Monthly Archives: December 2014

So This is Christmas

“So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year older
A new one’s just begun”

John Lennon’s lyrics really capture this time of year for me.
Sure, it’s just another day on the calendar, but it also provides for us a clear line in the snow, a bright shiny boundary where we can pause to take stock of the gaps between the people we are and the ones we ultimately want to be.
By its nature a new year comes with a blank slate. It’s a place to identify our shortcomings and promise ourselves that we’ll do better.
Will most of those resolutions fall short? Inevitably most of them will but as we stand in the doorway that’s not what matters most.
It is the willingness to try that defines us on this fulcrum and gives us the hope that the next year will be better than the last.
2014 was not an especially notable year for events. The Erie Times-News pointed to ongoing gun violence as the top story of the year. Indeed that is a terrible blight on our society that is devastating to the families involved, but looking at a terrible but chronic problem as a top story suggests that the year was marked more by ongoing battles rather than new ones with no singular events standing out.
On a personal note 2014 will be forever known as the Year We Left the News Business. After 32 years it’s time for a second chapter and it is my sincere hope that I find a place where my accumulated knowledge and energy can leave a mark. It is in that hope that 2015 holds the most excitement for me.
So take a moment to stand back and take a look around at the incredible journey that brings all of us to this place at this time.
We wish you peace for this holiday and to quote Mr. Lennon one last time:

“And so Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
We hope it’s a good one
Without any fear”

Bureaucratic Nightmare

You can imagine that in my thirty plus years of being a reporter that I have seen my share of bureaucracies. Faced with taking an action that the system wishes to avoid, a tried-and-true tactic is to send an avalanche of paperwork at the request. At the very least it delays the inevitable and annoys the daylights of the person bringing the offending request in the first place.
You can imagine that a reporter asking for information from a government or agency runs into that tactic often and usually in triplicate. I’ve dealt with it for decades.
But just this week I have been the focus of what might be the most widespread use of cascading paper I have ever seen. And it’s no Merry Christmas to me.
It started after the passing of my father. One of the things he left behind was a small life insurance policy where I am the beneficiary. The thought was it would protect my family when they were young and we could use what cash value was there when the time came.
So I started the process of getting the ownership of the policy changed, a necessary step in cashing out. That was eight months ago and counting.
I’m sorely tempted to name the large and well-known company but unfortunately I made a promise to myself years ago to never use this space as a sword of petty vengeance. All I will say is that it was NOT Erie Insurance.
Anyway, I have filled out the same form three times so far and sent in not one but two death certificates to prove that my Dad has indeed move on.
I swore my last attempt was perfect. Everything signed, witnessed and filled out with all the right letters crossed and dotted.
And yet, just this week, three separate letters from the insurance giant showing up on the same day. The first said that the form did not come with an attached copy of my Dad’s will. The second said, “Sorry, but you can’t have a policy where the owner and the beneficiary is the same person.”
And the third, and this is what raises the term “bureaucratic nightmare” to new heights, was a letter saying that they couldn’t find the policy in question. That came with a huge questionnaire to fill out to help them in this department’s quest to get up to speed.
Three letters arriving on the same day Christmas Week finding three different ways to keep me from cashing out one small policy in this big huge world.
You’ll excuse me if I don’t think the letters came from Three Wise Men. Or even honest men. Looks like my present for an attorney will be a little extra business.

By Any Other Name

Can we find agreement on how to deal with extracting information from detainees in the future? I doubt it, since we can’t even agree on what to call it.
It was William Shakespeare who first explored the differences between reality and our descriptions of that reality.
Wouldn’t a rose, he reasoned through his love-struck Juliet, smell as sweet even if you called it by any other name?
While I understand Bill’s point that a rose is a rose even if you call it a pickle, the logic shortchanges the power that words have in not only altering the perception of a reality but also in providing clues as to what the speaker thinks about it.
This week the 24-7 news cycle gab fests have been pouring through a Senate report, released by Democrats before they cede power that outlines practices used by American forces in the years following September 11th to gain information on what else might have been coming.
The details are graphic and at times gruesome and for many rise to the level of torture. They argue that we are supposed to be the good guys and it’s hard to condemn acts of violence we see around the world yet perform the same under a national security blanket.
Also in the mix: the question of labelling torture as inhumane while continuing unmanned drone strikes aimed at “high value” targets. Smart bombs aren’t as precise as we would love to believe. Innocent people get killed. Some call that “collateral damage.”
Supporters of America’s tactics never use the T-word. They have come to call the practices “enhanced interrogation techniques” or EIT’s.
It sounds much more civilized, doesn’t it? But as the Bard reminds us, reality is what reality is.
We’re being assured that many of these practices are no longer being used in the West but who knows the steps some will take when a legitimate threat is revealed or executed.
But it’s clear that no real consensus can be reached until we are all on the same page, a place where a rose to some means a rose to all.

Thin Ice

I’m not a lawyer. I’ve seen a lot of them in action but I don’t pretend to know the nuances. I’ve never played one on TV.
But from where I’m standing it appears that the Erie Otters are skating on thin ice in attempts to keep the OHL franchise in Erie.
It’s been rumored for months that the team could be sold and then moved to the more hockey fan-rich land of Hamilton, Ontario.
Things became much more real when the Edmonton Oilers filed suit saying they had a deal in place with managing partner Sherry Bassin to buy the team.
According to the Oilers, the team forwarded Bassin more than four million dollars to maintain the operations until all the paperwork could be completed.
But Bassin pulled out of the deal and according to Edmonton never returned the upfront money. Just this week a federal judge stepped in to halt selling off the team to recoup the losses.
That strikes this non-attorney as simply delaying the inevitable.
The remaining options are for Bassin to go ahead with the Edmonton deal to clear the debt (now standing at 4.6 million with costs) and then wave goodbye as the busses head north or find another buyer willing to keep a team here.
As rumors of the sale started so did rumors that a local group was being formed to anchor the team here.
You have to admire the effort but question if the numbers will add up. It’s hard for the fans to hear but the best bet might be to let the Otters go and then try to create another team for Erie with new leadership and less baggage.
A lot of fans and the Erie Times-News are holding Bassin at fault for a variety of reasons. But whether it was bad business or outright deceit is growing moot.
This year’s Otters are proof that a winner can exist here and with quality players and newly renovated facilities fans support the effort.
One non-attorney conclusion: We need a white knight on our white ice and time is growing short.