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• Clowning for PETA

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Note to PETA:

If you want to make what you claim is a legitimate point against McDonald’s, don’t use a drug-addled nincompoop as one of your attention-getting frontmen.

Andy Dick, comic actor and frequent participant in drug binges and idiotic public behavior, dressed up as a parody of Ronald McDonald to be part of a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protest against the chain for the methods it uses to slaughter chickens.

Make up your own minds about the latest PETA vs. McDonald’s flap. And, if you want to see Dick’s sterling contribution to the dialogue, watch the video.

• They still exist???

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A 136-year-old organization, gathered in Wichita, KS, this week for its annual convention, has found something current to complain about.

It’s the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the same all-female organization that helped push through Prohibition back in 1919.

Their complaint? President Barack Obama’s suds summit with the Harvard prof and the local cop involved in a recent dustup that immediately became a cause celebre for people who love to play the race card — from either side.

Bunny Galladora (honest), WCTU media director, said the meeting sent the wrong message because “alcohol and conflicts are not a good combination.”

• So speed ’em up, Joe

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I live in an Upstate New York city just across the Hudson River from the State Capital. Thus, I get to hear and read about a lot more stupid government inactions actions than many people in other parts of the state.

The most recent deals with the decision by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to reject an application for a liquor license by some local businesspeople seeking to open a wine/martini bar.

The reason: It is within 200 feet of a church, which automatically negates its request.

The problem: It is not within 200 feet of a church.

It is located across the street from a Salvation Army facility that most of the week is a food pantry. It holds one religious service once a week. But then, so does an entertainment venue on the same block, and no one is calling it a church.

Also, at least five other establishments on the same block hold valid state liquor or beer/wine licenses, and have for years despite the presence of the Salvation Army.

It took six months for the SLA to come up with this rejection. The right or wrong of it is obvious can be debated from various angles. What troubles me most is the excuse the SLA uses for its snail-like pace in considering license applications statewide.

During the period of months and, in some cases, years the applicants are waiting, they usually are putting time, effort and money into their facilities. A quick “No” by the SLA can dash all those hopes and lay waste to the money involved.

William Crowley, the SLA mouthpiece spokesman, says the agency has only 22 examiners divided among offices in Buffalo, Albany and New York City. They are responsible for reviewing all license applications. Crowley says the SLA received 5,315 applications between July 1, 2008, and July 1 of this year. The examiners also had to consider an estimated 7,000 applications for short-term permits, most of which are for caterers who, under state law, need a license just to serve for as little as an hour, one time. Thus, says Crowley, they can’t keep up with the workload.

Really? Let us, as they say, do the math.

• 5,315 applications received in one year
• 22 examiners
• 260 calendar work days in one year
That comes out to 242 applications per year per examiner, assuming a five-day work week. If we discount 15 days per examiner for vacations and stray holidays, that comes to about one application to be handled per day.

Doesn’t seem to be much of a workload, does it?

Now let’s look at the one-time applications.

• 7,000 applications received in one year
• 245 calendar days worked by each of 22 examiners
• That comes to 318 per examiner per year, or 1.3 applications per day.

Add it up, and we get 2.3 applications to be handled per day.

Whew! I bet those examiners are laughing their asses off have to lean back and uncap a cold one after maintaining such a blistering pace.

• Glad to be of service

AmEx
I have been a card-carrying member of American Express for a very long time, progressing from Green Card to Gold Card but declining the offer of a Black Card created for zillionaires, not being in that elite financial niche.

Usually, good ol’ AmEx comes through very nicely in the service department. However, several years ago the company inexplicably issued me an Optima credit card I neither wanted, needed nor asked for. My Gold Card was serving me just fine, thank you.

I made several telephone calls to the appropriate 800 service number, explaining the error of their ways and asking them to get rid of the card for me. Each time I was assured that would happen. Each time it did not.

I did likewise online several times and was assured it would be rescinded. It was not.

Yesterday in the mail I received a letter that said, in full (although I’ve deleted certain numbers):

Re: Account Ending XXXX Optima Credit Card

Dear William M. Dowd,

We are writing to you to let you know that we have closed the account listed above because you have not used it in the last 24 months. Please be assured that we do appreciate your business.

If you have any questions, please call us at 1-800-XXX-XXXX.

Sincerely,

Jud Linville
President and CEO, Consumer Services
Member Since 1989

Well, thank you for finally getting around to filling my repeated request, Mr. Linville, even if it was for the wrong reason.

And, about the mention that you’ve been a member since 1989 — So what? I’ve been one since 1985. It still didn’t get me the service I required. So there.

• Flash: North Korea launches!

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Flying in the face of world opinion strict communist philosophy, the mad regime government of North Korea has allowed the launch of a missile a TV advertising campaign for a locally-brewed beer.

The beer is billed as the “Pride of Pyongyang,” (for those of you who are geographically disadvantaged, that’s the capital city of North Korea). It tells viewers the brew will help ease stress.

The Taedonggang Beer Factory has been making the beer since buying a British brewery and shipping it in pieces from the UK to Pyongyang for reassembling. The beer has sometimes been available in South Korea, and gets good consumer reviews.

Go here to view the entire 150-minute commercial, which shows up after the bank commercial sponsoring it.

• Restaurants a go-go

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For months, now, I’ve been sensing a disconnect between the news reports that tell me people are cutting back on dining and drinking out because of the bad economy and the daily sight of crowded parking lots and even lines at the front doors of many restaurants, restaurant/bars, wine/tapas places and the like.

Now, The Harris Poll has released the findings of a new study of 2,681 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 11 and 18 by Harris Interactive that explains what I’ve been observing.

It says that while majorities still are inclined to decrease spending on eating out and entertainment, the numbers are better than they had been two months ago.

I find this survey a comforting one. As a person who has had a lifelong affinity for the restaurant business — as bus boy, dishwasher, line cook, sous chef and restaurant critic — I have become increasingly annoyed at the “how to cut costs” lists disseminated in print and online. Inevitably, one of the suggestions is to stop going to restaurants. Nothing like telling the populace at large to, in effect, boycott an industry that is a huge employer in this country.

It’s one thing to tell people to order wisely — from both financial and nutritional standpoints. It is another to try creating a trend toward harming the cooks, waitstaff, cleaning people, launderers, food and drink vendors, truck drivers and myriad others who have a share in the world of dining-out.

In March, three-quarters of Americans said they were decreasing spending on eating out (74%) and entertainment (74%). Now, two-thirds say they are reducing eating out at restaurants (66%) and 64% say they have reduced spending on entertainment.

Americans are cutting back on their spending over the next six months. Specifically:

• Similar to last month, two-thirds of Americans (64%) say it is not likely they will take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week while 36% say it is likely they will vacation away from home. In March, 35% of Americans said they would be likely to take a trip;

• Large purchases continue to suffer as more than three-quarters of Americans say it is not likely they will buy a new computer (79%), move to a different residence (81%), buy or lease a new car, truck or van (88%), purchase a house or condo (91%), start a new business (92%) or buy a boat or recreational vehicle (95%). These numbers are all very similar to March so people are still not ready to spend on the big-ticket items;

• One quarter of Americans (26%) say it is likely they will have more money to spend the way they want in the next six months which is up from 21% in March; and,

• People are slightly more likely to say that they are going to be saving or investing more money. Just over half of Americans (53%) say they are likely to save or invest more money while 47% are not likely to do so. In March, Americans were split on this as 50% said they were likely to save or invest and 50% said they were not likely to do so.

The pollsters note, “As people get ready for summer vacations, it seems as if the trips may be getting shorter and closer to home — more [damn, I hate this word] ‘daycations’ and [I hate this one even more] ‘staycations.’ But, even if summer vacations may be changing this year, there are small signs that things may be getting better, at least in terms of spending. More people are eating out and spending money on entertainment, something that the studios for the big summer blockbusters will be happy to hear, but the big ticket items are still not seeing any type of rebound. Those may take a little longer to see the slight recovery that the smaller expenses are seeing.”

Full data tables and methodology are available online.

• Poor menu choice

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Equality under the law seems to be merely a suggestion when it comes to the various governmental entities in New York State and the restaurants in their jurisdictions.

In the few counties in which calories must be listed on menus it’s only the companies with 15 or more outlets that are affected.

Now, Gov. David Patterson says he is thinking of introducing statewide legislation that would require owners of 15 or more restaurants in the state to post calorie contents on menus.

Such a move would apply to foods available in restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores that have 15 or more locations in New York.

While I have no inherent objection to such information being made mandatory — after all, it is on food and beverage labels for products sold in the state, and one quick visit to a shopping mall will give you visual proof that we are, indeed, a nation of ridiculously fat people in need of dietary guidance — I do have a problem with the exceptions that would be a built-in feature of such rules.

For example, celebrity chef/restaurateur Bobby Flay would be exempt. So would New York City restaurant czar Drew Nieporent and his myriad Restaurant Group partner, the actor Robert DeNiro. Likewise exempt would be Danny Meyer who owns such Manhattan hot spots as Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Tabla and Blue Smoke. None of them owns 15 or more restaurants.

Need more? How about such Upstate restaurant moguls as Angelo Mazzone, who owns Angelo’s 677 Prime in Albany, the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia and Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady?

Or the Serroukas family who own restaurants in Hyde Park, Brewster, Guilderland, Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie and Wappinger Falls.

Or Peter X. Kelly, who owns the Xaviar Restaurant Group which has places in Garrison, Yonkers, Piermont and Congers.

However, Bill Pompa, who built the Mr. Subb sandwich shops chain in the Capital Region, would be stuck changing his menus. The reason? He’s worked hard and smart enough to build his chain to 24 units.

The disparities can be found all over the state without looking much harder. If the governor truly wants to do something to assist the state’s consumer in making wiser food choices, he’d be better advised to avoid creating loopholes and controversy along with them.