Thursday, December 31, 2009

Onward and upward

It being New Year's Eve, it would be downright dastardly of me to turn the page on 2009 without expressing bright expectations for 2010.

But the best I can come up with is, I hope next year won't be worse than this one.

On paper, that shouldn't be hard to achieve. Then again, this time 365 days ago, who would have thought that within a few months, I would be diagnosed with leukemia and the company that owns my newspaper would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy? In short, we can't be sure what's around the next corner, can we?

Fortunately, after six months of treatment, the illness seems to be under control and my prognosis is favorable. As for the newspaper's parent company, it emerged from bankruptcy relatively quickly. So on both fronts, it says here 2010 will be an improvement.

Not that 2009 was all bad. My younger son was married and his TV writing career thrived. My older son continued to be the perfect dad for our beautiful granddaughter. Both of our daughters-in-law are gems. And, oh yeah, my wife of 38 years continues to put up with me. None of that is small stuff.

Thus, I move on to 2010 with a measure of optimism, thankful for all the good in our lives.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fox vs. Time Warner

You may have read that the Fox TV network and Time Warner Cable are in neogiations for a new contract. Best we can tell, Fox wants more money from Time Warner for the rights to carry its programming. Time Warner is resisting, saying to do so would meaning charging subscribers more money. Should an agreement not be reached by New Year's Day, Time Warner customers in this market could turn on Channel 5 and see a blank screen. (I believe the negotiations also involve several of Fox's sister cable channels.)

Let me tell you the selfish part: I don't watch Fox much once the baseball season is over. For instance, I've never seen "American Idol" (a new season of which starts soon) and, as I've noted in this space in the past, for an ex-sports editor, I am surprisingly uninterested in pro football telecasts.

That said, although I get basic cable from Time Warner, I won't be without Fox because I do most of my TV watching via a DirecTV satellite connection.

But, also for selfish reasons, I'm rooting for Fox and Time Warner to strike a deal before the weekend, because my son, Matt, and his writing partner, Alex Cuthbertson, have written the script for Sunday night's episode of the Fox animated comedy, "American Dad". In short, I want millions of people to see this week's episode to do so. And they won't be able to if Time Warner blacks out Fox.

The broader issue is one that likely will involve more networks, as well as Time Warner, DirecTV and whatever provider is putting pictures and sounds on your television sets.

"Free TV" is basically a thing of the past. Although some Americans still receive TV the old fashioned way, albeit with a government-mandated digital box, most of us pay for the privilege by paying a monthly fee for cable, satellite and/or fiber optics. We pay a lot more for premium channels like HBO, but we also are paying for "basic" channels, as your provider passes along the per-subscriber charge levied by program originators.

There have been few high-profile network-cable disputes such as the current Fox-Time Warner tiff, but this one probably is a preview of what's to come. (On a much lesser scale, it happened this year on DirecTV, which did not strike a new deal with the Versus sports network (home of pro hockey) and took it off the air.

Naturally, the consumer is caught in the middle. Want Fox? You'll pay more. But if the cable company plays hardball, a la Time Warner, you may not get Fox, even if you're willing to pay. There goes "American Idol", "American Dad", "Family Guy", "House", the NFL, "24" and many of your other favorites.

It's hard to find a good guy in these fights. But one thing's sure: You the viewer/customer will be impacted one way or the other.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sneak peek

With the impending retirement of longtime syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe (her last column in the Freeman will be on Jan. 4), we'll be bringing Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus into our rotation.

You'll get your first full column from Marcus on Monday, just to give you a preview of what's to come.

But for a sneak peek, here's a blog Marcus filed this morning after the health care vote in the Senate:

"Cash for Cloture! Cornhusker Kickback! Louisiana Purchase!

"We are, or so we are told by conservative commentators and politicians, supposed to be indignant, outraged, horrified at the fact that lawmakers with bargaining power extracted special deals for their states in the negotiations over health care reform.

"'Prostitution has been legalized in Washington, D.C.,' railed Rush Limbaugh. 'Backroom deals that amount to bribes,'lamented South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"Give me a break.

"You may not like it. It's certainly not pretty. But this kind of political horse-trading has been around since the dawn of politics, if not the dawn of horses. So the protestations of fury from opponents of the measure are awfully hard to take.

"Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson obtained special treatment on Medicaid for his state before he agreed, at long last, to provide the 60th Senate vote. Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu squeezed out extra Medicaid funding for her state -- and proudly pointed out that the actual amount was $300 million, not a mere $100 million as had initially been reported. These are lawmakers looking out for the interests of their states, which, if I'm not mistaken, is a big part of what they were elected to do. Somewhere I hear the faint sound of Lyndon Johnson clapping. Exhortations about the common good are nice, but nothing persuades like a bridge.

"If anything, the Democratic deal-making looks tame by comparison to the Republican arm-twisting in advance of - and during - the House vote on the prescription drug program for Medicare in 2003. In the most egregious example, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, offered to endorse the son of retiring Michigan Republican Nick Smith if he agreed to vote "yes" on the bill. Somehow I don't recall the Limbaughs of the world getting the vapors over DeLay's behavior.

"In any event, there's a huge difference between an offer that goes purely to a politician's personal benefit and an offer of help to a lawmaker's state (and therefore to his or her own political benefit). The first verges on the criminal. The second is part of the job description.

"Granted, this is not President Obama's promised change from politics as usual. Then again, that's just what it is: politics as usual."

The holiday shift

Most Freeman employees are working today, Christmas Eve, including me. Some are working well into the evening. Others, including independent contractors, will be out in the wee hours delivering the paper. Most of the same people will be on duty again tomorrow, Christmas Day and night. Then all will repeat the drill next week on New Year's Eve and New Year's night.

All of these employees have one thing in common: They'd rather not be working on the holidays. And that's no doubt the same sentiment felt by millions who have jobs to do at a time of year when they'd rather be at home with their families. But they,too, work because their jobs require it and they need the income.

In fact, millions of unemployed Americans would gladly relinquish their holiday time off if they had jobs to which to report on Christmas and New Year's and the rest of the year.

So should anyone be shedding a tear because members of the U.S. Senate have been working day and night these last couple of weeks to create a health care bill? Should we commiserating because they had to report to the Capitol at 7 a.m. today for a landmark vote, a time to which otherwise disagreeable Republicans agreed because everyone wanted to venture home sooner than later, particularly with a big storm making travel to the midwest treacherous?

TV commentators this morning emphasized the historic nature of today's vote, not just that it was to pass a landmark health care initiative, but because of the rarity of a Christmas Eve session.

Forgive me if I don't take the time to bemoan their fate. I'll be too busy in the office most of the day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Athletes beware

That collective chill being felt in arenas, stadiums and strip clubs these days from word that TMZ is adding a sports component.

TMZ is the on-line and TV entity that has brought the world of celebrity gossip to new levels. You can decide if that means up or down.

With the Tiger Woods saga an apparent tipping point, look for TMZ to do with athletes what it does best(?): reveal what athletes don't want the public (or their spouses) to know.

There may be no bigger fish to fry than Woods, but if you believe the whispers - and who wouldn't believe them? - lots of other athletes are going to be exposed - no pun intended - in ways that at the least will embarrass them, and ultimately could cost them marriages and money.

As long as America has a fascination with celebrity dirt - and it always has - TMZ Sports will thrive and the image of many athletes will suffer.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wrong Brittany

The death of Brittany Murphy triggered my increasingly weak memory for my last entry.

No, Brittany Murphy wasn't a guest on the Adam Carolla podcast to which I referred. It was Brittany Snow.

Sorry about that.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday musings

*For your viewing pleasure, "Men of a Certain Age," Ray Romano's new weekly series on TNT. Excellent cast, quality writing.

*Sorry to learn of the death today of actress Brittany Murphy, 32. To be truthful, I'd never heard of her until the other day, when I listened to an interview with her and actor Adam Scott on Adam Carolla's podcast. She sounded engaging and funny. News of her passing today from an apparent heart attack was a shocker.

*Fun to see analyst Charles Davis working the Jets game this afternoon on Fox. Davis was one of the top athletes and best people I covered all those years ago when I was writing sports and he was a three-sport star at New Paltz High School.

*Speaking of Fox, one question for the guys on the pre-game show - the same one I'd ask their counterparts on CBS: What's so funny? The laughter is forced.

*No snow for us in the Kingston area, yet nearby, including New York City and Long Island, they were clobbered. It just goes to show how difficult it is to predict the weather and how much difference there can be within a fraction of an inch on the map.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mr. Grumpy, Part 2

My recent musings about grumpy John McCain, as reinforced in a New York magazine column, need a companion piece about Joe Lieberman.

Here's a good one by Gail Collins in The New York Times.

The end of E & P

Unless an angel with deep pocket intervenes, Editor & Publisher is going out of business.

That's not particularly important news to most of you, but for those of us in the newspaper business, it's yet another depressing brick on a sagging load.

E&P, as it's commonly called by journalists, has been for over a century the unofficial bible of the newspaper world. It's a trade publication by, about and for the Fourth Estate.

In recent years, you could tell it's demise was just over the next horizon.

First, several years ago, its print edition shifted from weekly to monthly. Its on-line presence grew. But as with the industry it covers, E&P was largely disappearing before our very eyes. And therein lies the Catch 22.

In the glory days of newspapering, everybody wanted to be the first to read E&P when copies arrived in the office. There were the industry stories, of course. But the main attraction was the Classified section, where newspapermen and women from all departments would turn to view the many job openings up for grabs. (Saying you read E&P for the stories, not the Classifieds, was like saying you read Playboy for the stories, not the pictures.)

As the industry shrunk, so did the Classified section, and so did the necessity of reading E&P (particularly with the popular on-line site Romanesko feeding constant news updates about the industry). And as the Classified section dwindled, so did E&P's revenue stream - just like what's occurred in the industry E&P covers.

E&P last week became victim of cuts by Nielsen, its parent company. Word is, the staff will be allowed to print the January edition, then that's it. But E&P staff, heartened by words of support from within the industry when word of its closing was announced, is hopeful those words will translate into financial backing.

We'll see. If not, the end of E&P will rank as a symbolic an event as any for the state of the newspaper industry.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The cable ratings

A couple of things strike me about Bill Carter's report in today's New York Times about cable news network ratings.

The headline is that while Fox News Channel continues to dominate in viewership, MSNBC has passed CNN. Indeed, CNN's sister channel, HLN, often tops CNN.

What jumps out at me is how relatively small all the numbers are for these national cable networks. For all the talk of cable news' influence and the major networks' decline, the latter still draw many, many more eyeballs.

Also of note to me is that CNN, which has tried to play the game down the middle, that is without the obviously political leanings of Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left, trails the field. The middle is no good for most cablephiles, who prefer to migrate to their own political comfort zones.

Mr. Grumpy

Remember the John McCain who, in the wake of his defeat by Barack Obama, said he'd reach out across the aisle for the sake of good government?

So do we, and so does New York magazine writer John Heilemann, who says the grumpy, difficult McCain on display these days is the grumpy, difficult McCain seen before in the halls of the Capitol.

Read his analysis here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tweet, tweet

For quite some time I've been puzzled by - and making fun of - Twitter. But my eyes are still good enough to see that it's a popular social network with which the Freeman has to be involved.

So it is that our newspaper is now tweeting at Become a follower.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Signed up to comment on stories on only to discover that you've been "banned." Then don't fictionalize your personal information.

Registrants are constantly reviewed to assure, to the best of our ability, that names, e-mail addresses, etc., are real. If not, you've not followed the Website's guidelines and you're "banned."

We welcome comments, even thlse that are critical of the newspaper. But we insist on knowing who you are. Don't want to play by those rules? OK with us. Participate someplace else.

And a reminder, same goes with this blog. All comments are welcome ... except those many that are rejected because the writers weren't brave enough to sign their real names.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Times slips away

How fast is the world turning? Pretty darned fast, if you measure it by "what life was like on the eve of the new century" in this essay by Adam Sternbergh in New York magaine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who knew? Part 2

How did Tiger Woods' trysts to unreported for so long? That's a question I posed in my last entry. The Los Angeles Times wondered the same thing. The Times' report can be read here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who knew?

The old timers always said that back in the day when Babe Ruth was overindulging on whiskey and women, sports writers knew, but wouldn't tell. Same in later years with Mickey Mantle, among others.

It was a different time, the story goes.

Beat reporters traveled on trains with the teams, became friends with the players and kept their private lives away from public scrutiny. No cable TV to contend with. No talk radio. Tabloids? Yes, but even with those, the rules were different than in later years.

Couldn't happen today?

So how come no sports writers, gossip columnists and TMZ snoops reported about Tiger Woods' dalliances long before his Thanksgiving weekend blowup opened the floodgates?

If you believe the drip, drip, dripping of news over the last two weeks, plenty of people knew Tiger was partying and then some, yet they covered up. I'm not just talking about confidantes like his caddy, Steve Williams, who claims to have been in the dark about his boss and the women. (Please!) I mean people who saw Tiger and his ladies in public places. You mean nobody on the PGA Tour was aware? No golf writers, either? Amazing.

One of the females from his past showed up on "Today" this morning on NBC. I must say, she was rather unappealing - in my opinion, anyway. But I perked up when she said people would take photos of lounge lizard Tiger.

Now, drinking with pals and women other than your wife doesn't automatically translate into adultery. But a few Page 6 pix of a sauced-up Tiger, arm around a babe, sure would have chipped away at his carefully crafted family man image.

Yet, best I can tell, there was nothing, until the accident in front of his driveway, followed by the parade of women who have since emerged after being remarkably quiet themselves for years.

That Tiger Woods kept the lid on for so long may be even more impressive than all the major championships he's won.

Columbus High School, R.I.P.

Imagine picking up the Freeman one day and reading that the high school from which you graduated was about to close. Kingston High, Saugerties, Rondout Valley, whatever ... it probably would hit you in the pit your stomach to get that kind of news. It's not unlike the loss of a loved one.

That's what I experienced this week when I discovered that my high school, Christopher Columbus, located in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, has been placed on death row by the New York City Department of Education.

Word is Columbus - once one of the city's finest schools - has had a depressingly low graduation rate in recent years, as well as significant discipline problems. It apparently made putting Columbus on the chopping block an easy decision.

I'm a graduate of the Class of 1966. All these years later, the bad parts of my high school experience don't seem too bad. I'm more likely to remember the hours in the closet-like office of the school newspaper and yearbook, and hours more as a gym rat - no, not as a player, but as a manager for the basketball team. I pretty much enjoyed my three years at Columbus. That's how I remember it now, anyway.

The actress Anne Bancroft graduated from Columbus. So did actor Sal Mineo and former state Attorney General Bobby Abrams. TV newscaster Darlene Rodriguez is one of the more recent alums. Other "notables" include "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz and one of the first known transgender celebrites Christine Jorgensen (originally George Jorgensen). Actor John McGiver was a teacher at Columbus. Where I fit into this mix is for others to decide.

For now, I can tell you that impending demise of Columbus made me find an alumni site on the Web, to which I paid $10 to join and from which I'll probably buy a sweatshirt.

I've never been a sentimental type. But I'm in my sixties now, a lot closer to the end than the beginning. I guess that prompts waves of nostalgia.

The high school building will be retooled for other uses. So there's no need for me to hurry down for one last look. That said, I suspect next time I'm heading to Long Island on the New England Thruway, I'll take a detour at the Pelham Parkway exit and steer the 10 minutes or so west to wave good-bye.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday notepad

*Some time back I wrote that I couldn't quite figure out the appeal of Twitter. Must be a generational thing. It was reassuring to find out David Letterman is in my camp on this one. See what happened here when he learned how to "twitter."

*Had Tiger Woods not married his supermodel girlfriend, Elin, and instead remained single so he could play the field with supermodels, porn stars and pancake restaurant hostesses, he'd be a playboy glorified a la Joe Namath decades ago, and any number of athletes since. Given his current plight, you think he wishes he'd asked for a mulligan on that wedding thing?

*Sat in on an editorial board meeting with Ulster County Executive Mike Hein the other day. First time I'd seen or talked to him - other than quick hellos at the golf course - since he ran for office over a year ago. My quick impression is that he has a lot of governmental straightening-out to do (after having straightened out plenty already). Given the snakepit that is county government, Hein will have to remain steely eyed going forward. There are, after all, people in and out of government who'd like to turn back the clock and return historic power to the Legislature, where anything goes and accountability is virtually nowhere to be found. The current system works. Hein's job, in large part, is to prove it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Small world

I remember some years ago going to see a David Letterman taping in Manhattan. Turns out the musical act that night was The Band. Imagine the luck, I thought, of going all the way from Woodstock to New York City to catch a Woodstock-based group perform.

It's sort of like how I felt Saturday when we met friends to see an Off-Broadway show and then have dinner. They made reservations at a place called Olana.

No official connection between the Columbia County home of Hudson River School painter Frederick Church and this Madison Avenue restaurant. (Thanks to a reader who pointed out an error in my original post regarding the aforementioned.) But the Olana restaurant certainly is a tribute to him, from the murals in the wonderfully appointed space, to the menu, with its bow toward Hudson Valley cuisine.

I thoroughly enjoyed dinner. But I kept thinking that a Hudson Valley resident going to dinner at Olana in New York City is like a New York City resident dining at a Little Italy inspired Italian restaurant up here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Story time

*One of the criteria to determine what goes into a newspaper is public interest in a particular story. By that definition, the Tiger Woods yarn is huge. I mean virtually everyone has been talking about it since word first emerged over Thanksgiving about the car accident, the incredible explanation for it and then all the rest that followed. Which is why I'm dismayed when I read columns and blogs (including a couple on this newspaper's Website) that suggest it's no big deal. They must be kidding! The world's most famous - and richest - athlete, whose squeaky clean public image has been carefully crafted from when he was little more than a toddler, turns out to be an adulterer. In the old days, they'd call that "Stop the presses!" stuff. (We'll get into this topic in depth on this week's "Media Project" - 6 p.m. Sunday and 3 p.m. Monday on WAMC Northeast Public Radio - or anytime starting Monday on the Web at

*Excellent reviews are coming in for the new George Clooney film, "Up in the Air." It hasn't opened around here yet. Hopefully it will be at the Hudson Valley Mall by Christmas Day, when some of us traditionally spend our afternoon seeing a movie and then looking for a restaurant that's open. By the way, the movie co-stars Ulster County's Vera Farmiga, who is also getting strong notices.

*Levon Helm hasn't been doing much singing lately; a throat problem (fortunately not due to a recurrence of cancer) has silenced him behind the drum kit. But he ought to be able to say a few thank yous early next year if he wins his second straight Grammy. He was nominated again the other day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Assessing Obama

The current issue of New York magazine has a cover story about Barack Obama by John Heilemann. A key passage worth considering follows about his ups and downs:

"It hasn’t actually been quite that long, of course, but the memory of Obama’s joyous inauguration seems distant indeed—as the lofty image of a candidate with such potential that he seemed to walk on air has given way to the reality of a president neck-deep in a pile of epochal problems. 'Think about what we were handed,' says White House senior adviser and First Friend Valerie Jarrett. 'Two wars. A global economic meltdown. The largest deficit in the nation’s history. A health-care crisis. A public-education crisis. An energy crisis. And a crisis in how we’ve been perceived around the world.' Jarrett sighs. 'It is what it is.'

"In coping with this grim inheritance, Obama has brought to bear great aplomb and fortitude, and his achievements have been considerable. Together with his team and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, he has helped prevent the economy from tumbling into the abyss. He has changed the tone of America’s relationships abroad and begun the restoration of the country’s global standing. At considerable political cost, he has undertaken the reformation of a health-care system desperately and urgently in need of it. Compared with his predecessor, he is a model of rationality and rigor. Compared with the extant Republican alternatives—the appalling burlesque sideshows that are Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney—he occupies an entirely different rung on the political and moral evolutionary ladder. And yet, for all of that, there’s no denying this fact: You’d have to be stone deaf not to hear the air hissing out of the Obama balloon.

"For the first time in his presidency, Obama’s job-approval ratings have slipped below 50 percent. The American public, with its chronic impatience and a collective attention span measured in angstroms, demands quick fixes—but Obama has none to offer. The Republican right has been feral and effective in painting its foe as an unholy amalgam of Hitler, Stalin, and Cornel West. And the Democratic left, always delusional about the degree to which Obama was a fellow traveler, has been sorely disappointed to discover that he’s not a combination of Ted Kennedy, Norman Thomas, and Chuck D.

"Yet the emerging doubts about Obama among even his most ardent and sensible fans are deeper and more nuanced than that. After 300-plus days in office, the president remains, for many of his supporters, a worryingly indistinct figure. One whose pragmatic sensibility is crystal clear but bedrock convictions are still blurry. And whose White House has proved less than fully adept at the marriage of politics and policy, preferring all too often to fall back on their boss’s charm and dazzle to advance the ball upfield.

“'I have no idea what they believe,' a leading House Democrat and Obama ally told me recently when I asked if he could define the administration’s governing philosophy. 'I know that their governing strategy seems to be, ‘Don’t worry, the big guy will make it all right in the end.’ They have the sublime sense that they don’t have to do all that much to plan events, or to come up with the message for what they’re doing, or to line up support, because whenever they need to, they can just put Mike Tyson in the ring. And I think (a) it’s wrong, and (b) it’s a bad way to run a White House.'”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Around and about

*I see where they've designated a stretch in Kingston near the intersection of Albany and Manor avenues in honor of the 156th National Guard. Problem is, they're calling it a "highway." Locals know it isn't a highway. Hopefully out-of-towners won't feel free to zip along at 55+ mph.

*Could the work nearly be complete at the gas station at the entrance to the former Caldor strip mall in the town of Ulster (which currently houses Burlington Coat Factory and Staples, among other retailers)? It's been an eyesore and an inconvenience for what seems like years. A quick glance the other day, however, seemed to reveal long-awaited progress.

*Each time I walk around the track at Dietz Stadium (which is not often enough for someone like me who needs lots of exercise), I'm struck by the number of people who take advantage of this wonderful facility. I remember writing a series of columns more than two decades ago terming the stadium "Delapidated Dietz." It's hardly that now (although I must confess, I miss the baseball field on which famous players like Satchel Paige once played). That said, while there are many reasons to complain about the state of Kingston these days, Dietz Stadium isn't one of them. It's a gem the city shouldn't allow to go into disrepair.