Dictionaries: A Modern-Day Morality Play

3 DictionariesYears ago, before anyone outside the military-industrial-academic complex had ever heard of the Internet, I read an item about dictionaries in, I think, the New Yorker.

The author had been scandalized to find a brand-new, current dictionary in a trash bin, and was wondering why someone would throw it out.  Maybe they already had a dictionary, she thought, but “one dictionary per room sounds about right to me.” I agreed.

In high school in the 70s, a teacher angrily scolded my class when nobody could define a particular word in the literary passage we all had read as homework. “If you don’t look up the words you don’t know, you don’t deserve the beauty of literature,” she said. I’m not sure about her exact quote, but four decades later I still feel the lash in her voice. I developed a habit of reading with a paperback dictionary in one hand, thumbing through it as needed.

Now it’s 2015, well into the Kindle era, and I can’t remember the last time I purchased a physical book — or opened a printed dictionary. Depending on the device, looking up a word is as simple as right-clicking or touching a screen.

In a continuing effort to declutter our lives and our bookcases this weekend, I came across three collegiate-sized red dictionaries. (Why were they always red?) The newest was published in 2001, the oldest in 1976. That one has a circular water stain on the cover, the residue of a thoughtless roommate who used it as a coaster. That water stain has accompanied me through at least 10 moves over nearly 40 years.

Which is more scandalous or silly: the fact that I’m throwing two dictionaries away, or that I’m saving one?

Gov. Christie Belatedly Accepts Reality on Same-Sex Marriage

After 37 years as a committed couple, Ulysses Dietz and Gary Berger were married this afternoon by Mayor Victor De Luca at Maplewood Town Hall, as New Jersey becomes the 14th state to permit gay people to marry. The Web Goddess and I were thrilled to be in attendance, along with other friends of the happy couple who were able to get time away from work on short notice.

Also today, Gov. Chris Christie conceded defeat in his opposition to marriage equality, after a unanimous state Supreme Court decision lifting a lower-court stay, which touched off wedding bells around the state.

One of the cool things about blogging is the occasional opportunity to say “I told you so,” and back it up with a link. In a February 2012 post headlined “The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be,” I wrote:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

When I predicted Christie would be better off by losing, I was looking ahead 18 months to when he would stand for re-election.  Election Day now is little more than two weeks away, and his re-election is not in doubt.  A liberal friend predicted before the wedding this afternoon that if Christie runs for president in 2016, the Right will savage him for dropping his appeal before the court could eventually rule on the appeal itself.

I don’t see it that way — the Right has bigger quarrels with Christie than marriage equality.  By dropping a clearly hopeless cause, Christie demonstrates he is more pragmatic than Ted Cruz.  That’s admittedly a low hurdle, but it does represent an “evolution” in Christie’s approach to the issue.  Four years ago I voted for Jon Corzine, the badly-tarnished Democratic incumbent, solely on the basis of Christie’s announced support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Thirty-six states to go.  They’ll go one by one for a while, but eventually I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be asked to rule on some state’s refusal to honor a same-sex marriage performed in another state — by which time the lack of damage to the institution of marriage will be well established.

If it happens that way, I’ll have another I-told-you-so post to write.  In the meantime, congratulations to Gary and Ulysses, and to all our other friends who are marrying or planning weddings on this happy day.

(Photo by the Web Goddess, of course)

His & Hers Candidates: When Love Is Stronger Than Politics

On November 6, the Web Goddess and I will walk down the hill to the Presbyterian church and fulfill our solemn civic duty of canceling each other out at the polls.

It’ll be the third straight election where we support different candidates.  This, combined with my ongoing political advocacy on this blog, makes for some careful conversations at home.

But never anything heated — we don’t “do” acrimony. She’s my summer love in the spring, fall and winter, and I’m sure as hell not going to let differences over healthcare policy or the war in Iraq come between us.

In online forums where I’ve disclosed my “mixed marriage,” I’ve had Republicans ask “how can you stand living with a Democrat”?  Well, I was a lifelong Democrat before becoming a 9-11 Republican — we both supported Mr. Gore in 2000.  I’ve seen demonization of “the other” from both sides, and it’s ugly from any perspective.  Liberalism and conservatism are both vibrant and essential strains of thought, and each deserves its champions in the clash of ideas.  That’s why on this blog I try, with perhaps mixed success, to treat opposing ideas with respect.  We’ve gotta be able to talk with each other.

Perhaps the most prominent example of opposing viewpoints within a marriage is James Carville and Mary Matalin — although a friend just nominated Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.  Carville was the campaign manager for Bill Clinton in 1992, while Matalin was a senior campaign adviser to George H.W. Bush.  A year after the election they got married, had two kids, and by all accounts they’ve been happily married for more than two decades.  (Schwarzenegger and Shriver, not so much, although that had more to do with adultery than politics.)

At the end of the day, of course, as residents of New Jersey it doesn’t matter who either of us votes for.  The Founders in their wisdom created the Electoral College, which means your vote is meaningless if you live in a lopsided state.  No, I’m not bitter — I generally support the idea of federalism, and the Electoral College comes with the package.  So on November 6, the Web Goddess and I will tune in while the election is settled by the good citizens of Ohio, Virginia and [shudder] Florida.  And on November 7 we’ll wake up grateful for the blessings in our lives.

(Photo by Ray Folkman — our neighbor)

RIMPAC! Or, Here’s Why It’s Dangerous Even to JOKE About Yelling “Fire” in a Crowded Theater

Don't blame me, blame the NavyNo matter how far Left someone is, or how anti-war, or even anti-American, I think we all could agree that one should not publish the sailing time of troop ships during a war.  A no-brainer, right?  But what if the publisher is the U.S. Navy itself?

It happens all the time.  Case in point, the photo accompanying this blog post (if you’re reading this on RSS, click through to the damn blog to see the photo.  And while you’re there, would it kill ya to actually click on a friggin’ ad once in a while?  I’m just sayin’.)

Onward!  “Sailing time of troop ships” is kind of an archaic phrase — modern ships don’t “sail,” and there is no longer a class of ships OFFICIALLY referred to as “troop ships.” But those are quibbles, and modern equivalents exist.  If you ever find yourself in possession of the knowledge that your government is about to launch a daring nighttime raid to take down Public Enemy No. 1 inside the borders of a semi-hostile ally… just to pick a wild hypothetical… if you ever have that knowledge, in the name of sweet Jesus or Loki or whoever, DON’T TWEET ABOUT IT IN ADVANCE!

Where was I?  The photo.  Below in its entirety is the caption that the U.S. Navy wrote, within the past week, describing the location of thousands of U.S. and allied sailors right now, through the day after tomorrow:

120727-N-VD564-015 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) Ships and submarines participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012 are in formation in the waters around the Hawaiian islands. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney/Released)

Who told the enemy about RIMPAC?  String ’em up! (Cue the visual of Jon Stewart touching his ear and pretending the control booth is setting him straight.)

My point, and I do have one, is not to make fun of Op-Sec rules.  One of those thousands of sailors is my son, and I’d be savagely pissed off if someone disclosed his whereabouts in a way that endangered him.  My point is the danger of “zero-tolerance” laws.

“Zero-tolerance” would mean that I’d be in trouble for this blog post even though the Navy itself provided the potentially most dangerous information.  But now I’ve increased that miniscule danger by a a hyper-miniscule amount by mentioning my son.

Think I’m kidding?  Note that the Navy did not disclose the names of any of the ships in the exercise.  But you can glance at my blog and learn my son is on the Nimitz.  The Nimitz is that big boat in the foreground of the picture, unless there’s another aircraft carrier at RIMPAC.  My son’s a second-class Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, which is one of three ratings responsible for launching and recovering fighter jets in the Arabian Sea and other war zones, and his two tours thus far have taken him to exotic places including Japan and …

Still think I’m kidding?  Ask the loved ones of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney how comfortable they are with that caption. There’s nothing in my prior paragraph that hasn’t ALREADY been on my blog, and even if the blog never existed, there’s nothing dangerous in the graf that Osama bin-Soggy couldn’t piece together with very modest effort.  But if any jerk of a prosecutor ever wants an excuse to make my life a living hell, that paragraph could provide it.  I’d be scared to publish it if not for the fact that my life is a target-rich environment.

Be safe, son. I love you.

(Hat tip: Mom)

Fourth Blogiversary Prompts Reflections on Why I Blog

July 5 was the fourth anniversary of my first substantive blog post,  “I Prefer the Chicago Politician to the Obamessiah“, wherein I rejected the then-current delusion that Senator Obama was “not a politician.” It began:

From the start, my take on Obama has been that he’s a talented and charismatic politician who some day could become an important senator.

We know now, of course, that he will never be an important senator, but otherwise I think the post holds up fairly well.

I blew past another milestone last week without knowing it. My WordPress dashboard tells me that my 500th blog post was on July 1, titled “Who Wins? Q&A on the Obamacare Ruling“.  If I’d known what an auspicious occasion that blog post was, I would have… I dunno.  I guess I would have mentioned it.

Why do I blog?  Primarily for the money, of course. Since August 2011, I’ve been a professional blogger. I’m not supposed to talk too much about my top-secret relationship with Google AdSense, but I think I can tell you that I’m nearly half-way to my second $100 payout.  Ca-CHING!  (I’m also not supposed to generate traffic artificially by asking for it, and nothing herein should be construed as a request for clicks. But take a moment to look at the ads at the top, the sidebar and the bottom.  Do you see anything interesting?  I’m just askin’.)

A snapshot as of July 8, 2012

My modest blogging income reflects my modest traffic.  A majority of it comes via Facebook, where I link to every new post.  Still, I get search-engine visitors from all over the world, and they add up after a while.  My Flag Counter widget in the right column currently shows more than 45,000 total visitors from the United States, and if you click through to it you’ll see I’ve had nearly 59,000 unique visitors from 158 countries.  As a church secretary in suburban New Jersey, I think that’s kinda cool.

If you Google my name, my blog is now the first result.  This is progress!  Three years ago, when I wrote about the six other Kirk Petersens in America, the guy who had registered kirkpetersen.com before I could was the first result.

The bottom line is that I blog because I like to write, and I think I do it reasonably well.  I haven’t ever had the fire-in-the-belly, compulsive need to write on a daily basis — the drive and determination that produces lots of bad first novels, and a few good ones.  I also don’t have the solitary self-discipline to support myself as a freelance writer — a lifestyle that my pal Lori Widmer chronicles inspirationally on a daily basis at Words on the Page.  I thrive in a corporate communications or agency environment where I can be part of a team, and if the economy ever improves I hope to have such a job again.  In the meantime, my blog gives me a forum to write whenever I feel I have something to say, and there’s no consequence (other than vague, self-induced guilt) if a couple of weeks go by between posts.

The real ego boost comes when someone tells me that something I’ve written has prompted them to reconsider a topic.  As an “out” Republican in a deep-blue enclave in a blue state, this often comes in the context of disagreement.  More than one liberal friend has said something along the lines of “you’re my favorite Republican.”

That resonates for me as an affirmation of my belief in the importance of civil discourse.  I was a lifelong Democrat before I became a 9/11 Republican, so I’ve lived on both sides of the Great Divide in American politics.  Each side is populated by similar distributions of thoughtful people and jerks.  The clash of ideas between liberalism and conservatism is part of what makes this a great country, but I try to let the ideas clash while treating the people on the other side with respect.  I find people are more willing to consider my point of view if I refrain from ridiculing them.  Who knew?

Thanks for reading.

Brush With Greatness: Episcopalian Edition

I teamed up with the Web Goddess on Sunday to produce a web report published today on a visit to a Jersey City parish by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The occasion was a centennial celebration by Church of the Incarnation, launched in an era when black Jersey City residents had to travel to upper Manhattan to find an Episcopal church that welcomed them.  If the PB does something official in the Diocese of Newark, the Web Goddess is going to cover it, and I’m enough of a fan of The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori that I was willing to take an unpaid assignment.  Employing our usual division of labor, I did the words and the Web Goddess did the pictures — including the behind-the-scenes shot at the reception with your humble scribe above.  (That’s a shrimp tail on the PB’s plate.)

More behind-the-scenes tidbits: if you click through to the story itself, you’ll find a group photo of the PB with some young interns, and everybody is grinning broadly.  The smiles are because I, in my customary role as photographer’s assistant, am making bunny ears over the Web Goddess’s head while she takes the picture.  Works every time. I later told the spiritual leader of two million Episcopalians that making bunny ears is “the work I feel called to do.”

(Earlier blog posts in the Brush With Greatness series describe my encounters with Jimmy Carter and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.)

In Which Your Humble Scribe Encounters Law & Order in Action

I try to learn something new every day.  On Friday I learned that in Madison, NJ, the fine for driving with an expired registration is $54.

Now, I’m a rule-of-law kinda guy.  Sometimes civil disobedience can be warranted, but generally speaking, I believe laws should be obeyed.  Bad laws should be changed, not broken.  A failure to enforce any law leads to diminished respect for all laws.

(I’m even opposed to the “neighborhood play” in baseball.  The infielder should have to step on second base while holding the ball to start a double play.  But I digress.)

I reflected on this (not the baseball part) at the end of my morning commute Friday, after a Madison police officer rolled to a stop behind me in the parking lot where I work, blocking me in.  I had seen the black-and-white SUV a mile earlier, parked in a driveway, pointed outward, watching the traffic go by.  I checked my speed, slowed down slightly, and kept cruising toward work.

Turns out he ran my plates and found the expired registration.  I’ve watched enough TV to know that it’s really a bad idea to get belligerent with someone who carries both a ticket book and a weapon, so I fought back some of the snarky remarks that came to mind.  A second patrol car also followed me into the parking lot, and the patrolman checked for wants and warrants while the sergeant was writing the ticket… and I’m thinking, isn’t there any real crime in Madison?   And: Isn’t there a doughnut shop nearby or something?  (The latter is particularly unworthy — he could have been eating a doughnut, but instead he was doing his job.)

The sergeant told me my registration was expired, and asked to see my credentials.  I pulled the paperwork out of my glove compartment and looked at the registration.  Ha! It expired at the end of September — only two weeks ago that day!  I can talk my way out of this!  I’m starting to make that case to him and I hear him say, “if it were a day or two, I could let it go, but two weeks, I’ve got to give you a ticket.”  Oh.  I felt the time-space continuum snap into a different shape.

I imagined I was outside myself watching this on TV.  There were lots of cars going in and out of the parking lot, people looking at me — I made a point of smiling bravely.  One of my co-workers walked by, and I asked her to send a search party if I’m not in the office in half an hour.  Just hangin’ out here, having a chuckle with my homies in uniform.

There was even a kind of good-cop, bad-cop dynamic.  The sergeant said he could write me up for “Failure to exhibit D.L. or Reg,” which sounds like the same thing but carries a $180 fine, but he wasn’t going to do that.  The patrolman walked over from his cruiser, handed my license to the sergeant and said “no wants or warrants — you’re not going to have him towed, right Sarge?”  Naw.

The sergeant told me I have the right to contest the summons, and showed me the relevant court date on the ticket.  Hm… should I try to take it to court, given that I’m, like, obviously guilty and stuff?

“It’s really important to keep your registration current,” he said.  Yes, I gathered that.  I paid it online as soon as I got home.

When the sergeant handed me back my credentials, I shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

Kirk Petersen, Professional Blogger

Irene, Schmirene — let’s talk web traffic, baby!

I’ve just been notified that as of August 24, 2011, I have entered the august and distinguished pantheon of professional bloggers.  Specifically, I received my first payment from Google AdSense.  My autograph is now available for purchase.

It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this point.  Since May 29, 2009, when I launched my first AdSense ads, I’ve made more than 300 posts to my blog.  Almost all of them involved a fair amount of research, writing and editing.  I keep  telling myself that I should do more quickie blog posts with just a single observation about a single aspect of an issue.  But once I get started, it nearly always turns into an essay — I described this slippery slope in “Mary Meeker, Entitlements, Wikipedia Drift, and Why It Takes Me Three Hours to Write a Blog Post.”

My average time investment is certainly less than three hours (although that post took longer than that).  Let’s call it 90 minutes.  That adds up to more than 450 hours of blogging, plus an indeterminate but not trivial amount of time spent backing up, upgrading and enhancing the design and recovering from hackers.  500 hours is a reasonable estimate.

During that time, the blog helped launch “My International Consulting Practice,” although I don’t count that vast revenue stream as a direct payment for blogging.  Unfortunately, my two biggest traffic days — an Instalanch and a Sullivalanch — both occurred before I got started with AdSense.

Enough background.  So how much is this lush AdSense payout that makes all the effort worthwhile?  If you know anything about AdSense, you know what’s coming.  Drumroll, please…

$102.34.  That, as my AdSense dashboard so helpfully calculates, is an average of $0.13 per day since I began publishing ads.  (I can almost hear you thinking: “Thirteen cents a day? Gotta get me summa that!”)

A good rule of thumb is that when you hear someone say “it’s not about the money,” it’s usually about the money.  However, sometimes the check really is in the mail — and blogging, for me, is not about the money. Thanks for reading my blog.

Hey, did I mention that I’m now a professional blogger?

Happy Independence Day to You;
Happy Blogiversary to Me

Three years ago today I posted my first substantive blog post, about Senator Obama, the Democratic nominee for president.  Here’s how it began:

From the start, my take on Obama has been that he’s a talented and charismatic politician who some day could become an important senator.

We know now, of course, that Obama will never be an important senator.  But I think the post holds up pretty well.

There have been 443 posts since then (some of them more substantive than others). They’ve attracted more than 1,000 legitimate comments.  There also have been more than 93,000 spam comments, blocked by my Akismet plug-in.

Since I added Google AdSense advertising to my site in May 2009, the ads have earned me $93.16, or an average of 12 cents a day. Once that total reaches $100, the Google people will send me a check. (Ca-ching!)  I’ve had more than 47,000 unique visitors from 150 countries, and I’m grateful to everyone who has taken a look.

These stats don’t exactly make me a titan of the blogosphere, but I enjoy having an outlet for writing. My heaviest traffic came from my one and only Instalanche, in a post noting that Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner’s tax problems got less attention from the media than Joe the Plumber’s.  The one post I’d like you to read if you haven’t already is “Honest Labor: From Mach 2 to Muenster to Madison.”

I was going to do  this as two posts, but between entertaining, the sunshine, fireworks and various pressing chores, I didn’t get my July 4 post up in time.  Let me end with a favorite quotation from the Collect for Independence Day in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (page 242).  Regardless of your faith tradition, I hope you’ll join me in giving thanks for the Founders of America, who “lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn.”  And to my favorite sailor, thank you for your service, son.

Happy 5th of July!




What Part of “Don’t Bury the Lead” Don’t You Understand?

Wikipedia Upload

Click image to embiggen

Do you ever wonder why people sometimes tend to do the exact opposite of what they should do?

For example, when leaving a voicemail message, many people will speed up while giving the all-important phone number — at the precise time when they should slow down.

So someone says “nineseventhreefiveohfiveonetwoonetwo” as fast as they can, and you have to listen to the message twice, or even three times, to capture the number.  What they should say is “nine seven three”… [pause] “five oh five”… [pause] “one two, one two”.

(No, it’s not my real phone number.  What, do you think I’m nuts?)

Now let’s look at the “help” page above from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.  (If you can’t see the graphic because you’re using an RSS reader, thank you for subscribing to my RSS feed. Now click through to the site already!)  My simple goal this afternoon was to upload a photo to help personalize the few lines of text I wrote for my Wikipedia user page.  It’s the same photo you see on this blog in the column to the right. (You did click through to the blog, right, RSS feeders?)

Wikipedia uses a proprietary coding language to invoke HTML commands so that users don’t have to learn HTML.  The Web Goddess, a self-taught guru who knows HTML cold, finds it confusing and not intuitive.  But the real problem is the poor design of the “help” pages.

The page above pops up from a simple “Upload file” link in the left navigation of the Wikipedia toolbox.  So far so good.  But… how do you actually upload a picture?

Click to embiggen

If you embiggen the second graphic, you’ll see that the page starts out by telling you how to do everything you might possibly want to do, except for the single most likely thing.

Do I want to look at six different help pages first?  Not if I don’t have to.  Do I want to put my face on Wikimedia Commons, so anyone can use the photo free for any purpose?  No, especially since my Wikipedia log-in doesn’t seem to work there, and I’d have to create a new account.

Finally, the fourteenth link on the page, in the third highlighted section, has the magic words “go directly to the upload form.”  So why couldn’t they have said that 10 minutes ago?

What does all this have to do with good people doing nothing in the face of evil?  No clue.  Tune in again later.