My pal Scott Rosenberg -- whose terrific book about the perils of software-writing, Dreaming in Code, arrives in bookstores this week -- passes along an email from his friend Bill McKibben. (Scott and Bill are part of a frighteningly talented group of writers who all went to Harvard together while some of of us -- cruelly rejected by Harvard -- were reduced to wandering through the educational wilderness, gathering nuts and berries and occasionally reading "Family Circus.") Bill's 1996 book The End of Nature was, to my knowledge, the first account of the global-warming crisis written for the general public. Now he's got a new project: Step It Up 2007.
In typical Bill fashion, the project is both modest and ambitious, and very well thought out. The text of his email follows (minus all those weird symbols that tend to accrue in forwarded emails, which -- as a small gift to the struggle -- I have deleted):
I'm writing to ask your help. I know you've already made changes in your own life to deal with climate change; I'm guessing that, like me, you feel a little helpless about the scale of the problem. Some of us who are eager to do something more are organizing a day of demonstrations for April 14. We're calling ourselves Stepitup2007.org, and we need you to be a vital part -- to organize a rally in your neck of the woods. If everyone pitches in, we'll have by far the largest action yet in this nation about global warming -- large enough that Washington will notice and start to act. It's going to be an unusual day. People will be rallying in many of America's most iconic places: on the levees in New Orleans, on top of the melting ice sheets on Mt. Hood and in Glacier National Park, even underwater on the endangered coral reefs off Key West and Hawaii. But we need hundreds of rallies outside churches, and in city parks, and in rural fields. It's not a huge task -- assemble as many folks as possible, hoist a banner, take a picture. We'll link pictures of the protests together electronically via the web -- before the day is out, we'll have a cascade of images to show both local and national media that Americans don't consider this a secondary issue. That instead they want serious action now.
We're not an organization -- we're, in essence, a few people sending out invitations to a party. A potluck. This is going to be a homemade day of action. So go to our website at Stepitup2007.org and say, "Here's where I live -- I want to help organize." We'll coordinate the responses, introducing you to others from your area, and give you everything you need to be a leader, from banners to press releases. You don't have to have ever done anything like this -- you're not organizing a March on Washington, just a gathering of scores or hundreds in your town or neighborhood. We need creativity, good humor, commitment. If you are active in a campus group or a church or a local environmental group or a garden society or a bike club -- or if you just saw Al Gore's movie and want to do something -- then we need you now.
And by now, we mean now. The best science tells us we have ten years to fundamentally transform our economy and lead the world in the same direction or else, in the words of NASA's Jim Hansen, we will face a "totally different planet." We're calling for 80 percent carbon cuts by 2050, which would be a good first step to warding off that future. But the exact numbers are less important than the underlying message to Washington: get serious. The recent elections have given us an opening, and polling shows most Americans know there's a problem. But the forces of inertia and business-as-usual are still in control, and only our voices, united and loud, joyful and determined, can change that reality. Please join us.
P.S.: It would be a great help too if you could forward this plea to anyone you think might embrace it.
January 13th, 2007
It's very exciting to be back in KQED's San Francisco offices, after a summer spent traveling. We're in pre-production for our show's second season -- and (in contrast to how I felt at my old day jobs, mostly as a really bad secretary) it's really cool to have a cubicle waiting for me. My newly acquired organizing skills will be tested in the coming days, as I make my way through piles of wonderful-looking books and press releases and such.
My series producer, Lori Halloran, is across the way from me, tapping away at her computer; perhaps, at her relatively advanced stage of pregnancy, we finally have the same waist size! (That's what happened to my wife in her ninth month carrying our son -- one of the few occurrences that wasn't predicted in our copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting.) My executive producer, Michael Isip, is meeting in his office with one of my former guests (I hope they're not complaining about me). ... This building (KQED's) is like a small city, and after a year here I still feel like I'm just learning the terrain. (One thing I can state with certainty, though, is that our station must have the best-dressed HR staff in the industry.)
So everything's cool. But I'm still having my usual trouble with transitions (beginning with each day's devastating transition from sleep to [relative] consciousness). Even though virtually all the tasks ahead of me are delightful ones, I keep obsessively turning over certain minor-ish dragalicious details in my greenhouse-effect of a brain: Like, for example, the problem I've been having with Earthlink. I wrote a whiny blog item about it, and actually got an incredibly kind comment back from a real-to-life Earthlink blogger, asking if my problem had been resolved. Since then, I've been corresponding with him via email -- but still, frustratingly, my issue remains unaddressed (on July 25, without any warning, all my incoming email was deleted, all the drafts and copies of sent emails were wiped away as well, and -- for good measure -- the extra storage space I've been paying for was taken away). Ever since that day, Earthlink has been promising me that my problem was being "escalated" to an "engineer," who would soon be calling me. Finally, last week, that call came -- on my home phone's answering machine, when I wasn't there -- but the engineer left neither a name nor a phone number for a callback. And this is from a company that has consistently provided me exemplary customer service -- I'm not talking about a nightmarish, MySpace-type situation here!
Anyhow, with this relatively small but irritating matter continually tickling at my thoughts, I've found a great deal of solace in a book titled Dreaming in Code. You can't get it yet, because Crown Books won't be publishing it till next January. But I've read it in manuscript -- and even though its author, Scott Rosenberg, is a dear friend of mine, I can honestly and objectively report to you that it's an incredible book. The subtitle may or may not be "Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs -- and One Quest for Transcendent Software" -- but in any case, that should give you a sense of the ambitious task Scott set himself: to somehow weave a page-turning narrative out of the -- to most of us -- absolutely forbidding subject of all that mysterious software that our lives currently depend on. I imagine that, as the pub date approaches, Scott will be writing about some of this stuff in his amazingly eclectic blog -- but in the meantime, I just wanted to give a head's-up about Dreaming in Code to anyone else out there who, like me, has sometimes been made to feel helpless and/or hopeless about aspects of our marvelously computerized existence. ...
I have to (actually) get back to work now, but I feel moved to add at least one gratuitous Scott Rosenberg story from back in the day -- so here it is: I used to host a radio show in Boston called "The Urban Happiness Radio Hour." We broadcast from the radio station at MIT (where I was working as a really bad secretary in the Biology Dept. office), and our engineer was always stoned and usually quite surly (perhaps he should have been more stoned?). My all-volunteer cast included Scott, then a freelance critic at the weekly Boston Phoenix (we'd met when I was a copy editor there). Scott's main role was as the "Urban Happiness Film Critic," who invariably would digress from his film review and begin ranting about his relationship problems. (I hasten to add that I wrote the scripts, which were totally -- totally! -- fictional, and which were, I'm ashamed to say, mostly written during my secretarial hours.) Our show was broadcast live, and inevitably there were glitches. For instance, on the episode when I was introducing Scott's critic character, we both realized -- at the last moment -- that I hadn't yet come up with a name for him. As Scott stood next to me at the microphone and I began reading the introduction, we both were wide-eyed with wonderment as to what name I'd come up with. (What came out -- after an uncomfortable pause -- was "Fred Schmertz." Who knows where from?) ... Another time I was trying to show the engineer how we could get the door-slamming sound I wanted for a sketch by slamming the actual door to our studio. The engineer was pretty fried, so I had to repeatedly open and slam the door, over and over, by way of illustration. I didn't realize that, at the same time, Scott was repeatedly trying to enter that same door from the other side, too polite to point out that it was being slammed in his face. ... And then there was our Election Day sketch -- an elaborate routine that, at its climax, called for my character (the outgoing mayor, I believe) to pull a gun on Scott's character. Perhaps chastened by the door-slamming incident, I had given a sound-effects record to our engineer, showing him which track had the sound of a gunshot -- but, in his usual state of surly vagueness, he had placed the needle on the following track -- so that when I announced, on live radio, that I had finally had it with my nemesis, our listeners (if, in fact, there was more than one -- we didn't have access to the ratings) heard, instead, the sound of a file drawer opening. Scott and I stared at each other, initially at a loss. Finally, in my desperation, I blurted out: "Okay, I'm opening this file drawer and am pulling out a bang-bang gun! Bang bang! You're dead!" To which, I believe, Scott responded with some of the most grateful death gurgles that have ever been broadcast. ... Good times, good times! ...
August 16th, 2006