Saturday, December 27, 2008

The heart of B-town

There are plenty of things wrong with Bakersfield. Start with the foul air and go from there: a general lack of vision among our elected leaders, apathy among the public, low expectations, high illiteracy and drop out rates, an appalling low percentage of college graduates. We all have our lists. But there is something else that we can't overlook and that is the genuine goodness of most of the folks who dwell here. It's that "small town" feeling when we are anything but a small town, but it exists and everyone can attest to it. It's the kind of place where people are ready to help, and if you open yourself up, you'll find yourself with friends in about every trade. Today for example my heat went out (yikes it was cold) and I was headed to the Yellow Pages for a round of cold calling when a friend mentioned a mutual friend we shoot skeet with. Sure enough one call later and owner Ben Wagoner (by the way he is one terrific skeet shooter) sent his crew over from Air Control Services to fix the problem. We all have these stories - mechanics, handymen, painters, plumbers, even lawyers and law enforcement officers - all found via word of mouth from friends who are eager to help. That's when B-town feels like home.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A New World Order

Jeff Jarvis (a link to his buzzmachine is listed below) is one of our great thinkers and today he puts forth a good argument linking the current economic upheaval with the maturation of the internet. I lifted this straight from his blog:

Fred Wilson says what I’ve been thinking: That we’re in more than a financial crisis, we’re in a fundamental restructuring.

Clearly the economic downturn is the direct cause of most of these failures but I believe it is the straw that broke the camel’s back in most cases.

The internet, now closing in on 15 years old in its mainstream incarnation as the world wide web, is in many cases the underlying cause of these business failures.

Bits of information flowing over a wire (or through the air) are just more efficient than physical infrastructure….

This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age.

Fred outlines fundamental changes in retail, banking, and auto sales, to name three industries, and then is kind enough to plug my book for more.

I also argued in a recent Guardian column that not only will specific industries be overtaken by this change but so will the structure of the economy as - post-crisis, post-Google - companies and sectors will no longer grow to critical mass through vast ownership funded by vast debt but instead, Google-like, by building networks atop platforms. Industries will change and so will the structure in which they operate.

The point in any case is that it would be a mistake to think that we will come out of this financial crisis soon wounded but still seeing the world the way we saw it before. In the graveyard of camels with broken backs, we will see a new world newly structured and we’re only beginning to figure it out.

In this sense, media - music, newspapers, TV, magazines, books - may be lucky to be among the first to undergo this radical restructuring. Communications was also early on because it - like media - appeared close to the internet and Google (though, as I say in the post below, it’s a mistake to see the internet strictly as media or as pipes; it’s something other). Other industries and institutions - advertising, manufacturing, health, education, government… - are next and they, like their predecessors, don’t see what’s coming, especially if they think all they’re undergoing is a crisis. The change is bigger, more fundamental, and more permanent than that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sheryl Barbich keeps Vision 2020 alive

Remember Vision 2020? This was the energetic grassroots attempt to help mold public policy to what really matters to folks in our community-things like the need for clean air, green space, water parks, good zoning. These may seem like small things in most communities but in a town where developers rule, they are the first to go in the rush toward development. But hand it to Sheryl Barbich to keep the dream alive. It was Sheryl's iron will that pushed the Vision 2020 process to fruition (she's too modest to admit that) and it is her drive that almost single handedly keeps it alive. If enough has not been accomplished, it's not because she hasn't been trying. So it didn't surpise me when I was included on a group message from Sheryl trying to rally the troops once again to support our community...

To: V2020 Facilitation Team

Holly Culhane called with a request to identify a 1-2 day project for 500 local volunteers. Think back on what the community said they wanted and send me (or Holly) some ideas for this energetic group that can help our community become a better place. With the proper publicity, this volunteer activity could inspire others to do similar projects, and voila! Meantime, all the best wishes to you and your families for a wonderful holiday. Wishing peace for you and for the world, in the new year. Sheryl

We could use a few more Sheryls in this town....

Ralph Bailey: breath of fresh air

Bakersfield isn't known for the quality of its local talk radio. The hosts (that's a charitable title in some circumstances) can be blissfully ignorant, dealing in half truths, rumors or internet conspiracies, or at worst just downright mean spirited. But one exception is Ralph Bailey on 1560 KNZR. Ralph has attracted strong ratings and a growing following through a fairly simple formula: be informed, be interesting, don't take yourself too seriously and most of all, exhibit a sense of humor and fair play. He's by far the most intelligent and well-read of the local talk show hosts and enjoys a solid lineup of guests: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, former Sheriff Carl Sparks (always good for a laugh) and Lois Henry, the opinionated Californian columnist who can go toe-to-toe with Ralph's wit. (Ralph and Lois go way back incidentally) He's worth tuning into every afternoon for a listen.

Ford Fusion Hybrid: 50-plus mpg?

Got an email today from Kyle Northway, the marketing manager over at Jim Burke Ford, a Bakersfield institution that has done much to give back to the community. Kyle was pointing out (with justified pride, given the bad news surrounding the car industry these days) that the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid is being praised as the most fuel efficient mid-size car in America. The Fusion Hybrid gets an incredible 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg around town, and one review (not cited by Kyle) had it getting 56 mpg around town. Ford needs some good news and for the life of me I don't know why they're not promoting the Fusion every hour of every day.

We're No. 1! (In polluted air)

It's no secret that Bakersfield has some of the worst air in the nation and occasionally you'll find lists in the paper. But check out this list from the American Lung Assn. on the top 10 polluted cities. It's humbling (and scary) and it's appalling that so many of our local politicians ignore the consequences of such unhealthy air.

The 2008 Lists:

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-Term Particle Pollution:

1) Pittsburgh, Pa.
2) Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
3) Fresno/Madera, Calif.
4) Bakersfield, Calif.
5) Birmingham, Ala.
6) Logan, Utah
7) Salt Lake City, Utah
8) Sacramento, Calif.
9) Detroit, Mich.
10) Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution:

1) Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
2) Pittsburgh, Pa.
3) Bakersfield, Calif.
4) Birmingham, Ala.
5) Visalia/Porterville, Calif.
6) Atlanta, Ga.
7) Cincinnati, Ohio
8) Fresno/Madera, Calif.
9) Hanford/Corcoran, Calif.
10) Detroit, Mich.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Ozone:

1) Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
2) Bakersfield, Calif.
3) Visalia/Porterville, Calif.
4) Houston, Texas
5) Fresno/Madera, Calif.
6) Sacramento, Calif.
7) Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
8) New York, N.Y./Newark, N.J.
9) Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia
10) Baton Rouge, La.

Lois hits another one out of the park

Lois Henry, the Californian's primary Metro columnist, hit another one out of the park today with a compelling piece about the need for more civic engagement in our community. The apathy in our town is disturbing, and it is prevalent no matter of income or education level. Check out Lois Henry's latest musings at

"I’ve often heard from people that they would like to get their foot in the door of community life but

1) nothing ever changes, so why try?

2) they’re overwhelmed by the size and number of our problems and 3) they don’t know HOW to get involved.

I’ll try and address the issues listed above and, hopefully, Santa will sprinkle a little “anti-apathy” powder over Kern County tonight. But the rest is up to you!

Yes, things do change when average people get involved."

Amen, Lois, amen.