Archive for January, 2010

Revisited: Alarming news from the web

January 31, 2010

The teasers for upcoming local news shows we see sprinkled throughout prime-time network TV programming can be both annoying and alarming. When they take five seconds to shout “Find out what fast foods can kill your kids” or “Earth to be destroyed by asteroid? News at 11,” we know they’re just trying to get us to watch their show later that evening. So at least we understand their logic as we run screaming into the night.

When new-media news sites do the same thing, just to get you to click through to the actual story, it doesn’t make quite as much sense. I don’t mind annoying and alarming, but unnecessary tends to get on my nerves.

The following teaser headlines are a sampling of some of the more outrageous examples I’ve seen (mostly on AOL) in recent weeks:

–Toxin found in 1 in 3 grocery foods
–Man trapped under sofa for days: Manages to survive in bizarre way
–Peek at spots only rich people get to use
–Man returned from dead: He flatlined, turned blue and his family said goodbye, then he awoke
–Woman killed for Facebook status
–Woman literally scared to death
–Singer, 60, still hot in just fishnets
–Man’s story of harassment by boss is humiliating: He’s just ‘too cute’
–Fifteen things never to say on a plane
–Bride attacked on wedding day: Sister arrested for ripping her hair out
–Teen chases parents with knives over cell phone
–Casey Anthony’s new image in court: She wears suit, hair in bun
–Chat on couch turns mortifying: Wrong move in skirt exposes star to world
–Change coming to thin mints: Bet you’re not going to like it
–Had to see for yourself: Photo shows Janet’s weight is up
–Jessica’s mom jeans aren’t flattering
–New York baker defends racist cookies
–High sex drive linked to disease
–Book will rip apart Brad and Angie (only 37% believe it’s true)
–15 women who bared (almost) for a cause
–Watch as elephants play soccer
–Kids with cell phones at risk: More likely to be hit by cars
–Katie’s hair caused a stir: We called it a ‘mullet’, you called it ‘adorable’, then it disappeared
–Could have been much worse: Star’s undies flashing has you talking
–Road named after part of anatomy
–Is Kingston or Ruby cuter? One winning by a lot
–Hotel main spilled hotel guests’ oh-so-nasty secrets
–Actress refuses to fly with her husband
–Sitting here doubles risk of death
–Lesbian to be prime minister
–Bikini-clad Spears flaunts even more of her comeback body
–Island may look harmless but it’s disease-infested
–Man in dress steals NFL spotlight
–Oprah probably won’t be happy with this list
–Potato salad step you should skip
–Most searched facial cleansers
–Lamp makes your living room ugly
–Country singer goes to market but looks like she just rolled out of bed
–Couple spends $155K on a cloned dog
–Cindy and Mandy spotted wearing same dress
–Zombies ahead, Run for your lives! Why did drivers get wacky warning?
–Girl passed out eating sandwiches: what caused her bizarre illness
–Why sexy star wore her dress backwards
–Your reaction to Brit’s comeback bod was mixed (to say the least)
–Miss Kentucky is awfully hairy
–Teen star nearly gives crew eyeful
–Celeb baby showdown: It’s a close call, but you have to pick which tiny tot is cuter
–What your face says about you

Revisited: The New York Times goes potty-mouth

January 30, 2010

While I personally regard The New York Times as the world’s greatest newspaper, there are others who substitute nicknames different than the traditional “Grey Lady” or “The Paper of Record.” They may call it “Home of the Eastern Elite” or simply “Those Jewish Guys.” These are politically driven criticisms that I won’t dignify with a response, other than to say that those people are rednecks.

I understand how certain recent changes have been made necessary by market demands on the financial side of newspapers. The design has changed to acknowledge that it’s now possible to produce color on a printing press. Advertisements recently made their way onto the bottom of the front page.

But what’s possibly most challenging for loyal readers is how the editorial content has had to change with the times and with the tastes of younger readers. Though not nearly as outrageous in their titillation as other media — see tomorrow’s post about America Online’s “front page” — the Times is venturing into subjects I’d expect to see in underground elementary school newspapers, if such things existed.

The following is an article the Times ran recently that’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about.

CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there is Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.

“It’s pronounced ‘PENNIS-tun,’” Fiona Moran, manager of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Penistone, said over the telephone, rather sharply. When forced to spell her address for outsiders, she uses misdirection, separating the tricky section into two blameless parts: “p-e-n” — pause — “i-s-t-o-n-e.”

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that “street names which could give offense” would no longer be allowed on new roads.

“Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names,” like Gaswork Road, the council decreed. Also, avoid “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation,” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue, Quare Street and Corfe Close.

(What is wrong with Corfe Close, you might ask? The guidelines mention the hypothetical residents of No. 4, with their unfortunate hypothetical address, “4 Corfe Close.” To find the naughty meaning, you have to repeat the first two words rapidly many times, preferably in the presence of your fifth-grade classmates.)

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing lewd names.

Still, news of the revised policy raised an outcry.

“Sniggering at double entendres is a loved and time-honored tradition in this country,” Carol Midgley wrote in The Times of London. Ed Hurst, a co-author, with Rob Bailey, of “Rude Britain” and “Rude UK,” which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here — said that many such communities were established hundreds of years ago and that their names were not rude at the time.

“Place names and street names are full of history and culture, and it’s only because language has evolved over the centuries that they’ve wound up sounding rude,” Mr. Hurst said in an interview.

Mr. Bailey, who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire, and Mr. Hurst got the idea for the books when they read about a couple who bought a house on Butt Hole Road, in South Yorkshire.

The name most likely has to do with the spot’s historic function as a source of water, a water butt being a container for collecting water. But it proved to be prohibitively hilarious.

“If they ordered a pizza, the pizza company wouldn’t deliver it, because they thought it was a made-up name,” Mr. Hurst said. “People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other’s naked buttocks.”

The couple moved away.

The people in Crapstone have not had similar problems, although their sign is periodically stolen by word-loving merrymakers. And their village became a stock joke a few years ago, when a television ad featuring a prone-to-swearing soccer player named Vinnie Jones showed Mr. Jones’s car breaking down just under the Crapstone sign.

In the commercial, Mr. Jones tries to alert the towing company to his location while covering the sign and trying not to say “crap” in front of his young daughter.

The consensus in the village is that there is a perfectly innocent reason for the name “Crapstone,” though it is unclear what that is. Theories put forth by various residents the other day included “place of the rocks,” “a kind of twisting of the original word,” “something to do with the soil” and “something to do with Sir Francis Drake,” who lived nearby.

Jacqui Anderson, a doctor in Crapstone who used to live in a village called Horrabridge, which has its own issues, said that she no longer thought about the “crap” in “Crapstone.”

Still, when strangers ask where she’s from, she admitted, “I just say I live near Plymouth.”

Website Review: ChristianProphet.org

January 29, 2010

Normally, I wouldn’t lower myself to the level where I address a mere “dot-org” domain in my weekly Website Review. I’m making an exception because in this particular case, I almost had to lower myself out of my crushed vehicle and into a “Jaws of Life” following a barely avoided collision with a large, colorfully decorated motor home at an intersection near my house.

The RV that nearly sent me to be with Jesus was, appropriately, owned by “bobgriffin.org” and presumably driven by that self-same Bob. Drawn to its huge decals of the burning World Trade Center towers and a Bob-penned book that purported to tell the “real story” of Sept. 11, I hurried home to go online and learn more about this RV of Death.

The website, which also operates under the name “7flames.org,” is a pretty minimalist affair, mostly spent promoting Griffin, his book called “Standing in the Shadows of 9/11: The Vision” and the hare-brained concept that Bob is a genuine Christian prophet. Anybody can predict The Rapture, but Bob takes his gift a step farther and can predict all types of future events, though apparently not the fact I was running a yellow light while he was making a right turn without first coming to a full stop.

Griffin’s story, described in the “About Bob Griffin” pulldown, is best told by the Living Bob himself.

He grew up in a rough neighborhood of Chicago and faced “many challenges” during his childhood (probably code for bullying and/or polio). “After a series of dramatic supernatural encounters, Bob surrendered his life to Jesus Christ … and discovered he had been given a keen prophetic gifting.” This allowed him to “give thousands of accurate words” during his 15-year ministry, words that apparently did not include “look,” “out,” “we’re” and “crashing” on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

Bob’s “gifting” has taken him to 25 nations where he claims to have met with presidents, prime ministers, senators and, most importantly, celebrities to spread his vision of what lies ahead for their various constituencies. Bob also consults with U.S. and international agencies on matters of national security, and “using his prophetic gifting he has located Al Qaeda terrorist cells.” My own guess is that such consultation takes place mostly in airport interrogation rooms after he’s been detained by TSA officers for fitting the profile of an unbalanced lunatic.

The biography concludes with a line that I bet is a real show-stopper on his resume: “Bob is sent with an apostic and prophetic anointing to break the yoke of bondage over individuals, regions and nation.” And he’s available for parties.

The rest of the website is not much to look at. The home page encourages viewers to join in a Thanksgiving conference being held on Nov. 25, 2009 and an assembling of the “armies of God” at a Yonkers, N.Y., church for a special New Year’s Eve service. (While Bob’s busy knocking around in the future, I guess his followers instead live in the past.) There’s an “Events” section, where “currently no events are available.”

The “Media” area is mostly links to YouTube videos of Bob and his wife Jayne and their five lovely but extremely embarrassed teenage daughters, featured in clips from his popular weekly internet television show. The video I sampled involved the Griffin family riding around New York City in their RV, talking earnestly to the camera while the wicked streets of Manhattan whiz by behind them.

Filmed the day of that brutal windstorm that took down hundreds of trees in Central Park last summer, the Griffin girls gleefully recount how Dad is interpreting the event as a preview of God’s plan to harvest enough wood to “build an ark in the park.” Other segments show the teens describing how a homeless man tried to break into the van but decided otherwise when divine intervention reared its head; how “demonic spirits” were driving the recipients of free copies of Bob’s book to toss it in the trash can; and how the youngest daughter encountered a Muslim who grilled her about her father’s ideas.

“Soon he will be a witness to scales being removed from his eyelids,” the tween-aged girl says uneasily, knowing how dead she will be when her middle-school friends get the chance to ridicule her on Facebook, while still delighting in the bright future that probably awaits her in the field of ophthamology.

But the whole reason for the website seems to be selling copies of the 9/11 book, the first chapter of which I was able to download for free. It tells, a bit cryptically, the story of how Bob got started in prophecy back in the mid-1990s. One day he was confronted by a “very large face” who told him that “landscapes are changing!” Most of us might simply think a close-talking itinerant gardener was offering to rake our yard. Bob, however, knew this was different.

“It was piercing the night just like traffic lights below were stabbing at the night with their melancholy rhythms, cars sailing through the night traversing the arteries that bring evidence of life to the darkness,” Bob writes. “And why so fast?”

(Again, I might point out the light was yellow.)

Next, Bob was pulled through time to witness the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, then back to Sept. 10, 2001, in what he acknowledges was “a confusing moment for me.” In 2001, he sees the Statue of Liberty crying a single tear, “liquid light sliding down her face,” while twin towers standing next to her go up in flames.

It’s hard to tell if Bob was actually in Lower Manhattan on that fateful day. He talks about a “giant cloud of dust roaring toward me,” then turning to run toward a fire escape which he climbs with “supernatural strength.” A giant ball of choking grit engulfs his vision, then he hears a voice saying “I’ll be with you in a minute” (McDonald’s drive-thru?), then he’s flooded in the bright lights of a television studio and greeted by a producer who says “He is going to do for you what He did for us.”

Bob replied, “What was that?” The producer responded, “Worldwide web, worldwide radio, worldwide television. TELL-A-VISION!”

This is Bob’s cue that he needs to tell people about his visions because the “FUTURE is the place where FEW TOUR,” and now it seems this whole ministry of prophetic giving thing is descending into a play on words.

There’s one last scene from the first chapter that may give us a little more insight into Bob’s rare powers. He’s going out with the rest of the office to a staff lunch at a quaint restaurant near a lake. He’s preoccupied during the lunch with ducks and geese walking on the backs of carp, “the bubble- blowers and the water-walkers” he calls them. He asks the group “has anyone ever cried real tears in your dreams before? I have! I did last night!”

Bob writes:

“Pass the rolls,” I heard them say. I felt the stabbing pain of rejection again, along with the anger which always tries to rise up. I heard one of their thoughts. “Oh boy, here we go again with another dream.”

And you thought your co-workers were weird.

Reading over the website and the book excerpt again, I think I may have figured out the source behind the Griffin magic. The main heading across the home page reads “Let My Love Open the Door to Your Heart.” The book, again, is entitled “Standing in the Shadows of 9/11.”  Another line in the book reads “Here comes that tear again.”

I think Bob may have hit his head while the RV was making a sharp turn one evening, then fell into semi-consciousness while Z-93, playing ALL hits from the sixties and seventies ALL the time, blared from his radio. Fragments of song lyrics from the Who, the Four Tops and Jackson Browne coalesced in his concussed brain and he awoke to believe the future is past, the past is future, and that a fat carp was being lifted from the water and then was no more.

Do I remember a song by Neil Young called “The Fat Carp Was Lifted”? I think I do.

Mind if I text you?

January 28, 2010

My trainee sat quietly as I explained what her temp job with my company would involve.

“You’ll want to make sure the changes have been made to the document,” I instructed.

“Hmmm,” came the response.

“We’re not responsible for typos the client has created,” I added.

“Mmm-hmm.”

“And be sure that you make your marks legibly,” I said.

“Mmmm,” she seemed to say. “Mmmmm. Hmmmm. Mmmm.”

Finally, it occurred to me that this rather stout woman wasn’t voicing acknowledgement that she understood my instructions. Instead, the low vibrating noise was coming from the vicinity of her lap. Perhaps she was pregnant instead of chubby, and the baby, ready to be delivered, was clearing its throat to get her attention. Or maybe she had swallowed an electric razor and it was getting ready to pass.

No, wait — that’s right, this is the twenty-first century. It must be her cell phone set to vibrate.

“Do you need to get that?” I asked, gesturing toward her crotch, and immediately regretting the move.

“Oh, it’s just my cell getting a text,” she said. “It can wait till later.”

Text messaging is one part of the wireless revolution that I can vigorously endorse. Like most people my age, I feel I should be annoyed by others talking on their cell phones. For one thing, they’re almost inevitably younger than I am, which I resent. They also seem to have friends, friends who want to talk to them with such urgency that they can’t wait to get near a land line. The conversation must be had now, regardless of whether they’re in the middle of outpatient surgery, being sentenced to prison, or sitting on the can.

I prefer texting to phoning for a number of reasons. I like to type. I like to get to a little thing I like to call “the point.” I like to know that I’m not interrupting something important on the other end of the line.

When I do have to call someone’s cell phone, I’ll typically text them first and ask if it’s a good time to talk. The portability of cells means they’re being carried everywhere, and not all of these places are places that civilized people want to talk. My sister finds this habit highly amusing, but I think she genuinely appreciates the opportunity to avoid talking to me.

Then there’s the issue of concern for who might overhear the other end of the conversation. I’m really more amused than bothered when I listen in on strangers’ discussions. It’s a little peek into lives almost always more interesting than mine, and I enjoy the voyeurism of it all. I wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of allowing this to happen on airline flights, as is now being considered. The babble of several hundred businesspeople confined in a space where they have nothing better to do than talk is an even more frightening prospect to me than catastrophic decompression at 30,000 feet. Allow wireless on jets and too many of us will be thinking about which type of explosives cause the least amount of chafe in our shorts.

It is a little irksome hearing about all the things going on in my coworkers’ lives while I’m trying to earn a living. I was minding my own business at my terminal the other day when a woman walked up behind me and cooed, “I love you so much.” Needless to say, she wasn’t talking to me but instead to a distant boyfriend. Another employee gets calls from her daughter asking what time it is. Several have idiot husbands who think their wives can mystically triangulate where their favorite shirt is from 20 miles away.

Worse than the chatter are the ring tones. For security reasons, we’re really not supposed to be taking calls on our cells at our desks, so one dutiful data entry lady always jumps up and heads for a small alcove near the door whenever Michael Jackson starts crooning “got to be there … in the morning.” Even if I need her to be here instead of there, to enter my sales order, she sprints off to learn the latest developments in Bob’s half-hearted search for employment.

Of course, the worst scenario is in the bathroom, where a surprising number of people have no problem at all mixing the sound of their voice with less musical tones being emitted from elsewhere on their persons. There’s little that’s more disconcerting than to hear a conversational opening in the stall next to you, and wondering if it’s you who’s being addressed or some distant acquaintance tuning in via satellite. Even once you’re relieved to learn it’s Frank, not you, who’s being told “yeah, I thought that was a great game [gurgling noise] but I felt sorry for Favre,” I still feel compelled to muffle my own sounds. Nobody wants to see, smell, taste or feel what’s going on in a presumably private setting; why would they want to hear it?

Cell phones have become so common that it now strikes me as unusual not to see them. When I stop by the local college to visit my son, I feel sorry for the two or three people in the crowd of pedestrians who have to be content listening to their iPods rather than phoning a friend. They seem lost, and frequently fall down from sheer loneliness. I even imagine there will be cell phone conversations in the afterlife, though the angels will obviously be having fewer dropped calls (because of the antenna-like haloes) than will their counterparts suffering eternal damnation downstairs. You’ve got to think all that hellfire will play havoc with decent reception.

I’ll take texting over talking any day, even though I realize there are safety concerns when you try to do it in a moving vehicle. I saw in the news yesterday where the Department of Transportation has banned texting by truck and bus drivers, probably a good idea considering the size of their rides compared to my Honda Civic. But I think, at the same time, we’re missing a great opportunity to open up the conversation on America’s roadways as a way to stifle road rage and other aggressive driving habits. Think about how much better we’d all get along if every car had its driver’s cell number posted in the rear window, and we could openly discuss constructive suggestions for improved motor vehicle operation.

I could preload “you goddam moron :(” into my Quick Notes and be ready to meet the world head-on.

Tomorrow’s news today: The State of the Union

January 27, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dateline: Thursday, Jan. 28) — Speaking before a joint session of Congress, President Obama declared Wednesday night that the State of the Union was “around here somewhere,” declaring he had “just seen the speech a few minutes ago,” and promising to ask his daughters if “perhaps the dog had eaten it, or key parts of it.”

The president’s first address to the nation before assembled congressmen, Supreme Court justices and cabinet officials seemed a little scattered, as Obama frequently veered from the usual assurances that the country is sound, even appearing at points to be stalling in his presentation.

“We’ll get started here in just a moment,” Obama said after the welcoming ovation had ended and he took his place at the Capitol podium. “Those of you who want to take notes might want to get out your pencils and paper at this point, while the rest of you can chat with your neighbor for a second.”

The president left the stage briefly before returning with a sheaf of papers, which he dropped and then hastily gathered back together.

“Heh, heh, I may be starting on the last page here,” Obama said as he tried to reassemble his address. “You’d all probably like that, wouldn’t you?”

It was at this point that several members from the Republican side of the aisle began shouting “c’mon” and “let’s go” as well as “we don’t have all night here, ya’ know.”

“Alright, alright,” the president began.

Obama said the American people had endured a lot of hardship in recent years, and that it was time for positive actions to replace words and promises.

“I admit, it’s been tough,” the president said. “We’ve all seen the articles in the paper and the stories on television. By the way, how many of you here saw ‘Idol’ last night?”

Several members of the audience tentatively raised their hands, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled to the House clerk that a roll call vote should be taken. After a brief delay, it was determined that 265 members had seen the episode while 173 did not and 28 abstained or couldn’t believe the question.

“That one gal with the hat and glasses was funny,” the president observed after the vote. “I was laughing.”

The chief executive, delivering the first State of the Union address of his presidency, noted that “we’ve debated a lot of stuff and had our disagreements, but I think at the end of the day, we’re all great believers in the good sense of the American people.”

“Now I know some of you here and some of you watching at home don’t like all of the changes I’ve proposed and, that’s cool, that’s cool,” Obama noted. “You can’t win ’em all. If I was interested in a popularity contest, I’d probably be singing in front of Simon and Randy. How many of you saw ‘Idol’ again?”

At this point, Vice President Joe Biden approached the lectern and whispered briefly in Obama’s ear, to which the president nodded his head and responded, “Oh, right, right.”

“I think I’m supposed to spell out some proposals about initiatives I’d like to introduce in the year ahead, so I’ll do that right now,” the president said.

Obama avoided many of the large-scale issues such as healthcare, the economy and the fight against terrorism which had provoked so much resistance in 2009, and focused his agenda instead on smaller, more soluble problems.

“I will bring a bill before this body that requires the fine print in pharmaceutical ads to be a full pointsize bigger, with many parts in all capital letters or even bold type,” Obama said. “And I will be asking the Congress for funding of a program to require weekend forecasts on the local news to begin on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays.”

The president did mention the issue of job cuts that has plagued his administration from day one, with unemployment now soaring over 10 percent.

“That’s simply an unacceptable percentage,” Obama said. “I’m going to start thinking of it in terms of the fraction one-tenth, or perhaps that the odds are one in ten that you don’t have a job. I’m also setting up a special office in the White House that will proofread resumes.”

The president then took a moment to recognize several special guests in attendance, who were sitting in the front row of the balcony with the First Lady.

“Michelle is being accompanied tonight by a couple of gentlemen who represent those qualities that all of us, regardless of party affiliation, can universally admire,” he said. “Let’s give a warm and appreciative welcome to the man in the blue suit with the red tie, and that other guy in the Army costume.”

Obama then drew his address to a close with an overall assessment of the condition of the country in language that has become a tradition for presidents going back to Herbert Hoover.

“I am proud to report to you tonight that the state of the union is strong–” he began to mounting applause. “Let me finish, let me finish. The state of the union is strongly dependent on how willing Asian countries are to buy up our debt.”

The president then thanked the assembled crowd, waving and smiling as he mouthed the words “gotta run” before hopping down to the floor of the House. Subdued Democrats refrained from an enthusiastic standing ovation, preferring instead to crouch or stoop slightly. Republicans offered two or three polite claps and then streamed for the exits.

Fake News: NFL writers search for feel-good story

January 26, 2010

MIAMI (Jan. 25) — With the matchup now set for pro football’s Super Bowl, members of the media have begun their desperate annual search for the “up close and personal” angle that will portray aggressive hulking millionaires as the kind of human beings we can all relate to, even though we’re pitifully inferior to them.

Unfortunately for sportswriters, family and friends of NFL players are generally in good health, thanks to of modern medical techniques that keep most people from hovering near death. Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon’s parents are originally from Haiti, a promising lead in light of the tragedy that struck that nation. But it’s expected that by the February game, the devastating Caribbean earthquake will be so Jan. 12, and therefore out of the news cycle. Saints quarterback Drew Brees knew a guy who knew a guy who thought he had AIDS there for a minute, but it turned out he just had smudged some toner on his face.

Preliminary reports by writers already investigating players’ backgrounds hint at some of what we could be seeing in the run-up to the Big Game.

The spotlight could be falling on the ill-fated brother of Colts QB Peyton Manning, a young man named Eli who has endured numerous severe beatings in the last five months while in New York. The younger Manning had hoped to carve out a career for himself in the NFL, but instead ended up being repeatedly ambushed by street-wise toughs despite a contingent of burly but inept bodyguards.

“It’s a really sad story,” said ESPN writer John Rich. “He had such a promising future a few years back, but it all came crashing down.”

Saints cornerback Malcolm Jennings might do a good job arousing sympathy. Several in his immediate family have seen recent hardship, including a brother who lost his cell phone, a nephew who got short-changed by a vending machine, and a health scare recently experienced by his father.

“He had a thing on his neck that was kind of crusty and misshapen, like a scab but yellow around the edges,” said a friend of the family. “We thought for a while it might be malignant. It wasn’t.”

Colts tight end Justin Snow has a sister who was thought to be battling cancer. Snow said she received a note from her doctor following an annual physical that she needed to get treatment for a “canker,” but the physician’s handwriting was so bad she thought it said “cancer.”

“I was really worried there for a day or so, and I thought about dedicating the NFC championship game to her,” Snow said. “Fortunately, the confusion was cleared up pretty quickly. Good thing too, because I didn’t get into the game since I’m not that good.”

Saints linebacker Marvin Mitchell actually did lose his mother to heart disease about ten years ago, though he was in junior high school at the time and no one could foresee he’d later be in such a premier game.

“I’ll always remember her final words. She said ‘ouch, cardiomyopathy sure does hurt.’ I’ll remember that forever,” Mitchell said. “I only wish she could’ve been here with me now so I could use her to get the sympathy of millions of Americans who will watch the pregame show.”

Like Garcon, Colts offensive tackle Charlie Johnson has a heart-rending Haiti connection. While on a honeymoon cruise in 2006, an on-shore excursion to an exclusive island off the coast of Cap Haitien had to be cancelled when not enough people signed up for it. Later that same day, the ship had some problems with its stabilizer, causing the deck to roll excessively in a mild storm.

“It almost felt like an earthquake. Sort of,” Johnson said. “I know the self-leveling pool table in the Windjammer Lounge was completely out of commission.”

Saints defensive end Bobby McCray is a native of New Orleans and still lives year-round in the city that was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. He has voiced strong support for the rebuilding of neighborhoods in the city’s hard-hit Ninth Ward, especially since he drives through there on the way to practice yet can no longer take a favorite short-cut.

“Those folks have been through a lot,” McCray said. “If they could only get that Bypass Bridge fully repaired, the whole community could be opened up to people like me passing through.”

There’s still a chance a more sympathetic story can be found before press coverage hits its peak by the end of this week. There was an unconfirmed report that one player had a cousin who was born without a head, and that another player feared his playing days could be cut short because he has severe osteoporosis and brittle bone disease, preventing him from ever blocking or tackling. The Colts defensive line coach thinks he hit something with his car in the dark the other night, and hopes it was only a dog or a deer.

“Every year we go through this search process, and every year we eventually find someone who’s vaguely sympathetic,” said writer Rich. “We can always use a player’s pet if we have to.”

Some questions for a Monday

January 25, 2010

I wonder, is there any connection between the fact that the nation’s leading sex addiction clinic is located in Mississippi, and that the state’s residents are among America’s ugliest citizens?

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Should I be concerned that the one word I overheard in passing our human resources representative’s conversation with another employee was “caliber”?

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Can you consider yourself a success in the art world if your drawing ends up in an Advil Sinus Formula TV commercial as an “artist’s depiction of nasal passage”?

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If I ever decide to open a hair-styling salon (admittedly an unlikely occurrence), I want to use a name as clever as all the “Hair We Are” establishments already out there. My business would be called “Turn Your Head and Coif”.

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When Brett Favre fills out his income tax return, do you think he writes “Viking” under occupation? If so, can he deduct the cost of pillaging supplies?

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The guy at the drive-thru in front of me at Taco Bell last night had his order come to $16.85. How is it even possible to spend that much at Taco Bell? Was he buying the whole franchise?

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How spoiled have I become when I walk 30 feet out of the way while exiting Target so that I can use the automatic door?

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Area squirrel hunters have petitioned the state wildlife commission not to move hunting season up by three weeks, because they’re concerned about orphaning the babies before they’re able to care for themselves. Wouldn’t it just be easier to get some tiny shotguns?

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Thanks to all the readers who commented on my Friday post about that personal health problem that I would’ve been better off not mentioning. I especially want to thank former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle for his sympathetic observation. And to those who wrote with concerns that my regular Friday feature, the Website Review, had been discontinued, I want to say I appreciate your support and hope that the new Friday theme — a weekly report on which parts of my body are leaking — will be equally popular.    

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We just finished our annual employee survey at work. We were given ten days to answer 30 questions about how well the company was doing to provide a “positive work environment.” The multiple-choice questionnaire offered three types of answers: you could register your contentment at five different points between extremely satisfied and extremely dissatisfied; you could strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with a statement; and you could comment on the frequency of good behavior by your supervisor.    

It was this last series that I had the most trouble with. Continuously responding “sometimes” instead of “always,” “almost always” and “never” started sounding suspicious, like the answers a child might give about his abusive parents after being taken into protective services. “Is your supervisor accessible?” Sometimes. “Does your supervisor provide recognition?” Sometimes. “Does your supervisor administer policies fairly?” Sometimes.    

It was the final request that gave everyone the most pause: “Please feel free to provide any additional feedback in the space below.” It’s not really a question, so that immediately throws you off balance a little. I suppose you could respond “no” but doubt that would be any better than simply leaving it blank. The survey is anonymous, however they ask so many questions about how long you’ve been with the company, what department you’re in and what site you’re located at, that you know they could narrow it down if they wanted to.    

Do I want to honestly express my true concerns about certain aspects of the work that are less fulfilling than they should be? Will any suggestions be taken seriously, as an opportunity for the company to improve its performance? Is this where I mention that I don’t like it when my boss touches me?    

I’m going with the blank.    

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We recently had a new motion-sensing towel dispenser installed in the men’s room at work. The first few times I tried to use it, the paper was not coming out easily. I started experimenting to see what type of motion it preferred. I tried waving, rotating, seizing spastically, obscene-gesturing, wiggling and combing my hair, all of which worked sporadically at best.    

Finally, I tried being a little more friendly, offering a hand-shake. This showed promise, though the narrow surface of my extended palm felt insubstantial. At last, I settled on the fist-bump, which works perfectly.    

Detect this!

The card reader on the door that leads back into the office allows access only to those who have the properly badge. There’s a clip attached that lets you to hang the badge wherever you want, though the reader itself is located about belly high. There’s really not a good place to display it on your clothing, so I keep it stuffed in my shirt pocket.    

Consequently, I find myself offering a ceremonial Japanese bow whenever I want to enter the door. It might look silly but it feels very cosmopolitan.    

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Let me get this straight. Not only do I have to slave away at work each day advising investment bankers how to use the proper language to document their screwing of the American taxpayer… not only do I have to abide annoying coworkers who even now are talking about their daughter’s dance class… not only do I have to fill out surveys and fear HR gunmen and dance around in front of the paper towel dispenser. But also, in order to see how much I’ve been underpaid for these thankless tasks, I have to “remove side edges first, then fold, crease and tear this stub along perforation” to open my pay stub. Four specific verbs to open an envelope, performed in a specific order. So much work.

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The obituary section of the local paper allows the family of the deceased to choose which action verb best describes their loved one’s demise. Most choose “died” or “passed away,” simple and to the point. Some get a little creative (“sadly left us” or “joined the church eternal”) while others get a little crazy (“stepped over the narrow bridge we call death and landed safe in the arms of Jesus”).

When I pass, I want it said that “Davis used the restroom one last time, complained about Cavaliers’ turnovers in their game against the Lakers, turned the channel to MSNBC, and then was consumed by spontaneous combustion as he stepped into a hopeless, endless void.”

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Extracted from the interior of a "Deluxe McGriddle," this is supposedly an egg

Revisited: Amusing ads from the local paper

January 24, 2010

Yesterday, I wrote about (made fun of) some of the news items I found amusing in our small hometown newspaper. Today I’m going to mock the advertising side of operations.

From an ad for a local car dealer: “Free breakfast with the purchase of any new or previously owned vehicle.” Some are offering thousands of dollars in cash back, some are giving away gas cards, one carmaker is even offering to take the car back with no obligations if you lose your job. But how many will give you a cup of coffee and a free McMuffin (and hash browns) with your new Ford Focus?

From another desperate car dealer: “All credit applications accepted.” Note that they used the word “accepted,” not “processed,” “read,” “considered,” or “acted upon.” This same dealer also offers something special on their website: “up to 60 photos per car.” I would never consider buying a car online with only 40 or 50 photos, but somehow 60 seems like the right minimum.

From a fitness center trying to lure new customers with the high quality of their personal trainers: “Not all personal trainers are equal. At BOROCK, our standards are high. Our trainers are specially eductated [sic] to offer you the best in fitness.” Proof positive that you don’t have to be a good speller in order to clean and jerk 350 pounds.

From the county’s newest independent assisted-living facility: “Enhanced dementia care. Beside Outback Steak House.” The convenience of this set-up is that if your elderly Alzheimer’s-addled loved one does wander away from supervision, you know where you’ll find them – face down in a Bloomin’ Onion.

From a furniture store promoting a mattress sale: “Purchase any Tyndall Pedic Visco Memory Foam Mattress Set during this sale and receive a $1000 shopping spree.” That’s a lot of adjectives to describe a mattress set. But even more interesting is the adjacent picture of an astronaut fully dressed-out for an extra-vehicular spacewalk. The apparent connection is that the mattress features three layers of “certified space technology,” whatever that is. Among other features of the bedding listed in a bulleted checklist: “fibromyalgia, hands tingle, lower back pain, pain sitting at desk, nervous leg syndrome, diabetes, pain driving, arthritis, hurting shoulders, many other sleep problems.” These are listed as features that will come with the mattress, but I’m pretty sure they mean these problems will be alleviated, not imparted.

From the owner of an air conditioning and heating firm that suffers from the sad but silent epidemic of mental illness which accompanies price reductions everywhere: “AM I CRAZY? I’m offering my $179 furnace super tune-up for only $89… and I guarantee your system won’t break down this winter or this service is FREE!!!” Accompanying the offer is photo of owner Charlie Reid, known to his friends as the “King of Comfort.” I just love a promotion that offers you more of the same defective product or service if you’re not satisfied the first time. “If you don’t like our meatloaf lunch special, here, have another one.”

From another heating and cooling company, this one a bit punctuation-challenged: “Comfort you can depend on, is just a phone call away.” The ad also proclaims “from all of us to you – Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Speaking of Jesus, the most touching of all advertisements in the paper are those located on the obituary pages, remembering beloved family members who have passed on. An elderly lady who died in 2004 is wished “Merry Christmas on your fifth Christmas with Jesus.”

Obituary pages, though very sad for obvious reasons, have a certain something about them I’ll be addressing in a future posting. Look for it soon.

Revisited: Breaking news from the local paper

January 23, 2010

Being an old guy, I’m understandably a fan of old media, or what we used to call newspapers. I remember how excited I was the first time I had my picture in the local paper, as an awkward preteen caught in mid-air jump during a tryout for a local production of “The Sound of Music.” A few years later, I had a letter to the editor published that espoused human rights for broccoli in The Miami Herald. I spent many hours I should’ve been sitting in college classes instead working for the student newspaper, where my big achievement was planting a story about a meeting of the Streakers Club, which ultimately led to a mention in Newsweek magazine and a nationwide craze.

If that’s not the most bizarre career arc in journalism, it’s probably pretty close. I applied for a few editorial positions with publications as esteemed as the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat and the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer after college, but fortunately for everybody involved I didn’t get the jobs. Still, I’ve remained a life-long news junkie, subscribing to a number of papers (two).

In many ways, my favorite is the small local daily in my mid-sized South Carolina city. It’s a surprisingly professional periodical with just enough small-town amateurism to keep me unintentionally entertained. Today and tomorrow, I’m going to highlight a few of the more memorable features I’ve encountered in the last month. We’ll start with the news side of the operation.

From a “Fireworks primer” published during the holiday season: “Shooting fireworks from a moving vehicle or at a vehicle is prohibited. Nominate a ‘designated shooter’ for your fireworks display if alcoholic drinks are part of your plans. Let neighbors know your plans – hearing firecrackers explode unexpectedly outside the window can be a shock.” You think?

From “Deaths in the news”: “George Francis, the nation’s oldest man, died Saturday. He was 112. The UCLA gerontologist who maintains a list of the world’s oldest people says the oldest living person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who is 115.” Or at least she was a living person at press time.

From “(Local) woman hopes for return of stolen Jesus”: “(She) has set up a crèche every year in the yard of her home for as long as she can remember. The two stolen figures [a wise man was also snatched] can’t be replaced, she said, because she bought them four or five years ago from Carolina Pottery, which has since (gone out of business.)”

From a correction: “In a story about actor David Spade donating $100,000 to the Phoenix police, the AP erroneously reported the first name of a Phoenix police spokesman. His name is Andy Hill.” You would’ve thought the error was going to be that David Spade even had $100,000.

From the sports section: “Practice starts Jan. 12 for men’s (college) golf, with the season opener set for Feb. 15 at the Rice Intercollegiate. Practice starts Jan. 12 for women’s golf, with the season opener set for Feb. 22 in Kiawah Island.” Nothing matches the excitement of college golf – the pep band, the cheerleaders, the tailgating, the ceremonial washing of the balls…

From “Religious recordings hidden in dolls”: “Jennifer Calandra bought dolls at Wal-Mart for her daughters shortly after Thanksgiving. What she ended up with was a baby doll that says ‘Islam is the light.’ Calandra said she thought she was going crazy. She exchanged the doll for another but the second doll said the same thing. ‘It’s not really something you want to hear coming from a doll,’ she said. The doll’s message has sparked a lot of questions from her 7-year-old daughter about religious tolerance. She wants to know why it’s wrong to say ‘Islam is the light.’”

From the veteran local gardening columnist: “The kids are here! The grandkids are here! They were throwing a party for us so of course I had to get a hairdo. First let me tell you about the party tables. Each had three candlesticks, special ornaments turned upside-down and secured with double-sided tape, and a bed of greenery. The theme was repeated outdoors using large concrete urns filled with kitty litter. I ventured into the foggy night to gather more greenery … golden mophead cypress and Siberian Iris seedpods and twigs. What a difference those twigs make! It was nearly 3 a.m. when I brushed my teeth, glanced into the mirror and went into shock. My pretty hairdo was long gone, a victim of our misty foray into the woods.”

Finally, from two separate letters to the editor: “We recently attended the Cheer for Children Charity event and were really impressed. The crowd was lively, loud and good. Meaningful gifts were distributed.” And the other letter: “There are several states that have God on their license plates. Yet even though the plate costs $29 and gives Christians their first amendment rights for free expression, the judge shot it down. Separation of church and state doesn’t apply when Muslim students are allowed to pray in school several times a day, or where taxpayer money was used to provide foot baths so these students could clean their feet before praying.”

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some local advertising.

It’s time to leak the truth

January 22, 2010

In 1979, there was an accident at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania called Three Mile Island (TMI). Initial reports indicated there was a small explosion and perhaps some minor injuries. It wasn’t until later in the first day that it became known there was a significant leak of radioactive materials, into both the air and the ground.

As details unfolded in the week that followed, the public learned that we had narrowly avoided a so-called “China Syndrome,” in which the core of the reactor would melt deep into the earth. Groundwater could’ve been contaminated and the air could’ve been filled with poisonous gases. Pennsylvania could’ve become even more inhabitable than it already was. Fear gripped the nation as more and more details were released and we imagined what might have been.

Ever since this near-catastrophe, whenever anyone is given too much information about something fearsome and repulsive, we call it “TMI”.

The following post may contain TMI. Sensitive readers should — wait, this is the Internet; sensitive readers shouldn’t be a problem.

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I didn’t do a real good job this year of coming up with worthy New Year’s resolutions. In the past, I’ve promised myself I’d lose weight or be more thrifty, and generally did a good job of follow-through all the way into February. I’ve put the ambitious agendas aside this year, and decided instead to work on smaller, more achievable goals.

The main improvement initiative I’m undertaking currently is to pick up things that have fallen on the ground. I’m still okay with stuff that’s supposed to be down there — pebbles, earthworms, the drunken homeless — but I’m trying to put forth a real effort to make my world a better place with the simple act of bending down and retrieving discarded litter. Some people have chosen to help earthquake victims; I’m thinking that charity begins at home, in an approximately three-foot radius of where I’m standing.

Pride is picking up

The real fact of the matter is that I’m contributing a lot of this debris on my own. Maybe I shouldn’t be so self-congratulatory for picking up after myself, and yet it still gives me a warm feeling to know I’m working to clean up our environment. Just because the trash is of my own making shouldn’t discount the substantial effort it takes for someone my age to squat.

It’s because of these “warm feelings” that I’ve been creating such a mess in my wake. You see, I have a problem that confronts many men in their 50s, and I’ve been using small wads of paper stuffed into my shorts to address it. I have a problem with dribbling.

In my younger days, I enjoyed many an afternoon in a robust workout on the basketball court. I’ve never had much of a vertical leap and my three-point shot rarely found the hole, but I’ve always been a good ball handler, even perfecting a behind-the-back crossover that frequently left me open for a layup. What’s been hurting my game in the gym lately is that the floor tends to get a little slippery when I have to splash through a puddle of my own urine.

Really, that’s an exaggeration. My touch of incontinence doesn’t result in the kind of fashionable gushers we’ve recently seen in concert from a certain female singer for the Black Eyed Pees (spelling?). The difficulty I have isn’t the uncontrollable release that wetted Fergie in the midst of all her booming and powing; rather, what I’ve experienced is the drop or two trickle that lies in wait until I’m all zipped up and heading back to my desk. It’s not outwardly noticeable, and I don’t think it’s causing any kind of hazardous spill that could injure or sicken my co-workers. It’s just that warm, then cold, moistness that suddenly shocks your upper thigh and reminds you a little too vividly of what it was like to be young. Very young.

Fellow incontinent Fergie

My solution to this embarrassment is to wad up a piece of bathroom tissue, forming a hood that contains the tiny spill. My slacks hold this cap in place just long enough to catch any fleeting beads, until the wad gradually works its way down my leg and I can pull it out and deposit it in the can. It’s a pretty good system, as long as you can subtly pivot at every turn to check your tracks and make sure you’re not depositing a trail of crumbs like some latter-day Hansel and Gretel.

So that’s how I’ve gotten into the habit of stooping down to pick up debris. If I’m doing it often enough that people who witness the act think I’m just being a conscientious employee concerned about the appearance of the office, then they won’t be suspicious if they happen to notice the tile comet sliding down my ankle. Only once has anyone commented on the emergent hat, and I was able to laugh that off by claiming it was a dryer sheet.

Well, I’m tired of laughing at myself over a situation that plagues so many otherwise hygienic people. “No matter how you shake and dance, the last drop’s always on your pants” makes for a playful adolescent rhyme, but I’m sick of having it ringing in my ears every 90 minutes like some particularly bizarre ABBA tune. For too long, the slightly incontinent have hidden in the shadows, peeing themselves in shame, paralyzed by the ever-present fear that someone will shine a light into that shadow and scare us into a lethal blockage. I say enough is enough. It’s time I was praised for my ingenuity instead of disgraced for a thoroughly natural glitch in my plumbing.

If we’re going to leak, let us leak with pride. Let’s take the steps we must in order to preserve a sanitary home and workplace, yet let us not feel as guilty as if we were responsible for some awful catastrophe.

It’s not as though the leak were radioactive.