Tuesday, November 28, 2006

There And Back Again

Some interesting roadtrip notes from a blogger who enjoys The Art of the Roadtrip and married someone equally as roadworthy:

  • We were an hour into the trip, going over the Collar City Bridge in Troy, NY, when something deep in the bowels of the Saab went pa-toink, and the idiot lights made the dash look like the USS Enterprise on red alert. We coasted down into Watervliet, NY, a town which can boast of a horde of auto service places right off the exit there in their little hamlet under the Thruway.

    If the belt had lasted just a few more hours, we'd have crapped out in the middle of nowhere on I-71 in Ohio, miles from the nearest anything.

    We were fortunate, though, and were able to drop it off with the good people at East Coast Tire and Auto, walk a few blocks to Bob's Diner, eat a surprisingly tasty club sandwich, drink a pretty decent cup of coffee, and come back an hour later to find it fixed. Two hours and $159 later (we replaced all four belts), we were back on The Way West. Elsewise, the Swedemobile did pretty well throughout 2,237 road miles.

  • This was our first multi-day roadtrip involving the passing of multiple Waffle Houses wherein the 24-hour scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, and diced goodness of America's Favorite Hash Browns was not enjoyed. Instead, we ended up at the Steak & Shake, which also boasts of 24-hour goodness, more along the burger, fries, chili, and shake-type variety.

    It's an interesting head-to-head road food comparison. The Waffle House is cheaper, but S&S's food is better. For the non-breakfast items, anyway. But we had a REALLY bad cup of WH coffee at a quick pit stop outside of Mansfield, Ohio, turning us off to the place for the rest of the trip. Punishment, if you will. We're vindictive when you screw with our coffee.

  • Besides, we ate in on Thursday and Friday. Whoo boy, did we eat. Our Thanksgiving had a soul food twist out there in the Midwest; Shark-Fu (to whom's blog I link over there on the right) whipped up the cornbread and collard greens to go with the fabulous bird and ham and fixin's. AND she made breakfast for everybody. Sister C-Money provided magical sweet potato pie and oatmeal cookies.

    We ate nonstop for two days. Ah, Thanksgiving. Doing for gluttony what St. Patrick's Day has been doing for drinking, since 1863.

  • It was the first day of buck hunting season in Pennsylvania on Monday. We got the last room at the Best Western in Bedford (southwest PA, about an hour and change east of Wheeling, West Virginia) on Sunday night around 1:30am. The parking lot was crammed with pickup trucks, presumably owned by armed men with a serious grudge against the local male white-tailed deer population. Not a place where you'd want to start crap with random dudes hanging around the bar.

    During the day Monday, the state was deserted. It seemed that most of the Solid Men of the Commonwealth of Pennyslvania were parking their trucks by the side of the road, wearing orange hats, and fixin' to kill vicious leaf-eating forest animals. Lord knows why they cut the things heads off and pay money to set up em to nail them onto walls. I'm not saying hunting deer is easy, and I'm foregoing ALL commentary on the "we have to thin the herd" concept, but really, is there that much pride to be taken in the act of finding a deer in the woods and then not missing it with a couple blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun or a laser-sighted .30-06?

    Heading back to NYC tomorrow night for a day in the office on Friday. An evening around the old neighborhood, a day full of meetings, and back again for a weekend of house-related stuff. Maybe I can work off a few slices of sweet potato pie in the process. Or maybe I'll just buy pants in the next size up.

    It's good to be back.

  • Monday, November 20, 2006

    The Road Goes On...Ever, Ever On

    The title of the post is a reference to an abysmal song in the abysmal stage production of The Lord Of The Rings. Yes, the stage production. The MUSICAL stage production. You may have heard of it: it opened in Toronto early in '06 and closed a few months thereafter. Anyway, Tara and Winston and I roadtripped up to Toronto to see it there last spring. Quick review: it blew. Yecch. A total travesty. 27 million dollars down a big Canadian toilet. An insult to Tolkein, and an obvious cash grab by show folk, most of whom haven't the capacity to understand what was so special about the books to start with. You knew it was awful when Boromir dies towards the end of the 1st book and Aragorn breaks out into song. Now it'll be foisted upon the unsuspecting European public in London starting next May--let them discover the joy.

    But its second meaning has to do with our current trip. We're on our way to a midwestern daily double. We head tomorrow morning to St Louis, Missouri, for Thanksgiving with friends. On the way back we spend a day in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana, the city that the folks who coined the term "flyover country" had in mind (sorry, Wes...couldn't resist). Since we're Saabing it, we'll probably spend Tuesday night somewhere between Erie PA and Cleveland OH. I know, you wish you were us.

    So I'm just going to clean out the unmatched sock drawer of blog topics before I throw my suitcase together:

  • Today's USA Today produced one of the finest articles on the religious perspective on the gay marriage discussion that I've read to date. From a most unexpected source--a Baptist minister. And the USA Today, come to think of it. It's like, FINALLY, someone gets it: "Leviticus is filled with laws imposing the death penalty for everything from eating catfish to sassing your parents. If you accept one as the absolute, unequivocal word of God, you must accept them all...The truth is that mainstream religion has moved beyond animal sacrifice, slavery and the host of primitive rituals described in Leviticus centuries ago. Selectively hanging onto these ancient proscriptions for gays and lesbians exclusively is unfair according to anybody's standard of ethics."

  • We're done with the plumber in Pittsfield that did our heating system, and our electrician bailed on us claiming too much work. Everyone else in town is booked solid or will be out of town for the holidays. We need a couple of 20 amp circuits run to our kitchen from the panel in the basement, and our sink and dishwasher need to be plumbed in. Anybody know anyone? The electrical work is one guy for half a day, and we already have about half the 12/2 romex we'll need for the job. Anybody?

  • Nationally ranked Princeton (17) beat Dartmouth on Saturday; the Avocados end their season at 2-8 this year. Ivy League football is really a very strange creature in and of itself. Brings to mind very anachronistic images of guys with funny hats and bowties saying things like "Boola boola". It's almost true, too, or at least it was twenty years ago. I will say, though, that Ivy League pre-football drinking absolutely shames a lot of supposedly serious party schools. Think about it: the lunkheads in the Big 10 parking lots drink Keystone Light while stuffing themselves full of chili and sausages. Meanwhile, Ivy guys are usually belting cheap Canadian whiskey by 10AM on game days; maybe they had a bowl of oatmeal at 8. Much of the campus is totally loaded by the middle of the 2nd quarter. The football itself is kinda lame, and there are no real fans outside the people who went there. But it's got some tradition behind it, and fortunately not that many people take it too seriously. It's like a cool antique that still works: the old Victor Victrola of the football universe.

    I'll probably update y'all from the Great American Middle later on this week. Have a great Thanksgiving, everybody.

  • Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Eat Spaghetti and Meatballs - Live Forever

    With Jae's Restaurant leaving its perch above the Curran Highway, that just about does it for decent Chinese food up here. Don't keep telling me about Chopsticks, either. Every time we go there, we're reminded of how absolutely miserable the service is. They've never gotten our order right the first time; there's been one or more of the proprietor's family's screaming kids running around, and we have to ask like four times for mustard. Mustard! Jeez. You can't get the mustard right, you might as well sell out and become a Taco Bell.

    So now that there's going to be one less place to eat in town, that should make you think about alternate ways of putting food on your family (Thank you, Mr. President) for a good price and for a good cause.

    Enter the North Adams Rotary Club (nice web site, huh? that's me. give me a call if you want a site done for cheap) and their Spaghetti Supper. I think I've plugged this before when it was supposed to be in October, but since we've moved it to this coming Thursday, you still have a chance to help out our club's truly good work right here in the city. And get meatballs in the process.

    You can also get strawberry pie. Longtime residents and other fans of Lawrence Welk may remember DiLego's Diner by the post office. Apparently their pie recipe is right up there with Class A narcotics in terms of addictive potential, and we only make it once a year. So there's probably reason enough to come by St. Anthony's (NOT the American Legion!) on Thursday, early. Like 4:00pm. Or, you can call Paul DiLego at 884-4017 to reserve a pie. They're $12 for a whole pie. And I won't complain if you write it off as a charitable donation. Of course, I'm not the IRS, but they have such a reputation for being so nice. How can you go wrong?

    And if you look ono page A6 of today's Transcript, there's a great picture of some cute chick who really kneads the dough. Reason enough to hit the pasta fest.

    And since our fall foliage Burgervaganza was rained on the way it was, this is our big chance to raise funds for the Christmas Party we throw for some of the kids in town that wouldn't normally get one. It's for the kids! You don't hate kids, do you?

    Notice how this is an easier sell than the telemarketing firm trying to push cop tickets and keep 75% of the take...and a much better deal than a fake Jimmy Buffet concert. See you there, then? Swell!

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    We Drink, But Only From The Left Side Of The Glass

    Well, if it isn't that time of the month again.

    The November Drinking Liberally meeting is Tuesday night the 14th at EGL, formerly Gideon's Nightery, at 23 Eagle St in North Adams. This'll be the first time there, since it's just opened up as EGL about three weeks ago. So it'll be a new experience for all of us. Ah, change. Something conservatives hate, right? At least in the classical definition of the word "conservative", anyway.

    It's been an interesting month in the Northern Berkshire political scene since the last meeting, hasn't it? If this meeting is anything like that last one, there'll be a whole room full of interesting folks who like to talk politics. And there's a lot to talk about:
    • What's Deval Patrick going to do, who's he going to do it with, and are any Northern Berkshire Democrats going to be there?

    • Impeachment--still just a fantasy with Pelosi and Murtha in charge?

    • The Mass. Congressional delegation--suddenly VERY powerful! What can we expect from them given the new majority?

    • Giuliani, Romney, Pataki, McCain, or Huckabee vs. Gore, Clinton, Obama, or Kerry in '08?

    • Berkshire Republicans--can they even challenge Ben Downing for his seat in 2 years?

    • The Thing With The City Council Impeachment Resolution--has it changed anything? Should it?
    These topics and many others are available for discussing, and you know you want to check out the new place to get liquor by the glass on the block. I'll be there with Tara, and we're both looking forward to seeing old friends and making a few new ones. Sound like fun? You know it does!

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Dumb Ideas Worth Considering, Volume I

    Now that the elections are over, I wanted to bring up one of those topics that interests only me and a few other people that are no fun at parties. The kind that makes Tara roll her eyes and tell me how boring I can be. You want fun and exciting, come back in a few days. Or start your own blog. Because today, I'm writing about publicly financed, a.k.a. "clean", elections.

    This one has supporters on the left (Barack Obama, Common Cause) as well as the right (George Voinovich, Lou Dobbs), although it seems to be traditionally considered another wacko progressive pinko issue, like suing people who deny your civil rights, or speaking your mind without going to jail.

    I know. Those darn libs, huh?

    The Supreme Court took a very narrow view of money equaling political free speech in Buckley v. Valeo (424 US 1) in 1976, which invalidated provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. One of those provisions limited the personal contribution individual candidates can give to their own campaign to a paltry $10 million, but the ruling overturned this on the grounds that these limitations restricted political speech (in the form of money) without any compelling government reason to do so. Right now, this along with McConnell v. FEC (540 US 93, 2003, which upheld the McCain-Feingold reforms) is the outstanding case law, taking a real dump on any realistic chance for change.

    But after spending all autumn watching a bunch of millionaires thrash it out to get elected, and knowing that the more money you have the less reality you usually have to face, my question is becoming more and more pointed. Why are we allowing the system to deteriorate to the point where you have to basically be able to crap $20 bills or suck corporate...um...you know...to finance a political campaign? I think the "compelling government reason" is starting to make itself pretty evident.

    Sometimes the best qualified legislators--the true voices of the people--are forced to turn away from the political arena because they'd either be beholden to stinky special-interest PAC money or go bankrupt gunning for what is technically a low-paying government job. It becomes solely a rich person's game. Not that ALL wealthy people are bad politicians, but it just doesn't seem fair that wealth is a prerequisite to declaring a serious candidacy.

    So what to do?

    1) Sue again under McCain-Feingold until we find an appeals court that realizes that Clean Elections will actually yield a better class of candidate than the average shmoe we have around now.

    2) Allow for the objections raised in both Buckley and McConnell by reducing the reason for having to raise the kind of money you need nowadays. It's painfully obvious that most of the money raised goes to buying television and radio advertising. If the FCC were to mandate free or reduced cost media time for all balloted candidates (the same way it mandates public service announcements, the Emergency Broadcast System, and no swearing or nudity), then go ahead, raise the money, and spend it on megaphones and bumper stickers, because media time is cheap, on a level playing field, and available to all qualified candidates equally. Somebody smarter than me will have to figure out how to guarantee equality to write-in candidates. I don't know. How about a federally funded "The Election Channel"?

    3) Some states, such as Maine, provide a "clean" option for candidates who choose to run that way. It's not a mandatory system and candidates can opt out, so it's up to the voters to value the clean candidates appropriately. Yeah, I wouldn't think it would help in states with any more than 6 electoral votes either; but it is an option and I wanted to bring it up.

    The whole core of the issue is an opinion call, anyway. Both Buckley and McConnell were split decisions; McConnell was 5-4. Britain and a bunch of other countries run publicly financed elections and their civilizations haven't come crumbling down yet, so the whole doom-and-gloom slippery slope scenarios that opponents paint are a bit of a scare tactic.

    If this last election doesn't prove the importance of getting the best candidates out there and forcing them to sharpen their messages, then nothing will. And just keep in mind that if you do what you've always done, don't be surprised when things turn out the way they always have.

    Honey, next time, I promise to try to be less boring.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    What Do I Win?

    A little over a month ago, one of my first posts asked the eternal question, "What punster came up with the name Parkade?"

    It turns out that hard-hitting questions like that shine a light into a corner of the dark underbelly that is commercial real estate in this town. And it's not a pretty underbelly, either.

    It turns out nobody will answer. Nobody will cop to meaning to call it that. And it was never really the "Parkade", anyway. Was just a placeholder that was only marginally more or less thoughtless than "The Old K-Mart Plaza".

    It was matters such as this that apparently led the mayor to ask the Transcript to stop referring to it as such, as Wednesday's revealing editorial revealed. On a day when there were apparently no other stories on which to offer an editorial opinion, we are challenged to come with yet another name for our new retail bonanzaplex by Glenn Drohan and the gang.

    I mean, I like the idea, but after having taken part in one too many band naming sessions and with a wife who's in Advertising Executives Anonymous, this is a surefire ticket to packing the kids in the minivan and heading for the "Shops On Ashland", "Northern Berkshire Retail Orgy", or "North Adams Entertainmentapalooza".

    It's probably going to be another 15 years before people stop calling it the K-Mart Plaza anyway, so let's come up with something truly forward-thinking. Why don't we sell naming rights? To, like, K-Mart? They wouldn't actually have to open a store, but they could pay us a few dozen grand a year to call it "The K-Mart Plaza". How great would that be, getting paid to do something we all already do? It'd be like getting a check every time you picked your nose or took two pennies out of the "take one, leave one" saucer. Sign me up, dude.

    So send your suggestions to Glenn at the the Transcript, and make North Adams proud. We can name stuff better than those cheese-eating pansies down in Pittsfield any day of the week, right? Huh? Who's with me? Ready, BREAK!

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    A Tale Of Two Parties

    Politics is sports for the non-jocks.

    You got your winners and losers, most importantly. There's scoring, statistics, strategy. A rule book. The media. Superstars, comeback stories, and dirty tricks. And each Tuesday after the first Monday in November: the championships. Everything but cheerleaders, really. And much like sports, there's watching it, which is a perfectly valid level of involement...and then there is participating in it.

    The absolute best thing about working on political campaigns is the people you meet during them. Yeah, good governance is nice, and hooray for the good guys (whoever they are, these days). But when we work together with a bunch of people we'd never normally have met, and fight the good fight for a common cause above ourselves, then win or lose, our acquaintances become our friends. And we have made many friends.

    And the best thing about friends...is parties!

    Say what you want about Dion Robbins-Zust. His candidacy was what it was, but he's actually a very engaging guy, and arguably is in a position to be a voice for the Berkshire County progressive movement. Anyway, at one of our conversations during the campaign, he invited Tara and I to his election night party. Sounds like fun, right? Well, it did to us too, so we went. And we had a great time. There were fireworks, and champagne, and towards 9:00 or so I was jamming on the trap kit with a bad-ass mandolin player (Don, who has a gig at the The Lion's Den down in Stockbridge), plus keys, digeridoo, bongos, and vocals. Not a single person was wearing a tie, and everyone was laughing and smiling and having a terrific time.

    Shortly after, Dion wanted to go up to the ITAM in Pittsfield and congratulate Ben Downing on his win (as did we) in person. It's on our way back up north, so we stopped in to that party too.

    There weren't any fireworks, and no digeridoo player, but there was champagne. About 2/3 of the guys there wearing ties, and everyone was laughing and smiling and having a terrific time. Great night for the Democrats. And really a lot of fun to have been present the night they smashed the champagne bottle on Ben Downing's political battleship.

    But Ben and Dion spoke to each other and shook each other's hand and I'm sure congratulated each other on a well-run campaign. Then I asked if I could take a picture of the two guys, and don't think for a second I'm not going to post it here:

    So that's about it for the actual election. Glad to see Tom Merrigan win one for the good guys on the Governor's Council. Question 4 is a resounding Yes, for whatever that's worth, and I'm noticing that almost all of the towns that voted Yes on Question 1 were wealthy suburbs: it carried in Lincoln, Wellesley, Weston, Brookline, and Cambridge. Wonder why.

    Anyway, great Election Night! The shouting is over--let the blathering begin!

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    A Short Aside on the NY 20th Congressional Race

    I wanted to comment on the race for Congress we see coming out of Albany TV--the total debacle for the NY 20th District seat being staged by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand and incumbent Republican John Sweeney.

    Both of them should be ashamed. If I lived over the border in Columbia County I wouldn't vote for either one of 'em. If there's a grain of truth in either of the campaigns they're running, they're both corrupt, incompetent, and out for personal gain instead of the interest of the people of eastern New York. Gillibrand wants to shred my money in a shredder and Sweeney wants to take my money and spend it on booze and broads.

    The ads have degenerated into schoolyard taunts of "Liar, liar, pants on fire" and "Nyah, nyah". Sweeney has his wife in one ad baiting Gillibrand; Gillibrand counters with calling him one of the 20 most corrupt Congressmen. The DCCC and RCCC are getting their chops in as well, but the "I approve this ad" ads right from the campaigns are the worst of the lot.

    It ain't my district, but the winner goes to my U.S. Congress, so I get to care, and here's my thought: they've both simultaneously succeeded in painting the other as unworthy for the office. So not only does one candidate lose, so do the several hundred thousands of residents of New York State. Good job, guys. This is why people hate politicians.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Good Senate Hunting

    I grew up here in the Commonwealth in what is now the 2nd Essex Senatorial district, whose seat has been held for the last 40 million years or so by current Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry. He not only has been a stalwart for his party and his district, but also, to his credit, wouldn't know me from a hole in the ground.

    But now that I have wound my way west and gotten more involved in the process, I can say that I will be personally acquainted and have held face-to-face discussions with my next State Senator. Want proof? I took this picture at a Rotary Club event a couple weeks ago:

    Here holding the shiny blue Rotary mugs that inspire politicians everywhere, we have, L-R, Ben Downing (D-Pittsfield), Matt Kinnaman (R-Lenox), and Dion Robbins-Zust (I-Richmond). One of them is off to Beacon Hill to represent me and 152,299 of my closest friends.

    The post-primary campaign has been a remarkably chummy affair. There have been more hairline jokes from Ben and Matt (the title of this post...get it now?) than in any other political campaign I've ever followed. There's been no October surprise, dirty campaign ads, "Macaca" moments, mailer meddling, or resume puffery. Keep in mind, now, that without a great resume puffery story back in September, there would be absolutely no hairline jokes in this campaign. So special thanks to Chris Hodgkins, who could have run away with it had he not orally Photoshopped himself next to Donald Trump and Warren Buffett.

    Eventually, though, most elections are less about hair than about votes. Who to vote for?

    Dion is a character. An original. He has an eye for The Show, which really comes in handy in the Politisphere. Not a policy wonk, nor a politics-as-usual guy. But he's probably going to poll the typical 6 or so percent next Tuesday. Not that I'm saying "don't vote for him", but it is not yet the time for the Green/Rainbow Party to ride the historical tide of backlash against the 2-party system into statewide office.

    I bet his election night party is going to more fun than the other two, though.

    Matt Kinnaman presented us with a challenge. Before the primary, Tara and I both were prepared to cross the line rather than vote for Chris Hodgkins. So we looked at his positions, and we listened to him speak. And we liked him, although it was hard to really believe that a vote for him would "restore balance" to the Legislature. But since he sounded enough like a Weldian/Patakian/Bloombergian liberal Republican with moderate tendencies, I could have been OK with him as one of Our Men In Boston...right up until I asked him about his position on choice.

    My question to him was designed to get a straight-up answer: "Given the leanings of our Federal Government and our increasingly conservative Supreme Court, pretend Roe v. Wade is overturned and the issue is put before the states. A bill is before you to outlaw all voluntary terminations of pregnancy except where the life of the mother is endangered. Do you vote for it?"

    He first tried to deflect the issue to parental notification, then I picked out three phrasings of a fairly long paragraph of a response that seemed to reveal his stance: "I respect the sanctity of life", "it would be hard for me to vote against my conscience", and "I'm still wrestling with the issue." A man says that instead of "yes" or "no", then I'm going to have a hard time switching parties to vote for him. It's less about the content of the answer than the format, in this case, to be honest, especially when the other guys answer is an unhesitating "No way, dude."

    That brings us to Ben Downing. Back in August, I wrote a Letter to the Editor suggesting Margie Ware was the best qualified Democrat in the primary. In it, I questioned Ben Downing's motivations for running, writing that I thought he was only using the seat as a launching pad to a larger political career.

    I hadn't actually met Ben at that point; I was using the power of persuasive penmanship to rally support for my candidate...although I did mention that I liked him. I heard him at a few more debates, watched him behave admirably during the campaign, and realized that as valid as my objection is, it doesn't mean he's not going to be an effective legislator for the years that he does actually hold the office.

    So, a few days before the primary (I think on the day Mayor Barrett endorsed Chris Hodgkins), Tara and I were kicking it over at Ware HQ on Main St when we saw Ben head into the Cup and Saucer. I followed him in and introduced myself, and told him that if Marge doesn't win the primary, that I'd be proud to support him. I meant it, too. And I'll say it, for what it's worth: I'm going to vote for Ben Downing on Tuesday, and I think you should too.

    Next up: the Governor's Council race. Your assignment for next week is to know more than the average Mass resident knows about the Governor's Council. Expected time to accomplish this: 26 seconds.