Common knowledge (lite)

Are cultural reference points once provided by books and films (complex narratives consumed in one sitting) being replaced by reference points provided by shorter bursts of information: blogs, celebrity gossip, and TV shows? This op-ed piece by Neil Gabler in the LA Times (pointed out here in the Good Morning Silicon Valley blog) confirms my suspicions that this is indeed the trend. Gabler focuses his analysis on the impact of this trend on the movie industry:

“In this culture, the intrinsic value of a movie, or of most conventional entertainments, has diminished. Their job now is essentially to provide stars for People, Us, “Entertainment Tonight” and the supermarket tabloids, which exhibit the new “movies” — the stars’ life sagas.

“Traditional movies have a very difficult time competing against these real-life stories, whether it is the shenanigans of TomKat or Brangelina, Anna Nicole Smith’s death or Britney Spears’ latest breakdown. These are the features that now dominate water-cooler chat. There may have been a time when these stories generated publicity for the movies. Now, however, the movies are more likely to generate publicity for the stories, which have a life, and an entertainment value, of their own.”

Nothing lost in translation

I’m back from three days of dancing at the Saratoga Dance Flurry in a very good mood. That’s what lots of oxygen will do for your cells. I kept up with email on the trip, thanks to pretty much ubiquitous airport/hotel/coffee shop wifi, but didn’t follow any blogs.

This morning I’ve been catching up on those. Many of the writers seem to be in exceptionally good spirits (early spring fever?). I particularly enjoyed John Gruber’s post at Daring Fireball, which is a translation of the Macrovision CEO’s reply to Apple’s recent “Thoughts on Music” about digital rights management.

As usual, the translation from Corporate-Speak to plain English made things considerably shorter; I thought Gruber’s rendering of the opening paragraph was exceptionally succinct.

Up in the air

Many years ago, I trained and managed fundraising volunteers for United Way. This contract work ran on an annual (campaign) cycle, and there was a point in the spring when you’d pull out the previous year’s campaign plan and update it for the coming year.

My two favorite places to brainstorm for the update were the old lunchroom at Nordstrom (now long gone) and the ferry that runs between downtown Seattle and Bremerton. Both were places where I could spread out my papers on a table and be left completely alone to think.

In the past few years, I’ve done some of my best “big picture” work on airplanes: No officemates. No emails. No phones. No iChat. No Google. No UPS deliveries. No cats. No errands. And, yes, it is possible to do certain types of work without access to the web.

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to the East Coast for the Saratoga Dance Flurry. I’m looking forward to eight hours of quality thinking and writing time with a 12-inch PowerBook and a pair of noise-cancelling earphones. (I’ll be trying to forget that my husband just bought the latest model of Bose noise-cancelling earphones and they’re smaller — and more effective — than mine.)

Another grand master

One of the most magical and powerful forms of writing is songwriting; that may be why so many contemporary fiction writers pay royalty fees to be able to quote popular songs in their novels.

Last night we went to the Paramount to hear one of the grand singer/songwriters: Merle Haggard. I’d forgotten what an immense repertoire he has, and how gorgeous his voice is (think Willie Nelson, then add a range that runs considerably deeper).

Haggard, born in 1937, has been performing since he got out of prison in 1960 (inspired to go straight by seeing Johnny Cash perform and by talking with Caryl Chessman). Though I’ve danced in honkytonks for years to Haggard’s songs played by other bands, I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard him live with his 10-piece ensemble, the Strangers, before. If you haven’t, and you’re interested in great songwriting and masterful performance, here’s his tour schedule. Note that March 9 – 25 he’ll be on a national tour with Willie Nelson, Ray Price, and Asleep at the Wheel that includes two nights at The Backyard in Austin (of course those two dates are sold out).

It’s be-good-to-your-Mac month

My colleagues at TidBITS and Take Control Ebooks have designated February as the “Month of Apple Sales.”

They’re bundling some of their best-selling Mac titles and offering the bundles at tremendous discount.

The current bundle — priced at just $22 — gets you a 60% discount on these seven ebooks:

  • Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger
  • Take Control of Customizing Tiger
  • Take Control of Users & Accounts in Tiger
  • Take Control of Syncing in Tiger
  • Take Control of Passwords in Mac OS X
  • Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac (this one I highly recommend)
  • Take Control of Your Airport Network

Use this code to get your special discounted price: CPN70205MOAS1.

Take Control will offer other Mac-related bundles later in the month, so if you don’t see a “package deal” you want today, just check back later.

Find out more about the Month of Apple Sales at:

Molly Ivins – Give ’em hell up there

I hope they’re laughing in heaven, because we’re crying down here.

Texas’ journalistic tornado, Molly Ivins, is dead of cancer at 62. Ivins, whose hundreds of newspaper and web columns constituted the definitive biography of the mad bovine known as Texas politics, peppered her writing with passion and sauced it (liberally, of course) with true love for her home state.

The last time I saw Ivins, she was on a panel of left wing celebrities on The Nation magazine’s annual cruise. She was warning her fellow pundits that if the Democrats didn’t figure out a way to answer Christian moms’ concerns about porn on the Internet, those women weren’t going to hear a word they said about the minimum wage and affordable healthcare.

Ivins was without a doubt the biggest draw on the cruise — this to the annoyance of speakers who considered themselves more profound and intellectual. Hanging out in the ship’s Internet area late one night, I heard one humor-impaired East Coast journalist grousing about it.

“These people would get up at three o’clock in the morning to watch Molly Ivins take a shit!” he snarled.

Molly Ivins fell into what I think of as the “home run hitter” camp of writing. Her columns could be formulaic. But every couple of weeks, she’d hit one into the bleachers. My personal favorites were in a series she wrote when a group of Texas legislators fled to New Mexico to prevent the Texas legisture from achieving a working quorum in the aftermath of a sleazy Republican redistricting. I can’t locate any of those columns online, but you’ll get a sense of her distinctive style from this anecdote, contained in an article she wrote for the Nov. 17, 2003, issue of The Nation:

At a meeting last year of the Texas Civil Liberties Union board, vicious hate crimes against gays in both Dallas and Houston were discussed. I asked the board member from Midland if they’d been having any trouble with gay-bashing out there.

“Hell, honey,” she said, with that disastrous frankness one can grow so fond of, “there’s not a gay in Midland would come out of the closet for fear people would think they’re a Democrat.”

Give ’em hell, Molly!

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