Our Expensive Canadian Border

July 31, 2007

Both houses of Congress are likely to pass an amendment to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that would delay implementation of passport requirements to and from Canada until June, 2009.  Although a number of “technical” reasons have been given to support the delay, the main argument appears to be backlash from the mortifyingly long delays that have occurred with the implementation of passport requirements for air travel to Canada and the Caribbean in January, 2007.   An unspoken argument is that this delay will  push implementation of the  plan beyond the Bush Administration’s tenure.  I applaud Congress’ effort to delay implementation of stricter border crossing regulations, and hope that the next Administration is more open-minded about  the alternatives.

The Bush Administration issued a series of talking points condemning the amendment and the alternatives to the passport requirement, and has threatened to veto it.

Clearly, the WHTI requirements dramatically impact the citizens of border communities more than those further away.  Nowhere has the Administration or Congress offered to fund either the cost of the requisite passports, nor any of the proposed alternatives.  The Buffalo Niagara Partnership, in its weekly newsletter, stated that “Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul has estimated that it will cost $1.5 million to implement such a program and $1 million per year to maintain it just in Erie County”. 

Another unfunded mandate, foisted on the citizenry.  And this one is pointed directly at us.

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Hawk Creek

July 30, 2007

Vulture

A stone’s throw from the village of East Aurora and twenty-two minutes from downtown Buffalo, nestled back off the main road, is Hawk Creek Wildlife Sacntuary where they take in broken birds and fix them. Some, like the two eagles that cannot fly, remain as permanent residents.

Young Maiden

The sanctuary is not normally open to the public, but they do give educational tours by request and over the past two weekends, opened its doors to the public for its annual Wildlife and Renaissance festival. I’m not into the Renaissance part and in fact, I thought the jousting and fake battles were a little hokey; but the outfits that some of the young maidens had on were very flattering if not sweltering on the hot, humid day.

Protections for birds of prey (eagles, in particular) have been in effect since their numbers were decimated by the use of pesticides – mainly DDT – 50 years ago; and their numbers have been increasing yearly. There are nesting perigrine falcons in downtown Buffalo and several nesting eagles pairs throughout Western New York. Whenever I cycle into the hills in southern Erie and Wyoming counties, I usually spot at least one or two falcons or other birds with large wingspans.

It’s great to see them back. I hope we maintain some respect for them and let them continue to thrive in this area.


Behind the Scenes

July 27, 2007

Most people around Western New York know Calspan as a somewhat mysterious place where they do science and military stuff.  They have a large wind tunnel where engineers test the aerodynamics of various flying things (including Olympic skiers), an abandoned track that was used years ago for a rocket sled or something like that, and other facilities where they quietly advance technology.

Behind the Calspan complex, just across the street from the airport, is a large plot of land where they crash cars for the government.  There are smashed up vehicles parked in various places for ongoing analysis of front-end, read-end and broadside collisions.  The place looks like a junkyard. 

It’s also an accidental wildlife refuge.  Though a secured area, there are deer, fox, other small animals and at least a few large birds that hang out.  The area is invisible to us, masked by the monolithic building in front of it and closed to the neighborhoods behind it.  The juxtaposition of a brown fox living in this cacophony of airport noise, asphalt, sheds and junked cars is fascinating.

I would love to take my camera back there and shoot a few photographs were it not for the fear of Calspan’s security guys coming out with guns drawn.


Recycling for Recycling’s Sake

July 26, 2007

Girl RecyclingThe front page of today’s Buffalo News has an article on community recycling.  It cites Buffalo as having a woeful history of recycling, down to 7% of households from a peak of 14% in the 90’s and well below the federal average of 32% of municipal households.

The article discusses a reward system for incentivizing municipal recycling:  Paying households, via discount coupons to popular retailers, for every pound of recycled material.  The recycling coordinator responsible for monitoring Philadelphia’s pilot incentive program was quoted as saying that its key selling point was not the incentive rewards.  It was that residents could “throw all recyclables in one container without separating them.”

Are we lazy, or what?  If only we could recycle from our couches.

Conservation is obviously not high on Man’s list of important duties.

I applaud the ingenuity of the incentive approach but, like most other government programs involving money, an incentive program will quickly turn into an entitlement program. 

I’m surprised the News didn’t mention this.


More Sushi

July 25, 2007

More SushiCheektowaga is not known for its collective culinary tastes.  It’s the local heartland of the fast food joint.  The town where non-Pizza Hut pizza would be considered exotic food.  Where there’s a twenty-minute wait at the McDonald’s drive-in.  Where breakfast waitresses will ask “Want fries with that oatmeal?”

On Union Road just north of Walden Avenue sits the Sakura Japanese restaurant.  It has the usual sushi items, and additionally a long list of specialty rolls.  My first experience there, shortly after it opened, was okay but not great.  Since then it’s become my sushi place of choice, although I’m really not sure if that’s due to convenience (it’s the closest sushi place to both work and home) or if it really stands head-to-toe with the others.  Excepting the first encounter, the food there has been good enough for me to keep coming back.

Regardless, the ambiance is great (just stay away from the front door:  too distracting), the service is quite fast, the variety is remarkable, and the prices are very reasonable.

Sakura is highly recommended.

An absolutely delightful Pacific Rim restaurant is the Lemon Grass in Moultonborough, New Hampshire.  The owner/chef, Bob Love, has opened a few restaurants around Lake Winnipesaukee, all of which are highly praised.  Lemon Grass is yet another great find and highly recommended should you be traveling to central New Hampshire.  It’s well worth going out of your way for.


Eating Our Shorts

July 24, 2007

Volkswagen EngineWhile GM complains, Mercedes innovates. While GM points fingers, Volkswagon produces.

General Motors’ vice chairman Bob Lutz compared the proposed new CAFE standards an attempt to force automakers to sell smaller vehicles to “fighting the nation’s obesity problem by forcing clothing manufacturers to sell garments only in small sizes. For one thing, it puts us, the domestic manufacturers, at odds with the desires of most of our customers,” he said.

At odds with most of our customers? That’s because so many of GM’s customers fled to foreign manufacturers to get what they wanted that GM only has die-hard Chevy truck owners and gasaholics buying their gas guzzlers. I would argue that the proposed standards are more comparable to fighting the nation’s obesity problem by forcing people to go on a diet.

The CAFE standards aren’t about forcing auto manufacturers to sell smaller vehicles, it’s about increasing engine efficiency across the board. People who want to buy 4-liter pickups will still be able to, but the new standards will force GM to work out engine, drive train and tuning design that brings the mileage up. Without a standard that sets the bar high and penalties if it’s missed, U.S. manufacturers appear to have no incentive to innovate and instead watch their share of the market erode. I don’t understand why GM shareholders are allowing their executives to operate this way.

Foreign car manufacturers may have had the price edge on us (much less so today due to the declining dollar) because of GM and Ford’s poor management decisions and caving in to the unions 30 years ago regarding pensions and health insurance; but today’s motor executives have no excuse for not planning for the inevitable increase in fuel prices and producing more fuel efficient drive trains. They have no excuse. Now that they’ve run out of time they cry to their congressmen.

So instead of building a fuel-efficient vehicle that will sell in the U.S., GM is lobbying Congress to delay or defeat the proposed new CAFE standards that they say can’t be met.

GM will continue to lose ground to the innovators, and we’ll see even more manufacturing jobs slip away. We need some forward-thinking executives at the top rungs of the auto industry. We need the can-do attitudes of the 60’s back.


Ammunition

July 24, 2007

Buffalo Pundit is running for public office – Erie County Legislator, actually, against an 18-year incumbent.  He has little chance.  Of avoiding the negative campaigning against him.  Which will begin about…now.

BP puts his views on paper for the world to see.  Someone from Mike Ranzenhofer’s campaign staff will dig back through the last couple of years of BP’s blog articles to find conflicting statements and ammunition that can be construed as publicly controversial and try to scorch him with it.  It’s the way campaigning is done these days.  Maybe Ranzenhofer’s campaign manager will play nice  instead, but probably not.

The comments on BP’s campaign blogs are already interesting.  Even though BP announced just last week that he was running and has only written a few blogs about the campaign, you can sense from the comments to date that writers from the fringe will be out in force, just waiting for him to publish another article so they can pounce.  Other than exposing them for people who probably should have paid more attention to their grammar lessons in high school, up to this point the comments don’t generally amount to much more than whining.

So to all you whiners:  I think it’s great that that you want to tell BP and the world what’s wrong with BP and world; but if you would be so kind as to also suggest a solution or two, it would be appreciated by everyone looking for solutions.  Even wacky solutions, as you never know what ideas they might conjure up.  Constructive comments are always appreciated, and the commenters respected, much more than those who simply rant.

Best of luck to BP and his campaign, and to Mike Ranzenhofer’s campaign as well.  May they be fair and respectful.  And I hope that BP continues to find the time to publish.