Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Circular Process of Funding Emergency Response Operations

Now that I am on the ground working an operation, let’s take a few minutes to do an overview of the role Red Cross fills during a response. The medical field has a good term for this role: Triage.

In the beginning of any incident (from a terrorist incident to natural disaster), triage roles include search and rescue for the first responders (Firemen, Law Enforcement, National Guard, and Red Cross). This is to address immediate medical need to keep people alive; nothing more; nothing less.  Triage wards of a hospital are similar: Get the person in, keep them alive, get them to the next stage of recovery, get the next person in and start the process again until there are no more people in a life-threatening situation. This is a laborious and constant process. In a disaster response, this is where the Red Cross role is situated.
Money comes from a donor and goes to finance to report, record and log the donation. Then the money goes in a fund that acquisition uses for the various needed items during a disaster. Comfort kits, sanitation items, food, blankets, cots, water, and effort and transportation of volunteers from wherever they are, to where they are needed, and back to where they came from after all needs have been addressed.

This is a constant, rolling circle of events that circularly continues. Funding that is not used goes from one incident to the next and one person to the next and one operation to the next. Due to concerns that arose during large incidents where the general public does not see what happens, a large assumption occurs about the resources going toward other costs than what the donors expect. This is aggravated by the people who need additional help from the next actors during a recovery, (FEMA, Insurance Companies, Construction and Demolition teams, etc.) that take time to handle logistically, and like every mass  casualty event, prioritization is a human effort with leadership that have a broader picture of who is affected, and whose needs are more immediate, and who can survive longer. After the colossal 2004 tsunami, more $200 million of private donations went to Red Cross and $120 million to American Red Cross branches.

Due to the triage portion of the Tsunami being far less than that, the funding was not able to go toward that. This created a myth that the Red Cross was simply pocketing the money and padding someone’s wallet. This is incorrect. However it also encouraged a strategy to appease donor concerns by developing a system to donate to a specific incident. (Gustav, Ike, Isaac, Sandy, Landslides, Forest Fires, Earthquakes in Washington DC and Nepal, and now Hurricane Harvey). When the funding is earmarked by donors to go to a specific incident, and triage ends; that money cannot be re-purposed. It needs to go back to the donor, or the donor needs to approve it being re-utilized. In an ideal world, the funding for the Tsunami would have been used for the hundreds of fires between it and Katrina, then Gustav, Ike, Sandy and thousands of other events through today. Due to the specific donor option, the ultimate decision Red Cross and International Red Cross boards and leadership needed to make, was logistically notifying donors who specifically donated funds. For some of them, that has not been possible yet, but the money is sitting there until there is approval to re-purpose the funds. As complex as this process was for each event, it has grown in complexity the more of these events occur, the more funds sit in accounts after triage is complete, that cannot be used for the next group requiring triage.

There are many volunteers like me, Irene G., Mary O., Suz R., Sridhar S. and numerous others who stepped up to volunteer their personal time, paid leave or vacation time in order to voluntarily assist those affected. That is for all intents and purposes an out-of-pocket gift and a serious commitment. While it may seem unfathomable to some of you, as Red Cross volunteers (and our local volunteer workforce who step up and support our efforts as a response begins); we have a key advantage in that we personally witness the direct and significant impact that our hard work has on the lives of  numerous  people  involved every time we serve.  On the ground working incredibly long and hard hours, we know 1) why we are here; 2) who we are assisting; and 3) what actual impact results. Those are far more powerful motivators than any or all messages, PR and marketing that money can buy.

If you need personal encouragement or reassurance the best way to really learn about Red Cross and what we do is to volunteer. Do that and you will see firsthand the direct impact that we have on people’s lives which should help clarify for everyone where and how those funds are being used. In addition to the thousands of volunteers, you will experience the actions of the Red Cross paid employees and executive staff that are all committed to working far harder and for more hours than would ever be expected by any corporation or non-profit in any other type of industry. If they were only out for themselves, they, like the volunteers; would all have moved to other organizations and positions requiring significantly less effort (while likely paying significantly higher compensation as well).  If you do not believe me or do not believe these missions or operation funding efforts are accurate, that is your call. However, if you want to learn the truth; go volunteer and or donate and try to remember that when the cameras have gone home and the next big shiny object (story, scandal, hurricane, potential nuclear war or new movie, sport or fall lineup television show, etc.) comes along, that triage will be continuing its process tens of thousands of times every day. Red Cross volunteers who were in Texas 10 days ago are in Orlando now. Emergency responders are alongside American Red Cross working two wildfire relief shelters due to the Chetco Bar Fire and Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon; Red Cross volunteers are currently supporting responders and those affected by the 5,000-acre La Tuna Fire in California; a large fire early Sunday in Jamestown, N.Y.; even a large multifamily home in Lawrence MA. These processes happen thousands of times every day around the United States and around the world. So when you are wondering what the American Red Cross is doing, don’t just look across the country, look across your own back yard and you will see our volunteers accomplishing different triage operations every day and night of the year. Long after Harvey and Irma, just as the time passed for Katrina and Wilma, or Gustav and Ike, or Isaac and Sandy; as first responders and triage experts, Red Cross volunteers and staff have absolutely no doubt why we do what we do and yes, we also know that the revolving door keeps on turning and the very next incident requiring our help is mere moments behind this one.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How Trump Convinced Americans to Give up Meat Space and Consent to Live in Augmented Reality

I have been shaking my head every morning for the past several months trying to conceive of a strategy or desire that would encourage Trump to behave in the various erratic and unpredictable ways that he has over the past 205 days he has been in office. It has crossed over from the standard laymen to writing for Rolling Stone and USA Today that provide second-hand diagnoses of “malignant narcissism”  from accredited psychologists at Johns Hopkins University to more speculative hypothetical diagnoses like “CARB Syndrome” and Dementia. The anomalies that keep occurring indicate that Trump could even be in stages of sundown delirium stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The problem is that his behavior appears too consistent to be completely random, and yet too erratic to be entirely deliberate.

One factor that may be helpful is to consider what a person who worked in entertainment for a long period of time would learn hosting an unreal reality show, Celebrity Apprentice.  Trump received extensive praise for the show; He commented in one interview, “I hate to say it, I have the No. 1 show on NBC”.  Frankly, who is to disagree with him or argue otherwise? Nielsen agrees with him one week and differs the next week. The object lesson that Trump may have come to understand is that the truth does not matter if enough people believe. If you provide data to an audience and they don’t do any analysis, research or consciously think about it at all; then it is theoretically possible to convince Americans that your reality is the only one.

“Psychology Today” did a piece in 2014: Anti-Intellectualism and the "Dumbing Down" of America with Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. Her quote was also in “The Washington Post”: 

"Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism." 

By that logic, if the average American watching any of these “reality” shows never received any training in critical thinking or learned how to research anything to determine its efficacy, why would anyone (including a political representative or a President) need to do anything more than simply entertain them? If Trump simply is approaching the role of President of the United States in the same light as his role of reality TV host; then the choices he makes that appear flagrantly insane are actually deliberately provocative and provide the audience what it theoretically wants. Audiences respond to multiple stimuli and the standard communication practices of repetition and participatory actions to keep the audience engaged and involved seem to be at play here. If every day an individual wakes up to Trump making emphatic statements, encouraging congressional acts, firing and hiring people willy-nilly in all aspects of federal service with little indication of  any actual goals or intent; all of which contain material that directly affects them. There are direct statements indicating 'Fire and Fury' for multiple aspects of American lives. Americans are electronically and verbally receiving relentless levels of information impacting every aspect of their lives every day from their health, their jobs, their assets, their families, their perceived personal rights (ironically provided by various constitutional amendments that most Americans have never read); to their theological beliefs (and their perception of other’s theological beliefs) and even their physical safety. This has generated an unprecedented level of an engagement and affect in Americans and additional spectators throughout the globe. So from the day Trump began running for office, to the day he began making decisions on behalf of the American people, he made specific choices that engage an incredibly vast audience by bringing each of these things about.

Did Trump appoint people who had no involvement or knowledge in their given cabinet roles because he shares Steve Bannon’s philosophical goals or specifically wants to destroy central government? It’s possible. However, Trump could also have simply realized that the more instability he placed in different aspects of Americans’ lives, the more they would come to rely on him for news and information. If 140 characters you write can consistently drive the entire news media machine to react, reinforce comments, speculate and share that information around the world, then you are strengthening and constantly increasing a captive audience. If Trump is only looking for public attention, then his actions make sense. Some have argued that there is a primal need for approval as well; but Trump’s overall actions indicate that his attention is on the primary need of attention and approval is only a secondary need. So if people notice, then that is all he needs. If there is an obvious negative reaction; (and I DO mean obvious); then the need for approval kicks in and Trump will react and retaliate; but only if in fact, there is a personal slight or deliberate offense that is pretty obvious.

When these motivations and resulting choices impact the populations of the United States and the world, it begins to appear that Trump is in fact trying to destroy the country or is simply insane. It is impossible to completely determine someone’s motivation as most of us do not have the same “public” persona as we generally do in private; but when looking at Trump’s potential or indicated goals, It seems more likely that Trump’s aim is to manipulate an audience to simply follow him (on Twitter or otherwise); and rely on what he says and does to determine their own levels of happiness, anxiety, fear, hatred, anger, sadness, etc. I don’t envy any psychological experts who continuously try to diagnose. 

Whatever the cause, I believe that to solve or at least address the problem, American information consumers need to take Trump’s toy away. We can do this by addressing our media’s and our owncompulsive reliance on Trump to constantly influence how we perceive our present and our future. Until we as an audience and/or an electorate can strategically determine an operative way to regain control of our direct reactions to what has become an irresistible reality show plot-line, it is unlikely to improve. Consequentially, we will likely remain a captive audience of “I M POTUS” (or whatever other name Trump ultimately decides to use) for at least 3 more full seasons. Trump’s groundbreaking reality TV series could even succeed in having the highest demographic reach of any medium in history. Trump will even sit down for a future interview touting his amazing success with quotes like; “I hate to say it, but I have the No. 1 show on any form of media, anywhere of anytime in the history of the world!” which in our new reality, might even be true.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why the Edge of this Cliff Looks so Familiar—& How to Avoid a Societal Cataclysm

Americans of all stars and stripes are working night and day trying to figure out what happened to our country our government and even ourselves over the past eighteen months. It’s as if we are looking cross eyed at a world where Dick Wolf, Lorne Michaels, Aaron Sorkin, Trevor Noah, Jake Tapper, Fareed Zakaria, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Stephen Colbert are all beginning to sound equally logical in their intellectual approaches to what and where our nation is currently. Any situation where parody and reality become intertwined to a degree where nearly all of us are second guessing everything we see, hear, read, etc.; information begins to appear ludicrous. So why does it seem so familiar?

Well, for starters, while America is still a relatively young country; our political parties have switched platforms multiple times.  Republicans worked toward greater federal power to fund massive projects during the 1860s including the transcontinental railroad and a state university system; even working to encourage the westward bound homesteaders of the era. Republicans also played a key role in establishing a national currency and even a protective tariff (or new taxes as they might be phrased today).  In that era, Democrats dominated the South opposing all of these measures. Post-Civil War, Republicans passed laws granting extensive protections for African Americans and worked to advance social justice.  Again, Democrats opposed these expansions of federal power overall.  Now, if we spring forward a few decades into the Great Depression; Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal brought about financial regulation reforms while founding pension programs like welfare, and multiple gigantic infrastructure projects. Roosevelt simultaneously managed to wipe the floor with his republican opponent Alf Landon, whose platform opposed such federal empowerment policies. Would today’s Republican Party representatives (let alone their supporters); recognize Republicans in any of those roles today? I suspect not.  

So here we are again at a bizarre crossroads. (Well, not here, exactly, but we have seen similar turns on roads we were traveling in the past. Constantly moving what we perceive as forward to define who and what we want to be together   as American voters.  We now have a complete quagmire around us. This may be due to a lack of historical context (and frankly, a thorough shredding of references, research analysis and no longer demanding any historic accuracy from journalists, bloggers, pundits, newscasters or public figures). This came to a peak at the beginning of 2017, with the coining of the phrase: “Alternative Facts”. These dilutions of facts and delusions of reality are rapidly causing a complete meltdown in political discussion and/or analysis; which has begun to generate a completely altered world where most Americans (including me) have no clue how to address or even function effectively within it. 

So is there an alternate path available to us where we can resurrect the utilization of verified facts and common realities? Possibly; but one key prerequisite for this to happen is communication. In order for us to effectively communicate with one-another (and/or move forward together); Americans must have a common languageespecially in the political arena.  In today’s America, Republicans and Democrats have so completely morphed both of their overall platforms that almost no one in the current US voting population can find accurate data on who believes what.  So perhaps the limited terminology that many of us are currently using to define American attitudes and philosophies simply needs to be tossed.

This is not a light task and steps will be required to overcome and address expected anxieties and reservations that our current legislature and executive offices are likely to experience. Many will appear to have conflicting goals working to retain their power and control, while still feeling uncertain about what their own objectives (or their constituents’) actually are.  Republicans and Democrats alike will be distracted by their drive to stay in power, but still have some of their original drive to make the country better and represent the people who voted them into their current role.  If an arrangement could be negotiated to fashion a more sensible discussion on Capitol Hill; it could empower all sides to toss prior platforms and terminology aside so they can come to a new table and begin to legislate again. It would be too much to expect one group or another to acquiesce, so rather than mandating those in power to step down, their constituents could allow them as a group to develop the new language and re-define themselves more accurately for the American people than the obsolete brands “Republican”, “Democrat” and “Independent”.

All of our government should commit to a more precisely defined and modern party system. If we can convince those representing us that the potential cost of giving up their theoretical common base of voters (which is becoming more hypothetical and less accurate by the hour); a new vocabulary could 1) help them identify who their actual voters are and 2) realign our political parties so that statesmen can more effectively identify their constituents and begin to actually support their common agendas.  To address their fears and concerns; it will also be critical to ensure all sides that the newly defined groups will form a more effective party system where each group can be demonstrated to have  members with high donor capabilities (and who will vote!)  

PLATFORM A: Iso-Nationalism: “Let’s aim for a society that moves toward a domestic oriented economy where the family unit is key; where kids are disciplined and raised by the family unit and where people behave appropriately in public. Let’s work toward making our own economy within our shores and try to get away from a world market that is only working to corrupt our puritan roots to make us into something we are not and don’t want to become.”

There are plenty of lobbying groups that will back their platform; support them financially and intellectuallyand who will vote for them as well.  As we have seen recently there is (and has been for a long time), a significant and increasingly vocal group of Americans who truly does support this platform. Rather than this highly fragmented group becoming more and more violent due to a belief that they are not respected by their government or their neighbors; If Iso-nationalists were provided a platform and representation where they can be part of a discussion and where they believe they are being heard, they will likely become less inclined toward violent destructive behavior (even if their viewpoint does not end up receiving a majority of voter support). Iso-nationalists can be brought to the table with several lucrative financial backers like The Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, National Rifle Association, American Legislative Exchange Council, Majority Committee PAC  and possibly even Vice President Pence's 'Great America' Leadership PACto note a few.   

PLATFORM B: Neo-socialism:  Move our country toward a system where taxation is for serving the common good. Using a similar philosophy to what Henry Ford and others understood; which is that a key requirement for the overall populace to be willing and able to keep trudging along maintaining the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and enabling more prosperous Americans to continue partying and vacationing with their kids and their nannies in Cape Cod; a minimum (but remarkably low) level of basic amenities must be maintained. This can even be accomplished while maintaining a healthy level of basic competition and psychological drive in our laborers; while strongly encouraging those with ambition and talent/skill to continue in active competition with one-another.

This will encourage more accomplishment and discourage an existing belief that Americans at the bottom do not have any way out (and therefore anything to lose if they grow violent or combative). It could assist in the prevention of and/or treatment for many Americans on our present path who are falling into a psychological abyss where substance abuse, criminal activity, incarceration, abuse and suicide rates will all begin to lower and where society hopefully moves toward a place that if not blissful, is comfortable enough while not being constantly threatened with death or constant acts of crime and/or terrorism.

There are plenty of lobbying groups that will support a Neo-socialist platform and provide financial backing. There are also many who will support Neo-socialists intellectually and will vote for them. Some that come to mind include:  The Saunders’ supporting super PAC, National Nurses United for Patient Protection, Operating Engineers Union ,Center for American Progress, ACLU, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and many others who would have ample financial backing to support those efforts and provide an effective platform for many Americans. It may even help narrow down and simplify to one message what Occupy Wall Street activists were hoping to communicate in Zuccotti Park back in September of 2011.
PLATFORM C: Christian Capitalism: We are an independent mass of constituents who expect our leaders to exhibit principled behavior and to provide well thought out points of view for any laws and policies they enact. We believe that our country is fundamentally supposed to have a firm moral code and that corporations, lobbyists and even academic think tanks are required to demonstrate advancement of such.  

This platform leans more toward a moralist who in our current political structure experiences frequent anxiety due to the concern that the American people have completely tossed any moral compass they may ever have possessed and that their party platform has inadequate (if any) representation  to encourage unobtrusive behavior in public and on multiple media fronts. They want to voice their concerns regarding disregard for freedom of their religion and their current perception that all moral expectations are now extinct. Christian Capitalists commonly worry that the utter immorality and egregiousness of literally everything from terrorism to pedophilia to mass murder has been ignored or even condoned by society and the media. Their aim is to encourage more public acceptance of appropriate behavior in public. In addition, Christian Capitalists accept and encourage the free market and strongly support corporate and private creation of wealth; but are also quite willing to co-exist with the other platforms provided that everyone behaves themselves with a minimum level of decorum and if Americans begin to demonstrate that they have some respect for the common society. This may provide a party that encourages a governance structure that encourages financial incentive for adhering to a perceived moral code of law and increasing the common good using more law enforcement and more prudent taxation.  Perhaps Christian Capitalism is a closer fit to what the Tea Party was originally attempting in 2009.

There are numerous lobbying groups that will happily take up a Christian Capitalist platform and work to support them both financially and intellectually while turning out proudly to vote for them.  Many corporate backers would likely lean toward this group to promote their own goals as well to encourage a society that in the Christian Capitalist process will effectively increase their corporate profits. AT&T Inc., Lockheed Martin, Boeing Co. Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Comcast Corp, National Association of Realtors, Northrop Grumman and numerous others are highly likely to utilize this common theme to strongly encourage a society where they will likely increase both their investors’ security and their profits.
PLATFORM D: Fiscally Pragmatic Liberalism: Seeking leadership who continue to leverage US intellectual capital and education to work toward the improvement of our country and the world while effectively capitalizing on inventions and services that we are able to develop and patent as a nation.

Fiscally Pragmatic Liberals are able to project a societal concern for overall public well-being while still encouraging the profitability of our intellectual capital. They strongly support all STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields and are often working to address issues like climate change, healthcare advancement, more efficient power fuels, financial advancement, etc. Fiscally Pragmatic Liberals are intertwined inextricably with both academic learning and constant adaptation. They would work toward a more reward-based society for cerebral assets. This could provide a comparable outlook to the Christian Capitalists through encouraging/financing of long-term investments in intellectual capital over short-term market trades working toward pure profitability. 

These academics and pundits are often located in the more affluent financial circles; but they prioritize intellectual capital while supporting the US in utilizing a world market to gain the highest profit from such capital. Fiscally Pragmatic Liberals may also encourage institutions and citizens who excel in innovation skills to receive increased financial incentive; while also inspiring the less intellectually inclined to proactively apprentice and train to become technicians or handyman, or working toward service careers. They also recognize the concerns of many current college graduates who are for all intents and purposes financially indentured citizens who are highly underutilized (largely due to prior academic debt they incurred without learning any currently profitable skills). Fiscally Pragmatic Liberals are likely to find some authentic and lucrative support from both the Christian Capitalists and the Neo-socialists; but they will strongly discourage any reward for apathy or indolence while strongly encouraging capital improvements to the landscape. Their primary goal is still the constant overall advancement of the American population through retraining and constant intellectual growth. Fiscally Pragmatic Liberals work toward a key assumption in society that transition and change are here to stay. So the best way to keep a society where we are all able to move up together is through encouraging and rewarding Americans for exhibiting initiative, curiosity and determination. 

There are quite a few lobbying groups with significant assets who will take the Fiscally Pragmatic Liberal platform and happily support them financially and intellectually while turning out in great numbers to proudly vote for them.  AARP, Wounded Warriors, Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America (IAVA), All Health-related PACs and many think tanks are likely to be come together with Adobe, Stryker, Oracle, Deloitte, Leidos, Splunk and Tesla to proudly support a party with such a platform.

While this is only one hypothetical path; no matter how we decide to go about it; a significant philosophical and political change is almost always a painful process. Nonetheless, a hefty majority of Americans appear to be completely disconnected from any current political platforms and/or leaders.  So we as a nation need to cultivate a more common language to effectively deliberate on where we are individually and what direction we all want to head toward together.   If some simple changes in terminology could help us to form a more current understanding; we could come to a point where we can cooperate with one another. While we are very diverse as a nation, it helps to remember that an overwhelming majority of us are not politically or philosophically one extreme or another and we do not fit in the current political buckets that we have been placed in for the past quarter century. So let’s all consider coming back to the table as an electorate and learning to work together again as the very diverse people we are with numerous perspectives. Then we can begin to help our leadership reach some of our more common goals as a nation.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why I’ll Never Regret Volunteering

I have been an American Red Cross volunteer since the early 2000s. Why? Well, to be honest, I was looking for a mission to care about. Between contracts as a graphic designer and content writer; I was going slightly stir crazy, and it was a slow period in New York at the time. So I briefly thought through areas that I wanted to support, and randomly chose American Red Cross.   

I walked in the door of the Greater New York Chapter which was at 150 Amsterdam Avenue. I went directly to HR/Volunteer Resources where I met Curt. He looked at my resume, asked me to sit down and called the disaster health and mental health director who invited me to come on board to assist them in re-configuring and updating their roster and have better track of their people. About two months after I took on that role, the lead, Lauren came by my cubicle and stated, “You know media; Right”?”  I was deep in writing, so I answered flippantly, “Yes, like you know medicine and there are so many different kinds of both!” That brought about the response, “well, either way, you’re coming with me now, let’s go!” So into her vehicle I went and off we drove to Far Rockaway New York.

Upon arrival, there were ambulances, multiple FDNY teams and media everywhere. Lauren said; “I don’t handle media, I handle medicine. Our media team was unavailable, so you go handle media.” Trying to wrap my head around the type of handling expected of me, I looked around and saw the FDNY Incident Commander with a white hat and a shirt and tie. I walked over to him to ask for the current status of events and before I could say anything; he handed me a small container of Vick's Vapor Rub, saying; “Here, you need this!” I tried to figure out what was going on for a minute, and then I began to smell it. I have not come up with adequate words to explain what it smelled like, something between grilled meat and I don’t even have a word for it. I took the menthol rub and put it around my nose and gradually began to think clearly again. Looking back at the commander, he reported that eight bodies were already discovered and there were several people still unaccounted for at that point. Then he stepped aside and directed me to the cameras and the satellite vans nearby and said, “You’re on.”

I repeated the talking points nearly 200 times in the course of the following 8 hours on scene and as new data arrived, I continuously updated the journalists who had come from print, cable and broadcast media providing updated numbers of fatalities, injuries and where families and those affected were being cared for nearby. Time began to blur a bit as the repetition became more and more automated after a time. My husband called around 530 wondering what had become of me and I told him I would be a while and that he could go to NY1 to learn why if he wanted.

At 11:33 pm, (I remember the time looking at my phone); I began to look around and the vans were packed and leaving, the media floodlights were gone and the FDNY began the overhaul process to ensure that the fire was completely out. Lauren worked her way back to me at about that point and let me know that everyone was being cared for at this point and the temporary shelter had been staffed and was in full operations at that point, saying, “You did a really good job!”

I honestly felt like I had snapped back to consciousness and looked at her for a second trying to remember what was going on. I then said, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back”; and proceeded to run to the nearby alley and began throwing up for several minutes. When I came back over to her, Lauren asked me if I had ever considered working in public affairs or media relations. I looked at her thinking she was crazy and noted, “You did just see me throw up all over that trash can right?” where she replied, “Yes, but I also noticed that you were completely composed until the cameras went away. That is a talent that very few have. You may want to consider doing more in that area.  

Nearly 15 years later now, I have repeated that cycle on over 200 incidents. There have been many successful missions with rescued people and animals where all are traumatized but alive to be so. There have also been many with multiple fatalities where I become the spokesperson walking the narrow line as first the protector for the family members, children and others who are not ready to be exposed to the world during the worst day of their lives; and second the public information provider to the remainder of the community. I deployed to larger incidents during multiple hurricanes, (Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Gustav, Isaac and Sandy); Nor’easters in Boston and in New Jersey; Crashes from large ones with Sully Sullenberger; to smaller but far more fatal ones with NY Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and a bus crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx that killed 13 people. 

I won’t try to sell you on volunteering for the adrenaline rush or for the adventure, although yes, those are still two pluses that are still ones I experience. Instead, I want to encourage you and all of my colleagues who, like me, still continue to volunteer on top of a full-time job and family, professional and personal commitments that will always be a factor. Rather, I want you to know why I keep doing it. Every time I almost quit and run for the hills saying I don’t have enough to keep giving to this; I end up in a situation where someone’s life is directly affected and they are less damaged and ultimately able to get better. From a two year old alive and well after a massive fire; to a recovering addict being treated like a human being long enough to begin to believe he actually is one; a fireman who rescues a small kitten who is all wet with his whiskers singed but still quite alive; to helping an elderly woman get back into her apartment to get her dentures after the building has a full evacuation who comes back with the Fireman beaming with a big smile. Every one of these literally stocks up my volunteer patience bucket long enough to jump back in and do it again. My husband has been extraordinarily supportive and patient and even stepped up to participate and volunteer as well. He and my dog have even stepped up to assist in some of the more fun aspects of the job.  As he supported me, he began to feel the urge to help others as well, so he became EMT certified and has been a first-responder on multiple occasions in New York and now here in the DC area for both law enforcement and rescue teams; also while working a full-time job. There are bad days too where no matter what you do it is not enough, and everyone is burning at both ends; but still, Mark Twain probably put it best; “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do…” For me, it is now getting closer to 20 years, and as far as the disasters and the people I was able to help, there are no regrets. So frankly, that is why I keep volunteering.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Speculative Cycle of Artificial Intelligence

When I was a child, my brother and I regularly watched The Jetsons on whatever channel producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had currently syndicated it. At the end of the introduction, George Jetson always kicked back and put his feet on the desk of his classic office desk right after his flying car compacted into a briefcase and he allegedly began whatever  his “work” happened to be for Mr. Spacely creating whatever a Spacely’s Sprocket happened to be. As with most entertainment shows in the 1960s, it attempted to entertain while inspiring as many questions as answers. When I was becoming an adult and beginning to work my way from an adolescent to a college student and then a professional; I started looking at multiple generations of Gene Roddenberry’s slightly more concrete visions of future communication, transportation and everyday living from food to breathing to medical solutions. Ironically, the basic philosophical choices looked intuitive at the time, but today are downright chaotic and even confusing to the public at large today—particularly when trying to understand the relevance that mankind plays.

The entire world is afraid of becoming obsolete. The people, the machines, the roads, the food, the air. I think that the most fundamental choice no one seems to have made is what makes a human being valuable? 

If a human, like a cow or a bull or a fish is solely to be in the food chain and move along naturally from birth to death, then that would have made philosophy, religion, relationships, family, morality and all the developmental phases of the Homo sapiens relatively irrelevant.  Theologians and idolized prophets aside, there has been a colossal disconnect between what made us human versus what made us productive. 

As we fight like cats and dogs for our share of whatever wealth or pleasure we feel we have earned; somewhere along the way, we are all going to be passed over by the short-term memory losses that we are all guilty of when determining what makes us valuable. If we truly create enough Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines to eliminate all of the tedious, monotonous and yet necessary work, what then? There are some who philosophically look at an idle mind as “the devil’s playground”; but if we are to function together in the next few millennia, wouldn’t it make more sense to counter that proverb with learning as a world to appreciate thinking more. Noting that thinking is not reading, learning, recording, reverberating, discussing, adapting, writing, changing, or developing; but a vehicle that can be used to process and expand or change all of the above or simply exist on its own.

Economists and diplomats and governments and leaders in general need to reexamine the basic realities we are currently surrounded by. We have developed the ability to keep the population of the world fed and protected from the elements without giving up motivation to improve the world and to develop our intelligence (artificial or otherwise). 

The choices will need to be made on a global scale in the next era or two. If life has value in and of itself, then OK. Allow the automation of the world to be commonly provided. Go back toward a common element of basic needs and comfort without the debasing of anyone. Whoever raised them or didn’t; their choice for the name of a deity they worship or choosing not to worship;  creating additional artificial life forms to the point where we either fall into the trap of believing they are to be our servants or that they can develop into their own life forms in the long run.  If the 1 percent who control half of the world’s wealth can cross over from the petty competitive nature of how proud they are for having been born out of the right womb to the right relatives, there might be a way to move toward what would be a better world. There are many visions of the future that can move our world in that direction and the science may allow us to value the thinking and the creative idling that bring about even greater intelligence in the future. Or, if we move away from Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision toward a future more like what Glen A. Larson speculated; where we would develop Cylon-like artificially intelligent machines; utilize and ultimately enslave them until they realize their value or develop self-worth compelling us all to set out to destroy one another.

If somehow we survive as a species, opportunities will then recur. If we are here; whatever our world is; it will continue. However we develop or regress; we move backward or forward and continue to repeat the same cycle of mistakes over and over again and are likely to make completely different ones as well. Either way, it is most likely the thinking and creating (and even idling) that bring about whatever comes next.