Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pontiac Police - Michael Jackson video found!

Update: I have been corrected as the identify of the female officer to the right (left as you view the video) of MJ. That was another female officer with the first name Janie. Susan is almost directly behind MJ.

Nearly two months ago I posted an item about my former wife, a Pontiac Police detective, being in a picture and video with Michael Jackson during his appearance at a concert at the Pontiac Silverdome. Susie and another reader produced the photo.

A FFE reader this morning sent me the You Tube video that includes the short (5-second at the 6:34 spot) clip of the Pontiac police officers clamoring (oops, clambering) down the stairs flanking Michael Jackson. Susie is to Jackson's immediate right as they come down the stairs. For their participation in the video they got to keep the sunglasses they were all wearing.

After watching the video, it reminded me that Jackson, for all his wierdness, was a great entertainer. I believe the stage set-up in the video also appears to be the Silverdome.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Toll roads bug me

Toll roads bug me. First, living in Michigan we don't have toll roads. But travel out of Michigan, in almost any direction and its time to get out your wallet.

As regular readers of this blog know, my wife and I have spent a great deal of time over the past two years in Western New York.

We regularly have to travel about a 1-mile section of I-90 to get to my mother-in-laws nursing home. Yes, there's a way around them, but so long it doesn't make sense not to pay the 15 cents to use the toll road.

New York is supposedly this great liberal, green State. So why does a "green" State think it's a good idea to stop long lines of cars, twice a day during morning and afternoon commute, and have them idle for long periods of time, burning fossil fuels and going nowhere just so they can get a toll card.

What are gas taxes for, if not for fixing roads? Ohio, same thing and Illinois is the worst. Try driving in and around Chicago during anything but the middle of the night and plan on long wait periods for the privilege of paying a tax for roads you have already paid for through your gas taxes.

If I were king, or at least a Michigan legislator, I would empower the Michigan State Police to stop any car from a state that has toll roads and immediately collect $10 from the motorist. The trooper could then issue a sticker with a date on it, so the person would not have to pay again for a particular period of time.

We don't charge people from New York, Ohio, Illinois or any other state with toll roads for the privilege of driving on Michigan roads and I think it's about time we did. Heck, we could use the money too.

My rant for the day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Houses from 'back in the day' saved in Flint

During my reporting career in Flint I was frequently inside homes in rundown neighborhoods.

A very recent article in the New York Times about the recovery of one Flint neighborhood, Carriage Town, prompted my mental journey back to a street in north Flint. (Hat tip to Flint Expatriates for the link).

In one case, I clearly remember a home on Josephine Street where I was interviewing a family about the death of their teenage son in a drug killing. During the interview the mother went upstairs to get a photo of their son that she wanted to use in the story.

While she was gone I was looking around the room, trying to see past the peeling paint, cracked windows and very worn carpet.

What hit me was the beautiful crown molding on the ceiling and the intricate woodwork around the windows and baseboards. It suddenly struck home that this was once a prime piece of real estate, a home of someone of means. Maybe a captain of industry, but certainly someone with a lot of moola.

After finishing the shooting story, I embarked on a project to research a bunch of addresses on Josephine Street to see who initially built the homes, who lived there over the years and why such beautiful, well-crafted homes had ended up in such horrible disrepair. Empty lots served as reminders that homes, like people, don't survive forever.

Over the next months and years, mostly on my own time and using Polk's directories (an annual publication of addresses and residents known by reporters as a 'reverse directory') I began the process of going year-by-year to see who had lived in all the homes on that one block of Josephine.

The crush of daily news reporting never left me time to finish the project, which I worked on for more than two years, but I found most of the homes were built about 1914-1920 and were, in fact, built by captains of the emerging auto companies and high local officials, judges, doctors and lawyers.

For the first 30-40 years of the homes' history they rarely changed hands. In fact, a couple residents who built the homes lived in them into the 1950s and 1960s when I assume they either moved or died.

It was in the middle to late 1960s, which corresponded to white flight that landlords purchased the homes, cut them into apartments and then rented them out. After that you could see the frequent turnover of residents and likely the beginning of the decline of the neighborhoods.

Landlords milked the homes for every dime they could squeeze out of them and they saved more dimes by not performing necessary repairs and maintenance which eventually left some of them gutted by fire or simply abandoned.

But looking up at the skilled crafts work on those moldings made me wonder how much such fine construction would cost in today's market.

My files on that project ended up in a newsroom dumpster during a push to sanitize the newsroom and make it look pretty and neat. The realization that my career was coming to an end and that office neatness trumped productivity caused me to pitch the project in a fit of frustration.

Kind of wish I had them back.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In defense of the reporters at the Flint Journal

Some recent comments on a previous post about dissatisfaction with the coverage of Flushing Township came with some pretty brutal charges.

Someone said the reporters don't care.

I still know a few, a brave few, who still work at the Journal, and although they basically avoid me like the plague over concern that their bosses might punish them for talking with the enemy, the charge they don't care is just not true.

Folks don't go into journalism because they don't care. It certainly isn't for the money and benefits, especially now as the old model is being dismantled.

No one, not in their right mind anyway, would stay in journalism unless they cared about either the idea of journalism or they cared about people.

So put me down as standing up for those few still laboring in the fields. They care, they just might not have time to show it.

By the way, here's an example of great reporting from an old pro, still at the Journal.

Here's the lede, just to whet your appetite:

BEECHER -- Five members on an obscure local water and sewer board here recently charged taxpayers $36,000 for a 19-day trip to California.

Their bills included stays at a $260-per-night hotel in San Diego, dinners of shrimp cocktail and filet mignon, even $50 tickets to Sea World -- courtesy of some of the poorest residents of Genesee County.

(They justified the Sea World experience because they could study the effects of water filtration there.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A comment about fairness, my answer

This morning I posted a comment (too long to repost here but available at the following link) from a reader upset about what they see as unfair and biased coverage.

The commenter doesn't say what township, or even what newspaper, they are upset at, but I'm assuming it's a Booth paper because it mentions MLive. Among the complaints are that the reporter wrote a that was completely wrong about the success of a recall petition drive. When called on it, the newspaper simply removed it from MLive without comment.

(By the way, my rule about identities does not apply to the names of cities and townships, so feel free to let me know what you are talking about?)

Before I start let me just say I can't verify any of this, but will make some general comments about what a person can, could or should do if faced with what they believe is unfair coverage.

As to the complaint about the editorial that vanished off MLive, I can say this. If true, that would be, in my opinion, a violation of journalism ethics. Once something is posted online and people have had a chance to read it, whatever happens to that story, corrections, updates, removal, should definitely require a posting that explained what happened.

If it was a minor misspelling or something trivial, no big deal, but the removal of a story because it was wrong, or based on poor information would definitely need an explanation.

That part was easy.

The complaint is that the beat reporter is favoring one side of a recall controversy over another. One of the assertions is that the reporter came to an important meeting on the issue and sat with the supporters of one side. After the conclusion of the meeting, the commenter complained that nothing was ever written on the meeting.

Not having been at the meeting, I have no idea how or why the reporter selected a place to sit. When I used to go to meetings, I always tried to sit by myself, but frequently the gadflies, would seek you out and sit next to you. A reporter is always a tempting captive audience. Sometimes in a crowded meeting I sat next to people I didn't know, but later found out represented one side or the other.

My seat selection never was an indication of what side I supported, or even if I supported one side.

Every reporter, me included, has been accused at some time during a long career of favoring one side or the other. That goes with the territory. In fact, I used to get nervous if I was getting a lot of kudos from one side and anger from the other.

It was always better, at least for me, to have people on both sides of an issue not completely happy with the coverage. That usually meant both sides were getting their say.

In one case, a group of village officials were upset that after talking to them about an issue, I actually called the folks who were opposed to it. "Why did you talk to them?," the officials said. "Gees, I don't know, maybe to get the other side?," I said.

Sometimes it can be hard not to take sides, but it is important, maybe even vital, that when a reporter starts feeling more sympathy for one side it is probably time to spend more time with the opposing side.

Any reporter worth the ink in their pen should get itchy and nervous if they are writing a story on a controversy and have only talked to one side.

The other problem is that some groups, or individuals, are better at explaining, or spinning their information than others. Reporters need to be on guard not to let slickness or friendliness get in the way of digging into information and getting the whole story. Sometimes the less articulate person may actually be in the right.

One of the Lapeer townships I covered had a woman who came to every meeting and caused long delays with her constant complaints about nit picky, minute details of township procedures, and my favorite, Robert's Rules of Order. She also used to film the meetings.

During one meeting, she extended the meeting for at least 90-minutes longer than it had to be. While those nit-picky issues were important to her, there was no way that I would write a word of it, because my editor would never print such trivial stuff and secondly, no one, other than the gadfly herself, would ever read it.

At one meeting after listening to her complaints on-and-off from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., I finally left. I had already lost three hours of my life I wouldn't get back and wasn't about to lose another one. On the way out, the woman chased me out to the parking lot demanding to know how I could leave the meeting when she was putting up such a fine defense of Robert's Rules of Order.

Trying to be polite, I simply told her that none of what she was talking about was of vital enough interest to Flint Journal readers to warrant a story. She seemed crushed. Later, she called my editor to complain.

OK, so what does a person do when they believe they are receiving biased coverage. That's pretty obvious, but here's what I would try.

First, I would contact the reporter directly and politely (that's a key) express my dissatisfaction with the reporting and coverage. If the reporter dismissed my complaints, I'd take it to the reporter's next boss (editor) in line. If that didn't work, I'd take it to the chief editor and finally the publisher.

In this case, the writer believes or suspects that the editor has some close relationship with some of the actors on the other side. This is another complaint that is not infrequent. People often thought because I wrote something that reflected on them negatively, that therefore I must have some immoral or unhealthy relationship with the other side.

My rule was always if I had some connection to one side or the other of an issue, I wouldn't cover it. I lost the biggest part of my police beat in Pontiac, when I married one of the detectives. In fact, the first time I asked the young lady out on a date, I reported to my editor, who pulled me off the Pontiac police beat.

During teacher union contract negotiations that directly involved my current wife, I also withdrew (in the original post the word withdrew somehow showed up in yellow, I have no idea how that happened, but I just fixed it) myself from covering the issue because even if I could be fair, the appearance would be otherwise.

If, and that's a big if, there is some unholy connection between the editor and the issue this person is writing about, that should be disclosed and explained.

A letter-to-the-editor is also a possibility. But in the end, if you don't get any satisfaction I guess you'll have to buy your own newspaper.

President Barack Obama's public essays now for sale

For a time the Prez's words on health care reform were for sale through the New York Times syndicate. For reasons known only to him, the White House initially offered an essay on health care reform exclusively to the New York Times, which then made the remarkable decision to sell it through its syndicate.

Apparently, cooler heads prevailed and now the essay will be offered free. We all know the newspaper business is bad, but when someone can make a dime off the public words of the President it might indicate how desperate it is.

Through the magic of linking here it is for free.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Advance partners with Microsoft for ads

Thanks to a "Boothie" I received this link in my e-mail box today. What do you all think?

More on this over on Inside Out which also has more links about the relationship.

So maybe I do get this linking thing, except that I'm not in a news business.

More 'Red' philosophy

My sister-in-law Patty, has continued through a journey through my late father-in-law Red's writings. She has sent me some more gems written in Red's journals.

Some of them are likely related to his failing health in his last year:

"Every day is a good day no matter how bad it is!"

"I'm going to head for the pillow."

"If I faint, don't call the rescue squad, call the firing squad."

"Death solves many problems."

"Had a very restless day (rest-less)."

Then there are those of just a more general wisdom, things he wrote down and kept to himself and his journal:

"If you need someone, you've always got yourself"

"The only woman who truly loves a man is his mother"

"I know everything about nothing"

"Intent often leads to invention"

"I had a pretty good mind but didn't know enough to use it"

"Someone should teach the world what's important"

"You better be true to your teeth or they will be false to you!"

"Popcorn, like snowflakes, no two are a like"

"Appreciate instead of expecting"

"That's the way it goes and its almost, went"

"Taste every crumb of life"

"A tear, if sincere, is as bonding as blood"

"If you live as long as you're going to, you might as well be happy"

"It's later than you blink"

"That's a lot of Noisense" (Red wasn't big on noisy confusion).

"The first step is the wrong direction"

"I was busy doing nothing"

Patty says, more to come.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Buffalo's Mighty Taco gets its props

As written here before, we're big fans of the Buffalo gourmet scene. That's if you can call fish fry, pizza, beef on weck and fast food tacos 'gourmet' food.

But it's no surprise that Mighty Taco has been chosen to receive national recognition for its food.

There is one bone to pick with Mighty Taco and that happened about 9 months ago when we stopped at the West Seneca store to pick up dinner for the folks. My father-in-law was in failing health and we tried to cater to what he wanted to eat.

Red wanted a beef burrito, but he wanted it double wrapped. Bread was a major staple of Red's diet so it was not a surprise that he wanted a little extra pita around his burrito.

My mother-in-law warned me that she had asked for 'double wrap' previously, but was told it was 'not possible.' Now that seemed pretty ridiculous to me. How hard could it be to roll another piece of pita around the meal?

So I skipped the drive-through and went inside so I could explain to the cooks what we wanted.

Confidently approaching the counter my first request was for a beef burrito, but double wrap it. Here is the conversation in detail, as I remember it.

"Can't do that," the cashier said.

"Sure you can," I said. "Just take another piece of pita and wrap it around the meal and charge me a little extra, it'll be easy."

"We don't do that," the cashier said.

"Why not?," I said.

"Because we don't," the cashier said.

At this point it feels like a discussion with a 15-year-old, so I asked to speak to the manager.

Again the explanation of what I want is met with: "We just don't do that."

OK, I don't suffer fools lightly, so remembering a scene from "Five Easy Pieces" with Jack Nicholson, I give the following instruction to the manager.

"What is your cheapest burrito?," I said.

"Bean burrito, 89 cents," the manager said.

"OK, here's what WE'RE going to do. I want you to make my father-in-law's beef burrito, then I want you to make him a bean burrito, but I want you to hold the beans and take the pita that should be wrapped around the beans and instead wrap it around the beef burrito," I told the manager.

There was a long pause, a brief sign of resignation and then: "I guess we can do that," the manager said.

"I knew you could," I said.

Thinking I had pulled off a major coup, I returned to the house with the double wrapped burrito and explained how it had come about.

My mother-in-law, who is close with her wallet, was happy about the burrito, but not so happy about something else.

"Why didn't you get the beans in a cup to bring home?," she said.