Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Makeover dilutes Great Barrington’s charm

October 13, 2015

Well, pretty much as I predicted, all hell has broken loose in Great Barrington over the government-financed reconstruction of Main Street.

What, according to Smithsonian Magazine, was formerly the best small town in America has been transformed by the Great Barrington Committee on Non-Aesthetic Behavior. All of a sudden, our quaint little town has become a mixture of phoo-phoo, make believe, “quaint town” look and the entrance to the Holland Tunnel with giant gleaming stainless steel traffic lights hanging down the street as far as the eye can see.

Those who support the new look have blamed the citizenry for not paying attention during the planning process while the citizenry itself is saying, “Hey, we elected our government officials to use their brains to make intelligent, well thought through decisions on our behalf.”

All I know is that my little town is looking like cow manure. It’s just awful. Social media is filled with invective about the new look. People are piling on and are genuinely angry. These are not the usual wags who are just natural born haters. These are rich people, not so rich people and everyone in between.

There is such a thing as objective reality. The new look is just plain ugly and silly. The distance between the sidewalks and the street where you park your car is simply unacceptable. My pet peeve is the removal of the third lane so that we can make a right turn up to the hospital on Taconic Avenue. That is potentially life threatening. To the pro-new look people who say that we should have spoken up earlier, I refer them to my remarks about this very dangerous situation in print in this very space.

I believe that I am a rather pragmatic progressive type. When the right wing crowd goes after “big government” to save themselves a few dollars, I am always disbelieving that these fat cats are so greedy that they don’t want kids in preschool or the poor to receive decent health care.

But there is always another side. In this case it appears that in order for the town to take the “free money,” they had to agree to the state proscriptions. For example, in the case of the giant Holland Tunnel overhanging light poles, the all-knowing government has demanded that the poles must be able to withstand hurricane force winds. Fine, but that doesn’t mean they have to be ugly.

Great Barrington is a gateway to the Berkshires. To get up to tony Williamstown, you might have to go through Great Barrington. We simply can’t allow the Williamstown elite to be laughing down their noses at us. That just wouldn’t do.

The reaction of the citizenry is so great that in order to fix the situation, they might have to take down the overhanging poles at great expense to the town. Great Barrington is great for a lot of things, including its tax rate.

This is the town that just voted not to support a desperately needed renovation of its high school. Now some of that very crowd is yelling about the new look. It will be interesting to see whether they would be willing to spend tax dollars to make Great Barrington whole again.

The lovely Roselle is absolutely furious about the new look. She has come up with a slogan to organize around: “Too much chrome for our home.” She is also concerned about Railroad Street, the Greenwich Village of Great Barrington, which has thus far gone unspoiled but she suspects that with the town’s bad track record, they will screw that up, too.

OK, so here’s the point. One of the most sagacious of all trite sayings is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is one hell of a mess. The anger out there is palpable and when people are angry, strange things can happen.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/10/15

Mary Grant’s new campus in idyllic N.C. country

September 28, 2015

The inauguration of Mary K. Grant as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville was a beautiful event.

We wanted to be there to watch this extraordinary academic leader climb the next rung on the ladder that is her brilliant career. Roselle was a long time faculty member at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts where she served under several presidents. She raves about Mary’s accomplishments at the North Adams institution.

Grant’s ability to involve the Berkshire community and get along with the faculty is legendary. She brought that little college into the center of what happens educationally in all of Berkshire County. Her work on the Berkshire Compact opened up lines of communication in her field that would have once been considered impossible.

When she announced her retirement, many of us grieved. She will be almost impossible to replace. She was considered for an even bigger presidential role in the University of Massachusetts system but lucky for her, she didn’t get the job. That was a stupid mistake for UMass but a lucky break for her. That job didn’t happen but a much better one did. If you ever get a chance to visit Asheville you will see why.

First of all, this is one of the most beautiful university campuses you will ever see. It is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places in America. The weather is wonderful. It is home to some of the best music you will find anywhere on the planet and that appears to be constant.

Roselle and I sat and listened to one of the greatest bluegrass bands we have ever heard as we nursed our drinks and that was easy because we both really dislike alcohol. Others around us imbibed some of the locally produced beers that abound in the town which apparently boasts any number of microbreweries.

But you didn’t have to go to a bar to see or hear musicians — you could just walk around and see the talent busking on sidewalks throughout the little city. Some of it really was terrible but some of it was extraordinary and as good as anything you’ll see on stage anywhere. One that stands out in my mind was a trio comprised of a young guitar player, a bass player and a fiddle player who, when she wasn’t playing fiddle, was clogging on a relatively small platform. I could have watched that band all night.

When you travel with Roselle, no moment is ever wasted. She plans every trip. She goes online. She buys guide books. Not a second is left unaccounted for. While most people who fly in to Asheville generally rent a car, Roselle is against car renting. Lucky for us, we met the great Berkshire brain surgeon (retired) Gene Leibowitz and his wife, Augusta, who were very sharing with their wheels.

Everybody talked about how we should drive the Blue Ridge Parkway so Roselle did her research and found an extraordinary man, Keith Yeatman of Tumblestone Tours. He took us on a five hour tour that brought us to several beautiful waterfalls. We got to do a bit of hiking and saw a really beautiful portion of the parkway. It is breathtaking and while the Berkshires have tremendous scenery, these Blue Ridge Mountains are never to be forgotten.

Put another way, this Asheville visit should be on everyone’s bucket list. As for Mary Grant, someone must be looking out over her. This will be a hard job but she is certainly up to it.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/26/15

The ‘Sprout Man’ had a positive impact on all

September 21, 2015

Steve Meyerowitz, the “Sprout Man,” has passed despite his credentials as one of the best of us. He ate well and taught us how to do the same. He was universally liked and admired and so many people attended his funeral that any spectator might have guessed they were burying a head of state. He was generous to those around him and during a WAMC fund drive, there was always a donation from the Sprout Man. It was as if this nice man wanted to take the heavy load off my shoulders. When you met Steve in the street, he always had this ability to make you feel good about yourself — at least I did.

His wife and his brothers and children all got up to say something about him. These were not just platitudes — you can hear sincerity and know what it means. His wife, Beth, got right to my heart when she looked out at the audience and said, “We’ll be all right.” A man who cares about his children is one to ride the river with and Steve did. His children adored him, as did his brothers.

He was a pilot and a musician and a healer. Beth says that she fell in love with him the minute she laid eyes on him. Every town has a group of special people. Steve Meyerowitz was such a person and while it really doesn’t help to talk this way, one has only to wonder, why him? He left a big void.

After the funeral we went out to Route 23 where cars were parked as far as the eye could see. We walked a good distance and when we got to our car we were astounded to see that someone had wedged themselves in front of us so as not to block a drive way. Their car was literally mounted on ours. Whoever the galoot was, he or she decided to push our car with theirs and in doing so left a dent in the front of our car. They didn’t even pull up an inch. We had just come from a funeral, honoring a man of great decency who adhered to a personal code of conduct that was all of us could emulate. Obviously the galoot who unashamedly banged our car and then just stayed there without even caring to leave a bit of distance was anxious to honor the same man that we were there to say goodbye to. So, what could the dope have been thinking? Why was it okay to try to push our car back, to leave a dent in the car and then to act with impunity and join the other mourners?

The lovely Roselle always cuts someone a break. This time however, she was off the wall. She just didn’t understand who could operate in such a manner. I am sure that each of you, dear readers, has seen this kind of thing before. Perhaps it’s happened to you. I am sure that the dent will cost a few hundred dollars to repair but that really isn’t the point. We considered waiting for the aggressor to come back to their car and to confront him but what good would that have done? It was clear what had happened. I’m sure the wrongdoer would have denied his transgression and then the only choice would have been to call the police so we decided not to do anything but leave. Would we really have wanted to cause a scene? What would you have done?

This is a strange world that is now down a very good man. We are, of course, imperfect. Some people choose to turn their own backs on personal responsibility and not even care if they caused damage. We’ll eat the cost but what could have the perp been thinking?

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/21/15

Cuomo should hold firm on gun stance

September 14, 2015

Andrew Cuomo, as we all know, is a hard driving, focused strategist. This occasionally Machiavellian politician sometimes doesn’t stop to consider the consequences of his actions.

When it is appropriate, I have pointed some of those instances out. On the other hand, there are times when I really admire the man’s courage. His stance on gun control, for example, deserves our support. The reaction to his SAFE Act was immediate and dramatic.

A lot of Americans and New Yorkers, particularly upstate New Yorkers, love their guns. There are millions of guns out there. The right wing Republican-appointed majority of the Supreme Court of the United States has pacified this angry beast by affirming that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects their right to own their individual killing machines.

In fact, the gun culture is alive and well in the United States and as a result, we are witnessing one catastrophe after another. The right wing gun nuts say that they need their guns to fight the government when it comes after them. That may be so, but we continue to see one senseless gun crime after another with horrific results.

When the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School wiped out all of those beautiful children, it was more than Cuomo, who has his own kids, could bear. He used every tool at his disposal to push the SAFE Act through the Legislature and it was brutal. The result was that a few Republican Senators lost their seats. I think it was Cuomo’s finest moment.

As the bad news continues, Cuomo is now at a place where he throws up his hands and admits defeat. He knows, and says that he knows, that what we have is not a state problem but a national problem.

The gun runners transport guns from one state to another and sell them on the street to the very outlaws that people hate. Look, sooner or later people are going to have to make hard choices about the proliferation of guns in this country. There has to be recognition that at the very least, everyone who buys a gun must be subject to a background check.

It is far from a fix all but every life that is saved will be crucial. Frankly, I am still shaking my head that the Sandy Hook massacre of those innocent children wasn’t enough to reach the tipping point.

Governor Cuomo used a tremendous amount of his political capital to get his SAFE Act passed. I doubt that he can do much more than he did when he was at the height of his political popularity and his public opinion numbers were higher.

In fact, there are some indications that he is trying to assuage some of the angry gun owners who are so unhappy with him. But my advice to him is to continue to stand tall. My bet is that he will not be able to pull the gun people back over the line.

There are times when a politician’s moral compass has to be the guidance system. One of the reasons why Bernie Sanders is doing so unexpectedly well in his quest for the presidency is that he is unequivocal in not straying from those positions in which he believes.

On the contrary, Hillary Clinton is seen as more of a “politician” in the worst sense of the word. We just picture her sitting around a table with her advisors every day, adjusting her image and thinking out positions that will get them the most votes.

I truly believe that the American people have had enough of all of that. They want common sense. They want someone who speaks from the heart. When it comes to guns, Andrew Cuomo is doing just that. He needs to do it more and his polls will go up.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/12/15

Hillary needs to step up — for New York’s sake

August 31, 2015

Is Hillary dropping the ball?

New York used to be a state where presidents were born and made. Since FDR made it to the top, the Empire State has been having a dry spell. For years now, it looked like Hillary Clinton would be a sure thing on her ride to the Oval Office.

Assuming that she won, not only would a New Yorker be President, New York would have produced the first woman chief executive. That would have been a dream come true for New York, which would be bathed in special favors.

All the polls had Hillary, one tough bird, clobbering all comers. It turns out, however, that Clinton has several real vulnerabilities. The first is that many potential voters are Clintoned out. They don’t like being taken for granted and they don’t like the usual Clinton coziness with the same old, same old group of power people who have enough money to try to buy elections.

Even more disturbing for Camp Clinton is the fact that many people just don’t like her. I’ve interviewed her and when you speak with her one on one you have to enjoy yourself. I certainly did. She is very smart.

The problem for Hillary is that she has been the frontrunner from the very beginning. But people like underdogs and Hillary has no current underdog in her. That has not always been true. I’ll never forget her fighting for her husband when he was ensnared by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

She described his political enemies as a vast right wing conspiracy. She was right, of course. People liked that. But now what they see is a take-no-prisoners machine. They contrast this tough lady with the poignant story of Joe Biden being told by his dying son, Bo, to fulfill his dream and run for President.

This is just the kind of thing that happened to her in 2008 when an obscure African-American U.S. senator, cheered on by the Kennedy clan, robbed her of the nomination. People projected their hopes and dreams onto Barack Obama and like an aging ball player, Hillary dropped the ball. She just didn’t know how to play it.

Now Bernie Sanders has galvanized the left, filling stadiums and talking truth to power. That is so exciting. Come to think of it, the Brooklyn to Vermont transplant is more of a New Yorker than Hillary Clinton is.

But what about that first woman thing? I mean, Barack was electrifying as the first African-American to come from behind and there certainly are a lot of women who want to see this symbolic breaking through the glass ceiling, but it just hasn’t caught fire.

In order to win, Hillary has to get angry and take some political risks the way she did when she fought for the flawed Bill. People couldn’t get enough of that.

Biden is coming on fast now. Obama seems to be encouraging his loyal vice president to go for it. Do you remember that time when Bill came to the White House and embarrassed the president by stealing the show at a press conference? Could it be that Obama never forgot that?

All of a sudden, we are reading about how Biden and his president love each other. Maybe, like the aging Kennedy going for Obama against Hillary, this is now get even Obama time.

There’s still a long way to go. Hillary has to connect with her people. We have to become invested in her. She hasn’t yet captured our hearts and souls. She’s the ice queen political operator.

You can love Joe Biden. You can love Obama. Hillary is just not loveable. It’s hers to lose and right now, she’s doing that. New Yorkers FDR and TR must be unhappy wherever they are.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/29/15

Great Barrington tax shift a short-sighted mistake

August 24, 2015

Michael Wise, who has given so much of his time and energy to Great Barrington, has come up with a disastrous plan that threatens to tear the town asunder.

Chairman of the Finance Committee, Wise wants to soak the rich by raising their real estate taxes while lowering the taxes of people whose houses are worth less than $400,000.

This drastic plan really ought to be voted on by the town at a town meeting or offered as a ballot proposition, but as the situation stands, it can be voted on by the five selectmen. Since one of the selectmen adopted the Wise Plan when he ran for office, there is a good chance that it will pass.

Karen Allen, the actress and weaver who has a business in downtown Great Barrington, offers one of the best reasons for opposing the not-so-Wise plan. She knows a slew of older residents who bought their homes long ago for modest prices and then painstakingly paid them off over the years.

Now their houses have appreciated to the point that they are hardly able to pay Great Barrington’s current onerous taxes. Karen reports that as a result, they are now contemplating selling their homes in anticipation of yet higher taxes.

Hey, that just isn’t right. These are our most cherished citizens and they deserve better.

This also is of great concern to the second-home owners who usually pay a great deal of money for their homes and who, as a rule, do not vote in the town.

It is ridiculous to make these people pay huge taxes. They don’t use many of the town services since they are not here most of the time.

Since a good deal of our economy is based on the good will of these people, it makes no sense to alienate them and turn them into justifiably angry people who could just as easily move to Alford.

Think about what this will do to the town. Let’s remember that second-home owners already pay a “personal property tax” on their possessions which is just another regressive, sneaky tax that Massachusetts imposes on people to grab their money.

I recently spoke with a person with generally progressive views who suggested that we tax second-home owners as highly as possible. His anger was almost palpable. This attitude is about as short-sighted as possible.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Second-home owners keep our town businesses going. They support our electricians and plumbers and the people who mow the lawn. I am sure that these folks are going to turn out en masse to protest this mistaken move.

My sources on the Board of Selectmen are telling me that this is not going to happen this year. My conversations with some members of the board suggest that they have little appetite for this fight, nor do the members of the Finance Committee.

I would hate to think that this decision will be based on how much a political office holder’s home is worth, but all too often, that’s the way things get done. Needless to say, our town fathers and mothers would like to get this off the agenda and are postponing that time when they will have to face the music.

Michael Wise lost an election for selectman because many of us saw him as elitist. This new plan of his may well be an attempt to square himself with the people who voted against him. I certainly hope that this isn’t the case.

Many people are devoted to Wise because of his unstinting work for the town but even hard working people make mistakes. There are times when we make bad decisions and once they are made, things can go downhill fast. To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.”

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/21/15

Chuck bites the bullet

August 18, 2015

So Chuck Schumer has come out against the Iran agreement being pushed by President Obama. Let’s talk about it, but before we do, let me tell you where I stand, at least in shorthand. I am Jewish. I tend to vote Democratic, but not always. I am for the Iran deal despite all its potential downfalls. I also know and respect Chuck Schumer and have interviewed him many times. He is blazingly smart, funny and nice. He is also a very important player in the Senate, the Congress and New York. He is slated to be the next Minority Leader and maybe, just maybe, the next Majority Leader in the Senate. If that goes well he will be one of the most important men in the world. He has to run for the Senate in an upcoming election. There is an old rule in politics: “First you have to get elected.” I can’t tell you how many people have forgotten that rule and faded into oblivion. I was speaking with one of my students from back in the day and he explained Schumer’s decision this way: “He had to do it.”

This is not the first time I have disagreed with one of Schumer’s decisions. The last time was when he decided to vote for the U.S. incursion into Iraq. I was really angry about that. I thought we had been lied to about “weapons of mass destruction” and it turned out I was right. To Schumer’s credit, he told me he had made a decision on Iraq and would love to announce it at an event at The Linda, WAMC’s performance venue in Albany. I know our audience and figured there would be some left of center folks there who would admonish Chuck for his position. And so it was, the day arrived and sure enough there were some people with blood in their eyes. One of them, an aging hippie type with a gray pony tail, was yelling at an intern about the event’s format. When I approached and explained that he could not talk to our student that way, he became very agitated and threw his free cup of scalding coffee on me. When Chuck came into the hall he was heard to say in a very loud voice, “Where’s the peacenik who threw hot coffee on Alan?”

So Chuck has given his reasons for being against the Iran deal. He doesn’t like the Iranian leaders, something I can certainly relate to. He doesn’t trust them and he thinks that in ten years when the deal runs out, they will be even closer to constructing a nuclear bomb than they are now. He also says that once the various economic constraints and sanctions are lifted, they will use their new found monies to do mischief around the world, including funding Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. Finally, he says that the deal posits a 24-day delay on inspections. Hey, either you have inspections or you don’t. Frankly, it would be hard to say that he’s wrong about any of that.

With all that said, I am still for the deal. In ten years, as Mario Cuomo used to say citing a Polish proverb, “a new pope might be born.” We know that the younger Iranians are far less likely to follow the religious fanaticism of the old mullahs. What’s more, the United States has a lot of tricks up their sleeves and a mighty military to dissuade bad behavior. Then too, there are the Israelis and their war-making power. Many people are very angry at Schumer. They say that he is doing it just for the money or because he’s Jewish. While I disagree with him on this one, I do want him to be the Majority Leader and I know him to be a decent guy. I am willing to cut him some slack.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/17/15


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers