f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

November 16, 2008

albany police pass out parking protection (with updates)

Filed under: q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 10:30 am

.. “Better get me that scraper, Honey.” . .

[update: Reaction of Albany pols, plus editorials, at the end of this post.]

.. It’s not as helpful as a Monopoly Get Out of Jail Free Card.  And it might not be as powerful as Captain America’s Shield.  But, a little red and blue bull’s-eye sticker has been protecting Albany, NY, police officers and their friends and lovers from parking fines for at least 15 years. See “Free ride from tickets: ‘Bull’s-eye’ stickers from Albany police union give ‘pass’ on fines to hundreds” (Albany Times Union, by Brendan J. Lyons, Nov. 15, 2008); plus 810 WGY News.

As TU reporter Brendan J. Lyons explained in an article yesterday: 

“An untold number of ‘ghost’ parking tickets that carry no fines have been issued to the private vehicles of Albany police officers, their spouses, friends and civilians employed by the city under an informal practice that dates back years and involves a secret system of coded windshield stickers, the Times Union has learned.

“Several police officers and other people familiar with the matter said the system was developed more than 15 years ago as a way to provide free on-street parking to police officers attending court hearings in their personal vehicles. But over the years, they said, the practice has expanded and arguably been abused as many people who are not police officers, including bar owners and friends of officers, have been provided the secret, red and blue ‘bull’s-eye’ stickers that are affixed to a vehicle’s windshield just above the registration.”

Public servants giving themselves the equivalent of Park-Here-Free Cards may seem like a tiny little abuse, but it’s the kind of special treatment that helps turn citizens into cynics.  (You may recall that we wrote about parking abuse by officials around Schenectady’s City Hall back in March of this year.)  I’m especially bemused by the fact that the courageous heroes in the Albany police union were not available for comment, while Chief James W. Tuffey says he was unaware of the bull’s-eye stickers, despite the fact that they are (according to the TU) “visible on the windshields of dozens — if not hundreds — of cars around the city, including many vehicles parked at police headquarters.”  I’m reassured, naturally, that Tuffey says:

”If there’s something out there that’s been abused I’m going to deal with it.”

Of course, it ain’t just the cops taking advantage of Captain America’s Shield.  The Times Union tells us:

“Spot checks of vehicles parked on city streets near the Albany County courthouse, Family Court and City Hall showed that ”courtesy” parking tickets are routinely issued to private vehicles of people who work for the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department.”

You get the point.  But, do they? 

Wanna bet that quite a few friends of the Albany FOP were out scraping a little bull’s-eye sticker from their windshields yesterday?

Noon Update: With a little nudge from Scott Greenfield I searched a bit more and found a picture of the Albany police bulls-eye sticker at the TU Read & React weblog, where you’ll find over a hundred reader comments.  I’ve added part of the TU image, with the sticker above a Registration Tag, near the top of this post.

update (November 17, 2008): The Mayor of Albany, Jerry Jennings, and a number of political leaders have reacted very negatively to the story of the sticker and ghost tickets.  See “Mayor halts ‘ghost’ tickets” (Albany Times Union, Nov. 18, 2008); and “Jennings halts ‘no fine’ parking tickets in Albany” (Daily Gazette, Nov. 18, 2008).  An Albany Times Union editorial, “A fine mess, Albany” hits the important points with the right tone:

The chief has some explaining to do about a cozy arrangement that apparently dates back more than 15 years. So does Christian Mesley, president of the police officers union. So, in fact, does Mayor Jerry Jennings. . . .

The Issue:  Some Albany parking tickets are for real, and some aren’t.

The Stakes: Such discrepancies and inconsistencies undermine confidence in government itself.

update (Nov. 19, 2008): Today’s Schenectady Gazette editorial is suitably righteous and makes a very good point. See “Pretense of justice courtesy of Albany” (Nov. 19, 2008).  After asking why this “comes as so little shock,” it notes every city needs a system to allow certain of its employees to be able to park near public buildings efficiently, but:

“Typically, the system calls for the judicious use of special placards that bearers place in their car windows. They signal ‘hands off’ to the meter maid — and explain to any civilian who might wonder, why a blatant violation was overlooked.

“In Albany, however, cops were apparently given free rein to devise and manage their own system. . . .  Meter maids would still write tickets for illegally parked cars displaying these stickers, but they were dummies — no fine payment necessary. In other words, just a time-consuming exercise to fool the public into thinking justice was being done.”

afterwords (Nov. 21, 1008): This week’s Opinion column in the Capital Region’s alternative newspaper, Metroland, is “Demand Your Free Parking Sticker!” (Vol. 31 No. 47, Nov. 20-26, 2008).  It provides a form that says “I want a Bull’s-Eye Too!,” with space for your name and address, plus addresses for Christian P. Mesley, President, Albany’s Police Officer’s Union/Council 82, as well as Albany’s police chief and mayor.

(Nov. 23, 2008): A bit tardy, Fred LeBraun adds his few cents in a column today in the Sunday Times Union, titled “Scam hurts Albany police.”  With the reaction, “how dumb can you get?”, Fred says: “Eventually, this sort of elaborate conspiracy to defraud was bound to be exposed, and the result could only be a public relations nightmare for the cops and another knock on their credibility.”  And he adds:

“Most emphatically, what stinks has nothing to do with offering cops a few perks.. . . [W]hat galls, what irritates to the quick, is the covert nature of the system, the secrecy. The cops were trying to put one over on us, the public.”

just arrived —
their dog sniffs
our tires

steady rain
a pickle
in the parking lot

…… by Tom ClausenUpstate Dim Sum (2003/II)

November 14, 2008

a Friday quickie from a sleepy editor

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 1:44 pm

.. There’s been more action since we wrote about the Schenectady Daily Gazette cracking down on local internet forums that were infringing on its copyright (by posting entire articles and not even linking to the article). The Gazette says linking to them with a summary and short quote is fine, but lifting the whole article or editorial goes too far.  Yesterday, Pat Zollinger, Administrator of the local internet forum The Unadulterated Schenectady, received the official desist letter from the Gazette’s lawyer, Michael J. Grygiel of the Albany office of Hiscock & Barclay. Click to see the Letter.   You’ll find a Comment from Pat and my response below.

At Pat’s Schdy.Info and at the Rotterdam Internet forum, there is a lot of talk that this whole crackdown is political, and Schenectady’s Mayor Brian U. Stratton is behind it.  For the reasons given in my response below and my reply at the Rotterdam Forum, I disagree.  Of course, we don’t have all the facts and aren’t all that good at reading minds.

Request for Copyright Experts and other Opinionated Lawyers:  In another Comment submitted around 1 PM today, Pat Zolliner disagrees with my assessment that her repeatedly posting entire articles from the Gazette goes beyond Fair Use and is copyright infringement.  She says “And I dare to say, David, that even though you are positive that I am infringing on copyright, there will be other lawyers who would interpret it differently.”  I invite legal minds with an opinion on this matter to express it in the Comment Section of our prior post.

a long day–
the dog and the crow

… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

For years, The Mainichi Daily News (an English-language Japanese newspaper) offered a selection of about a dozen haiku every month, some of which we’ve shared here.  Although that feature apparently ended last August, Mainichi now presents a Daily Haiku.

With Tinywords.com silent since last June (when it ended with a Roberta Beary classic), you might want to bookmark the Mainichi Daily Haiku page, for a small haiku surprise each morning.

Today’s Mainichi selection is by our friend Ed Markowski:

the well digger wrings out
his t-shirt

…… ed markowski – Mainichi News Daily Haiku Nov. 14, 2008

Here’s Ed’s last poem chosen for Tinywords.com:

prairie sunset
the glow of the cattleman’s
branding iron

… ed markowski – Tinywords.com (May 9, 2008)

And, I just discovered today that Issa is now on Twitter.  You can get a classic poem from the Japanese Master Kobayashi Issa everyday on Twitter, translated by Haiku Guy David G. Lanoue.  Except that they all come out as one-liners, tiny poems are a fine match for Twitter’s tiny format.  Here’s today’s Issa on Twitter:

people scatter like ants… the lark sings

-Issa, 1814

November 9, 2008

Stockade-athon 2008 passes by

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 12:44 pm

[updates: Click for Stockade-athon 2009 photos; and more from Stockade-athon 2010]

.. runners in the 33rd Annual Stockade-athon pass the 9 Front St. “Blockhouse” ..

This morning, the annual Stockade-athon took place here in Schenectady. It’s called the “oldest major 15K road race in the USA” (by Schenectadians, at least).  Over 1300 runners signed up to participate this year.  As always, the course for the 33rd Annual version of the 15K event starts and ends at our Central Park, and a segment goes right through my Stockade neighborhood. [The Schenectady Gazette has an interactive map of the race route.]

I’ll have a few more photos and comments after lunch and a nap (or two).

just past the church
I clean my glasses

.. by Tom Clausen from Upstate Dim Sum (2003/I)

update (2 PM):  The Gazette has the results here. (and see “Mort handily wins Stockade-athon,” Nov. 10, 2008, with its Photo Gallery): Highlights:

  • Emory Mort, 25, of Ghent, was the first over the finish line, completing the 15-kilometer [9.3-mile] course through the city in 47:52
  • The women’s winner was Kaitlin O’Sullivan, 23, of Syracuse, who crossed the finish line in 55:51
  • Masters division winners were Jeff Niedeck of Canaan, Conn., in 52:03 and 1998 and 2001 women’s overall champion Emily Bryan of Schenectady in a record women’s masters time of 57:24.

Speaking of the Masters Division, these guys didn’t win, but they had a lot more heart than yours truly, the curbside photographer:

….. unidentified Stockade-athon runners on Front St.

The police escort car can be seen passing Lawrence the Indian at Front and N. Ferry Sts., behind two of the last runners (a few stragglers came walking by thereafter, bless their hearts and legs):

Boo! Despite plenty of publicity about restricted traffic, along with the protests of the traffic monitor, a trio of vehicles led by the lady in this Ford SUV insisted on driving up the narrow portion of Front St. from Washington Ave to Church Street, while it was still filled with runners.  Many of the runners were quite vocally (and righteously) angry.

… pushy drivers on Front St.

Finally, the last of the Stockade-athon traffic control workers strolls past a rather indifferent Lawrence the Indian, leaving the Stockade in a quiet autumnal bliss on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

15K race —
legs and arms ache
on the old photographer

…… by dagosan

. . . share this posting with this Tiny URL: http://tinyurl.com/fkaStockadeathon2008 . . .

November 8, 2008

Copyright, Cook & Cuomo (Warnings, Wendy & Wind)

Filed under: q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 6:58 pm

.. three stories from around my town . .

Copyright and Community Message Boards: To be honest, I’m surprised it took them so long.  This week, our local newspaper, the Schenectady Gazette, sent demands to stop copyright infringement to two popular community message boards that have for years been posting several Gazette articles a day in their entirety (with attribution and a link to the Gazette homepage, but no direct link to the article). One internet community focuses primarily on Schenectady and the other on our major suburb Rotterdam, NY.  They both have lively discussion on public issues every day.

update (Nov. 14, 2008): Yesterday, Pat Zollinger, Administrator of the local internet forum The Unadulterated Schenectady, received the official desist letter from the Gazette‘s lawyer, Michael J. Grygiel of the Albany office of Hiscock & Barclay. Click to see the Letter.   You’ll find a Comment from Pat and my response below.

At Schdy.Info and at the Rotterdam Internet forum, there is a lot of talk that this whole crackdown is political, and Schenectady’s Mayor Brian U. Stratton is behind it.  For the reasons given in my response below and my reply at the Rotterdam Forum, I disagree.  Of course, we don’t have all the facts and aren’t all that good at reading minds.

At their Editors’ Notebook weblog, the Gazette Managing Editor Judy Patrick, posted an explanation titled “Link to us” on Thursday (Nov. 6, 2008).  It gives the hard-to-believe impression that Gazette editors were somehow never aware of the full-article postings at the message boards until reporter Justin Mason referred to one of them this week.   After praising the robust discussion at the internet fora, Patrick says:

“We at The Gazette like our articles to generate public discussion anywhere: in diners, on private message boards or here on our own Web site. But please remember that our stories are protected by copyright and posting them in their entirety without our permission violates that copyright.”

She correctly states that Fair Use rights do not cover such posting [to learn more see the useful set of Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright and Fair Use, from The Chilling Effects Clearinghouse; or see my 2006 post at SHLEP for more links and discussion, or my piece on Haiku and Fair Use].  The Gazette editor then suggests an alternative that this weblog and millions of others regularly practice:

“Posting our entire stories is not fair use of our copyrighted work. We don’t object when sites summarize one of our stories and then provide a direct link to the actual story on our Web site. That’s become a fairly standard way bloggers refer to published works. People who want to read the whole story are provided a quick and easy way to reach it. That sends readers to our Web site, which is important to us, but as well allows them to return to the original site.

. . By regularly posting a variety of Gazette articles in their entirety, the community sites probably do deprive the Gazette of some news-stand and at-home purchases, and certainly deter click-throughs to the Gazette website, which help attract advertisers.  Patrick is correct on the law, but whether this copyright crackdown is worth the bad will being created in the community is questionable.  She tries to explain:

“We are not a big corporation trying to stifle public comment; we are a small, family-owned newspaper trying to safeguard our intellectual property.”

I’m not sure how the two community message boards are going to react.  The Rotterdam site initially issued a cryptic statement about curtailing its activities.  But, today, it seems to be back to business as usual.  The rowdy regulars at both sites have been quite vocal in their contempt and anger for the Gazette. Some are suggesting that it is criticism of the Gazette by the site administrators that provoked the crackdown after years of the Gazette averting its corporate eyes to the copyright infringement issue.

In a surprise twist, Gazette reporter Justin Mason sent an email to the Rotterdam forum’s administrators, apologizing for the actions of his editors.  See “Justin Mason explains and apologizes” (Nov. 7, 2008).  He gave permission for the message to be posted at the site.  Among other things, Mason says:

“I just wanted to offer my apologies to [Administrator Jo-Ann Schrom] and the other users of the forum for my newspaper’s recent overreaction toward Rotterdamny.info reprinting Gazette articles.”

He opines that the suggested practice of summarizing with short quotes and a link to the Gazette website is “much more flawed than the format Rotterdamny.info used, seeing as though the Gazette still doesn’t publish more than a third of its print content online.”

He also declares: “Both myself and other reporters have discussed the site with them dozens of times before without them expressing any concern for copyright issues and whatnot.”

Mason is probably correct saying that “I have no power or influence over the editorial decision making process” and that cooler heads probably will not prevail. We shall have to wait to see how this public rebuke of his bosses and their “poor error in judgment” will affect Mason’s career at the Gazette.  How the two internet community sites will adjust is also up in the air.

We think the link-quote-summarize approach used successfully by so many weblogs should allow the valuable discussion at the community sites to continue.  However, the practice takes a lot more work for the administrators than merely copying an article in full, so it may limit the topics presented.  It may also mean that many of those joining in the discussion will not have all the facts available in the full article before they voice their reactions.  Forum members need to be reminded that clicking through to the Gazette article, and then returning to their forum, won’t really take more time than reading the full article at the community forum.

background fyi: (Sunday evening, Nov. 9, 2008):  Earlier today, I posted the following updates near the top of this posting; because the second update pretty much moots out the first one, I’ve moved them here, out of the way of the main story.  I’m keeping them as part of the record and because they help explain a few of the messages in our Comment section:

update (Nov. 9, 2008):  As you can see in our Comment section, I was quite surprised this morning to learn that the Gazette staff has removed a Comment that I left at the weblog post by their Managing Editor that is discussed immediately below.   If I get an explanation from the Gazette, I will let you know.  I’ve attempted to reconstruct my removed comment here. None of the other 52 comments that I have left at the Gazette website since February 2008 has been deleted by its staff. [You can use this Tiny URL to cite to this post: http://tinyurl.com/fkaGazetteCopyright ]

update (noon, Sunday Nov. 9, 2008): Gazette Online Editor Mark Robarge just left a comment saying “David, my mistake in removing your comment from our Web site. I hit the wrong checkbox this morning while monitoring comments. It has been restored to the site.” He left a similar comment at the Gazette’s Editors’ Notebook, where my first comment has indeed been restored.  Given the number of senior moments that go on around here, I’m going to give Mark the benefit of the doubt.

..  Wendy Cook Gets It Together:  Because she’s the daughter of Funny Cide horse-owner Jack Knowlton, Wendy Knowlton-Cook’s slide into drug abuse and its criminal consequences has gotten far more attention than the initial sordid facts might otherwise have warranted.  (See our earlier posting about her arrest and halting attempts at rehab.) Ms. Cook lost custody of her children, did eight months in jail, and has spent three months in rehab, after an arrest in October 2007 for performing sex acts and snorting cocaine with her then 2-month-old son and 5-year old daughter in the back seat of her car.  Today’s Schenectady Gazette brought news that she may have turned the corner and be heading for brighter days. According to the article “Mom gets kids after rehab: Woman accused of prostitution” (Nov. 8, 2008), Ms. Cook now shares joint custody of her children with her parents, and is officially on probation, while continuing in a substance abuse program, and with ongoing monitoring by Social Services.

Wendy has admitted to possessing cocaine, but not to the other charges, and yesterday told reporters:

“I made a commitment in this process.  I surrendered wholly to the creator. I have to come first. If I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of my children. It’s just an everyday commitment to wellness.”

As a former Family Court Law Guardian (lawyer for the child), I’m rooting for Wendy and her kids, and hope that her strong family support and personal commitment will mean she has favorable odds of success.  Like Schenectady City Court Judge Christine Clark did at court yesterday, the f/k/a Gang says:

“I’m happy to see you doing much better.  I hope you keep it up.”

Cuomo’s Quixotic Code of Conduct:  We told you last July, in “Cuomo tilts at pols and windmills,” that New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had opened an investigation into possible improper dealings between two wind power companies and local government officials, and into possible anticompetitive behavior by the firms.  Last week, we learned that the two target firms have agreed to abide by a new Code of Conduct promulgated by the AG’s Office to make the process of siting wind-farms more open and fair.  See “Wind power companies, Cuomo reach agreement,” The Buffalo News, Oct. 30, 2008); and “Amid Talk of Hidden Deals, Wind Firms Agree to Code of Conduct” (New York Times, October 30, 2008).  According to the Buffalo News:

“The code bans wind companies from hiring local government officials or their relatives for one year after approval of a wind energy deal. It also bans companies from seeking, using or receiving ‘confidential information’ obtained by a locality about a pending project. Companies also will have to post on a web site the names of any municipal officials or their relatives with any financial stake in the firms.

“Wind easements and leases will have to be publicly filed with county clerks. Companies must conduct seminars to educate their workers about preventing conflicts of interests in dealings with local officials.”

The Code is, however, voluntary, and an article in yesterday’s Schenectady Gazette (not available online without a subscription) is headlined “Wind power code gets mixed response” (Nov. 7, 2008).  It’s one thing for two companies feeling the pressure of a high-profile investigation to “voluntarily agree” to abide by the Code, but quite another for the industry in general.  As Kevin Crosier, Supervisor of the Albany County Town of Berne told the Gazette:

  • “It’s a lukewarm response to a very serious problem that’s plaguing local government throughout New York State.” And,
  • “Basically what they’re doing is leaving small communities to fight this on their own.”

The article states that at least one citizens group (Schoharie Valley Watch) plans to lobby to make the Code mandatory.  Cuomo and legislators such as State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, say we should wait to see how the voluntary rules work.   Despite the popularity of wind power these days, we think the public is much more in the mood for regulation of energy companies than it might have been only a year ago.  The process of siting wind farms should be just as clean as the energy they hope to produce.

You may recall that my brother, East Aurora attorney Arthur J. Giacalone (see his essay “Zoning Challenges: Overcoming Obstacles“)  Arthur J. Giacalone, frequently represents homeowners in Western New York against wind power companies. He recently told the Buffalo News — in the article “Like it or not, wind power is changing the landscape in WNY” (by Michael Beebe, October 26, 2008) — that the wind companies decide where they want to develop and then approach large landowners and town officials to seal the deal before most of the town knows a project has been proposed. The News continued:

“Giacalone has won some and lost some in the wind battle, but he said the wind companies and the towns have the upper hand. His lawsuits are aimed at conflicts of interest, zoning violations, and making sure the state’s environmental quality reviews are followed.

“ ‘It’s hard for me to see the positive side of any industry when I see the sordid side of it,’ Giacalone said.”

I’ll see if I can get Arthur to stop by and Comment on this topic at his brother’s humble little website. [update (Nov. 17, 2008): See John Horan’s Global Climate Law Blog]

p.s. Apologies to anyone who thought the word “Wendy” in our headline referred to the luminous Wendy Savage, Esq.  If you need your WS fix, try this post or that one.  If it’s haiku you seek, here are a few from Billie Wilson, the centerfold guest poet in the newest edition of Upstate Dim Sum:

last light
wicker baskets
of nectarines

anniversary —
small craft warnings
on the radio

to-do list done
the day softens
into dusk

wind chill
the priest lifts her arms
to bless the fleet

… by Billie Wilson – Guest Poet in Upstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

have you seen the busy Prof. Chang?

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 11:34 am

circuits lab
his mistake
in the air

…  by Yu Chang from Upstate Dim Sum (2003/I)

My gumbah Yu Chang has had very little time for kayaking this autumn (and now the season’s over) . . .

. . .  nor any time for bocce (he’s been known to play in the snow)

grandpa Yu’s
new bocce balls –
three generations choose sides

… by dagosan

. . . or his much-loved photography

moss covered rocks
a surprise photo
of the sky

… by Yu ChangUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

… nor anything else but work.


spring –
pink robe
at her ankles

… by Yu Chang – Simply Haiku (Haiga, Spring 2008, Vol. 6:1)

If you think college professors all have easy sinecures after a couple decades on the job, you haven’t seen Yu Chang [a man of a certain age] in action at Union College here in Schenectady, New York.  Despite the school’s name, professors are not unionized at Union College.  That might be why Yu’s schedule is so heavy again this year, and why he has so many other (administrative) projects on his desk each trimester.  Of course, it could also be that the electrical and computer engineering professor does so many things well and so many people count on him.

Meanwhile, Yu’s friends are looking forward to playing, eating, or writing poetry with him once the current school session ends at Union on November 17.  Before then, there will be exams to prepare and grade, and all sorts of other paperwork, but little chance for Yu to write haiku.  So, we’re lucky the newest edition of Upstate Dim Sum (2008/II) came out at the end of October.  You can find a handful of Yu’s poems from that issue of UDS in our posting on November 3rd.  Here are another half dozen that should get us through the weekend, while Yu attends to his Day Job:

Leap Day —
an old friend
takes off her glasses

memorial concert
a landscape
of light and shadow

first warm day
a wedge of sun
on my open book

glimmer of light
the duckweed

park bench
the gap
in a stranger’s teeth

long-legged wine glasses
I become
a beer drinker

… by Yu ChangUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

October 26, 2008

the Osama-Obama ballot: a lame spellchecker excuse

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 10:06 am

We’re still visiting our family of origin, but can’t go cold turkey all weekend without a little blogging. So . . .

. . . . . . . . You may recall that absentee ballots with the name “Barack Osama” (instead of “Barack Obama”) were sent out to 400 voters in Rensselaer County, NY, a couple weeks ago. [See the Albany Times Union (October 10, 2008) for an image of the infamous ballot.] The embarrassed Rensselaer County legislature asked for an investigation and explanation from their Board of Elections, and received a report last Monday. See “Blame the computer for Obama-Osama goof, officials say: Rensselaer County voting officials say inattention led to misprint of name” (Albany Times Union, Oct. 23, 2008); and “Was botched ballot a spellcheck slip-up?” (Troy Record, October 21, 2008). The Troy Record reports:

“This error may have been due to a spellcheck function on the operating system of the computers utilized by the Board of Elections,” said the letter signed by Commissioner Ed McDonough, a Democrat, and Commissioner Larry Bugbee, a Republican. “Due possibly in part to the number of different ballot styles along with the higher than normal number of new registrations and overall increased activity at the board, this error was not caught.

“While there is no explanation other than the fact that the error was made innocently and with no malice or forethought,” the letter addressed to Chairman of the Legislature Neil Kelleher reads. “While attracting a great deal of attention, the error was caused by a simple mistake that unfortunately was not caught.”
The board also made some internal changes, such as all proof reading of ballots will be by two employees, a Democrat and a Republican and all ballots will now be read by both commissioners.

Blaming spellcheck? Who would buy that lame excuse? Well, the editors at the Schenectady Gazette. In “How Obama became Osama, and other tales of computer horror” (Schenectady Gazette, October 25, 2008), they say:

“It’s a logical explanation, and something of a relief because it indicates that the misspelling was an honest mistake, not an intentional political dirty trick. Still, the episode should serve as a reminder for anyone who uses a computer — they’re not infallible, even with software designed to catch grammar or spelling mistakes.”

Yeah, but: Spell-checkers don’t force a change on the writer, they highlight possible errors and ask the writer to decide whether a change is needed. If the folks in Rensselaer County use spell-check software that forces a change on them or gives them no chance to review a change, they really need a new webmaster; if their employees cede so much power to Spellcheck when doing something as important as a presidential ballot, they need new management. The Gazette editors are right that:

“The point is that writers, or anyone who uses a computer, still has to proofread what they’ve written before pulling the trigger — whether it’s an absentee ballot, job application, term paper, whatever. Computers are fantastic machines, but they can’t think.”

[Ed. Note: We often “pull the trigger” around here without catching all the typos (as we did here today), but this is an unimportant little website whose Editor eventually sees and corrects most of the errors — and only occasionally blames his peridementia.]

The problem with lame excuses is that they make people (even non-lawyers and the non-curmudgeonly) more than a little suspicious, or make us wonder if those giving the excuse are capable of thoughtful analysis. Around this part of the world (as elsewhere), there is no doubt that civil servants are more than capable of making silly mistakes like the “Osama-Obama” mishap without even trying. They shouldn’t exacerbate the situation with such poor “explanations”.

Afterwords (Nov. 3, 2008): Oh, Brother.  I just discovered that there’s a whole line of anti-Obama merchandise with the inscription “Spell-Check Says Obama is Osama.”   Also, in “Microsoft tries to fix big glitch on Obama,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on June 12, 2008, that Microsoft’s Hotmail Spell-checker suggests “Osama” when you type in “Obama.”  Microsoft spokeswoman Melissa Lawson says it’s a mistake they planned to fix ASAP:

“For the convenience of our customers, Windows Live Hotmail spell checking functionality helps provide suggested alternatives for words not recognized by the Hotmail dictionary, including suggestions for other words or proper names similar in spelling to the unrecognized term,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As I often do when visiting Rochester, I’m going to leave you with a few poems by Rochester’s haiku guru Tom Painting, and his ten-year-old daughter Sarah Brachman Painter.

watching a bee
skim the flowers-
summer’s end

November 11th
cemetery flags
Old and tattered

……………… by Sarah Painting – Two Dragonflies

autumn light
I lower the window
cover my child’s feet
the foul ball lands
in an empty seat
summer’s end
Sarah Painting was also editor/illustrator/publisher of a chapbook last year to commemorate a Ginko [haiku-inspiring walk], in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery. See our post “Mount Hope Haiku” (October 14, 2007) for more about the chapbook Mount Hope Haiku: September 16, 2007. Here are a couple poems from Mount Hope Haiku.
green copper letters
on the ex-slave’s grave —
some leaves already red
……. by dagosan – from Mount Hope Haiku (2007)

October 23, 2008

susan savage gets something right: banning DWT

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 6:38 pm

.. We’ve probably spent more than enough time on Wendy Savage today. In contrast to all that good press, there’s another Ms. Savage who’s gotten nothing but bad reviews here at f/k/a the past couple of years (see here, and there): She’s Susan E. Savage, the Chair of the Schenectady County Legislature. But, it had to happen: Chairwoman Savage has proposed a local law that actually makes good sense. Indeed, we supported just such a law for the entire State about 5 weeks ago here at f/k/a.

To wit: If Susan Savage gets her way, “Texting while driving could soon be banned in Schenectady County” (CBS 6 News, October 23, 2008).

update (December 10, 2008): The County Legislature passed the law yesterday, by an 11 – 2 vote.  Only Republicans Joseph Suhrada and Jim Buhrmaster opposed it.  See “Law forbids texting while driving in Schenectady County: Violators could face fine of $150″ (Dec. 10, 2008). According to the Gazette: “Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said many state laws, like the helmet law and the cellphone law, began as local measures. ‘We are raising awareness of a particular issue, and until the state acts, we should,’ he said.”

This afternoon, Chairwoman Savage introduced a local law to ban what we call DWT — driving while texting. (Click here to read the full press release as a PDF file; also, “Schenectady County proposing texting ban while driving“, Albany Times Union, October 23, 2008 ) In her press release, Chairwoman Savage had some important things to say:

“This is an important public safety issue. Research has shown the dangers of driver distractions so it is important that we propose legislation that will prevent a deadly accident before it happens.

“I also hope this will raise awareness to this dangerous and deadly behavior. Before the New York State seatbelt law, most drivers knew it was a good idea to wear one, but only 17% of drivers were motivated to change their old habits. Now, 89% of drivers in New York State wear their seatbelts.”

Violators would incur a $150 fine. As the Times Union noted, “The issue took on prominence when five high school girls died in a fiery accident south of Rochester in 2007. Cell phone records showed someone was texting on the driver’s cell phone when the girls’ SUV passed a car and crashed into a tractor trailer.” And,

“By considering this legislation, Schenectady County says it would join Rochester’s Monroe County in proposing a ban. Westchester and Suffolk counties have already passed similar bans. Alaska, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Washington State have also passed state-wide bans.”

As we opined on September 18th, The Schenectady Gazette got it right on banning driving while texting in its editorial “Textbook case of a law that shouldn’t be necessary, but is” (September 15, 2008):

“And [the DWT law] should be enforced more rigorously than the oft-ignored handheld cellphone ban. Perhaps if police had done a better job with that one, motorists wouldn’t be so brazen about engaging in far-more-distracting text messaging.”

The f/k/a Gang hopes the ban on texting while driving passes — but would how to have a statewide ban soon. If we get really lucky, Susan Savage may realize that her arguments about driving distractions apply equally to DWP: driving while phoning. Unfortunately, the State has pre-empted local jurisdictions with ineffective, counterproductive and under-enforced laws that only ban hand-held cellphones, while permitting drivers to use the equally distracting hands-free version. It would be great, threfore, if Ms. Savage got other local leaders across the state to lobby the Legislature and Governor David Paterson to ban all forms of phoning while driving. If, as a busy politician and mother, she currently engages in that reckless behavior behind the wheel, publicly giving it up would make Susan Savage an excellent role model.

update (Oct. 24, 2008): A few of our neighbors at the Rotterdam [NY] internet forum are less than enthusiastic about the texting ban. My quick response:

  • “nannyism” is government making you do something that is good for you, it is not banning activity that is dangerous to other people and their property;
  • if this is a good law, it does not serve the public well to be fretting, as Republican legislator Joe Suhrada does in today’s Gazette, that Susan Savage is engaging in a distracting sideshow to avoid attention on the new “wallet-busting budget.” If our Legislators aren’t capable of reviewing a budget while spending a small amount of time on this issue (and maybe a few others), we need to elect more capable people. And, if politicians can’t time activity to make themselves look good, Joe Suhrada might have to go out of business.
  • as noted above, the hand-held cellphone law has not deterred the practice of DWP because it has not been adequately enforced (with the law flaunted everywhere openly); effective enforcement and high-profile publicity are needed to make this work; the fact that enforcement will raise money is a plus, not a reason to oppose the law;
  • those who argue “we can’t cure stupid” might just as well say “we can’t cure greed or anger” and oppose laws against fraud, robbery, murder, etc. The fact that so many of our younger citizens engage in this dangerous activity is a reason to act against it, not to give up and turn DWT into some kind of birthright.
  • It may be difficult to spot some of the texters, as Sheriff Harry Buffardi mentioned to the Gazette, but much of it is visible and records of usage are available from the service providers if a dispute arises.

.. let’s ban driving while texting! . .


. . . and all phoning while driving! . . .

October 20, 2008

too many men are killing babies

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 11:06 am

..  . Baby Killers: in Troy, MO, and Troy, NY ..

On Tuesday, September 23, 2008, in the shrinking, economically-challenged City of Troy, New York, four-month-old Matthew Thomas died of serious head trauma due to injuries sustained when his 26-year-old, 500-pound father, Adrian Thomas, “threw him down hard” several times while arguing with his wife. (see CapitalNews9)

That same day, almost a thousand miles away in the thriving, rapidly growing little City of Troy, Missouri, 6-week-old Hannah Edwards sustained severe brain damage after being struck in the head and shaken by her mother’s boyfriend, Ronald I. Schupmann, 23, who was not her biological father. (See the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

Hannah died on Friday, September 26, the same day that little Matthew Thomas was buried and his father (who was recently unemployed and depressed) was indicted for murder, in Troy, NY.

For quite a few months, I’ve been wanting to write about a terrible trend I’ve noticed here in the New York Capital Region the past few years: Although we are a relatively small Metro area, every month or so a grown man is in the news for killing a baby (usually his own or his girlfriend’s).  The men are most often in their early to mid- 20’s.   They shake, punch or throw the child — usually because the baby is crying inconsolably. Their victims are not even toddlers yet, and often just a few months old.

I’m finally writing this post, because the Schenectady Sunday Gazette featured the article “Shaken baby deaths persist: Problem is all too common” (by Jill Bryce, October 19, 2008) on the front page of the local news section.  From the article and additional research, I’ve learn that about 80% of the perpetrators of Shaken Baby Syndrome or Abusive Head Trauma to young children are male.  In addition:

“The abuser is usually the baby’s father or the mother’s boyfriend. Female perpetrators tend to be a caregiver other than the biological mother.”

When Googling /Troy murder infant father/ yesterday, to locate the recent case described above from the nearby city of Troy, NY (find more coverage of it here and here), I discovered the strange coincidence of baby Hannah’s death the same week as Matthew’s in the very-different city of Troy, Missouri.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, SBS/AHT (shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma) is a term used to describe the constellation of signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child.

  • Often, perpetrators shake an infant or child out of frustration or anger. This most often occurs when the baby won’t stop crying. Other triggering events include toilet training difficulties and feeding problems.
  • The Shaken Baby Coalition says: “In America last year, approximately 1,200 – 1,400 children were shaken for whom treatment was sought. Of these tiny victims, 25 -30% died as a result of their injuries. The rest will have lifelong complications.”
  • Perpetrator Profile: Average age of perpetrator 22 years; 75% male; 81% had no history of child abuse; 75% had no history of substance abuse; 50% were natural parents of the victims; 37% biological father; 21% boyfriends of the mother; 17% female child care providers; 12% mothers; 13% other
  • It’s estimated that “Twenty-five (25%) to fifty (50%) percent of Americans do not understand the danger of shaking a baby, nor do they realize the possible long-term consequences.”

We haven’t located more-recent statistics, but a 2003 North Carolina study estimated that about 300 babies died in this country from SBS or non-accidental head trauma in 2002. In 1997, the FBI reported that about 5 babies a week are killed in the USA.  In his 1998 “History of Infanticide,” Dr. Larry S. Milne presents some pretty dismal statistics about infanticide in the United States (emphasis added):

Statistically, the United States ranks high on the list of countries whose inhabitants kill their children. For infants under the age of one year, the American homicide rate is 11th in the world, while for ages one through four it is 1st and for ages five through fourteen it is fourth. From 1968 to 1975, infanticide of all ages accounted for almost 3.2% of all reported homicides in the United States.

The 1980’s followed similar trends. Whereby overall homicide rates were decreasing in the United States, the rate at which parents were killing their children was increasing.

(full poster)

The f/k/a Gang can’t offer much direct guidance on this topic.   In a decade representing children at Family Court, your Editor saw many young males (and some females) accused or capable of shaking or assaulting a baby.  Despite the fact that the incidence of SBS/AHT appears higher among the poor and less educated population, it can and does happen throughout our society, affecting every socio-economic and demographic group, across the nation.  We surely need much more vigilance on the part of family members, discretion as to who is left to care for a baby, and education for young parents and their paramours.  Dr. Rudy Nydegger, a clinical psychologist in Schenectady, told the Gazette that the perpetrator often has very little knowledge of how to care for a child.

“It’s terribly important to ensure that people in charge of a child know what to do” when a baby is crying inconsolably.  Caregivers need to ask for help.

Here are links to resources that interested and affected persons and organizations might use to help prevent, understand, and deal with the fatal (or serious, but less severe) effects of non-accidental assaults on “our” babies:

Parents, siblings and other relatives of SBS victims face a special kind of grief.  My heart goes out to them.  They can find some help and comfort from the National Center on SBS, and on the Family Support page of ShakenBaby.org.

In 19th Century Japan, Master Haiku poet Kobayashi Issa saw all four of his children die in the first two years of their lives.  His sorrow and loss, and his love for small children, can be seen in many of his poems.  Here is a sample:

this world
is a dewdrop world
yes… but…

why did the blooming
pink break?

heat shimmers–
missing a child
the parent’s face

meigetsu ya hiza [wo] makura no ko ga araba

harvest moon–
my lap would be a pillow
if my child were here

…….. Translator David G. Lanoue explained the context of this last poem:

“This haiku was written in Seventh Month, 1819. Its biographical context is important, because Issa’s daughter, Sato, born the previous year, died of smallpox in Sixth Month of 1819–just a few weeks before Issa composed this poem. As he sits looking at the harvest moon–one of the most joyful occasions in the calendar for a haiku poet–the happy occasion is marred by a palpable absense. If only Sato were here… This sad poem reminds us of how precious children are to us; how, without them, the wonders of the universe, even the resplendent moon, seem drab and ordinary.”

“Gimme that moon!”
cries the crying

………. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

apples picked
and the casket chosen —
lingering sunset

roses on the casket
at the lowering

… by Michael Dylan Welch
“roses on the casket” – frogpond (XXIX: 1, Winter 2006)

mourners and bare trees

……. by George Swede – The Heron’s Nest (June 2005)

October 13, 2008

a melancholy spoof of Frank Duci’s will

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 3:03 pm

(source: Schenectady Gazette)

Frank Duci was the Republican mayor of Schenectady when I moved here 20 years ago and for 16 of the two dozen years spanning 1972 through 1996.  Often contentious and controversial, Duci was exactly the kind of politician that a plucky columnist like the Gazette‘s Carl Strock loves to cover.  When Strock heard that the 87-year-old Duci has lung cancer, he visited his old professional antagonist this week, and they were both at their mischievous best.

You see, Strock brought with him the above Last Will of Frank J. Duci, written on a Shopping List notepad, with “Carl Strock” as the sole beneficiary and sole witness.  And, Duci duly put his shaky “X” on the proffered will.  Carl (who often gets in trouble for his comments about religion, see e.g. here) left shortly after getting the “Will” signed, saying:

“Good Lord (if any), please let me keep my faculties as long as Your servant Frank has kept his.  I ask nothing more — except that the last will and testament I have in my pocket hold up in court.”

As Carl explained yesterday at his Strock Freestyle weblog in “Duci’s will,” and in the offline Sunday column “Frank Duci still fighting for ‘the people'” (Sunday Gazette, October. 12, 2008), the Will was “closely patterned after a will that [Duci] himself wrote for a friend a few years ago when that friend was just hours away from death.”

“[W]hen I learned about the lung cancer I figured I should waste no time, so I took it with me and asked him to put his X on it, just as he had gotten his friend to do (and let me say as a tribute to him that he was a perfectly good sport about it and made a shaky X, even though he well understood he was being lampooned).

. . . “I have tried over the years to dislike Frank Duci, but I have never succeeded, and this is a good example of the kind of hurdles I have faced.”

When the story of the original Deathbed Shopping List Will was reported a few years ago, I just shook my head, thinking “there Duci goes again.”  Until Carl Strock reminded me of it this weekend, I had not realized that Frank Duci had indeed inherited $450,000 on the basis of the will.  Here’s how Genealogue.com covered the story in 2006:

Saturday, April 29, 2006
Will a Shopping List Do?

A former mayor of Schenectady, New York, is embroiled in a legal dispute with an 86-year-old woman over the $680,970 estate of the woman’s late uncle.

Frank Duci says a will was dictated to him by Walter Sengenberger shortly before his death in 2003. It’s hard to understand why the authenticity of the document was ever doubted.

The attorney general’s office has raised questions about the validity of the will, which Duci wrote on a blank shopping list taken from his wife’s purse and then had Sengenberger sign with an “X” because the 84-year-old General Electric retiree was too weak to write his own name. [broken link to the Albany Times Union]

On August 9, 2006, based on a story from the Albany Times Union, Lawyers and Settlements.com reported that Katherine Louise Schoeffler Hansen and Frank Duci had reached a court settlement that “awarded Duci $450,000 and gave Hansen $200,000 of her uncle’s fortune.”  I’m somewhat relieved that the disposition is based on a settlement between the parties, and that no court found the Shopping List Will, witnessed only by the sole beneficiary and signed with an X, to be valid.  But, I’m also pleased that this tale has resurfaced in such a lighthearted manner.

estate auction–
can’t get my hand back out
of the cookie jar

… by Randy Brooks, from School’s Out (Press Here, 1999)

Of course, the context of Frank Duci’s illness puts a large touch of melancholy on the story.  Carl notes that Frank attributes the lung cancer to “secondhand smoke” (from his first and second wives) and exposure to asbestos at the GE plant where he worked for many years as a metallurgical technician.  Duci’s doctors have suspended radiation and chemotherapy for the inoperable cancer, which as Strock notes:

“indicates to me the imminence of the unmentionable, but if that bothers him, he doesn’t shout it.  He is far more concerned about houses in Schenectady being taxed for new siding than he is aabout his own mortality.”

Our hat goes off to the feisty old pol from Schenectady.  Like Carl, we “admire him for his energy and for his lack of self-pity.”  And, we can all only hope to “keep our faculties” and our zest for the political fight as long as Frank Duci has.

afterwords (October 16, 2008): Thanks to Overlawyered.com‘s Walter Olson for linking to this post from his Twitter page; (a first for f/k/a and my own first visit to Twitter); and to wills and estate lawyer Patti Spencer, for pointing to us from her Pennsylvania Fiduciary Litigation weblog.

update (Nov. 23, 2008): For more on Frank Duci, scroll to the second story in this post, which discusses the TU article “An Electric City original still burns brightly: Frank J. Duci may lack official standing, but he’ll always be a mayor” (Albany Times Union, Nov. 20, 2008) and more.

update (October 17, 2009): Yesterday was declared Frank Duci Day in Schenectady, and Frank Duci Plaza was dedicated around the Avenue A home of the now 88-year-old former mayor.  See “After a long road, ex-mayor gets a street” (Albany Times Union, October 16, 2009).

his quiet funeral—
a man who did
most of the talking

……….. by barry george – frogpond XXVIII: 1

her estate
the children

…. by W.F. Owen – The Loose Thread; Modern Haiku XXXII:1

p.s.  My Favorite Frank Duci Story: Shortly after I moved here, then-Mayor Duci appointed his stepson to run the Schenectady Municipal Parking Authority.  As the guy was an unemployed apprentice tile-layer, folks asked why he was qualified for the position.  Duci responded something like “He likes people, and he has a 200 bowling average.  You can’t bowl that well without having good concentration.”  From then on, I confessed to whoever would listen that “I’ll never be able to get a job working for the City of Schenectady.  My IQ is too high and my bowling average too low.”  I sure wish I had a weblog back then (circa 1989), ’cause it would have been fun writing about our Il Duce.

October 8, 2008

foggy, chilly, out of focus

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 9:58 am

.. . . . no, not last night’s soporific Presidential Debate (nor our simultaneous finger-puppet townhall meeting).

cloud and fog–
into my sleeves
they go

in the river fog
a boisterous noise…
tea-picking song

… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

— photos by David Giacalone, Riverside Park, Schenectady NY, Oct. 8, 2008 —

We’re talking about the far more inspiring Mohawk River, as seen around 8:30 this morning at Riverside Park, along Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood.  While waiting for a load of laundry to dry, the f/k/a Gang headed out and snapped a few photos, which we’re sharing with our readers (click on each for larger versions), along with fog haiku and senryu from our Honored Guest Poets.  Enjoy.

in and out of fog
driving him
to the home

… by w.f. owen – Haiku Notebook (Lulu Press, 2007)

morning fog. . .
a mash of wild apples
on the road

……… by tom clausen from being there (Swamp Press, 2005)

pea soup fog
the sound of a map
unfolding beside me

winter fog
everyone crowds around
the mime

… by Ed Markowski –  Haiku Sun (Issue X, Jan. 2004)

through a hole
in the fog     billboard girl’s
radiant face

… by George Swede – Almost Unseen (Brooks Books, 2000)

fog all day
the whiteness
in my ears

… by Alice Frampton –  Frogpond XXIV:2

fog on the bridge
this small truck
for all our belongings

soft leather
on an old baseball
spring fog

…. by paul m.
“fog on the bridge” – from called home (Red Moon Press, 2006)
“soft leather” –  A New Resonance 2: ; Frogpond XXII:2

waiting for you
another pair of headlights
through the fog

.. by Yu Chang from Upstate Dim Sum (2003/I)

morning fog
a midwife wipes the eyes
of a newborn

… by Andrew Riutta – Tinywords.com (Aug. 23, 2007)


Thick fog lifts –
unfortunately, I am where
I thought I was

… by George Swede –  Simply Haiku Winter 2006 (vol 4 no 4)

October 6, 2008

hang-ups over banning books

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 10:55 am

A planned quick mea culpa over forgetting to post about this year’s Banned Books Week — September 27 to October 4, 2008 — was complicated yesterday, when I saw an editorial in the Schenectady Sunday Gazette headlined “No good reason to pull library book in Galway” (October 5, 2008). (see our 2007 BBW post last year)

Referring to a story published October 3rd by the Gazette, the Editors explained that the trustees of the Galway Public Library (in the Saratoga County Town of Galway, New York, which has a population under 4000 and is located about 12 miles north of Schenectady), have at least temporarily pulled from its shelves the book Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out: stuff you need to know about your body, sex, and dating” (Health Communications, by Melisa Holmes, M.D. and Trish Hutchison, M.D., 2008). Hang-Ups is part of the Girlology series of books aimed at pre-teen and teenage girls.  The Gazette editorial starts:

“Maybe Galway Public Library officials deserve some benefit of the doubt for agreeing to temporarily remove from their shelves a popular book on teen sexuality that a patron complained about, citing “factual errors, philosophy and perceived bias.” But not a whole lot, frankly — and none if they don’t hurry up and put the book back, where it belongs.

“It’s one thing to forbid your child to read a book you don’t like or agree with, or to bring it into your home; it’s entirely another to try to impose such a judgment or moral standard on the public — especially in a library, whose function is to make as much information, including opinion, on as many subjects as available as possible.”

The editorial makes other important points, including:

  • “Even if the book in question — “Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out: Stuff You Need to Know About Your Body, Sex & Dating” — did contain factual errors, removing it from circulation hardly seems like the proper response. Lots of books, including many good ones, have mistakes in them.”
  • “Then there’s this: What constitutes a mistake can be a matter of opinion; who decides? And where does one draw the line as to which mistakes are tolerable and which are not?”

Like a large proportion of all books that targeted for removal from libraries and schools, Hang-Ups deals with teen sexuality.  The Gazette notes that “Teen sexuality, and how to teach about sex to one’s children, is a highly personal and — for some parents — ideological issue that shouldn’t be decided by one member of a community, or even a committee.”  The editorial correctly asserts that:

“If parents have reservations about the methods advocated by a particular author (in this case, two women doctors with teen children), they should instruct or even order their children to steer clear. But it shouldn’t be their decision to make for the rest of the community.”

The Gazette news article about the controversy in Galway reported:

“[Library Director Ashley] Poulin said a copy of the book was delivered to Dr. Anneke Pribis at the Galway Family Health clinic. ‘We’ve asked Dr. Pribis to read the book to see if it is medically accurate,’ Poulin said. ‘We haven’t heard back from Anneke yet’.”

Dr. Pribis, a family practitioner in Galway, has been asked to pass judgment on a book written by a two well-known experts on subjects related to juvenile gynecology and teenage sexuality (find more info on the authors here).  I haven’t been able to find information online about the complaining parent/patron, Patti Venditti, but I would not be surprised to learn that her concerns have more to do with its “philosophy and perceived bias” than with the inaccuracy of any medical information provided in Hang-Ups. (Ms. Venditti is invited to tell us more about her concerns by leaving a Comment below.)

My quick online research about Hang-Ups uncovered only positive reviews of the book.  For example, seven parents reviewed the book at The Parent Bloggers Network, and the post summarizing the reviews says:

“The consensus among the bloggers who reviewed Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out is that we all wish we’d had this book when we were growing up.

And this blogger summed it up beautifully:

“Is this book for you? If you’re a teenage girl? Yes. If you’re the mother, father, friend, teacher, or confidant of a teenage girl? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.“

Hang-Ups also got a rave positive review by a parent at the Scrutiny by the Masses weblog.

My concern is with the willingness of the Library trustees in Galway to pull the book pending their final determination. One trustee told the Gazette that this is the first time they’ve had such a complaint in the history of the Galway Public Library, which was founded in 1998.  It’s clear the trustees either have, or were aware of, no procedure for handling a request that a book be removed from the Library. This is the full treatment of Ms. Venditti’s complaint from the August 2008 Minutes of the Library Board of Directors (Aug. 6, 2008):

Public Comment:  Patti Venditti, a Galway library patron and mother, brought up concerns about a book in the library’s collection, Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups and Holding Out, due to factual errors, philosophy and perceived bias. Ashley [Poulin, Library Director] will provide Patti with a form to fill out for possible culling of the book.  Arlene [Rhodes] moved and Laura [Sakala] seconded that the book be removed from circulation pending determination.  The motion carried.  Patti will be taking the book home with her for use in completing the form.

Yes, that’s right: On the basis one person’s concerns, a popular and much-praised book was taken from the Galway Library shelves “for possible culling” (and handed over to the complainant to help her write up her complaints).  This seems a far cry from the American Library Association’s policy on Free Access to Libraries for Minors (June 30 1972), which the NYS Public Library Department recommends for adoption by all public libraries in this State.

good-news update (October 10, 2008): In an email to me this afternoon, Ashley Poulin, Director of the Galway Library informs me that “The review has been completed and the determination was made to keep [Hang-Ups] on the shelf.”

update (October 15, 2008): The Schenectady Gazette reports today that “Controversial teen book back on shelves at Galway library” (by Kathy Bowen, Oct. 15, 2008). Oddly, Joanna Lasher, President of the Library Board of Trustees, now says the book was never actually taken out of circulation. “It was not out of circulation; it was being reviewed and was still part of the collection,” Lasher said.  I just checked the Board’s August 2008 Minutes, and it still says “Arlene [Rhodes] moved and Laura [Sakala] seconded that the book be removed from circulation pending determination.  The motion carried.”  If the Board is a little squeamish about having over-reacted, that bodes well for the future.

Here are two pertinent excerpts from the ALA policy on access for minors:

  1. “Restrictions are often initiated under the assumption that certain materials are ‘harmful’ to minors, or in an effort to avoid controversy with parents who might think so. The librarian who would restrict the access of minors to materials and services because of actual or suspected parental objection should bear in mind that he is not in loco parentis in his position as librarian. Individual intellectual levels and family backgrounds are significant factors not accommodated by a uniform policy based upon age.”
  2. “The American Library Association holds that it is the parent-and only the parent-who may restrict his children and only his children-from access to library materials and services. The parent who would rather his child did not have access to certain materials should so advise the child.”

By the Way: The online catalog for our regional Library System shows that the Schenectady County Public Library has 3 copies of Girology’s Hang-Ups book; and that Galway Public Library’s single copy is “Out (due: 10/15/08).”

It’s difficult to image any valid reason for keeping Hang-Ups off the shelves at the Galway Public Library, or any other public or school library.  This incident a few miles down the road demonstrates the continued need to celebrate Banned Books Week — to educate the public and public servants about both the importance of free speech (and access to information) and the responsibility of parents to monitor what their children read (as opposed to asking their librarians to act in loco parentis).

At the Banned Books Week website, you’ll find information about books and authors have been most challenged in recent years, along with quite a few ideas about how you can help protect free speech and access (e.g., visiting the linked pro-censorship sites is an eye-opening experience).

The ALA and other sponsors of BBW want you to know that:

“More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups–or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.”

– some of the many acclaimed books targeted for banishment in the past two decades –

The Top Ten Challenged Authors from 1990 – 2004 were:

1. Alvin Schwartz  2. Judy Blume  3. Robert Cormier 4. J.K. Rowling 5. Michael Willhoite
6. Katherine Paterson 7. Stephen King 8. Maya Angelou 9. R.L. Stine 10. John Steinbeck

Please don’t let the passing of Banned Books Week keep you from getting involved.  The Galway Public Library expects to issue its judgment on Hang Ups in November, and similar decisions are made year-round in hundreds of communities, of all sizes, across the nation.

The f/k/a Gang has run out of time for posting today.  Rather than dig up new haiku and senryu, here are some of the poems we found for our post about BBW 2007, which featured the book “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things” (Candlewick 2005), by Carolyn Mackler (which was high on the list of challenged books in 2006, due to its sexual content, offensive language, and purported purported anti-family message and age group unsuitability):

after school meeting
collage clouds turn
round and round

big enough
to pedal home on
winter moon

……………………… by Matt Morden – from Morden Haiku

family picnic
the new wife’s rump
bigger than mine

earth tremor
the teapot sings

…… by Roberta Beary – from The Unworn Necklace (Snapshots Press, 2007; order); “family picnic” – Modern Haiku (favorite senryu award, 2003)

p.s. Free speech is just as important auf Deutsch.  In this week’s Blawg Review #180 we’re reminded that the White House has declared today to be German-American Heritage DayLaw Pundit Andis Kaulis presents many interesting facts for those who only think of Bier und Oktober Fest this time of year, including the surprise (to many of us) that “German Americans make up the largest acknowledged ancestry group in America, even larger than the Irish and the English.”  Thanks to Andis for including our post on Ladies’ Nights in his list of notable recent blawg postings.

Speaking of libraries, laws, and access to information, check out Laura Orr’s important piece at Oregon Legal Research, “Let’s Kill All the Law Libraries” (Oct. 3, 2008)

September 28, 2008

what is it about sunsets?

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 8:11 am

. . they’re free and frequent . .

. . and fleeting . .

.. . . they make us look again at everyday sights .. ..

Hermits and honeymooners ooh and aah. New Agers and Hockey Moms love them. Cranky Curmudgeons, too.  Even when prices are high and politicians low.

Yes, I’m grateful our species got a gene that almost always enjoys another sunset.  Perhaps, that gene evolved and was naturally selected back when life was rather brutal and short, because those of our early ancestors who looked forward to sunsets had more motivation to survive for another day, were more fun to be around, and tended to attract mates.

Naturally, I’m also thankful that such wonders appear so often at the end of my block — and that digital technology lets me view and then share them with virtually no fuss or expense.

(above photos taken September 25, 2008, photos below were taken September. 27, 2008S, Schenectady Stockade, Riverside Park, by d.a.giacalone; click to enlarge)

for many more sunset pictures from Schenectady, see my photoblog suns along the Mohawk

Two centuries ago, half a world away from my Schenectady sunset, an itinerant Japanese poet loved his sunsets, too.  These should tide us over until 7 PM tonight.

the town is buzzing
with dragonflies

the mountain sunset
within my grasp…
spring butterfly

the woodpecker too
engulfed in sunset…
autumn colors

waiting and waiting
for sunset…
the willow tree

at my feet 
sunset’s rays, autumn

not shrinking back
from the sunset…

a plowman facing
Mount Tsukuba

a ruckus of cherry blossoms
a ruckus of trout

an assembly of kites
in the sky over the town

…… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Below the Fold: sunset through the eyes of a dozen contemporary haijin, a/k/a f/k/a‘s Honored Guest Poets:


September 24, 2008

DWP needs its own Doris Aiken

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 10:34 am

.. .. ban DWI and DWP, too . . ..

In 1978, Doris Aitken launched RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers), the first anti-DWI national organization in the U.S., right here in Schenectady, New York.  Since then, Aitken and RID — using all volunteers in the field and no professional fundraisers — have been instrumental in passing dozens of laws relating to drunken driving. See “RID marks 30 years of efforts to combat drunken driving” (Sunday Gazette, Sept. 21, 2008), and the RID milestones page.

The deaths of Scotia residents Karen and Timothy Morris, 17 and 19 (the only Morris children), caused by an intoxicated 22 year old on Dec. 4, 1977, spurred Doris Aitken into action.  For three decades, she has relentlessly confronted lawyers, courts, politicians, the media and the alcohol industry in her struggle to reform DWI laws.

This Pit Bull wears lipstick. ..  Doris Aitken is over 80 years old, but she is still tenacious and surely still wears lipstick.  She called her 2002 memoir, “My Life as a Pit Bull” (several chapters are available here).

As a Schenectady Daily Gazette editorial said yesterday, “Aiken shows that citizen activism works” (Sept. 23, 2008):

“Thirty years ago, drunken driving was seen as a joke. Today it is seen as the serious, life-and-death matter that it is, by most drivers as well as the legal system. No one person or group deserves all the credit for this societal change in attitude, but Schenectady’s Doris Aiken and her RID-USA, the oldest national anti-DWI group, deserve a lot, especially in New York state.”

Through education, consternation and legislation, RID and similar organizations, such as MADD, have helped change the attitude and behavior of millions of Americans, saving lives and preventing accidents.   As Robert Carney, the Schenectady County District Attorney, told Doris at the RID 30th anniversary event:

“People are making smarter choices, and the highways are safer thanks to you.”

After three decades of ardent advocacy, and Doris Aitken is still passionate and committed. [Last December, the octogenarian started the RID Weblog, where she recently argued “College Presidents wrong on drinking age“.]  Along with so many others here in Schenectady and across the nation, I tip my hat to Doris Aiken and send her my gratitude and admiration.  Today, moreover, I fervently hope that we can somewhere find a focused, articulate and effective advocate like Aiken for an impaired-driving crusade against the similar scourge of Driving While Phoning.

. .. In 1997, The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a study by Toronto researchers, which found that the risk of having an accident is four times greater if the driver is using a cell phone — the same risk as driving at the legal drinking limit. Additional studies have confirmed that finding, with one also equating the reduced reaction times of those engaged in DWP to that of drivers over 70 years of age.  Of course, far more people, from every demographic group, drive impaired due to phoning while driving than have ever driven under the influence of alcohol.  They do it consistently, 24/7, not just in the evening, after parties, or during holidays.  They do it shamelessly, with kids and loved ones in their cars. And, where the phony and ineffective handheld-phone-bans exist, they blatantly engage in DWP in front of law enforcement officers. (see our prior post for more information)

Criminal defense lawyer and Simple Justice blawger Scott Greenfield might believe that some DWI laws go too far, but he is well aware of the importance of the anti-DWI movement and of the analogy to DWP.  In the post “the other drunk driver,”  he wrote last year: “The same people who will rail with inflammatory rhetoric at the evils of driving drunk will happily cruise in their SUV while talking non-stop on a cellphone.”  And, Scott explained back in February:

“First, there is no longer any question that cellphone use while driving is as bad as, if not worse, than drunk driving.  It is not merely benign conduct, but conduct that has the potential to kill.  Worse yet, it lacks the moral stigma of drunk driving, so that ordinary law-abiding people wouldn’t think twice about chatting away on the cellphone while behind the wheel.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.

“For some, the point can be quickly driven home on a policy basis by noting that there is no conversation that someone needs to have so desperately that is worth the life of my child.  Until recently, society survived without cellphones.  We were not on the verge of crumbling for lack of an opportunity to chat with a friend, or even a client.  Are cellphones convenient?  Absolutely.  Are they worth taking a life?  No.”

The f/k/a Gang keeps harping about the dangers of DWP, and the hypocrisy of politicians who pass laws making hands-free DWP legal.  See, the comprehensive post “California’s make-believe phone safety law” (June 30, 2008).  But, we have neither the focus nor the energy to make it our crusade.  DWP needs its own Doris Aiken.

In the blink of an eye, our nation went from having no cellphones to having a population that can’t live or drive without them.  Judging by their behavior, a majority of Americans sees no problem at all in turning their vehicles into giant, speeding desks and sofas — used for endless streams of distracting business and social “communication”.  And, worse, even when they admit the obvious added risk caused by DWP, they dismiss it as secondary to some presumed right to phone, and they give in to the irresponsible impulse to chat with whomever they choose, whenever they choose.

It’s almost too late.  We need a Doris Aiken to educate and embarrass the public and our so-called leaders about the folly of DWP.  We need to change hearts and minds, and create an anti-DWP stigma, the way RID and MADD did with drunk driving. It’s almost too late, but I bet Doris Aiken could do it.

.. .. ban DWI and DWP .. ..

p.s. You can pass on this post using the tiny URL: http://tinyurl.com/RID-DWP .

September 23, 2008

automatic doors make terrible bulletin boards [with sequel added July 2010]

Filed under: Procrastination Punditry,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 4:19 pm

..  Granted, the handy rule of thumb you see in our headline is not an earth-shattering piece of wisdom.  It hasn’t been passed down for generations in my family either. But, it came to me rather quickly a few days ago, when I tried to read the notice found at the head of this paragraph.  For the past week or so, that piece of paper has been prominently posted on both entry doors of the Central Library building of our Schenectady County Public Library. Despite several attempts at reading the notice, all I can say for sure at this point is that workmen participating in an Asbestos Abatement Program will be at the 99 Clinton St. Central Library to remove some asbestos sometime soon. Although the information is surely contained in the posted message, I still don’t know which contractor is handling the task nor when the removal will take place, or if the building will be shut down during the operation.

— northern entrance Central Library —

You see, the Notice moves to the left as soon as one approaches it.  That’s because it’s attached to an automatic door that slides open when you get near it, and then slides back rather quickly once you pass through.  Yes, I tried scooting over to peruse the Notice in that moment when the door stops after fully opening, but it begins sliding back to close as soon as one steps out of the entryway.

Sure, I could probably wait for a long line of entering Library patrons to pass through the doorway, or get someone to stand on the sensor pad a few moments, to let me to read the Notice while the door is fully open — or even come back when the Library is closed and the door is locked — but, that’s a lot of work and sort of beside the point for any self-respecting curmudgeon.

I’m going to assume that whoever posted the Notice on those two automatic doors did it when they were locked — otherwise, there should have been an epiphany leading to the discovery of my Terrible Bulletin Board Maxim.  If the doors were turned on and doing their sliding thing, I’d love to have seen the Affixation Moment, and the look on the Affixer’s face.

.. Southern Entrance SCPL Central Library ..

As you can see, there were quite a few stationary spots near the entrance, where one might have affixed an Important Notice.  Prof. Yabut, our legal issue-spotter, wonders whether an obligation to post a notice could be properly satisfied, when it’s been placed on an automatic door.  If the entire f/k/a Gang had not missed its afternoon nap, we might have tried some quick research to see whether the issue has been adjudicated.  However, even when we’re in procrastination mode, we try to have better things to do with our time and limited energy.  Enterprising law students, associates who have already met their September billable hours quota, or really bored law professors and webloggers out there, are nonetheless encouraged to pursue the legal point and let us know the results of your research or brain-storming. [follow-up: Two years later, I did the research and the results can be found in the update below dated July 3, 2010.]

.. In case you ever have to post a Notice or are contesting whether notice has been properly made, we repeat:  Be it Swinging, Sliding, Telescopic or Bifolding, an automatic door makes a terrible bulletin board.

afterwords (8PM): Thanks to Jo-Ann Schrom for posting this posting at her Rotterdam NY Info site.  As the regulars at the Rotterdam online community regularly have enjoyable and interesting perspectives, I’ll be clicking the link to see what they think of those sliding doors.

deja vu

follow-up frustration (July 3, 2010):  After the handful of haiku below you will find “a moving message from the Schenectady County [NY] Public Library“, with the second chapter in this aggravating tale.

May morning
the door opens
before I knock

. . . . by John Stevenson – from Some of the Silence

opening the sliding door
in her red pajamas

doorFrontF . . . . by paul m. – A New Resonance 2 & Frogpond XXII:1

through the open door . . .
her smile doesn’t forgive
all my sins

. . . . by Randy Brooks – School’s Out (1999)

Part II (July 3, 2010)


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