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Behind the 'Occupy Buffalo' editorial in today's News

After considerable discussion Monday, The News Editorial Board came to consensus about what we see as the future of the Occupy Buffalo encampment at Niagara Square. In an editorial in today's paper, the board says that it's time for the occupiers to wrap things up, count their effort as a success and move on to other forms of political activism.

Here's the editorial, which gives credit to Mayor Byron Brown for the restraint and cooperation shown to the protesters since they began their effort last October. (The group's city permit expires tomorrow.)

The Editorial Board consists of five people: Publisher Stan Lipsey, Editorial Page Editor John Neville, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Kevin Walter, editorial writer Dawn Bracely and me. To varying degrees, we all agree with at least some of the Occupy Wall Street movement's points. In editorials, the board has often expressed its concern with the decline of the middle class in America, and the growing gap between the very rich and the rest of the country. But, right now, we think the point has been forcefully (and quite peacefully) made in Buffalo. The work ought to continue but in other forms, which the editorial suggests.

We hope our readers understand that, in writing editorials, we are merely presenting a point of view. We don't intend to force it on anyone but to present food for thought. And, in other forms, the paper does its best to highlight a full range of views on the subject.

Some examples are reporter Mark Sommer's front-page story in Monday's News and, separately, his video chat on with key members of the Occupy Buffalo group. (You can see a replay here.) We also welcome letters to the editor and submissions to our "Another Voice" feature on the editorial page, which often presents the opposing argument to that expressed in a News editorial.

As fervently as we may believe in our stance, it's only one viewpoint. (That's true when we endorse political candidates, too.) There's room for discussion here, and we're glad to be a part of it.

Double McCartney alert: Listen to Sir Paul's latest, watch his son on Letterman tonight

Here's NPR's "First Listen" to Paul McCartney's new album, "Kisses on the Bottom," a collection of pop standards, mostly from the 1940s, including "Paper Moon"  and "Glory of Love."  McCartney's 15th solo studio album, it will be released next Tuesday, Feb. 7.  Earliest reviews say that the effort is charming but a little tame -- far from revolutionary.  NPR's Stephen Thompson observes: "Paul McCartney has written or co-written so many standards, in The Beatles and beyond, that it's easy to forget he grew up loving music that wasn't his."  Despite the two new original songs by McCartney, no new ground is broken here; this is not "The White Album," folks.  But, ah, that voice...

Meanwhile, just a reminder:  Sir Paul's son, James McCartney, a musician and songwriter in his own right, makes his U.S. television debut tonight on "Late Show with David Letterman"  (11:35 p.m. on CBS)."

How much is too much? Weekend marathons: 'Hugo' and the Nadal-Djokovic match

I watched (parts of) two incredibly long events over the weekend -- the Australian Open men's tennis final and the movie “Hugo,” one of the Academy Awards’ best picture nominees. Here’s my short review of each, and a link to a related piece on each.

* Tennis. I woke up Sunday morning to a text message from my son in Boston. “The match is still on. Started at 3:30. ESPN2.” At 8:40 a.m., Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were early in the fifth set. The match would go on for another hour, one breathtaking point after another. I was riveted, but also very glad that I came in as late as I did in this nearly six-hour match. Finally, Djokovic squeaked out a victory, and tore his shirt off, roaring like a lion at the fans in the stands.  In all, one of the most memorable hours of tennis I've ever seen.

Here’s Jason Gay’s commentary from the Wall Street Journal on why men’s tennis is the best thing going on in sports right now.


* Movie. Each year at this time, I’m in a mad rush to see all the Oscar-nominated films before Academy Awards night, which this year is Feb. 26. My quest was easier when there were only five films nominated instead of up to 10 (nine this year), but nevertheless I’m well on my way, having just seen “The Ides of March” via Netflix, with “Moneyball” on its way, and most of the others under my belt.

So, Sunday afternoon, I saw (most of) Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” at the Elmwood Regal. It’s beautiful to watch in 3-D, and the shots of Paris are astonishing. I loved the children -- especially the bookish Isabelle with her wonderful vocabulary. (She had me at “reprobate.”) But 128 minutes of life inside a clock is just too much. I’m not one to leave movies early, but after nearly two hours -- maybe I was especially conscious of time -- I just couldn’t take one more precious minute.

Here’s the Daily Beast’s list of “snubs and surprises” from the Oscar nominations.

The eye-opening journalism of 'The Obama Memos'

The most impressive political journalism published in the past week very likely was Ryan Lizza's lengthy New Yorker piece, "The Obama Memos," in the magazine's Jan. 30 issue. 

 Lizza, the New Yorker's Washington correspondent, obtained hundreds of pages of internal White House memos between President Obama and such key figures as top economic advisor Lawrence Summers and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

 He used this trove of information to draw broad, well-reasoned conclusions about how -- rather than  Obama changing Washington as he promised to do during his campaign --- the divisive politics of the capital changed him.

 Lizza makes the case that Obama began as an idealist and has become a political pragmatist.  The story, as journalists like to say, "has legs," meaning that its impact has continued and new developments have sprung up in the days after publication.

For those who haven't read it, there's no doubt that this 12-page magazine story demands a serious commitment of time and attention.  But Lizza's story is vital if you want to understand what happened to the Barack Obama whom many people thought they had elected but who never materialized.

Here's the New Yorker story.  Alternatively,  here's a CliffsNotes version from the Daily Beast, capturing the highlights.  But I recommend the former.  (As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, "Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing.")   It's worth your time.


Looking trim, Alec Baldwin schmoozes UB and boosts local theater

As Alec Baldwin made the rounds, table to table, at a dinner party Friday night at the University of Buffalo's Center for the Arts, the buzz in the room could be summarized like this: "Wow, he's so thin!"  The "30 Rock" star shook hands, posed for photos and chatted with big-ticket guests before his staged reading of Clifford Odets' "The Big Knife."  (For a review by News Features Editor Melinda Miller of that performance, see the Gusto Extra page in Sunday's Buffalo News.)

The once-portly actor is quick to talk about his transformation:  

“I gave up sugar. I lost 30 pounds in four months. It’s amazing," he said in a recent TV interview. “(I do) Pilates, spin, not as much yoga as I’d like. When we’re shooting (‘30 Rock’), it’s tough… I just have to eat less. But sugar was the real killer for me.”

X350Shown here at a charity event last fall with his girlfriend, Hilaria Thomas,  the 53-year-old Baldwin has strong ties to Buffalo's Road Less Traveled Productions.  Those ties are based largely on his friendship with artistic director Scott Behrend.

The Emmy-award winning actor has appeared twice before in Buffalo to benefit the non-profit theater company -- reading from Yasmina Reza’s "Art" in 2006 and from David Mamet’s "Speed-the-Plow" in 2009 -- and serves on its advisory board.

He calls Thomas, a 27-year-old Spanish-born yoga instructor, "probably one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life."  The father of a 16-year-old daughter, Ireland, with his ex-wife, actress Kim Basinger, Baldwin told British TV host Piers Morgan this week that he'd like to start a new family.  "That," he said, "would be heaven."

As Baldwin chatted up donors last night, Road Less Traveled's co-founder and literary director Jon Elston was more interested in Baldwin's artistic commitment.

"He has a sincere and quite extraordinary interest in theater on all levels," said Elston, who is also the resident playwright of the theater company, which is based downtown in the Market Arcade Film & Arts Center.   "He really believes in how important it is, and that's been incredibly helpful to us." 

A journalistic hero, First Lady power, and tennis screechers

The foreign correspondent I admire most is Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, who combines courage and great story instincts with wonderfully engaging writing.  Here, in an interview with Mother Jones magazine, Shadid -- the Times' Beirut bureau chief -- talks about his harrowing year just past as he reported on the Arab Spring, from Egypt to Libya to Syria.  He describes what he considers his own misjudgment in pursuing a story that resulted in his kidnapping (and that of three Times colleagues) by Libyan government forces.  Shadid's third book, "House of Stone," in which he returns to his family's ancestral village in Lebanon, is due out in late March.


We all have our favorite First Ladies, and we all have our own reasons.  I'm partial to Betty Ford for her strength in battling addiction and Jacqueline Kennedy for her style and taste.  But here's quite another question:  Who are the most influential First Ladies -- the ones who made the biggest  difference during their time in the White House and beyond?  The Daily Beast offers this photo gallery, ranking First Lady power, based on a poll of experts.  Check it out and see if you agree.


Tennis screamerslWhen Maria Sharapova, left, and Victoria Azarenka, right, meet tomorrow in the women's final of the Australian Open tennis tournament, you'll see some vicious serves and some pounding groundstrokes -- and, unfortunately, you'll hear some ear-splitting shrieks.  The Aussie final has managed to bring together the two loudest women's players on the tour, each of whom emits a high-pitched scream every time she hits the ball.  This tennis fan thinks there ought to be a law against the unnecessary noise pollution.  In the meantime, maybe they'll drown each other out.

(The photo is from Getty Images)

What do Rosa Parks, Hank Aaron and Warren Buffett's secretary have in common?

Obama-state-michel_2118933b[1]That's easy.  They are all examples of the Lenny Skutnik phenomenon -- named after the first person to be a special "shout-out" guest at a presidential State of the Union address.  Ronald Reagan recognized Skutnik in 1982 for diving into the icy Potomac to save the life of a passenger after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.  Bill Clinton introduced civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 1999 and baseball great Hank Aaron in 2000.  Tuesday night, Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, sat in First Lady Michelle Obama's box and was mentioned, though not by name, by the president.  She's in the photo at right, just over the First Lady's left shoulder, wearing glasses. 

I've gotten to know Debbie Bosanek over the years because Buffett is chairman of The Buffalo News and his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is our owner.   She's always tactful, helpful, smart -- and wisely protective of her boss.  So it doesn't surprise me to see her handling her 15 minutes of fame with aplomb.  Brought to the event to symbolize inequities in the federal tax code (her billionaire boss likes to point out that she is taxed at a higher rate than he is), she deferred to Buffett on policy matters while making it clear she was delighted to be at the president's annual address:
“Warren is the most brilliant man I’ve ever met, so I defer to his judgment,”  Bosanek told the Washington Post before the address.  And she added: “I feel like I’m representing secretaries everywhere tonight.” Here's the Post's photo gallery of Lenny Skutnik and some of his successors through the years. (Photo above is from The Telegraph, of London.)


Reporters Without Borders has released its 10th annual "Press Freedom Index," a well-documented look at some of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.  Syria, Bahrain and Yemen get their worst-ever ratings, the report says, noting that 2011 was an especially dangerous year, with "crackdown" as its watchword.   “Many media paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements," the report said.
 “Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them."

The organization is a nonprofit dedicated to global free-press issues.  And it gladly takes donations to its worthy cause.

The tequila, taco and new-music edition

You know a Buffalo restaurant is red-hot when you can't get a seat for 45 minutes -- on a Monday night.  But that was the case this week at Cantina Loco, the new Mexican-inspired place on Allen Street, just across from the Towne restaurant.  Open in full for less than a week, the new eatery from Mike Andrzejewski (the Seabar founder and former Oliver's and Rue Franklin wizard whom the James Beard Foundation calls "Buffalo's powerhouse chef") was packed with the young, the cool and the heavily tattooed.    As the outdoor neon sign announces, Cantina Loco specializes in "tacos and tequila."  The drink menu is elaborate, with dozens of tequila choices, and variations within the choices, set up in an impressive but daunting grid format.    I resisted the "house boilermaker" -- shot of mezcal plus tecate with salt and lime -- but was entertained by its pricing: $5 for the restaurant industry, $8 for "everyone else."  As for my skirt-steak taco, I'm no Adam Platt, but I think the technical description is "to die for."


New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman is one of the country's foremost commentators on economic issues.  A Nobel Prize winner in economics, he can take a topic  like the federal debt ceiling and make it sing.  And, as it turns out, he's interested in how other people sing, too.  He recently alerted his many devoted readers to the talents of the Toronto-based electronic trio Austra, whose lead singer and songwriter is Katie Stelmanis, formerly of Galaxy.  The music website Stereogum had this to say: "Even if Stelmanis wasn’t the primary songwriter, her powerful, instantly memorable voice would deserve the front-and-center attention."  At age 10, Stelmanis joined the Canadian Children’s Opera, then sang for the Canadian Opera Company, and while learning to play viola and piano.  Then she went to a punk show and it was all over: She joined a band.

In a recent blog,  Krugman recommended Austra and posted a video from Seattle's edgy KEXP-FM of the song "Lose It," noting that, to him, it sounds like a combination of Enya and Queen of the Night (a reference to Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute"). You can hear it here.


Sons of the Beatles, perhaps unsurprisingly, tend to dabble in the music business.  Consider Dhani Harrison, Sean Ono Lennon and Julian Lennon.   Now Sir Paul's son, James McCartney, is hoping for his star turn.  As the Boston Globe notes: "Paul’s boy is following in his footsteps and recently released 'The Complete EP Collection,' a two-disc set (co-produced by his dad) that combines two earlier digital-only EPs and five new tracks. ... While some may hold him to an impossible standard, the younger McCartney’s promising pop-rock tunes make clear he’s learned a few lessons about melody, phrasing, and charm."  The young McCartney is scheduled for an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" on Monday.  The Globe's "12 Acts to Listen for in 2012," which includes McCartney, is worth a look. 

Here he covers Neil Young's "Old Man."  Notice a slight family resemblance?


For a few shameful hours, news of Paterno's death was greatly exaggerated

Here are a couple of time-tested rules for journalists:
* "Trust, but verify."
* "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out."

But those rules went unheeded by a Penn State student publication, Onward State, whose managing editor last Saturday evening tweeted that Joe Paterno had died.  Mainstream publications -- from to the Huffington Post -- picked it up and spread the "news."  Meanwhile, Paterno was still alive; the family did not announce his death until Sunday morning.  The fallout was serious: the student editor retracted the report and later resigned; other publications issued corrections of various sorts.  Errors don't get much more serious than saying someone is dead who is not.  And those who would fault Twitter, that lightning-fast social media tool, are making the mistake of blaming the messenger.  It's not the medium; it's the method -- the failure to corroborate and verify information before pressing the button.  Any button.

This eye-opening piece by ProPublica's Daniel Victor describes what happened behind the scenes at Onward State.  

(Here at The News, editors were in close contact Saturday night, watching and evaluating the reports.  Although we would have been ready to put a story on the front page about Paterno's death, it was clear by deadline that he was still alive.  We published a brief item on Sunday's front page, referring readers to a story inside the section reporting that Paterno was in serious condition.  Sunday morning, we reported his death on our website, once it was official.  And Monday, we devoted a significant chunk of the front page to a story and Bucky Gleason's commentary on Paterno's legacy.)

If what happened with the false reports sounds familiar, that's because the same thing happened a year ago. Here's a story by the Poynter Institute's Craig Silverman recalling how, in the wake of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's shooting last January in Tucson, many mainstream media organizations erroneously reported her death.  

You would think everyone would learn once and for all how not to let such a thing happen.   Maybe this will be the last time, but don't hold your breath. 

Blues photos, a Burmese scoop, and yoga wars

The wonderful black-and-white photographs of blues musicians that hung for years in the Lafayette Tap Room have a new home.   In an exhibit called “Blues in Buffalo,” they're gracing a long wall at a just-opened Hertel Avenue bar and restaurant: Canvas@1206.   More than 100 of Buffalonian Cheryl Gorski's images take up an entire wall of this attractive place, which offers a mix of a casual neighborhood atmosphere and touches of fine-dining class, such as single red roses atop white-clothed tables.  Co-owner Dawn Kirchmeyer says that she and partner Stephen McCarthy “want to provide a blank canvas for people's passions, whether it's music, comedy or the arts."  To that end, Canvas@1206 (that's 1206 Hertel, between Delaware and Colvin) features live music on weekend nights and a comedy open mic on Monday evenings, and introduces a regular featured artist, such as Gorski.   As for the photos, they make an impressive display and it's great to see them again. 


Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel last week brought us a fascinating profile of Burmese photojournalist Law Eh Soe, who is now a translator in Buffalo.  Law’s photographs helped expose the brutal military regime in the Southeast Asian country also known as Myanmar. Meanwhile, on a related subject, Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth had the rare opportunity to scoop the world with a story reported and written by none other than her mother. Lally Weymouth, senior associate editor for the Post, scored the first extensive interview in the American press with Burmese President Thein Sein.  In that interview, conducted in the president’s office in Naypyidaw, Thein Sein asks for the United States and other nations to lift economic sanctions against Burma in acknowledgment of its recent reforms. Coincidentally, Michel’s front-page piece and Weymouth’s interview appeared on the same day last week.  The following day, the Post ran a companion piece by Weymouth, this one an interview with Burmese democracy advocate and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, an inspiring figure.  In all --  Washington, Buffalo and Naypyidaw -- a striking example of our interconnectedness, brought to you by the Internet.  Marshall McLuhan's Global Village is alive and well.


Yoga practitioners, and I count myself among them, have been mesmerized in recent weeks by the fallout from a New York Times piece entitled, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”  The long cover story in the Times magazine detailed all the yoga-related injuries that are supposedly plaguing a Western world that’s increasingly in thrall to Eastern practices. As a result, dark clouds appeared over many a sun salutation, and the state of centeredness was knocked askew. This Boston Globe story sums up the controversy, and notes that it has given the yoga-averse still another reason to avoid the mat while saving astronomical sums on those high-end yoga duds from lulu lemon.  As for me,  I’m planning to consider the whole troubling matter from the point of view of my center-floor headstand, and hope I don’t break my neck doing it.

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