What Have We Become?

October 31, 2007

WaterboardingMike Mukasey finds the idea of torture, including waterboarding, repulsive. That he won’t agree to make it illegal, should he become Attorney General, is something I find repulsive.

Mukasey says he needs to study the problem from a legal standpoint, not a personal one. What has he been doing since he was nominated a couple months ago to replace Alberto Gonzales? He must have known for a long time now that he would be asked questions about the current Administration’s stance on the use of certain interrogation techniques.  Hasn’t he done his homework yet?

Nothing comes to mind that has ruined U.S. credibility more in the world’s eyes than our country’s recent and admitted use of rendition and torture. How we continue to cloak this in inveigled rhetoric astounds me.

I have become embarrassed for our country whenever the State Department condemns China or Burma or North Korea or any other country for their human rights violations, without regarding its own policies as hypocritical and antithetical to this cause. What have we become since 9/11?

There are few issues in my life that frustrate me to the point of screaming; this is one of them.  I am waiting for the protest march on Washington, and will probably take a few days off to join them.  I am ashamed at our country’s stance on torture.


Sunday at Church

October 31, 2007

Old Catholic ServiceSo at church last Sunday, a little girl – handicapped with Down’s Syndrome, strode up to the altar during offertory and “helped” arrange the communion dishes while the priest and altar servers watched. I thought the priest was very kind to wait for her mother to come up and entice her off before continuing the Mass.

Someone complained.

I am confused about the complainant’s Christian principles. I am confused about why an act of innocence should be admonished, especially in light of the attitude of the person on whom this church was built.

So to the complainant, I have only this to say: I think you’ve got the whole Christian thing wrong. I think you need to lighten up a little and realize some of the joy that that little girl shared with us on Sunday.

We Need to be Realistic

October 26, 2007

Buffalo is dying that is for sure we need to be realistic.

This is a quote from a commenter on a Buffalo Pundit blog earlier today.  I see lots of people writing pretty much the same thing in the local blogs.

I think they are wrong.  They are not realistic at all.

I’ve spent the past few years getting involved in the community at a number of different levels; first within my town, now within the local business community and especially the University at Buffalo and the Life Sciences initiative.  This is what I’m seeing:

  • An enormous growth in life sciences and other biotech-related companies.  The life sciences downtown corridor, first established around 2000, has already had two major buildings erected and with the addition of the $200 million Cleveland BioLabs corporation, is so close to full that UB purchased the M. Wile and Trico buildings as part of a biotech corridor expansion.  UB is also adding a brand new building to house the new Educational Opportunity Center at Goddell and Oak Streets.
  • Including Southern Ontario and places as far east as Syracuse, the “Golden Horseshoe” is the fourth-largest biotech area in North America.
  • Up to this point the growth in Life Sciences has centered on hiring the best and brightest researchers – which is now spilling over into product development and manufacturing as these researchers take their ideas to market.  SmartPill is a great example of this, as is Empire Genomics and Cleveland BioLabs.  The Bank of America recognized the need for home grown technical support in this field, and donated $250,000 to help train the technicians needed to support these rising companies, from the Buffalo labor force.
  • $120 million is being pumped into The Statler renovation.  The Dulski Building is going through a $60 million makeover.  New Era Cap and Health Now just finished their new (gorgeous!) downtown facilities.  The $100 million Federal courthouse is going up.
  • Bass Pro really is going in (and it had nothing to do with either Donn Esmonde or Tim Tielman) and the Inner Harbor really is going to be built.
  • Love it or hate it, the Seneca nation announced a $300+ million hotel and gaming complex in the Cobblestone district, adjacent to the Inner Harbor and Bass Pro.  One needs to stop and think about how close we are to reaching critical business mass in this region.
  • UB 2020, the big gorilla, is well on the way to getting the community and more importantly, every single politician behind the push for a huge increase in higher education in Western New York.  The resulting impact on the community is huge.  Higher education already accounts for a significant fraction of our local economy and is destined to grow substantially in the next 10 years.
  • Moog is growing so fast they can’t find close to enough talented workers and have to import staff from as far away as Utah.
  • Buffalo is rapidly becoming the nation’s call center capitol.  Ingram Micro, Geico and HSBC are recent examples of call center companies that the community has lured into growing here.
  • People in other upstate communities are looking to Buffalo (and moving to Buffalo!) as an example of how to rebuild an economy.

Too many people around here have been focusing on the losses in manufacturing, the layoffs and general economic malaise without bothering to look at the entrepreneurial growth that’s happened lately.  Huge manufacturing complexes are being replaced by highly flexible small businesses.  People who have ambition and vision are employed and growing their businesses.  More and more programs are being established by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, UB, Canisius and other institutions to teach successful business practices to those who are willing to try.

Too many people around here have wanted instant gratification; in reality, building new business takes both nurturing and time.  We are about to reach a tipping point where everything is starting to happen at once, and where the renaissance will soon become obvious, even to the most cynical.

In the Last Minute of Life

October 25, 2007

Holding someone’s handThis past week my wife, the chaplain, walked into a patient’s room at ECMC to discover him alone, dying.  She held his hand and told him he would not die alone.  In those next moments she watched his cardiac monitor display the signs of a failing heart, and then he was dead.

He did not die alone.  We will never know if he knew she was there, but I know she was there.

My wife does so many things that I can’t possibly imagine doing myself.

Guns or Butter: Pick One?

October 22, 2007

Research into the history of warfare by imperialistic governments reveals that the cost to establish and maintain an expansive front line eventually imperils the imperialistic aggressor. Romans, Japanese and Germans all initially benefited from the cheap goods that resulted from their takeover of neighboring areas; but eventually it caught up with them in the form of hyperinflation, product scarcity and general economic malaise. The Soviet Union and North Korea bankrupted their own economies by feeding their armies but not their citizens.

Today, our President asked for another $46 billion to provide for the troops in Iraq, bringing the fiscal 2008 total alone to almost $200 billion. Even at $90 a barrel it’s going to take a lot of Iraqi oil exports (free to the U.S., of course) to recover from these types of outlays.

It could have been worse. The President could have signed the SCHIP legislation but instead vetoed it, wiping out health coverage for about 2.5 million eligible children but saving the federal government around $7 billion a year.  His fiscal frugality will not allow improvements to domestic conditions while there’s war afoot.

Is this what compassionate conservatism is about? At what point does compassion for the impoverished on our own soil supersede the compassion to destroy terrorists on theirs?

Fertilize the Ocean

October 21, 2007

Iron NanoparticlesPlanktos is a for-profit company that sprays iron nanoparticles over the ocean to promote algae blooms.  Algae draws carbon dioxide out of the air and replaces it with oxygen as part of the plant’s respiration process.  When the algae die the sequestered carbon falls to the bottom of the ocean.

Planktos is in the business of selling carbon credits – that’s how they will make their money.  They have a really slick, environmentally friendly-looking web site with reference to healing the seas.  Treehugger.com is very cautiously optimistic about Planktos’ strategy of raising algae bloom levels to what they were in 1980 (based on NASA satellite observations of decreasing algae in the oceans).

I am a little less optimistic because

  • Planktos is doing all this in international waters, where monitoring of the effects and regulation of the industry requires agreement from so many governments as to render enforcement all but impossible.
  • It doesn’t address but merely masks the problem, which is that we are burning way too much fossil fuel.  In fact, Planktos’ for-profit business may encourage energy traders to promote even more inefficient processes knowing that energy credits for its customers will be available through Planktos’ efforts.
  • It relies on dispersing iron in the form of nanoparticles into the atmosphere, most but not all of which settles onto the water.  Unlike natural processes, the man-made product is much smaller and can remain airborne for extremely long periods.  There is still some really serious debate about how particulates this small affect biological processes once they’re lodged in the lungs (comparisons to the 20-year delay between breathing asbestos fibers and the onset of asbestosis comes to mind).
  • It’s illegal.

We don’t seem to have had much success fooling with Mother Nature on such a global scale.  I hope this doesn’t backfire, especially since all Planktos has to do to walk away from responsibility is declare bankruptcy and create enough obfuscation with murky science as to tie up any lawsuits for years.

Failing to Tell it Like it Is

October 13, 2007

General Richard SanchezRetired General Richard Sanchez gave a blistering speech at the Military Reporters and Editors Luncheon regarding the failure of the Bush Administration, the State Department and Congress to get it right, and the unwillingness of the Pentagon to stand up to the Administration.  He made many strong accusations; one that stood out to me was this:  There has been a glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.  As a Japanese proverb says, ‘action without vision is a nightmare.’  There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

The Buffalo News abbreviated the Washington Post’s article on the Sanchez speech and titled it “Retired military leader slams U.S. war plan.”  If you read the speech in its entirety – and you should, even though this web site has it entirely in capital letters, making it very hard to do so – you will realize that roughly half the speech singled out the media for its knee-jerk reactions, arrogance and first to get the story mentality without regard to accuracy.  It was less a speech about the Bush Administration and much more a speech about our entire country’s failure to work together toward a single goal.

The conservative web sites have been on top of this and rightly so.  The media’s unwillingness to admit its own failings is right up there with the Administration’s unwillingness to do the same.  On the issue of war, Americans are left without anyone trying to honestly tell the whole story.  The newspapers’ synopsis of Sanchez’ speech is merely typical of the overarching problem of media extremism at its worst.

Media extremism, both on the left and the right, has decimated the centrist middle and solidly reflects the political extremism in our country as well.  It is hard to undo the partisan brainwashing that Fox News, CNN and others feed its listeners by slanting its news stories in such one-sided ways.

All parties need to start telling it like it is – not how we want it to be – and being held accountable when they fail to do so.  Anything less gets us labeled as nothing more than propagandists, a label that will take a generation to remove.