Monday, July 25, 2011

Memories are better when you share them

With New York's first gay marriage taking place just down the river from our house, how could the kids and I not go? Sure, it was at midnight and yeah, there were a lot of people and a throng of press-types. But this was history in the making. And even more importantly, my girls wanted to go see it happen.

So Saturday evening we piled into the car and headed to Luna Island to watch the state's first gay wedding, taking place at midnight between Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd.

The ceremony itself was somewhat short ... and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster had to slow down, improvise, wait for applause, and just plain pause just to make sure he didn't get "I now pronounce you legally married" out of his voicebox until after midnight.

And when he did, the crowd roared loudly.

Following the ceremony, the brides talked to the press and mingled with the crowd, many of them strangers to the women, self included. They were gracious and seemed thrilled with the response they received.

There was also a ceremony of hope that the nation's 44 states that don't recognize same-sex marriages would change their tune. My oldest was thrilled that she was one of 22 people who got to take part in that ceremony. It's something she'll never forget.

And really, that's what it's all about for me and my girls. We try to experience life in a way worth remembering. We try to live a life worth remembering.

Earlier Saturday, we had gone to Tonawanda Island and toured the Nina and Pinta. We added them to the other famous boats we'd toured before, including the Amistad and the Mayflower. We joked that all we needed was the Titanic and we'd have all the boats on our checklist.

There is actually a checklist. A bucket list, if you will. It includes the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Kentucky Derby. This weekend, I also added the 2012 Olympics in London to my checklist. I've never been abroad and what better reason to visit Europe than for the Olympics.

In the past few years, we've knocked some pretty major ones off our checklist, including the inauguration of President Barack Obama, which I took my oldest daughter to. I had decided before the election itself that I wanted to go to the inauguration, whether Obama had won or whether it was John McCain. I was particularly happy that Obama won because it meant my daughter wanted to come with me, making the memorable moment that much better. “We were there” is a much more meaningful statement than “I was there.”

We also attended Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, which I surprised the whole family with. My girls will remember that it was cold. But they'll certainly remember it. And I'll remember Punxsutawney, as well as Phil. But moreso, I'll remember being there with my family.

Life is more than about getting through it. It's about making memories with those you love. For me, that means doing things that are different … and doing them with my beautiful daughters.

I hope everyone has someone to make memories with.

Kitty and Cheryle do. And my daughters and I think that's awesome.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What the hell is a business day?

I recently opened up a new bank account at M&T. I'm planning a move in the not-too-distant future and I wanted a bank that would be where I'm moving to and here, as I do plan to visit often.

I've banked with Key for years and, for a bank, they don't suck. But they have no presence where I'm going, so they'll be useless there. And as long as I have to open a new bank account, I might as well do it now so that's one less thing I'll have to do when I move.

Anyway, I got my handy-dandy little paycheck on Friday and deposited it into my new account. I'm a man of little means, to be honest (sorry, ladies, no sugar daddy here), so I had little-to-no balance in my account when I deposited my check. This means, I needed the money from the check to do things like buy gas, groceries and whatnot.

As of yesterday, the check had still not cleared my bank. This is a payroll check, mind you. A check from a local, reputable company. And four days later, it still wasn't available to draw from. Of course, M&T pointed out that the check was from "out of state" and it was only two "business days."

1) When I write a check to pay a bill, it almost always goes out of state. And that shit clears they day they get it. Why doesn't it work the other way.

2) Seriously. Business days? The bank was open on Saturday. Why doesn't that count as a business day? I bought gas on Sunday ... deducted immediately. Obviously, they bank is capable of doing business on a Sunday. So. Seriously. WTF?

Does anyone even reference "business days" any more except for banks and the postal service, which, I might point out, conducts business seven days a week.

And can ANYONE explain to me a real legit reason it should take what has now been FIVE effing days for my payroll check to clear?

I asked if in the future, I could deposit the check as cash. They said only if I had the cash in the account to cover it. Ditto to cashing the check itself.

I used to wonder how some people dealt without using banks. I think I know now. It's actually easier.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Debt compromise needed

Fear is a great motivator. No one knows this better than politicians.

The fear mongering going on in the halls of Congress and the Sunday morning news shows these days is at its absolute peak over the debt limit crisis.

To understand some talk about it, if we don't raise our debt limit, we won't be able pay our bills and the United States may be repossessed by China or whoever it is we owe that $14.3 trillion to.

Listening to the other side, they say the American people have called them directly and begged them not to raise the debt ceiling, for fear of devolving into a socialist state, complete with our own Karl Marx.

Truth is, I've heard very few people discuss the debt ceiling. Maybe you have, but I doubt it. I'd imagine that most of us don't entirely understand it. I know I don't. I have to trust what I read and hear … while trying not to have nightmares about us becoming either the Socialist States of America or the People's Republic of America. I must say that it seems funny, either way we become a communist state. So capitalism lead to communism. Hmmph.

This great red scare that our nation's right wing seems to be promoting just seems laughable to me, quite honestly. I've heard so many people call President Obama a socialist over the past couple years. And all because it's drilled into their heads by the likes of Fox News, talk radio and rapid email alerts.

I have no concerns whatsoever about the president leading us down the trail to communism. No more than I think he's a secret Muslim born in Kenya. Sadly, maybe I should point out that I don't think he's a secret Muslim born in Kenya … since some people do.

Defaulting on our loans, however, that sounds like it has some serious consequences. I know if you go over your credit limit on your credit card … or fail to make a payment, they jack your interest rates up. I don't really want $14 trillion in debt with high interest. That sounds unmanageable.

Of course, to be honest, I don't really want $14 trillion in debt.

It seems to me that a compromise is needed. The debt ceiling must be raised. But the debt also needs to be lowered. Sustaining payments on $14 trillion in debt is just unsustainable. It means we owe $46,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

That can't stand.

I'd hope that our leaders would raise the debt ceiling while hammering out a plan to reduce long-term debt, so we don't have to have this conversation again next year.

And in the spirit of compromise, I think that everything should be on the table. That includes tax increases, military spending and Social Security. I bet most people my age don't really believe it's going to be there when we retire anyway.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gay capitalism, part II

As you've seen on these pages before, I have been all-too-happy to champion the acknowledgement of gay marriage in New York State.

This weekend, we ran two stories talking about gay marriage in Niagara County. One dealing with its effect in Niagara Falls and one dealing with its effect outside of the Cataract City.

It appears from those stories that the new nuptials will provide somewhat of an economic boon on the west end of Niagara County, while having little-to-no effect in the rest of the county.

I was happy to see city leaders in Niagara Falls push to make the most out of the new possibilities, something I advocated for in a previous column. There is money to be had here.

The thought of a mass gay marriage in the Falls gives me warm fuzzies. It's always nice to see your point of view validated.

The second story that ran, however, noted that not only is gay marriage not a big deal in the rest of the county, there are at least two businesses that say they will chose to not cater to gay couples in the businesses.
While I find this disappointing, after much reflection, I actually don't have a problem with it.

I'd like to make a disclaimer here that both of the business owners are people I know … and consider friends. But I think I'd feel the same no matter who they were.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think they're decisions are wrong. But they're their decisions to make, even though they're breaking the law.

I've said 1,000 times that I'm more interested in what's right than what's legal. And I have my own code of ethics. Frankly, there are a lot of bad laws out there. And although I don't think the acknowledgement of gay marriage is one of them, I can appreciate those who stand by their convictions in their belief that it is.

There are higher powers to answer to than the state of New York. And if some people feel those higher powers would want them to discriminate against gay couples then so be it.

Personally, I have more respect for someone who disagrees with me out of principle than someone who agrees with me and doesn't know why.

There will be some who will want to challenge non-compliant business owners in court. I, personally, think that's silly. Why would anyone want to give money to a place they're not wanted.

I have – from time to time – been known to make a few enemies. There are certain business owners, for example, that have made it all to clear to me that they'd prefer I stop talking altogether.

Well, considering money talks, I don't say a word to those businesses. I prefer to spend my money at places that more readily accept it. And that's exactly what gay couples will do.

The free market will take care of itself, allowing like-minded people to do business together. Nobody has to do business with someone they find distasteful and everyone thrives.

As I've said before, I don't think the state should be in the business of deciding who can get married. But I think it's perfectly acceptable for business owners to decide whose money they want to take.

Funny thing about that money, though. It's kind of the great equalizer. Most people will take anyone's.  

Some thoughts on Google+ (plus)

I tend to put great faith in Google. First of all, their motto is so simple; "Don't be evil." More people should have that motto. I can think of a couple in particular, but we won't go there today.

I use gMail, Google Voice, Chrome, Google maps, Google calendar, Google reader, Google Talk, Google Sync, YouTube, Picasa ... heck, I host my blog on Blogger - a Google property. So the thought of Google doing social media is somewhat arousing. But Google+ is not their first effort. Heck, it's not even their second. The last attempt at social media - Buzz - was pretty bad. Yes, Buzz will pick up this blog post ... and all my others ... but I never see any action there. It's pretty useless.

Google+, however, has a certain degree of promise. Google+ is more than a "new social media site." It's a new way of doing social media, taking everything Google already does and tweaking it with a social aspect. Most notable for me is their rolling of Picasa into the Google+ realm. I've used Picasa for years and almost all of my photos are there. And those that aren't there, I'm in the process of porting them over.

Side note on photos: Going through and tagging and uploading photos can bring back a lot of memories. It can be a roller coaster experience.

I like some of the ways Google+ is Facebooky. I like the photos and the status updates. I like the commenting. And the ability to share posts. I LOVE the ways it's NOT Facebooky: No Mafia Wars. No Farmville.

Facebook, of course, if king of social media. Everyone's there. I'm hoping that everyone gets to Google+, because as cool as Google+ is, if the rest of the world isn't there, it won't last.

It would seem to me as though Google is trying to do a few things with G+. They're trying to catalog the internet, something Facebook has been doing for the past couple years. And they're trying to reinvent your ID. They want it to be your email address .... or more to the point, your gMail address.

Scenario: You go to a party and meet someone. They tell you their name. You go home and look them up on Facebook by their name. I get the feeling that Google wants your gMail address to be your new universal identity. I'm not Scott Leffler. I'm "scott dot leffler at gmail dot com." Guess it's better than being a number. It's hardly coincidental that you pretty much need a gMail address to use any Google product.

The advent of Circles is pretty neat. I like the fact that I can post things aimed at certain people or groups of people. Maybe I want my friends to know that I had a bender ... but don't want work to know. Maybe I want my music friends to read a review on a local band, but I know my social media friends won't care.

I also love the fact that you can direct a post at only one person. And it will only be seen by that one person. Just type @ and then their name. As long as you don't share it with any of your circles or publicly, it'll just go to that person. And you can comment back and forth.

I like the "hangout" concept - which allows you to video chat with 10 people simultaneously. I haven't used it. But I like the possibility. For some reason video chat really hasn't caught on. I consider myself to be somewhat pioneering and I've only done video chat a handful of times. We'll see if that changes.

The biggest problems I see with Google+ is the lack of people there currently (although the people I thought would migrate there first have done so), and the lack of other things working with it. Examples would include FourSquare and GetGlue. I imagine that will change soon, although Google has "places," which is kind of a FourSquare competitor, so maybe they won't play nice, although, I doubt it. After all, *Google's motto* ...

The other issue I have is their failure to have a BlackBerry app up and running. I've noticed Google is slow to adapt to the BlackBerry, one of the primary reasons I never really bought into Buzz. This won't be an issue for me long, as I've decided to upgrade to an Android phone when I get the chance.

You can find me on Google+ by clicking here ... Be sure you add me to your "cool people" circle and not the "people my mom warned me about" circle.

Of course, I'm still on Facebook and Twitter ... for now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

American ... and proud of it!

It's hard to imagine, but we're more than half way through 2011.

Seems like each year goes by faster than the last. It also seems as though each year is more and more jam-packed with noteworthy items, both personally and in the grand scheme of things.

Like many red-blooded Americans, I've spent the last few days soaking up time with my family. Parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and plenty of good eats have made up my holiday weekend.

I know the founding fathers didn't pick July 4 as their day to tell King George off for convenience sake, but it sure seems to work out for us, doesn't it?

It's nice to have a few days where we put all of our partisanship and bickering aside and just be American. No politics. Just national pride.

Of course, this weekly column thrives on politics. The past couple columns have been quite political — to some. And they've generated a great deal of response. Some of that response has been favorable. Much has been contrary. I appreciate both, quite frankly.

I'm not one of those guys who believes America needs to apologize to the world for looking out for our own best interest. But I'm also not one of those guys who believes that we do no wrong. We may be the best, but that doesn't mean we don't have room to improve.

I can't help but wonder, as I chow down on hot dogs and hamburgers and watch the rockets' red glare, whether the founding fathers would be proud of our accomplishments or aghast at the bumps we have hit in the road.

I'm inclined to think they may be a bit of both.

Keep in mind, their desire to form a more perfect union had bumps of its own. And although we look back 235 years and are in awe at what they did back then, which makes it possible for us to do all that we can do now, remember that they were human beings just like us. As perfect as we are ... which is to say that they weren't.

I'd like to think that each generation of Americans is freer than the last. I'd like to think that each generation of Americans has more opportunities than the last. I'd also like to think that I could fly and travel in time. It's simply not true.

There will be setbacks from time to time. There will be occasions where we look around and say to ourselves, "This isn't how it's supposed to happen."

That's normal. Natural. Ebb and flow.

As long as we recover from those setbacks and always remember to get back to building that more perfect union, we'll continue to thrive. We'll continue to be the best nation in the history of everything.

If you took time out this weekend to pay homage to those who have lost all so you could have all that you have, that's great. If you simply enjoyed the time with your friends and family, that's perfectly OK, too. After all, that's the reason that those who came before us did what they did. So you could live the life you wanted.

We've still got a lot of 2011 before us. Enjoy it. And remember you only get to enjoy it once. So do so to the fullest.

Friday, July 01, 2011

More gay hate mail. (Yay!)

I got the following tonight in response to this week's column:

Go ahead and gloat,with 41 states defining marriage as one man and one woman,my gloating feels much better.Science will fix all naturally occurring abnormalities one day anyway.German researchers found that in stutterers brains,the signaling fights between which side of the brain to travel down.In normal people the signals go down one side.The stuttering abnormality will be fixed on day,just like the homosexuality abnormality.

I hope they find the gene that fixes the writer's inability to put spaces after punctuation marks.