Monthly Archives: July 2009

The World’s Fastest Everything-in 5 minutes

So I’m a sucker for those Guinness Book of World Records stories you always see on the news, or on the Internet.

I admire anyone who’s willing to suck it up and go for the glory, no matter how ridiculous the record may be.

When I was interning at the Tennessean in Nashville in the summer of ’96, I covered what I thought was an awesome event: They were trying to set the world record for most people playing the same song on the guitar at once. (What song was it, you ask? “Hound Dog,” by Elvis Presley). It was a big deal; the Goo Goo Dolls showed up to help and everything.

They broke the record, but then of course a year later someone else broke that record, and on and on.

Anyway, thought you might enjoy this YouTube as much as I did; it’s a quick synopsis of the World’s Fastest everything: Pretty cool if you ask me; I was most impressed with the clapper guy and the stamper.

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Bush, Cheney, and the U.S. of Torture

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There are people in the Democratic Party who want to forget the last eight years. They want to move on and focus on the future.

They don’t think, despite having overwhelming evidence  that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the bumbling fools who ran our nation from 2001-2009 should be investigated for the way they tortured often-innocent people.

There is no longer any doubt whatsoever about what these men oversaw; go ahead and check out Jane Mayer’s fantastic and deeply troubling book The Dark Side, or read any of the hundreds of other newspaper and magazine articles detailing just how disgusting and lawless America’s leaders acted after 9/11.

I’m not going to recount all the offensive details here, but go ahead and type Abu Zubaydah, or, even better, Maher Arar, into Google and see what you come up with. Under the last administration, the Constitution was treated like a suggestion manual and all previous knowledge of the Geneva Conventions agreement was throw into the fireplace.

Now, finally, after eight years of complete unaccountability, of low-level soldiers and CIA and FBI agents taking the fall for what was done, the U.S. government is finally in a position to investigate the awful and despicable practices that were performed in the name of “protecting America.”

And yet … President Obama doesn’t seem to want to do it. Democrats in the Senate, with the courageous exception of Sen. Patrick Leahy, seem focused on not riling up the public, and the Republicans, by dredging up waterboarding and illegal and mistaken imprisonment.

I am disgusted and nauseated that members of my party don’t think this is worth investigating. We tortured and imprisoned hundreds of people in the last eight years, rounding them up, throwing them in jail, then asking later (or sometimes not even asking at all) what they were accused of doing.

Cheney and Co. put American lives in the present and future on the line with their blatant disregard for laws. You don’t think the soldier from Idaho who was just captured wished the United States had followed the international laws regarding prisoners of war?

As so many commentators and writers have already said, boil down all the arguments and excuses for torture and you still come up with this:

This is not who we are as a country. This is not what we stand for.

And yet, without a complete investigation into what happened, we will always appear like we condoned it. That while a few drunk-with-power politicians and devious lawyers like John Yoo put a blowtorch to America’s reputation, we stood and watched and kept our heads down.

Thankfully, not every Democrat has his or her head down. It looks like Attorney General Eric Holder is going to push for a prosecutor to investigate Bush-Cheney’s practices, and I sure as hell hope he gets his way on this.

As we try to repair our reputation in the world, it’s imperative we discover how bad the damage is. Think of it like this: Would you start fixing a broken-down car before fully looking into all its possible malfunctions?

Investigate. Torture. Now. No excuses whatsoever, Democrats.

This must be done, or the stain on the United States will grow larger and larger until it covers everything we hold sacred.

Tom Watson and more proof tennis is harder than golf

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So, I know hate is a strong word, but I really, really HATE golf. Hate it more than mushrooms or roller-coasters or the music of Slipknot.

I think golf is stupid and boring and as a tennis player, it often offends me when golf is considered a better, or tougher sport.

I hate losing friends to golf; that’s literally how I see it, like they’ve been taken by some evil force.

 Last week I was in Miami visiting one of my best friends, a guy who I grew up playing tennis with, a guy who played tennis his whole life. Only, the last few years, he’s taken up golf. The first time he told me he’d started playing, he was practically ashamed.

Now, he tells me sometimes on weekends he’ll watch golf on TV. If he’d told me he was from Planet Melmac, I’d have been less surprised (Ah, the greatness that was ALF.)

Anyway, so here’s why I’m writing this: A great sports story happened this weekend. 

Tom Watson, one of the greatest American golfers ever, was leading the British Open for three rounds, and came within an eyelash of winning the whole tournament. He lost in a playoff Sunday, and it was a great story, an old guy coming back to the scene of his greatest triumph, almost becoming the oldest man to ever win a golf major.

See, Watson is 59. And he had hip replacement surgery less than a year ago. And again, it’s a great story, and the best sportswriter going right now, Joe Posnanski, wrote a wonderful column about Watson.

But here’s my point: He’s a 59-year-old guy on one good hip. Can you imagine one of the four majors in tennis being won a 59-year-old guy on one good hip? It’s laughable.

 Golf people talk about how physically demanding the sport is at the pro level, and how you need to be in good shape, yada, yada, yada. But a 59-year-old who hasn’t played well in 20 years nearly wins one of the most important tournaments.

Tennis is the harder sport, the more athletic, the more physically demanding, whatever else you want to say.

And one more thing from this weekend of golf: Tiger Woods missed the cut. The great, amazing, unbelievable, he- can-walk-on-water-if-we-just-let-him-try hero of golf. He had a bad couple of days. Hey, it happens in that game.

But as SI tennis writer Jon Wertheim said on Twitter the other day, doesn’t that just put into perspective how amazing Roger Federer’s current streak of 21 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals is? Federer isn’t allowed to have a bad day; he has to be at his best seven straight matches over two weeks, or he’s done.

Tennis tournaments don’t give you a chance to recover, or make up ground somewhere else.

More proof that when you get right down to it, tennis is far, far superior to that game they play with clubs and white, dimpled balls.

Bob Dance and the little girl who haunts me

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Note: This post will only make perfect sense if you live in Central Florida, but the premise can be applied anywhere.

She haunts me.

She’s there when I wake up. She’s there when I go to sleep. She’s there when I’m fast-forwarding through tennis during a Grand Slam tournament, and she’s there when I’m watching live TV. She’s on every channel, all the time.

She’s in my head while I’m at work; she’s in my head when I’m at play. She’s always, always, ALWAYS, there.

And she’s so damn adorable that I sometimes feel guilty for wishing ill things on her father.

But this has got to stop. For months now, I’ve been bombarded by commercials for Bob Dance Kia and Bob Dance Hyundai. All of them are basically the same: Owner Scott Dance and his previously-mentioned cute as a button daughter, Grace, sit in a car, talk really fast, and repeat the same inane dialogue with the same ending catchphrase, delivered by the blonde, smiling Grace:

“Bob Dance, where everybody rides.”

I don’t blame the kid; her Dad asks her to be in a commercial, of course she’ll say yes. Wear a funny hat and outfit? Sure Dad! I mean look at her, who could say no to that face?

I blame the father, and I blame the people who decided to flood the Florida airwaves with their commercials. I wasn’t looking to buy a car in the last few months, but even if I was, I would not go to Bob Dance, ever. I have been hit over the head too many times with his commercials, to the point of making me NOT want to buy a product.

This happens all the time in advertising. That “Head-On” product that was so ubiquitous a few years ago on TV? Annoyed me too much to ever buy it. I’ve gone out of my way to not watch certain new Fox shows, simply because during the baseball playoffs they’ve been promoted every six seconds.

Don’t ad people understand there’s a fine line between consumer interest and consumer nausea? Don’t they get that by overloading your product onto the public, a backlash will ensue? (If you think I’m the only one made crazy by these Bob Dance commercials, click here.)

And furthermore, isn’t it a little creepy to whore out your kid to help you sell products?

I guess not, because it keeps happening.

Anyway, I can’t get this kid out of my head.

Right now, I just want the little girl in her cowboy hat to go away, far far away, and leave me alone with my L.A. Law reruns and my CNN and my “Rescue Me”(which, don’t even get me started, was AGAIN snubbed in the Emmy nominees).

Please, Mr. Dance, leave us alone. I’m sure you sell fine automobiles.

But if I see one more of your commercials, I’m driving to your factory and hurling something big through the showroom window while screaming “WHY?” at the top of my lungs.

I’m not a violent man. But there’s only so much a man can take.

Walter Cronkite and the death of a legend

MIL WHOM WE LISTEN TO 

 

People of my generation never got to experience the greatness of Walter Cronkite live.

We never got to hear, first-hand, his reporting of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in that sorrowful baritone of his. 

We never got to hear “Uncle Walter” report on the seminal civil rights moments of the 1960s. From Selma to Memphis, from Birmingham to Greensboro, Walter Cronkite watched a nation change.

 Unlike so many others, he didn’t try to stand in the way.

And  we never got to hear him announce, 40 years ago this week, the incredible news that a man had walked on the moon.

Listen to that clip and you can just hear the enthusiasm in his voice, and the awe that he’s feeling at that moment.

 It was the same awe that men and women, boys and girls were feeling all over America. But it was Cronkite who delivered it with just the right touch of class.

No, my generation was born to late to appreciate maybe the finest television journalist who ever lived. It was our loss.

Cronkite died Friday at 92, and I’m lucky enough to say that he and I were in the same business. He was a fantastic reporter long before he became the anchor of CBS Evening News from 1962-1981, where he was often called “The Most Trusted Man in America.” He covered World War II for CBS and the legendary Edward R. Murrow, and eventually rose to become anchor.

As much as anyone, he was THE voice of the 1960s. Whatever craziness happened in the world (murders, protests, the Vietnam War spiraling out of control) people turned to the well-dressed man with the thick black glasses for half an hour every night, to hear what really happened.

Can you even fathom that in 2009, a majority of Americans all turning to the same TV station for the evening news? I can’t. But to paraphrase Cronkite’s famous sign-off, that’s the way it was.

As you’ll read in so many of the obituaries of Cronkite, his most influential moment as an anchor came on Feb. 23, 1968, when he said that the Vietnam War was “mired in stalemate.” To which President Lyndon Johnson replied, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Again, unfathomable today, that a President would be so down about a critique from an anchor.

From everything I’ve ever read and seen about Cronkite, he was as classy as they come. It was always his enthusiasm that I remembered; watching documentaries about great news events of the past, Cronkite would come on and in that grandfatherly way of his, explain why this was so important, and he’d do it with a beautiful twinkle in his eye.

Now you can argue that news coverage is better today, with so many more channels and the Internet giving us so many different points of view. People were limited to only a few news outlets back then, and a good argument could be made that that wasn’t healthy.

But maybe I’m a news romantic; I think it was wonderful that Cronkite was the face of broadcast journalism for 19 years. His style and grace are unmatched by anyone who has come along since.

He lived a good, long life, and got to see and do things most of us will never dream of.

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror,” Cronkite once said about his craft, “and to tell and show the public what has happened.”

Few did it as well as Walter.

It’s funny, as I write this I keep thinking of the great sportswriter Jimmy Cannon’s line about Joe Louis when the famous black boxer died: “He was a credit to his race. The human race.”

So was Walter Cronkite.

R.I.P, Walter. You were an absolute legend, and you will be greatly missed.

Why Pete Rose should NOT be a Hall of Famer

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So it seems like every year, more and more of my fellow sportswriters want to forgive Pete Rose and put him in the Hall of Fame.

I don’t know why; guy is still, and has always been, a first-class jerk.  No one disputes anymore that he bet on baseball; even Pete admitted it a few years ago.

And at the end of the investigation that proved he gambled on his sport, which, unbelievably, was 20 years ago next month, just about everyone figured that was it: No Hall of Fame, despite his amazing career, with 4,256 hits.

Then, and for a long time, I thought he belonged in the Hall. Pete was one of my idols as a kid; I actually used to run down to first base on walks in Little League, just because he did. (Of course, being that I was afraid of the ball for several years, all I ever did was walk or strike out. Ah, Little League memories.)

So what if he had no ethics as a manager or lied for 15 years about betting, constantly denying that he ever bet on the sport he loved? Look what he did on the field, as a player, that’s all that matters.

That’s basically the point my friend Pearlman made on his blog made the other day. But he’s wrong, and as I’ve gotten older, I realized I was wrong, too.

Pete Rose should never, ever, ever be allowed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I know there are cheats enshrined all over the beautiful building in Cooperstown, N.Y.; back in the ’20s and ’30s players played dirty, and in the one other major baseball gambling scandal, eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were banned for life for taking money to throw the World Series. And that was just for one occasion of cheating; Pete Rose bet on hundreds of games.

There is absolutely no excuse, whatsoever, for what Pete Rose did. In every single major league baseball clubhouse, there are signs posted about not betting.

The man was in the game for more than two decades, claimed to have so much respect for the sport, and then went ahead and bet on and against his own team when he managed the Cincinnati Reds.

He knew the rules, willfully broke them, then disgracefully tried to make fools of every baseball fan by lying for 15 years, saying he never bet on baseball. Until, you know, he wrote his autobiography in 2004 admitting HE BET ON BASEBALL.

Jeff, and other sportswriters through the years, make the argument that he never gambled as a player, and he should just be evaluated for Hall consideration on his playing career.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. Pete Rose the human being is the person who would go into the Hall, and he has proven again and again through the years that he is not worthy.

The Hall of Fame is not suffering or diminished because the all-time hits leader isn’t there.

It would be diminished if they ever let the fool in.

My favorite newspaper headline ever

Because I am, first and foremost, a newspaper junkie, I’ve always had a thing for great headlines. I remember them, savor them, tell other people about them … you name it.

Although I completely despise what they stand for, I’ve joked to people that the best job in the world for me would be headline writer at the New York Post, because, basically, you get to say absolutely anything in the headline.

They did a book of Post headlines, which I refuse to buy because I don’t want to support Rupert Murdoch and his right-wing nutjob publication, but it’s a hoot to look at. My favorite one is still a headline they did when the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan, “Kabul-sye.”

Anyway, I love headlines. I love the famous N.Y. Daily News one “Ford to City, Drop Dead.” For its pure crassness and unbelievable insensitivity, I marvel at the Trentonian’s “Roasted Nuts” headline over a story about a fire at a psychiatric facility.

But my favorite headline is much simpler and pure, and with this being the big 40th anniversary of the Neil Armstrong spacewalk, I was thinking about it today.

Armstrong is from a small town in Ohio called Wapakoneta, and the daily paper there is the Wapakoneta Daily News.

This was their front-page headline on July 21, 1969:

neilarmstrongheadlineI just LOVE that. It’s like he’s just another kid from the neighborhood who did something great, like “Joey hits home run to win Little League title,” or “Steve wins national science fair.”

To the whole world, this was one of the most incredible moments in human history, a man stepping on the moon.

To the readers of the Wapakoneta Daily News, it was just, you know, Neil. Doing something nice.

It’s a great reminder of how small the world really is.

P.S. If you have any suggestions for your favorite headline ever, let me know, and if I get enough responses I’ll run a compilation or a collage or something.

Casey Kasem and the end of an era

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You probably haven’t thought about Casey Kasem in a while, until last week.

I know I hadn’t. I believe the last time I thought of Casey was about a year ago, when on a road trip I stumbled across “American Top 10,” which is kind of a slimmed-down version of his old great “American Top 40” show.

Before that, I think I last stumbled across Casey on that classic “Saved by the Bell episode (then again, aren’t they all classic?) when he did a behind-the-scenes documentary on Zack Attack, the fake band on the show.

Thought about him again, though, when I heard that after 39 years, the 77-year-old Arab-American with the golden pipes was retiring from radio.

Don’t know about you, but for a long time through my childhood, and maybe yours, Casey was THE MAN on radio. Whenever my family would take  long car trips on the weekend, piling into my mom’s Toyota Camry or my dad’s Toyota Tercel, we’d find a station and there was Casey.

Of course, his requests and dedications were treacly, but every once in a while he had a great story and it got to me.

“For Sarah in Santa Fe, here’s Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” Casey would intone. Maybe Sarah’s best friend was dying of cancer, or her mom and Dad got divorced and Sarah had nowhere else to turn.

I always loved how seriously Casey seemed to take every letter, even if there was some element of showbiz mock-seriousness to it.

Of course, there was always the greatest request and dedication ever, when Casey went on a profanity-laced rant about a letter (and God bless YouTube for preserving this).

His retirement news got me thinking about whether anyone on radio in the future will ever have the same impact as he did. Howard Stern is on satellite radio now, and I don’t think he ever got ratings that “American Top 40” did. Music listening is so fractured these days, with iPods, MP3 players, satellite radio, that I wonder if anyone could ever reach the heights, nationally, that he did.

Are families all listening to the same radio voice, year after year, for three hours on road trips? I doubt it.

So long Casey, and just so you know, my feet were always on the ground, and even at my short stature, I always reached for the stars.

Couple thoughts while watching the Sotomayor hearings…

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1. It is really, really strange to see the CNN tagline come up “Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota.” I mean, it’s great that Franken is in the Senate; it’s about six months later than it should’ve been because Norm Coleman decided he wanted to be the kid in the corner stamping his feet and screaming “No! I will not go home, and you can’t make me!”, but it’s still nice to see.

But it’s going to take me a while to get the normal Franken image out of my head; my vision of him has always been that of the guy on “Saturday Night Live” during Dennis Miller’s Weekend Update skits, on TV “via satellite” from somewhere (and yes, Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” stole that gimmick) with a yellow space suit on. He’d just keep repeating inanities and saying his name, while Miller tried not to crack up.

2. You want to know where we miss Joe Biden in the Senate? Right here, at a moment like this. No one, and I mean no one, could go on a 20-minute meaningless soliloquy  while trying to ask a question of a Supreme Court nominee like my man Joe.

I would love it when the nominee would actually try to follow his line of thinking, and then after about five minutes their eyes would just kind of glaze over like those of a kid studying algebra for six hours. It was oddly compelling television, because you just never knew when the senior senator from Delaware was going to finish talking. You could take a shower, get dressed, mow the lawn, and come back in the house and Biden would still be rambling.

Then Arlen Specter would be up next, and you’d have time to change your oil before he got his first question out.

I know he’s now VP and all, but couldn’t we get Biden to, like, guest-star back in the Senate for these hearings? Kind of like how Ted Danson and Rhea Perlman came on “Frasier” after “Cheers” went off the air.

If you miss Joe like I do, maybe this old SNL clip will help ease the pain.

Joe, we miss you and your bloviating. Come back!

Why it’s not fun to rip Sarah Palin anymore

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I would be, perhaps, one of the last people in the world to defend Sarah Palin. And I am not in any way defending her here; I am one of the millions who was offended and horrified that John McCain actually put this unqualified, unintelligent, Caribou Barbie spotlight-hogger in a position to be one heartbeat away from being President of the United States.

But as I’ve watched, listenened to and read all the vitriolic critiques of the former governor of Alaska (the best two of which are Todd Purdum’s scathing Vanity Fair story and the New York Times’ feature this week about her downfall), I kind of lost my enthusiasm for bashing her.

Kicking Palin now, when she’s been kicked so much, kind of feels like smacking a wounded animal on the side of the road that’s just flailing there: Where’s the fun in that?  It’s really not worth the effort.

She has brought so much of this on herself, no doubt. But I kinda feel like enough is enough. The glee with which so many are taking bashing her is a little sad.

Do I think she’s running for President? Absolutely. And as soon as she announces her candidacy, sometime in the winter of 2010, I think the media should absolutely investigate and interrogate her, as they would any other candidate. I think so much of the press gave her a free pass last fall, simply because she refused to answer questions. I’m still waiting to hear whether Trigg really is her kid, and how, exactly, John McCain thought she was qualified to be vice-president.

But for now, I’m ready to move on. She’s not important enough at the moment to really waste any more time thinking about.  

There are plenty more targets who deserve the ridicule and scorn we’re heaping on her. Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, please step right up…

P.S. Although I have to say, I watched this Amy Poehler SNL rap again last night and still found it hilarious.