Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

The Box and the Snowball

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a box, and there’s a snowball.

The box is the support of the Bluestone Town Center. It is a well-constructed but beautifully decorated box, built on strong buzzwords. Affordable Housing, and Climate Change, and Dense Development are the shiny wrapping on this gift. The snowball of opposition rolling toward City Hall grows each time a post on social media begins, “I didn’t realize ….” Didn’t realize how big it is, how much traffic, how much impact on the schools, how far from the center of town it is.

The box is being built purposefully. Proponents on the Planning Commission and City Council who have not yet heard the presentation of pros and cons are publicly and privately adding items to the box. Their box is a container for their support of the project, and they will only add those things that bolster their case.

The snowball is built on surprise. With local journalism struggling, people find out in bits and pieces how large the thing is, how many cars and students it will add, how badly proponents have considered flooding, runoff, and blasting.

The box includes support that’s at best half-hearted from city staff. The recommendation from the Community Development staff reads less like approval and more like, “Well, we guess it’s OK.” The City Attorney outlines why the offers to mitigate school impact are illegal under current law and an administrative nightmare if the city changes the law to accommodate them.

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and the tax specialists will open their box at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, where they will explain how this is the greatest thing since the golf course. The snowball of citizens will attempt to deliver death by a thousand cuts. They don’t have the staff, they don’t have the legal help, and they don’t have elected and appointed officials who’ve already made up their minds. They only have the spirit of those who have throughout our history stood up and told their government it’s wrong.

Opponents have already been described in whispers as NIMBYs, or “not in my back yard.” I live two miles away, so it’s hardly in my back yard. But what if it were? Rezoning requests like this one are required to inform neighbors. The whole idea of zoning is to regulate what is built next to what. Homeowners’ defense of their surroundings should not be subordinate to what a planning commission or HRHA chair thinks is best for them and their neighbors.

As this proposal goes forward, I hope elected and appointed officials will remember that they serve the entire city and not just the preferences of a vocal political minority. For the people we elect and the people they appoint, the whole city is supposed to be their back yard.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.

Note to Subscribers

For reasons too tedious to explain, I accidentally published some notes I had written to myself regarding comments on a previous post. I have to assume that the notes were broadcast to our subscribers. I did not mean to make them public. My apologies.

Dealing with Trolls

by Carol J. Bova

In March 2022, The Atlantic published an article, “Trolls Aren’t Like the Rest of Us,” by Arthur Brooks, a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the host of The Atlantic podcast “How to Build a Happy Life.

Brooks wrote:

If you use the internet, the odds are about even that you’ll be mistreated there. A 2021 Pew Research report found that 41 percent of U.S. adults have personally experienced some form of online harassment. Fifty-five percent think it is a “major problem.” Seventy-five percent of the targets of online abuse say their most recent experience was on social media. I can’t think of any other area of voluntary interaction—with the possible exception of driving in rush-hour traffic—where people so frequently expose themselves to regular abuse.

But we are not helpless in the face of either online abusers or the ones flipping us off on the highway. In fact, they are mostly one and the same: bullies with personality disorders. And you can protect your happiness by dealing with them both in some tangible, practical ways.

He points out that “people try to reason with trolls or appeal to their better nature” and shares this link to research that explains why those approaches don’t work. Why? Because trolls usually want “to attract attention, exercise control, and manipulate others.” Continue reading

New Sheriff in Town

by James A. Bacon

The comments section of Bacon’s Rebellion is a patch of the Wild West on the Internet. Laws and rules are frequently ignored. There are too many ad hominem attacks, too much skirting around profanity restrictions, too many excursions into rhetorical no-man’s land, and too many flaming wars. There’s gold in them thar hills — worthy comments that add value — but you have to sift through a lot of mud to find it.

I have given serious thought to shutting down the comments , but they serve an important function. They allow readers to supplement or contradict authors’  arguments with logic and evidence not contained in the posts. I especially value the stories readers tell based on their personal experiences. In the end I decided that I don’t want Bacon’s Rebellion to be a conservative echo chamber, and a vigorous comments section would prevent that.

With my new job, I no longer have the time to police the comments. But there’s a new sheriff in town. Welcome Carol Bova, whom regular readers will know as a long-time contributor. Her mission is to improve the tenor of the conversation and make the comments section a place more readers will want to visit — and even participate in.

The rules are simple: Continue reading

RVA 5×5 – Holiday Briefing

by Jon Baliles

It’s Friday! Which means this newsletter would normally be filled with stories and analysis about what is happening in the RVA region (not all of it good), with an honest and insightful take (so far as that is possible). For instance, this week we could have stories about:

A non-profit that presented a homeless shelter plan to the City in June and still hasn’t received the go-ahead or money to open; so they raised $30,000 on their own this week to open a shelter this weekend because the Mayor and City haven’t been able to get their head out of the sand for SIX MONTHS to execute a contract. If a timeline helps your perspective, the City sent the latest contract to the non-profit on November 13th, which returned it to the City within two days. The non-profit did not receive a response until December 20. Temperatures will get down to ten degrees tonight and won’t get above 32 degrees until Monday. The only explanation has been another word-salad buffet from the mayor’s press office. Shameful.

The first concepts are coming into view about VCU’s 42-acre athletic village across from what will become the Diamond District development. This area is exploding!

At least eight to 10 very old and huge trees (some close to 100 years old) in Mosby Court were razed to the ground this week. Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority said that the trees were being cut “as part of a curb appeal improvement request that came from the City of Richmond to RRHA for several of our public housing sites.” The Mayor’s Office replied that “The city requested RRHA to pick up trash and remove brush — not trees.” This has got to be a government operation. More breadsticks, please. Continue reading

RVA 5X5: A Five-Part Series of Stories

by Jon Baliles

STORY #1 — The Pot Overfloweth

There have been a lot of stories this week about the $21 million surplus announced by Mayor Levar Stoney and what he is asking City Council to endorse and how to disburse it in a budget amendment vote scheduled for a Monday evening vote. “The growth of the real estate market has caused the taxable real property revenue to exceed the budgeted amount,” the mayor wrote in a letter to Council.

Dean Mirshahi at WRIC reports that out of the $17 million, $5 million would be used to improve pay scales for first responders and $3.1 million for inclement weather shelters — two things that are definitely needed and long overdue.

There is an allocation of $1,750,000 to the Department of Economic Development for “contractual increases” involving Richmond’s Diamond District and City Center projects. No one knows what this means, but the Diamond District developer made it clear to VPM News that they were not recipients of any of that allocation (so put away the conspiracy theories). Maybe an explanation is forthcoming Monday night (or maybe not).

Some of the other funding includes $1.1 million for traffic calming projects; $1 million each for the nonprofits HumanKind and Homeward to provide family crisis services and homeless services; $500,000 to NextUP RVA, a free program for Richmond Public Schools middle school students; $2 million would go to a reserve fund to help offset rising health care costs for city employees; about $450,000 for employees assisting with added translation and interpretation services; and $400,000 for the YMCA’s Help1RVA helpline for people in crisis or considering suicide.

The biggest item is $5 million for first responders, which includes $2.6 million for the Richmond Police Department, $1.9 million for the Richmond Fire Department, and $559,000 for the Department of Emergency Communications for pay adjustments that the city says were not accounted for in the pay raises approved last May.

VPM noted that “a press release from the mayor’s office said those pay adjustments would be for employees not accounted for in a $17 million increase in first-responder wages in May’s budget.” Continue reading

RVA 5X5: Enrichmond and the City’s Radio Silence

Photo credit: Flickr

by Jon Baliles

I won’t do a “Top Stories of 2022” list for this newsletter, but if I did, one of them would surely be the collapse of the Enrichmond Foundation and the radio silence on all fronts concerning its finances, the groups that depended on it, their assets, and the two historic Black cemeteries in its portfolio — Evergreen and East End Cemetery.

The important question is not so much what happened in 2022 (although that is important); the critical next steps — should anyone decide to take them — are what will happen in 2023?

A brief recap from the October 14 newsletter: “The Enrichmond Foundation was founded in the early 1990s and had grown to support more than 80 small, local, all-volunteer groups that worked to help Richmond in various ways, many of which focused on keeping the City green and clean. Enrichmond allowed the groups to use their insurance coverage and raise tax-free donations, served as a fiduciary for the funds each group raised, and distributed those funds as directed by the groups.

Suddenly in June, the Foundation announced a cessation of operations, leaving no transition plan. The Board voted to dissolve the Foundation but left no accounting of the funds it had in its accounts, and then within weeks the lawyer representing the Board stepped away from his role as counsel.

None of the “leaders” at City Hall has said anything about this. Not. A. Word.

The City’s Parks & Recreation Department has been able to assist some of the organizations, but there are so many they can’t do it all themselves. That’s why the Foundation existed. It is known that the amount of money held in trust for the various “Friends Of” groups is anywhere from $300,000 to $3 million, though I have been told recently that it is closer to the lower estimate.

While the City dawdles, how are these small “Friends Of” groups to do the important work they do (much of it is environmental) if they can’t access their donations? How can they raise money if they have no place to put it? The more this drags out, it is a safe bet those groups will lose volunteers, who will put their time toward other causes. Continue reading

Passing the Baton

The Big Bacon is pleased to announce that Bob Rayner and Robin Beres will make taking over primary editing duties at Bacon’s Rebellion. They will take on tasks that I will no longer be able to fulfill as executive director of The Jefferson Council.

Bob and Robin have been working as a team for years. They put out the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page back when it was independent from the newsroom operation. After they retired, they edited the Bacon’s Rebellion-affiliated newsletter, The Blunderbuss.

From here on, if you wish to submit a column for publication in the Rebellion, you can contact them at info@baconsrebellion.com. Readers are welcome to continue communicating with me directly at my Bacon’s Rebellion email address. Just be forewarned that I have delegated most editorial decisions to Bob and Robin.

The good news (for me) is that this new arrangement will free up time for me to continue posting to the blog. You’ll be hearing a lot about the University of Virginia and Virginia higher education generally.

Comments. On a related matter, I have provisionally decided to continue allowing readers to post comments. I have heard from enough of you that the comments are part of the (ahem, shall we say) unique Bacon’s Rebellion experience that I will make one more effort at bringing them under control. Bob, Robin and I are still working out the details. More to come.

What’s Next for Bacon’s Rebellion

As noted in the press release I just posted, I have been appointed executive director of the Jefferson Council, the alumni organization fighting to preserve the Jeffersonian tradition, free speech and intellectual diversity at the University of Virginia. Although I’ll continue to publish Bacon’s Rebellion, I won’t be able to devote as much time to it as I had previously. The good news is that regular contributors such as Jim Sherlock, Dick Hall-Sizemore and Steve Haner aren’t going anywhere, and I’ll still jump in on occasion as time permits.

Still, there will be changes. On the positive side, I’m engaged in conversations to bring on board a new editor (or editors) so we can continue to accept guest op-ed submissions. On the downside, I am giving serious consideration to scrapping the comments feature, which has become a huge time sink. It literally takes an hour or two daily to make sure the comments don’t degenerate into profanity, insult fests, or flame wars. Making the situation worse, in recent days I’ve had to weed out the comment spammers who have figured out how to evade our spam defenses.

If readers are desperate to retain the comments, please let me know at jabacon@baconsrebellion.com. Otherwise, that’s where the axe likely will first fall as we restructure the blog.

Insanity Gives Way, Briefly, to Street Art

So much to blog about and so little time. Jon Baliles, some of whose columns we republish on Bacon’s Rebellion, has been distracted by his duties as a board member of the Richmond Street Art Festival, so he has been unable to report on the latest inanity and insanity in River City. But the art in progress looks great, and the festival this Saturday at the Haxall Power Plant should be loads of fun. — JAB

Note to Readers

Baconites and Rebels, I have disabled one of the two services that had been feeding ads to Bacon’s Rebellion. I have been receiving frequent complaints about glitches in the blog, and from my own observation, the ads were highly intrusive. The ads were bringing in a not-insignificant revenue stream, but not enough to justify the apparent loss in readership.

Just so you know… I do pay attention to reader feedback. Please let me know if Bacon’s Rebellion is a more enjoyable browsing experience now. Because if it’s NOT, I don’t want to be throwing money away, and I’ll put the ads back in.

— JAB

Utah Bound!

I’m leaving Wednesday on a much-needed vacation, in which my wife, traveling companions and I expect to do a lot of hiking with spectacular views such as this one. I’ll be gone about 10 days — without a laptop, unable to blog! (Is there a blogging-withdrawal antidote comparable to Oxycodone? Oh, maybe it’s spending time with friends and the great outdoors.) I will take a tablet, so I hope to keep up with email, but that’s about it. I’m counting on the BR crew to keep the blog lively in my absence. They’ve done it before, and I’m sure they’ll do just fine. Who knows — maybe they’ll do better! Everybody please behave while I’m gone! — JAB

The Trumpification of Bacon’s Rebellion

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Rather than engage an opponent in reasoned debate, Donald Trump has a habit of conjuring up a derogatory nickname for that person and attacking in that way.

One aspect that attracted me to Bacon’s Rebellion a little more three years ago was the civility of the discourse and the willingness to engage in reasoned discussion and debate.  Absent was the almost ubiquitous name-calling that one found on Facebook and Twitter.

The subsequent resort to name-calling by some participants on this blog has been distressing.  It began about midway through the Northam administration.  I had hoped that when Northam left office, it would stop, but it has not.

It seems as if there is at least one instance every day.  These are some of the epithets thrown around in just the last week or so:

  • Coonman
  • Blackface
  • Bozo Biden
  • Slo Joe
  • Nonsense Nancy
  • Tall Man Bad
  • Little Red Lying Hood

C’mon guys!  This is the sort of language one would expect to hear on an elementary school playground.  Bacon’s Rebellion is bigger than that.

The Rebellion Seeks Reader Feedback

About two weeks ago, I installed, Ezoic, an ad-management software on Bacon’s Rebellion. I have gotten considerable feedback that readers were experiencing technical difficulties, both on the blog and in the Disqus comments. We have addressed some of the issues that readers were encountering, but not all. Preserving a positive reader experience is more important to me than generating a modest additional increment in advertising revenue, so I have turned off Ezoic.

If you have experienced problems on Bacon’s Rebellion, please let me know in the comments if they have been resolved or if you’re still having them. If I’m going to forego additional ad revenues, I’d like to know for certain that I’ve fixed the problems.

Thanks,

— JAB

Fact Checked by Facebook

The original meme posted on Bacon’s Rebellion and in Facebook.

by James A. Bacon

On Sunday I published a meme from The Bull Elephant blog that used two photos to contrast the environmental footprint of the Keystone Pipeline with that of a lithium mine for hybrid cars. The point, as any thinking person would immediately grasp, was to highlight the inconsistency of those who decried the environmental impact of the pipeline but ignored the impact of a lithium mine. It was a meme. Memes, by their nature, over-simplify arguments. I posted it not because it provided a fair-and-balanced exegesis of the issue, but because the juxtaposition of images reminded readers that one cannot consider the environmental impact of gas- and 0il pipelines without also considering the impact of their renewable alternatives, which require the large-scale mining of lithium, rare earth minerals, and other elements.

The next day I cross-posted the meme on the Bacon’s Rebellion Facebook page. When I checked that page today, I found that the image had been stripped away and replaced with the following notice: “False Information. The same information was checked in another post by independent fact checkers.” Continue reading