Friday, October 30, 2009


I had lunch with baseball writer Jim Kaplan a while ago, who is working on a book about Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal. I mentioned in passing that it must be tough to make sure when working on a book that people's memories are accurate years and years after the fact.

Let me present an excellent example of that.

Mike Harrington and I were talking about the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductions earlier this week. He said he had read a story about Phil Housley's wife, who was delivering a baby in Buffalo during a famous Duke basketball game in the NCAA basketball tournament. Then Mike sent me a link to Karin's story, which you can find here.

If you don't want to read the whole thing, Karin Housley was dropped off by Phil while he was on his way to playing Pittsburgh at the Aud for a key afternoon game. Karin was waiting to have the baby and was in enough pain to wish bad things for Christian Laettner, whose game was on television in the hospital. She suffered to the point where the baby was nicknamed "Duke," even though it was a girl. And the Housleys ran into Laettner on the way to the Hall of Fame dinner in Buffalo years later.

We all know about the 1992 NCAA game between Duke and Kentucky, in which Laettner hit a shot at the buzzer after a long pass from Grant Hill to win one of the greatest games in history. I read Karin's story, which is connected in folklore by some to the Duke-Kentucky game. I thought, something doesn't add up here.

For starters, Housley was traded by the Sabres to Winnipeg in the summer of 1990. So Karin couldn't have been giving birth in Buffalo in 1992 -- at least with Phil as a Sabre.

And, just to add to the confusion, Pittsburgh never played in Buffalo in March during Laettner's career at Duke.

Hmmm. Well, Laettner had one other very famous moment in the NCAAs at Duke. He hit a shot off an out-of-bounds play against UConn to move the Blue Devils into the final four. That was an overtime game too. It was on March 24, 1990.

Except, the Sabres were off that day. Duke did play the first two games of the tournament on days when the Sabres were home -- including a Sunday game on March 18 against Winnipeg. That could have been an afternoon game, although I can't prove it right now. Duke beat St. John's by four points.

Duke also made it to the Final Four in 1989, albeit in less exciting circumstances. There is a match for one tournament game by Duke with a Sabre home games, but it was a Friday night -- no chance of an afternoon game there.

I'd guess that the Winnipeg game was the one in question -- even if it wasn't a crucial game in determining a playoff spot (the Sabres had wrapped up a berth early that year). There's an obviously a way to figure this out for sure -- ask Housley's daughter for her birthdate.

But this is why we have fact-checkers ... and why books can take years to write.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tilting at windmills

There has been plenty of conversation around Western New York about converting our constant wind into energy, and how Wyoming County is actually doing that. That doesn't mean I had actually seen it happen.

Until Sunday.

I was driving home Route 20A near Varysburg when suddenly these big machines started to appear in the distance, looking like something from "War of the Worlds." We took a side trip down one road and took the picture above; you can get a bit of a perspective how big they are by comparing them to the farm house. We went a few miles down the road that goes along the top of the hill, and must have run into 50 or so windmills.

I'm not sure I'd want to live next door to one for some reason, but we'll probably be seeing more of them in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Literacy test

It was a rare Sunday afternoon off in the Bailey household, so my wife and I had the chance to visit Letchworth State Park along the mighty Genesee. I'd never been in the fall, and even though the colors were a little past peak they were still beautiful.

Sure, I could show you a picture of the gorge and impress you, but I have a travel site for that. Instead, take a look at the photo above. (You can click on it to make it bigger.) I took it by the parking lot above the Upper Falls of the park. Consider it a literacy test. What does the sign say? And what are the people behind the sign doing?

The path goes up to the railroad track, which goes on a bridge over the gorge. The bridge is not designed for pedestrians, so there's no guardrail. One slip on a surface hit by a fall rain the day before and you are part of the river a few hundred feet below. It's also a working railroad track (I saw a train go on a few minutes before this). In other words, danger, Will Robinson.

If that's you in the picture, I hope the picture was worth it. Because you are so busted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Around the dial

You might be familiar with the Bruce Springsteen lyric, "Fifty-seven channels and nothing on." You might have even said it.

Every time I think about getting digital cable, I consider how many channels I don't watch on television as it is. And then forget about spending the extra money. (I also still have a VCR and use video tapes instead of a DVR, which makes me something of a dinosaur as well as a limited TV-watcher.) I get the news and sports I want as it is.

In fact, it's fun to go through the list of channels and figure out what stations I never, ever watch -- stations that could go away without a peep from me. I'm not saying they all are without merit, as they fill a variety of niches. It's a matter of personal preference. Let's see ...

MyTV and CW: My wife would miss the 10 o'clock version of the local news, though.

QVC, HSN, Shop NBC: Don't shop on TV.

CTVTO: It's often blacked out locally on cable because of duplication the programming of Buffalo stations.

Discovery: Once in a great while, it shows a special like "Blue Planet." Otherwise, every time I visit the channel there's a picture taken from the front of a taxicab.

Ion: There must be some rhyme or reason to its show lineup.

WNYB/EWTN: God probably will get me, Walter, for not watching.

Lifetime, Hallmark: At least the TV movies keep actresses like Meredith Baxter Birney employed.

Nik, Animal Planet, Toon, Disney: Sorry, no kids in the house.

Syfy: A Twilight Zone episode might make stop dial-hopping for a minute.

BET, Food, Style, Oxygen, HGTV, TLC: Never seen anything that kept me interested for more than a split-second. I'm still wondering how Jon and Kate became so well-known while appearing on TLC.

Univision, Telemundo: My high school Spanish does me little good here.

Spike TV: I'm just not tough enough.

CMT: No thanks.

A&E: This used to be interesting, but it's now just re-runs of network shows -- mostly on crime.

CNN Headline News: If I'm careful, I can avoid Nancy Grace.

TruTV: What happened to Court TV anyway?

History: For a guy who loves history, this rarely has anything watchable.

USA: Ah, no.

MTV, VH1: Where did the music videos go?

E!: Lowest common denominator at its finest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Muppets do the Boss

Just stumbled upon the video, featuring the song "Born to Add" done on Sesame Street:

I used to have a 45 of a cover band, featuring a Springsteen-like version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "Meet the Flintstones." More on that here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Falling from the tree

It was easy to guess that Acorn's time in the public spotlight would have some major bumps in the road. Still, the organization's latest problems raise a troubling new issue that has little to do with inner-city politics.

If you weren't paying attention last fall, Acorn came under scrutiny during the Presidential election. Barack Obama had done some work for the group, which specializes in inner-city matters such as housing and voter registration. The organization has done some really good work right here in Buffalo, for what it's worth. Acorn came under fire because it hired people to sign up potential voters, and those people -- who usually are unemployed and often homeless -- made up names to submit to a city's Board of Elections. I believe the Chicago Bears defense all signed up to vote. The Board of Elections threw out the names -- that's its job -- and life moved on.

Except, the matter became something of a campaign issue among some conservative circles. Inner-city residents tend to vote Democratic, so some Republicans were quick to discredit Acorn -- and thus Obama. It was all a bit silly to most, but election season is silly season.

Lately, though, matters took a more serious turn. Filmmaker James O'Keefe staged some meetings with Acorn representatives, as he asked for (and received) advice on how to skirt the law in setting up a sex smuggling operation. O'Keefe filmed the results and gave them to Andrew Breitbart, who rolled them out on Fox News and his own Web site.

"This plan wasn't just a means to defend against the media's desire to attack the messenger," Mr. Breitbart says in the article. "It was also a means to attack the media and to expose them ... for the partisan hacks that they are."

The dominoes started falling from there. Acorn fired some employees, and federal legislators and agencies started sprinting to get away from Acorn's suddenly toxic fumes. Can't say the Democrats showed a whole lot of political courage in this one. In today's Wall St. Journal, Breitbart essentially brags about how smart he was to get the story out and harm Acorn, even if the ethics of the matter were a bit on the, um, shady side. As in, ever hear of entrapment?

One of the appealing parts of journalism to me is the chance to practice standards of professionalism and ethics. Even the WSJ's article author, James Taranto, admits that no "legitimate" newsgathering organization would have used such techniques.

Yet, when the story did come out through the Internet and a probably sympathetic news source in Fox News (Probably? Who am I kidding?), it became a issue that attracted attention -- just as the perpetrators planned. It took a while, at least in part because of the methods used. Do the ends justify the means? For Breitbart and O'Keefe, apparently.

I'm not sure what the rules are in cases like this, and the journalism business will have to deal with such matters in the months and years to come. I'm only sure of one point. If I ever do happen to meet Breitbart in person, I'll feel like taking a shower as soon as I can in order to wash him off me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

He shoots, he scores

Me thinks the Sabres should sign this nine-year-old for duty the next time there is a shootout:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eliminating a career possibility

It was a pretty simple question on Jay Leon's "10@10" tonight: What was the worst job you ever had?

Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers said he had always been a quarterback, so he didn't have a good answer. I've got a better one.

At one point about 17 years ago, I was among the ranks of the unemployed. I was placed into a spot as vacation relief in a local printing plant as a proofreader. OK, that's close to a writer and editor, although I'm willing to admit that I'm a little more skilled at judging facts and writing than finding the odd typo.

As the jobs passed over my desk, one stuck out. The company was printing labels for paint cans, with lots of instructions for use.

But here's the catch: the labels were written in Portuguese.

Ever try to proofread a language that you've never seen before? It ain't easy. Portuguese isn't Finnish or Chinese, but it's still, um, foreign to me. I tried to go over groups of three or four letters at a time as I wound my way through the document, but the mind does wander in such circumstances.

I finished out the week there. For the next couple of months, I checked the newspaper regularly for news from Brazil: "Six thousand children were severely injured when they drank a glass of paint due to a typographical error on the can's label..."

For those who do such tasks every day (proofreading, not drinking paint), I salute you.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Slap in the face

When it comes to bad days for a sports fan, Sunday afternoon was more or less a perfect storm. At least for me.

It started with the Red Sox, facing elimination after two dreary performances on the West Coast. However, they always play better at home, and sure enough, they took an early lead and held on as the game went on.

Finally, with two outs, none on, a two-run lead and Jonathan Papelbon (he of zero lifetime postseason runs allowed) on the mound, it was possible to think of a Fourth Game in the series. Yes, the Angels were probably the better team, but stranger things have happened.

They happened in the next 10 minutes or so. Whap, plunk, whap, walk, whap, and the Angels were ahead for good. As it turned out, the Red Sox played all season to earn the right to play an extra week and lose three more games. I'm not saying I'd trade the summer's routing experiences with those of Mets' fans, but a little more drama before the end of the baseball year would have been nice.

Switching television stations to the broadcast of the Bills offered no relief either. The game with the Cleveland Browns appeared to be one of the dullest in recent memory. Those who are out-of-town and hear a score like 3-3 in the fourth quarter assume that a monsoon had struck Orchard Park. No, it was just two bad teams who were incapable of moving the ball very far.

With three minutes to go, I let out a loud sigh that caused my wife to run in from the kitchen. What happened?!? Roscoe Parrish had fumbled a punt deep in Buffalo territory, and Cleveland had recovered. The game was more or less instantly decided, and a season that started with a little bit of hope had taken yet another emphatic circle into the depths of an abyss.

After listening to a Bills postgame talk show for a while and hearing the anger and disappointment, I called my friend Mark, who I knew was at the Bills game and at this point would be walking to his car. Thanks, I said, for not inviting me to see the dullest game in football history. Yes, he said, it was an all-time stinker.

And then Mark, who has his picture next to the words "good-natured" and "upbeat" in the dictionary, said in a slightly shaken voice, "And just to put things perspective, we were walking to the car when we saw the aftermath of a drunk driver who hit two people on Southwestern Boulevard. It looked pretty bad." Indeed, they were seriously injured -- one was flown by helicopter on Mercy Flight -- and five others were hurt in the incident. The talk shows didn't seem so entertaining after that. (Luckily, they all apparently will be all right.)

I'm not going to ever apologize for an emotional attachment to sports and the games. In a way, it pays my salary, and has the added bonus of bringing so much joy to my life. But while I had a bad day today, I know of seven people and their families who had a much worse one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Author, author

The death of William Safire prompted a friend -- Cheryl Solimini -- to write on Facebook about her graduation speaker at Syracuse University, William Safire. Mr. Safire was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, a speechwriter for President Nixon (oops) and an expert on language. His best advice -- avoid cliches like the plague. Peggy Noonan had a nice tribute to him and his type the other day.

I remember that speech by Safire well. It might have been the best speech I ever heard from, oh, a quarter of a mile away.

Safire was the speaker in 1978, the year after I graduated from college. He had enrolled at the school in 1951, dropped out after two years, and came back for his degree 25 years later. After that introduction, he started out this way:

"My subject today is 'The Decline of the Written Word.' If the speech I have written is disjointed and confusing, you will get my point the hard way."

Safire went on to say that he had four points to make on the subject. He cleverly said he had forgotten the fourth point, but could simply go back to his text and make it three points -- the advantages of editing the printed work are many. Then he artfully came back to a so-called fourth point.

I saved a copy of the speech from the Syracuse Post-Standard for quite a while. The problem was that I didn't get to hear it in person. There were no extra tickets for graduation back then, so I watched the ceremony and speech live on television from the luxury of Tim Wendel's living room just up the hill. Safire got a well-deserved standing ovation for his work, which he said touched him deeply.

Someone apparently convinced Safire to include that speech in his own collection of great speeches, "Lend Me Your Ears." Good move. You can read parts of it on line by clicking here. It's even more timely now in the light of e-mail and texting and Twitter.

While I also felt like applauding Safire's eloquence, I also felt more than a little jealousy that day. Where, I thought, was that level of inspiration the year before?

When I graduated in 1977, our speaker was supposed to be Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. But there was some important matter around that time that demanded Waldheim's attention, some border dispute in Africa between two countries I hadn't heard of. So the Syracuse chancellor made a couple of calls and convinced John Sawhill to catch a plane in. Sawhill was the nation's energy czar at the time, which meant as much to me now as it did then.

Sawhill started his speech with the usual thank-yous. Then he said something like, "I believe this class is entering a great turning point in our society. I know others have said that before, but here is why I believe it to be true now ..." And with that, a couple of thousand graduates promptly stopped paying attention. I looked over at my co-worker at the school newspaper, Debbie Hormell, and she was furiously playing dots during the speech. Hope she won.

For a year, I felt cheated that I didn't have a meaningful graduation speech. Then along came Safire's speech, and I claimed it unofficially. For that, and for a career filled with love of words and of his craft, we all thank him.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Marxist thought

If we can't have National Gorilla Suit Day (creator Don Martin's wife asked to stop it), then at the least we should make Groucho Marx's birthday a national holiday.

And that's today, October 2. Turner Classic Movies was celebrating it this morning. Thank goodness that the work of this Marx proved timeless, as opposed to the work of Karl Marx.

In tribute, here's a clip of Groucho in action. It's the famous scene with Harpo in "Duck Soup."

I've read all of the books on the Marx Brothers. Groucho and Harpo often had trouble interacting in the movies, often going through Chico as an "interpreter." So it's a little odd that one of the most famous scenes in the Brothers' history was with just the two of them. In fact, how odd is it for Groucho's big moment to be completely silent, considering he was the most verbal of comedians?

No matter. Enjoy this one.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Back to the barber

I've written here before about how a trip to get a haircut can be an educational experience. I tend to encounter people with, um, different viewpoints.

Another haircut, another reminder.

Today a few guys were waiting in the suburban shop as I received my monthly trim. The talk among them started about the Bills' woes; not surprisingly, Dick Jauron and Terrell Owens weren't too popular with this crowd.

From there, one of the men turned a rank about the Bills into a rant about President Obama. Kind of wish I had a transcript of the conversational transition there, but none is available. I believe we went from complaining about the money spent flying to Denmark in search of the Olympics, to high taxes. I remained quiet here, willing to let strangers vent and wondering if I'd hear the silly argument about Obama's birthplace.

Kenya didn't come up, as our pal went in another direction. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of it was: "Canada is socialist, and no one up there has bothered to invent anything in 25 years."

Suddenly, I had the urge to speak: "You mean, the patent office in Canada hasn't had anything to do in 25 years? No one has come up with a single idea in that time?" I asked.

No, the guy said, and he was willing to send me proof.

I didn't bother exchanging e-mail addresses with the guy, and didn't try to point out that Canada is hardly an example of pure socialism at work. But the Canadian inventor of the Blackberry might disagree with his premise. For starters.

And don't let the facts hit you in the back on your way out the door.