Many people believe that politics and government are far removed from their daily lives. Some people’s only exposure to civic involvement might be when a candidate knocks on their door. However there is another easy way to get involved locally. Towns and cities have commissions and committees that work on projects and are responsible for administering regulations in a wide variety of areas. This means that you can often find one that fits your skills and interests. In my home town of Wethersfield the members of these committees are people found and recruited by the political committees and then their appointments are usually confirmed by the town council. It is not often easy to find people to serve, so once a seat opens it is not hard for most citizens to get some kind of appointment.
Since I have had an interest in energy and environment law I have served on my town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission for the past five years. The nice thing about the commission is that although the appointments are made by the parties the conduct is not at all partisan. The commission is made up of lawyers, engineers, and others that have some kind of background in environment law. It is our responsbility to review and approve plans for development in and around the wetlands in town, and the 100-year floodplain. When I started the town provided me with a manual and paid to send me to a training to interpret the maps they send us in our weekly packets. When I started I was intimidated since I did not have a civil engineering background but slowly gained comfort as I realized people had different areas of expertise and I learned what to look for. As I gained comfort I have been able to better formulate questions for the applicants and catch red flags.
So if you have not been involved in your town or city before I recommend contacting your town or city clerk and asking how you can get appointed to a commission you are interested in. You will meet people from both sides of the political aisle that care about their community and also get to participate in your local government. Think of it as an advanced civics class.
I grew-up with the Internet and one of the strongest ethos that I benefitted from is the online community’s open source culture. Computer nerds or geeks love chatting and posting online where they can discuss the latest technologies and share neat hacks and solutions to their problems. As a student I spent time learning Linux, eventually settling on a distrobution called Gentoo where I even contributed bug reports and fixes. My age at the time did not matter, in an open source model your contribution is reviewed by others and if it works they accept it.
This is why I enjoyed Paul Ford’s opinion piece on Healthcare.gov. Ford says that open source should be the default for government applications and I agree. These systems are created with taxpayer dollars and we should have access to the technology our money is paying for. Furthermore we already have a tradition of freedom of information. It would be good for civic health to give software developers and other people another avenue to participate in government. In the open source model you do not need to trust anyone because you can inspect everything yourself. I was taught the same ethos in science, where as a chemist you document your lab procedures so that someone else could duplicate them. No one has to trust your results because they can run the experiment in their own lab.
Of course it makes me sad to see that Connecticut might be rolling back its freedom of information law. We have one of the strongest freedom of information laws in the country. Other nations like China and Mexico have consulted with our FOI experts to develop their freedom of information regimes. Of course we must be sensitive to victims and they should not be harassed, but protecting them is not incongruent with releasing important information. Harassment is already a crime and we can strengthen that protection to make penalties harsher if crime victims proclaim they do not wish to be contacted. It is important for citizens to learn and understand what happened in these tragedies from official sources, even if the details are uncomfortable.
Meanwhile even if we did make criminal investigations and evidence secret it is likely the information would get out. There have been numerous stories about state police sharing details about Newtown before they released their report. Even when Tom Foley was trying to prevent the media from learning about his car crash the Hartford Courant managed to get it from a source. Of course this is to say nothing of the impact of organizations like WikiLeaks and people like Edward Snowden. When people see information that is vital to the public interest their instinct often seems to be to release it, even at personal cost.
As a law student I had to research and write a paper for what was termed our upper-class writing requirement. The difficult part of writing papers in law school is finding novel material to cover. Fortunately the copyright seminar allowed me to explore an area of interest that I had without needing to be novel. So I researched the history of first-sale doctrine and made an argument that we should have one for digital goods. The first part of the paper is a review of the current law, and towards the end I lay out my proposal. Since I doubt this would merit publication I uploaded it to Scribd for your enjoyment.
Copyright and a Digital First-Sale Doctrine by Matthew Zagaja
After I got back from my trip to Las Vegas the other day I finally had a chance to try out the new cleats I bought for my cycling shoes. I use Speedplay X 5 pedals and have been pretty happy with them. Their best feature is that they’re fairly easy to clip in and out of. However in the past month or so I’d been popping out of them with my right foot. A scary thing if you’re going up a hill. When you use these pedals you are both pushing and pulling with your legs to get the bike to move. However after a twenty mile test ride the new cleats and regreasing the pedals seemed to fix the problem. So I put it through a real stress test yesterday: a 42 mile ride.
Up to now the fastest ride I went through was about 31 miles so this was a new personal best. I was quite tired at the end of the ride but the bicycle worked perfectly. My body maybe less so. It was probably a poor idea to not bring any granola bars or other food on the ride. By the end I was exhausted and out of fuel. Unlike the first three quarters I was mostly cruising through the last leg, but I made it. Besides feeling sore all over the impact of this ride was to reboot my sleep schedule. I easily fell asleep before midnight and then woke-up at 8 a.m. this morning. A big change from my recently typical wake-up between 9 and 10 a.m.
Also I have to give a shout out to Bicycles East in Glastonbury for replacing the cleats on my bicycle shoes. The old ones were fairly beat up and they took the time to extract them after I bought the new ones. I bought my road bicycle from them years ago and after a several year hiatus during law school they still remembered me. They seem to have the best selection of bicycles and accessories that I’ve seen at a shop. They also are rather knowledgable about all the products and bike problems. In an era where people could be getting creamed by online sites like Nashbar stores like Bicycles East win by competing on knowledge and customer service.
I am not a runner but I can appreciate the ING Hartford Marathon for its positive impact on Hartford. I have a few friends running in it and have been surprised to see friends from farther away in my Facebook feed make their way to Hartford for the event. People that run have a kinship with each other that I have seen in cycling and other activities that foster a sense of community. With the absence of Whalers Hockey, I think that this event is the one that puts Hartford on the map.
The other day I was at a coffee for a candidate for Board of Education and the candidate managed to win over a Republican over their shared background in hockey. About a month ago I was cycling down a street in my town when my tire blew. To my luck the house I stopped in front of was home to a cyclist who helped me fix my flat, and then when the new tube blew up he lent me a wheel. For cyclists this a leap of faith because wheels are one of the most expesnive components of the bicycle. In Democratic politics I’ve regularly seen people open their homes to campaign workers and volunteers just because they are Democrats.
Of course the most important feature of all these communities is that they are welcoming. There are many kinds of cyclists and I do not really care if someone is riding a brand new carbon fiber Trek Madone or a steel fixed gear bicycle from the 1950s. Runners come in all shapes and sizes and finish the marathon. People enter politics or become entreprenuers to tackle a wide variety of problems. When more experienced people in the community are willing to help the newbies, everyone wins. It’s what turns it from a simple hobby into a community.