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.

The Puppet

If it wasn’t obvious before it surely must be by now. That is, the President of the United States is owned by a foreign power. I mean a part of me, the part that for which that statement is inconceivable, is wondering if maybe my tin foil hat isn’t fitting well. But as you take a step back and look at the behavior of Trump towards Putin and then you compare his “normal” behavior towards friends and foes alike, it’s clear that something isn’t quite right here. Certainly he is not shy about relentlessly directing his animus towards those he perceives as his enemy but also our allies, members of his own party, and even members of his own staff. But then in the next breath he talks about how great his relationship is with them. I think we’re all pretty familiar with how the guy works, right?

So what is it about Putin? As far as I’m aware he has never had an unkind word to say about the guy in any way. Before yesterday I still had some doubt about the nature that relationship. Some bizarre idolatry thing going on or something maybe? I don’t know. To be honest I’ve been trying to not focus as much on the day to day circus in Washington. It’s depressing. But since yesterday afternoon I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with an explanation and the only thing that makes sense logically is that Putin is holding something over him. Of course trying to apply logic to Trump’s behavior is a dicey proposition so maybe that’s my mistake. Maybe it could be that once the man has reached a particular conclusion about a thing that there’s no changing his mind? But no, there have been other things, most recently with separating kids from their parents who’ve entered the country illegally, where he initially claimed his hand were tied, nothing could be done, etc, etc only to reverse himself after a day or two. I don’t get the impression that we’re dealing with a particularly principled person here.

The news seems fixated on the fact that Trump chooses to believe the word of an adversary over his own intelligence agencies and that perhaps it is because his ego is so fragile that he cannot allow any notion that the election was in any way illegitimate to gain a foothold. I can totally see that but it misses the forest for the trees I think. He could have said what he did about Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere and still remain critical of any number of other issues. The annexation of Crimea, the support of al-Assad, shooting down commercial airliners, the rate at which Putin’s enemies seem to meet an untimely demise. But, given a chance to call Russia out on any of these things, the President instead said there have been mistakes on both sides! Trump is not shy about getting down in the mud with anyone else, save perhaps his immediate family, so why the reluctance here? Not even a hint of reprobation.

This would all be bad enough if the government seemed to be functioning normally. At least then you could have faith that the checks and balances would kick in and somewhere along the way one of the other branches would step in and figure out exactly what’s going on here. Sadly, and really this is the worst part, that isn’t going to happen. Sure we’ll get a few of the supposedly principled members of Congress expressing their disapproval, but nothing substantial. This will go back and forth a bit until it dies down or the next outrageous thing comes along. I had for a time held onto to the notion that we let the wheels of justice, ie the Mueller investigation play out, and once all the facts were presented that Congress would do the right thing. I no longer have any confidence that will come to pass. Even if the investigation reveals that the President is undoubtedly compromised. The campaign to poison public opinion with regards to that investigation has been ongoing for some time now. The groundwork for eventually viewing any conclusions reached by the Special Counsel has been laid and will be viewed as a product of the “Deep State”.

Given the proclivity of some members of this administration and the government at large to project, it’s hard not to wonder which state we are referring to when hearing the phrase “Deep State”. It’s hard to try and maintain any kind of objectivity when trying to understand the reaction to these things. Why there isn’t more pushback against some of the policies that run counter to traditional Republican beliefs. I don’t get it. Few have any problem believing that those who crave wealth and power could be bought by corporations, should we be surprised if we learn that foreign powers have also purchased influence within our government? It’s pretty depressing to realize that the best case scenario here is that the reaction by most Republicans is because they have no core principles and it’s simply a matter of party before country.

Broadening My Horizons

Yesterday I bought a Roku. Being an Apple guy it’s not something I had really considered. But recently I’ve been playing with some stock trading and such. 99% of my investing is a handful of index funds, but I do have a teeny bit that I set aside to “play” with. One of the companies that popped up on my radar a number of times was Roku. They’re up over 30% in the last month. That they’re doing so well piqued my interest in their products, so I decided to take a look and picked up a Streaming Stick. At $45 it’s very nearly an impulse purchase. I especially liked that Roku can be powered by the USB port on my TV. Getting to the power outlets behind the entertainment center is a bit of a nightmare. In fact if I’d not been able to power it with the TV’s USB port I don’t think I would have bothered. Too much of a hassle.

So anyway I plug the thing in and go through a few steps to get it set up with an account and maybe 15 minutes later I’m watching Netflix. Easy. You might say “it just works”. I haven’t even really had a chance to explore all the things it can do, but this morning I’m sitting here thinking about it and wondering why anyone but a hard core Apple fan would bother with an Apple TV at three times the price. And I say this as someone that makes tvOS apps. If you’re not locked into the Apple ecosystem what is the advantage? Somebody help me out because I’m not really seeing any. It reminds me too of the HomePod, but maybe the HomePod isn’t meant to compete in the sort of personal assistant category that Echo and Google Home occupy? Sure I guess if your only concern is audio quality maybe it’s the right choice but if you want it easily integrate with other services, do things for you, and otherwise “just work” Amazon and Google’s offerings seem a much better value.

I also don’t understand why you’d intentionally lock yourself into the Apple ecosystem when there are alternatives that work just as well with the freedom to use just about anywhere? Apple Music is one that comes to mind. What advantage does it have over Spotify? I swear I would not be shocked if my next toaster has the ability to connect to Spotify. I tried Apple Music for a bit but nothing jumped out at me as obviously superior. In addition I’ve often felt that a company focused exclusively on a particular market to innovate and quickly move to take advantage of or drive certain trends.

Case in point, the Mac. Does it feel like Apple is really focused on making great computers anymore or are they an afterthought? When was the Mac Pro last updated? Then we have the latest Mac Book Pro which reduced your connectivity and charging options to a single USB-C port. I say single since one is used for charging. But hey, in exchange you get to take your chances at having your keyboard fail somewhere down the road. I suppose we should be happy they left us headphone jack. Is all of this because their resources are spread so thing designing phones and watches, and TV thingies? Really, as I look down at my iPhone SE, maybe not even the phone category is completely immune from a lack of focus. Hopefully it doesn’t take as long as the Mac Pro to get an updated version.

Willingly locking yourself into Apple’s walled garden might not make me so uneasy if they still felt like they were the company making products that “just work”. I’m cautiously optimistic that the new iOS and macOS releases are an attempt to try and shore up some of the decline in quality it feels like we’ve been seeing over the last few years. At least on the software side. Right now I think the Apple brand still has that reputation but there’s been this steady drip drip of issues that are eroding that confidence. At least for me personally. They used to be the company that would surprise and delight but lately the surprises have been short on delight. Being an Apple guy this all bums me out and I hope things get better.

Rules are Rules

Speaking of trails: our “lake” property doesn’t actually touch any portion of Center Hill Lake. Almost all of the shoreline is owned and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The closest point to the shoreline from our property is a cove between 150 to 500 feet away, depending on the level of the lake. With Center Hill Dam undergoing repairs it’s generally closer to the latter. The Corps allows public use of most of the land it manages, but it’s a bit of a challenge to make it all the way down from the house. It’s even more of a challenge making it back up.

The Cove at 632'
The Cove at 632'

As I was working on my trail, I discovered the Center Hill Lake Shoreline Management Plan which describes the availability of a “land-use permit … to allow pedestrian access to the shoreline”. I was thinking that would be pretty nice if we could extend the trail all the way down to the bottom, but the description of what this permit allows was a bit vague so I contacted the Corps for clarification. The grade of the slope is as much as 50% which necessitates a bit of cutting and filling to create a safe path, though I attempted to route my path in such a way as to minimize this as much as possible.

The Corps responded to my inquiry with the following: “The Corps does allow for four feet wide meandering paths by permit on Center Hill Lake. However, the ground itself cannot be disturbed, as the permit only allows for the removal of briars, brush, and debris by hand trimming.” This was pretty disappointing. And a bit silly to be honest. I understand the motivation is to preserve the aesthetic and the environment for the wildlife, but this black and white application of the rules will probably have the opposite effect of their stated aims. By disallowing any sort of modification of the ground, which would confine foot traffic to a limited area, we’ll instead have to make our way down following no particular path which runs the risk of having a greater overall impact on the landscape. There is no real understory to concern ourselves with in that area so hand trimming and what not is of little use and would not serve to delineate a path.

The Cove at 645'
The Cove at 645'

I responded the I understood the motivation but was disappointed nevertheless. I also mentioned that “our intention is to be good stewards of the land we now own and any resources you can direct us towards in furtherance of that goal is appreciated”. Sadly there was no response to that email so I guess we’re on our own. It also makes me wonder if there’s any real enthusiasm there for promoting responsible land management and a mutually beneficial relationship with their “neighbors”.

Okay, I’m sure there are good and passionate people working for the Corps, but at an organizational level it has a bit of a mindless bureaucracy vibe to it. Eventually I suppose we’ll probably wear a path down just by walking back and forth across the landscape. In the meantime we’ll just have to accept a bit of slipping and sliding over that last couple hundred feet. Maybe we should have taken the Alan Jackson approach and tried to get forgiveness instead of permission. But then I’m not rich and famous so things probably wouldn’t work out so well for me.