Monday, September 29, 2008

City Planning Issues

Digging into this week's Grand Junction City Council agendas brought two significant items to bear that might be worth your attention.

Tonight's meeting will include the beginning of the appeal process of the Planning Commission's decision in August to disapprove an application to place a "Gentleman's Club" in an industrial area on the west side of town, convenient to the City's one major truck stop. Council will set a hearing date, most likely for November 5, to decide how to handle the applicant's appeal.

The online Council packet (beginning on Page 76) includes numerous pages of meeting minutes and letters from citizens. The testimony reflected in the minutes appears evenly divided between proponents of the facility and those opposed.

The letters run nearly 100% against, with the letter writers running the ideological and cultural gamut, from the entire Grand Junction Ministerial Alliance to professional counselors and "veterans" of the adult entertainment "industry".

In some places around the country, it is quite the industry, and not just in places you would expect. Driving I-70 through southwestern Pennsylvania, there are numerous billboards for "gentleman's entertainment" in this area, which is a high-traffic area for truckers. Ditto along I-80 in Illinois. Needless to say, I plan my rest stops and overnights as far removed from these areas as possible.

Put aside the morality issues. From a practical standpoint, some members of the Planning Commission were right on the money when they opined that the negative impact of such a facility on the community at large had to be taken into consideration. These impacts have included increased levels of drunkenness and fighting, drug activity, and ancillary prostitution in other locations. If only they could display a bit more consistency when rightly considering the larger implications of a development application.

The City experienced those impacts when 'Cheers' was Downtown. Since they were successful in removing what they considered 'urban blight' in favor of the gentrification of Colorado Avenue, why is it now appropriate to bless the edification of those less than desirable aspects of our society in another part of the city?

For my part, I hope that Council will follow the Planning Commission's lead. Perhaps we can erect our own trucker's billboard out on the Interstate:

A Community of Distinction
Looking for Hot Action?
Keep Driving.


While we're on the subject of the Planning Commission, another interesting Council action item will be heard during this Wednesday's meeting.

Planning Commission member Bill Pitts "may" be the subject of a public hearing "to review recent actions...and/or to consider his removal from the Planning Commission." This may be related to Mr. Pitts' desire to testify as a private citizen before the Commission concerning a retirement residence being built near his property.

According to Sentinel coverage in July, Mr. Pitts was told that not only could he not testify, he could not even be in the room when the issue was debated, despite his stated intention to recuse himself from any official debate or vote. This is apparently the interpretation of the City Attorney's office of a Resolution passed by council in 2006, which deals with conflicts of interest by members of volunteer boards and commissions with "authoritative" responsibilities, such as the Planning Commission.

The main issue of interest appears to be whether or not the City's resolution runs afoul of the First Amendment, and whether or not a Commission member's opinion as a citizen constitutes a conflict of interest, even after that member recuses himself from debate or voting as a Commission member.

It should be noted that Mr. Pitts was one of the four Planning Commission members that voted against the Gentleman's Club application in August. Perhaps the City is indeed treading very carefully to address its' issues with Mr. Pitts only after his last vote that could be interpreted as controversial.

The online packet contains no supporting documentation, stating only that "information will be separately provided". Let's hope that openness, transparency, and the free ability to engage in intelligent discourse is respected on Wednesday, and that Mr. Pitts receives a fair and impartial hearing within the public forum required.

Have a good week ahead.

Air Show Surprise

The Air Show yesterday was most pleasant. The parking and shuttle arrangements appeared to be organized very well. The staff and volunteers appeared to be using rental radios with multiple channels, much like the model successfully employed for several years at Country Jam.

My favorite act of the day was Dan Buchanan, a paraplegic hang glider pilot, who while ascending to about 3,000 feet above the crowd was talking by radio with the PA announcer, while shooting off small fireworks and trailing streamers from his glider. There was some humorous dialogue about not being allowed around an airport with his contraption, and a GJ Police cruiser following his "intrusion" from below.

He then let go of his tow cable and began a gradual descent to the runway, continuing his conversation with the ground about the intricacies of powerless flight before gently setting down on his wheels.

It was a welcome diversion from the noise, power, 'shock and awe' theme common to most air shows. Simplicity, grace, and a not-so-subtle message about overcoming adversity; Mr. Buchanan lost the use of both legs after a hard landing in his hang glider several years ago.

I hope he comes back to GJ again.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Forego the Financial Fracas in Favor of Festival Frenzy wth Fundraising

This weekend in Mesa County is so full of stuff do, it's almost too much to comprehend.

So while our representatives in Washington are sweating bullets trying to save their Wall Street buddies a little face (and hopefully include a little less grief for us ordinary folk), we can partake of all manner of things to do around the valley and well outside of it.

Thankfully, gas prices have come down a little bit, so if you wanted to do some driving to observe the fall colors, with a stop at Powderhorn or Mesa Lakes, you can, for a little less than you could a month or so ago.

Along with that, there are so many things to do that I can only list the highlights. A fairly complete list is here.

Evan and I enjoyed some very good Greek Food today (I can't get enough), and I saw some very nice vintage cars Downtown.

Tomorrow I will be at the Air Show. I just can't get enough of that kind of stuff, being a techie and into aviation in some ways. Memo to the Air Show folks; next time see if you can find a Harrier or two. Those are cool.

I was glad to see some admonition from the Police Department regarding the many noise complaints that were called into 9-1-1 about air show related aircraft noise. These are probably some of the same people who call 9-1-1 every year when they shoot off fireworks at JUCO, or when the power goes out. Geez...

If I had the time, I would be at some of these events too:

Fruita Fall Festival

Model T Centennial at Gateway Canyons

Palisade Sunday Farmers Market

Whatever you decide to do, don't forget KAFM and its' fall fund drive, also happening this week and into October. Make a pledge today.

Get out and enjoy, while you can.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eject, Eject, Eject: The POW

The valiant pilot, his craft severely damaged by continuous fire over hostile territory, finds no other recourse but to abandon his damaged ship and parachute into the unknown.
He becomes a Prisoner of War.

You have to feel for John McCain. The events of the last week seem to have him a little overwhelmed. He looks increasingly uncomfortable; this feels like a sign to me that he is being increasingly 'handled' and is bristling at the notion of it. Key components of his philosophy up to this point are being blamed for the tenuous situation that the credit markets find themselves in.

The McCain campaign is feeling the strain of these increasing pressures, perhaps accompanied by a 'damage control' mindset, which along with trying to keep his message intact and relevant has to spend resources to protect his Vice-Presidential nominee from scrutiny, even so far as to try to screen the media out altogether.

In the wake of a press revolt over that stunt, revelations that his campaign manager was still getting a cursory fee from two of the mortgage firms left reeling in the wake of tons of bad mortgage paper, combined with the US financial system in crisis during a period of regulatory indolence that is part of Mr. McCain's core philosophy, something had to give.

McCain's decision today to suspend his campaign and return to Washington to 'deal with the crisis' felt to me like he had finally run into too much flak and decided to 'punch out'.

This is certainly not meant to trivialize or make light of what he experienced as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. Indeed, that level of sacrifice and commitment is something that almost transcends human understanding and empathy. How can one say they understand? You really can't. Mr. McCain deserves our appreciation and respect. Our vote? I'm not so sure.

The question remains, does being a POW translate into effective leadership in dramatically changing times? I think it depends a lot on the W.

Prisoner of Wall (Street): Regardless of who is POTUS, they stand to be this. It's a good thing that Obama got invited to the table. The joint statement showed class on both sides.
Prisoner of Wrath: McCain's temper has helped shape his image as a maverick and curmudgeon in the past. Not so much lately.
Prisoner of "W": Regardless of what McCain wants to do, he's gotta deal with this guy and his legacy.

Prisoner of Waffle: As Garrison Keillor put it this week:

John McCain is a lifelong deregulator and believer in letting brokers and bankers do as they please - remember Lincoln Savings & Loan and his intervention with federal regulators in behalf of his friend Charles Keating, who then went to prison?...McCain now decries greed on Wall Street and suggests a commission be formed to look into the problem. This is like Casanova coming out for chastity.

I could go on, but as much as I like convenient alliteration it won't serve any further purpose.

I'll pray for cool heads and open hearts to prevail as the plan to address these issues unfolds.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bailout: The Man U Factor

The news regarding the proposed wholesale government bailout of Wall Street is all over the place, and I'm looking with some concern, but not a great deal of worry at this point. We'll see how stocks do on Monday morning after one of the most volatile weeks in memory.

When things happen on the economic front that I don't have a clear gras
p of, I seek out Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post and Newsweek. His column from last Wednesday (printed in Saturday's Rocky) spelled out in layman's terms what I needed to hear to tell me that my gut was right;
"Once assembled, these components created a manic machine for gambling. Traders and money managers had huge incentives to do whatever would increase short-term profits. Dubious mortgages were packaged into bonds, sold and traded. Investment houses had huge incentives to increase leverage. While the boom continued, government remained aloof."
I have a retirement fund that is made up mostly of moderate-balanced mutual funds. It's generated a mild but steady return over several years. That is my only involvement with the stock market, and it will stay that way. I don't go to Vegas, Blackhawk, or Towaoc, and this episode reinforces my impression that there isn't much of a difference.

If you want some other entertaining and insightful reading about this with a local flavor, try our Ralph D'Andrea for a good overview of the proposed bailout as well as some red flags with it, or better yet check out the ever-reliable Sage of Salida, Ed Quillen. He came up with this gem:

"Boom and bust — it's a cycle we know well in Colorado, for as far back as it's possible to trace our economic history.

Granted, we can't go back all that far. For all we know, though, Spruce House at Mesa Verde was abandoned by people who couldn't keep up with their payments on subprime loans from Anasazi Savings & Loan, which had bundled the mortgages for Kokopelli Investment Group, which used them for security on a leveraged swap with Chaco Canyon Partners, which got overextended after shorting on turquoise futures."

In my limited observation of the coverage of all of this unfolding, I found the most entertaining fact this evening, while watching Manchester United tough out a 1-1 draw today with Premier League arch rival Chelsea.

Seems that Man U has as its' Principal Shirt Sponsor one of the major miscreants of this latest foray into legalized gambling with our money.

According to Wikipedia, AIG's contract with the club amounts to an annual obligation of £14.1 Million, or $25.7 Million, with 2 years of a 4-year deal remaining.

As 80% of AIG is slated to be controlled by the U.S. Government in fairly short order, you and I as taxpayers stand to be making a significant investment in English Football.

The Fox Soccer Channel announcer summed it up nicely after today's match:

"It would seem that Manchester United were a good deal more resilient today than their shirt sponsor".
I would have liked to laugh, but I'm afraid it's a little too early for that. As a representative of the shirt sponsor, I'll take a 3XL with Wayne Rooney's number on the back.

Better yet, keep it. I'm an Arsenal fan.

Have a good week.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lockup : Reset

My desktop computer has of late been so loaded up with various browser windows, feed readers, email programs, and some radio-related software that it has just been grinding down to processing speeds that recall the 80's and 90's.

Reboots have become necessary on a daily basis, and the only resolution that appears to prevent the problem from reoccurring is to not open some of the programs that eat up available memory.

With the onset of this slowness comes frustration on my part, which I think showed a couple of days ago when I decided to parrot some of our less decorous political bloggers and level some fairly harsh words at Sen. McCain, and particularly Gov. Palin. A long-time reader expressed concern, and I felt it necessary to step back and review things.

I can't take those words back, and to be completely honest I still feel the same way about the ability of those candidates to lead the country in a better direction. I just wouldn't say it the same way again.

The best thing I read on the web today came from a website that I follow closely on my feed reader, but don't read the feed all the time. That will change after today.

Zen Habits offers suggestions from several contributors on how to lead a better, more personally rewarding productive life. It's a pretty amazing site. One of their posts today had me of late pretty well pegged:


10 Unbeatable Tips for Overcoming Micro-Addictions

The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. - Samuel Johnson

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

What are micro-addictions? They are those annoying little habits that prevent you from living the life you truly want. They are small enough to go unchecked, but bothersome enough to get in the way of you living your fullest potential.

They are…

  • The inability to stop checking your email 10 times a day, when you could be making progress toward building your own business.
  • The frustrating habit of seeking approval from other people when you know that you should trust your own instincts.
  • The deceptive habit of using television as convenient entertainment, rather than participating in life.
  • The addiction to having everything figured out in advance. Instead of going for what you want, you commit to thinking about it a little longer; possibly for the rest of your life.


There's much more to this post. Click here if you're interested further.

So tonight I'm shutting the computers off and going to spend the weekend on my bicycle. Tonight I'll partake of barbeque and football; tomorrow is laundry and grocery day; Sunday I work.

Monday I'll get back to it a little bit, but I've got to stay away more and organize my time a little better. I got a little too caught up in the constant cycle of Internet news and information specific to my particlular interests, which has had the cumulative effect of paying too little attention to life.

This blog gets about 50 hits a day. I don't aspire to anything greater in terms of my online persona, and I have other ideas that don't involve this as much. Time to push 'reset' and get back in the real game.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye...

Looking back in the wake of John McCain's little tiff with Barbra Streisand this week, a few political blogs found this little gem from 6 years ago. I don't remember seeing it before, and it got me laughing very hard this morning:

The more I thought about it, the more it became kind of sad that the feisty attitude and chutzpah displayed by McCain to not only do SNL, but be a guest host, is absent from the McCain we see today.

The maverick from Arizona is being handled more by the Republican establishment to be the most malleable, agreeable candidate to mainstream Republicans, single-issue fringe groups, and neo-con Bushites still in denial about the results of their eight years of bad craziness. The result, along with the growing concern about the viability of Ms. Palin as a serious running mate, is someone who is truly a shadow of his former self.

Truth be told, if the McCain out on the campaign trail today was the guy who had the cojones to do what he did in 2002, I might have given him a little more of a look as the summer wore on to the conventions. As it stands now, I can't see this guy leading, and I definitely can't see his number 2 amounting to a hill of moose dung on the world stage if called to do so.

I miss you, John McCain.

Media Maturity

The last few days have shown some surprising examples of our local media and arts community taking some interesting steps toward becoming more accessible, innovative, and responsive to the community at large. In the title of this post, I use the term maturity in the psychological context, "used to indicate that a person responds to the circumstances or environment in an appropriate manner".

This past weekend's Independence Film Fest was a rather enjoyable gathering, even if some of the presentations were a little rough around the edges ("Can someone run that spotlight up there?"), and one movie had to be quickly substituted for another. The Avalon and the KAFM Radio Room served as fine venues for both informal viewing and enlightened interaction.

The celebrities that attended were pleasant and accessible; Lou Diamond Phillips spent time talking to my son and several other teenagers who had shown up to see Young Guns. Cliff Robertson, showing his age but still with a twinkle in his eye at 83, spoke about his beginnings as a reporter and writer, and was happy to take time to speak with and shake the hand of an obscure film buff or two.

Robertson is one of those actors who seems to enhance every movie he's in, whether or not he's the lead character. They showed Charly at the festival (which he won an Oscar for), and I personally enjoyed his roles in the 60's Batman TV Series and Three Days of the Condor. He also did a lot of excellent 50's television, from Playhouse 90 to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

When I spoke with him, I told him that my favorite of his movies was the one he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in; J.W. Coop, a somewhat melancholy story of an ex-con rodeo cowboy out of touch with the 'modern' world. I saw it at a drive-in theater when I was 12, and it was the first time a movie made me cry.

I hope that the attendance and enthusiasm shown for the event will encourage them to return in the future. It was a fun and unique experience. Thanks to the Avalon for the dedicated staff trying to do their best.

Over the weekend, as the Grand Valley geared up for the first visit by a Democratic presidential candidate in 60 years, one of our local media outlets demonstrated innovative, service-oriented thinking, as well as creative leveraging of their broadcast resources.

KKCO Channel 11 dedicated an anchor, reporter, and from the looks of it at least 2 camera operators to the Obama event. Apparently unable or unwilling to sacrifice airtime on their primary channel (I guess there are a lot of Pat Robertson fans in GJ), the station used their well-established Internet video capabilities to stream the entire event online, and followed up with complete live coverage on one of the station's secondary digital channels along with their CW Network channel on Bresnan Cable Channel 13.

The result was pretty impressive for a station that has pushed innovation over the last few years. The only thing still lacking was real-time closed captioning.

This was a rather creative stretch for a Grand Junction market station. I believe that this is in large measure to the station being sold to Gray Television by the Varecha family.

The station and its' news employees appear to be much more responsive to suggestions and complaints than in previous years, especially in comparison to the station's first couple of years in business. Many people, including myself, were upset with the loss of Denver news and Bronco pre-season games. The previous owners were defensive, and at times came off as insensitive.
Most of those issues have been resolved creatively by the marketplace in other ways, but not without pressure from viewers.

The result is a media market that appears to be much more responsive to the viewer than in the past, and that commits resources more creatively. From the live Obama coverage (which I'm sure will be repeated should McCain come to town) to considerable use of the Internet to enhance on-air coverage of stories, we as viewers and information consumers are benefiting by having the resources available to be better informed of local events and issues.

The same credit must be given to the local print media. Along with leveraging online resources and making significant changes to layouts and the way their publications look, they are trying to retain relevancy and remain viable in a world where the manner in which information is spread to the masses is changing almost monthly, if not faster.

Great job. Let's keep it up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

SB200 Follies

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

- Exodus 20:16 (KJV) - The Ninth Commandment

The patently false smear illustrated above, orchestrated by Dr. Dobson and his propaganda ministry, continues to fester on the body politic like an infected bedsore. Rep. Buescher chose this week to take a long trip down to the level of those who have worked hard to perpetuate this falsehood, and his letter to the Daily Sentinel addressed the issue well.

The responses posted in letter form on the Sentinel's website actually got me thinking a bit, so I took up an invitation to read the entire bill myself. The bulk of the bill is indeed about prohibiting discrimination in housing, and appears to be the primary focus.

There is a good deal more in the bill; It basically adds "sexual orientation" to those characteristics already prohibited from discrimination, i.e. age, gender, religion, race, etc., and includes these protections against discrimination in several other areas such as the extension of credit, the sale of funeral services, and most civil service employment.

The so-called "censorship" aspects of the bill involves language that may indeed be tested deliberately to force examination of the language in court, and that's something I would probably welcome. The language is rather broad, but I don't believe it would prevent someone genuinely in disagreement about the law to express those sentiments in accordance with their First Amendment rights.

What I believe the law targets is more subtle discrimination and/or exclusion, much as is already outlawed by the Fair Housing Guidelines already in place. Where the law currently states that advertising for housing cannot contain discriminatory language, such as "young families welcome" (which implies that older couples are not), the same protections now exist for same-sex couples who may be attracted to a property that advertises itself as "fine urban living for traditional families".

SB200 is by no means a perfect piece of legislation; some zealot somewhere will claim discrimination under one provision or another, and it will eventually wind up in the courts.

One thing that the bill is NOT, and that's a so-called "bathroom bill". All I can say to the GOP is along the lines of "Is that all that you've got?"

Let's get behind a meaningful discussion of the issues at hand, and not waste time with falsehoods. The more that gets done, the more I believe that Bernie will hold his own against such nonsense.

Let's focus our attention a moment on those in the path of Hurricane Ike. Pray for their safety along with wisdom and diligence from our leaders, as we always should.

I'm off to the Independence Film Fest today and maybe Sunday. More later this weekend. Have a good one.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reflection, Remembrance, Resolve

I made a promise to myself this week that I would not be doing any posting until I got several things accomplished around the house. I got some stuff done, but today is not a day to really dig into a post, despite steady progress with my comparatively menial tasks.

In remembering the thousands who perished seven years ago today, I believe that a renewed commitment to assuring that they did not die in vain is a right and necessary thing to do.

This does not necessarily mean doing anything in a tangible sense; prayer for the souls of the victims and their families, participating in remembrance activities such as the one Downtown this evening, or just quietly reflecting on what the last seven years have done to our country can be enough.

If I might have leave to make one observation, it appears that those who question the veracity of the official government account of the events that we commemorate today are making an impact in some arenas.

Despite the release of additional reports related to the underlying cause of the catastrophic failure of one building at the World Trade Center, many with seemingly credible backgrounds are offering up significant questions, with what appears to be a strong empirical foundation for the questions they are asking.

Popular opinion notwithstanding, we need to approach the questions and issues that surround 9/11 with an equal measure of resolve that we apply to identifying and dealing with the malevolent souls behind the attacks.

In the meantime, I am drawn to writings that have a timeless quality when I think about the effects of 9/11 on our nation, how to remember those who were lost that day, and how we can individually and collectively deal with an increasingly unstable world:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Psalms 23:4, King James Version

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

Edward R. Murrow, CBS News, from See It Now, March 9, 1954

Have a good evening.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Allowances We Make

"Listen, I'm a politician, which means I'm a cheat and a liar, and when I'm not kissing babies I'm stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open."
Richard Jordan, as Dr. Jeffrey Pelt, in The Hunt for Red October

It's a perfectly human emotion to 'adjust' your public perception of someone if you happen to like them, or agree with their views, or need to be behind them to support your own sense of well-being.

Or is it?

I think we're all guilty of doing this at least sometime in our lives, whether it's our parents, our children, our co-workers, our best friends, or someone we love. There are intangibles at work that endear us, or obligate us to someone regardless of whatever underlying truth may exist about our reaction to that person's views or ideology.

This weekend's Club 20 debates are one of the most watched and attended political events of the election season here in Western Colorado. It will be interesting to see just how many educated people will actually be there agreeing with the notion that Laura Bradford can do a better job representing our needs in Denver than Bernie Buescher can.

I wish I could be there, but I'll be taking a page out of Julie Hinkson's book, which I learned about in today's excellent Sustainability column in the Sentinel:

"Although Julie realizes drying clothes outside saves a lot of energy, that is only part of the reason she made this choice.

With the clothesline erected a distance from the house, Julie feels like she is in her 'own little world' when she hangs out her laundry every Saturday morning. 'It’s a special state of mind.'

'It’s better than meditation because there is movement involved,' Julie said. Without spending a penny for the gym, you can lift heavy baskets, stretch and bend."

A clothesline is a wonderful thing. I don't have one, but I might think about it. This afternoon I am mowing my lawn and doing yard work. It's perhaps one of the ways I can start to dealing with the times I make allowances for myself, which I do whenever I don't eat right or get out for a walk when I should.

Those who make allowances for the inadequacies of others, whether out of love, loyalty, or blood, largely expect to receive some benefit, tangible or not, for doing so. It's human nature, or in some cases it can be God at work in their lives.

In politics, I'm not sure how much God is at work, no matter how many times that politicians may invoke Him when touting how they're better than their opponent. Earthly leadership is irrelevant in comparison to a personal relationship with God, and it's how one conducts his or her life on Earth that reveals the depth of that relationship to others.

As far as the human allowances that are made, it's sometimes difficult to find examples of how those allowances change, especially when they change over a short time frame. Sometimes it's easy when some new information is revealed about the true character of someone, i.e. John Edwards. I feel for the guy, but I feel more for his wife and family.

Other times you need a little help, like the kind that Jon Stewart provided on his show this past Wednesday. Enjoy:

Off to the yard. Have a great day.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Compelling Civility in a Caustic 'Community'

When the Daily Sentinel rolled out its' Community site earlier this year, I heralded its' arrival as a potentially diverse and vital resource for the exchange of local ideas and information not otherwise available in one location. I log in periodically, and review the letters to the editor regularly. I have posted a comment or two, but otherwise have not been particularly active on the site.

The reasons, aside from trying to better manage my time online, include the manner in which discussions within the Forums section of the site, or the comments attached to letters to the editor, quickly degraded into name-calling and hateful ramblings that seemed intentional, as though the end goal was to chase away anyone who was interested in learning something through meaningful discussion. The users involved in this are referred to around the web as Trolls.

Despite attempts from Sentinel staff to impose a code of conduct, which was supplanted by a voluntary agreement among most of the more vocal users to behave responsibly, the attacks and diatribes continued.

Yesterday, Sentinel Editorial Page Editor Bob Silbernagel posted a short message announcing that the most egregious of the Community trolls would be blocked from the site, and comments would be monitored much more closely than in the past.

The Sentinel is correct in taking action, and is entirely within its' rights to do this. Regardless of the right of free expression (real or perceived), they own the site. They've been more than tolerant of some real hatefulness, as well as comment threads that wander completely off of the original topic.

As you can imagine, this stirred up plenty of commentary in itself, the majority of which was civil, regardless of which side of the debate you were on. From a cursory examination of the comments left, most of those who left comments welcomed the announcement. Some users decried this action as censorship, and have also brought up the questionable past removal of legitimate posts and comments by the Sentinel staff. Some of the trolls appear to be trying to get back onto the site with different user names.

This is serious business; in the world of the Internet and e-commerce, reputation is as much a tangible commodity as anything else. Several anonymous trolls from a college admissions website message board are learning this the hard way, and the lawsuit that their targets brought against them may change the manner in which Internet commentary is generated and moderated.

There is an excellent book available free online that explores the concept of reputation, and how it will impact a society and economy in which one's virtual persona or image is increasingly valued as much as any tangible service or presence.

The Sentinel and its' parent company (whomever that may be in the future) are keenly aware of how the manner in which the Community site is used is a direct reflection on the reputation of the Sentinel and the domain I applaud their level of tolerance and restraint up to this point in time, but I also feel that their recent action was necessary. The challenge now is to put some consistency and accountability behind the rhetoric.

I've got some observations and advice for all of the parties involved:

Community Users: Start a blog of your own, and moderate the comments before they hit the web. It's really easy to do, especially with Blogger or Wordpress. You control the content, you manage the dialogue.

Trolls: Do the same if you feel that strongly about things. However, I question the ability of many of you to generate an original thought, let alone a flame or diatribe, without reacting to an idea from someone else.

If you don't think this will work out, the extraordinary diversity of the Internet even has a place just for you. Go and wallow.

Sentinel: I don't have time for message boards. There is too much noise coming from trolls and others who muddy the discussion to make any sense or learn anything, and I don't think that things are going to improve sufficiently in the wake of your enforcement action to change my mind about it. I do like reading the printed letters 2 or 3 days in advance, though.

I realize that not too much is going to change at the paper until after the sale is completed, but I would strongly encourage you to evaluate the YourHub concept, as executed in Metro Denver and numerous other metro and rural areas around the country.

Even if the concept was conceived and is managed by a perceived competitor, YourHub succeeds in the manner in which content can be submitted, the information becomes personalized to a specific town or region, and moderation occurs within those local 'hubs'.

The result, while not without its' problems, is a web locale that a community can call its' own. An extra added value is a weekly print edition specific to that community, with selected stories and other features.

This concept is even more viable now that the Sentinel is producing and distributing a weekly tab that contains highlights of the previous week's stories. Since I follow the paper pretty closely during the week, this feels redundant to me. I for one would be excited about a weekly insert that detailed stories and events in my particular area of Mesa County.

Free Press: This is your chance to carve a niche. Give it some thought.

I wish the best of luck to Todd Powell and the remainder of the Sentinel staff that built and supports the Community site. I'm really trying to be optimistic, but it's tough. I believe that the site as it exists now will need to be replaced by something that leverages more of the content delivery systems that are prevalent in places like YourHub.

Until then, I'll peruse the letters. I've found that the Internet, especially the blogosphere, is like a giant flea market; you can look through junk for hours before you find anything of genuine value. I've got too much living to do for that.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin and Pregnancy - No, not THAT Pregnancy

The Daily Sentinel is absolutely correct in its' editorial this morning that the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's oldest daughter, Bristol, has no bearing or relevance to the Presidential campaign that will occupy a great deal of Gov. Palin's time over the next two months. Barack Obama said the same thing on Monday.

This does not mean that Governor Palin's stated public positions and actions as Governor of Alaska are off limits, particularly with regard to issues related to teenage pregnancy and support for teenage and young adult mothers.

Today's Chicago Tribune includes a report on additional attention being leveled at the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education programs, such as those advocated by Gov. Palin and utilized at the school her daughter attends.

Conflicting studies cited in the story report anywhere from a similar likelihood that teens receiving abstinence-based education will become as sexually active as those who do not participate, to a "stalling" of teenage sexual activity in response to these programs. Sounds like it's a billion-dollar wash to me.

A fellow from yet another overly influential think tank was quoted as saying that "abstinence programs are effective, particularly when you consider we are swimming in a culture that overwhelmingly promotes casual teen sex".

That's just great; they're trying to use this issue as cannon fodder in the culture wars. It's too important for posturing. There are literally lives at stake. The best quote in this story was from a director of a national advocacy group, whose mission includes efforts to "strengthen a culture of personal responsibility regarding sex, getting pregnant, and bringing children into the world". He said:
"Too often abstinence and contraception are pitted against each other as contradictory policies when in fact they are complementary strategies. We want to encourage young people to delay. We also understand that at some point they are going to be sexually active and they will need information about contraception."
So it's about communication, consensus, recognizing the reality of human nature, and developing reasonable alternative strategies. That's a little better.

Another report in yesterday's Washington Post stated that Gov. Palin used her line-item veto to cut funding by 20 percent to a program designed to help expectant teenage mothers with developing life skills and providing a transitional place to live. A graphic of actual budget line-items also shows that the Governor completely vetoed a library project, and cut funding to a food bank by 50%. And that was just part of one page.

Not all expectant young mothers have the family support, real or perceived, to deal with the consequences of their actions. We can stand there, pass judgment, and do nothing, or we can act collectively as an example of Christ's love (or a community of compassion, if you prefer) for the benefit of all concerned. Like it or not, sometimes the government is the only way to sustain these efforts.

My late wife volunteered as a mentor, and we gave financial support to, Hope Haven, a transitional home for pregnant women in Grand Junction that ceased operations a couple of years ago. While most if not all of the clients were adult women, the core mission of the facility was a valid one, as opposed to the alternative.

For an example of that, we need look no further than the matter of Morgan Hite, age 22. Already the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Morgan was visiting her parents in Grand Junction this past February when she allegedly delivered a baby boy in the neighbors' bathtub, placed him in a plastic tote bag, and left him to die in one of her parents' closets before going back Wasilla, Alaska.

Governor Palin dutifully signed an extradition warrant to allow Ms. Hite to be brought back to Colorado to face trial. While the costs of her prosecution and possible incarceration pale in comparison to the loss of a human life in such an indifferent manner, one has to ask what can be done to prevent these types of situations, with the costs of our collective inaction in mind as well.

Barring a wholesale change of hearts and minds away from a culture that helps to promote irresponsible behavior among our teens and young adults, it's up to us as citizens to continue to support non-profit and government-supported initiatives that deal with the problem in a realistic fashion, along with communicating with our own kids regarding the risks of being sexually active. An example is Mesa County's Nurse-Family Partnership that I wrote about in July.

This is an area that Janet Rowland can speak well to, given her background in the Human Services arena. Maybe we should get these two together.

My girlfriend Leslie, who has a knack for distilling things down to common sense terms, said it best while we were talking about this:
"If there is a child in need, and I am capable, then that is my child".
Best wishes to Bristol Palin, her fiancee, and their respective families for a healthy baby and strong, loving relationships to nurture her with. My prayers go out to every woman, regardless of age, facing a pregnancy alone. Please know that you're not.