Friday, January 30, 2009


* Secondhand smoke alert: Cheech and Chong play Radio City Music Hall Saturday night. In you're in the neighborhood (or the audience), inhale at your own risk.

*Tivo alert I: Barack Obama will be interviewed by Matt Lauer at around 5 p.m. Sunday during the Super Bowl pre-game on NBC. Bruce Springstein and Co. will do four numbers at halftime. Plan accordingly. The game will be an after thought.

*Tivo alert II: If you missed it the first time around, be on the lookout for repeats of the six-hour PBS series "Make 'em Laugh". If you like comedy and comedians, you'll enjoy the great film clips and interviews. The "Wise Guys" episode featuring Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Larry David, Don Rickles, Phil Silvers and Paul Lynde, was particularly good. Others featured in the series include George Carlin, Laurel and Hardy, the Smothers Brothers, Lenny Bruce and Jack Benny. Good stuff.

* Book tour alert: Joe Torre makes his first televised comments on his controversial book tonight at 9 on Larry King's CNN program. As noted in a previous blog, critics would be wise to read the book before rapping its publicized tabloid quotes. Most reviewers agree the hot stuff isn't all that hot, nor does it take up much of the nearly 500 pages. The generally well-received book documents the rise and fall of the Yankees during Torre's tenure as manager. That said, it's clear Torre's reputation is taking a beating for comments many feel are ill-advised. Veteran baseball writer Murray Chass' views on Torre's book, as well as one by Mark McGwire's brother are worth your while here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thinking out loud

* It can't hurt President Obama's media coverage that Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been dazzling in the daily White House briefings, a ritual that used to be behind the scenes, but in recent years has been broadcast live on cable networks. So far, Gibbs has been informative, likable and disarming. If you think a little sugar doesn't work with press types, you haven't been paying attention.

* The president promised a new atmosphere in Washington as far as political squabbling is concerned and he's delivering. Obama has actually gone to Capitol Hill to meet with House leaders, including the loyal opposition. Yet some critics think this is a sign of weakness. Not me. As I said yesterday, he did win the election and he's right to remind Republicans of that fact. But it doesn't mean he shouldn't listen to their ideas. It's possible his mind can be changed. If not, the minority shouldn't complain that it was frozen out.

* If you're into state politics and you're not reading Liz Benjamin's blog, you're missing the most informative source of information on the subject. And, yes, Liz is the daughter of Gerry Benjamin and Helise Winters of SUNY New Paltz.

* I've discovered a reason to watch the Super Bowl: Weather conditions in Tampa Sunday are expected to be sunny and in the 60s. For those of us in weary-of-winter Upstate New York, it will be a visual reminder that such a climate does exist.

To tell the truth

Gov. Paterson denies he was the source of leaks in the wake of Caroline Kennedy's withdrawal from consideration for Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate seat.

Believe him? New York Daily News columnist Bill Hammond doesn't. And he makes a compelling case here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Up and running

* Barack Obama is getting heat in some corners for reminding Republicans who are balking at his stimulus plan that he won the election. I say, good for him. He did win. Let him advance his proposals. If they're successful, he deservedly gets the credit and the country will be on the road to recovery. If they're not successful, Republicans will have a legitimate beef to take to voters.

* Wouldn't it be a good idea for those who are blasting former Yankees manager Joe Torre about the leaked excerpts from his new book if they read it first?

* Regarding my recent blog on the Gillibrand announcement, I don't know how I neglected to point out the ominous presence of Al D'Amato front and center. I know; Gillibrand was an intern for D'Amato in the old days. But seeing Sen. Pothole (now a big-time lobbyist) over her right shoulder (closer than Speaker Silver or Sen. Schumer) was a terrible signal to New Yorkers and the nation.

* I know it's anti-American, but I haven't watched a Super Bowl since I gave up sportswriting. That said, at least I knew who was playing. This year, I had to think twice when someone asked me who I liked in the big game. I knew the Cardinals were in, but I initially thought they were playing Baltimore. I'm not sure if that says more about me or the appeal of this year's game.

* So many contenders on both sides of the aisle are stepping forward to see Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat that it looks like the stampede at the start of the Kentucky Derby. Better yet, there's no obvious front-runner.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Gillibrand announcement

If you like watching sausage being made, you loved the way Gov. Paterson replaced Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate.

A process that took far too long and lent itself to too much speculation - Paterson said he was trying to be deliberate and transparent - culminated in an odd announcement this afternoon in Albany.

The event was scheduled for noon and the podium filled with notables from the state and federal levels (I thought Congressman Hinchey was conspicuously absent for a neighboring colleague's whoopdedo), who stood around uncomfortably under the TV lights for nearly 20 minutes awaiting the governor and Senate-designate Kirsten Gillibrand. The delay had the big shots squirming and cable commentators vamping in critical terms about the apparent disorganization.

Gov. Paterson finally appeared with Gillibrand two steps behind, at which point we heard one of his less impressive speeches, a rambling several minutes worth of rhetoric finally leading up to the official announcement.

Then it was Gillibrand's turn. Reading from a prepared speech, she went on for so long she missed President Obama's first attempt at a congratulatory phone call. At one point - I can't remember if it was before or after Gillibrand named all her relatives - Paterson whispered that Obama was on the line, forcing her to shuffle pages and finally stop talking.

That brought Sen. Schumer to the plate, followed by Congresswoman Nita Lowey of Westchester County. While Schumer spoke, he was interrupted to get Gillibrand on the phone with the White House. Undaunted, Schumer continued speaking, while cameras panned away from him to Paterson and Gillibrand, who were in the wings speaking to the president.

Finally, it was time for questions and answers. This was, after all, supposed to be a press conference, not a campaign rally.

But there wasn't much time, particularly when Gillibrand provided an overly long explanation for her "No" vote on the bank bailout plan.

That reminded me of the then congressional candidate's one and only visit to the Freeman. We liked Gillibrand and supported her candidacy against then Congressman John Sweeney. But could she talk!

Having not been in her company since then - she agreed to visit us again in October when she was running against Sandy Treadwell, but the challenger blew us off, so our reporter interviewed Gillibrand by telephone - I'd have thought she had learned to be more concise. Apparently not.

So, between the length of Paterson's search, the Caroline Kennedy debacle (her own poor showing and the mystery surrounding her late withdrawal) and one of the oddest press conferences I've witnessed, this was indeed a memorable episode in state history.

Now we have to look forward to Gillibrand running for the office next year (probably first facing a by no means slam-dunk primary). The survivor of the 2010 general election gets to do it all over again in 2012.

I'm already worn out just thinking about it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pictures and sound

I'll be out of town on business for a couple of days, which means two things:

1. No new blogs. (I pause here for your sighs of despair.)

2. I won't be in front of a TV Tuesday to watch the Inauguration and assorted hoopla.

To say the least, missing out on a live armchair view of history is disturbing. So tonight the Tivo will be set to record the action from mid-morning until the end of the parade. (I should be in my hotel room in time for the Inaugural balls.)

And on what channel will the Tivo be set? Liberal MSNBC? Conservative Fox? Sort of middle-of-the-road CNN? One of the major networks? No, no, no and no.

For me, this will be a C-SPAN event.

Precious little narration. No opinions. No distractions from the speakers. Only pictures and sound, live and direct from our nation's capital. C-SPAN it is.

Quick, check it out

We've all seen this tale in the movies - and in real life, too. For some reason, the scenario of recent vintage that immediately comes to mind is from the film "You've Got Mail", in which Meg Ryan's once-thriving bookstore loses all its customers (and eventually closes) after Tom Hanks' mega-bookstore opens around the corner.

It's not quite the same for several reasons, but that's what it seems like on Washington Avenue near the Roundabout since the area's third Quick Chek gasoline station/convenience market opened last week.

All of a sudden, a formerly busy Mobil station across the street is like a ghost town.

This morning at about 7:45 there were no cars parked at Mobil. No gas was being sold, no coffee or newspapers, either.

At the same time, Quick Chek's parking lot and gas pumps were packed. Maybe it was the lure of free coffee, perhaps the slightly cheaper fuel. But for now, the shiny, new Quick Chek is eating Mobil's lunch. (And the couple of times I've passed Quick Chek on Albany Avenue in Kingston and Route 9W in the town of Ulster, they've been extremely busy, too.)

It's fascinating to witness such stark examples of capitalism and free enterprise are at work.

Friday, January 16, 2009

State of play

With so much bad news in the newspaper industry these days - rare is the afternoon when I don't read about more layoffs, bankruptcies and other gut-wrenching developments - I can't help but look for silver linings. And the shiniest are in the form of statstics that land the desks of publishers of newspapers large and small in every corner of the country:

More people are reading newspapers than at any time in our history.

Let me repeat that:

More people are reading newspapers than at any time in our history.

Yes, paid circulation is down, and that's bad for a number of revenue-related reasons.

But when you combine the number of people who buy newspapers every day, add those who read "pass along" copies, then factor in the ever-increasing "unique visitors" to newspaper Websites, and you can't come to any other conclusion than that newspapers remain valuable, informative and relevant in people's lives.

So, why the long faces in our industry?

Because as fewer people buy the print product, there's less money coming in the door. And when paid circulation decreases, it limits a newspaper's ability to attract advertisers (and premium rates). Less revenue translates into less money to spend on staff and other necessary expenses, thus jobs are lost and investments are scrapped. Meanwhile, people reading the newspaper on the Website don't (yet) pay for it. And advertisers are still hard to come by. Oh, and did anyone say this is occurring in the midst of the nation's worst economic crisis in eight decades?

This imperfect storm for our industry is thus taking its toll in a well-documented way, and it's not good.

What's the answer? Find me the publisher who knows for sure and the entire industry will chip in to make him/her comfortable forever.

I'll tell you this: Communities that might have been indifferent, maybe even antagonistic, about their local newspapers sure do take notice when they're faced with the prospect of them disappearing. Look what happened the last month or so with the dailies in New Britain and Bristol, Ct., both owned by the Freeman's parent company. Even the governor got into the act in an attempt to save those newspapers from extinction when it was announced they were going to be closed. Fortunately, a buyer surfaced and the papers will live to see another inauguration and, hopefully, many more.

No longer buy or advertise in the local newspaper? Prefer to read it for free on the Internet? Remember, if the print product goes under, so does the Website. As folks in those two Connecticut cities discovered, that's an unacceptable prospect.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gone fishin'

I get to Albany a fair number of times each month. Fortunately, according to Bill Hammond of the New York Daily News, I'm not likely to get backed up by much legislative traffic when I go through Empire State Plaza. The reason? The Legislature is on vacation.

Check it out here.

Catching up

* Catching up to the Senate: Is it any wonder that the average American can't quite figure out how government works? Take, for instance, today's Senate confirmation hearings. All hands were on deck for the opening remarks from Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state designee, and from the committee chairs. But as the day dragged on and the senators were taking their turns at questioning the nominee, most of the committee seats were empty, senators having slipped out to serve on other committees (I believe Sen. Dodd said he had two more hearings on his schedule today) or shifted gears to different responsibilities. Yes, there are transcripts, aides and TV monitors to inform the absentees, but it can't beat being there. Then again, since the magic of C-SPAN came our way, many of us didn't realize the number of House and Senate speeches made before virtually empty chambers.

* Catching up to the Golden Globes: Know why people like to watch this program? In addition to the relatively free-wheeling nature of the event, there no contrived musical numbers and only one honorary presentation (which is generally entertaining). Mostly it's award after award. And the celebrities at the Beverly Hills Hilton actually look like they're having a good time. (You think the big champagne bottles at each table have something to do with it?)

* Catching up to the NFL Playoffs: The Giants (and QB Eli Manning) weren't that good last year when they won the Super Bowl,and they weren't that bad Sunday when they were eliminated by the Eagles. (By the way, Fox announcer Joe Buck - although his pedigree is baseball - is much better at calling a football game.) In my view, that's because during a football game, he doesn't have the opportunity to try to be funny, as he often unsuccessfully attempts to do in baseball.

* Catching up to cable: Add MSNBC's Joe Scarborough to the list of blowhards who won't let a guest get in a point of view. Why Chrystia Freeland of the Financial Times, who was belittled Monday by a Scarborough rant on waterboarding, put herself through the ordeal is beyond me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Friday buzz

* For all the bashing of the liberal mainstream media by Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin, that same liberal mainstream media sure does give them a lot of space and air time.

* I understand weather forecasting can be imprecise, particularly when all it takes is the difference of a few miles to make a relatively minor snow event into a full-fledged, get-out-the-heavy-equipment storm. But the National Weather Service sure is hedging its bets about Saturday. The primary forecast for Kingston is an inch or two of snow tomorrow. The accompanying forecast is for upwards of seven. Unless it's 75 and sunny, I guess they'll be correct.

* When I pick up the Freeman to look for the movie listings, I like to think I'm seeing all the choices in the local area. But the Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock hasn't advertised with us for quite some time. I'm told it has to do with our rates, but that can't be it. The price is dirt cheap. It's hard for me to believe that advertising with us wouldn't cover their cost by generating just a few ticket sales from people like me (and we live in Woodstock) for whom Tinker Street has dropped from the radar.

* The day after Inauguration Day is going to be another one of those times when people rediscover daily newspapers. At least one major advertiser is so convinced people will be rushing to the newsstands to read about the new president's first day in office (and save the papers for keepsakes), it wants a guarantee that 50 percent more copies than normal will be printed. You'll remember what happened the day after Election Day. In many parts of the country, newspapers sold out so quickly that they became collector's items up for auction on EBay. Yes, we'll print extra copies of the Freeman on Jan. 21. Also on Jan. 20, when we publish a special Inaugration Day tabloid insert.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You never know

* Someone just mentioned that the college football championship game will be played tonight. I've never been a big follower of the college game. But I certainly used to pay attention on New Year's Day, when there'd be the Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl in an orgy of wall-to-wall action. Now, the big deal on Jan. 1 (with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl) is, of all things, outdoor professional hockey. Anyway, I had to look in my favorite paper to see which teams are playing tonight. I suppose people will watch. But I can't shake the feeling that the juice is missing.

* I see where Congressman Hinchey believes his appointment to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense puts him in position to hopefully influence some big money to the fledgling Solar Energy Consortium in the town of Ulster. That would be good news for the region, the congressman and the solar energy folks. But I'm not a big fan of the way the game is played. If the Solar Energy Consortium (for which Hinchey deserves credit for getting it off the ground) warrants millions of dollars from the feds, it should receive it even if a local congressman with seniority isn't on a committee to fast-track it. Merit, not congressional clout, should be the determining factor.

* Programming alert: The next "Media Project" on WAMC will feature the anchor, the editor and the publisher, not the professor. If you're a regular listener, you know who they are, and you understand that this mix will make the show unique. Hear for yourself at 6 o'clock Sunday, 3 o'clock Monday or anytime at

* When I first saw the video of the five presidents in the Oval Office, I thought it odd that Jimmy Carter was a step or so removed from Bill Clinton, while the others were shoulder-to-shoulder. Then one of the cable commentators said Clinton and Carter have a serious dislike for each other. How did I miss that story?

* Speaking of images, there was former Gov. Mario Cuomo in the crowd yesterday at Gov. Paterson's State of the State, uncomfortably squeezed between former Gov. Hugh Carey and Cuomo's first lieutenant governor Al DelBello. Cuomo hasn't spent much time (in public anyway) in the Capitol since he left office, so his appearance caught my attention. You think he was paying homage to Paterson, who soon will name the next U.S. senator from New York? After all, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is said to be on the short list.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The governor's address

One can't help but marvel at Gov. Paterson's ability to make a coherent speech, with plenty of specifics and statistics, no less, given that he does it from memory, without a TelePrompter, notes or Braille. His State of the State this afternoon ran longer the many, at well over an hour, making it all the more remarkable.

As for the content, there were no real surprises, since he's already released the Executive Budget. And the economy has left little room for happy thoughts.

But I thought the governor's key point was at the beginning, after the usual introductions of dignitaries, when he urged legislators to show courage (I'd use the word backbone) in addressing the state's plights.

The implication was clear: Many lawmakers in New York have been motivated more by pressure from lobbyists and the desire to curry favor with voters than they have in being statesmen and women.

If there ever was a time for tough decisions for the good of the state, it is now. The governor challenged legislators to do the right thing.

"We cannot solve our problems overnight or without sacrifice; they run too deep for that," Paterson said.

Our state's "accidental governor" is trying to stand up and be the kind of leader any good government requires. Hopefully, the rank and file will lead with him.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tuesday morning topics

* Excellent interview on Kingston Community Radio (WGHQ) this morning. Co-host Sue Wittig wouldn't let Sen. Bill Larkin do his usual meandering for 15 minutes. Instead, she got him back on point and pinned him down on several important issues. There's not nearly enough hardball questioning on local radio. Many hosts treat politicians like houseguests, not public officials. You can be a polite interviewer without handing your subject a free pass.

* The phrase "Breaking News" has been the coin of the realm in cable TV for years, and now you're seeing it on newspaper Websites like ours. When you log on or tune in and see "Breaking News" across the screen, the presumption is you'll stop and learn about something that happened a relatively short time ago. But "Breaking News" can't be "Breaking News" for many hours. Unfortunately, CNN hasn't gotten the memo. You're as likely to see the same "Breaking News" logo on CNN during the day and as you will in primetime on Larry King. After a while, "Breaking News" loses it cache, sort of like Chicken Little.

* Why all the hubbub about Leon Panetta's appointment to head the Central Intelligence Agency? He'll be new to the intelligence community and lots of experienced hands are better qualified, some say. How'd that experienced intelligence community do prior to the Iraq war? Barack Obama promised change. This is a big one.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Weekend notepad

*I hope today is the last time the press follows the Obama daughters as they go to school. First day? OK. More than that? Please, stop.

*Just learned the Freeman Holiday Fund received another $2,000, which puts it over last year's total. That's pretty darn amazing, considering the bad economy.

*The new Major League Baseball Network, about which I wrote last week, has produced some lively and nostalgic programming. It's been a good start for a fledgling channel. To make it better, how about a little more Joe Magrane, Barry Larkin, Mitch Williams and Al Leiter, and a little less Harold Reynolds?

*When you drive Washington Avenue to Hurley Avenue as often as I do, you don't always give much thought to what you pass along the way. But as I came into the city Saturday, I made it a point to notice the necessary, but not particularly attractive, retail establishments. I couldn't help but wonder, what is it about a proposed CVS Pharmacy that opponents think will detract from what's already there?

*Here's what I learned from the movie "Valkyrie": 1. There was, in fact, resistance in Germany to Hitler (and a plot to kill him nearly succeeded); 2. Tom Cruise does not have to worry about writing an acceptance speech for Best Actor.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dee departs

I must not have read the fine print in the affiliation agreement between Kingston and Benedictine hospitals, because I was expecting current CEOs Mike Kaminski and Tom Dee to remain in their jobs, reporting to a coordinating chief executive officer. Not so, as I learned recently (and we reported yesterday).

I'm particularly sorry to see Dee depart. Over the years, his has been a steady hand, not only at Benedictine, but in efforts to forge some sort of merger with neighboring institutions. Aware that the concept always was hampered by religious constraints, Dee still did his best to find common ground.

This was particularly true about a decade ago, when it seemed possible that Benedictine, Kingston and Northern Dutchess would merge. Philosophical issues aside, this one died prematurely because of personality clashes and intransigence. But not on the part of Dee, who stood head and shoulders above his colleagues (literally and figuratively).

Dee also was a player in a variety of community boards, all of which will be less effective without his input.

Ulster County will miss Tom Dee.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Power play

The most recent of a series of weather-related power outages at my home knocked off the TV 10 minutes short of the ball drop at Times Square, just as aging, ailing Dick Clark was struggling to explain the excitement in the crowd outside the studio window. (The "world's oldest living teenager" suffered a stroke several years ago. He still doesn't look his age - 80 - but his speech has been permanently damaged. Commendations for his moxie, but those of us who grew up with the vibrant Clark can't help but be sad to see him today.)

Anyway, the power outage was someone's way of telling me I'm too old to be up that late at night, even on New Year's Eve.

Which brings me to eight hours later, the power having come on about 3 a.m. (best I can tell from my flashing alarm clock), when I reached for the remote. A quick flip brought me per chance to DirecTV Channel 213, where I then did something I've never done before: Watched a commercial for over an hour.

DirecTV Channel 213 (check your cable system for its number) is the home of the new Major League Baseball Network. It officially goes on the air at 6 tonight. But it's already running promotional programming that will mesmerize baseball fans. Historic clips, classic announcers and rare interviews ran back to back. I couldn't turn off the set until the video loop started over. Great stuff.

After MLB's first show this evening, it will broadcast the Don Larsen World Series perfect game, for the first time seen in its entirety since it aired live in 1956.

I'm not in the business of shilling for TV. But if you're a baseball fan, you'll want to lock in this channel.

I'll be watching at 6 tonight ... if my power doesn't go out.