You Can Leave Your Beard On

Brandon Fellows was having an awesome 2021. He got to to participate in the historic riot at the Capitol. Had his picture taken sitting on a police motorcycle. Was interviewed on CNN. Sat back and took a smoke in a U.S. Senator’s office. And it didn’t end there. Bloomberg News did a big feature on him a week later, giving him plenty of space to air his views.

Yes, it may have been his best year ever — until he was arrested on federal misdemeanor charges* for his role in the the January 6 insurrection. So much for having a moment.

You’d have thought we were done hearing from Mr. Fellows — but then WNYT got the chance to interview him on February 13, and boy, did they make a fucking mess of it.

For some reason, they allowed Fellows to appear in the same Yukon Cornelius-looking disguise he wore on January 6 in Washington, with a knit hat, sunglasses, and an absurd red beard made of yarn.

Sometimes there’s a very good reason to allow an interview subject to hide their face. It’s not uncommon to shield the identity of whistleblowers, sexual assault victims, and witnesses of crimes who may be harmed or intimidated — but someone who’s been criminally charged after such a high-profile incident? Not that I’ve ever seen. At that point, you’re sort of a public figure.

If Fellows insisted on wearing that getup, WNYT reporter Dan Levy could have ended things right there, but he didn’t. Actually, he didn’t even bother to explain in his story why Fellows was disguised. But what do you expect? Levy also didn’t press Fellows on his claim that he and other Trump supporters were being persecuted, “just as Hitler did with the Jews.” Hey, Dan Levy — were you even listening?

All I can figure is that since this story ran on a Saturday, the people who should have stopped it from airing had the day off.

But hold up, what am I thinking? Making Brandon Fellows take off his disguise or asking a tough question might have ruined the chance to have a “First on 13” exclusive, and we can’t allow that to happen.

*Since this was published, Fellows was hit with five more charges, including a felony obstruction count.

Blaxploited

The Times Union came under fire for an email pitch to Black-owned businesses on sponsoring its Black History Month coverage.

It’s not clear what the email said, or the precise nature of the complaints, but some of those who received the message felt it was inappropriate. How inappropriate? Well, so inappropriate that the paper published an A1 apology from publisher George Hearst. That’s very (very) inappropriate.

The Newspaper Guild — never fans of the TU’s management — described the situation as follows:

“The community criticized the Times Union for exploiting Black History Month to make a profit, and for charging Black business owners exorbitant prices to place advertisements in a predominantly white newspaper during a month meant to celebrate their community’s successes and legacies.”

Well, duh. That’s what they do.

Special content is not usually created because a media organization cares about a topic, but because they can sell it. Every time you see something above and beyond what they normally do, you can bet someone has asked, “Can we sell this?”

Look, newspapers, TV, and radio are, first and foremost, advertising delivery devices. It’s not uncommon for sales teams to target advertisers who may have an interest in a piece of content. A special section of the paper, a show on a certain topic, a series of stories — they can bring in money. Doing something about education? Try to sell some ads to colleges and universities. Special insert on health issues? Go hit up those deep-pocketed hospitals. Black History Month series? Offer it to black-owned businesses.

Whatever they said obviously touched a raw nerve, and this at a time when it’s more important than ever to be culturally sensitive.

Oh, by the way — I’d like to announce that I’m offering sponsorship opportunities for my St. Patrick’s Day coverage. After some drunken shenanigans, many of our readers might like to read blog posts about soda bread, potatoes, whiskey and ceili dancing. At least those who haven’t already been carted off in the Paddy wagon, that is. Contact me for more information.

Cremains of the Day

A local funeral business ran an ad on the obituary page over the weekend promising cremation services that “do things the right way” with “no short cuts or compromises.” And what’s all that supposed to mean? The  bottom line is that they promise “peace of mind that the cremated remains you receive are those of your loved one.”

Ah — so this is a big problem, getting the wrong remains returned?

Mistakes and intentional abuses may happen in the funeral industry, including the mishandling of cremated remains — but there is no evidence that this is a widespread occurrence. It seems especially unlikely in New York, where the business is heavily regulated.

But these people are planting the idea in your head that instead of receiving the remains of your loved one, anybody or anything could be in that urn. Since I was curious, I went to the advertiser’s web site and looked at the FAQs. They include this passage:

“Since it is illegal to perform more than one cremation at a time, and the vast majority of crematories can only cremate one body at a time, it is next to impossible to receive the incorrect remains.”

Ok, so which is it: We should be worried about mistakes, or it’s next to impossible to receive the incorrect remains?

I hope that the nonsense in this ad doesn’t raise irrational fears in people. There’s already enough to worry about when someone dies, and it seems unfair to throw one more uncertainty into the mix.

But what the hell, death is a business like everything else. Somebody’s gonna get the client. May as well be you.

A Little Dash Will Do You

A priest I know enjoys laying it on really thick when people step up on Ash Wednesday. Some walk away so sooty that they look like they’d spent the afternoon sweeping chimneys. It’s one of the odd customs we Catholics cling to — and today it may be more poignant than ever. It’s a way of boldly declaring your faith at a time when many people have turned away from the Church.

But just the pandemic has changed everything, it’s changing Ash Wednesday.

This year, instead of receiving a vaguely cross shaped schmear on the forehead, ashes will instead be sprinkled over the heads of the faithful. That sounds unorthodox, but Father Anthony Barratt, director of Prayer and Worship in the Diocese of Albany, told the Evangelist that it’s in line with tradition. “There is a very ancient, biblical and scriptural way of having ashes for repentance (and) to have them sprinkled on your head. Its roots are deep in Scripture.”

My wife has described this like a sprinkling of fairy dust, but a Twitter friend came up with a better comparison: it could be like Emeril Lagasse, slinging the ashes at your head and yelling, “BAM!” You gotta admit, that would be pretty great.

So, what about having people impose — that’s the word the Church uses, not me — the ashes on themselves, or have someone in their social circle administer them? Lay people may apply ashes to each other as long as the ashes are blessed. And as for doing it yourself? That would certainly result in the funniest As Wednesday ever, unless we have people do it in from of a mirror.

Gone for Good

First, sorry to bore you with another blog post about blogs.

This week, the Times Union quietly began informing bloggers that their pages are coming down on February 5. By “bloggers,” I mean local people who contribute their work for free. This doesn’t include blogs by employees, like those written by Steve Barnes and Kristy Gustafson Barlette.

Times Union Editor Casey Seiler told one blogger that the paper could no longer devote resources to managing the blogs and the problems that come along with them. In a story published on January 29, Seiler says, “Having these blogs operate on what was effectively an honor system created considerable concerns and periodic controversies over posts that exceeded our guidelines.”

Can’t say I blame him.

Back in the early 2000s, the biggest buzzy thing in media was user generated content. Newspapers thought that their readers could be anointed to serve as journalists, photographers, and bloggers. It was going to build local interest and engage more readers, and it was THE FUTURE, dammit  — but ultimately, these experiments failed.

The Times Union’s “citizen blog” page remained a vestige of the user generated content craze, and it puttered along for years. Some of the blogs were pretty good, but often they sat fallow once people lost interest. It was like walking through a second hand store. You’d find some gems in there, but you also a lot of stuff you don’t need.

It seems the Times Union’s, “I don’t have time for this shit,” moment came when Rep. Elise Stefanik got her panties in a bunch over a blog post poking fun at her. The paper finally gave up, which is understandable. The economics of newspapering ain’t what they used to be, and every moment spent dealing with something stupid — like a blog that doesn’t bring in any money — is a moment that you could have spent making your product better.

There will be a lot of hand wringing over this by current and former TU bloggers. I get it, but folks, this is what happens when you hitch your wagon to somebody else’s horse. And remember, it’s not personal. It’s strictly business.

This One’s for the Bloggers

Dear Times Union bloggers,

You probably think that you have a nice relationship with the paper — and why wouldn’t you? They give you space to publish your work and access to readers, and they pretty much ignore you and let you do your thing. If you care about having an audience, it’s not a bad gig.

But watch what you write.

This week, TU bloggers Lale Davidson and Peter Marino came under fire from Rep. Elsise Stefanik over this passage in a satirical work aimed at the local lawmaker:

“I myself am childless because I am a rising star in the Republican Party, and family planning is possible by way of the contraception paid for by my excellent taxpayer-provided healthcare plan.”

I’d link to the post, but it’s gone, because the Times Union took down their blog page, replacing it with the simple message, “This site has been archived or suspended.” In my opinion, the piece would have worked just as well without that idea included, but you know what they say about opinions.

This is not the first time the paper has deleted posts or eliminated entire blogs when controversy erupts. The worst example of this was when two bloggers bravely shared the stories of their #metoo experiences, but writers need not broach sensitive topics to be targeted. One time they went after a blogger who made a harmless joke on April Fool’s Day.

But that has nothing to do with you, does it? Those people should have read the terms of service when they started blogging for the Times Union. They broke the rules and deserved to be punished. Right?

Look, the paper can do whatever it wants, and frankly, they have enough headaches without those that come with an unruly bunch of bloggers. And let’s not get into free speech, not after you’ve completely signed over the rights to your work. But here’s the thing: it’s like the Times Union has a pocket full of change and you’re one of the pennies. To them, you’re blog isn’t worth anything and they wouldn’t even notice if it disappeared. They aren’t going to take your side in an argument.

My advice? Save copies of your work, and then go into your Times Union WordPress dashboard and delete everything you ever wrote for them. You’ll lose your audience, but keep your dignity.

The Sled

Over the weekend, the lights came down and the decorations were stored away. This included the beat up sled that my wife brought home from a craft fair several years ago. It’s wrapped in some greenery and battery operated lights, and sits on the front porch to greet visitors during the Christmas season. Well, during every other Christmas season. This year, there were few visitors.

When it first came home, I figured it for another mass produced “antique” that’s peddled to folks wanting something that looks vintage, but is really a modern knockoff. But when I looked at the back, I found something interesting. The name Louise Remley was painted on the back, along with the name of the town, Anamosa, Iowa. Well, I thought, that’s a clever touch. They went through the trouble to make it look like this belonged to an actual person.

Christmases came and went, and we pulled out the sled every December and put it away every January. But this season, when taking the sled out of the shed, I noticed the name again and started to wonder: what if Louse Remley of Anamosa, Iowa was a real person?

It didn’t take long to find the truth. After a little digging on genealogical sites, I discovered records for Louise Remley, born to a family in Anamosa in 1917. This sled was no reproduction, but probably a Christmas present given when she was a little girl. Mind blown.

How does a sled from Anamosa, Iowa end up in Upstate New York? Based on her obituary, Louise Remley, then Louise Remley Scott, died in 1999 here in the Capital Region. After living in several spots around America, she last resided with her husband, Ira Scott, in Niskayuna. Did she keep that sled for the entire time, possibly since the 1920s? That’s a tougher question to answer – but it would be odd if fate brought both her and her sled her independently.

I don’t know much more about Louise Remley, but I like to think she’d be pleased to know that her sled is on display at my home every year. To me, the sled has always been a symbol of the season, but finding out about its history gives it even greater power. When you touch the worn wood and rusted runners, you’re making a connection to the past, and a child’s joy.

Brador People

“Ah! Brador people!”

The clerk at the little store near Lacolle knew why we were there. It was 1979, and I didn’t know much about Quebec, but I did know that it was where we went to buy Molson’s Brador beer.

It was kind of a big deal for SUNY Plattsburgh students to drive across the border to score cases of Brador. It was thought to be a fine and superior beer, especially when compared to the Budweiser and Genny Cream Ale we bought at Chuck Wagon on Brinkerhoff Street. But the true appeal of Brador may have been that it was a high-octane brew with 6.2 percent alcohol.

Today, you can get beer that’s much better — and with just as much alcohol — in any supermarket, but back then, Brador was a magic elixir only possessed by the most determined and discriminating drinkers, and it could only be obtained on a journey to a foreign land.

These “Brador runs” would take us into Canada by way of an obscure border crossing out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember much scrutiny on the way into Canada, and even less as we passed back through US Customs laden with cases of Brador. It was a different time.

These were my first trips to another country, so everything was interesting and exotic — as if what I encountered in the outskirts of Plattsburgh wasn’t strange enough. At the time, the North Country still felt raw and wild, like West Virginia collided with the Ozark woods. It was a rough and tumble corner of the state that was forgotten by time, and populated by people with strange accents so thick you could barely understand them. Are we really in New York?

As a bunch of stupid kids from the suburbs, we were convinced that we were one wrong turn away from a Deliverance country — but we always made it back with the beer.

Truth is, Brador probably wasn’t that great. Molson stopped making it some years back, and I’m not sure anyone misses it. Like a lot of things, the memory probably better than the truth.

Relish Redux

Editor’s note: I rarely re-print stuff, but I heard Susan Stamberg going on about her relish this morning, and felt it was worth dusting off this ten-year-old post.

Yes, it's really that color. If you listen to NPR, you may be familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition of Susan Stamberg sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe. She’s been sharing it and sharing it. Sharing it since 1972, in fact. That’s a long time, even in NPR years. Ira Glass was just 13-years-old when she started in with the relish.

I actually served the crazy pink mess of cranberry, onion, sour cream, sugar, and horseradish one Thanksgiving. While I sort of liked its tart-tangy-sweet flavor, nobody else touched it. Maybe it was the color. Maybe that it looks more like a desert than a side dish. Maybe they were not Morning Edition listeners.

Anyway, I thought I would give it one more shot and taste test it on my family before turkey day. Reviews were mixed.

My 22-year-old son said it was “unique and interesting” and said he’d like to see it on the holiday table. My 15-year-old called it “weird.” My wife said that it was “too oniony.”

And oniony it was. The trouble with onions is that they can vary wildly in their pungency, so even the small onion called for in this recipe can pack an unexpected wallop. I’d recommend going easy — or even using a sweet onion to temper the effect.

Based on my unscientific sample, maybe half the people might like this stuff — but since it only takes a couple of minutes to prepare, why not? Be prepared, though: the relish will signal you as an NPR geek. Depending on your family, they will either see you as worldly and enlightened or an elitist snob. But as they say, you can choose your radio station, but you can’t choose your family.

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Recipe