Thursday, February 19, 2015

Al and Alfie’s Route 28 Cornucopia

 I just submitted this piece to the Lincoln Eagle.

Al and Alfie’s Route 28 Cornucopia
Mitchell Langbert

Al and Alfie Higley have a decades-old reputation for marketing fine groceries, meat, and fruit in the Towns of Olive and Shandaken.  In the 1970s Al founded what’s now the Boiceville IGA supermarket, and he developed the shopping center in which it’s situated.   For much of the past decade, the Higleys operated on Route 28 in Shandaken, but the Shandaken Town Board and anti-small business activists have harassed the Higleys for years.  An imbroglio concerning zoning had its root in resentment of the competition the Higleys posed to the former owners of Alyce and Roger’s Fruit Stand, which Roger and Alyce sold several years ago to Migliorelli Farm. 

The imbroglio escalated, yet it was always about whether the Higleys have a right to run a private business on their own property.  The Town of Shandaken held that they don’t, and in 2012 a judge backed Shandaken building inspector Richard Stokes, who was eager to close one of the few successful businesses in Shandaken. The resilient Higleys purchased the old Bank of America building next to the Reservoir Deli and opened late last year.  

I stopped in to sample their exquisite blueberries and to interview the Higleys about their ongoing struggle with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Shandaken, but the Higleys would not answer any questions because of a judicial gag order.  Happily, though, the new location is up and running, and it is wonderful.  The Higleys have big plans for what sounds like is going to be a great addition to Kingston, Woodstock, and Olive’s already-wonderful assortment of fine specialty retail shops.  As a Town of Olive resident, I am thrilled that the town has welcomed them and that they will remain nearby.  The struggle will redound to Kingston’s benefit because now they are now only a fifteen-minute drive from the traffic circle.  

Al and Alfie confided that they are planning new items and new departments, but they are building the business slowly as construction issues are resolved. They aim to specialize in local products, including meat as well as fruits, vegetables, soil, and plants.  The approvals they received last year from the Town of Olive have worked well. This is their first winter because they used to close the outdoor Shandaken stand.  

They told me that there are two farms in Schoharie and one farm in Ulster County that produce specialty greens exclusively for them. They are planning to continue to buy locally and to offer local produce at low prices in order to attract both local customers and the heavy summer tourist traffic.  I recall the lines during the summer at the old Hanover Farms, and as the Higleys build a meat as well as a fruit-and-vegetable business, we can expect a mind blowing retail experience. The atmosphere is unique: It is happy, abundant, and reflective of Al and Alfie’s wonderful, conversational style of salesmanship. 

While we were chatting, I brought up a 1951 television pilot of Mary Margaret McBride interviewing Broadway director Ed Dowling, which Ellenville resident Ray Faiola has posted on Youtube.  McBride was the first lady of radio until 1960, and she was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, who used to visit McBride frequently and wrote about West Shokan in various newspaper accounts.  Al told me that he had met Mrs. Roosevelt on several occasions and attended McBride’s radio broadcasts when Roosevelt was there.  Al and Alfie’s colorful conversation adds to the local color of their cornucopia, and despite the grinches of Shandaken, I feel lucky that they have reopened.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bigots at Marquette University Lynch Professor over His Views on Gay Marraige

This Pope Center commentary describes the intolerance into which the bigots who run Marquette University have descended. President Lovell has fired John McAdams simply for disagreeing with a student about the issue of gay marriage. The kind of narrow minded intolerance that Marquette displays is characteristic of totalitarianism. If American universities have descended to this level, it is time to defund them and tax them. President Lovell is not someone who deserves public support.  I wrote this letter to Lovell's office. Hooded Klansman that he is, Lovell keeps his email link off the Marquette website:

Dear Mr. Frieder:
I’m writing to you because President Lovell seems to have left his or her email link off the Marquette website.  The above article suggests that Professor McAdams was fired for writing a blog about a debate concerning gay marriage. Doing so is antithetical to what a university ought to be: a forum for debate.  It is unfortunate that your institution, and likely American universities in general, have become suppressive superstition factories in which identity politics has trumped the free exchange of ideas.   McAdams should be reinstated, and your office should investigate why he was dismissed.  The politically correct bigots on your faculty are at the level of Klansmen.
Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mary Margaret McBride in West Shokan

Ray Faiola of Ellenville has uploaded to Youtube a pilot of a 1951 television program with Mary Margaret McBride, who interviews Ed Dowling.  Dowling was the director of the first major Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie.   The interview takes place in her West Shokan home, which is a two-minute drive from mine. The panoramas of the reservoir and the mountains look as they do today.  McBride's house is still there; I've met the owner. 

McBride was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt frequently visited the same West Shokan home in which the interview takes place. According to Wikipedia, during World War II McBride was among the first to break the color barrier in radio.  She broadcast on all the major networks until 1960. She was known as the first lady of radio.  One of the old timers in West Shokan told me that he recalls Mrs. Roosevelt's visits.  In this 1960 newspaper article, Roosevelt writes about an afternoon at one of McBride's local radio broadcasts:

On Monday of this week I went from Hyde Park to West Shokan, where Mary Margaret McBride lives in a house on the side of a mountain. The house is built of redwood, and the porch looks out on the reservoir.

Mary Margaret McBride was her charming self, sounding as though she had really never thought till that minute of the things she was about to say, and yet never forgetting the thread of what she said or of what she wanted the person she was interviewing to say. I think she is one of the most expert interviewers I have ever known.

She had about 50 of her neighbors as an audience, and she does this local broadcast, with local commercials, just as she once did her New York broadcasts. I just have a lovely time talking to her, so I enjoyed every minute with her and was delighted to have lunch with her afterwards, sitting on her porch and drinking in the beautiful view.

She is one person who accumulates books just the way I do, so everywhere you go in every room of her house, there are books and more books. I was encouraged, for I never have enough room for my books and I felt I could now go on building shelves in many places I had not thought of before.
Someday I hope I will have the time to read the books I now have on my shelves, besides all those I know I will accumulate in the next year or so.

Wikipedia describes her last years, which were spent in West Shokan: 

As time went on, she appeared in smaller radio media markets, in upstate New York, and toward the end of her life hosted "Your Hudson Valley Neighbor" three times a week on WGHQ Kingston, NY from the living room of her home. Her longtime companion and business partner, Stella Karn, died in 1957.[2]

She died at the age of 76 on April 7, 1976 at West Shokan, New York. McBride's ashes were placed in her former rose garden. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in radio.[3]

 Her name was spoofed on the classic CBS-TV sitcom I Love Lucy in Episode # 79, "The Million Dollar Idea", which aired on January 11, 1954. In that installment, Lucy (Lucille Ball) comes up with an ambitious idea to make money. She decides to appear on television selling her Aunt Martha's salad dressing. Assisting her on the program is her best friend Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) as "Mary Margaret McMertz."

McBride's celebrity was hardly a secret confined to daytime radio listeners, either: her 15th anniversary celebration in 1949 was held in Yankee stadium, the only facility large enough to hold the 75,000 people who filled every seat and formed huge crowds outside. Her magazine show was on the air continuously for 25 years.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Everything Has Changed

On Seeking Alpha Elias Hinckley has posted a fascinating piece about falling oil prices.  Hinckley suggests that global warming-related regulation and technological innovation may be setting a deadline for the use of oil. After the deadline we will use other sources, hopefully because they will be cheaper and more efficient and not because the totalitarians at the UN mandate it.  If the Saudis think that within fifty years we will be using different sources of energy, they may have decided to behave as ordinary monopolists rather than as holders of a depleting asset that is not depreciating in price. Until now, because they may have been anticipating future profits, the Saudis have not been following the economist's prescription for monopolists: marginal revenue should equal marginal costs if a monopolist is to maximize profit. Today, the oil price has hit forty-five dollars a barrel.  That is sixty percent below the price during the summer. 

This past October Lockheed Martin announced that it has found a way to build a nuclear fusion power plant.  Physicists may be skeptical, but let's say this or some other technology develops sufficiently to supplant oil. There is no reason to think that that is impossible, for the Saudis are acting as though that may be the case.  Of course, other explanations are possible for the Saudis' aggressive refusal to restrict production in the face of falling oil prices. For instance, the Saudis may want to retaliate against Iran or to help the US by putting Putin in his place. Also, they may want to blow high-cost producers like the North Dakota shale frackers out of the fracking well.  If I knew the true reason, I would be in the oil market now, but I pulled out of all of my oil-related holdings, including midstream MLPS, which have not suffered so much yet.

If, however, the Saudis are, as Hinckley suggests, anticipating an end to the age of oil, and if they are now behaving as monopolist profit maximizers rather than holders of an appreciating asset,  then their plan will be to equate the present value of the marginal costs of production from now until the anticipated end of the oil age to the present value of the  marginal revenue. The marginal cost of the Saudi's oil production is much lower than the current price.  According to a recent Business Insider article,

Saudi Arabia produces oil at less than $10 per barrel in extraction and investment costs. The oil price was in this region as recently as the late 1990s. A late 1990s dollar is worth more than a 2010 dollar due to inflation, but in terms of the costs involved, there's no impossibility to $20 oil. That might not be likely (and very few people are predicting it), but there's no iron law stopping oil prices from falling much, much further.

The reaction of the stock market has been curious. In a classic example of the social construction of reality, investors and the knuckleheads of the American media have been saying that lower oil prices will hurt the economy because of the harm to the oil industry's profit, because of the reduction in output in the fracking fields, and because of the deflationary effects of falling oil prices.  I am an advocate of fracking, but seeing a fifty percent decline in the viability of eight percent of the economy that improves the welfare of the remaining ninety-two percent  by more than four percent seems to me to be a net gain, and one that will push demand in many sectors of the economy higher.  This bodes well, not ill, for the economy, and presumably for the stock market, except for the oil-related parts. 

If the declining oil prices are a precursor to the invention of lower-cost energy sources, we may yet see curing of the harm that American voters and their politicians have done to the economy for the past 125 years.