Shawn's Reporter Blog

Thank goodness for meaningless distractions

Friday, July 25th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

Anyone who’s been watching the news lately knows the world’s on edge. Frankly, I’m starting to lose track of who’s at war with who. In Iraq, ISIS continues to battle Iraqi forces. There’s no end in sight to the civil war in Syria. Then, of course, there are the growing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine; and violence between Hamas and the Israeli government in the Middle East. I’ll point out that this list is exclusive to global conflicts currently in the mainstream media and doesn’t include the dozens of other countries going toe to toe in other parts of the world.

With so much happening at once, it’s no wonder many people aren’t sure where to stand when it comes to international issues. Which brings me to the pressing question that’s on everyone’s mind: Was Jamie Dornan the right choice for the lead in “50 Shades of Grey?”

Thank goodness for meaningless distractions.

Locally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the continuing negotiations between the county and the CSEA labor union. For those who don’t know, many county employees have gone without a contract since their last contract expired in December. The workers’ union voted down a proposed deal earlier this month and it’s likely to vote again as soon as possible.

True, I think it’s unfair that county employees are working without a labor deal. Even public employees deserve a few more bread crumbs thrown their way once in a while. But what I detest is pay raises for all county employees across the board. Maybe it’s the private sector employee in me saying this, but shouldn’t raises be determined on individual performance, not by union affiliation? If the employee who darts pencils in the ceiling above his cubicle gets a raise, what’s it say for the one who goes in early and stays late?

I also think the demand for work is something to consider (speaking to the ’30 Seconds’ crowd). I don’t doubt the work load born by most governmental departments has grown significantly in recent years, thanks largely to attrition in most cases. At the same time, I’m skeptical that the amount of work has steadily and evenly increased in each department. So again, I personally can’t justify the same percent pay increase for all employees.

Admittedly, my understanding of negotiations between CSEA (or any labor union) and the county is pretty narrow, especially since most discussions happen behind the closed doors of executive session. But that’s the beauty of employee confidentiality, I guess. And because there are two strongly opinionated sides in this fight, I know there’s a lot to consider.

At the state level, it’s worth mentioning Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest debacle. As some might remember, Cuomo ran is campaign on a promise to clean up Albany in 2010. Since then, he created an ethics committee to investigate corruption among state legislators. This week, it was revealed that the committee he had created couldn’t investigate Cuomo or certain organizations to which he had ties. Cuomo disbanded the commission before it went any further.

I liken this scenario to someone being run over by their own car…

Stress relief, and Indiana’s vanity plate plight

Monday, July 7th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

My job can be stressful. As a reporter, I typically teeter a fine line between appeasing my readership’s right to know the full story and keeping important professional contacts. It can be a challenge, even more in small time Chenango County. Fortunately there’s an extensive club for people like me who are stressed. I know it as the National Association of Everybody.

Proving that I’m not alone when it comes to stress, a poll conducted by National Public Radio and the Harvard School of Public Health found that more than 25 percent of Americans have experienced a great deal of stress in recent months, resulting in increased health and behavioral issues crippling to their personal and professional livelihoods. In a cruel twist of irony, a survey previously issued by these institutes also show that a leading stressor among Americans is illness and disease.

So if stress causes illness and illness causes stress, how is this never ending crapstorm defined by the Affordable Care Act and when will I be eligible for workers’ comp?

For some with serious illnesses, stress relief may not be far off with the Governor’s signing of legislation on Saturday to make medical marijuana a reality in New York State. In spite of mounting pressure nationwide to legalize recreational marijuana, I applaud New York State legislators for the stipulations tied to medical marijuana that restrict administration to non-smokeable forms (i.e. ingested or administered via a vaporizer or oil base).

Even so, with the states of Colorado and Washington paving the way for legalized recreational marijuana, it’s only a matter of time before the Empire State follows suit. I’m already considering investment in stocks of tuna fish and Doritos.

Stress and pot aside, I came across a national news story from the Associated Press on Monday concerning the Indiana Supreme Court’s possible decision to outlaw vanity license plates. This because of one police officer’s personal plate that read “0INK.” The AP reported that the officer’s license plate has been revoked by the BMV – a decision that a local judge said was a violation of the officer’s freedom of speech. But the BMV said it would file a notice of appeal Monday, asking the state Supreme Court to overrule the judge’s decision.

Prior to his ruling in June, the local judge also cited similar instances when the Indiana BMV approved vanity plates such as “B HOLY” and “HATERS” while denying others like “UNHOLY” or “HATE.” To justify these inconsistencies, the BMV claims it’s permitted, under state law, to refuse issuance of a plate if it carries a “connotation offensive to good taste and decency” or that would be “misleading.”

Indiana’s license plate quandary makes me question my own New York vanity plate, “JU1CY.” Misleading, indeed.

I love campaign season

Friday, May 30th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

It’s not surprising that political candidates choose to go negative with their campaign. After all, it’s easier to vilify someone than it is to become a saint. Even more enticing is the evidence that negative campaigning actually works, which I think shows a lot about our largely pessimistic attitudes toward anything and everything in between. So I can’t say I was surprised to get a campaign postcard at my home address this week that simply said, “Vote ‘No’ on Claudia Tenney.”

I don’t need to point out the obvious difference between voting for someone and voting against another. Given its negative message, it’s no more or less surprising that this postcard was colored in black, white and red, decorated in broken text, and printed on a discrete 12×9 piece of poster board. I’m sure if it had the ability to play haunting music, it would have. It couldn’t have been more threatening if it were on fire.

I love campaign season.

On the cheerier note, I use to make it a habit to read the classifieds of the newspaper. I’m always fascinated with the wordsmithing some people fabricate to sell what would otherwise be considered junk. My personal favorite: “Car for sale Runs great. No engine.” Other award winners include a used mattress with “few urine stains,” a chevy pickup with “optional movement” and this week, a toilet bowl that is “like new.” I’m not a salesman, but it seems like a toilet is one of those things that’s either new or it’s not. There’s no gray area.

On the topic of classifieds, we at The Evening Sun owe and apology to a ’30 Seconds’ poster and anyone else who saw a help wanted ad for a part-time shipping and receiving person. The ad specifies that applicants be able to lift 50 pounds, but fails to provide an address or contact information. To clarify, anyone interested in the job should get ahold of…

At the cusp of politics and play time

Friday, May 9th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

On Thursday, someone sent me a link to a story from NBC News telling of how lawmakers in the New York State Senate this week deliberated for an hour before finally passing a highly contested bill. The topic worthy of such mindful deliberation, you ask? Whether or not yogurt should be made the official snack of New York.

The report details the debate among senators during what I’m going to call the great yogurt debacle of 2014. Some officials questioned how honoring yogurt might offend people who are lactose intolerant or “if the designation would conflict with the state’s official muffin, the apple muffin.” The story continues, “Senators also debated whether low-fat or Greek yogurts would get the honor of state snack if the bill passed. One member of the legislative body wondered if yogurt could even be considered a snack, since some eat it for breakfast.”

Ultimately, the bill, which only materialized as part of a project undertaken by a group fourth graders in an upstate elementary school, did pass in a 52-8 vote – but it took one senator to point out that the discussion was about 57 minutes on the lengthy side.

And so it’s safe to draw one more tally mark for another great success reached by your elected state legislators.

You can’t make this stuff up. Why would you?

On another note, Sunday is Mother’s Day, as we’ve indicated through multiple pictures of flowers that appeared this week in The Evening Sun. So if you’re like me and have waited until the last minute to make a macaroni necklace or glue popsicle sticks into the vague shape of a picture frame, I wish you the very best of luck.

I’ll see you at the mall

Friday, April 18th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in the short four and a half years I have been married, it’s how much I despise clothes shopping. The crowded stores, trying things on, waiting in lines, and the spending money I don’t have. In the broad scheme of things, what is there to like about it?

Yet every few months, I’m grounded in a department store trying to keep myself entertained, all the while holding my wife’s coat an pocketbook so she can browse the seasonal clearance items. To my credit, I can hold it together pretty well; that is, until we hit the underwear section. Then I’m just some schmo standing next to a mannequin in lingerie – still clenching that pocketbook and trying to bond with the other husbands like we’re a legitimate brotherhood.

So those are my Saturday plans…

I might also mention (for those who don’t have a full purse-clenching, money-spending, lingerie-watching day planned already) that Saturday is also the annual kids’ Easter egg hunt in East and West Parks in downtown Norwich. The Maydole Hose Company, in collaboration with the Norwich BID and Norwich Merchants’ Association, are generous in donating some pretty cool prizes for this event every year. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly thousands of plastic eggs can disappear. And perhaps more fun is watching Evening Sun photographer Frank Speziale get lost in a stampede of kids that are 60 years his junior but three-quarters his size. That’s something everybody can enjoy.

As for the people with no desire to see an Italian photographer get lost in a sea of excited kids, Saturday will also be the annual hunger walk sponsored by the the First Baptist Church in Norwich. The hunger walk is a special event to promote hunger awareness throughout the area. It’s a good event worth every minute.

Traveling is my passion

Friday, April 4th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

I don’t travel too often.

Scratch that. I don’t travel at all. Truth is, I rarely have the time or money to make the three-mile trip to the grocery store, let alone board a plane headed anywhere but here. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to travel someday – to Rome, Beijing, Mumbai, or, as my wife suggests, Fort Worth, Texas. But my wallet holds more moths and IOUs than it does travel rewards, so you can imagine how often I see the world outside Chenango County. I imagine it lives up to the glitz and glamor of fairytale cities the likes of Oz or Wonderland.

Then again, some of the characters I meet right here at home bar a striking resemblance to those seen in an unconventional fairytale.

Traveling is near the top of my bucket list and I’m ready to take off any time. I have a vacation savings account started, several possible destinations pinned on a map, one of those plastic toothbrush protectors, and enough clean underwear to get me at least two weeks (three or four if I turn them inside out). Yes, barring threats of terrorism, civil unrest, plague of locusts or natural disaster, I’m ready to head off to wherever – probably Fort Worth, since that’s what my wife wants. And if there’s something I’ve learned in four years of marriage, it’s when the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Nevertheless, traveling anywhere might still be a ways off. Fortunately there’s plenty to do in Norwich this weekend. On Friday, the curtain opens on this year’s production of “Damn Yankees” at the Norwich High School, the Chenango County Historical Society is unveiling their latest exhibit which celebrates the centennial of the City of Norwich on Saturday, and the Norwich Dollars for Scholars 5k takes off early Saturday. I look forward to all of them.

I love March

Friday, March 21st, 2014
Shawn Magrath

Spring, the season of life. Tree buds, bright flowers… and a possible nor’easter making its way into the area as early as Tuesday. Dreams do come true.

A tip of the hat to the Sherburne-Earlville Parent Advocate Group for Thursday’s forum hosted at the S-E High School. The meeting served as an excellent resource for parents and students who are muddled by the the contested education reform known as the Common Core. Speaking as someone who believes the Common Core is the worst things to happen to public education since candy bar fundraisers (which I’m typically guilted into), I feel like I can get behind the group and its efforts to inform parents about their children’s options when it comes to high-stakes testing. On the other hand, there’s two sides to every story. In that respect, it’s only appropriate to read what the New York State Board of Regents has to say and make your own judgments.

Additional congratulations to newly dubbed Evening Sun sports editor Shaun Savarese. With Pat Newell’s final farewell last Friday, Shaun finished out his first week flying solo on the job, and did so free of bitter phone calls, hate mail, or any threat of physical harm by readers. Off to a promising start, indeed.

I should also offer a personal apology to Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting, who, for reasons unbeknownst even to myself, I identified in a recent article as “Richard” Cutting (though in my defense, I can recall a professor Richard Cutting from my college days). Just another side affect of switching to auto-pilot at work. On the up side, at least I made the coffee right that day…

Duke’s out already. And just like that, the otherwise tedious task of scoring entries in our March Mania Contest becomes a simpler process. I love March.

Home is where the heart is

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

The winter sports season came to a sorrowful end on Saturday when the Norwich boys’ basketball team suffered their first loss of the year to the Westhill Warriors. As the season ends, so too does Pat Newell’s 17-plus-year tenure with The Evening Sun. As most readers already know, Pat is getting ready to ride off into the sunset, which happens to be over Albuquerque. Pat’s leaving behind a solid standing at the newspaper, a notable reputation in the Chenango County sports scene, and a cluttered cubicle with year’s worth of old sports notes, contacts, newspapers, and I’m guessing a former reporter who got buried underneath it all.

While Pat will certainly be missed by staff and readers alike, his replacement, Shaun Savarese, is just settling in. Shaun brings a fresh new perspective to The Evening Sun. With a background in sports broadcasting and an eagerness to jump into his new role as the go-to sports guy in Chenango County, Shaun’s off to a good start and in time (precisely 17 years) he will fill Pat’s shoes nicely.

For the sake of news, I should mention the number of open murder cases in Chenango County dropped from four to three last Friday, after Geneia Rood pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Rood was accused last fall of causing the death of an infant after giving the baby alcohol while she was babysitting. Over the week, I’ve heard it said several times that four open murder cases sets a new precedent in the county – not exactly the kind of “overachieving” status we should shoot for. Nevertheless, this is our new reality. To the people who have said that Chenango County has lost touch with its longstanding peaceful community reputation, I acquiesce. I love Chenango County; but it has done an about face in the last decade, with increasing drug problems, poverty, felony offenses, and (my biggest pet-peeve) a broad misunderstanding of how all these things are intertwined. But what can I say, home is where the heart is…

On the cheerier side of things, the American Civil War Wax Museum in Gettysburg, Pa. Is set to auction off a life-sized animatronic Abe Lincoln to raise money after completing a recent renovation… and evidently, to clear out its surplus Abe Lincolns. While the museum says the statue is the perfect addition to a collector’s smorgasbord of Civil War memorabilia, we at The Evening Sun envision a much more practical purpose. Lincoln would be the perfect employee to enforce the “employees only” sign on the front door. He’s tall, intimidating, works for free, and won’t argue. We can’t ask for a better fit.

The harder you try, the worse it gets

Friday, February 21st, 2014
Shawn Magrath

They call it the law of reversed effect: The harder you try, the worse it gets.

I’m finding the same holds true when it comes to public education. There have been several stories concerning education that made headlines this month that caught my attention, beginning with last week’s proposal by the New York Board of Regents to slow down a full-scale implementation of the hotly contested Common Core learning standards. The proposal also has backing from countless parents and teachers statewide, and legislators who say it was too much, too fast. I couldn’t agree more.

Then there was this week’s pitch from Governor Andrew Cuomo to provide financing for prisoners to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree during their sentence. It’s a deplorable concept in my opinion as it’s not only unfair for the millions of people who have made all the right decisions just to find themselves fighting student loans (people like myself); but also because a college degree held by a former inmate is as useless as a fish with a bicycle. As if a degree will make a convicted felon any more employable. Give me a break. I’m guessing a fancy degree from “RIT” loses some caliber when it comes from Rikers Island Tech.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against educating prisoners. I’m against paying for student tuition for them. Instead of paying their college fees, how about throwing a little money my way so I can pay off my student loans? At least I’m a good investment.

Lastly, I recently read an article from NYSUT United that says child hunger is a growing concern statewide because it’s also affecting students’ behavior and performance in the classroom. One million children in the Empire State go to bed hungry, and those numbers are only increasing thanks in part to a recent $300 million-plus cut to the federal food stamps program. For many kids, this means the only meal they get comes from the school cafeteria, and that makes it difficult for schools to close even when it snows two feet overnight. If ever there’s a downer of a story in education, this is it.

It’s taken our country more than 300 years to get public education where it is today. And it always seems that no matter what efforts are made to enhance it, there’s always a bigger obstacle to overcome. It’s times like this that one of my favorite Homer Simpson quotes comes to mind: “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

On the verge of “Progress”

Friday, January 24th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

• If ever there’s a time of year when The Evening Sun staff has little on their plate, January more than makes up for it. As I’m sure most readers are well aware, it’s “Progress Chenango” time at the newsroom, a time when staffers drink unsafe amounts of coffee and forget what fresh air smells like. Fortunate for me, my share of Progress work is done for another year. But it’s just getting started for our Editor in Chief, who faces the weekend task of putting the behemoth of a project together. The rest of us will be taking turns Saturday to prod her awake by poking her with a stick, and occasionally wiping the drool off her keyboard.

• On Thursday, “Taking Back Chenango County” met at the Sheriff’s Office for the second time sine the group formed in December. First off, I have to say I admire this group because they’ve shown that they love the area – love it – and are eager to make a positive change. I think their efforts were clearly born of good intent and I wish every one involved the very best of luck in what they’re trying to accomplish.

That said (and at the risk of sounding like a downer) it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it. Admittedly, I didn’t attend either of the past two meetings; but I get the impression that many who did are people who genuinely want change but aren’t too eager to rise to the challenge (I have my own term for these types of people, but I’ll refrain for the sake of my “virgin ear” readers). I don’t think it’s fair that anyone show up to these meetings just to delegate their ideas to someone else. My feeling is if you really want to see something good happen, then get involved. If you have an idea, follow through. Be productive. Be hands on. Attending a an occasional meeting to pat yourself on the back is not “hands on” work, but merely cheering from the sidelines.

Regardless, good luck, Taking Back Chenango. If there’s one thing this area needs, it’s proactive measures.

• On an off topic, my job requires that I take photos for front page stories as often as possible. Unfortunately, because my primary beat is city and county governments, I don’t spend too much time with a camera in hand. On the rare occasions I do, I wonder if a monkey could snap a better picture. So what’s a reporter to do but learn more about the photography trade? I recently watched an online video from New York Times Magazine that featured tips and tricks from from a 60-plus year veteran cat photographer. What I learned – other than the profession of “cat photographer” is a thing – is it’s best to be eye-level with the subject, then grunt, bark, moan or groan to get a reaction… I’ll let you know how it works for me.

• Fellow reporter Matt White recently told me that white noise often helps with concentration and focus in the office. I’ve heard this before, so I decided to try it out today. I started with a 10-hour soundbite of a vacuum cleaner. That got old fast, so I switched to “noisy cafe,” then to the sound of rain. Then I started listening to Eric Clapton’s “Let it Rain.” Then the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Before I knew it, things got out of hand and I was listening to the Black Eyed Peas, which I assure does not bolster concentration nor creativity. Maybe I’ll try the whole “white noise” thing again another day.