Monday, October 29, 2007

Sox Win!

How about them Red Sox, huh?

I got a whole post coming up about Boston sportsfandom, one of those topics that easily qualifies for the "Far Too Much Written About By People You Want To Smack" award. I'll see if I can't bring more to the table than your average radio sports call-in show meathead.

But for us long-time observers of the perennial trainwreck that was this baseball team for the ponderous bulk of our existence, this is the good life. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Is warmongering the only type of mongering there is?

Is anybody out there baseballmongering, or surgerymongering, or drycleaningmongering? Or, heavens, windmillmongering?

But back to straight-up warmongering: you have to hand it to society's current crop of mongers. I was left incredulous after reading another little-noticed story about the amazing inability of the Bush Administration to recognize reality, even as reality is biting it in the ass day after day. This month's Esquire is running a feature by John H. Richardson titled "The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know".

Richardson goes forth to build a story around the frustrations of a number of former Administration staffers--most notably Colin Powell--around Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney ("Bumsfeldney"?) booting a post-9/11 thawing of US-Iran relations, including major Iranian diplomatic and military concessions, in favor of simple-minded moralizing and demonization of Iran as part of a largely imaginary "axis of evil".

Just like in the run-up to the Second Gulf War, intelligence is being ignored and the truth-tellers are being prosecuted. Just like in late '02, they won't talk to the people who are having sabres rattled in their faces because their form of government is not like our form of government--as though the fact that it hasn't been for the approximate 12,000 year history of humanity there fails to register at all. The neoconservative collective mind, it appears, is as made up as it's ever going to be. Iran either immediately becomes a secular pro-American government, or we're going to invade the ever-loving crap out of it.

Were this to actually happen, it would be probably the largest and single most ironic blow to American Democracy since Samuel Tilden felt the greasy sting of electoral idiocy in 1876. The American people were asked what they thought about continuing the war in the Middle East about a year ago, and they responded with a mandate that enough was enough: finish what you have to over there and get gone. The majority says that it's time to hit the Mesopotamian bricks. Yet as surely as the truth keeps interfering with the Administration's simplistic view of geopolitical, military, and economic reality, the majority will be ignored, and democracy will be subverted--even as democracy becomes the symbolic MacGuffin around which this war is being organized.

The reason for the runup to firepower is supposedly the improvised explosive devices manufactured in Iran being used against American soldiers. No doubt that those who manufacture the roadside bombs that take out Americans are our enemies. But you can't always best an enemy by running at him with a broken beer bottle. Sometimes, a better, cheaper, more permanent, and whole-lot-less-bloody option is to make him NOT your enemy.

Besides, even after you've sliced his face open and are standing on his defeated, embittered chest, what chance do you have of going forward peacefully? Ever?

We've already Bumsfeldneymongered that chance away. We can only hope that a few key people in charge of running this country realize that it's not too late to avoid blundering into another war the American people don't want, don't need, and can't afford.

Monday, October 08, 2007

One Post, Five Topics, Twelve Months, And A Meeting

Earlier today I looked up from whatever it is that my employer is paying me to do and noticed that I've unknowingly stumbled over the one-year anniversary of the birth of this very blog. Happy Berkshire to Sense, retroactive to this last October 4th.

Fifty-three posts published, six posts abandoned. Four hundred twenty-two comments, followed by three hundred fifty-one quizzical expressions after reading said comments. Two dozen times Tara's said "You should blog about that," and twenty-two times I responded by saying, "Eh, get your own blog."

Three times I've been recognized as "the Berkshire Sense guy". Eight thousand unique visitors, about seven blog-related tension headaches, an off-year election, and one 2576-square-foot fixer-upper with a Honda-shaped hole in the porch later, I'm giving myself props for not bailing on you, my eight or ten loyal readers and close family members. Go, me.

So let me take this opportunity to match some of the odd socks in the big old bag of "you should blog about that" I have lying around:

  • Thanks to Glenn Drohan of the North Adams Transcript for being so desperate for content as to publish my previous post about refinishing our floor in print format. I'm not saying that there are many slow news days up here, but I used to read the New York Daily News pretty regularly and I don't recall that many stories about Joey Bagodonuts from Astoria installing a low-flow shower head in his guest bathroom. I suppose that's the price you pay for not getting to write about the latest set of indicted officials.

  • Speaking of officials, several months ago I was appointed an alternate member of the City's Zoning Board of Appeals. This has been a great introduction to public service as well as a fascinating study of minutiae tucked within the City Zoning Ordinance. Did you know, for instance, that if you want to keep chickens in North Adams, your lot needs to be at least two acres? In case you had ever wondered, this is probably why you see so few chickens wandering around town.

  • And speaking of service, Tara and I were tapped on the shoulder and asked if we could help host the Drinking Liberally chapter meetings here in North Adams. So, we're calling the next meeting, which is this coming Thursday, 10/11, at 6pm, at Cafe Latino in the MassMOCA complex, and each 2nd Thursday of the month thereafter. Why should you come? Three words: four-dollar margaritas. That, and lively political discussion among friendly voters and other noters, ranging from the slightly hippie to the outright dippie. All are welcome, provided you're 21 and have an opinion. No cover charge. Argumentative righties welcome, but please leave your Dick Cheney model shotgun in the car; cheap shots or tequila shots only, please.

  • Speaking of politics, there's an election going on, isn't there? I'd like to invite any candidate to come down to Latino on Thursday to stump. There should be low turnout for this election coming up, so a few influential handshakes and campaign platform summaries may just put a bubble candidate over the top here. So someone tell Lisa Blackmer or Howard D'Amico that they should show up and tell a dozen or twenty registered voters why we should vote for them. And that goes fer the rest of ya, as well.

    So I look forward to a new year of doing whatever it is that I'm doing here. I want to thank my family and friends, and especially the small but feisty Berkshire County blogging community, for all your acceptance and support. If it weren't for you, I would just be another lone bloviating know-it-all with his own blog. Instead, I am one of several bloviating know-it-alls with my own blog. Fine company to be in as we head towards the beginning of another successful and happy year.

  • Monday, October 01, 2007

    Hitting the Floor

    We first walked through what is now our house early one sunny afternoon in November 2005. Tara stopped in the doorway between the dining room and kitchen, and making sure that the real estate agent's eyes were cast elsewhere, turned to me and mouthed the words "I love it".

    I looked down at the dining room floor beneath my feet, sighed, and said, "Well, first thing we have to do is refinish these floors."

    There was nice hardwood under there somewhere, beneath the stains, scratches, wear, tear, and indelibly burned image of a rug that had probably not been moved in the 45 years since the house had last been on the market.

    As a picture is worth a kilobyte of text, here is some insight into what I was feeling that bright November day:

    My "first thing" prediction turned out to be about 17 months shy of the truth, and only this midsummer did we complete the cascade of major and minor projects we needed to do before we could turn our attention back down to the dining room hardwood. Tara, ever the adventurous spirit, was immediately up for doing it ourselves. I, ever the spirit prone to end up in the emergency room after running myself over with a drum sander, decided to see how much it would cost to have a pro do it.

    All I needed was someone to sand, stain, and finish 195 square feet of wood that we've been told with varying degrees of authority is either fir, southern yellow pine, or red oak. A few hundred bucks, right? Ha ha ha--nope. $1100, came the low estimate, so Tara and I won the contract.

    Yeah, not knowing what you're doing is always scary. But whenever that's the case, the first and best move to make is not to be too precious about your expected results. It's easier to change your standards than your qualifications, anyway. Our design philosophy, then, became not to try to make those 125 year-old floors look like 125 day-old floors. A little bit of a distressed look would fit better with the projected turn-of-the-century design of the room. Mentally, we were ready.

    So, the day of reckoning reckoned, and we moseyed on down to Carr Hardware and rented what us non-pros call a U-Sand machine. It's a four-pad random orbital sander, guaranteed impossible to destroy your floors with. That's it in the picture up there. Several advantages to the design, including an efficient vacuum and bag to minimize dust, and a sanding surface that extends right to the edge of the unit. You can't gouge or put swirly marks into the wood, you don't need a separate edger, and you aren't coughing up fine wood particles for the next full month.

    Appearances do not tell the full story of how much this beast physically WEIGHS. I nearly herniated three or four disks, two ligaments, and a carpal tunnel or two just getting the damn thing into and out of the car.

    So once we plugged the thing in and started sanding with both hands, we realized that the design that makes it impossible to wreck your floors also makes the actual sanding process last the best part of a day. The thing is TERRIBLE at removing old finish: the 36-grit sandpaper that comes with it gums up after only a few minutes, and if you don't catch it in time, sets up a lovely tar-like residue on the floor that you need to scrape off with a putty knife and one or more toxic chemicals.

    Eventually we finished up with--that is to say, ran out of--both daylight and low-grit sandpaper, and we moved on to the less aggressive grits. Yes, I'm too lazy to think of a good breakfast joke around that line.

    Eight or so hours later, the sanding was done, and the next day, after some lovely hands-and-knees-based dust removal, we started the staining process.

    Tara chose an oil-based stain that looked like liquid tobacco and smelled like brain damage. We put in on thick because we liked the darker effect of it, and another round of hands-and-kneesing with a rag and a can of mineral spirits gave us the hand-rubbed distressed finish we were after. Fine work, but we were almost overcome by vapors and had to spend the next night in Tara's parents guest room.

    Two and a half days later, once the stain had dried and the headaches abated, we went over it with four coats of water-based polyurethane finish. I loved this stuff so much I wanted to dump Tara for it. Almost no odor, easy to apply, dried quickly, and cleaned up easily. Of course, before coats two and three, there was more crawling around with a sanding pad and tack cloth. I hadn't gotten that close to a floor since margarita night my freshman year in college, but finally, voilĂ , we had finally completed the job:

    Yeah, we couldn't get the rug mark completely out since the stain took deeper into that wood, but frankly the whole thing looks a zillion times better than when we started, and the entire project--sander rental, sandpaper, stain, finish, Advil, and various tools--ran us around two hundred dollars. We got what we wanted from our floor, saved $900, and can now bore people silly with our knowledge and experience of floor finishing procedures. All in all, we're fairly proud of ourselves.

    And we still have no idea what type of wood this is. Any guesses?