Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting into the season ...

This time of year I'm like a kid at – well – Christmas.

I'm not sure what it is, but it seems like as soon as I see Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, any concerns I have get wiped away while I bask in the warmth of the Christmas season.

It seemed like half the houses in my neighborhood had lights up the day after Thanksgiving. And almost everyone I know was out hustling and bustling trying to get the good deal on whatever at the stores holding sales Friday morning.

I had friends in town and the kids and I made paper snowflakes and hung them from the ceiling all around the house. I got peppermint flavored creamer for my coffee and suddenly, the egg nog is in season again.

I can't seem to help but to smile this time of year.

Yeah, it's colder than it was a month ago. You've got to turn your heat up. You may have to scrape your car off before heading to work. And there's a lot more traffic than there should be on Transit, the Boulevard, Military Road and Walden. But how can you not grin at the toddler with the gleam in his eyes entranced by the toy at the store that you know he's getting – even if he doesn't.

Of course, there are some kids that don't get the toy. And some people who can't afford the peppermint creamer. And even people who can afford to turn the heat up.

Fortunately, we seem to remember the needy more this time of year. And we make donations of food, clothes and even money to local charities more so than we would in, say, October.

In the Spring and Summer, I'm very interested in being out and about. Doing things with those I care about. Or even by myself. I want to see new things and try new things. This year I got to see and try many things that I hadn't done before. I consider the year to have been successful.
But by late November and early December, all I want to do is sit on the couch with my kids and watch one Christmas movie after another. Ones from when they were younger. Ones from when I was younger. And even ones from when you were younger.

The same goes for Christmas music. I almost couldn't wait to turn Christmas music on. I did though. Thursday night on my way into work, it was all Christmas music. And the look in my eyes was probably about the same as the toddler in the toy store.

There's something special about Christmas music. There's notes that can only be achieved when singing about the holidays. The same thing seems true for Christmas movies. Things take on more meaning.

This is an emotional time of year for me. Always has been. You might know me as “that jerk,” but when it comes to the holiday season, I forget to play that role and I get all mushy.

Maybe Christmas is just stressful for you. You have to work overtime and can't forget to get a gift for Aunt Betty. And the bills pile up. And driving is frustrating. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Let all that go and just bask in the glory of Christmas. Surround yourself with those you love and the rest will seem to take care of itself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flying is a privilege ...

Everyone seems to be up in arms over the new security regulations at our nation's airports.

Really, I think their arms are supposed to be straight out, aren't they?

I know that air travel can be frustrating. And the security rules that surround that travel only compounds that frustration.

I've felt silly on a number of occasions taking my shoes off flying out of JFK International. Thank goodness I thought ahead and wore good socks those days. Holey socks would be really embarrassing when your surrounded by the traveling elite.

But I've never complained about it. And neither should anyone else.

I'm all for civil liberties. I think random locker searches in our nation's high schools are a violation of the fourth amendment. And random traffic checkpoints are, too. Kids have to go to high school. And ground travel in nearly impossible to avoid. But your constitutional rights end at my front door. Or the property line for any private airport.

You don't have to fly anywhere. Ever. John Madden travels all over the country every year. And he never flies. Believe me, it's possible.

So if you choose to get onto an airplane from Buffalo to fly to sunny California - or even gloomy Cleveland – you have to play by the rules governing that airport. And the rules currently state that you may be randomly patted down or asked to go through a full-body scanner.

Those are the rules. Simple. Don't want to play by those rules? Then drive.

I have serious reservations about the “randomness” of those pat-down and scans, but I'm not interested in discussing profiling today.

I've heard people complain about the pat downs: “I don't want to get felt up in the airport.” I hate to tell you this, but odds are, no one wants to feel you up in the airport, either. Get over yourself.

I've heard people complain about the body scans: “You basically look naked.” Yes, you basically look naked. If you're gray and have no facial features when you're naked. Not to mention the fact that the person looking at you naked is locked in a windowless room and can't compare the naked gray image to the person walking through the scanner.

Let's not forget that this is for our own safety. Usually when government says something is for your own safety, what they really mean is they're playing Big Brother, telling you what to do to protect yourself. In this instance, they're trying to protect you from dangerous people. Or maybe protect innocent people from you – if you happen to be one of those dangerous people who wants to do others harm.

Some have suggested that tomorrow (the busiest travel day of the year) everyone opt out of the scanners and go through the pat-downs (you get to choose). This will, of course, will gum up the system and slow down the process. Which, of course, will only delay your flight. A better example of cutting off your nose to spite your face I have never seen.

I agree that the Transportation Security Agency should have no immunity and if someone “touches your junk,” they should be arrested.

But if they're just doing their job, you should simply be happy that you have the privilege (yes, I said privilege) of air travel.

Yes, another thing to be happy for this year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The questions that don't get asked ...

Sometimes questions that don't get asked are the ones that should.

I'm not sure how or why, but I was talking about politics with my oldest daughter on Sunday and she asked me, “what's the point of political parties?”

I attempted to explain it the best way I could, telling her it was sort of an indication to others of who your friends were. “It's kind of like football jerseys,” I said. “It's so you know who to throw the ball to.”

Except, that's a horrible explanation.

And the more I attempted to think of a metaphor for the reasoning for political parties, the more frustrated I got. Because, honestly, I just can't.

As the lame ducks in Congress convened in Washington yesterday, the Democrats pushed to get certain things done before the end of their session, knowing that come January when the Republicans take over, their ideals will be put on hold for at least two years.

Many political pundits are split over whether the Democrats will get anything meaningful accomplished in the next month and a half. Some think they'll ram some legislation through and others think they'll simply bicker, much like they have been doing for the last 22 months.

So here's a question that seldom gets asked aloud: Why do we have an election and then wait nearly two months to put the people we elected into office?

Sure there are some races that remain undecided. Votes need counted. And recounted. But for the most part, we know the winners and losers of the mid-term election. Ironically, the losers get a month and a half back at the controls.

In a manner of speaking, each election, we have a pre-planned revolution – a mutiny of sorts. And then we tell the captains we had just revolted against that they have six more weeks at the helm. Why don't we throw them out on their behinds immediately?

For some masochistic reason, I looked forward to watching the Bills game on Sunday. Every week the Bills frustrate me, and yet, I as hoping to watch the game. Unfortunately I couldn't because it was blacked out locally.

Football fans understand the blackout. If the game doesn't sell out, we don't get to watch it. Have you ever thought about the logic in that? If not enough people think the game is worth paying to watch, you don't get to watch it for free.

NFL: “Sorry, but your team is horrible. The only way you can watch them is to pay.”

Does that make sense to anyone?

Some questions, I guess, don't have good answers. And sometimes it takes a 13-year-old girl, a dysfunctional group of middle-aged white men, or a shoddy football team to make you realize that.

Be sure to read next week as we learn why we drive on a parkway, but park on a driveway. Plus, why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Railing on rails ... and more

This is one of those weeks where there's a lot going on in my head, but only one column to get it all out there. As such, I present to you a semi-random stream of consciousness.

I suppose I should say something about the election last week. It went exactly as I expected. Cuomo trounced Paladino. The Republicans crushed the Democrats in Congress. And I voted for two winners.

Okay, so I wasn't sure I'd vote for any winners, but sometimes you get lucky, right?

Although the thought of having another Cuomo in office frightens me, I was impressed by the governor-elect's acceptance speech. Let's hope he can really do some good because we're stuck with him for a while unless he ends up being "Client 10."

I'm looking forward to having a leiutenant governor from Western New York. Hopefully Robert Duffy can remind Cuomo that we exist occasionally.

I know Rochester isn't technically Western New York, but, come on. It is.

I like the city of Rochester. I don't go there as often as I'd like to. Maybe if we had a better transportation system, I would.

Maybe if we get some of the $1.2 billion in high-speed rail funding that Ohio and Wisconsin have opted out of, we can improve that transportation system and I can go to Rochester.

Last week, the governors-elect of those states said they didn't want the funding that had been planned to go to their states and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter offered to take it off their hands.

I've been a fan of the concept of high-speed rail since before it was a national discussion. Other places have it. Why can't we?

The thought of being able to hop a train and be to New York City in a few hours is quite compelling, don't you think? Our current train system takes approximately four years (only a slight exaggeration) to get from here to there. Seriously, though, it's faster to take a bus.
That just doesn't seem right.

I've seen the proposed map for high-speed rail. It goes from New York to Niagara Falls and then up to Toronto. This will make it easier for Jets fan to commute to Bills games and root against the "home team."

The Bills game on Sunday was disheartening. Of course, the loss was sad, but not unexpected. The bigger disappointment was the number of Bears fans in attendance. Or maybe they weren't Bears fans. Maybe they were just Bills detractors.

It seems like every game that's been played in Toronto has had just as many (if not more) people rooting against the Bills as rooting for them. To call it a home game is a joke.

Not that this year's Bills had much of a chance, but it is a little frustrating that every other team in the league has eight home games and eight away games. Ours, meanwhile, has seven home games and nine away games. It's like the 2005 Saints, except instead of a natural disaster forcing the team out, it's the economy.

Maybe Cuomo can fix the economy. If for no other reason than to stop the Bills from having to play in Toronto any more.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Happy election day. Now go vote. Or don't.

If you're reading today's column in hopes that I'll provide some advice or insight on voting today, then I have most certainly failed you.

If you know what you're voting for or against, then by all means head to the polls and cast your ballots. If you were waiting for my suggestions, do us all a favor and sit this one out. There are enough followers in the world. And there are far too many uninformed voters.

I know how I'm voting. And I know that most of the votes I cast will be for people who will not win their races. I'm okay with that. Voting isn't about siding with the winners. It's about siding with your conscience … your beliefs.

A vote for a candidate you believe in is never wasted, no matter how slim the odds of their election.

Tomorrow morning the newspapers and talk shows will be filled with people telling you what the results of todays election mean. They'll all be full of it. And likely full of themselves. Today's election is no more crucial than last years. Or next years. Today's election is the will of the people. As it is every year.

Lots of people have spent lots of money telling you that this election is the biggest thing since sliced bread … or peanut butter … depending on what they compare things to. You can listen to them and believe that the world is falling apart, or you can rest assured that no matter who wins today, the sun will rise tomorrow and we'll still have the same problems to deal with.

Sure, it may be true that the person you vote for is more capable of fixing those problems than the other person (or people) on the ballot. But in the long run, America will still be America, living on for our children … and our children’s children.

I will sleep easy tonight knowing that tomorrow is one day closer to the future … and the future holds wonderful things. The future will be cleaner, healthier and more prosperous. It will be ruled by intellect instead of fear. And compassion will win out over greed.

Today is just a hiccup. A rest stop on life's highway. A mere grain of sand in life's hourglass. No matter what happens today, we can fix it tomorrow. Or the tomorrow after that.

Many people will go to bed tonight in horror, knowing that the person they hoped would get elected lost. They'll write off the election process, saying it's a sham. They'll curse out their neighbors, saying they're ignorant for voting the way they did. They'll look into moving to Canada. Or France. Or whatever. They'll say their business can't survive in this environment and they'll have to put it up for sale.

Those people are wrong on many levels. Differences of opinions is one of the things that makes this great nation of ours so great in the first place. The ebb and flow of the direction of our country keep it on the straight and narrow – over the course of the trip. The political pendulum must swing. And swing, it will.

Maybe your vote will help it swing the way you want it to. Maybe your vote will prevent it from swinging too far. Or maybe you won't vote and you'll just watch as the pendulum swings.

No matter, tomorrow will come. And we'll all have to pick ourselves up by our boot straps and keep moving forward.

As long as we do that, the brand of politicians running the Capitol Building or the statehouse won't matter.