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.

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What Jenny Sanford Should Have Said

June 25, 2009

Well, yet another politician whose brains are in his pants.

It is one thing to preach about the sanctity of marriage, wholly another to practice that sanctity.  My husband, like so many other politicians, lives in a world where egos are stroked at every turn and power is more addictive than cocaine.  He obviously felt that he needed more stroking than I could give him.  The sense of entitlement that comes with political office carried over into the rest of his life, and he failed to keep them separate.

I’m sure his biggest regret is getting caught.

If I were a bit less civil my first reaction would be to Bobbetize him.  Instead, for the sake of our children, I will try to work through this.  But you can bet that he’ll be cut off for a long, long time, maybe for good.  I may love him, but he’s a jerk and like so many other jerks, could not keep a commitment he promised to keep, twenty years ago.

Going forward, Mark’s words will be repeated in the press; but they are just words.  I and others will from now on be vigilant of his actions, and the effect that every one of those actions will have on regaining his trust.

That will take a long time, probably longer than one election cycle.  This is something you too should consider the next time you vote for governor.

Society tends to reflect the morals of its leaders.  Those who decry the loss of family values and the failures of society – especially those in office – should look no further than themselves as the starting point for re-establishment of those values.  This post is not really about Mark Sanford’s failure or the failures of those other high-ranking politicians – God knows they’re only human – it is about the failure of government to adhere to tough ethical standards that have teeth, that hold politicians accountable for immoral or unethical behavior.  Instead, we find ourselves all but disregarding any political rhetoric because the person behind that rhetoric has no credibility.  We are more likely to do as he does – and not do what he says.  We’ll follow our leaders all the way down that amoral pit.

This all leads to the fiasco that is New York State government, a government that has established new lows in ethics, where a political official currently under investigation for fraudulent campaign tactics is one heartbeat removed from the Governor’s mansion.  Whose Legislative Ethics Commission in its 20-year existence has never filed a notice of wrongdoing and whose findings are specifically exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Law.  Whose Senate is so beholden to the Party that not only can they not conduct the people’s business, they can’t even find cordiality in the same room.

Many of these politicians will be re-elected to office.  They are doing nothing that the majority of Americans have not come to expect of them.  The real failure of our society is our own unwillingness to hold these guys accountable for the very societal standards demanded of us.

It’s been interesting to watch the slow disintegration of my state government and the short-lived furor over national political figures who have strayed.  We’ve been on this slippery slope for a while, and we’ve got only a short distance to go, I hope, before it becomes so revolting that society revolts against the system.


R.I.P Dick Bob

March 7, 2009

dick-bobI’ve never been good with eulogies, especially for those dear to me.  At times of death I’m generally at a loss for words, not knowing how to convey my thoughts or bring comfort to those in grief.

This past week my colleague and friend Dick succumbed to his battle with cancer.  Anyone with more than 10 or 15 years in Buffalo’s manufacturing circles probably knew this guy.  He was a whirlwind of energy, not easily forgettable.

To the very end he insisted on coming to work – it was his passion – never complaining about the chemotherapy or the radiation, treating each day like all the others.  He did not bemoan his fate, but rather reveled in his life’s accomplishments.  He had many.

Two days before he went into hospice he was still calling clients, weak but alert.  Six days later his life ended.

I can only hope that I face my mortality as bravely as he faced his.


The Tenderest Moments

February 27, 2009

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The most touching moment of my life was looking into my fiancee’s eyes as she recited her wedding vows to me.  Witnessing the birth of our children were close seconds.  Those tenderest of moments embody humanity’s great beauty and are unforgettable.  They are as clear to me as the day they occurred; I have but a handful of them to cherish.

Last Saturday I walked a young woman down the aisle and gave her away to her husband-to-be.  This was an unexpected gift – one that a father of boys does not normally receive.  And looking into her eyes as we reached the altar, I realized that she had just added one more tender moment to my life.

Thanks, J.


30 Years Old

January 19, 2009

In Cheektowaga, what should one do to celebrate a 30-year-old’s January birthday at the office?

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Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men

December 26, 2008

traffic-stopOn Christmas Eve my friend the Foreign National got ticketed for rolling through a right-on-red.

He did not have his passport with him.

The cop immediately called the local Homeland Security office, who took him into custody and after a few hours decided he was not in the U.S. legally.  He thought that if they allowed him to get his visa, at his apartment, it would prove that the U.S. is his legal home.

It didn’t.  Homeland Security said they had never seen a visa like his, so they took him back to the holding center and held him for a few more hours before finally agreeing that it had all been a mistake and he was free to go.

Only they had his car towed in the interim.  All this on Christmas Eve.

So now my friend is $190 poorer with little recourse but to put up with the harassment of a U.S. agency beholden to no voter, an agency that if he attempted to sue, could (and might) retaliate against him.  An agency that puts guilt before innocence and whose paranoia makes those it touches paranoid.

Sometimes I hate what we’ve become.


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.