Friday, August 26, 2011

Looking for a candidate? Don't trust national media for truth.

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Some of you may have noticed already. Political “season” has begun.

Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party and others are digging their soap boxes out of the wood shed and getting ready to hit the campaign trail for Presidential Race 2012.

The list of candidates throwing their hat into the ring becomes longer each day. Many candidates have already begun campaigning.

I like to think of this initial phase of the campaign as the one in which candidates find out which election promises that will never be kept are the ones that get the most cheers in a given city.

I am also growing to believe that a majority of failed campaign promises are not necessarily the fault of any given candidate. Rather, once the newly-elected politician is sworn into office, he, or she, finds that the gargantuan bureaucratic monster that has been created over the past 235 years prevents most meaningful legislation from ever seeing the light of day.

I also believe that wealthy corporations and individuals who are powerful lobbyists for their personal agendas have been allowed to be the wrench in the machinery for far too long. Too many politicians are under the influence, in varying degrees, of these lobbyists. A majority of legislation that passes through our federal, and to a lesser extent state, legislatures, is in my opinion, formulated and filtered to make sure that powerful lobbies make money, or at least don’t lose money. What is best for citizens doesn’t even enter the equation.

So how do we go about choosing our candidates?

Some of us do listen to speeches and read quotes directly from the candidates. Many of us form our opinion based on what we read in the news. I believe that is a very dangerous way to make a personal choice for a candidate for office.

It is no secret that large news organizations are some of the most biased organizations in the world. When it comes to politics, America’s national media can make the National Enquirer look like a reputable news source.

All of them, yes all, love to do whatever they can to make a candidate, or office holder, look bad. I think back to the brew ha ha that was made when then-President Gerald Ford slipped coming down the steps of Air Force One. The national media laughed at him and implied Ford was clumsy. In fact, Ford was a very accomplished athlete, playing football for the University of Michigan. Ford was even offered a contract by the Green Bay Packers.

When our political candidates are not making physical missteps, the media searches for gaffes made in speeches. I know that I want the person who receives my vote for president to be able to think and perform well under pressure but anyone can make a mistake.

There have been studies done that show how our presidents age substantially during their term in office. I believe that it is as much due to a thoughtless and ruthless media as it is to the “normal” pressure of running our country.

I don’t claim to know the history of how or why our major news organizations became so one-sided for whatever political party they support but I am convinced that money was, and probably still is, involved.

I am in no way saying that the press should not report on the activities of our candidates and elected officials.

What I do know is that shopping for the candidate that deserves our vote in November 2012 is too important to be entrusted to our biased national media.

It is both sad and scary that our national media, in whom so much faith is entrusted to inform us of facts, is more worried about making sure that the proper political spin is put on a story so as to ensure that their personal favorite candidate or party is shown in light they wish to shine, than about truth and honesty.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ohio Governor the reincarnation of Darth Vader?

As we head into the final months of 2011, I am beginning to our Buckeye State in a different light.
I believe that we live in part of a galaxy far, far away.

I’ve come to that conclusion that our governor is an incarnation of the evil Darth Vader.

First of all, my apologies to Vader. In spite of all of your evilness, I must give you credit. At least you were honest about your evil intentions. I am sorry to mention your name in the same vein as the evil John Kasich, who is proving to be as much a liar as he is evil.

Kasich built his version of the death star and named it Senate Bill 5. Just as Vader preyed on innocent societies, our governor is looking to kill off professional teachers, firefighters and police officers. His plan is to drive them out of Ohio by making it impossible for them to negotiate fair contracts with the Emperor.

Our governor’s latest magic act, to pretend that he is a fair and reasonable ruler who wishes to sit down and discuss SB5, now that it is firmly a ballot issue in November, is nothing more than a flat out lie to Ohioans.

Kasich has seen the light. Only, the light is the glow of our own Rebel Alliance as we close ranks to foil his latest treachery.

It is time to let our governor and his minions, (I will not use the metaphor “storm troopers” as I do not wish to imply that our Ohio Highway Patrol troopers, for whom I have a very high regard, are anything less than a first class organization,) know that Ohioans will not put up with his Darth Vader tactics.

He, and a few others, are attempting to make our firefighters, police officers and teachers look like the bad guys in this saga. They just want a fair shake.

I doubt you will find anyone in the above-mentioned groups who will disagree that changes need to be made in the way that we spend money. They just don’t want to be the innocent folks on some distant planet that Vader disintegrates with his laser blaster just to make a point.

Changes need to be made. Cuts need to be made. I fear that unless the first change is the removal of our own Darth Vader and his evil empire, it could spell the death of Ohio as we know it.

We must stop Darth Kasich from carrying out his personal vendetta against hard-working professional who have dedicated their lives to teaching and serving others.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First lighter-than-air flight amazing experience

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

TROY — Wednesday is traditionally a busy day at the Miami County Fair. Kid’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Senior Citizen’s Day and, of course, the Sale of Champions are just a few of the very special events that take place on the next-to-the-last day of the fair.

This year, fair board members added a new event, one that was actually two events rolled into one. Wednesday evening fairgoers were treated to a hot air balloon launch followed by a balloon glow.

As the annual veteran’s tribute ceremony was taking place in the grandstand, five enormous balloons were being inflated on the infield of the track. Near ceremony end, one by one, the balloons lifted off and floated majestically over the grandstand, then over the midway, guided by a gentle evening breeze.

I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on one of the balloons Wednesday. A huge thank you goes out to my friend and colleague, Troy Daily News photographer Tony Weber for throwing the opportunity into my lap.

We were both photographing the crews as they inflated the balloons when Weber ran over and asked if I wanted to ride in one of the balloons. A ride was offered to him, but he was scheduled to shoot the Sale of Champions that was scheduled to begin in less than 30 minutes and decided that, in order to make sure he did not miss his event, he would turn a chance of a lifetime over to me.

I ran the 50 yards to the balloon, was introduced to pilot Sean Askren, literally as I climbed into the basket, and seconds later, we lifted off.

As luck would have it, the evening breeze took us directly over the fairgrounds where we were treated to a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the grounds.

Flying in the balloon was unlike anything I have ever flown in the past. I was awestruck by the silence. We could clearly hear the voices of people talking below us as well as the usual midway sounds.

As we drifted east past the fairgrounds, the silence was complete, the only sounds were the clicking of my camera shutter and the occasional hiss of the propane burner as Askren added heat to keep our altitude at 300 to 400 feet.

We knew this would be a short flight as the pilots and ground crews needed to get back for the balloon glow, so as soon as Askren spotted the expansive open areas in Duke Park, he announced the it would make a good landing zone.

Our lighter-than-air craft crossed the western border of the park and we watched as dozens of pairs of curious eyes turned skyward to watch our decent.

Askren told me to expect a little bump as we touched down and to bend my knees to absorb the impact. We touched down at Duke Park near the large gazebo and just yards from the access road, making it easy for the chase crew to get to us.

The landing was a very good one, based on my this-was-my-first-balloon-flight, experience. We touched down with less impact than I would have guessed, then as the envelope began to deflate, our basket gently laid over on its side, with both of us still inside. We simply crawled out.

My first balloon flight lasted about eight minutes. They were eight very amazing minutes.

The chase vehicle, with crew chiefs Ed and Kendal Wright of Centerville, was on the scene minutes later. The envelope was carefully folded, put into a bag and loaded into the van, followed by the basket. The entire process took less than fifteen minutes.

Askren is from Middletown and has been piloting balloons for 33 years. He averages around 100 flights every year. Crew chief Ed Wright said that Askren has made a personal tradition of going for a flight, no matter how short, on New Year’s Day every year.

Askren has piloted more than 75 different balloons and has flown in every state in the continental U.S. He is a former pilot of the Winston Cup balloon for NASCAR and a ReMax pilot.

The craft that we flew at the fair stands 90 feet tall when inflated and is 60 feet wide. The envelope contains 1000 square yards of material, sewed together by 27 miles of thread. “In the bag,” the envelope weighs in at 250 pounds.

To heat the air to allow the balloon to soar into the sky, a pair of propane burners, spew heat and flame to the tune of 20 million BTUs of energy that burns at 1600 degrees.

Judging by the success of this first ballooning event at the 2011 fair, I hope that it is the beginning of a new tradition.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cursive handwriting is not obsolete

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

An interesting debate has been brewing lately. It concerns the future of teaching our children to write in cursive.

Naturally, I suppose, much of the dividing line in opinion can be traced to the age of the respondent. Those of us who are a little older can see no reason why cursive handwriting should go the way of the slide rule, while the younger generation seems to believe that there is no reason to even pick up a pen, and they ask, "What is a slide rule?"

I used to be very proud of my handwriting. It is probably from attempting to emulate my mom's writing. My mother had the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. She continually received compliments.

Things were different when my parents were in grade school. My mother attended Catholic school in Michigan, where legible, if not elegant, handwriting was expected. My dad attended grade school in the 1930s, in Champaign County. My dad was a lefty. Back then, I guess that teachers decided that there was only one way to write, and that was using one's right hand. His teacher carried a wooden ruler and whenever dad picked up a pencil in his left hand, he would receive a ruler across his knuckles.

By the time my dad was an adult, he wrote using his right hand. His handwriting was legible but not outstanding. While the treatment that my dad received would probably be grounds for criminal punishment in today's society, one thing that I know he brought away from the experience was the ability to be ambidextrous. It was an ability that he passed along to me by insisting that I learn to handle tools using either hand.

We have moved on since those days. Computers, cell phones, typing and texting are all the rage. I agree that most of us rarely pick up a pencil or pen other than to affix our signature to a document.

Texting, along with the most awful form of shorthand that has grown from it, seems to be the most common form of communication.

There is additional insult to the injury. Not only can our children no longer write, they canÕt spell either. Not to mention, most of them think that "grammar" is a word to describe a female parent of their mother or father.

Our kids believe that it they can not see a direct benefit from something, they should not have to do it or learn it. Most of them are growing up believing that if any shortcut can be found, take advantage of it. It does not seem to matter that the benefit of a little hard or extra work, on their part, may help them down the road. They are growing up in a world where taking the easiest and shortest route is the way to go.

Learning to write may seem trivial in a world full of keyboards but the skill is as critical today as ever.

The most common scenario used is the "what if" there was a power outage. That is, of course, an issue, but I believe in looking a little deeper. My "what if" list extends to full-scale wars, large natural disasters and/or a major communication disruption across our country. Sure, all of this stuff sounds unbelievable. Don't think that it could happen? Just ask many residents of Japan if they think that "it" can't happen.

Basic writing skills could be the major form of communication in a disaster, just as they were for hundreds of years.

We frequently hear how American students have fallen behind their counterparts in other countries. I don't believe that our children less capable of learning. I believe that our children have grown increasingly lazy and disrespectful of both their parents and teachers with each succeeding generation.

The answer doesn't lie in longer school years or year-around school. The answer lies in telling our children what they need to learn and holding them accountable for learning, not asking them what they prefer to learn and hoping they will do us the honor of studying.

An extra dose of discipline at school would be helpful, maybe even bring back the wooden rulers. I don't think our parents were any worse for the experience.

None of that will do any good; however, unless our kids start by getting some discipline, mixed, of course, with a lot of love, at home.