Tidying Up

I remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and demonstrated Safari rendering a web site, the New York Times I believe, and was very proud of the fact that web sites could be rendered on a mobile phone exactly as they appear on the desktop. It didn’t need to reformat it to fit your device, you could just pinch or double tap to zoom and it was awesome. For the longest time I’ve kept that presentation in the back of my mind when it comes to the design of my web sites. There was no need to do anything special because Steve said it would just work. Well, in the 10 years or so since that presentation we’ve moved on a bit.

Sure, I don’t have to make any changes to my site to make it easier to use on mobile. It does work just like Steve said. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. So I’m in the midst of a slight design refresh to make SGnTN more responsive. Another factor pushing more towards this change is Google’s decision to deemphasize sites that aren’t “mobile-friendly” in its search results. My Mobile Safari version history page is pretty popular and so I figured I’d better get with the program if to maintain the visibility of that resource.

The redesign is mostly done and I have to admit, it is so much nicer to use on a mobile device now. At this point I’m just addressing overlooked issues as they arise. If you happen come across anything that looks wonky, please leave a comment or hit me up @somegeekintn, whatever, and I’ll see if I can’t make it better. Hope you like the new look!

Disillusioned

I didn’t really pay attention at the time, but my grandfather was apparently very active in politics during his lifetime. My understanding is that he was a lifelong Republican and worked in some capacity to rally support in and around Grundy County. I have on my wall a plaque he received as a token of appreciation. It’s a reproduction of a map of Tennessee as it was in 1818. On it is says Season’s Greetings 1979, Governor and Mrs. Lamar Alexander.

Apart from occasionally complaining about the state of affairs at a national level I’ve never really made an effort to be deeply involved in politics until recently. I was looking at the plaque and wondering if the current state of affairs had activated a dormant hereditary trait. Given that I’ve kept my distance I wasn’t sure exactly where to begin so I mostly tried to educate myself by visiting candidate and party websites and following some of the candidates on social media.

For most of my life I felt like my beliefs were more closely aligned with libertarians than any other party and I tended to vote as such. Broadly speaking, a smaller government that keeps its nose out of the people’s personal affairs and is disciplined when it comes to spending. Those beliefs have modified somewhat as the years have rolled by. Well, the first hasn’t changed and I disagree with both parties on different issues with regards to personal freedom. As for the fiscal policy I’ve come to realize that I’m not opposed to government spending in general, rather, I’m opposed to reckless government spending. The Republicans talk a big game but, while in power, have they ever tried managed to produce something close to a balanced budget?

Anyway, I don’t want to get into every little detail, but my thinking is that a “blue wave” this November would be a good thing in that it would hopefully force us back towards the middle and act as a check on some of the president’s more extreme positions. And if I allow some optimism to creep in perhaps there’s a chance that the parties will attempt to reach across the aisle and work to dismantle the tribalism that is responsible for so much division. Not a very realistic scenario, but a fella can dream.

So, while I’m leaning blue, my attempts to engage with Democratic candidates and the Democratic party have fallen flat and so it’s hard to get particularly excited about either. My hope was to make a connection and discover how and where I could contribute but that hasn’t happened so far. Granted these attempts have been confined to social media and perhaps they are focused on more traditional channels of communication. I’ve seen candidates mention things like “they may outspend us, but they won’t outwork us” which I imagine refers to going door to door and working the phones which is all well and good but I’d be more impressed if there was also an effort to work smarter. That’s not to say that the candidates aren’t using social media, they are. But they are using it to talk at us, not to us. I don’t need or deserve a plaque like my grandfather received nearly 40 years ago. To begin, I’d just like someone to say: I hear you.

They’re Not Making This Easy

I’ve been trying to do a better job of learning and keeping myself informed about the political process and the candidatess running for office. So it was that a day or two ago I saw that Tennessee 7th district candidate Justin Kanew tweeted out something about him, the 4th district candidate Mariah Phillips, and some other candidates having appeared in Maury county. I likely wouldn’t have gone, but it made me wonder how I might have learned of this appearance before it happened. I started by looking at Mariah’s pages since she’s a candidate in my district, but I couldn’t find any mention of it. Odd, but okay maybe they don’t have the resources to create and maintain a calendar. Next I tried the Rutherford County Democratic Party web site. This thing is a mess. There are these big scrolling title banners which are clipped and obscured by content that sits on top of them. Basically unreadable and useless. Unless you have a ginormous monitor I suppose. One reads “Bee with Democrat” another “Coffee Dem with the Second Wednesday Every Mo”. And don’t even bother viewing this site on mobile. One banner which appears to be showing information about voting only shows the letter “V” on my phone. Lovely.

But they did have a link to a calendar of events. Nice! I followed that link which has a nice calendar with various meetings listed clearly. So far so good. There were things like “Coffee with the Dems” and “Beer with the Dems”. The latter sounds great. If I don’t like what I hear I can drink enough to forget all about it. I clicked on that one to find out more info and… nothing. From what I can gather, Beer with the Dems happens on the second Thursday of each month. Where it happens is a complete mystery. I went through some of the other events and it’s the same for each. The RCDP is okay at telling you what events there are, but not where they are. Sigh.

Besides the regularly scheduled mystery meetings, there is nothing about any candidate meetings. It does mention that August 2nd was an election day, but nothing listed for November 6th. I seem to recall that being a fairly significant date. The Rutherford County GOP web site is actually worse somehow, but they do at least mention that there’s an election on November 6th. That’s nice I guess.

Alright, these are little county web sites created by volunteers so maybe I should cut them some slack. I don’t really want to, given all the talk I hear about how much trouble there is getting the message out, but fine. Surely the state level web sites are better.

The first thing I click on the TNDP web site is the Events link and… nothing. Zero events. Is there even an election coming up? Who can say!? The next thing I click on is Our Candidates which claims there are “more than 100 Democrats running” but under “Who’s Running?” there are only two people listed. Two. (insert facepalm here). Okay. Fine. Whatever. I also went to the state site to get links to all the county sites to compare to Rutherford. Clicking on County Parties takes you to a page which lists all 33 counties up to Hamilton. Wait, 33? There are apparently no county parties after Hamilton. Sweet Jesus. And by the way none of these have links to the county web sites, just their Facebook, Twitter, and email.

The TNGOP website isn’t much better. Although I don’t think it looks quite as nice, under Events, lo and behold, there are actual events listed! It has a map and everything. It only goes through September and doesn’t seem terribly comprehensive but at least it’s something. Also all 95 counties appear to be listed in the County Parties section. There are no links to any of their web sites and some appear to have no contact info, but they do at least acknowledge that each exists. While the Republican party site does list all the counties, there is no mention of candidates anywhere as near as I can tell.

So if I were to rely on the TNDP and TNGOP web sites as my sole source of information I might get an idea that there is an election coming up at some point and that it will be between more than 100 or possibly just 2 Democrats and no Republicans. It doesn’t really inspire confidence in your ability to govern if you can’t even put together a halfway decent web site. It’s exasperating, but then that seems to be the case with anything related to politics or government so maybe it’s by design just to get you comfortable with the whole experience. If I had to come up with a slogan for the TNDP web site it would be “Why even try?”. And for the TNGOP maybe “We don’t have to”.

TN 4th District Social Media Report Card

Catchy title for this post, eh? So, despite a small voice shrieking a warning from the back of my mind not to get sucked down into the political rabbit hole it appears I’m unable to help myself. Not sure any good can come of this, but apparently this is what I’m fixated on now.

Yesterday I voted in a primary election for, I think, my first time. I don’t really remember, but I know that I’d become quite interested in this one a little late in the race. As the election day wore on yesterday I decided to peek at the #electionday hash tag on Twitter to see if I could get a sense where things were headed. What I noticed was that were A LOT of tweets from the @VoteMarsha account but I didn’t really notice any coming from the candidates running for Tennessee’s 4th district for the U.S. House of Representatives. It piqued my curiosity so I decided to check the Twitter activity of each of the five candidates in the race. Which resulted in this tweet

I thought that was pretty surprising given that it was election day. And I was actually pretty generous when counting these up as I included tweets, replies, and retweets. The standalone tweet count was actually much lower. Next I wondered if maybe most of the action was instead taking place on Facebook. It may be turning into Grandma’s social media platform but it is easier to try and have an actual conversation over there. Pretty much the same results though you can see that some candidates have a clear preference for Zuckerberg’s data collection factory. Here was my tweet:

A few things jumped out at me. First I misspelled interesting. Second, I get the impression that DesJarlais couldn’t care less. Nothing on Facebook and on Twitter one was just retweeting Trump and another complaining about Google’s new censored search engine for China. No “I would be honored to have your vote”, “Please vote today”, “Kiss my ass”, “Kiss his ass”, nothing. I get the impression that he is completely unconcerned about November and, if we’re being completely honest, I sadly don’t have a ton of hope that there’s much reason for him to be concerned.

Two of the candidates, Christopher Hale and Steven Reynolds, actually replied to my tweets which I thought was fantastic! It let me know who was actually paying attention. Mr. Hale, who was the most active on social media pointed out that you could tell which candidate was the 29 year old which made me smile. Although Blackburn is 66 and Trump is 72 and they seem to have this stuff pretty well figured out. And Mr. Reynolds suggested that social media may not be a very good weapon in mobilizing the vote. I’m not sure I agree with that.

First, look no further than the president’s twitter account. Love him or hate him he generates a huge amount of buzz on Twitter and that spills over into more conventional forms of media. Also I thought we’d all pretty much come to the conclusion that much of the Russian “meddling” (aka information warfare) is taking place on social media. The Russian don’t seem to think it’s ineffective mechanism to influence voters! And Twitter handles are becoming as ubiquitous as URLs on marketing materials.

Second, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard oh if only we could find a way to reach out to young people and motivate them to participate in the elections! Guess where a long of young folks are hanging out these days? Go ahead I’ll wait.

Okay one other thing I wanted to touch on real quick that I didn’t tweet about yesterday. As I was gathering info on each candidate’s tweets, I happened to look at the bio section for each as well. Christopher Hale, Steven Reynolds, and Jack Maddux all have a hashtag or two in there description which is okay I suppose, but most importantly they have a link to their homepage where you can learn more about them and which is rightly the hub to any other presence they have online. Mariah Phillips has a hashtag in her bio, for whatever that’s worth, but the URL goes directly to a donation site from which there is no link to her main site or anywhere else. If you stumble across Mariah’s Twitter you’re going to have to make an extra effort to find out more about her. DesJarlais has no hashtags and no link to a web page. Not even his official government web page. Nothing. His bio should just say please go away.

This was by no means a deep dive and I didn’t even touch on their actual positions but, at least for me, did give me a little insight into their level of engagement and outreach at least on the digital front. In addition, I think it’s reasonable to wonder if a questionable internet presence / strategy translates into questionable execution elsewhere.

I wish I’d done this exercise a little earlier on, I believe I may have voted differently. It’s a bit of a bummer that the candidates that seem the least engaged online won their party’s primary. I hope that changes going forward.

Whatever Shall We Call This Spade?

I’ve been thinking about an article, actually maybe a couple of them now, that suggest calling all this Russian business “meddling” downplays the true nature of what’s taking place. In addition, it’s always described as “meddling in our elections”. As if the meddling is confined to just the elections. While much of the activity is around elections, it’s certainly much more broad that that. It’s a continuing operation aimed at sowing dissent, distrust, and division. And it’s been ongoing for a very long time. Whenever you hear the phrase “Meddling in our elections” try substituting the phrase “Waging information warfare”. That’s not only a more accurate description of what’s going on but doesn’t sound like something Scooby and the gang might be involved in. Hopefully too that this will lend bit more urgency to the actions we need to take to defend ourselves. I’d like to think that we have some defense in place but honestly who knows. Maybe if we properly frame the issue going forward it’ll help shine a light on the seriousness of the matter.

Back in February of last year I mentioned a book, Foundations of Geopolitics which lays out a strategy by which Russia can reassert its dominance upon the world stage. A playbook if you will. You can look over the bullet points on the wikipedia summary at each of those items that has, or is, occurring right now. For a book that was published nearly 20 years ago it’s remarkable how well the objectives that it lays out have come to pass. It seems more that a little naive to think that history just happened to unfold so closely to the aims described in this book without some kind of guiding hand. Again, as I mentioned in the post last February, the play with regards to the U.S. was that “Russia must spread Anti-Americanism everywhere: “the main ‘scapegoat’ will be precisely the U.S.”. As for inside the borders of our country it has this to say:

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics”

Is that not exactly what we’ve seen going on? It’s all so transparent and still there are those that refuse to believe. It’s baffling that anyone is wiling to give Russia the benefit of the doubt here. The book also says that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended. Let’s stop beating around the bush here, it’s not meddling, it’s war.

And we’re losing.