Danielle in Nicaragua

July 3, 2009

Danielle is a family friend.  She’s in Nicaragua.  In a really rural, poor-as-dirt part of Nicaragua.  Danielle is in the Peace Corps.

Danielle graduated from college recently, and she could be doing just about anything a normal twenty-something would want to do.  She’s smart, extremely athletic, musically inclined, has a great personality and is vastly more beautiful than I could ever have been handsome.  She was one of New Hampshire’s top track athletes in high school, highly motivated and successful.  Yet all the things she’s been gifted with left her wanting for something else.

So she did what few of us would ever be willing to do; she left home and for the next two years is going to teach and farm in the lower-class region of a third-world country.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.

I write about Danielle because I want others to read about her.  She does not have it easy.   This is a huge transition and a greater learning experience for her than it is for those she is trying to help; and worse, she’s gone to a part of the world where the spiders are, like, the size of your hand.  She hates spiders.

She started a blog.  It’s called (surprise) Danielle in Nicaragua.  Her writing skills are not necessarily perfect but grammatically and phonetically close enough to get the point across.  What’s neat about her blog is its endearing nature.  It’s a quirky and fun read.  She only gets a chance to write maybe once a week at most – I believe she has to travel to some larger town that has a wi-fi connection – but her letters weave a story vastly different than the stuff we usually read and write about in the world we live in.  Her stories are about how most people on Earth live, not how we live.

Danielle in Nicaragua is worth a visit.  The embedded video above and the one below (which includes musical references to The Godfather and Radiohead) were taken and produced by one of her fellow Peace Corps volunteers; they are funny and educational.  Notice what they do with the few tools and materials they have to work with.

So read her blog and leave an encouragement or two in the comments section.  She’ll appreciate it.


Gross Incompetence Can Be Tolerated for Only So Long

May 6, 2009

failing-grades

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.


Strange Dreams

March 19, 2009

Why is this?

Sure didn’t seem like a dream while I was dreaming it.

And I dream this, regularly.


Jack Davis, UB Philanthropist

November 14, 2008

jack-davis

I write not to bury Davis, but to praise him.

Jack Davis was officially recognized for his $1.5 million donation to the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences this morning.  President John Simpson and Dean Harvey Stenger introduced Jack to the crowd, praised and thanked him, then turned the podium over to him.  Jack was genteel and gracious, and praised the university in return.

Then he put on his politician’s hat and gave us a lesson in trade imbalances and how that issue became square one of the current economic recession.  He also pleaded with us to jump on his bandwagon.

I think most of those in attendance were academics so this may have been the wrong crowd to preach policy to.  However, I’m glad to have gotten the opportunity to hear his impassioned speech, one that I’m sure he gave many times leading up to his defeat in the 26th district Democratic primary.  It didn’t quite seem appropriate but the crowd was politely receptive.  Frankly, if I were giving UB $1.5 million I’d expect them to applaud even if all I did was wear a rubber suit and walk backward.

He was not a jerk.  He was very cordial and polite.  I’d love to meet some of his employees and ask them how he is as a boss, to learn what Jack Davis is really like when he’s not out politicking.

Philanthropists labeled as irascible are still philanthropists.  Jack could easily turn his back on Western New York; yet he does not.  Kudos to him.


NYS-sanctioned Social Programs for Inmates

October 5, 2008

There was an article on this past Saturday’s Buffalo News opinion page describing the ways in which New York State is trying to reduce prison recidivism.  These programs, social and educational in nature, try to help inmates nearing parole to transition back into society without relapse.

Many of these parolees spend a long time without freedom as we know it; but they do get free room and board, and they make friends (we are, after all, social animals).  Many regain their freedom with no clue how to find a job, how to hold a job, how to reintegrate into a society that generally wants little to do with them anyway.  Many find that they have more friends (or their only friends) behind bars.  The stigma attached to them and the very limited opportunities work against many of them from day one on the outside.

Re-entry programs don’t always work but even a modest goal of reducing the rate at which parolees end up back in jail is something to shoot for.  It is more than a humanitarian gesture:  The cost to incarcerate someone in a state prison is currently $32,000 per year.  And each court case resulting in conviction costs an estimated $50,000.  Reduction of recidivism by just a few percent pays for these social programs many times over.

This is also the kind of program that will be on next year’s chopping block as New York looks to trim billions of dollars from the budget.  Penny-wise, pound foolish.


State of the University

September 24, 2008

UB’s President John Simpson told it like it was:  No punches pulled, no political rhetoric or bias.  He was plainly pissed at how the state of the State of New York has impacted the University at Buffalo.  The University is clearly going to be affected by its $20 million cut in state funding, helpless to generate compensating revenue because of bureaucratic laws enacted 50 years ago, and unchanged since.  Staff cuts are coming.

Simpson made a couple of profound points at this morning’s State of the University speech at Asbury Hall, one of them being not so subtle:  UB is not just the University at Buffalo.  It’s also the University of Buffalo and the University with Buffalo.  He is adamant about growing the Western New York economy by growing the University.  He basically asked the state to either help or to get out of the way.  He got lots of applause for that comment.

Simpson called the state short-sighted by cutting the higher-education budget, calling higher education not the problem, but the solution to New York’s economic woes.

If only the local politicians would get the message, but unless they were hiding I saw only two there:  Mayor Byron Brown and Senator Alphonse Thompson.  Brown’s typical political speech said nothing except that he is the mayor of Buffalo (about 3 times) and that the city of Buffalo is a great place.  Some shill in the front row started a round of applause every time the mayor finished two sentences, regardless of how un-profound his statements were (and they were un-profound).  Simpson got two standing ovations.  I thought he deserved the second one, if for no other reason than for calling a spade a spade.

Simpson’s speech can be read in its entirety here.


Campaigns 2

September 12, 2008

Some of the more interesting campaigns are the personal ones.  I’m particularly impressed with this person’s attempt to qualify Barack Obama in as few words as possible.

From just four words I believe I can characterize this individual as

  • Not interested in reading or research
  • Barely able to finish high school
  • A beer drinker who perfected the burp at 14
  • Set in his ways

During this Presidential runup I’m going to scour the Internet for campaign signs like this; it shouts volumes about our electorate.  And it’s fun, too.