Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bill Gates, champion of America’s teachers. The wild and radical Girl Scouts, a true threat to America! Jimmy Fallon channels Eddie Vedder and Jeremy Lin

You may have heard about the kerfuffle here in New York last weekend, when several New York City newspapers printed the test score results for teachers in Grades 4-8 of 12,000 New York City schoolteachers.

Because I am in training to become one, I think it’s wise not to comment on this whole mess. Instead, I will simply point you to something written by a man 1,000 times smarter, and 1 million times wealthier, than me. This is Bill Gates, a true champion of education reform, but also of good teachers, in the New York Times last week.

Well said, Mr. Gates.

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**Been meaning to post this for a few days but other things kept pushing it out of  my mind. Jimmy Fallon, who has already given us wonderful tributes/imitations of Bob Dylan doing “Charles in Charge” and a duet with Bruce Springsteen covering a Willow Smith song, now gives us Eddie Vedder, with new lyrics to “Jeremy” in honor of Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin… This is awesome.

**Finally, you know, I’ve always thought the biggest threat to our freedom and ideals were those young girls in the green and white Girl Scouts uniforms.
Finally, someone agrees with me. It’s a state senator from the great state of Indiana, Rep. Bob Morris, a Republican of Fort Wayne.
Last week ole’ Bob decided he couldn’t sign a letter congratulating all those ex-Brownies (is that still what the call the little kids before they get to be Girl Scouts?) on their 100th anniversary because he read on the Web that the Girl Scouts, you see, “are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood, that they allow transgender females to join, ‘just like any real girl,’ and encourage sex.”

Yes, those damn Scouts are always encouraging sex. I must’ve missed it when I was buying all those Tagalongs and Thin Mints all these years, but subliminally those cookies were telling me use my Samoas to help get laid (and then of course to go out and have my concubine get an abortion)!

Even better, courtesy of my friends at Daily Kos, is an excerpt from Bob’s letters to his supporters:

“Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles. In fact, the Girl Scouts education seminar girls are directed to study the example of role models. Of the fifty role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background – all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists. World Net Daily, in a May 2009 article, states that Girl Scout Troops are no longer allowed to pray or sing traditional Christmas Carols.”

Oh Bob, I really hope the Scouts of Indiana don’t find out where your office is. My guess is next time you walk to your car, you’ll be buried under an avalanche of Caramel DeLites.

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Another awful school shooting leaves more questions. Conan O’Brien, drawn in Cheetos. And the most bizarre Daytona 500 is saved by Tide detergent

Just when we started to feel safe in schools again …
Just when the images of the last deadly shooting on a school campus had started to fade…
I was on my lunch break as a student teacher when word came down that there had been another school shooting. Tell me if this sounds familiar: A kid described as a loner, who was bullied, and was a bit “gothic” walks into a school cafeteria and starts shooting, killing two teenagers and injuring three others. T.J. Lane was his name.

I am so sick of this. And so frightened that it could happen anywhere, at any school. Every teacher in America, even in the safest, most upper-class neighborhoods, knows this can happen in their school.

I don’t know why this keeps happening. I don’t know if the blame is with parents, or schools for not intervening more, or society itself. I’m sure we’ll hear all the usual blather and reasons thrown out there for the next few days.

I don’t know why this keeps happening. But it scares the hell out of me. A school should be a safe haven from the outside ills of the world.
More and more, it’s not. And 13 years after Columbine, it seems we’re no closer to being able to stop these tragedies.
Just awful.

**OK, a slightly more uplifting story now. More proof that the world is a strange and wonderful and scary place. Some guy decided to draw a portrait of Conan O’Brien using Cheetos. And only Cheetos.

**Finally today, this weekend was the first time since 2005 I didn’t cover the Daytona 500 for my old newspaper, the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Since I know nothing about racing and care even less, I usually got to chase down the celebs who were there (in 2010 I wrote about what that is like here.

Felt a little strange Sunday and Monday not being there, but I didn’t miss it at all.

However, if I’d been there Monday I would’ve gotten to see this bit of amazing-ness in person. A driver named Juan Pablo (Don’t call me Inigo) Montoya went spinning out of control and slammed into a giant jet dryer that dries the track.
No one was hurt, amazingly, but flames spurted up way high in the air and they actually used Tide detergent to help fix the damage to the track.

Tide: We get out blood stains AND fix asphalt! Seriously, is there a better, more versatile product than that?

A terrific Oscars with Billy C back in charge. And Mormons baptizing Anne Frank posthumously? Very weird

Billy Crystal brought the funny.
Jennifer Lopez brought the wow.
And Meryl Streep brought the love from everyone.
One year after a pretty miserable Oscars hosted by two people who had no idea what they were doing, Billy Crystal and Hollywood kicked some serious butt last night at the Academy Awards.
As always, yours truly was taking notes and gathering comments from the peanut gallery.
— Sunday was the first time I ever attended an Oscars party, and it was super fun. Some friends of my girlfriend host a gala every year at their gorgeous NYC apartment, and it was super fun. There was a pool, some theme food (I particularly liked the Eggstremely Loud and Incredibly Toast) and good mocking all around.

— I thought Billy Crystal was terrific, though oddly he laughed at his own jokes a few times. His opener was hilarious, most of his jokes were spot-on (his political joke was funny, as was most of his banter with the stars in the crowd), and he kept the show moving. He sounded a little under the weather, which was unfortunate. Still, I thought he was great.

–Those Cirque de Soleil people were fantastic. Many at our party went “wow” at the contortions they were doing. Gotta see that show live one of these days.
— Jennifer Lopez. Wow. It seems like only at awards shows do I remember how beautiful she is. Thought Clooney’s girlfriend Stacy Kiebler, and Tina Fey looked particularly fetching, too. As did Viola Davis.
— So happy Meryl Streep won her third Oscar (her speech is at this link), and first in 29 years. Yeah, maybe Viola Davis deserved it, too, but Meryl has been so good for so long that I’m glad she got another moment in the sun. She’s the finest actor, male or female, in America. And a genuinely nice person from Jersey, too.
— Line of the night from one of the guys in our party: “Nick Nolte could walk right from the red carpet into the Death Montage.” Man, Nick looked bad.

— Very sweet speech by the guy who won for “A Separation,” from Iran. Thought it was interesting that as he was speaking, the cameras flashed right to Steven Spielberg, one of the most famous Jews in Hollywood.
— I thought Emma Stone was trying way too hard. But the “Bridesmaids” ladies were very funny.
— Chris Rock killed in his two minutes on stage. I wish they’d let him host again.

— Finally, though Streep’s win was one of the only “upsets” of the night, I actually liked the pacing of the show this year. Some of the interludes were interesting and I’m glad they didn’t subject us to 9 Best Picture vignettes. Good stuff all around.

**I don’t quite know what to say about this story, except to just present it and let you try to figure it out. For at least the 10th time, the Mormon Church has decided to posthumously baptize Anne Frank into the church. Yes, that Anne Frank, the famous Holocaust child who hid in the attic, then died in a concentration camp, has been baptized into the Mormon church.

Offensive and bizarre on so many levels. To try to use Anne Frank as a prop to proselytize about your religion is just ridiculous and wrong.
Would love to hear Mitt Romney weigh in on this one.

 

The guy who could actually fly. An inspirational story of a compassion in college sports. And the 4-year-old who LOVES toilets

There are so many miserable stories out there in college sports. But sometimes, one touches your heart.
There was a basketball game last week between two Division III schools, Washington College of Maryland against Gettysburg College of Pa.  It would’ve been unremarkable except for the starting lineup for Gettysburg, and who it included.  A senior for Gettysburg named Corey Weissman started his first game of the year. Weissman suffered a major stroke after his freshman season there, struggled to regain the ability to walk, but worked hard, stayed with the team, and was finally going to be given a few seconds of playing time on Senior Night.

If it ended right there, it would’ve been a nice, uplifting story. But after Weissman played a few seconds and came out, the game continued. Near the end, with the outcome not in doubt, Cory got back in for a minute. It was the opposing coach,  a man named Rob Nugent, who asked Gettysburg to put Cory back in. Nugent then called timeout and told his players to foul Cory immediately.

An opposing coach, who had no ties to this kid at all, knew how much it would mean to Cory and to Gettysburg if Cory scored. Frank Deford eloquently spoke about this story here, and when I first heard it it brought a lump in my throat.

Sports can be so much more than about winning and losing. Here’s video of Cory’s wonderful free throw, the most important shot made all year, anywhere.

**This is Jeb Corliss. He flies through the air. Literally. I saw him on HBO Real Sports the other night, and could not believe the stuff he was doing. Using a space-age-looking thing called a wingsuit, he’s able to jump off mountains and cliffs and fly through the air. It’s pretty amazing. Here’s a video of him jumping in South Africa, and he has a little bit of trouble on the descent. Still, a very cool video (and he lived through this crash, don’t worry.)

He’s a crazy person who loves his life and yet seemingly tries to end it on a regular basis with insane stunts. I like him.

**Finally, sometimes you just can’t explain what makes kids happy. Take 4-year-old Dustin Kruse, who lives in Wisconsin. What makes him happy? Toilets. The boy is just wild about toilets. The Kohler company found about his obsession and gave Dustin a tour of the factory, which can be seen here. And then they gave him a new toilet. Just look at the expression on his face in the above photo. Has anything made you that happy this week?

God bless you, Dustin. I hope your toilet obsession brings you many years of happiness.

Great letters from Presidents past. The great Mariano Rivera begins his curtain call. And a Charles Dickens theme park, seriously?

You want to make history come alive for today’s kids? This is one great way to do it.
This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. The fabulous website Mentalfloss.com has highlighted 10 of the best letters from U.S. Presidents in history, as compiled by the organization Letters of Note. This compilation, which has the original letters as well as an easier-to-read transcription, has some beauties in here.
John F. Kennedy’s childhood letter to his father, asking for a bigger allowance so he can buy “cholcalote marshmellow sunday with vanilla ice cream. (OK, so young JFK wasn’t the best speller.) Bill Clinton’s letter to Chris Webber after the ex-Michigan star made a huge mistake in the 1993 NCAA championship game. A brilliantly scathing, short note from Harry Truman to a critic who ripped Truman ‘s daughter’s performance on stage. An Abraham Lincoln letter to some schoolchildren who wanted all slaves to be freed.

And in what may be the first time I ever say anything nice about Ronald Reagan, a touching and warm love letter he wrote to Nancy on their 20th anniversary (above. The transcription is wonderful if you can’t read Ronnie’s handwriting).

These are living, breathing documents that give us insight into how some of these great minds work. It’s truly a wonderful way to spend a few minutes.

**Well, we Yankees fans knew this day would come at some point. But it’s still going to be rough.
The great Mariano Rivera, the finest relief pitcher of all time and a man whose ticket to Cooperstown has already been bought and paid for, hinted when he got to spring training this week that the 2012 season may be his last.

Rivera, who has been throwing the same pitch for 16 years and still getting batters out with it, is the epitome of class and grace. Even Yankees haters can’t find anything bad to say about him. Baseball, and Yankee Stadium, will be a poorer place when No. 42 hangs it up. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal has a nice column up about Rivera here.

**And finally today, an idea I can’t believe made it all the way through to fruition. Some geniuses in England decided that the best way to keep the memory of Charles Dickens and his books alive was to create Dickens World, a theme park dedicated to the author of books mostly about bleakness, and despair.

There are actual rides like the Great Expectations Flume Ride, which drops you off into a sewer, and the operators of the park have even created authentic smells, like the ones found at the lovely orphanage in “Oliver’s Twist.”

I would love to know exactly who the demographic is for this place. And I also want to know how bored you have to be before saying on a European vacation “Mom, Dad, let’s go splash into a sewer!”

A great “SNL” skit continues the Linsanity. Everything that’s wrong with college sports, in a few hundred words. And

Follow me on Twitter here.

You’ve probably heard a little about the “furor” over the ESPN.com writer using a horribly old derogatory word for Asians to describe Knicks star Jeremy Lin last week.
This “Linsanity” shows no sign of letting up; I’m frankly stunned that Sports Illustrated put him on the cover for two straight weeks; what, there’s nothing else going on the sports world worth mentioning (hell, in the NBA alone I can think of some worthy subjects)?

Anyway, “Saturday Night Live” had a really funny opening sketch last week poking fun at the hysteria, and announcers’ carefulness about not offending Asians (or African-Americans). This skit is supposed to be on the set of a Knicks postgame analysis-type show. Really, really funny…

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**And now, everything that’s wrong with college sports, in just a few hundred words. SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg brings us the story of jerk Maryland football coach Randy Edsall, a kid who wants to transfer, and the complete idiocy of the NCAA.
I defy you to read this story and tell me how it makes sense that Maryland is basically holding a student hostage, not allowing him to transfer and continue his career.

UPDATE: Well what do you know, apparently the backlash against Maryland has had an effect. Wednesday afternoon coach Edsall announced he’d had a change of heart, and Danny O’Brien could transfer anywhere he liked. The power of the press is a beautiful thing.

**And finally, because why not, a clearly alpha-male monkey tries to attack a man through a zoo’s glass. Love the look on the guy’s face at :28…

I finally see “Bridesmaids:” Funny, but not epic. The Obama administration’s hideous war on medicinal pot. And Omar from “The Wire” on gay marriage

In my quest to see as many of the Oscar-nominated movies as I can before Sunday’s show (and I’m going to an Oscar party for the first time, don’t think I’m not excited!), I finally saw “Bridesmaids” on Monday, a movie I’d been wanting to see for a long time. I’d heard all the huzzahs and accolades thrust upon it, and figured I’d be among the legions who loved it.

And, you know, it was funny. The concept was good, Kristen Wiig had some great lines (especially in the airplane scene, which was stellar) and Melissa McCarthy was every bit as awesome as I’d heard she was.

But frankly, I expected more. I only belly-laughed a couple of times, the much-discussed scene in the bridal store with the wedding dresses and the food poisoning was only a little amusing, and I was surprised at how little depth they gave most of the characters in the movie (the police officer, the other bridesmaids, etc.)
It was never quite clear why Maya Rudolph freaked out on the morning of her wedding day, and there were long periods of the movie where I felt like the story was dragging.

Hey, I’m happy it made so much money, and I’d love to see more female-driven comedies made, because men have dominated movies for far too long.

I was just a little surprised “Bridesmaids” wasn’t funnier.

**Yet another way the Obama administration has reneged on its promises (to add to the list about closing Guantanamo, no longer holding terror suspects indefinitely, and standing up to the oil companies) is in the issue of medical marijuana.
In the campaign Obama swore up and down that he would leave legal medical marijuana dispensaries alone, and wouldn’t waste federal time and resources on these businesses.

And yet, as this searing Rolling Stone story points out, Obama has sailed past W.’s administration in enforcement in this area, and now it appears that Los Angeles may consider banning medical pot altogether.

So freaking disappointing to see this President and his administration completely go against what he said he’d do. And so disappointing to see states’ rights get trampled upon yet again by this b.s. about a “war on drugs.”

**Finally today, my main man Omar Little from “The Wire,” the greatest television show in history, has come out in support of marriage equality. It’s a big issue in Maryland right now (where “The Wire” took place, of course), with the state Senate poised to pass an equality law today, before it gets approved by Democratic governor Martin O’Malley (who, by the way, was the inspiration for Mayor Carcetti in “The Wire.”)

Anyway, here’s Michael K. Williams with a short, beautiful endorsement. Omar listening!

“The Interrupters” is must-see documentary. The Subway employee fired for giving his buddies food. And one last beautiful sound from Whitney

I watched a truly fantastic documentary the other night, one that I think will stay in my head for a long time.
It was directed by Steve James, the acclaimed director of the classic “Hoop Dreams,” and it’s about a fascinating group in Chicago called CeaseFire. What CeaseFire does is recruit former gang members who have been rehabilitated and are now walking the straight and narrow, and hires them as “The Interrupters,” individuals who try to stop gang violence before it happens.

“The Interrupters” spends a year in the life of CeaseFire, specifically, three of its  most interesting ex-gang members. It’s a scary, fascinating, “so real it hurts” look at the enormous problem of gang violence in Chicago. We meet wonderfully strange characters with names like Flam-o and Cobe and Lil’ Mikey, and within an hour you’re rooting for them and getting mad at them as if they were members of your own family.

The sheer hopelessness of the job strikes you sometimes, but there are just enough hopeful situations that make you think these Interrupters are really making a difference (you won’t believe the progress Flam-O makes.)

We see funerals and reconciliations, and an unbelievably heart-tugging scene where a just-released felon goes back to the scene of his crime to apologize to those he victimized.

“The Interrupters” didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, but it absolutely should have. (If you don’t believe me, check out its Rotten Tomatoes Score: Of 99 critics, 98 recommend the movie.)
It pulls no punches, is funnier than you would think, and is very truthful in its look at a big problem most American cities face.

It’s available for free on PBS.org here, and it’s absolutely worth your time.

**This story cracked me up, because it brought back memories of when I worked at a video store and used to give my friends “free” movie rentals all the time.
However, my boss never went to this extreme. A 19-year-old Subway sandwich shop employee was arrested for giving his buddies subs for $1.50 each. His boss actually caught him on video surveillance, and had the dude arrested.

That’s harsh. I hope those were some good meatball subs he gave ’em.

**Finally, a beautiful coda to send you off with, as the Whitney Houston news parade should finally slow down now that she’s been memorialized at a funeral, and placed in the ground.

I heard this on the radio the other day and was blown away, then found it on YouTube. It’s her isolated vocal track to the hit song “How Will I Know.” Listen to it for a few minutes, and be amazed at the beauty of a human voice… Damn, it’s a shame we’ll never hear it again.

Celebrating two extraordinary lives that ended Thursday, Gary Carter and Anthony Shadid. And some awesome winter photos

I was going to continue with Good News Friday like usual today, but the tragic deaths of two wonderful human beings Thursday forced me to shelve that idea. Each of them deserves to be thought about and appreciated today.

The first death that saddened me was that of Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher for the Mets and Expos. Carter was 57, and had been suffering from a brain tumor.
There’s no way to picture Gary Carter without thinking of his smile. It was enormous, room-filling, and so genuine. There might not have been a baseball player alive who enjoyed the game and showed it more than “The Kid.” He was the cornerstone of the 1986 Mets, and a catcher who played the game with verve, passion and a whole lot of skill for his whole career.

He was mocked, in the media and by his peers, for his “good-guy” persona, and he seemed too good to be true (he even wanted to take his wife on road trips, which in baseball circles is kinda like worshipping the devil).

But Carter was the genuine article, a decent man who enjoyed life and played the game the right way. He will be immensely missed. Two fabulous tributes to Carter I read Thursday night were this from SI’s superb Tom Verducci and this story from my buddy Pearlman in the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s video of Carter’s last hit in the major leagues, from September, 1992 with the Expos. The outpouring of love can be felt through the screen…

The second death I mourned Thursday night is a man who was legendary in my former profession as a journalist. To say Anthony Shadid was a foreign correspondent is like calling Einstein an inventor, or Michael Jordan an athlete. For three newspapers over 15 years, most recently the New York Times, Shadid saw the horrors of war up close, reported on them, and then wrote some of the most beautiful prose you can imagine.
So many people in journalism are great reporters. Others are great writers. It’s very, very rare for someone to be both. Shadid went into the worst places in the world and survived, putting names, faces and humanity into the stories of Iraqis, Afghans, and recently, Libyans. Only 43 years old, it is cruelly ironic that after surviving battlefields forever, he died of an asthma attack.

His friend Tyler Hicks, a world-class photographer and with whom Shadid had been kidnapped with last year, carried his body from Syria to safety in Turkey.

Shadid was a giant in the field, and his loss is a great one. Here is a story he wrote to win one of this two Pulitzer Prizes, here is his obituary from the N.Y. Times, and here is a link to some of his other “greatest hits.”

Gary Carter and Anthony Shadid. Two very different men, but both leave an immeasurable hole in the hearts of many.

**And now, a few happy thoughts. I’m on vacation for a week starting today, as the junior high I’m working at closes for mid-winter break (thank you, Presidents Lincoln and Washington for this holiday! The exhausted teachers of America salute you!).

College basketball is getting insanely exciting as it usually does in mid-February; Michigan State got a big win Thursday, my Duke boys pulled another David Copperfield act (seriously, this is the most bizarre Duke team of my lifetime as a fan), and Florida State pulled off another miracle, too. Can’t wait for March Madness.

And here’s a lovely gallery of people skating through the winter. These pictures hopefully will bring a smile to your face, as they did mine. They’re courtesy of Boston.com’s The Big Picture, a site I love and tout frequently on here.

Jimmy Kimmel (correctly) rips Jay Leno a new one. “Parenthood” hooks me in again. And the real-life footage that inspired “Hoosiers.”

So Jay Leno has been past his prime for a long, long time. He was funny, once, but his shtick has grown colder than a nude sunbather in Antarctica (a lovely visual).

And though I was never a huge Conan O’Brien guy, what Leno did to his successor, re-claiming his show after less than a year and basically kicking Conan to the curb, is a permanent stain on “The Tonight Show” host and former Doritos pitchman (YouTube it kids, that’s what Jay used to be famous for).

So I have to say I laughed out loud when Jimmy Kimmel took Leno down the other night after Leno made a joke at Kimmel’s expense. Good to see the late night wars heating up again…

**I keep alternately loving and getting mad at “Parenthood,” which is still good enough to keep me watching, but frustrating me with several of its silly plotlines.
Tuesday night’s episode (SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, SKIP DOWN TO THE PHOTO OF GENE HACKMAN!) was an excellent one, but with one major problem, which I’ll get to.
First, this was the first Max storyline I liked in a while. A beautiful, touching moment at the end when his new friend’s parents, whose son is in a wheelchair , beamed at seeing their boy finally have a friend. Adam and Kristina beamed back at them. Just a really, really sweet moment.
Also loved the stuff between Drew and Mr. Cyr; Drew’s actually a really good actor but the show forgets about him all the time. (Also I love how NO ONE brings up that Sarah and Mr. Cyr are trying to have a baby without, you know, getting engaged or moving in together or anything like that. But hey, they live in Berkeley, so it’s all good.)

Even the Crosby stuff, I liked this week; he’s my least favorite Braverman (though Julia is threatening his place in my head; good Lord woman, back the you-know-what off of the wildly confused Zoey, will ya?) but he and Zeek had some nice moments.

But oy, the Amber/Bob Little stuff was awful. I know he’s 28 and she’s 19 and it’s not that icky, but it still was played very poorly. Why must people on Jason Katims shows always hook up with younger people? And I thought it was wildly unrealistic for Kristina to A, drive up to Sacramento to stop them from doing the wild thing, and B, for Amber to go home with her after that embarrassing display of bursting into the hotel room. (And what the hell is a San Francisco city council candidate doing in Sacra-freaking-mento anyway?)

Still, a very solid “Parenthood” episode. Bummed there are only two more new ones this season.

**Finally, this is all kinds of awesome if you love sports, basketball, or the movie “Hoosiers” (one of my all-time top 5 flicks). The Indiana High School Athletic Association has finally put online some footage of the 1954 Milan High vs. Muncie Central state championship game, the movie immortalized in the movie “Hoosiers.” It’s grainy, but pretty awesome considering the game was played almost 60 years ago.

Watch it here, and keep practicing running the picket fence until it works, baby…