Friday, April 30, 2010

Have You Returned Your Census Form?

For the 23rd time in an unbroken chain dating back to 1790, the United States is in the midst of the decennial census. Every housing unit should have received a questionnaire that was to have been filled out by one of the residents and mailed back to the Census Office in a prepaid return envelope. Housing units that for which no completed census form was received are just now starting to be visited by census workers known as NRFU (Nonresponse Followup) Enumerators, probably wearing a shoulder bag similar to the one in the photograph. Enumerators must wear an identification card hanging from a lanyard around their neck but the card does not bear their photograph.

If an Enumerator rings your doorbell or knocks on your door, please take about ten minutes to accurately answer the questions he or she will ask. If an Enumerator visits while no one is home and leaves a Notice of Visit with their phone number, call them back to schedule an interview. They may be able to conduct their interview over the phone rather than visiting you.

All Census data is confidential and Enumerators have sworn an oath to protect your personally identifiable information. If an Enumerator breaks confidentiality they may face a fine as well as imprisonment.

An accurate census count is essential not only for determining the number of Representatives a state will be entitled to send to the United States House of Representatives but how Congressional Districts within a state are structured. Even in a state that neither gains nor losses representation due to this census, the Congressional Districts within the state might be re-aligned so that the population within each of the districts is as nearly equal as possible. While a state’s total population might not have changed much since the 2000 Census, the population within a state might have shifted from communities near summits to communities near shores (yes, that was a self serving reference to this blog) or vice versa, necessitating the congressional districts to be redrawn.

Results from the census are also used to determine federal and state funding levels for various federal and state programs. Thus you being counted, or not being counted, might mean the difference between federal and state programs in your community receiving, or not receiving, thousands of dollars in funding.

The decennial census not only tells us how many people live where but how they live and what race they are. Like a snap shot of America taken every ten years, the Census documents not only who we are as a country but who we have been and how we are changing. So if an Enumerator visits, patiently and accurately answer the questions and smile.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Everglades

Waking up from a nap, I looked out the window I was sitting next to and could have thought I was thousands of feet above the planet Mars. In reality I was thousands of feet above the Florida Everglades—for the first time in my life.

When recently returning by plane from Tampa to New York via Miami, as we approached Miami we flew over the Everglades. If it were not for mid afternoon sunlight reflecting off the water I would have found it difficult to distinguish water from marsh and ground. The occasional canals, perhaps some natural and some dredged, could have led me to think I was above a Martian plain. The predominance of browns rather than greens and blues added to the illusion.

This was not only the first time I had flown over the Evergaldes but the first time I had seen them from any location or angle, my first encounter of them.

I almost slept through the experience and awoke just minutes before the view transitioned to roads, highways and developments. The next time I experience the evergalds I hope it is from the cockpit of a kayak rather than the cabin of a commercial jetliner.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Welcome to My Neighborhood: Polish Flags Are Flying

As thousands of Poles gather in Warsaw to mourn the 96 victims of last week’s plane crash in Russia, Polish flags, some bearing black ribbons, have been unfurled around my neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens, New York City.

Many years ago Ridgewood was predominately a neighborhood of German immigrants. It now appears pretty eclectic but with a heavy eastern European contingent, including a fair number of Poles.

There were not very many Polish flags in sight around the neighborhood a day or two after last week’s plane crash which claimed the life of Poland’s President and so many other Polish leaders. One by one, however, Polish flags, small and large, professionally crafted and drwan on paper with crayon and marker, started appearing in windows, hanging from windows, on cars, and hanging from staff’s tied to railings. Some of them have black ribbons of mourning tied to a grommet or to the top of a staff.
As a native West Virginian I resonated with last week’s mine disaster in West Virginia which claimed the lives of 29 miners. As much empathy as I feel for fellow Mountaineers who have lost family, friends and neighbors in that accident, I can barely imagine what Poles and Polish-Americans living here in Ridgewood must be feeling after losing not only a beloved President but many of their home nation’s Government, Military, Business and Church leaders.
Regardless of how you feel or think of President Obama, imagine Air Force One crashing not only with a beloved President aboard, but with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and Mike Pence onboard; with Robert Gates, General Mike Mullen, and General David H. Petraeus on board; with Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Oprah
Winfrey, and T. Boone Pickens on board; with the Reverend Dr Sharon Watkins, the Reverend Michael Livingston, the Reverend Dr Michael Kinnamon, and Most Reverend timothy M. Dolan aboard; and with over eighty other national leaders on board.
Such a loss of national talent and knowledge, not to mention the loss of life, would be devastating blow to our national energy, casting a temporary pall over our nation. I can only imagine that this is the reality being faced by Poland, a nation in mourning for some of its brightest and best. Like a phenix rising from the ashes, may the crowned white Eagle of Poland once again soar as the nation overcomes this tragedy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Life Will Find A Way

Sometimes even against the greatest of odds life finds a way. For instance the other day I noticed a few small purple and orange flowers poking their way out of a thin crack in the concrete in front of the house (photo right). Upon closer examination I discovered that the winners in the struggle for survival were pansies.

My wife thinks that last year she scattered some loose pansy seeds after planting pansies in a flower pot on the front steps. Somehow a few of these seeds settled in the crack, survived the winter, and are now flowering. I find it amazing and worthy of awe.

Back on March 22nd I wrote in that day’s post that “every-day beauty can be seen in places other than the obvious, from tree lined streets, both residential and commercial, to wildflowers growing in window boxes.” I had no idea back then that the beauty of nature would be making an appearance out of a thin crack in some concrete, but it is. And it has touched my citified soul and caused me to ponder greater mysteries.

In my mind it is not a great intuitive leap from those pansies poking through a thin crack in the concrete to life on our planet. Against great odds life took hold on this planet and while some species have become extinct, life in general still thrives on a hunk of rock circling a star in the midst of the cold vacuum of space, sort of like a concrete in front of our home sun.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Progressive Twofer

When tickets for a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are secured months in advance, fans have no idea who the guest or guests for their particular show might be. Imagine our delight when we learned, just a day in advance, that Rachel Maddow was to be Jon’s guest the evening of the show we had tickets to, last night’s show.

Most evening’s at 9:00 PM we watch the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. I prefer Rachel’s show over both Hardball with Chris Matthews and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Rachel is less acerbic and wittier than both Chris and Keith. She is also more playful but can be deadpan series when she wants to.
At 11:00 PM we usually watch the Daily Show with John Stewart on Comedy Central. His sarcastic commentary on the day’s news, especially his relentless exposĂ© of the double standards of conservative politicians and Fox commentators are always informative as well as entertaining.
Most of Jon’s interview of Rachel last night was devoted to her upcoming MSNBC two hour documentary about The McVeigh Tapes (Monday at 9:00 PM on MSNBC). During the interview she said she thought McVeigh was a sociopath and that she had no compulsion against him receiving the death penalty. Without much of a segue she even opined that she could kill Osama Bin Laden with a spoon if she had a chance. Yes, with a spoon. Who needs weapons of mass destruction when all Rachel needs to end Al-Queda terrorism is a spoon?

Rachel noted that she upholds two commandments: Don’t lie and don’t kill people. I can live with that. Truly, I can.
Last night was the second time we have attended a taping of the Daily Show with John Stewart. You can read about our first time in the audience here.

Last night we thought we had great seats when we were placed in the front row, only to discover during taping that there were many times we could not see Jon because one of the cameras was between us and him. Before taping was completed Jon announced that he needed to re-record a couple of his comments accompanying the video segments. Since only the sound was being recorded and not video, both Jon and the staff were more relaxed for these few minutes than they had been for the rest of the show.
Taping was over and the audience release around 7:00 PM. We were back home in time to catch the 11:00 PM Broadcast (photo of TV screen bottom right). We even arrived back home in time to see the last few minutes of Rachel Maddow Show.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

25 + 4 = 29 Dead West Virginia Miners

It seems that only three things can bring media attention upon West Virginia, West Virginia University Football, West Virginia University Basketball, and West Virginia mine disasters. The Mountain State is where I was born, received most of my education, and lived and worked until three years ago, so I am a Mountaineer through and through and resonate with unfortunate news of yet another mine disaster and more loss of life.

Soon after the most recent West Virginia mine disaster it was reported that twenty-five miners died in the explosion but that it was hoped that the four miners unaccounted for had made it to a safe room where they were waiting to be rescued. After several days of hopeful searching and waiting, drilling and waiting, rescue attempts begun and then postponed, renewed rescue attempts and waiting, as well as press reports, interviews, and conjectures, four more lifeless bodies have been recovered from a West Virginian Coal Mine. Four more families have lost sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and bread winners as King Coal claims four more sacrificial victims.

Although I happened to on vacation hundreds of miles away when the Sago mine exploded a few years ago, Sago was just a short drive up the valley from where I lived and worked at the time. While the media focused on the immediate story, I know from personal experience that the story of Sago played out over several months and years, leaving scars on the local and extended community that still have not healed.

When the satellite link trucks and vans leave West Virginia for their next live coverage assignment, the story of this most recent disaster will continue long after the media have left Montcoal, and once again West Virginia will slip into the recesses of the nation’s consciousness until the next Sugar Bowl, NCAA Final Four, or mine disaster. But coal and the electricity it is used to produce will flow into households across the Mid-Atlantic States.

West Virginia coal is both a blessing and a curse, and coal mining in West Virginia is like an addictive drug that offers a quick fix high but also occasionally kills when improperly administered or when one overdoses. Like a third world colony West Virginia has had its lumber clear cut, its gas pumped out, and its coal extracted at the cost of environmental degradation and lost lives, this week twenty nine more lost lives. Mountaineers are always free, free to sell their minerals, land, natural resources and very lives to out of state absentee entrepreneurs who enrich themselves while their workers survive on a few scraps of leftovers.

May God comfort the afflicted families, friends, co workers and neighbors of the twenty-nine West Virginia miners killed in this recent mine explosion. May God afflict those who comfortably sat by, counting their money while allowing this to happen.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Violets 1 – Crocus 0

March Madness might be over (and WVU might have lost to Duke) but the contest for control of the center court, or lawn, at North Church Queens continues into April Insanity.

Most of the first and second string crocus have fouled out. Daffodils and T.U.L.I.P.s (this is, after all, a Presbyterian venue) have come off the bench to play in the late spring game. But where the crocus once dominated, grass is now carrying on a full court press with a few lone violets (one in the photo right) occasionally substituting. Thus, violets 1 – Crocus 0.

If April showers bring May flowers, what is next? May Mental Illness and a lawn dominated by may apples or crabgrass?

Since Baseball, rather than Basketball, is the game of late spring, summer, and early fall, perhaps I should shift sport metphors. Violets have come out of the bull pen to substitute for the crocus?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Montauk

With welcomed warmer temperatures and sunshine following a cold rainy spell, what else is a New Yorker to do on the Saturday before Easter but drive 120 miles due east to Montauk? Located at the far eastern tip of long Island, there is no place in all of New York State that is farther east.

In spite of the warm and sunny conditions in Queens the late in the morning, by the time we parked near the historic Montauk lighthouse (photo right) later in the afternoon, we found ourselves in the midst of a chilling fog, thick enough for the fog warning horn at the light house to be sounding the entire time we were there.

After the two and a half hour drive out to Montauk I was not about to allow the $9 visitor fee to prevent me from walking to the top of the historic Montauk Lighthouse, now the first lighthouse I have ever climbed to the top of. Yes, I think the $9 fee was worth it. Not only was the light house museum, which the fee helps support, entertaining and informative, it was of professional caliber, not your usual fly-by-night tourist schmaltz. The fog enshrouding the lighthouse prevented any sort of view but was still well worth the climb. Stepping out from the heated upper chamber out into the fog and chilling breeze was itself worth the climb.

There are numerous historical connections that make a trip to Montauk an historical bonanza. The slave ship La Amistad ran aground on nearby Block Island. Theodore Roosevelt and other Rough Riders recuperated there after the Spanish American War. Native Americans once inhabited the land.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Last Crocus of Spring?

For the past month, through rain and sun, warm weather and cold, calm days and wind, I have been observing and photographing the crocus growing, and dying, in the front yard of North Church Queens. The budding, flowering, and near death of these little signs of spring has been a nature lesson in miniature.

Last week at this time I thought the crocus were done for, victims of wind and cold. But this week a few crocus still remain, one of them appearing in the photo to the right. Where once there had been bunches of five or more spread across the lawn, now only one or two are still growing in those spots, isolated heralds of spring in their little tuft of turf, their proclamation of spring having been usurped by brilliant yellow flowering daffodils.

Now that warm and sunny weather has returned once again to the Big Apple after several days of cold drenching rain, the few remaining crocus, standing like Gendarmes guarding against a late spring snow, seem to have done their duty. Will there be any remaining on guard duty next week?

Living in a urban environment where one's connection to the cycles of nature can easily be eclipsed by concrete and neon, I have been reminded by the crocus in the lawn at North Church Queens to be mindful of even small natural wonders.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

About the April 2010 Header Photo

I shot this month’s header photo from the summit (O.K., it was really one of many exposed rocky outcrops and observation areas, not necessarily the actual summit) of Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, on October 3rd, 2009. The view is looking out toward the north.

What was I doing in Pennsylvania and at Hawk Mountain? What is so special about Hawk Mountain? Read my October 9, 2009 post for all the details.

As soon as Holy Week and Tax Day pass, I need to get to the mountains, as I am running out of possible "summit" header photos.