Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why Write?

One day I had a very brief (thankfully) moment of self pity because no one had "liked"any of my posts in a closed Facebook group I am a part of. It stopped when I asked why I posted on the forum. I did not post to get applause, or likes--I posted hoping that my resource would provide some kind of uplift for the potential readers. It would educate them, or encourage them or remind them of an important truth. However, this entire train of thought got me thinking as to why any of us display our creations in a public forum. Why do we sing songs and play musical instruments in front of others? Why do we invite others to read our writing? Look at our drawings? View our photos? Do we sing, dance, write, paint, photograph for ourselves or for others?

I think the answer is truly the "Yes" we all joke about. We do create for ourselves--it is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to cause something to come into being that wasn't there before. A work of art did not exist until the artist came along and created it--and it is unique to that artist--our visions are unique to our selves. Yet, there is something in us that wants to show it to others. Sometimes it is for altruistic reasons: we think it will add to the community new ideas and serve to build up everyone. Sometimes it is because we like to hear the praise of others. Sometimes we actually benefit materially from the fruits of our creative labors. Sometimes we do it because we like the challenge of our work going out into the world meeting the opinions of others.

Anyone who creates and puts their work out in public has to recognize all the motives, pure and not so pure, that stand behind the action of putting their creation out there before the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Couple More Thoughts on KCFD and EMS

What is done is indeed done. The Kansas City Fire Department has taken over emergency medical services in Kansas City. The imperfect meshing of systems and cultures is still in process after two years--anyone who says this thing is working perfectly is fooling themselves at this point.

Somewhere is a line where non-support turns into hostility, and sticking it out becomes tolerating abuse. The only ones who know where that line is are the people experiencing it. Because we are all individuals, with different experiences and needs, that threshold will be reached in different places. It is also up to each person to make up their mind what they will tolerate, and what is enough.

Once the squishy stuff of morale is out of the way, it is time to ask tough questions about operations. That brings us to the qualifications and abilities of those running the system. There are 24 crews running ridiculous numbers of calls in the city. There are 24 hour shifts in fire houses not staffed. The irony of a lot of dynamic (i.e. not stationed in a fire house) crews is not lost on me--the reduction of use of the dynamic model was one of the points used to sell the merger/take over.

Whatever you think of response time as a measure of performance, there is no doubt that it is not up to standard in many respects. Changing the numbers by changing the status of calls from emergency to non-emergency only puts lipstick on the ugly pig. Better to be honest and ask the hard questions about the system, or to admit that with the resources given, this may be the best that can be done--if that is true.

And when you bottom line this thing at this point, that is the question you have to ask: Are we doing the best job we can or do we need to change some things to truly do as well as we can do? That question can be applied both to EMS performance and to those morale issues.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Musings on Kansas City's EMS...

It has been very difficult to watch the emergency medical service in Kansas City decay before my eyes since the merger/take over by the Kansas City Fire Department. I have access to priviledged conversation, giving me a bit of an inside view of the thoughts and concerns of medics of all stripes working EMS for the Kansas City Fire Department. I have sat on those communications, because of the nature of the media by which they come to me.
A while back I received an email from an anonymous source describing the situation in the EMS division of the KCFD. I never did post anything from that email, although I wrote a draft post.
A week ago, Tony's Kansas City posted about a situation involving the declaration of someone being dead in the field by non-EMS KCFD personnel. Within the past few days, I posted a link to an EMS journal's news of a study on response times for ambulances on the SKC Observer Facebook page. I received a comment in that forum that described some of the aspects of the case TKC alluded to in his post in more (and excruciating) detail.
Now, I can do one of two things: I can ignore--or worse delete--that comment on the Observer's Facebook page, or I can speak to it, and speak more generally to the state of EMS in our fair city at this time, and the fact that it ain't what it used to be.
Now we all know that MAST wasn't perfect--there were money issues with the service at times, and occasionally operational issues. However, it seems that the folks who worked there took pride in where they worked and cared about the quality of the service they rendered. If there is any more unfortunate casualty of the KCFD take over it is the loss of morale among those who provided EMS for Kansas City for many years as employees of MAST. Response times and save rates are measures that can be quantified--and response times are struggling to meet standards both in the north and south parts of the city but the morale of employees is difficult to measure. To hear of paramedics and EMTs who are struggling to keep their morale up and their desire to do the work at a respectable level is just about as unsettling as the operational issues that have required attention.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

KCFD and KCPD: Heroes or Villains?

One of the great laws of municipal life is that the jobs of the police department and the fire department are not like other city jobs, that their jobs are different because of the risk involved in the work and the nature of the job. When hard times come, or when contracts are up for renewal and negotiation, that is when we see this most strongly demonstrated. The fire department and police department members are seen as either indispensable heroes or lazy, greedy villains.

So, as you know, the Kansas City Missouri city budget is dealing with needing to make cuts in costs throughout city government. Both the police department and the fire department are squarely in the cross hairs. The fire chief has been asked to reduce the department's budget by more then $7 million. Pension changes and benefit reductions are being eyed for the police. Modest raises in salary the police thought were coming their way are in danger of being canceled.

What has been more interesting then the various news stories about budget matters are the comments of readers, both in mainstream media (when allowed--shame on you Kansas City Star for being so stingy in allowing comments on both news and opinion pieces!) and on blogs. There are a lot of people out there who are down on both the police department and the fire department. They slam the police department for not stopping crime. They slam the fire department for not working hard enough and for being too big for its workload.

Are police and fire to be treated differently at contract time and when the budget ax comes out down at city hall? Threatening these services sets off alarm bells for many of the citizens of a city, and also makes the city look less stable for those with money to invest. It is very true that fire's load of structure fires has decreased, but EMS and other service calls, even before the merger with MAST, are increasing. On the other hand, the average police officer is a very busy person, responding to 911 calls almost all their shift. Crime stats are notoriously easy to manipulate, but there is no doubt that our city has too many murders and a lot of violent crime. Cutting back police presence on the street seems like a foolish move in the face of these realities.

The problem is that no decisions will be make without the politics getting in the way, without favors being promised and done, without palms being greased. It will not be a clean assessment, based solely on the science and experience of police or fire management. It will be contaminated by people wanting to protect their kingdoms and fiefdoms, by people who see more clearly the future for themselves than the future for the city. Whatever happens, it will be messy, it will not be the best solution, and it will probably cost too much--the price of politics.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Some Existential Thoughts Provoked by Whitney Houston

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world
--Jesus Christ, as quoted by John (John 16:33b NIV)
Unless you have hidden under a rock, you are aware that singer Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel room in California Saturday afternoon. The Observer is around Ms. Houston's age--you could say we grew up together. I remember attempting to sing along with her in my first car after I graduated college--a Ford Escort. However, this post is not specifically about Ms. Houston's premature and somewhat unexpected death--it is about how it is that the landscape around you keeps changing as you get older.

Your relationship with technology changes--you've seen the changes both good and bad. You took your professional boards over 2 days with a pencil. You wrote your papers on a typewriter. You remember that if you were not home, tough luck reaching you on the phone. You remember music on large thin plastic discs. To a greater or lesser degree you've accepted the changes--even found them to be a substantial improvement. I am thankful every day for computers to write things on--so much easier for me!

The celebrities and sport stars you grew up with--the athletes, actors and singers you enjoyed over the years change--they retire, change their work, and die. You find yourself having to explain who someone is, or what they did to be famous or what their area of excellence was. You also make references that require explanation--we call them "memes" now--"Round up the usual suspects." "Make him an offer he can't refuse." "Go ahead, make my day."

To live is to change. It is almost literally "change or die." If you stop looking around you at the world and fully living in it and taking hold of the new, you will stagnate. You will stop growing a legacy. The relationship with the past is a tricky one: too much looking back, and a person can get stuck in many ways from wistful memory to regrets to roots of bitterness. Blundering on without consideration of the past also hurts; mistakes are repeated, the joys are neglected and passed over, and important content is destroyed. It is a little like a city and its old buildings: some must come down to allow for vibrancy and growth going forward, yet a city that does not treasure its physical history is not as rich as one that respects the structures of the past.

I have become more conscious lately of the fact that I may die. I am asking questions about my life--what will last, what will be of benefit to the world. As I watch the world around me change the questions become even more pointed. It is not about stuff, it is about what you do for others ongoing that will last. I pray that I have done some good for others during my life so far, and I pray that I can continue to build others up and teach others in a way that is positive.

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.
--John Wesley, Christian evangelist, Anglican priest and founder of the Methodist Church.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kansas City Budget Quick Thoughts

I just read over Sly James' letter about the proposed budget for the city--I had a few thoughts:

When is it good-money-after-bad? When is it enough money to the poorest areas of town and maybe some more for areas that are not at the bottom of the hill? Tell me, how many people are walking in the third and fifth council districts? I see people walking all the time here in the sixth! Send some of that sidewalk money down here--we'll use the walkways. (That's just an example. Do we want to spend a lot of money on parts of the community that have slid down the hill already or do we want to work to prevent other parts of the community from sliding down the hill?)

Can we cut non-frontline people? You can not tell me with a straight face that there is not fat in middle management in every department in the city, including police and fire. Don't cut boots on the ground. Cut the assistant to the associate assistant!

The water department: please get real managers there before we give them any more money!

If I read my info right, the infrastructure work would be financed by bonds, that would increase tax burden about $55 on average. More information please: remember all the rumors? 150% property tax increase, city vehicle tax returning...are those still in play?

A lot of verbage, a lot of good intentions, a developing story.

Dennis Moore

I was not surprised at the announcement that Dennis Moore, retired Kansas third district congressman, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I am not gloating here, as Alzheimer's is no fun, a stealer of life. Dementia is like death while still living--it is a horrible thing.

But I remember thinking during the healthcare summer of 2009 that some of the statements and actions of Rep. Moore were a little odd. And his reluctance to be out in public. And his wife running for him in 2010. There was a point in time where there was a vague reference to some "threats" against him, which had an odd tone to them. He never did an unscripted appearance during that debate, even in venues usually unthreatening. It all seemed odd. When his wife decided to run my thoughts went this way: Moore still wants to play, but he can't play fully. He can work behind the scenes in controlled areas as consultant and provide experience; his wife, fully capable, can do the "up front" work that requires thinking on the fly and a strong working short term memory as well as emotional control. I kept looking at all these things clinically, and wondering, is Dennis Moore struggling with dementia?

So I wasn't surprised by the announcement. Saddened for him and his family. Dismayed. But not surprised.

Above: Photo of Dennis Moore during his recent meeting with the press, from the Kansas City Star.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Of Beauty Contests and Choppers

Subtitle: Whatever I can blab about for 20 minutes.

Today Missouri is holding a non binding primary and it's just the dumbest thing ever. Missouri got played, both by the republicans and the democrats. The democratic governor could have stopped the voting charade, but didn't. The republicans could have pulled the vote, but did not. We will spend $7 million on a vote that means nothing. Shoot, we can have pollsters do that for us, that is, find out everyone's preference. In about two months, we will be going to the polls to elect school board members--could have just as easily done it then (although caucuses will be March 17 so it would have been kind of silly then too. Silly but cheaper.) I'll admit, I did not waste my time with this vote.

Kansas City's police department wants to buy a new chopper to replace the bits and pieces that make up one workable 40+ year old bird. Now, a while back a sale tax for capital improvements was voted in, and I would be interested to know if this money is new money or old money, per the ordinance language it is something called the Police Grants Fund. Is this sales tax money? If so, I am cool with that, as the chopper is a great tool for catching bad guys and KC's helicopter is very old and parts are getting hard to find. If we want a copter, and I think we do, and we have money without having to raise revenue or create new taxes, I am all for it. I think this is money well spent. The helicopter crews have not just chased bad guys but helped fire and EMS track down crashes. They are invaluable in following cars from the air, making it less dangerous to catch fleeing felons. There are a lot of money spending proposals floating around city hall. This one, if it is out of an existing fund, is a solid use of money that is already around, and an investment that will pay off in the future.

Observer photo of the current Huey police chopper and one of the crew at an event last October.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Simple Economic Thoughts

After posting I realized I had left out another point of tension and that is the effect of debt on an economy, both personal debt and government debt. Most believe that the current debt crisis was triggered by the debt incurred by real estate sales and the collapse of the complex instrumentation that grew up around those transactions. It is not the only cause, but it's an important part of the equation. Clearly, it was a bubble, and it broke dramatically. I think everyone can agree it was a bad thing for so many to be over their head in real estate debt.

However, not all agree that government debt is to be universally feared. Some feel that the debt incurred during a stimulus from the central government, along with the various types of payment programs will move the economy in a positive direction. Others strongly feel otherwise. If debt is seen as bad, needing reduction to prevent it from hurting the economy, two schools of thought show up yet again. One group says reduce taxes and the scope of government, even to the point of eliminating entire federal departments, and the economy of the private sector will grow, generating jobs, income, consuming and taxes. The other group sees tax increases, particularly on higher incomes, and unearned incomes (capital gains and such) as the way to cut the debt. These folks go back to the idea that too much cutting and austerity will keep the economy down.

I think we are dealing with unique times, and old recipes may not work. We need to look at everything and we need to compromise and talk to each other, not at each other. I also think we need to admit that much of the time during this crisis, we don't have a clue what will really work.

One other thing: I was chastised by conservatives when I suggested those receiving unemployment should be put to work on behalf of the country. I still think that if we are going to have the government cutting checks for people, they might as well get some service in return. Especially in the laboring trades; God knows there is enough infrastructure to fix. Is this a viable thought?