Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Thoughts on “The Blogging Enterprise”

I attended the Blogging Enterprise conference today.

I enjoyed his conference and learned a lot. Most of the speakers and panelists were well informed, authoritative and led me to think about things I hadn’t considered before. I hadn’t even heard that blogging could be used for business until about a month ago. Then, the Blogging Enterprise conference popped up on my radar. Thus, I now have a lot more to think about and new ideas to put into action at my own workplace.

Here are some of the specific insights I took away from today that will make me a better blogger/employee/writer/person
  • Company officers still coming around on blogging. Several times today, either panelists or audience members broached the topic of the blogging business case. The answers usually included good general principles that will eventually build the business case, but the business case is not quite as tight as should be to drive mass adoptions by C-level execs. My sense is, as soon as blogging is more empirically and definitively linked to increased sales, faster time to market, fewer product defects, and increased repeat business, executives will be all over it.
  • On a related point, blogging and blogosphere engagement strategies are important to avoid becoming the next blogswarm victim, like Kryptonite. This is necessary, but seems more defensive than offensive.
  • Bloggers can be had for things other than money. The key is understanding their motivation. For me, I love to write and having people read my posts, think about them, and respond. Making some extra money from that would be cool too, but since blogging is not my mortgage-paying gig, making money is secondary.
  • Organizations should develop blogging acceptable use policies to govern employee blogging. But even this is not a shield against liability or guarantee of desired transparency
  • Demonstrated expertise drives traffic
  • “Blogging is a trick by technologists to keep websites from sucking.”
  • It is funny watching MSM people defend their model and position, then castigate bloggers for their lack of verification. Pot to kettle: You’re looking a little dark there!
  • Why not talk more about the Dan Rather/fake Bush memo’s scandal? It shows precisely what not to do in a blogstorm.
  • The most noble thing blogging does is put customer at center of corporation, which makes sales easier
  • “Have a take and don’t suck.”
  • Joel Greenberg is an amazingly good facilitator
  • Unfettered, effective blogging requires proper company culture and trust of bloggers by senior management. Effective relationships through blogs with outside world require transparency, authenticity, passion, authority, fallibility, frequency, integrity and - for the love of God! - no “corpspeak”. How can such a person be found?
  • With blogging/RSS/podcasts, etc., small companies can look big, big companies can look small. There’s something going on here. Need to meditate on what this means for the opportunity for bloggers and use to build the business case.
There are a few things I’d recommend the organizers do differently the next time around….
How can you have a blogging conference at a venue that charges $10/day for wi-fi and has precious few electrical outlets? Even though I went through wi-fi withdrawals, I steadfastly refused to pay UT’s extortionate fee for wireless access. Talk about getting blood from a stone. Furthermore, my three-year-old battery is now being pressed into service because of the paucity of electrical outlets. I plugged into the closest outlet about 10 feet to my left, even though its right across what appears to be a major walk way and emergency escape route. I hope I didn't violate the fire code. Ironically, this wi-fi fast might've been a blessing in disguise. Without the ambient distractions of email, the web, and instant messenger, I really got what the speakers were talking about.

Also, what is with this juvenile music playing at such a high volume between sessions? It’s kinda’ hard to network with Run DMC’s “My Adidas” ringing in your ears.

But overall, I had a dandy time and took away many ideas that, God willing, will spark my organization to embrace blogging (BTW: I was the one person from an organization with no plans to blog). Good job Paul and Steve!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Media Manipulation For The Rest Of Us

I recently received the Spring 2005 Catalog from Best Buy. The teaser text for the photo editing software had this tagline:
"Load photo editing software onto your PC to remove red-eye, create captions and crop out the unwanted stuff. Make the moment look perfect - even if it wasn't."
In other words, change the image to fit the story you want to tell not the story as-is. What the mainstream media has been doing for years - manipulating images and news stories to fit an agenda - now any average Joe or Jane can do on their laptop computer.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Blogging 101: A Primer for Engaging the Online World

This is a brief, work-in-progress primer for Christians to learn how to engage the world through the blogosphere and other electronic communities. As you learn more about blogging yourself, please come back to this page and tell me what you’ve learned in the comments for this post.

What is Blogging?
The blogosphere is a community of "blogs" (short for web logs, or online journals) that discuss all manner of topics. By nature, blogs are interactive, making the blogosphere a dynamic social network based on ongoing conversations. Blogging is the habit of writing blogs, reading blogs, commenting on blogs, blogrolling other blogs, and all other tasks related to blogs.

Why Blog?
Because of the specific language, skills, and mindset of bloggers, they can almost be considered a unique people group, many of whom have never been reached with the redemptive message of Christ crucified and risen. Thus, here is an opportunity for believers to engage the world for the Gospel of Christ.

Furthermore, as recent incidents with Dan Rather, Trent Lott, and John Kerry illustrate, blogs have influence on the non-blog world. Because of the de-centralized, interactive, interlinked, iterative, nature of the blogiverse, new information and insights on issues can become instantly accessible. Ideas can be quickly tested, approved, amended or discarded. Facts can be quickly checked, verified or discredited. The same dynamic is applicable to many other fields than media or politics. The blogosphere is very close to a pure market place of ideas. It is a market place, like Mars Hill in ancient Athens that needs to hear the Gospel and an exposition of how to apply the biblical worldview.

Getting Started
First, do some reading. Read the “How to Start a Blog” series by Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost. Read both the series and the additional links and posts at this page (in addition to providing great information, they also demonstrate the iterative nature of blogs).

Orangejack Blogging University is also a good primer and reference for blogging. It covers some more of the technical and marketing aspects of blogging, but is written at a level the rest of us can understand.

Scan the Samizdata blog glossary to get a sense for what all the jargon on blogs means.

Second, read some blogs written by believers. Some of my favorites include:

  • Mark D. Roberts: A pastor blogging pioneer
  • Evangelical Outpost: Joe Carter is a splendid writer and is very adept at applying the biblical worldview to the current events and issues of the day.
  • Stones Cry Out: This is a good example of a collaborative blog that looks at national politics from a biblical worldview
  • In the Agora: The “Agora” was the center of a cities commerce and public discourse in ancient Greece. This site offers both Christian commentary on current events and deep theoretical or theological treatises. I like this blog’s attitude.

Third, read blogs that pique your interest. Start your search at Technorati. We all have different areas of interest, so check the blogs that already cover your area of interest. If you can’t find one that does, congratulations, you have found an underserved blogspace where you can be a pioneer!

It is important to visit lots of different types of blogs to get a sense for what is possible with blogs, what people talk about, the kind of language and etiquette that is generally accepted.

Fourth, start a blog. It is a snap to get started. Most of the main blog creating sites offer free memberships and easy ways to get a blog on the web (I use Blogger. TypePad widely used as well). Start small and slow so you can get a feel for the mechanics of blogging, the requirements to produce quality, consistent content, and the stream of topics discussed on your favorite blogs.

Join the Conversation
First, pray. For wisdom, guidance, discernment, clear thinking, and good humor. Pray that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. Pray that we will proclaim it clearly, as we should. Pray we will be wise in the way we act toward outsiders and make the most of every opportunity.

Then, keep up with other blogs. The blogosphere is a perpetually updated medium. You may want to keep tabs on a large number of blogs and other websites. That can get to be a little tedious and time consuming if you simply surfed to each site. Thankfully, most blogs and major websites syndicate their content, which means they provide a stream of updated content that can be read using a syndication reader. I use bloglines.com to scan the latest content from nearly 50 blogs and websites. It takes me about 2 or 3 minutes to scan the latest posts.

Finally, comment on others’ posts. This is an easy way to start developing content. You simply respond to what other people have already said. If you've blogged on the same topic, include a permalink to your post in the comments. Assuming you have something substantive and respectful to say, most bloggers will appreciate that you care enough to read and respond to what they say. It also helps you develop a name for your self with the given community. “A good name is better than fine perfume”.

I am praying for you. Please let me know of questions you have and your tales of engaging the online world for the Gospel.

"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. "
Acts 17:22-23

4/1/05 update: I just came across a nice appendix for this post at Both Worlds titled Thoughts on Blogging and Writing. Texas Tommy says "check it out".

Saturday, February 26, 2005

How can they not "Go Grant"?

Hugh Hewitt has issued a new Vox Bloguli, Does the Senate GOP Go McClellan or Grant if Harry Reid "Goes Gingrich?" (Read the post to understand the references to McClellan, Grant, and Gingrich).

This seems like a pretty straight-forward decision for Senate Republicans. Majority Leader Frist has already floated the "nuclear option" (changing Senate filibuster rules to allow up or down votes on judicial nominees) and President Bush has resubmitted the 20 or so nominees that were unceremoniously squelched by the Dem's unprecedented use of the filibuster. Many GOP voters and activists see these moves as the Republicans cashing in some of their dearly-bought political capital to finally get tough with Democrat obstructionism and make a stand against judicial activism.

(On a personal note, reigning in out of control courts was a big part of the reason I joined the "Mighty Texas Strike Force" and ventured from warm, cozy Texas to cold, rainy Iowa last November to campaign for President Bush. I'm expecting the GOP to use the political advantage I helped win them to combat evil, both in the War on Islamic Fascism and the War on Judicial Activism!)

Ruling filibusters out of order will force Reid and the Dems to make good or back down. If they can and do shut down the government, that will only serve to encourage the GOP base, alienate independents and possibly alienate their own constituencies, many of whom depend upon the federal government. It will also provide the GOP ample opportunity to engage in all sorts of political grandstanding, allowing them to dredge up years of Democrat skullduggery on judicial nominees. For example, a shutdown would provide normally squishy Republicans the air cover to finally make Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois pay the price for opposing Miguel Estrada because "he is Latino".

If they can't or won't shut down the government, that will show Reid to be only a paper Daschle, greatly discourage the hard core Democrat base, and embolden Republicans on other issues.

The risk to the GOP of not proceeding on this course would be to greatly discourage their voters and encourage more spoiled brat ultimatums from the minority.

Go Grant!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What 50 cents can tell you about the State of the World
I filled up my pick up with gas two days ago. It cost me $1.74 a gallon. That would be unremarkable except it would have cost me about $.50 less three years ago. While the effects of necessary, US military action in the Middle East may have been a contributing factor, there is a novel danger halfway around the world that is also causing a these annoyingly high gas prices. But the deeper causes should inspire more than just annoyance.

China is Growing Quickly
According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal by Mark Helprin, the economy of China has been growing at an astounding rate of just under 10%/year since 1980. This amazing growth requires energy. Says Helprin,

“Major crude oil importation, begun only recently, is already one-quarter the volume of U.S. crude imports, leading China to compete for petroleum not only in the Middle East but in South America and at least six countries in Africa.”
Already, China consumes 25% as much as the US. And it’s going to continue to grow. Says Bill Gertz, quoting a recently disclosed report from the Department of Defense:

“Energy demand, particularly for oil, will increase sharply in the next 20 years — from 75 million barrels per day last year to 120 million barrels in 2025 — with Asia consuming 80 percent of the added 45 million barrels.”
This growth in energy demand, says Helprin, “has already begun what it itself might at one time have called imperial expansion, driven not by ideology but the need for markets and raw materials.” Could he be suggesting that within our lifetimes, the US will have to fight an old fashioned war of territorial conquest?

China's Neighborhood Antagonisms
A November 26, 2004 story on Stratfor.com (subscription required) claims that the Chinese placed an oil-drilling platform in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on November 19, 2004. The island group contains fertile fishing grounds and potentially large oil reserves. Not surprisingly, it is claimed by Vietnam, China and Taiwan. According to Stratfor, China and Vietnam have skirmished over the Paracels and the nearby Spratly Islands in recent years, with both sides ponying up for expensive and complex Russian military hardware to stake their claim to these tiny islands. It seems that $50/barrel oil and rapidly growing demand (China’s oil consumption in 2004 was 7 times what it was in 2001!) are driving regional powers to desperate ends.

The desperation is especially acute for China. Says Gertz:

“Beijing's leaders see access to oil and gas resources as vital to economic growth and fear that stalled economic growth could cause instability and ultimately the collapse of their nation of 1.3 billion people.”
The stakes are high for Beijing. And they feel vulnerable. Again, according to Gertz:

“Eighty percent of China's oil currently passes through the Strait of Malacca [near Burma], and the report states that China believes the sea area is ‘controlled by the U.S. Navy.’ Chinese President Hu Jintao recently stated that China faces a "Malacca Dilemma" — the vulnerability of its oil supply lines from the Middle East and Africa to disruption.”
Furthermore, China’s longstanding anxiety over Taiwan adds another twist to China’s territorial ambitions. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province. As the International Herald Tribune recently pointed out, China is preparing a special remedy for those perennial, anxiety-producing Taiwanese: expanding the number of submarines in their navy, the kind of weapon that is particularly effective for blockades.

The Chinese Communists are in deep fear of economic problems. They perceive their energy supply is vulnerable. The US Navy is unhappily positioned as a potential gatekeeper. Taiwan continues in stubborn defiance. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that the Chinese military is going to pursue a more aggressive strategy of modernization, re-armament, and regional power projection. And in the Asia Pacific region, that means a strong navy.

China's Military Modernization
Captain Brad Kaplan, the U.S. Naval Attaché to China, recently posted an amazingly detailed assessment of Chinese naval capabilities that is a must read for anyone interested in Asia-Pacific political, economic, or military affairs. The gist of this article is that “the PLAN’s (People’s Liberation Army Navy) maritime mission has evolved from a role of static coastal defense to one of "active offshore defense."

Capt. Kaplan says that China’s method to increase its “active offshore defense” is to
  • Decommission many of its outdated surface ships, submarines and aircraft
  • Improve officer and enlisted training
  • Aggressively seek advanced Western technology to improve its war fighting capabilities
That last bullet should give us a special caution. Says Capt. Kaplan, “it is quite possible that the PLAN will, within two decades, develop a Navy with regional capabilities second only to Japan's.” Over this same twenty years, China’s oil consumption will increase by up to 80%! Beijing’s anxieties will only increase, as greater economic growth will bring a greater expectation of prosperity and security by 1.3 billion people. Thus, their likelihood of seeking new weapons for regional aggressiveness grows as well. The Chinese Communists cannot be expected to let energy availability, a key building block of their power, be left to the good will of their neighbors.

So here is our dilemma, according to Helprin:

“This century will be not just the century of terrorism: terrorism will fade. It will be a naval century, with the Pacific its center, and challenges in the remotest places of the world offered not by dervishes and crazy-men but by a great power that is at last and at least America's equal.”
Do you see how high gas prices are more than family budget quandary? The prices are being driven my increased demand by a large country ruled by questionable characters, with designs for military modernization and conquest where the US has a large presence.

The War on Terror will be won. The War for the South Pacific may be next for us and our children.

Our Response
So what should we do in the face of this disquieting state of affairs? Perhaps we should consider Captain Kaplan’s counsel:
“The degree to which these developments constitute "storm clouds on the horizon" will depend as much on U.S. diplomacy in the coming years as on the ability of the United States and its Pacific allies to maintain a strong regional-defense posture.”
Those of us in the American hinterland are not powerless in the face of this growing threat. We can get informed and insist that our elected leaders take future national security challenges seriously and fund the military to meet those challenges. The US Navy should garner special attention. For the US to help maintain the peace, we must have a well-equipped navy to maintain a “strong regional-defense posture” to help deter unpleasant foreign escapades. In other words, these moves are required now, before China builds up its military to the point where it can take more aggressive action. If we tarry, our penalty will be much more severe.

This may mean decreased involvement in other areas of the world. This may mean dramatic cut backs in entitlement and social services spending. This may mean a radical overhaul of the economically backward Medicare prescription drug plan. This may mean the American people will have to do without many goodies from the federal cookie jar.

But without these sacrifices now, the costs may be a whole lot more than an extra $.50 a gallon at the pump.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Freedom Hug vs. Hilary’s Frumpiness:
The Purple Finger Revolution takes center stage at the SOTUA

The State of the Union Address (SOTUA) tonight specifically links President Bush’s policies to the future of America. Be it consumer-directed health care, No Child Left Behind successes, “environmentally responsible” energy (W’s mastering the Clintonian art of soccer mom buzzwords), updating the tax code, sticking it to the plaintives' bar, or pressing on abroad for terror-destroying liberty, President Bush’ SOTUA was chock full of hopeful, visionary themes.

While miscalling Social Security, a pyramid scheme that would be more truthfully called a pay-for-other-people’s-retirement-tax, a “moral success”, W did lay out a reasonably detailed plan for fixing it. Citing frightful numbers (Bankrupt in 2042? I’ll be 71 by then!) as the need for change and cleverly quoting Democrats who support his proposals, he points the way towards more individual ownership. Obama Barack’s four-year-old-in-a-corner pouting while Bush was touting Personal Retirement Accounts is a good metaphor for the Democrats’ position: boxed in and whining ‘it’s not fair’. While I’d like to see more numbers behind the Republican plan (specifically how much borrowing will we have to do in the transition), I’d like to see any plan from the D’s.

What I’d also like to see from the D’s is more credibility on the national security issue (see the discussion of the Reid/Pelosi rebuttal below). The signature moment of the night, and maybe even this presidency, was
Janet Norwood, mother of slain Marine Byron Norwood, tearfully embracing Safia Taleb al-Suhail, Iraqi human rights advocate. Words can scarcely capture the gravity of this moment. This was an extraordinarily powerful visual and should be the enduring image of the Iraq war and what it represents. One made the greatest sacrifice, so another could have the greatest gift. It has an almost Christian theme: parents giving their son so others can be free. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

This Freedom Hug outshines everything else in this speech, the lame, talking point “rebuttal” afterwards, and clearly illuminates the differences between the President Bush and his opponents. Several cutaways showed presumptive 2008 nominee Hilary Clinton looking tired or bored and giving a perfunctory golf-clap to President Bush’s applause lines. The well-heeled Senator from Chappaqua could barely countenance the burdens of non-elites. Juxtaposed against this apathy, symbolic for all others who yawn and sneer at liberty abroad, is the story of Safia Taleb al-Suhail who survived tragedy and hardship to have the right to vote in an election that will help break the back of Islamic radicalism. President Bush is empowering outcast women around the world while blue state senators stand by in annoyed disinterest.

What is also remarkable is President Bush’s reaction. In his nomination acceptance speech in 2000, Al Gore called out a young family in the crowd as people who benefited from some social program or another. At this, the young father gave Gore a tearful thumbs up sign, enabling Gore to bask in the messianic limelight. By contrast, during the thunderous applause following the Freedom Hug, Bush looked on stoically, symbolically getting out of the way. He let the moment speak for itself and the true credit fall to whom it is due: American military personnel and the freedom-loving resisters of tyranny, upon whom rest the best hope for peace this side of heaven.

Sadly, this grand moment was followed by a very formulaic rebuttal by Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leaders of the minority in their respective houses. I think they understand that they need to change their message after November 2, but it will take more than rhetorical window dressing about God, guts, and guns to renew their credibility. Sen. Reid’s domestic agenda sounded like a mainline Methodist pastor reciting campaign talking points from the 1960’s. I think he mentioned “God” and “values” about 10 times each in support of liberal pet causes. But this public piety only has the form of godliness, denying its power. Rep. Pelosi deserves credit for raising the national security issue, but she is the wrong messenger. She downplayed the historic, dearly bought Iraqi election (didn’t she see the Freedom Hug?!) as only a “significant step” to getting the US out of Iraq. How self-centered! Getting out of Iraq is not the point. Freeing Iraq, disarming Hussein, creating a model of free Muslim society is the point. Her 3 point plan for leaving Iraq sounded like what the President talked about in his speech (Regional diplomacy must be increased? Didn’t she hear Bush say he was sending Condi Rice to Israel tomorrow just for this purpose?). She said nothing about boldly facing and killing terrorists elsewhere in the future.

Thankfully, President Bush does have that vision. I dislike some of his big government prescriptions and could have a long debate with him about immigration. Yet, his far-reaching vision for individual empowerment and national security are rooted in a worldview that is true: That all people are made in the image of God, but also that some choose to be evil and they need to be faced down. From this truth comes the strength to embrace freedom at home and abroad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Blue state myopia and moral equivalency at The Atlantic Monthly

Author's note: This post is in response to Hugh Hewitt's Vox Blogoli, issued on January 24, 2005. The topic was the passage below from Jonathan Rauch's essay "Bipolar Disorder" in The Atlantic Monthly (subscription required).

“On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around.”

Mr. Hewitt asks: "I invite comments on this passage, what it says about the author, The Atlantic, and the left's understanding of the Christian culture in America in 2005. "

What does this piece say about the author:

  • He thinks religious conservatives are violent by nature and need the therapeutic restraint of political discourse to be non-violent
  • He thinks the earnest, pro-life activism of exurban grassroots activists is on par with Michael Moore's media manipulations
  • He equates today's politically-involved people of faith with 60's street rabblerousers. Yet he misses a key distinction: If Christians commit violence, they do it in opposition to their worldview. If street radicals commit violence, they do so in obedience to their's
  • He's mastered the art of Clintonian triangulation: setting up two opposing extremes, then positioning oneself between and above them

What it say about The Atlantic Monthly:
Mr. Rauch's editors agree with the worldview motivating this article. It is the worldview that says there is no God, all truth is relative and human relationships are nothing but the exercise of power over others. That is why they view anything vaguely religious as dangerous, because they think it is just a system used to manipulate and control others. Hence the liberal catch phrase "anti-abortion" instead of "pro-life": They think religious people are just imposing their rules on other people's freedom. They see "anti-abortion planks" in the Republican platform as political Ritalin: a way to safely medicate the dangerous Crusader impulse. That there could be profound moral, ethical, scientific, and practical arguments for the pro-life position does not enter their thinking.

What does it say about the left's understanding of the Christian culture in America in 2005:
They are disconnected from reality and unwilling to engage the Judeo-Christian worldview on its merits. Clearly, the vast majority of pro-life activists are not going to run off and bomb abortion clinics if they do not get their say at a party convention and the passage presents no evidence to the contrary. But what is more unfortunate is that many left-leaning pundits and thinkers do not want to contemplate the deep things of God, Jesus Christ, and the biblical worldview, the very system of thought that gave us our free society and has vouchsafed mankind's honor and dignity for millennia.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

About Texas Tommy

"Texas Tommy" is Travis Fell, who is a
  • BBQ aficionado
  • Christian
  • College football fan
  • Dance evangelist
  • Political entrepreneur
  • Researcher
  • Social and media critic
  • Worldview analyst and advocate
  • Writer

I currently work at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission as a project manager and policy analyst. Past jobs include:

  • Legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives for the Honorable Carl Isett and the Honorable Arlene Wohlgemuth
  • IBM
  • Cap Gemini, a computer services consulting company

I graduated from Iowa State University in 1993 with a BS in English, with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Professional Communication.

I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 with an MBA in Information Management and Entrepreneurship.

This blog believes in:

  • The conservative view of government and politics: limited government, individual freedom and responsibility, free market principles, traditional values. I hold that these values are derived from the biblical worldview
  • God: That He is real, is interested in the affairs of mankind and individuals, His Word is true and is applicable today, and we should not be afraid to engage Him and His precepts in public discourse and policy
  • Engaging people who may be from other faiths but share many of my values
  • Pursuing the truth on items of interest my readers with integrity, fairness, intellectual rigor, good humor, and high purpose