A Decade of Masson’s Blog

I date the beginning of this blog from November 15, 2004. Prior to that, I had been holding forth on national politics on, I think, a blogspot platform. After the November 2004 elections, I felt like there were plenty of people offering opinions on national issues. My first post was an ode to a young dog of mine I had to put to sleep because of a cancerous tumor on her liver. A couple of weeks later, I started reporting on state issues and was off and running from there.

My productivity has ebbed and flowed over the years — probably as a mirror of my productivity out in the real world. My favorite time to blog is probably the beginning of the legislative session when none of the introduced bills have yet been filtered by the legislative process. These bills are easy to digest, frequently entertaining, and generally come at a time when I have a lot of energy. Later on in the session, the important bills get technical and complicated, things move fast, and my energy level is down. In any event, my best work has to do with reading and writing about the bills during the legislative session. The rest is often filler. The summers and falls feature fewer entries, less focus, less objectivity, and more off hand opinion. Over the years, as I’ve mentioned before, other social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have scratched the blogging itch in a way that has decreased postings here.

The state blogosphere was pretty sparse when I started. The Indiana Law Blog and Advance Indiana are probably the only blogs I followed then that are still around today. Lots of bloggers have come and gone during that period. A decade is an eternity in Internet time. But there is one blogger in particular I want to mention: I particularly mourn the passing of Doghouse Riley during that period. Once he got going, his writing was like an avalanche falling down a mountain onto the target of his wrath. It was a thing of beauty.

My tenure has been marked by relatively little wrath; more of a nerdy interest in the political. Low key sarcasm and mockery is more my style. Maybe it’s a Gen-X thing. Probably the issue I followed the most extensively and gained me the most readership was Daylight Saving Time. Back in December 2004, I didn’t even know how to say it right, referring to “Daylight Savings Time”

This has been the basic problem with daylight savings time legislation in the past. The state splits about 50/50 as to whether to have it or not. Most folks who think about it have a fairly strong opinion one way or the other. The folks who are in favor of it are divided between Eastern time and Central time, so they have been losing the fight for decades. Now, we have one party rule and a governor who apparently thinks it’s a good idea, so maybe it has a chance.

Guess it did have a chance.

If I had to pick a favorite blog post over the years, it would probably be “Chrysler and the Indiana Bankruptcy.” It had a lot of things going for it I liked. I was jousting with some fellow bloggers; I did some reasonably thorough legal analysis; the complexity of the underlying subject matter lent itself to specious, disingenuous, and self-serving characterizations in other places; I was skeptical of Richard Mourdock before it was cool; I’ve had cause to reuse the original piece over-and-over again.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an affinity for certain broad topics – health care, education, religion, privatization, nostalgia for the “good old days,” and the nature of labor. But also a focus on certain narrower matters: daylight saving times, license plates, and the Toll Road for example. But there has been absolutely no plan. From time to time, people ask me why or how I do this. It’s simply a matter that I enjoy writing. I enjoy reading. I enjoy holding forth on topics of interest. And, so I do what I enjoy doing. When I feel like writing, I do it. When I don’t feel like writing or don’t feel like I have the time. I let it go. While I could probably have greater readership and have produced better things over the years if I had a less whimsical approach to this, I probably would have burned out years ago.

The experience has been almost entirely positive. I have met a good number of great people through this blog, and become closer to others. I hesitate to mention anyone in particular for fear of excluding the others, but just as an example, “HoosierOne” has become a dear friend of the family, welcome at family dinners, and a great favorite of my kids.

At times, this blog has felt like a public space with remarkable discourse among the readers. Certainly I have learned a great deal from others at those times. Other times, particularly when one of the dedicated trolls has taken an interest in my blog, the discourse has devolved into something less valuable. But that’s the Internet for you.

So, I’ll keep mashing away at the keyboard from time to time and hope something more or less readable comes out. Thanks for reading.

R.I.P. Doghouse Riley

I have just been informed by a reliable source that Doghouse Riley, blogging at Bats Left/Throws Right has passed away. Doghouse was, of course, a nom de blog. I don’t know that I’m at liberty to unmask him, so I won’t. (Edited to add: As reflected in the comments, Mrs. Doghouse has given permission to let it be known that James Briggs Stratton “Doghouse” Riley had a given name of Doug Case, and his obituary can be found here.)

However, my deepest sympathies go out to his “Poor Wife” (as he consistently called her.) I always got a kick out of his consistently referring to me as “brave Hoosier blogger Doug Masson” and will sincerely miss having Doghouse refer to me in such a way.

But, most of all, I will miss his writing. He was firey and more passionate in his beliefs than I probably will ever be. He had a gift for language to which I can only aspire. And, with his departure, we have become less than we once were.

Rest in Peace, Doghouse.

Who’s a Journalist? For Shield Laws, the Answer Shouldn’t Matter

The Indiana Law Blog flagged a column by Margaret Sullivan posing the question of “who is a journalist?” Sullivan notes the blurring of lines between journalists, columnists, and bloggers. It used to be that freedom of the press was for someone wealthy enough to own a press. Now everyone owns a press. One reason it matters, according to Sullivan, who is and is not a journalist:

There is a strong legal component to this discussion: Who will be covered by a federal shield law that would give legal protection to journalists who have promised confidentiality to their sources, if it ever comes to pass? Will it cover only established news organizations or those who get paid for news gathering? Or does it cover everyone with a Facebook page?

I’m not a journalist. Sometimes, arguably, I report news. More often, my blog is the functional equivalent of an opinion column. In any event, I’m a citizen who likes to talk about the issues of the day. That’s my privilege and, frankly, I regard it as something of a duty as well. But, I’m not a great fan of media shield laws. I don’t think we should be making a distinction about the sorts of expression that is and isn’t protected based on one’s profession. A citizen afflicting the comfortable with the truth would, in a perfect world, be afforded some protection from the blowback regardless of whether he or she is getting paid for it. But I don’t see why the likes of Judith Miller should be afforded more protection than the rest of us.

Sullivan goes on to discuss the notion of professional respect afforded individuals doing their work in an established newspaper being different than that afforded, say, bloggers. I think that has less to do with the proper definition of “journalist,” and more to do with whether the people doling out the respect in question are credible arbiters of respectability.

Eight Years of Masson’s Blog

I kind of spaced the anniversary, but it occurs to me that my humble blog has crossed the eight year mark. Reviewing those early entries, it occurs to me that I have only a dim memory of the beginning. I had sort of noodled around with a blogger site, mainly bellyaching about national politics. About the time of the 2004 election, I was disappointed and took a break from politics and really national news in general. My first entry was a memorial to my dog who passed away just after the 2004 election. Then it was dribs and drabs for a couple of weeks as I figured out the Movable Type platform I used for awhile.

It doesn’t look like I found my niche until the second week of December, 2004, when I started blogging about state government generally and the legislative session specifically.

I know the quality and the quantity of my work has ebbed and flowed with my interest level and available time. The community of people with whom my hobby has brought me into contact has been unbelievably rewarding. There really are a lot of smart, interesting folks out there. So, I’ll keep on plugging along. Because it’s fun.

Mark Small Takes Paul Ogden to Task on the Tea Party’s Role in Romney’s Defeat

Sometimes the Indiana blogosphere seems way too lethargic. Maybe I’m just not reading the write right blogs. But, in any case, here I am like a schoolyard gawker yelling “fight! fight!” Mark Small of Civil Discourse Now wrote a blog post entitled Yes, Paul Ogden, the “tea party” played a big part in Romney’s loss. This is a response to Ogden’s post entitled the Future of the Tea Party Movement.

In a lot of ways, the Tea Party has been to political observers as words were to Humpty Dumpty.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’?” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’?”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

Small does a good job of describing the Tea Party as it was observed in the wild. I think Ogden’s concept of the Tea Party is more of a vision he’d see in Plato’s cave.

The Virtual Coffee House

Sheila Kennedy has a post entitled, “Today’s Coffee House?” She mentions the contributions to the Enlightenment of the coffee house.

An interesting observation was that the Enlightenment was a product of the coffee house. According to the author, the practice of gathering in coffee houses and exchanging points of view–debating, discussing, considering alternatives–sparked the development of new philosophies, new ways of engaging reality. That diversity of perspective is also what makes cities important generators of new ideas, new inventions–as the author points out, the density of urban life also requires that we encounter people with different ideas, backgrounds and points of view, and it is that “bubbling cauldron” that incubates progress.

I got my sense of the 17th century coffee house from Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle where a fair amount of the Enlightenment activity in that story was taking place in London coffee houses. These were places where smart people, aided no doubt by a bit of a caffeine jolt, could go and spread news, discuss the events of the day, and debate new ideas.

Places on the Internet no doubt serve as modern day analogs to those Enlightenment-era coffee houses. But, they are perhaps diluted and, it’s likely that the quality of discussion in those coffee houses of old has grown in the telling. Still, I am on the lookout for quality Internet “coffee houses.” One that, in the early days of the Internet, pretty well fit the bill was The Well. That place was a fountainhead of Internet thinking and culture. I’m a participant there, and it still has as good of discussion as any place else I’ve found on the Internet, but to hear the old timers tell it (and there is some objective evidence as well) it is a shadow of its former glory.

I’ve tried, with very limited success, to make this blog a third place for the discussion of current events and new ideas (with a heavy emphasis on Indiana politics.) I just noted a discussion the other day on my Facebook wall that involved some acquaintances of mine who are a) very smart; and b) had differences of opinion on a particular issue. So, that’s another “place” that sort of qualifies. In order to have quality debate, it’s counterproductive to have the debate consist of creative ways of saying “me too.” (“Megadittos Rush!”) Though, I think those old time coffee houses were, themselves, given to factionalism. Loyalists of one political party, for example, preferring one coffee house to another.

Even beyond the coffee houses, I find it interesting that great historical and cultural advances came out of population centers that we would consider too small to make much of a cultural impact today. Golden Age Athens had only a couple hundred thousand people, I think. So, I wonder what it was about those places, times, and people that led to a cultural flowering with resources we’d consider fairly limited today.

But, on a more practical level, if anyone knows of “virtual coffee houses” that are interesting and valuable, I’d love to know about them.

Slow posting

As the weather gets nicer, I find that I care less about Internet stuff. Maybe it’s the cognitive dissonance between the online world of ZOMG the world is in an existential crisis, everything sucks on the one hand and my immediate circumstances being quite pleasant on the other.

Maybe once the existential crises come spilling out from the Internet and into my real world I’ll be singing a different tune.

Lost Post

I seem to have lost a post from yesterday. It was just a matter of migrating servers; and not that I was deleting it intentionally for some reason. Pretend that post was a masterpiece of craft and that it will be sorely missed.

Media Death Spiral: Abdul Edition

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz announced that he will no longer be doing his radio show with WXNT. Seems the corporate executives are engaging in cost saving measures and will fill his slot with syndicated programming.

Mike Kole who, among other things, is a radio guy out of Cleveland, is properly dismayed by the development. Personal concerns for Abdul aside — one expects he will be fine with penchant for many jobs and knack for self-promotion — Mike identifies the larger problem with this move. Indianapolis has very little local programming.

But I’m a fan of live radio that focuses on local topics. This is something woefully scarce in Indianapolis media. I was spoiled in Cleveland, with live local talk on several full power stations, plus the college radio scene, which I was a part of. When I came to Indy some 10 years ago, it was immediately apparent that radio here SUCKED in comparison. All of the media, really. Being in the state capitol, it always appeared that the media was interested in covering ‘big’ statewide news, at the expense of local issues. If the Star put the staffing into a City Desk that it does into Sports, it would have something vibrant. Alas. So, Abdul- yes, a guy from Illinois and with a foot still very much in the door in Illinois- was bringing better, more interesting, more useful radio to Indianapolis than the natives were creating.

In the context of newspapers, I’ve commented before that they have been abandoning the one thing that might help them weather the storm of new media. Local reporting is the one thing traditional media can do better than some guy with a blog or a commodity wire service. Sure, it’s more expensive, and the profit margins are smaller – for now; but it’s their only durable resource. I suspect something similar applies to radio. I don’t know what WXNT is going to put on specifically, but why should anyone care about them if, say, they end up being one more outlet for some national bloviator? Sooner or later, an Internet outlet that doesn’t have to pay for a radio license is going to eat their lunch if syndicated opinion is the weapon of choice.

I’m wishing all the best for Abdul; and I’m sure he’ll do fine. In addition to the qualities I mentioned above, he’s a gifted shit stirrer, and that’s a marketable asset. I assume WXNT will fade even further into obscurity.

Also, because I just mentioned getting rid of things that help you when the storm comes, here is a gratuitous quote from Robert Boalt’s “A Man For All Season” just because I like it a lot:

Wife: Arrest him!

More: For what?

Wife: He’s dangerous!

Roper: For all we know he’s a spy!

Daughter: Father, that man’s bad!

More: There’s no law against that!

Roper: There is, God’s law!

More: Then let God arrest him!

Wife: While you talk he’s gone!

More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down (and you’re just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!