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A Natural wonder for Buffalo

   When "The Natural" hit Western New York in 1983, it was the kind of thing the region had never seen before ... and hasn't seen since.

   Some of the people involved in the shooting were at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival's retrospective screening Monday night, but the film involved hundreds, possibly even thousands, of Western New Yorkers.

   The  question remains to this day: Do we love the "The Natural" because it was a great film, a great baseball flick ... or because we  were in the third row behind the fireworks dropping on the field after the big home run?

   What do you recall about the making of "The Natural?"

Some shocking stats on teens and sex

   The first time I read about the study that says one-quarter of America's teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, I didn't believe it.

   It must be some fly-by-night non-scientific study that just surveyed girls going for birth control, I thought.

   But it was a study for the federal Centers For Disease Control, which says: "The authors analyzed data on 838 female adolescents (aged 14-19) who participated in the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a continuous annual study that examines a nationally representative sample of the U.S. household population to assess a broad range of health issues."

   So then we thought we'd ask local health care providers. Is this study for real, do you see the same things? And they said they weren't surprised. It's a wake-up call for many parents across the region.

   --Barbara O'Brien
   

Women in the military deal with psychological injuries

   The U.S. military is slow to change.

   We're not talking about why it took so long for the commander-in-chief and top brass to change gears and implement an improved strategy in Iraq … the troop surge.

   What we're talking about here is sexual violence against women in the military. It's a well established fact that it happens more often than those outside the military realize.

   Policymakers in Washington have been pressuring the Pentagon for years to change the culture in which it is allowed to happen.

   And there has been some success. The Buffalo VA has opened a special residential unit in Batavia that treats women veterans suffering from the psychological harm caused by sexual assault.

   But complicating the treatment for women in uniform is the fact that more and more of them are now experiencing combat-related psychological injuries as well. So, in a sense, we are talking about Iraq and a lack of respect for women.

-- Lou Michel   

Obama opens gate to dialogue on race relations

  Sen. Barack Obama's speech on race relations has a lot of people talking about the subject --  and many are grateful for the opportunity.

   The Buffalo News interviewed more than 30 people for this story, from Amherst, Cheektowaga, Hamburg and Orchard Park to Buffalo. They are black and white, men and women. They range in age from 18 to 80. They were people who live in the city and rarely leave it. Some work in the city and live in the suburbs and others  live in the suburbs and know little of the city.

   "That speech was more significant in this day and age than Martin Luther King's  'I have a Dream' speech," said Melvin Watkins, one of more than 30 people  interviewed for this report.

   "King spoke in symbolism," he said. "[Obama] brought it right out where people can understand."

   As Obama explained his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he used it as an opportunity to take on the complexities of race relations in the 21st century, tackling issues of black anger and white resentment.

   Have you had a conversation about race in the wake of Obama's speech? Did you take it as an opportunity to rethink your own views about race?

   -- Maki Becker

Maziarz is torn between two capitols

   All Republican eyes are on State Sen. George D. Maziarz of Newfane.

   The right to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds is his for the asking, say all GOP sources. Now he has to decide if he'll ask.

   It's a tough call for the veteran Niagara County politico. Retaining the Senate majority ranks as the highest of high priorities for New York Republicans, and that is proving a difficult task as changing demographics throughout the state continue to favor Democrats.

   If Maziarz runs for the House of Representatives, it means the GOP will have to pump more money into Western New York for a seat that would be considered safe. That will detract from money that must be dedicated to the seat of retiring Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, as well as several tough races anticipated on Long Island.

   But most see Maziarz as their best bet. They believe Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek will prove the ideal Senate candidate in his stead, and that Western New York will do its part to preserve the Republican majority in the Senate.

   And, the 26th Congressional District still boasts about 37,000 more Republicans than Democrats, making it a good place for Maziarz or any other member of the GOP to start.

   Still, it's an Easter weekend of soul searching for George Maziarz.

   --- Robert J. McCarthy

Attacks on the vulnerable

Deidre Williams' story today on local people with developmental disabilities being the victims of taunting, assault, rape and theft is very disturbing.

The agencies that offer services and employment report that their clients are not only taunted on buses by strangers, but also taken advantage of and physically harmed by friends and members of their own families.

The most publicized case happened last summer when three developmentally disabled friends were harassed by some teens at a McDonald's in Cheetowaga, then forced into a crash when the teens chased them in their car.

There have been more cases since; several each month, in fact.

Said one woman in the story: [Everyday on the bus] "they call me retarded. I let it go in one ear and out the other. It hurts inside sometimes, but I don't say anything. Sometimes I think they're crazier than I am."

What does it say about our community that a person with a developmental disability can't even ride the bus or eat in a restaurant without someone making fun of him or her?

What does it say that young men feel free to scare three others who have developmental disabilities so much they lose control of their car?

And what does it say about us that a man is injured severely just because he is developmentally disabled and walking down a city street?

-- Susan LoTempio

Race takes center stage in presidential campaign

   Race, the "four-letter word" that previously had only peripheral impact on Sen. Barack Obama's quest to become the nation's first black president, is suddenly at the epicenter of the 2008 campaign.

   After the senator on Tuesday felt compelled to discuss the racially centered and controversial remarks of his longtime pastor, the role of the black church in politics also re-enters the spotlight.

   But politics from the pulpit has long been an accepted practice of the black church. Political figures from Mario M. Cuomo to Hillary Rodham Clinton to H. Carl McCall have long courted black voters in Buffalo's African-American congregations. Even George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, campaigned in Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1999, urging his audience to "rally the armies of compassion."

   Obama is now asking voters to understand the role of politics in the black church, and he enters damage-control mode in an attempt to quell the firestorm of controversy following Wright's remarks.

   -- Robert J. McCarthy

Love, of a sort, is in the air in Albany

Day One for Gov. David Paterson was all about hugs, high-fives and wishes of luck.

  Day Two begins the real test: Can this goodwill stretch into the negotiations between his new administration and the Legislature over the 2008 state budget, which is due March 31.

   With the backdrop of a souring national economy and falling revenues for the state government, Paterson yesterday asked lawmakers to re-think their spending plans -- a move taken in some circles as a request to lower spending targets. That could set off a whole new round of gridlock if special interests are able to persuade the Legislature to buck Paterson --  that is, if his goal is really to reduce the rate of spending increase below the 5.1 percent former Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed in January.

   As fiscal talks get under way today, sex is still on the minds of people in Albany. It was only a week ago that Spitzer was revealed to be a patron in a high-priced prostitution ring.

   On Day Two, it was revealed -- by Paterson himself -- that he, too, had extramarital liaisons, but with a girlfriend not a prostitute.

   In an interview with a columnist for the New York Daily News, Paterson said a troubled period during his marriage several years ago included him having a girlfriend. The column quotes Michelle Paterson as knowing about the affair. 

   Paterson suggested he came forward now to extinguish the many rumors in Albany about whether he has been faithful to his wife. Paterson said the affair lasted from about 1999 to 2001. He also denied what he called a "sporadic rumor" that he had a "love child" with a woman other than his wife.

   And so goes another day in Albany.

-- Tom Precious

One teacher's frustration with city school bureaucracy

A special education teacher at Buffalo's Discovery School 67 says she saw her male classroom aide fondling a 5-year-old autistic boy in the school lavatory last November.

   The teacher, Charlene Harris, said she was deeply disappointed when a district official ruled her charges unfounded, and the aide was returned to the same classroom where she teaches and the alleged victim is a student.

   On Monday, Harris said her efforts had gone all the way to the top. She sent a certified letter to Superintendent James A. Williams and followed it up with a phone call, but said that made no difference.

   Her frustration was magnified when Williams fired a top aide last week for mishandling the investigation, and said things would have been handled properly if he had known about the  allegations.

   Williams paints a different picture.

   The superintendent said through a spokesman that he receives hundreds … even thousands … of letters each week, and can't be expected to personally read and follow up on all of them. Instead, he said, his office staff refers them to appropriate department heads for disposition.

   That's what happened here, Williams said. The letter from Harris was passed along and mishandled by a department head. Williams said he does not remember reading the letter or having any knowledge of the allegations until months later.

   "Any suggestion that the superintendent should have personally handled this matter to a
conclusion is ridiculous," his spokesman said.

    - Peter Simon

Presidential double track on Iraq?

Five years after the Iraq War began, all of America is still wondering: when will it end?

And the answer to that question depends, in part, on who gets elected president this fall.

Barack Obama has vowed to bring U.S. combat troops home in 16 months, and Hillary Clinton says she will bring most of America's fighting forces back by the end of 2009. But John McCain remains determined to stay the course and keep U.S. troops in Iraq for the long term, if necessary, to secure the country.

That Democrat vs.  Republican debate dominates the public sphere, but privately, Iraq experts see the end of the war as anything but a simple question.

They worry that neither the American nor the Iraqi people have the stomach for an occupation that lasts much longer … but that too quick a pullout will lead to massive bloodshed in Iraq.

In other words, five years into the war, America faces not a question but a condundrum: how do we end a war that few people want to fight when the alternative to that war could cost countless lives?

-- Jerry Zremski

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