Author Archives: Rob

Don’t Be a Dick

Everybody has something they’ve missed most during the pandemic. For me, the biggest loss was the closure of my gym.

I started training with free weights last September and was finally seeing some gains when they shut everything down in March. If you’ve never lifted, you should consider starting. It will make you feel good and help you maintain strength and bone density as you age — but be forewarned: if they close your gym, it will affect your body and mind.

In the beginning, we all figured the pandemic would last for a month and we’d all go back to normal. Then another month passed. And another. So, what’s one to do?

The best solution seemed to be buying some weights for my garage. This seemed that it would be simple, but turned out to be impossible. Stores had absolutely nothing, nor did online retailers, so I turned to the used market — and what I found was troubling.

The prices for used equipment on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist were insane, but worse, I found a thriving market for new equipment at vastly inflated prices. New gear, still in the box, was routinely listed at two to three times the cost.

OK — a product is worth what someone will pay for it, but snatching up all the available inventory and reselling at an exorbitant price is wrong. You’re depriving other consumers of the opportunity to buy something at a fair cost. We’d never put up with people doing this with things like diapers or food.

And this is not a one time opportunity for some sellers, either. One guy was offering a kit that sells for $249 at Dicks for $649, and he told me he “sold three last week.” Nice work if you can get it.

Anyway, I found one of those $249 weight sets — in Syracuse. Long drive, but I won’t get caught short when the virus hits hard again. Be back in five hours, folks.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’ve never been part of a protest like the ones we’re seeing around America lately. It’s not that I don’t care about important social issues, but I think it makes more sense to pay attention to the circle immediately around you and the things that you can personally affect.

A lot of people who walk around with a cardboard sign never do anything to improve their community, like commiting their time or treasure to make a real difference. But hey, protests are fun and they make you feel good about yourself. And they’re probably great if you’re single, too.

But I do like those leaf blower dads.

They’re a contingent of activists in Portland who have been showing up at protests to fight tear gas with lawn machines. When gas is deployed they muster up and deploy it back in the other direction with their leaf blowers. Nifty. It was such a good idea, that the cops started carrying their own leaf blowers to blow the fumes back in the intended direction. It’s a Mexican standoff of sorts. Sorry — is that culturally insensitive?

So, yes, maybe I could be persuaded to join a protest if I can bring a leaf blower. Waving around a sign is not my style, but a leaf blower? Now your talking.

Recovery

I woke up this morning and realized that my recovery is complete. It’s not drugs or alcohol that were my problem. Not gambling or sex or any of the usual addictions that plague our brothers and sisters. No, my issue was local talk radio.

I never agreed with anything I heard — quite the contrary. I listened because it stirred a dark part of me and made me fill up with contempt. Contempt for the viewpoints I heard from the host and callers.

The funny thing is that even though it sucked me in, I knew all along that it was all just a bullshit act.

Local talk radio is a sham. A guy like Paul Vandenburgh at Talk 1300 may not even believe a word of the garbage he spews every morning, but but he doesn’t have to, because it’s all theater. He’s playing a character, and if he thought he could make more money playing a far-left liberal character, he’d do it in a second.

The worst part is that I wasted time on something that wasn’t even very good.

For the sake of comparison, consider Rush Limbaugh. You may dislike his position on things, but there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant communicator. Even public radio legend Ira Glass tips his hat to Limbaugh:

“Rush is just an amazing radio performer. Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops.”

There’s nothing amazing going on at Talk 1300, but I guess in a small upstate town like Albany, it doesn’t take much to amuse people. Or fuel their rage.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Quote

This song by Brandy Clark, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, is all over the radio.

The duet with Randy Newman is pretty catchy — and certainly timely in these crazy times — but it’s sure to make Jaws fans cringe. As so many people do, she misquotes the iconic line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Does the one word make a difference? Yes.

Chief Brody’s use of “you’re” instead of “we’re” is telling. It seems to be him saying, “OK, let’s get the hell out of here and come back when you get yourself squared away with a proper boat.” But in Quint’s world, that’s not an option. There is no bigger boat, and more importantly, here we are — and now we’re all in this together. This is no longer about me, it’s about we.

The subsequent scenes in Jaws show Brody, Quint, and Hooper coming together as a team, forming a bond that is one of the beautiful things about the movie. You’re boat is now our boat.

So, I’ll stop being an annoying purist with my complaining about a silly movie quote. And if there’s one thing we need now, it’s a bigger boat.

Random Notes

Membership Has Its Privileges
The Times Union has taken to calling readers “members.” Does this give us access to the gym at the TU headquarters?

Good Lord
Among the rules for mass at my church this weekend: Masks all the time, no singing, four seats between individuals or family groups, no touching hands, limited seating capacity, attendance by reservation only, do not enter without an “ambassador” to seat you, do not leave until instructed to do so by the ambassador, stand at your seat to receive communion, no communion on the tongue, no books or paper, no mingling in common areas or the parking lot, bring hand sanitizer. Peace be with you.

Oh, Canada
Usually at this time, we’re getting ready for a week in Canada, to a quiet island where Lake Ontario spills into the St Lawrence River. Not this year. The border remains closed until July 21, at the earliest. Got to keep out the filthy Americans.

On the Media

Hold on to your hats, because this will surprise some of you: Local newspapers used to have columnists and reporters who covered area media.

They’d document the comings and goings at the TV and radio stations, write about the ratings, talk about radio formats and new programs — but sometimes, there was more. Now and then, they’d take a sharp look at the journalism done on local TV and the marketing that sold it.

There was certainly an appetite for that sort of news. In a town this size, radio and TV were influential. People like news anchors and meteorologists were our celebrities. By the way, there was never critique of local newspapers on TV.

It’s just one of the things that are gone forever from your newspaper, and this is a time when we could sorely use some media literacy.

Local TV news has not improved in the decade since I left. There is good work done, but the quality of reporting has declined. You’ll still find old hands telling you the stories, but many of the jobs are filled by transient youngsters who have more ambition than knowledge and skill. I love ’em all — but the truth is that they don’t know what’s what around here or in the world at large. Did you know what’s what at that age?

And that’s the sort of thing you might have read about from your newspaper’s media/broadcasting reporter. Before social media, shrinking ad dollars, smart phones — it was another time another place.

Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the TV Reporter

As an EMT, we were trained not go into unsafe situations, regardless of the patient’s condition. Nope — not risking my ass, even if it means saving your life.

That’s why it’s so interesting when you see local TV reporters putting themselves in harm’s way covering the recent protests across America.

For example:

Not defending the cops here, but standing on the fringes of a riot might be — oh, I don’t know — a little unsafe. Would you go to a fire and hang around in the “collapse zone,” the area where the burning structure might fall if it comes down? Of course not — and this is no different.

Ah, but this is the noble profession of journalism! It’s not a job, but a higher calling, and informing the public is worth the sacrifice of my life.

Don’t make me laugh.

I’d encourage journalists to weigh the risks associated with any assignment. This includes fire and accident scenes, extreme weather, busy roadways, dangerously elevated emotions — and yes, riots. Your personal safety should always come first, and none of you are paid enough to take chances. If you think being on the sidelines of a chaotic situation, like that riot, is supposed to be a safe zone, you are wrong.

And if you’re a TV reporter in Podunk, Kentucky, don’t dare compare what your doing to covering a war. Those sort of journalists understand the risks — and they accept that when you go into a shitstorm you may be hit with some shit.

Your Opinion Matters (not)

I’ve been struggling with how to say this, so if I don’t get it right, please forgive me, but here it goes:

Nobody cares about your opinion.

Nope. Nobody gives a hoot what you think. Oh, wait — this is not to suggest that you shouldn’t express yourself. Please, by all means tell us what you think.

Please give us your take on COVID. Are you a hardcore mask NAZI virophobe who condemns everyone who leaves their house or has meaningful contact with other humans? Or maybe you think the whole thing is stupid, and the overly cautious are paranoid imbeciles addicted to drama.

Do tell.

And the protests. Actually, we’re dying to hear how much you hate the evil cops. Or how you think the people abused by the police truly deserved it. Or how you went to a protest and walked around with a cardboard sign.

Good on you. You are better than us.

Once there was a time when the world was a better place. Do you know when it was better? When we didn’t have a way to instantly express everything that goes through our heads.

That may sound funny from a guy who’s written blog posts for more than 15 years, but here’s the thing: I don’t think my opinions are important, nor do I expect anyone else to think that they are. That’s what I found so puzzling about the whole Albany Eye thing. Why would anyone care what some idiot writes about local TV and newspapers?

But thank you for visiting, anyway. It’s nice to have someone hear it when you shout into the void, and maybe that’s the point.

Build that Paywall

It’s not a surprise that the Times Union has shoved it’s popular staff written blogs behind the paywall. Steve Barnes addressed this in an apologetic post in his Table Hopping food blog, explaining that the paywall also applies to Capitol Confidential and Kristi Gustafson Barlette’s blog.

Hey, I get it, content has value.

I subscribe to the digital edition of the New York Times and get the Times Union delivered, which also gives me access to their online content. I may joke about the TU, but I still like reading an actual local newspaper — even though it may infect me with COVID-19.

And it’s all good — mostly.

But here’s the thing: if I pay for your newspaper, I should not be subjected to a barrage of trashy click-bait advertising, like what’s found on every page of the Times Union’s website. It’s full of garbage ads for nonsense websites, celebrity news, slideshows, unwanted videos that auto-play — if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go to any story on their site and scroll down.

I believe in advertising, and legitimate ads from local and national advertisers are welcome — even targeted ads that prey upon the instincts and desires tracked by my browsing habits. What the Times Union is doing, however, is destroying the user experience for those who visit their website. Period.

Advertising is a social contract, of sorts. I’ve pointed out the relationship we agree to have with a lot of television content: I watch your ads in exchange for being informed and entertained. When the ads are intrusive and onerous? Then the contract is broken — and if I’m actually paying and still seeing all those shitty ads, shame on you.