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Tell us what you think about's new look

     The News Web site has a different look today, one that we hope provides not only easier navigation but a better guide to all we have to offer. It is the first phase of an overall site redesign that will continue over the next several months.

     Web users may want to check out the following features:  the "Don't Miss" crawler at the top that serves as a teaser to some of the best features and stories on the site; the separation of "Police Blotter" items from "Latest Local News," and the ability to scroll through those items; better use of photographs; a cleaner, more attractive typeface.

     Let us know what you think.  This is a work in progress and we're happy to hear your thoughts.

--Margaret Sullivan, Editor

Injustice at the gas pumps

   Now, this just isn't right.

   Western New York has the highest gas prices in the entire state -- even New York City.

   Plus, even though gas prices are falling, ours are coming down at a slower rate.

   Even the experts can't give a good explanation for why this is the case.

   What's your theory? And what should be done to bring the prices into line?

  -- Maki Becker

Because you asked:

You can find contact information for our representatives in Congress here on our Politics Now blog.

Bills fumble after stadium loses power

   A day after the Buffalo Bills left their fans giddy with a big win against San Diego, some customers still had a beef Monday about the lack of safety measures during several power failures during the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

   There was a lack of emergency lights in the bathrooms and concourses; urine overflowed in some of the men's room and some gates were closed for quite a while before the game because ticket scanners weren't working.

   Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said it could have been worse. He called the lack of electricity a wake-up call, and added, "We were lucky it happened when it did. Had it been a night game, I think the loss of power would have been much worse."

   Top Bills officials, who remained huddled much of Monday, had more questions than answers as they vowed to conduct a full stress test on their emergency back-up system.

   They said they had backup generators, but they didn't work the public address system, the lights, the field scoreboards or the broadcasting feeds out of the stadium.

   Some vendors, however, were still able to sell beer.

   "It is funny how the Bills are constantly writing us season ticket holders about how we have to be cooperative to have a "safer' post 9-11 experience," Dave Shapiro of Amherst wrote in an e-mail to The Buffalo News.

   "But the Bills," he added, "seem to be best at enforcing regulations barring outside water bottles or cocoa thermoses from the stadium (which coincidentally increases their revenue), while putting no effort into having measures in place to deal with something as minor as a power outage."

Teaching doctors to deliver bad news with care

   One of the hardest jobs in medicine doesn't require high-tech devices or sure hands. It's that painfully awkward moment when a doctor has to deliver bad news.

   Patients generally just want the facts cushioned by compassion and encouragement. Yet, as simple as that sounds, the right words often go unspoken.

  Of course, some doctors do communicate well with patients or work at the skill. But others don't, as reflected in the large number of studies about improving the doctor-patient relationship.

   Relaying bad news is difficult. Few people are comfortable talking about death and dying. And, empathy can take time that busy doctors often believe they don't have.

   Doctors also come with different skills and personalities. Some can communicate naturally while others are uncomfortable talking to their patients.

   Patients are different, as well. Some want their information direct. Others require a go-slow approach. Some will handle a diagnosis of cancer with poise. Others will wilt over a negative test result for a condition that isn't fatal.

   One expert put it this way: "It's a situation no one wants, yet there needs to be some interaction. Physicians are people. They are not all stamped out of the same mold. Patients are different and bring with them emotional, family, religious and cultural issues."

   -- Henry L. Davis

Behind the numbers at the city's tax auction

   Buffalo's vacant housing crisis is getting worse, not better.

   The proof is in the 2,900 properties … believed to be a record high … that go up for sale today at the city's annual tax auction.

   The large number of available properties, some of them occupied, some of them vacant and abandoned, marks the second year in a row that the auction list exceeded 2,500 properties.

   Over the past eight years, the annual average is closer to 1,600.

   How many of these houses sell this week will determine how much this latest round of foreclosures impact the city's vacancy woes.

   The city, according to the Census, already has the third highest vacancy rate in the country with an estimated 18,000 vacant properties. Only Detroit and New Orleans are higher.

   How do you think this latest crop of foreclosures reflect on Buffalo?

   - Phil Fairbanks


Buffalo School District suffers bilingual breakdown

   Nicole Marrero, a 15-year-old student at Buffalo's alternative school, says she has spent two full school years in an educational fog.

   Nicole, who moved here from Puerto Rico in 2002, says she knows very little English and cannot follow English-language lessons, either verbal or written.

   Nicole previously took part in bilingual education programs at two city elementary schools.  But since being assigned to Academy School 44 for a high-rate absenteeism at her previous school, all her classes have been in English. She does spend an hour with an English as a second language teacher, but that teacher does not speak Spanish. Nicole said she doesn't understand what is being said in class, and remains in seventh grade, even though she is old enough be in the 10th grade.

    "I'm lost," she said through a Spanish-language interpreter. "I don't know what to do. I don't feel good because I don't learn anything."

     Gregory Mott, her principal, said he has had conversations in English with Nicole, and feels her English skills are appropriate for her age. But Mott and three other city school officials -- citing student privacy restrictions … refuse to answer questions about whether Nicole can function adequately in an English-language classroom.

    West District Board of Education Member Ralph Hernandez says Nicole is supposed to receive bilingual services.

    "It's a total failure on the part of the district," he said. "We have, without a doubt, violated these kids' civil rights."

      Nicole's situation is not an isolated case, said Lourdes Iglesias, executive director of Hispanics United of Buffalo.

    "We see things like this all the time," she said. "What they are doing to this child is educational neglect at its worst."

-- Peter Simon

One massive leap of faith for shuttered church

   On its face, the proposition seems fantastical: Take a giant church apart, stone by massive stone, then cart all of the pieces some 700 miles and build all over again.

   But that's just what a Catholic parish in Norcross, Ga., is hoping to do with St. Gerard Church, a massive Roman basilica-style church currently at Bailey and Delavan avenues on Buffalo's East Side.

   Someday the church's home address could be somewhere in the 6000 block of The Corners Parkway.

   But to the Rev. David M. Dye, administrator of Mary Our Queen parish in Norcross, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, the idea doesn't seem so out in left field -- not given
demographic patterns the past several decades.

   "A lot of the sons and daughters of the immigrants who built that church are now in Atlanta," said Dye. "I've got people from Buffalo in my congregation who know the area and know the church."

   There are multiple ways to look at this latest wrinkle in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's "Journey in Faith & Grace" restructuring effort.

   Some people will view the idea of moving St. Gerard as one creative solution in the area's huge vacant buildings problem. Others will point to it as further symbolism of just how far Buffalo has fallen.

   Feel free to weigh in.

     -- Jay Tokasz

Gender bias underscored in teacher sex scandals

   The notorious Mary Kay Letourneau seemed to be the first teacher whose misconduct with a student grabbed the attention of the public and the national media.

   Today, tabloids, TV news programs and -- increasingly -- the Internet are filled with reports of teachers who engage in inappropriate relationships with their students.

   In Western New York alone, former South Buffalo Charter School teacher Cara Dickey, former Buffalo Seminary teacher Malcolm Watson and former Sacred Heart Academy teacher James Van Valkinburgh all have been accused in recent years of having sex with students.

   "It surprises me when they do act in this manner, because they risk a lot, and their chance of getting caught is high," said David T. Cantaffa, associate director of the University at Buffalo Teacher Education Institute.

   What's interesting to note is the difference in the reaction to the cases based on the gender of the accused teacher.

   If it's a case involving a male teacher and an underage female student, the teacher is most often considered a predator, and the student is most often considered a victim.

   If the genders are reversed, the student is considered "lucky," at least by many heterosexual men.

   This attitude comes out frequently in online comments and on Web sites devoted to these cases, where entries are accompanied by smarmy headlines and panting commentary on the accusations against the female teachers.

   Beyond the disparate reaction, some lawyers and psychologists say that women in these and
similar cases are viewed as more sympathetic defendants.

   State crime data show that women in general receive shorter sentences for felony crimes,
including non-violent sexual crimes.

   These cases raise a lot of questions. It seems there are more teacher-student sex scandals being reported today. Do you agree? Why do you think this is, and why do these cases draw such intense coverage?

   Do you think the apparent double standard in how we view -- and treat --  male and female teachers is fair?

-- Stephen T. Watson


Can the towns save their historic buildings?

   City of Tonawanda Mayor Ronald Pilozzi said it best: "You can't rebuild history."

   Many local towns and municipal governments hold the deeds to some of the region's oldest historic treasures, typically with good intentions.

   But the best of intentions don't amount to much if local governments and taxpayers don't have the commitment to keeping these historic structures standing and viable. The 1820s Reist Mill in Williamsville is the latest historic building to crumble while in government hands.

   That leaves many to wonder whether enough is being done to save the historic building that still remain, and if not, what will it take to protect and restore these buildings for the next generation?


...Sandra Tan

On the list of most likely to move, is it fair?

   The Buffalo Bills have sold more than 56,000 season tickets this season, the second-highest total in team history, and a sold-out home season is assured.

   Despite that, Forbes magazine lists the Bills  as the third most likely major-league sports franchise to move, and the most likely among National Football League teams.

   Doesn't seem fair, does it?

   But maybe pro sports no longer are about "fair."

   Any thoughts?

… Gene Warner

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