Death of the Times Union community blogs

Information without the Bun

times unionI got this intriguing email from Casey Seiler, the editor of the Times Union, the local (Albany, NY) newspaper, a couple of weeks ago. “Nothing urgent, but please give me a ring if you have a few minutes — cell is … Thanks.”

He’d never contacted me before, so I was most curious. The purpose of the contact was to tell me that the entire page of community blogs located on the TU website would be going away on Friday, February 5.

The Community Blogs started early this century, in 2006, I’m told. But even before that, I had been participating in a program of community websites hosted by the TU. I was creating the ones for my then-church, Trinity UMC, plus Albany United Methodist Society, the FOCUS churches, and one of the other member churches of FOCUS. Since I left Trinity in 2000, this would have been in the late 1990s.

Mike Huber, who had been running the community websites became the majordomo for the blogs. Since I had started this blog in 2005, he knew that I could create content with sufficient frequency. He nagged me regularly, and in January 2008, I finally capitulated.

But what to write? I didn’t want to necessarily replicate this blog. So I tended to post things that were Albany-centric and/or ephemeral. Say an event at my church or offered by the Albany Public Library.

Information without the Bun
ROGER_GREEN_3
Courtesy of the Times Union

There were definite upsides. I could plug events important to me. Occasionally, on the front of the B section of the print newspaper, the TU would print a pull quote from my post. I’d generally learn about this before I saw it. “Oh, you’re in the paper again.” While mildly ego-boosting, it was occasionally frustrating that some people didn’t recognize that it was only a small part of what I wrote.

And the bigger the platform, the more chances for the blog trolls. I’ve seldom experienced this on rogerogreen.com, but a fair amount on Information without the Bun, an obtuse referral to me being a librarian and eating hamburgers. Even when the content was exactly the same, the nasties would always come from the TU audience.

Still, it was fine. I’d write something a couple of times a week. And the newspaper seemed to care about their unpaid community bloggers by sponsoring an occasional event. I remember one at the College of Saint Rose maybe a decade ago where there were short videos of each of us. They created bios of us for the print version of the paper.

The interesting thing was that the agreement read that the TU wouldn’t edit what the bloggers wrote, as long as what we posted wasn’t libelous or profane.

Herder of cats

Then… stuff started happening. J. Eric Smith, who has been blogging since the word was invented, had made what seems to be a reasonable request to keep political mads out of his blog space. It could have jammed him up at work. He explains this in a series of posts here. He ended up leaving in 2010.

In January 2017, Mike Huber, herder of cats, left the Times Union. I’m left to wonder how events of that year would have otherwise played out.

Chuck Miller had a clearly marked April Fools post in 2017 involving Kellyanne Conway which got pulled down, despite eight previous 1 April posts, at least one of which had been picked up by Washington Post. He departed, but he subsequently was always the instigator of promoting local bloggers on his site, and meetups, at the Gateway Diner, a pizza joint, and even at Ken Screven’s lovely apartment.

#Metoo

I was most infuriated when Heather Fazio’s post about sexual assault from October 2017 was deemed too graphic. Or was it libelous? The narrative kept shifting. Chuck and I both reposted Heather’s words: my version is here. Chuck quoted her response to the TU here, and you should read the comments.

I even complained about Heather’s treatment on my Times Union blog, because I could. The headline, I believe was, “Rex: you’ve got a lot of ‘splain’ to do.” Rex being Rex Smith, then editor of the paper, and a guy I actually liked the few times I’ve met him. But this was a crappy decision which he felt obligated to defend. Heather, of course, left, and she too has her own blog.

Yet this conspiratorial flake – whose name had fortunately been exorcised from my brain, Donna something, I think – kept writing absurd post after post for months until even she crossed the line. She was actually brought on board to provide a more conservative position, which I endorsed, but she was a true wingnut.

By then, I had really lost my TU blogging mojo, even as the newspaper abandoned the community bloggers. Periodically, I would literally forget I still had the page, and my recent spotty posting there was proof.

The long goodbye

What seems to have been the last straw from the Times Union’s POV was the Lale Davidson post about Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). The member of Congress “demanded the Times Union retract what she called a ‘heinous and wildly inappropriate’ blog post. Apparently, the work of fiction pushed a button, not about Stefanik’s absurd challenge of the 2020 election, but her being described as “childless.”

As TU blogger Lawrence White wrote: “I think most people had no idea this was going on. The blog in question does not have a vast readership and nothing had been posted on any of the social media sites I frequent. Clearly, the sting of the original piece would have gone away with only a handful of people even reading it if Ms. Stefanik had let it slide, or dealt with it in a more private manner.”

When Casey Seiler called me to tell me the TU had put the kibosh on the community blog pages, he noted this story. Last spring, one of the bloggers had “swerved from their totally innocuous chosen topic to instead use his platform to spread the looniest conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 that you can possibly imagine. We shut it down immediately.”

So the TU community blogs are dead. Actually, it’s been dying for a while. Of the 80 or so blogs on the page as of January 30, including the staffers’ pages, about a quarter had not been updated in over a year. It seems as though the TU stopped caring about the blogs, and maybe vice versa. While I feel a little wistful, the demise was no surprise.

The foolish heteronymic post

reflects the creativity of the human race

heteronymBecause I have little better to do on April 1, here’s something I found in my email from years ago.

Homographs are words of like spelling but with more than one meaning. A homograph that is also pronounced differently is a heteronym.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Some other purloined riff

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. – Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’?

Tom Swifty for April Fools Day

“A Tom Swifty is a Wellerism in which an adverb relates both properly and punningly to a sentence of reported speech.” An example: “Your Honour, you’re crazy!” said Tom judgementally.”


I love a good Tom Swifty. No,that not a real person, but linguistic joke based on a fictional character.

As this link explains, Tom Swifties are a special kind of pun. “Sam Weller in Charles Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers” (1836-7) was prone to producing punning sentences such as: ‘Out with it, as the father said to the child when he swallowed a farden [farthing]'” I’d never heard of a Wellerism.

“A Tom Swifty is a Wellerism in which an adverb relates both properly and punningly to a sentence of reported speech.” An example: “Your Honour, you’re crazy!” said Tom judgementally.” [Judge (= your honour) + mental (= crazy) + ly)].

“The quip takes its name from Tom Swift, a boy’s adventure hero created by the prolific American writer Edward L. Stratemeyer, under the pseudonym Victor Appleton… Tom Swift rarely passed a remark without a qualifying adverb as ‘Tom added eagerly’ or ‘Tom said jokingly’. The play on words… arose as a pastiche of this, coming to be known by the term Tom Swifty.

“In a true Tom Swifty, it is an adverb (word specifying the mode of action of the verb) that provides the pun.”
“I swallowed some of the glass from that broken window,” Tom said painfully.” [Pain (like ‘pane’ = window glass) + full (= full stomach) + y.]

“But frequently the pun occurs in the verb, and there may not be an adverb at all. Strictly speaking such puns are not Tom Swifties, but they are generally included in the term.”
“My garden needs another layer of mulch,” Tom repeated. [Re (= again / another) + peat (= mulch) + ed.]

“And sometimes it is neither a verb, nor an adverb, but a short phrase (usually acting like an adverb in modifying the verb.”
“Don’t let me drown in Egypt!” pleaded Tom, deep in denial. [Denial (like ‘the Nile’). The Nile is a river in Egypt]

“Traditionally Tom is the speaker, but this is by no means necessary for the pun to classify as a Tom Swifty. Sometimes the pun lies in the name, in which case it will usually not be Tom speaking.”
“Who discovered radium?” asked Marie curiously. [Marie curi (like ‘Marie Curie’) + ously. Marie Curie discovered radium]

“Many – probably most – Tom Swifties are morphological; i.e. the words must be broken down into morphemes (smaller components) to understand the pun.”
“This is the real male goose,” said Tom producing the propaganda.” [Propa (like ‘proper’ = real) + ganda (like ‘gander’ = male goose)].

“Often the adverb (or whatever) has a homonym (a word which is pronounced, and perhaps spelled, the same, but has a different meaning) which leads to the punning meaning of the sentence.”
“I love hot dogs,” said Tom with relish. [Relish (= delight, sauce)]

“There is a special kind of homonym called a homophone. Homophones are homonyms which are spelled differently.”
“I won’t finish in fifth place,” Tom held forth. [Forth (like ‘fourth’).

Fun with Words has collected about 400 of “the wittiest and funniest Tom Swifties.” Or most groan-worthy, depending on how you think of these. Or create your own and irritate your friends.


A Sinister Hamburger

Graphic stolen from Mr. Brunelle

Easter AND April Fool’s Day

One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general.

There’s probably some sort of theological joke I should make here, how, after Easter, when most of the disciples saw Jesus, doubting Thomas, who was not present, said, “You’re kidding me!”

The last time Easter was on April 1 was in 1956; no wonder I don’t remember it. But before that, it was in 1945, 1934, and 1923, each eleven years apart. There was another wave in the 19th century: 1888, 1877, 1866, eleven years apart.

After 2018, it’ll happen again in 2029 and 2040. Yup, 11 years. This kind of thing fascinates me.

So why is it that modern Christianity isn’t appealing to more people? Is it that secularism is “winning”?

Or is it that some folks, purporting to lift the Christian banner, foolishly embrace concepts that do not seem to be consistent with Jesus’ teachings of feeding the hungry and welcoming the outcast? Those looking from the outside may think, understandably, “If THAT is Christianity, to hell what that!”

Interesting results of some Pew Research polling in the last couple years:

The term “spiritual but not religious” label applies to a growing share of Americans. And the methodology was fascinating – The survey “asked two separate questions: ‘Do you think of yourself as a religious person, or not?’ and ‘Do you think of yourself as a spiritual person, or not?’ The results presented here are the product of combining responses to those two questions.”

A growing share of Americans say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral. Interestingly, “attitudes about the necessity of belief in God for morality have also changed among those who do identify with a religion.”

And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood. “One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.”

Having gone about 360 degrees in my own religious quest – no, that’s not correct, since I didn’t end up in the same place as I started – I understand more than most the feelings of those who believe in God and those who don’t.

I DO wish each side could find a way to hear the other’s point of view. But perhaps that’s my own foolishness.

April Fools, but apparently real signs

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Did I read that sign right?
TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW
In a Laundromat:
AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT
In a London department store:
BARGAIN BASEMENT UPSTAIRS 
In an office:
WOULD THE PERSON WHO TOOK THE STEP LADDER YESTERDAY PLEASE BRING IT BACK OR FURTHER STEPS WILL BE TAKEN
In an office:
AFTER TEA BREAK STAFF SHOULD EMPTY THE TEAPOT AND STAND UPSIDE DOWN ON THE DRAINING BOARD
Outside a secondhand shop: 
WE EXCHANGE ANYTHING – BICYCLES, WASHING MACHINES, ETC. WHY NOT BRING YOUR WIFE ALONG AND GET A WONDERFUL BARGAIN?
Notice in health food shop window:
CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS
Spotted in a safari park:(I sure hope so)
ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR
Seen during a conference:
FOR ANYONE WHO HAS CHILDREN AND DOESN’T KNOW IT, THERE IS A DAY CARE ON THE 1ST FLOOR
Notice in a farmer’s field:
THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGES.
Message on a leaflet:
IF YOU CANNOT READ, THIS LEAFLET WILL TELL YOU HOW TO GET LESSONS
On a repair shop door:
WE CAN REPAIR ANYTHING. (PLEASE KNOCK HARD ON THE DOOR – THE BELL DOESN’T WORK)

Continue reading “April Fools, but apparently real signs”