Shawn's Reporter Blog

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.

Please send money

Friday, January 11th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

So I opened an email yesterday, enticed to do so because for first off, it’s part of the job. And second, the title read “HORRIBLE TRIP TO LONDON. PLEASE HELP.” You can’t not read something like that.

Sure. I’ll read it. I apparently have nothing better to do with my time than read a blatant scheme for easy money.

Here’s the first few sentences of the email, copied and pasted as per your enjoyment:

“I am sorry for reaching you rather too late due to the situation of things right now. My family and I had a trip visiting London (England), everything was going on fine until last night when we got attacked by some unknown gunmen. All our money, phones and credit cards was stolen away including some valuable items, It was a terrible experience but the good thing is they didn’t hurt anyone or made away with our passports.”

The letter went on asking if I could send along $1,550 (or whatever I could give) so these distraught travelers can catch their flight home. My money would be reimbursed when they returned, of course.

Overall, a good effort but not the most creative scheme I’ve ever heard. I’m a fan of the more imaginative ones: “Your internet license has expired. Your annual renewal payment of $100 is due to the FCC by tomorrow.” Sorry, my internet license? One of my favorites is “You’ve won the grand prize raffle but need to submit a $500 down payment now to redeem your $1 million prize.” I won a raffle I didn’t enter… must be luck.

To make an already poorly thought out scheme even worse, I got practically the same email last month. The difference? The traveler (of the same name and same email address, mind you) was “attacked” at a resort in the Cayman Islands. Either this is a hoax, or God clearly doesn’t want this person to vacation.

On a different note, the reporting crew is well into Progress Chenango, the annual undertaking of The Evening Sun that’s traditionally known to suck life and spirit from reporters. Personally, I haven’t thought Progress was that bad in the two years I’ve done it. I’m still learning a lot about Chenango County’s leading industries and non-profit organizations, even the ones I seem to write about on a regular basis. Not to mention, a slowly improving economy is making for much more positive stories for this year’s edition. Who says money can’t provide happiness?

There’s no crying in politics!

Friday, January 4th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Did you know that people are 15 times more likely to die of a falling coconut than picking the winning Powerball numbers? Did you know that architectural plans are in the works to build a bridge from California to the outermost Hawaiian peninsula? Or that climate change has landed the northwestern tree octopus on the endangered species list? If not, don’t feel too left out. I only know because I Googled it. Everyone knows, if it’s on the internet, it must be true.

With each reporter’s story that appears on the Evening Sun website, there’s a chance for readers to chime in with a comment section at the bottom. I usually refrain from responding to negative comments – or any comments for that matter – but when my credibility is challenged, I can’t help myself (understandable, right?). Of course, I’ll spare the details of the all but flattering comments posted to one of my stories earlier this week, but I will say if you don’t subscribe to the Evening Sun, you don’t see the entire story online (and the second half of a story is just as pertinent as the first half. I don’t keep writing them just because I have nothing better to do). “You can please some of the people some of the time…” You know the rest.

Congratulations are in order for the newly assembled 113th Congress. Here’s to hoping it’s a more productive body than the 112th Congress (God knows, they can’t do much worse. My dog could have done a better job). It’s also noteworthy that Speaker John Boehner began to cry after being elected House Speaker for a second term, though it’s still not clear on whether he was crying because he won the job or because he’s stuck with it. Either way, seeing a politician cry for a change makes me feel a little better inside.

A not so complicated solution to a very complicated problem

Friday, December 21st, 2012
Shawn Magrath

The NRA waited a week to respond to the tragedy in Sandy Creek. Their solution: have an armed guard in every school. An entire week and that’s what they came up with; fight gun violence in schools by putting guns in schools. What can go wrong with that?

This is not a rant for stricter gun regulations, nor an attempt to feed the ill-educated conspiracy theory that the US government is enacting a total gun ban. This is a plea to keep guns out of schools – all guns out of all schools.

I’m a firm believer that our culture, our general way of life, has played a huge role in the acts of senseless shootings in recent years. Early pregnancies, broken families, conflicting work schedules, television, video games, toys, books, magazines, everything that makes us… well, us: it can all cumulate into one incredibly troubled individual if poorly handled. Given, there are some things that are beyond our control. But for the things within our control, it’s time to be proactive.

More gun regulations just opens the door for an incredibly dangerous and incredibly costly black market; and the advice of the NRA turns schools into nothing better than a prison, minus the orange jumpsuits. I think the solution is not to restrict guns. It’s certainly not to add guns. You want to help combat the growing epidemic of shootings and ungodly devastation? Hug your kid!

On a separate note, today, of course, is the end of the world. I just want to say, this has been the worst apocalypse ever.

Inflatable junk

Friday, December 14th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

Don’t you think there’s a select few homes that have… well, gone just a little overboard on the inflatable Christmas decorations (little meaning a lot)? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the lights, wreaths, decorated trees and shrubs, and almost anything else that screams Christmas. It’s one of the perks of the season. But curse the day someone decided to put an inflatable Santa on their front lawn. Inflatable decorations seem to grow in numbers and in size from year to year, which makes me question: Doesn’t a two-story inflatable snowman violate some type of codes ordinance? Adding salt to injury, so many of these already ugly decorations don’t make any sense – from the trailer park Santa (because we all remember how Santa lives in a magical trailer park in the North Pole) to the cowboy penguin (that is, a penguin dressed up like a cowboy). Worse still, no one replaces their old inflatable decorations; they just add to it. So the collection grows until inflatable crap overtakes every vacant spot on their yard, like a glowing deflatable Woodstock (or a Christmas time grand opening of a used car dealership).

On a much more somber and serious note, my deepest condolences and heart-felt prayers for the families and victims of the school shootings in Newton Connecticut. It’s a horrific, awful thing and I have only best wishes for the community now dealing with the unthinkable.

Thank you, it’s exactly what I never wanted

Friday, November 30th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

‘Tis the season for this usually procrastinating reporter to consider Christmas shopping – something I rarely look forward to. Every year, I fear the traditional gift exchange for two reasons: 1) I never have the “perfect” gift in mind for anyone, friend or family (or spouse, for that matter) and 2) I’m afraid of what I’m going to get. There’s never much – if anything – on my wish list, so when someone asks me what I want for Christmas, the response is always the same: nothing. Unfortunately, at least with my family, “nothing” actually means “something, but I’m going to let you surprise me.” Don’t get me wrong, I really, really appreciate the thought behind each and every gift. But even the most humble gift recipient occasionally thinks “What am I going to do with this?”

Be it the ugly holiday sweater, senseless knickknack, book that you aren’t going to read, or all around pointless thingamajig, I think most people are familiar with the concept of getting an unwanted Christmas gift. I’m no stranger to it either. Again, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought behind that eight inch ceramic figurine of a clown going fishing, or that book, How to Avoid Huge Ships (the 2nd edition), or even the concern for the safety of my lunch with “banana guard,” the plastic case that ensures my individual banana won’t get squished or squashed by the time I get to work. I love the thought behind any gift… but “banana guard”? Bananas already come in their own natural case, right?

The worst part is, no one can just get rid of these gifts. At least, no one with a heart. So this… stuff… sits on the coffee table, or the bookshelf, or in the kitchen drawer, or on top of the mantle for all to enjoy (maybe that fishing clown is exactly what’s needed to bring a little more life to the living room). There they stay, every day, taking up room and serving as a reminder that there’s another Christmas next year… and another round of gifts you’re grateful for, really, but would much rather do without.

On a cheerier note, the annual Evening Sun “Progress Chenango” edition is right around the corner, which means reporters will be in high gear for the next month or so. We’ll be scheduling interviews and writing a series of stories that highlight what the past year has brought to local businesses and non-profits, and the ambitions those organizations have for the coming year. Sure, it’s a heavier workload for the staff here but the end product is always something to be admired.

Now enters the holiday season

Friday, November 23rd, 2012
Shawn Magrath

Two to four inches of snow by Saturday? That’s almost twice as much as we had all last winter.

I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was as good as mine. Good food, a great time with family, and unlike millions of gung-ho Christmas shoppers, I avoided all Black Friday (and pre-Black Friday) sales. It’s remarkable that for some people, Black Friday is their Superbowl, complete with a carefully thought-out strategic game plan of what stores – and what sections of those stores – should be hit-up first, were to go next, who should carry what, who should hold a spot in line and who does the brunt work of pushing other shoppers out of the way. I’d much rather wait until the dust settles to do my holiday shopping. No savings are worth that amount of insanity.

This weekend is the annual holiday favorite, the Parade of Lights. The parade steps off at 6:15 Saturday night and makes its way north on Broad Street before finishing at the parking lot of the Howard Johnson Hotel. On behalf of my esteemed colleagues at The Evening Sun, I say we’re pretty pumped up for the annual spectacle. It’s a great way to kick-off the holiday season. Keep an eye out for The Evening Sun float this year, complete with… pyrotechnics? No, probably not. But whatever we come up with, I’m sure it will be good, or at least on a trailer with lights (there’s a good start).

Here’s some stirring news for space lovers. NASA announced earlier this week that the Mars rover Curiosity has unearthed something on the Red Planet that will be “for the history books,” but scientists aren’t ready to say what it is quite yet. In fact, they said they won’t give away the big surprise until December. Among other things, possible finding include: water, evidence of water erosion, evidence of life (of course), a Twinkie still in the wrapper, unprocessed Florida ballots, my spare car keys, and another Kardashian. Something to keep an eye on, I guess.

Trains, deer and Twinkies

Friday, November 16th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

It looks like the revitalization of the railroad in Chenango County is a strong possibility after all. As much as I had wanted to see trains running the rails again, I admit, I never thought it could (or would) actually happen. But now that the Chenango IDA is one step closer to bringing that idea to fruition and have secured funds to make the needed repairs, I take it back. It does leave me with some questions though: Why, if the company doesn’t have to foot the bill for repairs to its line, does the NYS&W Railroad still want to detach themselves from it? Will the railroad be viable if its operational? Admittedly, the Utica Main Line that runs through the county could carry huge economic benefits, but will it? I want to see the railroad running as much as anyone else but at the same time, I would hate to see money thrown into a black hole.

Earlier this week, the front of my car nearly met its fate after a close-call with a deer standing in the middle of Rt. 12, leaving me with a newfound fear of night driving and a permanently indented steering wheel from my death grip. As a result, I’ve put out a bounty on the deer that was too dumb to move out of the way. Description: Roughly 5′ tall; brown; no antlers; four legs; covered in fur; and black; soulless eyes. Good luck.

And a moment for silence for the long-relished Twinkie. This week, Hostess, maker of the Twinkie (and Wonder Bread) went belly up, blaming its failure on a workers strike and a new demanding contract. Twinkies now join the ranks of Squeeze-It juice bottles, the Chipwich, and Surge soft drink (the Mountain Dew alternative). So we bid a final farewell to the snack everyone loved… and nobody ate.