Matt Taibbi’s blistering new book is fabulous. The best ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” you’re going to see. And Billy Joel serenades Christie Brinkley (again).

Ferguson

**Just got home and am watching some of the disgusting and disturbing video of the Ferguson, Mo. police firing on peaceful protesters, arresting journalists (and tear-gassing them, above), and turning the town into a military state. What country are we living in, again?

Long, long ago there used to be a great newspaper tradition of the “muckraking journalist,” guys like Upton Sinclair and Mike Wallace who would expose corruption, fraud and the incredible double standards that exists in the law between rich and poor, black and white, etc.

Matt Taibbi is probably the best “muckraker” working today; he has written incredible stories for “Rolling Stone” and other publications for years, and his latest book, “The Divide,” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for months.

I finally got around to reading it this week, and it is sensational. It made me angry, sad, made me laugh and shake my fist, sometimes all in the same paragraph. This is a really, really important book.

Taibbi takes on several different topics in the book, including the appalling behavior of the police when dealing with minorities, immigration laws and discrimination, and the 2008 financial crisis that saw so many financial institutions commit crimes, yet no one went to jail.

What runs through every section is the incredible divide between the haves and have nots, that the same crime committed by a Hispanic man in Los Angeles will be punished differently than if it’s committed by a while middle-class professional in Chicago. The world poor people live in and rich people live in isn’t even in the same universe anymore, Taibbi argues.

Using personal stories that will shock you (the most shocking one comes at the end, involving a white musician and police brutality) and make you think, Taibbi’s reporting is terrific, and he breaks down complex financial crimes so that even non-money whizzes can understand them (his work on the Fairfax financial scam is the best part of the book).

It’s appalling how certain groups are treated in America. I knew it was bad, I knew as a white middle-class guy I had it pretty good. But this book showed me just how very far we have to go to achieve any sort of justice and equality for all.

You can buy “The Divide” here. Definitely recommend it.

 

**So this ALS Ice Bucket Challenge thing has gone viral super-fast; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m guessing you haven’t been on the Internet this week, but a quick explanation: In a brilliant attempt to raise money and awareness of the awful disease (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the ALS Association has gotten celebrities of all stripes to take the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which consists of a person allowing another person to dump a Gatorade jug of ice and freezing cold water over their head.

Football players are doing it, actors are doing it, hell, some 9-year-old friend of my nephew’s at day camp did it too; the other part that keeps it going is that after you suffer the freezing cold, you challenge three other people to do it too.

This one I embedded above, though, has to be the coolest one yet; hockey player Paul Bissonnette on top of a mountain, getting glacier water poured on him, from a dude in a helicopter.  So great.

The ALS Foundation reports the challenge has raised more than $2 million already; if you would like to donate, please click here.

**Finally, it’s great to be Billy Joel sometimes. Last week the music icon was doing a concert at Madison Square Garden and spotted Christie Brinkley, his ex-wife and the woman about whom he wrote the song “Uptown Girl” back in the 1980s, sitting in the crowd.

So of course he then launched into “Uptown Girl” and had his video cameraman film her reaction (at the end you can see her). So, so cool.

And how the hell does Christie Brinkley still look so amazing at 60-plus?

Remembering the manic genius (and acting chops) of the great Robin Williams. And a baby laughs uproariously because that’s what babies do sometimes.

I once saw a TV special where the legendary comedian Alan King was asked to talk about Robin Williams.

He paraphrased the old Bobby Jones quote about Jack Nicklaus; Jones saw the young golfing phenom and said “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”

King said the same thing about Robin Williams: “I’ve been doing standup for over 50 years, and he and I aren’t in the same business. We’re not even from the same planet.”

Robin Williams literally played a man from another planet once on TV, but in reality he pretty much lived up to King’s quote. He was manic and zany and hilarious and impossible to interview in a serious way, since he ping-ponged around a room at warp speed.

You will read and hear a lot today about this incredible talent, who succumbed to the darker angels of his nature and took his own life on Monday, about how he fought depression for many years, about how even a man as famous and talented as Robin Williams can be brought down by this crippling disease.

I want to share a few personal memories of Williams, one of them being that I find it fascinating that for all his comic gifts, his two best movie roles were in dramatic performances: “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting.”

When I was a kid one of the things my best friends Marc, Andrew and I used to do on Saturday nights was rent VHS tapes of comedy specials of our favorite comedians. (yes, I know we were super-cool.)
We would watch Billy Crystal, Howie Mandel and Jerry Seinfeld and laugh our heads off; I looked forward to those nights so much.

One night we rented Robin Williams’ “A Night At the Met,” and I was completely blown away. He was insanely funny, completely impossible to follow, and I remember not understanding half the jokes but realizing this is someone very, very different.

I watched the above clip late tonight, and laughed really hard again. Robin Williams was a comic genius, and he will be missed, and if his death shines a light on the depression millions of Americans far less famous than he suffer through, then that’s a good thing.

But that a 63-year-old man beloved by millions decided he couldn’t go on one more day, that’s just an indescribable tragedy.

And now, on a lighter note: A baby, some music, and a remote control that makes him deliriously happy. I hope this is all it takes to one day entertain my child…

4 weeks till fatherhood, and I think I’m ready. The O’Bannon case should help kill the NCAA. And Jason Sudeikis hilarious again as a English soccer coach

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I’ve read that there are a whole bunch of stages you go through when you’re about to become a father.

There’s the “oh my God!” initial excitement when you find out your wife is pregnant, as something you’ve hoped for for a long time is finally going to come true in nine months.
Then there’s the growing panic and anxiety, as you start to read about all the things you have to do get ready, how expensive, time-consuming and life-changing children are, and how your life will never be the same.

Then there’s the “acceptance” stage, where things start to calm down, followed by more anxiety, then calm, then anxiety again when you realize you only bought three changing pad liners and is that going to be enough? (Your emotional mileage may vary).

In about four weeks, a human being who didn’t used to be there will suddenly appear, and be what I love more than anything in the world. He/she (we still aren’t finding out the gender, which seems to annoy several of our relatives) will be completely foreign to my wife and I, yet we will very quickly learn the joys and frustrations of parenthood, and it’ll be awesome.

It’s funny; for most of my beautiful wife’s pregnancy, I’ve been the Nervous Nellie, worried about accidentally dropping the baby and what if they won’t stop crying and how am I going to handle being a stay-at-home father, and all the other things new parents worry about.

But in the last few weeks, my mind has settled. I’m no longer frantic, I’m no longer making my wife crazy with my constant worry, and basically, I’m ready for this baby to show up.

Our apartment is too, with the crib (above) coming in last Friday, and us clearing out most of a Long Island Buy Buy Baby store on Sunday, buying “immediate essentials” we’ll need for the first few weeks.

Last night while I couldn’t sleep I was literally lying awake thinking of how excited I am, instead of terrified.

I’m sure the terror will come back once those hospital doors close behind us and it’s just us and this tiny bundle of joy, and suddenly we’re totally responsible for keeping them safe and alive.

But right now, I can’t wait to get started.

**Next up, you may remember last year when NBC Sports started showing Premier League games, they did a hilarious commercial featuring Jason Sudekis as Ted Lasso, an American coach trying to learn to coach soccer.

Well Ted Lasso is back, and he’s just about as funny as he was before. He almost makes me want to watch soccer. Almost.

**Finally, a major ruling came down Friday that looks like it will finally set the stage for end of the prostitution of college athletes by the NCAA and its member universities.

The long-awaited Ed O’Bannon case was concluded, with Judge Cynthia Wilken siding with the ex-players, who were suing because their likenesses were being used in video games and other merchandise without notice or compensation.

Finally, legal proof that it’s insane how much these kids are taken advantage of, both during their college careers and afterwards. I know it’s not going to lead to immediate, huge changes like paying athletes or giving them, you know, some more actual benefits they can use, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. For far too long the NCAA has made billions off the backs of these athletes, and finally, finally, the tide is turning a little. (Here’s a really good legal explanation of what the ruling means)

Good News Friday: A bride photobombs her future husband in childhood beach photo. A 12-year-old races a triathlon with an awesome partner. And Noah Ritter, an adorable amusement park interviewee

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There are all types of sweet love stories out there, and no two are exactly alike.
I’d never heard of one like this before, but it’s all kinds of awesome. British newlyweds Aimee Maiden and Nick Wheeler were getting ready for their wedding when the couple went through old photos at his grandma’s house.

And there they found a picture of Nick building a sandcastle during childhood, and just behind him? Aimee, playing totally separately.

Twenty years later, they were married last month, just a few steps from that same beach.

So cool.

**Next, meet Noah Ritter, a little boy from Wayne County, PA who was interviewed by a news reporter last Friday about the fair.

Five-year-old Noah is so adorable here I want to adopt him. “Apparently” he had a great time.
Seriously, this kid is such a natural… I dare you not to smile at his humor.

(FYI, the video’s been seen 9 million times, and Noah’s been featured on several national TV shows since, and the Wayne County Fair is now selling “Apparently Kid” merchandise. We live in strange, strange times.)

teamethan

**Next up, a 12-year-old girl who totally fits the term “hero.”
Rachel Prior is a sweet, shy girl who lives in Cleveland. Four years ago she was in the same class as Ethan Fairhurst, who suffers from cerebral palsy and autism, and does not speak.

The two quickly became fast friends, so much so that Rachel decided she wanted to do something fantastic for Ethan: She got 21 of her friends together and they all signed up for the Cleveland Triathlon, and agreed to raise money for the United Cerebral Palsy foundation.

Even better, Rachel decided she would run the triathlon with Ethan, pushing him the whole way as part of “Team Ethan.”

Rachel and her friends have raised more than $1,100 for UCP, and the triathlon was a huge success.

I heard about this story on NPR’s always-terrific “Only a Game ” podcast, when they interviewed Rachel about her friend Ethan. Check that out here, and here’s a great story from Cleveland.com about their friendship.

What a good heart Rachel has. The future may not be in such bad shape after all.

 

A beautiful essay about the pain and joy of parenting. Justin Bieber’s music saves a man from a bear attack. And the scourge of “native advertising” skewered by John Oliver

There is so much beautiful heartfelt writing about parenthood that I’ve been reading lately that I feel like I could link to a different great piece every day.
My wife pointed out this one to me the other day and I thought it was painfully honest and excellently written, with heart and a little humor.

It’s from a blog called “Coffee + Crumbs,” billed as a “collaborative blog about motherhood,” and it’s by a woman named N’tima Preusser. She talks movingly about how difficult the first weeks and months of parenting can be, cutting through all the happy talk to describe what it could really be like if you have a difficult baby.

Here’s an excerpt:

The love you will feel is nothing like you have felt before. It will be foreign and familiar all at once. It will fill you to the very top of your heart, nearly spilling over. The thing about this kind of love, though, is that it can feel heavy. Disproportional. You may feel like you will nearly break in half from the top-heaviness. You will not be able to tell the difference between exhaustion and depression, and that darkness will rob you from what should be the most tender months of your daughter’s new life. 

Your baby will cry, a lot. Your days will both begin and end with the saddest screams you will ever hear. Your body will respond the way that it is programmed to – with panic. You will google everything from “dissecting baby poo” to “newborn who hates life.” And you will come up short. You will always come up short.

Your baby will only sleep in ten minute increments.
In a plastic rocking chair. (Don’t buy a plastic rocking chair.)
In the bathroom.
With the bath water running. 

You will feel like you are going mad, day after day, alone in that bathroom. Between the sound of the water running and her screams, you may feel like your nerve endings will be permanently frayed. 

At the endless ER trips that you take you will be written off as “The Paranoid New Mom.” (Press on.) They will give you pamphlets on “Colic,” and that just will not cut it. For awhile, nursing will be excruciating, and your baby will fight it, hard. Contrary to the laws of nature, Anabel will not come out knowing how to siphon milk from your body. Also, panic will flood your body when your milk lets down the majority of the time. Yes, breastfeeding induced anxiety attacks are a thing, and it will happen to you. (Hormones are jerks.)

Did I mention how depleted you will feel? 

And then toward the end, the essay takes a turn:

Though you may never have parenthood all figured out, there will be a day when you will find a way to wrap that love around yourself, instead of being buried in it. 

And though it is hard to believe, one day you will have a vivacious, smart, and unbelievably happy little girl. A girl that absolutely adores the world. And you will have clean hair, and time to make breakfast for yourself in the morning. 

You will.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Bieber.Bear

**Next up, a story I think all people around the world can appreciate: How Justin Bieber’s music saved a man’s life.

Check out this story: A Russian fisherman was walking in the woods and was suddenly attacked by a bear and pretty much torn limb from limb.
He most likely would’ve been killed in a manner of seconds, until his cell phone rang, and the ringtone was The Beeb’s “Baby Baby Baby,” a tune that was put on the Russian man’s phone by his granddaughter, he claimed (yeah, sure!).

The bear was so scared it let go of the man and scampered away, leaving him looking like this (above) but still alive.

Justin Bieber, life-saver! Or, you know, this story is proof that even savage, attacking animals are repelled by his songs.

**And finally, John Oliver tackled a subject near and dear to my heart as an ex-journalist: Native Advertising, i.e., the scourge and increasing frequency of major newspapers allowing “paid content” to masquerade as news stories, hardly indistinguishable in look from actual newspaper stories. (Here’s a particularly noxious example)
It’s disgraceful and awful and sadly apparently necessary for newspapers’ survival, and completely blurs the line between news and advertising. Happily, John Oliver bitingly digs into it.

 

Seeing Jeter for the last time live brings back memories. An awesome prank involving a football player and a mannequin. And the coolest used car ad you’ll see

Jeterflip

Not much about baseball makes me nostalgic anymore; I just don’t love the sport like I used to. I go to far fewer games, watch hardly any baseball on TV, and follow the sport only casually.

But Derek Jeter playing his farewell season with the Yankees definitely required one final trip to the giant museum that contains a baseball field in the Bronx, so Monday night my wife, father-in-law and I went to the Stadium to see No. 2 one final time.

And it stirred up lots of feelings and thoughts about the guy who’s been manning shortstop for the Bombers since 1996.

Mostly, I felt grateful that Jeter brought so much joy and life back to the Yanks. You have to remember, for most of the 1980s and early ’90s, my childhood Yankee-loving was filled with misery. George Steinbrenner spent way too much money on mediocre free agents, and traded away so many good young prospects that it became a joke.

Only, Jeter was drafted and developed at a time Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball and couldn’t interfere in the team, and thank God for that.

Because Jeter was special pretty much from Day 1. He was the starting shortstop on the ’96 Yankees team that won their first World Series, and he was way too calm for a 21-year-old. Throughout his career he’s always been unrattled in the clutch, and has looked so much like a leader that it’s almost a cliché to say he’s “the ultimate leader.”

Every Yankee fan has their favorite Jeter memory; mine will always be the “flip play” against Oakland that nailed Jeremy Giambi at the plate.

Jeter exuded class on and off the field (if he ever gets busted for steroid use, I’m pretty sure the Internet would explode), and while sure, many Yankee haters insist he’s always been overrated (never a great fielder, his range has gotten less and less over the years), he represented the pinstripes in a classy way.

When he came up to bat for the first time Monday, the crowd rose and gave him a big hand, and chanted his name. Not sure if that’s happening every game at home this year, but it was a cool thing to see.

When Jeter goes, the last link to the Yankees’ dynasty will be gone. But it sure was damn fun to watch No. 2 play.

**Next up, most of these prank videos you see on Facebook and YouTube are pretty lame, but this one made me laugh out loud, even though its fairly juvenile.

At the entrance to the Clemson football building there are mannequins dressed in Tigers uniforms greeting players and visitors. Current Clemson QB Cole Stoudt decided to have some fun by dressing up as a mannequin and scaring people who walked in.
The hilarity starts at the :50 mark, though my favorite reaction is at 1:50.

**And finally, this guy from Australia goes through an awful lot of trouble to sell his used car. But it’s definitely way better than just putting an ad in the paper, don’t you think?

“The Big Bang Theory” stars want more money: I ruminate on TV shelf lives. An incredibly cool soccer goal. And Jim Kelly keeps fighting

The Countdown Reflection

Sometimes you just don’t know which side to take in a contract dispute. Like this one:
In news that matters only in the entertainment world, the cast of the “Big Bang Theory” is holding out for more money. Production on the upcoming season of the show has been delayed, and Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, etc. are asking for up to $1 million per episode (right now Parsons, Cuoco and Johnny Galecki get about $325,000 per.)

CBS has balked, thinking those demands are a little outrageous, and so now the show’s 8th season may be delayed.

When I saw a news story about it, I kinda shrugged, because contract demands made by actors are pretty common. But I started thinking about it and I realized that each side has a really good argument.

First, the actors: Cuoco and Parsons and Galecki were pretty much nobodies before “Big Bang” started; I mean, Galecki was Becky’s boyfriend on “Roseanne” but that was way long ago. So to them, “Big Bang” is their only shot at the big-time, and they want to earn as much as possible before doing Lifetime Movies of the Week for the rest of their lives. (Parsons would be the exception; dude has shown he can really act, in “The Normal Heart” and other projects.)

So sort of like athletes hit their primes, these actors are in their prime and want to make as much money as possible. They also know they’ve got huge value to CBS,  as a bona fide hit program the network wants on the schedule that brings in millions of ad revenue.
So yeah, I totally get why the actors are holding out for more money.

Then, though, I’m with CBS, too. These actors were nothing without this show, and if they really are stupid enough to throw it away because they’re not quite rich enough, let ‘em.
Show them the career trajectories of David Caruso after leaving “NYPD Blue,” or Rob Lowe after leaving “The West Wing,” and watch how quickly they fall. You think Galecki or Cuoco are irreplaceable? You think a hit show is irreplaceable? No way.
So if I’m CBS, sure, I’d be pissed if I lost or delayed the season of a hit show over the stars’ salaries, but I’d also ask the actors how greedy they really need to be, and if it’s worth throwing away the best thing they’ll ever do just for a few more dollars.

Anyway, I’m rambling here, but I think stuff like this is fascinating. Who will blink first?

**And now, a pretty incredible soccer goal by a guy named Junior Dutra, in something called the Jupiler League.

Best bicycle kick I’ve ever seen.

**And finally, I’ve written about Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s battle with cancer before, and now ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” show has put together a fabulous piece on Kelly and his struggle, told just through the eyes and voices of Kelly and his family.
Get the Kleenex out, this is a beautiful piece. (If the embedded video doesn’t work anymore, try this link.

A Jets player literally helps people smile. 4 minutes of people saving animals. And an app that could stop domestic violence

aboushi.jets Yet another week of miserable news in the world (really Israel? Bombing a school full of sleeping children? Thank God for a 72-hour ceasefire announced Thursday night), but here at Wide World of Stuff we press on with Good News Friday, designed to make you smile. Speaking of making you smile, there’s a still-obscure New York Jets offensive lineman named Oday Aboushi who, in the offseason, literally helped kids smile. Aboushi was part of a five-day surgical mission by the Islamic Medical Association of North America in early March to repair cleft lips in the African country of Sudan. IMANA Medical Relief’s volunteer SaveSmile team of doctors and nurses operated on infants as young as a few months old to young adults in their early 20s.  Aboushi actually assisted with giving patients IV’s before surgery. “You’re bringing them into the operating room and then a few minutes later, you’re bringing them out and they look like a totally different person,” Aboushi said. “Their parents are in tears, they’re so grateful.” If he never plays a down for my beloved Jets this season, Aboushi’s already had a fantastic year. Animals are one of the few things that bring pretty much all people together. Loyal blog reader Sanford pointed me to this video from Animals Australia that shows heroic rescues from around the world. Really, really awesome stuff. **Finally today, this was pointed to me by the fine folks at Upworthy.com, and even though it’s a clip from the Dr. Phil show, it’s worth watching anyway. It’s about a fairly new app called ASPIRE News, and it’s used to help women who are the victims of abuse and domestic violence. It’s fairly ingenious and if it saves one woman from the pain of being attacked, it’s well worth it. Check it out above.

 

 

A fantastic solution to cell phone slow-walkers. A Dodgers ace tries to throw at Jimmy Kimmel’s head. And Dirk Hayhurst with a blistering story on sex in minor league baseball.

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Maybe it’s because I live in a big city where we walk everywhere, but few things frustrate me more while I’m out running around NYC then incredibly slow and distracted pedestrians talking or texting on their cell phones.

I mean, these people bob and weave more than Ali trying to stay away from Joe Frazier, and you try to get past them several times before maybe, finally, they’ll put their phone away and, you know, walk in a straight line!

Yes, I know it’s not as dangerous as those fools who text and drive, but still… something needs to be done, right?

Thankfully, the people of Washington, D.C. have done something innovative about the problem, or so I thought: Yep, they’ve created a cellphone-only walking lane on one sidewalk. (See above).

Sadly though, as I read the story, it turns out National Geographic Channel had done the re-decorating, for a TV special they were filming.

Still, it’s a hell of an idea. Let’s hope it happens for real.

**Next up, this is pretty awesome: Dodgers ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw trying to knock an apple off the head of Jimmy Kimmel.

I’m actually surprised it took Kershaw so many tries to do it; maybe he was just afraid of smacking Kimmel with an errant throw.

**Finally today, a disturbing but absorbing story by the great Dirk Hayhurst, former major league pitcher who has written three excellent books about baseball, which I’ve raved about on the blog here before.

Hayhurst pulled back the curtain on the sexual escapades of his teammates during the 2003 minor league season, to show how incredibly twisted ideas of manhood are in pro sports.

This is not an easy read; it’s quite vulgar, you’ll be repulsed by much of the behavior of these boys (don’t even ask what “riding the train” meant to these guys), and Hayhurst, you could argue, is a day late and a dollar short bringing all this to light now.

But it’s a sensational piece of writing, and it shows just how far we as a culture have to go to re-program young boys, especially athletes, that women are not simply sex objects to use and throw away. This kind of behavior happens everywhere, maybe not to this extreme, but everywhere in sports.

It must stop.

Keith Olbermann in rare form, on sexism in sports. John Oliver nails nuclear weapon security. And Gladwell’s latest book was just OK

Keith Olbermann is a man who just can never stand prosperity.

Several times in his career the broadcaster has been in great spots, able to reach millions of people. And each time, he’s proven he absolutely cannot play well with others, and has gotten fired.

Now he’s got a half-hour show on ESPN that very few people watch, and the rage and brilliance that many of us used to love on MSNBC (some of his “Special Comments” were incredibly powerful) now pretty much gets ignored by TV viewers.

Every once in a while, he still hits one out of the park, though. The other night Olbermann was outraged, as many were, that Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was suspended by the NFL for just two games for beating his wife unconscious in Atlantic City last spring.

Here’s Olbermann with a blistering, beautiful takedown of Rice, the NFL, and sexism in sports:

**Next up, the great and consistently brilliant “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver took on the absurdity of America, the one superpower left, still owning more than 4,000 nuclear weapons, then looked at how piss-poor our security of said weapons are.

So funny, but also a little scary:

DAVID AND GOLIATH

**Finally, another mini-book review. I thoroughly enjoyed the first three of Malcolm Gladwell’s enormously-successful books: “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” and “Outliers.” I hadn’t read anything like the stories Gladwell told, and his analysis of seemingly-banal topics like why so many top hockey players are born in January, or how an unlikely lawyer rose to head one of New York’s top firms, were really interesting and taught me a lot about how the world works.

So I was pumped to read “David and Goliath,” his new book that came out a few months ago. I just finished it, and it was … OK. Not great. Not groundbreaking. Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to the Gladwell formula, but I sort of saw where he was going with a lot of his stories of underdogs overcoming huge odds.

I did really like some of the tales, like the billionaire software guy (Ranek Vanidive) taking over as coach of his daughter’s grade-school basketball team and turning them into winners just by pressing the entire game, and the last section of the book, about the man who pushed very hard for California’s “three strikes and you’re out” crime law and the unintended consequences it had, was riveting.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought “David and Goliath” was the weakest of Gladwell’s books.