Monthly Archives: May 2017

Remembering a legend of journalism, Frank Deford. A powerful ad reminds Middle East that love, not violence, is the answer. And Dads treat daughters nicer than sons.

It’s not every week that one of your heroes died, one of the men who made you want to dedicate your life to moving people with the written word, and bringing them to anger or great joy just from a few beautifully-crafted paragraphs.

Frank Deford passed away Sunday night at the age of 78, and I only wish I had half the talent of this incredibly gifted writer to tell you about him in as sparkling prose as he wrote.

Deford, if you’re not familiar with him, was a legendary sportswriter, broadcaster and NPR commentator over the past five decades. He penned some of the best articles in Sports Illustrated history, including this classic on Jimmy Connors, and this one on Bobby Knight.

He wrote many best-selling books, including an excruciating one called “Alex, The Life of a Child,” about his 8-year-old daughter Alexandra who died of cystic fibrosis. Deford was a 20-year contributor to HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” program, changing the lives of so many with his heartfelt stories (including one that introduced me to the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a story that would change my life).

And Deford, for 37 years, gave weekly commentaries on NPR that were eloquent, funny, and always made you think. So many people I’ve met over the years, non-sports fans, knew him only as “that gravel-voiced guy from NPR.”

And oh yeah, in 1990 Deford started the greatest newspaper that ever was, the all-sports “The National,” a wonderful idea that sadly only lasted 18 months but was loved by 15-year-old me, and many others.

For me, Deford was always an idol since I discovered him in SI. His beautiful prose, his ability to truly get inside a subject’s head, was remarkable. Here’s just one example of his great writing, from his famous 1999 piece on Celtics legend Bill Russell.

It was 30 years ago, and the car containing the old retired basketball player and the young sportswriter stopped at a traffic light on the way to the airport in Los Angeles. (Of course, in the nature of things, old players aren’t that much older than young writers.) The old player said, “I’m sorry, I’d like to be your friend.”

The young writer said, “But I thought we were friends.”

“No, I’d like to be your friend, and we can be friendly, but friendship takes a lot of effort if it’s going to work, and we’re going off in different directions in our lives, so, no, we really can’t be friends.”

And that was as close as I ever got to being on Bill Russell’s team.

I mean… that’s just freaking perfect. I could never get close to that but I sure as heck tried.
And here’s the thing: Deford was as great a human being as he was a writer. Kind to everyone, famous or not, gracious and humble and always elegant, there isn’t anyone out there with a negative story about him and how he treated them. But there are thousands of kind remembrances of when Deford wrote back to a college kid who was an aspiring writer, or helped so many families whose lives were devastated by CF like his was.

He was one of a kind, and I miss him already. To paraphrase another legendary writer, Jimmy Cannon talking about boxer Joe Louis: Frank Deford was a credit to his race … the human race.

I urge you to read these two tributes to Frank: First, from Charlie Pierce, on Deford’s humanity in the face of Alex’s death, and second from Joe Posnanski, on why Deford inspired him and so many others.

We lost a great one.

**Next up today, I thought this was a very different and interesting advertisement. It’s a three-minute commercial created by global marketing company Zain to air during Ramadan in the Middle East.

The ad, which has been viewed over 3.5 million times since it was released five days ago, features people of many nationalities trying to convince a suicide bomber not to carry out an attack, with many different kinds of appeals offered.

And the last 30 seconds, such a hopeful message. This was really, really interesting. I would love to see it get some attention here in America, where sadly too many people think all Muslims are terrorists…

**Finally today, I thought this was interesting: A new study by researchers out of Atlanta found that fathers’ brains respond to daughters differently than they do to sons.

The research took a look at whether the different ways fathers treat sons or daughters may be influenced by different brain responses to male or female children. Emory University and University of Arizona researchers took their study out of the laboratory and used a sample with real-life situations, the APA said.

“If the child cries out or asks for Dad, fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of sons,” said lead researcher Jennifer Mascaro of Emory University.

I can’t compare totally because I’m only a father of a son so far, but I can definitely see these results being true. I struggle almost daily with how much to let my son, after falling, get himself up and stop crying on his own, and how much to rush over and make him feel better and act like it was a huge deal that he scraped his knee.

I want my boy to grow up tough and not get upset over every little thing, but I also don’t want to callously let him think I don’t care when he falls. It’s a very fine line, and apparently I’m not the only Dad who feels that way.

The idiot teachers in Texas who gave a kid a “most likely to be a Terrorist” award. On a day so many barbecue, remembering Eddie Murphy’s “cookout” routine. And an amazing speech on Confederate statues, and the past of Louisiana

Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to all of those who served, and lost their lives, to protect this great country of ours…

As the child of two retired teachers, and as an occasional substitute teacher for the past five years in the New York City schools, I try not to be too hard on teachers who screw up.

The job is incredibly difficult, beyond stressful, rarely pays well, and moving up in the profession relies on so many factors out of your hands. So I sympathize, wholeheartedly, with most teachers who get in trouble for doing something a little wrong.

But man oh man, I feel absolutely zero sympathy, and complete anger, at these teachers in Houston you may have heard about last week. In a “mock” awards ceremony for two honors classes at Anthony Aguirre Junior High in Channelview, Tex., near Houston, a group of teachers handed out certificates to students that read “Most Likely to Cry over Every Little Thing,” “Most Likely to become homeless,” and most disgustingly, “Most Likely to Become a Terrorist.”

Lizeth Villanueva, a 13-year-old girl who is Salvadoran-American, was given that last designation, and she told the Washington Post that her teacher “just laughed” when she signed and handed her the certificate, just one day after the Manchester arena terrorist attack in Britain.

Lizeth’s mom, Ena Hernandez says she wants them fired or else “they will continue doing the same thing.”

It’s very, very hard to fire teachers, but these “educators” deserve it. What kind of a stupid, moronic, juvenile, idiotic thing did they think they were doing? In 2017, throwing the word “terrorist” around at teenagers who are anything but is borderline criminal, and reprehensible. Isn’t there a voice inside any of these people’s heads that think “Hmmm, maybe this is a pretty bad idea, it’s funny to us but it’s going to be horrible for the kids?”

And the fact that this was a group of teachers is even worse; that all of them thought this was a good idea… just so ridiculous.

Ugh. School’s hard enough these days without your teachers joking about you being homeless or a terrorist, you know?

**Next up today, I don’t know why I got thinking about this last night, probably because Memorial Day weekend always makes me think of outdoor barbecues and the start of summer fun. And I couldn’t get this out of my head until I went and found it: The classic, hilarious, completely not safe for work (but hey, you’re not working today, right?) Eddie Murphy skit from the early 1980s on cookouts. The video quality’s not great, but the jokes still hold up hilariously.

**And finally, the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, presided over a pretty controversial event in his city last week, the removal of four Confederate statues that had been up forever.

Landrieu could’ve given a boilerplate speech about erasing a sad chapter of his city’s past, talked some empty words about reconciliation between black and white… but he didn’t. Instead, he gave a soaring, brutally honest speech about the hard truths people of his city must face. Here’s an excerpt:

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city…

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African-American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

We all know the answer to these very simple questions.

The whole speech is terrific; watch it above or read the transcript here. I hoped after then-candidate Obama’s historic speech on race in Philadelphia in 2008 things might have moved forward even a little bit in race relations in this country, but I’m not sure they have. Still, taking down statues that honor our racist past’s leaders with soaring words was a very impressive thing.

 

The latest version of the “Daddy Chronicles,” starring a slightly-OCD, still wildly happy almost 3-year-old

And a Happy Friday to all of you! Lots of good going on in the world right now (and lots of bad), but I wanted to write a little bit about my little guy this week; it’s been about two months since I’ve done one of these so lots to catch up on; he’s got his driver’s license now, working 40 hours a week, you know, the usual 2-year-old stuff.

And away we go…

— So we’ve taken two big trips with the little guy since I’ve last written about him, one to California for 10 days, and one to Florida for five. He was great on all the airplanes, and couldn’t be more excited at the terminal seeing other planes take off and land (“There’s another one!” he’d shout.)

He did and said lots of funny things on the trips, but one stands out. So for the past nine months or so, Nate has been going to sleep with one of his empty straw cups next to him in the crib. He doesn’t fall asleep chewing or sucking on it or anything, it’s just kind of a security blanket thing. Every night after he falls asleep my wife or I take the cup out of his crib so he doesn’t roll over on it and wake/injure himself. Never in all that time did he, upon waking the next morning, wonder where his cup had gone.

Until about three weeks ago, when for two weeks his first question upon waking was ‘Where’s my cup?”

So we’re in Florida, he’s sleeping on a toddler mattress in the living room area of our hotel room, and one day he’s up earlier than usual. I stumble over, half-asleep, and literally the first thing he says to me:
“Daddy, let me ask you a question: Do you know where my cup is?”

I practically fell over with shock. “Let me ask you a question” is a phrase he’s obviously heard my wife and I use, but him saying it like that, I got this mental image of the old TV show “Colombo” and Peter Falk turning around and asking the bad guy “just one more thing.”

— I don’t want to say my kid has OCD, but he does some really odd (to me) things. Like spent 10 minutes helping his mother make our bed just right. Or, when he gets a fruit cup in a restaurant, takes out every piece of fruit individually and lines them up by type on his placemat, and only then eats them. He also loves lining up his books just so. Highly entertaining to see him sometimes be all neat, because he certainly doesn’t do it all the time, nor does he get a neatness gene from me

— He’s obsessed with school buses, trams and dogs lately. We’ve lived near a tram in the sky his whole life, but it’s like he just discovered them three weeks ago. He also delighted in Long Island Expressway traffic two weeks ago because we kept passing and then falling behind a big yellow school bus. “Pass another one!” he shrieks from the back seat.

And every cardboard box that comes in to the apartment is cause for great joy.

— His diet has not expanded really at all in the last 6 months; his staples continue to be grilled cheese, pasta with sauce and parmesan cheese, pizza and just about every fruit. The boy loves cheese so much you’d swear he was born in Wisconsin, but oddly, he takes the cheese off his pizza and eats just the sauce and dough. Go ahead, explain that to me, parenting experts.

— He’s continuing to be incredibly verbal, and also incredibly stubborn and loves to sometimes tell us what to do. If I tell him I’m cooking dinner, and then Shelley gets home and I start talking to her for a minute, he’ll yell ‘Daddy, go cook!” Or if I tell him we have to go somewhere soon and Daddy’s going to shower, and then I get distracted doing something else, he’ll yell “Daddy, go shower!” (OK when he does that it’s actually helpful.)

— Maybe my favorite thing over the past few months is watching how he is sharing better with other kids. Sure, he still gets possessive at the playground and at home when he’s playing on a toy or truck and some other kid wants it, but for the most part he’s really good at sharing. He and his BFF Keira, this incredibly bubbly and sweet 3-year-old, are adorable when they take a drink at the water fountain, or ride a tricycle, and then say “It’s Nate’s turn!” or “It’s Keira’s turn.” The two of them have a squealing and laughing frequency that I think only dogs and Mariah Carey can reach.

But for real, watching him learn to share has been so incredible.

The Japanese dating service that can make you look like a fake hero. Celine Dion with an awesome performance of the “Titanic” song. And coffee baked right into a bagel? Sure, why not?

This has nothing to do with what I’m writing about today, but if I don’t share this amazing photo of Pope Francis with Donald, Ivanka and Melania Trump, I’d be letting you down big-time. Truly, the captions on this one would be epic.

We all know first dates are awkward. Where to go to eat, what else to do (movie? Mini-golf? Bowling? A walk along the water? A sumo wrestling match? So many options), and most of all, trying to impress your date without making it look like you’re trying to impress him or here.

Well, an amusement park in Osaka, Japan is making life easier for men looking to look cool. First, you take your date to Hirakata Park in Osaka. Then, as you walk around, a group of bad guys come up to you and insult your lady. Then, since this is all pre-arranged, you step up to one of the bad dudes and punch him out, showing your woman how tough you are.

If violence isn’t your thing, Hirakata Park also lets you defuse a bomb and save people, or donate blood to a needy person. The company takes your money a few days before your date, and rehearses everything that’s going to happen.

I think this is a brilliant idea, and completely ridiculous. I have no doubt many men would pay for this service, but here’s a way to impress a girl on your first date: Be nice to her. Ask about her interests and life. Open doors for her. Pick up the check. Don’t be obnoxiously staring at her chest or making lewd comments.

See? I just saved every single man in Japan a little money. Still, I have no doubt this idea will come to America.

**Next up today, Celine Dion gets mocked for her overly dramatic performances and gestures, her sappy songs, and lots of other things. But the woman has an amazing voice, in case you’ve forgotten. And this is the 20th anniversary of “Titanic” being released, a movie that’s a total guilty pleasure for me. I love, love, love it, and whenever it’s on TV and I stumble on it I stay and watch for a few minutes.

Sunday night at the Billboard Music Awards in Vegas, Celine belted out “My Heart Must Go On” and it was sublime. Enjoy.

**And finally today, part of being a New Yorker is that you’re legally required to have a cup of coffee and a bagel for breakfast at least a few times a week (seriously I think it’s on every apartment lease in the five boroughs.)

But who wants to go through all that trouble of drinking and eating at the same time? No one, that’s who. So Einstein Bros. bagels has invented a way to get your caffeine and cinnamon-raisin bagel jolt all at once. Not sure anyone in the world asked for this, but here it is: The Espresso Buzz bagel! Thirty-two milligrams of caffeine are in each one, with the caffeine coming from espresso and coffee-cherry flavor. According to this story, in addition to its dark (and slightly unappetizing) color, taste tests have been pretty mixed with some tasters describing it as a “sour,” and others loving it. So who knows? Try eating it, I guess. Or snorting it you prefer. Life is short.

There is no end to what we will do to get more caffeine. Also if these bagels taste good my wife might never eat anything else, ever again.

Attending a college graduation this weekend spurs thoughts of my own, 20 years ago. Billy Joel and Axl Rose duet together on stage. Seriously. And the end of the reign of “Michael.”

I’m a pretty nostalgic guy, both for my own childhood, and for the world in general, and when it comes to my own life, I always find myself thinking about milestones, anniversaries, and key dates in my four decades on Earth.

But for some reason the fact that this year is the 20th anniversary of my college graduation has totally snuck up on me. I thought about it a few times as my wonderful alma mater, the University of Delaware, sent me emails reminding me to come to alumni weekend and oh yeah, donate some money as well.

But with life being busy, I just haven’t spent much time thinking about it. Until Saturday, when the wife and little boy and I went to Fordham University’s commencement. We went because two of our babysitters, Juily and Caroline, were graduating, and we love them for many reasons, including how great they are with our boy, and we wanted to show our support.

The graduation itself was pretty run-of-the-mill, a speaker droning on, but then hearing the individual names of the students being honored got me thinking.

It is still, and probably always be, a pretty huge deal to graduate, and watching the pride and excitement of these 21 and 22-year-olds walk across a stage, shake hands with a dean, and then look excitedly into the mass of people in the crowds while trying to find their families, was special to watch.

I always knew going to college was completely expected of me, and I never once thought it was an option not to graduate.  But still, that day back in 1997 felt so important. I felt like I had accomplished something; I’d worked hard in college but not always in class, my sweat equity was mostly saved for endless hours at the school newspaper, learning and falling in love with what would be my profession.

The idea that this was the end of my educational journey struck me as both exciting and terrifying; my life had always been organized around September being the beginning of a new year; I remember in September 1997 feeling totally strange for a few days with no school to go to; what, you mean the summer ends and I don’t have any books or homework to worry about?

That graduation day 20 years ago was a milestone I was proud of; my fellow Blue Hens and I (worst mascot in America but we loved it) knew we had accomplished something.

Watching those Fordham grads strut a little after their ceremony on Saturday, the old memories, and pride, came flowing back.

Congratulations to any and all college graduates this spring; it is still a very big deal and quite a worthy accomplishment.

**Next up today, I know there’s a great tradition in live music concerts for the star performer to bring up a “special guest” or a “great friend” who’s also a mega-famous singer, but never in a million years would I have expected these two to be up on stage together.

Yet last week at Dodgers Stadium, Billy Joel brought on his “friend” Axl Rose, to sing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” and the Piano Man’s own “Big Shot.”

I was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan way back when, and I’ve loved Billy Joel since I was 10, but seeing them on stage together here is… weird. It is an interesting juxtaposition to think of their careers together, though: Rose had a huge impact all at once, becoming incredibly famous and then crashing and burning and never really recovered from the crush of fame he received. He’s had so many problems over the years, from drugs and alcohol to showing up hours late for concerts, and he’s so unreliable that he doesn’t have much of a career anymore.

Joel, meanwhile, started off small and slowly, built a reputation as a great songwriter and singer, and has seen his fame endure for, what, at least 40 years now. He’s had lots of problems, too (bankruptcy, drinking and driving) but kept his head down and just kept performing, and now he’s a bullet-proof icon.

Anyway, just a thought. Watch the video and tell me if it’s as weird for me as it is for you.

**Finally today, a small “funeral” for my first name. For the past 45 years, Michael has been one of the most popular, if not the most popular, boys name for parents. Not one class I was ever in, from kindergarten through college, was I the only Michael. Always had to ask the teacher for the last name of the Michael they were looking for.

Lots of times, I wish I had a unique name. There were too many Michael’s in the world, I always felt; why’d my parents have to be so trendy? (And don’t get me started on the early 1980s problems we had, when Life cereal ran their “Mikey Likes It” commercials 24/7, and we Michael’s had to endure being called “Mikey” for years.” Then again, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan had our name so that wasn’t too bad.)

But now, the reign of Michael seems to have officially ended. New numbers released by the Social Security Administration show Michael to have slipped to 8th place in 2016, and at its lowest level since 1940.

The Liams, Noahs and Masons of our world have all edged Michael aside. And I’m a little sad, surprisingly. I liked being so popular 🙂

Good News Friday: The greatest peanut butter and jelly knife ever is invented. Tim Tebow does a great thing. And the woman who helps disabled goats.

OK, let’s all take a deep breath. It’s been a pretty crazy hectic news week, which didn’t slow down on Thursday when Roger Ailes and Chris Cornell both died (I guarantee those two have never been in the same sentence before), we had two horrible car accidents here in NYC (including a drunk driver plowing over more than 20 people and killing one on a crowded Times Square sidewalk) and more nonsense coming from the White House.

So we need some smiles, and some laughs, right? Good thing I’m here. I begin Good News Friday with maybe the greatest invention in sandwich-making since sliced bread (OK maybe the person who invented the paper plate has an argument).

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the greatest and only knife you’ll ever need for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s called the PB-JIFE knife, and it eliminates the problem of getting peanut butter on your hands while making the sandwich.

It’s got curved edges, a huge extra-long blade… I’m telling you, if you don’t get the man in your life this knife for Father’s Day, you just don’t love them. (I would love one of these, for anyone looking to get me a Dad’s day gift.)

It was invented by a video-game designer and costs just $12.99. You can buy it here, and if watching this demo doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will.

**Next up, Tim Tebow gets a lot of publicity, some of it negative for his spectacular failure as an NFL player and how he’s always so outspoken about his Christian beliefs, but I’ve always tried to point out how much of a good heart he has, and how much good he does in the world.

Every year he holds a “Night to Shine Prom” for special-needs kids, and Tebow went on Jimmy Fallon the other night and talked about a superfan of his named Judy, who wanted him to go to her prom with him but he was unable to.

Judy and her mom were invited to “The Tonight Show” and Tim asked Judy to dance. Her face, her reaction… just so magical.

Good on you, as usual, Tebow.

**And finally today, for you animal lovers out there, check out this incredible woman named Leanne Lauricella, who houses disabled goats in her home and takes care of them, saving their lives. All of them.

What an amazing woman. I say it all the time: So much more good than bad in the world. So much more.

I go to Florida for a few days and all hell breaks loose: Shit’s getting real for our President. Aaron Judge asks New Yorkers about Aaron Judge, hilariously. And the frisky squirrel who stole the show

Greetings from sunny Orlando. My apologies for there not being a blog post on Monday like usual, my stepsister’s wedding went late Saturday night, and spent all day Sunday chasing my little guy around and having fun (Also I forgot my laptop and am writing this on the hotel’s “business center” which amazingly has computers that use Internet Explorer as the main browser. Really? IE is still alive and being used in a “business center”? Can’t wait to load my Geocities page on here when I’m done).

Coming home Wednesday night from the Sunshine State, which happily is just as weird in 2017 as it was from 2006-11 when I lived here. Have to say, whew, I’m glad that there was so little news in the world the last few days, just some boring hockey playoffs and humdrum politics-as-usual and no major stories and …
WHAT???? WHAT HAPPENED? WAIT, THEN THIS HAPPENED, TOO??? HE TOLD THE FBI DIRECTOR TO WHAT???

Yes, boys and girls, we thought the 2016 Presidential campaign was exciting, but that was a trip to the dentist compared to the stuff that’s been coming out lately, and, I have a feeling, that’s about to keep coming out for the next several days, weeks, and months. Seriously, you can’t check out of the news for a day with this guy in the White House. It really is amazing, horrifying, sad, and depressing all at the same time, what Donald J. Trump has done/is doing to America.

So many thoughts rocketing around my head about the beginnings of the end (God willing) of Donald Trump, but my brain has been able to shake out these hopefully coherent points:

— Impeachment is a word my liberal friends have been throwing around for months, talking about this or that being grounds. I’m no Constitutional scholar like our last President was (what was that guy’s name again, anyway?) but I never thought anything Trump had done or said yet was anything that would rise to the occasion of getting a majority GOP Congress to even look into impeachmernt proceedings.

But I must say, this Comey memo might finally be the thing that starts the “I” word being taken seriously, and you can tell by some of the quiet coming out of Washington Tuesday night, and some of the strong critiques of Trump coming from GOP legislators, that this shit is getting real for a lot of them.

— Was talking to a friend today about all this and the comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate, which of course are going to come up, and we both agreed: Hey, at least Tricky Dick hired people to commit the crimes that lead to his downfall. Trump committed them himself.

— Think about all these people who are leaking news about Trump from inside the White House; all of these sources are people who know things, and have no interest whatsoever in protecting/helping the man who appointed them to their positions. Think about what that says about Trump, and how incredibly frightened these appointees are about what he’s doing.

Check out this paragraph from a N.Y. Times story Tuesday:

In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.

Wow. So they’re saying Trump’s not smart or interested enough to really leak secrets on purpose.

— Finally, remember when we thought Trump was going to stifle and crush a free press in America, and really do major damage to the First Amendment? Well, he still might, but man, he has done wonderful things for the readership numbers of the N.Y. Times, the Washington Post, and many other outlets. Just so much to cover and write about.

And also, it’s OK that I laughed pretty hard at that “Home Alone 2” homage at the top of this, right? I mean, laugh or cry, right?

**Next up today, a couple things left over from the past few days that made me smile. First off, “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” has done this a couple of times with newly-famous New York athletes, and they always crack me up.

Aaron Judge is a New York Yankees rookie outfielder who has hit something like 100 home runs in the first two months of the MLB season. But he’s not exactly a household name of face yet, so Fallon sent him out to Bryant Park in NYC to talk to fans about Aaron Judge.

All the reactions are great, but the dude in the middle of the video, with the crazy eyes when he realizes who he’s talking to? Cracked me up so much.

**And finally today, this happened over the weekend and it brought me great delight. A squirrel interrupted the Minnesota Twins-Cleveland Indians game, and no one seemed to have a clue on what to do about it. Grounds crew didn’t come out to catch him, no players went near the little guy, and for about four minutes the entire stadium stood watching a very energetic furry creature do whatever he wanted, running the bases like Rickey Henderson in his prime.

And I love that it finally ended not with some sensible catch and release, but because the squirrel jumped into the stands. “Hey, not our problem anymore, batter up!”

 

Good News Friday: A little girl gives out bracelets and hugs, trying to change the world. Teacher Appreciation week inspires cool gifts. And a Cubs star makes a huge gift to a children’s cancer hospital

And a Happy Friday to all of you out there in Internet-Land. Your humble blogger is heading to Orlando this weekend for my stepsister’s wedding, and I’m also getting to see some old friends I haven’t seen in while, so I’m very excited. Lots of good news going on this week to counter all the insanity in Washington, D.C…

First up, as a substitute teacher and the child of two retired teachers I know how rarely teachers get appreciated, so whoever came up with Teacher Apprecation Week, bravo. The folks at Upworthy.com chronicled a whole bunch of fantastic teacher tributes that went on around the country, including the photo above for Mrs. Farvour in Wisconsin.

Check out all the photos and Tweets at the Upworthy story; and remember for a minute the teacher that changed your life

I always think of mine when I talk about teachers;  I wrote this back in 2009 about the teacher who I admired most.

**Next up, an amazing little girl named Leah Nelson of Sacramento, Calif. has started an organization called “Becuz I Care,” where she makes Rainbow Loom bracelets (made of rubber bands) and sends them to people to encourage them to do good deeds.

As she explained to Today.com last year, “You don’t have to buy anything,” Leah told TODAY Parents. “Just whenever you do something kind, you pass it on, and you ask them to pay it forward as well by passing on the bracelet when they do something kind for someone else.”

Leah and her family also raise money to help those in need, and sometimes just do things like this, a video that blew me away. Watch Leah approach a clearly distressed woman and make her day:

Just tremendous. You go, Leah. What an amazing child.

**Finally today, another athlete who has always seemed to “get it” is Cubs star Anthony Rizzo. He’s a smart, funny dude who in just a few years in Chicago has become a big star and pretty close to universally beloved.

Stuff like this helps: Rizzo just pledged $3.5 million to a Chicago children’s hospital, the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

The Hope 44 Endowed Fund will provide grants on a case-by-case basis for families facing financial hardship due to unexpected needs resulting from a child’s treatment for cancer. These expenses include but are not limited to: insurance copays, meals, parking, rent, utility bills and child care for siblings.

The fund will enable oncology social workers to immediately assess a family’s need for assistance, without restrictions on a patient’s age or stage in diagnosis or the need for a formal application. A number of patients’ families have benefitted from the Rizzo Foundation’s Hope 44 Fund, which has already granted approximately $75,000 to offset these types of expenses.

Rizzo is a cancer survivor himself, and to see him giving back like this is phenomenal.

 

http://m.cubs.mlb.com/news/article/229008138/anthony-rizzo-donates-35m-to-kids-hospital/

A mostly TV post, starring the awesome “Billions” and the really great “Better Call Saul.” And John Oliver brings us Eminem vs. New Zealand

Not going to sit here and complain about that awful performance by my New York Rangers last night, a season-ending awful performance. Nope, they’re not worth my time or aggravation.

So let’s start today with a TV post; I haven’t done one of these in a while but just about every show I’m watching these days is in the middle of a fantastic season, so I want to talk about two of them.

First off, it’s pretty rare that a series gets better from Season 1 to Season 2. “Breaking Bad” did it, “The West Wing” did, and maybe a couple others, but usually, quality either stays the same or regresses significantly (see: “The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Homeland,” etc.)

But man oh man has “Billions” been sensational in Season 2, far and away better than a really good Season 1 (Don’t worry, no spoilers about the season finale here, I know it’s only been a couple days.)

Damien Lewis has been so, so good this season, as billionaire Bobby Axelrod, going from cocky-as-hell to scared, from sympathetic to “oh man he’s such an ass,” often in the course of the same episode. Paul Giamatti as U.S. district attorney-turned-governor candidate Chuck Rhoades, has also been fabulous this year.

The show has been hilarious this year (Wags gets the best lines, from his “this deal stinks worse than Billy Batts in a trunk” to his “you mean the petting zoo?”), it’s been a little heartbreaking, and the supporting cast, with new characters like Taylor (whose gender is unknown), and SEC investigator Dake (smarmy and awesome)  being so solid alongside returnees like Wendy Rhoades and Cafferty, has been sensational as well.

The penultimate episode last week was pure perfection, as we got to see a half hour of Axe celebrating, thinking his dirty tricks have ruined Rhoades and his father, to the final 10 minutes when we learn Chuck has been playing Axe the whole time, and the whole situation blew up in Axe’s face.

I cannot, cannot recommend “Billions” enough. It has taken a giant leap forward this season. If you need a new show to binge-watch, this is the one for you.

**Next up, wanted to talk about another show that has been awesome this season (no, not ‘The Americans,” which I worship but hasn’t been quite up to its usual standards), “Better Call Saul.” I had high hopes for this show when it started, given it was a “Breaking Bad” spinoff, though I feared it wouldn’t be able to sustain itself.

But we’re early in Season 3 and it’s still fantastic, and getting better. The two separate, parallel shows, featuring Jimmy McGill on his way toward becoming shyster lawyer Saul Goodman, and ultimate fixer Mike Ehrmantrout trying to figure out the New Mexico drug war and one of its key players, Gus Fring (it is SO damn good to have him back in my life) have both been fascinating so far this year.

Jimmy so much would like to be a good man and a good, honest lawyer, but circumstances and the worst angels of his nature keep getting in the way, and in the way of fellow attorney Kim Wexler truly falling in love with him.

“Better Call Saul” has had a great slow build, such a great slow build that as brilliant TV critic Alan Sepinwall points out, you want them to hurry up and get to Jimmy becoming Saul, but you don’t want that because the leadup has been so measured and great.

“Better Call Saul” is getting better and better. Can’t wait to see how good it will be next week.

**Finally today, this cracked me up, as “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” almost always does. It’s a short video about a ridiculous court case in New Zealand, involving Eminem, a campaign song, and some fantastic, shocked looks from politicians.

I’m with John, I totally would watch this trial.

http://joeposnanski.com/katie-the-perfect/

Details on this Penn State hazing death leave me enraged. “SNL” does a great spoof on the Mika and Joe weirdness. And the Mets fan honoring his dead friend by flushing his ashes down MLB toilets

I have to admit that after hearing about so many cases of horrible hazing by fraternities on college campuses, I’ve gotten a little numb to them.

They all seem to follow the same pattern: Eager young freshman pledge gets initiated at a house party, forced to drink way too much, no one pays much attention to how sick the freshman is, until it’s far too late, and the kid dies.

The details tend to be a little different, the locations are different, the hand-wringing by college presidents about “we need to change the culture,” is a little different, but mostly I’ve read about so many of these tragedies that they sadly all blend together.

But every once in a while, I get shocked into outrage. And that’s what happened this weekend when I read about the disgusting, criminal behavior of the “men” at Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and their roles in the February death of pledge Tim Piazza (that’s him, above).

If you’re not familiar with the details, they are horrifying. Here are a few examples from the timeline that went on the night of Feb. 3:

— He fell down the stairs and was unconscious, and didn’t receive medical help for 12 hours.

10:47 p.m.: Piazza is carried back up the steps by Ryan Burke, Luke Visser, Greg Rizzo and Jonah Neuman. Piazza is limp and has a visible bruise on his abdomen. The brothers place Piazza on a couch. When Rizzo attempts to administer a sternum rub to Piazza, Piazza is unresponsive.

10:49 p.m.: Rizzo dumps liquid on Piazza’s face. Piazza does not respond. Following this Burke lifts Piazza’s arm, which immediately falls back to Piazza’s chest.

11:14 p.m.: Kordel Davis, a newly initiated brother to Beta Theta Pi as of December 2016, enters the great hall. Davis approaches Piazza, leans over him and then turns to the other brothers in an animated fashion, pointing to his head and then to Piazza. When he testified, Davis told jurors he told the other brothers that Piazza needed to be taken to the hospital. Davis told jurors he screamed at the brothers, telling them they needed to get help.

11:15 p.m.: Neuman shoves Davis into a wall and tells him things are under control. (Ed. note: Ridiculous, right? 

Now at this point, clearly there is criminal negligence and just a complete disregard for Piazza’s well-being. But it gets worse…

11:25 p.m.: Daniel Casey, the pledge master, reenters the great hall to check on Timothy Piazza — he slaps Piazza three times in the face.

1:50 a.m.: Ems strikes Piazza’s abdomen.

3:22 a.m.: Piazza attempts to regain his feet, and Coyne is nearby. Piazza falls backward and strikes his head on the hardwood floor — Coyne shakes him for movement, and then leaves the room.

3:54 a.m.: Piazza attempts to stand up again, but falls face first onto the floor.

It goes on like this, agonizingly, for several more hours, with fraternity brothers stepping over him, filming him (filming!), until at 10:48 someone calls 911.

Outrageous, despicable behavior from young men who continue to think doing this to another human being is fine, that it’s all part of their glorious hazing tradition, etc.

I know I’ll hear from people reading this who will say it’s wrong to paint all fraternities with a broad brush, this is an extreme example, etc. And maybe it is atypical in its horror. But it happens in some degree ALL THE TIME at colleges across the country.

How many more young men need to die before college presidents actually do something about this? When will police and law enforcement make an example of these boys who tortured poor Tim Piazza?

Soon, I hope. Very very soon. 18 Beta Theta Pi brothers were charged criminally here. I hope they all go to jail.

**Next up today, this cracked me up big-time. Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough host MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” a political roundtable show my wife watches that often gets me yelling at the TV.

Mika is a blonde know-nothing who rarely adds anything interesting to a discussion, while blowhard Joe is a former GOP Congressman who changes his mind on Donald Trump so often that I have no idea where he currently stands. (First he loved Trump, then he hated Trump. Then he loved him again, then hated him after the “Access Hollywood” tape. Then I think he flip-flopped three or four more times).

Anyway, “Morning Joe” has always had a weird dynamic between the two, and now it’s gotten even weirder: The two of them left their spouses for each other, and now are engaged to be married.

Happily, “Saturday Night Live” decided to spoof Mika and Joe on Saturday night’s cold open, with a guest role from Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump’s “spokesman,” John Miller, which is an alias Trump used in the 1980s when he’d pretend to  be a publicist singing Trump’s praises.

**Finally today, a story about friendship and urinals. A Mets fan named Tom McDonald was best friends with fellow Mets fan (Mets sufferer?) Roy Riegel. Riegel died nine years ago, and McDonald was charged by Riegel’s family with disposing of his ashes in an appropriate manner.

Where to put them? At first McDonald scattered some at ballparks and notable places, but then he realized it’d just be easier to flush him down the toilet at ballparks around the country:

It’s appropriate, McDonald feels, because Riegel was a plumber.

From the NY Times story on this:

“The game has to be in progress — that’s a rule of mine,” Mr. McDonald said one recent weeknight before entering a Citi Field bathroom, holding a little plastic bottle containing a scoopful of Mr. Riegel’s cremains . . . “I took care of Roy, and I had to use the facilities myself,” Mr. McDonald said, emerging from the stall with the empty container. “So I figure, you know, kill two birds . . I always flush in between, though,” he added. “That’s another rule of mine.”

Well sure, you’ve got to have rules when doing something like this