a smaller base to grow from.
Joe Tracy of Online Dating magazine attributed TRUE's growth in users, which includes paying and non-paying numbers (14 million, according to TRUE, compared with just over 5 million for eHarmony and 15 million for Match), to its original launch as a free site and "racy" advertising, which includes videos of scantily clad women.
But others, including the reviewers at Top Ten Reviews, cite TRUE's dedication to client safety, with background checks on potential members to make sure they are not married or have a criminal record, as setting it apart from the other dating Web sites. According to a 2005 Pew Internet Research study, 66 percent of Internet users said safety is their main concern with online dating.
Elliott of JupiterResearch doesn't see TRUE's surge in popularity as any serious threat to Match, eHarmony, Yahoo, smaller niche dating sites or social networks for that matter. There are plenty of people interested in online dating for services to go hungry.
"Nearly any dating site can make money if you make it well, if you can keep user level up. It's just a smaller amount of money you'll make. But you'll make money."
Kaplan of the Winster social network agreed. "This is a question of niches. 7-11 isn't going to put Wal-Mart out of business, but for some people, it's a more attractive option," he said. "Like 7-11, we're happy and successful to have a fraction of Match.com sales."
And, like their single-and-looking customers, they are all keeping an eye on the competition.



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