Posts Tagged ‘blogs’

And that must be the length of it.

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

When you are always intending to write something about blogs and finally get around to it, you wonder why. As a blogger, you should be able to say something positive about the practice. It is neither illegal nor immoral, we hope. The fact is that most bloggers are cranky egotists. And if you want all three of the people who read your blog to admire you for your discernment, erudition and verve, you better have something pithy to say.

But despite the breadth of bloggers on the Internet, there does not appear to be much depth. This is the five-year anniversary of this blog and we wonder what the hell it has accomplished. You end up with some of the local Liberals hating you, some thinking you might be a bit angry and a few thinking you might be right. That does not explain the readers across Canada and around the world. (The person in Qatar who reads us regularly, who are you?)

In trying to answer your own questions about blogging, you pay close attention to what you hear from readers and you also read other blogs, hoping it will be helpful. We must report that reading other blogs is an exercise in self-abuse. We freely admit there are thousands of absolutely awful blogs out there. And all of us need editing help. Mind you, a few errors are allowed but not three per line of copy.

What we cannot get over are the twits who think a blog is a tweet. While we always considered tweets of less than 140 characters as a delightful challenge, that does not mean you can use emoticons and bad spelling.

Years ago, when we were teaching neophyte politicians how to handle television interviews, we would put them on a cable show. You would point at the camera and tell them “When that red light comes on you are going to be talking to 12 people who have tuned in by accident. You are going to capture their interest and tell them something so important so that they will forget to change channels.” And welcome to the modern version of a cable show: blogging.

That is why we always tell bloggers “Look stupid, your doting aunt cares about you and that is why you start a letter to her with ‘I.’ Nobody else gives a damn.”  When you are talking to a blog audience, you tell them what you are going to tell them about. And you better make it interesting.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Building an audience on Harper’s hair.

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

This is embarrassing. For four years, Babel-on-the-Bay has been building an audience. It is not in the thousands yet but it has moved up in the respectable hundreds. The puzzle has been that despite the steadily increasing figures, it is a surprisingly consistent third of our readers who have been on the site before. That seems to mean that about half the people who check something on our site consider it worthy of a second visit in a month.

But Google Analytics tells you much more than that about your site. It tells you what people have asked a search engine that leads them to your site. It is this information that told us to stick to political subjects. You also note with chagrin that it is not the most serious political subjects that suddenly bring people in droves to your site. Three years ago we told some stories about our old friend Gene Whelan and his green Stetson. That story has drawn readers every month since.

What was originally written in 2007 as The Democracy Papers has a long-standing readership in Babel-on-the-Bay when people research alternative forms of electing governments. Researchers particularly like the paper that includes ten reasons for using first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies.

And now we have Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hairpiece. The spike in readership almost goes beyond the top of the computer screen since we first told that story. You will notice that the main stream media in Canada still refuse to touch a hair on Stephen’s head. Yet that is the type of story that attracts readers. We have the statistics to prove it.

But we also have other things in our life. Writing stories for Babel is a fun part of the day but there are also days when you really have nothing to write about. So you do not. It makes for a strange pattern. There are days when you have two or three ideas that could be used but you select one and save the other thoughts for another day. Occasionally we have written ahead when we are going to be out of town for a while but there are few stories that you trust to that approach. Politics is too volatile a subject.

Babel used to have more balance to the federal, foreign, provincial and municipal stories but the idea is to stick to stories where we can bring a fresh approach. If it is possible to add humour, political insight or political information to a story, that is the objective. At the same time, we spike some of our stories because we are not insensitive to the laws related to slander and defamation in this country. In Canadian politics there is an understanding of fair comment but it does not pay to push too hard on the boundaries of the concept.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Do NDP bloggers know what is going on?

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

It was all done in a search for insight. It seems there are oodles and oodles of self-professed New Democrats across Canada who feel they must produce a blog. Usually they appear to do it badly. Our quest was for some insight into their party’s national convention coming up this month. It was assumed that NDP blogs would offer some added insight into the leadership candidates and their possibilities.

No such luck.

In the main, we found NDP blogs to be sporadic, crude, boring, self-centred and fulsome diatribes against the other political parties. The one of the most interest had all the qualities mentioned but also offered trendy graphics to emphasize a diatribe against ever uniting with the Liberal Party. This person should be advised that if he feels so strong about it, the Liberal Party might not want him.

But none of the samples (more than 40 blogs) seemed to have any insights into their own party. You would expect these people would want to write about something they know about. Why would NDP bloggers not know about Topp, Mulcair, Nash, Dewar, et al? Do they not care who will run their political party next month? Do their want to keep Interim Leader Nicole Turmel at the helm?

Mme. Turmel is a nice lady but the NDP really needs a leader with somewhere to take the party. Mind you, when you see the list of people behind Brian Topp, it would seem unlikely that Mr. Topp has any direction that is not totally predictable. Mr. Topp is no Tommy Douglas. Nor could he even hold a sign for David Lewis.

It would probably be more fun to choose MP Thomas Mulcair. There is no telling just where Mr. Mulcair wants to go. It is most likely that the NDP needs M. Mulcair in the House of Commons where he can offer some leadership to the NDP’s fledgling Quebec caucus, Having Mulcair lead the entire NDP might be a bit of a stretch.

It would also be a mistake to put the party behind MP Paul Dewar. His weaknesses in French are those many Anglophones suffer from in Quebec. While the Quebec NDP caucus might be forgiving, he would be savaged by much of the Quebec media.

But we are not trying to tell the NDP who to choose. Someone a liberal likes might not be their best bet. We can certainly hope though that the NDP chooses someone who has the good sense to know that an ultimate merger of the political left in Canada would be in the best interest of all Canadians.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Babel hears from the Ontario Legislature.

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Babel has heard from its man at Queen’s Park.  The electoral district sent Mr. Jackson there in early October.  We received mail from him this week and he also signed an article in the Examiner.  There is little to say about the mailing piece; the recycle bin was already filled with copies from our neighbours, so we added ours.  The Examiner article, we read.

The first thing that was obvious about the article was that our new Member of the Provincial Parliament has not spent his time taking a journalism course.  This was written for him.  It was very modest of him to only have his name at the beginning and end of the article.  Usually something like this is written as a news release and the MPP’s name is worked into every second paragraph.

The story was based on Statistics Canada’s release of unemployment figures in October of last year.  It also picked up on Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s mid-December release that linked unemployment to the perceived weaknesses of Ontario’s apprenticeship programs.  Whoever wrote the MPP’s article, failed to include the information on the subject from the mayor’s blog at Babel’s city hall Internet site.

The more timely response by Babel’s mayor to the unemployment figures last October pointed out the problem was that Statscan emphasized the donut hole instead of the donut.  The mayor, justifiably, complained that Statscan made headlines of the unemployment and ignored the similarly high rate of employment.  It is a factor of the average age of people in Babel.  With its younger population, Babel is also near the top of the charts of the percentage of people employed.

Tiny Tim Hudak’s December release was just to blame Premier McGuinty for all of Ontario’s unemployment woes.  This was hardly a surprise.  What was confusing was that he explained that Ontario only allowed one new apprentice for every four journeyman trades persons in the province.  While not a trained economist such as the Leader of the Opposition at Queen’s Park, we must admit that the ratio rule makes absolutely no sense.  Surely there are various trades that need more apprentices and some that need fewer apprentices.  Is nobody doing any forecasting in this?

But our earnest MPP gives a plug to Georgian College for its efforts with apprenticeship programs.  We expect we can all agree with that as we face a new year in Babel with renewed determination.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Blogs, bloggers and the feed-back they get.

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

There was an interesting comment the other day from a regular reader who said, “Where did that microphone come from?”  She could not understand why the topic was suddenly microphones.  The simple answer was that we had just been at an event where the microphone and sound system were in terrible condition and nobody seemed to know how to handle the problem.

What we realized was that her concern was that, once again, we had wandered from the political commentary for which she reads our blog.  That fits the pattern we have seen in the statistical analysis we get from Google Analytics.  For example, the best read column in the past year was the one on the F-35 fighter aircraft.  It was not the discussion of the attributes of the aircraft that interested people but the political decisions behind it.

That settles it.  Our blog is now just of political commentary.  Most readers seem to have little problem with the liberal bias.  The Provincial Liberal Party here in Babel might argue that but their problem is that we are not writing for them.  When we see them doing the job properly and democratically, we will cheerfully recognize their effort.  When we see Premier McGuinty showing some leadership and liberalism, we will find something nice to say about him.  His only positive attributes at the moment are that he is not Tim Hudak or Andrea Horwath.

In the past year, we have posted something in our blog 365 days in a row.  That is sometimes a chore and sometimes we are posting something just to be here.  That is to stop.  If there is nothing posted one day, it will be because we have nothing important to say.  Posting a new item two or three times a week is an easier schedule for this writer and readers get better quality stuff.

There are also times we are busy working on something else.  Thank goodness some people like our writing enough to pay for it.

We are going to stop the silly little poems.  Nobody has ever admitted to reading them or even chuckling.  We believe that the poem, The man who stood on the side of the road, was the synthesis of Michael Ignatieff’s time as leader of the federal Liberals.  Few agreed with us.  The continuing series of two and three liners were going to be our contribution to Twitter (we called them our ‘twits”), but Twitter has already lost its bloom in social commentary..

We will try for more balance between the federal, provincial and municipal scene.  The current municipal scene lacks the humour of the last council.  Mind you, having the free services of Councillor Prowse as our new chauffeur is a funny tale but we will save that for when council takes July off.

The danger in commenting on the federal political scene is that, too often, discussions of the Harper government’s policies—or lack thereof—come across as rants.  Sorry about that but some people can really piss you off.

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Nobody is perfect: Errata happen.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Lately things have been a bit rushed.  That is no excuse but, when you rush, errors can accumulate.  Two recent stories had errors.  The first was a story that gave an interesting spike to the readership.  You are always interested in what makes one story more interesting that others.  The story was about the order for the F-35 fighter aircraft.  The second error was minor and was in the story about the current human rights case against the Babel police.

The F-35 story was tongue in cheek anyway.  When it was written, we had forgotten that two of the Canadian Forces Airbus A-310 jet aircraft had been configured as strategic air-to-air fuel stations for the F-18 fighters Canada now has deployed.  This came to light when we found that six of the F-18s were sent to Italy to go to war with Gadhafi.  The first question asked was how the heck did those planes fly across the Atlantic?   The answer was they took their flying fuel stations with them.

The story was not all that wrong.  To attack the southern United States with 65 F-35 jets would require something like 24 of those fuel carriers.  It was a silly suggestion.  How would our Prime Minister, Cabinet Members and the Governor General get around if all the VIP Airbus A-310s’ had to be deployed as gas stations?  And there is nothing stealthy about an A-310 loaded with jet fuel.

At least people seemed to have a good laugh about it.

Nobody was laughing at the story about the Babel police human rights case and the idea of the Whitby police investigating the Babel police.  Both are fictional.  It occurred to us when we first heard it that Whitby is part of Durham Region.  We should have taken the few minutes needed to check.  The town is policed by the Durham Regional Police; the Whitby Detachment representing some 17 per cent of the Durham personnel.

Mind you, we are still puzzled as to why Durham coppers have been selected to do the investigation of what is going on in Babel.

We slapped our own wrist for those boo-boos.

Babel’s all-wise civic leaders might just have a chat sometime with Simcoe County’s civic leaders.  There were serious concerns about mounting policing costs at Monday evening’s Babel council meeting. There just might be an interesting case made to examine whether it would be cost efficient to have a county-based police force instead of the mix of services the county has today.

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#31 – Learning about political twitters, tweets and twibes.

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The most trouble was from the greybeards. There was an age barrier in the hotel meeting room and the chair was ready for the jibes, jokes and jaded comments from us older attendees. We were there to learn about using the Internet’s newest social media for political parties, candidates and office holders. What the chair was not ready for was that some of the older attendees knew far more about Internet use than they were letting on.

Maybe we were the ones old enough to know that when you attend conference sessions on familiar topics, you are sure to learn at least one or two things you did not know before. I certainly do and I did again this time. I probably made the harshest comments about twits who twitter but I was also willing to admit that I really wanted to understand how Twitter can be used more effectively.

Twitter is still a newcomer among the growing list of social media and seems to have been designed for the Blackberry age. The limitation in any posting on Twitter is that you cannot exceed 140 characters and that makes it a special challenge. It grates me of course that an entirely new language is emerging to thwart this limitation. If you can use a “U” when you mean “you,” two characters have been saved. In the same way 2’s are ‘two, to’s and too’s’ which works well for the illiterate. Using the 1001 variations of smiley faces is not required.

Facebook is second only to MySpace in the social media field but is more adaptable to political needs. Both have their roots in the American university scene where the main exchange of social information previously was in noisy bars. The recent complaints and concerns about invasion of privacy by Facebook tend to work for political users as much of the data has to be able to bear close scrutiny anyway.

Other major players in social media are You Tube and flickr. Which came first, You Tube or the camera/cell phone is the question but they are certainly made for each other. Politicians have to recognize that the person in the audience holding up a cell phone as the politician is speaking is not checking the service bars on the phone.

The flickr website adds something like 7000 pictures to its albums every minute of every day. The dirty old men who used to open their raincoats for the unsuspecting now have unfettered competition as people expose their bad photography to world-wide scrutiny. Quality is forgiven though if the pictures are of your grandchildren. To a politician, the ability to be linked through artful tags and the linkages to blogs makes flickr a very handy tool to improve exposure.

And that leaves blogs. Please do not say you do not read blogs: this is a blog. One of the most important points made at the conference was that people who are elected or hope to be elected write blogs at their peril. The reason is simple: nothing that appears on the Internet can ever be truly erased. There are too many repeaters, nodes and people storing for the supposed big brother to correct history for us. And while the original material might be erroneous or designed to mislead, the anarchy of the Internet will soon correct the situation on our behalf.

It should not disillusion you to learn that elected people do not write their own blogs, send tweets, add pics or clips, comment or otherwise expose themselves to the bruising elements of the Internet. When a professional on their staff does them for the politician, they are usually much better reasoned, often more interesting and, most important, deniable. And while Stephen Harper might have 30,000 crazed Conservatives avidly following his tweets, you know that the paid staffer who does them will be fired the minute he or she makes an error in judgement that reflects negatively on the boss.


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