Archive for September, 2008

Saying “No” to the Yes Man

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

This found its way into my email inbox over the weekend:

It’s a poster for the new Jim Carrey movie, YES MAN, with one or two minor alterations. The original looks like this:

I’m guessing it found its way to me on the back of this tweet of mine on Friday morning:

I made this suggestion as a response to reading the first few paragraphs of an article by George Lakoff on The Huffington Post, in which he identifies some mistakes he sees the Democrats making with Obama’s campaign.

Lakoff starts by examining Obama’s post-RNC ‘No Maverick’ commercial, in which the Democrats confront McCain’s attempt to position himself as a ‘maverick’, ready to confront mistakes and repair damage done by the current administration.

Lakoff’s view is that negating what he refers to as the ‘Maverick Frame’ actually serves to reinforce it, and that the Democrats should instead be focusing on establishing a new frame for McCain, one that puts him on the defensive.

Highlighting McCain’s record of voting with the current administration over 90% of the time, Lakoff suggests that he could be presented as a ‘Yes-man’, a characterisation originally used by Howard Dean in his speech to the DNC.

Over the course of Friday I saw a few other Twitter users picking up on this, culminating in the appearance of http://the-yes-man.com/

It’s an unelaborate site, concentrating on the key reasons why we should understand John McCain within this frame; his Bush-friendly voting record; his close association with ‘Big Oil’; the fact that his campaign team is haemorrhaging lobbyists, locking him into the traditional Washington political machine of which his presidency would undoubtedly be a willing and compliant extension.

Then, within the last few hours, a sign that the meme has crossed media:

At the same time that this is unfolding, it is being suggested that ‘the liberal bloggers have become McCain central’, and that this is playing into Republican hands. Writing on the Daily Kos, thereisnospoon mounts a compelling response to such claims:

“It is difficult for Republicans to turn on a dime, and there’s very little creativity to come out of their collective establishment. If the campaign and the RNC doesn’t push a meme, it doesn’t get pushed. That has forced Republican candidates to largely have to own the slimy attacks put out by their own people.”

“We, on the other hand, have no such obligation. The Obama campaign has been successful largely because of its inspiring “new brand of politics”. Unfortunately […] that makes it somewhat difficult for the Obama campaign to get quite as nasty with the opposition as it might need to. But that’s OK–because that can be our job.”

“It’s our job to push memes the campaign can’t. It’s our job to focus on Republican chicanery that would waste the time of an Obama campaign that needs to be focusing its messaging on core economic issues. By talking about McCain’s egregious lies and horrible personal ethics, we can help push the press to cover stories that the Obama campaign can’t seriously push themselves.”

“Everyone has a role to play: ours is to play hardball, to hit where it hurts, and to force the traditional media to cover what it might be uncomfortable covering otherwise.”

The post as a whole reads as a manifesto for negative campaigning among the ‘netroots’, inciting Democrats to leave the moral high-ground to the above-the-line campaign, and to get busy with the nuts and bolts of slinging enough muck to stand a chance of actually winning the election.

I haven’t figured out exactly where I stand on this, although I guess by posting on the subject I’m giving the Yes Man Frame a little bit more oxygen, and nailing my colours to the mast in the process. This in itself begs a number of questions, the most obvious of which is…

What the fuck does it have to do with you (i.e. me) anyway?

Isn’t it arrogant not to mention presumptious of me to try and perpetuate this meme in my own small way, with the intention of interfering in and seeking to influence an election taking place in a country of which I am not even a citizen?

Well, I don’t think so.

I’ve held the view for a while now that this is by far the most important election to have taken place in my lifetime.

I base this principally on the extent to which the Bush administration has damaged the global geo-political climate generally, not to mention the skepticism his stolen elections have inspired as regards the integrity of American democracy itself.

It also seems pretty clear to me that, though the outcome of this election will (hopefully) be determined by the will of the country’s citizens, the impact will be felt throughout the civilised world.

This is epitomised in relation to the issue of climate change. I meet more and more people sharing my view that the adverse effects of global warming are upon us, and that we may find ourselves being forced to change our way of life much sooner than previously imagined, on a genuinely global scale. On this basis alone, the governance and energy policy of one of the world’s largest polluters is of excrutiating importance to us all.

Beyond this and plenty of other practical considerations, there’s a more abstract reason why I feel such a significant stake in this election.

I still believe that if any country in the world could ever claim to carry a flag for human civilisation as a whole, it is the United States of America. I still find substance in the idea of an American dream, albeit that this has been systematically subverted by those with an interest in repackaging it as a crass consumerist call-to-arms. I still have faith in the principle of democracy, and the idea that governance should be designed to best serve those being governed, smiling most kindly upon the least fortunate of us.

I think that now may be a tipping point for the meaningful survival of these values. I’m not sure they it can survive four more years of the incumbent regime, and the defeat of by far the most exciting presidential candidate since JFK.

Like Kennedy, in Barack Obama we find a candidate who seems to articulate and symbolize the libertarian ideals upon which the United States of America claims to be founded, at a time when the country itself and the world as a whole needs so desperately to be reminded what those are.

Contrast this with Mr McCain.

I watched closely as he accepted the nomination at the Republican convention, weaving his rhetoric into a mandate for the continuation of the Bush Doctrine, and it looked like more of the same.

I watched his choice for vice-president condemn ‘unprovoked’ Russian aggression whilst simultaneously endorsing Israel’s right to judge for itself what steps were necessary to defend its borders, and it looked like more of the same.

I’m watching a campaign unfold that’s permeated by double-standards, half-truths and plain, good old-fashioned lies, and it looks like more of the same.

As if that isn’t enough, I just keep picturing the scene, a few months into a McCain presidency, when the first of the calls comes in from Dick, or George Sr, asking after a juicy little piece of legislation, or sowing the seeds of some profitable new foreign intervention. Every time I play it through, I just can’t see John McCain saying “no”.

That’s why I’m hoping the American electorate do, while they still have the chance.



* * *

Postscript:
I just got in after a long weekend ready to put the finishing touches on this post and I found the following unsolicited message in my normally spam-free Gmail inbox
, under the subject line ‘re: Important’:

“The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who Is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.”
Henry Louis Mencken

Damn right.

“It’s like a really bad Disney movie”

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

I’m in the office late working on a major pitch, in that kind of precarious tired strung-out work situation where you can lose perspective. Then I watch this, and it’s puts everything back in perspective, and I realise that I’m not alone, and that I’m right to be scared.

I tweeted this, I’m blogging it, I want to spread it as far and wide as possible. Because the next eight weeks are eight of the most important weeks in my life, and probably yours too.

Screen/life balance

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

I found this great little animation on Paul Isakson’s blog. I have no idea who he is, but I’ve seen his posts recommended on Twitter more than once, and I’ve always enjoyed them.

There’s a sweet little website that goes with it encouraging you to ‘send an intervention email to a screen addicted friend’.

It’s actually a very gentle advertisement for a site called Meetup, which provides people with a few simple tools to help them form groups and arrange meetups around local common interests. Their mantra is use the Internet to get off the Internet. So, nothing oxymoronic about that then.

Seriously, the more I see a career in interactive media stretching out ahead of me, the more I find myself trying to find ways of working without a computer, dodging the increasingly frequent distractions of email and that distraction from distraction, Twitter.

I think maybe this is part of the reason I’m getting busy in the garden, taking the chance to be truly creative, and to produce a few of the indivisible raw materials of day-to-day subsistence.

I guess It’s not so much about finding the right work/life balance, as finding the right screen/life balance.

Of course, I’m telling you this sitting here in front of the computer at eleven minutes past seven on a Tuesday morning, having already checked Twitter umpteen times and picked up my first wave of daily email. So, nothing oxymoronic about that then.

Indivisible processes

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

I was due to spend this weekend in Southend on my brother-in-law’s stag weekend. Instead, after a 72-hour round trip to LA for the Virtual Worlds Expo, I decided to spend the time at home with family pottering around in the garden. Sitting here on Sunday night, feeling nourished and well-rested on the brink a hugely important working week, it feels like the right decision.

Lola and I were down at B&Q by about half nine on Saturday, and spent a happy half hour trolleying around picking up this, that and the other, including this odd little impulse purchase:

Food’s a bit thin on the ground for birds at this time of year, so it seems like a good time to do a bit to help. We have a nice view of the box from within the kitchen as well, so hopefully Lola will enjoy keeping an eye out for any regular visitors.

From the picture below you can see that the kitchen garden is now clear, except for some spinach still going strong in the far left and four French raspberry plants over on the right gifted us by my mum and dad. (They went away with a banana plant that’s apparently thriving in St Vaast La Houge in a way that it never really looked like doing in Hackney.)

I also put a fresh bag of chipped bark down just to cover up a couple of spots where it was looking a little patchy, and I planted those three lovely looking plants in that bed over on the right. Two of them are spotted laurels, ‘an extremely robust, variegated shrub’, and in the middle there’s an evergreen azalea, ‘a small, hardy evergreen shrub producing salmon-coloured flowers’.

I have no idea what the garden’s going to end up looking like, or how long we’re going to be around to enjoy it, but I do enjoy the time I spend pottering around out there, especially when Lola comes and joins me, giving me the excuse to witter on endlessly about what it is I’m doing at any given moment.

When I finally sat down to deal with some of the work I have to do in preparation for next week, I started by drawing up a things-to-do list, most of which related to business we have to win. In my own mind I had a couple of other things to do as well, one of which was to write up a post about my LA trip, and another of which was to post these photos. Plus I had a backlog of articles and links people had sent me that needed following up.

The conceptual model I initially created for these tasks was one based on mutual exclusion – if I was reading the articles, I wasn’t preparing a pitch document, or working on a blog post, and vice versa.

Inherent within this was a fairly rigid chronology – I would do one thing, then another, then another. That said, even though I was trying to itemise and prioritise, the to-do list as a whole was now looming over me, a single insurmountable obstacle.

I contemplated abandoning these efforts entirely. Fortunately, rather than doing so, at this point it registered that this methodology for managing my time and effort really sucked, and that I ought to try and improve on it.

I tried to look at the things I needed to do in terms of the core processes they incorporated – what I’m referring to as ‘indivisible processes’. I could see that all the pitch documents would be driven by the same essential argument, even though this would subsequently be structured in a different way. A cursory look through the links and articles revealed that these would inform this argument. It also occurred to me that the LA blog post would sit most naturally off the back of all of this, albeit that I would be forced to publish it later than I might have liked.

Eventually I had a far more holistic model of my ‘workload’ in mind. Other things began to happen. I started to form a much clearer sense of priority, weighing the primary and secondary value of individual acts against their capacity to deliver the various necessary outcomes.

I also abandoned the model of mutual exclusivity, unless it was the nature of a particular task that it need to be approached in complete isolation.

I detached myself from my computer, and started to work on paper. This is something I’ve been building up to for a while. I’m starting to see how limited and labour-intensive computers are as a way of completing complex tasks, and am starting to use mine on a far more task-specific basis.

Though I have very little to show for it, I’m certain that the hour that followed was by far the most productive I’ve spent at my desk in some time. My dissastisfaction with the the things-to-do model has been growing, and I can see that this alternate approach has the potential to be massively liberating, far more enjoyable, and much more consistent with the nature of the tools, media and ideas that form the basis of my working life.

With all of this in mind, I made a first pass at re-envisaging my life in terms of indivisible processes. It brought me here, to the end of this post, in which I’ve given those dearest to me the chance to catch up with what I think they’re most interested in hearing about, and I’ve taken a first step in arranging my evening’s revelations into a form that can be shared and expanded upon.

As a final aside, I’m completely convinced that I wouldn’t have reached this interesting place if I hadn’t permitted myself a two hour nap earlier on today, at a point at which I was struggling to concentrate on anything. Indeed, now that I think about it, sleep is perhaps the ultimate indivisible process – it has no output within itself (except, in my case, sound waves), but it is the foundation of everything we do in life, and influences our productivity and effectiveness very directly. With that in mind, and an exciting week ahead of me, I bid you goodnight x

Misoverestimating Dubya

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Viewed from afar, it’s hard to imagine a more one-sided US presidential election.

We ought to have learnt from the last eight years that the president of the United States of America is, first and foremost, a spokesperson. It turns out that this is as much as we could have expected from Dubya, and, even then, we may have misoverestimated him.

Great presidents can distinguish themselves as great spokespeople, when they speak for an idea, giving the citizens residing at the heart of any functional democracy a moral voice, as well as a political and economic one. Occasionally politics produces a man with the potential to deliver this kind of inspirational leadership, fronting an administration more broadly schooled in ‘the art of the possible’.

I’m watching closely, hoping that this US presidential election can deliver such an individual, and such an administration, and that the electorate will be ready to vote for their better angels, rather than yielding once again to the politics of intimidation. Please. For all our sakes.