Sunday, June 27, 2010

Seven Sees

It’s high time I make up for neglecting this blog. So, once again I return to the “Seven Quick Takes” as a way of figuring out just where I’ve been that I haven’t been posting here over the last several weeks…er, month.

1. What happened to June? One minute it was payday...and now it’s almost payday again. Well, I guess that’s a good thing. I did do a bit of traveling around the state this month - west, south and even further south for meetings and conferences. I’ve never been able to decide whether travel breaks up the monotony and gives me perspective and revitalizes me for more work - or just interrupts a flow of a schedule and wears me out.

2. We played our first summer band concerts this month. We did NOT suffer a complete community band FAIL (a.k.a., “bandwreck”) as many of us feared was possible. As a result, we figured we’d played pretty well. On the bigger picture, I also attended a concert in the park...and noticed the average age of those attending. Then, looking at the average age of those in the band, it makes me a little sad to wonder what community band concerts might (or might not) look like when I attain the status of a “seasoned band veteran.”

3. On the band note: I actually got to play in a dance band. Play “French” horn in a dance band. Not often a horn gets to swing - much less get to displace an extremely competent jazz trombone player and play the first trombone parts. With my apologies to him, I had a great time pretending to be first trombone (and occasionally 3rd trumpet)...even through I doubt anybody in the audience heard me, thanks to my bell facing the wrong way. Ahh, well, probably all the better for it.

4. More music (yes, I know) - it seems I’m going to have a new musical first on the 4th of July when I’ll get to play an E-flat alto upright horn, which I have not-so-affectionately dubbed the “Little Beast.” No more bells-backwards problem for the parade - I’m gonna blast those afterbeats!

5. Is it possible the 8-year drought is almost over? They were actually warning of possible flash floods last night - after a fast inch-in-an-hour on Thursday, three more inches Friday night, rain Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the ground is actually damp. Still, we’re still nowhere near to making up the nearly 40 inch rainfall deficit we’re suffering. But, now we’re stuck trying to remember how to live in a humid, tropical, unpredictable weather climate again. Gotta admit, it was kinda nice knowing your weekend plans weren’t going to get rained out. Now we’re back to the roulette wheel.

6. It seems that people actually watch TV around here. As I met people at the conference I attended last week, people repeatedly looked at me and said, “I know you. I’ve seen you on TV.” Sigh.

7. I know I’m supposed to love tourists, but I can’t help but wish I had my solitude back.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The State of Prevention

This week I spent three days at the State Prevention Conference among other “prevention” people - those of us that either are trained to work in or promote the philosophy that preventing problems is the cheapest and most certain way of solving them.

It’s a philosophy that looks good on paper and often even sells politically, but can be extremely difficult to implement. By nature, we are reactionary beings - we see a problem, and we fix it, and then wait around for the next thing to fix. Sometimes this works just fine, but generally people in this position complain that the spend all day putting out fires and never getting and “real” work done.

Second, prevention looks good on paper, but while it is very easy to report all those things that you reacted to and problems you fixed, it’s very difficult to show how many things have been prevented. How can you prove that vaccinations kept 100 kids from getting sick this year? Or, harder yet, that your anti-drunk driving education campaign prevented people from getting in accidents or killed this year? Maybe it was just a lucky year.

Still, it seems the public health approach of trying to keep people from gaining too much weight or smoking or drinking themselves to death is gaining more traction as time goes by. At least, that’s what the pro-health care reform politicians would like us to believe. The prevention community has been promised some very big money in the future by the bill - but it is still up to Congress to appropriate that in the coming years.

That, in essence, was the dynamic of this conference: people from the state capital and people from the counties and cities gathered to share ideas - and realize once again that the people gathered were not speaking the same language.

If there is one consistent thing world-wide, it is that people in the capital cities, be they national or state/provincial, suffer a disconnect from the local level. It is their role in the capitals and capitols, to set the strategic direction and policy for large numbers of people. The nature of this work - negotiations, study, diplomacy, advocacy, lobbying, and straight-up politicking - demands a certain level of academic skill. There is competition for the relatively prestigious, moving-and-shaking jobs in these capitals, so there is a depth of brainpower that can be constantly drawn upon. Plus, it is usually a place of passion and youthful energy. People often play as hard as they work, so there is usually as good an opportunity for a social life as a career. The dynamic, whether with a conservative or liberal bent (or something in between or otherwise), is usually motivated, full of ideas, and ready for change.

Often, however, just the opposite is true outside of the capital city - the further away and the more rural the area, the more extreme the difference. So while many of the representatives of these less politically driven areas sat in the audience, passions and ideas flowing from a capital city speaker were tempered with a quiet, “Yes, but…” from the crowd.

Not always, but often. It is the job of those middle-men in the prevention world to figure out how something that is being decided or developed at the strategic levels can be translated to the local level. It is the job of these prevention workers to take what is given to them and make it reality.

I always leave these conferences full of ideas. It’s also interesting to see later how many of these ideas actually manage to stick. Sometimes you do get a successful statewide (or even nationwide) campaign, such as the ban on indoor smoking in Wisconsin. But those are long term movements that must be fueled with almost constant passion of those at the state level. Motivation and renewed optimism is something we also often benefit from at these conferences. But it is also up to us, those in the middle, to make it clear when passion at the highest level isn’t going to mean a thing to the people that need to actually make the changes.

And in that lies the secret alchemy that determines success or failure of prevention.