Thursday, January 30, 2014

Perception is everything in politics, life

I’ve said before that if President Barack Obama cured cancer there are some people who would find fault with it. It’s not just Obama, mind you. We all have our detractors.

If your worst enemy were crossing the street with a handful of packages and you offered to help, they’d probably turn you down. They’d later tell all their friends that you tried to rob them.

Now, I’m not saying that the president has a cure for cancer. Nor am I saying that you tried to rob your worst enemy. But Tuesday night, President Obama took to the podium to lay out some plans to move this country forward — at least that’s how Democrats saw it. Republicans heard a completely different speech.

“Unfortunately, President Obama did not talk about plans for economic growth, like fundamental tax reform, energy independence, or significant changes to ObamaCare,” said U.S. Congressman Chris Collins, R-Clarence. “We could immediately bolster our nation’s economy by changing ObamaCare’s definition of a full-time work week from 30 hours back to the traditional 40.  And we could repeal the medical device tax, which is hurting American manufactures. But we didn’t hear any of these solutions from the President. Instead, we heard more ‘big government knows best’ solutions that are paid for by borrowing more money from China.”

Compare that with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s press release: “President Obama presented a compelling plan of how to achieve real opportunity for all hard working Americans. There is no doubt, the state of our union will grow stronger when every middle class American has a fair shot to earn their way ahead in our economy, and the next generation is equipped with the skills they need to reach their full economic potential.”

So … were they at different speeches?

I have a feeling that, as is often the case, both press releases were written before the commencement of Tuesday’s State of the Union address and the send button was hit just as the president was saying “and God Bless the United States of America.”

I also have a feeling that Collins’ press release would have remained unchanged even if the president announced the cure for cancer. And Gillibrand’s would be the same even if President Obama revealed that he truly is the closet terrorist many on the far right seem to believe him to be.

Perception is everything in politics. And life. We are defined not by our own actions but by how others see those actions, sadly. In other words, you just can’t please all the people all the time. So when you’re doing whatever it is you do, building your legacy, do what you think is right, not what you want other people to think is right.

Scott Leffler didn’t watch the State of the Union. He was busy watching the Sabres get beaten by Alexander Ovechkin. He tweeted about it @scottleffler

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How 4/10th of a mile in a Timkey Cab cost me $8

Heather talks with Lockport Economic Development Director
Chuck Bell and his wife, Katie at Saturday's Niagara Wine & 
Beer Tasting Fest. This conversation lasted longer than the 
Timkey Limousine $16 cab ride to the Kenan Arena. 
I'm not usually one to publicly bash or berate local businesses. Today is different. And the business deserves it.

I'd been looking forward to the Niagara Wine & Beer Tasting Festival at the Kenan Center for weeks now. I bought our tickets early online. Planned out what to wear. And carefully constructed a timeline that would allow Heather and I to have as much alcohol in our allotted four hours as possible.

At $25 a ticket and a total of 23 wineries and breweries to sample, it was really a great deal. And I was pretty sure we were going to get legally intoxicated and then some. So ... we decided to do the responsible thing and take a cab.

Around 4 p.m., I called Timkey Limousine and asked for a cab to pick me up at my home at 5. The woman who answered the phone told me the best she could do for me was 5:30 or quarter to 6. There were a lot of people getting cab rides to the Kenan Center, she said.

Around 5:15, a driver pulls into my driveway and honks his horn. I went out and told him he was early. I said I was told 5:30 or quarter to 6 and had adjusted my schedule accordingly. He said he'd go get another route and come back to take us to the Kenan Center, which he did.

I give you this background to illustrate the fact that the cab company was both busy and accommodating.

Heather and I jumped into the cab en route to the Kenan Center and I told the driver that we had to make a slight detour on the way. I needed cash and the M&T bank on the corner of Pine and Genesee was practically on the way. By practically on the way, I mean it was a few blocks out of the way. In all, it added 4/10ths of a mile to our trip.

The driver warned me that it would cost me an extra $3, which seemed silly to me, but whatever. My $8 1.1-mile cab ride just became an $11 1.5-mile cab ride. Except that when we got to the bank, he informed me that the woman on the other end of the phone told him that it wasn't an extra $3. It was an extra $8. Because it wasn't a stop along the way, but rather a detour out of the way. In other words, it was a $16 1.5-mile cab ride. That's more than $1 per 10th of a mile.

Timkey Limousine charges $8 for anywhere in the city to anywhere else in the city. From the city to the town or vice versa, it's $9. So a trip from the Wastewater Treatment Plant on West Jackson Street to Skateland on Lincoln Avenue (5.8 miles) will cost you $8. But my mile and a half trip was $16 - $20 after the tip.

Now, should I have gone to the ATM and gotten cash earlier? I guess. Except ... no. It's complete bullshit. And someone has to call them on it.

I've known Bill Timkey for years. I've always thought him a decent human being. He's been very helpful for the city of Lockport over the years. But $8 for a 4/10th-mile "detour" is wrong. Next time, I'll find another cab company.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is Chris Christie's fall imminent?

We live in a nation filled with people who demand perfection — from everyone else. Count me among them. I want my food hot and my beer cold. And I want them both now. My internet better work all the time. And most importantly, I want my government run by compassionate geniuses.

Needless to say, my food isn’t always warm. My beer isn’t always cold. My internet is sometimes spotty and in government, I would settle for anyone who has a clue and a soul.

I thought Chris Christie was that guy.

The embattled governor of New Jersey has been my favorite politician for quite some time now. I found his candor and his courage refreshing. He said what he meant. He did what he said. He didn’t care if you liked him. He was the guy most guys wish they could be.

Today, though, I’m a little unsure about his alleged candor. Bridge-gate and Superstorm-Sandy-relief-funds-gate (doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it?) have me wondering. Maybe it’s blind faith, but I was willing to believe he had nothing to do with the “traffic study” performed at the George Washington Bridge. Sometimes political aides do things without their bosses’ knowledge. It happens. Once you add in the flap over storm recovery funds for Hoboken, it starts to paint a picture that really disturbs me.

I’ve never been fond of New Jersey. To me it’s always been a cesspool where people live only because the rent in New York is too high. Then it was home of the Sopranos, the TV show about a crime boss and his family. After that, it was most notable for Jersey Shore, a reality TV show based on a bunch of idiots doing stupid stuff.

But Chris Christie was above all that. He wasn’t polluted. He wasn’t a crime boss. And he wasn’t an idiot. I thought. Again, now I’m not so sure. And if I’m not sure, you can bet that there are other Christie supporters who are disillusioned, too.

In fact, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll published in Thursday’s Washington Post shows that his favorability rating has dropped below 50 percent for the first time since September 2012. Only a month ago, it was 65 percent.

The last politician I genuinely liked was Howard Dean, for many of the same reasons I like(d) Christie. Dean’s opinions were from his soul, not handed down to him by party bosses. He said what he thought and he did what he said. He was done in by a scream one night in January of 2004, after losing the Iowa caucus to eventual Democratic presidential nominee John (Milquetoast) Kerry.

If Dean can fall from grace over a scream, why wouldn’t Christie suffer the same consequences over a series of scandals?

What bothers me most is that without Chris Christie, I’m once again a man without a candidate — just like in 2012, 2008 and, after Dean’s demise, 2004. Heck, actually the last candidate that I believed in who had a chance of winning was Bill Clinton. Those were the days.

I never thought Chris Christie was perfect, mind you. I just thought he was better than what he appears to be now.

Scott Leffler demands perfection. Or at least hot food and cold beer, both of which he tweets about sometimes using his Twitter handle, @scottleffler.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sometimes I like to sleep

I know that a lot of people like to sleep a lot of the time. Some people, however, only like to sleep some of the time. I fall in the latter category.

I have a friend out of state who would probably make sleep a career if she could get sponsors. She genuinely gets excited about going to sleep.

Me? Not so much. I feel like the hours spent sleeping are completely wasted. I can't read. I can't watch TV. I can't work. I can't talk to people. I can't go shopping or have a beer. I can't do anything while I'm sleeping except ... well ... sleep.

As such, I don't devote much time to it. I get an average of 4-5 hours of sleep per night. Well, technically morning. I usually go to bed somewhere between 4 and 5 a.m. and wake up somewhere between 9 and 10 a.m. Occasionally, I go to sleep as early as 2 a.m. Once in a while I sleep as late as noon. A couple weeks ago, I actually slept until about 2:30 in the afternoon, but that's an anomaly - a very rare occurrence.

I understand that my body *needs* sleep. I just don't like it. That said, when it's time to sleep, it's time to sleep.

Being a "night owl" who doesn't get much sleep, my friends, family and colleagues all pretty much text and call whenever they damn well please. I don't have a problem with this. I'm probably awake anyway.

For example, I got a distressed text message from a friend of mine last night at 1:58 a.m. Wide awake, I responded at 1:59 a.m. and hopefully made her feel better than she did to start out the night. We chatted for a bit but she was tired. I told her to call me at any point in the night if she needed to talk. Had she called, I would have answered.

Based on the missed text message I got at 4:21 a.m., I'm assuming I fell asleep sometime between 3 and 4. That's early for me but not horribly out of character. The text message I got at 6:17 a.m., however, woke me up and resulted in a conversation that went on for about 38 minutes. It took me about another half an hour to an hour to fall back asleep.

It was the second night in a row that a text message woke me up. The night before it was at 3:51 a.m. Two hours and 14 minutes later that conversation ended and I went back to sleep.

I've always said that if a text message wakes me up, I probably wasn't really sleeping to begin with. And I like to be reachable. I have a lot of friends who are at a point in their life where they need an ear. I like to be there for them.

So if you need me, text me. Or call. But if you just read something funny on and you want to share it, I give you the chart below as to when I'm likely to be awake and when I'm not. Try to stick to when the likelihood of my being awake is 80 percent or higher, please.

Time ---- likelihood I'm awake
12 a.m. - 99 percent
1 a.m.   - 99 percent
2 a.m.   - 90 percent
3 a.m.   - 80 percent
4 a.m.   - 50 percent
5 a.m.   - 30 percent
6 a.m.   - 5 percent
7 a.m.   - 5 percent
8 a.m.   - 5 percent
9 a.m.   - 30 percent
10 a.m. - 80 percent
11 a.m. - 90 percent
12 p.m. - 99 percent
1 p.m.   - 99 percent
2 p.m.   - 99 percent
3 p.m.   - 100 percent
4 p.m.   - 100 percent
5 p.m.   - 100 percent
6 p.m.   - 100 percent
7 p.m.   - 100 percent
8 p.m.   - 100 percent
9 p.m.   - 100 percent
10 p.m. - 100 percent
11 p.m. - 99.99 percent

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Medical marijuana doesn't go far enough

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a lot of headlines with his State of the State Address. Different things stuck with different people, but the one that most caught my eye was the topic of medical marijuana.

The governor reached into the books to find a law from three decades ago that gave him the ability to — by executive decree — allow as many as 20 hospitals across the state to dispense marijuana to people with certain severe illnesses as an “experimental” research project.

I put “experimental” in quotes just because it’s funny.

According to Cuomo, people with cancer, glaucoma and possibly some other "life-threatening or sense-threatening" conditions could seek to get marijuana through studies based at hospitals yet to be named, with "stringent research protocols and eligibility requirements."

Cancer and glaucoma are specifically named. Other than that, it’s a crap shoot. What about all the other things that doctors and scientists have said medical marijuana could help with? What about multiple sclerosis, a subject near and dear to my heart? What about epilepsy, Tourette's, arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, migraines, nausea, eating disorders? What about anxiety or restlessness? What about people who just plain feel better when they smoke a joint?

New York has a reputation for being a wacky liberal state. We’re bluer than blue. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that gay marriage was recognized here. And we’re still trying to figure out legalizing medical marijuana when 19 other states (and the District of Columbia) already have it on the books. There are two states — Colorado and Washington — that have OK’d it just for pleasure.

How can we possibly be behind Colorado and Washington?

I want to applaud Gov. Cuomo for making a first step, assuming that’s really what he is trying to do. I’d like to think that a guy name Cuomo would have a radical liberal agenda to turn us all into pot-smoking, tree-hugging, gay-marrying hippies. But I doubt it.

Cuomo is getting his ducks in a row to decide whether to run for president. He’s thinking that if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, he might have a chance. But in order to have a chance, he can’t be the radical liberal that he probably really is.

To hear some people tell it, even allowing medical use of marijuana will send this country straight to chaos. It will lead to human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria. A majority of those same people probably think it’s always noon because that’s what their VCR tells them. And they’d also likely vote for Strom Thurmond for president — even though he died 10 years ago.

In other words, the opposition to legalized marijuana is fading. The governor should lead on the topic, not be dictated to by national polls, which I feel is the real basis for his current position.

Scott Leffler is not a pot-smoking, tree-hugging, gay-marrying hippie. He just thinks other people should be allowed to be. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Scoops turn ugly when they're wrong

A friend of mine texted me on Wednesday, frustrated by the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address had overrun her Twitter feed. More to the point, she was frustrated by all the journalist types trying to beat all the other journalist types to the punch with specific points of his address.

“I’ve noticed the reporters that tweet excessively seem to have less of a filter, report more emotionally than you see on TV, and sometimes in an effort to beat others to a scoop, are blasting erroneous info to the world,” she said to me. “This rant was brought to you by my exasperation over receiving too many (imho) tweets about the governor’s address today.”

I told her that Twitter has complicated the news industry. The immediacy of the news seems to be more important these days than the accuracy of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I want my news now, too. I use the Internet, and specifically Twitter, to keep up on breaking news items all the time. I only watched two Buffalo Bills game all season long. The others I “watched” via Twitter, checking in occasionally to see how the team was doing.

“I’m big on being right. But as a reporter, there is also a big focus on being first,” I told her. And then it hit me. Getting a scoop is still a really big deal. In the days before Twitter and Facebook and 24/7 websites, you either beat your competition in the next day’s print or you didn’t. Now us journalist types have to try to beat everyone online. Twitter. Facebook. Whatever.

And when you’re first — speaking as a journalist type here — there’s an incredible, almost undefinable sense of pride. I tried long and hard to think of a real-life comparison to share with non-journalist types. Failing miserably, I turned to the Internet to ask my Facebook friends, many of whom are journalist types themselves.

Below are some of what they consider to be comparable real-life situations:

• Walking down the street, minding your own business, and finding a $50 bill on the ground.
• Maybe a sports (pro or not) comparison: like being the teammate who makes the winning play in the championship game.
• Christmas morning when you open that gift you REALLY wanted.
• Perhaps landing a new job ... or a first kiss.
• Getting a date with a girl that you thought wouldn’t give you the time of day.

As you can see, those are pretty big deals. Scoops are the capital of journalism. They make our world go ‘round.

But if the scoop is wrong, what we’ve got is a counterfeit $50; making the winning play and then having it called back because of a foul; opening the gift you wanted and immediately dropping it, fracturing it into 1,000 pieces; landing the new job but failing the drug test … or kissing the girl and finding out she wasn’t a girl; getting a date with the girl, and getting stood up.

To exacerbate matters, incorrect scoops lead the public to mistrust journalist types generally. And then they assume you spent your whole life spending counterfeits and kissing transvestites.

So to my journalist friends who put speed ahead of accuracy: Stop it. You’re making us all look bad.

Scott Leffler is a journalist type who has never spent a counterfeit $50 bill or kissed a transvestite — to the best of his knowledge. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler and he’ll be sure to tell you immediately if he ever does.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Enough with the apocalypse already

As we transition to a new year — remember when writing checks, it’s 2014 … not 1996 — people are making (and breaking) New Year’s resolutions. They’re looking back on the previous year to think of what they should have done differently. They’re making lists of things they want to accomplish this year. And pundits are creating lists of things that need to go away.

Marist College Institute for Public Opinion determined that the phrase that most needs to go away in 2014 is “whatever.” I hate “whatever.” It’s basically a printable way of saying something that we can’t print. It’s a means to tell someone off without uttering one of the seven dirty words.

Also on the list were “like,” “you know,” and “just sayin’ “ I’m like guilty of all of those, you know? But I’m just sayin’. Also, I’d add “K” to that list. But that’s just me. Or maybe not. Who knows. Whatever.

A good friend of mine asked on her Facebook page on Tuesday what her friends wanted to most go away in 2014. Answers ranged from reality shows to the Kardashians to Twerking, Bit Strips (if you don’t know what they are, consider yourself lucky), and the Boston Red Sox. My contribution: “apocalyptic weather forecasts.”

Thursday afternoon Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statewide state of emergency because it’s January out — basically. The reasoning was/is that it’s cold and there’s snow. So it’s an emergency.

The TV news stations in Western New York took the “emergency" and ran with it. Pretty much every newscast began with “hide your wife, hide your kids and hide your husband. Cuz it’s snowin’ out here.”

I turn to the news as a trusted source of information. But in times like these, I feel like every local TV station is WOLF News. No, not FOX News, but they’re bad enough. Nope, this is WOLF News — as in “The boy who cried …”

One of these days we’re actually going to have a weather event. And no one is going to believe it because we’re inundated on such a regular basis with over-the-type hyper-sensitive “Oh my God, the world is going to end” reporting of basic weather.

News flash: It’s January! Bundle up and stay home. Or go out. Whatever. Like, just be safe and stuff, you know?

Scott Leffler is a trusted news journalist who doesn’t make mountains out of molehills. But occasionally does make mountains out of mashed potatoes because “this means something.” Follow him on Twitter or whatever @scottleffler.