Are We Losing Our Independence?

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A very good and kind friend of mine from New York City once came to visit. As we were sitting casually in the sun overlooking my front yard, he turns to me and says, “Chris, that open space is a terrible waste of good space. You should pave it for more parking, maybe put up a shed or two. You’ll get more use out of it.”

I tried to explain the fine nuance of local zoning laws, the joys of smelling freshly cut grass, and the pleasant soft coolness an expansive lawn offers, especially on hot summer days.

He would have none of these arguments. He saw only the sterile utility of the land, not the Continue Reading “Are We Losing Our Independence?”

How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part II)

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Previously: How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part I) |


You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the glaciers.

No, really. You might be somewhere, but you wouldn’t likely be here.

And you can thank the glaciers for that.

You can’t live in Western New York (in general) and our area (specifically) without recognizing the significance of the glaciers. Our neighborhoods contain the remnants of drumlins, kames, and other glacial debris. You see it in the eskers you walk upon in Mendon Ponds Park. You see it in the cobblestone houses that dot our landscape. In fact, you see it every day, only you probably don’t notice it.

As the once majestic Acadia range eroded into what is now the Greater Western New York region, it buried the marine flora and fauna, leaving the fossil record we see today. But it’s not as easy as that, for intervening events would bury these treasures deeper beneath the surface.

“An awful lot of this is later covered by sediments trapped by the glaciers,” says George McIntosh, Paleontologist, RMSC (Emeritus) who specializes in the geology and fossils of the Devonian Period. “The giant continental glaciers that came in here starting about 2 million years ago, or so. But there are some good exposures. People from all over the world – from China, Australia, Europe, and certainly people from North America – come to Western New York to study our fossils in our rocks. There’s good exposure obviously down at Letchworth and there’s good exposures in a variety of different places.”

The Grand Canyon of the East – Letchworth State Park – stands as a testament to the forces of nature that ultimately guide our lives. The gorge itself stands as a monument to nature’s relentless fury – not just the Genesee River’s role in eroding the various Devonian Period (remember that?) shales, sandstones and siltstones. It’s something bigger, something stronger, something with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!

“In this part of New York State, everything above the Devonian Period has been eroded from this part of the world by early rivers, but more recently by the glaciers during what we call the Pleistocene Period or the Pleistocene Era,” says Professor Richard Young (Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, SUNY@Geneseo). “And that’s divided into many sub-partitions when the ice advanced across this region, probably at least 10 times roughly every hundred thousand years. But the Pleistocene as it’s defined today is approximately 2.6 million years old.”

Much of the topography we see around us today emerged from beneath the retreating glaciers during the most recent Ice Age. It wasn’t a singular event, but a series of actions over tens of thousands of years.

“The last ice advance during the Pleistocene is called Wisconsin and the Wisconsin is divided into three parts, the early Wisconsin, the middle Wisconsin, and the late Wisconsin,” says Young. “What you see around you and the landscape was all formed pretty much during the late Wisconsin. That was when the ice advanced all the way down to Long Island approximately 25-30,000 years ago.”

Ultimately, two geological forces sculpted the land around us. The pure weight of the mile high ice crushed and depressed the entire landmass and smoothed the ridges. This caused Lake Iroquois – the larger predecessor of Lake Ontario – to empty into the Atlantic Ocean through the Mohawk River rather than the St. Lawrence River as it does today. It’s also why the northern topography of Western New York is much smoother than the jagged landscape of the Southern Tier.

At the same time, moving water chiseled into the earth and carried debris to create new landforms – moraines, eskers, drumlins, kettles, and kames. As the glacier melted its way back to Canada, it unveiled a new landscape, one which would reveal our fate.

“Approximately 16,900 years ago the glacier was in Dansville,” says Young. “Then it slowly retreated northward across the State for about 4,000 years. In the process it created a series of ridges that run east-west. Those regions are places where the ice temporarily was still – it was melting, at the same rate that it was advancing. So it dropped a lot of sand and gravel and there are roughly a dozen moraines between Pennsylvania and Lake Ontario.”

You may recognize some of these familiar features.

“One of the moraines runs through the University of Rochester and that’s called the Pinnacle Hills, where all those radio towers are,” says Young. “One of the more interesting features that formed, along with the moraines, is a whole series of other irregular land forms. We have small ponds which form where ice blocks melted. And we have piles of sand and gravel called kames. Kames are simply places where piles of sand and gravel were dumped more than elsewhere, so they stand above the local landscape. But the moraines are these long ridges and a fairly complex sequence of moraines, kames and kettles formed at the location known as Mendon Ponds.”

Not only do the glaciers reshape the earth, but they can also change the course of mighty rivers.

“The Genesee Valley is formed mostly by the Genesee River, but not only by the modern Genesee River,” says Young. “There was a series of rivers over the last 2 million years. And each time there was a glacier advancing from the north, that would be followed by a reformation of the River after the ice melted.”

“The present course of the River is very complicated,” continues Young. “There are old valleys, like the one at Dansville, and the one through Nunda from the south end of Letchworth Park and Portageville to Nunda. And the newest part of the River system is Letchworth Park, and that’s clear because it’s formed in bedrock.”

We can identify the newly established river paths by the lack of sediment on the ancient rock.

Young says, “The signature for young valleys in this part of the world is that they are formed in bedrock are the ones that formed after the last ice melted. The Genesee River formed a new course that it hadn’t occupied before entirely and that’s the one through Letchworth. Then it continued on past Geneseo and through to the area of Rochester.”

But that’s not the way it used to be.

“There’s also an older channel that is often discussed in the literature and that’s where the Genesee River turns to the east in the area of Rush and then flows north into what is today Irondequoit Bay,” says Young. “But that probably happened more than once, and each time the ice advanced, it made the valleys a little bit bigger or shaped them or carved them a little bit deeper so that some of them are actually below sea level, or at least the bedrock of the valley is below sea level. Since the last Ice Age roughly 13,000 years ago, the Genesee River has never flowed to Irondequoit Bay, although it did, in the long ago distant past and maybe more than once, but the present day channel is the one that formed as the ice retreated northward and the River ended up flowing through Rochester.”

How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part I)

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They bent the course of mighty rivers. They carved and scraped, forever leaving their imprint on the land we call home. But they did more than merely shape our local geography. They have guided us through the centuries.

And still do today.

The paths we take without thinking, the things we see every day, the very property upon which we build our homes, these all seem somewhat random events that accumulate over the course of our lives. But they, in fact, map the very destiny of our lives.

It supports our every move. It carries our weight without complaint. It provides the Continue Reading “How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part I)”

First Hamburger: The Top Ten Myths About Who Invented It

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Who Invented the first hamburger Top Ten MythsFor some reason (and probably a good one if you think about it), the powers that be have decreed May 28th as “National Hamburger Day.” This coincides nicely with the month of May either being “National Hamburger Month” and “National Burger Month,” depending on whose press release you read.

As a result, no doubt you’ve read, listened to, or watched something about the almighty burger at your favorite news outlet. The question you should ask (but won’t know to) is whether what you’re reading, hearing, or seeing is true. Unfortunately, in all likelihood, probably not.

To help set the record straight, here are the top ten myths about the origin of the first hamburger:Continue Reading “First Hamburger: The Top Ten Myths About Who Invented It”

School Elections Matter, Too

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The moonless night trembled with eerie silence. Still, the veteran warriors waited with resigned anticipation. The now 54-day old siege had worn upon them. Yet, they stood, along with their courageous emperor, willing to confront their ultimate fate.

That final assault began shortly after midnight on Tuesday, the 29th of May, 1453. It would prove to be the last day of an Empire that had existed – in one form or another – for more than 20 centuries. Wave after wave of Ottoman attackers charged with relentless regularity. The 150,000 invaders far outnumbered the 7,000 war-weary defenders of Constantinople – the last capital of the Roman Empire.

Amid the battles cries and the shouts, the screams and the barking of orders, the first Continue Reading “School Elections Matter, Too”

It’s Your Party And You Would Cry Too If It Happened To You. Don’t Let It Happen!

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Do you think you own your house? Better think again.

You almost lost it in this year’s New York State budget. You see, the state budget process is a very tricky – as in devious – tool. Unscrupulous politics have learned how to use it to enact legislation without even enacting it.

It’s an easy way to introduce controversial policies without the tediousness of actually having to vote on a specific law. Of course, those same conniving officials will quickly say, “Well, the budget IS voted on,” but that’s not the same thing as voting for a bill that only addresses the matter they’re trying to slip through via the budget process.

And about that process. You already know it only takes three people to craft the budget. It’s not an open forum. It’s a behind-closed-doors smoke-filled-meeting sort of thing. Just because we’ve changed governors doesn’t really change the process. Indeed, given the Continue Reading “It’s Your Party And You Would Cry Too If It Happened To You. Don’t Let It Happen!”

New York State Has A Serious Gerrymandering Problem – Here’s What To Do About It, But First…

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Original 1812 drawing of the Gerrymander by Elkanah Tisdale.

Marshall Pinckney Wilder was a popular humorist who travelled the world. A favorite of the British royal family, he wrote books, appeared in movies, and always signed his correspondence “Merrily yours.” He was born in Geneva in 1859 and grew up in Rochester, where he developed his talent as a storyteller (and also dabbled in clairvoyance, which was popular in Western New York during that era).

He was named after his great-uncle, a famed phytologist in Boston.

Well, not quite.

When the Bostonian botanist came into this world in 1798, his father gave him the name “Marshall Pinckney Gerry Wilder,” in honor of John Marshall, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Elbridge Gerry, the envoys to France appointed by President John Adams in 1797.

By the time he became a teenager, the name was shorted to “Marshall Pinckney Wilder.”

What happened to “Gerry”? Therein lies a tale of political intrigue and comeuppance that continues to this day.

More than a mere envoy, Elbridge Gerry stood out as a true Founding Father who eventually became the fifth Vice President of the United States. He signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He would have signed the United States Constitution, but he was one of three delegates who refused to do so on account it lacked a Bill of Rights.

So, what did he do? He became a congressman and, as such, spearheaded the effort to adopt the Bill of Rights (as the first ten amendments to the Constitution). Like George Washington, he opposed the idea of political parties.

Until France, that is.

You see, the three envoys were dispatched to iron out the Franco-American diplomatic breakdown that would come to be known as “the XYZ Affair.” Long story short, Gerry and his fellow Americans refused to bribe the French foreign minister Talleyrand. This was considered common practice in Europe, but, well, America was not Europe (especially at that time).

While Pinckney’s dad (and others) admired the envoys’ stand, the Federalists (who held the House, the Senate, and the Presidency) did not. They blamed the envoys for the failure to negotiate.

Up until then, Gerry had been staunchly non-partisan. After the Federalists vilification of him, he joined the Democratic-Republican party (the predecessor of our current Democrat party). He ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Massachusetts under that banner before finally being elected to the position in 1810.  He was reelected the following year after promoting a moderate if not bi-partisan course.

It was, however, in that second term where Gerry earned his infamous stripes. With the Democratic-Republican party in full control, Gerry showed his true partisan colors. He removed Federalist appointees from their State positions. But the worst was yet to come.

Although Massachusetts was evenly divided, the Democratic-Republicans used their power to apportion electoral district boundaries to make it more difficult for Federalists to regain the majority. The new districts they created were so contorted, Elkanah Tisdale, a well-known engraver, most likely was the person responsible for making a political cartoon lampooning the strange-shaped district. This first appeared in the March 26, 1812 Edition of the Boston Gazette.

We’ll let John Ward Dean tell the rest of the story (as he related it in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 46, published in 1892):

“Washington Allston, calling there with James Ogilvie, a lecturer on oratory, and noticing the figure, remarked to [Benjamin] Russell, the editor, ‘What an odd-looking creature is this! it looks like a Salamander.’ On which Ogilvie, quick as light, replies, ‘Why, let it be named Gerrymander, for the governor.’”

The Democratic-Republican plan, signed into law by Gerry, worked, but not for Gerry. He lost the next election. Though the Federalists had the most votes statewide, the Democratic-Republicans ended up with a three to one edge in the State Senate.

The vilified public pronounced their judgment by forcing Gerry out. He was assailed in the popular press. The May 23, 1812 Colombian Centinel (yes, they spelled it that way), quoting a Judge Story, wrote, “It would be well, however, if we could so ascertain beyond a doubt the real Father of this unnatural monster, that we might hold him up to everlasting scorn and contempt.”

Marshall Pinckney Gerry Wilder’s father took the measure one step further. According to Dean, who was quoting Wilder himself on this, “after the gerrymandering doings he lost his admiration and had the ‘Gerry’ struck out of his son’s name.”

By now, you’ve all read of our current state of Gerrymandering right here in New York State. It’s more than the usual tilting, it’s as egregious as Gerry’s was in 1812. We all know the motivations, but here’s how it hurts Monroe County especially.

Traditionally, Monroe County has had two Congressional districts. In recent years, this has meant we’ve been represented by both parties. That’s good because you never know which party will retain control of the House. By have two seats, one from each party, we’re guaranteed to have access to the majority.

If you listen to the experts, the Republicans are expected to gain control of the House following the mid-term elections. (This is a reasonable guess, given the number of Democrats who have decided not to seek reelection, the population shifting to “Red” states, and the usual party loss based on the White House incumbent.) As of now, Monroe County has only one seat (by comparison, Erie County has three) and it’s designed to be won by a Democrat.

Not good for Monroe County should the Republicans retake the house.

What’s the solution? There’s not a clear one. Basically, the majority rules, and the Democrats have a clear majority in the New York State legislature. They made a mockery of the independent bipartisan committee that was supposed to be responsible for redistricting, so you can see that’s not a viable option.

The fairest way to prevent gerrymandering is geometry-based rules. For example, every district must touch at least three other districts (two if the district is on a border) and at least two of those districts must not touch each other. In other words, each district must be a parallelogram (e.g., a square or a rectangular).

We don’t need a special commission, but we do need to prevent the redistricting abuse we’re seeing in our state.

Perhaps you should clip this column out and send it to an appropriate judge since there are now at least two cases challenging the New York State Gerrymander.

Brighton’s Council Rock Primary School Must Change Its Name Immediately!

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This is not the kind of column I like to write. Still, there’s an obligation as a journalist to sometimes cross a line your mother would not like to see you cross. Alas, this is one of those times.

Our story begins where most stories begin: at the confluence of two well-worn travel routes. No one knows the origin of these two intersecting paths. Most likely, they began as something equivalent to a deer run, a track blazed by animals as they wandered from one watering hole to another in search of food.

It was only a matter of time before man followed those beasts, hunting them down for Continue Reading “Brighton’s Council Rock Primary School Must Change Its Name Immediately!”

Just Say ‘No!’ To Drugs

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Marijuana - Photo by atroszko from FreeImages

On March 31, 2021, then Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). According to the official State website, “The legislation created a new Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) governed by a Cannabis Control Board to comprehensively regulate adult-use, medical, and hemp cannabis. The OCM will issue licenses and develop regulations outlining how and when businesses can participate in the new industry.”

What does this mean?

Well, there are several gears in motion here. The first pertains to private use by adults. Here, the State says “The Office of Cannabis Management needs to draft and issue regulations to implement the law before adult-use sales can begin. However, while there Continue Reading “Just Say ‘No!’ To Drugs”

Is Cattaraugus County Leading The Way To Greater Western New York Independence?

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Just because you may not have seen this in the news doesn’t mean it isn’t news. In fact, it could be big news.

Actually, it could be very big news, and it occurred just a month ago in the halls of the Cattaraugus County legislative chamber. What’s more amazing, and not really being reported, was how fast it all happened and the fact the origin didn’t start with an elected official, but with a group of concerned everyday citizens like you.

Cattaraugus County is located along the Southern Tier of the Greater Western New York region. It’s mostly rural with the largest city being Olean (the other “big” city is Salamanca, the birthplace of NFL legend Marv Hubbard, who played fullback for the Oakland Raiders). Cattaraugus County is also the home of St. Bonaventure University.

Known for its promotional nickname “Enchanted Mountains,” traveling through its picturesque hills full of never-ending green trees gives you a sense of what our region looked like to the pioneers who first settled Western New York shortly after the Revolutionary War. Seeing this unadorned beauty throughout our region, you can’t help but think Continue Reading “Is Cattaraugus County Leading The Way To Greater Western New York Independence?”