Friday, May 30, 2008

False advertising

You have to hand it to Ed Lewi. The guy knows how to pitch one hell of a promotion. The long-time Saratoga Racecourse promoter snared three of four local dailies and the local-yocal television news cast to watch what will likely go down as the lamest trackside promotion since NYRA gave Funny Cide a granola and carrot cake “Rolex” last season.

The pitch was simple: Five brides in full wedding attire will “race to the altar” for the chance at winning a wedding ceremony in front of thousands of cheering fans at the track on Labor Day. And they’ll be on thoroughbreds too.

Undoubtedly, there was more than one editor who got this pitch and started thinking, ‘desperate brides on thundering thoroughbreds at the Saratoga Racecourse, where do we sign up?’ That’s the only explanation for why any news agency –much less four of them –would take the bait on this shameless promotion.

In truth, the “brides” were exercise riders and the “race to the altar” was really a cheap knock off of the Today Show’s kitschy appeal to teaming ranks of the American Idol-crazed reality television addicts. But the result was a mention on the Times Union blog, a B-section blow-up photo in The Daily Gazette, a spot on the Capital News 9 and a full-length article in the Saratogian. Way to go, Ed. You still know how to knock ‘em down.

The real “Race to the Altar” is a rather pathetic display of how people will do just about anything to get their mug on national television, even if it means turning their wedding plans into reality game show. For those wise enough to avoid watching the Today Show, this segment features five couples competing at various corny tasks for an opportunity to have the American public design their wedding down to the rings.

The winning couple is the one receiving the most online ‘votes’ from viewers. It’s the sort of video crack that is eating away at conscience of modern society, where everything is boiled down to a frenzied race and a mindless vote. The NYRA version will focus on the same basic tenants of the nationally televised edition. The only one big difference is that it won’t be televised.

This sort of drivel was exactly what the racecourse didn’t need. In fact, the racecourse doesn’t need anything. Simply maintaining the tradition that has kept the venue open for centuries is more than enough to fill the stands each summer, even sans the corny game-show promos.

Under their present line of market-driven thinking, NYRA might consider having a guy in Funny Cide costume and the finalists from this year’s Hooters Swimsuit Competition dance around the infield between races. Come on Ed, you know it’s tempting. After all, they have about as much to do with the sport of kings as the "Race to the Alter."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What's the frequency Kenneth?

Editor’s note: A lot of people have been wondering what the deuce happened to anchor Michelle Smith for some reason. Well, she’s knocked up again. Or at least that’s the story from CBS 6. The editorial staff here at iSaratoga believes abject incompetence and poor journalism skills likely led to her demise in the news business.

Just a mere mention of former CBS 6 Albany diva Nicole Forige is enough to generate serious hits in the blogosphere. The Chico State party queen-turned-fill-in anchor left a lasting mark on television news gawkers during her short four-year stint at the station formerly known as WRGB. In fact, even months after brown-eyed bombshell’s abrupt departure from the station, Web crawlers continue to seek out any shred of information about Forige.

So naming her in a post about her former employer is really sensationalizing the issue a bit. Some might even call it false advertising. But that’s exactly what CBS 6 does on a nightly basis when they claim to be reporting news that asks “tough questions” and holds “officials accountable.”

Television news is poorly reported in general because of its quick-hit nature. Simply put, it’s impossible to cram a whole news story into a 1-minute sound bite. When you couple this with the overall lack of journalistic sensibility most televisions reporters share, you’ve got a recipe for a hollow 15-minute clip of local reporting that fails to convey even the most basic information. And that’s before you factor in and the shoe-string budgets most local newscasts operate within.

But CBS 6 manages to go beyond all of this with their abysmal nightly broadcast, which somehow manages to pioneer new lows each week. Take for instance their botched reporting Friday following the suicide of a civilian forensic pathologist working with the State Police. The Times Union broke the story in the morning, stating that the deceased man had left a note expressing angst over an investigation into the “handling of evidence in a high-profile case.” The reporter also quite explicitly noted the suicide had absolutely nothing to do Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into allegations of a “renegade unit” within the State Police.

In their zeal to rip off a sensational headline, CBS 6 decided to simply link the suicide with the so-called renegade unit. Even better, they pinned this horrendous misjudgment on news reported by the TU. Had someone in their newsroom managed to rub two brain cells together, they would have realized forensic pathology and political espionage have nothing to do with one another. Or perhaps they would have deduced the deceased man was an employee of the state police, but not a cop himself, meaning it would have been impossible for him to be part of the aforementioned unit.

The colossal error is just another in a never-ending series of news missteps, distortions and outright fabrications CBS 6 News has generated since they adopted a bastardized version of “advocacy journalism” under the reign of News Director Lisa Jackson. In an almost unprecedented move, station General Manager Robert Furlong moved Jackson from the marketing department to heading the news operations in November. The decision was made nearly five months after former News Director Beau Duffy mysteriously left his post without reason and seemed to coincide with a drastic down-trend in the station’s news gathering abilities.

“To succeed today, you have to stand for something that's unique and valuable,” Jackson told the Times Union after her promotion. “The brand of journalism that we want to practice every day is advocacy.”

By “unique and valuable,” Jackson must have meant sensationalized and distorted. And by “advocacy,” she clearly meant ‘gotcha.’

Never in the history of Capital Region media has there been a station so completely devoted to sneaking up behind government officials and asking them random questions that either have no right answer or are so far out of left field that they deserve no answer. This practice has become so common that some refuse to talk with the station’s news reporters unless it’s under tightly controlled circumstances. Look no further than their “angle” on the recent 21st Congressional District debate earlier this month to see why.

As the debate came to a conclusion, Democratic candidate and civil rights advocate Lester Freeman launched a brief tirade against challenger Tracy Brooks, a regional director for Sen. Hilary Clinton.Freeman arbitrarily called Brooks a “racist,” somehow linking her work for Clinton with remarks the senator made about her challenger in the presidential race, which were then distorted by the television pundits to suggest her open prejudice.

All of the other stations attending this event chalked up the outburst to Freeman either suffering a brief fit of insanity or perhaps having a dramatic reaction to some recently prescribed medication. The bout of verbal sparring was rightfully glossed over by all of CBS 6’s competition and even the print media outlets. But the tireless advocates at CBS weren’t willing to let the issue alone. They stalked Brooks’ supporters outside the event and played up Freeman’s outburst as the most newsworthy event at the candidates’ forum. Not surprisingly, the issue never took root and was summarily dismissed by most as the usual CBS 6 ratings grab. After all, who cares about the news as long as the Nielson numbers are coming in?

But the ratings aren’t coming in. In fact, CBS is ranked just ahead of Fox 23 News, an equally dismal newscast that shares a common interest with its cellar-dwelling doppelganger. Jackson’s answer to low ratings is to put the most scurrilous of sensationalizing news reporters –Michelle Smith –into an anchor’s slot.

Meanwhile, a veritable procession of news staffers has been abandoning ship. Last fall, Forige finally came to her senses and realized her looks were far more marketable divorced from WRGB. Similarly, weatherman Tom Mailey announced he would leave the station after more than two decades of work to take a job as a Stewart’s Shops flack. Anchor Ed O’Brien, who once teamed with Mailey to make the station a persistent performer in the ratings, announced he’ll leave the station in August.

It’s amazing to see how far the world’s first television station as plummeted in its modern history. And it’s even more amazing to think they’re still in a free-for-all when it comes to quality. Hopefully, someone affiliated with CBS will cock an eyebrow to the direction the station has turned before they become a poorly casted modern imitation of Fox’s Current Affair.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Imagine if the “Save the Whales” folk harpooned one of the massive aquatic mammals and then dragged it to some sandy shore for a massive luau. Maybe their message of conservation would have been taken a bit more seriously, had the nightly news carried images of some crazed Greenpeace hippie voraciously tearing at a slab of freshly killed whale meat between diatribes about the looming extinction of the species. After all, hypocrisy is quite fashionable in contemporary society.

This same logic is being employed by several dozen independent truckers taking a protest ride on the Northway Thursday afternoon. Charles Claburn, director of the New York chapter of Truckers and Citizens United, said the solidarity ride from Exit 17 to Exit 16 is to protest the high fuel prices that have threatened independent truckers.

To draw attention to this plight, Claburn and a veritable convoy of his associates decided to simply waste a bunch of diesel fuel on a fruitless drive down the Northway. And while they’re at it, they can congest traffic so dozens of unassuming motorists can also experience the sheer pleasure of wasting precious gasoline stuck behind a slow-moving convoy. Way to go, Chuck. Waste fuel to protest high fuel prices.

Claburn’s message is largely aimed at the federal government, and how they should build more refineries and ease environmental regulations for drilling. Or perhaps they should set up a couple million derricks in the Arctic wildlife preserve, until the eggheads can figure out how to start burning whale oil in diesel engines. Without this, he contends the droves of independent truckers will lose their livelihoods thanks to a government that never formulated a functional energy policy.

It’s a message that is lost on the general public, which is already contending with price pangs of its own. It’s difficult to sympathize with truckers –an industry that has enjoyed a five decade-long stranglehold on the movements of goods across the nation –when many working class people are having a difficult go at it themselves. In fact, it’s difficult to fathom why anyone would sympathize with truckers at all, seeing as though their industry offers the most inefficient and environmentally unfriendly method of moving goods from point to point.

In essence, the trucking industry is at a crossroads. The industry must reinvent itself to remain viable in an increasingly hostile market. Eventually, shipping surcharges will grow to a point that it will be cheaper for consumers to simply rely on local goods. So Claburn’s theory of turning the coastlines into a derrick-laden oil refinery might help the pinch for a few years, but it’s not a long-term or viable solution.

The future of transportation lies in embracing and bolstering multi-modal methods. For instance, why move shipments from coast to coast by truck, when they could be moved cheaper and more efficiently by rail? That’s the question Paul Esposito of Railex in Schenectady County asked three years ago. Now, the start-up company is doing booming business, moving produce from Washington and California to the Capital Region in less than five days. Once a shipment arrives, trucks disseminate the produce throughout the east coast.

Esposito’s numbers are staggering, considering today’s cost of diesel. Each train carries roughly 200 truckloads of produce. With just two trains running each week, the company realized a weekly savings of more than 84,000 gallons of fuel. Adding it up, that 4.3 million gallons saved annually. That’s a nice savings when considering diesel fuel averages around $4.55 per gallon nationally and close to $5 in the Capital Region.

Ideally, train companies such as Railex would handle all long-distance hauling, leaving truckers to move goods within several hundred miles of a central terminus. It’s a solution that would stave off the ultimate demise of the trucking industry, lower the cost of goods and give rise to a more efficient mode of transportation. But it’s also a solution that would require truckers like Claburn to realize the good ol’ days of rambling carefree across the countryside are over. And they’re not coming back.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Prospective journalists, take heed

Before you complete that graduate degree at Columbia or Syracuse, remember there are plenty of careers to get into that don’t involve getting lemon juice poured over an industrial-sized paper cut on your ass as it’s kicked to the curb. Just ask Fred LeBrun.

The columnist and University at Albany J-school professor who Editor Rex Smith recently referred to as “the man who epitomizes the Times Union more than anybody else” narrowly missed earning himself a full year’s salary and a $33,000 stipend for simply leaving the paper. LeBrun could have also scored a year of health insurance coverage minus his co-pay, and “all accrued vacation time, personal days and makeup days” for accepting the buyout package the paper is now offering.

Instead, he announced his retirement in March, meaning he’s technically not eligible for the buyout now being offered by the paper. Now that’s gratitude for 41 years of dedication to a bloodless profession, which is only surpassed by medieval torture cells in its abject cruelty.

Despite being the Capital Region’s premiere online news service, the TU announced this week their decision to offer buyouts to 30 salaried workers. If all the targeted workers accept the buyout, the paper would reduce its staff by about 6 percent. Comparing apples to oranges, this number of buyouts is about twice what the TU lost in print circulation over a six-month period ending on March 31, which was strangely LeBrun’s last full day at the paper.

In a memo released March 11, Smith announced LeBrun’s retirement, ending a career that spanned from suburban beat reporter to city editor to metro columnist. Smith’s memo lauded the aged columnist’s dedication and identified him as the “longest-tenured newsroom staffer.”

Smith also promised LeBrun would be back as a free-lancer, which he has in twice-weekly columns. Ironically, he had a column in the paper last week offering a sort of apologia for lawyers ensnared by the state Attorney General Office’s investigation into alleged double- and triple-dipping into New York’s retirement pension system.

In contrast to these attorneys, LeBrun got one dip into the TU’s retirement pool. And it doesn’t even appear to be the lucrative cash-laden dip his co-workers are now being offered.

Hopefully, Hearst alerted LeBrun of the impending buyout and cut a deal with him to pad the veteran’s wallet on his way into retirement. After all, the company surely knew their financial situation long before offering buyout packages totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars. But the track record of most media companies is dismal, meaning LeBrun was probably escorted out the door as the Hearst lawyers were furtively drawing up plans for the buyout on the other side.

It’s a lesson any future reporter or newsroom flunky should learn and learn well: Working in the news business is akin to having a nice long stay in a maximum security prison. The conditions are miserable, the time is thankless and if you don’t watch your back, there’s likely to be a knife sticking out of it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rock the vote

Go ahead and vote today. Use this laser-guided democracy to choose between supporting the tax increase offered by an elected school board or the elected state government. Don’t worry. Your taxes are going up either way.

And while you’re at it, cast a ballot for your favorite school board member. There are a total of three choices in the city’s school district. Oddly enough, it’s the same three choices that have been on the ballot since 1999. They are in essence the same folks that have routinely driven –or at least presided over –the steady increase in school taxes every year.

But it’s not their fault really, the district assures. It’s the fault of burgeoning fuel costs and the price of benefits these days. It’s the cost of living increases, they claim; it’s the unfunded mandates. So take another 2.9 percent increase –the “lowest budget-to-budget increase” in eight years –or vote the budget down and face contingency cuts to school supplies, sports teams and the use of district facilities.

Here’s the cold, hard truth: There are no choices today at the polls. Not in Saratoga Springs at least. And across Saratoga County, the choices are starkly limited. Across 13 school districts, there are a total of 33 school board seats up for election and only 43 candidates. And nearly a third of those challenged seats are in the city of Mechanicville.

Ultimately, it’s these are the folks who will have their hands on the district’s purse strings; the same purse that levies the greatest percentage of property taxes. Yet finding candidates for the local school board is akin to pulling teeth. More often than not, voters simply rubber stamp the same incumbents into another term of rubber stamping the same budgets that reflect increases every year. After all, pulling a lever is a lot easier than actually running for a seat.

Who could blame them given the excitement and interest provided by the standard school board meeting? For anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the pleasure of attending such a conference, here’s a quick exercise to simulate the likeness: Take a bunch of morphine and start reading an appliance manual with reruns of Mr. Rogers blasting in the background.

The format at most board meetings is quite simple. First, there’s usually a student presentation of sorts; the type of affair when a bunch of third graders are paraded before the board to discuss their Odyssey of the Mind competition for 20 minutes. Then, anything that might generate community interest outside of the ‘aww…that’s sooo cute’ contingent is truncated down to a one-sentence agenda item that is summarily voted on without discussion. There is a brief moment at the end for the community to speak out, if they haven’t already been lulled to a slumber by the utter dearth of substance.

This is not to say the community can’t be active in such things as budget discussions. Often times, there are so-called budget workshops. At these meetings, residents can chime in with their disdain over the aforementioned increases, but are left with little respite, other than the usual excuses.

So instead, they sit at home and withdraw from the system and allow it to go on autopilot. Similarly, the state Legislature’s oversight of the education system is also on autopilot. Despite the cries of both homeowners and educators alike, the public education system continues to languish with inequities. The calamity that is in dire need of restructuring continues to be plagued by political dickering; discussions about charter schools and school vouchers.

Meanwhile, a fellow like this former Columbia High School student receives his diploma, but can’t read beyond the third-grade level. Now that’s money well spent. Increases would be a bit easier to stomach if New York’s education system wasn’t breeding the future Wal-Mart cashiers of America.

Still, the public continues its disinterest in the public school system or holding their legislators accountable for creating a ‘lesser of two evils’ quandary at the polls. Sure, they’ll speak out when taxes go up 10 percent or the school’s soccer team is disbanded. But until then, they’ll leave the grumbling up to others.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Go shorty, it's your birthday

There’s a piecing noise bouncing from the walls and it sounds somewhat like an alarm clock. The eyes thrust open and focus on a collection of cobwebs lying dormant in a previously obscure corner. You briefly ponder why the alarm clock is ringing on a Saturday, before throwing your feet to the floor and suddenly realizing your bad knee is acting up.

Pain courses through the temples, and darkness briefly encroaches on the peripheral vision. Get to the bathroom, stat; find some painkillers. The alarm is still ringing, but it’s taken a back seat to procuring some elixir in pill form. You grab a handful and start crunching, when you realize it’s not the faulty joint that’s acting up.

Instead, it’s the after effects of drinking the better part of a cheap wine flagon. You remember this around the same time you’re posterior crashes onto the floor after tripping over the aforementioned flagon, which lies amid a bizarre scattering of candles and literature; a worn copy of the Dubliners, an unkempt pile of newspapers, and the LL Bean catalogue curiously opened to the plus-sized swimsuit page.

Joe Bruno’s name is circled on one of the newspaper pages and a model displaying the ‘Tankini’ cut suit is labeled Marcia White. What does it all mean?

Then it dawns on you; a late night conversation, addled on Chianti and musing about the Senate Majority leader’s coddling of the Saratoga Performing Art Center’s director; it’s all making sense in some twisted way. The alarm is still ringing, but really it’s just a calamitous hammering from the construction outside. That’s strange, you think. They don’t do construction on Saturdays.

So it’s Friday, you have a crippling hangover and you’re three hours late for work. But you also have this desire to pontification about the sordid affair between an aging senator and his former press secretary. You head to the computer terminal, but the words aren’t flowing from your fingers. You try to think of something catchy or something humorous, but can only think of a movie scene where Danny Glover is sitting on a toilet bowel wired to a weight-sensitive bomb:

“I’m too old for this shit.”

Indeed, and getting older by the minute. Friday marked the dawning of the terrible twos for iSaratoga. Though the site has changed ever so slightly, the essential gist is the same. It’s just two years older. With that said, there is certainly more traffic than during the inaugural years. In about 18 months, there have been roughly 71,000 web crawlers who have skulked onto this blog for one reason or another.

Prior to 2007, the main draw for readers seemed to be a picture of high-grade marijuana posted here during the previous year. But in late January 2007, a posting about former News 9 anchor Kristina Krawchuk put iSaratoga on the media map. Several months later, iSaratoga became a battle ground during the mayoral campaign and the rest is history. During this time, this author has been accused of just about everything under the sun –‘a green-sneaker’ trying to forward fruitless environmental pursuits to a pro-development Republican shill.

Postings have slowed down a bit since the early days and the traffic has leveled off since the tumultuous election. All told, iSaratoga has about 150 daily readers who faithfully log on and mill about the various threads. On a daily basis, the site routinely gets about 400 hits. But a good contingent of these hits are from the aforementioned stoners trying to get a glimpse of the bubonic chronic, maybe thinking if they print the picture out and smoke it, they might get high.

Even with this modest number of hits, iSaratoga has gotten its fair share of shout-outs at Albany’s Times Union’s Web site, Skidmore Professor Bob Turner’s politics page, the fledgling All over Albany blog and in the Tech Valley Times. This humble moderator has also conversed with a number of area reporters and editors in the process, opening the channels of dialog and bridging the gap between the dodgy blogosphere and the world of mass media. All things said, this blog has grown at a pace and prosperity that was never imagined by it’s extremely hung over author.

But that which doesn’t evolve runs the risk of growing stagnant. And it seems the passing of iSaratoga’s second anniversary would be an ideal time to ask readers their thoughts on the direction of this site.

There are some changes in store, but nothing too dramatic. Posts might get a bit more frequent, a little less wordy and a bit more expanded to the events transpiring outside of the city limits. These are just some musings to provoke thoughts on this anniversary. At risk of sounding hackneyed, keep reading, keep commenting. Intelligent dialogue is the voice of a vibrant democracy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Double dipping

It’s interesting how the fog of time can change statements such as “suffered minor injuries” into “it’s difficult to say if he will return to work.” And it’s odd when missing “several days of work” can turn into “remains on restricted duty” nearly two years later.

But this is what happens to words when they’re moved from the mouths of disinterested desk sergeants at the Saratoga Springs Police Department and into the world of litigation. Two of the Spa City’s finest are now embroiled in civil litigation as a result of injuries they supposedly sustained while on the job.

The first to file suit was Keith Pellegri, then a 17-year veteran of the force who was sideswiped by a drunk driver leaving the Dave Matthews’ concert in June 2006. At the time, city police reported Pellegri’s injuries as minor and even debated whether his marked Ford Explorer was totaled in the wreck. Two months after the crash, he was well enough to ride in a benefit motorcycle ride, but remained on limited duty with the department due to his medical condition.

Then on New Year’s Day this year, another veteran officer was involved in an on-duty crash. This time, it was 28-year veteran Joseph Arpei, whose cruiser was struck by a driver that allegedly blew through a stop sign. Though the accident was described by police as fairly serious, they indicated Arpei was treated “for minor injuries” at Saratoga Hospital and released the same day.

These injuries have since grown in severity, according to Brian Lee, their ambulance chasing attorney representing both officers. Arpei’s injuries could end the patrolman’s career and Pellegri’s injuries have prevented the officer from working full-time, according to Lee, who was recently voted as having the “top law office” by Saratogian readers.

The curious thing about all of this legal wrangling is that both of these officers should theoretically receive disability from the city, workers compensation for an injury on the job or a combination thereof. Perhaps their medical bills are to an extent they have overstepped the amount covered by the city’s insurance. But if this were the case, one could safely assume someone among city hall’s legions of union-loving police advocates –Ron Kim perhaps –would have made quite a stink by now.

The so-called public safety commissioner, as we’ve recently learned, is all about getting a bit of extra scratch for the city’s men in blue. In fact, Kim is asking for $64,000 worth of extra scratch to augment the department’s burgeoning level of overtime; something that is undoubtedly augmented by two veteran officers being pulled off patrols due to injuries sustained on duty, But Kim’s overtime request isn’t in response to injuries, of which the department has sustained its fair share over the last three years.

Instead, Kim wants the added cash to fund the coverage shortfalls created by the State Police unit that was removed from the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, even though he’s presented positively no evidence the racino needs $64,000 worth of police presence to augment their private security force. As explained recently by both Kim and Police Chief Ed Moore, these officers will respond at the racino in the even they are called to make an arrest, much as they did five years ago before the damn harness track was filled with slot machines and grannies. Breaking this down, that’s $64,000 for the police to do exactly what they would have done anyway.

But for fellow of Kim’s vastly superior knowledge of police services, the thousands of dollars of overtime are necessary for providing deterrence to the nogoodniks now flocking to the racino. Truth is, the cash would be better invested in installing a heftier wheelchair ramp at the facility and perhaps a few extra defibrillators; perhaps a standby ambulance crew and paramedic in the event there was a mob scene involving the racino’s geriatric clientele.

Instead, it will get tacked onto the department’s out-of-control overtime allocation, which has consistently gone over budget under Kim’s tenure. This year’s budget includes a 7 percent increase in the police overtime allotment for a total of $160,470, which is more than any other office in garners in the city. Kim’s increase for the racino would boost this a amount by roughly 40 percent. In other words, eat your Wheaties, coppers. You’re in for some long hours this year.

Given these numbers, it’s a bit suspicious Kim is advocating such a monumental increase, especially for something as benign as the racino. But seeing as though there is no line item in the budget for racino patrols, this cash will likely be lumped in with the standard overtime allotment. That gives Kim and Moore a $64,000 cushion to keep guys on sick leave that may have no intention of coming back to the department. And it’s a carte-blanche for them to neglect any cost-saving analysis of the department’s ranks.

Monday, May 12, 2008

An eye-opener

Not too many people know the name Rob Madeo, even though they know his writing fairly well. For more than three years, he made the Capital Region his audience, including just about every media-savvy reporter in television and print. Through his blog, he regularly spoke to an audience of thousands and his writing became an industry standard among the blogosphere's rank and file.

Then in December 2006, he vanished. He left behind a simple thanks to his loyal readers and then disappeared.

That was until March, when the Albany Eye was again voted as a top local blog by Metroland readers, after being awarded the top blog honors the previous year. Both citations and one from the Times Union came without a single update to the site throughout 2007 and into 2008. Suddenly, the Albany Eye blinked open for a quick missive. And then another in April. Only this time, it was to announce he’s starting a new venture into the blogosphere.

The Albany Eye it ain’t, Madeo confesses on his former site. Rather, it’s a way to satiate the almost drug-like craving many bloggers feel as they ply their trade. For those unfamiliar with Madeo’s real job, he’s the award-winning promoter at Albany’s NBC affiliate, WNYT. Though he received several commendations for his work at the station, he remained largely anonymous among the general public.

Then in September 2004, a curiously sardonic writer identifying himself as the “Albany Eye” started blogging about transgressions in the media world. Within a year, the Eye grew to almost epic proportions, drawing thousands of readers and becoming a household name in newsrooms. So popular was the Eye that it even generated a short-lived blog critiquing the quality of its daily posts.

But periodically, the Eye would blink shut. Madeo later confessed these outages were largely due to the growing heat to pull him from anonymity. Sure enough, there were plenty of denizens lurking in cyberspace and waiting for the right cue to out the anonymous critic.

But it wasn’t this heat that finally took him down. It was Madeo’s own compulsion to blog. When former Phish front man Trey Anastasio was arrested on drug charges, Madeo found himself blogging about the incident from work. As a result, he ended up tipping off just about every media source under the sun. The move infuriated the network, which managed to track the posting back to his office. Suddenly and without notice, the Albany Eye disappeared altogether.

What followed was a curious sequence of events. The domain name was first usurped by a nearly illiterate poster, foisting their cyber-trash as the Eye. The poster made allusions that the Eye was in fact J.R. Gach, a sophomoric radio host known among legal circles as a lawsuit magnet. Ultimately, the Eye prevailed, banishing the short-live author to the depths of cyberspace and restoring an archive of his posts, but never adding to them.

Pan to the present. The Eye is back, only this time, he’s Rob Madeo. His new blog seems to have a bit less of the caustic edge he wielded like a rapier in the old one, but it’s unmistakably the Albany Eye. And he’s provided an explanation for many of the questions so frequently asked by his fans. So if you’re among the thousands who enjoy his witty, sometimes twisted sense of humor, give his new site a peak. It’s every bit worthy of a read. So this is a welcome back, Eye. You’ve been sorely missed

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gag me with an order

Were Judith Kaye really interested in securing raises for New York’s cadre of judges, she’d find some way of instituting a permanent gag order on John Aretakis. While muting the mouthy defense attorney might not thoroughly convince the state Legislature to enact pay hikes, it would certainly win her a lot of support around the Capital Region.

Through one lurid allegation after the next, the limelight-loving Aretakis always seems to dupe the media into keeping his name in the headline news. He’s best known as the lawyer who single-handedly put the screws to Albany Diocese of the Catholic Church during the recent clergy sex abuse scandal. And he continued to twist them without mercy until a federal court judge censured him for filing a bogus racketeering claim that was considered “wholly deficient” in its merit.

“[T]he amended littered with wholly irrelevant, inflammatory, and embarrassing facts concerning defendants and non-defendants alike that have no bearing on the actions brought,” U.S. District Court Judge Paul Crotty wrote in a November ruling, which levied a $24,000 fine against Aretakis.

With the church gravy train pulling out of the station, Aretakis sought out a new case with momentum that would again emblazon his name on front page. This time, the publicity manifested itself in the alleged sex abuse perpetrated by Douglas Conrad and roommate James Wiley. For some reason, these accused pedophiles have become the focus of the Capital Region’s media, even though they’re accused of crimes that are anything but sensational considering some of the reprehensible sex abuse cases that have sleazed down the pike in recent years.

But Conrad drove a Saratoga Springs school bus. And he was once accused of molesting children at a Mechanicville daycare six years ago, an alleged crime that went unprosecuted up until the Spa City charges were filed. Add to this the charges of endangerment against the mother of the molested 14- and 16-year-old boys, who willingly allowed her children to shack up with Conrad and Wiley, despite knowing of their nefarious predilections. Here’s where Aretakis gets involved.

First, Aretakis needs to prove Conrad the barbaric molester and solidify this idea in the public eye. Then, he’s free to pursue lawsuits against everyone under the sun. There’s the school district for hiring such a known cretin, the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office for not prosecuting Conrad in 2002 and prosecuting the mother in 2008; there’s the Mechanicville Daycare and the landlord who rented to Conrad and Wiley; hell, there could even be room enough for the Mechanicville and Saratoga Springs police departments on the flurry of lawsuits that are likely to follow any conviction in the case.

Not to mention, Aretakis gets free press for his run for the 21st Congressional District. True, most candidates for political office wouldn’t want their name appearing anywhere near the term sex offender; just as Schenectady’s Ed Kosiur. But in Aretakis’ case, it’s free publicity that keeps rolling through the press and a basis for his congressional run.

“No one in Washington, D.C., is standing up for children,” Aretakis told a fleet of reporters gathered at his campaign announcement.

There is no question Aretakis is standing up with children. In fact, he stood on display in front of City Hall Wednesday with the alleged 14-year-old victim and a reporter in tow. But the notion that Aretakis is standing up for children is a tougher lump to swallow, given the media attention he’s quite deliberately attracted.

Were he a real attorney interested in justice, Aretakis would allow the legal system to take its course. Instead, his proselytizing to the media has turned the case into a sort of circus, which could in fact work in the favor of the accused abusers he’s so righteously trying to convict. Undoubtedly, he’s compromised the prosecution’s case by drawing so much publicity to it. District Attorney Jim Murphy is going to have a devil of a time drawing a jury, much less ensuring these men receive a fair and unbiased trial anywhere in the Capital Region.

But this isn’t a concern for Aretakis. Wiley and Conrad going free would offer an even more compelling case for the mother and her sons to file the aforementioned civil claims. Also, if this dynamic duo gets anything less than the gallows, Aretakis will be handed the campaign platform he craves for his congressional run; namely one that involves assuring the public of more stringent child abuse laws at the federal level. Work it, John. Work it real good.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fair weather citizens

People today seem like a pawns of the weather. They roll out of bed and cock an ear to the clock radio when the meteorologist chimes in. Later at the breakfast nook, they’ll trudge over to the television set and tune into the morning forecast. On the commute, they’ll flip over to the AM dial and try to catch a quick meteorological synopsis before heading into the office.

Sadly, these folks seldom experience the weather, unless it’s for a handful of seconds while moving to and from their homes. For the most part, they’ll remain enclosed and isolated from the weather they arduously study; inside their homes, underneath heater-warmed awnings or in a vehicle moving from place to place.

Most people stay similarly isolated from the transgressions of their own local government. The main difference is that they don’t bother to painstakingly follow City Hall happenings, even though they may exert drastic and lasting repercussions on daily life. While most people are more than willing to spend more than an hour a day studying weather, they’re generally unwilling to lend even a few moments to review matters that may have a “quality of life” altering affect on their lives.

Take for instance the recent uproar over Mayor Scott Johnson’s plan to develop a 42,000-square-foot recreation center on a grassy lot near the public housing development at Jefferson Terrace. In what was quite literally his first move in office five months ago, Johnson publicly advocated moving the project from a site by the Wiebel Avenue ice rinks to Vanderbilt Avenue.

At the time, the proposed move was broadly applauded by the few residents who were listening. And it seemed to make a lot of sense: Bring the recreation center within walking distance of a housing project where underprivileged kids can walk to it. The test balloon floated into the air and hovered unscathed throughout January.

Johnson publicly broached the idea several other times throughout the winter and into spring. Most notably, Johnson raised the concept again at the state of the city address in February, even though few residents attended the broadly publicized speech. To put it mildly, one would’ve needed to avoid newspapers, public meetings and local gossip to not hear news of Johnson’s plan.

Still, there are those who say they simply didn’t know. Ray Giguere, who lives adjacent to the proposed site, told the Post Star he and his neighbors were never contacted about the idea.

“The neighbors are all kind of shocked by this,” he told the paper.

Now there’s a growing outcry against the project, more than five months after Johnson first brought up the idea. Neighbors of the project are genuinely concerned over the plan because it will quite literally transform nearly an acre of green space into something unknown. But why are they raising this issue now, more than five months after the mayor first announced the plan?

Perhaps it’s because they simply don’t care enough to pick up a newspaper and read. True, there is much to be said about the quality of coverage in the Spa City. However, all four area newspapers have lent their ink to Johnson’s proposal. And the idea has been kicked around at just about every city meeting since the mayor took office.

So it’s a bit perplexing to learn someone simply didn’t know what was going on until surveyors start measuring up the property. Had they bothered to allocate 10 minutes a day to read a newspaper –or the much more ambitious hour at bi-monthly city council meetings –they would have known about the project long in advance of architectural plans being concocted.

But maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the most recent 3 percent dip in newspaper circulation across the board. These days, the public seems largely reliant on fickle local news coverage on television; the same sound-bite reports they get while waiting for the weather to come on. And that’s if they bother listening to anything local at all.

While it’s easy to fault the sorry state of the media on shoestring budgets and corporate greed, some of the blame must be heaped on the shoulders of the public, which seems increasingly more apathetic to events shaping their immediate surroundings. The newspapers carrying the life-blood of American Democracy are failing, public meetings are sparsely attended, and yet people seem more concerned about the weather.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The end is near

Looking for the Journal Register Company on the New York Stock Exchange? Don’t bother. Wondering when that little symbol might pop up again? It won’t. Sunday paper feeling a little lighter these days? It may very well be.

Folks, the end of days are nearing for the insidious overlords of JRC, the corporate raiders that have decimated both the Saratogian and its sister paper, the Troy Record. After announcing they wouldn’t bother challenging the delisting of their abysmally performing stock last month, JRC officials announced this week the company will no longer be publically traded.

In other words, grab your parachutes, boys; this plane is going down. Don’t have one? Well, too bad.

JRC’s crack team of corporate swindlers filed the forms with the feds Thursday, indicating the company no longer intends to report its earnings and losses to the federal Security Exchange Commission. In a remarkably upbeat news release, they claimed the measure would save them the capital they were expending on such meddlesome things as accountants, administrators and other business executives needed to operate a publically traded company.

“The board of directors believes that deregistration will result in significant savings to the [JRC], permit management to focus more completely on the Company’s business operations and enable the Company to redeploy resources currently devoted to compliance reporting,” the news release stated.

Translation: we’re continuing to pillage the company, but really can’t do it as efficiently with the feds watching over us. Once we’re private, we can finish gutting all of our holdings and squirreling money away in off-shore accounts for when the company finally files for bankruptcy protection.

But the adept spin doctors at JRC put a much sweeter gloss of sugar on the whole affair. Instead, they claim the privatization of the company will help them rebound. And surely they’ll still report to the stockholders “through press releases” and annual “independent” audits.

Best of all, JRC plans to maintain the “corporate governance improvements” made in recent years. You know, the same “improvements” that led to their stock plummeting from $12.18 to less than a quarter in two years. And this company has the utter gall to call itself “a leading U.S. media company.”

Sources have indicated JRC will ratchet up its penny pinching –or shall we say corporate pillaging –starting Sunday. Apparently, the New Haven Register mysteriously stopped including the standard television programming guide in its Sunday paper last month. This lead to a subscription revolt at the Register, which is often considered the crown jewel of JRC’s dwindling assets. Apparently, a similar phenomenon is expected to occur with the Saratogian this weekend, in spite of the paper actually gaining more than 100 subscribers for their Sunday edition.

As much as this blog has been devoted to prodding the Saratogian’s staff into going the extra mile in the face of their JRC overlords, these recent developments have thrust the poor pawns into an untenable situation with their livelihood. The fact that they still come to work each week is either an act of extreme courage, extreme drunkenness or abject stupidity; perhaps a smattering of all three. They are to be commended, and the bastards who put them in this situation should be brutally flogged until they resemble something passed through a meat grinder.

Nonetheless, JRC’s bow has official dipped beneath the turbulent seas of newspaper journalism. This happened after years of deliberate corporate mismanagement filled the company’s proverbial hull with water. There is no turning back now, the ship is going down. Not to worry. There are enough life jackets for the women and children. Rather, there are enough for one woman, whose column appears in the Life section most Saturdays. When the everything is said and done, chances are pretty good she’ll be among a sparse few sitting high and dry.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Design flaws

Clark Brink Jr. is in a unique situation to become a pioneer at the southern gateway of Saratoga Springs. With plans in the works to replace his McDonald’s franchise on South Broadway, the franchisee could demonstrate the ability of a major corporation to understand and adhere to city ordinances, rather than sending lawyers to wrangle and beg until they get their way.

Brink is planning to demolish the 1960s-era McDonald’s and replace it with ones similar to his franchises in Greenwich and Mechanicville. The plans are somewhat welcome, considering his existing building in the Spa City is a rotting piece of urban blight. And that’s putting it nicely.

But Brink –or rather his planners at Bohler Engineering –neglected to read the city’s 32-page diagram-filled zoning ordinance. Or at least that’s what one might surmise given the project they’ve pitched as a replacement for this unsightly structure. Most notably, the three designs pitched to the city lacked the requisite two stories and didn’t occupy 70 percent of the lot’s street frontage.

His consolation for these omissions amounted to one less curb-cut than the three that exist today and replacing a vile building with a structure that will probably look equally vile in 20 years. So it’s not too surprising his plans have been met with a bit of consternation. Were they not a bit anxious about the plan, the city might as well treat the goddamn comprehensive plan for a ride through the paper shredder.

For decades, Brink’s restaurant has served as a lingering reminder of the wanton disregard city planners once had for South Broadway. It was a time when the city’s grand hotels and rolling piazzas crumbled to the ground, only to be replaced by the unsightly shopping malls, acres of pavement and dingy fast-food eateries.

Much of the emphasis of urban planning has changed since then, at least from a municipal prospective. Many planners have realized storefronts located on the beaten path draw more pedestrian traffic than those located in front of a sprawling 100-space parking lot. Many aspire to connect streetscape skylines, creating a more contiguous feel for downtown regions.

The problem is the McDonald’s corporation doesn’t necessarily buy into these concepts. Why the fast food chain is ambitiously working with franchise owners to replace its Capital Region restaurants, they’re all conspicuously looking like buildings pried from the same mold. Perhaps this is the standard for bustling roadways in Mechanicville or even Clifton Park, where a similar structure was built.

In Saratoga Springs, however, there’s been a nearly decade-long push to polish the tarnished street front of South Broadway. The city has embarked on an ambitious project to reconstruct the curbs and sidewalks, allowing them to match those built near the park during the 1990s. Yet the buildings along this area seem woeful when compared to their northern neighbors.

Brink is in the position to build a structure both adequate for his restaurant and fitting with the other structures in the city, rather than his block. And if one land owner builds an attractive building conforming to the city’s zoning, then perhaps others will follow suit.

Time will only tell the direction of this project; whether Brick will come back with something fitting the city’s character or try to slip the standard corporate McDonald’s through the filter of the Zoning Board. Some have already indicated frustration with how long the project has remained under contemplation with the city, so it won’t be surprising if the lawyers get involved, CVS-style.

Instead, Brink and his engineers should take a good look at the buildings on South Broadway that have endured more than a century and then craft their design in accordance. If they do, chances are pretty good they’ll develop something that will last, rather than becoming the latest McDonald’s architectural fad to face wrecking crews several years down the road.

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