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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas the blog before Christmas ...

… and all through my head:

* One of the other Hudson Valley newspapers, in a Web posting on Saturday, proclaimed the following (emphasis added): “On the heels of a BRUTAL snowstorm that SLAMMED the area Friday, Sunday’s storm is expected to HIT the Hudson Valley around 3 a.m. and POUND us for 12 hours or so.” Never mind the fact that Sunday’s snowfall only amounted to about 3 inches; simply the expectation that it was going to be a calamity compelled people to cancel plans, skip holiday shopping and allow their lives to be disrupted. How foolish – and proof, yet again, that weather is better gauged by looking outside than by believing forecasts.

* In a blog posting on Dec. 15, Freeman Publisher Ira Fusfeld commented that traffic heading toward the town of Ulster shopping district seemed unusually light given that Christmas was only 10 days away. What a difference a week makes! This past Monday, the 22nd, I was in the Ulster shopping area twice, and the traffic at and near Hudson Valley Mall was brutal both times. During my first trip, I tried to exit the mall property at the north end, onto Frank Sottile Boulevard, but traffic heading toward that spot was so backed up on the mall’s perimeter road that I wound up making a U-turn out of the jam (as did several other frustrated drivers) and going back to one of the exits onto Route 9W. During my second trip, I wound up stuck in a backup of about 40 cars as I tried to get off Route 209 onto Route 9W (near Staples). And on both occasions – no exaggeration here – the parking lots on the Route 9W side of the mall were the busiest I’ve ever seen them in my 21 years of living in Ulster County. So what gives? Did the economy suddenly get better? Did people decide that splurging on holiday gifts was more important than saving money? No. The reality is that Monday’s crowds probably were the result of some people delaying their weekend shopping because of Friday’s and Sunday’s snowfalls and others being drawn in by rock-bottom sale prices offered by desperate merchants. But crowded stores – whatever the cause – are a good sign in a weak economy, and it was nice to see so many people out.

* So now that the Yankees have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to sign pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and free-agent slugger Mark Teixeira, I can’t wait to see what it is that will, for the ninth straight year, cause the most self-righteous team in all of sports to fall short of a championship.

* Speaking of New York teams that think simply being from New York entitles them to a championship, I’d like to say just four words about the Brett Favre-led Jets: I told you so.

* After seven years, CNN finally has seen the light and has given up that annoying news crawler at the bottom of the screen. The network still runs some printed words down there, but only ones that are relevant to the story being broadcast. And slowly, though not as definitively, MSNBC and FoxNews appear to be following suit. As you may recall, these crawlers were born on Sept. 11, 2001, when CNN, MSNBC and Fox realized – seemingly at the same moment – that they could convey more information than usual by having their anchors talk about one subject while the crawler covered others. It was a stroke of genius on a day when people were hungrier for information than at any other time in the television era, but the crawler ran its course long ago, and its demise should have come much sooner than this.

* The Associated Press, in writing this week about “The Top 10 Entertainment Stories of 2008,” ranked the death of NBC newsman Tim Russert as No. 9. Huh? How does Russert’s untimely death qualify as entertainment industry news? Look, I’ll be the first to admit that too many TV broadcasts that claim to be news shows have crossed the line to the entertainment side of the business, but Russert’s “Meet the Press” did no such thing, and calling his death an “entertainment” story is an insult to one of the best journalists who ever filled our screens.

* Speaking of TV, what’s up with Time Warner Cable and Albany-based ABC affiliate WTEN (Channel 10)? About a week ago, Channel 10's programming was replaced in local Time Warner households with a black screen and a single line of type at the bottom explaining that, because of some analog-to-digital switch, WTEN no longer would be offered to customers who pay for only “basic cable.” Anyone wanting to receive WTEN, the message stated, would have to buy Time Warner’s digital (read: more expensive) service. The company even took out adds in the Freeman explaining the removal of WTEN. But then, a couple of days later, WTEN was back on the air in local “basic cable” households. Go figure.

* Nice to see local gas prices finally falling in the line with the national average. For much of the past few months, as prices at the pump plunged, local stations were charging about 20 cents more per gallon than the national average. But now that average is about $1.65, and I’ve seen gas in Kingston as cheap as $1.68. It’s about time!

* And lastly, happy holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or whatever else you might celebrate – to all!



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