Carl Foss (1927-2018): Remembrance of a True Community Ideal

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Communities are not defined by mere words and platitudes of the chattering class. Though they endure through the dedication of their residents, communities only attain lasting permanence through tangible structures. These include both physical and philosophical constructs people can rally around. They are forged by the grand ideas from the active minds of singular individuals. Carl Foss was one of those individuals. He thought big, achieved big, and left us all with a better community. He represents an ideal we should all strive for.

The following is a personal remembrance. As such, it reflects only my feelings, limited as they are, on the impact this great man had on his community.

I don’t remember the first time I met Carl Foss. I do remember his reputation preceded our actually meeting. It was the late 1980s. I was just getting involved in the Town of Mendon. Jack Leckie, then Town Supervisor, told me I should get to know Carl Foss. At the time, Carl was the Chairman of the Zoning Board. I had zero interest in Zoning, but I had heard Carl was quite knowledgeable about the subject – and he took it quite seriously.

Again, I don’t remember when I first met him, but I do remember I was immediately Continue Reading “Carl Foss (1927-2018): Remembrance of a True Community Ideal”

Old-Time Hockey Meets New Era Field

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In a stadium half filled with distinct Canadian accents, I overheard the following comment: “It doesn’t snow like this during football games.” Obviously, that visitor wasn’t present just a few weeks earlier for the Blizzard Game against the Colts (see “Live from the 2017 Buffalo Bills Snow Bowl,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, December 14, 2017).

This night, however, wasn’t a football game, it was a hockey game. And not just any regular hockey game, it was an outdoor game for the World Juniors Championship featuring the USA against Canada. Again, like the Blizzard Game, the snow didn’t start until we arrived at New Era Field. Also, the gusts weren’t as bad. This proved fortuitous, since, unlike our season tickets, our seats for this hockey game were located high in the upper deck. Without the whipping winds, the flakes fell in a soft flutter.

Soon, there were a lot of them. Big wonderful Charlie Brown snowflakes. Lake Erie’s finest. We could still see the rink, but the snow quickly covered the various logos surrounding the ice. The maintenance crew had supersize leaf blowers to remove the white stuff. No sooner had they made one pass, though, then the accumulating snow had buried the logos again. By the middle of the second period, they gave up.

The ice was another matter. Every eight minutes of playing time or so, the refs took advantage of a stop in play and sent the players to their respective benches. The plexiglass gate on the tunnel end of the field opened and in came a crew of a dozen toting supersized snow shovels. They also brought out wheel barrows and large garbage cans to collect the shoveled snow. That’s how fast (although, unlike the Blizzard Game, not furious) the snow was coming down.

There was another difference between this late afternoon/early evening and the Blizzard Game: the temperature. It was in the single digits, and I was wearing four layers (including socks, pants, and shirts). This quadri-tiered clothing kept me warm. So much so I nestled comfortably into my bench seat, recalling fondly my own days playing pond hockey.

Pond hockey. That’s true old-time hockey (you know the kind I’m talking about… Toe Blake, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore, those guys were the greats). Back then we’d have to trudge through a foot and a half of snow down a thin trail to a pond deep in the woods. Snow shovels were just as important as hockey sticks and skates. We didn’t have pads, but we wore thick clothing to keep the winter cold as far away from us as possible.

I remember this vividly. I wasn’t a good skater, so I usually played goalie – without a mask. After a couple stints, I learned newspapers made a great make-shift shin pads. And the added insulation kept my legs comfortable, too. See what I mean about old-time hockey? It was magic. It was fun. And it didn’t matter what the score was.

So, as I sat back in my seat at the football stadium turned hockey arena, I couldn’t help but think if the young icemen below ever experienced old-time hockey. Did they play pond hockey? Or were they consigned to travel teams since their pre-school days? Do they know the friction effect snow covered ice has on a puck? Or do they only know the slickness of a Zamboni smooth surface? Have they ever gone into the winter night shirtless and in shorts?

As the day turned into darkness and the white snow sparkled in reflection of the bright stadium lights against the night sky, the arena turned into a snow globe of winter wonder. That USA came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Canadian team in a post-overtime shoot-out only added to the fairy-tale atmosphere. Some may complain the elements skewed the results, but the snow slowed to a stop in the third period and neither team possessed any inherent advantage. Unless they grew up playing pond hockey.

I like hockey. I prefer outdoor hockey. And, in the ideal world, it’s always snowing when you’re playing hockey outside.

2017 in Review: The (non) Story of the Year

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There’s a common adage among skeptics the world over: “Who watches the watchdog?”

Decades ago I had the honor of serving on the HFL School District’s newly formed “Technology Committee.” This group was tasked with the job of trying to determine the best way to integrate the then new technology of personal computers (and related software) into the learning environment. We quickly saw one of the greatest advantages as the enhanced ability to conduct research from direct sources. Librarians saw this as an opportunity to free up rare shelf space by replacing printed (and quickly outdated) encyclopedias with their digital (and instantly undated) equivalent.

For every upside, however, there’s a glaring downside. In this case, it was the credibility of the source. Britannica curates its encyclopedia, so there’s reasonable assurance the facts it presents have been thoroughly checked. But what about the vast amounts of uncurated raw content spawning fast (even then) on this new thing called the “world wide web”? Who checks those facts.

As diligent adults trained in research integrity – no matter what our varied professional background – we understood this to be a potential problem. Back then, the decision among educators was to create a “white list” of acceptable mass media sources. This included the usual names of popular and well-known print, radio, and television companies.

Unfortunately, a dozen or so local folks with excellent insight and the best of intentions couldn’t stop the juggernaut that would become Facebook, Buzzfeed, and YouTube. It soon became quite evident that anyone could upload anything in a fast and furious fashion. And no one could control that process. Nor would they want to. This was the living example of the First Amendment and our Founding Fathers would have been proud to have had a hand in laying the foundation of such a free and open society. Everyone with a modem and a keyboard had a right to say whatever they wanted, just as two centuries ago everyone with a printing press, paper, and ink had a right to say what they wanted.

Only, today, there are more people, and more keyboards, and you don’t even need a modem like you did two decades ago.

That being said, just because we all understand and accept that no one in America can prevent another person from their free speech (no matter how obnoxious), we also understand we are not obligated to believe everything we read. In other words, “free speech” can never be curtailed, but “free listening” must act as our own personal and individual “curator.”

Which brings us to so-called “fake news.” The term itself is fake. There is no such thing as “fake news,” as anyone well-studied in the art of rhetoric can attest. Of late, blaming “fake news” for all the ills of the world has become a favorite parlor game. To counter such fake news, several states (by coincidence, all controlled by the same political party and, by further coincidence, all following the 2016 election) have begun efforts to mandate “media literacy.” They’ll soon no doubt discover the problem with such government intrusion, as Facebook infamously (and recently) did.

Immediately following the 2016 election (again, by coincidence), Facebook, standing accused as allowing itself to be an enabler of “Russian Collusion,” grandly announced it would create a plan to address its role in the spread of “fake news.” One news executive was quoted by another news organization as saying, “Facebook has been under fire for this fake news flap. They obviously needed to do something. A lot of these elements seem like they’re logical steps to kind of help with the fake news scourge,” (“Facebook unveils new plan to try to curb fake news,” CBS News, December 15, 2016). Facebook created a reporting system and brought on partners like ABC News to vet suspected fake news.

A year later, Facebook, its tail between its legs, scrapped the program (“Facebook fail: Social network scraps ‘disputed’ flags on ‘fake news’,” USA Today, December 21, 2017). It turns out, as any behavioral psychologist would have predicted, flagging “fake news,” rather than discouraging readers, only encouraged them. But this wasn’t the only problem with Facebook’s effort. The problem ran much deeper, and well beyond Facebook. The problem was with the White List itself.

It turns out, the news media no longer prides itself on “curating” the news. Instead, at the behest of the usual bean counters, and despite what professional journalists say (and even believe), what matters most are clicks, audience count, and Nielsen Ratings. And what’s the best way to gin up these numbers? Why using the same click-bait tactics employed by the much despised purveyors of fake news.

Worse, these former White Listers have not only shunned the concept of curation, they actively pursue the opposite – the purposeful creation of news. Call this the “Woodward-Bernstein Effect.” It seems (by coincidence since the 2016 election) every reporter and editor today wants the head of a president mounted above their fireplace mantel. This obsession drives their day-to-day research, every narrative they write, and all the stories they publish. It’s no longer about the news, its about pushing an agenda in search of a Pulitzer (see “Newsroom Pros Reveal Candid Truth About Media Bias,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, October 19, 2017).

I’m sure you see what I’m talking about (assuming you still partake of mass media news consumption). You see it every time the organization brags about its prowess in “investigative” reporting. While this is a laudable goal, it breaks down the moment the organization fails to curate and instead promotes an advocacy position. Then, as we have seen over the last year, you see only one point of view – and a lot of missed opportunities.

So, the biggest story of the year is the one that was never printed. All the King’s investigative reporters and all the King’s editors (and a special prosecutor) couldn’t uncover any real evidence of any sort of illegal collusion, despite a year of trying. Yet they’ve managed to write, publish, and broadcast an endless font of stories on the subject, including several notable ones that had to be almost immediately retracted. What stories did they fail to uncover in the process? Those are the stories of the year.

Live from the 2017 Buffalo Bills Snow Bowl

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Photo courtesy of Catarina Lena Carosa

Unless you grew up on the western shores of Lake Erie, it’s kinda hard to describe just exactly what “lake effect” conjures up in the brain. I was reminded of this last Friday, when I traveled once more to the land of my youth. I left merry old Mendon with nary a hint of the white stuff anywhere to be found. By the time I had arrive in Amherst ninety minutes later, the mushy roads were only then being plowed. In three hours – smack dab in the middle of the morning rush hour – a devilish lake effect band targeted the North Towns of Buffalo.

I was “lucky” enough to be there before the plows to witness first hand the blissful blessing of the new fallen snow. It was Christmas card perfect. Pristine and sparkly, with the look of a soft blanket, it almost took me back to those fuzzy days of yore, but then I Continue Reading “Live from the 2017 Buffalo Bills Snow Bowl”

‘tis the Season

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If the forecast is correct, there may be snow on the ground by the time you read this. Still, even if the dullish green grass and crumpled brown leaves remain, there’s no denying we’ve entered that special time of the year – the Christmas Season.

There. I said it. I said “Christmas” instead of “Xmas,” instead of “Holiday,” instead of “Winter.” instead of “Xmas.” I don’t say “Christmas” to ignore practicing Jews, who celebrate Hanukkah beginning on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev (which falls on Tuesday, December 12th this year) and lasts for 8 days (December 20th this year). I say “Merry Christmas” because that’s what my family celebrates (and has celebrated for generations). If my family had celebrated Hanukkah instead, I would be wishing everyone a “Happy Hanukkah” rather than a “Merry Christmas.”

Well, maybe I’d still say “Merry Christmas.”

Why? Because, despite efforts by Christian groups to deny this and by anti-religious Continue Reading “‘tis the Season”

Why I’m Thankful for The Sandlot

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Take a step out into the fall air. There’s a faint rustle in the stillness. Falling leaves flutter to the Earth’s floor. Their slow decomposition releases an arousing aroma. It’s the smell of autumn. It’s the smell of coming things. It’s the smell of football.

There comes a time in the late school day afternoon, when the homework is finished, that the smell beckons. When this siren calls, the boys come out.

Or at least they used to. There was once an age, well before organized youth sports, when neighborhood boys would regularly convene. Together, they would decide the game, the boundaries, and the rules. Then they’d play. Sometimes deep into the darkness. The score never mattered. The camaraderie did.Continue Reading “Why I’m Thankful for The Sandlot”

Are You an Instigator, a Skeptic, or Merely Somebody Else’s Tool?

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They say the world is made up of two types of people. They’re wrong. The world consists of three types of people, but two of those types get all the press.

Journalists like to frame issues in a binary fashion – one side against another. That’s simple. It’s black and white. It’s A versus B. Reporters don’t do this because they can’t handle the complexity of multiple opposing points of view. They structure their stories as a duel between competing interests because readers find those stories easiest to digest. The audience finds such pairings quite familiar. Literature is replete with examples: Ahab vs. Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty, and Bambi vs. Godzilla, to name a few.

It’s not just drama. Philosophy often has an attraction to complimentary combinations. We see this most markedly in the Taoist notion of “dualistic-monism” as expressed in the Continue Reading “Are You an Instigator, a Skeptic, or Merely Somebody Else’s Tool?”

If You’re Not Guilty, Don’t Act Like It

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In elementary school we walked a half mile each day to the bus stop at the top of the street. There were about twenty kids at that bus stop (this was during the peak baby boomer years, so it wasn’t unusual for one street to produce twenty elementary school kids). There were two sets of boys. The older boys and us (me, my brother Kenny, my best friend Angelo and his brother Markie). There was also this quite younger boy, Johnny, who desperately wanted to be like us (not the older boys, for even he realized that was too much a leap). We shunned him, as older kids are wont to do with younger kids, but we didn’t bully him like the older boys did to us (to see how I ultimately defeated these bullies – without any need for physical violence – see “Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, January 11, 1990). As a result, Continue Reading “If You’re Not Guilty, Don’t Act Like It”

A Bully Tactic: Give Them Something to Deny

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If you knew me in high school, you’d know I engaged in a never-ending battle against AP English. It’s ironic, then, that my most thoughtful memories of high school come from those very classes I disdained. This story begins with one of those memories.

I don’t remember the context, but I do remember the lesson. It may have been during our review and analysis of The Scarlett Letter, where guilt is a major theme. The teacher, Mr. Polito, wrote on the board the following phrase: “Give them something to deny.”

This bewildered most of the class. He then mentioned it as an allusion to a made-for-TV movie thinly disguised to mimic the events surrounding Watergate. With Washington DC as its political backdrop, the movie’s antagonist was asked repeatedly how to defeat an Continue Reading “A Bully Tactic: Give Them Something to Deny”

This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option

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If you haven’t heard by now, Amazon wants to build a second headquarters somewhere else, preferably in the USA. Many pundits believe, since it’s already on the West Coast (Seattle), it only makes sense to place the new headquarters somewhere in the eastern half of the nation. Forbes, on the other hand, believes the top five most likely cities are Atlanta, Austin, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Boston.

The good news is Rochester and Buffalo have finally realized they’re on the same team and, rather than each placing a competing bid as originally considered, will be joining together in one unified Greater Western New York bid. This is significant. Here’s why.Continue Reading “This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option”