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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dr. Neil

Kingston and the surrounding area suffered a devastating loss on Monday with the passing of Dr. Neil Lieblich, a local pediatrician for 25 years and a partner in the medical practice Pine Street Pediatric Associates.

Neil – or “Dr. Neil,” as our son, Marc, always called him – was an outstanding physician with a brilliant mind, a gentle touch, an infectious smile and a heart of gold. He truly cared about each and every patient of his, and the patients loved him in return.

It’s no exaggeration to say Neil was Marc’s doctor from Day 1 of our son’s life. When Rhona found out Marc would have to be born by Caesarean section, and that a pediatrician needed to be present in the operating room, she called Neil (who we had known for several years through our synagogue), and he immediately cleared his calendar for the afternoon of the surgery so that he could attend. That, in a nutshell, was Neil – always putting others first.

In the years that followed, whenever we had a concern or a question about Marc’s health, a phone call to Pine Street would result in a return call from Neil almost immediately, no matter how busy he was. That, in a nutshell, was Neil – always putting others first.

And even when Neil’s own health began to fail, he found the strength to come to work as often as possible so that he could treat the children around whom his life and career revolved. That, in a nutshell, was Neil – always putting others first.

The condolences of a saddened community go out to Neil’s wife, Joyce; to their children, Ross and Erica; to his mother, Elaine; and to all the doctors, nurses and staff at Pine Street Pediatrics. They, and we, have lost a great man, the likes of whom may never be seen again around these parts.

Donations in Neil’s memory may be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, 11 Marshall Road, Suite 1-H, Wappingers Falls, N.Y. 12590; the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 31160, Hartford, Conn. 06150-1160; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, Tenn. 38105-1942; or the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, 122 South Michigan Ave., Suite 1700, Chicago, Ill. 60603.

Remembrance messages about Neil can be found on the Web site of the Simpson-Gaus Funeral Home.


Monday, June 23, 2008


Some things that are on my mind this day:

* The death of George Carlin late Sunday made me feel a bit old. Carlin was the first stand-up comic for whom I developed a real passion – and this was before he hosted the 1975 debut episode of “Saturday Night Live” – and, even though he was 27 years older than me, I always thought of him as an entertainer of my generation. He was a one-of-a-kind genius, and he’ll be missed.

* Is it just my imagination, or are we getting a far greater number of severe thunderstorms this year – in rapid succession, no less – than usual? (And at weird times of day, too – like the one that shook my house in Kingston at 2:30 a.m. Monday.) I’m not one of those global warming nuts, but I can’t help but suspect the planet’s changing climate has at least something to do with this disturbing trend.

* In a sports headline on Monday, The New York Times credited pitcher Andy Pettitte and slugger Jason Giambi with propelling the Yankees to their win on Sunday over the Cincinnati Reds. Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi – the only two active Major League Baseball players who have admitted taking steroids. These guys shouldn’t even be allowed to play the game, let alone be lauded in a newspaper headline. What an embarrassment.

* Speaking of embarrassments, how ’bout those Mets? Fresh off the public relations debacle of firing Manager Willie Randolph in the middle of the night, they returned to Shea Stadium for their first post-Randolph home game on Monday, and not only did they lose to the Seattle Mariners – the rock-bottom worst team in baseball – but, in the process, alleged pitching ace Johan Santana gave up a grand slam to Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez. A pitcher; and, for God’s sake, an American League pitcher – who knows as much about hitting as I do about brain surgery. Stick a fork in the Mets. They’re done.

* Lastly, our son Marc began his annual eight-week stint at summer camp today. We’ll miss him, of course, but you won’t hear me complaining about the lower grocery bills, the cleaner house and being able to sleep in.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

A tale of two cities

Two decades ago, when Rhona and I moved to Kingston, I always viewed our new hometown as the poor stepchild of Poughkeepsie, 20 miles to the south.

After all, Poughkeepsie – which we visited often – was bigger, bustled with more commerce, had better stores and restaurants, boasted multiple entertainment venues, offered commuter train access to New York City and seemed like a generally more attractive place to live, shop, eat and hang out.

I’m not sure whether my impression of Poughkeepsie was right or wrong at the time, but now, 20 years later, I have no doubt that Kingston is the superior place to live – and, more importantly, to raise a child.

As the city editor of the Freeman, I naturally read the region’s other daily newspapers every day, and it doesn’t take more than a passing glance at the Poughkeepsie Journal to realize what a depressing place Dutchess County’s largest city has become. Murders, rapes, drug arrests, other crimes, urban decay and the city’s weak economy are front-page news almost every day. Just this past week, there were homicides on back-to-back days – a shooting death early Friday, and a woman thrown out of a third-story window early Saturday after being stabbed repeatedly. Yikes.

Kingston has its problems, to be sure. Every city does. Parts of Midtown, in particular, have dubious reputations for drug activity, violent assaults and run-down housing. But the ills of Kingston seem minor in comparison to those of Poughkeepsie – one homicide per year here is a lot – and Kingston, perhaps more than any other small city along the Hudson River, has worked continuously to make itself attractive to both residents and tourists. Put another way, it’s a nice place to visit and you would want to live here.

I’m not sure why Poughkeepsie has taken such a turn for the worse, be it recently or over the past two decades. Perhaps it’s the same influx of New York City miscreants that has plagued neighboring Newburgh for so long, perhaps it’s related to economic hardship, perhaps its just the evolving nature of the city.

But whatever the case, looking at Poughkeepsie these days makes me glad to call Kingston my home and makes me feel a bit sorry for the residents of a city I once, perhaps naively, envied.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The fist bump

It turns out that Freeman Sports Editor Ron Rosner and I are terrorists. Who knew? Well, not even us — until this week.

It’s all about the “fist bump.”

As you may have heard by now, Fox News anchor E.D. Hill, in discussing Barack and Michelle Obama bumping fists on stage the night Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, referred to the act as a “terrorist fist jab,” implying the gentle tap is a secret greeting that terrorists use when the meet.

Which brings me back to October 2002.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the Angels (who I root for) and Yankees (Ron’s favorite team) were playing Game 4 of baseball’s American League Divisional Series in Anaheim. The Angels won the game to eliminate the Yankees and advance to the American League Championship Series.

I was in the Freeman newsroom when the game ended, and Ron hadn’t gotten to work yet. He arrived about an hour later, approached my desk and extended his right fist. I had never used the “fist bump” as a greeting, but I knew what he was doing, so I extended my fist, our two fists touched, and Ron said something to the effect of “Congratulations” or “Nice win.”

I just assumed his gesture was that of a good sport. Who knew it actually was the equivalent of a secret handshake among two terrorists? Well, not us, because at no time that day did we plan an act of mass destruction, nor have we done so since.

But now that I understand we’ve had an evil bond for nearly six years, perhaps Ron and I will plot some heinous attack.

Sadly, though, nothing we come up with could be as heinous as Fox News’ continuous attack on the truth.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two up, one down

Kudos to the Kingston and Wallkill school districts for paring down their previously rejected budget proposals to levels that voters could accept. Both plans were approved on Tuesday, which is good news for the students. The young people always are the first to suffer when districts are forced into austerity spending, and it was heartening to see people in local communities were willing to accept a little extra tax burden for the sake of their children’s education.

Conversely, what the hell was the Pine Plains Board of Education thinking in resubmitting to voters the exact same budget that they turned down a month ago? It was ridiculous enough to expect that voters on May 20 were going to approve a spending plan that would have raised the property tax levy by nearly 11 percent. But to think the same voters on Tuesday would suddenly favor of a plan they roundly rejected just 28 days earlier bordered on the insane. It’s not like the economy suddenly turned around in those four weeks.

Commenting on Tuesday’s “nay” vote, Helene McQuade, president of the Pine Plains board, said: "The board tried its best to communicate the facts of the budget to the community, and the community communicated that it wasn’t happy with it.”

That’s exactly what the community did, Helene. Twice. You might want to remember that next year.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert: 1950-2008

I never met Tim Russert, though he was in attendance at one of the most important events of my life.

A virtually unknown NBC News executive at the time, he was the keynote speaker at my college commencement in May 1985 – selected, I assume, because the school was in Buffalo and he was a native son of the city.

Most people don’t remember much about the speeches they hear at graduation ceremonies, and, to be honest, I can’t recall the specifics of what Russert said that day. But I do remember he made everyone in the hall smile and laugh with the gentle good humor and genuine likeability that would become his trademarks as his star rose on network television in the pages of his books in the years that followed.

And a star he became, though he doubtlessly would have eschewed that label.

Russert, as the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” for nearly 17 years, was in a league of his own. During a time when so much TV news was becoming unfair and imbalanced, Russert never let his leanings show. He treated politicians of all stripes equally, which is to say he was just as tough on one side as he was on the other ... or just as kind to one side as he was to the other.

The news on Friday of Russert’s untimely death at age 58 hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. For a moment, I couldn’t believe – or just didn’t want to believe – the words coming from the radio as I sat in my car outside my son’s school around 3:30 p.m. But the truth sank in quickly, and I soon found myself overcome by a sense of grief and pain that I’ve never felt before about the death of someone I didn’t know.

Perhaps my sadness was rooted in the fact that Russert made us feel like we did know him. He talked to us, not at us, and he never came across as self-important or condescending. His Election Night reporting, most notably in 2000, was light-hearted and genial, even fun – remember the hand-held dry-erase board? – even though the subject matter was as serious as could be. And he always made us feel like we were his friends, and that he was ours.

Also, no doubt, some of my sadness was rooted in the fact that Russert and I had several things in common: the news business, Buffalo, unflinching loyalty to football’s Bills and hockey’s Sabres, a fanaticism about Bruce Springsteen and a fascination with all things political. I truly felt a connection to the man.

The TV newsscape won’t be the same without Russert. Sunday mornings, when “Meet the Press” has always been central for me, will feel empty for a while. Important stories covered by NBC will be notable, in part, because they’ll lack Russert’s insightful perspective. And turning on the TV on that most important Tuesday night in November will be akin to going to one’s high school reunion and learning a best friend couldn’t attend.

News will continue to happen, of course, and TV networks will continue to report it. But Russert’s absence will be obvious every step of the way, and the quality of what is broadcast will never be quite the same.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

In the bank, in the tank

My wife and I received our "economic stimulus" check the other day. Because we both work and we have one dependent child, we got $1,500.

The Bush administration is hoping we'll use the money to buy a big-screen TV, take a vacation or go to lots of movies and restaurants.

But let's face it: One way or another, the money is going into our gas tank.

I deposited the check in one of our bank accounts, where it will help ease the burden of upcoming credit card bills, but what I should have done was cashed it and asked the teller for the payout in $50 bills. Then I should have stashed the money in my glove compartment so I could just reach for a 50 each of the next 30 times I fill up.

I don't drive much, so the money probably would have covered my fuel costs for the next year ... though that assumes the price of gas won't reach $5 or $8 or $10 a gallon by this time in 2009. If it does, nothing will stimulate the economy.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hyping the heat

Some thoughts on this week’s heat wave:

* It’s June. It’s hot outside. What’s the big deal?

* The National Weather Service on Monday, and again today, issued a “heat advisory” – as if seeing a forecast high of 96 or stepping outside wouldn’t have clued us into the fact that we’re having hot weather.

* All the TV news operations in New York City and Albany led their evening broadcasts on Monday with stories about the hot weather. And virtually all of the reports provided little information other than the fact that it was hot outside. How about some real news next time?

* In the 17 years I spent as a student, and in the nine years I’ve been the parent of a student, I have never, until this week, heard of schools closing or dismissing early because of hot weather. I understand that many school buildings are not air conditioned, but most rooms in most of the buildings have fans going, and kids always seem much less bothered by extreme weather than adults – which makes me wonder: Are local schools closing out of concern for our children’s safety or because the teachers made a stink about having to work in uncomfortable conditions?


Saturday, June 7, 2008

What a stud!

For this, my 200th blog entry, I can't resist commenting about something that has to do with the number 200.

In this morning's "Pink Sheet," a special four-page supplement we published at the Freeman to promote today's Belmont Stakes, Journal Register columnist Mike Veitch (a long-ago former colleague of mine at The Saratogian) wrote that Kentucky Derby/Preakness champion Big Brown could command a "stud fee" of $100,000 after retiring. That means the horse's owner will get $100,000 every time Big Brown impregnates a mare.

If Big Brown "is bred to 200 mares," Veitch wrote, the owner would command a whopping $20 million.

Twenty million bucks to "do it" with 200 members of the opposite sex? How come I can't get that kind of action?

Well, probably because there aren't 200 women out there who would have me. And, even if there were, I think my wife might have a thing or two to say about the subject.


Curses! Oiled again!

So when all was said and done on Friday, the price of oil had risen by a mind-numbing $10.75 a barrel -- which makes me wonder ...

Isn't it fair to expect that the price of gasoline will not rise as a result? I mean, after all, when the price of oil fell by $13 a barrel between late May and this past Wednesday, the price at the pump didn't go down even a penny. So, naturally, there's no reason to expect any spike at the pump now.

Yeah, right.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Oil vey!

The price of crude oil is up more than $6 a barrel today, to around $133, and news reports say the sole reason is an analyst at Morgan Stanley this morning predicted the price could reach $150 by July 4.

Seriously? The price of America's most precious commodity skyrockets simply because someone says it should? Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! (Not to mention one guy having way too much influence.)

The price of oil (and, by extension, gasoline) used to move in the same direction as the economy. If the economy was in a downward trend, as it is now, prices of oil and gas fell because demand was falling as people curbed their spending. Now, oil and gas prices spike by ridiculous amounts for no sensible reason and we're left to pick up the tab - in a weak economic climate that already has many consumers stretched to the limit.

Enjoy the $4 gas while you can, folks, because if the Morgan Stanley guy (who probably has significant investments in Big Oil) says we'll be paying $5 or $10 a gallon by year's end, then that's exactly what will happen.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Check your facts, Senator

A fax from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer showed up in the Freeman newsroom on Wednesday with a header that began "As recession worsens ..."

Excuse me?

The economic definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Put another way, the nation's "gross domestic product" - the widely accepted measure of all economic activity in the United States - has to contract, rather than expand, for back-to-back three-month periods in order for a recession to exist.

We haven't even had one quarter of economic contraction, let alone two. Despite Sen. Schumer's proclamation to the contrary, the United States is not in a recession.

Sen. Schumer has always struck me as an honest and decent fellow. I haven't supported all of his policies, but I've always considered him to be a straight shooter. I've met the man twice, and he impressed me both times as a respectable person and politician.

But sending a press release to the media that uses a lie as a premise to make a point is reprehensible. And Sen. Schumer should be ashamed of himself.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What goes up doesn't always come down

The price of crude oil fell to $124.31 a barrel on Tuesday, down $10.78 from its all-time high of $135.09, set last week.

$10.78 off $135.09 -- that's a drop of about 8 percent.

Is it fair to expect, then, that we'll see the price of gasoline drop by 8 percent in the coming days -- from the current local average of about $4.10 per gallon to $3.77?

I'm not holding my breath.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Loonier than Limbaugh

I always thought Rush Limbaugh was the biggest buffoon on the radio. Today, he was outdone by one of his callers.

I was listening to Limbaugh’s show while driving from Albany to Kingston this afternoon – hey, I needed something to keep me alert on the Thruway – when a woman who had phoned in told Limbaugh she was a lifelong Democrat but cannot bring herself to vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election because the candidate “so obviously hates America.”

What, exactly, has Sen. Obama done to suggest he hates America? Yes, his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made offensive comments about America from the pulpit, but Obama never condoned those comments – in fact, he condemned them – and I’ve never heard the distinguished gentleman from Illinois say anything to suggest he hates the country that he hopes to lead … unless, of course, criticizing the Bush administration qualifies.

Limbaugh, of course, did nothing to challenge the caller or ask her to back up her statement. This is, after all, a man who has made his fortune by insulting Democrats. He’s not about to start defending one.

But wait. It gets worse.

The caller went on to proclaim that Obama is worse than Adolf Hitler was because Hitler, though a murderous psychopath, at least – you guessed it – loved his country.

And this woman has the right to vote.

God help us all.