“I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum security prison. When I escaped from that prison, over the front wall, between two gun towers, I became my country’s most wanted man. Luck ran with me and flew with me to India, where I joined the Bombay mafia. I worked as a gunrunner, a smuggler, and a counterfeiter. I was chained on three continents, beaten, stabbed and starved. I went to war. I ran into the enemy guns. And I survived, while other men around me died. They were better men than I am, most of them; better men whose lives were crunched up in mistakes, and thrown away by the wrong second of someone else’s hate, or love, or indifference. And I buried them, too many of those men, and grieved their stories and their lives into my own.”

Some books are like an exquisite meal, meant for indulgence and slow enjoyment.  Shantaram is one of those – written by Gregory David Roberts, the book tells the story of his escape from a New Zealand prison, his subsequent arrival in Mumbai, a visit to village India, and his life in the Middle Asian underworld.  Although some of the events are based on the author’s life, it is technically classified as fiction since he merged different events and characters for narrative flow.

My favorite books are the ones that immediately draw you into their world and make you care about the characters, and this one accomplishes that marvelously.  A few more choice quotes:

“The past reflects eternally between two mirrors -the bright mirror of words and deeds, and the dark one, full of things we didn’t do or say”

“Astounding and puzzling images from the city tumbled and turned in my mind like leaves on a wave of wind, and my blood so thrilled with hope and possibility that I couldn’t suppress a smile, lying there in the dark…In that moment, in those shadows, I was almost safe”

This book makes me want to jump on a plane to Mumbai and embrace the chaos and energy of the city myself.  Highly recommend it.


Hi Freelance Switchers!

July 14, 2008

Hi FreelanceSwitch readers! 

For those of you who came here from another source, check out my post on FreelanceSwitch: Freelancers: It’s Not About You.

Viva La Furia Roja!

July 1, 2008

As every futbol fan already knows, Spain took the Euro trophy yesterday, ending a long dry spell of international victories for la Furia Roja.

In other news, Sergio Ramos was one class act during the celebration.

I’ve written about Chris Guillebeau before, and he recently emailed me about his new ebook/manifesto with a textbook example of how marketing types/people with something to promote should approach bloggers (but of course he gets it, he has a blog of his own).

It is called A Brief Guide to World Domination: How to Live a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World *and other Modest Goals.

First of all, with a title like that, how could you not be interested?  More seriously, it is a great and inspiring read, especially if you’ve been in a rut lately.  I agree with much of his philosophy and ideas as well – I’d write more about them, but really, you owe it to yourself to go read it.  Moreover, it is beautifully designed and laid out (and only 29 pages) – perfect for a break from work or a nice literary nightcap.  So go check it out!

Color Me Surprised

June 18, 2008

I’ll admit that when I first heard about Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop*, I thought it was kind of…well, useless would probably be the most accurate word.  However, lately I’ve found it to be amazingly useful for several blogging/marketing projects – it is a great and quick way to get an overview of all the best and most relevant blogs for each topic.

*Alltop is an aggregator that collects posts from “all the top” sites on the web for a variety of topics, and they keep adding new ones.

There is an awesome article about travel by Kelly Westhoff in today’s Huffington Post – here’s a choice quote:

“When I land in a foreign city, suddenly, every ounce of my being is alert. Talking is a challenge. Flushing the toilet is an adventure. Buying a package of gum can become a 30-minute ordeal in which I must pay total attention. Foreign travel is a full-body workout, and I love the rush. It makes me feel bold. It makes me feel smart. It makes me feel like I’m finally pooling all my schooling and talents and skills into a concentrated, combined effort, that I am being–to steal a line from the army–the very best I can be, and I can’t help but think it pleases the divine to see me living in the moment and not zoning on the couch.”

You should go read the rest now.  Kelly also writes for Global Roam Ink, a site that promotes an interest in travel as an educational experience – it is aimed at teachers (there are lesson plans and such), but I think it appeals to anyone who loves to travel and read about others’ adventures.

Sometimes you come across lessons or tips in the least likely places.  For instance, check out this scene (here is the video clip) from the 2007 film American Gangster:

Frank Lucas: What is that you got on?
Huey Lucas: What? This?
Frank Lucas: Yeah, that.
Huey Lucas: This is a very, very, very nice suit.
Frank Lucas: That’s a very, very, very nice suit, huh?
Huey Lucas: Yeah.
Frank Lucas: That’s a clown suit. That’s a costume, with a big sign on it that says “Arrest me”. You understand? You’re too loud, you’re making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.

So how is this related to marketing? 

For those who haven’t seen the movie, Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington) is the mastermind of a massive heroin-dealing operation – he is smart and a self-made man, albeit one that deals mostly in illegal activities (kids, don’t do drugs).  Anyways, during most of the film his style is subdued and quietly confident, nothing flashy or blingy.  He had a certain elegant power and he did not need to be the center of attention.  And his downfall begins when he forgets his own advice and wears a showstopping chinchilla coat and sits ringside at a fight, and therefore catches the eye of law enforcement, and it all goes downhill from there. 

Of course, part of the reason that Frank Lucas didn’t want to draw attention to himself is because he was doing things that were illegal; also, his product was the sort that sells itself.  But when he says that “the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room”, well, he has a point.  The product that has the most gimmicks or the person that is always trying to “network” and to brand him/herself and generally makes it all about them – the loudest ones in the room – are usually the least useful (the gimmicky product) or come across as pushy or desperate (not exactly attractive qualities). 

Obviously this doesn’t mean that all marketing or promotion is bad, or that you should rarely speak, but rather that there is a lot of power in simply having a superior product, a better price, or an impressive skill set (Frank Lucas’s product, “Blue Magic”, was both stronger and cheaper than the heroin currently on the market).  Granted, heroin is dangerous and addictive and such, but the concept can be applied in a positive fashion. 

There is a lot of noise out there about advertising, branding, marketing, search engine optimization (as well as a lot of sites that are basically well-optimized ad-stuffed crap) and other forms of promotion – some of it is valuable and a lot of it is bullshit.  The good advice tends to focus on adding value and telling people how you can improve their lives in some way; the bad advice tends to focus on simply getting attention.  Well, the loudest or flashiest person in the room gets attention too – but if it is not positive, then what is the point?

This article – Pax Corelone – by John C. Hulsman in The National Interest is kind of awesome.  He looks at the American presidential race through the lens of the The Godfather.  According to him, the U.S. is currently in the position that the Corleone family was when Vito Corleone died (he is representative of America’s post-Cold War hegemony) – after all, the attack from the Sollozo family that led to his death was sudden and seemingly out of the blue (being too secure in ones position can be dangerous). 

So what happens now?  In the Godfather, the Corleone heirs had three potential strategies – Tom, the family’s lawyer who had a diplomatic, “let’s talk it out” outlook that is similar in philosophy to the modern Democratic party, Sonny, the hothead eldest son who favored a “shoot first, ask questions later” response to the Sollozo threat (hmm, which party/politicians share that mindset?), and Michael Corleone, who eventually saves the family thanks to his ability to adapt to the new multipolar world.  He was a realist.

“Viewing the world through untinted lenses, he sees that the age of dominance the family enjoyed for so long under his father is ending. Alone among the three brothers, Michael senses that a shift is underway toward a more diffuse power arrangement, in which multiple power centers will jockey for position and influence. To survive and succeed in this new environment, Michael knows the family will have to adapt.”

At the end of the piece Hulsman asks the key question – is there a Michael Corleone in the race?

“Can any of the candidates vying to become the next president of the United States match Michael’s cool, dispassionate courage in the face of epochal change? Will they avoid living in the comforting embrace of the past, from which both Tom and Sonny ultimately could not escape? Or will they emulate Michael’s flexibility—to preserve America’s position in a dangerous world?”

That’s the gist of it, but you should really go read the whole article, because it is excellent.