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All posts for the month November, 2011

What makes a good blog post?

Published November 23, 2011 by justicewg

When I started my old blog, Grandview Watch, I didn’t have a clue about the format of my posts. I just wrote what I wanted, there was no framework behind the content. In 2003 there was little history to the medium, we were all making it up as we posted.

Blogging is still a relatively new medium, still in the process of forging the vernacular and tools that are effective in making good posts. I did some searching on the issue, and thought about what I liked in blog posts. Here are some rules, in no particular order of importance.

Write so posts can be quickly scanned

We all live in a hyper-active, media saturated world, time constrained by our work and family obligations. There is a constant conflict between the need for short, summarized content, and the fully developed, long form work that gives readers a more nuanced story. A good post can do both, using highlighted section titles and bold sentences to allow a fast scan of the content. Writing that is done with searches in mind, and tagging so that crossover content is associated with all appropriate tags, helps readers.

Content must be timely

A blog post about a council move to allow chickens to be raised in the city is most valuable while the issue is first being discussed by the members. It will start with a motion presented before the council, or sometimes just a “FYI comment” in the meeting. The first post on the topic should be made shortly after the issue goes public.

A postmortem after the motion is passed or defeated may be a better discussion of all angles to the issue, but is useful more as a historical marker. Those wrap-up posts do have value, they show us the process and procedures that the council and the board uses to work through an issue. Board members who are leaders get identified, the members who form alliances are noted, those who resort to emotional grandstanding are marked down.

Posting a blog article at the leading edge of a new issue may get some facts wrong or ignore some valid viewpoints. Later revisions can correct mistakes, links can be added to further posts on the topic. I consider all posts to be first drafts, up for revision as new facts are found.

Bring order to the deluge

A blog that covers a narrow topic like this one (the policies and politics of the school board and city council) would seem to have a limited base of content to filter. When you total them all up, it is a substantial flow. There are meeting notes, both from the board and council, and from various sub-committees. There are stories in three newspapers, and various letters sent to these papers from government officials and concerned citizens. There are government agencies outside the city that produce reports on the city and school. Full research can include email exchanges with board and council members.

A print reporter may use all of the above, while enduring pressure from groups that want their bias upheld in the way the story is researched and presented. Reporters do have biases, they are not writing machines. I may have similar pressure applied to me, but because this is not my vocation, I don’t have a boss threatening my job. I also have no paycheck from blogging, so the time I can devote to the blog has to be secondary to my full-time work.

A good blog post summarizes as much related content as I can filter, and presents it with an honest bias.

Related – What makes a good blog comment.

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Dehumanizing OWS protesters

Published November 22, 2011 by justicewg

(I’m normally focused on events inside Grandview, but this new blog will have a few posts that watch events outside the city.)

When you hear people talking about the Occupy protesters in NY and in many other cities, there is a common pejorative that is used. Those who oppose the protesters call them “dirty stinking hippies”, “filthy animals, fouling the streets”. Why is there such a focus on cleanliness? Are conservatives germaphobes, obsessive-compulsives who fixate on sanitation and bathroom habits?

The facts of the OWS protests refute the accusations of “fouling the streets”. There were some complaints early in the NY protests, but a simple google for “occupy wall street porta potties” shows the rest area that was set up a couple blocks away from the park (the protesters asked permission to set them up in the park from the first day and were denied). Before that, protesters used public rest rooms in the area, or went home to clean up.

Read the stories from non-conservative news sources who talked to the protesters. They didn’t notice any unusual smells. And the “hippies” part of the insults is like some time warp. If you asked the average protester “are you a hippy?” they would look at you funny and say “umm, hippies are people who were in my parent’s generation. Or my grandparent’s”.

Why then is the phrase “dirty hippy” so popular with the right? This story might explain it.

I was a high school sophomore in a small Ohio town when the Kent State shootings occurred. The next day our civics class started with some chatting about the horrors of that event. When the teacher heard what we were discussing, he loudly gave us his opinion. “The only problem with the Kent State shootings was that they should have killed more of those dirty hippies”.

This was a conservative, but not far right, teacher, standing in front of a class of students, telling us that more of the students just a hundred miles from us should have been shot.

We sat in stunned silence. The class continued. Nobody said much about it, because that teacher’s opinion was held by a lot of other people in our community.

How does a teacher come to the opinion that students should be shot for protesting? He got the idea from a relentless campaign to dehumanize the anti-war protesters. They were dirty, they threw crap at the cops, they howled and scratched and carried diseases. They “looked like Tarzan, and smelled like Cheetah “. They were sub-human, and could only be taught lessons with nightsticks and bullets.

If I had a magic time machine, I would return to that classroom and ask my younger self to hold up a hand and ask a question of that teacher. “Mr. Abbey, if we decide to protest the war, should we be shot? Would you help the police shoot us?”

He would of course have said that it was a different situation, he didn’t want his students killed. Somehow those other students, just a few miles away, were so very different from us.

I have a bad feeling about the way the OWS protesters have been treated by the highly militarized police forces in this country. The automatic weapon carrying, full battle armored riots police seem primed to take us right back to the violent old days, an escalation that took years in the 60’s is happening in a few short months. The conflict between the anti-war left and the “kill the protesters” right was a destructive time in our country. We are already highly polarized, adding running battles on the streets caused by police crackdowns on peaceful protests is not good for anyone.

The next time you hear someone rant about “dirty hippies”, you might remind them that we have been down this road before. The protesters are just average people, maybe a little more fed up with the condition of the country, not so different from the tea party protesters. If protesters need to be “taught a lesson” maybe the best lesson we can give is that a shot in the face with pepper spray is not the way we deal with peaceful protests. We are a better country than that.

(edit) I found a mention of the divisions in the 60’s that I didn’t remember, but is appropriate for this post. From a Rick Perlstein story in the Post:

It’s easy to find hundreds of pictures of the national student strike that followed Nixon’s announcement of the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970. Plenty of pictures of the riots at Kent State that ended with four students shot dead by National Guardsmen. None I could find, however, of the counter-demonstrations by Kent, Ohio, townies — and even Kent State parents. Flashing four fingers and chanting “The score is four/And next time more,” they argued that the kids had it coming.

Back in the Saddle Again

Published November 14, 2011 by justicewg

Weee-Ha! Round em’ up partners, I’m back on the inter-range, lookin’ ta hoot and holler and raise up a ruckus.

From 2003 to 2009 my stomping ground was a blog called Grandview Watch. Them was the days, figuring out where those government critters were hiding all the scandals. Secret raises, turf battles, I even found a tea bagging superintendent before the words “tea bagging” were used to identify a pack of political ne’er-do-wells.

After the election of 09′ things got real quiet in this town. The biggest news was the unbelievable raises given to the school administrators and the police force. Even that wasn’t so unbelievable, the history of both the city council and the school board (very much so for the board) during the last recession was to keep the raises up as though the economy had no effect. And why shouldn’t they – the voters in this town keep passing levies.

I think that is about to change. The recovery is so anemic it can hardly be called a recovery. And the state is about to choke off the money to the cities and schools. I have a feeling we will be seeing board meetings full of howling parents, and city council meetings packing the town hall. Hold your hats, buckeroos, we got us a storm comin’ that is going to be squeezing the blubbers out of folks.

Start Snitchin’

Published November 12, 2011 by justicewg

One of the more interesting elements of being a blogger who covers local government are the whistleblower rumors that have been sent to me. Did former superintendent Allen keep money from tickets he was supposed to have sold? (impossible to confirm or deny). Was there a “Party house” where kids went to take drugs without parents home? (I would guess the answer is “yes” since 1920 or so).

Whistleblower policy

These are some policies on these whistleblower stories that may be sent to this blog.

I like to read these stories, thanks for sending them in. You may send the story to me anonymously, but I do take submissions much more seriously if you give me your name. If there is a real basis for investigating the issues a whistleblower sends to this blog, I may be able to take the accusations of improper actions to authorities and they could resolve the issue. If the charges are that illegal acts are being done, the police may be involved. Please read further down for reporting illegal acts.

I’m not a journalist working for a newspaper. There are shield laws that protect journalists from revealing their sources that don’t apply to bloggers (or the law is unclear). I don’t want to go to jail to protect sources, so I can’t say to any whisleblowers “I will keep your name confidential under all conditions”. If you know of an official that is breaking the law, and you don’t want to go to the police, then start with the local newspapers, they love these sort of stories.

Sometimes there are bad actions taken by officials that don’t rise to the level of illegality, they are just “improper”, and the authorities in charge may do nothing when informed. Publicly outing the official may be the only action that can be done, and that is where it may end.

Contrary to the general impression you may get from reading this blog, I’m not stupid. If you are concocting a story in order to take revenge on an official, or just trolling me, I’m not going to post your story. Unverifiable accusations are not going to fly.

I do understand that sometimes you can’t prove an accusation, but have good reason to believe it is true. Send it to me. I can”t do anything with it until the facts can be confirmed, but it might be part of the puzzle that leads to a story that does get posted.

Use the feedback form in the “about” section (link at top of home page) to send me your insider info.

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So It Begins

Published November 11, 2011 by justicewg

My new Grandview Hts. blog is up. The  WordPress theme is called “Strange Little town”. Hmm … not sure if this theme will be around long. Like the image at the botton, but the pinkness is questionable.