Saturday, December 30, 2006
This past Tuesday, when the gloom and doom about another winter storm in Denver was starting to trickle across the National Weather Service website, I hastily made flight reservations from Grand Junction to Denver and reserved a hotel room near DIA, to make sure that my brother-in-law made it back to Denver to meet his traveling companions Thursday morning for the flight back to Providence, and then to his group home on Cape Cod.
This meant that I would fly round trip and he would fly one-way to Denver, which entitled him to extra-special treatment by the crack TSA detachment at Walker Field. Granted, they only have a job to do, and they did what they needed to do with grace and efficiency and sent us on our way, but between this, and the shoes, and the liquids, who are they kidding? I guess that's the thing that galls me the most about this approach to terrorism "prevention"; that everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise. Whether this approach is truly necessary is a matter that continues to be open for debate.
There is also an opportunity to give credit where it's due, and with that I commend the operations staff, private security, and TSA detachment at Denver International. They had constant eyes on the two security lines, made adjustments to the lines and barriers as needed, and were constantly issuing verbal reminders to have your boarding pass and ID out, coat and shoes off, laptop out, and for God's sake make sure that before the infant carrier goes through the X-Ray that the infant has been removed. DIA staff also did the same thing for the incredible lines of people with luggage to check that had descended on United's ticket counters, some also trying to see if they could move up their flight to beat the storm. If you were carry-on only, they directed you to the self-serve kiosk, and they made adjustments to the dynamics of the line whenever additional ticket agents became available, went to lunch, went crazy, etc.
The cumulative effect of this well-staffed and coordinated effort was that we hit the door of the airport at 8:00 and were at the gate at 8:45. An impressive display of organization, and much appreciated. My brother-in-law got out on Southwest without a problem. When my later return flight to GJ was cancelled for weather, United quickly made adjustments to get me on a later departure. From the looks of it, the weather cancellation smelled like a Pilot-In-Command decision, because the ceiling and visibility hadn't improved when a fresh flight crew boarded the plane ahead of us for the re-scheduled flight. To make a long story short, we touched down at GJT less than 2 hours late. Nicely done, United and SkyWest.
Chalk it up to serendipity, the availability of options, or perhaps a realization on the part of the airline that if they didn't deal with us now, they would most certainly deal with us later. Either way, it was indicative to me of the grace under pressure that some of us can exhibit, especially in the face of tired, upset people.
On a separate note, the Grand Junction Free Press had an excellent article on its' Friday front page about a deaf Grand Junction woman's progress through Cochlear Implant surgery. The most telling line of the story talked about the choice her parents made to pursue speech therapy and oral education for her, instead of sign language. That action in and of itself is the road less traveled in Western Colorado, for several reasons including the lack of surgeons here performing the procedure. That's changing, and hopefully along with it will be the attitude toward the use of CI's, and the improvements in the education and societal integration of deaf children that this will help to bring about.
It will be very interesting to follow Lisa Young's progress. Our best wishes for a successful surgery and the opening of a new world to her.
Be careful out there this weekend.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Caught myself taking my regular Monday morning walk to Enstrom's for a hot chocolate, not realizing they were closed until it was too late to turn around, so I just got the paper and headed back to the car. That's one of the dangers of working shifts, and in public safety; holidays just become any other work day from a practical standpoint. It may seem quieter, but in some circles it really isn't.
There will inevitably be a call from an overly wrought parent whose ex-spouse with custody of the kids won't let the ex come visit or have regular visitation, and who expects the police to force the other party to relent, or comply with the court agreement. There will be the usual large family gathering, with tongues and emotions lubricated by miscellaneous hard feelings and alcohol in excess, that devolves into a drunken shouting match. There will be a few different calls, like the young lady who couldn't contact her probation officer and needed to because she was on electronic monitoring (the "ankle bracelet") and had been evicted by her landlord on Christmas Eve, and needed to let Probation know.
There are also numerous examples of quiet grace and civility that highlight the day and the season. Such an attitude, while prevalent, seems fewer and far between in the atmosphere of polarization and consumerism that we seem to be living in. There is a ray of hope, however, as evidenced by yesterday's installment of Meet The Press, in which Pastor Rick Warren and Jon Meacham of Newsweek spoke about the status of religion in America and the changing face of evangelicals.
Pastor Warren's "Global Goliaths" - spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy/poor education, were summarized by him in a comprehensive and concise manner, enough to keep an audience's attention without throwing too much at them. One could tell that he's an accomplished and persuasive speaker. The entire transcript is available here. I was quite taken by the honesty and candor of the participants, and encouraged greatly by what they had to say.
I'll leave you and me to celebrating Christmas with those you love and hopefully can be close to today. If you get a minute, read on below. This is an excerpt from The Seven Dangers of Christmas, an essay by Garrison Keillor, and while it captures the way I feel about this day from a more secular standpoint, it is the unwritten joy that goes into what we celebrate that makes all of the small traditions and rituals worth the time taken to make them happen.
Have a wonderful day.
Christmas is a work of art, and art is filled with danger, art is made by people who know about suffering. Van Gogh was tormented by hallucinations when he painted those fields of flowers. Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote the Ninth Symphony. Emily Dickinson wrote "Success is counted sweetest/By those who ne'er succeed/To comprehend a Nectar/Requires sorest need" as a woman so withdrawn from normal social contact that, when her family entertained visitors, she preferred to listen from behind a screen in the hallway.
The beautiful Christmases that I remember from childhood were created by women who had gone through the Depression, the Dirty Thirties, the dust storms, and after you have tasted dust, then you may be ready to create some elegance and music and wrap the presents so beautifully that even a small child will know to unwrap them slowly and deliberately, not rushing. Thus, the artfulness of the paper and ribbons serve to prolong that delicious moment of suspense and make the gift a wonderful surprise.
The greatest danger of Christmas is that we may be too dull, too dopey, too stuffed, to get joy out of it, and Christmas will be wasted on us.
It is a magical day, though, and among the old customs, the foods, the music, is something that has the power to open our hearts. Some simple thing that can surprise us.
How beautiful and dazzling bright,
One candle on a winter's night.
How beautiful these harmonies
That echo through the centuries.
And in this singing we shall find
The blessing given to mankind.
A blessing without price or end,
A blessing on your house, my friend.
Friday, December 22, 2006
They have decided to rent a car and drive to Denver. They'll be leaving Friday morning, hoping to arrive sometime Saturday. Aside from some rain forecast for tomorrow, the weather is forecast to clear out as they head west. I'll leave GJ Saturday morning and drive over. Depending on how late they get it in, we'll probably stay the night before heading back. Barring any additional surprises, Mike will get to spend Christmas with us, which will be nice.
The family Mike is with has been most accommodating and easy to work with. I'd venture Mike hasn't been on a plane or left New England in 20 years. So far, he's enjoying himself. I guess it's all rooted in the attitude you take toward this type of adversity.
I was working Monday morning when our share of the snow arrived. One of the things that amazes me is how such little comparative snowfall can paralyze an area not expecting it, or not mentally prepared for it. The number of accidents, slide-offs from major highways, and general emoting about the situation was significant, but not surprising for an area like this one. Makes me wonder how we would deal with a blizzard such that Denver got, and how we all would react and respond to it.
Looking forward to a little bit of calm for Christmas. Hopefully all will arrive safe and sound. I hope that if you're expecting family from out of town this weekend that their trips will be safe and uneventful. God bless.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I've volunteered at KAFM, our local community public radio station, since it opened its' doors in 1999. I've mainly been behind the scenes, helping with clerical work, some technical maintenance, and answering the phones during fund drives. This year, the opportunity presented itself to take a role in the production of a regular program at the station, and I felt called to give it a try.
Words is a program that solicits participation from school-age children, and involves the students researching a word in the dictionary, learning how to spell it, and use it in a sentence. We have a standard script that they read, and they come to the station either individually or as part of a class field trip to record their words and see what a radio station is like. After they record their words, we find topical music that somehow goes with the word, and edit and mix these into a 1 minute segment that runs three times each weekday.
I'm co-producing the program with Linda Skinner, another volunteer who has a teaching and broadcasting background. Between Linda's connections at the schools, excellent rapport with teachers and kids, and my technical contributions, we are making slow progress in developing a process to recruit participants, get them to the station to record, and effect post-production in time to have all of the next month's words ready by the end of the preceding month.
It's been a daunting process so far, with some unexpected pitfalls, but a great learning experience and a chance to connect with different people. It's been fun trying to figure out music that matches up with the word or its' example sentence, and using software to edit and mix the child's voice and music. I'm optimistic about our ability to maintain and expand this community outreach, including taking Words "on the road" to involve schools who may be unable to participate due to travel constraints or distance. It feels good and right to be involved with this.
My brother-in-law will be coming in from Massachusetts to spend Christmas with us. He lives in a group home on Cape Cod, and a family that is visiting relatives in Denver will escort him to DIA, where I will pick him up. He's an interesting guy who hasn't been on a plane in probably 20 years, so I hope things will go well. My wife will be making sure he's OK while he's here, because I'll be working and getting Words put together for January. I hope to be able to show him the usual cool things around GJ while he's here, and we'll be driving him back to Denver after the holiday.
There is one thing I saw today that I thought was an impressive use of the media to get an important message out. The Rocky Mountain News' coverage of the ICE raid on the Swift plant in Greeley included a blurb about the response of the United Way of Weld County to issues pertaining to families and children affected by family members, in many cases both parents, being arrested during the operation. Information about this effort is available here.
While I agree with Ralph D'Andrea's take on the issue, I am compelled to consider the plight of those who are guilty of nothing but following their parents into this country. The social service infrastructure in the Greeley area is likely going to sustain a significant impact from the fallout of these arrests, and while the federal government is indeed not at fault for doing their job, there is an opportunity for compassion and service here. My check is in the mail.
That's how I'm managing the numerous directions in which we all seem to get pulled when the holidays and the end of another year arrive. Best wishes to you in your navigation, too.
Monday, December 04, 2006
During the weekend I saw several of what I consider effective examples of individuals and one business reaching out to the community, both locally and globally, in ways that you might not consider traditional. I'd like to share them with you, in hopes that you get a chance to show support next time you encounter them in your travels.
First, a big thanks to the man bundled up Sunday morning at 12th and North holding the sign proclaiming in very big letters the words POSITIVE THOUGHTS. He got a honk and a thumbs up from me as I drove past on the way back to the house with my Sunday morning survival kit, which consists of the Sunday Post, Sentinel, and a burrito from Los Jilbertos. Thanks again to whoever you are for braving the cold, and reminding us of something we too often forget.
Second, Monday's Free Press had an article on Cathy Donahoe, a local physical therapist and good friend of ours who is raising money to go on a three-year missionary assignment to the Dominican Republic. Cathy has been of great assistance to my wife since she's been ill, and truly has the mindset and dedication to take her knowledge and gifts for healing to others who would otherwise not have the benefits of this available to them.
Third, the new Regal Cinemas Canyon View Stadium 14 theatres have proven to be a quantum leap in local cinema entertainment. The facility has augmented the capability for the local area to have more exposure to first-run films that are of a more independent nature, or may appeal to a different segment of audiences. While they will not approach the eclectic, more unique fare offered by the excellent Cinema At The Avalon, the facility is comfortable, the sound and picture are first-rate, and this past week they took a great step forward in accommodating people with hearing disabilities by offering at least one feature film with Open Captioning. This week it's Happy Feet. Next week it will be Casino Royale. There's a website that lists these films and where they're playing nationwide.
Thanks to Regal. Both your facility and the availability of open-captioned films are long overdue in this area. Perhaps your initiative will help to convince other media providers in this area that it's time to start accommodating not only those who are profoundly deaf or hard of hearing, but also those increasing numbers of late-deafened people in middle age or who are elderly that are choosing to live in our area.
For some, this will mean upgrading the current mode of captioning to allow for more consistent and comprehensive service delivery, including ad-libbed and live remote broadcasts. For others it will mean making the necessary arrangements to meet obligations under federal law.
In any event, the true spirit of the Christmas season seems to be showing itself in small ways around town, and that's a good thing any time of year. Thanks to Mary Harmeling for validating a lot of my previous thoughts about the season in her Sentinel column this past Saturday. It's the best reason to read the paper on Saturdays, especially when compared to You Said It.
Have a great week.
Friday, November 24, 2006
15Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
16And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
17He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
18"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
20"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
21"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." __________________________________________________________________
In the course of walking through work and life I've taken note of people within our society who seem to be predisposed with the accumulation of "stuff". I'm guessing that it's this segment of the population who keep those cable home shopping channels in business, and who are lined up well before dawn to get into the stores the mornings of big sales, like the ones this morning. In the course of work I encounter the occasional distraught person going through a breakup exclaiming that they "need the cops here now because (he/she) won't let me get my stuff".
I have jokingly said that someone overly concerned with their material wealth was a member of the "First Church of My Stuff". This came from a lesson I heard at Young Life camp as a teenager, when the leader admonished us about the worship of worldly things. If you care more about music than anything else, then music is your church, the same with money, celebrity, sports, and so on.
In all honesty we have to look at each other and confess that we've all been devotees, in varying degrees, of the First Church of My Stuff. A significant segment of our economy is dependent upon us being obedient and penitent, and rush to services on the denomination's high holy day, "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving.
The video game industry, AKA "The Drug with a Plug", is a good example. My son likes video games, and has put a lot of money into video game systems that promise more and more functionality for higher and higher prices. The concept of planned obsolescence, combined with the continued advances in technology, seems to be a benchmark of this industry.
The shameful display at many stores around the country last week over the release of the Playstation 3 was a good example of the extremes that many will go to for the artificial realities that are by and large the attraction of many video games. Part of the blame has to be placed on Sony for going ahead with the release despite having proportionally so few units available, feeding the hype machine and speculation in gray markets such as eBay. Because of production problems, Sony delayed the European release until next March. Social responsibility should have dictated some healthier choices here as well.
The recent sermon series at the Vineyard on the seven letters of Revelation concluded this past weekend with a message that was timely not only in the sense of the upcoming season, but for our approach to everyday living. Pastor Chalane Coit deftly drew modern-day parallels to the admonition of St. John in Rev. 3:16-18:
16So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
The key word is "lukewarm" - neither hot or cold - which Chalane likened to complacency, apathy, and mediocrity in everyday life, not just in one's struggle to put the pursuit of kingdom riches (spiritual wealth) over that of material wealth. I strongly recommend the online sermon and accompanying notes.
I hesitate when I write about these things because I don't behave perfectly. At times I don't set a great example. I make bad choices and lose my cool just like everyone else. I feel bad about it and try hard to stay on what I believe is the right path. I also believe that if I keep what I feel to myself, then no one else will have the potential to benefit from it. To quote Jean-Luc Picard, I've recently become aware that there are likely fewer days ahead than there are behind, and not only for me.
So I think that I will commit some extra time this holiday season in service to others. I've already started out pretty well, by taking some extra Thanksgiving dinner items over to the Homeless Shelter last night. When thinking about the balance between self-service and service to God through serving others, I'm reminded of Bob Dylan's lyric as much as anything else.
Maintaining an interest in the so-called secular output of our culture, instead of just one segment, helps me be aware of threats as well as opportunities for education, service, and enrichment. Maybe that's one key facet that separates the true church in God's world from the First Church of My Stuff. As Captain Picard also said, what we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived.
I'm also thinking about friends and family in distant places, and hoping for healing and happiness now and into the future. I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving. Have a good weekend too.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
2. The love and caring of family, friends, and co-workers across town and across the country.
Not enough can be said, especially over the last few years, but more words don't do the feelings justice, so for those of you who I'm fortunate enough to be able to associate with in a positive way, you know who you are.
3. The promise of our children and the nurturing of their gifts and abilities, as evidenced by yet more accolades for the Orange and Black, the GJHS student newspaper. The staff and advisor Mark Newton continue to distinguish themselves, this time by winning the Newspaper Sweepstakes competition of the Colorado High School Press Association for Class 5A High Schools.
Additionally, the newest edition of the paper contains among other things a comprehensive discussion of school security issues. If you can grab a copy at the school or someplace else, check it all out. This group knows how to ply its' chosen trade. Well done, and keep it coming.
4. The freedoms inherent in our system of government, tempered by the responsibility to be an active participant in that government by taking the time to inform oneself on the issues, being proactive with our elected representatives, and voting.
One of those freedoms includes creative expression, as evidenced by the collective work of the late Robert Altman, one of my favorite, if not most admired film directors who passed away earlier this week. One of my fondest memories of the movies is going to the generic mall cinema outside Monaca, PA when I was 15 with my mother and brother to see Nashville. There were maybe about 75 people in the theater, and we were the only ones laughing our heads off. Maybe it hit too close home for some people, but for me it was a big funny slice of America in the 70's, and still is.
Altman's films didn't always work for me, but when they did they displayed an intelligence and ring of truth that came from sharp writing, multiple story lines, and overlapping dialogue that sounds like real conversation (what a concept, huh?). My favorites that are emblematic of what has come to be known as the "Altman Style" include M*A*S*H, Short Cuts, Ready-To-Wear, The Player, and his last film, A Prairie Home Companion. His sendup of 70's nuptials, A Wedding, starred Carol Burnett in her prime. It's on my short list of older movies to see, and hopefully it will be available soon as part of some type of "Altman Masterworks DVD Collection".
Altman could also make some weird, funny films as well. Someone uploaded Brewster McCloud to YouTube in 10 segments. It is still as innovative and funny as when I first saw it as a teenager. I can see why Universal Music might be a bit peeved at this capability, though.
It was fitting that he got his honorary Oscar this year while he was alive, and when Crash won Best Picture. That film, along with Magnolia, are among some great examples of successful uses of ensemble casts and interweaving story lines by other filmmakers. Mr. Altman left a great life's work behind, and hopefully it will continue to be enjoyed extensively by future generations.
5. Finally, I'm thankful to you, for being willing and able to take the time to read this today. Enjoy your day of Thanksgiving with whomever is important to you. Tomorrow starts something else entirely.
Monday, November 20, 2006
I never met Brian personally, but through our hobby of radio monitoring we communicated and shared quite a bit. Brian was the editor and webmaster of the ScanColorado scanner frequency guide and website, which I helped to edit with western slope frequency information after I moved here in 1995. Related articles in Denver area media will probably do a lot more justice to his legacy than I could ever hope to.
As I type this, Brian's memorial service is getting underway in Fort Collins. Please remember Brian and his family in your thoughts and prayers today.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The article in yesterday's Sentinel regarding the Broncos game on Thanksgiving was interesting, but judging from the comments attached to the article and information available elsewhere, this article seemed to raise more questions than answers.
This is a big deal with football fans in the Grand Junction area. In following the 'growth' of our little media market over the years, the availability of Broncos games in any form has been kindling for the fire of controversy over the loss of a full-time Denver station over cable and translators in the GJ and Montrose areas.
Back in the late 90's, the loss of KUSA Channel 9 in favor of local startup KKCO deprived viewers of pre-season games and ancillary programming related to the Broncos, generating media coverage and a public outcry that eventually got all the players talking, including AT&T Cable, now Bresnan Communications. Eventually an arrangement was reached to air the pre-season games, but that arrangement has been sporadic as the network for Broncos games changed, and the NFL itself broadened the scope of its' own cable channel.
This year is the first that NFL Network will be airing games independent of an over-the-air broadcast network, or a basic cable channel like ESPN. In the Grand Junction area, NFL Network is only available on the Digital Cable 'tier' of Bresnan's service, which in and of itself is controversial because only a fraction of local subscribers choose to pay extra for this service.
What people have taken for granted, that being access to a Broncos game on TV without having to pay a premium of some sort or subscribe to a special service, is now threatened.
Welcome to the future of information and entertainment, especially if Net Neutrality becomes a thing of the past, and municipal cable franchises are also swept aside.
In another interesting story, Broadcasting and Cable also reported yesterday that NFL Network is suing Comcast Cable for assigning their programming to a digital tier instead of the more widely-viewed basic or expanded basic service. The network is demanding a pretty high per-subscriber fee from the cable company for its' programming, and like other cable operators in the Northeast there is an ongoing battle between them and popular networks such as Fox News and ESPN to keep fees down.
The comments in the Sentinel article have information regarding local phone numbers for Bresnan that will circumvent the call center in Billings. From a consumer vantage point with the above information in hand, it seems that Bresnan does have a lot of free space right now in the basic and expanded basic channel lineup, especially after shifting Starz and Encore to the digital tier, to accommodate the NFL Network if consumer demand requires it.
Channels 2, 14, 47, 48, and 62 are currently vacant, showing the same local information slides. While one of those channels will likely be another PEG (Public, Educational, Government access) channel (like Mesa County's Channel 12) whenever the city gets around to asking for it, one wonders what is up Bresnan's sleeve for the rest of them.
Now is probably a good time to ask questions, make suggestions, and insist on a response that is beneficial to local TV consumers. As for me, I'll be watching the Steelers this weekend. Now if only they played a little better...
Friday, November 10, 2006
The bulk of this presentation was very interesting and informative, dealing with the school's new PBS (Positive Behavior Support) program, as well as the PRIDE initiative, which consists of, according to the GJHS Student Handbook:
Personal Responsibility-Taking ownership of your actions and their outcomes.
Respect-Demonstrate positive behavior towards yourself and others.
Integrity-Always doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.
Determination-Honest commitment to improve yourself, your school and relationships with others.
Empathy-Seeing and accepting others' situations, feelings, motives and showing compassion for others.
These are noble and appropriate goals for a student population, even if the acronym is somewhat unfortunate. I passed along to the group the wisecrack my son relayed to me about Pride being one of the seven deadly sins. I think I now know how John Kerry felt last week.
There was also a discussion about lockdown and other plans established to deal with extraordinary emergencies on campus. One of the Assistant Principals stated a big challenge for administrators was assuring that new staff were properly oriented as to their responsibilities in lockdown and other emergency situations. I inquired about what the GJHS staff is instructed to do when urgent or emergency situations occur day-to-day. I prefaced my question with the assertion that if staff isn't responding in a consistent manner to situations that occur on a daily basis, it's likely that the response will be even more inconsistent when a critical incident occurs.
I admit that I was trying to pin the Principal down to something consistent, but he wasn't having any of it. He wanted to say that it was dependent on the nature of the emergency, and that he would call 9-1-1 "slash" the School Resource Officer that the school was fortunate enough to have.
I stated that I thought the Principal's answer was too ambiguous and that only with clear direction as to how to respond to emergencies would a consistent, reliable approach be achieved. It was then that an Assistant Principal pointedly stated that he didn't understand my question.
I then went back to his earlier statement about difficulty orienting new people in critical procedures, and that if there wasn't consistency in everyday procedures how could one expect consistency in really nasty situations? I then went right to the point I was trying to get to in a logical manner (without much success): that there is too much effort in school safety planning placed on managing the message instead of just managing the incident.
At that point this Assistant Principal became somewhat indignant, stating that this statement was incorrect as far as he was concerned, and that he took offense to my statement, and that he and several other administrators also had kids at GJHS
My response to this? "OK", followed by "Thank you for your candor".
I now understand how Johnnie Walker might have felt after I calmly passed along my concerns about the minor league pro wrestling card at GJHS Saturday night. I got an "OK" from him, too.
The Assistant Principal was successful in deflecting the discussion away from the topic at hand by becoming defensive, and taking the route of personal indignation over reasonable discourse. "Shields Up, Captain." I could have tried to press on, but I realized that meaningful progress wasn't going to happen there. I made my point. I'm sticking to it. I'm not going away.
Eventually we will all have to put away our "OK's", work out our differences, and find out what are reasonable expectations for staff, students, and parents alike. Unfortunately, I feel that there is little room for ambiguity when it comes to school personnel responding to unusual occurrences that have, or may escalate to, an imminent threat to life, limb, or property.
More discussion will be needed, hopefully soon.
As far as PBS and PRIDE go, I'm hopeful for their success, so long as the expectations and interventions associated with the desired behaviors do not interfere with a student's First Amendment rights, as affirmed by the Supreme Court during another unpopular war.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
- Eve Arden (as Principal McGee) in Grease
It's after midnight, technically the morning after the elections, and between watching the last few returns come in online I thought I'd pass along a few thoughts before turning in. I'm not one for instant analysis, especially when it comes to politics, and besides I have to teach a class all day tomorrow.
A couple of weeks ago I was walking through the halls of Grand Junction High attending Parent-Teacher conferences when my attention was drawn by numerous posters advertising a professional wrestling card slated for the GJHS gymnasium this coming Saturday. It seems that this event, sponsored by the GJHS Athletic Department and a couple of local businesses, will feature the "AWA" championship bout between someone whose name now escapes me and an overly made-up chap named "The Warlord". The undercard is also impressive, featuring the always entertaining (?) midget wrestling.
I used to watch this stuff when I was little, and when it wasn't so ridiculous. Studio Wrestling on Channel 11 in Pittsburgh was the big thing in the 60's. I would always root for Bruno Sammartino, Jumpin' Johnny DeFazio and Baron Scicluna. These guys were part of the World Wide Wrestling Federation, now the more appropriately-named WWE (emphasis on Entertainment). Then I grew up and my tastes changed, and I discovered mainstream sports like hockey. Let's Go Pens!
There were posters plastered seemingly everywhere in the school. They had TV commercials on at least one local station, in one instance sandwiched between a 527 political ad and a Bresnan commercial for another wrestling pay-per-view "event". I had a hard time determining which was worse for a minute. I looked all over the GJHS website, and couldn't find a single reference to the event. The Orange and Black, true to their excellent journalistic roots, did list it on their events calendar.
Eventually I decided to call the school and ask about what possessed them to attach their name to an undertaking like this. I was transferred to Johnnie Walker, the Athletic Director, also listed on Saturday's card as a "special guest referee". I asked Mr. Walker if he had received any concerns from parents or other citizens regarding the sponsorship of an event that is viewed by many as not really an athletic event, and by even more as staged or "fake". He said I was the first one. I then went on to express my concerns about these perceptions, and whether or not sponsoring an event like this one was becoming of a publicly-funded educational institution.
His response? "OK".
There are a few things that I have to recognize beyond my own assumptions and biases.
First, there is a market for this sort of thing, otherwise they wouldn't bother. Second, there are people who take this stuff seriously, my guess the monster truck rally set and Spike TV fans. Third, there must be some fiduciary benefit to the school for them to host and sponsor the event. This reminds me of the saying about how nice it would be if schools got all the money they needed, and the Air Force had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.
For about 5 years in the 80's, I was the PA announcer for my high school's varsity football and basketball games, so I understand the need for effective marketing of the "product" that is scholastic athletics. The pride that these types of activities instills in a community can be a very positive (and negative) influence, witness Friday Night Lights.
I still enjoy high school football a lot, especially knowing kids my son grew up with actually participating. The honesty of the competition, the reinforcement of sportsmanship and decorum regardless of what side of the outcome you're on, the lesson that regardless of who wins and loses there is still a rich life to lead off of the field. These to me are the true lessons of sport.
I don't see these types of lessons coming out of a minor-league pro wrestling event, which from my experience serves more as sweaty soap opera than a genuine display of athletic prowess.
What lessons for today's high school student-athlete will come out of this display? Money talks? Speak softly but carry a big metal folding chair? Most of life's problems can be solved by a no-holds-barred, locked-cage match? When you fail, change your name and put on a mask?
I feel embarrassed for the school in their sponsorship of this event, but I hope that the weekend is a success for the sake of whatever benefit the school stands to reap for their participation.
I hope that in the future the school will look to different avenues for athletic "entertainment" that will be of mutual benefit to school and attendee alike. Back east in the 80's they used to resort to Donkey Basketball, but now that is no longer politically correct and is perceived by many as a liability risk. Better to let the "little people" have at it, I suppose.
One other important item that is on the GJHS website is tonight at 6:30 PM in the GJHS Library. This Parent Advisory Meeting will focus on the topic of school safety, and appears to include a panel discussion. It's unknown if audience participation will be encouraged/allowed.
See you there.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Some of this reading was the cover story of this month's issue of Wired magazine, titled "The New Atheism". The article was intriguing and well-written, more confirmation for me that Wired is one of the most interesting publications out there, an Omni for the 21st Century.
The article was a good analysis of the singular belief of those involved in the "movement".
I agreed with the author that the approach by Sam Harris and others was "extremism in opposition to extremism", leaving most of us in the middle. As for those of us languishing there, trying to reason the challenges of modern living with the doctrine, philosophy, and sacred writings of the past, another British atheist had this to say:
"Moderates give a power base to extremists...A lot of Catholics use condoms, a lot of Catholics are divorced, and a lot don't have a particular opinion about whether you are homosexual. But when the Pope stands up and says, 'This is what Catholics believe,' he still gets credit for speaking for more than a billion people."
This approach reminded me of the quote in the title of this post, which is often cited as an example of the misguided nature of seeing things in just black and white terms. Like most things, however, you need to look closer to really see the meaning behind it. In this case, the line before this one in Star Wars III was "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy".
These quotes have been debated ad nauseum in Star Wars fan sites and elsewhere, many trying to draw comparisons to the current political climate, particularly with regard to Iraq. While as philosophy and pop culture they may be somewhat contradictory, they do illustrate the seeming lack of discourse and mutual understanding that has popped up in current events, and not just because it's election season.
Because I'm married to someone born with a significant hearing loss, I've paid a lot of attention to issues in the news that bring the deaf community to the forefront of mainstream debate. The recent protests at Gallaudet University over the appointment of a successor to it's first deaf President is such a time, and it was disappointing to watch the outcome. After months of blockades, building invasions, and much emoting, the school's trustees withdrew their nomination of Jane Fernandes to succeed I. King Jordan as Gallaudet's President.
I've been to Gallaudet, which sits behind some high walls and security gates in a not-so-attractive part of Washington D.C.. The walls made it easy for the protesters to set up tents and limit access, but are also a metaphor for the nature of most of those who populate and control the institution. One of the benchmarks of the protest, or at least the one that Mrs. Fernandes focused on, was her having been taught to speak at an early age (like my wife was), and not learning American Sign Language, the preferred method of communication at Gallaudet and those who identify with the so-called Deaf Culture, until she was 23.
While Ms. Fernandes' leadership skills were also called into question as the bulk of faculty and students forcefully declared their lack of confidence in her, the actions of the Gallaudet community are illustrative of a largely cloistered group of people who are resistant to the changes inherent in society, especially one where advances in technology, education, and awareness have integrated many deaf and hearing-impaired persons into the workplace and elsewhere as vital, involved and included members of 'mainstream' society.
Commentary in the Washington Post last week and in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle illustrate what many of us who are part of or close to the deaf and hearing-impaired community know all too well; that there are those who prefer the community of the Deaf to the community at large, and will forcefully defend that community against growth, choice, inclusion, and common sense.
As mainstream society continues to grow to include the "differently abled" as members of that society with all of the implied rights and responsibilities, those who cloister themselves behind ideological walls against improvements in oral education and technology such as Cochlear Implants will find themselves more isolated and less included. A word of advice; celebrate your differences, but don't use them as weapons against an increasingly diverse world. My prayers are with you for understanding and peace.
You might have noticed that several of the protagonists of the New Atheist movement, as well as the Gallaudet protests, come from within the academic community in our country and elsewhere. While others might be quick to draw comparisons to Ward Churchill, you have to look closer when taking these ideas in.
One such example of an idea coming from academia that is worth reading is a paper written by Jon Peha, a professor in Electrical Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie-Mellon (a shameless plug for Pittsburgh here, especially with the game this weekend).
Mr. Peha made a presentation to the New America Foundation last week on the future of public safety communications systems. A lot of his ideas run counter to the way that these systems have been planned and administered for many, many years. He basically debunked a lot of the recent efforts at improving public safety systems, and a lot of the assumptions that I and others like me have lived by for all of our careers.
Reading his paper set my gut a-churning, but was interesting and challenging at the same time. This dichotomy tells me that this is something I need to pay attention to, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me or how much more it may complicate my work. Unlike the students at Gallaudet, I'm dedicated to analyzing change, adapting to it where necessary, resisting it when I have to, and making the best of it for the greatest number of people.
I'm forwarding Professor Peha's paper to many of my colleagues, as well as the leadership of our trade organizations, looking for comment and direction. In the meantime, many of his ideas will undoubtedly help to shape the future of public safety communications in this area and elsewhere.
It's time to get going, lots to do tomorrow. I have to contact some radio vendors, take Jan to the doctor, and vote. Have a great weekend.
Friday, October 27, 2006
The interesting thing was that you could also pull in stations from Wheeling, West Virginia and Youngstown, Ohio, and sometimes these stations were pretty entertaining in a way that I don't think they would have appreciated if they knew how we thought of them. The commercials and newscasts were more than a little less professional than the Pittsburgh stations, and occasionally the wrong film or taped segment would be aired, or something else akin to slapstick would happen, and then some of the locally-produced commercials would run. Think of the SNL skit about the chandelier store and you'll know what I mean.
Some of these stations do deserve credit for creative programming, though. Back in the late 80's the hospital in Pittsburgh where I worked still pulled their TV in from over the air, and the Saturday night Star Trek Marathon on WTOV sure helped the night shift go by quickly.
With the arrival of cable and satellite came the ability to see TV stations from a lot further away than just within the broadcast range of proximal metropolitan areas, and with that came the arrival of federal regulations that established rules about viewing stations other than the ones that served the Designated Market Area, or DMA, that you resided in.
Some of these rules, such as Must Carry and the Satellite Home Viewer Act, are specifically aimed at preventing local TV consumers from viewing what are called Distant Signals, unless the consumer could prove that they are outside the range of the local station. This has been of particular interest to people like me who moved to Grand Junction from someplace else and found that the local TV stations, especially the news, felt like being forced to watch the Steubenville station when you were used to Pittsburgh.
To be fair, the quality of Grand Junction TV news has improved over the years, but you'll never see a GJ station provide overall event coverage and service at the level of the Denver stations. They'll bring up several examples of "excellent local news coverage", but let's see them break in live at 2:00 AM with updates on the recent CSP trooper shooting and manhunt in Garfield County. Not gonna happen.
Thanks to must carry, the arrival of KKCO in 1996 signaled the departure of Denver's KUSA from the local cable and rural translators, and the battle was on to get Denver news back on the air in GJ. Pressure from local viewers on several GJ stations has eased since KREX relented by airing the Denver Fox affiliate's newscast on their Fox station KFQX at 9:00 PM, along with the Fox 31 morning news every morning.
In the rural areas of Colorado this has been a somewhat heated battle at times between the smaller DMAs such as Grand Junction and Colorado Springs, and consumers in these areas who prefer news and local programming from Denver stations. Nowhere in the state is this a more glaring issue than in Durango and the Four Corners region, which falls into the Albuquerque-Santa Fe DMA.
EchoStar, the parent company of Dish Network, has provided access to Denver stations to Durango subscribers who are more interested in what is going on in Colorado instead of New Mexico. This is now threatened thanks to a federal judge's ruling in Florida last week that would require Dish to shut down access to distant signals to the vast majority of its' subscribers. Dish has vowed to fight the ruling to keep the distant signals coming, and many folks in the Durango area have contacted the Brothers Salazar about federal legislation aimed at ending the archaic monopolies that prevent residents of rural Colorado from getting the best possible statewide news coverage available.
The Heritage Foundation summed the issue up very nicely in 1999:
Broadcasters want to preserve the government-sanctioned monopoly they have enjoyed since the early days of TV broadcasting by ensuring that no company (other than the current local broadcast affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox TV located in each community) is permitted to transmit or retransmit network television signals in the local market. They are concerned that increased competition from "out-of-market" competitors like satellite broadcast providers puts their local advertising base at risk. If their advertising base shrinks, broadcasters argue, their economic livelihood will be threatened and "localism" in broadcasting endangered.
Satellite providers want to continue to deliver "distant network affiliate signals" to anyone who wants them, especially those who have poor signal reception from local network affiliates using roof-top antennas, set-top "rabbit ear" antennas, or cable television. Satellite providers believe "unserved households" should be defined as broadly as possible so that customers who do not receive adequate broadcast signals at any time during the day can do so via satellite transmission. (Note: At least one satellite TV provider is now beaming the GJ stations through their satellite systems.)
Consumers for the most part want to make sure they do not lose their current service, whether it is traditional broadcast programming from local affiliates or retransmission of distant network signals via satellite providers. Most important, however, they want to receive the highest quality signal possible from a provider of their choice.
Best wishes to the folks in Durango and at Dish Network for success in their respective efforts.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The political season is upon us. Isn't it wonderful? KKCO had some type of technical difficulties on Thursday evening, and instead of the 5:30 news they aired at least 7 minutes of consecutive commercials, many of them the largely shrill and fear-promoting TV ads that will pervade the airwaves from now til November 7.
I won't pretend to be a political expert. We are fortunate enough here in Mesa County to have a blogger who does an excellent job at analyzing and providing valuable insight on these types of things. I think I'll follow his lead on at least a couple of topics tonight.
The Junction Daily Blog provided some excellent insight on Thursday, the same day that the letter Ralph referred to in that day's post appeared as a full-page ad in the Daily Sentinel. I agree with Ralph's analysis of what was to me an attempt to say that we shouldn't vote for someone because they are the most qualified to represent us in Denver. Instead, we should elect the one most likely to remain beholden to a collective ideology, and can be depended upon to vote the party line. This appears to me to be party politics at its' most "basic" level. I think that one could easily substitute the adjective "raw" or perhaps "Neanderthal" for the above and still have an understanding of the practice.
When I was little I remember going with my Dad to the polls, and seeing the slate cards being distributed by volunteers outside the local elementary school where the paper ballots were cast and counted. Machine-type local politics were a staple of that area and era, even before the voting machines that appeared when I was about 12, with the big lever at the far left that you could pull to vote the party, not the candidate.
Didn't think about it much back then, even when I started volunteering for political candidates as a teenager. What attracted me to being involved was a fairly young, energetic Republican running for congress in my district. He had a pretty, equally energetic wife and three young kids who all looked pretty nice. He was well-off, but seemed honest and dedicated to public service.
H. John Heinz III was elected to the House twice, then to the Senate three times before dying tragically in a plane crash in 1991. He was asked in 1973 to reflect on his first 100 days in congress, and what he said was prescient:
"I have attempted to wear no label, neither 'liberal' nor 'conservative' nor 'pro-labor' nor 'pro-management.' I have acted in each case on the basis of what I believe is right for my constituents, for our state and for the country."
This was my kind of politician, and probably what motivated me to work as a volunteer for John Anderson's presidential campaign in 1980, and aside from running for school board in 1981 was my last active foray into politics.
So maybe now you have an idea of the kind of politician that will get my support, now and in the future. As far as that letter that Ralph was so concerned about; it makes me wonder which building in Downtown Grand Junction will be the new local GOP equivalent of Tammany Hall.
Ralph had an equally poignant post on Friday, concerning his wife being out of town on their 25th anniversary, tending to family members. My family is spread out all over the place, but my mother is still in Pittsburgh and my wife's immediate family settled in Massachusetts.
Her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2003, and my wife spent the better part of the next year taking care of her there, until she passed away in September 2004.
Jan's mother smoked until the week before she died.
Fortunately, we've been able to live on just my income, so there weren't any work-related difficulties with her doing this. When she went back to her mother's condo in June of 2005 and started complaining of back pain there, my work was very supportive in allowing me to go back, help out, and get the family back home. Our son was in Pittsburgh visiting my mother, so our plan was to fly from Providence to Denver through Pittsburgh to pick him up. We got as far as our intermediate stop before the pain became intolerable for her.
The next two weeks felt like being on automatic pilot, making all of the appropriate moves but not really feeling the impact of them. She was hospitalized in Pittsburgh after an MRI found lung cancer that had spread to her spine and brain. She had never smoked a day in her life; now nobody can tell me that secondhand smoke is harmless, especially a bunch of bar owners.
She had spinal surgery in Pittsburgh, was flown back here and spent 3 weeks at St. Mary's getting radiation therapy and rehab before coming home. My mother was gracious enough to spend 4 months here afterward, helping to keep the house in order while I went back to work and our son started high school.
I can't say enough about my co-workers. My boss and others picked up our cats while we were gone and discovered a broken water line that had flooded our basement, a week before we got back. Repairs weren't complete upon our return, and my son and I spent a few nights between the house, the hospital, and a motel.
Now we're over a year since her diagnosis and major treatment, and we still have a few rough spots and things to watch out for but in general her cancer is under control. The grace and mercy of this community cannot be underestimated, and I believe the foundation for that lies not in any man-made institution, be it corporation or government or even church, but the teachings and actions of Christ that so many of us have found peace, and a sense of direction and purpose.
Now my mother is starting to have some health-related issues, and my brother in Oklahoma and myself will be going back east sometime soon to set up some contingencies. Enjoy your anniversary sometime soon as well, Ralph, and may God bless you and your family.
I wasn't always what I would consider a person of faith. I was raised Roman Catholic, and worked my way through other churches, never really connecting to the message. I always seemed to feel that the man-made trappings of ritual and hierarchy got in the way of the essential message, the reason that you were there in the first place.
Going to Young Life in high school was the closest I had ever felt to having a relationship with Christ, up until the point that our family started attending the Vineyard three years ago.
A column in Saturday's Rocky brought my attention to a new book that appears to defiantly argue against faith, belief, and religion in general. This is Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation.
I found the column intriguing, and some of the quotes on the website even more so.
I'll probably read the book, and may come away from it nodding in agreement with some of Mr. Harris' assertions.
This doesn't really change my thinking about the last few years, or my life in general.
Here's a brief summary of that:
I feel better about myself and my life knowing that God is a part of it.
I have no real explanation for this.
My family feels the same way, despite the recent hardships we have endured.
Many people I know that don't seem to share this also seem to be unhappy and/or searching.
I'll conclude with the first three definitions of the word faith from the American Heritage Dictionary. The varying meanings that can be drawn from just this one word could apply to any of the above topics I've written about.
American Heritage Dictionary faith (fth)
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters
With this many meanings (there were more obscure ones as well) for one simple word, is it any wonder that the idea exists that man has potentially re-shaped scripture and dogma to fit his own purposes, from the Crusades to indulgences to Manifest Destiny to the Iraq War?
May you have the faith and wisdom to calmly navigate the turbulent sea of sound bites over the coming weeks, and rationally choose the best people for the tenuous and daunting job of managing our earthly kingdom.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Daily Sentinel's package of articles in this past Sunday's edition went a long way toward addressing what I believe Denny Herzog meant when he wrote about taking a "critical look" at the issue and reporting on it. What was surprising to me was the continued reticence of District 51 administration on the subject in general. While the focus of these articles was admittedly on School Resource Officers, the District's contribution from its' chief public spokesman to all of the articles published amounted to one sentence.
I would think that Mr. Kirtland would have more to say, and maybe he did that didn't make the articles. Either that or perhaps for him this topic is like the Klingon proverb about revenge; a dish best served cold. Still, I think it would paint a better picture for the District if its' Public Information Officer was proactive and at the forefront of any media coverage of the schools, rather than the principal of Palisade High School, which from one of the articles is what it seemed like.
The new "PRIDE" program at GJHS that was mentioned gave me a chuckle, as I first heard about it from my son, who added that "pride is one of the seven deadly sins". We're raising a nation of cynics and comedians.
In any event, school safety and security will be a continuing topic for discussion and media attention, irrespective of attempts to control or ignore the message being delivered. I also appreciated Bob Silbernagel's editorial on open records, with his personal experience in dealing with schools as an example of some of the difficulties encountered by many in our community and elsewhere.
So long as public schools remain an arm of government and accountable to the people, part of their focus needs to be on transparency and candor, especially when it pertains to safety and emergency planning. Like I've said before, as a parent I expect nothing less when it comes to risks involving my child and the environment where he spends most of his waking hours 9 months out of the year, and that includes extracurricular activities like football games.
The schools must also acknowledge that it will be an increasingly difficult balancing act between educating children and working to assure both their safety and that of the community at large, but it is one that they cannot ignore. Time for them to plan on ponying up for safety-related staffing and training in the future.
In a related item, it appears that Jonathan Vigliotti's tenure at KJCT has come to an end, less than two weeks after his investigative report on school security, which according to some corners should have been followed by a mea culpa. Mr. Vigliotti's bio has been removed from the station's website, and a Colorado Springs-based media message board has posts to the effect that he was offered a job in Milwaukee (a big market jump) after the news director there saw his school piece. Having been to Milwaukee recently, I think that he will be a busy person. Best of luck to him.
An item in the online edition of the Orange and Black caught my attention. This week on PBS, Bill Moyers will tackle the issue of threats to the future of the Internet as part of his Moyers on America series. It will air here on Wednesday night at 8:00 PM on Rocky Mountain PBS. Here is a preview:
The series is also promoting a citizen's class program that involves community discussion groups talking about the series and the issues it raises, and the Mesa County Public Library District is participating with sessions the next three Monday evenings. More details here.
KKCO Closed Captioning
Thanks to KKCO for fixing its' closed captioning technology, but as always there is more work to do. A lot of the interview SOTs are not captioned at all, and some of the stories have such a delay between the story and the captions that all meaningful context has been removed. I hope that they will take their responsibilities in this regard seriously, perhaps as much as to work on getting real-time closed captioning implemented. This would admittedly be pricey, but they won't have to worry about synching with the video, all of the ad-libs will be captioned, and they will be performing a needed service for which many hearing-impaired residents of our community will be grateful.
KKCO is the number one newscast in this market area, so I'm guessing that many viewers who would benefit from real-time captioning are watching. If so, contact the station and tell them how you feel.
Canyon View Vineyard Church has started a seven-week series of sermons on the Book of Revelation. As someone who hasn't navigated the Bible as well as he should, my impression of Revelation was all that stuff about the end of the world, but the beginning of this book is basically advice to the seven primary Christian churches in various cities. These words of advice comprise the seven lessons the church is focusing on in this sermon series.
The apostle John received this revelation while imprisoned on the island of Patmos. With tongue in cheek and after a first blush through the book, I got the distinct impression that these first seven admonitions were received by John before he found the wild island mushrooms.
I've got a lot to learn about many things, and this series so far has been engaging and challenging. Paul Watson has done an excellent job teaching these first two lessons. One of the most significant things that Paul had to say about the first lesson, which revolved around the part of Revelation directed to the Ephesians, was this:
We lose focus when we start to think that we are in control.
I'm looking forward to the rest. You can listen and read about the first sermon here, or better yet come on out, especially if you haven't been there before.
May you find the grace this week to see beyond those things you think you can control, and begin (or continue) to understand who is really in charge.