New and Improved

Price Chopper paterfamilias Neil Golub has a modest proposal: let’s rebrand Schenectady as “New Schenectady,” and finally get people thinking differently about the Electric City.

In recent decades Schenectady’s been the Capital Region’s red headed stepchild and the punchline of many jokes. But have you been to Schenectady lately? There are great restaurants and things to do and new development and grand renovation projects everywhere you look. Mohawk Harbor alone is a pretty big accomplishment. These days Schenectady’s punching above its weight, and again becoming a place people want to go to, not run away from.

As for adding the word new to something, the first thing that comes to mind is the failure of New Coke, but let’s reach further back, to the days of the Dutch settlers who named lower Manhattan New Amsterdam. I’d suggest that this strategy worked, drawing throngs of adventurous immigrants seeking good fortune and a fresh beginning. If you like Amsterdam, you’re gonna love New Amsterdam. It is unknown if the Dutch used a marketing firm to name the outpost, as Neil Golub did in coming up with New Schenectady, but it was such a great place that the English stole it away.

It’s tempting to poke fun at the New Schenectady idea — God knows that I did the first time I heard it — but at least they’re doing something. Changing with the times, working with what they’ve got, moving forward. In contrast Albany continues to lead the region in small thinking. Oh, wait, I’m sorry — didn’t Albany open a pedestrian bridge over 787, or something? Good job, Albany. You’ve got some catching up to do.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

Oh, sure it’s exciting when Hollywood comes to town, isn’t it? Nothing gets the heart pumping like making a movie: a bunch of trucks and crew and lights and cameras — and oh, sometimes a famous actor might even be spotted on the street. Holy shit, this ain’t Smallbany anymore, it’s Hollywood on the Hudson!

There’s no denying that film and TV production can sometimes be an economic driver — especially if you buy the numbers floated by our local film commissions. These groups have gotten adept at greasing the skids when showbiz comes to town, helping expedite the sort of clearances and permits that are necessary to take over your block. Closing down streets, restricting parking, disrupting business, doing crazy stuff like dumping tons of period style dirt everywhere — you can’t just roll up and do all that without loads of cooperation.

So, here’s a question for you: Name one other business where a municipality will bend over backwards so completely to accommodate a commercial endeavor. You can’t because it doesn’t exist — but come to town making a movie? Heaven and earth will shift to accommodate your every need.

A sandwich shop I frequent on State Street recently complained on social media that they weren’t informed that a film shoot would block the entrance to their store and make it hard for customers to get their lunch. What the hell is their problem? How could it be that a small business is more interested in making a few bucks on a random Tuesday in August than basking in the thrill and excitement that a film crew brings to the sidewalk?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Sometimes it feels like the people who tout attracting film and TV production to town are a bit starstruck by it all. It’s understandable, because the glamour of movie making tends to rub off on those who get close. Unfortunately, the stink of it rubs off on everyone else, like the people who just want to bring in their groceries, get their kids to daycare, park their cars, or yes, get a sandwich for lunch.

La Cucaracha

It was just another day in Albany City Court on Tuesday — until someone let loose the cockroaches.

According to the Times Union, this was in the middle of the arraignment of four people arrested on charges related to a protest at the Capitol. The courtroom was packed with their supporters — until one of them released hundreds of cockroaches — and what was already a already a heated scene descended into chaos.

So, where does one get all those cockroaches, you ask? My wife suggested that someone collected them from squalid apartments, since the court matter arose from a tenant’s rights demonstration. Interesting idea, but there’s a much easier way to wrangle roaches.

Just Google “cockroaches for sale” and you’ll find that it’s surprisingly easy to purchase live roaches. I checked at Chewy.com, and they sell 400 roaches for $57. You can really stretch your dollar with crickets, which for under $30 you can get 1000. Just release the crickets and yell, “Cockroaches!” and I think it will have the same effect.

Oh, they’ll just sell you live cockroaches online? Yes. Most people use live insects to feed pets like chickens lizards, and it’s perfectly legit. Look: If you buy a hammer at Home Depot and they just assume that you’re going to drive some nails, not walk around town breaking car windows.

Here’s what I think: Having some live roaches would be handy if you want to break up a meeting at work or get out of a party you don’t want to attend. Order them today and you can have them by the weekend. Just saying.

Better To Have Loved and Lost

It’s easier than ever to find old acquaintances these days with social media and whatnot, but it would really jumpstart the process if the local newspaper joined the search, like the Times Union did recently with this front page story:

When Reno met April …can sparks reignite?

It seems that “Reno” — his actual name is Ricardo — wants to reconnect with his long lost love who said she was from Schenectady. He claims that they had a month-long fling as college students 26 years ago.

Everybody loves a love story, and this is pretty romantic, right? Yeah, I suppose — until it turns fucking creepy.

I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to seek out a long lost flame, but to do so in such a public way is troubling. By crowdsourcing this effort you’re taking away someone’s choice in the matter of being found.

Did anyone think that this woman might not want to be contacted by “Reno,” or that doing so could be disruptive or damaging? Let me tell you, not everyone would be thrilled if some dude was hunting down their spouse on the front page of the newspaper.

And what do we know about this Reno character? Not much except that he runs a “taxi and tour business” in the Bahamas. Oh, OK. He must be legit. And I’m sure the paper did some deep digging into his background.

I could be wrong about all this; it may be this woman’s lifelong dream to be reunited with the guy she dated for a month 26 years ago — a guy who doesn’t even know her last name. Hey, it’s romantic!

But don’t worry; the story says that Reno “just wants to reconnect. No pressure.” Perfectly harmless.

I don’t know what they’re smoking over at the Times Union, but it must be pretty potent for them to do something so stupid and irresponsible. Journalism students take note: this story is a master class in poor editorial judgement.

Coverage You Can’t Trust

Look at this Facebook post from NewsChannel 13.

The post includes a photo of a person sitting outside an Albany police station that was the scene of a recent clash with protesters. It’s excluded here because we don’t know if she did anything to warrant this kind of attention, and the police won’t say why they’re looking for her. However, that doesn’t stop WNYT from blaring in all caps with an exclamation point, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE!

This is disturbing and irresponsible. It’s not unusual for the media to share a photo to identify someone who is clearly a suspect in a crime, but this steps over the line.

The accompanying story says, “Police aren’t saying why they want her, or what she might have done.” Don’t ask. None of your business. All you need to know is that we are the police and we want to find her. Take our word for it, she’s a bad one. Just look at her.

Maybe there’s a very good reason for the police to be looking for this woman, but if that’s the case, tell us why — and shame on WNYT for posting this without questioning the cops or asking for a justification. They not only skipped the basic journalism part, they then jumped into the fray to whip up their audience. Remember, ONE SHARE CAN HELP THE POLICE!

It stinks when these TV stations do the bidding of the authorities without considering what they may be up to. What happened between protesters and police was unfortunate, but it’s the job of journalism to question those in power, not become their lapdogs.

Nevertheless, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE! Paging George Orwell.

Oy, Albany!

Oh, please, come for a visit to Albany! We’ll sit by the Waterway canal on Broadway and have a beer as we talk about old times. Then, maybe we can stroll to the Hudson through the park that used to be 787. Can you believe there was a six-lane highway here once? Then, let’s climb aboard the gondola to Rensselaer as the sun sets — because after all, that’s the best way to take in the skyline of our majestic capital city.

Yes, that sounds grand, doesn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to dream big dreams, but these and other transformative ideas to improve Albany will never be more than that: dreams.

Here’s a city that can’t even figure out what to do with the parking lot district or the gloomy old Central Warehouse building — and you think they’re going to dig a canal through downtown or knock down an interstate? Yeah, right.

Maybe the city needs to aim lower. Instead of spending on pipedream projects, how about we put money into building home ownership in struggling neighborhoods, a proven strategy for urban renewal and growth. Create incentives for businesses to locate in the city and provide good jobs to local people. Maybe spend some money on the schools, perhaps.

Big fancy schemes will do nothing for this town, unless you think that making it a theme park for suburbanites will solve a lot of problems. It won’t.

Albany doesn’t need gimmicky development, it needs sound ideas and inspired leadership. And that’s harder than digging a moat or ripping down an overpass. It’s fun to dream of flying cars and hoverbikes, but to stay in touch with reality, always keep one foot on the ground.

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.

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.

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.