So, Les Misérables. But first a disclaimer. As some of you already know, I have a bit of background in vocal performance. Les Miz is my favorite musical, and I’ve seen it live twice. So that’s the perspective from which I write. (Side note: I started writing this waaaaay back in December, when we saw the movie, and I’m just now getting around to posting it.) Now that you’ve been fairly warned… [Read more…]
Today I had the opportunity to teach a priesthood lesson on adversity. It was interesting to see the lesson take an unusual turn.
LDS theology says adversity comes to an individual’s life for any of a number of reasons:
- Our exercise of agency (our freedom to choose): we exercised poor judgment or just flat-out sinned, and so we reap what we sowed.
- UPDATE: Failed to mention one pertinent comment from yesterday: sometimes adversity comes from righteous exercise of agency, such as those who face persecution due to their obedience, or who choose a good but difficult path (i.e. one who elects to work towards a university degree, therefore implicitly signing up for the temporal difficulties of college).
- Another’s exercise of agency: they exercised poor judgment or just flat-out sinned, so we suffer the consequences of another’s choices.
- We live in a fallen world: it rains and everybody gets wet (except in Texas right now), so some of us end up with some awful ailment or condition of some kind.
There are probably other fine distinctions that I’ve missed, but that pretty much covers it. I think this is pretty much in agreement with the wider Christian community. But there’s an additional reason that is found in LDS scripture. I hadn’t planned on really hitting it too hard, but it as it arose as a topic of discussion in class, I went with it. And that additional reason is this: sometimes, the Lord intentionally imposes adversity upon His children to help them to grow. Consider Mosiah 3:19:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (emphasis added)
Some raised the notion that the Lord sometimes allows us to endure the consequences of our poor behavior so that we learn good from evil. True enough, but that’s not what’s being suggested here. It’s one thing for a parent to allow a child to hurt due to poor judgment; it’s another thing entirely to suggest that the Lord would deliberately place adversity in that child’s life – to “inflict upon him” discomfort, suffering, even pain.
But I was reminded of some amazing YouTube videos I found recently.
Since the lesson had migrated to this discussion of the Lord intentionally giving us adversity, I showed this to the class on the iPad (gotta say: that thing has got to be a game changer for classroom instruction). I made a point of skipping to 2:05 to show the lady tossing the baby in the water. Does little Rene look or sound to you like he’s having a good time? But lest you think of this as child abuse, consider that, given enough time and training, the kids can do this:
I found these links, with others, on this Metafilter post. Read the comments for some comedy gold. As I pointed out to the class, these videos suggest that parents of toddlers have the following options when it comes to their children’s safety around swimming pools:
- Hover over their children nonstop to make sure they aren’t at risk of drowning
- Tether them to a cinderblock to make sure they get nowhere near the pool (yes, I shamelessly stole this from a Metafilter comment)
- Teach them to swim to give them the skills to be safe
If you choose door #3, you’re almost certainly electing something that can be unpleasant and downright frightening for your child, and for you. But it could result in something that will be a blessing to that child’s life. LDS theology suggests that God can operate much the same way in our spiritual lives. As it happens, C.S. Lewis agreed. From Mere Christianity:
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said. (boldface added)
The world abounds with examples that progress only comes through discomfort and trial. The best grapes come from vines that are a little bit stressed out. Every non-juiced bodybuilder will tell you that great strength is achieved only through tremendous effort and pain. The strongest steel is produced only from intense heat. And the most righteous, Godlike people around are those purified and strengthened by the fire of adversity. And because He is looking to produce the very best, sometimes God sparks that fire deliberately. I hadn’t planned to go there during the lesson because, well, it’s just a very uncomfortable teaching, but it’s true nonetheless.
One final thought. I read a quote on Times and Seasons a while back that I can’t find, but has always stuck with me: “Study of adversity tends to weaken faith. Experience of adversity tends to strengthen it.” Maybe they posted it with attribution to somebody. Whatever – it’s just very, very true.
Dovetailing beautifully off my prior post on social media and Google, Danny Sullivan delivers a fantastic report on how Google and Bing are incorporating Facebook and Twitter linkage into their search results. The closing graphs say it all:
In the end, it’s clear that Twitter data especially plays a role in web search, these days. Who you are is being understood. Are you a trusted authority or not? If there’s PageRank for pages, both search engines have a form of TwitterRank for people.
Meanwhile, retweets serve as a new form a link building. Get your page mentioned in tweets by authoritative people, and that can help your ranking in regular search results, to a degree.
If you want to get traction online, social media engagement is mandatory, not optional.
You may have heard of the case of Brian Aitken, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in New Jersey for transporting guns he had legally acquired as a Colorado resident while relocating to the Garden State. (Yes, you read that right – he’s doing seven years for moving his own guns to his own residence.) As you might imagine, this has sparked more than a bit of outrage in many corners, and there is a Facebook group devoted to his release. The Philadelphia Daily News has picked up the story, and while there’s nothing really new there, this howler caught my attention:
“What little I can glean about the transportation issue leaves me puzzled, but a person with common sense would not be moving illegal products from one place to another by car,” said Bryan Miller, executive director of CeaseFire NJ, an organization devoted to reducing gun violence.
Mr. Miller. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that he really hadn’t been moving, as testified by his mother, his friend and the arresting officer. He still needs to move said firearms and related items to his home. So how precisely would you suggest he transport them? A U-Haul truck, I’m guessing? Armored vehicle, perhaps? Gee, how about a caravan of law enforcement to accompany him, lest he be consumed by his primal urges and prompted to go on a homicide spree? I mean, really – do you have any idea how profoundly stupid you sound?
“If Mr. Aitken did the research he said he did, he would not have hollow-point bullets and large-capacity magazines in the vehicle,” Miller said. “They are illegal, period.”
If anybody has failed to do his research, it would be Miller. As indicated in Radley Balko’s excellent article (the first link above):
In December 2008 Aitken made a final trip back to Colorado to collect the last of his possessions, including the three handguns he had legally purchased in Colorado—transactions that required him to pass a federal background check. Aitken and his friend Michael Torries had found an apartment in Hoboken, and Torries accompanied Aitken to Colorado to help with the last leg of the move. According to testimony Torries later gave at Aitken’s trial, before leaving Colorado Aitken researched and printed out New Jersey and federal gun laws to be sure he moved his firearms legally. Richard Gilbert, Aitken’s trial attorney, says Aitken also called the New Jersey State Police to get advice on how to legally transport his guns, although Burlington County Superior Court Judge James Morley didn’t allow testimony about that phone call at Aitken’s trial.
This guy did everything he could to make sure he was legally within the bounds of the law. He took great pains to transport his legally acquired firearms as required by state and federal law. Yet he still ends up sentenced to prison. And Miller suggests that, in spite of all his efforts to follow the letter and spirit of the law, he had it coming?
Given recent SCOTUS rulings, I’m actually quite optimistic on the long-term odds of the survival of the Second Amendment, at least at the federal level. The real battleground moving forward is at the state and local level. And if this case is any indication, the next target should be New Jersey. Any state with such insane gun laws should be easy pickings in court. Here’s hoping this case has gotten the attention of somebody at IJ.
Many observers of the ongoing search wars keep looking for the so-called Google slayer. Who, they wonder, will finally be able to pose a real threat to Google’s monopoly on the search industry?
This SEO’s two cents? Google’s greatest threat just this moment certainly isn’t Bing, or really any other search engine per se, but a confluence of two factors: the changing nature of how people relate to and communicate online, and the speedy rise of the mobile Internet. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I should explain a bit about the history of search and how Google changed the game.
The first automated search engines (Excite, Infoseek, HotBot) relied heavily on looking at the on-page content of a website to determine its relevance to a given search. Obviously this approach is more than a bit problematic because it’s fairly easy to manipulate. However, Stanford doctoral students Sergey Brin and Larry Page had a question in the mid-1990s. It’s very easy to look at the content and links on a given webpage – but is it possible to find the links to that page from elsewhere on the Internet, and use those links to determine the authenticity and relevance of that page to a given search query? That is a much more difficult question to answer, because ultimately what you need is a picture of the entire Internet. But the answer to that question eventually evolved into what we know today as Google.
Due to Google’s changing of the game, one of the factors that has become enormously important in search engine optimization is backlinks – in other words, getting sites to link to you. And we SEOs go to great lengths to find valuable links, because building out a quality link structure is absolutely critical to success in organic search. The analogy I like best is that when a site links to you, that site is in effect voting for you. But in the Googleverse, not all votes are weighed equally. So earning quality, relevant links is the name of the game in SEO today.
With that in mind, here is where social media throws a wrench in Google’s gears. This is a screenshot of my Twitter account:
See all the links highlighted in red? Those links are “nofollowed” – they are blocked from being visited and indexed by the searchbot. That nofollow attribute is applied by default to all links posted on any Twitter account, and there’s no way to remove it. Same goes for Facebook, even if your profile is 100% public.
Herein is Google’s big problem where its search algorithm is concerned: people are increasingly taking the linking activities they used to engage in on widely accessible websites (blogs, forums and the like) to the walled gardens of Twitter and Facebook. I know in my case, while much of my blog content was composed of giving backlinks, today I’m far more likely to share links I find interesting or worthwhile on my Facebook wall or Twitter feed, rather than on my blog as I would have in the past. As this trend accelerates, the Internet community is stripping out the sorts of backlinks that are integral to Google’s ranking system, meaning Google’s picture of the Internet is developing blind spots.
This isn’t to say Google can’t or won’t figure out how to adjust to this new reality. They’re now crawling Twitter to offer real-time search results, and as an experiment by a colleague illustrates, in some cases Google may count tweeted links in its algorithm. But that’s Twitter; Facebook profiles, which can be blocked to all but friends, is a different matter entirely. It’s clear that Google will have to stay nimble enough to alter its search strategy to conform to ongoing changes in user behavior, which will likely be a challenge as the company grows ever larger.
But what if the way people use the Internet, and especially the way they relate to one another online, is fundamentally changing? Again, a personal example. Some months ago, I bought a Bluetooth earpiece based on favorable reviews I had discovered via Google. But after messing with it for a few weeks, I discovered that it just wasn’t doing it for me. So I tried a different tack: I tweeted and Facebooked a request for Bluetooth earpiece recommendations. Based on suggestions from a Facebook acquaintance, I may have my Christmas present clearly targeted.
There’s nothing original about asking somebody we know and trust for suggestions or ideas on a given matter, especially on something important to us. But Facebook both facilitates and amplifies this behavior substantially. Asking a friend here and there is one thing; instantly polling your entire trusted circle of friends on a whim is another matter altogether. Even amid the rise of the Internet and search engines, word-of-mouth referrals remain the best sales leads around, and if word of mouth spreads that much more easily and rapidly, then on that basis alone Facebook poses a radical threat to Google’s continued success.
And this trend is only accelerated by the arrival of the smartphone. The increasing ability – likelihood, really – of people to have the Internet always at their disposal, with the ability to seek information and poll their trusted circle, marks a radical shift in the information people can access and, especially, the way they access it. To its credit, Google saw this coming way off (hence, Android). But add to this the clear technical challenges in presenting the same level of search engine results on the mobile platform, and suddenly it’s obvious that Google needs to remain remarkably flexible to keep up with the evolution of the Internet.
One last point: don’t take these observations too far in any direction. More specifically, I’m hardly saying that Facebook means the end of Google. I recently heard a self-appointed social media expert assert with some confidence that the time was not far off when companies would shut down their websites in favor of Facebook pages, which seems to me premature at best. But in just a few years people now connect socially and integrate the Internet in their lives in radically different ways. Google will have to adjust rapidly to this and continuing changes. It should be fun to watch.