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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stupid athlete tricks

The New York Giants football organization, upon finding out the team's star wide receiver, Palxico Burress, accidentally shot himself in the right thigh at a nighclub Friday night, issued a statement declaring "Our primary concern is for Plaxico's health and well-being."

If I'm a Giants executive, my primary concern is why Plaxico Burress was carrying a gun at a nightclub.

But that's just me.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bad luck follows me

I'm feeling like a bit of a jinx today.

It occurred to me, after hearing about an employee being trampled to death at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., on Friday, that I've shopped in the plaza where that store is located.

And that picture of me at the upper-left corner of my blog profile — the one with the baseball cap and sunglasses — was taken in a shopping mall parking lot in Palm Desert, Calif., almost directly across the street from the Toys 'R' Us store where two men were shot to death on Friday.

Moral of the story: Find out where I shop, then go somewhere else.


Senseless death

The term “door-buster sale” took on a new, and tragic, meaning Friday morning when about 2,000 overeager holiday shoppers broke down the main entrance of a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y., and trampled an employee to death.

Can we now agree that the annual Black Friday shopping frenzy has gotten out of hand? This isn’t just two parents fighting over the last Elmo Live toy or Wii console; this is a man’s life we’re talking about — the life of Jdimytai Damour of Queens, over after a mere 34 years because 2,000 sale-crazed lunatics were more concerned about saving money on a big-screen TV than about making sure no one got hurt. (And worse yet, when it became clear that someone had gotten hurt, the shoppers simply continued their push into the store, stepping over the critically injured Damour in the process.)

Whether laws can be passed to forbid these sales is unclear, but perhaps now, finally, popular holiday season retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, J.C. Penney and Toys ‘R’ Us will realize the risk to life and limb in these predawn “door-buster” events outweighs the benefits of store profits. And perhaps they all will go back to opening at the normal time on Black Friday and offering sale prices that don’t expire after a few hours and compel people to fight for merchandise in an effort to beat the clock.

I doubt it. But perhaps.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Let's tell it like it is

As a writer and editor, I choose words carefully before publishing them – making sure they accurately convey the intended thought.

That said, I cannot understand why numerous news services – including The Associated Press, from which the Freeman draws its state, national and international articles – insist on using the word "militants" to describe the gunmen who spread death and destruction this week in the Indian city of Mumbai.

According to an online dictionary that I use frequently, “militant” (a word dating to the 14th century) is defined as a person who is “vigorously active and aggressive, especially in support of a cause” or a person who is “engaged in warfare or combat.”

Those definitions conjure images of valiant patriots, dedicated to a common purpose, who are defending their beliefs and fighting for good over evil.

The gunmen in India were nothing but savage barbarians, murdering everyone who was within shooting distance in hotels, restaurants, a train station and a Jewish center.

And only one word should have been used to describe them: Terrorists.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Her silence is golden

The are numerous reports in the blogosphere that conservative blowhard Ann Coulter suffered some kind of mouth injury recently and had to have her jaw wired shut.

No wonder my TV has seemed quieter than usual lately!


Monday, November 24, 2008

News from the Nutmeg State

My wife and son and I spent most of Sunday in Hartford, Conn.

We had never been to Hartford before, but the directions we got from were perfect, and we had no trouble getting there and back.

Just one thing Mapquest neglected to tell us: Don't be an idiot and fill up your gas tank in Kingston for $2.21 a gallon before leaving town; wait until you get to Hartford and pay about $1.95!

Next time we'll know better.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Not as cheap as it should be

I know I've made this point before, but it bears repeating:

We're still getting robbed at the gas pumps.

The price of crude oil is now 67 percent off its midsummer high. It topped out just above $147 a barrel in July and closed on Thursday at just over $49 a barrel.

But in the same time period, the price of gas has fallen only about 47 percent - from its local summertime peak of $4.19 to about $2.20 today.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about gas being down to $2.20, esepcially in the current economic climate. But simple math (taking 67 percent off $4.19) dictates that gas should be selling locally for about $1.38 a gallon.

Still feel good about paying $2.20? Probably not as much.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Election leftovers

* Today is Nov. 19, a full 15 days after the presidential election. How come we still don’t know who won Missouri’s 11 electoral votes?

* Talk about actions having consequences:
When U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, accepted more than $250,000 in improper gifts from an oil field services company and then lied about it on Senate disclosure forms, he probably figured the worst things that could happen to him would be getting caught, being convicted of a crime and losing his Senate seat. To no one’s surprise, all three of those things happened. But Stevens probably never figured he’d lose his seat by way of the election (rather than by winning and being forced to resign); and even if he did suspect that he might lose to Democrat Mark Begich – which he now has – it probably never dawned on him that the last vestige of Republican power in Washington could be lost in the process. Begich’s win gives the Democrats 58 seats in the Senate – just two short of the all-important filibuster-proof 60 – and there are two races left to be decided. If Democratic challenger Al Franken winds up unseating Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota after that state’s recount is done, and if Democratic challenger Jim Martin beats Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in the upcoming runoff election in Georgia, then the Democrats will, indeed, have their 60 seats – along with, of course, control of the House of Representatives and the presidency. Perhaps Ted Stevens should have considered that possibility before allowing VECO Corp. to pay for the pricey renovations at his home.

* I’m getting quite a laugh out of all the Obama haters criticizing the president-elect for choosing people from Bill Clinton’s administration to serve in the new White House. “This isn’t the change he promised us!” they bellow. Funny, but I never heard these people complain when George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – both of whom served in previous Republican administrations – to serve as vice president and defense secretary.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The fall of Friendly

It was a shame to see the Friendly restaurant on Washington Avenue in Kingston shut down. In a rough economy, inexpensive restaurants with decent food are invaluable – especially for people with kids – and this 35-year institution will be missed, for sure.

But I can’t say I’m surprised by the closing. Restaurants need three things to survive: good food, good prices and good service. And in this case, two out of three is bad. The food and prices at Friendly were fine, but the service was dreadful. The worst. If the cooks and wait staff worked any slower, they’d have been going in reverse.

And I’m not talking about my family having one or two bad experiences there. I’m talking about having to wait inordinate amounts of time to have our orders taken and our food brought virtually every time we went there. Even just a simple ice cream order typically took 10 or 15 minutes to deliver. That’s just inexcusable.

And we weren’t alone in our displeasure. I constantly heard from friends and co-workers that they couldn’t get in and out of the place in a decent amount of time.

Restaurants, especially casual ones that don’t charge a lot for meals, make their money by “turning tables over” as many times as possible. The more customers you get in and out in a given period of time, the more money you make. And this is where Friendly failed. The restaurant’s poor service caused parties to occupy tables for up to an hour when the turnover time should have been half that. That means the restaurant served only half as many people as it should have and, as a result, brought in only half the amount of money it should have.

And that spells trouble – in any economy.

My guess is that some other restaurant will fill the vacant Friendly space fairly soon. The location – on the main road into town from the Thruway, across the street from a bus station, near several medical offices and next door to a high school football stadium – is just too good to pass up. It seems impossible not to make money in that spot.

Well, almost impossible.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bomb scares = BS

Always needing to err on the side of caution when the safety of children is involved, school districts have no choice but to evacuate buildings and perhaps close them for the day when a bomb threat is received.

Such was the case in Red Hook on Wednesday, when a note stating a bomb had been placed in one of the district's schools was found affixed to a door at the district’s administration office. The resulting police search forced the district to close Mill Road Elementary School and start classes several hours late at Linden Avenue Middle School and Red Hook High School.

But something I blogged about in September 2007 bears repeating: In my 26 years in the newspaper business, I’ve never seen a bomb threat lead to an actual bomb, and I’ve never seen a bombing that’s been preceded by a bomb threat.

Bomb threats – especially those that target schools – are hoaxes. Always. Not some of the time, not most of the time – all of the time.

And it would be nice if they could just be ignored.

But rest assured, I understand why they can’t be.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WMD 2.0

The Bush administration, in the person of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, announced this morning that the $700 billion financial bailout it begged Congress to approve in early October will not – repeat, will not – be used to buy the bad assets of struggling banks.

Excuse me? Did I hear you correctly, Hank? The bailout money won't be used to buy the bad assets? But wasn’t the asset buyout the sole purpose of the bailout?

Ah, nothing like the old “Bush Bait and Switch.” Insist to Congress that it approve a controversial piece of legislation because of Circumstance X, and then turn around and tell the nation that Circumstance X no longer is part of the equation but that approving the legislation was important nonetheless.

Yet another Weapon of Mass Distraction from the people who brought you 5-1/2 years in Iraq and 4,200 dead Americans.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Palin's problems

Vanquished vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is about to give her first post-election TV interviews. She’ll be on Fox News tonight, NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday and other broadcasts in the days that follow.

The expectation is that she’ll use the Q&As to gripe about the allegedly unfair treatment she received from the news media during her two-plus months as Republican John McCain’s running mate.

That’s her prerogative, but I hope the interviewers have the good sense to pose the following questions to Gov. Palin:

* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that you abused your power as governor of Alaska to force the state police commissioner to resign?
* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that your 17-year-old daughter became pregnant out of wedlock?
* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that you think living in a state next to Russia gives you foreign policy experience?
* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that the only Supreme Court decision you can name is Roe v. Wade?
* How, exactly, is it the news media's fault that, when you were being interviewed by CBS News' Katie Couric, you couldn't cite even one instance in which McCain voted against President Bush's polices?
* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that you were unable to define the Bush Doctrine when asked about it by ABC News' Charlie Gibson?
* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that you spent $150,000 of GOP donors’ money to buy clothes for yourself and your family?
* How, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that you improperly used state money to cover your kids’ travel expenses during your first two years as governor of Alaska?
* And how, exactly, is it the news media’s fault that you got fooled into thinking a Montreal radio host was French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling you from Paris?

I can’t wait to hear Palin’s answers to these queries. But, alas, I fear no one will bother to ask them.

Of course, if any of the interviewers do ask these questions, Palin is sure to complain that, again, she's being treated unfairly by the news media.


Times is on our side

Fox News spent a good portion of this morning accusing The New York Times of compromising national security by running a front-page story today that revealed secret U.S. military operations against al-Qaida in countries with which the United States is not at war.

First things first: If national security was compromised by the article, the blame does not rest with the Times. It rests with the administration officials who leaked the information to the Times. Put another way: Don’t shoot the messenger.

But that aside, isn’t it hypocritical of Fox to accuse the Times of comprising national security while, in the process, repeating most of the story’s content on the air and then adding additional information about the military actions that Fox picked up on its own?

If the Times committed treason this morning, then so did Fox. But the truth is that neither did.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Reid his lips

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday that Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Joe Liebreman may be stripped of a key committee chairmanship in the Senate because Lieberman publicly supported Republican John McCain's candidacy for president. (Perhaps Reid reads my blog; see "A few memorable days," two items down.)

While you're at it, Harry, kick the turncoat out of the Senate Democratic caucus, too. With a razor-thin Democratic majority the last two years, you needed him in order to keep control of the body. Now, with Democrats having picked up at least five seats in Tuesday's election, the party's majority is safe and Lieberman is no longer needed.

Show him the door. And slam it behind him.

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Hilarious headlines

You've probably heard by now that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will not face any criminal charges in the prostitution scandal that forced him to resign from office eight months ago. Federal prosecutors made the announcement on Thursday.

The downside of working for a newspaper that makes a point of conforming to community standards is that I couldn't put in print any of the headline ideas that were being bandied about the Freeman newsroom after the story broke.

Like "Spitzer gets off."

Or "Spitzer off the hook for being on the hooker."

Oh, well. I guess that's what blogs are for.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

A memorable few days

A few more post-election thoughts:

* I was struck by reports from around the country on Wednesday that newspapers were selling out faster than they could be printed, largely because people wanted the editions announcing Barack Obama’s presidential victory as keepsakes. I guess the old gray warhorses still matter, after all.

* Sen. Joseph Turncoat – uh, I mean Lieberman – said on Wednesday that, with the election now over, it’s “time to put partisan considerations aside and come together as a nation.” Big words from a man who bolted the Democratic Party two years ago to become an independent and then spent the last three months attached to the hip of Republican presidential candidate John McCain. “Come together” is Lieberman-speak for “Please take me back, Democrats! Please don’t take away my choice committee assignments! Please don’t make me an outcast!” Perhaps Lieberman should have thought about the consequences of his actions before stabbing his longtime party in the back. I mean, seriously, did Lieberman really think he could criticize Barack Obama during a prime-time address at the Republican National Convention and not be punished if Obama won and Democrats held the Senate? For a political veteran, Lieberman sure can be naïve.

* In a posting in March, I commented about how moved I was during a visit to the Lincoln Memorial in which I happened upon a group of students sitting alongside the main steps and listening to a tape recording of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered from those very steps 40 years earlier. I found myself thinking about that moment, and about King’s speech, again on Tuesday and Wednesday as the reality of Barack Obama’s once-unthinkable election to the presidency began to sink in. Even as recently as that day in March, when Obama already had won numerous Democratic primaries, I truly doubted the United States would elect a black man president during my lifetime. The fact that it now has happened – and so relatively soon after a time when blacks couldn’t eat in many American restaurants, attend white schools or sit in the front of public buses, let alone vote or hold public office – is truly a testament to how far this great land has come in such a short period. The events of this week make me truly proud to call myself an American.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Life imitates art

TV's Bravo network this morning showed the episode of NBC's White House series "The West Wing" in which a charismatic but relatively inexperienced member of Congress - and a member of minority group, to boot - is elected to succeed the sitting two-term president.

Yeah, like that could ever happen!


One winner, no waiting

Compared to the debacle of 2000 and the short-lived cliffhanger of 2004, this year's presidential election was a dream come true for East Coast newspaper editors.

Three key states - Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio - all were in Barack Obama's column by about 10 p.m. EST Tuesday, virtually assuring him victory, and the addition of California, Washington and Oregon at 11 p.m. officially put him over the top.

And for the first time since 1996 - when incumbent Democrat Bill Clinton easily beat Republican challenger Bob Dole - we were able to have the winner's name in large type on our day-after front page. The headline was, quite simply, "OBAMA" - in huge, all-capital letters.

That's a whole lot better than 2000 (when we had to go with "Cliffhanger") and 2004 (when the headline was "Waiting on a winner"). To be sure, there's nothing quite so frustrating in my line of work as having to print a post-election newspaper that fails to give readers the information they crave most.

And in case you were wondering: Had John McCain won on Tuesday, the headline, not surprisingly, would have been simply "McCAIN." And had it been another too-close-to-call scenario, we were prepared to use "We wait."

Thankfully, we only had to wait until about 11 p.m.


McCain's mistakes

John McCain might have made a good president.
We'll never know.
But we do know this:
He was one of the worst presidential candidates in the history of American politics.

Some time during the early fall, McCain and his campaign advisers decided the only way to beat Barack Obama was to attack the Democrat. All negative, all the time. Problem was, that wasn't what the American people wanted. They wanted each candidate to make clear his vision for the future, not simply tear down his opponent.

Obama understood this. McCain didn't. And even when McCain saw evidence that his strategy wasn't working, he just kept hammering away. But things just kept getting worse for him.

And by the time this race entered the home stretch, there was nothing McCain could do to repair the damage. He was destined for an epic loss, and an epic loss was what he suffered - not only getting clobbered in the election, but, in the process, giving away such long-reliable "red" states as Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Colorado, New Mexico and, at this writing, possibly North Carolina.

Who knows if those states will revert to voting Republican at any time in the near future. The damage done in these past few months may be too great to repair in one election cycle - especially if Obama turns out to be a popular president.

But this much we do know:
John McCain was a lousy presidential candidate.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Polling place problems

I went to my polling place, George Washington Elementary School in Kingston, at 9:45 this morning. I waited in line to sign in, signed in, waited in line to vote, and voted.

I was back in my car at 10 a.m.

Fifteen minutes from start to finish – probably the longest it’s ever taken me to vote in Kingston. (It would have been faster if two of the people in front of me hadn’t taken inordinate amounts of time inside the voting booth.)

I bring this up because I’m nothing short of amazed by this morning’s reports of polling place lines winding around the block in states like Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Some people will be waiting up to eight hours to cast their ballots, according to TV news accounts. That means they’ll have to skip an entire day of work to accomplish a task that takes only a few seconds to complete.

Does this strike anyone else as odd – not to mention ridiculous?

I realize the places I cited are so-called “swing states” in which voter turnout always is high when a presidential election appears to be close. But don’t the states’ election officials realize this, too? Aren’t they aware, months in advance, that the number of voting machines and polling place volunteers won’t be sufficient to handle the crowds? And can’t they make adjustments in the weeks leading up to Election Day to mitigate the problem?

I guess the answer to all these questions is “no,” because the same thing keeps happening every four years. And there’s no indication of significant improvements in the near future.

The upside is that most people waiting in the long lines appeared to be in good spirits and were turning the occasion into a festive event – sort of like a tailgate party in a football stadium parking lot. I guess that means they’ve come to expect the long wait and know how to make the best of it.

But it doesn’t excuse the existence of the situation.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Good intent, bad timing

A demonstration today outside Kingston City Hall drew about 100 people who are upset that homeowners' property taxes could rise by nearly 15 percent next year.

The participants walked up and down the sidewalk, held signs and chanted their discontent with Mayor James Sottile's proposed city budget for 2009.

Just one problem: Today is Saturday. Wouldn't it have made more sense to do this on a weekday, with Sottile in the building and able to see the protest?


Fox can't wish it away

Moments ago, FoxNews, in airing a report about the upcoming presidential election, had a headline at the bottom of the screen that read "Candidates neck and neck as election approaches."

Neck and neck? Seriously?

Gallup has Barack Obama up by 11 points. So does the the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
CBS News gives Obama a 13-point lead.
Marist has Obama ahead by 7.

And in the all-important Electoral College tally, with 270 needed for victory, has Obama getting at least 311 and Yahoo has Obama at 333.

We all know Fox wants John McCain to win, but lying about the current state of the race won't change it.

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