Blogs > Daily Local Dan

A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The terminology of the abortion debate

I noticed today that my story on the 40 Days For Life demonstration is the second most commented article on our website. (An anti-abortion group is holding a 40 day "vigil" outside of the West Chester Planned Parenthood.) As of1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, my article had 67 comments.

If it were up to me, that wouldn't be my most popular article. I wrote it quickly, in a dry style. Although I spent about an hour with the protesters, I used only their least challenging quotes. Their most challenging quotes fell outside of my scope. For example, Pat Carnevale, of East Nottingham, told me a story that would suggest he is against abortion, even when the life of the mother is at risk.

Carnevale: When I was out here last year or the year before, a young girl drove by a few times. I looked at her, and I knew she wanted to talk to me. She stopped, and I went over to her. She told me that when her mother found out she was pregnant, the doctor told her that she would be too ill to have the baby. The doctor told her to have an abortion. The mother was living in Europe at the time, and she got a second opinion. The other doctor said, "You don't want to have an abortion. You don't know what your child could turn out to be. Who knows? Your child could turn out to be a doctor." So I asked the girl what she was. She showed me her business car and said, "I'm a doctor." She was healthy and doing well. She was driving a BMW, I think. Was it a BMW? It was a nice car. And she said her mother is still alive, and healthy too.

Carnevale then said that he believes everything is in God's hands. If a pregnant mother is sick, he said, it's not up to humans to intervene. If it is God's will, the mother will live. If it is His will, she will die.

Carnivale was my best interview subject that day. Because he was so good, he didn't make the article. The paraphrasing that you must do to write a 400 word story would not have allowed a fully accurate representation of his quote. And introducing God into a 400 word news article on abortion issues is inadvisable. Mention of God outside of a direct quote might lead the reader to believe the reporter is in the "pro-life" camp. It's best that your news copy stand as far away as it can from the partisans of the abortion debate. To see why, read the often nasty comments left under my article.

I like to stand as far away as possible from the partisans of the abortion debate. This is not just because I'm a reporter. "Pro-life" and "pro-choice" are overly simplistic terms, as are their opposites, "anti-choice" and "pro-death" (a favorite at my Catholic grade school). In college, I tried to write an op-ed article on my opinion of abortion. I abandoned the project: I got myself wedged between materialism and spirituality. It's a scientific fact that the female body automatically aborts many zygotes and early-stage embryos. But to say that an embryo is merely a collection of cells is to say, by extension, that human life is nothing more than a biochemical process.

Anyway, here's what the Daily Local's stylebook has to say about how reporters should handle articles on abortion issues:

abortion - This is one of the most divisive issues in American society today. As newspapermen and newspaperwomen we must be very careful not to allow the partisans of the issue to drag us into the issue. We do not use the public relations-loaded terms pro choice or pro life to describe partisans of this debate. At the Daily Local News, our style is to refer to partisans as anti-abortion activists and abortion rights activists. "Choice" or some other word might be nice and short for a headline, but not here. Reporters may only use pro choice or pro life in direct quotes.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

On Powerpoint Presentations

This is kind of crazy: towards the end of a seemingly endless Wednesday night meeting, members of West Chester Borough Council voted unanimously to subject themselves to an hour of Powerpoint presentations. These presentations will take place next month and will supposedly help council members decide which architect to hire to design the $3.3 million police station expansion (hasn't anyone heard of, you know, quietly studying site concept plans?)

Who votes to watch Powerpoint presentations? They're awful. They induce sleep, or worse, the desire to see how far you can stick your finger up your nostril before you do yourself permanent damage. But Powerpoint presentations happen on computers, and people think that everything that happens on computers is good.

Remember overhead projector transparencies? They were pretty hard to make. Powerpoint slides are way too easy to make. They sponsor excessive slidemaking, just as keyboards sponsor excessive writing.

Back to my point: Borough council members, knowingly, willingly, and unanimously voted to subject themselves to an hour of Powerpoint presentations.

To be fair, this wasn't plan A.

Borough council had just voted to build a $3.3 million police station expansion, and they were now trying to select an architet to design said expansion. It was past 10 p.m. In the audience were three architects, a police chief, and a local reporter (Joe Norely, I think, had left). The architects were from two firms: Kimmel Bogrette and the Spiezel Group. The architects wanted to know which firm would get the job. So did the local reporter, who had to write about it, and the police chief, who would have to live with the results.

Now, borough council's public safety committee met earlier this month to watch powerpoint presentations given by four architectural firms (I was there, contemplating the nostril experiment). Of these four firms' presentations, the committee liked the Kimmel and Spiezel presentations the best. At a later meeting, the public safety committee voted 2 to 1 to recommend that borough council hire Spiezel (Note, when I say "borough council's public safety committee" I am referring to the three borough council members - Carolyn Comitta, Holly Brown and Chuck Christy - who make up this committee. West Chester's committees are subgroups of borough council - they are not independent of borough council).

The public safety committee's meeting, though, didn't seem to carry much weight. At the lengthy meeting borough council inflicted last Wednesday night on architects, the press, and law enforcement, council members just could not decide which firm to hire.

Seeing where things were going, they made a motion to table architect selection until next month. This motion failed. Then they made a motion to hire Kimmel Bogrette. This motion also failed. Then they made a motion to hire Spiezel. Again, this motion failed. Their fourth motion was to to table the discussion - and to make all council members watch the Powerpoint presentations that thus far only half of them had seen. This motion passed unanimously.

So, next month, late in the month, borough council members will again watch the Spiezel and Bogrette presentations. As will Police Chief Scott Bohn, Daily Local News Reporter Dan Kristie, and dutiful member of the public Joe Norely (I'm sure he'll be there). A half hour has been allotted to each presentation.

Why should the public care about all this?

Because some borough council members and borough administrators recognize that construction costs are currently very low. If the police station expansion goes out to bid while the economy is still in a slump, the borough is likely to get a pretty good deal. By waiting a month to select an architect, borough council is delaying construction by at least a month and running the risk of getting a less favorable deal. If this happens, taxes could go up.

(The fiscal conservative: They shouldn't be spending all that money anyway! The realist: Face it - they're building that police expansion, one way or another. Let's see how.)

Here's Council President Sue Bayne on what the borough should do (Note, Bayne said this at 10:45 at night. Hence the spirited tone):

"We have a construction economy now that allows us to do what we want to do the way we want to do it. We can get these projects ready now and really hope like hell the bids start coming lower than expected ... we fell on our tushes when the the Mosteller bids came in, and I think we need to do that again. If the bids come in too expensive, we can always say no."

(Note: the Mosteller Replacement Garage was expected to cost $17 million. The bids have put the price around $12 million. The bad economy is responsible for this $5 million discount.)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

"I disagree with everything you said"

My blog needs a gimmick.

How about this?

The Bold Statement of the Week Award.

This week, it goes to Jim Smith, the president of the West Chester Area School Board.

At Monday night's meeting of the school board's property and finance committee, the following transpired:

School Board Member Rogers Vaughn said that distance learning could be a solution to the school district's budgetary woes. His argument: teachers who deliver instructive and insightful lectures are rare. Why not set those teachers in front of a camera and beam their lectures into all classrooms? Facilitators (who would presumably be paid less than traditional teachers) would be in the classrooms to oversee the process of lecture absorption.

Smith, after hearing this, responded, in raised voice, "Rod, I disagree with everything you said."

Smith said that West Chester East was designed so that teachers could preside over large lectures. This, Smith said, was supposed to have been a new, innovative way to educate high schoolers. However, he said, the program was scrapped after five years.

"The kids did not like it and did not accept it," Smith said.

Smith, a former History and Social Studies teacher, said that the lecture model (especially the remote lecture model) is inappropriate for high school students - it does not give them enough access to teachers. Teachers need to be there to answer students' questions, to wake students when they are sleepy, to inspire students when they have lost the will to keep studying.

Assuming an oratorical tone, Smith concluded, "We have tried the lecture model. Did we try it long enough? Maybe not. Was it successful? No. ... I understand the way colleges go. Will it work in a High School? No."

To that, I say, "Huzzah."

Allow me, for just a moment, to be unobjective.

I distrust remote learning. My instinct tells me that face-to-face instruction conveys knowledge in a way that remote learning cannot fully replicate. Being in school with other people - learning to interact with other people - is just as important - if not more important - than academic learning.

That's not to say that Vaughn is full of nonsense. He is right about many things. Here are two:

1) Teachers who deliver inspired, engaging lectures are rare. Students would benefit from more access to them.

2) The cost of salaries and benefits is rising quickly. The current system may be unsustainable. Bold action is needed.

Vaughn's argument contains a third, perhaps unintended implication:

Many students would rather watch TV than listen to their teachers. Could students be tricked into watching teachers on TV? Would they pay more attention to TV teachers than to in-person teachers?

I'm serious.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Best Places to Live

West Goshen Township made Money Magazine's 2009 list of best places to live. Since I became sentient, "best" lists have puzzled me.

Why? Because though they are usually compiled by uninformed and overworked hacks, the general public treats them like scripture.


According to Money, West Goshen has a population of 8,800. According to the 2000 census, its population is around 20,000. (The 2010 number will be higher.)

According to Money, West Goshen's virtues are: quiet suburban feel, nearby shopping centers, an hour's proximity to Philadelphia, four parks (one with an ampitheater), a fitness boot camp for women, field trips for teens, and a summer bicycle parade.

Which means, it sounds like all upper middle class suburban towns. It also sounds like almost every town on Money's list.

The giveaway that Money's list should be taken with a grain of salt is not the population count error; rather, it is that Money overlooked West Goshen's proximity to West Chester Borough - West Goshen surrounds the borough on three sides! The borough is unique enough, I think, to merit mention. It has a university, it is the county seat, it has a ton of historic buildings, and it has one of the best downtowns in the Philadelphia suburbs ... certainly its downtown is more attractive than the nearby shopping centers? And, hey, isn't a pretty big chunk of the university in West Goshen?

West Goshen Township is a nice enough place. I have no qualms. The problem is "best" lists - fortune cookies are more informative.

I write this post because, during yesterday's meeting of the West Goshen supervisors, a woman who was unhappy about the township's plan to take a park and make it into a public works garage used the Money ranking as ammunition. I got to the meeting just as she was launching into:

"Money said we are one of the top ten best places to live in the country. They said it was because of our parks. If we lose one of our parks ..."

And so began a heated discussion between the resident (whose name I did not get) and the township officials.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Where does Welch live?

Republican Steve Welch, who would probably like me to describe him as a "Phoenixville businessman" (or better, a "Phoenixville entrepreneur" ... but this is a blog, and I don't like such easy descriptors) did something unusual on Saturday. He was going to run for congress in the 7th District, where he lives. But, probably because of pressure from Pat Meehan's people, he decided that he would instead run in the 6th District. (Meehan, a GOP favorite, announced his candidacy for the 7th District today)

Now, Welch does not live in the 6th District, but he believes he lives close enough to it to successfully represent it. (You do not have to live in a congressional district to run in it - you merely have to live in the state.) He told me during an interview on Saturday that he lives in Phoenixville, and that his property borders the 6th District. It's true that his property is really, really close to the 6th District line. But he lives in Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County, across the river from Phoenixville Borough, Chester County. Welch has a Phoenixville mailing address but does not, by the Daily Local's standards, live in Phonenixville.

Allow me to briefly explain the Daily Local's obsession with municipal boundaries. Local reporters spend half their working lives at municipal meetings. West Chester, to most people around here, includes any place that has a West Chester zip code. To a local reporter such as myself, "West Chester" is West Chester Borough. Period. People who live in West Goshen claim that they, too, live in West Chester, and 95 percent of the population will be satisfied with this claim. I'm not. I've been to West Chester Borough meetings, and I've been to West Goshen meetings. They are two different municipalities, with two different land use patterns and two vastly different governing styles. If your house is in West Goshen Township, the Daily Local believes you live in West Goshen.

Anyway, we should be talking about congressional district boundaries, not municipal boundaries. (The two are quite different - for example, Ridley Township, where I currently reside, is in two congressional districts, and, like, half a dozen state house districts). Steve Welch lives in the 7th District but is running in the 6th District - this matters a little bit, but it probably doesn't matter as much as, say, Curt Schroder's people would like it to. The 6th District is badly gerrymandered. Welch lives in an odd appendage to the 7th District that seems as if it should have been included in the 6th District. If Welch lived farther inside the 7th District (in Media, for example), I suppose there'd be more call for suspicion.

Anyway, I found a fun tool. At, you can get Google maps of any congressional district you like.

Check out the 6th District here.

And, while you're at it, take a look at the 7th District.

And the 16th District, where West Chester Borough is located. Notice how the district reaches it's bloblike arm up to capture the borough. I hear there's county daily in that borough. (Ha - technically, our office is in East Bradford (southwest corner of Bradford Ave. and Strasburg Rd.), just inside the 6th District. If I lived at the office and ran in the 16th District, I'd be in Welch's shoes.)


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reviving Daily Local Dan

A few people have come up to me in recent weeks and asked me, "What happened to your blog?"

My response, "You read it?"

"Yeah," they say. "There's a link to it right on the Daily Local News's homepage."

"You're right," I say. "Do you like the picture that goes with it?"

"No," they say.

"Neither do I," I say.

So, they're right. I ought to be keeping up with this thing.

Today's topic: word choice.

I recently wrote a story about the "local reaction" to Ted Kennedy's death. Local reaction stories are difficult. Man on the street interviews sometimes work, but in this case I thought they would not. Instead, I decided to call politically active Chester County residents - specifically, ones who do not currently hold elected office. I talked to a bunch of folks, and ended up using pieces of my interviews with former Chester County GOP Chairman Bill Lamb, Chester County Young Democrats President Dan Tyman, and former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford. Wofford was an excellent source, because he had known Kennedy for nearly half a century.

When casting about for a phrase to describe my subjects, I settled on this somewhat unconventional choice: "Members of Chester County's political class."

Today, I read the reader responses to my article. This one struck me:

"I've not read the article -- probably won't. The phrase "political class" is vile. Not that it is inaccurate, I suspect that it is accurate. Being hit in the face with a description that the people who run our beloved county are different from the rest of us is just plain sad. "


Tacitus is being too idealistic. I challenge him to provide a workable definition of "the rest of us." And it better not be "Sarah Palin."

Then there's this highly entertaining response:

"To the Editor:
"Your reporter’s ramblings about the sadness of a political “class” over the death of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy displays a shocking lack of understanding of American democracy and perhaps a pathetic mewing for the end of the Cold War and for the Marxist thinking he self-evidentially espouses.
"His examples of this “class” could hardly be more hapless. Bill Lamb was a crime-busting DA back in the 1970s fearlessly busting up volunteer firehouses to confiscate illegal nickel slots. Harris Wofford was a U.S. senator from the Main Line who had his butt thrown out of office after the Commonwealth realized that he was what a tweedy-snot.
"One is shocked that the Daily Local News could manufacture and publish such unsophisticated rubbish. What next? A campaign for fluorinated water?"

Sandy Flash
Penn Green Road

Anyway, I promise that from now on I'll stay up to date with this blog.