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Barbara Lombardo writes about journalisml, local news and anything else that strikes her fancy. She is executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News, sister papers in the Digital First Media family. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Passover story, Twitter-style: Let's get out of here

By Tuesday afternoon, the turkey should be in the oven, the matzah balls simmering in soup, and the apples and walnuts ready to be chopped into a mixture symbolic of the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build the Pharaoh’s cities.
Tuesday evening is the second night of Passover, and I am hosting my side of the family for the seder – the service that takes place at the dinner table as participants recount the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.
Passover specifically refers to God passing over the homes of Jewish families as he brutally punished the Egyptians for their leader’s refusal to free the Jewish slaves. The seder is the retelling of the story of entire Passover story,
beginning with the birth of Moses and ending with the Jews escaping through the parted waters of the Red Sea. And, like many of the Jewish traditions with which I was raised, it’s capped off with a plenty of food.
The basic script for the seder is in a booklet called the Haggadah. Everyone takes turns reading from the book and eating or drinking the food and wine that represent various elements of the story.
My family seders run less than an hour, but the exact length depends on how much is recited in both Hebrew and English, how many verses of the numerous songs are tackled, whether my sister brings out the felt characters of Moses and the gang that enthralled the kids in their younger days, and how cold the turkey is getting.
So I had to laugh last week when a package addressed to me at the newspaper office included two copyrighted Haggadahs. One is titled “60-Minute Seder, complete Passover Haggadah.” The other is “30-Minute Seder, The Haggadah that Blends Brevity with Tradition.”
What next? The story of Passover on Twitter? “God to Moses: You can do it! Moses to Pharoah: Let my people go! Moses to Jews: No time to let the bread to rise; let’s get out of here!”


Friday, April 11, 2014

Congrats to poet Rogoff, Jay; and to Northshire books: Hooray

Jay Rogoff
Jay Rogoff, who teaches at Skidmore College, is practically family when it comes to The Saratogian, as he has been writing about dance and other topics for some time. So I’m pleased to post this unabashed plug for his April 17 reading and book signing at Northshire Bookstore.
The occasion for this 7 p.m. event is the publication of “Venera,” Rogoff’s fifth book of poetry. Congratulations, Jay.
This is also a good a time as any to sing the praises of Northshire Bookstore, one of the best things to happen to downtown Saratoga Springs. This second location for the Manchester, Vt.-based independent store instantly became a welcome hub for residents and visitors of all ages.
I appreciate how Northshire brings in all kinds of writers, some offering readings, signings and demonstrations (like Annette Nielsen’s cooking tips) at the 424 Broadway store, and others packing in audiences at Skidmore College and the Saratoga Springs City Center.
Two Northshire events that I especially enjoyed were the insightful, conversational interview with Richard Russo conducted by Isaac Pulver, director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library, and the Q&A with Doris Kearns Goodwin conducted by WAMC’s wonderful Joe Donahue.
To keep up with events sponsored by Northshire Bookstore, visit northshire.com.


Monday, April 7, 2014

ESPN's Jay Bilas made me the biggest loser -- and winner -- in March Madness office pool

I’m a loser -- and a winner!
Thanks to using the NCAA bracket by ESPN’s Jay Bilas in my office pool, I won back my $5 entry fee for being the biggest loser – by far.
Thanks, Mr. Bilas.
Or maybe I should thank my husband. Each year on the eve of the pool deadline, he reads off the matches and I pick my winners based on uniform colors (UNC’s powder blue), cities where friends live (Pittsburgh), school names (like St. Joe’s, for my son Joe), alma maters (Ohio State), and schools I teach at (University at Albany).
This year, however, we were running in opposite directions and pressed for time, so my husband did his own picks (loser) and handed me “my picks” based 100 percent on the picks by Jay Bilas (biggest loser). Why not? Bilas has successfully played, coached and covered the game. On the cover of his book, “Toughness: Developing True Strength on and off the Court,” Bilas is billed as the “ESPN Basketball Analyst” and he’s holding a basketball.  

But last week, well before they were down to the Final Four, my place was secured as low woman in The Saratogian and The Record’s combined March Madness pool. Today it becomes official, and I get five bucks – which, if he reads this, I will have to give to my husband, who fronted the money in the first place. Thank you, dear. And thank you, Mr. Bilas.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Someone stole my Facebook ID and bugged my 'friends'

I did not send you a friend request on Facebook, not that I don’t like you.

I did not win $90,000, not that I’d be averse to that.

And I did not realize how impossible it would be to let Facebook know my account had been compromised.

While I was sitting in a corporate meeting of editors Wednesday wondering when the afternoon coffee and cookies would be wheeled in, someone somewhere created a faux Barbara Lombardo Facebook page and invited my Facebook friends and email contacts people to be my friend. Some also received exciting but unfortunately false news about me winning $90,000.

The responses varied from curious (“Hey, sister, did you send out a friend request? We’re already friends”), to concerned (“I got a weird message from you that didn’t sound like you”), to creeped out (“Ugh, the boss asked to friend me”).

So I changed what I hope are all of my passwords for email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, Tout, Storify, Pinterest and Instagram. I’ve run out of places of birth; favorite teams, movie stars and athletes; significant dates; lucky numbers; pets, dead or alive; street names and special cities; and schools, workplaces and organizations. I had to start a paper folder called “P*******S — DO NOT LOOK IN HERE.”

Next came notifying Facebook.

Facebook.com has a lovely and deceptively simple list of ways to report something — none of which involve ever reaching a human being. No choice fit the problem at hand.

After a few hundred thousand clicks, I found “How do I report a fake account that’s pretending to be me,” but the fix required being on the fake timeline, which I could not find. Finally, I enlisted the help of someone less than half my age, Community Engagement Editor Aubree Kammler, and watched with perverse satisfaction as she hit as many dead ends as I had — although she eventually found a place to file a grievance. She typed in a description of the problem and sent it to wherever in Facebookland complaints go to die. 

We never did get any coffee or cookies at the editors meeting. But, on the bright side, that night and all the next day, I received welcome emails and phone calls from people I hadn’t been in touch with for way too long, all spurred by the friend request and bogus prize money. “How was your trip to Nigeria?” wrote former Saratogian reporter Jim Kinney. “The prince sounded nice on the phone.”



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reduce gun violence: the goal of Gabby Giffords' PAC headed by Saratoga's Pia Carusone

The federal government should require background checks for gun purchases anywhere in the country. The concept is overwhelming supported by Americans. So simple. So sensible. So fair. Yet, so far, impossible to get through Congress.
But that doesn’t mean give up.
A fund-raiser letter arrived at home this week from Americans for Responsible Solutions, the political action c
Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly, right,
 at October 2103 gun show in Saratoga Springs.
ommittee created by Gabby Giffords, whose impressive, blossoming career in Congress was cut short by a mentally ill man who shot six people to death and injured more than a dozen others, including Giffords, the target of his rampage.
“Many may look at me and see mostly what I have lost,” began a letter in the mailing signed by Giffords. “I struggle to speak. My eyesight’s not great. My right arm and leg are paralyzed. And I left a job I loved representing southern Arizona in Congress.”
She briefly described the daily, painful, frustrating rehab that she must do every day and asked, “if simply completing a normal day requires so much work, how would I ever be able to fulfill a larger purpose?”
The answer, she wrote, came with the shooting of the schoolchildren in Sandy Hook: “After that day, my husband, Mark, and I pledged to make it our mission to change laws and reduce gun violence.”
Thus was born the Americans for Responsible Solutions, whose goals they have been tirelessly promoting around the country. Last October, the cause brought themto Saratoga Springs, where she and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held apress conference at a gun show to urge that New York’s laws pertaining to background checks serve as a model for federal legislation.
The U.S. Senate failed to pass a background checks bill, and now the Americans for Responsible Solutions is focusing on supporting the election of candidates who will. This PAC is a little guy compared to the gun lobby, but why that lobby is against making it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns is beyond me.
Besides the Giffords letter, the mailing included a letter from the organization’s executive director, Saratoga Springs’ own Pia Carusone, who had been Giffords’ chief of staff and is as passionate as her boss about this cause. The letter notes that any contribution to Americans for Responsible Solutions by March 31 will be matched by a donor, up to $500,000. I know the matching donation pitch is a well-worn fund-raising strategy, but it works.
If it’s piqued your interest as it did mine, the mailing address is P.O. Box 92560, Washington, DC 20090. Learn more at americansforresponsiblesolutions.org.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Saratoga Springs City Council casino vote: Reporting the news as it happens

A caller to the anonymous Sound Off line last week called it “hard to believe” that The Saratogian didn’t have results of the Tuesday, March 4 City Council casino vote in the paper on Wednesday.

Let me set the record straight.

Saratogian coverage of the meeting began Tuesday even before it was called to order. And readers could find the vote as soon as it happened, on saratogian.com.

Granted, our print deadline precluded us from having the vote in Wednesday’s print edition, though it did feature Ed Burke’s photos of the full house in City Hall and a note directing readers to coverage online. But the results were available long before the paper hit the porch.

Throughout the meeting, city reporter Lucian McCarty “live-tweeted” what was going on. Followers of Lucian on Twitter (@SaratogianCDesk) could stay abreast of the action. But you didn’t need a Twitter account; his 95 tweets were front and center on The Saratogian website, where readers could scroll through the action as it occurred. The live feed included any tweets that included #casino518, thus adding more voices to the report.

The website also provided a link to the live audio of the meeting. When the vote took place, City Editor Charlie Kraebel immediately updated the online story. Later Tuesday night, Lucian fleshed out the story further. On Wednesday the story was updated again, and the actual resolution was published as well.

If I had my druthers, the vote would have made it to the printed page. But I don’t, and in the long run it shouldn’t matter. In today’s world, a printed paper serves readers best by advancing and exploring issues than on being the source for breaking news. For instance, the Sunday prior to the City Council meeting, the front page of the print version contained Lucian’s story about the vote that was to take place and where council members stood. The story also directed people online to find the entire transcript of the casino forum hosted in December by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and Saratoga County Convention and Tourism Bureau.

By the time the presses roll, the news is old news — still worthy of reporting, but probably not new to anyone interested in knowing what’s going on. Every media outlet — including TV and radio stations — strive to report news as it’s happening for people to follow on their phones, tablets and computers, without regard to when their next broadcast or press run is scheduled.

Whenever I respond to a Sound Off saying the news was online, someone calls to alert me to the fact that not everyone uses a computer. I understand that, I really do. I don’t mean to criticize those readers or diminish the value of the printed newspaper. But here’s another fact: more people get their news through the Internet than through a printed newspaper. That’s where newsrooms must focus their energy to survive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Harbor view, Celtics win make for memorable Boston get-away

Freezing rain is pattering loud enough to hear through the plastic sheeting covering on my office windows, through which I can see people and cars sloshing through the intersection. It’s slippery, messy and miserable.
Time to think about Boston — and California.
My husband and I took a long weekend to enjoy a city we used to visit regularly but hadn’t been to for fun in years. We lucked out with decent weather by March standards, a special Impressionist exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and a Sunday night Celtics win. I splurged on a waterfront hotel overlooking the Boston Harbor, a change of pace from Copley Place. (The only thing that would have made the view more perfect would have been mountains in the background rather than Logan Airport.)
We wandered around and through Quincy Market and happened upon the open-air market for fruits, vegetables and fish. It was also the day of a pub crawl, so the streets were busy with green-shirted 20-somethings whose crawling after-effects were being hosed off the sidewalks the next morning.
The official impetus for the trip was to see the Celtics one night, which meant my husband would be taking me out to a nice dinner the other night. It was dry and warm enough to wear heels to walk to Strega’s for dinner, but I texted my son Joe in Chicago to acknowledge what he already knew: that the so-called Windy City is less windy than Boston. Another difference: It’s easier buying a train ticket in Chicago.
In the old days (zzzzzzzz, who wants to hear a story?), someone sat in a booth near the turnstiles at the T stations and slid tokens through a mousehole-shaped hole. Last weekend, a patient native first helped a foreign visitor and then me through the touch screens to buy a “Charlie Ticket” to ride the train.  Couldn’t they just design a screen that says a trip costs $2.50, how many do you want? The Boston train system itself is easy to navigate but the ticket machines are, as my mother used to say, from hunger.
The Boston Garden, or whatever it's called these days, was still right off the green line, but much easier to get to than last time I was there. I don't think there's a bad seat in the house. I got a pretzel and a soda for less than ten bucks. And now I know the new starting lineup, more or less, or whatever it's called in basketball.
I really like Boston. It’s a walkable city with lots of different neighborhoods, rich history, interesting architecture and, as long as you don’t talk about the New York Yankees, friendly people. Though a relatively quick trip, it was a refreshing get-away and a reminder that Boston is only three and a half hours away. Next up: planning a week in northern California to fulfill a longtime dream of seeing the redwoods in person, with a stop in wine country and catching up with a couple of longtime pals.





Thursday, March 6, 2014

'Don't blame us' doesn't wash for county tax bill

The county property tax bill that arrived in the mail recently included a surprise letter from the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors about the $238 million county budget that I am helping to support.
“Don’t blame us,” the letter said, if you read between the lines.
The entire thrust of the letter was to let taxpayers know that almost 40 percent of the total 2014 budget — close to $95 million — is due to “unfunded state mandates,” costs that are a result of federal and state requirements that are out of the county’s control.
But the letter offers not a word about the 60 percent of the budget — almost $143 million — the board of supervisors does control.
Nothing about employees’ salaries, raises and benefits, which ultimately translate into pensions for decades to come. Nothing about roadwork. Or sewage treatment. Or staffing for the sheriff’s department and the county jail.
Not that county spending is a secret. You can wade through the 245-page budget line by line at http://www.saratogacountyny.gov/?p=3096. If you hit the Control + F keys, you can search for a word. For instance, search “Medicaid” and the search will pick up the word on about a dozen lines, including some for Social Services staff. But search “pension” and get zilch.
Glad that the official budget is easily accessible online, but wish it was easier to assemble the data in a meaningful way. The unfunded mandates letter isn’t much better.
The letter offers no explanation with its list of eight “unfunded mandates,” which includes the county’s contribution for Saratoga residents attending community college in neighboring counties, since Saratoga has no community college of its own.
The eight mandates in the letter are:
• Medicaid, $25.4 million
• Pensions, $12.8 million
• Community colleges, $6.8 million
• Early intervention and pre-school, $6.5 million
• Social services, $6.8 million
• Probation, $2 million
• Legal defense, $1.4 million
• Public health early intervention, $361,000.
The flip side of the letter consists of names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for state and federal lawmakers, a not-so-subtle encouragement for taxpayers to express their outrage at having to support probation services and other “unfunded mandates.” Missing from the letter is even a single name, let alone an address or phone number for any of the 23 elected members of the county Board of Supervisors. (You find most, though inexplicably not all, on saratogacountyny.gov.)
The frustration prompting the letter is almost understandable. County government relies on property taxes, and county supervisors rely on taxpayers’ votes to stay in office.
Besides, some mandated expenses are aggravatingly expensive. After all, New York is known for providing the Cadillac of Medicaid offerings. But other so-called unfunded mandates are part of the cost of being a civilized society, like aid to dependent children under the “social services” heading. And “pensions” are the anchor that will drown taxpayers of governments and schools everywhere if elected leaders, including those running the county, fail to change the system.
Instead of “the state made me do it,” the board of supervisors should send a letter with a simple summary of major expenses, with notations about how the spending was justified — and contact information for every representative.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Freedy Johnston show a reminder of the treasure that is Saratoga's Caffe Lena

As I sat at Table 15 about 10 feet from singer/songwriter Freedy Johnston during his 90-plus-minute set Sunday night at Caffe Lena, I wondered why in the world I do not take advantage of this treasure of a place more often.
Its intimacy and simplicity create an almost magical venue.
Freedy Johnston at Caffe Lena in
Saratoga Springs Feb. 23, 2014.
Caffe Lena, with two f’s, is the oldest continuously operating coffeehouse in the country. It’s in a small upstairs space on Phila Street that’s easy to miss from the sidewalk, especially if you’re understandably distracted by Hattie’s restaurant, another local landmark, whose entrance is next to the door that opens onto the stairway to Lena’s.
The coffeehouse was founded in 1960 by Lena Spencer. After she died in 1989, Caffe Lena was converted into a nonprofit entity, which, as its website says, “continues as a living legend: breathing in ideas, dreams, and possibilities—breathing out music, poetry and theater. Caffè Lena has always been a place where people renew their faith in the power of music.”
This was Johnston's third time at Caffe Lena and the second time my husband saw him there; I was out of town. Somehow we missed the first visit of Johnston, who was Rolling Stone's songwriter of the year in 1994. 
Last time I remember being at Lena’s was for a local talent night to hear The Real Vandals, my son Joe’s high school band with Chris Chambers, Ryan Koella and Cameron Pilkey. So it’s been a while.
Lena’s stays busy year-round with a variety of local and national performers. Ticket prices are extremely reasonable, as are the prices of the menu of mostly cold and hot coffee drinks, chocolate chip cookies and a couple of sandwiches. There’s absolutely no pressure to buy a thing. 
The place is clean and cozy, with local artwork on the walls, exposed brick, a worn wooden floor — it couldn't be less pretentious if it tried.
Just as I am incredulous when people fail to take advantage of the world-class offerings at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, I can’t understand how people would never ever make it into Caffe Lena. 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Workplace bullying isn't just on the Dolphins

I moan and groan when it’s time for the mandatory company harassment training class. Yet I am glad it’s a requirement — not merely to protect our corporate butts from legal action, but because we’re serious about wanting people to feel comfortable at work, free from any type of harassment.

Workplace culture — including codes of behavior — must come from the top. That applies to every workplace — a newsroom, a repair shop, a retail business, a professional sports team.

I didn’t read the National Football League’s 144-page report about bullying on the Dolphins, though I’ve read stories and columns about the report and the incidents that prompted it. One person who did read the report was Stephen Ross, the team owner. He said in a statement:  “I have made it clear to everyone within our organization that this situation must never happen again. We are committed to address this issue forcefully and to take a leadership role in establishing a standard that will be a benchmark in all of sports.”

His feet should be kept to the fire on that commitment — by the NFL, by players and their families, by staff, by fans, by his attorneys, by the media and by his conscience , not necessarily in that order.

Ted Wells, the attorney hired by the NFL to write the report, called the ongoing harassment “a classic case of bullying, where persons who are in a position of power harass the less powerful,” as reported in  Ben Shipgel’s Feb. 14 article in The New York Times.

Yet, Shigpel continued, “after presenting his findings, in often vulgar and explicit detail, Wells’s conclusion was restrained: ‘We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.’ ”

Rules would be a start. But owners and bosses have to know what’s going on and must set the tone about what will and won’t be tolerated. And they need to be sure people who feel harassed have a place to turn.

Workplaces in general have changed for the better from the days when people didn’t think twice about comments, gestures, jokes and touching that are now, thankfully, considered inappropriate.

But there’s plenty of room for improvement, and not just in the Miami Dolphins locker room.
Earlier this month, John Ostwald, a Hudson Valley Community College professor whose bi-monthly columns appear in The Record and The Saratogian, wrote about how workplace bullying is so pervasive that there is movement afoot to address it legislatively in New York. (You can learn more about the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates and the status of the legislation at nyhwa.org.)
I hope the Dolphins case causes employers to consider their own workplaces, and gives employees the courage to speak up against bullying and any other type of harassment.   

This isn’t about boys being boys or political correctness. It’s about common human decency.

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