Monthly Archives: July 2013

Handwritten notes, and a dying art. The Bradley Manning saga finally ends. And the worst way to get dinner, ever

handwritten note

So the wife and I are knee-deep into writing a whole heaping batch of thank-you notes this week, as we express our gratitude to the guests at our recent wedding.

And midway through thank-you note No. 48 (or thereabouts), as I shook off my hand-cramp, it struck me how rarely we actually write long, hand-written notes anymore.

Everything is email or text, and if we do write notes, they’re usually little reminders to ourselves about doctor appointments or shopping lists or whatever.
Hardly ever do I have to use my penmanship (and it’s pretty awful, let me tell you), and I can’t remember the last hand-written letter I’ve received, besides other people’s thank-you notes and invitations.

At the risk of going all Andy Rooney on you, I think it’s a little bit sad that we don’t write letters anymore; emails, wonderful though they are, just aren’t as personal.

Then again, I never get scolded at for poor handwriting in emails. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing.


**Mercifully, the Bradley Manning verdict was announced Tuesday, as the former Army private first class was convicted of espionage but not guilty of aiding the enemy, a mixed decision that still will likely leave Manning in prison for the rest of his life.

I’m not here today to argue that Manning is innocent; he leaked classified documents, and that was wrong. But what this young kid, an American citizen, has been put through over the past three years, is reprehensible.
I’ve written about this before, about the inhumane treatment Manning faced while awaiting trial; of the 23 hours of imprisonment per day, of the denial of sheets and pillows on his bed.
Manning was not allowed to have any contact with other humans but for one hour per day when he was outside, and was not allowed to access any news programs or have any other contact with the outside world.

Read the chilling details from this 2010 story by Glenn Greenwald, and then tell me if this is how America ought to treat its prisoners, who have YET to stand trial.
Manning risked his life and freedom by leaking documents to WikiLeaks, because he thought what his government was doing was wrong.
And then to get treated even worse than a normal criminal? Awful.


**Finally today, an idea so bad I can’t believe it actually has seen the light of the day.

Ever wonder what to have for dinner, and being unable to make a decision?
Of course, we all have. And in all those thousands of moments, did you ever once think, “Hmm, I wish we could have our neighbor’s leftovers, I bet they’re delicious?”
Of course not. But now you can. There’s a new app called “Leftover Swap” that lets you take a picture of your unfinished meatloaf or chicken parm, and post it on the app’s website.
Also, equally delightfully, app users can scan the website’s “map” for leftovers, then order them and arrange for pickup!

I can’t believe this exists; from a public-health point of view alone, it seems pretty dangerous.
But hey, I’m sure it’ll be a big success for people who don’t care who took that first bite out of the salmon.

The Clintons criticizing Weiner: The ultimate in chutzpah. Scott Simon and a tribute to his mother. And Mike Francesa, a buffoon again

I’m rarely left speechless. But Bill Clinton, take a bow. I have nothing to say.

There is gall, there is chutzpah, and then, my friends, there is Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary criticizing the behavior of Anthony Weiner.

That takes the cake. I mean, BILL CLINTON taking another man to task for sexual behavior that was 1/100th of what he did as President of the United States, and for most of his life! Bill and Hillary, actually tsk-tsking the Weiners for staying in the mayoral race, when Bill and Hillary sat on a couch on “60 Minutes” in 1992 and lied, outright lied, to Steve Kroft about Jennifer Flowers!

Amazing. The great Andrew Sullivan says it all right here in a brilliant post today on the Clintons:

Money quote: “The Weiner affair is a trivial non-event compared with the Clintons’ reckless, mutual self-destruction.”

**I’m pretty sure I’ve written here that without question, the biggest schmuck in sports media today is Mike Francesa. Loud, arrogant, completely dismissive of anyone else’s opinion and as terrible an interviewer as has ever held a mike, Francesa’s insufferability on WFAN radio just gets worse every year.

I don’t listen to him at all, but he still occasionally shows up on my radar thanks to the joy I get reading Phil Mushnick in the N.Y. Post pointing out his latest awful behavior on air, and other media sites chiming in as well.

The latest example? Here’s Moe, a caller from Queens, who is a big Francesa fan and has decided to propose to his girlfriend (a fellow fan) live on the air.

And as he gets started, well, this happens…

I mean, just repulsive. Here’s a nervous dude trying to do something different and unique, and Francesa hangs up on him.
Why anyone listens to him anymore is beyond me.


**Finally, a few words about something amazing going on on Twitter the last few days.
You might know who Scott Simon is; he’s been an NPR radio host for decades. He’s got a beautifully smooth voice and he often does little “essays” for various NPR shows, and hosts his own show, too.
Anyway, Simon is in a terrible place right now, at his mother’s bedside as she lay dying (note: She passed away Monday night). It sounds like Patricia was a wonderful woman, and in just 140 characters or less, Simon has been giving us a beautiful, heartbreaking look at what it’s like to watch a loved one slip away.

Here are a few sample Tweets from the last few days:

“I know end might be near as this is only day of my adulthood I’ve seen my mother and she hasn’t asked, “Why that shirt?”

“Mother cries Help Me at 2;30. Been holding her like a baby since. She’s asleep now. All I can do is hold on to her.”

“I love holding my mother’s hand. Haven’t held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? What crap.”

“I just realized: she once had to let me go into the big wide world. Now I have to let her go the same way.”

There are many, many more beautiful words from Scott Simon found here.

Please, MLB, send A-Rod away. Free money, not accepted. And a fascinating look into stripping in an oil boom town


Please, let it be this week.
Please let this be the week that Major League Baseball suspends Alex Rodriguez from its sport.
I don’t care if it’s for the rest of this season, all of next season, or until the Jets win a Super Bowl (which will be never, us loyal fans admit).

Just please, send him away. Because I’m sick of it. And so are millions of other Yankees fans, who have watched this disgrace of a human being, this slimeball, this pus on the end of a wart, wear the pinstripes for the last nine years.
Many of us never wanted him in a Yankee uniform, and except for one freaky stretch in the fall of ’09, the stench of failure has surrounded him.
It started with his ridiculous smacking the ball out of the glove of a Red Sox pitcher in the 2004 ALCS, and continued for the next several years, with playoff strikeout after strikeout, and admitted steroid use serving as a lovely distraction.

We’re just sick of it. He’s a selfish prima donna and a guy who was never a good fit for the New York spotlight, and his lying and obfuscation over this latest steroid mess is a fitting coda to a disastrous time in New York.

So please, Bud Selig, we Yankee fans are begging you: Throw the lying, cheating, bum out.
And may he never darken the doors of Yankee Stadium again.

**Proof that we live in a non-trusting society: Watch this guy in Boston try to give away dollar bills to anyone who walks by, and how freaking difficult it is for him to get anyone to take it.

I mean, it’s a dollar; even if it was counterfeit, wouldn’t you take it just in case it was real?


**Finally today, a very long but very interesting story on about a part of American life I knew very little about. Like much of North Dakota in the past 10 years, the little town of Williston has experienced an enormous population growth thanks to oil drilling.
One of the byproducts of Williston becoming a huge oil drilling town is the vast outnumbering of men to women there, which made the strip club in town a very profitable place to work for dancers.

A woman named Elizabeth Shepard survived Williston during the last few years, and she tells a really fascinating tale of what it was like to be there, and offers a (PG-13 rated) window into her life.
It’s a long story but well worth your time.

A father captures his son’s first year. The Michigan football coach is a mensch. And the barber to the homeless gives joy

One of my favorite Good News Fridays I’ve ever done today. Three great stories filled with heart.
First, let me introduce you to an 82-year-0ld retiree named Joe Cymerys. He lives in Hartford, Conn., and every Wednesday afternoon, he goes to Bushnell Park and sets up a lawn chair under an oak tree.
And proceeds to give homeless men and women free haircuts and shaves.
All he requires in payment? Hugs. It’s a ritual that means so much both to barber and to customers.
He’s a beautiful man with a big heart; I defy you to watch this story and not get choked up a little.

So much simple goodness in the world.

**Next up, I love this story. A 12-year-old kid in Ohio named Grant Reed was struck with cancer two years ago.

A huge Ohio State Buckeyes fan, Reed decided to name his cancer “Michigan,” because all he wanted to do was beat it.

Wolverines football coach Brady Hoke heard about Reed, and his excellent progress against the disease. Reed had his last chemotherapy treatment recently, and it looks like he’s beating “Michigan.”

So Hoke did a wonderful thing: He invited Reed and his family to the Michigan-Ohio State game this Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor.
The family and Grant are very excited, of course. Wonder if they’ll still be pulling for the Buckeyes, though, after this warm gesture by a coach who gets it.

“It’s getting hard to keep my dislike for them, because they’ve been so classy and unbelievable to us,” said Troy Reed, Grant’s dad and a former member of the Buckeyes’ marching band. “But it won’t be hard to cheer for the Buckeyes.”

**Finally today, I’ve seen videos to this effect before, but this might be the best one, and the most moving.
A man in England named Sam Cornwell decided to shoot one second of video every day for the first year of his son Indigo’s first year of life.
Watch a child grow, literally, second by second, with some beautiful music in the background.

What a joy.

“Fruitvale Station” a brilliant look at a real-life tragedy. Get ready for the “clap-on” bra. And a skydiver gives a shortstop a concussion


On Dec. 31, 2008, Oscar Grant was a young African-American man trying to get his life together while living in Oakland.
A former drug user and dealer, and admitted cheater on his girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, Grant was trying to find his way toward the right path.
That New Year’s Eve of 2008 he and his friends went out to celebrate, and took the Bay Area subway (BART) back from the evening’s festivities.
Shortly after midnight, he was shot and killed by a transit officer.
Grant had no weapon, didn’t threaten the officer at all, and his murder was captured on video live, while it happened.

It was an outrageous crime; I remember the riots it sparked in California right after it happened. As bad a case of police brutality, and white-on-black crime, as you can imagine.

The last day of Grant’s life is the subject of the incredible new film, “Fruitvale Station,” opening nationwide this weekend. One of the things that makes the movie so absorbing is that from the very opening moments, you know how the day’s going to end.
And yet, when the shooting is re-created, me and the rest of the audience gasped.
I saw the movie last week when it opened here in New York City, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
Michael B. Jordan, who was in two of my all-time favorite TV shows (he was Wallace in Season 1 of “The Wire” and was Vince in Seasons 4-5 of “Friday Night Lights”) is terrific as Oscar, showing his faults but also giving us a reason to root for him. Charm oozes out of Jordan.
Octavia Spencer is also great as Oscar’s mother, and the supporting cast is strong as well. Ryan Coogler, the director, doesn’t try to whitewash Grant’s blemishes, but paints him as a human being.
And no matter what Grant had done in his life, he sure as hell didn’t deserve to be shot in the back at 2 a.m. from close range.
It was a horrific situation, made worse when the officer who shot Grant got only two years in prison (the officer, Johannes Mehserle, claimed he meant to reach for his taser and got his weapon instead; the movie makes that seem at least a tiny bit plausible).

Of course, a movie like this coming out now is bound to bring out the Trayvon Martin comparisons; hell, I wish all the people who think racism is almost dead in America would watch “Fruitvale Station.”

It’s an important, beautifully-made film, that I hope gets some Oscar consideration this year. Go see it.

Men, I’m about to tell you about a wonderful invention that would’ve made the lives of boys SO much easier in our teens and 20s.

It’s called the Clap-off Bra, and it’s modeled on that great old product from the 1980s, the Clapper, which was a doohickey where if you clapped your hands twice, the lights would go off (I always wanted one!)

This is the same concept, but with bras. It’s designed by a guy named Randy Sarafan, who, according to this story, “says he was inspired by the high-tech bras he’d heard about in Syria” (because you know, in Syria right now they don’t have much else to worry about but getting a woman naked).

Does this insane product really work? Well, here’s a quick video above… Man, the amount of time we men have fumbled with bras; think about what we could’ve been doing with our time if we’d have had this clapper thing?

**Finally today, if this isn’t the baseball injury of the decade, I don’t know what is.
At a summer collegiate baseball game in Hannibal, Mo. , the Hannibal Cavemen hired three skydivers to parachute onto the field after the national anthem. Happens all the time at minor league parks.

But what doesn’t normally happen? One of the skydivers kicked Cavemen infielder Mattingly Romanin (named after Donnie Baseball, I presume) in the head on his way down, giving the kid a concussion and knocking him out for the rest of the summer.

I mean, I watched that three times and I still can’t believe it.

My favorite quote of this story: “Romanin recalled his immediate response: “Wow, really? That just happened?”

The 99-year-old who works for minimum wage. Vanilla Ice, sung by the movies. And Anthony Weiner, please go away now

I can’t decide if this magnificent story is heartbreaking, or wonderful.

Lane DeGregory, a fantastic newspaper journalist in Florida, last week brought the world the story of 99-year-old Newton Murray, who has worked for decades as a custodian at a company called Bama Sea Products in St. Petersburg. Seems Newton has worked for minimum wage forever, and never asked for a raise.

“Life can’t always be easy, but you do your best and be grateful,” Newton says.
“I am lucky,” he says. “God bless America!”
“I know here I am never alone,” he also says.
So yes, there are parts of his story I find wonderful: Here’s a man who only wants the simple joy of getting up and going to work every morning. So what if it takes him eight hours to clean two parking lots? Here’s a fella who never complains and seems so happy to be needed.

Then there’s the heartbreaking part. He’s almost 100 years old, and he’s making minimum wage! In more than 30 years at the company, he’s never gotten a raise. He takes the bus to and from work, and makes about $10,000 a year (he only works three days a week now).

It saddens me that a man could earn so little and work so hard. It also saddens me that Newton feels like he has to work, as he intimates in the story, it’s what keeps him going, keeps him feeling alive.

Read the story (it’s really excellent) and let me know what you think; is this a triumphant piece, or a sad one?

I love it when people with way too much time on their hands do stuff like this. Someone on YouTube has taken the initiative and translated Vanilla Ice’s classic “Ice Ice Baby” into movie lines, word for word.

Maybe only if you’re a Gen X’er like myself you’ll enjoy this; nah, it’s great for everyone.
Ah, Vanilla. How we miss you.

**And now a story that blew up in New York and on social media Tuesday, but hopefully the subject of the story will now go away.

Anthony Weiner, who of course you remember decided it’d be a good idea to send pictures of his penis, along with other sexual messages, to a woman in Vegas he was having a virtual affair with, then lied about it for a while before coming clean, has been doing shockingly well  in the New York City mayoral race. Some polls even have him leading.
But now we’ve learned that Weiner was even stupider and more reckless than we thought. Turns out that even after he resigned from Congress, he was sending crotch pics, other sexually explicit photos and messages to a different woman, as recently as last summer.

So ole’ Mr. Horndog and his wife held a press conference and, yeah, he admitted once again that he’d been a bad boy, and he apologized, yada yada yada.

Look, as I said when the first Weiner scandal hit, I don’t give a damn that he was stupidly sending pics of his junk to women. It doesn’t affect his ability to be a great politician, or mayor, or whatever.

But it’s the lying, the complete disregard for the American public having any kind of a brain whatsoever, that galls me about guys like Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.

I wrote about Weiner’s NYT mea culpa a few months back; I was willing to give the guy another chance. But clearly, he didn’t learn anything from his own stupidity.

A very bizarre crime story in SF. Robin Roberts, a true inspiration. And awesome/disgusting new foods at the Iowa State Fair


Today’s blog is a little shorter than usual on account of me spending every waking hour Monday thinking about the impending birth of the Royal Baby… Please. What a joke that the media makes SUCH a big deal of the Royal Family. An enormous, enormous joke.

Because it’s summer, and there’s no better time of year to gorge yourself on food, I present one of my favorite stories of every summer: The bizarre and possibly heart-attack-inducing new foods at America’s state fairs.

Specifically, the Iowa State Fair, which for some reason always has the most outrageously caloric, possibly disgusting but also quite possibly awesome, array of foods.

This summer, I’m happy to report, is no different. Some of the new items making their way through the gastro-intestinal tracks of Iowans will be…

–Carmel Apple funnel cake
— maple bacon funnel cake (above, and man doesn’t it look good?)
— Jalapeno cheese corndog (OK that one sounds gross)
— bratwurst on a pretzel bun
— cajun flavored cheese curds

For the full list, and a list of flights to Iowa during the fair (kidding), click here.

**Robin Roberts has truly lived an inspiring life; the former “SportsCenter” anchor and “Good Morning America” host has battled breast cancer and won, and last year underwent a bone-marrow transplant that saved her life from a blood disease.

Even before she got sick, Roberts always struck me as authentic, an upbeat, effusive individual who exuded love.

She has become a kind of national symbol in the sports world, and last week at the ESPY awards she gave a beautiful, moving speech in receiving what to me is about as high an honor you can receive: The Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Watch her speech, it gave me goosebumps.

**Finally, this might be the strangest crime story I’ve read in a while. I won’t give too much away because it really, really is worth a read, but here is the lede:

“A San Francisco man was acquitted Thursday of breaking into his ex-fiancée’s house and assaulting her new lover before getting sprayed with bear mace by a shirtless neighbor.”

Oh, it gets better. Other “elements” of the story include a hacky-sack circle hookup, a man sleeping in a tree, and rocks being thrown.

God bless America.

The joy of rooting against Tiger Woods. The reasoning of a 2-year-old. And people in bathing suits in public: Look in the mirror!


Check out this fantastic photo of lower Manhattan getting awfully close to a lightning strike. The picture was taken by Anthony Quintano of NBC News.

I am about to break one of my few rules for myself on this blog: Never write about golf.
I hate golf, loathe it, despite its very existence, and frankly don’t consider it a sport.
But that’s just me.
Anyway, one thing that has intrigued me when I do pay attention to what’s going on in golf the last few years is how desperately the media seems to be rooting for Tiger Woods to be back to his old self.

Ever since ole’ Tiger smashed up his car four years ago and was revealed to be a really, really big philanderer, everyone has been waiting for the old Tiger to come back, the guy who dominated the sport like nobody else for more than a decade.

And while he’s won some tournaments and gotten back near the top, he still hasn’t won another major, which would truly announce that he’s back.

Sunday he blew another chance, as Phil Mickelson captured the British Open.
Personally, I hope Woods never wins another major. His behavior has always been distasteful on the course; his arrogance, his bullying of caddies and fans, and his foul language (he swore up a blue streak this weekend, according to what I read) make him an odious superstar.

So I get great joy out of rooting against Tiger from afar. He’s a perfect example of a kid coddled from Day 1 to be a superstar, and when things haven’t gone right, he behaves like a spoiled brat and expects the world to be different for him.

Again, I follow golf hardly at all, so I don’t know the ins and outs of why Tiger hasn’t won another major. But when I turned on the radio Sunday afternoon and heard he finished a distant 6th, I smiled.

Sometimes, people get what they deserve.

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**Next up, a hat tip to my friend Catherine for pointing me to this video, that’s part of a web series called “Conversations with My 2-year-old.”

It’s a series of short vignettes acted out by Matthew Clark and David Milchard, wherein they take the dialogue of actual conversations between a grown-up and a 2-year-old, and act them out together.

It’s funnier than I’m making it sound. Check out the one called “Pants” above… (I think all parents can appreciate this.)

**Finally, a brief rant about summer, public swimming pools, and people who really need to take five seconds and look in a mirror at home before going out.
My wife and I visited some friends and their kids on Sunday on Long Island, and we all went to this quasi-neighborhood pool (it was only open to people who lived in that development of about 10-12 blocks, I learned).

Twice during our four-hour stay my eyes nearly had to be picked up from the cement I was walking on. First there was a 50ish woman wearing a very small bathing suit bikini top that was hanging on for dear life the whole time it was on her; her breasts were literally spilling out of this thing (and believe me fellas, this was one wardrobe malfunction you definitely did NOT want to see.)

A short time later there was an overweight guy, maybe around 60, with a tiny bathing suit that had his gut hanging over it, and again, the fabric looked like it was about to burst at any moment.

Look, people of Earth, I’m never going to criticize anyone for what their body shape is, because we all have our problem areas. All I’m saying is, we don’t all need to see everything you’ve got.

Good News Friday: Don Rickles, still funny. A corgi has fun in a pool. And a very unusual soldier return surprise

**Jury Duty update: If you read my post on Wednesday, you know how excited I was for jury duty, my first-ever. Alas, it was a dud. After sitting in a giant room for 2 1/2 hours (and getting to watch a video on my civic duty narrated by Ed Bradley!), the jury lady told us that all the cases in civil court that day had been settled, and we were all dismissed from jury duty, and didn’t need to come back. For another six years, till we get chosen again.
I am so bummed.

Happy Friday to all of you! Wanted to start today celebrating a national treasure: Don Rickles.
The grand old man of comedy was one of the first comedians I ever remember seeing on TV; as a little kid I was watching Johnny Carson one night (my Grandma, bless her, let us stay up and watch when we slept over her house) and here was this short, bald, fat guy, with a rapid-fire wit cracking on everyone in the audience.

He didn’t have many set jokes; he just seemed like such a naturally funny guy, and he made Johnny Carson pee in his pants laughing.

Anyway, Rickles is 86 now, and still damn funny. He was on the Jerry Seinfeld show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” recently, and it’s 11 minutes of funny (click below for the clip).

**Next up, who doesn’t love see Corgis frolic around in the pool.? If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.

**Finally today, we’ve all seen a ton of these “soldier surprises family by returning home from war” videos, but this one is a bit different.

Watch Capt. Bronson swim up and give his wife and kids the surprise of their life.

A fantastic new book about the 1970s skyjacking epidemic. The Sandman enters one more time. And the toilet that’s also a sink


One of the reasons I love reading non-fiction so much is because it teaches me about things, and people, I didn’t know about.

I would bet less than one percent of Americans alive today have any idea who Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow were, but for a few months in 1972, they were as famous as Kanye and Jay-Z.

Holder, a disgruntled African-American Vietnam vet with mental health problems, and his girlfriend Kerkow, a beautiful hippie chick under Holder’s spell, pulled off an incredible hijacking of a Western Airlines plane in 1972, taking it all the way from San Diego to, eventually, Algeria.
And they got away with it.

This was in the midst of the American hijacking epidemic of the 1960s and 70s, something I bet you didn’t even know existed.
I only know it happened because I just finished Brendan Koerner’s thrilling new book about the time period, “The Skies Belong To Us.” It’s a gripping tale with so many twists and turns, and famous cameos (Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers and Joan Baez, to name just two), and an impossible-to-put down narrative.

Fact No. 1 that may blow your mind: Did you know that from 1968-72, there was an average of one skyjacking of U.S. airplanes per week?
Fact No. 2 that may blow your mind: Did you know that the airlines fought tooth and nail against further security measures?
Fact No. 3 that may blow your mind: Many, many of these hijackings were successful, but Holder and Kerkow’s was the boldest and the biggest.

It’s fascinating in hindsight to think about how easy air travel used to be; so much of what we endure now was unthinkable back then.
It’s also easy to say, in hindsight, how easy it was to take over planes. In the midst of all the other chaos of that era, it wasn’t hard at all to bring a weapon onto a 737, demand entry into the cockpit, and get flown whereever you want.

I won’t give away what happens to Holder and Kerkow, but Koerner uses exquisite detail (truly re-creating a day by day, minute-by-minute log at times) and writes very entertainingly about some of the period’s other crazy hijackers.

It’s a fairly quick read and a wonderful view into a part of American history that sure isn’t taught in schools.

It’s a perfect summer read.

**Next up, a very cool moment at Tuesday night’s Major League Baseball All-Star-Game, which I didn’t watch because, well, it’s an All-Star-Game and they’re meaningless.

But it was the last time the great Mariano Rivera would appear at one of these things, so the fans and the other players gave him this wonderful tribute…


**Finally, time for another round of “Was the world really needing this invention?”

A designer from Latvia has come up with a product that absolutely no one was crying out for: A combination urinal/sink.

Kaspars Jursons’ new brainchild is a urinal with a built-in tap, and it automatically turns on when you stop peeing. So you can wash your hands immediately.

Because yeah, THAT’s the reason guys who don’t wash up after peeing offer as a defense: The sink was just too far away.

Good heavens, can we get any lazier as a people?