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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friends of the flag?

For reasons that defy logic, I was watching the midnight rerun of “Hannity and Colmes” on Fox News after work last night, and they had former Bush aide Karl Rove on discussing Barack Obama’s refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin.

Rove kept insisting that Obama has said people who wear the pin are not real patriots. Obama, of course, has said nothing of the kind – what he has said is that simply wearing the pin does not make one a patriot – but Colmes, the show’s left-wing voice, has no spine and didn’t challenge Rove’s inaccuracy.

But it wasn’t Rove’s deliberate twisting of Obama’s words that caught my attention.

What caught my attention was that Rove himself was not wearing an American flag lapel pin. And there also was no such pin on the lapel of GOP presidential candidate John McCain in a clip they ran from a recent campaign appearance.

Naturally, though, Colmes – probably the worst and weakest political talk show host who’s ever filled a TV screen -- didn’t bother to point out these obvious hypocrisies.

But I think the larger issue is this: The United States currently has a failing economy, two active wars, a constant terror threat, a collapsing real estate market, a mortgage crisis that’s costing people their homes, a credit crunch that’s wiping out personal savings, a health care system that leaves out millions of people and countless other problems that make this election incredibly important. Why, oh why, are the national news operations wasting their time on Barack Obama’s lapel, his middle name and what he wore during a visit to his ancestral homeland?


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Told ya so

As predicted two entries ago:

With virtually no snow or ice on the roads this morning -- and 18 hours after the school buses got our children home safely in the middle of a heavy snowfall -- the following local school districts (and perhaps others that I don't know about) have announced two-hour delays for today:

Pine Plains
Red Hook
Rondout Valley
Ulster-Greene ARC

It's 8:45 a.m. and the roads in my community are clear. Would someone PLEASE explain to me why my 13-year-old son is sitting in front of the TV set instead of sitting in a classroom.


The Nader Factor (oops -- I mean 'NON-Factor')

To anyone who thinks Ralph Nader's entrance into the 2008 presidential race will make a difference in the outcome -- like it did in 2000, when he picked up 2.7 percent of the national popular vote and essentially cost Al Gore the race -- it's worth remembering this:

Nader also ran in the 2004 election, and he got a whopping three-tenths of 1 percent of the vote.

He'll be lucky to get half of that this year.


Winter wonder!

A funny thing happened between the beginning and end of the school day on Tuesday: The snow that was supposed to change to rain didn’t. And after hours of not accumulating – because the ground temperature was above freezing – the white, slushy slop falling from the sky suddenly began to pile up on roads, sidewalks and lawns across the Hudson Valley (to the tune of 6-10 inches in some places) as the mercury unexpectedly dropped.

And the schools – virtually all of which were open because they believed the initial forecasts – had no choice put to put the kids on the buses at the end of the day and send those buses on their routes along hideously messy roads.

And you know what? Not one bus got into an accident. Not one kid was injured. The drivers, cognizant of the treacherous conditions, took their time, drove safely and delivered each child to his or her home in one piece.

Let that be a lesson to the local school district decision-makers next time there’s a small amount of snow on the roads in the morning and they’re leaning toward canceling classes “out of an abundance of caution” or some other cliché. School buses can handle sloppy conditions, folks, and the drivers can be trusted to exercise caution.

That said, I’m willing to bet most local school districts will enact the infamous two-hour delay on Wednesday -- “out of an abundance of caution” or some other cliché – because there undoubtedly will be a bit of wintry muck left on poorly cleaned roads. That would be a hoot – keeping the buses off the roads some 18 hours after they safely made their runs at the height of a heavy snowfall. It doesn’t get much more backward than that.

If I’m wrong, I’ll gladly ’fess up in my next entry. But 20 years of living around here tells me I’m not going to be wrong.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No award for Oscar broadcast

Is it any wonder that this year's Academy Awards had the lowest TV ratings in their history?

Half the acting nominees were people no one had ever heard of -- for roles in movies that no one saw -- and more than 50 percent of the show consisted of non-famous people reading laundry lists of their friends and co-workers.

What a snooze.

Jon Stewart's opening monologue was funny -- especially the "Gadolf Titler" joke and the line about "Atonement" capturing "the passion and raw sexuality of Yom Kippur" -- but the rest of the show was downright dreadful.


Friday, February 22, 2008

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

It’s about 11 a.m. Friday. The ground here in Kingston is covered with a couple of inches of powdery, very lightweight snow that’s fallen this morning. My son and I just shoveled our driveway – which took all of about 10 minutes. It’s the classic beautiful wintry day. Postcard stuff.

But turn on the TV, and you’ll find that CNN – in those unnecessary headlines they always have at the bottom of the screen – is screaming that there’s WICKED WEATHER! in the Northeast; that the region is getting POUNDED BY SNOW!; that the conditions outside are EXTREME!

It’s February, folks -- the middle of winter. Some pleasant, fluffy snow is coming down across the Northeast. Being outside is actually enjoyable. But CNN (and their co-conspirator fear-mongers at The Weather Channel, Fox News and MSNBC) would have us believe the world is ending.

No wonder people panic so much whenever they hear snow is on the way. They expect the worst, and even when it doesn’t turn out to be as bad as expected, the TV news channels – not wanting to admit their forecasts were overblown - keep acting as if a calamity is upon us.

As a side note, kudos to the Kingston school district, which today used what I believe is the last of its seven allotted snow days for 2007-08. Great job, guys! (On two of those days, you might remember, the roads were completely clear of snow and ice.)

I grew up in suburban Rochester, an area that gets between 150 and 200 inches of snow per winter. Snowfalls of 4 to 6 inches are common; they can happen more than once a week and several times a month. In the 10-year period between my kindergarten and ninth-grade years, my school district closed exactly twice for snow. Let me say that again: Two school closings in 10 years in a place that gets 200 inches of snow per winter.

The Kingston school district has used seven snow days in the past TWO MONTHS – in a winter that’s been milder than most. What an embarrassment.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Power in numbers?

Looking at an envelope addressed to my nephew in suburban Syracuse, my son asked why the house number was four digits long. After all, he noted, there aren't more than about 20 houses on the street. Shouldn't all the addresses be either one or two digits?

I've often wondered the same thing about houses in newer developments. And the only conclusion I can reach is that the builders -- and, by extension, the homeowners -- must think there's some kind of prestige in having a four- or even five-digit address.

Among the house numbers of friends and relatives of ours who live in such developments are 8176, 5810, 10799, 10285 and 5295. There's even a 7200 in the bunch. That house must be really special, ending with the ultra-imporant double zero!

But alas, the number on the front of my house in Kingston is a meager two digits. I feel so inadequate. I couldn't even attain the three-digit status of my childhood house in suburban Rochester. I had hoped to get ahead in life; instead, it seems I've fallen behind.

But at least I avoided the shame suffered by friends of ours near Boston. Their house number is 4. One lousy digit. They probably can't even show their faces in public.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Ahead of the Times

It isn’t often the Freeman beats The New York Times -- especially on a breaking story in New York City -- so when it happens, it’s worth noting. (“Beats” is newspaperspeak for “We had the story first.”)

The story was the arrest on Saturday of David Tarloff in the brutal killing of New York City therapist Kathryn Faughey.

Now, in fairness, we didn’t get the story on our own. (There’s no way we could have, given that we don’t have a reporting staff in the Big Apple.) What happened was The Associated Press, the worldwide wire service from which we get our out-of-town news, produced a story Saturday afternoon announcing that Tarloff was being held for Faughey’s death. All we did was grab the story off the wire and post it on our Web site -- not exactly heavy lifting. But I was quite amused when, simply out of curiosity, I went to the Times’ Web site to see what kind of detail they had on the arrest and found they had nothing at all. In fact, it wasn’t until about 30 minutes later that a story turned up on the Times’ site.

The Times wrote its own story, of course – and a thorough one, at that -- while we merely carried the AP report. But no matter. The reality remains that the news of David Tarloff’s arrest was available online on the Freeman's Web site about half an hour before it was on the Times' site. Pretty cool.

And we beat them on the picture, too. We posted an AP photo of Tarloff on our Web site around 9 p.m. Saturday. There was no picture of him on the Times’ site until after midnight.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Not a time for humor

CNN's "Headline News" channel -- once a straightforward and reliable source of information but lately an embarrassment to the profession of journalism with all its "true crime" stories and celebrity gossip -- thought it clever to label Thursday's horrific killings at Northern Illinois University as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre."

If there's one thing every self-respecting headline writer will tell you it's that you don't try to be cute or funny with tragedies. Puns, plays on words and catch phrases have their place when covering, say, an election, the economy, a sporting event or a dog show, but making light of a mass murder is reprehensible.

A simple and informative phrase at the bottom of the screen like "Gunman kills 5 on college campus" would have conveyed the information effectively. Instead, "Headline News," unable to resist temptation, decided to go for the cheap laugh.

As if we needed any more proof of what a laughingstock this "news" operation has become.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Outraged by roads

There’s an old saying among reporters: “A pot hole isn’t news unless your editor drives through it on his way to work.”

Perhaps that adage could be extended to include icy roads.

At 9:30 this morning, more than 12 hours after the last of the wintry precipitation stopped, Dunneman Avenue in Kingston -- which I travel in taking my son to school – was an absolute sheet of ice.

Dunneman, which connects Millers Lane to Lucas Avenue, is notoriously worse than other streets in the same area because several large evergreen trees overhang the road surface, and when snow that’s accumulated in those trees falls to the ground, it freezes on contact, resulting in a virtual skating rink.

There are only 99 miles of road in Kingston. You’d think the plow and salt truck drivers, and the people who supervise them, would know where the routine trouble spots are and give those locations extra attention after winter storms. But I guess not.

You’d also think the city would have learned its lesson from the December 2004 accident in which a 7-year-old girl was critically injured when, 24 hours after the last snowfall, her mother’s car spun out on a slippery section of Hurley Avenue and was broadsided by an SUV.

But, again, I guess not.


Driving Miss Miley

There's been a dust-up in the blogosphere and entertainment media this week about 15-year-old Miley Cyrus and her father, "Achy Breaky" Billy Ray Cyrus, being shown seat belt-less while riding in a Range Rover in Miley's new "Hannah Montana" movie.

Gratuitous sex, teen pregnancy and people getting blown up on the big screen don't seem to bother anyone these days, but two people riding in an SUV without seat belts nearly becomes a national scandal.


Then again, in today's culture -- where catching celebrities like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton doing even the smallest thing wrong, especially behind the wheel of a car, qualifies as "BREAKING NEWS!!!" -- I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

That said, though, remember to buckle up. Because riding in a moving vehicle while not wearing a seat belt can be dangerous -- especially if you're sharing the roads with the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Better late than never

An update on my last entry ...

A plow finally came down my street in Kingston at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday -- about nine hours and 45 minutes after the snow started falling.



Tuesday, February 12, 2008

And snow it goes

It's currently 11:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12 -- about eight hours after a fairly steady snow began falling in Kingston.

I just drove from the Freeman office to my house -- a quick, 1-mile trip within Uptown Kingston that includes Hurley, Washington and Lucas avenues; Millers Lane; and the street I live on, Grandview Avenue -- and the roads, all of them, were unplowed.

Eight hours after the snowfall began, and not a single road was plowed. Amazing.

And we're not talking about out-of-the-way back roads here. These are three major thoroughfares and two well-traveled side streets. (The lack of cleaning on the side streets was especially obvious because there were no tell-tale piles of plowed snow at the bottoms of people's driveways.)

No wonder the Kingston schools have to shut down after even a minor snowfall.

In fairness, though, I should note that I did see one city of Kingston plow as I was driving home. Unfortunately, it was parked on North Front Street in front of the Dietz Stadium Diner. I guess the driver had better things to do than make our roads safe for travel.


Monday, February 11, 2008

How crude!

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's nutball-in-chief, is, for the umpteenth time, threatening to stop selling oil to the United States.

In Chavez's craw this time is a suit that U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil has filed against Venezuelan energy company Petroleos de Venezuela SA. If Exxon wins the suit -- which alleges Venezuela is monopolizing a multibillion dollar oil project by blocking competition from outside companies -- British and Dutch courts could render a judgment of up to $12 billion against Chavez's government.

"If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we're going to harm you," Chavez said, ostensibly to President Bush, during his weekly radio and television program on Sunday. "Do you know how? We aren't going to send oil to the United States."

What Mr. Chavez forgets, or just foolishly ignores, is that the United States is Venezuela's biggest oil client. If he stops doing business with us, he'll lose a helluva lot more than $12 billion.

But if he wants to cut off his nose to spite his face, who are we to stop him? Put another way, he shouldn't expect us to stop the bleeding -- literally or figuratively


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Aimless Amy

Just a quick comment about Amy Winehouse, the near-talentless British singer who's in the news more for her drunken, half-naked antics and frequent trips to rehab than she is for her so-called music:

Who cares!


Friday, February 8, 2008

Ann's agony (and ours, too)

OK, Ann, it’s time to put your money where your big mouth is.

Appearing Jan. 31 on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” show, right-wing blowhard Ann Coulter -- who has made a career out of bashing Democrats in general and liberal Democrats in particular – said, unequivocally, that she will campaign for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton if John McCain is the Republican nominee for president. (Her promise comes 46 seconds into the YouTube clip that appears below.)

Coulter doesn’t just say she dislikes McCain, as many conservatives do; she goes a step further and promises “I will campaign for her (Clinton)” if the GOP nominates McCain.

Well, Ann, it’s 1:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, 2008. Mitt Romney quit the Republican race about 13 hours ago. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul remain as GOP candidates, but they have so few delegates that it’s mathematically impossible for either of them to get nominated. So, for all intents and purposes, Sen. John McCain of Arizona is the Republican Party’s 2008 nominee to become president of the United States.

That being the case, I, Sen. Clinton, the Democratic Party and TV news cameras all along the campaign trail eagerly await the appearances that you surely will begin making on behalf of your now-favored candidate.

The irony, of course, is that America's hatred for you runs so deep that if you campaign for Clinton, people probably will vote for McCain just to spite you.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Let's party!

At this writing (about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday), Barack Obama has won 13 of the Democrats' 22 Super Tuesday contests, Hillary Clinton has won eight, and one state (New Mexico) is too close to call.

What Clinton lacks in state victories she more than makes up for in delegates -- because she won such large prizes as the California, New York and New Jersey primaries. But Obama reeled in a few big ones, too -- namely Illinois, Missouri and Georgia.

Put simply, when the dust settles Wednesday morning, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination will be anything but decided.

Is this fun or what?

At this rate, neither Clinton nor Obama will go into the party's convention in August with enough delegates to lock up the nomination on the first ballot, and then all bets are off.

For the first time in decades, it appears we'll have have a convention that's more than just three days of choreographed speeches and an anti-climactic roll call. This gathering of the Democrats very well could wind up being what a political convention was meant to be: an all-out, gloves-off fight to carry the party's banner. Outstanding!

None of this is assured, mind you -- given that about half of the states have yet to hold their primaries or caucuses -- but if the current trend of Clinton and Obama alternating victories continues, the summer of 2008 is going to be one of the most exciting periods in U.S. political party history.

I, for one, can't wait.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super relief

I'm a Buffalo Bills fan, so I didn't much care who won the Super Bowl on Sunday. But after seeing how the game played out, I couldn't be happier about the Giants' victory.

Because now -- and perhaps for all time -- David Tyree's "helmet catch" on the Giants' final touchdown drive will be the clip that best exemplifies New York winning a championship. At long last, we won't have to watch endless reruns of Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal attempt going wide right for Buffalo in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXV, giving the Giants a 20-19 win over the Bills.

Prior to this past Sunday, the "Nor-wide" kick was the play that gave the Giants their last championship. Now, finally, it's been supplanted by Eli Manning's miracle sack escape, Tyree's nearly impossible catch and the touchdown toss to Plaxico Burress a few plays later that sealed the Giants' 17-14 triumph over the Patriots.

It's about time!


Monday, February 4, 2008

Get out! (Outside, that is)

People who are close to me know that I’ve had a “time to take better care of myself” awakening since my friend Phil -- who, like me, is 44 years old -- had a fairly serious heart attack in January. Too much junk food, too little exercise. Phil will be the first one to tell you he brought this on himself.

I don't want to be next, so I'm making changes. I have a bad left knee, so running is out of the question, but I’ve taken up a walking regimen. And I’ve made a commitment to eating better. (No fast food, sensible meals, healthy snacks, and so on.)

I bring this up because something I saw at Dietz Stadium in Kingston this afternoon, while walking laps of the track as part of my new routine, absolutely warmed my heart: four boys, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, throwing a football around on the field.

It was a cold and drizzly afternoon, and these kids certainly could have blown off the outdoor activity in the name of staying warm and dry. Or, like so many of their peers, they could have opted to skip the healthy exercise and played video games while munching on cookies and potato chips and guzzling sugary sodas. But there they were – running up and down the field, diving to make catches, sometimes falling down, laughing, smiling and truly enjoying themselves.

When I was growing up in the 1970s in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., playing with friends outdoors was a given. There were about a dozen kids in my age group living within a 10-house span on my street, and we’d be outside together almost every evening after dinner in the spring, summer and fall. We’d play running-around games like tag, freeze tag, “Red Light/Green Light” and “Home Free For All”; sometimes we’d throw a football around, hit baseballs or play catch; other times we’d just ride our bikes up and down the street. But whatever the activity, the point is we were active.

And you know what? Not one kid in the group had a weight problem. Oh, sure, some of the kids were chunkier than others – most likely because of genetics – but there was no one in the group who I’d describe as fat. Look around a group of any dozen kids today, and there’s a good chance half of them have weight problems. I guess that’s what we get in an era when dinner at McDonald’s is considered an acceptable meal, friends in the neighborhood are contacted by IMs or text messages rather than by walking to their houses, and playing Wii games passes as exercise.

If you stepped outside any evening during my childhood years, you heard the unmistakable sound of children playing. Step outside any evening in this day and age, and you probably will hear nothing of the kind -- unless you live near those four kids who were playing football this afternoon at Dietz Stadium.

Here’s hoping they keep up those good habits. It’ll pay off later in life.

Just ask my friend Phil.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Keep your eye OFF the ball

It absolutely boggles my mind that the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate is interested in investigating "Spygate" -- the who-gives-a-crap "scandal" in which the New England Patriots were caught videotaping coaches' signals on the New York Jets' sideline during the opening game of the 2007 National Football League season.

The Patriots violated an NFL policy, to be sure, and both the team and its head coach, Bill Belichick, were slapped with hefty fines for the offense. But how on Earth does this fall under the purview of the Senate Judiciary Committee?!

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. -- a man I respect and admire, by the way -- said the matter is relevant to the Judiciary Committee, on which he sits, because it could put the NFL's antitrust exemption at risk.


The league didn't violate any antitrust rules. In fact, it didn't violate any rules. The violators were the Patriots, and they've been punished. The matter is over and done with. It's time to move on.

Congress' job is to do the country's business, not police the nation's professional sports leagues. The now-infamous steroid hearing at the Capitol in March 2005 -- in which Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro were called to testify about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball -- was completely nonsensical, and so is the Senate Judiciary Committee's interest in "Spygate."

America today is burdened with two wars, a sagging economy, the ever-present threat of terrorism, a mortgage meltdown, a credit crunch and a general lack of trust in elected leaders. These are real problems that affect almost all of us. The unscrupulous behavior of some professional athletes and their teams affects virtually none of us.

Congress would do well to remember that.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Picture this

We were chatting in the Freeman newsroom Thursday night about the latest lunacy surrounding celebrity train wreck Britney Spears, namely that she had been taken to an L.A. hospital (again!) for a psychiatric evaluation.

I commented that, even though celebrities often bring attention upon themselves, even someone as kooky as Spears doesn't deserve to be trailed by throngs of paparazzi wherever she goes. For heaven's sake, this woman can't even go to a grocery store -- let alone a court proceeding in her ongoing child custody battle -- without having her picture snapped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times.

It was at this point in the conversation that Assistant City Editor Matt Spireng made a suggestion that bordered on brilliant: All the hounded celebrities, who certainly have plenty of money to spare, should hire photographers of their own to follow and snap pictures of the paparazzi wherever they go, including in the course of their private lives. Then, perhaps, these merciless vultures would understand how it feels to be hunted like an animal without ever having a minute of privacy.

I couldn't agree more.