Friday, November 27, 2009

Macro Autumn

Years ago when I had a car I would pack up my camera equipment and drive the back roads, looking for autumn scenes to capture. Now my main form of transportation is by foot, mostly confined to town. So now I have to work in a small area on a small scale to record another passing autumn.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Duck-Up

WIRY Radio personality Ducky Drake has created another dust-up – or should I say duck-up? – with his last commentary in which he targeted once again the Plattsburgh Public Library.

Ducky was going on about the proposed 2010 budget for PPL. He claimed that library employees thought their department was more important than the police and fire departments. A clever way of twisting the argument. The library has requested, not demanded, an increase in its budget after being nailed with a $100,000 cut years ago. It is only asking for what it thinks is a fair share.

A typical verbal trick, re-phrasing the issue. Ducky, when did you stop beating your wife?

Ad hominem attacks are so easy, coming in handy when you don't have many facts on your side. Some of the library staff are insulted by Ducky's characterization. Ducky, please name three self-serving egocentric library employees. (Hell, just name three employees.)

I'm a regular library patron. From my personal dealings with the staff, I haven't noticed any greedy and haughty employees. So I take it, Duck-o, that you have dealt with PPL staff and have been put off by their blanket egoism, the way they look down their noses at you? You've been to the library lately, haven't you, to see how it's been getting by with less? Or do you just sit inside your WIRY bubble and bloviate without doing any research or fact-checking before loudly quacking?

Speaking of fact-checking, let's take a look at this asstounding statement by Ducky:

“Did you know the library, unlike any other department, controls all the money that they receive in their budget? While all other departments have to account for their budget money to the [city Common] Council and how they're going to spend it, the library can do whatever they want with the money. They could give it all for employee raises, they could give their employees paid vacations, they can hand out bonuses. They can do whatever they want with their budget money. And that is just Wrong, with a capital Wrong.”

Wrong-o, Duck-o. (That's a capital Wrong-o .) Despite your claim that there are no checks and balances, PPL expenditures are reviewed by three key entities:

*New York State Library
*Richard Marks, City Chamberlain
*PPL Board of Directors

Thirteen people sit on the PPL Board of Directors, all appointed by the mayor and city councilors. They approve all expenditures. It ain't feasible that all thirteen would say, “Sure, you can hand out bonuses to your staff. You can do anything you want with money. We don't care.”

Ducky, you would know about the oversight with the library's expenditures if you spent five minutes with Stan Ransom, PPL Director. Then again, if you did, you wouldn't have anything to quack about.

Your commentaries on WIRY radio run under the program title of “Is It Just Me?”

Yes, Ducky, it is just you. Only you. All alone with your quackery.

Monday, November 16, 2009

“You Can’t Photograph My Building!”

I’ve had it with Plattsburgh’s troglodyte mentality. It’s time for this community to leave behind cavemen thinking and join the modern age. Until then I’m not backing down when it comes to my right to take photographs.

Call him Mr. Brink – for reasons besides the fact the latest confrontation occurred outside the On The Brink restaurant on Brinkerhoff Street.

At the time of the incident, the restaurant was closed, no one inside. I had photographed the restaurant’s façade on other occasions with different lighting and views. Sometimes a photographer has to take a number of shots to nail the right image.

Today I was outside On The Brink taking some shots, standing on a public sidewalk. The restaurant’s façade was in plain view.

As you face the restaurant there is a doorway to the left, an entrance to stairs leading to apartments over the eatery. Mr. Brink came out and as soon as he saw me he acted confrontational, using that typical territorial tone.

He challenged me: “Why are you photographing my building?”

I explained I was a photographer. I was photographing it for a number of reasons: the lighting, the architecture, the colors, whatever.

Mr. Brink stated: “I’ve seen you photographing my building many times. You’re acting suspicious. You can’t photograph my building.”

I explained to him I could photograph his building as many times as I wanted, a hundred times if I felt like it. I was going to use the term “civil rights” but I didn’t want to induce a brain aneurysm, considering his emotional state and limited cognitive facilities.

Mr. Brink stated that he wasn’t going to allow me to take any more photos.

I gave him my standard reply: “If you don’t like it, call the cops.” I told him I was going to take another shot.

In the past I’ve sent a letter to the police chief, the city attorney and the mayor’s office about my right to take photographs. I know my rights.

Mr. Brink stormed inside the restaurant, passing by the postman making his deliveries. The postman must have wondered what was going on.

I walked away, having enough of the nonsense. I don’t continue conversations with hotheads who immediately launch a verbal attack.

If Mr. Brink is so concerned about his building, maybe he should mark it outside like a dog protecting its territory. Of course, such markings wouldn’t be legally permitted – unlike yours truly taking photographs. And note: there is no law against allegedly “acting suspicious.” “Acting suspicious” is a subjective value.

I don’t know what Mr. Brink’s connection is to the restaurant. If he’s the owner or head cook, I would recommend boycotting his business. After all, if he can go hothead so quickly with me taking a few shots, imagine what would happen if you politely told him there was a fly in your soup.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Podium

It’s intimidating. The mayor invites comments from the public. Please step up to the podium.

You excuse yourself as you squeeze through a narrow row of folding chairs. Legs twist aside, people stand, to allow you passage. Finally you're at the lectern. Before you sits the mayor and the councilors. Behind you are many eyes and ears in the audience. The council chamber is small, almost claustrophobic, everyone crammed in. Throw in a couple of microphones and a video camera, plus a reporter from the newspaper sitting in the media section, and the focus is completely on you.

Some people have a natural talent for public speaking. I’m not one of them. I’m a blogger, not a speaker.

At Thursday evening’s Common Council meeting only one person spoke in support of the public library. Chad Chase, a student at Plattsburgh State University, said that the Plattsburgh Public library provides services not offered by PSU. The campus Feinberg Library was an academic library, its mission more specific than what PPL offered.

Chad also referred to the PSU students in the audience who were observing the session for one of their classes. He wanted to make those students aware of what PPL had to offer in addition to the Feinberg Library.

Chad didn’t have a prepared speech or notes. And while he did well, his tone did reveal a little nervousness. The same thing that I've experienced in similar situations.

After he spoke, no one else made a comment pertaining to PPL and its proposed budget for 2010.

Two evenings previous there had been another meeting, one held in the PPL auditorium with the Common Council in attendance. About twenty five people attended that meeting and I know more than one of them wanted to comment but public input wasn’t allowed. One person, Francesca Harnett, did sneak in a statement anyway. There was the feeling that more people would join in.

I had expected those same people would show up at the regular Common Council meeting. But only one person spoke about PPL. Why?

Part of the reason, I guessed, is the hour the council convenes. The regular session starts at 5:30 PM, a time when a lot of people are heading home from work, picking up kids from school, preparing dinner.

But I realized that another reason was the format of the meeting. On Tuesday evening in the PPL auditorium everyone was comfortable, sitting in chairs with plenty of room to stretch out and breath. A more informal setting.

I interviewed Chad Chase after he spoke before the Common Council, raising the issue of the two different settings. He did think that the format of the Common Council meeting could be intimidating. But he also pointed out that unlike the previous event at PPL, the mayor was attendance to hear public comments. Also, Chad added, there was probably a lack of awareness on the part of the public that they could comment during the CC meetings.

But, he noted, he preferred the more informal setting.

So what are some alternatives? A larger council chamber. A place where everyone in the audience isn’t crammed in, making it difficult to get to the podium. An awareness that some people are intimidated by formality, the focus on them, and maybe it would be better to allow them to speak from the floor with the option to stand up or remain seated. If comments have to be recorded, a wireless microphone would help.

After all, not every citizen is a polished, professional politician.


Have I ever done stupid things in my life?

Yes. But who hasn't?

I live in a glass hut. I only throw stones at those who live in glass castles.

I've done dumb things when I was having a bad day.

According to an article in the 11/12/09 edition of the Press-Republican, a member of the Plattsburgh Common Council has been accused of spitting on someone at a bar. Maybe that councilor was having a bad night. Arguments in a bar can get heated and crazy. I don't know what happened during that incident. If you want details, check out the PR. The alleged spitting isn't the focus of this post. It's only the back story.

At one point during the Thursday evening Common Council meeting, the mayor allowed public comments. Ed Champagne took the podium. With his casual clothes and long graying hair pulled back into a ponytail, he gives the visual impression of a laid-back aging hippie who just stays calm and grooves along. But when he speaks, it proves that appearances can be deceptive. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the council, an outspoken candidate.

Ed was irritated by a recent PR article in which Denise Nephew, head of the city AFSCME union, stated that the parking enforcement officer position should be reinstated because the fines raised by that officer pays for the job and then some.

Ed raised an interesting point about “quota” systems, how sometimes the police can go too far in enforcing the law because the main intent is to raise funds, not protect the public. He cited some articles that had appeared in newspapers in other parts of the US, how citizens were threatening legal action against this type of over-enforcement.

OK, that was a reasonable point for debate.

Standing right behind Ed was Police Chief Racicot, near the main doors to the council chambers. I was sitting against the back wall and had a good view of the Chief.

Ed went on about the problems of over-enforcement. He stated that there are all sorts of laws that could be enforced. Dropping cigarette butts on the sidewalk was against the law but Ed said he did it anyway. Should there be a special force, cigarette butt police, to follow everyone around and fine them for dropping butts? Ed added that the police chief hadn't caught him yet doing that.

While Ed was ranting a bit about the police and cig butts, I watched Chief Racicot's reaction. He just smiled, taking it in stride.

Ed continued, talking about that spitting on the sidewalk was against the law. Should “spitting police” follow everyone around and enforce that law?, he asked.

A few feet away from Ed sat the councilor who was the subject of the spitting incident article.

I always thought that politicians – and those who aspire to political office – should engage the brain before the piehole. Maybe it was an accident, a slip of the tongue, but regardless it sure wasn't a political thing to say.

Or maybe it was.

The councilor mentioned in the newspaper, Chris Jackson, was sitting in the seat that Ed had tried to win.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Library Budget Hearing: Discussion Without Public Input (Almost)

As I entered the elevator on my way to the second floor auditorium, someone was grumbling that the hearing didn't allow any comments from the public. Citizens could only watch, listen. That's the way the Common Council wanted it.

But those restrictions didn't stop the applause.

To be fair, the budget hearing held on Tuesday evening at the Plattsburgh Public Library wasn't a typical open forum. It was a work session for the Common Council to review information provided by Stan Ransom, PPL Director. There was a lot to review regarding the library's proposed budget.

PPL is trying to expand its services, including a return to Sunday hours and the addition of a full-time librarian. The City of Plattsburgh, on the other hand, is trying to keep costs under control. The hearing highlighted the divide between what PPL wants in its budget and what the city is willing to spend.

The meeting opened with a petition being given to the council. The petition was in support of the public library. Earlier I had heard that the signatures included residents of the Town of Plattsburgh, showing that PPL services aren't limited to city residents.

During his presentation Stan Ransom outlined how much money the library has saved by carefully cutting where it could. He also mentioned the increase in usage by patrons. One area that has seen considerable usage has been the public access computers. Some of the computer users are looking for work. Stan cited the latest bad news to hit the North Country, the announcement that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. was going to close its operations. The library working with One Work Source could provide information needed by the displaced workers seeking employment.

Another area that was important was local history, said Stan. PPL receives many inquiries from people doing genealogical research.

All council members were in attendance, including mayor pro tem Jim Calnon who coordinated the hearing. Mayor Donald Kazprzak was absent. Councilor Michael Kelly took a moment to make some comments supporting PPL. While admitting he was biased (he's the council's liaison to the library), he said that any funds given to PPL would be well spent; Stan Ransom ran an efficient department.

At this point the audience applauded.

About twenty-five people attended the hearing. For those who wanted to comment, there will be an opportunity on Thursday, November 12th, at 5:30 PM at the next Common Council meeting held in City Hall.

[NOTE: From the stickler to reality department. The second image, the close-up of Stan Ransom, was photo-edited to removed distracting artwork behind his shoulder. Blame it on bad composition on my part when I took the shot.]

Reminder: Plattsburgh Forum

Someone finally left a comment at my comment blog, . Thanks. The comment was posted under City Services, discussing the Department of Public Works. You can also join in on the discussion. Anonymous comments are allowed, but I will delete inappropriate ones such as spam, libel, etc.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Support Your Public Library

On some days it takes three clerks to keep up with the patrons at the Plattsburgh Public Library.

If you appreciate the Plattsburgh Public Library and its services, then show your support by showing up at the library budget hearing on Tuesday, November 10th, at 5:30 PM in the PPL second floor auditorium. This meeting is open to the public and city councilors will also be in attendance.

I wonder how many city councilors haven't stopped by PPL lately and seen the work that has been done, including the two art galleries on second floor. (I wonder how many have never visited at all.) The library has been making do with less for too long.

Compare Plattsburgh to the community of West Lebanon, NH. As reported on WCAX-TV, West Lebanon has almost completed a new multi-million dollar library that will offer more services. To quote from the WCAX story: “Library officials hope the building will be an anchor in revitalization efforts taking place in this part of the city.”

Unfortunately for downtown Plattsburgh, at times the only news about “revitalization” involves a new bar opening up.

PPL deserves restoration of its budget so that it can work with the proposed Arts Corridor to offer a more upscale venue than brewholes.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Where's The Crosswalk?

There used to be crosswalk markings running across Oak Street from the entrance to the Robert S. Long Apartments to Clinton Street. This crosswalk was helpful to elderly and handicapped people trying to get across the sometimes busy street. Oak Street has been repaved and most of the old markings have been repainted -- but not that crosswalk.

Of course, pedestrians are third class citizens in Plattsburgh. Years ago there used to be crosswalk buttons to control the stoplight at the intersection of Brinkerhoff and Oak streets. But those buttons are long gone. Vehicles, not pedestrians, have priority at that intersection.

And if no one pays attention, the crosswalk that used to be near the Long Apartments will turn up missing. That will indeed make Oak Street a better speedway: no reason to for cars to slow down.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Paranormal Investigators Eliminate Known, Encounter Unknown

Mysterious sounds. Eerie sensations. Shadowy glimpses.

What is going on?

I was curious how Northern New York Paranormal Research Society investigators conducted investigations into such incidents. I spoke with Carmon Rust, NNYPRS lead researcher/equipment technician, at the Paranormal Expo the society sponsored last month and also followed up via email.

Unusual occurrences could be paranormal activity. But investigators of the NNYPRS don't immediately jump to that conclusion. Step by step they rule out alternative plausible explanations. If those rational alternatives don't fit, then what remains can be labeled as unknown.

Carmon is a retired Certified Surgical Technologist and a disabled American veteran who pursues various interests: genealogy, metal detecting, and electronics. This mix of hobbies has given him a background that comes in handy with NNYPRS investigations.

He estimated that approximately twenty percent of all cases remained unexplainable by normal means. Almost all of the investigations fall into the haunting/ghost category. While the investigators are not scientists, they use some scientific method in their work. An investigation can reveal a practical cause. For example, one case involving ghostly footsteps turned out to be people passing by on the sidewalk outside, the sounds carried into the building by unusual acoustics.

If various alternatives are considered and don't fit, then a paranormal explanation has to be considered.

Carmon stressed that NNYPRS doesn't try to push a particular viewpoint on a client. The investigators gather data, draw conclusions, and then share their findings.

“We'll keep going back to a location until the client and team are satisfied that all that could be done, was done,” said Carmon.

Sometimes a client might not agree with the investigator's report.

One case involved a room in a family home that made the children afraid for no obvious reason. The on-site investigation revealed a nonparanormal explanation: there were high readings of EMF (electro-magnetic field) radiation in the room. High EMF levels over a period of time can cause medical issues, said Carmon.

An alternative possibility was that the children were reacting to the high EMF, not anything paranormal. The team concluded there was a problem with a fluorescent light ballast, which was the source of the high EMF. One of the clients preferred the supernatural explanation over the team's conclusions.

NNYPRS members prefer the term “paranormal investigator” over the more popular “ghost hunter.”

“We prefer to call ourselves Paranormal Investigators because that what is what we do,” said Carmon. “We investigate claims and seek answers. We don't enter into any of our cases assuming the place is haunted, that is what 'Ghost Hunter' implies. The term of Ghost Hunter has gained much popularity, due to the numerous reality shows on television today. We don't take offense, but we are happy to explain the difference in the two terms.”

Unlike a television program, an investigation isn't wrapped up in a hour. Many hours are spent gathering data from various sources: personal interviews, photographs, EMF readings, audio recordings, historical research, etc. More time is spent looking over that data. The review process might be long and trying but it's part of the job for NNYPRS investigators in the effort to seek out the truth.

More information about NNYPRS can be found at .