Saturday, January 31, 2009

Father Coughlin In Our Time

"Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence....The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."

January has flown by. The days have clicked off with disturbing speed. Barack Obama has been President for a dozen days. This of course hasn't prevented the end of his honeymoon among the GOP, and even among some of those groups who have great expectations for his presidency.

I'm wondering if in the age of instant information, and such vast ideological differences between one administration to the next, whether or not current and future administrations can ever be able to enjoy a bit of time to settle into the job, without immediate analysis and attempts at grassroots activism in response to the initial moves taken by the Executive and/or Legislative branches.

Gene Kinsey wondered out loud a couple of days ago whether or not Move On should be asking the question in an ad as to whether or not the public supports the President or Rush Limbaugh. I'm not so sure that Move On has the right idea here. I have issues with the essential premise of the question, which in its' simplest terms places Limbaugh on a level playing field with President Obama in terms of power and prestige. Nobody doubts Limbaugh's influence on his listeners, and in turn some of the elected officials that represent them, but let's not grant him any further legitimacy. Please.

In historical terms, Limbaugh and his imitators are creating a situation comparable in many ways to the early 1930's during the first term of FDR. In the early heyday of radio, the public rabble was roused against the New Deal and other policy decisions of the first Roosevelt administration by the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, a Roman Catholic Priest with a very popular radio following. To quote Wikipedia's description of Father Coughlin's influence:

"At its peak in the early 1930s, Coughlin's radio show was phenomenally popular. His office received up to 80,000 letters per week from listeners, and his listening audience was estimated to rise at times to as much as a third of the nation. Coughlin is often credited as one of the major demagogues of the 20th century for being able to influence politics through broadcasting, without actually holding a political office himself."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Other scholarly Internet resources think so, too. The Roosevelt administration was able to deal with Coughlin in questionable ways, first by restricting his access to the airwaves through FCC regulations, then by denying his access to the Post Office Department (now the USPS) for the bulk mailing of bulletins.

Coughlin's popularity also started to wane after he began associating himself with groups and viewpoints that espoused isolationism and antisemitism. Coughlin's broadcast career ended with a change in leadership of the Archdiocese of Detroit; the new Archbishop ordered him off the air and back to being a 'simple' parish priest. One wonders what effect Coughlin would have had with modern day computing, telecommunications, and the Internet, things that Mr. Limbaugh leverages extremely well on an daily basis.

You have to give Limbaugh a little bit of credit; his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed made for interesting reading to someone whose idea of macroeconomics is a municipal budget meeting. Based on his initial comments prior to the Inauguration, the Op-Ed made for some head-scratching on my part as to exactly where he's coming from.

On one hand he hopes Obama fails; the next minute he accuses Obama of marginalizing him, and then he is extending an olive branch to both major parties and both schools of economic thought, perhaps trying to marginalize Obama in the process. Along with Father Coughlin, it feels like Rush is channeling a little bit of
Uriah Heep and Rodney King in the process.

David Bauder of the Associated Press summed it up nicely yesterday, in reminding all of us where Rush is really coming from:

"Can it get any better for a personality whose business is built on buzz?"

"Rush Limbaugh is first and foremost a radio performer," said Michael Harrison, publisher of the trade journal Talkers magazine, which notes that Limbaugh has been the most listened-to talk-show host since at least the mid-1990s. "He's not a political leader. He doesn't make more money by turning elections. He only exists to gather large audiences and raise more advertising revenue and he does it terrifically."

I don't believe that President Obama really needs to do anything about Rush Limbaugh. Rush has the right to express himself, and the resources to do it. While the President also has those resources at his disposal, he appears to be of the temperament that will not resort to that easily.
Nor do I expect this administration to resort to regulatory tactics to make it harder for Rush to get his message out, even if the Fairness Doctrine is being discussed again.

Rush Limbaugh's need for hype and the spotlight greatly exceed the President's. In the economy of the broadcast spectrum and the blogosphere, where information and relevance are precious commodities, Rush will be human. He will eventually throw something so outrageous out there that someone will step up, channel Joseph N. Welch, and put him in his place for perpetuity.


One thing that Rush Limbaugh and I can agree on is The Pittsburgh Steelers. Many faithful of Steeler Nation are going into the big game tomorrow with the thought that Arizona doesn't stand much of a chance. Let's rethink that, please. Their coach came from Pittsburgh. Their star player in the post-season went to college in Pittsburgh. This is a year of possibilities, and we as Steeler Nation must eschew cockiness and approach the contest with the same ethic and resolve that has brought our team to this point.

If I were able to watch the game anywhere tomorrow, I'd fly to Pittsburgh, pick up Leslie, and drive an hour and a half east to Punxsutawney. That way we can celebrate a Steeler victory tomorrow night, get a little bit of sleep, and get up in time to go see Phil the next morning, which I've never done.

We will leave Sonny and Cher out of it, though.

Have a great Sunday.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."
- Edward Whymper, who made the first ascent of the Matterhorn with six others in 1865.
On the way down, four of his companions fell to their deaths.

July 27, 2007 over north central Phoenix.
Click Play:

This incident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, which released its' findings yesterday. Among other things, the NTSB cited the practice of allowing news helicopter pilots to also act as reporters while airborne, while also having to focus on monitoring other proximal air traffic, communicating with local air traffic controllers, etc.

Reading the details of NTSB reports is entertaining and informative for me, and the Phoenix incident was no exception. The detailed transcript of the recorded audio aboard both helicopters, as well as the transcript of the air traffic control radio activity, illustrated to me a highly complex and somewhat chaotic situation, with as many as six media helicopters coming into the area of a police pursuit.

While the loss of life is truly unfortunate here, it's also very fortunate that the two helicopters that collided crashed into a park, and not into the street, houses, a school, etc.

The NTSB's announcement dovetailed with the announcement yesterday that two Denver TV stations will start sharing one helicopter for airborne reporting. While the arrangement between KMGH and KUSA has been largely attributed to economic conditions in the broadcast news 'industry', the arrangement seems to be a prescient one in relationship to the potential risks involved, as evidenced by the misadventure in Phoenix.

Having worked with EMS helicopters for many years in an urban setting, I can attest to the complex nature of putting several aircraft into a relatively tight section of airspace. Speaking with the pilots afterward, I heard many accounts of the numerous conversations required with air traffic control, the responders on the ground, their own dispatch (me), and internally with the flight crew.

One particular incident in the Pittsburgh area comes to mind. Our flight program had been requested to the scene of a serious car accident west of the city, immediately adjacent to Pittsburgh International Airport. By 'immediately adjacent' I mean that the accident scene, and the golf course at which we were requested to land, was at the end of one of the active runways.

After paging out the flight, the duty pilot came into our office, and said two words. The first was "where"? I pointed to a large wall map of the metro area, showing the country club across the highway from the end of Runway 28L/10R at PIT. He said one other word - an expletive recently popularized by Governor Blagojevich of Illinois - before heading out to the aircraft.

After returning, he relayed to me how many people he had to talk to aside from me; Pittsburgh approach control, PIT control tower, and the public safety units coordinating the landing zone on the ground. After landing he was contacted by the departure controller, inquiring when he might be departing the area. Upon lifting off with the crew and patient, he saw why; the active runway had been closed because of the emergency activity in the area, and there were at least 6 commercial airliners waiting to take off.

The safe conduct of aviation-related activities is dependent upon strict adherence to rules, practices, and policies defined by the Federal government and the carriers themselves. This is combined with the extreme skill, knowledge, and judgment exercised by pilots and other flight crew members.

There is a routine to safe flying, but in my opinion there is nothing 'routine' about the flying business, especially when combined with the equally complex and somewhat symbiotic disciplines of health care and public safety.

Airborne EMS, especially when utilizing helicopters, has been glamorized in the media, largely due to the obvious visual production values associated with their use (I can't get enough of watching them, even after all these years), and the manner in which their use has been portrayed in news accounts, movies and TV, and the marketing product of the health care providers involved.

Truth be told, Helicopter EMS is by no means a philanthropic enterprise. It is a profitable venture for the aviation companies that operate the aircraft, and an effective marketing tool for the health care facilities that affiliate themselves with them.

Helicopter EMS is also fraught with risk, and the trade is plied by personnel who are comfortable with the risks involved, perhaps too comfortable at times. Unfortunately, the accident rate for these aircraft has increased drastically over the last two years, to the point that the NTSB is holding four days of public hearings next month to figure out why, and what can be done to improve the safety record of these flights.

As many of us in public safety are aware, helicopter accidents are by no means limited to urban areas. One of the more tragic (and therefore headline-grabbing) incidents involving Helicopter EMS occurred in June of last year over Flagstaff, Arizona, when two medical helicopters collided in mid-air and crashed, killing a total of seven people. Both aircraft were en route to Flagstaff Medical Center when the crash occurred.

Concerns over air medical safety aren't new; Our congressman John Salazar co-sponsored a bill in 2007 that would have established minimum safe weather conditions and other factors under FAA regulations that govern Helicopter EMS operations. That bill didn't go anywhere, for whatever reason.

With the NTSB's very public focus on the industry, as well as increasing media attention as a result of the aforementioned production values, the various trade organizations that represent numerous components of the air medical industry are gearing up to offer testimony at next month's hearings.

The organization presenting air medical service providers has issued a comprehensive position paper that includes several recommendations for safer operations in and around rural airports, as well as suggestions for changes in regulatory structure and internal flight program policies designed to optimize operational efficiency, and thereby improved safety.

These include addressing the clinical appropriateness of a patient's condition for an expensive and potentially risky helicopter ride, along with an identified trend among some health care facilities of attempting to secure air transport for a patient after another air medical service has determined that weather or other factors preclude the safe conduct of such a flight. This practice is known as helicopter shopping.

One thing that I have no doubt about is that helicopters are cool. That being said, the fascination with the utilization of helicopters, whether for informing the public or transporting the critically ill, must be tempered with the realization that lots can, and probably will, go wrong.

The application of best practice thinking (technology, processes, people) along with a responsive regulatory environment, will go a long way to assuring safer and more efficient operations, to the benefit of those in the air and on the ground.

I'll be watching the NTSB hearings next month with interest. Have a great day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Techie Trepidation - Part 3

Video Surveillance

Those little black plastic domes are turning up in more proliferate numbers every day, in places that you would expect, and places you wouldn't - at least not in the numbers and level of sophistication that we have been seeing in some parts of our fair city.

Take a recent visit to the friendly neighborhood grocer, for instance. Granted, the proprietor has the right to protect his assets and discourage loss by theft, and in an orderly society that lives by the rule of law we should be generally accepting of a necessary amount of monitoring of customer activities on private property.

The photo to the right shows the check-out area of a local grocery store. Between the large and smaller camera housings in the ceiling, I counted 16 camera housings in this frame alone. There are several others strategically placed over the aisles and other places, including the parking lot.

Larger stores such as Target and Wal-Mart offer an even more intensive arrangement of black domes; look at the ceiling for a while next time you're in a 'big box' outlet. It's pretty impressive, but to exactly what end? How many cameras are truly necessary? How many of the housings actually contain cameras, and how many are just a deterrent (leave an empty housing in the paper towel aisle and put 10 cameras over the Video Game section)?
What is done with the recordings, and how long are they kept? What are the operators looking for, and how do they obtain it?

As possibly un-exciting as this may be to many of you, you'd be surprised at the apparent lack of monitoring capabilities in places where you might expect to see it.
Witness this picture of the Food Court at Mesa Mall, taken this past weekend. A more detailed look revealed some emergency lighting, heat detectors and sprinkler heads, but there doesn't appear to be a single camera housing across the entire length of what can be a very crowded public gathering area.

Perhaps this is the converse of the grocery store theory in operation; the less hard evidence that the mall operator has in their possession, the better it can defend itself against litigation for all manner of things that happen in the mall. True, you might not get the guy running from a clothing store with an armful of merchandise, but you also won't get the overzealous mall cop tackling him, either.

The more insidious nature of this type of surveillance was expressed by Barry Steinhardt on the ACLU Blog a couple of weeks ago. He did such a fine job that I have re-printed the entire post below. While it is unknown what steps the Obama administration will take to assure that this type of monitoring is not as intrusive in public areas as it appears to be in private ones, there is still a need for diligence, caution, and respect for the rights of the law-abiding individual.

Have a good day.

You Are Being Watched!

You are being watched! Once that might have just been the ravings of a paranoid, but increasingly it’s all too true. More and more of the public spaces in America are being plastered by video surveillance cameras — and increasingly, the “they” behind those cameras is not a disconnected collection of shopkeepers and building security guards, but the government itself. One of the big trends that we are seeing in the past few years is video surveillance that is 1) run by the government and 2) made up of a network of cameras, centrally controlled.

And the images captured by those cameras are no longer spinning away harmlessly on old, recycled VHS cassettes. Today they are digital. They can be stored, archived, and indexed on today’s nearly limitless hard drives.

The bottom line: we’re quickly moving into an entirely new era. I get calls from reporters all the time asking, “how many video cameras are there in America?” or “How often is the average American filmed by cameras?” or “How many cities are building government camera systems?” I’ve never been able to supply precise answers to these questions, and usually suggest they try calling camera industry sources. We may never know how many private cameras are out there, but governments must, at least, reveal when they are building a system. So we’ve decided to build a web site to at least track how many of these new government-run surveillance systems are being deployed. The site, called, will serve as an information clearinghouse to track the deployment of those kinds of systems in the U.S.

Among the most serious new systems we’re seeing are those in Manhattan and Chicago. Police authorities in New York City announced in July 2007 that they were planning to create a London-style “Ring of Steel” network of pervasive surveillance in downtown Manhattan, which will include cameras trained on cars and license plates tracking all vehicles, as well as thousands of other public and private surveillance cameras, and a central location from which they are monitored by police. The cameras may well be paired with face recognition technology in attempt to identify not only cars, but the occupants. Chicago, meanwhile, which has been pouring money into its own camera system, recently announced the installation of automated image analysis software into its extensive camera system.

The entire paradigm of video surveillance in the United States has shifted. We have moved from periodic installation of hard-to-search analog video cameras to the vision of a pervasive, unified system that uses a variety of technologies to track individuals and their movements. These systems reflect the power of the convergence of technologies. By combining cameras, computerized image analysis, RFID sensors, and down the road potentially other technologies such as GPS, these systems show how new surveillance technologies are becoming far more powerful in combination than in isolation. The “Ring of Steel” vision threaten to become the perfect storm of always-on, pervasive government surveillance.

A lot of this new video surveillance activity is being driven by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is distributing grants grants to localities for that purpose. In effect, DHS is allowing local police to circumvent the local democratic and budgetmaking process and serving as an enabler for such departments when they wish to waste resources (including police officers’ time) on surveillance systems.

Our new site includes a flash map of the United States showing the location of cities that have installed municipal surveillance cameras, a compendium of press clips and other information about camera deployments, links to studies on the effectiveness of surveillance cameras and other information about the issue, and a “take action” function that allows you to send a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security on this issue.

It may take time for the harm and waste of these camera systems to become apparent to the American people. Meanwhile, we are at least tracking what’s going on.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Day After

What you have said I will consider. What you have to say I will with patience hear, and find a time Both meet to hear, and answer, such high things.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2
The above quote came from a book that Leslie gave me for Christmas called Shakespeare on Leadership. It's a collection of quotes from the Bard's plays that the author uses to bolster contemporary theory on management and leadership.

This quote speaks to me because it is indicative of the stated willingness of the new occupant of the Oval Office to listen to many differing opinions and schools of thought before moving forward with a decision or strategy. I think it's very unfortunate that we have to say this is a refreshing change from the last 8 years.

This quote also brings with it an air of caution; in the play, the above words are uttered by Brutus, not Caesar. It is perhaps a reminder of the evil that still exists, even amidst such a celebratory air as was witnessed yesterday.

I had to work on Inauguration Day, but I recorded the TV coverage, and last night watched a good chunk of it, including the Inaugural Address, while I was burning the whole thing to a DVD for Leslie. And yes, Rick Wagner, I recorded MSNBC, because Keith Olbermann makes me laugh and think at the same time. The same goes for Rachel Maddow, but she has the added advantage of being hot.

Ralph D'Andrea listened to the speech, and gave his favorite passage in a post yesterday. I enjoy the broad brush strokes of promise that a speech like this is supposed to provide, and President Obama (don't you just love the sound of that?) didn't disappoint. I prefer a little more substance at times, and this paragraph spoke to me the most:
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
I'm looking forward to these first few months; President Obama has indicated through his words and initial actions that he will get right to work, perhaps if not as much live up to many of his campaign promises as to get these things accomplished while the honeymoon is still going on.

In an era of what is potentially a period of significant political change, it's likely unclear how long such a honeymoon will be. The President's actions, to me, are indicative of an administration that is vital, youthful in its' actions and approach, and capable of engaging stakeholders and average citizens alike.

It is up to us to make ourselves active participants in our own government, and therefore our own future and that of future generations.

Enough platitudes. This is my favorite TV piece related to the transition, and the President is expected to order it to happen tomorrow. Well, it may sort of go like this..

Today was eventful for other reasons as well. I had a staff meeting at work, and immediately after that got the call that Search and Rescue was needed for this lovely situation up on the Colorado National Monument. I'm a volunteer with the Communications Team, and there was certainly a lot of communicating to be done up there. We didn't get back down until the late evening, and I missed calling Leslie because of it.

When I call her tomorrow morning I will tell her all about it, and also about what I was thinking about on the way back down. As I looked down on the city lights of Grand Junction coming off of the Monument, I was reminded of when she and I and her two daughters drove down from Glade Park after the movie last summer.

The beauty of the city lights below seemed to trivialize the challenges that we face individually and collectively every day, and reminded me tonight of how only by facing up to those challenges, taking risks when needed and exercising caution where necessary, can we truly achieve those things that God has gifted us with skill, faith, and courage to accomplish.

Let's hope that our new leader, and those who assist him, can continue to engender the kind of feelings that were stirred up yesterday, and that so many of us felt as a community and a nation.

Have a blessed day.

Photo Credits: Gretel Daugherty, The Daily Sentinel
City of Grand Junction

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Melancholy, Baby

Yesterday was a very busy day at work. Not much in the area of flights, but no end of people sick, in pain, in wonder and wanting to ask questions about what they can do about their own illness or that of someone they love. We are the after-hours answering service for Hospice, and there seemed to be no end of people being cared at home or elsewhere under the auspices of this very compassionate but very busy group who needed assistance of some kind.

The same went for many other physician practices, as well as the hospital itself. Even without the weekday complement of support staff and administrators, there was a quiet bustle to the place that seemed to reflect the amount of sickness that appears to be pervading our community right now.

That extends to me as well, and it's starting to get tiresome. The upper respiratory issues, including excessive drainage and occasional bouts of hacking cough, seemed to have abated until I returned to the workplace for two days. I return again on Monday, and will be requesting a thorough look at my work area. I was wondering out loud when the carpet last received a deep cleaning, and when the ventilation system was evaluated. The workstations themselves are fairly clean and orderly, although this is a survival mechanism, especially in a 24/7 operation. Some things are just beyond the control or reach of everyday staff.

My ears are still plugged and ringing, this after the standard 5-day run of antibiotics. I will be following up with my primary care doctor and will likely seek a referral to an ENT specialist. My hearing is a key part of my livelihood as well as my avocation, so I'm taking this seriously and expect that my care providers will too.

After work I called Leslie and talked with her for a while. Michaela is still getting chemotherapy every few weeks, and combined with other factors, not the least of which was the numbing cold in the east right now, Leslie seemed to be down a bit.

I ended our conversation so that I could touch base with Evan, and wound up having dinner with him at Old Chicago, which isn't bad if you're not counting calories. After dinner I called Leslie back, which I said I would do, but she had gone to sleep. I would have like to talked with her a bit longer, as Evan went (uncharacteristically) straight to bed as well.

Our cat Smokey wanted to sleep with him, and the other cat curled up atop the couch, so I was left basically alone in a quiet house with only SNL and Star Trek for company. Then the two words arrived which indicate it's time to turn off the TV and go to bed: "Male Enhancement". I knew things would have to be better in the morning.

And so they are. I'm not coughing as much, even though the ringing in my ears is still there. Evan was up early. I called Leslie, and she reported a snowy, beautiful late morning in Pittsburgh. Michaela got through her chemo well, and was getting a trip to the movies. The Penguins ran roughshod over the Rangers this afternoon. The Steelers will hopefully treat the Ravens the same way later. It's sunny and pleasant outside; even without the company of friends and loved ones, it's gonna be OK today.

This week a good portion of our country will set aside their fear and apprehension to celebrate a great transition in our earthly leadership, one that will hopefully mirror the more selfless tenets of the spiritual leadership that many of us also espouse. Hopefully, those of us who disagree with how our faith should translate into our earthly leadership will set aside these differences long enough to share in some cautious optimism for the future.

There's a lot of hard work and lonely nights ahead. With our collective faith and resolve, this will be followed by more calm, sunny mornings, full of healthy relationships, and maybe we can all espouse what Martin Luther King called true integration; "when true neighbors are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations".

Have a great week ahead.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

NewsBlues - Try It Out

Being a fan of the goings-on inside the business of television, one of my favorite Internet resources over the years has been NewsBlues. This is a very comprehensive and somewhat irreverent chronicle of events in the TV News business.

The "Surly Editor" collects anonymous tips and news links from other sources to develop a truly insider-based (and humorously biased) look at how this business works, or doesn't; how stations deal with crisis, or don't; and how as in many fields of endeavor, one carefully placed e-mail or phone call can bring down a house of cards masquerading as a management team.

Like the slick sets, flashy computer graphics, and what Bono once termed "the miracle of Chroma key", there is a significant amount of vanity at work in TV News. One wonders after reading some of the stories how many real-life versions of Ron Burgundy are still out there.

NewsBlues covers stuff from even the smaller TV markets, and Grand Junction is far from immune. A search from the home page for "KREX" or any of the local station call letters brings up numerous entries dating back several years. The KREX Fire was covered in significant detail, with tidbits of insider information not readily available via the usual media sources.

The site had a rather tumultuous beginning, a temporary hiatus, and has now developed an effective formula that sustains it to this day. Their history page is a very intriguing read, and includes the following:
We have watched the unhealthy transformation of TV news: the steady shift to shallow tabloid content; the casting aside of older, experienced talent; the headlong pursuit of younger demographics; the drive to build newsrooms on ethnically-balanced quotas and newscasts on research-driven formulas; the abandonment of investigative journalism out of fear of litigation; the proliferation of 24-hour cable news and its need to fill time with opinion; the politicalization of news and the loss of balance; and the increasingly intense focus on the bottom line and the never-ending push to "do more with less."

Along with the insider exploits is a grammar section, which in a lot of media markets is starting to become more of a necessity than just a handy reference.

There is, of course, a catch. The site is subscription-only. However, the owner opens the site for complimentary access when they are on vacation and are not updating the site with regular weekday frequency. So if you're interested, you have until this coming Sunday the 17th to look over the site for free, glean any tidbits of wisdom you can, and basically enjoy what appears to be a much more entertaining look behind the cameras than Mary Tyler Moore could ever have shown.

Like they say, some of this stuff just couldn't be made up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Death by JOA - Seattle Edition

David Horsey - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

I noticed in the news over the last couple of days that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been offered up for sale by the Hearst Corporation, with the intent of shutting down publication within 60 days if no buyer is found.

The "P-I" operates under a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) with the Seattle Times. Judging from some of the history of the two papers, this has been a rocky relationship. Pun intended.

It's no secret that times are tough in the newspaper business, and it's a shame that any newspaper has to shut down. This particular story drew my interest because one of the more talented staff members of the P-I is someone I met several times almost 20 years ago.

Andrew Schneider is a Senior Correspondent at the P-I who has produced some excellent investigative reports for them over the last several years, primarily related to public health issues. His Secret Ingredients blog on the P-I website is very interesting reading, especially if you're interested in the issue of the quality of the food we consume.

His reports include most recently the manner in which imported honey from China is 'laundered' to appear as if it originated elsewhere. This is having a negative effect on the regulation of imports as well as the quality control measures in place in the US. The articles made me look at my little bottle of "raw and unfiltered, Colorado grown" honey in a very different way.

Mr. Schneider has worked at numerous papers across the country. I knew him when he was a reporter and editor at the Pittsburgh Press in the late 80's. It was during his time at the Press that he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his investigative reporting. He spoke with myself and other employees of Life Flight in Pittsburgh on several occasions, while working on stories about trauma care in the region.

If you're interested at all in these topics, especially food safety issues, then Secret Ingredients is worth a visit or two. Hearst alluded to the possibility that the P-I may become strictly an online newspaper. From what I've read, it doesn't sound like the staff up there puts a great deal of faith in that prospect.

Andy, here's hoping that wherever you land you'll be able to continue to have a positive influence on the community you serve through your diligence and skill. Best of luck.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Waiting for the Antibiotics to Kick In

As of yesterday afternoon, I have been diagnosed with otitis media in both ears, to go along with the nasty Upper Respiratory Infection that reared its' ugly head during our Denver trip. I am on a 5-day regimen of antibiotics that will hopefully bring everything back to full volume and stop the ringing and pain in my ears. To add on to this I'm really not sleepy, so I guess I'll finish up writing about the Denver trip, which while short was a rather active one.

After the hockey game in Denver on Saturday, Evan and I went to dinner at Benihana, which was good but different. I'd only been to the one in Pittsburgh before, and most (but not all) of the staff there tended to be of Asian descent. It was therefore a little surprising to hear something like: "Konichiwa. Welcome to Benihana. My name is Fernando, and I'll be cooking for you this evening".

If anything, this was one example of how all of us as Americans can come together to make things happen, even more so when you consider that those dining are seated in groups of eight. Evan and I sat with 6 members of a family that came together to celebrate
their son/grandson's 15th birthday.

Conversation followed, and the relatively simple act of sharing a table with someone resulted in the more complex task of effectively communicating with someone new. We ma
y never see these people again, but we came away knowing something that we would not have had we dined by ourselves, and even that small amount of knowledge and experience is part of the pathway to understanding our fellow man.

This was a Pittsburgh-themed weekend of sorts, and my experience at the restaurant sort of reminded me of the manner in which so many different nationalities and cultures came to this country in the early 20th Century, and who through their labor, their lives, and their service helped to build and defend this country, and on whose backs we lead a largely comfortable existence indeed. Not all of the barriers have come down (as I have learned very well), but there is still hope, and with that a chance for progress. Sounds like a pretty good segue' into next week.

Melodramatic enough for you? Well, speaking of melodrama, after dinner we went to the Cherry Creek Mall to look around for a while, and then to the Esquire, one of Denver's art/independent film houses, to see Revolutionary Road, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Kathy Bates.

I had picked up the book while we were at the mall, and skimmed through some of it before the movie. The film is very well acted and photographed, and although I would have liked it if I knew a little more about the couple at the center of the story and why their current life is so dissatisfying in comparison to what they had, or what they dreamed they would have.
It was otherwise a very well made and superbly acted film by all concerned.

This type of period movie and literature has a particular appeal to me, as it is similar to the work of writers such as John Cheever and films like those of Douglas Sirk that I find very interesting. This latest addition to the genre was directed by Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for another tale of suburban angst and self-discovery that is for me the best film of the 1990's; American Beauty.

We hung around after the first film for the theater's weekend "Midnight Madness" film series, which coincidentally what my son now considers his favorite movie, the 1990's cult classic Trainspotting, starring among others Ewan McGregor in a role that George Lucas probably did not consider when he turned Mr. McGregor into Obi-Wan Kenobi for a generation.

This is a tough movie to watch, and I'm saying that as a relatively mature adult. Despite some of the grossest scenes ever shown in a non-horror film, it's very well written, riveting, hilarious and gut-wrenching, and generally gets its' point across rather well, depending upon your opinion of what that point actually is.

Late Sunday morning we went across the street to Whole Foods for brunch and some shopping, and on the way out of town I thought I would check out The Rusty Bucket, a non-descript watering hole in a strip shopping center in Lakewood. Like the cliche' goes, don't judge a book by its' cover.

We stopped by about mid-way through the 1st quarter of the Steelers' playoff game against San Diego, and found the place packed, literally, with black and gold wearing fanatics. Right after we walked in, Santonio Holmes ran a punt back for a touchdown, and the place went nuts.

Evan thought it was the greatest thing he had seen in a while. "Hey Dad, it's like being back home!", he exclaimed. Well, yeah.

It's probably no surprise that there are lots of Pittsburgh natives out west, and this place is one of their regular gathering spots, especially during football season. The food menu is peppered with Pittsburgh-area delicacies such as the "Primanti-style sandwich", and pierogies. There were a lot of familiar characteristics in the faces of the patrons, so much that I almost thought I knew many of them. Perhaps more of an echo of a place that you're proud of being from.

As it happens, there is still a distinct possibility that this following week of playoffs may produce an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl. This will indeed be interesting.

I've been hacking steadily while writing this, but at least the cough is a productive one.

Have a great rest of your week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Insult to Injury

Denver -Evan and I drove in last night. We're staying at a hotel with a very strategic location advantage, as it has several things nearby that we don't have in Grand Junction, and tend to enjoy when we are here.

I have been fighting what is becoming a nasty upper respiratory issue since just after Christmas. It was nearly gone during our Chicago trip, but came back with a vengeance after two evenings at work. I go back again on Monday, and if it flares up again I'm headed to Employee Health with some definite concerns about airborne organisms.

I have been trying to beat it (and a periodically nasty sore throat) with over-the counter cold meds, Ibuprofen, and tea with honey. Last night's drive over the mountains left me with pressure in my ears that had taken away a good part of my hearing. It's better today, but not completely gone.

Our primary objective for the trip was to cheer on the Pittsburgh Penguins as they took on the Avalanche this afternoon. It was heartening to see so many Penguins fans at our hotel and riding the light rail to the Pepsi Center. I think that the marketing staff for the Avalanche was kind of perturbed by the sheer numbers of Pens fans in the stands today.

The Pens scored three goals, and each of them were accompanied by quite the roar and applause from their fans, kind of uncharacteristic for an out of town venue but LOTS of fun while it lasted. Listen to the cheers for the Pens' best highlight of the day:

Unfortunately, the Avs scored five times, and the Pens have lost 7 of their last 8 games. I saw some trends today that I found disturbing, most notably the general lack of physical play on both sides. There was only one penalty called relating to on-ice contact the entire game. The Pens' defense appeared anemic at times, and the Pens' two big stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, seemed more intent on trying to storm in against two or three defenders, or pass one too many times before a shot. They each scored once, but too little, too late.

It was lots of fun nonetheless, and now we are going to leverage our strategic location to take in some of what Denver has to offer that Grand Junction does not. Most notably, dinner at Benihana, some shopping and movies in the Cherry Creek area this evening, some shopping at Whole Foods tomorrow, and maybe a stop into one of the local Steeler bars to catch some of the game before heading back tomorrow afternoon.

Hopefully the Steelers will enjoy better luck at home against the Chargers tomorrow. In any case, should they win they get the upstart and always-tough Baltimore Ravens next week. Ouch...

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I will hopefully be able to keep the crud at bay long enough to do the same.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

CPU-Free Zone?

I've taken a lot of flak in recent months from loved ones who think that I spend an inordinate amount of time on the computer. To many of them, this equates to mindless surfing and the consumption of time better spent on more practical pursuits.

To be truthful, I have a lot of RSS feeds that I look at every day or couple of days, and there's a fair amount of e-mail to go through. I believe that this helps to keep me relevant in my profession and avocations. However, I pay my bills, organize information, vent to the blogosphere, and did most of my recent Christmas shopping online. There are practical reasons for why I type, click, and read.

Still, I must take seriously the concerns of Evan, Leslie, my mother, and others who have chided me for doing this too much. They feel I need to organize my time better, and to some extent they're right.

With this sentiment in mind, I'd like to pass along this gem, courtesy of Robb Topolski's Journal, an excellent general topic blog with a techie emphasis.
Last night, my friend and I were sitting in the living room and I said to her, ‘I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle.

‘If that ever happens, just pull the plug.’

She got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine.

She’s such a bitch.

This isn't to say that I will abandon cyberspace to devote time solely to laundry, tax time, and taking down the Christmas tree. I will still sneak a peek on occasion. My computer-free zone would probably resemble the so-called No-Spin Zone, and make about as much sense to practical living in this world as Bill O'Reilly does.

Lots to do today. See ya....

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Winter Travelogue

Evan and I spent a full day last Friday exploring around Chicago, using the extensive train and subway system to make our way to several places of interest, including the top of the John Hancock Tower, seen at left (the one with the 'goalposts' on top).

The view is
spectacular, even if it's not the tallest building in town. We'll get to the Sears Tower the next time.

We walked all over the Loop area, t
hen hopped the train out to Oak Park, which has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings anywhere. It's also the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. They have a museum which I'm going to have to check out the next trip through.

Wright's first Home and Studio had all of its' tours sold out for the day, but there was one building that was within easy walking distance, which I had not been inside of before.

Unity Temple was designed by Wright for a Unitarian congregation who had lost their church to a fire. It was built in 1908 and 1909 for $60,000. The exterior is concrete with pea gravel for texture, which while not frequently used in construction 100 years ago was a less expensive alternative to stone.

The building is a short walk from the train station, and is open for self-guided tours. It is stately on the outside and an example of grace of simplicity on the i
Evan took this picture from the third level of what is a four level sq
uare sanctuary, with pews immediately in front of the altar and on 3 sides. The sanctuary seats 400, but no seat is further than 40 feet from the altar. The sanctuary is lit by stained glass windows on the sides as well as the skylights above.

Note the plastic and plywood
immediately above the organ loft. Significant roof damage was discovered in December, and the congregation is effecting emergency repairs. They've also established a restoration fund to make more permanent repairs, as well as make updates such as a new geothermal heating system. The light fixtures, stained glass, and some of the other furnishings are all of Wright's design.

The building is an open, welcoming, and comfortable space. It's difficult to grasp that it was designed and built over 100 years ago. I did my part in contributing to the restoration fund before departing.

Evan and I sometimes like to go to movies that are being shown in bigger cities, but not in Grand Junction. After an excellent lunch at a
small Mediterranean cafe right next to the movie house in Oak Park, we saw Milk starring Sean Penn. This was a very well done film that mixed archival footage from the day along with some strong performances to tell the story of the birth of political power within the gay community of San Francisco, and how it reverberated across the nation.

Speaking of Chicago and movies,
Roger Ebert got an entire 6 or 8 page section in last Friday's Sun-Times, filled with reviews of movies new and old. He's the best movie critic in the country, and I liked the movie section of the local paper so much I saved it as part of my trip scrapbook. From what I've read and seen so far, my next three movies are The Reader, Revolutionary Road, and Slumdog Millionaire, followed closely by Gran Torino. We'll likely get half of those movies here.

We returned to downtown Chicago and walked around some more. We wound up in the Theatre District, walking past the line of people waiting to get in to see
Wicked. We stopped inside Garrett Popcorn, which had an almost equal line of people. We got some Caramel Corn for my aunt Fran, then proceeded to try to locate some dinner.

We found some thanks to an app on Evan's IPhone called
Urbanspoon. It picked an Italian place not far from most of the theaters, and right next to the CTA Blue Line, which we needed to catch afterward to get back to Fran's house. Excellent main courses, and quite the dessert card.

I decided to come back to Grand Junction via
Amtrak, because it has been over 30 years since I rode the train anywhere overnight, and I've heard the views are breathtaking. Additionally, I thought I would enjoy the change of pace that this mode of travel offers, and neither Evan or I were disappointed.

The train left Chicago on time Saturday afternoon. The staff was professional, the food well prepared and ample. We had a sleeper for this trip, and it was nice to be able to use this kind of facility, but it also looked as though the regular coach seating was equal to the task, even for longer trips like the 27 hours it took to reach Grand Junction.

Evan and I passed the time by reading and watching movies on the laptop. Evan brought
The Darjeeling Limited because he liked it a lot, and thought we should watch a train movie on the train. I like Wes Anderson films, and this one didn't disappoint.

We slept across most of Nebraska, and pulled into Denver early Sunday morning. I parked myself in the sightseeing car for the bulk of the trip across the mountains. I met a very nice lady who lives in Whitewater and works for the Palisade Chamber of Commerce. Gabriela told me that she was returning from spending Christmas with her in-laws in Cleveland.

We had a good conversation about things Grand Junction as the train picked up the trail of the Colorado River and passed through Kremmling, Hot Sulphur Springs, and past a hippie-painted school bus parked next to 4 yurts at State Bridge.

My conversation with Gabriela led me to look up the
Palisade Chamber on the web; they've got a very informative, positive site filled with useful information on activities in the Palisade area, as well as local small businesses, including one that sells alternative energy products from an address in Palisade. It was nice to see that there are business and tourism promotional organizations that don't follow the lead of others in our area who seem to be divisive and exclusionary.

The entry into Glenwood Canyon began the last

portion of the journey, and we ended up pulling into Grand Junction a little early. The trip showed me that while rail service in this country is nowhere near what it is in many other parts of the world, it does remain a viable alternative for people who have the time to travel at a more leisurely pace, or don't want to deal with airports.

Yes, there are significant delays caused by many things, and perhaps we were more fortunate on this trip than many have been on others. I'd do it again, though.
With the new year upon us, there are many things to work on and many paths to consider.

May your path through this year and beyond be pleasant and uncomplicated, and may those challenges that put themselves in your way be something to exercise your God-given talents and learn more from, for that next stop down the road.

Have a good rest of the week.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Waiting on the Zephyr

Chicago - I'm inside the boarding lounge for sleeping car passengers at Union Station, waiting for the announcement that Amtrak's California Zephyr is ready for boarding, which shouldn't be too long.

I've wanted to take the Zephyr since I moved to Grand Junction, if just to see the mountain views from a train. Evan is looking forward to this, and the train is on time, so I have to go. I doubt there will be any Internet on the way, so I'll let everyone know how it is after we get into GJ tomorrow.

Take care, and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Loose Ends at the Starting Gate

Lake County, Illinois - Happy New Year from the northern Chicago suburbs. Evan and I are here visiting my aunt and her husband, and to take in a few sights. Today we spent the day quietly, watching the Winter Classic on TV (I tried to get tickets, but too expensive for me) and having a great dinner with some of my cousins and their families who came over. It is nice here, and I'm grateful for the chance to see family and explore some new territory.

I spent the early part of this week at work, having a nagging cough and cold resurface (I'm blaming the inversion), and then trying to get ready to take this trip. Over the course of the week some significant events occurred concerning topics I've written about recently.

When I spoke with Rep. Steve King about his proposed school safety bill, one point he wanted to emphasize was that he did not want the bill's requirements to be so restrictive that the proposed rules would create too much of a fiscal impact, or be resisted by school administrators. Thanks to Mike Saccone of the Daily Sentinel, another reason for this has come to light.

It seems that Rep. King is now engaged in the business of conducting security audits of at least one educational institution. Mesa State, AKA Foster's Home for Republican Friends, hired Rep. King's company for some healthy pocket change, but conveniently under the amount that would require a competitive bid. The Sentinel's Editorial Board called Rep. King on the carpet for what they feel is a
"clear appearance of conflict of interest", and I'm inclined to agree.

I'm also a little upset because the legislation that Rep. King was preparing for consideration had the potential to be a good thing; it would likely have helped to make safety and preparedness a priority in all private and public facilities that provide educational services. Now the bill is tainted by the spectre of its' author standing ready to profit personally from it. Bad form, Steve.

Bad form on Mesa State as well. According to the Sentinel, the college claimed ignorance of any "
other firms in this region that could perform the sort of work they sought". To quote Wikipedia on what the logical next step should be:
"A Request for Information (RFI) is a standard business process whose purpose is to collect written information about the capabilities of various suppliers. Normally it follows a format that can be used for comparative purposes."
In other words, the college eschewed due diligence in obtaining information necessary to objectively select a vendor capable of performing the work. I wonder if the college staff involved did a sole source justification, as many colleges and universities require, and what the reasons were for the awarding of the contract to Rep. King's company.

I worked with Rep. King during his tenure with the Grand Junction Police Department and the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. I am impressed with his skills and abilities as a law enforcement professional. I do not believe that this experience alone qualifies him to be the sole source contractor for a comprehensive audit of the security needs of an institution of the size and complexity of Mesa State College.

Such an undertaking also speaks to several other public safety disciplines, such as Emergency Management, Incident Command, and effective interface with Fire and Emergency Medical Services. I hope that Rep. King seeks out professionals in these areas to serve as subcontractors or compensated advisers, and that the audit report is made available for public inspection upon completion.

KREX reported that they had reached an agreement with Bresnan for Retransmission Consent of their channels. This is what I expected would happen. On a much larger scale, Viacom pulled off a similar last-minute extortion, I mean agreement with Time Warner Cable under the threat of denying its' group of networks, which include Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central, to that cable company's 13 Million-plus subscribers.

The interesting thing to do now is for Bresnan subscribers to keep a close eye their cable bills, should any rate increases be forthcoming. I've requested information from Bresnan on what they are paying for programming, which I expect they would be willing to provide if only to help justify their rates for providing service. I'll let you know what I am able to find out.

This past year has been one of continued transition and reflection for me. I've not had a very good time of it; I've left a job under duress, gained weight, not met goals in several areas, and have let a relationship suffer from inattention and a general lack of focus, which seems to be a recurring theme in my life and something that I pray often for improvement in.

One thing I have done that may show more production, but not more productivity, is almost quintuple my blog posts over 2007. I feel that this may have taken me away from other pursuits that will aid me in becoming better educated and more competent in my chosen profession, but I have also reaped intangible rewards from the connections I have made with so many in my community and elsewhere who I would otherwise not had the opportunity without this blog.
I enjoy writing, and appreciate those of you who choose to visit here regularly. I hope to be able to continue to write with at least the same frequency in the coming year.

I don't believe in resolutions; I prefer to try to listen closely to what God is telling me to do with my life, and with those whom I have been blessed to share my life with. The message is not always a clear one, but I have a general idea of where I feel I should be going and who I should be making the journey with. I'll have more to say about that in the month ahead.

In the meantime, enjoy the new year, and may God bless you with unexpected joy and overlooked treasures. Evan and I are going to explore Chicago a little bit tomorrow. Maybe we'll find something to share.