Category Archives: Government

The Inspector Calls

In Ballston Spa, a seven-year-old ran afoul of state regulators by operating a lemonade stand without a permit. An overzealous state health inspector made him close up shop after alleged complaints by fair vendors — and America erupted in outrage.

Years ago, I myself had a brush with the the food police.

I was in charge of the hot dog stand at our Cub Scout pack’s annual pinewood derby race. It was nothing fancy: dirty water dogs, potato chips, slices of pizza — you’ve seen these ad hoc food concessions at youth sports and school events. You’ve probably eaten a lot of that food, too.

A woman approached. “Do you have a permit?”

Excuse me, for what?

“I do food inspections at the health department. Most people don’t know this, but you need a permit to serve food —  and if you don’t have a permit, I could shut you down.”

I laughed. Her son was one of the scouts and I figured she was just pulling my leg.

“I suppose we should be wearing gloves, too, right?”

She looked around. “Yes, actually, you should.”

OK, this woman’s not kidding. For a moment I considered trying to bribe her with a free hot dog, but thought better.

I thanked her and said we’d look into getting a permit next year. We never did.

Even though we were not sanctioned by the county or state to serve food, we managed not to kill anyone with our cheap hot dogs. And thank god for that. Poisoning an entire Cub Scout pack is not something you’d get over easily.

Rules are rules, and stupid rules are still rules. But it seems like the one rule we really need is the one about common sense. There’s no regulating that.

The Capitol Steps

On these beautiful summer days, spending lunch in East Capitol Park is a pleasure. This is the side with the Philip Sheridan statue, not the food truck side, so it’s relatively peaceful, and there are always tourists stopping for pictures in front of the Capitol.

It’s nice to see visitors so interested in the Capitol — but not so nice to see the barriers that keep people off the staircase.

Known as the “Eastern Approach,” the 77 steps are among of the most inmpressive things about the Capitol’s grand exterior. It’s said that Teddy Roosevelt would race up them in the morning, offering interviews to any reporters who could beat him to the top. Today, they’d also have to vault the steel fences that blockade the stairs and ruin the view.

I’d like to know what this is all about. Are the steps unsafe — or is this some sort of security precaution? Either way, it’s a shame. The steps should be open so we can all make that climb and take in the view. I’ve been up there, and it’s an impressive sight.

The barricades send a message, too. Look don’t touch — you’re not worthy to come up here with us. And even if we let you climb the stairs, the doors at the top will be locked, anyway.

No Free Parking

It’s been a long time since a parking attendant has been seen at Thacher Park — and I reckon you’ll never see one again. It’s not because they won’t charge you for parking, but because of these kiosks springing up in the lots. The parking stations provide a convenient way for the state to collect your $6 “vehicle entrance fee” without actually providing the service rendered by a human attendant.

The park told WNYT that the fees help pay for maintenance and for park employees. That’s interesting, because without the pool and parking attendants, they probably employee fewer people than ever before. As for maintenance, I’m all for that. In recent years, it’s not been uncommon at Thacher Park to find broken picnic tables, busted grills, and trails in need of attention.

I love Thacher Park and I’ll gladly pay to use it, but the cranky old man in me requires that I ask the following: “What about all that tax money we pay?” And my cranky old man does have a point.

But pay we must.

And by the way have you been to the new visitor center? It’s pretty cool — and I hope that in coming years we see as much attention to the little things in Thacher Park as we’ve seen to the big things. A picnic table may not have the governor’s name on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Ta Da Dump, Ta Da Dump, Ta Da Dump Dump Dump

What sort of backwards place is Bethlehem, anyway? Yes, backwards.

The Albany suburb is known for its excellent schools and well-heeled residents, the home to doctors and lawyers and such — but to that, I say, “WTF! Who closes the dump on a Friday?”

It’s not really a dump. The town transfer station collects your waste and dispatches it to landfills and recycling centers. This is not Albany, where you  just put a ratty old couch on the curb and it disappears overnight. No, in Bethlehem you drag it to the dump transfer station and pay them to make it go away.

De-cluttering a house is hard work, and lately my car has made many trips to a local storage facility and the dump transfer station. Too many trips to the storage facility and not enough to the dump transfer station, if you ask me, but that’s another blog post.

So, if you’ve ever filled your vehicle with crap and found that there’s nowhere to put it, like in Alice’s Restaurant, you know what I mean. Except in this case it wasn’t Thanksgiving, the dump transfer station was closed because it was FRIDAY.

Again, I ask you: what sort of backwards place is Bethlehem, anyway?

The War on Christmas Signs

It’s scandalous that Bethlehem refuses to allow signs in the town square that wish folks a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I’m never one to take these things sitting down — unless it’s to sit down and pound out an angry screed to our town supervisor, John Clarkson.

Dear Mr. Clarkson,

It’s good to see that you embrace the spirit of Christmas, but most unfortunate that it’s the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge you embody, shouting out a hardy, “Bah, Humbug,” in the face of Bethlehem residents.

I’m writing, of course, about your decision to ban the Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah signs from the Four Corners.

Yes, there is a Christmas tree, and yes, a menorah — perhaps the world’s largest menorah, actually — but how are we to truly experience the joy of these holidays without printed signs that wish us well?

Indeed, I felt great emptiness as I drove through the intersection on Monday and did not see a sign wishing me a Merry Christmas. Who is it that ruined Christmas for our town, I asked? I was not surprised to learn that it was you, the very same John Clarkson who this fall did not make sure our leaves were collected in a timely manner!

When I saw a photo of the sign that offends you in the Times Union, it only made matters worse. Here is the picture:

sign

How fiendish to deprive our citizens, especially our little children, the experience of seeing this wonderful sign that warms the heart and exemplifies the true meaning of Christmas. It’s shameful, that’s what it is!

What’s next? A ban on residents decorating their homes? A prohibition on displays that you find distasteful? Maybe you’ll outlaw inflatable Santas and only allow us to hang those sterile looking white lights, the ones that are so popular in socialist countries, like Denmark and Canada.

Let me tell you this , Mr. Clarkson: when it comes to your war on Christmas, you can expect voters like me to have our boots on the ground next election day.

I suppose that like Scrooge, you will keep Christmas in your own way and we will keep it in ours, but it’s my sincere hope that on the morning of December 25 you wake up and see the light shining through your window. Then you will dash to the Four Corners and  hang those signs where everyone can see them. Only then will Christmas in Bethlehem be saved. And yes, Hanukkah, too.

Sincerely,

An Anonymous Voter

Walk this Way

The roads around my house have never been more dangerous. More cars, greater speed, less focus on driving — it’s all made things very tough on pedestrians.

I’ve complained about the lack of sidewalks in my end of town, and years ago the powers that be claimed they would be doing something about it. Well, years later the powers that be acted. For the past few months, a crew from the Town of Bethlehem worked to lay down nearly a mile of beautiful new sidewalk. This fills in a gap that now allows you to travel all the way from Delaware Avenue to Route 9W without walking in the road.

sidewalk

It may not seem like a big thing to have a sidewalk, but this has already made me safer. For years I’ve run on the road, usually before dawn, and while I’ve done so with reflective gear and a very bright headlamp, it always feels dangerous when a car passes.

I’d say this is better for drivers, too. Now they won’t be startled by some nut out running on the road at 5am, distracting them from their eating, drinking coffee, texting, folding newspapers, reaching into the back seat, smoking pot — whatever. Yes, the aroma of weed often wafts out from passing cars at that hour.

Now, if the motorists can manage to stay on the road, I have nothing to worry about.

A Towering Mistake

Love it or hate it, the Empire State Plaza defines Albany’s skyline, and the jewel in this crown is the Corning Tower.

Maybe you’ve noticed that the building’s distinctive profile has been sullied by the construction of some sort of storage shed on the roof.  It’s bad enough that the Corning Tower has sprouted antennas in recent years, but the shed is nothing less than a huge wart on the nose of one of the city’s most important landmarks.


Most of you probably don’t care, but it’s wrong to mess with the vision of the architects — and of Nelson  Rockefeller himself — by ruining the clean lines of the building. According to Joseph Persico’s terrific biography, Rocky was an aesthete who was famously controlling over the design of the Plaza; the shed would have driven him mad.

Worse yet, according to All Over Albany, the structure is a permanent fixture.

What were they thinking? I’m guessing there was no serious consideration at all. It’s hard to imagine that an architect would be that disrespectful of a building so important — or that anyone could look at the plans and not see the damage they were doing.

There are buildings all over downtown that have had various structures and equipment piled on top of them. That’s a routine practice and most of it goes unnoticed, but what they’ve done to the Corning Tower? That’s an abomination.

A wider view after the jump…
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Deer in the Headlights

At about 1 a.m. Sunday, on my way to an ambulance call, I slowed down to let a deer cross Delaware Avenue in Delmar. It stepped up onto the sidewalk and paused in front of Bethlehem Town Hall, where it calmly watched me drive past.

This struck me as funny, having just read about Bethlehem’s new task force that will study the town’s deer problem and suggest some possible solutions.

What deer problem? Well, there are the obvious things, like the number of deer/car collisions and the damage deer do to property — but also they’re looking at the relationship between deer and Lyme disease.

I don’t know much about deer — certainly not as much as the big brains they’ve assembled for the task force — but something tells me this is like trying to change the direction the wind is blowing. If you read the committee’s web page and the meeting notes you’ll find oblique talk of hunting the deer with crossbows and deer sterilization.

Short of putting up a fence around town, will anything really be effective? Won’t new deer move in if you get rid of the ones already there?

So, here’s an idea: I have read that coyote urine keeps deer away. Maybe we need to import some coyotes — or, because that might not be popular, we could spray coyote urine. It could probably be spayed from a plane, but you’d obviously need a lot of coyote urine.

So, if you think the stench of coyote urine is not as bad as having all those deer running around, there you go. If there’s room on the task force, I’m available for the next meeting.

Don’t Drink the Water

Flipping through the dial this morning, I caught the local news on the radio, just in time to hear this interesting item: Albany residents are warned that two bodies of water, the Washington Park Lake and Buckingham Pond, are “infected” with a blue-green algae bloom.  The report advised people not to “drink the water.”

If you’ve ever been to Washington Park or seen Buckingham Pond, I’m pretty certain that the last thing in the world you would ever do is drink that water. And if for some reason you completely lose your mind and  do drink the water, the health department outlines some serious ramifications:

“Consuming water containing high levels of blue-green algal toxins has been associated with effects on the liver and on the nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people.”

We get into frequent arguments at my house about The Walking Dead, which returns this Sunday night. Someone will say, “Where are they getting water? Imagine the time you’d have to spend locating and purifying water just to stay alive.  Very unrealistic.”

Yes it’s extremely unrealistic. Almost as unrealistic as the idea of dead people lurching back to life and consuming human flesh. I suppose if we can accept the zombie premise, the maybe we can let go of the fact that the show’s characters don’t spend time collecting water.

Suspension of disbelief is central to enjoying horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. When you start getting bogged down in in conversations about what’s realistic, it takes the fun away.

Instead, let’s talk about a real world issue, like who’s the numbnut that thinks people would drink the water out of the Washington Park Lake?