All posts by staff

Stupid Opinions

I have been reading editorials, columns, and blogs for many years; and I do not recall ever seeing an admission of what may be the most important fact regarding opinions that appear in print.  Everyone has stupid opinions.  I do not mean that all written opinions are stupid or even that most are ill informed.  My message is simply that we all hold ideas, thoughts, beliefs, prejudices, and views that are either not very smart or just untrue.


Every week when I sit down to write this column/blog, I confront the dangerous truth that I will put something into print that will confirm what many, until now, have only suspected.  My guiding premise is that I write to inform and entertain rather than to provoke or advocate.  This premise helps save me from revealing the worst of my dumb ideas, but I have been known to include an error, in fact, in at least one of my columns.  The worst example I can recall was copying a quotation from a Web site attributing a quotation from the football coach Vince Lombardi to the painter Vincent Van Gogh.  It’s hard to imagine that these two historic figures ever shared anything other than a first name, and the story is a telling illustration of the amount of research that goes into these writings.


I hope this blog is a useful substitute for the conversations that would be difficult to arrange with employees and other interested readers.  As someone who spent many years in small towns, working in small organizations, it’s sometimes frustrating that I don’t know everyone who works for the City or serves on an advisory commission.  Thanks to the good work of Bob Woods, I’ve recently started doing monthly “brown bag” lunches that anyone is welcome to attend.  Today (January 9), I will be talking about the City’s Strategic Plan at noon in the Council Chambers, but I’m willing to discuss almost any subject.  Please note the qualifier “almost” in the preceding sentence.  Self-preservation dictates some limitations.


The fact that I have some stupid opinions and believe that everyone else does too does not mean that I think we should never share them.  Many of my worst ideas have been changed by exposing them to people who know more than I do.  I strongly believe, however, that we should regard opinions expressed in blogs or other venues with healthy skepticism and never take them too seriously.  I sometimes worry about the anger I see even in our local newspaper’s online reactions to stories or editorials.


I have been writing columns or blogs for at least the last decade, and I’ve appreciated the many comments and stories I’ve heard in response to them.  I do learn something from putting my own thoughts into print, but I learn a lot more from the reactions to them from other people.  Please feel free to post responses as the spirit dictates.  Stupid opinions need to be challenged if they are ever going to change.

Delving into the Past

My Christmas present this year was a VCR that plugs into our computer and allows me to convert VHS tapes into digital files.  I also received software for editing the new video files.  I didn’t understand until yesterday’s “holiday” that these gifts are a sentence to spend my remaining leisure hours on earth immersed in my family’s past.


I’ve already viewed hours of children’s birthday parties, babies, snowfall, fishing trips, parades, family reunions, and sports.  It’s funny that people always seem to record the same things.  It’s also amazing how much more interesting these things are when you set them to music.  My first project was to take some home movies that covered a span from 50 to 30 years ago and turn them into a music video.  My father-in-law captured a wide range of subjects with his 8 mm camera, including clips of breaking horses, riding motorcycles, family celebrations, and a memorable visit to Lion Country Safari in Virginia.  Our family’s first music video is consequently a really interesting mix of people, action, rhinos, and zebra butts.  I’ve thought about putting it on You Tube, but I’m pretty sure my wife would hurt me if I did.


Wandering around in the past has had its interesting and entertaining moments.  I had a lot of dark hair when I was younger, and I was really skinny.  Our children were cute, although there is one disturbing clip of my youngest son repeatedly ramming his head into a hard-packed snow wall.  There are also many images of important people who are no longer with us.


I feel privileged to have these records of my family that can be passed along to my grandchildren.  Despite my wife’s heroic efforts to learn and record our genealogy, we have no pictures and little information to provide knowledge of my great-grandparents.  Knowing something about where you come from can be very useful in helping you determine where you’re going.  My recent activities have certainly inspired me to leave a better record for my children.


I am very grateful for the lessons of the past and for my recent opportunities to revisit portions of my life that I’d either forgotten or vaguely recalled.  I don’t really plan to spend all my time reviewing and editing home videos this year, however, because I would much prefer to focus on what lies ahead.  The year 2009 promises many challenges, among which is the necessity to creatively apply the lessons we’ve learned from the past to make our lives better.

New Year’s Thanks

My e-mail inbox contained four new Christmas messages this morning from friends in Bangladesh, Iraq, Poland, and La Grande.  The first two are Muslim, the third Catholic, and the fourth Episcopalian.  Friendship and the simple good will of decent people is the common thread that runs through these messages.  I may never see any of these friends again, and I’m almost certain that we won’t be helping one another or exchanging costly gifts in the foreseeable future.  I am just grateful that they took a few moments to pass along a greeting and a kind thought.


I have been struggling with a little cynicism this year about what or whether to resolve to change in 2009.  I think a knee injury that’s prevented me from running for the past couple of months has affected my outlook on the world and made me more negative and pessimistic.  My friends’ messages provided me some needed inspiration. 


I need to say thanks to the people who have made this year interesting, productive, easier, and, in some cases, bearable.  The last few months have not been easy for our street crews who have taken on leaves, snow, and ice in addition to their regular responsibilities.  We haven’t provided the best equipment for some of these jobs, but they have been largely completed with some hard work and good attitudes.  I am very grateful for the extra effort, and I think most of the thoughtful people in Albany are too. 


Library employees deserve some special attention as we start the New Year.  Moving to a new facility is not an easy or simple task, especially when complicated by controversy over the appearance of the new building.  More than 1,000 people a day usually pass through our library doors, and our staff does an extraordinary job of serving them.  The color complaints will pass (There may be some small color changes.) and perhaps people will focus on what’s really important; the quality of our service and the people who provide it.


I’m looking forward to a “ride along” with a police officer today and to the chance to say thanks to at least one person for the good work of the department.  Albany is generally a safe city, but it wouldn’t be without police, fire fighters, paramedics, building inspectors, fire marshals, code enforcement, planners, and public works employees.  The folks in parks & recreation and transit provide services that make the community livable as well as safe.  We can thank all those who work in IT, finance, human resources, municipal court, and the city manager’s office for the support necessary to make all city services possible.


All of us who are paid to do this work owe some special thanks to the many volunteers who serve us and the rest of the community throughout the year.  We could start the list with our City Council, whose members contribute many hours for very little tangible compensation.  We have more volunteer boards and commissions than I can keep track of and countless individuals who volunteer at the library, senior center, and transit to name a few.


I’m sure I’ve missed someone in my list of people associated with the City who deserve thanks.  I hope I will be able to make up for any slights in the year ahead.  I know that the quality of this community depends on the good work of people who show up at the City every day.  I also know that it’s difficult for me to personally express my appreciation to everyone who deserves it.  I hope this message will serve as a reminder to me and others to show a little gratitude for the service of those around us in this and every New Year.