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 (s) and should not taken as official policy of ANY organization with which I am associated. Reading or sharing any post from this site shall be taken as an indication that you have read this disclaimer and understand it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Back from Florida

Here are a few sights from my family visit in Florida.  Irony alert one: agreeing to take the convertible upgrade when the only sun seen on the trip was at the point of return back to Tampa International for departure.  Irony alert two: going to the applebee's across from my hotel and watching a newly minted teacher sitting at the bar get ossified to the point of tying his necktie around his head while watching the coverage of the Sandusky Verdict and getting quite irate about how people treat kids nowadays, role models, etc. 

Thankfully, any and all irony was more than matched by the joy of spending time with my family.  From scallop eating Lottie (still hanging on, approaching her 15th birthday) to celebrating my Dad's upcoming birthday, to hanging out with the still new Emma and getting to play the role of spoiling (and non-diaper changing uncle).  Good times all around!

Surf Crashing over the Venice Jetty During Tropical Storm Debby

Emma, Not yet tired of the photos.

My Dad and his granddaughter-- having a conversation

Scenes from the photo shoot-- Emma tries to make her escape!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 22, 2000

This week will mark an anniversary I can honestly say I never expected to commemorate.  Twelve years ago, on June 22, 2000, I relocated to New York City.  The sight of the Manhattan skyline and the Twin towers from the peak of a midnight Verrazano by eyes weary from hours in a U-Haul truck is something I will never forget. The city was something of a mystery and a magic and a wonder.  Christmas Gifts are always different on December 26th than they are on December 24th.  Anticipation and dreams melted into a soup that is enough to make you do crazy things—like move 500 miles away from home with no definite job, two friends from Ohio, and nowhere near as much money as should have been in savings. 

These last twelve years are now only memories—the only day that matters being the one I am now enjoying while typing away on the laptop. A ray of sun just now piercing down through the hallowed hall where I find my inspiration—or it finds me.  Twelve years doesn’t come out in an orderly way from the back of your mind.  Especially not twelve New York years.  I can remember so many things, people, events, places, experiences, successes and lessons.  Many along the way have been lost—some to death, some to indifference, most to the simple drift that happens in almost all relationships.  My Mother, Harry, Danny, John, Corrine, Three-Hundred-Forty-Three of my fellow members of the FDNY, and God knows how many others who were, in some way—minor or hugely significant— a part of my life then are now gone from this world. They are exceeded in quantity but not significance by so many dates or lovers or errors in judgment who now reveal a road-map of low self-esteem, desperate desires for warm strangers on cold summer nights, and a quest for love that I was not really ready for then, even though I was certain I was.  

Many new people came into to my world and, in a strangely fitting way, most of those have wandered out or away.  My dearest friends are largely the same as they were twelve years ago, with a few notable and happy exceptions.  Most of the other souls came into my orbit not like a Moon—sharing an eternal orbit around a goal or star—but rather as comets.  Streaking across the boundless night sky—within view for awhile, but then on their way to wherever hot rocks and gas go when you no longer serve their purposes.

It is not my intent here to put a negative light on my time in New York.  Far from it.  I have learned more here than I ever thought possible.  I have found more than I ever realized was missing.  And I have grown in a way that has taken me not away from Richard Scarry and Matchbox cars and playgrounds—but back towards it.  Into the places that an adult first feels they have to disown in order to grow, but the same places that a true adult must realize—at some beautiful moment—were really the point all along.

This applies to both my career and to my personal life.  The sad souls I have encountered here were just as much, in their way, excellent teachers as were the brightest humans I have touched or who have touched me. The days I felt the most defeated were required in order to have the days where I knew I was victorious.  And it was all part of a plan that led me here and that now, I know, is leading me away.  It might not happen today, or tomorrow, but there is a greater calling for me and a path down which I must travel.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Little Clues..

So often the little things are the best clues.  As I sit outside the place I work, watching the rats scurry about with an arrogance reserved for creatures with no fear or inept managers with tenure, my gaze falls upon the traffic lights.  They are among the brightest I have seen in New York.  The blubs gleam like a Macy’s Christmas.  The red and green and yellows—brilliant illumination—creating a safer intersection for the people and the rodents.  Even the WALK/DON’T WALK hands are piercing bright, easy to see from a far distance—surely a wonder of traffic engineering.

The only thing is this.  The intersection these lights guard—well, it no longer exists.  This portion of Brooklyn’s street grid fell victim long ago to the weapons of choice of urban planners.  Park benches, pavers, trash cans and a myriad other pedestrian plaza features that occupy the spaces were cars used to go.  As a result, the streets are little more than driveways and imagination and memory.  Whatever remained of the urban flow was removed in the name of security. $200,000 guard shacks, concrete barriers and some fencing help secure the scene from evil delivery trucks, wayward students attending the nearby schools and Chinese food delivery drivers on scooters that are more duct tape than anything else.  All manners of evil are halted from progressing onto our “campus”—never mind the busy streets on the other side of the building or the fact that our public safety communications facility is downwind by less than a mile from one of the nation’s most likely terror targets.  The gates and the dozing blue uniformed sentries will ensure our safety.

You have to wonder, as the light goes through its cycle—red to green and back again.  How many other things here do the same? Onward without learning?  Performing a function admirably that no longer needs to be performed.  It is as though an elevator operator pressed the button for you, even though you could do it yourself—or, worse, even though you were in a one story building. 

So much of this city seems to be this way.  Inertia is a powerful, powerful force.  It can drive organizations, people, places—stoplights and walk signs—well on past the moment they were useful or even necessary.  I think about this as I ponder my own future—where my own needs will take me and as I try to find inside—in the places that cannot be guided by an illuminated white or red hand—the map that will say where to go. 

My only certainty is that it is a different place.  Away from the humans that so brazenly walk amongst the rats and the people and things that so blindly continue on—never realizing how much has changed around them. And likely without the comforting light of a street light that has long ago lost its street.

You mean everyone isn't like me?

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  The internet revolution and its prophets promised us a world of greater information—greater understanding—conference calls between students in Indiana and China while Cyndi Lauper sang “True Colors” and a mother in Kansas knitted a quilt made from Afghan fibers and the entire world learned to live along with concepts of interdependence and shared common good.  Somewhere in that dream resided visions of greater concern for the environment—and end to wars (at least unjust ones) and more fulfilling lives.  I remember those commercials?  Do you? 

Sadly, the stories of our “Modern times” have not born out all the words of the Lauper song just yet.  Along our yellow brick road we are having to deal with Assad’s gang of murderous thugs, Chinese currency manipulation, stop and frisk policies in the minority neighborhoods of New York City and a thousand other examples where the “old empire” will just not yield to all the progress—all the societal change—that were supposed to have been fully realized about 500 issues ago of PC Weekly.

If you are looking for evidence that things haven’t gotten much better it is not be hard to find—it’s out there every day.  But I would argue that we are seeing examples everyday, in these clinging old guard stories, of just how much progress has been made.  Unfortunately, the very tools that have brought us so far so fast—there is Black President for God’s sake!—have also permitted those afraid of change, of growth, of progression—to cling to the old and the familiar and the stable—with all their might.  The greatest of their tools are money and—the internet. 

Beyond encouraging people of the earth to connect and grow and share and learn, the internet has permitted, like any good tool, people to make of it what they will.  For those so inclined, it is a vast resource of curiosity, of knowledge, of answers and connectivity.  For others, however, it is a tool to reaffirm beliefs, suspicions and ideas that may have little basis in truth, or reality, but none-the-less can find validity in the simple quantity of those who share the same creed.  It is an often cited political theory that even an outright lie will be accepted as truth if you simply say it enough times—and there are many opportunities to hear (and read) the same lies on the internet—in countless forums, pages and sites that are subject to no arbitrator of truth.  That is a necessary element of freedom—people can say what they want—but when people put those believes into practices that invade the political sphere—a dangerous line is crossed. And some type of counteraction must occur.   

This is an understandable and inevitable side of effect of people insulating themselves from what they don’t know—or don’t care to experience.  I find it somewhat revealing that only 71% of Americans actually know a gay or lesbian person according to a recent survey—but equally amazing to match the increasing percentages of support for marriage equality with the equivalent increase in that “awareness number”.  What is shocking is the simplicity in the finding—as people come to see that LGBTQ people are more than the comic (will and grace) or the stylish (most shows on HGTV)—but that we are real people with real desires and that those are the same as anyone else—well how can the answer be anything other than encouraging the same rights for LGBTQ people as anyone else?

But the road goes both ways.  The same sharing of information of experience that can drive a growth in understanding or acceptance can facilitate a misperception or a lie.  Take for example the “Birthers”—those who just can not let go of their deeply held belief that president Obama was not born in the State of Hawaii.  Never mind that it doesn’t even matter—he’s already President for God’s sake.  Never mind the evidence.  Never mind the historical record.  Never mind the Birth Certificate.  Never mind the constitutional reality that, as long as his mother was a US citizen, which has never been in doubt, that Obama was automatically a citizen as well.  Ask John McCain about this as well—given that he was born in Panama.  

More on the point, it is the feedback loop of similar opinion—of always hearing from those who believe exactly like you—that permits this type of thing to continue.  And the desire of those who do know the truth to not offend potential political supporters (See again comments from John McCain in the 2008 campaign and compare those comments to more recent ones) that stops any chances of educating these false opinions out of the system.  Another example was the recent 60 Minutes interview where Eric Cantor’s (current house majority leader) aide came unhinged because Leslie Stahl asked about Ronald Reagan’s tax increases.  This simple-minded fool could not believe that Reagan had done so and called out Stahl for “lying”—despite mountains of historical records that can never be in doubt.  When even those in our elected political culture demonstrate this much disconnect—can it be any wonder of the atmosphere that our politics now reveal?

When the leaders and figures who do know better fail to do so, it must fall on the media to exercise some shred of polite instruction—however they too desire more not to offend with truth (or rightful scorn) than to set the record straight.  Leslie Stahl did try to set the record straight—but to even entertain this nonsense without laughter is to give more credibility than is ever deserved.  Further, the voter, the greatest stakeholder, seems to see nothing wrong with this—especially when falsehoods uttered by politicians only further their own incomplete or inaccurate views.  Comments permitted on websites after news stories are a wonderful example of allowing the public to have its cake and eat it too—as those who just don’t agree can offer their own assessment of reality—regardless of the reporters research, the comments of someone interviewed or the basic reality of the story.  

It didn’t used to be like this.  In a world of more limited media choices—otherwise known as the 1970s—before the days of cable news and websites—the reality required people to get their news from sources that were much different, and, in my opinion, much more robust.  Newspapers focused on traditional—more researched journalism, as did TV news.  There will likely never be an Edward R Murrow or Walter Cronkite on the news again—the price is just too high—and people wont invest the time to hear what someone has to say—especially when its something they might not want to hear.  So they turn the channel, or go to the website that agrees with them—and won’t challenge them—and no one grows at all.  No growth in their exposure, in their mind, or in their heart.

And, as a result, we all suffer.  Especially when these sheltered people gain prominence in the political sphere.  When unquestioned assumptions and beliefs become something that no one will challenge, least of all the media who are now encouraged to value all sides—we all begin to loose not just the truth but the touchstones of society.  The very basis of our history becomes a matter of debate or interpretation.  Any community must have some of these common points to build on—or else the whole package can disperse into three hundred million questions of perspective.  More importantly, we gradually loose the ability to learn from history—from our mistake and our successes—if history becomes not a question of fact but rather political prospective and uneducated opinion. For although you may analyze history from any number of prospectives—you can not change what actually happened.  

Until we learn, as part of our progression through this new age, to not take assumption as fact; to encourage people of all political persuasions to expand their horizons; reward and elect politicians with courage to think and offer even hard truths, return critical thought to the academic world at all levels, (and replace an academic culture of success revealed by test scores); then we will often fail to meet the promise of the new age of information. We will loose out on the successes that this age can bring to the whole host of problems that face the human condition—and we endanger the rich fabric of our nation as become isolated from the experience and the ideas and differences that made up our melting pot.  It is a horrible stew that has only one ingredient and as long as so many people use the internet simply to become modern members of the flat earth society—and until people are willing to call them out and refuse to entertain the ignorance—instead of the power of possibility, we will be constrained to the power of ignorance.  History is never kind to those who bathe in waters of close-mindedness—I just wish someone would tell that to the birthers. But they probably wouldn’t listen.

Airshow Season Begins!

Happy Monday.  Wanted to share, for those who might be looking for something to do this coming weekend, and for those who have their passports, the 2012 Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Airshow is this weekend.  I am scheduled to attend (with David) after a few days exploring in Toronto and before a stop at Niagara Falls on Saturday Evening.

Sadly, the B-24 scheduled to fly at the show suffered a nose-gear collapse in CLT a couple of weeks ago, but, otherwise, it looks like a an amazing show-- full of flying WWI, WWII, and post WWII aircraft.  Last year's show was beyond impressive (The B17 and Lancaster shots above are from the 2011 Show)

I will be posting photos from the show in the next couple of weeks.  Till then, please feel free to visit My Online Photos

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Runway 13R departures

Some recent spotting images, taken from Bayswater State Park, Far Rockaway Queens

What do I Believe? [Part-I]

As many of you may be aware, it has been a long held dream of mine to someday run for political office.  That goal, despite the current state of American politics, or perhaps because if it, is one way I see myself giving back to my community—wherever that community may be.  

In the interest of furthering that goal, I wanted to use this space to offer up some of my basic opinions about things—especially since I have recently received some feedback that I am a card carrying liberal or an outright socialist.  To those that know me well, a chuckle of sorts should have just occurred.  

I would love to get some feedback on these core principles of mine, especially if you don’t agree or have some questions.  And I certainly recognize that in the future someone may hold up what I write here to further their perceptions of me being one way or the other.  But remember, in all cases, perceptions are in the eye of the beholder.  And if writing what I believe and hold true now serves to ensure my future consistency with my ideals or to further my efforts to broaden and evolve my opinions and creeds based on future science, public discourse, or societal growth then I feel strongly that this effort has served its purpose.

In no specific order, here we go.

Sustainable Development

The number one threat to long term viable communities is development that is not planned or managed effectively.  Sprawling suburban growth has fostered many negative consequences from environmental impacts to the exacerbation of social problems to increased tax burdens to pay for inefficient public services required by the expectations of residents in far flung areas of development.  In many cases, effective suburban growth means greater density—not less, as this ensures the ability to provide effective services, contributes to more functional communities, and permits city services to be provided in a more cost effective manner.  

Taxes & Government Services

In many if not all cases, government revenues have not increased to match the increases in cost of government services.  Governments at all levels have a vested interest in providing effective services—this means hiring and maintaining a stable and skilled workforce.  Therefore, government salaries and benefits should be better than the private sector—provided that the worker is skilled and effective.  Lowballing public sector salaries or benefits only drives away the most competent workers from public service.  Beyond this, citizens at all levels of government have come to expect a certain level of service from their governments and that the services they expect are competent.  Therefore this creates a catch-22, many don’t want to pay for a service, but they still expect that service.  The key is in several areas—first, the sustainable development mentioned above.  Second, making public sector employees partners with their employers and their communities to improve local services while maintaining viable cost structures.  There are many, many opportunities in this area—from flex time workers, encouraging workers to live in the communities that employ them, to holding managers and supervisors directly responsible for outcomes.  The primary key, however, is public education on the part of community leaders about what services cost and what services are required to keep a community a safe, secure, and quality place to live.  My home town reacted to budget crises by laying off its building code officer and not growing its Police Department to meet demands for service.  Now, although taxes may be a few dollars less a year, many neighborhoods in the community are literally dying and turning to minor ghettos. Was saving $50 or $100 a year on taxes worth it?  Put another way, many people love to say government should be run like a business.  I agree.  But if the cost of hamburgers and buns goes up as well as the rent for the building, the local hamburger stand does not always look to lower the salary of its workers—for it knows what the outcome would be—decreased customer service.  Instead, the business tweaks its product and adjusts prices.  Yes, this isn’t desirable—but it is the reality of doing business.

Government Consolidation & Cooperation

One of the prime ways that local governments should work to save money is by working to lessen the layers of local government and bureaucracy.  Each of these added layers is an added burden to the taxpayer.  Specific examples are many of the townships in Ohio.  This form of government was a creation to oversee sparsely populated villages and farmland in Ohio (and other states) with the obvious expectation that, as areas developed, they would incorporate and evolve into cities.  That three trustees and one fiscal officer can be considered effective representation for thousands of residents of a township is an amazing reflection of power being held onto by some—in spite of fiscal or practical logic.  Further, in areas where townships are simply political islands, the time has come for the cities that surround them to absorb townships and bring them into the community that they are so obviously a part in ever other way. 

In addition to streamlining layers of government, there exists an obvious need to work on consolidating agencies that provide government services.  This does not have to mean the ending of local community boundaries—but it can mean a county-wide agency for Fire, Police, Road, Sewer, Water, and other services.  This type of consolidation will save serious money and can result in improved services.  The critical caveat, however, is that these larger agencies will require effective feedback from local communities to ensure that services are maintained or improved, and competent leaders and managers to ensure that the agency does not become a monster run amuck.  If these can be avoided, then the opportunities are well worth the risk.

Coordination amongst local groups and government agencies

Regardless of the local governing structure, one of the greatest threats to effective communities is the silo based approach that characterizes our local governments today.  To often, problems or opportunities are looked at from only one prospective—without an understanding of how they affect the whole of the community.  For example, closing a school—while it may save a certain amount of funds, may have wide ranging impacts that take it from being cost effective to cost prohibitive once the costs of transportation, the impact on nearby businesses, and the local community are taken into account.  The same may be true of the decision to not build a road and leave isolated a certain area of the community.  As a result, the decision to save $5 million on a road may result in a new firehouse having to be built to service that isolated area of town—at a one time cost of $5 million and annual personnel costs of $1,000,000.  Cities and communities and other institutes of government need to be looked at as systems—where everything has an impact on everything else.  Too often, people only see one part of the picture and, as a result, decisions are made that are in a small way good (or bad) but have an undesired effect on the community as a whole.  

What make a community successful?

In my opinion, these key areas are the major parts of the system that must be considered at all times when discussing the health of a community:

1. Public Safety—The community must have an effective police, fire, and emergency medical service focused on providing services that meet accepted national standards for public safety response and protection.

2. Education—To be viable, a community must have effective schools—including post-secondary schools.  These schools should prepare students both for college and, for others, for work in the private sector.  Many industries across this country are clamoring for workers to perform tasks that don’t require a college degree but do require vocational training.  Matching a local school system to the needs of our modern economy will do far more to ensure economic success than tax abatements or new jails.

3. Economic Opportunity—Local communities must ensure that well managed businesses can thrive—not just big corporations, but every business right down to the mom and pop deli and the tech start up or new artist working from their basement.  However, this doesn’t mean letting these business operate as they want.  There must be common sense regulations, enforced fairly, that ensure a level playing field and safety for employers, employees, and consumers alike.  Further, the great innovators should be supported as well.  Shared community supported space for start-ups, are a great way for local communities to encourage economic growth. Companies don’t start off in office towers—they start in garages, small office parks, or on tables in libraries—or around coffee tables in a diner.  

4. Culture and Diversity—People are most creative when they are free to be themselves.  A successfully community needs to respect and encourage all kinds of people to live in the community, start families in the communities and start businesses in the community.  By encouraging an atmosphere of true freedom and respect—an immediate result will be improved outcomes as people of various backgrounds, cultures, orientations, spiritual beliefs, socio-economic classes—and more, combine their experiences into a fabric.  There is a reason that so many great American success stories come from places that exemplify these traits.  It is a lesson taught by the rich history of America and it is a lesson we should not forget.  

5. Recreation, Sports, and Events, and Religion—residents of local communities benefit from activities and social outlets and these benefit even non participants through increased economic activity, increased sense of pride in the community, and greater interaction between community members.  Whether it is a once-a-month major event (such as art festival, 4th of July parade and fireworks, or Christmas Show)—the more is truly the merrier.  These events should focus on all age groups—from toddlers to senior citizens and help to build a vibrancy that is a hallmark of revered American Towns across the country.  All local groups have a role to play in this effort—from churches to senior centers to schools—and many of these groups should devote a portion of their mission to helping those in the community that are less fortunate.  By organizing literacy efforts, can food drives, big-brothers- big sisters events and related efforts, these groups can not only build a sense of community—but also the level of success in the community.

6. Best Practices—Many of these things we already know, or someone else does.  

The greatest secret of what to do to build viable communities is that it’s not a secret.  Many of the things we need to do can be illustrated by successes from other places—places that have tried to address problems that they faced and have come away with amazing successes in many cases.  Not all the time, of course, but even from less than successful efforts there are opportunities. We need to be open to learn from other places and our own past to take those lessons, match them to our local realities, and build teams and approaches to building better places for our families and friends and fellow citizens to live.

Conclusions and Approach

Too often, politicians and local leaders focus too much on radical ideologies and partisan games rather than getting down to the essential goal, questions (and answers) that should be paramount at all times in the hearts and minds of any political figure—how do I do what’s best for the community I serve.  Not how do I lower taxes, or get union pay increased twenty percent.  Not how do I get a firehouse built with my name on it, or exact revenge on the person that ran against me.  But rather how do I work together—with all the people of my community—to solve problems, create and take advantage of opportunities—and ensure that for this generation and those that follows, my community is safe, secure, growing, and great place to live.  We have done this before—in different times and different places we have found these answers and this is why I am optimistic that we will find them again.  That is why I am looking forward to being a part of the solution.