Friday, June 21, 2013

Spurious Signal Propagation

So much has been going on lately that I started alliterating subheadings in my head to try to keep them straight, and try to organize my thoughts about them.

While pondering them in recent days, they seemed to resemble too much unwanted feedback on a landscape of information and occurrences. I tried to have a serious discussion with my wife about religion - and wound up with a headache instead of anything meaningful. That doesn't usually happen.

All of this reminded me of what in radio terms is called spurious signals, or "undesired signal energy present at any frequency at the output of a device that was not present at the input". It's all the noise that gets in the way of what really needs to come through. More about this later.

Here is a sampling of some of that intentionally organized, yet unwelcome random stuff that stands in the way of real progress in my own personal growth - perhaps more of a picture of how my brain works (or doesn't) than one might like.

Brought to you by two letters of the English alphabet.

Surveillance, Secrecy, Snowden - Past is Present 

Has anyone else noticed that this entire episode started out eerily like the first several minutes of The Bourne Ultimatum, right down to the same media outlet breaking the story?
Hopefully it doesn't follow the plot line completely, even though I'm sure that the reporter Glenn Greenwald and his staff are taking whatever precautions they feel are necessary. The same can be said for their source.

Despite all of the additional revelations and events that have transpired over the last two weeks, I will stick with my first impressions about Edward Snowden after reading the interview that the Guardian conducted with him in Hong Kong, and released two Sundays ago - 

"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."

Courageous, misguided, naïve, unafraid, narcissistic - these and so many other adjectives have been used to describe the man. I personally think that he did a service to the cause of personal privacy and controls over what the government can find out, and what they can do with it.

I was listening to Mike Pintek talk about this on KDKA last week. He referred to the Pentagon Papers controversy, which this affair is being compared to, as "ancient history".
Please, Mike - we were both alive when it happened, and just because it happened 40 or so years ago does not make it any less relevant. 

Daniel Ellsberg is also still alive, and commented rather astutely in the Guardian on Snowden's actions:

"Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans' and foreign citizens' privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we're trying to protect."

Ellsberg also makes a comparison of the NSA's activities to that of the East German Stasi during the heyday of the former Soviet bloc. The 2006 Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others is an excellent dramatic rendering of what it might have been like to live in a society where the fear of someone listening actually affects the nature of the discourse, regardless of the innocence of that discourse.

That is perhaps the best point I have heard in response to all of the reporting, hype, and outcry - that people will "self-regulate" themselves into what they think is palatable to what the government will tolerate.

This is an affront to the liberty of thought that no free society, that wishes to remain so, can tolerate for very long. The fact that all of this started to become public knowledge on the 49th anniversary of the publication of Orwell's 1984 has apparently not been lost on a lot of people.

The government may choose to throw the book at Edward Snowden, or do nothing at all - let him live out his days with one eye continuously looking over his shoulder. There is, however, enough of an outcry on both sides of the political spectrum - including ACLU litigation and a very popular White House petition demanding Snowden be pardoned - that some action to curtail the NSA's activities will likely have to be considered.

We The People, at least those of us who care deeply about the free expression of ideas and dissenting opinion, will not stand for it. Apparently, many citizens are planning to take to the streets this 4th of July in support of the Fourth Amendment. How appropriate is that?

Sewickley Sewer Street Shutdown Surprise - Prolonged

Over the several months, an ongoing project to connect portions of Aleppo Township and Glen Osborne to Sewickley's sewer system has resulted in several street closures and other traffic-related issues - many not communicated in a way motorists and citizens would probably appreciate or expect.

This trend apparently continued with the closing of Beaver Street in the heart of the Village two weeks ago. The Herald's story, dated Tuesday June 4, announced the closure and detour of Beaver at Logan Street to last two days.

The Quaker Valley School District sent a mass e-mail the previous evening, attempting to quickly notify parents of the closure. Communications Director Tina Vojtko made it a point to write that "we were just informed late this afternoon" of the impending detour - I imagined I could almost hear the banging of annoyed fingers on Ms. Vojtko's keyboard as it was being written.

I can't tell you if I was surprised or not to go to church two Sundays ago and see the closure - and associated heavy equipment - still in place. It was later reported that the "2 day" closure ended a little over a week after it commenced.

From last year's closure of Beaver Road in Glen Osborne, to the recent single-lane restrictions on Route 65 in the same community, up to and including this last closure, whomever is responsible at Sewickley Borough needs to make a better effort at communicating restrictions on traffic flow and other services, especially if those delays take longer than expected.

On my regular commute down Route 65 this week, I took note of the backhoe, fresh trenches, and pipe staged below where the road passes behind Osborne Elementary School. Hopefully something will be said about it..well in advance..if they intend to disrupt traffic again.

Sewickley Photoplay Philanthropy Shortage

The Village Theater Company is approaching a self-imposed deadline to obtain total pledges of $1.5 Million to construct a new movie house in the heart of Sewickley Village.

They've got a way to go to reach that goal by the end of the month. This past week I sent them an example of how a community comes together to make a great space possible - something that transcends the space itself.

Village Theater Company needs the community's help, at a fundamental level, to make this happen. It starts with financial resources, at this point in any amount. Best wishes to them in their efforts.

Penguins Paradoxically Plummet - Still Supportive

After following the Penguins during their successful campaign through a lockout-shortened regular season, and then over the first two rounds of playoffs that were rocky but eventually successful, it was distressing to see them basically not show up at all the first two games against the Bruins.

Since the Pens' season ended, there has been the predictable amount of speculation, announcements, signings, and accolades. Here are a few observations while we're waiting for next season to start:

1. Despite the post-season reaffirmation of Marc-Andre Fleury as the team's "franchise goaltender", this doesn't really explain or forgive his being thrown under the bus by Coach Dan Bylsma during the playoffs. If the team elects to jettison Fleury after saying this, it will  be tough to get behind anything they have to say in the future.

2. As for Coach Bylsma himself, General Manager Ray Shero apparently believes the team needs stability at the coaching level, and that the current coaching staff is best equipped to manage the team through numerous personnel additions, and perhaps some deletions.
Nevertheless, there's a bit of serious evaluation warranted for the way in which the team basically didn't show up for the first 2 games against the Bruins, and how to prevent that in the future.

3. It's nice that we have Evgeni Malkin for a long time, but the team's overall effectiveness will be diminished if they can't re-sign Kris Letang.

4. Sidney Crosby is probably the best individual player in the NHL. Those who play with him seem to agree with that statement - Congratulations, Sid, on your award.
With that in mind, consider the following statement from Wikipedia:

Although the rules do not specify any other distinction between the captain and his teammates, the captain has numerous responsibilities to the team, particularly in North American professional hockey. The captain is a dressing room leader, and also represents the players' concerns to management. During the game, captains are expected to motivate their teams, particularly captains who are stars or franchise players.

Considering the talent that Ray Shero amassed for this year's campaign, including Brenden Morrow and Jerome Iginla - both of whom left their previous teams as the captain - is there room for discussion as to which of the Pens may be best qualified to serve in that role in the future?

Public Station Programming Problem has Solution Starting

Two years ago this week, I wrote about the loss of jazz music programming on the FM airwaves in Pittsburgh. Two recent events have brought the return of this programming to local radio a significant step closer.

Pittsburgh Public Media announced the closing of their purchase of Bethany College's radio station, and the establishment of studio facilities in Pittsburgh's southern suburbs. According to the Post-Gazette, the group estimated that the station could begin broadcasting jazz music and other offerings of the currently online-only Pittsburgh Jazz Channel by sometime next month.

The group singled out Essential Public Media, the owners of the former WDUQ, for selling them some of that station's old equipment to help facilitate the start-up. It was nice of EPM to try to make amends in this way.

The station's current transmitter site will cover mainly the south and west suburbs of Pittsburgh, on 88.1 FM.  The group states that it will be actively seeking additional frequencies and transmitter sites to cover the remainder of the Pittsburgh area, and is seeking public support to gather funds for that purpose.

Coincidentally, this week the FCC announced that they are accepting applications for Low Power FM station licenses, made possible by the passage of the Local Community Radio Act in 2011. This could be an avenue for the jazz radio folks to gain access to the FM airwaves, while admittedly at low power, but with the proper transmitter placement could attain the coverage goals that they're looking for.

Great credit should be given to the Prometheus Radio Project for helping to spearhead the passage of the law, and for continued efforts to educate and inform non-profits and community groups about the availability of LPFM to inform, connect, and motivate local communities to action.

Come to think of it, there may be an opportunity for some forward-thinking locals to band together and make a go of it in our immediate area. I can say from personal experience that it can be lots of fun and hard work, with intangible rewards, and sometimes meaning beyond words.

Speaking of signals..Radio Free Leetsdale, anyone?

Enjoy the summer. 

Monday, June 03, 2013

Goliath in the Mirror

Flag ceremony on Sunday at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Sewickley. From left: Pastor John Dykstra, Vern Sample, Gary Bradel, Don Brandt, Dale Brown.
Flag ceremony on Sunday, May 26 at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Sewickley.
  From left: Pastor John Dykstra, Vern Sample, Gary Bradel, Don Brandt, Dale Brown.
It's been interesting and somewhat satisfying to see Memorial Day have greater emphasis and visibility in recent years.  Regardless of who is responsible, we as a country and a society have a continuing obligation to recognize the sacrifice of those who made possible the security and freedom that we enjoy today.

This is especially important in the face of a greater need for diligence as those security and freedoms are increasingly under attack, from forces both within and outside our nation - sometimes from within our own governments.

Our church makes it a point every year to pay particular attention to the veterans in our congregation, and collectively honor all veterans with a simple, poignant flag-folding ceremony after services.

Those veterans present a week ago Sunday represented service in conflicts ranging from World War II to Vietnam. While in line with the demographic of our small congregation, it would also have been nice to welcome and honor a younger man or woman who has experienced the horror of war or the rigor of military service in recent times.

Had they been there, they would have heard familiar words meant to illustrate the personal courage and faith of the warrior, the power and significance of self-sacrifice, and when it is necessary to make difficult decisions and take tough action.

The centerpiece of this scriptural trifecta is the familiar story of David and Goliath. While I listened to it being read and expanded upon by our pastor, I couldn't help but think about the conflicts that are being fought around the world today - some with increasing ambiguity about who the bad guy really is, and others with grudges that have festered over millenia.
This verse came to mind:

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
- 1 Samuel 17:36-37 (NIV)

I wondered whether or not the tables are turned in the eyes of many who harbor resentments much older than the United States itself.

Do many of these combatants fancy themselves as David, with a fervor and conviction approaching the Biblical account above? Do they see us as an immense yet lumbering version of the Philistine Goliath?

Do they think that incidents such as the bombings in Boston, or the public slaying of a soldier in London last month, are equivalent to trying to sling a small stone into a sensitive area, perhaps enough to stagger our resolve?

On a day when we commemorate our honored dead, and thank those among us who served, should we be concerned about this?

There are some in our opinion-riddled society who apparently think so. Michael Moore believes that supporting the troops should extend beyond the sentiment extended them on one or two days a year, and offers examples of how that's not happening. A prominent academic expert on the Middle East went as far as to suggest that those who objected to our entry into conflicts they saw as unjust deserve to be remembered alongside those who fought and died in those conflicts.

I understand the need for and the importance of the debate, but it feels as if those involved need to pay homage to the admonitions of Ecclesiastes: "a time to be silent and a time to speak".

In a different vein, the Huffington Post reported on war memorials that are crumbling and/or in danger of being demolished. One of those advocating the restoration of a World War I memorial in Hawaii said something that was equal parts poignant and sad - "We're a nation of short memory".

This probably has a lot to do with why Memorial Day seemed to mean more to me this year. The physical trappings of those clear, decisive conflicts that helped to preserve the freedoms we enjoy as a nation are fading away - whether they be monuments to the dead, or those among us who actually served, fought, and lived to carry their experiences back home with them.

I can count several of these people who influenced my life from childhood to the present. Many of those who came home, raised families, created wealth for themselves, and helped move this country forward are gone, and many others are well into their later years.

As those of my generation plunge into the heart of middle age, perhaps we are all looking for simpler, more concrete symbols of those values that we grew up with  - when the Vietnam era was something that our innocent minds struggled to wrap around. The conflicts since, and our society at large today, have become faster, muddier, and more difficult to keep up with.

We look for something with which to safely moor the storm-wearied ships of our own self-doubt and longing, but find only more questions. We view the dents in our tarnished armor in the mirror of collective memory, and wonder how those in our stead will take up the cause of defending and maintaining what we and those before us have helped to build.

Memorial Day is truly a time for quiet reflection and calm resolve as much as it is for commemoration. This is a responsibility that all generations must bear, with more than just lip service and the waving of little flags.

If you need an example, take a look at any of our local cemeteries. Think of the efforts of those who volunteer to place one of those flags at the grave of every veteran.

Perhaps this is best summarized by a verse from a hymn that we sang in church that Memorial Sunday:

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Have a good week and month ahead.