Songs in Odd Times

May 31, 2009


Regardless of what Wikipedia says about Radiohead’s Pyramid Song, it is cannot possibly be written in 4/4 time.  If you ignore the first three-and-a-half beats and meter eighth notes then the piano consistently plays in 11/8 while the first measure is 7/8.  Maybe Phil Selway is playing drums in 4/4; with all the syncopation I find it impossible to pick up and hold the beat when the percussion enters halfway into the song.  But listen to the piano and you get a sense for what plays out as consistent 11/8.

Pyramid Song is one of many Radiohead tunes using sophisticated rhythm patterns that are not for the faint of heart.  In the jazz scene there’s Dave Brubeck, who’s always good for one or two oddly-metered pieces per album.  It’s interesting how our minds resist rhythm that is not in 2 or 3 or 4.  I personally love the edginess that weird beat brings to music.

On Thursday, June 11th this radio station will dedicate 2 hours (starting at 2 pm) to rock songs not tied to our natural rhythms.  Should be a great listen, but probably not something you’ll consider dance music.

I Need Help

May 24, 2009

My closest friends will all tell me that admitting it is the first step.

But this is a different kind of help that I need.  I’m going to bicycle the 100 km Tour de Cure on June 6th; it’s to raise money for the American Diabetes Association, and I’m looking for inspiration to complete the ride. I am not diabetic, but I know lots of people who are.  Chances are you or someone close to you is suffering from and fighting this condition.

Your donations will help inspire me to keep going and ignore the butt pain I’m going to feel by the 50 km mark.

This is not an attempt to get you to empty your wallet; indeed, a few dollars from a lot of people will go a long way.  Donations can be made directly to the Tour de Cure through this link.

Thanks in advance.


The Innovation Center

May 21, 2009


I got a chance to tour the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Innovation Center – part of the former Trico complex – to see how progress is being made on turning the building into business and lab space for the fledgling Life Sciences industry in Western New York.

It looks, um, nice.  Inside it will be clean, bright and modern.  I only wish they would have gone for the “Thomas Edison” open laboratory look, but with various tenants doing super-secret bio-science stuff, walls are needed.  It is unclear what the exterior will eventually look like.  The only things apparent were the replacement windows and a bowed-out atrium.

The Innovation Center is a 100,000 square foot, 4-story add-on adjacent to the monstrous half-million square foot, 6-story Trico building that was essentially abandoned by the late Stephen McGarvey when he took ill, but not before he had the roof taken off.  Years of rainwater distributed Trico toxins throughout the building and the cost to clean up the mess means that the Innovation Center may be the only portion of the complex that is ever renovated.  So we’ll have a small, nice-looking building full of state-of-the-art laboratories servicing brilliant medical minds next door to a dilapidated poisoned edifice that is in such bad shape they’ve had to cordon off the sidewalk around it for fear of falling bricks.

Urban renewal comes slowly, in very small increments, to Buffalo.

Elephant Spokesmen

May 13, 2009

Elephant and Donkey

The most vocal talking heads of the Grand Old Party are Dick Cheney, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh????

That can’t be a very good way to grow the Republican base to a size that can take on the Democrats, and could be disastrous for the Republicans for many elections to come.  A silent Colin Powell and an Eric Cantor who seems afraid to use the word “Republican” might be more statesmanlike choices around which to circle the wagons, but they are either unwilling or unable to take those leadership reins away from the attack dogs.

Maybe Cheney, Limbaugh and Beck are actually liberal-leaning strategists who realize that an adversarial right-wing Republican line that eschews moderates will only expand the Democratic Party’s grip on government.  Maybe that’s the strategy.  It’s certainly one that I can at least rationalize; because when you’re the minority, ostracizing your own and potential party members does not seem to be a reasonable approach to winning more friends.

We are now living the results of almost 8 years of single party dominance.  It stands to reason that 8 more years of a single dominant party will not lead to the rational compromises required to strike the balance that defines good governance.  A single dominant party is also likely to hand even more power to the unelected party bosses; witness, with rare exception, Erie County and the city of Buffalo’s election choices.

Yesterday I participated in a webinar sponsored by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, in which Trent Lott was the guest speaker.  The webinar was supposed to be on the effects of the new stimulus package but it only superficially covered that topic, wandered into several others and generally did not stray very much out of the wading pool.  Former Senator Lott mentioned the Republican Party’s poor election showing and stated that the Party needed to have a clear voice on the issues of interest to the American people.

So I got to ask Trent Lott a very simple question:  What, in his opinion, is the clear voice that the Republican Party needs to vocalize?  He sidestepped the question entirely, choosing to answer with “The GOP needs to think about the words they choose”.

When virtually every American is decrying the economy, jobs and health care (note:  abortion and immigration aren”t even on the radar), it is clear that the Republican Party needs to put together a platform and a single voice that elevates those very issues, and needs to do so in a manner that is critical but constructive rather than adversarial to those in control.

1,000,000 Would-be Terrorists

May 8, 2009

The ACLU estimates that there are now over one million names on the nation’s terrorist watch list.  The Inspector General’s estimates are closer to 1.1 million identities.  Many names are duplicates and many are wrong with no systematic way of removing them.  35% of the domestic entries have no known link to terrorist activities.  Hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens were put on the list because they are from Iraq and Afghanistan. The watch list data is significantly peppered by inconsistencies in the way that names were added or not added (“nominated” in IG parlance) to the list.  New information regarding names on the list, either to bolster or eliminate suspicion, was mishandled two-thirds of the time.  The incredibly slow removal of names from the list is in directly violation of policy and has led to problems at border crossings and airport security lines, both in stopping ordinary people with no ties to terrorism from traveling while letting other suspicious individuals through.

I found this report startling for two very different reasons:

  • That any list of this size (and growing at upwards of 20,000 entries per month) could be considered useful to agencies trying to use it as a screening filter is absurd.  Anyone who works with large databases recognizes that data accuracy is paramount, and even small errors have great consequences.  An untrusted list is an ineffective list.
  • That this list could be grown so quickly to so many is about as Kafkaesque as it gets.

The terrorist watch list is a great example of what happens where paranoia is substituted for rational thought.  The creation of the list and the accumulation of names ranks right up there with the McCarthy communists and Nixon’s enemies. I look back with a historical perspective and am embarrassed by how our government ran itself at the height of the cold war and during the Watergate scandal; twenty years from now the Bush Administration’s creation of the terrorist watch list will end up on the list of historical embarrassments as well.

Gross Incompetence Can Be Tolerated for Only So Long

May 6, 2009


There’s a fight going on in the Holland Central School district.  It’s the same fight being waged in many schools in Erie County: Too many teachers.

The teachers’ union (with the support of some parents) is resisting attempts by the Holland school board – with the support of other parents – to increase student-teacher ratios, especially in those grades with declining enrollment.  How much decline is there?  Well, the K-12 population of the school is currently 1,258 (last year’s graduating class:  99).  Next year’s kindergarten enrollment is currently estimated to be…less than 50.  Yet there are 6 kindergarten teachers.  Do the math and it is clear that in at least one grade there are probably too many teachers.

In Holland, this is a big issue.  It’s not even a blip on the Buffalo Public Schools radar.  In a bloated administrative system with an entrenched, uncooperative teachers union, a sense of victimization, isolation and systemic underachievement at all levels, the prospects for even incremental improvement to Buffalo’s public education seem remote.  Certainly, the examples set by union/administration feuding do not lend themselves to motivating students; and really, in the long run motivation is what it’s all about:  Motivated students will learn under any circumstances.

Holland is one of the most rural towns in Erie County and will spend $13,000 per student and graduate nearly all of them.  Buffalo on the other hand, spends upwards of $24,000 per student and will graduate less than half.  Holland’s board and the teachers will eventually reach some compromise.  Phil Rumore and James Williams will not.

What a tragedy for this area.  Most small businesses cannot offer jobs to those with such limited skills and worse, with little or no motivation.  The same local businesses starve for prospects because there are not enough skilled workers to go around.  And big businesses looking to possibly expand into the region?  Well, an educational system ranked at the bottom of the state drives one more nail into that coffin.

Our community’s future is being pissed away by a collectively incompetent group of professionals (and I use that word sarcastically) who appear intent on cutting the throats of the community around them.  It has taken us 50 years to get here, and we are guaranteeing at least 20 more years of another uneducated lost generation.

I get tired of watching so much money being thrown down a sewer; and greatly saddened that my analogy seems so appropriate.

Not Riding the Bus

May 2, 2009


A couple weeks ago my wife and I were returning from an evening party at the Buffalo Convention Center to our car, parked in the Convention Parking Ramp one block away.  During that very brief walk we watched four NFTA buses go by.  There were two passengers, total.

Running a regional bus service like this does not appear to be very cost effective.  But with all the available surface parking in Buffalo, maybe there’s no other way.

I wonder if the decentralization of the bus system – doing away with the hub-and-spoke model that forces every bus to the central bus terminal, and replacing it with smaller, more localized shuttles – would make more sense.  It’s hard to believe that 50-person buses only filled to 2% capacity could ever be profitable.