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Broken Celt

August 28, 2015
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We’re not talking about the Irish. We’re talkin’ about stone tools used by aboriginals.

Celts, pronounced sell-tz, found in the Northeast typically are about six inches long with a beveled edge. They are finely polished.

These simple, but beautiful implements were used for hoeing the earth. You can’t hold one in your hand and not have cosmic reflections on culture and time and the meaning of existence.

But here’s a seemingly discordant factoid: In New York, at scores of sites where prehistoric people lived, excavations have found broken celts of the highest quality.

These tools weren’t simply discarded. They were neatly broken in half and then carefully buried along with other implements.

Archeologists can’t explain it. Why would native peoples break their finest crafted tools and leave them behind?

One theory is that when native peoples decided that it was time to pick up and move on to a new location, they broke celts and left them behind as part of some ritual of gratitude to the earth that sustained their community for a time.

This post happens to be our NT2 version of a broken celt. We have to move on, too. Some of our members have assumed new jobs. Other members have obligations they can’t ignore. The result is that we can’t devote an adequate amount of time to the blog. So, we’re going to suspend it. We say suspend, instead of end, because we hope to return again one day, but we don’t know when.

As we depart, we, too, want to express our gratitude. We had this little online community were we could express our views and receive pointed responses from readers. Those responses were a source of great satisfaction for us.  In this regard, none of us derived any specific benefit from this effort other than the enjoyment of good contrarian conversation.

It occurs to us that this activity was probably quite similar to the aboriginals who gathered around a long house fire two or three thousand years ago. No doubt they had their arguments about leadership and governance in their small society. No doubt they became annoyed with each other at times. But it also seems clear from the scant record they left behind that they had a real appreciation for their surroundings and for their community. So do we. So do we.

Dispassionate Coverage Questions

August 27, 2015

Think about the way people in the broadcast media handled yesterday’s shooting in Virginia. Almost every TV and radio reporter was shocked, shaken, deeply affected.

Liz Benjamin, for example, was terribly upset on her show. She spoke of how she and her colleagues all had such “heavy hearts.” She spoke of “disbelief” that such a thing could happen to people who were part of the “newsroom family.”

We don’t mean to be critical of Liz. She’s a truly decent person. Her response was natural, sincere and, again, typical of broadcast reporters all across the state and nation.

It’s just that reporters are supposed to be – in the classic tradition – dispassionate.  And in this regard, we can’t help making this point:

Senseless acts of violence occur regularly in our society and reporters cover those events all the time in a “professional” way.

How many times have you heard something to the effect of: “Two people were killed in drive-by shooting in Schenectady last night… and in other news, Kenny Chesney will be appearing at the State Fair.”

The Virginia shooting story was covered differently – with an outpouring of sympathy for the victims by reporters themselves.

Why exactly? Why was the death of Alison Parker more tragic, more poignant, more senseless than other deaths for reporters?

Why were broadcast reporters affected so profoundly? More importantly, why did they show themselves being affected so profoundly?

We’re not being snarky in posing these questions. We just feel like the questions should be posed.

In the same vein, there are two other aspects of the coverage that were stunning to us.

First, there was the “spin” on the shooter.  Spin is not a pejorative here. It’s a word we use to describe the quick and extensive characterization of the shooter in the first few hours after the shooting.

Keep in mind that this guy wasn’t some outsider. He wasn’t Al Qaida or ISIS. He wasn’t an alienated youth.  He was reporter, too. He was a colleague of the victims – part of their “newsroom family.”

And yet, how suddenly Bryce Williams (his on air name) wasn’t gregarious, talented Bryce Williams at all. Suddenly, he was Vesper Flanagan, a person who got into arguments with and terrified other people. There were numerous anecdotes to that effect and they all fit the pattern of a loser, loner, crazed gunman.

This might be an exaggeration, but never in the history of crazed gunman has so complete and compelling a rationale been developed for a crime so quickly. Flanagan committed the crime at 7 am and was unmasked and psychoanalyzed before noon.

But was it all accurate? Maybe. Maybe it’s all is exactly as it appears to be – a deeply troubled, unstable guy who finally snapped. Or maybe there are aspects to broadcast newsrooms and the broadcast industry and the journalist’s world that haven’t been touched upon in the first 24 hours. Just maybe.

The second aspect of the coverage that is worth noting is the way the broadcast and print media diverged.

Liz and a lot of other broadcast reporters were heartbroken – but print reporters didn’t seem to blink. Little or no shock and dismay. Certainly no sentimentality. A story is a story.

This is especially true of the tabs. For them, the Virginia shooting came during a slow news period and provides multiple front page headlines. It’s wood.

Noting that might seem like a wicked shot at the tabs, but it’s actually a perverse compliment. The tabs are handling this shooting in a way that is perfectly consistent with how other stories have been covered.

It might even be said that the tabs are doing so in a way that is more journalistically rigorous than the broadcast media. The tabs are all over the shooter’s ravings about “race war,” while the broadcast media has mentioned it only briefly and in passing.

The tabs see the Virginia shooting in the context of Ferguson and race relations. So far, the broadcast media sees it in terms of the loss of a promising young talent. That’s the main thrust of the broadcast coverage, with a subtext of mental illness and maybe gun control.

So what’s our real point here?  Well it’s not to be unsympathetic to people (reporters) who have been touched by a tragedy and are trying to deal with it. We’re not suggesting that they be automatons. Perhaps we’re suggesting that the same empathy broadcast reporters brought to this story might be brought to other stories? Perhaps members of the media – having now experienced what people in other walks of life go through – will handle things with more sensitivity moving forward? Perhaps what constitutes professionalism in this profession will be reexamined? We don’t know what to make of it exactly. We know only that trying to make sense of senseless things is never quick and easy.

Judgment Day

August 19, 2015

In just about every religion, there’s some dogma that says that at the end of your life you have to account for yourself.

The Jews and the Catholics might take this the furthest. They believe that all of it counts – everything you did and said and even thought. And on Judgment Day, it’s all played back to you and you have to answer for it.

What else can you say to that except: “Damn!”

Just take the simple matter of saying something stupid. Who hasn’t done that? Who hasn’t been angry and blurted out something ill-advised? Who hasn’t been fooling around and taken it too far?

As for us, we can live with what we’ve done in life. Yeah, we’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve basically toed the line. No crimes. Nothing egregious in terms of our actual conduct, but our words?  Damn, if every dumb thing we ever uttered was put out there minus the overall context, we’d look like, at best, asses. The off-color comments, and jokes and quips – it goes beyond simply being insensitive. There have been times, in the company of other irreverent people, when we’ve mocked the very concept of sensitivity. Think of the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino – now multiply that by ten.

Gulp. We’re going to hell. For sure.

This odd personal reflection on our part is our way of recommending David Grandeau for head of the state’s public integrity agency.

Grandeau is the only guy we think can do the job in the way it needs to be done. But before we get to what that means, you have to get over of this small, insignificant hurdle:  If – Supreme Being-like – you insist on holding Grandeau to account for every crazy thing he’s ever said, well then forget it. He’s hell bound.

But if you can separate yourselves from the notion that you’re only as good as what you’ve said in your most flippant moment, then you’ll see that Grandeau is the best person for the job.

First and foremost, he’s nobody’s stooge, toady or crony. And isn’t that the imperative? Isn’t it?

Second, he doesn’t want the damn job. He’s not trying to burnish his resume or impress anyone. In fact, he’s the anti-careerist. Just read his crazy blog in which he parodies everyone in town. (Every once in a while, when we’re feeling like we might be getting a little too edgy and weird in our blog, we just dial up his blog and it makes us feel nauseatingly conventional.)

And on the matter of his crazy blog, we’ve made a crazy revelation: Perhaps the best prosecutor, the best jurist, the best person sitting in judgment of others on ethical matters is a person who at least has contemplated the other side of things.

In this regard, Grandeau, irreverent-to-the-max guy that he is, knows the crazy world of Albany from all angles and can distinguish between the appearance of a problem and a real problem.

Every New York state ethics chief since Grandeau has lacked that ability. They’ve all been grammarians who are clueless about Albany. On top of that, they’ve been pompous asses who divided the world into those who are connected to those in power and thus ethical, and everyone else.

Grandeau may be an ass, but he isn’t pompous and he doesn’t think he’s better than other people.

Most importantly, he knows that knowing influential people should mean shit when it comes to ethics.

There’s another thing he knows.  We don’t need a million new laws. We need aggressive, but fair enforcement of the ones we have.

Grandeau! Seriously.

Malta

August 17, 2015

Wanna know a secret?  Andrew Cuomo never believed in economic development policy. It was never his thing. To get a sense of that, just think about his jobs policy when he first ran for governor. What was it again? Oh yeah, he wanted to rebuild the Erie Canal. Snicker.

Until very recently, Cuomo’s stubborn opinion was that there wasn’t much a state government could do to turn around a regional economy.

Thankfully, this belief didn’t keep Cuomo from launching some bold initiatives – the Buffalo billion, Regional Economic Councils, START UP and a massive expansion of the state’s nano-tech investment.

That’s an impressive array of initiatives. It really is. But now for some, ahem, qualifiers:

The Buffalo billion? It was a brilliant repackaging of a lower level of economic development assistance going to the region.

Regional Economic Development Councils? Rather than being “a total recast” of how economic aid is doled out and “a new empowering” of local decision makers, it was and is an exercise in total Cuomo-nian control. All the participants in the regional councils privately acknowledge this.

START UP? It’s a massive PR campaign which, if you had to do an accounting analysis right now, would show the state paying $350,000 for every $50,000 job created.

Nano? There’s been this bizarre uprooting of nano-science capabilities from Albany where it appeared to be taking hold to Utica. Why exactly? Well, other than to disprove the notion that Utica is “the City that God Forgot,” there wasn’t and isn’t a strong rationale.

All of that said: The Buffalo billion has worked; there is a turnaround in WNY. The Regional Councils have indeed involved locals like never before. START UP could end up being the most successful economic development policy since the … you guessed it… Erie Canal. And upstate New York is now known worldwide as a nanotech center.

As a result – Read more…

Thomas P. Dinapoli

August 17, 2015

We have new appreciation for TPD. We’re not sure when we acquired it exactly. At some point a while back, it just occurred to us that this guy is pretty steady. He does his job without a lot of fanfare – pounding out audits that are announced without hyperventilating prose. And that’s what a comptroller should do. No particular drama, just the facts.

Last week, TPD issued a release that is a kind of metaphor for what he does. It was about the timeliness of subway trains in NYC. Actually, it was about the increasing lack of timeliness by said trains. The operative paragraph in the release was as follows:

“On weekdays in 2013, subways were on time 80.5 percent of the time. Those delays worsened in 2014, when just 74 percent of trains were on time. Subsequently, the MTA lowered its (target) goal to 75 percent of subways running on time. The five other major U.S. transportation systems contacted by auditors had an on-time performance goal of at least 90 percent.”

If TPD and his auditors had wanted to underscore the point about other subway systems having high goals and better performance than the MTA, they might have cited statistics for the Hong Kong, Tokyo or London subway systems. NYC simply isn’t in the same league as those systems. It could be and should be, but it isn’t. Instead, the MTA is defining down its measures of what constitutes “on time.”

Writ-large digression: Isn’t New York City, greatest city in the world, supposed to be about excellence? Don’t we do it bigger and better here? Don’t we insist upon winning always? What happened to that attitude? Is it really ok for the MTA to define “on time” as just 75 percent of the time?

Back to TPD: Think of the crap this guy has had to put up with over the years. In ’07, Spitzer didn’t want the selection process to be an exercise in political power by Assembly Majority Conference. Spitzer had a point. Given looming economic problems, it would have made sense to pick a person with a financial background. Others in the mix were superior to TPD in that regard. That said, TPD didn’t deserve to be run down as some kind of hack.

Subsequently, it took a long time for TPD to earn respect. Cuomo didn’t help. Anytime the Comptroller’s office issued an audit of the obvious – like when he noted that overtime costs were soaring in many state agencies – Cuomo’s people would savage TPD in response. He always had restraint in those circumstances, restraint Cuomo and his people would mock as vacillating weakness. In fact, in a really low point of Albany discourse, Fred Dicker, once quoted “a senior Cuomo administration official,” which was, of course, Cuomo himself, referring to Dinapoli as “CB,” which stood for “chipmunk balls.”

TPD never hit back against that and other sleights by Cuomo and his people. Instead, he just kept plugging away. And it’s evident that he is today a pretty good comptroller.  No, you don’t call him intrepid. He’s not one to stretch the limits of his office.  But he is focused on core functions and he is competent.

For this, he really hasn’t received the respect he deserves. Yes, he’s well liked and always has been, but he isn’t regarded as powerful and influential. In fact, there’s a sense in political circles that he’s gone as far as he’s going to go. And of the notion that he might be a gubernatorial candidate one day, there’s eye rolling. This is due to his always anemic fundraising. It’s also due to a perceived lack of intensity. He’s said to be “too nice.”

In this regard, there was this moment a while back when President Obama mispronounced his name at an event. He said: “Comptroller Deena-POLL-ee is in the house. Give it up for him.”

Any other New York pol and his team would have been offended, outraged, fuming, but TPD just shrugged and smiled. No big deal.

Come to think of it, this might have been moment when we really started to like and respect TPD. He’s not like other pols who are so incredibly full of themselves. He’s above that.

The Most Interesting Man in the World

August 10, 2015

He has never lost a game of chance.

The guy who plays this character in the Dos Equis commercials is an actor from New York City named Jonathan Goldsmith.  He does a nice job in the role, but the most interesting man in the world is really… Chuck Schumer.

No kidding. He’s certainly the most interesting and influential man in U.S. politics today.

…Presidents take his birthday off.

This particular moment – with the Iran nuke deal – will be written about in history books, but the historians won’t get it any more right than media commentators. That’s because, with Chuck, there’s always more than meets the eye. Always. But nobody seems to get that – especially people like Michael Goodwin and others who are just looking for validation of their own opinions.

Digression: What happened to Goodwin? Was he a closet Republican at the Times and Daily News? Or did he just adopt that persona when he went to work at the Post and Fox News?

Back to Chuck and the nuances.  Chuck’s words were clear enough – he said it was a bad deal and he wasn’t going to support it. Goodwin and the Fox News types nearly soiled themselves with joy over this, but, hello, what else did Chuck do?

He did an extraordinary thing. He stood down in terms of working against the deal. And when a legislative leader of his consummateskill in marshaling votes for and against initiatives is on the sidelines during a fight, it’s significant.

Think about that one. If Chuck had bought into anti-Obama mania, if he was convinced that the deal was truly going to undermine national security, if he believed that Israel’s very existence was threatened, he wouldn’t have said: “I’m going to vote against this deal, but I’m not going to ask others to join me in opposition.”

No. There’d be zero logic to that. You can’t believe the deal is selling out Israel and the trigger to Armageddon and not dedicate yourself to defeating it.  If you believe the deal is bad, you must work to defeat it.

Is he doing that? Far from it. Kirstin Gillibrand came out in favor of the deal at the same time Chuck was expressing his opposition. And that didn’t just happen, did it?

We all know Gillibrand doesn’t go against Chuck on major issues. Some people say that she’s Chuck’s “ward” in the Senate, but that’s simplistic and demeaning of her to say it that way. The nicer way is to say that she has a strategic partnership with Chuck.

A strategic partnership with Chuck? That’s like saying: “When in Rome, they do what he does.”

Chuck is TMIMITW. Truly. And yet, for some bizarre reason, there’s virtually no media scrutiny of him. Oh, there are headlines, which he writes himself. There’s just no digging. No probing. No real analysis.

When is the last time anyone profiled him? Can anybody remember a meaningful Times’ takeout? What about a book? Why are there multiple books on Andrew Cuomo and none on Chuck?

Just think of the chapters in a Schumer book:

What exactly was Chuck’s relationship with Spitzer? And what was his relationship with the people who brought Spitzer down?

What did Chuck say when Preet asked for his advice on the Moreland matter?

What did Chuck say to David Paterson when Paterson was thinking about appointing Caroline Kennedy?

Who recommended that exercise machine to Harry Reid?

When he goes to Spain, the bulls run from him.

Why do we know so nauseatingly much about Andrew and Mario, Andrew and Kerry, Andrew and Sandra, and Andrew and Mayor Bill and comparatively nothing about Chuck and his relationships?

Again, the ink Chuck generates is prodigious, but it’s all self-manufactured.

Who is this man? Really now, who is he?

He scored a perfect 1,600 on his SAT. (He thought he made a mistake once, but he was wrong.) He aced Harvard and Harvard Law. At 22, he became the youngest member of the state legislature in history. And at 28, he was elected to the Congress…

If opportunity knocks and he’s not at home, opportunity waits.

Here’s something absolutely stunning to us:  In four decades in public office, there’s never been a single disgruntled Schumer staffer. Not one. And how can that be? He’s employed hundreds of people, and none have left and said anything but: “I learned so much from him.”

Come on now, how can that be? Say that he’s brilliant, say he’s a decent, dedicated public servant – and he is. But how is it that nobody from the inside has ever so much as told a joke about him?

… If he was to pat you on your back, you’d list it on your resume.

It’s the stuff of modern day legend, isn’t it?

Defense of DeBlasio

August 6, 2015

We’ve been harsh toward Bill DeBlasio.

We expressed disdain for the fact that he changed his name and disavowed his own father. He was actually born Warren Wilhelm Jr., son of an extraordinary man who was a Harvard and Yale grad and hero in WWII.

Our frame of reference, having had great Dads and being proud of our families, didn’t allow us to understand what it might be like to have a father who was “seized by demons.”

Similarly, we got personal when we criticized DeBlasio’s use of his kids as “political props” in his campaign. We couldn’t fathom how anyone would do that. Our every instinct would be to shield our kids from the media. But that’s between DeBlasio and his wife and the kids. Not our concern. And rather than this being some awful thing, like we feared, his kids appear to have thrived in the spotlight.

Lastly, we criticized the Mayor for being so focused on far left politics instead of the fundamentals of running a city. We’re on firmer ground here because it’s a purely political assessment.

That said, once everyone began jumping on DeBlasio for this perceived transgression, our views began to change.

The catalyst was the truly excessive outcry a short while ago when it was revealed that DeBlasio had met with unions and “plotted” a political campaign against the Senate Republicans. Everyone said: “There he goes again. He’s so misguided. He’s going to repeat his mistake from last session and kill his chances to get his agenda passed in the State Legislature.”

In the middle of all this criticism, we said to ourselves: “Wait a minute. Why is this so outrageous? He’s a Democrat and he’s supporting other Democrats. Isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?”

Of course it is. In fact, it’s only in a whacky Cuomo alternate universe that this seems unorthodox.

Moreover, why is it “bad politics?” Didn’t the Republicans just lose Skelos and Libous. Aren’t they paralyzed by the fear of Mike Long and teetering on the brink of extinction? Isn’t a distinct possibility that the Dems, duh, take over soon?

Yeah. Yeah. All of that is right and DeBlasio, simply ahead of the game, will end up looking good and sitting pretty.

In the same vein, it occurred to us that while it was a shitty thing for DeBlasio, as a former top staffer to Hillary, to withhold his support for her, it might not be a bad strategic play.

Why? Well, she’s no lock. And if there’s real competition for the Dem nod, it will, no doubt, be with some far left guy like Bernie Sanders, and in that event,  DeBlasio’s endorsement, as darling of the left, could be a lot more influential. Holding off would enable him to get far more in return for it.

Hmm. Maybe DeBlasio isn’t a lazy lummox after all. In fact, taking a huge step back, it occurs to us that DeBlasio, although he’s 50-something and aging rapidly in office, has a far more youthful orientation than any of his critics.

He’s got an audience. He’s got a demographic. He’s got a message. And yeah, he might yet be onto something.

Mark our words – he might be on to something.

Relevant, arrogant digression: A while back, this dorky little blog of ours might have been the ONLY outlet in the entire galaxy that didn’t totally dismiss Donald Trump. In fact, we took the media to task for what we thought was biased reporting against him. We suggested that, contrary to the running narrative of his being a buffoon, he might actually surprise people.

Now we hate people who make lucky guesses and say: Hah. Told you so? … But, hah, told you so!

We have the same feeling now. It might, it just might be the case that DeBlasio’s positioning, so roundly criticized right now, may look really good in a few months or next year.