Monthly Archives: July 2012

Michelle Obama, the First Hugger. Good ole’ Mitt offends yet more people. And Jonah Lehrer, fabricator.

Another great night at the Olympics Monday night. Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin, a few months removed from high school swimming season in Colorado, wins her first-ever gold. And to do it 15 minutes after swimming another race is just … mind-bogglingly difficult.
My man Ryan Lochte struggled again, coming in 4th in the 200 free. And did you see this craziness with the South Korean fencer who lost on a B.S. call when the clock froze, and then refused to leave the playing arena? She got totally and completely screwed, did Shin A. Lam. I feel awful for her. Just check out this picture (below):

On a happier note, the above video I saw Monday made me smile. After Team USA’s men’s basketball team won its game over France, each member walked over to where First Lady Michelle Obama was sitting and gave her a big hug.
Really cute stuff.

**Good to see that future presidential loser Mitt Romney continues to insult people all over Europe as he continues his disastrous tour. It’s a good thing people are paying attention to the Olympics, Mitt, and that Europeans don’t vote in our election.

The latest Mitt-saster (I’m trademarking that phrase right now) came in Israel, where Romney said in a speech that “cultural differences” were the reason Israelis were so much more economically successful than the Palestinians.
Sure Mitt, it’s that, AND also the fact that the Israeli government heavily controls the Palestinian economy with taxes and other restrictions.

Look, I don’t expect the Mittster to solve the Middle East problems or anything. But Jesus, this guy is so unprepared to talk about anything except for why Barack Obama is the devil.

**Finally, it kills me as a writer when stuff like this happens, but I think it’s important to publicize it, if only to show that the vast majority of us don’t do things like this.
Jonah Lehrer, an accomplished author and magazine writer for The New Yorker, and a man who until recently was considered one of the best journalists in his field, has been exposed for making up quotes.
Lehrer admitted in an interview that quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan in a recent book, that’s been on bestseller lists, were made up. He either added words to quotes or simply quoted Dylan when the great singer/songwriter said nothing of the sort.

Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker Monday, and his editor, David Remnick, called it a “terrifically sad situation.”

I ask the same question of Lehrer that I would ask Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Mike Barnicle, and so many others: Why? Why would you do something this monumentally stupid, with so little upside and so much downside if you got caught?

Just another black mark on a wonderful profession.

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Thoughts from the first few wild days at the Olympics. And “The Dark Knight Rises:” A ridiculous but entertaining flick

It’s been a pretty wild first few days of the Olympics, hasn’t it? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like a whole lot has gone on the first few days, since Queen Elizabeth jumped out of an airplane on Friday night. It’s been exhilarating and sad and awesome.
Tried to watch as much Olympics coverage as I could, so some quick-hitting thoughts on what has gone down the first 48 hours or so:

— Gotta start with my man Ryan Lochte, who as I’ve said before, I covered for 3 1/2 years when I worked at his hometown newspaper in Daytona Beach, Fla. He was phenomenal Saturday in the 400 IM, cruising to a gold medal and leaving Michael Phelps in the dust, in fourth place. It was stunning to see how far off the lead Phelps was; NBC had to widen the camera shot just to get him in the frame for the last 100 meters. It was a dominating, no-doubt win for Lochte, and I was happy for him.
Then Sunday night, swimming a race he never swims (the 4×100 freestyle), Lochte was overtaken on the final lap by France and the U.S. had to settle for silver. I’m sure Lochte will get criticized a little, but silver’s about what the U.S. expected in that event.

— My every-four-years rant: Dear NBC: It’s 2012. Stop tape-delaying LIVE events and holding them for prime time. Frustrating trying to watch races on the computer and have it keep freezing. I mean, I know why they do it (advertising dollars go up in prime time), but come on, you can’t tape-delay sports in 2012! Thank you.
— So, the Opening Ceremonies: On a weirdness scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 43. Dancing doctors and nurses? Rings of fire in the sky? The Queen skydiving (OK that part was cool)? God bless the Brits for going for it, but man, it was hard to follow.
— I found the men’s team archery on Saturday wildly interesting, after never watching the sport before. It’s amazing how quickly you get invested during the Olympics; I was yelling at the TV for that U.S. guy Kaminski to PLEASE hit the gold “10” number at the end. At the finish, the heavyset Italian guy got the 9 point shot (is it called a shot?) he needed, and the U.S. had to settle for silver.

Still, it was exciting.

— NBC showed no compassion for poor Jordyn Wieber Sunday night; the American gymnast was the huge favorite to win the all-around competition, only because of Olympic gymnastics’ bizarre scoring system of only 2 competitors per country making the finals, Wieber didn’t make it.
So NBC decided to show her crying on camera a bunch of times, following her as she walked off the floor, then stuck her in front of America for an interview. I know, I know, it made for good TV. But I felt really bad for her.

**So I rarely ever see big summer blockbusters, but my fiance and her family really wanted to see “Dark Knight Rises” Saturday night, so off I went. It was … entertaining and ridiculous and everything a summer blockbuster is supposed to be.
And while I was highly confused for much of the flick, and laughed at its ridiculousness at many points (here’s one question: So Batman’s got all of these high-tech weapons and a cool vehicle and all that, and his enemy in the film is also pretty futuristic, and yet how do they settle their differences? By punching each other really hard in the face), it was still worth the price of admission.

Couple thoughts:
— Anne Hathaway was really good in this. I don’t usually like her in movies, but she was a superb Catwoman.
— Christian Bale spent much of the money looking sad and frustrated. He does that in every movie, right?
— I know it was a few thousand miles, and a week, away, but I’m not going to lie: Sitting in that theater watching that movie Saturday, I thought of the Aurora shooting. I tried to rid that image from my mind, but it kept coming back.

Still, all in all, a pretty good flick with some cool special effects and a great plot twist toward the end. There was even some humor thrown in so the whole thing wouldn’t be so dark.

If you’re a Batman fan, I’d say go see it.

An-all Olympics Good News Friday: I am super-pumped for London 2012

Are you ready for some international rivalries, more coverage of swimming and track and field than ever, and Bob Costas solemnly intoning about the history of countries you’ve never heard of?

I am. I love the Olympics. Love, love, love ’em. I know there’s cheaters who win gold medals, I know they’re too big, too loud, too … modern. But I love that once every four years I care about the 200-meter dash, and sports like water polo and team handball (which is very cool to watch on TV, by the way), and fall in love with athletes who I won’t see again for another four years.

This year, I’m pumped about Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt amazing us all again, and if the latest version of the “Dream Team” basketball squad can be beat (I say yes, they can.)

As the festivities kick off tonight from England (where I believe Mitt Romney will be elected prime minster, I present two famously happy Olympic clips, and one Olympian from 2012 you should definitely root for:

The first clip (below) is one of the most famous in the history of the Olympics. And, just because I haven’t seen it in a while, here’s Kerri Strug with one of the most courageous vaults we’ve ever seen…

**Next, you may have heard the story of the Runner Without A Country, and it’s a very inspiring one. Guor Marial (above) is a 28-year-old marathoner who escaped the Sudan as a teenager, after being kidnapped at gunpoint at age 8, placed in a labor camp, and saw 28 members of his family get killed during Sudan’s brutal civil war.
Upon moving to the U.S., Marial grew up in New Hampshire, and slowly became a top runner. He made the Olympic qualifying time needed to compete this year, but his home “country” is now South Sudan, which as a new nation does not yet have standing in the Olympics.
After much back and forth about what could be done, the IOC this week decided to allow Marial to compete as an independent runner.
He’ll compete for his new nation, and for all of us who believe in the Olympics as a chance for everyone.

**And finally, another Olympics clip you’ve seen before, this one more recent than Kerri Strug’s vault. The incredible comeback of U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak in the 4×100 relay, allowing Michael Phelps to keep his hopes of eight gold medals alive. Love the excitement in Dan Hickman’s voice on the broadcast… a truly great moment (the good stuff starts at around the 3-minute mark).

One of the funniest typos I’ve ever seen. An NFL player’s awesome vote of confidence. And which is better roadkill, turtles or snakes?

As I’ve said here a bunch of times, I love typos. They crack me up constantly, partly because I’m an old newspaper editor who’s allowed some cringe-worthy mistakes into the paper from time to time (hey, we all have war stories), and also because they’re damn funny.
Well, this one from Amazon.com is one of my all-time favorites. In an ad for the Sonic Care teeth-cleaning system, the copy was supposed to read “Sonic Care Healthywhite Power Toothbrush.”
Instead, the ad read “Sonic Care Healthy White Power Toothbrush.”

I love it. It cleans your gums, and re-affirms your desire to wipe out all non-Caucasians at the same time!

**Next up today we have my new favorite Carolina Panther, Ryan Kalil, and a wonderful gesture he just made. Now, I don’t know Ryan Kalil from Ryan Seacrest; he’s on offensive lineman for a Carolina team that might be decent this year.

But Ryan doesn’t want to let the Panthers’ play do the talking yet; he took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer the other day, and it’s a beautiful thing.
If I were a Panthers fan, I’d totally go out and buy tickets after reading this (below).

**Finally, I have no idea why this man, Mark Rober, decided to do this experiment. But I was fascinated by it. He decided to put rubber snakes, and rubber turtles, on the road to see which ones drivers would swerve to avoid more.
94 percent of people, he found, just kept driving over ’em. I love America.

The Muppets take a stand. A night at Citi Field. And remembering the great George Jefferson.

Even though I’m a Yankees fan, I’ve been to more Mets games than Yankees games this year.
It’s partially because of the company I’ve been with, but partially because I (gasp) really enjoy Citi Field, home of the now-sliding Mets (Tuesday they lost their 10th game out of the last 11).
I went to the slightly smaller of New York City’s major-league stadiums again on Tuesday, and had a great time despite the home team playing badly again.
Couple thoughts on life at Citi Field:
— The food court is the best I’ve seen at a major league stadium. Excellent variety, the lines aren’t as long because there are so many options, and Carvel soft-serve is never a bad choice. My only quibble: Some of the Nathan’s hot dog stands don’t sell the equally-famous french fries. Folks, it ain’t the same experience if you only have the hot dog.
— Very different feeling from Mets fans at Citi, as opposed to Yankees fans at Yankee Stadium. In the Bronx, when a Yankee screws up, the fans boo, yell things at him, and groan loudly. Yankees fans expect perfection or close to it.
Mets fans? Well, when Jason Bay, the most overpaid/underperforming player in the majors, struck out, Mets fans just sort of groaned. When catcher Mike Nickeas allowed a run to score by misplaying a throw home, Mets fans just sort of grumbled.

I guess when you’ve seen so many screwups for so long, you lose the energy to hate your own players.

— One thing I’ve never understood at a baseball game: Why the hell are people still doing The Wave? Seriously, it was stupid in 1986, it’s stupid now.
— Finally, it is fun watching R.A Dickey, a knuckleballer, pitch. We sat behind home plate, pretty high up, but even from our seats you could see the ball dancing and swerving and totally befuddling the hitters.

**One day after Sally Ride died, another 1980s legend died Tuesday. Sherman Helmsley, who of course played one of my favorite-ever TV characters, passed away.
George Jefferson was loud, obnoxious, and bigoted against white people. But he was damn, damn funny on “The Jeffersons,” a show that still endures in memory.

Quick story: this spring when I was student-teaching at a junior high, one of the essays we studied on an overhead was called “Movin’ on Up.” When I read the title aloud, I half-silently said to myself “to the East side…” And much to my amazement, two kids in the back continued, “to a deluxe apartment in the sky.”

I was so proud, I could’ve given them A’s right there.
Rest in peace, Sherman. And thanks for the million laughs.

**Finally, I’m always looking for reasons to write about “The Muppets,” and I found one the other day. You’ve probably heard about restaurant chain Chick-fil-A and its president’s recent declaration against gay marriage.
Well, Kermit and friends are just the latest group to publicly disavow the disgusting company.  Jim Henson Co. announced this week that it will cease working with Chik-fil-A, after previously agreeing to help design a line of kids’ toys for them.

Good job, Kermit.

R.I.P. Sally Ride, a true American pioneer. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, just hanging out, hilariously. And a big day for the Rangers: Rick Nash is coming to NYC

The thing that surprised me most when I read that the first American woman in space, Sally Ride had died Monday night? Her age.
For a person who accomplished as much as Ride did, and to be only 61 when she passed away due to cancer, was eye-opening.
This was a woman who was a true pioneer, becoming the first woman accepted at NASA as an astronaut in 1978, and who then flew two missions.

As discriminatory barrier after barrier falls away as society becomes more enlightened and less beholden to the past, you sometimes forget how big a deal it was when certain blockades fell. In the middle of the feminism wave of the 1970s, Ride literally proved women could go anywhere men could go, all the way to outer space.

She was a wonderful role model for girls who loved science, and a terrific representative for all who had the imagination to go where few had gone before.

Hers was a life cut short too soon, and she will be missed. But as long as the tales of traveling in orbit are told, Sally Ride will be remembered.

**Jerry Seinfeld, whose post-“Seinfeld” career hasn’t been all that, you know, funny, may finally have something worth watching again. He’s got a new Web-only show on Crackle.com called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Which is exactly what it is.

For episode one he had his old partner Larry David on, and it was fantastic. These two are just so clearly, perfectly in tune, that it’s like watching jazz, seeing them riff off each other. A definite good use of 13 minutes of your time; watch the clip above (and enjoy the real spit-take around the 8-minute mark).

**Finally, on a day when the New York Yankees acquired the great outfielder Ichiro (who may or may not be washed up, we’ll see), I was much more excited by another trade one of my favorite teams made Monday.
After months of negotiating, and trade talks stalling, the deal was finally cinched: Star goal-scorer Rick Nash is coming to the Rangers. My Blueshirts had to give up a few good players, but nobody anywhere close the quality of Nash, who scored 30 goals every year on a terrible team in Columbus. Imagine what he’ll do playing with Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards every night!

This trade makes the Rangers a lot better. If there’s a hockey season this fall (and that’s a big if, with an owners’ lockout looming), I’m very pumped for the Rangers’ chances.
Rick Nash, welcome to Broadway. Now don’t screw up.
 

A novel I wholeheartedly recommend. A few thoughts on the gun laws in Colorado. And a dancing squirrel set to music.

I don’t read much fiction. I’ve always liked true stories better, so novels, other than classics I read in school, aren’t something I’ve spent a lot of time on in my free time reading.
But after hearing for months, from various sources I trust, how great Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding” was, I finally decided to check it out.

The New York Times bestseller, about a small-college shortstop and major league prospect who suddenly develops an inability to throw the ball straight, is as good as I’d heard.
Truly, this is one terrific, although a bit wacky, debut novel. Henry Skrimshander, the main character, is cruising toward a possible big-league future when one errant throw sets him on a devastating course of Steve Blass disease, named for the Pirates pitcher who one day suddenly couldn’t find home plate.
The other major characters of the book include Mike Schwartz, Henry’s mentor and a fellow Westish College player, Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate, Guert Affenlight, the President of the school, and Pella, Guert’s wayward 23-year-old daughter.

I don’t want to give away too much, except to say: This is definitely NOT a baseball book, though there’s lots of baseball stuff in it (which Harbach gets extremely accurately).
Also, the plot twists in the last 100 pages are worthy of a prime-time soap opera. Twice I audibly yelled “No way” to no one in particular.
The writing can be a bit overwrought at times, but each main character is so well-drawn, and the plot so gripping, that you find yourself turning the pages really quickly.
I’ve read HBO is making the book into a movie, which doesn’t surprise me at all.
But I definitely recommend reading this excellent book now; what else have you got to do at the beach?

**And now, because there’s never a bad time to watch a squirrel dance… a Monday pick-me-up for you.

**Finally, a few thoughts on the tragedy in Colorado Thursday night, while still trying to digest why poor Aurora, Colo. has had to suffer two horrific incidents of gun violence in the past 13 years (Columbine is a mere 20 miles away from Aurora).
— It’s an absolute tragedy that so many innocents were killed. But can someone explain to me what the hell a 6-year-old, and a three-month-old, are doing at the movies at midnight on a Thursday? Are these the worst parents in America, or what?
— As always, there are those Second Amendment folks who have uttered the ludicrous argument that “if people in the theater had guns, someone could’ve taken out the assassin before he did what he did.” This is crazy on so many levels: First, the entire attack lasted mere seconds. You’re going to tell me someone in the theater was going to get to James Holmes before he did the damage he did? And who’s to say the guy packing heat in aisle 9 isn’t going to hit innocent people while he tried to take out the madman?
— Finally, the gun laws of Colorado are about as lax as you can get. Here are a few:
People in Colorado are allowed to carry firearms in a vehicle. Buying a concealed weapons permit is as easy as spending $150 and filling out a form.
There is no ban on assault weapons, no registration required, no background checks for online gun sales.
And, my favorite, no limit on the amount of handguns you can buy in one purchase.
Second Amendment, my butt. God forbid a politician ever stand up to the gun lobby and try to enforce real laws.

A man dances with people around the world. A man apprehends a bike thief and changes his life. And a must-see HBO story.

To start Good News Friday, I want to introduce you to Matt Harding with a video sent to me by friend and loyal blog reader Amanda.
Since 2006, he has been traveling the world and dancing with people. When I say the world, I mean, literally the world. He’s been to just about every continent except Antarctica, and his videos are an expression of joy that is so pure and beautiful, you can’t help but smile.
Above is his masterpiece, his 2012 video, and here’s a link to great interview with Harding where he talks about his methods, how he pays for all this travel, and what his inspiration was.

**And now a heartwarming story from Los Angeles. A man named Chris Bolivar was riding a city bus when he noticed a thief stealing a bike off the outside rack on the bus. He jumped out and eventually forced the thief to abandon the bike, and well, that could’ve been the end of the story.
But what happened next is the tale of an unlikely friendship, a rediscovered passion, and a life path changed a bit.
A really well-written story by Nita Lelyveld here.

**Finally, “Real Sports” on HBO always delivers outstanding storytelling that pulls at your heartstrings every month. But they outdid themselves this week, with the story of a girl named Jennifer Bricker, born with no legs, and her hero, former Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Moceanu. The two discovered an improbable connection that you have to see to believe.
If you get HBO or know someone who does, this is an amazing story. Watch the teaser for the piece above.

Why casino gambling should be legal, in every state. “The Wire” acted out in LEGOs, brilliantly. And the end of Linsanity makes NY sad

So I was watching TV the other day and two news stories came on, one right after another, seemingly coincidentally.
The first story was about state budget deficits, and how thanks to the economic downturn more and more states are cutting services.
The second story was about New York State continuing to face opposition to Gov. Cuomo’s plan to legalize casino gambling in the state, even after states like New Jersey continue to make it easier for people to place bets.

Now, full disclosure: I like to gamble. Casinos to me are exciting, bright and sparkling houses of fun. I say this as an adult who has lost money at them, and as an adult who has won money at them. If I were wealthy, I might gamble a lot more.
Yes, I know gambling can be addicting, and I know it’s very, very easy already to place wagers on the Internet at sites like this.

But so many states are laying off teachers, cutting crucial government services, etc., that alternative revenue sources have to be found. Casino gambling is, and could be, a huge source of income for desperate states.
Frankly, I feel like the positives outweigh the negatives here.

**As I’ve said on here too many times to count, “The Wire” was the greatest show ever on TV. So anything “Wire” related that comes across my radar, I try to pass along.
This will only be hilarious to people who’ve seen the show (Jason Garber and Clay Pandorf, you in particular will like this), but it’s “The Wire” acted out in LEGOs. Brilliant…

**So it became official late Tuesday night: Jeremy Lin is no longer a New York Knick. It’s hard to remember an athlete coming from total obscurity, rising to an insane level of fame and popularity, then being gone from the place that gave him that fame and popularity as fast as Lin.

He was like a meteor soaring above Madison Square Garden in February, and now he’s gone, off to Houston because once again, Knicks owner James Dolan is too stupid and too cheap to know a good thing when he has it (What, suddenly a man who gave untold millions to Howard Eisley and Maurice Taylor is suddenly thrifty? I’m not even a Knicks fan and I think the guy is a disgrace).

So Lin goes off to the Rockets, where he’ll probably play great. Most of my Knicks fans friends are pissed, because after watching 15 years of bad basketball, they finally had something to be excited about last season.

Here’s a great column on Lin and the cluelessness of Dolan from the N.Y. Times’ Harvey Araton, and a humorous look at Lin “returning” to the Knicks in 2030 by Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal.

A truthful obituary, written by the guy who died. The Boy Scouts, once again disgustingly bigoted. And a cherry-pit spitting contest winner to be proud of

I’ve heard of people throwing funerals for themselves while they’re still alive, so they get to see and hear all that people would say about them when they’re six feet under.

But writing your own obituary before you die, and being completely 100 percent honest about your past while doing it? That’s a little more rare.

But Val Patterson, of Salt Lake City, didn’t want a regular old obituary when he passed away. So he wrote this one, which is touching and funny and brutally truthful (example: “As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971.”).

Give it a read, count your blessings. I’m glad Patterson’s family has such a warm final memory of their loved one.

**So, the Boy Scouts. Upon further review: Still a loathsome, offensive, bigoted private organization. After a two-year study, the Boy Scouts of America announced Tuesday that they will continue to ban gay scout leaders in its ranks. Or gays of any kind, for that matter.
Yes, I know they’re a private organization and can do what they want. But it doesn’t mean, just like Augusta National Golf Club, that they shouldn’t be called out for this hideous display of bigoted thinking.
This is my favorite part of their nauseating statement affirming the current ban: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” said Bob Mazzuca, BSA’s chief scout executive.
As Andrew Rosenthal puts it in the N.Y. Times, they’re basically saying homosexuality is a mental illness that needs to be “dealt with.” Pray the gay away, and what not.

Such a terrible message to send to young boys out there.

**Finally, some contests are more prestigious than others. I’ll put this one in the “mighty impressive, but a little weird” category: Mr. Ron Matt, of Chicago, has won the International Cherry Pit Spitting Contest held a few weeks ago in Eau Claire, Mich. Matt spat a solid 69 feet to win the title! Second-place guy spat only 61 feet, 2 inches.

Sounds like a rout. Here’s some video of last year’s event, and hey, how’d you like to be the folks having to clean up after this event?