Monday, August 29, 2011

The end of an era ...

I quit. Again. But for real this time. And forever.

I’d say I’ve done it before, but that goes against the entire notion of quitting. I mean, had I really quit, I wouldn’t have to quit again.

Actually, this is my third attempt at quitting this year. The first two failed miserably. This time seems somewhat promising. It’s been more than 36 hours since I had my last cigarette.

For the life of me, I have no idea why people smoke. It’s expensive, smelly and it’s bad for you. And yet, for the past four years or so, I’ve been lighting up to the tune of a pack a day. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.

That’s right, I’ve only smoked four years. Prior to that, there was a five-year hiatus in my nicotine addiction — or at least the active appeasement of that addiction.

In truth, I’ll always be an addict. That’s what makes staying away so important. As I already said, I had a five-year break from smoking. I went nearly 2,000 days without cigarettes. Not a single one. Because I know I’m not strong enough to have just one.

And when I did have “just one” four years ago, I ended up back to a pack a day.

I don’t want that to happen again, so I’m going to steer clear of the first one. It’s pretty hard to smoke a pack a day if you never light the first one.

Last time I quit, I used gum. Lots of it. Every time I wanted a cigarette, I would instead pop a piece of gum.

This time, I’m employing the use of an electronic cigarette. They aren't mean to be a stop-smoking device, but if it works, I win.

I write this column for a few reasons. First of all, I think my chances of quitting are better if I have “sponsors.” I hereby deputize you all. Second, I thought I might inspire others to quit, as well. It’s easier if we do it together. Third, if I attempt to bite your head off this week, you know why. And finally, I had to write about something.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

'Big Brother' school ID program should bother everyone

I have a love/hate relationship with school districts.�   I did when I was a student. I did when I was a reporter. I do as a father of two school-aged children. And I do as a taxpayer.

It seems like not a school year goes by without one school district or another angering me in some way. Fans of my former radio show may recall the problem I had with the “agendas” the kids had to carry around. Or the $100 calculator that every student has to buy.

Today’s issue is ugly. And scary. And is a much bigger deal than a $100 calculator that I can’t afford and my daughter will never use outside of that math class.

Last week, the Starpoint Central School District instituted a policy that will require any visitor to their buildings to present their state-issued identification, which the district will then scan for what they have determined to be pertinent information.

Some members of the community have found fault with this plan, saying it violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The district, however, retorts that all the information they’ll be gleaning from your driver’s license or other form of ID is just public information anyway, so … no harm, no foul.

This argument is nothing but a distant cousin of “If you don’t have anything to hide, why do you care if we search your belongings?”

I care if you search my belongings because they’re mine. And I care if you look at my “public record” because it’s mine. And I don’t think that just because I may have a reason to be in a Starpoint school, that gives the district the right to download my details into their system.

It’s not like people meander the school district’s halls without reason. When you get to most schools, you have to stop in the office and sign in. That seems somewhat reasonable to me. But stopping, signing in and handing over your traffic records seems unnecessary to me.

The district says the new provision is for the safety of its students. Forgive me, but I don’t see how it makes them any safer. Maybe someone could explain to me how it does. Until then, I have to say this is a very slippery slope that I don’t like.

Imagine if in the future, you have to scan your ID at any government building. Or to get into parks. Or at random intersections. How about at government-funded sports arenas? And your information could show up on the JumboTron for everyone to see. After all, it’s all public information, right?

Now, the folks from Starpoint might say I’m being overly dramatic and engaging in hyperbole. But I’d rather we stopped this whole issue of scanning your ID now, before it starts.

The members of the Starpoint Board of Education need to remember that they answer to the taxpayers — and not the other way around.

And people from outside the Starpoint district should not sit back and wait on this issue. If Starpoint gets their way on this, your school district will be next.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Did you know ...

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Home is family


I met a guy from Pittsburgh on a train a couple weeks ago.

We were both headed to Buffalo's inner harbor on the mostly-useless Metro Rail to see a concert.

I'm not even sure how the fact that he was from Pittsburgh came up, but it did. He had just moved from Pennsylvania to Buffalo a couple weeks prior. And he had already decided he hated it.

I have to assume he moved here for a job. Or a girl. Really that's the only two reasons to move from one area to another – money or love. And I really hoped it was for a girl since the jobs here are scarce enough as they are without people from Pittsburgh moving here to take them.

I was really irritated, though, that someone could move into our fair city and talk trash about it. We Western New Yorkers are aware of our shortcomings. We don't need someone from Pennsylvania pointing them out to us.

Being a Western New Yorker comes with it certain privileges, like the ability to complain about it. And, of course, we do plenty of it.

We spend a large portion of the year complaining about the weather and the snow, but when anyone outside of Buffalo mentions how much snow we get, they become public enemy number one.

Is this disingenuous of us? Or is it just the way things work?

I visited Pittsburgh a few years ago. I was mostly unimpressed. Pittsburgh is Buffalo. It's also Cleveland. It's any struggling northern town, really. Pittsburgh just wants to make it through to the end of the day so it can start over tomorrow in hopes of getting it right.

Really, that's how I view Western New York. We're a collection of people with certain commonalities … including the need to wear mittens four months out of the year … and the desire to just get through the day.

I had considered that maybe because of the similarities between Pittsburgh and Buffalo it's okay that the guy on the train complained. Then I dismissed that thought.

See, it's a family thing. Just as we are allowed to gripe about our own families, but would defend them vigorously to anyone not part of that family … I feel the same about Buffalo. If the guy on the train wanted to complain about his family, so be it, but he was trashing mine.

Maybe it would have irritated me less had he had less valid points. The truth hurts, though.

I've never lived in the City of Buffalo. But that's where I tell people from out of town I'm from. I used to say Niagara Falls, but my world view has grown, apparently. Of course, to anyone from Niagara County, I tell them I'm not from Niagara Falls. I'm from the Town of Niagara. And now I make it a point to tell people I live in the City of Tonawanda. Not N.T. And not the town.

Sure the City of Tonawanda has some flaws. But I'd never let someone from Amherst tell me what they are.

And I'd certainly never let someone from Pennsylvania tell me what Amherst's flaws are. Them's fightin' words.

Monday, August 08, 2011

A return to bread and circus


Some people like to know what's going on in the world. They watch the news, read newspapers and/or talk politics at their local watering hole. I fit into this category. As, mostly likely, do you, seeing as you're reading this column.

There's also a group of people who have no desire to know what's going on – aside from the results from their favorite talent competition TV show produced by Simon Cowell.

Some days I envy that second group of people. Ignorance is bliss, after all.

I read the news today, oh boy. And all did not seem right with the world.

Our bond rating's been downgraded, despite the fact that we reached a last minute deal on the nation's debt limit. Stocks are tumbling because of the bond rating reduction. The price of gold climbed to an all-time high. Eight dead in Ohio. Rampage in London. A helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. And there was a firefight at a funeral in Saudi Arabia.

It seems the world is so surreal at times. All these things can't be happening at once. This must be a trial run for a new song by R.E.M.: “It's really the end of the world this time, we mean it.”

And I'd like to say that I feel fine, but I don't. It's all downright scary.

Maybe you think I'm being over-dramatic about the whole situation. And who knows, maybe I am. But it doesn't seem good, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, back in TV land, the American Idol crowd goes about their life oblivious to the cares of the world. As I said, I'm jealous. I kind of wonder if these world events don't affect them.

If a tree falls in the forest and you're not there to see/hear it, who cares if it makes a sound? But this isn't a tree we're talking about. And we're not in the forest. This is the world economy, seemingly on the brink of crumbling.

It's not like you can ignore the world into being better, right?

Or … could you?

The biggest problems in this country are still economic. And the best way to improve the economy is for us to all spend money. But when times are tough, we hold off on spending money, saving it for a rainy day, which ironically, increases the likelihood of rain.

But if we just pretended everything was alright, and spent all our extra money on concert tickets and football jerseys, that would mean more jobs, which would mean more money, which would mean an improved economic outlook, right?

At least that's my understanding of the economy.

Maybe the Romans were onto something with their bread and circus after all.

Maybe the best thing you can do this weekend is order some takeout and then watch some football at the corner bar.

I'm not sure if it will work or not, but it sounds like it's worth trying. It beats watching the stock market collapse.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The highlights and pitfalls of free concerts in WNY

Western New York might have some deficiencies in the job section, but we have plenty of free entertainment … and we do it right.

I've been to more free concerts in the past few years than I could possibly count.

I've been to Artpark, LaFayette Square, the Buffalo Marina, the Ulrich City Center in Lockport, and the Gateway Marina in Tonawanda. And that's just this year.

This week, I plan on taking my daughters to see Tokyo Police Club in Buffalo and the B-52s in Lockport.
A couple weeks ago, George Clinton played Thursday in the Square. While I was unable to attend that show, I did see George Clinton play the square two years ago. Phenomenal show. Great friends. Great music. Great time. Aside from copious amounts of wacky tobacky wafting through downtown Buffalo, the show went off without incident.

Sunday George Clinton played a show in Ohio. Thousands were in attendance as Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic headlined the eighth annual Unity in the Park festival. But instead of unity, they got mayhem. In fact, one person died and three others were injured after a man fired shots into the crowd.

Buffalo. We might be poor, but we're not stupid and crazy. Could be an ad campaign.

Hey, it's beats “Buffalo, for real,” or whatever the new slogan is.

A couple weeks ago, the Lockport Police Department announced it would be cracking down on concert nights. Not inside the venue, but outside, where the city's teenagers have been congregating, listening to music and being the general annoyance that teenagers can be.

As the father of a teenager, I am fully qualified to make the preceding remark.

Of course, they might be a nuisance, but at least they're not shooting anyone.

And they're not driving home from the concert drunk, unlike apparently everyone who went to see Lynyrd Skynryrd at Artpark last Wednesday. The police scanner sounded like law enforcement had its work cut out for them.

Actually, the biggest problem Western New York has had with its concerts is the politics. And I heard something Friday night that made me absolutely cringe.

Sitting at the back of the venue that is the Ulrich City Center, I heard from the stage, “Don't forget to support Mayor Mike Tucker. Without him, these concerts wouldn't exist.”

While I actually know that that statement is true, it sounded bad and just plain tacky coming from the stage.

These are supposed to be fun nights out for the family. Something to do for those of us whose weekly highlights are the free concerts from bands that (for the most part) haven't made a new album in over a decade.

People like me. People like you.

We just want to listen to music and maybe run into some old friends. Not listen to political propaganda. Political propaganda has no place on a Friday night.

Of course, it beats gunshots.