April 30, 2007
There’s an article in this past Sunday’s Buffalo News about how area ex-pats can get access to their favorite team, the Sabres. It alludes to how the Internet has built community.
The Internet is great, but except in those very rare cases – like the Sabres during a winning season – it is unclear to me how it builds community, at least in the sense of local community. I claim that it actually helps undermine it by providing yet one more excuse not to socialize, not to be part of the local community. It helps make community dysfunctional. It dehumanizes us.
Sooner or later (looks like sooner) our concept of community is going to change dramatically as we withdraw further into our living rooms and physically isolate ourselves from our neighborhoods. Aren’t we social beings? Don’t we need to be face-to-face with people? Sitting behind a monitor and “socializing” with someone from who-knows-where is a poor substitute for walking down the street and taking part in a conversation. I think the lack of exposure to others is warping our sense of humanism, and of self.
How ironic that I’m writing this into a blog entry.
April 28, 2007
On December 3rd, 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard – a South African surgeon with one too many a’s in his name – performed the first human heart transplant and brought organ transplantation into the mainstream. Even though kidney, skin and eye tissue transplants had been ongoing since the ‘50s, the combination of immunosuppressive drugs prolonging post-operative survival and the sensationalistic nature of heart transplants back then made headlines. Transplantation turned a corner that day.
I have some dead guy’s ACL in my knee. Mine was torn in an athletic injury in the early 90’s, and I lived without it for almost a decade before the damage became too painful to tolerate. The surgery restored virtually the entire range of motion in my knee and allowed me to continue participating in athletic activity. It was all done with minimally-invasive microsurgery in a single day; I arrived at 8 and left at 5.
I’m in awe of the medical progress that’s been made in my lifetime, and how even the most critically ill patients can often be “repaired” enough to lead a semi-normal life. As we continue to progress this rapidly on the medical cutting edge, we are going to have to confront even greater moral and ethical dilemmas associated with playing God than we do today. It is only a matter of time before an embryonic stem cell provides a cure to some horrific disease, or an aborted fetus saves a dozen lives through embryonic transplants.
The Bush Administration and the Religious Right (and others) may have good reason to advocate a continued moratorium on embryonic stem cell research, but I think that soon, the perceived societal benefits of such research will outweigh the moral obligations to the unborn. A cure for cancer, or diabetes or Alzheimer’s is all it will take for this issue to finally reach the tipping point.
What will a member of the Religious Right, facing a choice between a future of Alzheimer’s or a new cure based on an embryonic stem cell, then decide to do?
April 28, 2007
CNN reported yesterday that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is going to pay all medical costs associated with his April 12th car crash. He’s entitled to health insurance coverage through the state, but will instead pay these costs himself.
Jon Corzine is the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and has amassed a bit of a fortune, so he can afford to do this. He also takes a salary of $1 per year as governor, even though he is entitled to the $175,000 per year that goes with the office. I don’t really know much at all about his politics, but I appreciate his gesture and his willingness to accept responsibility for his accident.
Perhaps we should encourage only wealthy people to run for office by cutting elected officials’ salaries to a level, say, at or below the poverty line. Two things would happen: The minimum wage would likely go up, and there would be fewer losers gorging themselves at the public trough. Would an elected class distinction arise? Probably not any more than the class distinction that exists today.
I wonder how many of my state legislators, who make around $80,000+ per year, would go for this.
April 28, 2007
I think I stuck my head in a hornet’s nest.
I should never have dissed birch beer in my blog. A few friends hammered me more on that than anything else I’ve written. My wife bought me some Natural Brew Handcrafted Draft Root Beer and I thought it had a rich, interesting flavor. This guy has an opinion different than “interesting” for that particular brand.
People get obsessed with all sorts of things. While web sites about politics and money are to be expected, I’m impressed with the number of web and blog sites dedicated to root beer. Or the Nintendo Wii. Or even old telephones. We sure have lots of interesting and sometimes oddball passions.
There’s more button collecting and lawn mower racing going on than I had imagined, as well.
April 28, 2007
Happy belated Arbor Day. Yesterday started the planting of a planned 30,000 trees in WNY, about a tenth of what is needed to replace all the ones that came down last October. I drove down Richmond Avenue for the very first time since the October storm and was so taken by the savagery of the damage to every single tree, that I drove back up Ashland for a second look at the area near Buffalo State College. Monroe Street in Williamsville, Princeton Court in Cheektowaga, and Glencove in Tonawanda are just as devastated. Now that buds and leaves are coming out I had expected these areas to look a little less damaged, but so far that’s not the case.
Photographs don’t do it justice. I tried to find a shot that might be representative of the damage, but nothing captured the brutality of the scene very well.
In a month when the trees are fully leafed out, the scars will be hidden. Can’t wait.
April 27, 2007
Looking forward to the Toronto International Film Festival in September. There will be over 350 films this year – it’s the largest public film festival in the world, and worth spending at least a few days with our friendly neighbors to the North, checking out the variety. It’s yet one more remarkable event within a short drive of Western New York.
Two weeks and an hours’ drive later I could cruise to Letchworth State Park and enjoy the foliage. Or go to the Shaw Festival. And two weeks earlier is the New York State Festival of Balloons, also within an hours’ drive.
There’s always lots to do around here. I just wish I had some time to enjoy it all!
April 27, 2007
It’s way too soon for me to be thinking or caring about Presidential politics, but an article in today’s paper caught my eye and got my mind churning.
In today’s paper, George Tenet is quoted as admitting (or claiming) that using the phrase “slam dunk” with respect to the Iraq war was taken out of context. He should have admitted/claimed that almost 4 years ago. It seems more like a sales ploy for his book than an attempt to regain his credibility, especially after so many years of changing his tune. Then again, this tune-changing is what everyone else in the current administration has been doing, so why should he be any different?
Remember Rush Limbaugh bloviate about how George Bush the Presidential candidate would finally bring respect, honor and decency back to the Presidency? It didn’t happen. Even after the media gave the Administration a free pass for several years, the Administration was still able to blow all its political capital, and then some, in short order. The Bush appointees – like Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Andrew Card, Karl Rove, Paul Bremmer, Porter Goss, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Michael Brown, and, oh, that’s enough – helped to bring modern meaning to the term cronyism. There are plenty more (William Bennett, John Bolton and Harriet Miers come to mind) that will have biographers busy for generations to come. History will not be kind.
Wow, do we have problems at the very highest levels of this administration. While anxiously counting the days to January 20, 2009, I’m also being careful what I wish for. I am not finding clarity in any of the current alternatives, and yesterday’s “presidential debate” didn’t help.
April 27, 2007
It’s cycling season. Please watch out for me, I need your help to stay safe. Because you’re so big and fast, I don’t stand a chance should you decide to turn in front of me or into me. As hard as I try to be completely aware of my surroundings, you still surprise me sometimes with your inability to see me in my bright yellow jersey while you attempt a quick turn at high speed. Are you reaching for your coffee or talking on your cell phone? Don’t, at least not while you’re moving so fast.
Please, look straight into my eyes to acknowledge that you see me. I’ll be looking right at you, trying to will you to turn your attention to me if but for a moment. I’m not leering; I only want to be in your thoughts for just a second, to make sure our paths don’t cross.
There will be plenty of parking spots left at Tops if you get there a few seconds later. You do not have to tear left in front of me while looking right. You do not have to hug the shoulder when you go by at high-speed, unless you really mean to brush me with your side mirror. I promise I will stay as far right as I can, and give you the rest of the driving lane.
I respect you. Please respect me.
April 26, 2007
It has been so wonderful around here the past couple of weeks. The sun came out and it got warm. And the Sabres have brought real pride to this community.
Now let’s get as excited for education as we do the Sabres and maybe this town will really get excited for longer than the start of the next sports season.
Even if we win the Stanley Cup this June, by August our friends and neighbors will likely be stuck in a nostalgia funk: “That was a great season, wasn’t it?” Hell, I’m already forward-thinking about everyone’s backward look come autumn; that’s not very optimistic, but Western New Yorkers have a propensity to reminisce and a history of not looking forward. How do we change that?
The “I Love New York” and “I Love Western New York” campaigns a few years back had the kind of gushy optimism that made me feel really good about the area – not just for a short playoff season but continuously. It gave me hope that this area’s future would be bright. Something on the order of a festive “This is what’s great about Buffalo” blitz is might be a good start to getting that feeling again. Of course, this kind of marketing will ring hollow unless we follow it up with an improved education system, better infrastructure, more honest politicians and lower taxes.
Like many of my friends, I’m working hard at this by shutting my eyes and wishing, hoping that someone else leads the charge.
I have to get off my ass and do more. If my blog entries decrease it’s because I’m spending more of my time trying to make a difference.
April 25, 2007
You may think that government moves very slowly. Actually, it only appears that they move slowly. They are really working at nearly the speed of light, because I can observe the effects of time dilation with them, and their mass appears to be approaching infinity.
And if you understand Einstein’s theory of general relatively, then you get the joke.
April 25, 2007
While the Sabres were warming up for their first playoff game against the Rangers, I went to the Panasci Competition.
The late Henry Panasci donated a bunch of money to the University of Buffalo to be used to encourage entrepreneurship in the Buffalo Area. On Wednesday the seventh (or maybe eighth?) annual Panasci Technology Competition was held, with the 5 finalist teams (out of 15) presenting their business plans to a panel of judges. The award was $25,000 plus a year of free legal service, to help accelerate the winner’s business plan. StudentVoice and AuctionCruncher, previous competitors and winners, are alive and thriving in the Buffalo area, as well as several other past winners and competitors.
This year’s audience of about 60-some people consisted of students, coaches, academics and a few venture businessmen. It was held in a room that was just large enough to require the use of microphones, only microphones weren’t available to either the teams nor the judges asking questions. [Note to UB: Please use microphones in the future; the audience would really appreciate it].
Personally, I don’t think this competition is advertised anywhere near well enough, either for inviting competitive teams or for drawing potential investors. How many readers have even heard of this competition? Many of these teams who don’t win would make a great addition to various established businesses; others have strong enough business plans that might attract forms of investment other than the Panasci Award itself. The students certainly were intelligent and communicated well, the kind of students that corporate managers seek for employment. It was very unfortunate that the audience represented mostly friends of the competing teams and not local companies and investors.
Now that the competition has completed its seventh (or maybe eighth?) year and the rules are well-established, it’s time to step this up a level. I’m going to suggest that groups like InfoTech Niagara and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership embrace this competition and get their respective memberships more involved.
The winner was CH3 Biosystems, a supplier of custom ingredients for the discovery of protein methylation pathways in cells and tissues (useful for researchers in the discovery of disease treatments). I had the privilege of being their coach and mentor. I am proud and happy for them.
April 24, 2007
I’ve been looking at 3D photographs and boy do I have a headache.
I’m one of those who are blessed with being able to cross my eyes and view stereo images without the need for special glasses or adjustments of any kind. I can also easily and almost instantly resolve those fancy “magic eye” prints. Today I got caught up in viewing all the new images of the sun being sent from NASA’s STEREO satellite system. NASA’s web site shows them as a single image anaglyph – you know, those slightly out-of-focus looking pictures that don’t give you a 3D effect unless you’re wearing glasses with one red lens and one blue lens. Being too lazy to go find some red and blue cellophane, I Photoshopped the NASA images and split them into individual red/blue (red/cyan, actually) components, crossed my eyes, and voila! The sun jumps out as a 3D sphere, in all its glory. They are pretty cool and I anticipate some amazing photographs and movies to come out of this science.
Boy do I have a headache.
Staring at these images on a small screen really strained my eyes because I had to get in close and cross them so hard. A bigger monitor would have helped a lot, as I would have been able to sit back a bit and reduce my “crossing angle”. Yet one more reason I should buy myself a 24” or 27” monitor.
I’ve been crossing my eyes at will my whole life. So far, and much to my mother’s chagrin, they’ve not gotten stuck.
April 23, 2007
I used to think that portable metal detectors were pretty cool. I think they are used mostly in the wrong places, like the beach and wherever it’s easy to get access to level ground. If I was going to use a metal detector I would go to some wooded area that looks like it might have once been used by some Indian tribe or maybe some pirates. Woods by the beach, that would be perfect. Lots of pirates probably buried their treasure in the woods by the beach.
Then I read this article in today’s Slate magazine. I guess I’ll take that future hobby off my list.
April 22, 2007
Lately, I’ve been amused by the number of complaints about text messaging – that it’s crude, wastes time and money, drags down the English language, distorts writing skills, ties up the cellular phone system (?), etc…
Isn’t texting just another form of communication? How often do we speak in the same manner in which we write? Given grammatically correct written American English, how many non-grammatically correct spoken dialects do we have in this country? Twenty? Fifty? Isn’t text messaging just another dialect?
If the texting complaints focused on a reduction of face to face or voice to voice communications, the complainers might have a valid point. But texting is just another form of communications with someone else, and I for one am all for anything that increases our communications with each other.
To my children: Text all you want. May it help keep you in contact with others.
April 22, 2007
I just had a Stewart’s Birch Beer. Boy does it
suck taste bland.
I realize that artificial flavoring and corn syrup sweeteners save soft drink manufacturers money, but can’t they come up with better flavoring? Or at least more of it per unit volume? This stuff tastes like acid rain; in fact, the #1 ingredient is carbonic acid. Flavoring is fourth on the ingredients list.
Instead of quenching my thirst with a tasty beverage, I burned my throat trying to drink it.
I think it’s time to make my own.
April 22, 2007
I spent last Friday morning with the Cephas prison ministry group comprising 12 inmates, 3 chaplains and me. The prison was Attica Penitentiary, a maximum security prison famous for a 1971 riot that killed 43 people. A few observations about these 12 men:
- There are no secrets in prison. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing, their beliefs, their strengths, their weaknesses. Inmates don’t get away with bullshitting other inmates.
- At least some inmates are intelligent and articulate, and know very well that what they did to get themselves in prison was wrong, but they did it anyway.
- Many inmates in the group struggle to control their rage. Little things that merely rile us, set them off.
- The older inmates – those that have served 15 or 20 years and are in their 40’s – have a different impression of themselves than they did when they first entered prison as cocky, tough young men.
- Many inmates are incarcerated at an early age – 17 or 18 is not unusual – and often are thrust into a brutal but, for the first time in their lives, stable environment.
- The stable environment in which they have landed is not one that they want to remain in. However, they admit that the outside can be more isolating (read: lonely) than the inside, and without any support mechanisms on the outside they often fail to cope with the stress of isolation and ostracism.
- When out of prison, many forget the pain of incarceration and remember only the good parts. Time makes everything look rosier than it was.
I do not feel sorry for these guys, as they are behind bars for good reason. I feel bad that the U.S. prison system uses punishment for bad behavior and not reward for good behavior, and has all but abandoned rehab. Inmates, most of whom are not in prison for life, are eventually released back to society wholly unprepared for what society requires. This needs fixing.
Imprisonment without rehab, release without re-entry services leads to very high recidivism. Check out this article for a brief but interesting take on how the California prison system is creating more, not fewer, criminals.
We incarcerate more people per capita than any other nation in the world. We are not preparing our youth for life as responsible adults, nor are we preparing them for life after prison.
What are we doing????
April 21, 2007
North Coast Online, an interesting and oftentimes over-the-top local conservative blog site (I cringe at many of his articles but he forces me to think), has an interesting article on Powerpoint presentations. In a nutshell: Powerpoint presentations are worthless pieces of crap and a miserable alternative to speaking.
I agree on the “miserable alternative to speaking” part. However, it’s not Powerpoint that’s the problem, it’s the people who abuse Powerpoint that are the problem. Like a hammer in a toolbox, Powerpoint is a great tool but when you treat it as the only tool then your remodeling job will not go well.
The U.S. Department of Labor put out a report several years ago that examined the relevance of various forms of presentation methods, and found that a combination of speaking and visual aids improved long-term retention of the presented material. This gives good rationale for using Powerpoint and similar visual tools in presentations, but too often the speaker simply parrots the information rather than providing the essence on the slides, and talking about the details.
Whenever I do a presentation I take the minimalist approach to the visual aids – usually just the basics – and make sure that the audience is watching me and not the slides. It’s okay for them to glance over to the screen on occasion but if that’s where they are spending their time then I know they’re not listening to me – a sure way to lose my audience. It’s the combination of good oratory, good visuals and audience participation that make a presentation worthwhile.
Nancy Stern notes that it takes considerable effort to put together such a presentation, and plenty of practice. That many presenters don’t do this because of time constraints, lack of experience or simply because they are lazy, is the real reason why Powerpoint gets a bad rap.
It’s not the hammer, it’s the person wielding it that makes it a either useful or a dangerous tool
April 21, 2007
Sometimes when I channel surf (which is rare since I don’t watch TV very much) I’ll come across a show like The O’Reilly Factor, which I consider so one-sided that I cannot watch it – yet I stop on the channel and watch it anyway, at least for a few seconds, before moving on. Why is that?
My cousin explained: “It’s for the same reason that when you open the refrigerator and know that the bottle of milk has spoiled, you still stick your nose in it and sniff.”
Great stuff. O’Reilly and spoiled milk are now permanently linked in my mind.
April 21, 2007
Alec Baldwin’s attorney is looking into whether or not Kim Basinger should be taken to court to determine how the tape of Baldwin screaming at his 11-year-old daughter became public.
After it was revealed that the Bush Administration was performing unauthorized wiretaps on some American citizens, the Attorney General began an investigation to determine who leaked this information and whether charges should be filed.
Has it become a fad to deflect moral, ethical and legal lapses by placing blame on the person who revealed the lapse? Is this where the cry of “I’m a victim too” comes from?
People need to take more responsibility for their actions. They need to be brave and honorable in owning up to their mistakes. Cowardice is one’s unwillingness to do so. Alec Baldwin and Bush Administration screwups need only look in a mirror to discover who the cowards are.
April 21, 2007
The Pope has finally dropped the idea of limbo, that place where infants who die without being baptized go. It’s not heaven, and it’s not hell. It’s limbo.
Great. I never liked the idea anyway. It always had an unsatisfying ring to it and all I could ever envision was reggae music and trying to dance under those poles.
Now when the Catholic Church puts women on an equal footing with men, it would make my day.