January 11, 2006

In-House Note

It appears another blog hiatus is looming given work demands. My rough rule of thumb, since I started this blog, has been that I'd try to hammer out a post or two if I was at the day job 12 hours or fewer a day. Lately, however, I've been pushing past that pretty often, and you know, there are only a limited amount of hours in the day. Given these timing constraints--when and if I do blog in the coming days--please expect content to be more by way of shorter links rather than longer pieces. As ever, thanks for your patience.

Posted by Gregory at January 11, 2006 03:39 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Greg - given you're so pressed for time these days, perhaps this observation from a longtime, occasional reader might be useful.

Your posts in my opinion do not gain anything from being so lengthy. BD can't be made Belgravian so long as you're in Gotham, but you should strive to put some dispatch back into it. Recall that a dispatch is supposed to be brief and to the point, hence the phrase acting "with dispatch/despatch" that signifies effective, swift and purposeful behavior. (The dictionaries like to use the example of killing an animal: there's a good metaphor for you when you're taking time away from sleep, wife, friends etc to write BD. Kill the beast quickly, with as little blood and kicking as possible.)

Specifically, I find that, the lengthier your post, the higher the likelihood that it will follow a peculiarly Belgravian pattern of

1) beginning by reprinting nearly all of someone else's (often nauseatingly familiar) WaPo or NYT editorial rather than stripping his argument to its essence;
2) reiterating that person's thesis in several breezy, apologetic sentences that almost always begin with annoying and meaningless non-qualifiers like "look" or "hey"
3) presenting counterpoints to the above with non-apologetic sentences that begin with "I'm sorry, but" and the like;
4) containing (usually near the end of your post) some real nuggets of insight and wisdom, elegantly expressed.

It's # 4 that makes me come back from time to time, but the other features of BD are (to coin a phrase) unhelpful. Case in point: your reprinting of Brzezinski's latest spiel. I've heard this for decades now, and heard the same variation of it re. Iraq for 3 years now, and don't need to come to your side to read it in toto. If or when Zbiggy has something *new* and *fresh* to say about Iraq or some other issue (gee, I wonder why he's so quiet about Iran?), then it would be helpful to your readers and a better use of your scarce time to highlight the pith and leave the piss behind--one or two sentences, max. But there's no reason to come to BD to read OPCM (Other People's Cold Mush) that, as you copiously admit, has become so familiar that it can be recited beforehand.

Brevity = soul of wit. And get some sleep.

Best regards,
Thibaud

Posted by: thbiaud at January 11, 2006 03:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey take your time guy. Sounds like your busy so focus on work. We will still be here.

Posted by: Joseph at January 11, 2006 07:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hi Greg,

As an HR professional, I strongly urge some consideration of work-life balance!!

I know that the practice of law (and similar fields in Finance and Banking and consulting) seldom view this as important, particularly in the US, but at the end of the day no one ever dies wishing they'd spent more time at work...

Don't burn yourself out and take care!

Posted by: Aran Brown at January 11, 2006 10:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

thanks thibaud. not bad advice. maybe we can turn this into a 'how greg's blogging can improve, if he only has one hour a day' thread?!?

aran: rest assured all is well, honest..but thx for the concern!

Posted by: greg at January 12, 2006 03:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, the answer is self-evident. As great artists have done through the ages, I'm sure you'll find that limitations are the source of high art. And you have a huge advantage in this quest-- that rarest of virtues, modesty and the willingness to accept criticism.

Try writing for no more than 20 minutes a day, for starters (you'll end up writing for 45 mins or more, but you get the point). Even better, how bout at least 3 days per week with only your own thoughts, ie no reprinting of others' OpEds, permitted? What are your own thoughts and instincts re. the Iran mess?

T

Posted by: thibaud at January 12, 2006 04:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Washington Post reports on an article (PDF) in Military Review by British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster.

The quote from it that I want to pick up on is this: Many personnel seemed to struggle to understand the nuances of the OIF Phase 4 environment. Moreover, whilst they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate, at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism.

I opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset. My grounds were 1. Illegality, 2. Deception, 3. Incapacity. The above quote speaks to ground 3.

Instances pointing to this cultural and institutional incapacity of US forces to forestall or handle post-invasion resistance are legion. Here's a couple:

1. A USMC tank in Iraq called "New Testament" happily finding its way onto the USMC website.

2. Air Force Academy conflating 'born again' alleged Christianity with patriotism.

Of course there's also a President stupid and/or wacko-religious enough to call the Iraq invasion a crusade.

And now we have military recruitment standards being lowered from not a very high base to start with.

If there is a worthwhile goal behind the Iraq schemozzle, the US is patently not the appropriate agent to strive for it. Multilateralism would be ideal. US-free coalitions would be preferable.


Posted by: AlanDownunder at January 12, 2006 06:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Washington Post reports on an article (PDF) in Military Review by British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster.

The quote from it that I want to pick up on is this: Many personnel seemed to struggle to understand the nuances of the OIF Phase 4 environment. Moreover, whilst they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate, at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism.

I opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset. My grounds were 1. Illegality, 2. Deception, 3. Incapacity. The above quote speaks to ground 3.

Instances pointing to this cultural and institutional incapacity of US forces to forestall or handle post-invasion resistance are legion. Here's a couple:

1. A USMC tank in Iraq called "New Testament" happily finding its way onto the USMC website.

2. Air Force Academy conflating 'born again' alleged Christianity with patriotism.

Of course there's also a President stupid and/or wacko-religious enough to call the Iraq invasion a crusade.

And now we have military recruitment standards being lowered from not a very high base to start with.

If there is a worthwhile goal behind the Iraq schemozzle, the US is patently not the appropriate agent to strive for it. Multilateralism would be ideal. US-free coalitions would be preferable.


Posted by: AlanDownunder at January 12, 2006 06:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Per thibaud's point, I suspect a lot of bloggers' writing shows the same characteristics when, for whatever reason, they are writing under the burden of fatigue. I found many of my own longest, most discursive posts were those with an early AM timestamp.

I don't have a prescription. It's just that editing one's own writing is as time consuming or more so than the writing itself, the more so when one attempts to edit not just the details but the structure of one's argument.

Posted by: Zathras at January 12, 2006 03:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Amen!

I love your pieces, but I'm certain there is a way to make them concise without losing what you want to say.

Be brief, be clear, and thank you!

Posted by: R. G. Lacsamana at January 12, 2006 10:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Per Zathras's point, having read blogs now for about five years it appears the biggest difference between the (quality) blog world and old media is the former's lack of editorial review. I suspect there's a simple answer to this problem, something that would combine Wiki-style revisions by many with the filtering and access-control capabilities of good social networking software. The result would be a kind of virtual editorial board which could be as narrow or expansive as the blogger wishes it to be.

Another way of approaching the problem-- which in its essence is that there's too much redundancy, esp now that the web has rendered editorial space limitless-- would be to ask bloggers to move toward a radically simplified format for expressing ideas, information, news and opinion. In short, do away with the literary or journalistic story format and replace it with the bullet-point concision used by most organizations in the world's new lingua franca, .ppt. (Note how effectively Thomas Barnett uses .ppt to distill complexity into powerful, clear messages.) For ex., a post would consist of nothing but a few sentences, organized under headers such as:

THESIS: Too few troops in Iraq.
NEWS: Bremer said to Rumsfeld in 2003 that we had too few troops in Iraq.
FACTS: Troop strength was X in Apr 03, Y in Nov 03, etc.
MY THESIS/TAKE: [here, to be honest, I don't know what Greg's take is because mine eyes glazed over before I got to it]
ANTITHESIS: X says, or Alan-a-Dale or Alan-a-Troll says, more troops don't matter because Americans are hyper-religious heathens and uncultured culturally-arrogant kulturkampferen. Or whatever....
INTERESTING TANGENT #1: Why didn't Bremer fo the honorable thing and resign? For that matter, why do American officials, unlike British or continental ones, never resign when they feel that their superiors are embarking on an untenable course?
INTERESTING TANGENT #2: [insert]
----end of post---

The above approach would have huge advantages over both old media and the rest of the blogosphere. Old media is imprisoned by the inverted pyramid format, which forces simplicity upon complex phenomena (like Katrina), where facts aren't clearly understood and biases should be exposed and highlighted, and creates the illusion of news when tedious, familiar stories and non-stories are rehashed for the umpteenth time by yet another media outlet.

As to bloggers' deficiencies, well, let's just say that the blog world's noise-to-signal ratio is unacceptably high. Too many words. Too much ephemera. Too much hearsay, blather, speculation. Too much of the reactive, trivial "gotcha!" sniping at old media.

This approach forces anyone writing on anything to clarify for the reader what is new and different and insightful about the content he's adding to the billions of words spilled across the net on any topic every hour.

Posted by: thibaud at January 14, 2006 04:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm going to assume thibaud's tongue is planted firmly in cheek above. I've seen enough presentations in Powerpoint-style format to be convinced that they will never replace English.

As I said earlier, I have no prescriptions even for an individual blogger, let alone for the blogosphere as a whole. In that universe there are a whole lot of people who don't write very well and/or have nothing worthwhile to say, and they are not that hard to distinguish from the people who do write well. Is the "noise to signal" ratio too high? Well, adjust the tuning dial -- don't read blogs that aren't well written and don't regularly discuss important ideas in an interesting way. We already do this with all other media.

Posted by: Zathras at January 14, 2006 06:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The "noise to signal" ratio is too high, not just among blogs generally but also within quality blogs, incl BD. Which is why a new format is required.

Posted by: thibaud at January 15, 2006 12:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

end italics

Posted by: thibaud at January 15, 2006 12:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thibaud, I believe that it mostly doesn't work to depend on the mass of commenters to change their style. But format changes in blogs might make a difference.

The approach I favor at present is more like a wiki, where you let individual posters edit their own work but no one else's.

Start with a question, or a topic. People get to make statements, or proposals, about the original topic. And they get to respond to other posts. You can comment on any comment, you'll link back to it. And anybody who wants can look at all the posts that link to the one they're looking at.

So you can argue with other people's posts, or you can refine your own original response to the topic. Or you can suggest improvements to other people's posts, and they might edit their posts to fit your suggestion.

Since anybody can edit their own stuff it isn't particularly valuable to knock down the other guy's weakest arguments and mistakes -- he'll just remove them and put in something better. More useful to make your own points clearly and forcefully. But there's room for both.

You can look at the history but the default is to look at the latest versions.

Now here's a refinement -- let people establish "factions". You pick somebody you generally agree with and join his faction on this particular topic, if you want to. As a member of a faction you get to vote about which faction member's original response is best, and vote again as the posts get revised. You can also vote on attacks by your faction members against other people's posts. So somebody who just wants to come in and look at the best arguments can look at the best each faction has to offer -- according to their own opinions.

The process of editing and refining and arguing would go on until either people get it as good as they can or they get bored with the discussion. It wouldn't be a few days of commenters hitting each other with pig's bladders until the topic scrolls off, and then doing it again with the next topic.

I haven't gotten around to coding this. I won't be at all offended if somebody else does.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 27, 2006 04:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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