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.


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.


The Scoreboard

July 23, 2007

Buffalo Business First has started what I hope will be a weekly article called The Scoreboard, which provides updates to older headlines (in BBF’s case, from a year earlier).  [And for all I know, The Scoreboard has been around for a while, but this week’s paper is the first time I noticed it.]

This could be a very upbeat section, as it’s a gentle reminder that just because the glitzy headlines are gone doesn’t mean that the project is, too.  In this week’s section, the BBF writes about the Delaware Avenue high-rise, the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, and the proposed new retail development at Delaware and Sheridan drive.  All are moving forward.

The Scoreboard could also focus on the failures, but this week, at least, decided not to.  BBF tends to be more generally upbeat than the Buffalo News, and spotlighting the positive ventures is a great way to demonstrate that this area is not all about politics, and actually does make real progress.


Hooray for Harry Potter

July 22, 2007

BooksI’m hoping that the success of the Harry Potter series means that there are many, many children who have established an enjoyment for reading.

Books are great.  They open doors to many worlds.


Communion Wars

July 22, 2007

There are several Eucharistic Ministers at our church. Some of them have conflicting convictions as to what constitutes appropriate Communion etiquette and for that manner, appropriate Mass etiquette.

One person in particular is anal-retentive about the rules as spelled on in Canon Law, word for word. Another person is one who prefers the spirit of the law as it allows for appropriate judgment when necessary. One helps the priest (when asked) pour the wine into the chalices (a Canon Law no-no); the other gets annoyed. One writes letters to the Bishop complaining about rules violations; the other complains about the person writing the letters.

When both serve Communion at the same Mass, there’s this sort of non-verbal tension that takes place. A little body english here, an evil eye there. But they both believe in the same God, the same religion, and the same parish. Interesting. One need only have a conversation with these two to understand why people from completely different religions might have trouble getting along. Or Shiites and Sunnis, for that matter.

We have a broad mix of parishioners. Some are very fundamentalist, some are very liberal and some just don’t show up. The fundamentalists complain about every change that’s occurred since Vatican II; the liberals complain that not enough is being done to make the church more inclusive, as Vatican II intended.

How come we don’t review our churches the way we review, say, restaurants? Wouldn’t that be helpful, especially for those who have strayed away from their church because it just didn’t provide them with what they needed?

Church Reviews. Something to collectively blog about.


The Hamburg IDA, Peter, and Paul

July 21, 2007

Today’s Buffalo News reports that the Hamburg Industrial Development Agency provided about $1 million in tax property tax breaks to the newly-opened Omni Pain and Wellness Center.

This is not the first time that a local IDA has granted medical practices tax breaks, and not the first time that it has raised the ire of people who look into these sorts of things.  In this case, two physicians – one of whom is running the center – are part-owners in the project and stand to gain financially from the deal. 

It’s not that unusual for physicians to generate earnings through both medical salary and real estate investments and in many cases, their real estate earnings exceed what they can earn from their practice.  However, for at least a few of the doctors that I know who do this, they do not pass on real estate savings, in the form of lower rent, back to the practice.  The earnings from the real estate are theirs and do not get diluted by distributions to others associated with the practice.  Thus, the tax breaks are money in their pocket.

The Hamburg IDA doesn’t preclude this practice and the introductory paragraph on its website (its charter summary?) seems to allow it to pretty much do anything it wants in the guise of economic development.  But still; the implied benefits to either the town or its citizenry are extraordinarily vague when compared to the million-dollar savings over 15 years that McGuire Development and the doctor-owners will enjoy.

This is a big pill that I have a tough time swallowing.  Even though I would love the state, county and towns to be more business-friendly I am unable to connect job creation and economic growth to this kind of business incentive.  All that Hamburg accomplished was to shuffle people from a clinic in some other town to Hamburg – robbing Peter to pay Paul.

This area will never get out of its economic doldrums with that kind of government largesse.


Repeating Myself

July 20, 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  My wife would argue that the time I spend traipsing the Internet over and over and over would qualify me for OCD, but in my case I just use the web as a substitute for television viewing, which I find generally non-interesting. 

Except for The Daily Show.

Anyway, someone dear to me walks along that OCD fringe, but I think clinically he’s got some other kind of mental disorder that, with the help of powerful prescriptions, has turned him into a shell of his former self.  I wonder if the years of prescriptions have done more harm than good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


Sibling Rivalry

July 19, 2007

Guitar Player

Three of my four brothers, and my sister, are excellent musicians. My sister is a pianist, the younger boys play various guitars and my older brother plays anything that can generate notes. He was amazing at age four and still is today.

My three brothers all played in various bands, and tomorrow night my youngest brother is getting back together with the guys from his high school band to play at their reunion, twenty-some years later.

I can finger a G major and sometimes a C major on the guitar. And I can find middle A on the piano. I don’t understand why almost everyone in my family had the gift but me.

I’m still jealous after all these years.


The U.S. Census

July 18, 2007

The U.S. is constitutionally required to perform a census every 10 years.  We are now only 2 ½ years away from the decennial census, and our government has allocated almost $800 million this year to the upcoming task.

The 2010 census will be the first that uses handheld computers and GPS to “improve the accuracy and efficiency of the count”. 

I can’t wait to find out what happens.  Betcha there’ll be lawsuits.


New York State: Where Our Money Goes

July 18, 2007

Here’s the breakdown (in 2005) of how our state government spent our tax dollars.

Economic Assistance 31.3%
Public Safety 17.3%
General Government 13.3%
Health 11.3%
Transportation 7.1%
Interest on Debt 6.3%
Community Services 6.2%
Education 5.3%
Culture-Recreation 1.9%

The percentages vary a little from year to year, but not by much. Unfortunately, the 2nd-fastest growing category is General Government. Only Education is growing at a faster rate. Surprisingly, the rate at which the State spends money on health care is barely rising at the rate of inflation.

Small wonder that when almost 14% of the population lives below the poverty line, New York would spend so much money on economic assistance. I was shocked that one-third of the State’s expenditures are in this category.

People who can, are still leaving. Is it a surprise why this state has so much difficulty keeping existing business and attracting new business? Not really. Our state legislators have been very generous in the past, and that generosity will haunt us for generations to come.


Shirtless Hunks Bagging Groceries

July 18, 2007

Stephen ColbertI swear, we gotta figure out a way to get people who watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to vote with as much enthusiasm as they Google and You Tube.

They would have so much political clout.


Lemmings

July 17, 2007

This is from the No Fact Zone, a tribute site to Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report. The remark was hilarious and the reaction was expected. However, do the math on the time of the peak (below) and you have to wonder if they are making this up.

* * * * *

Did you ever wonder just *how* much a mention on The Colbert Report is worth? We can’t provide any specific numbers for this data, but consider this: Last night, during the 11:30 p.m. Eastern broadcast of his show, Stephen made a casual reference to ShirtlessHunks-BaggingGroceries.com. Guess what ranked fourth in overall Google searches yesterday?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAccording to this graph, the number of people searching for “shirtless hunks bagging groceries” peaked at 8:00 p.m. (PST).

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

I don’t know about you, but I find this absolutely hilarious. Never underestimate the power of a Colbert Report endorsement!


Sunrise on a Clear Day

July 17, 2007

I have a salt water swimming pool.  It’s nearly maintenance-free but the pH level must be kept within a limited range or the conversion of salt to chlorine gas doesn’t occur efficiently.  I have to constantly add pH increaser to the water.

Northern New Hampshire sunrises and sunsets are amazingly brilliant.  It is impossible to drive into the morning or evening sun without shades.  Western New York’s reddish dawns and dusks, although pretty in their own right, are very different than what is seen just a few hundred miles east.

These otherwise unrelated paragraphs are linked by air pollution.

Sulfur dioxide generated by Midwest power plants falls throughout New York State as acid rain.  Over 500 Adirondack lakes are already too acidic to sustain life, and are unnaturally crystal clear.  You can taste the bite in rain drops.  Western New York’s acid rain has a pH of 4.4, about the same as tomato juice and over a hundred times more acidic than my pool water is supposed to be.  And the sulfur haze – essentially smog – adds a reddish hue to our sunsets.

It is not at all obvious that we live our lives in such a polluted environment until we have traveled far enough to get out from under it.  We are surprisingly polluted.


The Handoff

July 17, 2007

Campus Flyover

My wife and I spent a couple of days attending our youngest son’s college orientation. He is going to be attending the same university that his older brother, an upcoming junior, is attending. The same university that I attended a generation ago.

For all the vivid recall that I have of college – of the buildings, the classrooms, the walkways, and the faces – my boys clearly have taken over the legacy of memories. They own the right to tell me the stories while I sit back and listen. We have swapped roles.

I left the campus today feeling very unattached to it.


Doin’ It for the Money

July 17, 2007

Britain decided to expel four Russian diplomats over the Litvinenko case, and the Russians are likely to respond in kind. But economic trade won’t be affected between the two countries. Too much money involved.

China continues to accumulate human rights violations and is still a communist government. Western governments pretty ignore this and trade activity continues apace. Too much money involved.

The U.S. would probably have gotten involved in Iraq about as much as it got involved in Rwanda or Sudan, had it not been for the economic significance of Iraq and the lack of economic significance of Rwanda and Sudan.

The U.S. pretty much stood by as Yugoslavia disintegrated.

We didn’t jump into North Korea, either, and considering that they have The Bomb I’m really surprised that the Bush Doctrine wasn’t implemented immediately.

We seemed to have gotten involved in Vietnam – and Grenada as well – on the basis of the Truman Doctrine (containment of communism). Since then the justification for the unilateral use and non-use of our armed forces seems just a bit more capricious. It doesn’t seem to be for humanitarian reasons: We’ve sat back and watched millions of Sundanese, Rwandans and Kosovans massacred in the past decade and a half. It doesn’t seem to be for the containment of communism nor because of impending threats of rogue states that have weapons of mass destruction.

Yeah, this is my opinion only but during my generation we seem to pick and choose our battles based on the potential economic gains or losses. Why doesn’t our government get honest about this? It would at least provide for a consistent foreign policy that matches our actions.

Honesty in government. That would be nice.