Thursday, May 11, 2006

Local Wisdom, Or Lack Of

Driving back to town today made me once again realize how nature has blessed this town, Seattle. I can’t think of too many other populated places as pleasing to the eye: water, evergreens, mountains, islands, you name it. Perhaps that is why it has also become a city where people like to keep things status quo. Just in today’s mail we got a car license renewal form, with $362 going to tax for a Monorail that will never be built. In another place people would be up in arms but not here. Politics are liberal here, but surprisingly little gets accomplished. Big money decides how things are done. One would think that planning a town would be up to the city council, but here a high-tech billionaire is able to erect huge buildings, and even a part of town, South Lake Union, on his own. People seem to think of this place as a giant retirement community: the same faces remain in important positions for a generation and nobody questions the wisdom in it. No fresh blood needed here: after all, why would we want to change anything? This was the case with the Monorail project, too. It was voted on time after time and finally rejected. It was such a waste of time and money, and we will be paying for nothing for a long time to come. Mass transit relies on the same crowded freeways and arterial streets as it has for decades. Perhaps the skyrocketing gasoline prices will force people to act. But it will take a long time to get the infrastructure in place for anything different. Right now it’s time to play the Monorail game again with the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the crumbling semi-freeway between downtown and the waterfront. How much easier it would be to have a strong leadership that would just decide how it is done, for better or for worse.

So, all is not as it should be in this seeming paradise. We do have a fabulous library system, though, and people are using its services. Reading is good and essential. We don’t all want to be like the 86% of college students who were not able to point out where key countries are located on the map of the Middle East. We are a country of ignorant people indeed. I took it always for granted that my daughters scored maximum points in reading and writing skills. How it amazes me that there are people in highly visible positions who cannot spell past elementary grade level, and whose reading skills are probably the same. How is it then that foreigners like me are able to write correctly, without the help of a computer spell check, in a language not our own?

My eldest daughter Silja, the journalist, was on the radio again last night, talking about the criminalization of immigrants who didn’t enter the country in a proper legal way. Many people just ask why these ‘illegals’ just didn’t apply for an immigration visa. If a person in the Philippines has to wait for 18 years, how long would the wait be for someone in Mexico? But we have this wonderful lottery system for green cards! True, and I know a few who have been lucky, but a Mexican does not qualify. No equal opportunity in this area either. We are seriously thinking of building a gigantic fence to keep our Southern border secure. But what about Canada in the North? Surely danger is lurking behind that border as well. I can visualize a ultra-conservative politician planning an electric fence across the Great Lakes. Why not put Enron in charge of it, or better yet Halliburton?!

This was online in the New York Times website today, in David Pogue’s ‘Circuits’. The topic was Microsoft’s new idea of a hybrid computer-PDA and the insider negative blogging about the topic. Someone wrote this:

I had dinner last night with some buddies who asked me precisely the same question--and suddenly, I had an answer. Suddenly, I knew *exactly* why nobody pulls the emergency brake on runaway trains like the UMPC.

In my younger days, I was a Broadway theater conductor. I worked on my share of flops. And I remembered a couple of times when *everyone* knew that we were on a sinking ship. Any one of us--cast, crew, orchestra--could have told the show's creators that we had a turkey on our hands.

But nobody did.

First, because we were employees; it'd be horribly presumptuous and rude to say something like that to our employers. Second, we needed the job as long as it lasted. Third--well, what if we were wrong? Shouldn't we trust our leaders to know what they're doing?

So: my sympathy to those on the Microsoft ship who knew that the UMPC was headed for an iceberg. And to their bosses: Um, maybe you should read some of those Microsoft blogs...

Never mind the Ultra-Mobile PC. There is a wisdom here to be applied to many things in life.