Archive for No Contest Communications

Good advice

Don’t think with your fingers.

Rental detectives

I’m pretty much an open book to my building manager (thank you, B.!). If I ever have to move into another rental, though, the services provided by a British data-mining company might unnerve me. Writes Stanley Q. Woodvine in Vancouver, BC’s Georgia Straight,

Tenant Assured is a web-based service first made available two weeks ago to landlords around the world. The service essentially forces people to open up their social media accounts to the prying eyes of landlords as part of the process of applying to rent an apartment. …

This is how Tenant Assured works:

A landlord who’s signed-up with Tenant Assured sends all of their rental applicants to a special link on the Tenant Assured website. They are then asked  to provide full access to up to four of their social media profiles—on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. These are then thoroughly crawled, scraped, and analyzed by Score Assured. The scrutiny includes conversation threads, private messages, and contact lists. …

Concerns that the service is a gross violation of personal privacy were brushed off by the company, which trotted out the oldest authoritarian assurance about surveillance in the book, namely, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear“. Or, as [the company’s] cofounder Steve Thornhill put it … “If you’re living a normal life then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Thornhill further pointed out that people had to give their consent to the Tenant Assured process and that it was really not much different from a background check or credit rating.

Of course it’s very different … . There are long-standing laws governing credit and background checks and there are processes in place to allow people to see their credit reports and correct inaccuracies.

Although landlords anywhere in the world can sign up for the service—including right here in Vancouver—it’s is not clear what laws in any given jurisdiction could hold such an online service to account.

As a professional communicator, I take great pains not to post anything at all controversial online: very little politics or religion … or anger. (I always ask myself, “What would my students think? My future clients? My Mom?”)

The persona I therefore project is a good deal sunnier and more welcoming than the real thing. Indeed: Last year a girlfriend from high school wrote me, “Bob, I like you so much better online.” Good to know.

Also at nocontest.ca

Over at NoContest.CA

Puzzling Advertising and Practice.

Treat It Gentle

stop1

Readers of NoContest.CA know that I spend a lot of time thinking about mental hygiene. This is a scary concept when you plumb it. Here’s why: You are the only one in charge of keeping your mind humming strong; and bad habits can be irreversible.

In the spirit of this month’s Easter season, here’s a story of how one teacher sought to redeem an angry and lazy lad:

This Easter weekend I have been contemplating, uncharacteristically, a verse from the Bible, Ephesians 4:30: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed until the day of redemption.” On this verse the 19th-century evangelist Charles Finney sermonized: “If the Spirit leave you, you will have no heart to offer prevailing prayer, and if you attempt to pray, you will find that your mouth is shut, and if opened it will only be opened to mock God. And you will find as a matter of fact, that instead of being benefited you are only hardened by engaging in prayer.”

That remark reminded me of Sidney Bechet’s autobiography, “Treat It Gentle.” To me, the “It” is one’s muse, the source of one’s creativity. In his book the great clarinetist/saxophonist writes, “Oh, I can be mean — I know that. But not to the music. That’s a thing you gotta trust. You gotta mean it, and you gotta treat it gentle.  The music, it’s the road. There’s good things alongside it, and there’s miseries. You stop by the way and you can’t ever be sure what you’re going to find waiting. But the music itself, the road itself — there’s no stopping that. It goes on all the time. It’s the thing that brings you to everything else. You have to trust that. There’s no one ever came back who can’t tell you that.”

Bechet tells the story of Buddy Bolden, a brilliant trumpeter whose love of showmanship made his muse abandon him. “You take someone that’s grinning and stomping and moving around on the stand where the music should be going — for the moment you’re lost from the music, you’re so busy watching him fool around. But you get his same record and try to listen to the music then, and there’s no music there.”

I remember the day when I learned about not grieving the holy spirit, about treating it gentle.

I was in ninth grade, French class. We were going over our homework and my teacher, Dr. P.,  noticed that, in an exercise in which we were supposed to rewrite present-tense sentences as conditional sentences, I had changed the verbs only, using quotation marks to indicate the missing words. She took my assignment, explained what I had done to the rest of the class, ripped it up, and noted that being lazy was no way to get ahead in life.

After the bell rang and the rest of the class had left, I told Dr. P. that if she embarrassed me like that again, I would kill her.

Not surprisingly, I was yanked out of Art class the next period. There was my “guidance counselor” and Dr. P. — no disciplinary people like the Vice Principal, and no cops. She told me that, just this one time, she would speak to me in English, not wanting there to be any misunderstanding as to what she needed to say.

Dr. P.  was very serious, but without any anger or even sternness. “Mr. Basil, you have a fine mind. Right now you do. And only you are in charge of what gets inside of it, how it runs, how it thinks. I’m not in charge. Your parents are not in charge. Your friends are not in charge. Just you. You’re the gatekeeper. Cutting corners is lazy. If you keep it up, it will become a bad habit. And then you will no longer notice that this is what you do habitually. And then … you will no longer have a fine mind.”

That was it. The meeting couldn’t have lasted more than three minutes. No reprimand, no letter in my file, no call to Mom and Dad. (God knows how much trouble a student would get into making such a threat — even an obviously empty one — today.) – 12 April 09

Dr. P. had scared me, but not in the way I thought she was going to: I had never known until that moment in that small office that my mental hygiene was entirely in my care.

Dr. P. had also spared me, answering my anger with grace … and with words I could understand.

Keeping your online presence beaming

It is a truism that dormant websites and social media platforms can do more harm to you than good, no matter how active you have been in the past. I teach my students numerous methods to keep their online presence bubbling even when they are busy with other things – the holiday season, finals – or when they are ill. I have certainly used these methods myself, in both situations, to keep my many platforms up to date.

For websites and blogs:
– Feel free to recycle past posts that have a timeless quality to them – maxims, insights, humour. (I make sure that such posts are at least three or four years old. I also make it clear that these are re-posts.)
– Point your readers to good writing posted by others whom you bookmark or follow via your news-feed (see below). There is nothing wrong with a post that is composed mostly of another writer’s thoughts. Give credit where credit is due, and Bob’s your uncle.
– Create and use an extensive photo library. A photograph with a short description will indicate that you are still “on the case.” And people like pictures.

For Twitter:
– No matter how busy or under the weather you are, you can usually get out of bed and review your news-feeds (see my own Feedly feeds); this can take as little as twenty minutes.
– Then: Tweet the posts and articles that will appeal to those who follow you.
– To make sure that you don’t spam your readers, spread out your tweets. There are numerous tweet-schedulers. I use Hootsuite and Buffer. With these I can be tweeting all day with just a few minutes’ effort in the morning.

For LinkedIn:
– Many, if not all, of your blog posts will be of interest to your LinkedIn “connections.” Post these in your LinkedIn updates. There is nothing wrong in repurposing your work this way.
– Once or twice a week, head over to your LinkedIn account and see what your connections are doing. Comment on or “like” their updates. Show that you are still attending to the work and insights of your online friends and colleagues.

So there you go: easy peasy lemon squeezy. Keep your online presence active and your ‘brand’ beaming. Have a wonderful holiday!

re-posted from NoContest.CA

The Art of Scolding

In 1987 I promoted a story about “Secular Organizations for Sobriety” [SOS] that appeared in the Buffalo News. SOS was one of those secular humanist initiatives promulgated by Paul Kurtz’s publishing enterprises out of Buffalo, in this case “Free Inquiry,” a quarterly journal that published critiques of supernatural belief and religious dogma. I was Executive Editor of Free Inquiry at the time.

SOS was started as a secular alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has numerous religious overtones (“a higher power,” “the Serenity Prayer,” and so on). SOS has kept the peer-counseling component and left out these overtones.

I was interviewed by a Buffalo News reporter for the story. In the course of the interview, I said I had “a lot of friends in the arts and music community who were beset by terrible problems with alcohol.” The next day that quote appeared in the article. (The photograph of me accompanying the article made me look like a long-time “friend of Bill” myself: eyes not completely open, my hands clutching at a cup of coffee. I wished I had been better prepared for the interview.)

The Pink Flamingo

That night I went to the Pink Flamingo, a gritty Buffalo pub where lots of writers and artists took their recreation. I had been a regular there for a couple of years. I walked in, saw about a dozen people I knew and some good friends, and went up to the bar to order something (I am guessing a shot of tequila and a Molson Extra).

“Hey, Bob!” A good friend of mine, “Fay,” tapped me on the shoulder. I gave her a kiss. Fay organized arts events and wrote articles freelance.

Fay smiled, but then said plainly: “We all read that article in the News today, how all your buddies here are terrible alcoholics.”

I winced.

I was surprised by what my friend said next.

Fay neither rebuked me nor wondered aloud how I could disparage and embarrass my friends. Instead she said, “You drink here, and elsewhere, as much as we do, and often with me and everybody here. It would have been delightful had you mentioned *that* happy fact as well.”

Rather than telling me that I was a hypocrite, she said, in effect, “We like you, and you can tell the world you are one of us.” I was humbled by Fay’s gracefulness and courtesy.

Here was the “us” of whom I was a lucky part: a gregarious, generous, and hard-working coterie of writers, artists, students, musicians, film-makers, arrangers, editors, curators, and their friends and lovers and roommates and their relatives who repaired to the Pink Flamingo to drink, plan projects, receive solace, read out loud, and debate everything.

After Fay and my other Flamingo buddies made it clear I wasn’t going to be scolded any further, we talked until 2AM, feeling the love, as it were, and I was reminded that scolding might succeed best as words of welcome that can rescue relationships and fortify friendships.

No Word

A friend in the media emailed me this morning: “Everyone keeps talking about hostages having been taken in Paris. Doesn’t the word ‘hostage’ imply a demand on the part of the terrorists? They made no demands; they intended all along to slaughter them. Wouldn’t captive be a more appropriate word, or am I over-thinking this?”

I wrote back: “You are definitely right about ‘hostage’ being the wrong word and for the reasons you say. I would say that ‘captive’ is also the wrong word, because captives are prisoners – not intended victims of murder. At the very least, one ‘holds’ a captive for a predetermined period of time; this was not the case yesterday. To see how ‘captive’ is the wrong word: One would not say that a person killed in his/her or another person’s home is a captive – same for a person killed in a restaurant in a drive-by. I think ‘intended victim’ is the closest. There is no single word for ‘terrorist victim,’ and it seems discourteous to refer repeatedly to the slain as ‘terrorist victims’ – two awful words to describe innocent souls.”

My friend’s reply: “Alas, ‘intended victim’ is clumsy.”

True.

About this one can truly say, There is no word.

cross-posted at NoContest.CA