Modern Marketing


For months now, we’ve had Tom’s old bed — a pretty nice twin-size platform bed with six drawers — sitting in our living room. I thought it would be easy to sell. I posted ads on Craigslist, which for the uninitiated is a kind of online flea market where you can find anything. The service started here in San Francisco, and I actually worked with the founder briefly at the online project I joined when I left The Examiner. It was a big mailing list then, and now it’s a hugely successful community and e-commerce site that eBay has bought into. I’ve sold a bike there and bought A’s playoff tickets on zero notice, so I know it works.

That knowledge aside, Tom’s bed will just not move from our cramped premises. I posted two perfectly competent and ordinary ads in June for a "twin-size chest bed and mattress." I linked to the maker’s fine pictures of the bed. I gave a very clear description. We didn’t get a single response. And there in our living room the bed still sits. Kate and I have talked about giving it to a charity. But yesterday, I was seized with just enough initiative to take a few digital pictures of the bed and try another Craigslist posting.

When I sat down to write this time, though, I realized I had it all wrong. So without thinking about it, the "twin-size chest bed and mattress" became "It’s The Amazing Chest Bed." After I wrote that heading, everything else fell into place (check this link for the Craigslist posting for the full effect; the ad text is below). The bed is now a happening.

Has it sold, you ask? Well, not yet. I’ve had seven inquiries about it since yesterday, though. So maybe it’ll move this time.


It’s The Amazing Chest Bed

It’s the ultimate experience in sleep for persons of a certain size and/or age. A chest bed with six generous drawers and a headboard that offers extra storage. The mattress is a nearly new extra-long twin size (requires extra-long twin sheets; regular twin size won’t fit; more on dimensions below). If you’re tall and skinny, it’s perfect for you. If you have a family member who may someday get tall and skinny (we do, but he quickly outgrew this mattress), it’s a perfect size for you (and whoever that person is), too. But don’t take our word for it — check it out for yourself! While we’d like to offer test sleepovers in our smartly appointed Berkeley digs — we could have hot chocolate and a warm fire and listen to "Winnie-the-Pooh" — we can’t accommodate the throngs we expect to demand the right to purchase this article. So you’ll have to be content with checking out pictures of The Amazing Chest Bed, images taken at great expense by a locally renowned furniture photographer.

We’re asking $250 for The Amazing Chest Bed — a small price for a piece of furniture that could conceivably have had a featured role as a prop in the popular USA Network series "Monk," starring Tony Shalhoub. We paid $900 for the bed, headboard and mattress.

Act now, and we, the soon-to-be former owners of The Amazing Chest Bed will consider bringing it over to your place (please: Western Hemisphere addresses only) at no extra cost. For the extra-practical-minded: Dimensions are: Bed platform/drawer unit: 76 1/4 inches long x 38 inches wide x 24 inches tall. Mattress: 80 inches long x 38 inches wide x 10 inches high. Headboard: 8 1/2 inches deep x 38 inches wide x 50 inches tall. So combined length of mattress, platform and headboard is about 88 1/2 inches. Combined height of platform and mattress is about 34 inches.

Year of the Spigot

Ah. The dishes are done. The laundry’s all folded. The bed’s freshly made. If I had anything to do with any of that, I could bask in a warm glow of accomplishment.

However, I am sitting in blog central, contemplating the day. A word comes to mind. A not particularly attractive word. Blogiversary. I thought I’d drop it in here as part of marking the one-year anniversary of this continuing distraction. But I googled "blogiversary" and found 17,500 instances of it online; all web loggers congratulating themselves on their one or two or three years or more, some will claim, of this.

So, I’ll just go to the numbers. Three hundred seventy and some-odd posts. (In transferring stuff over from my original Radio Userland home, I culled a handful of items that even I didn’t get the point of.) Maybe a couple hundred comments posted; a few by me. Lots and lots of words. I’ve got a little application that gives me a word count on each and every post, but I haven’t got to the point of actually adding it all up. But if I’ve written an average of 250 words per post (and we’re at about word 221 for this post right … now), which seems conservative, then I’ve spewed 90,000 or so words here. There. That’s my book.

Part of this exercise is listening for the splash when you drop your pebble down the well. So, the comments, written and otherwise, from the small knot of regular readers are all rewarding. Maybe I’m listening for a bigger splash; I always do when I publish a piece somewhere, and I’m always let down when I put a lot of work into a story and hear nothing, or a murmur so low it might as well be silence. You shrug it off and just do the work as an end in itself; and also because, when you’re writing for pay, you’re keeping body and soul together. This is different, but still, you’d like to have an idea who’s reading and whether the words you put together have an impact.

I have no idea if anyone even saw my first throat-clearing post a year ago. It’s probably best if no one did. But a year later, thanks to a traffic-tracking site that’s probably violating privacy twelve ways to Sunday (where’d that expression come from?), I can see that just today people have hit the blog from Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Italy, Jordan, and Yemen.

I know the explanation for that, I think: I write about plenty of topical stuff, it gets indexed by Google, and when people go out to find something about why U2 says "uno, dos, tres, catorce" (one, two, three, fourteen) at the beginning of one of their songs, I have a post about that. And one about a Florida woman who channeled God into a full-page ad in The New York Times before the election. And one about the United Fascist Union candidate for president. And another about writer Ron Suskind’s somewhat unnerving picture of the force of fanatical religious faith in the Bush administration. Whether or not I had anything useful to say about any of those things, people who were interested in them came looking. And that’s still what surprises me and impresses me most about the Net’s chaotic jumble: It can be all serendipity, all the time.

Looking at blogs more closely the last year, it’s also clear that a lot of what’s going on out here is people venting and talking past each other. I know that’s not news and critics of blogging as an information medium have focused on how a lot of online "discussion" is really people listening for voices shouting messages that reinforce their beliefs while filtering out or shouting down those with whom they disagree. To the extent that’s true, I think it’s just a reflection of what’s happening everywhere else in our society now. Open minds, or even people willing to reason and talks thing through, seem in critically short supply.

So here’s to keeping minds open. To avoiding writing what my friend Pete once termed "just more blather." And to paying attention to Tom Stoppard’s caution to be honest with words: In "The Real Thing," the middle-aged playwright protagonist Henry is lectured by his 17-year-old daughter Debbie on love and sex. She concludes, "… What free love is free of, is propaganda." To which he says, ""Don’t get too good at that."

"What?" she asks.

"Persuasive nonsense. Sophistry in a phrase so neat you can’t see the loose end that would unravel it. It’s flawless but wrong. A perfect dud. You can do that with words, bless ’em. How about ‘What free love is free of, is love’?"

Unlimited Visibility


We’ve had two days of gusty northerly winds. The result today was you could see forever. Kate and I walked up to the upper reaches of the hills in town. Up above Grizzly Peak Boulevard and adjacent to Tilden Park there’s a steep, narrow lane called Hill Street. It ends in a short footpath named for Scott Newhall, a legendary editor of the San Francisco Chronicle who lived up there and  in the 1960s dreamed up a story on why coffee in the city was so bad (the also-legendary headline: "A Great City Forced to Drink Swill"). The path connects to a southern segment of Hill Street, which runs back down to Grizzly Peak but also leads by a couple other small lanes into Tilden (the street geography won’t mean much to non-Berkeleyites). The picture above was taken right where the northern part of Hill Street runs into the path; we were looking back across the northern part of Tilden (the hills are already starting to green up) to the mountains in Napa County. You can just make out a little nub sticking up near the center of the picture, above the distant ridge (it was much clearer just eyeballing it). That’s Mount Saint Helena, which stands at the northern end of the Napa Valley, 58 miles from where we were standing (I checked the distance on mapping software).


And the second picture is the dusk silhouette of Mount Tamalpais taken just as we headed down Buena Vista Way back toward the Berkeley flatlands. A great day to be out for a walk.

Kevin Sites Speaks

First, let’s briefly recap the Kevin Sites saga: A freelance cameraman and journalist covering the Fallujah offensive, he videotaped a Marine shooting a wounded, unarmed Iraqi insurgent in a mosque. The tape was shot on a “pool” basis, so eventually it was fed not just to the company that Sites is under contract with, NBC, but to other outlets, too. Predictably, the image and the unclear context of the shooting — was the insurgent armed? was there an immediate threat there that could not be seen in the video? — have touched off a controversy. The video is the latest helping of anti-American fodder for broadcasters in the Arab world. In the United States, the main reaction to the video has come from the right: The video serves as further proof that the mainstream media is only interested in undermining our war effort and support for the troops. Sites has been the target of especially vicious commentary online, with many accusing him of trying to score a prize-winning scoop at any cost and some suggesting he ought to be physically harmed for reporting the incident.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been checking Sites’s blog daily to see if he’d post his account of the shooting and of the afternath. Of course, I hadn’t checked today,and then I got an email from my brother John saying there was a new post there. It’s titled “Open Letter to the Devil Dogs of the 3.1” — the unit he’d been accompanying during the fighting. He tries to explain to the Marines he’s been covering (in a sympathetic way, I’d add) exactly how the event unfolded before, during, and after the shooting. And he does his best to explain to the guys what’s at stake in reporting what’s going on over there:

“I interviewed your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, before the battle for Falluja began. He said something very powerful at the time-something that now seems prophetic. It was this:

” ‘We’re the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman’s war here — because we don’t behead people, we don’t come down to the same level of the people we’re combating. That’s a very difficult thing for a young 18-year-old Marine who’s been trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy with fire and close combat. That’s a very difficult thing for a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with 23 years experience in the service who was trained to do the same thing once upon a time, and who now has a thousand-plus men to lead, guide, coach, mentor — and ensure we remain the good guys and keep the moral high ground.’

“I listened carefully when he said those words. I believed them.

“So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera — the story of his death became my responsibility.

“The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.”

From reading this guy’s stuff since early last year, I believe he’s impeccably honest. I think he explains what happened and the bigger issues he was thinking about as well as can be expected. I’d love to know how the Marines he’s addressing react to what he says. I expect that few of people who’ve been screaming that he’s subhuman and a traitor will be mollified.

Blow Up a Library Today

My friend Pete mentioned on the phone today that he had read about how Salinas, the Monterey County town where John Steinbeck once lived, is about to close its public libraries — that’s right, just shut them down — because after years of watching its costs rise and tax revenue decline, it no longer has the money to run them. And earlier this month, voters rejected three tax measures to raise $9.5 million to $12 million for city services.

They apparently did not believe or care about warnings that the libraries (a $3 million line item for next year) would be shut down and other city departments would be slashed, too (four recreation centers will be closed and the hiring of 10 new police officers will be delayed indefinitely). The electorate was in such an anti-tax mood that it even voted down a measure, placed on the ballot and supported by the business community, to raise a utility levy on the town’s biggest businesses. Think about that: Someone in town said “tax us so we can help the town out,” and the voters said “no way!”

So what do people in town think now? Reading the press accounts, most seem to be appalled. One resident quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“My feeling is that this city is dying,” said Greg Meyer, a 25-year city maintenance worker who was given a layoff notice in September and will be unemployed in January. “We are opening the gates to urban blight and increased crime. Taking the libraries out of service is like a trumpet blast heralding the coming of our fall.”

And another, in the Monterey Herald:

“A town without a library is a town without a conscience,” said Gerald Oehler, president of Prime Care Medical Group in Salinas.

But based on the results at the polls, you’ve got to wonder whether this woman, also quoted in the Chronicle, is more typical:

“Carla Lane, browsing the stacks with her two young daughters, said that if the libraries have to close, that’s too bad.

” ‘We come here all the time, my kids love it, and I’m a big reader myself,’ said Lane, picking out an armload from the new-fiction shelf. “But I’m not sure the money is always being spent wisely.

” ‘I can’t believe that everything has been exhausted,’ Lane said. ‘If they have to close, so be it. Maybe they can just open one day a week.’ ”

She can’t believe that everything has been exhausted. Let’s see: The city fired more than 50 city workers and cut out frills like school-crossing guards and park maintenance to make it through the current fiscal year. It warned in a very public process that more would follow if the city doesn’t find the money. But still, this woman seems to be saying, you can’t really trust what the government says. They must have more money somewhere. They just want to rip us off for more taxes.

Her attitude is selfish and short-sighted, but it’s not indefensible. Government should be accountable — in many cases, much, much more accountable — for how it spends tax money.

But here’s what’s weird to me. It’s a good bet that many of the people in Salinas who voted against taxing themselves for something outrageous like keeping their libraries open and hiring more cops also voted for Bush. The voted for someone who denies accountability for the budget deficit he’s engineered, the lies he employed to lead us into war in Iraq, and for the awful, bloody catastrophe the war has become. So, there are people down there who have decided that the president doesn’t need to be held to as high a standard as their City Council.

(Speaking of Bush: One possible source of revenue for Salinas might be to see if the feds would refund the city’s share of the cash spent so far to arrest Saddam Hussein and turn Iraq into a festering cauldron of future democracy. The National Priorities Project puts our cost for the war so far at about $146 billion. That’s almost $500 for every American. So Salinas has about 150,000 people, and its share of the Iraq dough so far is just under $75 million. That’d put the town on easy street; maybe it could even open more libraries. What a choice: Blow up more stuff on the other side of the world — for peace and security’s sake — or keep the libraries open.)

Hail to California!

I’m not really an Old Blue; I only transferred to Cal after two glorious years at Illinois State University; and even though I really liked the history department at Berkeley, I never managed to graduate and have thus limped through adult life with no degree and answering “some college” to survey question on educational attainment. As usual, I digress to focus on my own sad story.

Still, Cal’s my local college sports team: From our house, you can hear the cannon that’s fired every time the Golden Bears score. And this year, they’ve got a very good team, in the Top 10 all year, and more recently in the Top 5. Today, they beat Stanford in what’s known locally (and humorously to non-Bay Area sports fans) as “The Big Game.” The final: 41-6, which makes it one of the more one-sided scores in the history of (say it with me) this storied rivalry. Kate (an actual Cal graduate) was into the game, there were some great moments for the Golden Bears, and some humiliating and nasty ones for Stanford, which had one of its best players thrown ejected for taking repeated cheap shots after the game turned into an ass-whupping.

Interesting: The Wikipedia actually has an unironic entry on the Big Game that mentions Joe Starkey (check out the link — he’s got a really bad rug) the radio play-by-play man for both Cal and the San Francisco 49ers. He’s the worst sports announcer I’ve ever heard in terms of homer-ism, willingness to blame officials for his teams’ ill fortunes, and unreliability in describing what’s actually going on on the field — I’ve never heard anyone who so often seems to miss plays entirely or needs to correct what he just told you. But he’s part of Cal legend for his over-the-top call on the famous last play of the 1982 Cal-Stanford tilt, where his high-pitched screaming actually captured he action pretty well (I remember listening to it when it happened and thinking “now that is amazing.”

In Fallujah

I struggle every day with my feelings about what’s happening in Iraq. Not a subject I can write about casually. But occasionally, I read something that sort of cuts through all the anger and depression and turns the casualty statistics into wrenching flesh-and-blood reality. A great example today: A long dispatch from Dexter Filkins of The New York Times relating the Fallujah fighting as he saw it while accompanying a Marine company through the thick of the combat. One vignette:

“More than once, death crept up and snatched a member of Bravo Company and quietly slipped away. Cpl. Nick Ziolkowski, nicknamed Ski, was a Bravo Company sniper. For hours at a stretch, Corporal Ziolkowski would sit on a rooftop, looking through the scope on his bolt-action M-40 rifle, waiting for guerrillas to step into his sights. The scope was big and wide, and Corporal Ziolkowski often took off his helmet to get a better look.

“Tall, good-looking and gregarious, Corporal Ziolkowski was one of Bravo Company’s most popular soldiers. Unlike most snipers, who learned to shoot growing up in the countryside, Corporal Ziolkowski grew up near Baltimore, unfamiliar with guns. Though Baltimore boasts no beach front, Corporal Ziolkowski’s passion was surfing; at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Bravo Company’s base, he would often organize his entire day around the tides.

‘” All I need now is a beach with some waves,’ Corporal Ziolkowski said, during a break from his sniper duties at Falluja’s Grand Mosque, where he killed three men in a single day.

“During that same break, Corporal Ziolkowski foretold his own death. The snipers, he said, were now among the most hunted of American soldiers.

“In the first battle for Falluja, in April, American snipers had been especially lethal, Corporal Ziolkowski said, and intelligence officers had warned him that this time, the snipers would be targets.

” ‘They are trying to take us out,’ Corporal Ziolkowski said.

“The bullet knocked Corporal Ziolkowski backward and onto the roof. He had been sitting there on the outskirts of the Shuhada neighborhood, an area controlled by insurgents, peering through his wide scope. He had taken his helmet off to get a better view. The bullet hit him in the head.”

[Update on June 6, 2006: While doing a little reading and surfing for a post on Iraq War photography, I came across an unpublished picture of Corporal Ziolkowski shot by photographer (and sometimes New York Times stringer) Ashley Gilbertson. The picture depicts Ziolkowski and a spotter in a setting that well could be the Grand Mosque mentioned in Filkins’s report; that’s the the position from which the corporal killed is said to have killed three enemy fighters. The link to the picture, on the Aurora Photos site:]

‘Bridges Across Chaos’

Kate and I went over to San Francisco on Wednesday night to see Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” at the American Conservatory Theater. I’ve enjoyed the few Stoppard things I’ve seen (silly stuff like “On the Razzle” or more serous stuff like “Hapgood”) because of his wordplay. “The Real Thing” is an older piece, from the early ’80s, but it was competently staged and pretty well acted. The basic plot is a struggle about commitment and faithfulness, to people and ideas, acted out between a playwright and his actress lover;/wife. That’s all I’ll say about the substance of the thing, because this is sounding like a bad college newspaper review. But the dialogue had some inspired moments. In the second act, the playwright character, Henry, gets to carry on about the difference between tangible objects — real things — and things that are just the product of how we choose to behave with each other. It’s a good moment:

“… There is, I suppose, a world of objects which have a certain form, like this coffee mug. I turn it, and it has no handle. I tilt it, and it has no cavity. But there is something real here which is always a mug with a handle. I suppose. But politics, justice, patriotism — they aren’t even like coffee mugs. There’s nothing real there separate from our perception of them. So if you try to change them as though there were something there to change, you’ll get frustrated, and frustration will finally make you violent,. If you know this and proceed with humility, you may perhaps alter people’s perceptions so that they behave a little differently at that axis of behavior where we locate politics or justice; but if you don’t know this, then you’re acting on a mistake. Prejudice is the expression of this mistake. ”

And later, he talks about the purity and power of words and the damage that’s done when they’re corrupted:

” … I can’t help somebody who thinks, or thinks he thinks, that editing a newspaper is censorship, or that throwiing bricks is a demonstration whle building tower blocks is social violence, or that an unpalatable statement is provocation while disruptng the speaker is the exercise of free speech. Words don’t deserve that kind of malarkey. They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more. … I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead. ”

Both passages touch on the moment we’re living in, in our real world, right now.

The Bile Variations

Irwin Graulich — the guy who says journalist Kevin Sites is an ally of al Qaida and Saddam for reporting on the Marine shooting in Falliujah — responded to my earlier letter. Graulich, who elsewhere describes himself as “a well known motivational speaker on morality, ethics, Judaism and politics,” promises to “kick the crap out of” Sites if he ever runs into him on the street. But compared to other online missives he’s credited with sending, he’s positively civil here:

Dear Dan

Thank you for your comments. I have seen the videotape and I stand by my article. I tried to place myself in the soldiers shoes, and knowing what had occurred with these so-called insurgents (who are actually terrorists and do not give a damn about their own lives), I would have probably shot them as well. It is frightening to go into that situation knowing these evildoers could set off a bomb hidden under their bodies or whip out an AK-47.

It is very easy for a journalist like Sites to take the situation out of context, which is what he did. I would always give the benefit of the doubt to our heroic, extremely moral military, whereas you and Sites apparently will not jump to that conclusion. That is where we differ. This is not a street fight in Brooklyn. This is an ugly war against some really bad monsters. Of course the marine was facing a life or death situation. If a branch to a tree moved, he should shoot it and ask questions later.

I know of Sites past reporting and some of it is commendable. However, this action was a very tragic and despicable error on his part and I do not want any other journalists to try to become heroes at our military’s expense. Frankly, if I ever run into Sites on the streets of Manhattan, I will personally kick the crap out of him for what he did to that marine. That is the justice I learned growing up on the streets of Brooklyn.

Remember, reporting a war in real time is in a completely different category than reporting on a political rally or factory opening. So lease do not give me this baloney about Sites honorable attempt to convey the truth. I know a ex-marine who captured a Nazi officer in the Dachau concentration camp at the end of WWII, and when the Nazi spit in his face, the soldier pulled out a revolver and shot him in the head. This was featured in a well known Steven Spielberg documentary called “The Final Days.”

Would you want to give this heroic African-American soldier who eventually became the Secretary of Education of the state of Massachusetts a trial and a prison term? Frankly, I would give him a medal, a dinner in his honor, a brand new Cadillac and a cruise to the Bahamas.

Irwin N. Graulich


Bloch Graulich Whelan Inc.

333 Park Avenue South

New York, NY 10010

S&M, Meet MSM

A tardy discovery: There’s a new dirty word for people like me who have earned their living from the filthy advertising- and subscriber-derived dollars that support newspapers, magazine, television, radio, and online news sites. It used to be we were just lowlifes, practitioners of a sordid verbal form of sado-masochism. But now we’re MSM — mainstream media — as in MSM journalist. It’s not a complimentary term. Generally it denotes the dull, the slow-witted, the lazy, the dim defenders of the status quo (often to pursue secret liberal agendas; often just to lord it over and disrespect bloggers and anyone who’s not on the inside of the MSM world).

Go ahead, try Googling something like “MSM journalists.” Fascinating.