Ah, finally a little time to gather my thoughts about Martinsville and then start writing about it.
First, of course I must begin by thanking Alton, Anne, and Mary for all their hard work. Things went very smoothly, and it was obvious they'd put a lot of thought and effort into the whole conference. BRAVO!!!
Barnie Day was an excellent M.C., even though he wasn't feeling tip-top. I really hope that his health improves some, because he is a very gracious and kind man, and I'd like to get to know him better. He also gave out his book, Notes from the sausage factory, which is an insider's look at the workings of the Virginia Congress. Barnie is a talented writer, so I'm very much looking forward to being richly entertained as well as educated!
My deep gratitude must also go out to the Conference's corporate sponsor, Smith River Community Bank. This generous bank put up some money to help defray the cost of the conference, no strings attatched. However, proper courtesy and gratitude require me to extend my personal thanks - I hope that someone who reads the Virginia blogs and sees this mention goes on in to the bank to see what they have to offer!
Steve Sisson, the Blue Dog, was also there and I got to chat with him more than I had at Sorenson. He's a riot! You've got to watch him closely, though, or he'll get in a little sly remark that you might miss ;-) He was also gracious enough to give me a copy of his book, Adventures in Warnerland, about his experiences in Virginia politics with Mark Warner, our previous governor. I'm sure it will be a great read, if it's got anything close to Steve's personal style.
*sigh* More for my pile of books-I-gotta-read. But these two, of course, will go to the top, and will be the next books I crack open. Make sure you bug me about them, 'cause I really am going to need to post my thoughts and impressions so these two excellent people will get some positive - I'm sure! - feedback.
(much more below the fold...)
Three other "corporate" entities must also get mentioned: The Chatmoss Country Club, which hosted our dinner Friday night, spoiled us with good food and excellent service in a lovely setting. I'm keeping my eye on it for the lavish wedding reception when the Munchkin finds a good young man who adores her ;-) The Hampton Inn was also a comfortable host, with a friendly and professional staff, and very snuggly beds! Finally, Patrick Henry Community College provided the venue for Friday night's Pajama Party, as well as the conference room we used on Saturday. What a beautiful and well-appointed campus! Martinsville isn't so far from me; maybe I can see if they've got a once-a-week class that Danville Community College doesn't offer...
Saturday we started at about 9am with Barnie introducing Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who spoke about the various legalities that his office was working on, such as
- revising the laws on sexual preditors, particularly violent ones or those who targeted children
- increasing sentencing for drug dealers
- homeland security laws - they're drafting statutes, so that the system won't be driven by executive orders
- prisoner litigation reform, so that prisoners cannot bring frivolous lawsuits against the State, and so on.
- regulatory reform - streamlining various parts of the bureaucracy to make it more efficient and to make use of new technology
- and reforming the mental health system
Chris Saxman then came up and discussed blogging, mentioning that Republicans have been lagging behind the Democrats in effective use of the blogosphere. He explained a bit how the VACostCutting blog helps him get information and ideas that he might be able to implement to the benefit of Virginia. He spoke about the extremely fast news cycle, and his concern that many things don't stay around long enough for good discussion and examination, and that he found that blogs are an effective way to encourage this analysis and discussion.
Barnie then took the microphone again to introduce a panel with Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Norman Leahy of One Man's Trash, Danny Radmacher of the Roanoke Times, and Jerry Fuhrman of From On High. The guys discussed the role of bloggers and journalists, whether bloggers are journalists, whether they even want to be journalists... It was a very good and fast-paced discussion, touching on ethics, editors, responsibilities, and so on. Of course, for me the question was a bit moot, since I don't claim to be a journalist or a reporter. I may sometimes do a "journalistic" piece or go do some actual "reporting," but that's not my focus - nor do I want it to be. Nevertheless, the conversation and questions were quite thought-provoking, and it was fun to see two of my blog-brothers "face off" with *gasp!* representatives of the [ominous drum roll, please] Main Stream Media [/drumroll]! ;-)
Steve Minor took the stage after the panel, and spoke about net neutrality. He's got his notes and references on his blog (1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 8), which I need to go review. I hadn't been paying attention - too much - to this issue, and my knee-jerk opinion was "YES! We want net neutrality!" but I see that there are other factors with may play in to the possible problem. So, I'm going to modify my stance to a more cautious "Yes, we want net neutrality... mostly" until I understand more of the ins-and-outs.
Just before lunch, Brian Patton moderated a discussion about blogging software and blogging services. It seems from the sample in the room that WordPress is **the** up-and-coming standard for blog management software! Me, I think I'll stick with TypePad, since they've always been so good to me, and since I'm used to the platform. However, I can think of a few suggestions I'd like to make for future upgrades...
(oops, suddenly it occurs to me that I might have the timing mixed up a little... Oh, well...)
After lunch, Barnie introduced John Brownlee, the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. Mr. Brownlee's position is by Presidential appointment, and he was quite articulate and personable. He explained about how the federal attorney's office works and what type of cases they take, mainly within the parameters of enforcing federal law and defending the federal government in court. He said that he often uses blogs for tips, or to better understand the community. His office investigates corruption in government office, narcotics, firearms, interstate stalkers and child prongrphy (yeah, deliberate typo), among other crimes. He outlined the priorities of the Department of Justice:
- drugs and narcotics
- public corruption and corporate crime
- child predators
In particular, he quite forcefully noted that his office uses the Patriot Act every day, and that it is a critical tool to track down, apprehend, and prosecute terrorist-related crimes.
After Mr. Brownlee finished, Ben Tribbitt, of Not Larry Sabato, introduced Leslie Byrne. He outlined her record in the context of how it had affected him and inspired him to become politically active. His deep admiration was obvious (especially afterwards, when he questioned several people about their impressions of her), and I listened to her carefully.
She is a very good speaker, and she expressed her enthusiasm for blogs. While Lt Gov Bolling and AG McDonnell had offered the strong suggestion that bloggers "be fair," Ms. Byrne was a bit more free-wheeling. She said that bloggers could write whatever they wanted - but if you were too far out there, the market itself would marginalize you. That is something that is quite true - although I'm sure that even the most rabid nutcase has his own followers - because if you're not talking sense to someone, there's no reason for people to be interested in your blog.
I note that VB Dems Blogger Eileen Levandoski was more impressed with Ms. Byrne's statements than those of the LG, which is understandable, but I'm not certain that their points were so far apart. If you have a reputation for fairness and careful thought, no matter your political opinion, you are more likely to be respected and listened to. For me, I suppose I would describe the two statements as parallels, perhaps.
Nevertheless, Ms. Byrne was an engaging speaker, obviously committed and passionate in her views. I promised Ben that I'd do more research on her, because she did express several thoughts with which I agreed.
Ms. Byrne was followed by Forrest Landon, who spoke about the history and development of the Freedom of Information Act, with particular emphasis on FOIA's history and applications in Virginia. He had quite a bit of information about the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, its purpose and services. I'm going to have to review his handouts and the website, because by this time I was in dire need of caffeine, and didn't give Mr. Landon the careful attention his presentation deserved. It was definitely a subject near and dear to his heart - as it ought to be for all of us - and it is definitely a subject on which I need to educate myself.
The last panel was a discussion on libel, with Eric Helms Monday (the city attorney for Martinsville), Conaway Haskins, and Greg Letiecq. Now there was a fascinating discussion! Mr. Monday opened with an overview of the elements of defamation (which is what Virginia generally prosecutes - it appears to include slander and libel), and how to avoid it, as well as an example or two of some court cases. He was very careful to point out that defamation suits are on the rise and that bloggers are vulnerable.
Conaway spoke at length, and reminded bloggers to find their own voice: "Don't blog like me, [blog like you] (implied)!" He urged us to adopt a basic code of ethics, particularly if we wanted to be taken seriously. He made the point that the portion of the First Amendment pertaining to the freedom of the press is not the only part which applies to bloggers: the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly all apply as well.
Greg then took over and expounded on his adversarial role in the 'sphere. He reminded all of us that 100-200 years ago, politics and political reporting was a very rough and tumble arena. He explained that, if no one goes out and hits the limits, then no one ever knows where the limits are. If no one exercises their rights, those rights tend to vanish. I was quite amused when he called himself the National Enquirer of the Blogosphere, but he really made me think when I heard his statement, "Truth is critical..." I think that I came up with my summary of the conference right there: " 'Truth is critical...' but style is individual."
Jim Hoeft (pronounced "heft" - which I'm so glad to know! I don't know why I didn't pick up on it when listening to his podcasts!), of Bearing Drift, concluded the conference with his informative tutorial on podcasting. He did an excellent job rounding up the basic equipment and software needed, as well as many tips and techniques for better sound and more professional results. He was also gracious and loaned me his mic for a quick interview with LG Bolling on Friday night, for which I'm very greatful!
Um, you should also ask him about exercises you can do to improve your diction. Really. ;-)
Wow. Busy, information-packed conference!
After Jim finished, we broke things down and headed out for a couple hours of relaxation before driving up to the Martinsville Resevoir and the Fireman's Cabin for a PARTY!!!! (But... that's for another post!)