Shawn's Reporter Blog

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.

News stories overlooked this week

Friday, November 2nd, 2012
Shawn Magrath

With Tuesday elections nipping at our heals and media outlets dominated by despairing images and growing death tolls on the East Coast as a result of Sandy, I thought it might be a relief for people to know there are other stories making headlines. I scoured the always reliable (and never wrong) internet to find a few stories, non-political and non-Sandy related, that were overlooked this week:

• The undeservingly famed Bristol Palin, daughter of the also undeservingly famed Sarah Palin, has a new boyfriend… Anybody care?… Yeah, me neither.

• reported that when you apply shaving cream to your bathroom mirror then wipe it clean with a paper towel, it will keep the mirror from fogging over when you take a hot shower. I haven’t tested it yet, but it sounds like something someone made up… then again, it was on the internet so it must be true.

• The ongoing feud between Arby’s and Subway continues. The two fast food chains each claim to have the freshest sliced meats and each have their own loyal customers to back them. Not to worry, Norwich residents. Riot control shan’t be needed so long as Arby’s stays at the North end and Subway – all two of them – stay South.

• According to Consumer Reports, KitchenAid no longer carries the number one stand mixer. The newcomer brand Breville took the number one spot this month. It’s the first time in a very, very long time KitchenAid hasn’t claimed the title. No word yet on whether this will actually make cookies taste better, although it’s been confirmed that if you lick the beater while the mixer is running, the end result will be the same.

• George Lucas, owner of Lucasfilm and creator of the sci-fi “Star Wars” movies that brought delight to nerds the world over, announced that he will sell his company to Disney. For those that can’t make the connection, this puts Princess Leia in a long line of underdressed Disney princesses and makes Darth Vader a Disney villain (which ignites the philosophical debate of which is worse: Making a puppy skin fur coat or secretly plotting to overthrow Emperor Palpatine and become the ruler of the Empire).

Get your arm floaties

Friday, October 26th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

I’ll be forthright: I did some stupid things when I first got my drivers license. I loaded too many people in the back seat of my 1995 Subaru Impreza, jumped the train tracks (not the ones in town), and got it it stuck on the front lawn of the school (in my defense, it wasn’t intentional. Not to mention, I had the last front-wheel drive Subaru on the face of the earth). Even so, I never did anything so dumb as “test drive” a car through a moving body of water. That’s exactly what happened earlier this week, when someone allegedly drove a car from a Norwich dealership through Canasawacta Creek; a prompt reminder that the dull-whited can really be a thing of supernatural wonderment. So I offer a tip of the hat to you, potential car buyer from Norwich, for making the rest of us consider the notion that no matter what level of stupid leaks from between our ears, there’s always someone who can outdo it.

Keeping on the subject of local news, this Saturday has shaped up to be a busy one in the city. Congressman Richard Hanna will be campaigning at the Norwich Fire Department at 12:30. It’s the final meet and great session for people living in the area before heading to the polls in November. Lest we forget, the YMCA Halloween Parade is also Saturday. It steps off at 2 p.m., followed immediately by the “Rally to Protect Our Towns in East Park.” It looks like I’ll be spending a good part of my day with camera in hand.

Brace yourself, make sure your flashlight works and that your arm floaties are fully inflated. The “storm of the century,” dubbed “Frankenstorm” by the people who get paid to think up a name, is filing its way toward Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. As of now, forecasters aren’t sure enough to say when, or if, the storm makes landfall, but all agree: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Sitting on the fence

Friday, October 19th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

Ah, the battle of red states vs. blue states wages on. Recent polls show both presidential candidates are nearly in a dead heat (with “mixed messages,” of course, according the AP) as each man campaign harder to reach that all so critical undecided voter.

I admit, I have in mind at this point who I would like to vote for but until election day, I’m sure I can be easily persuaded. In real perspective, it might be true that the most important event that determines the outcome of this election hasn’t happened yet, so I think it’s good to keep an open mind up until the moment I pull the lever. Some call it “sitting on the fence.” No, I won’t argue with that. It’s difficult to argue the truth. Besides, I like being on the fence; I can get a good view of both sides. Unfortunately, what I see, I’m not too particularly thrilled of. On one side, there’s a man who’s controversial healthcare plan forces citizens to purchase healthcare, even if said citizens could only dream of affording it; and on the other side, there’s President Obama… Boom! Just a fresh reminder that the Governor’s Massachusetts healthcare law served as a template used in the development of national healthcare reform (yes, I’m still undecided).

On a brighter note, a headline for the Huffington Post reads: “Mars Rover scoops up another big surprise.” I haven’t read the entire article yet, but I’m really hoping they found my spare car key. Losing things drives me crazy.

Also leading headlines in the field of science and astronomy, an alien planet was found close to Earth… at least what astronomers consider “close to earth” – only 25 trillion miles away. Daredevil Felix “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner is already planning to jump from the star back to Earth, breaking the light barrier before parachuting safely to the grounds of the New Mexico Desert.

Share this

Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

Although unwilling at first because I thought it would be just another fad in a vastly changing world of technology, I finally caved and created a Facebook page a few years back. At this day and age, if you don’t have a Facebook page, there’s really no evidence that you even exist

Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook can be great. I’m able to keep in touch with friends via Facebook who I’d otherwise never hear from again. A little less settling, I have friends I don’t really know (and worse, I have friends I don’t really like). But if there’s just one thing I really do hate about Facebook, it’s the messages that guilt – or at least, make the desperate attempt to guilt – people into feeling an obligation to repost that message and accompanying image. Example: “Re-post this if you want to end world hunger” (with picture of starving Ethiopian child); “Share this if you want to stop domestic violence” (with picture of woman with a black eye); “Share if you don’t want animals to be sold on CraigsList (with a picture of a sad looking puppy); and of course, my favorite, “Re-post if you love Jesus. Keep scrolling if you love the Devil (with bilateral picture of Jesus on the left side, Satan on the right).”

I get it, these are sensitive issues to a lot of people and my heart really does go out to the people affected (at least in most cases), but what is clicking the “share” button going to do for anyone? And if I don’t share, does it mean I’m an advocate of domestic violence and animal cruelty; that I have an apparent love of world hunger and I’m damned to spend the rest of eternity sitting with the Prince of Darkness? Of course not! So what’s the purpose of these pre-designed public service adds? I would hate to think that clicking the “share” icon is considered one’s good deed for the day – that sharing these messages somehow makes someone a good person. To me, they all have the same underlying message: “Share if you think it will make you feel less guilt.”

Pumpkin Fest, the Sherburne Inn, and my microwave

Monday, October 15th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

A tip of the hat to organizers of this year’s Pumpkin Festival. Even with the loss of that traditional prelude to Halloween feeling (and the noticeable lack of pumpkins for an event called Pumpkin Fest), the two-day event seemed to go off without a hitch. As many already know, Pumpkin Fest this year was moved in hopes of attracting larger crowds and better weather. I haven’t heard the final tally for attendance yet, but I didn’t need my umbrella or winter coat, so even if the annual spectacle didn’t attract the turnout organizers were hoping for, one out of two ain’t bad.

The battle in Sherburne wages on as residents debate the historical value vs. economic value of keeping the former Sherburne Inn and adjacent Big M building on the main square. Granted, seeing the buildings demolished would be a heart-breaker, but my reasoning argues that their practicality died when the businesses they housed moved out. There’s simply no need for them, particularly if no one’s willing to invest in rehabilitation. And in keeping them there, vacant and worn, the only ones that stand to benefit are the pigeons and the ugly stone lion creatures setting at the end of the parking lot. Like most, I would love to see each building saved but arguably, warding off Stewart’s Shops from building on the corner is just drawing out a slow dying process for both properties. Too bad Stewart’s won’t get into the hotel business.

New political polls released last week indicate that Mitt Romney gained ground and is nearly in a dead heat against President Barack Obama… Finally for once, the rich white man has the upper hand.

On a separate and completely unrelated note, I’ve noticed that when I use the microwave, the plate spins clockwise. When I stop and restart it, the plate, for no apparent reason, spins counter clockwise. It’s a shame that The Evening Sun doesn’t have the in depth investigative reporting resources of the New York Times.

In light of National Newspaper Week

Thursday, October 11th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

This week marks National Newspaper Week, a unique time to acknowledge local publications around the country and reflect on the newspaper as the cornerstone of a community. True, changes in technology and mass media have sent hundreds of newspapers into a tale spin in recent years (many of which are now defunct because of the lethal combination of 24-hour news networks and a rocky economy). But anyone who says print media is dead is lying. As a reporter for the Evening Sun, I hold my head up high in saying that Chenango County still has its home town daily that covers local news, and there’s plenty happening in the area. Sadly, it’s a title so many rural communities can’t claim anymore.

Anyhow, in the spirit of National Newspaper Week, I thought I could share a few points I’ve picked up during my time with The Evening Sun over the year.

• No one knows more about politics and economics than the refined scholars of ’30 seconds’
• People who have no problem being seen in public will still have a huge problem having their picture in a public newspaper
• Chenango County has 21 townships; I’m convinced that at least three of them don’t necessarily have to exist
• Some people will punch their own grandmother if it means reopening a public swimming pool
• News still happens between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 a.m.
• Good news is good for the community. Bad news is good for news organizations
• If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that everyone else is is always wrong
• Some people will read a headline, look at a photo and really believe they have a full grasp of everything there is to know about a story
• There’s never a convenient time for a vehicle accident or a structure fire
• There’s always more than one side to a story. More often than not, at least one of those sides is crazy

On a separate note, tonight’s the big Vice Presidential debate. Both campaigns are riding on the performance of Paul Ryan and Joe Biden (a truly sad situation for both candidates). I can’t wait to hear what non-story comes of it. If there’s any mention of Big Bird, I’m turning it off.