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

Friday, March 28, 2008

I coined a catch phrase!

In the enrtry below, I referred to the paparazzi as "shutter slime" -- a play on the phrase "gutter slime."

A few minutes later, a Google search for the phrase "shutter slime" (using the quotation marks) yielded only one result -- my blog -- meaning I was the first to use the phrase on the Web.

So if you ever, in the future, see the celebrity-chasing photographers referred to as "shutter slime," remember who originated the insult.


The Cyrus circus

The word in the entertainment world is the paparazzi have given up chasing Britney Spears and have turned their attention (and lenses) instead on 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, the megapopular star of Disney’s “Hannah Montana” franchise.

The shutter slime apparently are hoping to catch the young actress/singer doing something embarrassing or scandalous, a la Spears shaving her head, driving with a small child on her lap and getting out of a car with her legs apart and no underwear in sight.

So far, the most scandalous paparazzi shot of Cyrus to surface on the Web shows her eating McDonald’s French fries while out for a stroll in Southern California.

A teenager munching on fast food - the horror! What shocking secret about Cyrus will be uncovered next? That she drinks soda?!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Five flops

* I just got around to renting, and watching, Academy Award Best Picture winner “No Country For Old Men.” I want my money back – and the two hours I wasted watching this snoozefest.

* I see Dale Petroskey has been dismissed as president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The reasons for his departure are unclear, but I couldn't be happier that he's gone. This is the guy, you might remember, who canceled the Hall’s 15th anniversary celebration for the baseball movie “Bull Durham” in April 2003 because he was afraid two of the film’s stars – Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon – would use the event to voice their well-known opposition to President Bush and the just-begun Iraq war. I have no tolerance for people who take actions that stifle free speech, and the Hall shouldn’t have waited this long to show Petroskey the door.

* The entertainment media and blogosphere have been buzzing this week about how good Britney Spears was in her guest appearance on Monday night’s installment of the CBS comedy “How I Met Your Mother.” I was among the viewers, and I was thoroughly unimpressed with Spears’ performance. She played a ditzy blonde who hit on one of the show's male characters and then offered to sleep with one of the others. That was acting? It seemed she was just playing herself.

* Bad night on Tuesday for two western New York sports teams, both of which I root for. The Syracuse University men’s basketball squad, playing in the quarterfinals of the NIT, blew a 22-point second-half lead and lost 81-77 to the University of Massachusetts. And the Buffalo Sabres, pretty much needing to win every remaining game to reach the NHL playoffs, gave up five goals in the final 7:40 of the third period and lost 6-3 to the Ottawa Senators after building a seemingly safe 3-1 lead. As my friend and fellow Sabres fan Kevin likes to say: “They’re done.”


Monday, March 24, 2008

Long-ago lingo

Sitting at the dinner table the other night, my 14-year-old son, realizing he was about to ask for something to which I already had said "no," started his request with "Sorry to sound like a broken record, but...."

Where, exactly, does a 14-year-old pick up the phrase "broken record"? Most kids in his generation have never handled a record, and many don't even know what a record is.

I asked Marc if he knew the literal meaning of the phrase "broken record," and he had no idea. He simply knew it referred to repeating oneself.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

D.C. days

Got home Friday night from a six-day family vacation in Washington, D.C.

Some thoughts on the trip:

* The Metro is a great subway system – clean, safe, comfortable, easy to navigate, not too expensive and laid out in such a way that virtually all points of interest in the city and its immediate suburbs are accessible by rail. Our hotel was two blocks from a Metro station, and we never had to use our car. It stayed in a parking garage the entire time we were in D.C.

* The White House tour is a waste of time. You go through a ton of security for a self-guided walk in the building that allows you access to only a few rooms and is over in less than 20 minutes. Looking at the building from the outside is more interesting.

* The Capitol tour is a little better, but not much. A guide takes you through the Rotunda, Statuary Hall and a downstairs area known as The Crypt (which includes – gee, what a shock – the Capitol gift shop). We also had passes to the House gallery, which was cool to sit in, even with Congress out of session. Looking down into the chamber where countless historic votes and speeches have taken place was a humbling experience.

* Despite all the hype over the Vietnam wall, it’s the weakest of the three war monuments surrounding the Reflecting Pool. The Korean War memorial is the best, with World War II coming in a close second.

* Halfway up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, we noticed a group of teenagers (presumably on a school trip) sitting on the grass just to our right. A man standing in front of them was holding a boom box that was playing – you guessed it – Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The tape had just begun, so we sat down at the edge of the steps and listened to almost the entire speech – less than 50 feet from where Dr. King delivered it on Aug. 28, 1963. That was very cool.

* For all the talk about post-9/11 security, Washington is surprisingly unprotected. There are metal detectors and armed guards at places like the Capitol and the White House, of course, and numerous government buildings now are surrounded by concrete barriers (so that vehicles can’t get close enough to do any damage), but there is no visible security at the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, in the National Cathedral or anywhere in the subway system, to name just a few vulnerable spots. Sadly, if a suicide bomber wanted to detonate an explosives belt on the main floor of the Lincoln Memorial, he’d have no trouble pulling it off – and would kill hundreds of people in the process.

* The National Cathedral is an amazing building. I can’t even begin to describe it in the confines of a few words, but suffice it to say, if you’re impressed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, this place will blow you away.

* The Tidal Basin – the large pond that has the FDR and Jefferson memorials and all the cherry trees on its rim – is much bigger than it looks. Walk around it. You’ll see what I mean.

* The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a must-see. It’s not quite as powerful as Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, but it doesn’t miss by much. The stark images, chilling videos and disturbing artifacts (including shoes and hair collected from Jews murdered by Hitler) are no joy to look at, but the experience is a necessary one.

* Lastly, a quick shout-out to friends and relatives who made time for us on four of the five nights we were in town (and picked us up at the Metro stations in their respective suburbs): Rhona’s cousin Jennifer in Bethesda, Md., on Monday; my high school friends David and Ellen in Ballston, Va., on Tuesday (with special thanks to David for driving us back to our hotel that night); Rhona’s college roommate Rita (and Rita’s husband Chuck) in Silver Spring, Md., on Wednesday; and my friend and former musical partner David (and his wife Marie) in Vienna, Va., on Thursday. It was great to see all of them, and having dinner with each was a nice respite after the rather hectic pace of sightseeing. And thanks, too, to our niece Elyssa, who drove more than an hour from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., to the Metro stop in Vienna, then rode the train for 40 minutes so she could meet us for lunch in Washington before we left on Friday. That was a long trip for a relatively short visit, and we truly appreciated it.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

One installment of The Weather's Channel's dreadfully bad "It Could Happen Tomorrow" series -- which imagined the worst-possible natural disasters in densely populated areas -- focused on the notion of a tornado tearing through downtown Dallas.

Computer animation showed high-rise buildings being damaged, windows being blown out and showering the streets below with dangerous spears of glass, cars getting tossed about on pedestrian-filled streets, and other such horrors.

Well, it did happen. Yesterday. Except it was in downtown Atlanta, home of -- wait for it now -- The Weather Channel.

The irony was too good to ignore.

Thankfully, by the way, there were no life-threatening injuries in the Friday night storm.


The times have a-changed

THIS WAS e-mailed to me today by a high school classmate of mine (1977-81). It’s meant to be funny, but much of it falls under the heading “sad but true.”

1958 vs. 2008

SCENARIO: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1958: Vice principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his own shotgun to show Jack.
2008: School goes into lockdown, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in to help traumatized students and teachers.

SCENARIO: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1958: Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2008: Police called, SWAT team arrives, Johnny and Mark arrested. Both are charged with assault and suspended, even though Johnny started it.

SCENARIO: Jeffrey won't sit still in class, disrupts other students.
1958: Jeffrey sent to office and given good paddling by principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2008: Jeffrey is tested for ADD and given Ritalin. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

SCENARIO: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car, and his dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
1958: Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.
2008: Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy sent to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself. Dad goes to prison.

SCENARIO: Mark has a headache and takes some aspirin to school.
1958: Mark shares aspirin with principal at school’s outdoor smoking area.
2008: Police called. Mark expelled from school for drug violation. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

SCENARIO: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from Fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up an ant hill.
1958: Ants die.
2008: Homeland Security, FBI and ATF called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

SCENARIO: Johnny falls while running during recess and hurts his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
1958: In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2008: Mary is accused of being a sexual predator, loses her job and goes to prison. Johnny undergoes five years of therapy, and his parents file multimillion-dollar lawsuit against school for “pain and suffering.”


Friday, March 14, 2008

Redenbacher's revenge!

A new study has found that a chemical used to give butter flavor to microwave popcorn can damage the lungs and airways of mice.

OK. Good to know.

Note to self: "If mouse shows up at house and asks for snack, give potato chips, not popcorn ...

... then feed mouse to cat."


Thursday, March 13, 2008

They're No. 2!

For about a day-and-a-half now, the New York Post has been bragging that it "broke the news of (Gov. Eliot) Spitzer's impending resignation" in a story that first appeared on the paper's Web site at 8:38 a.m. Wednesday.

Just one problem: The lead story in the print edition of Wednesday's Albany Times Union - which went to press late Tuesday - carried the headline "Spitzer resigning."

The Post most certainly did NOT break the story, and repeating the lie won't make it true.


Glad he's gone

I voted for Eliot Spitzer when he ran for New York attorney general – both times.

I voted for him when he ran for governor.

I stood firm in my support of him during his tumultuous first year as the state’s chief executive, which was marred by his controversial plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and by the now seemingly irrelevant “Troopergate” scandal.

But as soon as I heard about his alleged tryst with a high-priced hooker, and then when it became clear that the allegations were true, I had had enough.

A man I supported and trusted had betrayed me (not to mention his wife, their three teenage daughters and the entire state of New York). He had failed as a governor, as a law-and-order crusader, as a husband, as a father, as a citizen and, perhaps most importantly, as a human being.

When I heard he would be delivering a hastily prepared statement Monday afternoon, I hoped he would have the sense to resign immediately. When he didn’t – and when all of Tuesday passed with no word from him – I feared the worst: that, like Sen. Larry “I Have a Wide Stance” Craig, he would try to hang on.

Thankfully, reason prevailed and the curtain came down on the Spitzer governership midday Wednesday. It was over mercifully fast -- less than 48 hours passed between the first news of the scandal and the resignation announcement – especially when you consider that Richard Nixon lingered for more than two years after the Watergate break-in and that the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky mess dominated the headlines for 13 months.

Spitzer, for all his stupidity, was smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall and beat a hasty path to the exit.

Good riddance.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer by day, Springsteen by night

Hectic day Monday between Albany and New York City.

Not for Eliot Spitzer. For me.

My cell phone rang about 8 a.m. It was my friend Lisa, who lives in suburban Albany. She asked if I wanted her ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert that night on Long Island because she had developed a scheduling conflict and couldn’t go.

Of course I wanted it! (I’d been trying to get a ticket the conventional way, but the show was sold out, and TicketMaster hadn’t released any extra seats in the days leading up to the concert, as it sometimes does.) Just one problem, though: I was in Kingston, the ticket was in Albany, the concert was on Long Island, and the clock was ticking.

Lisa offered to drive the ticket down to me after her work day ended. But the earliest she could get to Kingston, she said, would be 4 p.m. That meant I’d have to get from my house to the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale in just over three hours (to have enough time to park and still be in my seat for the 7:30 concert start), and I’d have to deal with New York City-area traffic in the process. That was cutting it too close. So we made plans, instead, for me to pick up the ticket from her at a store near Thruway Exit 25 (the one closest to her job) during her lunch hour.

I left Kingston at 11:15 a.m., got to our meeting place about 12:30 p.m. (by which point this was starting to feel like a drug deal or a ransom drop), got the ticket from her, chatted for a just a few minutes (because she had to get back to work and I had to get to Long Island), then high-tailed it south on the Thruway.

I was back at the Kingston exit about 1:30 p.m. -- leaving me just enough time to stop at home, eat a quick lunch, shower and find out our governor had been caught paying for a high-priced hooker — and I was back on the road around 2:30, heading south to Long Island.

Ordinarily on a trip like this, I’d fill my car with the sounds of the musician I’m heading to see, And, believe me, I tried. I had every Springsteen CD that I own tucked into a carrying case, and I fully intended to spend the 2-1/2 hour ride listening to some of my favorite tracks.

But I guess I’m a news junkie first and a music buff second, because I just couldn’t pull myself away from the constant coverage of the Spitzer scandal on WCBS-AM. It was equal parts political intrigue and salacious soap opera, and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it for fear that something huge (like Spitzer resigning or being indicted) would happen without me knowing about it.

(Ironically, I had a similar experience 11 months ago. I was on my way to the same arena for an Islanders-Sabres NHL playoff game when the Virginia Tech massacre happened. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to much music in the car that afternoon, either.)

I also spent much of my Monday drive chatting on my cell phone (yes, I have a hands-free ear piece) with the amateur political commentators in my life — most notably my mother, my college roommate Gil and my friend Kevin on Long Island, who I was stopping off to see before the Springsteen concert. All agreed Spitzer is done as New York’s governor, though Gil tried to make the argument that Spitzer didn’t do such a terrible thing because prostitution should be legal. (Just one problem, Gil: It’s not legal; and the governor — our former law-and-order attorney general — knew he was breaking the law.)

At this writing, Tuesday afternoon, Spitzer’s fate still hangs in the balance, though it’s obvious his days in politics are numbered. I presume he’s just sorting out the formalities of resigning and passing the torch to Lt. Gov. David Paterson, and perhaps he’s trying to make a deal with federal prosecutors under which he’ll plead guilty to some minor charge to make the criminal aspect of this go away. But no matter how you slice it, Spitzer is done in politics, as he should be.

Springsteen, on the other hand, is nowhere near done as a great live performer, and he put on another outstanding show. (I say “another” because, as my regular readers know, I’ve seen him once already on this tour, and now 11 times in all.) He cranked out 24 songs — including three of my all-time favorites (“Adam Raised a Cain,” “Because the Night” and “Jungleland”) — in a two-hour, 35-minute set. Not exactly the 30-song, three-hour sets of his heyday, but he kept the Long Island crowd on its feet and cheering for most of the night nevertheless.

For those who care about these things, here’s the set list:

Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
Adam Raised a Cain
Gypsy Biker
Reason to Believe
Because the Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Incident on 57th Street
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home

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

And one more thing. Next time Gov. Spitzer thinks about paying $4,300 for a prostitute, perhaps he should consider the obvious alternative: For that money, he could buy tickets to about 45 Springsteen concerts.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Out-Fox-ed by the facts

Let me start by saying I would never make light of a bombing like the one that occurred early Thursday in midtown Manhattan.

A potentially deadly explosion in Times Square, an area frequented by millions of people, is, indeed, unsettling and scary.

But I had to laugh this morning when Fox News – always given over to ridiculous exaggeration when reporting on the terror threat – referred to Thursday’s incident as “a sophisticated attack.”

Sophisticated? For heaven’s sake, a guy rode up on a bicycle and placed a small explosive device made so crudely that, when it went off, it damaged only a door and window a few feet away.

Planning a mass-casualty act of terrorism for several years and ultimately hijacking passenger jets and flying them into high-rise office buildings is a sophisticated attack -- despicable and horrifying, to be sure, but sophisticated nonetheless.

What happened on Thursday in Times Square was, thankfully, the work of a rank amateur.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Numbers DO lie

Shortly after the polls closed in Texas on Tuesday, the running tally at the bottom of the CNN’s screen showed that, with 1 percent of precincts reporting in the Lone Star state, Hillary Clinton had collected roughly 450,000 votes in the Democratic presidential primary to Barack Obama’s 350,000.

That’s 800,000 Deomcratic votes – with 1 percent of the precincts reporting. Didn’t that number seem just a bit high to anyone at CNN?

Now I realize that 1 percent of precincts doesn’t necessarily equal 1 percent of the electorate – because some precincts are more populous than others – but using a 1-to-1 ratio for the sake of argument, CNN’s number means Texas had about 80 million people vote in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Not bad for a state that has only 21 million residents (and only 12.75 million registered voters, fewer than half of whom are Democrats).

But alas, this wasn’t just a CNN problem. A quick check of the tallies on Fox News and MSNBC revealed the exact same numbers. These national news operations apparently all get their data from the same source, that data obviously was wrong, and no one at the networks bothered to confrim the numbers before broadcasting them. TV news operations are in such a hurry to air results first that they don’t bother to check the most important thing: whether the results are correct.

Ultimately, with 99 percent of the Texas precincts reporting this morning, Clinton had 1.45 million votes to Obama’s 1.35 million – a total of 2.8 million. That number seems much more plausible.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008


A radical environmental group called the Earth Liberation Front is suspected of burning down five unoccupied luxury homes in the state of Washington on Monday, apparently upset that the multimillion-dollar structures would damage the wooded wetlands in which they were built.

Shouldn’t the ELF also have been bothered by damage done to the atmosphere by all the carbon-filled smoke the fires gave off? I guess the arsonists didn’t stop to think about that.


Happy birthday, Marc

Our son Marc turns 14 today.
Where has the time gone?
High school is just six months away. Then college, marriage, our first grandchild.
I just hope he makes enough money in his professional life to give Rhona and I the same accommodations in our later years that we've given him in childhood.
A beachfront retirement home on Cape Cod would be nice.
Is that too much to ask for?


Monday, March 3, 2008

Now he has an angel's eyes

Jeff Healey, the blind blues/rock guitarist and singer who fought cancer for most of his life, has died at age 41.

Healey was a rare talent – a self-taught guitarist who drew accolades from such legends as George Harrison, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan – and he was a joy to watch and hear.

The video below, a concert performance of his hit “Angel Eyes,” was shot in 1989 in Germany, when Healey was just 22 years old.

Rest in peace, Jeff.