All in Emotion

Fiction can guide us to truths about many things including politics, politicians and messaging.

This from the recent Michael Thomas novel Man Gone Down (page 108) . .

Why is it that those least equipped to speak, speak -- the most, the loudest, in sound bites, reductive, in attempts to name and dichotomize, to clarify with words that are general and misused, with phrases that are hackneyed?

Words to remember the next time you listen to a political speech.

The New York Times business section today (which I never have the chance to peruse in my Canadian home city -- excpet on Sunday -- but read over breakfast this morning since I am in Houston on business) has two front page stories on blogging which raise the value of authenticity in social media and the potentially terrible consequences of anonymous reputation bashing.

After a couple of high profile, and from a reputation perspective, damaging missteps in social media marketing, Wal-Mart seems to have got it right with its new Check Out corporate blog. Written by a group of Wal-Mart employees, primarily technology and entertainment buyers, the basic difference is that the new voice is authentic. Today's post by "Alex" is simple, friendly and in no way related to sales or overt corporate positioning. Nice.

More disturbing is an article about the suicide of advertising executive Paul Tilley who had apparently been the subject of some nasty personal attacks in a couple of "sharp-tongued" blogs (AgencySpy and AdScam). Slagging personal reputations online is not new. And it is not evident that such slagging in this case triggered this unfortunate death. What is troubling is that according to the article some of the offensive posts were anonymous as were some of the attendant comments.

It may be true as the writer of one of the offending AgencySpy pieces (who remains anonymous) that "This new medium has different rules and that may include the scope of who and who isn't in the public eye." But if you are going to slag someone, reveal yourself.

Fifty-two years ago my parents brought my brother and I to Canada and it has been my home ever since. Having only been back to Tyneside (Newcastle, Newbiggin, Ashington area) twice in the last fifty years, I should hardly think of it as "home" of any sort. Yet everything here feels familiar, understandable, close. The people -- except for the young toughs recognizable by their shaven heads, football jerseys and loud manner -- are friendly and warm. Staff at the hotel's reception desk have been unfailingly helpful, providing an extension cord for me in ten minutes, sending a repair person to fix a phone within five. The old woman who served me breakfast in a local restaurant was so kind, in a way you just don't find in Toronto (or New York I suspect). When I told her I couldn't eat bread (Celiac's Disease) she offered me extra egg and a double order of bacon at no extra charge. (The food itself was horrid in the way only an English breakfast can be . . . three fried eggs and a mound of bacon all floating on a soup of tinned tomatoes and canned beans.) Even young women smile at you on the street in greeting. Although there are two universities in Newcastle -- Northumbria and Newcastle -- this still seems a working class city. Older men are in large measure squat, heavy set and gruff looking. It's not hard to imagine them as the decendants of coal miners, labourers and farmers. Young people here don't dress with the same elan as their counterparts in Paris or Toronto. Frankly, there is something cheap about their appearance. Too tarty. Too haphazard. Today many young men and woman are dressed in Newcastle United gear . . . football jerseys, and track suits and t-shirts bearing the name Northern Rock -- the local bank and sponsor of the "Toon" as the team is called -- under Newcastle United logos. (By the way there is a branch of the Newcastle United fan club in New York called Toon Army NYC.) Then again it is match day . . . and that is where I am heading now as soon as I pick up a doppio espresso at the local Starbucks. Yes, there are a couple in Newcastle.
In advance of some meetings in London, I am taking a long weekend to visit the north of England where I was born in this tiny town on the sea about twenty minutes north of Newcastle towards the Scottish border.

In addition to visitng the town and dropping in on relatives I haven't seen in 32 years, I've booked a ticket to a Newcastle United football match on Saturday night. Should be a blast.

Since people in the Newcastle area speak a particular dialect of English called Geordie I may need some help interpreting the football songs, although perhaps that becomes moot after a couple of beverages. When I emigrated to Canada as a kid, I remember being made fun of for calling my mother "me Mam", a typical Geordie construction.

Frankly, I am not sure what to expect about how I will feel going back. The male members of my family, including my father who died shortly after my last visit, were all coal miners. The women as tough as they come. My father and mother emigrated to Canada so that my brother and I could avoid working in the mines. For that, I will always be grateful. Yet, I still feel connected with the people, the mines, the football, the language . . . maybe not the food.

We'll see.

I found this quote from an essay by Marcel Proust in Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life.

"The reason why life may be judged to be trivial although at certain moments it seems to us so beautiful is that we form our judgement, ordinarily, not on the evidence of life itself but of those quite different images which preserve nothing of life - and therefore we judge it disparagingly."

The images we are confronted with today "preserve nothing of life." I want to exchange ideas directly about the evidence of life; ideas about intelligent films, good wine, challenging theater and, of course, books that make a difference.

Let's start.