People-Watching From The Blogosphere

When I was about 7 years old, my pediatrician, Dr. Milstein, told my mother he planned to put a soapbox in his office so I could stand on it and give speeches. “He’s going to be a politician someday,” Dr. Milstein predicted.

Not quite. Even if I wanted to run for office, which I do not, my socially liberal Republican leanings have been out of fashion since around the time I stopped seeing Dr. Milstein. But the Internet is an excellent soapbox, and when I sat down to write this post, I realized how well he had me pegged.

Today marks five years since I started contributing to my firm’s every-business-day opinion column. That’s a lot of opinion. Someone else might have run out of things to say by now, but as my weary pediatrician anticipated, not me.

I read about a half-dozen news sites each day. It is never a problem to find interesting people or issues to write about. The trick is to do this without being a self-righteous blowhard. Or at least without being a self-righteous blowhard so often that people start to avoid reading your work, the way I try to avoid reading the work of several New York Times op-ed columnists whom I consider to be insufferable SRBs.

Most of the columns I write, and most of the ones that I enjoy reading, have two parts. The first tells the story; it provides the reader with enough facts and context to understand and care about the issue. The second gives the writer’s opinion about the issue. The typical SRB is convinced that his or her opinion is the more important part. I disagree. People have opinions of their own, but everyone likes a good story. If I write a column that tells an interesting tale, even if it is only about a 7-year-old and his doctor, someone might enjoy reading it. This then allows me to offer my perspective in a way that I hope will not be too self-righteous.

When I look back at some of my favorite columns of the past five years, or some that elicited the warmest response, they were often about someone who did something interesting or noteworthy.

Sierra Harr is a good example. I wrote about her a couple of years ago when, as a high schooler in Idaho, she fought a rules change that would have prevented her from playing on her school’s boys golf team, even though her school did not field a team for girls. The column was picked up by Ezine Articles, where Sierra’s mother found it a few weeks later (and posted a comment thanking me for accurately telling her daughter’s story). Sierra went on to complete a successful high school sports career this spring, and has signed on to play golf for Brigham Young University next year.

I especially enjoy writing about the challenges and triumphs of young people. Last year I observed that some aspiring musicians are building a fan base by putting their music and videos online themselves, without benefit of radio airplay or record label support. Besides performing original compositions, they introduce themselves to future fans by covering songs popularized by established artists.

My column focused on country artists Artie Hemphill and Maddie Wilson, and on their collaborator Andrew Pulley (working at the time under the stage name Drew Williams), who recorded their cover of “Highway Don’t Care” at Pulley’s Sapphire Studios in Provo, Utah. Drew called me a few days later to thank me for the recognition and to ask how I came to write about their work. His call was the start of a strong friendship and working relationship. My firm signed up to support Hemphill’s forthcoming album release (a topic for a future column), and Drew arranged an invitation for my daughter and me to meet his highly talented friend Lindsey Stirling, a violinist who has built a big and enthusiastic global following almost entirely with self-produced tours and online videos. She also happens to be my daughter’s favorite performer.

Another instance of excellent work that I discussed in a commentary came from New York Times writer Amy Harmon, who produced a noteworthy multimedia piece on a young couple who are each living with Asperger’s syndrome. Harmon applied all of the tools of online, video and print journalism in ways that complemented one another to tell the story in a richer way than would have been possible in traditional print or broadcast alone. A former journalist myself, I still follow the field closely, and I thought Harmon’s work was worth special attention.

Things don’t always go swimmingly for young people, of course. The much-hyped but short-lived Occupy Wall Street movement was a case in which I thought that (mostly) young people who had many frustrations but lacked much direction were manipulated to serve other agendas.

Of course I don’t always write about young people, or unknown people. Occasionally I feel I have some personal perspective worth adding about a public persona, such as Walter Cronkite or the late comic Soupy Sales. Sometimes my story is about someone interesting or important to me who is not publicly known at all, such as my wife’s Aunt Margaret, who managed to earn a doctorate in science as a Jewish woman in prewar Hungary and then had to survive Auschwitz before she could use it. A recent post also focused on Hungary and on my small part in a search for lost family and treasure.

Not many opinion writers even attempt to turn out 800 to 1,200 words per day, five days per week. I could not have done it either, at least not for long, without the help of my colleagues Eliza Snelling, in the column’s early days, and of Amy Laburda for the past four years. Though I provide the ideas and framework for each post, and I do the final edits, Amy and I divide the drafting responsibilities. She may not always share my point of view but she certainly understands it, and she provides a lot of the research and background that helps readers appreciate the story behind our comments. It’s fair to say that there would be no Current Commentary without her.

I don’t know if life will allow me to write this column for another five years, so I can’t make any promises about that. However, I can promise to climb down off that soapbox now and then, and to try not to be too much of an SRB.

Writing Political Comedy – An Intro to Laughing at Your Politics and the American Political System

So political comedy is your thing, eh? The purpose of this article is to help you get started in making political jokes. It is also an attempt at thinning the paint that is our polarized politics, if you will. I want to add water to the orange concentrate that is our unwavering partisan views and beliefs in the United States. In the spirit of the Gulf oil spill, I want to take oil and water in a jar, and shake it until I get conservatives intermingling with liberals in an effort to bring the two sides together. Laughter is a powerful tool and it can bring people together. Poking fun at our political beliefs is a good way of creating humility and seeing what the other side sees. I have found this to motivate me and others to laugh at ourselves and work with our opposites not just in politics.

It pains me to see my country divided on almost all issues. Our political party system has divided the United States in two on things ranging from foreign policy to something as insignificant as clothing style! I heard an older gentleman say to a twenty something year old, “Uhm, kid? Your pants are too low and baggy.” The kid responded, ” Uhm gramps? Your pants are too high and tight.” Where does the madness end? For a more serious example, there is uproar about an Islam group wanting to establish a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. In a struggle for power and public support, it didn’t take very long for our politicians to turn the issue into politics. In turn I am seeing this create a civilian divide between those who believe the mosque is insensitive to the families of those who fell at Ground Zero and those who argue for religious freedom (i.e., conservatives and liberals, respectively). And of course, both sides are stubborn.

Enough with the serious stuff and let’s get to the comedy. First, avoid your temptation to make jokes about your political opposite. I know that it’s hard. They make it so easy for us, don’t they? The problem is that it just adds to the stonewall partisanship and makes your opponents angry at you. You can poke fun at the other side when you give your politics equal time. Showing your opponent that you can joke about yourself will open them up for jokes about their beliefs.

Second, read the political sections in newspapers (including online) and watch political news on TV. As you read or watch the news, try not to think about what the issues mean or how they affect you (you can do this later). This helps us avoid embedding ourselves in the issue. I know that this seems difficult, but I will walk you through later.

Third, find the eccentricities in the news stories. Believe me, this part isn’t hard. What you might find difficult is avoiding seriously analyzing the meanings of the topics. With enough practice, however, you’ll be able to extract the comedy potential from the most serious of topics.

Let me walk you through a simple example. I used this very news story in a similar way in my political humor blog:

On August 15th, 2010, Tea Party members held a rally in Arizona on the border with Mexico. Let’s forget about why the rally was held (remember: avoid the main topic/issue). What do you think was so eccentric about this news? Well, Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County addressed the crowd of Tea Partiers. Now, this guys is eccentric on his own, but put him on the border, allow him to speak, and comedy ensues. This purveyor of order and law enforcement told the crowd that he would climb the border fence if all of the country’s television news was there to report it. If you don’t see the comedy in this, don’t worry, it takes practice for some. I don’t care if you have even the most conservative ideologies. The SHERIFF, not even just a deputy, the Sheriff of a major U.S. county (1) wants to break the law, no, international law, and (2) he doesn’t think the rest of the country will hear about it. He also said that border patrol should be allowed to cross the border and prevent migrants from crossing.

That part is the raw material. We need to shape it to make it funnier (or in some cases, funny at all). What can we add to make it funnier? Look at his picture. What does he look like? Is he on overweight side of the spectrum? How high is the fence? Bring in Nothing gets past being posted on these days, so how can he think no one will see his lawlessness? Exaggerate it. Compare it to something funny or an exaggerated version of it. Make the connection between allowing border patrol to cross the border and preventing migrants with invading a foreign country and declaring preeminent illegal immigration sweeps. What does that sound like? Bush’s preemptive war maybe? What else? Make a list and see what has comedy potential. Then try your joke on your opposite party friends. If they laugh, it’s good. Then introduce it to the less partisan friends on your side of the fence.

That news story is comedy gold! If you can’t laugh at that, keep thinking about the irony, the eccentricity, or made odd comparisons. The point is to find humor in your views. Then spend some humor time on the other side. Laughter is a powerful tool in bringing people together. Remember to find comedy in yourself before ripping the other side with your comedy genius. It helps to loosen you from your polar barrier.

For more hilarious examples (most of them at least), find them on my blog linked below – The BCN Report.

Daily Politics Blog – How to Find a Good One

So you are interested in the world of politics but do not know where to find a good daily politics blog. In this article I will provide you with the best method for finding the blogs you want to read. I will not tell you what to read, I will tell you how to find a political blog you want to read -one that suits your specific tastes.

If you know essentially nothing about the world of political blogging you should understand a few things right off the bat.

Firstly, a daily politics blog can come in one of two forms. The first type is the kind most people probably think a political blog looks like. It is the “personal blog”. It is made by one individual. The second type is the corporate type. It is like a company as it has several writers or “contributors” who make up the daily blog into what is very similar to an online newspaper.

Secondly, the thing you need to know right away upon entering the politics blog universe is that the vast majority of political blogs are biased or at least “lean” one way or another -they are opinionated news. There are however many politics blogs that take a non-partisan or neutral approach to their blogging. Remember, this kind of blog might be articulating a point of view just like partisan blogs.

Finally, the most important thing to do, in my opinion, is to do research on the political blogs you start reading. If the blog is a personal one try to understand where they are coming from. If the blog is a corporate one look them up on Wikipedia. See who owns them and possibly which way they “lean” (left or right for instance).

Alright, so now that you are schooled in spotting blog types and their content you can start searching for a great daily politics blog.

I suggest you immediately figure out what kinds of political blogs you want to follow before you start following them. You should have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish by reading a blog online. Are you trying to educate yourself? Are you looking for other people who will articulate your shared positions on politics? Or maybe you want to act like a media analyst by looking at daily politics blogs on both sides of the political spectrum!

Whatever you are looking for and wherever you might be on the political spectrum, there is really only one final step to finding a great blog you can follow every day and it involves Google.

Search Google for the words “politics blog” (or blogs) or “political blogs” (or blogs) while combining a word that specifies exactly what kind of material you want to see. For example, if you are a life long Republican in the United States you might want to put “conservative” or “Republican” in front of politics blog. If you are a centrist you might want to type “moderate” or “centrist” at the beginning. What you put in addition to the first words is up to you and will depend on your political views.

Using Google is the best way for newbies to get settled in to the political blogging world as the first page results are usually the more established personal and corporate blogs. Since so many mainly personal political blogs die in their first year (people just stop writing), using Google is the ideal first step. Keep in mind you can use other search engines but Google superior in my humble opinion.

Happy reading!