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Chuckles with Arlen

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, if you didn’t get enough (albeit unintentional) laughs during his five terms in the Senate, the only man in D.C. funny enough to deliver his verdict in an impeachment trial citing an obscure precept of Scottish law, Mr. Snarlin’ Arlen Specter!

For what it is, it’s not a bad set. I’ve heard most of the jokes in other forms, though, so I’m thinking that he found them in the pocket of that jacket that looks like he bought at the estate sale of some former Catskills comedian (ha-cha-cha!) Be forewarned: the Senator works a little “blue” (an old school comedy term for “dirty”)

Hopefully, in 2015, he’ll be able to join by then Former Senator Al Franken on a nationwide Former Senators of Comedy tour!

(H/T Political Wire)

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Wherein I agree with Jon Huntsman

November 30, 2011 1 comment

From the LA Times: Jon Huntsman: Herman Cain a distraction in GOP race

Speaking with the Boston Globe, the former Utah governor said he was again disappointed to see Monday night that a fresh report about Cain — the latest alleges an extramarital affair; it follows accusations of sexual harassment earlier in the month — was getting more attention than the major issues.

“What about a [financial] downgrade that is being anticipated? What about Europe? What about so many other issues out there that we ought to be talking about and that people ought to understand where candidates come down on those issues?” Huntsman said.

“Every time another accusation comes up, it diminishes our ability to stay focused on the issues that really do matter for the American people. And I think that’s a disservice to the voters,” he added.

Now, dear readers, before you think I’ve gone soft on you, let’s make a few things clear. I do NOT think Herman Cain should get out of the race. I do NOT favor Jon Huntsman for the nomination (he’s not even on my top five list…..). And I DO think that this is not a high minded appeal by Huntsman for the media to be more civilized but rather pure jockeying on his part to become “the thinker” in this race.

Here’s what I DO agree with Huntsman on: the media spends far too much time on the personal part of the campaign and not the policy part. Honestly, this is nothing new (look to the 1800 campaign when both candidates were labeled as godless heathens, depending on if you were reading a Federalist or Democratic-Republican leaning newspaper), nor something limited to national politics (there’s nothing more the local political media loves to cover than a “debate over debates”). The fact of the matter, though, is when it comes to politics, the hierarchy of reporting goes personal information, campaign tactics and strategy, and somewhere in the basement, policy talk. It’s what we really WANT the system to be about: voters choosing the candidate who will put into place the policies they want, a debate over the direction of our community and nation.

But that’s never how it plays out. And honestly, its not all the media’s fault. To quote Megadeath, “Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying?” It used to be all about sold the most papers–nowadays, its more about who gets the most clicks. But it all comes down to the same thing–public interest, which under most media schemes, leads to revenues. Even with bloggers in the mix now who aren’t operating on a revenue based schema, they’re still interested in getting people interested, because that leads to clicks, and that leads to access, and that leads to more clicks. Of course, with many bloggers now hosting advertisements or pursuing lucrative mainstream media careers, the distinction is ever more blurred–if it ever really existed at all….but that’s a book for another time.

Ultimately, though, people are interested in this sort of thing. There’s an undeniable strain of prurient interest in the human race. Also, schadenfruede and jealousy play a role as well……there are some people who just love to see the “big guys” taken out, even if they weren’t always the big ones. And moral issues ARE important….the problem lies in how important they are to each individual, to say nothing of the fact that some things are clearly moral to some and clearly immoral to others. Or maybe ethics is the word I want to use…..see how I turned that around? That’s the problem–in elections at the national level, you’re trying to appeal to the worldview of some 100 million odd people. A good chunk will always choose you, another chunk will never choose you, and the battle lies in the middle. But all of those are individuals….each with their own thinking on all of the issues a presidents faces and their own views on how a president should act.

So my point? Yes, I do think that America faces some big, big problems right now and THAT’s what we need to be talking about. We can sort this all out about Herman Cain, and if it is true, well…..it would certainly give me pause about him. But the great irony is that Cain would not be in this position were it not for the fact that he was a candidate that electrified the conservative base with a clear, appealing message: the now infamous “9-9-9” tax plan. Once he got to the podium, to the surprise of the media’s wagging tounges, they just HAD to know who he was….and so did a certain chunk of the electorate. Now we know more about him, and there’s lots of questions, justified questions….but we’re completely away from the very thing that brought him to us in the first place, the issues.

There needs to be balance. That much I know–unfortunately, the best I can do is encourage voters to consider everything equally and not be drawn into the horserace. I just don’t have an answer to how change how elections are covered–and as a student of politics, I’m not sure anyone ever will.

Off Again, On Again

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m back!

Yeah, you’ve read that one before…..two or three times before, in fact. I have something of a love-hate relationship with blogging. Love getting my ideas out there and having a dialogue, hate the feeling that I “have” to produce and deal with fallout when there’s a line to read between (and there always is, but isn’t that the trouble with ALL forms of communication?)

But it’s true, I am getting back into the swing. For one, I have a real need to communicate. I was recently elected as one of Shenandoah County’s two directors on the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District’s Board of Directors. It may surprise some, but I really want a platform to connect directly with citizens. I’m not willing to settle for the filter of staff and the media–of course, not that I should be worrying about those things, since I have no staff and the media barely paid any attention to the election itself. But I do want to set a new standard for elected officials, regardless of what level they’re at, to move beyond the filter. They say that a gaffe happens when a politician speaks the truth (is an elected official mentioning this a gaffe in of itself? Pretty meta…..) But I want voters to know exactly what’s going on, and exactly what my decision making process is. Since I already have the blog and the address, way not do that here?

So what else am I going to write about here? Well, business as usual–whatever tickles my fancy. So expect a mix of politics, popular culture, history, and the such. There may very well be something in this mix that someone feels is a mistake to share with the public, but that’s how I operate. I was elected to be a representative of the people…and as a citizen, I have opinions of my own, and I intend to share them. I think elected officials should never tuck away their own opinions, but we’ll see how well it works when you actually share them….

Anything else? Well, my last project on the web was Shenandoah Sunshine. That project, designed to bring out more information on local government and politics here in Shenandoah County, has been on hiatus for quite sometime. I feel it was a noble effort, but I am still re-evaluating the size and scope (after all, I found out very quickly that, with a real job and no source of revenue from the project, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, despite how desperately it may be needed).

So stay tuned, and keep coming back. I assure you I have plenty to share, and I thank you for stopping by.

 

Introducing Shenandoah Sunshine

May 16, 2011 1 comment

UPDATE: I noticed that a number of people are landing here when searching for Shenandoah Sunshine. At the time of this post the blog wasn’t up, so no link. Of course, the blog is now rolling, and you may find it here.

During my time at the University of Virginia, I first became interested in the art of blogging. At the time, blogging was just getting established as a media platform. There’s not much to it, really–essentially, a blog is really just a website that is updated very frequently, with the newest material presented first on the front page. They’re really not all that different from the earliest websites around–in fact, some of the earliest blogs came online around 1994. What really put blogging on the map was a change in accessibility and tone.

These two changes occurred around the same time. Previously, maintaining a blog required a modicum of web design and maintenance skills, depending on what you were trying to accomplish. During the late 90s and early 00s, however, enterprising web gurus develop software and services that allowed pretty much anyone with the most basic of word processing and web surfing skills (i.e. click here to publish) to start a blog. Additionally, they even offered to host it for you, meaning there was no investment other than time. It was on par with other developments in publishing: first came hand written texts, which was limited to those with the ability and time to expend in copying them. Then there was the printing press, which suddenly made republication even easier, but still that was limited to those who could afford a press (or those who could convince there was money to be made by the owners in selling their work). Then came mechanization, Xerox, and then finally, blogging–pretty much anyone can be read by others now (though you still have to get people interested). Understandably, each of these methods was taken advantage of by those with political interests, in spreading a message about government and politics. Blogging is no exception.

Certainly there were political bloggers before 2002, but it was in that year that a blogger played a key role in forcing then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) to step down following remarks that he made regarding how the nation would have been better off had it elected then Southern Democrat Strom Thurmond during his explicitly segregationist presidential campaign in 1948. Media had been present at the event the comments were made at, but they went unreported. It was this new intrepid group of bloggers, who both had a motive but could also find an audience within the media that shamed them into making a bigger deal of the store, that kicked off a major change in the Senate’s leadership. Blogs further came of age when a group of right leaning bloggers cast light on CBS’s Dan Rather’s reporting on documents that put President Bush’s National Guard service in a dim light. Those documents were proved through blogger’s efforts to be forgeries. The controversy ultimately ended with Dan Rather stepping down from his post as anchor of CBS’s Evening News after 24 years. The message of these incidents was clear: a new generation of reporters and analysts was emerging thanks to the rise of a new form of media with very little cost to entry (both in terms of experience and monetary resources) and access that even TV and newspapers could be jealous of. More importantly, the media, even if they claimed to loathe the competition, was paying attention, and now, they were not the only ones who would decide what stories mattered.

What was there that DIDN’T appeal about blogging to a young political activist with an interest in writing, the internet, and well, making a difference/stirring up trouble (depending on your opinion of my efforts)? I started primarily writing about state politics and blogged off and on about it under both my name and pseudonyms through 2006. During my bout with cancer, I also used blogging as an outlet, though for a much more personal reason. In 2008 and 2009, my interests changed, and I ran first a blog for the Shenandoah County Republican Committee and this humble blog right here.

These efforts were meant to bring a blogging presence to Shenandoah County, but they largely failed for a number of reasons. For one, I just didn’t promote them right. Two, I never quite delivered on my promise of providing news and commentary for the County. Commentary, yeah, commentary that I frankly got some grief for. But this commentary never developed a following outside of a very small political class, and the news just wasn’t there. I wasn’t aggressive enough in either pursuing stories or just plain providing coverage. The opinion I did offer, and that seemed to draw more attention, was on state and national issues.

Still, for reasons I’ll get into below, I continue to see a real need for a new media resource for Shenandoah County and for political and public affairs coverage in the locality. My professional and personal position has changed over the last few months, and after continuing to play with the idea, I’ve finally decided to stop complaining and deliver.

It is with that background that I announce a new project of mine: The Shenandoah Sunshine Project. What is Shenandoah Sunshine? This project is intended to create a free, citizen powered resource for political and government news driven by the power of new media (including blogging, video and social networking). That, however, sounds supisciously like a simple pitch for advertisers, or a (albeit long) Twitter post. So, in that grand jouralistic tradition, I present the who, what, when, where, why and how of Shenandoah Sunshine.

So who are we? Well, for right now, you’re reading his words. Yes, at the present time, Shenandoah Sunshine is a one man band. However, because of the unique platform of new media, we hope that to be relatively short lived. We want to get other citizens involved in reporting on local politics and government. Even if you don’t have the time or interest in lugging a camera (or even pad and pen) to a local government meeting, we still want to hear what you’re interested in. Every platform we use will include some way for you to interact with us and provide us with tips, suggestions, and story ideas. Beyond that, we also hope to be a platform not only for reporting but for commentary and analysis as well–left, right, center, progressive, conservative, we want to hear from you, and provide you with a platform beyond the limitations of the letters to the editor section of the local papers in which to do it. For my part, I plan on restricting myself to a reporting role, covering meetings and reporting just the facts. If I step beyond that to offer opinion, I’ll be clear to label it as such, but I hope to control myself in that regard. But if my reporting appears to be biased, I certainly want to know that as well.

And just what are we going to provide? Well, think of us as CSPAN for Shenandoah County. We’re going to provide news and analysis about Shenandoah County Government and Politics across various social media platforms (video, twitter, facebook). Again, we are strictly limiting ourselves to just government and politics in Shenandoah County. If you’re looking for box scores, the line-up of acts for the Shenandoah County Fair, or what happened at the Relay for Life, sorry, we won’t have it–that’s not what we’re about. We are purposely focusing on the realm of public affairs within a limited geographic area. In short, we hope to be the C-SPAN of Shenandoah County. We want to provide citizens with a front row seat to government and politics in action. We will provide reporting and yes, film of town council and Board of Supervisor meetings and political events. Even CSPAN could be accused of being biased to a certain degree–even a camera angle or selection could be considered a form of bias–but we feel by providing the source material in a way others haven’t, we will be able to provide both a more comprehensive and less biased form of coverage than has ever been attempted in Shenandoah County.

When are we kicking this off? Well, that’s a bit trickier. In a sense, it starts today with the announcement. We want to hear your feedback starting now. What do you want to hear about? Where do you want us to be? Think we’re full of crap and aren’t needed at all and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even suggesting this project? Let us know….even if that won’t call us off. Again, this is all about getting citizens involved in the process, and that includes us, the media. Yet, today, we aren’t launching any stories. We’ve reserved a spot on the major platforms we’ll be using (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress), but content will roll out slowly, because, right now, we haven’t started the heart of the project. That will come soon, though. Our first target: redistricting in Shenandoah County. Look for stories and information beginning tomorrow, and full coverage of next week’s public hearing on the issue before the Board of Supervisors.

Where will we be? This is not a traditional media project. Again, we have a narrow focus, and a different platform. We conciously will not have a traditional press outlet, for several reasons. One, for the kind of coverage we’re providing, we just don’t think that our model is an economically viable one. Other projects that have had a larger community focus have folded–there’s been multiple new printed outlets through the last decade that have come and gone. We just don’t have the financial resources to try, and we don’t think its worth it. Beyond that, we think the present outlets do a good job as printed resources for the community writ large, and we don’t see competing wtih them. More to the point, we hope to do something a little different here. As we’ll outline below, we see a gap in local government and political coverage, and I feel that, frankly, county politics is not taken a s seriously as it could be. To try and change this, I hope to go to where the dialogue is–social media. If the announcement of a public official’s child being born or their engagement can draw people’s attention, why can’t coverage of important issues do so as well? I have a hunch that its because nobody’s tried hard enough, and I want to give it a whirl. It might work, it might not–but it won’t be known until its tried.

So that leads us to another question–just why am I doing this? Well, for starters, I think that, quite frankly, there’s just not enough engagement regarding politics in Shenandoah County. Too often we’ll see public hearings regarding property taxes or school spending packed to the gills, but then at the very next meeting there will be one or two people. Same thing with letters to the editor–there will be a deluge when there’s big issues at hand, but then nothing for weeks or months. Should we just live with this? After all, those are important issues–why not let people live their lives the rest of the year? Well, there’s something to that argument–but the problem with that logic is that these issues often become problems only because of decisions that were made in the past, when people weren’t really paying attention. We don’t blame the citizens directly–people often just don’t have options to hear about this stuff. But we think it matters. Too often, as a political office, I’d ask people about who they were planning to vote for in local elections and I’d get the answer, “sorry, I only vote in presidential elections, the only one that matters.” The problem there is that the vast majority of government operations that affect us in our daily lives, from police protection to public schools to, yes, even turning on the water to brush your teeth in the morning, are the function of local government. It might not be the sexiest or most compelling part of politics, but local politics matters. Right now, I just don’t feel that the local media outlets do as good a job as they good. The Hearld, despite being just focused on the county, has unfortunately curtailed in-depth coverage. The Free Press, while far more in depth, has a clear agenda, and the lines between reporting and opinion are far too often blurred in their coverage. The Northern Virginia Daily does good coverage on occasion, bu they cover Winchester and Front Royal as well and therefore have to manage their reporting and don’t get to cover every meeting as they should. We also don’t think that government itself does as good a job as it should. We want to change that. There may be some that see us “attacking the powers that be” on that front, but we don’t see this as an agenda driven effort. If we have any agenda, its on the side of government transparency and civic engagement. That’s all we care about–we hope to be a platform for political discussion, but before we do that, we want to get people talking through unprecedented political coverage.

To expand on that just for a moment–we realize that we may not have a readership that is a cross section of Shenandoah County at first. Likely, our first readers will probably be those already deeply invested in the political process to begin with. That’s ok–that’s why we’re focusing on social media. We want to start a dialogue, and we feel the quickest way to do that is to give people an easy way to disseminate information regarding local government. Again, it may work, it may not–maybe people really just don’t care, and information on redistricting will never be as popular as baby photos. Someone needs to try, though, and it might as well be the nerd who awaits census data more than word of a classmate’s newborn…..I make no apologies on that front, but as I’ve always felt–somebody’s gotta be that guy in a successful society. It might as well be me.

So how are we going to pull this off? Social media is at the core of this project. A blog, twitter, YouTube and Facebook are at the center of this project. You will find us across all three platforms, and for right now, its going to be heavy lifting on my part. But I want this–I see a real need for this sort of coverage, and I feel compelled to try. There will be more coming across the next few days, and we encourage you to stay tuned. Above all, get involved: talk to us, let us know what you want to hear about, critique us. Because this project is ultimately about you, the citizens, and we believe that we can shine new light on the often confusing but always important nature of local government.

God bless this beautiful land we call the Shenandoah Valley, and god bless America.

Regards,
Craig L. Orndorff

Editor, Shenandoah Sunshine Project

Fare thee well to the Nameless Decade

December 31, 2009 1 comment

Homer: “C’mon, where’s your freak bus
Seth: “I drive a Saturn”
Homer: “A Saturn?”
Munchie: “We used to have a bus. In a way, the sixties ended the day we sold it–December 31, 1969.”
–The Simpsons, AABF02, “Doh-in’ in the Wind”

I know, I know, the decade isn’t officially over. We all heard it at the “not quite” end of the last decade, century and millenium. There was no year zero, A.D. versus B.C., blah blah blah. But let’s face it–a year of 365 days (366 every four years, unless it can be divided by one hundred, unless it…..uh….whatever) beginning on Janurary 1st and ending on December 31st is a Western Convention, one subscribed to by many people. Psychologically that one change in the third digit means a great deal to a good number of people. And so we have a year end flurry of best of/worst of/most important, and every ten years that turns into an orgy as the world’s scribes attempt to give the past ten years some sort of definition that society at-large can agree on.

For a little bit there in early December it seemed as if the media was going to let this one slide. Then Time had to wade into the mess and dub the Oughties, Zeros, double os, whatever “The Decade from Hell.” Perhaps this was a foregone conclusion from the minute the clock struck midnight on Janurary 1st, 2000 and nothing happened, minus an accidental nuclear alert in Japan and a few slot machines going down in Delaware. Total buzzkill after all the lead up to the end of the world. And so wordsmiths were left struggling to dub the decade long hangover. So far, our best lingusitic minds have yet to agree on a standard.

Read more…

Blogging Hiatus

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I hate to disappoint old and new fans alike, but my job hunt (combined with a little burnout) has taken a brave new turn, so I’m going to be light on posting, if at all, over the next week. I cannot reveal any details right now, but expect a change in direction (one that I already projected but have not had much movement on since, well, I’ve had plenty to talk about on the political front but not much else) over the next month. I am happy to report, however, that I’ll be taking some courses in education through Shenandoah University’s lifelong learning department starting in January.

Expect new posts, political or otherwise, starting late next week.

Why Tweet?

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Two disparate but related posts led me to ask this question today. First, there was Fisherville Mike’s short post linking to an article about Sarah Palin’s use of Facebook. It was this line that got me thinking:

Politicians shouldn’t tweet like they’re teenage girls – Newt Gingrich talking about dinner with James Carville, or Nathan Daschle telling how he’s relaxing in the hot tub. Go ahead and have a life; we just don’t care to hear about it.

Mike hit the nail on the head. People are naturally social animals–indeed, there’s a whole category of mental illness used to describe behavior in which people have abnormal social patterns: personality disorders. The flip side of this coin, though, is that social networking tools like Twitter and to an even greater extent lead us to believe that everyone we care about (or have in our social network because we think they can help us (you do it–admit it) cares about everything that we do–the phenomena of people posting their every little move on Twitter and Facebook is really no different from the Salahi’s gatecrashing at the White House–the goal is relevance in an increasingly growing and shrinking world. Both Twitter and FB have their place. In particular, I think that Twitter is custom made for short posts from political events and to spread pithy thoughts about major news. I’ll admit that even I am guilty of an occasional vanity tweet, but the fact of the matter is that in the wrong hands these tools are just another way for drama makers and attention seekers to get an audience they don’t deserve.

The other post was from Krystle about a curious new device created by tech types at Hasselt University. It’s essentially a Fisher Price activity center with a board inside that sends tweets when toddlers press family member’s pictures.

Is it me or has this hit a new level of insanity? Can we just let kids be kids? Children can utilize technology without impacting their social skills towards addiction or even imposing the mantra of acronyms into their learning. It’s bad enough that children are growing up faster each day through the various influences in the media and on the internet. Twoddler is actually taking away from a child’s creativity by drawing them towards a technology addicted lifestyle. I guess this is the sign of the times and further distancing simplicity outside of childhood.

Again, the device is simply a prototype, but I would expect that it won’t be too long before social networking is integrated into new toys. I find this dangerous from two perspectives. First, despite its name, social media ceates a new wrinkle in interpresonal interaction by allowing people to connect from long distances. It does this, however, through a screen, a screen that cannot capture the depth of an individual’s true emotions. It is necessarily limited to text and sometimes graphics. It seems that as we move through phases of technology, we lose a certain depth of communication. The telephone eliminated facial expressions, text messaging made it very difficult for some turns of phrase and irony to be readily understood, and the invention of text messaging further garbled the mix. Children should be raised in a manner that allows them to use the whole of their social tools. While social media is here to stay and will become an increasingly part of our social interaction, it doesn’t mean that children need to have it pounded into them from three months of age. If we foist adult ideas upon children, we’ll end up with a generation with limited imagination and verbal abilities, thinking that they’ll always have the comfort of the screen to mediate awkward social interactions.

And another thing–why Twitter? I view twitter much the same way as I view XM radio–an intermediary technology. Twitter is a curious little thing–part social network, part micro-blogging tool. But these features are both being quickly supplanted by Facebook and the increasing integration of social media into smart phones, combined with the increasing use of data plans on said phones. Another reason not to barrage children with social media from an early age–it is a constantly shifting universe that requires discretion and understanding of the various pros and cons to each platform. I may sound like a hypocrite here, since my twitter use has actually increased with the purchase of a new phone–this is because I don’t have data service to use Facebook but I DO have a QWERTY keyboard. Again, it works for me. That will be the key to success for the next generation in using social media–careful selection for the individual.