Thursday, March 25, 2010


In Montgomery there is a serious anti-walking culture. This incident is pretty representative of the attitude people have towards walking:

I went out to eat lunch with someone at a place where you order sandwiches to go. We placed our order and were told that the wait would be 15 minutes. I told the person I was with that there was a store down and around the street that I wanted to check out -- a .2 mile distance according to google maps. I started walking down the street and the person I was with headed towards my car, expecting that we would drive to the store. I think that they were genuinely shocked that I was planning on walking the distance, which I insisted we do. I cannot fully comprehend how anyone would believe it's reasonable to drive a .4 mile round trip, especially when it's not hot, cold, raining, etc.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Babka catching on in Alabama

Every time I go to New York I bring back chocolate Babka and Rugelach from Zabar's.

No one down here has ever heard of them before (and no one watched Seinfeld -- cinnamon is a "lesser babka"). But they've caught on with my co-workers. Now, other people are bringing them back from Zabar's when they're in New York. I feel like I've successfully imported a little yiddish yank culture down South.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Last Saturday I went to Atlanta to hear the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra perform the Mahler 3.

Because I wanted to see the spectacle of the bingo rally in Montgomery at noon, I didn't make it to Atlanta until 4:30 PM. As a result of the limited amount of time I had, I mainly hung out around the mid-town area.

The main point of interest was Piedmont Park:

The park includes: open grass areas, recreational fields, lake, and botanical gardens.

I was captivated with how in the mid-town area, a suburban-esque residential neighborhood butts up right against a business district with office towers.

Here's the view looking down a street near Piedmont Park:

And here's the view when I turn 180 degrees:

And these are the homes on the right side of the street:

But if you turn back around and head half a mile towards the office buildings, this is the view:

I thought that was kinda crazy.

The Orchestra was pretty good. Technically excellent, but devoid of a unique sound. Robert Spano lead an efficient performance, but it lacked the interpretational insight that someone like Michael Gielen brings to the Mahler 3. Gielen, for instance, pushes the woodwinds and brass to the front of the balance, and isn't afraid to let them sound raw and vulgar. But still, it was well worth the 320 mile drive (roundtrip). It's so much more fun to hear the music live than on recording.

Finally, I used my time in Atlanta to eat as much sushi as possible -- something that Montgomery lacks.

Some other pictures:

A museum cannot official be called a museum unless there is a Calder.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Right to play bingo = civil rights

Since I last wrote about the Alabama Bingo Wars, the situation has only further escalated. To briefly recap, gambling in Alabama is illegal, but bingo is legal in certain counties, and bingo machines, which are really just slot machines, are legal if they meet certain criteria set by the State Supreme Court. The Governor has declared that none of the machines in the state meet the criteria (he has no way of really knowing this) and he is trying to shut all of the bingo halls down.

Bingo halls have shut down on their own in order avoid being raided by the Governor’s anti-gambling taskforce. Even if the bingo machines are legal, the owners of the bingo halls rightly believe that once their machines are removed for inspection (and assets onsite seized), it will take months of legal wrangling to get them back. As a result, hundreds of workers (or thousands – it depends on who you ask) are now out of a job.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the State Senate tried and failed to pass a bill that would place a question on the ballot that would let the voters to decide if gambling should be legalized in Alabama. While the bill was terribly written, the bill’s death was a PR nightmare for the Governor. 1) The Governor has taken the position that the people should not be allowed to decide if gambling should be legalized and has failed to articulate just why; and 2) His objection to gambling is that it’s immoral, and yet, he accepted campaign contributions from Native American tribes that own casinos in Mississippi. Further, the former head of his anti-gambling taskforce got caught winning a jackpot at a Mississippi casino, and the current head of the taskforce accepted $100k in gambling money when he unsuccessfully ran for Attorney General a few years ago.

The jobs issue has become the chief rallying cry of the bingo operators, and last weekend they blew on Oberon’s horn for help. It appeared in the form of Jesse Jackson.

Last Saturday Jackson led a sparsely attended rally and march where he and others compared the Bingo Wars to the Civil Rights movement, and specifically voting rights (the rally took place the day before the Bloody Sunday anniversary).

Now, I think there is a legitimate racial element to the Bingo Wars. The majority of the employees at the bingo halls are black, and a lot of small counties that have legalized bingo and depend on its tax revenue are predominantly black. The Governor has never addressed the fact that his vision for a bingo free Alabama will put a lot of people out of work and dramatically shrink many counties’ budgets. And it also didn’t help when his wife, the First Lady of Alabama, asked hecklers at an anti-bingo rally to show respect to a “Southern lady.” But Jackson jumped the shark by comparing the “struggle” for legalized gambling to the struggle for equal rights.

One thing he said that struck me as particularly ridiculous, was that he asked the Governor to stop sending hundreds of State Troopers to raid bingo halls because the swarm of law enforcement officers reminds people of anti-black police tactics from the 1960s (for the record, the owners of the bingo halls are white, and I doubt any of them participated in civil rights marches in the '60s).

The rally itself was poorly executed. The MC packed in so many speakers in before Jackson that Jackson didn’t begin speaking until 40 minutes into it. For whatever reason, the MC was trying to delay Jackson speaking as long as possible. At one point he said: “Is that Joe Bob down there? Joe Bob, come on up here and say a few words.” No one there wanted to hear what Joe Bob had to say. Probably 30% of the crowd left before Jackson spoke. I only listened to Jackson for a few minutes because I had other things to do that day.

Here’s a short video from the rally and some pictures:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bloody Sunday Anniversary, Brought to you by American Airlines

Today was the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL. The annual tradition to commemorate the occasion is reenacting the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, minus the whole getting beaten by state troopers thing.

For VIPs and members of Congress, the day began at Brown Chapel, where "the Selma Voting Rights Movement officially started on January 2, 1965, when Dr. King addressed a mass meeting in Brown Chapel in defiance of the anti-meeting injunction." The church holds a commemorative service for the VIPs.

Brown Chapel

Whatever seats that were not taken by the VIPs were opened to the general public. I showed up nearly 3 hours before the service -- early enough to be first in line and one of only 20 members of the GP to get in.

Line to get into the church

The service was an AME Sunday church service, combined with dingataries giving speeches about the Civil Rights movement. The most "interesting" speech was by C.T. Vivian who argued that the reason blacks prevailed over the racist white southerns was because they prayed harder. No, really. At one point he said something to the effect of: "after the Civil Rights Act passed, we went to church to thank god for the passage of the bill. The white southerners who were against it didn't go to church to pray for god's help in their struggle." He went on to say that we have entirely god to thank for all of the civil rights victories (so MLK being a brave and brilliant had nothing to do with it? -- maybe god inspired him, but he certainly did a lot more than just pray for divine intervention). I wonder if Vivian realized just how extreme he was being.

After the service there were a throng of people outside of the church waiting for the march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin.

Outside the church

As a result of being in the church, I was able to get to the head of the pact where the Congressional delegation was. I noticed that there were a lot of people wearing Boeing hats, and I soon found out that Boeing had paid to fly the Congressional delegation down to Selma.

Everyone in a blue hat works for Boeing

Now early in the day I had noticed people who were giving out lit about the an Air Force tanker contract that Boeing and Northrop Grumman are feuding over. This is relevant to Alabama because the tankers could be built here, which would be a huge cash infusion to the state and would create a ton of jobs. And then it hit me: Boeing has turned the Bloody Sunday anniversary into a junket to lobby members of Congress about the tanker contract. I overheard one lobbyist telling someone that his company probably won't even break-even if they win this contract -- they're just doing it to make sure jobs come to Alabama. I almost gagged on my own vomit. It looked liked there were 5 lobbyists per member of Congress. And then the second realization hit me: While the church hadn't let the money changers through its doors, it had done something worse: let lobbyists enter. But then, things went farther downhill.

As the march began to approach the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, I saw this:

I understand that the event needs sponsors -- I'm sure the city and county could not afford the police overtime -- but really, do you have to let American Airlines cover up the name of the bridge?

I did a little googling when I got home, and found this press release:

This and Boeing left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. The whole event had been co-opted by corporations.

I'll leave with you some video on the bridge, including impromptu remarks from Rep. John Lewis, and some pictures.

Heading towards the American Airlines Bridge

Over it

Looking back

Some sexy single

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Price of Fruit

Despite being near two ports (New Orleans and Mobile) and Florida, the price of citrus fruit in Montgomery ranges from high to insanely ridiculous.

At the supermarket the other day Navel Oranges were being sold for $1.59/lb (these were from California). I weighed two oranges; they came to 1.35 lb. So with sales tax, they would cost $2.38, or $1.19 each! That's insane.

Grapefruit is a little more reasonably priced. Bags of 6 large Florida grapefruit were being sold for $3.84 (w/tax), but $0.64 per grapefruit is still pricey, especially given the short shipping distance.

And of course, the really crazy part is that the 10% sales tax even applies to food.