Mulligan’s and Memory Lane

August 31, 2007

Disco ShirtThe Mulligan’s Reunion is tomorrow night at Di Giulio’s Restaurant, the restaurant on Mulligan’s former site on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo.

The reunion is being advertised as a trip down memory lane back to the ‘70’s, when Danny Gare and OJ Simpson used to stop by to breathe in the disco atmosphere. It is expected to recreate those good times thirty years ago. That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

I think the ‘70’s should rest in peace. We should kindly reminisce about the ’70’s about as often as we kindly reminisce about polio.

It is forever tainted by the fiasco of Vietnam and the post-Vietnam recovery for millions of disenfranchised young adults, and flower children searching for direction and a way to grow up. It was the time of Watergate. Polyester was the clothing material of choice, earth tones and bean bag chairs were everywhere. And worst of all, disco was one of the most unoriginal, dead-ended forms of rock and roll music (obviously; it was a flash in the pan) yet that was all that commercial radio played for years. Historians have not been kind to the ‘70’s and future historians will be even less kind. Many of those with whom I hung around breathed a collective sigh of relief when 1980 arrived.

The decade had virtually no redeeming social value. I am embarrassed for it.


Biting My Lip

August 30, 2007

Canker SoreI accidentally bit the inside of my lip a couple days ago, which usually means that by now I would have had a full-blown canker sore. Lysine supplements seem to help shorten the canker sore’s lifespan, as does avoiding chocolate, peanut butter, apples and pineapples for the next week. For once I was able to do all the right things and avoided having the inside of my mouth ulcerate for the next two weeks.

So why am I writing about canker sores? Because other than being painful to have around, they have nothing to do with the almost limitless fusillade of dreadful news that’s been spewing out of my Internet connection this past week. Both national and local news sites – and national and local blogs – have gone out of their way to develop up to the minute coverage on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Congressional ethics violations, campaign skullduggery, Bush Administration double-speak, bleak Iraq War progress reports, Virginia Tech, New York State government abandonment, Brazil train crashes and finally, an Iraqi weapon of mass destruction found, in all places, at the U.N. building in New York City.

This has been such a demoralizing news week that my generally Pollyannaish attitude is taking a back seat to some of the harsh realities of current events. I have to do something to get out from under all this funk.

So this week I spent my evenings rebuilding the storage shed in my back yard, and this weekend I will finish it. It has been my therapy, the way in which I put aside all the crap that’s going on to accomplish something beneficial, even if it’s just for me.


Possible Buffalo Pundit Story #8

August 29, 2007

WNYMedia LogoOnce again, Buffalo Pundit has been forced to take an unexpected vacation from his always eloquent, grammatically correct and sometimes witty writing.  But if BP were able to write, he’d possibly have recorded something about Alberto Gonzales’ resignation as U.S. Attorney General.  BP might possibly say that the AG’s resignation has brought glee to the hearts of many Democrats and perhaps a sigh of relief to as many Republicans, who now have one less issue to worry about during their upcoming election campaigns. 

BP might also relate AG’s resignation and the Republican Party’s ongoing ethical struggles to Idaho Senator Larry Craig, whom we all know now is not gay.  A hypocrite, and perhaps an idiot, but not gay.  Or perhaps to the ethical struggles of Rick Renzi or Ted Stevens.  Certainly BP might possibly write that the Republican Party and conservatives in general don’t have much of a claim anymore to having the better moral compass, so they’d perhaps better come up with a new campaign platform if they intend not to lose even more Congressional seats.  Traditional Family Values for Everyone but Elected Officials just doesn’t cut it.

BP might just say that it is clear that if the Democratic Party had any brains (and some might strongly argue that they do not), they would learn from the recent Republican Party missteps and

  • Keep their noses clean
  • Immediately castigate any member of their own party who does not.

In Katrina’s Wake

August 29, 2007

New Orleans Under WaterWhat has two years and $114 billion in government largesse brought to the region affected by Hurricane Katrina?

  • 13,000 Mississippi families are still living in FEMA trailers, down from 48,000 a year ago. Governor Haley Barbour expects them to be all out of temporary housing by this time next year.
  • Better days are ahead” George Bush said as he spoke to a gathering in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. But grants are contentious, and money is being tied up in Congressional, Administrative and State battles. The President had plenty of words but not a lot to show for it. Those who heard the speech must have been wondering if the President was referring to New Orleans, or to Iraq, when he made that comment.
  • The Port of New Orleans and tourism, the two largest revenue-generation sources for the area, have almost completely recovered to pre-Katrina levels.
  • On the downside, New Orleans’ homicide rate of 70 per 100,000 is the highest in the country, and fully one-third of the population has not and cannot yet return.

This recovery has taken too long, not only because of Government bureaucracy and mismanagement but because it probably shouldn’t have occurred to the extent that it is occurring. There are a number of issues that will remain unresolved, with disastrous consequences, and I for one think that it is unquestionably foolish to re-create the city as it was:

  • New Orleans is already 8 feet below sea level and continues to sink another inch every three years. The Lower 9th Ward is 11 feet below sea level.
  • The levees have not and probably cannot be built to withstand a category 5 hurricane within either a reasonable time frame or a reasonable budget. (2006 estimates were $32 billion. Only $7.6 billion has been authorized with virtually none of it allocated, and completion estimates take the rebuilding phase out to 2015). It only takes one weak spot in the miles of levees to re-inundate New Orleans again.
  • No housing regulations have been established to force homeowners to elevate their homes above sea level.
  • An unintended consequence of the Old River Control Structure, which is the only thing holding the Mississippi River from completely diverting to its natural ocean course (the Atchafalaya River), is that Mississippi River sediment settles within the river bed, continuously raising the river’s elevation above and through New Orleans. Already a billion-dollar structure, the Old River Control Structure is costly and growing more difficult to maintain as the elevation differences between the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya increase.

The insurance companies who refuse to provide flood insurance to New Orleans residents are an indicator of how unwise we are to throw so much good money after bad. It was a dreadful decision to rebuild any part of The Big Easy that’s below sea level.


The End of the Penny

August 27, 2007

Lincoln CentAside from substituting as a fuse, the penny stopped serving a useful purpose years ago.

With the cost of manufacturing a penny at somewhere around one and a half cents, It’s only a matter of time before the government gets religion and stops minting them. One economics professor estimates that the U.S. loses about $900 million a year in production costs and handling. I think ending the production of a minted coin is more a political issue, but prudent economics would indicate that anything costing one and a half times more to make than it can be sold for is probably not worth making.

The Lincoln head penny has had 99 years of quasi-useful life since first being minted in 1909. Celebrating the Lincoln penny’s 100th anniversary next year and ending production forever would be historically poignant.

I rarely take pennies in my change and when I do they end up in a container in my car, on my office desk or in a big metal bucket at home. That metal bucket is overflowing with close to 30 years of pennies, which I have been reluctant to trade in because I’m sure that there are several coins that are worth much more than face value (like that 1910-S), and others that are worth, well, a pretty penny. The face value of my stash is about $90, maybe just a little more. If you have a stash and want to figure out about how many you’ve got without counting them, try weighing them. 100 pennies average 0.58 pounds (pennies vary in weight because their metal content has changed over the years, but that number is pretty close).

I have no rationale for hoarding my pennies except to perhaps melt them down someday. Or maybe give them to my future grandchildren.


Alberto Gonzales’ Legacy

August 27, 2007

Attorney General Alberto GonzalezLots of bloggers will be writing about Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General.

I am not one of them, other than to say that I’m surprised no one called him AG AG.


Lessons from the IPhone Hack

August 25, 2007

George Hotz IPhone HackGeorge Hotz, now a student at RIT, was highlighted in the press for hacking Apple’s IPhone to work on any GSM-enabled network.  [From a business perspective Apple is probably overjoyed, but Apple’s business partner, AT&T, is most likely pissed.]  George’s blog on the steps required to unlock the phone is a fascinating technical read.  The link takes you to his summary explanation of the hack; and all subsequent steps follow, starting with “Step 1” in his blog archive.

For anyone really technically savvy about electronics and software this will not be a hard read, but that’s not what’s interesting, anyway.

Lesson 1:  It’s the eloquence of George’s instructions.

Read any step in the instructions.  Then read the blog comments, ignore the shorthand geekspeak and note how poorly most of these comments flow:  bad grammar, atrocious spelling and a worse than elementary grasp of the English language.  George is more than just technically astute.  Relative to his audience he’s also a great communicator.

George does not take solo credit for this hack; on the contrary, throughout the blog he compliments those who helped work out the hack.

Lesson 2:  Teamwork rules the workplace.

The best employees are not necessarily the most intelligent.  The best employees are the ones who are able to constructively participate in group developments.

I understand that corporate trade secrets are necessary in a capitalist society, but I wonder how much further along we’d be in technology and especially medicine if information sharing were the norm rather than the exception.



Millionaire Stupidity, Part 2

August 24, 2007

I forgot to mention Marcus Vick.  Marcus, of course, was previously more infamous than his brother Michael, but never really got to the stupid millionaire stage because he lost control while still in college.  Just prior to the 2006 NFL draft many critical articles were written about Marcus.  Several of those articles pleaded that Marcus not be compared to his already-famous brother Michael.  This one got me to think about the façades that we all erect, and whether it was simply Michael’s misfortune to get caught.

Near the end of the aforementioned article the sports writer wrote:  “During his abbreviated college career, Marcus Vick was compared frequently and favorably to Michael. The comparisons should stop. By all accounts, Michael Vick is an exemplary citizen who has done his best to point his brother along the straight and narrow.”

That writer is probably rethinking those words.


Jihad: the Musical

August 24, 2007

The MusicalJihad: the Musical is making the radio rounds.  NPR had an article today that, frankly, embarrassed me because I laughed through some of the song lyrics.  I love to find humor in everything, but this made me stop and call myself an idiot for thinking it was funny.  I am reminded of my high school days when I thought Polish jokes were funny.

You Tube has the big number here.  I cringed the second time I heard it.

Some issues are better off not being exploited like this.  If Jihad: the Musical becomes a hit outside of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I can imagine the musicals that would follow:

  • Phantom of the Darfur
  • Puttin’ on the Auschwitz
  • Young Jeffrey Dahmer (hell, this one’s already an off-Broadway play)

We need to turn our backs on this stuff.


Millionaire Stupidity

August 24, 2007

DogfightingI’ve been trying to get my head around Michael Vick, a person formerly worth millions of dollars, who threw it all away because he decided to own a stake in a blood sport.

What I don’t get is his willingness to host the Bad Newz Kennels on his property. Had he participated as a rabid spectator in a blood sport, he could have easily pleaded mea culpa to the public and gotten away with a hand slap and fawning consideration from his fans. Instead, he took part in electrocutions and drownings, and turned off everyone associated with him. In the process, he tossed his 130 million dollar contract out the window. I guess money doesn’t make you any less stupid.

The NFL may rise to the occasion by sentencing Vick to a lifetime ban; but my cynical side thinks that some NFL owner (Jerry Jones comes to mind) may put profit before ethics and try to bring him back after he’s done his jail time.

Hopefully, Vick will fade quietly into obscurity, much like Zacarius Moussauoi.  And when what money he’s got left runs out, he will.


Here’s Looking at You

August 23, 2007

SpiesOne can never have enough spy agencies.

This web site identified 38 of them for the U.S back in 2002.  I hope that’s enough for us but I would hazard a guess that since the Iraq invasion our government has created even more.  Most of these are *ahem* interesting in that they are no longer accessible.  Are most spy agencies fly-by-night operations, or is there some other reason why so many of them are now 404’d?

Officially there are 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community.  The links on the official web site are pretty banal:  Our Mission, Employment Opportunies, the usual stuff you might expect on a web site.  Many have some very good historical perspectives – justifications for their continued existence, I guess.  The Welcome statement on this web site, with its “regardless of time or location” finale, is particularly scary.  Big Brother is watching.

Even though we have 16 intelligence agencies we couldn’t get it right on Iraq and Osama bin Laden is still running loose; but I’m sure that the U.S. has more than enough capability to tap my phone and my email any time they want.

 


WNY’s Premier Portal

August 22, 2007

BNIAWhat’s the first impression that a business traveler or tourist gets as that person exits the Buffalo Airport?

An empty, decrepit hotel (actually, two).  A half-dozen completely unsynchronized traffic lights.  Road construction (that’s been ongoing for 4 years!).  One of the most congested streets in Western New York.

It took me as long to drive the 1 ½ miles from the eastern edge of the airport to the Kensington entrance as it did to drive the Kensington to downtown Buffalo.  I watched the same light change four times for what appeared to be no good reason.  I have had to put up with this two-mile stretch of road taking 4 years to complete.

Cheektowaga should be alarmed, as should the NFTA, the DOT and every local government official.  As the gateway to Buffalo this short stretch of road should be the easiest and glitziest road in the county.  Instead it’s an embarrassment.

The airport has come a long way since the 90’s.  Its environs have not.


WNY Information Portals

August 22, 2007

Where am I?Western New York lacks a cohesive way in which someone from the outside can figure out which organizations actually provide useful information about local issues.

And when I say “someone from the outside” I mean “anyone”.

Let’s say I’m a small business that needs to do some local market research.  Do I turn to the Chamber of Commerce in the town in which my business is located?  Do I call the Buffalo Niagara Partnership?  If I want to include Canada in my market region, do I contact the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise?  What about the Buffalo-Niagara World Trade Center?  Or the Canadian Consulate?

There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of local public organizations acting on behalf of the consumer, supported by government programs, membership fees or private sponsorships.  Most do not want to consolidate with other common-themed organizations.  Hence, there are something like 26 Industrial Development Agencies in Erie County alone. 

Within my various community contacts I’ve begun to advocate a regional map to go onto the main page of every community web site offering community and business services – A pictorial way for all these disparate groups to link to each other in order to help augment a search for information within the WNY community.  It is my belief that the next generation of decision-makers will much prefer a quick Google search to picking up the phone.  We might as well give them a way to make their search as painless as possible.

The regional map would graphically represent the spider’s web of service organizations, and pop up a brief description of the services offered.  It would also provide a hot link to other related services so that moving from one web site to another would require a single mouse click.

The Internet may yet provide a way around the fiefdom problem that exists so painfully in Western New York


Empty Nesters

August 22, 2007

My youngest son went off to college yesterday.  He joins his brother, a junior, at the same college, in the same curriculum.  He will benefit from the friends he’s already made on campus through past visits to his brother.  Like his brother, he was ready for the college experience by his sophomore year in high school, and I know that both of them will enjoy their individual experiences as well as each others’ company.

My wife and I are alone together for the first time in 20 years.

While I’m somewhat ambivalent about the change at this point, I recognize that this is a big change.  My wife and I will have to get to know each other again, and plan our lives around each other rather than around our children.  I’m looking forward to the challenge, as much as I am to my kids’ next visit.

Tonight we’re breaking out the champagne to celebrate our milestone and our kids’ success.


Unshackling New York, Part 2

August 20, 2007

The data that comprised my previous blog came from the Milken Institute (you have to register to get to the data). The five criteria that were used to determine the states’ rankings and how New York scored in each of them follows. The average value for all states is 100.

  • Wage Cost Index: 128.5 (2nd-highest)
  • Tax Burden Index: 102.5 (26th-highest)
  • Electricity Cost Index: 141.5 (8th-highest)
  • Industrial Rent Cost Index: 154.4 (4th-highest)
  • Office Rent Cost Index: 189.4 (highest)

The data indicates that New York has done a great job reducing its taxes to get it more in line with the national average.

It is unfortunate that Western New York – or for that matter, Upstate New York – is lumped into the same category as New York State because the Wage Cost, Industrial Rent Cost and Office Rent Cost indexes in Upstate would be significantly lower if Downstate were not included. It’s a different world down there, and it seriously impacts (both positively and negatively) the rest of the state.

Maybe Unshackle Upstate can take advantage of ranking Upstate separately from Downstate.


Unshackling New York

August 20, 2007

New York EconomyIn what amounts to be a throwing in the towel approach to journalism, today’s Buffalo News printed an AP article on page B9 (the third and last page of the News’ financial section) entitled “Hawaii is the Costliest State for Business”.

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And subtitled New York is Ranked Second.

Maybe this was a last-second addition to a late press run, but I would have thought that, given the state of our upstate economy for the past twenty-seven years and all the attempts to jumpstart it, this article would have enraged the News’ editorial staff to read how little progress has been made to get New York back on a competitive footing with the rest of the country. But it didn’t; there are no remarks elsewhere in the paper. The article is also buried on the News’ web site as well.

We are so far behind the curve that even with dramatic reductions to the Workman’s Compensation program we still pull up the rear. And the view from back there is not good.

One of the more recent (and semi-successful) campaigns that has been rattling a few sabers is the Unshackle Upstate campaign. Consider joining it and others like it.


Hick Town News

August 19, 2007

Farm HouseSpeakUpWNY always has interesting discussion threads. It also has commentary that spans the spectrum, from intellectual to just plain stupid.

If you scroll down to the “Local Town and City Politics” threads, you can see dramatic changes in the important issues as you radiate away from Buffalo.

If it were not for the fact that I grew up in the country, I would be mocking the Holland folks for their hick town sensibilities. Yet I find a certain serenity when the most serious read in Holland is about how to handle a possibly rabid animal (you don’t!).

Sometimes, the smallest towns are the most interesting.


Another Talented Citizen

August 19, 2007

Dr. Tom Stewart, Gaymar IndustriesThis is Dr. Tom Stewart, president of Gaymar Industries, member of the University at Buffalo adjunct faculty, on the Buffalo Niagara Partnership Board of Director, author, and a really smart guy.

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Tom Stewart, Guitar Player

And this is the same Tom Stewart, on stage with his 12-string solid body playing Beatles, Moody Blues and Tom Petty along with his fellow band members at last Saturday night’s Viva for Life breast cancer benefit for Roswell Park. It is obvious that he practices the guitar a lot.

Tom is also a karate black belt and an all-around nice guy.

Western New York has some great gems. Tom’s one of them.


Getting Ready for Hurricane Dean

August 19, 2007

HurricaneI was watching the Weather Channel this afternoon and had to chuckle at the briefing given by FEMA about its response readiness for south Texas.  Since Hurricane Dean is most likely going to miss Texas by several hundred miles, it seemed like the speaker was told to give some face time to the public, with a preparedness line that he knew he’d never have to worry about implementing.

FEMA has come to embody everything that is wrong with government bureaucracy.  If anything, the briefing only strengthened my belief that should a catastrophe befall any other part of the country except south Texas, FEMA would not be ready to respond because it has focused all its attention to a solitary part of the country.  And even then, the focus is coming from Washington and not south Texas.

We all know about FEMA’s inept response to Katrina.  Here’s one about the Orlando tornadoes this past February.  Here’s one about the toxic trailers that people are living in two years after New Orleans flooded.  Here’s a funny one about Delaware (last paragraph).  And if you think that former head of FEMA Michael Brown deserves the blame for FEMA’s lack of preparedness, then read this one.

Emergency response needs to come from more localized resources.  It makes no sense that bureaucrats in Washington, who know little if anything about regions outside of maybe a 15 mile radius of Washington, should even be part of the decision-making chain. 

And how foolish for us to let our government continue to get away with this.

I can only hope that the next administration recognizes that when it comes to government, bigger is not necessarily better and that the Department of Homeland Security be disassembled.  FEMA had a chance when it was small and nimble.  It needs to be given that chance again.


Brown Lawns in WNY

August 18, 2007

Brown LawnThe water pressure in my town is very low today. I’m sure many people are trying to salvage their landscaping.

It has not been a good year for my lawn. Our remarkable, sunny summer has been tantalizing, but the last 30 days officially produced all of four-tenths of an inch of rainfall at the airport weather station, and certainly less where I live. My wife has done a good job keeping the flower beds and vegetable garden watered, but the grass is another story. It’s in brutal shape and has gone from lush green to Arizona scrub.

I’m so accustomed to green around here that the acres and acres of brown are demoralizing.