Nov 23, 2009

Bruno Verdict---Wagering is now Open

With former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's corruption trial now in theclosing arguments stage, it's time to open the windows for betting on the jury's verdict. Here's the opening Wagering Line:

- Guilty on All 8 Counts: 20-1
- Guilty on 5-7 Counts: 6-1
- Guilty on 1-4 Counts: 2-1
- Not-Guilty on All 8 Counts: 4-1
- Bruno holding a press conference after the verdict: 1-5

Lay your money down, folks!

Nov 13, 2009

I (don’t) see dead people….

“Death is a lonely business”
(Ray Bradbury)

That it is, and never more so than in these modern times.

That thought hit me yesterday, after my becoming aware—via Google—of the death of a former associate. Here was a gentleman I worked with for several years, who I would see each day at our headquarters and with whom I hit the road on several occasions to places far and wide, by plane, train and car. Memories of a 40-hours-with-no-sleep project in Vegas followed by an impromptu lecture in proper blackjack strategy soon flooded by mind.

The recognition of his passing was not the surprise here; his ill health had been rumored for a bit. Instead, the length of time between his excusing himself from this earth and my notice of it having happened was the shocker. It was a 5-year gap.

Granted, the company for whom we tolled gave both of us the hook in the late 90’s; the result of a series of internal tribal wars that would make Afghani warlords proud. The departed and I were on opposite sides of most breeches, and we parted ways in a not-too-amiable manner. Still: five years? One would think a mutual acquaintance from the office or the country club would have flipped me an email, but then again, both of us left that scene without a lot of friends in tow.

Reading his archived obituary, I find the usual routine of the current end of life saga, with one’s final days spent in the realm of a particular son or daughter in a place far from what had long been home, eventually dying amongst strangers in a facility equipped for just that very challenge. So it went in this case.

Cremations, a memorial service that was no doubt attended by even more strangers and the scattering of ashes at a favored golf course in the Carolinas apparently followed. I doubt if few (if any) people from this area -- where this man spent his entire adult life -- attended any of the three events. I also wonder how many former friends and colleagues up here remain unaware, as had I until yesterday?

From a bigger picture POV, what we have here is evidence of the minimizing and sanitizing of the human death experience. As a society, we’ve conveniently framed our spiritual beliefs with a “they’ll always be here in spirit,” which in turn supports the current trend of basically ignoring the dead –- and death. Why bother with such an unpleasant event and with such unpleasant rituals? After all, the kids need to get to hockey practice!

Just a couple generations back, homes were built with a ‘second living room’, more commonly called a parlor. One of the primary functions of this space was to display the body of a departed family member to the neighborhood, who would trudge over to pay proper respects to both that person’s memory and to the grieving family (hence the term funeral parlor). Family grief was a public event, complete with community participation and support.

But that ritual was eventually outsourced to the burgeoning death industry. Thereafter, a departed individual’s earthly remains were hustled out the side door within minutes of drawing a last breath, taken away by certified and licensed professionals that would handle ‘the arrangements’ in an outside setting. Home re-modelers had a field day over the preceding decades, as those former residential funeral parlors could now be converted to dens, sun porches and dining rooms.

Fast forward to now, and we see another change taking place. More and more, public ceremonies are not even staged. When they are, it is often without a body even being present; with the onset of the age of the memorial service taking place a month after the fact, when everyone’s had time to compose him or herself a bit. Tidier, less emotional, much more…pleasant.

As the old saying goes: “Funerals aren’t for the dead; they are for the living.“ It looks like the living -- being too busy, too disinterested or too insecure in their own mortality--are saying ‘we’ll pass completely.’ So it goes.

In the meantime, I know whom I’ll be thinking of when I next hit a table in Vegas this winter.

Nov 12, 2009

Cooking lessons on the web--Italian style

Connoisseurs of authentic Italian meals know that their preferred style of cooking is about more than just, well: cooking. Instead, it is an art; one that embodies and reflects a certain way of life emphasizing family, quality, pleasure and tradition. The thinking: creating a satisfying eating experience creates a more satisfying life --- La Dolce Vita --- one hand crafted, delicious dish at a time.

Nancy Scala knows, first-hand, the joy of that tradition. Her desire to share it with the rest of the world has lead to the launch of a series of ‘authentic Italian-only’ online cooking lessons on her (translation: to become passionate) portal site.

As a six-year old from the Campagna region of Italy entering kindergarten in her new Monmouth County, NJ hometown without speaking a word of English, young Nancy would soon thereafter return each day to the controlled chaos of her family’s 70-seat restaurant version of the American dream. There, she witnessed nothing more than another take on the magic behind converting fresh ingredients into luscious meals that she had always been learning at her mother’s side, both here and abroad.

Despite the deepening appreciation of her family legacy and the art of cooking, the long hours inherent in the hospitality industry motivated her to move on to college and a fast track career in the financial services industry, beginning with Goldman Sacks. Her subsequent pursuit of a Masters degree at Johns Hopkins University provides a “Guess Where This Story’s Going” moment when it resulted in her living in (where else?) Bologna, Italy for one year as part of the program. There, she reconnected with her roots.

“It’s funny, but when I came back from the year abroad, I was cooking up a storm at home in the middle of studying for exams,” Scala recalls. “My parents always wondered whether I went to cooking school or grad school while I was there. The truth is: I did both --- and loved it.”

But the “full circle” conclusion would have to wait a bit, as Scala’s career path had her living in various locales around the globe. She became committed to perfecting her skills as a chef while living in Urbino and Bologna. But the clarion call of home called, and she was eventually wooed back to the Jersey shore, for all the right reasons.

Now in her element, the timing seemed right to combine a new career with her longtime passion. Thereby emerged Ardesco.

“I had always wanted to pursuing cooking, but didn’t want to open up a restaurant,” Nancy added. “The usual route of writing a cookbook didn’t give people the personal touch. So about a year ago, I came up with the idea of offering online cooking classes.”

With twenty recipe episodes taped and ready to roll, Scala’s on-screen ease and effective step-by-step learning style has her poised to be the face of the Italian variety of cooking shows, as that industry moves into a niche specialty mode.

From the Fast Track to the Slow Food

The site currently offers four lessons on a free introductory basis. The lessons are well produced and could easily make their way into the broadcast world as well. The web site is planned on being a full community portal; already there is an interesting blog entry explaining the International Slow Food Movement, complete with its manifesto!

“I wanted to pursue something meaningful to myself and people’s lives,” she concluded. “This website and the cooking tutorials are what I am offering because it’s a genuine passion of mine. I hope that I can ignite that flame within a new audience.”

Ardesco! Indeed.

(note: this new venture below has a local connection, with its marketing and branding strategy being driven by a Tech Valley firm)

Nov 6, 2009

I guess the lecture points didn't stick

So much for that silly 'Creative City' idea

Since the Palace Theater's rehabilitation a few years back, the Cap City has one mighty fine entertainment facility. With the beautiful surroundings, cool vibe and cushioned seating, one could very likely drift into Sleepy Land while taking it all in.

Such might be what happened to the attendees at September's speaking engagement by Richard Florida : the audience must have been catching a nap instead of paying attention to their esteemed guest's talking points.

Mr Florida, of course, is the author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other books, essays and research that, in effect, offers a new theory of regional economic development to a discipline that had long wallowed in a "give em cheap land, cheap power and a whole menu of tax breaks" as means of industry attraction. Florida's view is that the more critical elements -- especially in the New Economy -- are the livability and cultural/social infrastructure features of any given area. Give the right people the right reason to come and LIVE in a region, and the development of the right kind of business and industry will follow thereafter.

Such was the message delivered at The Palace, at least, to a throng of public officials, business leaders and other community activists and interested parties. Hell, the Mayor even gave Mr Florida some sort of welcoming gift, as seen in the photo!

But Mr Florida's (very) hefty appearance fee has barely cleared the bank, and Albany is once again going into Old School mode. Hence the "must have been sleeping" explanation.

Case in point: some nonsense is now floating from the Albany Common Council about a plan to impose a "licensing fee" on any establishment that plans on ever hosting a live music event. Whether it's me and you plucking banjos at the coffee shop, belting some a cappela tunes at the diner, or kicking out the jams in the back room of our favorite drinking establishment -- if one of those events is ever going to take place in the upcoming year, that venue needs to write a $350 check to the City of Albany. Plus: it must fill out some insane paperwork pertaining to the details of all those 'planned' performances. Metroland attempts to explain the insanity in their current issue, here.

To those of us that buy into a good deal of what Mr Florida and his school of thought are preaching, this kind of stuff drives us nuts. While the region beats its chest expounding its ability to attract old line manufacturing and Low Road industry to the region -- mainly through the public feeding trough -- programs and policies designed to organically grow a thriving community that fits into the dynamics of what the 21st century workforce is looking for get (at best)lukewarm support and attention. And the occasional speech by Mr Florida every five years.

Instead we get actions such as this 'Albany Live Music Tax'. It is no mere coincidence that leading edge cities like Boston, San Francisco, NYC and Austin are both live music hotbeds and technology hubs. As I always remind people that brag about Albany becoming the 'Next Austin':

- When you get off the plane at Austin's airport, it doesn't say 'Welcome to the Chip Plant Capital of the US' -- it says 'Welcome to the Live Music Capital of the Universe.'

Meanwhile back in Albany, we somehow look for any reason possible to both keep the public pool filled with funds from any and all available sources and prevent a New Economy from having a chance of getting a foothold within.

Yes, there is some sort of rationale for this levy: something to do with "complying with a standing ordinance on the books". Here's my modest suggestion for rectifying this situation:

- Someone needs to simply stand up at the next Council meeting and ask for Unanimous Consent to strike the old ordinance in question.

- If anyone objects to the Unanimous Consent, allocate two minutes for debate. Any rational mind in the room would only need that long to hear all they need to hear.

- Take a vote.

- Forward the names, phone numbers and email addresses of any Legislator voting against the mesure here, to me.

I'll take it from there....

Nov 2, 2009

Predictions: Saratoga Springs local elections

Having invested many millions of dollars in the latest election-polling techniques, I hereby offer the NANOBURGH POLL for the 2009 Saratoga Springs local elections, scheduled for tomorrow November 3:

Mayor: Johnson by 14+ points
Public Works: Scirocco by 8+ points
Public Safety: Wirth by 5 points
Finance: Ivins by 6 points
(the other races involve unopposed incumbents)

In other words: I predict the complete rejection of the so-called 'Democrats for Change' wing of the city's Democratic party by the electorate.

As painful as it may seem, some good will likely come out of this: the end of DFC control of the party.

Let's just call it a healthy bloodletting.