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Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Thumbs up to the local appearance of the snowy owl, a beautiful white owl that has been seen perched on elevated points like fenceposts, roofs or utility poles in the northeastern United States, including throughout Chautauqua County. Our area is typically far from the normal range for these birds. Ornithologists say the most likely explanation for their appearance is that snowy owl populations experienced a banner year with an abundance of food, allowing more than usual chick numbers to survive. The ensuing high population density is urging young animals to disperse from their birth grounds in search for new, tundra-like territories to settle into. Keep your eyes open for these beautiful birds, which are expected to stay in the area until spring.

Thumbs down to the selection of Sochi, Russia, as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Terrorists have stepped up activity in recent months, with bombings at a Moscow theatre, the Moscow metro, a Moscow airport, a school in Beslan and then a bombing that left 34 dead near Volgograd. If those events weren’t enough to give people pause about attending the games, now the U.S. Department of State is telling athletes and families to be careful wearing team gear outside the secured Olympic zone. Russia is a beautiful place to visit, but so is Israel – and nobody’s planning on holding the Olympics on the Gaza Strip. In the day and age in which we live, security concerns for travelers should be as high a priority as who makes the biggest financial offer to host the Olympic games. The Olympic Committee should be a bit more careful in the future before deciding to put thousands of people attending a goodwill event in harm’s way.

Thumbs up to the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis Club, which will host its annual Groundhog Day Pancake Breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, at the Cassadaga Fire Hall on Mill Street. All proceeds benefit local community youth projects and scholarships. Tickets are available from Kiwanis members or by calling 384-4023. Kiwanis clubs and similar such service organizations are important in every community, but they take on an added importance in our smaller communities that can all too easily be overlooked when it comes to funding programs or scholarships for worthy youth. Groups like the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis Club or the Frewsburg Lions Club are invaluable to our community. It doesn’t hurt, at least in the Cassadaga Valley club’s case, that they make a pretty good pancake.

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Thumbs up to all the young people who will take part in today’s Studio Dance Showcase at 2:30 p.m. in the chapel at Lutheran Social Services, 715 Falconer St., Jamestown. The show has been presented for the last eight years by the Studio Dance Conservatory and will include ballet, contemporary, hip hop and hoop dance performed by beginner through advanced level dancers. All ages will be represented, with the youngest performers being just 3 years old. The free performance is a community service presentation for LSS residents and is open to the public.

Thumbs down to the state’s continued delay on hydraulic fracturing. As the state’s moratorium on fracking extends into yet another year, New York is so far behind other states where fracking is allowed that it likely will never generate the economic benefits that so excited many people. Matters are made worse by the lack of information and direction from the state as people are asking area town boards about a process that may or may not even be allowed in New York. North Harmony is discussing a one-year moratorium so it can study the issue while Chautauqua Town Board members heard from several area residents, and some from out of town, asking for a moratorium as well. Judging from those comments and requests, some guidance from the state about areas where fracking may be good and areas where fracking should be avoided would be helpful and could save area officials much time and hassle. Study is important, but the state is engaged in paralysis by over-analysis. It is bad policy.

Thumbs up to the fifth annual Chautauqua’s Got Talent contest, presented by Big Time Productions and The Post-Journal in conjunction with 59lucylane.com and Wing City Grille. Auditions for the contest begin Tuesday at Wing City Grille in Lakewood and at Wing City Grille in Fredonia on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Registration starts at 5 p.m. and auditions begin at 7 p.m. This contest welcomes singers, dancers, magicians, comedians and other performers of all ages to compete for at least $500 cash, a promotional website and dinner once a month for a year at Wing City Grille. This contest will have a judges’ panel that will offer constructive criticism, but the audience will decide the winner. The competition will be held at The Spire Theater, 317 E. Third St., in Jamestown on Mondays from Feb. 3 through March 10 at 7 p.m. Presale tickets will be available at The Labyrinth Press Company for $6. Tickets will be $8 at the door, or $30 for a pass to all nights.

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Thumbs up to an annual winter event that can’t help but make you think of spring. On Thursday, the Prendergast Library, Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame and Robert H. Jackson Center teamed together to screen “The Jackie Robinson Story,” a 1950 baseball biopic that starred Jackie Robinson as himself and traces Robinson’s career from his college days as a track star at Pasadena College and as UCLA’s all-sports record holder. After serving in the Army, Robinson played in the Negro Baseball League. In 1946, he was invited to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team in Montreal. The next year, he was promoted to the Brooklyn lineup. He became an outstanding player, and slowly the ban on black players vanished in the big leagues. At 7 p.m. Jan. 23, the three organizations will screen “42,” a 2013 film that tells the story of both Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who broke Major League Baseball’s color line by signing Robinson to the team. The film screenings lead up to an appearance Monday, Feb. 17, by Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, at the annual Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet. Given this week’s cold weather, any reminder that baseball season – and much warmer weather – is around the corner is a welcome sight. Tickets for the banquet are $50 and are available at the Fredonia Food Mart, Temple Street, Fredonia; Calarco’s Restaurant, Market Street, Westfield; and Jamestown Cycle Shop, Harrison Street, and the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame, Third Street, both in Jamestown; or by calling Chip Johnson at 485-6991.

Thumbs down to yet another arson fire, this time at 236 Falconer St., Jamestown. What is troubling is a statistic given by Don Woodfield, Jamestown Fire Department battalion chief, that roughly 30 to 50 percent of fires in the city are attributed to arsons. Woodfield is right that there are dozens of reasons for someone to intentionally set a fire, but let’s be honest – there is no good reason to intentionally start a fire in a home. Arson fires, even in vacant homes, do nothing more than place neighbors and firefighters in danger and leave burned out eyesores in residential neighborhoods.

Thumbs up to area schools helping parents understand curriculum changes brought on by the Common Core State Standards. Southwestern Central School has a curriculum blog on its website through which teachers explain what teachers are doing in the classroom. Frewsburg Central School went a step further by hosting the first of its evening math academy sessions Thursday at Robert H. Jackson Elementary School. The sessions put parents in their child’s shoes and allow teachers to show new instructional methods and explain how what is happening in the classroom correlates to homework students bring home each night. There are problems with implementation of the Common Core, but schools don’t have the luxury of opting out of the controversial changes. Southwestern and Frewsburg are examples for other districts to follow.

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Thumbs up to plow drivers who did their level best clearing area roads during Thursday’s heavy snow. Plow crews worked more than 24 consecutive hours to keep traffic moving during the storm, but the bitter low temperatures were as much a hindrance to snow removal as the nonstop snow. As unpleasant as driving was Thursday, many remember when such snow was a typical occurrence in Western New York and not just a periodic inconvenience as it is now. We’ll see a bit of a reprieve from the bitter cold today – though the bitter cold returns Monday and Tuesday. Be sure to check in on neighbors and to take care not to leave pets out too long on these cold days.

Thumbs down to yet another embarrassing situation in state government. Recently, Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, was accused of sexual harassment by several employees. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on Gabryszak to either deny the accusations or resign, though Gabryszak has done neither as of yet. It is just the latest example of the state’s poor handling of such allegations. Gabryszak has been convicted of nothing, which makes forced resignation a bit harsh. Immediate suspension, unpaid leave or suspension of pay pending an investigation still seems a logical alternative to letting legislators accused of serious misbehavior continue serving. It may even prompt legislators to behave properly.

Thumbs up to some exciting entertainment news. Jamestown will be in the national television spotlight from 1-3 p.m. Sunday when the 2013 Progressive Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular airs on NBC. Dunkirk/Fredonia native Sean Patrick McGraw, who has earned a niche as a country songwriter and touring performer, announced he will release a new album, “Hard Way to Make an Easy Living.” The first single “I’m That Guy” is currently available on iTunes. Tickets are also on sale for a concert at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena by national country artist Kellie Pickler. To top it off, the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts is bringing famed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan to the Reg Lenna Civic Center on March 6 and Jim Brickman to the civic center on Feb. 7.