Thursday, April 30, 2009

Musical interlude

Since Mr. Springsteen isn't coming to Buffalo on this tour, we'll have to make do with videos like this from Philadelphia the other night:
Bruce Springsteen performs Badlands in Philadelphia

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Indefinite holiday

From 1986 to 1992, I worked in Memorial Auditorium in the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department. Earlier today, I walked by the back of the Aud with a couple of friends. You could look through the back doors and see the HSBC Building, which was a bit unusual. I pointed up to the third level and said, "I used to work right about there."

However, Harry Scull took a picture of my old workplace that is even more graphic:

Guess the office is closed today.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rockin' robin

Spring sometimes brings a bit of natural drama to this part of North Buffalo. It takes place right at our garage.

Our garage has a small lamp between the two doors, and the lamp is covered by a small part of the roof. Therefore, the area on top of the lamp is somewhat protected from the elements, not to mention that the light bulb keeps the area warm overnight.

The robins who are reading this (including robin brown, lower case please, my college pal) no doubt have already figured out where this is going: It's the perfect spot for a bird's nest.

Sure enough, about a week ago, we parked the car at night and there was no sign of a nest. The next morning, a fully constructed bird's nest was in place. As a proud union member, I won't make any jokes about the construction time, but it was rather stunning to see how fast it was built.

A nest had been built there once before this spring, but then a few days later we found the remains on the ground after a 50 mph windstorm blew it off the lamp. Apparently a good spot is still a good spot.

We had robins there a few years ago. The mother stood guard on the eggs in the nest, flying off whenever we pulled in the driveway and cranked the garage door up. Then when we went inside, mom returned to the nest for more sitting duty.

Eventually, we heard chirping coming out of the nest. After waiting for a few days, I grabbed a step-stool and took a look inside. Sure enough, there were three baby birds, with eyes closed and mouths open as they waited for the delivery of their next meal. This is a pretty good gig if you can get it.

We wondered when the mother would suffer from the empty-nest syndrome. Then one day, I went out to the garage to go shopping and opened the door. The noises sparked the birdies into action, as they flew out of the nest for a few feet and landed on the ground. Two of them bounced around a bit, testing their wings, while a third walked straight into the garage and got confused in a hurry. I directed the stray bird out the door and into the sunlight. Eventually they headed for the sky and freedom.

Recapping, we provided a shelter for the birds and watched them grow until it was time to leave. Do you think they ever write or call? Not a chance. Ungrateful little critters.

We'll keep watching this group to see how it does. Maybe this bunch will be more appreciative.

Monday, April 27, 2009

From the champ...

Saw a sad note on the sports wire this afternoon, when word came that Greg Page died at the age of 50. He's the only heavyweight boxing champion who ever sent me an e-mail. That's an intriguing way of doing a Paul Harvey impression and giving you "the rest of the story."

Page was a boxer who hit his prime in the 1980's, mostly noted for having all the potential in the world but not using a great deal of it for a variety of reasons. He did win the heavyweight boxing championship, or at least one of the two dozen such titles floating around, when he defeated Gerry Coetzee in Sun City, South Africa, in 1984.

Five months later, Page defended his title against Tony Tubbs in Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo. Page put on a rather dreary showing, doing very little against the mediocre Tubbs. After the fight, my friend Dave Kerner overheard promoter Don King going up to Page and saying, "You blew it." King was right; Page lost the decision.

And if losing a title wasn't enough, Page got back to his hotel room and discovered that a break-in had cost him his championship belt, a $13,000 watch and a $10,000 black mink coat belonging to his road cook. He didn't do any ads for the Chamber of Commerce after his visit.

Page kept boxing on and off from there, hanging on until 2001. Then he was injured in a fight in which he suffered brain damage. He was in a coma for a week, suffered a stroke, and had some paralysis.

At some point, a writer -- I think it was from the Boston Globe -- mentioned that Page was trying to overcome all of those disabilities. It also said he was accepting e-mails from fans, and gave the address. So, for whatever reason, I sent a quick note saying that I had seen him fight in Buffalo and that I was hoping he'd recover. Page actually wrote back. I'm not sure if you'd call it a form letter, as the English was a little choppy, but he wrote that he appreciated the support and was hopeful he'd bounce all the way back.

I'm not sure if Page is the most famous person ever to send me an e-mail; he's probably below Roger Ebert on the fame list. Still, it's a little sad to hear his last fight ended this way.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"I'm walkin' here"

I went for a walk today.

That's not exactly big news. The temperature was in the 70's this morning -- in other words, a typical spring day in Buffalo (ahem) -- and the sun was out. I'm sure many had the same idea.

For me, it was a step forward. I took part in the Young Life 5K race in Hamburg. It's a nice little race that I've done before; I believe it was sleeting for it a couple of years ago. There is plenty of food and the people are friendly.

The difference here is that this is the first time I've ever walked a race like this. My eye doctor said I was to slowly get back into the exercise business, with an emphasis on slowly. When I asked about running, he said to walk for a while. Then if there are any problems, I should stop walking and start driving to his office. So far, so good, on the eye front, by the way.

The check-in routine before the race was the same, and the joking among competitors was the same. I didn't do any stretching or warm-ups before the big race, and lined up in the very back of the 125-person pack at the starting lineup. I turned on my iPod at that point, and got ready to listen to everyone from Gary Lewis and the Playboys ("This Diamond Ring") to Lou Vega ("Mambo Number Five").

When the order to start came, everyone else took off ... leaving about six people in the back who were starting to stroll. That's a rather odd feeling, something like having a '97 Saturn in a drag racing competition at Lancaster Raceway Park. Vroom.

I tried to walk at a fairly brisk pace, although I had no idea how fast that was. I pulled ahead of the other walkers pretty quickly. A few other racers went from runners to walkers pretty quickly.

The odd part was the ambulance, which I've heard about but never really seen. The medical vehicle usually trails the last person in a race, according to legend. Sure enough, the ambulance was bouncing around the back of the field, pulling ahead of me for a while and then stopping for a bit. I saw no sign of problems.

I did the first mile in 14:20, and got to two miles in 28:25. So my finishing time of 45:16 was at least pretty consistent. I think that checks in at a shade faster than four miles per hour, if my math is good. I didn't take so long that I was late for the food and drink at the postrace party, which is the important part.

I did "defeat" the other walkers in the field, although that may be because I was the only one that thought there was a competition taking place. Maybe that's why I didn't get a trophy for being the fastest walker.

Or, to paraphrase Frank Deford, maybe being the fastest walker is like being the world's tallest midget.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The myth

It's been an interesting week for me when it comes to the sports journalism business. I've been interviewed about it by one college student, given advice to a recent graduate (it surprisingly was not along the lines of "apply at Dunkin' Donuts"), and attended a symposium on sports journalism at St. Bonaventure University. It's good to think about the big issues every so often, instead of simply "feeding the machine" every day to make sure a newspaper comes out.

During a panel discussion at St. Bonaventure, one of the professors asked about the "myths" that exist in the world of sports, without actually referring to anything specific. That can cover a variety of areas, of course -- I've always thought sport reveals character, rather than builds it, for example.

But here's perhaps the biggest myth of all, depending on your viewpoint: The results matter. Maybe I should say, "The results matter."

There are all sorts of athletic competitions that go on across the country in a given year. The outcomes matter, a lot, to a certain subset of the population. A win can make fans of the team happy, euphoric, and/or emotional. A loss can make fans sad, angry, and/or bitter. Nothing "important" changes either way. Political decisions rarely generate that sort of passion, but that's not surprising in a world when more people know the name of the Bills backup quarterback in 2008 than their Congressman. It's not necessarily bad, but it is reality.

Now in one sense, there's not much difference between a game involving the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and a game featuring the semipro Buffalo Gladiators. There are two teams playing football under basically the same rules. The playing field is the same, a score is kept, and a winner is declared. Obviously, the skill level is different, but fans of a game often just want well-matched teams, a competitive game and an exciting finish no matter who is involved.

But, and it's a big but, we have more than 100 years of experience in some sports telling us that some games matter, and some don't. Western New York has been pretty well trained in 50 years that a Bills' victory is "our victory." They "matter," and so the stands are filled, the television sets are watched, and the media outlets are saturated. But those perceptions can turn quickly; remember when the Sabres were going through bankruptcy and crowds dropped into four figures overnight?

The level of interest can vary by the sport, too. Soccer doesn't have a particularly long history in this country, and the authorities in charge have never been able to figure out how to make the nation's top professional league and its results matter to a great many people.

What's really interesting, though, is how you can take any individual or group you want, and come up with a "matter" scale from 1 to 100 and drop a particular event on it. Fans have an instant friend with those on the same point on a scale, and have an instant target for good-natured "get a life" abuse for those higher on the scale. For example, a person might have Bills' season tickets and never miss a game, but he or she might make fun of someone who watches all 16 hours of the NFL Draft after making up 19 different versions of a mock draft in the previous three months. There's a line there, and it's all a case of what matters.

I just finished watching a documentary called "Go Tigers," which is about the high school football team in Massillon, Ohio, of 1999. The movie doesn't date at all, as I assume the town still is hopeless devoted to following the gridiron exploits of its 17-year-olds. I wasn't even much of a high school football fan when I was in high school, but it's clear that it's the biggest thing in the lives of many there, a rallying point for the community. These people allowed eighth graders to stay back a year so that they are bigger and stronger than they otherwise would be when they are juniors and seniors. That would horrify some, be normal behavior to others.

It's nice that sports in general matter to so many. They cross all sorts of sociological, economic and cultural lines, and bring strangers together ("and if you like the Red Sox, you're my friend"). Heck, it keeps me employed at some level. But, it is fascinating to see how people react to the myth in so many different ways.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Polo catastrophe

This is really a bizarre story out of Fort Lauderdale. Less than a hour before a big polo match, horses started collapsing and dying.

Can you imagine what that was like for everyone concerned?

Here's the link to the story from the Sun-Sentinel.

Take five

1. The Buffalo Bisons have gotten off to a 1-10 start under their new affiliation with the New York Mets. That puts them 10 games out of first place after 11 games played. As the old saying goes, you can't win a pennant in April, but you can lose it.

2. I see where the mother of Michael Phelps has a book out. Why do I have a feeling that I'll be seeing that one at the Dollar Store in about eight months?

3. Here in Western New York, one local hospital has been advertising the fact that you should go there in case of a suspected stroke. Then I saw a billboard the other day saying that you should go to the nearest hospital in case of a stroke, and three were listed. Great. If a loved one of mine is having a stroke, I really want to have to think long and hard about where to take him or her.

4. Part of me wonders why the people who ring the bell at the end of the business day at the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ are always smiling and happy ... no matter how bad the market might have done on that particular day. My only explanation is that maybe they are just happy that all of the markets' losses for the day have come to an end.

5. Verizon has come up with three ads consisting of interviews with people who are watching ESPN on their cell phones rather than doing something more appropriate during their honeymoons or while at a bridal shower. I have seen better campaigns. Yeah, like I want to emulate a guy who can't tear himself away from his fantasy team while he's horseback riding with a beautiful girl, or the guy looking at highlights while escorting a friend to the hospital in an ambulance. It reminds me of what I don't like about fantasy sports, which won't sell phones.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Men behaving badly

Another pouting football player has gotten his just reward.

The Buffalo Bills have wrapped up a deal that will send offensive tackle Jason Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles for three draft choices, including a first rounder later this month. Peters will get a fat new contract, perhaps by Saturday.

From a purely football standpoint, the deal can't be considered great news for the Bills. Peters was one of the few players on the team that could be considered a candidate for the Pro Bowl in a given season. He made it during the last two seasons, although there is some evidence that last year's pick was based on reputation. Still, good offensive linemen don't grow on trees, and it's going to take some time to develop a replacement -- time that Bills' fans may not feel like granting after three straight 7-9 seasons. For all the talk about how playing together and chemistry are so important for an offensive line, the Bills' group will be practically starting over in 2009. That doesn't sound like a way to make the playoffs.

Peters, you might recall, decided early in 2008 that he was underpaid and stayed out of touch with the Bills through the beginning of the regular season despite having a relatively large contract, albeit one that didn't represent his market value. He tried again to negotiate a new deal in 2009, and got nowhere.

This is not a ramble about Peters' contract demands. If I'm a Pro Bowler and I see a rookie making twice as much money as I'm scheduled to make, I have a reason to gripe. The current system rewards top rookies financially while penalizing players like Peters who were free agents and thus will never catch up to those who got those big bonuses out of college.

It's not even a ramble about how Peters should have been happy about making something like $5 million, especially since no one put a gun to his head to sign a contract, and that plenty of people would take 1/100th of that salary. The NFL doesn't exist in the real economic world, and Peters was a slight victim. I'm fond of saying that salaries are just a way of keeping score when it comes to players rating themselves against others; you could decrease everyone's salary by 90 percent and you'd still have the same arguments.

So what is it a ramble about? Well, to paraphrase a line from a Billy Crystal movie, he could have been nicer.

Peters just stayed home last year before the season started, didn't talk to the Bills, didn't do anything but let them negotiate with themselves. Coach Dick Jauron said he didn't talk to Peters from January to late August. I don't discount the public relations aspects of these negotiations, and Peters was a loser there. Would have it hurt to be, well, polite?

Along these same lines, the Broncos picked up a new coach in Josh McDaniels this season, and he talked -- talked -- about trading Jay Cutler in order to acquire Matt Cassel from New England. That was enough to send Cutler into a tizzy, and demand a trade. Cutler couldn't even be bothered to return phone calls from team members, including owner Pat Bowlen. That was enough for Bowlen, who had never had a player not even talk to the guy signing the seven-figure paychecks. So Cutler was sent to the Chicago Bears.

Business is business in pro sports, and that's fine. But a little civility along the way wouldn't hurt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A taxing day

It was great fun watching how the various cable news channels (why are they called networks if there's only one station?) covered Wednesday's tax protests around the country. As in, were they really watching the same events?

Fox News was treating it as if it were the Bicentennial or some other event of that stature, jumping from site to site around the country with anchors on the scene. In fact, anchor Glenn Beck's report was even played over loudspeakers to the crowd so that his lines could receive applause and cheers. (By the way, I haven't watched Beck for more than a few minutes, but based on Wednesday I'd say the tone of his rhetoric matches his new employer, Fox, much better than his old employer, CNN.)

Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC seemed to be ignoring or downplaying the rallies as much as possible. At night, when the more opinionated crews come on, MSNBC had a case of the giggles at times in getting to say the world "teabagging" on the air while making fun of the rallies. Then did a report on how immature MSNBC and CNN were in their coverage. I'd say they all acted like six-year-olds, but that would be unfair ... to six-year-olds. No doubt about it -- this was a very strange day of news broadcasting.

Based on what I saw and what I read in news reports, it was difficult to know what exactly was being protested here, and who was doing it. Some people were Ron Paul backers, who would like most of government to just go away. Some were voters who were shall we say disappointed with the outcome of last fall's Presidential election. Others are genuinely concerned about such issues as high taxes and the national debt.

Sounds like a good time to make some points about taxes in this country:

* As a wise man once said, a balanced budget has no natural constituency in Congress. Lobbyists and interest groups are happy to push their particular points through, but it's a little more difficult for a group to simply urge legislators to only spend what they take in -- as in "Let's get behind ... doing nothing."

* Americans often want lower taxes but don't want to pay for it. They want their garbage picked up, their children educated, and their roads plowed and paid, but actually paying for it hits a nerve of some sort. That's often reflected in budgets too. What's the percentage of years that we've had deficit spending out of the last 35 or so? 33?

* If you want the IRS to collect taxes more fairly during a time of increasing deficits, wouldn't you hire a lot more people to serve as watchdogs on the process and audit more people? Instead, we've cut back on that area, thus allowing more deductions to slip through loopholes and making the tax burden more unfair and not less. This seems like the equivalent of laying of policemen when the town is hit with a crime wave.

* Is this really the time to complain about deficit spending? We're in the biggest recession since the early 1980's at least, and unemployment is headed toward double digits. When the federal government tried direct stimulus payments last year, citizens did the logical thing in many cases and paid down their debts with the money. That did little to stimulate anything, except for the bankers. So, we're funding government problems that help infrastructure and put people to work. If the government had a fund balance to use, you'd say it was using the money that it had saved for a rainy day ... and it's raining hard. But since it doesn't, it's just printing more money -- which may lead to inflation down the road, but deflation probably is a more dangerous alternative right now.

* And let's see if I'm reading an argument from some correctly. When times are good, we should put the excess tax revenues back in the hands of the people by cutting taxes. When times are bad, we need to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes. When exactly does the bumpy road on Elmwood Ave. get paved under that philosophy?

It would be nice to establish priorities and make some tough decisions for a change. That sort of political courage would be worth watching on any news channel.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You can't tell a book...

Susan Boyle's performance on a British television show on Saturday has been making the rounds lately, but you really should see it. So here's the YouTube link:

Susan apparently had been taking care of her mother for the past several years; the mother died less than two years ago. She's never been on a date, never sang in public outside of choir and karaoke.

Sometimes people really do walk out on a stage an unknown, and come back a star.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From that good-looking guy...

Keith Olbermann is something of Rorschach test on the political scene. Liberals watch him and pronounce that he's a voice of sanity on cable television news, while conservatives, well, they don't watch him because they are too busy cursing him. I could tell, though, that he was making an impact because people started to come up to me and said, "Anyone tell you that you look like Keith Olbermann?"

But at a time when we need a little less partisanship in our political outlook, we can all agree on one point about the MSNBC broadcaster: The man knows his baseball. He wrote a book with Dan Patrick during his ESPN days called "The Big Show," and it was pretty obvious that Olbermann was very familiar with baseball history. He's done plenty of writing for a variety of publications on the subject, including Sports Illustrated.

Now he's doing a blog for the MLBlogs Network, which I hadn't heard about until tonight when Olbermann talked baseball with Rachel Maddow on her show. I've checked it out and found it worthwhile; you can read it by going here.

I don't know if he'll have time to keep the blog up over the course of the season, but it will be fun to see him try.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Bird was the Word

It's been a tough day in baseball, and it's not even over yet. First came word that Philadelphia Phillies Harry Kalas collapsed and died. Then a report just came over the wire that Mark Fidrych was found dead under his pickup truck.

I never heard Kalas work regularly, although every sports broadcaster I knew could do an impression of him based partly on baseball and partly on his work for NFL Films. Fidrych, though, always will be affectionately remembered.

"The Bird," as he was called because he looked like Sesame Street's Big Bird (there was a great Sports Illustrated cover of the two of them), was a classic free spirit who came out of nowhere in 1976. He'd talk to the baseball, and smooth out the mound between batters. Then when he pitched, few could hit his deliveries.

His coming-out party was in June of that year. The Tigers played the Yankees on Monday Night Baseball on ABC. He won a 5-1 decision that took less than two hours, and it seemed like every baseball fan in America was watching. Overnight, Fidrych became a national sensation. It was pretty obvious that he was enjoying the ride, and was laughing along with everyone else.

Fidrych won the rookie of the year award for the American League. The next season, he started well but hurt his arm. It took about eight years for a doctor to figure out that he had a torn rotator cuff. His comebacks went nowhere in the meantime. My friend Glenn Locke and I saw Fidrych pitch in Tiger Stadium around 1980. It was Al Kaline day, but both men took a back seat to Al Oliver in that doubleheader. Here's the way Oliver's day went: groundout, homer, triple, double, fly out, groundout (after hitting a ball that was a foot foul and a foot from leaving the stadium completely), intentional walk, homer, homer, homer. As for Fidrych, he was talking to the ball, but it wasn't listening.

Fidrych eventually bought a farm, got married, and was in the midst of living happily ever after. Every so often he'd be written up for a "Where are they now?" feature, and he never showed any bitterness about the sudden fall. Fidrych seemed content with the brief rise.

There aren't many originals out there, but Fidrych qualified. He'll be missed.

Cheap plug

A while ago, I had the idea of posting some of my travel pictures on line so that various relatives could take a look at where we had been. Then I discovered that strangers were actually visiting the site and seeking out information, so I quickly added Google ads to the site in order to cash in. After all, the server charged $100 a year for all my Web sites, and who wanted to pay that?

However, Google decided to take the pictures out its search listings, leaving hits and ad revenues depressed. So ... I decided to move them to a free site. Now I've done it. You can see some hopefully nice photos by going here.

And thanks for clicking on the ads.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Taxing matters

There's an episode of the television series M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye sends a telegram to President Truman in the middle of the Korean War, asking simply, "Who's responsible?"

On a much less violent and important level, I feel like sending the same message to a President every time I do my taxes.

Who exactly came up with this system, anyway? I know, Congress. Tax policy is public policy, so there are fingerprints everywhere.

Let's take an example. Thanks to some outside work, I have to pay self-employment tax. Here are some actual words from the form I had to fill:

Net earnings from self-employment. Multiply line 3 by 92.35% (.9235). If less than $400, do not file this schedule; you do not owe self-employment tax.

Self-employment tax: If the amount on line 4 is:

* $102,000 or less, multiply line 4 by 15.3% (.153). Enter the result here and on Form 1040, line 57.

* More than $102,000, multiply line 4 by 2.9% (.029). Then, add $12,648 to the result. Enter the total here and on Form 1040, line 57.

Deduction for one-half of self-employment tax. Multiply line 5 by 50% (.5). Enter the result here and on Form 1040, line 27.

Wouldn't you like to know how someone came up with 92.35%?

Then there's the capital gains tax form (check it out here). I feel like I'm taking English as a second language courses when I read that. These two examples are relatively common and simple; what happens with the complicated stuff?

I used to do my own taxes, and have switched to the computer program TaxCut for guidance in the past several years. I admire the pluck of anyone who tries to do his or her own tax return without a computer if they have any deductions or outside income and/or if they don't have an accounting degree.

If any Congressional candidate pledges to greatly simplify the tax code (maybe not to the level of the Steve Forbes flat tax, but you get the idea), he or she will get my vote ... particularly if there's a special election just before April 15.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A cross to bear

My wife was watching the 10 o'clock hour of the Today Show this morning, with Kathie Lee and Hoda when I walked into the kitchen. (This is to make sure no one thinks I watch this instead of SportsCenter in the morning.) They started talking about a new DVD documentary about the life of Arthur Blessitt.

I snapped to attention and blurted out, "Hey, I know that guy."

Flashback time:

In 1976, one of my better college assignments was to go to New Hampshire and cover the primary with a bunch of other Syracuse University students. The people that were hoping to make news a career got to cover the big-names in the race, like Ford, Reagan and Carter. Me, the instructor wisely figured off that I'd be better off doing the off-beat stuff. For example, I spent a day volunteeer as an unpaid worker for the Fred Harris campaign. I slept on the floor of the Harris campaign, ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches, dropped off literature and made phone calls.

If you know New Hampshire politics, you realize that it takes only a small amount of money to get on the Presidential primary ballot. So everyone in the world makes the investment, hoping to see a lightning strike. Someone thought it would be a fine idea for me to cover one of them.

You got it, Arthur Blessitt.

It's fair to say the Blessitt campaign staff was thrilled to have a reporter tag along for a day. So early one morning, a van pulled up, and I hoped in. The candidate and about three others greeted me warmly.

Blessitt's major piece of notoriety was that he had a 12-foot cross that he had toted around the world over the years. I had trouble figuring out exactly how that worked until I saw it in person -- the cross had a wheel at the bottom to make it easier for travel. For the rest of the day, Blessitt walked the streets of Manchester, I believe, shaking hands while the rest of the staff passed out campaign literature.

While he obviously wasn't qualified to be President of the United States, Blessitt did tap into something in that particular year. We were coming off Watergate, and he argued that a better sense of ethics was needed by government officials. Jimmy Carter used that same theory in a slighty different way, but I think it helped him get the nomination and election that year.

Blessitt dropped me off at the hotel late that afternoon. Before we arrived, though, he launched into a prayer for the country, and the voters of New Hampshire, and for the bright young reporter who had joined us. That felt a little odd -- a reporter doesn't like to be part of the story -- but I did get out of the van without changing my major to Bible Studies.

Based on the documentary and his Web site, Blessitt hasn't stopped carrying the cross around. I guess he walked up to Yassir Arafat one day, which takes some guts, and was greeted warmly by the PLO leader.

Sadly, my story on my day with Blessitt was never published anywhere, so I don't have any record of it. But he was certainly a memorable candidate. After all, I haven't covered many Presidential campaigns.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

If you liked "Can I get a napkin please ..."

You'll like this version of "Do Re Mi" that broke out at the Central Terminal in Antwerp:

Thanks to Bob Russell for the tip.

Monday, April 06, 2009

In honor of opening day...

Here's an online game from You play Home Run Derby as one of six baseball players, choosing to use steroids or not along the way. There is random testing during the season, which could have serious consequences.

But the best part comes in the selection of your player: A-Fraud, Marky McWeird, Josie Conswaco, Jasen Gambini, Berry Bombs, Slugger Slimeberry.

Take a few swings by clicking here.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Fighting words

Someone sent a letter to The News' sports department the other day. He was pretty angry.

In fact, he said he was cancelling his subscription to the newspaper because of its lack of coverage of Mixed Martial Arts fighting.

I'm not sure what anyone else's reaction to that letter was, but mine was "whoa."

On one level, he's certainly right. We really don't cover MMA events. There's a pretty good reason for that, though. It's very, very difficult to get information on that sport. The Associated Press rarely has stories on MMA bouts. Basically, if we don't get an article, we can't print it.

Is there much of a demand for articles, besides our one MMA friend? That's tough to say. It's certainly the first complaint I've heard in this particular area. My guess is that our audience (and let's expand that to the readership of newspapers in general) skews a little older than the population as a whole, and I also would guess that MMA bouts appeal to a younger crowd.

That might not be the whole story, though. Let's start with the fact that newspapers are facing declining amounts of space for stories. In Buffalo, we already have more or less sacrificed NBA coverage on a regular basis; you have to study the box scores on the scoreboard page to keep up with Koby and LeBron. It's a little tough to try to add MMA to the mix, except for the odd feature story on a local athlete who is competing for a championship. You could argue that other sports usually associated with the X Games are in the same category as the MMA, although at least ywe get stories on competitions like the halfpipe event in the Winter Olympics.

The MMA doesn't really have any internal advocates in our building, either. Heck, boxing's coverage has declined in the past several years. That's in part because Joe Mesi ran for office instead of climbed in the ring, but also because Tim Graham and Tom Borrelli are no longer on our staff. Many of the remaining staff members don't like boxing that much, and MMA is a step beyond that in many ways. It's not like anyone in our department grew up with mixed martial arts, either.

Here, then, is the problem: Do newspapers try to alter their coverage in an attempt to win new, young readers, or do we stick to proven formulas in order not to drive away the people currently buying the publication?

The answer comes down to some sort of balance, but it's going to be tough to keep everyone happy in such arguments. And if you haven't noticed, when it comes to decisions like this for newspapers and their plunging bottom lines, the stakes are rather high because the meter is definitely running.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The retiring type

When I moved to Buffalo in 1970, I had the chance to watch Canadian television on a regular basis for the first time. The CBC's CBLT and CTV's CFTO (Channels 6-but-later-5 and 9 respectively) along with Hamilton's independent station, CHCH, beamed into Western New York.

There were two bits of noteworthy programming, if you don't count the regular hockey broadcasts of the Maple Leafs. Channel 11 used to show uncut R-rated movies starting at midnight late Fridays. I'm not sure how many parents realized that fact, but let me assure you that it did not escape the attention of the youngsters in Western New York's schools in that era.

Then there was the CFTO late news, which ran from 11 p.m. to 12:05 a.m. That in itself was unusual because of the length of the show; the American stations stuck to a half-hour. CFTO gave sportscasters Pat Marsden and Fergy Olver all sorts of time to give scores, reports and highlights. Heck, the station showed brief pay-per-view fights like Frazier-Foreman the same night they were held in their entirety.

Inevitably, I would watch Johnny Carson's monologue before switching to CFTO at around 11:40. (School didn't start until 9, by the way.) Before the sports came on, I would see Dave Devall, the weatherman.

Devall had the greatest gimmick ever by weatherman standards. He stood behind a clear plexiglass map, either of the nation or the region, facing the camera with magic markers. As he would talk about the weather, he would write down words, numbers and symbols on to the glass.

Here's the catch -- he was writing backwards with either hand, so that it would come out "normal" for the viewer. Have you ever heard of anyone being able to do that with a "good" hand, let alone both?

Devall is retiring today after 48 years on the job. He set a world record for longest tenure as a weathercaster; you can read about it here.

I once saw Devall at a golf outing, and he seemed outgoing and friendly to all. Best of luck in retirement, Dave, and be sure to start writing "normally" from now on.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

No fool

Celebrated author and teacher Paul Wieland has been written up in the New York Times hockey blog ... for April Fools Day pranks.

Read about it here. Stu Hackel is an old friend of mine and a good guy.

For my version of the story from last year, click here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Film from the past

It's tough to escape your past, as I discovered Tuesday night while watching Turner Classic Movies for a few minutes.

Let me explain.

It apparently was "sci-fi" night on TCM, and at about 12:30 a.m. the channel ran down its selections for the rest of the night. The 3:45 a.m. movie was "The Lost Missile." There's no particular reason to remember that motion picture from an artistic standpoint, as it didn't even make Leonard Maltin's handy guide to movies. (By the way, if you like movies and don't have Maltin's book, get it.)

After a moment of thought, I realized that "The Lost Missile" had been buried deep in the recesses of my memory for more than 40 years. I would bet that I had wanted to see it when I was 9 or 10 when it was on WOR's "Million Dollar Movie," or on WPIX after "The Honeymooners." It had a plot that must have sounded good to me back then -- missile cruising toward New York, threatening destruction. But for whatever reason -- homework? sleep? Putt-Putt? -- I never saw it.

I recorded it overnight and watched it today -- all 70 minutes of it. It was made in 1958, and definitely looks like a product of its time. A missile has suddenly appeared in the atmosphere around the Arctic Circle, and carries such heat that it is burning the ground below it. New York's destruction is less than an hour away. The nations of the world are all puzzled. After some failed attempts to shoot down the missile, scientist David Loring (Robert Loggia) comes up with a plan to send some sort of plutonium-based bomb into space on a U.S. missile to blow up the approaching missile.

The fun part about the movie is trying to pick out the holes in the story, as well as the Fifties-based thinking involved. For example:

* The missile is spotted somewhere near the North Pole, goes over Alaska, heads over the corner of Hudson Bay, wipes out Ottawa and heads over Lake Champlain toward New York. I wouldn't call that a straight line.

* The missile is said to be one million degrees, and is only five miles up. You think it would only wipe out a five-mile path on the ground on its path? Seems like it might do a little more damage on a global scale in short order.

* When it's time to arm the missile with plutonium, our hero scientist and his fiance/assistant (Joan Woods as Ellen Parker) drives the radioactive material over to the missile base in a jeep. Mr. Loring gets exposed to the plutonium when he gets back into the jeep after a carjacking (long story) and is said to have minutes to live, but his fiance -- only a few feet away -- is just fine. Loring even personally loads the payload into the nose of the missile, moments before blast-off.

* Spoiler alert: When the two missiles collide, it causes a nuclear explosion of massive size in upstate New York. New York City may be saved, but I'm not sure the citizens of, say, Albany would consider this a happy ending.

There's a side story about the scientist couple trying to get married, but Loring keeps worrying about his work and doesn't go through with it shortly before the crisis begins. Woods is crushed, but realizes later that Loring's work is so important that she was foolish to put herself before the lives of millions. Nice message for Fifties' housewives, eh?

And even with the short running time, there's enough stock footage taken from the military and other sources to make up about 30 minutes of the 70-minute running time. There sure are a lot of planes shown taking off here. The special effects consist of a picture of snow-covered mountains, followed by a bunch of smoke, followed by a picture of scorched earth. "Jurassic Park" it ain't.

If you need to watch one of these Fifties sci-fi films, try "Them." The part about ants in the Los Angeles sewer system is much more believable, and done with some intelligence and style. ("Forbidden Planet" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" work too.) Meanwhile, at least "The Lost Missile" is now off my bucket list.