Shawn's Reporter Blog

76 Trombones…

Friday, May 31st, 2013
Shawn Magrath

• As a former high school band geek, I feel a sense of obligation to take a moment to promote the 64th annual Sherburne Pageant of Bands, which officially got underway with the jazz band competition Thursday evening. The image of a procession leader and lyrics of “76 Trombones” have been looping through my head all day in anticipation of the big parade on Saturday, which will see a total 28 competitors this year (not quite as many than had attended several years ago, but still nothing to sneeze at). Best of luck to all schools involved.

• On a separate but still school-related topic, it seems more and more likely that student loan rates will double beginning July 1. The current proposal, detested by the Obama administration, is that federal student loans that now come with a 3.4 percent interest rate will raise to 6.8 percent just as most college students start submitting financial aid applications for the 2013-2014 school year. While I agree that students who borrow money should pay the interest fee (after all, higher education, like anything else, is an investment), substantially high loan rates will only prove more burdensome college grads who already struggle to pay back student loans (some believe the failure to pay back student loans will even be the cause of the next recession, so I hear).

• News that seven people, including four children, died as the result of a horrific accident in the Town of Truxton was devastating to say the least. Moments like that make me reflect the brevity of life, as it should, and reevaluate where I see myself in ten years. Certainly my thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have been impacted – friends, family and community, and I only hope that pain for those people will subside with time.

You’re welcome, America

Friday, May 10th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It looks like a busy weekend ahead, with a cruise-in at the Howard Johnson Hotel tonight, the Norwich Merchants Association Spring Crafts Festival on Saturday and of course, Mother’s Day on Sunday (and me without a special Mother’s Day gift idea. I refrain from the customary macaroni necklace and Popsicle stick picture frame).

Kudos to the teachers at the Sherburne-Earlville Central School District for their respectful protest on Tuesday. I’m one who believes testing is a good thing, so long as there’s a clear goal in mind. However, when teachers are testing only to get ambiguous results, not knowing what steps to take next; and not knowing where to go, yet still expected to know when they get there… well to me, it sounds an awful lot like building a plane in the air. I admire any effort to change education for the better, but it’s only appropriate to diligently scrutinize any changes made. Perhaps this new method of statewide assessment isn’t the best alternative. Perhaps it’s time to learn from mistakes, adjust accordingly, and move forward.

Avid readers of The Evening Sun are surely familiar with the weekly “Thumbs” section. Thumbs, for those who don’t know, is a brief opinion piece written by reporters. My “Thumbs Down” this week went to obnoxiously long receipts that have only grown longer in recent years – namely, the 30-foot receipts I get after buying a single pack of gum at the grocery store. When Thumbs was published in today’s paper and I thought I could put it behind me for another week, I received a phone call from a reader who told me receipt paper may also contain trace amounts of the glycogen BPA, which can be absorbed in the skin (a claim backed by a 2011 study reported by the New York Times). I read in the report that BPA can disrupt hormones, cause neurological damage, and even stimulate obesity… and then it clicked. Longer receipts equals fatter, crazier people! I just solved our nation’s most pressing health-related issues and crippling diplomatic affairs: we need shorter receipts! You’re welcome, America.

Beware of half-truths; you might get the wrong half

Friday, April 26th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I find it funny that so many people complain about the supposedly high number of Chenango County SNAP recipient who take advantage of their benefits, yet so few people – none that I know of – have the numbers to back up that statement. True, I believe there are people who “abuse the system,” as one ’30 Seconds’ caller recently put it, just as I believe there are people who steal, speed, litter, plagiarize, jaywalk, or obscurely break any other number of laws. But how can one possibly say that “most” or “many” (or my favorite, “all”) welfare recipients abuse their privileges without having one bit of empirical data to support that argument? Seams pretty weak to me.

Then again, these types of arguments come from the very same people who believe county government calls all the shots in determining who receives federal supplemental assistance. It’s just further proof that people see what they choose to see. I guess ignorance truly is bliss.

But I digress… and step off my soapbox…

In something completely unrelated, legislators in New York City are considering what to do about the Times Square “entrepreneurs” who dress up as pop-culture characters to make a few bucks by posing for photos with tourists. The considerations come two weeks after a man dressed as Cookie Monster pushed a two-year-old boy because the boy’s parents didn’t foot a $2 tip for the photo op. Who would of thought costumed strangers working the streets of New York would be so unpredictable? Instances like this are exactly why I wouldn’t let Mario use my camera to take a picture of me and my wife during our last visit to the Big Apple. Never in my life do I want to file a police report for a stolen camera with a suspect description: obese Italian plumber, with blue overalls and oversized head — Grew three sizes larger after eating mushroom. Some circumstances are worth the extra effort to avoid.

Oh, cruel world

Friday, April 12th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Hats off to the Chenango County Sheriff’s Department for their Sherburne drug bust (see Friday’s top story). As for those who claim it was a waste of time because marijuana possession is a petit crime, of course you’re entitled to your opinion and certainly welcome to challenge the law (which at times has been known to work for the best. “Separate but equal” comes immediately to mind). But perhaps – and this is just my own thought – calling your challengers “morons,” “cowards,” and “uneducated” isn’t the best battle tactic. I should also point out that no legitimate medical researcher has ever said weed “cures canceristic tumors,” as someone put it… assuming that “canceristic” means cancerous.

On a different topic, I’m not entirely sure what to think of this whole North Korea issue. While it wouldn’t be prudent to write off North Korea’s threats, it’s difficult not to considering their past missal tests have been so incredibly unsuccessful. Should they fire another, it’s impossible to predict how it would play out. Will they finally be successful? Or would it play out like a Benny Hill scene, with a nuclear rocket chasing Kim Jong Un (to the theme of Benny Hill, because it wouldn’t be as funny without it).

What a week! There’s no real explanation as to why, but people seemed despairingly negative these past few days… more so than usual. This week’s News – world, national and local – has been remarkably bleak, spinning people into a subsequent frenzy of grumbling and vexation. Guns, gas drilling, North Korea, school boards, drug busts, cause of death investigations (note, I didn’t say the “M” word, at least not yet…). None of these are new topics any means. But to me, it’s almost as if there has been more emphasis on them this week than there has been in a long time. People are vicious, I know, but it’s really beginning to hamper my spirit. A cold rainy Friday certainly doesn’t help. Oh, cruel world!

Bring on the spring cleaning

Friday, March 29th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

They say when it rains, it pours. Same holds true for the newsroom, I guess. After what felt like a relatively slow news week, Friday morning exploded with stories of drug busts, bomb scares and school board shake-ups (oh, my). Nothing quite as exhilarating as hitting the ground running early on a Friday morning.

Hats off to Village of Greene Mayer Marcia Miller, who announced her retirement after 24 years of community service, six of which were as Village Mayer. The vacancy is sure to make for an exciting mayoral election in the Village of Greene in the not so distant future (good from the newspaper standpoint). In the meantime, the torch has been passed to Village Trustee Phillip Brown, who clearly has some big shoes to fill. Best of luck to all in their future endeavors.

A week into spring and I’ve yet to begin the ritual of spring cleaning. I guess it’s the procrastinator in me. Not to mention, I have a lot of crap. Not useful crap; just crap crap – the kinds of things no one should hang on to, ever. The storage space of my one bedroom apartment is filled with old birthday cards I don’t have the heart to throw out; worn-out running shoes not fit to give the homeless; several shoe boxes, one filled with electronic accessories (chargers, adapters, USB cables, etc.) but the other two, well… your guess is as good as mine. I don’t even remember putting them there, let alone what I filled them with. The element of surprise, I think, keeps the aspect of spring cleaning more exciting.

For the last three days, there’s been what I can only describe as a Holy War on the Evening Sun online ’30 Seconds’ page. People are quoting Bible verses, saying who is and isn’t Christian, and declaring that, given our current state, we’re in the end days before the Second Coming. I’m not really arguing for or against anyone’s post (who am I to say one way or another. After all, I’m not the final authority… I don’t think). But I am relieved the ’30 Seconds’ conversation has moved away from the two-day-long snow tire argument. Religious debates are far more interesting than how many snow tires can be counted in the WalMart parking lot.

Bid farewell

Friday, March 15th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Now it’s time to say goodby to all our company. E-V-E (see you real soon) N-I-N-G (why? Because we like you) S-U-N…

Okay, so it doesn’t carry the same ring and flow as M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, but the sentiment’s sort of the same. Not to mention, Micky Mouse is much easier to rhyme than “The Evening Sun” (We’re having fun? A grieving nun? Your amusing pun?).

By now, it’s no secret that our longtime editor here at The Evening Sun is moving on to greener pastures after more than 20 years sitting in the boss’s seat. It was made Facebook official a week ago, reaffirmed by a more formal announcement from The Evening Sun publisher Dick Snyder in Wednesday’s paper. Funny that even in the digital age, nothing is validated until it’s in the newspaper.

Under Jeff’s wing in the year and a half that I’ve been a reporter, I was introduced to a brave new world of professionalism, skepticism, cynicism and profound sarcasm… and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. And apparently, neither can the community at whole. All week, he’s been taking phone phone calls in his office, which I’ve overheard in my cubicle outside his door – each conversation seemingly the same: “Yeah, it’s true… the 15th… Chobani, actually… It’s a good opportunity… It’s going to be hard to say goodbye… I’ll miss Shawn the most” (paraphrased, of course, as per my one-sided understanding of the two-way conversation).

As hard as it is to bid farewell, our loss is indubitably Chobani’s gain. It’s been a great company for the community, so to add one more great employee of the community to their ranks can only mean better things, right?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also take an opportunity to congratulate Brian Golden, who’s stepping up to the plate as editor in Jeff’s departure. In all, he’s deserving of the job and I can’t think of a better personality to call “boss.” Though, it’s going to take getting use to…

The end of face-to-face classrooms?

Friday, March 8th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Kudos to the volunteers and organizers of this year’s Dr. Seuss Family Fun Night at Stanford Gibson Primary. The annual jamboree brought out hundreds of kids, parents and grandparents Thursday night in a worthy effort to encourage kids and families in family involvement, literacy, and community engagement – three incredibly important aspects of childhood development, in my opinion. Not to mention, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Seuss myself. In retrospect, I guess I’m lucky to be a reporter, otherwise roaming the halls of an elementary school when I don’t have a child of my own – and taking pictures no less – might have looked a bit on the creepy side (I assume it’s hard to blog from a jail cell).

Also on the subject of schools and education, Bill Gates said in an interview this week that he believes technology (online classes and mentoring) will be the main source of higher education within the next ten years. Computers, he says, will slowly phase out working instructors, professors and the traditional face-to-face lectures, and the money saved by using online resources could instead be invested in research facilities and study groups. While I agree, there’s certainly potential that this could be the classroom of the future, I don’t really count on it. In the 60′s, it was widely believed that television would eventually replace teachers… five decades later, all we have to show for it Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

And while on the subject of technology … (pause for self pat on the back for a smooth transition) … did you know Facebook is losing its cool? An article published in Time this week unveiled “an unscientific survey” of 40 Alabama high school students, only eight of which said Facebook was their most commonly used social networking site. It’s disappointing news for the millions of Facebook users who like to take photos of themselves at a 45 degree downward angle. I knew it was only a matter of time before people like myself could ruin the coolness of Facebook.

Small talk and retirement dreams

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I’ve had enough winter. In a more perfect world, winter wouldn’t even exist after Christmas – just sunny 75 degree days from January through November. Then again, if not for changing weather, I wouldn’t have small talk.

It’s always a shame to see funding and participation stand in the way of a good community program. Unfortunately, that’s what happened with the Chenango County Big Brothers / Big Sisters program. Facing low participation and falling just short of requirements set by the national organization which can’t be met by the local Big Brothers / Big Sisters, The Place is closing the program after this week. For those who were actively involved with the program, I say kudos. I hope to see good work continue with the new mentoring service offered by the Liberty Partnership Program.

There’s a lot of back and forth lately about gun laws, but I think one of the most overlooked concerns has been the recent allegations of computer hacking. Over the last two decades, we’ve become a society dependent on online information, so it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the catastrophic possibilities of US business and military information being hacked. I myself have a lot (a lot) of personal information out there in cyber space. It’s time to go back to balancing the checkbook the old way, I guess, since the only safe computer anymore is one that’s turned off, unplugged and setting in the trunk of the car.

During the pope’s last week in his position, I can’t help but wonder what someone does when they’re no longer pope. I mean, it hasn’t happened in 600 years… I can’t imagine a pope’s retirement being the same as anyone else, with days spent playing golf, gardening, sorting junk mail from AARP, traveling in an RV or opening up his own small business. But as an employee of God, I can’t imagine the pension being too shabby.

You would think the difference was clear

Friday, February 8th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I’ve heard five different weather reports today, each one saying how much snow will be dumped on us tonight – and funny enough, not one of them agree on the numbers. But if what’s been reported on the Weather Channel all day is any indication of what we’re in for, get your sled dogs and parkas ready for tomorrow, it’s going to be the storm of the century… again. Seems like we’ve been getting a lot those lately, huh?

Weather aside, if there’s just one thing I like about my job, it’s that I’m never quite sure what I’ll be doing or we’re I’ll end up on any given day. Today, I found myself on two ambulance calls with the EMS crew at the Norwich Fire Department while shadowing them for next week’s “Punching the Clock” series. Of course, there’s a lot that can be said of what those guys do day in and day out, but I won’t go into it just yet. I will say, however, I’m not cut out for the job – at least not after one day.

Lately, it has come to my attention that people – a lot of people – don’t quite understand the difference between an opinion piece and a news article. So to make it as simple as possible, if the piece ever has the word “I,” “me,” or “my” in it, there’s a really, really good chance that it’s opinion, nothing more (you might also look for the word “Viewpoints” printed in large type at the top of the page should you actually be holding the newspaper, or “Opinion” if you’re on the website. It’s also helpful to scan the written piece for what could possibly be (gasp) opinions). I know it sounds too straight forward, that the difference is clear and that no one could possibly get the two confused – news story vs. opinion piece – but you would be surprised.

Hey, this is worth sharing. A family in California has filed a lawsuit against Disneyland because they say the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland demonstrated racist behavior toward their children. A father claims his two kids were ignored, even shaken away by the person in the rabbit suit when they tried to grab the rabbits hand and hug it. No word yet from the rabbit, but he looked awfully happy about it.
What is the world coming to when we sue for our kids not being touched by strangers?

Cold weather makes for good small talk

Friday, January 25th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It’s funny how much easier small talk is when it’s unbearably cold outside. Almost every conversation I’ve had this week began with the same question: “Staying warm?” That gets the ball rolling, then those conversations run full circle. I’ll talk about the weather, my wife, the dog, my job, etc., and every small talk conversation ends with the same good advice: Stay warm.

The Norwich Diner officially opened… well, two weeks ago, but it’s great news for downtown Norwich. If you haven’t already been by the new eatery on East Main, it’s worth checking out. Good food. Good company. It may not quite the old Blue Bird (and it lacks the same diner charm as the Monk’s Cafe in Seinfeld) but who’s to complain about more variety downtown? Frankly, I’m relieved it’s not another pizza place.

Lately, it seems like the only news making the national spotlight has to do with gun policies, cold weather, and Beyonce’s lip-sinking (or not?) at the presidential inauguration. But I stumbled across another more interesting story this week. Researches at New York University are saying there are a great many number of myths about what – if anything – can be done in the first five years of a child’s life to make them more intelligent. Commonly, it’s believed that music, multi vitamins, and having books available for children boosts IQ. Not so, according to these researchers. While the study is open for debate, my general feeling is: if it doesn’t hurt, why not try it? Even if it doesn’t invoke brilliance, is there any harm in exposing a child to classical music, or good health?

With each new highly contested political debate, be it about health care, immigration reform, or the popular gun debate, I change my own thinking about the two party political system and this thinking seems to change on a weekly basis. Some days, I lean more liberal while other days, I’m more conservative. It all depends on the issue, I guess. This week, I’ve come to the unofficial conclusion that the difference between liberals and conservatives is simple. Conservatives are biased and don’t care that they’re biased. Liberals, on the other hand, are biased but don’t know they’re biased. It’s a philosophy I’m happy with this week. We’ll see how I feel next week.