Friday, April 20, 2012

"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien

Finished a few days ago reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and felt it a pretty remarkable book.

It's a hard one to categorize, though, as O'Brien was in Vietnam and writes stories from the war, but also labels the book a work of fiction. Really, it's a fascinating blend of fiction and non-fiction with the author seemingly trying to make sense of his war experience through the writing.

What comes out for myself as a reader is an incredibly lyrical book (remarkably written opening section detailed what the soldiers carried) showing just how arbitrary life and death can be in combat and how removed war is from the rest of life.

It's certainly not a happy book, but one that really seems to provide a thoughtful meditation on combat and again (and as echoed in a Brandon Sneed blog post on the book), has some crazy good storytelling in it.

"Maphead" by Ken Jennings

I recently finished Maphead by Ken Jennings (best known for his exploits on the TV game show Jeopardy!) and enjoyed the book quite a bit.

There's a lot of interesting material and it all seemed to work well together with each chapter being about yeah, something map-related, but more importantly, something of interest to Jennings. Result of this was a book on content the author into and which was well written in a funny and conversational style.


Below is some of the specific content from the book that stood out the most (not meant to summarize each chapter, just a lot of notable material throughout the book):

Chapters 2 (Bearing) and 4 (Benchmarks) – Both contained interesting writing about the idea of maps as a key to place in the world today and throughout history. Part of this was look at the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.

Chapter 5 (Elevation) – Was about collectors of maps and included a quote from one who spoke of maps combining "art, history, scarcity, antiquity and intrinsic interest." Additional mention was made in this chapter of different areas of map collecting with another collector quote being "if you're going to specialize, specialize as much as possible."

Chapter 6 (Legend) – Written about the type of people drawn to maps, including Austin Tappan Wright and his incredible made up civilization of Islandia, published posthumously as a thousand page book. Sections of writing by Jennings are also devoted to his idea that "all maps are fantasy maps, in a way.” Related to this, there’s novel series like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings that feature created in the imagination immersion worlds of great detail (i.e. just like maps provide). It’s an interesting idea around made up civilizations and brings to mind that not all fiction has to be about star crossed lovers. There can be incredibly creative fictional writing that would be non-fiction if, you know… actually real.

Chapter 8 (Meander) – About people who obsessively visit places and mark them off… includes mention of High Pointers (who visit the highest geographic feature in each state), Travelers Century Club members (who have been to 100+ countries), and people who just want to experience things. To this last category of person, Jennings mentions Chris Guillebeau, a now 34 year old guy who travels to new places on the cheap because it's interesting to him and has written extensively (with a forthcoming book) on the topic. Struck me as reminiscent of the story of Caballo Blanco with someone knowing what they wanted to do and then doing exactly that, rather than viewing their ultimate goal or lifestyle as being something for later.

Chapter 9 (Transit) – Features people fascinated with roads… which brought to mind for me the excellent Tom Vanderbilt book Traffic.

Chapter 10 (Overedge) – Written about geocaching, a pastime not even possible until 2001, when the government eliminated the GPS mandate of Selective Availability, effectively switching GPS accuracy from a few hundred feet down to a few feet. Jennings wrote interesting material on geocachers… quite a few obsessive people, but also quite a few people (more than ever with GPS on cell phones) getting out and exploring the world.

Chapter 11 (Frontier) – Covers Google Maps and Google Earth and gets into the fascinating concept of mashups (combining Google Maps with data sets like crime statistics) and the one step further idea of augmented reality via things like Google Goggles.

Chapter 12 (Relief) – This conclusion chapter takes things back to the concept mentioned in relation to collectors… maps combine history, geography, art, a place in the world and people, and especially kids, love maps.


Overall, really entertaining book that comes across as something the author probably enjoyed writing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Writers on Writing - Chris Jones, Gene Weingarten & Rick Cleveland

There's been a few pieces I've seen recently that dealt with writers and writers on writing... and an additional thing going on with one of them that's a shame. In terms of the actual pieces, there was a Q&A with Chris Jones of Esquire, a profile of Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten, and a farewell column from Rick Cleveland for the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.

The column by Cleveland is titled "It's been fun and an honor" and notes him leaving (of his own volition) 42 years of full-time sports writing to take over as Executive Director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. I'm not familiar with the guys work at all, but it's a nice final piece to readers and I found of note his statement "sports writers tell stories about people, who happen to play sports."

The second piece on writing to mention was an in-depth profile of Gene Weingarten for Washingtonian Magazine. Written by Tom Bartlett, it traces a writing career through some interesting twists and turns. Bartlett details how Weingarten in college studied Psychology, but also edited the New York University school paper and left short of a degree. His first newspaper job then came after getting a freelance piece into (as a cover story) New York Magazine and later left writing and took an editing job at the National Law Journal in New York because (as he says in the Bartlett piece) “I felt like I was never going to be a great writer. I felt like I was going to be a good writer at best. I wanted to be great at something.”

It's a terribly interesting career management idea and making it all the more compelling was the later change of Weingarten's detailed by Bartlett...

"In the late ’90s, he transmogrified from editor back to writer. All those years of fixing other people’s copy had made him a student of narrative assembly. He had developed theories, including a grand philosophy of storytelling. All good stories, Weingarten had come to believe, are about the meaning of life."

Interesting content all around... from the idea of being the best at editing to then applying those principles to exemplary writing and an identification of the drivers of his own work.

Final piece to note here on writers and their work was a Q&A interview for the blog TVFury with Esquire and ESPN writer Chris Jones. I've linked to and written frequently on content from Jones so was interested to read this interview and struck by one comment in particular. While talking about stories from and time spent at the Masters golf tournament, Jones mentioned how "all memories are local", which brought to mind for me the theory (which I'm sure I got from someone else and just latched on) that once something is written down, it becomes for others to do with it what they may. That act causes an idea from being someones own "little darling" while in the head to something that can be interpreted and used by others.


That notion of an idea going from being internal to external is something that I don't usually think of in bad terms, but it actually probably does apply as a negative to the aforementioned "thing that's a shame." Jones in early 2011 started a blog, Son of Bold Venture, and used it as a place to write about writing. The idea completely resonated with me and I found the blog to be something which both inspired me around writing and exposed me to new writers and like-minded people totally into the craft of writing. Best example of this like-minded people concept was a guy, Scott Warden, I quoted in my blog post "Wanting to Do Something Not Being Done - Writing as a Career" last June.

Well, the posting by Jones to Son of Bold Venture became pretty infrequent (not his job to write it so can't find fault there), but he was always very forthright in posts made and about a year ago expressed on his blog disappointment about not getting recognition for a magazine piece that was a source of pride. This was seen as whining by some and apparently has been repeatedly brought up and used to bludgeon him with personal attacks behind the "say whatever you want about someone online" cloak of the Internet.

As a result, Jones recently did a post to Son of Bold Venture about no longer posting to the blog and taking down the majority of posts already published. That post on his motivation to step away has been removed along with many others and while I wish he had kept online more of the content (with perhaps just the more personal viewpoint stuff purged) I certainly can't say I blame the guy for being sick of getting beaten on with personal attacks using his own (almost always excellent) writing. I found on a site called The Awl a screen shot of this deleted post and the closing words from Jones (who hasn't said he's doing anything dramatic like quitting writing, just trying to stay away from Internet trolls and said snark) on his blog sign-off post were "I wish all of you the best of luck with your careers. I hope you strive to do good work. I hope you choose to be builders. Maybe that's a harder choice than I ever realized, but trust me on this, because I've only ever been honest with you. Choose it."

It's sad, I like to think the guy could continue using the blog as a forum about writing, but maybe it was the right move for him to make... maybe there are just too many people on the Internet who want to use people's largely innocuous words as sticks to beat them with. A shame.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fast Company April Issue: Features on Facebook, Tesla Motors & MLB Advanced Media

The April issue of Fast Company had three different features with solid writing on some tremendously interesting companies.

The cover story was "'Boy CEO' Mark Zuckerberg's Two Smartest Projects Were Growing Facebook And Growing Up" by Ellen McGirt and it included some excellent "then to now" material. McGirt wrote of first meeting Zuckerberg and writing the May 2007 Fast Company cover story "Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: Hacker. Dropout. CEO." and how he's since evolved as a leader. Pretty remarkable personal transformation and probably more remarkable progress for the company with Facebook going from 19M to 845M users during that time. McGirt notes as well how Facebook in early 2007 opened up to outside developers... a step which for me brings to mind Apple and the transformative effects of its iTunes store.

Another piece from this issue was similar to McGirt's in that it featured a rock-star stature CEO, in this case Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX. "Why Tesla Motors Is Betting On The Model S" was written by Jon Gertner and covers the much anticipated and planned for July launch of its $50,000 sedan. Musk is a fascinating guy and the thing that stood out from this piece was his mention of needing iterations (three progressive car models in his view) to reach his ultimate goal of a low priced mass market vehicle. This translates to the Model S sedan as the mid-point between the high priced roadster that's been out for a while now and the planned for the future third model. With this story told, another similarity between the pieces on Tesla and Facebook comes from how McGirt finished off with mention of a circa-2007 Zuckerberg speaking of this same iteration concept and moving towards an end-state.

Finally, a third feature from the April FC issue didn't share the same parallels as those on the companies of Musk and Zuckerberg, but was very interesting in its own right. Written by Chuck Salter, "MLB Advanced Media's Bob Bowman Is Playing Digital Hardball. And He's Winning" is about the innovative and money-making digital arm of Major League Baseball.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How much is too much? Limits of fandom & Pieces by Patrick Hruby and Tim Brown

There's a topic I've been thinking about lately that's become more front of mind with two different controversies in the sports world, and two different pieces of writing I've seen on them.

First to the topic... that of sports fandom, and what it takes to cause someone to abandon a rooting interest for what I'll call "moral grounds."

It's important to note this abandonment very different than someone simply letting go of their once favorite team for more banal reasons including (A) moving away or (B) sick of their team losing all the time. Rather, the type of "favorite team dropping" I'm thinking of is the willful and sudden "no longer do I want to cheer for a group like this" casting aside of a favorite team. While I'm busy noting frameworks for the discussion, should also state that this type of abandonment often precipitated by ones views on a particular player on said favorite team. Especially if a star, that player and team often can go together as the guy can very much be a reflection on and shaper of views about the entire group. Yep, it's true... a rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch.

The specific example in my mind (prior to the last few days and aforementioned writing I came across) of a player that could have caused fans to cast aside their favorite team was Barry Bonds. I don't think many Giants fans thought him a great guy while he helped win games (you know, through his particular ways and methods), but they still cheered him. In fact, Bonds even in retirement/exile from the larger baseball community still appears beloved as a former Giant with the cheers he appears to receive whenever attending games at AT&T Park.

So... it's a question that could be examined in much greater detail than just via this blog post (and Bonds would be me thinks a perfect subject to evaluate the larger topic through), but the working theory I've developed is fans primarily want to be entertained (not gonna win any major awards from that insight), but also want to not feel foolish for their rooting interest. What I mean by that is me thinks someone wants to not be embarrassed by and for the players and team they support. When sports fans become adults we by and large accept that "because they're on our favorite team does not by definition make them good guys", but we want to be able to sort of believe it's possible they are. A couple of guys on your favorite team who go out and kiss babies can help in thinking you support "good people", but really you just don't want guys (especially the best players) on your favorite team kicking the babies. It's basically a concept of plausible deniability and not thinking the players you cheer for actual bad people.

To the example of Bonds for Giants fans... he was by most accounts not a nice guy while on the team, but never went completely over the line towards bad guy status. The line of course gets drawn in different places and there's greater leeway given when greater production in effect (73 home runs in a season helped), but there's still a line (and post retirement, Bonds' image has been helped by the "well, everyone was doing it" view of steroid usage). So, here's a case of someone who didn't appear a great guy, but could have that explained away and excused. When this can't be done for someone and the concept of plausible deniability lost, that's where things get sticky and a fan more likely to cast aside a team rooting interest based on the actions of a player. These are the situations in which teams should and often do act quickly to "draw a line in the sand" and reprimand or release the player. It's usually not really that the team and its management are acting from a moral high ground, but rather than they see a particular player or players actions jeopardizing the paid (emphasis on paid) fan rooting interest in the team.

Example I always think of in relation to this is Virginia Tech and Marcus Vick. The guy was a highly skilled quarterback (didn't hurt that his older brother was supremely skilled former Tech QB Michael Vick in his pre-arrested for dogfighting days), but also seemed quite the miscreant. Team rule violations seemed to happen again and again, but (so goes the story I've heard from "people who know things") Vick finally got booted from the team after prominent boosters began making noise about his reflection on the program. Going only a tiny step beyond that, really it's not just "the program" as some sort of non-affiliated entity, but rather an institution that said boosters affiliate themselves with (you know, in a financial way). Back to the plausible deniability concept, it's one thing to support a team that you know isn't filled with saints and choir boys, it's another entirely when you're embarrassed by the actions within the team you support.


So... here's the views I've had and the impetus for putting them done in this post (you know, Words Written Down) two different pieces I've seen lately. For his website, Patrick Hruby wrote "Ozzie Guillen, Bobby Petrino and the real business of sports." It's excellent writing that seems to be completely in line with my views (gee, surprise I consider it excellent) and includes what seems the very well stated paragraph below...

"Winning on its own doesn't matter. It may as well happen on a desert island. Winning that excites the public enough to buy tickets, splurge for jerseys and tune in on television does matter. In fact, that's the only winning that matters. The ultimate point of revenue-generating athletics isn't building character or testing the limits of human performance or hoisting championship trophies; it's hawking merchandise and selling captive audiences to advertisers."
The second piece I've come across lately on these twin controversies (or put a finer point on it - dumb statements and actions from Guillen and Petrino both) was "Ozzie Guillen's remarks on former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro should be tuned out" by Tim Brown for Yahoo! Sports. Brown makes the accurate point that Guillen not being evaluated or paid based on whatever social or political nonsense (or even brilliance if he reversed course and said smart things), but rather to manage winning baseball games. Where I disagree with Brown, though, is on this whole affiliation, plausible deniability and support of something completely messed up platform I've brought up. It's ok to be wacky and say dumb things, just don't go over the line to where it's an embarrassment to say "yea, I'm a fan of the team that employs that guy." Maybe Guillen will be sufficiently contrite to get people in Miami back on his side, but given where is and what he said... it may well be tough sledding from a business perspective (and is there any other that really counts?) for Marlins ownership and management to keep him at the helm.

The whole thing is a fascinating topic... and I'd love to see some longer-form writing about the ideas of sports fandom and paid affiliation I've brought up and Hruby wrote about as well.

Outside Magazine Pieces - Mark Sundeen on Noah Pippen / Peter Stark on living abroad / Mark Jenkins on wilderness first aid / "To the Arctic" IMAX

There were a few pieces of note from the May issue of Outside Magazine... including a tremendously good 10,000 word feature on a Marine who went missing in the Montana wilderness.

The Mark Sundeen piece is "Why Noah Went to the Woods" on Noah Pippen and it accomplishes the dual tasks of being thorough (again, 10,000 words) as well as captivating. The story is about a multiple-tour veteran and Sundeen does a very solid job of showing how war can impact someone and compel them to act in ways they wouldn't otherwise. It's also a suspenseful story that leaves one as a reader continually looking for what's next in the story.

Sundeen's writing is the most profound from this issue, but there were also a few other interesting pieces to note. "First, Do a Little Less Harm" was written by Mark Jenkins and this piece struck me from the perspective that Jenkins has been doing adventure activities all his life and just now taking a formal wilderness first aid class such as that he writes about.

Also of interest was a story by Peter Stark titled "Home and Away" on living in a Brazilian village for a year with his wife and two teenage children. It's good writing about a family definitely living different than most. Reading the piece made me interested in both Stark's book The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map and the book his wife Amy Ragsdale is noted as writing about living abroad with children.

Finally, this issue also had an interesting interview with Shaun MacGillivray on the IMAX documentary studio founded by his father, Greg MacGillivray, and the new file To the Arctic being released shortly to museums and aquariums.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fast Company Mar 2012 "50 Most Innovative Companies" Issue

There was a bunch of interesting content from the March edition of Fast Company Magazine. It was the annual "50 Most Innovative Companies" issue and below are the businesses and associated writing that stood out (doesn't discount the companies on the full list not noted here, just that I didn't read anything on them that was terribly new to me)...

#5 - Square: There was a fairly lengthy profile of founder Jack Dorsey done by Ellen McGirt. It's well written and interesting content on a fascinating guy (Dorsey also co-founded Twitter) and company doing incredibly well in the fortified barriers to entry financial services industry.

#12 - Southern New Hampshire University: Excellent feature piece done by Anya Kamenetz about online education offerings from the traditional not for profit university.

#13 - Jawbone: Interesting profile from Farhad Manjoo on the consumer electronics maker noted as "one of the hottest private companies in the world."

#19 - Airbnb: Another long piece, this one by Austin Carr, on the successful vacation (but, not exclusively) rental facilitation company. That description sure leaves something to be desired so fortunately the Carr story details well Airbnb and its design-centric focus.

#24 - Starbucks: Featured was an excellent look by Jon Gertner at the company and how its returned to success by focusing less on simple replication expansion and more on performance and innovation. Also of interest from the piece was mention of future growth into the area of health and wellness.

#29 - Red Bull Media House: Red Bull an interesting company in the unconventional way its grown in part through extreme sports affiliation and Teressa Iezzi details in this profile its extension of sports sponsorship to a content division.

#34 - Chipotle: Interesting profile by Danielle Sacks on the fast food company with detail beyond what I've seen about efforts around an organic, sustainable and humane food supply. Mention also made of a Chipotle YouTube video with now 6M views.

#41 - Kickstarter: Probably the shortest piece of those I've highlighted, but still an interesting one by Rachel Arndt on the platform being more and more heavily used for funding creative ventures (noted in the piece that 17 Sundance films used Kickstarter).

Monday, April 09, 2012

Chris Sacca Interview with Kevin Rose

It's taken me forever and a day to do this post on it, but I came across a while back a terribly compelling (at least for those people interested in business building) blog post containing an embedded video interview with investor Chris Sacca, head of the Truckee, CA based venture fund Lowercase Capital.

I first heard of Sacca from a March 2010 Businessweek piece "And Google Begat..." (which I noted in this blog post) on investing by Google alums and have since come across a number of interesting things noted and linked to by Sacca on his Twitter feed (Twitter a company I've written about quite a bit and also a Lowercase Capital investment).

The recent interview, though, particularly stood out as it's an hour-long conversation between Sacca and Kevin Rose (who founded Digg and hosts for another of his companies, Revision3, an ongoing interview series with business leaders). I found the interview as part of a post titled "How to get started as a business leader" for the blog Six Pixels of Separation from digital marketing agency Twist Image. There's a short introduction by Twist Image President Mitch Joel and my take-aways (which may differ from what someone else gleams) from the actual Rose-Sacca interview are as follows...


Sacca went to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown and then started down the road of graduate school. However, rather than completing grad school at the time, he received the school loan checks and used the money to start a business with the intention of aggregating class action lawsuit information. The business didn’t do much, but the story probably serves as an early indicator of his entrepreneurial bent. He then began day trading online and during this heyday period went to being up $12M, but then found himself down $4M in the market crash around 2000. With this roller coaster ride in his background, he proceeded to get his law degree and came to Silicon Valley.

While having a day job as a lawyer, Sacca did lots of outside of work business hustling and attended all the networking events and worked hard to build a network. He was at the law firm for 13 months before getting laid off and then created a company that didn’t do a heck of a lot, but having that company helped him land a job at Spedera and from there got hired into Google.

Sacca was brought into Google to buy data centers for server housing and negotiated with local officials on the space Google was looking to take. This role was part of the core engineering function at the company and exposed him to some of the brilliant people working there. He then became Head of Special Projects and worked on initiatives such as free WIFI for Mountain View and the $4.7B bid by Google for wireless spectrum. Sacca came to Google too late to get insanely wealthy, but did do well enough to pay off his day trading debt and return to even by Feb 2005. He then saw Google becoming more territorial and a harder place to get into new areas so left the company in 2007.

Twitter investment

He then started writing small angel investor checks to startups with Photobucket his first investment and Twitter his second. This initial investment in Twitter was done with founder Evan Williams while Sacca still at Google and his relationships there run deep and include other key leaders Jack Dorsey and Dick Costello. While out on his own after Google, Sacca started accumulating additional stake in Twitter (speculated, but not confirmed to now be around 10% of the company). This obviously makes the guy look brilliant in hindsight, but the important thing is the reasons Sacca notes for believing in Twitter as a business. Along with his firm belief in the brilliance of Evan Williams is the appreciation of how things there monetize with ads able to be sold based on actual math and ad conversion rates rather than conjecture of what the ad buy is worth. Additional value offerings noted were the component of mobile that Twitter provides and ability to work within Social Networks and promoted tweets / promoted trends.

Other investments

At some point, Sacca put together his Lowercase Capital LLC fund and other investments have included FanBridge (which he found from sending out a tweet asking about entrepreneurs working late on a Friday night), Instragram (quite in the news today), turntable and Kickstarter. He notes doing less startup investing now due to the high valuations and focuses on companies and areas where he can be helpful. It’s also noted that VC investing not an exact science and there being a number of now successful companies that he could have invested in, but didn’t due to a lack of familiarity with the space in which they operated. Also brought up in the interview is how VCs make their money when they reinvest in companies already involved with.


Sacca describes himself as someone who grew up tenacious and determined, but along with that notes the import of building yourself through being helpful to others. To this point, he brings up that you often don't know where you're going to be able to contribute the most until you get in there doing things. The phrase used by Sacca was “create value before you ask for value back” and at this point, his interviewer, Kevin Rose, related his own story of wanting into Square so producing a demo video of how the product works and Sacca told of Ryan Graves, current GM at Uber who hustled and demonstrated helpfulness to get himself into foursquare.

In terms of people he looks to work with, these ideas of contribution and hustling definitely come up as valued traits. Additionally, Sacca extols the idea of people who have had crappy jobs they had to grind at as well as those who are rounded enough that they have things outside of work. This last point being about working with people that he wants to spend time around as well as invest with.

Overall, it was a terribly interesting interview with someone who seems to have combined together the elements of skill/intelligence, hard work and good fortune. I say good fortune because the concept of "in the right place at the right time" often part of many success stories... but, Sacca's story from the interview shows effort getting him to the places where good decisions and solid work would pay off. In short, you gotta make your own luck.

Friday, April 06, 2012

GQ April 2012 Issue: Pitbull / Dave Franco / Brunello Cucinelli styling Michael Paterniti

There were a few interesting pieces from the latest issue of GQ Magazine... with one unfortunately not currently available online.

One of the features from the issue was the profile "Doggy Style" on rapper Pitbull by Kent Russell. It was solid writing that followed a convention I've seen in a number of other GQ pieces with the author including himself or herself in the story. In this case, Russell spent time hanging out with Pitbull and sought to ask and answer the question of whether he'd become a sellout with all the corporate shilling done on and off stage. To this point, Pitbull is likely best known to non-rap fans as the Bud Light ad guy... and he incorporated into the concert Russell attended endorsements of both energy strips and Zumba fitness. It's an entertaining read on the successful artist and in terms of whether he's a sell out, Pitbull asserts that he's showing people what they can become. Whether that's a flimsy answer or not, he's entertaining people and being well paid to do so... probably nothing terribly wrong there.

Also from this issue was the short "On the Cover: Dave Franco" by Lauren Bans. What stood out with this piece was mention of the 21 Jump Street and final season of Scrubs actor being the brother of Academy Award nominated actor James Franco. Pretty remarkable family (that grew up in Palo Alto, CA)... with the third brother being an artist and mother Betsy Franco an author.

Another feature from this issue that I enjoyed tremendously was "How I learned to look, act, eat and think like an Italian gentleman in just three days." It's written by Michael Paterniti and chronicles his time spent with leading fashion designer and mogul Brunello Cucinelli. Paterniti also wrote for GQ "The Man Who Sailed His House" and this latest piece shows his style makeover at the hands of Cucinelli (yep, another GQ "writer as part of story" approach done well).

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Writing on Fathers & Sons - from Thompson, Jones and McCann

Three pieces of writing I've read lately remind me of why I love words and their ability to express ideas of import. Each story traffics in the subject of fathers & sons and connections between generations of a family.

The first piece I came across was by Wright Thompson who linked in advance of the Masters to his much loved ESPN piece "Holy Ground" about his father and their never fulfilled plans to visit Augusta National and watch the tournament together. It's crazy good writing from Thompson and has more than a few places of tear-jerking sentimental. That said, his work never seems over the top in sentiment as Thompson builds a story extremely well so that anything heavy to pass along has been worked up to and feels part of a natural flow.

I'm sure contributing to this achievement is a huge amount of work put in the by author, with an interview he did around speaking at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Journalism noting "Thompson will sometimes have as much as 700 pages of typed notes and transcribes all of his taped interviews on his own, believing that to pay someone to do it for him would be "bad karma." Soon, his wall at his home in Oxford, Miss., looks like a massive explosion of Post-It Notes packages has just occurred, with each Post-It Note revealing dialogue, description and key narrative moments. Thompson reins in the Post-It chaos on his wall by writing out, by hand, every scene and every quote of the story on the pages of a legal pad, followed by a one-page outline."

The second piece on this father-son topic I've seen recently was also from a twitter post linking to past writing, in this case a blog post by Chris Jones for Esquire titled "Autistics". It's much shorter than Thompson's feature story, but shares the same vein of generational writing... just about the author's son rather than father. Really compelling short piece that also caused a lump in the throat each time I read it.

The third piece of note I've seen lately about fathers and sons didn't necessarily pack the same punch for me in terms of impact, but was excellent and lyrical writing from novelist Colum McCann. Written for the New York Times, "What Baseball Does to the Soul" begins with the long-ago story of McCann going with his father to a soccer match and then to visit his never met grandfather. The piece then transitions to the author several years back at Yankee Stadium with his son and McCann writes poetically of baseball as a connection between the two of them.

There was excellent writing in all three pieces and the general topic from each brought to mind one of my favorite books from 2009, The Longest Trip Home by Marley & Me author John Grogan about his experiences both in childhood and as an adult with his father.

The Passing of Caballo Blanco (Micah True)

It was a sad story I came across recently in the form of a Christopher McDougall tweet about his friend Caballo Blanco (also known as Micah True)... "caballo had the only funeral he would have wanted: his friends spent days running in the wilderness in his honor."

The name was familiar as one of the main characters in McDougall's bestseller "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen". I noted in my review last August that the book was one of my favorites of the year and a part of what made it so great was the both larger than life and giving people featured, with Caballo probably standing out above all the others.

After seeing the McDougall mention of Caballo passing away, I subscribed to McDougall's twitter posts and over the past few days found a couple of excellent items linked to. For the Boulder Daily Camera, Mike Sandrock wrote "Micah True lived the dream: simply, fully" and McDougall also linked to a YouTube photo montage of True. The Sandrock piece particularly struck me with the profound statement on his friend... "He was doing exactly what he wanted, not postponing life until his 'ship came in.' He was living the dream right here and now, and that is appealing simply because it is so rare."

Monday, April 02, 2012

Time Magazine Pieces: Future of Oil / Kony 2012 / / FanFiction / Draw Something

I've already just linked to a few Time Magazine pieces, but there's been a number of other recent Time stories of interest to note here.

The March 26 issue of Time featured "The Warlord vs. the Hipsters" by Alex Perry on the "KONY 2012" video about African warlord Joseph Kony and US-backed efforts to apprehend him. Additionally of note in the piece is information about the group Invisible Children that produced the video (now viewed 86 million times on YouTube). Perry details how the video creators have received a large amount of criticism for things ranging for being too sensational to them directly calling for military action against Kony. Likely due in part to this, Invisible Children just announced (as is detailed in this piece by The Guardian) a sequel video coming April 3rd.

A second Time feature that stood out recently was its April 9 cover story, "The Future Of Oil" by Bryan Walsh. I've linked to a number of pieces by Walsh and as is usually the case, his story comes across as thorough and well-reported. Upshot of the piece is that oil isn't running out imminently (predicted as recently as a few years ago), but new sources of oil are going to be deeper, more remote and require more invasive drilling methods to reach. Result is that people don't need to worry as much about not having oil, but rather should have great concern over the economic and ecological costs of getting to what there is.

Also from this recent issue of Time was "Change Agent" by Bobby Ghosh and Elizabeth Dias. Profiled is the organization and its founder Ben Rattray. The site allows anyone to launch a petition on behalf of their particular cause and is detailed in the Time piece as being "a certified B corporation that benefits entrepreneurs who want both to make a profit and seek social change." Ghosh and Dias also write significant content about the petition asking for prosecution of George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin... now at 2.2M electronic signatures.

Finally, two additional (and short) Time pieces stood out with an interesting concept from each.

"Drawsome" was about the OMGPop created app Draw Something that was recently purchased for $180M by Zynga. Of note in the piece was description of how the game was built not as a competition, but rather collaborative effort (between either friends or complete strangers) to complete Pictionary-like drawing challenges.

Last piece to mention was about a book I likely won't read, but find interesting how it was written. "Homer-Erotic" details The Song of Achilles from high school teacher Madeline Miller. Concept is a "based in potential fact" fictional retelling of the Trojan War as depicted in The Iliad from Homer. It's a fascinating genre of writing, this idea of spinning off from the truth (or spinning off from characters created by others as FanFiction does).

Trayvon Martin / "Stand Your Ground" Pieces - for Time Magazine, Miami Herald & Tampa Bay Times

Over the past few weeks I've come across some very well written pieces on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The writing has been for a variety of publications with each piece containing something a bit different around the tragedy and Florida "Stand Your Ground" law that's so far kept the shooter, George Zimmerman, from being charged by prosecutors.

The largest article was "The Law Heard Round The World" by John Cloud for the latest issue of Time Magazine. Cloud notes that the exact exchange between Zimmerman and Martin is unknown to the public (there are apparently witnesses, though), but what is known is that Zimmerman was told by a 911 dispatcher not to pursue Martin, but then followed and shot in during the course of a confrontation. An interesting post-script was also tacked on to the piece by noting that "officers did indeed take Zimmerman into custody that night and questioned him; according to reports, police also asked the prosecutor for an arrest but were refused."

This information takes the case heavily towards an examination of the "Stand Your Ground" law that prosecutors would have been following in (at least for now) deciding not to charge Zimmerman. Two excellent pieces about the law (which is also detailed well by Cloud) were in the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. For the Times, Ben Montgomery wrote "'Stand your ground' law protects those who go far beyond that point" and David Simon (creator of "The Wire" for HBO) provided "Opinion: Welcome to Florida. Beware of gunmen standing their ground." Montgomery details how the people who wrote "Stand Your Ground" assert that it wouldn't provide safe haven for Zimmerman in this case, but that the laws wording and the legal systems usage of it may make it entirely applicable to this case. Along these lines, Simon relates a story from 1998 Baltimore where prosecutors made the decision to not give free reign to shooting in the interest of property protection. Additionally, Simon notes how "Stand Your Ground" or laws of its ilk in effect consider everyday citizens to be like police (but, without any of the screening or training) in how we evaluate whether their actions at any given time are justified.

Finally, the same April 9 issue of Time that contained the Cloud article also had the Joe Klein column "Triumph of the Gun Fetishists." There's not a large amount of content on Trayvon or "Stand Your Ground", but what is covered is what seems be be a push against gun laws in the US. Klein specifically notes the National Rifle Association and efforts on behalf of the "National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act" that three years ago narrowly failed Senate approval, but could well come back up again. If passed in a similar form, it would provide "back-home" gun control (or lack thereof) for any residents visiting another state or location with different restrictions around carrying guns.

Trayvon's death is a tragedy and it certainly appears that Zimmerman created the confrontation that resulted in the shooting. What's fascinating in an entirely macabre sort of way is now whether a law passed (behind a movement passing these types of laws) will mean that Zimmerman can't even be tried by a judge and jury of his peers. It doesn't take away from the loss of Trayvon, but his shooting really brings into the open a direction that our society seems to be taking with what we allow pass into law.

From this perspective, it reminds me of Representative Gabrielle Giffords being shot, six people killed and there then seeming to be little discussion of Arizona gun laws and how it it was for the killer, Jared Loughner to obtain his 9mm Glock pistol used in the attack.