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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Conserve your words

The National Weather Service posted the following “freeze warning” for the Hudson Valley late Sunday:

“A freeze warning is in effect until 9 a.m. Monday. With a cold air mass in place, temperatures will drop to below freezing across the region and remain below freezing until an hour or two after sunrise. The temperatures will bring a widespread killing freeze to the region, which will end the growing season. A ‘freeze warning’ means subfreezing temperatures are imminently or highly likely. These conditions will kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.”

As an editor, I would have shortened that just a bit:

“Cold tonight. Warmer after sunrise.”

And I don’t think we need the weather geniuses to tell us the growing season is over. It’s late October in the Northeast. We get it.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Whose ad is it anyway?

If you're a Time Warner cable TV customer, you surely have seen the "Sir Charge" commercial, in which a man sporting a dapper suit and speaking in a British accent claims to be the infamous "Sir Charge" (a play on the word "surcharge") that keeps showing up on your Verizon phone bill.

The intent of the commercial is to get people to switch from Verizon's phone service to Time Warner's as a way to avoid Verizon's surcharges and save money.

Trouble is, the word "Verizon" is spoken or shown five times in the commercial. The phrase "Time Warner" is said exactly once.

I'm not an advertising expert, but it seems to me that mentioning the competition's name five times while mentioning the product you're trying to sell only once defeats the purpose of the commercial. I kid you not when I tell you that, for quite some time, I thought the "Sir Charge" spot was an ad for Verizon.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Separate, unequal

I heard today that the southern California fire evacuees who are staying at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego are being treated to professional massages and catered gourmet food.

I wonder how the Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had to sleep among dead bodies and human excrement in the Louisiana Superdome two years ago feel about this.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind

Freeman Life Editor Ivan Lajara and I both have used our blogs to express disgust over the proliferation of campaign signs on local lawns and along roadsides. Allow me to stick with the theme for just a little longer:

On Saturday, I drove from the Stewart’s Shop on Lucas Avenue in the town of Ulster to the Freeman office on Hurley Avenue in Kingston. This involved turning left out of the Stewart’s parking lot onto Catskill Avenue, then right onto Merilina Avenue, left onto Fairview Avenue, right onto Howland Avenue, left onto Quarry Street and right onto Hurley Avenue. The whole trip is no more than a mile. I counted 57 campaign sings on lawns along the way. Unbelievable.

Even worse was Sunday. When we’re lucky enough to get such a beautiful fall day on an October weekend, my wife and son and I like to take a drive through Ulster County and enjoy the colors, so that’s exactly what we did. We took Route 209 south from Kingston to Marbletown and stopped at the Davenport Farm stand to buy some pumpkins, apples and cider. We then continued on Route 209 into Stone Ridge, headed east on Route 213 through Marbletown and Olive, turned south on Route 28A, drove across the aqueduct at the Ashokan Reservoir and over to Route 28 at Winchell’s Corners in Shokan, and then took Route 28 all the way back to Kingston. It is not an exaggeration to say we passed more than 1,000 campaign signs along the way – every one of which marred the natural autumn beauty that makes this region so attractive to residents and visitors.

As both Ivan and I have pointed out in the past, these signs accomplish nothing. In most cases, you’re driving to fast to read them. And even if you can read them, they’re unlikely to influence your vote. Put simply, they serve no purpose – other than to pollute the landscape and make our otherwise beautiful corner of upstate New York thoroughly unattractive at what ordinarily is the most beautiful time of the year.

Maybe the candidates will realize this in time for the next round of local elections, in 2009, but I’m not holding out much hope.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Campaign drain

Forgive the absence of my blog for the last few days. Election season is busy season in the newspaper biz, and free time has been more difficult to come by than usual.

That said, a few election season observations:

* Those campaign signs that dot lawns and roadsides around the region are ugly enough, but the newest trend is a downright eyesore: All of a sudden, signs that are almost the size of billboards are popping up around the Kingston area – specifically signs for Ulster County DA candidate Vince Bradley Jr., Kingston Mayor James Sottile and the Democratic ticket in the town of Ulster. The most ghastly of the bunch is the Bradley sign outside the Hoffman House (which is owned by the candidate’s uncle) on North Front Street in Uptown Kingston. The campaign sign stands next to – and is significantly larger than – the Hoffman House sign, and it sticks out like a sore thumb on the Colonial-era property. Campaign signs are not subject to municipal sign laws (because they’re temporary, not permanent), but perhaps the candidates could put a little more thought into their size and placement.

* Since when do write-in candidates get to participate in major debates? I, for one, was stunned to see that unofficial candidate Lisa Cutten was invited to the Kingston mayoral debate that was held during the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday morning at the Kingston Holiday Inn. In reality, everyone is a write-in candidate because voters can write in any name they choose. Does that mean that everyone who might get a vote or two in the Kingston mayoral race should have been invited to speak on Wednesday? I think not.

* A lot of my time at the Freeman these days is spent reading election stories that go into our daily paper or that will appear in a special election section on Nov. 1, and I never cease to marvel at how unimaginative the candidates’ platforms are. Candidate after candidate after candidate says he or she wants to lower taxes, develop the local economy, attract businesses and create jobs. Noble goals, all. But I truly wish these candidates would tell us how they intend to achieve them.

* Lastly, I noticed in reading a story about Ulster County Legislature District 1 that Legislator Sue Cummings, an Ellenville Republican who is seeking re-election, is serving her 11th two-year term. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to serve in local government for more than two or three years, much less 22, but Ms. Cummings obviously enjoys what she does, and I respect her desire to stick with it.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Ignore this woman

I see Ann Coulter has opened her big mouth again, and this time her target is Judaism, which I am proud to call my religion.

Appearing Monday night on Donny Deutsch’s CNBC show, “The Big Idea,” Coulter – who knows the only way she can draw attention to herself is to be as outrageous as possible – said the world would be a better place without Jews; that Jews need “to be perfected” into Christians.

Deutsch, who’s Jewish, nearly blew a gasket. But I’m not biting. And nobody else should either. An angry reaction is exactly what Coulter wants, and I’m not going to give her the satisfaction.

Ann Coulter doesn’t say outrageous things because she means them. (Seriously, does any one really believe she thinks 9/11 widows are “enjoying their husbands deaths,” as she once so infamously declared?) No, Ann Coulter says outrageous things so that the people she targets will hit back at her, which will get her more TV time, during which she’ll say things that generate more angry responses, which will get her more TV time, and so on.

And her motive? Gee, I wonder. Could it be that she has a new book she’s trying to sell? Let’s check. Well whadda ya know! “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans,” Coulter’s latest liberal-bashing tome, was released on Oct. 2. And then she shows up on TV six days later and insults an entire religion so the news media will be forced to cover her. What a coincidence!

Ann Coulter is a sad, pathetic person. And frankly, so are the people who pay attention to her. She has the right to speak, of course, but I have a feeling she'd speak a whole lot less if no one was listening.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Catching Mitt

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was being interviewed on NBC's "Today" show this morning, and the network had the audacity to put the words "NBC Exclusive" in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

"Exclusive"? As if to suggest this was something no other network could get? Don't make me laugh. Political candidates, especially those running for president, will talk to any TV news organization that shows up with a camera and a microphone.

"Today" might have been the only show on which Romney was appearing at that particular moment, but given that he was spending the morning trying to build momentum after last night's GOP debate, I'm sure he appeared on numerous other news broadcasts.

Sorry, NBC, but simply calling something an "exclusive" doesn't make it so.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Web wonders

I've been using computers since 1978, and I've had an Internet connection at home since 1993, but technology, and the speed at which information can travel around the world, will never cease to amaze me.

The Freeman's managing editor, Sam Daleo, wrote me an e-mail this morning that I read at home at 11:30 a.m. It said he had reason to believe there was a bad accident on the Thruway a few hours earlier.

So I took a quick shower, got dressed, drove the short distance from my house to the Freeman office and checked both the fax machine and our newsroom e-mail account to see if there was any information about what had happened.

Finding nothing, I called the state police barracks at Thruway Exit 19, and a trooper there gave me a brief synopsis of what had taken place: A driver failed to comply with a police order to pull over on I-84 (which crosses the Thruway near Newburgh), got on the Thruway heading north, was chased by police, crashed into several police cars somewhere along the way (causing only minor injuries, thankfully) and was taken into custody.

I thanked the trooper, fired up Microsoft Word on my computer, typed a few paragraphs based on the trooper's account, went to the Freeman's Web site manager on the Internet and posted the story.

By 12:15 p.m. -- only 45 minutes after reading Sam's e-mail -- the story was on the Freeman's Web site, available to the eyes of everyone in the world who has Internet access.

Most people take this stuff for granted in the 21st century, but I still marvel at it.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Double trouble

Anyone who lived in the Rochester, N.Y., area in the early 1970s, myself included, is all too familiar with names Carmen Colon, Michelle Maenza and Wanda Walcowicz. The three girls, ages 10 and 11, were raped and strangled between 1971 and 1973 in what became known as the “double-initial killings” because each victim had matching first and last initials.

So you’ll understand that my heart almost stopped on Wednesday when I read an Associated Press story about a Florida man, 64-year-old James E. Pressler, being linked to the 1976 rape and strangulation in Rochester of a 7-year-old girl named Michelle McMurray. I had no recollection of the McMurray case, but seeing that the victim had matching initials immediately made me wonder what I’m sure thousands of Rochesterians also wondered: Could Pressler be responsible for the still-unsolved Colon, Maenza and Walcowicz killings?

It appears there probably is no link: The McMurray case happened a few years after the other three killings; McMurray was killed around 2 a.m., while the double-initial victims all were abducted and slain in the late afternoon; and McMurray appears to have been singled out by Pressler, who knew her from working in the apartment building where she lived. Also, McMurray was found in the city of Rochester, while the double-initial victims all were found in nearby towns with initials that matched their names – Colon in Churchville, Maenza in Macedon and Walcowicz in Webster.

Further, authorities say they always considered Pressler a suspect in the McMurray case and never found any evidence that he killed Maenza, Walcowicz and Colon. (The McMurray case finally was cracked when investigators matched DNA from a cigarette Pressler recently discarded to evidence found at the crime scene 31 years ago.)

But just seeing the name of a young, female 1970s rape and strangulation victim from Rochester whose first and last initials were the same sent a chill down my spine. And reading that a suspect was in custody gave me momentary optimism that maybe, just maybe, the Colon, Maenza and Walcowicz cases were about be solved.

It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. But I, like many other people with ties to Rochester in the early 1970s, am not giving up hope.

(By the way, a movie based on the double-initial killings, called "The Alphabet Killer," is due for release later this year.)


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

iTold you so!

In July, I warned against getting "duped into spending gobs of money" for Apple's new iPhone. Sure enough, Apple cut the price of the new gadget almost immediately, infuriating people who already had paid the higher amount. Apple, in response, offered refunds and store credits to those people.

Now we learn that a woman in New York City, upset that Apple cut the price of her iPhone model by $200 after she bought it, is suing the company for $1 million.

A million dollars? To pay for what -- your stupidity? How ’bout just asking for your $200 back?

I guess the other $999,800 is for all the pain and suffering you endured watching people pay less money for an item that you were dumb enough to buy as soon as it came out.


Harmless hugs

A middle school in Oak Park, Ill., has banned hugging among students.

Principal Victoria Sharts’ reasoning: “Hugging is really more appropriate in airports or for family reunions than passing and seeing each other ... in the halls.”


A hug is the perfect expression of close friendship or budding love among any two people who choose to share one – warmer than a handshake but less passionate than a kiss. And completely harmless. (And yes, I realize, as Ms. Sharts points out, that there may be instances in which a hug is unwanted by the recipient. But schools long ago learned how to deal with unwanted behavior without punishing the entire student body. I mean should we ban all talking because some students make unwanted comments?)

I’m guessing this is a case where one or two parents complained and the school overreacted, probably because – as so often is the case these days -- the administrators feared a lawsuit. A more appropriate response would have been to deal with any offending students and let the rest of the school’s young people express their emotions freely.