Sunday, August 31, 2008

Queens' wave

I made my annual visit to the Clarence Center Labor Day Fair this afternoon. As usual, I walked around the Midway, looked around the beer tent, and saw the exhibits.

One of the tents set up involved the Clarence Bicentennial, which is being celebrated this year. The workers at the tent handed out booklets celebrating the town's 200th birthday.

It's a standard book of its type, filled with good wishes from local businesses and people. But a couple of pages stopped me cold. You've probably seen letters from politicians on letterhead in such situations, as they chime in with tributes to the great history of the town and best wishes for the years ahead. The book has a handful of those, including a piece Tom Reynolds entered into the Congressional Record.

But, as cleverly and quickly noticed by Clarence visitor Kevin Chase, it also has letters of congratulations from the Queen of England, and the Queen of the Netherlands.

The mystery of the day is: how did these two people come to write a letter of congratulations about the bicentennial? And what's the connection to Clarence? And why didn't the President of the United States, or the Governor of New York, or the Erie County Executive, write similar letters? (Well, someone may have written then-Governor Eliot Spitzer early in the year, when he had, um, other things to do.)

The next time the Netherlands has a big anniversary, remind me to return the favor and congratulate it. It's the least I could do.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Take Five, mid-convention edition

1. My first reaction to the news that Sarah Palin was going to be the vice presidential choice of the Republicans was "Who?" My second reaction to the news was "Boy, the Democrats will never carry Alaska now." And my third reaction to the news was, "That sure puts a torch to criticism of Obama's lack of experience."

2. I've heard the argument that Palin's choice is an attempt to woo disgruntled Clinton voters who are women, but I can't see that working too well. Palin is anti-choice, a longtime member of the NRA, and someone who wants to teach creationism in schools. Does that sound anything like Clinton's agenda? I could see a handful of Clinton's supporters staying home in disgust, but I don't think said argument gives enough credit to her supporters and their depth of philosophic values.

3. I haven't seen most of Obama's acceptance speech yet, but with the stadium, confetti, fireworks and so forth, it might have provided the most impressive pictures I've ever seen of a political event. You could almost picture them ahead of time in a photo spread in Time or Newsweek.

4. I did see the post-speech analysis for Obama's address on tape delay. I went back and forth between Fox News and MSNBC (one started the analysis a few minutes earlier, making it easier), and it was fascinating. On MSNBC, the commentators were absolutely gushing on how it was the greatest speech since Washington said farewell to the troops. On Fox, the commentators were essentially saying it was the same old Democratic song and dance, nicely packaged for a change. There was some middle ground out there, and it took people like Chuck Todd and Brian Williams to find it, but those who talk a lot about bias in the media would have found ammunition.

5. If you have some extra time, the designated download of the week is Roger Simon's article on on the Democratic primary process. It's something like 18,000 words over 24 pages, so read it at your leisure. But there's some great information in there.

Friday, August 29, 2008

John F. Bonfatti

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to come to work.

On Thursday afternoon, I turned on the computer to start the workday, and was greeted by a message telling me that my friend of about 22 years, Jay Bonfatti, had died of a heart attack while vacationing in Cape Cod. Jay had been working as a reporter at The Buffalo News for several years, although as friends we went back much longer.

The word shock never quite goes far enough to describe news like that, and not just because it's troubling to see 52-year-old journalists drop dead. Jay was one of those individuals who just made life a lot more pleasant. Let's put it this way -- whenever I passed him at the office, I'd always stop, say hello and get ready to smile. Because Jay could do that for me, and everyone else. It only took his usual low-pitched, long greeting of my name -- "Buuuuuuddddd."

The memories of Jay come pretty easily, as my co-workers showed by contributing to the Buffalo News blog, "Inside the News . But here are some of mine ...

* Jay and I played softball together a couple of days a week when he lived here first in the 1980's. In fact, I think he was one of those who thought of me when "The Media Chieftains" needed a pitcher, and I returned the favor when "The Question Marks" were formed a year later and needed an outfielder. Jay played a lot of left field behind me, chasing down deep blasts that I had given up. At one point after a few long drives in a game, he gasped out these words: "I'm giving up my hamstrings for you."

* When I worked for the Sabres, Jay hired me to get quotes for him at Bills' games in the late 1980's and early 1990's in his role as sports reporter with the Associated Press. I believe I visited more losing locker rooms than any reporter in that era. Still it was the best seat in the house -- 50-yard line in the first row of the heated press box, next to Jay. And when the locals stunk, Jay and I could finish each other's sentences. I'd would start with "As Jed Clampett would say..." and he'd quite follow with a drawn-out "pitttt-i-fullll."

* Speaking of finishing sentences, it's always nice to have someone who can make similar cultural references to yours in a conversation. In other words, I could make a reference to everyone from Frank Broyles ("Check out big number 99, Billy Joe Dumont of Beaumont. He has the speed of a cornerback and the size of a down lineman!") to a professional wrestling commentator ("That's gotta hurt. That man should be barred from the ring forever."), and he'd get it. A nice feeling.

* Jay worked for the Associated Press in Philadelphia for a while. At one point, fellow hockey writer Jim Kelley and I met up with him one night before a playoff game for dinner. It seemed like a quiet night in the bar until the bartender said that a bachelorette party would be arriving in about 15 minutes. As the only single guy among the three of us, Jay's face lit up like it was Christmas morning. Before we knew it, everyone was mingling and having a good time. I wouldn't have been surprised if Jay had gotten invited to the wedding somehow before the night was over.

* When I needed some company to go see a ska band, the Toasters, that I liked, there was only one man adventureous enough to do it -- Jay. Off we went to the Showplace Theater on Grant in Buffalo, where we were the oldest people in the place and probably had the best time of any of them. Jay loved all sorts of music; I recall us doing a brief duet as the organist played a Fifties' tune, "Sea Cruise," during an intermission of a Sabres' game. Jay used to make up a holiday CD that he handed out to friends in December. Eclectic doesn't do the song list justice. I stole the idea when we had a book-signing party last year as I handed out CDs as party favors. I'll have to do another one next year and dedicate it to him, secure in the knowledge that his version would have been much better.

Walking out after work Thursday night at 1 a.m., I noticed that there were a couple of balloons placed on Jay's desk, a bit of brightness in an otherwise quiet place. That was Jay.

It's usual to say rest in peace in such moments, but it's hard to picture Jay's spirit at rest for long. So I'll merely say I'll miss him and think of him.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Top Ten Comments Overheard in Beijing

1. "NBC should be showing the Opening Ceremonies any day now."
2. "Who put the butter on the relay batons?"
3. "Hard to believe Team USA won without J.J. Redick on the roster."
4. "Bickering, protests, complaints -- sure looks like the Democratic convention."
5. "How did the Red Sox do today ... yesterday ... tomorrow ... whenever it was?"
6. "I know I said I'd pick up the breakfast check, Mr. Phelps, but I didn't know ..."
7. "Usain, I'm Dick Jauron, head coach of the Buffalo Bills..."
8. "Did they change Peking Duck to Beijing Duck, too?"
9. "Man, I thought Arkansas was humid until I came here."
10. "Who's investigating the young Chinese gymnasts - Danny Almonte?"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Strange bedfellows, indeed

This is for the out-of-towners out there. We've got a political race taking place this summer in Western New York that's a classic. It's a three-way fight for the Democratic nomination for a State Senate position, and the geometry involved is amazing.

Candidate number one is Dan Ward, an Amherst Town Council Member and former Amherst supervisor and candidate for County Executive. In other words, Dan is pretty well known around the area.

Candidate number two is Michele Iannello, who is trying to move up from the Erie County Legislature.

It starts to get interesting here. Iannello is married to Dennis Ward, who is Erie County's Democratic elections commissioner. Ward ... Ward ... that's a familiar name. Oh, right, his brother is the previously mentioned Dan Ward. So Dennis has his wife running against his brother.

Full disclosure: I've known Dennis for almost two decades. I went to his wedding. I've gotten to know his wife a bit over the last few years. I've also spent some time with Dan over the years.

Full disclosure: I've never met the third candidate in the primary, Joe Mesi. He usually is known as Baby Joe Mesi.

Baby Joe looked like he was on his way to the heavyweight championship of the world -- or least to one of the 107 heavyweight championships of the world -- when he suffered a serious brain injury in a bout. That sidelined him for a couple of years, and he still isn't allowed to fight in several jurisdictions. Everyone thought Mesi was still trying to be cleared medically when he threw his hat in the proverbial ring.

Mesi is the only political candidate I know who has admitted to a serious brain injury before running for office. Some might call that a prerequisite. I'm not sure if Mesi is someone who has strong, valid opinions on how to monitor the State Thruway Authority or how to solve the budget crisis, but it shouldn't be fun to find out.

And if Mesi does emerge victorious, he'll become a great trivia question, along with the name of the recent heavyweight champion to play chess (Lennox Lewis) or the only heavyweight champion to go to college (James "Bonecrusher" Smith). "What former heavyweight contender voted for the renewal of a state recycling bill?"

The Bailey household isn't in this district, so we don't have a dog in this hunt. For really exciting drama, though, I'll skip the primary results. Thanksgiving at the Ward household should be much better.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Breakfast of champions

Michael Phelps has gotten a lot of publicity for his diet this week. It seems he takes in about 12,000 calories per day, which he needs after working out for several hours in the pool.

A Washington television reporter tried the breakfast part of the diet without doing the pre-meal workout first. The results were not pretty:

I would have liked to have seen the assignment editor looking for volunteers to do that story.

Keeping score

I'm a practitioner of something of a lost art -- I keep score when I attend professional baseball games.

This is (slightly) serious stuff to me. I write down the lineups completely, and have all sorts of scribbles that would allow me, and only me, to reconstruct how the game went years later. I find it helps me pay attention to games, and allows me to see how a particular batter is doing. It's good to know if a pitcher has been struggling by checking out walks and such, or if a batter is on a particular hot streak. I even circle inning numbers in which a team stranded runners in scoring position, a trick I learned from Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.

I even bring my own scorebook to the game, at least when I'm not going in a group and feel a need to treat the game like a social event. (There are many ways of enjoying a baseball game.)

The scorebook is handy, because the ones usually sold at games aren't exactly useful. The pages around the actual scoring area usually are filled with ads, meaning that the space devoted to the boxes for actual at-bats is small and getting smaller. Ever try to cram writing that signifies a double to right field with the batter thrown out stretching, right fielder to second baseman to third baseman, in a space about the size of a quarter of a postage stamp? Doesn't work.

But even that scorebook doesn't lead to a trial-free night. As I noticed at the Buffalo Bisons' game the other night, teams don't make it too easy to keep score these days.

Before a game, the public address announcer rattled off the lineups in short order. I had time to write down the number and position, period. The text was not posted on the message board, so that wasn't any help. I had to look at the scoreboard when each batter came up to write down the name. Forget, and you are sunk for two or three innings.

As for pitching changes, the names usually are announced between commercials, but that's it. You never see a name on the scoreboard. And some scoring decisions, like passed ball/wild pitch, require some guessing.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't that big of a deal even in terms of enjoying a game. But when I see someone keeping score at a game, I know he or she is someone who really likes and knows baseball, a kindred spirit. I also know he or she is continuing a tradition that dates back decades. I hate to see that sort of tradition slip away.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

C-SPANing the globe

There was big excitement in my neighborhood over the weekend. The C-SPAN bus was in town.

OK, it was exciting in my particular part of the neighborhood. We made the short drive over to the Historical Museum in Buffalo to take a look, just making it before closing time (the bus, not the museum).

The bus has been used as part of the network's coverage of political events. It's a mobile television studio, with an interview area in the front and a control room in the back. Clips were shown of interviews done on the bus, including one of Rudy Giuliani in New Hampshire. The bus was used to talk to just about everyone in the process this political season.

The production assistants were friendly when giving the tour. They said that they get asked about Brian Lamb more than anything else; I'm happy to report that they said Brian is as smart and nice as he appears to be on television. The PA's even handed out two C-SPAN pens and a tote bag to us. Can't beat that.

C-SPAN is an odd invention, but an important one. The obvious function is to show the House and Senate in action, but the channel has gone on to do a lot of interesting programming. Where else would you see Presidential homes and burial sites? What other station has a calm discussion of immigration policy at 7:30 a.m., or complete presentations from the National Press Club?

The best part of it, though, is Book TV. This runs from early Saturday morning to early Monday morning on C-SPAN II. Any lover of nonfiction books should check it out.

The channel has presentations from authors from around the country on a variety of subjects. For example, let's look at this weekend's schedule. There's an interview with Billie Jean King on her new book. Ginger Strand checks in for 52 minutes on her book, "Inventing Niagara," which is the best book I've read of any type in 2008. Curious about how states got their shapes? What went on the state quarters? The life of Strom Thurmond? The election of 1800? While there are some repeats from week to week, you usually can find a couple of programs of interests in a given week.

Last week, David Broder sat down to interview George Will for an hour on "After Words," a weekly feature on Book TV. Will, who has a book out, has always been a fabulous advocate for his particular points of view. Even if you don't agree with the opinions, you respect Will's conclusions and how he arrived at them. And who is a better reporter and more objective analyst than Broder? The two talked for an hour on a variety of subjects, and it was consistently interesting.

If you like books, it might be worth while to take a look at the schedule for the coming weekend and jot down programs that might be worthwhile.

But use your own pen. I'm keeping my C-SPAN version.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And speaking of videos... has come up with a list of the top 25 sports YouTube videos. Number two on the list has a Buffalo connection...

The whole list is pretty good. You should check out the "Boom Goes the Dynamite" video, if only to feel sorry for the poor kid whose bad day was saved forever. (By the way, the announcer on the latter just got hired by a commercial station -- good to see him learn from his mistakes.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Old job, new job

I think I have mentioned here about the Web site It was started by Nate Silver, one of the people behind the book/Web site Baseball Prospectus. Silver is trying to use the same methods he uses in baseball in the political arena. I usually stop there every day.

Silver recently was interviewed by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. Here's that conversation:

Imagine - a sports fan who knows something about politics. Actually, I've long been a believer that many baseball fans like elections, because they are both about a long season leading to a definite outcome. But, I could be wrong.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Delayed reaction

There have been many trees killed over and Internet space devoted to the start of the Olympics -- and I probably could write a long essay here about how funny it is that Americans care about gymnastics, swimming and track for about two weeks every four years -- but let's try an issue that doesn't come up much: delayed television coverage.

There are two parts to this story, and they both fit in to the discussion.

1. While NBC has tried to schedule as many events as possible for its prime-time hours (meaning morning in China), several others are held on tape delay until the 8 o'clock hour arrives.

2. NBC holds absolute rights to the images of the Games. It doesn't allow other outlets to broadcast anything, so you won't see highlights on CBS, ABC, ESPN, etc.

The question before the panel, then, is: Does this take some of the buzz out of the Olympics?

It just might.

While there is plenty of coverage at other times of day on a bunch of other "platforms," NBC would like everyone to sit down at 8 p.m. local time and watch three or four hours of coverage at night, for two weeks. I can't blame it; it has a lot of money invested. And time zones are always going to be a problem when the Games aren't in North America. I just wonder how easy it is for people to do that. People are, as they say, busy.

And if they miss an event, because they have to do something else with their family or whatever, they don't get a chance to make up for it. How many times have you seen David Tyree's catch (off his helmet) for the New York Giants in the Super Bowl from last January? A couple of dozen? It was great live, but it's become folklore now because of repeated viewings.

Can you picture some of the great Olympic moments of the past few years? I really can't. It might be a little more difficult than it used to be, and maybe this is a reason why.

Plus, there are a number of ways to get results these days from Olympic events that aren't live. All you have to do is watch the ESPN ticker, or go on line. We're not used to waiting around. It's tough to wait to see this stuff.

The Olympics are a wonderful event, filled with great storylines. It's easy to ask if there's a better way to present them, though.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Role model

When reading about NBC's plans to televise the various portions of the Olympics, I noticed that it was showing some events on Oxygen. That particular channel is not on the normal rotation on my den television set -- in other words, the remote skips right over it. So I went to add it today, just in case there was something interesting shown there in the coming two weeks.

When I clicked to channel 66, I was rather surprised by what I saw.

I had dropped in on the middle of a marathon for something called "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency." Sigh. I lead such a sheltered life in some ways; I had never heard of this program.

I believe there are two major portions to this show -- at least that was my conclusion after a few minutes of viewing. One is shots of male models without their shirts on. Guys, if you need something to wear, I've got plenty of t-shirts. They give them to me for running in races, and I have some spares.

The other part concerns Dickinson, who apparently bills herself as the world's first supermodel. Well, we all need some claim to fame. Dickinson generally insults everyone in sight, including her business partner. "Thanks for your money, now get the bleep away from me." The models generally are treated like cattle. They are all too fat, or don't work hard enough, or something. Ever been around a person that was so unpleasant that you couldn't wait to go screaming into the night? Janice is that person, squared, at least on camera.

I guess this show is advertising for the agency, which was a start-up venture. But then I noticed that Dickinson was the executive producer of the show. She wants to be portraited that way. It takes a lot of guts, or something, to reveal yourself to be that unpleasant a personality before a couple of million people.

The land of reality television is pretty scary. Remind me to crawl back into my hole and stay away from it, pronto.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hometown crowd

It was too nice a weekend to worry about things. Better to sit back and see Bruce Springsteen open a concert earlier this weekend at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. has the first three songs of Springsteen's three shows this week, so feel free to take a look and listen.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Yankee Fighter

This week's book for me is a little unusual, at least by my standards. I won't bother posting a review on my Web site of it. For it was written in 1942.

It's called "Yankee Fighter," by John Hasey. No reason you should know that name, but I have a connection to it. Hasey was my grandmother's nephew, and he has a pretty fascinating story. The book has been sitting on my parents' bookshelf for decades, and I finally decided to get it and read it -- in part because of my recent interest in geneology.

Hasey was working in France when World War II broke out, and signed up to fight with the French. He became a hero for his actions, and was one of two Americans to attend de Gaulle's small private funeral. Some guy named Eisenhower was the other.

You can read the basics of his life in this Washington Post obituary from a few years ago.

The book, though, is pretty interesting. Hasey went to France on something of a whim after a year of college, and got a job at Cartier's selling expensive jewelry (well, they don't have any cheap stuff, actually). There he served the rich and famous, everyone from the Duke of Windsor to Don Ameche.

Then the war broke out. Hasey first went to Finland to work on an ambulance service (he wasn't allowed in combat because he was an American). Then he returned to France, just in time to see the government collapse as the Germans broke through. It's fascinating to read his accounts of life in southern France as the Germans started to take over -- general chaos, refugees everywhere, shortages of supplies, etc. It's not a story that's told very often in America.

Hasey eventually made his way to England, met de Gaulle, and received permission to go into combat. He fought in Africa, and had his jaw and throat damaged near Damascus, which is the first chapter of the book. I haven't finished the book yet (50 pages to go), but it's strange to read WW2 accounts in which the author doesn't know how the war will turn out.

Hasey worked for Cartier after the war for a while, and then went to work for the CIA for almost a quarter of a century. My parents used to call him "The Great American Spy" in jest, but were in admiration of his abilities. They hosted a party for him in the late 1950's, and Mom says she's never seen anyone who was better at working a room at a party than Hasey. He spoke in a soft voice, of course, but he was worth a listen.

Everyone else in the family tree is going to have trouble living up to that particular legacy.