I apologize, Governor Kasich

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

Dear Hon. John Kasich, Governor of Ohio;

I apologize for my sight-sightedness with respect to my opposition to your state education budget cuts and SB5, which sought to limit bargaining rights for teachers. Clearly these were bills designed to give smart-ass bloggers like me an endless supply of content for free.

Please forgive my lack of vision. I look forward to the endless bounty of your labors.

I remain your loyal subject,

Rufus Dogg

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

Taxes and a disturbing trend

I have never filed a late tax return.

Ever.

It is not uncommon for state, local and federal tax departments to send my corporation a letter, asking for some explanation or asserting that I had not filed correctly or filed and paid on time, etc. I run a very tight ship and these matters usually get cleared up with a prompt letter and excessive documentation proving the date of filing, the date the check cleared and whatever else is needed to satisfy the anomaly.

I hire very good people. They have never been wrong.

It used to be that we would get a random letter every other year or so. It happens. Tax departments are very complicated with a lot of gears and levers and people pushing and pulling those levers. But lately, I’ve noticed that we are receiving letters almost quarterly from every tax department; from Ohio Department of Taxation to Ohio’s Health and Human Services to The City of Vandalia to the Internal Revenue Service. As of today, we have five outstanding tax issues.

FIVE!!!

I have no doubt that all of these will be resolved, but I have to ask: What the hell is going on here? Are these tax departments understaffed? I’d like to think that is the problem because the other alternatives is they are either stupid or malicious. That is not a road I’m willing to go down.

I have noticed, though, that no matter the outcome, the tax department always insists on assessing a late filing fee, even though the return was not late. Yes, we fight that but it is one more step in the process.

Maybe public sector cuts are not the answer. Small government may just mean that critical services gets rushed and too many mistakes happen. Mistakes like this cost private business a lot of money in extra payroll, time away from development, paranoid documentation practices and just needless pain-in-the-ass. All of this is real money.

As a private business, you can’t just ignore a tax letter. Really, not wise. It doesn’t matter how small you are, it has to be attended to right away.

This isn’t a “I hate paying taxes” rant. I get why we pay taxes. Like everyone else (except Warren Buffet) I would like to pay less. But mostly, I would like to not be on the crap end of these letters that seem to come in without rhyme or reason. If that means we should be increasing taxes to hire a few more people to make sure these mistakes don’t happen, I’m for that.

But this random “wheel of fortune” game we seem to now be on ticks me off more than higher taxes. This makes me feel like a sitting duck.

The real voting fraud in America

About two months ago, my 20-year old daughter needed to get a replacement driver’s license. I didn’t ask why because she came home, very excited and told me “I registered to vote. Now I can vote against SB-5.”

A few weeks later, she received her voter registration confirmation card letting her know where to vote and her specific precinct. All set, right? That was all she needed.

Not really.

About a week later, she gets this letter in the mail from the Montgomery Country Board of Elections.

This almost went unnoticed by her and me. Apparently, they could not verify her last name by her Ohio BMV records. The same BMV that issued her a driver’s license and maintained her identity for the past six years could not verify her last name which means she would not have been allowed to vote when she showed up at the polls in November unless she returned the “card.”

Seriously?

While I would not go as far as accusing the Montgomery County Board of Elections with purposely stalling adding a young, first-time voter to the rolls because she is likely to vote Democratic in a very Republican county, this sort of thing gives me pause.

A lot of pause.

Add to the fact that the letter was sent in a non-descript, non-official looking envelope, the letter looked like it was run through a copy machine several times and the “card” that needed to be sent back was just printed on the bottom of the letter, without perforation.

They are either trying to frustrate my daughter from voting or the State of Ohio is staffed with some incredibly inept employees. Either way, as a taxpayer of this state, I’ve got some serious questions.

And I need answers.

Three days ago, we had a park

Three days ago, we walked around every day during our long lunch hour in a theme park* that was rich with landmarks and history. We gave each of the landmarks a name; some from works of literature and some that just fit.


This is Cutter’s Quarry from the movie Breaking Away.


This is Lake Avalon, from King Arthur (yeah, I know.. but close enough)


This is the Lonesome Road. We just called it that because Charlie usually trotted down here when the rest of us turned left into the small park to get to the truck going home. It was the way he stood in the road and looked back at us that gave the road its name.


These are The Mudflats. No matter how little it rained, they would stay muddy long after the rest of the grounds were cracking.


The Burial Mounds. They just looked like Indian burial mounds. The dogs would race and chase each other over the tops and look like a roller coaster as they crested.


This is Shakespeare’s Cliff from King Lear. I know, not quite as white and chalky as the cliffs of Dover, but we pretended.


And Birnam Wood from Macbeth. the sticks never did move and I guess the big house in the sub division across the street could be Dunsinane


Rushes Creek. Just because of the sound it made as the dogs chased each other through the reeds.

Three days ago, a bulldozer, backhoe and plow showed up at our park. And here is what it looks like today.

For some reason, I felt I needed to take photos of these landmarks last week. It felt very urgent. I now know why. Each of the landmarks are lost in time, like tears in rain or foot steps on a sandy dune.

*Actually, an abandoned housing development in Clayton, Ohio. Again, thank you Saxon Henry for the inspiration, context and clarity.

Me and the Wall Street Journal finally broke up

I have had a long-standing relationship with the Wall Street Journal. We’ve been through my business career together, traveled the country hand-in-hand and kept each other company in many lonely airport lounges when flights were delayed or during long layovers. I could always find a story I had not explored fully in her ample pages.

She was the third newspaper I ever read. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press was the first, the Dispatch was the second. They got merged in the mid ’80s and it got a bit awkward, as these things usually do. So, I picked up the Wall Street Journal just in case… well, you know.

And the Journal did some good reporting from a capitalist point of view. They didn’t wade too far afield into politics, knowing that both Democrats and Republicans were equally capitalistic. Both believed in making money regardless of their politics.

But when Rupert Murdock bought the Journal in 2007, I was skeptical but hopeful that the newspaper could maintain its reporting above the fray of politics and focus on stories as it pertained to business, reporting the political climate but not taking sides or laying blame.

My friends tried to warn me I would get my heart stomped on, but I remained loyal. Good business operates in any environment. Good businesspeople know this as David Rich points out in his blog post today. There are no “bad environments,” just bad business people who can’t see the upside.

Mr. Murdoch told the Bancrofts that ‘any interference — or even hint of interference — would break the trust that exists between the paper and its readers, something I am unwilling to countenance.’ … Mr. Murdoch and the Bancrofts agreed on standards modeled on the longstanding Dow Jones Code of Conduct.

In the ensuing years, I noticed slight changes in editorial word use as more and more “adjectives” entered the stories. As the health care debate ramped up, the Journal broke with AP style and started referring to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare.” All sorts of red flags started rising.

But the stories were still compelling enough to continue reading as I categorically ignored the editorial pages and OpEd pieces by Karl Rove and his ilk.

Last Tuesday, the Journal ran a story on the state of college education in India. Several paragraphs into the story, they printed this:

India’s economic expansion was supposed to create opportunities for millions to rise out of poverty, get an education and land good jobs. But as India liberalized its economy starting in 1991 after decades of socialism, it failed to reform its heavily regulated education system. Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension.

Subtle, until you recognized the general environment of the country. In Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and other states the Republican governors were waging a war on education, demonizing teachers as bureaucrats and the public school system as “heavily regulated.” Across the country, the Tea Party stirred up hate against President Obama by calling him a socialist. The Republicans joined the chant and FOX News amplified the drum beats.

Any good copyeditor would have struck those lines out in her sleep. I assume the editors at the Journal are not stupid nor careless, so the editorial comments in the story and the inference that the United States will be in the same state as India given our current “socialist” political climate were intentional, making the Journal reckless, incendiary and irresponsible. According to its point of view, to be a capitalist in the United States is to also be a social conservative, aligned with the ideological positions of the GOP and Tea Party.

That was too much to swallow.

It is one thing to take an editorial position on the Editorial pages, but it is quite another to weave your political views throughout the stories. It was skillfully done, but done nonetheless. I suppose the average reader would not have picked up the reference as readily as someone who has worked at a newspaper and has an APStylebook resting on the corner of his desk. As the discriminating readers leave quietly, one by one, the Journal will be left with those who either agree with their political position or who can’t discern the difference between capitalism and zealous conservatism. In the end I suppose public education will win out, but not because it is socialist, but that the conservatives will have driven out the best and brightest. But that is an argument for another day.

As I was talking with the Journal rep who was begging me to stay with every possible turn, I found myself getting angry with her. She was the one who had changed. She was the one who wanted to remake me. She was the one who failed to accept me for who I am and respect my differences while appreciating what we had in common.

I hung up the phone in a mingled state of loss and anger.

I’m sure I will move on, but it won’t be the same. Long-term relationships change a dog and the next newspaper will suffer the pangs of betrayal, my inability to get close and trust and my issues with intimacy. I will forever be asking “what does she want from me?” as I read each story printed in any newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal kicked this poor puppy right in the ribs. It kicked hard, harder than any newspaper should have kicked a dog. I may not recover from this one.

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None of your reality is really real

North Clayton Village, Clayton Ohio

This is the town center of North Clayton Village in Clayton, Ohio. It has a nice wide Main Street, store front shops, a coffee shop, a park around the corner and apartments on top of the shops. It has everything you would ever want in a village.

Only it is a fake.

….

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How I know bigotry is alive in Middle America

I was passing through the playground at a nearby school in Englewood, Ohio. Sallie had climbed up the stairs that ended in a tube slide and I thought it might be cool if I encouraged her to slide down.

So, I poked my head in on the bottom side so I could see her at the top to talk her down. My eye caught the graffiti on the inside top of the slide.

I took a photo of it and it is posted below.

In case it is hard to read, the words “I [heart] lesbos” is etched into the plastic.

The media of the east and west coasts may have convinced themselves that bigotry and hatred are dead in America — especially with the eager adoption of gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — but what kids scratch into the inside of playground equipment tells me we have a very, very long way to go.

They learn this from somewhere.

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The Triangle Shirt Company fire

Lest we forget how things were just a hundred years ago. It appears some in Wisconsin and Ohio have already. March 25, 1911 was not all that long ago.

Those who do not read and understand history are not only bound to repeat the mistakes of the past, but drag an entire generation with them. An informed, educated, literate citizenry is essential for a democracy to sustain itself.

I suppose that is why conservatives are also attacking teachers and have declared war on book nerds.

I sure do miss the smell of horse dung

typical white christian American family

Last year, an acquaintance who has a part-time firefighter job, supplemented by a full-time ambulance driver job with no health benefits had to go to the emergency room with asthma complications. The hospital ended up having to admit him for three days. The total cost of this unplanned vacation was $23,000 and some change.

He had no insurance and he did not have $23,000. He applied for Medicaid, went through some hearings, some denials, appeals and eventually Medicaid paid the bill.

He is a Republican through and through. When asked how he liked his socialist benefits provided by his government, he smiled sheepishly and looked away. He was caught in a lie and he and I both knew it. He is still a Republican. Having his medical bills paid for through no personal merit or responsibility did not change his mind one bit about his political loyalties or the argument for his loyalties.

And that is when it hit me solidly: The GOP is not about fiscal responsibility. They are entirely about social issues.

A little background
My friend was raised in the rural parts of Ohio, right outside my town of Englewood which is ten miles north of Dayton, sixty-five miles north of Cincinnati. So he wasn’t actually raised out on the farm, but enough where there is little if any diversity and no weird artsy-fartsy types with book-leraning and such. The men hunt every fall, fish in the summer, drink beer, watch football and chew tobacco. And the women tend to their men. And everybody goes to church on Sunday and if they don’t, they still believe in Jesus Christ. (Really, these places exist not too far out your front door, wherever in America you are.)

And this is also where they talk openly about “how in the hell we let a g*d**n n****r in the White House” right before they spit chew violently on the ground in disgust.

How we got here
The GOP has gotten its followers to believe and say there is a finite amount of money available and that your ne’er-do-well, slacker neighbors are taking your fair share of your hard-earned money. Only it’s not really true. It’s not what they really mean when they say “money.” Money is just code for “my white Christian culture.”

The Greatest Generation were better storytellers than they were social engineers. When the men went off to war, they brought back stories of valor, courage, bravery, camaraderie and honor. My grandfather never talked much about the War. My dad never talked about the Korean War either. All we had were photos, medals and a few stories of good times with their buddies. They never talked about the horror of seeing their friends die or body parts getting blown off. When they came home, they put the past behind them and created a narrative that was peaceful and prosperous, even though it was not the truth.

Women who went off to work in the factories did much the same thing. It was hard, back-breaking, grueling, greasy, filthy work but when it was over, it was over. They did not tell stories of workplace accidents, the long days and the restless nights. They spun yarns of achievement, honor and patriotism.

And three generations later, that is how we remember the past that never was. Families lived in harmonious, quiet neighborhoods with houses all lined up on clean streets. The dad went off to work, the mom stayed home and kept house. There were regular raises and good benefits at his job. The kids played baseball, went to school and played stickball in the middle of the street. When they grew older, the kids went out on dates, got married and had kids of their own.

Each year, the family would get together and have Thanksgiving dinner, then Christmas and celebrate Easter in the spring. There would be great news of babies and marriages and of course of deaths and funerals. Everyone married a virgin, everyone died at peace. This all played out like some great movie with a well-crafted script. There were things nobody talked about and everybody knew what those things were.

And the children forgot about the struggle the previous generations went through to build this Great Lie. The storytellers of television and the movies gladly filled in the gaps, fueling an even more memorable past that never was.

The Great Lie of our American Dream is even embedded into our future. The following is a video made by Corning. The cues of the Dream are embedded everywhere across generations. Take a look. Can you see them? Do you find yourself wanting to be there? It’s a powerful Dream.

The past is knowable and comfortable. The future is scary. I’m fairly certain in a generation back there were old men who sighed wistfully as a truck blowing smoke passed them by on a farm road. Sure do miss the smell of horse dung, they might be thinking.

Money as a mask
We use price as an excuse for almost every human behavior. If we don’t really want to buy something, we say “that costs too much” or “I don’t have the money right now.” When we really want something, we find a way to get it by charging it, putting it on layaway, leasing it or in the case of a house, commit to mortgage terms that are not in our financial best interest. We rationalize a debt to get the things that we really want.

The GOP understands this about human nature — and particularly the American culture — very well and has masterfully crafted its message around money. “The state is broke,” they rail when a program is funding issues that are contrary to the Great Lie. “Our country is going bankrupt!” “Limited government” and “Take back our country” are all very attractive catch phrases for a population that has been led to believe that the supply of money is finite and being spent irresponsibly by your drunken neighbor. After all, many of these people don’t have much left from their paychecks at the end of the week, so it all makes common sense.

Everything the GOP wants to do is masked as a money issue because they know that American culture understands money. All this other stuff about happiness and rights and liberty is so hard to quantify. But money is easy. You can count money.

The inconsistency is the key
The key to understanding why money and fiscal responsibility is not the real issue is the inconsistency between what a conservative says and what he does. He will take a Medicaid handout to keep from paying a $23,000 hospital bill. He will take a government-supplied paycheck as a firefighter. He will take a home interest deduction on his taxes, a Pell grant from the Federal government, drive on the freeway system without paying a toll, attend a public school and do all these things as if it were his right to do so all the while saying we need less government. Taxes pay for all these things that give him a standard of living yet he perceives to have gotten these things through his own hard work and initiative.

And my favorite inconsistency of all, “Keep your government hands of my Medicare.”

The GOP knows that if they keep the discussion framed as “fiscal responsibility,” they don’t have to address all those other messy issues that go along with promoting the Great American Dream that never was. All they need do is step back in shock about why someone would not want to be fiscally responsible and they win the argument. Only the argument never really was about money. It never will be.

What’s in it for the GOP?
Power, I imagine. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would care more about the state budget being balanced than the health of their own household. Maybe some of these politicians really believe the rhetoric about fiscal responsibility, but I doubt many retain it. I think most of them are angry that not only have they lost their birthright, but it was stolen from them. They see political office as a way to take it back.

The GOP may have been about fiscal responsibility at some point in their distant past, but I think they have always been more about preserving the American Culture. As they become more and more desperate about preserving the Dream, the more they are letting their mask fall away. But judging from my friend above, they may think they can now afford to do it and start being honest about who they really are. Apparently lying about their true intent bears no consequence as at least half the country is one of them.

Am I off the mark here?

Wisconsin feels like Sidney all over again

walker

Of the hundreds of soccer games I have seen my kids play, I remember that soccer game clearly. My daughter was playing U9 for Northmont and we had a game against the Sidney Bees on an unseasonably warm Saturday in April. This was her first full season with select soccer.

The game was pretty tight all the way through. We scored the first goal late in the first half, they scored the second goal early in the second. There were just a few minutes left in the game when their star had a break-away and dribbled the ball all the way to our goalie and took a shot. The goalie deflected, but not cleanly. It bounced to the side of the goal, off the pitch and through the net that was not fastened securely to the ground.

The referee called it a goal.

All the parents saw the ball roll into the side of the net. All the kids saw it. The coaches saw it. But the Sidney parents said nothing, amid the protests of the Northmont parents and coaches. All it would have taken was one brave parent to step forward and say, “We want to win, but not by cheating. We’re not going to accept that goal.”

But nobody did.

All the kids on both teams learned the real rule of soccer that day. The more games you win, the more goals you score, the more your parents will love you. And it doesn’t matter how you get them. And to this day, when I hear about how team sports build character, sportsmanship, etc. Sidney, Ohio pops into my head and I know I am being lied to.

Wisconsin feels an awful lot like Sidney, Ohio on that warm April day.

Fire for hire; the new public services

I read a rather dry account of the last Union, Ohio city council meeting in the Dayton Daily News this morning. Nobody goes to these things and fewer people read the articles recapping them. But maybe we should start paying more attention. (I looked for the article online and could not find it, so I scanned it here and will replace with a link when it gets posted.)

Here is why we should start paying attention.

Fire and police departments are receiving less tax revenue and are set to receive even less for salaries when bills like SB 5 pass. But they are still expected to be on the other end of a 911 call. (I think the City of Englewood has a EMS charge, but not fire.) It appears the City of Union would charge for police, fire and EMS services; first to your insurance company and if they don’t pay, to you.

I understand subrogation and why sometimes it is necessary. But when someone calls 911, the last thing they should be thinking is; “Can I afford this call?” If their house burns down, and they are insured, the insurance company will replace it. If their house catches fire, the fire department comes out, and the insurance company will pay for repairs but not fire services, the homeowner could end up paying a whole lot more than the house is worth in fire-fighting fees.

I think the last thing we need is for a family to be sitting on the front lawn with a calculator, estimating how much a 911 call is going to cost and whether or not it is worth it.

In truth, though, what these laws will eventually do is increase insurance costs. The insurance companies will spread out the risk for everyone, charging people who live in Zip Code 45322 a bit more of course. And since insurance in America is a for-profit game, these additional fees will include the profit expectation a publicly-held company demands. These are also post-tax dollars, so they are about 33% more expensive than an income tax assessment would be to cover the additional cost of fire-fighting services for a community.

Government cuts are always nice, but when your income tax tax bill is cut and your total cost of citizenship rises, where is the savings to the citizens? It’s like buying a really cheap printer but paying hundreds of dollars a year in ink cartridges. Or a really cheap car that costs you the retail prices in repairs every two years. Or buying cheap processed food and paying more than quadruple in medical insurance premiums because your BMI is out of whack (assuming you carry insurance.)

Subrogation for essential emergency services is a very slippery slope. I know that the proposed ordinance is limited to “at-fault” incidents. Anyone who has ever been in an accident knows that at-fault is almost never a 100/0% split. In most instances, you are partially at fault simply because you were on the road. Clearly, if your house was not there, there would be nothing to burn.

Once you crack the door, it is easier to fling open wide.

I wonder what other public service will be next?

When the City of Englewood “saved” a million dollars.
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You wish you were Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen as he appears on the twitter

Admit it. You wish you were Charlie Sheen.

While you are shaking your head violently from side to side and stomping up and down disagreeing with me, just hear me out for a few seconds. Then you can go back to your ranting about why I am wrong, why Charlie is melting down, how he is bad for his kids, why he is anti-Semetic, a bad role model or any of the other pat sound bites the media are flinging around.

Ready? This stuff could be a bit deep. Or deep in it. I’m sure you’ll decide for yourself. **

Charlie admits his humanity. All of it. He says the “crazy” we think in our minds and acts on it.

Only this stuff isn’t so nutty. He is magic. He is a big star. He was born small and now he is huge. He has navigated the shark-infested waters of the entertainment industry and is smarter than most of the people he has come up against. He is special. He has a natural gift of poise and conversation. He got 1.2 million followers on Twitter before you even got out of bed this morning.

And he is not saying hateful things. He is just saying really, really brutally honest stuff. If we tag it as crazy then we can all feel better about ourselves. If we say he is crazy, we don’t have to deal with why we’re not living up to our potential. And if we go even further and start tearing him down, we’re morally superior.

He is getting away with all of this because he is operating within the bounds of the human condition. He knows down deep inside — way, way, way down deep inside of each of us — is a Charlie Sheen Dream that has been smashed down by years of following the rules and believing what others tell us about our inadequacies. There is always tomorrow. Next time. The next relationship.

Will you embrace your inner Charlie? Yeah, me neither. It’s too bright and scary out there.

You may now resume your lives. Or drop a comment below. Or unfollow me on twitter. Or unsubscribe from this blog. Whatever fills the ignored hole in your soul.

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** But I’m betting you won’t.

I was not going to write anything about Charlie Sheen. But then I got to thinking that Martin Sheen, his father, was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. By extension, we invented Charlie. So naturally — as is our way here — we needed to claim the good things this invention brings to the collection of humanity. Just like we do the Wright Brothers, we plant a flag in anything that gets famous and claim it for our own.

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How do we measure good things

couple not measuring a good thing

I have an instinct that my random conversations and connections with people on twitter is a good thing, though I would be hard-pressed to find some measurement that says I’m right. I also know when I am clicking with someone in a conversation, though there is no “clickomoter” that confirms my intuition. I just know.

….

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Imagine this as the future of newspaper

Gatorade Control Center

I read yesterday’s Dayton Daily News today and they had a special section included. I don’t know where it is on their web site and I gave up trying to find it. I had hoped to point it to you as it is really cool stuff.

They have assembled all the COX Ohio Media in one facility and really decked it out with a bunch of studio space, digital equipment and tons of toys. I hope they give tours. But as I read the 10-page broadsheet-sized insert, I noticed a gaping hole in their media– no social media. Just newspaper, television and radio.

Oops. I hope that is just an oversight. If not, call me and let’s do business.

Here is what I think a newspaper/television/radio media company should do. Build out a social media center like they did at Gatorade (photo above) and staff it 24/7/365 with people authorized to reply back. Anytime anyone mentions Dayton on twitter, Facebook or blogs about Dayton, they know it. They know all the influential bloggers, the restaurant directories, the sporting events going on about town. They see tweets from people stuck on 35, wondering what the holdup is. They see a shout-out to a favorite restaurant or a blog post just published touting the really cool things about Dayton, Ohio. They see tweets from a frustrated bride three days from her wedding looking for a wedding photographer because the one she booked cancelled on her. They get behind movements to get Kroger to carry cheese curds.

And they would suggest advertisers quickly and authoritatively. And advertisers would get calls. And business.

And they see tweets when people are coming into Dayton for a family visit and welcome them back. They see birthdays on Facebook and send out tweets and updates wishing each a happy birthday. Maybe they even send out random cupcakes on that special day from a local bakery who advertises with Cox. In short, they act as the bar in the City Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

Can you imagine how many people Jeff Pulver would tell at his 140conf Conferences about the time he came to Dayton, Ohio to visit Hamvention and the local newspaper made sure his experience here was warm and inviting? That they tweeted him when he landed, asking if he needed a ride, maybe even tweeted his hotel to alert them he was in town? I wonder how many other people would like to visit Dayton, Ohio, just for the pampering experience?

You are a neighbor here in Dayton, Ohio, not just a resident. And in the process, we all connect just a little bit closer to each other and the outside world.

That is what I think a local newspaper can become. And for not a lot of money.

Postnote: 2011-02-21
Chris Brogan posted a video about the future of media. Here is one facet of my take on hyper-local.