Archive | January, 2014

Things to Ask the New York State Thruway Authority (Update: Ray Walter Asked Some)

31 Jan

(Assemblyman Ray Walter posted this to Facebook on Thursday…

Transportation Budget Hearing today. Tweet or FB me your questions for DOT and Thruway and I’ll try to get them in.#Budget2014

…Here are the questions I “Facebooked”): 

1. Why do we need a Thruway Authority? In other words, why can’t the State DOT assume the duty to maintain the roads over which the Thruway has jurisdiction? 

2. Assuming there is a satisfactory answer to #1, why can’t the Thruway Authority automate toll collection? This would save money for the Authority, and lost productivity and time for motorists. 

3. How much does the Thruway Authority cost to operate every year as a separate entity, and how much of that is paid through tolls? 

4. Similar to #2, but even if not fully automated, what reason exists to employ actual human beings to act as a middleman between a ticket dispensing machine and a motorist? Is there some magical forcefield that prevents motorists from taking a ticket themselves? 

5. The toll barriers in Williamsville, Lackawanna, and at the PA border are inadequate for the amount of traffic they get during peak times in the summer. Will the TA institute a process to let motorists through toll-free during bad back-ups to alleviate traffic, and to prevent the poisoning of the air for nearby residents? 

6. The TA operates the I-190, which handles most Canadian traffic. Why are the only tourism offices located at the Angola and Clarence plazas? Why is there no rest area / tourism office serving Canadians arriving on the Q-L, Rainbow, and Peace Bridges to spend money in WNY? 

7. Also related to #2, EZ-Pass has the capability to collect tolls while traffic moves at highway speeds. Why is there no “EZ-Pass only” lane that lets vehicles go by at highway speeds at the major barriers in WNY? 

8. It is my understanding that the tolls at Williamsville cannot be expanded due to lack of space. There has been a big push by certain towns (especially Vill of W’Ville) to move the barrier (if one needs to exist) back to somewhere between Clarence and the Pembroke exit. Why hasn’t this happened? What is the hold-up? 

9. EZ-Pass transponders are operating throughout Manhattan. Why?

10. Is there any other system that might be implemented for the collection of tolls on the NYS Thruway that the TA has looked into? For instance, payment by mobile phone, payment of an annual, daily, or weekly pass to use the road, etc? 

11. Will the TA raise the speed limit on the Thruway in rural areas between Albany – PA Line to 75 MPH? 

12. The numbering scheme for exits on the Thruway is counterintuitive – many exits have been added and instead of re-numbering the system to accommodate them, the TA has just slapped an “A” at the end of the exit. Other states have implemented a system whereby the exit numbers correspond with the mile markers. When I wrote to the TA 10 yrs ago about this, they claimed that they couldn’t make this change because the road actually follows the I-87 and then the I-90, but this makes no sense. After all, the exit numbering scheme sequential along these two roadways, and the mile markers begin at 0 at the Deegan/Yonkers line and ascend along the I-87, continuing to the I-90. The Transit Road exit in Depew should be 415. 

That’s all I’ve got for now.

UPDATE: Assemblyman Walter got to ask some of them. Here’s what the Thruway guy said:

Help Us Obi-Wan Trumponi; You’re Our Only Hope!

31 Jan

Welcome to Buffalo, Mr. Trump!

I know you’ll enjoy your time at the Republican fundraiser at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens – its design sensibilities match your own. Not to mention there will be well-heeled Republican donors willing to shell out $100 – $500 to see and possibly meet you, as well as a ragtag group of not-so-well-heeled Republican activists demonstrating for your benefit outside in the parking lot. 

During the last few weeks, desperate New York Republicans have figuratively fellated you so sweetly and slowly, never breaking eye contact as they lovingly, sloppily caress your manhood. The official local party organ has given you a ton of sketchy massages with happy endings this week

It’s so wonderful to be so loved; to be feted and worshipped like a God. It’s like every western New York Republican is doing their best Princess Leia impression:  help us Obi-Wan Trumponi; you’re our only hope

I read with interest the local political reporter’s story about your 757 aircraft. I especially enjoyed the part where he transcribed a portion of the voice-over from a documentary about it. Reporting!

You are their God because you embody the ideal of Homo Republicanus. You’re wealthy beyond belief, and everything you do is done to excess. You’re on your second family, but at least you never kept it secret, unlike the last Republican to run for governor, who took to the radio this week to explain how much of a “family man” you are. How he arrived at that conclusion is a mystery. You detest Obama and gleefully call him an ineligible Communist. You can’t stand Andrew Cuomo and know you can defeat him, but you demand some sort of unity in the Republican Party as a prerequisite to running. This is clever, because a few county chairs and perhaps the state committee may oppose you, and this would give you an out. You’re a well-known brand, but because of your outspoken tea party politics, you’re not a particularly well-liked one. You hate the idea of people having access to affordable health insurance, your personal morality doesn’t match the party line, and you’re often combative and rude. 

But are we to believe that you’ll relinquish control of your companies to go to work in Albany, of all places? Let’s not forget that being governor isn’t some side gig you can do part of the day, and then traipse off to Manhattan to run an empire of tack. Politics is perfect for you, but if you win, you’d have to govern. The key to effective governing is compromise. Are you ready for that? I know you have experience cutting deals with business rivals, but can you translate that into policy? And what do you know of real people’s genuine problems? You don’t hear much from the 99% while ensconced in Trump Tower, or vacationing in Mar-a-Lago. Billionaire problems aren’t my problems, or most people’s. 

Also – that thing that Cuomo said about extremist right-wingers? You know that he was talking about right-wing politicians, not average people. You also know he was right about what extremist rightists believe; Paladino’s electoral outcome is something you might be able to surpass, but not enough to beat Andrew Cuomo. You are so far on the right-wing fringe with your politics that you’ll do great up here where the people aren’t. But downstate? Your politics suck and a great many people there already think you’re a bit of a nouveau-riche prat. 

Your visit to Buffalo tonight is the biggest speed dating event in WNY history. I think it’s great, because the disappointment will be so deep when you inevitably drop out because of work obligations, the fact that your lifestyle doesn’t need the headache of public scrutiny, or because you’ll have to disclose your financials and be expected to satisfy certain ethical obligations. 

Have fun at Salvatore’s! They have great steaks! 

Love, BP

AV Photo Daily

31 Jan

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Seven Hundred and Sixteen TeeVees #ForReal

30 Jan

(716) 1 theaterI’m disappointed that the (716) Bistro won’t have 40′ TV screens and is settling for 38-footers. Perhaps I’ll file a lawsuit to block the proposal. My favorite part of the reveal was this paragraph, which was in the Buffalo News

The restaurant’s walls will be decorated with graphics that tell the history of the numbers 7, 1 and 6 throughout the history of sports. Its bathrooms will feature mirrors that have TVs embedded within them. And, in addition to the 38-foot TV screen, there will be 55 more big-screen TVs throughout the restaurant.

Watching the embedded mirror TVs after taking a piss is all well and good, but what about during the piss itself? Can we expect supraurinal plasma screens? What about on the inside of the doors to individual stalls? Going number 2 can take minutes rather than seconds, and patrons can’t miss a minute of sports action! Will the hand dryers have TVs?

Who knew that Tully’s was a restaurant decor trend-setter? 

But seriously, I don’t have a problem at all with a big hotel/hockey/restaurant project across from the First Niagara Center and Canalside, and down the block from Helium. It’s high time that area became the city’s entertainment district, and as much as we can make fun of the acid-washed  dream that is (716), let’s be clear on one thing – HarborCenter is the Bass Pro project, (without the public cash). 

Although it won’t be selling waders, rods, reels, and shotguns, it is a large-scale, expensive destination project that will attract people year-round. The (716) restaurant isn’t going to be fine dining, nor is anyone pretending that it will. It will likely feature a wide panoply of the finest deep-fried dishes, making you wish you owned the exclusive Pitco Frialator distributorship for western New York. It’ll be an over-the-top mega-sports bar to which people will drive 30 minutes to ignore their friends and get drunk while watching – and screaming to – an endless bank of TVs, wearing $120 hockey jerseys, and hopefully not drive home. 

It might not be your cup of tea or mine, but what HarborCenter is doing is, on balance, a good thing for Buffalo.

State of the Union

30 Jan

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

AV Photo Daily

30 Jan

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Buffalo: A Sense of Place

30 Jan

(It’s a movie. Click the arrow). 

The #SOTU and Fun With Time Warner Cable

29 Jan

I watched the State of the Union last night but honestly didn’t stick with it all the way to the end. I heard President Obama identify a lot of problems and propose a bunch of solutions, but it’s doubtful that this year will be any better than the previous five, as far as “Washington gets things done” is concerned. Obama threatened to throw his weight around a bit rather than sit back and watch the House Republicans and tea party block, bully, and bullshit, but it doesn’t matter because they still think in their darkest hearts that the President is a “socialist dictator“. (What they really mean is that they have no idea what a “socialist dictator” is.) 

The state of the union is conflicted right now, and it’s because we don’t have a House of Commons anymore, but two Houses of Lords. We’re being led by the noses by a pack of wild millionaires and billionaires, few of whom know or care about real solutions to real problems. Of course, the so-called “tea party” is nothing more than the willing lumpenprole army for monied interests, so we can’t even get “tea party” right. 

What I did at the end of my day yesterday was give myself a raise of $110/month. 

Until yesterday, I had been paying Time Warner Cable almost $200 per month for two DVRs, digital channels, turbo high-speed internet, and HBO. On Facebook, Kevin Purdy wrote about his experience cutting his monthly expenses by, among other things, cutting out cable to its bare minimum. I called Time Warner and discussed with three reps during one call about reducing my monthly bill to under $100. You’d have thought I had called about partitioning Europe or drilling down the details of the Dayton Accords. 

As it was, I yesterday unceremoniously relinquished two DVR units with associated cords and remotes at the Time Warner office downtown. I have retained high-speed internet at about $60/month (it gets cheaper when you add bundles!), and channels 1-22 (which, given the digital signals the TV reads without a cable box, is not precisely accurate). No more 24-hour mind-numbing cable news. No more HBO. No more Travel Channel or Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars or Storage Wars. I have local channels and a decent internet signal. 

And with that, I pay Hulu Plus about $8.00/month and I pay Netflix another $8.00/month. I have access on Hulu to almost every basic cable show I enjoy (South Park, Daily Show, Colbert), back episodes of Family Guy and the like, and loads of British comedies and series, which I enjoy. 

With the PBS App on my Apple TV, I am well into season 3 of Sherlock, which WNED has put on hold until February. With Vevo the kids and I can watch actual music videos. With iTunes, I can buy or rent movies that the streaming services don’t have. But they have a lot. If I have a hankering for 24-hour news, Apple TV has Sky from the UK. If I need the Weather Channel, it’s on Apple TV. Hulu has Spongebob for the kids, and I’ve been binge-watching Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look on Netflix and Hulu, respectively. 

Channels “1-22” costs about $19/month. If I wanted some of basic cable, (channels 23 – 98) I’d need to rent a box and pay another $56/month. That’s ok. 

$110 in my pocket every month is well worth it.  Now, if only I could bump my unlimited family plan for 3 smartphones and 6 GB of data down from the $220/month it is now. 

AV Photo Daily

29 Jan

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Chris Collins Propaganda Call on Line 1

28 Jan

Maybe he just hates everything “common”

My Congressman was desperately interested in hearing my input about education and the Common Core standards that are slowly being transformed from an initiative to improve and enhance education and student expectations for the 21st century into a communard bete noir. Because Common Core was implemented during the Obama Presidency, Collins is automatically against it. Because many people are concerned about its testing protocols, Collins is interjecting himself into an issue about which he has never spoken before, and about which his ignorance is palpable.

Why was Common Core implemented? Because employers were concerned that High School students were unprepared for the job market – a pretty basic and fundamental issue

The initial motivation for the development of the Common Core State Standards was part of the American Diploma Project (ADP).

A report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” from 2004 found that both employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past. According to Achieve, Inc., “current high-school exit expectations fall well short of [employer and college] demands.” The report explains that the major problem currently facing the American school system is that high school graduates were not provided with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed in college and careers. “While students and their parents may still believe that the diploma reflects adequate preparation for the intellectual demands of adult life, in reality it falls far short of this common-sense goal.” The report continues that the diploma itself lost its value because graduates could not compete successfully beyond high school, and that the solution to this problem is a common set of rigorous standards.

Why implement it nationwide? So that a kid in Alabama meets the same standards as a kid in Vermont, and so that no kid is shortchanged. But to Chris Collins, this is communistic hogwash. Here’s the press release that followed the call: 

Jan 27, 2014 Press Release Thousands of district constituents participate in discussion about new educational standards

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) talked to parents about Common Core today as part of a district-wide telephone town hall meeting.  The new educational standards are currently being implemented in New York State.  Common Core is widely criticized for forcing students to learn skills necessary to perform well on tests as opposed to actually learning critical material. 

Thousands of NY-27 constituents participated in the town hall to learn more about Common Core and voice their concerns about how the new standards are impacting their children. 

“There are few issues as important to the future of our country as the education of our children,” said Congressman Collins.  “Unfortunately, in today’s world, too many of the decisions surrounding our children’s education are being made by government bureaucrats far removed from the classroom.  I believe strongly that parents, teachers and local school leaders know what is best for our children.  Common Core is a typical one-size-fits-all approach generated by big government bureaucrats.”

New York State adopted Common Core standards in 2010.  Across the country, 45 states have begun Common Core implementation, but recently ten states, including Massachusetts, have started to rethink or delay their participation over growing concerns from parents, educators and students themselves.  States were incentivized to participate in Common Core by the federal government through grant money available as part of the American Recovery and Restoration Act (federal stimulus). 

During the telephone town hall, parents voiced concerns about the student testing standards, mandated curriculum, and teacher/school evaluations tied to test results as dictated by Common Core.   Joining Collins for the town hall was Neal McCluskey, Associate Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom

“We should all want our children to be college or career ready following high school graduation and we should be willing to raise our standards to achieve that goal,” continued Collins.  “But Common Core is about churning out students as test takers, not inquisitive students excited about learning.

By forcing students to spend their K-12 years arduously focused on test talking, we will never develop our next generation of leaders, educators and entrepreneurs.  That is sad for our children and our country.”

Collins continued to urge parents and educators to raise awareness of Common Core and push for changes to its implementation, if not full repeal.  Parents with questions about Common Core are encouraged to contact Congressman Collins’ office.

Well there it is. It wasn’t so much to let parents vent concerns as much as it was an opportunity for some guy from a libertarian think tank to propagandize to a conservative constituency. Was there a principal from a school in the district on the call? Was there anyone there who wasn’t there to promote an agenda, but had actual practical experience to offer? Was there anyone there with an advanced teaching degree? This less than a year after the school district that covers Collins’ own home underwent a brutal and painful budget process last year – one that saw tons of young, dedicated educators unceremoniously fired and myriad programs cut. Chutzpah is the word. 

Who got to participate in the call? I’m not on Collins’ mailing list, despite having subscribed at least twice. So, yesterday, while my wife and I were at work, we got this call: 

http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/collinscall.mp3

Well, I wasn’t at home. I was at work working. Even though I knew about the call ahead of time, thanks to some local media reporting, I couldn’t participate because I was at work working on work so that I can bring home an income and, among other things, donate money to the school foundation set up to help fund programs that were cut last year. 

Common Core may be susceptible to demagoguery because it sounds ominous, is new, and because the state of New York’s implementation of its standards was as abrupt as it was inept. Tons of kids came home last year having been tested against standards that weren’t taught during the school year, and they got bad scores. But when I talked to my youngest’s school principal and teachers about the new standards, they were universally enthusiastic about it. The new standards will not only ensure that the right things are being taught, but they will have an ability to track how kids are doing in real time, and divert extra help where it’s needed. 

This isn’t about rolling back Common Core. This is about outlawing public education in this country. This is about codifying a fundamentally unfair, tiered education system whereby the poor and middle class receive vouchers enabling their kids to attend de-funded, decontented, tertiary quality schools; the upper middle class might be able to kick in extra for parochial or second-quality private schools; and the millionaire class can afford whatever they damn well please, and have their precious snowflakes’ private educations subsidized by the poor and middle class. It is the very definition of class warfare – by the wealthy against the not-wealthy. This is about the slow dismantling of every progressive goal this country has ever achieved – public K-12 education, social security, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Medicare – anything designed to help average people and the elderly enjoy life. This is a war being waged by millionaires and billionaires against you and me. 

It is a war against the American Dream itself. 

So, if people were hosting a genuine conversation about Common Core and its standards and implementation, that would be great. But that’s not what Collins was doing. He timed the “discussion” so that working parents could not participate. He did not advertise it nearly well enough. He did not have a balanced discussion, but instead propagandized with the help of libertarian school choice advocates (read: public school opponents).