Aug 30, 2010

Weekend Recap: Travers and Rachel

Why Racing Matters - A Case Study

The Saratoga Experience: if only everywhere

Growing up in Saratoga, Getaway Day at the track was our official end of summer. That was back when the meet was still a tight four weeks crunched into the glorious month of August, and that final day (featuring the Hopeful Stakes for 2yo's) was the last chance to catch the action, even-out our bankrolls and bid adieu to the majestic Sport of Kings for another eleven months.

When one awoke the next morning (a Sunday), it was back to reality time. This meant school shopping for the youngsters, greet the neighbors as they reclaimed the rental house and moving day to college as we got to that point of our young lives. And yes, one could feel the early appearance of that cool Canadian air at night, usually timed right to the exact same point on the calendar annually.

With the current expanded six and a half-week meet, that end of summer designation now belongs to Travers Weekend. Although it is the fifth full week on the meet's schedule, it actually falls on the weekend that would have been the final one under the old setup.

Part of Saratoga's success is the fact that is is located in snow country, with upstate New York's grim burden of long, brutally cold winters part of the local psyche. The resulting (and natural) reaction to this individual and collective misery is to celebrate summer with a hell-bent ferocity that isn't seen in places like Florida, California or even Kentucky. In New York, the warm and sunny outdoors is grabbed onto by the locals much like a life preserver is grabbed by a man overboard.

The race track becomes Action Central for that party, and for all the right reasons: it's pretty, it's got gambling and liquor, it combines both a rural and a cosmopolitan feel, it's got a cast of characters a mile long, and it's all centered around this quirky little sport called thoroughbred horse racing. A perfect storm, to use that already tired phrase.

With a perfect weather setting and the added excitement of a historic super horse making a return appearance before her admiring throngs, this past Travers Weekend promised to add to the archives of what Saratoga is supposed to be all about. Here are a few observations on its two key attractions:

The Travers Stakes

This year's renewal of the nation's oldest stakes race had two things going against it; one being a long-term problem and the other a knock against this particular edition's field.

As to the former, we are faced with this fact: the Breeders Cup has negatively impacted the Travers -- and Saratoga for that matter. Given its late-autumn timing, the Cup puts horsemen in this bad spot: how do you crank up a colt to win the Travers and do it all over again to win the Breeders Cup Classic two months later? Trust me, that is a major challenge. Now consider how even-more difficult that task is if you're dealing with a colt that had previously been cranked up for the Triple Crown campaign of the spring.

Go take a look at the how well past Travers winners have performed in the Cup for proof. The answer is not so good. The bottom line is this: the Travers finds itself a victim to the new racing world's calendar, as created by the Breeders Cup folks. Note that it has also degraded the big Belmont fall contests, which are now nothing more than preps for the Big Dance. I've called for doing away with the Breeders Cup entirely in the past (and still do so); but I also know that will never happen.

As to the knock against point; let's just say that this year's field was one of the weakest of past decades. Yes, the Kentucky Derby winer was there, but Super Saver is obviously off form. The rest was a bunch of Triple Crown also rans and allowance winners capable of picking up their games to a higher level -- all from a very mediocre, at best, foal crop.

But none of that really mattered on Saturday, and that's what makes Saratoga so great. This is the Travers, goddamit, and that's what it's all about up here. A mob of 45,000+ showed up, ready to party and soak it all in - and what a treat they got.

The race teed up the way it did on paper: an active pace with several pace setters. This dynamic is normally taylor made for a closer from the back of the pack. But the counter trend on this day was that there was a heavy track bias favoring early inside speed. But, but, but! -- therein lies the intellectual challenge of handicapping.

So when Fly Down made his sweeping outside move to pass the field on the far turn, he was met by Afleet Express, who had taken a mid-pack route on a more generous path towards the rail. He found an opening and the race was on throughout the stretch, to the roar of the huge crowd. The trip difference did it for the victorious Afleet Express, who held on in a life and death struggle to win in the closest finish (a whisker) in the history of the race.

The best takeaway from the Travers is this: trainer Jimmy Jerkens (son of the legendary Allen Jerkens, who never won this race) was asked how this ranked when compared to his two Breeders Cup victories. The answer: the Travers is tops.

That's about all you really need to know.

Rachel Alexandra

Imagine this: your horse just ran second in a Grade I race at the most prestigious meet in the nation. In doing so, she put away on the backstretch a graded winner on a six race win streak that was determined to roll with your mare every step of the way. Despite that early toll, she was still only beat by a length, by a regally bred mare from the powerful Phipps stable. Not bad; wouldn't we all like to be in this lofty position?

But instead; everyone is saying that your horse is all washed up, after just that performance in the Personal Ensign Stakes on Sunday.

This just shows how high a reputation reigning Horse of the year Rachel Alexandra has in the eyes of the racing world. Being 8 for 8 in 2009, with historic wins in the Ky Oaks and against the boys in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward will bring that kind of acclaim--and expectations. Ms Rachel is not the same horse this year --on that, everyone concurs.

Here's the thing with many race horses: they lose interest in the sport as they get older. Maybe it's the "motherhood thing" kicking in. Or maybe they just figure out that they get treated the same way back at the barn whether they finished first or ninth. Or maybe they just get worn out.

This seems to be especially true of female horses. Many of us recall the great Lady's Secret when she got to that point, and in her final race (at the Spa), she was so dis-interested in the contest that she detoured to the outside rail, looking for a minute like she might even jump over it. That was enough to retire her to the breeding shed.

So, is that where were are with Rachel Aleandra, post-Personal Ensign on this 30th of August? The guess here would be a 'YES'; but keep in mind that owner Jackson is still not "square" on this hero yet. Remember, he was not the original owner of the horse, having bought her after the Oaks for estimates that range from $8 to $13million. So, that $2 million she could get by winning the Breeders Cup Ladies would help get to black.

But, her reputation would be soiled for having avoided Zenyatta in the Classic -- which Mr Jackson won't stand for. So, I'll stand with my prediction. Watch for the press announcement of her retirement in the coming days or weeks.

Get ready, Curlin, your dance partner will soon be arriving.


Leesons learned and what's ahead for RACING, NYRA and SARATOGA?

Coming Soon...stay tuned; right here.

Lesson: How to Write a Press Release for an Audience of Five

I figure I am pretty much ahead of the pack in having at least a rudimentary knowledge of what goes on over at the Albany Nanotech campus. After all, I was in the mix for a few years, reporting and commenting on the latest developments at that world class computer chip R&D center.

But I have to say; a press release coming in from over there today has me scratching my head, asking "say wha'?" Here are the first three paragraphs:


Albany, NY (August 30, 2010) – In another step towards driving the maturity of 3D IC integration, SEMATECH’s 3D Interconnect program announced today the completion of its 300mm 3D IC pilot line, operating at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s (CNSE) Albany NanoTech Complex. Dedicated to via-mid 3D applications, SEMATECH’s development and exploratory platform includes all processes and test vehicles necessary to demonstrate the viability of the via-mid technology in conjunction with advanced CMOS.

“Our mission is to make 3D through-silicon via (TSV) both manufacturable and affordable. We will prove its very real advantages over conventional, two-dimensional designs — especially in increased functionality and performance,” said Sitaram Arkalgud director of 3D Interconnect at SEMATECH. “The completion of our 300mm R&D line is a significant step towards demonstrating technology solutions for TSV high-volume manufacturing.”

Centered on 5um by 50 micron TSVs, the processes include TSV formation and metallization, wafer and die alignment, bonding, thinning, and the necessary metrology for these integration sequences. Supported by the conventional CMOS processing capabilities of CNSE, SEMATECH researchers are working jointly with chipmakers, equipment and materials suppliers, and universities on device interactions for fabrication at the 65nm node for planar and future scaling to 30nm for planar and non-planar CMOS technologies.



Nothing, like following that Journalism/PR 101 rule of always put it into language that a sixth grader can understand, right?

Aug 27, 2010

Weekend transition --- in B flat

Our friend Jonathan Greene, publisher of the Local Living Guide coupon book in the greater Saratoga area, is catching some viral buzz (as in 1/4-million views!) for the YouTube clip of him at his true passion -- making a reed sing.

Here's Jonathan Greene, taking us into the weekend with his wicked clarinet version of the Flight of the Bumblebee:

Aug 26, 2010

Drunk Dude vs Hill: Who Ya Got?

This guy needs to learn the value of a running start:

Goofball of the Week - Paul Otellini

US manufacturing needs revival, not political slogans

Listen to your elders, man!

Intel CEO Paul Otellini obviously doesn't like President Obama's economic policies, blaming them for creating an "environment of uncertainty" that is not helpful or productive.

Fair enough; that's a legitimate discussion worth having, although his later remarks in this particular speech leads one to believe that this guy's mind is made up already and there's not a lot that can change it. Still, that's fine.

But when he stated that "higher taxes and more regulation add an additional $1 billion to building a semiconductor manufacturing plant in the U.S. vs. overseas," and as a result "the next big thing will not be invented here" -- well, he's insulting our collective intelligence.

First, semiconductor manufacturing plants are not places of invention; they are instead places of ... manufacturing! The "invention" phase takes place beforehand, in R&D labs and consortiums.

Secondly (and more problematic) is that Mr Otellini knows (as does everyone in the Capital Region) that semiconductor manufacturing plants do get built in the US, because of the fact that various levels of government are willing to toss in many millions of dollars to make it happen. In the case of the local Global Foundries project, that fig is $1.55 BILLION (with a B) and most likely still climbing. We're not saying here that this is good, bad, or indifferent, we're just saying this is the reality. But someone forgot to mmention that little fact. Well, for that omission, Mr O, you get our Goofball of the Week award!

But we will give the gentlemen a Get Out Of Jail card. We hereby assign him some required reading, that of an essay written by his predecessor at Intel, Mr Andrew Grove, that is titled "How America Can Create Jobs."

In a much more insightful take on the troubling situation of declining manufacturing in the USA, Mr Grove contends that it's not as simple as just ID'ing lower Asian costs as the culprit. Instead, he contends, "It's our own misplaced faith in the power of startups to create U.S. jobs." Instead, it is the need to assist enterprises in SCALING their operations to a higher level.

Further, he dismisses as unhealthy the "general undervaluing of manufacturing; the idea that as long as "knowledge work" stays in the U.S., it doesn't matter what happens to factory jobs."

How to fix it? Well, in what will certainly be a disappointment to the Let Markets Rule crowd, Mr Grove calls on an Activist State commitment. Read this:

"Our fundamental economic that the free market is the best of all economic systems; the freer the better.... So we stick with this belief, largely oblivious to emerging evidence that while free markets beat planned economies, there may be room for a modification that is even better. The government plays a strategic role in setting the priorities and arraying the forces and organization necessary to achieve this goal"

He goes on to cite as one example the "Golden Projects" digital initiatives of 80's China.

Here is his specific policy recommendation:

"The first task is to rebuild our industrial commons. We should develop a system of financial incentives: Levy an extra tax on the product of offshored labor. (If the result is a trade war, treat it like other wars—fight to win.) Keep that money separate. Deposit it in the coffers of what we might call the Scaling Bank of the U.S. and make these sums available to companies that will scale their American operations."

A controversial plan, for sure. But at least someone from the Intel Family is thinking.


Aug 25, 2010

Saratoga: 1961 news reel scenes

A look at Saratoga Springs in 1961, with some great views of downtown Broadway and the 1961 running of the Travers Stakes, the Midsummer Derby (although it wasn't referred to it in that manner in 1961; it being the Travers was good enough).

The next time local revisionist historians try to sell you on the idea that 1960's era Saratoga was a near ghost town; show them this reel. Then tell them to get real.

Click here for the prior story on this matter.

An interesting note to the race: the announcer notes that the winner Beau Prince was coming off a win in the American Derby in Chicago -- just one week earlier! You'll never see that in today's modern day world of the tender, fragile, lasix-fueled thoroughbred.

Aug 23, 2010

Travers history and memories

In honor of Saturday's renewal of the Travers Stakes, here is a look at what is considered to be the most exciting edition of that historic race. Jaipur and Ridan hooked up at the start of the 1 1/4 mile route in 1962 and proceeded to duel, nose to nose, every step of the way. Neither horse was the same after this grueling encounter. See if you can tell who won the photo finish:

Three personal notes:

- Watching this replay, I just became aware for the very first time that an also-ran in this race was a horse named Cyane. I once owned a grandson of this stakes winner, a horse named Bold Lachee (out of Cyane's daughter Cybele), foaled in 1993.

- My own most memorable Travers was 1979, when General Assembly -- a dead ringer for his sire Secretariat from one of his early crops -- romped in the slop in front running fashion over a star-studded field. I can still see that chestnut coming towards me as I stood at the rail near the finish line. Here is a LOOK at that race.

- My grandfather's personal favorite was always 1931, the famed running when 100-1 uber-longshot Jim Dandy upset superhorses Gallant Fox and Whichone. He was there. Today, there's a race and a bar named after JD!. Here is some silent footage of that historic contest.



A future look at Tea Party Nation

OK, all you tea-drinkin' folks that dream of Red State glory, modeled on the Brave Confederacy of the Old South, let's get a quick reality check before we jump off that cliff. Shall we?

Below, is a peek from a public debate for the election of a new governor for the State of Tennessee that took place a few weeks ago. Yes, it includes our old friend Basil Marceux of the GOP.

The background: a dust up occurred right off the bat at this event, when ole Basil stormed out of the room, refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag --- he has something against gold fringe, recall? After that issue was settled by a crafty audience member with a photo of a properly adorned flag on his cell phone, various issues were tossed about.

First we learn that Basil is for marijuana legalization; citing the fact that if he can get high on 12-packs of beer and Jesus, then why can't other folks get high on nature's weed? At a "95.4 cents" tax, why not? That was followed by insights into how he would handle the 'Mexican' problem. But please, we needn't go there right now.

Instead, let's get the pulse of Tennessee on the pressing issue of Native Indian affairs from our three candidates:

NOTE: Mr Marceux lost the recent Republican primary. Let's hope he re-emerges in some future race -- he's an absolute treasure. As stated in prior columns, we think he'd make a great running mate for Sarah Palin.

Don't dare touch those freebies!

So, Governor Paterson is facing a near-$100K fine for accepting free tix to a Yankees game, is he? Seems a bit harsh, but what do I know?

But here's a thought for all you locals: when does the hammer fall on all those officials that have accepted box seats at Saratoga Race Course over the last 100+ years? Hmmmmm?

We might balance this state budget yet!

Just wondering....

Aug 20, 2010

Phantogram: the Cap-D's #1 (yet)?

Saratoga (via Greenwich, somehow) based ambient / neo-electronica dream-pop indie hipster phenoms Phantogram are no doubt today celebrating their landing in Spin Magazine. Years ago, that meant a whole lot; and it means at least a lot, still!

The question before us now is this: are they officially the most successful musical act to ever come out of the Capital Region? Dunno. Regardless, let us celebrate a rare breakthrough by one of our very own.

Phantogram, taking us in to the weekend...

Aug 19, 2010

New York, where all bets are off

Ok. I know this is NYC we're talking about, where one is apt to see some pretty crazy stuff going on. I got it.

Now, I also realize that we're dealing with the Subway here as well, where all bets are off. Been there, seen it, got the t-shirt.

But this picture from last night, somewhere out there on one of the lines, sure ain't good. Wouldn't you like to get this back story? On second thought, probably not.

'Visit New York --- just don't expect to go home the same person'

Aug 18, 2010

Panic Radio: Mandate FM on Phones

Old Music Biz wants mandated FM on mobile devices

Broadcasters & Labels: "They don't hate us, they miss us!"

Panic or Insanity? Who ya got?

Big Music reared its ugly ahead again today, with yet another pitiful attempt to stop the clock on the rapidly changing technology and media time shifts. Watching as the base of your age old empire of iron man rule continues to crumble at your feet cannot be an easy thing to experience. I've never been there myself but I do know from history that the reaction in such scenarios is just about always the same. Panic!

Panic rules as well dressed henchmen deployed by the major broadcasting networks and music labels are now descending on Capitol Hill to squeeze their latest shakedown into the proper political channels, waving fistfuls of campaign contributions in the air as bait as they scramble through the hallways and meal houses of DC.

But this particular idea that they've been unleashed to peddle is such a doozy that it just might signal a different transition: not the one from greed to panic, but one from panic to insanity. Think of when that one single moment in time occurred, that point where despots like Nero, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and all the others first went over the edge into pure madness – and consider now that Big Music might be right there in that very place today. Welcome to the club, fellas; dues can be paid in the back room.

That new push is this: to mandate, thru legislation, that FM radio chips be included (as standard equipment) in all portable devices, including cell phones. The internal thinking must go like this: “nobody's listening to us on radio any more, so maybe if we force them to own a micro-radio they will start listening to us again.“ Umm; OK.

“It gives consumers access to more music choices,”
said a pitiful Yes Man or the National Association of Broadcasters.

OK, insert that funny sound of an a spinning record coming to a scratching halt right here, please. Then; someone tell me when the radio and music conglomerates ever gave a rats ass about music choices? Unless you define choice here as being which one of Clear Channel's 900 stations you want to dial into to see who's playing the latest Lady Gaga hit at this very moment. There's a choice for you, I guess.

But there's what they've got going right now to right their ship. Quite the plan: fight this crazy thing called the New Digital Order, with its array of new alternatives to the consumption of music, by pretending that the old broadcast/push model somehow not only deserves a plate at the Free Market table, but that plate should be guaranteed forever – even if the host has asked you to leave!

Memo to Big Music: the universe is voting with its ears to move away from your corrupt and broken machine. The veil has been lifted, your scandal has been uncovered and you can't possibly get that old girlfriend back now. In fact, chasing her into her new boyfriend's house never does anyone a whole lot of good and will likely just hasten your being cleared completely from her contact list. The glory days are gone, the big league dream is over and you're back to working at the hardware store. Deal with it without embarrassing yourself

Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association rightfully deemed this nonsense as being the "height of absurdity. Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace, NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do," he said.

In these quarters, it's more akin to requiring that all books include a version that is written in Latin. You know, just in case.

So: panic or insanity? Who ya got?



What's that funny looking thing?

It's funny seeing these popping up on the auction and classifieds sites, often under the Antique Collectibles category.

$20-$30 seems to be the going rate.

What was once a means for the lower classes connecting to the world -- as well as a profit center for street thugs with tools -- is now in the domain of ebay Nation.

Most of today's young children will grow up never having seen one of these in action.

Many will go their whole lives without ever using a phone with a cord attached to it!

Aug 17, 2010

What money can buy --- and cost

I don't know about you, but this picture rally creeps me right out. Yeah, that's the ex-con with the very appropriate first name of Rush, with his brand new bride.

Nothing more to add. Nothing....

Aug 16, 2010

On this Date: Woodstock 1969

These past few days have been the anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Festival in Bethel, NY.

A few bits of trivia to honor the occasion:

- The Grateful Dead's performance was so dreadful that they begged-off from appearing on the album. Years later, Jerry Garcia noted how the band always tended to bomb at the large festivals.

- Old gentleman farmer Max Yasgur wasn't really that old. The man on whose dairy farm the event was staged was only 49 at the time. He seemed much older, did he not? He died three and a half years later.

- Martin Scorcese was hired to hired by director Michael Wadleigh to shoot and edit the event for a planned movie. That's Scorcese in the photo, cheering on Mr Yasgur.

- Folk singer Bert Sommer was given an early slot on the Friday acoustic music) bill. But Sommer became the forgotten man of Woodstock -- he did not appear on either album or in the movie. In fact, his name is even missing from the ceremonial monument that marks the site today. He dropped off the national radar and spent the last few years of his career (and life) playing in small rooms in the Capital Region.

Here is the only known video record of his Woodstock performance:

Ghost Town of the Adirondacks

An interesting little piece produced by an interesting little TV/Net channel:

Aug 14, 2010

The R&R Hall of Fame ain't working

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." (Hunter S. Thompson)

The following acts are bona fide members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Abba... Hollies.. Leonard Cohen... Bobby Darin... Miles Davis... Dion...Earth Wind & Fire .. John Mellencamp ...Ricky Nelson ... Run DMC... Moonglows .... The Flamingos ... Ink Spots .... Impressions .... Billy Joel ... Gladys Knight & Pips ... Madonna ... Brenda Lee ... Lovin Spoonful

The following acts are not:

Flying Burrito Brothers ... J Geils Band ... New Riders of the Purple Sage ... Marshall Tucker Band ... MC5 ... Stevie Ray Vaughn ... Peter Gabriel ... Rory Gallagher ... Roy Buchanan .... Thin Lizzie ... Fairport Convention ... Paul Revere & The Raiders.... John Mayall .... Kiss ... Yes ... Alice Cooper .. Los Lobos ... Little Feat .. B-52s ... Blue Oyster Cult ... Lucinda Williams ... John Hiatt ... Hot Tuna .. Mountain .. Johnny Winter .. Steppenwolf .. Zombies ... Deep Purple ... Jethro Tull ... Squeeze

Just saying...

Maybe it's time to start a competing Hall? Before all the the rap and hip hop artists become eligible.

Aug 13, 2010

Downtown Living? Not (yet) in Albany

Steuben Place Partners LLC thinks that the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID) wasted a whole bunch of good money.

How else does one explain their decision to send out a detailed questionnaire to office workers in the neighborhood of their former Steuben Athletic Club on North Pearl Street? After all, the BID already went through that process a couple years back, reporting back that there was a demand for 2,400 residential units in that area.

Obviously, the Steuben folks don't buy into that research and want to find out for themselves whether there is sufficient interest in converting the classy old building into condos and/or apartments. This comes after an initial poll designed to gauge interest in revitalizing the heath club. The findings: a big not really.

We'll save these good folks the effort and advise them to bag the whole idea.

Here's the critical analysis of the situation down there:

Fact: the building is smack dab in the middle of the so-called Entertainment Zone of the city.

Suggested Methodology: divide the world into two categories; those that would be interested in living in such a neighborhood and those who would not.

Next: now make a rough guess as to what the breakdown of each would be. Maybe it's 90/10 or 80/20 or whatever. Just get it close, because the exact figure is not of utmost importance, for the following reason...

Point: even among that constituency that would normally be open to the idea of living in a downtown entertainment zone, the vast majority of them will not be interested in this particular type of an entertainment zone.

Why? Because the North Pearl Street strip is a one-trick pony; a giant, loud, noisy, drunken, violent mess of the hip hop nightlife culture. Missing are other (and more tame) variations of activities and attractions that would make this a New Urbanist type of setting.

There lies Albany's Catch 22: it needs to get people living downtown. But its first three stabs at economic development --- namely urban renewal, government office buildings and the aforementioned Entertainment Zone --- act to prevent that goal from happening.

It's time to start over.


Aug 12, 2010

Chris Gibson's Big Idea: save energy with more traffic!

Expand the Northway? Now you're thinking

Keep the customers (contributors) satisfied

Case Study: When photo-opp's go bad

The time is now to reinvent energy policy

Let someone else do it! Now there's a philosophy worth grabbing onto every now and then.

When WEXT-The Exit first aired, I made a point of sending its GM Chris Wienk a thank you note. This wasn't simply an appreciation for filling the region's culture gap with a much needed indie-rock, long tail radio station, mind you --- it was to thank him for saving me $50,000 . Such was the budget being kicked around in these quarters to do the same thing, albeit with an internet-based offering. Mr Wienk and company were now willing to do the heavy lifting. Bravo!

That thought came to mind as I started to write this very post, a reaction to one more example of the usual mindless nonsense that flows from the lips of incumbent or wannabe elected officials when it comes to addressing the pressing issues of the day. In this case, it was the the reflections on energy policy from a pair of local yokels.

First up was Chris Gibson, the Republican challenger to Scott Murphy and his 20th Congressional District seat. Playing to the usual cheap bleachers, the gentleman used the backdrop of a local farm to rail against the climate change/energy bill making its way thru the Congress at the time (note: since killed in the Senate by the you-know-who party) as the photo-opp to strike against "its costs to our small family farm" and the inherent evils of cap & trade. We disagree, but it's all fair and worthy of a discussion

Furthermore, Mr Gibson should at least be given credit for taking it a step further and at least offering a possible counter-solution to the nation's energy dilemma. Such a tactic is refreshing to hear from the Party of No, No, No! We certainly hope he continues doing more of the same as this campaign heats up.

Instead, it was the actual – and incredulous – proposed solution that Gibson offered that had us ready to roll the presses. “Build an extra lane on the Northway!” was his brainstorm and rallying cry. OK, there goes a few hours as I unleash on this guy, I figured.

But Fred Daley, editor at the Hill Country Observer, stepped up to the plate to save me that effort. His July 10th “Candidate’s energy policy? Even more of the same” nailed it better than I could have. Here are some excerpts:

“It’s a strange idea from a candidate who otherwise talks a lot about how Congress is spending too much and running up the federal deficit. Adding a lane to an interstate highway costs a minimum of about $20 million a mile, so Gibson’s grand plan for the Northway could easily total $250 million, perhaps far more....

And what would it accomplish? A wider highway would spur a wave of new McMansions in Saratoga County and beyond -- and more retail sprawl at every highway exit. In 10 years, the wider Northway would be even more congested than the current one. For anyone who cares about the region’s quality of life, this is a spectacularly bad idea...”

Editor Daley went on to rightfully point out that Gibson's campaign is financed in large part by the local Sprawl Industry, citing specific contributors. “It’s because of exactly this kind of axis between government contractors and politicians that our national energy policy is in such desperate need of an overhaul.”

Candidate Gibson didn't stop there with this Open Mouth, Insert Foot act, however. Next up was his call to “privatize railroads”. Again, yours truly was chomping at the bit; but why bother when a much better wordsmith had already taken the reins? To again quote Mr Daley:

“Unfortunately, no private company is going to step forward to compete with the government-run highway system, especially when politicians like Gibson might decide to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding that system on a whim.”

There you go. Thanks, Fred. Now I can't make you do all the work here, so allow me to take a shot at zero'ing in on the equally problematic mindset from another politician, this one a sitting official in Saratoga County.

Bill Peck is the Town of Northumberland's representative to the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. When asked for a comment on the Champlain-Hudson Power Express Transmission Line Project – which would bring much needed power to the metro NYC market on railroad right-of-ways in the Champlain and both Hudson Valley regions, Mr Peck salivated:

“I see an opportunity. We might be generating tax revenue,” he said.

Perfect!. Here's a project to bring desperately needed energy (most of it of the renewable variety) to the biggest driver of the state's fragile economy, which as a result would reduce energy costs to ALL New Yorkers (because of peak energy pricing and transfer) and it is met with a “goody, we can hit them up for the property taxes for burying those two 5” cables on land within our boundaries!” reaction. Someone wake me up from this nightmare!

But yes, that is how it works for most energy and transportation initiatives. If a project (be it a rail or energy transmission line) is running through a community, it goes on that community's tax rolls. Evidence shows that New York's local communities take this opportunity to the bank and back again, with outrageously overpriced assessments and fees. Look it up.

There is one exception to this formula, of course: HIGHWAYS! Adding Mr Gibson's new Northway lane will not raise any assessments in the many communities through which it runs, because there is no such assessment to begin with!

So the standing question for Mr Chris Gibson is this:

With local officials like Bill Peck out there, looking at energy and transportation infrastructure investments by the state and federal governments as being nothing more than revenue opportunities which they are certainly not ever going to give up... combined with the fact that railroad operators suffer from a tax burden not levied on their competing highways..... combined with the fact that you want to invest even more government funding into those competing highways … well, please tell us why exactly you think any private entity would want to get into the railroad business?

It's this kind of a mess that prevents us from meeting the challenges confronting us. What's needed is effective leadership willing to propose comprehensive solutions, not photo-opp's. A stretch, maybe?

But this assumes there is first an understanding of these mega-challenges to begin with. That might be the real stretch here in all of this.

(R Millis)


The Hill Country Observer is a weekly print publication serving the eastern NY / western Mass / western Vt communites the goold old fashioned way: with quality journalism. Inquire about getting a look by emailing Fred Daley.

Aug 11, 2010

Goofball of the Week

We here at Nanoburgh have long been critical of the raging DUI/DWI hysteria, feeling that the scorched earth enforcement and prosecution campaign against drinking & driving is a bad and dangerous combination of liberal do-good'ism and conservative puritanical'ism.

Is getting behind the wheel of a car a good idea? No. But neither is the 'destroy lives at all cost' mindset when is is directed at first time offenders, supported by phony logic that should be used as an example of statistical propaganda in every Research Methods 101 course in universities worldwide.

The real problem -- and this is verified by the hard data -- is with the problem drinker, not with the receptionist who had three glasses of wine at the office Christmas party.

On that we should all agree, and rise in support of programs and punishments that are directed towards this segment of the population that is the real danger, as defined by those that are repeat offenders.

Exhibit A is this week's Goofball.

He is John Sgorrano of Moreau (almost sounds like moron, doesn't it?). Mr S. was arrested this week in Glens Falls for his -- hold on to your hats -- EIGHTH DWI infraction. Yes; EIGHTH.

There's an obvious problem somewhere in the system to let this guy get behind a steering wheel. Wow....

Aug 9, 2010

A Hero is Born

Meet Steven Slater.

His occupation: flight attendant for Jet Blue.

Apparently, Mr Slater got into a hassle on this evening's Pittsburgh to NYC flight. It seems a passenger was dead set on getting into the overhead compartment, despite warnings. Finally, a bag fell out and hit Steven in the head.

Demanding an apology from the offender fell on deaf ears. Well, that was the last straw.

A tirade over the PA system ensued in place of the normal buckle up for landing instructions. But it was after the plane got to the terminal that the real fun began.

Slater reportedly grabbed a cold brewski from the galley, popped open the emergency door, slid down the now-deployed escape slide, and proceeded to his car in the parking lot for the short ride to his home in nearby Belle Harbor.

Now there's an exit that would make your best vaudeville performer rise in salute.

We do the same here at Nanoburgh. Mr Slater, on behalf of all fed up service workers, we salute you!

(Something tells me this guy will be needing both a lawyer and an agent in the next few days)

Wait. McSorley's has flies in the kitchen?

Watch out all you local trendoids that are skipping over to the new Shake Shack at the race track. The Manhattan location of the fledgling restaurant chain received 30 health code violation points in its initial inspection.

Several other high profile eateries also took a hit, including hotshot Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles; and the famed White Horse Tavern.

But the only joint on the list that we here at Nanoburgh care about is our favorite East Village haunt, McSorley's Ale House. If you've ever visited there yourself, you're not likely bowled over by this news. Actually, what's always amazed me is how they get away with their "just dip it once into the standing water" means of cleaning the rapidly churning beer mugs.

Quoted in the New York Post with his reaction, McSorely's owner Matthew Maher gave the situation the old New York fuggetaboutit:

"They come in on a busy Friday afternoon. What do they expect the place to look like?" he said. "We had a few flies in the kitchen. What are you going to do -- chase flies around with a net and keep crowds waiting?"

I think not, Matthew. Fuggetaboutit, indeed. I'll have no reservations ordering the house special plate of hash to go along with my 2/$4.50 (you can only order in pairs) dark brews, thank you very much. Keep 'em coming, right over here at the bar, goddamit!

Aug 7, 2010

Has Saratoga Jumped the Shark?

$100 Picnic Table Policy Announced

Is Elbow Space on the Rail Next?

Jumping the shark: an idiom used to describe the moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise. The phrase was originally used to denote the point in the Happy Days television program's history where the plot spins off into absurd story lines or unlikely characterizations.

Saratoga Springs --- The New York Racing Association (NYRA), franchise operators of the Saratoga Race Course, yesterday announced a new initiative that gives pause in these quarters. In part, the press release reads as follows:

" fans will have the opportunity to reserve a picnic table in the backyard at Saratoga Race Course for the 141st running of the historic “Mid-Summer Derby... The reserved tables will be available for purchase for $100."

That's right: a C-note gets you one of the picnic tables on Travers Day, in a specially designated section. We now have a caste system for the picnic area! But don't even think of bringing lawn chairs or even baby chairs to accommodate the whole gang as you always have; the new reg's firmly state that you are now "strictly limited to a maximum of six people."

OK, I get the logic of the "free market" and "maximizing profit" and "demand pricing" and all that. NYRA certainly has the right to add this line-item to their revenue stream. It needn't, however, insult our intelligence by using the old "All proceeds will benefit the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation" publicity slight-of-hand as cover. The fact is that NYRA already makes an annual contribution to this worthy charity; this new program just creates a new transfer-payment opportunity that results in more funds going into NYRA's coffers.

But the bigger issue here is whether or not NYRA is pushing the envelope to the hazardous edge; is it milking the cash cow called Saratoga to the extent that its loyal and dedicated constituency is finally at the breaking point and saying "enough is enough, you're bleeding me to death here!" Is the picnic table thing Saratoga racing's Jump the Shark moment?

Such a distinction is always a challenge hard to pinpoint, especially without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight --- say ten years after the fact. Likewise, some could argue that the track's shark moment is better attributed to more recent developments, such as the trailer-suites on the first turn, the meet's expansion to 40 days, the mall food-court look that has been brought to the once-glorious paddock area and that absurd VIP lounge on the first floor, with its glass enclosed monkeys at the zoo experience.

Regardless of which single instance best exemplifies this decline, the troubling yet undeniable fact is this: the buzz is definitely gone. Call it a reverse tipping point, if you will, but that is the present day reality. I stand by my earlier prediction (in another forum) of a 5-10% decline in year-to-year comparative on-track handle for this year's meet as the report card on my theory.

$100 picnic tables? Check. Glorified chain restaurants housed in multi-level monstrosities better suited to trade shows? Check. Hen houses that are so ridiculous that the people they are meant for don't even use them? Check. Sponsor signs running the length of the stretch rail? Check. Beers prices that would make everyone except SPAC blush? Check.

Now add to the mix the planned glass & AC'd enclosure of the the dining area, the re-design of the complete clubhouse, the expansion (upgrade) of the trailer-suites and who knows what else is on the drawing board, and one has to start asking who's kidding who here with the track's Historic Site designation?

The Human Doll House Experience is how I often refer to the intangible that attracts the masses to both Saratoga Race Course and downtown Saratoga itself. It is the feeling of being part of an experience and a setting that no longer exists in America. But as humans we long for that experience because the generation or two ahead of us told us what it was like to live in it, and the description appeals to us when compared to the cheep plastic world of today. Saratoga is one of those rare places where we can briefly step back in time, and reconnect with that lost era and as a result, with past generations.

It is this attraction that provides Saratoga with the unique opportunity and advantages that allow it to withstand the serious overall general decline of horse racing's popularity among the American public.

Turning that old giant doll house into a Six Flags theme park (with horses running in circles instead of jumping off diving boards)ain't gonna hack it.

Tread carefully, NYRA; you are approaching tricky waters. There's even been a report of a shark within them.

(Author: R Millis)

Aug 2, 2010

Tea Party nominates Palin's VP

Meet Basil Marceaux, who miraculously accomplishes what no one thought possible: making Sarah Palin appear at least half-way coherent.