A few good links about service, resistance, and civil disagreement — and engagement

Here are a few links today that have to do with the general area of “giving back” when you are privileged, or perhaps the “Pay It Forward” idea (like the 2000 movie).

The first is a blog post from the “Mental Health Wellness Blog” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.  Yes, this congregation certainly has more than its share of high performers, in high school and college students, and grownups.  It’s generally mainstream liberal (more or less Obama and Clinton).  Maybe some (like the Steve Bannon crowd) would see some elitism, but in the past the pastor has introduced ideas like “radical hospitality” (right before Hurricane Sandy, which did little damage here), which might arguably matter today in the immigration (refugee and asylum seeker) issue. In fact, the congregation has sponsored one refugee family (which is thoroughly pre-vetted and housed in a regular commercially rented townhouse or apartment in northern Virginia).  Some of the congregation participates in community activities like “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which do build social capital.

The blog posting title is titled “Talking Politics”.   The tone of the post presumes that most people with “real lives” (families to raise) need to focus narrowly on things and have limited interest in the abstraction of political issues that you see all the time on CNN (most of all in the age of Donald Trump).  A couple of points stood out.  One idea is to be focused on one or two issues.  I started out that way two decades ago with “gays in the military” (in the early days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”) but, partly because of background and my own approach to “retirement”, I spread out into most policy issues, concentrically, over the years, in my books and blogs.  So I’ve been breaking that rule for a long time.  The other point is in item 3, to “volunteer” and to make sure some our your work is “offline” and uses your “body” as well as your mind.  That could get dicey.  Yes, it can start with the practical issue of service, being efficient in meeting the real needs of other people as, (in the polarity speak of the Paul Rosenfels Community – formerly Ninth Street Center  — demands on “feminine subjectives” – unbalanced personalities like me., which I wound up doing dishes for their Saturday Night potlucks back in the 1970s). But it could extend to allowing your own body and its external trappings to become fungible – like the “Be Brave and Shave” fundraisers at the Westover Market in Arlington a few years ago (for cancer).

The next point is an edgy piece on the Foundation for Economic Education, by African-American columnist TJ Brown, “Fight for a More Civilized Bigotry”.  Maybe this sounds like an oxymoron. Brown talks about the  development of his own attitude toward transgender (or non-binary gender) people. But he correctly (and with writing far gentler than from people like Milo Yiannopoulos) notes that the “radical Left” demands obedience to its demands from those who have been in some privileged class.  His column fits well into the discussion of campus speech codes, as well as violent protests.  Note the recent statement from the James Madison Program at Princeton after the unrest at the appearance of libertarian Charles Murray (“The Bell Curve”, “Coming Apart”) at a campus event in New Hampshire – let alone Milo.

Then I note a Facebook posting by Jack Andraka (Stanford University sophomore, known for inventing a simple blood test for pancreatic cancer, as chronicled in his 2015 book “Breakthrough“) today,   He writes “Development is complicated and these issues don’t lend themselves to ‘silver bullets’ If you’re thinking of going into development or really any non-profit/social entrepreneurship venture read this”.  That is, an article by Courtney Martin, “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems”, here.   Now the word “development” in this context usually means “fund raising”, or it may mean going to a hardship area to serve.  The writer asks young adults particularly to think twice about the idea that going overseas is the best way to serve.  It certainly may be riskier (like Doctors Without Borders and Ebola recently – or the 2003 film “Beyond Borders” by Martin Campbell.

.The last reference for the day concerns “resistance”.  I think that the boundaries between service, activism, and resistance are getting blurred these days, which may be disorienting to many people contemplating their own actions (me, for one). The Invisible Team has published a handbook on Google Docs, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”.  First, the word “agenda” catches my attention.  For a few months in 2009-2010, the Washington Blade newspaper called itself the “DC Agenda” when its parent company folded, until it got the right to use its trademarked name as an independent paper. Anyway, the Guide refers, of course, to community organizing (in the style of Barack Obama, maybe).  There is the appropriate focus on local issues, but one point stood out, to act defensively, rather than make your own policy proposals (which I do).  It sounds like saying its OK to pimp the victimhood of members of your own marginalized group.  Say how much you’re oppressed!  That never sits well, with me at least.

I do think it is very hard to make a difference with service — beyond the political value of “paying your dues” as an answer to inequality — without belonging to a group and sharing your life in some substantial, interpersonal way with others in the group, with some sense of proprietary loyalty to those persons.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)


Blogging: niche or general, sales-oriented or amateur; under Trump it seems to be thriving better than I had expected

I’ve become somewhat a fan of “BlogTyrant” (Ramsay Taplan, in Australia) even if I can hardly follow his advice.  My own online presence evolved over time, starting back in 1996, before I self-published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, so I’ve used the blogs and platforms to support my content rather than as an income-generating tool per se.  What started with a focus on one issue (gays in the U.S. military back in the 1990s and “don’t ask don’t tell”) enlarged concentrically to covering most public issues from a libertarian perspective.

One of his more interesting posts recently was “One Multi-Topic Blog vs. Multiple Blogs (each) with a Single Topic” (link).

I have twenty blogs right now, sixteen on Blogger and four on WordPress (chart).  I won’t go into detail right here over how these evolved (the first of these was set up in January 2006) from flat sites, but they are “journalistic” in intent — commentary, but not “sales oriented”.  I can say from a practical viewpoint, it’s easier to get some focus on a critical issue if the blog it is on is smaller and gets updated maybe about twice a week with new posts (that seems about right for getting immediate hits).

What I do agree with Ramsay on is that most “small business” or “individual” or “amateur” blogs that actually make money are single-topic or niche-oriented. (His own original niche was physical fitness.)

It would sound hard to make a living just blogging alone – although, judging from the Adsense and Blogger support forums, many people say that they do (especially overseas).  In fact, one problem that would happen on Blogger in the past (especially around 2008) would that people’s blogs would suddenly get removed as spam blogs (wrongfully).  This sounds less likely for blogs that are equated to purchased domain names (although you can’t get https yet on custom Blogger domains, largely because of the way SSL technology is tied to domain names).

It’s well to note also that Blogger and WordPress work differently in one main area.  With WordPress, you can purchase a shared hosting plan from one of many provides (Utah-based Bluehost in particularly “specialized” in working with Automattic, which owns WordPress), where copies of WordPress and various plugins are installed on your site.  That isn’t possible with Blogger (or other packages like Tumblr) as far as I know.  WordPress is a “higher end” product with more capabilities and tends to load slower and sometimes have some security vulnerabilities and instabilities (which are being worked on vigorously in recent releases).   Blogger is “simpler” and faster to use, but has less support (only the forums) – but it has been amazingly stable over the years, with only one day-long outage in May 2011. I say simpler – the dreaded “bx” codes aren’t very transparent (but in practice a lot of them just result from bad Internet connections).

WordPress hosts are working on providing “https everywhere.”  The general idea is that all accounts need to be subdomains of one account.

Let’s move back to the subject – niche blogging.  It works best for someone who already has a business that would be successful in the “real world” (of Shark Tank, so to speak).  Most successful small businesses (outside of branded retail franchises) meet relatively specific and narrow needs and interests, so Ramsay’s ideas of email lists will work (and will get around consumer squeamishness about spam and malware).  These are businesses and supporting blogs that are “for” some base of consumers or clients or stakeholders with narrow, specific needs or concerns.  In a sense, they are “partisan”, and they may need to admit to some hucksterism, or at least overt salesmanship.

I can think of a good niche not far from me.  I do play in USCF-rated chess tournaments.  If I were better at it, let’s say, playing at the International Master level (by FIDE) I could easily envision setting up a blog with opening analysis and endgames.  It would draw a large hits and make advertising money  easily. World Champion  Magnus Carlsen has a news site (here) and is quite likeable, but I don’t see an openings analysis blog.  (Actually, his playing style is to use unbooked openings like an early d3 in the Ruy Lopez and simply outplay his opponent – I guess if he had an openings blog, he could give away his competitive plans for future battles!  But he could still do a blog on endgames.)

But I can imagine, for example, a blog where the chess player refutes a line in a published opening book (which is static).  Here’s an example of what such a post could be like.

Of course, artists and authors can have their own blogs (that is, like I have 20, and “give too much away).  Libertarian author Mary Ruwart (the “Healing Our World” series) has a nice blog here.  But generally authors need to build up some reputation just for “selling books” (at least on Kindle, and preferably in the physical world) before their blogs are likely to have a lot of visitors.

But one area that musicians and authors can explore is education – bringing music and literature into the classroom for underprivileged kids.  Music education goes along well with improving mathematics skills.

It’s well to note how successful some mommy blogs have been — most of all, Heather Armstrong’s, which she launched in 2002 after she was “dooced” (fired) for what she had said online about her job. (Heather has trademarked her wordmark, for what has become an accepted English language verb.  Subsequent “imitation” mommy blogs by others have come under criticism for being “made up” to please readers and get easier ad revenue.)  In the 2000-2006 period, you heard a lot about the potential of employers needing “blogging policies”, which morphed into a whole industry protecting online reputation.  One subtle problem was that in the early days, search engines tended to index simpler sites (like mine), meaning that someone like me could develop a reputation as dangerous to be associated with, because he could talk about you later out of “journalistic” (or “alien anthropologist” motives) — hence we get to an evolution of the idea of “no spectators” (like in the film “Rebirth“).  Everyone must belong somewhere.

I wanted to note well my previous concern for “citizen journalism” under Donald Trump (Nov. 7). Donald Trump, as we know, continues his Twitter storms (his latest tweet was about noon Monday, today), quite inconsistent with his threats in December 2015 to “shut down” frivolous parts of the Internet.  He seems to trust amateur bloggers (or the “Fifth Estate”), including me, much more than he accepts the established press.  This is not the same as what happens in Russia and China, where “amateur” dissidents are pursued as if by chemotherapy.

(Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)