Sunday, December 23, 2007

Big Sign that it's the end of the year

Rochester, N.Y., Dec. 23 — It's about 1:30 a.m. EST, Sunday morning, and I'm blogging. This entry will be a brief one, merely to acknowledge my dreadful lack of blogging during the past couple months and to suggest a turn around is in sight, I hope. It's been a blur of a couple months, but there's been a lot of blog-worthy news; many big signs to share and dissect, put the B.S. spin on, if you'll drift with me.

In Orange news, the Orangemen of the court beat the Cornell Big Red Saturday night, 80-64, in cool, relaxed, easy-going, and enjoyable fashion in front of 19,000-plus at the Dome.

Today, a hop down the Thruway in the other direction, Bills face the Giants in at Rich "B.S. won't call it Ralph Wilson" Stadium, 1 p.m. EST. Meaningless, more or less, after last week's loss to the Browns, but perhaps it'll be a good show, a big sign of what's to come.

As for what's to come from B.S., stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Big Signs Reminds You to Vote Today

NEW YORK, Nov. 6 — It's election day, and while it's an off year and the media is already consumed with the big contest a year from now, your local elections may actually affect your day-to-day lives a lot more than the POTUS and other national elections. Think about it. Then go vote.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Big Sign that the Water Crunch is Real: Three NYT Stories in Three Days

NEW YORK, Oct. 23 — In a sign that some will argue is a key indicator that the water crisis facing the United States — from Oswego, N.Y., to Atlanta, to the parched western states, The New York Times has, in the past three days, run three major stories on different aspects of the problem.

Sunday the Times Magazine had this story, "The Future Is Drying Up," on the remarkable water shortages in the west, including a striking image of Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam, showing the recently exposed, bleached white 100-foot high section of vertical shoreline left exposed by receding waters.

Monday, the Metro Section reported from Oswego on a three-inch drop in Lake Ontario's water level in October alone, in this story, "Inch by Inch, Great Lakes Shrink, And Cargo Carriers Face Losses."

Today, on the front page, the Times reports in "New to Being Dry, the South Struggles to Adapt" from Atlanta on the seemingly most urgent aspect of the crisis, in the southeast, where the reserves in Atlanta's main source of water, Lake Lanier, "could reach the bottom of its storage reserves in about four months." More troublesome, the state, residents, and visitors alike are only now thinking about how to address the problem.

Case in point: my girlfriend visited Atlanta this weekend. As I pondered the water issue with my mother while I was in Rochester (which, incidentally, my mom thinks is poised for a renaissance resulting from the water crisis, and which I tend to think is correct, but more on that another time), I sent my girlfriend a text message asking, "Are you thirsty yet?"

She called back confused, but she did then confirm that she'd had to ask for water at breakfast out Saturday morning, instead of it just showing up with the silverware.

The Times has a great section on its Web site cataloging its water reporting, here. Check it out, and then, ponder some ways to save some. How about this one to start: will NYC Council Member please introduce a bill that bans sidewalk spraying as a cleaning method, or at least limits the frequency?

"Seinfeld" fans may remember the idea from an episode that first aired Dec. 14, 1995, "The Gum," in which Elaine, blouse open as she walks down the sidewalk, has to tread carefully past a florist shop where the owner is hosing down the sidewalk in front. From the script:
A cop stands a little further down the street. Elaine approaches him.

ELAINE: Officer. Officer, is there some reason this man has to always be using a hose? I mean, he's flooding the sidewalk. It's a waste of water. Couldn't he just use a broom?

The cop stares at Elaine's breasts the whole time she's talking.

COP: Lady, you sold me. (strides toward florist) Hey, you with the hose.

Elaine looks confused about his attitude. She glances down, and notices her blouse wide open. She quickly pulls her coat closed, to hide her embarrassment, and hurries away.

Well, Elaine solved the problem with some cleavage, at least until later in the episode, when the hose returns, but maybe the City Council could now consider a more comprehensive approach.

What would you do to save some water?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Big Sign that New York City Council Member James Oddo has a dirty mouth

NEW YORK, Oct. 10 — The Staten Island Advance is reporting another of New York City Council Member James Oddo's episodes of entertainment. Oddo, a Republican from Staten Island, blew up at a Norwegian comedian, Pia Haraldsen, who tricked him into a prank interview about the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

See the video here on YouTube for yourself, but the lowlights begin with Haraldsen asking how Sen. Barack Obama is allowed to run for president because she suggests Obama is 1) not a citizen because he is African-American (and 2) unable to run because he is African-American. The second (better?) half of the 96-second video is Oddo's F-bomb-laced rant, first to his staff about how the Norwegian crew got time with him, and then at the crew to get the F out of his office.

Oddo reacted to the video in an interview with the Advance, whose audio is posted here. "Do I regret demonstrating a very limited vocabulary?" Oddo asked rhetorically. "I absolutely do. Am I embarrassed for my mom and my girlfriend and some of my constituents? Absolutely. But I took great offense that they were there to mock me, to mock me, to mock Sen. Obama, to mock the Clintons, and in essence really to make America. And I told them in no uncertain terms to get out. And they wanted reality television, and the reality is that you're gonna come in and waste my time and sort of goof on all of us, then you have what's coming to you. Emotionally, that was the right sentiment. Intellectually, it could have been worded better, but I've said it from day one, and I'll say it again: I'm not a terribly good politician. I'm like any other Staten Islander, and it showed."

Couple thoughts: Pia, funny concept that you had, poor execution. Probably not the best way to ingratiate yourself to the American people and a Republican politician by pandering to racist, pre-Civil War ideology for a laugh. Jimmy, right reaction, wrong words, funny nonetheless, and thanks for standing up for equality and respectful treatment of American legislators across party lines. But did you have suggest that all Staten Islanders express themselves primarily through four-letter words when angry? Some do, sure, and I know a fair number of them, but probably, on the whole, Staten Islanders don't react as such any more than other New Yorkers, Americans, or even Norwegians, I'm guessing.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Blogging NYT: Singing Staten Island's Praises

NEW YORK, Oct. 7 — The New York Times City section today has a huge piece on the hipster-ization of Staten Island's North Shore. The piece, here, by Cara Buckley, a metro reporter, paints a rather idyllic picture of an emerging arts and underground-music scene on the island.

There remains, however, the inescapable sense of being far away (how about 5.2 miles) from "the City," as most of my S.I. acquaintances (and many other outer borough friends) call Manhattan. Having spent 13 months of my (working) life on the Island of Staten, working to keep people moving between it and the City, I'm not sure what I think of this takeout from the piece, but I'm quoting it here because it's worth it, positively or negatively.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle between Staten Island and coolness is the most obvious and intractable one of all: the ferry. No other direct transit link with Manhattan exists, and the half-hour ferry ride cements the separateness.

“There is nothing worse than it being 4:29 a.m. and you’re in Manhattan and drunk and running for the ferry,” said Tim Duffy, a 25-year-old islander and lifelong ferry catcher. “Because if you miss that, you’re waiting till 5:30 a.m.”

Yet despite the ferry, or because of it, a thriving and tight-knit group of homegrown indie and hipster types has germinated on the North Shore.

Staten Island is a world apart from Manhattan, but it's worth a visit, or at least a ferry ride there and back. If you're on the boat, be sure to tell Capt. José that I said hi.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Big Signs Blogging Bollinger

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 — Also on CNN tonight, Columbia University President answered some questions about his introduction of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which Ahmadinejad himself called insulting.

"It always risks that when you have something like this that it will degenerate into a bland conversation," Bollinger said.

"It was very clear that the only way this would happen was for me to use very sharp questions," he continued. "These are very serous beliefs... the only way to have a discussion like this is to make sure it's a full, robust debate.

"I had things that I wanted to say, and I wanted to say them in my own words...

"He was very stony... so I really don't know what he felt.

"I think it's better to openly confront your adversaries and enemies to express your views."

Trump on Ahmadinejad

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 — On CNN tonight, Donald Trump told Wolf Blitzer that the visit was a good public relations move for Columbia. "It's very good for Columbia because, right now, everybody's talking about Columbia," Trump said.

Big Signs Notebook: Ahmadinejad Visits Columbia, Campus and Community Fired Up

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 -- The din of the day is fading, but with the Columbia Coalition, a loose collection of student groups denouncing the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the university, some excitement is surely still in the tanks.

On the most frenetic day of the semester so far, I bounced to midtown around 10 a.m. for an interview and to take in the insanity of east midtown as it welcomed the United Nations General Assembly. On my return to campus, the event was well underway, and I caught the last few minutes of the speech simulcast to the giant viewing screen on the south side of College Walk.

Here are a handful of observations from the scene. Photos to follow later.

10:10 a.m., leaving the main gate at 116th Street and Broadway, a short, bearded, Jewish man was chanting, "Death to Ahmadinejad, the Hitler of Iran!" and giving out fliers calling on Columbia alums to cut off their donations as a punishment for Bollinger inviting the Iranian president. Inside campus, the "Press Pen," set up on Low Plaza, remained empty.

11:30 a.m., from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building, 42nd Street leading to the United Nations is blocked off at First Avenue by dump trucks filled with sand, and lined west of First Avenue with NYPD vehicles and trusty orange traffic cones.

2:50 p.m., on return to the Morningside campus, one of two stairwells exiting the subway at 116th Street station is closed, guarded by a white-shirted (higher-ranking) NYPD officer. Another white-shirt and a regular P.O. circulated through the station. The protest was in full swing on both sides of Broadway, with police barricades restraining the crowd.

There were at least four satellite trucks up and running and another three or four microwave trucks along Broadway, beaming content to their stations. Just north of the protest scene, on the west side of Broadway at 118th Street, in front of Barnard College, a coach bus idled, perhaps awaiting protesters, perhaps bringing tourists to spectate.

A sampling of the signage: a professionally printed banner reading, "Charge Ahmadinejad with incitement of genocide," on one side of the barricades, and on the other, a handwritten poster board that said, "Free speech in USA."

A sampling of the chants: "Shame on Columbia!"

Entering campus from the 117th Street gate, and weaving through the smattering of students meandering about the north side of campus, it seemed tranquil, as if perhaps the event had ended. On reaching Low Plaza, however, the sea of students showed itself set up on the south lawn, transfixed by the speech simulcast to the super sized screen. There were at least 3,000 people covering the southeast corner of the quad.

Catching the tail end of Ahmadinejad's remarks, as I squinted to see the screen from an angle off to its left, he asserted, through a translator, that Iran's nuclear program "operates within the law."

Protesting students held a massive orange banner, so large it reached the chin of one standing, female protester, which read, "Ahmadinejad = Bad/ Bush = Worse/ No War on Iran" and called on students to join in a protest of U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday when he speaks at the United Nations.

Ahmadinejad condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, and he concluded by reciprocating on Columbia's invitation to him by inviting students and faculty to Iran.

"I invite Columbia faculty members and students to come to Iran to speak with our faculty and students. You're officially invited," Ahmadinejad said. Perhaps backtracking from the broad invitation, he suggested that Columbia could pick the students, possibly from student government, to make a trip, and that Iran would supply a list of its 400-some universities that the entourage could visit.

As he ended his remarks, Ahmadinejad said to the audience, "Best of luck to all of you."

More to follow -- covering the media covering the events, counter-speeches, overheard student reactions.

Pitt at Grant's Tomb, Secret Service at the Gates

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 -- Brad Pitt is in Morningside Heights this morning, just north of the controlled chaos at Columbia, shooting scenes for "Burn After Reading." Photos to follow later, but the crew filmed Pitt screaming "FUCK!!!" (yes, with three exclamation points) as cars (with Beltway plates) passed and one sped off in front of him, at least a dozen times this morning just after 9.

Grant's Tomb is acting as the Department of the Interior building, from what I could tell, and Riverside Drive is downtown Washington. Interesting premise.

Just south, as 117th and Broadway, four Secret Services agents from the diplomatic protection side of the house (think Sean Penn in "The Interpreter") hovered around an auxiliary gate to Columbia, earpieces, suits, sunglasses, and all the trimmings, along with several Columbia public safety officers. Interestingly, while I noticed Secret Service on campus, I didn't notice them at the 116th Street main gates, either at Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue.

Perhaps Ahmadinejad will enter that way and head to Bollinger's office in Low Library before his talk, or perhaps it's diversion. While Secret Service was absent from the main gates, the gates were on all-but-lockdown, with only one of three open in either direction, and swarms of public safety officers checking ID (entry with CUID only).

Big Signs that Morningside Heights is the Place to be Today

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 — Between the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Columbia University later today and the filming of the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading," in Sakura Park just up the street from my apartment and a few blocks from campus, Morningside Heights may be as hopping as the United Nations today.

While the U.N. General Assembly gets underway in east midtown, Ahmadinejad's visit is riling up mid-Mo-Heights, and "Burn After Reading" stars George Clooney and Brad Pitt are heating up the north end of the neighborhood. Reports (and NYPD/NYC Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting parking signage) indicate that Pitt and Clooney filmed in the park just south of International House (my former residence) on Sunday and will be back today, apparently pretending that the heights are Georgetown, D.C. I have spent considerable time in both neighborhoods (including Sunday, in fact, having left Georgetown at 4 p.m. and arrived back in the heights by 8:30 p.m. thanks to the Amtrak Acela), and I'm not sure that the two are much alike, but an early morning visit may prove otherwise.

Meanwhile, back on College Walk at Columbia, the plans continue. The university has already placed a large viewing screen on the south side of the walk for the overflow crowd to watch the Ahmadinejad event (some might call it a spectacle, debacle, embarassment, or intellectual exercise; I'll have some thoughts later).

A closer examination of the fliers yielded the following: the flier upon which we previously reported actually reads, "Bollinger/ Too bad/ Ben-Laden/ is not available// You could have presented him with some tough questions too..."

A similar letter-sized flier read, "Bollinger, while you're at it, why not invite the Ku-Klux Klan," and in a smaller, parenthetical in its bottom margin alleges that infamous KKK member and white-supremacist (not to mention frequent candidate for public office, including for governor of Louisiana) David Duke was an honored guest at Ahmadinejad's conference denying the Holocaust.

Yet another flier quotes the Iranian president saying, "We didn't have a revolution in order to have democracy."

As this reporter strolled back toward Broadway along college walk, at midnight, he overheard five or so organizers of the protest rally discussing the plans. One young woman expressed her concern about the content of the fliers, agreeing that they were well intended but sharing her concern that the "national media" expected on campus to cover the day's events may distort their meaning and portray the fliers as inflammatory.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Big Sign that Lee Bollinger Loves the Spotlight: The Ahmadinejad Columbia Visit

NEW YORK, Sept. 23 — With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad slated to speak at Columbia University on Monday, the university's campus is already buzzing with Ahmadinejad-related activity on the eve of the speech.

Walking to campus from my apartment just a few blocks north at about 8:35 p.m. tonight, I counted two satellite trucks parked on Broadway and a crowd of students circled around a TV stand-up report in front of Columbia's main gates. Walking by the crowd as I entered the gate to cross campus, I spotted the one and only Geraldo Rivera interviewing students.

Walking across campus from Broadway to the law school, across Amsterdam Avenue, I observed College Walk, the university's Main Street, all but plastered in fliers related to the visit, mostly in opposition and offering details about the planned protest. Almost every fence post along the western half of the walkway had a flier taped to it, and a carpet of fliers taped to the walk itself connected Broadway and Amsterdam.

One flier read something to the effect of, "Bollinger, too bad Ben-Laden wasn't available. You could have asked him provocative questions too."

Stay tuned. More to follow. Big Signs will be live-blogging (at least parts of) the day Monday.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Frank-ly Blogging: Today Show Nathan's Redux, The Science of Competitive Eating

NEW YORK, July 5 — NBC's Today Show this morning reported Joey Chestnut's historic win in Wednesday's contest and previewed a National Geographic special on the science behind competitive eating. Of competitive eating note, Tim "Eater X" Janus, put down 10 donuts in a minute as a demonstration. He didn't reach his goal of 12 donuts.

Of further note, Today Show Host Meredith Vieira claimed, "The scary thing is, I probably could eat 12."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Big Apple Musing: Powell Green

B.S. editor's note: Here we begin an occasional series of Big Apple Musings, comments and observations on the crazy, fantastic city where we have lived before and are now living again. This first post is more than a year old, but it's worth a read.

NEW YORK, March 22, 2006 — This afternoon, I was about to leave Duane Reade #131 after picking up my prescription refill (note for the New York un-savvy: Duane Reade is the leading pharmacy in the city, with what I would describe as an almost-monopoly on the market — think CVS on South Crouse within walking distance of campus and multiply it by the Big Apple and you've got Duane Reade and its couple hundred stores with lousy service and long lines; and they are all numbered). As I headed from the exit after coming up the escalator from the basement level pharmacy section into the convenience-store part of the store, I encountered an individual who in ferry-speak and law-enforcement-lingo might be referred to as an "EDP": emotionally disturbed person.

Now, EDP is typically reserved for those folks who the cops or our security personnel think are real threats to themselves or others (read: they might jump off the boat just out from Governor's Island or hurt someone). The individual I encountered today at Duane Reade #131, just up Whitehall Street from the ferry terminal, however, was a more mild EDP. Maybe just an emotionally confused or impaired person. Or maybe he was drunk or high or just starving and cold. It happens in Lower Manhattan — we have a growing homeless "problem" at the Manhattan terminal.

As I headed for the exit, Mr. EDP was coming in through the opposite door, and he looked at me, before I looked at him, and called out to get my attention.

"Big man!" I looked his way. He was a black man, probably in his mid- to late-40s, and while he was tall enough that some might consider him big, I was, as it happened, taller than him. He was, as our competing heights would have it, correct in calling me big man.

"Powell Green!" he exclaimed, using his emphatic, if indoor, voice. "Powell Green, Powell Green."

Confused, I kept moving toward the exit, and I mumbled, "I'm sorry," thinking that he could be only asking for money, or that I had no idea what he wanted because I couldn't figure out his cryptic message.

"A'ight," Mr. EDP replied, and I headed out the door toward the #1 train.

As I walked to the train at Rector Street, I puzzled over what EDP could have possibly meant. Who was Powell Green? Did he think I was Powell Green? Is Powell Green even a person? Was he possibly saying "power of green," with it coming out as "pow-a-green," and me mishearing him? Is "power of green" a street phrase referring to the importance of money? Why did he ask me?

Wikipedia doesn't know Powell Green. Google doesn't do much better. Power of Green returns mostly clean energy sites. Do y'all know either of them? Maybe EDP was Powell Green lookin' for some Power of Green.

That's the end of B's Big Apple Musing for today.

Frank-ly Blogging: “Chestnut is the champ.”

NEW YORK, July 4 — American Joey Chestnut, 23, ate 66 hot dogs and buns today at the 2007 Nathan’s Hotdog Contest to win coveted Mustard Belt, the greatest prize in all of competitive eating.

Chestnut defeated six-time reigning champ, Takeru Kobayashi, 29, of Nagano, Japan, who put away 63 dogs and buns.

Both Chestnut and Kobayashi shattered the previous Nathan’s record of some 53 dogs and buns and eclipsed Chestnut’s world record of some 59 dogs and buns. Chestnut reigns as Nathan’s champion and world champ.

More details here in our liveblog of the competition.

Frank-ly Blogging: 2007 Nathan's Hotdog Eating Contest

NEW YORK, July 4 — "My jaw has refused to fight anymore," Takeru Kobayashi, the reigning, six-time Nathan's Hotdog Contest champion, has been quoted as saying in recent days. The world shall soon see whether he can fight through the pain or whether newbie, American Joey Chestnut, can bring the Mustard Belt back to the States.

We were going to watch the competition live at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, but with a threat of showers and a late-rising blogger, we opted to liveblog this famed contest from the Manhattan Valley, in the relative comfort of the apartment. The view will probably be better from here anyway, thanks to our friends at ESPN.

Without further adieu, let the liveblogging begin.

12:07 Kobayashi is on scene, after reportedly receiving some last-minute acupuncture to relax his arthritic jaw and arriving in a private car with a petite Japanese girl in tow.

12:15 ESPN commentators are estimating that there are more 30,000 spectators at Surf and Stillwell. Patrick Bertoletti reportedly beat Joey Chestnut in a jalapeno-eating contest and could be a threat to win today. Eater X, last name Janus, is also a contender, ESPN reports.

12:19 ESPN filler about Coney Island — As you may know, this is “the last summer” of Coney Island, with a luxury residential development slated to go in starting in fall 2007. More on that from your faithful blogger here at B.S. after a visit.

12:22 Joey Chestnut is the world champion in gyoza eating (Japanese dumplings). 212 in 10 minutes. We’re full after six.

12:24 ESPN cuts to commercial, promising introductions upon return, and noting their reporters have not been able to find Kobayashi in the last few minutes.

12:28 Introductions have begun: wild-card Tim Brown, burrito specialist; former-baloney eating champion of the world; Dale “Mouth of the South” Boone, reindeer sausage-eating champion and direct descendant of Daniel Boone; Crazy Legs Conti, from the Lower East Side of Manhattan; Juliet Lee, 11 slices of pizza in 10 minutes; Erik “The Red” Denmark, world fry bread champ; Patrick Philbin, 360 pounds, four pounds of corned beef in 10 minutes, 27 hot dogs in previous competition (ESPN commentator: “They call Iverson the answer, I call this guy the question”): Arturo Rio Jr., a rookie; guy who ate 23 grilled cheeses in 10 minutes; “Humble” Bob Shoudt, who only eats in sanctioned competitions and only eats meat in competition (vegetarian otherwise); Rich “The Locust” LeFevre, birthday-cake eating champion, 63-years old; Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, eats 10-percent of her body weight, and jambalaya-eating champ of the world, among other titles; Chip from Birmingham, Ala., ; Tim “Eater X” Janus, 2004 rookie of the year, claiming that Hermione dies in Harry Potter VII; Patrick Bertoletti, 177 jalapenos in 10 minute; Joey Chestnut, the new threat; and from Nagano, Japan, the six-time reigning champion, Takeru Kobayashi.

12:38 With the competition to get underway shortly, our prediction is that we’ll be able to tell within the first few minutes of eating whether Kobayashi will be able to continue his reign as champ. We, and the world, will be watching his pace closely. More to follow.

12:41 And they’re off.

12:43 Chestnut is at 10 dogs in 50 seconds.

12:44 Two minutes in: Chestnut 20; Kobayashi 18.

12:46 Four minutes in: Chestnut 35; Kobayashi 29.

12:48 Half-way through the eating: Kobayashi is pulling closer; Chestnut 43; Kobayashi 41.

12:50 Four minutes left: Chestnut 51; Kobayashi 49.

12:52 Two minutes left: Chestnut 57; Kobayashi 56. The entire free world is watching, ESPN reports, and Bertotletti is dedicating his eating to Nicky Hilton because she lives in Paris’s shadow, while Bertoletti eats in the shadow of the champ.

12:53 One minute left: Chestnut 60; Kobayashi 60.

12:54 And the winner is: too close to call.

12:55 The winner is up in the air. Joey Chestnut had 63 at the close, and Kobayashi seemed to have put 63 in his mouth, but there may have been what the competitive eaters call a “reversal” at the last second, with Kobayashi spitting out some of his consumed food. The champ had his hands over his mouth during the alleged reversal, and the crowd could see water come out through his fingers, but it’s unclear if he lost dogs and buns too.

12:57 Unofficial results: Joey Chestnut, 66 dogs; Takeru Kobayashi, 63 dogs.

12:58 “In first place, with 66 hotdogs and buns, Joey Chestnut.” The announcer could be seen saying to Chestnut, just before announcing him as the champ, “Put the flag up,” handing him an American flag. Joey says to ESPN, “If I need to eat another right now, I could.”

ESPN commentators: “It’s just an emotional day for Joey, a great day for America.”

Final Notes:
When it was clear that Joey Chestnut had an edge and could bring home the Mustard Belt, ESPN commentators declared it would be “the greatest moment in the history of American sports, if the belt were to come home to Coney Island.”

Continuing, ESPN’s commentators said, “He may indeed have changed the course of this nation. He is a true American hero.”

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blogging NYT: (Good?) News from NOLA

NEW YORK, July 3 — The New York Times had a pair of stories yesterday about New Orleans nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina. More analysis to follow, but our initial reaction, mostly based on the headlines, is that NYT finally has moved forward on its NOLA coverage, with the stories' headlines, Patchwork City: Largely Alone, Pioneers Reclaim New Orleans and Aching for Lost Friends, but Rebuilding With Hope, showing that the Times maybe understands that for all the negative news out of NOLA, there is also some optimism and hope. More later, we hope.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tragedies, New and Old

NEW YORK, June 28 — Tonight we were going to write about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the school integration cases decided today, which is, in many ways, a striking national tragedy. It deserves more complete treatment than we can give it now, and two other tragedies have gripped our minds today as well, compelling more immediate thoughts. So, for now, let me point you to The New York Times coverage of the schools decisions here and The Christian Science Monitor's coverage here.

Now, however, we must turn to the new tragedy — five stunning, brand-new high school graduates killed in a fiery crash half an hour from their homes two towns away from our hometown. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has comprehensive coverage here and The New York Times ran covered the sadness on the front page of the metro section, here.

We saw the news first on the D&C's site yesterday, shortly after it broke. Read the NYT story this morning at work, online, without opening the print copy until moments ago, greeted by the nearly half-page spread with the victims' photographs from their yearbook and their Fairport, N.Y., friends locked in a grief-filled embrace.

It never makes sense when a teenager dies. Last week this time, they were celebrating their proudest moment together, graduating high school. A week later, the principal of Fairport High School, told reporters that instead of their five graduation parties, he'd now be attending their five funerals. It didn't make sense when Melissa and Jason died 10 years ago. Their deaths make no more sense now, as we wrote here last week.

Hannah, Bailey, Meredith, Sara, and Katherine were headed to a cottage on Keuka Lake for some summer fun in the sun, the papers reported, but they never made it. Their deaths don't make sense now, and they probably won't make sense in 10 years, or ever. They're gone, and but for the grace of God it could have been any of us, any of our friends, brothers, sisters, loved ones. And so our hearts go out to their friends and families, with deepest sympathy.

Turning to an old tragedy, another too close to home, which ripped from life 270 souls, including 35 Syracuse University students, one of whom grew up in Webster, just north of Fairport. We write, you may know, of the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy. On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb ripped apart the 747 Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all aboard — 259 passengers and crew — and 11 on the ground below.

In the years since, a Scottish court has convicted Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent. Now, as the NYT reports here, a review panel in Scotland has concluded that Megrahi may have been wrongfully convicted. We have yet to read the story closely, and it's no doubt more complicated than a headline and lede can express, but it provokes in us questions of whether we should let it go and whether we'll ever know even most of the truth about what brought down that plane.

At Syracuse University, 103 is part of the student experience; not just with a memorial at the heart of campus, but with an annual Remembrance Week, full of active engagement of the issues and ideas surrounding the tragedy.

We're admittedly too close to it to examine this most recent development objectively, but a simple conclusion jumps out: if the conviction was a miscarriage of justice, then let's examine it to figure out the real story. If it was not, let's examine it anyway, as painful as it is, to make sure we got the real story right the first time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Moment for Jason and Melissa

It’s been 10 years since we lost two Friends, Jason Pollack and Melissa Klotz, killed in a tragic train accident on a trestle over the Erie Canal in Pittsford, N.Y. Jason and Melissa are always on our minds, always remembered, but today, the tenth anniversary of their deaths, I wanted to take an extra moment for them.

I wasn’t very close with either Jason or Melissa, but in a tightly knit community like Brighton, we were all friends, and Jason and Melissa brightened our lives with their smiles and laughter. Their closest friends and relatives miss them most, I know, but everyone else felt the loss, still feels the loss, will always feel the loss.

Their deaths were, in the most basic sense of the word, great losses. Losses of life, losses of laughs and smiles. We all have less laughter for having lost them, but the memories I have of them are vivid and bring a smile every time they cross my mind. Here are some of those memories of Jason and Melissa, for Jason and Melissa.

Jason cutting up during our middle school football team photograph — an eighth grader then, me a seventh grader, lined up next to him, trying to hold a straight face as Jason cracked one joke after another. I don’t remember the jokes, or our coaches’ responses, but I distinctly remember how he seemed to put everyone at ease. Coaches loosened up, teammates smiled, and as a seventh grader who’d been mildly intimidated by my older teammates, I relaxed, realizing at least one of them, Jason, was harmless, just a big goofball who loved to laugh and make his teammates laugh.

Melissa returning to school in second grade after a month or so out sick with pneumonia, I think. This memory is fuzzier — longer ago — but I seem to remember her return as triumphant, and everyone — 7-year-olds and teachers included — smiled when she came back. As youngsters, we’d been mystified by her being out of school so long, sick with something none of us could pronounce. While the memory is fuzzy, I know Melissa returned with a huge smile, glad to be back, like she’d been gone only for a few minutes to swing on the playground.

Jason, again hamming it up, a high school sophomore, riding on the back of the school’s Zamboni-like floor-waxing machine on the freshman side of the cafeteria, after having snagged it from behind the backs of the unsuspecting maintenance staff, I’m sure. Like any good Zamboni driver, Jason entertained his crowd with silly antics as he rode the machine, until a stern faced teacher on cafeteria duty spotted him and ended the fun. I remember his closest friends watching the whole episode, doubled over with laughter, and the whole cafeteria brightened up thanks to the rebellious clowning.

Melissa, as a freshman, shivering in her cheerleading uniform on the sidelines of a JV football game, on the road at Bishop Kearney. From the sidelines, in a break from playing, I must have glanced at the bleachers searching for my family, and I noticed all the cheerleaders but Melissa had their warm-up suits on. I never asked her about it, but she must have forgotten hers warm-up suit that game. She cheered on just the same, hands balled tightly in the ends of her sleeves when not clapping, I’m sure. I don’t think we won the game; that season was a rough one, but Melissa and the other cheerleaders never gave up on us.

Ten years has gone fast — in Brighton and the world — considering all that’s happened since June 21, 1997, when that freight train took Jason and Melissa. But we remember them and their smiles, and we will always remember, today, and always.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Win a Trip Essay, Finally

NEW YORK, May 25 — After much delay, through finals and not realizing Nick Kristof had already announced that he is taking a medical student from Washington University in St. Louis on his trip to Africa, and not me, here is my entry essay, written seven weeks ago, April 6. Enjoy, comment, be merry. —B.S.

New Orleans, my home for eight months now, scares America. It shouldn’t, but it does. The city is a mess, with its iconic streetcars seldom running, traffic signals out or missing, and potholes growing into craters, but it shouldn’t scare people.

Anderson Cooper and The New York Times love to announce in primetime and on page one that murders are up, long-time residents are staying away, and flooded neighborhoods remain devastated. Do-gooders and positivity abound, but America doesn’t notice, except during Mardi Gras.

As the second storm season after Hurricane Katrina approaches, America still wonders whether New Orleans will sink or swim, and many Americans are too scared to answer that question by visiting. They are Americans like my father, a worldly, if absent-minded, professor, who, when I call home nightly from NOLA, always has yet another sad story to share about this city. After endless bad news, I finally limited the nightly rehash by requiring him to share a positive story for every negative one. The flow has trickled to a slow drip.

Upon moving to the bayou, I expected to watch New Orleans rebound, but I’ve seen more change in myself, adjusting to a new normal that includes flooded, empty store fronts and drenching humidity. New Orleans is, appropriately, the City that Care Forgot. In observing it as I live here and share stories of its good, I’m hoping it won’t become the City that Americans Gave Up On.

The green light at Oak Street and Carrollton Avenue is out, but it doesn’t stop me from driving that route, the only way to the post office. Thugs murdered a member of the Hot Eight Brass Band days after Christmas, but it doesn’t keep me from grooving to NOLA’s notes. I came to New Orleans to learn the law — a long and laborious process — but I’m also here as the eyes of scared Americans, seeing it to show them it’s worth saving.

New Orleans frightens Americans so much they won’t visit now. They’re immobilized like a bitterly cold winter freezing Lake Erie. Africa shocks Americans into near-permanent paralysis, like Vonnegut’s illusory ice-nine. Hurricanes and murders are frightening. AIDS, malaria, and genocide are dazing, stunning, overwhelming.

A friend in Manhattan recently shared a dating debacle, whose critical character is African. Bobbi, a bubbly 20-something grad student met a seemingly nice, dinner-worthy, Wall-Street type, WST. After a couple dates, they were out again, strolling through the Village, when they passed an Ethiopian restaurant. WST nodded, acknowledging its presence to Bobbi. She replied enthusiastically, sharing her love for the cuisine and suggesting they eat there. WST scoffed, appalled.

“Ethiopian food!?” he retorted, his tone conveying his sense the concept was an oxymoron. “They don’t eat! They’re starving over there!” South Park’s Starvin’ Marvin apparently taught WST all he knew of Ethiopia.

Americans misperceive Africa, but only in part due to apathy and ignorance. To them — or, perhaps “us,” because while I care, I don’t yet “get it,” having never traveled there — Africa is apartheid and “Heart of Darkness.” Deserts, Darfur and Hollywood’s “Congo.” (“There are two countries named Congo? No way!”). It is a far-off fantasyland, veiled in dreams of the Nile and savannah-scapes, drowned out by nightmares of famine and genocide.

Journalists can’t make Americans care or “get it,” but if we don’t try, we’ve already failed. The Times tries and often succeeds, but its readership and perspective limit its reach. I’m ready to take a shot — to be an American who cares and gets it, and acts as the others’ eyes and ears, sharing some stories to shake their catatonic states and show them they can help, bit by bit — or, to borrow a title phrase from Anne Lamott, bird by bird.

Law school — the work, the competition, the distance from home — has humbled me, the institution’s process grinding me down systematically, as I struggle daily to restore myself. Africa, I know, will shatter me — not slowly and methodically, but haphazardly and unexpectedly, all at once. And I’ll rebuild myself, opening new eyes to share its stories with the world.

When’s our flight? I’ll meet you at JFK.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Journalists Mostly Rise to the Challenge

NEW ORLEANS, April 19 — In this week of stark tragedy, growing, it seems, by the day, our journalists — several of them my friends and former colleagues — have risen to the challenge of painting the picture of the devastating Tech rampage. With the possible and debatable exception of NBC airing video from the killer — effectively giving him what he wanted — journalists have, I believe, used remarkably good judgment in reporting and sharing a remarkably difficult story.

In my journalism life, I've reported some tragic stories, but largely after the fact and well removed from the scene of the losses. These journalists are on the ground in one of the most intense tragedy stories in American history, trumped only in recent memory by 9/11, arguably. They've done a remarkable job to date, and I'm proud to say I've worked with them and to call them friends. They've kept Americans, myself inlcuded, in the loop and on the ground with them as we all struggle to understand and come to terms with Monday's shocking events.

A couple pieces of work particularly worth your time: Chico Harlan's Virginia Tech Journal for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, at and the on-the-ground reports from staff at The Chronicle of Higher Education, particularly Eric Hoover's second-day reports setting the scene on campus. The Chron is at and — with this content posted free of the normal subscription requirements.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sadness Still Too Similar

NEW ORLEANS, April 17 — It took to remind me of the obvious. The tragedy at Tech is all too close to home because it mirrors, in sheer number of fatalities if not in method to the madness, the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy that took 35 Syracuse University students, my predecessors as Orangemen and Orangewomen, from life.

I'm shaken by the sad similarities. Tech will be recovering from this from now until forever. And it struck me today that the 19th anniversary of Pan Am 103 is approaching rapidly, which puts us closer to 20 and still remembering, recovering.

The article is at

Too Familiar a Tragedy: Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech

NEW ORLEANS, April 16 — Eight years ago this week, an editorial board member from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle called me, seeking a young voice to comment on the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colo. My piece ran with others two days after the massacre, under the banner, "Rampage at a Colorado School."

Tonight, I'm sad to note, not much has changed but the date, the numbers, and the geography. CNN's site carries the banner, "STUDENTS SLAUGHTERED," and they were today at Virginia Tech. Thousands of miles from Littleton, 20 more killed than in that tragedy, and I find my old words ring too true.

As a newly minted 17-year-old budding journalist, I wrote, "As I watched the story unfold live on the cable news stations, the horror became increasingly evident to me." Tonight, with my 25th birthday tomorrow, the words carry more tragic weight. I've since left high school, finished college, worked, and started law school, but the tragedies of this week — in 1999 and 2007 — throw the fragility and trauma of life and death into sharp relief.

I can't help but wonder if there's something about this week that begets tragedy. Columbine, now Tech. Before them, Oklahoma City and Waco.

"I was struck by shock and utter disbelief," the 17-year-old me wrote. "A wave of numbness swept over me. As the hours progressed and information continued to be revealed, the numbness grew. Any tragedy of this magnitude is too close to home."

Today, the numbness and shock returned on hearing 27 shots ring out in a grainy video captured by cell phone. And my heart wrenches for the Virginia Tech community, and it wrenches again for academia, knowing it easily could have been here in New Orleans, or up at Columbia, or in Syraucse or Rochester.

I don't have the answers, only some questions. Let's find the solutions together to grieve and grow from this tragedy with hope that we'll never bear another like it.

Tonight, we are all Hokies, and we are with y'all at Tech.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Come visit NOLA. You'll survive. I promise.

NEW ORLEANS, April 7 — PBS's American Experience episode on New Orleans, airing as I write this post, says NOLA was once in the top five list of must-visit cities for the American wealthy. Where is it now? Probably not high.

It's probably not high on your list either, I imagine, but it should be. I could laundry list the reasons why, the sights to see, the music to hear, the food to eat, but other bloggers will give you that in more luxurious detail.

Instead, I'll tell you why you aren't already here, and why I think you won't visit. I hope you'll prove me wrong.

So you're scared of being shot? (Scared of jazz and gumbo?) You don't want to see the devastation? (You should see it, but there's a lot of city that wasn't flooded.) You don't like swamp weather? (Get here fast then, it's 43 degrees and rainy right now; 70s and sunny next week; 90 and sweaty in a month.)

I'm torn on my experience in this city. New Orleans now is remarkable — more unique, historic, and important than ever. Law school in New Orleans, however, keeps me from most of the magic, most of the time. That said, I value the time I've had here, and if I stay or if I go, New Orleans holds a special place in my soul.

"For most of its history, New Orleans had a reputation of one of the most unsanitary cities in the country," PBS American Experience says. (It's cleaner now, I promise. There's a new garbage contractor — twice weekly pickups resumed this week for the first time since Katrina.)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Eyes in New Orleans, Eyes on Africa

NEW ORLEANS, April 6 — B.S. wrote a 700-word essay today for The New York Times "Win a Trip With Nick Kristof" Contest, and it's a good piece of non-law writing, which we haven't had time to do much lately. It turned out better than B.S. expected it would, and B.S. the journalist was ready to post it here for your reading pleasure. Then B.S. the law student returned and realized the Times might acquire publication rights by its contest rules, so before posting it here, we're reading the contest rules closely to be sure we won't forfeit the trip by posting the essay. More to follow.