Thursday, April 08, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (4/08/04)


Here's a concise dictionary of clichés--words and phrases used or misused by politicians, bureaucrats, managers and marketers. We can all do without them:

ASAP--especially grating when voiced as AY-SAP, this one should have been retired a long time ago.

at this point in time. Unnecessarily wordy. What's wrong with saying “now”?

to author, when used as a verb, "He authored three books in a single year." An abomination. I wouldn't allow anyone to say, "He poeted three poems,"--unless they added, "and I readered all three."

blue-sky thinking--what we're getting in the rosy orchestrated news releases from Baghdad. Over here, flag-draped coffins continue to pour into Delaware's Dover Air Force Base surreptitiously each night.

brutal homicide. Is there any other kind?

core competence

"Don't go there." (a spoken warning not to discuss a topic)

educated guess--still just as conjectural as the equally overused "guesstimate."

for the foreseeable future

"Have a good one!" A good what?

human resources. Isn't this what the Nazis called their slave laborers in concentration camps?

"I could care less"--people say this but they mean the other cliché, "I couldn't care less."

"I have too much on my plate already."

in this day and age

"Let's do lunch"--a favorite on Madison Avenue. It has now invaded the home and morphed into "Let's do Chinese tonight."

literally--as in, "It's literally raining cats and dogs outside." This I'd want to see.

lost a battle with cancer. Why is cancer the only fatal disease we lose a battle with?

"May the Force be with you!" It's hard to believe that this tired old warhorse is still around.

nuclear--when mispronounced as NEW-CUE-LER by those in high places.

paradigm shift

past history. What other kind is there?

quantum jump. In energy physics, a quantum jump is very rapid but small. The term is often misused to denote a major, sudden or very large change.

quite a few defies the rules of logic by using few (not many) to express the idea of a lot.

"Take care!"--often used to conclude a telephone conversation.

thinking outside the box

24/7--a neologism that should have been smothered in its crib.

"We're not on the same page."

when the chips are down

Did you know that the first newspaper in Westchester was William Durrell's Mt. Pleasant Register, which began publishing in 1797 in what today is Ossining? The hamlet was then called Mt. Pleasant. It remained Mt. Pleasant until 1813, when it became Sing Sing, with the distinction of being the first village in Westchester County to incorporate. The name came from the Sint Sink Indians, who had lived in the area. In 1901, Sing Sing became Ossining, the name of the town outside the village since 1845. In part this was to disassociate the village from the state prison of the same name. The state unintentionally thwarted this by later changing the prison's name to Ossining Correctional Facility! It is now the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

You can win bets with this one: Challenge someone to identify "The Oblong." Chances are they won't know the answer. In colonial America, the border between Connecticut and New York was recognized as a line parallel to and 20 miles east of the Hudson. In 1731, New York acknowledged Connecticut's claim to settlements like Greenwich and Stamford that were in New York. In return, Connecticut gave up a strip of land almost two miles wide along its western border. The 1731 agreement did not become effective until 1881. The present border between the towns of Pound Ridge and Lewisboro marks the former Connecticut border.

From the sayings of my father: "The spectators always see more of the game than the players." Think about it.

Ever wonder why there's a town of North Salem but no town named South Salem in Westchester? When the county was organized into 20 towns in 1788, the eastern part of the original Cortlandt Manor became the towns of Upper Salem and Lower Salem. In 1806, Lower Salem became South Salem--but only until 1840. In that year, John Lewis offered to give South Salem's schools $10,000 if the town would change its name to Lewisborough. Later the name was shortened to Lewisboro.

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined many memorable phrases. None was so apt as an observation he made about the Irish psyche. During a TV interview at the time of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, he mused, "I don't think there's any point in being Irish, if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually." Not so often quoted is the rest of his comment: "I guess we thought we had a little more time." Then he added softly, "So did he."


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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (4/01/04)


The news that accountants in Bangalore in India may be filling out your income tax returns may not seem unusual in today's global economy. But what will you do when a letter arrives from the IRS announcing that your return has been selected for audit and asking you to come to the White Plains office with your records and the accountant who prepared and signed your return?

For a real feast for the eyes, run--don't walk--to the Ossining Historical Society Museum's newest exhibit: a selection of photographic prints made from early glass plate negatives. Longtime Ossining land surveyor W. Arthur Slater Jr donated this priceless collection. The work of local photographers and studios, more than 4,000 negatives and over 600 prints covering the years from 1890 to 1934 are included. Located on Croton Avenue, the Museum is open between 1 and 4 p.m. daily, Saturdays by appointment. Admission is free.

"Vote for me. I have experience in the real world. I'll run government like a business." How often have we heard that promise from candidates! But government never runs like a business. In the real world, businesses estimate next year's revenues and adjust expenditures to fit expected revenues. Local governments, on the other hand, first set what next year's expenditures will be and then adjust revenues (taxes) to equal or even exceed those numbers. Until government adopts a genuine business model for its operations, taxpayers will continue to be the goat and get it in the neck.

Know where Archville is? The Mt. Pleasant hamlet's name is perpetuated by its fire department, organized in 1909. Its firehouse is just north of the northern boundary of Sleepy Hollow. Archville's name derives from the massive cut-stone arch that carried the Old Croton Aqueduct over the Albany Post Road. Because of the narrow width of the opening and lack of height, the arch--adequate in horse-and-buggy days--was demolished in 1924 and replaced by an underground U-shaped siphon. Walkers on the aqueduct now use an attractive bridge of darkening brown Corten steel to avoid a hazardous crossing of heavily trafficated Route 9.

Montrose takes its name from John Montross, an early landowner on Montrose Point. Frederick W. Seward, son of William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, later owned a 30-acre estate on the Point. In Washington the night of Lincoln's assassination in 1865, the 35-year-old Seward saved his father's life. The elder Seward was confined to his home, recuperating from a carriage accident. Frederick Payne, the would-be assassin, forced his way in and broke his pistol on the younger Seward's head, making the weapon inoperable. Both Sewards were slashed with a Bowie knife but survived. Payne was later captured and hanged. Frederick W. Seward died in Montrose in 1915 at age 80, allegedly having lived out his remaining years with a silver plate in his skull.

I don't know about you, but when Croton's Brook Street grade crossing is finally closed I'm going to miss the sound of train whistles. The standard train whistle warning at crossings (two long, one short and one long) always reminds me of my freight-riding days during the Depression when it seemed that half the country was on the road. Ever since, hearing a mournful train whistle recalls a time when most of the country subsisted on hope.

My father, a self-educated man, was fond of imparting wisdom through aphorisms and proverbs. "The best lie is the truth," was one of his favorites. Instead of conspiring to concoct an elaborate fiction, if Martha Stewart had simply recounted what had happened she wouldn't be in the schmutz now. Martha had been a stockbroker and knew that the government had to prove that she knew she was getting material nonpublic information in breach of duty or trust and confidence. The government would have had to show that she could have evaluated the propriety of the information passed to her. But all she had to say was, "I recall that I was on my way to Mexico by plane. My broker phoned a hot tip that ImClone's stock price was about to go down. I told him to sell my shares. What's wrong with that? Tips are common on Wall Street."

Croton's Water Control Commission is misnamed. When I first learned of its existence, I had the mental image of water pipes and pumps and valves. It turns out, however, that the Commission's purview is wetlands. "Wetlands Control Commission" would more aptly describe its function.

If you thought the expression "The opera isn't over till the fat lady sings" was one of Yogi Berra's pearls of wisdom, you're wrong. The observation about the opera singer has been attributed to Texas sportscaster Dan Cook. It was said to have been voiced during a 1978 playoff basketball game broadcast over station KENS-TV between the San Antonio Spurs and the Washington Bullets. What Yogi immortalized was his own saying, "It ain't over till it's over."

Newly elected local officials are about to take office. New York State's constitution requires that they take an oath in which they swear or affirm that they will support the constitutions of the United States and the State of New York. Curiously, the oath says nothing about supporting local laws. In fact, Section One of Article XXIII of the state's constitution adds, "no other oath, declaration or test shall be required for any office of public trust."

The first newspaper in Westchester was William Durrell's Mt. Pleasant Register. It began publishing in 1797 in what today is Ossining. The hamlet was then called Mt. Pleasant. It remained Mt. Pleasant until 1813, when it became Sing Sing, with the distinction of being the first village in Westchester County to incorporate. The name came from the Stint Sink Indians, who had lived in the area. In 1901, Sing Sing became Ossining, also the name of the town outside the village since 1845. In part this was to disassociate the village from the state prison of the same name. The state unintentionally thwarted this by later changing the prison's name to Ossining Correctional Facility! It is now the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

Sports notes: The current NCAA tournament is exciting--but the media has ignored the big story--the scandal of collegiate basketball. The dirty little secret is the abysmal graduation rates of NCAA basketball scholarship athletes, particularly black male players. Champions two years ago, the University of Maryland admitted that it had graduated only 19% of all basketball players in the previous ten years. And last year's champs, Syracuse University, revealed that it had gone five years without graduating a single black male basketball player. Taking all schools into consideration, only 38% of black male basketball players who entered in 1996 graduated. That was considered an improvement over the previous year's statistic--when only 28% of those who entered in 1995 graduated. Now the NCAA no longer reveals black male basketball players' graduation statistics at the most egregious schools, claiming that they are protecting their privacy. Why don't universities end this charade and do the right thing by hiring these same athletes to play for them as outright professionals?

Makes you wonder. The world of running was stunned a week ago by the death of Brian Maxwell at age 51. A former University of California track star and once the No. 3 marathon runner in the world, Maxwell invented and marketed the high-energy PowerBar, later selling the company to Nestlé. Cause of death was a heart attack.

St. Regis University awards degrees to students "based on what you already know," and requires no course work. This Internet pedagogic scam was revealed when the state of Georgia downgraded certifications of ten teachers who had presented advanced degrees from SRU. For $450 you can get a high school diploma. A Bachelor's degree will set you back $895, and a Master's $995. A doctorate can be yours for a mere $1500. Each graduation package includes diplomas in several sizes, a University ID card, transcript, matriculation history, a congratulatory graduation letter, the tassel from the mortarboard you did not wear, and other documents. The university even has a store featuring university T-shirts, mugs, pennants, posters and bumper stickers. College reunions, however, may be hazardous to your health. It turns out that the "campus" of St. Regis University is located in chaotic, war-torn Monrovia, Liberia.


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