Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ice Storm Memories

Well, I was ready to join the ten years since the big ice storm fun, until I realized that I was still using film cameras and I have no idea where those photos are!

Still, I do remember. I remember setting the trash at the curb, feeling rain drops on my back and the thermometer reading 28 degrees. I knew then that we were in deep doo-doo. The next day, transformers were popping all over the neighborhood and by dinner time, the power was out. It would be out for three days, and the hardest thing about that was staying warm. The house was a cozy 45 degrees. After three days almost exactly, the power returned, courtesy of a crew from Houston. Not to everyone however; just to one side of the street. Across the street was not yet on, as well as two homes on my side. The last to be restored? Neighbor Carl, who is an electrician. He was so busy repairing other people's damaged service points that he didn't fix his own and KCP&L would not restore him until his was fixed. All told it was one week before we all were restored on our street. Aside from being cold, and one EMS call for a person who ran their portable gas fueled generator in the attached garage we all fared OK.

You could not drive anywhere, it was so icy. Tree branches were down all over. I cut up lots of fallen limbs and collected lots of branches. Thankfully I did not have to go out, and me and the cats bundled under the covers. I wished (and still do wish) that I had a wood stove.

I wonder where those photos are!

Above image from Fox4.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Simple Thoughts on Complex Economics

How much can a government help to promote an economic recovery? There are two different schools of thought on the subject. Now, please note that these are simplified ways of summing up this complex topic as well as notes from one who majored in neither economics or political science. So I might be making things too simple. However, even in my limited understanding I can understand that we live in difficult, hard to fathom times.

One is that the government can provoke a recovery by spending money on different things. Unemployment payments, highway projects, government jobs--all take government money and attempt to inject it into the economy, hoping it will provoke growth. Austerity is seen as something that retards growth, making everyone reluctant to spend money on anything.

The other school of thought is that the government can't grow anything--that any spending that the government does is a net negative--at best it's neutral. It is a moving of money from one place to another and creates no new wealth, no new innovation and does not promote recovery. Government can best promote recovery by getting out of the way of the private sector as it works.

Last night's SOTU speech and the reply were just the latest salvos in this ongoing war of ideas. From the differing views of how things are now to the views of how capable the United States still is, the differences noted above were on display from President Obama and Governor Daniels. We also see this right here in our little cowtown on the river: we have the projects downtown, Power and Light, the Sprint Center for example, with heavy government investment.

We are always going to have a certain amount of the government pushing and pulling the private sector. Because humans are the way they are, a certain amount of regulation will always be needed, especially as corporations get bigger and lose their individual human identity (despite the Supremes' decision, corporations are not people) and fail to take heed of the price of being part of the society that surrounds and supports them. Yet we also know that the private sector, the person or group working on their own behalf, with their own goals and missions creates the most breakthroughs and new wealth--and is entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Government can not bring that creative energy and desire--just love at the sad state of the Soviet Union when it fell--first world weapons and third world infrastructure.

We are in difficult times--we have to stop demonizing each other. It just doesn't help the cause. We need to take some difficult medicine and we have to start working towards the next breakthrough, the next frontier. Otherwise, we will suffer both here and in the world at large.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Making Life Better for Pets In Kansas City

For the fourth time ever, and the third time since the take over by a private group, this blogger visited the Kansas City Pet Project. The Observer continues to be impressed with the way the place is going. The out of date buildings and awkward topography of the location haven't changed but it's clear that a new spirit is in the place.

The very first time I visited the dog adoption area, the odor almost knocked me over. Since then, each time I have visited it has smelled reasonably clean to very clean (no place with 100 or more dogs in kennels, not all of whom get to go out as much as they should will smell perfect). The dogs, of course, are noisy, and there is not much help for that, other then keeping a ground level of activity that is positive for them. Maybe someday, when a new building is built, or this one is renovated, the bars that make the place look like doggy jail and still permit careless contact that can spread disease will go away, replaced by modern Plexiglas...

The cat area was moved from an unventilated basement to this office area even before the change and the area is far from perfect. However, the space gets some ventilation, and the cats get light and entertainment from the windows there. The area is clean, and sensible moves like moving the garbage can that held cleanings from the litter boxes out of the room keep the area from having a strong smell. It is possible to keep cats healthy here with innovation, attention to detail and discipline.

Most of the folks who are working with Kansas City Pet Project are veterans of animal work in this city. The veterinarian worked at Wayside Waifs and I recognized some faces from other animal welfare organizations. This one ingredient of being a city that cares well for animals, bringing one of the metro's largest open-admission shelters up to par, is moving smartly in the right direction.

It was good to see that the initial loss of funding to programs that helped provide services for spaying and neutering companion animals was restored by the Jackson County legislature this week. It was earlier removed in one of those penny-wise/pound foolish moves that pols are famous for. Because animal shelters and other efforts to get pets into homes are just part of a city's proper plan for animal welfare: the sheer number of animals bred must be reduced. That means an aggressive program of sterilization for many animals. That includes making sure that low income pet owners have a way of getting that done for a lower costs. That also means taking care of the strays of the city, whether it is getting them homes or TNR. People are important, but the problem of pet overpopulation is not going to go away--if anything it will get worse--if an investment in prevention is not made.

Meantime, the KCPP is a non-profit concern running the Animal Shelter at 4400 Raytown Road in Kansas City. They take contributions of cash or needed items. The shelter is open most afternoons except closed all day Mondays. Available pets are listened on Petfinder as well as accessed through the KCPP site and via Facebook.


Kansas City Pet Project on the web and on Facebook.

Photos by The Observer, and yes, the young couple in the picture adopted the cat they are visiting.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thinking of KC From Afar

Good afternoon/evening everyone. I hope you are all doing well today. The South Kansas City Observer is not in south KC but traveling, and has a moment of internet time with my own computer. I have been monitoring the news from afar and my, you all have been busy.

The good news is that the shooter in the incident at the Independence Center mall has been caught. I feel good that it was not someone out to rob, or someone who went to the mall just to shoot and kill people. On the other hand, how stupid is it to resolve such a petty incident with such violence. It is as if we have all become prisoners of the game of respect. It is silly and self centered. Memo to all: the world does not revolve around you. Second memo: remember, this too shall pass. Scary too to think how many people are indeed carrying a concealed weapon, and are not trained to do so. Be careful who you talk (back) to--sometimes it is better to swallow that snappy retort, as much as it pains to.

The proposed city budget has indeed ruffled feathers as any budget that proposes cuts inevitably does. We are starting to feel the impact more sharply of the economic decline now, and like so many cities, we have to save some money somewhere. It is now that the bill of not focusing on basics will come due. While I am dismayed over cuts to police (at a time when we are dealing with issues of crime) and wonder about cuts to fire (I know some things about EMS staffing--aspects of staffing the ambulances are not pretty) I am quite perturbed over cuts to repairing our sad streets and downright annoyed at the idea of water/sewer increases. Yet there is moneys going to sports and entertainment. If we want to avoid that 150% property tax increase that was kicked around a couple weeks ago, we are going to have to cut. Let's try to get this one right and cut as much fat as possible, saving muscle and bone.

I expect to be back to regular posting real soon. Check out the Facebook box: I sometimes do links and posts there that you might find interesting. A current question has to do with the influence of what the news media reports on our opinions and emotions about crime. Go over there and add your $0.02.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winter's Here

The Winter you ordered has arrived. Please go to the pick up window and get your order. Are you all happy now? It's nasty cold and a smidgen of snow has fallen.

As to the streets and the driving, well none of it is ever good. Any time conditions change rapidly as they did over the past 24 hours, it makes it tough for street departments to take care of the roads. There were very specific spots where the roads got very slippery overnight. As to the driving? It's a problem because we don't get enough winter weather for people to get the experience needed to be good at it. In addition, most of us are like kids over summer vacation: we forget everything we learned during the previous year's classes.

The key to sane winter driving is to pay attention, leave extra time for your trip, anticipate, plan ahead and make all changes slowly. This is a really good time to stop using your phone while you drive. You will need both hands and all your attention.

The word vector is used in physics and it describes something that has both an amount and a direction. When you say that you were driving 65 mph east, you are stating a vector. In winter driving, if you make any changes to the vector value of your moving auto, it is far better to make them slowly not abruptly. So if you must turn, stop, start, slow down or speed up, those are the danger times for your traction to fail you and the laws of physics to take over. The true lesson is that most winter driving is not impossible, but because so many variables have changed, the rules are different. Drive accordingly, and you will arrive alive.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

About the Kansas City Public Schools

When I was growing up in New York city, with few exceptions, it was recognized that the public school system was terrible. If you had two nickels to rub together you sent your child to private or parochial school. That was just the way it was. It was something known throughout the entire city--maybe out in Staten Island they felt better about their neighborhood schools, but in the four other boroughs, Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, the general feeling was that the schools run by the city stunk, and you just didn't send your kid there if you could help it. It burned people to pay taxes to run the crappy schools and pay tuition to educate their own kids, but it was one of those things that was just taken as part of the package of living in New York City.
Over the past 30 years, the Kansas City schools have slowly slid into the same abyss. There are so many reasons why the schools have gone into the dumper, but gone there they have. Now, as generations of ill educated people pass by, and education is less and less valued, the schools get worse and worse. What came first? The bad schools? The bad values? What has gone on with the drug trade in our poorer neighborhoods and the lure of easy money? The flight of those who value education more?--first the White Flight driven by prejudice and ignorance, then the flight of Black families that want their kids to be well educated. It gets harder and harder to overcome the poor family/parental support that the kids bring with them to school. Expectations drop. Discipline goes away. Instead of reinforcing school rules, parents threaten the school with lawsuits and blame. All this going on in a nation that is doing less and less manual labor and more and more things that require skills. Things that require the ability to read, do math, comprehend and follow concepts and ideas--basically the skill to be able to think. Both our institutions and our values are failing us here with the result that our abilities are decreasing daily as a nation and people.
You don't have to go to college to be an innovator, but you do have to develop an intellectual curiosity about the world around you, and have some basic and fundamental skills to create something special. That starts younger then college. We are losing those youngsters. It's hurting us already. To really fix it, we have to renounce our anti-intellectual bent, our lack of value of being educated in the family, our blame passing and our lack of expectations. We can work on the institution all day long, and spend lots of money, but these are the things that really need fixing.

Under Inspired

The five of you who read this blog don't come here to read about how frustrated I get trying to write posts sometimes. But it has been especially hard of late. Partly because I have had trouble clearing time for internet fun and partly because the issues before us are so uninspiring.

Uninspiring is what I would call the Republican field for president. This deficient group has started the long primary voting season with the caucus in Iowa last week. Mitt Romney won that in a squeaker. The first three were Romney, Santorum and Paul. While there are aspects of each of these men that have some appeal, they each have potent defects as well. I keep looking at the Republican field and at Barack Obama and ask myself, "Really? Is this the best we got?"

Uninspiring is what I would call the leadership of Kansas City, Missouri, which seems more determined to make big splashes then solid workaday plans. It's more fun to challenge the state over the school district and make plans for buildings and trains then it is to work daily on the crime issue, patch the streets and keep water flowing to residents.

Uninspiring also is so many people who do not want to take responsibility for anything, whether it be a discreet action or a general decay. We look for someone to blame for our failures. This is natural, and a very easy trap to fall into. However, true change, the kind of change that really "takes" cannot start until we step up and tell ourselves the truth. That is the start of true reformation and revival, the start of true change.

And it is what we need now. These are special times, and they are going to need some new and special thinking.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year?

Were you sad to see the end of 2011? Or completely ecstatic to finally see it end?

I have to say that I don't get all wrapped up in the end of the year. It is more of interest to me when the seasons of the year start and end. Christmas is a holiday with its own intrinsic value and part of a different cycle of seasons. New Year's is embedded in the first part of winter, when the days are still short and the temperatures are getting lower. Ask me how happy I am as the temperature warms in late February and March and days get longer--I am very happy at that transition.

2011 was stressful for our nation, as many became unsatisfied with our national leadership, both presidential and congressional. The economy continued to stagnate, not producing jobs, exhibiting all the signs of painful structural change ahead. Locally, we watched our homicide rate go up, rapidly outpacing most metropolitan areas. We watched as a new administration took up residence at 11th and Oak, and did not seem much better than the old one. Water pipes continued to burst. Power plays and players came and went, and it seemed that the basic services that hold a city together were being neglected. It was more fun to cut ribbons and spawn real estate development ideas.

2012? It will be dominated by the national presidential circus. As I type this, CNN is playing speechifying by Republican candidates in Iowa. The caucus there is the opening salvo in an ongoing drama of nominating an opponent for the weakened incumbent and we will hear this stuff endlessly until November. Many regard the November election as one of the most important in our nation's history. It certainly will be one of the longest campaigns leading up to that election.

Meantime, some believe that the world will end apocalyptically in 2012. We tried that road in 2011, and funny, we are still here. I suspect that we will be here in 2013. A little bruised maybe, but still here.

Happy New Year. Whoopee...