Friday, June 27, 2008

Nice work if you can get

The Associated Press carried a report yesterday with comments from O.J. Simpson about his current legal problems in Las Vegas.

His legal problems don't interest me. But here's what caught my eye:

"Simpson was vacationing in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota."

Vacationing! From what? Tracking down the real killers?

It reminds me of the old Henny Youngman one-liner: "I wish my brother-in-law would get a job so I'd know what kind of work he's out of."

Taking the Fourth

We've become numb to the crass commercialization of America, but here's an instance that struck me as particularly painful when I read about it in this morning's USA Today.

I'm talking about the Southwest Airlines July 4th Parade, which turns out to be only one of the highlights of a week-long celebration of Independence Day sponsored by Sunoco.

And where will this confluence of American history and corporate promotion occur? None other than Philadelphia, the birthplace of our nation.

I wouldn't be surprised if the parade features a Ben Franklin character walking up Broad Street, his colonial outfit replete with NASCAR-like corporate logos.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A comedy god

I don't need a comic to use four-letter words to make me laugh. I'm old enough to remember fondly the comic genius of a Groucho Marx or an Abbott and Costello and many others who worked clean. (Of the current crop, Jerry Seinfeid immediately comes to mind.)

But that doesn't mean the "blue" magic weaved by the Richard Pryors and George Carlins escapes me. On the contrary, their observational humor and social commentary, while often filthy, were inspired and groundbreaking.

To watch Carlin in person, as many of us did when he appeared at UPAC in Kingston, was to be spellbound by a comedy god. One only need to listen to the respect to Carlin paid by a David Letterman or Bill Maher or Richard Belzer to appreciate how highly regarded he was within the profession.

I'm looking forward to reading our Ariel Zangla's story Friday, which is supposed to include comments from Carlin's older brother, Patrick, a West Saugerties resident (whose voice and "attitude" sounded just like George when I heard him a few weeks ago on Doug Grunther's Sunday morning program on WDST radio).

HBO has been replaying many of George Carlin's specials, dating back nearly 30 years. Try to catch some of them. Or if you can pick up the DVDs, it's "stuff" worth having.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Gray Lady speaks

From today's New York Times editorial page:

"Joseph Bruno, the powerful leader of the New York State Senate, surprised nearly everyone this week, announcing suddenly that he will not seek re-election. It is hard to know what that means for Mr. Bruno, who at age 79 is facing a federal investigation of his outside businesses, or for the Republican’s slim Senate majority. We hope that politicians in Albany — from both parties — will capitalize on this shift to finally clean up one of the most dysfunctional and expensive state governments in the country.

"Here is just a short list of what needs to be fixed: a scandalous campaign finance system, a culture of back-room secrecy that serves lobbyists rather than the voters and a system for drawing political districts that comes straight out of Tammany Hall. Voters should demand concrete reforms from their state representatives, many of whom are going home this week to campaign for re-election.

"This has been a year of upheaval in New York, which, unfortunately, has produced far less change than is needed. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace in March, was replaced by Gov. David Paterson, a very different kind of politician. Mr. Spitzer antagonized lawmakers as he battled zealously for reform. Mr. Paterson has made collegiality his objective. He has managed to get a budget passed and can boast a few legislative wins this week, most notably an improvement in the state’s law to clean up brownfields.

"The governor has not delivered on his own promises of major reform. He did not press legislators, even from his own party, to embrace his excellent but last-minute proposal for a campaign-finance fix. And he has not pushed for a nonpartisan redistricting commission. At this point, we are seriously worried that the new governor’s easy manner means that there will be no real change in the status quo. And the status quo is not something to be proud of in Albany.

"There are strong signs that Mr. Bruno’s departure may make it easier for the Democrats to win control of the State Senate this fall. Bills that now win approval in only one chamber, the Assembly, should do better with Democrats controlling the Senate and the governor’s office. But what Albany needs is fundamental reform.

"Voters should choose candidates and the party that are truly committed to cleaning up New York State’s corrupt politics. Anything less is no change at all."

Still believe the political insiders who contend Freeman editorial writers don't know what's going on in Albany?

Monday, June 23, 2008

On the scene

Think the local press isn't qualified to comment on state government because it doesn't have a reporter(s) in Albany on a daily basis? As previously noted in this space, that's one of the raps we and other critics of the Legislature hear all the time (mostly from legislators) and it's nonsense.

But if you are among those who still believe you need to be in Albany to intelligently comment on it, I point you to last week's "New York Now" program on PBS, hosted by old radio pal Susan Arbetter.

Susan gathered three veterans of the Capitol scene -- Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio, Fred Dicker of the New York Post and Jay Gallagher of the Gannett News Service -- and they couldn't have been more critical of the ineffective, secretive, unproductive Legislature and governor (and the disproportionate influence of unions, particularly the teachers).

Try to get a hold of a video or transcript of their discussion and think about it next time one of our local lawmakers tries to blow smoke in the face of legitimate criticism.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"If it bleeds ..."

It's said that in television news, "if it bleeds, it leads." That means if there's a crime story to be told, your evening newscast is likely to tell it at the top of the program before anything else.

At our shop, "if it really bleeds, it leads." That is to say, if a major crime or accident occurs, there's a good chance it will be above the fold on the front page. Generally, however, local crime/accident news is relegated to Page 2 and beyond.

So here's the rub.

When we publish crime/accident stories prominently, we invariably get complaints from readers accusing us of sensationalizing the news. "All you want to do is sell papers," they'll cry.

Well, yes, we do want to sell papers, or else we won't be around to report on crime or anything else. And we typically sell a lot more papers when there is crime/accident news up front. But we don't want to look like the Police Gazette either, so, as noted, crime/accident coverage tends to find its way inside the paper.

The thing is, reader protestations to the contrary, people devour this stuff, witness the statistics we generate each day regarding the best read stories on this Web site. Almost without exception, crimes and accidents, even those inside the print edition and on a secondary page of, get the most reader traffic.

It's happening again today as I write this: A story on Page 2 of the paper (a "Police brief" no less), about four Dutchess County men arrested on drug charges in Tennessee, is being read more than any other story on the site.

Put another way, if it bleeds, it's read.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

This and that

* Even his most avid admirers probably have read enough about the late Tim Russert by now, but let me add one more thing: From what I saw during a "Today" show interview and at his dad's memorial, Russert's 22-year-old son, Luke, really seems to be an exceptional young man.

* Speaking of exceptional, Tiger Woods' performance in the U.S. Open, which we now know he won despite a serious knee injury and a stress fracture, has to go down as one of the most amazing feats in the history of sports.

* As much as I dread severe weather in the winter months, my house is more vulnerable to power outages when one of those big, bad thunderstorms blows through Woodstock.

* It'll be up to others to decide if there's substance to those sexual harassment allegations at Kingston's Department of Public Works. But I sure hope city officials -- and those in charge of any private or public sector operation -- are paying close attention.

* I almost never listen to "live" radio anymore now that I've belatedly discovered "podcasts" and an iPod audio adaptor for my car.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And the survey says ...

Another sign that the nation has been turned upside down:

MSNBC reports today that a new poll has Barack Obama's wife with a 9-point favorability lead over John McCain's wife.

What's more amazing, that a poll actually was commissioned in the first place or that some people may take it seriously?

I don't know about you, but come November, I'll be voting for a president, not a first lady.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The Mets fired Manager Willie Randolph this morning in Los Angeles at 3 a.m. New York time, after a victory (the team's third in four games), much too late for the news to make any of the morning newspapers back home.

In retrospect, it seems clear this was a done deal long before the team crossed the country Sunday night. Details of the changes (a coach elevated to interim manager, two coaches fired, two minor league staffers promoted) had been leaked to some reporters before the weekend.

Yet Randolph was forced to keep a stiff upper lip, the axe hovering, fly to California and manage the team one more time before being unceremoniously dumped. (The announcement was made in a press release.)

Managers in baseball get fired all the time. Randolph hardly was untouchable. But the way in which he was canned was classless.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Advance pages

Why a Jim McKay editorial today and not one about Tim Russert?

Because editorial pages generally are completed a couple of days in advance, particularly those prepared for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Our Russert tribute will be on Wednesday's editorial page.

Why are these pages done so far ahead of publication? Because they're almost always about non-deadline topics. And by completing "advance pages" prior to the day before publication, it clears the production decks for "live" deadline pages.

Actually, it's also something of an old habit, dating back to the pre-computer days. The need for "advance pages" is less in the computer era.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Required reading

Want to know what makes state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver tick? Make sure you read the profile of him in New York Magazine (June 9 issue).

The piece is called "The Obstructionist," and it speaks volumes about the way things get done -- or, more likely, not done -- in our state's famously dysfuntional government.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hot times

I have to admit to being more than a little surprised when some local school districts closed early this week due to stifling heat.

No doubt it was oppressive in school buildings without air conditioning. Employees at Kingston City Hall know all about that, since that facility's units conked out. And we at the Freeman are aware of how hot it can get as our aging AC barely limps along. But you do the best you can under distracting circumstances and you get the job done.

So, yes, it's been extremely hot. It happens. People learn to live with it. Students will learn to live with it. Sending them home early won't teach them what's like in the outside world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dead on arrival

The Associated Press is reporting this afternoon that a proposed cap on the state property tax is dead, barely out of the starting gate, because the teachers' unions and others in organized labor have urged its demise.

AP points out that the cap, recommended by a special gubernatorial commission, has the support of the governor and "72 percent of New Yorkers."

The unions allege the cap "would hurt schools despite record state aid increases, more than 70 percent of which pays for the salaries and benefits of those fighting the cap," says AP.

Our editorial board hadn't come to any conclusions about the cap. We certainly support getting a handle on skyrocketing property taxes, but acknowledge that tying it to education could be problematic. We were looking forward to a healthy debate in the Legislature. Not anymore, it seems.

Opponents on the property tax have every right to state their views. But lawmakers shouldn't be pulling the plug before the idea gets a complete airing. Beleaguered constituents deserve nothing less.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Just ask, don't tell

There may be no more entertaining - and infuriating - political talk program on cable than the one Chris Matthews runs on MSNBC.

A former newspaper columnist, Matthews has excellent guests and an obvious passion for politics - and he asks tough questions. And he asks and he asks and he asks ...

Chris, come back to us. Let the guests talk. Don't ask and answer. Don't ask the same thing four different ways in the same sentence. Let the guests tell us what they think; that's ostensibly why you wanted them on the program in the first place. There's time in your hour for you to spout your point of view.

Your partner, Keith Olbermann, has caught that drift on his "Countdown" program with his occasional "special comment" essays.

Chris, MSNBC really has become "the place for politics." You've lured us into the tent. Don't chase us away.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A long way to go

I can't recall anything quite like the quicky candidacies of Democrats Sue Zimet and Mike Berardi and Republican Glenn Noonan for Ulster County executive.

With some fanfare, all three stuck their toes in the water just long enough to decide conditions were too cold. In and out.

Odd. Judging by how long they hung around, they couldn't have had much passion for the job in the first place, which makes you wonder why they went through the exercise of entering the race.

Democrat Mike Hein, on the other hand, plunged in head first many, many months ago and was rewarded with his party's nomination. He'll face Republican nominee Leonard Bernardo, an Accord businessman. In fact, Hein's been running so long (counting the time prior to his official announcement when he was lining up his ducks), he makes marathon presidential Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton look like shirkers.

His relative name recognition compared to Bernardo notwithstanding, Hein still has a lot of introducing to do around the county. Given startling national surveys that show how many citizens can't ID high-ranking public officials, odds are good the average county resident wouldn't be able to pick the incumbent county administrator out of a lineup.

Hein, Bernardo and others running for office this cycle likely will hit plenty of pancake breakfasts, chicken dinners and farmers' markets over the summer. But it says here the public won't really start paying attention until after Labor Day, maybe not even until right around Halloween. Put another way, pace yourselves.

That's entertaiment?

The other night on the syndicated TV program "Entertainment Tonight" there was "breaking news" to announce: Sen. Ted Kennedy had undergone surgery to partially remove a brain tumor.

Entertainment Tonight ... Sen. Kennedy ... brain tumor. I'm not making the connection.

The lines keep getting more blurry every day.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Not like old times

The last place finisher in Saturday's Ulster County Men's Amateur Golf qualifying round shot 103. Actually, someone else may have been on the way to an even poorer round, but instead did not submit a score.

Let me make myself clear: I'd be so pleased to shoot 103, I'd frame my scorecard. But I'm not entered in a tournament to decide the county's best player.

If you shoot 103 in the qualifier -- or 100 or 95 or 90 -- you don't belong.

OK, everyone is entitled to a bad day, even good players. But 103? Not the tournament players I know. Not the players I covered in this Herdegen tournament 30 years ago.

Real local tournament players haven't gotten worse. The entry requirements for the Herdegen have.

If memory serves me correctly, you once had to have a 10 handicap or less for Herdegen consideration. No more.

Times have changed. The rigid rules of yesteryear have been loosened. The tournament has been reduced to 54 holes over three days (and players can ride carts). OK, if that's what the committee and players want, who am I to suggest otherwise?

But from where I sit, the special appeal of the Herdegen has faded away.

Broadway bound

Following up last week's note about the lack of action along the waterfront in Kingston on Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend:

We were back this past Saturday night and I'm pleased to report the area was hopping. Restaurants were busy and cars lined lower Broadway and filled the lots.