Migration to the Virtual Community

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.

Religion, Politics and Medicine

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?

Jon Corzine’s Example

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.

Hiding the Scars

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.

Toronto International Film Festival

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!

Presidential Candidates

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.