Friday, August 29, 2008

History will be made

In picking Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has made it virtually certain that history will be made on Nov. 4.

Either an African-American will be elected president of the United States or a woman will be elected vice president. Both, of course, would be unprecedented and one will occur, unless, of course, something unexpected occurs.

In 1972, Sen. George McGovern chose Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate. A couple of weeks later, McGovern tossed Eagleton off the ticket after it was revealed that the vice presidential choice had been treated for nervous exhaustion and had received shock treatments. Not that it did McGovern any good, but then again, Nixon was virtually unbeatable anyway.

Getting back to this year's race, friend Ivan Katz reminds that Palin is closely allied to Alaska Sen. Ted Stephens, who is under indictment on federal charges. She also used her bully pulpit to help defeat a mining initiative that was backed by environmentalists and native Americans, an action Katz says appears to be contrary to Alaskan law.

Palin's ties to Stephens should , once and for all, shut up the GOP magpies that keep harping on alleged ties between Obama and his next-door neighbor in Chicago, who is of less than sterling reputation.

Palin is a hunter, fisher, is allied to Stephens and through his connections to the NRA and is politically slightly to the right of Attila the Hun. She also has no foreign-policy credentials, which means she could look pretty sick when she debates Maryland Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. 

She obviously was added to the ticket to pander to the right-wing crazies and religious rightists where McCain is weak because of his sensible stands on abortion and women's rights. She will pander to that far-right voting block on civil rights, freedom of expression, actually upholding the Constitution and all the other things that these wackos on the right hate. 

She also was picked because she's young and strong as opposed to McCain, who is not. I will not pander to ageism, but McCain is 72 and not in the best of health. So we have to look even more closely at this woman who would be a heartbeat away from the White House. 

She also is supposed to appeal to those who are still ticked off because Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was not picked by Sen. Barack Obama as a running mate and didn't win the nomination in the first place. There may be some I-won't-vote-for-anyone-but-a-woman diehards out there, but most women will see this for the empty, pandering gesture that it is.

And most women will realize that although Palin is of the same gender, they hardly are for the same things: equal pay, a woman's right to say what happens to her body and a social conscience. 

Palin fails on all those points and, as Katz point out, if Stephens is convicted or pleads out on the federal charges against him before Election Day, then this strategy may really fall apart.

In any case, the cast of characters is now in place. The GOP will have its coronation in Minnesota and the campaign will begin in earnest.

In other words, the Silly Season is about to go into full swing.

Page 2

Sorry we haven't written for a week, but it's been busy on the grandparent scene, baby-sitting and spending time with grandkids in two states. Besides, our friends at the New Haven Independent have been doing their usual great job of covering the city. Kudos, also, to Mary E. O'Leary, who got the beat on the story about the long-standing intramural union fight in New York that might spill over into the Coliseum site redevelopment in New Haven. 

Can you believe it's already Labor Day weekend? Where did the summer go? 

The three-day holiday weekend has the New Haven Labor Day Road Race the prime event. Drive carefully. The police usually have extra hands on deck and it is the end of the month, so be extra careful and vigilant. And for everybody's sake, if you've been drinking, let somebody sober drive.

The weather is supposed to be be great, if not a little warm for a 20K race. 

So, have a great weekend. And, of course, for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos.

Until next time...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Did you ever rub noses with a llama?

Being a grandparent is a wonderful, if a bit strange at times.

Sue and I took a drive to northwest Massachusetts a couple of days ago, where my machatonim, the Trumps of time shares, were spending a week. 

Machatonim is Yiddish and Hebrfew for the in-laws of one's son or daughter. As far as I know, the Jews and Chinese are the only people who have words describing such relationships. The machutin is the father-in-law of your son or daughter, and the machatonister is the mother-in-law. I think that's right or is it the other way around. In any case, I love that there is a word for that. 

Anyway, after driving for 2 1/2 hours in back of every truck, tractor and gas-saver, we ended up in Hancock, Mass., which is near Williamstown. 

So, we packed up the grandkids, their parents and other grandparents and headed off for the Green River Farm, at U.S. Route 7 and local Route 43, about 15 miles north of Mondo Timeshare, which shares a mountain with Jiminy Peak ski area. 

The farm has an indoor petting zoo with some bunnies, two pigs, some goats, sheep, chickens, ducks and a llama. This isn't the llama who likes to rub noses. In fact, she's a little stuck up.

Walking around carefully, one can see cows, horses, ponies and the usual farm animals.

Up the hill from the barn is  play area with an inflatable crawl-through for kids, a wooden play structure that grandparent-types can crawl into, but can't easily get out of.  The also have a corn maze that's kind of fun in a muddy sort of way. 

Near the play area is an enclosure where the llamas live, including my friend who loves to rub noses. I was standing by the fence when he came up and introduced himself. Not verbally, of course, but as I was standing there, he stuck his nose near mine. I responded and next thing you know, we were rubbing noses. It was sort of cross-species communication.

All this was great fun. None of the grandkids wanted to rub noses with the creature, and as I was telling them that they missed an experience, the llama walked over to the other llama, a female, and stuck his nose, well, like dogs do when they meet.

Everybody thought this was a hoot.

I just couldn't wait to get back and wash my nose. 

I guess the lesson is not to rub noses with anyone or anything until you really know about them. 

You know, that's not a bad rule to follow.

Page 2

This looks like a wonderful weekend, weather wise at least. It looks like Fay, the tropical storm that is giving the folks in Florida such a hard time with all that rain, is heading west and won't run up the coast as the weather bureau first thought it would.

Tomorrow is the 10th wedding anniversary for Mike and Andrea. Mike is the guy who really knows about baseball, whom I sometimes quote in this space, as well as a GIS expert. Andrea is an expert, internationally recognized teacher who also is a wonderful family researcher. 

Andrea and Mike also are our daughter and son-in-law. They weren't the ones along for the llama adventure. Andrea and Mike have three kids, including Shoshana, whose picture and birthday story you saw a few days ago, along with Naomi and Eliana. 

Happy anniversary to this great couple. May the next decades be as happy and fulfilling as this last one has been. 

Page 3

Have a great weekend, y'all, and for those in the Tribe, a good Shabbos.

Until next time...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Say it isn't so, Joe

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Dear Joe:
I don't know where to send this note, so you'll just have to trust your clip service to get it to you. 

The reason I don't know where to send this is I don't know what side of the Senate aisle you're sitting on. I know you became an independent out of necessity when Jimmy Dean (no, not the sausage king, but then again...) and his beard, Ned Lamont, snatched the Democratic nomination from you two years ago.

At the time, you had the reason for the vote against you pegged correctly. You said voting against you in the primary was a way your constituents could give you a message without hurting you. They would vote against you in the primary, then vote for you in the general election. 

We all knew you would run as an independent because you weren't about to let these guys force you out. And we believed in you, Joe. Hell, I even worked for you, standing out in the rain to make sure you won, to make sure the message sent to you by Democratic voters didn't hurt you.

I was not in step with you on the war in Iraq. I couldn't help but agree with people who came up to me when I was leafleting for you, shouting in may face, throwing things at me. They said you were wrong on the war (remember, this blog is rated PG, so I can't say what they said).
 I told them you were wrong about the war, but that was overshadowed by all the things you were right about, like the economy, the Middle East, pollution, big oil. 

Besides, I told the screamers, you had seniority in the Senate and you would work hard to do things that benefited Connecticut. And you were needed to vote with the Democrats against the Bush wrong-thinking policies.

So what happened? You went to work for John McCain, a guy who is against all the things for which we re-elected you. He's against a senator bring home contracts for his state. He's even wrong about bringing home contracts for his nation. He yelled about the Boeing contract for tankers for the Air Force. He had it so wrong, and now, years later, we're right back where we were, except that the military pilots will be refueling at decades-old tankers instead of new ones. What's that going to cost in lives?

So instead of sitting in the Senate, bring home Connecticut's share, you want bouncing around the world with McCain, carrying the bag for him.

You went to work for this latter day Admiral Stockdale (the addle-brained vice presidential candidate from 1992 who ran with Ross Perot) who is still yelling about winning the war in Iraq at the same time that Condi Rice is over there negotiating a treaty to allow us to withdraw combat troops from that nation. He's been wrong about so many things. Do you, Joe, really think that anyone who makes less than $5 million a year is middle-class?

And now, they say out are about to deliver the unkindest cut of all. 

You are going to speak at the Republican National Convention, the same place where the religious right, the neocons, the economy-wreckers, the group that turned a modest surplus into a wicked national deficit in eight short years, the progeny of the Young Americans for Freedom, will laud the record of Bush, Chaney, Rove, Gonzales, Rumsfeld and the others who have so stained America that their stink will permeate the nation long after they are sent skulking from office. You want their legacy to continue? You want a man who would make George W. Bush look like the Dalai Lama on the world stage to lead America?

Say it isn't so, Joe. Please say it isn't so.

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gannett joins the "boot 'em out" parade

Sometimes, you just have to so something as a catharsis for yourself. 

Some people talk, others draw and still others go into a room and holler.

I write.

This week, Gannett Corp. Inc., the largest newspaper chain in the nation, let go 600 people from its Community Newspapers division. The really large Gannett papers, USA Today, the Detroit Free Press and maybe one or two others, are not part of that division.

This doesn't directly impact the New Haven area. Gannett doesn't own any papers in Connecticut. The nearest papers are The Journal News, which covers Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties in New York, and the Poughkeepsie Journal, which covers Dutchess County. Gannett sold its Connecticut newspaper, The Norwich Bulletin, to a Massachusetts chain that has a lot more weekly papers and shoppers than daily papers. 

So why am I in need of a catharsis? I used to work for The Journal News and I know some of the newly jobless. The one I really feel sorry for is a guy who was offered a buyout a few months ago and turned it down. 

That's all personal stuff for me. The reason you, dear reader, should be concerned is that when the largest newspaper chain in the nation needs to shed 1,000 jobs -- 600 layoffs and 400 by other means such as not filling  jobs left open from people who quit and a few, perhaps, by offering more buyouts -- it means more than the same thing happening to other news organizations.

The reason I say this is that Gannett has been a pioneer in melding newsprint and the Web to deliver news to you and me. A decade ago, Gannett's USA Today was devoting a whole floor in its Roslyn, Va., headquarters to its Web operation. We're talking about state of the art computers and state of the art strategies. 

If they can't figure out how to make news delivery pay, then I fear for the whole news-delivery industry. This is serious stuff. We can't rely on our politicians and their drum-beaters to keep us informed. We certainly can't rely on bloggers who strain the news through whatever issue they're for or against. Not to pick on anyone, but I really don't think making a city bike-friendly, for example, is as important as making it safe against crime. 

So for me, the personal issue of seeing good people with whom I worked for almost 15 years get booted out the door of the place for which they worked and sacrificed (and seeing some people who should only be able to get into the building to buy an ad stay to make a bad situation worse) is coupled with the real worry about how we're going to get the news we need to keep a free society free.

Thanks for reading. It helped a little to write this.

Page 2

I've been reading comments in the New Haven Independent from readers about whether the press should print the names and likenesses of men arrested and charged with crimes related to prostitution. I think they should, if they do it right.

I've been in newspapers for more than 40 years and I can tell you getting it right depends on getting your facts straight and how you write it. You call a person a murderer, you have troubles; call that person a murder suspect, you're fine, as long as that's the truth. Say a man was arrested for patronizing a prostitute and you have real problems if that person is found not guilty, because the word for implies guilt. Say a man was arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute, you are telling the truth as you know it. You can't call a person a suspected murderer, but you can call him or her a murder suspect. 

You also have to follow the "was you there, Charlie" rule. If you saw it, say it. If you didn't, say who did. The person was arrested after propositioning a police decay, police said. Now, you're fine.

As far as perp walks, I think it's fine. They were arrested --true. They were charged -- true. The thing you have to do is follow up the story. If the person is found not guilty after trial or if the case is dismissed for whatever reason, you need to report that, too, in the same place as you reported the arrest. Lots of news organizations get away with not doing that.

We shouldn't let them.

Page 3

Speaking of the cops and following up, has anyone come forward to say who beat up a van driver who's only crime was to be in the way when a 15-year-old came careening down the street on a dirt bike? 

Where is the march or the rally or the demand for action in the death a few months ago of Jerome Gross, who died a few days after a man who people close to the case say was an illegal immigrant with no insurance drove way too fast for conditions and slammed his car into Gross' vehicle as Gross attempted to enter his own driveway?

Does anyone remember Moniek Eckhaus? The "crime" for which the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor paid the ultimate price was walking on the street near his home at 3 a.m. A Holocaust survivor who lived in Eastern Europe after the war doesn't sleep so well, so he liked to walk in the still of the early morning. He was killed, the police think, when he was accosted for money. He carried nothing during his walks, so the thief beat him.  

Who has been arrested for his murder? What's been done to make Forest Road safer, so nobody else has to die as Jerome Gross did? 

Excuse me if I think these questions are a little more important that whether to publish the picture of some guy arrested and accused of trying to buy sex from a woman who turned out to be a cop. 

Oh, and to answer a question: The strategy of naming these guys worked when cops used it to clean up Chapel and Howe streets, which had resembled an outdoor bawdy house, more than 25 years ago. 

Until next time...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Three cheers for the chief

What's this? Len'sLens on a Sunday?

Why not? After all, I missed Friday. Actually, the reason I missed Friday was that Paul Bass in the New Haven Independent linked to my piece on the Hearst Corp. buying just about every newspaper in Fairfield County (except for the Norwalk Hour and its two weeklies) on Friday and I wanted to give people time to read that.

Before I get to the headlined piece, I am proud to announce that my synagogue, Cong. Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim in New Haven, has a new Web site, created by my wife, Sue. 

Check it out from time to time, please. And consider BCSA if you're Jewish, Orthodox or right-wing Conservative and are looking for a warm, welcoming place to pray every morning and evening, Shabbat and holidays.

Page 2

Just as he said he would, New Haven Police Chief James Lewis sent decoys out into the streets of the city to snare men looking for love in all the wrong places. Read the New Haven Register story, complete with mug shots of the dozen. 

Lewis sent decoys out in the streets and when the would-be johns approached them, according to police, the unlucky in love were arrested and charged. Cars also were impounded.

Some people may say that prostitution is a victimless crime -- a guy who may be shy just trying to get a little without going through the whole scene. Wouldn't it be great if that's all it is?

In fact, prostitution brings a whole universe of hurt into its orbit. First, the girls and guys and the pimps who control them. Then the disease that some of them carry. This is not, as it was when I was a teen, something that can be gotten rid of by backing into a penicillin needle. These are deadly viruses and germs that some of these girls carry, and diseases that are permanent, like HIV.

Then these are the drugs. Many of the girls, and boys, are out there trying to score money for drugs, or booze, or both. If there are pimps involved, then that's another layer of nasty business. 

Finally, there's the whole scene with girls in not much clothing parading on the streets where children play and walk to the market or whatever. Then there are the johns, the ones who don't get caught, circling around the block, caring as much where they are driving as a deer in heat. And, of course, whatever they catch, they bring home.

So, Chief Lewis, you get an A+ from this quarter. Keep up the good work. And thank you.

By the way, if you missed it, you may want to read about a sweet/sad event that happened to me in the Journal-Courier of New Haven newsroom more than 30 years ago, when another police chief sent decoys into downtown New Haven to snag another generation of men who sought love for sale. A few brief minutes really stay with you over hours and years manning a newsroom desk or pounding the streets looking for stories. This one stayed with me.

And as King Solomon said thousands of years ago, there is nothing new under the sun. 

Page 3

I'm a weather nut. It drives my wife crazy.

A week ago or so, when there was a tornado warning for Fairfield County, I was glued to the television, watching mostly Channel 8. Geoff Fox did a great job, and the station stayed with the story until 7 p.m., running the ABC national news feed a half-hour late. They even held Wheel of Fortune, a decision that must have brought in a spate of complaints. They did, however, do the right thing.

I've been a weather nut for decades. I've usually been the desk person who managed weather stories at papers for which I worked, including working the two-way radio (way before cell phones) and helping to direct Janet Kipphut (now Ainsworth) and Bob Phillips in their award-winning coverage of the Tornado of 1979 in the Journal-.Courier of New Haven.  That's the storm that all but destroyed the New England Air Museum and part of Bradley International Airport. It cost three lives and hurt hundreds.

I also was assigned the local and wire weather stories to manage at The Journal-News in Westchester County, N.Y.

So, it looks like we may get the first hurricane to strike the eastern U.S. this year. It's called Fay. 

You can join in the fun on the National Weather Service hurricane page. Never mind the flashy map, go down the page to the good stuff, the advisories, the discussions and the graphics. Punch up the five-day and three-day cones and see where the forecasters think the storm will go.

Don't worry...chances are excellent the remnants of Fay will fizzle to a thunderstorm, if that, by the time it reaches here. That might be just in time to ruin next weekend, but the more one works with the weather, the more one sees that things can change in a heartbeat. Even with the most sophisticated computers, they get it wrong from time to time, so stay tuned, and check back as the storm nears land. And don't cancel the family picnic yet.

And good job to you Geoff. Again, you've proven you're not just another pretty face.

Until next time...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fairfield County is Hearst country

Where have I been? A friend told me last night that the Connecticut Post had been sold as of last Friday.

No, not the huge shopping mall in Milford; the newspaper in Bridgeport. Not only that, but New York-based Hearst Corp., the Post's new owner, also bought the Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time and Danbury News-Times.

The Denver Business Journal ran a story that said Hearst paid $155 million for the Post, less than the $200 million shelled out by former owner MediaNews Group eight years ago to buy it from Thomson Newspapers. MediaNews Group, headed by Dean Singleton, owns the Denver Post, which is why the Denver Business Journal cared about the sale.

The Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time had been part of the Tribune conglomerate, which still owns the Hartford Courant. They had been bought earlier this year by MediaNews, as had the Danbury News-Times. The Danbury paper had once been a member of the Ottaway chain, which had been owned for years by the Dow-Jones Co., former publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

Confused yet? There's more. 

MediaNews Group, which is a privately held company, as is Hearst,  had been losing money and announced the sale to Hearst was meant to solidify its bottom line. Hearst had owned a large minority stake in MediaNews, which means it had owned a piece of the papers that it bought last week. 

So, in essence, Hearst now owns every daily in Fairfield County except the Norwalk Hour. A half-dozen weeklies formerly owned by Brooks Community Newspapers was also part of the deal.

Why should we care? Well, first of all, the Connecticut Post competes with the New Haven Register in Stratford, Milford and the Lower Naugatuck Valley and circulates in New Haven itself. Secondly, some of the weeklies owned by the Journal-Register, the Register's owner, which is not in good financial shape to say the least, compete with the Brooks weeklies.

But the advent of a well-financed, well-run newspaper chain that owns most of Fairfield County, could bleed even more business away from the Journal-Register. That company's in such bad shape now that you could buy about 150 shares of its stock for the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee.

The purchase of the three Fairfield County papers gives Hearst  dozen daily newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has won two Pulitzer prizes, both for editorial cartooning. The nearest Hearst site before this purchase was in Albany, N.Y., where the company had announced in the spring that it was putting up for a 70,000-square foot printing and packaging facility.

The Times-Union is a decent newspaper, with a good deal of local news. 

Western Connecticut will be just about all Hearst. There is a  Journal-Register-presence  in northwest Connecticut, the Register-Citizen covering Torrington and Winsted. 

The only real competition along near the New York border, especially south of Litchfield, would be from Gannett's The Journal-News in Westchester and Putnam counties of New York. I'm not sure, however, that the J-N knows or cares about what goes on in Connecticut.

I went looking for a media consultant for this story and remembered that I'm a newspaper consultant.  So I asked me.

It will take a while for Hearst to gets its feet wet in its diverse new holding. The problems in Stamford and Greenwich are vastly different from those in Danbury and also different from the concerns in Bridgeport.

But it's no secret that the Journal-Register would love to sell itself, or at least part of itself, to a sugar daddy the way some of MediaNews Group did. But having a well-heeled neighbor that controls everything between the New Haven County line and the New York border south of I-84, with the exception of the small Norwalk Hour and the Waterbury Republican-American, may give a potential buyer pause. Add to that the fact that the J-N's debt is quite big and the suitors may not be coming around so quickly.

Page 2

This is just too much fun not to include today.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's name will be put in nomination at the Democrats' convention in Denver later this month. Not only that, but a roll-call vote will be taken on the nomination.
Wouldn't it be fun if she could get just enough votes to deny Barack Obama the nomination on the first ballot?

Wouldn't it be fun if suddenly there is an open convention and....Nah.

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Running it up the flagpole

The strategy has many names. Some call it floating a trial balloon. In advertising, it's running it up the flagpole to see if anybody salutes. 

It's all the same...let's put something out there and gauge the reaction without having it linked to us.

I think both political parties are doing just that, with much of America's attention being focused on the Olympics, the Victoria Osteen trial and whether John Edwards' family has forgiven him for not keeping his pants zipped. Oh, yes, that little war in Georgia. No, not Atlanta; the Russians and the Georgians over a separatist state that has fewer people than a typical block in Manhattan.

There was some chatter about Sen. Barack Obama picking Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, as his running mate. There has been a lot of chatter about Arizona Sen. John McCain picking Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman for the second chair. 

Both don't seem to have much traction, as they say, but it might be a good way of letting the pundits, other pols and those citizens paying attention weigh in on a potential choice.

Neither Hagel nor Lieberman seems to be a probable choice, with Hagel's conservative tag and Lieberman's losing record for vice president and his view as a turncoat by many Democrats, especially the Howard Dean wing of the party.

A little history lesson. The word turncoat comes from the practice around the time of the American Revolution of soldiers turning their uniform coats inside out to indicate they wanted to defect, or at least give up. See what you get for reading the Lens?

But I digress. There's a lot of silliness out there.

 Maureen Dowd, the New York Times Clinton hater, still thinks Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will use her time in the spotlight to mount a last-minute charge for the nomination. At the very least, she thinks Hillary is trying to undermine Obama so he repeats the McGovern-Mondale-Kerry experience at the polls and she has a clear shot at the nomination in four years.

I don't think the Clintons will do that. I think Obama just might blow it all by himself. Believe me, I hope that doesn't happen. We don't need a third Bush term hosted by  a beard (stand-in) with a temper worse than Georgie's and a feeling for the little guy right up there with the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I still think Hillary was the person for the job, but Obama won and he is the party's nomineee. Lieberman won't be chosen, although politically he is a good foil for McCain except for the war. Lieberman's  intelligence can't be questioned -- anyone who's talked with him one on one will come away convinced of that.  

McCain will choose someone who feels as he does about continuing the Bush laissez-faire attitude on businesses that has gotten us into another economic mess that could have been avoided with some regulatory watchfulness from Washington. He'll choose someone like Mitt Romney of Massachusetts as a geographical balance. 

I'm not sure who Obama will choose. Maybe Evan Bayh of Indiana, who's a little too close geographically but maybe that doesn't matter anymore. Of course, he could choose Hillary, which would ensure him of election and, more important, get Maureen Dowd to shut up.

Page 2

There's a story today in the New Haven Independent about former Alderwoman Nancy Ahern speaking out against the purchase of a house in her neighborhood as part of the scattered-site housing program in New Haven. 

I know Nancy from the days before she became an alderwoman, when she was assistant city editor at the New Haven Register. That's when the Register and the Journal-Courier, where I worked, were more worthy of the name newspaper. 

I hope Jack Kramer, the editor of the Register, doesn't take that for an insult. It's not meant to be that, just recognition that Jack's job is impossible because of his lack of resources.

In any case, Nancy was always a fighter for the little guy, the downtrodden. Her comments should be taken in that context.

She right, by the way, when she says the tenants should be given training in how to take care of the house and how to get along with neighbors. 

In Hartford there are, or at least there were years ago, a number of housing initiatives that succeeded. One of the ones that succeeded most spectacularly was the one (I can't recall the name) that required that the tenant help build and maintain the property. 

If that happens, if there is pride in the property, then the tenant becomes part of the solution, not the problem, in the neighborhood. The tenants should have to take care of their property as part of the deal. A little sweat equity, if you will. 

Pride, real pride in accomplishment, is a powerful incentive to behave in a way that would make the new tenants a welcome part of the neighborhood.

Page 3

Did you see that Boston Red Sox-Texas game last night? Wow, what a pitching duel, eh? For those who missed it, it ended up 19-17 Sox.

My wife and I were on a food-shopping trip when I tuned in on the radio. It was the first inning and the Sox were already up 10-0. I said that was that. She asked if a team could come back from such a deficit.

Now, you have to realize that my wife talking about sports in any fashion is proof that the age of miracles has not passed. She grew up in a household where her father and brother were both sports nuts. They both played hockey and were such baseball fans that they could tell you with some accuracy who hit what on what day of what year for the Boston Braves. Her reticence to watch or even talk about sports is a reaction to that.

Anyway, she said that Texas might come back and she was right. Boy, was she right?

My man Yooooooouk saved the day, after commiting an unusual error in his not-usual place at third base. Big Papi, David Ortiz, hit two three-run homers in the same inning and may have been robbed of another one, but my man Kevin Youkilis saved the day by hitting a towering homer with Papi on second.

That's a real six-beer game. I'm glad we won, but you have to give Texas credit for having hitting to make up for their miserable pitching staff.

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncle Sap rides again

Back in the day, one of the cartoonists at the New York Daily News had a character called Uncle Sap. It looked just like Uncle Sam, but dumber.

Obviously, it was used to illustrate how our country had been taken for a ride by some other nation or some group. 

The time may be here to resurrect Uncle Sap, who would have many first cousins.

What I'm talking about is what's going on in Sudan. 

There was a story in the New York Times. Read it here

Doesn't it make your blood boil?

We are paying highly inflated prices for food because it is getting more scarce and, under the law of supply and demand, less supply and more demand makes prices go up. Why is the supply down? Because we are giving away millions of bushels to countries like Sudan. 

We have always tried to help the downtrodden. But, as the story goes, we are helping the rich to become richer. 

Now, that's nothing new. Because of the cowboy in the White House, we help make oil companies richer, banks richer and mortgage crooks much richer.

But for a nation like Sudan, with its record on Darfur, the province in which millions were massacred, raped, forced from their homes and gathered into festering camps, there is no excuse.

Of course, nations like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with their stellar human-rights records, are helping out by buying food from Sudan, which is selling as much food on the world market as it is accepting from donor nations all over the world.

You might be interested to know that we're not the only suckers. According to the Times article, the United Nations is also buying food and giving it to Sudan.

These guys who run this nation, the largest in Africa in terms of area and one of the richest in agricultural lands, have no conscience. That's obvious. The only way to fight this is to stop buying from Sudan. 

If they have no market, they might decide to use the grain to line their people's stomachs instead of their own pockets.

Page 2

Did you see the piece on the New Haven Independent and other Web sites in Sunday's Connecticut (and the region) section of the Times. They got the Independent's Web address wrong (it's, not .com, but either will get you there.

Speaking of the Times over the weekend, in Monday's paper there was an op-ed by Susan Bysiewicz, our secretary of the state. She was talking about how the VA keeps out people who want to register the veterans to vote and teach them how to use the state's new voting machines. 

The only problem is, last Thursday, she did just that at the West Haven VA hospital. I was there, covering for the Independent. It could be that her op-ed piece was submitted before she and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal paid their visit to West Haven, but somebody should have updated it.

Page 3

We need to congratulate the U.N. Really.

Israel, the only nation in the organization not eligible to sit on the Security Council because it doesn't belong to a national bloc, has been allowed to sit on the board of the international postal service run by the U.S.

Hey, it's a start.

Page 4

You probably don't care, but Len'sLens now has its own office.

Yes, I still work from home, but instead of working at the kitchen table, I went out and bought a desk and chair. I suspect my writing has improved at least 50 percent (just kidding).  I'm still the same old curmudgeon. 

Anyway, I just thought I'd share. And thanks for coming around.

Until next time...

Friday, August 8, 2008

A story for the end of the week

I read in the New Haven Advocate that New Haven's new police chief, James Lewis, has said he would print the names of johns, men caught trying to have sex with prostitutes, in the local paper. 

Solomon, the legendary king of Israel, said it first: There is nothing new under the sun. 

Read the Independent story and comments on the chief's strategy here

The story sent my memory back had to be 1978 or 1979 at the late, much-lamented Journal-Courier of New Haven newspaper. We were still at Orange and Audubon streets, before moving out to the former Gant shirt factory that the New Haven Register, which subsumed the J-C, still calls home. 

The police chief at the time, Ed Morrone, who took over for the legendary Biagio DiLieto, was trying to halt the rampant prostitution around Chapel and Howe streets in the city. 

One of his strategies was to use policewomen as decoys. The deal was, if a person approached the decoy and offered money for a specific sex act, the man would be arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute. I think that was the charge. 

Since the potential johns didn't know whether the woman he was approaching was a real pro or a cop, that would give them second thoughts and cut down on the number potential customers. No clients, no hookers, as it were. And it worked.

At the Journal-Courier, our bosses, Editor Don Sharpe and Managing Editor Bill Guthrie, ruled that everybody's name on to the list was run if there was room. We weren't going to leave a good story out of the paper to run a johns list, but most of the time there was room.

The cardinal rule, however, was that if someone called and asked that their name be left out, especially if they threatened us or tried to bribe us or tried to use political or other influence, then we were to print that name no matter what.

One night, a phone call came in to the city desk and I picked it up. The caller was a woman and the conversation went something like this:

Woman: Is this the place that prints the names of people who are caught with prostitutes?

Me: Yes, we print the list here that we get from the cops.

Woman: Well, I'm going to get married soon and my boyfriend...well, he was on the list, I think.

Me: OK, what can I do for you?

Woman: You can tell me...I mean...

Me: Look, lady, don't ask me not to put your boyfriend's name in the paper, because they I have to put it in the paper.

Woman: No, it's not that. I need to know....well...when are they arrested? I mean do they or...

Me: Are you asking if the arrest is made before or after they actually do it...

Woman: Yes, umm, I mean, do they actually....?

Me: The woman is a police decoy. The person is arrested when they offer to pay the woman for a specific sex act.

Woman: So he didn't actually... I mean he wouldn't have...?

Me: No, he didn't have sex before he was arrested.

Woman:  Oh! Thank God!  (Click)

I was going to ask if she was still going to marry the guy but she hung up too quickly. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for their next conversation. I did ask our police reporter if anybody had been taken to hospital with injuries to their private parts. Nobody had.

As I said, this isn't a transcript, but it's pretty darn close. You don't forget a conversation like that.

I thought you'd enjoy that story from a time when downtown New Haven was wild and woolly in a different way from the way it is now. I wish Chief Lewis all the luck with this effort. It's great to see he's doing something about a crime that, although it's said to be victimless, is not. The woman, the man and the whole city are put at risk in many ways. 

Page 2

This is a special weekend for observant Jews. Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, starts at sundown Saturday and lasts until an hour after sundown Sunday. On that day, the first and second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain after hundreds and hundreds of years of a Golden Age occurred, World War I began, leading to World War II and the Holocaust, and a lot of other horrible things occurred.

It's a fast day, a complete 25-hour fast like Yom Kippur, but it is a dark fast. People are in mourning. You may have noticed some of your friends going around unshaven and a little bit unkempt. That's part of the mourning ritual.

But tomorrow is the Sabbath and, even though the Sabbath leads directly to the fast, it is celebrated in its fullness up until the moment the fast begins. 

So have a great weekend to those of you for whom this is another summer weekend. To the members of the Tribe, a good Shabbos and an easy fast.

Until next time...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Let's have a little fun

This space has contained some serious stuff lately -- preaching about responsibility, the state of justice, drug companies' advertising, the Middle East. 

Maybe it's time to have a little fun.

How about the opposite of a Hobson's choice. Let's call it a Len'sLens choice. You could be wrong, but you'd never know it. In a Hobson's choice, there is no good choice. In a Len'sLens choice, there is no bad one.

What's he talking about? 

In Switzerland this weekend, the Large Hadron Collider will be turned on. This device is 17 miles long and it hurls bits of matter around a pipe and into each other. That's really simplified, but I'm a simple guy.

What its handlers want to do is, on a tiny, tiny scale, recreate the Big Bang that scientists say started the universe.

Now, there are some naysayers who worry that this device, when turned on, could develop a black hole that could swallow the earth. A black hole, for those who haven't been paying attention or who couldn't stomach the 1979 movie of the same name, is a hole in space, like a whirlpool, so powerful that it could suck in anything around it. It's so dense that even light cannot escape from it.

The movie, starring Maximillian Schell and a couple of cute robots, wasn't all that good. Black holes were done better on Star Trek.

Some scientists think there is a black hole at the center of this and every other galaxy.

In any case, this ends up being a Len'sLens choice. If the thing is safe, nothing happens except perhaps scientists get a little smarter than they were before.

If not, we are all sucked into the black hole, the Earth is destroyed, but we'll never know it because we'll be sucked into the black hole so fast, it'll never register on our minds.

So relax. It's a perfect Len'sLens choice.

I spent a bit of time today covering the press conference on veteran's voter registration by the state's attorney general and secretary of the state (it is secretary of the state, not secretary of state--one of those things you learn being a newspaper writer or editor) so I'm going to keep this short. 

It's my policy not to comment on stories I cover, especially on the same day I cover it.
Look for my story, however :

And thanks to all of you who stopped by today. Keep coming back. 

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's that responsibility thing again

I'm responsible for me and you are responsible for you. 

Simple enough, unless you are some teens.

The New Haven Independent is back from its long weekend and welcome back to them. How else am I supposed to know what's going on in my city? Sorry if the Register's editor, Jack Kramer, is unhappy with that. It's not his fault. He's got some good reporters, too few of them because his paper hasn't got any money. 

Neither, it seems, have the big boys. My old boss Jim Wiltsie, subsequently the editor at the Star-Ledger, the best paper in New Jersey by leaps and bounds, will have to do with 200 fewer people. Same with all the great papers. What the world needs now is more folks like Paul Bass and his crew at the New Haven Independent. I just wish he was a little more objective, but that's a small enough price to pay for the kind of work that small group does. I'm not counting myself. I just do a story now and again, but Paul and his regulars cover this city like a blanket. 

But I digress.

The headline has to do with responsibility.

First, come back a few dozen years to my first job in newspapers. Man had just walked on the moon. Richard Nixon was president and Watergate was a new building on the banks of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

What was one of the top stories? Ready? Teens complaining they have no place to go. The local shopping center was shooing them away and they were bored.

Where was this? Some inner city. Heck, no. Wethersfield, Conn., one of the richest suburbs in the nation. Home of the Westhersfield Country Club and the Insurance City Open. Rich kid city. Same problem.

We're complaining about do-rags. Let's go back another few years. John F. Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts. Black parents were complaining about their kids wearing do-rags. The kids used do-rags to cover their straight-hair dos.  The Afro that was to come in the next few years was the reaction to the compressed hairstyle where hair relaxer was used to straighten African-Americans' hair. I think those kids were copying their fathers, who wore do-rags during the 30s in New York.

So, nothing new under the sun. But the advent of the Afro showed somebody was paying attention and taking responsibility. African-Americans were proud of their heritage and didn't want their generation looking like the gangsters with the slicked-back hair. 

There was a story the last week or so about a couple of owners being forced out of their units. It told the story of this single mother trying to make it. It went something like she was getting herself together and another baby came.

Like the baby just arrived Parcel Post. 

This writer didn't think about the impact of her words. Another baby arrived. Thump! We have to get rid of that kind of thinking. Things just don't happen. Actions we take have consequences. It takes two cells, an egg and a sperm, to make a baby. There is only one way that happens, absent a Petri dish. 

I'm not knocking this young woman reporter or the woman in the condo. But they represent the kind of thinking that goes on.

As parents, we have the responsibility to teach responsibility. When I was a kid, I didn't have any place to hang out, either. My parents make sure I had things to keep me busy. Homework. Going fishing and bowling with my father. Going shopping with my mother. That last one taught me about eating healthy and that we had to make choices on foods. Potatoes or candy, vegetables or ice cream. Sometimes we could afford both; sometimes not.

No, I'm not setting myself up as the all-knowing. Each parent is the all-knowing to his or her kid. If the parent absents himself or herself from the kid's life, then someone else has to teach the kid what's what.

Sometimes, that lesson is not what we would want it to be.

Enough preaching.

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Happy birthday to a special girl

First, and most important, there is a very special little (well, not so little anymore) girl who lives in the state of Massachusetts. She lives in a town called Amherst. Her name is Shoshana and she turned 7 years old yesterday.

She is sweet and smart and athletic and loves animals, especially cats. She has two sisters that love her very much. Of course, her parents also do. They are very special people.

So, if you see a girl who looks like this in Massachusetts, especially in Amherst, please take time to wish her a very happy birthday. And tell her grandpa says so.

Page 2: On drug companies and a judge

Yesterday, this space had a scold on lawyers and the legal system. Read it just below, if you are not one of the growing list of folks all over the Northeast and beyond who stop by every day.

Thank you all who do stop by.

On second thought, the drug companies should not get away with their advertising tactics, either.

More on that in a little bit, but first, a person responded to my request for a dialogue on the justice system.

Anonymous said I was wrong in my lead-in example about Judge Elizabeth Halverston of Nevada. Anon said that as a journalist, I should have investigated more into the case of a jurist who is fighting for her seat on the bench. To see all of that response, please see the comment at the end of the last post below this one.

First of all, thanks for the response. Anonymous said she was a fighter against the corrupt system in Nevada who is being taken advantage of because she is large and uses a scooter to get around.

I took your admonition to heart and did a more research and could not come to the same conclusion as you did.

I read the Las Vegas Review Journal, as I had before, and a tattler called Legal Tabloid. I also reviewed what was written in the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, as I had before, and Reno television station KTVN.

They all told the tale of a woman out of control, a judge who took advantage of her staff, slept during trials and the rest. She sued the courts because she had to stand for re-election, along with a number of other judges, after two years on the bench, not the usual six years. 

She just lost that case this week in the Nevada Supreme Court, which unanimously held that state law allows elections at shorter intervals in order to have all judge candidates run at the same time. She had been elected, along with three others, to a two-year term so all candidates could run in 2008. She had claimed that the Nevada Constitution required six-year terms for judges.

Aren't you happy we in Connecticut don't elect judges?

In any case, thanks for your comment. Please keep them coming.

Page 3

Drug companies are spending billions of dollars a year advertising on television.

The ads are scattershot. They tell people to ask their doctors about this drug or that one. Sometimes, they don't even tell what the drug is for, although that's becoming less frequent. Just ask your doctor about this or that. 

The drug companies do comply with the requirement to list side effects. That makes the whole thing even more silly. Here's the drug. Here's what the drug is for, and sometimes it's for a condition that may be a little bothersome, but hardly life-threatening or even life-disturbing.

I like the ones for post-menopausal conditions where they tell you not to take the drug if you are pregnant or may become pregnant. 

There are ones for relatively mild conditions where the side effects can include cancer, heart problems, inability to pass water. That last one is not a small problem, especially for older people, where kidney and bladder infections that result from not being able to pass water can be quite serious.

My point is this: Why fill the public's head with a lot of potential cures for conditions they probably don't have in the first place? People do what they are told on television. Doctors' time is taken up with people asking them about drugs they don't need.

I have the greatest respect for pharma companies that produce drugs that cure what had been fatal conditions. Measles, mumps, chicken pox were all things you had to endure when I was a kid. Now, the kid gets a shot and avoids these dangerous diseases. Yes, I know some parents are worried about side effects. That's up to them, but the shots are there. My kids got the shots, although the chicken pox vaccine came late for some of them.

But the ads hold out the hope that just by talking to your doctor you can drive for hours without having to stop to urinate, go pain free, and be free of all symptoms, even if you risk cancer by taking the stuff. 

By all means, talk to your doctor if you have a specific condition or symptom. That's what they're there for. But don't bother him or her just because you saw something on television.

Page 4

The Boston Red Sox lost a game last night. They shouldn't have, but they did.

It wasn't the first time they lost a game, and probably won't be the last. But it was the first time they lost since Manny Ramirez left town.

Manny had been distraction to the fans but most important to the team. He wasn't playing up to his potential and had to go.

I saw signs held up by Red Sox fans saying "Manny Who" and things like that. 

That's not right. Yes, Manny had been a distraction and a negative influence for a few days or even a few weeks. But for seven years, he had been a contributing member of the Sox. He hit lots of home runs, protected David Ortiz in the lineup and could be counted on, as much as anybody, to hit a clutch single, double or home run.

The Sox could have used him last night. Ortiz is not contributing much, although he will in time. Mike Lowell, who really is the heart of the team, was out with an injury. The Sox had men on base, two outs in the ninth and...well they lost by a run to Kansas City, hardly a powerhouse. 

But let's not go in for revisionist history. Manny was an important part of the Sox for many seasons, until he wasn't and had to go.

But that's part of Manny being Manny. You get what you get. Dodger manager Joe Torre will find out it's different having Manny in your dugout than watching him from across the field.

Until next time...

Monday, August 4, 2008

There's something not right in the state of justice

Happy Monday. We had a wonderful time in New York with children and grandchildren, taking advantage of Central Park and its great playground. Hope yours was good, too.

The justice system has been eating at my craw for a while, not for anything that's been done to me. Let me make that clear.  I keep hearing from friends and others that the state of the justice system is lousy.

I agree, for reasons that I will try to make clear later in this posting.

This isn't a reaction to the shenanigans at the Department of Justice or the latest national attorneys general. It's just a general feeling that something is rotten in the state of justice.

The latest example is Elizabeth Halverson, a Las Vegas judge, who has been accused of all manner of wrongdoing, including meeting with juries without lawyers present, using court personnel as her personal lackeys, and the like. The court system has prevented her from hearing any cases for about a year, according to CBS news, but has continued to pay her.

So, I asked myself, why this negative feeling about the justice system?

 As a journalist, I learned early that the perception of wrong is as important as the wrong itself. That's why ethical journalists won't take things from sources, even small things like lunches, pens, bottles of booze. It's not that I'm going to be bought for a movie ticket or a pen, but someone might infer that, so I don't do it.

Maybe that's what's going on here. Maybe there could be a dialogue begun on that. There is a space at the end of each blog that allows comment. It's easy to comment on this or any subject. I know it asks for your e-mail address, but it's up to me whether to print it or not. Just say you want to be anonymous and you will be.

OK, here are my reasons for thinking something is rotten in the state of justice.

1. Ambulance chasers. If you have been injured in anything, an accident, a fall, a birthing accident, from a doctor, a nurse, somebody walking down the street who looked askance, call a lawyer. That's the message from television ad after television ad. Sure, there are those who have legitimate complaints. I know a few and I hope their lawyers get them big settlements.

But, and this is a huge but, they already know to call a lawyer. I have been in that situation myself but, thank heaven, it wasn't serious enough to worry about.

Lawyer ads tell people to call about scratches on their cars, about a fall where they were not hurt except perhaps for their pride. 

There was a situation a few months back where a heart drug that many people take mistakenly was produced in double the strength many people take. The mistake was caught and I know from at least one person who takes that drug that his pharmacy told him about it, replaced the errant prescription and the like. It cost him nothing, and he even got a couple of dozen pills free. No harm, no foul.

After learning of the error and the quick action to correct it, I listened for the lawyer ad concerning this quickly reversed error. 

I didn't have to listen long. 

2. Court shows. First, there was The People's Court. Judge Joseph A. Wapner presided over small-claims cases. He was a real judge and, for the first time, the litigants were real people, not actors. Then there was Ed Koch. He was a mayor, a councilman, a congressman, everything except a judge. Yes, he was a lawyer and he had a temper. 

Judge Greg Mathis' shtick is that he is a former juvenile delinquent who rose from a jail cell to become a lawyer and a judge. Now he gets to give second chances. I like watching his show because he explains a little bit about evidence and right and wrong. But often, people are branded as drug addicts or drunks. He allows accusations about terrible conduct that has nothing whatsoever to do with the case at hand. It's entertaining, but hardly justice.

The others are boring and meld into mediocrity. Divorce Court is nearly always hackneyed: men who refuse to support their wives and children and cheat with anything with a pulse. 

Then there's Judge Judy. Judith Sheindlin is my favorite, nasty as can be to bad people, not much better to good ones. "I'm speaking," she shouts at one and all. My guess is that a judge who treated plaintiffs or defendants the way she does would quickly be out of a job. 

At least I hope so.

My point is that familiarity breeds contempt. Courts don't look like this. There is evidence, to which judges give lip service, but sometimes little else.

Courts are temples of justice and should be a little mysterious. Certainly, the judges should not be television characters.

And lawyers should not be hawking their wares on television or in any ads. At one point, lawyers could only advertise to let people know they are in business, like taking out ads in the yellow pages. 

It was better back then. As a taxpayer, I don't have to shell out for courts that hear nonsense cases. 

What do you think?

... Until next time

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oops, he did it again

It's a shame that the presidential contest this year may come down to Mr. Malaprop versus Mr. Obvious.

John McCain, who seems to have patterned his campaign talks after Mrs. Malaprop, a character in a 1775 play, "The Rivals," called Mrs. Malaprop. She misspoke in a very funny way, at least by 1775 standards. McCain isn't funny.

He likened Barack Obama to Britney Spears or Paris Hilton because the presumptive Democratic nominee for president has gotten more attention from the press and public than McCain has. Well, Mr. McCain, Calvin Coolidge  didn't get much attention either, but then again, he seldom left his front porch.

McCain's people must be desperate. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee is repeating the tax and spend charges, his newly found backing for offshore oil drilling and the rest of the tired, old charges that lost for the GOP two years ago.

If he's going to charge Obama with being like a celebrity, then perhaps he should act more like one and go somewhere except for towns that host his boring town hall meetings.

Obama, on the other hand, loves to say he doesn't look like the presidents who are our nation's money, an obvious reference to the fact that he is black. McCain then charges Obama with playing the race card.

That's stupid. I think Obama's people are smart enough to know that he loses with that strategy. Although blacks will vote for him in overwhelming numbers (which they will do in any case), whites, especially poorer whites and those in Bible Belt areas, will vote against him in overwhelming numbers. There are more of the latter than the former.

McCain wants to engage Obama in town hall meeting-type debates, a forum in which McCain feel comfortable, while Obama wants to conduct rock-concert-type speeches, where he feels comfortable. So what. 

I'm already sick of McCain, although he says he is a friend of Israel, and is dragging Connecticut's junior senator, Joseph I. Lieberman, along with him to make the point. 

As the Democratic convention gets closer, I think Obama has to start a real campaign on the issues, where he has a clear lead over McCain, who says he'll make a better commander in chief. If we play our cards right, however, the military won't need a wartime commander, because we won't be in any wars.

Page 2

I live near Whalley Avenue in New Haven and drive it often. The state Department of Transportation wants to widen it from two lanes to four, saying that people drive as if there were four lanes already, although there are only two established lanes except at some traffic lights.

The bike riders say they want a bike lane. There may be room for that next to the sidewalk, where there is now grass. 

One person who wrote in to the New Haven Independent said one solution is to increase bus service from the suburbs to downtown New Haven and get suburban people to take that service.

If, as I suspect, most of the commuters from Woodbridge, Bethany, West Haven and Orange do not need their cars once they reach downtown New Haven, then a solution may present itself.

Increase the bus service, including building or increasing the size of commuter lots, bring in express bus service with a dedicated bus lane on Route 1 and Whalley Avenue or whatever road the buses travel. Make the bus fare reasonable and hike the fees for all-day parkers  in downtown New Haven. Make local bus service more palatable for New Haven residents. 

It might work, if given a chance.

Page 3

It's the weekend and the weather on Sunday looks pretty good. Saturday morning looks pretty good, too, for those who walk to synagogue.

Have a great weekend, thanks for reading this week and, for those in the tribe, have a great Shabbos.