Friday, November 29, 2002

Don't confuse kids on voting ...

Remember kindergarten?

No, this isn't going to be another column with my life story in it. You don't need to go through that again. And neither do I.

But, do you?

I remember crayons and tying my shoes and all sorts of fun stuff.

I don't remember voting. I'm fairly certain I didn't vote.

My 5-year old daughter Emily, however, voted for the first time two weeks ago. The same day you and I went to the polls, Emily cast a ballot voting in three races — the governor, comptroller and attorney general races — and on three propositions.

Let me begin by saying how ├╝ber-cool it is that Emily got to vote.

The group that created, passed out and tallied the ballots — Kids Voting Western New York — said it's looking to increase voter participation in adults by inspiring people to start young.

It's a great idea and I applaud the dozen or so groups that fund the organization.

However, (you thought that was a happy column?) if you're going to do something, do it right.

The proposals that I mentioned should not have been voted upon by 5-year-olds like my daughter. They were designed for her, though, according to the ballot.

After her six questions, in fact, it said, "Grades K-2 Stop Here."

The first proposal was innocuous enough in my opinion — although I have heard some people complain about it: "Should the words 'under God' be eliminated from the Pledge of Allegiance?"

I can understand how to some children this will have meaning and they will give a resounding "no." Now, Emily didn't have good reasoning for this, but she too voted no.

The second proposal asked, "Should the New York State Education Department revise its high school graduation criteria?"

I asked Emily if she understood the question. She said she did.

"It means, 'Do you think the high school graduated?' " she told me.

Fair enough. I'm not sure I know what the question really means either, and I've covered five different school boards over the past 2 1/2 years.

The final question was my favorite: "Does the current method of funding offer all students the opportunity to meet New York State standards?"

Emily said yes.

I asked why.

"'Cause the high school kids are big," she said.


I asked her if she knew what funding was. She said no.

I asked her what New York State standards were.

"They're things that stand up on an island in New York," she answered, matter-of-factly.

If only that were true, Emily.

These kids will learn politics' stupidities soon enough. Questions about state education funding need not be posed to kindergartners. Not to mention, doesn't simply asking the question — especially at such a young age — poison their minds? I don't send Emily to school to be propagandized into believing that state leaders don't give enough for her education.

Also, I understand that the voting process was rather chaotic — almost Florida-esque with long lines and what have you — potentially turning off potential life-long voters before their prime.

Maybe next year, kids should vote in their classes?

On a side note, I had heard ahead of time that she would be voting, but she and I really didn't talk about who she would vote for. I didn't want her to vote for someone just because daddy did.

As it turns out, though, Emily voted for the same three people that her father did — Golisano for governor, Havesi for comptroller and Spitzer for attorney general.

I asked her why.

She said because she had heard her mother and I talking about them.

That made me realize A) that I'm not as quiet as I think I am, B) maybe she listens to me better than I give her credit for and C) the propaganda method the educators use actually works.

Emily also told me that many parents of the kids in her class didn't let their children vote because they didn't have time or didn't want to wait in line.

That's a shame.

Finally, I was going to further show Emily the true importance of voting by asking her which member of the family should make all the decision for the next month or something.

But I scrapped that plan in fear that she'd pick the dog — or worse, her mother.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

No room at the Inn

Last week I had the pleasure of running out to a County Legislature meeting.

The Union-Sun & Journal is (believe it or not) preparing for the 2003 political calendar and I had to bring some biographical questionnaires to three current members of the legislature — Erck, Cole and Meal — so I could get to know them a little better.

I thought the meeting started at 7 o'clock, so I headed over a few minutes before that to say 'Hi' and give them my questionnaires. Unfortunately it actually began a few minutes before I got there and there was a line to get into the legislature chambers.

When I say it was standing room only, I mean it in the most literal form of the word. There were about 20 people in the lobby looking in towards the meeting and about another dozen standing up inside the legislative chambers.

No one outside could really see what was happening inside, but thanks to the miracle of electronics, we could hear. No one inside could see how many people filled the lobby outside, but thanks to the miracle of politics, they wouldn't listen even if we spoke.

Fortunately, the county had provided a few seats for a handful of people to sit and listen to the meeting.

Now stay with me here:

There are six benches inside the legislature's room, each fitting about eight people — for a total of about 48 spectators. These people fit into about a 585 square foot area off the legislature floor.

Each person gets 12.2 square feet — or thereabouts.

And that doesn't include the people standing in the aisles.

Add them in and its less than 10 square feet per person — still leaving about 20 people outside in the lobby.

On the legislature floor, meanwhile, there sit 19 legislators at large desks. The area they occupy is about 1,638 feet. Accompanying them are a couple of lawyers, department heads and whathaveyou. Lets say there's 30 people in this space.

That means each person gets 54.6 square feet.

It seems pretty simple to me that maybe there should be a little more space for the constituency and less space for the legislature and their cronies.

They could add another row of booths and extend the gallery a little to make room for people.

The could put in some extra chairs on meeting nights to accompany the overflow.

Or they could just cut the legislature to 10 and give the people half of the legislature floor.

We are, after all, supposed to have all of it.

On the topic of the legislature, it seems to me that its time for the annual scare tactic. You know the one, tell people that unless every service ever invented gets cut to the bare bone, taxes are going to skyrocket by 20 percent.

Oh, it's only 16 percent this year? Thank God.

Here's my solution: You know that "doomsday scenario" they keep talking about? The one where every service ever invented gets cut to the bare bone? Do it.

Does that include cutting the number of legislators?

Please, can it?

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

I'm a jerk and you are, too

I am a selfish, uncaring ingrate.

I'm tactless, inconsiderate and generally unworthy of my daily oxygen intake.

By the way, you are too.

A little harsh, I know, but stick with me and you, too, will realize what a jerk you are. No offense.
The other day I read a story that reporter Joseph Kissel wrote about duck hunters in Wilson.

This gaggle of seven-or-so men sit out on the newly refurbished pier and pick off waterfowl as they try to fly by.

Many visitors to the pier say guns shouldn't occupy family settings.

But Jim Cyphert of Wilson said they're doing the community a favor, ensuring that it doesn't get overrun with ducks and geese. And they have every right in the world to be there.

Both sides say they just want what's "fair."

As a father, I feel compelled to cry foul (or fowl, rather).

If I were down at the pier with my family and guns started going off, I'd be peeved.

First, my little one would have a fit. She's only two years old — and a gun would scare the bejesus out of her. Second, I'd have to explain that they were shooting duckies. She loves duckies.

Not a situation I'd look forward to, I assure you that.

But, as I stated before, they're within their rights. The pier is federal property and federal laws permit duck hunting as long as shots are fired over 500 feet of open water.

Here's my dilemma and why I'm a cretin: I see both sides, and depending on which side I might be standing on, both sides could be right — or wrong.

I've never hunted. I don't have anything against it for those who do. More power to them, in fact. I just don't have the stomach for it.

But putting myself into a hunter's shoes, it comes down to a matter of rights. If I'm allowed by law to do something, then I should be free to do it without being hassled.

It isn't too far off from the problem I have with the city's political sign law. As an American citizen, I have first amendment rights which supersede the city's desire for tidiness.

But as our illustrious city treasurer pointed out, just cause I have the right doesn't mean that I have to clutter my front yard with political ramblings from candidates that are pretty much guaranteed to lose because I support them.

Anyway ... let's get back on topic here.

Rights and responsibilities should never be separated. Along with the right of free speech comes the responsibility to not be a jerk about it.

Just because this pack of seven-or-so hunters can legally hunt off the federally funded pier doesn't mean that they should.

The greater good is that of the higher number of people — the families that are visiting the area and the folks who live nearby who choose to not be waken up by gunshots.


Or do I only think that because that's the crowd I fit into?

As Americans we learn several things at a fairly young age: 1) America is good. 2) America is great. 3) As an American, your rights are more important than anyone else's rights.

Another illustration of this is the fact that I recently — about three months ago — quit smoking.

I was always the angry smoker because you non-smokers now had the whole restaurant and I had to go outside to satisfy my evil habit. You non-smokers didn't care much about my rights as a smoker.

But, whoa! What a different world it is now that I quit (after having smoked since before I was a teenager).

Smokers are smelly.

And rude.

I mean, why would they smoke right in front of me? Do I have a sign on that says, "I'd like to be subjected to stench and carcinogens?" I quit so I wouldn't have to be subjected to it.


Once again, whatever side of an issue that I stand upon is the correct side. The other side is dead wrong and basically evil for thinking otherwise.

Before you condemn me as being the tactless, inconsiderate schmuck that I said I was, look in a mirror.

Could you have written this column?

I'm guessing you could have. We all could have.

So the next time you rear end a stopped car on Transit Road, think about things from the perspective of the person whose car you just hit — instead of blaming him for stopping.

And don't forget to feel bad for the people who are now going to be late for work since you just gummed up traffic.

I might be in that line and you just ruined my day.


Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Just what do you mean, Mr. Mayor?

I was fortunate enough to have been able to take a much-needed vacation last week.

I preface this column with the vacation announcement to illustrate a point: While I normally am clued into all the inside information, I was just as out of the loop as our other 15,000-plus readers last week.

So I was utterly dismayed Wednesday when I read that Mayor Thomas Sullivan had endorsed incumbent Gov. George Pataki.

I mean, I had just illustrated last Tuesday the fact that Pataki needed a train and a campaign in order to find Lockport. I don't care how much of our money he "gave" us, he didn't deserve the mayor's endorsement.

And I stewed.

Just because Pataki was going to win, the mayor threw him the endorsement, I figured. "Staying in a good light with the governor makes good political sense, at least, but I can't believe that Sullivan would sell out his party like that," I thought to myself.

Don't confuse the issue, I'm not pro-McCall. Just anti-Pataki for reasons mentioned in previous columns.

Then I get my paper on Friday, in which I read a detailed story about how we thought that Sullivan had endorsed Pataki via the Associated Press via state Sen. George Maziarz via Tom Sullivan.

And in the end, the story explained, Sullivan hadn't endorsed Pataki at all.

"I was there to support the City of Lockport," Sullivan told our reporter David Winters on Thursday for the story that ran Friday. "I thanked him for all the support he's given Lockport."

I was very happy to hear that Sullivan had been misquoted, misunderstood, or whatever. I was upset, mind you, that we had given our readers incorrect information on Wednesday, but happy that Sullivan hadn't officially joined the dark side.

Now, support is an interesting word. Sullivan had told another Greater Niagara Newspapers reporter —Brian Bannister — last Tuesday that he was supporting, not endorsing, the governor.

A quick check of a couple dictionaries and a thesaurus or two will tell you that the two words are virtually interchangeable.

Sullivan, it appears, had decided to blame the US&J for the mistake and accuse us of shoddy reporting.

Winters tells me the mayor was downright steamed.

And after thinking about it for a while, I ended up downright steamed as well.

Sullivan and his "I didn't say that" administration have made a career out of denying things that they had said.

The problem seems rather clear to me, actually.

Clarity would come if Sullivan would pick a color.

Tom, it's either black or white.

I understand that as a politician you are trained to vary between grays. Dark gray. Light gray. Dover gray. Charcoal. Remember, this is the man who said that "persist" means "to start."

The predominant theory among many politicrats is that if you present the right shade of gray in the right angle to the right people, maybe some would see it as white and some would see it as black and everyone would be happy.

From an outside perspective, it looks like the mayor wanted the Democrats to believe that he didn't endorse Pataki, the Republicans to believe that he did and no one else would care.

To paraphrase, "You can't please all the people all the time."

But that's what the mayor wants to do. And when he doesn't, it's our fault.

Sorry Tom, it just doesn't work that way.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. And stop trying to play our readers for idiots.