Tupperware and conversations

I don’t necessarily disagree as strongly as Dave Rogers does about the concept of markets are conversations. I do think his points are good, especially the most recent one about a salesperson using a situation to turn a supposed customer service interaction into a sales opportunity:

I have a fair amount of heartburn with a situation like this, because I think it’s fundamentally dishonest on its face. This sales person makes a call on a customer who has made a decision not to deal with the sales person’s company. The pretext is that the sales person wishes to understand how the customer arrived at his or her (negative) decision, with the intent that they will be able to use that information to improve their sales force. It seems to me that since about half of such calls are converted to sales, that’s a false pretext and one that is used, mainly, to reopen the “conversation.”

Think about it, the sales person wants something from someone else, essentially “for free,” and at the same time is making an effort to sell them something. Sounds like a pretty asymmetric “conversation,” if you ask me.

I don’t particularly care if marketers want to have ‘conversations’ or not with their clients. If everyone benefits, more power to them. But I do want to know that when I’m talking to a person, whether directly or through writing, they view the discussion as a discussion, not as a marketing opportunity.

In the last year I’ve come to feel I can’t continue reading several of what used to be favorite sites because I no longer trust that what they’re writing isn’t related to some ‘business opportunity’. It’s not that the webloggers are writing about business per se; nothing wrong with that. I have a few friends who have businesses related in some way to weblogging, and I wish them nothing but success. It’s when I feel that the words are measured, calculated, even goal oriented and the goal is to get me to ‘buy’ into something. It seems that much of the writing lately is staged to lead to some “Aha!” moment, when the weblogger rolls out this new invention, or that new company, or new partnership. Like Dave’s customer, the only value I then add to the discussion is if I’m buying or not.

Some would say that writing to persuade is selling; when we write about politics or feminism or a certain kind of technology, we’re doing so as ‘marketers’. But there is a difference between writing about something you’re passionate about, solely because you are passionate about it, and doing so to create a ‘market’.

I have become distrustful and disillusioned–made more so by jumping on the bait, joining the discussion, and then ultimately finding out that what I took to be an open exchange, isn’t. Oh, I realize that not every discussion is capable of sustaining all threads at equal weight–that’s just noise. But any true conversation should be open to disagreement as much as agreement; new voices, as well as old. Most importantly, true conversation isn’t steered in calculated steps, to a pre-planned outcome. This latter is where markets are NOT conversations, because marketing is about selling no matter how you package it.

It’s difficult to refrain from responding when someone writes something interesting. Lately, I have come to care less about doing so, primarily because I think to myself, “What’s the use? The end result of the interaction will be the same regardless of my input.” It goes back to Dave’s salesman, and the only two possible outcomes from his interaction with the client: a new sale or not. I am disappointed, because I have really come to enjoy cross-weblog and cross-comment discussions.

There is nothing wrong with marketing. I happen to respect it as a field, and am impressed when I see excellent uses and campaigns. I see nothing wrong with being an evangelist for a company or product, or to write a weblog for a company. But I don’t want to innocently join in with others, only to find out I’m at the equivalent of an online Tupperware party; being thrown the verbal equivalent of a container full of water; being laughed at when I grab at it.

I’ve come closer to quitting this weblog for good this last month then I ever have in the past. Every day, I find myself pulling away from it–the marketing, the lists, the cliques, the games, the personal hurts when I’ve assumed a greater degree of friendship with those online then really exists–bumping nose against the reality. Even now, the only thing that’s kept me here, in this environment, are the people I know, know deep in my soul, write for the joy, the comradery, and a delight in the very act. Even if what they write about is marketing.

I am still feeling very tired today, so I imagine this comes across as maudlin, and I as a blogging equivalent to a luddite. Maybe today is a good day to just code.


Learning lessons from President Wilson

MediaGirl wrote a well thought and extensively argued essay in response to another thoughtful essay written by Liza Sabatar at Daily Kos. Both were about a recent conference call with NARAL about a controversial NARAL sponsored ad against Supreme Court candidate John Roberts. In the ad, Roberts is accused of aiding those who would bomb abortion clinics, because, as part of his job, he wrote anti-abortion briefs.

About the NARAL members, Liza had this to say:

How can I say this without sounding too harsh? Well …. hmmmmmm … The leaders sounded maternalistic. The call came down to them defending the ad because not only do they know what they are doing; but because they’ve been doing it for so long, they should lead and we should follow: This is the deal : It is us and it is them.

We were supposed to take their words as gospel and go about banging away at our laptops. We were to blog rabidly, faithfully, obediently.

The timing on reading this was a bit uncanny, as I had just finished watching the movie Iron Jawed Angels: the true story of Lucy BurnsAlice Paul, and the fight for women’s suffrage back in the beginning of the last century. Burns and Page were also at odds with the leading women’s suffrage organization of the time (the National American Women’s Suffrage Association) and split off into a separate organization (the National Women’s Party), which supported more direct methods to work for the vote for women.

But I digress. To return to Liza and MediaGirl’s discussion, both seque into a strongly philisophical discussion of the nature of feminism, arguing whether it is post-modern/deconstructionist/post-structuralist, which is beyond this poor geek’s understanding of modern philosophy. What caught my interest the most, instead, was the writing at the end of MediaGirl’s post–when discussions focused on the fight for rights are sometimes seen as a splintering apart of the “progressive” movement.

MediaGirl quotes a comment Kos made in Liza’s post:

Here’s the thing — people may think I’m dismissive (and other male bloggers), but our problem isn’t with what these groups are fighting for. I think the Constitutional Amendment to enshrine privacy is brilliant.

Rather, it’s clear that all the progressive groups, and that includes the women’s stuff, are getting killed right now. We’re losing on multiple fronts because we’re fighting multiple battles. The right is a cohesive movement. They’re united. We’re divided. And hence we’re losing.

So criticism of these groups is taken as criticism of their goals, when really, it’s criticism of their ineffectiveness. We all want the same thing.

There was some digression into Kos, the person, which tends to happen in these discussions (women write about women’s issues, liberal male comments, discussion then changes to circle around liberal male’s comments), and Kos’ disingenuous I’m just a boy with a blog remarks were rather entertaining, but MediaGirl focuses in on what I think is the essential element in the discussion: that NARAL’s ad, and working for women’s rights (and gay rights for that matter), is seen as a betrayal of the Democratic Party.

But cityduck perceives the top problem with the left as being:

(1) Identity politics: This should be self-explanatory. The hispanics advocate for hispanic rights, the gays advocate for gay rights, the feminists advocate for women’s rights, etc., too often it seems that the advocacy is not for principles but for groups.

Setting aside the indictment of identity politics — that’s worthy of another long blog post, if not an entire blog — what the heck is this about “women’s rights” as being identity politics? We’re talking about equal rights here, and moves against women that have implications for everyone.

Back to the “maternalistic” rhetoric….stefanie76 had enough of it:

It’s probably just me … (1.00 / 3)

but I’m willing to bet this only got bumped up because Liza is willing to kiss ass as much as the bootlickers around here.

Choice has been a winning strategy for decades. It’s only losing because Democrats are moving away from it.

Note the 3 downratings on her comment, presumably for calling out the bootlickers. She makes an important point, though — The Democrats have abandoned their position, and then used their retreat as justification for the abandonment. It’s not a popular fact, but you see it all the time these days in the “Do you want to be right or do you want to win?” arguments.

(I’ve never understood the benefit of ‘rating’ systems for comments–they strike me as just another way to re-arrange the bodies in a major pile-on. )

This highlights a growing, and disappointing, move in the DNC to ‘compromise’ on issues like abortion and rights for gays: backing away from some of the support for abortion in the ranks of the party, as well as urging gays to be patient in regards to their rights. We are, rather frequently, reminded of how much ‘worse’ it can be if the other party wins. We are asked to think of the big picture, and the long-term: of winning now, to gain later.

Oddly enough, this isn’ t the first time that the DNC has encouraged women and other ‘political minorities’ to be patient. Back in the early 1900’s, women’s rights were tied into support for the Democratic party at the time, including support for Woodrow Wilson as President.

Burns and Page, though, refused to endorse Wilson because he had not followed through on a promise to bring about the vote for women. They so outraged the Democratic Party, which after all had counted on the women’s vote in those states where it was legal, that the Party hired counter-protestors to assure the populace that the rights of women were always on the minds of the DNC.

Not to be deterred, another method Burns and Paul devised to fight for women’s rights was based on tactics used in the suffrage movement in the UK. They started a silent protest out in front of the White House, the first of its kind practiced in the United States.

The women would take banners proclaiming their hopes, and anger, and would stand silently on the walk in front of the White House, on either side of the main entry gates. This vigil continued peacefully enough, and even earned sympathy, until the United States entered World War I. In the past women had given up their fight for suffrage during times of war, most particularly the Civil War, and the assumption was that women would do the same in these circumstances. After all, how could women distract the government at a time when good American boys were dying overseas?

This time, though, the women who continued this protest–several hundred strong–wouldn’t back down on the issue, and continued the silent protest.

The populace turned on the women protestors, accusing them of being traitors for not giving unquestioning loyalty to Wilson. The government arrested them on trumped up charges of obstructing traffic, and sentenced them to two months service in a working prison or ten dollars fine–expecting the women to pay the fine (and hopefully bankrupt the coffers of the organization). Instead, the women chose prison time, saying that to pay the fine would admit guilt and they were not guilty of anything but standing up for their rights. Over two hundred would end up serving sentences of several months duration in Occoquan, a work prison in Virginia.

By all accounts, Occoquan was a hell hole, and the women were demeaned and treated harshly, as if they were common criminals rather than political detainees. To protest the conditions in the prison, Paul went on a hunger strike and was eventually force fed. Others joined the strike and the publicity derived from their efforts and the treatment afforded them eventually forced Wilson into publicly leading the cause for an amendment granting women the right to vote–calling the move a needed “war measure”, to save face.

Wilson had no choice. To do otherwise, to ignore those so determined, would be political suicide for the Democratic Party.

By the by, I’m still voting Green.

(Pointer to discussion from Lauren: my number one source on all things feminist.)


Human nature

This is my last post on Katrina. There’s never been another storm that has fascinated, as well as frustrated and angered and saddened me as much as this one has. This is a storm that was tracked to grow into monsterous size and hit on or near New Orleans almost three days before it hit. Yet, mandatory evacuations weren’t given until the day before, if that.

And it didn’t matter when the evacuations were given–not when people didn’t have the sense to even leave a beachside apartment house directly in the path of a Category 4 hurricane.

Richard Louv wrote an excellent editorial on human nature and disaster:

Forget nature; the real problem is human nature.

Most people living on the Gulf Coast simply prefer to take their chances. So do Californians who live on the slippery bluffs of Malibu.

And San Diegans? Even after the devastating 2003 firestorms that marched from Cuyamaca to Scripps Ranch and back again, we seem to prefer denial and deflection.

Instead of investing in the creation of new firefighting technologies – including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles that could spot and even fight fires – we look to old technology, but even avoid simple fees that would upgrade our old-fashioned, out-dated firefighting tools. When it comes to enforcing tougher fire-resistance building standards, we wiggle and dissemble like teenagers facing homework on a sunny weekend. We prefer our risks manageable, and our thinking small.

Instead of preparing for true dangers posed by natural forces, people prefer to obsess about the relatively smaller threats of terrorism (but refuse to pay adequately for prevention in that arena, as well).

Or, more often, we fixate on the smallest of societal risks. Less than a month before Katrina’s bad breath battered Florida, Broward County schools, in an effort to cut down on injuries and lawsuits, erected “Rules of the Playground” at 137 elementary schools. No more swings, teeter-totters or hand-pulled merry-go-rounds. And “no running,” the new signs said, even as Katrina approached.

Kids running. Now there’s a manageable threat.

I am fascinated by weather, in all its forms. It is the show that’s put on daily to remind us for all of our technology and engineering, we’re still not much more than puny, hairless, apes swinging a club at forces that can swat us down like so many pesky gnats.

And weather is so wonderfully ironic. The same high pressure system that has been the cause of so much of our drought this year, is the same system that’s pushing the effects of Katrina away from us, and toward the Ohio Valley. You can actually see the two fighting it out in this animated doppler image, snapped from Weather Underground. I wonder which will triumph?


But what’s past is past or soon past; now we have to think on those who need help. Just one last note that this storm has not played itself out, and more lives and homes and businesses will be swept away before she’s through. FEMA will be there to help, in the short and long term, but no one beats the Red Cross when it comes to giving a hand to folks who just found out their home and everything they own has been completely swept away. And since Amazon and other companies have decided that the current Red Cross efforts don’t rate an extra helping hand, it’s up to us to issue a gentle reminder that this organization is putting more money into providing help for this storm than was spent for the entire hurricane season in 2004–and we still have the rest of the season to go, not to mention the ice storms and blizzards in the winter, and the floods come spring.

Just Shelley


I had to borrow the car today so I took my roommate into work and picked him up. As usual, I hung my arm out the open window when I drove, and when I got to roomie’s place of business, I noticed I had these tiny little blisters over most of my arm. I knew it was burned from the trip last week, but it looked more tanned than not. I guess the exposure to the sun today was too much.

I look like I have white measles. But you don’t want to hear that. You might want to hear, though, that I’ve removed the Google Ads. Again. See what you miss when you read this through an aggregator?

I’m not sure if it was the fundamentalist religous ads that kept popping up, equating disasters such as hurricanes to loss of faith; or the ’sell your blood’ ad associated with the posts encouraging people to donate blood to the Red Cross. I do know that the pennies I get each day to run the ads aren’t worth seeing crap like that in my weblog. Once I went to full syndication feeds, the click through rates tanked, and I don’t want to take time to tweak the ads through channels to filter out the type of businesses that seem to be making Google rich.

If I embedded the ads directly in my posts, I might break a buck a day; but I’m already feeling a little disassociated from the weblog by providing the full feeds–I don’t want to add yet more ’stuff’ to the site. What can I say? I suck at marketing.

I think ads work when you have a focused site on a ’safe’ topic, like photography. They’re also profitable if you really work it, like those who supposedly make thousands of dollars a month. If I have a focused site, I may add them back, but not in Burningbird; not when I talk on so many different topics. Yeah, I know: I suck at marketing.

I’ll have to send a note into Google to cancel the account. They take up to 90 days to pay when you cancel–it takes so long for them to process an email since they won’t automate the cancellation process. I guess the company is a lot like the Hotel California: you can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave. However, Google doesn’t suck at marketing.


Baja Hurricane

New Orleans wasn’t hit as badly as it could have been, but it was hit badly — the weather service says it is suffering from fresh water flooding, and there was extensive wind damage. Already the police are being swamped with calls to rescue people from roofs in the city and surrouding area. And New Orleans wasn’t even the hardest hit community. I can’t even imagine what Gulfport will look like. Or Mobile.

We’ll get some of the effects of the storm, but in a minor sense — some wind, some rain. Arkansas is under high wind alert, and several states are at real risk for some significant flooding.

Just because New Orleans wasn’t hit directly, and smashed to smithereens with a category 5 hurricane, don’t discount the effects of this storm. I think it’s going to have a lot more flood and storm damage than Camille, so if you were planning on giving to the Red Cross, don’t decide to spend that money on something else. Lot’s of folks will need help for some time to come, and the Red Cross is always there.

In fact, if everyone skipped one dinner out and one movie, or one music CD, or book this week, and donated that money to the Red Cross, I bet the organization would have enough to make it through the rest of the hurricane season. We’re not even past peak hurricane season yet, and the organizations that help need help, themselves. You can, of course, just give without skipping anything, but I don’t think this is the same thing. Consider it equivalent to spilling a few drops of wine as libation to the gods. Or God, if that’s your thing.

I don’t have any spare cash, and until I get paid for some jobs, am living on kindness and roast cat*. But I do have blood so am off to donate blood this week. And I hate donating blood. I’d rather give money. Sigh.

My server is getting a little bit swamped by Google search requests for Hurricane Katarina, Katrina before I caught my typo.

Though not in a storm, it is warm and humid and uncomfortable at home, today. The french doors leading off from the kitchen developed dry rot, and the management is currently replacing them. In the meantime, I caught a screenshot of this doppler image that I bet the folks in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and so on would rather be the truth.

I call the image, “Wow, that prayer stuff really works!”

*Just kidding on the kindness.

nice story on how the Red Cross is helping the folks impacted by Katrina.