Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
  8 Things
Only because Wes is a friend and a fellow member of the music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha will I indulge his tag to write about eight random personal facts and/or habits:

1) As I said in my lede, I am a member of a fraternity, even though I hate the Greek system at most colleges. Phi Mu Alpha is more of a professional organization, although, because they have switched back to a male-only membership, I am less enthusiastic about their mission.

2) Many years ago I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article celebrating the retirement of Dr. Harry Langsford, one of my mentors and a conducting legend at Wayne State University in Detroit. Unfortunately for me, the quote caught me criticizing the Wayne State music department - saying something to the effect of "Dr. Langsford is the only reason I came to Wayne State. I am thinking about transferring to the University of Michigan."

My 18-year-old big mouth was the reason, among others, that I felt it necessary to walk away from a full scholarship at Wayne State. I had not even filled out the Michigan application at the time of the article's publication, and it was already February!

Thank God I nailed the admission audition. And Dr. Langsford wrote a glowing recommendation directly to one of his former students, George Shirley, which probably didn't hurt.

And I might add, that attending Michigan, regardless of reason, might have been one of the best things to happen to me. Go Blue!

3) I was a very good sprinter in high school until I ruptured the ACL in my right knee playing pick-up football in the snow.

4) As a kid I used to race BMX bikes and still have several trophies that my son now likes to take apart and reassemble in various different forms.

5) My first date with my, then-future wife was watching Schindler's List at the Mall of America Cinema. There is a metaphor in there somewhere, but I am hesitant to even think about it.

6) I once played in a rock band with the son of the owner of the Detroit Pistons. His home, and our practice space, had original signed Matisse cut-outs, a series of Chagall oil paintings and tiles hand-painted by Monet. Surreal does not even begin to describe this whole chapter of my career. Isiah Thomas was a regular audience member to our private jam sessions. The son is still recording and playing gigs as a relatively successful folk singer, but he likes to avoid much mention of his privileged upbringing by touring in a beat up old van. His then and still current guitar/cello player, Jason Charboneau was one of the best friends I ever had and is also a brother in Phi Mu Alpha. Small world.....

7) One evening in 1999 I fed three of the ten richest people in the world, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer at three separate tables in the same restaurant.

8) An ex-girlfriend from my late teen years was not only the niece of a trombone God, Frank Rosolino, her cubicle-mate at an accounting firm was the sister of Levi Stubbs. (aka the voice of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.)

-- And here is where I break the rules. I will only tag those who volunteer to be tagged. Bueller... Bueller.... Ferris... Bueller.....
Sunday, June 17, 2007
  Simple Pleasures
Amy has tagged me for 5 things I love to cook. The verb to cook means different things to different people. To me it means to change something to make it more palatable. Usually this means applying heat in one form or another, but not always. I can denature proteins or tenderize veggies with salt or acids. Scandinavians use lye to make the strange delicacy known as lutefisk. Heck, some meats are simply air-dried to create a finished product. But my favorite things to cook, not necessarily to eat, are much simpler because they are so incredibly versatile. This might not sound like the list of a chef who has worked for three James Beard Award winning chefs, but...:

5) Dried Grains and Legumes - lentils, barley, quinoa, oats, etc... are all incredibly easy to prepare and can be prepared in dozens of different ways. Salads, soups, side dishes, .... you name it.

4) Tomatoes - I hate eating raw tomatoes but I love to cook with them. Their acidic properties and sweetness, which can only be achieved through cooking them down, can completely define a dish. Summer is here and I am in heaven now that real tomatoes are in season rather than their hothouse imitations.

3) Soups - OK, this is kinda' cheating, but nothing makes me happier in my kitchen than looking that the various byproducts and leftovers in my cooler and making soup. I am a complete sucker for a good puree or brothy soup, but if you must know my weakness, it is gumbo. And I make a damn fine one, at that.

2) Rice - See #5. And I might add, if you want to understand rice, cook it every day for a year. Try doing something a little different each time. Make your pilaf with a different stock, or a few added veggies. Add your aromatics while "toasting" your rice. Cook your risotto in a pressure cooker rather than stirring it for 1/2 an hour. Use your leftovers for fried rice or jambalaya. After a couple of years you will understand why 2/3rds of the world consider rice their main staple.

1) Eggs - There is an old legend that the 101 folds in a chef's toque (hat) represent the number ways you can cook an egg. The legend is off by at least a few thousand. Eggs are just about the most versatile food on the planet. And if you really want to get perplexed, ask a dozen cooks the best way to boil an egg. You will likely get 10 different answers. If you want the best scrambled eggs you've ever had, add a little sour cream when you beat them and then add a slice or two of American cheese as you cook them. Light... moist... and they will last for a couple hours without getting rubbery. Oh, kids really love them too.

So there you have it...... 5 things I love to cook.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
  A Tale of Two Polluters
The Transcript provides today's lesson in irony.**

First we have the tragic plight of Leo Senecal:
Mr. Senecal, trying to save the city a few bucks back in 1998, illegally dumped three barrels containing 150 gallons of oil into an unlined landfill. He was director of public works at the time. After he was caught, he was publicly humiliated, fined $9,000 for the cleanup of 125 pounds of contaminated soil, demoted and suspended without pay for six months.

Now overzealous enforcers want to stick it to Mr. Senecal further by sticking to the letter of a 1996 law that states convicted felons must lose their municipal pensions. In Mr. Senecal's case, that would amount to $36,000 per year.
And then we have the owners of Sprague's abandoned Brown Street mills:
NORTH ADAMS — The last vestiges of the Sprague Electric Co. on Brown Street will soon be a memory — all of the large brick buildings in the former mill complex are scheduled for demolition this summer.

Great American Financial Resources — formerly known as American Annuity Group Inc., the successor of Sprague Electric — had plans to demolish the buildings after the facility was vacated by Commonwealth Sprague's Component Division in late 2001 when the manufacturing jobs moved to Mexico. The mills have remained empty for the past six years

The company has been cleaning the Brown Street property under the supervision of the state DEP for over a decade. In 1995, the company was required to clean and remove soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) from an old outfall channel at the plant. The ground around the plant, including an old dump on Fairgrounds Avenue and the former Avon Street, were also contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic chemical degreaser used at the Brown Street plant.

Exposure over time can lead to health problems such as nausea, liver, kidney or lung cancer, skin rashes, eye problems, kidney disease, heart problems, deafness and birth defects. The contamination eventually spread into the groundwater in the area surrounding the plant. The DEP is still monitoring the toxic plume, which has made its way west down to Harding Avenue.

"For the most part, the remediation is done," Gruber said. "We still have remediation issues that are being addressed with the groundwater."
OK, the company contaminated the ground, laid-off the workers, moved the jobs to Mexico and then has the gall to say:
He did not disclose the cost of the demolition, but said it was a "substantial investment."
If that quote is in proper context (and knowing Jen's work, it most likely is) I feel the need to punch someone from AFR in the nose.

So, here we have a solid working class civil servant with four decades of public service who may have his retirement years ruined by overzealous enforcement of a draconian pollution law juxtaposed against a large corporate entity that has screwed this community environmentally and financially. And their spokesperson, Mr. Gruber, calls the creation of another vacant lot sitting atop a "toxic plume" a "substantial investment."

Shakespeare once had a character joke - "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Personally, I say start with the MBAs.

**By which I mean the real thing, not the Alanis Morrisette version. "Rain on your wedding day" is *not* ironic. For that matter, the majority of her examples were not ironic, which, given that the song asks the question, "Isn't it ironic?" and the answer is obviously "NO!", then, perhaps, there is some unintended irony. But enough of my parts-of-speech screed. Ms. Morrisette owes every English Teacher who taught in the '90s a big apology. (and hopefully my former teachers will forgive that egregious example of a run-on sentence!)
Monday, June 11, 2007
  Two Definitions of Wrong
When most people say that something is wrong, they usually mean that something is not correct or morally proper.

However, in today's lingo "wrong" often gets applied to dark and twisted humor - "Dude, that joke was just wrong!"

Very rarely have I ever encountered a blog post that encompassed both the traditional and slang variations so well as this one about the Air Force's inquiry about creating a "gay bomb."

Yes, they were serious. OMG.
Friday, June 08, 2007
  Let the Sunshine In. Let the Sunshine In.... (Everybody Sing!)
Downing Joins Colleagues Calling For Transparency In State Government Spending With State Facing Deficit, New Legislation Would Create Accountability

Boston – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) announced this week that he has co-sponsored new legislation to open up the fiscal books of state government through an electronic website, enabling citizens to review and inspect items of state spending.

Drafted by State Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R – Gloucester), this late-file petition is entitled " An Act to Provide Accountability and Transparency in the Finances of the Commonwealth," and is largely based on a federal law that was passed in 2006 and authored by U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL). Downing observed that "if the federal government can provide spending transparency in its budget, there should be no reason that Massachusetts can't provide the same mechanism of public fiscal oversight."

The legislation authorizes the Secretary of Administration and Finance, the Comptroller, the Treasurer and the Operational Services Division to develop and operate a single searchable budget website. The website would:

· allow the general public complete access to research state expenditures;
· be made freely available;
· minimize cost;
· maximize utility;
· and promote the accessibility of information.

"Every tax dollar in Massachusetts was earned by hard working people in the Commonwealth," said Downing. "This user-friendly electronic tool will put the power to understand state spending in the hands of anyone with an interest in where our dollars are going, and where our spending priorities are."

The primary function of the website would be to allow the public to become more engaged and aware of how state funds are spent. The sponsors of the bill hope that the website would further contribute to the development of a so-called "Spend Management System" to allow state and municipal purchasers to share information and gain a significant advantage in the marketplace. Such a system would enable managers to identify spending trends, combine purchases of commonly procured items or services, and share resources where possible.
When I see anti-tax zealots demanding pointlessly symbolic and arbitrary caps on tax rates, I usually like to point out that the vast majority of the Commonwealth's budget is allocated by law and cannot be changed on a whim. However, where there is pork and inefficiency, statutes like this can go a very long way in trimming what little fat actually exists. (And it has the potential to expose relationships that might not be considered kosher by the voters.)

As Wes would say - Good on ya'.

(Article from Senator Ben's newsletter)
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
  Because Williams' Alumni Week is Crazy at the Restaurant...
I need an excuse to laugh-And finally, if you like Will Ferrell more now that he has left SNL, this is for you-

The Landlord

Monday, June 04, 2007
  "They all look alike..."
Well, at least to your average Fox News Producer, Editor, Director, Reporter and Anchor.

It is stunning to think that minimum of 5 people had to have seen this at the network, before and during the broadcast, and not one caught it or at least mentioned the slip-up as it was playing.

Maybe it is because Conyers was my Congressman years ago that I consider him to be one of the most recognizable members of the Dem caucus, but the man is the friggin' Chair of the Judiciary Committee. Talk about living in a bubble......
(Via Josh at TPM)
A blog of random thoughts and reactions emanating from the bank of a mountain stream in the farthest reaches of the bluest of blue states.

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greg at gregoryroach dot com

"Livability, not just affordability." - Dick Alcombright

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