Digging into the numbers behind my 1,000 followers

1000-followers

This blog recently passed a milestone, logging its 1000th follower. It should be noted, however, that the landmark follower was a blogger whose site was titled Chinese Numbers, which describes itself as “Chinese, language, learn, speak, write, textbook, contract, beginner, advanced, intermediate, commercial, marketing, correspondence, characters, radicals, decomposition, business, numbers, numerals, contract.”

Blog posts on Chinese Numbers include “Read Chinese Numbers 1-10 for Fun.” How could I resist? I clicked on the post and got what appears below (I erased the link that appeared behind “more information”).

read-chinese

What fun, indeed. The exclamation points were utterly superfluous.

Also, when you click on the “about” section of the blog, used to provide background on the blog or author, it reads: “This is an example of an about page. Unlike posts, pages are better suited for more timeless content that you want to be easily accessible, like your About or Contact information. Click the Edit link to make changes to this page or add another page.” So, no one bothered to even describe what the blog was about. Sounds legitimate to me.

Apparently, my blog is popular with the Chinese self-help crowd. Follower No. 999 is a blog titled Chinese for Beginners, while No. 998 is Chinese Commercial Correspondence. And right before that is the delightfully titled The Earth of Brain, which describes itself as “Chinese, language, learn, speak, write, textbook, contract, beginner, advanced, intermediate, commercial, marketing, correspondence, characters, radicals, decomposition, business, numbers, numerals.”

Others that have begun following my blog in recent months include the usual mishmash of sites selling male enhancements products, art, photography, architectural designs, books, publishing services, etc.

These sites apparently believe there are people randomly seeking poorly maintained, poorly written blogs for odd products. I’m not sure what sort believes this is part of a solid business plan, but they’re likely the same type who approach an advertising agency and tell the firm, “I don’t know what I want, but make it ‘pop!’”

(And to the recent follower who thought up the name FoxxyMobile Investment Services Limited – I say, good luck. Points for the use of “Limited,” but where I come from anything with “foxxy,” whether it’s spelled with one “x” or two, unless it has to do with omnivorous vulpines, is a likely sign that mischief is afoot.)

On the other hand, you have the particularly focused blogs that are quite fascinating. Sharks Parasites and Zoology comes to mind, along with Crusader History and To the Sound of the Guns.

I’m certainly no expert in, for example, sharks, parasites or zoology, but find all three interesting, having caught sharks, attracted my fair share of parasites and enjoy seeing, catching and studying animals in general. I have much respect for individuals who specialize in a legitimate area of study, and are able to cogently express their knowledge and interests in words the average person can grasp.

There are also a handful of high-quality writers out there who are able to touch on a wide range of topics.

Waldo Lydecker’s Journal, a North Carolina blogger who succinctly writes on a variety of political and social issues, An Sionnach Fionn, who describes his site as “Irish Republican news and opinion” but is so much more, The Venomous Bead, who describes her blog as “themeless” but writes with both knowledge and wisdom on myriad topics, and roughseasinthemed, a Brit who lives in Gibraltar and Spain, and adroitly mixes common sense with a desire for justness, all come to mind.

Unfortunately, for every one of the above, all of which I have followed for some time, there are at least 50 blogs set up solely to sell merchandise or services, push spam or for simple self-aggrandizement.

I equate the above 1,000 figure, as compared to the actual number of legitimate bloggers who follow this blog, to an idea I would sometimes espouse when I was a journalist. There is an old theory that if an infinite number of monkeys were left to bang on an infinite number of typewriters, sooner or later they would accidentally reproduce the works of Shakespeare. When I occasionally turned out a particularly pathetic bit of prose as a reporter, I would turn to one of my co-workers and say, “Three monkeys, 10 minutes.”

In other words, of the 1,000 followers listed for this blog, it’s likely at least half are nothing more than shills for products, services or worse.

That said, to those of you who have taken the time to read this blog since it began eight years ago, you have my thanks.

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to deliberate with you who have both agreed and disagreed with me, and on more than one occasion I have been forced to rethink my position(s). I’d like to think I’m a better writer and a better person for having embarked on this enterprise.

Advertisements

Turning the tables on the Internet’s blackguards

snow

Over the past couple of weeks no fewer than half a dozen spam faxes have come into my office pushing everything from Caribbean vacations to timeshare rentals. My first reaction: Do spammers use fax machines anymore?; followed by, how can spamming people by fax possibly be worth the effort?

Not all spammers are retrograde. Anyone who writes or reads a blog is familiar with insidious spammers attempting to post all sorts of unrelated links in comments sections for such items as Chinese manufactured goods, search-engine optimization services, the ubiquitous “male-enhancement” products and scams that purport to enable individuals to earn $87 an hour working part-time from home.

Of course, a good spam filter keeps many of these from seeing the light of day, but some spammers are particularly persistent, especially on blogs that see heavy traffic.

Google uses a complex algorithm to rank the relevancy of websites and blogs, and has worked to make sure that the actions of third-party sites – read spammers – don’t negatively affect websites.

Google has even gone so far as to devise a “disavow” tool which allows websites and blogs to basically ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing their sites.

It would appear that these spammers are also being penalized by Google for their past actions.

The Coyote Blog noted recently that it has been receiving link-removal requests from companies that spammed its comment section in the past.

“Most of them threaten that somehow their past spamming might threaten my Google rating, when in fact they are actually worried about their own Google search ranking,” The Coyote Blog writes.

Coyote, unsurprisingly, is less than sympathetic to these online vermin. He responds to such requests thusly:

I might or might not get to it, depending on how I feel and how hard it turns out to be. I only have limited sympathy as your company placed those spam links on my site against my wishes and against the usage guidelines for the site and on posts that largely were irrelevant to your product. I had to go to considerable expense to move my server and add new software specifically to fight spam of the sort you were dumping on me. All I can say is that you reap what you sow. And as to your threats that my Google ranking is somehow in jeopardy due to your past behavior, I believe Google is fully aware of whether your site or my site should be penalized for such spam, and it is not going to be my site.

Should The Coyote Blog get around to addressing the spammer’s request, it usually adds an update to the post itself saying that “[company with link] has confessed to being unapologetic spammers in the past and a link to their site [and I include the link] has been moved from the comments section at their request and moved to the main post to give their bad past behavior more visibility.”

Hear! Hear! Way to stick it to the Man Mouse!

Jesus: Apostles needed; Goliath need not apply

the last supper

I’ve occasionally pondered a blog dedicated solely to the religious adventures of Daughter No. 3. For one, there’s definitely no lack of material. She’s the one who most recently expressed interest in looking into the church role of “crucifier” (rather than “crucifer,” the individual who carries the processional cross into and out of church at the beginning and end of mass).

But as much as I chortle at some of her misguided answers to basic Christian history, I often find even better her attempts to explain her lack of knowledge.

Last week, for some reason (perhaps simply because I decided it was time for a little levity), I asked Daughter No. 3 what term was used to refer to the men closest to Jesus.

“UH, UH, UH, I KNOW THIS! I KNOW THIS! – The Twelve Disciples!” she shouted, proud as a peacock.

“No, not quite,” I replied. “You got the number right, but you missed on the title.”

“What?!? 12 Disciples! It’s disciples, I know it’s disciples!”

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not,” I stated. Then, looking at her siblings, I asked, “Anyone else?”

In unison I heard, “The Twelve Apostles!”

Daughter No. 3 was less than impressed. “Disciples, apostles, what’s the difference?”

After explaining that any follower can be considered a disciple, but the 12 specific individuals who were Jesus’ closest followers were his apostles, she seemed less than convinced.

So I followed up with, “All right, how many of the Twelve Apostles can you name?”

This, of course, is where the fun began; Daughter No. 3 began racking her brain for biblical names.

“David … Jonah … Adam … Abraham; how about those?” she asks.

“Well, you seem to be on a decidedly Old Testament bent, sweetheart,” I told her. “Think New Testament.”

She paused, then blurted out, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!”

“I’ll give you credit for two,” I replied, figuring that then was not the time for a discourse on who the actual authors of the books of Matthew or John might have been, or that the authors of Mark and Luke are not known. “That means you’ve got four more to go to get to 12.”

She paused, then reverted back to the Old Testament: Daniel? … Noah? … Moses? …. Did I already say David?”

“Yes. You need one more.”

“Uh, Joseph,” she said.

“Which Joseph,” I asked. “There are several in the bible.

Goliath, who didn't make Daughter No. 3's list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

Goliath, center left, who didn’t make Daughter No. 3’s list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

She stared blankly back at me in the rearview mirror. I tossed out a name: “How about Joseph, Jesus’ father?”

“Yeah, that’s a good one.”

I looked at her incredulously. “If your brother was, heaven help us, a religious figure of some stature, do you think he would want me as one of his apostles?”

That brought a round of laughs.

Still, she wasn’t budging from Joseph, the father of Jesus.

“Congratulations,” I said in my best game show host’s voice. “You just named two out of 12 of the apostles. And to think you completed a two-year confirmation course just two weeks ago.”

“They didn’t teach us anything,” she blurted out in semi-disgust.

“Oh, I have a feeling they taught you plenty, you just weren’t learning,” I told her.

With that, I got a wave of the hand and a laugh. She knows that since I teach in the same faith formation program, I have at least a slight idea what was going on in her class.

I did give her credit, though. For once she didn’t go to her safety answer for all bible questions. Typically, the first name blurted out, no matter what the question, is “Goliath.”

Progress is coming in very, very small baby steps, but it is progress nonetheless.

(Top: Leonardo’s Last Supper, showing Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.)

Teamster lackey: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

screwball

This blog remains largely immune from hate mail, probably because a) it’s readership is miniscule and b) the topics so arcane that few crackpots can work up the energy to put crayon to paper in order to fire off a misguided missive.

Still, just as a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while, the occasional screwball will manage to direct a harebrained epistle my way.

Consider: Last week a hack for the Teamsters Union decided to take me to task for a post I wrote in February 2009 about an area trucking company that had gained a well-deserved reputation for treating its employees particularly well. Mind you, this is a post that’s more than seven years old, but that didn’t stop the commenter, using the decidedly unoriginal nom de plume of “Greg Hoffa,” from wading into the fray, albeit very tardily and very ineptly.

Last Thursday, Mr. “Hoffa” wrote:

“WHY DONT YOU PAY YOUR DRIVERS OVERTIME PAY AFTER 8 hrs in a day or after a 40 hour work week? You are a damn crook, a typical preacher of religion. You must be related to Lyin’ Ted !!! Ps: and don’t tell me you don’t pay overtime because of some ridiculous agricultural law or railroad act. The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit. Pay your drivers what they deserve.”

It’s difficult to say what set off old Greg Hoffa. The point of my story, penned oh so many moons ago, was that a family-owned trucking company, during what was then the heart of the Great Recession, had managed to avoid laying off any of its more than 6,500 employees, the only major US trucking line able to be able make that claim.

My post contained no talk of pay, overtime and certainly no indication that I worked for the company. I don’t and never have. But then again, when it comes to reasoning skills, Teamster trolls are rarely mistaken for the second coming of Socrates.

I didn’t realize blogging made me a crook, and a “damned crook,” at that. As for being a typical preacher of religion, I am again mystified. I keep the proselytizing to a dull roar here, and with good reason. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “We were good Catholic boys when the weather was doubtful; when it was fair, we did wander a little from the fold.”

As to whom “Lyin’ Ted” is I have no idea. Cruz? Turner? Kennedy? Kaczynski?

A good rule of thumb if you’re going to write angry letters is that they should make sense and be based, at least in some small degree, on reality. Also, lay off the exclamation points. Greg Hoffa, you dropped the ball on all three counts.

I will give Mr. Hoffa one point and admit that he was pretty close to being accurate in one of his closing lines. Toward the end, where he wrote, “The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit,” he need only have shortened it to “The Teamsters should represent every shady trucking outfit,” and he would have been right on the money.

Shining a light on anti-independence fallacies

Portrait of a boy with the flag of Wales painted on his face.

Among common canards used to thwart peaceful independence movements is the idea that the entity attempting to go its own way is too small, too poor, has too few people, etc.

These were arguments employed by those who opposed Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, and who resist sovereignty movements in Catalonia and Corsica, among other regions of the world where a segment of the population is pondering an autonomous path.

But the blog Borthlas, focusing on the idea of Welsh independence from the UK – said by some to be impossible because Wales is “too poor” – raises interesting points:

Borthlas turns to a comparison of national per-capita GDP as a means to judge a region’s muscle, admitting that this is not an exact science because per-capita GDP tells nothing about the relative cost of living in a country.

“The population of a country with a low GDP per capita and a low cost of living might actually feel better off than the people of another country where both figures are higher,” the blog explains. “It also tells us nothing about the way wealth is shared out in a country – so the population of a country with a low GDP per capita but where the wealth is evenly shared might feel better off than the people of a country with a high GDP per head and huge inequality.”

But despite those caveats, per-capita GDP is still a good starting point to assess where would Wales fit were it an independent state, Borthlas writes.

  • According to International Monetary Fund figures, Wales would place 24th in the world in per-capita GDP were it independent of the UK, out of more than 170 countries;
  • The World Bank puts Wales at 27th, ahead of more than 150 other nations; and
  • The United Nations ranks Wales 31st place, with more than 160-odd countries beneath it.

Each organization has per-capita GDP figures for a different number of countries; currently there is something like 195 recognized independent nations.

Map of Wales.

Map of Wales.

Wales fares relatively well among European Union nations, as well, ranking in the top half, according to Borthlas.

The real issue why it’s difficult for regions such as Wales, Scotland and Catalonia to gain traction when it comes to independence is multi-fold.

First, these areas are often compared economically to the countries of which they are a part. Wales and Scotland aren’t going to stack up very well against the UK as whole, but then again, neither would England proper. But if there’s a place in the world for the likes of Andorra, Belize, Equatorial Guinea and Liechtenstein, entities such as an independent Wales, Scotland and Catalonia would not only have little problem surviving, but would almost certainly thrive.

Next, traditionalists, and certainly hidebound imperialists, are almost always reluctant to give up that which they have spent centuries holding reign over, for psychological and political reasons.

Finally, the loss of any portion of a nation to independence means a loss of money, one way or the other. Some may point to a region such as Wales and say that it receives significant sums from the UK Treasury. However, Wales is denied sovereign control over its natural resources, including water, mineral and energy exports.

Ultimately, the bottom line tends to be the bottom line these days when it comes to adhering to the concept of self-determination.

Local leader fights for right for employees to remain ignorant

Henry Reilly

One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.

Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area  in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.

“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.

Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.

“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”

So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.

The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.

As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.

The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.

I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.

Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.

If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.

(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)

The public wants what the public gets …

Democratic Presidential Debate in Vegas

Living in a nation in which presidential canvassing is a never-ending cycle where campaigning for the next election begins almost as soon as the last one ends, it’s difficult to pay much heed to the myriad candidates promising an endless array of bread and circuses or, conversely, labeling foes as the antichrist.

The media has done much to create this horse race atmosphere, dispatching a multitude of reporters to follow candidates and catch the daily 20-second platitudes of aspiring nominees while real news around the nation and the world goes uncovered.

Candidates understand the game and manipulate the media, who play along in order to maintain access. Negative stories appear, but generally unless a candidate has an absolutely astounding number of craptacular skeletons in his or her closet, the media’s not going to scuttle anyone’s campaign.

More candidates equal more possibilities which equal more news. And more news means more ad sales, at least for television.

So when my daughters or friends ask me who I’m voting for, I tell them it’s early so I haven’t made up my mind. This is true, as our presidential election is still more than a year away.

The reality is that I have better things to do than listen to highly coached politicians spout well-rehearsed lines that have been trotted out and approved by focus groups.

Sadly, some of the most astute bit of political analysis I’ve come across is the following, which comes from a website called What Would Tyler Durden Do?, a website largely dedicated to mocking celebrities.

Although the site rarely strays into politics, and can be more obscene than a Kardashian attempting to read Shakespeare, Tyler Durden has a pragmatic take on the American political system that, while few in power would like to admit, is likely closer to reality than many average US citizens realize.

Consider its take on the recent Democratic debate:

Bernie Sanders supporters are largely more educated than Clinton supporters, but widely less practical. Despite the fact that Sanders college-aged Internet minions flooded the polling sites post-Democratic debate to declare Bernie Sanders the hippy atheist god almighty, every single major media outlet including CNN which ran the debate picked Hillary Clinton as the winner. Now Sanders followers are outraged, bemused, and frazzled. The standard emotional state of socialists.

I’m reluctantly forced to admire young Utopian dreamers. Before you get your first real STD or crappy job to pay the rent or unwanted pregnancy or draft notice or lousy marriage or mortgage or cancer, that is the time to dream of a perfect world. A land where everybody chooses bikes over cars, the homeless are no longer mentally ill alcoholics but misunderstood poets, and the fry guy and the McDonald’s CEO both make 40 bucks an hour, 10 after taxes. But politics isn’t about childish dreams. It’s about Mafioso-level bodies in the dumpster realities.

CNN is owned by Time Warner Cable. It donates heavily to the Clintons and Bushes for a reason that has nothing to do with the political philosophy you cherish while smoking pot in the quad and discussing Marx. It has to do with access and power and money. Big huge gobs of money in billion-dollar chunks. Let’s see, do we support the socialist who wants to break us up into little bits and force us to compete with public access channels on taxpayer-funded steroids or do we want the hacks who will keep us tight and flush with monopoly cash?

Agree or disagree with the above, it possesses more than a little truth. We’re certainly a long way from what the Founding Fathers, imperfect though they may have been, had in mind more than 225 years ago.

(“The public wants what the public gets” is from “Going Underground,” by The Jam.)