Friday, May 19, 2006

Pomp & Circumstance

I'm heading home tomorrow morning for Mark's high school graduation. That's right, my little brother is all grown up. It's hard to believe. When I left for college, he was only 11 years old, and now he's turning 18. Where does all that time go? Sometimes Mark laments being the youngest for just that reason - the rest of us were often missing from some of his moments. But I must say that we've all been there for all the big ones. Hey, we were even there for him being born, and I don't think he can say the same for any of us. And while I'm sure there must be some downsides to being the youngest, I think there must be an awful lot of positives.

ICEEs, for instance. I received my license when Mark was only 9 years old, so I became a regular chauffeur for him. He didn't have to wait for my mom or dad to be available to take him somewhere, the way I did. Instead he'd talk me into taking him wherever he wanted or needed to go. And then he'd sucker me into buying him an ICEE on a whole lot of these trips. His plot involved chanting "K-Mart ICEE" every time we drove anywhere near the K-Mart, which being right down the road, was pretty often. And I, being a sucker for his "It's so hard to be the youngest" spiel, would stop and buy him an ICEE. Thank God they closed the K-Mart or I'd probably still be buying him ICEEs everytime I go home. Hard to be the youngest, huh?

And what about that trip to Greece and Egypt at age 15? I don't know too many 15 year olds out there who've rode a feluca down the Nile or trekked around the Pyramids. Hard to be the youngest, huh?

Or what about having 8th graders fighting to be your Big Brother/Sister when you're in 1st grade because everyone thought you were the world's coolest kid? Or what about never having to drive the 'Vrolet, because the rest of us had killed it by the time you got your license? Or what about getting to go hang out at with your older siblings at college when you're just in high school? Hard to be the youngest, huh?

Oh, I know there are downsides. There always are - oldest, youngest, middle, whatever. It's always a tradeoff, a balance of positives and negatives. But youngest looks pretty good to me. Especially when you're Mark, and you've got so many good things going for you.

But I wouldn't trade with him...I like being the proud big sister.

Friday, May 05, 2006

HR 5252

I would like to ask each of you to contact your Representative in the Federal House and ask him or her to Vote NO on H.R. 5252, The Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006. On the surface, this bill might look good to you - after all, it is supposed "To promote the deployment of broadband networks and services". Yay for broadband, right? Well, in this case, no, not exactly.

One of the main points of the bill, and a point which I find terribly troubling, is the allowance of national franchises. What this means is that large telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon, etc. can establish a national franchise for their services instead of negotiating with each community. Of course, the telecom giants are for this because it makes their lives much easier. But this will be a huge loss for cities. Right now, each city has the right to negotiate a franchise with these companies. In doing so, the city charges a franchising fee and the city bargains for services, such as technology service to schools and government and community facilities. With national franchises, cities will lose the right to bargain for the services that best benefit their citizens and franchising fees will now go to the federal government instead of the local government. For the services that best benefit you and your fellow citizens, it is vital to have franchising controlled at the local level. You can read an example of a city's gains through the negotiation of a cable franchise on one of the Web sites I maintain.

Additionally, the bill does not call for universal service, which is a requirement that companies provide service to all people in an area, not just the ones they pick and choose (ie the people in the most revenue-generating areas). Instead the bill includes anti-discrimination language which the bill's supporters say will, in effect, lead to universal service. However, the bill only protects against intentional discrimination based on income, which is, of course, quite hard to prove. Universal access is necessary to make sure that all Americans have access to technology services and thus have a fair chance at making it in our ever more technology-dependent world. Telecom giants say that "market forces" will ensure universal service, but I question what market forces are in act in a low-income area where only a small percentage of the total population of that area will subscribe to services. Or what market forces are in act in a rural area where it could cost companies more to extend services to those areas than they would be able to generate back from that specific area.

Another contentious area is what is referred to as network neutrality. There is much back and forth on whether the bill will or should include any provisions about network neutrality. It's a very tricky area, and I encourage you to learn more about it. The choices aren't that great: proponents say it will keep the Internet "open". Opponents say it gives the government too much control. Theoretically, without network neutrality, telecom companies could create a "tiered" Internet, in which content delivery would not be controlled by the consumer so much as by the content provider. Theoretically, telecom companies could create relationships with providers who are willing to pay more to have their content transmitted at higher speeds. Thus certain material would flow over high bandwidth and certain over low bandwidth regardless of what service the consumer subscribes to. With network neutrality, the government would have some regulatory powers over the Internet. So I have to say that it's somewhat of a no-win situation. But I don't like the idea of a tiered Internet. Afterall, isn't the great thing about the Internet the free flow of information?

Anyhow, I hope you are still reading and that you will take the time to learn more about this. For work, I've been attending a lot of Congressional briefings on the issue lately, so I do have some knowledge on the topic. This bill will have an effect on everyone in some way or another, but it will especially affect those who are low-income and underserved, so please consider speaking out both on your behalf and theirs. I do hope that after some consideration you will contact your House member and ask them to vote NO on H.R. 5252 based on the reasons I supplied above, particularly federal franchises and the lack of universal service.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Friday Night Winnings

Last year I stumbled across an entry form for the Bethesda Literary Festival Essay Contest, and on a whim, entered the contest. The topic was "Home," which was a theme I felt well versed on and the topic of an essay I'd written in college, so I whittled the 10+ pages down to 500 words and entered. Happily, I won 3rd place and $150.

This year, I received the entry form in the mail with instructions that this year's topic was "Bethesda." I could write anything I wanted, but the essay or fictional piece had to include at least one place in downtown Bethesda. Hmmm. A little harder and definitely not something I'd written about before. But once I thought about, I came up with an idea and the essay flowed pretty easily. Last Friday, eight finalists were summoned to Barnes & Noble for a reading. The four Honorable Mentions were called up, and my name wasn't read. Then the four prize winners were called up, and I was among this group. (Pshew, I hadn't accidentally been called and was indeed a finalist.) Each place was announced, and the corresponding essay was read. I was definitely the youngest person in the adult category, with the oldest a self-declared 80 years old, and the rest primarily middle-aged. After 4th and 3rd prizes were announced, myself and the 80 year old were the only two left. And then they called her name (well, it wasn't my name and she responded, so presumably her name) for the 2nd place prize. Which meant that I had placed first. With this came $500 and a free class at the Writing Center...along with all the accolades I could handle. Actually one woman did ask if I had any books she could buy, but I think she was a little nutty.

Anyhow, for your reading pleasure, I'm including the essay below. It's a fictionalized personal essay, meaning the events are real, but they didn't necessarily unfold in the way they're portrayed, and the people are also real, but are more characters than real-life portrayals. (I'm including this disclaimer so as to avoid any James Frey incidents. Please no Oprah breakdowns, people.)


As my husband and I pedal along the Capital Crescent trail, I keep a watch out for turtles, yelling out the number I glimpse sunbathing on logs or somersaulting into the canal, hoping that one of us will remember so that I can tell my grandma how many we saw. When I see her, which isn’t as often as I’d like, or when I talk to her, which isn’t as often as I should, I tell her about our bike rides. I talk about the leaves that catch on the breeze, pirouetting through sun and shadow before landing on the trail. I tell her about the kids pumping their legs so hard that the training wheels on their bikes lift off from the ground and they glide unknowingly on only two wheels. We laugh together about the freshman kayakers who can’t get their boats to go in a straight line, and she asks whether the little girls who were once selling sugary lemonade and gooey brownies were on the trail that day.

When there’s not a bike story to tell, I’ll recount my trips to the Bethesda Farmer’s Market, and together we’ll fawn over the earthy smell of ripe tomatoes and the way that smell always takes me back home to Kentucky summers and BLT sandwiches on the back porch. Sometimes I’ll mention the deer I spy out the window when I’m cleaning dinner dishes at twilight or tell her about the black squirrels so common here.

I keep track of details and file away images so that I always have a story to share with her. But there are so many details I leave out. I don’t tell her about sitting on the floor of Barnes & Noble, a teetering stack of books beside me, as I searched for the perfect guide to bike trails in the area. And I never make her laugh at stories about my attempts to conquer chopsticks during sushi dinners at Matuba. Art gallery hops and Barking Dog Friday night specials find no place in my stories.

It’s not that she wouldn’t be interested in those details, but that those details would complicate her world in a way that I wouldn’t know how to fix. She is at that age now where she spends most of her time looking backwards rather than forwards. She lives in memories—with brown hair, smooth skin, regal posture. She does not recognize the mirror’s reality—the grey hair, the lined face, the body being pulled towards the earth.

And so as not to shatter her fragile cobweb of memories, I don’t tell her that the town she remembers as Bethesda—a town of farmhouses and cornfields where my uncle lived when he once called Maryland home—is not, and was not, Bethesda. Instead, I filter my reality to fit her memory, pulling out the idyllic and removing the urban. Through lies of omission, I make my Bethesda hers.