Friday, January 30, 2009

Dumbness Will Destroy The Republican Party

Sadly, if they’re not careful, the continuation of highly vocal and unabashedly blatant inaccuracies like those of Republican House Representative from North Carolina, Virginia Foxx, will utterly destroy the G.O.P. Was it not enough that Sarah Palin embarrassed all Americans with her antics while campaigning for one of the two major parties in American politics that have any influence? Lobbing convoluted logic at your political enemy is like coming to a firefight with a dart gun: It seems like you have the right weapon, but to people who know the difference, you just look silly and in the end you’re pretty ineffective.

So I was reading the New York Times story titled, “House Passes Stimulus Plan Despite G.O.P. Opposition” about how the stimulus package passed the House without one single Republican on board. This was a little disturbing to me. It seemed that there was a huge bipartisan message projected from the floor of the House Republicans. It was that they will not be working in any way with this administration, even when Obama comes down personally to appeal for their support. They want to be able to look Democrats and Americans in the eye and when and if this stimulus fails to say, “We told you so.” The Democrats on the other hand made an equally bipartisan statement: “Feh! Who needs you.”

As disturbed as I am on multiple levels that this bill did not appeal to one single Republican, I was more disturbed by the statement made by a Republican Representitive, Virginia Foxx made in the New York Times. If I were a North Carolina resident in her district I would call for this person to be thrown out of office as soon as possible, if not sooner. The naivete and ignorance displayed in this comment should resound through our Capital Building’s halls as the dangers the Republican party faces. Is Foxx vying for Sarah Palin’s role as most ridiculous na├»ve politician in the party?

My respect for this party diminishes by the day after reading comments like this much more than it is bolstered when I hear a sweet speech by John McCain finally untethered from the pressures and constraints of his awful campaign.


“Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said that former President George Bush’s signature tax cuts in 2001 had created years of growth but that the nation’s problems started when Democrats regained majorities in Congress in the 2006 elections.”

Luckily they were able to get someone who was paying attention to provide a follow up comment. In the interest of fairness I wish it were a Republican showing their wisdom.

“Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said that “the economics that got us into this mess” were the Republicans’ policies for the six years that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress, through 2006.”

Perhaps it’s the bias of the reporting paper to highlight the idiocy in the Republican party. I will give you that. But after the Palin debacle, I fear that this type of one-sided, unreflected, loud mouth, ignorance is a disease that will destroy the Republican party.

It’s clear that only a week or so out from Barack Obama’s inauguration, forces are aligning against him. Unfortunately they aren’t smart. If you’re going to go to battle with one of the most eloquent, intelligent politicians to come around on the American scene in years, you will be flattened if you continue to spout statements like Foxx’s. Please, I beg my Republican friends, do not let Representitive Foxx and FOX news become the mouthpiece of the opposition for the next four years.

I have a great respect for many of the values Repubicans stand for. But to hear it, the values have been dropped from the agenda, to be replaced by the slow decline of intelligent discourse. No wonder Buckley’s son endorsed Obama.

In the end to the piece there were a couple of comments that I was thinking while reading about the bill passing the House without any Republicans voting for it, knowing that there will be changes down the road and that many Republican concerns had been addressed, except a ridiculous alternative that Republicans proposed as a stimulus that consisted entirely of tax cuts, which we’ve already seen does nothing to assist the economy in the short term:

“Not one person felt his or her district needed to have any of this assistance?” Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, asked of the Republicans. “That can’t be.”

Brad Woodhouse, president of the union-supported, pro-Democratic group Americans United for Change, e-mailed a statement condemning the Republicans’ opposition under the subject line “Political Suicide.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Defeated by fundamental economics

I had paid for my WiFi access in my hotel here in California. It was expensive and I didn’t want t do it but I figured I was in a hotel that catered to businesses so I expected that there’d be some extra fees for things that as a regular consumer I’d probably get for free – like the WiFi access in my room. I pressed that “I agree” button on the log in screen and committed myself to about $25 in fees for WiFi. (The cost was $12 and change for each day of access and I was staying for two days.)

I figured, hell, if I can live blog from my event, then it would be worth it for myself and for my company. Chances are, if you’re a tech reporter at a national conference you’ve had your woes with inadequate WiFi access in conference rooms because of poor design or a strain on the system by hundreds of others trying to blog, Twitter and email all at the same time some using multiple devices and others hogging up bandwidth streaming live video to boot. Me? I was at the national conference for my employer the ALS Association. We are a non-profit and as everyone knows, we have also felt the pain of the current economic downturn. Most of our employees are not Social Media people. They could care less about having WiFi in the conference room so that option was never taken by the organizers. But I thought, so what, I have my personally bought and paid for WiFi access so I’m safe.

That turned out not to be the case. I assumed, naively it turns out, that my room access would pervade throughout the hotel but the WiFi ironically does not reach all the way to the conference room, although a few steps outside of the door, I get a mostly full signal.

This was going to be my first live blogging/Twittering event. I wanted to push the limits of my communication strategy for my chapter to see if we could incorporate live, up-to-the-minute news on events for our patients, families and employees. See, many ALS patients are very hooked into their computers and on the Internet. They connect via Social Networks like Facebook, MySpace, a site called Patients Like Me and even Twitter. I thought I could start incorporating a live stream to our web presence to give these people the vital information they desire about the state of ALS research, patient services, advocacy and even our newest initiatives in fundraising to support our efforts.

Alas, I was defeated by a little thing called economics. I was forced to grab a pad of lined paper and one of those cheap free pens lying all over the place at these conferences and scribble my notes longhand. Don't get me wrong, I like taking notes. It's how I conduct all my interviews and meetings. I never take notes on my laptop but there was something special about reporting on our newest scientific research in stem cells that just begged to be put out by live blogging or through our Twitter account.

When I expressed my dissatisfaction about my predicament on Twitter, a follower of mine commented, “I hear you. Not surprising, tho. They make a killing in conference rms.” So unlike our patients who are conquered ever so slowly by the failure of their own motor neurons, I was conquered by a more pervasive nemesis: economics.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thoughts on distribution & Twitter as communication

By Lon S. Cohen

Ever read one of those fanzines?

Fanzines (or just ‘zines) are those cheaply produced magazines, mostly printed by photocopying or other inexpensive printing process and distributed to a small number of subscribers. They’re generally not very slick, professional nor are they meant to be. Quick and dirty is the name of the game here. They’re generally written about a specific topic like a rock band or most notably the science fiction culture. They are always self-published and have little if no promotion. Generally a ‘zine has an underground or indie feel to it.

The problem has been distribution, which for years meant mailing them out, leaving stacks in retail outlets or distributing them on street corners or at public events, etc. Similarly, centuries before ‘zines appeared, people produced their own bills, flyers, newspapers, pamphlets and libels to disseminate a point of view. These most democratic carriers of personal expression could be distributed or sold on the corners of Colonial towns and European cities.

In both cases the distribution of material was very limited. Limited by physical travel times and in the olden days, low literacy rates. But the information could still have a great influence on public opinion. In 1649, English Parliament even instituted the Printing Act, which sought to stem the decadent distribution of libels. A lot of good that did, since one of the most famous of these pamphlets was called, "Common Sense" written by Thomas Paine. "Common Sense" served to incite a little thing called the American Revolution and served as a basis for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Nowadays, we have Twitter.

Had Paine been on Twitter he might have written Tweets like, There is something absurd in supposing a continent (American) to perpetually governed by an island (Britain). That would easily have fit within the 140 character limit even if he added the modern IMHO to it. Or perhaps another famous quote from one of his pamphlets, These are times that try men' s souls. FTW!

Spreading beyond the niche appeal of geeks and social networking aficionados, Twitter is gaining popularity in usership and in media exposure – possibly because people in the public relations field and journalism are becoming one of the largest of the second wave of adopters. On Twitter we share links to articles, blogs, pictures and videos. We talk to each other about a multitude of topics and hold public chats. We even talk to customer service representatives and get headlines from our favorite news organizations in our live stream. But many of the companies that try to get into the game, come at it with the same dogmatic approach to marketing they’ve practiced for decades.

Too many companies either go at social networking like a bull in a china closet or a canary in a cave. There seems to be nothing in between. I attribute it to the fact that most companies really don’t understand the nuances of the medium. They don’t take the time to learn. The funny thing is, we're figuring it all out for them for free with these hashtag chats, blog posts, articles, etc. All a company that potentially wants to join the fray needs to do is sit back, watch and learn.

That’s it. Right now, if you're in public relations, advertising, media or are a brand looking to get into social networking all you need to do is poke around and follow/friend the right people and you will get a free education in social networking. Never before in history has it been easier to glean from the knowledge of others who want/will give it away to you for free! Connect, pay attention, be savvy, keep tight lipped and you will learn more than a college education. It's so empowering. And I’m not talking 101 here; I’m talking higher education, Masters level stuff. What I learn from Twitter people alone daily amazes me.

This is probably the most opportune time in the history of communication. It’s happening right now. Now is the time to get into the pool; just make sure you're acclimated. Or in other words, jump in with both feet but make sure you test the water first.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Au Lang Syne. This is only a temporary parting.

“My Christmas tree is fake,” I tell my friend. “No rush to take it down.”

He’s standing in my kitchen as we share a cup of coffee on New Year’s Day and he’s telling me that he has to go home to take down the decorations because his tree is dying. This is when the post holiday blues hits me. Every season, when it’s time to take down the decorations, put all that festivity into boxes and store them in the dark cold basement for another year, I get a little down. Usually it last only a moment.

I start to think about the year ahead. The season that is still to come, with (hopefully) a few snow days, and then the gentle thaw of spring. I imagine the comfort of the first warm breeze of spring drifting through the open windows of my home. The idea of things reborn and starting anew. How this summer vacation will be the best ever, surrounded by friends and family. Perhaps there’s hope this year for peace, revival and prosperity for everyone around the world. Maybe. Just maybe this is the year we cure some awful disease or a country topples its own dictator or a brand new product is invented that makes everyone’s life a little better.

At that point I’m giddy, thinking of the days and weeks ahead, all the other annual occasions, the work I will do and the times I will have with my wife and kids. I think that my Christmas tree is fake, yes, and there’s is no rush to take it down, but it’s time anyway. To store those holiday memories away for another year because you’re not just putting them away in a box, you’re securing them for the future and the joyful rediscovery of old things as new again. For a time capsule of sorts where we gently place all out traditions, our hope and dreams so that next year when we unwrap them they seem fresh and new, and as beautiful as we remembered, or even more so.

Time to put away the memories of a year past and start off a whole new one. Here’s hoping that this coming year will be better than ever. There will be smiles and tears, pain and happiness, sorrow and joy, but it’s a new year. Let’s make it the best one ever.

Happy New Year.

Lon S. Cohen