Monday, November 26, 2007

Rural America

We went to the beach on the Washington coast for Thanksgiving. One of the things we noticed, at least in our rental house and rental houses next door to us, was that there was no recycling. We spent some time in the rural southwest earlier this year - also no recycling. I mean none - no glass recycling, no paper recycling, no sort-your-own recycling (I presume you can do that at the dumps, but we didn't go there).
Now, that's two for two on trips away from major cities this year. I bet we didn't find the only two rural spots without recycling. I'm sure many do have it, but my guess is more don't. It's expensive to set up.
I'm reminded of something I heard from the American Institute of Architects: the biggest easy gains, the ones that pencil out right away and save resources for the more dramatic changes, are all in conservation. Which also means recycling.
It's also reinforces the idea that cities have the economies of scale to allow for more responsible stewardship of the planet. It's easy to think of the wild west or the wild and fairly unpopulated Northwest coasts as pristine, but per capita, I bet they're a lot harder on the Earth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mass Transit is Good for Reading, and so is Amazon

I've been taking the bus a lot more lately, and I rode the 250 Express over to a play in Seattle last night. We were stuck in even-worse-than-usual accident-induced traffic, and I had a chance to finish a book. I also noticed that about a third of the other riders were reading. This on a day when a major study came out about how we're reading less. I also talked to two strangers, which is rare. If I'd been stuck in my car I wouldn't have done either.

Also of note - the bus was packed - standing room only. So why did we just vote down a transportation initiative?

Also -- good for Amazon on releasing its new reader, the Kindle. I haven't got mine yet (I probably will, both as a futurist gadget and since I'm a frequent reader out of physical space for books in my office). But that's less tree-cutting, and hopefully it will get used enough to far offset whatever toxic products it puts in the waste stream later. Whether it becomes "the product" we've all been waiting for as far as making electronic fiction reading actually pleasurable or not, it appears to be progress.

Anyway, today will be driving to the beach (but I get to be the passenger), and I'll try and print the summary of the latest IPCC report as car-reading fodder.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

And now I've been to the FCC hearing...

But I didn't get to talk to the FCC. Here is what happened....

The hearing got called with almost no notice. For 4:00 - 10:00 PM on the Friday before a three day weekend. Bad FCC. But I'm local, I care about media consolidation, and my day job is related to the FCC as I manage cable franchises and television stations (and a bunch more stuff that that - all of the technology for a medium sized city, so I don't actually get to spend much time on these issues, even though I care about them). I also think the media consolidation we've already had has pretty well ruined the national conversation about key issues like climate change, and further media consolidation is ludicrous.

I had an important meeting scheduled to go to 3 PM at Bellevue City Hall, and it then went over 5 minutes. I drove to a park and ride and took the bus to Seattle (remember climate change) and discovered the bus tunnel for the first time. I made sure I knew how to get back to the tunnel, having learned from big cities like Paris and NY that you'd best check landmarks so you don't get lost in the forest of buildings.

Thus fortified, I walked to Town Hall, which I am a member of, and which was a great place to hold the hearings. I was running over what I'd like to say to the commissioners in my head and trying not to be nervous about the whole thing. I got there about 4:10 to find the Governor delivering a very good speech, although she was facing us instead of the FCC commissioners, which seemed not-quite-right. The room was over half full, but I got a good seat anyway.

Then Maria Cantwell and Jay Inslee and Dave Reichert and other Washington State politicians delivered addresses to us via pre-recorded video. These were all good speeches and they got 5 minutes each. But there wasn't even a pretense that the information had been prepared FOR the FCC except that it ended up in the formal record of the meeting, which might have been the point although no one said so. At any rate, the FCC didn't have any doubt how they stood - they'd just met with them in person in Washington. Then a few more local politicians who had made it here (for the Washington ones, the FCC had scheduled this while congress was in session, so they couldn't be here) talked for their five minutes each. Good for them.

Then each FCC commissioner talked for five minutes (except one, who said he wasn't going to waste our time, but is suspected to be on the pro-consolidation side of the issue and might just have not wanted to be yelled at). Oh - and the audience was very interactive with all of these speeches. And very much against media consolidation. Like 95% or better against media consolidation, and against the FCC and against big government. Not for much as far as I could tell, except a few people, but that's a different issue. And the main topic was something worth being against.

So, now we're a hour and a half into the hearing, maybe more. We've heard a lot of short and very well-written and well delivered speeches. Could have been a national debate final or something. About two of them have been cautiously trying to explain to a hostile audience why media consolidation is good. They were pretty ineffective.

Next, a panel of experts gets five minutes each. Frank Blethen from the Seattle Times did a great job. Some Latino labor union people got the audience almost in tears. Three-quarters of these speakers were against further consolidation. These are also all professionally delivered talks, and I learned from listening to them. There were about fifteen television stations worth of cameras in the room, and I actually think this part would be the one most worth listening to as far as the prepared speeches go.

Now it's 6:30 and not one member of the general public has gotten to talk to the FCC until now. So the general public gets two minutes each. Belatedly, I figure out I need to sign up and go find the table. It's in the far back, on a different floor, in a darkish corner. I'm number 227. Why wasn't the table right up front when you walked through the doors?

I go back up and listen to the public testimony. It's actually quite good. I'm proud of us - the general public. Mind you, by general public, I mostly mean local broadcasters, local small press, activists, people who do their own shows on public TV, minorities, children. Bright people with the skin in the game of this issue. There's actually some humor now, too. We've been in the room for over three hours being talked to, and now there's some punchy but good humor and some tender moments.

But 8:30 or so, they're on speaker number 29. I'm 227. A little over an hour to get through 20 speakers. That means there's 10 hours worth of people who want to talk, and I'm hour number 10. Now, some will give up and go home. So maybe I'll get to talk by midnight. I haven't had any dinner, and thank god I brought water since there isn't any of that either. There's no support except bathrooms and a sign that says "bottled water only" but doesn't provide any bottled water. I've never taken a bus from Seattle after dark. I think I can find the bus tunnel. I'm hungry. It's been a long week at work, not one of those 40 hour weeks of hard work that feel about right, but one of those 50 to 60 hour weeks, and I've got a novel to finish approving the copy edits on, to boot. I decide I can't wait until midnight to talk to the FCC, and they probably won't be able to hear anything by then, anyway, even if they try. They're human, and six hours of talking heads all saying close to the same thing will wear anyone out.

So I find the bus tunnel, which is closed (it wouldn't be closed in Paris). But given the evening, this seems oddly appropriate. It takes about 15 minutes of wandering around Seattle in the dark and the rain while people are rowdy and a little scary to find the bus stop that will work, and I get twenty blessed minutes to sit and read fiction while I get driven across the lake and back to suburbia.

Surely we can do public process better than this? That's partly my job, so I'll mull over it after I've caught up on my sleep. In the meantime, well, if you see the FCC, tell them media consolidation is a bad idea.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I've been to Villahermosa, Mexico, and New Orleans, LA, US

And I'm pretty sure neither will ever look the same. Both were beautiful cities, both centers of unique cultures.

It's not any one weather event, even these, but the unrelenting showy pounding we're getting that seems so dramatic.

Everyone I've heard talk recently, and every credible scientist I've read, suggests that things are happening faster than models predicted. Ice is melting faster. Species are getting in trouble faster (note to self - I'm part of a species). I'm wondering if I need to get to the Inside Passage or to Venice in the next few years to see them at all.

Also at risk? New York, NY. Ever been to Central Park is when the cool spring air is scented by colorful flowers dripping from every corner and birds seem to be trying to fill all the tree branches at once?

Two Events of Note

Saturday September 10th is being billed as Carbon Offset Day - which translates to an opportunity to plant trees. Always a good idea.

And more related to climate change than you might think (by dint of the damage media consolidation does to the variety and power of what we hear), the FCC is in town on ridiculously short notice for a hearing. They want to know if we think three or less people should own all the media in the US. Yes, that's an oversimplification, but no by much. Drop by Town Hall on the 9th and tell them that's not a very good idea. Note that there appears to be an email address you can use if you can't get there in person.