New Year’s resolutions

I’m not really much for New Year’s resolutions, but the holiday does always make me think of life goals. It was December 31, 2003, shortly after I moved from one Binghamton address to another, that I began composing a list of such goals on my old business cards, the now useless ones which carried my erstwhile address. I would write one goal on each card, then throw them away when completed. At first they were quite banal: fold laundry, buy bananas, do taxes, etc., then they became more elaborate. By the end of 2005 the “list” had grown to several hundred cards, and I printed (most) of them in the December 2005 issue of The Binghamton Vanguard. I also talked about them on Politics After Dark, as I would on several subsequent year-end episodes.

Without too much self-congratulation I can say I’ve hit many of the items on that list from 2005. (I refuse to call it by the name people use now–“bucket list”–as my list preceded that film by half a decade.) I drove cross country, contributed to a deaf charity, and got married in a blue suit. Some are still in play: winning a Nobel prize, running for Congress, etc., but I’ve still got time. I’ve been adding to the list, of course, over the years, so the number of items has remained relatively constant. I guess that’s the idea. You never really want to be done. I’m sorry to say I’ve no record of what I’ve actually accomplished, as I am still in the habit of simply throwing the cards away as they are completed. But I’ve got the list from 2005, and I’ll update it here from time to time.

In the mean time, New Year’s or no, it’s always a good time for doing. Making the list is only half the fun. The real fun is in doing it. So good luck out there!

New Year’s Eve movies

eo11 diner

Two of my favorite movies of all time take place during the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. In fact, it’s the same New Year’s Eve–1960–though in Ocean’s 11 the year is never actually specified, we just assume it takes places during present day. Diner was filmed more than two decades later on the other side of the country, yet at their cores the films are more alike than different. Guys and their friends. Old friends. Guys you’ve gone to war with (literally or not), and would do so again.

Both movies are about growing up. Sort of. Actually they’re about not growing up, staying cool, and being young forever. I’ve seen both movies so many times I could recite them line by line. I assume you’ve seen them too and won’t rehash their plots. If you haven’t seen either one, do yourself a favor and watch them immediately. The originals. Yes, Ocean’s 11 was remade 40 years later with modern lads of “cool,” and I understand a musical version of Diner is now playing on the D.C. stage.


Don’t mess with the classics.

It became a New Year’s Eve tradition for me 15 years ago to watch the 1960 version of Ocean’s 11 on said day. It’s the quintessential party movie. The party where, like life and like the movie itself, you’re going to see a lot more dudes than chicks. Such is life.

This year I’m saving Ocean’s 11 for tomorrow. I guess given the events of the film, it makes sense to view it on New Year’s Day too.

Tonight I’m watching When Harry Met Sally, yet another of my favorite films with a climax on New Year’s Eve. To be fair, the film plays out over a decade or so of real time so one can’t really call it a “New Year’s Eve” movie, but it is Mrs. O’Connell’s favorite and I like it too. Hard to believe it’s 25 years old.

Sitting at home watching a movie with my wife? Was I not paying attention during Diner or Ocean’s 11 at all? Did I somehow let adulthood sneak up on me, take me in its clutches and demand I move to the suburbs?

Nah. I’m watching a movie with my best friend. (Proof that unlike what you hear in When Harry Met Sally, men and women can be friends… if they’re married.) And even though time has passed I’ve still got friends. We’re older and cooler… and still hanging out at the diner.

Binghamton sees opportunities slip by

My old hometown of Binghamton, New York, and its surrounding area took a pretty good one-two punch the last couple of weeks, further devastating that already quite devastated area known to many as “upstate.”

The best part? One of them was pretty self-inflicted.

I think the only two things that could have saved the Binghamton area in decades to come would have been 1.) casino gambling; and 2.) the exploration and development of energy from natural gas. Both of those fell apart earlier this month.

Not living in Binghamton anymore, not paying as much attention as I used to, and not caring nearly as much as I used to, I am unfamiliar with every detail of the twin sagas. And other than a few people at the top, I’m sure this is the case for everyone else as well. Nobody ever really knows the whole story. But the bottom line here seems to be: neither one of those projects is going to happen, whether sabotaged from within or without.

Casino gambling in the Southern Tier was hardly an issue when I left the area at the end of 2011. It surprised me to read some time later that someone with a brain started lobbying New York State to allow such a thing. The fact that one must lobby the government for “permission” to operate such a business is a story for another time, but it seemed at least the wheels were in motion to obtain such permission here. So the–wait for it–Gaming Facility Location Board of New York State was tasked, apparently, with selecting a venue worthy of such consideration. (If this sounds to you like something from Soviet Russia or The Hunger Games you have made an apt analogy.)

And District 12 didn’t get picked.


Not even the “clout” of State Sen. Tom Libous could wrangle that casino board to permit Binghamton such an honor. Libous says he will continue to lobby the governor. Right. (Insert joke here about doing so from prison.)

Much handwringing can be made over losing such a sweepstakes, but there is little excuse for things one brings upon himself. Case in point, I have never seen someone, or some group of people, so upset by something that might actually benefit the group as residents of the Southern Tier and their zealous fight against natural gas development. (Or as you know it, fracking.)

I’ve never seen a poll detailing the percentages of Southern Tier residents for and against “fracking” or any of its more pleasant-sounding names. My guess would be a majority would favor it or at least be apathetic. But a certain segment (led in part by Binghamton’s previous mayor and its previous member of Congress) was able to take hold of the issue and keep it at bay for years. And with the state’s recent moratorium placed on hydraulic fracturing (as it is actually called), it seems as though they’ve won. Bottle it up with a few more years of “studies” and boards and committees and “analyses” and it’ll disappear forever. Meanwhile, the state of North Dakota holds its 2% unemployment rate and staggering economic growth. You’re welcome, North Dakota. You’re welcome.

They could have at least sent a Christmas card.

Six a.m., day after Christmas

It was news several weeks ago when President Obama announced that December 26th would be a holiday for federal government employees. Oh, what a generous ol’ St. Nick, cooed the mainstream media.

It wasn’t the act itself (which was hardly without precedent) but the manner in which it was executed that should have received attention. What was required for the proclamation to be so was an executive order. An executive order, you say? Yes, an executive order.

An executive order is an act of an executive (here, the President) that manages operations within the government (in this case, the federal government) itself. For example, proclaiming a certain day to be a holiday. It is akin to a private business CEO declaring such a thing for his or her employees. It affects only the company itself, or in the President’s case, the federal government itself.

The bastardization of the executive order (sadly, this too is hardly without precedent), is one of the great misdoings of executive power in 20th and 21st century governance. Presidents now are in the habit of declaring “executive orders” whenever they feel it is inconvenient to rely on Congress (the branch of government tasked with legislating) to make laws. “Executive orders” today have shoehorned their way into having the full effect of law–see recent commotion and fuss over amnesty for illegal immigrants–though this was never the original intent (pardon the expression).

So enjoy your day of, federal government employees. At least it came about legitimately.

Christmas Eve

Ah, Christmas Eve, the only day we celebrate the fact that another holiday is almost here. (I consider Thanksgiving Eve a separate holiday from Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve the real holiday as New Year’s Day is hardly anything at all.)

Christmas Eve means going to work but half-assing it all day. Christmas Eve is cookies and egg nog until you can’t see straight. It’s 24 hours of A Christmas Story, Vince Guaraldi, and that yule log channel at 3 a.m. And maybe catching a glimpse of you-know-who and his band of reindeer.

Yeah, Christmas Eve is my favorite almost holiday.

A free country, not a free world

Before last week nobody had ever heard of the movie The Interview. Now terrorist groups, world leaders, and every single person on Earth can’t stop talking about it. If this was all a publicity stunt… kudos.

Of course it’s disappointing to see that a work of art gets shelved for political reasons. It’s even more disappointing to say I get it. I get it. If the unthinkable happened (hardly unthinkable anymore), no amount of ticket and popcorn revenue could ever wipe Sony’s hands clean. It’s a business decision. I get it.

We say all the time that the United States of America “is a free country.” Of course it is. We can make fun of our leaders, political and otherwise, without (much) fear of retribution. Sadly this does not exist in most of the world today and hasn’t existed in most places at most times. This is a free country, not a free world.

So I’m more interested than ever in seeing The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. Knowing nothing about this particular movie, I think those two make a pretty good team. Rogen, especially, is one of the funniest acts in Hollywood.

I’ve seen recently two movies with a similar premise: thirtysomething parents still trying to be hip. Seth Rogen’s Neighbors is hilariously good, I think out-Superbad-ing even Superbad. But Sex Tape, with Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz? Resting on their laurels. Point is: Rogen still brings it and I can’t wait to see his latest.

Government work not what it used to be?

In his “Two for the Road” closing segment of yesterday’s program, radio host Colin Cowherd cited a recent survey suggesting that young people (“Millenials”) are no longer interested in government work. Because fewer young’uns are working in government these days, he reasoned, it obviously has lost its appeal. The government, that vaunted employer of past generations, can’t compete in a world of tech companies and other “hip” operations.


Believe it, Colin, every single person on Earth wants the comfort and security (financial and otherwise) of a government job. The reason young people aren’t getting into the mix is that today’s older generation, as opposed to previous older generations who conveniently died off in their fifties and sixties, refuses to give up those plum jobs in government!

The week before Christmas

Forget the night before Christmas. That is so 19th century. This is 2014, and in our supersized world we need a full seven days of nights before Christmas to get it done.

The week before Christmas is the week everyone else lives the way I like to live all the time: a flurry of social and economic activity that makes everything else seem dull by comparison. Good luck, friends, and hang on to those sled reins tight!

Done with football

Well, at least I got to see my favorite Redskins quarterback in action yesterday. Though the circumstances and result of RG3’s return weren’t exactly as I would have hoped, I suppose it could be worse…

we could have Johnny Manziel.

It’s all too late, though, and I’ve given up on football for the season. I’ve jumped on the Wizards bandwagon again, happy to say much earlier than I did last year. So okay, Wizards, go ahead and get my hopes up. I’m all in.

Happy Birthday, FS!



A certain hero of mine turns 99 today, and although Frank Sinatra hasn’t sung a note in nearly two decades, his voice remains as constant in the rhythm of American life as it did for his 60 years in show business.

It is trite to say, of course, “there will never be another Frank Sinatra.” Cliche or not, there won’t be. The world is simply too different now, the way stars are made and music is produced. But his music lives on, and the imitators (good and poor) keep trying. I should know. I’m one of those imitators.

I’ve written many words about Frank Sinatra over the past 20 years, some published, some not. I don’t think I’m going to add anything particularly brilliant today. He was and still is one of the most written about Americans in history. I’ve got two dozen of his biographies on my shelf, and there are probably 100 more I haven’t read. These writers are far more poetic than I, and I recommend them all. Was he a perfect role model? Of course not, but few people we know so well are. He was a human being. A human being like all of us, but blessed with so much talent and initiative, and he shared it with all of us. Those who knew him best echo this sentiment in his private life as well.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sinatra! Ninety-nine looks good on you.