Monday, October 30, 2006

Congratulations to Governor Patrick

He's up 25 points over Kerry Healey, has the endorsement of virtually every paper in the commonwealth, and has come through the reprehensible campaign run by the Lt. Governor and the Mass GOP with only a few scratches and bruises.

Meanwhile, he's run a decent campaign, focused on the positives, and watched the good citizens of the Bay State reject a campaign that used spurious character assassination as a way to divert attention away from a non-existent legislative record. Another blonde harpy in a twinset with a fetish for negative ads bites it. Let's hear it for Truth And Justice!

So what would a Patrick administration mean for us out here in the far-western frontier?

His support of the Cape Wind project may help streamline the wind project up on Florida Mountain. Like it or not, it appears the citizens of Florida, Savoy, Rowe, and Monroe are OK with it there, for the right reasons. It's good money for these folks: the developers are going to pay good commercial rate taxes on the land. There'll be some infrastructure improvements. And yes, there's a green energy, hippie-dippie component to the project that, while perhaps negligible in the great big scheme of things, is heading in the right direction.

Some local folks may end up in the Administration, giving them a chance to make a big statewide splash. Mr. Patrick has some well-qualified long-time supporters out in this part of the jungle, and hooray for patronage. Just try not to forget us little people when you head out to the big city. I recommend the Harvard Gardens, on Cambridge St. outside Charles Circle, for a quick drink and bite close to the State House.

Will our "taxes" go up? Hard to say. It's a bit of a politician's argument rather than actual dollar-based real world accounting. We pay all kinds of dough to all levels of government in sorts of forms. Property, income, sales, meals, excise taxes. RMV fees. Hunting and fishing and dog licenses. Professional licensures. Even the extra money they want to take wood to the dump (but that's another post entirely). Who's to say our taxes have gone down if we pay $30 less per year in property taxes but an extra $65 to register our car? Or if your income tax rate goes down to 5.1875% while it costs an extra $25 to renew your pipefitter ticket? Before anyone can realistically say "he's going to raise our taxes", keep in mind that no politician has really ever reduced the "size" of government to any appreciable degree, and somebody's gotta pay for it.

We may actually see some folks getting health care that need but can't afford it. Anyone can jiggle the numbers and talk about the $295 fine for not insuring workers and make it sound like politics, but the real issue is far more complicated. The basic philosophy of the Patrick administration seems to be "let's do what we can to help these folks", where the Romney attitude seems to have been "poor people should just shut up, get real jobs, and stop dragging down the economy by not wanting to die."

At least that's my take on it.

But it's all theoretical, and now as always, most of our lives change very little based on who's holding some political office somewhere. The translation into legislation of the conservative attitude of government as a burden vs. the liberal attitude of government as a facilitator is what I'll be using as my barometer to measure the change in the political weather come next year. Electing Mr. Patrick could turn out to be the best thing Massachusettts has ever done, or it could be a high-priced ticket to insolvency. Neither extreme is likely, but at the very least, the change in the atmosphere is something to look forward to.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Questions That Really Matter

I've spent three days trying to come up with something to write 500 words about that didn't include the words "basher" or "Buddington" in it. I hope Eric and everybody who's bashed anybody in the last two weeks will appreciate this.

In that spirit, I'm holding a referendum on the important stuff. We need to get the opinions of the community-at-large on the TRUE quality-of-life issues. So, let's vote, on the first Northern Berkshire Blogosphere Survey On The Questions That Really Matter. We'll start slow, and see if anybody really gives a crap enough to continue.
  • Best Coffee Shop (points for or against weirdo drinks, food, ambiance, as you wish):
    • Brew Ha Ha
    • Cup & Saucer
    • Dunkin' Donuts
    • Tunnel City Coffee

  • Best Angioplasty On A Plate For $10 or Less:
    • China Buffet
    • Hot Dog Ranch
    • Jack's
    • Oriental Buffet
    • Pedrin's

  • Best Quick Nine Holes:
    • Forest Park
    • North Adams CC
    • Stamford Valley

  • Best Food-Based Fundraising Event To Attend:
    • Ice Cream Social
    • Pancake Breakfast
    • Regular Breakfast
    • Spaghetti Supper

    I can't resist a political one to rouse the rabble. OK, two:

  • Most Annnoying Left-Wing Public Personality (Control yourselves, now. No write-ins):
    • Hillary Clinton
    • Howard Dean
    • Michael Moore
    • Cindy Sheehan
    • Barbra Streisand

  • Most Annnoying Right-Wing Public Personality (Tough as it may be, vote for only one):
    • George W Bush
    • Dick Cheney
    • Ann Coulter
    • Karl Rove
    • Donald Rumsfeld
So vote, if you'd like, on any or all of these categories by leaving a comment or emailing. And if you have any suggestions on additions to the library of Questions That Really Matter (I'm allowing anonymous comments on this post for a few days), let me know!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

And, Well, That Was That

It was all over in 20 minutes. In the end, everything of relevance was said long before the action kicked off at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

The only person who got gavel-banged by Council President Cariddi was an older dude who took his time to thank the Council for "not allowing these people" (and here I'd assume he's talking about people who want to impeach the President) "to spread their hatred". I was half expecting him to tell those dirty hippies to get off his lawn, from the tone of it.

It took longer for them to take roll call and pledge allegiance than to get through the agenda and into Concerns, where Councilor Bloom disabused any "Bush haters" present of the idea of abusing the "right" of open forum (which he later backtracked to a "privilege"). His argument: if we begin opening up the scope of open forum to allow national and international political issues, he asked, "where will it end"?

Ah, the old slippery slope. I'll leave it to the reader to perform their own analysis of that rhetorical technique at the Wikipedia entry for it.

Then the curtain went up on open forum, and the proverbial little child led them. Young Max May read a very short statement saying that he thinks the President should be impeached. He was gone in less time than it takes Jon Lovitz to emote a sandwich ad.

Then a feisty senior named Rosemarie told the City Council that she signed the Buddington/May petition and that she "doesn't think it's fair to have a president that doesnt care about the small people." Earnest, fair, and yet wildly off base. She lost me when it sounded like she was blaming George W. Bush for the churches in town having to close. Wow. We're talking about a man who can be accused of a lot of wacky things, most assuredly, but come on. He's not Satan*.

Then Mr. "I Hate Haters" from the second paragraph gave his impassioned summary of the Standard Right Wing Defense of Administration Policy™, and it was over. The end. Twenty minutes of glorious local cable television.

My initial takeaways on the whole affair:
  • The two agenda items were disposed of in five minutes and the correspondence in two. If nobody were there for open forum, the whole meeting would have been done in less time than it takes me to finish a cup of coffee. This is the time that the Council is so zealously protecting? I know some meetings run long, but it really didn't seem like there was a whole lot else going on tonight. Ten minutes of debate on President Bush would have at least made it worth the gas to drive downtown.

  • The Council really missed an opportunity to come off as champions of free speech by putting the resolution up for debate. Instead, they stood firm as guardians of the City's agenda in the face of an unpopular political statement. Fair enough, but you could have gotten style points for the grace to let everybody have their say.

  • Having said that, the Council exercised good judgment in holding open forum and showed no evidence that they would not have allowed Dr. May or Mr. Buddington to speak. No taser guns were fired. And the riot helmets, wherever they keep the riot helmets.

  • I was surprised that neither Eric nor Peter did speak, though. I invite either gentleman to leave a comment here explaining the thought process behind the strategy they executed at the meeting. Were they pulling their punches, or was something else going on?
In the end, l'Affaire May/Buddington did rouse the public to engage in a good old-fashioned political debate. Turns out that only some of it was the debate about impeachment. The rest, thanks to the Law of Unintended Consequences, was about the state of Participatory Democracy here on Main Street, USA, 2006. Still pretty ugly, but should live to carry on another day.

* Probably.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Where's The Voice Of Reason?

The tone of the debate about the May/Buddington City Council Resolution is turning decidedly nasty. Unnecessarily so, in my opinion.

As a former senator from Massachusetts and fellow graduate of my alma mater wrote some years ago:

"With respect to the war in which we are now involved, the course which our principles require us to pursue cannot be doubtful. It is now the law of the land, and as such we are bound to regard it. Resistance and insurrection form no part of our creed. The disciples of Washington are neither tyrants in power nor rebels out. If we are taxed to carry on this war we shall disregard certain distinguished examples and shall pay. If our personal services are required we shall yield them to the precise extent of our constitutional liability.

At the same time the world may be assured that we know our rights and shall exercise them. We shall express our opinions on this, as on every measure of the government,--I trust without passion, I am certain without fear. By the exercise of our constitutional right of suffrage, by the peaceable remedy of election, we shall seek to restore wisdom to our councils, and peace to our country.(emphasis added)"

If this isn't the most eloquent plea for reason that I've read this week, I don't know what is.

There are voices on both sides that seem to think that volume wins, and the more slander one can heap upon their opponents and their motivations, the more merit that gives their arguments. There's no attempt on the right to see the frustration on the left; no attempt on the left to see the apprehension on the right. Instead, we get simultaneously more shrill and more smug and appeals to reason get thrown into the dumpster.

Polarization has led to near-total stagnation of the national electorate. Nothing gets done except by executive fiat, which half the country hits the roof over while the other half gets all defensive. Pretty soon the debate becomes as much about the debate as it does about the issue (hello! this post!); trenches are dug, and minds refuse to change.

Some may argue it has been ever thus; Andy Etman has been posting quotes from the past that illustrate the sameness of the political rhetoric throughout history. True as that may be, ponder this: is that the most effective way to run a nation? Does making 50.1% of the populace happy constitute a worthy goal? Can't we do better?

For what it's worth, my only relevant observation on the actual issue at hand borders on the completely facetious: If the Council had decided to introduce the resolution, debate it for 10 minutes, and give it a straight up/down vote, wouldn't that have taken less of everyone's time than denying the agenda spot for the resolution and having to debate about that? If the argument is that the Council's time is too valuable for this sort of thing, then why waste everyone's time doing it the way it's being done now?

And if the argument is that the impeachment resolution goes against what our elected representatives believe their constituency wants, then why not just put it to a vote and defeat it?

What Mr. Webster said in July of 1812 is incredibly true today. The electorate will have its say. But contrary to what Mr. Hotaling's letter suggests, it can only act retroactively. We'll see if there's any fallout from this issue come November 6, 2007.

Friday, October 20, 2006

This Is What the Media Cares About?

Tara and I were working downstairs with the TV on in the background when we saw a familiar face flash across the screen. Thank God for TiVo, or we'd have missed this entirely.

Channel 6 in Albany teased tonight's newscast with the "Dion's changing his name to Kennedy" story that Jack Dew of the Eagle had published last week. And they did it with that grating little vocal smirk that news anchors are really good at--the same one that they use to tell stories that end with "Fortunately, no one was injured."

This is probably the only non-local access TV coverage the Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin state senate race is going to get apart from the micro-scroll across the bottom of the screen on the Boston stations come Nov. 7th. Is our seat that pointless that the only time anyone even notices is during the publicity stunts? Should I even be glad that they even pay attention to THOSE?

Perspective is everything when it comes to a lot of things, and politics isn't usually one of those things. But say for a second we tried to apply some perspective to this situation. There are forty senators in the General Court, and our conservative administration would like nothing better than to see control of major issues stripped from [Clinton-era liberal activist] federal judges right back to the states (except for equal marriage, for which they want to amend the Constitution, but that's another post entirely). This means that if the federal government washes its hands of some very pressing cultural and political legislation, the determination of how we live our lives here could very well be placed in the hands of forty senators--one for each 153,000 residents. The rights we have regarding abortion, flag burning, gambling, gun ownership, marriage, civil rights, telecommunications--all hot-button issues currently in federal stewardship--could rest on the shoulders of a bunch of people in Boston who get virtually no non-biased press before they go off to vote on what we can or can't do without getting thrown in jail.

Does it seem unimportant now?

This election is getting less coverage in both Boston and Albany than, for instance, Deion Branch signing with the Seahawks. Not just at this level, either. The only serious coverage the Governor's race is getting concerns the negative media advertising. You couldn't even watch a lot of the Governor's debates in Berkshire County! EVEN on local access!

It's a common trick for politicians to blame the media for personal shortcomings. But the media is doing such a terrible job keeping the public informed and involved that it's just shameful. It wouldn't even be so bad if they just ignored the entire thing completely, so long as they didn't just focus on the non-issues that confuse and cloud the real importance of the process.

And there's no solution in sight apart from getting involved personally. And that goes to hell as soon as the new fall episodes of the TV shows start up. No excuse now, though--another reason to thank God for TiVo.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Field Guide To The American Republican

Republicans (Homo Phobius Americanus) are found all throughout the continental United States, with particular concentrations in the South and Midwest. Good places for spotting many breeds in their natural habitat include stock car races, Christian rock band concerts, and Branson, Missouri. However, as a public service, here's a quick guide to help you identify each major subtype of GOP'er:

  • The Top-Hatted Unionbuster: made infamous by their portrayal in Soviet propaganda cartoons of the 1920's, this breed is convinced that any American of any stripe can become the next Railroad Tycoon with a little gumption and elbow grease provided the damn government and its meddling minimum wage and labor laws can stay out of their way. These folks are found in suits and suites around the country, issuing their shrill call: "Out-SOURCE! OUT-source! Cheeeeep cheeep cheeeep labor!" They are often found alongside:

  • The Ferrari'd Trustfundie: named after a famous type of roadster in which they frequently mate, this smugger-than-average breed often matures from rambunctious campus hippie-hating journalism majors into careers in The Family Business, Law, Elective Office, Teaching Grad Students Once a Week, or Giving Speeches.

  • The Hardblowing Windbag: There are actually three Windbag subspecies:

    • The Disembodied Voice, found on or slightly to the right of the radio dial. This breed will take your calls, make fun of you, and hang up unless you agree with absolutely everything they say.
    • The Talking Head. These folks are almost all related to one of the original Imported Australian Windbags, easily seen on basic cable and known to write books that remind one of the final Windbag subspecies:
    • The Shrill Author, who makes more noise in the pages of a book, newspaper, or vanity blog than most people make after stubbing their toe. These Windbags have transformed their call over the past few years from "Commies! Aaah! Commies!" to "Liberals! Aaah! Liberals!".

  • The Paranoid Guntoter: This mainly reclusive species is obsessed with the idea that Democrats will come marching into their homes and rip their stash of AK-47s away from their cold dead hands. Heavily armed, lightly glued, and giving off a distinctive aroma of gunpowder, this breed teaches their chicks to "shoot to kill" from an early age. Often located in deer stands, base housing, underground bunkers, near Charlton Heston movies, and the Vice President's office.

  • O'Reilly's Miffed Culturewarrior: this breed is easily recognized as it has only two vocalizations: either a muttered disgust or a shrill tirade. If you hear one muttering disgust, you can intiate a change to the shrill tirade by turning the conversation to gay marriage, immigration, Hollywood liberals, Air America Radio, or Bill Clinton. Shows a fanatical devotion to the Hardblowing Windbag.

  • The Crossed Lordpraiser: Showing a much wider distribution over the last dozen or so years, this breed nests in churches and can't understand why some other breeds want to separate church and nest, especially since they think (incorrectly, according to the Tweed-Elbowed Democrats) that the country was founded by Lordpraisers like them. Really plans on showing other breeds what's what by being snatched out of thin air leaving all others to suffer years of tribulation. Has much in common with the Culturewarrior but is much more inclined to be OK with a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran, hastening the End Times.

There are rumors of sightings of the Vanishing Easternus Liberalus, mostly in New York State and even here in Western New England. Forced to adapt to a hostile climate, this breed usually only differentiates itself from Democrats during election years, and is pretty much considered traitorous and untouchable by the other breeds. It is rare and probably a pretender to major office, except perhaps as Secretary of State.

Every once in a while, there is a single specimen that rises above all others and can work well with and reflect the viewpoints of all breeds of American. This one lone Republican has an innate instinct for what's fair, what's right, and how to get people to agree and work together towards a common goal. Usually, however, this specimen is beaten down and urinated upon by every other Republican and only comes out at night, in the dark, chased into madness by the noise, greed, lust for power, and irrationality of the entire process.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Are We As Dumb As We Look?

So, this company that I'd never heard of, Morgan Quitno Press, has come out with another one of those potentially hugely bogus study results--one that seems to exist solely to give news editors, debate teams, and bloggers something to talk about.

In this one, they rank Vermont as the "smartest" state in the union, with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts--now to be deemed "The Silver Medal State" thanks to both this and Nancy Kerrigan's semi-heroic skating--as number two. Vermont repeats as #1 from last year while we geniuses here popped up 1 place, forcing those dumbasses in Connecticut down to #3.

I know you're interested in who hit dead last. I certainly was. It's Arizona, as it turns out, followed by Nevada, Mississippi, and California. The Southwestern Trifecta, with a kicker. The punchlines here are easy pickin's.

But this is not why I bring this study up.

Dumb as it may be to play into this, let's do it as a thought exercise. Let's say a bunch of guys from Kansas (#15) determine Massachusetts is somehow 2.5 points dumber than Vermont, 12.4 points smarter than New York, and second out of all fifty states based on graduation rates, test scores, knowledge of Star Trek, whatever. What's it mean?

Most obviously and importantly, it means that the teachers, school committees, PTAs, administrators, paraprofessionals, staffs, parents, and of course, the kids are doing what they all need to be doing, sometimes under incredibly difficult conditions and on shoestring budgets.

It means that people come here for the excellence of our school systems, public and private; early, secondary and higher. People come to Massachusetts to go to Andover, Miss Hall's, and Deerfield. For Simon's Rock and Williams. For Harvard, MIT, Tufts, BC, BU, Northeastern, Holy Cross, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Clark, WPI. And people stay once they've been here.

It means that state and local government has been able to accomodate business that attracts and retains educated professionals without driving them out of state to New Hampshire or North Carolina.

Regardless of how true or not the results of this sound bite study actually are, there will always be candidates, columnists, pundits, salesmen, and loudmouths. And their worlds will always be troubled; there will naught but evil to be fought and challenges to be overcome. And in a troubled world, you can turn to--well, whatever candidate, idea, or product they're suggesting will make everything shiny, safe, and easy.

Don't believe all of it, though. Believe instead for a few minutes that committed people, working together, can educate our kids, keep our stuff and our families secure, and make things better for everyone. Maybe not perfect, and not always shiny, safe, or easy. But always trying harder, working smarter, and realizing the ultimate lesson from Star Trek: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

It's either that, or rerouting the warp core phase flucuations through the tractor beam will reverse antimatter inversions and repair rifts in space-time. I think it's the "needs of the many" thing, though.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Las Vegas On $5 A Day

...would probably be one sucky trip. But Tara and I have just set up a quick December vacation, as we have only been out of town a couple times this year, to good old Vegas. This time we're staying at The Riviera; it's my eighth trip to a Vegas hotel in the last 13 years, and for some reason I've never stayed in the same place twice.

I first went in November '93, on a business trip to do a song-and-dance about our company's time and billing software at a big trade show. Stayed at the Barbary Coast. Shared a room with mensch Pete Blum (hi Pete--bet you'll NEVER read this!); this was obviously before the tech boom. Had some fun with Tracey (hi Tracey--bet YOU'LL never read this either) and Julie (hi Jul--aw, you get the point) and some other folks who, thinking about it now, were really good friends whom I miss more than I thought I would by now. The Barbary Coast was a total hole, by the way. Even back then.

Went back in December '96, alone, and stayed downtown at the Golden Nugget. Back again in '98, also alone, at the Excalibur. Again in October 2000, to meet Paul (the kicked-out-of-Middleton guy I talked about in the countertop post a couple days ago) and Seanie "Bugbite" Ennis for a boy's weekend. We stayed at the now-long-gone Boardwalk, all 3 of us in one room. We all smoked at the time. Must have smelled like the bottom of a sumo wrestler's laundry basket in that room by the time we left.

First time with Tara in April '01, at Caesar's Palace. Big hot tub in the room...bow chicka chicka bow wow. Ahem. Then in '02 with her and her brother Dru at the Frontier. TRULY the grubbiest digs in town. And the staff had their ass-sticks firmly in place for that trip. And finally, October '03 found us at the Venetian during our big West Coast roadtrip. The night before that we had stayed in the bustling metropolis of Tonopah, Nevada. Wonderfully lame little place, which made it all the more run-down Old West charming. Makes North Adams seem like Amsterdam in comparison.

So given all that experience, here are my top things to do in Vegas:

  • For gambling, I like the 25-cent multi-game video machines that play blackjack. I have good luck at them, and they'll come by with the free drinks. Play a buck a hand and you can sit there gambling for real money for two, three hours at a time. Beats having to play at a $15 table next to a creepy Japanese grandmother with switchblade fingernails and a permanent scowl.

  • Eat. Goes without saying. The In-and-Out Burger is a seldom-visited treat. Gone, though, are the days they used to give away food to get you into the casino. Still may be some places downtown, but on the Strip, they can get away without the low-cost steam table leftovers.

  • The Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. Seriously, this is worth the cab ride, and Quark's Bar is a fun place to meet for a drink.

  • The Sports Book. Believe it or not, a futures ticket is a great present for the sports fan on your list. Get your brother-in-law a $25 ticket for the Patriots to win the '07 Super Bowl. If they lose, eh, it's a cute memento; but if they do win, how much cooler would that make it? I'll tell you: $200 cooler! Especially if he actually IS a Patriots fan!

  • Tara loves the roller coaster at New York, New York. It is kinda cool, but take a lesson from The Cool Kid here and take some Dramamine first, or you'll give a whole new meaning to visiting Ralph out in Coney Island.

So let me know if you'll be out there at the same time...we'll meet up at Quark's Bar and shoot some craps. It'll be fun!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Counter(top) Punching

We have learned more about countertops in the six months between February and September than we had ever bargained for. It never seemed to us that buying a flat slab of something to spill coffee on would be that complicated. Some of the biggest idiots we know have countertops. How tough could this be?

We made it tougher on ourselves by getting a great deal on an apron-front, undermount sink. We got that sink, which Tara had her eye on before we even signed the papers on the house, from for about 1/5 the retail price. It was like, "I don't care about electrical service or water in the basement. I want a FARM SINK!" So a farm sink it was. And after we did the cabinets, here's what we were looking at for our own little hunk of kitchen work surface glory:

But as we were designing the new kitchen, our first round of research brought us to the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop on the Conventional Wisdom of Kitchen Remodeling Highway: Thou shalt not create a laminate countertop for thy undermount sink, lest ye swell up and part from thy substrate; it is an abomination."

I'm like...come on. They've put a man on the moon. Solved Fermat's Last Theorem. The Red Sox won the World Series. You mean I have to drop $1200 on seventeen square feet of solid-surface countertop because modern science can't create a waterproof seam between a 1/16" sheet of laminate and a piece of friggin wood?

But nobody would do it for us. It was like asking them to make it out of kitten fur and baby seal eyes. I could swear I heard one guy laughing at us. AFTER he'd hung up the phone.

So--our alternatives:
  • Stop pissing and moaning and pay the money for Corian, granite, marble, poured concrete or glass.
  • Pay even MORE money for a "green" solution like Richlite, Avonite, or shredded $20 bills. Which we'd have to provide, from the estimates of it.
  • Stainless steel over particleboard. An interesting idea. But around here, it was hard to find a supplier to come in cheap, especially with the bends and corners in our countertop.
  • I know you're losing interest rapidly, but bear with me.
  • Tile. An option, as we could have cement backerboard on the bottom. Waterproof, but we couldn't figure out how to do the rim around the sink. Plus, nobody likes an uneven surface.
  • Kitten fur and baby seal eyes. Believe me, I thought about it.
  • Do my OWN laminate countertop. We went a long way down the road with this plan. We were gonna screw together two sheets of 5/8" exterior plywood, waterproof them, cut the template out with my widdle jigsaw, laminate all the surfaces and mount the thing. Problem 1: I have no idea how to do any of that. Problem 2: I think when I ran that by a few people they laughed even harder than the first guy I talked to. Back to square 1.
So one day I read about some stuff called Trespa Athlon, made by a Dutch company, made of some weird resin. Hmmm...good idea. Resin, you say?

Well, we couldn't actually get a hold of anyone at Trespa, but Tara got on her horse, ran with the ball, and found Lab Furniture, in Middleton, Massachusetts, a town near and dear to my heart after my friends Paul and Dave were caught drinking underage there back in 1986. They were expelled from Middleton permanently. Told NEVER to return. Ever. I don't know about Dave, but Paul sneaked back in with me around 2000, and I swear the cops raised an eyebrow at him when we drove past the Dunkin' Donuts.

Back to the story: we called Mike at Lab Furniture, sent him our template, and he came back with Prime Epoxy Resin. This is the stuff they used to make your high school chemistry lab work surface. Impervious to water, chemicals, frog guts, or my homemade macaroni and cheese. Black, 1" thick, can be cut and machined, and came in handy 4'x8' sheets. Squint, and you can see our design was exactly 96" wide. Our only spot of luck in the whole process.

The best part? We paid about $500 for the piece, plus a 4" backsplash all around, and another $150 to ship it from the factory in Michigan. Took about three weeks, we got it in, and it slid right on like a big black epoxy resin slipper. Thanks, Mike!

Anyway, if you're still reading this, know that if you're in the market for a solid surface countertop, you don't have to pay upwards of $70 a square foot. As long as you want it black. With a 1/8" beveled edge. But hey, why don't more people know about this stuff? And why the hell do people charge so much for countertops?

Next up: the plumbing. Lookin' forward to THAT.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Vote From Your Consciousness

The title of this post was a great line delivered by Dion (rhymes with Lion) Robbins-Zust, at the State Senate debate sponsored by the Mass. Commission on the Status of Women last night in Pittsfield. He probably meant 'conscience', but I like it that way. Much more zen. Better political feng shui.

The debate was a timed, moderated format featuring Mr. Zust (officially Independent, but with a Green/Rainbow party affiliation) against Republican Matthew Kinnaman and Democrat Ben Downing, and moderated by Florida Town Administrator Susan Brown. There were about 50 folks in attendance, with the Downing supporters seated on the left side of the room, and the Kinnaman boosters on the right. Talk about feng shui.

Tara and I, being neither professional reporters nor particularly punctual, missed the first ten minutes of the show. I have notes on the rest, but think I'll just convey some of my general impressions about the debate and the campaign so far.

The whole affair seemed pretty chummy, as these things go. The Democratic primary debates were more rough-and-tumble than this one. Not that I was expecting a fistfight to break out (as much fun as THAT would be to write about), but there was a whole bunch of mutual agreement and stating positive positions on issues. Besides, Ben is giving away at least 3 inches and 25 pounds to Matt, so I think he'd lose in a fight between the two of them.

They discussed teen pregnancy, wind power, the role of arts in the economy, health insurance, the Community Preservation Act, the Berkshire Compact, and the availability of hi-speed internet. Ben and Matt talked a lot about education as economic stimulus and societal remedy. Dion talked a lot about shared parenting legislation. I mean, a lot. In response to Sue's questions about teen pregnancy, unfilled jobs, the Community Preservation Act, and even hi-speed internet access, he was able to work shared parenting legislation in there as a response. And...the Japanese. He was referring to the intense family culture that influences their society, and how it would benefit life here, but a) I don't see how a freshman state senator does much about that legislatively and b) if he continues that debating style, he's in danger of being labeled a single-issue candidate. His web site has a more comprehensive list of his positions, but during the debate yesterday, he really nailed that message. With big nails. And a big hammer.

We should be able to predict the tone of the final act now. Fortunately, it looks like none of the candidates will go negative. That's refreshing, although it's less compelling blogging. Matt will be using the word "experience" a lot, trying to subtly ram the age issue through to the voters, and stressing his career in education. Ben will continue the strategy that won him the primary: family history, experience working with legislators; youth and passion, and technology. Dion will probably work in a few more references to shared parenting legislation and spread the message that neither the Dems nor Repubs are providing anything but "hollow rhetoric" in lieu of actual responsible governance.

In short, I think Sue did a great job getting the issues out of all the candidates. I plan on bringing some additional, possibly more contentious issues up at the 10/24 W'town/North Adams Rotary Candidate's Event, and hopefully the 10/26 MCLA debate will feature some as well.

Keep in mind that all these guys are remarkably accessible (kudos!), so it's worth heading over to Dion's, Matt's, or Ben's web sites, and if you have a question or issue you'd like to raise with them, I predict you'll get a timely response.

If you're interested in my capsule summaries of each candidate's answers to the issue questions asked, let me know and I'll followup on this post. Or you can just watch the debate on TV. No commercials. I mean, that's cool.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Do the Republicans Do, Drink Conservatively? asked a friend of a member of our monthly political, social, and ethanol-based discussion group, Drinking Liberally. North Adams has a chapter, founded by the very hard-working Executive Director of Northern Berkshire Creative Arts, Rebecca DeWitt. Tuesday was the third meeting of the group, which is turning into a real look-forward event for both me and Tara. Good to see both Marge Ware and Ben Downing there; Ben pointed out he co-founded the Tufts chapter of DL. He'd probably be the only State Senator to have THAT on his resume.

Ben's got a series of debates coming up against Republican Matt Kinnaman and Independent Dion Robbins-Zust this month: first is tonight (the 11th) at Girls Inc in Pittsfield and another one the 26th right here at MCLA in North Adams. Plus, plans are firming up for the candidates to address a joint lunch of the Williamstown and North Adams Rotary Clubs in Williamstown on Tuesday the 24th. That session may be open to the public--I'll let you know as soon as I find out.

So there's a story from the Drinking Liberally meeting. Those of us who read the Transcript's Letters to the Editor have read Peter May's October 5th entry, here in its entirety:

I pledge resistance to the flag
Of the United Corporations of America
And to the corrupt dictatorship
For which it stands,
One nation,
Under Bush divided,
With terror, inequality and injustice for all.
— United States of America, 1776-2006, R.I.P.

This triggered a snarky response from one citizen, which engendered a refreshing non-partisan shout-out from Transcript editor Glenn Drohan, and a rebuttal from Peter. This stuff makes great editorial, especially in an election year.

Anyway, Peter's got a version of the Declaration of Independence worded up as well. He's stirring up support for a visit to the next North Adams City Council meeting, where he and Eric Buddington are going to propose a Resolution For Impeachment, to call for the removal of the President and Vice Presidents of the United States as well as the Secretaries of State and Defense from office.

[Edited to add: The wording of the resolution has been updated: the proposal now calls for "encouraging the North Adams City Council to pass a resolution that calls on Representative Olver and Senators Kerry and Kennedy to impeach President George W. Bush and remove him from office."]

This'd be the evening of the 24th at City Hall. Should be a helluva show. If you're on Peter and Eric's side, they're looking for some help spreading the message, and at the very least to show up at the City Council meeting. You can get more information or sign up at Eric's web site. It's going to be something else, one way or the other. No doubt about it. If nothing else, the reaction to the proposal will be pretty enlightening, and if debate is allowed on the measure, it will be a good chance to hear the views of the city's elected officials.

See what you missed? Head over to the North Adams forum of the Drinking Liberally web site, or join their mailing list for info on November's meeting, which'll probably be the Tuesday AFTER election day. I'm sure there'll be lots to talk about.

Monday, October 09, 2006


So, CBGB (not CBGB's, but that's what everyone called it) is finally closing, after 33 years in existence. RIP. You can read a great article in the NY Press on the subject written by my friend, band mate, and all-around class act Michael Cobb.

That band, The Crevulators, played there about a half-dozen times, down in the Downstairs Lounge and up on the main stage. Usually, the main stage appearances were on a bill supporting our friends The Reid Paley Trio:

It was cool to have trodden the same beer-soaked, carpet-covered plywood as the great NYC punk bands that are constantly mentioned in the same breath as CBGB: The Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie lead the medals podium there. They had a decent sound system and the Pabst Blue Ribbons were cold. But truth be told, it was past its prime by the time we got there. We usually had more fun and better crowds playing at either the Rodeo Bar across town or our more regular haunts in Brooklyn.

My guess is that most of the obits you're going to see about CBGB are going to be weepy nostalgia pieces that will almost invariably use the words "end of an era". Well, fine. Truth is, the place was a dump. It was a 10 minute walk in any direction to get either a slice of pizza or cup of coffee (an unforgiveable sin in Manhattan, really). Apart from the bands--most of which were Long Island, Westchester, and Jersey kids doing bad Green Day impressions--it was just a dark, spraypainted dive bar that was neither the first nor most impressive of its kind.

They never, as Tara pointed out to me, capitalized on their brand. How could someone not have paid Hilly Kristal ten thousand bucks 10 years ago, licensed the name, and opened up 5 or 10 places with memorabilia on the walls and $11 cheeseburgers? It'd have been a much cooler cachet than the Hard Rock or House of Blues. With instantaneous name recognition. Yeah, so it stripmallizes the cultural reference, but I stopped making myself upset about that sort of thing a few years ago. I'm picking my ideological battles much more carefully these days.

The closing of the place is as much about lack of vision as it is about any of the following influences that converged to sink the Kristal ship (ha! works in a classic rock reference!): NYC rents (rising), A-hole landlords (suing), original live music as an entertainment commodity (boring), and the passing into the Grey Havens of the bands that played there as kids (aging). It's just history, right? No need to start feeling old, or anything, right?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Biting the Ballot...Questions

We have three intiative petitions to vote on here in the Commonwealth this year, all very much rooted out of the very base desires for money (2 of them) and power (the other one) by special interest groups.

Question 1: Should we be allowed to buy wine at supermarkets?

I'm like, sure, why not, whatever. I guess the guys at the local packies aren't going to be too happy, but I don't seem them going out of business over it. What gets me wanting to stab someone with a fork is the web site that the state supermarket PAC threw up advocating the question like it's about "choice for consumers" and updating "outdated provisions" in our state's liquor laws.

Wow. Thank you, Mass Food Association. Thank you for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to update our state's liquor laws. It's so...selfless of you. Hmmm, what? Your members stand to make millions of dollars over the next 10 years in wine sales? Really? Wow. I can't imagine that something so altruistic as wanting to provide choice for consumers would come with a side benefit that you're not mentioning in your marketing literature.

Question 2: Should we make ballots more confusing by sticking the same candidate in multiple times with a different and invariably weird fringe party designation?

I think you can tell where I come down on this. This particular web site is much better than the Supermarket Sweep folks sponsoring Q1 above, though. Has this great cartoon, which you can click to open the site:

We lived in the Empire State for a little more than three years, so I've seen this system in action. To date, the "Working Families Party" is still just the organization that has the Democratic candidate's name written on the ballot twice and gets the occasional column-inch in the Daily News. My problems with this initiative:

1) People are easily confused and as a rule tend not to make informed decisions anyway. This is just one more avenue to muddle things up without actually accomplishing anything.

2) As I'll expound in a later post, I'm incredibly tired of the two party system and the abject failure of either the GOP or Dems to rise above partisan hackery. I love the idea of a strong 3rd party. But having a bunch of guys named Moe band together to put someone else's party hack on the ballot under their name is just...I dunno...I can't decide between "silly" or "pointless". How about "spintless"?

I really would like me a can of vibrant democracy, though.

Question 3: Should home-based child care providers be able to collectively bargain with the Commonwealth?

Well, I don't have kids, and I don't take care of kids, so this all becomes more of theoretical question. Still, my vote counts just as much as other folks. I've always appreciated the contribution the labor movement has made to society, but...I think of the last 40 years of union activity like I do poetry: for every 1 single sublime, life-affirming poem, there are 300 that make me want to rip my eyeballs out. I was in NYC for 2 transit strikes--pointless. The MTA (the Mass Teachers--not the transit strike people) shutting down the longer school day here? Poorly played. So, when I see these folks wanting to band together, I get a vision of a bunch of families with no place to put their kids because their daycare provider is on strike* for an extra fifty bucks a week. I don't see how it makes the kids any better provided for, since you can't make the providers use any percentage of the gains made through collective bargaining to improve either their facilities or levels of service.

I do see the point. If the Commonwealth has a big say in your personal paycheck, it's good to have an advocacy with some teeth behind it. But it's not like this legislation will do for child care workers what Chavez did for farm workers. In the end, this is a vendor (the providers) to client (the commonwealth) relationship and it looks like the vendors are trying to set the conditions of the deal. Is that the way it's supposed to work?

So, that's it for that. Get out and vote!

*The proposed law does not grant the right to strike, but then again, NY law didn't authorize the last transit strike in NYC either. Roger Toussaint of the Transit Workers Union did 10 days in a bottom bunk at Rikers for that. Point is, just cuz somethin's illegal don't mean someone ain't gonna do it. I'm just sayin.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Hugh Laurie Plays One On TV

I've really always liked Hugh Laurie. With Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, or alone. In fact, "House" is probably the least interesting thing I've seen him in. I'm glad for his new US popularity, but it seems ironic that he gets it for playing an unlikeable character in one of the most formulaic medical shows ever with an American accent that I just can't get over.

Anyway, someone over on posted this and I figured I'd test out a link to a YouTube video. Enjoy:

How's the Weather There in 1992?

How come North Adams doesn't have a good city web site yet? One with FAQs about city government, ordinances, taxes, neighborhood and place names and maps, building codes, fire and police regs, parking, school info, snow emergency news, election information, a cultural calendar, or the transfer station (Wes--the guy at the dump was nice to me...of course, paying $55 to get a sticker for the van that died 90 minutes after its first and only trip there...O Irony, Lay The Hell Off Me)? I had read in the paper at one point that the folks at Boxcar Media got the contract for it, but that was months ago. When is v1.0 about to go live?

At least we can pay our property tax and water bill online.

Here in 2006, when your Aunt Gert's sewing circle gets its own Yahoo Group and the town of Lanesborough has a better web site than you do--it's time to easily and cheaply make it just that much easier for non-area people to get the information they need to come here and hit the ground running. We don't need to have Cambridge's...or Pittsfield's...or Fitchburg's...or even Adams'...but it would have helped us a lot, and will definitely help new folks find their way here and their way around.

The Madkitchen of Chaillot, or, Somewhere Bob Vila is Laughing

Most people who know Tara and I know several things about us:

   a) We're tall
   b) We're usually together
   c) We're lifelong apartment dwellers who are trying to remodel our kitchen ourselves
   d) As a result, we currently have neither a functioning stove nor plumbed sink in the kitchen.

We're making do pretty well with our toaster oven, electric kettle, and gas grill. No microwave, though; we're a little superstitious about the wiring in the kitchen and want to upgrade it before we buy the one we want. But to do the wiring, we wanted to have the dishwasher in place. For that, we'd need the plumbing set up. And we couldn't have the plumber in until the cabinets (which we bought special-order and finished ourselves) and countertop (epoxy resin, which is a whole other post) were installed. And I couldn't even really start THAT until I had laid the new floor, which meant removing the old enamel sink/countertop monstrosity, the plumbing for that, and then leveling the existing floor.

But before we wanted to do the floor, we wanted to finish the demo: taking down a fun greenboard and plaster wall to expose the brick chimney, and ripping out the old drop ceiling (first) then the even-more-fun lath-and-plaster ceiling (next) to expose the upstairs plumbing for when we need to do the bathroom.

The 10-day break I took after running a 12 penny nail through my foot during THAT particular Adventure In Homeowning was just a bonus.

Anyway, we just got the countertop in last week, so now we can plumb the sink and dishwasher, have our pals at McLain Electric run a couple more circuits and install some outlets and wall switches, and we can start talking about the tile and other wallish matters. And the stove, well, that's a whole other post too. But with cool pictures.

But having to replace the whole heating system last month has taken our full attention off the kitchen, and with two vehicles on a first-name basis with the guys at AAA, it's turned into another kitchen sinkless week. I would wield the wrenches myself, but Tara, bless her heart, knows exactly what would happen if I did. Well, not exactly: she can't decide if I'd flood the house or poison the drinking water for a four-block radius. The professionals shall have at this, in due course; at least if they sicken the neighborhood we'll have someone to blame.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Saturday In The Parkade

There's an editorial in today's Transcript and a story in yesterday's edition lauding the new Parkade--the long-awaited reopening of the former KMart plaza a block south of Main Street.

I think everyone's pretty psyched about the movie theatre. Some are psyched about the Olympia Sports, but if it's anything like the one down in Pittsfield, I wouldn't get too excited. And Peebles--well, I'm not feelin' the love from that many folks there. Tara wants to start a campaign to bring a Lane Bryant to town, and she's got a great point. Nearest one is in Albany, where there's tax on clothes; next one is in Holyoke. Anyone listening over there?

I'm a bit shocked at the disappointment when the Applebee's fell through. I think it's a good thing for the nearby full-service American casual restaurants right around there--Boston Seafood, the Freight Yard Pub, and Friendly's--all of which would be competing around the same price point without much of a difference in selection. If it has to be a chain restaurant, I'd like to see something more ethnic that would spice up the local offerings while still being mainstream enough to gain acceptance among less adventurous palates. Maybe an On the Border, or Don Pablo's? How about a reasonably priced steak place a la Kneebones in Allendale? Or an Irish pub? PF Chang's? Bertucci's? Tony Roma's?

Yeah, I realize how easy it is to sit here and cherry-pick what restaurants I'd like to see here and not actually do anything about it. What can the average citizen do, though? How can Joe Sixpack help the city get hooked up with a Lane Bryant and a Benihana?

And what punster came up with the name "Parkade"? It sounds like an energy drink made out of trees and benches and young couples pushing strollers on Sunday morning.

Looking forward to seeing how this all plays out this winter and spring.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

There's A New Blog In Town

While I'm not new to the concept of blogging, I've never felt that there was much need for me to speak up--especially since there are a number of voices that are doing a helluva job capturing the spirit up here in the Northern Berkshires and beyond.

Well, I changed my mind.

My wife and I are new(ish) to the area. We bought a 120-year-old house in North Adams this past winter, and we're trying to fix it up. We're trying to get more involved in our community--seeing what works, what isn't working, and where we can pitch in.

I want to add my opinions to the discussions on the best approaches to public policy, regional planning, city and state politics, and the role of government in the average American's life--realizing the wide variety in the definition of the "average" American. I want to get the opinions of the folks who read blogs like this (realizing there's even WIDER variety of the "average" blogger) and have a decent debate.

I want to talk about fixing up this house I have here. Real estate is a great motivator of human behavior and much of politics at the local level, to be honest, is homeowners and small businesses trying to maximize their investments. Plus, there are more hands after the ever-dwindling contents of my wallet than ever. I could always use the advice of those who have gone before me down the unheated, windowless hall of home ownership.

I want to talk about business, the media, human relations, my family, and our dog Winston. I think nothing would be better than dragging the Northern Berkshires kicking and screaming into the 21st century, attracting more learned minds, more skilled hands, and a decent Chinese retaurant. These buffets are just grease-and-MSG palaces, and Chopsticks in Williamstown has crummy service on the order of a major European city. Good to know that at least one thing up here is up to world-class level.

Eh, but if nobody reads this blog, so be it. Could be worse.