Monday, January 16, 2017

Why business social media account responses are important

Last week, I shared a Tourism Currents post entitled "'They never answered me' – do visitors say this about you?"

Let's say you manage a local tourism bureau, and as part of your work you set up a website with all sorts of information explaining why tourists should spend millions of dollars in Rockwall, Texas or wherever. While the information may be wonderful, there may be times when a potential tourist has additional questions. I bet that Rockwall is responsive to questions posted via its contact form, but this commitment is not universal. Tourism Currents:

[W]e spoke with a travel blogger recently who wrote a blog post....On Facebook, he tagged every single restaurant featured in the post, and he also tagged every single DMO [destination marketing organization] where the restaurants were located.


Of the six eateries tagged, only two responded by Liking his Facebook post and leaving a comment. Only one of the two shared it over to their own Page followers.

Of the six DMOs tagged, plus the state tourism board, only three Liked it, and of those, one left a comment and one shared it with their Page followers....

Finally, NONE of them left a comment on the actual brunch blog post itself, to maybe say “glad you enjoyed our brunch” or “thanks for visiting our town.”

Now I can't pretend that this problem only afflicts the tourism industry. Some people, when seeing a contact form on a web page, give up in frustration, figuring that the question would end up in the void.

But there are exceptions. While people can point to bad examples of social media responses, there are also good examples. Here's one, culled from this list of 14 outstanding responses:

While attending the #PSEWEB conference in Vancouver, Mike McCready tweeted that, while he liked his room at the Delta, the view wasn’t so nice. He didn’t tag the hotel, and he wasn’t asking for anything.

Within an hour, Delta responded – offering a room with a better view. And when Mike returned to his room after the conference, he found a dish of sweets and a handwritten card from the staff at his hotel. It made such an impact that he wrote a post about it – the very same day.

Consistency is important. Back in 2011, I reflected (negatively) on a company that had this to say:

You don’t have to engage with your followers all the time, but every so often. This will remind your followers that you are aware of their voice and you value it.

Or, as I put it,

And even those who concentrate more on the monologue than the dialogue realize that you have to at least pretend to listen.

Well, I just revisited this company - specifically, its Twitter account. Its Twitter biography says all the right things:

#DigitalMarketing Specialists | #ContentMarketing #Copywriting #AdWords #SEO #SocialMedia #InboundMarketing

Since they know all this stuff, perhaps I should use them to build up my Twitter account, specifically my number of followers and my Klout score. And I can learn the reasons why personal engagement is important but corporate engagement is not.

Bot, I don't care if your name is Siri or Alexa or HAL

I've talked about the concept of frictionless interaction before, and while I'm reluctant to use the term for fingerprint actions, there's no problem in using the term for voice actions.

Theoretically, I could go up to my local barista and simply say, "Tall coffee." Yet in polite society, such actions would be frowned upon. Even in American urban society, the actual conversation with a barista has more than two words. The barista may say, "Good morning, may I help you?" and I might reply, "Good morning, I'd like a tall coffee, please." 14 words instead of 2; terribly inefficient, but it's necessary to keep society running.

But what if we're talking to a bot? Bots are scary, and to make them less scary, it would help to personalize them.

Or so Elizabeth McGuane (lead content designer at Intercom) thought:

From a design perspective, bots are aligned with the whole concept of messaging-as-a-platform — we could build a bot right into our own messenger using the same simple elements we’d already designed for human-to-human conversation.

So when we experimented with building a bot, we wanted to use those simple elements to communicate. We gave our test bot a name and let it introduce itself like a real person would: “Hi, I’m Bot, Intercom’s digital assistant.”

What we found was surprising. People hated this bot — found it off-putting and annoying. It was interrupting them, getting in the way of what they wanted (to talk to a real person), even though its interactions were very lightweight.

We tried different things: alternate voices, so that the bot was sometimes friendly and sometimes reserved and functional. But we didn’t see much change.

It was only when we removed the name and took away the first person pronoun and the introduction that things started to improve.

McGuane concluded:

The name, more than any other factor, caused friction.

McGuane's solution - rather than humanizing the technology, she minimized its presence. In her use case, her customers already knew that they weren't speaking to a human, and that they were speaking to something more akin to a robot or machine. So why try to hide that fact? And since the customers knew that they were speaking to a robot, it was perfectly permissible to make the interaction as quick - and frictionless - as possible.

Or as frictionless as we want the experience to be. Some of us crave a little friction. For example, I usually say "thank you" to Siri, and Siri responds.

But there are also practical reasons to say "thank you" to Siri - at least if you are single:

“Pay attention to how your prospective beau treats the women in his life. If he doesn’t treat them with respect, sooner or later he’ll be doing the same to you.”...

Last month, I went on a Tinder date with a guy who seemed perfect. He was a successful oncologist with a great sense of humor and a face so symmetrical, it made my knees buckle.After dinner, we had a little time to kill before the opera he was going to take me to, so we decided to walk by the animal shelter he helps out at. He pulls out his phone and barks into it, “Siri, is it going to rain?”

That’s it. No “please.” No “thank you.” No small talk about Siri’s day to make her feel like she mattered as an individual. Nothing. You better believe I dumped his doctor ass before he could even finish offering to give me his jacket.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One case in which the "you will die" headline may be legitimate

Years ago, the medical and legal professions did not allow their practitioners to advertise.

Boy, has that changed - although they're careful about how they advertise.

Sort of.

Consider the many medical advertisements that sound something like this:

I had suffered from my myopia and deviated septum for years. Finally, when I turned to Super Duper Hospital, the trained physicians were able to assist me. Because of Super Duper Hospital's commitment to research, I was treated with new technologies that are not available anywhere else.

Well, that's what the actor portraying the patient literally said in the commercial. But the underlying message that the hospital is conveying is somewhat different. Imagine this message delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger or the late Don LaFontaine:

If you go to any other hospital, you will DIE.

So when I first saw the headline for this article, my first reaction was to roll my eyes.

Secure IoT before it kills us

But then, when you start thinking about the things that are controlled by IoT devices, you realize that this is not an exaggeration.

2010: Stuxnet (believed to have been created by Israeli intelligence) vibrates centrifuges in Iran nuclear plant.
2011: Hacker takes wireless control of insulin pumps.
2014: Hackers commandeer hundreds of webcams and baby monitors.
2015: Researchers remotely take over and crash Cherokee jeep.
2015: Plane flight controls hacked via in-flight entertainment system.
2016: Smart thermostats hacked to host ransomware.

But there is a danger of overreaction on either side of the spectrum.

On the one hand, you could ignore the threat altogether and not really pay heed to the possibility that a device may be hacked. This opens you to a hacking incident and/or a lawsuit.

On the other hand, you could overreact and demand that no IoT device be deployed unless it is 100.000% secure. And as any security expert knows, 100.000% security is impossible.

But it certainly is possible to provide some level of security for IoT devices. After all, we do it all the time for the non-trendy computers.

As Microsoft’s [National Security Officer Stuart] Aston points out: “With each generation of smart things, we seem to have to relearn the lessons of the past.

“A lot of IoT security best practice is no different from the best practice we’ve learned through securing PCs and mobile devices over the years. We just need to ensure it’s rigorously applied.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Who's on first - employees, or customers? (Or, why Uber is no Virgin)

Conventional wisdom dictates that the customer always comes first. However, Richard Branson of Virgin famously challenges that notion, stating that his highest priority is pleasing his employees.

"It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy."

And if Branson's employees are happy, then he believes that they will make his customers happy, which will make his shareholders happy.

Uber has a different view. Consider how it treats its employees - uh, wait a minute. Uber's actual employees are fairly limited in number, since Uber drivers themselves are not employees of the company. (Notice how ridesharing companies always say you can "work WITH Uber" or "work WITH Lyft" - not FOR.)

Uber's emphasis, and the emphasis of all companies in the gig economy, is on the service. It's not in building a dedicated group of employees, but in building a service that can use interchangeable parts - eventually, for example, there won't be drivers working with Uber any more, as Uber moves to driverless cars.

This emphasis leads to a customer comes first mentality, in which drivers (non-employees) are a distant second.

Although ‘being your own boss’ might sound like a good thing on the surface, there are lots of times when drivers are going to need help from the guys in charge. And even though Uber is constantly refreshing their help section, adding new options for drivers and testing new help features, their customer support reps still struggle mightily to address drivers’ most basic problems....

I think the ratings system is great for passengers since it holds drivers accountable for their actions but there are a lot of ways it can work against drivers too. One of my biggest complaints about the ratings system is that it is a one-sided marketplace. Drivers have to maintain a 4.6 rating in order to stay active, but passengers have no such requirement....

What a lot of these pain points really boil down to is a customer-centric approach to building a business. It’s hard to fault Uber for doing things this way....But it’s clear with a lot of these policies that the real customer is the passenger and not the driver.

Uber makes the retention of customers a high priority, as many companies do. But Uber does not prioritize the retention of drivers - something that leads to all sorts of issues for the company. (DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometric industry.

On fake friends (also known as business spokespeople who do not exist in reality)

Before I launch into the main topic of this post, let me provide you with an update on "The Porch" that I mentioned last November.

The update is that there is no update.

Here's what I said in November about the construction in the public area of my office building:

Now this would be the ideal time to post a picture of The Porch - perhaps a selfie with me, a cup, and the metal shop et al in the background. Except that The Porch is kinda sorta boarded up at the moment....

You see, my company does not own the building, and only leases a portion of the building. The rest of the building is empty, which is perhaps what is motivating the building owner to renovate the lobby area, including The Porch....

There's all sorts of construction now, and my formerly peaceful oasis has all sorts of scaffolding, temporary barriers to keep you from falling off The Porch, and construction workers scurrying around doing important stuff.

I'm not sure how much longer the construction will take, but we'll see what things look like when it's all finished.

Nearly two months later, the construction is still going on, and my formerly peaceful oasis has all sorts of scaffolding, temporary barriers to keep you from falling off The Porch, and...well, you get the idea.

In that same post, I mentioned my friend Liz. Her formal name is Elizabeth, but she lets you call her Liz. That's the name she uses on Twitter and Instagram. Now Liz works right across the road from The Porch, at the Wescom Building in Anaheim.

Actually, she works at the Wescom Building in Pasadena.

Actually, she doesn't work at either place.

Because - and I hope you're sitting down for this - Liz Wescom doesn't exist.

Oh, sure, we chat at times.

But that does not negate the fact that Liz Wescom is a fictional entity, created by Wescom's marketing department, or perhaps by an outside advertising agency. All that I know is that before she was on Twitter and Instagram, she was inside Wescom automated teller machines (see page 5 of PDF).

But Wescom isn't the only entity that creates non-existent spokespeople. As a child, I was scared of Mr. Clean, but was not all that scared of Mr. Whipple. And on a more geopolitical front, the United Nations tried (and failed) to enlist Wonder Woman as a spokesperson.

Let's face it, we like to associate with people, even when dealing with corporations. And if the corporation doesn't have a real live person like Lee Iacocca or Steve Jobs, then the corporation has to use a fake one. In some cases, a real spokesperson eventually becomes a fake one - Colonel Sanders being a notable example.

But do these fake spokespeople work? In some documented instances, they work really well. One example: the American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus, Georgia had a barrier when getting business, because someone asking for insurance isn't going to necessarily remember "American Family Life Assurance Company." Even the acronym - AFLAC - isn't something that you intuitively remember.

Unless a duck says it.

To solve this problem, they decided to experiment using a duck as a mascot since the brand name sounds like the “quack quack” sound a duck makes. Upon investing in advertising to promote the duck and the business, the result has been phenomenal with name recognition and profits soaring. In fact, name recognition has been at 91% – higher than big insurance companies MetLife or Cigna and in the same ballpark as behemoths McDonald’s and Coca Cola.

Now that recognition helps bring the revenue in to a life insurance company - or to a chicken fast food joint, a toilet paper manufacturer, or a credit union.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#empoplaaybizz My most popular Empoprise-BI post of 2016 isn't popular any more (remember PokeStops?)

I just checked my analytics to see what my most popular post in the Empoprise-BI business blog was in 2016. To no one's surprise, it was a summer post about a really trendy topic - #empoplaaybizz PokeSTOP! Or, James Kim is NOT a marketing genius.

What - the name James Kim doesn't ring a bell?

He's the "marketing genius" who everyone was talking about in late July, because he had the great idea to open a chain of cafes and call then Pokestops.

Because, you see, if you call them Pokestops, then smartphone-wielding people will flock to them.

Or, that's what Kim thought in late July.

I was slightly more pessimistic.

So assume that Nintendo et al are extremely happy with the idea of giving Kim a cut of the money, and that the trademarks are approved, and that locations are selected. In a best-case scenario, we'll start seeing these "Pokestops" in...

...well, in 2017 if everything goes perfectly. If things get bogged down with litigation and zoning restrictions (imagine your average city council approving a restaurant that is designed to have a bunch of people milling around), the process could take years.

By which time the Pokémon Go fanaticism may have faded just a little bit.

Faded? Ya think?

Of course, my solution about deploying incense at restaurants wasn't that valuable either, since incense can only be used by the person who deploys it. But at least my other suggestion - the use of lures - would work (provided your establishment is already an official Pokestop, or is very close to one).

Meanwhile, everything has seemingly gone quiet on the James Kim front since August, when there was a "non-final action" on his trademark application.

Kim's probably busy on his Rogue One Restaurant concept.

A McDonald's on Vatican-owned property - what's the problem?

As many of you know, Vatican City is not only the center of the Roman Catholic Church, but is also an independent country in its own right. Vatican City itself occupies specific boundaries, but some Vatican-owned buildings spill over into the neighboring country of Italy. And the first floor tenant of one of these buildings is stirring controversy:

A new McDonald’s site opened last Friday in the Pio Borgo district of Rome, and the Vatican isn’t exactly “lovin’ it,” as it were. That’s because the new McDonald’s location, just around the corner from St. Peter’s Square, sits about 100 yards away from the walls of the Vatican State and within a Vatican-owned building....

While McDonald’s has another location some 200 yards from the Vatican (and there’s also a Burger King), the controversy comes more from the fact that the newest addition to the burger chain resides directly within Vatican-owned property. The building also just happens to be home to Vatican officials, including several senior cardinals. McDonald’s reportedly pays the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See more than $30,000 a month for the building’s bottom floor.


I fail to see the problem here. Unless the Cardinals are engaged in a perpetual fast, I don't see anything in a McDonald's that contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine. If McDonald's were anathema, we wouldn't see stories like this one out of Oklahoma.

Members of the St. Philip Neri Catholic School alumni class of 2016 delivered more than 30,000 pop can tops collected by the middle school to the Ronald McDonald House.

I suspect that the true controversy here is the fact that McDonald's is an American-owned company. I suspect a nice Italian restaurant would cause no controversy whatsoever.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why the Federal Government isn't agile

From NextGov:

A new Homeland Security Department program promoting agile software development has hit a stumbling block.

The $1.54 billion Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland contract vehicle—a group of 13 vendors pre-approved to sell agile services to the department—has been halted by protests from at least eight companies not included on that list....

INTEGRITYOne Partners, Harmonia Holdings Group, Cybermedia Technologies, Brillient Corp., Citizant, Ventera Corp., Incentive Technology Group and BC Digital Services filed protests with the Government Accountability Office.

More here, including details on a previous agile effort by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And according to the article, it is anticipated that the demands of the incoming Trump Administration will spur further efforts in this vein.

(DISCLOSURE: My employer has contracts with DHS, but not under this particular vehicle.)

Verizon is building a wall - regarding the Yahoo deal

Since walls are really cool these days, especially if someone else pays for them, I figured that I'd talk about them.

But I'm going to talk about a different type of wall - a logical wall that can be erected between two companies, or even between two parts of the same company.

Let me jump back to 2008, and to a personal example. In late 2008, I was working for Motorola's Biometric Business Unit when I learned that Motorola wanted to sell this unit to a company called Safran - pending government approvals.

Now some would expect that once the announcement was made, all of the Motorola employees and all of the Safran employees would all get together and start talking about how things would work once the deal went through.

As Donald Trump would say, "WRONG!"

All of us Motorola employees were strictly cautioned that the deal might go through, or it might not. Until the deal actually went through, we were to consider Safran employees as competitors, just like we always had.

I had no idea what the Safran employees were told - again, I wasn't talking to them - but presumably they were told the same thing.

In fact, during the next few months, Motorola and Safran actually submitted competing bids for several opportunities, continuing the fierce competition month after month after month.

Several months passed, and the deal wasn't finalized yet. It was probably February 2009 when I went to a conference at the National Institute of Standards and Technology - a conference that was also attended by a Safran employee.

During a break in the proceedings, the Safran employee and I had a conversation. It went something like this.

Have you heard anything?

I heard that the deal may get done this month.

That's what I heard too.

Of course, I previously heard that the deal might get done LAST month.

Yeah, that's what I heard too.

As it turned out, the deal didn't get done in February. Or in March. Finally, on a day in early April, we at Motorola officially heard that we no longer worked for Motorola any more (and could you kindly give us our batwings back please?). Only after that could all of us work on the reorganization.

Fast-forward to the Verizon-Yahoo deal - which like all deals of this type, may or may not happen. With the most recent revelations about a billion Yahoo accounts being hacked, the chance of the deal not happening is increasing.

So Verizon has to plan for the possibility of acquiring Yahoo, and thus getting confidential information about how Yahoo operates. At the same time, Verizon has to plan for the possibility of not acquiring Yahoo, and needs to consider the ramifications of the purchase WITHOUT access to that confidential information.

So how is Verizon doing this? By creating two separate teams and walling them off from each other.

While a Verizon group led by AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong is still focused on integration planning to get Yahoo up and running, another team, walled off from the rest, is reviewing the breach disclosures and the company’s options, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

This is different from the wall that was enforced between Motorola and Safran between 2008 and 2009. In the earlier case, we were talking about two separate companies. In the Verizon case, we're talking about walling off two different groups WITHIN THE SAME COMPANY.

As it turns out, I've actually had experience with walls within a company.

But that's a Motorola trade secret.

One that I'm not allowed to disclose to Safran.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ten narcissists in U.S. Presidential history who outdo @realdonaldtrump

There are many, many disagreements between businessman-turned-President Donald Trump and his opponents. But there is one thing upon which both of them agree.

Both agree that he is an extreme narcissist - or, as Trump himself would put it, the most amazing narcissist ever.

As President-elect Trump keeps himself busy with Cabinet appointments, thank you tours, television executive producing duties, and Twitter, his opponents are apoplectic, preparing for the end of the world.

I said above that Trump would also declare HIMSELF to be an extreme narcissist. I don't know if any journalist has ever directly asked him the question, but think about it. Would he respond to the "Are you a narcissist" question by saying that he's humble? I think not.

Jeffrey Kluger, co-author of Apollo 13 (a/k/a Lost Moon) and author of the more recent book The Narcissist Next Door, addressed this very question in a listicle of facts about narcissists.

4. One of the best ways to determine if a person is a narcissist is to ask them if they are a narcissist. They will often say yes.

"In the case of a narcissist, it's often because what they're saying is 'Well yeah, if you mean do I have a high opinion of myself, I do, but that's because gosh I'm the best person I know. I deserve to have a high opinion of myself,'" Kluger said.

But is Trump truly the most amazing narcissist ever? The jobs of President and Chief Executive Officer tend to attract narcissists, and if you look at some of Trump's predecessors in the Oval Office, you'll find many have been tagged as malignant narcissists - usually by their enemies. Here are things that have been written about three living politicians:

The most shocking thing about the [event] ... was [politician's] complete obsession about [self]....[Politician's] performance is a case-study in malignant narcissism with all the attendant paranoia and disturbing inability to consider other ... human beings at the center of the [event].

Psychologically speaking, [politician] is what is called a “malignant narcissist.” ... A “malignant” narcissist ... is a narcissist who reacts sadistically to others who don’t support and enable their narcissism. For example, instead of self-reflecting and taking in critical feedback, the [politician's staff] reacts with ruthless contempt for anyone who disagrees with them. Like a mean and cruel-spirited malignant narcissist, [the politician's staff] deny the accusation and try to destroy the messenger. Ultimately, a malignant narcissist wants to annihilate anyone who in any way threatens their illusory self-image and self-serving agenda.

I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents. Primarily because of the activism and the – and the injection of working at the [major organization] and in [a list of issues]. We’re right in the midst of the – of the constant daily debate.

These quotes respectively refer to Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton, and to Presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

But narcissists have their admirers. At the same time that Tammy Bruce and others criticize Clinton for self-absorption, others are awed by her:

Maybe she is more than a president. Maybe she is an idea, a world-historical heroine, light itself. The presidency is too small for her. She belongs to a much more elite class of Americans....Hillary Clinton did everything right in this campaign, and she won more votes than her opponent did. She won. She cannot be faulted, criticized, or analyzed for even one more second. Instead, she will be decorated as an epochal heroine far too extraordinary to be contained by the mere White House.

Narcissists, by their very force, can be captivating, and while Clinton, Bush 43, Carter, and Trump all have their enemies, they also have admirers.

But none of these hold a candle to the REAL narcissists who have resided in the White House. The Pew Research Center rated the narcissism of all of the Presidents from Washington to George W. Bush - and while the methodology of any such study can be questioned, it's probably fair to say that the people at the top of the list were/are more narcissistic than the people at the bottom of the list.

So, who topped the list?

Compared to the people at the top of this list, Trump is a nobody. Imagine Trump trying to say "You're fired" to Lyndon Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, or Andrew Jackson. Lyndon would crush Trump's anatomy, Teddy would batter him with a big stick, and General Andy would shoot him faster than Indiana Jones.

But how is someone supposed to act when he or she ends up on the staff of Donald Trump - or of Steve Jobs? Jane Brody quoted Joseph Burgo:

“The best defense for employees who choose to stay is to protect the bosses’ egos and avoid challenging them,” Dr. Burgo said in an interview. His general advice to those running up against extreme narcissists is to “remain sane and reasonable” rather than engaging them in “battles they’ll always win.”

It also helps to praise narcissists for being so wonderful - something that Vladimir Putin apparently knows very well.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Uh, @daily_express - @predsci and @Gizmodo told us about the possible 2020 solar storm in 2012

There is a chance that Donald Trump may become President of the United States!

Does this sound like old news?

Well, how about this piece, dated November 30 (yesterday), from Sean Martin of the Daily Express?

Researchers have warned that there is roughly a 12 per cent chance that a solar storm could smash into Earth by the end of the decade....

This means that satellite signals will struggle to penetrate the swollen atmosphere, leading to a lack of Internet service, GPS navigation, satellite TV such as Sky and mobile phone signal.

Obviously this would have huge implications for our modern world - and we have less than four years to prepare!

According to Martin, this prediction was made by Pete Riley of Predictive Science. And you know he's a scientist because of his URL - is your typical UNIX-like user name. We're not dealing with a DOS guy here.

And like a good scientist, Riley realizes that his calculations are approximations. According to Martin, Riley stated:

He said: “Even if it’s off by a factor of two, that’s a much larger number than I thought.”

So I went to the Predictive Science website and searched for a recent report detailing Riley's prediction - and couldn't find one.

This seemed odd, so I kept on poking around until I found this article - FROM 2012.

Pete Riley, a senior scientist at Predictive Science in San Diego, told Gizmodo that there is roughly a 12% chance that the Earth will experience an enormous megaflare within the next ten years. "Even if it's off by a factor of two, that's a much larger number than I thought," said Riley.

Riley published his prediction in Space Weather: The International Journal of Research and Applications.

So Martin basically resurrected a four year old story. And how is the respected press covering it?

According to Express, senior scientist, Pete Riley of Predictive Science in San Diego, California said that the chance of huge solar storm by 2020 is high.

Modern-daay researchers have warned that there is a 12 percent chance that a solar storm will smash Earth in the end of this decade. This powerful event will be as big as the Carrington event which occurred in 1859, according to Express UK.

As reported by the UK’s Express , experts believe there is a one in eight chance that earth will be hit by a major solar storm before 2020, which would wipe out nearly all technology that is not hardened against EMP events – so, pretty much every piece of technology that is not owned and operated by governments.

Great scoop, Express. But what will you do when someone scoops you in 2018 and doesn't reference your "work"?

And as for Predictive Science itself, it only offered this comment.

Obviously Predictive Science doesn't put a lot of stock in Twitter. After all, USENET is just fine for scientific discussion.

#empogmgmu Part Six: Ryerson University, Pluralism, Diversity, and the Holocaust

See all the #empogmgmu posts

Actually, not all of them. Part five is here

Nothing new on the Oleg Atbashian front, and perhaps nothing new there until February. But the country of Canada, which doesn't claim George Mason as a Founding Father, is having its own issues with the Students for Justice in Palestine.

Let's start with a piece from the independent newspaper for Ryerson University. The paper is called The Eyeopener.

More than 200 students filled the Library Building’s lecture hall for the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) on Nov. 29.

After many amendments to the order of the agenda, three motions were voted on (not including the RSU’s financial audit report for the 2015-2016 year, the agenda and meeting minutes).

Quorum was lost just under four hours into the SAGM and the meeting was adjourned. The remaining 16 motions were pushed to the RSU’s next board meeting. RSU president Obaid Ullah said the meeting will take place before the winter break.

Well, four hours is a long time, so it's understandable that students lost interest. Maybe that Bullard comedian has a new show on Canadian TV or something, and they walked out to watch it.

Actually, The Eyeopener targets the exact moment when the quorum was lost.

A motion was brought forward detailing plans for the RSU to have a Holocaust Education Week. An amendment was proposed to make the education week include education about all genocides and not just the Holocaust specifically. However, quorum was lost before a vote could be made.

Hmm, that's kind of odd. You'd think that people would stick around to talk about something like that, Israel and Palestine being in the news and all.

At least one publication thinks that the timing of the loss of the quorum was no accident:

Local members of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association reportedly staged the walkout Tuesday night during the semiannual general meeting of the Ryerson Student Union.

Unlike George Mason, the resolution was sponsored by some mainstream Jewish organizations, including Hillel and B'nai Brith. And it even had politically correct wording:

The resolution, which was submitted by a member of the Ryerson Hillel Jewish students’ group, called on the Student Union to offer annual Holocaust education programs to emphasize “the value of pluralism and the acceptance of diversity.” There was no mention of Israel.

The unfortunate outcome for SJP and MSA is that Ryerson can now be painted as an anti-pluralistic, anti-diverse, Holocaust-loving university.


See all the #empogmgmu posts

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Paying for the privilege of hearing commercials

Years ago, in one of my regularly-scheduled rants regarding the cable/satellite industry, I proposed to turn the business model upside down:

Time Warner, CBS, and everyone else, I want you to pay ME to watch your stuff.

But you'll claim that's unreasonable.

Well, why should I have to pay YOU so that you get the privilege to air commercials in my home? Shouldn't you be paying me so that I will become part of your audience?

Even if you don't go that far, you have to ask - why do you potentially spend hundreds of dollars a month for cable/satellite programming...and then have to sit through commercials on top of that?

Well, this double-dipping into your pocketbooks extends beyond the visual realm.

The has taken a break from its regularly-scheduled coverage of speed camera vandalism to address another automotive issue - Sirius/XM programming.


SiriusXM has become — as far as content — terrestrial radio you have to pay to listen to.

Including the ads.

Which are relentless — and endless....

It is not possible to listen to pretty much any talk channel except Howard (Stern) for more than about 10 minutes without enduring the commercial juggernaut.

And as writer Eric Peters notes, there are plenty of alternatives to Sirius/XM programming - not only free radio, but also podcasts and streaming services.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Doing business with the government - guess who has the power?

While a number of companies (including my employer) do a lot of business with national, state, and local government agencies, other companies would just as soon not bother to do so. Because of red tape and low profitability, it's easier for them to do business with non-governmental customers.

And even those whose products are of particular interest to governments may have a hard time selling to the government - or may have a hard time AFTER selling to the government.

Take Alfred Nobel. Some of you may not know Alfred. I don't know that Bob Dylan ever wrote a song about Alfred, but if he did, it would go something like this:

The merchant of death would ride in his train
And sell his poisons to the rich and the old
And the hobos of Europe would follow behind
And beckon

The whole "merchant of death" thingie arose when Alfred's brother died and a newspaper, thinking that it was Albert who had passed, wrote in an obituary that Alfred made it possible to kill many people very quickly.

One of Albert Nobel's killing inventions was something that he called ballistite. This product, which didn't emit as much smoke as most other products of the time, was something that could be sold in the militarizing Europe of the 1880s.

Since Nobel was living in France at the time, and had lived there for decades, he offered the product to the French government. However, the French were already doing buiness with a French chemist named Paul Vieille who had developed his own non-smoky product, so they didn't want to buy Nobel's invention.

Shut out of his (adopted) home market, Nobel successfully sold the product to the (relatively new) Italian government. After a factory was set up near Turin and 300 tons of ballistite was produced, the Italians asked to purchase the patent itself. Nobel sold it.

As Nobel Media's history of Alfred Nobel states,

These actions did not sit well with France.

So what, one may think. Let's say that Nobel had invented some type of gun, and that he first tried to sell it to Remington. Remington didn't want it, so Nobel sold it to Smith & Wesson. The product takes off, and Remington kicks themselves for missing out on an opportunity.

But things get a little tricky when the losing party is a government, and the winning party is a competing government. And Nobel, living in France, began to have a few problems.

An ugly press campaign aimed at discrediting Nobel was started. Among other things, he was unjustly accused of espionage, threatened with imprisonment, and his license to conduct experiments in France withdrawn.

Nobel left the country for a while, and when he returned to Paris,

...he...took with him all laboratory equipment which had not been confiscated and a few personal possesions, including his mother's portrait, a gouache by Anders Zorn and a part of his library, and moved....

And where did he move?


But he kept his house in Paris, and a few years later he happened to be in Paris when he was making his will. Because that whole "merchant of death" thing had bugged him so, he decided to set up a group of prizes under his name so that he would be remembered for something else. Or, as Bob Dylan would say,

Sweden and Norway are colder than Hibbing
And you wear fancy clothes as the diplomats lie
And the lecturers spin tales of death and of life
Before the reaper bids them goodbye

Friday, November 25, 2016

Specification of pronunciation - GIF, and PNG

In our corporate lives, many of us have to spend time reading standards, and if we're not reading standards, we're at least adhering to them in some way. For example, right now I am using a keyboard that works with an operating system, an application (Blogger), and eventually a browser or email program (whatever one you're using to read this) - and all of them are familiar with one or more character formats, such as ASCII or Unicode. If my operating system suddenly decided to support some other character format, the whole thing would fall apart.

Yes, specifications are important.

But when reading this specification, I was struck by a particular section.


PNG is pronounced "ping"

Now why, oh why, would a specification make a big deal about how an acronym is pronounced?

Two reasons.

First, let me quote from the beginning of the specification:

The PNG format provides a portable, legally unencumbered, well-compressed, well-specified standard for lossless bitmapped image files.

Although the initial motivation for developing PNG was to replace GIF, the design provides some useful new features not available in GIF, with minimal cost to developers.

Ah, GIF. The sordid tale of GIF, LZW, CompuServe, Unisys, patents, and fees has been told many times. Check this or this or this for further information. All of this ended over a decade ago, however, so it's not of real concern.

But there's one concern about GIF that remains to this day - I saw it erupt on Facebook earlier this week. The reason that the creators of PNG specified its pronunciation is because the pronunciation of GIF spawned wars that even a group of patent attorneys couldn't resolve. Take this video that shows what happened when Steve Wilhite of CompuServe fame won a Webby Award.

Yet hard G people still fight the fight today.

But at least the pronunciation of PNG is settled, isn't it? Well, I've already seen one disagreement.

Ping in computer circles is reserved for the tool that uses ICMP packets to check if a system is up and responding

You can't win.

Monday, November 21, 2016

#empogmgmu Part Four: Oleg Atbashian, Virginia Class 6 Felonies, and DEFCON Levels

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Before returning to our discussion about Oleg Atbashian, freedom of speech (and of the press), and the felony charges against Atbashian, I'd like to go off on a tangent about nuclear war.

The excerpt below is from something the American Conservative published in 2013.

Business Insider reports that “Steve Deace, an influential conservative Iowa talk show host” has been making profound declarations that, should the Supreme Court strike down anti-gay marriage laws, “It’s going to raise the issue to Orange Threat Level, it’ll be DEFCON 6…”

Sounds serious, if you don't know what you're talking about. The American Conservative clarifies:

DEFCON is short for DEFense CONdition, and according to the Encyclopedia of the Cold War, “The DEFCON system is divided into five different alert levels with detailed, if ambiguous, descriptions and expected actions by military forces at each threat level.” Mr. Deace’s first error is that DEFCON scales from 1 to 5, not 6. To be charitable, though, he likely knew this and was making an exaggerated claim for effect. What then, is DEFCON 5? Again from the Encyclopedia of the Cold War, “DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness The lowest alert level in the DEFCON system…” DEFCON 5 is as low as alerts go, and is the traditional status for most military forces. Anytime someone threatens to go DEFCON 5 on you or a loved one, then, readily take them up on their offer as amity should shortly be restored.

Alert is raised from there with progressively lower numbers.

In other words, if Deace truly went to DEFCON Level 6, then when Obama came to take his guns, Deace would give them away gladly and give the President a kiss. (But Deace probably wouldn't marry him.)

Deace isn't the only one who is confused about the DEFCON numbering system. Heck, most all of us, including myself, usually assume that bigger numbers mean a greater threat.

Speaking of threats, I previously described how police at George Mason University unfortunately did not arrive in time to stop alleged felonies by the aforementioned Mr. Atbashian. I also noted the significant difference in how various parties are covering this event. Let's start with an excerpt of Atbashian's description:

Since they couldn't find any weapons and our message was protected by the First Amendment, the officers decided to charge us with "destruction of property worth of at least $2,500," which was a "class 6 felony."

The whole episode, which almost sounded like a bad parody of "Terror in the Skies," resulted in blaring headlines like this:

Pro-Israel Artist Threatened with 5 Years in Jail for Campus Anti-Terror Posters

Well, Atbashian is still charged with a felony, and his preliminary hearing will be held at 2:00 local time on February 17. Here are the details of his case, courtesy the Virginia court system website:

As you can see, the right wing media is NOT lying in this case. Atbashian is charged with destruction of property, with a complaint filed by M. Guston, and the charge is a class 6 felony.

Which of course raises the question - what is a class 6 felony?

A Class 6 felony in Virginia is a crime that meets the criteria for the "felony" category with the least of authorized punishments associated with it. Class 6 felony crimes in the state of Virginia include reckless endangerment and violation of a court order.

So if any patriot declares that the state should "reduce" Atbashian's crime to a class 1 felony, the patriot doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

So what's the penalty for a class 6 felony?

Penalties for the commission of Class 6 felony crimes in Virginia include imprisonment of no less than one but up to five years. Fines that do not exceed $2,500 can also be imposed on those who commit Class 6 felony crimes in Virginia.

So the patriots will loudly declare that Atbashian will be thrown in the American gulag for five years. But will he? An article on another potential class 6 felony case (ironically, for anti-Jewish vandalism) states:

This type of crime would result in at least six months of jail time with a minimum of 30 days served.

It all depends upon what the Fairfax County prosecutor wants to do. Because of the First Amendment issues, there's a chance that the prosecutor may even settle for time served (14 hours).

And obviously Atbashian's defense attorney will have some influence over the final outcome.

Stuart A. Sears joined the law firm Schertler & Onorato, LLP, as Counsel in 2013 and was promoted to Partner in 2014. He is an experienced and accomplished trial attorney whose practice focuses on criminal and white collar defense. Stuart’s litigation experience includes representation of individuals in a wide array of federal and state criminal proceedings, including cases involving charges of health care fraud, false claims, money laundering, mail and wire fraud, illegal structuring, and mortgage fraud. He has extensive trial and post-conviction litigation experience in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the federal courts.

In addition to his trial work, Stuart’s broad experience includes representations of individuals and companies in civil and criminal government investigations. He has recently counseled clients through Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the False Claims Act (FCA), procurement fraud, and health care fraud. Stuart’s practice also includes litigating complex criminal and civil forfeiture matters at the agency and district court level.

Not sure if any of Sears' prior clients were people who put up satirical posters, but this will certainly round out his experience.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

#empogmgmu Part Three: George Mason University and Freedom of Speech

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I haven't told you everything about the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference at George Mason University. In addition to the conference, and the demonstrators at the conference, and the people who wanted everyone to be in a safe space, there were two more people roaming around campus.

One of these people was Oleg Atbashian.

You may have heard of Atbashian without realizing it. Oleg Atbashian came from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and reputedly did some artwork there for the local benevolent government. Atbashian eventually made his way to the United States in 1994, where he eventually exercised his satirical event with groups such as Communists for Kerry. Eventually he devoted his efforts to The People's Cube, where he authored a piece on Snopes' founders in 2015. The piece begins as follows.

LOS ANGELES, CA - owners Barbara and David Mikkelson were detained by police today after an unrelated investigation of a editor lead police onto a paper trail of corruption, bribery, and fraud at the very heart of the fact-checking organization.

Evidence obtained by police has revealed that, which markets itself as "the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation," has a history of accepting money and favors from left-leaning and pro-Islamic political groups and individuals for helping them to advance their cause by rigging public discourse with selective fact-finding and deliberate manipulation of public opinion.

Late Monday morning, Brian Williston, a editor, who also doubles as the accountant, found himself at a flea market on the outskirts of Los Angeles. As he was browsing the different tables and tents looking for antiques, an old mechanical piano began playing Dixie's Land, a song that was adopted as a de facto anthem of the Confederacy during the American Civil War and is now considered offensive by some due to its link to the iconography and ideology of the Old South.

The tune sparked an outrage in Williston, who began yelling and cursing those who "would like to bring back slavery and racial separation," and ordering the vendors to "turn off that racist music."

The piece goes on from there, and was enjoyed by many - for various reasons. It turns out that some people who enjoyed the piece don't realize that it's satire.

Snopes CEO was arrested on fraud and corruption charges last year!

People will continue to rely on Snopes for “the truth”. I’ve been telling people about this bias for years. It needs to be broadcast far and wide.

But Oleg Atbashian didn't see anything funny about the National Students for Justice in Palestine, and he decided to...Fight Back.

Whoops, wrong David Horowitz. There's a David Horowitz that runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and Atbashian agreed with Horowitz's views about the SJP. Atbashian decided to design a poster for the National SJP Conference.

Source: The Gateway Pundit

So Oleg and someone else went to George Mason to put up the posters. I'll let Oleg tell the story:

This was supposed to be a two-day poster campaign, to counteract the George Mason University hosting an official national conference for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which is an anti-Semitic organization with well-documented ties to Hamas - a terrorist group whose stated goal is to exterminate the Jews. The GMU poster campaign was conceived by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

My part in it was to create provocative artwork for the posters and to hang them around the GMU campus, as well as to distribute flyers in order to raise awareness among the students, faculty, and the administration about the true meaning of their support for the SJP conference....

On the second day:

[A]t about 4am, our car was pulled over by a GMU PD cruiser with flashing lights. As we found out later, they already had a description of our rental KIA Optima. Officer M.J. Guston and his female partner, Officer Daniels, requested to see our drivers' licenses, which they took away. Then they inquired if we had any weapons and proceeded with the visual search, noticing our bucket with mixed wheat paste and some rolled posters on the back seat, covered with towels....

They ordered us to give them our car key and to step out of the car. Then we were told to put our hands behind our backs and to spread our legs. Officer Guston then held my thumbs behind my back with his left hand, while his right hand gave me a complete and very thorough pat-down and searched the content of my pockets. He repeated the same procedure with my friend, repeatedly asking us if we had any kind of weapons on us or in the car....

Since they couldn't find any weapons and our message was protected by the First Amendment, the officers decided to charge us with "destruction of property worth of at least $2,500," which was a "class 6 felony."...

They were taken off campus...and straight to jail.

The full, politically correct name of the county jail was Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, but the jailers inside continued to refer to it as "jail." We were put before a magistrate named W. Talavera. Officer Guston repeated his trumped-up charges about the destruction of property, supporting them with a dozen computer printouts....

The magistrate's decision was quick: $8,000 bail for each of us and a mandatory court hearing within several days. As we were led away to be processed into the system, Officer Guston said, somewhat triumphantly, his final words to us: "You can't come to GMU ever again."

Let's pause here for a minute. The First Amendment to the Constitution, the same amendment that discussed George Mason's beloved freedom of the press, also talked about freedom of speech - specifically saying that Congress could not restrict it. As a public university, George Mason University is bound - or should be bound - by that same amendment. Yet Officer Guston believed that a satirist was not protected by that amendment. Some people are concerned by this. Others are not.

14 hours later, the two were out of jail, involved in a hassle with their rental car company, their hotel, and their airline that cost them some money. But now their story is out, and it's being treated differently by various sections of the media.

The mainstream media, to my knowledge, has been silent on the issue. The left-wing Silicon-Valley controlled Washington Post hasn't covered the story, and the right-wing Moonie controlled Washington Times hasn't covered it either, despite the fact that this is a local story.

But there's a lot of coverage from other sources, including a few that I've linked to above. And frankly they're just as bad as the National SJP. Take this Gateway Pundit headline:

Pro-Israel Artist Threatened with 5 Years in Jail for Campus Anti-Terror Posters

Either these people are trying to sell clicks by, um, trumping up the worst-case scenario, or they truly believe that Atbashian will spend five years in a Virginia prison. Either way, it'

As deplorable as Chloe Valdary regards the SJP:

The student organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is prominent on many college campuses, preaching a mantra of “Freeing Palestine.” It masquerades as though it were a civil rights group when it is not. Indeed, as an African-American, I am highly insulted that my people’s legacy is being pilfered for such a repugnant agenda. It is thus high time to expose its agenda and lay bare some of the fallacies they peddle.

• If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation—you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”

• If you support a racist doctrine of Arab supremacism and wish (as a corollary of that doctrine) to destroy the Jewish state, you do not get to claim that the prejudices you peddle are forms of legitimate “resistance.”

• If your heroes are clerics who sit in Gaza plotting the genocide of a people; who place their children on rooftops in the hopes they will get blown to bits; who heap praises upon their fellow gang members when they succeed in murdering Jewish school boys and bombing places of activity where Jews congregate—you do not get to claim that you are some Apollonian advocate of human virtue. You are not.

And she continues, claiming that certain freedom fighter of the past would find the SJP to be abhorrent.

Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist.

Coretta Scott King was a Zionist.

A. Phillip Randolph was a Zionist.

Bayard Rustin was a Zionist.

Count Basie was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Zionist.

Indeed, they and many more men and women signed a letter in 1975 that stated: “We condemn the anti-Jewish blacklist.

I wonder what George Mason would have said, had he lived to see this.

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#empogmgmu Part Two: George Mason University and Freedom of the Press

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In this second post, I'm going to fast forward 225 years or so, to a university in Fairfax, Virginia called George Mason University - named after the George Mason that I previously discussed. This is a public university, part of the Virginia public university system. In the spirit of its namesake, it declares itself to be inclusive and accessible.

Any university that is inclusive is bound to have a very broad range of interests, and the challenge to any university is the need to allow all of those interests to be represented. And this challenge was certainly faced earlier this month, when the George Mason University Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the SJP's National Conference.


Announcing the 2016 National SJP Conference on November 4th-6th, hosted by George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) in Fairfax, VA and the DMV! Our theme this year is "Critical Mass: With Our Roots in Resistance, Forging a Just Future."

Let your fellow SJP members know to RSVP on this page and to share! This will be the inaugural NSJP conference following the introduction of the new national structure. The conversations we have will be important and pertinent to the student movement, so we want to see as many faces as possible! Let's keep growing and building together as we strive for a free Palestine. See you soon!

Conference Information:

(Drop-down menus below the "2016 Conference" header include the registration form for attendees, travel stipend information, solidarity housing/homestay information, etc.)

In Solidarity,
National Students for Justice in Palestine Steering Committee

Now perhaps this may surprise some people, but not all university students are enthused about the SJP's goals. And some people outside of the university are not enthused either.

What? People outside of George Mason University are weighing in on an event taking place at the university? Well, doesn't that make them - OUTSIDE AGITATORS? You know, those people who don't know their place and stick their noses in other people's business.

If anyone knew the trouble that outside agitators could cause, George Wallace certainly knew about it. First off, a couple of facts about Wallace. First, despite Keith Ellison's misunderstanding, Wallace was a Democrat, not a Republican. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a Republican couldn't win an election in Wallace's Alabama. Second, Wallace's views bounced back and forth throughout his life. Take the George Wallace of 1958:

In 1958, George Wallace ran against John Patterson in his first gubernatorial race. In that Alabama election, Wallace refused to make race an issue, and he declined the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. This move won Wallace the support of the NAACP. Patterson, on the other hand, embraced Klan support, and he trounced Wallace in the election.

When Plan A doesn't work, move on to Plan B. While Wallace didn't change parties like Donald Trump did, he changed positions on issues such as segregation, becoming (for a time) the George Wallace that we all know and hate.

And during his initial terms as Governor, Wallace certainly had issues with outside agitators.

Despite growing conflict over race and civil rights, Wallace wrote [a Michigan resident considering her 1964 Presidential primary vote] that “we have never had a problem in the South except in a few very isolated instances and these have been the result of outside agitators.” Wallace asserted that “I personally have done more for the Negroes of the State of Alabama than any other individual,” citing job creation and the salaries of black teachers in Alabama. He rationalized segregation as “best for both races,” writing that “they each prefer their own pattern of society, their own churches and their own schools.” Wallace assured Martin that Alabamans were satisfied with society as it was and that the only “major friction” was created by “outside agitators.”

Some people, however, disagreed with Wallace and thought that outside agitation was just fine. A few of them changed their minds, however, when Martin Luther King Jr. stopped outside agitating in the South and started outside agitating in places like Chicago.

Fast forward to November 2016 and the National SJP Conference. Such a conference would attract attention of the press that George Mason himself so strongly championed, so Jonathan Bronitsky of Tablet sought press credentials.

On a beautiful, cloudless, and unusually warm November morning, I went to the registration desk and asked SJP communications personnel for comment, but I was told that both organizers and attendees would only speak with “registered media.” I explained to a recent graduate from Tufts University, who was in charge of NSJP’s media email account, that I was a freelance journalist. I gave her my business card and pulled up my website on my iPhone to provide her with a sense of my writings. She was genuinely sympathetic, interested, and instructed that I apply for a credential through NSJP’s website. I did, but my application would soon be denied. The Tufts alumna had indeed explained upfront that approval was unlikely because my request was “the day of” and her organization was worried about infiltration and negative press. She specified that a “right-wing publication,” which had tried to link SJP with Hamas, also sought a credential.

So the National SJP was stingy with its press credentials. Or was it?

Through conversation a few paces outside the conference area, I learned that a reporter from The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, applied for a credential two weeks prior to the event yet was turned down. A reporter with Ha’aretz was approved—but he was not permitted to enter the conference. Conversely, a freelance reporter with Mondoweiss, a progressive and anti-Zionist website, received a credential 11 days prior without even asking for it: NSJP had actually taken the initiative of mailing it. Also, a reporter and a cameraperson with Al Jazeera showed up without advance notice and were swiftly given credentials...

OK, not a problem. Bronitsky may not have been able to get inside the event, but he could certainly ask questions outside of the event - right?

I requested comment from 20 attendees and, unfortunately, all of them declined. I even offered to keep everything “on background.” Some, it was clear, were eager to share their thoughts. But after every time I went up an attendee, an NSJP organizer—whom I can only describe as a “spotter”—would sprint from her lookout post at the conference’s entrance and warn that I was, again, “outside media.”

Shut out of the National SJP conference, Bronitsky went across campus and covered another event.

Mid-afternoon, pro-Israel advocates gathered for the Turning Point USA-organized demonstration at the entrance of the NSJP’s conference. For about 20 minutes, they chanted Zionist slogans, mocked the “illiberalism” of SJP’s brand of “social justice,” and sang “Hatikvah.” They also carried signs that read, “Jewish Lives Matter—Say NO to HATE,” “Know the Truth: BDS = HATE MOVEMENT,” “Say NO to Anti-Semitism,” “HATE GROUP: SJP – HATE MOVEMENT: BDS,” “Why Won’t SJP Boycott Syria, Russia, and Iran?” and “SJP Calls Murder of Civilians ‘Resistance.’” SJP activists reacted by locking arms, facing away, and repeatedly directing each other to “not engage.”

Now if you were to conclude that the Jewish organizations on campus were all behind this demonstration, your conclusion would be incorrect.

Lending credibility to a growing sense that the Jewish-American community’s preeminent organizations are allergic to confrontation were the preemptive actions taken by the Hillel at George Mason University Hillel. It launched a website, “Embrace Diversity,” and held a series of alternative events that promised to “provide safe engaging spaces for Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

Now is this truly a freedom of the press issue? As I've noticed previously, Constitutional protections limit what the government can do, but do not limit what private organizations can do. In the same way that private citizen Donald Trump could yank press credentials on a whim, private organization SJP can refuse to grant press credentials on a whim. The fact that the event was held at a public university does not necessarily mean that private organizations using university facilities have to behave like a government.

You know, I wonder if Donald Trump heads the National SJP. There are some parallels between the two that go beyond their attitudes toward the press. Both love Syria, for example.

But I digress.

We've seen a lot of players on campus - the National SJP, the organizations that actively oppose them, and the organizations that want everyone to be happy and play nice together. One of the latter groups, George Mason University Hillel, posted this as things were starting:

We have learned that offensive Islamaphobic signs were posted on campus yesterday by individuals unaffiliated with George Mason Hillel. George Mason Hillel condemns this act and any efforts to demonize any racial or religious group. We are committed to creating a campus climate where all feel safe and secure, where diversity is celebrated, and where political differences are communicated civilly and respectfully.

Because George Mason is, after all, inclusive and accessible.

Now these signs were not posted by the protesters cited above. They were posted by a DIFFERENT outside agitator.

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#empogmgmu Part One: George Mason and Safe Spaces

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I plan to make a series of posts on the #empogmgmu topic, but a few warnings are in order before I begin.

First, if you are a committed Clinton supporter who gets upset when people say mean things that make you cry, you may not want to read the #empogmgmu series of posts.

Second, if you are a committed Trump supporter who gets upset when people say mean things that make you cry, you may not want to read the #empogmgmu posts either.

In fact, perhaps it's best if no one reads the posts at all, and looks at puppy photos instead.


(Have they all left?)

(Probably not. Reverse psychology and all that.)

Third, this post - or series of posts - is definitely NOT succinct. In part, its longish because it covers a lot of time - over 225 years.

Although it doesn't cover a lot of geography. It begins at a plantation in Fairfax County by the Potomac River, and ends at a jail - I mean detention facility - not too many miles away from that plantation. Although perhaps by the time that I'm done with the #empogmgmu series, I will have gone beyond that detention facility.

But let's go to the beginning, to a man named George Mason. Technically he's one of the Founding Fathers, but he's not a really cool Founding Father like Washington and Franklin and Madison. Why not? Because he ended up opposing the U.S. Constitution.

Backing up a bit, when British North America was a collection of separate colonies, George Mason was a resident of the colony of Virginia. Born in 1725, Mason was a very rich man, and lived in a plantation called Gunston Hall (not too far from where another very rich man, George Washington, ended up living). Mason was active in politics in Fairfax County and in the nearby city of Alexandria, and then was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1759. He was part of the group of Burgesses who objected to the British government's actions in the colonies, and by 1776 he had authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which begins as follows.

I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

If some of those words sound a little familiar, that's because another rich Virginian plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson, referred to the Virginia Declaration of Rights while writing the Declaration of Independence later in 1776.

But that's not the only thing that was cribbed from the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Here's another example:

XII. That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

Basically, if I may use a modern term, Mason wanted Virginia to be a safe space where members of the press could function freely, without running into the issues that bedeviled John Peter Zenger.

We'll get back to the Article XII a little later.

Specifically, a little over a decade later, when Virginia and other former colonies had entered into a Confederation - a Confederation that was beset with all sorts of problems. This led a number of men, including Mason, to convene in Philadelphia in 1787 to come up with a new form of government. (Mason had been invited to the Annapolis meeting in 1786, but didn't attend.)

After a number of discussions and compromises among the delegates, the body came up with a Constitution. And Mason, who had been one of the most active participants in the Constitutional Convention, decided that he could NOT support it.

Why not? To Mason's thinking, the government that was outlined by the Constitution was no better than the government that they had overthrown. From Teaching American History:

Mason's refusal prompts some surprise, especially since his name is so closely linked with constitutionalism. He explained his reasons at length, citing the absence of a declaration of rights as his primary concern. He then discussed the provisions of the Constitution point by point, beginning with the House of Representatives. The House he criticized as not truly representative of the nation, the Senate as too powerful. He also claimed that the power of the federal judiciary would destroy the state judiciaries, render justice unattainable, and enable the rich to oppress and ruin the poor. These fears led Mason to conclude that the new government was destined to either become a monarchy or fall into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy.

(Boy, Mason was ridiculous. Who in their right mind today things that our government has fallen into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy? It's not like we've had two families running the government for the last 35 years or anything like that.)

It turns out that Mason's objections were shared by others. The other delegates, though, rather than rejecting the Constitution altogether, decided to immediately amend the Constitution with some protections for individuals, many of which were derived from the Virginia Declaration of Rights - including its Article XII about freedom of the press.

Mason died just a few years later, in 1792. Although he isn't necessarily remembered throughout the United States, he is remembered in the Fairfax County area of Virginia. At least two educational institutions were named in honor of Mason - Gunston Middle School (formerly Gunston Junior High School) in Arlington, Virginia, and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

I attended Gunston back when it was a junior high school, but I never attended George Mason University. However, it is to George Mason University that we shall turn.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Intelligently market yourself for influence beyond your actual numbers - lessons from the Klan, Dan Harper, Tank Man, and Nicole Palmer

A triumph of marketing.

The activities of one group in North Carolina have received attention from all of the media, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Trump people, and all of us.

When the day of the parade comes, protesters and media will swarm to the place to cover the story, and it will be emblazoned all over the news that evening.

But think about it.

A Klan group in California came out to Anaheim earlier this year and got a similar amount of attention - for a protest with only a half dozen Klansmen.

A half dozen.

The North Carolina victory parade will be lucky if it gets more than 100 participants. The media (much less the protesters) will probably outnumber actual Klansmen.

This phenomenon, where a group's influence is disproportionate to their actual numbers, is not limited to the alt-right, the alt-left, or other fringes. Take this protest against Russian bombing in Syria, in which the Telegraph dutifully reported the activities of the protestors - uh, protestor.

In this case, I can't blame for not finding the incident to be newsworthy.

There are numerous examples of viral reactions to limited civil disobedience - the one man facing a tank in China, various Buddhist monks who were on fire for their cause, and others. Some, such as Rosa Parks, were backed by organizations, while others went out on their own.

But why do these people have such influence?

It's not just the marketing - I could put out a press release loudly proclaiming that Brian Eno is Slim Whitman's secret son, and no one would give a hoot. But when the protest elicits emotional reactions - especially emotional reactions when the Klan, Putin, or other hot-button figures are involved - news of the protest will spread far and wide.

Despite their deplorable image, the Klan are no dummies. They knew very well that a simple announcement of a public rally, even without accompanying details, would get the Klan a lot of free publicity. And as that publicity ricocheted around the world, perhaps that would be enough to motivate a guy somewhere to think, "Hey, the Klan really speaks for me."

In fact, the (remote) possibility exists that my writing about this may persuade someone to join the Klan. And even if I were to rightly interject the message that the Klan is a bad thing, this might not make any difference - some people may be MORE attracted to the Klan because of its enemies, including the President-elect, the major political parties, and Empoprises. In fact, here's a fake interview:

Once I saw that Empoprises opposed the Klan, I knew that the Klan had to have something worthwhile to offer me. I mean, Empoprises writes about Brian Eno - a foreigner. The Redcoats are almost as bad as the Yankees, in my opinion.

Obviously, things are much better if you intelligently market yourself for (in my opinion) positive purposes. Take Nicole Palmer:

If someone had told me two years ago that I would have cared for over 30 children while working and raising a daughter on my own, I wouldn’t have believed them, but that has been my life since becoming a foster carer....

The first child that arrived at my door came for a five week stay while her long term carer was away. It was a wonderful experience for us and helped me understand what was involved. Pretty quickly I asked to follow this up by providing some emergency care. After this I felt ready to provide short term care, which is classified as six months or less....

Foster care does come with its challenges and I’ve learned a lot about myself. In one instance I cared for a little girl that couldn’t speak English, but we worked through it together. It was so satisfying to find a way to communicate with her and make a connection. Sometimes I think the biggest challenges have the biggest rewards.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Don't gloss over this one key word in Kenneth Cole's store closure announcement

At first glance, this sounds like a story for my tymshft blog, since it appears to deal with trends toward online retailing. But read the opening of this Bloomberg story carefully:

Kenneth Cole Productions, a fashion house and shoe company founded more than three decades ago, is closing almost all its stores, effectively ending its run as a U.S. brick-and-mortar chain.

The New York-based retailer will shutter its 63 outlet stores over the next six months, Chief Executive Officer Marc Schneider said in an e-mail Friday.

So Kenneth Cole is closing 63 stores. Perhaps this quote, later in the article, will explain why.

“As we continue on our path of strengthening our global lifestyle brand, we look to expand our online and full-price retail footprint across the globe,” [Schneider] said.

Now it's clear. It isn't that Kenneth Cole is closing 63 stores. It's that Kenneth Cole is closing 63 OUTLET stores.

Big difference.