Sunday, January 24, 2010

Short Morning Takes on Wichita, Geekery, and Self-Promotion

It's Sunday morning, and I'm skipping church to stay home with Alison, our third daughter, who is almost-but-quite-recovered from a nasty bug that had her throwing up for past couple of days. I think it may be the first day of church I've missed--leaving aside snow days and such--in four years of so. It feels weird. So what do I do, while Alison crashes on the couch, watching Monsters vs. Aliens? Blog, of course.

1. John Buass is back up and blogging again, at Blog Meridian and Cycling in Wichita, and I'm delighted. I'm particularly delighted with the latter, because through that blog John has done more than anyone to keep me aware of numerous local issues involving transportation, community development, and political and economic planning that are pretty important to me. So I ought to return the favor, by saying something about the most recent Westlink Neighborhood Association meeting, over here on the west wide of Wichita. We hosted a visit and presentation from Robert Layton, Wichita's city manager, and he gave a great, sobering but informative presentation. Of particular interest to Wichita readers might be his comments about public transportation (most of the participants in WNA are older folks, for whom buses, rather than pedestrian or bicycler transportation, is paramount). He noted that, given Wichita's current economic state, any serious rethinking of public transport throughout the city would likely have to be put off until 2012 or later, but he acknowledged the long-term need to get such rethinking done, eventually. Our buses operate on a spoke-and-hub system (all transports extending out and returning to a couple of central points), which is a relatively cheap and straightforward way of covering as much area as possible with as few buses as possible, but a very difficult arrangement to build into a more comprehensive service platform. Layton said that Wichita hasn't been, for a city of its size, hasn't been as progressive as it needs to be, and he indicated that he, at least, is willing to think big about the long-term future of Wichita's infrastructure needs. I talked to him briefly after the meeting, and he said the same thing about bicycle paths: no specifics, but definitely an interest in seeing Wichita's transportation options, over time, reworked from the ground up. I liked him--he seemed smart, realistic, and open-minded; a good sign for those of us who strive to buck Wichita's car-dependency.

2. Before we put on the movie, I read to Alison another chapter from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. We started about a week ago, and she's loving it. She's seen parts of the first couple of movies, but Melissa and I have both tried to police her exposure to the films, so as to prevent her interest in the books being undermined before she gets a chance to experience hearing them aloud. (Besides, she's only six, and the movies obviously get more intense than is appropriate for her as they go on.) Anyway, we're having a blast. Alison is, because the book makes her curious, excited, and inquisitive--it's the longest continuous work we've exposed her to yet, and she's learning how to put plot points together, remembering details (or at least trying to) from one chapter to the next, and wheedling me to give her info about how things are going to turn out: in other words, all the great things which getting immersed in a story can do for you. And I am, because it reminds of all the things I loved about the books, when Melissa and then I were first drawn into Pottermania, and, as the years went by, brought our kids with us. Alison is the third of our four daughters that I've read the books to--though so far only through Prisoner of Azkaban, as in both Megan's and Caitlyn's case by the time we got to the fourth book, they were reading themselves, and unwilling to put up with my slow pace. Megan is the most determined reader of the girls so far; Caitlyn took longer to get through them all, and as for Alison, who knows? Besides being younger than either of the others were when they started, she may not develop enough of a passion for it to carry her through the increasingly longer books, even assuming we think she's ready for Goblet of Fire and what comes later. But that's not a concern right now. Right now, I'm just enjoying being reminded of how much clever, childishly fun detail Rowling can crowd into her simple plots, and why Harry and Snape and all the rest were so compelling in the first place.

3. Speaking of passing along geek traditions to our kids, we've also just started through the Lord of the Rings movies with our two oldest. Megan has, bit by bit, watched them all several times, sometimes with Melissa and I and sometimes without, but Caitlyn has only seen a couple of clips, here are there. We thought about imposing the same rules about reading books before watching movies that we have with Harry Potter, but as good a reader as Caitlyn is for her grade level (she's now nine), she's not like her older sister (now thirteen), and we figured that, so long as we watched them with her, we could give in to her intense longing to watch the films. So we've all embarked on the long march through the whole epic, something Melissa and I haven't done in five years. It's been a wonderfully geeky bit of family bonding so far, one weekend after another, with Megan quoting whole lines out loud while we throw pillows at her to get her to shut up, and Caitlyn hiding her head under a blanket when Saruman starts creating the Uruk-hai. And for me, well, it's been a blast to revisit some great, thrilling filmmaking. (I still think that the battle with the Uruks across the hillside at the end of Fellowship, and Gollum's first appearance climbing down a cliff wall in The Two Towers, are some of the most captivating sequences I've ever seen in movies of this type. I can't wait for when we make it to the big finale.)

4. I showed up late yesterday for the book discussion being hosted by our local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America at Riverside Perk, but I got a lot out of the good discussion taking place nonetheless. We talked about the book, The ABCs of the Economic Crisis, and about health care, public transportation, what Obama is (or isn't) trying to do, and more. They're a good group of people, and I'm happy to be a part of this motley bunch of liberals, progressives, social and Christian democrats, and more. I'm going to be lecturing to them and interested others tomorrow ("If Capitalism Can Go Global, Can Socialism Go Local?", room 200 of the Business and Technology Building, Friends University, 6:30pm all are invited!), as well as running a book club meeting myself next month, on G.A. Cohen's Why Not Socialism? I'm looking forward to it. It's good to be part of party, even a small one. In fact, they might be the best kind--at least as far as book clubs are concerned.


John B. said...

Thanks for the plug; I'm glad you feel informed from my posts, and I hope others do as well. Did you fill out the WAMPO survey?

Thanks also for the info on the Westlink meeting--I keep focusing on downtown and near-downtown stuff, but you've inspired me to post some links to the other neighborhood associations' websites.

I remember thinking when I read Layton's bio back when he was hired that he was a good match for Wichita: his last job was in Iowa, so he understands the culture here; but Uniondale appeared to have a forward-thinking attitude about alternate transportation and livability issues. Financially, it's an awkward time to be having these discussions. On the other hand, as I noted in a post last week, Sedgwick County will soon be found to be not in compliance with the more-stringent air quality standards just approved by the EPA; so, like it or not, we'll be having them--and about far more than a few rinky-dink bike lanes here and there, too. It'd be much more fun, though, to want to have them, rather than have them foisted on us.

Russell Arben Fox said...


Thanks for commenting, and yes, I have filled out the survey. What was your first choice of the options they gave?

There was some discussion at our Westlink meeting about compliance with EPA standards, and how to improve the traffic flow in conjunction with that. Obviously, right now the focus is on some more immediately effective solutions (improving traffic light programming to reduce wait times, etc.), but the long-term ones have to be kept on the burner as well.

John B. said...

I chose the "Transit/Operations and Maintenance" option: it would be a huge savings in money; it'd increase funds needed for maintenance; and it wouldn't add road capacity that won't aid in reducing congestion in the first place.

As for having to wait on some things for financial reasons: The start/completion dates for the various projects indicate that that's the case. I admit to being a little impatient; so many of these projects have the appearance to me of being not only low-hanging fruit but inexpensive fruit at that, and all we really lack here is the political will to pluck it. But as Layton told you at the meeting, there's a history of inertia on these matters. It's just a matter of getting things going, and I do feel that that moment is just about here.

Oh--I meant to note that your watching the LotR films and reading the Harry Potter books with your daughters sounds like great fun. Enjoy.

Word verification: "fingsta" A member of a gang of minnows?

Russell Arben Fox said...


That's the same choice I made, for much the same reasons. The Mega Projects included some appealing possibilities, but it seemed mainly about laying concrete that would just invite development in areas that would only contribute to already existing patterns of congestion.

I agree with you re: the low-hanging fruit. Still, I thought Layton appeared an ally to planting the sort of seeds which can grow into the sort of will. We can only hope, as always.

Fingsta, huh? Don't these programs which randomly throw letters together?