Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A tale of two Chrises

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

For Erie County Executive Chris Collins, it's the worst of times. Hoping to become the first Erie County resident to run for governor in over 50 years, he can't seem to keep his foot out of his mouth long enough to say anything impressive to average voters.

Sure, he's polling well among the tea-baggers of the world, but that's like having someone who claims they saw Bigfoot be the only one to believe you. Hardly re-assuring. Heck, he's not even beating David Paterson in a recent poll. And I firmly believe Paterson would lose the governor's race to a bag of rocks.

While I would normally want to see someone from the area do well in statewide politics, Collins is an embarassment to Western New York and I can only hope that he stays home and duct tapes his mouth before the rest of the state starts to think the rest of us are anything like him.

First he compared Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – who's Jewish – to Hitler. Then he said it was a joke.

Then he allegedly offered his seat at the State of the State speech to a young woman in exchange for a lap dance. That, he says was a “private conversation that was completely and deliberately mischaracterized.”

I can only imagine what Collins will do for a third act.

As I said, I hope he stops talking before the rest of the state think we're all like that. And don't give me the whole 'but he's from Erie County. What do we care?' bit. You need to recognize that the rest of the state doesn't care that Erie and Niagara counties are different. Just like all your out of state friends assume you drive to Manhattan every weekend and can see the Statue of Liberty from your kitchen window. If Chris Collins runs for governor, he will be the face of Western New York.

Meanwhile, it's the best of times for another Chris from Erie County. Freshman Congressman Chris Lee is receiving accolades and making Western New York proud through his words and actions in Congress.

I'll be honest, Lee scared me at first. He was endorsed by his predecessor, Tom Reynolds, who I can only describe with words this paper won't print. Instead I'll use the words of a former listener. “Tom Reynolds is Dick Cheney without the warmth.”

Reynolds was the perfect example of what I don't want my kids to be when they grew up; cold, cruel, calculating and 100 percent partisan.

Lee has shown that he's no Tom Reynolds. And that's a good thing. He's also No Chris Collins.

The National Journal's Almanac of American Politics calls Lee a “rising star.” Politico refers to him as one of the “rookies of the year.” And Democrats and Republicans alike inside the beltway seem to say he's easy to work with. No one seems to say anything like that about Collins.

Last I had heard, Lee was still without an opponent in this year's mid-term elections – an astounding feat for a freshman congressman. While I typically hate seeing politicians go unopposed in elections, I can't currently think of any reason not to give Lee another two years in office.

If I were to advise the Democratic Party, I'd tell them to sit that race out and concentrate on other areas. Of course, if I were to advise the Democratic Party, I'd tell them to be Libertarians, so they probably wouldn't listen to me anyway.

In Western New York politics, it is the spring of hope. And the winter of despair. And I can only pray that hope comes out on top … and Collins fades quickly into the darkness.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chamber should mind their business

The news that County Manager Greg Lewis is packing his bags and leaving when his contract runs up in December is not particularly surprising. Nor is it particularly upsetting, to be honest.

I've dealt with Lewis dozens of times during his tenure as county manager, and while I think he's a decent guy personally and has had some great ideas, he basically became a puppet for the supermajority Republican caucus of the legislature, which rendered him impotent.

Strangely, when I first met Lewis, I asked him if he was afraid such a thing would happen. I'm not sure if I've got ESP or if I just know how things work around here.

New blood is needed and I think Lewis stepping aside will be good for him … as well as for Niagara County taxpayers.

It seems the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the county legislature to start the search process for Lewis' replacement now. Ten months might seem like a long time, but in politics, it's no time at all. After all, the political arena makes molasses look like lightning.

So for the record, I agree with the chamber. Mark that on your calendars. It doesn't happen often.

What I don't agree with is that the chamber should have anything to do with the selection process. See, chamber president and CEO Deanna Alterio-Brennen says the chamber is ready and willing to assist with the process of finding a new person to sit at the helm of county government.

The concept frightens me.

I've never been happy with the way the chamber of commerce here in Niagara County dabbles in politics. They always seem to have an opinion on everything … and usually I find that opinion to be wrong.

For example, three years ago, the chamber supported the tax breaks for AES, despite the fact that it would raise taxes for county residents – including the small businesses they claim to hold so near and dear.

They referred to this as “advocacy,” saying in the long run it may help businesses cause all businesses deserve a tax break … and why not start with the one paying the most taxes.

But when the smoking ban was being bandied about in Albany, the chamber was mum. Restaurateurs far and wide were saying that the ban would hurt business. Where was the advocacy then? My guess would be that restaurant owners didn't have the cash to pony up to get their opinion front and center – unlike the coal plant in Barker.

Basically, I'm saying that the chamber of commerce is much more interested in the chamber part of their name than the commerce part.

Now this isn't some east end versus west end turf war for me. I know a lot of business owners in eastern Niagara County felt put out when the two chambers merged and Dave Kinyon ended up tossed on his ear.

I should mention here that the official story is the Kinyon left of his own accord for greener pastures.

Anyway, point being, I had no love for the Eastern Niagara Chamber or Dave Kinyon. I attempted to use them as a resource on several occasions when writing for Greater Niagara Newspapers and found them to be – frankly – inept. Aside from the Apple Festival, I never really got what they did.

No, for me the issue isn't provincialism, it's politics. I just don't think the chamber should be involved. When they figure out how to grow business in Niagara County – which should be their primary role – I'll consider listening to their opinion on politics.

Of course, they'll say the politics is one of the biggest hindrances to business in the county and in order to bring business here, they have to change the political landscape. Well, they wouldn't actually say that out loud. They're too busy sucking up to the problem; the politicians themselves.

I'd say leave the political decision making to the legislature, but I don't really like that option either.

And it was tasty ...

So the new Jim's SteakOut opened yesterday in Lockport and - of course - I had to be one fo the first to try it.

It was very good. Better than expected to be honest. But there were a few mishaps. They screwed up part of our order and forgot the poutine, which would have been fine by me. I think that stuff looks nasty. But it was on the list, so we had to get it.

Rumor has it, they're going to try to stay open until 5 a.m. everyday. So that'll be nice for people like me who oftentimes forget to go to bed.

I'll be back. I assure you.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All the stuff I never needed to know, I learned in school

History is written by the winners, but that doesn't mean anyone will get to read it.

Such is the case in the state of Texas, where the Texas Board of Education is considering altering their history books to remove any reference to Cesar Chavez.

Cesar Chavez, if you don't know, is widely credited with many of the labor advancements of the 20th century, specifically on farms in the United States. His jacket hangs at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. And President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, a year after his death.

The Texas Board of Education, however, has decided that he is “inconsequential” to American history.

Chavez “lacks the stature…and contributions” and should not “be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation,” according to Gail Lowe, chairwoman of the board.

Now you may wonder why you should be concerned about the state of Texas removing a Mexican-American farmworker from their history books. Maybe you shouldn't, but maybe the thought of a state dictating a curriculum to their school districts should make you think.

Things aren't all that different here in New York, where the majority of school spending and decisions are made by some suits in Albany. Heck, ask any school board member, they'll tell you that a large portion of the decisions they make are actually pre-decided by state statute and funding rules. The annual budget you vote on? They only have control over a minuscule fraction of that. The rest, the state mandates.

Imagine, for a second, if the state of New York demanded that DeWitt Clinton be expunged from the history books. I mean, what'd he ever do? Well, expect for that whole canal thing?

Sure, maybe Clinton wasn't all that important to New York City (where he served as mayor prior to being governor), but he was pretty darn important to us folks here on the west end of the state. And frankly, he was pretty darn important to the country.

Personally, I'm somewhat offended by their being a state-wide school curriculum. What's important to North Tonawanda, for example, might not mean a hill of beans to North Syracuse. And vice versa. So why should some group of people in Albany get to decide what's taught in either of them?

My kids are constantly coming home with homework that I don't understand. Now, granted, I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but these are things that the majority of the world doesn't need to know. Have you ever found yourself walking down the street and suddenly needed to know that the co-tangent of something was? Me neither.

That doesn't prevent every child in every school from the Bronx to Buffalo from being forced to learn it. Temporarily at least.

I'm all for a well-rounded education, but does every kid in school really need to take physical education? If my memory serves me correct, the ones who participated the most were the same ones that didn't need the exercise. Not to mention, if they weren't at home trying to figure out co-tangents, they might be able to go outside and play, thereby burning the calories they're supposed to be burning in gym.

I'm pretty sure every child in New York State has to take multiple years of a foreign language to get a diploma. I'll be honest, my four years of Latin helped me a lot. Do you get much use out of your French or Spanish? Honestly?

Think of the countless hours spent teaching kids stuff they don't really need to know that could have been spent teaching them things like how to balance a check book, change a tire and find a job – things we all have to do eventually.

Of course, we're talking about government here. They can't balance a checkbook, got their job from their brother and have AAA change their flat tire, probably on your dime.

Sadly, it all makes sense.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Perceive This!

Perception's a funny thing.

The other day I was visiting a friend and the topic of politics came up – as it inevitably does when I'm involved. And she said she didn't want to talk about it. No. Nope. Nada. No politics.

“I know you hate Obama and I just don't want to talk about it,” she said … or something to that extent.

“I don't like any of them,” I reminded her.

This was no consolation and the topic of politics was quickly dropped. Although, if memory serves me correct, she started it.

Funny thing is, I don't hate Obama. I've yet to be impressed, but I have no hatred for the man. But this was my friend's perception. And for her that perception was reality.

I'm always intrigued when I run into someone and they assume they “know” me based on what they heard on the radio or what they've read in this column. They assume that since I'm anti-war that also means I'm anti-gun. Or that since I was not a George W. Bush fan that means I voted for John Kerry. Neither of those cases are true.

I get out a lot. I talk to a lot of people. I run into a lot of the same people over and over, but almost daily, I run into someone new. Someone that “knows” me who I've never met before. Of course, this puts me at a huge disadvantage. I don't even know their name and they think they've got me pegged.

There's a new show starting on CBS starring famous people pretending not to be themselves, called, “I get that a lot.” Apparently, people tell the stars they look just like themselves and the stars play it off. A preview I saw for it the other day showed Rachel Ray saying she found Rachel Ray “a bit too chipper.” It reminded me of a similar experience I had a few years ago.

A woman had come into Papa Leos in Lockport where I had been – and continue to – work part-time. I waited on her at the counter. She says to me, “you sound a lot like that guy on the radio.”

“I get that a lot,” I told her, deciding it might be fun to play with her, I rolled my eyes and say, “I hate that guy. He's a jerk.”

“Oh, I know. I agree,” she returns.

Um. Yeah. Where to go from there? I got her her food and wished her a good day, having a good laugh at my own expense as she left.

It was refreshing, though, to get an unvarnished view of yourself from someone else's perspective. Kind of like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral and finding out what Becky Thatcher really thinks of him.

Fortunately, I didn't have to pretend to be dead to do it. And I didn't fall from the rafters only to have Becky take it all back and beat me to a pulp.

See, I have my own perception, too. And my own perception of what people's perceptions are. I tend to think that most people think like the woman I met at Papa Leo's. (“I hate that guy. He's a jerk.”) So I'm often confounded at the plethora “attaboys” I get.

But please, feel free to continue to confound me with “attaboys” … and I'll work on changing the perception of my friends who think they can't talk politics with me.
I'm not that big of a jerk, after all.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sale fail.

I bought a bag anyway.
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