Thursday, August 27, 2009

Political Identification Games

Democrat Jim Van Slyke has announced his candidacy for a third term as New Baltimore’s representative to the Greene County Legislature at his family’s farm.

Republican Elsie Allan, citing her concern and love for her community, has announced that she will seek the Town of Durham seat on the Greene County legislature this fall.

Democratic Greene County Legislator Forest Cotten has kicked off his re-election campaign at Union Mills Gallery, 361 Main St., Catskill

-----In addition to providing bits of information about candidacies for elective office, those sentences, each the start of a local news story, deliver politically sensitive suggestions. They invite readers to adopt a particular way of seeing the named candidates (and, by extension, all candidates). They suggest, they argue, that the foremost fact about these candidates, the fact that is paramount for making a choice, is party affiliation.

-----Such framing, or slanting, or spinning, is produced by the order, as well as the substance, of terms used to identify a news subject. Other choices and sequences, within the bounds of custom, are feasible. Witness the following cases which, like the previous ones, come from one newspaper during July-August 2009:

James Coe, former vice chairman of the New Baltimore Planning Board and long time resident of Hannacroix, announced his candidacy for New Baltimore Town Board on Thursday.

---Longtime Athens Village trustee Chris Pfister has announced his intention to take a seat as a county legislator representing Athens.

---Susan O'Rorke, a former small business owner and Insurance Marketing Executive, has announced her candidacy for New Baltimore Town Supervisor.

In those cases, candidates are identified initially, and hence primarily, by office-holding or vocational background. Party affiliation does get mentioned in a later paragraph in each of the news stories but, rhetorically and hence psychologically--as a basis for choosing candidates--it is downgraded.


The foregoing analysis dealt with the suggestive thrust of descriptive chronology: the order, as well as the content, of terms used to identify news subjects. Our six sentences from ordinary news stories offer instruction, too, on other patterns of suggestion. Thus, we can infer plausibly that in at least four of the cases, the cited event—announcing a candidacy—did not actually occur. We also can infer plausibly that two of the candidates do not occupy, and have not recently held, public offices.

Those inferences derive their plausibility from reference to conventions of discourse. Awareness of those conventions enables respondents to notice and interpret what is not said as well as what is said. Thus, convention prescribes that description of an event shall include information about when and where it occurred. Accordingly, the omission of temporal or spatial information, or both, can be informative.

In four of the cited cases, a putative event is depicted in the present perfect tense (“has announced”) rather than in the simple past tense (“announced”).To experienced readers that choice sends a signal: the event probably did not actually occur, other than in a news release saying that it occurred.

In the other two cases, no information of that kind is provided. The omission is informative. We can infer confidently that the other two candidates do not currently hold public offices and have not recently done so. In doing so we are noticing and then interpreting what is not reported.


Also instructive on the subject of politically sensitive suggestion is this bit of journalism:

WESTBURY, NY. -- Josh Cooper (D) feels a little bit like the last man standing.

With better-known potential Democratic primary challengers to appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) falling by the wayside in rapid succession, Cooper…is ramping up his exploratory efforts.


While…Jonathan Tasini…has entered the race…, Cooper believes he is now the only progressive with a chance to defeat the Senator next September.

----- --Joshua Kurtz, Roll Call, 8/26/09.

In addition to exemplifying a distinctly presumptuous species of journalism, in which the author pretends to recount the beliefs rather than just the words of a news subject, this passage warrants attention on account of the last cited sentence, with its use of the label “progressive.” The writer’s use of that label in context conveys a host of suggestions:

------* The meaning of progressive is clear to most readers. That suggestion stems from using the word without elaboration or hedging. The latter would be signaled, for example, by saying “…believes he is now the only ‘progressive’ with a chance…”

-----* Cooper counts himself as a member of that group.

-----* Cooper is right about his self-identification.

-----* Cooper believes that the progressive/non-progressive difference is the crucial difference with regard to ideological fitness for office, or a least for being a Democratic U.S. Senator from the State of New York.

-----* That belief is plausible.

-----* Gillibrand is not a progressive.


The foregoing discussion draws on journalistic experience and on relevant academic literature. Much of that literature is accessible on Internet search engines. Among key words are invited inference, implicature, pragmatic implication, relevance principle, discourse analysis and rhetorical analysis.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mid-Summer Greene

BALLOT HEAT II. Republicans in Catskill are creating a new political party. Their professed object is to ensure that the names of their intended candidates for seats on the county legislature—incumbents Karen Deyo and Keith Valentine, along with Joseph Izzo and Linda H. (not L .!) Overbaugh--shall appear on the general election ballot in November. To that end, and with an August 18th deadline looming, they are gathering signatures on petitions that would create a Have A Voice Party, with the Republican quartet as its Catskill district legislative candidates. That drive is fueled by awareness of the possibility that those candidates’ names would not otherwise appear on the Republican or any other line on the November ballot. Those absences could be caused most immediately by a State Supreme Court ruling that will be handed down within a few days. The exclusionary ruling would in turn be the product of odd circumstances, Republican procedural blunders, and Democratic challenges. It’s a long story, full of twists and maybes and, of course, hyperbole.

WALL OF HISTORY. The exterior of the south wall of the warehouse at Catskill Point has been designated as a target, in keeping with the Quadricentennial observances, for art. Information packets are available from Arts Council ( ). Deadline is tomorrow (8/15) for design sketches and applications. Preferred themes are great moments in GreeneLand & Hudson history.

BOOK TREAT. Soon to arrive at bookstores near and far is Princess Tea, a guidebook for party-minded little girls, their mothers and their grandmothers. “From Lotus Princess Tea to Cowgirl Princess Tea,” says the publicity release from Chronicle Books, each of nine themed party treatments is presented with recipes for tea, snacks and dessert plus instructions for making topical decorations. “Fairy Princesses can make their own magic wands, while Underwater Princesses feast on Buttered Sea Shells….” It’s the latest literary brainchild of GreeneLand foodie (and party giver) Janeen Sarlin. All being well, vendors will market Princess Tea as treat for children as well as for cookbook collectors.

ENHANCED by orders of magnitude is the Thomas Cole National Historic Site’s web site. As described by Site director Elizabeth Jacks, now includes “a learning portal with nearly 150 Cole paintings in high-resolution format,” a streaming version of the recently made 15-minute film about Cole, “a Flash presentation that tells the Thomas Cole story in bullet form,” an on-line shop, “a ‘Landscape’ blog with behind-the-scenes information,” a Site membership application form, a donation form, and a “guestbook” enabling visitors to comment on what they have seen and heard. And more is to come. In “Phase two” the web site also will house podcasts of on-Site lectures, photographs taken by Art Trail hikers, and texts of articles written by visiting scholars.

PLANNED for special exhibition at the Cole Site during 2010 is a collection of paintings by women artists of the Hudson River School. This show’s curator, Nancy Siegel, will deliver the opening day talk, on Mothers’ Day.

INDICATORS DEPT. As economic hardship increases, so does traffic at Planned Parenthood

POSITIVE NEGATIVE DEPT. For a prospective property developer, a negative evaluation of a project’s environmental consequences is a positive event. It means, under the State’s Environmental Quality Review Act, that an adverse environmental impact is not anticipated.

MISINFORMATION DEPT. In touting the Daily Mail web site's "new look," a staff reporter promises (7/16/09), redundantly and falsely, that "We will, of course, continue to publish news and local information every day, 24/7, updated each day." Somebody needs to remind that employee that the paper is not published on Sundays and Mondays.

SEATED EDGE DEPT. "When sitting in the tub and looking east," says TimesUnion scribe Steve Barnes, "the infinity edge of the pool [at a Coxsackie estate] seems to empty into the Hudson."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Greene Heat

MORTGAGE TAX HEAT. Local real estate agents are damning the eight county legislators who slapped a new tax—a 67 per cent increase—on property mortgages. Starting on October 1 (as reported in the 7/31 Daily Mail and confirmed by local realtors), borrowers must pay a tax of $1.25 rather than $.75 for each $100 of a new mortgage’s face value. Thus, a $100,000 loan attracts a one-time tax of $1250. The tax previously was 75 cents per $100 of mortgage value, and the revenue went to the State and to the relevant towns. The added 50 cents goes to county coffers. Two legislators, Forest Cotten and Sean Frey, voted against the new mortgage tax; four legislators were absent. The measure was needed, sponsors said, to offset expected losses of property and sales tax revenue. Local realtors contend, however, that the new tax is likely to deepen the property market’s current depression, shrinking the supply of taxable mortgages.

MOTOCROSS HEAT. Currently disputed around Durham is the desirability of establishing, on a site just off Route 145, in connection with a renovated Weldon House resort, a motocross track. Promoter Herb Fried contends (in letters to The Greenville Press and The Daily Mail) that the project would bring needed money-spending visitors to the area, that it is opposed by a “very small minority” of local people, and that it “may be the last chance to revive what once was a vibrant Durham.” Opponents claim (via lawyer Gerald Bunting) that the project would spoil Durham’s “pastoral, rural” character and that its sponsors, in collaboration with the county’s Industrial Development Agency (a prospective financial supporter) are trying to circumvent local permitting procedures. One opponent is innkeeper Richard Thomas Garvin of Erin’s Melody Inn. He questions (in Greenville Press, 7/23) Mr Fried’s assurances with regard to frequency of trials and races and invites neighbors to compare motocross events to the noise, from 9am on a Saturday to 9pm on a Sunday, of 50 chain saws.

BALLOT HEAT. Linda L. Overbaugh’s name will not appear on the ballot next month as one of four candidates to be Republican nominees for the four Catskill seats on the Greene County Legislature. It will not appear even though her name appeared, along with those three fellow Republicans, on nominating petitions signed by eligible citizens and timely submitted to the Greene County Board of Elections.

-----The exclusion was ordered today (Thursday, 8/6/09) in Albany. Supreme Court Judge Richard M. Platkin “ordered and adjudged that the designations of Linda L. Overbaugh on the Republican Party and Conservative Party petitions filed with the [Elections Board] as a candidate for the Greene County Legislature for the First Legislative District at the…primary election are declared invalid, null and void”; accordingly, the Elections Board “is restrained from printing and placing the name of Linda L. Overbaugh” on that ballot…”

Judge Platkin rendered his decision in response to what he took to be legal implications of the fact that the person identified on Republican and Conservative petitions as Linda L. Overbaugh, of 8 Willis Avenue, is the wrong Linda Overbaugh. She is not Linda H. Overbaugh of 5606 Cauterskill Road, her former cousin-in-law, the Catskill Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, the announced candidate for election to county office, the Linda Overbaugh who welcomed Republican endorsement and hence inclusion in the party’s designating petitions (which Linda L. signed, believing it was for Linda H.).

Triggering Judge Platkin’s ruling in this matter was a legal action brought by local Democrats. For this purpose Patricia J. Ruck, who chairs the Town of Catskill’s Democratic Party Committee, adopted the Citizen Objector role, while Forest Cotten, past Catskill Democratic chairman and present candidate for re-election to the county legislature, was designated as Aggrieved Candidate. Through attorney Kathleen O’Keefe of Earlton, they petitioned for a Supreme Court ruling that the erroneous identification of Linda Overbaugh nullifies the eligibility, for designation on the September primary ballot, of all four candidates whose names appeared on those petitions. Thus, Keith W. Valentine, Karen A. Deyo and Joseph F. Izzo also would be excluded along with Linda L. Overbaugh.

This contention, said the judge, was grounded on a “claim of pervasive fraud” which was rooted in allegations that “Respondent [Linda L.] Overbaugh never…consented to run for Office” (true) and that “party members who signed the petitions were misled into believing that Respondent Overbaugh”--Linda L., not Linda H.--“was running as part of a slate with the other three respondent-candidates” (tenuous). Moreover, “petitioners alleged that signatures continued to be collected [for the slate] even after Linda H. Overbaugh advised the local Republican Party chair that her middle initial and address had been incorrectly set forth on the designating petitions.”

The judge refused to construe “an unintentional error” along with Republican operative blundering as proof of “pervasive fraud.” Given “the unique facts and circumstances of this case,” Mr Valentine, Ms Deyo and Mr Izzo earn “the presumption of validity that attaches to designating petitions..." Their names shall appear on the Republican and Conservative primary election ballots.

All three will be nominated, since there are four seats to be filled. In the meanwhile, Mr Cotten will be unopposed in the Democratic primary. Consequently, it now appears that in the November general election, in District One, there will be no losers; four names will appear on the ballot as candidates for the district’s four seats on the county legislature.

------ That projection may be premature. In the words of Linda H. Overbaugh, as told to Seeing Greene, “it’s not over.”

MERMAIDS WANTED, "young, old and in-between" says recruiter Fawn Potash, for bedecking a featured float in August 22'd Quadricentennial Parade in Catskill. Pedallers also are wanted, for the bike parade component. Info: 719-8244. ARTISTS WANTED, to create Hudson-themed pictures on signboard for display on the south wall of the restored warehouse at Catskill Point, as part of Quadricentennial festivities. Kits are available, and so are stipends for works whose designs pass muster. Deadline for design submissions is August 15. 943-3400 (=county arts council). ON SATURDAY (8/8), a resident or visitor could keep busy indeed in GreeneLand, starting perhaps with a farmers’ market (in New Baltimore or Catskill). Next could come “Preserving the Bounty,” a morning Agroforestry Resource Center workshop on drying, freezing or canning fruits and vegetables ( Subsequent choices abound: Coxsackie’s Riverside Festival, which goes from mid-morning to after dark (when fireworks commence). The art show at Twilight Park in Haines Falls.A puppet version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” at the Doctorow Center in Hunter. The German Alps Festival, with appropriate food & drink & music, at Hunter Mountain for the whole weekend. Jazz guitarist Pete Wagula at the Athens Cultural Center, from 7pm. And downtown Catskill’s ‘Second Saturday’ festivities, which on this occasion include strolling musicians, wine tasting, a cat race, a book signing (Richard Philp, Catskill Village, at Hood & Co.), a new show of Hudson River landscapes (five artists at The Galleria, 23 Main Street), Harold Hanson’s close-out sale at Verso, a concert at Union Mills Gallery (the Community Orchestra playing Renaissance dance music plus

conductor David Woodin’s new “Hudson Journey”), and fireworks (from Cone-e-Island).