Sunday, August 29, 2010

Best friends forever, sort of

I'm now something of a veteran at Facebook, having been a member for more than a year. I've been amazed at how viral the connections to people can be. Friends of friends of friends pop up on the screen, followed by a "Say, I know that guy."

Facebook comes up with suggested friends every so often. Working in the media gives me a small advantage when it comes to having friends in the public eye. For example, I know a few writers and broadcasters locally and nationally. Those people know other people in the "six degrees of separation" tradition. There are also a few retired athletes who have become friends, mostly ex-Sabres. Even so, it's still pretty funny to look over the suggestions from Facebook on who I should contact next.

For example, here are some names from today's Facebook suggested friend list:

Darcy Regier: Somehow, I don't think Darcy sends out a note saying, "Think I'll cut Tim Kennedy rather than paying him a million dollars a year."

Conrad Dobler: Well, I interviewed him a few times when he was with the Bills, but I don't think sticking a mike in his face 28 years ago makes him a candidate to be a friend.

Bruce Smith: Yeah, Bruce and I hung out together all the time in the glory days...

Art Monk: He was a freshman at Syracuse when I was a senior. No doubt the future Washington Redskin read my stories in the school paper. OK, maybe not.

Jack Jurek: Who knew a bowler from Lackawanna would have 2,827 friends? And they say pro bowling is losing its popularity.

Ken Albert: I once talked to Marv on the phone when I worked for the Sabres. Does that make me Kenny's friend?

Jeremy Roenick: Maybe Facebook knows about the time I picked him on my hockey pool team.

Guy Lafleur: If only my French were better. We have no friends in common, which isn't a shocker.

Jeff Galloway: He's written many well-regarded running books. I've written some running stories. It's a natural fit.

I must add to this list as more names come up. So check back frequently for additions (and punch on the Google ads to get me money when you do).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Recycled ideas

This morning I read an interesting column by Clarence Page, in which he talked about "the dumbing down" of America. It was in association with the latest polls about President Obama's religious beliefs.

The number of people who believe Obama is a Muslim has actually increased since he's taken over as President. This is more than a little scary. After all, Obama's biggest problem during the primary season was his association with Reverend Wright, whose rhetoric was most obviously over the top and who most obviously was a Christian.

The fringe groups love to say that Obama has been bowing to the Muslims on the world stage since taking office. They love even more to use his middle name, Hussain, as a putdown, even though most of us learned when we were 12 that there wasn't much someone else a person could do about his or her name. "Yeah, Obama's mother knew in 1961 that her son would be President of the United States shortly after a dictator had ruled Iraq."

Obama also hasn't gone to church much in public since taking office, which has drawn criticism. Ronald Reagan didn't go much either, as perhaps both men quickly came to the realization that Presidents can't drop in on a church for a service without causing a ton of inconvenience and commotion for the rest of the parishioners.

Page's article goes on to point out how few people know how many Senators there are, and who their own Senators are, and how many branches of government there are, and so forth. It's all a little discouraging, and Page ends with the line, "Heaven help us."

And then I went to the supermarket. Bear with me on this; there's a connection coming.

I stopped at the recycling area to put 16 bottles into the return machine. There were three machines for plastic bottles, but two were flashing "Error. Call for repair." A line, therefore, developed. At the front was two 20-something males with a shopping cart of bottles. One was shoving the bottles in quickly -- perhaps too quickly -- and the machine wasn't keeping pace and making odd sounds. They gave up after a short time, leaving the cart behind with the parting comment, "They're all yours," for the rest of us in the room.

Next in line was a woman with another good-sized collection of bottles to be returned, which had just received a boost from the two guys. This woman was carting a baby around. A quick look at her cart revealed that she had a variety of bottles in her possession. But a majority of them wouldn't do her any good, since they were water bottles or small juice containers. In other words, she didn't know that there's a few lines printed on the container saying where a bottle can be returned for a deposit. And that the odds were pretty good that she was going to jam up machine number three.

As I waited, another 30's-ish man walked in with some plastic bottles. He looked at the sick machine #1, and tried to put one of the bottles in the opening. He got nowhere. "They are both broken; only that one is working," I said, trying to be helpful. The man didn't pay attention, and tried to put bottles in sick machine #2 and then #1 again.

Luckily, a store employee came along, opened up the sick machines, cleared out the jammed openings, and got us all back in business. I grabbed one of the machines, claimed my receipt for 80 cents, and headed for the store to shop.

Thinking about Page's article while still feeling frustrated, I remembered that all of those people in the room had an equal say in the electoral process. One person, one vote -- that's the genius of the system. But if they can't figure out how recycling machines work, it's easy to wonder what they think when they walk in the voting booth.

It's probably unfair, but Page's closing line came to mind again.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Way back in 1978-79, the movie "Piranha" opened. My friend Glenn Locke and I went to see it, and came away less than impressed. I was working for the Cheektowaga Examiner at the time, and we were printing movie reviews in the feature section. That made everyone on the staff a critic, and in this case the staff's friends could come out and play too.

Glenn and I sat down at my house one day. We put a typewriter on the desk, and typed out comments about the movie, going back and forth. Then I did some editing, so that some of my comments became his and vice-versa.

Here's the review, just in time for today's release of "Piranha 3-D":

"Piranha," a film which recently opened at the Holiday Theaters, has sparked intense debate among reviewers throughout the country. We believe printing a dialogue between two critics is the best method to present our opinions of the movie.

Glenn Locke: This film is not only the worst movie ever shown in the Buffalo area, it is the worst usage of celluloid in the history of mankind. Consider the plot --if that's what you'd like to call it -- which features highly intelligent killer fish that terrorize a mountain community.

Budd Bailey: The shark in "Jaws" was rather bright although it didn't seem to have a college degree -- as these piranhas did.

Locke: This film had an incredibly simplistic screenplay as well. The script was rejected by a group of preschoolers for being too unbelievable.

Bailey: "Piranha" compounds that by having the sight of the fish eating their victims as its only "entertainment." And I thought it was odd that piranhas seemed to prefer attacking young women, which provided a few cheap sex scenes.

Locke: Not only that, but the fish took much longer to eat a main character than an extra.

Bailey: Maybe we should talk about what story there was in the picture.

Locke; O.K., just leave this space blank.

Bailey: A school of biologically-developed piranhas is accidentally let loose into a Texas mountain streak. The military is warned by the two "stars" (Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies) about the potential disasters involved, but the Army's simplistic solution is to spread a little poison on the water. There is a "Jaws"-like cover-up to prevent a scare at the opening of a local swimming and amusement part downstream.

Locke: And there's a lot of eating, biting and spilling of red dye number two in the water along the way.

Bailey: I thought it was a bit odd that as soon as something was slightly bitten, "blood" would suddenly be gushing all over the screen. Anyway, the piranhas take a short cut through another stream to avoid the poison, swim amok among the park's patrons, and generally cause nothing but problems.

Locke: I liked how the fish tore apart a raft with all of the skill of mechanical engineers.

Bailey: Dillman finally destroys the piranhas with pollutants, which are sure to kill the fish as well as everything else in the river. Sort of an odd trade-off, don't you think?

Locke: Yes, we can only hope that all available prints of this movie are placed in that river very soon. Considering that the editing seems to have been done with scotch tape and scissors, the movie should disintegrate in no time.

Bailey: Most of the cast is probably hoping that will occur, considering the movie and their performances.

Locke: True, the acting was equal to the finest junior high school production.

Bailey: I'd like to know how director Joe Dante talked actors like Keenan Wynn, Kevin McCarthy and Richard Deacon into briefly appearing in this film. It's quite a stoop for them -- almost like being on "The Cross-Wits" or "Liars' Club."

Locke: They obviously never saw the entire script, or they're in such trouble that they needed the money badly.

Bailey: Even the fish resembled cardboard cutouts, a quality which matched the emotion shown by most of the performers. The piranhas weren't shown too often, though, so more time could be allotted for bleeding.

Locke: There haven been some bad films in the Buffalo area in the past few years -- "Jackson County Jail," "Deathsport," "The Mysterious Monsters," and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." But those movies had at least an amount of amusement. "Piranha" didn't.

Bailey: And this film has no redeeming social value whatsoever, which is the exact criterion for our dreaded rating of $0.

Locke: Don't you have something lower?

Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed some good reviews of this movie a while later. Director Dante did go on to some good work, and the screenwriter was John Sayles, who has worked on many good movies over the years. One critic a good spoof of "Jaws." Even so, I'm unwilling to watch the movie again to see if I missed something. I'll let this review speak for itself.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Plenty of people say that the best way to take a quick nap is to put some televised golf on as background noise. Before they know it, they are in dreamland.

So what does that make radio golf?

We put that to the test the other day while driving home from a vacation stop. The PGA championship was played on Sunday. Since it was a major title, I had some interest in the finish even though there weren't many big names in the hunt. And since I was driving, it was my call as to what came up on the radio. So I turned to the PGA's channel on XM for the finish. My wife started yawning immediately.

I can almost understand the attraction of radio golf Thursday through Sunday. There's a tournament to discuss, unlike the other days of the week. By the sounds of it, spectators at a particular event can buy radios that allow them to listen through headphones while watching the tournament. It's a great way to keep up without sprinting around the course.

Still, it's difficult to convey golf's appeals to a radio audience that uses it for little but soothing background music. You can't even see the green grass and the nice flowers. And play-by-play is really odd.

The channel had an on-course reporter describe the playoff between Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. When Watson hit a good drive to start the action, the announcer went through the shot moment by moment and then added, "Take that, Martin Kaymer!" Nothing like talking smack on a golf course.

My wife wasn't too thrilled with listening to a three-hole playoff, but she did get to hear the Mets/Phillies game right after the PGA title was decided.

And I did buy her some coffee ice cream the next day. So all is forgiven.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Guilt by association

I couldn't go right to sleep the other night, and wound up turning on the television a little after 2 a.m. Trust me on this, there is very little on television at that hour unless you like informericals.

So in looking for something to put me to sleep, I tuned in during the Glenn Beck show on Fox News. The few times I've watched him in the past, I've become quickly bored with his chalkboard and rhetoric and moved on. But without much choice, I hung around for a couple of minutes.

What I saw was interesting, in a bizarre sort of way. Beck was talking about some guy from 100 years ago who advocated eugenics -- "thinning the herd" when it came to the human species. I forget the name of the scientist -- it was late -- but the basic idea was to essentially get rid of the weak links. We'd be better off to stick to the strong and smart and weed out the others, he argued.

The scientist in question wrote then ex-President Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, who wrote back a letter of support for the idea. Teddy wasn't alone in his support; the idea was actually backed by people ranging from Woodrow Wilson to Margaret Sanger.

From there, Beck pointed out that one of the most admired people by the progressives of today -- including someone like Hillary Clinton -- is Teddy Roosevelt. The implication, of course, is that Clinton wants to follow Teddy's example in everything, including this.

So if I'm listening correctly, if I admire most of Roosevelt's actions and beliefs -- particularly for the time when he was arrive -- I have to go along with every single one of them. If I think Thomas Jefferson was one of the intellectual lights of the American Revolution, then I have to be in favor of slavery.

That's rather intellectually dishonest. Remind me why five million people watch that level of thinking every night.

Me, I hit the off button and went to bed.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Tuned in

I have a new toy, even if I can't play with it in the house.

It's XM Radio. It came with my new car.

I've had satellite radio a couple of times in the past. It was on a couple of rental cars that I had on vacations.

The service is really great on a trip like that. If you've ever driven across Western Nebraska, a little entertainment is helpful. I have a memory of driving into Kings Canyon in California, admiring the cliffs on either side ... and listening to the game between the Athletics and Red Sox in Boston.

The most obviously comparison for XM is when someone subscribes to cable television for the first time. He or she goes from a handful of stations to a couple of hundred. The amount of choice becomes almost overwhelming.

I've been hitting the scan button, bouncing around from station to station, looking for favorites. The first few stations are music by decade, so that I can go from the 40's to the 50's to the 60's to the 70s to the 80's to the 90's at a touch of a button. The variety of songs is quite impressive, I find myself saying, "I haven't heard that song in a long time."

The most obvious channel for me, though, is "E Street Radio." It's Bruce Springsteen, 24/7, night after night. Come to think of it, it reminds me of his last tour. I'm not sure I want to tune it for hours at a time, but it's nice to know that some friendly, familiar music is usually available at the touch of a button.

The vast channel selection probably is the biggest drawback, as well as its biggest advantage. I'm not going to listen to country or hip-hop stations, and I'd prefer to avoid Fox News' version of events when possible. You know how you can edit your television controls to skip over stations? It would be nice to have that feature here.

It all can be its own little world. In driving from South Dakota to Denver one time, we arrived at our destination and a friend said, "Being from Buffalo, you must be upset about Tim Russert." I replied, "I've been listening to the Sixties on Six for a while. What are you talking about?" Yes, nothing gets in the way of the music.

Still, the possibilities -- for the moment, at least -- remain fascinating. Can't wait to take a long drive to give it all a good listen.