Archive for December, 2009

State Senate Redux

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

By Jeffrey Page

In Zest of Dec. 15, I wondered whether the pay of New York’s state senators should be withheld when they ignore the public and basically go out on strike as they did last spring. Now, some readers have joined the discussion.

First, a quick review. The senators got into a hissy fit over who was going to run the Senate. They said this was an ethics issue lest anyone conclude that it was a political matter. Then they basically closed down for a month when the warring sides could not reach an agreement. Even when Governor Paterson ordered the Senate to convene to do the people’s business, a move within his power, the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the Senate would assemble in their chamber, have the clerk call the roll, and with a quorum present they’d entertain a measure to adjourn. This they did time after time.

Despite such behavior, we pay our senators $79,000 a year, making them among the highest paid state legislators in the country.

The Dec. 15 Zest piece suggested that Paterson dock the senators’ pay when they refuse to report for work, and that if Senate members had a problem with that, they could sue. Wouldn’t it be fun to listen to a senator or two, or all of them, swear to be truthful, sit down in the witness chair, and tell the sad story of how much good they do and how they are suffering without a paycheck. Would some even threaten to quit if they didn’t get their salaries? Not likely.

From one Zest reader comes the caution that 62 senators suing for their pay would be a very expensive, time consuming proposition. He also notes that a salary for senators is guaranteed in the state Constitution. And there it is, Article III, Section 6: “Each member of the legislature shall receive for his or her services a like annual salary, to be fixed by law.” Which means that that $79,000 could be un-fixed by law. Of course it would take a legislator or two with conviction to introduce such a measure.

Do you know of any senator willing to do it? I don’t. But let the word go forth: The people are looking for a few radicals in the legislature to head up a cause. Any takers?

Another reader thinks the senators deserve to be paid but says, “It’s time to enact a law that says members of the Senate and Assembly must earn salaries no larger than the salary of the average person whom he/she represents.” I didn’t do the district-by-district math, but I learned this month that the $79,000 base pay for state legislators is 48 percent higher than the average pay of $38,000 for all New Yorkers. This, according to Census data. They even get paid to cover the cost of getting to Albany. Does your boss give you money to get to and from work?

The reader ends with a nice populist flourish: “Let these [senators] learn how to wash their own cars, clean their own houses, mow their own lawns, and shop using coupons.”

Contempt for the Senate gets juicier with a suggestion by a reader named Steve that our elected politicians get merit pay instead of a standard salary for all. After all, many of these men and women have jabbered for years about the need for merit pay for teachers.

“Let our political leaders produce something useful before being paid,” Steve says. “If any of them don’t like such an arrangement, they would be free to seek employment elsewhere.” To which I would add: They don’t even have to give two weeks notice.

What do you think will happen on Election Day in 11 months? Despite the disgust people felt for their senators during their springtime power play, a man in Warwick believes people will complain about the Legislature all the way to the polls, where they will decide that their own individual senators are not such bad guys after all. And nothing will change.

I think he’s probably right – unless people are as angry as they claim to be.

Best wishes to all for a happy new year.

Jeffrey can be reached at

On Lieberman and Lethal Injection

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

By Bob Gaydos

 Some random thoughts at the end of yet another year …
 Use it or lose it: What is the point of being the most powerful political leader in the world — free or otherwise — if you don’t occasionally use that power? Especially against your political opponents. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for Barack Obama’s diplomatic efforts to repair America’s relationships with other countries. The Bush era of arrogance and ignorance did serious damage to this country’s global interests, never mind its image. Having a president who is perceived as capable and approachable, but not a pushover, cannot be bad for the U.S. and could encourage more cooperation from other nations in the war on terrorism as well the war in Afghanistan and a host of non-violent issues.
 But really, it is long past time that Obama told Joe Lieberman to take a hike and have lunch with his Republican buddies. Lieberman, a Democrat until he lost a primary in his home state of Connecticut, calls himself an independent senator who caucuses with the Senate Democrats. That gives Democrats the so-called super-majority of 60 votes needed to head off filibusters. It also makes Lieberman — who was almost John McCain’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket last year —  more powerful than any single Democrat in the Senate.
 He used his leverage to carve up the health reform bill to his liking — no public option –before agreeing to vote with his former party. And, because of Obama’s reluctance to boot him despite his support for McCain, Lieberman remains chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. That could well put him in position to ride herd over the health reform bill, since his committee would oversee what has been offered as an alternative to the public option. Lieberman, of course, has been one of the health insurance industry’s biggest supporters on Capitol Hill. In other words, he’s a guy who understands power and how to use it to get what he wants.
 Yes, I know Obama campaigned on the arcane principle of non-partisan governing, but that approach requires at least one other person on the opposing side to cooperate. Republicans unanimously opposed everything the president has proposed this year. They have gone beyond that to the point of making up facts about the health bill and economic stimulus plans. They encouraged the health forum bullies. If Obama’s for it, they’re agin’ it, even if they have traditionally supported it. The idea is to somehow make him look bad in the hopes they can regain some political influence next year and thereafter. Some Republican governors even rejected aid for their unemployed residents to try to inflict “defeat” on the president.
 That’s stupid politics, in my opinion. It is also irresponsible governing. And it does not require the president to forever ignore it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Call a lie a lie, Mr. President (and tell that jerk who called you a liar in front of the Congress to watch his back). Demand that Republicans who make up facts prove their case. Tell Joe Lieberman to find another party and strip him of his Senate chairmanship and seniority on other committees. Forget fighting with Fox News. They long ago sold their journalistic soul, but at least most thinking Americans know it. The opponents who matter are the ones who can actually make change happen — the ones who were elected. They are also the ones for whom you can make life miserable or pleasant, even if they are in the other party. Governing is tough, Mr. President, and you have made admirable efforts in many areas, but politics is tough, too. It’s time to step on some toes and twist some arms. You’ve got the power. Don’t be afraid to use it.

 Death take a holiday: Here’s a heartwarming story for the holidays. Americans are apparently falling out of love with the death penalty. A report released this month by the Death Penalty Information Center reveals that fewer death sentences were imposed this year than in any year since 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment. In fact, Richard Dieter, director of the center and author of the report, says annual death sentences in the United States have dropped for seven straight years and are now 60 percent less than in the 1990s. Dieter also notes that 11 states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, with New Mexico becoming the 15th state to ban it.

 Could it be true? Have Americans really come to their senses and decided to behave like a truly civilized people? Maybe yes, maybe no. Consider the comments by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on abolishing the death penalty. He said a sentence of life in prison without parole was “a strong punishment,” but also noted that the high price of executing someone was “a valid reason (to ban it) in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”
 Indeed, the Death Penalty Information Center has another report to back up Richardson’s point. That report concludes that “states are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty, draining state budgets during the economic crisis and diverting funds from more effective anti-violence programs.” The report included a nationwide poll of police chiefs which found that they ranked the death penalty last among their priorities for crime-fighting, do not believe the death penalty deters murder, and rate it as the least efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars

 It’s still the economy, stupid.
 Which decade was that?: I know this is the proverbial dead horse I am about to beat, but since when did nine years make a decade. As we approach the 10th year of the 21st century, Sports Illustrated, Time, various radio and TV news outlets have been offering us their lists of the key events of the first decade of this century. This, of course, assumes that when we started counting years, the first one was zero, which makes no sense whatever. Year one was year one. The nonsense began with the millennium celebrations in 2000, which was actually the last year of the 20th century, not the first of the 21st. Most producers of these early end-of-decade lists justify them by saying that’s what most people think, so we do it. Well, once upon a time, people thought the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. But at least they could count from one to 10.

  P.S: Fire the Giants’ offensive and defensive coordinators.

Bob can be reached at

New Year’s Ode to Billy Loes

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

By Michael Kaufman

I gave up writing an annual list of New Year wishes around 40 years ago after I killed Johnny Murphy. Murphy was the general manager of the New York Mets at the time and I had wished him “hives” because of the way he had treated Ed Charles, the team’s veteran third baseman following the glorious championship season of 1969.

Charles, known as “the Glider” for his graceful style, had played an important role in the team’s turnaround from laughingstock to success. But he was also its oldest player and soon after the Mets won the World Series, Murphy announced that Charles would not be back in 1970. He would not even be invited to spring training to compete for a job with the team.

For the better part of the next decade the Mets employed a succession of mostly terrible players at third base, including Wayne Garrett, Joe Foy (for whom they traded Amos Otis, a future American League All-Star), and the over-the-hill Jim Fregosi (for whom they traded the still-great Nolan Ryan). I like to think of it as the “Curse of the Glider.”

Of course Johnny Murphy wasn’t around to see any of this. Although I had only wished him hives, he died a couple of days later. So forget about the wishes for others. I’ve been sticking to New Year’s resolutions for myself ever since. The trouble with New Year’s resolutions is that they are often so lofty they are impossible to keep. My resolve is usually shot by the end of January. But the other day I heard an expert psychologist on the radio say that the trick is to keep the resolutions simple and attainable. And I thought of Billy Loes.

Loes was a young starting pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers when they won National League pennants in 1952 and 1953 and the World Series in 1955. A sore arm shortened his ensuing career although he went 12-7 for the Baltimore Orioles in 1957 and was named to the American League All-Star team. His career high in wins came in 1953, when he was 14-8 for the Dodgers. He said he would rather win 14 games than be a 20-game winner “because then I’d be expected to do it every year.”

Loes was known both for being outspoken and for his sense of humor. Before the 1952 World Series, Dodgers’ manager Charlie Dressen confronted him: “I see in the paper where you picked the Yankees to beat us in seven games. What’s wrong with you?” “I was misquoted,” Loes protested. “I picked them in six games.”

Loes would later be a thorn in the side of Orioles’ manager Paul Richards, who fined him $100 and suspended him for six days for shoving umpire Larry Napp during an argument over a call on a tag play at home plate. In response, Loes said he would never pitch for Richards again and expressed a desire to be traded. After meeting with Loes at the end of the suspension, Richards said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a closed incident. We’ll redeal the cards and wipe the slate clean.” But Loes saw it another way. “I’ll pitch because that’s the way I make my living, not because I think Richards is the greatest man in the world,” he declared. “I don’t have anything against him. I hope he makes a million dollars. But I thought he should have come out on the field in my defense when I was fighting to win a ballgame and I still feel that way.”

Examples of his sense of humor abound. Once, after booting a ground ball in a key situation, a reporter asked him the obvious question of what had happened. Loes replied, “I lost it in the sun!” His explanation after being called for a balk when the ball slipped out of his hand as he was winding up to pitch: “Too much spit on it.” Loes won only three games for the Orioles in 1958. When he showed up for spring training someone asked his goal for 1959. He said, “Win four games.” He finished the 1959 season with a 4-7 record and was promptly traded to the Giants. After being selected by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft, he said, “The Mets is a good thing. They give everybody a job just like the WPA.” Sadly, he never actually pitched a game for the Mets, his final game being with the Giants in 1961.

In the spirit of Billy Loes I hereby make my New Years resolution for 2010: I will lose one pound. Happy New Year to all!

Michael can be reached at

The Story of Stuff

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
By Shawn Dell Joyce
Most of us are surveying the damages right now; all the packages are unwrapped and scattered under the tree, the credit cards are maxed, and we’re exhausted. Now we have to decide where to put all the new stuff. Especially those new gadgets we just had to have, and waited in line during the wee hours after Thanksgiving at the box stores.

“Less than 1 percent of all the consumer goods bought and sold during the holiday season will be in use six months from now,” says Annie Leonard in “The Story of Stuff,” a short film produced by Free Range Films and available free online at .

“The Story of Stuff” chronicles the life of consumer goods from the “cradle to the grave,” and offers an alternative vision to our consumerist culture. Leonard points out that we have lost our identities as “mothers, farmers, firemen, teachers, and become consumers.”

Indeed we are defined by what we consume, and are targeted demographically by stuff-peddlers from infancy to old age. In our culture, we feel awkward if we don’t have “the right stuff,” fashionable clothes, flashy “bling,” and the newest techno-gadget. What we don’t often see is the consequences of our national addiction to stuff.

We see more advertisements in one year than our grandparents did in their whole lifetimes. We consume twice as much as they did as a result. Our houses are twice as big, our waistlines are bigger, and our savings accounts are considerably smaller.

Melissa Everett, executive director of Sustainable Hudson Valley defines “sustainable living” as “not filling a spiritual need with a material thing.”People buy stuff for many reasons, but for a substantial segment of our population, shopping is an addiction.

“Compulsive shopping or spending can be a seasonal balm for the depression, anxiety and loneliness during the December holiday season,” says Professor Ruth Engs of Indiana State University.

If living simpler is one of your new year’s resolutions, here are a few suggestions:

— Author and therapist April Lane Benson who wrote “I Shop, Therefore I Am,” recommends that before you make an impulse purchase, ask yourself “Why am I here?,” “How do I feel?,” “Do I need this?,” “What if I wait?,” “How will I pay for it?” and “Where will I put it?”

— Buy used or borrow things from friends and neighbors before buying new.

— Repair and mend rather than replace, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones.

— Develop habits of zero waste; use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products.

— “The average person in the U.S. watches TV for more than four hours a day,” notes the Story of Stuff, “Four hours each day are filled with messages about stuff we should buy. Those are four hours that could be spent with family, friends and in our community.”

Turn off the TV, let go of stuff, and step outside and embrace our local community.

Shawn can be eached at

Shawn’s Painting of the Week, 12/29/09

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009



Downtown Montgomery. This is part of a series of paintings in honor of Montgomery’s Bicentennial. Work can be seen in March at the Wallkill River School or purchased online at

Carrie’s Painting of the Week, 12/29/09

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009



By Carrie Jacobson

Here, at the end of the year, I look back and count my blessings, look ahead and count my hopes, and look at this present moment and feel thankful. This holiday season, my pet-painting business has truly taken off, leaving me a little exhausted and very fulfilled. The coming year will be filled with painting, with the beauty of the world in which we live, and the joy of painting dogs and cats who are loved by the families whose lives they share.

This is a Christmas commission of a dog who loved his family and is still loved by them, long after his death.

For information on having your pet painted, email me at

Please accept my gratitude for the attention you have paid to Zest over the year and for the kind words so many of you have shared with me – and please accept my best wishes for a joyous and safe new year!

Rich’s Photo of the Week, 12/29/09

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Photography by Rich Gigli

GRIST MILL - Philipsburg Grist Mill is a historic house, water mill and trading site located on US 9 in the village of Sleepy Hollow, New York. The manor dates from 1693 when Frederick Philipse of Yonkers was granted a charter for 52,000 acres along the Hudson River. By the mid 18th century, the Philipse family had one of the largset slave-holdings in the colonial north.

GRIST MILL - Philipsburg Grist Mill is a historic house, water mill and trading site located on US 9 in the village of Sleepy Hollow, New York. The manor dates from 1693 when Frederick Philipse of Yonkers was granted a charter for 52,000 acres along the Hudson River. By the mid 18th century, the Philipse family had one of the largest slave-holdings in the colonial north.

A Senator Loses It

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

By Jeffrey Page

In 2006, Senator George Allen, the noted conservative from Virginia, was happily sailing along toward election to a second term. There was even talk about his making a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

But in a campaign stop, he saw a young Indian-American man taping his speech, and sarcastically introduced him to the crowd. Twice he referred to the man as “macaca,” which may be a historic European mispronunciation of macaque (ma-KAK), a genus of monkey that inhabits North Africa and South Asia. But enough of science. “Macaca” is a racial slur used by certain ignoramuses to describe dark-skinned people.

“Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” Allen addressed the man. If anyone needed an introduction to the real world it was Allen. The man, S.K. Sidarth, was born in California, raised in Virginia and was working for Allen’s opponent, Jim Webb. The last time anyone checked, this was legal.

The press had a field day with Allen, as well it should. He lost the election to Webb.

Last week, Senator Charles Schumer, the noted liberal from New York who’ll probably seek a third term next year, was aboard an airliner in Washington with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for the flight to New York. Both were on their cell phones. A flight attendant, a woman, went over and told them they would have to end their calls so the pilot could get the trip started.

There were words; Schumer’s an important guy. But he and Gillibrand ended their calls, and as the attendant walked away, Schumer turned to Gillibrand and muttered a one-syllable description of the attendant.


The slur that will not die, and used here by a powerful member of the United States Senate against someone with no such power, someone doing her job.

It’s likely the story would have ended there, but a Republican party staffer was on board and heard Schumer reveal something about himself that a lot of us didn’t know. The GOP aide made the appropriate phone calls. It took a while, and Schumer finally apologized. But his regret reeked of phoniness.

Follow this chronology and statement. The flight was on Dec. 13. Schumer was so stricken by his use of this particular slur that he didn’t say a word about it until it was reported by on Dec. 15. His apology came on Dec. 16. Did Schumer go before the cameras and recite it? He most certainly did not. After all, he’s a senator.

Instead, he sent an aide out front: “The senator made an off-the-cuff comment under his breath that he shouldn’t have made, and he regrets it.”

The Times reported that Schumer called the flight attendant to apologize – also after the politico story appeared.

One of the things we learned about Schumer in this smelly episode is what he did not do. A moment after he uttered the word “bitch,” Schumer didn’t slap his hand over his mouth, apologize to the flight attendant then and there in front of all the passengers who heard the slur, and ask her for forgiveness.

Schumer’s 20 million constituents need more information.

–Who was the last woman member of the Senate Schumer called a bitch? Or does he reserve that title for ordinary people who displease him? 

–What would Schumer have said if the flight attendant had been a man? Especially if the man had been six or eight inches taller than the senator?

–Does Schumer dismiss other groups with other slurs? You know the words; I’m not going to catalogue them. Or are women special?

George Allen’s political career tanked after “macaca,” but so far there doesn’t seem to be too much outrage over “bitch.” We know what this incident says about Schumer. Does the relative silence about it say something about the rest of us?

Jeffrey can be reached at

Photo of the Week Dec. 20, 2009

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Photography by Rich Gigli

WINTER IN THE COUNTRY - Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives referrwed to their company as the "Grand Central Depot for cheap and popular prints." They began in 1835, years before photographs came along to compete with them. In the sixty or so years of their existence, they produced thousands of pictures, prints of urban and rural life in America. Photo was taken at the Dixon Homstead, Boonton Tws. N.J.

WINTER IN THE COUNTRY - Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives referred to their company as the "Grand Central Depot for cheap and popular prints." They began in 1835, years before photographs came along to compete with them. In the sixty or so years of their existence, they produced thousands of pictures, prints of urban and rural life in America. Photo was taken at the Dixon Homstead, Boonton Tws. N.J.

Shawn’s Painting of the Week 12/21/09

Monday, December 21st, 2009



Iron Cafe, a pastel painting of the corner of Clinton Street and River Road in the historic Village of Montgomery. See more of my work at