Blogs > City Editor's Blog

By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bombs, Bush and baseball

* The city of Huntsville, Ala., has announced it will reopen an abandoned mine and turn it into a fallout shelter so that the city’s residents will have a safe place to go in the event of a nuclear attack by terrorists.
I’d have guessed Huntsville was pretty far down al-Qaida’s list of possible targets, though I suppose you never can be too careful. But it might behoove the good folks who run Huntsville to remember that far more Americans die in mine collapses than in terror attacks during the average year.

* President Bush said on Thursday that he’ll take steps to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left travelers grounded.
“Endless hours sitting in an airplane on a runway with no communication between a pilot and the airport is just not right,” he said, trying to sound sympathetic toward frustrated travelers.
Let’s see, George. Over the last 25 years or so, you’ve been president of a country, governor of a state, head of an oil company and owner of a baseball team. Spend much time stuck on runways or in airport terminals during those years? I’m guessing no.

* Twice in the last week, I've mentioned the New York Mets in my blog. When I wrote about how badly they’d been playing, the promptly won their next three games. When I then mentioned the winning streak, they responded by losing four straight. So now that I’ve mentioned the latest collapse (which has dropped the Not-So-Amazin's into a first-place tie with the Phillies in the N.L. East), perhaps they’ll sweep the Marlins this weekend. I’m not a Mets fan, by the way, and how they play really has no effect on me; I’m just curious to see if my blog has some sort of mystical power over their performance.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hut 1, Hut 2

If you’ve driven past Congregation Ahavath Israel or Temple Emanuel in Kingston in recent days, you may have noticed that each building has a temporary structure in front of it. It’s called a sukkah and is used primarily for gatherings and meals during the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, which starts Wednesday night. (There also is a sukkah at Congregation Agudas Achim in Kingston, but it’s behind the building and not visible from the road.)

The sukkah symbolizes the temporary huts in which the Jews lived in the desert after being freed from slavery in ancient Egypt. Today, the sukkah is largely symbolic, though strictly observant Jews – especially those who live in Israel and other warm climates – will eat all meals and sleep in the structures throughout the holiday. Others may use it only for occasional meals or for congregational gatherings after holiday services at the synagogue.

(I bring all this up, by the way, because I was part of the crew that built the sukkah at Congregation Ahavath Israel, where I am a member, and I'm shamelessly looking for a little credit.)

If you want to learn more about the sukkah and the festival of Sukkot, there are countless resources on the Web. This is one:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Postseason push

I guess I'm the Mets' good-luck charm. As soon as I blogged on Friday about how badly they'd been playing, they turned around and won three straight. I can hear the collective sigh of relief from three die-hard Mets fans in particular -- my longtime friend Gil, up in Rochester; former Freeman reporter Bob Mitchell; and Freeman Assistant Sports Editor Dave Hines. It's OK, guys -- you can exhale now. Your playoff berth -- probably by way of the N.L. East crown -- appears to be a certainty.

Over on my side of the league, my beloved Angels wrapped up the A.L. West title today, their third division crown in four years. Nice to see them get it done with a full week left in the season, but now Manager Mike Scioscia has to decide whether to rest his star players (most notably slugger Vladimir Guerrero, who has a tricep problem; and pitching ace Kelvim Escobar, who has a shoulder issue) or play to win for the next seven days because the team that finishes with the best record in each league gets home-field advantage throughout the league's playoffs. Conventional wisdom says you rest your stars, especially the banged-up ones, once you win your division -- because a good team can win at home or on the road in the playoffs -- but the Angels are a notoriously mediocre road team this year (just 38-37), while they have the best home record in the majors (54-27). So it might behoove them to play for home advantage.

Looking ahead, the Angels are likely to get either the Yankees or the Red Sox in the opening round of the playoffs. Ask me which team I'd rather see the Angels face, and I'll just look at you with a blank stare -- because both of them scare the heck out of me. The Red Sox are the only team in the league that consistently has had the Angels' number, and the Yankees are so incredibly hot right now that I fear my guys getting steamrolled next week if the Bombers are their opponent. And spare me the history: that the Angels are the only team with a winning record against the Yankees during the Joe Torre years; and that the Angels have bounced the Yankees out of the playoffs twice in recent years. The Yankees are a team on a mission right now (and they certainly are due to get revenge against their arch-nemeses from Anaheim), and I really don't want any part of them.

If they Angels do reach the World Series, I sure hope they find the Mets there waiting for them. That was, after all, supposed to be the matchup in 1986 -- but that was the year the Angels, after taking a 3-1 lead in the ALCS, imploded in the ninth inning of the Game 5 and then dropped Games 6 and 7 to -- who else? -- the Boston Red Sox. (Then came Mookie's dribbler and Buckner's blunder, and the rest is baseball history.)

Gil and I always wondered how an Angels-Mets series would have gone. Twenty-one years later, we may finally get the chance to find out.


Friday, September 21, 2007

An amazin' collapse

I have a couple of close friends who are Mets fans who just wouldn't shut up during the first half of the season about how great the team was and how a World Series victory was a virtual certainty.

Funny, I haven't heard much from them lately.

I guess it's hard to talk when you're choking.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


CBS-TV tonight premieres the much-ballyhooed and controversial “Kid Nation” – ostensibly a “reality” show about 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, spending 40 days in a New Mexico ghost town, without adult supervision, to build a new society. A modern-day “Lord of the Flies,” if you will.

But the “reality” is this: When criticized for allowing unattended children to work long hours in dangerous conditions, CBS shot back that the kids were closely supervised by adults at all times, according to The Associated Press. Oh, well. So much for the show’s premise. And so much for finding any truth in the promotional line “40 kids for 40 days with no grown-ups.”

I mean, didn’t it occur to any of the suckers who plan to watch this show that all the camera people and countless other unseen crew members were adults? Alas, viewers are so easily duped.

All I know is that “Kid Nation” stands as yet more proof that there’s very little reality in reality television. It’s all carefully choreographed to draw in the maximum number of gullible viewers who don’t know any better – or who just don’t care that they’re being had.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Turning on the Juice -- again

Oh, goody! O.J. Simpson is back in the news. And you know what that means: The cable TV news networks – most notably Fox – are back in their “All O.J. All the Time” mode. It’s 1994-95 all over again. And the faces are the same, despite the fact that this case has nothing to do with the infamous double-homicide in Brentwood.

Turn on your TV today, tomorrow or any day until this thing is over, and you’ll be sure to see interviews with Fred Goldman, Denise Brown, members of O.J.’s “dream team” of lawyers from the murder trial (save for the late Johnnie Cochran), even Mark Fuhrman. That’s right -- the racist cop who essentially handed the defense its victory in October 1995 has regained his celebrity status, thanks to Fox, which doesn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about a commentator’s credibility as long as there are ratings to be had. (This is, after all, the network that gave Iran-Contra crook and Columbia County native Oliver North a forum.) And I assume former O.J. houseguest Kato Kaelin is about to get another 15 minutes of fame, though I haven’t seen him yet this time around.

And CNN Headline News is almost no better than Fox when it comes to this kind of trash. The once-reputable but now gossipy news channel has announced it will devote no less than three hours tonight (Sept. 17) to the O.J. story: all of Glenn Beck’s show from 7-8 p.m., all of God-awful Nancy Grace’s show from 8-9 p.m. and, of course, all of the “Showbiz Tonight” broadcast from 11 p.m. to midnight, which will feature various celebrities “weighing in” on the story.

It won’t matter, mind you, if nothing new happens in this case for days or weeks on end. The news networks will keep focusing on it anyway – filling the time with talking heads who have no idea what they’re talking about it while running endless loops of Sunday’s perp walk, the new and old mug shots, the June 1994 Bronco chase, O.J. trying on the glove in court, the reading of the “not guilty” verdicts in the murder trial and so on and so on and so on.

The only thing that has me at all curious about “O.J. 2007” is who will emerge as the new celebrities. The murder case gave us Judge Lance Ito, Fuhrman, Kaelin, Cochran, prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, the Goldman and Brown families, defense lawyer Robert Shapiro and forensic expert Michael Baden, among others. In the new case, we already are becoming familiar with the names of auction house owner Thomas Riccio, memorabilia collectors Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong, alleged co-conspirator Walter Alexander and Simpson attorney Yale Galanter. They hardly are household names yet, but I have a feeling they will be before long.

Only time – and cable TV news – will tell.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hits and misses

* I can’t help but notice the weather forecasters screwed up again. On Wednesday, they predicted that a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico, near Texas, might strengthen into a tropical storm before moving ashore sometime Thursday. Instead, it exploded into a hurricane overnight and roared onto land with winds of about 85 mph. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: What’s the point of telling people what the weather is going to be when you’re wrong most of the time?

* I read on Friday that the Genesis concert in Albany two nights earlier drew only about 8,500 people. No, wait, the review said “a crowd of about 8,500.” The word “only” was nowhere to be found in the review. Nor was the fact that “a crowd of about 8,500” means the hall was more than half-empty (capacity is 17,500) – a stunning embarrassment for a band whose reunion tour was touted as one of the year’s biggest music events. But then, the hall where the band played was the newly renamed Times Union Center, and the review I read was in the Albany Times Union, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of total disclosure – or the fact that we in the media so often are accused of lacking objectivity.

* Four hours and 43 minutes to play a nine-inning baseball game? The Yankees and Red Sox should be ashamed of themselves – not only for dragging out Friday night’s contest so ridiculously, but for thinking the average fan cares enough to stay tuned in until midnight. Maybe if Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter didn’t reset himself in the batter’s box after every pitch (and have the audacity to hold his right hand up toward the umpire every time, as if to say the pitcher needs to wait a moment before the game can continue), and maybe if Boston slugger David Ortiz didn’t spit on his hands and pound them together after every pitch, and maybe if the entire Yankee infield didn’t converge on the mound every time a pitching coach or Manager Joe Torre came out of the dugout, and maybe if the two teams’ catchers didn’t feel the need to jog out to the mound and chat with their pitchers quite so often – then maybe, just maybe, we could cut the playing time down to, oh, I don’t know, an efficient four hours? And, please, spare me the BS about this being a problem throughout the league. It’s not. It’s a Yankees-Red Sox thing. The Texas-Oakland game Friday night had five more runs, almost the same number of hits and exactly same number of pitching changes as the Boston-New York game and it was over in 3:30. The Phillies-Mets game on Friday went 10 innings and was over in 2:47. And here’s the clincher: The Aug. 22 game between the Rangers and Orioles – in which Texas scored a mind-numbing 30 runs – took only 3:21. I only hope the Yankees and Red Sox don’t meet in the playoffs because postseason games typically start around 8:30 p.m. and presstime for our first edition at the Freeman is midnight.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Wishing all my fellow members of the Jewish community a happy and healthy new year.
In Hebrew: Shana Tova!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


On this sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, I continue to be amazed at how unprotected we are from future acts of terrorism, especially in high-profile places like New York City.

Our airplanes may be safer and our borders may be better protected, but six years after the worst acts of mass murder on U.S. soil, and nearly five years after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, I still can board a Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road or Amtrak train without even a cursory security check. I still can my car drive across any bridge or through any tunnel in the Big Apple without so much as being questioned, let alone searched. I still can walk into a Broadway theater in Manhattan with nothing more invasive than a glance from the guy taking my ticket. (Even at the massive Madison Square Garden, I’ve never been subjected to anything beyond a gentle pat-down). There continues to be an only nominal police presence in Times Square, where countless people would die if a terrorist committed a Middle East-style suicide bombing. And, on the local level, I still can walk into any store, movie theater, shopping mall, restaurant or supermarket in the Hudson Valley without being examined.

All of the above could be construed as a good thing, because it demonstrates that we still live in a free society where we can go about our daily routines without police or government intrusion. But it also demonstrates – to me, anyway – that all the talk we’ve heard since Sept. 11, 2001, about protecting the homeland has been little more than lip service.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Radio rehash

Back in June, I wrote in my blog that new radio station WBPM-FM 92.9 was one of my 10 favorite things about living in Kingston. I lauded the station for playing songs from the 1970s and ’80s “without succumbing to the formulaic classic rock format.”

What a difference – and an awful one, at that -- three months makes.

In the last few days, I’ve heard WBPM play “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd; "Help" by the Beatles; "More Than a Feeling" by Boston; “Honky Tonk Women” and “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones; “Wish You Were Here” and “Another Brick in the Wall (Parts 1 and 2)” by Pink Floyd; “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John; and “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith.

And the station, in its self-congratulatory promos, still has the audacity to claim its playlist is made up of songs I “can’t hear anywhere else.”

Songs I can’t hear anywhere else? More like songs I can hear almost everywhere else – most notably nine notches up the dial at WPDH, which long ago elevated the repetitious play of old, stale rock songs to an art form.


Friday, September 7, 2007

3 = 7.6

There’s a story in the Freeman today (Friday, Sept. 7) about the just-announced 2007-08 property tax rates in the Kingston school district. The tax rate for homeowners within the city of Kingston will be a hefty 7.6 higher than it was in 2006-07.

If I sound surprised, it’s because I am. I might not have been if I had known about the hike before being asked to vote on the district’s annual budget proposal this past May. But the district didn’t bother to tell me – or anyone else who lives in the city of Kingston, for that matter. The only thing the Board of Education announced at the time was that the district’s “property tax levy” -- the total amount of money that’s accumulated, districtwide, through property tax collections – would be about 3 percent higher in 2007-08 than it was in 2006-07.

Now I’m smart enough to know that a 3 percent increase in the property tax levy doesn’t necessarily mean my taxes will rise by only 3 percent. Because the Kingston school district is made up of one city and parts of nine surrounding towns, the tax impact always varies from community to community. Using a state formula known as the “equalization rate,” school districts like Kingston adjust taxes differently in each locale in an effort to distribute the burden equally. But it certainly was fair to assume my tax hike would be in the general vicinity of 3 percent – not more than twice that amount.

And I find it hard to believe that Kingston school board members and district officials didn’t have at least a rough idea before the May vote of what each community’s tax burden would be. I suspect they simply chose not to tell us because they realized that if residents of the city of Kingston – the largest and most economically challenged community in the district – knew ahead of time that they’d be facing a 7.6 percent tax hike, the budget would have gone down in flames. Indeed, it’s easier to sell a budget by revealing “a 3 percent increase in the property tax levy” than by disclosing “a 7.6 percent tax hike for people who own homes in the city of Kingston.”

Numerous school districts in the area – most notably some in Dutchess County – tell voters beforehand exactly what their tax rates will be in the coming year if the proposed budget is approved. Put simply, they give the voters all the information needed to make an informed decision before asking them to cast ballots on the next year’s spending plan. What a novel approach. Kingston should try it sometime.

All that aside, I’d like someone to tell me what we Kingston residents are getting for the additional 7.6 percent in taxes that we'll be paying. Our children aren't getting 7.6 percent more education than they got last school year. The school buildings in the district haven’t become 7.6 percent larger. There aren’t 7.6 percent more buses. The school libraries don’t have 7.6 percent more books. The classrooms don’t have 7.6 percent more computers. There aren’t 7.6 percent more extracurricular activities. And there certainly aren’t 7.6 percent more teachers.

It seems all we're getting is a 7.6 percent larger headache.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Time is on their side

Around the Freeman newsroom, we always like to guess who Time magazine will pick in December as its annual Man/Woman of the Year. It’s a little early yet, I know, but the chatter has begun already.

Time's policy used to be to select the person who had the most influence on the news that year, and there was a period when the editors weren’t afraid to pick bad guys – Hitler in 1938, Stalin in 1939 and 1942, the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, for example. But lately, the magazine has gone for safer, feel-good choices (Rudy Giuliani in 2001 instead of Osama bin Laden or the more generic “The Terrorist”); do-gooders who deserved to be lauded but who didn’t really influence the news (Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono in 2005); and totally off-the-wall abstractions, like the infamous “You” in 2006 (illustrated with a mirror on the magazine’s cover).

It’s worth noting, though, that even before Time shied away from picking mass murderers and other miscreants, it developed a nasty habit of being unable to make the obvious choice. In 1963, Time’s editors ignored JFK and/or Lee Harvey Oswald and went with Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, when the choice should have been the tragically assassinated King (or Bobby Kennedy or Richard Nixon), the honor went to Apollo 8 astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders. In 1969, the year of the first lunar landing, moonwalkers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were passed over in favor “The Middle Americans.” And in 1974, the year the Watergate scandal peaked and the United States endured its first presidential resignation, the geniuses at Time bypassed Nixon or anyone connected to his downfall in favor of – wait for it now – King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

So who the 2007 honoree(s) will be is anybody’s guess.

If the magazine wants to play it straight, it could go with Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. war commander Gen. David Patraeus, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as speaker of the House.

If the editors want to do the group thing, they could opt for the stuck-in-neutral U.S. Congress, the eight U.S. attorneys whose firings led to Gonzales’ departure, the key players in the CIA leak scandal or every idiot who appeared on a brainless TV competition show.

On a more somber note, they could honor the memories of those who died at Virginia Tech on April 16 or in the Minneapolis bridge collapse on Aug. 1.

If Time's editors want to go the business route, they could pick Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate who just bought the Dow Jones Co. and its flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke or the group “subprime mortgage lenders” are other possibilities.

Al Gore would be a good choice, too, for raising awareness about global warming.

Barry Bonds is the unfortunate obvious pick from the sports world. But please, Time, if you opt for the world’s most notorious cheater, at least have the sense to doctor your cover photo of him by replacing the baseball bat in his hand with a large syringe.

The magazine could pick the collective Celebrity Bad Girls, and bestow the dubious honor jointly on Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith, with loudmouth Rosie O’Donnell thrown in for good measure. (How sad is it that this could actually happen?) There also is Don Imus to consider.

It could be a “Gadgets of the Year” cover, with nods to the iPhone, the iPod, the Wii game console and various other wonders of technology.

Or maybe Time will just choose itself for the distinction. After all, it picked everyone else in the world last time around.

Personally, I’m pulling for Leona Helmsley’s $12 million dog, Trouble, if only so the magazine can temporarily change the name of the honor to “Rich Bitch of the Year.”

A list of previous winners can be viewed at of the Year


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Weather ... or not

William M. Gray – the Colorado State University professor emeritus who, for reasons that defy logic, is commonly referred to as a “hurricane expert” – has, for the second time, downgraded his forecast for the long-underway 2007 hurricane season.

Before the six-month season began on June 1, Dr. Gray predicted there would be 17 named storms this year, including nine hurricanes. In August, realizing Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating, he trimmed his forecast to 15 named storms, with eight hurricanes among them. Then on Tuesday, realizing the clock was ticking and not enough storms were churning, he changed his forecast again, this time saying we should expect five more hurricanes (in addition to the two that already have occurred) but making no prediction about how many more “named storms” -- a classification that includes both tropical storms and hurricanes – might occur before Nov. 30.

This guy is considered an authority in his field? All he does is take a guess before the hurricane season starts and then changes it several times during the season to conform with what’s actually happening, apparently believing we won’t notice. (He did the same thing last year, by the way.)

I assume that on the final day of the 2007 hurricane season, if we’ve had, say, 10 named storms and five hurricanes, Dr. Gray will issue a final prediction that states: “I expect there to be 10 named storms this year, including five hurricanes.”

What’s next, Bill? Predicting last night’s winning lottery numbers?


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Da bomb (threat)

There was considerable media coverage last week, especially on cable TV news channels, about a series of bomb threats being called in to large stores, like Wal-Mart, in various places around the United States.

But unlike the typical bomb threat – in which the caller simply says there’s a bomb in the building and then hangs up – these threats were efforts at extortion, with the perpetrator demanding a large sum of money be wired to an offshore bank account in exchange for the alleged explosive not being detonated.

First things first: I’m amazed that some of the stores were dumb enough to send the money. Bomb threats are hoaxes, plain and simple. They’re crank calls. Every one of them. Without exception. In my 23 years in the news business, I’ve never seen a bomb threat result in a bombing, and I’ve never seen a bombing preceded by a threat. Giving in to the demands of a bomb threat caller simply gives the person a reason to do it again – and again and again.

Which me brings me to my second point: I’m even more amazed that major news organizations (CNN, Fox, et. al.) covered this story. Everyone in this business knows that reporting a bomb threat simply leads to – you guessed it – more bomb threats. And that’s exactly what happened last week: The more the story was reported, the more the problem grew. More and more threats were called in to more and more stores, and authorities eventually conceded that some of the later calls were from people copycatting the original extortionist. (Gee, what a shock.)

At the Freeman, we’ve had a longstanding policy of not covering bomb threats. Most of the ones in the Hudson Valley are called in to schools by students who want to get out of a test or give their friends some outdoor time on a pleasant spring day. Authorities have to be notified, of course, and the schools have to be evacuated and searched, but that doesn’t mean the local paper has to give credence to these non-news stories.

In my nearly 20 years at the Freeman, I can remember making exceptions to this rule only twice: The first time was in May 2005, when a bomb threat was called in to Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck. This one struck us as newsworthy because it forced the evacuation of not only the hospital’s employees but also all of the patients, including one who was being prepped for surgery. (I’ll never forget the front-page picture we published of patients being wheeled across the hospital parking lot on their beds.) The other was in September 2005, when a threat was called in to Hudson Valley Mall in the town of Ulster just seven months after Robert Bonelli Jr. went on his notorious shooting rampage there. Our reasoning was that any event causing public alarm in a place that just experienced the worst local shooting spree in recent history warranted our attention.

Beyond those rare cases, though, covering bomb threats would be a waste of space in our newspaper and a waste of time for reporters who could be covering more important subjects.