Gaining Followers

So I recently finish reading two books about blogging: Branding for Bloggers: Tips to Grow Your Online Audience and Maximize Your Income (2013, Allworth Press) by Zach Heller and Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time (2013, McGraw Hill) by Mark Schaefer and Stanford Smith. I suppose the first question you could ask is why am I reading such old books? The answer is because they have been sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to read them since I first got the idea to produce this blog.

They both reinforce what I have read in other books and provided a few useful tools. They are both fine books; but, like other marketing books they give me good ideas without giving me what I need to incorporate those ideas. I guess the best example of this is the ubiquitous advice about finding your audience. Part of this is my fault: I have read books that explain the steps you can take to define your target audience, but it has always seemed like more effort than it was worth considering the scale of my work.

I know my wife would read my blog. My mother too, probably. My sister might, but she would tell me she did in any case and quickly move on to the next subject. My dad, definitely not! My daughters and nieces might read it if they are not busy doing something else. Right there, I have a built-in audience of 2 with another 5 or 6 possibles. This does not seem to be the way to earn a living writing a blog; it might be just as effective to forego writing altogether and sleep on their couches.

WordPress says that this blog currently has 29 followers. I have been looking into these followers lately as I am trying to get serious about writing and blogging. Some are them are still chugging along, writing on blogs of their own. Some gave up years ago. Given the amount of feedback I have received it seems like people stumble across your blog and if they read a half-way decent post they follow you in hopes of a quid pro quo. This is an observation, not a complaint; there is no need for anyone to be upset.

Thus far, I have been very sporadic about postings (52 posts since the first on November 10, 2012, an average 7.43 post a year or 1.6 posts a month). I have read, and been told by social media experts, that posting new content each day will rapidly grow your audience. I am working on that at the moment, and I am quite interested to see how long I will keep it up.

The Battle of the Backyard

It Begins With an Escape

This morning as Reyna (my wife) and I walked out the door to drive to work we saw our dogs, Jasper and Ginger, playing in the front yard. It took a few seconds for me to process what was wrong with that picture. I do not usually see my dogs in the front yard. Then I got it; it meant that they had escaped from the back yard.

The dogs did not take as long to process what was going on; they ran off in opposite directions when they saw us walk out the front door. We dutifully got in our cars to chase them down. Though they initially ran off in different directions, Ginger, thankfully, changed course and ran after Jasper. I was able to quickly overtake them in my truck, When I reached them I opened the camper shell and the gate and both dogs quickly jumped into the bed of the truck.

I got them home and took them into the house. I did a quick reconnaissance of the back yard and found the weakness they were able to exploit to escape the back yard. I recently moved their kennel a few feet; this had the effect of leaving a small stretch of unreinforced fence they were able to dig under. Reyna and I quickly moved some barriers (trashcan, assorted bricks, and some plastic milk crates filled with gravel) to keep them from getting out that way again.

They have not gotten out in quite a long time; years. This is because I have been practicing defensive landscaping techniques since we have acquired Jasper. We got Jasper on February 21, 2015 when he was a 3-month old puppy. He went to obedience training (he still retains the ability to sit on command, though staying is still not within his power, and he is especially good at sitting if he thinks a treat is involved). He quickly became comfortable spending his days in the backyard while my wife and I were at work. It was at this point that I began to realize that the backyard garden was about to become Jasper’s domain.

The Battle Begins

I noticed when I came home from work and fed Jasper his evening meal his body language changed immediately. I sometimes would observe him before letting him know I was home. He seemed to be depressed before he realized I was there. When I came out his expressions changed and he would run to me tail wagging.

I was happy to see him too, but sometimes that would change when I realized he had been hard at work destroying my yard. Plants, yard decorations, wooden furniture all seemed equally edible to him. He chewed his doghouse to pieces. After a month or two of this I decided that I needed to limit his access to parts of the yard.

I built a fence and gate to formally separate the yard. The part of the yard closest to the house belonged to Jasper; Reyna dubbed this The Dog Yard. This left a nice chunk of yard at the rear of the property safe from any canine vandalism; ironically Reyna dubbed this  Jasper’s Gardens.

Soon thereafter Jasper made the acquaintance of a stray who taught Jasper how to dig. Jasper thereafter dug himself out of the yard on a number of occasions. I would get occasional calls from neighbors who had captured him and I would dutifully leave work to pick him up.

My next great effort in the yard was to lay paving stones around the perimeter of the entire yard, both The Dog Yard and Jasper’s Gardens, to discourage any new digging. This stopped Jasper from escaping.

In December 2015, right after Christmas, Reyna saw a Facebook post wherein someone was looking for a home for a stray puppy. This puppy had somehow made its way from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and became part of our family. Ginger is a mutt of indeterminate origin; all we know for sure is that she came from Bakersfield.

Jasper’s reaction to Ginger was immediate. He did the best he could to care for her: he made sure she ate before he did, he would come running to Reyna and me whenever she cried, and he followed her around the yard to make sure she did not come to any trouble. That was his initial reaction; he has since gotten jealous of the attention she gets. They also bicker and fight like any human siblings might.

Escalation

Ginger is a natural digger. Ginger is also a lot smaller than Jasper; she weighs about 40 pounds to his 90. She constantly found weaknesses in my paving stone digging shield. She was eventually able to dig a hole large enough for both of them to escape the yard. I strengthened the paving stone shield, filling in the gaps in the system and adding extra pavers at the most vulnerable points.

Then Jasper learned he could chew through the wooden fence that surrounds our yard. Another escape. I fixed the fence and screwed metal chicken wire fencing to our wooden fence to mitigate another escape of this kind. Not very attractive, but effective.

The dogs learned to open the gate that keeps them out of the Jasper’s Gardens. Jasper can reach the gate latch and learned how to open the gate. I added a rope to make sure the Jasper could not push open the gate. Ginger then learned how to squeeze through the lower half of the gate. Now there is a bungee cord attached to the gate that doesn’t allow it to open wide enough to let either of them through.

Lessons Learned

The battle of the backyard is never ending. The dogs will find another way to cause me some consternation. It is inevitable. A pair of dogs sitting in a backyard for 10 or 11 hours a day can get bored.

My dogs are endlessly energetic. They seek to avoid boredom. They respond to only a limited set of stimuli. They never concede or compromise. They are not amenable to logic or reason. I am sure this describes most, if not all, other dogs as well. I have read articles that advised against anthomorphizing pets, but I found this impossible because interactions between living creatures are complex. If animal behavior was simple enough to explain there would be no animal behaviorist admonishing me not to ascribe feelings and emotions to my dogs. They have distinct personalities and reactions. Though they may not be quite human, neither are they soulless and predictable.

The point is, that they, my dogs, are each in their own way a force of nature. We, Reyna and me, have to do all the compromising. However, seeing their excitement and wagging tails when we get home from work makes it all worth it.

American Gestapo

My favorite radio news show is called Background Briefing. I usually listen on the drive home from work. Yesterday’s episode (August 19, 2019) included host Ian Masters interviewing Mike German, a former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. According to his bio on the Brennan Center website, German’s “work focuses on law enforcement and intelligence oversight and reform.”

Masters discussed German’s book Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide: How the New FBI Damages Democracy along with his recent opinion piece for the Guardian The FBI could fight far-right violence if they wanted to – but they don’t. To get things started, I have transcribed some of the opening minutes of the conversation between Masters and German:

Masters: … you’re making the case here, that there’s a transformation that took place in the FBI after the 9/11 attacks, when it sort of segued from being a law enforcement agency into, arguably, the most secretive domestic intelligence agency America has ever seen. So, I know when Harry, when the CIA was formed, Harry Truman was concerned, you know, he said I don’t want an American gestapo. How far are we from that kind of a nightmare?

German: Ah, well, we’re closer than we should be.

The pair go on to discuss what German labels as the excesses of the J. Edgar Hoover administration, including COINTELPRO and the concept of radicalization, which German defines as the focus by the FBI not on criminal acts of violence but on the spread of bad ideas and extremist thought. The conversation was notable for a number of things; I will single out the discussion about the difference between labeling a criminal act a hate crime rather than an act of domestic terrorism.

However, I want to focus on the idea of the American gestapo. COINTELPRO began as a countermeasure against Communism but was later expanded, in the 1960s, to include civil rights and anti-war activists. German states that “J. Edgar Hoover and his agents, ah, targeted groups for political purposes based on their own biases rather than because of any threat that they posed.” As a consequence of this the COINTELPRO can be seen to have acted as a form of thought police.

Regarding the activities of COINTELPRO it is important to note that FBI chose its targets unilaterally, without any external oversight. Seemingly, these activities included the infiltration and disruption of completely legal and law-abiding civil rights and political organizations. Pedro Cabral writes “COINTELPRO employed illegal and legal covert measures to ‘neutralize’ and destroy organizations that the FBI identified as a threat to national security.” Dr. Huey P. Newton, in his doctoral dissertation War against the panthers: A study of repression in Americasuggests that the FBI orchestrated the deaths of Black Panther Party figures like Fred Hampton and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter.

I am not convinced the FBI ever stopped using the tactics and practices developed by COINTELPRO. As a member of political and social minority groups within the United States, and as a student of structural violence, I will state that the FBI has de facto acted, through its COINTELPRO activities, as a counterpart, or perhaps a descendant, of Nazi Germany’s gestapo. As a white male, and therefore a member of the generalized moral community within the United States, I can understand why German would want to hedge his bets and say we are closer than we should be to having a gestapo. He likely lacks the perspective that people of color have regarding the FBI.

Legible States and moral community

I found the article The Grim Worldview Behind Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Push, the Hong Kong Protests, and the Kashmir Crisis by Joshua Keating on Slate.com today. To summarize, the article is about the current worldwide political frenzy against ambiguity, which the author defines as “a condition where political sovereignty and citizenship status are ill-defined or even contradictory.” The author uses China’s current issues in Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems” status of Hong Kong, India’s recent moves with Jammu and Kashmir, and trump’s immigration policies, among others, as examples of these countries working to build “legible states.”

Keating points to the work of anthropologist James Scott, whose book Seeing Like a State, described the phenomenon of modern governments striving to ‘arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.’ As a consequence of this desire for legibility, groups that do not fit squarely within the confines of that legible society “pose a threat to the legibility of a state’s population.” As we are currently witnessing, the actions chosen by governments to improve the legibility of their societies can profoundly affect the people whose existence muddies those visions of legibility.

As I read this article I thought about the idea of moral community. Morton Deutsch wrote in his article Justice and Conflict (in The Handbook of Conflict Resolution, 3rd Ed.) about the moral community being made up of those groups and individuals entitled to justice and fair treatment in a society. Conversely, those outside of the specific groups and individuals making up the moral community are not entitled to justice or fair treatment. As a consequence, those outside the moral community are subject to violence and mistreatment from the members of the moral community. These distinctions are not always official; that is, formally sanctioned by government. Government entities, however, often turn a blind eye to mistreatment and violence against those outside the moral community.

Keating underscored the idea of moral community when he quoted Hannah Arendt’s idea about the ‘right to have rights.’ In the context of my thinking, the right to have rights is tantamount to existing within the moral community. Having never read Arendt myself, I did some quick research that led me to an essay by Stephanie Degooyer and Alastair Hunt. Their essay describes Arendt’s years as a stateless refugee from Germany. Arendt fled from Germany to Paris in 1933. The Nuremburg Laws of 1935 officially rescinded her German citizenship.

After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Arendt applied in desperation for asylum at the US embassy in Marseilles. But the US State Department discouraged the issuance of visas to any of the thousands of people fleeing the Nazis, even directly targeted Jews such as Arendt. If it were not for an American diplomat who defied his government’s directives and helped Arendt secure illegal travel documents to the US, Arendt might not have survived the war.

Degooyer and Hunt write about The Origins of Totalitarianism wherein Arendt wrote about the weakness of her inherent human rights. They write, “far from finding any relief in their human rights, the minorities and stateless people in Europe who lacked citizenship, and thus appeared to others to be purely human, were exposed to extreme forms of violence.” Quoting Arendt, “The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.” Degooyer and Hunt write, “In order to have rights, Arendt reasoned, individuals must be more than mere human beings. They must be members of a political community.”

Existing within a group that has the right to have rights is tantamount to being a member of the moral community. Though we may possess rights intrinsic to our existence as a human, history and current events remind us that without the support of the state we have no rights that any citizen is bound to respect. The allusion to Dred Scott v. Sanford is intended. Today citizens are forced to consider who is worthy to reside in our country with any assurance of justice. We are being asked whether we want to expand the moral community to include the tired and poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” or if we want to allow racism and resentment to rule the day.

 

 

 

Don’t Look Now

I am working on a few writing projects at the moment, including a horror novel. So watching horror movies counts as research. I watched the Nicholas Roeg film Don’t Look Now (1973) this past May.

The movie stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter. The movie opens with John inexplicably realizing that something is wrong with his daughter. He runs outside and discovers her drowned body. The film then cuts to Venice, several months later, where John is working to restore an old church. One evening while the couple are out eating dinner Laura happens upon two English sisters, one of whom claims to be a psychic who has communicated with her deceased daughter. This has the effect of helping Laura resolve her guilt and depression. John, however, is dubious that a stranger may have communicated with their dead daughter. Laura, taken with the sisters, meets with them again. This results in the psychic issuing a warning that the couple should leave Venice.

The movie depicts the conflict between a couple that is still in crisis over the loss of their child. Their conflict evolves from the tension between rationality and faith, and each one’s acceptance, or nonacceptance, that the woman’s psychic powers are real. Laura, believing in the woman and her predictions, pleads with John to leave Venice. He cannot accept the veracity of the warnings, or that the woman communicated with his daughter. Even as there are hints that the psychic is correctly seeing things, John is too caught up in his rationality and rejects it all as nonsense.

There are hints that John sees the same things as the psychic. I noticed these hints, and thought of them as being strange, weird is probably a better way to put it, as I was watching the movie. Much like John, I missed the point of them. After watching the movie I read a few reviews, something I typically do after I watch a movie. It was in reading the reviews that I caught the significance of these scenes.

I first saw this film as a kid, probably in the early 80’s. I remember two specific things from my viewing of this movie as a kid. First is the red rain coat the daughter was wearing before she drowned. The second thing I remember is John chasing a mysterious child in a similar red rain coat through Venice. This viewing will add to those recollections the scene of his wife on a boat with the two sisters. I remembered the twist ending as well, but the movie didn’t make much sense to me as a kid.

Now I realize that this was not a movie designed for children, this is an adult movie. Not just because of the infamous sex scene (the actors have publicly disagreed over whether they had actual sex in the movie), but because of the themes involved: the loss of a child and the subsequent feelings of grief and depression, the acceptance or nonacceptance of religion and the supernatural, rationality versus faith. It is a suspenseful and well-made movie, if a little silly at times. In the end it has a proper twist ending and it builds up its supernatural credentials well enough (if you are paying attention).

I considered watching the movie again so that I could pick up the clues as I went along. In the end I just sent the disc back to Netflix. The movie was boring. I suppose it is a product of its time and that is the way that movies flowed back then; it was enough to dissuade me from dedicating another two hours at an attempt for a better understanding.

Strategy Made Simple

(This is something I wrote for my long defunct blog How to Get There. It was originally published on October 18, 2013. I think the concept holds up pretty well. You can see the original post, if you like, here.)

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about strategy. Up to now that knowledge has mostly been not very easy to explain. I have reread all of my previous posts on this blog that dealt with strategy and I admit that none of them makes understanding how to do strategy any easier. I would liken what I have written so far to the parable of the blind men and the elephant. I have written about parts of strategy, without providing an adequate framework for explaining how people could put it to work for themselves.

Now, I believe I’ve had a breakthrough which will allow me to more easily explain strategy to anyone. It occurred to me that the principles of strategy can be broken down into 3 simple parts: purpose, planning, and progress. The alliteration should make it easy to remember, plus, I happen to like alliteration.

After a little thought, I ended up with this:

Purpose

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?

Planning

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • What if?

Progress

  • Successes
  • Failures
  • Conflicts
  • Changes

This covers every question you need to answer to develop a working strategic plan. Of course, there are many tools and techniques that can be used to add detail and complexity to your plan, but they are not necessary. This framework can get you where you need to go. I think it works.

Hanging Garden Day 2286

I originally posted about my Hanging Garden way back on May 9, 2013. That is two thousand two hundred and eighty-six days ago. This is a picture of the jalapeño plant I planted in those Topsy Turvy planters about 6 years and 3 months ago; this picture was taken on Saturday August 10, 2019, or 2284 days later.

This little jalapeño is tough. I cannot honestly say that I have taken good care of it. It has dried out on many occasions and I have thought it was dead quite a few times. I always give it some water and watch as it comes back to life. It is the only plant that is still alive from the original hanging garden.

I did not experience any real success with the Topsy Turvy planters, this guy notwithstanding. The tomatoes I planted were poor producers; not enough room for them to grow and fruit. This particular jalapeño had me thinking for a year or two that the Topsy Turvy planters might be better suited to peppers. They were not. This plant is my greatest success with the upside down planter experiment.

The hanging garden itself has gone through a lot of changes. The jalapeño is the only plant still hanging. The rest of the things hanging from the frame are decorative. It was an interesting idea that was not well suited to my style of gardening; again, this particular plant notwithstanding.