Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Magnificent Achievements

St. Louis - Looking up at this tonight, it felt as if I was looking at something created with CGI and inserted into a picture with Photoshop. The scale, the perfection of it, just transcend the average person's ability to comprehend this structure. Then you go up inside it, and the marvels continue.When even a teenager is impressed by something, you know you've found something that really matters.

We spent the weekend with my brother in Tulsa. It was sticky hot both days, so we did as little as possible. Dave's wife Bai Lan made an incredible dinner on Sunday night.

We left Tulsa on Monday morning and drove to Bartlesville, a very clean and quiet small city about an hour to the north. Bartlesville is an oil town, and the Price Oil Co. Tower, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1956, isn't the tallest building in town, but certainly one of the most impressive. The tower is been meticulously maintained and restored, and now contains a 31-room hotel, top-floor restaurant, arts center and office space.

door to the Price Tower is the Community Center, designed by Wright protege' William Wesley Peters. Evan and I were able to walk around inside a bit. It's a very complimentary facility to the tower next door.

We passed through Greensburg, Kansas on Saturday, and got a look at both the devastation of last year's tornado, and the efforts by many to rebuild. The involvement of many builders and designers with a green emphasis was also being showcased, and there were TV crews from TLC filming for an upcoming series. We watched a little of the current Planet Green special when we were in Tulsa. Hats off to the citizens of Greensburg that are working hard to rebuild their town and their lives, and paying attention to the environment to boot.

In keeping with the essential premise that one doesn't necessarily need to do something on a large to massive scale to achieve something impressive, witness the sculptures of M.T. Liggett of Mullinville, Kansas. Quite the in-car discussion generator.

We're off to Pittsburgh tomorrow. A few days there, then further east. More as time and events permit. Keep cool.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Downtown Beauty Broken?

Dodge City, Kansas - The drive from Grand Junction along US-50 was uneventful and remarkably pleasant. Evan and I both like Salida, so driving through there was nice, as was the drive over Monarch Pass that preceded it.

Traveling east across the plains from Pueblo was interesting, especially driving through the small towns along the way. It was much more stimulating than driving the Interstate. So much more to see, to explore, to smell...There is a monstrous feedlot just east of the sign that says "Welcome to Prowers County". You can smell it about 3 miles before you even see it.

I was very interested in the Sentinel article about the first day of the Grand Junction City Council's retreat, especially in relationship to my post yesterday. Some of the "broad, familiar themes", as Mike Wiggins termed them, included a couple that I have been thinking about:
  • Securing Public Safety - A laudable goal, so long as there is an understanding that such security will only come with a continued commitment to working together with the remainder of the county's public safety agencies. This includes the exploration of both consolidation and diversification to improve efficiency from both an operational and fiscal standpoint. One example is the county's Emergency Manager, who remains the only such professional in Mesa County, despite several examples of similarly-sized Home Rule cities in Colorado seeing the need to employ their own Emergency Management personnel.
  • Preserving the Grand Valley's agricultural community and open spaces - I believe that the completion of this goal is highly dependent upon significant review and revision of the Persigo Agreement.
I was also intrigued by some of the comments attributed to City Council members regarding their stated preference for the development of taller buildings in the Downtown core, perhaps not unlike the new parking garage with its' associated space advantage and impressive vistas.
Impressive at least if you are on the inside looking out, not so much the other way around.

Teresa Coons may want to "be able to lean out the window and yell at somebody", but some people don't necessarily want others looking out their windows at them, witness the IRS Special Agent who approached me as I was descending the garage stairs on Wednesday about why I was taking pictures from up there. I wonder how much the Feds really like that vantage point across the street from their building, or if anyone even asked them about it.

And when Gregg Palmer was quoted as saying that the city should be “trying to push things in and up rather than let them spread out", I couldn't help but think that he was trying to sell brassieres instead of development plans.

Sorry, but I just can't envision a bunch of buildings between 5 and 10 stories, or between the size of the new garage and the Alpine Bank building, enhancing the quality of the experience of the Downtown area, especially when, as I've shown before, such structures, if not meticulously planned with regard to their outside surroundings, will likely interfere with the aesthetic connection between the Downtown and the natural beauty that surrounds it. Frank Lloyd Wright called this concept Organic Architecture.

Maximizing the density of Downtown through taller buildings may be one way to prevent a growing city center from sprawling into areas unintended for such things, but there are other ways as well. Like saying no, especially when considering the likely effect of more employees and residents in taller buildings. That means more traffic through the neighborhoods that flank the Downtown "core" on at least two sides. And that's where residents of those neighborhoods, like myself, begin to have serious concerns.

Onward to eastern Oklahoma tomorrow. Have a great day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Downtown Beauty Break

This is one of the prettiest places in Downtown Grand Junction. The picture doesn't do it justice, but I didn't want to intrude any further. The varieties of plants and flowers that adorn the yard are intricately irrigated and meticulously maintained. The porch and rockers are inviting reminders of a friendlier time.

The display is a lot more striking when walking down the sidewalk through the variety of plant life on either side. It's a wonderful transition into something unexpected.

Try doing this in a cookie-cutter subdivision with a fascist HOA.

The same thing carries on to the house next door. The sunflower at the front door may need to be gently guided off to the side, and I would trim back some of the larger bushes by the house, but it's not my house, is it? It's theirs.

Yesterday I took the camera up to the top level of the City's new parking garage to see how Downtown looks from up there. For the most part, the garage shows how Downtown complements its' exterior surroundings, and vice versa.
Here's Grand Mesa with Downtown buildings in the foreground, the Qwest communication tower
at 8th and Main Streets being most prominent.

I wish that the lighting was better, but there was some rain showers approaching. Here's a view of the Justice Center with the Redlands and the Monument beyond.

Looking to the southwest past the St. Regis up toward Little Park Road, with the showers approaching.

These are examples of how Downtown Grand Junction is part and parcel of its' natural surroundings. This is why I believe that any expansion or re-development of the Downtown has to respect the connection to nature that helps to define our area.

Here's a shot of the new St. Mary's Hospital construction, with the Book Cliffs in the background.

The building dominates the city's skyline, especially when looking at it from the west or east.
It kind of reminds me of the machine from the movie Contact.

Evan and I will be on the road in the morning. More to see and say from afar.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

COPA, FISA/FAA and ACTA - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

There's lots of dangerous acronyms out there, but the above three warrant the attention of every freedom-loving American.

COPA is the Child Online Protection Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1998. COPA would have required websites that display or sell material deemed "harmful to minors" to restrict access to their sites. The intended target of the act was Internet pornography.

While seemingly well-intentioned (like the asphalt on the road to Hell), the overly broad definition of what is "harmful to minors" would have helped to chill the dissemination of many forms of constitutionally protected speech, and stifled the effective flow of information that makes the Internet what it is today.

The ACLU saw the potential threat to freedom and sued immediately after COPA was signed into law. A federal judge sided with the ACLU and leveled an injunction against the law's implementation until the ACLU's legal challenge could be heard.

The law has been batted around the courts for the last 10 years, and today a federal appeals court ruled (once again) that the law is unconstitutional.
To quote the Wired Threat Level story:
Both courts also found that the standards for material that had to be hidden from open browsing were so loosely defined that any content not suitable for a four-year-old would have been hidden behind a age-verification firewall.
The Department of Justice still has the option of another appeal to the Supreme Court, but it's hoped that they will stop beating the dead horse that COPA is and realize that its' demise is a good thing, and that it's time to move on.

Many are familiar with the recent re-authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) through another law called the FISA Amendments Act (FAA). This is the law that grants additional powers for surveillance, without having to provide certain key information to the special court that was established to hear motions for warrants under the original FISA. To quote the ACLU's press release announcing their lawsuit, filed the day President Bush signed the bill last week:

"In today's legal challenge, the ACLU argues that the new spying law violates Americans' rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it's conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing."

Another controversial amendment attached to the bill granted immunity to Telecommunications companies that assisted the Bush administration in warrantless surveillance activities that were challenged in court and ruled to be unconstitutional.

Many Democratic members of Congress opposed this amendment, but still voted for the bill when they did not have the votes to remove it. This includes Barack Obama, who while mounting an eloquent defense of his rationale (Hillary voted against the bill) is still taking a beating over his vote and stance. John McCain didn't show up to vote.

FISA/FAA is bad. The ACLU has a very comprehensive page on their efforts to keep it from becoming law.
It's definitely worth checking out.

At least there are several information sources on this egregious attempt at subjugating our wholesale civil liberties to purportedly gain advantage over a vague threat of terrorism. A new treaty
currently being negotiated in secret has had very little reporting in the USA outside of advocacy groups and techie blogs.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), according to Wikipedia...
"...would establish an international coalition against copyright infringement, imposing strong, top-down enforcement of copyright laws in developed nations. The proposed agreement would allow border officials to search laptops, MP3 players, and cellular phones for copyright-infringing content. It would also impose new cooperation requirements upon Internet service providers (ISPs), including perfunctory disclosure of customer information, and restrict the use of online privacy tools."
Even more alarming is that up until an overview of the proposed agreement was leaked out, participating countries would disclose very little information about what was being discussed.

Even if you don't participate in file-sharing (I don't), this attempt to slide a significant impediment upon the free exchange of information and ideas, as well as some pretty serious infringements on the private content of your personal computer or music player, is a little hard to stand.

The American Mainstream Media have for the most part ignored ACTA. I'm sure that this has nothing to do with the major news networks being owned by large conglomerates (GE, Viacom, Disney, News Corp) that have significant investments in other forms of media and entertainment. Perhaps their collective silence on ACTA is becoming one of the best arguments against further consolidation of media ownership in this country.

Thankfully, independent advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge and tech sites like Slashdot have been getting the word out on this 'quiet little agreement' between nations. The EFF also has an action page to e-mail your senator about what's going on and how you feel about it.

ACTA is ugly. It was created and is being negotiated in a way that resists transparency in discourse, debate, and democratic processes. It is being implemented in a way that will bypass the scrutiny of the elected representatives of the people in the form of Congress. If it can't stand the light of day, then it shouldn't exist as part of the codification of laws governing democratic societies.

Now you should be up to speed on all of the recent government efforts to take away a little more of your liberty day by day. They hope that, like the frog who sits plaintively in a pot of water as the heat is gradually turned up, we won't notice until we're boiling.

With that in mind, enjoy the rest of your summer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Good News

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

- Philippians 4:8-9 (New International Version)
Leslie read me the above scripture when we were talking on Friday night, while she was giving me a hard time about supposedly paying more attention to bad things that are going on in the world than those events that bring people together, solve problems, and generally lift up humanity rather than bring it down.

I think that there is some credence to her assertions, although I tried to assure her that I enjoy observing those occurrences in this world that interest or challenge me, as they provide some mental exercise in analyzing what I'm reading, and formulating a cohesive idea or two and writing about it.

Leslie is a committed Christian, and told me that if I pursued God as much as I pursued other things (like writing) that I would be much better off. For her, this starts with the daily pursuit of God's word through reading her Bible.

There is credence in most of the things she says to me, but I still feel obligated, driven, or called to walk the path that I am traveling. I feel that a lot of the time that God is directing my life, including my writing, and also helps me recognize when I'm not approaching things in a way that He would have me approach them. I try to listen.

Yesterday I found a website that seemed to send me in a direction that felt right. The Good News Network is found simply enough, right near the top of any Google search for 'Good News'.
A snippet from their Mission Statement says it all:
A Daily Dose of News to Enthuse — The Good News Network is a clearinghouse for the gathering and dissemination of positive news stories from around the globe. Daily stories will confirm what we already believe — that good news itself is not in short supply; the advertising of it is.
The site is subscription-based, but the fee is reasonable ($2.00 per month) and there is a free 30-day trial period. One of their top stories today grabbed my attention very easily. The message behind one man's tragedy and how he chose to deal with it is both moving and inspiring, in a way that compels you to change how you look at the world around you.

This story was also featured on NBC last week. The video is worth sharing:

Aside from the awesome power of forgiveness and grace so beautifully illustrated by the actions of Azim Khamisa, one line of the story stuck with me:
"..buried his only son Tariq according to his Muslim custom". (emphasis mine)
This led me to try to find out more about the foundation that was started by Azim Khamisa, and to find out more about his faith. I found some of that here. One sentence stuck out to me:
"As part of their faith, Ismailis accept a responsibility to work toward a better, more peaceful world. In fact, "peace" is one of the meanings of the word Islam."
It's interesting to note how a number of radical practitioners of a religion have, through their actions, sullied some of the deepest tenets of that religion in favor of earthly judgment, the taking of lives in the name of the religion, and the concentration of earthly power and influence in themselves or those who follow them.

You could assume from the framing of these comments that I'm talking about Islam.
Then you'd be missing the point, that being that all denominations are the creation of man, not of God.

Sunni or Shiite, Protestant or Catholic, Orthodox or Reform, it makes no difference if the Word of God, in whatever form it takes (Bible, Qu'ran, Torah), is disregarded as part of the belief structure of the denomination. Now I see Leslie's point - knowing the Word is just as important as trying to live up to it.

One of the things I told Leslie tonight is that I feel a sense of relevance, either spiritual or otherwise, when I find something to write about and can put something together that honors the skill that God gave me, if not God himself.

This is no substitute for the depth in which Leslie and others like her commit themselves to understanding God's purpose in their lives. It's something that I feel will be a continual struggle the rest of my earthly days. I've been blessed to have people like Jan and Leslie in my life.

Find some good news today.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Savage-ly Misinformed and Harmon-ized

Media Matters for America released some interesting audio from talk show host Michael Savage's program of July 16.

I'm certainly not going to tell Mr. Savage he can't speak his mind. He is entitled to that much. It's just that I've seen and met autistic children, spent time around a few of them, and in the course of working on ambulances and around the Emergency Department of a major urban hospital have seen lots of kids with asthma, watched them struggle with it.

Autism as a disorder is a source of recent controversy. There are controversial attempts to link the onset of Autism to early childhood vaccines containing Thimerosal, a mercury-derived preservative. Other controversial issues include the use of chelation therapy to treat autistic children who had detectable but non-toxic amounts of mercury or lead in their blood.

I first became interested in this topic after reading a post on Slashdot about a blogger who specializes in autism-related issues who received a subpoena from the attorney for two plaintiffs in a suit against a vaccine manufacturer.

The blogger, who successfully quashed what was an over-reaching attempt at harassment (which also resulted in sanctions against the attorney), maintains an autism-related site that is one of the most comprehensive web-based resources for a specialized topic that I have ever seen. If you're interested, go here.

Irrespective of the numerous controversies concerning autism and its' causes (both real and unproven), Mr. Savage acted irresponsibly by classifying childhood-onset disorders such as autism and asthma in the way that he did. This is unfortunately typical of Mr. Savage's modus operandi, which is akin to attempting fine carving with a chain saw.

In case you're at all interested, the Grand Junction area is subjected to Mr. Savage from 6:00 to 8:00 PM during the week on KNZZ.

Media Matters' Colorado division also did a little homework on a Sentinel article by Gary Harmon about the local implications of T. Boone Pickens' plan for development of gas and wind power as alternative sources of electrical power.

Among other things, it seems that Gary secured comment from a representative of Americans for American Energy, which purports to portray itself as a grass roots organization, when in fact it is controlled by a lobbying firm with ties to the energy industry. This is also known as an Astroturf organization, in reference to an attempt to produce artificial 'grass roots'.

I spoke with Leslie about some of these things tonight, and she chided me for always focusing on stories and news that generated negative feelings, or was an attempt to criticize or point out the shortcomings of others. She asked me why I wrapped myself up in such things when there were examples of things that uplift and exalt humanity that don't get enough attention in the mainstream media, the blogosphere, or elsewhere.

I told her that I didn't think that was always the case, but in response to her perception of what I think and write about I would actively seek more examples of positive things in the future.
Starting tonight.

Thanks to the CU and Mesa State Journalism schools for hosting the second annual George Orbanek workshop this afternoon. Ralph D'Andrea said most of what I would say about it, except that I thoroughly enjoyed meeting several people including Ralph, along with Emily Anderson of the Free Press and Todd Powell of the Sentinel. I also enjoyed seeing the Sentinel's Amy Hamilton and Denny Herzog, as well as Kate Porras (nee Godwin), formerly of KKCO and now the GJPD's Public Information Coordinator.

The program was highly informative, not only in its' content but also for the opportunity to network with those who know the trade in our area. Looking forward to learning more down the road.

To quote the late Bill Burns, "Good Night, Good Luck, and Good News tomorrow".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why So Serious?

With the Obama campaign gearing up its' Western Colorado effort with a meeting in Grand Junction tonight, and what is likely to be the top summer blockbuster opening in theaters on Friday, I thought now would be the time to get the next four months into proper perspective.

And thanks to the guys at JibJab, we can do that with relative ease.

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

The personalization feature on these is great.

Have a great day.

Citizen Journalists and Public Access

The Colorado Independent reported today on a multi-stakeholder initiative to leverage some considerable resources in Metro Denver, to enable citizen and professional journalists to place their content onto the web and the Public Access channels of Denver's cable system during the Democratic National Convention.

Denver Open Media, KGNU Radio and the Colorado Independent Media Center are reportedly collaborating to make their airwaves, bandwidth, production resources, and computers available to anyone who wants to produce, edit, and broadcast their coverage of the convention.

This looks to be a unique and potentially powerful exercise in the ability of non-profit, independent media organizations to facilitate the creation and transmission of citizen-produced broadcast media content.

One of these non-profits also manages the public access cable channels in Denver, presumably under an agreement with the City of Denver, which likely obtained those channels as part of their franchise agreement with their cable TV provider.

There are numerous examples of active public access channels on cable systems throughout Colorado, and the Western Slope is no exception. Summit County, Aspen, and Durango among others can boast a means where the general public has access to the community airwaves, to enhance the quality of the information the community at large receives.

So what about Western Colorado's largest metropolitan area? Mesa County provides programming via Channel 12, but that channel is restricted to Government Access only by the county's franchise agreement with the current cable franchisee, Bresnan Communications.

The City of Grand Junction re-negotiated their franchise agreement with Bresnan in 2005. I was one of many citizens who successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a full Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access channel in the city's franchise agreement.

The city needs only to request this channel from Bresnan, who then has 120 days to provide the channel on their basic channel tier. My guess is that the City does not want to be in the business of running a TV station, so they are waiting for a competent non-profit to step up to the plate.

In a growing community such as ours, with considerable expertise in the educational and non-profit sectors, one can only hope that meaningful collaboration can occur to establish a viable entity to operate and administer a channel of this type, in a fiscally responsible way, for the benefit of all citizens.

As it happens, there is an opportunity this weekend for those interested in journalism and video production to attend a free workshop on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.

The George Orbanek Journalism Workshop: An Outreach Program for Negotiating the Invisible Web and Interactively Engaging Residents of Colorado Communities
is being presented in Grand Junction. To quote their release:

2 to 5 p.m. Friday, July 18
9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 19
Workshop content is essentially the same for both days.

Location: Room 308 (computer lab) in the Fine Arts Building on the Mesa State College campus in Grand Junction

Cost: Free of charge. The program is funded through James M. Cox Foundation grant.

Presented by: University of Colorado at Boulder's School of Journalism & Mass Communication in cooperation with Mesa State College's Mass Communication Program.

Seating in the lab is limited: Those who would like to attend one of these 3-hour sessions simply need to contact Alan Kirkpatrick, SJMC outreach director, to confirm their participation. (Alan.Kirkpatrick@Colorado.edu, 303-492-5480). He is also available to answer questions about the program.


-- BURT HUBBARD is a Rocky Mountain News award-winning investigative reporter and a CU adjunct journalism instructor. He will present his favorite strategies for how to quickly get accurate localized information on the Web (that a Google search generally can't find) to develop enterprise stories and add depth to breaking news stories.

-- TONY PERRI is a CU journalism adjunct instructor producer, reporter, writer and director with more than 1,500 TV and film productions to his credit. His workshop will focus on shooting, capturing, editing and uploading video for the Web. Participants, who are not expected to have any familiarity with video production, will edit b-roll and sound bytes into a short video and upload it onto the Web using readily available software. (see http://tonyperri.com)

-- PAUL VOAKES is the dean of the CU School of Journalism & Mass Communication; an expert on journalism law and ethics; author of numerous journals, books and articles, and the recipient of several prestigious research grants and teaching awards. He will present perspectives on the legal and ethical ramifications of posting information and images on the Web.

1-on-1 with the instructors: At the conclusion of the workshops on both days, Burt Hubbard and Tony Perri will remain in the lab and provide personal assistance with participants who want additional training and access to their expertise.
This is a rare opportunity for area residents to obtain valuable insight and hands-on training in the skills necessary to produce quality content for broadcast on the web, or perhaps elsewhere.

I'll be there Friday afternoon. In the meantime, here is an entertaining and informative video overview of the present and potential future of community media, courtesy of Denver Open Media. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Equal Time Provision

"While I understand why many object to this cartoon--and to images which they believe reinforce stereotypes (and there are many at The Nation who found the New Yorker cartoon offensive), I believe satire--even if it flops or offends --has a place in our culture and politics."
- Katrina VanDen Heuvel, writing in The Nation

Enough Said.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Priorities and Projects

I had a fairly busy weekend, up until the point yesterday afternoon when my son Evan was struck by a car while riding his bicycle in the area of Sherwood Park. Then what I call the 'quiet crisis' mode kicked in. I define this as something that requires your full attention and then some, and makes time fly rapidly.

I got to the park about a minute before the ambulance and fire truck did. The GJFD personnel were organized and professional, and Evan was well cared for. They suspected a femur fracture, and applied a traction splint to Evan's leg. I rode to the hospital with him.

The Emergency Department staff at St. Mary's were calm, pleasant, competent, and organized. Luckily, Evan suffered no fracture, just a deep bruise. He's very sore today, not to mention very fortunate. I told him that God must have big plans for him, but in the meantime he had better start wearing a helmet and watch what's coming down the road.

The four hours from accident to discharge from the hospital felt like 45 minutes to me. Not a good feeling at all.

Aside from working on two or three projects, including a post that has taken a lot of research and generated a lot of discussion with others, my blog has enjoyed the most page loads and visits today in its' history. Over 300 visits so far today.

In looking at the data, it appears people are looking at two older New Yorker cover pictures that I have posted over the life of this blog. This is presumably in response to the controversy that broke this morning over this week's cover.

The artist and the magazine have defended their portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Obama in this manner, insisting that it is satire and nothing else.

I subscribe to the New Yorker, and have thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which they have skewered prominent figures in politics, entertainment, and elsewhere in the past. This appears to be more of the same to me, and regardless of what you think of Obama it appears that the satire label applies well. I'm wondering if the artist was thinking of Angela Davis when he drew Michelle Obama that way.

Those who are sensitive to symbolism will likely take offense to the apparent portrait of Bin Laden or Al-Sadr on the Oval Office wall, as well as Old Glory stoking the fireplace. That's probably a little over the top for a magazine like Time or Newsweek, but the New Yorker has been doing this kind of stuff for many years.

Like it or not, the government can't stop it, and that's what matters. If you don't like it, then don't buy the magazine.

Time to work on other things, and keep an eye on my boy. Have a great day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shake Head, Pray, Move On

Denny Herzog at the Sentinel mentioned my Country Jam pregnancy post in his blog on Tuesday. I replied to his post yesterday after reading a column Denny referred to by Dick Maynard. Dick had a good laugh about the issue, and predicted that the story would increase ticket sales for next year.

Today, the ever-reliable Gary Harmon continued the cavalier approach to the issue that has permeated the Sentinel's reporting and opinion so far. He went so far as to ask "
Does Country Jam have some special quality that makes participants susceptible to conception, but not other risks?", and like Le Roy Standish he made not a single mention of alcohol or intoxication.


People choose to have sex. People choose to drink. What's more important in the long run is the freedom to make those choices, within the confines of the law. When people make those choices, they live with the consequences of them. That's a given.

In the case of Country Jam, those choices have too often become an unreasonable burden on the various segments of our government, be it public safety, human services, or criminal justice.
The Sentinel appears to believe that this is part of the cost of personal freedom, and part of the cost of doing business.

There's something wrong with that approach, especially when reasonable attempts to augment government's capability to deal with these burdens are met with resistance and skepticism. You get what you pay for.

When the consequences are children, our government, through the human services infrastructure, has made it a priority to address the welfare of those who cannot care for or defend themselves up to existing legal or moral standards.

How are the Children? We found out a little this week. It's our choice as to how we as citizens respond when faced with these kinds of choices, be they physical, moral, or economic.

With that, it's time to move on.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sign O' The Times 2

I'm wondering what kind of message the Janet Rowland campaign thinks they're sending by putting campaign signs
on vacant commercial buildings in high-traffic areas.
A few came to my mind:

"I'm Janet Rowland, and I approved this message".

"Vote for me, and I'll make every corner in the county look like this one".

"Here's a reminder of what might happen again, if you don't let me give big energy everything they want".

"I'm good looking, and I'm in a good place. Don't look too closely, or you may find that there's nothing inside".
Remember that this is the year of Hope in politics.
Let's hope that in this case, size does matter.

Looks like this guy has already found that out.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

There's Two Sides to Every Story

During my tenure at GJRCC I had the privilege of coordinating the Communication Center's response to Country Jam for several years. I am therefore quite familiar with some of the issues that are inherent with turning a couple of dusty fields in Mack into the equivalent of the county's second largest city for 4 days every June.

It was with an interested eye that I came across Le Roy Standish's story in this morning's Sentinel about the quadrupling of pregnancy referrals processed by the Nurse-Family Partnership of the Mesa County Health Department in the weeks following Country Jam.

I came away from the story shaking my head in disbelief at the massive holes that seemed to be present in the story. I'm no professional journalist, but despite that I did not think it possible that a story could be written about the alleged result of sexual activity at a major music festival, and the words alcohol or drinking not appear anywhere in the story.

The story also quoted several sources in the article who expressed surprise at this revelation, and also quoted these same sources as expressing concern about "underage" sexual activity and pregnancy. Mr. Standish provided no information in the story as to anyone asserting that the clients were "underage", or even what the agencies involved considered "underage".

I was fully expecting Country Jam owner Steve Berg or Commissioner Janet Rowland to channel Captain Renault in Casablanca, and state that they were "shocked, shocked" to find that people were conceiving children out there.

As with most accounts like this that seem to try to circumvent the core issues at hand, several obvious (at least to me) questions went unanswered:
  • What was the average age of those seeking referrals during the time in question?
  • How many of those seeking a referral could pinpoint the date and place of the 'blessed event'?
  • Of those, did any referral clients state that they had been drinking prior to engaging in sex?
With this in mind, I'm scratching my head about why the story was written in the first place. All that was presented to the Sentinel's readership was some anecdotal information, and a collective shrugging of shoulders by the parties involved in the operation of the event in question, the governance of the area where the event is held, and those who work with those dealing with the consequences of such revelry.

If it is the intent of journalists to enlighten and inform, Mr. Standish did not do a good job of it.

In quite the contrast, Marija Vader at the Free Press took a very different approach in her coverage of this information. I feel it necessary to say here that I did not read Ms. Vader's story until after I had completed Mr. Standish's account, and was halfway done with this post.

When faced with a direct quote from the head of the partnership that "we don’t know it’s Country Jam that that’s where they’re getting pregnant", Ms. Vader sought to clarify the role that the partnership plays in helping low-income women facing a first-time pregnancy obtain information and skill training, which in turn shows statistically significant reductions in child abuse and domestic violence, among other things.

Ms. Vader also touched on the role of alcohol in sexual activity and unwanted pregnancy, and provided information that the average age of the Partnership's clients was 19 (legally an adult), and that the clients have ranged in age from 12 to the 40's.

Ms. Vader framed her coverage to call attention to a community resource responding to a long-standing public health issue, and the likely trends that resource is seeing in their client base. Well done.

There are some bottom line statements that I think I can safely make after reading these two stories, and combining them with my personal experience:
  1. Country Jam is a bacchanal disguised as a music festival.
  2. Law enforcement does the best job it can with the resources it has, but given the continuing, documented disregard for liquor laws and the general riotous atmosphere, especially in the campground, the event resembles a bull and rider just about to leave the chute. The gate's going to open; it's just a question of when.
  3. The County Commissioners approve both the liquor license for Country Jam and the Sheriff's budget and contract with the event. They need to pay closer attention to what is going on out there. This goes double for Ms. Rowland, who purports to espouse a concern for children while allowing this activity to continue with very few apparent or substantive restrictions.
  4. For all practical purposes this is an urban area for 4 days (6 if you count Rock Jam in September), and Mack isn't about to be annexed into the City of Grand Junction, at least not this week. In this context, yes, Commissioners, you are providing urban services. Get used to it.
  5. Score one for the Free Press.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Judicial Retention - An Important Vote

In today's Sentinel, Amy Hamilton provides an overview of the upcoming judicial retention elections in the 21st Judicial District, which includes Mesa County, as well as the process by which judges are recommended for retention by the voters.

There are up to five judges that may face a retention election this November. Ms. Hamilton's article included a description of the process of recommending a judge for retention, which involves a 10-member Judicial Performance Commission made up of attorneys and private citizens.

21st Judicial District Chief Judge David Bottger is quoted in the story as saying, “I’m surprised at how many citizens don’t know they can fire me.”

We voters do have quite the job this November, even without this level of judicial retention. Judge Bottger's candor, at least for Ms. Hamilton's story, is laudable.

Irrespective of any recommendation by a Judicial Performance Commission, We the People can also decide whether or not a judge's performance, as reflected in part by his/her decisions, reflect what the community perceives as its' own standards for the incarceration of accused criminals, and the appropriate sentencing of those convicted of serious crimes.

Our local media outlets can assist citizens in this regard in several ways. Here are some examples that I hope are helpful:

1. Reviewing the sentencing of those convicted of crimes by the local judges up for retention, as well as their practices in setting bail for those accused.

2. Investigate and report on the selection process for the Judicial Performance Commission. A glance at the list of members that accompanied the Sentinel story immediately brings up a question. Is Judicial Performance Commission member Trudee Andersen-Gurley in any way related to 21st District Court Judge Dick Gurley? Judge Gurley, while not up for a retention vote this year, nonetheless works closely with the judges who are.

3. Provide a better understanding of the inner workings of our criminal justice system to those citizens who are fortunate enough not to be involved with it, either as a suspect or a victim. For example, What are the factors that play into whether or not to prosecute someone, or to grant him bail until his trial?

4. Highlight those instances in this Judicial District and others where controversial decisions by judges may be viewed as a potential stumbling block to their retention, or the retention of the presiding judges that oversee their activities.

An example of this would be 11th Judicial District Magistrate Larry Allen. Judge Allen, over the objections of a Park County prosecutor, allowed Patrick Strawmatt to bail out in February of 2007, after Strawmatt attempted to elude Park County law enforcement and, according to the Rocky Mountain News, "took on three uniformed officers, rammed the sheriff's car and punched the sheriff."

One month later, an intoxicated Strawmatt attempted to flee State Patrol troopers on I-70 near Palisade, and while doing so rammed a vehicle occupied by Mesa State students Jacob Brock and Jennifer Kois, killing them both. This tragedy, and the subsequent outcry, became the Sentinel's choice for its' Top Story of 2007.

According to the Colorado Judicial Branch website, Magistrate Allen "serves at the pleasure of" Chief Judge Charles M. Barton. It might make an interesting follow-up story as to how the handling of Patrick Strawmatt's case in Park County may affect the retention of Chief Judge Barton, and/or the tenure of Magistrate Allen.

Our citizens rely upon all components of the criminal justice system, from Police to Prosecutors to Judges to Jailers to Probation and Parole, to protect us from criminal activity and successfully prosecute those that are guilty of crossing the line. Undoubtedly, there are parts of the system that do not do this as often as we would like.

We rely on judges to make decisions on bail and sentencing that are as fair as possible, but also help to maintain the public safety.

As the people are the ones making the decision to retain these judges, they should have as many sources of information available as possible to assist them. This includes the proactive involvement of a free and independent media to report on the issues surrounding judicial retention, with the same fervor as they do the high-profile trials that these judges may preside over.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Riding My Bicycle Downtown

I've made it a point over the last week to take a bicycle ride in the early evening, when what has recently been a most oppressive Sun is beginning to set.

I've focused my rides on the Downtown Grand Junction area. I usually pick one quadrant of the area between 1st Street and 12th Street and Orchard Avenue and the Colorado River, and slowly wind my way down each side street, and sometimes down an alley or two.

I usually ride for about an hour, trying to get home before it gets too dark to see me. My bike is black and has no lights (yet).

It's good to get out to see things at a slower, human-powered speed. You are able to appreciate things at this more leisurely pace than you would otherwise.

I've learned several things from my bike rides, and also arrived at some conclusions:
  • The Riverside Parkway is largely complete from Broadway to D Road. The pedestrian bridge over to Riverside from Crosby Ave (by the jail) is very nice.
  • There appears to be a bicycle lane along most of the Parkway, but there are no curb ramps at those places where the Parkway parallels or intersects with the Riverfront Trail. Kinda makes you scratch your head over that one.
  • At dusk, the mosquitoes are formidable down by the river. It's not how many are flying around, but how many layers.
  • There are so many examples of extraordinary things being done with the older, smaller houses that make up most of the residential areas of Downtown. Lush and meticulously maintained landscaping and greenery hide behind pleasantly weathered fence posts; the attractive sound of a water feature in the backyard invites a peek between the slats to see the little Edens that have been carefully cultivated out of the hardscrabble of our desert floor.
  • While there are many homes that have been neglected, there are just as many where the occupants have used even limited resources to create beauty on their own terms.
  • The unique and personal nature of many of these improvements, and the way they complement the varying types of design and construction that exist Downtown, are for me as great an example of the diversity of our community as anything else.
  • That being said, seeing all of this reaffirms my disdain for restrictive covenants and the tyranny of many Homeowners Associations, here and elsewhere. This also goes for any attempt to engage in unwanted gentrification by labeling an area "Historic".
  • The far southern part of Downtown is starting to shed its' industrial heritage. Many warehouse properties are vacant or for sale. There is some industrial improvement underway, but one can almost feel the push to make this part of downtown less industrial and more commercial, especially around the Riverside Parkway. The South Downtown planning documents on the city website both validate my thinking and give me pause.
  • Caution is warranted against gentrifying the South Downtown with new development to the point where all existing residents and light industrial businesses may be forced out.
  • The residential character of the area around Mesa State College is slowly being destroyed by the college's voracious appetite for expansion and construction. Some of this may be warranted, but it's not happening the way that it should.
  • You're taking your life in your hands trying to cross 12th Street, even if the College isn't in session. A pedestrian bridge is long overdue.
As I build up endurance and distance (and it gets a little cooler), I'll start to branch out into other areas that are established or face transition. I'm thinking Orchard Mesa and Rosevale for starters, or as much as an overweight middle-aged male on a single speed cruiser bike with coaster brakes can stand. Judging from the results so far, it's working out. Maybe I'll take the camera as well.

Enjoy your 4th.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bresnan - Internet Privacy Update

Last week I wrote about a controversial Internet advertising technology, and its' use by two telecommunications services providers with a significant presence in Mesa County.

In an attempt to gather additional information regarding the relationship, and in the absence of any local media coverage of this, I made contact with representatives of Bresnan Communications regarding their use of the NebuAd technology that has so many Internet privacy advocates in a state of alarm.

Bresnan Vice President of Public Affairs Shawn Beqaj (pronounced buh-KAI) spoke with me by phone yesterday from Bresnan corporate headquarters in Purchase, NY. He followed up with an e-mail later in the day. Our phone conversation can be summarized by the following:

  • Bresnan's trial of the NebuAd product has concluded. This occurred sometime in June.
  • There is no current use of NebuAd technology on any of Bresnan's servers.
  • Bresnan Customer Service personnel will receive updated information regarding the conclusion of the NebuAd trial.
  • Bresnan's commitment to protecting the privacy of its' customers is "paramount" to the company's operating principles.
Mr. Beqaj elaborated further in his e-mail:
"Bresnan, as a cable company, has clear regulatory requirements regarding customer privacy and even beyond those requirements, we hold ourselves to a very strict code of ethics regarding the use of customer information."

"Specifically, we very simply do not release or trade, in any way, the customer information that we compile as a necessary act of providing our services. That code of conduct would extend to any advanced, or behavioral advertising."
"The NeBuAd trial did not involve the use of any personally identifiable information and Bresnan strictly adhered to the US Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for use of their service."

"That being said, we are sensitive to the concerns of both our customers and the regulators and policymakers involved in the discourse surrounding these technologies and intend to participate in the public process of determining what the policy guidelines should be for their use, in whatever open forum in which the occur."

"Once a clear policy is identified we will, as we do now with all other privacy regulation, strictly adhere to them as well."
"We are currently not using any other technology, nor are there any plans to do so with any vendor, until the technology has been publicly vetted."
With this information in hand, it looks as if Bresnan has joined Charter Communications, CenturyTel (which provides telecom services to rural eastern Mesa County), Embarq, and others in backing away from the NebuAd technology.

NebuAd has responded to what one techno blog site called a "backlash", with CEO Bob Dykes attempting to establish a conciliatory, understanding tone, as quoted by the Washington Post last week:
"We support CenturyTel's decision to delay its implementation plans so that Congress can spend additional time addressing the privacy issues and policies associated with online behavioral advertising," Dykes said. "NebuAd and its ISP partners are actively working together to refine a rollout plan tailored for each ISP that continues to set the standard for privacy protection in advertising online to consumers. NebuAd looks forward to a continued open dialogue with legislators, regulators, and the advocacy community."
So the bottom line is that Bresnan, CenturyTel, and other ISP's around the country have backed away from the NebuAd technology in the face of a lot of concern from privacy advocates, congressmen, and others.

This doesn't mean that the need for diligence has ended, of course. The below admonition from Broadband Reports is well worth heeding:
"The lip service to privacy advocates is a nice touch -- but ultimately empty. Lawmakers don't have the guts to stand up to the $11 billion online advertising industry and mandate that these services are opt-in, and smart lobbyists and lawyers will be able to skirt existing privacy laws with a few tweaks and a good "education" campaign."
Indeed, the current debate on the FISA legislation, and associated telecom immunity, may help to set the stage for debate on other issues related to technology, access, and privacy well into the term of the next President.

I'd like to thank Shawn Beqaj from Bresnan for his prompt and comprehensive answers in response to my inquiry.