Author: Robert Evans

Black Friday replaces Thanksgiving

Here’s the unavoidable truth: Black Friday is as much of a holiday in America as Thanksgiving.

For some of us, lining up in the cold for gadgets and toys has replaced the traditional turkey, stuffing and family togetherness as hallmarks of the holiday season.

I’ve been covering Black Friday for the last four years. In the past it’s always started the same way, with a frenzied drive to every Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R’ Us in the Dallas area. But this year I was in Winchester, Virginia, and it made for a somewhat different experience. Black Friday here coincides neatly with the heart of the hunting season. Which meant about a fifth of the crowd was decked out in full camouflage.

There was a severed deer head in the back of one truck. Someone had enough time before shopping to process the carcass, but not the head. I can understand the rush though. Black Friday this year started much earlier than even I was used to.

In prior years the stores open their doors around 7 AM for the first waves of customers. This year, Best Buy kicked things off at goddamn midnight. And the store didn’t close again until 10 PM on Black Friday. Which means the poor blue shirts inside were pulled away from their families on Thanksgiving many hours earlier than usual. But hey, it’s a worthy sacrifice to allow thousands of American families to buy 42″ HDTVs for only $200.

That was the king of deals this year. And it’s probably more accurate to say that ‘dozens’ of families managed to snag it. The store I was at only stocked ten of them. Which didn’t stop the managers from ordering their employees to lie about the number of TVs they had in.

“We have stacks and stacks of them,” one blue shirt walked through the line assuring customers. “We ordered a ton.”

A hundred or so customers fled their spot in line at the news that none of the doorbuster’s remained. Which still left hundreds more twisting around the back of the store. I made my way to the very tip of the line to talk to the fortunate few who were early enough to receive a voucher.

At the head was a family of six. A husband and wife, their son and daughter and respective spouses. They’d been camped out in a tent since the previous morning.

“We didn’t do Thanksgiving this year.” said the family matriarch, “This is sort of our new family tradition.”

Standing out in a freezing cold line for two nights seems like a poor replacement for turkey, liquor and heating. But they seemed happy enough. Which is more than I can say for most of the line. The further back I went, the angrier people were.

“They lied to us. We came here expecting the deals they advertised. Why would they send out hundreds of ads if they only had ten?”

I asked why they were still in line… and got the predictable response.

“We need a new TV. So we’ll end up paying more money for a smaller one. But I won’t be coming out here again.”

I’m not sure how much I believed them. It’s easy enough to complain about the unethical behaviour of a company like Best Buy. But it’s more difficult to actually stop giving them money. Which, of course, is why they always get away with it.

Most of the line had no lofty ambitions for doorbuster deals, or a chip on their shoulder over missing out. They had modest wish lists. Video games and monitors and printers and other small ticket items. One teen waited three hours to save $60 on a 3 terabyte hard drive- not at all unreasonable.

Over and over again, people told me they’d made the decision to drop by at the last minute, out of a desire to save a little money and finally see just how crazy this Black Friday phenomenon really was. They laughed, talked to their mates in line and socialised while they huddled against the cold.

At the end of the line I ran into a young man from India. He had no wish list, save a burning desire to see just how crazy Americans can be. He found the whole thing amusing, but essentially benign. I asked if he had any interest in buying a new TV, or any of the other discounted items.

“No, I don’t need them.”

Which is not a sentence I heard anywhere else that night. 


Is this the first iPad 2 to climb a volcano?

Thanks to a well-stocked campus Apple Store and quite a lot of driving around, I ended iPad 2 launch day with a shiny new tablet in hand. I didn’t have time to start on my review immediately though, because my flight to Guatemala was only a few hours away. So the iPad ended up shoved in the bottom of my backpack as I made my way through security lines and customs stations and, finally, to the streets of Guatemala City.

The wing of our plane, twisted up courtesy of Photobooth

The wing of our plane, twisted up courtesy of Photobooth.

I took a bus from there to the nearby city of Antigua. It’s a strange town – filled with nice ex-pat bars and fancy restaurants on one street and houses made of tin sheeting and crumbling brick on the next. Antigua was my base to explore rural Guatemala and, eventually, the top of an active volcano. My iPad 2 came along for every step of the journey.

A new friend uses the iPad 2 to check her email in an Antiguan coffee shop

A new friend uses the iPad 2 to check her email in an Antiguan coffee shop.

Unreliable hotel WiFi is just one of those things you put up with in a country still recovering from a 26-year civil war. Every morning, I’d flit into a nearby cafe to eat my breakfast and take care of my morning work. The place was always filled with ex-pats and missionaries working in the outlying villages. Within a few short mornings, my iPad 2 was the “go to” email machine for all of my new friends.

But it wasn’t until I travelled to the sleepy town of San Lorenzo that my new iPad was really put through its paces. Five minutes of tooling around on GarageBand was enough to convince me that the iPad 2 was the perfect device to keep a gaggle of little kids entertained. A local youth mission was only too eager to help me test that theory out.

There weren’t many kids hanging around when I first arrived, but I quickly found one little girl with a Hannah Montana t-shirt who was eager to play. I took her apparel as a sign that she wouldn’t be offended by my complete lack of musical talent.

iPad 2 is easy

It took me about three minutes, total, to run her through all the basics on the app. How to switch instruments, how to play, how to set up the drums. By the time my demo was over, she was all but an expert. Despite the fact that she’d probably never seen a touchscreen before that afternoon, my little friend was running her own demos within the hour.

Already an expert on the iPad 2

Before long, it was time for me to head out and get some table-building done. But I didn’t want to deprive my Guatemalan homies of their new toy before it was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, my good friend Magenta (who saw Rocky Horror for the first time that week) was there to take over. After a little more GarageBand, she decided it was time to fire up Photobooth.

The kids didn't know what to make of that one at first
The kids weren’t quite sure what to make of that one, at first.

Magenta showed them how to use it - and they loved it

But then Magenta showed them how to warp the faces of their friends into weird, twisty blobs. They loved it.

If I’d had more time there, I’d have pulled out a Family Guy DVD to test my new theory on the convergent amusement trends of poor children in the third world and stoned college students.

The iPad 2's kaleidoscope view was a crowd-pleaser

The kaleidoscope view was a big crowd-pleaser too. If I hadn’t had a volcano to climb, I’m sure they would have drained the battery and giggled the whole way.

Kaleidoscope feature still a big crowd pleaser with Guetemala kids

The Volcano.

This is a picture of the Pacaya volcano, 8,373 feet high, erupting in 1976.

The Pacaya volcano, 8,373 feet high, erupting in 1976

We arrived a little less than a year after the most recent catastrophic eruption, and things were peaceful. The ground was covered in a thick layer of marble-sized volcanic rock. Once we hit clouds, the whole world got real moist. I worried a little about the iPad, nestled (perhaps unwisely) in the very top of my pack.

On top of a volcano with an iPad 2 in a backpack

But I needn’t have. The iPad functioned perfectly well when we hit base camp. Magenta stuck it into her giant adventure purse, and we set out with our Ox Guides to roast marshmallows on the tip of a volcano. I’d been expecting a giant rent filled with lava. Reality was somewhat less colorful.

The last eruption pulled open a tiny scar on Pacaya’s tip. Raw, boiling geothermal heat radiated out from it. If you got closer than about a foot, it was hot enough to singe your eyebrows. Marshmallows cooked in seconds, no flame required. To help with the lighting, we tossed some sticks in. They ignited, providing me with yet another Photobooth opportunity.

Roasting marshmallows on top of a volcano

Kaleidoscope roasted marshmallows

There was also a giant heated cave nearby. At the top was a great vent, bleeding intense heat out into the sauna-like room.

A giant heated cave nearby

As I fiddled about, Magenta snapped this picture of the world’s first iPad 2 to reach the top of a volcano. That’s just my assumption. Maybe Apple really does get crazy with the stress tests.

The first iPad 2 on top of a volcano!

The iPad 2 is pretty darn resilient. I wasn’t reckless with it, but I also didn’t hesitate to toss it into a backpack and toss that backpack into the bed of a ratty old F-150 for a harrowing ride through poorly maintained mountain roads. If it handled all the moisture of Pacaya, plus being sat on for close to an hour by a nameless member of my tour group. I didn’t even have a smart cover to protect the display.

Apple made this thing right. I’m frustrated by several aspects of iOS– the lack of widgets is annoying to a long-time Android user, and being forced to go through iTunes to add in media sucks. I’m considering a jailbreak. The iPad doesn’t do as much as I’d like, but it does what it is built for exceptionally well.

The iPad runs smoother, provides a more enjoyable browsing experience and offers a superior volume and quality of entertainment content to every rival I’ve tried. And, between CES and MWC, I’ve tried nearly all of them. I’m sure Motorola’s Xoom or HP’s TouchPad could both have survived my trip around Guatemala. I doubt either of them could have kept a room full of hyperactive village kids entertained for hours on end.

For more of my Guatemalan iPad 2 adventures go here.

The view from the hotel roof, slightly modified
The view from my hotel roof… slightly modified.

Nokia's MeeGo is doomed

I spent a good chunk of last week hanging out in Dublin, Ireland for the first MeeGo Summit. There was shopping, there was drinking, there was football and there was more drinking. There were also keynote speeches, developer meetings and a variety of sit-down talks on everything from the N900 to discussion on improving customer satisfaction with mobile applications.

And yet, the most striking impression I walked away with had nothing to do with the MeeGo OS. My most common reoccurring thought was something along the lines of, “Holy hell, Nokia and Intel have a lot of money to throw at us.”

Both industry dinosaurs spent like drunken sailors with an itch. They rented out the new half-billion dollar Aviva Stadium for three days. They rented out the entire Guinness Storehouse for a night, including multiple bands and food. They bought us all tickets to a football game, provided an open bar and snacks for a thousand people for three straight nights and, to top it off, they bought us all touchscreen tablet-netbooks. The Lenovo IdeaPad S10 S3, to be specific.

The cash thrown at us would have been impressive…if it backed up anything convincing. Unfortunately, all the flash, glamor, booze & airbrushing in the world can’t cover up the smell of death. MeeGo is doomed, and Nokia with it if the suits holding the purse-strings aren’t careful.

Here are five things about the MeeGo Summit that sketched me the hell out.

 

From Open Source to Open Sores

 Being ‘open source’ is a sign that an operating system will be inexpensive, adaptable and far less restricted than a closed platform like iOS. Having open sores is a sign of severe medical / hygiene issues.

MeeGo is one, and has the other.

There’s no arguing that MeeGo is the most open operating system with the backing of major tech industry players. Every phase of its development has been handled online, detailed in mailing lists and forums in a way that even Android never was. This openness will win MeeGo points with Stallman-style geeks….and no one else.

Android is Open Source. MeeGo is Open Source. One of these has established a solid identity as a legitimate iOS competitor in the consumer mind-set, and one of these hasn’t. It will take years (at least 2-3) on the market before MeeGo devices will have a chance at carving a decent chunk of market away from Android.

I’m using a MeeGo tablet now. It’s loaded with 1.1, and a few hours of cobbling saw an onscreen keyboard, an office suite and a Photoshop-analog loaded. None of that stuff came stock – and the onscreen keyboard is simply Not Ready for market.

And yet, some sort of MeeGo tablet is due in early 2011. I hope Intel and Nokia find a good dermatologist before then.

 

MeeGo is playing the waiting game

 And Nokia may not be able to afford to play along. Profits are plunging headlong into hell.

Meanwhile, the strategy espoused by Intel VP Doug Fisher at the MeeGo Summit keynote was very long-term indeed.

Mr. Fisher envisions a world of continuous computing. You will have a browsing capable machine in your car, kitchen, living room, pocket and probably bathroom. For optimal convenience, each of these devices needs to communicate. Doug played us a charming little video that showed cartoon MeeGo-people pausing movies on their televisions, stepping out into the car and playing the movie immediately from its last pause.

The point was clear. Device synergy wins markets. Customers like it when every new gadget purchased makes their other gadgets more useful. This is one reason Apple works, and it’s the reason Acer launched that newfangled clear.fi thing.

Android is as fragmented as the Balkans. Apple is as closed as a Reverend’s sphincter. MeeGo aims to be the open platform that also avoids fragmentation. All APIs standard! Any app will work for any device, display size allowing! A brand new world… that will take a few years to get here.

The main benefit of a MeeGo-style OS won’t take hold for several years. ‘Smart’ devices are still rare enough that fragmentation is forgiveable. If MeeGo can hold on and grow share at a cautious rate for the next few years, it could have a shot at real success.

But keeping the OS afloat that long will take regular infusions of cash, or significant early market success. The latter isn’t likely, and the former is only possible as long as Nokia and Intel have money.

 

Developers don’t trust MeeGo

 During the Summit I had the pleasure of sitting in on a developer’s conference. If you’ve ever seen someone lose three teeth to an errant baseball pitch, you have some idea of how the whole thing felt as an observer.

Ronan Maclaverty sweated while devs from all over the world asked questions he wasn’t prepared to answer. At one point, after a long explanation that failed to answer the question of why MeeGo didn’t yet have a framework for developers to sell their apps, a developer from Norway shouted out: “We don’t care about openness, we need to be able to make a living.”

Ronan- the developer advocate for MeeGo, had no response but agreement.

I talked to a lot of developers at the Summit. I drank heavily with a couple dozen of them. Inebriation breeds honest, if slightly incoherent, conversation. We talked about MeeGo and, nine times out of ten, the talk was negative.

And the tenth time? The developer was on Nokia or Intel payroll. Though they weren’t all Pro-MeeGo either, possibly as a consequence of not being eligible for Free Netbooks.

The reasons to doubt were varied. MeeGo was late to market, MeeGo showed no signs of a solid app framework, MeeGo didn’t have enough to differentiate it from the popular choices. What struck me is that they all doubted. I spent close to an hour at the end of the Ireland vs. Norway match talking to an American developer for an Anonymous Large Company (it starts with an ‘N’).

The Summit Attendees had their own special zone off to the side of the stands. We got free booze and chips until well after the game ended. Since it was during regular stadium business hours, the cashiers kept track of every dollar in charges our giant party racked up.

Both registers showed around 2,000 euros, the last time I checked them. My Dev friend, who we’ll call S, gestured grandly at the assembly of drunken coders and journalists,

“We’ve got one more year of this left, if we’re lucky. Then?”

He made a loud farting noise.

 

No case for

All Summit-long, I waited for someone from Intel or Nokia to give me one good reason the market needed MeeGo. Avoiding fragmentation is fine and dandy, but Google has already turned over a new leaf, while Apple has avoided the issue entirely. WP7 looks to be taking Cupertino’s route.

So we’re down to the inherent Awesomeness of MeeGo as a saving grace and, frankly, I’m just not seeing it. In fairness, OS 1.2 ought to hit soon and make things much nicer. But 1.1 was apparently finished enough that Intel / Nokia felt good about giving it to journalists on a touchscreen tablet as a review unit.

Which was a mistake. I appreciate the netbook, but getting it functional has only served to convince me of how far MeeGo is from ready.

 

They hired a Bono impersonator

Seriously what the hell, guys? I don’t know what surprised me more. That y’all felt a U2 cover band was the most universally acceptable music act for a convention in Dublin, Ireland. Or that you were right. Even the Germans liked it. But I can’t forgive you for making me stare at what was essentially Bono’s tomatoey balding forehead while hammered.

It was nauseating.

 

A Final Anecdote that Also Acts as a Biting Summation.

 The ‘free laptops’ themselves played ringleaders to a carnival of error. First, Lenovo didn’t ship enough. They had to turn back hundreds of us and beg for people to wait on the folks who wouldn’t attend the third day. A lot of people stood in line anyway.

I don’t blame them for lying.

A terrible, primal feeling takes o’er a man when a free netbook with a capacitive touchscreen is offered. It doesn’t matter if he wants or needs such a product. All that matters is that he get it because holy cow free stuff!

Anyhow, I waited like a Good Little Boy. On Day #3, 500 un-netbooked people gathered in the President’s Suite to receive our goodies. Each laptop came with a flash drive containing MeeGo 1.1 and either open source, or Broadcom WiFi drivers. While he was explaining the set-up process the Intel rep made an unfortunate phrasing choice: “You can either take the version with the open source drivers… or the version with the drivers that work.

Ever heard five hundred people groan at once? It sounds kind of like an elephant dying.

The rep ended his spiel with a plea to everyone receiving netbooks. Our end of the deal, it seemed, was to become evangelists for the operating system. To take our fancy tablets out into the world and convince our friends / fellow developers of MeeGo’s greatness.

So I’ll say this: I had fun hacking a working MeeGo OS together on my netbook. It came incomplete, so I had to hunt down pieces on my own and plug them in. I like doing that sort of crap because I am a huge nerd with lots of free time. Most People Aren’t, and MeeGo doesn’t have anything to recommend it to Most People.

As I walked out of the conference room, shiny new laptop under one arm, I heard variations of a single question echo up and down the hall.

From one nerd to another, “How long do you guess before all these machines are running Ubuntu?”

Halliburton's hydraulic-fracturing will set world on fire

The Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex contains roughly 6.5 million people. While the name “Metroplex” certainly conjures up images of a vast cyberpunk sprawl, the truth is somewhat less fun. D/FW is one medium-sized city, two small cities and a ragged gaggle of wealthy suburban communities. Every third car is a truck of some sort (usually an F-150) and over the last few months I’ve noticed an uncomfortable number of folks with big “SECEDE” bumper-stickers slapped on the butt of their Lincoln Town Car.

Cars like that become more common the closer you get to D/FW International Airport. So do huge houses and expensive private schools. There’s a lot of money in North Texas, and no small part of it comes from the oil and gas industry. Which is why the World Shale Gas conference and exhibition was held here this year.

From 3-5 November, bigwigs from Big Oil and Bad Gas flew their big asses into our big-ass airport and hopped the Rich Person equivalent of a taxi down to the Gaylord Texan Convention Center.

Where there are powerful executives meeting at fancy resorts, there are activists with costumes and signs waiting to yell at them. Which is why I battled gridlock traffic for ninety minutes in the almost-cool afternoon of November 3rd. The twenty-five mile drive up to Grapevine would be worth it if I got to see a dreadlocked hippy dressed as Datuk Hashim of the International Gas Union humping a paper mache donkey*. Representing, of course, the people of Fort Worth.

I’m not sure if I was more disappointed by the fact that the site of the protest ended up being well out of view of the Center, or that no one was there when I arrived.

The Fight.

I avoid travelling to Grapevine whenever possible, and I recommend you do the same. What moved me to action that day was an intriguing documentary by Josh Fox named Gasland. Fox is the man largely credited for bringing public attention to the controversy over Hydraulic Fracturing.

Hydro-fracking involves shooting incredibly high-pressure “fluids” into oil and methane gas deposits to fracture the rock around it and release the gas. The Big Energy folks point out how economically important fracking is for the United States. They fail to address the major environmental and human health issues. You’ll find a more balanced look here (PDF).

What’s really important to focus on is that word “fluids”. The people doing the fracking don’t like to talk about what those fluids contain. They even have the law on their side in keeping it secret. The “Halliburton Loophole” is an artifact of the Bush Administration. It stops the EPA from regulating the chemicals added to water used for fracking.

The frackers behind all of this claim that their mixes are proprietary. Letting the EPA know could cause Halliburton to lose a competitive advantage. Vice President Cheney, a former CEO of Halliburton, urged passage of the loophole. He also headed up an energy task force in 2001 that kept health concerns about fracking out of their final report.

Health concerns like water you can light on fire.

 

See, fracturing all those rock formations can send natural gas and chemicals used in the fracking process pouring into local aquifers. 40 percent of the “fluid” used for fracking remains in the ground. Over 250 different chemicals have been discovered in that “fluid” so far, including carcinogens like benzene, arsenic and polycyclic aromatics.

There are also chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, damage fertility and a whole host of other nastiness you don’t want in your tap water. While an EPA study in 2004 concluded that hydro-fracking “poses little or no threat” to drinking water, the people who can light theirs on fire would probably disagree. And they’d be backed up by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who called the EPA report “unsupportable”.

So where’s the Resistance?

The town of Camillus, New York just passed a law banning horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Onondaga County and DeWitt both also have local bans on fracking. They plan to wait one year until more is known about the ecological impact.

Which is the same basic intent found in the FRAC Acts, two bills that amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and give the EPA authority to figure out just what the hell is in those fluids. You’ll find a slightly biased article on the acts here, and another one from the Energy lobby here.

And, of course, there was the protest with no attendees. I drove over to the Gaylord, just to make sure I hadn’t missed the activists. Nothing.

I motored home, popped open a beer and tried not to think about how much of my day had been spent bumper-to-bumper. It wasn’t long before I found out what had happened to the protest:

“We got busted up.”

Several van-loads of angry young canvassers had decided to make a bee-line for the Gaylord itself. Security and the local police kicked their asses out before anything interesting could happen. There was no violence, nothing messy. Just quick, efficient suppression.

Complications.

There are a lot of scary numbers associated with fracking, but the scariest ones have nothing to do with water pollution. 80 percent of all wells drilled in the US today involve “fracking”. The injuries and poisonings mainly affect rural folks. The rest of us are more affected by the fact that 23 percent of our on-road fuel usage can be eliminated by the use of natural gas in trucks and buses.

Those vehicles make 26 percent of our transportation greenhouse gases. They are the big air polluters for most people in cities. Fracking makes natural gas on the scale we want possible. And it may also irreversibly cripple the wild parts of this country.

I have several friends who own land out around Fort Worth, and most of them have fracking operations of some extent on their property. Even whistleblowers within the industry note that it can be done safely.

And if your water catches on fire? Just move to the city. It’s what everyone else is doing. 

Wealthy Highland Park harasses environmental protester

Highland Park, Dallas is the 40th wealthiest city in the United States, and the third wealthiest place (per capita) in all of Texas. It was developed by landscaper Wilbur David Cook in 1907 as, a refuge from an increasingly diverse city.

Anyone who has driven through South Dallas in the dead of summer understands that impulse. At its worst, the Metroplex is a sunblasted urban wasteland of dilapidated housing, cracked sidewalks and pothole-riddled streets. It is the 13th most-polluted city in the nation.

The Trinity River is basically poison, which may have something to do with the fact that mother’s milk from women in this state has 75 times the average amount of toxic fire retardants found in European studies. We can’t blame the super-rich people in Highland Park for wanting to live here. The streets are clean and quiet, tree cover ensures ample shade from the sun while strict ordinances and well-funded police keep the streets clear of miscreants.

One such ne’er-do-well, a political canvasser named Kevin Vilbig, was arrested in July for a violation of Highland Park’s “Solicitation Ordinance”.

Mr. Vilbig’s employer, Texas Campaign for the Environment, has been operating in the Highland Park area since 2005. In that time, they’ve spoken to 2,234 of the town’s 8,842 people about local environmental problems. Their current goal? To push legislation that would require electronics manufacturers to dispose of their obsolete products. As it stands, televisions and computer monitors and smartphones loaded with mercury and brominated metals and lead are tossed into Texas landfills every day.

After a few years, these toxic chemicals seep out of our dumps and into the already strained water supply, which means that we end up putting all this ooky junk back in our bodies.

It was 1:30 PM, a hot Saturday afternoon in July, when Mr. Vilbig piqued the interest of a Highland Park public safety officer. Kevin had been knocking on doors for around an hour, talking to twenty or so people and convincing three of them to become members. “It was probably one of my best hours ever,” Mr. Vilbig says. Kevin had just finished knocking on the door to an empty house when the officer beckoned him over.

He asked Mr. Vilbig several questions about his purpose in the neighborhood and then produced a digital camera and asked to take a photo. Mr. Vilbig refused, at which point he was arrested and taken to Highland Park Jail. At no point was he read his Miranda Rights.

The local authorities claim that Article 4.04 of the Highland Park Code of Ordinances justified their behaviour. This “Solicitation Ordinance” bans travelling salesmen and their ilk from bugging local residents. Mr. Vilbig wasn’t selling anything, but he was accepting charitable donations on behalf of TC.

As he sees it, the money is incidental to the message. “I am a political organiser. My goal is to organise that community on this issue and get that legislation passed,” he added, “Donations and letters are equally important.”

Texas Campaign for the Environment has already gone to court twice over this issue, once for the requisite hearing and again for the pre-trial hearing. The next court date is set for November 9. And if that doesn’t resolve things? Jeff Jacobi, canvas director for the Dallas Office of TCE, gives one possibility: “We may very well pursue a different action that challenges the constitutionality of the Highland Park ordinance under which Kevin was cited.” I took to the streets of Highland Park to get an idea of what the locals thought about this issue. For the most part, the answer to that was “as little as possible”.

I canvassed the entire block Mr. Vilbig was arrested on, netting 14 very short interviews. Only two of the people I talked to had any awareness of the arrest. One of them was very much on the side of her town, while the other didn’t seem to think it mattered.

One woman told me she felt the canvassers were invading her privacy. She felt the application of the solicitation laws was just, because “they are trying to sell us their ideas”. Another stated that activists would be better served by buying time in a television spot, vastly over-rating either the viewer-ship of local cable channels or the financial backing of most environmentalists.

I didn’t run into any TCE supporters that day, but they do exist – Mr. Jacobi informs me that 632 residents have signed petitions at the group’s behest. Those folks will be glad to hear that Mr. Vilbig doesn’t blame them for his arrest, “I think I was arrested because a cop wanted to take my picture and so he used all of the force at his disposal to get my picture taken. My fingerprints were not taken, just my mug shot.” Which isn’t to say that partisan politics played no part in the arrest.

“I have no doubt that if I was a young Republican, he would have said ‘Thank you, have a nice day” and let me go,” Kevin adds.

Mr. Jacobi took a somewhat broader view of the whole issue, “I think Kevin was arrested because he knows his rights and his rights were violated and he took a stand. I’m talking about the officer trying to take his photo, I’m talking about the officer infringing on his right to freedom of speech, and I’m talking about the ordinance and its unconstitutional limitation of that speech.”