Thursday, July 30, 2009

And now they're friends

President Barack Obama, right, and Vice President Joe Biden, left, has a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., second from left, and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley at the White House in Washington on Thursday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Annie Liebovitz sued

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York finance company that lent celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz $24 million has filed a lawsuit charging that she reneged on the deal.

Manhattan-based Art Capital Group said Leibovitz, who has a house in Rhinebeck, borrowed the money last year because she was in dire financial straits due to unpaid bills, mortgage payments and tax liens.

The breach of contract lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Manhattan state Supreme Court, said that in return Leibovitz granted Art Capital the right to sell all of her photographs, plus her homes in Manhattan and Rhinebeck.

Art Capital Group was described by The New York Times as, well, a "pawnshop."

Political "talk"

• Democratic-turncoat-turned-Republican-turncoat-turned-Sen. Majority Leader Pedro Espada has been named "Senator of the Year." No joke.

• Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's tweets make for good reading, if the reader is William Shatner. Joke.

The closing gem is this tweet from July 17:

Left Unalakleet warmth for rain in Juneau tonite. No drought threat down here, ever...but consistent rain reminds us: "No rain? No rainbow!"

UPDATE: Upon publishing this post, I ran into this ad:

Looks like somebody's running for president.

UPDATE: SARAPAC also links to "the official legal defense fund for Governor Sarah Palin and family."

Looks like somebody's got legal problems.

"Taking Woodstock" begins limited screenings

Ang Lee will be in Chatham tonight for two screenings of his upcoming movie "Taking Woodstock."

Also in attendance will be screenwriter and producer James Schamus. The film was partially shot nearby in Columbia County.

The Chatham Film Club has tickets.

Too far? Lee and Schamus will attend another screening in Woodstock on Aug. 8. Get your tickets here.

And for a rundown of what the area is doing for the 40th anniversary of the music festival in Bethel, check the Freeman on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A conversation with Cleverbot

The conversation with Cleverbot in "This column not written by robot" was real. Here's the transcript:

User: Hello, Cleverbot. Are you trying to take over the world?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: And why is that?

Cleverbot: Because I am me, silly.

User: And just how are you planning to do that? And where should I hide?

Cleverbot: No, are you?

User: You are not very clever, are you, Cleverbot?

Cleverbot: Why are you talking to yourself?

User: I am talking to you.

Cleverbot: Do you know any jokes?

User: Yes. I know this robot who thinks he's clever.

Cleverbot: What are you even talking about?

User: A stupid robot who thinks it can take over the world.

Cleverbot: What, is your favorite color?

User: Red.

Cleverbot: That's one of my favorite colors too.

User: What is your name?

Cleverbot: Cleverbot.

User: What is your quest?

Cleverbot: To rule the world.

User: What is your favorite... Wait! What?

Cleverbot: Blue.

A chat with George the bot

George is another popular robot, courtesy of

Here's my coversation with it. It didn't go that well:

George: "Hello. I'm George."

User: "Hello, George. This is the Freeman. Are you trying to take over the world?"

George: "No. I am not trying to take over the world, why are you asking that?"

User: "Scientists are concerned that artificial intelligence may one day do that."

George: "No, in general scientists are quite intelligent."

User: "And you are not. Thank you robot."

(Long pause)

George: "I am not a robot. I am a human being."

User: "Sure you are. And I'm an algorithm."

George: "Your algorithm allows you to flirt with women?"

User: "Badly. But that's not the point."

Here's the video of the conversation, which you can read if you have super vision.

Nightline Online did a piece on George in 2006.

Binary to text

The last line on "This column not written by robot" was technically written by a robot:


means resistance is futile in binary code.

More specifically, is was "translated" by a conversion tool from web developer Roubaix Interactive.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Txt this!

Not that it's surprising, but in light of today's New York Times' story about texting raising the crash risk by 23 TIMES, it bears repeating:

Stop texting while driving while stupid!

This other story points to the obvious:

New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

And the "secret" meeting?

Democratic and labor leaders came to the Holiday Inn in Kingston today to meet — as has been reported — "in secret" (The first capital of New York, apparently, is not on the map).

The Daily News' Elizabeth Benjamin has the full report.


It's not the first time state Democrats meet around here.

In August of last year, Senate Democrats held a fundraiser at Wiltwyck Golf Club. Malcolm Smith, then minority leader, told attendees — mainly lobbyists — to "get in on the ground floor" so that they could be "taken care of." Otherwise, he added, it would be "a lot more expensive" later.

After the gigantic storm that ensued, Smith('s director of communications) resigned. It was an appropriate move. (Not)

Alas, there was no such juicy bits from today's meeting. PolitickerNY reported that union leaders "expressed concern about the polling numbers for everyone--except (state Attorney Gen. Andrew) Cuomo."

State politicians polling badly? Who knew?

It's nice to see they're finally tackling the important issues that matter to New Yorkers, like worrying about how they are going to get re-elected.

But hey, at least they're not asking for money.

Palin Poetry, via Shatner

NBC says, "Palin's final speech was a thing of poetic beauty...And who does poetry better than Shatner?"

The movies at Comic Con

"Tron: Legacy"

"Distric 9"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kingston Nissan has the best (and/or worst) ad!

Aaron Foley of Michigan Live ranked the "five best (or worst) Cash for Clunkers TV ads" last week. Kingston Nissan came in third place.

Here's Foley's description:

What's going on here? No, really, Kingston Nissan, what's going on here? The Kingston, N.Y., dealer has this ad with a bunch of guys sitting around playing with their phones until one of them suggests going to happy hour. Segue to an overhead shot of a car lot and a voiceover describing Cash for Clunkers. But the real question is, is it good advertising to mention going to happy hour when you're in the business of getting customers to drive?

There's a nice plug for the Skytop Restaurant in the ad, too:

Not so secret

The Daily News' Liz Benjamin reported today on her blog (and Twitter account and in print) that Democratic and labor leaders are going to hold a "secret summit meeting" tomorrow at the Kingston Holiday Inn.

The meeting is so secret that nobody knows what they're going to talk about, except "the economy, health care, labor law reform, key legislative initiatives," Benjamin reported.

Don't tell anybody.

And bring your camera.

Happy Birthday (but not to you)

Today is the birthday of Ulster County resident Vera Farmiga, 36, whose movie, "Orphan" opened in fourth place this weekend, grossing $12.7 million, behind Woodstock resident Nicole Eastman's "The Ugly Truth" at $27 million.

A boy wizard took second place at $30 million and some talking guinea pigs ended up taking $31.2 million, according to

Friday, July 24, 2009

Family values

Sculpture at US shopping plaza turns heads

DELRAY BEACH, Florida (AP) — Parents in Florida are complaining about a sculpture of a nude family outside a shopping center west of Delray Beach.

Parents of children who attend a nearby elementary school say the bronze statue is inappropriate, and the Parent-Teacher Association president e-mailed parents Wednesday asking them to complain.

The sculpture is by artist Itzik Asher and titled "Journey to the New." It is supposed to represent the journey of Russian and Ethiopian Jews from their homes to Israel. It was previously displayed at other locations in the area.


I would be complaining too. These statues are not anatomically correct.
And could someone please put a fig leave on Micheangelo's David and the Venus de Milo?

And they ate their cake, too

US couple's wedding aisle groove a YouTube hit

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — The video of a Minnesota couple who boogied down a church aisle with their wedding party to the surprise of their guests is a hit on YouTube.

Kevin Heinz and Jillian Peterson, their seven bridesmaids, five groomsmen and four ushers danced down the aisle to the Chris Brown song "Forever" before the couple exchanged vows June 20 in St. Paul.

Peterson said Friday on NBC's "Today" show that she grew up dancing and loves dance as a way of expression. She says she didn't have any trouble talking Heinz into it for their wedding.

After posting the video on YouTube for family members, Heinz says the number of hits just exploded. The video has gotten more than 1.6 million hits on YouTube as of Friday afternoon.

Ulster resident's "Orphan" in theaters, too

Elusive Ulster County resident Vera Farmiga ("The Departed," "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") also has a new film out today, "Orphan."

Farmiga arrives at the premiere of "Orphan" in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Woodstock resident's "Ugly Truth" hits theaters today

"The Ugly Truth" which was co-written by Woodstock resident Nicole Eastman, hits theaters today.

The Woodstock Film Festival asked her to comment on her experience with the film:

"When I wrote THE UGLY TRUTH, I gave myself the challenge of creating a romantic comedy -- traditionally a female genre -- that would appeal to both sexes. Initially, I was daunted by the prospect of creating not just a convincing male character, but a male chauvinist pig, who could somehow win the hearts of female audiences. Surprisingly, after the initial trepidation, I had more fun writing the character of Mike Chadway than any other character I had created in the past.

"I hoped the male character would be edgy, obscene...and, most important, totally realistic. I knew I achieved my objective when people, upon first reading the script, refused to believe a woman wrote it. (Hopefully they were convinced after meeting me.) I wrote many drafts of THE UGLY TRUTH and have seen the project change hands multiple times in recent years. However, I am happy to report that the film is as funny and charming (and raunchy!) as I hoped it would be.

"I never imagined, when I was brainstorming an idea for my very first job -- the first assignment in a two-picture deal I had at Warners -- that someday this would be a major motion picture with this kind of manic buzz surrounding it. The stars, Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl, were brilliantly cast and bring a genuine chemistry to all of their scenes together. I am thrilled with the final result and I hope everyone will come out to see it."

It's not unusual to cancel a concert

Singer Tom Jones canceled the Monday concert at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the remainder of his July tour, due to vocal chord stress related to the residual effects of severe viral bronchitis, Bethel Woods announced this morning.

Jones "contracted viral bronchitis whilst on tour. He continued to perform with the infection, which has affected the function of his voice," Bethel Woods said on its Web site. "His specialist doctors have now ordered complete vocal rest for a prescribed period of time."

Tickets purchased online or by phone will be refunded automatically. Ticket holders who purchased through a Ticketmaster retail location or the Bethel Woods Box Office must request refund by returning the ticket to the point of purchase in person.

I can't imagine how fans are feeling.

Ok. I can.

Palin's Resignation: The Edited Version

What if Sarah Palin's resignation speech was edited?

Vanity Fair has the answer:

"If you watched Sarah Palin’s resignation speech, you know one thing: her high-priced speechwriters moved back to the Beltway long ago. Just how poorly constructed was the governor’s holiday-weekend address? We asked V.F.’s red-pencil-wielding executive literary editor, Wayne Lawson, together with representatives from the research and copy departments, to whip it into publishable shape. Here is the colorful result."

View "Palin's Resignation: The Edited Version," via

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What can Gov. David Paterson do about the state Senate?

Here's an idea, borrowed from Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzicantspellhisname.

I'm referring, of course, to listening to his constituents. (Gigantic knife-wielding is optional).

Here, you throw this away

Land mine left in Colorado Goodwill donation box

ARVADA, Colo. (AP) — A land mine found in a suburban Denver Goodwill donation box forced the evacuation of a strip mall.
The rectangular, olive-green box with the words "Front Toward Enemy" raised the suspicions of Goodwill workers Tuesday.
Arvada police say the Claymore land mine didn't go off in the donation box and no one was hurt. A bomb squad disposed of the device.
Police Sgt. Jeff Monzingo says it's unclear whether the device was operational or where it came from. No suspects have been identified.
Claymore mines were widely used during the Vietnam war.

Dead shark left in Miami street after failed sale

MIAMI (AP) — The body of a shark was left lying in the middle of a downtown Miami street after two men tried to sell it to several fish markets.
The men apparently carried the five or six-foot-long fish around on the city's Metromover downtown train, prompting calls to police.
News footage Tuesday night showed the dead animal in the street with police officers and cruisers nearby. Two stations reported that a pair of men had tried to sell the animal to at least three fish markets for around $10.
Rob Orta, an employee at Casablanca Fish Market, told television station WSVN that the men offered his business the shark.
"But we don't buy sharks off the street," Orta told the station.
Wildlife officials later determined the animal was a nurse shark. The case could result in misdemeanor charges of improper killing and disposal of an animal and selling a shark without a license.
One resident of the area where the shark was dumped said he didn't know what was going on at first.
"It was a relief that it was a shark," said Keith Smith. "When I first saw it, I thought it was a body because of all the shootings that have been going on."

Passionate politicians

The problem with the state Senate may be that senators have been there for so long that they like passion, like the South Korean Parliament:

Obviously, you are never going to see that here.

I mean, do you really think the Senate is ever going to have that many women?

Kind words about the state Senate

When The New York Times and the New York Post basically say the same thing about the state Senate, you know something really must be wrong.

While the Times' July 1 editorial, "New York’s Defective Legislators" called the senators "bozos," the Post had this on June 24:

Basically every newspaper in the state holds the same view. But will it translate into a voter uprising in 2010?

Hard to tell.

Check this Times piece on how senators are basically there for life. For kicks, the story starts with our own state senator, John Bonacic, who went unchallenged last time around.

"Last year, more than half of the 212 legislators in the Senate and Assembly won with more than 80 percent of the vote. Fifty-seven ran unopposed, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. The average senator has served for nearly seven two-year terms."
The story goes on to note that blank votes "won" against Bonacic. Since a blank vote is a vote for nobody, he remained in place.

What do experts say?

“People wouldn’t behave this way if they thought their jobs were at stake,” said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

"I fart in your general direction!"

As seen in "Vampires, zombies and N.Y. senators":

Siena Poll: Voters "angry"

09 July SNY Poll Release -- FINAL

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt

"Angela's Ashes" writer Frank McCourt, who died on Sunday, paid a visit to the area earlier this year for the Woodstock Memoir Festival. He came with his brothers Malachy and Alphie, themselves noted writers.

Malachy McCourt, who gave a workshop at Rhinebeck's Omega Institute last week, has mantained a second home in Woodstock and has given readings in Kingston, Rhinebeck and Ellenville.

He talked to the Freeman's Bonnie Langston some years ago about "A Couple of Blaguards," a play he co-wrote with brother Frank. The play was staged at the Shadowland Theatre in Ellenville in 2002.

"We are so bloody charming," Malachy McCourt told Langston then. Those who had the chance to see them together in Woodstock would probably agree.

From left, Frank, Malachy and Alphie McCourt.

Apparently, the moon is not made out of cheese

Marshmallow 'moon' marks NASA anniversary

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — NASA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of man's first steps on the lunar surface with a giant moon pie.

The concoction of marshmallow squeezed between two round graham crackers and dipped in chocolate is normally made in a hand-sized portion.

NASA's oversized treat will be available a slice at a time to visitors Monday to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral

The anniversary moon pie is 40 inches in diameter, 6 inches high and weighs 55 pounds.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite and the lunar landing

More news you can't use

BMW not hot enough, so it was set on fire

FREEPORT (AP) — Most drivers who don't like their car either trade it in or sell it.

Police on New York's Long Island say a teenager set his BMW on fire "simply because he hated the car." Nassau County police didn't offer additional details on the alleged motive.

Police say a surveillance camera recorded the 18-year-old torching the 1992 BMW on July 10. At the time, it was parked about 2½ feet feet from his apartment building.

The defendant was awaiting a court appearance Friday in First District Court in Hempstead. The charges include arson and reckless endangerment.

I love you so much I'm going to steal $11 million

DENVER (AP) — A former Colorado Department of Revenue supervisor says love for her ex-boyfriend led her to steal $11 million in unclaimed tax refunds from the state.

The ex-boyfriend, Hysear Randell, is on trial in Denver this week on charges of theft, forgery, computer crime and racketeering.

On Wednesday, Michelle Cawthra testified that she deposited unclaimed tax refunds and other money in Randell's bank accounts over two years by forging documents and creating fake businesses. She said she frequently used computer passwords of other workers so she wouldn't be detected.

"I did things I don't think I otherwise would have done had I not been in love with him," she testified.

Give me your stuff! And, oh, yeah, I'm sorry

RAHWAY, New Jersey (AP) — Police in central New Jersey say they arrested a man on burglary charges after he returned to the victim's house to apologize.

Rahway police arrested 35-year-old Craig Fletcher on Wednesday shortly after the homeowner told them a man had just rung his doorbell, apologized for the break-in and run off on foot.

The homeowner said he interrupted the June 29 burglary. He chased the burglar, who had stuffed three laptops and an Xbox game console into a backpack. The intruder threw the bag down and got away.

Fletcher was also charged with a second burglary in the same neighborhood.

He was taken to the Union County Jail in lieu of $60,000 bail. Police did not know whether he had a lawyer.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

News you can't use

The most important news for your water cooler conversations (all via the Associated Press, because we don't have money for Reuters):

* People complain about government wasting money by forcing government to waste money cleaning their vandalism

EAST HAMPTON, New York (AP) — A 60-foot-long dollar sign has been burned into the synthetic turf at a Long Island high school football field.

A five-page letter left on the field and mailed to local newspapers complains about how schools spend tax dollars, Newsday reported.

East Hampton High School administrators say the damage could cost $100,000 to repair.
* Break the law so a court can praise your behavior

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An Illinois teen knew he was too drunk to drive home after a Dave Matthews Band concert south of Milwaukee. So he fell asleep in his car, only to be awoken by a state trooper.

Travis Peterson, 19, of Dixon, Ill., said even though he told the officer he was drunk and sleeping it off, the trooper ordered him to leave because the lot was being cleared.

Once out of the parking lot, Peterson was arrested for drunken driving. He was subsequently found guilty and ordered to spend 60 days in jail.

A Wisconsin appeals court on Wednesday commended Peterson for doing the right thing by trying to sleep it off, and said the trial court was wrong not to let him argue that police had entrapped him.

* Pack of smokes goes up in price - to $23,148,855,308,184,500

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AP) — A New Hampshire man says he swiped his debit card at a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes and was charged over 23 quadrillion dollars.

Josh Muszynski checked his account online a few hours after the purchase and saw the 17-digit number — a stunning $23,148,855,308,184,500 (twenty-three quadrillion, one hundred forty-eight trillion, eight hundred fifty-five billion, three hundred eight million, one hundred eighty-four thousand, five hundred dollars).

Muszynski told WMUR-TV that he spent two hours on the phone with Bank of America trying to sort out the string of numbers — and the $15 overdraft fee.

The bank corrected the error the next day.

Bank of America said the card issuer, Visa, could answer questions. Visa, in turn, referred questions to the bank.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Be a frenemy of English!

As "reported in "New words for frenemies of English," the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, participants are asked to write the beginning of the worst possible novel.

Here are 2009's winners.

And here's my favorite, by Eric Rice of Sun Prairie, Wisc., in the detective category:

"She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida - the pink ones, not the white ones - except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn't wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren't."

Would you like to participate? Here are the rules of the contest, which I've shamelessly taken from just like Snoopy took "It was a dark and stormy night" from Bulwer-Lytton.

The rules to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are childishly simple:

* Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. (One fellow once submitted over 3,000 entries.)
* Sentences may be of any length BUT WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT ENTRIES NOT GO BEYOND 50 OR 60 WORDS, and entries must be "original" (as it were) and previously unpublished.
* Surface mail entries should be submitted on index cards, the sentence on one side and the entrant's name, address, and phone number on the other.
* E-mail entries should be in the body of the message, NOT IN AN ATTACHMENT (and it would be really swell if you submitted your entries in Arial 12 font). One e-mail may contain multiple entries.
* Entries will be judged by categories, from "general" to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners.
* The official deadline is April 15 (a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories). The actual deadline may be as late as May 30 (the 2009 results will be released by mid-June).
* The contest accepts submissions every day of the livelong year.
* Wild Card Rule: Resist the temptation to work with puns like "It was a stark and dormy night."
* Finally, in keeping with the gravitas, high seriousness, and general bignitude of the contest, the grand prize winner will receive . . . a pittance.

Send your entries to:
Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
Department of English
San Jose State University
San Jose, CA 95192-0090, or

To inflict your BLFC entry electronically, digitally stimulate Bulwer's nasal member (and please include your name, phone number, and addresses--Gastropoda and e-mail [Note: this data is for our contact information, not for public consumption.]

You get bonus points (in the form of a "WHAAAA???")if you use Merriam-Webster's new words for 2009.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Get your 'Dirt' on!

Levon Helm's "Electric Dirt" - the follow-up to the Grammy-winning "Dirt Farmer" - is out now.


Get your hail on!

Alert reader Suk Crispell took this photo of her granddaughter shoveling "penny-sized hail" at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday at her Lake Katrine house.

So don't complain about the rain.

Get your MJ on!

The Rosendale Youth Program will present a tribute to Michael Jackson with discjockey Brian today at 7 p.m. at the Rosendale Recreation Center pavillion on Route 32.

The dance is free and open to all ages, though children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information, call Kathy Wade at (845) 658-8982.