And Now a Word From The Sponsor

Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing: The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Death Penalty in America: How many make it worth it?

Who executes more people:  The USA, Sudan, Iraq or Saudi Arabia?  Would it ssurprise you to know, according to Amnesty International, the US leads that pack by a mile? This is despite the fact that we have executed Innocent people in this country, and that well over 100 death row inmates have been exonerated before their sentences were carried out. 

I remember the exact moment I lost any faith in the second incarnation of George Bush  long before the sands of Iraq ever entered the sphere of the American conscience. It was when he justified his reasoning for signing the death warrants to carry out sentences of execution in Texas with comments about the bible and the "tooth for a tooth" line in the old testament.  Never mind that in Jesus's words in the new testament he states:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.   This from: http://www.biblegateway.com

This passage, in my mind, throws out the entire biblical justification for the death penalty on religious grounds, as would the idea of "Judge not lest be judged".  Beyond the biblical references, however, we have the facts-- of what the death penalty has come to mean in this country. 

For your review, attached is the latest fact sheet from the Death Penalty Information Center. I ask you think about this... how many innocent lives are worth the ability to carry out the death penalty?  And what does being able to put someone to death accomplish?  Especially if we are a "God-fearing" nation, is there not a disconnect between our actions and our beliefs?  Just a thought..

Death Penalty Fact Sheet

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dear Barry..

I just indulged in one of my great passions-- lunch at my local diner.  Other than being a little crazy about diners just because well, they are cool and full of great people and inexpensive-- I also love them because you know what you are going to get, and its almost always good.  There are a few bad ones out there, sometimes things aren't perfect, but generally, they are pretty damn okay.  Which brings me to you-- and your first two years and two months as president.

I knew it wouldn't be roses the whole time.  Hell, we were coming out of a mess.  Eight years of a president who divided us-- got us into two messy wars that really were not about 9/11 at all or WMD or anything else that really mattered.  We needed strong leadership. We needed, wanted, and voted for the Audacity of Hope.  We believed you when you said we could-- but, sadly, you haven't.  Or at least it feels like you haven't--which is very much the same thing.

Someday, 100 years from now, historians will likely laud you for your many accomplishments.  You have done more in your first term than many others.  But it just doesn't feel that way.  Why?  Because you have failed to find your voice as a leader.  It matters not what the books will say, or even, in many respects what the facts are. What matters more is that you express yourself and your vision to the American People in a manner that says: you are in charge: we are going somewhere better;  and you are going to help us to get there.  Even when-- especially when-- the road may be difficult or unpopular. 

There will always be people in opposition.  Being bi-partisan does not mean agreement 100% or even 80% of the time-- especially when both sides are not equally willing to listen to the facts or to adjust their opinion in the face of evidence contrary to their view.  But it certainly requires communicating your view to those who will listen-- who will evolve their ideas when shown a better way.  The health care plan is an excellent example of what happens when you loose the message and the minds of the middle.  So much good in the plan is misunderstood-- misstated and misrespresented by so many people.  It is your place to address this- from day one. Permitting the opponents to control the message is bad for all concerned and it dimishes the value of your efforts-- even when you have the facts on your side.

Why is Ronald Reagan viewed so favorably-- because, in part,  of how he made Americans feel.  The news conferences and the oval office addresses and the humor-- all of it gave us the impression that he was in command and understood what it took to improve the nation and our lives.  No matter what the reality of his policies and politics-- the result of the 1984 Election was proof of what people "felt" about him. 

I understand that times have changed.  But those 20% of the American people who watch (and believe)  Fox, Rush, Glen, and Sarah are NEVER going to vote for you.  They didn't vote for you in 2008 and they wont in 2012.  However, those of us who did vote for you expected more-- and we expected to feel better about it in the process.   That is why you were elected in 2008-- in many ways because you made us feel yours would be a better presidency.  However, along the way, something has been lost.  Too much political calculation, too much intellect-- not enough  reaching out and speaking directly to the 80% of the population who either loves you, likes you, or is at least somewhat willing to listen.  This doesn't mean you have to make rash decisions-- or behave like a frat boy a-la GW, but it does mean you need to better message your goals and interests to the American People. 

A trip back to the Barry we loved and voted for would involve two major elements: style and content.  The first you have the ability to do--  we have seen it before. The nomination speech, the race speech-- both were amazing and connected with people because you took stands and expressed a clear and consice message about issues you cared about it. You spoke with a heart and passion and honesty that rang like a bell in the hearts of so many Americans.  Those were challening and honest messages, spoken in a language and style that people identified with.  They learned from your words and grew as Americans.  That rare ability is who we want to see-- who the country needs.  That is the candidate who had people partying in the streets in the New York the night you were elected.

The second element requires you to take principled stands on at least some of the issues that matter to the American People-- and communicating those opinions and policies in a direct, consistent and significant way.  No nuance, no hedging-- a frank talk to the people-- drawing a line on a map and putting forth not just a concept of going forward but a specific course.  The course of the republicans is by all measure obvious and you have not done your part to counteract it.  Your silence on the collective bargaining mess in the midwest, your silence on gay marriage, your silence on your own defict reduction commision-- these and many more examples are not what we expected nor are they what we deserve. 

Something or someone has to fill the silence.  By failing to provide your voice and leadership, you create a vaccuum that the Glens and Rushs and Sarahs are only too happy to fill.  Speaking to these issues and advocating for a progressive or center-left approach would motivate your base and show independents that you are serious about what matters to at least 60% of the country.  Those 60% are the ones who elected you. They are opposed to collective bargaining rollbacks, support rights for gay people; and are in favor of common sense gun control (like background checks).   They are aching for the person that they elected to communicate with them.  Not from the stark corner of the room as a pragmatic and intelligent professor-- but as a progressive, inspiring, and demonstrative LEADER standing center stage.  History shows who these leaders were and just how unpopular they may have been at times.  But despite the screeches of the opposition and the howls of  certain people in the media-- they took a stand and people loved them for it.  Further, in the case of Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, and Clinton-- they were also rewarded with second terms and changed the country for the better in the process. 

There are no true risks in stepping up to the plate Barry,however there are great risks if you dont. And by the way, Yes Mr. President-- we can and we did-- but can you? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A

Greetings from New York.  I am writing in response to the recent investigation of Chick-Fil-A's activities by Equality Matters.  I am a Chief in the New York City Fire Department, a writer of a blog, and an openly gay man. In addition, I am a long time fan of Chick-Fil-A and often travel 25 miles to my nearest Chick-Fil-A to indulge my passion.  I have written to you previously about my experiences in Chick-Fil-A and offered suggestions about how to improve your restaurants.

I am terribly saddened to read the extent to which your company has supported anti-gay groups and organizations-- people who spread intolerance in the name of God. I would like to point out that being Gay and a Christian are not incompatible. Further, just because you are a company that is somewhat Christian in nature, it does not demand you support these causes.  As a Christian, I am proud to point out to you that the largest LGBT organization in the world is the Metropolitan Community Church.  Many members of the LGBT community, such as myself, are proud Christians as well and live lives that would more than meet your company's expectations for your employees.  Further, many members of our community serve as parents--successfully raising children in their local communities.  Clearly, we are not a group that deserves a company we love working against us, or supporting those groups that do. 

You have a potential role to play as a Christian company, serving to lead in a country that has lost its way.  That is admirable.  However, Gay, lesbian, and transgendered citizens are not who you need to be alienating in this process.  My bible speaks of acceptance, love, tolerance and forgiveness.  Hopefully, your company will use the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to true Christian values and, in the process, provide an example for all people to follow, not those who live in a manner that fits a more simplified and unrealistic interpretation of the bible.  I would be happy to assist your company in addressing this issue and would welcome the chance to meet with company executives to express my sentiments and how you might move forward from this to serve both God and your consumers in a manner that does not demonize a large portion of the population. I eagerly await your reply and comments. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Poem for Monday: Wild Geese

From Mary Oliver's Pulitzer Prize winning 1986 Collection: Dream Work

Wild Geese
    
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.



Mary Oliver

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A letter to the editor

This is a letter I have submitted to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch today:

In Sunday's Dispatch,  America for Prosperity's Rebecca Heimlich stated:  "I just don't believe that taxpayers who need the protection of these firefighters and police officers would let local jurisdictions get away with not protecting them. I just don't think they'd do it".  She ignores a long history of staffing concerns at fire departments not just in Ohio but across the United States. The National Fire Protection Association standard is for four firefighters on a fire engine. In Florida, a model state for SB5 supporters, fire engines are often staffed by only two firefighters, similar levels are found in other "right-to-work" states. Because of  union efforts to work with their local communities, firefighter staffing in Ohio is closer to the standard. Newark, Ohio increased their staffing on fire engines several years ago by convincing the community and local leaders to pass a Safety Levy-- but ensured the changes would stay in effect through collective bargaining. As a result, Newark Firefighters are more effective at keeping fires contained and are able to respond more quickly to their increasing number of calls and the city has maintained public safety even during tough financial times.  Budget cuts in other Ohio cities such as Chillicothe, Lancaster, and Mansfield reduced their fire department's staffing and have also led to closed fire stations, creating a potentially unsafe situation for residents and firefighters. Unions standing up for safe staffing on fire engines and an adequate number of firehouses, resulting in a more effective fire department, fewer homes lost to fire, fewer citizens lost to medical emergencies and fewer firefighter injuries, is just one example of Unions working to benefit the taxpayer and the community. Would you want a hospital administrator to have sole discretion over your care in the emergency room? Or would you expect the doctor to be part of a team that works together to ensure the best service and best outcome for every patient-- including you?   This is the role that public safety unions have served in Ohio for decades-- a role they will likely no longer to be able to serve in a post SB5 environment without the tool of collective bargaining. As a result, the safety of the public and of firefighters-- and the effectiveness of your local fire department-- will likely suffer.

A Poem for Sunday

Sweet Dreams

I write this poem in darkness
And tap the keys so slightly 
As to not disturb your awkward sleep
I take care not to slide the chair
In that way that makes the awful creek
I know how the bad dreams come
From the noises in the other room
And the worry that I am writing something
That you may not like---
Or worse yet, that may not like you.
Its funny, how lying there—even in sleep
You worry so much about my words
Never knowing how much effort I take
To ensure they cause you no pain.
In Sleep or in wake.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Six Months to Go

In approximately one-hundred-eighty days, give or take, I will turn the ripe old age of thirty-seven.  Being a somewhat thoughtful type (understatement, yes, I am aware) and never wanting for a reason to self reflect and review my life,  I sit on the couch, performing my version of self immolation, with the music of Aaron Copland as an accompaniment.

It should come as a surprise to no-one that a short-time ago I was at my local diner.  Enjoying food I probably shouldn’t have been, given the possibility that I have an ulcer, resident alien in my innards, or some insidious malady straight from the pages of Robinson Crusoe guest stars on House.  Regardless, I enjoyed my Chicken Caesar Salad, preceded by soup, followed by just the perfect amount of rice pudding.

As is often the case, the cast of the diner fit a familiar pattern.  The customers were mostly seniors out on a Friday night, eating the open faced roast beef and pasta dinners that are a staple of the “more experienced”.  There was a family or two—and two servers.  One server knows me well.  I think his name is Gene-- but his more identifying characteristic is an odd habit of putting the dollar sign after the total amount on the check.  I figure this to be something he learned incorrectly in a 3rd grade class room.  A class with a teacher who, tired of correcting so many little things, and perfectly happy that little Gene could even make a dollar sign, just shrugged her shoulders and let it go.  She found joy in what had been learned, even though it wasn’t perfect, or what she intended. 

I think that is the lesson that many in that diner have learned. We shared a Friday night not of movies or of romantic dinners in Manhattan, or a walk down by the water, holding a chilled hand in the late winter breezes of March. Our Friday was a simple dinner, with people who you know by their actions, and by their shape—but almost never by their name.  The pleasantries are exchanged—with the waiter, and the owner’s son.  He could pick me out of police line-up, but he would have to identify me by where I sit: “Yes- I recognize him detective…That’s the back corner booth guy, always gets soup and leaves a generous tip”.  He would no more know that my birthday is in six months than he would know why I visit his diner. Not just because the food is good or the prices are cheap, but because I love the company-no, I need the company. Sometimes, any company will do. And a hello is a hello, even if there is not really much behind it—or around it. 

Maybe that’s the point of eleven years in New York, and of my thirty six point five years on earth.  Yes, that has to be it! To be thankful for what does exist!  It doesn’t matter that I will never be president, or haven’t finished my book, or that my dating history could be mistaken as a bad war movie where you just can’t believe that the hero still stands despite how many times he has been bayoneted.  No, happiness should be my lovely dinners and the wonderful girl at the laundry who knows my bag and always hands it to me without asking.  Perhaps happiness should require nothing more than my neighborhood bar where they really do always know my name and my drink and when I have brought a new date in to subject them to my idea of what a bar should be like. 

But I have to say I find it hard.  I was always used to something more than just the casual.  Somewhere along the way, the Dead Sea crept onto my map and into my phone.  Sure, people are still there—but it is not what it was. The girlfriends, the boyfriends, and the jobs, and the illnesses, and the money problems, and the clock—they have all pried my friends and so much of my family from my hands with a fierceness that has left me wavering at times between indignation and desperation.  Never wanting to seem needy or like a complainer, and never knowing quite how to solve this particular problem, even though I live to solve problems-- I am left to not know quite what to make of a city of millions of people—where it feels like just one. A world of social networking that is all network and no social, and a empty seat on the other side of the booth in the diner, and an empty half of a queen sized bed.  I know all about the need to accept the solitary—to find joy in one’s own company.  But I still question if its here—or everywhere—and what course of action will be required when I finally figure out the answer. 

At least I still have my diner, and my laundry, and a corner bar, where I learned to love Patron CafĂ© & Baileys, and how to throw darts moderately well (sometimes) and where yesterday the new bartender yesterday did not know me at all. Her asking me for ID hit me like a punch in the spleen, and there and then I realized that strangers are strangers for a reason, no matter how many there are in my life, or how important some of them have become.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Poetry

32 Steps
By: Christopher B. Carver                  Autumn 1999


Thirty Two steps, about a minute more or less.
The sixty seconds of my night when my world falls
and my heart breaks
and things don’t seem so perfect. 

The walk inside the apartment,
the look around.
Dishes dirtied, clothes crumpled, CDs strewn.
A reflection really- of what those things see in me.

A quick glance at the machine,
and the little box beside it—the last hope for my crashing spirit.
The verdict—zero new.
What a shame.

I know you love me—and it means a lot.
More than you will ever know in fact.
And, truly, I love you too.
But you are—my friend.

And that is good—and it is wonderful
and I don’t want to want more, to need more—
but I do.
And that need gnaws and festers and never heals.

My biggest question as I collapse into my bed:
Will it ever heal?
Some wounds never do—they live on in stone
and stare back at you from the other side of the mirror.

You tell me how great a person I am—and I know you believe
But do I?
And will someone else ever believe
Or even know
Or even try?

I play my music, write my sad sonnets, and think of you and all the others
And I smile.
But when I can resist no longer my thoughts are directed to the one.
The one who will comfort all this—
            Wipe it away with a sly grin or a gentle touch
But later, after that pain has run its course—
that virus of want and despair and loneliness—
a part of me acknowledges what I already suspected.
The only one who can truly comfort me—
Is me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

This is why we are called "dispatchers" (or not..)


As many of you who work as dispatchers are more than aware, there is a constant battle amongst advocates of an "Old School" approach to dispatching, and those who see technology-- such as AVL, GPS, next-gen CAD, new radio systems, call-questioning software, and data walls as the main ingredient to ensure that every alarm is processed effectively.  One could be excused for seeing their efforts as diminishing the role of the human being in favor of the machine, often done with goals of efficency, cost-savings, and productivity as prime motivators.


To these well meaning souls (Who are frequently vendors; inexperienced managers or consultants who have never actually processed a 911 call) investing in technology is the primary solution that will allow every dispatcher to be incredibly effective and productive, with a minimum of errors. The additional motivation of this approach is that a "one-size fits all" call-taker/dispatcher doesn't require specialized training in a particular agency, or in the geography of a particular jurisdiction. Dispatchers may be grouped together in large consolidated centers, far removed from the communities or agencies that they actually serve. 


In some places, this may make sense, such as sparsely populated counties or states, or areas without significant call volumes.  However, as activity increases, so should specialization-- and a one-sized fits all approach begins to cost far more than it will ever save. Further, too often those who advocate this approach view answering a call for 911; or handling a fire or MCI or high-speed pursuit to be little different than a call-center processing shopping orders or a tech-support for a computer manufacturer. After all, its all the same right? Phones, computers, and calls-- by changing the software, we can go from QVC to 911-- right? 



Wrong! Experience reveals the fallacy of this approach everday in public safety communications centers throughout the country.  There is a price to paid for over-reliance on technology, consolidation, and generalization.  These two recent incidents, as linked on the site Dispatchmonthly.com, serve as case-studies in what is becomming the new normal.

 

Dispatcher Had No Submerged Car Protocol


It took Norwalk (Ohio) firefighters just three minutes to arrive at the flooded creek where Lisa Roswell’s car had been swept off the road and was now submerged in swirling water. Roswell had been able to dial 911 for help, and spoke to police dispatcher Tracy Bond as the car slowly sank into the muddy water and the connection was lost. By the time firefighters reached the car, Roswell had drowned. Now a logging tape of the call reveals that Bond was using PowerPhone protocol cards to handle the 6:05 a.m. 911 call from Roswell, but didn’t have one for “submerged vehicle.”

CAD Geofile Blamed For Response Delay


An oddity in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) geofile at the District of Columbia‘s comm center prevented a calltaker from entering the exact location of a fatal accident last month, delaying the arrival of emergency units by at least 10 minutes. Officials say the calltaker acted properly, and it’s not clear if the victim would have been saved by a quicker response.

What this trend also reveals, in a larger sense, is our inability as an industry, and as dispatchers, supervisors, and managers who know better,  to make our voices and needs understood by the decision makers in our agencies and communities. By no means and I am suggesting that technology does not have a place in the modern dispatcher's arsenal. However, these things, just like CAD, need to be tools in a tool box that can be utilized by a trained and skilled DISPATCHER to ensure the most effective response to emergencies in their jurisdiction. To reduce the dispatcher to nothing more than a call-taker or data entry clerk following a script is to diminish their ability to successfully process alarms and to save lives through creative and dynamic decision making-- and to ensure proper resource management and allocation. 

 

In a time where resources are being diminshed by budget-cuts and call-voumes are increasing-- that ability is becomming ever more critical than before.  It reqires personal knowledge of geography, operational procedures, department resources, and a variety of other skills that can not be replaced by any software marker-- and shouldn't be.


Until we as an industry begin to share effecitvely with local leaders, directors and chiefs the value of these skill-sets and that even the everyday demands of ensuring an effective emergency response in our communities require us to think "outside the box" we will continue to suffer from a view that technology, not human skill, knowledge and instinct should be focus of emergency communications and dispatching.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

And Here We Go..

Those of you who know me well, know that my past is littered with some great great ideas that I never carried to fruition.  I don't know if its an advanced form of ADHD, sudden onset boredom, or something as simple as being a little lazy, but it has certainly been a fault.  

Recent events on both the world stage and on a personal level  have reminded me quite clearly of the voice that I have-- which has for far too long not been utilized to its greatest potential.  In these times, full of people who only see and think in extremes, closing diners; forgotten history, and churches picketing funerals and spreading hate, I have come to believe that I need to speak out and express my view-- for whatever that's worth. 

Through these pages I will write on a variety of topics-- subjects which will likely not surprise those of you who know me well. I will advocate for the Field of Emergency Services Dispatching, leadership in public safety and public service, airplanes, the passion of bluegrass music, great movies; and, of course, my eternal quest for the Ultimate Diner. 

I have been blessed with opportunities, relationships, education, and experiences which have reminded me time and again of the beauty and wonder of this life and the people in it.  If nothing else, I hope that taking the time to share my thoughts, observations, and prospectives will serve to remind me, and perhaps you, that each day is a gift.  And, more importantly, that we have gifts to give as well.

Red Skelton, in a television interview which aired as part of a PBS Special answered with this when asked about how he managed to stay in the business of entertaining people for so long (I am paraphrasing):

"Talent is a gift from God to you, When you use that talent, that is your gift back"

Here begins my effort to give back.