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Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Texting behind the wheel: lethal and legal


   It can be truly amazing to watch a teenager send a text message on a cell phone. The speed and dexterity with which they can communicate a thought is impressive.

   It also helps explain why so many think they can do it while driving a car. They don't seem to expend any mental energy doing it.

   But they do. It is distracting. It does take their concentration away from what they should be doing. And as we keep learning and relearning, it can be fatal.

   "Don't text while you're driving" sounds like the same kind of advice as, "Don't drink gasoline" and, "Don't point that gun at your head." You really should know enough to not do it.

   But sometimes common sense is not enough. Should there be a law banning texting while driving?

Barry Snyder loses his job

For many years Barry E. Snyder Sr. has been the face of the Seneca Nations of Indians, as a hugely successful salesman of tax-free cigarettes and gasoline on the Seneca lands, president of the Nation itself and recently as head of the Seneca Gaming Corporation.

Although there have been recent problems for Seneca Gaming, including an ongoing court action to prevent construction of an Indian casino in Buffalo, it nevertheless came as a surprise Friday when Snyder's board of directors voted him out of office.

The board also sent a strong signal by installing Norman "Cochise" Redeye as the new chairman of the gambling operations. Redeye is a retired detective from the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

This could mean more changes are in store for the multimillion-dollar gambling operation.

New home, new beginning for Patty

   It's been two years and three months since Buffalo Police Officer Patricia A. Parete was seriously injured and paralyzed when she was shot on duty.

   That's a long time, an eternity, for someone trying hard to get back many of the daily functions that most of us take for granted.

   For many, the Patty Parete story has receded into the background. While Buffalonians came together to raise more than half a million dollars for her care, Parete has moved out of the public spotlight.

   Behind the scenes, she and her partner, Maryellen Opalinski, have battled Parete's continuing medical and physical challenges, while looking for a suitable place to live. In the next few weeks, they'll be moving into their new Niagara County home.

   After all the setbacks Parete has faced -- her tragic shooting, lengthy delays in building the house and recent medical problems -- that new home means a chance for a new beginning, an accessible home for Parete, a chance for her to move into a more independent world.

   She's earned that chance, and Western New Yorkers wish her nothing but good luck and good health in her new surroundings.

--- Gene Warner

Read the full story.

Beauty is in the eye -- or ear, or lip -- of the beholder

  At 15, Vallery Marx is in the midst of adolescent self-discovery. She started out with one piercing — an eyebrow —  and liked the look.

   More followed. She's thinking about a career in body art.

   Meanwhile, she's carrying a GPA of approximately 91 this year at Charter High School for Applied Technologies. On her report card, teachers noted she's motivated and conscientious, cooperative and attentive, and produces consistently good work.

   "A pleasure to have in class," two teachers wrote.

   But Applied Technologies has a clear mission: preparing students for the workforce. And a strictly enforced dress code is part of that process.

   "We are trying to instill the habits ... and skills that will make them avail themselves [to] the best jobs available," said Superintendent Efrain Martinez.

   After being disciplined recently for violating the dress code by wearing facial jewelry — which, she argues, wasn't specified in the code — Vallery grudgingly has agreed to wear more discrete "retainers" in her piercings until she goes before the school board to challenge the code.

   How would you rule?

   --- Janice L. Habuda

Buffalo Creek rises again

The Seneca Indian Nation is back in official business at the Buffalo Creek casino -- at least for now.

On Jan. 20, the National Indian Gaming Commission approved plans for the casino, again. It was a response to the tribes application filed three months ago for an amended gaming ordinance.

But, like so many things in Buffalo, the issue of the casino is not settled. A court case continues on whether establishment of an Indian gambling venue within the City of Buffalo is legal, and opponents of the casino say they have no interest in pulling out of their fight.

So, the Battle of Buffalo Creek goes on. When and how it will end ... well, it is sort of like watching a roulette wheel with a particularly lively ball.

Silent, deadly and tragic beyond words

      It is every parent's worst nightmare: to send your child off to something as innocuous as a sleep-over and to find out the next morning your child is dead.

   Amanda Hansen, who was just 16, died during a sleep-over at the home of the friend, Devon Sharvan.

   Authorities believe an undetected problem with the boiler -- which was inside the closet next to where the girls slept on blankets and pillows in the basement of the house -- released the deadly carbon monoxide that killed Amanda and nearly killed Devon.

   While there are lessons to be learned about checking your boiler and making sure you have carbon monoxide detectors in your home, there is no escaping the tragedy of the loss of a young life.

   If you would like to comment on the story, or leave a tribute to Amanda, please do so.

-- Maki Becker

Playing with fire

   Fireplaces are beautiful additions to any home, and wood-burning fires bring in warmth and conjure images of family togetherness and holiday celebrations. But as today's story in The News indicates, wood-burning fireplaces can lead to life-threatening house fires.

   Firefighters routinely handle chimney fires from creosote build-up, and investigate house fires from improper fireplace installation, overuse or improper disposal of ashes. Lots can go wrong, but the expense to maintain and improve a fireplace and chimney can be extraordinary.

   So calling all current and former fireplace users. Ever had a close call? How good are you at maintaining your own fireplace? How about your friends and neighbors? Share your story here.

  --- Sandra Tan

Smile! You're on a lifecast!

   D.J. Wilson spent an entire year broadcasting his life, nearly every hour of every day.

   Shopping. Walking around the city. Cooking. Watching TV. Sleeping.

   Everything … well, almost everything he did … was captured on camera and broadcast live on the Internet.

   Wilson, a South Buffalo father of a 6-year-old daughter, Juliet, got burned out and stopped doing it every day, but he still occasionally broadcasts live.

   Footage on Christmas Eve showed him watching the 6 p.m. news and brushing his daughter's hair before she opened her presents.

   This practice is known as lifecasting, and Wilson is among the small but growing number of people who use the latest technology to share their lives with an online audience.

   Basically, all you need is a video camera connected to a laptop computer and a wireless Web
connection and you're all set.

   Wilson, UB graduate student and tech enthusiast Kevin Lim and others who do this consider lifecasting a social experiment.

   But the practice raises knotty ethical, legal and privacy issues.

   Do you think someone who is lifecasting should have to warn anyone who might be caught on camera of this fact?

   If you see a crime happening on a lifecast, or if you see someone in danger, do you as a viewer have a responsibility to step in and do something?

   And is it healthy for someone to expose her life, or her family's life, so publicly?

   To check out Wilson's channel of Justin.tv, the lifecasting site, visit www.justin.tv/net_dragon.

   To learn more about what Lim is doing with his broadcasts, visit http://theory.isthereason.com/?p=1693.

   And if you're interested in learning how you can lifecast through your smartphone, visit
http://qik.com/, a site Lim recommends.

   

   … Stephen T. Watson

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

   

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