Long Story Short: the R word

11/6/17



Illustration by JP Thimot

 

The bomb that keeps on killing

My father spent his entire career working for Linde Air Products Division of Union Carbide in Tonawanda. From 1942 to 1946, Linde processed uranium ores under a Manhattan Project contract. Of course, the workers didn’t know that they were working on the first nuclear bomb; that was top secret. All they knew was their little part. The government assured them it was safe. The repercussions of that baseless optimism are still being felt.

 

The details:

Years later, employees of Linde qualified for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. That, of course, was if they got a radiation-related illness, which some did. Luckily for my father, he died at ninety-five of regular old heart failure.

 

I once worked as an art teacher at Riverview Elementary School in the city of Tonawanda. Though I didn’t know it, that school was right next to a radioactive landfill thought to have resulted from Linde Air’s Manhattan Project work. The land contains elevated levels of radioactive material. Uranium has also been found in groundwater leeching from the landfill.

 

A New York State study determined that residents in nearby areas are statistically more likely to have a whole plethora of cancers. Of course, they did not determine what causes this; it could be any random carcinogens that happen to be located right around the radioactive landfill. In 2007, a United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) report determined that the health risk caused by the landfill was within acceptable limits. There were no plans to do anything. But this particular landfill is right behind many residents’ backyards, and students use the land as a shortcut to school, so neighbors continued lobbying until USACE reversed its decision.

 

Now, after more than a decade of study, USACE has announced a plan to clean up the site—sort of. Instead of doing a complete job, which would cost $55.4 million, they have settled on a $12.2 million option, removing five feet of topsoil from targeted areas, and capping it with a low permeable soil. State Department of Environmental Conservation officials, local government agencies, and Tonawanda residents wanted all the radioactive waste removed. The government assures them this will be safe.

 

The takeaway:

If the residents had gotten what they wanted, it would have taken even longer to get the job done because of the cost. This, they say, is better than nothing.

 

 

Cable BS: a tragedy in five rants

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge once wrote in an open letter to Time Warner Cable (TWC) CEO Robert Marcus: "I believe we have a significant opportunity to put our companies together in a way that will create maximum, long-term value for shareholders and employees of both companies."

 

“Maximum, long term value.”

 

The details:

In 2007, PC World ranked Charter's Internet service the worst among fourteen major Internet service providers (ISP), and their high-speed internet was rated nineteenth out of twenty-two. Consumer Reports rated Charter's television/Internet/telephone bundle as the worst in the nation. That was then. Last May, Charter purchased TWC, and rebranded it as Spectrum Internet. Now, with the merger comes the “maximum, long term value.”

 

On November 4, at 2:30 p.m., I was half-watching MSNBC (cable channel 59) while working in my kitchen, when the channel abruptly went to static. So did most channels from 47 up. These are analog channels that customers get without a cable box receiver. You can’t record them on a TV without a cable box, or pause them while you get a beer, or do many other things, but the channels can be seen on as many TVs as you care to hook up around the house.

 

I waited for a while, and then made the dreaded call to Spectrum. After getting past the android greetng bot, I got a human on the line who was quite friendly. She listened patiently as I launched into my standard rant about how cable is too expensive, the service is poor, and I have never watched ESPN (which accounts for a huge chunk of my bill). This is why people are cutting the cable cord and going to providers like Netflix and Hulu. 

 

The friendly representative checked into the lost stations problem and confirmed that there was no outage in the area; the interruption was caused by Spectrum switching to all digital channels. The switch, she explained, is required by the FCC. This, I now know, is not true. Buffalo, she explained, is being converted a bit at a time, and our time had come. I asked when I could expect the stations back, and the woman didn’t know, but she informed me that every TV would soon need a cable box, thanks to the new FCC ruling. The real reason of course, is because Charter rents cable boxes to customers. “Maximum, long term value.”

 

It turns out, our house is still under a service agreement from TWC, which lasts for another year. The cheerful representative connected me to the sales department to see if I could get a better deal by switching to a Spectrum package. I did my rant, she listened, then told me I need to talk to a different sales department. I ranted to that rep, who did some number-crunching and told me I would be better off keeping my TWC deal until it expires in a year. Then the price will go up. But on the bright side our internet speed will go up too! (Not so fast. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Spectrum Internet customers are being “ripped off” on speed.)

 

I was again told that the FCC requirement will result in the need to get cable boxes for all TVs (once again, the FCC does not require this), and my stations will not be coming back unless I do that. It’s all about preventing cable theft I was informed. I asked why I should pay more to prevent cable theft. In fact, I said, when everyone pays, prices should go down.

 

I argued that I have an existing contract with TWC that Spectrum is fulfilling, so I should not lose channels that were part of the original deal (though frankly, there are probably loopholes built into the agreement). Minimally, I should get a free cable box for the remainder of the contract. The woman said Spectrum doesn’t have contracts. I explained that an agreement where one party states what services they will provide, and another party agrees to pay a certain price for those services, is a contract, whatever they want to call it (my lawyer confirms this). She added that they can’t change the (bogus) FCC requirements. Still, the woman wanted to help, and so we began a long oral phone journey to determine which Spectrum plan we would need to fulfil our viewing desires, and what that would cost. I was going through the options on my computer, when we were disconnected.

 

Rant and repeat

I called back, again got past the android greeting bot, and was connected to another repair operator, who claimed she could help me with what I was doing with the previous person. After giving me conflicting information, she acknowledged that she didn’t know about package pricing. This latest representative did however, unequivocally confirm that the stations that went off will not be coming back without a cable box. I launched into the rant, which was becoming pretty polished by now, and stated again that I should not have to pay extra for services I contracted for under TWC.  I asked why the FCC would make a ruling that would benefit cable companies, at the expense of consumers. She told me that the FCC is run by big industry and so is the entire government. I said I wasn’t on the phone to discuss the Illuminati, and asked to talk to someone higher up. She cackled maniacally and said there was no point, but I insisted.

 

I ranted once more. There was no point. The higher-up person also couldn’t help, and she said there was no one in the entire company who could help, no matter how high up the ladder I went. She gave me an address where I could send a letter, but no name to direct it to. I hung up and told my wife that we would no longer be getting stations above 47 in the kitchen, because I am not going to build a shelf to accommodate a cable box, and then pay extra for it every month. She agreed. 

 

At 7:30 p.m. the missing cable stations came back on.

 

The takeaway:  

I am confident that the channels coming back had nothing to do with my rant(s). I have no idea why they went away and then came back, or whether they will be there tomorrow. I say, fight the power. I’m going to tell Spectrum to stop blaming the FCC, and give us the “maximum, long term value” Rutledge said they could provide. I am sending my letter to:

Thomas M. Rutledge
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Charter Spectrum
4200 Paramount Parkway
Morrisville, NC, 27560

 

 

Coaster alert

If you are a rollercoaster fan, be advised that Darien Lake theme park is about to enter the league of elite coaster parks.

 

The details:

By next summer, if all goes well, Darien Lake plans to demolish the Thunder Rapids log ride—few people’s favorite—and build a Euro-Fighter style roller coaster, presumably built by Gerstlauer.  This coaster will go straight up, then plummet in a drop greater than vertical, which means you would be slightly inverted during the plunge. If I calculate this right, that would mean your vomit would fly over the heads of the people behind you. So far, this is just a proposal, so it’s not firm, and in other countries, these coasters have not always been completed on schedule. The Genesee County Planning Board will review the proposal November 9. The Town of Darien Planning Board has the final say. They meet November 20.

 

The whole point for Darien Lake is to attract a broader audience, breaking out of the regional attraction class of theme park and into the national spotlight. Will this do the trick? The park already has the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the state, the Superman-themed Ride of Steel. That cost $12 million, while the newly proposed ride will only cost $4.5 million.

 

The takeaway:

Can a bargain-priced Euro-Fighter style coaster put Darien Lake into the big-league for coaster fans? I’ll ride it.

 

 

Potlatch

This is a word I had never come across before Saturday, November 4, the day artist David Schirm gave away much of his life’s work.

 

The details:

A survey exhibition of 145 of Schirm’s paintings and drawings spanning forty-five years just concluded at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. It was an intentionally packed exhibition, with work hung “floor to ceiling, edge to edge,” according to co-curators John Massier and Rebecca Wing, a “sensorial overload” as they put it. That would make it a sensorial overload upon many sensorial overloads, because the University at Buffalo professor’s work is often intensely packed with dozens or hundreds of repeated organic motifs. It’s a kind of controlled chaos, and highly pleasurable at that. The exhibition was titled All the Glad Variety, but on Saturday, it could have been retitled All the Glad Recipients.

 

With the show completed, Schirm did a remarkable thing; he gave the work away, first to family and longtime friends, then to fellow staff and some students, and finally to a list of people suggested by the curators. Schirm called this a potlatch, a gift-giving feast practiced by indigenous peoples in Northwest Pacific Coast United States and Canada. Schirm explains that while traveling, he saw potlatch signs on trucks loaded with goods, and thought this was a great idea. Real potlatch celebrations are about reaffirming social status, but it’s the notion of giving away valued things that appeals to Schirm. 

 

The artist wanted to put as much work as possible in the hands of young people, or others who might appreciate original art, but not be able to afford it. He was also concerned that someday the work would become a burden on his children. It’s not unusual for spouses or descendants of artists to inherit vast amounts of artwork that they must store while resolving how to disperse it, which can take many years.

 

On the day of Schirm’s potlatch, people arrived to greet the artist, and take away their prechosen works.  Hallwalls provided some light breakfast food, and assisted people in removing and wrapping the drawings and paintings that were still on the walls. Schirm shook hands, signed unsigned work, and chatted with the many grateful recipients. It was an unusually generous action for any artist.

 

The takeaway: 

Art.

 

 

 

Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

 

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