Sunday, March 29, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Sunlit birch against threatening sky

sunset trees against purple sky

Glowing cloud

Nature is the best artist ever.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Big Box Dilemma

Yep, The Big Box. You know what I mean, Wal-Mart, the store that so many people love to hate. It has become the symbol of the homogenization of American culture. 25 years ago it was McDonald's, before that? I really can't say because I only really began paying attention somewhere in my late teens. Howard Johnson's maybe? It really doesn't matter, I guess, the point is that sometimes the things that make our lives easier or more convenient, are the same things that we resent for taking away the individuality of the landscape.

It seems that no matter where we go in America these days there is a Wal-Mart, and more and more of them are billed as "Supercenters." But let's be real, just because you can buy food and drugs and clothes in the same store doesn't really make it a supercenter, because you can do the same at most Walgreens, Kenny Drugs, Rite-Aids and even grocery stores. The Marketing department of the Wal-Mart Company knows that by billing the store as a supercenter, it gets them more community support,( if they have any to start with, there is a serious backlash going on with Walmart) so even though it may not be a full supercenter they will still call it such. I live where I can drive to three different Wal-Mart "supercenters" in less than an hour. The smallest one is in my own hometown. It has all the bells and whistles to get the label, but the bells are much smaller, and the whistles are more like tweeters. Each one offers all the same services, but the population that each caters to is different so the stock reflects this. So does the size. The one in the college town is the biggest store I have been in to date. It is the newest incarnation in the same town, they pretty much outgrew the first one that was built 15 years ago. Now the old building sits empty waiting for a new tenant or someone to doze it over and build something new. This also is a common occurance when it comes to this megalithic retailer.

The dilemma is this, do you go to Wal-mart with it's low prices and continued market dominance, or do you patronize the little stores where you know the owners and have been shopping for years? Wal-Mart has what you need, and in the style you want and at a low price. The little store knows exaclty what you want, but doesn't have the style in stock, ( but can have it in a day or two) and the price is a couple dollars more. What do you do? America is a country that has no use for anything less than instant gratification, Wal-Mart wins, today. What happens tomorrow? Do you even bother looking at the little store? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. The more times you choose Wal-Mart the more you hurt the little store, and the more likely it is that they will go out of business. When they go out of business, the irony is that they will be shopping at Wal-Mart, because the low prices will be all that they can afford!

Now don't get me wrong, I am not a Wal-Mart basher in general. I shop there, for the exact reasons that I have specified above. Low prices and selection. When you have a company that can buy an entire production run of a product, you know they will have the lowest price on a product. In fact, they can pretty much control the market price on most things. They can undercut any local competitor and drive them out of business. Then they hire at least a portion of that competitors labor force to staff their ever bigger stores. Meanwhile they buy cheaper products made in foriegn factories, meaning that Unemployed Americans will continue to shop for the lowest prices thereby making them the winners again. How's that for dominating the market?

I love to travel and road trips are one of my favorite things to do. Generally due to time constraints I usually travel by Interstate Highway. It's a great way to get from city to city and to cover ground fast. Contrary to the popular belief when they were built, they really do provide some wondeful views and vistas. They cut through some of the most beautiful places in the country, and some of the most desolate as well. Anyone who has ever followed I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas knows that. Who hasn't stopped at the Mad Greeks in Baker, CA just because it is the biggest piece of civilization between them? When you drive through most suburbs these days, you can pretty much count on seeing the same string of franchise eateries, motels, stores, muffler shops, and auto parts stores. Whether you drive through Atlantic City, New Jersey, Cleveland, Ohio, Wichita, Kansas, Durango, Colorado, Flagstaff, Arizona , or any other city you can think of, you will find the line up of strip malls somewhere along the road into town. Sooner or later you will spot a Ken-tac-hut, next door to a Monro Muffler, across the street from an Applebee's that is across the parking lot from the IHOP. Down near the exit will be the Super 8 motel, next door to the Motel 6, the Red Roof Inn and the Holiday Inn Express. Of all that I have mentioned above only one is a single location, one-of-a-kind place, The Mad Greek's in Baker, CA. If you have ever been there you know what I am talking about. If you haven't I highly recommend it. When you get to these parts of any city, you literally could be in any city in the USA. Sure, if you are west of the Mississippi river you are much more liklely to find a Carl's Jr. or a Jack in The Box than a Hardee's, or a Sonic, but still and all, it is a pretty homogenous thing.

There is the benefit of knowing that you will always get the same product by the same name wherever you go in the country, but at the same time where is the adventure of the journey? What is the use of leaving home if you will only continue to visit the same places expecting the same services and products wherever you go? Isn't the point of traveling to be able to try new things and to have new experiences? To me, it is useless to travel if I will have the same thing in Utah and Colorado, and Kansas and Memphis and I can have in Rochester and Buffalo. When I am in Kansas City I want KC Barbecue, I'm going to Jack Stacks, when I am in Chicago I want Deep Dish Pizza. When I am in New Orleans I want crawdads and Jambalaya, I'm gonna find the place where the locals go for them. When I am in Texas, I want some Texas Beef, slow cooked over a mesquite flame. If I am in Maine I am gonna have Lobster at every meal, and shrimp and maybe even clams! But sad to say, when I need a new pair of pants, in Billings, Montana?

Yeah I'm going to look for a Wal-Mart. I can't help it, I know they will have what I want and in the size I need. I promise I won't buy a new pair of cowboy boots there or a hat, but for the pants and shirt, yeah I'm going there.

Pluses and minuses of everything. There is a benefit to knowing what you are gonna get sometimes, but other times there is a need for the adventure, and when you have a chance to have an adventure, don't waste it on a Big Box, adventure-ize yourself and maybe learn something about your own tastes. You never know when you will find something new that you really like.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

4 months later

So it has been 4 months since my favorite radio geek has come back on the air. Wease is Wease and now that the show has gelled and everyone has begun to get used to each other, I can give an honest critique of the show. I still love the show, but there are somethings that get to me.

One thing that I have noticed is that I am not impressed with the executive producer, Anthony. As I have said before, I am aware that I don't actually know these people, but the persona that they present on the air each day, that being said, the producer seems to me to be a nice guy, but not the brightest bulb on the tree. I hope that it is a persona, because I trust that Wease will surround himself with competent people, but sometimes I wonder about this guy. He believed that his daughter was born with Vick's Vapo-rub™on her head, because his wife ate the stuff when she was pregnant! Not the sharpest knife in the drawer! That is just one example, but there are many others where his beliefs seem to trump his visions of the truth.

I enjoy his producer Nick. He seems a genuine guy, but a little too conservative or right wing for the person he is working for. To be honest he is the main producer for the right-wing talk show host on the AM station, so he has a little bias coming into the show. I like his way of injecting his view when he disagrees with Wease. He likes to remind the show and Wease in particular, that not all the world is as liberal as he is. In fact, Nick has occasionally made some good points that I even agree with. Especially when he speaks of the money that has been wasted by local governments in the multitude of snafus over the years, and how that money would have been better used for education, infrastructure and law enforcement, rather than just "cool stuff."

The male sidekick, Jamie Lissow, he is a stand-up comedian who has been on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he has been on Fox News show Red-Eye, and he has his own 1/2 hour comedy special on Comedy Central. He is funny in a dry sort of way. His humor reminds me very much a the kid in the back of the class making stupid jokes at the teachers expense. He is a jock and a health nut. He likes his healthfood snack and he reminds everyone just how unhealthy they really are! He has his own little segment where he gets some of the local news items that are pretty stupid. They make us laugh, and everyone comments on the items so it takes a good half hour to get through the bit. I like him over all and I hope he gets better, he is good now, but I think he has some development room.

The female sidekick is Lilly, she is a complex little girl. Interesting in some ways and infuriating as all hell in other ways. One day I like her and I would love to have a conversation with her, then she says something later and I hope I never have to talk to her. Who knows the mind of a woman? Not even a woman!! Oh well, it's not like I want to date her or anything, she's just a voice on the radidio! I am curious about her though, She is a first generation American, as her parents are Albanian born. She was raised in Jersey, and has a decent education. I wonder if she speaks Albanian? If so, does she speak any other languages? I would really like to talk to her on the informational level just for my own curiosity. She has said that she finds religion silly. A great thought to me, but a strange wording. Silly? Maybe frightening, morbid, insane... but silly? I guess, but as long as she isn't a freak about following some ancient useless cult, I give her points for intelligence.

All in all the show has come together pretty well. I'm sure that there will be changes and adjustments to come, but so far, it's good. Could be better, and it sure could be worse. Right now I give it a 3 out of 5 stars. The interactivity of the show now is great with the webcams and the chat room, and the accessibility of the show is the best it has ever been. I can email the show and be acknowledged on air in a few minutes. That is great. The content hasn't been stellar. Some of the guests have left a little to be desired, but last week with Bobby Slayton! That was batting 1000. The various interns have provided some great radio, for sure, and they are learning from a true master of the medium. The phone screener Leah and the computer chick Colleen are great to chat with occasionally. I hope it gets better, because it is already good, but it still can be great!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring thoughts...

So the first day of "official" spring in the Northern Hemisphere has occurred and to remind myself that it was really spring, I froze my face and fingers off to get a nice little picture of a robin. Living in Western NY, many people consider the arrival of the geese, on their trip north, as being the harbinger of spring, but for me it is the arrival of the robins. They show up the week of the equinox. Always. They arrive and with them usually comes the first warm weekend of the season as well. So, they are my favorite birds.

Spring is my second favorite season. Summer being the first, but spring is right up there. I like 'em all to be truthful, but for different reasons and in different degrees. Spring is many things for me, but more than anything it is the beginning of warm weather. I like warm weather, actually I like hot weather, but Western NY hot, not Mojave Desert hot. I like when the thermometer is pushing into the high 80's and the sun is shining bright all day long. When the pool temp is getting up there too, and you can jump in the water and be so comfy that when you get out the air seems cool. That's what I really like. But that is summer, I wanted to wax philosophical about spring!

So what I like about spring... the snow is mostly gone and nature is coming back to life all around me. I walk outside in the morning and I can hear birds back in the trees. I am greeted by all manner of chirps and squawks and cheeps. Whistles and trills, the flutter of wings and the honks of the geese. Sometimes I can look out in the field and see the Canadian geese less than 50 yards from my doorstep. I see the rabbits scampering for cover when they spot me. They better scamper for cover, because I hate when they eat my flowers, so they are fair game for a shot from whatever gun I have handy. But the big draw for me is watching the world around me turn green. The spring bulbs come first, poking little shoots out of the ground and fighting the cold and the occasional snow until they triumphantly bloom! Sometimes the first emergence is the snowdrops, but other times the crocuses beat them to the pop, but color reappears in the world.

After the first blooms the daffodils follow and the tulips right behind them, colors from the whole rainbow in little gardens and corners of the yard. Poking out from under the mulch or the matted grass left from the winter snow. Before long there is work to be done, raking up the sticks and branches that winter has blown from the trees, making a pile and setting it afire, maybe using it to warm you hands on a cold, clear day. Everywhere you walk the ground is still soft, and if you're not careful you find the squishy spots where the mud squelches up around your boots, and if you don't step just right it squirts up and onto your pant legs. On the calm days you can hear the sounds of the neighborhood children outside playing again, maybe you spot the occasional kite, or if you're lucky enough to have the time and space you can fly one yourself. Can you get it so high that you can barely see it? Soon you will see the bicycles and the skateboards returning to the sidewalks and the streets and parking lots. The roads are still white with the winter salt, waiting for that big rain that will wash them clean. Motorcycles return to the roads with the warming of the world, and once again it begins to sound like summer. Before long the weather is warm enough to wake the frogs and the toads, and the forest comes to life with the sounds of peepers and croakers. The warmth also brings back the dreaded mosquitoes and the annoying houseflies. But they are food for the frogs, so they are tolerated until they get within our personal "no-fly" zones. I'm one of those lucky people who is not bothered by a mosquito bite. They bite, I swat and it's over, no swelling, itchy bumps here. Yet I still can't win the lottery!

Before long it's Memorial Day, and the gardens must be planted and the grass needs to be mowed, and the cover comes off of the pool. It is the beginning of summer, and the end of spring. Spring is it's own special time and it's a time to be enjoyed. I always hope that one of these springs I will have my great love to share it with. Because I really do think that spring is a great time to be in love. To take a walk holding hands watching the world come to life, or seeing one of springs spectacular sunsets. Having a person to share thoughts and ideas with, and to feel understood and cared for, seems the most important in the spring time. I guess I'm a romantic fool in many ways, but the new seasons always make me more so.

Go out and walk in the mud. Spring only lasts for a few months!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First one!!

Spring has sprung for me!! My very first bloom of the spring! I am happy happy happy!! I know that in a week or two it will snow again, and before it's all over with, probably more than once, but for today I felt like spring and I'm happy with it!!! Soon it will be daffodils and Tulips, then I will be mowing the grass, but for now a blossom is a beauty!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nature's show

One the great things about living out in the country, is the bonus of a great sky to be able to look at and enjoy. Sometimes it's just grey clouds for days and days, but occasionally you get to see something really nice, and if you look at the right time you get to see something downright spectacular. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a morning person, although on occasion I do have the reason to get up in the morning. When I do, I look at the sky. I'm more of a sunset person. I love to watch the sun go down. I like to see it sinking into the trees, as is my normal view. However, on certain occasions, I will be where I can see it sinking slowly into some great body of water. Some times it is aGreat Lake, and a couple of times it has been the Pacific Ocean. I have also had the pleasure of seeing it dip into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. I have begun a collection of sunsets for this year, and I'm sharing a few with you.

This pic is a nice one that I had fun trying to capture in just the right way so that it looked balanced. The reflection on the bottom side is from the hood of my truck, after a day of rain and snow all the salt residue has been washed off the hood and it was so clean and shiny that it looks like a mirror reflection. The hard part was getting the shutter speed and aperture set just right so that the sky didn't wash out and the reflection didn't disappear. I think it came out pretty darn good! I have found that to get the best versions of the amazing colors that are present in a sunset I have to play around with shutter speeds and apertures to get the same colors in the picture as I'm seeing with my (nowhere near perfect) eyes. Sometimes I take 10 pictures in less than 2 minutes with a raft of settings trying to find just the right one. I have also found that my mini-tripods are a great help in this too. When I am using a way slow shutter speed, setting the timer and letting go of the camera gives me a great exposure and unless it's windy a pretty smooth finish.

I have found that to show the seasons , I like to shoot the same basic scenes, this way I can see some progression and change. One of my favorite scenes is this set of pines in my neighbor's field. They stand tall and lonely, but when the sun sets behind them, the silhouette just catches my attention. I love to see what the sun does behind them and how the colors seem to break out around them. This particular picture was taken in the cold and it was all I could do to keep my fingers from frosting as I was taking the pics. The air temp was in the high teens and the windchill took it down below zero. But I persevered and captured my colors!

The first time I ever drove into Cleveland, Ohio, I was headed west on I-90, and driving into the setting sun on an August evening. I was stunned by the color of the sky, it looked like it was on fire. If you have ever seen the movie image of molten iron being poured, this was the color of the sky. Just so bright and looking like liquid fire. So later that night, I was commenting to my mother how much I loved that sunset, and she brought me back to reality, she said, " Isn't it amazing what air pollution does for the view?" So now no matter what I think of the beauty of the sunset, I always hear my Mother's words and remember that it isn't the pristine beauty that I am enjoying, but the result of the crap pumped into the air. Sure, it brings global warming. Acorrding to some scientists. Other would argue, but I look at the ice caps. They are eroding. This tells me that something is getting warmer someplace. I read something recenty that said that the while the Arctic Icecap is shrinking, the Antarctic Icecap is expanding. I can't believe that, because huge sheets and shelfs are breaking off and floating away. Maybe it's getting deeper in limited places, but over all it is not growing.

The best part about trying to capture sunsets, is that you get a chance to see one every day. The potential is always there. You never know when you will see something that completely blows your mind. On those perfect nights when the air is warm and the wind is calm, you can sit through the entire gamut of colors as the sun settles down into the horizon. As the sky darkens and the light stretches farther and father and gets more and more red into the purples and violets, and then the darkness comes, and the stars and planets come into view. Some days you can see Mercury chasing the sun over the horizon, followed quickly by bright Venus. Other times you have the bonus of the rising moon to light the way back to the house. In the summer you can share the sunset with someone that you love and stay warm and feel like you're the only two people left in the world. In the winter, you can watch as long as you can stand the cold. Your breath coming in little clouds. In the spring it may be hidden by some rain clouds, but if you pay attention occasionally the clouds part at just the right time and you are treated to the beauty of nature doing what she does best. Showing off.

Sometimes we get busy and forget that this little show is put on every night. Sometimes we get great reception, and sometimes we don't, but when it comes in clear, it's always worth watching. I hope you all have plenty of sunsets left to see.

BTW, click on any picture to see it biggerized!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

take a tour with me...

After playing with the pictures that I took saturday and shared a few of, I decided to make a video of it. And now that the video is made I decided to share it with ya'll! Hope you enjoy it. The sound track is a little thing frm Dave Viterna called "the Squirrel Song." I don't know if it's his original, but I will be looking it up just to find out for sure. I don't want any copyright issues! Enjoy the tour.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hometown Tourist

Have you ever been a tourist in your hometown? It's kinda fun and gives one a new perspective. Think about this, when you visit someplace new, what is the first thing you notice? Ok dumb question, because it it very subjective, if your from the cold into the tropics, you notice the heat and the smell. If your from the tropics into the cold you notice the cold and the smell. If you have never seen a Palm tree that's what you notice. But after a short time and the initial shock, you begin to notice the architecture. You see the buildings as different. If you are from the east coast and are visiting the west coast, you notice that the Buildings don't seem so old. But if your from the west coast and visit the east coast, you notice the Buildings look ancient in many places. If you have never seen a cobblestone street, you will take notice of them. I was in Odessa, Ukraine and saw this grand old Opera House. It is quite the Historic Building and it is a big piece of History in Odessa. It is a big source of pride.

What many people forget is that their own town has history and it is fun to explore sometimes. When you take a minute to wander around your own home town you start to see these old buildings that you have seen for years in a new light. Maybe you have been in and out of the door of this building many times, but have you ever really looked at the building? I don't mean Wal-Mart or the local strip mall. They are cookie cutter buildings and built with functionality in mind before beauty. (Unless they were designed to fit a zoning regulation such as in the city of Durango, CO. ) You never know where you're going to find something interesting. I have been in European cities that have ancient buildings that have seen half of recorded history, but they are still in use and still giving shelter and keeping the elements at bay.

In America an "Old" building is pushing credulity over 200 years. In parts of Europe there are building that are seeing their 7th 0r 8th century. Castles build back when the year only had 3 digits!
It's funny how something is a part of your life,loses it's mystique, but when somebody sees it for the very first time they are enthralled. I remember as a child, seeing that great dome on the top of our courthouse strung with Christmas lights and thinking that it was the coolest sight ever. Way better than a puny Christmas tree in the living room. But now I can't even tell you if they still string the lights on that dome, because I barely notice it anymore. Today I noticed it again for the first time in many years. I have been in this building a few time. ( never in cuffs, thank you very much!) I have been there for permits, for jury duty, and even as a witness for the prosecution. I have sat in the witness chair and given testimony. I have been there as a student on a field trip. But it is very rare that I look at this building with "new eyes" like I did today. My home town really has some interesting buildings if you would like to find out about them.

Our local paper runs a little history lesson once a week, where there is some old picture and the county or village historian describes the scene and tells about the time that it was taken and who is in the picture and where the scene is located in relation to today's buildings and landmarks. Occasionally the picture will include a building that is still standing today. That is always interesting. One of those buildings that surfaces in the historic pics now and then is what is now our local Public Library. I can't tell you when it was built or how much it cost when it was doen, but I do know this much, once upon a time it was a private residence, and the family that owned it was rich. The family name was "Swan" and thus it is now the Swan Library. It is three floors and the top floor is a little bit of a local natural history museum. Lots of people have been in and out of this building for years and they have never walked up the grand staircase in the middle of the building and seen the collection of eggs. From an Ostrich egg all the way down to a hummingbird egg. I have been they a few times just to identify something that I have found out in the field! LOL It's funny though, because as far as mansions go, I would consider this one to be kinda small. I don't know who much renovation was done when it was turned into a library, but it seems that the kitchen is long gone and I have no idea where it was. I guess if I ask sometime they would show me the original blueprints of the house so I could get a better idea of what it was like as a family residence. I have never asked.

Our town has some interesting history. Ever hear of a Pullman car? You know the sleeping cars that used to be part of the old railroads.... We Mr. Pullman, they guy who "invented" them, He was from Albion, NY and he used his money to build a Church, so now we have the Pullman Universalist Church in our town. There is a legend that The Dalton boys had family here when they died and they were brought here and buried in our cemetary. I haven't been able to prove that so I still consider that to be simply myth.

But all history is in the past, and as they say, "Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." It is great to read and to learn from and in some cases to enjoy for the shear beauty and wonderment of a more innocent time when people didn't shower as often and barely knew what deoderant was. ;-)) but the modern has come to us and we must embrace it, or it will run us over. What was once a corn field is now a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The damn things seem to grow everywhere! They are pervasive. I asked a friend of mine who works there once, how many they are going to build, and he told me that the plan is to put a Wal-Mart in every county in the United States that has a population of over 400 people. That's a lot of stores. Not all supercenters are created equal though, it seems that our is a medium-sized supercenter, but the one in the college town down the road? That is a supersized supercenter. The aisles are wide enough for 3 average Wal-Mart customers to pass by each other!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Small town thoughts

what makes a small town and small town? When is it no longer a small town? It seems that in recent years the term "small town values" has begun to show up in our lexicon more and more often, but what are true small town values? Is it a Hollywood thing? Is it something that is mythical, or is it something real?

I happily consider myself a small town guy. I grew up in a small town. The school where i received the brunt of my formal education had a total student population of 2600, give or take. I went to an even smaller school for one year where the total was closer to 1200 students, and now my nephews attend classes in a school that educates about 900 students. The student to Teacher ratio in these schools is such that students get help when they need it, and trouble can be caught and corrected early.

So first, to me, "small town values" are about education. Teachers still care, and the students are engaged and actually learning. I can't say that every student is a good student, but I have seen a correlation between class size and the success rate of the students. In the smaller schools it is much more likely that a higher percentage of pupils will stay in school, and reach graduation. Not only will they graduate, but a higher percentage will continue on to college. Now I know that you're thinking, "Well, Duh! Less students means that there is a better chance that there aren't as many laggards or unmotivated kids." What I mean is that the percentages are per capita. In urban schools the ratio is between 20-50 students out of 100 who go on to higher education after graduation. This is after the attrition rates of dropouts between Kindergarten and Graduation, which is somewhere in the 25 percent range, depending on the source you look at. The dropouts in small town schools are closed to 2-5 percent for the same period. More students stay in school, more reach graduation. But "more" is just a perception, because when 48 students graduate from a small town school and go on to college, the same year 1300 student could graduate from a city high school and 25% of them go on to college, that means that more kids from the city school go on to college. 52 vs 48. So this evens out a little bit. But the truth here is that a small town student is MUCH more likely to stay in school and go on to a higher education. ( What they do with it is immaterial at this point in the discussion!)

Second, a small town allows one to know their neighbors. This signals both safety and accountability, both excellent values. When you go to school in a class of 200 kids it is very likely that by the time you graduate you will know every one of your classmates. Whether you like them or not is a whole different discussion, but you know them all by name and face. Not only that, it is highly likely that you know many of their brothers and sisters, as well as who is related to whom. You know the family lines and most likely the family histories as well. If your family has many generations in a town, then you most likely have family in the class as well. ( I didn't, but many of my friends did) When you grow up in this environment, you know who does what and who is most likely to get into what kind of trouble. You know who the fighters are and who the vandals are, you know the bullies and the bullied. You know who is a hunter and who is a vegan. You know who has a grudge against whom. This means that when something happens in town, you generally have an idea of who is the culprit, or the target. It is unlikely that the guilty party will go unpunished for long. Try as you might there are very few real secrets in a small town. Somebody saw something and sooner or later it will get mentioned to someone who knows what was going on. Once 2 and 2 are put together, justice is swift and final. It's one reason why small towns are seen as "safe" because of the familiarity of the people with each other. This familiarity also breeds accountability. Do you think it is easy to hide your guilt from the nice lady down the street who used to babysit you when you were little, after you have driven through her flower-beds coming home drunk the other night?

I know that many people equate the small town with the religious right as well, but I don't really think this is always true. Yes, there is the element, but I think that it truly depends on the region. Some towns are like this, some are not. The town that I grew up in, is not one of these, even though some have tried to make it so in the past. In fact I know that my town is pretty evenly divided in this respect. It is not the religion that defines the overall morality of a town, it is the integrity of it's neighbors. Nobody needs a church doctrine to teach them to treat their neighbors with respect. Being humane is not necessarily a human trait, but education and civility get it ingrained better than the fear of some mythical omnipotent being. Look at how many people are taught the 10 commandments and yet they treat them like the 10 suggestions.

So when does a small town lose it's small town-ness? I postulate, that it comes when you no longer know your neighbors. When your kids go to a school with so many kids that they don't know them all by name, you can assume that you don't live in a small town. If you elect a mayor because he is fully qualified rather than because you went to school with him or his kids, you are likely to live in a big town, or Fates help you, a City! Yikes!

I like my small town just fine. My values are worth emulating. No reason to think being small town is a bad thing!

Monday, March 2, 2009

What the future holds...

Today I was involved in a discussion about high speed rail. The subject came up because local politicians are trying to get a high speed rail line established in New York State that connects Albany to Buffalo with obvious stops in Rochester and Syracuse. One side of the argument is the standard, "it's a waste of money and we have cars..." , while the other side is , "The future is coming and even if you don't want to be part of it, it needs to be embraced." I am more on the side of the future.

Why do I believe in high speed rail? Mostly because I see it as a great economical way to travel. Most high speed trains are more electric than anything, so they are much more environmentally friendly. Secondly, I think that our future is going away from fossil fuels, and with the advent of fully electric cars I can see a great future where the 2 technologies will work together in a great symbiosis.

Of course I have no idea how the planners are thinking, but from what I know of electric cars today, they do have their limits as to the distance and speed. ( I'm sure that as they become more prevalent these limitations will be stretched , but still they will not be as infinite as the fossil fueled vehicles we use now.) Has anyone here not seen the "Smart Car"? Well they are pretty cool, and I see no reason why the future high speed rail trains can't be built in such a way that theses cars can be integrated into a train. Picture this: in the future we will get in our cars for the long trip to grandmas house, but instead of getting out on the interstate highway, we will drive to the nearby rail terminal. There we will buy a ticket just like now, but instead of unloading all of our junk and hauling it to the train, we will simply drive our smart car to the gate, (similar to how we do for ferries to cross lakes and other water bodies now. ) The train arrives at the station and the car drives itself into a berth ( it IS a smart car!) to ride to the station nearest to our destination. While on the train our batteries are being topped off, we are free to sight see as we ride along, all of our luggage untouched by anyone but us. Our seats are comfortable and to our liking and the sound system or video player plays what we wish to see or hear. When we arrive at our station we simply drive off the train and continue to our destination. This gives us the benefit of mass transit, and the freedom of our own vehicle.

If we wish to go on a sight seeing vacation, we follow a similar pattern, but we can disembark the train and re-board the next scheduled train to continue on our way.. Of course there will be some logistical problems occasionally, and there is no way to avoid it. Too many people and there will never be enough space for everyone all the time, but it will be a learning curve and it will get better as experience teaches us all how to use the system more efficiently.

It needs to start someplace, and sooner or later there will once again be mass transit for the most part. Perhaps it is still decades away, but it will happen. Of course population density makes these things much more prevalent in European and Asian countries like Germany, France and Japan, but in the last 40 years these countries have become the technology leaders in transportation technology. There has been talk for years of such high speed rail lines in places like California to connect San Diego and Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento, or the east coast to connect Boston and New York City to Washington and Miami. Why not New York City to Cleveland via Philly and Pittsburgh? Or Cleveland to Nashville? Or any amazing city to any other! It makes a more sense than the airports and worries about rental cars. But this is just my thoughts. Nobody has set anything is stone yet. Coast to coast in 48 hours in your own car and not getting a single speeding ticket? How cool would that be? Take the express train, Indianapolis to Denver in a day, running at 300 mph across the open prairie! I have to quit here because other wise I could do this dreaming forever!

Embrace the future. There is no reason not to at least try!