CNY Speaks: Second forum

I wrote yesterday about the first CNY Speaks forum Thursday, and then I went off to the second incarnation Sunday afternoon.

I'm starting to see these forums as interesting, necessary evils.

Don't get me wrong – just like the first one, there were a lot of interesting people with tons of good ideas in the room, but the action plan on this is to have public forums with candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature in the spring, ahead of the 2009 local elections.

That feels like a long way off, and we need some change now.

Sunday's incarnation was smaller, with about 40 people in the crowd.

I sat at a table with a young artist and two retirees, one of whom is actively involved with (or leads, maybe?) the CNY Public Art Forum, which hopes to get a public art space open in downtown Syracuse.

As with Thursday, our two top issues were public perception of downtown and storefront development.

Moving the bus hub also came up, for the second time, as did cutting red tape for potential small business owners.

I still think I'm getting something out of going to these, even if, at least at my seat, we're talking about some of the same issues: it's different people, with different ideas and different desires.

Action items for me include writing letters to Centro, the development committee and the MOST to think about moving the bus hub up to the old trolley ramp behind the museum. I think the MOST will get on board because it gives them more visibility, and since it's already an existing structure, the city won't have to enforce its eminent domain taking of the Red Cross building.

Sean Kirst also showed up to this one; here is his take.

CNY Speaks

The local newspaper, The Post-Standard, several months ago appointed Greg Munno to the position of Civic Engagement editor.

His first task was to launch a blog called CNY Speaks.

His second task was to create a series of public forums to discover what people felt would help improve downtown.

The first of the three forums was Thursday evening. It drew about 90 people. The goal was to get them talking about the results of a survey (PDF) that outlined some of the issues people had with downtown.

We were distributed at registration into tables. I sat with two real estate agents, an employee at an architecture firm, owners of two downtown businesses, a reporter (there as a citizen), someone who has had trouble opening a downtown business, and a retiree who is an advocate for various causes.

Also in the crowd were other reporters-as-citizens, developers, at least one person from Adapt CNY, and a bunch of other people who had bright ideas about what we could do with downtown.

Not in the crowd: Mayor Matt Driscoll, any member of the Syracuse Common Council, or people with overarching negative ideas about downtown.

For me, while the large attendance was a big success, those absences were a big problem.

There's a second go at the forum today (Sunday) at 2 p.m., and a third Tuesday at 6 p.m. I'm going today, and if there's a significantly different crowd with different ideas today than there was Thursday, I'll also go Tuesday.

My concern, though, is that we're in danger of ending up with a lot of good ideas, a great series in the newspaper, and nothing in the way of implementation.

For me, what could vastly improve downtown is a change in public perception. Sure, there are vacant store fronts, and more businesses downtown would certainly bring people. So would affordable housing – I'm sorry, but $1,250-per-month lofts don't fly when you're trying to attract young professionals in a market where they're lucky to make $30,000 a year.

But let's face it. One of the things people are most concerned about is safety, because they read about a lot of crime. They don't read far enough into the story to understand that most of that crime happens when drunk people are wandering the streets between 1 and 4 a.m. I'm not exactly an imposing figure, and I walked from Armory Square to the Hotel Syracuse (10 blocks or so) with a laptop on my shoulder to get to the forum. I never questioned my safety.

Could downtown use more people? Absolutely. Can we do it without public officials and an action plan? Absolutely not.

Who will step up? They might have my vote in 2009 local races.

Friday at the Turning Stone Resort Championship

I have shot nine holes of golf in my life.

This is enough to give me an appreciation of golf as a skill.

I am not a fan of golf.

That said, I think golf courses are a work of landscaping beauty, and any excuse to spend some time outside during October, not to mention during a workday, is good enough for me.

I took the trip out to see some of the Turning Stone Resort Championship Friday, the second day of tournament play, the last round before they make the cut.

About the time we got there, play had to be suspended for hail.

Some of my co-workers decided to leave, but I had a good feeling about the weather. I walked them to the gate, and by the time I made it back to the 12th hole, the sun was out and players were back on the course.

I spend some five hours out there, all told; I followed some threesomes for a couple of holes, and I spend some time at various tees or cups watching several groupings drive or putt.

I saw local pro Jeff Reader, top amateur Danny Lee, and famous pros like Davis Love III, Bo Van Pelt and Jesper Parnevik.

Last year, I sent my grandfather – a die-hard golf fan who has since passed away – my groupings sheet, my press pass, and other various items from the tournament. He called it a "packet from heaven."

The course is very long, and quite beautiful. Here's an interactive tour the newspaper put together that garnered quite a bit of acclaim last year, including from the Golf Channel.

Despite the weather, people appear to be handling the course well, including 30-year D.J. Gregory, who has a severe form of cerebral palsy but is walking every hole on the PGA tour this year.

All in all, it's a very calming space: lots of green, lots of quiet, and plenty of space to walk around.

The weekend in food prep; plus, an engagement

Beans getting ready for a pot of meaty, spicy chili. I slow-cook my chili; it takes a minimum of 30-something hours to be complete, and I generally make enough to eat for a week, and give some away. If you're local and you'd like some, feel free to leave a comment, and we'll figure out how to get you a serving or so.

Amy and Dwayne are getting married(!). They held a house-warming yesterday, and Dwayne proposed not long after Amy's parents arrived.

They really are an interesting couple. In addition to being a real racial mix – he is the son of a black man from the U.S. and a white woman from Poland, she is the Korean-born adopted daughter of a white couple – they are very different people with tastes that overlap in the right places.

When Amy invited me to the house-warming, she asked me to make stuffed jalapeño peppers.

Here is what they looked like before they went into the oven:

The steps are easy to remember; the preparation is not simple. They are stuffed only with cream cheese.

To do this, soften the cream cheese (I just leave it out of the refrigerator for a while), take the seeds out of the peppers, and put the cream cheese in the peppers.

I then put them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Seeding and stuffing the peppers is something that takes some practice. I wore gloves this time, because usually when I make them, I deal with some level of pain for a few days, with oils from the pepper invading tiny open wounds, like dry skin or paper cuts.

Wearing gloves also gave me the idea that I could just stick my fingers in the cream cheese and fill the jalapeños that way. It turned out to be much easier than the spoon or knife methods I'd previously experimented with.

I went about half-and-half fancying the peppers up; I like them as they are, so I left them that way. Others I laid on a piece of roasted red pepper, added a Manzanillo olive (stuffed with pimiento) and a Buffalo-flavored cheese curd, for this result:

It went over fine, but I think I'm going to stick to just the peppers in the future.

I'll try to remember to get a photo of a bowl of chili up when it's finally ready to eat. Be warned, though: No, you can't have the recipe.

Movie review: Choke (semi-spoilers)


We saw Choke on Saturday. This was the book that got me hooked on Chuck Palahniuk.

David Fincher did such an awesome job with Fight Club, though the box office draw for it was low. So Clark Gregg had quite a challenge ahead of him: do artistic justice to a really good, but really tough, book, and still put some butts in seats.

For opening weekend, it was only on one screen in town. We went to a 4:25 showing, and the 67-seat theater was almost full.

Gregg's version is very commercially viable. It's short (run time is around 90 minutes), and he managed to get an R rating on it (the book is very NC-17).

He didn't have an easy time of it, but he did.

I clearly am not alone in thinking it was an OK interpretation.

Palahniuk fans are, admittedly, a hard bunch to please.

I went with someone who had not read the book, and the only Palahniuk she was familiar with was Survivor, which looked like it was going to be optioned as a film, but, well, 9/11 happened, so no more airplanes crashing on purpose for a while.

She was very conflicted about the movie, on a "I really shouldn't like this, but I kinda do" level.

I enjoyed it on a "this is entertainment, and I'm glad I spent an hour and a half in a theater watching it" level (especially with the dinner that followed).

But, yeah, it was an OK interpretation. Victor bottoms out in a much different place, and the intricacies of the choking scam aren't fully revealed. For me, that was really the brilliant part of the character – that he's got a really good ledger system for it, despite the fact that he's a royal screw-up in most other parts of his life.

Anyway, see it. If you enjoy movies, see it for the diversion. If you enjoy Palahniuk for the art of Palahniuk, see it because if you want more of his books to be optioned, this needs to do well.

The view from the white corner

The best thing I ever saw Catherine Orland do was manage to not deck Joel Ackerson when he asked her if we still needed women's music festivals. You know, because women are equal and all that.

Simiarly, white privilege is so dead. Umm, yeah. Sure it is, if you say so. Mitch posted this, and you need to watch it. And I'll definitely be following This Week in Blackness now.

Also, if you want to give Tim Wise a hug, you can find him here.

Book reviews: Torpedo Juice and The Big Bamboo by Tim Dorsey

After a desperate cry for fiction recommendations on Twitter a few weeks ago, Mitch came through with shout for Tim Dorsey.

So, I headed over to the local library and grabbed Torpedo Juice and The Big Bamboo.

They were both lots of fun.

First off, let me warn you away from these books if farcical, derivative work bothers you. Because seriously, you're going to recognize:

• Buddy films
• Jack Kerouac
• Hunter Thompson
• Jimmy Buffett
• Coen Brothers
American Psycho

And that's off the top of my head at 6:15 on a Friday morning.

Dorsey was a reporter for 12 years, then started writing novels about Florida.

This is going to be more of a character review than a pair of book reviews, because it's the main characters, Serge and Coleman, who make the stories.

Coleman is an obese drug-abusing alcoholic. He's a classic bumbler who somehow makes it through life as a sidekick without messing things up too much.

Serge is a teetotaling serial killer and scam artist who only kills and scams people who really need it – like nursing home developers who close down, rebuild, then reopen, kicking all their Medicare patients out.

Serge is the mastermind, an obsessive sociopath you really want to hand a glass of Scotch and tell to chill the heck out (although he does camp out and meditate when necessary, and always enjoys a sunrise).

Coleman really just isn't sure what's going on, but he can follow instructions at least 40 percent of the time, and the reader is always left guessing which 40 percent it will be.

Anyway, these books are fun. Go read them. There will be some available at the DeWitt Community Library sometime after lunch.

Tuesday night dinner

The lack of saturation on the cell phone photo doesn't do dinner justice.

Andrea's garden had quite the yield this season, and I was the happy recipient of some of the late-summer variety: red and yellow tomatoes, cucumber, squash, beans, a few peas (and also some recently canned peaches, not included in dinner).

The tomatoes, beans and peas were cooked in: (roughly) 2:2:1 butter:brandy:Southern Comfort, with mustard seed, celery salt and chili paste to taste. Cucumbers and squash were simmered separately in a little bit of olive oil with mustard seed and celery salt.

All veggies were combined and served over steamed white rice.

Eaten with a glass of Just Peachy by Swedish Hill.

Yum, as it were.

Chiefs, Nationals sign development contract

Here are some thoughts on the new two-year development agreement the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs signed with the Washington Nationals, but to tell you the truth, I think I said most of it when I predicted last Tuesday it would happen.

Someone, though, did ask me last night why he should be excited about such a mediocre parent club coming in. My feeling is two-fold: (a) do you go with someone who has a history of bringing mediocre teams here, or with someone who might surprise us? and (b) someone showed some real interest in the community; that's never a bad thing.

So, good luck to the new wave...

Dome, Saturday

It almost seemed orchestrated when this dude started climbing over the seat in front of him, and his buddy yanked his shirt. Dude slid back into his chair without spilling a drop of beer.

Two things you should know about me before I continue:

(a) I'm not a college sports fan; I'm not going to justify that to you, just know that I grew up very much attached to the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots, and never really had a reason to follow sports at the college level.

(b) I'm a Syracuse transplant, as of five years ago. The only real reason I have to root for Syracuse University athletics is that this town in general, and my work environment in particular, is absolutely miserable when the Orange are losing.

When a friend asked me why no one was going to football games, I told her that if you want butts in seats, you have to put a good product on the field, and, failing that, you have to play in an arena that is enough of an attraction to bring people in.

I asserted the SU football team had neither going for it. I also had to admit I had never been to a football game at the Carrier Dome, although I have been there for basketball games and other, non-sporting events.

Also, I'm firmly of the opinion that football's an outdoor sport. Just saying.

So, that friend and her SO joined Mitch and me for the homecoming game on Saturday.

Syracuse beat Northeastern 30-21.

This was the Orange's first win of the season. And a little sad, considering that Northeastern also came into the game winless, but is in an entirely different division than Syracuse. That is, Syracuse beat a team that isn't expected to compete with any team at the Orange's level.

And only by nine points.

Also, take into account that this was homecoming weekend (always want to do your best to guarantee a win there), and that while the announced crowd was something like 36,000, there were actually more like 14,000 people there (the 36,000 is the "paid attendance" figure, so you're talking season ticket holders who don't come to every game, and since it's homecoming weekend, there were probably thousands of tickets comped to celebrity alums, class presidents, and others from the past 60 years who didn't show up).

Axe has a much better analysis than I'd ever draw up.

So, yeah, this team is not the sort of product that draws people, and now having been to a football game at the Dome, I don't think the venue alone is drawing many people: the seats aren't comfortable unless you bring pads (if you haven't been there – they're actually bleachers, so you're very much bumping up against the people next to you), the concessions are even more expensive than at the local Triple-A ballpark, and you kind of feel like you're missing out on something that's going on in a different place if you walk the concourse during the game.

The thing I did really like? Good hecklers.