INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Monday, February 28, 2005

Spontaneity Takes a Powder

Much to my amazement, every winner last night of the major Oscar award categories was exactly the person or film for which I would have voted were I a member of the Academy. I don't think that's ever happened before. Either I'm becoming clairvoyant, or the Academy is becoming more discerning and astute in its selections.

Hilary Swank for Empress of Everything!

I do have a complaint, however. The ceremonies keep becoming more tightly managed. Real spontaneity is a thing of the past. They're just not that much fun anymore. Host Chris Rock's comment was apropos:

"Next year, we'll give out the awards in the parking lot. We'll have a drive-thru lane where you can pick up your statue, whisked through by a traffic cop who keeps the line moving."

This leads me to a reminiscence, and that leads me to a side observation: it seems that in nearly all my posts these days, I dovetail into a reminiscence about something. If that's not a sign of age, I don't know what is.

Still, one of the things you try to do as a blogger is to contribute something personal and unique that only you could deliver. If you've been an adult since the late fifties, as I have, then you've got more stories to tell than current goings-on to recount.

Personal accounts of the past can, of course, be interesting, but it's tricky territory. We've all been put to sleep by some older relative droning on about "how it used to be."

But I'll take the risk. Recollections are harmless fun as long as you don't become preoccupied with them at the expense of keeping a forward-looking perspective--which is the essence of staying young in spirit.

There's also a certain built-in privilege that comes with the territory. After fifty years of adult living, while you lose some big things like sexiness and earning power, there are two big ones you gain: a measure of wisdom and many stories to tell.

Whether or not you can tell them in a way that has any relevance is another matter. But if you worry too much about that, you'll never get around to sharing anything.

Having said all this, I realize that the recollection to which I was going to digress is lightweight in the extreme. It was simply meant to underscore my point about how dull the Oscars have become.

Anyway, I remember watching the Oscars when they first started being televised (1953). There were no controls, it was just three or four cameras pointed at the proceedings, with a slight time-delay to bleep out any obscenities. There was no script. It was like telecasting a sporting event-whatever happens, happens.

There was no time limit on the speeches. You would get the occasional drunk, lots of good repartee, and much free-flowing high spirits. It was great fun, even if most of the acting awards were based on sentimental favorites rather than artistic merit.

It's ironic, isn't it, that in the age of "reality" television, with its alarming reduction in scripted shows, a real event like the Oscars becomes so scripted.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Loose Morality of the Aged

Despite ceaseless entreaties by mail, I've never been interested in joining the AARP--especially since their support last year of the Medicare reform bill which legalized a shameful cave-in to the all-powerful drug lobby.

This bill, to refresh your memory, while purporting to give seniors more affordable prescriptions, and thus a campaign talking point for Bush and Gang, actually forbids the government from negotiating with the drug industry on drug pricing. In other words, we got hosed, and once again, the evil genius, Karl Rove, managed to shield his puppet George from taking fatal heat on it. He also contrived somehow to convince the AARP in the bargain. (Would the Dems please steal some of this guy's fairy dust?)

So my attitude towards the AARP has been very simple: Up Yours, and you ain't gettin' any dues from me. However, now that they're fighting Bush on Social Security, they're starting to look human again. And they've attracted the ire of right wing wackos like the Swift Boat group and others who are mounting a campaign to accuse Their Graynesses of supporting a "shameful liberal agenda," in particular, same sex marriage and opposition to the troops in Iraq.

Yeah right. Those old fogies really love gay marriage. Those WWII and Korean vets really hate soldiers.

One would like to think that the wackos have shot themselves in the foot this time, but Paul Krugman, the astute observer of the NY Times, sounds a depressing and cautionary note.

Krugman is not willing to count these fools out:

"It's tempting to dismiss this as an exceptional case in which right-wingers, unable to come up with a real cultural grievance to exploit, fabricated one out of thin air. But such fabrications are the rule, not the exception. " . . . .

. . . So it doesn't matter that Social Security is a pro-family program that was created by and for America's greatest generation - and that it is especially crucial in poor but conservative states like Alabama and Arkansas, where it's the only thing keeping a majority of seniors above the poverty line. Right-wingers will still find ways to claim that anyone who opposes privatization supports terrorists and hates family values.

Their first attack may have missed the mark, but it's the shape of smears to come. "

Well, maybe I'll stop tossing the junk mail pieces from AARP. Could a membership be next?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Old and New; Fake and Real

Well, I managed to get myself back to the blogopshere just in time for my blog's third anniversary. Feb 21, 2002 was launch day for these humble pages. I had no idea what to expect. Urged on by the likes of Jeneane Sessum, inspired by the likes of David Weinberger, I dipped my toes into the water--despite harboring suspicions that this blog business was just the latest fad, destined to give way as bloggers moved on with their lives, as they inevitably would. As it turns out, some of that is actually happening, but more about that later in the post.

Little did I realize in early '02 that those of us engaging in this medium were actually a relatively small vanguard of a tidal wave that was yet to come. Yes, it's great that everyone is blogging these days, but I have some sympathy for those starting out in the current environment if they're at all interested in reaching an audience of any size. It must be much more difficult now than back in '02.

So many of the newer blogs are just fronts for promotions of whatever the "blogger" is hoping to profit from--employing whatever clever search engine optimizing techniques he or she can devise.

In this insincere, self-serving atmosphere, I think it's incumbent upon us (scratch "incumbent." I forgot. There are no rules in blogging) ---Re-stated: It would be desirable if we made some effort to seek and point out new bloggers who are the genuine article.

Oh, screw it. This is sounding elitist. What I'm trying to say is that I'm going to begin to make some effort to find newer blogs that I like and give'em a mention. I hope many of my readers will do the same. Many already do. It just seems to me that the new guys may need more of a boost than we did when we started out.

Speaking of early bloggers, it's hard to think of one who's been at the game longer than Justin Hall--ten years at least. The term "blog" didn't even exist when he got underway. Justin, the San Francisco Chronicle reports in a front page article, has called it quits.

I find it a bit weird to be coming back just when Hall and others are splitsville, and exits seem to be the dominant story of the day. Sheila Lennon emails me, "I hope you're reversing a trend." Well, Sheila, could be. Blog notable Rebecca Blood, quoted in the same article, observes:

" 'You know, the struggle to maintain relationships when you are heavily involved in a project isn't specific to Justin or to other bloggers. Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in the Internet happens in the real world. History is filled with examples of people's passions conflicting with work. When you throw yourself into something, it can be difficult to maintain relationships.'

Throwing yourself in relationships, though, can be as unsustainable as focusing all your energy on work, which is why Blood and others think that Hall will return.

'The trend I think we're going to see more and more in the future is people leaving and coming back,' Blood said."

As for profiting from one's blogging, to quote Jerry Seinfeld, "not that there's anything wrong with that." Chris Locke has been doing it from day one--although given his recent difficulties, He might well take issue with the term "profit," but you get my drift.

Dervala Hanley got a recent job offer from some people who discovered her blog and were astute enough to recognize what a prize catch she would be.

And, as I recently observed to Jeneane Sessum, if I were still in my agency days, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot some biz her way--just on the strength of her blog. I wouldn’t even have to see her portfolio.

These examples, of course, are a far cry from the search engine hucksters trying to hijack this medium. Meanwhile, lend a hand to those new guys--the good ones, that is. And if you know any lapsed bloggers, see if they're open to being nudged back in. Frank Paynter and Jeneane took the trouble to do that with me and, guess what, it worked.

Post Script: To celebrate my anniversary. I finally got around to getting a site feed. I may be slow as molasses, but I do catch up eventually. Anyway, if you want to subscribe to the feed, just click my shiny new Bloglines button at the bottom of my links.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Adieu Dr. T

A sad farewell to the original Gonzo. Was there ever any doubt that when Hunter Thompson's time came, this is how it would end? How many drunken, hallucinatory nights could the man survive without eventually saying, "Fuck it," and reaching for one of his ever-ready firearms? The man was not one for screwing around.

I first discovered the mad Dr. Thompson in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1972. He had been hired to cover the Democratic primary contest of that year. (It was later developed into a book: "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72' ")

I remember his article beginning with an account of his conversation with George McGovern while the two men were taking leaks in adjoining urinals in a hotel men's room somewhere in the frozen precincts of New Hampshire. This is the ultimate inside reporting, no?

To digress, I find--in my lifelong study of public men's rooms--that on many occasions, the urinaters will attempt to carry on a little banter with the chap at the next urinal--usually on subjects demonstrating their wholesome proclivities (e.g., "Man, how about that Jennifer Lopez?" or "Did you catch the Daytona 500?" etc.). This chitchat not only establishes a zone of saftey, it allows the gents to make eye contact and thereby protect themselves from any inadvertent downward glances in the other guy's direction).

Back to the subject at hand, 1972 was one of the most fascinating primaries in my memory, and perhaps one of the most fateful. Ed Muskie was the odds on favorite--the establishment figure--the one most feared by the paranoid Nixon and the target of his dirty tricks squads. This was the alleged birth of such tactics, which are by now a depressingly familiar feature of all campaigns.

McGovern was the leftie and the victory of his wing of the party was often said to be the beginning of the end for the modern Democratic Party. Yet four years later, the Dems were back in power. Things always change in politics. Sweeping statements about future directions are always sabotaged by the flow of unpredictable events.

I keep reminding myself of this when I get overly depressed about what is happening to our country.

Post script: Sheila Lennon's got a great piece on HST. Check it out.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Mayor Hip

One thing that hasn't changed in my absence from the blogosphere is the amazing amount of web-related info that pours out of Doc Searls blog. You would think that the man must have a staff of researchers. I'm sure he doesn't. He's just blessed with a brain that works at twice the speed as the rest of us.

Doc's post a few days ago pointed to the new blog set up by Jerry Brown, the with-it mayor of my neighboring city of Oakland. Way to go, Jerry! A superb looking TypePad layout, by the way. I wish I had the chops to put something like that together.

There's been a lot of speculation about blogs being the wave of the future in public as well as private communication. Mr. Mayor's new efforts in this sphere may provide a bit of insight into the potential of our medium to transform public dialogue.

I'm not convinced yet. While brand-spanking new, nonetheless Brown's blog has the feel and smell of some plain old-fashioned PR in hip clothing. But kudos to Jerry for giving it a whirl. May my skepticism be proven wrong.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Re-Entry Cont’d

Now that I've declared my re-entry into the blog world, I'm actually going to have to sit down and create some posts from time to time. That's the catch.

One of the things that got me away from blogging was that I grew tired of always having my consciousness wrapped around the question of what I was going to come up with for the next post. It became a job. As many bloggers have vowed, if it ever gets to that point, they'll quit or severely scale back.

So I have to come up with a new way to be a blogger without being obsessed by it. All suggestions welcome. All I know is that it really didn't work to stay away. The loss of community was very painful, although it took a while for it to register.

There were competing factors that obscured that sense of loss--a fabulous trip to Europe and all the preparations which that entailed; and an unbearable disgust with the election season and an accompanying desire to avoid all the angst and false hopes that would most likely be whipped around the blogosphere with predictable ferocity.

The new angst du jour is what can the Democrats do to become a winning party again. I'll just let that one pass. The question irritates me no end but I won't let it keep me out of this space. The Dems will be back when a critical mass of the electorate decides they've been had. It may take a generation. Meantime, quit trying to be fake crackers and belated finders of religion. Ain't gonna work.

Anyway, it was really gratifying to see all the visitors who stopped by since my re-entry post. Of course, it didn't hurt to have plugs from such luminaries as Mark Woods and Jeneane Sessum.

Well, I've got a hell of lot of catching up to do on all those great blogs out there. I wonder if anyone else has given up the ghost? Shelley’s down temporarily, but she always comes back. I’ve been de-listed from some of my favorites—quite understandable. No hard feelings. I accept that and know that I have to earn my way back. If anyone chooses to reinstate me I’ll be thrilled, of course.

I see that one of my de-listers is Maria Benet, author of the wonderful Alembic, and just a bridge trip across SF Bay from me. A quick check of her blog informs that she finally got her book out, and, praise be, a book party has been arranged to launch it. As soon as I sign off here, I’m jumping on the email to see if I can wrangle an invite. I think you can get her book through her site. Check it out.

A final note---look for me to finally get with it and start putting up some photos in this boring-looking space. In my absence, Blogger has come up with some nice looking templates. If I can figure out how to switch without losing customized code, maybe this dinosaur format will get a new look.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Crawling Towards Third

OK. Decision time. Is Insiteview going to be just one more in a growing scrap heap of abandoned blogs, riddled with comment spam like maggots on a rotting carcass?

Or is it going to reach for the tendrils of resuscitation and crawl back to some semblance of life—even at the risk of being a pale shadow of its former incarnation?

I launched this blog three years ago next week. I made a commitment to myself to keep it going for one year, no matter how discouraged I might become. A piece of cake, as it turned out. That first year was a blast.

I watched in wonder as the readership kept growing. I was blown away by the quality of the blogs that began linking to me. I was amazed to see my Google listings expand to over twenty pages.

The second year continued to be solid—for a while. Eventually, things began to slip. The blog was becoming a struggle as other priorities intervened.

As the second anniversary arrived last February, I found myself unwilling to make any more commitments. By May, after an ever-growing infrequency, the posts just stopped coming—not out of any conscious decision—just apathy, inertia, competing foci, and a stupid inner voice that kept insisting I had nothing left to say.

After all, when Insiteview got underway I was in the first flush of retirement, suddenly awash with unaccustomed buckets of spare time. Surfing blogs and writing one of my own filled them perfectly.

As the end of the second blog-year approached, however, it became depressingly clear that I couldn’t afford the time-luxury any longer. I had made some serious miscalculations, financially and emotionally, about my ability to manage this strange world called “retirement.”

It seemed, I told myself, that I needed to get back into the world and that blogging was in the way. What a gross misjudgment!

My absence from the blogosphere (I haven’t even been reading blogs, let alone writing one) has turned out to give me a more stinging experience of isolation than my departure from the workplace.

During the recent blog hiatus, I entered my seventh decade. Mathematical purists will point out that it’s actually the eighth, but screw that. When I say “seven,” people know what I mean. Who needs technicalities?

In the funk of my self-enforced isolation, I rationalized that I probably wasn’t “relevant” anymore, anyway. As a sexagenarian I could joke about getting older, but still, like
Elaine, feel a strong connection to the mostly younger universe of fellow bloggers.

But the age thing doesn’t seem like much of a joke anymore—even though, thanks to my mother’s genes (at 70 she could pass for 55), and to a younger wife and children still in their twenties who keep alive my unreconstructed spirit of rebellion—I suppose I actually have no reason to consider myself a has-been, despite the inner mind-chatter that suggests otherwise.

Perhaps my exile from the bloghood is reinforcing this chatter. Perhaps a re-engagement would shift the conversation to, “Hey, Stupid, you’re still in the game.”

My wife, Jill, who has zero patience with my lamentations over my alleged future irrelevance to the blogosphere blasts me with a straightforward retort: “Too old, my ass! You should consider yourself a trailblazer. These younger people want to know what you have to say.”

More ominously, superblogger
Jeanene Sessum, who shepherded my entry into blogging, admonishes, in a socially-incorrect all-caps email, “DON'T GIMME NO LIP, NOW, JUS GET YOURSELF BACK ONLINE TO THAT BLOG AND I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ONE LITTLE WORD ABOUT IT. DON'T TELL MAMA YOU BUSY, DON'T TELL MAMA YOU GOT BETTER THANGS TO DO. . .”

Well, that settles it, doesn’t it? Choice is no longer a factor.

Post Script:
Comment spam has wiped out all the wonderful comments that people have left here over the course of my blogging life. I’ve erased all the offenders—at the expense of several hours—and we’ll see what happens. I’ll stick with Haloscan for the time being. It’s been a good service, but if I can’t contain the spam and people’s comments get over-ridden again, I’ll try Blogger comments. Any advice welcome. If you want to comment, please give it a whirl.
Post Script Two: I can’t end this post without an acknowledgement of
Frank Paynter—who has been gently nudging my butt from time to time and letting me know that my writing is missed. Without Frank’s contacts and expressions of caring, I might not have