The White Transition Team

November 29, 2007

I normally don’t give a shit about accusations regarding race and bigotry.  I work with far too many people of different nationalities and race to see them as anything other than colleagues, clients, and friends.

But Rod Watson’s commentary in today’s Buffalo News got me fuming.  Based on Chris Collins’ choices for his 31-member transition team chairs, Watson implies that Collins has shunned the African-American and Hispanic communities with his selections.  After all, “95 percent of the slots went to whites”.

Why didn’t Watson just come out and call Collins a racist?  He used every phrase but.

If Watson wants to charge racism against a person who is still 6 weeks away from taking office, then I suggest he seriously look at a group that’s much dearer to the citizens of Western New York, one that is exclusively white:  The Buffalo Sabres.

Go ahead, Watson; tell me that that there aren’t qualified minorities out there who can skate and shoot.  I think you owe us a commentary on how Tom Golisano is carrying on this white supremacy thing.  Tom must be a whitey racist for letting this continue for so long in a community that’s 45% minority.

Racism is clearly still present in Western New York.  People like Watson see to it that the race card gets played regularly.

I wish that people would comment on the qualifications of Collins’ team members, rather than the color of their skin.

Health Care the American Way?

November 26, 2007

Emergency EntranceThis article on Grady Hospital in Atlanta caught my attention.

It’s about the only public hospital in the Atlanta area, and caters mainly to the uninsured poor.  It will lose $55 million this year alone, and may close at the end of the year because of its debt burden.  It needs $300 million in equipment and renovations to bring it up to modern standards.

What caught my eye was this statement:  “Only 7 percent of Grady’s patients have private insurance, and 75 percent are on Medicaid. Because they lack of insurance and have no family doctor, many go to Grady’s emergency room even when they don’t have an emergency. The ER ends up treating sore throats and other ordinary aches and pains.”

This is not uncommon.  Sisters Hospital and ECMC in Buffalo both suffer from this, as does every other hospital in the Buffalo area.  The needy, those who can least afford health care, take what amounts to be the most expensive route to get health care.

Small wonder why health insurance costs are going through the roof.  At what point will this system for doling out health care collapse under its own weight?

The Bush Initiatives – How are they Doing?

November 23, 2007

Mission Accomplished?The President has sponsored or advocated initiatives that advance his agenda, including the Iraq war strategy, education, energy policy, faith-based initiatives, illegal wiretapping, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, even an initiative to get astronauts back to the moon.  How are these initiatives doing?  Here’s a brief look at a few of them.

The War on Terrorism – $1 trillion and counting.  3900+ military dead, 28,400+ wounded, even more dead and wounded if you count civilian contractors and a whole bunch more if you count Iraqis.  This has not gone well since the mission was declared accomplished back in 2003.  Excepting the fact that no planes have been hijacked and flown into skyscrapers since 9/11, by any measure the war has been mishandled, misjudged and has become a big zit on the face of the President.  The next President will have his/her hands full with this one.  I think we could have done a lot more to protect Americans by focusing on border security, rather than trying to fund a war on some other country’s turf.

Secret tribunals – by Executive order on November 13th – to expand the use of military tribunals and to hold non-citizens indefinitely on sketchy, heresay or no evidence other than suspicion of terrorist activity.  This Administration has used indefinite detention, rendition and alleged torture since 9/11, to the dismay of Europe, Central Asia and other parts of the world.  I personally hope that the next Preisdent denounces and halts these actions before the moral authority of the U.S. erodes any further.  I’m sure I’ll never know if their effectiveness justifies what they’ve done to our global standing, but they sure do smell funny.

Reduction of Greenhouse Gases – In May, President Bush sort of came to the conclusion that maybe global warming wasn’t just hype and announced a round of talks among all major contributors to greenhouse gases.  The first of these were held in late September, so it’s way to soon to determine if anything will come of this.  With only a year left in President Bush’s tenure, it is not likely that much more than a framework will get created, and even less likely that greenhouse reductions will be put into place.

Illegal Logging – President Bush came out strongly in 2002 with a plan to cut illegal logging throughout the world.  Strangely enough, illegal logging within the U.S. was not addressed in this initiative, just all those other countries.

Faith-based Initiatives – Some atheist group took the Bush Administration to the Supreme Court in February, in challenge of his faith-based initiaitve.  In June the Court decided that the atheist group did not have standing in the case, leaving the faith-based initiative – which was created by Executive order and never ratified by Congress – alive and well.  I actually think this is a good thing, as the few faith-based programs that I am peripherally involved with take their cause to heart.

Illegal Wiretapping – The NSA Warrantless Wiretapping initiative, grounded (more or less) by the Supreme Court in 2006, received a reprieve through Congress, which passed the Protect America Act in August of this year to allow warrantless wiretapping.  Many would argue that the law as written created too many loopholes for the Administration.  The law is set to expire in January, 2008 although the Administration is pushing for it to be made permanent.

No Child Left Behind – Lots of kids are still being left behind.  You need look no further than the City of Buffalo.

I understand that the space program to build the next rocket to the moon is going well.

Tchotchkes on the Brain

November 23, 2007

I’m confused and tired.

I’m confused and tired

I had hoped that this Thanksgiving week would become a much-needed respite from my day-to-day mental clutter.  It’s not gonna happen.  My brain has too much stuff in it right now, just like my house, and everything is everywhere.  There are a half-dozen unfinished projects building up anxiety in one corner of my mind, end-of-year challenges like performance reviews, budgets and business strategy that keep coalescing into an angry cloud behind my left eye, five or six personal goals just hanging around waiting to get some attention.  There’s my management class clinic next Wednesday that’s festering in some mental compartment, and I haven’t even begun to rehease my part in a quartet to be sung next Saturday.  (Or is it Sunday?  I don’t really remember right now.)

Then there’s my cluttered basement, with my workbench in desperate need of a cleanup.  There are leaves to be raked, my closet is a mess and there are at least a half-dozen Tshirts on top of my dresser rather than in it.

Right now there are so many important things needing attention that nothing seems important and even the slightest motion toward resolving them gives me a headache..  My brain feels like it’s full of Tchotchkes but nothing much of any real value.

Can’t wait to find out what the mad rush around Christmastime will be like.

Release the Funny

November 18, 2007

Release the FunnyRelease the Funny premiered tonight at the Riveria Theatre.

It was great. Done as professionally as they come. I busted a gut. Filmed in and around Buffalo, it has nothing to do with Buffalo (except, perhaps for some Sabres references) and contains none of the self-deprecating humor we often see in Buffalo-made films.

The movie is actually a bunch of shorts (ten of them), uniquely creative and all of them chuckle-funny, some of them outright hilarious. I marveled at the originality of the little plots; Anyone who watched last season’s episodes of “24” will so get the movie “120“, and fans of Star Trek are in for a treat.

This is well worth going to see. And if you don’t see it, buy or rent the DVD when it comes out. Buffalo Rising has a small writeup here.

Salivation Salvation

November 17, 2007

Charismatic PreacherLast Thursday I went to dinner with an acquaintence – a Palestinian Christian (talk about two words that just don’t seem to fit together!) – who described the historical aspects of the Palestinian conflict in great detail:  Its beginnings as a sort of partitioned British experiment, the growth of fundamentalist Islam, its use as a pawn by neighboring Arab states, and the mess that it’s in today.  It was a fascinating discussion.

One comment that stuck with me related the current Middle East Arab-Islamic fundamentalism to 15th century Christian fundamentalism.  He felt that’s about where many radical Muslims are today, set in their absolute belief that Islam is the only true faith, that all others are demonic and must be eliminated.  My dinner guest pointed out that neighbors who have been friends for years will attack each other if the local Imam decrees that they should because “It’s in the Koran”.  His experience, and his reason for leaving the Middle East, was that no one could be trusted not to turn on you tomorrow.

It got me thinking about how many times I’ve heard some Christian fundamentalist say basically the same thing – “It’s in the Bible” – without regard to asking even the simplest of questions:  Does that belief have any foundation in reality?  Is it subject to interpretation?  Is it supported by other theologians?  Does it do more harm than good? 

I am an advocate for those with strong faith who act genuinely on their beliefs, but acting in the name of God has also produced such recent heroes as James Kopp, David Koresh and even Ernest Ainsley, all of whom preyed (pun intended) in one way or another on the ignorant.  

For far too many it is easier to muster acceptance of a charismatic charlatan than to put the effort into finding truth. 

Obesity Vs. Malnutrition

November 12, 2007

Obese childrenThere is a short but interesting article in today’s British press about obesity striking not just the U.S. but the rest of the world as well.  In fact, the article goes on to say that “There are more dangerously obese people in the world (over 1 billion) than there are people starving (800,000,000).”  This article backs that up with a reference to the World Health Organization’s web site, containing a plethora of reports and statistics.

In the midst of greed, politics, war and indifference the distribution of food is a real problem for those people lacking it, and barely on the radars of those getting fat.  [This should be yet another Pro-Life movement issue (see previous blog), since about 6 million children die from malnutrition every year.  Where are the Pro-lifers on this?]

Becoming fat, dumb and indifferent is no way to remain a world leader, and it appears that the rest of the world is learning some really bad habits from us.


The Inequity of the Pro-Life Movement

November 11, 2007

CrossesAbortion, the Death Penalty, Genocide, Euthanasia, and War:  What do these all have in common?

They are all Pro-Life issues.

So why do our local Pro-Life rallies focus on the abortion issue and not the rest?  Is it maybe because they are not so much pro-life as they are anti-abortion?  The anti-abortion movement veils itself behind the much broader pro-life terminology while bearing sparse homage to the belief that all life is sacred, not just the lives of the innocents.

The front lawn of our church sprouted small pink and blue crosses today – Veterans Day – and a sign with the typical emotional statement to end the slaughter of babies.  I have witnessed pleas from the pulpit to support the Pro-Life movement, but the rhetoric is always about abortion.

It seems so disingenuous.  Shouldn’t we be screaming about Darfur?  Shouldn’t we take notice that in the industrialized world, only Japan and the U.S. still have the death penalty?  If we are to take a stand against the killing of innocents, we need to take a stand against the killing of others, for any reason, under any circumstance.

Today of all days, these “Pro-Lifers” should be standing amongst the graves of the soldiers who died following orders that were not their own, and thinking about all those lives that could have been.

Stadium Discussions – An Incredible Waste

November 11, 2007

Houston AstrodomeIn his latest commentary Donn Esmonde complained about the proposed domed football stadium on the Buffalo waterfront, courtesy of a Jim Kelly comment and the enthusiasm of State Senator Antoine Thompson.  As he states in his very last sentence:  “The idea, like so many others around here, should never have been given life.”

So why does he insist on giving it life?

Babble in the Melting Pot

November 11, 2007

Chinese Take OutMy friend relayed this to me via email while watching Saturday’s hockey game.

A few friends are coming over for the hockey game – those few who don’t mind sitting on the floor. We decided to meet here, and I’d provide food in the form of Chinese take-out.
(ring ring)
Hi, I’d like to place an order for pick-up.
No delivery.
No, I want to pick it up.
Only take out.
Ok, I’ll get take out.
Your number?
555-2555 – (not the real number)
No, 5-5-5-two-5-5-5
Ok, what you want?
Um, do you still have dinner for two, and combos like that?
What soup?
No, dinner combos.
Yes, what soup?
Can you tell me what they come with?
Wonton soup?
No, I don’t want soup, I want to know what your dinners are.  (blood pressure rising)
Soup and egg roll.
Ok… what else?
You don’t order before?
Well, yes, I have, but I don’t have a menu in front of me. Can you just tell me what they are, please?
Ok, wonton soup. What else?
NO, what is with your dinners?
I just want to know what I get.
Soup and egg roll.
And what else?
Wonton soup.
Never mind, I’m calling somewhere else.

(ring ring)
Hi, thank you for calling Cappelli’s, what can I do for you?
Hi, I’d like to place an order to pick up.
May I have your number please?
Is this Kathy?
Ok, what would you like?
A sheet pizza with cheese, pepperoni, and mushrooms, a sheet Clougher, a chicken salad with house dressing…
Anything else?
Yes, also an antipasto with Italian dressing, please.
Anything else?
Nope, that’s it.
Ok, that’ll be about twenty minutes.
Great, thanks. Oh — Fred will be picking it up.
Okay, thank you.

This is a story about assimilation.  The U.S. is the greatest melting pot in the world, but as a result we sometimes struggle with the limitations of that assimilation borne of stubbornness, nostalgia or mental agility.  In this case, the proprietor of the Chinese restaurant probably should not have been answering the phone if he were trying to sustain business from most of his potential customer pool.  It’s okay if he does not want to become Americanized or wants to hang on to as much native heritage as possible, but wouldn’t it be a little easier on everyone (and himself) if he learned the language?

The ironic part is that my friend speaks Chinese and could likely have carried the conversation in the proprietor’s native language; but she strongly resists falling back on her native upbringing.  She wants to be assimilated.  That she chose to give up on Chinese food Saturday night and settled for Italian struck me as an act of principle.  Lucky for her that foods from both cultures have nicely assimilated into the American food scene.


While Waiting to Vote…

November 6, 2007

NYS Voting Machine…I sucked down my coffee for several extra minutes because the people trying to open the voting machine in my district had trouble reading the directions or something.  Every year I get to the polling station 15 minutes before the polls open to claim the title of first voter, only to wait a half hour because they can never get the machine open on time (you would think, given their track record, that they would get there a little earlier knowing it always takes them longer).  One year I had to vote by absentee ballot because they screwed up the machine so badly they had to call someone from Erie County to fix it.

The guy behind me was running for a local office.  He passed the time telling me why he should be elected.  I didn’t think that was legal within 100 feet of a polling station, so I didn’t vote for him figuring that if he didn’t learn the campaign regulations while he was campaigning, he probably wouldn’t learn the local laws while serving.

Coincidentally, the woman who was next in line is the sister-in-law of the guy he was campaigning against.  I don’t think she overheard the conversation but I wonder what might have happened had she done so.

All in all, an interesting end to yet another dismal period of whining and backstabbing.  I’m glad it’s over for a little while.  May our new leaders, whoever they may be, put forth creative and thoughtful new ways to help Western New York regain some prominence.



The True State of the State

November 6, 2007

Obese childrenToday’s Buffalo News carried a story about New York State’s overall health relative to the rest of the country:  we’re 26th out of 50 – the top of the lower half in health.

The good news is that we climbed up from 29th in 2006, and that our obesity rate is only 22.9 percent, lower than the national average of 25 percent.

That’s one-quarter of our population being medically obese.  As the report states, “This means, inevitably, that we will have significantly more people who will experience a cardiovascular disease, a stroke, diabetes or a cancer, as a result.”

Gee, I wonder who is going to bear the cost of all that increased care for those who cannot afford health insurance.

The U.S. health crisis has been ignored for a generation now.  If only diabetes were terrorists.

Doin’ the Hard Thing

November 5, 2007

St. Joseph’s Cathedral71-year-old Bishop Kmiec celebrated his 25th anniversary as a bishop this past Sunday at St. Joseph’s Cathedral.  There were protesters out in front of the church prior to the start of the service, and both the Mass and subsequent reception at the Adam’s Mark Hotel were only modestly attended, by maybe 400 people.  The church was maybe half-full.

Given the size of the banquet facility and the six carving stations that the hotel set up, I suspect that the number of invitees and expected turnout was much larger than what actually occurred.  I suspect that many people who were invited might have used this as a way to protest the spate of church closings that the bishop has implemented since he became Bishop of the Buffalo diocese, and showed their disdain by refusing to attend. 

But the good Bishop is merely being prudent.  He is tailoring the size of our diocese to reflect the local Catholic population and the availability of diocesan priests.  He is downsizing.  He is making hard – and unpopular – decisions in the harsh light of reality.

If only our politicians could do the same, but they have neither the foresight nor (apparently) the backbone to face the reality of a shrinking population center.  Government is not shrinking at all to reflect the size of our community.

I admire Bishop Kmiec for doing something very difficult.  I wish our current politicians could do the same.

Road Construction

November 1, 2007

Road Construction SignThis afternoon I got stuck on Genesee Street, at the very long (and still untimed) light marking the beginning of the Kensington Expressway.  Three guys were working on pouring concrete into a manhole.  One guy was standing in the manhole; it must have been shallow because he was in only up to his waist.  A second guy right next to the guy in the manhole was taking concrete out of a wheelbarrow, one shovelful at a time.  The third guy was sort of just standing there.  Every 30 seconds or so, the wheelbarrow guy would take out a small shovelful of concrete and hand the shovel to the manhole guy, who would then turn the shovel handle so the concrete would drop into the manhole in which he was standing.

They did this four times before the wheelbarrow was emptied.  So the wheelbarrow guy and the just standing there guy walked across the street to their truck, where the just standing there guy just stood there and watched the wheelbarrow guy take a Sakrete bag off the truck, open it and pour it into the wheelbarrow, in an apparent move to mix more concrete while giving the manhole guy a much needed break from all that shovel handle turning.

At this point the light turned green and I had to drive away.  The scene was so intriguing that for once I regretted that I wasn’t stuck on Genesee Street longer.

I now fully understand why the reconstruction of Genesee Street has taken four years and over $9 million to reconstruct just 3 miles of road.

The Great Leveler

November 1, 2007

Loma Prieta EarthquakeMy short residency on the West Coast immersed me in a culture that was dramatically different from what I grew up with in Western New York:  California has an entrepreneurial spirit that puts most of the rest of the country to shame; but in the area where I lived it also had a pretty shallow me-first attitude that was annoying to the point of disgust and was one of the key reasons why I decided to move back East.

But Northern California sure is beautiful, and aside from a few very hot, dry months the weather was pleasant most of the year.  You could plan an outdoor event six months in advance without worrying about possible inclement weather.  It rarely rained and never snowed.

All that beauty comes with a price tag that affects you immediately, and a price tag that affects you long-term.  Housing costs are an absolute killer and what we might consider substandard housing is the norm in many communities:  One or two-bedroom bungalow houses crammed on postage stamp lots sell for twice what you would pay for a four-bedroom newly-built in Clarence.

The long-term price tag is that ever-looming threat of earthquakes – the great leveler.  While most of my friends didn’t fret about losing their lives because of an earthquake, those homeowners that I knew were paranoid about losing their homes.  None of them had earthquake insurance for the same reason you don’t get flood insurance in New Orleans:  Cost.  None of them had a plan B – other than perhaps a government handout.  All of them lived for today, not an unpredictable future. 

I’m sure that yesterday’s magnitude 5.6 California quake was a vivid reminder to many residents in the San Jose area that they have built their lives on shaky ground.  I doubt that any of them would consider moving elsewhere because of it.

Living in an earthquake zone probably seems as irrational to me as living in a snowbelt does to them.