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The Ghost of EphBlog Past

An anonymous comment in the thread of presidential searches provides occasion for me to give my view on EphBlog’s past, present and future. Come join me in navel study . . . Dickensesque it will not be.

Here are portions of the comment, with my thoughts interspersed.

Alright, permit me to offer another perspective that may clarify Todd’s frustration.

Essentially, DK has admitted that he’s interested in a particular market anomaly — the relative overcompensation of a specialized type of employee in an extremely complex market. That’s fine, and if this were PresidentialCompensationblog.com, or HigherEducationFinanceblog.com, his perseveration might be suitable or even admirable. But that’s not the case — this is supposed to be a blog about all things Williams, and currently there seems to be a bit of digression.

I have heard this same complaint many times before. Some didn’t like it when EphBlog was too much NigaleianBlog.com or BarnardVistaBlog.com
or MGRHSFunding.Blog or EphBlogBlog.com or DavesRandomThoughtsBlog.com or whatever. Soon I will be getting complaints about EphBlog being too much CGCLBlog.com.

Now, like any writer, I appreciate feedback. I am curious to know what other people think. I hope that people enjoy EphBlog, both all the postings/comments taken together and my own contributions. But, it should be clear by now that I often become very interested in a small aspect of “all things Eph” and pursue that aspect in mind-numbing detail. Few can compete with me in the category of dead-horse-beating. When I tilt at these windmills, and I plan on tilting for years to come, I try to segregate my posts, clearly stating the topic and leaving much of the commentary below the jump so that only readers truly interested need be bothered. If you don’t want to read any more of my posts about presidential compensation, well, I have a solution: Don’t read them.

Yet the commentator misses the point when she opines about what EphBlog is “supposed to be”. It is not for her alone to define what EphBlog is “supposed to be” — nor is it for me or Eric or any other author/commentator/reader. EphBlog is a collective effort. It is “supposed to be” whatever we make of it.

Now, of course, we do have an official EphBlog motto — “all things Eph” — which provides a three word summary about how many of us think about EphBlog. The motto should be interpreted as broadly as possible. We are interested in anything and everything related to any Eph. Of course, there is a sense in which this is impossibly broad. Since Ephs are everywhere and involved in everything, it would be hard to come up with a topic that was not Eph-related somehow. But we do try to always have a “hook” — some connection, however tenuous, to something that another Eph has written or done.

The best way to understand what “all things Eph” means in the context of EphBlog is to look at the body of posts over the last year or so. The range of topics that we have covered is representative, I think, of what “all things Eph” means to us as a collective. I predict that 2005 will see a similar collection of posts and comments. Adjust your bookmarks and blogfeeds accordingly.

What is EphBlog “supposed to be”? As the founder of EphBlog, allow me to state authoritatively the answer: EphBlog is supposed to be whatever the community of Eph authors, commentators and readers wants it to be. If you want it to be something else, then join us and contribute. To the extent that you’d like to remain anonymous, we would be happy to have an anonymous author. EphBlog is supposed to be whatever you make of it.

Granted, I’m not being completely fair, because DK has located his interest in the more general question of ‘What were the qualities of the presidential search a few years back, and what can we learn from it?’ Honestly, I don’t find this question especially compelling, and my guess is that many ephblog readers wouldn’t either.

I don’t care. Really.

Now that may seem harsh, and I do value people’s comments and we all have something to add to the conversation and I am a sensitive guy and blah, blah, blah. But . . .

I am not writing for you. I am writing for me. Even more, I am writing for my father, David H.T. Kane ’58. Now the topic of Ephs and their fathers is not one that I want to dwell on today, but I spent about as much time on EphBlog in the summer of 2003 as I do now, even though we had very few readers then. Yet I knew that my dad was one. As long as he reads, I will write. Feel free to join us on the trip.

I would argue that the real problem is that more germaine issues are being ignored. I can name a couple really quickly — the issue of race relations on campus and the paucity of minority faculty; the degree of involvement of Williams students in activist causes and the local community; and, as one studly dude recently posted on the WSO forums, the federal cuts to Pell grants and what Williams’ reaction might be.

As a good economist, DK might say, if you don’t like what I’m doing, go found EphraimBlog.com and do it your way.

Calling me an economist is like asking me if I was in the Navy: they are fighting words. ;-)

More importantly, this is not what I say. I agree with you that all those topics are interesting. I think that someone should write about them, either at EphBlog or elsewhere. If anyone did write about them, I would be eager to read what she has to say and to comment on it.

But if you think that “more germaine issues are being ignored,” I am afraid that you are missing the point. EphBlog, as a collective effort, doesn’t ignore anything. We don’t have a morning editorial meeting at which agendas are discussed, assignments given and plans made. If you think that that Eph student activism is interesting, then write about it. Whatever you write, I will post. Just don’t tell me what to write about.

That’s fine — but I would argue that as someone who has founded ephblog as a specifically *public* forum, you have a bit of a responsibility to at least attempt to reflect the interests of the larger Eph community, and not pursue your own vanity projects. This isn’t Kaneblog, it’s Ephblog. Kaneblog would be fine, but don’t use Ephblog as a facade for it.

I have zero, zip, zilch “responsibility to at least attempt to reflect the interests of the larger Eph community.” Even thinking about the issue in this way is mostly unhelpful.

  1. Does the “larger Eph community” include the thousands and thousands of Ephs who do not read EphBlog and have no interest in doing so? Morty Schapiro, to cite just one example, does not read blogs (and more power to him). Why should EphBlog attempt to reflect Morty’s interests?
  2. To the extent that the “larger Eph community” means the current (and potential future) readers of EphBlog, I would argue that we are doing a pretty good job of interest-representation. How else would you explain our increased readership? Someone’s “interests” are being represented quite well, thank you very much.
  3. Perhaps you really mean to claim that I should “attempt to reflect” your interests. I am afraid that we are just going to have to agree to disagree on that one.

I don’t mean to be too hard on this anonymous commentator. She (or someone at her IP address) has said many interesting and sensible things in the past. We probably agree about much more than the tenor of my rant might suggest.

But New Year’s Eve is a time for summing up and looking forward. The above is my view on what EphBlog has been. Everyone else can decide for themselves what EphBlog will be in 2005. My own hope is that it will be less blog and more discussion, less of my writing and more of everyone else’s. Time will tell all.

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#1 Comment By Loweeel On December 31, 2004 @ 2:32 pm

I love the whole “cuts to pell grants” misinformation meme.

It would be funny if it weren’t so blatantly incorrect.

#2 Comment By Aidan’s Conscience On December 31, 2004 @ 3:42 pm

1) David, I’m either a ‘him’ or one of the most unfortunately hairy women alive. There have also been breadcrumb-like hints in various posts as to who I am, and in the past you’ve just referred to me as ‘AC’, so doing the gendered thing is a bit obnoxious.

2) I think we need to draw a distinction between the minimum obligation one can perform in any particular realm, and pursuing excellence in said realm. It’s a general and abstract one, but important to this case. Let’s take the example of a parent, who has certain necessary obligations toward a child: provide food, shelter, and so forth, and generally look after the welfare- physical, mental, emotional- of that child. In doing so, a parent avoids being neglectful; however, beyond neglect there is a wide range (and quality) of involvement. A parent can become powerfully involved in a child’s interests and growth, or perform the minimum required. Contrast the parent who becomes passionately involved in a child’s growing interest in say, ice-skating, and one who does the minimum to ensure that the kid can get to his ice-skating lessons on time. It might be hard to say that the latter is truly a ‘bad’ parent, but it might be possible to agree that the former is a better one.

Now, I picked this analogy deliberately, because one type of parental involvement that has always made me uncomfortable is the kind where a parent obsessively imposes his interests on a child in order to vicariously achieve success- think of the failed baseball player who tries to force his kid to become a little league star.

At this point, you should be thinking ‘Are you nuts? You’re comparing *parenting*- arguably the most sacred and important duty a human being can have- to running a stupid blog. Get a life. Moreover, as Kane indicated, anybody can determine what happens to Ephblog- you have no right to tell him what he should do with his own posts.’

I agree with the sentiment of the first point- honestly, if Ephblog goes defunct because of bad management, it’s a pity, but really no active harm done. On the other hand, the function of the analogy is to point to the choices one makes when one is involved with something with regards to degree and quality. Kane has the biggest impact on what happens to Ephblog, and at some level he can either craft it toward higher excellence by pointing toward topics of genuine shared interest and importance (don’t give me this ‘I don’t know what most ephs are interested in’ crap), or transform it into a place various Williams grads post random stuff. You might argue that it is the latter dynamic that will allow Ephblog to reach its natural potential, but I disagree. Ephblog will be better if you nudge people toward discussing stuff that’s important and meaningful, specifically (and perhaps exclusively) by setting a good precedent with your own posts.

And with regards to the second point, I would have to say this: David, I would certainly agree that I have no right to *instruct* you what to do, and likewise you have no *obligation* to follow my advice. On the other hand, you’re in a unique position- you are definitely the person most associated with Ephblog, and you do the most to determine the collective fate of the enterprise. That other people can freely post is fine- but that doesn’t change the fact that you have the greatest assocation with and can most cogently determined what happens to this website. I would argue that if you really want to do a good job, you will recognize that.

You offer an argument based in self-interest: you post what you post for yourself and your father. That’s certainly a position, and as far as it goes I respect that. On the other hand, my guess is you have higher aspirations for this website, and that you should pursue them. I really don’t care much- this is procrastination for me, a la metafilter or fark- but I would guess you have more invested in it. Once again, it comes down to rights vs. excellence- you certainly have the right to post whatever you want (within reason), but it certainly seems, given your role vis a vis this website, that you want to make it the best you can.

#3 Comment By David Kane On December 31, 2004 @ 4:06 pm

AC,

1) I really do not know who you are, but apologize for the incorrect gender reference.

2) I agree with most everything you have to say here. I believe/hope that some readers find the topic of presidential pay interesting, just as others might have enjoyed the hunt in Nigalean and still others might participate with CGCL. To each his own. But the only way this hobby makes sense for me is for my writing, at least, to focus on topics that I find interesting. With any luck, some of those topics will also be of interest to you. Every aspiring writer hopes for careful readers.

3) Following your advice, I will aim higher, as the saying goes, in 2005.

Happy New Year!

#4 Comment By Todd On December 31, 2004 @ 6:27 pm

Hooray for aiming higher!

Did I miss something here? Is Aidan’s Conscience not just Aidan?

#5 Comment By Aidan’s Conscience On December 31, 2004 @ 10:04 pm

My identity is known by a few people. It started a few weeks back as an inside joke during a proliferation of anonymous posts.

And by the way, ‘Loweeel’, considering multiple reputable news sources have described the tightening of Pell Grant eligibility due to a federal recalculation of the aid formula as ‘Pell Grant cuts,’ I think it’s perfectly legitimate to refer to it as such. On the other hand, the jingoistic libertarian is always right, because if you tell him he’s wrong he’ll never shut up.

#6 Comment By Loweeel On December 31, 2004 @ 11:26 pm

Nothing makes somebody more outspoken about their beliefs than the president of the college slurring the GRC president as a fascist when he makes numerous well-based arguments against a minimum wage, not that there are any serious arguments for it.

and check here/.