Thursday, April 27, 2006

Devil's in the details of the legislative process

If you want to know how legislative mischief gets hidden, grab a look at the title of House Bill 7077. I'm not saying there IS mischief in this multi-purpose transportation bill, now ready for second reading in the Florida House -- just that it wouldn't have been hard to hide it in the bramble thicket of type describing the bill's many purposes. Out of curiosity I copied the title to my word processor and clustered the items that seemed to be related. The resulting document was four pages. By my count, you could have made 42 different bills of this thing. They're clustered because they're supposedly all routine matters with no policy implications.

It's a good lesson: Anyone looking for local impact in the legislative process needs to read every bill carefully. Miamians, there are some gems for us near the end of the title.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Coping with the heat

This Miami spring feels warmer than any in my 32-year experience of the city, and I suspect that one reason is the huge loss of tree canopy in last year's hurricanes. Not only did the storm wreck many of our trees; many others that were damaged were cut up and hauled away rather than pruned and reset in their holes.

One place where that happened was the park near my house. As I walked past this afternoon, a children's party was under way at a spot that before the storms was shaded by several leafy trees. A dozen children played in the sunshine while grownups watched from their lawn chairs. Parked at the curb were five cars and eight vans and sport utility vehicles. (Evidently there's no car-pooling in this social circle.)

We have devalued our trees in Miami, and it is no surprise that some of our lawmakers are willing to sacrifice some more of them to preserve a clear view of billboards along our streets and roads. The idea sounded so absurd when I heard it that I thought it a joke, but this is a serious proposal that the Florida Senate has already approved. Some communities protect trees; ours protects billboards. This billboard protection bill is a fine example of the skewed priorities in a state that owes its appeal to natural beauty. What can its sponsors be thinking?

The bill's progress through the Senate. I haven't found the votes on the floor, but the links near the bottom of that page do show you who was for and against the bill in committee.

36 ideas for Earth Day -- and tomorrow

This is from the Fort Myers News-Press.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cops shoot 2004 Lotto winner

This relates to none of my usual themes here, but it's too good a yarn not to share. Enjoy, in the Orlando Sentinel.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Turn off your TV

Among the reasons cited for the decline of public education, one I think especially to blame is the prevalence of television in American homes. The TV habit shortens the viewer's attention span, and the fare offered is increasingly coarse and vulgar. So I am delighted to report that next week is being observed, in some circles, as TV Turnoff Week. You can check it out at Adbusters, where you'll also find links to other groups who are taking part.

If you really get into this, you might want this handy little gadget called TV-B-Gone.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Generators for gas stations

Miami's Sen. Alex Villalobos figures in this report from the Fort Myers News-Press

School dropout rate as 'civil rights issue'

It was general education as much as our Constitution and America's great natural resources that made the United States the power it has been, according to Paul Starr in The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications. That makes it all the more alarming that our public schools today, for all their successes, are failing so many children so badly. One can hardly blame the mayor of Los Angeles, then, for trying to take hold of the situation and start making improvements. He's just fired a shot across the bow of the education establishment, and you can read it in the Los Angeles Times.

Resources mentioned or brought to mind by the Los Angeles article:
--Dropout study edited by Gary Orfield at Harvard.
--The Silent Epidemic, a study of dropouts -- with recommended remedies at the individual and larger levels -- from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What Florida is doing about its 30 percent dropout rate, as told in the Orlando Sentinel.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Trolly for our town?

I've been a skeptic during recent discussions of laying down a trolly line from downtown Miami to the city's northeast, sometimes styled the Upper East Side. In this look at some of the cities that are using light rail, the idea begins to look better to me. See what you think.