Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday gift

It's December, which means the holiday music is out in full force. Particularly if you are a friend of mine.

My friend Jay Bonfatti used to do a special holiday CD and hand it out as a gift to his friends at this time of year. He did it for about 16 years, going from cassette to CD. They were always a treat, as Jay had such a wide range of musical interests. When Jay died, I figured I'd do a CD as a small tribute to him.

Here we are then, in year four of making such compact disks. I still get a laugh out of the idea of my friends throughout the country all listening to the same music that I picked out. One is even using it in her family's store as background music. Nothing like picking out flowers to "Christmas is Cancelled." The job of coming up with a playlist is in some ways easier and in some ways harder than ever before.

First of all, more music arrives every year, and a lot of it is available on line for free. Such websites as Stubby's House of Christmas does a great job of keeping up with all of it, and his genuine enthusiasm shines through with every mini-review. But on the other hand, I still have to listen to a lot of it in order to find out what's good and what's not worthwhile for my purposes. That means the new Bruce Springsteen CD, "The Promise," hasn't been thoroughly played yet. Call it a 2011 resolution.

It also means I'm a year ahead of everyone. The 2010 disk was made last December and then stored away. I've been working on 2011 for the last six weeks or so; I barely remember what was on 2010.

The reaction to the 2010 disk has been pretty funny. There are certain songs that jumped out of the speakers when I first heard them, demanding to be heard again. That includes "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas" by the Eels (you should hear the punk rock version sometime, featuring the brief comment, "Baby Jesus, born to rock"), and "The Christmas Song" by BR549, a country band I once heard open for Brian Setzer. There are others but you get the idea.

But few people mention those songs when saying how much they enjoy the music. I had a friend lean back before the start of a funeral and say, "The Drifters' version of White Christmas is the best ever." So you never know. And that's great.

Now comes the gift mentioned on top. With 2011 in the proverbial can (if you have heard of more than five of the groups, I'll be impressed), I'm still listening to new, interesting tunes for down the road. Donnie Iris has made a most remarkable version of "The Hallelujah Chorus." He did all of the voices himself. In other words, he put down something like 84 tracks over the course of four months to come up with a song. A critic described it as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir meets Queen, and that's pretty close to the truth.

What's more, you can get it for free on his website. Call it a preview of 2012.

And happy holidays.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Old job, new job

Mark Murphy, currently the president of the Green Bay Packers but certainly better known as my biology lab partner in high school, wrote a commentary for the Washington Post today. The subject is the need to limit rookie salaries in the NFL. You can read it through this link.

Mark obviously was heavily influenced by the writing style in his high school newspaper's sports section. The obvious question: If Mark is getting stories written in the Post, does that mean I should try a hand at running the Bills?

No, it doesn't.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

It's ain't me, babe

Dear out-of-town friends:

Some of the readers in this space probably have been watching the national media for the past few days talk about Buffalo and its massive snow story. Hundreds stranded on the Thruway for almost a full day. Roads closed. City buried. Film at 11. The Weather Channel practically opened a bureau here.

You are probably asking, "Will Budd ever be seen again?"

Well, yes. After he's done running and mowing the lawn.

The last part is an exaggeration, but only because it's cold. In South Buffalo, there were three feet of snow. In North Buffalo, there were no feet of snow. Nothing, nada, zilch. I could have gone running in the park every day this week.

For those who have never lived in this part of the world, lake effect snow can be a funhouse. The winds pass over Lake Erie, picking up moisture. Then the air passes over land, and proceeds to dump that moisture in the form of snow within a narrow band. It takes a big body of water to produce lake effect snow; I believe the Great Lakes and the Caspian Sea are the only ones large enough.

The catch is that the bands can be extremely narrow if potent. In this case, the band of snow was only about seven miles wide, but it didn't go anywhere for about a day. Therefore, you could take a magic marker and draw a line mostly east but a little north from South Buffalo/Lackawanna and go through Depew up to Alden. Those who were within that band got hit with up to three feet. Downtown got a few inches. North Buffalo and north got zero. (The picture is taken from Buffalo looking south at downtown and the wall of white beyond it. Thanks to a Facebook friend of a friend for it.)

This morning, I drove to South Buffalo for a funeral. In 15 minutes, I was in a different climate -- snow piled everywhere, trucks carrying piles of snow to a place where they could be safely dumped. Sidewalks were a mess; everyone walked on the street. At least the main streets were clean, but we still parked at a hospital parking ramp and walked a few blocks to get to the funeral.

The lake effect can hit almost anywhere along the lake shore. Remember the October storm that dumped 30 inches before the leafs were down, causing massive power failures and traffic problems? Remember the Christmas week storms when we had 83 inches of snow during the course of a week? We sure do.

This time, we in North Buffalo missed the fun. Tomorrow, we may not be so lucky.

But in the meantime, my snowblower remains unused this season.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Another loss

One of the things I've learned about journalism -- and I guess this applies to practically anything else -- is that few people have strong opinions about the issues of the day, and are still well-liked. Doing both at the same time can be a difficult juggling act.

Jim Kelley pulled that combination off beautifully.

Jim, who died on Tuesday after a year-long illness, certainly let you know where he stood on matters. You found out those positions if you were reading his work in the newspaper or on line, or if you were shooting the breeze in a bar after a game. But I'm not sure I knew anyone who had more friends in all walks of life, either. NHL executives along with team owners and general managers knew Jim, but so did the ushers and beer salesmen at Sabres games and a ton of other people around Western New York. He greeted them all equally, with genuine enthusiasm. I think there's a lesson there.

As a writer, Jim might have been my favorite on the local scene over the years. If you wanted indignant, he could do that. If you wanted informative, no one was better. If you wanted funny, he could do that too. It's very difficult to be funny about sports in print, and Jim would often make me laugh. What more could a reader ask for?

Jim and I were relatively close in the professional sense for 15 or 20 years. When I was covering the Sabres for a radio station, Jim was just taking over for Dick Johnston as the beat writer for the Sabres for the Buffalo News. He always seemed to have time to talk to a young pipsqueak like me at the time, as he did others. I could always count on him for interesting conversation and an honest opinion -- plus a funny story or two on what bizarre stunt Scotty Bowman had pulled while he was with the Sabres. Tellingly, although Jim complained a lot about Bowman, he said after the GM/Coach was fired, "I kind of miss the games that Scotty and I used to play."

Then I moved on to work in the Sabres' public relations department for six years, and that relationship changed. I usually had to go to Jim to find out what was going with the organization, because he had better information than I did. The relationship between writer and team official is supposed to be an adversarial one, but it was rarely that for us. One time at the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis, Jim announced that he had set a league record for the largest number of a particular cocktail consumed in one night. As the Sabres' statistician, I supplied the official count.

Jim played a key role in one of the single funniest moments I've ever had on a golf course. We were playing together in the Sabres' annual outing at Crag Burn; I always made sure my media friends were on the guest list. Jim's writing was much better than his golfing, and on a par 5 he took a tremendous swing off the tee. It was such a bad swing, though, that he hit the ball with the bottom of the driver. The action caused the ball to hit the ground and then spin backwards, resting behind where he had started. Playing partner John Gurtler pulled a yardstick out of his golf bag -- I still have no idea why he carried one -- and measured it: the ball had gone backwards 27 inches.

After leaving the hockey team, I moved over to cover the Sabres for the News, and Jim was the hockey columnist. I was sort of thrown in the water without knowing how to swim in some ways in that position, and Jim was usually there to throw me a life supporter when necessary. After all, he'd been there. He knew of the constant travel demands that job creates, including missed birthdays and anniversaries. Jim told me one time that he knew he was traveling too much when he walked into a Montreal bar and the bartender said, "Hey, Jimmy, my boy, the usual?"

Jim often talked in those times about overstaying his welcome at the News, and was one of the first print reporters to make the jump to the Internet. He took a job as a columnist for in 1999; I can't imagine what Jim thought about taking a paycheck from the reactionary Rupert Murdoch. I know he was well compensated for the move, but I always thought this Western New York native was a better fit writing for a hometown audience.

Jim and I drifted apart in the last several years, mostly because of different professional and personal situations. He was driving to Toronto for radio work or tending to children/grandchildren, while I was working the night shift in the office. My loss.

My last communication with Jim was something of a gesture. Seymour Knox once gave me a tie with the Sabres' old/new logo on it when I worked for the team. I knew he was sick, and I sent it to Jim only a couple of weeks ago, with a note that explained where it came from and said, "I think a new Buffalo Sabres Hall of Famer deserves to have this. Congratulations." He didn't respond, and the other day I figured out why. It was the latest loss in a sad string of them for those who have worked in sports journalism in Western New York over the last few years.

The last time I talked to Jim was some months ago, at a Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame meeting. I made sure to sit next to him at a luncheon. On the way out, I wished him well in his cancer treatments, and he replied by saying, "I think I'm in a good place."

I'd like to think he's in a good place now as well. He'll be missed, a lot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Missing in action

I saw this video of "Baby It's Cold Outside" on the Santas Working Overtime blog. It's a great version, worth saving for next year's holiday collection.

But just try to find it. had it and isn't selling this song, which was part of a San Francisco indie CD collection. No sign on iTunes.

Guess the video, which is kind of cute, will have to do:

P.S. The song popped up after Christmas on for 99 cents. Sold. Thank you, Amazon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Across the border

When people ask me who my favorite writer is, one of the first names that comes up is Ken Dryden. Yes, that Ken Dryden, the former Montreal Canadiens goalie. And current Member of Parliament in Canada, a lawyer who went to Cornell.

Dryden has written five books over the years. He became famous in hockey circles for "The Game," a look back at his time with the Canadiens that instantly became one of the best hockey books ever written. He then worked on a television documentary that was also the basis for a book, in both cases called "Home Game." Not only was the TV show good, but the book was great reading. I've never read a better explanation of the simple joy of playing a team sport than the one Dryden presented there.

Dryden moved on to "The Moved and the Shaken," which profiled an average unknown person in part because he was curious about what a typical person's life was like. It worked far better than you might think. Then he spent a year in an Ontario high school for "In School." It was an education just to read it.

What's great about Dryden's work is that it combines a great amount of thought and patience with a reader-friendly style. You can see the smarts turning in the background as you read, but the prose isn't intimidating.

Dryden hasn't written a book in several years -- he was busy running the Toronto Maple Leafs and running for political office. Now he's out with "Becoming Canada," designed to start a big conversation about the direction of the country. You could have guessed that I bought it and read it quickly.

This latest book probably isn't for most Americans. More than half of it is something of a running commentary on the Canadian political debate over the last decade or so. It's tough for someone on the other side of the border to pick up on some of the references. I will say this much -- Dryden sure isn't impressed with Prime Minster Stephen Harper.

But there is much here that might interest those in the U.S. of A, especially in the first two chapters. Dryden is impressed by Barack Obama, and makes a great point about America's foreign policy in the 2000's. Dryden writes, more or less, that George W. Bush had a foreign policy approach that Teddy Roosevelt would have loved, a "we're America and we'll do what we damn well please" direction. The problem is that this is not 1904 any more, and the world has changed.

Obama came along and tried to have America fit in with the rest of the world instead of extending power over it. Better to engage the enemy, the theory went, then isolate it. For that, he earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Dryden points out that much of America was surprised and confused by this selection, but that rest of the world got it immediately.

Dryden also likes the way Obama has talked about big themes, such as health care, climate change, etc. Such subjects are a hard sell in this political climate in the U.S., and maybe Obama hasn't been a great salesman/politician, but Dryden thinks he's on to something. The author is having similar problems in getting people in Canada to think about something other than how to cut taxes. It's very interesting to read an outside (of the U.S) viewpoint.

In his concluding chapter, Dryden writes about some of the issues that are on Canada's national agenda. An overriding issue is multi-culturalism, as all sort of ethnic backgrounds have become part of the Canadian landscape. It's not just French and English any more, although the arguments between those two sides over the years seem to have taught Canadians to try to get along when possible.

In the midst of that discussion, Dryden mentions the important of education in Canada ... and how that affects all of public policy. He's a believer that everyone should have the same chance to get ahead. That might affect more areas than you might think. It starts with good prenatal care, so that health issues don't cause a child to be giving up head starts to everyone else on day one. It goes from there to good schooling, of course, and access to colleges, but also to day care. But it also includes helping new immigrants who need help learning English in order to use their skills in a new country. It includes giving tax breaks to companies who sink resources into research and development, and to Internet access for all.

It sure sounds like Dryden arguing that a smarter country is a better country. He may be on to something here.

I once wrote that Dryden reminded me a lot of Bill Bradley, another pro athlete turned politician who would have been a better office-holder than he was a candidate. I saw nothing in "Becoming Canada" to change my mind.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

History lesson

I really prefer my Presidential candidates to know more than I do about political history in this country.

Which brings us to Sarah Palin.

In her book, Palin reportedly comments on John Kennedy's relatively famous speech in 1960 about his religion. Kennedy told a Houston group, "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic."

According to the AP story, Palin's response was that Kennedy "essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are."


Anyone familiar with that campaign knows that there were worries that a Catholic President would be taking orders from the Vatican on any issue of interest. Remember, we had never had a Catholic President at that point; I believe it was a major issue when Al Smith won the Democratic nomination in 1928. I think the nutcases said there were plans to build a tunnel from Rome to Washington if Kennedy won the election. (I think their relatives are on Internet forums today.)

Kennedy needed to get the issue out in the open, and he did so in that manner. Obviously, it worked, as Kennedy won the election.

I'm always a little suspicious when politicians start playing to a religious base. It all sounds like an appeal to "God's law" is actually an appeal to "My God's laws ... and not your God's laws."

But I'm more suspicious when politicians can't understand a history book.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Partial renewal

It was decision time in the publication business recently. In other words, I had to figure out whether to renew a subscription to the Wall St. Journal.

I voted no, sort of. More on that in a moment. I think the reasons are rather instructive, though.

Reason one was the cost. I got the first year for nothing as a reward for filling out on-line surveys. It seemed like the best available option, and I had never seen the WSJ regularly. Therefore, I gave it a try, even though I'm not exactly a business magnate.

After a year, I got a renewal offer in the mail. The cost to renew for an entire year was $99. That didn't sound unreasonable; there were some good stories in it, and $2 a week was more than fair.

I was interested to see what the price plan would be once my subscription came close to expiring this time. Their big discount offer came to something like $340 for 18 months. Whoa. Here comes the pitch and it is way, way too high.

But there's another factor involved here, and it's worth exploring. The Journal has really come across as two-sided in a dramatic sense in the past several months.

That is to say, the editorial board and the columnists all think President Obama is the Anti-Christ. (I exaggerate, but not much.) They go out of their way to slam him when they can, sounding all the while like Fox News commentators. (This is not surprising, in light of common ownership.) Daniel Henninger and William McGurn come off as particularly clueless most of the time. Peggy Noonan is the best of the bunch; did she really call Sarah Palin a nincompoop in her column last week?

On the other hand, the economic news has been slowly improving over the last several months. Jobs are being created, not lost, and other economic figures such as profits are creeping up. But it's really, really difficult for some of the editors to give the Administration much credit for any of this, so they seem to go out of the way to avoid it.

I'm not cutting off ties completely, though. I had some expiring frequent flier miles, and could get a year's worth of the Saturday edition of the Journal for nothing. Works for me. Noonan appears on Saturdays, and the book review section on that day is always worth a look.

That seemed like a fair compromise ... although not too many WSJ columnists seem to know that compromise isn't the worst thing in the world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Your best shot

I used to be pretty good at shooting mini-basketballs in the arcade game in bars. I think I held the record at the Champions bar in Boston at one time.

But if this person shows up and challenged me, I'd be toast.

EMBED-Basketball Rapid Fire - Watch more free videos

By the way, this clip appeared on the CBS Evening News the day after I posted. I didn't know Katie Couric was a reader!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Ten easy rules

Want my vote in an election? Try to come close to these standards:

1. Figure out what you have to do, do it, and pay for it. Nothing more, and nothing less. In other words, don't pay for today's problems by borrowing against tomorrow.

Note: National emergencies, such as war and the possible collapse of our economic system, qualify as exceptions. But getting re-elected is not such an emergency … so if you want to pass tax cuts to be personally popular among voters, figure out how to keep the budget balanced first.

2. I want representatives who are smart, and who use their informed judgment. In other words, do what is right and not just popular. Sometimes it's even the same thing.

3. Voting to raise taxes on a particular issue should not equal political death. Inflation raises the price of everything, and it's unrealistic to think prices for government are any different. But, as rule number one says, you'd better be spending those extra dollars efficiently. My prices are going up too.

4. If you are going to send me literature during the course of your term, make it something of interest rather than self-serving political propaganda that goes straight into the recycling bin. And since I have no idea what "something of interest" might be, maybe not spending the money at all is a good idea.

5. Stop giving tax breaks to every company that comes along hat in hand. Set fair rates, and don't get into bidding wars with other municipalities for companies. Such moves only make it tougher for companies who don't have such tax breaks to compete. Besides, no one looks at those handouts that have you pictured breaking ground for a new business because of the huge tax break you might have slightly pushed along in the legislative process.

6. Talk to the media during the campaign, and take questions. We want to know more about you than what your campaign ads say. And Republicans, just going on Sean Hannity or the local equivalent doesn't come close to counting.

7. Stop the misleading and negative ads. We're all sick of them. We don't want to look at a smiling color photo of you and a scowling black-and-white picture of the other person, or be told to call the other guy's office to explain his or her behavior.

Talk about yourself, and point out the legitimate differences on issues between you and your opponent. Get out of the world where if you want slightly cut a proposed increase in school lunches, you want kids to starve; and if you want to buy better equipment for police and fire companies, you are pro-tax hikes.

8. Don't have your robocallers dial before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m. My family gets grumpy when someone wakes it up. And don't do "push polls," where the "pollster" asks loaded questions like, "If you knew candidate John Doe was a Dolphins fan, would it make you more or less likely to vote for him?"

9. If you don't like what the other side is doing, do something about it. Make some proposals, and work to create compromise. Sitting back and saying "no, no, no" to everything is not a governing strategy; it's a way to make yourself look petty and stupid.

10. Finally, show a little respect for the process and the people in it. In theory, everyone is trying to make this a better place to live; they just disagree on the methods. Think of the members of the other party as opponents, not enemies. In the real world, Democrats and Republicans interact all the time, and get along nicely. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned there. (Thank you, Jon Stewart.)

Now, get to work. The next election will be here before we know it, and I'll be watching.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Things you'd never thought you'd see

Take a benefit concert featuring Elton John, Lady Gaga, Sting, Debbie Harry, Shirley Bassey, and Bruce Springsteen. Put them on stage at the same time.

What could they all sing?

"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, of course. See for yourself. And thanks to the New York Times for the heads-up:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Election day countdown

That well-known blogger Glenn Locke recently posted a link to a column by Tom Friedman saying that he couldn't figure out why most people would want to vote Republican on Tuesday. I'm not sure that I want to go that far, but do wish to make a quick point on similar lines.

What are the two biggest non-political news stories of the past two and one-half years? I think we could argue that they were the economic meltdown and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the first, there are also sorts of reasons why that collapse happened. Certainly one of them, though, was that financial institutions took huge chances that had little hope of succeeding over the long term. And these institutions had gotten so big that further bankruptcies might have led to the collapse of much of the economic system. It took massive government action just to avoid a depression.

In the second, a large multinational corporation cut some corners and did not receive adequate check-ups from monitoring agencies. When something went bad, it really went bad. It's tough to say how much damage has been done to the Gulf, and whether it will ever be the same down there.

What lessons did the Tea Party and their kind take from those developments? If I'm reading the news correctly, it's that government is the problem, and that we have to leave big business alone in order to create more jobs and get out of this recession.

Wouldn't you think the reverse would be the case? Wouldn't you think, as a sideline observer, that there would be an outcry for more government regulation to prevent such activities from happening again?

I can understand people being scared because of the country's economic stress, what with unemployment and smaller nest eggs in the form of drops in housing values and retirement funds. But it's fascinating that some have jumped to conclusions that clash with what might be called conventional wisdom.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More leisure viewing

Television ads for political candidates are easy pickings for criticism. It's a bizarro world where fiction is presented as fact, candidates vote for thousands of tax increases a year or else they cut off funding for school lunches, etc., etc., etc.

This was a pretty good one. Did you know Andrew Cuomo was responsible for the entire housing crisis of a few years ago:

Keep in mind that forests have fallen to create the paper for books that have tried to sort out the financial mess we were in a couple of years ago. Why bother? This explains it all in 30 seconds.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paid Political Announcement

I don't know anything about this race in Illinois, and I've never seen "Glee," but I like the style of this campaign ad:

Thanks to Katie Fritz for pointing this out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No Swami

With the midterm elections coming up in a little more than a week, there's plenty of news worth a comment. I'm up to the task. If I jump around a bit, keep reading -- you'll get the idea.

The story of this election was written before Barack Obama took office in January 2009. It didn't take much predicting skill to do so. The 2010 elections were going to be tough for Democrats, better for Republicans.

Obama was told before Inauguration Day that the country was in the midst of a recession that was greater than the last three recessions combined. In other words, hard times were ahead, no matter what the government did.

At that instant, Obama and his staff could have figured that the midterm elections would be trouble. Any student of economics believes in business cycles, so such a deep drop in activity was not going to snap back easily. It figured to take a while for a recovery to take place, and it has. Job growth is always the last factor to turn around, and we're seeing the unemployment numbers stay stubbornly high this year.

A good argument could be made that unemployment numbers would be even worse without the bailout of the American auto industry, the lifeline to several financial institutions (many of which have paid back those loans), and the passage of a large stimulus package that put some people to work. It's impossible to know where unemployment would be without those measures, and many voters are just going to look at the current job numbers and vote for a different party next week. That's understandable.

Meanwhile, faced with memories of Obama's substantial win in 2008 and the possibility of a changing calculus of winning elections, the Republicans certainly had a vested interest in doing whatever they could to make Obama look bad -- particularly on issues without great public support. Health care reform qualifies, even if neither side is too sure how that reform package will turn out and how much it will cost.

Meanwhile, the so-called Tea Partiers have created some energy from the right that will help Republican turnout. I'm a little surprised that protests of deficit spending have been popular, when both parties haven't been worried about that issue for decades. If they can give politicians to do the unpopular but proper task of actually spending only what they have except in economic emergencies (the fall of 2008 probably qualified), more power to them.

But the rhetoric has been severe. Some independents certainly were scared by Tea Party signs of Obama with the caption, "Hitler gave good speeches too." And to argue that health care coverage for all is illegal because it's not in the Constitution makes me wonder if those same people should protest Medicare, social security and the Louisiana Purchase. Nothing in the Constitution mentions those actions, either.

Mix all of this together, and then add it to the fact that the opposing party usually bounces back in offyear elections. Republican gains were inevitable.

Those gains probably could have been tempered a bit. The Obama Administration didn't do a particularly good job of selling its programs to voters, and didn't do much more at times than say "we were dealt a bad hand." In addition, taking on such a major package as health care in 2009 seemed to suck a lot of the air out of the room when people were still pretty scared every time they looked at the Dow Jones Industrial Average or their 401k statements. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid weren't exactly dynamic faces for a new Washington either, even though I can't say Mitch McConnell and John Boehner would be any better. (Just who is picking the leadership in Washington, anyway?)

Still, the private sector is slowly showing signs of an economic rebound. Employment has been crawling upward the last several months, and some companies have shown good profits. My guess is that the numbers will get better, and by the time 2012 rolls around the economic engine will have picked up steam. That's in spite of anything done by government, which has a far smaller role in what happens to the economy than people realize.

Therefore, Obama -- who if nothing else showed that he's a great campaigner -- should have a relatively easy time putting back together that base for the 2012 Presidential election if we all stay on this path. That's especially true if the Republicans nominate an old face, such as someone who ran in 2008 or is associated with the past (read Newt Gingrich).

Some Republicans are already figuring the White House will be theirs in two years. My advice would be: underrate Barack Obama at your peril.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hail to the Chief

I had the opportunity the other day to hear Chief Justice John Roberts speak at Canisius College. Justice Roberts was born in the Buffalo area, moving to Indiana at the age of seven. (Sadly, I didn't have the chance to ask him if he packed any affection for the Buffalo Bills with him.) He attended three classes at the school and then essentially answered questions for about 90 minutes.

It's always good to hear someone like this in person. He's one of the most important persons in government, but a majority of the population couldn't pick him out of a lineup. Here are a few quick impressions that I carried home:

* As you might expect, Justice Roberts -- I'd feel funny writing "John" -- is an impressive person. He seemed to have a good sense of humor, and didn't talk down to the audience although we all know he could have done so quite easily. I could see have an adult beverage with him and chatting for a while, which is always a good test for someone.

* While the first hour featured a host and filtered questions, Roberts took questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. I always like the people who use such occasions to push an agenda, even though they know, or should know, that the response will be along the lines of "I can't talk about that because it might come up in court" or "My written opinion is all I want to say about that one." There were a couple of people who did that in this case; they would not pass the "adult beverage" test.

* But I really liked one question that absolutely came out of left field. Someone noticed that these long legal warnings come up when you are on line -- think updating iTunes -- that you must hit the "I agree" button in order to proceed. The questioner asked if Justice Roberts, as the top legal authority in the land, understood those warnings.

It got a laugh, and another laugh came when Justice Roberts said, "I must admit I don't read those things either." But he went on to make a good point, that there are all sorts of warnings and agreements that are too long and complicated to understood by anyone. As an example, he mentioned the form that comes with a prescription that has possible side-effects to medicine. The problem is that the form looks like a road map, and the important parts are on page 14.

I can't say I agree with Justice Roberts' judical philosophy all the time, which is fine. But it's easy to feel a little better when getting to see someone like that in person. Thanks, Canisius, for the free evening of entertainment and enlightenment.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sorry, wrong number

An interesting if brief interlude in the day's events.

The phone rang about 10 a.m. this morning at my house.

"This is Buffalo Pharmacy. I have information on a prescription," said the voice at the other end.

"O.K.," I replied, not sure what he was talking about.

"I have an order ready for Ann Barnaby."

"I think you have the wrong number."

"Then why did you say yes to the prescription?!?"

And then the man hung up.

Is that the rudest business call ever? Remind me not to visit that outlet.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Magazine story

Here are a couple of more signs, as if we needed them, about the plight of magazines these days:

* It's getting more and more difficult to subscribe to a magazine for just six months or a year. These days, your first move is practically a lifetime subscription.

Many publishers are sending out notices asking readers to send in their credit cards to pay for the product. (This is more common, and easier, in renewals, but you get the idea.) The fine print says that the subscription will automatically be renewed when expiration time arrives, unless the company hears from you. They obviously are counting on the reader to do nothing. This way, not only does the company get your money, but it's probably more money than you'd pay if you searched the Internet for bargains.

Recently my subscription to ESPN the magazine was getting ready to expire. I noticed that my credit card that was on their file had expired a few months before, and I was interested in renewing and getting the package of goodies they send to new subscribers (long-sleeve t-shirt, cooler bag, mug). So I went by the expiration date and renewed by check.

The goodies indeed came, but here's the catch: they still figured out a way to automatically renew my subscription through the expired credit card. For three years. I noticed the charge on a bill. I called up the company and got it straightened out (after getting passed along to another number). Still, it's a lot of work to avoid paying the full rate.

* I've been a reader of Newsweek forever. My parents started getting it when I was a small boy, and I've been reading it ever since. However, the magazine changed formats some months ago, and I can't say I read too much of it any more. Therefore, I decided to let it expire.

The expiration date was sometime in July. It is now October. I am still getting my weekly copy of the magazine. I even received a letter from Newsweek's circulation department this week, boldly announcing "Your subscription expired seven weeks ago!" Well, I'd never know it based on what's been coming into my mailbox.

We all have problems in publishing these days, but it seems like either making it more difficult to subscribe or sending free issues out won't solve any of them for magazines.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Why a 16-year-old could do it...

Think Keith Emerson is great on the keyboards? Well, yes, me too. But there's the teen-ager who can do a darn good version of his work. It's worth a listen:

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Double ending

It's always a sad day when the major-league baseball season ends. Summer is officially gone. It's time to put the screen windows up and replace them with storms, and start up the furnace. It's even sadder in our house when the Red Sox and Mets both miss the playoffs, and the Yankees make it.

Here in Buffalo, though, Sunday marked a double whammy. Not only did the baseball season end, but football season is about over as well.

That's not what the schedule says, but that's what my head says after watching the Bills get positively crushed by the Jets. As the cliche goes, if it had been a prizefight, the referee would have stopped it after three rounds, er, quarters.

What was pretty obvious two weeks ago has become painfully plain now. The Bills are going nowhere, again. Even if the new coaching staff and front office knows what it is doing, there is a big job ahead. The run of non-playoff teams is going to extend another year, minimum. And probably more.

It's easy to see the culprit here -- bad decisions litter the team's past. They traded up for J.P. Losman, traded up for John McCargo, drafted James Hardy (who pulled a gun on his father on Father's Day shortly after the draft) ... heck, drafted Mike Williams a while ago. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. That doesn't even mention some of the free-agent acquisitions.

But here's the worst part, that doesn't get mentioned much. People are starting to wonder if we'll ever see the Bills get good. I emphasize ever.

Let's review. Putting the Bills back together is obviously going to be a bigger job than we thought. It's tough to picture them getting more than a handful of wins this season.

Then comes 2011. You have to wonder if there's going to be a 2011 season. Both sides seem poised to dig in and have one of those huge labor disputes that happens to pro sports every so often. Football has had some labor peace in the past 23 years, so it will take some work to avoid one next year.

No matter what, 2012 will be here before we know it. That's also known as the last season of the Bills' 15-year lease. There hasn't been a peep out of anyone about that. It's tough to know what everyone is thinking, since it's still two years away. But with a shrinking market and a 92-year-old owner who apparently has no plan of succession about the team's future, it's easy to wonder what will happen to the Bills. That's particularly true since the franchise is probably worth $250 million more in Los Angeles than it is in Buffalo.

I have out-of-town friends who say they would love to be in Buffalo the day the Bills win a Super Bowl. You wonder if they'll ever have the chance.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dumb questions dept.

Last night, NBC News led its newscast with the results of a new poll on the economy.
One of the questions was, do you think the recession is over?

A reported 70 percent of those asked said the recession was not over. Here is a story on the poll.

This seems like a world-class stupid question to me.

A recession has an economic definition about the economy suffering at least two consecutive quarters of losses. This is not a matter of opinion, it's a fact.

Therefore, asking if the recession is over is like asking if the New England Patriots won Sunday's football game with the Buffalo Bills.

Now, if someone wants to ask if the economic slump is over, that's a different story. That's more of a matter of opinion. The pollsters could ask about confidence, hope for the future, etc.

But it's tough to have a discussion if we don't speak the same language.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ghoulish behavior

You can argue that reading the Wall Street Journal is something about as much fun as watching Fox News -- and I'd agree with you, particularly when it comes to columnists. But they do come up with great offbeat features for the middle/bottom of page one.

Today's will be loved by anyone who watch the movie "Night of the Living Dead." The author of the story talks to oldest living ghoul from the movie. You can read the story by going here.

If you missed the black-and-white classic, you should know that it deals with the dead coming to life and terrorizing an area of suburban Pittsburgh. I believe I can still make Glenn Locke laugh by quoting an interview with the Sheriff character in the movie. When asked if the ghouls are fast targets, he replies in a Southern accent, "No, they're dead ... they're pretty slow." And when asked how to stop them, he said, "You get the ghoul's brain, you get the whole ghoul."

Shakespeare, eat your heart out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Strange encounter

I was in the Walden Galleria today, sitting on one of the benches and sipping a drink so that I could finish it and enter a store. In other words, I was minding my own business.

Then a man walked up toward me and pointed at my t-shirt, which was a souvenir of the "Buffalo's Smartest Company" fund-raising competition, sponsored by a credit union. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to the top of my shirt.

"It was from a contest," I replied nervously.

"Buffalo ... that whole place is a ghetto," he said. "Everything's boarded up."

"I live in Buffalo, and it's not a ghetto."

"Where do you live?"

"Near the Zoo."


"Near the Zoo."

I was drinking faster at this point.

After a pause, he said, "Look at that woman with the big butt. Did you know that 75 percent of all Americans are obese?"

"I think that's a little high," I said.

After hearing about how much he liked the food court at the Galleria ("I eat something and read the paper for an hour," he said), out of the blue came: "There's nothing made in America. Everything is made in China."

"I don't think it's everything."

"Yup, that's why Buffalo is a ghetto."

Gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp.

"Have a nice day."

You just don't expect street people in a mall. Wonder if he votes?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

End of the story

It looks like we have some closure on "Rayzor's Edge."

You remember "Rayzor's Edge." It was the book that I did with Rob Ray. The publication came out in November 2007. Happily for me, the hard-cover edition sold out in Western New York in less than four weeks. It actually was the best-selling winter sports book in America at times, according to the sales counter kept by

The publisher was Sports Publishing LLC of Illinois. I had gone through a few odd experiences along the way with it, including stories from other writers about not getting paid. I also had an editor with the company who lasted, oh, about a week and a half before departing.

Was I nervous about that? You betcha, to quote a certain Alaskan ex-politician. But we (Rob and I both) got a check for our advance in January once we had fulfilled our publicity obligations. We had to pay the photographer out of that, but that was the deal and we fulfilled our end of it.

The paperback version finally came out in late April of 2008. That was nice, except for the fact that it arrived AFTER the Sabres had been eliminated from the playoffs. You might guess that it hurt sales, and you'd probably be right.

We were supposed to get paid in May and November. My guess was that we had sold 4,000 copies of the hardcover edition, but when asked about it (and getting some badgering from me) the publisher said we hadn't reached a high enough number in sales to get more money. Honestly, I didn't see how that could be possible, but I simply swallowed. Besides, we were never told how many copies were actually printed, so it was hard to know how much we might be owed.

The Sports Publishing Web site more or less stopped updating in June, and soon I started getting notes from the bankruptcy court of Chicago, Illinois. The Court got my address wrong, filling me with confidence. I checked with a lawyer who read the contract and said it might help me move closer to the front of the line when it came to payments. In other words, I might get 10 cents on the dollar instead of zero.

Every so often, for months and months, I'd receive a legal notice about some procedure. A few months ago, I got a note saying that the court had agreed to pay the lawyers a fee for their services. My first reaction was "What did they ever write?" However, I wasn't exactly ready to drive to Chicago to complain.

Finally, a short while ago, I received another notice saying the filing had been dismissed. What could that mean? I checked with a local lawyer, and she said the leftover assets probably had just been given to the main creditor, probably a bank, and there was nothing left for me or anyone else. Nice, huh?

I still don't know how many copies were sold, or how much I would have gotten in better times. I'm still glad I wrote the book; it's a good story that a lot of people liked. Besides, it could lead to more opportunities for me. The book also will be an ad for Rob for the rest of his life and thus help him in the years to come.

But as Scott Morrison of Toronto once told me, "Don't expect to get rich writing a sports book." He was right about that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What happened?

The New York Republican primary certainly got some attention nationally this week, as Carl Paladino's remarks during the campaign were rehashed. But something got overlooked.

Where the heck did the result come from?

Granted, state primaries aren't exactly surveyed to death. There are only a few polls done statewide in such circumstances.

What's more, primaries are strange animals. Not that many people bother to cast ballots in such elections. That's only in part because they didn't want to spend the new voting machines used in New York State this year. (And what exactly was wrong with the old ones, anyway?)

But this result was clearly out of the blue.

There was one recent survey done on the race between Paladino and Rick Lazio near the actual day of the election. It had the two men in a dead heat. Then on election day, Paladino came out a winner, 62 to 38.

If my math is any good, that's a 24-percent difference. That's a long way from a dead heat. Did that many voters change their mind in the span of a couple of days? I think not.

Something obviously went very wrong with the polling process. OK, I know Lazio's campaign was about as thrilling as the Bills' offense against Miami on Sunday. (Note to non-football fans: They were awful.) My guess is that the polling company did a bad job of figuring out which voters were likely to cast ballots, perhaps because of old lists.

It sure sounds like the so-called Tea Partiers were under the radar in New York, and misrepresented by the poll. Does that mean they haven't voted before, and that we're getting a new generation of voters here?

It would be nice to get some information on this. Otherwise, I'll see further polls results about New York with some degree of skepticism.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Run, Phil, Run

And after yesterday's rant, here's someone with obviously cares.

A tip of the hat to Brad Riter for pointing this guy out to me. I found a slightly different version, with comments added, that works really well:

Monday, September 13, 2010

In the mailbox...

I live in a household in which one person is a registered Republican, and one person is a registered Democrat. This means that we get twice the mail when it comes to primary season.

This is not good news, especially for the mailman. We have been overrun with direct mail in the past couple of weeks. Most of it is predictable, especially the color photos of the sponsoring candidate and the grainy black-and-white shots of "the other candidate." At this point, after getting stuff on a daily basis for days, it tends to go directly to the recycle bin.

One piece of mail did get through my filter the other day, though. It was from Carl Paladino, a Republican candidate for Governor. On the envelope, something along the lines of "Stop the mosque on Ground Zero" were printed.

Yes, I know. It's a sensitive issue, especially to those who lost loved ones there. But there are plenty of facts worth noting.

The building that currently occupies that space is two blocks away from the World Trade Center site. It has hosted a Muslim prayer group for years. People go in there all the time to pray.

We do have freedom of religion in this country. The Constitution guarantees it. So where, Mr. Paladino, would you put the line for where religious freedom starts? It's obviously more than two blocks, since you want to stop the mosque there. But since there are mosques all over Manhattan, it must be less than a few miles.

I tend to be rather absolute on such Constitutional matters. You walk off Ground Zero, you can do what you want. I would bet that if someone put a church or chapel on the grounds where the Oklahoma City explosion took place, no one would blame Christianity because Timothy McVeigh was raised in a certain religion.

Paladino has all sorts of "issues" that probably would prevent him from being an effective Governor. He's obviously used to doing whatever he wants without fear of payback, because bosses often do that. (I used to work for one; it wasn't fun.) You've heard of Paladino's problems with racist and sexist e-mails; there's also an allegation of improper behavior at a variety show a few years ago. That's all probably disqualifying behavior, but only believing in the Constitution is a bigger problem. Much bigger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In heaven, there is no...

It is rare indeed that a letter to the editor in a newspaper prompts something of a theological discussion in the sports department. But it actually happened the other day.

Someone wrote a letter in tribute to Bob Summers; it was printed in today's newspaper. The author was quite eloquent in his tribute to Bob, how much he enjoyed Bob's work and how he'll miss him.

As a closer, the writer said he hoped Bob was watching such horses as Secretariat, Barbaro, Bret Hanover and Niatross at a heavenly race track. It's a comforting thought, for Bob's sake. He'd have been thrilled about that possibility.

I was reading the letter to get it ready for publication the other day, when something struck me. I told the person sitting next to me about the contents of the letter, and I blurted out, "I never considered the possibility of horses going to heaven. I've heard of people hoping to see a favorite dog or cat in heaven, but race horses haven't come up."

And that led to a discussion about the afterlife. As in, while it might be heavenly to watch the great horses run again, what about the horse's point of view?

If you could ask a horse about his life -- and I assume only Mr. Ed could give you a good answer -- the racing part would be the least favorite part of it. At that stage in their lives, horses get up really early in the morning, train regularly, and run in some races. Did I mention someone puts a jockey weighing close to 120 pounds on the horse's back during those runs? You try that. Oh, and if the horse isn't meeting expectations in those races, he gets whipped for his trouble. I suppose this is better than a lifetime of pulling a milk wagon, but it's probably not much fun.

Then, after the horse "retires," he goes to a nice farm somewhere. He spends the rest of his life romping on the grass, eating hay and oats. Plus, he has sex on a regular basis with the finest-looking fillies in the land. The stallion does this for years and years and years.

So, Secretariat, after living an easy life for so long, you die and go to heaven and discover that it's time to start working out and running and getting whipped again. Citation wants a piece of you on the track, and so does Man o'War. Secretariat probably would think shortly after arrival, "I want to go back to the farm, and now."

It's a good thing that the afterlife, if there is one, is generally thought to be beyond our comprehension. A man could get dizzy considering the possibilities.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Happy One

Bob, Bob, Bob. What am I going to do for dinner now?

Last Saturday night, Bob Summers and I had dinner together in the News break room. This was nothing new for us. I'd estimate we had done that close to 150 times a year for the past few years. That's more than either of us ever ate with our respective wives in that span.

It turned out to be our last meal together. After work at midnight, Bob headed for the casino in Niagara Falls. He apparently suffered a heart attack at the blackjack table and died later that night at the age of 66.

We say the usual cliches in such situations, but they are true. This was very unexpected, and Bob left us too soon.

I'm not sure about the exact moment when I first met Bob. It was probably on the softball field in the early 1980's, as my pesky WEBR team would figure out a way to beat his powerful News Blues. I remember asking Jim Kelley once about News horse racing columnist Bart McCracken around that era. Jim laughed and told me to look carefully at the picture. Since Bob was in the financial department at the time, he had to use a fake name to write in sports. The column picture was of Bob, hidden behind binoculars the size of a small car. Bob moved over to sports shortly after that, and was there when I arrived at The Buffalo News in 1994.

Bob had a unique place in my life. We worked side-by-side for years in the sports department, usually on nights and weekends. Indeed, Bob jokingly talked about writing a book called, "What to do in Buffalo when your weekend is on Tuesdays and Wednesdays." While most people preferred to eat their meals at their desk, Bob and I both saw the value of getting up, walking down a flight of stairs, and eating away from the area that held us captive for the other seven and a half hours a night.

What do people talk about, night after night? Lots of things, as you'd expect. There was always journalism, of course. Copy editors are people are can pick nits with the best of them, getting into arguments over such things as whether the "A" in Around & About should be capitalized in our paper, or whether it should be double-header or doubleheader. The big issues of journalism would come up too, and not just those involving sports. Bob was one of the few people in the department who seemed to read serious, nonfiction books -- a kindred spirit in that sense.

This being Buffalo, the latest news surrounding the Bills would always be a subject of conversation. It would often be sarcastic -- "Think that Chan Gailey hiring will send people sprinting to the ticket windows?" -- but backed by the feeling that we'd be a little happier if the team actually won some games every once in a while.

Then once we got past the usual anecdotes about family, or politics, or whatever, there were hobbies. That means in my case, he had to listen about such subjects as running. When I'd say I had to get up early to run in a race the next morning, Bob would gently deflate me by saying, "And who exactly is forcing you to run in this race?"

In Bob's case, talk of outside activities usually meant gambling in general -- or horse racing in particular. I'm not sure anyone loved anything as much as Bob loved racing. He often said how he had spent a night looking over a Racing Form as he attempted to handicap the next day's card.

Sometimes I'd sit in the break room, listening to Bob, and marvel at the way he connected almost anything to horse racing. You couldn't stump him. Here's an example of Bob's single-minded focus. In August, Saratoga hosted the Bernard Baruch Handicap, in honor of the architect of some of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal financial plans. Bob had heard of him, because Baruch was a big supporter of racing once upon a time. But when I said, "What's next, the Ben Bernanke Stakes?" Bob answered, "Who's Ben Bernanke?" I used that line about the Federal Reserve chairman in our daily joke column, Five Spot, secure in the knowledge that it was one joke Bob wouldn't get.

The funny part of the relationship was that Bob and I rarely socialized outside of work. Bob had a routine that worked for him, and it was tough to get him away from that. One time we went to a Bisons' afternoon game together. He wanted to sit downstairs in the sun and drink beer; I wanted to sit upstairs in the shade, eat popcorn, and keep score. He won -- and we never tried it again. One time I invited him over for a poker game with my high school friends. Unless the game was five-card draw, Bob said, "Deal me out," and merely watched us play some silly wild-card games that took a team of accountants to follow.

But Bob was someone you could count on. A couple of times a year, I'd need a ride to the eye doctor because the drops left me incapable of driving home. If Bob could do it, he'd be there with a smile on his face. In fact, I rarely saw Bob in a bad mood, especially in the workplace. That sort of consistent good cheer is quite rare, and appreciated.

Maybe that's why I always tried to have Bob's back when necessary. Earlier this year, I noticed that Bob's picks for a Triple Crown race had gone wrong. That happens sometimes; if it were easy to pick winners, everyone would do it. Some blog commentator had left the message, "Your picks stink," for all to see. That just wasn't fair. I found the delete key, and the nasty message went to cyber-heaven.

Bob kept trying to predict the future even after the bad days like that one. I always felt he would have fit right into the newsroom of the Forties and Fifties, covering racing full-time. He always thought the next race would come out the way he thought it would, and he always thought a day at the track was the best place to spend his time. Racing isn't what it used to be, of course, but when Bob was at the track he was the happiest of handicappers.

Bob once told me that life was too short to miss one of the Triple Crown races, so he started making sure he went to every one starting in 1978. It's a comforting thought that he'll be watching those races now from a great seat looking down on the track. For us, still in the grandstand, we'll miss his gentle wit, good nature, and company.

As for dinner time, it will never be the same.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Glee club

I didn't see the opening to the Emmys last week, but heard plenty about it. And now, here it is.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Margaret and Mary

In early August, I ran in something called "The Celebrity 5K." It was sponsored by the Buffalo Broadcasters Association, an organization which is devoted to preserving the area's broadcast history. I finished 137th in the race, which does not make me the 137th biggest celebrity in the media. I'm a ways below that.

But wherever I am in line, I dropped a couple of spots this week. That's because Margaret Russ-Guenther and Mary Brady passed me when it was announced they would be inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. Me, I've only visited Hall of Fames. They're in one.

The idea of "institional memory" is thrown around in business books, referring to someone who has been around the workplace long enough to remember the good times, the good people, and the mistakes. There should be a picture of Margaret and Mary by the term, because they defined the phrase for a couple of area radio stations. In other words, they really did run the place, albeit in different ways.

During my several years at WEBR, I had more dealings with Margaret than Mary. That's because many of her responsibilities put her in direct contact with the AM side. Margaret was something of the house mother to a place that at times did look like a frat house, filled with young people who had a little too much energy. Someone had to keep law and order, and Margaret helped keep things running smoothly.

She did it with a ruthlessly efficient style that could ruffle a few feathers but in hindsight certainly was quite necessary. Somehow, the station logs got done, the pay checks were handed out, paperwork found the proper destination, and a million other details were handled. You crossed her at your own risk. Entering Margaret's office was a particularly challenging experience. She sat with her back to the window, so that when you entered she was back-lit so that her face was covered in shadow. That only added to the imtimidation factor when you entered her domain after something had gone wrong.

Luckily for all us, there was an ample good side there as well. She always treated me with respect and good humor, perhaps because I always tried to do the same. Besides, once a while she had to come into my area of expertise. Margaret reviewed a book once a week, and I was the studio engineer in charge of recording her two-minute commentaries. I was impressed that she found the time to read a whole book once a week, let alone one that she liked. In fact, I don't think she ever did a negative review during my engineering career. For those who think the media always accentuates the negative, I'll submit the scripts of those reviews as evidence to the contrary.

Mary had similar roles for WNED-FM, which was and is the classical musical station. The FM crew was upstairs on 23 North Street, while the AM operation was in the back. That meant our paths rarely crossed. When they did cross, we struggled to find common ground for conversation. Peter Goldsmith would occasionally walk into the sports office because he was a hockey fan. Otherwise, most of us on the AM side would confuse Johan Sebastian Bach with Catherine Bach of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Since we had so little in common, the AM people needed something of an interpreter when we bravely ventured into the world of FM. That interpreter was Mary. When someone would venture up the stairs into the strange world of classical music, Mary would be there to point us in the proper direction.

The word comes to mind for her is "cheerful," enough though "full of cheer" might be a better way of expressing it. Mary always seemed to be in a good mood, ready with a smile and laugh for anyone who greeted her. She, too, kept the trains of a radio station running on time.

As I get older, I increasingly realize the importance of veterans like Margaret and Mary and engineer Don Lange, who when asked in 1980 how long it had been since the basement had been used as an office replied, "Well, I got here in 1937, and I've never seen it occupied." People like that provide the link between the people who pass through a building while working in a business not known for employment longevity.

So by honoring Margaret and Mary, the Buffalo Broadcasters Association honors all those who all those people who through the years worked behind the scenes to keep the business operating. Let's hope they take the honor as a belated substitute for two words they probably didn't hear enough during their tenure: "thank you."

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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Around the dials

A few notes with observations from the local radio and television stations:

* Back when I was a kid, in the stone age, the local television stations used to have plenty of sports on weekend afternoons. If the network didn't throw something on, the station would purchase some sort of syndicated programming.

The shows covered a lot of different ground. One of my favorites was "Sports Challenge," hosted by Dick Enberg. The show would bring in sports celebrities, divide them into two teams ('61 Yankees vs. '65 Celtics), show a video highlight, and ask a trivia question. I particularly liked the time that the boxers didn't know what had happened in their own fights. They had some pretty big names on -- Muhammad Ali, Red Auerbach, Joe DiMaggio -- and it was fun for a kid with interest in sports history to watch.

Now, of course, the local television stations have given up on using programming that might actually be entertaining. They simply run, you guessed it, infomercials. Sigh.

* I've been waking up to Bill O'Laughlin's call-in talk show on WECK Radio lately, in an attempt to hear a variety of different stations at that hour. I don't listen to AM radio talk shows that often, mostly because the hosts seem to be to the right of Sean Hannity or Attila the Hun -- same thing. But it's nice to keep up with it, if only for a few minutes.

In this case, O'Laughlin seems to have a unique status among call-in show hosts -- I almost never hear him taking any calls. When I was in the talk-show business, I was fine as long as I had calls. When I didn't, I'd starting calling friends during promotional announcements, and say, "HELP!!!" O"Laughlin is better than I ever was at filling time, perhaps because he's had so much practice. But it has to be discouraging.

I must say in general, though, that the talk-show business has turned into egos on parade or keeping the political fringes (mostly right-wing) chatting. I don't find either entertaining.

* This item is about my employer, but it's worth a mention anyway. Last Friday night/Saturday morning, the presses at The Buffalo News had major mechanical problems. Delivery was delayed for quite a while into the late morning. It happens.

Someone told me that that the lead story on the WBEN News at 8 a.m. Saturday was the fact that The News was having delivery problems. I'll repeat that -- the most important story in the world was The News' delivery problems. The anchor then supposedly said, "To get your news for free, go to"

I don't expect the anchor man to tell people to go to the Web site. But I used to work in radio news, and I know what a skeleton operation is can be -- particularly on weekends. When I worked the news side, one of my first tasks was to get the morning paper off the front entrance ... and rewrite the stories we didn't have. There were always a bunch, because radio stations can't compete with a newspaper's much larger staff.

We're all in the same business here. Can't we all just get along?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Setting the record straight

There were few winners in the Shirley Sherrod case. She was the one, you might remember, who made a speech to an NAACP meeting in March. Those remarks were chopped up, edited to reverse her true feelings on race, and placed on Andrew Breitbart's Web site.

From there, the media went crazy, the Obama Administration asked for her resignation, the true story came out, everyone apologized, and Sherrod is said to be pondering her next move.

Hopefully, Sherrod will get a nice big job out of all of this, and we'll all learn a lesson.

Speaking of lessons, Sherrod actually taught a good one in the original speech. We could all learn it. Peggy Noonan told it well. Read it here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let's make a deal

I'm sorry I haven't written for a while. I've been busy.

On Monday, my 1997 Saturn was diagnosed with a severe disease -- a bad fuel pump. With a loved one, you might say, "Money is no object," when it comes to healing such matters. With a car -- and I'm not one of those who expresses loved a specific car -- you start making judgments. Should I spent $600 to fix a car that has gone 131,900 miles and is 13 years old?

No, I don't. We thank the folks of General Motors for putting out a quality automobile once upon a time and move on. Saturn was quite an interesting innovation in the car market once upon a time, but they seemed to forget their mission statement along the way and became just another division. Too bad -- the plastic body and the no-haggle pricing were quite attractive, and the car has run well over the years. Even better than my Renault Alliance from 1984.

Car shopping ranks right down there with root canals for bad experiences with most people. It's not like a supermarket, where the price and UPC code are on the outside. Not only do you have to figure out what sort of car you want, but a trip to multiple deals is necessary to get an idea of the market and what prices are out there for a car and for your old car as a trade-in. Asking for quotes on the Internet has helped, but a crash course, so to speak is still needed.

The catch here is that my car sometimes didn't start, so I needed a replacement fast. That's not a great bargaining position. But, as they say, knowledge is power. I read every review I could find on the Internet on Tuesday, and took a look at Consumer Reports. It's tough to get through some of the options, but after reading several sources I had an idea about what I might like.

The first test, for me at least, is actually getting in the car. I'm about 6-foot-2, and there are some cars that just aren't comfortable. My mother's Scion, for example, makes me feel like Dino on the Flintstones, sticking my head through the room in order to see. I tried a Plymouth Neon and in 10 seconds it was "thanks, we'll see you down the road." I didn't have that problem this week, at least.

We went to a few dealers, and I'm happy to report the quality of salesmen was pretty good. (Interesting that it's always a man, isn't it?) The last time we went car shopping, we encountered a man who lit up a cigarette without asking permission, and who only talked to me even though my wife was doing the decision-making. See ya.) About the only stereotype that fit was that every one asked the question, "Is there anything I can do to make a deal right now?" When we said no, the response every time was, "That's fine. They tell us to ask that." Must be part of the job handbook.

We finished up looking around on Wednesday. Thursday, I stammered over a decision between two cars that were both said to be quality machines. I finally made that decision on Friday, let the salesman know he was the winner, and watched Caller ID to make sure I didn't answer calls from other salesmen. (Not polite, but probably necessary.) And we wrapped up the transaction today.

Let's hope it's another 13 years, minimum, before we go through this again.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Boss

I don't envy the nation's sports commentators this week. They have to sum up the legacy of George Steinbrenner.

Nuclear physics is probably easier. Especially for a Red Sox fan, which would be me.

Steinbrenner's exploits have filled a couple of dozen books over the years. He was much more fun in the first dozen or so years of owning the Yankees than he was in the years leading up to his departure from controlling the team a few years ago. You never knew what he was going to do next -- trade someone, fire someone, sign a free agent.

It was never dull, at least. The New York tabloids ought to make a huge donation to charity in his honor.

Steinbrenner, according to all reports, was bound and determined to show his late father that he would do something worthwhile. His methods may have been questionable but there's no doubt he succeeded. He bought a Yankee franchise for $10 million, and improved it to the point where it is now worth $1.5 billion, maybe second only to Manchester United in terms of net worth.

Steinbrenner's aggressive ownership dragged the rest of baseball out of the stone age in terms of marketing, creating a big pot of money for everyone. (The Yankees always did have the biggest pot, of course, especially in the last 10 years.)

He also can be credited with a couple of other points. He didn't sit in his office and put the profits in the bank. Steinbrenner put those profits right back into the ballclub. No matter how many fans didn't like his tactics, there were few that didn't secretly hope that Steinbrenner had bought their favorite team. Particularly in Cleveland; history could have been rewritten if the Ohio native had purchased the Indians.

He also made baseball quite a bit more lively. When he took over the Yankees in the early 1970's, they were pretty boring. Think of the current Knicks, only worse. It took only a few years before the Yankees became everyone's favorite target. He sure did wonders for the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, which had been quiet for almost 30 years.

The stories about Steinbrenner as a boss are another story. The almost endless dance with Billy Martin were horrific to watch, the belittling of employees left few happy to work for the team at times. Yet, Steinbrenner kept veteran employees on the payroll even if they didn't do anything for the team. He helped many charities, and sent high school kids to college on his dime.

How do you decipher someone like that? Well, you don't. You just say things won't be the same without him.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Enough blame to go around

Sick of hearing about LeBron James yet? Glad that after this final burst, we're done with him until training camp, more or less?

Are there any heroes in this story? Well, no. Let's recap.

Start with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They had one of the biggest breaks in the history of sports fall their way. They happened to have the first draft pick seven years ago when they LeBron James was draft-eligible. James was considered a superstar-in-waiting at the time, and sometimes teams aren't that lucky. Sometimes you get Kwame Brown.

Oh, and just to add to the fun, he was from Akron, Ohio. As in, just down the road. And he loved the area, couldn't wait to play before family and friends.

The Cavs had seven years to assemble the rest of the parts around James to build a championship team. They couldn't do it. Some of that is luck, of course, but you'd have to think there might have been a way to make the Finals a little more often, at the least. That might haunt the Cavs for decades.

From the sounds of it, the Cavs apparently had one last good chance to keep James. They needed to convince Chris Bosh to come to Cleveland in a sign-and-trade deal with Toronto. Bosh, reportedly, wanted nothing to do with Cleveland under any circumstances. Fans in Cleveland will be busy booing James in years to come, but maybe Bosh deserves a few boos in Ohio too.

Finally, there is James himself. I'm not sure I can attack him for his basketball decision. He is walking into a pretty good situation, although it's tough to say who exactly the rest of the roster will have. But who told him this hour-long show announcing his decision was a good idea? It just made him out to be a self-promoting show business wannabe. And I'm not sure what Jim Gray's role in all of this is, but talk of his involvement in the process doesn't sound good. LeBron, have a news conference in Miami, explain your situation, and move on. This was rather ugly.

Sometimes you can have too much talent in basketball, and we'll see if the Heat can keep three good-sized egos fed while taking a few other guys to inbound the basketball.

Meanwhile, if I'm NBA Commissioner David Stern, I am doing one thing: I call up my schedule-maker for 2010-2011, and say, "Can we have Miami at Cleveland on Christmas afternoon this year?"