Location: United States

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Cure that Won't Kill - a Tale of a Public Advocate

Anyone who has followed politics for more that - oh, twenty seconds - knows that a true public servant is a rarity. The idea, like chivalry, isn't dead, but the patient is ill and the heartbeat is fading. Meanwhile, the doctors are slam-dancing like drunken Marx Brothers waving a tree saw and hammer and talking about "resuscitating the patient".

Well, I don't want to be resuscitated. I want to be heard. But it's awfully hard to be heard when you live in the twenty-first century and the government is stuck in the nineteenth.

Really, when was the last time you heard of "government" and "computers" used in a sentence that didn't contain the word "disaster"?

Love them or hate them, computers are here to stay. Of course, they aren't staying on your desk - they're portable laptops and sidekicks and PDA's and about a billion and a half other gizmos that make neat sounds and have pretty flashing lights. Oh yeah, our foreign business competitors use them to kick our butts, too.

Here's what Andrew Raseij has to say about that:

"... while other major cities around the world and even here at home are focused on creating a true 21st Century infrastructure – and equipping their citizens to thrive in the new global marketplace – New York is mostly standing still. Seoul and Tokyo are busy raising the speed limit on the information superhighway. And our government can't even tell New York straphangers when the next subway is coming."

Here the nurse? "Doctor, the patient is awake and pissed off. Perhaps you should do something."

Doctor Marx Bloomberg twiddles his cigar and replies, "I am doing something, sweetheart. I'm blowing the West Side Stadium deal - can you bring me some Chapstick?"

Okay, let's turn to someone who has a clue what leadership is. Andrew Raseij again:

"My hope in putting forward this "NY Wi-Fi" plan is to fill that imagination gap. I want to show the voters just what they could gain from this modest investment in our common future, starting with our education system. Right now most students in our public schools can only get access to a computer for a measly one hour a week. That helps explain why kids in South Korea have better and faster access to the U.S. Library of Congress than kids in the South Bronx. My plan will change that, so that we don't settle for leaving no child behind – our goal should be to help every child get ahead."

Whoa! Hold on! Where is the empty rhetoric about "accountability" and "standards" and "testing"? How will the educational consultants make a living, Andrew? Besides, silly upstart! Children don't vote!

"I have learned a great deal about this particular problem through my work with MOUSE, a non-profit I founded eight years ago to help wire our public schools and train students and teachers in using technology. Every year, we have trained about 1,000 students in a hundred schools to be their school's systems administrators. They in turn support 89,000 students and 6,000 teachers in making sure that the computers work when they're supposed to, so learning moments can happen. And they save the school system $1.2 million a year. Even better, more than 90 percent of the kids in our program graduate and go on to college."

Doctor Marx Bloomberg:
"Noyse, we have a problem. No, the patient's fine. That's the problem. Give him some dum-dum juice and stick him in a voting booth - STAT!"

Back to Andrew:

"Many of our elected officials, including our current Public Advocate, could not tell a server from a waiter, let alone envision a universal "Wi-Fi" system and bring the city together to support it. The only way that's going to change is if we elect new leaders who "get it" – that's IT, as in information technology – and who can see the connection between the technologies of today and the New York of tomorrow."

Ouch! Andrew, come on! The new century is only five years old! Can't we ease into it a bit slower? Do we really need today's leaders today? I mean, look around! Yesterday's leaders are doing such a wonderful job!

I think Andrew just whizzed by with a crash cart. You know, we might just make it after all.


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