Thursday, November 20, 2014

Measuring So People Matter 

The best marketing minds understand, just as Barack Obama understands, that when people feel powerless, no illusion is so alluring as that we matter.
Catherine Blyth, Feb 19, 2009, 8:41 a.m., on blog, “as seen in the Spectator.”

Oh irony: clicking on Spectator (on her blog page) leads to a Spectator page which says two things: “Sorry—page not found” and “Check out the latest opinion on Coffee House and add your voice.” Well, the only voice I hear is someone telling me Britain has 60,000,000 people—that’s an awfully big coffee shop.

Hurray! Once again it’s been another 25 weeks, like finishing another project, because I have filled up another web administrator’s Page: Each Page is set for 25 topic lines, for 25 posts.

They say the last stage of any project in real life, or in Management 101, is summing up the lessons learned: Some folks would insist only the measurable lessons count. My big lesson for my Page isn’t measurable—and before I talk about my own learning, I would like to talk of other bloggers, and folks in the greater world, and what they measure.

In the blogging world
As I’ve noted before, the blogging gold rush fever is over, with many blogs now totaling up fewer page hits than they once totaled up in just comments alone. Back in the day, despite the mathematical odds, people craving high hit counts were rushing and frantic, skimming half-blind in their hopes of being noticed and loved and heard. Yes, folks will always have such human yearnings; I’m sure this mistake will repeat again when new technology comes along—we don’t learn from history.

What bloggers could have remembered is: The numbers! Even in a small town, in a little town hall meeting, most of us will sit quietly. In their yearning to matter, and their rush for great big hit counts, bloggers forgot this.

A trick I got from community organizer Saul Alinsky is to “act locally” while having a blurred vision of people around me working and voting for a better world: I know I count to my little peer group, as other citizens count to their peer group. All of our efforts and all of our votes add up to our democracy. Of course Alinsky’s trick requires a little abstract thinking, which may be a little unreasonable, but still, it’s less unreasonable than believing “people globally” are reading my blog.

Alinsky’s trick is better for me than thinking, “Hey, cleaning up litter in this little corner park won’t change the mess in the whole city so forget it—I quit!” Or thinking that if I can’t have my voice be heard, really heard, written in glowing letters on the stadium jumbotron, then I’ll get all huffy. Remember the spoiled kid with the only ball and bat on the block? If he didn’t get his own way he would get huffy and say, “I’ll just take my ball and bat and go home.” That won’t be me.

In the greater world
‘You manage what you measure’ goes a popular slogan. Careful with this one. A conscientious computer guy, web essayist Paul Graham, was working on making the best product he could, and then he got some shares in the stock. You can measure stock price. To his surprise, he found himself evaluating everything, and making his decisions, by how it would affect the stock, not by how it would help the product.

And of course, in another time and space, we all know how the counter-insurgency efforts in Vietnam avoided the main war by simply killing Vietcong, focusing on body counts and other measurable things, things that often impelled people into communism, and away from democracy. (Like in colonial New England where the English troops “won” a riot by protecting themselves with gunfire, but at the cost of a few dead colonists—causing a few hundred new recruits for the revolution) Significantly, the troops in Nam on the ground, gazing through barbed wire, called Winning the Hearts and Minds “the other war.” Regrettably, I am not convinced that at the end of Vietnam we summed up and learned any lessons, not when Iraq was run by, yet again, the armed forces and the embassy. Instead, rebuilding in Iraq should have been coordinated, and democracy taught, by the State Department. By relying on the warrior culture and the embassy, I think the U.S. goal of democracy-teaching amidst nation-building was utterly doomed in advance.

And of course the War on Drugs is repeating, point by point, the sorry list of lessons not-learned in Nam, repeating the farce. Utterly doomed, then, to failure. Maybe the real farce is honest people against drugs saying, “What list?” Or even worse, “I thought the only thing we learned from Vietnam was not to get involved in any former French colony in Southeast Asia.” But hey, let’s not get too grim and humorless about our inability to learn from history. After all, I’m sure Voltaire would react to our folly by laughing long and loud, as his eyes squeezed out tears...

… Only a few years ago, back in the day, bloggers tried to feel good from their nice measurable hit counts. The “summing up,” as discussed in panels at blogger conferences, was for learning how to “increase traffic.” But the best things in life, besides being free, are things that can’t be measured. Not like traffic. Better to simply reach for abstractions like fun and excellence, and let the traffic roam where it will.

In my blog site
Measurable: Good news for my fans: page views are up. That’s likely to be a coincidence. Clicks to see “full profile” are really up. That’s unlikely to be a coincidence. I guess I should be happy. Best of all, I suppose, the blog fever has passed, and yet my hit counts haven’t fallen off. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

In the “about me” I say, “It’s OK to comment on my older posts.” And now someone is doing so, and I am answering, and that’s nice.

During this Page I have acquired a reader moved to comment; she likes human growth pieces: Call her my “stock price.” It becomes likely, then, I shall do more human potential essays, and that’s fine by me.

Not measurable: I’ve learned the Japanese, with their old civilization, have the concept “Way,” called do, as in Karate-do, “Way of the empty hand.” (Incidentally, Karate-do is a martial art, not a sport like boxing) They also have a Way of the tea ceremony, and other “Ways” too. I doubt that any wise old crone, not famous, not known beyond her peers, would tell you precisely why she practices the tea ceremony or tai chi, but she knows it’s meaningful. In my silicon world of silly screens my prose can be my practice, my Way, my tai chi—if, and only if, I focus. It wouldn’t be the same if I languidly typed with a limp wrist, escaping into writing as a distraction.

Leisure can feel as meaningful as “real work.” Hence a practical, work ethic fellow like business guru Peter Drucker could become an expert on Japanese art, and be published (co-author) on it; Sir Winston Churchill could become an expert painter, and be published on painting. I have seen one of his pieces hanging at Government House in Edmonton. Churchill’s prose, of course, is classic, well worth studying by students of composition—as I have.

It’s nothing magic, these two men and the crone are all mortal: Everyone can all learn to focus on skills and interests just as they do. Me too. I can’t measure, and I can’t prove, the value of practicing a Way of life. I can only say I mean to keep writing. That’s my lesson from these last 25 posts.    

Sean Crawford

A Note on Blogs  
As you can see from old blogs, immortal in cyberspace, blogs were also try to have a sense of community through comments. Some current blogs have this, with comments from decent readers, not skimmers. 

Related essays
~One of my top ten (by hit count) posts, A Young Girl’s Guide to Wars and Drugs (comparing two failures) was posted March 2013… Incidentally, while readers seldom click on “like,” a post two weeks past it, also in March, has two “likes,” Men’s Underwear and Symbolism.

~My last summing up for a 25-blog Page was posted as Acid Blog, Stupid University May 2014.

~ Under the label Iraq, I have three essays, the last includes the concept of reality checks.

Me, Growing Up
 On a personal note, for readers who get this far down the page, I guess I should grow up. Everybody else lost their innocence in Vietnam, and I should too, and stop innocently wanting the agony and casualties to mean any lessons are learned. No silver lining, their lives were just wasted.
I’m sorry, Mom.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mourning and Remembrance

In the year of our lord 1914 the British Empire was imperiled. All over Africa the German and British colonies fought, while in London the King’s ministers reported with alarm: The Expeditionary force was in retreat. And they sent out the call: Save the King!

Across the ocean, across a harsh land, across the continental divide was a khaki coloured land of sagebrush and yellow grass and low trees. Here had settled the children of empire, nearly all with memories of England’s pastures green, now in a dryer land. It was a fertile land, if you had water. And water was far away. Far away but not beyond the ingenuity of the sons of the King. Great wooden flues were built for miles and miles with great Roman fortitude. Straight as the heart’s desire. And hearts dreamed that soon orchards would grow with a profusion of delicate white blossoms because of the wooden flues crossing the hills and valleys like a roman aqueduct.

But work on the flues was interrupted—. Setting dreams aside, the strong young husbands and fathers hit the rails across the vast land and sailed off to Britain and thence to France to flounder and gasp and walk with determination amongst the dreadful mud of Flanders. But not before telling their sweet wives and young children, “Take care, be strong, there’ll be a new day by and by.”

Only God knows how many letters crossed the ocean, undeliverable. Only God knows where many of the men are buried, men of a small town in British Columbia. Their wives had to move on, the town had to be abandoned, for so few ever returned. They had gone with such high hopes. “Fear God and honour the Queen, shoot straight and keep clean.” (Kipling) And now they are gone.

The old flues still stretch forth, grey as the landscape. At night the coyotes howl their lonesome sound… Mournful under the stars, in the presence of the great flues.

Sean Crawford
During my Freefall class
Alexandra Writers Centre
Calgary, AB
Remembering Mr. Thompson
The above piece remains timely, as this is figuratively the year of the veteran: The Legion reports a record number of Remembrance Day poppies picked up.

Today I'm hearing the song Cat's Cradle in my head, and I’m remembering my grade five teacher Mr. Thompson (I hope I spelled his name right) a man who would hit the roof if you drew a Nazi swastika on your desk. It was he who said (as I commented here  last week) regarding the poppy poem In Flanders Fields, “The torch is not a gun, it’s peace.”

Long retired, in my head he remains a vital young man with a British import car that fooled the mechanics: The engine was under the bonnet, not the trunk like that other import, the beetle. My elementary school had one class for each grade, and Mr. Thompson was the boy’s coach. (No girl’s teams in those days) I remember how, thinking of his students back home, he photographed his young wife on Hadrian’s wall. This was in the day when every classroom had a picture of the gracious young queen—of course we studied Roman Britain.

The Romans left a legacy, and Mr. Thompson left us a legacy: With much repetition and imaginative maps he explained the length and breadth of British Columbia. He told us the story of the abandoned town—I believe the town set a record for greatest proportion of men going off to serve. I think of Mr. Thompson when I travel on winding old B.C. highways in my imported Asian car.