Happy Presidents Day!

From Mitchell Hainfeld: https://www.flickr.com/photos/40441865@N08/

From Mitchell Hainfeld: https://www.flickr.com/photos/40441865@N08/

In our country the president is, above all, an employee. Some have done great things, some have been average and there are those who honestly messed it up. Legitimate presidents come in all types, but now we have one that isn´t even a legitimate president because he won´t do his job. I´m not talking about not doing well, I mean he won´t even try to do the basic things that are part of being president.

There are other reasons to question his legitimacy as a president of the United States.

One level of illegitimacy is the electoral  college. It is an archiac device that does not produce outcomes in line with its intent. Ideally it would be used to overrule the popular vote in extreme cases, but it cannot do that because many states have fixed the electors to the state voting results. Instead it just distorts the power of rural voters in smaller states to over 20 times that of a voter in a large state. But George W. Bush also lost the popular vote and is still considered a legitimate president. So this alone is not enough.

A more serious issue is the collusion and intrusion of a hostile foreign power. It´s clear that Putin did not put Trump in power because he wants America to be great. Quite the opposite. How deep this goes is not yet known, but there is considerable evidence of an active connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The REAL reason Trump cannot be described as a U.S. president is that he is not doing the job. At all.

A U.S. president has a lot of roles and responsibilities. It is a full-time job, not an honorary title. Trump appears to spend his time watching alt-news and raging on Twitter. Several incidents show he is just not thinking like a president.

The most recent was the crazy, rambling news conference during which a Jewish reporter asked him about rising incidents of antisemitism.

The question was really a softball wrapped in a towel. If you are a president, all citizens are your responsibility. If some group is being targeted, that is YOUR problem. If there are attacks on Jews, then you want to stop it and you want the Jews being attacked to know you are there for them. That is really so basic that it has probably never needed to have been said before.

The so-called president failed utterly to address the issue. Instead, he did what he usually does, went on a defensive, injured ramble. He was offended that anyone might think he was antisemitic, which the question did not even remotely imply.

He also has failed to attend intelligence briefings, failed to appoint qualified people to nearly 4,000 open positions, failed to take a passing interest in the constitution he is supposed to defend, and failed as Commander in Chief.

The president´s obligation to the military is to use the best information available to make the best choices. The military serves the country and follows the lawful orders of the president. But if the president shoots from the hip without getting solid information first, he is betraying those serving under him.

I don´t know how long this guy will last. He has already violated the constitution in several serious ways, but we have to wait for enough GOP members to grow spines to begin the impeachment process. That will happen eventually though. Actually, most of them will never gain actual courage, but there will be enough cover that they can act safely, at which point they will certainly claim to be courageous.

But let´s hope that on future President´s Days, maybe even next year, we will have an actual president, good, bad, or maybe great, to celebrate.


Two Kinds of Acceptance

Trump won the election and a lot of people are suggesting we accept this and move on. Give him a chance.

Personally, I believe acceptance is an important spiritual principle. It allows us to live in a world that we don’t always agree with, and move past events that hurt us or those around us. Acceptance acknowledges that we are not the ultimate decider in the universe, that we can continue on making good choice while others make bad ones.

This is one kind of acceptance, one many of us live with every day. I accept my limitations and accept that the world is not a perfect place.

That is not the same as accepting or approving the actions of others when they are not ok. Donald Trump is now president-elect of the United States. I accept that fact. But that’s not the same as accepting this as ok. It isn’t.

Donald Trump is a sex predator. He’s a misogynist. He is racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, and abusive towards veterans, journalists, disabled people, and anyone who he finds unattractive. Worse, he actively attacks the groups he looks down on, using them as bait in his battle for acceptance.

Good people voted for him. Now we get to the harder level of acceptance. We are all mixed good/bad and we don’t always get things right. Some people we know well may have decided that voting for Trump was the right thing.

Most likely some sweet older relative is getting ready to show up at your Thanksgiving with pies and complaints about how these protesters don’t have respect.

Where do we go with this? I think it is still critical NOT to allow Trumpism to become a normal thing. We need to resist any inclusion in a “I guess we can all agree that…” attempt to do so. We don’t all agree. And the crazy aunt with the perfect pecan pie is just going to have to accept that as well.

I am not sure how to do this in practice because every interaction is a little different. The Southern Poverty Law Center has put out a pretty good resource, worth a read. My starting point is that I may not challenge everything anyone says, but I will definitely challenge any statement that assumes my acceptance.

Forgiveness, Redemption, and Change

I very much believe in these three things. A big part of my life is defined by a community of people who are all united by having a past that we needed to change, and many of us gone through a process of asking for forgiveness.

Of course we all struggle with these issues, we are human. But as humans, we tend to fight that moment of admitting we are wrong. We rationalize, minimize, deny our own behavior, often to ourselves. Individually, this is part of the process. A painful part, but one that we can make progress on if we are committed.

As a group or as a society, we need to encourage each other. Forgive, help others make progress. What we CANNOT do is accept someone’s rationalizations and pretend to forgive them. That keeps the person from making progress. Worse, it cements those rationalizations into the group or society.

The Trump wing of the GOP is doing that right now, and the damage they do affects both the GOP and our culture. By forgiving Trump without actual change, they are really accepting the behavior itself. By describing it as “locker room talk” they are creating a safe zone for sexual assault bragging. Some, (Jeff Sessions and Scott Baiou) are even minimizing the act itself. They are permanently destroying any chance of rebuilding the GOP as the party of family values.

At some level, it seems fun to watch the GOP implode. But the damage from the blast is degrading our whole society.

Chess & Coffee

A lot has changed since I last posted. I think the most relevant thing to report is that I have been living in Medellin, Colombia, for over a year now. I also should mention that I am now starting a business with a partner here, providing web content strategy for both U.S. and Colomian clients. Our website is Chess & Coffee, here.

Talking About Suicide: We’re All Reporters Now

This post is not about the recent death of Robin Williams, though that certainly sparked it. Personally, I was saddened, but also distant. Much as I enjoyed Robin Williams as an entertainer, and empathized with his struggles (some of which I share), he is still a person I know only through media.

What happened after his death is what I want to talk about. Some time ago, researchers discovered that there was often a measurable increase in the rate of suicides, especially among teens, after the suicide of a celebrity. The link is so well established that American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides recommendations for reporting on the about how the media should cover these events.

Most of the recommendations come from the CDC’s national workshop report, here. Notably, this is from 1994. The findings of the report, which identifies the issue as “suicide contagion” include:

Factors that might INCREASE the likelihood of suicide contagion:

  • Presenting simplistic explanations for suicide.
  • Engaging in repetitive, ongoing, or excessive reporting of suicide in the news.
  • Providing sensational coverage of suicide.
  • Glorifying suicide or persons who commit suicide.

And finally:

  • Focusing on the suicide completer’s positive characteristics.

Empathy for family and friends often leads to a focus on reporting the positive aspects of a suicide completer’s life. For example, friends or teachers may be quoted as saying the deceased person “was a great kid” or “had a bright future,” and they avoid mentioning the troubles and problems that the deceased person experienced. As a result, statements venerating the deceased person are often reported in the news. However, if the suicide completer’s problems are not acknowledged in the presence of these laudatory statements, suicidal behavior may appear attractive to other at-risk persons — especially those who rarely receive positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors.

While the media (generally) has done a fairly good job of adopting these guidelines, social media is now the place where most of us get our news about any celebrity suicide. The result is that we are all exposed to the kind of debating and reporting that has been shown to be a problem in the past. This is exacerbated because it goes back and forth. One person provides a simplified, possibly insulting explanation, then another provides an defense the glorifies the person. It’s what we do, how we communicate. But as we, as social media participants, take over more and more the role of traditional media in passing on and commenting on events such as this, we should also be aware of the guidelines.


Time for Everyone Who Blamed SEO for Bad Headlines to Apologize

For years journalists (or at least headline writers) have been complaining that Search Engine Optimization was forcing them to write bad headlines. The typical complaint was that “We are writing headlines for the search engines instead of the readers.”

In truth, though, a properly optimized headline is very user friendly. It helps the reader quickly understand what the article is about. The primary rule for an SEO friendly headline is that it accurately reflect the content of the article. Sure, this tends to rule out snarky or mis-leading headlines, but there are usually other ways to put that material in front of the readers.

Now we have, apparently, freed ourselves from this domination of SEO-friendly headlines. Many websites get more traffic from social media referrals than from search engines, so they abandon good SEO and try to make their headlines into click-bait.

What is the result of all this “freedom?” Now our social media is filled up with headlines like:

  • You’ll Never Believe What Some Of These Old Photos Reveal About The Past
  • Kids In Chicago Want White People To Play In Their Parks For One Heartbreaking Reason
  • 8 Reasons Children of the 1970s Should All Be Dead
  • These Women Hated Smiling At Strangers. You Will Totally Believe What Happens Next
  • The Creepy Reason People Never Used To Say, ‘I’m Feeling Kinda Down Today’
  • These Artists Are Cleaning Up The Streets, But You Won’t Believe How.
  • 22 Things Only People Who Hate Noise Will Understand

This headline at least tells us that the whole article is just stolen from Reddit:

  • Sean Bean’s Reddit AMA Was Everything You Could Hope For

The truth is that we are getting content that looks less and less like news, and headlines that are less and less helpful. Optimizing headlines for search engines at least provided a certain amount of discipline and focus on communicating to the user instead of teasing them.

Did the Washington Post Express Just Trash Muriel Bowser?

Today I’m walking into the Metro and the Washington Express guy hands me the paper. I’ve been picking it up for crossword-related reasons lately. I start reading the front as part of my commute; standing in train with people crowding in.

Imagine my surprise at seeing the complete trashing of Muriel Bowser. I’m not particularly a fan, but I did think she was a legitimate candidate. Why would the Express devote their front page to saying she was not ready to be mayor? I read down the page and finally get to the small text at the bottom: “paid for by Vince Gray 2014.”

Once before I stopped reading the Express because they sold the front cover from time to time. But at least they normally did so in a way that you could tell it was an ad. Today’s issue starts with the Express masthead, a teaser to a sports story, then flows down to the large picture of Muriel along with the text. If you are extremely attentive, there is a small word “advertisment” about the rest of the cover. I doubt many people noticed. So it seems that Vince Gray bought more than a prominent ad, he essentially purchased the front page and the reputation of the Washington Post Express. Which is sad.

Divinely Inspired Start-Ups: Why Amy’s Baking Company Hits Home

Small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurial projects are launched on a vision. Depending on your religious preferences, that vision might come from God, or from so deep inside your own soul that it makes little difference.

In case you missed the Amy’s Baking Company debacle that started on Kitchen Nightmare’s and spread across the Internet, here are a couple ways to catch up. Here’s the original episode. This article provides a pretty good overview, as does this one. Wikipedia has a page on it here.

Most articles and commentators seem to take the view that Amy and Samy are completely psychotic, and the reason they are so popular is that we all like watching a trainwreck. Another explanation for the resonance this episode created online was the tip issue, and the outrage over the treatment of the servers.

All of that is true, but I don’t think it explains why this debacle hit home. What’s telling is the heavy involvement of communities like Reddit, places that are overlap significantly with the start-up/entrepreneurial community. I think we are fascinated because many of the lessons are specific to our world.

Amy had a vision, she felt it was from God. Others doubted her vision, but she had one person who celebrated it, supported it, and defended it against the critics. Between them, the created this solipsistic world in which God’s vision for baked goods manifested, while on the outside haters, bloggers, and bad Yelp reviewers circled the impenetrable wall, spraying it with graffiti.

But either God lost control, or the Amy/Samy continuum forgot an important ingredient.


I talked to some start-up people who have experienced success about their visions.

Sean Perkins of Mobility Labs explained that he started his business because he wanted to help small business find a roadmap through the tangle of technology possibilities. He envisioned mobile platforms as the most important emerging field, and it was also one that he found fascinating.

Ben Cohen, of TheDailyBanter, was eating a bowl of cornflakes when he thought being the next American media mogul sounded sweet. Why not him, he thought. His vision was to build a network of like-minded sites.

Jason Connell, of Ignited Leadership had a vision that he could really help people by training them to lead.

All three have found their way to success, but each had to pivot along the way. Pivoting is the act of realizing your vision and reality don’t match up, but instead of giving up, you change your vision. It requires a measure of humility.

Sean reports that: “Mobile technology fascinated me, but clients wanted me to do web development. I could keep selling something that people weren’t necessarily buying, or transition to something, I didn’t know as much about, but that was definitely a need. The new field still met my main criteria, I was helping small businesses make sense of technology.”

Ben found that, instead of creating a loose network of like-minded websites, he needed to control the brand and platform himself. But this still led him to the core of his vision, “It’s all about conversation, interactivity, opening up platforms to regular people.”

Jason explained that the reality was 100% different than his vision. He had to fight for every client, and it took him a lot longer than he expected.

Humility allows us to understand that reality is different than our vision, no matter how divinely inspired the vision may be. But entrepreneurs are sometimes afraid of humility because we need spend so much time finding confidence.

We are often told about Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs, it is said, had the confidence to stick to his vision without reference to what people said they wanted. His great innovations were devices that we didn’t know we wanted, until he showed us. He is an example of confidence in a vision without much feedback.

But Steve Jobs did know how to pivot. In fact, he was famous for it. This Fast Company article covers it pretty well. The essence is that Steve Jobs, after being forced out of Apple, started his own company NeXt, which completely failed. But Jobs figured out how to find something of value in the ruins, and changed his emphasis.


Collaborative Space is the Best Space

For over a year now, I have been running my business out of the Affinity Lab, a collaborative workspace on U Street in DC. During this time, I’ve come to believe that collaborative work environments are the future.

For some perspective, I came to Affinity after leaving one of the most toxic work environments I’ve ever experienced. Bad management promoted mediocrity with little opportunity for true excellence or advancement. But much as I despise what that place was becoming, I realized that there are much healthier companies out there that would still drive me crazy.

The truth is that the structure of the large organization, with heavy-handed HR departments and territorial knowledge silos, is a dinosaur. Evolution has moved on, providing us with much better, easily accessed tools for collaboration, information gathering, and self-administration. Some people will prefer the structured environment and predictability of the older, larger organizations, but the other advantages that these huge groups once had: access to related skill-sets, mentoring, information, and just the pure social element that goes with working in an office, are all now found somewhere else.

Update: Where to Find the Good Stuff

Recently I have been kind of inactive here, as well as on some of my other blogs. The issue has been how I define myself personally and professionally. It’s somewhat blurred, because what I do professionally springs from my personal fascination with information, communications, and how that happens online.

In the past, I’ve posted a lot of material on this website about professional topics, such as SEO, web content strategy, and Gov2.0. While I may continue to post general articles on those topics here, the more specific, how-to articles will be over on my business website: boltdigitalstrategies.com. On the other hand, particularly philosophical/political pieces will be found over on thesnarkhunter.com. Everything in the middle will, or should end up here.