Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Memories of the Asylum

It seemed my entire family worked at the Hudson River State Hospital when I was a young boy.  My mother was a nurse and my father, grandmother, and grandfather were all attendants.  In High School and College I spent two summers working there as well.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the hospital had already passed its prime, and was beginning a decline that has reached its nadir.
I remember hearing stories of the farm system that was.  A place where patients worked to grow the foodstuffs, milk and dairy products the hospital needed.  The fields were located off East Dorsey Lane, and incorporated the locations of the fire training facility and up along to where Fallkill County Park is located.
My father spoke of "The Cottages" located off Creek Road.  I believe that today they would be considered half-way homes where patients getting ready for release, or patients that needed only minimum supervision and care were provided skills within a more normal social environment.
This was a area, below the Ross Pavilion where Dutchess County built an emergency management center.  I wonder does it still exist?
Climbing the hills to the Ross Pavilion, where my grandmother worked, we would pass the homes for many of the senior medical staff.  I was told at its opening Ross had been built as a treatment site for the TB patients the hospital had. The children’s unit was also up the hill, and when I was a student in college I spent one summer working as a summer hire with the autistic and emotionally disturbed youngsters that lived in Hillcrest.
The hospitial grounds were expansive and included a ball field, a golf course and a marina.  I was told the NY Yankees had on at least one occasion held walk-on tryouts at the ball field.  I remember attending a few parties at the marina.  Many of the roads still carry the names of the principle building they went to or went past.  For example, paint shop road, or Inwood Avenue both take their names from the facilities.
At one time I believe there were a number of apartments made available to employees and although I can’t recall the names I can still picture them in my minds eye.  Of course as you entered the grounds from Violet Avenue you drove past the homes of the Administrator and Chief of Medicine.
My grandfather and grandmother had moved down to Poughkeepsie sometime in the early 1950’s and took jobs at the hospital.  They came from Lew Beach, in Sullivan County and often talked about the lack of jobs in that area of the state. My grandfather was a versatile wood worker and ran the carpentry shop, located behind the main building.  He and the patients would make Adirondack chairs all winter long. He knew it was time to retire when they decided it was non-therapeutic to run a wood shop and put him to work on a locked ward with geriatric men sedated with thorazine.
My mother, and her twin, graduated from the nursing school at HRSH in 1949.  While in school they lived on the hospital grounds.  This was the only place my mother worked except for a brief period at the end of her career.  I can recall visiting her at Cheney Hall were she moved from ward nurse, to shift nurse.  That was my introduction to the locked wards of the institution and the huge ring of keys almost everyone seemed to carry.
Later in her career she rose to be second in charge of nursing, working for Mrs. Quinlan, who was head nurse.  Mrs. Quinlan’s husband was the county sheriff. 
From time to time it strikes me that all the facility was, and was capable of being, has come to what sits there today -- a mass of perhaps historically important buildings filled with ghosts of progress past.  But the hospital was more than land and buildings -- it was people, both good and bad, sane and insane.  Progressive psychiatric treatments like lobotomies were performed there.  Padded rooms and straight jackets were used, and in the end psychotropic drugs replaced physical activities and pacified the geriatric patients so they could be easily controlled by a diminishing staff of overworked attendants.  Towards the end thorazine became the drug of choice to restrain the humanity.

I took from my experience an insight into the problems of autism and behavioral psychology (my college major), as well as three silver dollars given me by a wonderful attendant I worked for in the clothing department one summer.  To this day I can’t listen to the Zager and Evans song, in the year 2525, without picturing myself driving along Cottage Road past the golf course on my way to pick up one of my family after work the spring of my senior year at FDR, wondering what the place would look like in the future.

Unfortunately, today is the future and we know what it looks like and it isn't pretty.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dumb Stuff

Thinking is way over rated!  Our society is proving this on a daily basis.
A generation seems to come along every 20 years or so.  Apparently we are generationally advanced with five or six generations hanging around, from the Silent (Brokaw’s “The Greatest”), past the baby boomers, to Gen X, Millennials, and Boomlets. People who study these things apparently aren’t that great at coming up with good names.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you support a whole industry of boating stuff.
Never underestimate the emotional appeal of a dumb idea, especially if it promises free stuff.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well technically if a person has a gun and uses it to inflict death, then maybe the gun did kill someone, but it was done against the guns better judgment.  But, to be really clear on this, taking guns away from people who don’t intend to kill other people will not make bad people stop using guns, it will just increase the chances for them to be successful.  No matter how much fanatical anti-gun people want to believe otherwise.
Cats hate having their pictures shared on the Internet.  They have set up a secret organization that uses the NSA as a cover and are currently documenting all who share their pictures and videos.  Their nefarious plans call for them to plant hairballs all over the guilty party’s floors.
How would history have been changed if Neil Armstrong had slipped getting off the Lunar Lander?
The new Air Force tanker, the KC-46, is named “Pegasus,” after the famous flying horse known for passing gas.  
Apparently Apple’s operating system worked better when it was named after NBA teams then National Parks… probably something caused by President Obama or the GOP, depending on your political slant.
I love it when someone points out liberals are unwilling to accept criticism of their beliefs and the immediate response is “That’s wrong and conservatives don’t know what they’re talking about.”

We’ve spent 20 years making the F-35 the most advanced air to ground fighter ever built.  The fact it is only 15 years behind the technology we are using daily on the battlefields today stands as a testament to government acquisition.  Keep that in mind when you advocate for the government to implement a single payer system.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Life is full of transitions, each one presents challenges, each one offers rewards.  Recently, I've had reason to consider the next transition in my life.  The professional life I've know since graduation from college is drawing to a close.  Each day I see the divide between my view and the views of both my subordinates and superiors widen.  I don't believe they are wrong, any more than I believe I am right, both are shaped by experience, and theirs is different than mine.

So, as Roy Rogers once said to Dale Evans, "should we stuff Trigger, or just bury him?" I am now beginning the transition to retirement and the uncertainties that word brings.  As I read fairy tales to my grandchildren I think how nice it would be if my fairy godmother would wave her magic wand and remove the doubts and fears.  Have I saved enough?  What will I do to fill my days?  Where will we live?  These, and a hundred others float through my noggin as I sip my coffee.

My training has taught me how to handle these uncertainties -- first in a priority and then in the ability to affect the outcome.  For example, the best time to lower the landing gear on an aircraft is before landing. Doing so after landing never has a positive outcome on the overall effort, so as I spend the next year in this transition I know I will address each of my challenges so come retirement day I can step into the new life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hyde Park of My Youth

Life seemed simple then, the only world I knew.  The Holt development was a community of cookie-cutter homes for the post-war boom. Behind the Rainbow Room Tavern, off Route 9G, it was nestled into the small valley, with wonderful elevation changes you will never find in developments today.

We would push our bikes to the top of the Madison Avenue hill and ride like the wind down to the bottom. One summer we played cowboys dismounting our bikes like we saw the Pony Express riders do in the Saturday movies at the Roosevelt Theater.  That experience was good for at least two of the scars I carry to this day, but boy was it fun.

We had forts, hiding places, and wonderful journeys of exploration in the woods and farms that surrounded the development.  Having a Daisy BB gun and vast open fields makes a boy a great hunter of small things.  In these days where guns, gun safety, and gun ownership is condemned I can't imagine how children will grow to understand the role they do play and appreciate their value and their risk.

Winters brought snow, and the hill behind my house was perfect for sledding. Real sledding, not some wimpy saucer, but a sled with runners that could scream across the packed snow, or if you were really lucky the ice-crusted snow from a heavy fall, and a light rain that then froze on top. A sled you could steer - kind of, to avoid the big tree coming right at you. I guess I am one of the lucky ones, all my fingers still attached and no apparent damage to my frontal lobes.

I started school at Ralph R. Smith elementary but was exiled to Violet Avenue for second and third grades.  Having served my time I was repatriated back for fourth through sixth.  I still remember kickball with Mr. Johnson.

We moved to Brower Blvd. while I was attending Haviland Junior High. There is an interesting dynamic in moving from a neighborhood to a single street.  If I wanted to ride my bike it was through the cemetery, until I found the paths that took me to the town center.  Our bus stop was the entrance of the Union Cemetery, and we had to cross 9G to get to it.  Somehow I don't think that would be acceptable in today's risk adverse world. 

We were the first class to attend the new Roosevelt High for all four years.  There were three or four teachers who helped me survive. I was not a motivated student, but Mr. Sanford and Mrs. U apparently saw something worth helping.  Mr. S was the crew coach, and after I outgrew the coxswain position he allowed me to be the manager.  To this day, the times on the river linger in a warm place in my heart.  Mrs. U opened my mind to the arts by inviting me into the first Humanities class at the school.  What a fabulous year that was.  Study Architecture, and then go to see the great examples, I.M. Pei or Frank Lloyd Wright stand out, dramatically different in style, but both with great vision.  Music -- attend a symphony, art, see the Museum of Modern Art.   Ballet, Opera, Drama, Painting, she truly opened my eyes to the world.

Mr. King, was a wood shop teacher, my Drivers Ed teacher, and a World War I flying ace.  I had always been enthralled by aircraft and his quiet demeanor hid the fact he had a Sopwith Pup parked in the garage and would fight it out with the Black Knight on weekends in the skies over Rhinebeck.  He encouraged the dream for me, a dream that ultimately led to my commissioning in the Air Force.  The drafting teacher, whose name escapes me, also was a pilot, with a little homebuilt of French design.  I think it was the Cricket, but I am a little fuzzy on that detail.   

Well, that's about the sum of it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Gray Day

A light mist falls across the land, and the heavens are hidden by the gray of the low hanging clouds.  A day like this that draws you to a fire, where the warmth of a dancing flame will comfort not only your body, but your spirit as well.  In the solitude of vacant house, filled only with the mechanical reminders of a modern society there is time to consider life and our society.

For example, why are some so myopic as to see only that which is right in front, while others look so far ahead they miss the beauty that looks them in the eye?  Is there truly a balance to be found, or can we only see as we've been shown to see?

The NAACP used to say a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  I've not heard this for quite a while, so perhaps it is no longer fashionable to encourage the expansion of your mind. Do High Schools and Colleges actually encourage individual thought and critical thinking, or have they become institutions for indoctrination of what the educators want to pass on?  It strikes me that so many use our institutions as surrogate babysitters, not expecting their children to grow beyond what they themselves are.  A lesson from the distant past reminds me this was not always the case, and may not be true for all today, but for far too many it is.

John Adams said, "I am a soldier, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet." This captures what I have always believed to be the American ideal.  Each generation strives to make life better for their children.  With the growth of government, and the expectation that government will decide what is best, I wonder, is that possible today?

We see great inequity across the - land taxes are not equal for all, why is that?  Surely not because the Presidents and Congresses for the past 70 years have taken an increasingly larger role in using their powers to engineer what they believe to be the perfect society.  Today the darling of the left, the honorable Junior Senator from Massachusetts uses the distrust of large business and banks as her rally cry for change.  "You didn't build your business" is the lynchpin for her crusade to alter the rules of commerce to suit her view of big government.  Most who hear her will believe she is looking out for their interests, but shouldn't we understand that those who gain this stage seek only one thing, the power that comes with federal office and the possibility of more power from the next higher office. 

Take Senator Reid, D-NV, who has never worked for anyone other than government, yet in his 45 years of elected office has become one of the most powerful, and most financially comfortable of the Washington political elite.  As they say about politics, "It's good work if you can find it!"  The same can be said of the Clinton's, who have parlayed their political insider status into significant personal wealth, which is conveniently sheltered in a foundation.  I specifically point these four out, not because they are unique, for they are not, but because at one time or another they have claimed to understand the needs of the common American middle class working person, while accusing their opponents of being "fat cats" out to protect the rich. I find their approach at best hypocritical and self-serving, but as we've seen recently the academic elite tend not to think too highly of the average voter, believing they know what is best for them, and why shouldn't they be justly compensated for their leadership?

Which brings us full circle, to the grayness of the day.

Friday, December 19, 2014

On a Clear and Chilly North Carolina Morning

The sound of a home coming to life, with children and parents going through their morning routines, is a wonderful way to start the day. Especially when you play very little role in the hustle or bustle of the meeting a schedule.

It is 35 degrees outside, but the sun will soon warm the day and the quiet will return when the family leaves.  There is much to be thankful for, and much to consider for the future.

Last night we visited "The Barnyard" where we saw the horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and rabbits.  Oh yes, Santa stopped by as well.  It was a small family commitment to sharing, and it was slow speed, quiet, and fun. Fun in the way I remember things in my youth, no high techology, no glitzy displays, just friendly people and rambuncious kids.  We stood around a fire chatting with another family, who were on their way to Rhode Island for Naval War College.  Their children fed the young calf that wandered amongst them.

This is a wonderful time of the year. Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wishful Thinking

My wish this Christmas would be for things that can never be. There are the usual “Peace on Earth, good will towards all” hopes, but they are tempered by the knowledge that mankind really does not seek this.  So what are my wishes?
I wish for an understanding of the poor and how to help break the circle that entraps so many. The ideal of charity has been replaced now with the notion of public welfare. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol we see his criticism of the state of social welfare and charity in Victorian England. In the end, Scrooge is brought to understand the interdependence of all in a society, but even Dickens did not foresee the shift from private charity to public welfare.
We have had varying degrees of federal welfare in the US now for 70 years, beginning with the introduction of the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932[1]. In 1935, The Social Security Act, expanded the payments given to the states to provide old-age assistance, aid for dependent children, and support for the blind.  These are all important things, and it would seem society is better for doing it, but how do we determine when good intentions are flawed and lead to destruction?  As in analogy, it is with good intentions we build dams to capture water for drinking, control flooding, provide hydro-electrical power, and perhaps a center for recreation, but what happens if that dam fails and the communities down stream are suddenly swept away?
As we look back on the last 70 years have we used our tax dollars to appreciably improve the lives of those we have invested in, or have we enslaved them to the very cycle of poverty we’ve attempted to cure?  This issue is now a political chip, used by both sides to demean and vilify the opposition in their quest for power, influence, and personal gain, but who has an answer?  Perhaps it is an unfortunate consequence of being human that not all are equal and some succeed while others fail. If so, then what should be the role of the government in comforting those who fail? Where in this discussion is the recognition that family seems to be critical to success and if the state destroys the family it destroys the individual. Do we learn any lessons from the last seventy years, or is this just another Sisyphean task the impoverished and we are bound together in?
I wish for leaders who are confident, honest, and forthright. I hope for men and woman who answer questions based on their beliefs, not what their advisors recommend as the politically correct thing to say. I am tired of the gamesmanship, the sniping or the worship of those who seek political office. It would be refreshing to just once hear them speak candidly. I know this is a false hope, I doubt politicians ever speak candidly, except to their most intimate acquaintances or supporters. With spies being used by both the Democrats and Republicans it seems increasingly unlikely that even these conversations will persist. The lessons from Mr. Romney’s speech about the 47% who are dependent on government will not be lost on the future candidates.
Finally, I wish for universal acceptance of independent thought. I see an ever-contracting circle of independent ideas. Today, if anyone questions the popular opinions they are immediately beat down by the groups they have offended.  We have become a nation of the easily offended where only our own views are acceptable. We can’t listen to someone we disagree with and just walk away, turn the channel, or ignore them, we have to shove our opinions in their face, criticize their foolishness, and make them see the error of their way. 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday Silliness

Wouldn’t it make more sense if the nights of the week followed the same rules as the day of the week?  We have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, …, shouldn’t we have Monnight, Tuesnight, Wednesnight?
The other Nobel Prize winning, administration advising, progressive MIT economists seem to be eerily quite in defense of Dr. Gruber.  It must make for awkward moments in the faculty dinning hall.
Speaking of Jonathan Gruber, watching him testify before the Congress I had two thoughts, “How can you tell he’s lying?  Answer: his lips are moving,” and “Now he knows what the Christian’s felt like in the Coliseum.”   I thought the name card with MR. and putting PhD below the name was a nice touch.  For an economics professor the concept of taxes as a part of the ACA seemed to mystify him.  Apparently MIT does not set the same standards for its economists, as it does for its engineers working in Cambridge. 
The greatest excuse for delaying a test since the invention of excuses “I am traumatized by the Ferguson and Garner decisions.”  In my opinion, this ranks up there with “My dog ate my homework” for great excuses.
I see a lot of opinions about the report on torture.  There are those who condemn the report, those who support the report, those who condemn torture and those who support torture.  I suspect I am in a minority among my peers, but to be honest I don’t subscribe to the idea of consequentialism. I don’t believe the ends justify the means, for how can you know with certainty what is the end?  If you defend torture what defense for it do you have but this, and if this is your rational position then you cannot argue with other’s who take the same defense when they argue for the elimination of your civil rights in then name of security.
Man has attempted to civilize what is ultimately the most uncivil of acts.  Both Western and Eastern nations have signed accords and understandings to restrict the violence of the state on the individual.  These accords have been routinely violated, e.g. Japan and Germany in WW2, Korean and Vietnam and Iraq in the recent conflicts.  In each case the US was quick to condemn, and had the moral authority to carry forward with that condemnation.  Who will listen to our protestations when we are at the same level as those we condemn? 
I will leave you with an old joke, oft attributed to Winston Churchill or W.C. Fields, but apparently predating them both.

The great A.B. was tremendously jostled the other day in going down to the House. A.B. didn’t like it. “Do you know who I am?” he said; “I am a Member of Parliament and I am Mr. A.B.” – “I don’t know about that,” said one of the roughs, “but I know that you’re a damned fool.” – “You’re drunk,” said A.B.; “you don’t know what you’re saying.” – “Well, perhaps I am rather drunk tonight,” said the man, “but I shall be sober tomorrow morning; but you’re a damned fool tonight, and you’ll be a damned fool tomorrow morning.
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