Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To My Wife on Valentines Day

Rather than wax poetic, I think the best way to sum up what a great friend, companion my wife is would be to dish some snippets of our actual dialogue.

NOTE: Before proceeding further, you'll need to know that my wife is a proud Irish lass, but more importantly, she likens herself a writer, so her banter sounds more like prose than conversation:

After watching a few minutes of Teletubbies:
Mrs - Why are there no predators in Teletubbie world?

Mr - What do you mean?

Mrs - Well, they're so plump and slow, it seems predators would flock there in droves.

After meeting a local politician of Irish descent:
Mrs - You two really talked on the same level, you should go into politics.

Mr - No thanks.

Mrs - But if you got in good with [politician of Irish descent] you could harness the power of the blarney!

Mr - "Harness the power"? What am I Skeletor?

Mrs - Don't be silly, Skeletor only wants to harness the power of Grayskull. [Mrs recognizes that I'm not continuing the conversation.]

Mrs -(Grumbling) I'll bet He-Man would want to harness the power of blarney.

Mr Prepares Valentines Breakfast of Oatmeal:
Mr - We got all the ingredients for your favorite breakfast, we got Quaker Oats, raisins, and maple syrup.

Mrs - Yay!

Mr - [Five minutes later.] Okay hun, I've got for you a nice hot, steaming bowl of love .

Mrs - (With mock disappointment) What! I wanted oatmeal!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Inspiration to Serve

One of the defining features of Jefferson County small towns are our volunteer emergency crews. With no more incentive than a desire to help their communities, men and women volunteer their time, and in some tragic cases sacrifice their lives, to aid those in need.

They've undergone many hours training - 86 hours for the basic interior firefighting - with travel expenses coming out of their own pockets. And with the volunteer crews getting smaller and smaller in Jefferson County, and funds getting more and more limited, training courses need to be consolidated in a central location within a vast area -- meaning a trainee from Oxbow may have to drive an hour to attend a course in Adams.

With the tragic death of Mark Davis in Cape Vincent, I'm hoping people will not fear the sacrifice, strain, and heartbreak inherent in volunteer firefighting and EMT. I'm hoping that Mark's memorial, with so many fire departments and emergency crews attending - crews from all over Jefferson County, from NYC, from Ontario, and from Boston - will inspire the sons and daughters of Nothern New York to serve as a volunteer fire fighter or volunteer EMT. And if you feel you are unable to serve, I hope you'll be inspired to donate your time and/or money to the funding of your local fire department.

Mark, you will be remembered, and memorialized among heroes.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A One Home Economy?

After almost 30 years of the Reagan Era, we are certainly entering a new era in the United States. If the Reagan years were defined by blind faith in free market and arrogant foreign policy, what will the Obama Era usher in?

Although it may be a harrowing transition for many Americans, I think this era will be defined by a humble, back-to-basics lifestyle and sustainable living. I'm imagining a future where Americans are more resourceful, and less inclined to solve their problems by heading to the mall. The Reagan Era encouraged us all to be vigorous consumers; the Obama Era will nudge us toward growing our own foods and exploring self-sufficient ways heat and electrify our homes.

I'm imagining a future where people re-acquaint themselves with their neighbors, and get more involved with their community. The Reagan Era started with the ME decade; the Obama Era will nudge us towards more collaboration, and a desire to be rooted in one community year-round; a future where people are occupied with month-by-month nurturing; the kind of nurturing the anchors a person to an area for all four seasons.

This time of year in Jefferson County, there are so many communities that are on the brink of being ghost towns, not to be defibrillated until Memorial Day. I'm talking about the areas where seasonal residents occupy a home for a few months, and then head back south by Labor Day.

For the last three-four decades, it has been a status-symbol for middle-class baby boomers to own two homes, their winter home and their summer home. But the Obama Era might encourage people to own just one home; to cut down the travel expenses, to consolidate their property expenses, and to reduce the various pecuniary hassles of living in more than one state.

Maybe the Obama Era Americans will re-claim their grit and we'll see families willing to live through long, cold winters. Maybe there will be a slow down on the trend of young populations migrating and settling in the South and West. Maybe having a summer home will be considered an arrogant extravagance. Maybe the ties of the community will inspire people to remain by their neighbors year-round.

There will always be cottage-country in Jefferson County – there are some parts on the Lake Ontario shore-line that are downright uninhabitable during the winter months. But small town communities may actually, once again, become a Norman Rockwell painting of winters past, with neighbors humbly living all four seasons together.

Friday, January 23, 2009

NNY 40 Leaders Under 40

Have people seen this great idea by the Watertown Daily Times? With Northern New York suffering from "brain drain," with so many of our college-educated youth leaving the area for jobs, we need more opportunities to commend and publicly-praise the young folks who choose to be leaders in our region.

First of all, I want to encourage everyone to participate in this project.

And secondly, I'm assuming most people will be quick to nominate elected officials, municipal officers, and entrepreneurs. And after some reflection, they may also come up with educators and medical professionals. These individuals are, of course, much deserving of nominations, but let me suggest that following folks are not overlooked:

~Members of your local emergency crews, especially ambulance workers and firefighters who volunteer.

~Volunteers or community organizers (sadly maligned by Sarah Palin) who coordinate and promote annual community events.

~That young person who, may not hold an official position, but frequently stands up in church and/or community events and ardently encourages others to take an active role in resolving the community’s problems. (Leadership through inspiring dialogue)

~That young person who, again may not hold an official position, but always seems to be the one that rallies the neighbors to come together to help out that person or family in need of help. (Leadership through inspiring action.)

~That young artist whose works commemorate the region’s pride and principles. (Leadership through inspiring prose, music, and/or visuals.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

State of the State: Lacking in Substance

How impressive that Gov. Paterson memorized such a lengthy speech, but what a shame it didn't have more substance.

I've always thought everyone should have a few memorized poems handy - just in case they're suddenly gripped by passion, yet have nothing interesting to say. So our Gov. should be forgiven for reciting poetry during the 2009 State of the State. However, in these difficult economic times, we expected more realistic goals and specific solutions to go along with pomp and circumstance.

I was expecting Gov. Paterson to have a more clarified vision of his Obesity Tax. Though he's got the right idea, it's not soundly implemented. Why tax Coke for its sugar content, but leave Diet Coke, with its dubious artificial sweeteners, untaxed?

Here are a few other things I was expecting, hoping to hear during the State of the State:

Gov: All elected officials will have a 15% decrease in salary. So a NY Senator gets $68,000 instead of $80,000. [Gov turns to the Senate] That won't be too bad, right? [The Senate stands up for sustained applause]

Gov: I'm assuming the teacher's unions want nothing less than improved NY education, and don't care about protecting the archaic tenure system. From now on, we will have a merit system that will weed out the bad teachers from public schools, we will remove the unnecessary Board of Regents, and we'll put charter schools in the Northern NY region, especially in counties hardest hit by the local economy. [Teacher's unions, picketing outside, drop their placards, and cheer.]

Gov: I'm OK with the minimum wage staying at $7, since we need small business to be able to hire a large workforce. However, the NY work force working for minimum wage will receive earned income tax credit. They may have a $20,000 a year job, but they'll be getting at least $5,000 extra in a tax break. [Small business owners, listening from TVs at their business, cheer.]

Gov: We have a "clean energy cluster" in Northern NY. Right now, windpower is now saturating that cluster. Growing alongside the wind facilities, I'd also like to see biomass facilities. We need a balance between the various clean technologies for two reasons: 1) We should avoid sprawling wind turbines, and 2) Biomass often provides more jobs than windpower.

Gov: And to avoid the over-saturation of clean tech facilities in Northern NY, we will also install nanotechnology facilities in the Northern NY region, especially in counties hardest hit by the local economy.

Gov: We will have total broadband in Northern NY by 2010.

Gov: In conclusion, "Do not go gentle into economic blight! And rage, rage against Pepsi, Coke, and Sprite"

Saturday, January 3, 2009

We're in this Together: In Difficult Economic Times, Shop Local, and Encourage Visitors to Shop in Your Community

Consumers wield great power by how they spend their dollar. Why is China becoming the next global superpower? Why are a large percentage of American farmers living near or below the poverty line? Because American shoppers can't resist a good deal. If they can save two dollars buying imported vegetables instead of buying vegetables from the farmer down the road, 9 times out of 10 they'll buy the cheap veggies.

Keep in mind, there's always a reason why a food can be sold so cheaply. Maybe it'd help to just let your mind imagine all the cost-cutting choices a fast food franchise could make to sell a 99 cent burger.

At the same time, keep in mind, we live in an era of globalization. The lines between nations are blurred. When it comes to new technology, all bet's are off. And it'd be very crippling to our economy to attempt reversing the current lines of world commerce.

In the green technology sector (sustainable vehicles, renewable energy, etc.), the U.S. has A LOT of catching up to do. That doesn't mean we should avoid purchasing and supporting green tech. On the contrary, buy and support all green technology regardless of where it originated - the nature of capitalism will propel American companies to meet the consumers green tech demand.

However, when purchasing food, keep the following in mind:

• Look at the label to make sure the product was made in New York. The closer to your community, the better. Look for any opportunity to buy food from your neighbors.

• Always be on the look-out for pancake breakfasts, chicken BBQs, ham dinners, etc. put on by your local church, fire dept, or community organization.

• Shop at your local merchants and food producers, even if it means adding $10 onto your weekly spending. You might save gas money, and consider the extra cost "survival dues" for the local economy.

• We live in a nation of high mobility. Even if your community is not necessarily a tourist destination, walk the streets regularly and keep an eye out for people who are visiting or just passing through. Take the opportunity to talk to the visitors, be friendly, and promote your local merchants.

• If there's no Farmers Market in your community, encourage one and help promote it. If there is a Farmers Market in your community, shop at it regularly and help promote it.

Maybe you've heard this all before, but it's a new year, and the prognosticators are saying this will be an economically difficult year. Let's set a goal to invest our communities, pay that little extra for locally produced food. As hard as times may get, we're all in this together, and the food producers and local merchants in your community will need your support.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

NY Resolution: A Solution with Every Criticism

Skim through the Northern New York blogs, and you’re likely to conclude most NNY residents are bitter complainers -- resentlful of powers beyond their control and eager for someone to sue.
It seems the younger folks have video games to let off steam; and the older folks have blogs.

The blog complainers find catharsis in finger-pointing. And yet their blame often proves to be misguided. Misguided in that they rarely see how some blame might fall in their own lap:

• People complain the mom and pop stores in their small town are dying out, yet they shop regularly at Wal-Mart;

• People complain that young people are looking out of state for jobs, yet they’ll fight tooth and nail to stop any big business development in their community;

• And people complain there’s no sense of community in their community…while they spend all day blogging on their computer.

Also, they rarely see how they can play a role in making a change for the better:

• People hate all Democrats, yet they’ve never actively campaigned for a Republican candidate;

• People hate how they feel disenfranchised from their NNY community, yet they refuse to sell the Arizona condo they live in for 10 months every year;

• And they will viciously condemn their local government officials in letters in the local newspaper, yet not once in their life will they ever attempt to talk directly with a local government official, nor will they attempt to run for a local government position.

When I was enrolled in one of our fine NNY high schools, my 8th grade English teacher gave me sage advice that I carry with me to this day. Giving me a D on my argument essay, Mr. S said, “There are two kinds of people in this world: the kind that walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’ and the kind that walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’

“The person that says, “Here I am!” is more interested in ranting that resolution; he is more interested in finger-pointing and shaming others. If he sees he’s at odds with majority opinion in the community, his only response is bitterness. Rather than trying to understand the majority opinion, he’ll instead choose to spread his bitterness, hoping to make others as bitter as he is. He’d rather be a ringleader of resentment than an agent of constructive change, betterment in his community.

“The person that says, ‘There you are!’ recognizes he is just one member of a community. Understanding the rationale behind majority opinion is important. If he sees a problem in his community, his response is active listening and active communication, with consideration for the diverse members of his community. To be a ‘There you are!’ person will increase your chances of influencing others, making positive change desirable to others, and ultimately bettering your community. In the very least, you’ll avoid a life of disconnection and bitterness.”

Mr. S pointed at the D on my argument paper, and said, “You wrote this paper as if you were the only person in the room. You need to write this believing you're speaking to an audience. And you’re not on a podium talking AT your audience; you’re sitting in a circle sharing WITH your audience.”

Fortunately, Mr. S allowed me to revise my paper. I took his advice and I got an A- (my grammar wasn’t quite up to par).

For a New Year’s resolution in Northern New York, let’s try to be people who walk into a room (or comment on a blog) and say, “There you are!” Let’s not idly complain. Whenever pointing out a problem in our community, try to offer a reasonable solution – a solution that most community members might want to help you accomplish.