The 11th hour of the 11th Day …

Today is Armistice Day.  It’s still celebrated in one manner or the other around the world, mostly, unsurprisiww123ngly, by the countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, last vestiges of the British Empire that they are.

Dwight Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day in 1954, though it took decades to sort it out (On the 11th? On the Monday closest? What about the 27 states that already had Armistice Day in their holiday playbook?).

 

Eisenhower noted that The War to End All Wars hadn’t and Armistice Day had taken on a different meaning,

“… Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …”

I used to think that we should still observe Armistice Day while reserving another day solely for veterans. I don’t anymore. I think World War I should be remembered and studied and taught, especially in the United States, certainly more than the whole “the U.S. mobilized, people sang Over There, and we ended the war. ”

Armistice Day should still get a curt nod, a few words, just to acknowledgement that it was one of history’s great ‘everything can change if we rise to the task’ moments and the collective we of the world blew it.

That said, Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day, Anzac Day, National Day of Independence, Volkstrauertag, whatever countries call their observation of the end of The Great War, everyone would do well to read one of the poems written in the trenches of the Western Front and at the very least, make the promise that Siegfried Sassoon demanded and never forget:

HAVE you forgotten yet? …
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow

Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same — and War’s a bloody game. …
Have you forgotten yet? …
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.fb5b-f722-4945-9b00-6b5830735396
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets.
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Mask of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

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This Week in SEO (and the real world)

I promise this has some relevance to the rest of the piece, though I won’t vouch for exactly how much. Way back in 1976, Dustin Hoffman prepared for his iconic “is it safe” scene in Marathon Man with Laurence Olivier by staying up for 72 hours. Apparently, Hoffman looked like hell on the set – unshaven, shaky, dozing off – so much so that Sir Laurence not only noticed, he felt compelled to ask Dustin what was up.

015-marathon-man-theredlistHoffman explained his theory of method acting to one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Who listened politely, nodded, paused for a moment, and said, “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”

Which brings me to my topic.

So, this happened over the last ten days. I got an email from a client asking for some help with ‘new pages’ for her web site. The people running her site suddenly saw a desperate need to ‘optimize’ a separate page for each of her services. They sent along nine pages of SEO ‘gold’ to drive her to the top of the search rankings.

The only problem was that the content was unreadable. Seriously. It completely belied the intelligence, wit, and fun easily found across her social media. She knew it, asked me to edit the pages. I did, it wasn’t fun, it was like trying to breath life into a Cuisinart manual.

But, we got it done, returned it … and the web people tore it back down into some tidy, nonsensical key words with a few adjectives and un-associated verbs tossed here and there to give the appearance of recognizable speech.   Or, so I’m told, I was spared the sight of it – my client fired the web people.

I barely had time to launch into my well practiced, “I get this SEO thing, I really do … but I also know that every lawyer’s web person is using the same SEO strategies  … which really means using the same words, over and over again .. and even if you magically soar to the top of the charts, crappy writing inspires no one and …. (it gets worse)” rant when a client texted.

Actually, he texted about four times while I was finishing a run on the side of a text-free mountain. “Where are you, man?” was the last one. I was reading it when the phone rang. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘my first blogging emergency.’

It was no emergency, but it was urgent. A very well known reporter for the Washington Post had just left a message for him – turns out she had been following him on Facebook since February.  She wanted to talk, he wanted to run a few things by me first.

We talked, I drove home, he called me back a hour later – long story short, she’d like to check in with him on stories, he can call her with things he thinks may be newsworthy.  I told him, we’ll find something. Soon.

The thing is, my client’s Facebook page – with blog postings, of course, and quick videos – is a non-SEO glimpse into the soul of his firm. Really. Everything we post is a mini-story. Articles with captions that mean something. Put them all together over a few months and they tell a bigger story. That’s something that SEO can’t do.

So, to the SEO folks: “My dear boy, why don’t you just try writing?”

Which brings me to part two. The writing. People out there in Internet-land are using ‘readability’ scales to produce web content that will produce … well, whatever it is they think will happen through the magic of Google’s algorithms.

I briefly (very briefly) had a client last year who demanded that I conform to the Yoast (I think it was Yoast, I have tried to sear the experience from my mind) SEO Readability scale.

The readability scale is just what it sounds like – you type, it rates the content and, supposedly, tells you when it’s readable. It looks like this:

jack and jiilll.JPG

This is it evaluating Jack and Jill. As in ‘Jack and Jill go up the hill.’ Mother Goose doesn’t quite make it, she gets a yellow light. Which is somewhat frightening, if you think about it.

No matter what I did, no matter what style I adapted, no matter how much I dumbed down content, no matter how simple I wrote, I could not get a green light. Which the client insisted on.

I thought it was stupid and knew I couldn’t be anyway nearly as creative as I’m supposed to be while worrying about a readability and a SEO green light on a single post.

So, I gracefully resigned. But, the damned readability thing kept bothering me. I’m not only confident that I write well, I’m confident that I write well in a variety of styles. I’ve won a Bob Dylan songwriting contest (“Cut myself shaving last night, there wasn’t any toilet paper in sight, gave me quite a fright…..”); an ‘imitate Hemingway ‘competition (Yes. I know. It’s easy in all the right places); have nailed Raymond Carver in a legal brief; can do stream of consciousness unconsciously.

But, I couldn’t pull down the coveted Yoast Readibilty Green Light.

Which got me thinking, ‘Who could?’

Who indeed? I went back to the damnable rating system and began to check out some of my favorite authors … of all time. Here’s how they did:

things have changed

Our newest Nobel Laureate flunks. Bob Dylan has all kinds of problems.

hemingway

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises … not so great. Apparently.

alice

Somehow Alice in Wonderland getting a red light fits, at least down the rabbit hole.

dickens

Charles Dickens, with one of the worst ratings. (Tale of Two Cities).

huckfinn

It breaks my heart that Huck Finn gets a yellow.

king

Is it me or does Stephen King’s red light seem redder than the others?

yeats

William Butler Yeats gets very close to scoring the terrible beauty of green.

mobydick

Yoast treats Moby Dick the same way readers in the 1850’s did.

pynchon

Whoa, a green light! Who scored it? Thomas Pynchon, the famously dense, complex novelist who frequently invents words. I used a couple of paragraphs from Gravity’s Rainbow. That is well-known as the book with the greatest opening line (A screaming comes across the sky) that no one has finished.

My spiel about optimizing content and programs rating the readability of pieces ends with the revelation that the writer Yoast thinks is the easiest to read is in fact the densest living writer in print.

I can only hope that the technology for self-driving cars is a whole lot better than this crap. ‘Cause that could get really messy.

No, Virginia, There’s No Such Thing as President’s Day

washYup, there’s no such holiday as President’s Day – at least officially. It’s just Congress’ way of making Washington’s birthday fit a three day weekend.(Really – see Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code).

Washington’s birthday was a major holiday in the U.S. long before the Civil War, it was formalized as a Federal holiday in the 1880’s, it took an act of Congress in the late 1960’s to muddle the waters.

There was a push to move holidays to the Monday schedule we now enjoy. Given the proximity of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Illinois tried to roll Lincoln’s Birthday into the already celebrated Washington’s Birthday Federal Holiday.

Since this new holiday, giving us all a three day weekend in the middle of February, would celebrate two prominent former presidents, it was naturally enough labeled ‘President’s Day’.

Who would argue with a day devoted to Washington and Lincoln? Well, Virginia in the mid-1960s for one. The late unpleasantness between the States was only a hundred years passe and Virginia didn’t like the idea of a usurper from Illinois sharing the spotlight with its most visible son. Virginia blocked the proposed bill in the House of Representatives in the discussion stage. It never passed.

The third Monday of February was designated Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday remains as it was – a state by state optional holiday. It has never been a Federal holiday.

Interestingly, Presidents since the 1968 Act don’t seem in a hurry to correct those who refer to President’s Day, opting instead to embrace the all inclusive, let’s celebrate all the Presidents Day. As in, it’s a day celebrating all 44 of us (or does Grover Cleveland get to celebrate twice?), because, hey, all President’s are created equal.

It has become the equivalent of ‘every kid gets a trophy’ – except most kids deserve it. Take, for instance:

warreng

Warren G. Harding, he gets a trophy even though he wandered around behind the bench picking daisies while the others played;

whenryh

William H. Harrison, he only showed up for two practices and one game, but he wanted to be there;

john_tyler

John Tyler …. even though after election he was the other team’s most valuable player . . .

Could do this all day…. but that would be a waste of a nice, sunny, Washington’s Birthday . . .

The Eleventh Minute

Perhaps if we take  a moment to remember that today is Veterans-Armistice-Remembrance Day and that at eleven past eleven this morning, 1918 The War to End All Wars ended; and then take another moment to read Siegfried  Sassoon’s poem – written in the trenches – we could begin to start not needing to make new veterans.

HAVE you forgotten yet? …
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow

Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same — and War’s a bloody game. …
Have you forgotten yet? …
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets.
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Mask of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

A Letter to Gettysburg …

Dear Judge Harvey:

Unlike certain other visitors to your town, I know when to give up.

Gettysburg Hotel Interior and Exterior PhotosI paid for my parking space for the date in question, as the enclosed receipt clearly shows. I was in town so my son could visit Gettysburg College, we stayed at the Gettysburg Hotel. I paid for parking late in the evening, the ticket says it was good for 24 hours, I retrieved the car just over 12 hours after parking, I never moved it during the night.

I returned the original ticket with an explanation and the original receipt to your parking authority. A few weeks later I received a summons. Believing (forlornly hoping is more accurate) that everything crossed in the mail, I ignored the summons.

I received a second summons earlier this week. I note that to plead not guilty will cost me $58.00 and I would be required at some point to drive the five and one half hours down to Gettysburg to appear in your court and pleasantly point all this out in person.

While I love Gettysburg and would really love to have someone acknowledge that fact that I Landscapedid indeed do exactly what the hotel told me to do in paying for parking and “whatever you do, don’t move the car before you leave” that’s too much of a time commitment to save $12.00.

I am not pleading guilty, because (a) it’s over a $10 parking ticket; (b) I’m not. However, while I feel I have been ‘Dan Sicklesed’, I’m sure my $70.64 would do some good for a great town, so please accept my payment.

Best Regards

The Bert Bell Bowl and the VP Debate

instant-replay-green-bay-diary-jerry-kramer-hardcover-cover-art-1One of the seminal books of my child hood – right up to 1971 and Ball Four– was Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay. Jerry Kramer was an all-star guard on the great Green Bay Packer teams of the ’60’s. On the many occasions that golden-boy Paul Hornung was injured or suspended for gambling, Kramer also kicked field goals.

Kramer played every season of Vince Lombardi’s run with the Packers. He wrote Instant Replay in 1968, it ends with the Ice Bowl game against Dallas, Kramer’s the guy who made the block that allowed Bart Starr score the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the wind chill at the time was -56.

Kramer’s description of the Ice Bowl is riveting … well, especially to a pre-teen who got to see maybe one NFL game every other week before the playoffs. What really struck me about the book though, was Kramer’s description of life in the game. He didn’t hold back – for a mainstream book in 1968, I suppose – in describing his injuries, some really gruesome, or Lombardi’s brand of intensity and sometimes nastiness, though even then, I realized it was the kind of nastiness a coach can get away with when the iplayer knows the guy really cares about him.

Kramer didn’t flinch from the brutality of the game, this might account for the fact he’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team not in the Hall of Fame. He also didn’t hold back from describing some of the more ridiculous aspects of the NFL.

One such inanity was the Playoff Bowl. Between 1961 through 1970 the division championship game losers met in the Orange Bowl to decide who would finish 3rd.The game was, unsurprisingly, loathed by the players – except when they got to play the perennial runner-up Dallas Cowboys, they were that hated by the rest of the league.

The game really didn’t have an official name, Third Place Bowl was too depressing, Playoff Bowl wasn’t used because, logically enough, the teams playing it were, in fact, already out of the playoffs. Some referred to it as the Bert Bell Bowl, after the former commissioner of the NFL. Lombardi called it the Shit Bowl.

playoffbowl-e1450633792223Kramer didn’t skimp on describing one of the Packers two ventures into the Shit Bowl. He skipped their win in 1963 but vividly described their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (ask your grandfather) in 1964. Well, vivid to a ten-year old – Kramer described the huddle as reeking with stale alcohol and staler vomit.  Players were either hung over or still somewhat drunk, no one cared, least of all Lombardi who just wanted out of Miami (he said it was a “hinky­dink football game, held in a hinky­dink town, played by hinky­dink players.”)

Naturally, I thought of the Kramer and his description of the Shit Bowl when my youngest asked me if I was going to watch the Vice Presidential Debate. I don’t know if I ever saw a Playoff Bowl game, but I did see the Bentsen-Quayle ‘debate’ and experienced the Jack Kennedy moment first hand. I was in a bar in Manhattan after rugby practice, the place erupted. And that was it. Everyone remembers that 20 seconds and nothing else. The exchange effected the election as much as the Playoff Bowl effected the NFL Championship game – not at all.

images-1The Playoff Bowl occurred in what’s considered almost the primitive days of the NFL. The Bentsen-Quayle debate occured in the primitive days of cable TV news. The news wasn’t really a 24/7 thing then, many people first read about the debate in newspapers.

Mostly, though, no one had been subjected to weeks of appearances by campaign ‘surrogates’ on news shows hour after hour after hour to regurgitate and spin and regurgitate the spin for their bosses.

The VP debate isn’t a debate between two governors, it’s a debate between two more surrogates. We have as much chance hearing something different, or hearing their own opinions on anything, as the winner of the Playoff Bowl did being invited to play the NFL champs.

And, barring an otherwise memorable but ultimately impotent soundbite, VP Debate’s share the fate of the ten years of Playoff Bowl games – the NFL erased them from history years ago. That’s right, according to the NFL, they never happened. The outcomes, stats, everything, no longer officially exist.

So instead of wasting ninety minutes of my life with Hillary/Trump stand-ins I’m going to catch dial up a movie from the late ’60s. Maybe something with a Dandy Don Meredith cameo.

 

Just In . . .

The Trump campaign announced that hot on the heels of Jerry Falwell’s endorsement in today’s Washington Post (favorably comparing Donald J. Trump with Winston Churchill) comes another major endorsement: Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr.

little-carmine-lupertazzi-1024The DVD movie mogul released a statement this morning reading, in part: “This country is on the precipice of an enormous crossroads . . . we are, as a nation, in a stagmire. We need Donald J. Trump. . . He’s an old-fashioned kind of guy – very allegorical, with a grasp of the sacred and the propane . . . Donald J. Trump will guide our military to previously unheard of heights because he knows, better than most, that a pint of blood is worth more than a gallon of milk. But, if the time comes when military action is needed, Donald will not hesitate because he understands that historically historical changes come about because of war . . .

. . . Trump will be a more effective leader than Clinton, even more so until he is elected but until he is it will be hard to verify that he will be as effective as I am sure he will be.”