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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Off-topic blog recommendation...

If anyone who stops by this blog regularly has clicked through my link list to see what blogs are getting the Content Done Better thumbs up, they may have checked out Building a Better World, which is a blog written by a friend of mine, Ben Sutherland.

When I was in graduate school (Round 2 of 3), Ben and I were roommates. I also had the chance to coach him a little bit (I was the debate coach there at the time). We also lived together in an apartment in the worst part of town. Our roommate was a drug dealer named "T" and once someone in the building next to us was beaten to death with a phone receiver after refusing to pay up on a bet, if that gives you a clue. Anyway, we sort of lost contact with one another for over a decade before we discovered we were both living in northeast Kansas. He's a good guy, an interesting dinner guest, and has something to say.

If you have never been so bored as to click through all of the links, are not a regular visitor, or checked out Building a Better World once but don't read it often, go read Ben's blog. The most recent update:


Although the blog is not related to the online content industry, it has a lot to offer. I wanted to take a minute to hype it today...

Before I start telling you what I dig about it, I am going to insult it a little bit. I can get by with that because Ben is a friend. Plus, I know he'll be reading this and my criticism might just spur him into action. (If I didn't hate making little winking happy faces with semi-colons, hyphens and right parens, I would do so now.)

It's ugly. It uses one of the oldest pre-fab Blogger templates and he hasn't dressed it up at all. In fact, he hasn't even made use of some of the very few features offered by the template. He doesn't maintain a blogroll there, either. I think he does over at the blog's evil twin, which is hosted on Tripod (no, seriously, some people still use it), but this one is bare.

The ugliness is a turn off. The lack of links discourages others from linking. There are problems. However, if the ugliness turned you off, go back and look at it again, pretending it is attractive. The actual material is what it's all about. At least until I convince him to do some remodeling.

Ben's blog is a very eclectic blend of stuff.

It's a personal narrative that is surprisingly frank in its discussion of his life and thoughts. There are millions of those written by people who are either narcisistic or driven my uncontrollable angst. That's not the story here, though. The personal is often part of a larger discussion and actually provides some insight, too.

It's about education. Ben is a special education teacher who takes his work very seriously and has a commitment to both the practical and the theoretical. His observations on that front are always interesting, even for those who may not be part of the teaching/education scene.

It's political, but with a twist. Most politically oriented blogs are partisan tools operated by people who are happy to parrot whatever the current talking points are. This isn't Ben's angle. Alot of his academic work is in policy studies and he is working on materials related to his perspectives on policy construction and implementation. That means (a) he's bringing something different to the table than the yawners who are just reciting the morning's CNN coverage--more depth and more interesting source material, (b) he's approaching the subject as someone who refuses to fall in love with either the Ds or Rs--it's more thoughtful and is a way for him to help develop his own policy theory and perspectives, and (c) he is very open-minded and willing to respectfully entertain and evaluate competing perspectives at Building a Better World.

Sometimes the stuff he's writing about isn't the kind of thing that is going to grab mass appeal (or more particularly appeal among those who are reading what I am writing). Unless you know Ben or have some sense of where he is coming from, some posts might not seem worth the effort based on the first paragraph.

Unfortunately, many of us have a bias against reading about the political or philosophical because we assume it is going to be more of the same old junk. You see something about Lebanon and Israel and you think, "Gee, as if I have time to figure all of this crap out and even if I did, why would I want to read about it on some blog?" That's understandable.

However, I think that once we relate to the person on the other side of the blog and get a sense of who they are, we start to read out of curiosity and we can be really surprised by what we find.

That's why I am pushing Ben's blog today. His most recent post is a perfect example of how he can take something that might not seem like one's cup of tea (the daily grind of being a Kansas City special education teacher) and turn it into something interesting, poignant and even life-affirming.

Read it.
Bookmark it.

Link to him
--and if you do, remind me that you did after I finally convince him to get a link list up. It will be reciprocated.

Warning: Although the material is anything but offensive, Ben will occasionally "dip into the vernacular" or use a few choice "colorful expressions." The post I've highlighted today is squeaky clean, but some of them might not be 99.4% pure.