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A Second Opinion
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A Second Opinion

If you have to ask if it’s art ...

First published: August 21, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: August 20, 2015 at 5:25 pm

From the standpoint of satire, Mel Brooks hit on all cylinders with his 1968 masterpiece “The Producers.”

He parodied the theater industry with a story about how Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) devise a plan to raise a ton of cash for a play destined for failure as soon as the curtains part. Once offended viewers compel the play to close, investors will chalk their losses up to the vagaries of Broadway. The producers, then, would run off with the extra loot that they didn’t spend on additional performances.

However, their play turns out to be a hit. Now Bialystock and Bloom are on the hook to make good on all the shares of the play they agreed to sell, impossible to do since they overvalued the percentage of each investment. They sold 25,000 percent of the play to the little old ladies with whom Bialystock was shamelessly cavorting.

If Brooks’s film were merely about the destructiveness of greed, it would still be great. The lengths to which his characters go to line their pockets make up some of the funniest moments in movie history.

The movie, though, followed another concept to its absurd extreme: how people value artistic expression. Bialystock and Bloom could only succeed if they teamed the most dreadful actor and the most dreadful director to present the most dreadful play. And what could be more appalling than a play titled “Springtime for Hitler”?

The question of how appropriate some forms of artistic expression are under specific circumstances has been raised a couple of times this summer in the north country. One story involves the toilet gardens that a man displays in Potsdam, and the other pertains to a fringe-political theatrical production offered last weekend in Clayton.

Frederick J. “Hank” Robar Sr., who owns rental properties throughout Potsdam, has been engaged in a feud with the village for more than a decade. Dunkin’ Donuts offered to buy land he owns at 82-84 Market St., but officials refused to rezone the property.

So Mr. Robar began putting toilets around some of his plots of land. He even put flowers in them to make them look nice!

Well, the flowers weren’t enough to pacify anyone in the community. He was ticketed on two occasions for leaving “bulky waste” on his land. The first case was tossed out in 2008 because the village’s code enforcement officer failed to file the proper paperwork.

Mr. Robar insisted on going to court in the second case, and Village Justice Joseph T. Welch conducted a bench trial in 2010. Mr. Robar’s attorney argued that his client has a First Amendment right to display his artwork.

But three months after the trial ended, Justice Welch still had not delivered a ruling. He abruptly resigned in December following allegations of cocaine use. The village has not issued another ticket to Mr. Robar, but officials and residents are still upset that he has yet to dismantle his displays.

Mr. Robar’s decision last year to sell some Market Street land to Clarkson University was music to his critics’ ears. But then he decided a few months ago to create another toilet garden at 28 Pierrepont Ave., which disturbed even more residents. They have repeatedly complained that the display could decrease the value of their property.

The second artistic expression incident involves a theatrical production titled “Hacked: The Treasure of the Empire,” presented last weekend by the Caravan Stage Company at the Antique Boat Museum, Clayton. Most who came to view one of the three shows expected family-friendly entertainment featuring thrilling acrobatics and dazzling light displays.

What they got, however, was a disturbing story about malevolent corporate executives tormenting pirate hackers to reveal what they did with all the gold they stole from a large global bank. Based on speaking to a few people who attended the show as well as reading reviews of previous performances, I got the impression that “Hacked” is a radical leftist fantasy about the evils of capitalism and intolerance.

The show offended many who spent $20 per ticket to see it. More than a few walked out before the show ended, and Clayton was not the first setting where that has happened.

“Hacked” actually sounds like a brilliantly horrendous play, and I regret not seeing it. One of the true pleasures in life is coming across a performance that is so dreadful, it’s hilarious.

The only thing missing from this “exquisitely awful” experience was Dan Ackroyd closing each performance in Clayton by reprising his “Saturday Night Live” character Leonard Pinth-Garnell, who hosted such high-brow television programs as “Bad Conceptual Theater,” “Bad Red Chinese Ballet” and “Bad Cabaret for Children.” Ackroyd could have identified with disgusted audience members at the ABM with his trademark, “There! That wasn’t so good now, was it?”

Whether it’s a left wing diatribe against global trade, a public display of toilets adorned with flowers or “a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden,” artistic expression often is motivated by protest. And the closer we identify with the cause in question, the more likely it is that we’ll appreciate the art — regardless of its actual merit.

So to rephrase an old adage, beauty is in the eye of the malcontent.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


Lord Stanley, pray for us!

First published: August 14, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: August 13, 2015 at 4:25 pm

The comments some readers left regarding the wonderful shots taken Tuesday by Johnson Newspaper Corp. photographer Melanie Kimbler-Lago of the Stanley Cup at the Massena Arena expressed the sentiments of many.

“Is this not why we (as adults) coached, reffed, and cheered the game of hockey? The look on these kids faces is priceless!” Blaine Webber commented on our Facebook post displaying a photo of several children admiring the NHL trophy.

“How awesome!!!! The kids certainly look like they are loving it,” added Barbara Hansen.

And, indeed, the many children and adults who took time to view the Stanley Cup while it was in the north country reveled in observing hockey’s most prized sign of achievement. I spoke with some of them while I was in Massena covering the event.

A key point I made in my article was that as a native Chicagoan and lifelong Blackhawks fan, being there Tuesday was special for me. It was thrilling to see the Hawks win the NHL championship this year. And viewing the Stanley Cup in person made up for the fact that I couldn’t be with family and friends in the Windy City during the finals.

We love sports so much because we enjoy becoming wrapped up in a cause. Our deepest affections are invested each season in this cause, and most of the time our hearts get broken.

The passion we develop for sports is a double-edged sword. Each new season gives us reason for hope. But an ugly incident involving one of our favorite athletes can leave us feeling betrayed.

All the young people staring admiringly at the Stanley Cup come to mind whenever I read a new report on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. Many of the people who came through the doors of the Massena Arena sported hats, shirts and jerseys from other NHL teams, so I knew they came primarily to admire the trophy rather than revere the Hawks.

But what about all the Blackhawks fans who have to contemplate what Kane may have done? How will they reconcile their devotion to this team and their rejection of something potentially so horrific?

Police in Hamburg, N.Y., are investigating accusations that Kane sexually assaulted a woman earlier this month. He grew up in the Buffalo area and owns a residence in nearby Hamburg, which he uses during the offseason.

I don’t usually get too caught up in scandals involving professional athletes. Word that some sports superstar was discovered cheating on a spouse never surprises me, no matter how highly regarded the athlete is.

These people are the best in their sport; they belong to a very elite class. They have adopted a commitment to perfection.

But they also are driven by huge egos, which help them dominate their rivals in the field of competition. It’s when they give in to these egos once the game is over that they get into the most trouble.

It’s no wonder many professional athletes cheat, gamble, drink, fight, philander and/or get high. They’ve been made to feel as though they deserve anything they want, and their resources are such that they don’t have to deny themselves such pleasures. So I don’t usually blink at most of the unsavory incidents that sports stars carry out.

Kane’s situation, however, is disturbingly different. He is under suspicion of violating a woman sexually, an act of barbarity that has no excuse.

It should be noted that Kane has not been charged with any crime at this point. And from a legal perspective, he deserves the presumption of innocence until he is proven guilty.

That, though, will be enforced in a court of law. Out here in the court of public opinion, the cloud hovering above Kane is ominous. It’s difficult compartmentalizing the unsubstantiated incident and the suspect.

This scandal has me very conflicted.

As a Hawks fan, I want to see them continue to succeed. Kane is integral to the team’s future, so part of me hopes this whole thing just goes away.

But as a member of a civil society, I can’t abide that Kane’s wealth and influence may grant him a pass. There have been rumors that a huge settlement has already been offered, although no official statement to that effect has been made. If this incident actually occurred as reported, the kind of justice that Kane’s victim deserves is for him to be imprisoned.

NBA great Charles Barkley once said, “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.” He’s correct; we can’t expect sports legends to reflect our personal values. Barkley was never involved in such a scandal as this or exhibited the callousness of some of his colleagues.

But when you have children idolizing professional athletes, it’s difficult to maintain Barkley’s position. It’s human nature for us to draw inspiration from people who excel at what we want to do. And the younger we are, the trickier it is to separate athletic brilliance from personal behavior.

When sports stars put themselves in situations where they may compromise their integrity, they risk their reputations and that of their teams. And Kane certainly isn’t alone when it comes to accusations of violence made against professional athletes. When I reflect on the beaming faces of all those young hockey fans fantasizing about winning the Stanley Cup, I can’t help but feel that they’re being let down and their legends need to do much better.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


The foolishness of the past

First published: August 07, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: August 06, 2015 at 6:00 pm

In examining how social progress has been made in our country, it’s interesting to look back and see how resistant people were to change.

“The women folks have just held a convention up in New York and passed a sort of bill of rights affirming their right to vote, to become teachers, legislators, lawyers … and do all and sundry the lords now do. They should have resolved at the same time that it was obligatory for the lords … to wash dishes, handle the broom, don stockings, wear trinkets, look beautiful and be as fascinating as those blessed morels of humanity whom God gave to preserve that rough animal, man, in something like reasonable civilization.”

Wow! Could this newspaper editorial have been written in an even more condescending manner? So, the girlies have their place in society — but it’s certainly not in the voting booth, boardroom, courtroom or even, at this stage in our nation’s history, the classroom. Their role is to adorn each household like a bauble while keeping it clean.

The editorial was published in the Lowell (Mass.) Daily Journal & Courier in 1848 in response to the news that about 100 people met in Seneca Falls, N.Y., that July to discuss women’s rights. This was the first convention ever held in the country for such a purpose, and it resulted in a Declaration of Sentiments outlining the objectives of those attending the convention.

The statement sought, most of all, to earn for women the right to vote. The activists understood that people who possess the elective franchise have a greater voice in how laws affecting them will be written and implemented.

It would, however, take reformers another 72 years to ensure women had the right to vote. The stubbornness of those clinging to “traditional” concepts of gender roles in society proved incredibly difficult to overcome.

But perseverance won out, and women finally claimed this right for themselves. They still confront unequal treatment in some respects, but since 1920 they have used the ballot to bring about even more change.

What’s astounding is how people could hold the views on display in the Lowell Daily Journal & Courier’s editorial. It’s tempting to laugh at how primitive those ideas now sound. But the humor of it quickly subsides when considering the abuse that many women suffered at the hands of their “lords” and how powerless they were to stop it since they couldn’t vote.

There are, no doubt, some people who still believe women have crossed the boundaries of their proper roles in society. But humans have a natural instinct for equality, and our system of government provides a mechanism for pursuing it. These kinds of changes are inevitable, and history has shown that those who oppose them are fighting a losing battle.

Recent events have proven the power of this trend with the legal recognition of equal rights for gays and lesbians. It was just a matter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court declared that denying same-sex couples the option of marrying was as wrong as withholding the vote from women.

Opponents of the high court’s ruling made in June have difficulty comprehending the rationale behind allowing same-sex marriages. I don’t know why because it’s actually pretty simple.

In classifying some marriages as legal, governmental agencies confer tax benefits to these couples. They believe these lifelong relationships offer tremendous advantages to society, and financial incentives are a good way to encourage them to continue.

Another benefit that governments offer to married couples is the ability to move from one state to the next without having to reapply for marriage licenses. Now, such licenses are provided on the state level just like driver’s licenses. But while couples must make a trip to their local department of motor vehicles to obtain new driver’s licenses, states recognize the validity of marriage licenses obtained elsewhere.

The Supreme Court found it to be legally untenable for any state to recognize the validity of marriage licenses given to heterosexual couples but not to same-sex couples. How could Texas say it would honor only some marriage licenses issued by New York state but not others? The court found this practice to be a clear violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and ruled it unconstitutional.

Arguments offered in defense of marriage inequality have no legal standing.

n Marriage has traditionally been defined as the union between one man and one woman, so we shouldn’t change it:

There is nothing traditional about our modern form of marriage. It has been redefined time and again. Under the centuries-old practice of coverture, women lost their legal identities when they became married; their husbands assumed all their rights and obligations. Women were not equal partners in marriage; they were the property of their husbands. And traditional marriages of yore often consisted of the union between one man and one woman, and another woman, and another woman, and … well, you get the idea. Polygamy was a familiar practice in many ancient cultures, including among the biblical Israelites. But this ain’t the way we do marriages today in the United States, is it?

n Marriage is the foundation of a strong society, and heterosexual relationships offer the most stable environment for raising children:

This is true, but it’s not legally binding. We don’t require heterosexual couples to promise that they’ll raise children in issuing them marriage licenses, so demanding this of same-sex couples is a double standard and, thus, a violation of the 14th Amendment. We also don’t withhold marriage licenses from heterosexual couples based on what kind of parents we believe they’ll make. Yes, a household with both a mother and father is better for children emotionally. But this doesn’t mean that other types of households cannot foster nourishing environments as well.

It’s easy for us to see how ridiculous it was 167 years ago to argue against gender equality. How will future generations view our foolishness in continuing to oppose marriage equality?

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


Through trial and inerrancy

First published: July 31, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: July 30, 2015 at 4:54 pm
John T. Scopes

In 1925, several conspirators decided to stage a national controversy like a Broadway production.

Now, controversies don’t normally follow the course of advance planning. A vigorous dispute develops according to the actions and reactions of all parties involved.

A debate evolves through the natural struggle of participants striving to place their views on top. When it comes to the argument left standing, it’s a matter of survival of the fittest.

But the events that took place 90 years ago this month in Dayton, Tenn., were carefully crafted through intelligent design. All the players knew exactly when the controversy would begin, what would propel it forward and how it would end.

The so-called Scopes Monkey Trial began as a grand marketing scheme by several Dayton residents. They hatched their plan that spring in a drugstore owned by Frank E. Robinson, who chaired the school board in Rhea County.

The Tennessee Legislature earlier that year passed the Butler Act, which banned from public schools any teaching that contradicted the Bible’s account of how humans were created. It also assessed a fine of between $100 and $500 for those engaging in this misdemeanor.

George W. Rappleyea noticed an ad in the May 4 edition of the Chattanooga Times placed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The group offered to defend anyone accused of violating the Tennessee law, with the eventual goal of having it nullified by an appellate court on constitutional grounds.

Rappleyea and Robinson plotted with School Superintendent Walter White and local lawyer John Godsey to stage a criminal trial unlike anything ever seen in Dayton. But they all knew that the most important actor to be cast in this drama was the defendant.

So they asked John T. Scopes, 24, if he would take on the starring role. He actually taught math and physics as well as coached football at the local high school, according to Edward J. Larson’s book “Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1998. But as a substitute teacher, Scopes filled in for the principal — who usually taught biology — while he was out ill.

It’s most likely that Scopes never taught evolution, particularly the offending bit about humans sharing a common ancestor with all other living creatures. But Rappleyea was not going to be denied his dream of concocting an event that would have Dayton teeming with tourists.

The state had previously approved the textbook “Civic Biology” by George W. Hunter for use in its public schools. But it included a section on human evolution. Many districts had not yet replaced Hunter’s textbook with one more in line with the new law.

Rappleyea reasoned that since this book was part of the curriculum for biology in public schools, and since Scopes had used the text in his very short time as a biology teacher, he was — albeit in the broadest sense possible — guilty of violating the Butler Act. Scopes signed on for the ride.

“Scopes presented an ideal defendant for the test case. Single, easygoing and without any fixed intention of staying in Dayton, he had little to lose from a summertime caper — unlike the regular biology teacher, who had a family and administrative responsibilities,” Larson wrote. “Scopes also looked the part of an earnest young teacher, complete with horned-rimmed glasses and a boyish face that made him appear academic but not threatening. Naturally shy, cooperative and well-liked, he would not alienate parents or taxpayers with soapbox speeches on evolution or give the appearance of a radical or ungrateful public employee. Yet his friends knew that Scopes disapproved of the new law and accepted an evolutionary view of human origins.”

When he agreed to stand trial for teaching human evolution, Scopes likely understood that the event would be a major draw for Dayton. But he couldn’t have imagined that he would need to make room in the spotlight for even bigger stars.

Having spoken out against human evolution across the country, William Jennings Bryan agreed to join the growing prosecution team in Dayton. He applauded Tennessee legislators when they passed the Butler Act, although he had previously advised them not to establish any penalty.

Clarence Darrow had originally been reluctant to become involved in the Tennessee case, and ACLU officials didn’t want him near the scene. But when Bryan joined the prosecution, Darrow couldn’t resist. So against the wishes of the ACLU, Scopes agreed to have Darrow lead the defense.

When I first read Larson’s book years ago, Bryan’s character really stood out for me; he was neither narrow-minded nor anti-intellectual. The devotion he had for his Christian faith showed through in the deep love he had for others. He earned a reputation as the Great Commoner, and he championed many causes for the betterment of ordinary people.

Darrow, on the other hand, came off as contemptuous and dismissive. He and Bryan were once political allies; as a congressional candidate, Darrow had campaigned for Bryan when he ran for president. But with the pending trial in Dayton, the renowned agnostic relished the thought of humiliating Bryan for his religious views.

This event was a true study in contrasts: Bryan was committed to opposing what he considered to be bad ideas, while Darrow was bent on crushing those he considered to be bad people.

Even though my views on evolution would not align with Bryan’s, I can understand his motivation. The development of the human species through a purely natural and often random process, just like every other living creature, would leave little room for divine intervention.

And once humans lose their status as being specially created by God, what’s the point of clinging to faith? Bryan believed this would destroy an integral human instinct and lead to even more depravity. And if most people in Tennessee wanted public school courses to reflect their religious principles when it came to the origins of humans, why should they be denied?

Bryan couldn’t grasp that many people experience joy and meaning in their lives absent a relationship with God. And Darrow resigned himself to the notion that people may be worth salvaging but not necessarily redeeming.

To no one’s surprise, the jury found Scopes guilty July 21. The defense appealed and got the conviction tossed, but not for the desired reason. While upholding the law, the appellate court declared that Scopes’s penalty of $100 should have been set by the jury, not the trial judge.

The fate of the two leading figures also is ironic. Darrow, the pessimist who believed death would be the ultimate relief, lived for another 12 years following the events in Dayton. Bryan, the optimist who faithfully embraced whatever life had to offer, died five days after the trial ended.

The lingering effects of what occurred in Tennessee that July loom large.

“Indeed, the issues raised by the Scopes trial and legend endure precisely because they embody the characteristically American struggle between individual liberty and majoritarian democracy, and cast it in the timeless debate over science and religion,” Larson wrote. “For [modern] Americans, the Scopes trial has become both the yardstick by which the former battle is measured and the glass through which the latter debate is seen.”

The criminal prosecution of Scopes resulted in what has often been called the Trial of the Century. It featured intellectual giants using their oratorical skills to debate some of the most serious issues confronting our society.

But it’s too easy to pit religion against science, faith against reason when summarizing this event. It involved a larger issue that divides us more often than it should.

It’s worth debating the merit of important ideas, but we court trouble when we accept that any ideology is infallible. The concepts we espouse, then, tend to become more valuable to us than the people with whom we’re arguing.

I’ve often been guilty of this and have no excuses for behaving in such a manner.

We can ponder as many of the world’s ideas as possible. But no human struggle for survival will eliminate our need to share them with others.

Whether by chance or design, Bryan and Darrow soured the relationship they once shared. The Scopes trial should serve as a blueprint for the rest of us on how to avoid that trap.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


Donald Trump’s pseudo-candidacy

First published: July 24, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: July 23, 2015 at 5:06 pm

How much sense would it make for someone with no experience in the financial industry to be hired as the chief executive officer of the world’s largest bank?

What about someone who knows nothing about the automotive industry overseeing the world’s largest carmaker? Does that sound like a good idea?

How comfortable should we be in handing the reins of these corporations over to someone who isn’t well-versed in the concepts behind running these companies? Let’s face it: Experience counts.

But many people would be thrilled to toss the keys to the world’s premier superpower to someone who has no experience in government. What gives?

I speak, of course, of Donald Trump’s latest venture into electoral politics. He announced earlier this month that he is running for president. For some peculiar reason, he is once again electrifying masses with his always blunt and often misguided talk of what ails America.

The support that people continue to heap on Trump the politician truly puzzles me. Those who flock to his pseudo-campaigns should by now realize that he has no intention of actually running for anything. As soon as it comes time for him to truly commit to becoming a candidate for elective office, he’ll bail, just like he’s always done in the past.

Trump has dangled his name as a presidential candidate at least twice before. And let’s not forget the fraud of a campaign he mounted last year for the office of New York governor.

Yes, Trump’s antics in the 2014 race should tell us everything we need to know about how serious he is for public office: Not at all.

Here was the quintessential Trump. He acted like a spoiled rich brat who insisted he be handed the GOP nomination on a silver platter.

I have no doubt that he would like to wield political power, but he doesn’t want to demean himself by actually earning it.

So why does Trump have so many supporters? They have fooled themselves into believing that this time he’s in it to win it!

No, he’s not. Long before Trump has to face any competition from other candidates, he’ll be out of the race. His unblemished track record of bailing out before he has to carry out the grimy business of conducting a political campaign should make this pending fact crystal clear.

And Trump is already at work establishing the flimsy excuse he’ll likely use when he calls it quits this time. Just about every day, he says something so outrageous that he garners many headlines and lots of criticism.

A former co-worker of mine said that if Trump exits this presidential race, it will be the result of the media playing their “gotcha games” with poor Donald. And there is the meme.

Trump will grow so forlorn over all the abuse he’s taking in the court of public opinion that he simply won’t be able to go on. Boo-hoo!

Trump escaped having to campaign in the New York governor’s race last year because he made a demand so ridiculous that no one would be able to guarantee it. He told state GOP leaders that he would run as a Republican as long as everyone else stayed out of the primary. There was no way he would remain unchallenged, and now he had his excuse to bow out.

So I’m baffled why he is on a lofty perch in GOP polls. What do his supporters not see in his repeated history of never following through on his alleged desire to achieve elective office?

And if Trump were to actually run for president and win, he would have to give up the two things that motivate him the most: operating his business empire and controlling his sources of income. He admitted that he burned through his first two marriages because of his obsession with this work.

And that is what else makes me wonder why he has such popularity. He’s never put together a government budget, never drafted nor implemented a public policy, never operated a series of government agencies, never commanded military troops and never negotiated agreements with foreign leaders, some of whom control an arsenal of nuclear missiles.

It’s not that Trump doesn’t possess any talents. If overseeing the executive branch of the U.S. government consisted primarily of constructing expensive condos, buying and selling real estate, opening casinos and developing luxury hotels and resorts, he would be a natural for the job of president.

But it entails none of those things. Being president involves many tasks that Trump has never attempted. Let’s not forget that his companies have filed for bankruptcy four times since 1991, so he’s had a few big failures.

It’s true that most presidents have taken over the job having not done many of the things on this to-do list. But they’ve done at least some of these tasks and have had a basic understanding of how the government operates.

Trump flirts with political campaigns because of his enormous ego. Anyone who runs for president has an ego just as large, of course, but many of them possess something that Trump lacks: An unquenchable desire to do whatever it takes to win the next election.

Trump merely wants to feel like a winner without putting forth the effort. He’s a bigot who appeals to people’s more vile impulses, and his ongoing popularity is pathetic.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


A symbol of racial tyranny

First published: July 17, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: July 16, 2015 at 5:15 pm

The First Amendment permits Americans to be provocative, even in the extreme.

In fact, it’s the most unpopular expressions that need the greatest protection. If the First Amendment was drafted to safeguard anything, it’s those ideas that serve only to repulse the public at large. As long as the opinions we can’t stomach retain a place in our national discourse, freedom of all speech will be ensured.

So, far be it for me to question the rights of a couple from Canton to fly a Confederate flag in front of their home. They are exercising the liberty guaranteed them by the Constitution, and any attempt to dissuade them from doing so other than through persuasion would be unjustified.

That being said, there is an argument to be made that Lindsay A. and Eric J. Walrath should reconsider their decision. If they want to publicly declare their reverence for this flag, they should come up with a rationale that would satisfy the relatives and descendants of a few people.

Consider, for example, Addie Mae Collins. At the age of 14, Addie was murdered along with three other girls — Carol Denise McNair, age 11, and Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, both age 14 — when a bomb exploded Sept. 15, 1963, at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Another American the Walraths should keep in mind is Emmett Till, who also was murdered at age 14. While visiting relatives in Mississippi, Emmett was accused of disrespecting a 21-year-old white woman in August 1955. He was abducted and taken to a barn, savagely beaten and shot in the head before his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

In addition, the Walraths should reflect on James Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 20; and Michael Schwerner, 24. They were civil rights workers attempting to register black people to vote in Mississippi when they disappeared the night of June 21, 1964. Their bodies were discovered more than a month later in an earthen dam; they had been pulled over by law enforcement agents and shot to death.

This list also includes civil rights leader Medgar Evers. At 37, Evers was shot in the driveway of his home June 12, 1963.

The common denominator with these assassinations is that they all were carried out to advance the cause of white supremacy. And that’s what the Confederate flag represents. Many of those who committed these murders proudly marched under this flag to proclaim their racist ideology.

But these deaths occurred long ago. Should we continue to ascribe a malevolent mindset to a symbol for violence carried out decades before?

Well, here are a few more names that the Walraths should reflect on when gazing upon their Confederate flag: Cynthia Hurd, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. They all died nearly a month ago in Charleston, N.C., while holding a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.

Their killer, Dylann Roof, made no bones about his hatred for black people. He wallowed in his bigotry by displaying the Confederate flag in a photograph. He also wore a jacket adorned with flags representing the former oppressive white regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa.

Roof understands what these symbols mean. The Walraths have argued that the Confederate flag is part of our history and removing it would be to ignore this aspect of our nation’s past.

The problem with this claim is that many Americans are woefully misinformed about what the Confederacy stood for, despite having the flag fly in prominent places. So its ongoing presence in our society has not done the job of accurately portraying our history.

Shortly after the shootings in Charleston, The Atlantic magazine national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates documented in an article titled “What This Cruel War was Over” what some of the Southern states declared about their decision to secede from the United States. Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas all pointed out that maintaining slavery was one of their chief reasons for seceding from the Union.

Here is a portion of what Mississippi stated: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the Earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin ...”

Alexander Stephens, who was vice president of the Confederate States of America, proclaimed in his “Cornerstone Speech” in March 1861: “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. ... (I)ts foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”

The Confederacy sought to preserve slavery and advance white supremacy, and this flag eventually became its key symbol. There were other economic and political factors that went into secession. But slavery was the foundation upon which the South’s economy was built, so any argument for secession led back to this horrific practice.

The South had a lot riding on slavery. Roger L. Ransom, a professor of history and economics at the University of California at Riverside, wrote in an article titled “The Economics of the Civil War” for the website of the Economic History Association that by 1860, four out of every 10 people in the 11 Confederate states were owned by other people — 4 million slaves worth nearly $3 billion!

It’s true that the U.S. flag also symbolizes the oppression of black people. Slavery was entrenched in our culture long before we became a country, and it would take nearly a century before our Constitution was amended to outlaw the brutal institution.

But the difference between the two flags is that one represents a system designed to eventually root out what’s bad. Spoiler alert: I’m not talking about the Confederacy here. The U.S. flag has been redeemed to some extent because of the political mechanism to expand the spirit of liberty upon which we founded our nation.

I agree with the Walraths that we should not discard portions of our history because they are offensive. But there is a proper context in which they should be displayed, and this is where the Walraths have erred.

To fly the Confederate flag on a pole in front of their home is to accord it the dignity and admiration that should be reserved for those who profess its message. Unless the Walraths subscribe to the abominable notion that black people are subhumans who should spend their lives in chains as the property of whites, displaying the flag in this manner is simply wrong.

This is the challenge that Lindsay and Eric Walrath must wrestle with as long as they choose to adorn their residence with the quintessential symbol of racial tyranny. They’ll have to envision the mangled bodies of the four girls in Birmingham, a lifeless Medgar Evers in the driveway of his Mississippi home and the nine dead church members in Charleston.

This, of course, is in addition to the oppression experienced by countless slaves throughout U.S. history who were captured, sold, whipped, raped and coerced into lives of degrading servitude. Even after slavery ended, the Confederate flag stood for the Jim Crow era where black people were kept in substandard living conditions, denied their basic rights and lynched if they dared protest. The Walraths owe it to the memory of all victims of the Confederate mentality not to trivialize the terror this flag represents.

The Confederacy was a part of our history, but it was one of the worst parts. There is a proper way to reflect on the role that the Confederacy played in our nation’s development. But displaying such a vulgar idol in so honorable a fashion is not it.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


Setting hypocrisy in stone

First published: July 10, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: July 09, 2015 at 11:53 pm

Could it be that those who defend the presence of Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds have never actually read the sacred list?

This issue again garnered headlines when the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared last week that placing a Ten Commandments statue on the grounds of the Capitol violated the state’s constitution. Gov. Mary Fallin said that Oklahoma’s attorney general would appeal the decision while members of the state Legislature consider constitutional changes.

This is one of those debates involving so many nuances that it’s difficult taking a firm stand on one side or the other. I can come up with as many arguments in favor of keeping a Ten Commandments monument on publicly owned property as I can against it.

While the Oklahoma case involves language in the state constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved this issue a decade ago from a federal perspective. It ruled in 2005 that a Ten Commandments statue at the Capitol in Texas did not violate the U.S. Constitution because it has historic as well as religious significance.

And the Supreme Court justices who voted in the majority of this 5-4 decision have a valid point. The account of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God and incorporating them into the daily lives of the ancient Israelites is forever woven into the history of the Jewish people. And the development of Western civilization, including its legal system, resulted from the propagation of Judeo/Christian philosophy and social traditions.

But at the same time, the religious symbolism of Ten Commandments statues is the primary reason that people insist on seeing them displayed on public grounds. The Declaration of Independence is the founding document upon which U.S. society was created, so its historic importance to us as a people cannot be denied. Yet I have never heard of any movement to erect a Declaration of Independence monument on the capitol grounds of any state.

There are many historic documents that would make for wonderful statues, but the only one that seems to be of any interest to Americans is the Ten Commandments. And since most supporters whom I’ve encountered or read about adhere to the Judeo/Christian faith, it’s hard differentiating their religious sentiments from their fascination with the past.

Were the Ten Commandments not religious in nature, there would be no such monuments. So their historic value is just an excuse for proponents of the Judeo/Christian faith to use public resources to express their religious beliefs. This tramples over the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitutional principle of keeping church and state separate.

The argument of whether it’s legal to display a Ten Commandments statue, therefore, is a tricky one to decide. But anyone who is familiar with what the commandments say should recognize the dilemma of creating such an item.

The first several commandments read as follows:

“I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides me.

“You shall not make for yourself a sculpted image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or the Earth below, or in the waters under the Earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:2-6, Tanakh)

OK, what part of “You shall not make for yourself a sculpted image …” do Ten Commandment monument supporters not understand? It seems clear that creating any kind of statue or monument is strictly prohibited in this statement. How can people who claim to revere the Ten Commandments so brazenly violate one of them?

At the heart of these commandments is the concern that a graven image will lure someone’s fawning attention, which should be reserved for the supreme being that this individual professes to obey. The issue of idol worship goes beyond believing in the divine powers of inanimate objects.

To idolize means to “admire, revere or love greatly or excessively.” To express such feelings for inanimate objects is to turn them into idols and, thus, distract us from directing these sentiments to the appropriate sources of our devotion.

In this way, Ten Commandments monuments become symbols of the piousness of their supporters. They are a public reflection of how committed some people claim to be to their own religious beliefs. And all taxpayers, whether or not they adhere to these principles, finance this display.

Sadly, a Ten Commandments statue is created to bring more attention to the faithful than to the object of their faith. The best way for religious people to enshrine these sacred principles into the fabric of society is to live them out personally.

And this requires these individuals to follow them, not just pay lip service to how important they are to our nation. For people of faith to create a material image of the Ten Commandments but ignore their meaning is to erect a monument to nothing but these individuals’ own hypocrisy.

Because let’s be honest: The graven image commandment is not the only one that many religious people ignore. So are commandments that we don’t bother following worth putting on public display?

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


The snobby listeners of NPR

First published: June 26, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: June 25, 2015 at 5:24 pm

One scene from the 1970 film “Five Easy Pieces” displays a sentiment we’d all love to express now and then.

Jack Nicholson’s character grows annoyed listening to a woman at a dinner party make a point about some phrases used by his girlfriend, played by Karen Black; the woman questions the choice of words in a rather condescending manner. Nicholson has enough of the woman’s demeaning tone and decides to tell her off.

“Where the hell do you get the (nerve) to tell anybody anything about class or who the hell’s got it or what she typifies? You shouldn’t even be in the same room with her, you pompous celibate.”

That last line makes me laugh no matter how many times I hear it. Having some arrogant individual cut down to size for wielding his or her supposed erudition as a weapon can be very entertaining.

This movie scene came to my mind when I heard about the recent uproar by National Public Radio listeners. Many of them expressed horror when they heard Kim Kardashian interviewed on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

One segment of the program is called “Not My Job” in which guests answer questions about some subject.

Here is how the program’s website summarized Kardashian’s interview:

“Every once in a while, we have someone on the show who we can’t believe agreed to be on the show. Case in point: Kim Kardashian is a producer, entrepreneur, designer, model, mom, tabloid magazine life support system — and now a star of public radio. Kardashian is the most famous Kim in pretty much every country in the world ... except North Korea. And if the movie ‘The Interview’ has taught us anything, it’s that making fun of North Korea results in good things for your parent organization. So we’ll ask Kardashian three questions about her celebrity rival, Kim Jong Un, who dominates TMZ on the other side of the DMZ.”

Now, I thought the Kim Kardashian/Kim Jong Un tie-in was pretty clever. And some people affiliated with “Wait Wait” have said that Kardashian was very gracious about participating given the ridicule she’s been subjected to from guests on the show. And we’re talking about a game show where the order of the day is comedy, and sometimes low-brow comedy at that.

But many of the NPR faithful were having none of it. They exploded with righteous indignation about their sacred space being defiled. Here are a few of the more ridiculous comments left on NPR’s website:

“Wait, wait ... Don’t tell me that Kim Kardashian has invaded the NPR air waves!! SO disappointed! NPR is my sanctuary and now it has been sullied by the vapid KK. Please, keep the bar high NPR, even if it is just a game show,” wrote Nancy Brooks.

“I never miss WWDTM — until this week. I cannot bring myself to listen & seriously, shame on all of you at WWDTM for allowing this vapid, vacuous waste of space more media time,” opined Dawn T — who then had the audacity to lecture “mildmannered one” on proper manners because this commenter in reply told her to “Lighten up, hon.” Dawn T objected to being called “hon,” but apparently it’s OK for her to diminish Kardashian as a “waste of space.”

“My first impulse after her introduction on the show was to question the meaning of life. My depression deepened while suffering through the pitch for a book filled with poorly framed cellphone images of herself. How ironic that the guest brought on to play ‘Not My Job’ appears not work very hard at anything,” wrote TellinIt LikeItIs.

And this comes from Pepe Martinez: “The thought of listening to this gives me shivers. No way! Contaminated through the speakers. Who is she married to? Maybe that’s a clue why she’s here.”

Some listeners ridiculed Kardashian for becoming wealthy off her looks. Others whined that she hasn’t made any significant cultural contributions.

Alicia Silverstone appeared on “Wait Wait” more than a year ago. Her great cultural contribution of note was the movie “Clueless.” And while it was her looks more than her acting talent that made her a celebrity, her presence on NPR didn’t tempt the network’s listeners to storm the castle.

Ditto for Joby Ogwyn, who was interviewed on the program last year. His claim to fame is that he climbs mountains and jumps off them wearing a wing suit. This isn’t the kind of activity that garners Nobel Peace Prizes.

The snobbery on display is appalling. To be sure, Kardashian has become the poster child for American self-indulgence. I, too, am not a fan of the “Hey, look at me!” mentality she champions.

But she and her sisters have used their talents to build a clothing and cosmetics empire. To suggest that Kardashian hasn’t worked hard to earn the wealth she enjoys or doesn’t contribute to our society is false.

The demeaning comments are beneath the dignity of such a respected media outlet. The people making them are the ones betraying the values of NPR, not Kardashian. Their hate-filled vitriol is shameful given the network’s reputation for civilized and reasoned discussions on important topics.

The NPR listeners who were so offended by Kardashian’s appearance on “Wait Wait” need to get over themselves. These pompous celibates should remember that the “P” in NPR stands for “public”; this means that all are invited, not just a select few. The United States is much broader both geographically and culturally than Lake Wobegon, and NPR has an obligation to reflect this diversity.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


A sports team owner worth cheering

First published: June 19, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: June 18, 2015 at 4:32 pm
Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz celebrates with Patrick Kane (88) after Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup final series on Monday in Chicago. The Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 to win the series 4-2. This is the sixth Stanley Cup that the Blackhawks have won in team history and the third in the past six seasons.

When professional sports teams win national championships, the star players grab most of the public’s attention.

The team owners, though, must walk along a tightrope. As the ones who sign the paychecks, they deserve to step into the spotlight while not wearing out their welcome.

This requires a tricky balancing act. Team owners have an obligation to thank fans for their continued loyalty, which results in the revenue needed to pursue league titles. But the presence of team owners often needs to be brief as many of them are unpopular with fans.

The relationship that fans have with the owners of their favorite sports teams is fascinating. It’s difficult assessing exactly why a few team owners develop such a close bond with fans while most others are loathed by those who follow the franchises.

With the Chicago Blackhawks winning their third Stanley Cup in six seasons this week, the names of the team’s superstar players have become quite familiar to hockey fans throughout the United States and Canada: Corey Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. Let’s not forget one of the premier coaches in the NHL, Joel Quenneville.

Is that a hockey team for the ages? Oh, you betcha!

While perhaps not as well known internationally as that of the players, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz’s name has cemented its place in the hearts of the team’s fans in the Windy City. Like in most other major sports markets, the love/hate dynamic between sports fans and team owners in Chicago is entertaining to observe.

The most beloved team owner in Chicago sports history was Bill Veeck. The two-time owner of the White Sox (1959-1961 and 1975-1981) was adored by fans and players alike.

The secret to Veeck’s appeal was his approach to leading the franchise. He did it from a fan model, not necessarily a business model. He loved baseball and saw the game and running his teams from a fan’s perspective.

I put Veeck at the top of the heap in Chicago because he remained personally popular among baseball fans despite his teams’ lack of success. The only championship moment came in his first year of owning the White Sox, 1959, when they won the American League pennant (alas, they lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games). I can’t think of another sports team owner who had as many unsuccessful seasons and yet remained as well loved as did Veeck.

Several friends responded to a few questions about Chicago sports team owners. One of them had a great observation about why some team owners are popular with fans while others are loathed.

My friend said fans dislike owners who see their teams merely as money-making enterprises. The Chicago Tribune, which owned the Chicago Cubs for years, never put a lot of money into the team, my friend said. Tribune executives saw that Wrigley Field was going to print money no matter how the team fared, so why expend a lot of revenue unnecessarily?

On the other hand, Veeck went out of his way to make baseball as entertaining for fans as possible. His father was president of the Cubs while he was growing up, so as a teenager Veeck came up with the idea of planting ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field. As a team owner, Veeck devised other innovations that have become standard among baseball teams: an exploring scoreboard, names on the backs of uniforms, giving away small items to fans as they entered the ballpark.

All my friends said that among Chicago sports team owners, Rocky Wirtz has become one of the most popular and (ironically) Bill Wirtz — Rocky’s father — was one of the least liked. How unpopular did Bill Wirtz become?

Chicago Blackhawks fans booed and jeered when then-general manager Dale Tallon offered some kind words for the team owner at the United Center just a short time after Wirtz died in 2007. Now that’s a tough crowd.

But Wirtz seemed to care little about what fans thought of him. He carried on the tradition of his father, Arthur Wirtz, of refusing to allow the Blackhawks’ home games to be televised. Also like his father, “Dollar Bill” Wirtz was a notorious penny-pincher, thus letting hockey greats like Bobby Hull flee the Chicago market for greener ice rinks.

When he took over the team in 2007, Rocky Wirtz realized things had to change. The Hawks hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961, and attendance at games had shrunk considerably. He put home games back on television, mended fences with former stars, became more accessible to news outlets and began amassing world-class executives, coaches and players.

The younger Wirtz was a breath of fresh air. He understands how a team can become immensely popular and generate lots of revenue: winning championships. That means providing what the fans love, attracting the best players and connecting with a city that takes its sports seriously.

Among team owners, Rocky Wirtz is one of the good guys. Sports franchises don’t become exceptional by accident. They require a committed leader who knows how to achieve the ultimate goal, and Wirtz has put the Chicago Blackhawks on the level of the elites.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to


A better way to honor courage

First published: June 12, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: June 11, 2015 at 5:04 pm

One aspect of the Caitlyn Jenner story that recently dominated headlines struck me as rather peculiar, but not for the obvious reasons.

I wasn’t fazed by the former Olympic champion’s decision to publicize her sexual identity transformation, first in a television interview on ABC News and then in a cover article for Vanity Fair magazine. Some people were put off by the open manner in which Jenner shared her story.

But Jenner has been a public figure since winning the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. She also was part of the reality TV phenomenon “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

I wouldn’t want to make such an intimate decision as public as Jenner did when she discussed transitioning from a man to a woman. But there is no easy way for someone living in the spotlight to quietly ease into a new sexual identity. It was Jenner’s choice to make, and I give her credit for being willing to confront the ensuing criticism.

What struck me as odd, however, was the news that ESPN selected Jenner as this year’s recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. But once again, my biggest puzzlement here doesn’t jibe with the opposition expressed by many others.

The main objection to ESPN’s decision to give Jenner this award is the list of other athletes who weren’t selected. Many critics believe some candidates were far more worthy of this honor.

NBC sports broadcaster Bob Costas made a valid point this week when he criticized ESPN’s choice of Jenner. Speaking with radio host Dan Patrick, he said the selection was “a crass exploitation play — it’s a tabloid play.”

Costas added that he believed Jenner exhibited courage in making her sexual identity transformation so public. But her choice as the recipient for this award was based more on how it may spike ratings for the ESPYs program next month than on publicly acknowledging an athlete’s courage.

Costas is correct. Jenner was selected by ESPN for this award right after the cover of Vanity Fair was revealed.

The timing here is too coincidental. Had ESPN officials thought about this, they would have seen there are other candidates more worthy.

One suggestion was to name Lauren Hill as the winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, although it would need to be a posthumous honor. Hill died April 10 from an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 19.

What made Hill’s story so gripping was that she refused to allow the cancer that was destroying her body to thwart her dream of playing collegiate basketball.

The Indiana native signed last year to play at Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati but was diagnosed with the tumor less than two months later.

Determined to see her dream come true, Hill persevered and played in the Lions’ season opener Nov. 2. She made the first and last baskets of the game, scoring a total of four points.

Her achievement was all the more incredible given how the cancer severely affected her level of energy and ability to handle the ball. She also raised more than $1.7 million for research into diffuse intrinsic pontine giloma, the form of cancer she had. Hill accomplished a lot in her all-too-short life.

I can’t argue that a teenager defying the odds against cancer to realize her life’s goal is less deserving of an award dedicated to courage as is a celebrity making public an otherwise very private decision. In fact, if I had to choose one of them, Hill would be the winner.

My argument, though, is why do we feel the need to make such a choice? What compels us to pit courageous people against one another?

The award seeks to honor an athlete every year who exhibits courage. In so doing, we evaluate what we consider to be one athlete’s level of courage against another athlete’s level of courage.

How can we really know how much courage it took one person to do something and how much courage it took for another person to do something else? We can’t read their minds, so we are left to judge how much courage it would take for each of us to do what these athletes did.

And this is where such a practice fails. Because we can’t know for sure how much courage someone else possesses, we substitute an evaluation of our own level of courage under these circumstances for that of these athletes.

Awarding a Medal of Honor to members of the military is different. The selection is based on the actions performed. While courage is obviously a motivating factor, military officials base the choice on whether what the service member did under fire meets the established criteria for the medal.

It could have taken just as much courage for one Marine on Iwo Jima during World War II to merely pop his head out of a trench to return fire at Japanese troops than it did for another Marine to run with reckless abandon through an open area to pull his wounded comrades out of harm’s way. While I can’t determine who actually possessed more individual courage, I can choose which act is more worthy of special recognition.

If ESPN wanted to recognize an athlete for a particular act, like standing up for principles in the face of great adversity, that would be fine.

It could then rename the award something like the Arthur Ashe Courageous Act Award or the Arthur Ashe Advocacy Award.

But we should not feel so limited in commemorating courage itself. No single award is needed.

During the ESPYs, ESPN could present a graphic montage of athletes who displayed notable courage during the past year.

This would place the emphasis on how we value courage itself rather than singling out one person among many for possessing it.

It’s an appropriate way of honoring people who display an incredible characteristic. This may be less of a ratings booster, but it would be more intellectually honest.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to

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