The Early Blogging Days

I started Nonviolence.org in late 1995 as a place to publicize the work of the US peace movement which was not getting out to a wide (or a young) audience. I built and maintained the websites of a few dozen hosted groups (including the War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi USA) but I quickly realized that the Nonviolence.org homepage itself could be used for more than just as a place to put links to member groups. I could use it to highlight the articles I thought should get more publicity, whether on or off the Nonviolence.org domain.

The homepage adapted into what is now a recognizable blog format on November 13, 1997 when I re-named the homepage “Nonviolence Web Upfront” and started posting links to interesting articles from Nonviolence.org member groups. In response to a comment the other day I wondered how that fit in with the evolution of blogging. I was shocked to learn from Wikipedia’s that the term “weblog” wasn’t coined until December of that year. I think is less a coincidence than a confirmation that many of us were trying to figure out a format for sharing the web with others.

The earliest edition stored on Archive.org is from December 4, 1997. It focused on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day. To give you an sense of the early independently-published articles, the January 2, 1998 edition included a guest piece by John Steitz, “Is the Nonviolence Web a Movement Half-Way House” that sounds eerily similar to recent discussions on Quaker Ranter.

Below is an excerpt from the email announcement for “Nonviolence Web Upfront” (typically for me, I sent it out after I had been running the new format for awhile):

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NONVIOLENCE WEB NEWS, by Martin Kelley Week of December 29, 1997

CONTENTS

Introducing “Nonviolence Web Upfront”

New Procedures
New Website #1: SERPAJ
New Website #2: Stop the Cassini Flyby
Two Awards
Numbers Available Upon Request
Weekly Visitor Counts

With my travelling and holiday schedule, it’s been hard to keep regular NVWeb News updates coming along, but it’s been a great month and there’s a lot. I’m especially proud of the continuing evolution of what I’m now calling “Nonviolence Web Upfront,” seen by 1800-2200 people a month!

———-

INTRODUCING “NONVIOLENCE WEB UPFRONT”

The new magazine format of the NVWeb’s homepage has been needing a name. It needed to mentioned the “Nonviolence Web” and I wanted it to imply that it was the site’s homepage (sometimes referred to as a “frontpage”) and that it contained material taken from the sites of the NVWeb.

So the name is “Nonviolence Web Upfront” and a trip to http://www.nonviolence.org will see that spelled out big on top of the weekly-updated articles.

There’s also an archive of the weekly installments found at the bottom of NVWeb Upfront. It’s quite a good collection already!

Now that this is moving forward, I encourage everyone to think about how they might contribute articles. If you write an interesting opinion piece, essay, or story that you think would fit, send it along to me. For example, “War Toys: Re-Action-ist Figures” FOR’s Vincent Romano’s piece from the Nov. 27 edition, was an essay he had already written and made a good complimentary piece for the YouthPeace Week special. But don’t worry about themes: NVWeb Upfront is meant not only to be timely but to show the breadth of the nonviolence movement, so send your pieces along!

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Of Theo, threats and selective press quoting

The Baby Theo blog got a mention in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, It’s almost as good as being there, by Kathy Boccella. They missed out on a huge ratings bonanza by not picking Theo for their pictures. Stranger was that two interviews produced only one off-topic substantive line: “Martin Kelly [sic] experienced the worst of it when someone threatened his infant son on his Baby Theo Web page [via Archive.org, as it appeared around the time this article was written].

Above: Theo on learning he wasn’t going to be the featured baby photo in the Inquirer piece… Real photo caption: This weekend Julie Theo and I took a mini vacation to the Pennsylvania coal regions. One of the stops was the beautifully restored Tamaqua train station, where Theo’s great great grandfather, the first Martin John Kelley, worked as a Reading Railroad conductor. We woke the little guy up from a car nap to see the station and snap this picture, cruel parents that we are.

The Baby Theo site has been a lot of fun and it’s had great comments and emails of support. It’s really a shame that the article only used it to strike that tired old refrain about the possible danger lurking on the internet.

The threat had nothing to do with Theo or with the baby blog. I’ve run a prominent antiwar website (closed, was at nonviolence.org) through two wars now, and in the nine years of its existence I’ve amassed quite a collection of abusive emails. I try not to take them too seriously: most come from soldiers or from the families of soliders, people desparately afraid of the future and surely torn by the acts they’re being asked to commit. The internet provides the psychological distance for otherwise good people to demonize the “commie Saddam-loving peacenik coward.” You could get mad at a President that actively misleads the country into war but it’s easier to turn your anger on some schmuck who runs an antiwar website in his spare time. Sending threatening emails is itself cowardly and anti-democratic, of course, and as I’ve written on Nonviolence.org, it’s terribly inappropriate for “military personnel to use government computers to threaten the free speech” of a dissenting American citizen. But it happens. And because it happens and because South Jersey has its share of pro-war hotheads, you won’t see our specific town mentioned anywhere on the site. When I asked the Inquirer reporter if they could not mention our town, she asked why, which led to the threatening emails, which led to the question whether Theo specifically had been threatened.

And yes, there was a retired Lieutenant Colonel who sent a particularly creepy set of emails (more on him below). The first email didn’t mention Theo. It was just one of those everyday emails wishing that my family would be gang-raped, tortured and executed in front of me. I usually ignore these but responded to him, upon which I received a second email explaining that he was making a point with his threat (“You, your organization and others like you represent the ‘flabby soft white underbelly’ of our Nation. This is the tissue of an animal that is the target of predators.” Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah). This time he searched the Nonviolence.org site more thoroughly and specifically mentioned Theo in his what-if scenario. This was one email out of the thousands I receive every month. It was an inappropriate rhetorical argument against a political/religious stance I’ve taken as a public witness. It was not a credible threat to my son.

Still, precaution is in order. I mentioned this story to the Inquirer reporter only to explain why I didn’t want the town listed. When I talked about the blog, I talked about old friends and distant relatives keeping up with us and sharing our joys via the website. I talked about how the act of putting together entries helped Julie & I see Theo’s changes. I told Kathy how it was fun that friends who we had met via the internet were able to see something beyond the Quaker essays or political essays. None of that made it through to the article, which is a shame. A request to not publish our home town became a sensationalist cautionary tale that is now being repeated as a reason not to blog. How stupid.

The cautionary lesson is only applicable for those who both run a baby blog and a heavily used political website. When your website tops 50,000 visitors a day, you might want to switch to a P.O. Box. End of lesson.

Fortunately with the internet we don’t have to rely on the filter of a mainstream press reporters. Visitors from the Inquirer article have been looking around the site and presumably seeing it’s not all about internet dangers. Since the Inquirer article went up I’ve had twice as many visits from Google as I have from Philly.com. Viva the web!


More:
For those interested, the freaky retired Lieutenant Colonel is the chief executive officer of a private aviation company based in Florida, with contracts in three African nations that just happen to be of particular interest to the U.S. State Department. Although the company is named after him, his full name has been carefully excised from his website. I don’t suspect that he really is retired from U.S.-sponsored military service, if you know what I mean… Here’s your tax dollars at work.

A few newspaper websites have republished up the Inky article and two blogging news sites have picked up on it:

  • Yet Another Baby Blogging story uncovers danger – but it’s not true ran in BloggingBaby.com: “When someone threatened his son on his Baby Theo Web page, he took the site down; but left up a pic on his home page. Well, that is, according to the article, which somehow managed to not check its facts (maybe, ummm–go to the link you included in your article?) and discover that, in fact, Baby Theo’s page is alive and well. We’re glad, Theo’s a cutie.”
  • Baby bloggers ran in Netfamilynews. “The $64,000 question(s) is: Is this a shift of thinking and behavior or, basically, a mistake?.. Martin Kelly, whose baby was threatened by someone who visited his baby page, would lean toward the mistake side of the question.” (No I wouldn’t, as I explained to the webmaster later)

Nonviolence.org syndicated

A little bit of housekeeping: There have been a few behind-the-scene changes on the Nonviolence.org homepage this weekend. I’ve switched the blogging software over to Moveabletype.
The hard-core blog readers will appreciate that Nonviolence.org now has an syndicated news feed. That means that you can now read the homepage with software like Sharpreader, Newsgator, etc.
even the more-casual readers will appreciate that you can now comment directly on every article. There will be other subtler features added over time. Let me know if there are any problems.