Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

A touching moment leads to tears

April 28, 2014

We knew it was coming. Our Sarah and her beloved Dan were going to make us grandparents for the first time. I took Wednesday off because I had gotten really sick from pigging out on food I had no business eating. I had no energy so I decided to take a rare day off, something I do not do very often. We knew that Sarah was due to have her baby on the 25th but on that Wednesday she called to say that she was going into labor.

Thursday morning we got in the car and headed down to the city. Things had progressed and Sarah and Dan were off to Mt. Sinai where they were to have the baby. At 2:35 in the morning, we got a call from Sarah saying that little Noah Élan (half Roselle, half Alan) Blodgett had been born and that she was really exhausted and really hungry. Could we, she asked, bring her and Dan bagel sandwiches from Barney Greengrass on the West Side? Dan wanted white fish on an “everything” bagel and Sarah wanted nova lox with tofu cream cheese.

As I did The Roundtable from 9 to 10, Roselle got the stuff and we tried to get a cab, which was almost impossible. But providence provided — and after the usual nail-biting ride — we got across the park and handed over $15 to the driver. We got to the room, hugged the kids and watched them wolf down their food. Little Noah had slight fetal distress, albeit with a perfect Apgar score, so he was in a special neo-natal unit. We would be allowed in one at a time to see him.

I had sworn that no matter what happened, I would not cry. This time, I mean it, I said to myself. This is a baby. I am not the father and Roselle is not the mother. I would not cry. Why should I? Real men do not cry. It’s embarrassing. It’s wrong. I would not cry. Of course, Roselle, Sarah and Dan did not help things along. They all swore that little Noah looked just like me. What a crock, what nonsense, and they said that before I had even seen the little baby.

By that time the tears were already flowing. I bit my lower lip until it almost bled; I forced my thumbnail into my palm. I tried method acting, thinking of other things that would make me a solid citizen. I thought of all the good things that had happened in Sarah’s life — her success at Monument Mountain, her time at Cornell, her Ph.D. at Princeton and her attaining tenure at the College of New Jersey. I was wearing a Tanglewood hoodie sweatshirt and I kept rubbing the sleeve over my eyes. I was very embarrassed. Roselle, Sarah and Dan must have seen it but they were too kind to let on. So then Sarah took me to see the baby. We got into the room. She said that I had to wash my hands, and she inspected me to make sure that I was thoroughly scrubbed because, she said, “You are going to touch the baby.” “No,” I protested.” “Yes!” she said.

And then there he was, lying on his back making faces and even sneezing once. His little hands and his tiny little toes opened and closed. His belly rose and fell. He was oblivious to us, but Sarah opened the little door to the unit he was in and I touched his thigh. It was, of course, more than I could take. Was it the fact that the family carried on another generation? Was it something as old as Adam and Eve? I really don’t know. The feeling was overpowering. Maybe, just maybe, the Great Spirit was giving me a rare pass for all my transgressions. All I know is that as I am writing this, I am still crying. Sorry about that.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/28/14

The voters are restless, so don’t count Astorino out

April 23, 2014

Let’s just say that the pure Democrats are what we call “blue” and the Republicans are “red.” In each of those groups are people who are committed to their respective parties. These are the folks who feel about their political parties the way some feel about their religion. They are confirmed in their political identity. They almost never vote for the other party. But these people really don’t count. No, the way that elections are won in this state or country is by getting the “purples” to vote for you. The idea is to reach those people who see themselves as “independents” or who are most likely to desert one party for another over a particular issue that means a lot to them — more than any other issue, be it guns, or choice, or the really big one, taxes.

For some reason, popular Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino thinks he can beat Andrew Cuomo, who has substantially upwards of a whopping 30 million dollars in his campaign account, a huge popularity base and who has become as close to a purple Republicrat as you can find. Cuomo, who says that he hunts, is hunting the purples in politics. He knew from the start that he had to shed his father’s image as a spender. To the folks of Westchester, Long Island and some parts of “upstate” (whatever that is), taxes trump everything else. Living these days is not easy. Your kids are having a tough time getting good jobs and many are still living in a small house. They are burdened with such onerous taxes that it is tough for them to make ends meet. That is the number one reason for voting the bums out. As one political candidate might have put it, “The taxes are too damn high.”

Who knows about taxes? Andrew Cuomo does. From day one, he realized this was the challenge, the way to get the purples to vote for him. His pollster, Drew Zambelli, is a genius. Zambelli served under Papa Cuomo and knows what you are thinking before you do. So Andrew comes up with things like “tax caps,” combining school districts and anything that looks like he might be trying to tell the purple tax haters that he is their man. To this, Astorino says, “Phooey.” He thinks it’s all smoke and mirrors and says so on every occasion. That’s how he beat a popular Democrat to become county executive in Westchester where there are a lot more Democrats than Republicans.

The whole thing is a wicked political game. Now Astorino has to “turn” those Republicans who like Cuomo but have that one overriding issue of concern to them. He is going after all those people who think guns are more important than anything else, even though the vast majority of folks in New York state are in favor of gun control efforts. For his part, Cuomo has to worry about the liberal, very blue wing of his party who are so angry about his newly-discovered conservative inner self that they are even talking about running a third-party candidate against him. That’s why Cuomo’s advancement of gun control is so important. Cuomo’s recent championing of charter schools and his advancement of the unpopular Common Core has the teachers riled up. The civil servants are equally angry and their leader, Danny Donohue, read them correctly when he called Cuomo a “monkey.” When the more moderate civil service leaders have been replaced, Donohue has survived as the head of the CSEA, the state’s largest employee group. He read his members right.

When a young Mario Cuomo was running against popular New York Mayor Ed Koch for governor, I wrote a column suggesting that Cuomo couldn’t win. To me, Astorino’s run looks like a suicide mission but stranger things have happened in politics. The voters are restless.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/21/14

Megan Whilden will develop new, exciting ideas for OLLI

April 21, 2014

Cultural head Whilden leaving

Megan Whilden has no bigger fan than me. From the beginning, she has worked tirelessly to make sure that all the arts were well represented in Pittsfield, a town that dearly needed her talents and abilities.

Her accomplishments are many and to say she was underpaid is an understatement. The city certainly benefited from Megan’s efforts.

Former Mayor Jim Ruberto was a champion of Megan’s. When he left office, I feared that his successor, Daniel Bianchi, would hire someone without Whilden’s drive and dedication, especially to the downtown arts scene. In truth, Bianchi deserves credit for understanding the relationship between the arts and a positive business climate in Pittsfield.

Now, Megan is moving to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, an organization doing magnificent work offering our senior citizens course work and lectures of the first order.

This mini-university is one of the greatest things about the Berkshires. Megan will be the CEO, and I am betting she not only will maintain their usual standards, but she’ll come up with new and exciting ideas for the group.

While we are on the subject, a congratulatory note is in order to the outgoing OLLI CEO, Barbara Hochberg and to Ellen Kennedy, the first class leader of Berkshire Community College, one of the most important institutions of higher education in our region. BCC will continue to host OLLI.

Positive developments in North Adams

There has been a lot of work going on to ensure continued health care in North Adams. David Phelps, the hard working and bright president of Berkshire Health Systems, played his cards carefully. He surely could not assume the million of dollars of North Adams Regional Hospital debt. The problem is that, theoretically, creditors have first dibs on the hospital’s assets. That’s why it was so important all the top players got together to make a plan work. The most important part of the plan, of course, is the emergency room. There are just a few minutes between the onset of a heart attack and death. It would take too long to get to Pittsfield for help, so there has to be an emergency center. Ditto the time it can take to have a baby. I have been impressed by the herd of political cats that seem to have risen above their own short-range interests to keep North Adams healthy. Surely, some people will want to hold someone responsible for the hospital closing but the main thing is to move forward and make a new plan work.

Let’s face facts. This hospital has struggled for the last decade. In the end, health care needs to be dependable, accessible and sustainable in this new governmental reimbursement environment. Medicine today is not for the faint of heart. We are lucky to have a governor, a state senator and an attorney general, among many others, who give a damn.

NYPD ends Muslim surveillance

Let’s face it, we all want maximum freedom and, perhaps even more, we want to be safe and secure.

A while back, right down the block from WAMC in Albany, a Muslim Imam was arrested for alleged involvement in the sale of a Stinger missile to an undercover agent. If everyone was to be believed, it would appear the undercover work paid dividends. On the other hand, I’m Jewish, so how would I feel if our government infiltrated Jewish groups because one guy had done something that was counter to the safety of our country? But, of course, with the recent NSA disclosures, this may be academic since it is possible we are all under some kind of surveillance. Does anyone really want to bet that even though the New York City Police Department may have disbanded the unit that was doing the Muslim surveillance, they are doing the same stuff some other way?

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/19/14

 

U.S. Attorney means business when it comes to cleaning up Albany

April 16, 2014

The Moreland Act Commission was established by Governor Andrew Cuomo to root out corruption in state government wherever it might be. Cuomo rode into power as a fighting state attorney general, indicting corrupt politicians and others. He promised that he would do the same thing when he became governor. As governor, Cuomo has the power to use Moreland Act Commissions, heavy duty investigatory bodies that put the fear of God into corrupt politicians and gangsters of every stripe. These bodies have been employed by legendary figures like Thomas Dewey, Mario Cuomo and now Andrew Cuomo.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to understand why Cuomo appointed the commission. He wanted to have some real leverage with the Legislature and other politicians who like things the way they are. We know that is true because from the first moment, the members of the Legislature and their leaders were yelling “foul,” suggesting that the commission was on a fishing expedition. Be that as it may, Cuomo added emphasis to the importance of his commission by appointing several heavy hitting district attorneys to the panel. The thought was that if the panel found anything suspicious or worthy of prosecution, they would turn it over to the relevant district attorneys. Apparently that never happened.

Cuomo asked for a lot of reforms and got what could only be described as minor league concessions from the Legislature. He abruptly told the state’s voters that the reforms he gained were enough to call off the work of the group. This had to be embarrassing to members of the commission who kept assuring us that the whole thing was for real and by the time the commission finished up its work, the results would bear out the money, time and effort that was spent on it.

Of particular note, the governor placed tremendous emphasis on the negative role and influence of money in politics. This, despite the upwards of thirty million dollars in his own campaign coffers that he accumulated from some of the fattest cats in the state. Then Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News printed a story indicating that Cuomo’s people were calling in plays telling the commission who NOT to subpoena. It was possible to do that since the executive staff of the commission had relations with the Cuomo people. Allegedly, some of the people on the hands-off list had contributed to Cuomo’s campaign war chest.

When, to the astonishment of good government groups and The New York Times among others, Cuomo announced that he was killing his investigatory commission before it had time to finish its work, he got a black eye. That injury was made even worse when the fearless Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District, cried foul. Bharara is a solid citizen who sticks to his investigation. He said that he would finish up the work of the commission by himself. He left no doubt in the minds of the good government groups that he meant business and would find out just what was going on. If Bharara subpoenas the work of the commission and finds out that it was just intended to give Cuomo some more clout with the Legislature in their negotiations with him, there could be some serious political consequences.

So now Cuomo has to deal with The New York Times and the United States Attorney and most, if not all, of the good government groups. One can only guess that he never expected this type of fallout. If it turns out he just set up the Moreland Act Commission to give himself more political clout with the Legislature or for the benefit of the court of public opinion, it will hurt the reputation of the man who won office on the back of his promise to clean things up.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/14/14

Tasty breakfasts, lunches in Housatonic

April 14, 2014

There is even more good news for folks who like to go out for breakfast or lunch. The news comes from the new Brooklyn — Housatonic or “Hoosieville” as it is sometimes called.

The new restaurant is called Pleasant and Main Café and General Store and it’s the latest iteration of what was once Jack’s. That’s an appropriate name because the new eatery is at the intersection of Pleasant and Main streets. Clever!

Before we get to why this is such a great place, let’s talk for a minute about the head man, Craig Berg. Berg comes to us via Manhattan, where he ran a restaurant in the shadow of the World Trade Center before the horrendous catastrophe that changed everything.

He watched the towers fall, experiencing the same grief as all New Yorkers. One day when visiting the Berkshires, which he had always loved, he saw the empty restaurant and immediately knew it was both a sign and an opportunity. In partnership with Pascale Rossi, a valued friend who lives in far away Corsica, Craig worked feverishly to set up his new place.

Craig loves the concept of neighborhood. He welcomes everyone but he says that he really wants to please the locals in Housatonic. There are all kinds of movies like “Babette’s Feast,” where an outsider comes in and wows the locals with the best food you can find anywhere. When Roselle and I tried Craig’s new place, we knew we had found one of those unique spots where the food and the ambiance are unparalleled. The staff is extraordinarily friendly and helpful and many of the problems that had previously existed in the space, like the noise, have been dealt with. I don’t know how Craig did it and I really don’t care — I just know that whatever he did worked.

Let me tell you about the food. The menu is so extraordinary that when you experience it you will be as amazed as we were. It passed the first test for me, since I have to have oatmeal with an egg white on top, and theirs was delicious.

It came with fruit and since fruit is points-free on Weight Watchers, I also ordered a fruit bowl, which was extraordinary and beautiful. I used some points on an order of bacon, which was delicious. Roselle was treated to a Clementine chocolate crepe and had a full mushroom and sausage crepe with a mesclun, beets and tomato salad.

Roselle also sampled a warm blueberry muffin and gave me a tenth of a point’s worth. We also each had a nonalcoholic, blood orange mimosa and I had extraordinary black coffee and Roselle had what she described as an excellent cappuccino.

In case you don’t know about Roselle and cappuccino, you should know that she is very, very fussy, so when she says that the drink is good, you had better believe that an expert has spoken.

Then Craig brought over some round sausage slices with fresh wild horseradish. The horseradish was from Spike, the local forager. It was hot stuff but it was great. Other entrees we didn’t sample included seasonal fruit pancakes, French toast, all kinds of open face breakfast croissants, vegetarian quiche and lots of different sides like country ham, chicken apple sausage and much more.

The restaurant will be open from Thursday through Saturday for what Craig calls “Community Supper.” Everyone is welcome. What a great place. Go in and say, “Alan sent me.”

I love the idea that Housatonic is growing, what with the Brick House and Richard Bourdon’s marvelous Berkshire Mountain Bakery. For too long, Housatonic has been thought of as a stepchild of Great Barrington. That’s coming to an end. The village is well worth a day trip.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/12/14

Astorino has beaten the odds before

April 8, 2014

It appears the Republicans have picked their candidate to make what might be considered a suicidal run against Andrew Cuomo as he attempts to gain a second term on his way to besting his father’s record of three terms as governor of the Empire State. What’s more, the conventional wisdom is that Andrew sees himself as a future president.

Twice elected Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has proven that he can garner a lot of votes. He seems to have embraced many of the Tea Party themes that one wouldn’t expect to work in a supposedly liberal state like New York, yet he is extraordinarily popular in Westchester County where Democrats are said to outnumber Republicans two-to-one. How come? The answer: the taxes are high, very high. When the time comes to decide what is first on the priority list of voters, you had better believe that they care a lot about how much they are shelling out for services.

Since he first got to the second floor of that big stone building in Albany, Andrew Cuomo, who is now known as a fiscal conservative-type Democrat, has been preaching the gospel of keeping the cost of government down. His pollster, Drew Zambelli, is one of the best in the business and he knows just how salient taxes are. The more you pay in taxes, the less you can do for your family. So from the moment his run up to yet another term began, Cuomo has stood for a tight, parsimonious government. Astorino has adopted tough Tea Party-type language and basically says it’s all smoke and mirrors and Cuomo is a phony. In this campaign, expect him to point out that New York is right at the top of the list when it comes to the amount it spends on government.

Every once in a while, voters say, “Enough,” and put the brakes on things. Astorino would appear to have found the formula to make that happen in Democratic Westchester. We have seen this kind of thing before in places like New York City and Democratic Massachusetts, where the Democrats, together with their traditional union allies, are seen as driving up taxes and Republicans are elected.

For his part, Astorino is an attractive candidate. He speaks fluent Spanish, which means a great deal to the Hispanic population. He leans toward the Tea Party. He believes in a lean government. To the overtaxed voters of Westchester County, he has appeared as a Godsend. Cuomo has been courting voters an anti-tax conservative, but Republican Astorino has come back with, “Don’t believe him, he’s a phony, it’s all nonsense, and you’re paying through the nose.” What’s more, the Republican establishment seems to be lining up behind him, leaving losers like Donald Trump and Carl Paladino out in the cold. None of this can be good news for Cuomo.

Of course, Cuomo has over thirty million dollars in his campaign account. He is backed by some of the most influential and important money people in the state. He’s a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. He is thirty points ahead in the polls. He has that magic family name which won his very popular father, Mario, office three times. But even Mario eventually ran out of steam and lost.

Right now, nobody knows Astorino but they will. If Andrew is seen as buying the election, he could have trouble. Right now, Astorino’s run does seem like a suicide mission but he is the county executive in an overwhelming Democratic County. Just how do you think that happened?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/7/14

A cold, dead hand is still dead

April 7, 2014

Some Americans really love their guns. In order to understand what is happening in this country, it is necessary to comprehend the salience of the gun issue to those who insist it is their right to keep and bear arms. You have to try to get inside their heads — their way of thinking. Those in favor of gun ownership believe that there is safety in guns. If someone comes to their house and threatens them, they will be prepared. If someone attempts to rob them in the street, they will have a gun. If someone threatens to do bodily harm to a member of their family, they will be able to protect their loved one. Guns are recreational and can offer a way to unwind. Guns stand between individuals and their government who would harm them. Guns are constitutional, backed up by the most important set of rules we have and affirmed by the Supreme Court. As I have often said, if you put a lie detector cuff on the arm of a passionate gun owner and asked him whether he believed all the arguments that appear above, he would say “yes.” In most, but not all their cases, these folks truly believe what I have written.

No matter how many polls show that Americans think that there are too many guns on our streets, the gun rights folks really don’t believe in them. In the awful, senseless shooting that recently occurred at Fort Hood, some gun supporters will tell you that the problem was not too many guns but too few. They argue that if more people were carrying weapons, the moment a deranged man started firing, someone else would fire back and take him out. The concept of taking guns away from the population is perceived as patent nonsense; namby-pamby garbage that only misguided, silly people believe in. States like Florida that allow overzealous, sometimes racist people to “stand their ground” against a perceived threat are part of our jurisprudence.

Take the case of a child who, thinking a gun is a toy, injures or kills himself or a friend. I can say there are just too many guns and you might argue that the gun should have been under lock and key and the real guilty parties are the parents who didn’t see to it that the guns were stored away. We may argue that we don’t need assault rifles, and the gun enthusiasts respond that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

It is terribly important to remember that the people who own guns really believe in what they are saying. You can intellectualize and argue with them and tell them they are wrong until doomsday and they will think that you are misguided and dangerous. While polls show that Americans want gun control, always try to remember that most Americans have other concerns that are at least as important to them as guns. Many, if not most, gun owners will see this issue as number one on their political priority list. They will rally in front of state capitols; they will run to the polls and vote for or against a candidate on this number one issue. While no one wants to admit it, guns are part of the ideological fabric that makes up the great conservative wing of thought in this country. To the gun control folks, all that stands between them and chaos is their weapon.

When we get politicians like Andrew Cuomo on this issue, they become public enemies to the Second Amendment folks. No matter how many tragedies we witness, how many children we bury, and how many communities are destroyed, the gun lobby has a mindset that will not be changed. It really doesn’t matter what I think. I just find it very dangerous and very sad.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/5/14

 

You can pay me now or pay me later

March 31, 2014

There is nothing more important to a community than its hospital. Running medical institutions well is no easy job. Dave Phelps at Berkshire Health Systems is tough enough to do it right. You sure can’t blame him for not picking up the massive debt from the North Adams debacle. The one thing his board should and will insist upon is fiscal prudence. It’s tempting to look for bad guys in all of this, but there’s really no point engaging in the blame game. Unfortunately, it has already started.

Most of us understand just how devastating the collapse of North Adams Regional Hospital has been for residents of the town. It just takes a few minutes for a heart attack to do its worst and someone in the throes of cardiac arrest should not have to travel for 40 minutes to get to the nearest hospital. We in Great Barrington are fortunate to both have a hospital that services our community with a wide range of medical options and to have worked out a sharing relationship with the mother hospital.

Deval Patrick is an unusual politician. He really cares and he has the intellectual, hands-on capacity to get things done. Clearly, he has been doing whatever he can to make sure that the people of North County have decent health care. Everyone seems to be on board in the effort and when that happens, something positive is bound to occur. Nature certainly does abhor a vacuum and I simply can’t believe that something good won’t come from this. Sometimes you need a crisis to find a solution. In the meantime, I truly feel for all those people who, at least for now, are out of jobs. It’s easy enough for all of us to put ourselves in their places. It’s a catastrophe.

There is a huge push on to bring New York City train service to Berkshire County. Put me at the head of the line that thinks it is a terrific idea. We are a recreational-vacation community and institutions like Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow could only benefit from this. The more they benefit, the better off we all are. However, nothing comes without a price. We are talking more and more about high speed rail lines. The faster the trains go, the more likely it is that our Berkshires will become a commuting, bedroom community. So this is a pretty good example of what we might call the law of unanticipated consequences. Remember that we have already priced out many of our young people who just can’t afford to buy locally. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no getting her back in.

Every move forward brings with it new challenges and it is usually better to anticipate them before they arrive than to play catch up later on. The recent explosion of the two buildings in New York City should have us all thinking about the maintenance of our infrastructure. The pipes that carried gas to those two New York buildings were over 60 years old. There are similar explosions waiting to happen all over New York. As the guy on television used to say, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”

When the Great Barrington wise men choose to dig up our sewer pipes to stay ahead of the flow, they knew what they were doing. Very few of us gave them an “attaboy” for their work. Most people don’t want an increase in taxes or wish to see their streets torn up or to be inconvenienced but hey, you really can pay me now or later. Sometimes “later” has some terrible consequences. I remember when the Schoharie Bridge collapsed and people were killed, we started to get serious about our infrastructure. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait for another tragedy to remember what’s important.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3/29/14

 

Gambling is hardly the way to go

March 28, 2014

It would appear that New Yorkers want to gamble. They flock to New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts to seek their fortunes. Some of them use illegal bookmakers to place their bets. They play the lotteries and bet on sports. They spend millions of dollars in the hope of scoring big.

Since politicians don’t like to raise taxes, they are always looking for other ways to raise the necessary revenues to fund the all-too-often bloated state government. Governor Cuomo has advocated bringing gambling casinos to upstate New York. This is a target area for the governor who knows that the upstate economy is in a bad way. So, among other ideas is the awarding of casino licenses to compete with the surrounding states. It would appear that for the governor and others, this is a double win. New York gets to keep the tax money and the upstate economy grows.

Naturally, not everyone thinks this is such a great idea. There are those, for instance, who believe that the government has no business catering to the sometimes addictive gambling behavior of many people who can’t afford to lose the milk money. Others believe that despite the promises of all those jobs, many of the positions will just pay the minimum wage and a lot of the people who staff the casinos will actually be imported. While some people believe the surrounding businesses will benefit, skeptics argue that in other places like Atlantic City, the casinos have not helped other businesses in the area. That’s because the casinos are self-contained operations and people don’t venture outside.

Of course, some people who live in the areas that have been designated for gambling parlors are not happy. Hey, I wouldn’t want one in my neighborhood, in my beautiful small town. You’d have to supplement your police force. You’d need to put more money into your roads and infrastructure, but most of all, the character of your community would change.
I have a theory that the places that will end up adopting the casinos are some of our most at-risk communities. Some of them are already beset with crime. Others will do anything to bring in even marginal employment. Not so for other cities and towns that want nothing to do with gambling.

There is a major fight going on in the beautiful little city of Saratoga Springs. The people there have said they don’t want a casino despite the fact that they already cater to betting with some of the most famous horse racing in the world. Unlike Massachusetts where communities get to vote on whether or not to authorize a casino, New York disgracefully doesn’t allow the people to make that choice. That is not just wrong, it’s undemocratic. In the case of Saratoga Springs, the people voted against the constitutional amendment that authorized casinos. Despite that fact and the clearly expressed opposition to the casinos, there are organized interests that would shove the casino down the unreceptive throats of the citizens there.

Since New York City will have to wait for casinos, some regions as close to the city as possible are putting their gambling oars in the water. The places that most New Yorkers seem to agree would profit most from gambling casinos are the old borscht belt hotels in the Catskills. But even in the once thriving summer communities, there will be groups who oppose the gambling palaces on the basis of morality and character of community issues.

The idea of funding the government through gambling has its limitations. Instead, maybe we should stop spending on things like multiple school districts and politicians’ self-serving projects and raise taxes on the very rich to properly and fairly provide needed services. Gambling is hardly the way to go.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/24/14

A poke here, a poke there and dessert

March 24, 2014

I recently completed my annual urology get together with my friend and urologist, Dr. Hugh Fisher. In the course of the visit, we got to talking about an innovation that someone should have thought of and implemented a lot earlier then, well, now.

Many men have at one time or another experienced an elevated PSA reading and/or an inconclusive “digital” examination that has resulted in the inevitable biopsy. In this case, a prostate biopsy involves passing a needle through the skin and into the prostate itself.

Sometimes the urologist takes eight “snips” for biopsy and sometimes 12. Sometimes they work with a kind of anesthesia that dulls the pain and sometimes they do not.

I have been through the process twice.

The problem, unfortunately, is that it can be hit or miss. They stick the needle in a dozen times looking for cancer.

Cancer, of course, can be anywhere in the prostate and if the biopsy needle doesn’t happen to find where the cancer is, they will have a few choices, one of which is to do it again (ouch, ouch) or to abandon the effort. In other words, up to now the examination has been far from perfect.

Now, however, a quantum leap has occurred.

Albany Med is one of the few places that employs Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to assist with the placement of the needle. The process is known as MRI ultrasound fusion biopsy. The urologists and the radiologists have to work together to make this happen and the chances of finding any suspicious bumps or a possible cancer site are now much improved.

It has taken some time to get here but as one who has gone through the process (all was well) twice, I can only say, good stuff.

On a more pleasant subject, there’s a new restaurant at the top of Railroad Street in Great Barrington where Pearls and Fiori used to be. We went to try Mario’s Tuscany Grill and Bar last Saturday night and we couldn’t believe it.

The line was out the door. We soon found out why.

This place is absolutely extraordinary. It’s been advertised as an Italian food place but this is not a pizza joint. The pasta was perfect. The seafood was perfect. The deserts were just as good, the ambiance is pretty much the same as it used to be under previous proprietors.

Mario’s Tuscany Grill prices are moderate, not expensive and not cheap. Our friend Bonnie wanted to eat out on Tuesday night so went back and the food was just as good as it had been the previous Saturday.

The owners of Mario’s Tuscany Grill are brothers, Harry and Sonny Gutic. For 13 years, they’ve run a restaurant of the same name in Winsted, Conn. where they were approached by Steve Picheny, who owns the building here in Great Barrington.

These people are pros. The food came out relatively fast for this kind of restaurant. The wait staff was superb. I asked for a club soda with a hint of cranberry juice and I got just what I asked for. Roselle had a beautiful Chicken Florentine soup (not too salty) and a spinach salad. I had a salmon dish that fit very nicely into my Weight Watchers program.

On Saturday, we shared an incredible dessert called Portufo. It was as good as anything we’ve ever tasted. That did not fit into my Weight Watchers plan. Luckily I had hoarded enough points to get in under the daily wire.

Brother Sonny says he is very happy with the way the new restaurant has been received. He reports great feedback from customers and reminds us that when the weather gets better, there will be outside dining. We are so lucky to have so many great restaurants in Great Barrington.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3/24/14


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