Learn Guitar with David Brent

The British version of the Office only went on for two seasons, plus a special. The American version just ended after nine seasons, long enough to jump the shark. (Tim and Dawn didn’t get together until the very end of the Christmas special – Jim and Pam got married in season 6. David Brent had left Wernham Hogg by time of the special, but he was a part of the show – Michael Scott disappeared after season 7).

But now that both are done, Ricky Gervais, who played Brent and co-created the series, has revived the Brent character through a series of YouTube videos called “Learn Guitar with David Brent“. You don’t really learn how to play guitar, but Brent’s awkward and clueless arrogance comes out loud and clear. 

Here’s an appropriate one for today – language NSFW. I find ’em. I find ’em. 

Buffalo Mayoral Debate the Third

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By Joe Janiak

There was a third debate Tuesday night between Mayor Byron Brown, his Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert, and his Republican opponent Sergio Rodriguez. I don’t see a full video available online, but the challengers took shots at the sitting Mayor, and Byron gave as good he got – especially against Tolbert. During one exchange, Tolbert said his wife accuses him of being “married” to the city of Buffalo, and Byron retorted that Tolbert must be an “absentee husband”. Rodriguez is energetic and charming – he very effectively gets a one-liner out as his first sentence, and the crowd loves him. (At one point, he echoed President Obama, saying he attributed the successful waterfront to  “Mayor Higgins…I mean Congressman Brian Higgins.” Good stuff). I like that more people get to see him during a prime-time debate that’s been broadcast on TV. 

Brown tried to play an interesting card last night, accusing his opponents of “tearing Buffalo down” when, in fact, they’ve been tearing Mayor Brown down

There were questions about education, with Tolbert and Rodriguez accusing Brown of letting the schools crumble around him, but Brown pointed to a very recent donation of city money to restore music programs as evidence of his engagement. Rodriguez retorted that, with the graduation rate having dropped from 54% to 47%, maybe we don’t need the Mayor’s involvement.  Candidates did not support a “full” state takeover of the schools, but didn’t explain what sort of a partial takeover they’d prefer. Rodriguez pointed to Yonkers and New York City as successful examples of mayoral control of schools. 

Brown’s record on crime was attacked, with Tolbert and Rodriguez pointing out that the numbers don’t really reflect positive change in the crime rate, (see below, e.g.). Brown’s challengers also pointed out the perception of safety and quality of life, insisting that uniformed cops walking a beat in a neighborhood would be a great first step towards actual safety, involved policing, and the perception of safety. Rodriguez noted that the city spent $11 million on police overtime last year, and we could instead hire 200 new cops to walk a beat throughout Buffalo neighborhoods.  

Eileen Buckley brought up an interesting question – how do we stabilize the West and East sides and halt these demolitions of dilapidated properties. I don’t remember anyone asking that question in front of so wide an audience before. Tolbert said cranes are nice on the waterfront and all, but the city is ignoring the neighborhoods. Rodriguez said we need the city to help bridge the gap between neighborhood activists and developers, and we need to fight for women and minorities to get development jobs. Mayor Brown proudly touts the demolition of 4,700 buildings – I guess an urban prarie is better than dilapidated squalor, but God is it really something to be proud of? 23,000 vacant buildings? 

Bob McCarthy asked about the NY SAFE gun control act, and Mayor Brown finally stopped fumfering and said that he backed it. He also went out of his way to tell us how many pages it was, and that he read “every bit of it.” What a waste of time. Rodriguez said he agreed with some of it and not with other parts, but criticized the Mayor’s gun buy-backs. Tolbert echoed Rodriguez’s hit on the gun buybacks – that we need to get guns away from criminals, and not use “stunts”. 

Sergio blew Byron away on the issue of jobs, noting that summer jobs for youth aren’t what anyone’s talking about, and we need real jobs for real families, and Brown can’t say there’s been “progress” when the city’s unemployment rate is at a 20 year high. Brown claimed that donations to his campaign is not a quid pro quo for a City Hall job, but Sergio blew that away, calling it a “cultural fear” that funds his campaign. Tolbert accused the administration of soliciting city employee contributions by taking it directly from their paychecks periodically; he pledged to never solicit donations from developers or employees. 

Lastly, here’s an infographic of Buffalo homicide stats that Redditor SunnyDelish put together, using Buffalo Police Department data: 

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele

I don’t understand 95% – 99% of what’s being said in this video, but who cares? This is L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, regarded as the best pizza in the world. Here’s how it’s made. 

 

More Pizza

Recently, my pizza hobby was the subject of a Buffalo News write-up. Well, yesterday I got to try out a new device born out of a brilliant collaboration between the people behind the KettlePizza and the company behind the Baking Steel. They are, coincidentally, both Massachusetts-based companies that did not collaborate until now. Their products are proudly made in the USA.

Before, I used the Kenji Lopez-Alt hack, where a Baking Steel was positioned on the top grate, on top of the KettlePizza, and then covered with tin foil. The unique properties of the steel help radiate heat downward to get the tops of the pizza done – always a tricky thing when most of the heat is coming up from below. Now, thanks to the KettlePizza and Baking Steel people getting to know each other, I have this:

That’s the new Baking Steel that will soon be available as an add-on. (UPDATE: It’s available now). The folks at KettlePizza sent me one gratis to get my thoughts on it. I used one chimney of briquettes, a bit of hardwood charcoal, and two pieces of wood – one with the coals, shoved as far back as possible, and one sawed in half that was placed in the back basket. I tried to keep as little heat directly under the stone as possible, and the results with the new setup were fantastic.

For instance, here’s a “before” (onions, cheese, fried eggplant, sauce):

Here’s the “after”:

The tops got done better and faster than before, and it was infinitely easier to do set-up and to add fuel as the heat began to go down.

Photos and Politics

Posting will be sort of light the next few weeks as the summer break drifts to a close and the school year begins in a flurry of binders and looseleaf paper. A few things, then. 

1. Do you guys like the photo of the day? Do you miss it? Do you want it back? 

2. If you read nothing else this week, please read this piece at Rustwire (thanks to Kevin Purdy for the tip). Substitute “Buffalo” for “Cleveland” or “Youngstown” and you’ll see that problems in rust belt cities transcend mere party politics and have more to do with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy and a lot of media attention being paid to all the superficial things while glossing over the important, systemic problems. If there is one thing I’ve tried to do since starting a blog, it’s been to draw more attention to the cracks in the foundation, rather than the leaky roof. 

3. I don’t know the first thing about the school or its underlying issues, but it is absolutely unconscionable to announce the shut-down of the Pinnacle Charter School a mere 2 weeks before the school year starts. Disgusting and unforgivable. The state Department of Education must be led by insane people. 

4. Colin Dabkowski’s piece calling the Board of Education “theater of the absurd” and writing it up as a theater review is up, and brilliant

5. Donn Esmonde, continues pecking away for some reason, despite being “retired”.  Here, he lectures the world about the high cost of higher education. I don’t know why we should care about his own personal problems with this particular issue, and I don’t understand necessarily how a ranking of college value will factor in the notion of public service, rather than income potential. In any event, we get yet another glimpse into the life of a union family that, without irony, has a semi-retired paterfamilias who denigrates the notion of higher education for anyone living outside of an arbitrary political boundary.  On Sunday, he took some time out from throwing Bernie Tolbert under the bus and completely ignoring Sergio Rodriguez’s existence to tell us that Byron Brown isn’t all that good of a mayor. Yet the last 1/4 or so of the piece extols how it’s gotten “easier” for certain developers to do business with city hall. Of course it has – it all depends on whose campaign coffers you’re busy stuffing. (See # 2, above). Maybe Donn shouldn’t have told us what a great mayor Byron would be. 

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Trolling #POTUSBuffalo and What Government Is

 Some showed class. Some were absent. Others descended into a weird, anachronistic madness. It was a weird day. 

Let’s recall that the only times a member of the Bush Administration deigned to visit our fair city, it was Richard “Dick” Cheney coming in 2003 to collect big money from deep pockets – $1,000 per plate, and Bush in 2004 to a carefully selected crowd to defend the Patriot Act.  Cheney cost the city $10,000 in police overtime and avoided contact with non-wealthy non-Republicans at all cost. I don’t recall what, if anything, the Democrats did or said in reaction to those visits, but suffice it to say that Cheney wasn’t here for anything except raising money for re-election, and Bush only saw the Buffalonians he needed to see. 

Some Republicans showed class. 

 

There was the time the President forgot who the Mayor of Buffalo was.

(Byron Brown’s Democratic opponent capitalized on this moment:)

Then there was everything else.

Obama has come to town twice. Once in 2010, and this Thursday. He came to town specifically to announce a new initiative to guarantee that American kids who want a college education can get a quality one that is affordable. 

In 2010, he came to talk about manufacturing. Everyone was there – Congressman Chris Lee, County Executive Chris Collins included. 

In 2013, he came to talk about education. Chris Collins was nowhere to be seen. I’m told he wasn’t invited. In just one short year, the Collins district has gone from Kathy Hochul having the President’s ear and the district having clout, to an angry Obamaphobe congressman who votes to repeal Obamacare, because his singular issue is to deny families access to quality, affordable health insurance. The 27th Congressional District has a disgrace for a representative – a person who seeks to harm, not help, families. 

When I first started writing this post late Thursday, it was going to be a profanity-laden rant against the Erie County Republican Committee, which released what is probably the dumbest statement, ever. It compared President Obama to, of all people, Jimmy Carter – a punchline from 35 years ago. 

Erie County GOP Trolls

Erie County GOP Trolls

But I decided not to. I realized they were trolling us. To rant and curse would suggest that there was some legitimacy to anything the local Republican Party has to say about anything. There isn’t, so I haven’t. Simply put, anyone who would knowingly compare the economic crises (plural) of the Carter era to 2013 America is either a party hack or someone who wasn’t alive during the Carter era;  Erie County Republican chairman Nick Langworthy is both. 

Evoking Jimmy Carter is a sign of fundamental weakness; the Republicans had to skulk back 35 years to find a Democratic President who had a bad economic time of it. Were they out of Paula Jones jokes? In 2013, We don’t gave gas lines, OPEC isn’t bothering anyone, inflation isn’t 13%, unemployment isn’t in the double-digits, and we don’t have crazy high interest rates on borrowing. All of those things were true in the closing months of Carter’s presidency. Operation Neptune Spear succeeded while  Operation Eagle Claw failed. There is really no comparison to be had. 

Why the Carter troll? Because after him came Reagan, who is godlike among Republicans. They think that Reagan fixed the economy in perpetuity by ushering in supply-side, trickle-down economics.  Both parties had until recently clung to the trickle-down theory as gospel truth, yet in the last 30 years wages have stagnated, the middle class is bearing the brunt of payoffs to the very rich, and the lot of the average American family has been made worse so that people like the Kardashians and Kochs can pay lower taxes. 

Why the Carter troll? Because it’s stupid and they’ve got nothing. Bush’s recession was the worst since World War 2 in terms of overall economic shrinkage. The worst. So, the numbers now seem catastrophic as we try to undo the damage. Facts being facts, WNY didn’t do so well under Reagan, either. Or Bush 1. Or Bush 2. Or Clinton. Why the Carter troll? They point to figures showing that the number of people participating in the labor market has shrunk to 1980 levels. The problem is that no one really knows what’s behind that. The pinkos over at the Wall Street Journal suggest that the labor participation rate was shrinking even during low unemployment of the Bush 2 years, because of the commencement of baby boomer retirement (it tracks nicely with boomer engagement in the market). The cadres at JP Morgan confirm it

So the trolls at ECRC are blaming Obama for the retirement of aging baby boomers. 

But it also reconfirms just how patently anti-individual, anti-consumer, and anti-middle class the Republicans have become.

As the Republicans in Congress vote for the 30th+ time to repeal Obamacare, and as they release obnoxiously false and misleading, trolling press statements bringing up bogeymen from 35 years ago, realize these two fundamental truths: 

1. The Republican opposition to Obamacare is a reflection of their platform, which would deny average Americans the right and ability to obtain quality, affordable health insurance. A repeal of Obamacare brings back lifetime maximums, denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions, the wonder of medical bankruptcy, an inability for people not on Medicaid or Medicare to get affordable insurance unless provided through an employer. 

2. The President was in town to announce an initiative to provide average American kids access to quality, affordable higher education. Since when did the Republicans decide that this was not a civic or social goal?  

Why has the Republican Party declared war on providing average people with things to keep them alive or to educate their kids? I don’t get it. But they’re so dead-set on this that they will beclown themselves with 30 year-old Johnny Carson jokes.  

At one point, Langworthy’s statement read as follows, 

After ushering in an era of economic malaise not seen since Jimmy Carter, President Obama comes to one of the most unemployed cities in the nation to tout more college educations for our young people,” Langworthy said. “We need jobs now – we already have thousands of college graduates unemployed in Erie County.”

“The prescription for job creation has been proven and tested by time: government needs to get out of the way of business,” Langworthy said. “Instead the Administration is creating a raft of job-killing regulations and, with ObamaCare, transforming our nation into a part time workforce.”

Just once, I’d like to see a Republican take the side of the average person instead of big business. Just once, I’d like a Republican to say, “I think the health insurance system we have is too expensive and not geared towards patient needs. I don’t like Obamacare, but I agree that we need to find affordable ways to guarantee that no American is found wanting for medical care they need”. Just once, I’d like a Republican to say, “We need to grow the middle class, and restore the social mobility that has stagnated over the past generation. We need to encourage and help people to get an affordable college education”. These sorts of statements used to be uncontroversial.

“Talking about a college education for everyone in Buffalo is like offering a starving man tap shoes,” Langworthy said. “Thanks for stopping by Mr. President. Erie County needs jobs.”

Usually, when you present a wildly stupid simile like that, you tend to explain what you mean. What does Langworthy mean here? The President said that the unemployment rate for college graduates is 1/3 what it is for people without one. Is Langworthy saying here that Buffalo kids don’t need college? Is he saying that they are just a bunch of willing labor-meat, ready to operate machinery that long ago escaped to Mexico or China?  And what happened to entrepreneurship? Sure, we need jobs, but used to be a Republican would tell someone to go and make their own job. I guess not so much. Labor-meat. 

Given the extremely high rate of school failure in the city – led by a mayor who has Conservative Party backing, you’d think that the Republicans would follow all of this bluster up with a credible Republican candidate for Mayor.

Funny you should think that.

Buffalo has a credible, hard-working Republican candidate. Education is high on his agenda. Yet Langworthy isn’t just passively ignoring, but actively shunning Sergio Rodriguez. Education is the biggest issue of our time, especially in Buffalo; not except.

Sure, we also need strong training and apprenticeship in the trades, but the unions used to do that and we all know what Republicans think of those.

Improving our public schools and guaranteeing every kid access to higher education is a goal that no credible politician would reject, but the Erie County Republican Committee did just that. The statistics show that a college education leads to better jobs and job prospects. Langworthy ridicules this and mocks the notion of social mobility. It’s shameful. 

It’s downright un-American. 

As the President came to town, Langworthy added petulance to the mix: 

 

So, look up at the picture Derek Gee from the Buffalo News tweeted – it’s at the top of this post. People were clearly excited about a sitting President coming to town. Yet, while Langworthy was whining about the local media fawning all over the most powerful man in the world being in town, his colleague from the National Republican Campaign Committee wrote that the President wouldn’t get any “Buffalove”. Which is it? 

Buffalo showed Obama love and excitement. Buffalonians like the idea of making life easier for the middle class. We like the notion that people should have access to a quality and affordable college education, just like we think people should have access to quality, affordable health insurance. We’re that old-fashioned bit of flyover country that thinks people deserve a fair shot in exchange for hard work – whether it be through brains or brawn. The problems we face as a region are decades in the making, and most of them have bipartisan or nonpartisan causes. 

I haven’t been a Republican since 2003 – this sort of nonsense is why. If you’re an Erie County Republican, thank Ray Walter for being a respectful guy with class. If you’re an Erie County Republican, tell Nick Langworthy that he embarrassed you today. If you’re a resident of NY-27, now you know that you’re effectively unrepresented in Congress. 

#Buffalove: What is it Good for?

Image via behance.net

“Buffalove” is a portmanteau of “Buffalo” and “love”, often seen hashtagged on Twitter when someone plunks 130 other characters about some thing or event around Buffalo of which s/he approves. 

But what does it really mean? Is Buffaloving something akin to a declaration that it’s good enough? At what point do we demand more? What is the interplay between good things we like and the local leadership that is uniquely positioned to expand or enhance it? How many opportunities are we missing or losing by being satisfied, and “Buffaloving” something? 

It’s a long-running gag that we don’t really want to make Buffalo better – we like it just the way it is. “Keep Buffalo Lame” was a popular t-shirt we sold at WNYMedia back in the day. We like our weather, our 20 minute drives, our shopping is ok, certain parts of the city seem to be doing better, what’s not to Buffalove? 

Brad Riter, Chris Smith, and I discussed it at length in this Trending Buffalo podcast: 

http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/TB08-21-13buffalove.mp3

Dabkowski Goes to the Theater

On Wednesday night, #Buffalo struck Twitter gold: