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Thursday, August 25, 2005

At Least Someone's Getting It Right

Evidently, while we were having a regional transportation summit in East Texas, Texas Association of Regional Councils (TARC) was having a statewide meeting in Austin at which several of the COG’s presented their work on regional service planning. I was particularly impressed with Austin COG’s Plan for Regional Service Planning.

Note a few things:
  1. While the CAPCOG (Capital Area COG) serves as the financial administrator, they are, by no means, the decision-makers.... see the Steering Committee. The CAPCOG does not provide public transportation services, nor contract them.
  2. The tasks are not bundled together for any one or more consultant(s) to do, but to save money, they are "farmed" out to those existing agencies/staff with expertise so they can be done in-house with only those pieces that cannot be done with existing agencies proposed for contracting;
  3. The decision-making is in the hands of a number of interested parties, not solely vested in any single agency;
  4. The process of developing this plan has been open and public with TxDOT, providers, advocates, and others at the table from the very beginning. No less than 27 agencies, organizations and individuals helped to create the planning process.
  5. They already have a detailed 23 page document (which I would be happy to share with anyone who’d like to see how it can be done well) called "Strategy for Preparing a Regional Transportation Coordination Plan". It’s wonderfully done and a tribute to CAPCOG’s leadership and willingness to include everybody that ought to be there in the process. JTA’s own Glenn Gadbois was on the planning group as well a my good friend and sometime sparring partner, Dave Marsh of CARTS as well as folks from the whole spectrum of transportation stakeholders.

I’ve also got a copy of Jim Reed’s Powerpoint about regional service planning at TARC that had some really heartening things in it. Jim is from Central Texas COG and they’re also working along the same lines as CAPCOG and North Central Texas COG. I wish ETCOG’s regional service planning team could have been there!!

For those of you who heard the rumor following last week’s summit that I am interested in some sort of paid consulting role in ETCOG’s regional service planning process, I’d just like to assure everyone that it’s a danged lie! Neither JTA not ETJTA nor myself have any intention of accepting or seeking TxDOT or ETCOG funding for providing transportation or consulting in the planning of services. To do so would impair our ability to speak out when we believe the consumers of East Texas are not being well-served.

Also, I’d like to point out that I am not the only person or organization who is "disgruntled" by the way the regional service planning process has been handled thus far. I’ve been characterized as some sort of lone crank who can be safely marginalized because I’m mad that I’m not getting money out of this deal. It’s an old charge and has never been true. Other advocacy groups and non-transit providers have also noticed that their constituents have yet to be represented at the table, despite the fact that a scope of work for a hired consultant is already being written. Some also spoke out last Friday. Perhaps none as stridently as me, but if you look at just one aspect of the planning process it becomes very clear why I’m a little cranky. If you compare how many varied groups were represented in the CAPCOG planning process (27) with the number of members (all transit providers) in the ETCOG version (4) the issue becomes plain .

Because I have no financial interest or stake in the process (I pay for my own gas to go to meetings thank you very much), I can say what I want to without fear of reprisals. Which I did!

Yeah, I’m disgruntled. Anyone that’s gruntled just isn’t paying attention!

Tom King

"Arbitrary power is most easily established on the
ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness."
George Washington

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

If You Tell Anybody, I'm Gonna Sock You!

I received a copy of a forwarded copy of a posted copy of a private e-mail today which said the following in 12 point Times New Roman at the bottom underneath the signature of the second guy in the chain:

  • Confidential Information: The information contained in this transmittal and accompanying documents is protected by both state and federal law. This information is intended only for the use of the individual or entity named above. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or action taken in reliance on the contents of this transmittal is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmittal in error, please notify the sender immediately to arrange for return or destruction of these documents. The authorized recipient of this information is prohibited from disclosing this information to
    any other party except as may be permitted by law, and is required to destroy the information after its intended purpose has been fulfilled, unless otherwise permitted by law.

So what in the name of the Information Highway is this all about? Does this guy really think this is going to deter people from sharing his e-mails with anyone they think ought to see it too? Let’s look at it piecemeal….

  1. " protected by both state and federal law.” Uh, huh. And how is it protected? The only federal law I could find are some vague things that prohibit people from stealing e-mail from your computer (unless the owner of the computer is your employer and owns the equipment you’re e-mailing from). There is, as far as the legal reviews I read this morning go, nothing that prohibits you from forwarding any e-mail that someone sends you unless you have a prior written nondisclosure agreement with that person. Of course, if that person or entity gives you money or does business with you and they find out you shared private e-mail communication with someone else they can quit doing business with you or something like that, but as far as I can tell, you won’t go to jail.
  2. “ are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or action taken in reliance on the contents of this transmittal is strictly prohibited.” Ya ha! You can say that, but is there anything you can really do to stop it. Besides, the organization that sent this is a quasi-government entity and is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Trying to maintain that their communication about anything other than maybe employee salaries or stuff covered under the HIPAA Statute is privileged is laughable. If they are sharing genuinely confidential stuff, however, they better have a confidentiality agreement with whoever they are sharing it with. I think anything available under the Freedom of Information Act is fair game. What do you think? Talk amongst yourselves……
  3. “The authorized recipient of this information is prohibited from disclosing this information to any other party except as may be permitted by law, and is required to destroy the information after its intended purpose has been fulfilled, unless otherwise permitted by law.” Which, without a prior nondisclosure agreement between you and the person who accidentally sent this puppy to their entire e-mail list, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on. In short the disclaimer pretty much means zip! And since I’m a packrat (just ask my wife), I ain’t destroyin’ nothing that’s juicy enough to need this disclaimer on it.

Ultimately, the gentleman who posted the e-mail with the long disclaimer would have been better served if he’d merely asked (politely) if the recipient would keep it to him or herself. E-mail, like handwritten notes or any other printed or electronically generated information goes out there and whether it goes to someone who wasn’t supposed to get it or not, depends on whether the recipient wants to keep your secret or not. The poster above could learn a lesson from journalists and PR people. To wit, these guidelines:

  1. Loose lips sink ships! Anything you say can and will be used against you in the newspaper or on radio, TV and the Internet. So be careful what you say! Don’t spout off unless you want to be quoted.
  2. There is no “…off the record”. Unless the reporter is prepared to go to jail for you, you are going to get found out. If you send a note with a disclaimer like the one above to someone who thinks you’re up to no good, how long do you think your note is going to remain private? About as long as one of those “Don’t tell anybody else, but I heard…” stories that buzzed around school like a prairie fire back in 7th grade.
  3. Threats you can’t carry out against people who know something that can hurt you only make those people more likely to rat you out! Unfortunately, Enzyte doesn’t make a “natural credibility enhancement” pill you can take to recover from this one.

As Leyden (1995) observed ( :

  • Cyberspace is not all that different from the everyday world. The same law-abiding people who stop at traffic lights are navigating the electronic terrain. The force that stops someone from tearing open a letter or bill or check delivered through the U.S. mail is not the flimsy envelope: It's purely social convention and the vague threat of violating a federal law. Similar conventions and vague threats generally protect the integrity of electronic information, whether it's e-mail or databases.

But there really isn’t a standard that says, if I send you a letter, you can’t show it to other people. People will keep your notes confidential if they trust you because it’s polite to do so and if it’s in their own interest not to share the content of your communication. I have some e-mail communications that I routinely read and delete (and/or shred in the case of written notes) when I receive them because I have an agreement that in exchange for my ability to communicate freely with that person behind the scenes, I’ll never, never, share those communications with anyone else (no matter how tempted I am to do that).

If you start tagging your everyday e-mails with disclaimers like the one above you risk:

  1. Angering your friends for assuming they will blab unless you made a vague threat to prosecute them if they did.
  2. Flagging your notes as “full of juicy stuff that would be cool to spread around”.
  3. Reducing your credibility with people who know that you’re talking absolute balderdash and haven’t a legal leg to stand on.
  4. Seeming impolite for sending someone a note that obligates them to protect your secret stuff when you never asked them if they’d mind keeping your e-mail on the QT in the first place.

Did you’re Mama never teach you manners?

Just one man’s opinion….

Tom King

Confidential Information: The information in this e-mail is protected by my cousin Guido (who will come to your house and work you over with the blunt end of a summer sausage if he finds out you finked on me to the man). Anything I said in here that can be used against me in court, in the news media or at any board meeting held in the upstairs room at Rick's Blues Bar is confidential. All recipients of e-mail from me are expected to purchase expensive file shredding software and destroy this message utterly after you have committed its contents to heart. You are further enjoined not to reveal the contents of this message to anyone even if you have to die under torture to protect me. (Hey, if you didn't want the responsibility, you should never have opened this file in the first place!)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wait For Me, I’m Your Leader!

Who Will Be the Alpha Male in Regional Transit Services Planning?

There’s a’ gonna be a transit plannin’ meetin’ Friday and it’s not the one that East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG) wanted. In fact:

  1. ETCOG didn’t organize it – the TxDOT District Engineer did.
  2. ETCOG apparently didn’t want anyone else to organize it either – an ETCOG official actually called TxDOT’s Public Transportation Department and told them to tell the district engineer to, in essence, “Butt out!”
  3. Those invited to attend include health and human service providers, economic development councils, civic leaders, elected officials, advocacy groups, consumers, transit providers, state officials, chambers of commerce and business people, few of whom have yet been invited to the table by the Council of Governments self-appointed regional service planners. Now in a part of the country where the “One Man, One Pickup” rule is a way of life, public transportation is not likely to get much attention, though lack of adequate alternatives to a personal automobile directly impacts one in five adults and indirectly impacts a far greater percentage when you factor in the families and friends that folks without a car bum rides from.
So, doesn’t it make sense that you should include people like the ones listed above in the planning process? Apparently not if you go by ETCOG’s historical position. Even today, when TxDOT is demanding greater community participation in the planning process, ETOCG officals are complaining that getting everyone together Friday to talk about what regional service planning looks like “gets us a little bit ahead of ourselves”.

The COG says they are already “…working on doing a plan (Longview, Tyler and ETCOG)”. Note the players. Longview Transit, Tyler Transit and ETCOG Rural Transit. All transit providers. Now, whose needs are going to be number one at that table? No offense to Ed Esparsa and Norman Schenck from Longview and Tyler respectively. If ETCOG calls, they have to answer in self-defense. And both are good faith participants in developing a plan for coordination. My complaint is not with them, but it’s the same complaint I had 5 years ago.

Where’s everyone else that should be in on the planning process? COG official comment was that they “will have a key role for the HHS groups. It wouldn't be an accurate or effective plan otherwise. But it will be a little later on in the planning process.” Like when? Why should the HHS providers inclusion be later in the process? And why is there no mention of other key players like advocacy groups like ETJTA, The Arc, AARP, TASCA and such? Where are the economic development councils? Why are we back to 3 transit providers in a room doing regional planning?

Here's what it looks like from the outside.

  1. It looks like ETCOG wants to work up a preliminary plan that first and foremost meets the needs of the transit providers. It's easier to get what you want into such a plan if you do the first draft without any pesky non-transit people involved.
  2. It looks like their planning process isn't responding to public transit needs, but rather responding to providers' need to spend the money so it uses the appropriation in a way that best benefits the providers. What happened to having a plan that gets transit where it needs to go, if the people who need to go there aren’t included in planning until after the fact?
  3. ETCOG officials in public say they are “tickled that they (the organizers of Friday’s meeting) are helping get all of the Health and Human Service groups in on the planning process”. Telling the TxDOT district engineer to “butt out” doesn't sound "tickled" at all.
  4. When someone says we're getting "a little ahead of ourselves", what I hear is "You're making us do things we don't want to do or weren't prepared to control." I would think an opportunity to touch base with an influential former TxDOT Commissioner, the chairman of the Texas Assn. of Economic Development Councils, the District Engineer, public officials and representatives from communities all over your service area, would be welcomed going into a transportation summit. Instead letters and phone calls went out from the COG encouraging people to stay away.

I've said all along that a summit cannot be useful unless you've had a whole bunch of these kinds of local working groups to prepare for it - unless, that is, the summit was designed to present us with a fait' accompli. "Here's the draft plan, guys, already drawn up. Isn't it lovely? Don't look too closely at the fine print."

Five years ago at a TDHHS public forum, I asked why there wasn't a regional service plan for transit in East Texas. ETCOG’s rural transit director stood up and told us that there was indeed such a plan. I asked who wrote it. She very candidly said, "Glory, Kay and I." That group represented Tyler Transit, Mini-Bus - which was serving Longview at the time - and ETCOG’s transit director. It’s the same group this time that did all the planning five years ago - all transit providers.

As an afterthought, COG planners say that including health and human services providers is important. Unfortunately, they don’t even mention advocacy groups, civic officials, business people or economic development folks. Frankly, a lot of people, from small fry like me to city and county officials and other major players see ETCOG as not a good-faith partner in this process. ETCOG representatives over the past 5 years that I've been involved in local transportation advocacy have on repeated occasions stood up and flat told advocacy groups, consumers, civic leaders and, now, even TxDOT officials to "Butt Out!"

The Greater East Texas Transportation Alliance (GETTA), a TxDOT organized public advisory group, was publicly told by a COG official that it should stick to only one issue – namely advising the district on 5310 funding. Basically we were told to butt out! It nearly ruined the effectiveness of that group, but the need was so urgent that we soldiered on anyway, ignoring the proffered advice. With no encouragement from the COG; often with outright discouragement, a coalition of GETTA members put together a proposal to the DOT and was awarded $36,000 to survey the transit assets of the district in preparation for regional coordination and planning.

Five years ago, members of the Tyler Homeless Coalition identified a lack of transportation in the evening that prevented many people with disabilities and homeless workers from getting second and third shift jobs. At one of those early meetings, someone stood up and asked us who had given us “permission” to organize. When we made it clear that we didn’t need anyone’s permission to discuss transit issues, the next thing they wanted to know was, “What’s the grant you’re going after (and can we get it)?” We made it clear there was no grant. All we had was a problem and we were looking for a way to solve it. Many local “leaders” lost interest once they knew there was no immediate chance of getting a grant. Pretty much from there on we were told repeatedly to “butt out” by a variety of officials, leaders and representatives of large local organizations.

We organized East Texas Just Transportation Alliance and located a grant fund we could use to support extended hours for Tyler Transit in the federal Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) grant. The ETCOG representative told us not to bother applying for a JARC grant because “they are useless”. ETCOG had had to send theirs back because they said the money was unusable – over $200,000 went back to the feds instead of going to increasing transportation resources.

We ignored ETCOG’s warning. It turned out that they’d actually failed to get the JARC grant in the first place (they didn’t bother trying to get an earmark and only earmarked projects got money that year). What they sent back was Dept. of Labor funding that was supposed to match the JARC money. Meanwhile, with the help of Tyler Transit, we pulled together a coalition of supporters. We went to Washington and got the Congressional earmark for JARC anyway and two years later we were part of the effort that got the toll credits for match money too. This fall, Tyler Transit's JARC project will extend the system's service hours till midnight providing transportation home for low income second and third shift workers and evening access to business, shopping and recreation for seniors, people with disabilities and tourists.

A couple of years ago, seniors and senior advocates at the annual REACH conference on aging were told by ETCOG’s transit director that "The transit provider doesn't have to make its riders happy. The riders have to make the transit provider happy if they want a ride." That statement spoke volumes about the COG's transportation department's philosophy about who they serve. Advocates in the room were appalled. Over the past decade, ETCOG has reduced the number of providers in the 14 county region to just one single closely controlled transit provider that is tasked with covering the entire region. It made the COG's paperwork a little easier, but many of us feel like it left us without the flexibility a diverse system would have offered. If we are going to meet the transportation challenges of a huge and diverse region like East Texas, it makes sense to have a lot of locally based resources, especially if you ever hope to leverage local financial support. ETCOG staff members have expressed displeasure time and again at my own participation as a transportation advocate, then later as a member of PTAC.

Meanwhile, on the PTAC, I was pushing for a new funding formula which would dramatically increase East Texas (and consequently ETCOG's) funding. The plan I advocated moves the East Texas to funding parity in far less time than the 20 years originally projected by the transit industry. At no time did I get a lot of support or help from the COG. In fact the COG supported TTA's proposal to freeze funding in place, which would have in effect drastically slowed the growth of funding for the region at a time when, although we were the second largest rural transit district, we were receiving less money than any other COG. To make things worse, the COG produced a series of awkward "Resolutions" that were presented to the Commission that frankly made the COG look greedy and out of touch. At any point, those of us who were working toward funding equity for East Texas would have welcomed the COG’s participation in the process.

Instead ETCOG often seemed to be working at cross purposes. The statement has been made throughout that the process needs to be “controlled”. Why is that? Who needs to control the process? I don’t think it’s who they think needs to control the process. And now, the COG’s message on regional service planning appears to be, "Let us fix this plan up for you and when we've got a handle on it, we'll let ya'll take a peek and make comment." ETCOG has consistently been out of step with the purpose of the legislature in passing HB 3588 and at cross purposes with the Texas Transit Commission and with the growing numbers of people in East Texas who realize that we've got to engage everybody in building a transit infrastructure. No one agency can carry all the water for transit.

There's an element of "Wait for me, I'm your leader!" in all this. If your supposed to be the leader and yet you find yourself running along behind your community saying, “this is bad timing” or that you were going to include them just a “little bit later on in the planning process” then, you never were the leader you seem to have thought you were in the first place.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the COG has not been a good faith partner in regional service planning. It is my belief that someone else should take the lead in regional transportation service planning. The regional workforce board or the Regional Mobility Authority could play a pivotal role. Whoever leads out needs to bring the right people to the table from the get-go.

ETCOG is now planning to ask TxDOT to provide them with a consultant to shepherd the planning process. That assumes that ETCOG should be in charge of the regional planning process – an assumption that I, for one, would challenge loudly. I don’t think I’ll be alone either. A consultant is not what we need. We need someone else driving the planning process.

Friday’s meeting should be interesting.

Just one man’s opinion…

Tom King

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Place For Everyone, But Not Everyone Stays in His Place in The Me-Me-Media

In this month’s Readers Digest, there was an article about the new personal media – iPod’s, blogs, personalized news, satellite radio, cell phones, e-mail, text messaging and the like. RD cited one University of Chicago professor (there’s always one) who predicts that if people have the capacity to filter out stuff they don’t want from their media experience, then we’ve created a recipe for extremism. Dr. Sunstein calls it the “echo effect”. The theory is that if everything we see and hear is an echo or reflection of our own opinions and preferences, then gradually we slip farther and farther from the mainstream and into a fractured collection of fringe groups. Many media pundits are predicting a return to tribalism if the trend continues.

I respectfully disagree. Here’s why:

  1. In order to personalize your media choices, you first have to hunt around for things to put into your iPod or bookmark in your browser. You see a lot of opposing ideas and opinions, new music and cool stuff while you’re figuring out what you want to include in your personalized media universe.
  2. The next thing is, in order to support one side of any argument, you pretty much have to, at some point, listen to the other side in order to know what you’re against and don’t want to hear. Despite this pundit’s gloomy prediction that we’ll all become narrow-minded drones only listening to ideas we like, I’m seeing out there a whole lot of guys who listen to both Rush Limbaugh AND Al Franken, if only to shout at the radio in frustration at things they disagree with. I’d be willing to bet there are a whole lot more people out there with increasingly eclectic tastes. I made a “soundtrack of my life” tape the other day (one of my kids had to do one for a college project and it looked like fun – it was!). My CD includes folk protest songs and the Eagles’ “Get Over It”. It’s got Bing Crosby singing “Would you like to Swing on a Star” AND “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” (the Noel Coward version, not the rock n’ roll one!). A real mix of themes and ideas. A lot more people are like that out there than you think. People get tired of the same old thing after a while and move on. My son’s CD was a lot more homogenous musically, but even he threw in some bluegrass with his rap anthems.
  3. I believe the new media opens doors for all sorts of creativity. The new tools can make anyone a pundit or a producer. If you spend any time at all surfing the net, you can find some wonderfully creative communities that pop up spontaneously around some theme or idea or event. Remember the “Star Wars Kid” series that turned an embarrassing moment caught on film into a whole string of delightful promos and spoofs and made the kid a minor celebrity. There was even a huge Internet petition going around that demanded George Lucas give him a part in one of the Star Wars movies – I think it was a form of collective guilt over everybody making so much fun of the kid. It was fascinating to watch. Oh and have you ever seen the “Trunk Monkey” commercial. Try googling that one – very funny!
  4. Finally, I believe humans are all tribal by nature anyway. Some of us huddle in small geographic communities. Others create virtual villages where a guy from East Texas can share ideas and interests with people from Australia, Brazil, Israel and Japan if they can find a common language. Slot car racers have a community. I didn’t even know anyone still did that. I dug out my custom designed 1/32 scale Mustang GT and plan to visit the local track I found listed on a slot car webring. I found another for luthiers and learned enough from the guys there to rebuild a damaged Goya Guitar (the kind Willie Nelson plays with the hole in it) that I got for $35 on the Internet. I couldn’t have afforded a guitar like that for years, but thanks to personalized media and eBay, I was able to pull it off. I refelted our old pool table last Sunday thanks to instructions I found on a billiards community on the net – saved myself about $250. Just because we live in a tribe, doesn’t mean we won’t visit other tribes – especially not now that it’s so easy to get there!

I think what the professor worried about was that Americans (well, for that matter, anybody in the world with access to what she called the Me-me-media) wouldn’t receive the benefit of the opinions and influence of all the really smart people that have controlled the networks news and programming for all these years.

Well, that’s arguable. I took two years of graduate psychology courses. One thing I learned that really startled me was that there were as many smart people out there as there are stupid people. For everyone whose IQ is below 100 (the average score), there’s one above 100. So there are as may geniuses as there are mentally challenged out there. Even if you limit your definition of who are the really smart people to just 2% of the population, that’s still 20 people out of a thousand that are really super bright. In a town the size of Tyler, (around 100,000 now) that means there are 2000 really smart people – as smart as the average TV anchorman or smarter. So, Dr Sunstein, if we make it easier for all those smart people to get their own blog or to put their film on the net or create a site about something they really love and are passionate about, doesn’t that mean that the new media makes even more smartness available to us all. Sometimes I wonder if this is not just the pundits merely protecting their own turf? What threatens a paid pundit more than one who is every bit as erudite, but who isn’t charging a massive speaking fee?

Those who view the mass of people as too stupid to think for themselves may believe unsupervised personal media is a threat to society. Of course, most of those guys believe they are in the top 2% by the way – not at all surprising that they should feel threatened. Before we go further I want to assure you that I am well aware there is a lot of bunk, falsehood and just plain hooey out there. Dozens of nuts claim Nutra-Sweet is a deadly toxin. Hundred believe (and post on websites) that George W. Bush is Beelzebub’s personal representative on Earth. But for every crank out there, there is another genuine expert, easily accessible, who will teach you how to cook brownies to die for or how to rebuild and sail a catamaran. There’s Wikipedia, potentially the largest encyclopedia anywhere, built by thousands of individuals who know something about something they think is important and who are willing to research and create tens of thousands of useful articles to post on the site. Often the articles are the work of dozens of contributors correcting and updating information constantly. The system is amazing and Wikipedia is now a tremendous living information resource.

So rather than fracturing and dividing us, I think we are creating a more diverse set of communities than ever before, but ones that are even more connected to each other than before (behold the hyperlink if you don’t believe me) . In the age of personalized media, I don’t have to watch or like or be what everybody else watches, likes or is. If I collect toy soldiers, I don’t have to put up with my family of non-collectors badgering me all the time about my hobby around the old barbecue pit. Instead I’ve got ready access to a community who takes the hobby seriously too. Okay, maybe I don’t keep up with reality TV anymore. So, I won’t do well on pop culture trivia because I don’t care who won on Survivor this year. I tape or Tivo my favorite shows no matter when they’re on and watch them when I want. I choose to make differences of opinion part of my personal media package because it’s stimulating. Bloggers, surfers and micro media personalities contribute to the incredible diversity in today’s electronic media.

Computers have taken us to a new level. Freedom of the press used to be limited to people who could afford a press. The new media makes press ownership affordable to everyone. Brains and talent is ever more becoming the primary criteria for getting your opinion out there where once financial resources acted as the filter. I think that’s healthy.

Two decades ago they said AM radio was dead, but they’d never seen anyone like Rush Limbaugh before. This almost unknown, bright ex-Dejay/sportscaster raised AM radio from the grave, linked it to the Internet, got onto the Internet, into podcasting early and made himself very rich in the process. People include him in their personal media universes because he says things they want to hear, he’s witty, intelligent and entertaining. Almost as often, ironically, others listen because they hate and despise everything he stands for. Surprisingly, he’s almost got as many people listening who hate him as he does listeners who love him.

Here’s your homework: I want you to make yourself a CD on your computer. Imagine you were making a movie about your life. Create a soundtrack CD like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “50 First Dates” or something. Make it so the music complements the scenes you see in your head. My first track is Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”.

Born on a mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine,
Got up early went to work in the mine.
Loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal.
The foreman said, well bless a my soul…

It was the first song I ever learned the words to (at age two). Since then, there have been lots of others. Here’s the play list if you’re curious:

1. Sixteen Tons..............................Tennessee Ernie Ford
2. Would You Like to Swing on a Star..........Bing Crosby
3. Right Field.......................................Peter, Paul & Mary
4. Feelin’ Groovy................................Simon & Garfunkel
5. Oh Very Young...........................................Cat Stevens
6. Fire & Rain................................................James Taylor
7. Morning Has Broken.................................Cat Stevens
8. My Sweet Lady........................................John Denver
9. Catch the Wind...................................Donovan Leitch
10. Java Jive.................................................Greg Brown
11. In the Mood............................................Glenn Miller
12. Ballin’ the Jack......................................Danny Kaye
13. Mad Dogs & Englishmen.......................Noel Coward
14. Dona Dona........................................Donovan Leitch
15. If I had a Boat.........................................Lyle Lovett
16. Superman Song.....................Crash Test Dummies
17. The Happy Wanderer........................Brave Combo
18. The Dinosaur Song.........Trout Fishing in America
19. Get Over It!............................................The Eagles
20. The Hand Song....................................Nickel Creek
21. Lookin’ Out My Back Door ......Creedence Clearwater Revival
22. Don’t Fence Me In............Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters
23. Happy Trails.......................................Roy Rogers & Dale Evans

I defy you to find a disk jockey that could even imagine programming an hour that matches my playlist or for that matter an hour that matches your soundtrack. If you’d like, type up your own track list and post it in the comments section of this blog. I’d love to see what’s on your soundtrack. I've never seen a personal soundtrack yet that didn't have at least one surprise in it.

I think the Me-me-media is just a lovely idea. It could be the best thing to happen to the media since television and FM radio. Sure a few highly paid guys may lose their prestige and not be able to demand those 10 million dollar bonuses any more, but isn’t the idea to spread the wealth around a little anyway. Hasn’t the media been criticizing corporate greed and corruption and damning overpaid business executives for years? Then, shouldn’t we start the proposed leveling of the playing field with the media industry? I mean, if we’re going to do some redistribution of wealth, let’s let the entertainment industry lead the way -- you know, show corporate America how it’s done. Money where your mouth is so to speak. More actors and news guys and pundits would be able to work that way wouldn’t they, albeit at somewhat reduced salaries?

I say, “Viva la’ iPod!”

Just one man’s opinion…..

Tom King