Saturday, July 17, 2010

Maggie's On The River

My wife wanted to try out Maggie's for the first time tonight, mainly because of the view of the Black River, since we had heard mixed reviews about the food and service.  We were quite pleasantly surprised by our experience, however.

Upon arrival, we noticed a lot of people around and figured out that there was some sort of whitewater event going on nearby, so we weren't sure how busy the restaurant would be.  As it turns out, it was fairly busy but there was no wait.  We were directed immediately to a table on the second floor; unfortunately, the second floor was not air conditioned, and we found out from our waiter that the windows could not be opened because there were no screens in them.  Luckily, it was not too hot up there or we would have instantly taken our leave.

The decor is much the same as with the previous owners - brick walls with visible plumbing and ventilation and dark wood furniture - not fancy but kind of cool.  It's fairly noisy in there too, due to a lack of insulated walls, but not overwhelmingly so.

Our waiter was quite good - attentive, but not bothersome - and our only complaint was that he did not ask us for coffee or dessert when we were done with our dinners.  It was fine, however, since we were ready to leave.  He made one nice recommendation for us: fried mozzarella (not mozzarella sticks) for an appetizer.  This dish consisted of four slices of mozzarella, hand battered and nicely deep-fried.  They had just the right crispiness, without being too thick or too greasy, served with marinara on the side, and the perfect size for sharing.

Our salads were excellent.  My wife thought hers was as good a salad as she's ever had, with one little complaint - it was not very cold.  I don't know if that was intentional or if it had just sat out too long.  Her honey mustard dressing was very good, and the mustard was a little bit spicier than the usual.

My dinner was a hand-battered fried haddock that was pretty good. It would have been better if it had been fried at a higher temperature, though, to make it more crispy and a bit less oily.  But, I liked the taste and just a thin coating of batter was used, which I prefer.  Katherine had a grilled Buffalo chicken flatbread which was excellent and a very nice sized portion.  She had enough left over for lunch tomorrow.

Overall, we liked Maggie's. The food was better than we expected and the service was much better than expected.  We will definitely be returning, but perhaps on a cooler night, given the lack of air conditioning upstairs.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blankenbush vs McGrath - Tale of the Tape

Well, sort of.

I started writing this as a comparison of the two State Assembly candidates' websites.  Ken Blankenbush has a site full of stuff from his "True North Plan", while Brian McGrath's site has almost no meat at all, just platitudes.  However, it now appears that Blankenbush's plan has been lifted, mostly verbatim, from the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, since a downstate candidate's plan is, in some instances, word-for-word the same as Ken's.  It's very embarrassing for Blankenbush, as he adamantly claimed earlier that the plan was completely his own creation.

Does that leave us with any new, original ideas in this race?  It's hard to tell. As I said, McGrath's site gives little detail.  Some excerpts:

"I will work to put people back to work for the long-term and to create a climate in the North Country where business can thrive."  " I will work to bring 'green collar jobs' and clean energy, and I'll fight not only for better highways, but also better access to the information superhighway."  "I will work to ensure the long-term viability of Fort Drum."

How?  More details, please, especially as he stated, " Career politicians have failed the North Country, and it's time for a new face, a new perspective, and fresh ideas."

What new perspective, and what fresh ideas?

On the other side, if you throw out "Blankenbush's" plan, there's not much left. Putting aside the credibility issue for the moment, though, let's assume he really does agree with what is in the plan.  What is in there? Here are some examples:

1. No Miranda rights for terrorists.  As despicable as terrorists are, this is still the United States of America, and if terrorist acts are committed on our shores the perpetrators still need to be treated like any other criminals, a la Timothy McVeigh.

2. Tort Reform - limit punitive damages to $250,000.  I agree that something needs to be done about punitive damages, but I'm not sure that a one-size-fits-all amount will work in all cases.  It's something to think about, however.

3. T.E.A.C.H - Train Educators According to Competitive Hallmarks - Merit pay for performance and continuing education, and replacing tenure.  Rewarding good teachers and penalizing poor teachers sounds like a good idea, but what will we use for objective measurements of performance? 

4. Parents' Education Control Act - direct election of Regents in nonpartisan elections every two years.  I kind of like this, but think the terms should be longer.

5. Fight proposed methane capture regulations - In other words, no taxing cow flatulence.  I had to laugh at this one. On the face of it, it's ridiculous, and it's further embarrassment for Ken, since this issue was debunked a year and a half ago.

6. Spending cap - A constitutional spending cap limiting government spending to no more than the rate of inflation.  Perhaps something to think about, but probably difficult to handle in reality because inflation rates are all over the board, depending on what types of products and services you are looking at.

7. A flat income tax, indexed to inflation.  On principle, I am opposed to flax income taxes, unless there are very specific exemptions so there is not too difficult a burden on the poor.  In general, as you move up the income scale, people with higher incomes have more disposable income, after paying for necessities, available to pay taxes.

8. Term limits - no more than eight years in office for state senators and assembly members.  I like the idea of term limits, but think ten to twelve years may be better to allow plenty of time to understand the position and to mentor new legislators.

Aside from the websites, what other information there is about the candidates can be gleaned from Judy Seymour's excellent articles in the Watertown Daily Times.  However, in Jude's articles there is little difference between McGrath's and Blankenbush's stances.  Both agree that something needs to be done about the state's fiscal crisis; both agree on limiting property tax growth; both agree on providing ease of access for ATV riders to use local roads; and both candidates oppose the DEC's proposed regulations for outdoor wood boilers, among other topics they both support.

At this point, I have issues with both candidates.  I wish McGrath would be more forthcoming on the specifics of his platform, and I believe that Blankenbush has hurt his credibility with the copying involved in creating "his" plan, plus some of the specifics of the plan are not well thought out.  However, I have to give Ken props for at least having a more specific platform than Brian.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ripley Under Ground

The second installment of Patricia Highsmith's Ripliad, Ripley Under Ground follows Tom Ripley's life a few years after the events in The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Tom is now married to heiress Heloise and together they live a life of leisure in a country home in France.  Ripley's boredom with the everyday leads him to more shenanigans, however, as he get involved in a painting forgery ring.  As the ring starts to fall apart, Tom uses all the tools at his disposal to deflect suspicion, including murder.  In the end, Tom seemingly clears everything up, but he still suspects he missed something and will be visited by the police again, this time with new evidence.

I did not enjoy this novel as much as the previous one. The plot was fairly convoluted, with too many people involved to believe that Ripley could get away with everything he does.  I also did not connect with Tom like I did in the original. Somehow he did not have quite the same charm and appeal.  That is not to say I did not like this book; on the contrary, I just thought it could have been better.  It is my understanding, though, that the third book in the series, Ripley's Game, is quite good, so I will start that next.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan of the Apes is the original Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and probably the best.  Like many fictional heroes, Tarzan has been vastly changed by other media.  This Tarzan, raised by a female ape who lost her own child, is a mostly wild, rambling hunter who follows his tribe in constant pursuit of food, dragging down live prey and eating the meat raw.  It is only upon his eventual contacts with other humans that he even realizes he is not an ape himself. 

Tarzan's first contact with humans is with a tribe of cannibals who have moved into the area.  It is then, notwithstanding skin color, that he notices he has more in common with the natives than with his own clan.  But it is when he comes in contact with his first white people that he really knows he is human, as he has seen pictures of people in books left behind by his parents, who were marooned and died where Tarzan was found by the apes.

During all of this time Tarzan has also come to dominate his tribe of apes by defeating the previous leader,  using his brains and superior quickness.  This leadership of the clan makes it even more difficult for Tarzan to choose between living as he always has and joining the white people and living as a man.  The turning point is his first sight of Jane Porter, the first time he has ever seen a white woman.  The innate attraction he has towards her trumps all.  Tarzan knows he must be with Jane, at all costs.

Tarzan's contact with Jane and the others sets him off on a path to civilization: he learns to speak French, and later English, dresses in Western clothes and drives a car.  He still has many of the traits he learned in the wild, however, and realizes he is not really the man for Jane, who has spent her whole life in civilized company.  It is a difficult decision for Tarzan to make, but he renounces his noble heritage (he is the son of Lord Greystoke) in Jane's, and his cousin's, best interests.

What I found most interesting about this book is Burroughs' treatment of how humans evolved and the differences between the natural and the acquired.  Through all of Tarzan's life in the wild, living as an ape, he still maintained his basic humanity.  Not that genetics tells all, however; those learned traits of his were just as much a part of him and in the end provided his destiny.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Who Represents the Little Guy in NY-23?

Per their personal financial disclosures, Matt Doheny made close to $7 million last year, Bill Owens earned around $4 million and Doug Hoffman brought up the rear, only making a bit over $300 thousand.

Actually, I don't put much into the whole "who's going to help the little guy" thing, but it does give one pause. How can anybody but the well-to-do run for a major office? It's a shame, because I'm sure there are a lot of well-qualified people out there who don't have the deep pockets to run.

The Stranger

I have been meaning to read this classic novel by Albert Camus for some time, but finally got around to it this weekend. At first glance it is a fairly simple first-hand story of an innocuous man committing an unplanned murder (or is it really self-defense?) The first part of the book follows the events leading up to the killing, while the second part encompasses the trial and imprisonment.

Looked at more carefully, though, you see a much more complex story. The main character, Meursault, could be a sociopath. He shows little emotion towards anyone: his mother, who passes away, his girlfriend, or his so-called friends. Meursault shows no sorrow when his mother dies and he tells his girlfriend he doesn't think he loves her, but will marry her, if she wants him to. He also expresses little emotion at killing the Arab on the beach. In fact, after killing the man with one shot, he hesitates for a moment and them pumps four more rounds into the corpse.

The idea of fate is addressed, and, incongruously, randomness. While is prison, Meursault thinks of the inevitability of death, but at the same time he seems to be unaware of small, somewhat random events that led him to where he is: other people's perceptions of his lack of emotion, his relationships with others and his rejection of God's forgiveness. Slight changes in any of these things, among others, may have had a profound impact on where he ends up. In the end, however, Meursault accepts his fate and is resigned to his eventual death penalty and actually hopes that the crowd will cheer his execution.