Lasagna Makes You Smarter

It's Nutritious and Fun

By Daniel Van Riper

The Old Machine Author and political observer Frank Robinson spoke to the November dinner crowd at 1st Presbyterian Church in Albany. He is probably the foremost authority on the old and defunct Albany O'Connell Democratic political machine, an entity which seems quaint and benign when compared to the cold and heartless D'Amato Republican machine from Nassau County that is currently gripping the state with its icy claws (recently described by Repub presidential candidates Forbes and Buchanan as resembling the old Soviet Union).

Mr. Robinson's excellent book from the early 1970's, which is variously titled Machine Politics and Albany's O'Connell Machine is required reading not only for understanding the forces that have shaped the Capital District, but for students of American politics. Unfortunately, the book is out of print. There are a lot of copies floating around though, turning up at used book stores and book fairs, plus there is a copy in the Albany Public Library.

The story begins in 1919, when Dan O'Connell led a grass roots rebellion out of the South End of Albany against the dominant but divided Republican machine of political boss Billy Barnes, and follows the story of power and control through the mid-twentieth century as O'Connell, Mayor Erastus Corning III and their allies took on the characteristics of the politicos they had replaced.

The story ends prematurely in 1973, with the almost upset mayoral campaign of Carl Touhey, and Mr. Robinson's prescient observations about the erosion of O'Connell's power. (O'Connell died in 1977, Corning died in 1983, and the last vestige of control by the old machine, Mayor Thomas Whalen, was maneuvered out of office in 1992.) Not only do we need a reprint of this book, but perhaps Mr. Robinson could provide an addendum to the story and bring us up to date. Machine Politics was published by Transaction Books of New Brunswick, NJ in 1977. The original title, Albany's O'Connell Machine is harder to find, it was published by the long gone and legendary Washington Park Spirit in Albany, 1973.

It's Colder Up North Back in the balmy days of October, at the monthly lasagna dinner, we didn't mind hearing about SPB board member Jerry Mueller's summer trip to the North Slope of Alaska above the Arctic Circle, where the isolated towns have upbeat names like Barrow and Deadhorse. "This place is vast", he told us, and teeming with wildlife, such as arctic terns, snowy owls, lemmings and vast herds of caribou which are increasing in number because of the decline of predators.
Jerry was participating in a research project to find out just how much the ground thaws out during the short summer. Apparently, the ground melts only a few feet down at most, and below that the earth is permanently frozen, like solid rock. Since water has no place to run off to on the flat landscape, everywhere is wetland supporting a riot of plantlife that grows no higher than Jerry's knees.

Basically, Jerry spent his time in a parka and boots (40° F is considered mighty warm in those parts) sloshing about poking a measuring stick in the muck and making notes. Fortunately, he had time to make some stunning slide photographs which he shared with us, along with some stories, such as his tale of the great snowy owl which repeatedly attacked an oblivious Husky dog, and the bus load of old people who solemnly came to observe his arrival by prop plane in an isolated town of perhaps 200 souls.

The North Slope, which supports a great but fragile ecosystem, is in great danger from greedy oil companies that care little about the land, building and spreading filth indiscriminately. Thus, it is more vital than ever that research be conducted on this land. When Jerry was leaving at the end of August, the temperature was already dropping and snow was beginning to fall.

Music, Dancing, Laughter Of course, in December we had our annual Holiday Party at 1st Presbyterian , with some 80 people attending, who didn't seem to mind that the food ran out early since they were having so much fun. Siblings Peter and Laurie Siegal of the Harmonious Hogchokers teamed up with two friends to do a musical set and to get the Contra dancing going, with Paul Rosenburg and Cynthia Butcher graciously calling some outrageous dances. Peter's playing keeps getting sharper, and Laurie's voice is getting more beautiful. A certain Doctor Professor Emil Goodman (Emily Goodman) explained how we could solve traffic problems with automobiles that fit in our pockets, and Stu Mendleson finished the night with his story telling prowess.

Peace Offerings, the hard-to-define shop located in the Social Justice Center building at 33 Central Ave. in Albany, spread several tables of unique holiday gifts from around the world, and did several hundred dollars worth of business. This is good for them, especially since the shop has been feeling the regional economic downturn especially hard. And... the winner of the doorprize was o world-walker Liz Pearson, who won an SPB t-shirt. The sturdy but beautiful SPB t-shirt never goes out of fashion, is always in style.


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