Saturday, October 31, 2009

Personal Thoughts About Alfred Fire

On Thursday, a major fire destroyed three businesses and the living quarters of some students. Alfred is a very small town but is home to two colleges, Alfred State College and Alfred University. The fire reminded my family of how significant Alfred is to us.

Alfred is "down the road" from us, seven or eight miles away. My brother lives in Alfred and is retired from the university after spending nearly all of his working career there. At the age of sixty, my mother decided she wanted to work in food service at the state college and she retired from there. One of my sisters graduated from ASC, a niece and nephew graduated from AU and a great niece graduated from the college as well.

In one of life's strange coincidences, my sister and brother-in-law were passing by the buildings that burned just as the sirens went off. They were on their way from Pennsylvania to Hornell to pick me up and transport me to a hospital for eye surgery. When they returned home later, they had to detour around Alfred because of the clean-up from the fire.

There has been an outpouring of concern for the students who lost all their belongings and the owners of the businesses that were destroyed or damaged. This is an area of generous and sharing people, so I know that concern will turn into concrete help.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Contribution to the Butter-Margarine Wars

I don't remember any childhood chores with great affection or animosity, but I do remember one chore with curiosity. I remember always volunteering when my mother wanted someone to mix the color in the margarine. How strange does that sound?

I was given a plastic bag that held white margarine with a little button of dye. You broke the button and mixed the dye in by kneading the bag. I recall stretching this job out as long as I could, because when I was doing that, I couldn't wash dishes or sweep the floor.

When this memory arose recently, I wondered why the margarine had to be colored. So Mr. Google and I did a little search and found lots of info on the internet. (The image above is from a site named I have not been able to create a link.) Basically, the dairy industry fought the sales of margarine as a substitute of butter, and one of the laws enacted forbade the sale of yellowy margarine. All margarine sold was white. If you wanted it to look more like butter, then you had to add the coloring.

Margarine has been around a long time; a Frenchman invented it in 1870 and when it arrived in America, the dairy industry wasted no time in declaring war. The dairy states and the federal government enacted many laws over the years that has lead to the many margarines on store shelves today.

So I take delight in my (limited) participation in the Butter-Margarine Wars. My arthritic fingers take delight in the idea that they don't have to handle those plastic bags anymore.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Manipulating the News

Many, many years ago, when I was in college, I served as chief of the News Bureau. At that time, my school was the only one in NYS that allowed students to be the sole contact with the print media. In those days, I was very idealistic about what was news and how it was handled. Probably you could cross out the "idealistic" part and substitute "naive".

That idealistic naiveness has has eroded over the years, and during the past couple of weeks, has disappeared altogether because of the way our local paper has handled a local news event.

To back up, I read of a similar event which occurred in a neighboring community some time ago. That story had nearly daily accounts in our paper of what was happening. Those accounts were significantly featured on the front page and created a storm of letters to the editor that could be read in the paper.

Now a parallel situation has taken place here, in our town, the same town in which the paper is created, printed, and distributed. So the paper is handling the news in the same manner that the neighboring community's news was handled, right? Wrong!

Maybe this is the time to reveal that one of the significant parties in today's news event worked at the newspaper at one time. Maybe I am reading more in the reporting because of that. Regardless, I can now identify ways of slanting the news without the use of words. Yesterday's paper acts as a blueprint for manipulating news.


1) Change the location of the lead story. Put it in a different spot on the page and maybe the readers will miss it.

2) Change the size of the font in the headline. Give a story about conference bikes a bigger headline than the arrest of a city official.

3) Shorten the length of the story. Give more space to area stories, rather than this local story.

4) Fluff out the length of the report by devoting significant space within the lead article to a related story.

5) Be stingy about how many times you report this story.

6) Filter who will be quoted about the event.

7) Filter what will be quoted about the event.

8) Don't include the story on your website.

9) Remove comments from the website if you don't like them.

I can imagine how the newspaper would react to my list. We never slant the news. We must consider the family. A good guy is accused. The situation warrants careful reporting. You are reading too much into the situation. But wouldn't those same reasons apply to any alleged wrongdoing reported?

See how easy it is to subtly manipulate the news. You don't even need the power of words to do it.