Shawn's Reporter Blog

Is this a presidential debate or another reality TV show?

Friday, September 18th, 2015
Shawn Magrath

Donald Trump. Need I say more?

There doesn’t seem to be any restraint when it comes to the absurdity of current politics. Watching the first five minutes of the nightly news could tell you that. But with presidential elections just year and two months away (as if that’s practically on top of us), we’re forced to pay attention to the three ring circus that’s become our electoral process. Admittedly, I haven’t been following elections coverage because in my opinion, it’s far too much far too soon. I’ll wait until the bid for the highest office in the land takes a more serious turn before I tune into any debate. And yet for many, watching candidates scramble for support, be they Republican or Democrat, is like watching a train wreck. You know it’s going to be ugly, but you just can’t look away.

When did we start treating presidential debates as if they’re for entertainment purposes only? In August, Fox News landed the largest non-sports viewership in TV history when the network aired the first GOP primary debate. That debate garnered 24 million viewers. This week, CNN got its most watched televised event ever with the second GOP debate, which attracted 23 million.

Maybe it’s just my instinct, but there’s something unsettling about that many viewers. I find it hard to believe people are watching because they’re not sure who to vote for – at least not this early in the game. We’re still five months away from the Iowa Caucus. So if people aren’t watching these debates to make a civil decision, then they must be watching because… well, it’s amusing. Come on, those 23 million people don’t care about Trump’s views of national and international policy. They want to hear his next off color comment about immigrants. Or muslims. Or women. Or puppies. Or anybody and anything not himself. It must be a TV producer’s dream to draw so many viewers without any more effort than pointing a camera at a face and letting the magic just happen. More work goes into putting together an episode of “The Bachelor.”

Maybe Jake Tapper should have handed out a rose to each candidate moving onto the next round.

To be fair, it’s great that people are paying attention. I’d like think at least one or two important nuggets of information have made it through all the the drivel and chaos. But I can’t help but wonder how this whole ordeal is making us look on the world stage. How can we be taken seriously as a nation when we don’t even take ourselves seriously.

End rant and insert transition into a new topic here…

While not a new issue, Roots and Wings in Norwich finally came forward with what I think was a clear message this week: They don’t want your garbage. From old mattresses and worn furniture, to broken electronics, toys and household appliances, there’s not much Roots and Wings hasn’t seen piled in a heap at its door step. Unfortunately, this stuff causes more harm than help since the organization has to pay tipping fees when staffers haul it to the landfill. And where does all this junk come from? Folks who, under the guise of supposedly giving back to the community, unload it unsolicited during non-business hours when nobody’s there to turn them away. This is by no means a slight to people who donate items with good intentions, but I say boo to those who have no limits to the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” If you have a garage full of worthless junk, don’t push it off on someone else because it’s a cheap way of getting rid of it. Pay the tipping fees yourself.

Reporters are a dime a dozen, but sports editors are different

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015
Shawn Magrath

Reporters are a dime a dozen. Sports editors, on the other hand, are a little harder to come by.

If you haven’t already noticed a familiar name missing from the sports pages lately, let me get you up to speed. Pat Newell ended his nearly 20-year run as Sports Editor on Friday, calling it quits to the newspaper and to Chenango County in favor of a new life in beautiful New Mexico. Olé!

This isn’t the first time the newspaper has bid farewell to Pat. If you’re a regular reader, you might recall that his hiatus in 2014 brought about a season of adjustment for The Evening Sun that left somewhat of a bad taste in the mouths of both subscribers and staffers. Live and learn. Fortunate for The Evening Sun, losing Pat this time around means welcoming a new Pat, so to speak. A younger, sleeker Pat. Pat 2.0 for the millennials. Rookie reporter Jim Testani assumed his new role flying solo as our newest Sports Editor on Monday. Jim was a fantastic addition to the news team when he was first brought on board as the crime reporter seven weeks ago, showing an unyielding sense of eagerness to learn more about all things newsworthy in Chenango County. No doubt he has big shoes to fill as the county’s go-to sports guy, but we’re confident in his ability.

Jim’s new role left us with an open reporter position that was promptly filled by newcomer Cameron Turner. Having started during what was the busiest news week of the summer thus far – from a weekend shooting in Norwich, to the ousting of State Senator Tom Libous, to a fatal motorcycle accident in Otselic – Cameron hit the ground running. Now with a week of reporting under his belt (and I think he even has his chair adjusted to the way he likes it), Cameron will be taking on the crime and court beat.

What a waste of space this blog would be if I didn’t address the controversial $15 an hour proposed wage hike for fast food workers. In fairness, fast food’s a demanding job, what with all the burger flipping, fry scooping, shake pouring, toilet scrubbing and floor mopping – not to mention the complications of operating the drive thru speaker (reserved for the more advanced fast food workers). But instead of ranting my opinion on the issue, let me draw your attention to this: The University of Califonia, Berkley, values preschool teachers between $8.63 and $20.99 per hour. This means the folks who are entrusted with molding the minds of children would actually fair better financially by making sure they put the right number of chicken nuggets in their happy meal. Just something to consider.

The start of a long, winding campaign season

Friday, April 17th, 2015
Shawn Magrath

Hats off to all who have been involved in bringing the Greater Chenango Cares initiative into fruition. For those who don’t know, Greater Chenango Cares is an innovative readiness training (IRT) exercise for service men and women that will connect the underserved community to much needed health, optometry, veterinary, and dental care services. At the same time, it will provide invaluable training for service members for wartime and disaster missions. It’s a classic win-win arrangement between the Department of Defense, and the people their sworn to serve. And while the DOD has held similar events in other parts of the country, Chenango was chosen as the first IRT site in the north east region. Now I wouldn’t ever make it a habit of saying this, but sometimes (and I stress “sometimes”) it pays to be underserved.

Even though the Chenango County Republican primaries are still five months away, the local election season is already starting to heat up. “House of Cards” references aside – at least until one of our reporters goes missing – three campaign related stories were published in The Evening Sun this week: one announcing Assistant District Attorney Zachary Wentworth’s intent to challenge District Attorney Joseph McBride for the DA position; another regarding the Chenango Republican Committee’s endorsement of McBride for reelection; and lastly, an announcement from longtime Norwich resident Christine Carnrike that she’s throwing her hat in the ring for Norwich mayor. As a reporter, it’s an exciting time – for the newspaper and for the profound words of wisdom sure to shine on ’30 Seconds.’

From local elections to the national scene (grunt). It’s a long 19 months until the next presidential election, but considering the constant Hillary buzz from national media outlets in the last week, it’s hard to believe elections aren’t right around the corner (not that I don’t already have a repertoire of candidates I can’t wait to vote against). Hey, I’m all for shattering the glass ceiling that’s barred women from advancing in the male-dominated political arena. But then again, the election of a female president will be just as effective ending sexism as the election of a black president was in putting an end to racism. If being a woman is what gives Hillary an edge, I can’t wait to watch the presidential debate when every candidate’s rocking the Hillary Clinton haircut, heels, and well tailored pantsuit.

It’s been two weeks since Easter but I still have a flock of Peeps on the kitchen table staring at me every time I walk in the room. It’s unsettling how fresh they still look in their… um… maturity. I’ve heard the only way to tell the age of a Peep is to throw it against a window. If it bounces, it’s less than a year old. If the window needs to be replaced, it’s older than a year. I do love a good experiment.

Think outside the bun, indeed

Friday, March 27th, 2015
Shawn Magrath

I have attended a lot of public meeting in my time as reporter, but never one where I hear the question: “What does that smell like?”

Of course I’m talking about a recent story on last week’s informational meeting for a proposal to build a meat processing plant on County Road 23 in the Town of Sherburne. The meeting (or meat-ing, as we were tempted to put on the front page) brought out well over 100 residents who wanted to weigh in on the idea. The company behind the $20 million project, All In Meats, Inc., claims it would add about 120-150 jobs to the area, and boost the local ag industry by saving farmers the expense of shipping cattle to slaughtering facilities in Pennsylvania. While I certainly agree that more jobs would be welcome to the area, I don’t know enough about the industry to say where I stand yet. But I look forward to the impending debate.

On a separate note, with Norwich Mayor Joseph Maiurano’s two-year term expiring at the end of the year, talk is swirling of who might be sitting behind the mayor’s desk come January. Only one candidate, Thomas LoPiccolo, has officially thrown his hat in the ring while rumors of other possible Republican candidates are beginning to circulate. Regardless of whom you’re pulling for, it looks like this year’s ballot will not be uncontested (unlike it has been in the past two city mayoral elections). Thumbs up for choice. I know what you’re probably thinking; and no, this not a jab at Maiurano, nor is it an endorsement of any particular candidate. This is simply a cheer for the democratic process the way it was intended to be: with options.

I think it bears mentioning that Taco Bell has been in the news way more that you would think it should be lately. On Wednesday, the AP put out a story about the chain’s decision to change up its breakfast line by getting rid of the “waffle taco” and replacing with a biscuit – something or another (I mean, it’s Taco Bell. Does it really matter exactly what they’re replacing it with?). The… well, big announcement, I guess… comes just weeks after Taco Bell said it will use a test market in California for its “Cap’n Crunch Delights” – a deep-fried ball of sweet dough filled with sugary cream and dusted with crushed Captain Crunch cereal. You can almost hear the diabetes setting in. All this is to say that Taco Bell is, beyond any doubt, the foremost company to benefit from the legalization of recreational marijuana. Better buy your stocks now. Who would have thought we would see the day when Taco Bell as a safe financial investment?

Seth Rogen’s new claim to fame

Friday, December 19th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

It blows my mind that a movie that sets unprecedented threats of terrorism in the U.S. also stars Seth Rogen.

Of course I’m talking about the recent decision made by Sony Pictures to scrap “The Interview,” a movie about two idiots hired to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (who’s just a teddy bear of a man, according to Dennis Rodman. With Rodman’s trustworthy face and reputable history of well balanced behavior, I can’t think of reason not to believe him).

The film that was originally scheduled to be released in theaters on Christmas Day will instead set on the storage shelves of Sony Pictures indefinitely due to terrorist threats. Sony received messages from cyber hackers this week stating there would be 9/11 style repercussions if the film ever made it to projectors. On Thursday, federal investigators released information suggesting that hackers left behind digital fingerprints which could connect the hack to North Korea. Surprising, I know.

Since pulling the movie, Sony has received a backlash of criticism for giving in to terrorist threats. Even President Obama weighed in Friday, saying Sony “made a mistake” by pulling the movie, which I wholeheartedly agree. But the debate over freedom of speech and giving into the demands of terrorists aside, lets’ focus a moment on what I think is a bigger issue… the movie starred Seth Rogen. The same Seth Rogen who had leading roles in noncontroversial films like “Pineapple Express,” the non-Academy Award winning “This is the End,” and the heartfelt and delightfully charming “Knocked Up.”

In some way, I think part of me always knew that guy would be the one responsible the next potential American tragedy.

I don’t have a dog in this fight

Friday, October 10th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

I recently wrote a story concerning the fate of the Town Hall in Columbus and the efforts of a grassroots community group to spare the building from having a “for sale” sign on the front lawn. The argument among Columbus residents is that Town Hall, which is currently owned by the township, bears too much historical significance and potential to go to sale to the highest bidder. Opponents, however, insist that the building simply isn’t worth the worth the burden at the taxpayer’s dollar.

If nothing else, I consider myself an objective person. I try to see both sides of the argument and do what I can to understand every angle. That said, when it comes to the Columbus Hall debacle, I don’t have a dog in that fight. But I can’t help but weigh in a little.

I’m a sucker for old buildings. I love ‘em, and I love to see them restored at the hand of private developers. The hard truth is that the people of Columbus have a choice to make; either keep the building and pay to maintain it (keeping in mind that even if grants are available to bring the building up to par, that money only goes so far), or don’t.

The debate brings to my mind the discussion among town folk regarding the town’s 2014 proposed budget last December, which I also covered for the newspaper. At the time, some residents were reluctant to pay for a police service contract with the neighboring Town of New Berlin, saying that any increase in the local tax levy was too much.

It seems to me that if police protection isn’t enough of a driving force to get taxpayers to fork over a little extra, then keeping a building to use for community events would be pretty low on a list of priorities. But like I said, I’m glad the decision isn’t mine to make. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out after November’s vote.

The Columbus Town Hall issue aside, what’s a good blog without something a little less controversial and slightly irrelevant? I recently came across an article about a nationwide grant program that offers grants to people who come up with innovative solutions, particularly in the field of health care. This week, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced a $5 million contest that solicits protective suit designs for medical workers battling the Ebola epidemic. The contest – which is open to anyone – is an effort to replace current suits which workers say are suffocating and… well, they’re just hot.

Of course I can’t give details, but know that my design involves a lot of ice, sheet plastic, and duct tape – as innovative as the sneeze guard.

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.