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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Some random thoughts running through my head this day:

* Has anyone else noticed the striking similarities between this week’s Mideast peace conference in Annapolis and the one that played out at Camp David during the sixth season of NBC’s “The West Wing”? A lame-duck president tries to accomplish the seemingly impossible -- peace between Israel and its Arab and Palestinian enemies -- in the waning days of his administration. Life, indeed, imitates art.

* Sorry to learn that Alice in Videoland, a staple store in the town of Ulster for the last quarter-century, is closing its doors. It existed long before the invasion of Blockbuster and NetFlix, but I guess it was foolish to believe it would survive the competition in the long run.

* I spent Monday evening watching the Sabres-Capitals hockey game on Versus, occasionally switching over to ESPN to watch the soggy Monday Night Football game between the Dolphins and Steelers. Total goals in the hockey game: 4. Total points in the football game: 3. You don’t see that happen too often.

* Regular readers of my blog know that I’ve slapped around hurricane forecasters a couple of times -- first for having the audacity to predict how many storms will occur over a period of several months and then for changing their predictions midseason because Mother Nature wasn’t delivering the expected mayhem. This story from Monday’s Miami Herald wraps up the 2007 hurricane season, and the silliness of long-range prognosticating, quite nicely. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Goodbye, Gordon

Gordon Webb is gone, and Kingston is an emptier place.

Webb, who died Monday at age 69 after battling a rare form of leukemia, was a champion of the little guy. He protested tax hikes, got school board candidates elected when he didn’t like the sitting trustees, often held politicians’ feet to the fire and wasn’t afraid to take on the local media if he disapproved of their coverage.

In his role as an advocate, Gordon sometimes was a thorn in people’s sides (mine included), but he was proud of that distinction. He also was proud of Kingston's public-access TV station, which he co-founded in the early 1990s and often used to promote his agenda.

The public-access endeavor is where Gordon and I converged — he as cameraman and occasional interviewer and me as on-again/off-again panelist on “Meet the Media,” a Channel 23 show that focused on how the local news media operated.

I appeared on the show several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s — usually alongside Freeman Political Editor Hugh Reynolds and/or then-Freeman reporters Bob Mitchell and Cynthia Werthamer. The purpose of the show was to discuss the process of newspapering, but “Gordo” (as Mitchell liked to call him) always tried to suck us into a debate of the day’s issues, particularly the ones closest to his heart. I rarely bit — because my role as the Freeman’s city editor demands that I remain objective, not take sides — but I respected Gordon’s tenacity and his passion.

I last saw Gordon a few months ago in the Uptown Kingston post office. He was cheerful and friendly but clearly not well. I learned only recently about how sick he was, and I was saddened by how quickly his death came.

Kingston is emptier without Gordon Webb, and so am I.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey time

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful and joyous Thanksgiving.

I'm off to a family gathering in Syracuse. Back to blogging next week.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The price of progress

Back in August, I blogged about how cell phones probably have saved countless lives because ambulances can be called to car accident scenes more immediately than in the past.

A story in today's Freeman about Ulster County’s proposed budget for 2008 demonstrates that this benefit comes at a cost.

Art Snyder, the county’s emergency management director, told county lawmakers during a budget meeting on Tuesday that he’d like an additional $213,000 for his department so he can hire six more 911 operators to handle the recent increased volume of calls.

Snyder said the number of calls to the county's 911 center has risen by 26 percent since 2005, but not because the number of emergencies has jumped by 26 percent. Rather, “it is the number of phone calls reporting these incidents that has risen dramatically,” he said. “… It’s not uncommon to receive 15 to 20 calls reporting (one) car accident on the Thruway. This is attributable to the advances in mobile technology.”

So it turns out that saving lives, like everything else, comes at a cost. But when you consider that Ulster County has about 180,000 residents, Snyder’s $213,000 request doesn’t seem like too much of a burden. It works out to about $1.18 per person – an amount I certainly am willing to spend to turn an accident victim’s likely death into a real chance of survival.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Bruce on the loose

I've often said the measure of a Bruce Springsteen concert is not the Boss' performance (which always is good), but the set list.

That being the case, Thursday night's show at the Times Union Center in Albany was amazing. Bruce seems to have a soft spot for Albany -- playing unexpected songs every time I've seen him there -- and this gig was no exception. The first treat was the 1-2-3-4 punch of "Reason to Believe," "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "Candy's Room" and "She's the One" -- a rare combo for this or any Bruce tour -- and the stunner of the night was "4th of July, Asbury Park" played back to back with fellow 1970s chestnut "E Street Shuffle" ... the former not played live since mid-2003, the latter since the final night of the 1999-2000 tour.

No "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (it's a bit early yet), but also no Yoko (I mean Patti Scialfa), who's been skipping occasional nights on this tour. That's a tradeoff I can live with -- especially because it meant the solo song by Mrs. Springsteen that's been turning up at some shows, "Town Called Heartbreak," was MIA.

"Girls in Their Summer Clothes," from Bruce's new album, "Magic," was interesting in that he cued the audience to sing the first chorus -- something of a gamble with a new song, but it worked.

Also nice was the inclusion of "American Land," an Irish reel of sorts, from the second pressing of last year's album "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions."

For those who care, here's the Albany set list (24 songs in two hours and 15 minutes). Songs with an asterisk (nine of them!) are from "Magic."

Main set

Radio Nowhere*
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker*
Reason to Believe
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Candy's Room
She's the One
Livin' in the Future*
The Promised Land
I'll Work For Your Love*
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
E Street Shuffle
Devil's Arcade*
The Rising
Last to Die*
Long Walk Home*


Girls in Their Summer Clothes*
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
American Land


Barry Bonds indicted

It's about time!

Maybe now, slowly, we can start to restore baseball's good name.

I suggest Commissioner Selig start by announcing that if Bonds is convicted, all of his "achievements," including the all-time home run mark, will be stricken from the record books.

Here's hoping.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jersey boy, Montana girl

I’m going to see Bruce Springsteen tonight in Albany.

It’s a sold-out show, and I’m sure there are fans of the Boss who are disappointed they couldn’t get tickets.

But I’m also sure none of them are suing anyone – unlike the parents of some spoiled-beyond-belief Miley Cyrus fans who actually are taking legal action because their temper tantrum brats couldn’t get tickets to Cyrus’ fast-selling Hannah Montana shows. (If you don’t know who Hannah Montana is, Google her. You’ll get about 6.4 million links. And then come out from under that rock.)

Are these people for real? Suing over a sellout? Here’s some advice for them: Get out of court, get over yourselves, and get a clue.

Concerts sell out, folks -- often in a matter of minutes, especially now that tickets are available over the Internet. And yes, sometimes the public gets shafted because large blocks of tickets are gobbled up by scalpers (the basis on which ticket companies are being sued by the Montana Moms). But this is one of the hard realities of life, and it wouldn’t hurt for kids to understand they can’t always get what they want.

Then again, this is the era in which no child is cut from a Little League team and parents file lawsuits over kids falling down and getting hurt on a playground, so I guess this Hannah Montana stuff is just par for the course.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Striking out

Is anyone else amused by the irony of the Hollywood writers' strike?

The writers walked off the job, in large part, because they want more royalty money from the sales and rentals of DVDs that contain their work.

So what are many TV viewers doing while their favorite shows are in reruns? Renting and buying DVDs-- and putting even more money into the pockets of the people against whom the writers are striking.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Road rage

The New York State Thruway Authority announced on Thursday that it now plans to increase tolls not once, but three times in the coming years – once in 2008, once in 2009 and once in 2010. When all is said and done, the cash rate for a car driving from end to end of the highway (New York City to Buffalo) will be $18.36, while the rate for people using E-ZPass will be $17.58. (And you should double those numbers, of course, if you also plan to drive home.)

The authority’s reasoning for the ripoff? Rapidly rising gas prices are limiting travel, resulting in a loss of the toll revenue that’s needed to pay for maintenance of the superhighway.

But wait a second. If use of the Thruway is falling, then so is the wear and tear on the road, thus reducing the need for maintenance. That means the road can be maintained for less money than in the past. So, naturally, the authority raises our tolls.

My suggestion to travelers – and my own plan for future driving – is to stay off the Thruway altogether whenever possible. If you’re heading north or south from Kingston, Route 9 or Route 9W will get where you’re going almost as fast as the Thruway, and at no cost. And if you need to go west from Albany, take Route 5 or Route 20. They’re both nice roads on which you can drive at 55 mph most of the way, slowing down only occasionally to pass through a few charming small towns that you may be glad to discover.

I mean, seriously, $36.72 to drive round-trip from New York City to Buffalo? When I was in college in Buffalo in the early 1980s, there was an airline called People’s Express that offered round-trip flights between Buffalo and New York for $38. The time aloft between the two cities was just a little over an hour, there were no traffic slowdowns, and you didn’t feel fleeced at the end of the trip.

But fleeced is exactly what I feel when I drive on the Thruway – especially considering that its tolls were supposed to be eliminated altogether in 1996.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Size doesn't matter

I can't help but notice that the local candidate with the largest and most annoying campaign signs -- Vincent Bradley Jr. -- came in dead last in Tuesday's three-way race for Ulster County district attorney.

Voter backlash? Maybe, maybe not. But future candidates should remember that beating the populace over the head has its pitfalls.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Hall and Henley

I frequently get e-mails at the Freeman from the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, a group whose sole purpose is to bash congressional Democrats and Democratic candidates for Congress. I usually just discard the missives -- because they’re not objective and have no news value – but one I received yesterday was good for a laugh. In trying to make the point that U.S. Rep. John Hall, a Dutchess County Democrat and a member of the 1970s musical group Orleans, has not accomplished anything during his first year in the House, the NRCC sent an e-mail to Hudson Valley media with the subject line “After One Year, Hall Still Running on Empty.” Cute – using a 1970s song title to zing the former pop star. Unfortunately, “Running on Empty” was a Jackson Browne song.

And speaking of long-ago musical acts, the Eagles this week released “Long Road Out of Eden,” their first studio album since the “The Long Run” in 1979. That’s the good news. The bad news is that “Long Road” is available only at Wal-Mart – forcing fans of the band to shop at a store that so many people dislike and eliminating any possibility of the competitive product pricing that’s supposed to exist in a free-market economy. (Read: Best Buy probably would have sold “Long Road” for less.) Sad, too, is that Eagles front man Don Henley has given up his personal convictions for the huge sum of money that Wal-Mart undoubtedly paid the Eagles to win the exclusive rights to “Long Road.” The man who has devoted so much of his adult life to environmental causes – specifically protecting Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond and Walden Woods in Massachusetts – still sings such passages as “No more walk in the wood/The trees have all been cut down,” but he does it on an album being sold by a retail giant that probably has clear-cut more trees during construction than any other company in America.