Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 19 Mar 06 22:48
Please welcome to the Inkwell Doug Masson, a new type of author for us. Doug is the proprietor of Masson's Blog - a journal of Indiana politics with occasional detours into sport and culture. He introduces himself thusly: I'm a 34 year old lawyer living in Monticello, Indiana. My wife Amy and I have a 2 year old boy named Cole and a 7 month old girl named Harper. I was born and raised in Richmond, Indiana, studied history and political science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and then went to law school at Indiana University in Bloomington. I drifted into the first job available to me, a position as an attorney for the Legislative Services Agency, a non-partisan arm of the Indiana General Assembly that assists in researching and drafting legislation and maintaining the Indiana Code. After 3 years there, I followed Amy up to Monticello and found work with a small law firm in nearby Lafayette, Indiana. I am now half of a two partner law firm and mainly practice civil litigation. I started the current incarnation of "Masson's Blog: A Citizen's Guide to Indiana" in November of 2004 when I started focusing on Indiana state news and politics because I was so depressed about George Bush's election that I could not bear the national post-election news coverage. Since then, the blog has focused on Indiana politics generally, and the Indiana legislature specifically. Our interviewer is Hal Royaltey, a long time Well member and a co-host of the Politics conference and the Inkwell conference here on the Well. Hal has an eclectic background. Born in Tucson Arizona a number of years ago, his family moved to Boston for four years, then moved to California when he was five. Always the amateur scientist, he started college in the mid-60s as a biology major. After a two-year detour through Uncle Sam's Army he finished his BA then spent 10 years on Long Island earning a Ph.D. in ecology. He immediately moved into the software industry and was eventually able to retire for nearly twenty years to watch his children grow up. During this retirement he nurtured a lifelong love of politics, eventually coming to host the Politics conference here on the Well. He recently moved to Washington (state), to a small town on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. Having experienced both East Coast and West Coast politics he was pleased to discover Masson's Blog dealing with the politics of the heartland.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 19 Mar 06 22:52
Hello Doug - welcome to the Inkwell. During these two weeks I certainly want to get into some politics, but before that I want to talk a bit about blogging. You can fill books with what I don't know about blogging, so bear with me a bit. I understand the basic concept, of course, but I'm curious about both the mechanics and the logistics of it. Setting aside the question of software choice, which we can touch on later if you wish, what habits have you evolved as a successful and interesting blogger? Do you try to work on it at the same time each day, or do you post whenever the mood strikes? Do you feel obliged to put up something every day, or would you let a day pass rather than post simply to get something up? (You might not be able to answer this since you usually have multiple posts per day!). Did you keep a journal before starting the blog? That is - is daily writing an old habit for you or a newer one? I notice you said in your bio you said you "started the current incarnation" of Masson's Blog. What happened to the prior incarnations?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Mon 20 Mar 06 08:00
Successful and interesting blogger? You're too kind. For my part, I think there is a lot to be said for being prolific. For traffic to develop, I think people have to get in the habit of visiting your site, and they probably won't develop the habit if there isn't something new to read when they bother to come back. More important than being prolific, however, is just writing because you like to write. I'm not getting paid, nor do I expect to get paid in the future. I'm just enjoying my peculiar brand of fun: talking politics. The fact that it's also good citizenship (imho, of course) adds to my enjoyment. Because I'm doing it for fun, I don't really feel an obligation to post every day, but, fortunately, I usually feel inclined to do so. Mostly, it's a matter of having enough time to get a post or two up. In the mornings, it really depends on how late my son Cole sleeps. Sometimes, I can get up and read the news and put up a post or two. (Actually, there is a bit of a grace period after he gets up where he drinks a cup of milk on the couch and watches "Blues Clues" where I can finish my thought and get the entry posted.) But, he's two, so it doesn't take him very long to get his motor running. And, he doesn't really understand, "No, I'd rather not play cars right now, I'm composing a blog post about Daylight Saving Time." Even if he did, being a Dad is more important than being a blogger, even when the merits of Indiana being on Central Time versus Eastern Time interests me more than putting a hat on Mr. Potato Head. In the evening after the kids are in bed is the second main time when I blog. The primary drawback to this is that this is the best time for me to spend time with Amy. Fortunately, she is as big a computer geek as I am, so we can generally sit side by side at our computers and talk to one another as we pursue our various computer interests. (We had a desk/shelf system installed to accommodate our nerdy lifestyle -- desks built into about an 8 foot length of wall with a computer cabinet in the middle and bookshelves from desktop to ceiling.) Finally, if I have a slow or uninspired day at work, I'll post during the day. I'm half of a two person law firm, so I'm my own boss, but I have to make sure I'm not costing myself excessive amounts of money or shortchanging my partner by engaging in non-billable activities during the day. If I'm reading the news, I'm usually in the mood to write *something.* But the quality varies greatly. Sometimes, it's pretty derivative; I just post a link to a news story and basically say "hey, look at this." The next step up, I'd say, is where I link to a news story and then offer up my own thoughts. Above that is where I am able to discern a narrative from multiple news stories. And somewhere in that hierarchy, I'm not sure where, is when I am able to read legislation or other legal mumbo jumbo and put it in laymen's terms and offer my opinion. I'm not sure how valuable the opinion part of the equation is to people, but that's what makes the process enjoyable to me. On the other hand, I'm fully aware that opinions are like certain body parts in that everybody has one. I kept a journal for a couple of weeks before I started my first blog. But, the journal keeping software I installed (the computer has to be involved somehow for me to be interested, apparently) just didn't work well for me. (I can't recally the problem, exactly, just that launching the program and getting to the writing was a minor impediment.) I think one of the things I had in mind when I installed the blogging software was to see if it was an easier way to keep a journal. But, it never worked out that way really. I just didn't feel inclined to write a lot about myself or my day. Instead, being a bit of a political junkie, I started the first incarnation of Masson's Blog. It was a a simple blog using the Blogger software (which either didn't allow comments or the time, or I never figured out how to activate them). My commentary was almost exclusively limited to national politics. I believe I started it in late 2003 and mostly followed the Presidential campaign. When Bush won in November, 2004, I was really depressed. I deliberately stopped watching or reading anything devoted to national news. It didn't help matters that I had to put my dog to sleep about 10 days later. In fact, my first post was devoted to my dog Shady. It was late November when I put it up, but I backdated the entry to be November 15, 2004, her date of death and what I consider the start date for this incarnation of Masson's Blog. But, backtracking a bit, like I said, I didn't consume any national news for a period of time. Still needing something of a fix, I made an effort to bookmark a number of state news sources and started reading more about state politics. It also occured to me that you can't swing a dead cat around the Internet without hitting a blog site that offers up opinion on national issues. I looked around and couldn't find much blogging about Indiana in particular. On top of that, the 2005 Indiana General Assembly was getting ready to go into session. The Indiana Legislative Services Agency had begun posting legislation that would be considered. Since my old job was researching and drafting bills for LSA, I thought I could offer something of interest by analyzing bills of interest (to me) and sharing what I knew about how the General Assembly operated. Finally, I wanted to mess around with new blogging software -- something that would allow comments and give me some feedback. I couldn't say for sure whether anybody read the first incarnation of the blog. I didn't have the capability for comments and I hadn't installed any kind of site metering software. So I was operating in a vacuum. And so I launched Masson's Blog as "A Citizen's Guide to Indiana" which started slowly but has grown into a Media Empire, dominating the blogosphere today and soon, the world. Well, not really, but it's grown a bit and I seem to have a few devoted readers.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Tue 21 Mar 06 03:58
Heh! When I asked about keeping a journal, I was thinking of a physical journal, not an electronic one. I didn't even realize that journal/diary software existed. Live and learn, I guess. After less than wonderful experiences with the journal software and the first round of blogging software, what main criteria did you have in mind when searching again for new blogging software? You mentioned the desire to allow comments and to give you feedback, which leads me to ask: 1) Did your new software work out the way you expected, and 2) Did those things like comments and feedback turn out to be as important as you thought they would be? 3) What, if anything, do you wish your current package did, or did better? More generally, have you ever felt that your professional life constrains what you post about in your blog? That is - does that little voice in the back of your head ever say: Doug -- you might want to think twice about posting that little rant. After all, you don't want to tick off the customers.
Doug Masson (dmasson) Tue 21 Mar 06 19:04
Well, I always thought about keeping a pen and paper journal, but never even tried it really. In college, I was hopeless about even keeping a calendar. I tried for about a week, but it was never handy when I needed it. Blogging about current events, on the other hand, gets me past that difficulty in that the tools of the trade are always at hand when I am reading the news. (Occasionally I'll have a moment of dissonance when I'm reading a paper copy of something that I want to blog about. I'll feel like I want to right click to pop up the blogging interface before realizing that's not an option.) For me, the ideal blogging software is whatever gets me typing my thoughts most quickly. They have come up with more features, and I'm sure I wasn't using the existing features fully, but when I was using Blogger, it was a little clunky and slow. And, as I mentioned before, I couldn't do comments at the time. I ended up installing Movable Type as my blogging software. I recall that the installation was something of a chore for me. Somewhat off the topic, but I'd put my computer literacy at an intermediate level. For example, I successfully installed Linux on my home computer back in '98 or thereabouts and was able to use it, but it took quite a bit of time and effort on my part. So, when I say Movable Type installation took some effort for me, that probably means it would be trivial for someone with advanced skills and I would guess very difficult for a complete beginner. Once installed, however, it worked great and did not require much additional effort. Having comments enabled made a world of difference for me. First of all, I actually had confirmation someone was reading. Second, I could now gauge a little better what interests people. It's not perfect, of course. Some topics are more apt to provoke comment than others. For example, in Indiana, a Daylight Saving Time post was almost guaranteed to generate a response. A daily summary of House bill activity, on the other hand, was not. Nonetheless, I suspect there are a fair number of readers who really like the dry analysis of legislation better than the policy debates, even if they don't feel moved to comment on it. Around Christmas of last year, I found my account had been hacked. The good folks at TotalChoice Hosting who provide my hosting services told me that they had to set me up with a fresh account and I had to reinstall. (For $4/month, I don't really expect them to waste a lot of time trying to delouse my site.) I'm not sure what else might have been involved, but the hack involved setting permissions on certain directories to be world-writable (or possibly I had left a directory in that condition, hard telling) and through a couple of methods tried to redirect traffic to a search engine that seemed somehow connected to warez distribution. Since I was reinstalling anyway, I thought I would try the WordPress blogging software. It was much easier to install and, for my needs, offered equivalent functionality. It also offered publicly available, easily installed "themes" that made the web design a lot slicker. Left to my own devices, I'd probably just have a white screen with black text, but my wife and sister-in-law are really keen on web design (so much so that they just started a web design business). On the old site, the banner my sister-in-law designed was kind of like lipstick on a pig. It fits much better on the current site. I was also able to add a sidebar element that lists recent comments. I think that encourages more commentary because people can see where the discussions are taking place and jump in, even if that post is several days old and buried under more recent posts. The only thing I'd say Movable Type did better for me than Word Press was handle the "JustBlogIt" plug in for the Firefox browser. The plug-in lets you right click, it captures the title of the page you are reading and inserts a link into the text field. This worked flawlessly for me with Movable Type. With Word Press it doesn't seem to handle certain characters very well and I have to do more manual entry. Overall, however, I think the advantages of Word Press for me outweigh the disadvantages. What I've read is that Movable Type is really good for advanced users who know their way around programming, Word Press is better for the slightly less techno-savvy. As for your last question, my professional life most definitely constrains my blogging. While I feel free to offer my opinions in almost every other area of Indiana, I barely mention Tippecanoe County or Lafayette, Indiana where I work. I'm reasonably certain that my politics do not match those of some of my clients. None of those clients operate at the state level or very far afield from the county, so it's possible they might personally find my views objectionable, but by taking this precaution, I'm very unlikely to hurt their interests directly. That being said, I think being on the Internet for a long time and on the Well for the past 6 years has really helped my ability to strike a tone that would not alienate clients if they happened to read my blog. The first time on the Internet, I know I didn't really have a good sense for how widely distributed or how permanent everything that gets said online is. Now I'm sensitive to the fact that my Mom might be reading anything I write and, even worse, my kids might someday be reading what I wrote. So, even if I get riled up about something, I'm usually able to talk myself down and at least try to express myself politely. It's like Dalton says in "Road House": "All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice." I suppose that's enough for now. When you find yourself quoting Patrick Swayze, you're probably done.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Wed 22 Mar 06 00:54
> When you find yourself quoting Patrick Swayze, you're probably done. At least it wasn't from Dirty Dancing. B-movie wisdom can be very perceptive at times. You mentioned earlier that blogs about state and/or local politics are thin on the ground. Superficially state politics, even in the biggest states, would seem a more managable subject than national politics. The Federal government is so immense that once you get beyond the broadest issues (Iraq, Medicare, taxes and debt, etc) you end up going down the rabbit hole into the Byzantine mysteries of Congressional power politics (if you'll forgive the horribly mixed metaphor). Additionally, state politics seem less fixed in position, less polarized, than national politics these days. State level politicians are a little closer to the voters hence a little more malleable. It seems that if you write your Senator or Representative, you're lucky to get an email or form letter signed by a staffer in return. Write to your state Representative or Senator and you're like to get a real reply signed by the real guy. Yet in my blogger fantasies I, too, would probably be tempted to tackle national issues over state ones. I wonder if this is because of the overpowering *presense* of the Federal government in all our lives. State governments primarily fix the roads, run the schools and prisons, and sometimes try to keep the insurance companies in line, but the Feds drag us into wars, make us look like criminals and incompetents to the entire world, and waste money on a grand and stupifying scale. Is there really a preference in the blogosphere for national over local politics? If so, am I off in the weeds as to why?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Wed 22 Mar 06 07:53
I don't know how things are in other states, but in Indiana, the number of state political blogs has proliferated a great deal in the past year. When I was starting up in November/December of 2004, I was able to find only 2 or 3, and they were more legal than political. Now I have something like 30 plugged into my newsreader, and I know I've missed a few. You're absolutely correct that state government is more responsive to its citizens than the national government. One of the things I was mildly surprised about when I worked for the legislature was how hard a legislator would work for a constituent who came to them with a problem. And it wasn't just for big donors, it was also for the average citizen. One caveat to that: the efforts were with respect to relatively small issues. If a constituent came to the legislator and wanted a change in tax policy, not much would happen. But if you wanted a specialty license plate for your organization, you'd probably get a bill filed. In particular, I recall helping a legislator out with an Amish (I think) constituent. Whatever the particular faith was, the small community believed in keeping death and burial a private matter and not involving outsiders too much. So, they wanted legislation that would permit them to conduct burials without a funeral director so long as a licensed physician ensured that all relevant health codes were complied with. The funeral director lobby is unusually strong in Indiana, so the provision didn't pass -- they were concerned this would open the door to greater erosions in their business. But, the legislator really spent a lot of time trying to help these folks out. I don't know if they even voted, and certainly they weren't giving her huge bags of cash, but they had a problem, and the legislator wanted to help. But, back to "politics, the blogosphere and" -- I think national politics gets more attention because it's a better show and everyone has at least passing familiarity with the basic contours of the issues. To some degree, political "debate" is more like a sporting event with spectators taking sides based on which team is their favorite, regardless of whether they like the individual players. National politics is kind of like watching the major leagues whereas state politics is more like watching the minor leagues. With state politics, you can get closer to the teams, but the production values aren't as good and the major news outlets probably won't be covering the games. But, I think a lot of that is temporary. Once you get easy access to the news sources that do cover state politics, get a community of readers familiar with a basic set of issues being considered at the state level, and get a certain number of blogs covering state politics, you hit a critical mass and a conversation breaks out. And, you have the added benefit of the responsiveness of legislators at the state level. I've been tickled on a few occasions where legislators have initiated communication with me. There are two or three legislators who have active blogs of their own, which they are clearly writing themselves and have actual content. The content tends to be a little less rough and tumble than the average blog, but it's well beyond the contentless platitudes you expect from politicians. I think there will always be a preference for federal politics in the blogosphere. Everyone has an opinion about the biggest issues like war and peace and about the politicians they see on TV all the time. But, ultimately, the politics at the state and local level have a far greater effect on your everyday life, and I think the blogosphere is starting to engage state politics even if it is to a lesser extent. So, at least there are good resources out there for folks who want to take their responsibility as citizens a little seriously. (I don't want to go overboard here, truly devoted citizens should probably be attending county council and school board meetings; something I don't do regularly.)
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 22 Mar 06 11:29
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Gail Williams (gail) Wed 22 Mar 06 12:21
Doug, hi. I'm most curious about the stroy of your involvement in the Indiana Central Time / Eastern Time saga. What was the situation temporally and politically when you started, and did your blog help change any timezones?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Wed 22 Mar 06 13:40
Heya Gail, My involvement with Indiana's time debate was basically one of self- appointed archivist. I gave people a place where they could fixate on the time issue, vent if they needed to, and come into contact with other people who had strong feelings on the issue. The short answer is that I don't think I really had much effect changing any time zones (or keeping them in place). The longer answer probably requires an explanation of Indiana's unique time situation. Indiana and Arizona have been the only two states that did not observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). Efforts to change DST have come before the legislature regularly, probably for the last 30 years, but at least for the last 10. Those efforts have failed, as far as I can tell, because while the state is roughly 50/50 in support of DST, the 50% of supporters have been split pretty significantly on whether Indiana should observe Eastern Daylight Time or Central Daylight Time. Governor Daniels came into office championing a switch to DST. I thought he would fail like everyone else, but he got it done. He got it done by twisting arms hard and by deliberately ignoring the time zone issue -- basically saying, "we'll work it out later." After a series of parliamentary maneuvers and near deaths, DST passed by one vote when a legislator from western Indiana, Troy Woodruff, switched his vote from nay to yea, despite assurances to his constituents that he would "never" vote for it. I'd been following it pretty closely up to that point, but then I turned the time issue into a focus of the blog. The legislative session was over, so I needed a little focus anyway. I was interested, readers seemed interested. Some other bloggers gave me good natured chuckles on my obsession, but pretty much everybody who mentioned it started referring to my site as the "go to" place for information on the time zone issues. Time zones are governed by the United States Dept. of Transportation. The state law governing DST sort of vaguely contemplated the Governor requesting the Department to conduct statewide determinations on where the time zone should be in Indiana. Before this mess, the time line left most of Indiana in the Eastern Time Zone but with 5 counties in the northwest and 5 counties in the southwest on Central Time. However, by not observing DST, the rest of the state was functionally on Central Daylight Time 7 months out of the year and on Eastern Standard Time 5 months out of the year (technically, they were on Eastern Standard Time for the entire year.) This has been further complicated by the fact that 4 or 5 counties in the southeastern part of the state (around Cincinnati and Louisville) have been observing Eastern Daylight Time illegally for the past 30 years. So, anyway, the Governor did a half-hearted petition to the USDOT for time zone hearings. They replied that the petition didn't meet their requirements but suggested a procedure whereby any county that wanted to could petition for Central Time. This changed the landscape drastically. Instead of having an equal shot at Eastern or Central, Eastern became the default and only counties near the time line could realistically petition since those further to the east have no interest in moving if their neighbors aren't moving. The Governor's story kept shifting. When he was campaigning, he was a champion of statewide central time. When he submitted the original petition, he said he envisioned half a dozen statewide hearings before a decision from the USDOT. When the USDOT announced its county-by-county plan, the Governor said that time zones were really a local issue and this should be decided by county commissioners. Then a bitter dispute erupted between St. Joseph County (home of South Bend) and neighboring Elkhart County when St. Joe petitioned for Central Time and Elkhart did not. Elkhart complained bitterly about how the time shift would affect them. The Governor entered the fray in support of Elkhart County. (It bears mentioning that South Bend was home to Gov. Daniels opponent in the gubernatorial election and is also home to the House Democratic minority leader.) My most direct involvement was to point out a declaratory sentence in the DST legislation that said, "The State supports the executive of any county that petitions the USDOT for a change of time zone." (or words very much like that.) I argued that the Governor was in violation of Indiana law by opposing St. Joseph County's petition. This was picked up by a couple of newspapers, but there was no enforcement mechanism and no one filed a lawsuit, so nothing much became of it. If I had an impact, it was because several central time supporters got together through my site and worked together on putting together materials for the USDOT's time zone docket. They focused mainly on the St. Joseph County petition which was ultimately denied, but also somewhat on a few of the southwestern counties that were moved into Central Time. The larger impact my site might have yet is that at the time, it reinforced the memories of concerned citizens so they won't forget how the time zone debate progressed. And at the present and the future, it provides a reasonably accessible archive for those who are trying to refresh their memories. Indiana has a surprisingly close split between Democrats and Republicans for state level office, particularly in the House of Representatives. Time is such a sensitive issue in Indiana that it could well tip the balance of power. I suspect there is a non-negligible population of Hoosiers who will base their votes on that issue alone. The Governor has rocked the boat on a number of issues, time and toll road privatization being the biggest examples, such that his poll numbers have sunk from 55% or so immediately after the election to something like 37% currently. In Northern Indiana, where both time and the toll roads have been a major factor (and where blue collar workers tend to be a force), his popularity is in the 20s. I like to keep my short answers short, and my long answers long.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 22 Mar 06 17:14
You've got a point about the need for someone to follow up blogging or any kind of public discussion with a lawsuit or the like to push many kinds of changes. I love the whole concept of certain counties "observing Eastern Daylight Time illegally for the past 30 years." You have the most amazing local issues in your state. Will the new time boundaries get observed?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Wed 22 Mar 06 18:25
I think the "renegade" counties got away with it because they were observing Daylight Saving Time which I think is what the federal government really preferred for Indiana. One county up in the northern part of the state, Pulaski, sort of got the shaft from the Dept. of Transportation and are making noises about disregarding the ordered time zone change for their county. Like I said above, the USDOT had individual counties petition for a change. After a certain deadline, they issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making with preliminary findings, that proposed to grant some petitioning counties their wish to switch from eastern to central time and to deny others. You can see a map of the preliminary findings at <http://masson.us/countymap6.jpg> The light grey counties are eastern time and didn't petition. The dark grey counties are central time and didn't petition. The pink counties petitioned for central time but were preliminarily denied. The red counties petitioned for central time and were preliminarily granted. The yellow counties petitioned for central time but then withdrew their petition before the rulemaking got started due to pressure from local constituents. Pulaski County was one of the pink counties whose petition was preliminarily denied. But, since the neighbors they cared about were also denied, they were o.k. with that. They didn't take any further action during the hearings conducted during the rulemaking process. But, when the final rulemaking came out, the USDOT had changed its mind and granted the petition. You can see the map of the final rulemaking at <http://masson.us/countymap7.jpg> The folks in Pulaski County sound pretty serious about thumbing their nose at the feds. We'll see what happens. Their situation is a little different than the "renegade" counties that illegally observed DST. I know it all sounds fairly silly to non-Hoosiers (and plenty of Hoosiers as well). Part of it is good, old-fashioned stubborness -- you'll still occasionally hear someone refer to "God's time," meaning when noon is directly overhead. But, some of it is fairly rational. In my mind, the big problem is that Indiana is too far west to be in the Eastern Time Zone. Under Eastern Daylight Time, during some parts of the year, "true noon" won't take place until after 2:00 p.m., and it won't get dark until nearly 10. The corrollary to that is that we will have only a small segment of the year where the sun is up before 6:30 a.m., and so working people will almost always be getting up in the dark. If you divide the earth into 24 one hour time zones, the zones are 15 degrees apiece. If you center the first zone on Greenwich, then the division between Eastern and Central Time would run through Mansfield, Ohio, almost cutting Ohio in half. So, to stretch the zone through the rest of Ohio and all the way through Indiana seems like a bit much. There is also the fact that Indiana is only 140 miles wide, much too narrow to justify a time split. Culturally, however, Indiana looks to Indianapolis, and Indianapolis looks to the east, not the west. So the powers that be in Indy push for Eastern. The DST part of the debate is also something of a proxy battle having to do with state pride, I think. I think those who are really proud of being from Indiana are more likely to support the idiosyncratic decision not to observe daylight saving time whereas those who are indifferent to being from Indiana or even embarrassed about it would just as soon be like everyone else.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 22 Mar 06 19:26
If you don't live there, <http://masson.us/countymap7.jpg> still looks pretty darned weird! Did your blog get a lot of comments about the process?
Hal Royaltey (hal) Wed 22 Mar 06 22:21
This whole time zone thing is fascinating. Looking at a US map I see that the two states below Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, are much longer E-W than Indiana and are split across time zones. South of those two, however, lies Alabama. It's essentially due south of Indiana and is only 190 miles wide (close to Indiana's 140 miles). Its capital, Montgomery, is further east than Indianapolis, yet it lies fully in Central Time. To the north is Michigan, which has the Lower Peninsula somewhat eastward of Indiana, but the UP largely due north of Indiana, yet the entire state is in the Eastern zone. I'd bet that Michigan sees itself as a big Eastern industrial state, hence is comfortable with Eastern time, while Alabama, which probably identifies equally easily with its eastern neighbor (Georgia) as its western neighbors (Mississippi, Lousiana, Arkansas, ..) is comfortable with Central time as it has more culturally compatible neighbors in that direction. Only Indiana seems conflicted about the whole thing. (Arizona doesn't seem to be conflicted, merely stubborn.) Another Big Item out your way is the possible privatization of the State Toll Road. Can you fill us in a bit on that issue?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Thu 23 Mar 06 07:12
The time zone process entries got a lot of discussion. There is a small but devoted group who worked really hard on the time zone process. Ultimately the results were not what they hoped, but I think they made Governor Daniels and his supporters spend more political capital and made it harder to hide the hash he'd made of the process. These folks would comment regularly at the blog. Even better for me, they'd do research for me, point me to news stories, that kind of thing. As far as Indiana's unique problems vis-a-vis other similarly situated states, Michigan is the only one that seems similar and relatively unconflicted. The southern states are geographically in their proper time zones. 12:00 p.m. comes within an hour or so of when the sun is directly over head. Kentucky and Tennessee are very long states, east-to-west. So, splitting them in half makes a good bit of sense. Indiana is narrow and geographically in the wrong zone. The decision making process in Michigan, I am told, was dominated by Detroit and the auto and steel industries that apparently looked to the east. The rest of the state was just sort of dragged along. ----------------- Toll road privatization was the big issue from this year's session. Gov. Daniels went out and got a $3.8 billion bid to privatize Indiana's toll road which is I-80/90 that runs east to west along the northern part of the state. A foreign consortium will get the right to operate the toll road (and raise and collect tolls) for the next 75 years. He got the bid before having the authority to do so. So, part of the enacting legislation retroactively approved the Governor's actions in soliciting the bids. This was politically astute, in that he then had $3.8 billion with which to lard the enacting legislation with pork. Philosophically, I'm against toll roads generally and particularly privatized toll roads. I think the country is healthiest when citizens have a publicly funded infrastructure, especially transportation infrastructure, to use to build their own lives and businesses. I came to adopt this way of thinking after reading about Henry Clay's "American System" in school. I barely remember the details of Clay's thinking, but I know it led to my belief in public versus private infrastructure. I think that too much infrastructure in private hands chokes off the ability of small businesses to thrive -- witness the power the railroads were able to amass and the effect it had on smaller businesses dependent on the railroads to deliver goods. Procedurally, I think this was bad government as well. A 75 year lease was considered by the legislature for less than 75 days and an independent study was never considered. And, practically, this will feel good for the short term but be a long-term loser for our state. The $3.8 billion is slated to fund road construction for the next 9 or 10 years. A reserve has been set aside for future years, but even assuming that doesn't get raided, the money will basically be all spent within 20 years. So, we're stealing from the future to pay for present needs. There will be 55 years of ever-increasing tolls after the money has been spent. Furthermore, it's essentially a tax on northern Indiana to pay for road construction in other parts of the state. I feel like the current batch of lawmakers are mining our resources rather than growing them.
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Thu 23 Mar 06 10:11
Howdy from Montana! We have, or seem to have, a very active blogosphere here in Montana -- the "seem to" is because, Montana being a very small state in population, we value connecting to one another. A very rural attitude, even in our "cities". We have a fair number of political blogs, ranging from liberal to libertarian; and a professional outfit called New West Network that is based here in Missoula (http://www.newwest.net/index.php/). We also have a shared blog, The Big Sky Blog: http://bigskyblog.com/ -- that I sometimes post to. We also have feuds on occassion. Since I don't regularly write about politics, I tend to be read from all sides of the spectrum -- though I did notice a few dropped subscriptions after a politics & religion post. My observation has been that the state-level political blogs tend to be read by citizens of the state, and a few avidly political folks from outside, who often have some connection to Montana. The political blogs that also cover national politics have a wider readership. Is that your perception, Doug?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Thu 23 Mar 06 10:34
Oh, definitely. I can't imagine why non-Hoosiers would want to read my blog with any regularity. I cover some issues they might find interesting, but day-in, day-out, it's just a heavy dose of Indiana and wouldn't really have a lot of relevance to someone from, say, Georgia. Just speculating here, but I imagine the political blogosphere has some fractal aspects with similar patterns emerging on smaller or greater levels as you change your perspective.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Thu 23 Mar 06 15:06
> I can't imagine why non-Hoosiers would want to read my blog > with any regularity. Y'know ... before the 2004 election I would have said the same thing about Ohio political blogs. Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004, maybe in 2008 Indiana will be the designated swing state. I note that Indiana has an almost evenly split Congressional delegation (House is 4 Demo 6 Rep; Senate is 1 Demo 1 Rep), so it's at least a potential swing state. Is this even split a quasi-permanent feature or is the state in transition? How did Indiana vote in the the last two elections? Any thoughts on how it might vote this fall?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Thu 23 Mar 06 17:35
You have a point there. I can't imagine Indiana ever being a swing state, but I suppose it would be a good thing to have an established source of information if Indiana state politics takes on national importance. Actually, while Indiana's Senate delegation is one Dem and one Rep., the House delegation is currently 7 Republicans to 2 Democrats. The Dems have some good chances at pickups and don't look to face a loss of one of the current seats. IN-01 Pete Visclosky (D) - no real challenger to my knowledge. IN-02 Chris Chocola (R) - moderately vulnerable. Conservative district, but he's going to suffer from the Governor's actions. This northwestern district is probably the most effected by both time zones and toll road privatization. IN-03 Mark Souder (R) - somewhat vulnerable. Dr. Tom Hayhurst is a more credible challenger than in years past. Souder represents some of the toll road counties, and he made a pledge to get out after 12 years back in '94. IN-04 Steve Buyer (R) - I don't think he's under any real threat. IN-05 Dan Burton (R) - I don't even know if he has a challenger. IN-06 Mike Pence (R) - Probably safe. Challenger Barry Welsh is doing a great job getting an Internet presence for himself, but I don't know that he has any money for more conventional campaigning. IN-07 Julia Carson (D) - She has some flaws as a Representative and the Republicans want to challenge her, but her district is very Democratic. IN-08 John Hostettler (R) - The bloody 8th. He is very vulnerable. Sheriff Brad Ellsworth looks to be a very good politician and Hostettler is a wingnut. His base is very loyal and does not require much money to mobilize, but he came off looking really bad after basically disappearing after a tornado did serious damage to Evansville. Ellsworth, meanwhile, being the Sheriff was pretty much the face of disaster relief. With an anti-Republican wind blowing this year, Ellsworth stands an excellent chance. IN-09 Mike Sodrel (R) - Also very vulnerable. Sodrel is a first term incumbent facing a re-rematch with Baron Hill after defeating Hill last cycle. Hill had defeated Sodrel the cycle before the first time Sodrel challenged. So, I'd say there is a very respectable chance of turning the numbers from 7-2 to 5-4 or possibly even 4-5.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 24 Mar 06 10:01
Is there a community or even a loose network of political bloggers you feel part of? I know you have a network of friends and acquaintances you've met via The WELL, mostly around talking up interests other than Indiana from what i've observes. I'm curious about how much blogging outside the walls has been about networks and relationships for you, and how it differs from the scene on The WELL.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Fri 24 Mar 06 12:01
As a kind of loose follow up to that question.... Clearly there are a lot of blogs that are simply personal things. The authors may or may not care if anyone even reads 'em. Then there are blogs like DailyKos which are real powerhouses. Given that the content, layout, etc give a blog the potential for "hitting it big" and given that the author wants to see that happen, *how* does it happen?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Fri 24 Mar 06 12:34
There is a loose knit community of Indiana political bloggers that I'm part of. We tend to drop each other e-mails if there is something we think the other might be interested in; comment on each others blogs; and make sure we give the other one a link if we use something from one of their posts. It's different from the Well in that, here, we are having a more close-knit, serial conversation. In the Indiana blogosphere, we're sort of having parallel conversations. Maybe it's a question of duration, since I've been on the Well quite a bit longer than I've been blogging. But I definitely feel closer to the people on the Well because I've been chewing over ideas with a lot of them for years now. Another aspect to that closeness probably has to do with the fact that we're on equal footing, more or less, in the discussion. The way my blog is set up, I'm kind of the 800 lb gorilla in that the commenters pretty much have to react to what I write or not comment at all. I can only speculate as to how a blog gets big like Daily Kos. First, obviously you have to have a focus with broad appeal. Second, I think you have to get into that niche *early*. I think Daily Kos, Atrios, and Talkingpoints Memo are so big not just because they are well written and have common interest, but also because they got there early. To the extent my blog is successful in terms of Indiana political blogs (and I couldn't really say for sure since I don't really know how my traffic compares to others), it's probably because I got into the niche early. As for Daily Kos, I think what put his site head and shoulders above the rest is that he went the next step and designed the site so that the rest of the community could add content and recommend content. I have some vague notion of seeing if it would be possible to implement such a thing for my own site, but I suspect you ought to have some critical mass (and some programming expertise) before those features are really effective.
Hoosier (coiro) Fri 24 Mar 06 13:01
Hey, Doug, great conversation! Thanks to Hal for the tip in <news.>. Small correction to the DST conversation: Hawaii doesn't have DST either. Which was lovely when I was living there and calling home to Northern IN - never had to concern myself with the time change. Good looking blog, I just checked it out. Link for those who don't want to go look it up is <http://blog.masson.us/>. My question for you comes out of my own political bias: my progressive/liberal point of view made life in Indiana absolutely unbearable. I'm so glad to live in SF, this beacon of tolerance, and suffer culture shock every time I go home and try to find intelligent radio, or see an anti-abortion billboard. When the state legislature moved to define conception as the beginning of life, and tried to twist building codes to get PP clinics torn down, I shivered once again and gave thanks that I don't live there any more. I know from the Well that you're a considered, smart, well-spoken and compassionate individual. How do you stand it? Do you feel you have any power to change what's around you, or can you do just enough to make it livable while you have to be there? Also: I've riffed on my radio show that I'm from "Indiana, where even the Democrats are Republicans." All in good fun, but - do you see any truth in that?
Doug Masson (dmasson) Fri 24 Mar 06 13:40
Thanks Angie. To the extent my blog has any aesthetic value, the credit goes entirely to my wife and her sister. I have little or no taste and even less artistic ability. I'm not sure how well I can compare Indiana's conservatism/liberalism to other states, in that Indiana is mostly all that I've ever known directly -- aside from 4 years at college in Ohio, during which I drank considerable amounts of beer. But I guess my perception is that most Hoosiers are conservative in the true sense of the word by which I mean they are very cautious about change. For that reason, there is a tendency to subscribe to a Main Street/small business/country club version of Republicanism. Of course, as I write that, it occurs to me that my perception could be based on the fact that I'm an upper middle class white male raised in an upper middle class family. So I never saw the remnants of the Indiana dominated by the Klan in the early 20th century. Also, I was raised as a Republican, even going so far as to help the local Republicans in the '88 campaign when I was 17. My leftward drift didn't really start until Perot's anti-deficit message detched me from the Republicans in '92 and then the impeachment efforts in '98 completely alienated me from the Republicans, at least at the federal level. (At the local level, there are Republicans I enthusiastically support because they are competent city & county administrators and the political questions don't really have the same sort of left/right split you see a fair amount at the state level and almost always at the federal level.) In any case, the crony-capitalist Republicanism that Gov. Mitch Daniels seems to share with his old master, George Bush and the social conservatism of the charismatic Christians seem sort of new to me. In the past, while the status quo was awfully hard to uproot, I never got the sense that Hoosiers subscribed to the hateful brand of conservatism. They just wanted the opportunity to work hard, get a fair shake, and be left alone. The active wingnuttery of the anti-abortion movement and the effort to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage seems new to me. So far, the old guard Republicans that dominate the state Senate seem to be resisting the newer, angrier brand of Republican. But that might be a losing effort. Hopefully the new guard will be defanged nationally before they get a complete grip on Indiana's politics. As for how I deal with it: I have an XM Radio, a TiVo, and an internet connection. On top of that, my neighbors, co-workers, and local politicians are by-and-large friendly and helpful. But, like I said, I'm an upper-middle class white male, so even though I'm philosopically opposed to the wingnuttery, it's probably easier for me to deal with because those things don't affect me directly.
angie (coiro) Fri 24 Mar 06 21:38
Interesting point, about our different perspectives. I was raised there as a blue-collar girl in the Catholic school system. Enough divergence there that yeah, our experiences probably don't echo each other. (How many car antennas did YOU lose just because your car was parked outside the only gay bar in town?) Okay then! Thanks, Doug. I'll follow the conversation here with interest. And I'll point all my sibs to your site.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 25 Mar 06 06:46
I've been an intern with the Idaho state legislature this term, and I'm finding it fascinating. I couldn't blog it because I was working for them, and next year I'll have a job so I won't have time to just go sit in hearings all day, but it's a fascinating process.
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