Greening the Media

P1180924As with most things, if you want to green the media you’ve got to get your hands dirty.  You can’t just read something and get upset, you need to reach out and get someone else upset – and by upset I don’t mean “angry.” I mean as in “upsetting the apple cart” by overturning it.

Today it’s just too quick and easy to reach out and respond to the person who wrote the story, the person who edited the story and the outlet that put the story out to the public.  In a content consuming world content is king for a day.  And in the 2.0 world we live in, WE supply the content that keeps stories alive and reframes them.

Newspapers are a great example because they are a dying legacy media who cannot afford to lose more subscribers or readers than they already have.  Even better, a higher percentage of the people we want to reach read the newspaper.  People in positions of power, influence and financing still read newspapers 

Recognize an opportunity to reinforce good coverage and to seize the media platform when the coverage is bad.  And by “good” I mean, fair, honest and accurate.  By bad I mean, biased, off-base, incorrect and misleading.

If you’ve been watching for the past eight years – and longer – you’ve seen the evolution of the news cycle and conventional wisdom into the pack mentality the media operates under today.  The truth is that the media loves the green issue, sees it as having long, popular legs with users and thinks it can sell lots of advertising around it.  And they’re right.  More and more newspaper print ads take a green sales angle 

It’s not because the media’s heart or even intellect is in the right place, it’s because they’ve lined up behind the conventional wisdom and the polling data.

What that means is that the media is scared of being on the wrong side on green issues and they’re scared of pissing off the green community.  And they should be.  That gives us leverage and we need to use that leverage, flex the power that comes with that leverage  and use the media the same way the conservative right and the Bush war supporters used the media before they were found out to be wrong and the polling turned against them.

We in the green community don’t have that handicap because we are not wrong and the polling will only continue to move in our direction.

So when we read a really crappy article about an important green story like the piece Alan Zarembo wrote on the Alternative Energy & Transportation show in the October 21 issue of the L.A. Times, we don’t have to just get steamed because of the bad reporting and mediocre writing – and we don’t have to accept it.  We just need to use the reporter’s email address at the end of each story and take them to task.  Here’s an example:

Dear Mr. Zarembo,

I am writing to tell you how disappointed I was in your article covering the Alternative Energy and Transportation Expo. I was hoping to learn something about the different alternative energy options available and about the progress different manufacturers have made in non-gasoline powered engines. But instead, what you offered was 18 paragraphs focused on the Melnik family, a single paragraph about the actual event, and one additional paragraph that showcased your own uninformed, cliche-ridden bias: “The expo, in a hangar and adjacent parking lot, attracted plenty of bicycle advocates, vegans and people worried about their carbon footprints.”  Instead of offering an iota of honest insight into an event that I wanted to learn about, you wasted half a page with the condescending story of a woman who comes across as a clueless moron. A woman who finds plug-in/electric vehicles “a problem for me.” Any research into public opinion about Americans’ desire for alternative energy vehicles would have taught you how UNrepresentative your subject focus was and how off base your snarky coverage of this event was. 

I’m very sorry you were assigned to this important story to Southern Californians which you trivialized in a juvenile manner. Your focus on the Melnik family was the lazy, thought-free approach to this story and your slacking on this job is painfully obvious.  Thankfully a simple blog search yielded multiple pieces superior to yours in every way. Too bad the newspaper I pay for offered me so little news value by comparison.  But I did learn one valuable thing from your article. In the future I’ll save myself the nonproductive time and aggravation when I see the Alan Zarembo by-line and I’ll just skip the piece knowing in advance what you have to say about the subject.  

Most sincerely, Joe Galliani

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I was direct and harsh, and that’s exactly what Zarembo’s piece deserved.  However, I didn’t get personal or engage in name calling I just told it like it is.  And of course I used my real name, which surprising is rare among the rants reporters receive.

I wasn’t surprised when Zarembo emailed his reply a few hours later:

You’re right–we should do a comprehensive story on this issue. But unfortunately this was not the chance. I was handed this assignment at noon on Saturday, and the best I could do in that time–the debate on this issue in a single family. Unfortunately, this is just the way things work sometimes. The story was not my preference, and if you do read more of my articles, you will see that many are painstakingly researchered over many weeks. Sincerely, Alan

Frankly, I found this to be a weak rationale and what he really did was confirm my opinion that he had done a lazy job.  But having established contact with Zarembo and wanting to be able to communicate with him in the future, here’s how I responded:

Alan,

 You’re right – you have done some excellent, painstaking work on much bigger stories than this. I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I still don’t buy the angle you chose, but at least now I can chalk it up to a rush job rather than lazy work. Thanks for responding to my harsh email.  Regards, Joe

 And I didn’t stop with the reporter, because that’s not where the real power rests at a newspaper, so I wrote a letter to the editor as well.  I wasn’t surprised when they printed it a few days later.

dency_ravBut I was surprised to see the other letter on the subject and delighted with how powerful it was, coming as it did from Moira Nelson, someone who together with her husband Dency are well known in the green community for their family’s commitment to walking the green walk and having done so for a long, long time now.

And I’ve been equally stoked at the reaction I got from others with similar viewpoints, some of whom are now reading this post.  Can you feel the strength and energy growing exponentially?  I can.  And the more we connect and work together, the more our power and influence will continue to build.  But it requires us to recognize the opportunity and seize the moments that are ours for the taking.  Like with the media.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that I learned a lot more from the blog community and even from the local Santa Monica newspaper about the Alternative Energy & Transportation Expo than I did from the L.A. Times.  This all started because I’m thinking about my next car and trying to decide whether to go plug-in or all electric.  I’ve only got 40,000 miles on my 1997 Honda del Sol car, and I could easily have it another 10 years, but I’d rather go greener.

 Check out the Expo coverage on:

The Hydrogen Cars & Vehicles Blog

Celsias – Cooling the Planet Community

Edmonds Green Car Advisor Blog

This Recording Blog

and Jory Squibb’s Blog

The Santa Monica Daily Press also did a better job than the L.A. Times did.

 As always, I’m interested in reading what YOU think.  Email me at mrjoe@mrjoe.com

Sustainability Means Feeding the Hungry

P1250022When it comes to promoting sustainable lifestyles from a green standpoint, energy use, recycling, reuse of consumables and cutting the wasteful aspects of our lives are the obvious go-to issues.  

But to me, sustainability is even more basic than that.  You can’t live a sustainable life if you don’t have enough to eat.  Hell, you cannot even sustain life if you’re malnourished and hungry all day.

So feeding the hungry is a green issue for me and like all green issues it’s really a moral issue and another character test for all of us about what kind of person we want looking back in our mirrors.

One of the ways I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday was by making a significant contribution to mark the occasion, rather than being gifted with more “stuff.”  At this point in life the wise folks know that living is better when it’s simpler.  Getting rid of lots of accumulated “stuff” not only frees up more space, it frees the mind as well – but that’s another story.

In July I read a piece in the New York Times about a growing trend at the birthday partiesof upscale New Jersey kids from 4-16 years of age.  They already owned every toy and electronic plaything they ever desired and their parents didn’t want them collecting another 44 gifts they’d never use.  So some moms and dads were having their kids pick a beneficiary – like the local fire house or a charity – to raise money or donated items for.

Even though Miss Manners didn’t dig the idea, I loved it!  I knew as soon as I read the piece what I wanted to do for my birthday dinner.  I would ask my friends to bring a donation for the L.A. Regional Food Bank instead of a gift for me.  I would feed my friends at a birthday meal and then they could help feed people a lot less fortunate than the lot of us.

It worked like a charm and thanks to the generosity of my pals and a few bucks of my own, I raised $1,000 for the Food Bank.  And as an added bonus, my friend Kim, told me she knew the President of the organization, Michael Flood, and she would put me in touch with him.

P1250026And that’s why I found myself in downtown Los Angeles today and not in one of the neighborhoods where they’re building any new destination location Nokia Theaters or luxury high rises. 

This is a neighborhood that is another galaxy away from the upscale fantasy world I get to live and work in.

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But my life wasn’t always so cushy and carefree and I still remember standing in line to get free cheese and butter from the government during the Reagan years before my talents had been discovered on a nationwide basis.  So I didn’t feel too out of place taking the Slauson exit off the Harbor Freeway and heading through the hood to 41st Street where the Food Bank warehouse and offices are.

It’s an impressive operation and I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Michael Flood and get a tour of the facility.

P1250016Michael has been President/CEO at the L.A. Regional Food Bank since 2000 and has been working in the food bank field for 17 years now.  He confided that despite the broad support the Food Bank receives, his job and their mission gets harder every year.  The numbers of hungry people who rely on their food just continues to grow and so too do expenses like power and cooling for the freezers and refrigerated storage they have.

But I found Michael anything but dispirited.  His strong positive attitude and experienced perspective projected the air of a man on a mission who knows what a difference the Food Bank’s work makes and who intends to keep pace with the growing ranks of the hungry in Los Angeles.

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As you can see, I haven’t missed any meals for a long time now.

Michael told me that the $1,000 we donated would translate into 5,000 meals for hungry people who needed them.  That made me feel proud – even though I know it’s a tiny difference, it IS a difference.  I can’t imagine ever having another birthday party and not using it to raise money for the Food Bank.  I hope some of you who read this are inspired to do likewise.

I found my visit more encouraging than I imagined because of how much good news I got about our community.  So many different businesses and companies donate food and so many different people from all over L.A. volunteer.  People DO care.

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I found it especially heartening during my tour to see all the volunteers from Chubb Insurance Group who were packing food for individual families.

The Food Bank relies on volunteers and they could use more as they serve more and more people from Long Beach to Lancaster.  The ranks of the hungry continue to grow…

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To learn more about becoming a Foodbank volunteer, contact Ana Martinez, their volunteer coordinator at (323) 234-3030, extension 144 or amartinez@lafoodbank.org

Thanks to Michael Flood for being so generous with his time and for the years of dedicated work he’s done for the Food Bank.  When it comes to walking the walk with their lives, Mr. Flood has covered far more miles than most of us and made a lasting difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people.

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’m looking forward to working with the L.A. Regional Food Bank as a volunteer going forward to help them get the word out about the essential and inspiring work they do.

Al Gore – Bigger Fish To Fry Than The Presidency

Al_Gore_i_An_Inconv_100607o

I have two genuine heroes when it comes to inspiration in the environmental arena – John Muir and David Brower.  Most of you know who John Muir is and what he meant to California and the protection of public lands.  David Brower isn’t nearly as well known and I look forward to writing about the phenomenal impact his life and work made.  These giants of the 20th century spent their lives protecting and preserving their world for the benefit of future generations – like us.

Here in the 21st century no single individual has done more to champion environmental issues – or had a bigger impact on our thinking and direction – than Al Gore.  His consistency on these issues, his prescient analysis and his decades long determination to make a positive difference by educating us are all true measures of his character and integrity – especially when weighed alongside his unspoken motivation and personal vested interest on the subjects.  And by that I mean he doesn’t have any.  If you think Al Gore made global warming his issue because he thought he could make money at it or use it to gain more power and celebrity so he could cash in on them, then you and I live in different worlds and I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope for yours 

For years Gore was scorned and derided by the mainstream press and Republican establishment.  George Bush’s father used to ridicule him with “The Ozone Man” label.  Good one, Poppy.  Must have been ironic, to say the least, when our current President, Bush Jr., announced that we were a nation “addicted to oil”  who needs to turn to energy “technology” to break our addiction and keep us from being dependent on foreign oil  sources.  He said that back in February of 2006 when gas was an outrageous $2 a gallon.  Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Today there are still apparently dead enders out there who refuse to wear sunscreen, who eat nothing but fast food, and who remain passionate about their right to use as much gasoline, oil and coal as their finances allow them to buy.  They proudly position their stance as “The American Way.”

How George Costanza-esque those folks seem to me.  And by that I mean they operate on the Bizarro Superman principles of “bad is good and up is down.”  For a while there, it seemed like the Bizarros were in charge for the duration.

But Al Gore’s Nobel Prize for his work educating the world about An Inconvenient Truthwas more than well deserved vindication for the man who has been right all along.  It should also prove to be the tipping point many of us have been waiting for.  It’s already been responsible for helping to change public opinion on a wholesale level and discrediting most of the Bizarros.  Now I predict it will be the momentum driver the green movement has been waiting for.

A lot of people think that can only happen if Al swoops down into the race for President and becomes the Savior of the Democrats.  But wiser analysts correctly point out that getting back into American politics would be step back for Gore and do little to advance his goals.  I agree.

Al Gore’s mission is a lot bigger than the petty partisan issues that make up the American Presidential campaign and election.  Talk about a guy who’s been there and done that and had nothing to show for it but the bill.  He knows better now and that’s plain to see.

But I also want to talk about a guy who took the most stinging and bitter loss in modern political history and used it to free himself to do the work that meant the most to him and do it the way his heart tells him to.  

Al Gore has reinvented himself – like so many of us dream of doing – and he is now able to do and say the things he cares about without having to worry about what potential donors or supporters it might offend.  Al Gore campaigns on an issue more significant than those that make up the American race for the Presidency 

I admire Al Gore not just for the work he’s been doing for the last 20 years.  He’s become one of my heros because he took a completely creative approach to making the issue of global warming a part of American consciousness.  

To take a Mac Keynote presentation (Not a PowerPoint as its usually referred to.  Al Gore is too hip to use a Microsoft program when he’s trying to communicate) and basically present it to the nation and the world by making a feature film out it is brilliant and completely unprecedented.  

So too was tying the emotion of Hurricane Katrina and its vivid destruction to the even greater risks that global warming brings.  And Al Gore is my hero because he didn’t use the Katrina story to exploit victims.  (In fact he personally led a rescue effort in New Orleans that he’s never publicly spoken about.)  The ability to creatively seize that moment when it presents itself, make it your own and use it to help people is a unique skill that only a handful of smart, talented people possess. 

Al Gore is one of those handful of people and I’d hate to see him waste that intellect and those talents on a job like being President of the United States in these times.  The great work of our day is never done in the White House, the Presidency has become about raising cash in exchange for favors, and the brand of leadership we need isn’t the kind where they play “Ruffles and Flourishes” each time you walk through the door.

Al Gore has a different song in his head as he walks into the room and you can bet your carbon credits it doesn’t sound like a fanfare.  It’s more like a great gospel song that sounds best when sung by a mass choir.  I’m ready to sing along.  Why don’t you add your voice too?

Where Does Green Hope Come From?

Where does green hope come from

In light of the news that things are in actuality worse than we thought when it comes to the arctic sea ice melting – it’s melting much faster than computer models originally indicated – how do I keep my optimism and positive view that we’re not all doomed as doomed can be and that we can make enough of a difference to change the entire world and help save it?

Well for one thing I believe that one person really can make a difference no matter how big the obstacle.  And if you don’t think a small individual can possibly matter, try getting to sleep some night when there’s a single mosquito in your tent.  

But I’m no Pollyanna, and it’s not like I don’t get mad.  There’s something that pisses me off in the newspaper, or on TV, or on-line pretty much every single day.  Sometimes it’s blatant greenwashing by oil companies like Chevron trying to position themselves as green, alternative energy seekers while raking in record profits from $3 a gallon gasoline.  Other times it’s car companies like Toyota joining the Big Three American car companies in cowardly fighting higher mileage standards – instead of leading the way with technology breakthroughs and alternative energy vehicles in response to our real needs.  I don’t forget that it was these same companies who killed the electric car when California forced them to make some by doing everything possible to make sure it failed.  Plenty of time it’s our government acting on behalf of the needs of business interests over the public interest.

But I don’t let my anger consume me on this issue, I use it to motivate myself to do more, to work harder, and to find new examples of things that are going right and improving.  And I find those reasons to believe every day.

So my approach to the global warming issue is to take a positive view of what’s possible if enough of us who CAN make a difference do make a difference.  And I’m encouraged and hopeful because I believe the smartest, most creative, most talented people are on board and working towards the same green goals.

I choose to believe that we can overcome the ultra-wealthy weasels in the oil and coal industries, the car industry and those historically entrenched special interest industries who worship profits, power and their own economic self-interests above all else on the planet.  I believe because I’ve seen the impossible happen more than once when no hope seemed possible.

Once upon a time the cigarette industry seemed invincible.  I saw that issue do a 180 in my lifetime.  When I was a little kid, cancer was a death sentence for anyone who got it.  Today I’ve got half a dozen friends who are cancer survivors and the odds just keep getting better with new treatments and cures. I’ve seen apartheid end in South Africa, the wall come down in Berlin and America’s children force an entire generation of parents to recycle.  I know what’s possible.

And when it comes to what we’ve done to our planet, our environment, I know that when we try we can save ourselves. I’ve seen city garbage dumps turned into beautiful botanic gardens.  I’ve seen polluted rivers and streams left for dead restored to wildlife sanctuaries now filled with birds and fish. And I’ve seen the thirst good people have to repair and revive wherever damage has been done.

One of the biggest reasons I have hope is because there’s money to be made in keeping the world green and cool.  There is enormous economic opportunity and healthy competition.  Current kings and queens will be dethroned and new royalty will be crowned, new fortunes will be made, new empires will be built.  The threat of destruction upends the balance of power and makes great change possible.

When the choice is change or die, people are more willing to try something new.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?  But the advanced nature of global warming and just how close we are to the brink are both reasons I am optimistic for the future.  The overwhelming facts and the dire scientific consensus bring us to a point of do or fry.  

Finally, I see a better, greener, happier future in the cards for us because all of the most creative people are on the green side and creativity can always trump power and wealth.  It was creative people who tipped the balance during the McCarthy era, during the civil rights era, during the Watergate years and every other time we found ourselves teetering on the abyss.

We’re not a people who do what we’re supposed to do.  We’re a people who do what we HAVE to do.  It takes us forever to get to the things on our national “to-do” list, but once we have no choice but to do them we take care of business.  So that gives me confidence in our future too. 

Finally there’s the obvious reason.  Hope and optimism is really the only choice isn’t it?  We have no other alternative if we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and kiss our asses goodbye.  Being positive and using our creativity to survive and continue to thrive is the only answer.

How much easier could it get?

Walking The Green Path – October 7, 2007

walking the green path

Growing up as a lower middle class child of the 60s and 70s in Brooklyn and New Jersey economic necessity was the driving force behind my parents’ strict green rules of “sustainability.”  We had a whole different kind of green math that concerned us then. 

 My dad wasn’t worried about his carbon footprint when he was threatening to leave his own footprint on my ass if I didn’t turn the lights out when I left the room, or if I left the TV or the radio on in a room I was no longer occupying.  Using lots of high-powered appliances or equipment was out of the question, because we didn’t own any.  Turning off the air conditioning when it was warm outside wasn’t a problem because we couldn’t afford any air conditioning.  Practicing good green habits like line-drying clothes; using a push mower; washing and reusing plastic containers; buying recycled clothes, furniture, sporting goods and toys; or using public transportation and ride sharing were all the result of trying to save a buck, not save a planet.

 And as it turns out, I learned to be creative about making things last and not wasting resources at an early age.  Despite what my therapist now says, the reasons why weren’t nearly as important as the knowledge and experience I developed as a result.  Once you develop a radar and a sensitivity about waste and what it costs you, it’s not easy to turn that voice inside your head off.

 Back in the day, I couldn’t afford to spend the green that being wasteful cost.  Now that I can afford THAT green, it’s the green of our planet that we can no longer afford to spend – even for someone like me who has no kids and no great love for the younger generations.

 Because being green today isn’t about self-interest or saving the planet for your kids or your children’s children – it’s about your core character, your values and your worth as a human being.  It’s about doing the right thing and being a caring, decent, enlightened member of a civilized society or being a self-serving, clueless abuser and destroyer.  It’s about whether you can look at yourself in the mirror.

 If you want to fool yourself and buy more time to be arrogant and self righteous as you drive your Hummer you can make believe there is a legitimate debate going on about global warming and issues of air quality, water quality and sustainable land practices.  But you’d be wrong.  There is no debate, there is only the question of how much personal responsibility you’re willing to accept, how long you’re willing to wait before you make your move, how much slack you’re willing to give yourself.

 With that mindset I begin Creative Greenius, this new green blog and what better place to start than with my own green path and the legitimate question of whether or not I practice what I preach.  Am I green or am I just greenwashing?  Am I talking the talk or do I really walk the walk?  Is my green just the flavor of the moment for Mr. Joe or do I have any trail cred, as we call it in the great wide open? 

 I thought about that a lot as I was hiking through Yosemite’s High Sierra backcountry trails to celebrate my first half century here on the big blue marble.  This was my big celebratory vacation after months of nonstop work, the one I chose to mark my Mr. Joe 5.0 milestone.  Money was no object, so naturally I went off the grid to spend 10 days with no electricity, no cars, no internet, no phones, no radios, TVs or i-anything.  Of course I carpooled with two other people to get there.  We backpacked 62 miles on the High Sierra Camp loop – but as REAL backpackers will tell you we did it the slacker way not having to carry tents, sleeping bags, food or cooking equipment.  Still, when it comes to walking the walk, nobody else straps those boots on for you and does the switchbacks.

 And as I was putting one foot in front of the other and breathing hard in the 9,000 foot altitude I had a chance to think about just how green I really was.  Turns out I’m much better than average, but not nearly as good as I aspire to be.

 I drive an 11 year old car, a Honda del Sol which I’ve only put 40,000 miles on.  It gets over 30 miles per gallon and has a low emission VTEC engine.  My miles are so low because I telecommute and I have for over 20 years now.  My wife drives a Honda too.  

 Just like when I was growing up, my house doesn’t have any air conditioning, but now it’s because I live near the beach and we use the ocean breezes to stay cool.  If it gets too hot in the summer or during the Santa Anas I bring out a couple of fans.

 One by one as we’ve gotten new appliances we’ve become an Energy Star certified household.  Last month’s purchase of the new refrigerator finally made it a clean sweep.  Edison even gave me $35 for my 15 year old fridge and picked it up for free to recycle it. too

It’s been over a year since we replaced all the lamp light bulbs with CFLs, and now with the introduction of dimmable CFL spotlights for our 20 different dimmable spots throughout the property we will have eliminated all incandescent lights at our place.  It cost me about $250 to replace all the spotlights, but each one is supposed to save me over $300 over the life of the bulb.  $250 out for $6,000 in savings.  Do the green math.

I also enjoyed taking advantage of Southern California Edison’s green lamp replacement program a few weeks ago in which we traded two Halogen torch lamps and a couple of old incandescent desk lamps for four new CFL lamps.

The new Solatubes we recently put in the living room have made using any kind of electric lights unnecessary during the daylight hours and magically brought cheery sunlight into the two formerly dark and gloomy corners of the room.

 Did I mention that my wife ripped out the lawns at our place a few years ago and replaced them all with gorgeous gardens designed for low drip irrigation water use and to be an irresistible habitat for hummingbirds and butterflies?  All pesticide free and using both captured rainwater (on those rare occasions when we get any) and the compost she makes from our green waste. 

All of her different gardens look especially vivid through the new energy efficient replacement windows we had installed which really cut both the noise and the outside air leaking through my home’s original 1949 windows.

I’ve been supporting green causes like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Audubon Society, Heal the Bay, the Tree People, National Land Trust, and dozens of others for decades now.  I’ve spoken out on environmental issues during the Reagan years as a public radio commentator.  In the 1980s I lead the Long Beach Coalition for a nuclear free harbor which helped get the Navy’s nuclear arsenal out of a heavily populated costal community.  When it comes to trashing the ocean environment few have a worse record than the US Navy. 

In the 1990s I co-founded The Parks Company with a mission to “Preserve, Protect and Promote America’s National Parks” and ten years later we are still doing just that.

More recently I helped create and launch a new energy efficient lighting company, LumaBright, that develops high tech, low energy replacement lighting for the advertising and promotional industries.

Today I find myself increasingly consulting on green strategy and communication programs for clients like HP and I have never found my work more satisfying or energizing.  I have strong feelings on these issues as you can tell from this post and I have over two decades of interest, research and experience.  These days I spend every day thinking and working towards the green future I know is as easily achievable as putting a cell phone into the hands of every living American under the age of 30.  It’s all a matter of creative persuasion.

Considering my loves for technology, communications, politics and business, and my record of succeeding where others fear the challenge, you might understand why I heard bells and saw flags waving when a friend of mine recently declared me a Creative Greenuis.  She was being kind and using the hyperbole that top TV executives are prone to exclaiming, but I know a worthy aspirational goal when I hear one.  

And so off I go.  Why don’t you come along?  That way we can use the carpool lane.