Tag Archives: This American Life

The Minnesota town overrun with drunk birds. “This American Life” with an amazing episode about police indifference in a Long Island town. And a transgender student left alone in active shooter drill is disgraceful

A moment of silence before we begin for the 2018 New York Yankees season. I don’t follow baseball much anymore but I do get into the playoffs, and that 9th inning of Red Sox-Yanks last night was crazy exciting and tense. Ah well, great season by the men in Pinstripes…

Sometimes, you see a headline on a story and you know there’s no possible way you won’t be reading the whole thing.

Such was the case last week when I came across this doozy, in the Washington Post:
“Drunk birds are causing havoc in a Minnesota town. Police say they’ll sober up soon.”

I mean… you gotta stop and read that, right? So here’s the deal: In the small burg of Gilbert, Minn., the local police are receiving reports from locals about birds that are “under the influence” flying into windows, cars and acting confused,” according to Police Chief Ty Techar.

So what’s going on? Have some college kids been bring their Stroh’s Lights over to the birds and pouring them down their gullets? 2-for-1 night if you can fly over at the old local tavern? Are the birds just high on life? (Thank you, I got a million of these, I’ll be here all week. Try the veal).

Nope. Apparently an early Minnesota frost meant that berries had fermented earlier than usual, Techar explained, and birds were eating them and getting drunk. (Please, make your own jokes here about a spinoff to the wildly successful game, maybe called “Angry Drunk Birds.”

Incidents around town involving intoxicated birds appear to be more prevalent than in past years, Techar added, because many have not yet migrated south. “It appears that some birds are getting a little more ‘tipsy’ than normal,” he wrote. “Generally, younger birds’ livers cannot handle the toxins as efficiently as more mature birds.” (Well sure, that’s true of humans, too!)

Turns out the birds should sober up soon, and I love the Gilbert police department’s press release about this, ending with the statements that locals should call police if the see:
— Woodstock pushing Snoopy off the doghouse for no apparent reason
— Big Bird operating a vehicle in an unsafe manner,
— The Roadrunner jumping in and out of traffic on Main St.

Too funny. Be careful out there, our flying feathered friends.

**Next up, on a much more serious note, I’ve raved often in this space about the incredible journalism done each week on the NPR show “This American Life,” which has millions of devoted listeners like me.

The show has been on a fantastic streak of great episodes lately, none better (in my opinion) than last week’s show, No. 657, called “The Runaways.” It’s about what happened in a Long Island town when MS-13 gang activity picked up dramatically, and the Suffolk County police department’s woefully inadequate, downright callous and insensitive way of handling it. The episode tells the story of three Latino immigrant teenage boys, what happens to them, and the way the Suffolk PD “investigates” their disappearance.

Now, this one maybe hit close to home for me because I grew up in Suffolk, and the town this all happened in, Brentwood, was 15 minutes from my hometown of Commack.
But I don’t think you have to be from there to be outraged by the actions of the Suffolk PD, and to have your heartbreak for families like those of Miguel Garcia (above.).

Done in conjunction with the outstanding journalism think tank ProPublica, this episode is astoundingly good. Take an hour on your next commute to listen and download it; it’s devastating and great.

Made me so mad, how much some lives are valued, and how little others are.

**Speaking of that, this story made me shake my head, and honestly, I don’t know what to say about it.

A middle school in Virginia left a transgender student alone during an active shooter practice drill last week,  because they didn’t know where to shelter them.

Students were shepherded into the boys and girls locker rooms during the drill at Stafford County Middle School in Stafford, Va., while administrators and teachers debated where to put the transgender student.

From this story, according to Equality Stafford, an LGBTQ organization: The student was forced to watch the adults charged with her care, debate the safest place (for the other students) to have her shelter,” Equality Stafford claimed. “During this debate, she was instructed to sit in the gym with a teacher until the drill was complete, away from her peers and identified as different.”

The student was eventually told to sit in the locker room hallway, away from other students, for the remainder of the drill.

My goodness, what is wrong with people???

The lady who mailed back a letter President Trump wrote her. With corrections. A ballboy/player collision at the French Open shows great humanity. And a pretty fantastic graduation speech from Ira Glass on the future of journalism

Good morning, fellow humans (and hi to any bots that might be clicking on my blog and driving up traffic. Thanks, robots!). Your humble blogger is a little pooped today after going upstate for a fantastic wedding Sunday night. Great food, great DJ, great venue… it was all-around fabulous.

And so I’m in a great mood, so even on yet another weekend where the lies and outright abuse of power (and frightening assertions from the Orange Man’s lawyers) continued to pile up outside the White House, I want to start with what I thought was a pretty funny, small story I liked.

A woman named  Yvonne Mason taught English in Greenville, S.C. for 17 years in middle and high schools, and she’s a pretty big stickler for spelling and grammar (as am I, which is maybe why I liked this story so much.)

She writes letters to politicians quite frequently, letting them know her views, and recently she’d written a letter to President Trump after the massacre of children in the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Quite surprisingly, she received a hand-written letter in response, signed by Donald Trump himself.

And just like in his Tweets, there were misspellings, random capitalization, and other odd word choices.

Some people would be thrilled to get a letter from the U.S. President. They might frame or laminate it.

Not Mrs. Mason. She took out her purple pen, circled and corrected all the errors, then sent it back to the White House.

“If I had received this from one of my students,” she told The Washington Post, “I would have handed it back without a grade on it and said, ‘I hope you left the real one at home.’ ”

I have no idea if Trump wrote the letter. But why would a speechwriter or someone else purposely and intentionally misspell things?

God bless you, Yvonne Mason. English teachers are the best.

**Next up today, being a ballboy at a pro tennis tournament can be a tough job. Players barking at you to bring them towels (one day someone will explain to me why today’s players must towel off after EVERY point, when 20 years ago Agassi and Sampras would play 20-shot rallies and then somehow be fine), toss them a certain ball, or other menial task.

But what you don’t expect is to get accidentally clobbered by a player. But this young fellow at the French Open on Friday was trying to catch an errant show when he was clobbered by No. 26 ranked Damir Dzuhmur. Dzuhmur was a real nice guy about it afterwards, look how concerned he is. The kid turned out to be fine.

But ballboys: Be careful out there.

**Finally today, been meaning to write about this for a few days now. Ira Glass, who many of you know as the host of NPR’s wildly awesome and wildly successful show “This American Life,” gave a graduation speech to the class at Columbia Journalism School, and it was fantastic. It was hopeful, it was funny, it was realistic, and in this time of so much doom and gloom about journalism and the news, I found it delightfully refreshing.

I just want to quote two passages here, but I highly, highly recommend reading the whole thing here.

First, Ira’s opening was terrific:

Welcome to the next phase of your life. It’s gonna be amazing. There’s a war in this country over facts and truth – and it’s not clear how it’s gonna play out and congratulations – you’re heading to the front lines.

I know those are words every parent wants to hear.

Second, this part spoke to me, too:

I’m guessing some of you are focused and directed and you know exactly what you want to do. But I bet many of you are like I was all through my 20s, when I really struggled to figure out how to do work that was meaningful to me. The work I do now really came from that long experience of being lost and trying to invent something that made sense to me. And seemed special to me. Something I was actually good at.

So if in the coming months and years … you feel lost and you’re stuck in some job that isn’t what you want … I just wanna say to you and to your parents … that’s normal. You’re not crazy. Happens to lots of us. You just have to get in there and make stuff and try things and push yourself hard and that’s the only way to find your way.

This was great, too:

Don’t wait. Make the stuff you want to make now. No excuses. Don’t wait for the perfect job or whatever. Don’t wait. Don’t wait. Don’t wait. One of the advantages of being a journalist is you don’t need permission. You can go and run down the story now and then find a home for it. Pay someone you respect – pay a friend – a little money to be your editor and the person you talk to about your next steps. Don’t wait. You have everything you need. Don’t wait.

Really great stuff from Glass. Barack Obama used to talk about “the fierce urgency of now,” and I always loved that expression. Kids graduating college today are going to change the world, I just hope they start really soon.

The best newspaper corrections of the year. “This American Life” with another unforgettable show. And the soccer goal of the year



It’s become a little bit of a tradition here on Wide World of Stuff to take a look at my favorite year-end list of them all: The best (and w0rst) newspaper corrections of the year.

It’s the journalist in me that loves these so much (like the poorly worded headline above), because like every reporter known to man, I’ve made a few mistakes that warranted corrections. Of course I never found them funny at the time, but when they happen to other people? Well, that’s comic gold, as the movie reviewers say.

Here’s the complete list compiled by the great “Regret The Error” blog, but below are a couple of my favorites from the last 12 months:

From “The Australian” daily newspaper:

Due to a production error, a quote attributed to Lieutenant Colonel Ghulam Jehlani Shafiq in a report in The Weekend Australian on Saturday (“Afghanistan battles scourge of corruption”, page 16) was altered to change its meaning. Colonel Jehlani did not say: “It’s not like 25 years ago. I was killing everybody.” In fact, he said: “It’s not like 25 years ago I was killing everybody. At that time too we tried not to have civilian casualties.” The Australian apologises for the error.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

C.W. Nevius’ column about Most Holy Redeemer banning drag queen performers incorrectly stated that entertainer Peaches Christ appeared at an event at the church’s hall with a dildo shaped like a crucifix. He did not appear at the event, nor does he use the prop.

And from the Suffolk Journal in Suffolk, Mass.:


**I could rave about “This American Life” on NPR just about every week on the blog. I take for granted how terrific the program is, and how intelligent, sweet, haunting and thought-provoking it is; it’s truly the best hour of radio anywhere.

Last week’s show was particularly awesome; entitled “This week,” Ira Glass and Co. did something darn-near impossible: Produced, on the fly, a show dealing only with events that happened in the past seven days. So they were producing, reporting, and compiling all at the same time.
There are tiny stories on here, like the shuttle bus driver at an airport finally retiring after 128,000 loops to and from the parking lot, or about a group in New Orleans called “No AIDS” that goes to bars in the city offering free HIV testsBut there are also huge stories on here, like a “live” report from a journalist nearly killed in Afghanistan, who is intent on going back for more.

Really, it’s a wonderful show; listen to it here or download the episode on iTunes.

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**Finally, I only seem to pay attention to soccer when there’s an amazing goal scored somewhere in the world. Was reading this cool compilation of the best sports moments of 2012 when I stumbled upon this incredible score by a Serbian soccer played named Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Maybe one of the best goals ever.

Two amazing stories from “This American Life.” And a bizarre tennis experience I had

I could probably blog about “This American Life” every week. The NPR show, a brilliant one at that, always makes me think, feel and question things.
I caught up on a few episodes over the weekend and came across two remarkable stories I wanted to share.
The first is about the Brooklyn Free School, a pretty remarkable school in New York where there are no tests, no homework, and the kids make all the rules.
Sounds like every 9-year-old’s dream, right? Well, not exactly. Check out how it works in practice; I was riveted. The story starts here at the 38:50 mark. (It’s only about a 12-minute story; you can spare 12 minutes).

The other story that blew me away was a tale by David Holthouse, a writer for Westward magazine. He tells the story of being molested at age 7 by a 15-year-old boy, the son of a family friend, and his odyssey, decades in the making, until he decides he must murder this man. He plans it out meticulously, buys the gun, etc. Why doesn’t he do it? You have to hear this chilling story. (The story starts here at the 8:20 mark, and is about 20 minutes. Trust me, it’s worth it.)

I can’t recommend “This American Life” highly enough. Get it on iTunes, or listen to it on NPR when it’s on in your area.

**This may only be of interest to people who play tennis and can relate. Or maybe not.

So I’m playing in my usual Monday night league last night, and as soon as I start my singles match, I notice my opponent.
Specifically, I notice his T-shirt. And then I notice that it’s almost exactly the same color as the tennis balls we’re playing with.
Like, almost exactly the same. I’ve played literally thousands of matches, and never have this happen. Have you any idea how strange it is watching a ball disappear toward a person, and then seeing the ball blend into their shirt?
A few times when he hit the ball, it took me a second to pick it up, because I got lost in his shirt.

It was just weird, I tell you. I still kicked his butt, 6-1, 6-0. But people, please. On behalf of all tennis players worldwide, heed my advice: When you’re going out to play tennis, do not wear a yellow T-shirt.
Thank you.

The Blue Hens crush me with an awful loss. Psyched about the Jets. And the funniest comedian you’ve never heard of

I thought only the Jets were allowed to crush me like this.
Friday night, my alma mater played for the football championship of Division I-AA, which for those of you uninitiated means they play one level below the Auburns and Oregons and Florida States of the world.
My Delaware Blue Hens are a pretty good power in Division I-AA,  having won a bunch of championships and generally being awesome.
Friday night UD played Eastern Washington for the title, and the Blue Hens were dominating for most of the game, leading 19-0.
Then, well, I don’t know what the hell happened. But apparently Eastern Washington woke up and scored 20 straight points, and won the game 20-19, disappointing me, half my Facebook friends (we’re a loyal alumni group), and Vice President Joe Biden, a UD alum.
It was pretty shocking. All of a sudden Delaware couldn’t move the ball in the fourth quarter, and this good Washington QB with a funny name (Bo Levi Mitchell, doesn’t he sound like he should’ve been in O Brother Where Art Thou or something?) led his team to three touchdowns. And of course, the winning margin came because Delaware’s kicker had an extra point blocked i in the first half.

I was mad. I was annoyed. It’s not like we UD people get to brag much when it comes to sports. Chemical engineering? Sure, we rule at that. And we’ve got a darn good journalism program, too, if I do say so myself.
So this would’ve been another chance for Delaware to puff  out its (admittedly small) collective chest. And the Hens blew it.
Sigh. Maybe next year, Hens.

**The playoffs in the NFL begin today. My Jets are in Indy to take on the Colts in the first round. I’m feeling oddly confident. The Jets offense has been rolling lately, the Colts aren’t what they have been, and maybe, just maybe, the Jets could pull this one out.
A heavy dose of Shonn Greene would be nice. A pass rush to at least, you know, rush Peyton Manning would be nice. Mark Sanchez not throwing any killer interceptions would be nice, too.
Just have a good feeling about this one. Jets 24, Colts 21. And then on to New England, oy.

**I first started to hear about Mike Birbiglia while listening to his brilliant and funny stories on “The Moth.” He also does pieces for “This American Life,” a weekly staple of my iPod diet, and has been on Comedy Central a few times.
Birbiglia has a great way of telling a story, but he’s also very sharp and savvy with what he says. He wrote a new book based upon his life, including the story of how he sleepwalked through a second-story hotel window once. I just finished reading it, and I highly recommend you check it out of your local library or buy it here.
Here’s a clip of Mike; I defy you not to laugh:

A disease that’s worse when you’re happy. The unemployed Pierogi. And Wimbledon is back!

You hear so many incredible, fascinating stories on NPR’s This American Life that it really takes something extraordinary to stand out.

While catching up on my TAL podcasts last weekend, I literally almost pulled over when I heard this one. In the episode titled “Held Hostage” we meet a man named Matt Frerking, who has a disease that sounds impossibly cruel. It’s a type of temporary paralysis called narcolepsy with cataplexy. When it strikes Matt, he can’t move his head, his arms, or legs until the attack passes a few minutes, or hours later.

What triggers the attack in some patients, including Frerking? Strong positive emotions. Meaning, when Frerking is the happiest, the attacks are the worst. So he had a terrible attack at his brother’s wedding. Petting a puppy causes an attack. His grandchild’s second birthday party? Complete paralysis for a while.

I can’t imagine many things worse than this for a person to endure, emotionally. All the joy that life brings, hugging his wife, his kids, feeling a wave of happy emotions over his body, are what causes him the most discomfort. Frerking said he’s basically trying to live life as a robot, to prevent the disease from striking.

It’s truly an amazing story; give it a listen, it’s only about 10 minutes long. Here’s the link; click on the live stream button, and then fast-forward to the 44:50 mark.

**Ah, another week, another funny mascot story. The Pittsburgh Pirates, always known for their acumen in player personnel and management (they’ve had 18 straight losing seasons) have now fired one of the guys who plays the pierogi mascot during a mid-game promotion.

What was his offense, he was too full of himself?

No, turns out Andrew Kurtz, 24, had criticized the team on his Facebook page for giving the manager, John Russell, a contract extension.

I ask you, where does an unemployed pierogi turn for work now? Is there a union he can file a grievance with? (Aggrieved Dumplings of America, or ADOA, for short?)

**Finally, I say this: World Cup, Shmerld Cup. Wimbledon is here, and I am a happy man. My favorite event of the sports year, Wimbledon gives me so many reasons to love it every year.

The history. The drama. The strawberries and cream. And this year, the Queen is even coming for a visit! First time in 33 years Her Majesty will watch live on Centre Court.

Monday was a scary day for Roger Federer, but he survived in five (Honestly, Fed losing in the first round to that shlub would’ve been one of the 2-3 greatest upsets in men’s tennis history).

Check out my daily Wimbledon blog for the News-Journal here.

A new website that confuses me, and a politician not to be trusted

Occasionally I hear about a new website that’s supposed to be cool and fun, and I just go, “Huh?”

That’s kind of my reaction to fiverr.com, which I learned about Saturday. Created by a guy in Israel, the site asks the questions, “What will you do for five bucks?”

Basically, people post services offered on the site, and you can email them and pay them five bucks for such service. For example, one guy says “I will wear your bar/band/business T-shirt around Seattle for five bucks.” Another one is “I will write something in the sand for you and turn it into a greeting card.” Or how about “I will proofread and copy-edit your resume for five bucks.” Or my personal favorite, “I will be your best friend for $5.”

I’m puzzled by this many times over. First of all, how desperate are the ad writers for five bucks that they’d go through the trouble to make up the ad? Second, if you’re getting someone to proofread your resume, wouldn’t you want them to do a good job, and how good of a job will be done for an Abe Lincoln note?

And third, isn’t all of this just an excuse for laziness? Well, that one I can get behind.

Anyway, check the site out, it’ll at least be good for a laugh, and perhaps one day, a quick snapshot of how desperate we were for entertainment in 2010.

**So I’m sure many of you are like me, and absolutely love NPR’s This American Life. Hosted by Ira Glass (of whom I do a near-perfect imitation, my wife tells me), it’s the most interesting hour on radio, week in and week out. I’ve been listening to it for years, and now I hear the podcast every week.

Anyway, so often I hear amazing true-life stories on there and say to myself, “I should write about that for the blog.” And then I forget.

So this week I’m not forgetting, because one story on last week’s show made me angry. The show was about true urban legends, and there was a piece on about a guy named Steve Poizner, a billionaire who’s running for Governor of California. Poizner took a few months out of his life in 2003 to teach at a high school in San Jose, and then wrote a book about it.

Needless to say, he got a lot of things wrong, and the people at the school feel like he completely misrepresented them. To me, it sounds like Poizner was disappointed when the truth didn’t fit his “Stand and Deliver” narrative, so he just made up what he knew people wanted to hear.

This kind of crap is why people don’t trust politicians. Here’s a story from the L.A. Times about the controversy, and have a listen to the This American Life story for yourself here.