Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen Thomas was a great reporter, but now it's over

One of my most cherished possessions is a set of two original photographs: one of Richard Nixon standing at the door of the helicopter as he leaves the White House for the last time as president, the other of Nixon sparring with a young Dan Rather.

They are both autographed by Helen Thomas.

I acquired them at a Society of Professional Journalists auction in 1986, and bid on them with the proviso that Helen sign them. She agreed and I bought them. They are original prints that were used in the Baltimore Sun. They are framed so Helen's signature is visible.

I loved Helen Thomas because she was Helen Thomas, a feisty, no-nonsense reporter who asked the questions that so many would not ask.

She also kept her personal life and opinions out of her work. I didn't know she was Lebanese, and didn't care. When I think of Lebanese, I think of Danny Thomas, the beloved comedian who started the St. Jude Cancer Research Hospital that treats all children, Israeli, Lebanese, whatever.

Recently, however, Helen began to let her opinions about the Middle East come out in a nasty, biased way. As a Lebanese, she might be more upset that Syria has used that nation as cannon fodder. The actions of Hezbollah have brought death and destruction to that nation. Years ago, the actions of Yasser Arafat brought war to the Paris of the East, Beirut.

Christians and Muslims fought bitterly for years and the U.S. got involved, much to its regret.

But I don't remember Helen Thomas spewing venom at that time. When she asked a question, it was straight, with no adjectives or hyperbole.

Now, however, it is different and in the past few years, since leaving United Press International (or did UPI leave her?), she has let her personal opinions gush forth with bile. The end was inevitable.

To say Jews should go back to Germany, back to Poland, and then laugh. That doesn't make sense.

I think Helen Thomas has lost the ability to think clearly. She certainly has lost the ability to speak responsibly.

It was time to go and certainly Hearst encouraged her to resign. Whether they demanded her resignation or not I don't know or care. She is out of the spotlight and she can spew her bile wherever she ends up.

I won't speculate about why Ms. Thomas' brains seem scrambled lately.

But as for the pictures on my wall, they will stay there. They were signed by the Helen Thomas of 25 years ago, not the one who did not have the good sense of her old nemesis, Nixon, who knew when to quit.

Helen did not and so much the shame. I hope history is kind to her because for most of her career, she was a courageous and talented reporter, not a crone who didn't know the value of silence.

Until next time...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good health to Clinton; WCBS blows it

A chill ran down my back as I read a CNN bulletin that former President Bill Clinton was hospitalized with chest pains. I then read the comments on the CNN page.

UPDATE: It turns out he had two stents placed into an artery and he is in good spirits and looking forward to getting back to work. Whew!

The guy will rank as one of our best presidents for any number of reasons. He took the Reagan-Bush deficits and turned them into surpluses. He kept us from going into a stupid war, for a few years at least, until his successor...well, let's not get into that.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, also is pretty bright, knows how to get things done. I keep hearing second thoughts from people who backed our current president, saying Hillary would have the same bright ideas as Obama, but would not wimp out when it came to pushing them through the Congress.

How is it that a man can have a huge plurality in both houses of Congress but we stalled by a few naysayers. Dear Barack: You need to use that bully pulpit to hit some people over the head. Chinless Mitch McConnell just says no. I guess he's channeling Nancy Reagan.

What is WCBS thinking?

News radio out of New York, WCBS (the only news radio we have in New Haven is WELI, which promos news but delivers none) is offering coupons to reduce the cost of parking one's car in Midtown and the Theater District.

What are they thinking?

The ad has two people talking about coming into New York from the burbs. One says, "Let's take the train." It's cheaper than driving. Not so, says the other person. We can get a break with a coupon from WCBS.

There you go. There aren't enough cars in Manhattan. I thought the whole idea was to promote mass transit so there are fewer cars blocking the streets in Manhattan and getting into stupid accidents because of bad driving or just plain selfishness.

It's bad enough that WCBS spends two minutes of every eight on traffic reports to help people who may well have alternate, cheaper, certainly less polluting sources of transportation into the city. Now, these nitwits are making it easier and cheaper to bring more cars into the city.


Where's all the snow?

I gotta do this. My brother-in-law and his family lived for close to 30 years in Niskayuna, N.Y. Where is that, you may ask. It's near Albany. Near the snow belt.

So, when his wife got a job hundreds of miles south, he sold his house and moved partly to get away from the snow. To Bethesda, Md. Where they have welcomed three feet of snow in the past week.

Sometimes, it just doesn't pay. Anyway, he lives in an apartment and soon will live in a condo, so at least he won't have to shovel.

It happens. My friend Carole Miller, she of the Oregon Ducks, decided she'd had enough of New York winters and moved to North Carolina about 10 years ago. She brought the snow and ice. Or so it seems.

In any case, how about those weather forecasters on television?Brutal Weather Headed Our Way. Not. Schools were canceled. Meetings called off. I originally had two meetings Wednesday: Both were canceled.

So, what happened? The foot of snow turned into three, maybe four inches. With the mid-February sun, all the shoveled sidewalks now are dry. I guess it could be worse; They could have forecasted four inches and we could have gotten the foot. But the way the weather yakkers were carrying on, all the models were converging on us getting whacked this time.

I'm rooting for the jet stream to stay just where it is. Let is snow in Washington. They're used to snowing each other.

Until next time...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Warm memories of the Blizzard of '78

Happy Monday.

I see that at least one TV outlet, local public television, is planning a retrospective on the Blizzard of 1978. I don't know why now. It's not an even anniversary, but the storm started 32 years ago on Feb. 5. Channel 3 insists on calling it Storm Larry, because they name storms. Easier to remember, I guess.

I was there, in the middle of it. Remembering it is pleasant for me...it was a positive experience. It also reflected a bygone era when newspapers gave a damn about covering news and their employees.

My poor wife, pregnant with our second child and stuck home in Moodus with a 2 1/2 year-old doesn't remember it fondly at all.

It was funny afterward but not then...she was out shoveling snow because she thought I was coming home that first night. I was trying to call to tell her I was not coming home for at least two days and probably three. She couldn't hear the phone because she was shoveling. This, remember is before cell phones.

As for me, it was an adventure. Pete Zanardi, a talented sports writer and editor who lived in Chester, used to carpool to work with me. That day, his editor had told him he could stay home, but he drove in anyway with me so I wouldn't have to drive the 50 miles alone. That's a friend! He kept up a steady stream of conversation so I wouldn't think about the disaster that was occurring all around us. He even brought along a pint of brandy just in case we became stuck. More about that later.

So off we drove from Chester picking up Route 9, a four-lane limited access road that would lead us to the Connecticut Turnpike (Route I-95) and New Haven, where we both worked for the late, lamented Journal-Courier morning newspaper.

There was a cleared lane -- that is one that had only a few inches of snow in it, and we soon caught up with the plow that had cleared it and followed it down entrance ramps and up exit ramps. The radio, WELI which, at the time, actually covered news, was saying I-95 was a mess with cars littering the road. Not true. I'm glad we didn't listen. We lost the plow in Old Saybrook, but by then, we were almost at I-95.

So, we drove slowly along the turnpike, stopping to pay the tolls in Madison and Branford. We drove down an entrance ramp to I-91, up a few one-way streets the wrong way and into the newspaper's parking lot. We had made it.

At the time, the New Haven Register and Journal-Courier were at Orange and Audubon streets, now a parking lot.

Inside, it was barely managed chaos. We, who drive 50 miles, were assigned hotel rooms at the Park Plaza and listened to phoned excuses from people who lived 20 blocks away how they didn't dare try to get to work. We all had assignments...mine was signing off on pages as they made their way to the composing room. I was to be the last one out, but everyone waited for me. Nobody from the newsroom was left to their own devices. A few production people had to sleep in a convent that shared the block with the paper. They didn't have a good time.

We put out the paper. There were stories, some the usual stuff, some really bizarre. The funniest was from a photographer -- I can't remember who. Gov. Ella T. Grasso had closed the state highways. It was illegal to drive on them, unless you were piloting an emergency vehicle, but reporters and photographers were out there anyway.

One camera jockey came back laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. He was driving in on the closed I-95 when he approached the Branford tolls. As he slowed, a hand came out of the toll booth. The road was closed but the state still was collecting the quarter tolls.

We put the paper to bed. In the left hand column was a ruler as tall as the news hole -- about 18 inches, with a headline that said "It Snowed This Much." That was the brainchild of Bob Granger, the news editor, a man so beloved because, in spite of a Draconian management style, he never told a lie. Can you imagine: a boss who, if he tried to lie, his tongue would fall out of his head?

Reporters and photographers went out and got remarkable stories and photos. They told the story of the blizzard from macro and close-up perspectives. These people were the best.

Granger was famous for another headline. He had been ordered to juice up the headlines, so, when a man shot five people to death in a West Coast Chinese restaurant, the headline wrote "Chinese Diners Served Hot Lead." The bosses left him alone after that.

Another great head from the J-C. When Felix Frankfurter had to replaced on the Supreme Court, Connecticut Gov. Abraham Ribicoff let it be known he was interested. The headline was "Abe Relishes Frankfurter Role." Those were the days!

Back to the storm.

In order to collect for ads, the paper had to be published, which meant printed and distributed somewhere. We rode the six or seven long blocks to the Park Plaza hotel in delivery trucks, about 10 to a truck. The bottle of brandy rode with us for the two blocks that it lasted.

Speaking of booze, there was a copy boy, it was said, who was given the following order from Managing Editor Bill Guthrie. "Here's $200 cash. Go to the liquor store. If you come back with change, you're fired." Remember, this is 1978 money.

The paper had bought up every hotel room it could. The bosses cared about the reporters, editors, photographers, and the rest. In other papers, people had to sleep on their desks. Not New Haven, Not then anyway.

The delivery truck drivers told us they couldn't stop for fear of becoming stuck in the snow, which was still coming down too fast for plows to keep up. So we lined up, paratrooper style, stand up, stand in the door. We tossed out our bags, tossed out a few packages of papers, and jumped into the snow. No casualties.

On the way through the hotel lobby, we were accosted by businessmen offering obscene amounts of money for our rooms. Nobody even thought twice. Forget it.

We shared rooms, but the party was in the boss' room. One hell of a party. It spilled over into the hallways on the 17th floor. There were stories....if you know Mary O'Leary of the Register, ask her about her night. She was just trying to get some sleep -- she was quite pregnant -- but her roommate had other ideas.

The next day, we slogged our way back to the paper on foot along Church, Elm and Orange streets. We were kicked out of the Park Plaza because the Ice Capades show, which had reserved the second night, showed up. They had driven in from Canada and wondered what all the fuss way about. A foot and a half of snow is a spring day up there.

Anyway, we all transferred to the Howard Johnson's on Long Wharf. The booze, or what was left of it, made it, too. More drinking. Then, on the third day, our cars were plowed out and we drove home, tired.

My wife, by the way, wasn't interested in hearing the stories. She was too tired from shoveling a space in a driveway and keeping it clear so, if I could get home, I would have a place to park.

So, there's the inside scoop about newspapering and the Blizzard of 78. It was good training, because about 15 years later, there was another blizzard in another state and I had to run the paper and make sure the staff was housed properly, which I did. But that's another story.

Until next time...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Surprise, surprise, surprise

Happy Friday.

I don't have much time today, but a couple of things need saying. So I'm saying.

That Martha Coakley got her clock cleaned in Massachusetts should be a surprise to nobody who was paying attention. So, the tale of the Democrats snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory goes on and on. And I can't even blame Dr. Howard Dean, the former DNC chairman, for this one.

Coakley was so certain she would win over this upstart state senator that she phoned it in. She expressed surprise that somebody actually wanted her to go out and campaign. What, shake hands in the cold outside Fenway Park? Unthinkable.

Back to that old saw again....you gotta ask. You all know the story told by the late Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, who got killed in his first race for Boston city council and went to his landlady for a hug. He said to her, "At least you voted for me." She said she hadn't and when he asked why, she said, "You never asked me."

I guess that was lost on Ms. Coakley. Also lost on the Democratic brain trust, or brain rust, in the Bay State was how stupid it was to run on the health plan. People vote for their own self-interest. Massachusetts already has a great health plan, so this argument went thud.

So now, thanks to the GOP's marching in lockstep to the tune played by Mitch McConnell but written by the radical-right crazies on Fox News, the rest of us won't get a great health plan, or any plan at all.

Don't show your tefillin

It gets stranger and weirder in the air.

An observant Jewish kid got bored on an airplane going between New York and Lexington, Ky., so he decided to pray. So, he stood up, put on his tefillin, and started praying.

The flight attendant on the plane freaked, didn't know what that was all about, thought the kid was strapping explosives to his arm and head, and the plane landed in Philly. The cops and feds swarmed on to the plane and, not being the cultural wasteland that the stewardess obviously was, figured the thing out.

Thank heaven, nobody panicked and starting shooting .

First of all, this was from New York. People in New York are pretty culturally savvy, so I have to figure the flight attendant was from Bugtussle. And the kid's rabbi in White Plains was weasel-wording the whole thing, telling Jews it's OK to pray but don't put your tefillin on in public. Can you imagine what would happen if somebody told Catholics they shouldn't make the sign of the cross. Unimaginable.

Rich guys prevail

The latest poll shows that the two rich guys from Greenwich, one for each party, are leading the governor's race. Ned Lamont and Tom Foley, both guys with nearly unlimited budgets, are in the lead for the governor's race. In addition, some guy from Wallingford whose name escapes me is running for secretary of the state. But he doesn't know the name of his office. He kept saying secretary of state. If you don't know the name of the office you are seeking, don't seek it.

So, in other words, politics as usual in Connecticut.

And can you imagine what effect the Supreme Court decision letting loose the corporate coffers on the election system will have on all of this?

But in all of this, the weekend comes. It should be great weather wise. So, everyone have a great weekend and for all in the Tribe, a good Shabbos.

Until next time...

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Ides of January hath come

Good MLK Day. Today is the iconic leader's real birthday, but we'll be celebrating it on Monday so the bonus babies on Wall Street and city, state and federal workers have a long weekend.

For the financial bonus babies, that means another day without them screwing up the financial system.

MLK, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had the shoulders the rest of us are standing on in the fight for equality for all. He worked when it was still dangerous to be for equality for all and against such things as separate bathrooms, restaurants and the rest. King, with the inspiration of President Kennedy inspired and President Johnson, got the work passed and we are all better off for it, even if we are Tea Party types or Sarah-ites.

That's one thing we don't have today. We have a president to inspire us, but we don't have anyone to get the stuff through the Congress, like LBJ did. We could have had Tom Daschle, the former senator, who could have strong armed the health insurance reform through, but we lost him to some chickencrap about taxes.

A friend who has been a bastion of liberal causes is starting to say that perhaps liberals have helped screw up the world. Perhaps.

AT&T: Shut up already

It would be hard for me to put into words my upset, actually anger, at AT&T's claims against Verizon.

AT&T claims that only AT&T phones allow you to talk and surf the Web at the same time. That's because their system supports the iPhone. Hopefully, that will come to an end this summer when, one hopes, the wonderful Apple phone will be available to Verizon customers.

But anyway, it's not such a big deal. Since you are probably going to be driving a car at the same time, maybe just being able to do one function at a time is safer.

But AT&T's 3G, third generation, coverage area is so anemic that the only thing many of these iPhone customers are able to do is redial their phones and wait for a Web signal. So, AT&T, shut up already. Nobody's buying. And, friends at Apple, I love your products (this blog is written on one), but hate that you put your own profit ahead of your customers' good.

Please fix that by offering the iPhone on Verizon as soon as you can.

All that baby type

Since I am ranting against things on television, let me get going on the baby type at the bottom of almost any ad. You know, the little paragraph with words much too small to read and displayed for such a short time that you didn't have time to read, even if you could see it, which you can't.

The ads go by on television, and a claim is made. Then comes those paragraphs of legal weasel-wording that the claim is only good (this is an exaggeration, but not by much) on alternate Tuesdays between 3 and 4 in the morning when the wind is from the west at more than four by less than six miles per hour.

How is this allowed?

A claim is made from a lawyer that you pay no money unless you win. The tiny type saying you are responsible for all expenses, costs, copying costs, phone charges and staff time no matter what, lasts a nanosecond on the screen.

The claim that the car has all this great stuff is countered by the wonderful word "available" in tiny type. The car starts at $23,000 -- the tiny type that appears for three seconds says "as shown, $39,990."

How is this allowed?

Think, then change

Let's change gears. It is possible that Susan Bysiewicz is not ready for prime time?

She is the secretary of the state (pronounced BUYsowitz everyplace but New Britain, where it is pronounced BySEVitch) who was running for governor and is now running for attorney general, who was for the state's public funding scheme when she was running for governor but won't use it running for attorney general where, one would suspect, she would be spending less.

Now she is asking the present attorney general whether she has been a practicing lawyer in Connecticut long enough to run for attorney general.

Maybe the time to worry about that was before she announced.

Hey, even Hamlet, in the guise of longtime Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, (you know, to run or not to run, that is the question) has settled on an office to seek -- Chris Dodd's Senate seat. Maybe she should sit down and think about what she wants to do, make up her mind, and than announce.

It's not as if the election were next week.

Made it though another week.

This is a long weekend for some of us...all government and quasi-governments (like the post office) are closed. Have a great week.

But think about two things -- Dr. King and his work, and those poor, poor people in Haiti.

We should all pitch in and help. Give through your church or synagogue or someplace you trust. Stay away from charities with large administrative ratios. You don't need to fund some bureaucrat's $300 grand a year salary or Jimmy Carter's anti-Semitic rantings. And, believe it or not, there are scammers out there, so watch out.

And thank God or fate or whoever or whatever you believe runs the world...there but for the grace....go we.

Have a great weekend and for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos.

Until next time...

Friday, January 8, 2010

New directions for a new year

Happy New Year

So, it's twenty-ten, as it is being called instead of two thousand and ten. I'm surprised it took that long for the shorthand to kick in.

First of all, it's not the new decade. When the Christian calendar was started, there was no year zero. Zero as the start of a numbering process only started with computers, I think. Boy, is this subject is boring or what? Enough.

Training wheels on mass transit

There are some new things kicking in, and at least one of them is a really positive development.

The state Bond Commission, which is controlled by the governor and does what she wants, today (Jan. 8, 2010) approved $26 million for double tracking work and other improvements on the rail line that goes from New Haven to Springfield, Mass., by way of Hartford.

That means plans for real rail service north of New Haven are on the front burner. They are talking service as often as every half hour during certain weekday hours. This is huge. For decades, my wife worked in Hartford and had to commute each workday from New Haven.

She had two choices. (Don't say bus...nobody has that much time.)

She could drive or subscribe to a van pool. She tried to van pool for a while. It didn't work out because her job didn't allow her to be on the van the same time each day.

So, for most of the two-plus decades, she drove. Now, her successors might have a choice.

Everyone who has been to Europe, not on a bus tour, has experienced the transit system. You can get from anywhere to anywhere else by public transit. That's not the case in Connecticut.

But it might be better soon.

The release talking about the rail improvements said, in part:

"Current plans for NHHS (New Haven, Hartford, Springfield) line call for bidirectional service between New Haven and Springfield running Monday through Friday on a 30-minute peak period schedule.

"The proposal would add several new stations and enhance the Windsor Locks station with a bus connection to Bradley International Airport. Local bus service elsewhere would be reconfigured to connect with passenger stations."

In other words, you can get on a train in New Haven and ride to Bradley without having to worry about traffic, weather, tractor-trailer crashes closing I-91 for hours. Until the folks in New Haven wake up and allow Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport to be something more than a private-plane field with a few commercial flights to Philadelphia, this is great news.


CBS has announced that Morgan Freeman will introduce the CBS Evening News with Katie now that Uncle Walter has a desk in that great newsroom in the sky. That means all three major network news shows are being introduced by actors. Apropos, isn't it?

Talk about irony. The Atlantic Monthly, which features articles so long that one's eyes glaze over and you lose interest long before you reach the end, is running an article in the January/February issue saying that one of the reasons for a lack of interest in newspapers is that the stories are too long. Arggggh.

The Journal-Register Corp., publisher of newspapers including the New Haven Register, has a new boss. He's John Paton, who comes from ImpreMedia, which bills itself as the largest publisher of Hispanic papers in the nation. He also has a reputation for knowing how to use multi-media in newspapering. That's important for an industry where some papers think that if something appears on their Web sites before getting in the paper, then the paper has scooped itself. The JRC went through a prepackaged bankruptcy proceeding last year and sold itself to a number of banks who turned from lenders to owners. Robert Conway, the former CEO who guided JRC through its bankruptcy, told me during one of the final hearings that he didn't foresee any more layoffs in New Haven. Here's hoping the new guy has the same feeling.

So, have a great weekend and, for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos.

Until next time...