Thursday, January 31, 2013

All talk

* Thanks to Jay Hochstadt and the Lifetime Learning Institute at Bard College for inviting me to spend 90 minutes Wednesday talking about the future of newspapers (yes, there is a future). Call my office if you'd like me to speak to your group.

* There's been so much commentary about gun control from so many different places that I can't recall where I read this one. But I was struck by the gun owner who said he isn't a hunter, but wants to be able to protect his family, thus is against gun control. Need a gun to protect your family? Absolutely; it's your right under the Second Amendment. But with what is commonly described a weapon of war?

* I'm not in favor of doing anything to the Second Amendment, by the way. But I'm not opposed to opening our minds to the view expressed in italics below from Louis Michael Seidman, professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University, as expressed last week on "CBS Sunday Morning":

I've got a simple idea: Let's give up on the Constitution.
I know, it sounds radical, but it's really not. Constitutional disobedience is as American as apple pie.
For example, most of our greatest presidents -- Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, and both Roosevelts -- had doubts about the Constitution, and many of them disobeyed it when it got in their way.
To be clear, I don't think we should give up on everything in the Constitution. The Constitution has many important and inspiring provisions, but we should obey these because they are important and inspiring, not because a bunch of people who are now long-dead favored them two centuries ago.
Unfortunately, the Constitution also contains some provisions that are not so inspiring. For example, one allows a presidential candidate who is rejected by a majority of the American people to assume office. Suppose that Barack Obama really wasn't a natural-born citizen. So what?
Constitutional obedience has a pernicious impact on our political culture. Take the recent debate about gun control. None of my friends can believe it, but I happen to be skeptical of most forms of gun control.
I understand, though, that's not everyone's view, and I'm eager to talk with people who disagree.
But what happens when the issue gets Constitutional-ized? Then we turn the question over to lawyers, and lawyers do with it what lawyers do. So instead of talking about whether gun control makes sense in our country, we talk about what people thought of it two centuries ago.
Worse yet, talking about gun control in terms of constitutional obligation needlessly raises the temperature of political discussion. Instead of a question on policy, about which reasonable people can disagree, it becomes a test of one's commitment to our foundational document and, so, to America itself.
This is our country. We live in it, and we have a right to the kind of country we want. We would not allow the French or the United Nations to rule us, and neither should we allow people who died over two centuries ago and knew nothing of our country as it exists today.
If we are to take back our own country, we have to start making decisions for ourselves, and stop deferring to an ancient and outdated document.

* I won't be watching the Super Bowl again this year. Yes, there are a few of us in that category. I heard this statistic earlier today: 100 million Americans will watch. That means 200 million won't.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On a winter's afternoon

A little of this, a little of that ...

* I'm speaking to a group at Bard College later this month about the future of newspapers. I promise it won't be a one-sentence lecture.

* A couple of days earlier, we'll get our annual visit from the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Development class. It's always a healthy exchange, although past students chide me about not talking enough about leadership. It's a three-hour session, the last half of which is a tour of the Freeman building. The stop at our idle pressroom is bittersweet.

* Best I can tell from the peanut gallery is that the National Rifle Association is doing a wonderful job shoring up support among its anti-gun control base. But the NRA seems not to be in step with the majority of Americans (at least according to polls) and is losing the public relations battle, thus marginalizing itself. In other words, the NRA and its supporters are where the Republican Party was in the run-up to the presidential election: listening to themselves in the echo chamber.

* It's too bad it took a long lockout to get to this place, but the 48-game National Hockey League sprint beginning Saturday likely will be much more intense and interesting than the usual 82-game slog. On the other hand, if the league doesn't figure out a way to open up the ice, we'll get more of those goalmouth scrums and deflected pucks that made many games a chore to watch last year.

* Only recently did I learn of this "Catfishing" phenomenon, in which a social Internet relationship between two people can be fostered under false premises. Had I not known about it, it would have made it easy to blow off this business about the Notre Dame football star's "late girlfriend" as a fabrication of his own making. Now, that I've seen a couple of "Catfish" episodes (in which the hosts track down people to see if their stories are real), I'm more inclined to think Manti Te'o's tale may have merit. By the way, if Te'o was fooled, so were those who reported the death of a fictitious girlfriend without confirmation.

* I'd been loyal to BlackBerry for as long as I can remember. Last week I finally bought an iPhone. You are correct to ask, "What took you so long?" I should have known better several years ago when my iPad became a valued tool.

* I recently tweeted my preference for "Argo" over "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty". Since then, it's won the top prizes at the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice awards. It can still take the Oscar for Best Picture, but Ben Affleck wasn't even nominated for Best Director. His omission, as well as those of Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty") and Tom Hooper ("Les Miserables") doesn't speak well of the motion picture academy.

* Leftover from my recent vacation: If you get to Los Angeles, make a point to eat at Roscoe's for Southern-fried chicken and waffles. Just to be clear, what's leftover is this tip, not the meal. My son and I took no prisoners with that, thank you very much.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Take your pick

* Fascinating and frightening. That's the way I'd describe last night's Piers Morgan program on CNN. It featured an incredible appearance by extreme gun advocate and radio talk show host Alex Jones, who has been spearheading a campaign to get Morgan, a Brit, deported due to his stance on gun control. Watch for yourself here. It will make your jaw drop.

* I'm already on record as saying the Journal News newspaper's decision to print a data base of gun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties could have used more context -- and that the specific names and addresses were unnecesary (although proponents make a good case when they say they'd like to know if their next-door neighbors have guns, particularly for the safety of their children). But I'm in the newspaper's corner when it comes to its ability to access what is public information. That Putnam County officials are blocking the Journal News from doing so is against the law. They and a frequently volatile state senator, whose rant against the newspaper was predictable grandstanding, can lobby to change the law. But for now, they're on the illegal dog in this fight.

* Fortunately, I don't get nearly as worked up about sports as I once did. But in my younger days, I'd have been livid after listening to a press conference like the one conducted today by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and coach Rex Ryan. They're "excited" about the future. They're committed to fielding a winning team. They're this and that. Based on what? Nothing other than their say-so. And Johnson says Ryan will be involved with hiring a new general manager. Doesn't a coach work for the general manager? This franchise has gone backwards the last couple of years and fans can't be confident it will get better any time soon.

* I'm actually more interested in the National Hockey League than the National Football League -- yes, I'm the one. So I'm glad the lockout is over. Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners rolled the dice with this labor dispute. The league's popularity was growing and now it's lost more than half a season. Will casual fans come back? It says here, not right away. As far as the negotiations are concerned, I believe that while money obviously was the primary issue, Bettman was not going to allow players' union executive Don Fehr emerge a winner, as Fehr often did when he ran the powerful baseball players' union. You know the old saying, "It's personal, not business." In this case, I say a lot of it was personal.

* I've already written about how NBC made the right call dumping Ann Curry from the "Today" program. But many viewers were outraged by (and sympathetic with) Curry's tearful (and defiant) farewell. They blame host Matt Lauer and that's sent his stock and the show's ratings in a nosedive. Now the network is tripping over itself with feel-good look-at-our-happy-"Today"-family commercials (as well as the on-air laugh-fests with Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Natalie Morales that are torn right from the playbooks of those nonsensical NFL pre-game shows on CBS and Fox). Best way to fix "Today": hard news in the first hour -- not parochial missing people stories, celebrity garbage or silliness from YouTube -- and lifestyle stuff later in the program. For now, as with the evening news, your best bets in the morning are on CBS, not NBC.

* Used frequent flyer miles to fly Business Class to Los Angeles. Plenty of room, a hot meal and other benefits up front of the plane. It will be difficult to return to coach (which, make no mistake, I will have to do). By the way, I sat behind a actress, model and former "Dancing With the Stars" contestant whose head I accidentally bumped trying to get luggage in the overhead bin. It's best I don't mention her by name.)

* Last weekend, newborn Dylan James Fusfeld in Los Angeles. This weekend, 7-year-old Elizabeth Grace Fusfeld in Connecticut. Hard to beat that.