Sunday, May 31, 2009

It takes more than a few signs

This blog is following the lead of many publications these days, going from a daily to a weekly to a twice-monthly to....well, whenever I can. Thanks to you who look in from time to time to time.

And now, the complaint of the day. Well, it's not really a complaint. It's a suggestion.

It has to do with street crosswalks.

My daughter lives in Western Massachusetts, where failure to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks is likely to get you hard looks (if you're lucky), a ticket (if you're caught, which is quite likely) or pulled out of your car, beaten, hanged and drawn and quartered (an exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.)

There are raised, lighted crosswalks in downtown Amherst and Northampton, crosswalks every few feet on Route 116 in South Hadley, the home of Mount Holyoke College and a serious, serious mindset about obeying the rule: When a pedestrian presents himself or herself at a crosswalk, traffic stops. That's all she wrote.

Now, this isn't a new phenomenon. In Britain, it's been going on for decades. Some Americans just don't cotton to those things. My friend Harold Snyder used to stick out the white cane he carried (yes, he's blind) at crosswalks in Oxford, England, when he heard a car approaching close to the crosswalk, just to hear the screeching of tires (or tyres, as they spell over there.) 

He was talked to more than once by the constabulary, but, being an American, he continued to play the game, saying he had no idea the chaos he was causing. Right.

But, I digress. (If you're new to this blog, I do that a lot. It's part of the charm.)

Back to New Haven. The city fathers are starting to take stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks seriously. Or at least, they are spending money on signs, both those on stands that picture a crosswalk coming up, and the white plastic-looking signs by the crosswalks themselves.

Last week, there was a guy acting like a crossing guard at Fountain and West Prospect streets in Westville, standing in the crosswalk with his arms out, staring at cars that approached the crosswalk too quickly (not me!!!).

Fine. The law says people in the crosswalk have the right of way, unless the crossing is protected by a WALK light. Well, really, even then. Pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks.

So far, so good. 

Sorry, but it's not going to work. Just isn't. Take this to the bank. 

The last statement is not an absolute. It has a big IF...

So, let's take that again. This is not going to work...

IF people don't stop crossing everywhere they darn well please -- everywhere except the crosswalk. 

That means they need to walk to a crosswalk.  You can't have people crossing in the middle of a block, a few yards from a crosswalk, a couple of feet from a crosswalk.

People have to stop being so darn lazy and move to a crosswalk. 

I've been on this jag for a few weeks (Yalies and people who are on Whalley Avenue seem to be the biggest offenders), so I've been keeping watch. 

Folks on Whalley, particularly in the area between Park and West Park (that's about three-quarters of Whalley between Broadway and Westville Village, cross in the middle of the street. They will cross a few feet from the crosswalk. 

Yalies, and other people downtown, are really cute. They'll cross 10 feet from the crosswalk, darting out from behind a car or a bus.  Oh, did I say darting. I meant walking with all the get up and go of a frozen sloth across the street in the middle of the block.

You get what I mean. 

Look, I'm hardly the crossing police. But I don't want to hit anyone. I don't want to hurt anyone. I certainly don't want to listen to some idiot's mother screaming that I hit her kid, and deprived the world of the next Jonas Salk. (Look it up)

So, city fathers, when you trot out this campaign, please trot out the education package with it. Cross at the crosswalk. Every time. Walk the half block or 20 feet, or 2 feet to the crosswalk. 

Believe me, I'll be the first guy to stop and let you saunter across the avenue.

Page 2

This afternoon (May 31, 2009), the Jewish Historical Society had a gala lunch or brunch, launching Volume IX of Jews in New Haven. Please read the piece in the New Haven Independent. 

Dr. David Fischer, an oncology professor at Yale School of Medicine, writer of medical textbooks, teacher of doctors, healer and nice guy, was the editor and wrote many of the articles. OK, I wrote one, too, but still, buy the book. 

It's a wonderful peek into many New Haven institutions and people whose names you will recognize whether you're Jewish or not. It's $25, but mention my name and I'll bet they'll let you have it for $25. 

Page 3

Nobody asked me, but some of you know I do some reporting and writing for the New Haven Independent. 

I've covered some controversial things, some fun things and some BBI things (that's boring but important). 

Don't look for my opinion on those things here. I won't do that. 

I'm from the old school where you didn't mix news and opinion. I guess Fox News won't come looking for me, because I really think people are smart enough to decide what they think on any issue for themselves -- without my help.  Hear that, Limbaugh?

Until next time...

Monday, May 18, 2009

A pleasant surprise, a sad goodbye and some thoughts

Happy Monday. It's been a while. 

Let's start out with some good stuff. 

Congratulations to Jennifer Weber, my niece, daughter of my sister, Paula, and her husband Joe Weber, of Marlborough, Conn., on her graduation from the School of Visual Arts, a prestigious, well respected college in New York. She's a cartoonist, quite a good one, and looking for a job. (hint, hint)

Those running her school, bless their little hearts, decided to have the graduation on a Friday afternoon. No biggie, unless you're an observant Jew. There are a few of those in New York. So, we weren't able to take her out afterwards, or help her move from her dorm to summer quarters in the city. 

This is going to be like Arlo's "Alice's Restaurant"...I didn't come to talk about graduations, I came to talk (not about the draft) but about honesty and wanting to do a good job.

There wasn't time to drive back to New Haven after the graduation, so we spent the Sabbath with daughter Malka (many in New Haven know her as Melanie) and family in Washington Heights, Manhattan. 

As we emerged from the subway, we meet son-in-law Josh and two grandchildren heading for the park. That's unusual for a Friday afternoon. The first words out of Josh's mouth were, "There is nothing to worry about, he'll be OK, but..."

There are few phrases as heart-freezing as those. Turns out Raphi, 4, had fallen and opened a small gash on the back of his head, and was bleeding a lot. Head wounds do that, but he had his his head hard, so Malka had taken him to the nearest hospital, Columbia Presbyterian, on 168th Street, and was not expected back before the start of the Sabbath. 

Suffice it to say Raphi was fine after treatment and Malka showed up about 10 p.m., after having walked back from the hospital. Observant Jews don't ride on the Sabbath, unless it was an emergency. This wasn't, at least not anymore. They don't carry, either. So, a bag holding their cell phone, insurance card, some $40 in cash, hospital checkout forms, identifications, and the like, had to be left behind. Malka had tried to get the emergency room guard and others to take possession of her bag, and finally, in disgust and with a few choice words, she left the bag there and walked home.

Fast-forward to Saturday night. Malka and Josh were about ready to start canceling the cell phone, applying for new IDs and the like when grandpa (me), always the optimist or at least the proponent of never assuming the worst (or anything else for that matter), urged them to call the hospital to see if the bag was recovered. 

It turns out that not only was the bag found and turned in, but the security department of the hospital had conducted a thorough inventory of the bag's contents and sealed them in a plastic bag with a copy of the inventory. Nothing was missing, not a cent and the cell phone had not been used.  Although the guard on Friday night had seemed uncaring, obviously he either had a change of heart or someone else decided to take charge of the situation.

Let's hear it for Columbia Pres' security staff and a hearty thanks to all concerned.

Page 2

Yesterday, there was a memorial gathering for Rev. Sidney Krauser, who has been a stalwart at Cong. Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim in Westville. Mr. Krauser had touched many lives in the Jewish and general community for nearly 60 years before moving to Maryland three years ago. He died last month.

His daughter and many leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community talked about Mr. Krauser, but the essence of the many was best captured by a piece in the New Haven Independent by Paul Bass.  Mr. Krauser had run the synagogue, making sure there was the minyan, the quorum of 10 men necessary to say certain prayers, especially the Kaddush for the departed that ties one generation to the other, and to read from the Torah. 

He also took care of more mundane duties, making sure there was oil for the furnace, that the place was cleaned. During the days when the New Haven Orthodox community was thriving, he was principal of the Hebrew school. He oversaw the cemeteries and knew the location of every grave in the synagogue's cemeteries. 

Sue and I met him in 2002, when we joined Bikur Cholim. He so much reminded me of the men in my father's synagogue in New Britain, men with Yiddish accents who followed Jewish law to the letter and had hearts that could melt gold. Usually, they had names like "old Mr. Cohen" or "old Mr. Lifshutz." 

Nobody called Mr. Krauser old. Some people called him Sidney. I couldn't. He would stand on the Bimah, the stage from which services were conducted on Sabbaths and holidays and say things like, "Dis veek, ve got a good kiddish (post-services refreshments), no like last veek. Dis veek, it's a good kiddish,." 

It seemed to lack tact, until you found out that last week's kiddish was his. This man read from the Torah, but he had it memorized. He also knew the Prophets and writings, from Joshua to Malachi, by heart. He wasn't a rabbi, but he easily could have been. 

I'm sorry I didn't know Mr. Krauser a the height of his powers, but maybe it's better that we knew him when he could let down his guard and be himself.  I remember sitting transfixed for hours as he told me his story. 

They're mostly all gone now.  Mr. Krauser and Norman Rubin in New Haven, Max Prager in New Britain. Those who were not rabbis but held their synagogues together.

Now, I guess, it's up to us.

Page 3

And another one bites the dust. The Tucson Citizen, which had been publishing for 22 years when the gunfight at the OK Corral occurred in 1881, is printing no more. It's now web-only.

The idea how many of its 60 employees will be affected, but most probably will lose their jobs. 

Of course, one usually knows someone who works or had worked at that paper. Jon Ainsworth, still riding the desk at the Connecticut Post (at least I hope he still never know these days), labored for that publication. It's a Gannett paper, and Gannett has announced that its paper publications, even its star USA Today, will take a back seat to the Web. 

Page 4

A couple of quickies....I did a piece in the Independent about the upcoming hearings on the Journal-Register's bankruptcy and its plan to pay $1.7 million to executives, either for closing newspapers and firing people, or just for not leaving the company in its bankruptcy. That's the company that publishes the main print newspaper in the city and the second-largest in the state.

It seems the response was underwhelming. Only two people commented. One said, basically, why would anyone be surprised that people are being paid to destroy something? 

That's pretty sad.

Also pretty sad was the fact that the mayor of New Haven (choose one) pitched a fit, threw a nutty, started screaming in public at the electric company for leaving the city. 

Nobody has a quibble with his message. The mayor should be upset with the power company. That's his job: to keep business in the city, and the electric company could have cut a deal with the city on parking for its employees. That's the excuse it's using for moving to the site of a former movie theater in Orange. 

I've met some really strange people who were heads of government. Probably the strangest was Abe Grossman, mayor of Meriden in the 1970s. He was known to take out his dentures and lay them on the lectern before speaking.  He stormed out of meetings, but I never heard of him losing it on the public sidewalk.

Mario Cuomo was famous for screaming at enemies and even at staffers who didn't measure up to his standards. The late Gov. Ella T. Grasso could verbally peel wallpaper off the walls when angered and could teach a sailor to cuss. 

But never in public. Not in this country. And certainly not in front of the cameras. 

Until next time...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Some good news, a little bad news on newspaper front

Happy Monday. Rainy days and Mondays...You know. 

Some good news on the newspaper front: It looks as if The Boston Globe will live to fight another day. 

According to Newspaper&Technology: The Globe's owners, otherwise known as The New York Times Co., announced that it had reached deals with six out of seven unions and would not be issuing a 60-day shutdown notice. It looks as if the six unions gave the paper enough of the the $20 million in cuts and givebacks it said it needed to forestall the shutdown. The Times had threatened to shut down the paper, the largest in New England, unless the concessions were reached.

The Newspaper Guild, which represents 700 editorial, advertising and business office employees, did not reach an agreement with the paper.

"We are very pleased to have reached agreements with six of the seven unions that were involved in recent negotiations," The Globe said in a statement. "As a result of these agreements, which are subject to ratification by union members, we expect to achieve both the workplace flexibility and the financial savings that we sought from these unions."

But all might not be well in Globedom. The Globe said it will now pursue other options with the Guild "to achieve as quickly as possible the workplace flexibility and remaining cost-savings we need to put The Globe on sound financial footing." 

Maybe that's a good thing for the workers, or maybe it just puts the sword of Damocles over their heads a little longer. Pursuing other options could mean more layoffs or it could mean finding a way to make money from Web ads. Time will tell.

Now for the bad news. Two other newspaper groups have filed for protection under the Bankruptcy Act. 

American Community Newspapers, which publishes more than 80 papers, mostly community weeklies,  in Texas, Minnesota, Ohio and Northern Virginia, owes $273,000 to Gannett for printing. That's walking around money for Gannett, which is listed as ACN's largest creditor. 

The other company, Vancouver, Wash.-based Columbian Publishing Co., owes $17 million to Bank of America. Columbian borrowed the money to for a building in downtown Vancouver and BofA wants its money. The company filed in order to address credit issues with BofA, it said.

That makes seven newspaper groups, some large, some small, that so far have sought protection under the Bankruptcy Act. Let's see: The other five are Tribune, Tribune Co., Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune, Journal Register Co. and the Sun-Times Media Group.

Page 2

Here's something you don't see too often: a newspaper announcing that it had filed for bankruptcy protection.

Columbian Editor Lou Broncoccio wrote a column detailing the bankruptcy and what led up to it and his hopes for the future. 

That takes guts. Looking at your future hopes and dreams is one thing. Sharing the possible tearing asunder of those hopes and dreams is another. 

The Columbian is a paper that covers Clark County, Washington. There were a lot of fires yesterday there: a longtime bowling alley caught fire, a man who had been burned died and another who somehow burned will survive, the paper said.

But the burning issue for Lou and his staff is survival. He said his group was tough and the tough survive.

I hope so, Lou.

Page 3

Hey, weathermen. Get your act together. No, not the most radical members of the Students for a Democratic Society, made famous by Bob Dylan (you don't need a Weatherman to tell you how the wind blows).

I'm talking about Geoff Fox and Brad Field (there's a real name for you) and whoever took over for Hilton at Channel 3. You know, weathermen. Those people who promo the weather at the top of the news show, then give the statistics and show the map halfway through the show, then promo the forecast, and who finally give the forecast five minutes from the end of the show. Those people.

Hey, don't you know it's May. Showers are for April. This is May. Knock it off.

Until next time...