Category Archives: Vermont

The Green Mountain State

Candidate Websites: The Good, Okay and Non-Existent

Like many Vermont citizens, I’ve been frustrated with the continuing saga of Vermont Health Connect (don’t bother clicking until November 15th, after the election).  Although, I am neither a VHC insurance customer or healthcare provider, my hope is for better access to healthcare and cost containment.  But as a taxpayer, it is not acceptable to see such results for the tax dollars spent.  It does not matter that it came from our federal pocket instead of our Vermont pocket; a tax dollar is a tax dollar.  As someone who works in the Information Technology field, and has seen the pros and cons of IT outsourcing over the years, it’s not completely surprising or unexpected, whether the customer is a business or government agency.

Given that it is election season, politicians have expressed their frustration with the so-called “Nothing Burger” that is VHC.  Not that many of these politicians and candidates have ever actually built a website, I share their exasperation.  The humorous comments I’ve heard have been along the lines of “it’s just a website” and “any teenager could build a better website than CGI”.  What VHC is attempting to do is beyond “just a website”.  VHC is supposed to be a web portal site with a back-end network of web applications and services amongst the State of Vermont, federal agencies and insurance company systems.  But “website” is how politicians and news reports describe it.

vhc_down_4maintVermont Health Connect (until November 15th)

This got me thinking about the websites of candidates.  How well do their websites or social media sites perform or provide useful information to voters and constituents?  There are many ways that candidates interact with citizens, including debates, forums, door-to-door, ads, postcards, flyers and public access TV segments.  A website is just one aspect of the overall campaign, yet it is a very important tool.  For younger voters and newer residents of Vermont, a website can help reach those voters.

So I began looking at Vermont Senate candidate websites, as there are a lot fewer candidates to review than the House.  With 55 candidates for 30 seats, this was a good sample to start with.  I gathered some information and website links into a spreadsheet, then created a webpage summarizing Senate candidate websites and social media sites.

The information presented is based on websites identified (found) as of October 19th, 2014.  I began with the Election 2014: Comprehensive Candidate list presented in VTDigger on June 20, 2014 (which was based on VT Secretary of State primary petitions).  I only searched for websites of candidates who won in the August primary.  I did not reference political party websites, except for Liberty Union candidates, since they listed the party website as their website.

This candidate “web presence” table identifies Vermont 2014 Senate candidates by county, party affiliation and their “web presence”, if any. You can click the icons in the table to reach a candidate’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog or LinkedIn profile.

From my software developer perspective, the main aspects of websites are content, style / graphic design, interactivity, navigation and security.  As an engaged voter, I feel that “Content” is the most important aspect.  Granted I am not a “visual” person, as I prefer reading and listening to music and news on the radio, over watching movies and TV.  While an attractive visual design is important, it cannot make up for content that is minimally useful, lacking, or out of date.  I can be tolerant of a plain looking or clunky website if it contains the useful information that I am looking for.

After you have checked out the table of candidate website links, feel free to comment below about what you think of the websites for Senate candidates in your county.  Tell us what you found to be good or bad about a given website.  Are you disappointed that a given candidate or incumbent doesn’t have any web presence at all, or if they do, the information is out of date?

When you look at the “web presence” table for icons and logos for websites and social media platforms, you can easily see which candidates are in the HTTP Status 404 Club.  Web servers, which host websites will send back an HTTP Status 404 message to your browser if a webpage cannot be found.  Similarly, if a candidate has no web presence, then I consider them to be Status 404 (not found).

candidate_website_http_status_404Candidates “not found” on the web (HTTP Status 404)

Since I am from Rutland County, I will give a summary of the web presence of our county’s seven candidates.  There are 3 incumbents running.  Sen. Eldred French is in the HTTP Status 404 Club.  Sen. Kevin Mullin has a Facebook page, but it was last updated on November 5, 2010, so that’s not much better.  Sen. Peg Flory has a recent Facebook page, which she started on September 23, which only has 3 posts, and no contact information on the About page (but I’ll bet that ALEC knows her contact information).

On the other hand, the newest candidates in Rutland County have put forth more effort as far as cultivating a web presence for voters to peruse.  William Tracy Carris has a pretty good website, with brief mentions of issues, but not a lot of specifics.  Anissa Delauri has made good use of Facebook, including Bio and Issues pages.  Brian Collamore has also done a fine job with Facebook.  Kelly Socia is the one-man Politically Incorrect Party, and his mission is to “Represent the people of Rutland County not a party.”  I can’t argue with that Kelly.  Maybe the Rutland County incumbents could learn a few things from these more tech savvy political newbies.  Granted, our incumbents do attend various forums and debates throughout the year, but not every voter can attend those events.  That is why having a more comprehensive, up to date web presence is so important to voters.  Candidates should not just count on “name recognition”.

In the “web presence” table, I also included links to LinkedIn profiles.  Given that some candidates have little or no web presence, perhaps LinkedIn might provide some useful information on professional background and career.

When you look at a campaign website, assuming that a candidate even has one, you often find the usual About, Contact, Events, Photos and Donate pages.  But I think more highly of candidates who have an Issues webpage, or at least summarize their top concerns or ideas.  Some candidates may have a nice looking website or a Facebook page, but don’t write down and publicly post what they actually think about specific issues.

Every voter is different.  You may or may not think candidate websites are important.  But if so, maybe you are interested in other things beside the Issues page.  Maybe you are turned off by retro looking websites or bad color schemes, and won’t bother spending the time reviewing the site after the initial impression.  Or, maybe you’re like me and look for the Issues link after reading the About page.

Check out your county’s candidate websites and social media sites, and tell us what you found, or could not find.  You can also let us know what you found regarding Vermont House candidates as well, once you find their site(s).  You only have about two more weeks of web surfing before Election Day.  Remember to vote on November 4th.

Standardized Tests for Politicians and Candidates

Recently, I read Peter Berger’s op-ed in VTDigger.org, “Poor Elijah’s Almanack: A collection of symptoms”.  One of his points was about how our polarized way of discussing various aspects of education (testing, curriculum, approaches and methods) make it difficult for teachers to do their job.  He gives examples from the “War on/about Math”, “War on/about Literacy”, and other “Wars on __________”.  Here is his concluding paragraph:

As long as schools are ruled by two fanatical, bankrupt extremes, no matter what the issue and no matter which side’s experts are advancing at the moment, students, teachers, and learning will be suffering in the middle.

Thanks Mr. Berger for another thought-provoking column.  Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:

As a backdrop to these polarizing “Wars on This or That” (Math, Language, Curriculum and Teachers, etc.), we live in a Digital World of either zero (0) or one (1).  With base-2 whole numbers, there is no middle or “fractional” ground.  Likewise our entrenched two-party system makes it difficult for independent or third party candidates to have a decent chance of winning.  Our media also continues this trap of “This Or That”, “A Versus B”, Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives versus Liberals.  If anyone outside our binary digit political system runs for office, well good luck with that.

It seems that the competitive and collective American Brain has a hard time dealing with “AND”, as it may cause cognizant dissonance, and won’t easily sell news, help ratings, or get R/D candidates elected.

Why can’t we take the best ideas from both political parties and fashion more workable legislation?

Why can’t we simultaneously apply the best parts of Math Basics and Problem Solving in the classroom?  I don’t necessarily mean multi-tasking during the same class period, but throughout a school year, use both approaches to complement each other.

The same thing goes for literacy.  Why not apply the best of both worlds, Phonics AND Whole Language, so that students get a more well-rounded education in reading and writing?

You could ask the same thing about “Learning Facts AND “Critical Thinking”.  You need to be able to know or do both.

When I learned to play music and guitar, I learned the “basics” of reading music, and later writing out standard music notation.  But I also later learned how to apply dynamics and effects, to give more meaning and emotion to playing.  Musicians need to know both the “basic literacy” and “whole language” of music.

It seems that our “War on Whatever” culture has produced professional advocates such that there are cottage industries that have grown up on either side of a given issue or “war”.  People make money and lucrative careers by taking sides, and can become “experts” in their fields, write books and appear on radio or TV espousing their beliefs.  The polarization continues on because it makes money for those who start or wage these Wars on (fill in the blank).

Meanwhile, teachers who are actually in the classroom must navigate through the crossfire of these “Wars about Education” to teach their students.

Since teachers must take Praxis exams, and are continually evaluated as to whether “highly effective” or not, and students must take “standardized tests”, I offer another benchmark for evaluating politicians or candidates.  We are in yet another even-numbered year, and November is approaching.

Politicians could stop spending money on negative campaign ads, and spouting off tired ideological talking points.  Instead, those seeking election or re-election should provide voters with:

1. Their High School GPA
2. Their High School Transcript
3. Their ACT and SAT test scores
4. Their College GPA
5. Their College Transcript
6. Their GRE grade for graduate school (or other standard testing)
7. Essay question: Why you are highly qualified to be our Representative, State Senator, Governor, etc.

How about it Democrats and Republicans running for public office?  Especially those of you who are critical of public schools and public school teachers!

We Have Not Forgotten: Newtown Vigil, June 15, 2013, Brattleboro, VT

On June 15th, 2013, six months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a vigil was held in Brattleboro, VT to remember the students and teachers who lost their lives on December 14, 2012.

For each of the 26 names read aloud, a bell was rung. Also, in these past six months, 94 additional children age 12 and under have been killed, not to mention the number of teens and adults murdered in America. We have not forgotten. We cannot let our legislators in Congress and our state legislators forget these deaths.

Sticky Subjects: Gun Debate and Maple Syrup

In addition to the issues of gun safety, suicide, domestic violence, mass shooting, and mental illness, etc. there is also the issue of gun trafficking and straw purchases:

Chicago Gets Its Guns Where It Used to Get Its Blues

Like the blues song says: “Down in Mississippi”.

Vermont doesn’t want to be compared to Mississippi, do we? I mean, Vermont was the first state to outlaw Slavery in it’s Constitution! But Vermont is just like Mississippi when it comes to guns purchased in Vermont ending up being used in gun crimes and murders in Boston:

Stolen VT Gun Ended Boston Man’s Life

Boston criminals get some of their Guns where they also get their Maple Syrup!

Dreaming: Bing, King, Gip and Tip, You and I

Bing Crosby

As a downhill skier, I have always loved the crooner Christmas Carol by Bing Crosby, “White Christmas”:

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

As far as Christmas 2012, we only had a dusting of the white stuff.  But we did have a White New Year’s, thanks to a winter snowstorm from the Great Lakes to the Green Mountains and beyond.

That’s the good news.  The bad news was my sister’s family from Michigan was not able to come visit is and ski Vermont after Christmas.  They were planning on driving east on December 27th, which was the day of the snowstorm.  They would have been driving through the storms in southern Ontario, and New York.

But the other good news is that my wife and skied on December 28th at Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, VT.  It seemed that everyone in New England had the same idea and headed for the slopes.  They were dreaming of snow, and their dream came true.  Although the lift lines and wait times were long, this was good news for Vermont’s economy, which depends on tourism.

Dr. Martin Luther King

On Monday, January 21st, America celebrates both the Martin Luther King holiday and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  At this time each year, I like to listen to Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech from August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  Here are some short excerpts from his speech that still ring true today (plus links to full transcript):

“I have a dream today.” …

“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!'”

“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

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A Skier’s View of Politics

The idea for this blog originated in November 2006, in my letter to the editor of the Rutland Herald (A skier’s View of Politics).  It was just after the mid-term election that gave control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to the Democrats.  While I was very glad to see the end of one-party rule in Washington, DC, I was also extremely glad the election and negative ads were over (at least for 2 years).  I was really looking forward to a new ski season in Vermont.

As a native Midwesterner, self-exiled in Vermont (a Michigander-Flatlander), I consider myself a political moderate; a square peg that doesn’t fit exactly into either major political party.  After the 2006 Election, I had an “aha” moment, a path through the forest, the ski trail between our divided political parties (as in Jesse Ventura’s 2012 book).

Ron_StoweVT_1981_scan3_50pct_landscape_cropped

My first ski trip to Vermont at Stowe, in December 1981.

When you ski, you go back and forth, left-right-left-right … (or vice versa, if you prefer).  That is the best way to get down the hill safely.  Ski The Middle, while continuing to turn back and forth, right-left-right-left, … enjoying the ride.  Enjoying both sides of the trail or slope, but not getting attached to one side or the other.

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