Here today, gone tomorrow

Did you hear about amazon.com’s stupendous blunder last week? They took back books that people had purchased from them. Seems as though amazon didn’t have the legal rights to sell the book (ironically, it was Orwell’s ‘1984’), so they just went and grabbed it back.

Putting aside visions of jack-booted thugs knocking down your front door and repossessing the goods, the reality is still pretty scary. Amazon used their wireless access to book owners personal property and deleted the Kindle versions of the book. It sets an amazing precedent and raises deep questions of what ‘ownership’ entails in the digital age.

Increasingly we are being faced by a subscription model for digital property. For many this started with Netflix, whereby you pay a monthly fees and can receive and mail back as many DVDs as you care to in a month. Like your local video store, you don’t own the DVD and must return it as soon as you stop paying the monthly subscription fee.

Next were services like Rhapsody and lala, where for another small monthly fee you can listen online to as many of their CDs as meets your fancy. This time, however, you don’t physically own anything. The music streams to your computer over the net. And, again, if you don’t pay your subscription you lose access to the music. A lot like cable.

Apparently, we will soon all be subscribing to our word processing software and the like. With ‘cloud computing’, the increasingly complicated and memory-hogging software will reside on a server somewhere. You won’t own it, but given yet another monthly subscription fee, you will have unlimited use of that software over the net. This will surely make backups, bug-fixes and version updates much, much easier and should be easily accessible by both the good, the bad, and the ugly of the computer world. (Just wait for the screams over Windows 7 and you’ll know what I mean!)

But what happens if your finances hit a bit of a rough spot through no fault of your own (sky fell on your head, rug got pulled out, or your boss just made a bad decision) and you can no longer afford all those subscriptions? Voop. Gone. And nothing to show for it. Just when you need it most (to read up on new skills and emerging trends, to cheer you up at the end of a long day, or to update your resume and bash out a new job application), all your prior investments into books, CDs and DVDs, and information technology will be worth nothing.

I have to wonder if media and technology companies have thought this one through? Sure it makes ‘piracy’ more difficult, since you can’t just lean over the back fence and lend your neighbor the book you just read or your favorite CD of the week. But, it is likely to further the digital divide, creating a class of have’s (those who can afford the myriad monthly fees) and the have not’s. Gone is the model of broadcasting and mutual sharing of costs and benefits, like me helping pay for your kids to go to school or my tax dollars going to support that museum you like.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we see even greater use of bootleg versions or open-source products, like Linux, since there are still many of us who like to hold (and share) what we own. And so I have to wonder if they media companies are, again, shooting themselves in the foot, because if many of us turn to those bootlegs and royalty-free products then they could find themselves with a rapidly declining sales base. Where once they had loyal subscribers they might soon find they have angry, former customers.

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Sustainability and the MBIA

greenwashWith Ryan Morton (Community Affairs Director for MBIA) and Kathy Greathouse (chair, MBIA Government Affairs Committee) running for Missoula City Council, it is understandable that the activities of the MBIA (Missoula Building Industry Association) will get some scrutiny.

Take, for instance, a paid advertisement in today’s Missoulian (p. A10, not available online?) written by John Freer, of Riverworks, Inc. Each week, “industry experts from the Montana Green Building Program of Missoula and the MBIA will answer your questions and provide green building techniques, tips and advice”. You can send your questions to information@buildmissoula.com

Now, it just so happens that one of Ryan Morton’s major platforms for his candidacy for City Council is Green Building, so this should be interesting.
Let’s see what the MBIA recommends for reducing carbon, sulfate and nitrate emissions … Hmmm, this is interesting: “Walk …. don’t drive to that BBQ, choose local produce and foods, guzzle lots of organic beer, choose reusable plates, cups and utensils.” All well and good. I particularly like the recommendation for drinking more beer, but I would encourage local brews (Kettlehouse, Big Sky, and Bayern) – none of whom regularly brew organic.

But, how feasible is it to “Walk … don’t drive?” And is MBIA, Ryan and Kathy really going to do what it takes to make walking a REAL option here in Missoula. Because, you know, the building industry has a BIG say in how walkable our new neighborhoods will be. So does City Council.

What would it take to make Missoula an easy place to walk everywhere you need to be? Firstly, and the most green of all, is mixed use zoning – that allows you to walk from your home to your workplace, and then on to the local store for groceries and above-mentioned local beer and back home again. Like a village, everything you need would be close by – your kids school, your hairdresser, your favorite restaurant and bar, the local hardware store, etc. etc. Anywhere you couldn’t walk to, you could use the bus system. You wouldn’t completely do away with your car or truck (which would be for longer trips out-of-town, and for hauling lumber and soil and other big products, etc.), but you’d save $$$ by not having to fill up with gas every week. Oh, and you’d have to have sidewalks and well designed boulevards to make walking through the neighborhood safe and enticing.

Don’t believe it could happen in the U.S.? Check out New York City. Many folks who live in Manhattan don’t own a car. Of course, NYC is more densely settled than Missoula. And greater density is probably going to be required if it is going to be economic for your local Grizzly Grocery or Ace Hardware to be able to stay in business just off a local customer base.

As it turns out, I’m a big fan of Green Building. I applaud the Missoula Federal Credit Union for getting Platinum LEED certification for their new building and for First Interstate Bank achieving Bronze for their new highrise. A little more expensive up-front, but a money saver in the long run. The sort of thing financial institutions should be encouraging.

But, the second biggest thing that MBIA, Ryan and Kathy could be encouraging with green building in Missoula would be smaller houses. Simple really. Smaller houses use less building materials, consume fewer resources in the building or remodeling process, and take up smaller lots (which means less destruction of farmland, open space, etc.) Smaller houses take less energy to heat, less energy to clean, and less materials to furnish.

So, perhaps at the next community forum (DoubleTree Hotel Tuesday, July 21 at 3:30 pm?), when Ryan, Kathy and the MBIA talking up boldly for Green Building in Missoula we’ll hear them calling for smaller buildings in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods. I hope so, otherwise their green building stance might be unsustainable politically.

Meet the boy for Ward One

Missoula Building Industry Association (MBIA) candidate for City Council (Ward 1), Ryan Morton, invited us all down to the Missoula County Democrats Central Committee last night. He’s been prolific with his commenting in the blogosphere and let’s say my interest was peeked!

So I went along to meet the wunderkind. And, lo and behold, doesn’t he have such a cute smile!

Ah, but I’m not going to write about his hairdo, even if it is called a ‘faux hawk.’ Now, I really should stop calling him ‘boy.’ However, rest assured, I will not be calling him the “Queer-Marxist-Aquarius-MBIA Hired Geek.”

Instead, let’s consider some of the issues. Ryan tweets, “If the zoning rewrite becomes an election issue, will that be good or bad for me? Probably good. I know more about it than any candidate.”

That would be because of his day job, Community Affairs Director for MBIA (or is it Government Affairs Director, I’m not sure). JC comments over here, however, that it all adds up to being a lobbyist. He is paid to present the interests of MBIA to the community and that certainly includes the City Council. Yep, one look at MBIA’s May newsletter, and their priority list on page 2, and it certainly looks like he’s already well versed in the controversies of Council. I find it hard to believe him when he says, “most of what I want to accomplish has little or nothing to do with MBIA issues.

Last night, while Mr. Morton was not seeking the endorsement of the Missoula County Democrats (I wonder why he came to the endorsement meeting?), he did describe himself as a Democrat. I was then surprised to see him just now say he “thinks it’s weird that county Democrats would endorse candidates that have opposing views on future development in Missoula.” Does he understand what the Democratic Party stands for? OK, maybe that’s a little unfair, but I’m beginning to think that Ryan makes lots of political statements for their sound-bite effect.

Like the ‘affidavit’ Morton has signed saying he “won’t be collecting or spending any cash (no yard signs, brochures, fundraisers, etc.)” Indeed, he has already torn up a check that some benefactor sent him for his campaign. You have to wonder how long it will be before he tears up his affidavit. Perhaps when his opponent, Dave Strohmaier, outspends him?

But the main issue I am interested in is how Ryan is going to represent the interests of the people of Missoula. In a comment about the Clark Fork Terrace 2 case, Morton probably wants to “go back and change the City regulations on parks, trails, etc.” As he testified to the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee of City Council, he is concerned that there is no documented community need. Wow. That’s riverfront trails we’re talking about.

Is this all indicative of the sort of campaign he’s going to run? Because, I reckon he’ll have to be some kind of Superboyman to win over the Northsiders and Rattlesnakers with these sorts of comments. Really, I do.

Big Banks. Fail.

Starting today four on the nation’s biggest banks stopped accepting IOUs from the cash-strapped state of California.

Check the list:

  • Bank of America,
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.,
  • Wells Fargo & Co., and
  • Union Bank of California.

Recognize some of the names? Yep, they’re many of the same ones that you and I bailed out with federal loans, guarantees, and forgiveness.

Now I don’t much like seeing states issuing IOUs while they sort out their political goings on. And Professor Natelson ponders whether they might even be unconstitutional.

But watching big banks penalize small business and consumer recipients of IOUs not only seems like playing politics with the helpless citizens caught in the crosshairs, but it strikes me as exceedingly bad business. Watch all those customers head over to the local credit union or community bank. And never come back.

His Lordship

The most important thing I achieved today was catching more fish than the director of FWP, ” said Gov’nur Schweitzer.

Last Friday, he was one of the first legal people to float through the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers.   That’s right – the river is ready for floating, and by all accounts, the fishing is just dandy!

There’s some nice little fishing holes in here,” noted Joe Maurier, acting director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Woohoo! Let’s go!

But, wait.   Don’t launch your boats just yet.  It ain’t legal for you.   YOU are gonna have to wait at least another year.

Unless you’re a friend of his Lordship.   In which case, he’ll grant you a special exemption and you can float on down at your leisure.   There won’t be any yahoos on their inner tubes and there’s won’t be any noisy speed boats heading the opposite direction.   This little stretch of river is only for the rich and powerful!

It was the sort of thing that happened in England all the time – if you wanted to hunt on someone’s land you had to be invited to the annual hunting party, if you wanted to fish a stretch of river you had to be a member of the local club, and if you were caught on someone’s property picking berries or mushrooms you could expect to be shot.   The royal elite controlled the land and the poor had no rights of access.   And you can be sure the lords and ladies didn’t want to share it with you.

Of course, the thing is, over here every man, woman, (and dog?) is treated equal.   We have public lands that are owned by all of us, paid for by all of us, and part of our common heritage and liberty.   We’re proud of our rivers here in Montana and we don’t much like the government telling us where we can and can’t go.  Its part of our freedom to wander at will, chasing those elusive cutthroats and moseying on through the riffles.

So, why the heck did Governor Schweitzer choose July 4th weekend to remind us that all citizens are created equal… but that some are more equal than others?   Because he can.