Monday, March 27, 2006

Watching Sausage Being Made

We've all heard the old saw: "People who enjoy sausages and respect the law should never watch either being made."

The author clearly wasn't from Louisiana where getting up close and nasty with what we eat is part of the feast. Consider boucheries, corner-store boudin, and boiling crawfish alive. Folks with a delicate constitution don't hang around long. What's true of food is equally true of legislation. Politics is a spectator sport in the "gret state."

The sport has been waning in recent years, what with cheap cable television and TV preachers providing an unwholesome entertainment alternative to Dudley LeBlanc, Puggy Moity, Mr. Edwards and their colorful commentators.

With modern telecommunications you needn't get your legislative entertainment at one remove. You'll be able to watch much of the proceedings this year for yourself--and judge for yourself the quality of work done in your name. (Mostly, the few times I've attended such, I've been pleasantly surprised...but the moments of duplicity are rewarding to the cynic in me.)

One of the advantages of a modern telecommunications network is that you can watch the sausage being made every day on regular old cable TV courtesy of LPB and the Cable companies and get streaming video of the actual committee meetings from the legislatures website. Louisiana's cable companies and Lousiana Public Broadcasting have teamed up to provide widespread access. (Here is where Cox Lafayette has done a good thing: this is the first year they've carried LPB's signal; maybe hiring the Governor's daughter to dispense PR has had some positive effect.)

LPB/Cablecos provide:
Access on the cable channels from 2 to 6 every legislative day. I presume that will be mostly shots from whichever house has the more interesting "action" going on. Here in Lafayette tune to channel 98; the channel location for other participating cablecos is located on the web. LPB will also provide occasional live coverage on its stations across the state starting with Blanco's opening address on today, March 27th @ 1:00.

The Legislature provides:
For more discerning viewers with the dollop of broadband needed for small steaming video windows you can can choose from multiple committee hearings. (Obligatory remark: this is another reason we need real broadband.) In my experience, this is more likely to be rewarding than trying to decipher the goings-on on the floor of the legislature. All legislative downloadable video requires a copy of the (free) RealVideo player be installed on your machine.

The House:
House Committee Streaming Video Schedules. Even more nifty is the House archives of the netcasts. Time shift your viewing, it's like an online TiVo. (The commerce committee will be venue for issues relating to Lafayette's fiber to the home project and repeal of the Local Government Fair Competition Act.)

The Senate:
The Senate's live netcasts (and they are ONLY available as streams, no archives are publicly available) are more awkward to use than the House's. You'll have to track the bills (LPF cheatsheet) you are intersted in; find the bill's info which will list the committee where they will be heard, find the committee's page and then see when that bill shows up on the agenda and the rooms that those committees will meet open the steam from that room. Again, for most of our purposes here, that will probably be the commerce committee. Waaay too complicated. But still, it's possible and the fact that you can look over their shoulder as they do a lot of this work is a very good thing.

It'll be serious entertainment. Real things will happen in the public view if the public cares to pay attention. It's a level of access that modern technology makes available that used to be pretty much the sole province of paid lobbyists. What'll be really fun is when the pieces fall into place to put the video on something like an RSS feed and integrate it with your own PVR. At that point you'll be able to graze through the recordings, find the good parts, and share them with others. That would be real sunshine.

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