Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dumb questions dept.

Last night, NBC News led its newscast with the results of a new poll on the economy.
One of the questions was, do you think the recession is over?

A reported 70 percent of those asked said the recession was not over. Here is a story on the poll.

This seems like a world-class stupid question to me.

A recession has an economic definition about the economy suffering at least two consecutive quarters of losses. This is not a matter of opinion, it's a fact.

Therefore, asking if the recession is over is like asking if the New England Patriots won Sunday's football game with the Buffalo Bills.

Now, if someone wants to ask if the economic slump is over, that's a different story. That's more of a matter of opinion. The pollsters could ask about confidence, hope for the future, etc.

But it's tough to have a discussion if we don't speak the same language.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ghoulish behavior

You can argue that reading the Wall Street Journal is something about as much fun as watching Fox News -- and I'd agree with you, particularly when it comes to columnists. But they do come up with great offbeat features for the middle/bottom of page one.

Today's will be loved by anyone who watch the movie "Night of the Living Dead." The author of the story talks to oldest living ghoul from the movie. You can read the story by going here.

If you missed the black-and-white classic, you should know that it deals with the dead coming to life and terrorizing an area of suburban Pittsburgh. I believe I can still make Glenn Locke laugh by quoting an interview with the Sheriff character in the movie. When asked if the ghouls are fast targets, he replies in a Southern accent, "No, they're dead ... they're pretty slow." And when asked how to stop them, he said, "You get the ghoul's brain, you get the whole ghoul."

Shakespeare, eat your heart out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Strange encounter

I was in the Walden Galleria today, sitting on one of the benches and sipping a drink so that I could finish it and enter a store. In other words, I was minding my own business.

Then a man walked up toward me and pointed at my t-shirt, which was a souvenir of the "Buffalo's Smartest Company" fund-raising competition, sponsored by a credit union. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to the top of my shirt.

"It was from a contest," I replied nervously.

"Buffalo ... that whole place is a ghetto," he said. "Everything's boarded up."

"I live in Buffalo, and it's not a ghetto."

"Where do you live?"

"Near the Zoo."


"Near the Zoo."

I was drinking faster at this point.

After a pause, he said, "Look at that woman with the big butt. Did you know that 75 percent of all Americans are obese?"

"I think that's a little high," I said.

After hearing about how much he liked the food court at the Galleria ("I eat something and read the paper for an hour," he said), out of the blue came: "There's nothing made in America. Everything is made in China."

"I don't think it's everything."

"Yup, that's why Buffalo is a ghetto."

Gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp.

"Have a nice day."

You just don't expect street people in a mall. Wonder if he votes?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

End of the story

It looks like we have some closure on "Rayzor's Edge."

You remember "Rayzor's Edge." It was the book that I did with Rob Ray. The publication came out in November 2007. Happily for me, the hard-cover edition sold out in Western New York in less than four weeks. It actually was the best-selling winter sports book in America at times, according to the sales counter kept by

The publisher was Sports Publishing LLC of Illinois. I had gone through a few odd experiences along the way with it, including stories from other writers about not getting paid. I also had an editor with the company who lasted, oh, about a week and a half before departing.

Was I nervous about that? You betcha, to quote a certain Alaskan ex-politician. But we (Rob and I both) got a check for our advance in January once we had fulfilled our publicity obligations. We had to pay the photographer out of that, but that was the deal and we fulfilled our end of it.

The paperback version finally came out in late April of 2008. That was nice, except for the fact that it arrived AFTER the Sabres had been eliminated from the playoffs. You might guess that it hurt sales, and you'd probably be right.

We were supposed to get paid in May and November. My guess was that we had sold 4,000 copies of the hardcover edition, but when asked about it (and getting some badgering from me) the publisher said we hadn't reached a high enough number in sales to get more money. Honestly, I didn't see how that could be possible, but I simply swallowed. Besides, we were never told how many copies were actually printed, so it was hard to know how much we might be owed.

The Sports Publishing Web site more or less stopped updating in June, and soon I started getting notes from the bankruptcy court of Chicago, Illinois. The Court got my address wrong, filling me with confidence. I checked with a lawyer who read the contract and said it might help me move closer to the front of the line when it came to payments. In other words, I might get 10 cents on the dollar instead of zero.

Every so often, for months and months, I'd receive a legal notice about some procedure. A few months ago, I got a note saying that the court had agreed to pay the lawyers a fee for their services. My first reaction was "What did they ever write?" However, I wasn't exactly ready to drive to Chicago to complain.

Finally, a short while ago, I received another notice saying the filing had been dismissed. What could that mean? I checked with a local lawyer, and she said the leftover assets probably had just been given to the main creditor, probably a bank, and there was nothing left for me or anyone else. Nice, huh?

I still don't know how many copies were sold, or how much I would have gotten in better times. I'm still glad I wrote the book; it's a good story that a lot of people liked. Besides, it could lead to more opportunities for me. The book also will be an ad for Rob for the rest of his life and thus help him in the years to come.

But as Scott Morrison of Toronto once told me, "Don't expect to get rich writing a sports book." He was right about that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What happened?

The New York Republican primary certainly got some attention nationally this week, as Carl Paladino's remarks during the campaign were rehashed. But something got overlooked.

Where the heck did the result come from?

Granted, state primaries aren't exactly surveyed to death. There are only a few polls done statewide in such circumstances.

What's more, primaries are strange animals. Not that many people bother to cast ballots in such elections. That's only in part because they didn't want to spend the new voting machines used in New York State this year. (And what exactly was wrong with the old ones, anyway?)

But this result was clearly out of the blue.

There was one recent survey done on the race between Paladino and Rick Lazio near the actual day of the election. It had the two men in a dead heat. Then on election day, Paladino came out a winner, 62 to 38.

If my math is any good, that's a 24-percent difference. That's a long way from a dead heat. Did that many voters change their mind in the span of a couple of days? I think not.

Something obviously went very wrong with the polling process. OK, I know Lazio's campaign was about as thrilling as the Bills' offense against Miami on Sunday. (Note to non-football fans: They were awful.) My guess is that the polling company did a bad job of figuring out which voters were likely to cast ballots, perhaps because of old lists.

It sure sounds like the so-called Tea Partiers were under the radar in New York, and misrepresented by the poll. Does that mean they haven't voted before, and that we're getting a new generation of voters here?

It would be nice to get some information on this. Otherwise, I'll see further polls results about New York with some degree of skepticism.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Run, Phil, Run

And after yesterday's rant, here's someone with obviously cares.

A tip of the hat to Brad Riter for pointing this guy out to me. I found a slightly different version, with comments added, that works really well:

Monday, September 13, 2010

In the mailbox...

I live in a household in which one person is a registered Republican, and one person is a registered Democrat. This means that we get twice the mail when it comes to primary season.

This is not good news, especially for the mailman. We have been overrun with direct mail in the past couple of weeks. Most of it is predictable, especially the color photos of the sponsoring candidate and the grainy black-and-white shots of "the other candidate." At this point, after getting stuff on a daily basis for days, it tends to go directly to the recycle bin.

One piece of mail did get through my filter the other day, though. It was from Carl Paladino, a Republican candidate for Governor. On the envelope, something along the lines of "Stop the mosque on Ground Zero" were printed.

Yes, I know. It's a sensitive issue, especially to those who lost loved ones there. But there are plenty of facts worth noting.

The building that currently occupies that space is two blocks away from the World Trade Center site. It has hosted a Muslim prayer group for years. People go in there all the time to pray.

We do have freedom of religion in this country. The Constitution guarantees it. So where, Mr. Paladino, would you put the line for where religious freedom starts? It's obviously more than two blocks, since you want to stop the mosque there. But since there are mosques all over Manhattan, it must be less than a few miles.

I tend to be rather absolute on such Constitutional matters. You walk off Ground Zero, you can do what you want. I would bet that if someone put a church or chapel on the grounds where the Oklahoma City explosion took place, no one would blame Christianity because Timothy McVeigh was raised in a certain religion.

Paladino has all sorts of "issues" that probably would prevent him from being an effective Governor. He's obviously used to doing whatever he wants without fear of payback, because bosses often do that. (I used to work for one; it wasn't fun.) You've heard of Paladino's problems with racist and sexist e-mails; there's also an allegation of improper behavior at a variety show a few years ago. That's all probably disqualifying behavior, but only believing in the Constitution is a bigger problem. Much bigger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In heaven, there is no...

It is rare indeed that a letter to the editor in a newspaper prompts something of a theological discussion in the sports department. But it actually happened the other day.

Someone wrote a letter in tribute to Bob Summers; it was printed in today's newspaper. The author was quite eloquent in his tribute to Bob, how much he enjoyed Bob's work and how he'll miss him.

As a closer, the writer said he hoped Bob was watching such horses as Secretariat, Barbaro, Bret Hanover and Niatross at a heavenly race track. It's a comforting thought, for Bob's sake. He'd have been thrilled about that possibility.

I was reading the letter to get it ready for publication the other day, when something struck me. I told the person sitting next to me about the contents of the letter, and I blurted out, "I never considered the possibility of horses going to heaven. I've heard of people hoping to see a favorite dog or cat in heaven, but race horses haven't come up."

And that led to a discussion about the afterlife. As in, while it might be heavenly to watch the great horses run again, what about the horse's point of view?

If you could ask a horse about his life -- and I assume only Mr. Ed could give you a good answer -- the racing part would be the least favorite part of it. At that stage in their lives, horses get up really early in the morning, train regularly, and run in some races. Did I mention someone puts a jockey weighing close to 120 pounds on the horse's back during those runs? You try that. Oh, and if the horse isn't meeting expectations in those races, he gets whipped for his trouble. I suppose this is better than a lifetime of pulling a milk wagon, but it's probably not much fun.

Then, after the horse "retires," he goes to a nice farm somewhere. He spends the rest of his life romping on the grass, eating hay and oats. Plus, he has sex on a regular basis with the finest-looking fillies in the land. The stallion does this for years and years and years.

So, Secretariat, after living an easy life for so long, you die and go to heaven and discover that it's time to start working out and running and getting whipped again. Citation wants a piece of you on the track, and so does Man o'War. Secretariat probably would think shortly after arrival, "I want to go back to the farm, and now."

It's a good thing that the afterlife, if there is one, is generally thought to be beyond our comprehension. A man could get dizzy considering the possibilities.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Happy One

Bob, Bob, Bob. What am I going to do for dinner now?

Last Saturday night, Bob Summers and I had dinner together in the News break room. This was nothing new for us. I'd estimate we had done that close to 150 times a year for the past few years. That's more than either of us ever ate with our respective wives in that span.

It turned out to be our last meal together. After work at midnight, Bob headed for the casino in Niagara Falls. He apparently suffered a heart attack at the blackjack table and died later that night at the age of 66.

We say the usual cliches in such situations, but they are true. This was very unexpected, and Bob left us too soon.

I'm not sure about the exact moment when I first met Bob. It was probably on the softball field in the early 1980's, as my pesky WEBR team would figure out a way to beat his powerful News Blues. I remember asking Jim Kelley once about News horse racing columnist Bart McCracken around that era. Jim laughed and told me to look carefully at the picture. Since Bob was in the financial department at the time, he had to use a fake name to write in sports. The column picture was of Bob, hidden behind binoculars the size of a small car. Bob moved over to sports shortly after that, and was there when I arrived at The Buffalo News in 1994.

Bob had a unique place in my life. We worked side-by-side for years in the sports department, usually on nights and weekends. Indeed, Bob jokingly talked about writing a book called, "What to do in Buffalo when your weekend is on Tuesdays and Wednesdays." While most people preferred to eat their meals at their desk, Bob and I both saw the value of getting up, walking down a flight of stairs, and eating away from the area that held us captive for the other seven and a half hours a night.

What do people talk about, night after night? Lots of things, as you'd expect. There was always journalism, of course. Copy editors are people are can pick nits with the best of them, getting into arguments over such things as whether the "A" in Around & About should be capitalized in our paper, or whether it should be double-header or doubleheader. The big issues of journalism would come up too, and not just those involving sports. Bob was one of the few people in the department who seemed to read serious, nonfiction books -- a kindred spirit in that sense.

This being Buffalo, the latest news surrounding the Bills would always be a subject of conversation. It would often be sarcastic -- "Think that Chan Gailey hiring will send people sprinting to the ticket windows?" -- but backed by the feeling that we'd be a little happier if the team actually won some games every once in a while.

Then once we got past the usual anecdotes about family, or politics, or whatever, there were hobbies. That means in my case, he had to listen about such subjects as running. When I'd say I had to get up early to run in a race the next morning, Bob would gently deflate me by saying, "And who exactly is forcing you to run in this race?"

In Bob's case, talk of outside activities usually meant gambling in general -- or horse racing in particular. I'm not sure anyone loved anything as much as Bob loved racing. He often said how he had spent a night looking over a Racing Form as he attempted to handicap the next day's card.

Sometimes I'd sit in the break room, listening to Bob, and marvel at the way he connected almost anything to horse racing. You couldn't stump him. Here's an example of Bob's single-minded focus. In August, Saratoga hosted the Bernard Baruch Handicap, in honor of the architect of some of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal financial plans. Bob had heard of him, because Baruch was a big supporter of racing once upon a time. But when I said, "What's next, the Ben Bernanke Stakes?" Bob answered, "Who's Ben Bernanke?" I used that line about the Federal Reserve chairman in our daily joke column, Five Spot, secure in the knowledge that it was one joke Bob wouldn't get.

The funny part of the relationship was that Bob and I rarely socialized outside of work. Bob had a routine that worked for him, and it was tough to get him away from that. One time we went to a Bisons' afternoon game together. He wanted to sit downstairs in the sun and drink beer; I wanted to sit upstairs in the shade, eat popcorn, and keep score. He won -- and we never tried it again. One time I invited him over for a poker game with my high school friends. Unless the game was five-card draw, Bob said, "Deal me out," and merely watched us play some silly wild-card games that took a team of accountants to follow.

But Bob was someone you could count on. A couple of times a year, I'd need a ride to the eye doctor because the drops left me incapable of driving home. If Bob could do it, he'd be there with a smile on his face. In fact, I rarely saw Bob in a bad mood, especially in the workplace. That sort of consistent good cheer is quite rare, and appreciated.

Maybe that's why I always tried to have Bob's back when necessary. Earlier this year, I noticed that Bob's picks for a Triple Crown race had gone wrong. That happens sometimes; if it were easy to pick winners, everyone would do it. Some blog commentator had left the message, "Your picks stink," for all to see. That just wasn't fair. I found the delete key, and the nasty message went to cyber-heaven.

Bob kept trying to predict the future even after the bad days like that one. I always felt he would have fit right into the newsroom of the Forties and Fifties, covering racing full-time. He always thought the next race would come out the way he thought it would, and he always thought a day at the track was the best place to spend his time. Racing isn't what it used to be, of course, but when Bob was at the track he was the happiest of handicappers.

Bob once told me that life was too short to miss one of the Triple Crown races, so he started making sure he went to every one starting in 1978. It's a comforting thought that he'll be watching those races now from a great seat looking down on the track. For us, still in the grandstand, we'll miss his gentle wit, good nature, and company.

As for dinner time, it will never be the same.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Glee club

I didn't see the opening to the Emmys last week, but heard plenty about it. And now, here it is.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Margaret and Mary

In early August, I ran in something called "The Celebrity 5K." It was sponsored by the Buffalo Broadcasters Association, an organization which is devoted to preserving the area's broadcast history. I finished 137th in the race, which does not make me the 137th biggest celebrity in the media. I'm a ways below that.

But wherever I am in line, I dropped a couple of spots this week. That's because Margaret Russ-Guenther and Mary Brady passed me when it was announced they would be inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. Me, I've only visited Hall of Fames. They're in one.

The idea of "institional memory" is thrown around in business books, referring to someone who has been around the workplace long enough to remember the good times, the good people, and the mistakes. There should be a picture of Margaret and Mary by the term, because they defined the phrase for a couple of area radio stations. In other words, they really did run the place, albeit in different ways.

During my several years at WEBR, I had more dealings with Margaret than Mary. That's because many of her responsibilities put her in direct contact with the AM side. Margaret was something of the house mother to a place that at times did look like a frat house, filled with young people who had a little too much energy. Someone had to keep law and order, and Margaret helped keep things running smoothly.

She did it with a ruthlessly efficient style that could ruffle a few feathers but in hindsight certainly was quite necessary. Somehow, the station logs got done, the pay checks were handed out, paperwork found the proper destination, and a million other details were handled. You crossed her at your own risk. Entering Margaret's office was a particularly challenging experience. She sat with her back to the window, so that when you entered she was back-lit so that her face was covered in shadow. That only added to the imtimidation factor when you entered her domain after something had gone wrong.

Luckily for all us, there was an ample good side there as well. She always treated me with respect and good humor, perhaps because I always tried to do the same. Besides, once a while she had to come into my area of expertise. Margaret reviewed a book once a week, and I was the studio engineer in charge of recording her two-minute commentaries. I was impressed that she found the time to read a whole book once a week, let alone one that she liked. In fact, I don't think she ever did a negative review during my engineering career. For those who think the media always accentuates the negative, I'll submit the scripts of those reviews as evidence to the contrary.

Mary had similar roles for WNED-FM, which was and is the classical musical station. The FM crew was upstairs on 23 North Street, while the AM operation was in the back. That meant our paths rarely crossed. When they did cross, we struggled to find common ground for conversation. Peter Goldsmith would occasionally walk into the sports office because he was a hockey fan. Otherwise, most of us on the AM side would confuse Johan Sebastian Bach with Catherine Bach of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Since we had so little in common, the AM people needed something of an interpreter when we bravely ventured into the world of FM. That interpreter was Mary. When someone would venture up the stairs into the strange world of classical music, Mary would be there to point us in the proper direction.

The word comes to mind for her is "cheerful," enough though "full of cheer" might be a better way of expressing it. Mary always seemed to be in a good mood, ready with a smile and laugh for anyone who greeted her. She, too, kept the trains of a radio station running on time.

As I get older, I increasingly realize the importance of veterans like Margaret and Mary and engineer Don Lange, who when asked in 1980 how long it had been since the basement had been used as an office replied, "Well, I got here in 1937, and I've never seen it occupied." People like that provide the link between the people who pass through a building while working in a business not known for employment longevity.

So by honoring Margaret and Mary, the Buffalo Broadcasters Association honors all those who all those people who through the years worked behind the scenes to keep the business operating. Let's hope they take the honor as a belated substitute for two words they probably didn't hear enough during their tenure: "thank you."