Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cheap plugs

My college friend, Kathye Fetsko Petrie, probably likes books more than anyone I've ever met. Now she's written an essay about that love affair called, "Still Life With Books."

You can find it here.

She writes about how books take the stress right out of her. No doubt, she was thinking about reading "Rayzor's Edge" at the time.

Meanwhile, if you want someone to read to you before bedtime, I can help. Check out a video version of my story on the top Western New York sports stories of the year. I did the voiceover, reading my own story, and the photography department did a great job of supplying the pictures.

Check it out when you need some sleep sometime soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Christmas past

I'm not sure I remember all the excellent Christmas gifts over the years I received over the years. Some are pictured in my copy of the home movies we took back then, which shows -- in classic home movie form -- going from showing off our presents in December to jumping into the lake for swimming in June.

I believe I received practically every football game ever made during the 1960's, including one that wasn't such a hit with me: Electric Football.

For those who don't remember electric football, two players would like up little toy players on the metal gridiron. Then a switch would be thrown and the field would start vibrating. If things worked well, a ball carrier would go forward, the blockers would bounce into defenders, and the runner would go for a few yards before getting touched by a defender to end the play.

The problem is that it never worked that well. The players would go in no particular direction, leaving a less-than-exciting game.

I had played the game at others' houses as a child, so when one showed up under the tree one year, I believe I said in my 11-year-old voice, "Oh, I don't like this game, you can't control what happens." I believe I got a good-sized lecture about being outspoken and less than gracious.

I thought of all this when reading Bill Plaschke's column in the Los Angeles Times that ran on Christmas Day. Boy, he's good.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Who's next?

Mention Dick Jauron's name around Buffalo Bills' fans these days, and the reaction generally is less than polite. He seems to be the designated fall guy for the current season, one which lifted everyone's hopes in September and October, only to see those hopes crash in November and December.

The debate centers around Jauron should be back next season. Firing the coach is always a popular move when things don't go perfectly, and Jauron hasn't had a perfect year. My guess is if the Bills did indeed give him a contract extension earlier this season, it's difficult to believe they would bite the bullet on that and get rid of him. Owner Ralph Wilson has never paid top dollar for coaches in the past, with the probable exception of Chuck Knox, so it's unlikely he's going to pay more than a million dollars a year for Jauron not to coach and twice that for someone like Bill Cowher to coach.

A couple of points have been raised about Jauron's coaching style in my circle of friends. I'm buying one of them, but not the other. Let me start by being disagreeable.

There's a line of thought that says that Jauron doesn't show enough passion in his job, that football players need to be fully motivated by the coach with a liberal amount of screaming. Baloney. There are all kinds of way to win as a professional sports coach. Vince Lombardi was known to yell. Bill Belichick is prepared. Bill Walsh was cerebral. Bum Phillips was relaxed -- once stopping practice so everyone could come over and meet Willie Nelson. I will say that players sometimes tune out coaches after a while, and a different approach sometimes get their attention back. (For some reason this seems particularly true in hockey, and I have no idea why.) A couple of more wins, and Jauron might be promoted from "boring" to "shrewd" by some Bills' fans.

Jauron's lack of passion, I think, does hurt him in the public relations sense of the job, though. We've heard he's bright and loved by his players, but he never lets the public see that side of him through appearances in news conferences, etc. A little personality sometimes buys a coach the benefit of the doubt. Jauron has a very low profile; it's not like he has his own television show during the week. When Lou Saban fired a piece of chalk at a camera and said on his TV show, "Damn it, it should have worked" in describing a failed play, fans got a look into what he was like. When Marv Levy wrote and sang a Bills' fight song on television -- one of the greatest moments in coaches' show history (not a long list, admittedly) -- fans joined Levy in the fun.

It's important to remember that in most cases, the head coach is the public face of the football team. When that face becomes essentially a blank slate, he's not liable to get the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scene from a snowstorm

If you watched the TV series, "Get Smart," at all, you certainly remember "The Cone of Silence." That was the device that came down so that the Chief and Maxwell Smart could talk in privacy. Sadly, neither person could hear the other when the Cone was in use.

Which brings us to the snowstorm anecdote of the day.

We had about 20 inches of snow here in Buffalo over the past few days. When that happens, you have to go shovel it from time to time. Which I did.

While working on the front of the driveway, there was a guy down the street a little ways who had stopped his shoveling for a while. He was on the phone, screaming at someone.

"Why aren't you out here shoveling out your grandmother, you lazy bleeper-bleeper?" he said. "I'm bleeping sick of doing this bleep for you while you sit on your bleep."

I think the language got worse after that, as it went on for a couple of more minutes. I was glad I was not on the other end of the phone.

This isn't a comment on lowered standards of language, or on the frustrations of a snowstorm, although it could be. It is a comment on how cell phone users seem to think they are in their own private world -- in that "Cone of Silence," if you will -- when they are talking. They share details with the rest of the world whether that world wants to hear it or not.

Guess what? We usually don't.

So take it somewhere else, particularly when you don't want to be indirectly quoted in a blog.

And Merry bleeping Christmas to you all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's tough being 0-15

We couldn't fit this in the paper on Monday night, so this isn't a bad place to share it. Detroit columnist Rob Parker is grilling Lions coach Rod Marinelli about his defensive coordinator, who happens to be his son-in-law. Then Parker goes a bit too far:

Later, Marinelli said, "Anytime you attack my daughter, I've got a problem with
that. ... It was premeditated. I think there's something wrong with that."

Parker said he was just trying to lighten the moment and apologized.

Friday, December 19, 2008


How did I go 12 years of my life without hearing about the song "Macarena Christmas"? I did a search for the worst Christmas songs ever, and this one came up.

You'll be happy to know there's a video for it. Well, maybe you won't be so happy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Read all about it

Glenn Locke raises some interesting points in his column on newspapers. There are a few facts about the business that might be of interest.

Newspapers ain't what they used to be in terms of business. Their mass-market approach has been superseeded by the niche-market world we live in. Readership, which always has skewed old, has taken an increasing hit as young people have gone to the Internet. And, admittedly, newspapers have had a tough time trying to figure out how to make money in the online world. Some have guessed that the concept of an actual newspaper won't make it to the midpoint of this century.

The problems of the industry have made news lately, and not just because of some bad business deals (see the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times). Heck, a Detroit paper is going to stop publishing a paper a few days a week, sticking to online only. Certainly advertisers have paid a premium to be seen by a mass audience, and that market is changing.

But newspapers have been learning things. Personally, I think the key to survive in an online world is to make sure that newspapers offer the best way to keep up with news -- be the experts, if you will. If you want to learn what's going on with the Buffalo Bills, then you should go to The Buffalo News -- one way or another. I do like the trend of more interaction between readers and staff members on line as a part of that.

Here's the way I approach the issue: After World War II, railroads were challenged by the rise of commercial airlines. Railroads thought they were in the railroad business, and let business slip. They should have realized they were in the transportation business, meaning we would be flying New York Central and Union Pacific instead of Southwest and American. Newspapers are in the information business and not the newspaper business. The industry will just have to adapt.

Nothing is forever. Even General Motors.

Especially General Motors.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Take five, vacation edition

1. I find it almost physically impossible to sit in an airport terminal, waiting for a flight, without buying a newspaper. And when I'm done, being a good citizen, I like to recycle the paper. (Note: This does not mean leaving it on the seat for someone else to read.) But try to do that in Buffalo, where there are no recycling bins in plain sight. Dear NFTA, start thinking green.

2. I found myself watching a bit of Fox News during vacation due to circumstances beyond my control, and there's one thing that really bothers me. No, not the conservative bias or the people on in prime time. Rather, how many non-blonde women are on that channel? Is hair color the only requirement for hiring for half of the population?

3. I was in the perfect spot to watch the end of the Bills-Jets game on Sunday -- in a cardiac unit in an Albany hospital. J.P. Losman fumbles, Jets score, I feel faint, and suddenly I'm surrounded by nurses. When I pointed to the screen, they nodded and went back to work.

4. Speaking of the Bills, is there any advantage at all to not telling what Dick Jauron's contract status is? The secrecy has become really ridiculous.

5. Pardon me, but I was a bit out of touch with the news when I was on vacation. The Governor of Illinois did what?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vacation thrills

You can't beat visiting a disaster area when it comes to vacation fun.

Well, maybe not. We spent the weekend in the Albany area, which was hit by an ice storm last Thursday night. The tree damage is good-sized and power is still out in some locations, but it's actually not too bad (unless your heat is still off).

And, Sunday morning had plenty of sun and the ice hadn't quite melted. So, I took a walk in the neighborhood and brought my camera. Here are a couple of shots, starting with your basic big, iced-over tree:

And here's a picture of a small farm in the suburbs; I tried to get a little "arty" with the ice on the ground and on the trees in the background:

More vacation observations to come.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bottom feeding

A couple of local radio stations have gone into their all-Christmas music mode until December 26. The starting point comes earlier and earlier -- I believe Columbus Day is the new date for holiday song number one -- but by December most of us are ready to hear something appropriately seasonal.

But then again, there are a few songs that are good for an instant channel change while driving. I'm not including songs in the "so bad they are almost good" category. I would put "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" by the Three Stooges and "Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dog in that classification. "Grandma Got Over By a Reindeer" by Elmo and Patsy has lost its charm over the years through repetition but probably still belongs in this class.

Every major pop act has come up with at least a Christmas release at one point. Here's three that just don't do it for me:

* "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney -- Remember the guy that wrote "Silly Love Songs"? Same type of song; it's tough to believe he wrote all those great hits for the Beatles and Wings.

* "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John -- Might have been interested to hear him record a classic, either fast or slow. This isn't it.

* "Please Come Home for Christmas" by the Eagles -- This band is a little too laid back for me at times, and this one is downright sleepy.

Moving up on the outside and gaining on the leaders is "Last Christmas" by George Michael.

For a funny discussion about the subject, check out this site on Entertainment Weekly's Web page. I particularly liked the opening line in the long series of comments: "'Christmas Shoes' is not only the worst Christmas song of all time, but the WORST SONG OF ALL TIME! (sorry Starship and 'We Built This City')." That's a pretty high standard.

I'm also willing to admit that the Ramones' version of "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" doesn't work particularly well. It's on Little Steven's new CD of Christmas music that is otherwise pretty terrific and worth investigating if you like this stuff.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune made up a list of bad Christmas songs. I thought a description of #4 - "Christmas on Death Row" - was particularly well-done: "Nothing says 'Happy Holidays' like the words 'Death Row' and 'EXPLICIT CONTENT.'"

Got any personal choices? Here's your chance to make them public.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Prop 8 - The Musical

I heard about this on MSNBC yesterday, and it seemed like it was worth sharing. Keep an eye on the members of the cast:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Can't wait for the follow-up: "Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire -- the Musical." Students of communications law doubtlessly recognized that Supreme Court case as the "fighting words" case.

Sports slowdown

As the economic climate gets bleaker and bleaker here, there and everywhere, it's easy to start wondering about what might happen to the sports business in the coming months.

As in, will the bubble burst? Are teams about to get hurt? There are reasons to worry.

Let's start with the behavior of fans. They are known for their enthusiasm and loyalty. Why else would they pay $100-plus for a three-hour sporting event, when a movie of similar length will cost them a tenth of that? But if money gets tight for some of the population, suddenly it might come down to paying the rent or going to see an NFL game. Will we start to see people, gulp, stay home? And if they do, does that mean television ratings actually might go up? That could change the economic order quite radically. Can you picture a major sports team having a "sale" on tickets?

Then there are the businesses. Some of them buy season tickets to teams' games and entertain clients there. You'd have to think that sort of spending might take a hit in the near future, if it comes down to that or making payroll. Then there is advertising, whether it be directly with the teams through ads in the arena or through media outlets. Sports advertising relies on emotion too; teams often charge a premium to be associated with them. Being the official tax preparer of the Buffalo Bandits (or whatever) can't generate that much business. Some teams and businesses have multiyear deals in place, but the climate might be different when renewal time comes around.

Finally, we have the players and their salaries. Some teams are locked into big numbers for top players (see Rodriguez, Alex, among many others). If the economic pie gets smaller, that might means teams playing in a sport with salary caps or luxury taxes might have to do some creative accounting to make it all work. And, that salary cap may have to be adjusted downward if revenues fall.

In other words, I'm not sure this is the best environment to be a free agent. CC Sabathia won't starve, but it's easy to wonder if he's really worth $130 million to the Yankees right now. I'd be tempted to take any big offers I'd get in the near future. Those big endorsement deals for athletes may dry up too. Ask Tiger Woods about his now-expired deal with General Motors.

I have my doubts that we're headed into a textbook depression, so I don't think pro sports is going to go away or that whole leagues will fold. Heck, athletics made it through the 1930's. Our thirst for leisure is pretty strong. But we may see the landscape change in the next few months. I never thought I'd live to see an America without General Motors, and that looms just down the road potentially. Anyone who knows what this all will look like at the other end of the tunnel is kidding himself.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do what I say, not what I do

A sad, sad tale from your humble author, who is feeling more humble than usual these days:

The other night I was poking around the Internet at about 1 when I found an mp3 site that had a holiday song I had been looking for (iTunes didn't have it). It was a good-sized site with plenty of selections. OK, I said to myself, I've done a few other music sites like this without a problem. I'll try it.

Whoops. You would have thought it was Christmas in Rockefeller Center on the screen. All of a sudden, my anti-virus device started going berserk, filling the desktop with warnings and quarantines. There wasn't a spotlight shining on me introducing me as the newest member of the jerk of the month club, but it sure felt like it. I also got one pop-up ad telling me about a free scan for virus, when I realized that I probably couldn't trust that either.

I couldn't get on the Internet to update the anti-virus software, so I did the best I could with what I had before going to sleep. I figured out a way to take some bad stuff out, but I had the feeling the task wasn't done yet.

Sure enough, the next day only a few of the programs worked. And after a few minutes, everything froze, forcing me to pull the plug and reboot. I was hoping to get rid off enough bad stuff so that I could play with it a little bit, but mostly what I did was get frustrated.

Here's how bad it was. I had typed up the quotes to a future story and left them in the computer before the meltdown. The next day I could read the story but not print it out, so I called it up and then -- gasp! -- got out an electric typewriter and retyped the quotes on to paper. I believe the last time I used that particular typewriter was in the early 1990's. It did work, at least.

Today I gave up, and drove the computer to the handy repair shop. They said it takes about an hour and a half of work to get rid of viruses, which means about $130. Which means I should give up journalism for the more lucrative computer repair business. Which also means that I could have bought a lot of music for the money I'll spend on the hopefully revived computer.

The moral of the story, kids, is to make sure that anti-virus software is up to date, and things that look too good to be true sometimes are.

P.S. I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell the good folks of Mensa about this. I'd be thrown out for sure.