October 31, 2008

The weather was warm and calm.  On this hallowed evening we had 120 various-sized trick-or-treaters show up.

That was a relatively low number.  I wonder if we counted wrong.


Ted Stevens Needs Your Vote

October 27, 2008

Upon today’s conviction by a jury of his peers, legendary Senator Ted “Internets” Stevens probably worsened his chances of being re-elected to the U.S. Senate.  He certainly can keep his campaign going to Voting day next week, since neither the Constitution nor Senate rules prevent a convicted felon from serving in the Senate.  There is one thing that Stevens can’t do, however.

He can’t vote for himself.  He can’t vote, period.  Maybe.

The State of Alaska prohibits convicted felons from registering to vote until after they have served their sentence, including probation.  At this moment he is a convicted felon.  Since Stevens is already registered, though, does this mean he can still vote?  I can’t find any Alaska precedent to answer this, but my guess is that if he were an ordinary citizen he would be stripped of his right to vote the moment the jury passed judgment.  Some astute reporter ought to get us an answer to this one before next Tuesday.

The Dismantling of St. Gerard Church

October 22, 2008

I have not heard much flak about last Saturday’s Buffalo News article regarding the possibility of moving St. Gerard church to Norcross, Georgia, brick by brick (then again, I was out of town all weekend).  Tim Tielman, of course, is against the removal of this historic building.  To Tim, every building built during Buffalo’s glory days is historic.  His solution to the vacant Catholic churches, many in desperate need of repair:  “Work a bit harder [about how to reuse them]”.

I’ve done a 180 in my opinion of Tielman and his Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, whom I originally respected as someone looking out for Buffalo’s heritage.  Now I just think he’s an obstructionist.  And reactionary, someone living entirely in the past.  And full of screeds but no real solutions.  An attention addict.

The Catholic Church, I would hope, is about the people and not the places.  Telling the Church to think harder about how to save empty buildings in a locale that has lost half its population is tantamount to telling them to spend money and resources where they least benefit the community they have dedicated their lives to serve.  Dereliction results to half the buildings in an area that needs half its building space.  We only have so many Ani DiFrancos and an incredible number of vacant churches – and other historic but decrepit buildings – and hardly any money anywhere to save even a fraction.  Tielman needs to get real.

The Catholic diocese may have a unique (and rare!) opportunity to see one of its buildings take on a new life, and I for one would love to see a piece of historic Buffalo in the Atlanta area.  The London Bridge is still the London Bridge, even if it spans an artificial water channel in Arizona.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to travel throughout the country and find Buffalo heritage everywhere?

Why is Gasoline so Expensive in Buffalo?

October 21, 2008

At the Buffalo Gas Prices website you’ll find this graph (or one very similar to it):

It is difficult to understand why, one year ago, Western New York gas prices were roughly 5 cents per gallon above the national average, yet today they are 47 cents above the national average.

If you’re from Buffalo, doesn’t this just stick in your craw?  I dug around trying to understand the price differentials and came up with a number of unsubstantiated answers, all speculative:

  • Supply and demand factors
  • Lack of local refineries
  • Distance from pipelines and refineries
  • State formulation requirements
  • State taxes
  • County taxes
  • Local greed

I thought that reformulation was an issue, as New York is one of those states that 1) must use reformulated gas to reduce pollution in its major urban center; 2) forbids use of MTBE, leaving only ethanol as the oxygenator of choice and potentially raising the cost of gas.  But that doesn’t explain why Western New York has the most expensive gasoline in New York State.  New York City prices (as of 10/20) averaged only $2.94 per gallon.  The Upstate average is $3.20 per gallon.  And here we are at $3.31 per gallon.  None of the factors above lead to a rationalization of the huge price differential that we’re paying at our end of the state.

Of course, there is one plausible explanation as to why the oil companies charge us more than in other areas:  Because they can.

And no amount of writing to my State Assemblyman will change that.

My Dinner with Newt

October 16, 2008

Newt Gingrich was the keynote speaker at last night’s BioMed Upstate conference hosted by the Foundation for Healthy Living.  The moderately well-attended (but overly long) conference focused on the barriers our state imposes on the Life Sciences economy and solutions to overcoming those barriers to accelerate growth in Life Sciences.

The sessions drifted off-topic to the various ways the New York stifles economic growth in general and to the great divide between Upstate and Downstate, to which the attendees agreed “Change is needed“.   As to what that meant and who should take responsibility for leading it, those answers were not so clear.  Not so clear at all.  And the conference was pretty dry – academic in nature, almost dispassionate really, and IMHO was very poorly attended by industry representatives who are ultimately the ones who create jobs and/or leave the state.  Numerous academics and government officials were in attendance, but the one group that could really make a difference was way under-represented.

Anyway, Newt was pretty interesting.  He made a point about how poorly the Federal Government doesn’t understand the difference between investment and expense.  He cited that the Baby Boomer generation alone will cost the U.S. $1.6 trillion in health care costs just for treatment of Alzheimer’s patients.  But if treatments could be found that delayed the onset of severe symptoms for just 5 years, the costs would drop $600 billion.  Then he challenged the audience:  If you could save $600 billion over the next 20 years, how much would you spend today?  Newt’s implication was that far too often the government won’t budget for that kind of savings – they won’t make the investment – because today it’s just an expense with no short-term benefit.

Conferences like these raise important questions but rarely do the spawn that passionate white knight who can lead the charge to a new way of thinking, and actually persist long enough to stimulate real change.  How do we convince our political leaders to reach beyond the policies of the past 50 years to something that bears future fruit?  At the conference, we were at a loss to answer that question.


October 14, 2008

There is something about the transition to autumn – the arboreal colorfest, cool nights, glistening frost in the morning sunrise – that thrills me to be living in an area that is witness to true seasonal change.

Yet as Fall sets in it’s even more of a pleasure to be graced by a week of extraordinarily warm, sunny and weather so beautiful that every scene is spectacular – with or without trees!

Soon the snow will be flying.  It will be beautiful then, too.

The Giant Saturnian Hexagon

October 13, 2008

Saturn has a hexagon on it.  A really big hexagon.  That’s pretty amazing for a planet that is mostly gas, a planet light enough that if it could be brought to earth, it would float in water.  So whatever it is it’s, like, hexagonal clouds, not something sticking out of a hard surface since there probably is no hard surface on Saturn.

What is this hexagon thing?  It’s at the planet’s north pole, and did I mention that it’s really big?  Clouds both inside and out seem to move around it without disturbing the hexagon.  In fact, the hexagon pretty much doesn’t move in relation to the clouds.  It rotates with the planet.

As an engineer and science nut I just hate when a reasonable explanation for some new observation isn’t available.  Atmospheric hexagons certainly haven’t been observed on Earth or elsewhere, just at Saturn’s north pole.  It is, so far, a one of a kind phenomenon that has scientists a bit puzzled, looking for some rationale to explain it.   Maybe Arthur C. Clarke was onto something when he wrote 2001, he just had the wrong planet.

In the meantime, a European satellite orbiting Venus is currently observing Earth, looking for signs of life.  So far it hasn’t detected any.