Archive for August, 2008

Smelling Like Roses

Thursday, August 14th, 2008
Melissa Stagnaro

People think that Oxford is always comparing itself to Norwich. That’s just not the case. The true rivalry is with Greene. At least it was when I was in school back in the days before time. You can imagine, then, my dismay when I learned during tour of Greene’s waste water treatment facility earlier this week, that Greene’s *&%# really doesn’t stink.

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t looking forward to the tour. But I needed to gather information for a story, so I sucked it up and made the call to the Village of Greene’s Superintendent of Public Works Bob Nowalk.

I was kind of hoping he’d tell me not to come down. Instead, he offered to make time in his schedule later that day to give me a full tour. How could I have said no? (No, really. How?)

I drove very slowly all the way from Norwich to Greene. I used my extra travel time to practice breathing through my mouth.

As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered. Both of the lift stations Bob showed me, as well as the treatment plant itself, were virtually odor free. I don’t mean this in the way that advertisers say those excruciatingly painful hair removal products are “virtually pain free.” It really did not smell.

I was left thinking: “Why the heck not?” After all, you only need to drive down Route 12 through Oxford at the right (or wrong) time to know that our *&%# DOES stink.

While Bob provided the technical explanation, siting Greene’s anaerobic process vs Oxford’s aerobic process, I struggled with it until he brought it down to terms I could more easily understand.

“If you stir the *&%#,” Bob said, “It’s gonna stink.”

One thing we’ve always been good at in Oxford is stirring it up.

A new look at the fair

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
Jessica Lewis

The fair was in town last week, and I’m fairly certain I was one of only a few people who not only had the chance to attend nearly everyday of the festivities, but also got paid to do it. Few people other than the carnies who manned the rides had a similar opportunity.

If working at The Evening Sun over the past two years has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what you might end up doing for tomorrow’s paper. Thursday morning, I had no idea that I was going to get to spend a day going on rides, playing games, looking at animals and sitting in the grandstand. (If I had, I would have brought some sun block and some Dramamine.) But despite a serious case of motion sickness and a slight sun burn, I left the fair with a new found fondness of all that the event has to offer.

When I attended the fair as a child, I’ll admit, I rarely left the rides and entertainment of the mid-way. I ignored everything else the fair had to offer, including the grand stand shows, the animal competitions and the exhibits and displays in the buildings around the fair grounds.

It’s taken a few years for me to see and appreciate the real offerings of the fair, but after exploring the exhibition halls, seeing the 4-H displays, petting some of the animals and watching young children present the animals they were so proud of, I’m sure I won’t be able to hear about the fair without thinking about all the hard work and dedication that children and adults put into making it what it is, a celebration of the agricultural roots of the community.

The Evening Sun’s Newest Staff Member

Friday, August 8th, 2008
Melissa Stagnaro

I came in to work this morning to discover that we had acquired a new member of the Evening Sun staff since I left the office yesterday.  It shouldn’t have surprised me, really. It’s not the first staff change that has happened over night in my three weeks here. I tried not to feel too out of the loop as I was introduced to Sohnny (the “h” is, apparently, silent.)When I first learned that this latest addition to the Sun family had come to us by way of the Chenango County Fair, I was a little concerned. I found it hard to believe that my co-workers had failed to heed the police chief’s friendly reminder not to pick up any carnies this year. (I can only assume that there was a reason he chose to issue the warning, but I am, alas, in the dark as to happenings at last year’s fair.)I’ve heard that Chenango County’s population typically fluctuates around this time each year. Apparently we lose a few when some of our own decide to run off with the fair and gain a few when carnies choose to stay. But I’ve never witnessed it before and I certainly never thought it would happen to us.Sohnny’s presence in the office will be an adjustment for all of us. Jessica has assured me that it won’t mean any more responsibility for me, but we’ll see.I’ve already noticed that Sohnny can be a little higher maintenance than some, but not all, members of our staff. I mean, no one had to help me settle into my workspace on my first day. And I’m not sure how I feel about him sleeping here.He seems a little stressed right now, but that will probably change as he adjusts to his new environment. I wonder if he’ll gets used to us watching his every move.It makes me glad I’m not the one in the goldfish bowl. But for him, it probably feels like home.

Rape Juror

Thursday, August 7th, 2008
Tyler Murphy

Sex crime accusations are difficult to quantify with physical evidence and so destructive in their charge that it is often enough to convict one’s character on mere implication. 

 

The word “rape” pulls at the very chords of our emotions with a resonance so deep, it inherently produces prejudice. It takes concentration and effort to pull ourselves back from these natural impulses. 

 

Maybe it’s because I’m a man, but often I have felt the power of a sexual accusation perturbs people enough that in many cases the defendant must prove himself innocent. Sometimes though I wonder if that’s a good thing.

 

In our system, however, the complications of a such a crime can be very difficult to figure out. In many cases victims don’t even report their abuses, fearing an embarrassing and public confrontation that may not necessary lead to justice. Other times the assailant is a close friend or loved one (boyfriend, for example) and a victim becomes personally torn. Often it seems these cases involve a sinister cocktail of drugs, alcohol, dysfunction and bad circumstance. Each of these factors contribute a wilder and wilder number of spiraling variables.

 

So this unfortunately leaves me with little hope of rationalizing my way into a fair decision (the only guilt-free kind), and often I feel contempt towards the idea of giving the accused the benefit of the doubt (also known as reasonable doubt). I believe in the notion of innocence until proven guilty because it’s really the only way we can even attempt to have a fair and just system.

 

How do we really know what happened, though? If an intoxicated woman says no but then gives contradictory body language or consents physically after expressing an oral objection, is that rape? I guess it depends on if the woman files a complaint afterward or not. What if a woman is threatened and consents from fear of death? What if there is some hideous reason for her to fabricate such an accusation out of revenge or to save some sense of perverted dignity? What if in a moment of intense anger , fear or impaired judgment, a claim is made that a person feels they can’t retract without serious consequence? What if drugs and alcohol are involved and a defendant or victim can’t remember the details of consent and contact? What if a victim passes out and was taken advantage of (date rape) or just said she was because she can’t recall? 

 

All these scenarios will yield very little physical evidence, especially if a defendant claims the sex was consensual. So basically you create a social stigma of casting additional suspicion upon the accused then you might with other offenses. I know I’m guilty of raising the justice bar just a little because I don’t really believe there are many women out there who would traumatize themselves unnecessarily by enduring the rape kit and follow up examination … Not to mention that creating a false claim is a crime and assuming an accusation might be false is sort of like not giving the victim the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fraud. 

 

It’s a difficult issue that’ll continue to plague critical thinking jurors for a long time. I feel deep sympathy for both sides. Imagine a prosecutor being a woman’s only hope for justice in a “he said/she said case.” A vindicated rapist and a victim deprived of the ability to have a normal life. Can you imagine being convicted on an accusation or misunderstanding? Have you seen how sex offenders are treated by our justice system and the public? A verdict derived from foggy circumstance and debatable physical evidence – but often that’s what the public demands of our system. People are creatures of feeling and when it’s too close to call, a lot of us go with our instincts. (Which rarely favor a defendant.) 

 

I wish I had an answer to this one, but I don’t. Just take it a case at a time. Fight the urge to lynch an accused person because what we’re really doing is hanging reason and justice out to dry. While at the same time, we’re embracing the difficulty of prosecution and offering sincere sympathy to a victim who may be utterly lost in our system of reasonable doubt.

Where is the student support?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008
Patrick Newell

At the end of a successful boys’ basketball season last February, one in which Norwich’s varsity finished 15-6 and the junior varsity went 19-1, head coach Mark Abbott suggested we have a sit-down – or as it turns out – a phone conversation to discuss a little thorn in his side.
Earlier this week, I had Abbott on the line to gather information about another story that will appear later this week in The Evening Sun, and we eventually segued to this “pet peeve” of Abbott.
Just to get unaware readers up to speed, through a large portion of the 1990s, Abbott presided over a sensational winning basketball program that won two state titles. While that success may never again be matched, a number of good Norwich teams have taken the court since that time including a 2001 sectional champion.
Even Norwich’s so-called down years usually yielded double-digit victories, and through it all, Abbott’s teams have embraced and welcomed the support of adults in the community. The real issue, Abbott says, is student support. “We just don’t get the students to games, and I don’t know why,” he said. “You go to Seton, Chenango Valley, and even Vestal…they all have big student cheering sections, and for whatever reason, we do not.”
Behind the home bench, seating of adults and assorted fans is nearly elbow to elbow, and across from the visitor’s bench, adults typically fill that section. The section across from the home bench, designated primarily for students of the home school, is now a mix of adults and students, with the attendance of the collective study body becoming more and more sparse. “It’s not like our teams do not do pretty well,” Abbott said, “and we’re probably going to have big crowds again this year.”
As local fans will soon find out, the current crop of Norwich varsity basketball players are immensely talented, dedicated, and quality citizens and students. Abbott hopes to see more students at games next year, and he knows his players wish for the same thing.

Other Duties As Assigned

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008
Melissa Stagnaro

There is a line in almost every job description that is the catch all. Tasks not expressly listed as regular responsibilities of your position fall under this line item, usually called “other duties as assigned”.

Into this category fall all of those things that your new boss was afraid to tell you before you were hired. Probably because he knew you’d never accepted the position if you were aware of them in advance.

I was aware of the fact that I would be responsible for taking some of my own photos when I was hired at The Evening Sun. I can hardly be classified as a great photographer, so it was natural to be a little nervous. Luckily the cameras we have on hand are good enough (read: expensive enough) that it’s hard to mess up too badly. Just don’t tell Jeff I’ve already managed to lose a lens cap.

What I didn’t know when I accepted this position was that I would have to have MY picture taken. Repeatedly.

For some, this may not seem significant enough to be classified under the “other duties as assigned” category. But I’ve found it akin to torture.

Maybe if there was some degree of prior notice, it wouldn’t be so bad. I could take a little extra time selecting a professional, yet flattering outfit and maybe even use a styling product or two in my usually product-free hair.

But, no. I’m convinced that Jeff waits to see if it will be a bad hair day or if I’m wearing something particularly hideous before suggesting that this would be the perfect day for a photo op.

All I know is that each of the photos taken in my three week tenure at The Evening Sun could easily qualify as a “Before” photo or a feature of the “Fashion Don’t” section at the back of some glossy magazine.

I’m going to go back and re-read my employee handbook. I hope there is something in there about personal time. I’ll need a few hours this afternoon to see if my stylist can fit me in for highlights before I go home to cull my wardrobe.

What’s in a name?

Monday, August 4th, 2008
Jessica Lewis

I love the entrepreneurial attitude of small business owners. They dedicate their time, money and a lot of energy into providing the community with a new product or service. Some fail, some flourish, and all bring something unique to the area.

That said, I have to wonder about some of the decisions some local business owners make. When new businesses open, The Evening Sun tries to give them a little free publicity by writing a new business article in the paper. We tell people what they are, when they’re open and why the owners decided to set up shop in the area. Sounds pretty harmless, right? So why is it that some businesses turn down their chance at a little free press? It doesn’t seem like getting their name out there could do anything but help.

Another thing I find strange is that many business owners seem to ignore all the rules of the English language as soon as they become their own boss. Perhaps they’re just sick of answering to someone else, even if that someone is Merriam Webster, but for some reason, several business owners seem to ignore spelling and proper grammar even when deciding on the name of their business. (I’m looking at you Bargin Bin.) Maybe there’s a clever reason for spelling the name of the business wrong, but if there is, I’m not seeing it.

It’s not just local businesses either. Why did Dunkin’ Donuts decide to spell their name that way and convince an entire generation of children that dough and do are spelled the same way? And worse yet, why do so many businesses think it’s cute to spell country, kuntry?

I know it might seem silly to get so annoyed over a few spelling variations, but in my opinion, the first impression you get of a business is from their name. Before you walk inside and check out the merchandise, you read the name on the sign or on the door and get an idea of what the business is like, and to me, if they’re not willing to put forth the effort to check their spelling before ordering a sign, putting lettering on the door or creating a menu, my first impression is that they don’t care enough to get my business.

Comfy Clean Cable

Friday, August 1st, 2008
Jeff Genung

 

Something major happened in Norwich recently that I’m sad to say my intrepid reporters missed. I only discovered it moments ago myself, on my way back from Price Chopper. 

 

The Norwich Motor Lodge is under new management.

 

That’s not the story, though. Well I guess it probably should be a story too, and we’ll get to that, but the real news here is that for the first time in probably 20 years, they’ve actually changed the changeable copy sign out in front.  

 

For years, and I’m quite certain I’m not exaggerating when I say decades, the signboard under the Norwich Motor Lodge logo as you come into the city  read “Comfy Clean Cable.” 

 

Now, the letters have been removed, the familiar phrase obliterated, replaced by a shiny banner announcing the “under new management” thing. I’m sure the new owners, whoever they are, have many changes in store for the venerable Norwich inn – but to take down “Comfy Clean Cable” so abruptly and without fanfare? I wept.  

 

I’ve often suggested that the City of Norwich should adopt “Comfy Clean Cable” as its official slogan. To me, it summarizes everything that’s good about Norwich in three simple, beautiful words. We’ve got all the basics of life wrapped up here in Norwich, folks. Who could want more than the comforts of home, the cleanliness of your environment and the wonders of cable television? 

 

I wish the new managers of the Norwich Motor Lodge every bit of success in their new enterprise. I’d humbly suggest not taking “Comfy Clean Cable” for granted, though. They’re the very precepts upon which our Chenango society is founded.  But now it’s gone. Lost to progress, I suppose. The sign that welcomed me back to the shining County Seat whenever I left it is no more. I feel as though the Statue of Liberty has been stripped of Emma Lazarus’ “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …” 

The E-Mail Crutch

Friday, August 1st, 2008
Melissa Stagnaro

Some days I think that e-mail is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Just this week I received a message via e-mail from a former classmate. One I haven’t seen or heard from since we graduated from Oxford 15 years ago. The fact that we’ve been out of school now for longer than we actually attended at OACS is something that, frankly, I’m not ready to contemplate. But I digress.

Ann-Marie saw my byline on the Evening Sun website and looked me up online. Her message was a blast from the past. I’m looking forward to catching up with her and actually keeping in touch this time around. That is one of the great benefits of e-mail, after all. The ability to keep in touch with people and places far removed from your own.

When you find yourself using it as the preferred means of communication with someone within shouting distance, however, it is the sign of a problem.

It has recently become apparent that I have this problem. I’ll give you an example.
This morning I found myself sending my editor, Jeff Genung, an e-mail. Now we use e-mail all the time to send attachments, forward messages and communicate when we’re not in the same office. But this was just a one line comment with no real importance.

That may not seem like an issue, other than the fact that I’m wasting Jeff’s precious time. But consider this: My desk is less than 15 feet from Jeff’s. I can actually see him if I tilt my head about 20 degrees to the left. I don’t even need to swivel in my chair. Yet I chose to send an e-mail to communicate this innocuous little comment.

I’m sure that you’ll agree. This is a problem.

I’m not the only one using e-mail as a crutch. For me, it is probably habit more than anything else. Sitting within the line of sight of my boss is a new thing. I think there are other issues for some people. I’m probably guilty of them as well at one time or another.

I’m sure there is a laziness factor. E-mail is certainly faster and less painful than picking up the phone or getting up from your desk to pass a message along. It’s less personal than face to face, so you don’t have to worry about negative reactions or rejection.

E-mail is also a tool of avoidance, a way of passing the responsibility of communication on to someone else. It allows the allusion of interaction while maintaining physical isolation. Oh yes, it’s a crutch.

I’m making a concerted effort to curb my anti-social tendencies. I promise is to go back to using e-mail as a tool and not as a crutch. Right after I send Jeff this one last e-mail…