Reminder: College athletes are still kids

Syracuse University women's field hockey team
The 2008 Syracuse University field hockey team, courtesy of SUAthletics.com.

College sports are big business. Really big business. Athletics – football and basketball, really – can bring tens of millions of dollars to a college.

Athletes are supposed to behave like they're representing companies worth tens of millions of dollars.

Remember, those athletes are college students. Generally somewhere between 18 and 22.

There has been a lot of complaining going on about Daryl Gross, the athletic director at Syracuse University. His biggest profile hiring was football coach Greg Robinson, who has taken a storied program and won eight games in four years.

But lower-profile sports have thrived under Gross, and the field hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time ever.

Waiting for Funk 'n' Waffles to open this morning, I popped into Bruegger's for a cup of coffee to shake the chill out of my bones, and the field hockey team walked in to start their day, ahead of a game against UConn this afternoon.

That photo above may make them look grown up, mean, competitive, but the group of young women in bright orange skirts at the bagel shop was nothing like big and mean. It was a bunch of kids having coffee, wondering how many cars they had among them to get where they needed to go, and in general talking about things like Friday night.

You wouldn't think, sitting there, there was an aggressive bone among them. But we know there is.

It just reminds me how much weight we put on such young people, still working on finding their way in the world.

I hope you remember that as you watch the football team play South Florida this afternoon. We might be looking at a 40-point loss for Syracuse, or they might surprise us, like they did against Louisville last year. But either way, they're a bunch of young kids, and it almost seems unfair that the hopes of an entire upstate region are riding on their shoulders.

Involvement Fair 2

Crocodile Purse
Keep reading to find out why this purse made out of a crocodile was at the Involvement Fair.

I spent about five hours Thursday afternoon and evening at the second incarnation of the Involvement Fair, which is a project of the Civic Engagement Task Force of 40 Below.

If you're familiar with the concept of a job fair, that's pretty close. At a job fair, you have maybe 50 or 100 employers at tables in a large hall, and a bunch of people looking for jobs walking around, handing out resumes, and meeting their potential employers.

The difference here? You have a bunch of service organizations sitting at tables, and a bunch of people looking for volunteer opportunities walking around meeting representatives from the service organizations.

I handed out instruction sheets for using the Helping Out Blog, and also finding both new members and new organizational partners for CNY SPaRC.

There were 40-ish organizations there. Here are a look at some of them.

United Way of Central New York – If you're not familiar with United Way, you should be. In pretty much every decent sized market, UW sponsors a lot of small organizations that otherwise would struggle for funding and visibility. They also do work with larger, mainstream organizations.

Eastwood Neighbor Association – I don't live in Eastwood, but I do live pretty close (about a 15-minute walk). I'm excited to be getting involved in one of their projects: getting a multi-use skate park together. Some kids have been very involved with this project for a long time, and it's a unique idea – it will be a tri-level park in the woods, and it will be able to be used beyond just skateboarding and freestyle bicycling. I'm in the extremely early stages of being involved, so read often, as I'll be mentioning it frequently.

Center for Community Alternatives – Spend a lot of time learning about this organization from their Web site. Two of their programs that struck me were taking people who have done their time and working with them to find housing, employment and peer support; and getting to children as young as middle school whose parents have been "in front of a judge" (as they put it) to mentor them both with their schoolwork, and keeping them on the right path to make sure they don't wind up "in front of a judge."

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo – Next to the SPaRC table, a woman wearing a name badge identifying her as Ellen set up an elephant molar, a tiger-fur throw, a python skin, a crocodile purse (that's the photo above), and other stuff that you're not supposed to have. It turns out that when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confiscates banned items at entry locations on borders, at ports and in airports, it tags them, then sends them to schools and zoos for educational purposes.

On Point For College – The gentleman behind the table for On Point (one of those organizations the United Way helps out) was living proof the program works. He had dropped out of high school and gone back for a GED, and then On Point helped walk him through the scholarship, financial aid and application processes. He went to the University of Buffalo and Cornell. They work with some fairly hard-luck kids, and do good work.

There were a host of other organizations, including Meals on Wheels, Girl Scouts, and some others you've heard of – and still others you haven't heard of. If you're looking for a little extra fulfillment in your life, there are plenty of ways to donate your time and expertise around here.

Want to get hooked up? Maybe we'll see you at a 40 Below Civic Engagement Task Force meeting. We meet the first Monday every month from 5:30 to 6:30 in the 18th floor conference room in the State Tower building. Regardless of the name, we don't require you to be under 40 years of age.

Book review: Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price-Thompson

Tracy Price-Thompson writes like it comes from experience, and for those of us who will never know or directly understand that experience, it's beyond good, bordering on amazing.

Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price-ThompsonAlvin C. Romer actually does a really good job summing up the novel, so I won't rehash his work.

What I do want to say about this book is that Price-Thompson writes amazing characters: characters with very human flaws, but super-human strength.

Maybe it's a common strength in the projects in Brooklyn, I don't know. Like I hinted above, I will never understand that experience directly (or, at least, it's highly unlikely).

This is a quick, astounding, plot-twist-driven read. It will be back at the library Friday around lunch time, if you'd like to go grab (and I recommend that you do).

Poverty isn’t just someone else’s problem

Today is Blog Action Day, a day when bloggers band together to hit on one topic. This year: poverty.

I'm going to focus on poverty in the U.S., because, well, I can't begin to imagine what it looks like in other countries. Countries that might be considered "underdeveloped," "developing" or, God help them, "poor."

We don't eliminate poverty in the U.S. until these three things happen:

(1) People recognize the sources and cycles of poverty
(2) People who aren't suffering realize poverty is their problem, too
(3) The federal government grows a brain about realistic guidelines

Let's look at item #3 first.

Federal minimum wage is $6.55 an hour, and goes up to $7.25 an hour next July.

If you work 40 hours per week, 52.5 weeks per year, at minimum wage, right now you're pulling in $13,755 now, and you'll be pulling down $15,225 next year.

According to this year's poverty level guidelines (PDF), right now you'd be below the poverty line for a family of two; next year you'd be above that, but below the line for a family of three.

Let's assume that someone making minimum wage pays no taxes. None.

Let's take John McCain's word that $5,000 will cover your health insurance.

Let's say you pay $500 in rent.

Let's say you drive a used car that you're paying $150 a month for.

Let's say you fill your gas tank once a week for $25 per week, and you skimped on the auto insurance so you're paying $50 a month.

Let's figure your heat and stove are electric, so you're averaging about $50 in utility bills all year round.

Everybody get $15,300? Have you eaten yet? Put down a co-pay on a doctor's bill or a prescription? Bought any clothes?

OK, maybe the car is a luxury, so let's knock of the $3,000 in car-related expenses.

But let's add $40 a month in bus fare and $10 a week in cab fare, since you can't load all your groceries onto the bus.

OK, so now we're at $13,300 in expenses for one person – again, we haven't eaten yet, we haven't been to the doctor, and we're still naked (not to mention sleeping on the floor).

The federal government's poverty guidelines says one person needs to make $10,400 a year to live. We've just racked up nearly $3,000 more than that, and we haven't even done some basics.

And if you're a single parent raising a kid? Forget about it.

Yes, there are social programs available, but they're getting cut left and right, and things are going to continue that way.

Minimum wage jobs tend not to have paid sick days, personal days or vacation. So, people working them are putting excess stress on their immune systems and are encouraged not to have any sort of family life. And if you're not emotionally strong enough to handle that? Too bad.

So people working minimum wage jobs tend to have little job security, and they bounce from minimum wage job to minimum wage job.

They see others around them – friends, parents, neighbors – doing the same thing, and don't learn how to break out of that rhythm or cycle.

#2 is a big one, too. People who don't consider themselves victims of poverty, have to lose the "I'm doing OK, why can't they?" attitude.

Everything from accidents of birth to circumstance to bigotry helps to keep a cycle of poverty going, and if you can't see that, maybe you need to spend a week actually walking in someone else's shoes.

Walk 6 miles to work one day because you spent the $2 bus fair on a can of beans and a pound of rice so you could eat for three days. Heck, keep your other comforts and consume only a can of beans and a pound of rice for three days – drink only tap water, give up the morning coffee and forget happy hour.

Figure out how you'd live if had to choose between paying your electric bill and your doctor bill, and when you've made that choice understand that your resulting bad credit keeps you from getting a checking account, so you have to carry around whatever cash you earn. Do your best not to get robbed, when everyone else around you could really use a sandwich.

You might complain about your taxes taking away your ability to live comfortably, but without taxes, governments can't provide services. No services means more poverty, especially if we're not going to regulate the industries everyone needs – insurance, pharmaceutical, etc.

Poverty is everybody's problem – yours, mine, the CEO of your company's, and yes (as the general election approaches), government's as well.

Wise up.

The sound of everything


A 15-second look at Chittenango Falls

I began reading The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi on Thursday.

It's a semi-autobiographical novel about an Afghan woman whose husband is killed by the Taliban. She moves to Denmark, where she must learn a new language – a language that, to her, sounds like bees buzzing.

That I began reading it on Thursday is significant. It was Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, a day when we connect with God to apologize for our sins over the past year. It is tradition to fast (food and liquid) from sundown to sundown. My take: food deprivation is an altered state that brings you closer to God.

Chittenango FallsIf you've never done such a fast, here is a brief timeline of some physical consequences of a 24-hour fast (I can only speak from my experiences; some of you might have others you'd like to share in comments).

• Dehydration headaches
• General fatigue
• General difficulty focusing
• A sharp hunger pang about 16 hours in, that subsides quickly
• Euphoria
• A return of all senses to normal

Take that last one with a grain of salt because, while it feels like you're running on normal, you are dehydrated and without nutrients, which means your body doesn't work quite the way you expect it to.

It's really the euphoria part that makes Yom Kippur my favorite holiday.

Everything sounds really loud – a bird flushed from the bushes sounds like a motorcycle. A fly buzzing around your table sounds like you have your head in a beehive.

Everything seems bigger and brighter. Visual depth doesn't matter. The autumn colors are vivid, and in very sharp contrast to the sky, be it blue or gray.

After services, I went to Chittenango Falls for the first time. I took five rolls of film; the four rolls of color are brilliant, and it will be a while before the black and whites come back.

I spent about five hours out there. It was a beautiful day, and the colors were at peak, so there were a lot of people viewing the falls.

I also went out on the Chips trail, which is an easy 0.85-mile hike, and didn't see another human for three hours.

It was amazing, from the miles of colors, to the sound of leaves underfoot, to the power of the water. I'm also looking forward to getting back out there sometime in winter, to see the ice buildup at the bottom.

Crunch open the 2008-09 season against Amerks


The Syracuse Crunch paid tribute to the late Paul Newman before their home opener against Rochester Saturday night.

Paul Newman played an aging brawler in the 1977 film Slapshot. Part of the film was shot at the Onondaga County War Memorial, where the Syracuse Crunch beat the Rochester Americans 6-1 Saturday in their home opener, a night after opening the 2008-09 season with a 4-3 win in Rochester's building.

There was a really good crowd on hand, both large and loud.

This year's Crunch team needs more time together on the ice – they looked pretty sloppy, despite having netted 10 goals in their first two games &dnash; but I think it's going to be a good year.

The goaltending is looking pretty good, and they're going to rack up plenty of penalty minutes, I'm sure. Jon Mirasty took down Rochester's Neil Clark, who's at least a head taller than the Crunch enforcer, and both Mirasty and Tom Sestito (who scored a goal and added two assists) were sent to the locker room early for their parts in a bench fight.

See you at the War Memorial.

http://photos.syracuse.com/mt-static/plugins/AdvancePhoto/embedSlideshow.swf

CNY Speaks: Third forum

I've written about the first two CNY Speaks forums, but wanted to add a few thoughts about the third, and (for now) final forum, which took place Tuesday.

Post-Standard Civic Engagement Editor Greg Munno gives a quick overview of what was discussed during the forums in today's paper, but there are some more notes that you should know about.

• Mayor Matt Driscoll and members of the Syracuse Common Council and Onondaga County Legislator were invited to participate as citizens (as opposed to elected officials – they would be asked to listen and comment and stick to the forum format, rather than speak to the audience or campaign, for those who are running in 2009). Not one of them showed up to any of the three forums.

• I spoke with Munno before the forum, and one of the things we talked about was getting people involved who wouldn't come downtown to participate in the forums, because they were downtown. After all, it's their input we need most – everybody who came was at least already somewhat invested in downtown. There's a possibility we could see future forums in DeWitt, Camillus and Liverpool.

• The next step is to have the student moderators code responses and run some statistics on feedback to present to candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature next spring.

While I do think some congratulations are in order for getting the discussion started, I believe the more important step is getting some action items taken care of.

I also think it's important to note that some journalists – who too often take the viewpoint that their job is to tell people about what change is going on, not to help drive change – attended as citizens. For fear of leaving out people I didn't meet or recognize, I won't name anyone, but you know who you are. Thanks for showing up.

Attention New Yorkers: Voter registration deadline’s almost here

Audio on the video is not safe for work.

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If you're in New York:

• New registrations must be postmarked by this Friday, October 10.
• New registration walk-in deadline is this Saturday, October 11.
• If you live in Onondaga County and you have moved, you can change your registration address so you have a closer polling place by next Wednesday, October 15 (postmark).

Here are registration forms in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF), and more Declare Yourself videos featuring celebrities.

CNY Speaks: Second forum

I wrote yesterday about the first CNY Speaks forum Thursday, and then I went off to the second incarnation Sunday afternoon.

I'm starting to see these forums as interesting, necessary evils.

Don't get me wrong – just like the first one, there were a lot of interesting people with tons of good ideas in the room, but the action plan on this is to have public forums with candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature in the spring, ahead of the 2009 local elections.

That feels like a long way off, and we need some change now.

Sunday's incarnation was smaller, with about 40 people in the crowd.

I sat at a table with a young artist and two retirees, one of whom is actively involved with (or leads, maybe?) the CNY Public Art Forum, which hopes to get a public art space open in downtown Syracuse.

As with Thursday, our two top issues were public perception of downtown and storefront development.

Moving the bus hub also came up, for the second time, as did cutting red tape for potential small business owners.

I still think I'm getting something out of going to these, even if, at least at my seat, we're talking about some of the same issues: it's different people, with different ideas and different desires.

Action items for me include writing letters to Centro, the development committee and the MOST to think about moving the bus hub up to the old trolley ramp behind the museum. I think the MOST will get on board because it gives them more visibility, and since it's already an existing structure, the city won't have to enforce its eminent domain taking of the Red Cross building.

Sean Kirst also showed up to this one; here is his take.

CNY Speaks

The local newspaper, The Post-Standard, several months ago appointed Greg Munno to the position of Civic Engagement editor.

His first task was to launch a blog called CNY Speaks.

His second task was to create a series of public forums to discover what people felt would help improve downtown.

The first of the three forums was Thursday evening. It drew about 90 people. The goal was to get them talking about the results of a survey (PDF) that outlined some of the issues people had with downtown.

We were distributed at registration into tables. I sat with two real estate agents, an employee at an architecture firm, owners of two downtown businesses, a reporter (there as a citizen), someone who has had trouble opening a downtown business, and a retiree who is an advocate for various causes.

Also in the crowd were other reporters-as-citizens, developers, at least one person from Adapt CNY, and a bunch of other people who had bright ideas about what we could do with downtown.

Not in the crowd: Mayor Matt Driscoll, any member of the Syracuse Common Council, or people with overarching negative ideas about downtown.

For me, while the large attendance was a big success, those absences were a big problem.

There's a second go at the forum today (Sunday) at 2 p.m., and a third Tuesday at 6 p.m. I'm going today, and if there's a significantly different crowd with different ideas today than there was Thursday, I'll also go Tuesday.

My concern, though, is that we're in danger of ending up with a lot of good ideas, a great series in the newspaper, and nothing in the way of implementation.

For me, what could vastly improve downtown is a change in public perception. Sure, there are vacant store fronts, and more businesses downtown would certainly bring people. So would affordable housing – I'm sorry, but $1,250-per-month lofts don't fly when you're trying to attract young professionals in a market where they're lucky to make $30,000 a year.

But let's face it. One of the things people are most concerned about is safety, because they read about a lot of crime. They don't read far enough into the story to understand that most of that crime happens when drunk people are wandering the streets between 1 and 4 a.m. I'm not exactly an imposing figure, and I walked from Armory Square to the Hotel Syracuse (10 blocks or so) with a laptop on my shoulder to get to the forum. I never questioned my safety.

Could downtown use more people? Absolutely. Can we do it without public officials and an action plan? Absolutely not.

Who will step up? They might have my vote in 2009 local races.