Duff is back but I understand that he’s deep into a “Man-Cold”. As men are sometimes baffled by estrogen, women can just never understand that there’s something about the presence of testosterone that exponentially multiplies the effects of the common cold in some men.
Today I may ramble a bit, bear with me or click on another link, the joy of the internet is that there’s no required reading if I’m not entertaining or engaging you. I may remain inspired enough to find the time to post from time to time once Duff returns.
I’ve looked at the couple of weeks of moderating and contributing to this blog as an opportunity and a privilege, and I’ve used the experience to try to learn some things about blogging. I have not had as much time as I would have liked to contribute, I have a day job that’s had challenges over the same time period. If no one feeds a blog with content number of visitors and page views drops rapidly. That’s my first lesson of blogging; you need to feed this blog beast constantly.
My second lesson is that blogs tend to attract mostly like minded people, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Growth of ideas and development of movements and democracies by intelligent dialogue is important to me, so understanding all sides of an issue helps one find the center that the majority will approve. I came into moderating an existing group and was able to have some great learning experiences and exchanges of ideas. I gained new respect for a number of our readers who comment regularly.
By being a shameless self-promoter and cajoling people on Facebook to read and share, we set some records for both visitors and page views. I learned that the majority of people who visit don’t comment or even mark the post as a “like”. We know someone has been reading but we don’t actually know what you’re thinking.
When writing for the weekly paper formerly known as the Hudson Gazette, I considered our paper the deeper end of discussion, opinion and local government and the other local weekly was the shallow more social end of the spectrum. On Internet discussion, Facebook is mostly a social place where people are “friends”. I purposely have few “friends” on Facebook as my main purpose for using it is to have near real time pictures, video and news of our grandchildren. I find Facebook a nearly impossible place to engage in deeper discussions that might change people’s views, life philosophy or politics or educate yourself to change.
This blog experience has inspired me to learn something of WordPress, the open source platform that this blog is running on. It appears that, in a modern world, being without an ability to communicate your message on the Internet will leave one effectively mute in the near future. I’m a technician and prefer to understand the underlying process and technology and so I’ve stretched myself to learn some things. Visit one of my own first admittedly not well designed website to see some examples of my day job’s products at: http://t-slots2go.com/tslots2go-home-page/rpt-motion-inc-examples/. Not as hard as I expected it would be, but it only took a few hours much of that gathering pictures.
Democracy, especially in the US, has abandoned ideas and policy as selling points and has instead become a high stakes media game. I believe that this trend is a reflection of how the younger generations are becoming engaged and mobilized by political parties. I fear for the isolation of the older and not connected parts of our society, but they’re less and less important to getting elected. Democracy by leveraging media and social media may bring the USA some unexpected challenges that will test the checks and balances designed by the founding fathers.
I started thinking seriously about the failings of modern democracy in about 2009, based on the low voter interest and high levels of apparent dissatisfaction in Hudson. I should clarify that, because I believe the vast and silent majority is quite satisfied. Long before that I had simplistically blamed apathy for every evil of our system, today I see things differently and blame a combination of things with apathy being only one component of why people aren’t getting involved.
Social media represses most people’s willingness to speak up and risk judgement, and so do blogs. Small communities are among the worst places: without a solid vision from leadership they can divide easily into small herds of like minded people with each group often having a fairly narrow vision. These groups can have disproportionately big voices and the silent majority simply won’t engage them.
Probably the most isolated group in any small town is the Mayor and Council, especially if there are any contentious issues or angry people in town. They mostly hear good feedback from their supportive friends and harsh criticism from special interests, past opponents and future mayors in waiting at council each month. At the council meetings I’ve attended, I’d estimate criticism and complaints outweigh compliments by about ten to one.
Because I don’t believe small town or large country democracy is working well these days: I am actively looking for and thinking about ways we might reform the governance of small towns so that the governments that we elect can might have some real time feedback from the silent majority during their term. We need ways to engage people to speak honestly without fear of judgement within a small town, or simply people an anonymous way to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to any given idea that the leaders or citizens might have. Until that day, we all need to treat our local democracy with the respect it deserves and the effort that is each citizen’s responsibility.
Have a great week ahead and give someone words of love, a hug, or just a casual compliment or encouragement. We’re all on this random space rock together, and our journey is finite and of indeterminate duration. My advice: treat the gift of today as a special event not to be missed.
11 thoughts on “Blogging Reality”
Interesting term: ‘our local democracy”. Would you elaborate on it?
The importance of our local democracy magnified when the Bouchard government’s Zero Deficit smoke and mirrors period downloaded vast new responsibility to the municipal levels, and also increased funding by expansion of taxation responsibilities.
Many, if not all, smaller towns were unprepared to handle these responsibilities and many remain so.
Yet it’s local because these are the decisions made by our friends and neighbors. So, it’s the level with the most personal contact within any community and the personal risk of getting elected and running a local government is significant.
While many feel that there is no democracy once a council is elected, we must never lose sight of the fact that probably 90-95% of what a Mayor and Council do is predetermined by higher levels of government, downloads, existing commitments, past mistakes they had no part of and and always constrained by available funding and so no much can easily be changed.
In the face of any significantly critical opposition within the community the chosen road is often the one with the least action or creativity.
The great governments find ways to be creative with that 5-10% wiggle room, or ways to attract new outside investments that enhance a village or town. Sometimes those outside investments render an existing village unrecognizable within a few years, and sometimes they are the only way to improve the odds of having a future instead of merger and amalgamations.
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When the Pine Lake loan bylaw was proposed a while back 573 citizens came out to register. There is interest there when info is disseminated properly. Why don’t we use our Town website more effectively for gathering opinions on a Town wide basis with say a Question of the week with simple multiple choice style questions on Town planning , governance, dreams, anything. They won’t interact ,Peter. As you say they’ve gone into their shell but it comes off as arrogance when they give half answers or none at all like “don’t you worry your dumb little citizens’ heads over these complicated matters”. Most informed citizens have given up and gone away.
Brian, I agree that that’s how it appears from the outside. Seen from their side, it must be frustrating to not have answers.
The issue of proper guidance and polling is a complex one, especially if it should be meaningful and verifiable. I suspect it’s easier to do outside of a the legal constraints of a municipal structure, but I would welcome any plans of any town to do it.
There’s always the balance issues adding complexity, if you want that more than this you might have to give something else up to fund it.
It’s a huge challenge that appear as apathy, but I’m not convinced. I think it’s more rooted in lack of easy availability of feedback.
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Am focused on the last paragraph where you talk about great governments, creativity and the small wiggle room juxtaposed to outside investments, unrecognizable villages and town mergers.
Somewhere in-between those aforementioned book ends there has to be tipping point- herein lies the micro chip of change, for better or worst.
Has the tipping point already happened or not in Hudson, that is the inquiry ?
Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point introduces the concept. His book provoked me to look outward for a broader vision. A tipping point is not isolated phenomena, it always hovers in a circumstantial environment resulting from a collective action or inaction. Interesting enough, History proves that more often than not ‘ it is the action of one person who triggers the tip that marks the point that delineates a moment of change. Change and process are synonymous. The backlash in Germany caused by shortchanging the socio- cultural integration process of refugees speaks volumes of the need to prepare people for change.
Recently I visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel. One of t’s programs honours individuals from different countries who during W W II acted ‘ ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. These are non-Jews who saved Jewish lives irrelevant of facing the death penalty. The daring action of each person, one by one, accumulated to make a difference to the final headcount of the living, while nations dared to tread! Reading the names of the ‘Righteous Gentiles’ empowered my courage and heightened the importance of the value of one life. I recalled a quote by Margaret Somerville in her book : Bird on an Ethical Wire. Somerville spoke at a NOVA benefit in Hudson, she is an ethician of Law and Medicine.
“For all the people, especially those I know, who work tirelessly to hold values in trust for the world of the future and have the courage to fight for what they believe to be ethical, even when it means facing adversity personally. ”
So, when we land our spaceships in our backyard and make a check list the Town’s overt and covert achievements and it’s future ( careers, outside investments,. developments, programs etc ) each citizen has the obligation to self-judge their values and behaviour to one another and ask oneself at what cost to the town’s future?
The threat in Hudson is not about extinction due to outsiders, nor investors nor mergers. Outside investments is nothing more than ‘dollars by strangers’ and if you don’t want dollars by strangers and have no other choice but to merger, a merger is nothing more than a logo change. Communities have existed without the physicality of territory, formal government or a financial structure, etc…. Go ahead, judge a merger against the ugly forces creating the current ethnic-cultural shift in world population, it’ll feel less significant.
Notwithstanding, Hudson is home and everyone cares about home. The threat at home comes from extinction due to loss of community values.
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I believe that Hudson has exceptional community values and great people. People come to Hudson for that sense of a compassionate community more than anything else. The noise and press of the dark recent past has drowned out the quiet good that happens every day in many corners of Hudson and clouded hope of better days. We’re also kicking ourselves for being fooled for so long, a natural grieving process that will end with a drive to rebuild better than ever. With more time and more effort, the natural underlying good that is Hudson will come back into view. But we’ve never lost it, it’s just been harder to see with the challenges we’ve had. It is a tipping point, we’re precariously balanced and connected to a swinging pendulum that could pull us either way if we’re not careful and focused, or if we stop caring.
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In my inimitable engineering problem solving way, I tackled the issues as discussed above as follows:
1) What made Hudson so idyllic in the past?
2) What has changed
3) Why has it changed
4) What can we do about it
1) What made Hudson so idyllic in the past?
In my opinion, Hudson was special because the community was driven by citizens groups. The groups such as the Hudson singers, Hudson artists, Village theatre and hundreds more followed their special interests and the town administration was a facilitator (only). Our expectations for the town administration was that they ran a simple support organisation which performed the basics of safety and services and, of course collected enough money in taxes to support these disparate groups. The Bradbury era exemplified this approach where a big turnout at the council meetings were 10 people. The downside of this was that there was an “in” crowd who made most of the decisions, but in general they tried to balance the needs of each group.
2) What has changed
Society has changed. We have 2 workers in most families, we have children who require transportation to their multiple activities and there is no time to spend organising recreational, social, and artistic community activities. Our volounteer groups are led by older and older people because young people do not have the time. However , society still needs the product of these groups and now look to the Municipal Government to provide it.
3) Why has it changed
As above, society has asked the Municipal government to do thing that it has little skill at. The council meets once a month, it holds a caucus perhaps two more times and is being asked to lead and replace multiple volounteer-based leadership groups. This does not work and never will. We now have the situation where the town is so stretched that it can no longer give the citizens the basics such as acceptable roads.
Because of this breakdown of capabilities, the critics have legitimate grounds to voice their concerns, and the Council becomes more and more defensive. A downward spiral !!
4) What can we do about it
I believe that we must re-assess what Council is expected to do for us. The basic health and safety issues must be funded and we should expect exemplary performance in these area. Our Town Hall should become “Lean” providing the citizens a fast efficient service in a limited number of tasks (mainly financial ,accounting and infrastructure maintenance) . We then need to mobilize our volounteers to re-enter the roles that they used to play in the Arts, recreation, planning, transportation etc etc and then support the hell out of them !! I believe that we have the talent, I believe that we have the skill sets, and we also have enough retirees that we can find the time.
The one issue that I totally agree with the present council is the need for a Vision for our town. It is not a Vision as presented with 19 “nice-to-have” projects but a Vision which states unequivocally what Hudson’s “raison d’être” is in one sentence if possible.
Once we have defined this, every decision cascades from it and prioritisation becomes much easier.
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Good analysis. There have been many other factors in the change such as the changes in retail. Hudson used to be a weekend shopping destination. Also the functions of municipal government have become bigger and heavier over time, no matter how we’ve tried to ignore required new structures like the MRC. Then we’ve got the weight of many past decisions. Rigaud just announced a new fire hall build at about half of what Hudson spent, and we did it in a hurry and without grant money, so our citizens probably carry $3million more debt on that one decision. The core values and groups are still alive and active in Hudson, and still regenerating well with new blood. But we’ve stalled ourselves on new development and have no logical transition for seniors, and so we’ve created a shortage of new families in the community. Living in the heart of the village I’m thrilled to see the new young families settling in, including teachers at our schools. Once we resolve the past and start looking forward Hudson will rise again.
I am guessing this blog succumbed to Hudson centric eccentricities and the founder preferred more worldly discussions? Commenters and their tangents can be as painful as the thousand gashes to the blogger and I am not without sin there.
Brian, perhaps an interloper moderator dragged this blog too far off its intended course, both the founder and interloper are well in their current silence.
From my perspective I’m pondering how one can build something called consensus when so few are willing to engage in discussion.
Is it us?
Is it the passionate people we attract who make average one fearful?
Is it the comfort of the silent majority in current practices?
Is it contributing to discussion or building divides? or will it ever get to a point where it can contribute?
There’s always an effort and a potential price to pay for speaking one’s mind, how do we minimize that risk to engage more people?
I’m speaking here from my short viewed perspective. It seems easier to attract a following and go viral by being stupid and shallow than by speaking reasoned intelligence.
It most definitely wasn’t the moderators. It’s something I’ve noticed on the Pine Lake site also. Just this baffling silence from the people involved. You’re right about the people who show up. But I think blogs are monsters in need of constant feeding and patience to grow an audience confident enough to weigh in on topics other than the sales at Costco. I see people texting constantly so they aren’t at a loss for words and not being a texter or twitterer I can’t imagine who would have so much to say while walking in front of a fast moving vehicle or eco-trolley. Maybe they’re all writing their own obits.