Monday, 29 January 2007

Blogging at Davos!

Blogging has become seriously mainstream, with business leaders being invited to blog from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

This article from the Economist quotes Seth Godin and other luminaries of the blogosphere on the subject of CEO blogging. However, it recommends blogging and being a CEO in the post-Enron era are mutually exclusive.

Economist aside, it's exciting to see the mainstream business community have a crack at this new form of disclosure.

(PS the Economist article is subscriber-only, but I heard it for free on The Economist's podcast - search for The Economist on the iTunes store)

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Book reviews!

I've managed - miraculously - to finish three books at once! (Well, on the same weekend anyway)

It's particularly gratifying to finish The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood, a great mix of behind-the-scenes storytelling with thematic analysis of the films mentioned. Sundance Kids is a massive book - I think I've been reading it for six months on and off.

Every time I read this book, I want to watch more movies. And make some. It's a great read.

The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life was a very interesting read, pitting the competing views of Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis together. It's billed as a debate, but it's at the same time worse and better than that.

Worse, in that the author, Harvard Psychology professor Armand Nicholi, can only speculate about what a debate between the two would have been like. Better, in that the book compares not only the words but the lives of these two.

Since I bought this book in a Christian bookshop, I was expecting a somewhat biased view in favour of the Christian worldview. While Lewis' Christian faith does appear to come out as the lifestyle that leads to the best psychological results, the book doesn't try to force the issue, instead simply presenting each man's view and biography, and letting the reader decide.

Even then, some may decide that's ingenuous, that the author/editor has the power to subtly make each side appear right or wrong. Having not read a lot about Freud or Lewis, I don't know. But if that is the case, I would also point to other material that does the opposite - champions Freud's views without comparison to any alternative worldview.

Finally, A Tale of Two Cities. Wow. No wonder it's a classic story. I'm going to make some very basic comments because a) I'm new to reading fiction (though not to watching it) and b) this post is getting too long.
  • Dickens really knows how to set up and pay off - every detail in this book is connected.
  • He also uses suspense really well in a way that would be difficult or impossible on film. His particular trick is to describe someone doing something, and then reveal their identity - letting your brain put all the pieces together.
  • I have heard Dickens criticised in the past for being too saccharine in his descriptions of some characters. Or at least too sentimental. His descriptions of joyous family life certainly come across a bit unreal in the cynical 21st century.
  • However, in general his characters are very 3D, and hard to put into boxes. The political background to the story makes this even more so - who is on who's side? Why? And are they really what they seem.
Overall, I loved it. And I'm glad that I started on this journey of reading "great" literature. Not sure what's next, but really looking forward to it.

Friday, 26 January 2007

This is not a bribe

This is very meta. I had a great discussion with Deborah Pead of Pead PR about PR and journalism, part of an upcoming report for Marketing Magazine on the PR industry.

Among many other things, we talked about transparency in the world of the blog, journalistic integrity, and how an incentive competition could be misconstrued as bribery.

We discussed a beer brand that Pead represents (Amstel) and I mentioned I'd never heard of it. (I do need to get out more often!)

At the end of the discussion, Deborah gave me the shining six pack you see in the photo.

As I walked out of the very swanky Newmarket offices, I had that troubling thought, "should I have accepted that?"

Some journalists may have refused the offer. Instead, I accept, and then blog about it.

Transparency. Got to love it! :)

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Westpac Rescue Helicopter needs your help

Did you know that the Westpac Rescue helicopter is funded exclusively by donations? And around this time of year, it's a busy chopper indeed.

I got a call from Chris, one of the people who actually works in the helicopter. He pointed out they don't use telemarketers. He also mentioned they cost $5000 per hour to operate.

Unfortunately I couldn't contribute, but I can encourage you to give. Please visit and keep the chopper in the air!

Lost cat in the bush

Saw this cute little fella (or felless?) while walking in Western Springs Park this morning. He sort of wanted to say hello to me but must have thought I was too scary. Especially when I brought the camera out!

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

One quote, one song, one surprising observation


"Diamonds do not dazzle with beauty unless they are cut."
Sadhu Sundar Singh. From the book I read over the holidays.


David Bowie, Space Oddity. Got it during an ill-advised buying spree at the iTunes store (they should give you a running tally!).

This song is one of the best non-operatic examples of storytelling through music. It's so clever, and dramatic, and exciting ... wow.


"I thought you'd be inaccessible, so I was really surprised when you emailed me straight back."

A client to me in a meeting on Monday. Inaccessible? Maybe I should try that, it could raise my perceived value.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

"This woman is trying to kill herself; can you help?"

I'd just had two mixed berry smoothies and a great chat about PR and theology with Brendan (aka Jim) and was walking home, earphones in, ready to listen to some movie reviews.

I saw two people near a park bench. She was doubled over, he was crouched next to her. He waved his hand at me.

Pretending this was normal, I waved back and made as if to carry on. But he must have said something or ... I don't know what, but I took a second look. And took my headphones off.

"Excuse me, this woman is trying to kill herself," said the man, remarkably calm. "Could you call someone?"

Someone. Who the hell do you call?

I dialled 111 while, still disbelieving, I held the phone away from me. A voice. Someone's talking on that phone. Listen.

"Fire, Ambulance or Police?"

Blood. I could see blood.


"Through now."

While the ambulance people asked if she was conscious, breathing or otherwise, I realised this probably wasn't an ambulance case. She was up and about, trying to conceal the blood from the shallow cuts on her wrist. And she was saying no, she didn't want help.

So we got through to the Police. Meanwhile, she wandered away, but as we continued talking with the police, she kept walking back.

While Mark (the man who had first found her) spoke with the police on the phone, I saw her coming, asked her if she was okay, and said we were getting help.

"No," she said, "I don't want help!"

What do you say to that?

"I'm going that way," she said, pointing down the path.

Now why did she say that? And why did she keep coming back?

So she left, and the police asked us to stay near the road so they could meet us. Mark and I got a ride in a police car for about 3 minutes - still exhilirating, even despite the circumstances - and there she was, walking back again.

The cops got out and talked to her, and told us they'd get her the medical help she needed.

I'm so glad Mark and I got to walk and talk after that. We were both just a little bit in shock.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Link: Evangelical? Obama's faith too complex for simple label

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Cathleen Falsani :: Evangelical? Obama's faith too complex for simple label

The more I hear about Obama, the more I like him. I'm not American, but I hope he becomes president. And if he does, I hope he stays as humble and honest as he apparently is.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Worldviews again

It's always a good time to be learning about worldviews - the ones we hold, sometimes unconsciously, and those of other people.

(I've written on this subject before here and here. Seth Godin's also mentioned it a lot too!)

Russell Brown's latest post talks in scathing terms about Dinesh D'Souza's latest book,The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.

D'Souza is accusing the "cultural left" of creating a godless culture that offends "traditional societies" around the world. I suspect he's partly right. 50 Facts that Should Change the World tells me that America spends as much on porn as it does on foreign aid. (Although I guess that's calculated through different channels; I'm not aware of a US Government porn fund.)

I haven't read D'Souza's book, but if Russell Brown has interpreted it correctly, he's suggesting that if we all got a little more godly, the likes of Osama bin Laden would leave us alone.

I really suspect that's not an accurate summary of the book; the so-called Christian right has some of its strongest voices advocating a zero-tolerance approach to Muslim terrorists. Maybe D'Souza is talking about other muslims who are not terrorists, but still take their faith literally and seriously.

There's a lot of fear and ignorance out there on both sides. All three sides.
  • Muslims in the middle east fear the imperialist crusaders, come to impose Christianity, Coca Cola and porn on them.
  • "Blue-state" Americans fear the conservative Christians, come to impose Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn on them, and (mostly) to take away their freedom of thought and expression.
  • "Red-state" Americans fear the liberal establishment, come to take away their freedom of expressing their faith in the public square.
I don't think many liberals understand this last point. This article by Rabbi Daniel Lapin comes across just a little alarmist (!) but he does make this interesting point:

Phase one in this war is to make Christianity, well, sort of socially unacceptable. Something only foolish, poor and ugly people could turn to.

That's probably the one thing I'd definitely agree with in his article. Normally I'd give my liberal fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt - after all, liberal means 'generous', doesn't it? - but just as I've come across Christians who have unthought-through stereotypes about other people, so I have come across educated, liberal people who have the same kind of stereotypes about Christians.

Because I'm trying to learn the art of being genuinely open-minded until I really know a thing, I'll end this on a series of questions:
  • Why is it so hard to stay open-minded?
  • Why do I find myself so tempted towards polarising language (on both sides, by the way) when writing about these issues?
  • Why does literature place so much emphasis on Freudian and Marxist philosophy when the fields of psychology, economics and philosophy have so many other thinkers?
  • Is Freudian/Marxist/liberal thought influential because it's all that's taught, or because it's the best reflector of reality?

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Understanding Islam from its source text - and its people

I've just finished The Qur'an: A Biography, and I've only started to scratch the surface of the world's second-largest religion.

I was particularly struck by the story of Robert of Ketton, the first Westerner who attempted to translate the Qur'an into a Western language. He was, like me, a pen for hire, hired in this case by Peter the Venerable, a Christian Abbot who challenged the spirit of his times (the Crusades) by seeking to understand Muslims rather than slaying them.

From the book:

"In such a charged atmosphere, the effort to 'honour' the pseudo-prophet of Islam by translating his lies (the Qur'an) was itself an ecumenical act ... It may seem that most European Christians, including the Pope, had already made up their mind about the evil of Islam and the falsehood of the Qur'an. Peter suggests as much when he calls (in vain) for Islam to be approached, not 'as our people often do, by arms, but by words; not by force, but by reason; not in hatred, but in love.' "

(NB: The words "pseudo-prophet" and "lies" above refer to the mediaeval title of Robert of Ketton's work - "The Law of the Pseudo-Prophet Muhammad" - and don't reflect the views of the author of this book, Bruce Lawrence.)

I really respect this approach, particularly in the atmosphere of the crusades. He knew the difference between acceptance and agreement, a crucial difference that I learnt about in a discussion on improvisation.

More from the book:

"You may dislike someone or some idea, but still try to understand both the person and the concept that are alien to you. ... Though hostile to Islam, Robert was willing to trust Muslim scholars in trying to unravel what Muslims found believable in the 'false' prophecy of Muhammad."

As a follower of Christ (in training), I don't consider Muslims "the enemy". That's why it's downright embarrassing to read some of the nonsense that comes up in discussions like this one.

Thankfully, there are other, more thoughtful responses from the Christian community, like this one. Might be a good one to add to my reading list. (Sigh - it never stops!)

Even for non-Christians, I think it's important to understand - even respect - the book and the belief system that has shaped and continues to shape huge parts of the world. And while you're at it, it wouldn't hurt to understand - and even respect - the other book and the belief system that has shaped the Western world.

It can never hurt to truly understand.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007


Originally uploaded by Wilhelm Augustus Hohenzollern.
This is what my office will look like, once the move to Titirangi is complete.

(Well, hopefully I won't have as much fluffy company to contend with for desk space!)

Monday, 15 January 2007



A follow-up to my last post, the last comment on the above post sums it up:

"Clients want it cheaper. Agencies want it cheaper. Welcome to advertising in the 21st Century!"

RIP: Silverscreen

NBR: Silverscreen liquidates as ad budgets tighten

And so it starts. The slow death of the traditional advertising and filmmaking ecosystem.

Death is too black-and-white a phrase for it; it's more of an evolution.

But I deliberately call it an ecosystem vs. an industry. So much springs from the way advertising has worked over the past 50 years or so in the television age.

Ads and the agency system have long provided a breeding ground for talented screenwriters, directors and actors.

Ads have also subsidised free-to-air television, a model that is under threat, though not as badly as it may seem (studies in the UK show that most people with PVRs - personal video recorders like MySky and TiVo - watch the ads anyway).

Enter the disruptive technology of the internet, and the phenomenon of consumer-generated content and Generation C, the on-demand generation...

...and the professionals are left shaking their heads and wondering how to differentiate their product from the many "amateur" content creators around the world.

And that's just the macro-trend around the world. The micro-trend mentioned in the NBR article is shrinking ad budgets and profit margins are to blame for Silverscreen's liquidation.

Ad budgets are shrinking, but are marketing budgets? No. More is being poured into below-the-line marketing - cheaper, more accountable, more targeted methods of reaching your audience.

It's a good time to be creative.

And not just artsy creative, genuinely creative. in, how is my vocation/craft going to survive and evolve to live in this reality?

In fact, it's always a good time to be creative.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Memory, Loss and Value

I spent this morning putting my entire academic history into a small box.

It's part of the tortuous ongoing preparations for Marie and I to move in with my mum, for a whole bunch of reasons. It's been a great process so far.

As I sorted through the flotsam and jetsam of my school years, I thought about memory, loss and value.

Some of this stuff was vaguely in my mind, yet rediscovering it was like finding hidden treasure. Why is that?

I also found some of my old history notes. Since high school, I've found out I'm descended from royalty on both sides of my family - one legitimately, one not. I wondered to myself, "would I have paid more attention in studying, say, Charlemagne, if I knew he was my great-great-great... etc. grandfather?" Probably not.

I didn't get so passionately interested in family history until I faced a shaking of all other foundations in my life a few years ago. I needed roots, I needed some sense of belonging. And the "lostness" of the family tree information on both sides just made it all the more important to get hold of.

I heard an interview on NPR's On the Media about Life Logging, which is apparently becoming more and more do-able and affordable by the minute. Although the big challenge seems to be managing the stacks of information for easy access - which is the same problem with non-virtual memory.

It makes you think - or makes me think, anyway - about the nature of memory and whether such a function could be literally outsourced. What would happen? Would it free up our brains for something more useful? Or would it be just another machine-dependence? The NPR piece pointed out that already as a culture we don't know phone numbers anymore, we just enter them once into our mobile and never need to remember them.

Anyway my point... I think ... was that the problem, and perhaps the solution, with memory is that we forget what we know. Our short term memory just doesn't seem to have too much capacity, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe rediscovery is one of the keys to joy in life.

Or maybe I just need some sleep! :)

Friday, 12 January 2007

This going to be the new central blog for all things Simon Young. That's me by the way. Here's what I look like.Well, that's what I look like in the dark, in a surly mood and with an eery blue glow on my face. Dodgy.

Anyway, I have three other blogs on leadership, filmmaking and spirituality, but I barely ever post to them. So, as with my life, my blogging: I'm integrating. Thanks to Blogger for finally allowing tagging.

You'll be hearing from me!