Fly the Flag

We have an American flag to display in front of the house on holidays mostly, plus on a few other days, like 9/11. The Irish flag comes out for St. Paddy’s Day, on March 17 or if I’m baking a soda bread or something.

This year, Juneteenth is on the list, and if you’re all about the good things that have been done under our flag, it’s a pretty moving holiday to celebrate. You talk about our country standing up for freedom? The greatest example of that was banishing slavery from our country — even if doing so meant ripping the place apart in the most bitter and violent way imaginable.

Make no mistake about it: June 19th is a milestone in the American fight for freedom.

But we’re not perfect, and you don’t need me to tell you that emancipation didn’t fix America. In truth, it’s never been more apparent, but the more we all get behind something the better off we’ll be.

Under the Needle

Two years ago none of us imagined that you’d need proof of vaccination to go places and do things, but that’s pandemic world.

Oh, how we long for the old days.

And speaking of the old days, I recently received a box containing some original documents belonging to my mother. Her birth certificate, passport, high school diploma — and a vaccination record.

This was 1930, when my mom was less than eight-months-old. While there were vaccines for diphtheria and tuberculosis there was no protection against measles, which killed many children. It was also before the polio vaccine, and polio was probably the most feared disease of all.

This was a time when losing a child was not uncommon, but during my mother’s lifetime she saw the worst of these afflictions eradicated.

I suppose there have always been vaccine refusenicks among us, but it’s hard to imagine people saying no to shots that could prevent a disease that could kill or cripple them.

Thank god we know better today.

Senior Superlatives

If there a place where there’s greater pettiness and stupidity than the high schools of America, I’m yet to find it.

Back in 2017, Susan Parsons, faculty advisor for the Wall Township High School yearbook was ordered to have the name “Trump” Photoshopped off some dumb kid’s senior picture. She probably figured, “Ok, not my call,“ and went along with the orders. That was fine until the kid’s equally dumb parents raised a stink and the whole thing erupted into a gigantic mess, described in the NY Times as, “a national firestorm over free expression and political opinion.”

The school superintendent, looking for a scapegoat, chose to blame Ms. Parsons, and she was suspended from her teaching position. Now, Parsons has been awarded $325,000 in a settlement with the district over the grief they caused her.

It brings back memories.

When I was in high school, I saw the administration harass and intimidate the advisor of our school paper over things the students wrote. As editor, I was personally targeted by several teachers over an editorial — and another time, given a ton of shit for going to the superintendent’s office and asking for a copy of the school budget. I will say, I never got in trouble as one of the yearbook editors. Yes, I was a huge nerd.

The school could have saved themselves a lot of trouble in this yearbook thing by just having some guidelines for senior pictures, like prohibiting branded clothing. No, you can’t wear a shirt with a slogan. Why? Because we say so, that’s why — schools do that stuff all the time.  Or – and this is a stretch – they could have just ignored the whole t-shirt situation because it’s so meaningless and ridiculous. But that’s never been the way of school administrators.

I wanted to love this story, but alas, one tiny snippet of copy spoiled it: “Ms. Parsons, who said in court papers that she had voted for Mr. Trump in 2016…”

Oh, well. No winners here.

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.

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.

History Lesson

To say that Hamilton is a work of genius would be understating things.

What was it that pushed Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton in such a brilliant and bold way? On paper it must have looked like an insane idea, but what I saw on the stage at Proctor’s this week was like nothing I’d ever experienced could have even imagined.

I know I’m a little late to the game on this, but it’s easy to understand how people have become obsessed with the show — and too bring history to people in this way, even if it’s a wee bit superficial, is a positive thing for our culture. Think of all the people who have delved more deeply into Hamilton and American history after this musical ingited their interest.

That’s good for all of us.

NBTW, Miranda left a lot of material on the table that didn’t make it into the show, mincluding a song about Ben Franklin that the Decemberists scored and recorded. It’s pretty great


So, Governor Ralph Northam’s of Virginia had a tough couple of days.

Interesting, because it brought back memories of painting my own face on Halloween. Wore a robe once, too. As a matter of fact, painted the face and wore a robe on the same day.

But unlike with Governor Northam, my face was painted white and my robe was black.

The getup was supposed to be some sort of phantom druid or something, who the hell knows. What do you expect from a weird teenager who’d seen too many 60s British horror movies.

But it’s easy to remember doing it — and that’s why this Ralph Northam thing’s so strange. It seems to me that you’d recall wearing blackface or a Klan robe on Halloween when you were in college.

Fast forward to 1986. The Mets had just won the World Series, and the legendary Mookie Wilson/Bill Buckner play in Game 6 was a very big deal. So this guy — a friend of mine — showed up at work on Halloween in his Mookie jersey and his face painted as black as coal.

Think about that, walking into work in blackface. Pretty crazy. And I don’t think the boss did anything about it, except maybe tell him not to go see any clients dressed that way. He was in sales, and God forbid his Mookie costume cost the TV station some money.

Today he’d be fired on the spot.

Halloween’s a funny thing.  How far is too far when it comes to costumes? Or is Halloween like stand-up comedy, where anything goes and no topic is taboo or too offensive?

Either way, it’s a different world out there. If pictures of me in whiteface emerge, I could be in hot water with the phantom druids.

Faux Hawk

The Times Union Center is looking good. They’ve made a number of improvements lately, including a grand new atrium and giant electronic signs that make South Pearl Street look like Times Square. Heck, they even got rid of their most unsavory tenant, Talk 1300.

But there’s one problem that’s hard the fix: the pigeons.

Downtown Albany’s pigeon population is thriving, and they seem especially drawn to the arena’s nooks and crannies — so much so that a maintenance worker is outside every morning scrubbing pigeon shit off the sidewalks and walkways.

I noticed recently that the TU center was taking measures to scare off the birds, by fighting fire with fire. Ladies and gentlemen,  I give you the faux hawk.

You’d think this bit of fakery might have some effect, but I’m guessing the faux hawk is a flop. It’s covered pigeon poop — and in fact, the day I took this picture, several of the birds were roosting just above it.

What to do next? I’d suggest using REAL hawks. Every day when I walk from my parking lot, I see pieces of dismembered pigeons scattered about. One time I saw an entire set of wings still attached in the middle by a chunk of pigeon spine. The rest was completely gone. These hawks mean business.

So, you don’t need to be an ornithologist to figure this one out: bring more hawks to the arena and your problem will be solved. Maybe they could try releasing rats to draw in the hawks. That may sound unpleasant, but hey, it’s Downtown Albany. Nobody would notice.


Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to end the free release of mugshots and other booking information, and the media is freaking out. Cuomo says it’s to preserve privacy and to squelch sleazy websites that extort money from people who want the pictures to disappear from the web. News outlets like the Times Union say it will lead to abuse and “secret arrests.”

It’s hard to take newspapers and TV stations seriously on this since they exploit mugshots just as shamelessly as the websites Cuomo is fighting.

Today it’s worse than ever. Local TV and newspapers don’t just use the mugshots as part of the regular news coverage, but they plaster them all over social media. That’s when the fun begins, as people get to leave comments about the depraved/evil/corrupt/contemptible/ugly person in the photo. It’s open season, and it doesn’t matter that the person has only been accused, they are dragged through today’s town square — the internet — and locked in the pillory.

In Canada and the UK, mugshots are not released unless there’s a compelling reason to do so, like in a matter of public safety. Some countries go even further, like Ireland, where it’s flat out illegal to release the identity of someone accused of a sex crime. You may not like that, but it protects the rights of someone who may be wrongly accused.

Yeah, so tell me again how this is about transparency and the public’s right to know. Could it also be about selling papers, boosting ratings, tallying clicks, and counting shares and likes? Either way, the media is complaining loudly — so loudly that I can barely hear the cha-ching of their cash registers.