Friday, January 27, 2012

Gun-toting student made a mistake, but let's keep our perspective

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

A young man from Troy is in hot water after he allegedly carried a loaded handgun to school last week.

Troy High School took the appropriate action by immediately suspending the 15-year-old, who also was arrested and faces criminal charges.

As news of the incident came to light, everything from coffee shops to social media were buzzing with the news.

The incident was the hot topic on Facebook, both on local television stations' and personal pages. Almost everyone was chiming in with an opinion.

What surprised me — I should not say surprised really, as not much really surprises me any more — was the number of people, mostly adults, who were quick to level blame on Troy High School and/or the youth's parents.

Let me tell you something folks, this same thing could happen to any one of us. This same thing could happen at any school.

That statement does not mean the schools are lax on security. It does not mean that teachers and administrators do not pay attention to what is going on within their buildings.

Short of strip searching every student who comes through the door, there is no way to monitor every item that enters the building with students. Even then, there is no 100 percent guarantee.

I know that some schools, particularly inner-city institutions, have begun using metal detectors. Do any of us really want to go that far? Many students already feel that school is like a prison. How do you think they would feel if metal detectors were used?

The fact that most schools require us to be "buzzed" in, is to me at least, already crossing the line. I understand the need, but lament the necessity.

School officials can only do so much. To lay blame on them is unfair.

Speaking of unfair, a number of people were also quick to lay blame on the parents of the accused in this case. Ok, his father owned a handgun. Many of us own weapons. Many of us have raised our children to respect a firearm and educated them on the responsibilities of owning or possessing a weapon.

I do not know if the handgun in question was locked up. It really does not matter.

The bottom line is that, as a parent, there is only so much that we can do when it comes to our children. They are human and they make mistakes. For those perfect parents, or maybe childless adults, who were quick to blame this young man's parents for his taking a gun to school, I have a news flash ... our kids don't always obey us. The don't always think before acting. Teenagers are in a hurry to grow up, and in attempting to do so, they sometimes make bad decisions. It is part of growing up.

Granted, some of those decisions have more long-term implications. We have all made bone-headed decisions at one time or another. It does not mean that our parents were bad. It does not mean that our parents were incompetent.

As for this particular case, I feel that Troy City Schools officials must stick with their zero tolerance policy and do what is necessary to teach this young man the error of his decision. It must also set an example for others. The criminal charges against him will run their course, as well.

I also feel that everyone involved needs to remember that they are dealing with a young man who made a mistake, a serious one, but still, a mistake.

If expulsion from school is the punishment handed down, I hope that school officials will work with this young man and his parents to help them arrange for home schooling, or some other alternative, to keep him on track with his education.

I do not know the young man in this case. I do know that "writing him off" because of this incident would be a mistake.

Then, and only then, would his parents and the school be to blame.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cruise ship sinking tragic, but not titanic

Another tragedy occurred this past week when the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia sunk on Italy’s western coast.

The event served to bring to light one of the irritating traits common in today’s world. That is the tendency, maybe I should say, the habit, of exaggerating severity and comparison of dangerous and tragic events.

I am in no way saying that the fate of the Costa Concordia, passengers and crew is not a tragedy. Any loss of life is a tragedy.

The habit of exaggerating tragedy and danger is the fault, in large part, of the big media outlets. Sensationalism is not a new media ploy. The tactic has been used for centuries. It seems that as many media outlets become more unscrupulous about their practices, the tendency to exaggerate rears its ugly head far more often.

To put a point on the Costa Concordia sinking, there have been a number of stories attempting to make comparison to the sinking of the Titanic. I fail to see where the loss of less than 50 crew and passengers is comparable with the 1514 people who lost their lives on Titanic. I fail to see where the collision with a reef, within sight of land in 2012 is even in the same league with striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic, nearly 100 years ago, where the water was so cold that one could not survive more than minutes in the water.

The sinking of the Costa Concordia is tragic, yes. Is it “titanic?” I think not.

Just as frustrating is the inevitable questions that occur after such a tragedy. Headline after headline asks, “Is cruising safe?” Granted, cruise ship lines have had a fair amount of bad press in the past dozen years, or so. I suppose that much of it is deserved. Since the closest I have been to a cruise is watching “The Love Boat,” maybe I am not as qualified as some to be the judge.

The question that the media keeps asking, (I don’t know, maybe people really do want to know,) is if going on a cruise is safe. We have this sinking, of course. There have been a couple of other incidents, I seem to recall of ships running aground or colliding. There have also been several instances of passengers coming down with food poisoning. I believe that a couple of cruise ships have run afoul with pirates, as well.

Going on a cruise is not unlike anything else that we want to do by way of a vacation, a weekend adventure or everyday life. There is an element of danger to everything.

Your cruise ship could sink. You could get hit by a bus. A Russian satellite could fall on your house while you are sleeping.

I see no purpose in worrying about such things. Is sailing on a luxury cruise ship safe? It has to be safer, and more comfortable, than making the same trip in a rowboat. It is all about perspective.

As I see it, if you want to go on a cruise, don’t let the big media outlets make the call for you. You only live once.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Proposed NTSB cell phone law goes too far

Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

Radio telephones. Car telephones. Cellular telephones. Mobile telephones.

No matter what you call them, these mobile communication devices that actually trace their origins to the early 20th century have become a part of our daily lives.

Like many inventions, mobile telephones, for many years, were restricted to military, law enforcement and the wealthy. It was not until the 1980s that technology allowed pricing to fit the budget of middle-class Americans.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century. It seems that everyone has a cell phone. More and more Americans use cell phones as their “home” phone in lieu of the traditional hard-wired “land line.”

One cannot drive from point A to point B without passing, or being passed, by a number of drivers engaged in a cell phone conversation or texting as they navigate their vehicle along our roadways. We are all guilty of talking on our phones while driving. Many of us are equally guilty of texting while driving.

Therein lies a major issue in traffic safety, an issue that has been undertaken by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is working on legislation to ban the use of mobile telephones while driving. The ban would include using a mobile phone with hands-free devices while behind the wheel.

I agree that the use of cell phones while driving is dangerous. More dangerous is the practice of texting while driving.

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have observed erratic and dangerous driving, and find the driver entranced with their cell phone instead of paying attention to the road, and the potential weapon they are driving.

I will also admit to finding myself in situations where I am on the phone and knowingly distracted from my primary responsibility – driving my vehicle. I have been trying hard to avoid using my phone while in traffic but, sometimes, situations occur where I still find myself engaged in phone conversations when and where I should not.

First of all, I do not believe that the NTSB recommendation should ban the use of cell phones when used with a hands-free device. Granted, there is still a danger, but no more than that of listening to a car radio or being engaged in a conversation with a passenger. In my opinion, the NTSB proposal to ban cell phone use, even with hands-free devices, is an over-reaction to the issue.

Part two of the problem is that I can see most adults at least attempting to follow new laws about not talking and driving, but I do not see our younger generation following the ban. Our kids are part of the “entitled generation.” Far too many of them believe that they can do what they want and no one is going to tell them they cannot do something.

These are children and young adults who grew up with a cell phone “attached” to their ear and text with friends and family more than they actually speak to them. Arrogance and disrespect of authority is their trademark.

Unless this new law allows for the confiscating of cell phones from these youngsters, (which I doubt is constitutional,) they are not going to abide by this proposed ban.

This proposed legislation could be the most defied, and difficult to enforce, series laws since prohibition.

It is definitely time to curb that use of cell phones while driving and eliminate texting while driving. I believe, though, that better education on the dangers and stiffer penalties for those who cause a crash while using their phones are a better answer.

It is also time to make hands-free devices more available and less expensive.

I see this as another place for more common sense and less government demand.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mama don't take my Kodachrome

The Kodak company has been in the news again. The company, once referred to by many in the photography industry as "the big yellow god," is sliding closer and closer to the precipice of bankruptcy.

Kodak is becoming another victim in our ever-changing world. The use of film for taking photographs has all but ceased. For decades the name "Kodak" was to photography as "Kleenex" is to facial tissue.

Back in the good old days of film, when one purchased a camera, there was a constant need to purchase, develop and print film. Kodak filled that need, almost to the point of monopolizing the industry.

There is no doubt that Kodak film was among the best ever produced. Who else, after all, has had there film mentioned, by name, in a Simon & Garfunkel song?

Kodachrome slide film is one of the most recognized products in the history or photography, or retail goods.

What is sad, even depressing, is that while film use has all but ceased, and digital photography is still skyrocketing, the archivability of digital images is still in question.

I don't know if Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner, who were plying their trade during and after the Civil War, ever gave much thought to whether, or not, their negative plates and prints would still be serviceable in the 21st century. I do know that, when cared for properly, both glass and early film negatives are as useful today as they were when first exposed to light.

The mantra with today's digital files is, "Well, back them up!"

Failed hard drives, corrupt files on computers, CDs and DVDs are among the many things that can leave today's photographers without their valuable images.

Photography has advanced so far in the past 150 years that we now have to purchase a new external hard drive every couple of years to transfer and back up our images. I know, you can use CD/DVDs, but who is to say that they will not deteriorate?

One of the best ways to store images is off-site storage but that tends to get expensive.

In spite of the many conveniences of digital photography, there are some aspects that make me wonder just how much "better" our 21st century technology really is.

Everyone knows and understands that taking photographic images for family fun or personal fun is, well … fun. We look at photographs in our newspapers and magazines and understand the significance or beauty of the images for their immediate impact. How many of us realize that many of these same images need to survive to provide the same historical significance to future generations as we get from images such as the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk, or the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination?

No doubt, digital photography is great.

I do wonder, though, if the person who might ultimately have the last sad laugh, is George Eastman, as he watches from heaven and sees the company he founded pushed aside by new technology , state-of-the-art technology that may not be as reliable as that used to take photographic images of man's first powered flight.