Thursday, December 23, 2010

Santa Claus gets help from local FOP and Victim Witness to brighten holiday for those touched by crime

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

A convoy of law enforcement vehicles from county and city agencies around Miami County pulled up in front of a small house in a Troy neighborhood on Wednesday evening. Uniformed and plain-clothes officers spilled from the vehicles, formed up and made their way to the front door of the home.

They were not there to break down doors or order anyone from the home. Leading the group was a man, dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot … His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimple so merry. His cheeks were like roses. His nose like a cherry.

This night, rather than using the chimney, Santa Claus led members of Miami County FOP Lodge 58 and Miami County Victim Witness employees through the front door of homes and apartments to visit children and families from around the area whose lives had been touched by violence and crimes.

Deanna Hardin, Director of Miami County Victim Witness, a department within the Miami County Prosecutors’s Office, said that they received anonymous donations totaling more that $1500 to purchase gifts for families who are under the care of victim witness.

Hardin and her associates look forward to this time of year. “This is the fun thing we get to do out of the whole entire year,” said Hardin, “most everything we do is bad, this is good.” The “bad” Hardin refers to is that she, and her associates, provide assistance, comfort and direction to people, on what is probably the worst day of their lives.

Those who have been affected by murder, rape and other violent crimes are met by victim witness employees, who work with family members, not only on the day of their tragedy, but also help them get through the ordeals ahead, including appearing in court and getting their lives back together in future months and years.

Victim witness employees used the donations, most of which were Kohl’s gift cards to purchase gifts for “their” family members.

Some families are not necessarily “in need” financially, Hardin said, “but had really bad things happen this year, so we really wanted Santa to come to their house.” In particular, Hardin mentioned children and family members of recent homicide victims. Hardin said that those kids, “deserved Santa to come to their house,” to help them get through their first Christmas without a brother or father who was taking from them.

Much of the donated money is spent of practical gifts. Hardin described one victim whose only pair of boots are still being held as evidence in a case. She was wearing a pair of cloth shoes, the only pair she had when Hardin took her to visit Kohl’s, in Troy. The lady shared that she had never been to Kohl’s.

Hardin smiled as she recalled her shopping companion’s reaction when she told her she could pick out any pair of boots that she wanted. “And, she was so practical,” Hardin said, “she bought her kids warm socks, blankets, boots and one toy.”

Local FOP members feel the same way about the Santa visits as their victim witness counterparts. The opportunity to bring joy and cheer to a family following a tragic event, makes Christmas brighter for law enforcement officers, as well.

The reaction of the children visited by Santa was universal. That magical look in their eyes matched the twinkle in Santa’s eyes as Santa entered each home, trailed by his “elves.” Moms, dads, and grandparents were overjoyed as they watched Santa greet the children and, in some cases, help them open one of the presents Santa’s elves placed under the family Christmas Tree.

It was obvious why this night was so special to the workers from victim witness. They were the first to be hugged, after Santa Claus of course, by these special kids. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Victim witness workers and FOP members know that nothing anyone can do will ever replace a son, father or brother who was tragically taken by a violent crime.

They do know that, they, with a little help from some good Samaritans, can help make Christmas brighter for those who are the victims of violence, if only for a little while. That is what Christmas is about.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It is time to circle the those around us first.

Is it just me or are American’s more interested in helping, well … just about anyone and anything rather than ourselves?

I know that much of the rhetoric is just “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” but many of the causes which we are subjected to on a regular basis border on the absurd when you look at the “big picture.”

What I am talking about is our obsession with helping everyone but ourselves. The other issue is that we seem to put more emphasis and importance on the care and safety of animals that our own children.

Do not get me wrong. I love animals and I do not believe in mistreating pets or in the inhumane treatment of either livestock or wild animals.

A series of television commercials for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the ASPCA, features a video montage of a variety of sad-eyed dogs and cats looking at the camera while an actor, in her most sorrowful voice talks about the animal’s plight. 

For less than $20 per month, you can help support the ASPCA’s cause, and, they will send you the photo of some poor animal. A photo? Really? 

All the ASPCA did, it seems, is use the dialogue from the decades-old “Save the Children” campaign, meant to supposedly help starving African kids and replace the video of kids with video of dogs and cats. I just wonder how hard the actress who reads the script had to work in order to get that almost tearful tone to her voice. 

If the ASPCA is in such dire straits that it needs your, and my, twenty bucks a month, how can they afford such a lavish television ad campaign?

Our second item is agendas such as the old “Save the Children” and similar quests to dig into our pockets. I would also add to this, the current adoption trend. Led by a litany of celebrities, we are being shown that if you are considering adopting a child, you just aren’t cool unless you adopt one from a foreign country.

When was the last time we saw a commercial for helping underprivileged kids in Dayton, Cincinnati, or even Piqua? We have families, and children, who could surely use monetary assistance right here, in our own back yards. Why do we feel that we must give first, and many times only, consideration to kids in other countries? 

I see that we have our priorities all screwed up. I see people who would rather help a dog than a child. I see people who would rather help a child in Africa than a child in their own neighborhood. 

In the years following World War II, when America truly was the “land of milk and honey,” maybe some of this was possible. Today though, things are very different and if we don’t begin to look after ourselves, it is a sure bet that no one else will.

Part of the blame, I believe, is the fault of Hollywood. Bleeding heart liberal actors have abused their status as celebrities for decades to pitch some of the dumbest causes. One of the reasons they do these types of things is, quite simply – publicity.  You can’t keep your name in the news if you are main stream.

Of course, as true Americans, we follow in the footsteps of our celebrity “gods and goddesses.” Many of us are gullible enough to do their bidding. We send money to groups and causes that are tens of thousands of miles away. Meanwhile, children, yes, and pets, in our own back yards suffer.

If you have a few extra dollars to spend and wish to donate to a good cause, look around you before sending your money to another continent. There are children, adults and families who really need help. If helping pets is your desire, how about donating to our local animal shelter?

I mean no offense to those in need in other countries, but the truth is, that, with very rare exceptions, no one in any other country is going to lift a finger to help our citizens in need of assistance. It seems, in fact, that many of those we try to help would rather kill us, given the opportunity.

That is another popular American idiosyncrasy. American mindset seems to be that we can purchase the popularity and favor of others. You would think that, by now, we would have learned that is not true.

America has enough problems. We will not solve them by feeding children in Africa. We have starving kids at home. How about looking to adopt American orphans instead of foreign kids? Why not look to help pets locally instead of in New York?

For those of you who read this and decide that my outlook may be cruel and cold-hearted, I say to you, we must look out for ourselves. America and Americans must come first. We better look out for ourselves … no one else will

Friday, December 17, 2010

Government does need to fight is getting too big

It is no secret that Americans are becoming heavier with each passing generation. A week rarely goes by that we don’t read about health problems associated with obesity.

Government officials and celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon of trying to get Americans to diet and change their eating habits.

First Lady Michelle Obama has been very outspoken about child obesity and the dangers inherent to our kids from poor eating habits.

Groups who are well-meaning, in their own warped way, have targeted fast-food giants such as McDonalds, claiming that Happy Meals are designed to target kids, luring them with toys, to eat meals that are not good for them.

There is no doubt that our kids don’t eat right. The problem is, like so many other things, too many people think that the answer to every problem is to pass a law banning the offending, (to some), product or action.

First, this is another case of our government interfering with something that should be a simple parental responsibility. We need less government interference and intervention, not more. Are parents not capable of using the word “no” to their children? Apparently, parents in California are most guilty of this as they are the ones crying most loudly for their state to ban Happy Meals.

Enticing children to purchase food by adding a toy is not a new marketing idea. I admit to being lured to various breakfast cereals due to the prize at the bottom of the box rather than the taste of the contents. How many of you, at least those closer to my age, did not purchase at least one box of Cracker Jack to get the prize? Remember the jingle, “Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize, that’s what you get with Cracker Jack.”

What is the difference between then and now? My mom and dad were not afraid to tell us “no.” I doubt that they enjoyed it. We did get the occasional treat. That was usually one-half a bottle of Pepsi Cola following a Little League baseball game or during family time in front of the television on Saturday or Sunday night.
Too many of today’s parents seem almost incapable of telling their children that they cannot have something.

Another, and probably the single biggest, reason for enlarging waistlines in America is lack of exercise. A suggestion for our First Lady might be that if she is looking to get to the heart of the problem of childhood obesity, look to re-instate the President’s Physical Fitness Award program begun by President John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy recognized in the early ‘60s that children need to be physically fit. He created the program to encourage and reward fitness.

Look at the obvious. Far fewer Americans have, or want, physically demanding jobs in this 21st Century. Our children spend most, if not all, of their free time in front of a computer or television. I can’t remember the last time I found a pickup baseball or basketball game going on in a neighborhood around our area. 

The bottom line is that the only way we are going to reduce obesity, childhood or adult, is to get off our rear ends and get some exercise.
As parents and grandparents, we need to lead by example. This may not be a fun endeavor in the beginning but it can be done. It must be done.

Eating right is part of the equation, as well. No doubt, most of us could do better in that department. Our active lifestyles beg for late-night fast-food meals and snacks. I know. I am one of the most frequent offenders.

Right or wrong, though, I do not need any government body legislating my eating habits. It is none of the government’s business if I want French fries at 1 a.m. It is also not the government’s business if I want to purchase a Happy Meal for any of my grandchildren. And finally, it is not the government’s business if McDonalds wants to include a nearly useless toy trinket with the Happy Meal. 

Once again, this is America. We have become the land of blaming everyone but ourselves for our problems. This is one more classic example. We and our kids are becoming fat. The obvious solution to the problem is also very American. We sit in front of the computer searching for reasons why this could possibly happen to us while munching on a bag of chips and drinking a soda.

This is the time to make resolutions for the coming year. I think that one for all of us should be to see that we spend more time outdoors and engaged in some type of physical activity. Include the kids or grandkids. We will all benefit.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

WikiLeaks founder must face consequences

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

The word this week, ladies and gentlemen, is “WikiLeaks.”

While this may sound like a word describing a hole in the roof of a Hawaiian hut, it may actually be one of the most dangerous threats to national security in decades. Or — it may not.

The storyline reads like the epic spy-thriller movie it will surely become. Julian Assange, founder of the “whistle blower” site, prowls cyberspace looking for classified documents, allegedly to “out” government agencies and officials going about their daily business…much of which is classified.

Granted, many of the alleged secrets that WikiLeaks has made public border on the ridiculous. One such Top Secret document is supposed to have contained information that the United States and Canada are allies.

No one, at any level, is going to deny that our government tends to go overboard on virtually everything that is does.

There are however, other, far more sensitive documents that are supposed to be among the tens of thousands in WikiLeaks files.

If, and it is a big “if” because we can’t always believe everything our own government tells us, Assange and his company have acquired these documents, I fail to see what the big turmoil is, as to what to do with him.

Granted, Assange is now in custody on unrelated charges. The thought has crossed my mind that it is quite possible that the charges against him could have been fabricated in order to remove him as a threat. That scenario does sound very CIA-like.

For some reason, our country rarely just does something in a straight-up fashion.

By my way of thinking, if Assange has been engaging in the gathering of information and documents that could compromise the safety of the United States, he is guilty of espionage. Since his alleged activities could effect other countries, possibly even his native Australia, I would suggest that the same espionage charges could be alleged by every country mentioned or suggested in his documents. Almost certainly, one or more of those countries has the death penalty for treacherous crimes such as his. Even if they don’t, life behind bars should be a given.

It has been suggested to me that all Assange is doing is digging up documents that will keep our country honest and will hold official accountable. In other words, it could keep them from hiding things.

As a journalist, I am one of the most curious people in the world. I like to know what is going on, and why, about everything. I don’t like secrets.

I do, however, recognize that in order to survive in the world that we live in, it is necessary for some things to remain a secret. The Cold War may be over but the threat to our national security may be greater now than ever.

I understand that most of folks today were not born during the years spanning our last World War. The war evoked hundreds of thousands of secrets. Some were even kept with the knowledge and consent of the press. How many Americans, before and during World War II, knew that their Commander-in-Chief, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt could not walk?

The bottom line is that, no matter how much we don’t like it, and in spite of what we members of the media think, there are some things that we do not have the need to know.

No system is perfect and, Lord knows that a fair share of government workers, up to and including the President of the United States, have abused their authority and needed to be held accountable…just look at Watergate.

The general rule needs to be the there is a valid reason for most government secrets on subjects that could affect national security. Those who compromise those secrets must be held accountable.

It must also be said that there is no way that Assange perpetrated these acts alone. Civilian and military personnel must have assisted in some way for that kind of information to be released. When caught, each and every one of them should suffer the same fate. For Americans, the charge should be treason against their country. We are at war. The penalty for that crime is death.

I don’t know if those accomplices don’t know or just don’t care but their actions could potentially cost many American lives. Maybe yours or mine.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"The" cable company - is it time to break the monopoly?

I have written a number of times about how customer service, I mean good, honest, we-really-care-about-taking-care-of-our-customers, customer service has become a thing of the past as big box stores and large corporations take over our consumer world.

My family and I are currently among the victims of this new trend, as I am sure many of you are, as well. Our Internet service is through a local cable provider.

For the past three months our access to the Internet has been anywhere from slow to non-existent. I have made phone call followed by phone call to this company.Technicians have been to our house several times. On each visit, the service guy is sure that he knows what the issue is, he spends a few minutes doing “his thing,” and is gone.

As he drives down the street to his next victim, we are still left with an Internet that is all but beyond the reach of our computers.

The failure of our cable provider to fix the problem is frustrating by itself. Adding to the frustration, and I might add, a growing anger, is that each time that I must place a phone call to this company, the only game in town, so-to-speak, it takes five to ten minutes just to reach a human being.

If does not help my anger and frustration when my first contact is a recorded, very cheery voice that greets me. So begins another long session of button-pushing as I attempt to navigate their menu.

I cannot help but notice that each customer service representative that I talk to, and I don’t believe that I have spoken with the same one twice, which is a miracle considering the number of times I have had to call, is friendly and understanding, clear up until you try to get an answer to resolve the issue.

I am sorry but I would think that after spending three months fighting to get reliable service, you know, the kind that they advertise on television, I would not have to wait five to seven days for an appointment to get a service technician to come out to my home.

This is where the local cable company, the “only game in town,” has us trapped. They have grown to big for their britches. They claim outstanding customer service. What they mean is “we will get to you when we darned well feel like it.”

I begin to wonder, if their service to so reliable and great, why are their service guys always booked a week out?

They promise to return phone calls. They don’t. They promise to get the problem resolved. They don’t.

This same company is always trolling for new subscribers. They promise unbelievable deals to new customers yet they are unable, or unwilling to take care of current ones.

This is all just one more sad example of a company that has grown too large and is becoming a virtual monopoly. Once they have killed off the competition, they can call all the shots, and we, the consumers, become, not valued customers but pawns, serfs, nothing but fly specs to the corporate moguls sitting in their offices raking in our hard-earned dollars.

All of this also makes me wonder if we are becoming virtual slaves to the Internet. I find that I am on the Internet, for business or personal use for hours on any given day. I use it to send and receive photographs, for research, for news, and just to keep up with my friends on Facebook.

I have begun to think that a wide-spread interruption of Internet service could all but shut down our country. That, in itself, is sad. We have very much become dependent on machines. In the space of around twenty years, computers have gone from being a machine, to THE Machine.

Making the situation worse, is that since we have become addicted to and in such need of, THE Machine, and its love child, the Internet, we are more than ever at the mercy of the big businesses that control our access to the World Wide Web.

I hate government intervention into most anything, but it may be time for our federal government to look at companies such as our local cable company declare them to be a monopoly.

By my way of thinking, any company so large that they can so blatantly thumb their nose at customers is in serious need of being cut down to size, figuratively and literally.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The "old days" were the best days for all of us

I had the occasion this week to reminisce again. I guess that when you get to a certain age, one does that more frequently.

Earlier in the week, I was engaged in a discussion regarding a frequent topic in our office. I again made known my intense dislike for all big box-type stores. My frequent target is Walmart. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the people who work there. My disgust is with the very concept of the big box stores.

To me, in spite of the alleged convenience and, yes, the lower prices, they are a perfect example of what America is not about ... or at least, used to be not about.

America used to be about encouraging free-thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude. "Mom & Pop" stores, "family-owned" stores, those were American.

Communal stores with prices dictated by a small group are, to me, a socialist-type establishment found in a Communist country.

A number of the big-box retailers have, in the past, specifically indicated their desire to put small, family-owned-for-decades stores out of business. They wanted to be the only game in town.

I was reminded of what a great loss small businesses are again this week.

I needed to take photos this week in a poorly-lighted courtroom. I decided to use a lens that I purchased at BK Photo, in Troy, many years ago. It was a Nikon 135mm f2.0 lens. It has no auto focus ability. It is just a great lens for low light.

I ended up with that lens because as a younger photographer, I would do like many photographers and photo enthusiasts alike would do on Saturdays. I would head to downtown Troy to BK Photo.

BK Photo manager Sonny Fulks knew that I had been looking for a fast lens for football and basketball. He had just taken the lens in on trade and made a point to let me know that he had a great used lens that would fit my needs.

I purchased the lens and used it for a number of years, until auto-focus technology saw to it that the lens found its way out of my camera bag.

That type of service, someone who works at a small specialty store looking out for a customer, is sadly lacking in today's world.

First of all, if you walk into any place that sells cameras today and even ask them about a specific product that is not on their shelf, they will not know what you are talking about.

Another thing that I see is that many of today's camera enthusiasts are far less capable photographers than they believe themselves to be. Digital technology is partly to blame, for aspiring photographers and even a fair number of so-called "professional" photographers think that using Kentucky windage to zero-in on the proper exposure is acceptable.

In the "old days," we had another advantage that today's shooters do not. When we took our film to a store such as BK Photo, experienced experts were behind the counter. They would never hesitate to go through photos with a customer and offer constructive criticism and advice for making the next roll of pictures better.

You cannot fix something if you don't know that it is broken and you cannot improve your photography without someone who knows what they are talking about giving advice on how to make improvements.

I'm sorry, but you are not going to find that sort of help at a Wal Mart or Meijer. The technicians there know how to operate the equipment they have and their sales staff knows how to repeat the sales pitch they were taught about cameras they have in stock ... and that is just about all.

The other place that people look for advice is on the Internet. Just who are you getting photo tips from? Many of the bloggers and self-proclaimed experts that I see on the Internet have less real experience than those they are offering advice.

I miss the old days. It is true that I could not shop for groceries or household items at BK Photo. I don't ever recall seeing that as a disadvantage.

I do believe that a good part of what I am today as as photographer is due to assistance, advice and even some constructive criticism that I received years ago from Roy Baker and Sonny Fulks at one of those family-owned specialty stores that monster establishments like Wal Mart drive out of business.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Small-town" size, "Big-time" expectations

As your Saturday paper hits your porch this morning, there is a group of local girls getting out of bed, having breakfast and getting ready for the biggest day of their young lives.

Today, at noon, the Lehman Cavaliers volleyball team will take the floor at Wright State University to play for a state title. They are looking to prove to all, that they are the best volleyball team in the state of Ohio.

For most of them, it is also the chance to uphold a tradition of excellence in volleyball at Lehman Catholic High School. Teams led by Coach Greg Snipes have two state championship banners on the wall already, one from 2000 and one from 2005. 

On Friday night, Covington and Lehman squared off against one another in football. By the time you read this, one will have moved on.

I wonder if many of us realize how blessed we are in our little corner of Ohio to have such fine schools and athletic programs. 

Piqua, Miami East, Lehman, Russia and Versailles are just a few schools that come to mind when one mentions state champions in any number of sports.

Many of these schools are perennial contenders for best of the best in our state.

This obviously means that we have some fine young athletes in our area. It also means that we have many fine young men and women living among us. 

Very few of our young athletes end up on the top step of the OHSAA state podium because they were born with athletic skills so far superior to others that they could breeze to a championship. 

Most of they were born with good genes and maybe a God-given talent for running, jumping and hand-eye coordination. 

The defining difference is that our state champions, and those who continually contend for state championships, have a work ethic and desire to excel that drives them to be the best they can be. 

That work ethic and drive is what defines our area kids off the floor as well. Many of these young men and women who wear championship medals are also honor students. The drive for excellence that burns inside them is not reserved for athletics. 

To be fair, we are also blessed with coaches who are skilled, understanding and willing to put in the extra time necessary to take a kid or a team to a state championship. Please understand that the road to a state championship is not one that ends up at home with dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. Coaches put in even more hours than their athletes in many cases.

We don't know just how lucky we are to have these types of students among us. Today's state champion high school athlete is tomorrow's teacher, coach, businessman or businesswoman.

As parents living in semi-rural southwest Ohio, we could be worrying if our kids are being prepared for a life  of competing with "big city" types as our world becomes ever-smaller.

Nearly every sports season around our area, one or more athletes or teams make a run at a state championship. Our student athletes routinely knock off "Goliath" from Cincinnati and Columbus schools.

The parents in our "neck of the woods" aren't raising kids who even see themselves as "David" in these state showdowns. I see teams and athletes who are confident in themselves, their parents and their schools to have the support they need to bring home that state championship trophy.

I am proud to live in a community where a commitment to excellence and drive to win is so strong ... on, and off, the field.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Organization...a never-ending job

I used to think that the advent of digital photography would mean a huge savings in time and effort in keeping images safe and organized.

There are times, now, when I think that cataloging and storing negatives was not as much of an issue as keeping up with digital files.

In the "old days," one had to cut negs into manageable strips of five or six frames, label a negative sleeve, slip in the strips, put it in a binder and that was that. It took time and binders or boxes of negatives did begin to take a considerable amount of storage space.

Digital files ought to be simple, right? Remember that rule number one of digital photography is to save your images in a safe place and then make a back-up file. Back-up files on CD or DVD don't take up that much room but I am still dubious as to the long-term expectations of CD and DVD discs.

Many of us learned the hard way years back that the adhesive labels just don't work. We also know that Sharpie markers aren't the way to go, either. It seems to me that spending the extra dollars on LiteScribe discs is the way to go.

I use Photoshelter, (,) as both an off-site storage facility for important images and also as a great way to display photo galleries and offer images for sale.

As my daughter and I become more involved in our studio work to augment our photojournalism jobs, I am once again looking to get our Web sites cleaned up and make it easier for customers to locate and purchase images.

Hard drives are a great thing but I am quickly becoming a believer in off-site archiving. Not only are your images safe, they are available to you no matter where you are. As cell phones such as the Droid and iPhone become more popular along with iPads and similar devices, the ability to access your images from any computer-type device anywhere and any time will become more necessary for serious photographers.

No matter what your method of saving and storing images, I cannot begin to stress the importance of getting your precious photographs off your computer and backed up. If you have not, yet, learned that lesson the hard, you will.

Remember, the question will all hard drives is not if they will fail, but when.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Welcome to "Open Mike", my new blog page. My hope, here, is to share with anyone who is interested tips and opinions on photography and photo equipment. I will also publish my weekly column which is published on Saturday's in the Piqua Daily Call.

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