ANYONE WHO’S VENTURED east of Claverack knows that darkness lurks there. This isn’t a metaphorical judgment on the far side of the Taconic State Parkway; it’s a fact. Along the highway and in many parts of the surrounding communities, cell phones might as well be pet rocks.
Engineers sometimes refer to places with no mobile phone service as “dark areas,” and folks familiar with this region know that the cell phone Twilight Zone along the Taconic extends north from the Columbia County line until you approach Chatham. Some people may welcome electronic isolation, but this technology has become an essential tool of life around the world, and almost nothing holds back its advance… except money.
AS A FORMER MOTORCYCLE OWNER, I can assure you that you don’t have to be rich to like riding one of these machines. But when you want to ride on your own mile-long motorcycle track, it probably helps to be a multi-millionaire.
Or maybe not. So far Alan Wilzig, heir to a banking fortune and a Town of Taghkanic resident, has built a track that he can’t yet use because until last week he didn’t have permission from the town to pave the twisting course. The Ducati motorcycles he rides aren’t made for dirt tracks.
A week ago the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decided that he could go ahead and pave because he promised he would use it not as a racetrack, as he originally implied by dubbing his property Wilzig Racing Manor, but instead would operate as a “club or recreation” use under town zoning law. That sounds like a more sedate activity.
Fight obesity with knowledge
WHAT ARE YOU EATING? With all the health and food scares going around these days, maybe none of us really wants to know. But that’s not what the data say. As it turns out, when we know more—and more accurate—information, we make better choices. Sometimes.
That fact came up in a new initiative by Governor David Paterson this week to have restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets and other ready-to-eat food suppliers owned by large chains reveal to consumers how many calories are in the food they sell. New York City already has a law like this on the books.
At least one local lawmaker has derided the governor for taking his attention off the more pressing problems facing the state. But that criticism misses the point. The nation has a big fat problem, and a labeling requirement that made everybody more aware of the calories in each serving of fast food might make a small but important difference in our wallets.
That’s right. Obesity is a financial issue, but not because we spend more on fast food per capita than the rest of the world, although we do. The hidden cost of obesity lies in the impact it has on what we pay now and what we will pay in the future for healthcare.
WHY IS IT that voters say they care about what government does with their money but so many are no-shows when they have a chance to influence where their money goes? Lots of smart people have tried to explain this phenomenon, but we have yet to hear a plausible reason for the most glaring example of this disconnect: school budget elections.
More than a decade ago state lawmakers mandated that all public school districts outside of major cities hold their annual budget vote and the election of school board members on the same day statewide. This year that date is this Tuesday, May 19, and all six public school districts in the county are asking voters for approval of relatively modest spending proposals, with tax levies—the amounts to be raised by property taxes—rising between one-and-a-half and four percent (except in New Lebanon, where the levy would not rise at all). See our chart on Page 7.
WHEN SHOULD SELF INTEREST yield to civic duty? Let’s rule out sudden acts of civilian heroism and put aside those who risk their lives on a daily basis in the military, where a commitment to public duty above all else is part of the job description. Consider instead ordinary working people asked to decide between selflessness and selfishness when their jobs are at stake. How clear is that line?
That question has come up a lot recently in the public sector as well as private industry, as teachers have faced requests by school boards desperately seeking to keep a lid on property taxes, and the state has struggled to cope with a deficit unlike any in modern memory.