Monthly Archives: June 2012

A sweet love story involving newspapers (sort of). The Canadian anthem, played on beer bottles. And a heroic man climbs Everest

And a happy Good News Friday to all, the final Friday of June. Two things I must comment on briefly before getting to the rest of today’s blog: 1, A big sigh of relief from me when I saw the Supreme Court, correctly, upheld the health care law. This will help millions of Americans who can’t afford health insurance get it, and I just can’t understand why anyone’s against that (Then again, our country is filled with people like this idiot.
And 2, what the hell happened to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon? Losing to a guy ranked No. 100 in five sets? Crazy. OK, on with the show.

One of my favorite newspaper columnists in America is the L.A. Times’ Steve Lopez. He writes with heart, passion, and a whole lot of wisdom. I don’t remember to read him as often as I should, but was very happy to have clicked on him this week and found this sweet tale. An 81-year-old man named Joe Engber met Lopez in the lobby of the Times building the other day, and told a terrific story.

Engber was there because twice a year for 10 years he’s been coming to the Times to place a small ad in the paper in honor of his late wife, Eileen. Every year on her birthday and on the day she died.
“It isn’t much, just a few lines,” Engber said.
But it’s much, much more than that. So sweet.

**This just made me happy to watch. Two men playing the Canadian national anthem (definitely one of the best in he world) using nothing but Molson beer cans and bottles.
Someone put these guys on a stamp up there, please.

**Finally, an inspiring story that seems impossible. A 31-year-old Canadian man (yeah, apparently I’m all about the Great White North today) named Spencer West climbed 20,000 feet over seven days to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Impressive, sure. But West did it despite having on legs. Both were amputated at age five due to a genetic spinal disorder, so to climb the peak he used his arms to pull himself along.
He did this ridiculous feat to raise money for a clean water program for 20,000 Kenyans; he’s already raised $500,000.
I can’t even fathom how difficult that must’ve been. Read his inspiring story here.

Anything is possible. How can you read a story like that and not be hopeful? The human spirit really is something else.

The robot that always wins at rock-paper-scissors. Introducing “Anti-semitic Elmo,” definitely not the real one. And a loving tribute to the great Bud Collins

I’m fascinated by stories of robots taking over the world. Yes, I know I’m weird. But every time a robot learns to do something human, I get a little more frightened.

However, this above video cracked me up.  Scientists in Tokyo have created a robot named Janken that wins every single time at Rock Paper Scissors. I was mesmerized and realized the only hope we have against this robot? Dr. Sheldon Cooper, and “Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock.”

**Well here’s something altogether disturbing and weird: A man dressed as the famous Sesame Street character Elmo wandered a park in New York City the other day, spewing anti-Semitic filth and probably scaring a few kids in the process.
I’m reasonably certain this isn’t the real Elmo, a story backed up at that link above. But that leads to another troubling question: You mean there’s more than one Elmo in the world????

**Finally, it’s been a pretty interesting first few days at Wimbledon. Venus Williams lost, a new young American star continues to bloom (remember the name Sloane Stephens, a very talented teenager), and Roger Federer looks awesome as usual.

But it’s different there, because Bud Collins isn’t around. The greatest writer/broadcaster of tennis of all time, Bud is a Hall of Fame person and writer (and his pants were always pretty fantastic), but after 43 straight years at Wimbledon, he’s dealing with some health issues and is missing the tournament.
I’ve interviewed Bud a few times, and he’s as classy as his reputation indicates. He didn’t care if you were from the New York Times or a weekly in East Podunk; Bud always made time for you, and always spoke with enthusiasm.

Steve Flink, a terrific writer in his own right, has penned this sweet tribute to Bud that is worth your time.

Remembering the laughter Nora Ephron gave me. Middle school basketball recruiting out of control. And scary danger in Colorado Springs.

There are only a few movies I’ve ever seen where I can laugh at something in every scene.
A few movies that no matter what mood I’m in, no matter what circumstances are in my life at that moment, I’m going to belly laugh at least 10-15 times.
“Coming to America” is one of those flicks. “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is another.
But “When Harry Met Sally” might be better, and funnier, than both of them. There’s not one false note in the Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan film, not one scene that isn’t perfect. I’ve seen it 100 times, can quote every line, and yet still laugh so hard (especially at the scenes with the old couples; “I knew. Like you know about a good melon.”)

Nora Ephron wrote that movie. She wrote “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail,” the highly-underrated “My Blue Heaven” and a lot of other wonderful scripts, books and stories in a life that was well lived. She married Carl Bernstein, then used the divorce to write another brilliant movie (“Heartburn”)

She was witty and wise and smart and knew how to write pitch-perfect dialogue, which (ask any writer) is really, really hard to do.

She came down with cancer a few years ago, and had faded from the spotlight. She died at age 71 on Tuesday, and all lovers of great writing should mourn.
For just a taste of her wit, I highly recommend this speech she gave honoring Meryl Streep in 2004.

**Yeah, something like this doesn’t really surprise me. But it’s still pretty disgusting. Middle school basketball recruiting has becoming a cutthroat business in the Washington, D.C. area, as high school coaches scour gyms watching 11 and 12-year-olds play hoops.
Here’s another thing you may not be aware: There are now several recruiting services that rank the best 5th grade basketball players in the nation.
Read this N.Y. Times story and dive into the cesspool that is amateur athletics.

**Finally, some seriously scary stuff coming out of Colorado Springs Tuesday. A fire that has been spreading for days erupted into even more dangerous areas and spread wildly, and some state officials are calling it among the worst disasters in state history.
At least 32,000 people have had to flee their homes so far. Awful and scary when nature totally takes over.

Despite what you’ve heard, “The Newsroom” is damn good. Colbert on immigration. Ryan Lochte fires the first salvo.

I can’t remember the last TV show debut I was as excited about as “The Newsroom.”
For one thing, I couldn’t avoid hearing about it; HBO promoted the holy hell out of the new one-hour drama, on commercials, on billboards around New York City, on social media, everywhere.
But really, the biggest reason I was pumped? Aaron Sorkin, the brilliant if a little crazy creator/writer. He made one of the greatest shows of all time with “The West Wing,” two other pretty damn good shows in “Sports Night” and “Studio 60” (which I know a lot of people hated but I loved), and has written the brilliant “The Social Network” and “A Few Good Men.”

I would watch anything Aaron Sorkin has written. He has a gift for words and speaking patterns like few others ever have, and he always shoots for the highest of heights.

Before I watched Sunday’s premiere, I read several negative reviews of the new show. It’s too preachy, they said. It doesn’t get cable news close to accurately. The characters aren’t likeable. Yada, yada, yada.

Then I watched it. It was terrific. (SPOILER ALERT COMING HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, SKIP TO THE VIDEO BELOW).
Yes, the first half-hour was a bit sanctimonious and smug. Jeff Daniels’ Will is eminently obnoxious, and Sorkin’s writing was quite a bit over the top here in setting the scene.
But about halfway through the episode, the show started to cook. Sam Waterston is fabulous as a “I don’t give a damn anymore” network news head. Emily Mortimer is a worthy foil for Daniels as his new producer (and, since it’s a Sorkin show, his former love interest. The man loves nothing more than workplace romance).
And yeah, it’s very easy in hindsight to see the way this newsroom decided to cover the Deepwater Horizon spill as a serious event immediately as the correct way.
But as I continually said to myself as I read reviews that said “this isn’t what really happens:” It’s a TV show, people! It’s entertainment. If Sorkin showed what digging and gathering on a story like this really looks like, 90 percent of the audience would be bored.

Anyway, it’s not as good as his other work yet. But “The Newsroom” has definite potential, and cracklingly good writing. Can’t wait to see it again next Sunday.

(And for Sorkin zealots like me, check out this amazing video of how often he re-uses certain dialogue with his characters.

**The major Supreme Court ruling Monday on Arizona’s wildly overreaching anti-immigration law was a good thing; most of the law was struck down as being way too stringent and unenforceable (though I loved Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer still trying to claim her side won here).

After reading about the ruling for a while, I got tired and went looking for something much more enjoyable: This Stephen Colbert take on immigration. Much funnier.

**Finally, since I used to cover Ryan Lochte for a living (I worked for his hometown paper in Daytona Beach, Fla.), I still am very interested in the incredible upward arc of his career.
He’s been beating the greatest swimmer of all-time, Michael Phelps, for about two years now, and Monday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials he did it again, besting Phelps in the 400 IM.
No, it doesn’t mean as much as the Olympics. But this is the first step in what will be an awesome duel in the pool in London in about a month.

“Rock of Ages” wildly entertaining and ridiculous. A rap song about sippy cups. And Wimbledon, my favorite event, begins

After enjoying the hell out of “Rock of Ages” on Broadway a couple years ago, there was no way I wasn’t going to see the movie.
And after seeing it on Friday night, I can happily report this: It’s thoroughly, awesomely entertaining, and also completely, utterly ridiculous. So, about what I expected.
If you saw the play, you know the story: Bright-eyed starlet comes to Hollywood in the late 1980s, takes a job at a famous dive bar, meets up and coming singer/bartender, and hilarity and heartache ensue.

Julianne Hough is no Meryl Streep here, but she does a good job in the Sherrie role. Diego Beneta gets the “Drew” role, and he’s OK.
And Tom Cruise, who I mocked and cringed about after he was cast? He was terrific as insane rock star Stacee Jaxx.
But the real revelations are Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, who steal the show with a brilliant man/love relationship, culminating in a wonderful dance to REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
There were way too many people in the movie (Bryan Cranston and Mary J. Blige were basically wasted in their roles), and of course the story was ludicrous, but man did my fiance and I have fun at the movie. We sang, out loud and in our seats, many of the great songs (there were only about 10 other people in the theater, FYI) that were the soundtrack of our Gen X childhoods.

No, it won’t win any Oscars. But I doubt I’ll have a better time at any movie this year.

**And now, something I feel certain you’ve never seen before: A 2-minute rap song about a kid having milk in his sippy cup.
You’re welcome.

**Ah, Wimbledon. When tennis nuts like me wax poetic about the splendor of grass, the strawberries and cream, the majesty of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club… God I love it. It begins today, and I actually tried to go in person this year for the first time ever (I toured the grounds on a trip to England in 2007, but it was in March, so, you know, not the same), but tickets were impossible to get. Still, I will get there one day.

As for this year’s tournament, I’m amazed at how many people in the tennis media are picking Roger Federer to win it. Don’t get me wrong, Fed is a God to me and I’d be as happy as any Fed-phile if he did win it again. But I feel like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are just pretty far ahead of everyone else right now, and I can’t see anyone but the two of them raising the trophy two weeks from now.

But hey, it’d be a fantastic story to see Federer win it. But the pick here in Djokovic on the men’s side, and, what the hell, Serena Williams on the ladies side.

Good News Friday: Coca-Cola promotes secret acts of kindness. A flash mob marriage proposal that’s awesome. And a dolphin that spewed a rainbow

OK, OK. I’m happy for LeBron James. An amazing playoffs, an amazing NBA Finals, and a truly worthy champion. I still think “The Decision” was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen a big-time athlete do, but you know … the guy went crazy for a few months. He deserves this title.
And I’m even happier that my favorite Duke player ever, Shane Battier, has won his first NBA crown.
And now, on with the show… 

I start this week’s Good News Friday with this: Random acts of kindness are just about the best thing ever.
Coca-Cola, who long have been known for awesome advertising, has done something very, very cool: They’ve taken security camera footage from around the world and spliced it together to show things that we never seen on security cameras:

People being nice. And helpful. And happy. And taking a moment out of their day to find some joy. (Note: I read up on this commercial and 90 percent of these scenes are real; the other 10 percent have been re-enacted.)
This is my favorite commercial in a long, long time. Watch it and smile.

**If you read this space often you know how much I love creative and unique marriage proposals. Not sure if this one tops Isaac’s lip-dub proposal from a few weeks ago (nothing will ever top that one), but this one’s pretty good: A flash-mob proposal involving a high-school band in New York City’s Bryant Park. It gets good around 2 minutes in…

**Finally, a whale spitting out a rainbow. Illusion, or proof that Free Willy here has some magical powers? You decide (it’s at the :16 mark).

It’s Arsenioooooooo Hall, back again! Mike Tyson coming to Broadway. And when your stolen goods show up at a neighbor’s house

Big news this week about two late 1980s/early 1990s stars, returning to the spotlight yet again.
First, and I don’t care how uncool this makes me seem, I used to be a huge Arsenio Hall fan. Like, I would sneak the TV on on school nights sometimes just to see who he had on.
Yes, I was a short, goofy white kid from suburbia, but I loved Arsenio. Just thought he was cool, and funny, and different, especially with the crazy outfits the dude used to wear.

He had different guests, he totally shook up the boring late-night TV scene, and he just seemed like a cool guy.
I will never forget the night he had Magic Johnson on, the day after Magic announced he was HIV positive. It was unbelievably compelling TV.

After starring in some movies and having his show cancelled, Arsenio sorta disappeared for a while. But now he’s back, and he’s getting a late-night show again.
Yep, the “Dog Pound” and the fist-pumping and all that is coming back. Arsenio will be  getting a talk show starting next fall (as in, fall, 2013), and sure, I know it won’t be the same.
But I still can’t wait.

**Then there was this: Mike Tyson, coming to Broadway, in a one-man show directed by Spike Lee. Right now Tyson is someone I’d watch do anything. He’s totally reinvented himself as a comedic performer the last few years, like when he did this hilarious spoof of “The King’s Speech” on Jimmy Kimmel.

It’s only running for a week, but watch this interview on “The Today Show” and tell me you don’t want to see Iron Mike on Broadway, talking about his life in front of a live audience.

**Finally, this sounds totally made up but it’s true. A couple in Utah was robbed recently, losing $6,000 worth of goods.
Yet when they returned home, they noticed their next-door neighbors were having a garage sale.
With some of their stolen items for sale. The thieves were arrested and charged with felony burglary and theft.

Though sadly, an additional charge of “absolute stupidity” was not pressed.

Missing the excitement of the ’08 Prez race. Alec Baldwin, behaving badly again. And the worst idea for an ad, maybe ever

I’m trying. I’m trying real hard, Ringo.
I’m trying to get into this 2012 Presidential race. I am a political junkie of the highest order. I love browsing political websites, reading commentary from the left and the right, and arguing politics with friends and foe alike.

And I am paying attention. I shake my head at Mitt Romney’s lies. I tentatively applaud in my head as Barack Obama moves leftward, although he’s still nowhere near as liberal as I’d like.

But I’ve gotta admit it: I miss 2008.

I miss waking up every day for six months wondering whether Hillary or Barack was ahead. I miss the daily dose of Sarah Palin idiocy. I miss the mud-slinging back and forth in the Democratic primary, the thrill and excitement of primary nights, the hours and days I spent working the phones and pounding the pavement on behalf of Obama in Seminole County, Fla.

I miss ALL OF IT.

I feel like that guy in the relationship whose girlfriend left a long time ago, but he’s still sitting around missing her. I know now, and knew then, that ’08 was a once in a lifetime kind of election. Either the first African-American or the first woman was going to be a major party nominee, and then we had a guarantee of either a woman VP or an African-American POTUS.

But still, knowing that ’08 was a one-off, I just don’t feel the same energy or enthusiasm or excitement this time around. I’m sure come fall I’ll be totally jazzed, but right now, I’m just not feeling it.

**Alec, Alec, Alec. How much trouble you seem to have playing nice with others.
In case you missed it, Alec Baldwin, who’s rapidly becoming 1980s-era Sean Penn, had yet another public fight Tuesday. This time it wasn’t an airline flight attendant he was harassing, it was a photographer for the New York Daily News.

Seems Alec was angry that there were some photographers outside the New York City marriage license bureau Tuesday morning, and he threatened one of them before assaulting another.
Look, I’m no defender of paparazzi, but Baldwin seems to have been out of control here.
And just look at those photos. Does look like a man who did no harm?
He’s a lunatic who ought to get a grip. And comparing himself to Trayvon Martin (read the link) was outright disgusting.

**And finally, another horrendously bad idea that surely came out of a meeting between executives who think they’re brilliant.
Harvey Nichols is a British department store, and to promote their upcoming sale, they decided to run the following ad, above.
Yes, they are really saying “you will pee in your pants with excitement!”

Because, you know, there’s nothing like seeing a woman with pee stains on her pants to make me wanna go shopping at THAT store!

“The Big C” completely goes into the toilet, while “Nurse Jackie” shines on; Roger Clemens, not guilty but hardly innocent. And the amazing R.A. Dickey, inspiring all

I’ve been saying for a while now that Showtime has, pound for pound, much better shows than HBO.
Two of my favorites on the network finished off their seasons on Sunday. Sadly, one show I’m now crossing off the list, while the other is better than ever.
Since I subscribe to Don Corleone’s credo from “The Godfather”(“he insists on hearing bad news immediately”), I’ll start with the bad.

“The Big C” had such a fantastic first season, and a really good second season, too. If you’ve never seen it, Laura Linney plays Cathy, a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we watch as she and her family (Oliver Platt is her husband) go through all the different feelings and emotions the cancer causes.

I had really high hopes going into Season 3, but man, it was some kind of awful. They went in 47 different directions, many that made no sense (Paul as a motivational speaker? A woman who’s dying adopting a baby?), and basically completely forgot that Cathy is supposed to be dead soon.

Then in the finale, they just totally made no sense with character choices and motivations. Sad to see such a terrific show go into the toilet, but it’s just turned into a terrible show.

How-evah (channeling my inner Stephen A. Smith there), “Nurse Jackie,” the other awesome Showtime show that just ended its season, is as good as ever. Edie Falco completely rules as an ER nurse who’s a cheating spouse and a drug addict (pills), and until this season pretty much got away with everything dirty that she did.
Finally this year she was forced to face some consequences, and her life (predictably) began to fall apart.
But the show was SO much more interesting, watching her go through rehab, fight to get custody of her kids, and try really hard to stay clean.
“Nurse Jackie” is wickedly funny, with a great supporting cast (thank God they toned-down the obnoxious Coop a little this year), and has a lot of heart. The season finale was gut-wrenching in the end, but so worth watching.

So my official verdict: If you’re not yet, start watching “Nurse Jackie.” And if you wanna watch great TV, watch the first two years of “The Big C.” That’s all that’s worth your time.

**So Roger Clemens, who everyone in the civilized world knows used and abused steroids late in his career (and allow me to plug my man Pearlman’s excellent book on Rocket, which I helped edit), was acquitted Monday on charges of perjury in front of Congress.
Of course, ole’ Roj and his lawyers take this to mean he’s been exonerated from the charge of ever having juiced. Not quite the same thing.
I personally don’t care that Clemens got off, though I feel quite certain he’s a scumbag (though I thought that long, long before the steroid thing).

I just hope that more than any jail sentence, the permanent punishment for him remains that most baseball fans know he cheated. He cheated his talent, he cheated the game, and the last 5-6 years of his career will be forever tainted.

Like Barry Bonds before him, Roger Clemens was going to the Hall of Fame before he touched one needle. But like Bonds before him, because of hubris and ego, Roger Clemens may now never get into Cooperstown. (Although the feds may have turned him into a martyr; check out this excellent Jeff Passan article here).

**Finally, a much more uplifting baseball story. Have you seen what the Mets’ ace knuckleball pitcher, R.A. Dickey, is doing? Dude was a career journeyman, nothing more, and this season he’s the best pitcher in the sport. Monday night he threw his second consecutive one-hitter, and now hasn’t allowed an earned run in like 40 innings.
Dickey’s backstory is pretty remarkable, too; his new book (discussed, with his life, in a great story here) talks about how he suffered two separate instances (and abusers) of child molestation. I wonder if, in some small way, unburdening himself of his past in the book has made him a better, more confident pitcher.

So great to see a man who seems to finally, truly have some peace in his life doing so well.

A beautiful WWII story and a most dedicated widow. The “no vagina” Monologues. And a math problem offends a Chicago Bear

Hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day on Sunday; if you were in NYC like me you had fantastic weather.
Wanted to start today with a story I somehow missed from two weeks ago, on one of my favorite weekly rituals, “CBS Sunday Morning.”
It’s a beautiful tale of a widow  named Peggy Harris, of Vernon, Tex., whose husband Billie disappeared during a WWII mission in July, 1944 and was never heard from again.
Peggy’s search for Billie, and the obstacles she encounters, are interesting enough. But the incredible love and memories she gets from strangers in a little French town, who remember her husband’s exploits so well, really moved me near-tears.
I guarantee you’ll feel uplifted if you watch this.

**Always nice when we find grown men who are paid to make laws get “outraged” over what they think is vulgarity, when it’s really just free speech.
You may have heard about this story late last week from the Michigan State Senate.
A state representative named Lisa Brown was reading a letter from a voter out loud in the chamber, a letter protesting the state’s anti-abortion bill.

The letter concluded, “Finally Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you are all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

This, for some reason that’s inexplicable to me, caused a fury. The Republican Speaker of the Michigan House, James Bolger, had his PR rep say Brown was to be silenced in the House, and not be allowed to speak on a school employee retirement bill the following day because she had “failed to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives.”
Another lawmaker, Rep. Mike Callton, told a newspaper: “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

Earth to Michigan legislators: IT’S CALLED A VAGINA! That’s what the body part is called! Sorry if it offends your delicate ears, but sakes alive, what is so offensive about that word?!?.

It’s not like she shouted the c-word out loud into the microphone. Ridiculous.
And you knew this was coming, as a result of the stupid controversy: Brown will take part in a reading of the hit play “The Vagina Monologues” today in Detroit.

**Finally today, a teacher’s sense of humor gone wrong. A teacher in the Chicago area gave students a pretty funny match problem he thought would catch their attention (above). Unfortunately, the son of Bears defensive back Charles Tillman is in the class, and Charles saw his son’s math homework that day.

So he wrote back a little note to the teach, which if you can’t read it above is transcribed here.

Hey, the teacher’s trying whatever he can to get his students to learn!