Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Broadcast news

There have been few more compelling broadcasters than Tom Snyder.

A lean-in-your-face kind of interviewer, Snyder made staying up late to watch him talk with a variety of personalities and newsmakers -- from Charles Manson to John Lennon -- authentic must-see TV.

Quick witted and incisive, with a bellowing laugh from out behind a cloud of cigarette smoke, Snyder was someone who truly fit the description of one of a kind.

Tom Snyder died the other day after a long illness. If you never saw him work, you don't know what you missed.

Speaking of broadcasters -- from the sublime to the ridiculous -- the New York Yankees have too many of them, and several aren't doing listeners any good.

John Sterling has his entertaining signature calls going for him, but he may be the single worst radio play-by-play man in the history of baseball. You simply can't follow the game on most of his initial descriptions. And his eyesight apparently is worse than mine; how else can he miss so many plays?

Suzyn Waldman plays straight woman to Sterling. She's a decent clubhouse reporter and interviewer. But she adds little insight to the game broadcasts.

Meanwhile, the revolving door crew of TV announcers is OK. But there's little continuity and, in the case of Al Leiter and Bobby Murcer, surprisingly few pearls of wisdom.

Here's the way I'd schedule and place this bunch on a regular basis:

On TV, Ken Singleton, Joe Girardi and Paul O'Neill in the booth, Bob Lorenz in the studio, Suzyn Waldman the roving reporter/interviewer. On radio, Michael Kay (who talks too much for TV) and John Flaherty in the booth, with Kim Jones the roving reporter/interviewer.

John Sterling? If you still want him on the payroll, let him continue to narrate the "Yankeeography" series.

Al Leiter, Bobby Murcer and David Justice? Not all good players are successful announcers. See you on Old Timers Day.

Friday, July 27, 2007

'The Media Project Reunion'

After who knows how many requests, The Media Project, a weekly program on which I appear on most alternate weeks, finally recorded an hour-long version last night.

It was a benefit for WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Contributors to its recent fund drive were offered the opportunity to fill the seats at the Linda Norris Auditorium in Albany for what was dubbed "The Media Project Reunion."

In addition to current panelists Rex Smith of the Albany Times Union, Alan Chartock of WAMC, Elisa Streeter of WTEN-TV and myself, back for this special event were Lydia Kulbida of WNYT-TV and Monte Trammer of the Elmira Star Gazette.

Beyond the usual banter -- Alan is short, Ira is heavy, Elisa is tall and Rex has nice hair -- we touched on a number of meaty topics, including a lengthy discussion on the Times Union's role in the Eliot Spitzer-Joe Bruno affair. (If you think journalists do not take their responsibilities seriously, pay close attention to Rex's comments.)

The program will air at 6 p.m. Sunday and again at 3 p.m. Monday. We'll all be awaiting listeners' verdicts on the $64 question: Now do understand why the program is normally 30 minutes long?

Seriously, it was a good show. I hope you tune in.

(In the photo, from the left, that's Lydia, me, Alan, Rex, Monte, Elisa and Media Project producer David Guistina.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The mess in Albany

Our editorial people will be producing n piece on the Spitzer-Bruno scandal, probably for Sunday. Meantime, some thoughts:

* I don't know if Gov. Spitzer did anything to warrant the kind of probe Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is likely to launch. But the rookie governor sure is guilty of botching the golden opportunity given to him by 70 percent of the state's voters. Carrying a huge mandate to clean up and refocus Albany, Spitzer's overly combative side has made enemies of allies and sympathetic figures of those who don't deserve it (like Bruno). Now the governor is on the defensive, his political agenda in a shambles and his image as an ethics crusader sullied. Who knows if he'll ever regain the admiration and encouragement of many who supported him?

* While Bruno -- never one to shy away from a fight -- takes the momentum of the attorney general's findings into the next round against Spitzer, will the already slow wheels of state government grind to a halt as Albany engulfs itself in hearings and probes? Can the people's business be completed in the toxic atmosphere along State Street? Will tentative deals -- congestion pricing, campaign finance reform, among them -- unravel? Will economic development projects from one end of the state to the other -- including the solar energy initiative in Ulster County -- be left in suspended states of animation?

* What's the deal with the attorney general and the New York Post? Something doen't feel right to me.

* His denials to the contrary, it's hard to believe the hands-on governor wasn't aware of what his guy Darren Dopp did. If he did know, it's bad for obvious reasons. If he didn't, as the governor contends, what's that say about his ability to control his administration?

* By the way, Bruno may not have committed a crime in the way he utilized state transportation and personnel -- the source of this entire affair -- but he sure did show why new rules have to be written so what he and others have routinely done can't happen again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On the road again

Random thoughts while driving around the region:

* Given that you can fit what I know about automobiles on the little finger of my right hand, I shouldn't be shocked when I try to start my car and discover the battery is dead. But I can't help but wonder why there isn't any warning. I mean, I leave home without a problem, make a couple of stops, turning off the engine each time and then, boom, nothing. No juice, nothing. One minute I'm on my way. The next minute I'm calling AAA for a jump. Is it too much for new cars to have "battery is low" warning systems? My cell phone has one.

* If there's a constant in the summertime, it's traffic-slowing repair work on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. I can't be critical of preventative maintenance, but it seems like this span gets more attention than any other in the region.

* Speaking of roadwork, they're doing some down on Route 209 near the Ulster-Sullivan border. On the night I passed through, a traffic light, not a flagman, stopped motorists, with only one lane open. First time I've ever seen that. Normally, when work is done for the day, they manage to get two lanes open. The light seems to be effective, but I couldn't help but think it could go from red to green with a driver still dangerously heading in the direction of previously halted traffic.

* I have one of those portable GPS devices to help me get where I'm going. It's a remarkable invention and it hasn't steered me the wrong way yet -- except a few weeks ago when I got lost in the Ulster County hamlet of Glasco. If you know Glasco, you know it's not easy getting lost there. Don't ask me how it happened.

* If you're in the mood for a scenic drive, take Route 22 south from Hillsdale, Columbia County, to Millbrook, Dutchess County. I belatedly discovered it not long ago. It's one of scores of similarly beautiful treks throughout our region. (Pay particular attention near Silo Ridge in Amenia. Spectacular!) When you live here, it's easy to take our surroundings for granted.

* I'll have to ask our newsroom to update me on the timetable for the new pharmacy that was supposed to go up at the corner of Broadway and East Chester Street in Kingston. As I recall, there were environmental problems. But I thought they had been rectified. Meanwhile, what remains is an ugly lot surrounded by a chain link fence.

* Whenever I drive on the Taconic State Parkway, I'm certain a deer is going to jump in front of my car. It's happened once, but it just clipped me, so no damage to me, the car or the deer. I may not be so lucky the next time.

* Talking about an accident waiting to happen, head towards Woodstock on Route 28, just before the turn onto Route 375, and there are several small streets for which drivers slow to a crawl to safely make right turns. And I do mean slow to a crawl. You can't expect them to go quicker or they'll make too fast a sharp right. But when you're moving along at 45 mph, or maybe a hair faster, behind soon-to-turn crawling motorists, you risk ramming them from the rear. Probably would be a good idea if I stopped worrying about this kind of stuff, don't you think?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Who's watching?

Back in the days when I edited sports -- we're talking about 25 years ago, give or take a couple -- I did some play-by-play baseball announcing on public access cable TV.

It was pretty much the ground floor for public access and the broadcasts (and broadcasters) were predictably primitive -- not unlike most of the stuff that passes for public access content today.

There'd be two, maybe three, cameras for the games. And our broadcast "booth" was little more than a folding table either in the middle of the stands, when we did games at Cantine Field in Saugerties, or behind home plate, field level, uncovered, when we were at Dietz Stadium in Kingston. (How many of you remember when there was a baseball field at Dietz Stadium?)

Best I could tell, the players watched the taped delay games. Probably their families and others close to the teams saw some of the broadcasts. My wife may have watched for two or three pitches. And, of course, those who us who did the games watched them, too. Would I be exaggerating if I said, oh, about 100 people tuned in?

Fact is, we had no way of knowing how many people watched then. And there's no way of knowing a quarter-century later who watches today. Yes, there are people who tune in -- some accidentally, as they stop on their way clicking from one channel to the next, some when they notice a familiar face on the screen, others who actually like what they've seen before and come back next time.

But if public access, still largely production and content challenged, has a way of measuring precisely how many folks watch, I'm not aware of it. Put another way, the Nielsen ratings haven't yet come to public access TV. Which is why I wonder how people can cavalierly refer to their programs as "highly rated" (by what?) or "heavily watched" (by whom?).

Here's what I like about the concept of public access TV: live or unedited tape of events -- public meetings, parades, sporting events (without amateur announcers like I was behind the microphone), plays, musicals and the like. I'm not a proponent of the talk shows, political and others, regardless of the points of view.

The thing is, there are some viewers who aren't able to make the distinction between professional broadcast journalists and interviewers, and someone who hangs up a figurative shingle on the porch of a public access TV station and calls him/herself a "producer."

Where I come from, you have to earn your stripes to be a journalist. You've taken classes, worked your way up, learned at the feet of those who have made the climb before you. In the real world of local and network television, you don't become a commentator until you've proven yourself. In the play world of public access TV, all you need to do is pass the relatively easy criteria of a local cable governing body.

I should point out that my frame of reference for public access for the last couple of decades is what I see on the Woodstock channel. I don't get the Kingston programming at my home (and I don't have time to watch it on the TV at the Freeman.)

Again, make public access the C-SPAN of local TV. Turn on the cameras and let the events speak for themselves.

But since that's not likely to happen, I hope you relative handful of public access viewers will be educated consumers of what's on your screens. And as soon as you "producers" get an accurate idea of how many people actually are watching, drop me a line.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Leon, Levon and Bethel Woods

Last month I told you I planned on seeing Leon Russell and Levon Helm at Bethel Woods in Sullivan County. The big concert took place Saturday night and it was fantastic.

First, Bethel Woods.

The site of the original Woodstock festival, Bethel Woods is really quite remarkable. The grounds are spectacular. It's obvious why it was chosen for the festival after the town of Woodstock turned away the promoters at the 11th hour.

Although much of the site is now developed -- possibly to the horror of purists who want to remember Max Yasgur's farm as it was -- it is tasteful and classy and perfect, with its amphitheater seating 4,800 and room for another 12,000 on the lawn.

Concessions and restrooms are plentiful, the sound system is first-rate and the Bethel Woods staff has been drilled in customer service. Literally each staffer offered greetings on the way in and "good nights" on the way out. They couldn't have been friendlier. (And a customer satisfaction survey showed up in my email a few days after the show.) There's plenty of parking, but you can see where traffic jams -- if not up to Woodstock '69 standards -- would be a problem on narrow Hurd Road and Route 17B. (The site is about 10 miles from Monticello Raceway.) For this concert, however, attendance was relatively small and it took no time to enter and exit the facility.

You need to find a show you like and visit this place at least once. It really is a jewel in the middle of the Catskills.

As for the concert, I told you that I've been a Leon Russell fan for decades. In fact, I'd seen him play at the Egg in Albany only a couple of months ago. He opened the Bethel Woods show with a great 45-minute set. Leon walks with a cane these days. But he hasn't slowed up behind the keyboard.

Then came a couple of strong performances by a host of musicians who often play with Levon Helm at his Woodstock "Rambles", among them the group Ollabelle, featuring Levon's daughter, Amy, and the wonderful Fiona McBride. Great stuff.

Levon's band took the stage at 9:15 and played until 11:30. The former Band drummer/mandolin player/singer was in top form, as were his accompanying performers, including Larry Campbell, Jimmy Vivino and Little Sammy Davis. Although tickets ("invitations," he calls them) are limited and rather steep, he's right here in our backyard, often performing at his Woodstock home. If you're a fan, you ought to check him out. Google his website for details.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Solar story

There's nobody more pleased than me that the Freeman finally carried a story today about a major local solar energy initiative that could bring hundreds of jobs to TechCity. It's is the project I mentioned in an earlier blog in which I said something big was brewing, but I couldn't tell you about it.

Since I'm in the business of reporting news, not sitting on it, this was one of those tricky situations a publisher encounters on occasion when he learns of a big story from being a participant in it.

It would be improper for an editor or reporter to work on something like this from the inside. It's different for those of us on the business side of the operation. My role as one of the handful of people who launched and planned The Solar Energy Consortium was to help advance that project. But it had to be kept confidential until the time was right to make a formal announcement. And that time wouldn't be until we felt the project had a green light, financially and otherwise.

At meeting after meeting of the consortium, I urged my colleagues to call a press conference. Too many people knew something was in the works, I reasoned. It was on the street, as we say. And the last thing I wanted to do was pick up somebody else's newspaper and read about it there first, when I could have handed it to my staff months ago.

Indeed, today's story still is premature. That is to say, the consortium and Congressman Hinchey, who has been a key player from the beginning, weren't ready to break the news yet.

But as I suspected would eventually happen, another news organization finally began sniffing around, apparently after getting tipped off in Albany while working on another story. Once its reporter started asking specific questions local people and a story seemed imminent, I gave our people the right phone numbers, a meeting was quickly arranged and today's lead story was produced.

You'll be reading lots more about The Solar Energy Consortium in the weeks ahead. I'll try to fill you in here, too. For now, suffice it to say this one could be the real deal in terms of an economic development boost. And it's particularly exciting since it involved alternative energy. We all should be rooting for its success.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The bar fight

I don't know how much, if any, Kingston Mayor Jim Sottile had to drink the other night before he got into that dustup with the wife of a district attorney candidate.

Maybe he didn't have a sip on either of the two political fund-raising cruises he hosted over a period of several hours. And maybe he didn't imbibe afterwards when the party shifted to Mariner's Harbor.

Doubtful on both counts, according to those who say they know, but maybe.

Even if he did partake, there's no legal evidence of which I'm aware that alcohol played a part in the confrontation (other than when drinks were tossed in both directions). After all, the mayor has been known to have a short fuse (although I'm told it's not as bad as it used to be), so news of him getting into a heated argument does not exactly come as a shocker.

But let's face it, there's no excuse for his role in this mess. I don't care what was said and who said it first. A level-headed public official, certainly one who's been around the block as long as this mayor, should have sensed he was treading in dangerous territory as soon as his discussion with Mari Ann Sennett took a sharp turn the wrong way.

If Mrs. Sennett was the physical aggressor, as the videotape seems to indicate (and remember, we don't know what he said to prompt the first swing), the mayor absolutely had to turn his back and walk away. He could have nipped this problem in the bud. He didn't. His bad.

Meanwhile, consider this: Suppose the mayor did have a few pops. Suppose his judgment wasn't, shall we say, 100 percent. I'm not saying that was the case; just suppose. Now suppose Mrs. Sennett never stopped by to exchange pleasantries and the party continued uneventfully. Suppose a crisis arose somewhere in the city, something that required the chief executive's immediate attention. Would the mayor have been in any position to address it?

See, the way I look at it is like this: There are certain jobs for which the phrase "off-duty" does not apply. Unless vacation or illness temporarily separates a CEO from office, and a backup is appointed to fill his/her responsibilities, the head honcho is always in charge and must be ready at all hours to climb on the saddle. Do you have to be a teetotaler? No. But you have to know when enough is enough.

I'm hoping the mayor has hosted his last "booze cruise." I'm sure he can find other creative and fun ways to raise campaign cash.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Seek and hide

The editors received an anonymous piece of mail this morning. I wish I could tell you this is unusual, but it happens all the time.

In this instance, the envelope contained a clipping from another daily newspaper. It was a nice feature on an Ulster County youth. Attached to it was a typewritten note chastising us for not having done the same story. No name, no phone number, no address.

That's a pity because somebody would have replied. We might have said, thanks for the tip; we didn't know about this story, we'll get right on it. Or, we might have said, thanks, we'd love to do this story, but we have too many others on the docket right now; hope you understand. Or, we might have asked the tipster if he/she knew how many Ulster County stories we published the day the other paper's lone Ulster County story appeared.

Point is, if you think we've made a mistake of omission or commission, don't hesitate to let us know. We appreciate the feedback, really. Maybe we'll agree with you, maybe we won't. There isn't any particular reason to be nasty. Put another way, don't take it personally. But by all means, don't be a coward. Sign your name. Tell us how we can reply, by snail mail or email or phone or all three.

American splits

Say this about the airline business: it's unpredictable.

For example, you can't be sure your plane will leave or arrive on time. You're always nervous your luggage won't be waiting for you. The degree of difficulty getting through heightened security varies from place to place. All that and more about flying are unpredictable.

Which is why under ordinary circumstances, this week's news that American Airlines is leaving Stewart Airport wouldn't come as a huge surprise. Except what's happening at Stewart these days isn't ordinary.

By most accounts, passenger traffic is up. The parking lots are filled. The terminal is a beehive of activity, particularly compared to the sleepy days when American was the first company to set up shop at Stewart. Meanwhile, construction on a highly anticipated feeder road from Route 84 to the airport is progressing. Moreover, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is about to take control of Stewart's operations, likely meaning plenty of spillover from an already overcrowded LaGuardia, JFK and Newark.

So in the face of all that, American Airlines (actually, the auxiliary American Eagle brand) is booking its last flights in and out of Stewart for Labor Day weekend.

What gives? American says it can't make money at Stewart. That's surprising, since my own frequent experiences with the airline is that its flights to and from Chicago often are near-capacity. But, OK, we believe American if it says Stewart doesn't work for its bottom line; after all, why would it close if it made money?

Having said that, given the prospects for Stewart, wouldn't it make sense to hang on a bit longer?

Something just doesn't add up.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where the action isn't

I'm watching the All-Star baseball game the other night. Actually, it was only the pre-game introductions and the first inning. It's been a long time since the former "Mid-Summer Classic" held my interest for more than a half-hour.

Anyway, they were honoring the great Willie Mays. Best baseball player I ever saw (and I grew up a Yankees' fan in the Mickey Mantle era). Willie's in his late 70s, but still gets around OK. There he was, striding in from centerfield, interacting with his godson Barry Bonds and the other reverential stars from both leagues. It was a touching moment.

And what did we see on Fox TV? Crowd shots. People standing and cheering. First this side of the stadium, then that side. Then a closeup. We were watching the fans' reaction to what was happening on the field. What we weren't watching was what was happening on the field.

Same thing the other day during the YES telecast of the Yankees' Old Timers Day introductions. Same thing when there's a touchdown or a big basket or a game-winning goal: crowd shot.

I think it was the great New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick who made this observation years ago: If you were in attendance at a baseball game and somebody hit a home run, where would your attention be focused, on the player rounding the bases to be greeted by teammates, or on the other people in the stadium?

Why do TV sports directors do it? To make it seem like you're there? Fine. Tell the announcers to stop talking, turn up the volume on the cheering (or booing) fans and show me what's happening on the field.

They won't do it because they haven't for decades. I can't figure it out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The heat is on, Part 3

I'm beginning to think this blog is turning into the Weather Channel.

Remember how I told you about publishers like me worry about impending storms and the loss of electrical power? This is another one of those days, with lots of "possible severe thunderstorms" in the forecast, so I'm keeping my fingers cross.

Meanwhile, just to point out how you can get wet even if it doesn't rain on your parade, I spent a good part of the early afternoon on a weather-related conference call with our corporate people and my publisher colleagues from The Saratogian and Troy Record. It seems Troy was hit by a city-wide power outage late this morning. Initial estimates were that it could be 12 to 14 hours until power was restored.

While the Troy people tried to secure generators to get their computers up and running, the "We're going to print the papers in Kingston" emergency plan was dusted off and put into effect. (The Saratogian never lost power, but it prints on Troy's presses.)

Given that our presses tonight are not only printing the Freeman, but a local weekly (The Catskill Mountain News), as well as our "Getting Around" tabloid, the prospect of adding The Saratogian and Troy Record to the mix wasn't exactly eagerly anticipated by us. On the other hand, if we were in a similar bind, Troy would print the Freeman.

So in the spirit of teamwork, our production crew, led by Bill Studt and Dave Hyatt, was ready to bite the bullet. In addition, we were prepared to cut our normal three editions to one to make our press run end sooner, thus clearing the decks for our Capital District sister publications.

The good news for everyone, particularly the people in sweltering Troy, is that the power came back on, at least in the Record's part of the city, before 4 p.m. The emergency plan goes back into the file cabinet until next time.

The heat is on, Part 2

The air conditioning unit is up and running in most of the building. The unit in the pressroom is shot. Until we replace it, our newspaper will take on a literal meaning of "hot off the presses."

The heat is on

There are certain things on which you can count:

1. Not long after you've driven your new car off the lot, it will rain.
2. When you buy a hot dog at a ballgame, it will be lukewarm.
3. On the hottest days of the year, the air conditioning will go on the fritz at the Freeman building.

Yes, it's a scorcher today. And yes, the air conditioning conked out -- one unit apparently due to a lightning strike, the other as a result of an oil leak.

The AC units are old. When they work -- which is most of the time -- they're great. When they don't, they're not.

So we're dimming the lights and buying more fans. Other contingencies are in place if the AC can't be fixed. But the repairmen tell us the main unit, which covers most of the first floor, should be up and running shortly. Then they'll take a look at the other unit, which covers the pressroom.

As always, we'll publish a newspaper. But this one may take a little more sweat than usual.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The publisher's agenda

We're in the middle of month-end and quarter-end close. We're totaling up the numbers to see how we did financially in June and during the second three months of the year, trying to make sense of the figures, so we know we're we've been and where we hope to go. It's one of the ways we keep score.

I point this out because while a blog is supposed to give you some insight about me personally, I also want to give you a sense of what a daily newspaper publisher does. And make no mistake, the most frequent question I'm asked is, "What does a publisher do?"

What you saw in "Citizen Kane" (and what you hear about Rupert Murdoch) aside, most publishers spend the majority of their time running the business, not writing and/or editing the paper. We have reporters and editors for that. In fact, I usually don't know what's in the Freeman until I pick mine up off the kitchen counter each morning.

I spend as much, if not more, time with our controller and advertising director and circulation director and production manager as I do with our managing editor. I click away at my hand-held calculator as much as I do my copy editing computer terminal. I put in more time on human resources matters than almost everything else. And as noted in previous posts, I'm intimately familiar with the weather, given its potential to disrupt production. (This afternoon's golf ball-sized hailstorm had me holding my breath.)

That's not to say I have zero contact with the newsroom. I review and approve (although rarely write) editorials. I take care of letters to the editor and editorial page columnists to remove that chore from an already busy crew of editors. (In that sense, I'm relatively unique among publishers, most of whom don't do that much because most don't have a background in the newsroom. Had I grown up on the business side, my editorial involvement would be even less.)

Point is, my primary role as publisher is to set the direction for the company and allow a good group of managers and employees carry it out.

Now back to month-end. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fireworks? No thanks

I have a confession to make: I wouldn't walk across the street to watch a fireworks display.

It wasn't always so. When I was about 10, we spent the summer in a bungalow right off the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach. Every week -- Saturday night, I think -- there was a glorious fireworks display launched from a barge in the Atlantic. Ira the 10-year-old thought it was great.

Flash forward to fatherhood. We would take our boys to New Paltz (there used to be a show on the "tripping fields" on campus) or Saugerties (a former city editor owned a home close enough to the village so that we could see the boomers without having to encounter the traffic jam at the end of the night). Ira the dad put up with it for the kids' sake.

But, at the risk of playing Independence Day Scrooge, in my mind, a little goes a long way when it comes to fireworks. Been there, done that.

Maybe someday Ira the granddad will bring baby Elizabeth to one of these summertime rituals. Oh, well, you do what you have to do.

Speaking of summertime rituals, when did the Nathan's hot dog eating contest transcend from being a public relations man's dream event to promote a product, perhaps worthy of a picture in the paper and maybe 10 seconds on the evening news on an otherwise slow holiday, to live coverage on an all-sports cable TV newtwork and a front-page spread on -- gasp! -- my own paper?

Just another sign of the end of the world as we knew it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What was she thinking?

Did you hear about A-Rod's wife? A-Rod would be Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. Him you've heard of, yes?

Anyway, there was his wife pictured on the front page of yesterday's New York Post (where else?) sitting in the family section at Yankee Stadium wearing a tank top with a familiar two-word obscenity across the back.

Occasionally I run into something that tells me I'm out of step with the pop culture. This is one of those moments.

Have we reached the point in our history (by the way, Happy Birthday, America!) when this sort of thing has become fashionable?

We're not talking about a garment worn by street punks. Given A-Rod's pay grade, I'm guessing Mrs. A-Rod (Cynthia) does most of her shopping at high-end emporiums. OK, even if she picked it up at one of those fun shops along California's Venice Beach (where I've noticed a few pieces of apparel emblazoned with, shall we say, off-color sayings) or some such place closer to home, did she actually think there was nothing wrong wearing it to the ballpark? Heck, even the Yankees draw the line on that. They've long had a policy prohibiting bad language on clothes or banners. (The Associated Press reports today that the team's general manager has since spoken to Mr. and Mrs. A-Rod.)

I feel like the grandfather in "Moonstruck" who cries, "I'm so confused," when he can't follow what's going on in his family.

Understand, I've been in the newspaper business a long time. I was in the National Guard. I go to the movies. I read books. I grew up on the streets of the Bronx, for heaven's sake. I've heard these words before. Yes, I've even used them. I'm not offended as much as I am dismayed about some of society's trends.

By most definitions, Mrs. A-Rod's choice of tank top was a bad one. Why didn't she know that?

Monday, July 2, 2007

On the lookout

One of my favorite movies is "Magnolia", an epic study of a handful of seemingly unconnected characters in and around the city of Los Angeles. To oversimply its basic theme, "Magnolia" is about coincidence -- being someplace at the right (or, more accurately, wrong) time.

I was thinking about "Magnolia" over the weekend while reading and watching reports of the botched terrorist attempts in London and Glasgow.

People were going about their business -- having fun after hours in London's West End, preparing to travel or greet arriving passengers at a major airport in Scotland.

Were it not for sharp-eyed first-responders who spotted two bomb-filled cars in London (and also were it not for the apparent amateurish efforts of would-be terrorists whose explosive devices failed) countless people would have been victims of the blasts.

Meanwhile, the next day at the airport, another failed terrorist bid - this one apparently in the form of suicide bombers driving their vehicle into the terminal expecting it to blow up -- resulted in fire, disruption and a series of arrests, but no loss of life or even serious injuries to civilians.

Obviously, it could have been a lot worse. For those who would have been victims, life goes on.

But what about next time? And who doesn't think there will be a next time? Different places, probably; different people, without a doubt. Coincidence.

As we've learned from suicide bombings from Israel to Baghdad, one minute you can enjoying dinner at an outdoor cafe, the next you could be at the morgue. Coincidence.

My memory isn't great, but other than the Timothy McVeigh case, this sort of thing is still mostly foreign to Americans on our soil. Terrorism experts, however, say it's only a matter when, not if.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 made the big splash, resulting in heightened security that may actually prevent those kinds of deeds from being committed again here. But the exploding package in the middle of a crowded place, or the detonation of a bomb in a parked car can happen anyplace at any time and there will be casualties. Coincidence.

We're living in an era when we're constantly being advised to be on the lookout. But ultimately, whether or not we become victims of terror could have to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time.