Shawn's Reporter Blog

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.

Make sure your foot’s on the brake

Friday, October 5th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

According to the Washington Post, 67 million people tuned into the first of three presidential debates this week, some I’m sure donning their foam fingers, bowl of Doritos and beer-helmet to cheer on their candidate of choice. In a long list of statistics showing how many people chose to watch the debate on major networks including NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC and CNN, the Post shows that roughly 10.4 million people chose to watch the debate on FOX (which just three days prior aired the series premiers of “Family Guy” and “Bob’s Burgers”). That’s more that CNN’s 6.1 million viewers and MSNBC’s 3.9 million. Personally, I find it ironic that a television station that can air two consecutive hours fart joke comedy on Sunday can pull in more viewers for a serious presidential debate than legitimate news channels on Wednesday. It says a lot about cable news networks, doesn’t it?

If the political scene is beginning to bore you as much it is me, there are other things happening besides the presidential race (despite what you see on cable news networks). Here’s a fun story: In Florida, the U.S. Postal Service is taking steps to promote alertness and caution among drivers after a car slammed into the side of a Post Office in Punta Gorda, Fla. It’s the eighth Post Office in the Central Florida region to have a vehicle crash into it just this year. If this story doesn’t seem plausible to you, you might have missed the key word, “Florida.”

To avoid such incidents, the USPS is kindly asking that Florida motorists stop driving into Post Offices with a driver “to do” list before pulling away:

• Avoid distracted driving
• Proceed slowly and carefully when pulling in and backing out of parking spaces:
• Visibly check to see whether your foot is on the gas pedal or the brake pedal
• Visibly check to see if the vehicle is in park, reverse or drive

Some comments just go without saying.

The unfortunate closing of a local landmark

Friday, September 28th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

The Colonia Theatre announced that it’s going to close if nothing can be done (financially) to save it by mid October. The effects of the digital age are rippling across the country and being felt all over the country by theaters in small communities like Norwich. Hollywood’s going all digital, forcing cinemas to purchase new equipment compatible with digital movies and thereby replacing the traditional millimeter films (standard for movie theaters since about 1910). Unfortunately, the cost to upgrade goes way, way beyond the fiscal means of the Colonia.

Like everyone else, I would hate to see the theater close the final curtain, so to speak. But at the same time, I can only wish to say I’m actually surprised. It was only a matter of time before a historic landmark like Colonia succumbed to the age of technology. And who’s to blame for the theatre being unable to pay for these updates? Personally, the last time I remember sitting in front of the silver screen at the Colonia Theater was in 2005, when “War of the Worlds” was released. Ever since, I’ve traveled out of town to see a movie, even when the same movie was playing in Norwich (after all, getting there really is half the fun, right?). In hindsight, I know I could have been more supportive of the Colonia, but then again, I think a lot of people who would say the same. Hindsight’s always 20/20.

On a different note, official referees returned tot the NFL this week, much to the admiration of football fans the country over. The crowd actually cheered for the refs prior to the official coin toss in Baltimore – the first time referees have ever been cheered by a stadium full of people. Be ready for less jeers and referee insults and more thinks like “Hey ref, get some glasses… to protect your eyes from those harmful UV rays.”

Different planet, same problems

Friday, September 21st, 2012
Shawn Magrath

If the recent cooler weather is an indication of how the upcoming winter’s going to be, I need to dig my parka out of the closet and start feeing my sled dogs a little better.

I’m not usually one to complain – at least not publicly – but I’ve some real problems with local drivers lately. I think it’s a correlational trend: As daylight hours become less and less, driver attentiveness gets lower and lower. This week alone, I’ve done four different last-minute “break-checks” because of drivers pulling out directly in front of me (two of which were within a 0.2 mile stretch on Main Street), leaving me to shout words that would make my grandmother cry, and my passenger picking teeth out of the dashboard. To me, it just makes sense: If a driver can make eye contact with the plastic hula girl jigging on the dash of an oncoming car, there’s not enough time to pull out. Add that to my brush with death when I was almost run over in the crosswalk earlier this week – by a driver on a cell phone no less – and you find the root of my latest hatred for other drivers. I almost wish I had an angrier sounding car horn; that would make me better.

On a separate note, billionaire Richard Branson (best known for being the outgoing, adventurous owner of the Virgin Group; and being mistaken for Polish/Lithuanian American actor Charles Bronson) announced that now, a little more than a month after the Mars Rover touched down on the Red Planet, he is optimistic about colonizing there. According to him, it’s plenty possible within his lifetime to begin a community on Mars that’s filled with “fun people, beautiful people, ugly people” – finally, a place for me. And the best part? I would have fewer neighbors (though I’m sure one of them would pull out in front of me. Different planet, same horrible drivers). Cue theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Threat of an illegal soda cartel is on the rise

Thursday, September 13th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

I keep hearing there’s some sort of primary today. Reports indicate that thousands or Republicans across the county flocked to their respective Town Halls to riot and an election broke out early this afternoon. All seems to be under control now and residents are encouraged to get out and vote.

I’m sure it won’t take long for people to catch wind that the worst of the worst has finally happened. New York City passed the infamous soda ban, prohibiting the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 oz in restaurants, sports stadiums, even vending carts along the city streets, thereby officially making the Big-Gulp a black market item on the streets of the Big Apple. Already, gangs are rallying in the streets of New York and the activity of an illegal soda cartel is unsettling city residents who fear onset diabetes for themselves and their children. It all seems a bit extreme, but then again, the proposal seemed extreme from the start.

Apple unveiled its new iPhone 5 this week. Usually, I frown on technology that updates faster than the American consumer can spend but in the case of the iPhone, I can make an exception. Apple even hosted a press conference Thursday to introduce its new gadget. Apparently, the iPhone 5 is perfect for people who like slight upgrades and hate having $600. Among the new features: Peripheral cameras on the phone’s face and backside; a wider, taller screen; night vision; a feature to change the voice of Siri to that of the late Jackie Gleason; an extendable arm that slaps you a high-five every time you go from no service to excellent service all at once; and a smoother texture, allowing it to slip from your pocket to the floor at a much quicker rate than the iPhone 4s every time you sit down.

This Sunday is the annual SPCA dog walk fundraiser at Weiler Park in Norwich from noon to 3 p.m. As an animal lover, I’m looking forward to it – a great opportunity to support a good cause (and out of fear of making people not want to show up, I’ll spare all the dog puns I had in mind. Just know that I had some howling good ones… alright, just one dog pun).