Archive » February 2021 » Columns

This little report is a capitulation of current conversations, and a couple from way back, when a pair of the OMOTM had to give up farming. This happened to one because of sickness, and the other because the government (in a way) forced him into it.

The current conversation was of two completely wasted pieces of good farm land by developers. The haphazard destruction of good farmland is very short-sighted in the opinion of some of the OFs. One OF said that this planet is not getting any fewer people it is getting more, and by the day.

The current pandemic might give some people pause, but one OF said he would bet, if the population clock showed deaths and births, the births would still win out. This scribe could not argue or take the bet because this scribe has not seen such a graph, or clock, to compare the correlation between worldwide deaths and births, no matter what the cause of deaths were. The cause of births is well known.

According to this OF, all of the bodies on the planet, which are growing in number, are going to have to be fed, and, as far as he knows, what dirt is here, is here; we aren’t making any more dirt! Well maybe that which we can’t wash out of our ears.

Then again, the scribe chimed in that his own father, in the early forties, had a garden in the cellar of the house that grew vegetables and there was no dirt, just fertilizer and water. The OF jumped in with, “Ah chemicals, we use too many chemicals.”

These discussions can go on and on. This conversation could go on infinitum.

The OF mentioned developers will build a whole new mall right alongside of an existing mall that is failing and decaying. Why is that? Why not tear the old one down and rebuild a new one — leave the land alone.

Right around here, good land is being ruined all over the place. For instance, in Voorheesville, right by the golf course, beautiful farmland now features nothing but houses.

It seems solar farms are being developed everywhere and now the land cannot be used and it is all open ground. “Look at all the energy and material it takes to build one of these things,” the OF said, “and we will never get that back.”

This OF thinks there are waterfalls and tides that can produce energy. The OF would like to see graphs or reports that show how much energy is really produced and saved by these developments. He concluded that he would rather eat than blow his hair dry.

No mention was made of fossil fuels. Now we need to go on to the opposite position.

This scribe then remembered a conversation quite a while ago from one of the OMOTM who has since passed on. This OF had a series of strokes and had to give up farming.

He had the opportunity to sell some of his land, so he did, and a couple of houses were built on it. This OF was chastised by a certain do-gooder in public for selling his land and not keeping it.

This OF was a feisty little guy and stated that he retorted that it was his land, he paid taxes on it for years, he maintained it and worked it since a young man and didn’t need anyone to tell him what to do with it.

The OF told the other OFs that the ones complaining about him had nothing invested in his land. In fact, he didn’t even know them and, if he wanted to sell to someone who was going to build a skyscraper, it was nobody’s business but his and the one who wanted to purchase the land.

This scribe remembers how everyone jumped in on this conversation with a supporting comment that the government put the OG out of business and now all his land is going fallow. The OFs remarked that he might just as well sell the land to developers and let them build houses on it.

According to some of his supporters, the big shots don’t really care anyway; the big shots think peas come in a can and are already in the grocery store. Many city people have no idea how they got there in the first place.

It is easy to see why there is such a division among people on the same topic with a different approach to the same problem and coming up with different answers. These conversations are extremely condensed but the gist is there.


Closed in

One newer phone conversation was on the pandemic and the virtual approach to so much entertainment and outdoor activity, especially now that we are at the end of February and March is coming up with baseball, and NASCAR, and tons of outside events, parties, and picnics, and just plain old visiting.

The OFs are really beginning to feel closed in; one OF used the word claustrophobic — the OF said he felt like he was trapped. This OF said that, with his health and age, he is afraid to go anywhere.

The OFs comment was, “Why is God so mad at us?”

And so ends another week without me becoming unexpectedly rich.

— Voorheesville Public Library Archives 

Fryer’s Grove Hotel — also known as the Honeymoon Hotel —was a busy place in the late 19th Century, just yards from the railway station in Voorheesville.

Dedicated to Alan Kowlowitz

Years ago, when I was putting together a book on Voorheesville, New York — the small upstate village I live in — I scoured every text I came upon to find its “founding fathers,” of course, but also, and especially, to see if there were citizens who helped transform the “place” into a community.

That is, had the people of Voorheesville developed a shared identity, what sociologists call “a sense of community?”

I also wanted to see if there were souls who urged the community to adopt an ethic of mutual aid whereby every person in the newly-incorporated-self would stand by every other when times got tough.

Such people are able to foster an appreciation of living together that’s bigger than neighbors shopping at the same store, having kids in the same school, or using the same garbage-disposal service.

The government of the village of Voorheesville published the results of my efforts in 1989. Mayor Ed Clark, and especially trustees Susan Rockmore and Dan Rey, had a keen interest in their constituents knowing about their forebears. They saw it as an act of communal health.

They believed people show greater respect for the place they live in if they know who lived in their house 100 years before, or shopped in the same stores downtown — though every store in old downtown Voorheesville is gone now.

For the bibliophiles in the ranks, the history book is called “Voorheesville, New York: A Sketch of the Beginnings of a Nineteenth Century Railroad Town.” It’s a 180-page, 8 by 10, loaded-with-graphics (photos, maps, and store-ads), serious narrative about how Voorheesville became a thriving railroad town and assembled a collection of energetic souls who developed a common purpose. Every page is based on primary sources.

I think it’s sad so few Voorheesvillians I’ve met over the years have shown an interest in the roots of where they live, in how our 19th-Century Victorian counterparts morphed from a collection of people living near each other to a “people” with a vision.

The place had a downtown with four grocery stores, a butcher shop, a funeral parlor, a factory that made quality cigars, a shirt-making operation, and a tomato-canning plant whose tins were shipped from the station daily.

Frank Bloomingdale — our first mayor — sent tons of hay and straw to Brooklyn and Boston; there was a coal business, a grain manufacturing plant, a slate company where the Cummings brothers peddled bluestone hauled down from Reidsville.

The place had two foundries, one a major leaguer. Its owner, Frederick Greisman, was a visionary; he built 10 houses on North Main to attract middle-managers; he underwrote the first library; started a bank — the Voorheesville Savings and Loan Association — where he made his sweat-filled laborers deposit their paychecks before hitting the saloon on the way home.

Mott’s apple juice had a plant on Grove Street where hundreds of workers pressed apples in the fall for quality cider and vinegar and later made jellies and prune juice encased in a beautiful green bottle.

The place had three hotels and dozens of B&B-type operations that each year graciously welcomed families to stay the summer; eat home-cooked meals; and, when the sun got hot, sit beneath a tree or head to the Vly to watch its 100-foot waterfall crash upon the shore.

One of the hosts, Mr. William Relyea, held a kite-flying contest on Saturday nights so his guests could try to reach the Helderbergs with string.

Every year, regional teacher groups returned to the village to hold their annual conference, most often in the social hall of the Methodist Church on Maple, whose congregation offered warm Voorheesville hospitality.

The Grove Hotel had a baseball diamond out back, a race track, a picnic area, and a bandstand where thousands — literally thousands — came from the surrounding cities to eat oysters, drain a tin of beer, dance, and watch a Fourth of July fireworks show.

Albanians could jump on a train and three stops later be sitting on the porch of the Grove — 100 yards from the track. So many newlyweds came to share marital bliss in one of the 35 rooms upstairs that folks called the place Honeymoon Hotel. (The Blue Book for 1886 says rooms were $1.50, guests having the option of the European or American plan).

And the Grove had culture. Its boarders — and any villager who stopped by for a beer — might catch on a given night the vaudevillian Madame Celeste doing her bird and musical instrument imitations. When the weather got warm they headed outside to see Howard’s Big Show, Doctor Gray’s Wonderful Wonders, and the Great New Orleans Show — all from the old vaudeville circuit.

Across the tracks was the equally-famed Harris House, run by my favorite Morris Harris, whose guests could catch semi-pro wrestling one night and the next, the grand vaudevillian ventriloquist Professor Button.

But with so many folks moving from place to place these days — COVID has slowed it — I understand why people show little interest in the place they live in. They’re from somewhere else heading to some other somewhere else — why bother with in-between?

As the official historian of the village of Voorheesville, I’ve attended conventions with municipal historians from around the state who came to learn new things about New York’s history but also to share the story of the place they were from.

I always wanted to know: Did they live in a “place” or in a “community?” Was there mutual aid? How would they describe it? And did their research include how benefits and burdens were distributed?

I had a chance to answer these questions myself somewhat when our regional library system a few years ago created a contest — they called it a challenge — whereby every patron of its 36 libraries was invited to visit every place in the system within four months. Library-lovers saw it as an offer they could not refuse.

And to show that they visited all 36, they brought along a master sheet they got stamped at every stop. I did the 36 in four days.

Moving at that pace, my conversation at each stop was brief but I kept looking at how each library’s shelves were stacked, what the sitting area looked like, was anyone at the reference desk, and how the person stamping my sheet viewed my interruption.

Like a mantra I kept asking: What does this library say about the town? Is it a place or is it a community?

At every library I came to, the staff were excited about the contest and every librarian who welcomed me offered a ready smile. 

At the Berlin library, after I got my sheet signed and was heading toward the door, the librarian at the desk, a middle-aged woman, asked in a kind and friendly tone whether, before I left, I might like to use the restroom. Her sincerity was overwhelming.

In Poestenkill, as my sheet was being stamped, the librarian asked if this was my first time there. When I said yes, she brought out from beneath the desk a small paper gift bag with handles that contained a mini-bottle of water, a mini-bag of popcorn, and I think there was a chocolate.

I said: Wow, Poestenkill knows hospitality. It must be a community.

And because at different times I’ve worked with historians from our county, I rooted for all the towns and villages they came from; they are Voorheesville’s neighbors.

And neighbors of The Altamont Enterprise as well. As its editor, Melissa Hale-Spencer, has said, “We try to hold up something to the community that reflects it, and we try to shine a light in dark places . . . And just because you’re small in terms of circulation, doesn’t mean you can’t be big in the sense of the issues that you tackle or look at critically or in a way that sheds light on whatever the particular problem is.”

Hospitality, a sense of community, in print.

Humans have made many fantastic discoveries: fire, the wheel, refrigeration, Netflix, etc. But there is one discovery that has been truly revolutionary; without it, the entire world as we know it would not even be possible. That discovery, the greatest of all time I believe, is the tiny but mighty little marvel, the transistor.

Some of my fondest memories are of lying on a towel at either Rockaway Beach or Jones Beach, watching the beautiful blue ocean and the golden tanned girls while listening to a transistor radio tuned to 770AM WABC and “Cousin Brucie” in the sixties. Groups like the Supremes, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones never sounded better than on those tinny little speakers.

Of course, technology always marches on and transistor radios became “boom boxes,” which ruined it for everybody. But personal portable music in any form was still revolutionary at the time, and it was all made possible due to the transistor.

Prior to transistors, there were vacuum tubes that did the same thing, but they were delicate, got hot, and burned out often. It used to be you could actually take the back off your TV, pull out the vacuum tubes, and run down to the drug store where you could test them yourself in a special machine. Imagine that, repairing something rather than throwing it away. What a novel concept!

Transistors, by being so much smaller and more dependable than vacuum tubes, allowed all the technology we are so familiar with today — cell phones, computers, satellites, and so much more — to be possible. We take them for granted because they are invisible but they are working hard for us all the time.

Plus they are stone-axe simple, just a grain of sand (actually silicon) that has been “doped” with some other elements to make that sand into something special, by being able to conduct electricity some of the time, and not conduct it other times. That’s why transistors are called “semiconductors.” Let’s talk about how these mighty little guys work.

Imagine you’re driving down the Northway, past Crossgates Mall, and you get all the way to the end. Now you’re waiting at the light on Western Avenue. So you’re pointing straight, and you can only go left or right.

Well, a transistor has three leads. In our example, where you’re in your car staring at the light is one lead. To the east of the light, going toward Albany, is the second lead, and to the west of the light, going toward Schenectady, is the third lead.

From your perspective, when the light is red, cars can move east and west, but when the light is green, they can’t go anywhere. The transistor functions like a switch, just like the traffic light. This switching action is exactly what a transistor does, over and over again, very speedily, cheaply, and supremely reliably.

By functioning as a simple switch, transistors made cell phones and computers and ventilators and just about everything in our modern digital world possible. Digital means something that is “off” is represented as a zero, and something that is “on” is represented as a one.

All around us — in the air and in the wires and cables — these zeroes and ones fly around making us connected to each other as never before in human history. Without the miniaturization of the now-ubiquitous transistor, none of this would have been possible (for better or worse if you are on social media).

If all transistors did was this switching or on-off function, that would be enough to make them the greatest invention of all time. Keep reading though, because as they say on late night info-mercials: “But wait, there’s more!”

Imagine you’re outside holding your garden hose. If you squeeze the trigger just a little bit, you’ll get a little bit of water flow. If you squeeze the trigger all the way, you’ll get the most water flow. If you modulate the trigger between a little and all the way you’ll get a corresponding amount of water flow.

The point is: A very small movement of your hand controls the flow of a large amount of water. Well, if you put a little bit of electricity on one leg of the transistor, a little bit of it will flow across the other two legs, but if you put a lot of electricity on the one leg, a much larger amount can be controlled on the other two legs.

This ability of a small amount of electrical current controlling a much larger amount is called amplification. It’s what allowed those small speakers in the original transistor radios to make sound that we could hear without those big and bulky vacuum tubes.

This combination of switching and amplifying is what makes the transistor the greatest invention of all time. Nothing else comes close.

For me, every time my car starts right up I think of transistors. It used to be that cars had carburetors with so-called “automatic chokes.” Depending on the outside temperature and when the car had last run, you had to press on the gas pedal one or two times before you tried to start the car.

If you got it wrong, you flooded the engine and then had to sit there and wait. Not a good thing when you had to be to your class or your job right away. EFI, or Electronic Fuel Injection, which enables modern cars to just start right up virtually all the time, is made possible because of transistors. Wow. What a miracle.

Electronics hobbyists like me can still buy single or “discrete” transistors, but it’s much more common nowadays to find transistors packed in tightly on “integrated circuits.” Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, stated many decades ago that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit “chip” would double approximately every 18 months, and by gosh he’s been right even to this day, though someday the laws of physics will finally stop it.

But consider this – the average smartphone contains 460 billion transistors. That is quite something!

In Albany and in Malta, we have “chip fab” plants that make computer chips. The most common kind of transistor they make for these chips is called a MOS-FET, which stands for Metal Oxide Semiconductor – Field Effect Transistor.

In fact, the MOS-FET is the single most produced item in human history, at thirteen sextillion (a sextillion is a 1 followed by 21 zeros) and counting. Holy moly.

Transistors are truly miraculous devices that help our cars start, let us fly to the moon and beyond, and make our lives better in so many ways. I’m just glad I got to be alive during the time of the transistor.

Handsome, strong, and talented boxer Muhammad Ali always said he was “the greatest.” To many, he was, but I’ll vote for the transistor any day.

The phone calls this week centered on youth and age, and with the Old Men of the Mountain this is a common thread, as it is with anyone over 50. Youth does not consider age because they don’t think they will get old, but age considers youth because they know they won’t get any younger.

The OMOTM consider they were young once so they know where they are coming from on this one. Young people  think anyone over 30 is old and basically in the way.

Old people consider gangs of young people dangerous and don’t have a clue what is going on. It seems when old people get together and talk about when they were young they remember how they thought their parents knew nothing and old people were in the way.

However, now the OFs know differently — they really know differently.

When the young were quite young they depended completely on older people to take care of them. Now that the quite young have grown quite old they depend on the younger people to take care of them.

The Old Men of the Mountain spoken to today were not in the best of shape and cannot get around like they used to. In fact, some of them getting around and doing what they used to do was literally out of the question.

Fortunately, these OFs all had families with brothers and sisters, and they all had kids, and the kids were raised in the family atmosphere. Not just moms and dads, but aunts, uncles, and cousins, and grandmas and grandpas.

Now that the OFs need help (some just because they are creaky OFs, and others because of medical conditions) the kids are pitching in. The kids are basically doing this because of a strong bond with the parents; this is called love.

The kids do not know where this type of love is applied or what a relief it is to the OFs. The OFs say to themselves, “I guess changing those diapers is paying off.”

This continuation of love quite often is not verbally expressed but is shown with tender touches, soft words, and running kids here and there and seeing that they are protected.

It is too late that the OFs did not realize this when they were young and had youngsters, but for the young who are going to venture into young adulthood and start having young ones of their own it is not too late.

So remember how you treat your young ones because one day you will be sitting at the table as an Old Man (or Woman) of the Mountain, and doing routine things won’t be that easy.


Snowed under

All the OMOTM thought this has been a pretty tough winter so far. The snow has been on the ground for some time.

One OF mentioned that his kids have constructed quite a hill for sledding at their place for their kids and kids around the area. The OF said his 2-year-old granddaughter has a great time sledding down this hill.

The OF said he thinks some of these sleds reach 60 to 70 miles per hour! That deserves maybe a five or six hmmmmmm.

And on her little plastic sled, the little tyke must really be whipping down the hill. Of course, she can’t haul the sled back up to go back down; someone has to carry her and the sled to the top so she can do it all over again.

The son has his generator running about 20 lights down the hill so the kids can sled at night, and they have a bonfire going at the bottom so they can warm themselves. The OF relating the story was having as much fun telling about the sledding as if he were able to do it himself.

This reminded this scribe of when he and his brothers were young and the farmer on Cole Hill did the same thing for skiing.

This farmer had a Farmall “H” tractor running a simple rope tow to take the skiers to the top of the hill, and we would ski down on long wooden skis with wool socks in felt-lined winter barn boots, and simple spring binders on the skis and down the hill we would go.

As the scribe and the OF remembered, the only color ski was brown. They had hot chocolate in a little hut at the bottom too.


Sign of spring?

As the scribe and the OF talked, the OF mentioned that the bluebirds were back. The OF said he had a whole bunch of them in his yard.

The scribe said he thought the bluebirds didn’t go anywhere, and the OF said they did and the males come back first, about three to four weeks ahead of the females.

This was news to the scribe but, if this is supposed to be a harbinger of spring, those birds are in for one heck of a surprise.

The scribe mentioned to the OF that robins returning didn’t mean much to him because, as long as the scribe has lived where he does now, he has robins year round.

In talking to the OFs they not only would like the COVID thing to be over, but now they want the winter to be over also.

Winter seems to be getting to the scribe’s wife also. She found a note in a recent magazine that addresses some of her problems with this scribe.

She is asking “prayers for my husband, who, very tragically, got me nothing for our anniversary when I specifically told him I wanted nothing for our anniversary.” She believes most women will understand this dilemma.

OK, this is complaint time by the few Old Men of the Mountain spoken to, plus just plain old folks that are not partakers of the past breakfasts, but could be because they are the age of this scribe, which puts them in the category of older than dirt, fire, and water.

The complaint is trying to either get on a list or make an appointment for the COVID vaccination shots. Many of the seniors in the Hilltowns and remote areas of Albany County find this futile or darn near impossible. 

A couple of the OFs mentioned one particular rule or protocol that makes no sense at all, and that is: Why can’t a husband and wife be vaccinated at the same time?

These OFs were told that the husband can make his appointment and then the wife must make hers, or the husband can make hers but it must be a separate appointment. Hmmm.

One OF explained that his may be on April 15 in Utica, and hers on April 20 in Plattsburgh. Duh, and who knows where and when the second shot will be. Come now, does this make any sense, or are the OFs hearing it wrong?

Next complaint. The OFs opined that calling the 4-4-7 number, as outlined by the county, is a waste of time. The OFs spoken to get the routine answer that all the personnel are busy so leave your name and number and someone will get back to you.

There must be no one there by the name “someone” because that “someone” never calls back. One OF commented that obviously no one works there — only a phone machine with the message that all the personnel are busy etc., etc.

One OF said he sees on TV people getting shots all over the place, and he wonders how in h--- do they do it and who do they know? Is there a secret number that is circulated by an elite few?

This scribe found that the people spoken to are well into the senior age, and most have underlying conditions, like heart trouble, cancer etc., and there they are hung out in limbo.

Most of the OMOTM are doing what they are supposed to be doing (that is most, not all). The OFs are staying home, limiting their outdoor activities to grocery shopping, and going to the doctor’s.

One OF suggested that is where he thinks vaccines should be sent — to their doctors because they know who their senior patients are, and what medical situations their seniors have. One OF even had it all planned out for them so the doctors would not have to worry about shelf-life of the vaccine.

This scribe keeps reporting that, within the Old Men of the Mountain, there is years-on knowledge in many fields, not being a doctor or having a medical degree, but the logistics of handling large groups of people in the most effective way.

This is enough of these complaints. When the number of people in the whole world is thrown into the mix, it makes the problems of the handful of people in Albany County, in the state of New York, in the United States of America, in the Northern Hemisphere, seem like a pimple on the butt of an elephant.

Doing without

This pandemic has shown that many people can do without a lot of things and that may be a good or bad thing. It takes stuff to make the world go around, stuff keeps people making stuff, and people buying stuff.

Even the OFs buy just stuff, but somebody had to make that stuff, whatever it is, or even if the OF needs it or not, but now the OFs are learning to live without stuff because (particularly older) people are afraid to go to the stores and shop, and that puts people out of work.

Virtual church

Even going to church in many cases is now different. In speaking to the Old Men of the Mountain, this scribe learned that many are going to church virtually. They are doing this via Zoom or YouTube.

This seems to work quite well for the church part but the OFs (just like the ones going to the breakfasts) are missing the human part, and to an OG they miss the personal contact. One OF mentioned missing the personal information of the families that are not on his list of close friends but in the OF’s church family.

That is very hard to do when they get together just once a week and stare at a glass screen to see what is going on.


At one point, one OF mentioned he was hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccinations but these shots don’t seem to be happening right now.

Another OF claims there is hope. He said dark is nothing; darkness cannot put out light for, as dim as it is, light can only go out by itself. So, as long as there is a glimmer of light, it will penetrate the darkness and right now there is light at the end of the tunnel — only it is a long tunnel. So say the OFs.

Even though it sounds like the OFs are growing exhausted from this situation they can’t control, this scribe recently received an email from an OF who sent a kitchen hint.

To wit: You know when you buy a bag of salad how it eventually gets all soggy and brown. Cookies don’t do that.

The back-to-back traumas of 2021’s first month disabused any hope that the surreal horrors of last year would be neatly exiled to the safer confines of history. Less unique aberration than a preview of what lies ahead in our slog through millennia’s third decade, even 2020 would’ve been hard-pressed to predict the new year’s Capitol siege or a second presidential impeachment. 

Our national politics are completely dysfunctional, the democratic system through which they’ve long been expressed has frayed beyond total disrepair, the stock market has been exposed as a precarious fraud for the 38 millionth time, and America has jumped the shark. This is the new normal. This is who we are. And I was apparently too engrossed by yet another paralyzing TikTok binge to notice the moment we rampaged past the point of no return. 

Welcome to February. If tomorrow I’m accosted by a sentient killer robot newly escaped from some corporate R&D lab, my only question of it will be: “What took you so long?” Here’s my rundown of what January introduced: 


— Do you even 25th Amendment, Bro?

Despite your willingness to wax eloquent on the 25th Amendment, we both know neither of us has actually read it. Gimme a sec — OK; just skimmed it. Turns out only its fourth section is germane to recent events, and there’s a gaping ambiguity in it: if the 25th Amendment were ever invoked, who would be commander-in-chief of the armed forces? 

The provision details how the vice president would “assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President,” how the president then would “resume the powers and duties of his office,” and back-and-forth. But who’s in control of the military during this procedural chaos? Don’t presume it’s so straightforward.

Is it still the president, or does the vice president’s written declaration of the boss’s unsuitability somehow magically inject him/her into the chain of command as “acting” commander-in-chief, too? During such a tense period, which of these two can issue the lawful orders that the Defense Department is beholden to execute, and might carrying them out subject servicemembers to Nuremberg-style liability? 

The relevance of this inquiry is accentuated by jaw-dropping public dicta in The Washington Post on Jan. 3, 2021, by the 10 living former defense secretaries who reminded uniformed personnel that their sacred oath of service is to the Constitution, not to an individual. The necessity of that unprecedented maneuver should horrify you. 


— Despite architectural advancements, divided houses still cannot stand

I derive a perverse sense of pride from the fact that the gravest threat facing America is, well, Americans. Unable to dominate us militaristically, economically, culturally, or anything-ly, our most pernicious adversaries finally identified the weapon with which they could destroy us: ourselves.

Using made-in-America social media platforms and integrated network technologies, Russia spent half a decade sewing irreparable discord into the fabric of our national identity via fake news and incendiary partisan rhetoric while concurrently hacking its way into the deepest corners of our business and government sectors.

And we mindlessly swallowed the bait hook-line-and-sinker, retreating into ideological camps demarcated by pink pussy beanies on one side and red MAGA caps on the other. The enemy — gleefully incredulous as we sharpen our knives against each other — now whispers, “Divide and conquer” while we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and crank out an unyielding torrent of progressively idiotic memes. 

Are you equally as appalled by the self-assuredness of a citizen populace whose approach to developing opinions is constrained by whatever information fits in 140 characters? Yes, I’m talking about you.

And I’m talking about me — because I haven’t read a book cover-to-cover since 2006, yet I spend hours a week scrolling through news feeds before publishing a monthly column wherein I convince myself that I know what I’m talking about.


— Facial recognition and our digital pocket spies

By the time Big Brother got his act together, all the patents on social control had already been awarded to the masses. Yes, I fully support law enforcement’s phenomenal policework operating hand-in-hand with everyday citizens mining social media accounts to identify the insurrectionists who desecrated the (barely beating) heart of global democracy.

But at least take a second to note the fraught implication of facial recognition technologies, the citizen database we’ve willfully erected on Facebook, and the ubiquitous permeation of video surveillance via our own devices acting in tandem to record and reveal our every move.

The government might mine this data, the corporations might store this data, but we’re the ones producing it — in fervent search of affirmation through clicks, likes, shares, and commercial convenience.

Whether prosecuted in the courts of law or the courts of public opinion, Americans build the case against themselves with every selfie, every tweet, every check-in.  

Only for want of a mirror did George Orwell misapprehend government as the future’s most nightmarish authority. And so it was that riotous conspiracists confident the government is implanting tracking devices into blood streams via the COVID-19 vaccine nonetheless forgot to disable their own phones’ “location data” settings before breaching the Capitol to flash duck-lips for the ‘gram. Faceplant.


— Right the wrong: Write the unwritten

Are you kidding me we don’t know for sure whether our nation’s chief executive has the power to pardon himself? Extending the benefit of the doubt to Founding Fathers who hadn’t imagination sufficiently cynical to anticipate something so craven, that still doesn’t explain why the issue hasn’t been addressed in a Justice Department memo as similarly dispositive as the one pronouncing sitting presidents immune from indictment.

Clearly, our government has outlived the days when it could run primarily on norms, traditions, unwritten rules, and shared values. 

Figure it out, someone. From the filibuster, to the pardon, to the release of a candidate’s tax returns, to tabulating Electoral College votes, to God knows what else was done according to handshakes before COVID came along and eviscerated that last symbol of decorum, get it in writing.

Step 1: Hang for 30 minutes in a Constitutional Law class. 

Step 2: Write down every inane hypothetical the sharp-shooting troublemakers pose in a bid to stump the professor. 

Step 3: Answer those supposedly implausible scenarios in a statute somewhere and let the political pundits get back to shrieking about the week’s latest hashtag.


— Online gambling, a.k.a. “The Stock Market”

I can’t even right now. I’m sorry, but I just can’t even. We’ll talk about it later.


— With age comes wisdom — but, like, to a point

President Joe Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate at age 29, six years younger than would be legal to serve in the office he now holds. Meanwhile, on Jan. 12, 2021, California Senator Diane Feinstein filed re-election paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in advance of her campaign for a sixth Senate term in 2024 — when she’ll be 91. Ladies and gentlemen, that is demented.

Leaving completely aside the issue of term limits — I said enough on that two years ago when The Altamont Enterprise published my call for a 24-year term limit on all legislative and judicial federal offices — we should be uniformly shocked into a disbelieving silence that there’s a minimum age to run for office, but not a maximum one.

No one whines “ageism” when a coed is carded before buying cigarettes, or — for that matter — in requiring presidential candidates to have been born before 1987. But somehow it’s impolitic to suggest that nonagenarians consider retiring from Congress four decades after first qualifying for AARP membership? There are “Old Men of the Mountain” young enough to be Senator Feinstein’s sons. 

You know what hadn’t been invented in 1933, the year Senator Feinstein was born? Take a look around you: about 90 percent of all that. I apologize for permitting my irritation to get the better of me here, but why give someone the keys to Congress when you wouldn’t hand over keys to the car?

I’m sorry, that was gratuitous. But I wouldn’t have gone there had Senator Feinstein just gracefully bowed out after 30 consecutive years in the chamber. Good lord. Maybe America’s most populous state should finally give the Baby Boomers a chance, am I right? 


— The imperiled impotence of implausible impeachments 

When Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1973, he avoided membership in what is, therefore, just a three-person club. Presidential impeachment has occurred just four times in our nation’s history — Andrew Johnson (1868), Bill Clinton (1998), Donald Trump (2020, 2021) — but has resulted in zero Senate convictions.

It never will result in conviction. This month will assuredly unmask impeachment as an utterly toothless charade as insignificant as “governmental censure,” which a quick google search will reveal as even more pointless than you could’ve possibly imagined. (With reference to my above call to formally codify certain protocols of government, censure is one of those things they should actually take off the books.) 

In function, the only utility to impeaching a president at this point is to spice up the American History category in Trivial Pursuit; you’ll never secure accountability against a person whom approximately half the populace perceives as their ideological standard-bearer.

If we can’t even trust a binary to assign gender anymore, why do we still see value in a two-party system? Our government was not forged atop the premise that acknowledging the validity of an opposing team’s argument was tantamount to surrender.

Yet here we are, irreconcilably divided by party because blind rage fuels campaign donations and makes us more susceptible to targeted ads. 

The saddest truth of the Capitol Siege is that the insurrectionists were too late; Congress had already been ransacked by the people we sent there to represent us. But sclerotic paralysis and tribal discord wasn’t their fault; it was ours. We’re the ones who demanded combat over compromise. Own it.


— Ain’t no First Amendment in Twitter’s terms of use

In 2021’s first of presumably many “this is why we can’t have nice things” moments, Silicon Valley banned Donald J. Trump from his social media accounts. And, according to research by Zignal Labs, this deplatforming almost immediately resulted in an estimated 73 percent reduction in blatant misinformation. For those of you celebrating this attempt to sanitize the factual record, consider this: You’re next. And my god, you should be.

Last month, The Enterprise published a column wherein I called on local officials to mobilize an effort to do something about Albany’s decrepit Central Warehouse. That conversation immediately migrated to local radio, social media, and email, where it devolved into partisan bickering.

Online, any guess as to how many messages attributed the revolting state of Albany’s Central Warehouse to either Donald Trump or Joe Biden? One out of two. One out of two! Fifty percent of the people who publicly opined on the merits of demolishing the Central Warehouse believed the titular leader of one of the country’s two (relevant) political parties was directly responsible for an otherwise small and unremarkable matter of municipal mismanagement.

Instead of a reasoned analysis of the pros and cons, instead of community discussion about budgets and concerns, I bore witness in real-time to infighting for its own sake, because what used to inspire debate now elicits the only reflex around which we all rally: trolling. 

Welcome to February, where even pessimism is a luxury to which you’re no longer entitled. The order of the day now is pragmatism, and an exploration of what yet can be salvaged. Pick your metaphor: Is America the Central Warehouse, ugly yet enduring? Or is it the coronavirus, lethal yet nearly subjugated? 

Or is there one of you out there who will please, please just email me about a small, simple act of kindness you performed for an American wearing the other team’s beanie, or the other team’s hat?

Because right now I’m going to bed each night believing that the greatest threat to America comes from within, and that Mexico probably wishes it had paid to complete the border wall when it had the chance.

Captain Jesse Sommer is an active duty Army paratrooper and lifelong resident of Albany County. He welcomes your thoughts at .

Phone calls this week wielded more topics than usual. One was a subject used many times but this one included the pandemic and being holed-up and not going anywhere.

By doing the holed-up, it meant the family vehicle sat idle for long periods of time. This OF never left the house only to go grocery shopping and the occasional doctors’ appointments, so basically, the car just sat, and so did the OF.

The OF said he noticed the brakes were acting funny and the car was not stopping like it should. The OF took the car to his dealer and they said the brakes were rusted and one was completely frozen.

The dealer asked, “How long has this car been sitting around?” and the OF replied, “It has not been driven much.”

The dealer said the OF needed a complete brake job. One brake was frozen so bad they had to “break” the brake to get it off. The OF said this really ticked him off because the rear brakes had only 9,000 miles on them.

The OF never had this type of problem before and did not believe it should have happened. The OF said he argued to no avail and it cost him a grand to get the job done.

The dealer suggested the OG run the car every couple of days just to keep it loose and this wouldn’t happen. The OF said again, “It has never happened before.”

The OF said he then asked a lot of questions. One question was, “What do you do about your own cars on the lot?”

Whether true or not the OF has no idea, but the dealer told him that they check each one before it leaves the lot and sometimes they do have to do a complete brake job before the customer receives the vehicle — hmmmm.

The OF came home and sputtered to his wife, “Remember when we used to go to Wards and for 25 bucks get a whole kit for doing two brakes, and the kit came with all the fixings. Then we would take it home, jack up the car in the driveway, and in an hour or so have repaired the brakes on two wheels. What has happened?”


The only game in town

In another phone call, Spectrum got raked over the coals. One OF complained that Spectrum brought the internet as far as their neighbor’s house and then stopped, and said it was too expensive to continue on down to them.

The OF and this scribe thought there was some kind of agreement with the state and Spectrum that Spectrum; in order for them to keep their contract with the state, they were supposed to supply internet to all the homes in rural areas.

Apparently that is not the case. Spectrum can do what it wants and the state does nothing about it.

Another OF also complained about those guys too. This OF said his bill jumped by $15.50 in one month. That is an 11-percent jump in one month. The OFs thought that was ridiculous.

Then the other OF said, “Well, they are the only game in town; what are we going to do?” The OF was right.


The sky’s not falling

Of course ever one who was talked to commented about the weather. Almost to an OG, they commented on how the weather people treated the oncoming cold like it was getting ready for the atom bomb — it was a larger problem than the virus. It was almost like we have never had cold temperatures and high winds.

One OF did say each station has a seasoned meteorologist that has been with the station for so long he is like a personal friend. These guys surely know the Northeast and what weather we have had (and can have) and it is normal to our section of the country.

One OF said they must be aiming the weather report on newcomers to our area of the country who are not familiar with how our weather can fluctuate from the tropics to the North Pole in just a few hours. Except for this scribe, many OFs went for their morning walks like usual.

One OF said, “So what if it is 6 degrees and the wind is blowing — been there, done that.”

This OF even said that one day it was 8 degrees below zero with high winds, and he took the manure out. Once on the field to be spread, he stood on the wheel of the manure spreader and warmed himself up over the heat of manure.

It is cold, and it will be cold again, but gee-whiz — the sky’s not falling.


Smells like home

It is funny (but then again not that funny) how some of the OFs spoken to are still burning wood. This scribe gave that up a few years ago.

For him, it is now too darn much work, but there is nothing like the farmhouse smell that a woodburning stove adds to the home. A wood fire crackling in the stove in the living room, cinnamon buns in the oven, coffee perking in the percolator, all these beautiful aromas mixing together makes a house smell great.

The new way is to have deodorizers to neutralize the house aromas to nothing, then burn candles to simulate the aroma of choice. Makes no sense to this scribe — except maybe for the cat box after the animal has urinated, which is a tough smell to get rid of.


I am a seenager

(Senior teenager)

Older people often go to another room to get something and when they get there, they stand there wondering what they came for. This is not a memory problem; it is nature’s way of making older people do more exercise.

As I write this, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been in office for 12 days. In that short time, they have arguably done more to improve things than the previous Oval Office occupant did in four years.

They are protecting the environment; helping working people; protecting LGBTQ rights; addressing the issue of climate change; uncaging and reuniting children; and, of course, dealing with COVID in a professional, intelligent, and non-partisan way.

They are staffing the government with people who are actually qualified for their jobs and improving relations with other countries as quickly as possible. They are also imperfect and will make mistakes; they are simple well-meaning humans, after all. Not something that can be said of their predecessors.

At the same time, the folks in the GOP are continuing to spread lies, hatred, divisiveness, conspiracy theories and to play politics with people’s lives. Wingnut du jour Marjorie Taylor Greene of Colorado has just blown all our minds by suggesting that the California wildfires were started by Jewish-controlled space lasers.

Darn, now all the goyim know our big secret. She has also been outed for harassing Parkland survivor and gun-control advocate David Hogg when he was just 17. The woman is a true GOP hero. Her buddy Lauren Boebert suggested murdering other folks in Congress who she doesn’t agree with. But that’s nothing much considering she and some of her buddies want to carry guns on the House floor.

The big dogs in the Senate GOP Sedition Caucus, led by none other than MoscowMitch McConnell and his good buddy Lyin’ Ted Cruz have signaled the upcoming impeachment trial will be another sham. A full 45 of these sycophants voted to declare the trial unconstitutional before it’s even started, showing clearly, they have no intention of convicting he-who-shall-not-be-named of inciting a riot that led to the desecration of the capital and five deaths, and counting.

Just for good measure, the Sedition Caucus is also signaling that it will be fighting against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill as the pandemic continues to claim 3,000 American lives each day. Keep in mind that this is the same party that spent millions of dollars and several years investigating Hillary’s emails and Benghazi, which together resulted in five deaths.

Meanwhile, the Tangerine one is having trouble getting lawyers to join his impeachment defense team for some strange reason. Reports from The New York Times indicate that he insists his lawyers stick with his defense that mass election fraud took place. I guess seeing some of his past lawyers heading for disbarment and subject to multi-billion-dollar lawsuits has soured them on that strategy.

Another tidbit from The New York Times has indicated that, during the last administration, most of our domestic terrorism resources were redirected against folks associated with Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

For those few unfamiliar with that loose confederation of folks united under the Anti-Fascist banner (like the Allied soldiers who fought the Nazis in World War II), no evidence has yet been produced that they posed any major threat to our country.

This, in spite of the fact that some investigators said they were pressured to find evidence by their superiors, none of which was ever found. Kind of like finding invisible weapons of mass destruction in the Gulf War.

This led to little or no oversight of right-wing domestic terrorists and guess what? They stormed the Capitol and five people died. Funny how that happened. But, as was said in a video announcement, they are special people and loved by the last administration.

Remember when President Obama was elected back in 2008 and MoscowMitch publicly stated that his one and only goal was to make him a one-term president? Yup. That happened, and for some strange reason, he failed.

Now, in 2021 he is clearly signaling that, no matter what the country needs, his only goal is to get in the way of any progress by Democrats. But before you suggest that good old Mitch has the country’s best interests at heart, remember that he’s currently worth upwards of $35 million and that he and his wife, the recently resigned Secretary of Transportation, worked together to illegally funnel certain government contracts to his home state of Kentucky.

With Merrick Garland in charge of the Department of Justice, I’m wondering how long it would be before indictments come on down.

And speaking of financial chicanery, let’s not forget that several members of the House and Senate were found to have traded stocks last February-March after a COVID briefing that gave them a true indication of the real nature of the looming catastrophe. This was at the same time the administration was lying to the public about the crisis on a daily basis.

I suspect these folks will also see very different treatment now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  theSecurity and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice are under the control of competent individuals, not criminals.

But I want to end this reality check on an up note. The last administration set a number of records that will likely stand for many years to come and they should be proud of these accomplishments. 

More lies were told (more than 30,000), than any previous administration in the history of our country. More Americans died due to their incompetence and venal practices (nearing 500,000 with 25 million infected and growing daily). That’s more than all the Americans who died in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf wars combined.

And 9/11? Yup, 3,000 died then. The previous administration has been killing off that many people in a day.

They now hold the record for most members indicted and convicted of crimes. They hold the record for increasing the budget deficit, thanks in large part to a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich and the corporations. Everyone else got $1,800 over an entire year.

Yup, that was one impressive record of thievery, incompetence, corruption, and murderous narcissism. I would share one final thought. In order to put the list of accolades we should be heaping on the GOP into proper perspective, we should really rename the party. Instead of Republican Party or Grand Old Party, they should be relabeled in a more accurate manner to the Greed Over People party.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg describes himself as a long-time registered Democrat and political observer; he sees the last four years as a surreal nightmare and the next four as a battle for what’s left of this country.