Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Our turn

(Mensana, the monthly newsletter of the local chapter of Mensa, usually doesn't discuss the events of the day in its pages. However, we thought it was necessary to address the mass shootings that took place in Buffalo earlier this month. For better or worse, I volunteered to come up with something. Maybe you'll like it.)

It was difficult to escape the aftermath of the mass shootings in Buffalo on Saturday, May 14. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. 

After a difficult week for everyone in our area, my wife and I drove to a social event with friends and others in Northern New Jersey. Usually when word gets out at such functions that we’re from Buffalo, someone says something clever like “Has the snow melted up there yet?” But this time the questions were different - numerous and serious. People wanted to know how close we were to the site of the incident, and how we and others in this part of the world reacted to it. That was no different from what happened earlier in the week, when people from various parts of our lives checked in. We even heard from a friend in Perth, Australia, which is as far as you can go from Buffalo and still be on land. 

Like everyone else in Western New York, my reaction was shock, but not surprise. There are too many shootings like this one in America, of course, because one is too many. But every so often, one pops up in another city or town. One friend of mine works at Virginia Tech University, and spent a terror-filled day there. Another friend of mine lived up a hill from the supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, that saw a similar attack. These incidents arrive like, well, a virus – in unexpected places without warning. It was, simply enough, our turn. 

On the way back, we drove past the town of Conklin, which is located on Interstate 81 south of Binghamton near the Pennsylvania border. It used to be the home of the Buffalo shooter, who won’t be identified so he doesn’t receive any publicity, even here. As we drove back to Buffalo, it was easy to imagine the assailant driving that same route over the course of nearly four hours, intent on returning to a Buffalo neighborhood that he previously scouted for a high percentage of African American citizens. 

No one goes on that sort of drive lightly. Yet this 18-year-old managed to drive that distance while staying angry enough to complete his horrible mission. Where did all of the hate that fueled that drive come from? Certainly none of the shoppers in Tops that peaceful Saturday afternoon did anything to him, so we’ll never be able to understand his motivation. That means we’ll never be able to put this completely behind us, even when we just stop at a store for a gallon of milk and some bananas. 

We have argued as a society over the causes of such actions, and what we should be doing to try to prevent them. It’s fair to say, though, that the current approach isn’t working. Maybe we need to start by figuring out why people hate others who are merely different from themselves. 

In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for the next incident. Whose turn will it be then?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Review: Newsroom Confidential (2022)

Ever read a published autobiography of someone you know?

It is an odd feeling. A couple of college friends of mine have published books that are more like memoirs, revealing pieces of themselves along the way. For the most part, I was pretty clueless about those pieces, so it was interesting to learn about those previously unknown aspects of their lives (at least to me).

That brings us to "Newsroom Confidential," by Margaret Sullivan, the media critic from The Washington Post. Almost everything except the skeleton of her life's work was new to me.

Margaret, you see, was my boss at The Buffalo News for several years. She moved on to bigger and better things, as her current title indicates. When I had the chance to obtain an e-copy of the book well in advance of the publication date, I jumped at the opportunity. The price I had to pay was a review of the book, so here it is.

Sullivan grew up in the Buffalo area and quickly landed at The Buffalo News after college and a short stint at the Niagara Gazette. But I first met her through softball, oddly enough. I was working for the Buffalo Sabres at that point in the late 1980s, and I played on a softball team that mostly consisted of Buffalo News employees. We weren't too good, but we were literate. 

Sometimes the team would go out for food and drink after games, and significant others would show up. One of our players was married to Margaret at the time, and she joined us occasionally. It was always interesting talking to her on such occasions, even in a large group. So I started paying more attention to what she was writing in the newspaper, which at one point was a regular Sunday column that usually was the best thing printed on that particular day. I remember at one point Margaret received a promotion that would force her to give up the column. I said to her, "I certainly understand why you won't be writing the Sunday column any more, but I'm going to miss it." Her reply was along the lines of "Yes, it is a good opportunity for me, but I appreciate the compliment." You're heard of the smartest person in the room? Margaret always was the smartest person in the bar after games. 

Eventually, I landed at The News in the sports department, ready to begin a run that lasted 23 years. Sullivan wasn't the editor in chief yet, but she soon took that step to be the boss of the newsroom. I probably could count the number of contacts with her that went beyond "hello" on two hands ... if not one. She worked during the day and I worked at night; besides, the sports editor preferred to run his own little fiefdom, and did so effectively. 

Naturally, the part on life in Buffalo is the portion of the book that was of great interest to me as a former employee. I can report that only a couple of people came off as a little less than honorable. Most of those chapters are devoted to some of the issues that came up at the newspaper in that era. To be honest, I can't imagine it would be particularly interesting to those in the "outside world." But I'm not a fair judge of that, under the circumstances.

When Sullivan left The News to go to the New York Times in 2012, no one seemed to be too surprised. It takes plenty of effort and ambition to be the editor of a newspaper, and Margaret had plenty of both qualities. She admits that her personal drive played a big role in the end of her marriage, something that many of us guessed could happen back in the day.  

At the Times, she became the Public Editor. As jobs in journalism go, this is an odd one. Sullivan was an independent voice in the newsroom, asking questions about how the Times went about the business of daily journalism and answering them on line and in print. It can't be easy to be the "scold" in the office - showing up at someone's door or in someone's email when something may have gone wrong in the process. I suppose an agent for the Internal Revenue Service knows the feeling.

The chapters on her years at The Times vary in interest level. Some significant and interesting issues came up along the way, and Sullivan reviews them here with depth and thoughtfulness. It's also fair to add that the material on the inner workings of the New York newspaper such as comings and goings seemed like "inside baseball" - more interesting to those inside the building than outside of it.

Eventually, Sullivan was worn down by that job - easy to see why - and jumped at the chance to work in the Washington Post's Style section as a media critic. It's quite fair to say it's a good niche for her, as she combined the smarts and the writing ability that were on display in her days as a columnist in Buffalo. Many of her columns have received national attention, in part because she has written points of view that no one else is saying.

And as you'd expect, the most interesting parts of the book are discussions about the issues came up in the five-plus years since she joined the Post. Obviously, Donald Trump hovers over much of those stories. His time in the Presidency busted several norms, to put it nicely, and caused journalists to examine how to do their jobs more effectively. We're still trying to figure out what the new rules should be.

Most of the autobiographies by journalists that I've read usually concentrate on the author's encounters with others. (Sports writer and broadcaster Dick Schaap prided himself on how many names he dropped in his book.) That's because reporters usually interact with interesting people on the outside world. I'm not sure if the autobiographical format was ideal for a story like "Newsroom Confidential," which is not like that. Most would rather eat and digest the hot dog rather than learn about how the sausage was manufactured. But, to further strain the analogy, some of the book is still pretty tasty.

In other words, Margaret is still the smartest person in the bar. We can always learn something from people like that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

At the finish line, sort of

Saturday morning marked a perfect storm for the climax of the endless Presidential campaign. The actual voting had taken place on Tuesday, but a number of issues (mail voting, close state elections, etc.) delayed the announcement of an outcome until Saturday - even if the outcome was apparent by then. 

I was in the shower when my wife yelled out the news - "Pennsylvania had been decided." I finished my business and headed to the television for confirmation. Sure enough, the analysts had decided that Joe Biden had done enough to claim victory. 

The news came at exactly the right time for an unprecedented celebration, mostly because of the timing. Usually we find out the identity of the next President around midnight on a Tuesday at the earliest. This time, there was an entire Saturday afternoon in front of us, with nothing but blue skies and warm temperatures in the Northeast waiting. So the news reports soon switched to scenes from big cities, where there was literally dancing in the streets. I can't remember anything like it in the political scene. Note: It is not a good sign about your public standing when people react to your upcoming unemployment by acting as if we had just finished World War III.

One such scene came in Washington, as the White House soon was surrounded with celebrants. One person, perhaps Puerto Rican, symbolically threw a roll of toilet paper over the fence and on to the lawn, and thus completing a circle. Speaking of that, Lafayette Square was again full of people. The last time that area was in the news, it was because the authorities in June had kicked peaceful protesters out of the area with gas and riot sticks in order for President Donald Trump to walk a block to a church for a bizarre photo opportunity. Perhaps some of those same protesters were back five-plus months later to celebrate Trump's loss. It was a case of payback, American style.

World reaction followed suit. While reports that fireworks in London and bell-ringing in Paris were used to mark the outcome have been mostly discredited, they did fit the story line. More to the point was the language used by political figures. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted it out nicely - "Welcome back America!" - as if she anticipated America's return to full status in the world community again. Maybe the system of alliances that has worked so well since World War II is ready for a comeback.

Since then, Biden has made a couple of speeches about the moment as he prepares to take over the executive branch of the government. Trump, meanwhile, has refused to concede because of alleged corruption in the voting process. We should have seen this coming, since he warned us about it in the campaign - raising the question, "How did he know ahead of time?".  He made similar claims during the campaign of 2016 - remember the story of people getting bused into New Hampshire to vote illegally for Hillary Clinton? - only to file them away when he actually won the election. 

These claims have produced some comic moments. The highlight came when Rudy Giuliani gave a news conference about some alleged problems in Philadelphia not at the Four Seasons Hotel, but at Four Seasons Model Landscaping in an industrial part of that city. This led to predictable but hysterical comments about "Lawn and Order" and "Make America Rake Again."  People with my sense of humor will be driving by the place for a quick photo for years to come.

There has been very little evidence backing Trump and Co. up on this. Still, Republicans for the most part have refused to accept Biden's almost inevitable victory. (On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even said, "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” which probably won't age well even if he was trying to be funny.) Perhaps all of them have forgotten just how difficult it is to fix an entire state election result. Biden is leading by five figures in four of the battleground states. Someone could fudge a handful of votes here and there, but to coordinate an effort in that many places would be more than daunting. Election counting in this country isn't exactly designed to handle a very, very tight decision smoothly - look at Florida in 2000 - but most of the time, especially when there are a large number of votes, we come up with the correct winner. 

We can only guess at the reasons why so many are not accepting the inevitable result. Trump no doubt is smarting over this loss to Biden, and will take a look at running in 2024 - even if he'll be 78. If he wants to run again, he'll have to keep his supporters fired up and believing that he'll be back to make up for this injustice. Yes, the risk is that our faith in free and fair elections - one of the bedrock principles of a democracy - may be damaged in that process, but Trump hasn't paid attention to such issues in the past. Maybe Grover Cleveland used such a technique to win non-consecutive terms, even without a Twitter account. However, I'm sure his rallies weren't as well attended.

The legal defense fund led by Trump for the fraud investigation is interesting for the fact that the money mostly will go to Trump's Political Action Committee and the Republican party. Maybe Trump can throw himself rallies for four years to keep himself occupied and relevant. On the other hand, he is facing nine figures in personal debt as well as some serious legal troubles in the  future. Can he pardon himself before January 20? It's an interesting legal question, since even Biden is unlikely to be as generous as Gerald Ford was when it comes to transgressions by a Presidential predecessor. 

There are a couple of points about all of this that have been overlooked. Let's face it - Trump probably should have been reelected this year. His path to victory as of February appeared to be pretty clear. All he had to do was address the nation and say, "Put on a mask." Trump knew the dangers involved in the Covid-19 virus, based on the taped conversation with Bob Woodward. Instead, he played down the threat ... and then doubled down on his actions when he criticized those who took precautions in various forms. Trump didn't change his message as the virus came roaring back in the fall, even as thousands who had connections to his mostly maskless rallies became carriers and hundreds of those people died. "Come to my rally and risk your life" is never a good look. Trump couldn't even keep the White House safe from Covid-19. That approach to reelection might have been a tipping point, thanks in part to media reports that kept the death toll fresh on our minds. A large majority of those 230,000 deaths could have been avoided, which hardly seems like a good talking point. 

Meanwhile, Biden finally has reached the White House after years of trying. In one sense, a difficult job awaits him. Even if Democrats claim the Senate through run-off elections in Georgia, the margin will be very tiny and it will be difficult to get much of substance passed. Trump had two years of having the House and Senate in his favor, and his only piece of major legislation was a tax cut that made rich people richer and gave the economy a small and perhaps unnecessary boost. Senate leader Mitch McConnell can't wait to figure out a way to block the next Supreme Court judge nomination - whenever it is. The progressive wing of the Democratic party will figure it deserves a bit of a reward for its role in the election result, but some of their ideas will be difficult to sell to the rest of the legislators and the public. That could lead to some good-sized arguments if Biden doesn't run in 2024. Joe was about the only person who could do bring the coalition together, and the challenge will be to make sure it holds. 

As for the Republicans, they'll start searching for a way to win the Presidency the next time. Leaving Trump out of the picture for a moment, there will be those who think they can follow Trump's act by simply repackaging his policies slightly but putting more of a smile with it. That will be a tough balancing act. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Lindsay Graham and even Pompeo may be anxious to try. Mike Pence could be on that list, but he may simply head back to Indiana to follow Dan Quayle's trip into Hoosier obscurity and life as an historical footnote. 

In the meantime, maybe Biden's position isn't so bad after all.  The first several months will feature the tasks of the distribution of a vaccine and the restoration of the economy to full power. That's not an easy job, but it probably will have bipartisan support. But Biden may become a success simply by cutting down on the chaos. You probably can make up your own list of easily obtainable goals. At the top of the list: Don't lie to the American people. In other words, run the government with honest and quiet efficiency.

As John Lennon once said, "We're only trying to get us some peace." That would be enough for many of us.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

Friday, October 09, 2020

Buffalo's Biggest Free Agents: No. 1-20

Visit Buffalo Sports Page for the complete list of selections.

1. Jack Kemp – Signed by the Bills in 1962

2. Kent Hull – Signed by the Bills in 1986

3. Steve Tasker – Signed by the Bills in 1986

4. Mario Williams – Signed by the Bills in 2012

5. Cookie Gilchrist – Signed by the Bills in 1962

6. Elbert Dubenion – Signed by the Bills in 1960

7. Ted Washington – Signed by the Bills in 1995

8. Robert James – Signed by the Bills in 1969

9. Ollie Carnegie – Signed by the Bisons in 1931

10. Booker Edgerson – Signed by the Bills in 1962

11. Fred Jackson – Signed by the Bills in 2007

12. Steve Christie – Signed by the Bills in 1993

13. Pat Williams – Signed by the Bills in 1997

14. Bryce Paup – Signed by the Bills in 1995

15. Ron McDole – Signed by the Bills in 1963

16. Jason Peters – Signed by the Bills in 2004

17. Mark Kelso – Signed by the Bills in 1986

18. Takeo Spikes – Signed by the Bills in 2003

19. Terrell Owens – Signed by the Bills in 2009

20. Doug Flutie – Signed by the Bills in 1998

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Buffalo's Biggest Free Agents: No. 21-40


Visit Buffalo Sports Page for a full recap of the list.

21. Scott Norwood – Signed by the Bills in 1985

22. London Fletcher – Signed by the Bills in 2002

23. Ville Leino – Signed by the Sabres in 2011

24. Ernie Warlick – Signed by the Bills in 1962

25. Derrick Dockery – Signed by the Bills in 2007

26. James Lofton – Signed by the Bills in 1989

27. Luke Easter – Signed by the Bisons in 1956

28. Christian Ehrhoff – Signed by the Sabres in 2011

29. Tyrod Taylor – Signed by the Bills in 2015

30. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Signed by the Bills in 2009

31. Brian Moorman – Signed by the Bills in 2001

32. Richie Incognito – Signed by the Bills in 2009 and 2015

33. Matt Moulson – Signed by the Sabres in 2014

34. Lorenzo Alexander – Signed by the Bills in 2016

35. Charles Clay – Signed by the Bills in 2015

36. Tony Greene – Signed by the Bills in 1971

37. Dave Foley – Signed by the Bills in 1972

38. John Davis – Signed by the Bills in 1989

39. Steve Freeman – Signed by the Bills in 1975

40. Langston Walker – Signed by the Bills in 2007

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Close Encounters

Every so often, a fad runs through Facebook that is something of a guessing game. Which musical act have I not seen? Which baseball stadium have I not visited? What's your favorite type of fruit?

Here's one that caught my eye. "List five famous people you've either met or have been within a few feet of, but ONE is a lie. Which one is it?"

One of the few advantages of reaching your 60s is that you can fill out such lists pretty quickly, particularly if you've done a little traveling over the years. Why, I once saw the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Atlanta airport. My family bumped into Bob Hastings, Lt. Carpenter in "McHale's Navy," while touring Disneyland. He couldn't have been nicer, even if he did talk about being hot and thirsty on that summer afternoon. I've met a couple of astronauts.

Could I come up with four such real encounters, and a fake one, in a few minutes? Absolutely. I even could do 10.

Jimmy Carter
Bob Costas
Mario Cuomo
Phil Donahue
Robert Kennedy
Sandra Day O'Connor
Arnold Palmer
Pete Rozelle
Leon Spinks
Mike Tyson

I mentioned that I had only shaken hands with one of them. My Facebook friends could guess that too. The first person that answered guessed Jimmy Carter for the handshake, and she was right. Jimmy spoke at Syracuse University in 1975 when he was running for President. Larry Pantages and I attended it, and hung around to shake his hand and wish him well. Come to think of it, we both said, "Best of luck, Governor," to which Larry said later, "Couldn't you have come up with something a little different?"

Let's go through the guesses in the order that they were posted, and see how everyone did.

* Arnold Palmer - I went to the 1968 United States Open at Oak Hill in Rochester with my father. I convinced my dad that we should be part of Arnie's Army for a few holes. But I got a good look at Arnie along the way.

* Sandra Day O'Connor - Jody and I paid a visit to Williamsburg some years ago. They were getting ready for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding, and a big-time committee was formed to get ready for it. One of the leaders of that committee was O'Connor. We looked up and she was walking toward us on some sort of official visit, surrounded by men in suits. Jody recognized her first. Downright tiny.

* Phil Donahue - I think this dates back to 1966 or so. We were driving from Elmira to Chicago, and made an overnight stop outside of Cleveland. Our family was having breakfast when Mom recognized Donahue, who was a syndicated talk show host out of Dayton then, sitting at the table. If we needed confirmation, well, two sons were sitting with him. One of them wore a football jersey with the word Donahue on the back.

* Robert Kennedy - When you are a Senator from New York, it helps to show up in the small towns once in a great while. Bobby Kennedy came to Elmira once to speak at the Mark Twain Hotel. Mom grabbed my sister and me, and we headed for the main entrance. We were part of a small crowd that watched him get out of a car, walk briskly into the hotel, and wave to us in the process as people applauded. I've still got a letter that Kennedy sent to my father about some safety-related legislation; it's even personally signed (I think).

* Pete Rozelle - This goes back to my radio days, when I spent some time covering Bills' news. Rozelle had a news conference either before a game or at halftime, so I got pretty close to him. The quote I remember is that he talked about how other networks were counter-programming well to cut into Monday Night Football's ratings. "They're showing TV-movies like, 'I was a Teen-Age Hooker Who Found God' to get people to watch," he said.

* Mike Tyson - I was covering the Sabres when I was checking out of a hotel near the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, around 5 p.m. That's when I look up and see Mike Tyson troll through the lobby; he had been preceded by some flunkies. Mike was scheduled to be the commentator on a fight card at the Cap Centre the next night on Showtime. Tyson is one of the widest men I've ever seen - built like a cube. By the way, boxing fans will be impressed that Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, "The Fight Doctor," was at the next table from me during breakfast that morning.

Those were all of the guesses, and they were all wrong. Let's go through the other contenders:

* Leon Spinks - The Sabres and I were in St. Louis for the pregame skate, and Leon was working on the custodial staff of the arena. When work got out that Spinks was in the building, everyone crowded around to shake his hand and pose for a photo. This was almost 25 years ago, and I can report that Leon could be barely understood, even then. Boxing ... a tough business.

* Mario Cuomo - I should have replaced him with someone else, since it would figure that he would have been in Buffalo at some point. Cuomo did something of a town hall at a downtown location, and my radio station broadcast it live. I was asked to help out with the production, and thus got a good seat to hear the Governor. He was superb at it - couldn't stump him, very articulate, etc. I was extremely impressed. I also made sure to shake hands with Senator Chuck Schumer turned up at the Allentown Art Festival, surrounded by signs that read, "Come meet Chuck Schumer."

That leaves one name - the fake one - on the list: Bob Costas. I think people assumed that I met him somewhere along the line because we both went to Syracuse, although I just missed him there. The closest we've come is that we were both listed on the program of the Daily Orange's 100th anniversary (it's the student newspaper) in 2003. Somehow, I think that his check was bigger than mine.

Upon reflection, I naturally came up with more names. Jim Kelly hosted some sort of gala athletic competition at Pilot Field around 1994 that featured Donald Trump and Fabio as guests. I covered it for AP and was part of a group interview of both. Fabio had better hair. George Foreman stood near me for a couple of minutes in the Bills' press box as he waited for a halftime interview with the ABC crew. He was bigger and wider than Tyson. I had a one-on-one conversation with Wayne Gretzky after a preseason game in Buffalo. Gordie Howe used to be part of a small media lunch in the Sabres' offices once a year after he retired in the 1980s. He'd tell stories and even refilled water glasses at one point. Magic Johnson was spotted outside the Bills' locker room after the game; he was thinner than I thought. I once sat at exactly center court at the media table for a Bulls' exhibition game in Buffalo, which meant I could have shaken hands with Michael Jordan without any effort from either of us. Warren Buffett came to The Buffalo News as part of a party for the opening of the new presses. I shook his hand, posed with him for a photo, and thanked him for what he had done for the community.

Cue the Marmalard to play "Reflections of My Life."

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Buffalo's Biggest Free Agents: No. 41-60

Visit Buffalo Sports Page for a full recap of the careers of players listed:

41. John Tracey – Signed by the Bills in 1962

42. Shane Nelson – Signed by the Bills in 1977

43. Teppo Numminen – Signed by the Sabres in 2005

44. Jordan Poyer – Signed by the Bills in 2017

45. Scott Chandler – Signed by the Bills in 2010

46. Sam Adams – Signed by the Bills in 2003

47. Kyle Okposo – Signed by the Sabres in 2016

48. Dan Brouthers – Signed by the Bisons in 1881

49. Tom Day – Signed by the Bills in 1960

50. Rian Lindell – Signed by the Bills in 2003

51. Micah Hyde – Signed by the Bills in 2017

52. Pud Galvin – Signed by the Bisons in 1878

53. Mark Anderson – Signed by the Bills in 2013

54. Ray Bentley – Signed by the Bills in 1986

55. Frank Grant - Signed by the Bisons in 1886

56. Bill Brooks – Signed by the Bills in 1993

57. James Patrick – Signed by the Sabres in 1998

58. George Ratterman – Signed by the Bills in 1947

59. Matt Vinc – Signed by the Bandits in 2018

60. Dixon Ward – Signed by the Sabres in 1995

(Here's the full list)