Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back to the Ralph

I returned to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time in a while on Saturday for the Bills' game with the Denver Broncos. You know how the game turned out, I figure. But I did want to make a few quick observations from the fan's point of view:

* Traffic problem? What traffic problem? It took 30 minutes to make a 30-minute drive from Buffalo to the Erie Community College parking lot. I think it takes me about, oh, 30 minutes to make the same drive on a Wednesday in June. It was funny to see the main lots, charging $25, so empty, while the lower-cost secondary lots were relatively full.

* It's never easy to pick up the biggest price-gouging item at the concession stands. My personal winner, though, was the soft pretzel with cheese. Six dollars. Ouch. By that standard, the $3.50 hot chocolate was a bargain.

* I wonder if Tim Tebow is already in the NFL Shop's Pro Bowl for moving merchandise. The single most popular jersey worn by fans to the game ... IN BUFFALO ... was Tebow's. There were a few other Broncos' shirts for Champ Bailey and John Elway, but Tebow was about a 5-to-1 winner.

On the Buffalo side, there were a variety of shirts worn -- a Fitzpatrick here, a Stevie Johnson there, a few Fred Jacksons, one Merriman, some Jim Kellys. That might point out one of the Bills' problems -- a few more stars not only would move merchandise, they might help the team's record.

* I was about 20 rows up on the Broncos' side of the field, and I'm told fans have developed a new habit this year -- standing constantly. When the fans in the first few rows stand, the fans behind them stand, and the fans behind them stand, and so on. My first thought was, I'm getting a little old for this. My second thought was, I expect this at a Rush concert, but not at the Ralph.

* Speaking of fan behavior, one traditional action remains in effect during Bills' games. When fans (and there aren't that many of them, for the record) need to yell something really insulting at opposing players, sometimes no doubt fueled by alcohol, they still rely on an old standby -- homosexual slurs. Now, remember, the opposing players in question can't hear the insult from a couple of dozen rows up, so all those fans are doing are revealing a lot about their own character.

NFL games are always a great spectacle, and this one was plenty of fun to watch from the Bills' standpoint. And by Bills' standards, everyone was relatively well-mannered -- meaning I didn't see any fights or vomiting. But with fewer than 50,000 fans on hand and temperatures in the 30's, it wasn't a typical game by any means. I'm glad I went, but a Disney-like atmosphere it's not.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who's turn is it anyway?

I'm starting to get the impression that the Republican Party is looking for someone, anyone, but Mitt Romney to win its Presidential nomination.

All together now ... "YOU THINK?!?"

Considering the election process hasn't started yet, I can't remember a more fascinating process without a single vote being cast. The polls have done up and down for most of the candidates, while Romney stays in the 20's for support.

If you recall, Michelle Bachmann got a bit of a boost early on when she bought her way to a victory in the straw poll at the Iowa State Fair. The bounce from that lasted, oh, about a news cycle.

Rick Perry thought he saw an opening, entered the race, and vaulted to the top of the polls. Then he started talking, people became rather fearful, and Perry's ratings plunged.

Perry was followed by Herman Cain, who seemed personable enough and had a simple economic plan. Too bad he knew as much about world affairs as I did, and may have cheated on his wife. See ya. By the way, his book called "This is Herman Cain - My Journey to the White House" was on the new releases table at Barnes & Noble today. Expect it to be in the discount section by about Dec. 27, if not sooner.

The Republicans, disapproving of a candidate charged with infidelity, then turned to Newt Gingrich. Now there's a man who knows something about infidelity. Gingrich, who at times at least has some thoughtful ideas, rose to the top of the polls. Then the "bad Newt" started coming out again in his public speeches, and suddenly bringing back 1994 didn't seem like such a great idea. Back down the ladder he went.

On the other side of the see-saw from Gingrich this time was Ron Paul, who at least sticks to his ideological guns under any circumstances. It's hard to think of him as the least bit electable considering his libertarian views, but he's not someone who panders to an audience. Right now, Paul and Romney are considered a toss-up in the Iowa caucus.

Bachmann and Rick Santorum might be thinking, "Is there time enough on the calendar to have our turn?" Tim Pawlenty might be thinking, "I probably look good to a few Republicans about now."

If I'm forced to guess what happens at this point, I would say Romney will win the nomination because there isn't much of an alternative. But while some Republicans will hold their nose and vote for him, few will have any enthusiasm and some will just stay home on Election Day. Barring further economic troubles, it's difficult to see that combination winning a general election.

But, as commentator Jeff Greenfield says, if the election were held today ... everyone would be surprised. I can't wait until votes are cast.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Great but not greatest

Rob Ray, one of the North America's leading authors (sorry, couldn't resist), stirred up a good-sized debate on Facebook the other day. Apparently he said recently that there were no great American hockey players.

That sparked a series of responses. Some of them were along the lines of "What? What about Lafontaine, Tkachuk, Chelios, Housley..."

Then I thought about it. Rob may be on to something here.

Let's make a list of the greatest players of all time from anywhere. The top three is pretty set. You can change the order around all you want, but Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe are at the top of the list. Your order probably depends on what you value. Meanwhile, Mario Lemieux is number four.

If you were picking the top 12 players ever, particularly by position, you'd come up with a bunch of good candidates. Among forwards, the list for consideration probably would include Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard, Mark Messier and Guy Lafleur. Among defenseman, certainly you'd think Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson are in the hunt. At goal, I'd consider Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, and Terry Sawchuck.

If you want to include some players from Russia who didn't play much over here, then the names of Tretiak, Yakushev and Fetisov would be considered.

See any Americans there?

The best American player might be Brett Hull, who scored 741 goals. The catch is that he is a joint citizen of the U.S. and Canada, although he played internationally for America. Let's say he doesn't count here for the sake of argument.

From there, my pick for the best U.S. player ever is Brian Leetch. Chris Chelios is right around him in the all-time rankings, and Pat LaFontaine might have been there had his career not been shortened. Mike Modano was really good for a long time.

Yes, the Americans listed are great players by most definitions. But they aren't the best of the best. I don't think you'd put any of them in the top 10 all-time.

Therefore, Rob just has a different definition of "great." His point is valid when examined that way. The top of the list is dominated by Canadians.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Man in the middle

I recently received an e-mail from someone through He said that he had noticed that I was related to the Budd family that lived in Meriden, Connecticut, about 100 years ago. By chance, his grandmother knew them well. The 1910 census indicated they were neighbors on Howard Ave.

He said he had some photos from those days, and would be happy to send them to me. He did. One of them had a picture of my grandmother at around the age of 5, give or take a year, with her mother and part of the neighbor's family. I had never seen a picture of my grandmother as a child; it was amazing how much she looked like her daughter (my mother) at a similar age.

There were also four photos of one of my grandmother's younger sisters, Eleanor. I happened to have the e-mail address of Eleanor's son in the state of Washington. Although I'm a little vague on the specifics, I believe Eleanor's first husband was killed when some sort of robbery went horribly wrong a long, long time ago (1942?). Later, after remarrying, she supposedly put a roast in the oven one day, laid down on the couch, and died.

I sent the photos off to the son via e-mail, with a note explaining what they were saying that I didn't know if he had ever seen them or knew anything about them. He wrote back and said that he had never seen a photograph of his mother from when she was a child, so to see these at this point in his life touched him greatly.

That's Eleanor on the right. The photo dates back almost 100 years, I would guess, since she was born in 1912. Even though she couldn't conceive of being remembered this way, it's nice to bring her memory back for a moment. And I was glad to play a role in getting the photos to their proper destination.

Richard may receive a number of holiday gifts this year, but I'll bet this one from someone he'll never meet will mean more to him than any of them.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a Wonderful Run

Seneca Falls, N.Y., hosts "It's a Wonderful Life" festival each year as a tribute to the movie, which was somewhat inspired by the little village in Central New York. Two years ago, four people got together and created a 5-kilometer race as part of the festivities.

In 2009, the event attracted more than 400 runners. That's quite good for a new race in a small town. Last year, organizers were stunned to have 800 runners, including me. This year, thanks in part to word of mouth advertising plus some media coverage, including an article in Runner's World, the race did more than 2,000 runners.

That's more than any race of that length in Western New York, by far. It's several hundred runners more than the Lindsay's Legacy run, held in November. Amazing. What a great economic engine for the festival.

I was back this past week for the third annual running, and have to tell you about the Saturday portion of the trip.

The race starts on a bridge that served as an inspiration for the suicide scene of the Jimmy Stewart movie. That alone is a little odd, especially to someone named Bailey (think of the film). I was waiting for the start with a couple of friends, when Karolyn Grimes was recognized. She was Zuzu in the movie, the young girl with the line at the end about an angel getting wings when a bell rings. Karolyn has made every one of the 11 festivals, signing autographs, selling her cookbook, and posing for countless pictures. She was nice enough to stop for a quick picture with me before the start of the race, and seemed to enjoy the fact that I was a favorite in the "Bailey Division" of the race. Last year, I was the only Bailey, and waited in vain for a trophy.

Grimes started the race with a replay of her final movie line ("Start running when you hear 'wings."), and we ran around the village at dusk. Near the end, as the race went down the main street of town, I again got to yell out at a temporarily renamed building, "Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan." Then I finished, had some water, and headed back to the hotel to take a warm shower.

The fun really began when my wife and I got back to a bar/restaurant renamed "Martini's" for the weekend. The Lancaster Striders had a major club outing at the event, and they had gathered at Martini's for dinner.

When I walked in the bar portion of the place, my wife and I were greeted with a loud and unexpected chorus of "It's the Baileys!!!" I felt like I was in the drafty old house at the end of the movie, surrounded by friends. After a good laugh by all, I said, "I guess for the weekend, I should be named George Bailey," which got another happy response.

Then after a moment or two, I said, "All we need now is for Harry Bailey to get here." And someone pointed to my right and said, "He's right over there."

The festival uses "actors" to walk around town impersonating movie characters during the event. Sure enough, "Harry Bailey" was there in character, dressed in a military uniform and seated next to Grimes.

And at this point, I was no longer visiting a movie festival. I was in the movie.

Thinking quickly, I walked over to "Harry" and said, "I'm so glad you came home from the war, Harry," and gave him a big hug. Then someone yelled out, "Here's to George Bailey -- the richest man in town." I just wish I had the presence of mind to lead the bar in a chorus of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

You never know when you are going to have to be really, really fast on your feet. Whew.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Almost a big winner

"You have won $15,000!"

Well, maybe not. But it's a good story for the blog.

Yesterday, the phone rang. I answered it and was asked by a woman if I listened to WBLK. I said no. She didn't seem to care, and said that the station was giving away $15,000 to selected listeners, and I had won.

When I asked how my name had been chosen, she was incredibly vague. She mumbled something about getting names from lists compiled around the area, including businesses. When asked what I thought I said, "Well, when something is too good to be true, it usually is. But go on."

She said there were four winners already of the prize, including people named Baker, Bailey and Bailey. Think she was going down the phone book or something? She added that I had to come over to the offices in order to pick up the check by Saturday afternoon before 4 p.m., and that there were 50 prizes to be awarded. If I didn't get over to the office, my prize would go to someone else.

OK. Fifty prizes times $15,000? The station's entire operating budget probably isn't that big. A look at the address given as the offices was not WBLK's, but in a rather, um, poor portion of the city. I don't know if there's a course for rip-off artists, but this woman flunked it.

So ... I mumbled something and got off the phone. I wrote down the name and number of the call from Caller ID. Then I called WBLK, to let someone know that someone was using the station for a scam. (Oddly, no one there seemed too concerned.) And then I got in touch with the police, and presented them with all the information I had. They said they would send someone over to the address to take a look. If I had gone, I might have wound up with a conk on the head and an empty wallet for my trouble.

It's too bad I'll never get to hear how the episode turns out. But, hopefully, the community will become a little safer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Merry Xmas 2U

Does it work? We report, you decide.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Joining the club

I joined a not-so-exclusive club late Thursday night/early Friday morning. I went shopping.

The so-called "Black Friday" madness has certainly come into its own during the past few years. The starting times have gotten earlier and earlier in that time, to the point where a 6 a.m. opening seems almost quaint. But the stores took it up a notch this year. Some stores actually were opened on Thanksgiving Day, while others decided to unlock the doors at midnight or so.

I've never taken part in this odd tradition. I'm never up early enough, for one thing, often due to work. And while I like to save money as well as the next fellow, usually I figure such purchases can wait -- especially when your holiday shopping list in incredibly small.

This time, though, a few of the stars lined up correctly. I got out of work at 11:50 p.m., and a Kohl's wasn't very far out of my way while driving home. Besides, I had been mailed a coupon good for 15 percent off on all purchases. I didn't really need anything, but I figured the scene would be worth a visit.

I got to the store about 12:10 p.m. The parking lot was more crowded than I've ever seen it; granted, I usually go there at 1 on a weekday so by my personal standards I'm surprised the store is still in business. (What? People shop at night and on weekends?)

When I got inside, a couple of sights struck me. One, I saw shopping carts that already had been filled up. Remember, it's now about 12:11, so someone had to work really, really fast. Then I saw people on their phones, apparently coordinating purchases with spouses in other locations. If the military had used such precision in its operations, we might have been out of Iraq five years ago.

I strolled around and saw that pants were marked down $10, and the coupon added another $7 discount. OK, I can always use another pair of pants in the drawer. I got in the line that resembled a snake as it went through the store. I got in the back and slowly edged along. Naturally, I turned on my stop watch at the beginning -- in comes from running, I think -- and got to the cashier after 12 minutes. Not bad, considering.

Before cashing out and boosting the economy, I talked to the woman who was directing traffic as she sent shoppers to the next available register. I asked her when her shift ended, and she said 8:30 a.m. In other words, an all-nighter.

Then she added, "I'm a seasonal hire. So this is my first night on the job."

Wow. Welcome to the world of retail.

I felt a little torn by the whole visit. As someone who believes in free markets, part of me says that stores should be able to open anytime they like. If they think they can make more money this way, fine.

Still, it feels like we're losing something in terms of quality of life. It was always nice to see the tranquil feeling that comes while seeing everything closed on Thanksgiving or around Christmas. While the shoppers have the choice to participate in the madness, the employees don't. Can you imagine starting a job that way?

Sounds like the free-marketers are winning this one, though. Once you knock down the wall, it ain't going back up.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eye for an eye

The Buffalo Sabres play the Boston Bruins Wednesday night in Buffalo. It's probably one of the most anticipated games of the season ... for, perhaps, all of the wrong reasons.

Let's review for a moment. Last week, a loose puck floated into the Sabres' end in a game in Boston. Ryan Miller, the Sabres' goalie went out to get the puck and knock it away to prevent a possible breakaway. Milan Lucic, the Bruins' physical forward who won't be described as shifty any time soon, knocked (if you are a Sabres' fan, use "slammed" instead) Miller over. Miller went down, the referee stopped play, and there was a mild scrum afterwards as a few Sabres gave Lucic a shove. Lucic picked up a two-minute charging penalty.

The Sabres seemed to go down meekly after that, and reaction from there quickly multiplied. On one hand, the Sabres weren't happy that someone had hit their goaltender -- it's one of the unwritten laws of the game, although officials only treat goalies a little different than skaters when it comes to contact in open ice. The fans and media all pounded the Sabres for their timid reaction to the play, in some cases saying the team was "soft." NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan reviewed the play and decided not to hand out a suspension on the play, even though Miller suffered a concussion and has not returned to action yet.

The episode points out that there's something of a faultline when it comes to such matters along the fan base of hockey.

One on side is the "old time hockey" crowd, for lack of a better name. This is the crowd that likes a good hit and loves a good fight. These are the ones who called for the firing of Ruff and/or the trading of some current Sabres for some tough guys.

The other side sees actions like this and wonders what the fuss is all about. Those fans don't want to see the Sabres take the law into their own hands -- that's why we have referees. "Frontier justice" supposedly went out with the Jesse James era.

Both sides have a right to their viewpoint. The traditionalists grew up with hockey that was played in a certain way, and like it. The newcomers prefer to watch speed and skill, and if they don't get it, they stay home or switch the channel. Hockey always has had some trouble attracting the newcomers, particularly in areas where the game isn't part of the culture (think the Mason-Dixon Line and south). It doesn't want to offend the old fans, but wants to attract new ones. Remember, it's the only major team sport that allows fighting within the context of the game.

The new way of thinking has been winning the argument over the last 30 years, but an episode like this comes up every so often and reminds us that we have a ways to go before reaching any sort of settlement. In fact, an agreement by a Congressional super-committee on budget cuts seems more likely.

On Wednesday, Lucic will be booed by the sellout crowd when he comes out on the ice and touches the puck. He'll be drawn into a fight by one of the Sabres, they will exchange punches for a while and sit in the penalty box for five minutes, and the game will go on. Some sort of point will be proven, I guess. We'll then more or less forget about it.

And so it goes.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Three quick notes

1. It's much too early to come to a great many conclusions about the mess involving the Penn State football program. The oddest part for me came when, at some point, I said to myself, "well, at least this isn't happening to my alma mater."

Then, one night, the news about the Syracuse University basketball team broke.

There's an awful lot to study here involving both situations, and a lot of questions still have to be answered. It's interesting that author Glenn Stout put on Facebook that we'd be hearing more about such scandals right after the Penn State situation broke. And it only took him 10 days for him to be right.

2. Sorry to hear about the death of Milt Ellis, one of the true gentlemen I've encountered in life. I've told the story here about splitting some public address duties with Milt at Sabres' games many years ago, and I was the one with the wimpy voice.

Milt always was a hard act to follow. He always had a smile when he saw me, and was always optimistic about Syracuse football and basketball. He'll be missed.

3. Heard a story from a reliable source that a well-dressed man hopped into a car with the license plate EC-1, and drove off from the Rath Building in Buffalo the day after the election. The car was spotted at a couple of different times in the next few minutes, and the driver was talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device both times.

Think Chris Collins will do that once he is a private citizen again?

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rooting for the home team

It's rare that a movie gets me to thinking about hockey, but today was such a day. And I wasn't even watching "Slap Shot" or "Miracle."

I saw "Gasland." This is a documentary about fracking.

Fracking is the short-hand name for the technique of drilling under ground and taking natural gas out. There are huge reserves under much of the United States, although it's a little difficult to get at them. And things can go wrong.

Josh Fox made the documentary, touring the country to interview people and show problems. The natural gas industry has spent some time knocking down some of the film's contents, and there's little doubt that the motion picture could have been put together a little better and more orderly.

Still, Fox makes the point that there do seem to be some dangers and issues involved. There are enough scenes of tap water looking like motor oil and rivers catching on fire to get that across. To play movie critic, it's probably worth your time to see it if you want to learn more about the matter, particularly from one side. In fact, I'll bet it convinced some viewers that we need to stop, or at least slow, fracking in ecologically sensitive areas. Like, my back yard, and yours.

That brings us to Terry Pegula.

He was in the energy business, eventually selling East Resources to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion. That's billion, with a B.

Since then, Pegula has purchased the Buffalo Sabres and lifted all financial restrictions from the franchise. He says his goal is to win multiple Stanley Cups; he added that if he wants to make more money he can always drill another well.
This approach has made Pegula more popular than anyone else in Western New York in record time. None of the area's franchise owners have ever done that, And Pegula, who on a personal level seems like a good person, put his money where his mouth is, shelling out enough money to put the Sabres right up against the salary cap. And making major improvements to the Sabres' arena. And buying the Rochester Americans in order to move the team's minor-league affiliate there.

And thus the conflict, for some. To quote a Philadelphia Inquirer article, "The sale of East Resources included a Marcellus Shale lease hold for more than 650,000 acres in the Appalachian Basin, a major contributor to the natural-gas supply in the United States." The area roughly extends north to a line in upstate New York going from Buffalo to Syracuse, thus covering much of Erie County and all of Cattaragus, Chautauqua and Allegany Counties for starters.

There are plenty of people out there who are fighting the establishment or expansion of fracking in certain areas. It's been talked about in Western New York. I'll bet some of them are hockey fans.

Does it matter to them that the money spent to improve the hockey team was gained through fracking? Does the fact that Pegula has sold his business make a difference, even if he remains a firm advocate of the concept?

I don't recall this sort of issue popping up in sports before. No one complained that Ralph Wilson made major money from trucking, or that the Knox brothers picked their parents well. Once we learned what John Rigas did, he was in jail ... and thus a moral conflict never came up.

Sometimes, it's not easy to be a fan.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Decided, in a sense

Let me try out a theory here.

The election for Erie County Executive will be held on Tuesday. The latest poll says the vote is the proverbial too close to call, 48 to 48 percent.

Off the top of my head, I'd say that Mark Poloncarz, the challenger, has a decent chance of willing the election. (Brilliant, eh?) I'd also say that Chris Collins, the incumbent, has -- if the poll numbers are correct -- already lost it.

Let me think this through. Four years ago, Collins ran as something of an anti-politician. He promised he would bring fiscal sanity to government, in an effort to solve the financial problems that sent Erie County to "adult supervision" in the form of a control board before that. By the way, it's interesting that a Republican, Joel Giambra, was in charge before that election, and that party wasn't "blamed" for those problems by voters.

Collins won that election by a 64-34 margin. That's pretty impressive under any circumstances, and gave him a lot of political capital that he has wielded in the past four years. That's fine, it's the way the game is played.

Since then, there's no doubt that Collins has more or less done what he said he would do in several areas. The control board is gone, albeit because Collins took some of the federal stimulus money and, instead of hiring people, used that money to help balance the budget. Some funding for cultural organizations was cut, causing all sorts of games to go on over budgets. Most of the last round of layoffs came at the expense of social services, which could be considered "playing to the political base" by cynics.

Collins has lost about 16 percentage points of support of the electorate. He has gone from 64 to around 48. If it's 15 points, he'll win according to the poll. If it's 17 points, he'll lose. Either way, is that a whole lot of comfort?

Maybe some local voters have learned the lesson that government shouldn't be run like a business in every way because it isn't a business. Run efficiently? Yes. But the functions are obviously different. For example, a government probably shouldn't try to cut out funding for eyeglasses and hearing aids for the needy, as Collins tried to do, even if it might save some money. If people can't see, they can't work many places.

And County Executives can't be CEO's, no matter what they think. CEO's are used to doing whatever the heck they want, including giving contracts to friends, without any of those pesky checks and balances provided by legislatures and courts.

The campaign, particularly in the television ads, became a referendum on Collins' tenure. Collins has dragged out the national Republican playbook of saying Poloncarz is beholden to unions and will raise taxes, but Poloncarz hasn't provided a whole lot of ammunition there. The most effective ad for the Democrat might have been done by a union, which put up a counter on the screen that went from 0 to 13,000 in 30 seconds -- reflecting the job losses in Erie County in the past four years. Even if Collins can't be blamed for all of, or even many of, the economic ills of the area, it's not exactly a sign of effective job creation either.

What can you do if people seem to like you less the more you appear in public? Keep your face out of TV commercials on Monday? Stay in the (Delaware Park) Rose Garden? It's a tough one, and the answer to how well Collins did it may come on Tuesday.

No matter what happens, losing 16 percentage points of your popularity while fulfilling your campaign promises is a neat trick. It might make some people a little more humble, a little more willing to compromise. But even one friend of Collins says that the current County Executive has trouble talking without using the word "I." Hard to picture that changing, but he may have to do so. Opponents would certainly notice the numbers during a second Collins Administration, if there is one. Even the allies could afford to be a little more independent.

The turnout figures could change what the final numbers look like, and Collins could win by as many as 10 points -- although I doubt it. No matter what happens, though, from a little more than a day out from the election results, it sure looks like the county's political landscape is about to shift. Will be drastically or slightly? I'll get back to you on that one.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Attention Kmart crooks

It's quite an experience to visit Kmart these days. Most of the stores are on the old side and need "refreshing." In fact, most of the customers could use refreshing themselves.

Today I visited to pick up some video cassettes, a useful tool for those of us unwilling to spend the money to join the DVR revolution which was fought and won around the time of World War II, it seems. One of the characters spotted along the way was a guy with a Bills' logo tattooed on the front of his neck. I had the odd urge to say, "What did the Bills ever do for you to justify that?" but resisted.

When I was finished paying for the cassettes at the checkout register, I started to go to my car when a guy behind me practically ran over me to head for the front doors. Based on a look at his neck, he wasn't a Bills' fan. At first I just thought, well, another odd guy at Kmart. Then our shopper got to the door, where he was greeted by not one, not two, but four security guards.

"We are asking you about the unpurchased items you have in your clothing. If you cooperate with us, we will not call the police," the head security guard said.

The shopper started to mumble something without making a whole lot of sense. The rules were repeated. I started to try to figure out a way to escape, since our pal looked capable of odd behavior (you never know when he might seek out a hostage). Before getting out the other door, though, there was a small shakedown of his pockets. Suddenly, there were candy bars and jewelry falling out of his pockets and landing on the floor. The discount shopper tried to say that jewelry wasn't sold at Kmart, but he lost that argument pretty quickly. Jewelry and candy bars? There's an interesting combination to steal.

I was let out the other door to the comparitive safety of the parking lot. Can't say I've ever seen that sort of incident at a store before, but I'm a little surprised that the guy was offered a plea bargain right off the bat.

Too bad I'll never know how the story ended. And neither will you.

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What's next?

I have to believe one of the most fascinating figures in sports today is Tim Tebow.

In fact, I just figured out that he reminds me a bit of ... Doug Flutie. Not in body type, of course.

Flutie, you might remember, came out of Boston College as something of a folk hero. He was very small by college football standards -- heck, he was small by gym class standards -- but he put Boston College on the national radar almost single-handedly by leading the Eagles into the Top 10. There was doubt about his pro potential, but he was so popular that there was fan pressure on the Bills to draft him number one. Flutie solved that issue by jumping to the United States Football League early, although the Bills did OK with someone named Bruce Smith.

Flutie eventually arrived in the NFL, played a little without distinction, jumped to the CFL where he was one of the all-time greats, came back to the U.S., made the Pro Bowl once with Buffalo, and won more games than he lost as a starter. You still could start a debate about him now.

Tebow made about the same impact in college at Florida, also winning a Heisman Trophy. Tebow was big for a college quarterback -- heck, he was big for a fullback -- and he seemed more like an extra running back who could throw a little rather than the classic passer. But his intangibles were off the chart, and Florida prospered.

Tebow figured to get some coaching at Denver and not be ready to step in right away, and that's more or less what happened in his rookie year last year. This year, the Broncos had an open competition at QB, and Kyle Orton was declared the winner ... while Tebow was third, behind Brady Quinn. But the fan base put up billboards supporting him, and the Broncos have given him a shot the next two weeks. He's been poor statistically, but did somehow lead Denver to a great comeback win over Miami. Tebow was bad enough against Detroit Sunday that coach John Fox had to think it over when asked about the coming week's starting quarterback before sticking with Tebow.

There's one extra element with the Tebow story that adds a twist. Tebow is practically the poster boy for "muscular Christianity." He's gone on missions for his church in the summer, no doubt calls his mother regularly, and so forth. While the usual rule in sports fandom is "root for the laundry" -- that is to say, root for anyone wearing the uniform -- I'm sure there are bunches of people out there who are Tebow fans first. And not all of them live in Gainesville, Florida. Those fans are the ones that pushed his autobiography up the best-seller list, making him at the time the only third-string QB to be so successful in publishing pursuits.

The Broncos have a first-round pick, and first-round money, invested in Tebow, and they need to find out if he can play. He needs to play, too. But it's impossible to know just how long of a leash he has. In the meantime, I always wondered what went wrong with Quinn, who sank through the first round of the draft in Cleveland, didn't do much there and was traded for 20 cents on the dollar to the Broncos, where he hasn't been in the discussion lately.

It's a tough spot, and I don't have any more easy answers than anyone else. I'd suggest the Broncos send Tebow to Triple-A, or at least Canada, but football doesn't work that way. John Elway is in charge of the Broncos' operations now, and he is someone who knows a bit about quarterbacking. He and coach John Fox are going to earn their money on this one.

(After the fact, I discovered I had read a column by Phil Taylor in Sports Illustrated a couple of weeks ago that made similar points. Didn't think of it until later, but I guess it had an effect on my thinking.)

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Quick hockey tip

Here's something they don't teach in hockey school.

After you score a goal, be careful who you hug.

A Swedish player found this out the hard way the other day:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Here we go again

Apparently I'm a published author. Again.

I worked on "Rayzor's Edge," the autobiography of Rob Ray, a few years ago. I was thrilled to see it become one of the best-selling hockey books of the season, as the hardcover copies disappeared from the bookstores in less than a month. At one point, it was number one on's list of top selling winter sports books. Considering that Dorothy Hamill is much more well known nationally than Ray, I think we did something right.

The book eventually went into paperback, although I had heard stories that the publisher was in financial trouble. The new version was printed, but came out after the playoffs and didn't get a great deal of promotion.

Sure enough, the publisher went bankrupt a couple of months later. I became one in a long line of creditors from Sports Publishing. I didn't even know how much money they owed me until the court case was closed, a case that apparently only made the lawyers and bankers happy since they got first claim on leftover assets. I did get a $2,000 advance, but lost more than $2,000 due to the bankruptcy. Oh well.

But last spring, a letter came out of the blue from Skyhorse Publishing. It had purchased the rights to Sports Publishing's catalog, and had picked "Rayzor's Edge" for reprinting this fall. As I said to Rob in a note, this was money from heaven.
Skyhorse changed its mind about adding an epilogue, which seemed like it would have been the logical move to make after a few years.

But the book is apparently out. is advertising that it is available immediately. You can find a copy here.

The funny thing is, I looked in the local Barnes and Noble for a copy this morning, and it was nowhere to be found. I haven't heard of any autographing sessions requests either. I do have pens at the ready, though.

People seemed to like the book, although probably not enough to buy the same words from a different publisher. Rob's story is quite relevant in the light of the concussion issues that NHL players have had lately (Rob says in the book he had five concussions in his career). For those who missed it the first time around, though, here's your second chance.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Use your head

I think I've figured out what the big story in sports over the next 10 years, minimum, is going to be.

Head injuries.

The evidence is piling up quickly when it comes to contact sports. Football players are dying far too young, and those who survive are often impaired. Stories about alumni gatherings of football teams, particularly in the pro ranks, are quickly turning into sad tales about the disabilities these ex-athletes now have.

And no wonder. Linemen have said they go through the equivalent of a car crash on every single snap. And if you haven't noticed, the players are getting bigger, faster and stronger -- thus making the collisions worse by the year.

In hockey, a few current enforcers died over the summer. The ex-players are showing signs of problems as well. A brain scan of Rick Martin, hardly a tough guy, showed damage. Sabre fans remember in the late 1970's when he took a nasty fall and landed on his head. He showed up for his next game, quite a bit later, in a helmet for the first time.

Here's the fundamental problem that face those who run contact sports. How do they make it more safe for the players without taking out some of the excitement that attracts fans?

If they don't do something, and soon, the problems are going to mount. They are going to get the reputation for turning their players into something close to "disposable" -- they play a few years, get their heads knocked around, and then are sent off eventually ill-equipped to handle society's challenges. There will be someone to take his place, eager to collect the money and glory for a while.

And you can guess what is coming too -- lawsuits. By the truckload.

We've gotten better at dealing with concussions during the past few years. Baseline teams are mandatory in many sports, and players aren't rushed back into action so quickly after "a rung bell."

But before long, sports leagues are going to have to take a look at how to make their games safer. The NFL has tried to cut down on the collisions on kickoff returns this year. The NHL is trying to be pro-active on the matter; league officials have to be praying for the return of one of its greatest stars, Sidney Crosby, from a concussion. (For more on the NHL, check out Ken Dryden's superb piece from Grantland, which wonders how much longer fighting in hockey can be tolerated.)

This line of thinking probably will filter down into other levels, such as the colleges. Other contact sports have to ponder the situation as well. Speaking as someone familiar with indoor lacrosse, which features sticks flying around heads, concussions have to be a concern as well.

I don't want to read any more stories about ex-football players like John Mackey, whose mental state deterioriated quickly in the final years of his life. But I know I will. I also don't want to read any more stories that end like those of late NHL players Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak. We need to take action soon to make sure we don't.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The next step

Way back in 2008, I wrote a blog about how The Sporting News was going to a biweekly format, and wondered about the publication's future.

Now three years later, I'm looking pretty good.

The digital publication mentioned didn't last long, at least in that incarnation. And the biweekly version has stopped publishing. It will go to a monthly now, merging with its preview magazines. I have no idea how that is going to work, and I have no idea how my subscription is going to work.

I do know that a run that dates back to the 1880's is essentially over, and there's something sad about that.

I liked what the Sporting News had been doing in the last couple of years. They had come up with a formula of providing interesting information that wasn't overly timely. There were some good features and unusual story angles. I didn't rush to read it, like I do most times for Sports Illustrated, but I liked it.

But that's over. The magazine said it plans to go back to some sort of daily format down the road in the relatively near future. That may not be a bad idea, in an age when the iPad is starting to catch on. The first time around probably was ahead of its time, and The Sporting News might become that "second read" that the National wanted to be without having to deal with the distribution problems that ruined the National about 20 years ago.

Still, I've been reading The Sporting News since 1965, and it was a thrill to write for them briefly in the late 1990's. It's not a happy time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Executive decision

It's been an interesting week in the political business here in Erie County.

We have an incumbent, Republican Chris Collins, who was overwhelmingly elected to the office four years ago. Collins ran on the proverbial "I'm a businessman, not a politician" platform that has proved popular in some cases. In this case, county government was a mess, with a control board overseeing expenditures, and Collins promised to clean that up.

Here we are in 2011, and Collins is running for reelection. He is running against Mark Poloncarz, the County's Comptroller. It figured to be an uphill climb for Poloncarz, mainly because of money. Collins has shown an ability to tap into donors to pile up cash in his bank account.

On Sunday, a poll came out on the race. Surprisingly, Collins only led by a couple of points, within the statistical error built into the survey. In other words, it's too close to call. The Poloncarz people were quick to point out what that might mean to his campaign, perhaps anticipating the idea that a donation would no longer be money down the drain. The Collins staff apparently cancelled a public appearance, said their own polling had their man well ahead (without releasing anything), and attacked the polling methods. In other words, the Collins staff said "Holy mackerel, this isn't good" in a variety of ways.

Therefore, we seem to have a horse race. And the reason is fascinating. I looked at the complete poll results, and "everyone" has agreed that Collins has more or less done what he said he would four years ago. He's balanced the budget and shrunk government. However, Collins has gone about his business in such odd ways that a percentage of people dislike him personally enough to not vote for him no matter what he does. That covers everything from charges of ignoring the city in favor of suburban issues (guess where this Republican's votes come from) to asking to lead a parade earlier this year. Among other things.

It sounds like a good recipe for the "Rose Garden" strategy, where a candidate stays out of sight and let's others do the talking for him. Why should your face if it only reminds people of what they think of you? That's a little harder when you don't live in the White House, of course.

The two men got together for their first public debate on Thursday. It was televised on public television. While it's easy to wonder how many people watched it, it certainly creates some conversation that pops up in other areas (radio, newspaper, TV, Internet).

It was something of a coming-out party for Poloncarz, who probably has never been on the news for longer than 20 seconds for a sound bite on county finances. This was a chance to see them both in action for an hour without commercials.

Collins certainly stuck to his talking points about cleaning up county government and keeping taxes low. He had some trouble, for example, when it came to why he took stimulus money that was designed to put people to work and put it in the county bank account to keep taxes down. The incumbent always has a hard time in these debates, because he has to defend a record while the challenge can merely say what he would have done and would do. But Collins did seem nervous and sometimes didn't come within a 3-wood of answering the question, which is always annoying. He also brought a typical bit of arrogance with him -- as one person put it, "He's the smartest person in the room ... just ask him."

Still, it sure seems like Poloncarz missed an opportunity. He seemed to know his facts and figures and attacked Collins whenever possible right after saying "good evening." But I wouldn't call his performance "warm and fuzzy" either.

I'm a firm believer that the more optimistic candidate often wins close elections, as people prefer to vote for candidates who offer a little sunshine down the road. Poloncarz never did that in an hour.

I still think Collins ranks as the favorite to win this race, mostly because of money. But there's a lot of anger out there at the current County Executive over his style of governance, and there's still plenty of time to turn that into votes and an upset win.

In other words, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Easy question

Mensa's monthly magazine often asks a question for the general membership, and then prints the best answers. This month, the designated question was along the lines of "When were you ever speechless?"

I got a good answer for that one.

I was working at WEBR Radio, no doubt on the early shift sometime in the mid-1980's. That means a starting time of about 5 a.m. Yawn.

The morning drive was starting to wind down about 8:30 a.m. when I went into the main news room. There were donuts on the writer-reporter's desk there for general consumption. At that point in my life, I never turned down a free cruller. I grabbed and started eating.

Suddenly, a rather short man appeared at the door to the news room. "WHAT ARE YOU EATING???!!!" he shouted. "THAT IS ONE OF THE MOST OBSCENE THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN!!! PUT IT DOWN NOW!!!"

He had curly hair, and I knew he looked familiar. But I had no idea what his name was. In other words, a total blank. Rather than try to fight back with someone who was well equipped to out-shout me, I said nothing and could only manage a giggle. After 20 more seconds of abuse, I at least stuck out my hand and shook it.

Then, walking out of the newsroom, the light bulb went on. It was Richard Simmons. Of course. I'm not sure why he was in our building, but he hadn't exactly been part of the culture for a few years at that point.

Simmons thus entered my list of "most famous people to shake my hand," ranking well behind Jimmy Carter. The full list, though, is another column.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Forever a Raider

I never had the chance to see Al Davis interviewed over the years. The closest I came to him was when I saw him come out of an elevator at a Buffalo Bills game, wearing a silver and black Raiders sweatsuit that was a little gaudy and odd.

Davis died earlier today, and much will be said about a football career that was unique. At some point in the past decade, Davis went from "crazy like a fox" to just plain ... well, odd. But here's the way I prefer to remember Davis. It's from a story that veteran football writer Larry Felser, I think, passed on to me at some point.

Davis was briefly the Commissioner of the American Football League, and worked with a man named Jack Horrigan, who served in public relations for the Bills and for the league. By all accounts, Horrigan was one of the best people you'd ever want to meet, and also one of the most devout.

Horrigan was dying in 1973; he passed away in June of that year. Shortly before that, Davis, who was Jewish, went into a church and lit a candle for Horrigan. As Davis started to walk away, he was told by someone in the church that he couldn't leave the candle unattended because of fire laws. Davis said fine, went back to the candle and sat down in front of it. He stayed there until the candle was extinguished.

Al Davis was a complex figure, but that side of him should be remembered today too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Someone ought to ask the question.

Was Wednesday night the most dramatic night of sports action ever?

Yes, there have been better games than (pick one from Wednesday), but it's difficult to believe there have been better nights. Ever. Let's review.

With one day left in the long baseball season, no postseason matchup was set in terms of location. So that meant games involving Milwaukee and Arizona in the National League, and Texas and Detroit in the American League had meeting. All four could have won the home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Fine. We know that wasn't the big story of the night. In the American League, we had Boston trying to fight off an historic collapse. The Red Sox, running on fumes for a month, were trying to extend their season while playing in Baltimore. In Tampa, the Rays were trying to complete a stunning comeback on their low budget. They faced the Yankees, who had first place clinched and were concentrating mostly on getting ready for the postseason.

In the National League, the Braves had their own September woes and had thrown away the wild-card lead. They were hosting the first-place Phillies, while the Cardinals were going up against lowly Houston. Playoff games loomed in both leagues; indeed, it looked at times like we might have two of them on Thursday night.

Out of the four big games, only one was a blowout. Houston finally realized it was a 100-loss team and went down meekly. But the Cardinals hadn't clinched anything yet. And the Braves were hanging on against the Phillies, who suited up many of their regulars for most if not all of the game.

On the other side, the Red Sox and Orioles went back and forth for a while. The Yankees started a pitcher that no one outside of Scranton had heard of, but jumped off to a 7-0 lead on David Price.

By the time 11 o'clock rolled around, I looked up and realized that I had been watching baseball for four hours and nothing had been determined in the identity of the two wild-card spots. Amazing.

You know how this turned out by now. The Braves blew a lead in the ninth and lost in extra innings. The Rays got a home run with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Yankees. The Red Sox, unbeaten entering the ninth inning and one strike away from a win, lost. And Tampa Bay got a walk-off homer from Evan Longoria, three minutes after the Orioles' win, to clinch the playoff spot.

For a sports fan, has it ever been better than that? One game, maybe. Three games that will never be forgotten? Nope.

I doubt the NFL has had a day like it. While there have been good playoff games on the same day, the interlocking nature of baseball's finish might give it the dramatic edge. Maybe there have been a couple of Game Sevens in hockey that went into overtime. All I can come up with is a flurry of buzzer-beaters in the NCAA tournament on a given day. But mix the on-field dramatics with the scoreboard watching, and I think this wins.

I didn't like the outcome -- although as a Red Sox I figured Boston could lose a best-of-five series in two games the way the team was playing -- but it was an amazing experience to watch.

Tell me again why people watch "Dancing with the Stars" or "Survivor" instead of live sports events.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good news

Our long national nightmare may be ending.

More than 10 years ago, "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" was one of my favorite television programs. It was an American version of a British show that had been on Comedy Central for a while, with many of the same cast members.

The program was brilliant. Yes, it was designed to be a very cheap alternative for ABC while "Friends" was in the midst of its huge run. But it was also a chance to see the best improv comics in the business at work. Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady were regulars, and others (Brad Sherwood, Greg Proops) filled in a fourth spot semi-regularly. Drew Carey was the host; perhaps you've heard of him. The best things that can be said about the show is that it appealed to people who never watched television otherwise. Like me.

Then it went off ABC, and the reruns moved over to ABC Family. They have been there ever since, on and off for about a decade. Every so often, "Who's Line?" pops up at some odd time slot, like midnight to 1 a.m. Eastern. Even though the Monica Lewinsky jokes are dated, it's still great fun to watch. Mochrie and Sherwood still do their act on the road; they've come to Buffalo a couple of times in the past few years and the laughter never stops.

Now comes word, on Facebook of all places, that another improv comedy show is coming to ABC. It is called "Trust Us With Your Life." Apparently a guest comes on and gives an anecdote about his life. The improvisers will then recreate that story in front of a live studio audience.

The program apparently will be taped in Great Britain sometime in late October. And here's the really good news. The host is the brilliant Fred Willard, and the comics are Mochrie, Brady, and Jonathan Mangum.

I won't even ask why the show is being taped in England and then shown in America. I won't even ask when the show will be on the air, and whether it will get several weeks to prove itself.

I'm just waiting to see the finished product on the air.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Updated thesis

Way back in the 1976-77 school year, when I was a senior, a friend of mine was writing a paper for his political science class. I'm not sure at this point exactly what the assignment was, but he was looking for something fresh to say about the 1976 political campaign.

Without a whole lot of thinking, I came up with the "least objectionable candidate" theory.

This came from a concept discussed in the television business. People didn't have a great many choices back then in the pre-cable/dish days, and sometimes didn't seek out a particular program that filled them with enthusiasm. There weren't many that fit that description. So, they sat in front of the set and flicked the channel selector, looking for something, anything, that they could tolerate. The network boys called it "the least objectionable program" philosophy.

I said that in a relatively wide-open political year, it's often not a matter of generating enthusiasm over a wide portion of the party. Sometimes it's enough to be a good second choice, someone voters can say "yeah, I could live with him." Or these days, her.

In the case of 1976, Jimmy Carter wasn't the ideal candidate, but he was the last man standing. Scoop Jackson had some flaws mostly centered on a pro-defense platform. George Wallace, with all his baggage, wasn't going to get the nomination. Mo Udall was hilarious but not that well known nationally. Fred Harris was too far left. Birch Bayh flamed out in no time in the primaries. Frank Church and Jerry Brown came along late in the process and made some noise, but it was essentially too late.

Let's compare that to what we have now in the Republican Party. The generic Republican Presidential candidate, John Doe, beats Barack Obama, mostly because of the weak economy. However, the declared candidates don't do nearly as well.

Rick Perry has generated some enthusiasm and is obviously shrewd, but he has said more than enough silly things over the years to drag him down. Mitt Romney generates no enthusiasm among the rank and file, and his Massachusetts health care plan is too close to "Obama-care" for the liking of many. Michele Bachmann has been totally unpredictable on the campaign trail, and not in a good way. John Huntsman is a former member of the Obama Administration, which won't sell well at primary time. Ron Paul has never shown that his libertarian views can capture anything more than a niche. Newt Gingrich mixed some good philosophical concepts and thinking with some strange ideas and enough baggage to fill a jumbojet. The other announced candidates are off the radar and don't matter at the moment.

So ... who comes closest to the generic candidate? Political candidate James Carville said in a speech in Buffalo Monday night that he's heard that both Sarah Palin and Chris Christie are ready to run. It's a little tough to take Palin too seriously. Her next interesting political thought will be her first, as her constant interviews on Fox News usually show.

But Christie, now that's a different story. He certainly has created a bit of stir with his work in New Jersey, leaving no doubt who is in charge. Christie is popular with Republicans. The drawbacks are that he said he wouldn't run, not a major inconvenience, and he's only been in office for a short time.

Christie sure looks like the least objectionable candidate to me. That means he probably could see a path to the White House, at least at this time. Anyone with enough of an ego to run for office obviously would notice that, and think long and hard about it.

By the way, the paper got an A-minus. I believe the professor, one of the toughest markers in the political science deparment, wrote, "I have no quarrel with your thesis."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The old college try

The calendar year of 2011 hasn't been too good for college football so far.

The scandals and problems have been quite bad this year. Miami of Florida probably is the poster boy for the year, or more specifically, Nevin Shapiro is the poster boy. If you haven't been paying attention, Shapiro threw tons of money at Miami's players just so that they would hang out with him. Then when Shapiro was thrown in jail for gathering that money in illegal ways, the players never went to see him in jail. Shapiro was rather offended by this lack of loyalty, so he started to do his canary impression to Yahoo! Sports.

I wrote a joke for Five Spot in the paper about it. Basically, he paid people like Willis McGahee -- OK, not my favorite athlete -- to pretend to like him.

I never can understand the thought processes of boosters. Every so often you hear about someone who thinks he has the Constitutional right to throw money or other benefits at college players. Yikes, give it to the university scholarship fund. Maybe they'll give it to a kid who needs it to get an education; he or she is sure to grow up smarter than you are.

At least Ohio State's woes made a little more sense. Some of its players sold memorabilia for money or in exchange for tattoos. While that was good for proverbial slap on the wrist, coach Jim Tressel allegedly knew about some of these actions and then lied about it. That fact eventually led him out the door.

And recently, it was alleged that Fresno State's football players -- up to 24 of them -- had filed for false benefits from the government's social services program. Football players on food stamps? Jeesh. I wasn't crazy about dining hall food either in college, but I never went that far.

It's been obvious for decades that universities have an odd relationship with athletics. We've come a long way of the days where the students who happen to enroll at my school play the students from your school. There are millions and millions of dollars up for grabs, mostly in the form of television revenues. The players at the biggest schools see that money and wonder why they aren't getting a bigger share.

The schools throw scholarship money at people who aren't particularly interested in higher education; for reference, see the "one and done" guys in the first round of the NBA draft. Throw in the conference realignment that does things like put Texas Christian University in the Big East, and it's a rather headshaking arrangement.

Some times I wonder if the Europeans have a better idea. They have clubs for college age players. Some of them can play in their own age-group in sports, while others move up to the highest levels when ready. They earn their pay. The universities, I assume, stick to the education business.

And yet ...

When the games are played, college athletics are great entertainment. I attended a game at Syracuse a couple of weeks ago, a thrilling comeback capped by an overtime win by the home team. There was a good amount of school spirit on display, even though Syracuse isn't exactly Alabama or Notre Dame in that department. When I watch the SU football or basketball team, I'm brought back to the time when I went to school there, and to the friends I made and still have from that era.

It all leaves me a little torn. I love the excitement and emotion on display at collegiate sporting events, but I feel a little guilty about it if I give a second thought to what else is going on off the field.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blast from the Past

I saw some friends from my college days tonight.

The band Renaissance came to Buffalo on the third stop of its current tour. The picture here is of the group taking a bow at that show. My camera-phone wasn't up to the task of getting this good of a picture, so it was nice to see this one posted on Facebook.

Renaissance has a rather odd history that does indeed go back to the 1970's, when my hair was all the same color and I first became a fan. The English band was an interesting combination of rock, classical music and progressive rock -- somewhere along the lines of the Moody Blues crossed with Yes, although a friend at the show thought Pink Floyd sort of floated in there at times too. The band is mostly known for lead singer Annie Haslam, who in turn is mostly known for her five-octave range. Based on tonight, she can still hit all of the notes.

Renaissance was something of a cult band in the 1970's. I think its live album from Carnegie Hall of picked as the album of the year by a New York radio station in 1977, a year after its release. Wikipedia says the high cost of musicians shortly after that cost the band its orchestral sound; I'd also guess that the rise of the punk movement wasn't good for its bottom line either. In any event, the band more or less fell apart only to re-form somewhat and go through a variety of lineups every so often for the past 30 years or so. Haslam also has done some solo work; one of her songs will be on my annual holiday mix CD in December, which should do wonders for sales (hers, not mine).

We'll have to see how this latest incarnation works. Haslam and fellow original member Michael Dunford are giving it a shot with four new faces, and the band sounds as good as ever. Come to think of it, the sound was much better than the first time I heard the music played tonight -- which was on eight-track. I also have to say that it's fun to have followed their path to Buffalo this week on Facebook; a keyboard player posted updates on how the drive here was going.

The obvious problem for a band like this is trying to get heard. No conventional radio station would play the music today, sadly. It's not like SiriusXM would play more than the odd song or two once a month either. How do you get past that glass ceiling? Renaissance is trying, through social media, e-mail and good old-fashioned mailing lists at shows.

But despite those obstacles, fans can still enjoy good music performed live if they are lucky enough to catch the band on tour. As I listened, I thought back to the friends in college who opened my eyes, and ears, up to groups like this. For a moment, it was like being back in a dorm. It was fun to get exposed to new music back in the Seventies; there's less opportunity for that right now, it seems.

And it is nice to think that acts are still more or less performing now, just like they did 35 years ago. Back then, I always thought of bands as rather disposable. They came together for a while and then fell apart for one reason or another; the Rolling Stones and the Who come to mind as rare exceptions. I never would have guessed that some bands would still be at it this far down the road.

Good luck, Renaissance, on your latest journey, and thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Closing time

Like every other avid book-reader in the country in a major metro area, I've been keeping an eye on the closing sale of Borders. The book store chain declared bankruptcy a few weeks ago, and it has been slowly selling off its stock since then. It's a perfect time to take a look at the game that such sales create.

I usually assign some sort of price tag to a book when I see it. Some books jump out at me and scream "pay full price." This might include, in my case, the annual NHL Guide and Record Book, the Baseball Prospectus, and the Best Sportswriting series in a given year.

Otherwise, though, it's something of a sliding scale. I'll see a particular book that's new and say, "It's not worth $26 to me, so I'll wait until it comes down it price." It might pop up in trade paperback, it might make it to, or it may make the dollar store in a couple of years. I'm willing to wait; I have lots to read in the meantime. (I should note that I'm as cheap as the next person when it comes to books and thus like libraries, but the selection is obviously a little limited since I don't read my best sellers in the traditional sense.)

In Borders' case, the store obvioiusly wanted to maximize its income from the bankruptcy sale. That's only logical. But the process makes it a big guessing game from the consumer's point of view, as the amount of product is finite.

Readers have the decision as to where a book falls on the price-point scale, and the tests come weekly. Since usually discounts books by 30 percent or so, I obviously started there. When Borders got to 40 percent off of a book by Neil Peart (the drummer from Rush), a volume that doesn't seem to be discounted heavily among used book sellers, I bought it. Last week, prices were discounted 60 to 80 percent. OK, Ron Jaworski's book on significant football games seemed worthwhile at that price, as did a couple of others. But I also saw a copy of Y.A. Tittle's autobiography, which wasn't worth $10 to me.

But a few days later, when everything was down another 10 percent, Tittle's book was still there. That's the game you play in these sales -- would it still be there the next time around? I decided it was worth $7.50 to me. Plus a book featuring a close-up book on the Obama Administration seemed well worth $2.50.

Bargains are where you find them, naturally. Today in the Dollar Store, I saw three books of interest. I tend to think, "A book for a dollar? That's less than a bottle of Coke Zero," and buy it. I'm assuming Dustin Pedroia's autobiography is worth more than a soft drink.

The going-out-of-business sale is winding down this week. A friend said to me about Borders' demise, "It's kind of sad, isn't it?" And it is. I always knew I'd have a good time in a bookstore like Borders, seeing what new stories were out there. It just didn't sell enough product to keep up with (part of the problem), and couldn't move fast enough to stay with the e-book revolution which seems to be coming in some areas.

We'll miss you, Borders.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Travel tips from Buffalo

There are all sorts of adventures waiting for those who need something to do on a Sunday from a Western New York base. Here are two in Canada:

Safari Niagara seems to be virtually unknown on this side of the border, even though it is about eight miles from the Peace Bridge. The place has gone through a name change in recent years, which couldn't have helped, and doesn't seem to have an overwhelming amount of money to spend. The old name, Zooz, still pops up in certain places around the park a couple of years after the change.

Still, it's a good place to look at critters on an afternoon.

This is something of a cross between a nature preserve and zoo. Some of the animals have a good-sized amount of land for play, which is always nice to see. Others, like birds and monkeys, are in cages.

The best chance to see some of the animals close up, without cage bars getting the way of photo opportunities, comes in the group shows. The picture taken here is from Zoo-niversity, with lots of cute baby animals like a timberwolf, fox and the shown tiger cub. Awww. Hard to get the cub to stand still for a photo, though.

I had visited this place in 2004 for a 5-kilometer race. The second-best part of the race was that as I ran around the circular path of the facility, a moose came over to the fence to watch as I ran by. He probably was wondering what my hurry was. The best part, naturally, was that I was second in my age-group and thus won a medal. And even more naturally, the race was never held there again because of the small field. Any time I win a medal, it seems they cancel the next race. It's enough to give a mediocre runner a complex.

After visiting Safari Niagara, it was clearly time for refreshment. Sources had reported (newspaper guys like this sort of talk) that Cows Ice Cream had come to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, on the northern point of the gorge between the U.S. and Canada.

Again, not many Americans know about Cows, which was named the world's best ice cream stand in an article that was plastered on the front window. Speaking of advertising, they use a technique that is almost unfair. They make waffle cones right on the site, and then leave the door open. The smell alone draws passers-by in the door.

The ice cream seems loaded with ingredients, and the cones really are good. But it's also difficult to leave without buying something from the merchandise area. I thought the National Mustard Museum's stuff was clever, and it is. But this is in the same class. You really have to be a viewer of Hockey Night in Canada, with Ron MacLean and the well-dressed Don Cherry to get this joke: a t-shirt that reads "Cowch's Corner," with one cow in a normal suit and another cow in plaid (MacLean and Cherry, respectively). Sold. I passed up the Sidney Cowsby hockey shirt and a Moo Tube shirt. I also bought a couple of post cards with a drawing of a cow in a barrel, with the caption, "Common cow + barrel + Niagara Falls = Second thoughts."

Take a look at the link to get a better idea of what's on sale. There's a tribute to the Royal HoneyMOOn on Prince Edward Island.

I have had ice cream at a Cows in Vancouver, and one in Halifax. That about covers Canada. Nice to have one just up the road.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I'm coming off a vacation, which has left me more tired than work leaves me. This wasn't one of our relatively famous "if it's Tuesday, we must be in Ripon, Wisconsin" vacations. Instead, it included a number of smaller missions.

The week started in the air, literally. I headed down to Florida on some personal business for a couple of days. It was a quick trip by myself. When I travel alone, I find I pay even more attention to the surroundings than normal.

I have concluded that there are two types of travelers. Some like to bring their lives with them on the airplane, and some like to pack them up and forget about them for a few hours. I prefer to be with the second group.

The first group, you see, is in too much of a hurry for my tastes. I'm sure there are some business travelers in that category, but it's not exclusive to them. It's gotten very easy to stay in touch on the road these days, with cell phones, laptops, iPads, etc.

But mostly, those people come across as nervous. They are on their laptops just before boarding, and on the phone until the doors close. I once saw a guy who was ordered by the flight attendant to turn off his cell phone and end a call NOW! three times before he finally got the hint. These personalities prefer to sit in the very front of the plane, of course, so they can get out faster. Those three minutes of a head start in getting to the baggage claim are crucial, I guess. And often they bring large carry-ons into the plane, hammering the luggage into the bins above their seats. Hey, pal, it's free on Southwest -- check it and save us all the congestion. Once the plane stops, these people are on the phone and ready to dash out the door.

Me, I kind of like that feeling of being in a cocoon. I try to give myself more than adequate time to handle any unforeseen difficulties in flying. I usually don't use the cell phone much beforehand, and don't carry a laptop on trips (although I can see that day coming, if only for logistical help). I get some overpriced, less-than-nutritious food, buy a newspaper and/or magazine I usually don't see, have a book at the ready, climb into a chair and relax. From there, I'll head to the back of the plane, continue the book or publication, and wait for the plane to clear 10,000 feet. That's when the bell sounds, the iPod comes on, and I can be in my own little bubble. I'll stay there until we get ready to land. In this case, I got two books read by the time I got back.

It doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Prime-time players

There is plenty to like about youth sports. It can build confidence, form long-lasting friendships, develop skills, and so forth.

But there are drawbacks too. You've heard of parents who drive their kids too hard while either living out their own frustrated dreams or trying to get them to earn a college scholarship. There's the common sense of such matters as, should there be travel teams for children under 10?

And that brings us to Little League.

The World Series in Williamsport, Pa., right now, as the best teams from around the world are competing to be American, International, and Overall champion. While I'd hate to think that a 13-year-old can have a thrill of a lifetime -- kind of makes the rest of his or her life an anticlimax -- there's no doubt that it's an exciting time.

During the last few years, all of the games on the finals are broadcast on ESPN. Some of the regional tournament games are shown too.

That idea makes me a little uncomfortable.

OK, I get the easy part. The games must get ratings, or they wouldn't be on national television. I don't know what the rights fees involved, but it must help Little League do some good things with youth baseball.

Still ... it's easy to wonder if it is a good idea to put this much pressure on children who may not be prepared to handle it. Sure they say they want to be on television now. But I think of the young pitcher who gave up a walk-off homer to lose the championship for a few years ago. Think kids will bring that up for years to come when they need a verbal weapon? Think opposing players in his area will keep it in mind if they face him down the road?

On ESPN tonight, the broadcast showed a split screen of the Red Sox-Rangers game on ESPN2, and of a round-robin game from Williamsport. Is it fair to imply that they are equal in a way in that fashion?

I'm not sure I know the answers to all that. I just know that it's not in anyone's interests to ask the question, except in the case of the kids.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Caesar's Ghost

The original Superman television series from the Fifties had a certain charm that is timeless. Some baby boomers (like me) grew up with the reruns that were shown over and over, and the program even landed on TV Land for a while.

But ... the reruns never included the charming advertisements that the cast filmed for Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Like this one:

This ad raises a couple of questions. One, if you were the editor of the Daily Planet, would you put your full name on your mailbox? Sounds like you'd be asking for trouble.

Two, why is Clark Kent hanging out in the front yard of his boss when Mr. White is eating his breakfast? You'd think Perry would consider that a little creepy.

Then again, the editor of the Daily Planet put out a great metropolitan newspaper with only three reporters -- Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. He must have known what he was doing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Triple trouble

Just when you've seen it all at a baseball game, a play comes along like this:

Nashville went on to win the game.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nothing in the mailbox

The Buffalo Bills have ended the public portion of their 2011 training camp at St. John Fisher outside of Rochester. They'll do their practicing in private now, away from the prying eyes of the public.

That seems appropriate. This is a team that seems to get more anonymous by the moment.

There's been plenty of excitement around many NFL teams in the past few weeks. The lockout came to an end, compressing an entire offseason into a week. Free agents were available, trades could be made, draft choices could be signed, etc. The possibilities seemed, well, if not endless, at least large in number.

But in Buffalo, much of the news seemed a bit discouraging. There were a couple of veteran starters from previous Buffalo teams who had become free agents. Donte Whitner was expected to depart, and he did for San Francisco. Meanwhile, linebacker Paul Posluszny opted to jump to Jacksonville for a big offer and a chance to play in a 4-3 defense.

Now, neither player is an all-pro. Whitner didn't seem to make many plays at safety; George Wilson seemed to find himself around the football more often in spot duty. Posluszny had a lot of tackles, although it's tough to say if that's a tribute to the lack of talent in front of him in the defensive line. Still, these are established NFL players.

On the incoming side, the Bills signed Tyler Thigpen to fill the backup quarterback role. He seems OK for that role, but he's not someone at the moment who might start a quarterback controversy. Brad Smith, a wide receiver/running back/quarterback, is an interesting player but probably is a complimentary part rather than a key ingredient.

During the course of camp, the news got odder. Buffalo's offensive line hasn't been very good in recent times. The team may have had little to lose, but Eric Wood moved over to center to replace Geoff Hangartner for the moment. That left Kraig Urbik as a starting guard, which was, um, surprising. And the other night Chad Reinhart starting taking snaps with the first team. That was a demotion for Andy Levitre, who had started most of the games for the last couple of years. Again, hmmm.

Then there was the surprising trade of Lee Evans to Baltimore for a measly fourth-round pick. A couple of years ago Evans was one of the few Bills on the lists of the 100 best players in the NFL. His numbers have dropped in the last couple of years. Was that due to decaying talent or the constant quarterback shuffling of the past few years? The Bills must have felt they wouldn't renew his contract in February, so they wanted to get something, anything for him now. Still, he was another veteran NFL player who had departed with nothing much of value coming this way in return.

Finally, there's the strange case of Aaron Maybin, who was the team's first-round draft choice two years ago. His playing time dropped off drastically as the months went by, to the point where he couldn't get on the gameday roster by the end of last season. Then, when told to bulk up in order to play linebacker at camp, he reported at 225 pounds. Maybin could be crushed at that weight by opposing 350-pound tackles. I'll miss him, though; he was an unfortunately easy target for jokes in The News' "Five Spot" column.

Last year, I wrote in a blog that the saddest part of the Bills' problems was that they just didn't seem to matter nationally. Yes, they had an NFL franchise, but it was filled with anonymous players and hadn't won consistently in years. I'm not willing to give up on the front office and coaching staff yet, but they still have some selling to do (in the form of better play) to convince me that relevance is around the corner.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The August blues

It sure has been a great August so far for a nation's leaders, eh? Think they want to go back to July for a do-over?

We've had the debt ceiling debate, the credit rating drop, the death of 30 soldiers in Afghanistan, and the stock market bounces for starters. For those of you adding up the winners and losers here, a winner is tough to find.

Recapping, President Obama tried his best to be the adult in the room when it came to the debt limit. He even gave in on raising taxes as part of a broader settlement, and essentially got nowhere in the talks. Then again, he walked out of one session saying he was taking the matter to the American people, which didn't exactly look Presidential.

Then earlier this week, he made a speech that tied together, at least within the confines of his remarks, the Afghanistan tragedy and the credit rating cut. Not sure who had that idea, but there was no way to make it look graceful. Bad idea there.

(For the record, Obama's speech came in early afternoon, and the stock market continued its plunge for the rest of that day. The New York Post implied there was a connection in its stories and headlines for Tuesday's paper, which was silly and unfair. Tough to defend that, speaking as a fellow journalist.)

Most people don't realize that a President can't do much about the economy. If Greece and Italy have problems, the Americans don't have much control. But the casualties from the Afghan occupation and reconstruction (it's really that more than a war in most ways) is a reminder that we've been there for 10 years, and little seems to change from the eye of a distant observer.

Still, Congress looks even worse midway through the month. No one could agree on much of anything in the debt talks, even within parties. The tea party folks weren't thrilled with Speaking John Boehmer's efforts at "compromise," which the liberals thought the lack of tax cuts made it a bad deal. Not a grown-up to be found among any of the principals there. Even the idea of holding up the debt ceiling for political reasons seems silly. Didn't the country promise to pay its bills when it launched those programs? Don't we have a proverbial solemn obligation to do so now? No one really understands much of what deal was made, and no one has much faith that the 12-member super-committee can figure something out in the current political climate.

And the members of Congress paid the price in the public opinion polls. While Obama's approval rating is in the 40's, Congress' rating is down to about 14 percent. How would you like to manage a reelection campaign for any of those people? "No thanks, I'm busy in 2012."

A commentator appearing on C-SPAN the other day made a great point about the political situation in Washington these days (wasn't taking notes, sorry). He said all of the liberals are Democrats and all the conservatives are Republicans. There are few people in between any more. In the old days, Southern Democrats were conservative on some issues, while Eastern Republicans were rather moderate. Now there's not much room for negotiations.

That has led to the rise of calling people RINO's (Republicans in name only) who try to figure out ways of settling disputes. If you haven't noticed, when one side controls the House and the other side controls the Senate, there are disputes.

As usual, the American people seem to be way ahead of the politicians on the matter of the debt limit. Polls indicate they want a combination of tax hikes that affect the wealthy a bit more and close loopholes, combined with good-sized cuts in spending. They at least intuitively realize that tax rates are historically low, with few people in the bottom half of income brackets paying anything (would something like a co-payment hurt?) and the upper half seemed to do pretty well under President Clinton with a top tax rate at 39.6 percent instead of the current 35.

And that's what some of the arguments have been about -- 4.6 percent points. We're not talking about 35 versus 82 percent, like it was 50 years ago, or even 50, under President Reagan. You'd think reasonable people could reach a happy medium (I know, I know).

Focusing on the top at the moment, you'd think Obama should be in some trouble when it comes to reelection. Still, no one looks ready to gain the nomination in a right-wing party and then then go to win the Presidency. Are anyone besides donors enthusiastic about Mitt Romney? Would you love to campaign against Rick Perry, who shared a podium last week with a preacher who claimed New Orleans was hit by Katrina because it was a city of sin?

I'm not sure if we're going to come out of this with anger or apathy in 2012. But the political landscape is waiting to be shaken if someone or something can provide the energy.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Across the Atlantic

I've occasionally shared here stories from my family tree. Here's a pretty good one.

With so many of my ancestors living in Massachusetts, I've often wondered if any of them had a connection to the Mayflower. Seems like the odds would be in favor of it. My cousins' mother did have such an ancestor, but I couldn't find one.

Until Friday.

Then I found a link back to the parents of Elizabeth Howland through Grandma Bailey. lit up when I added those names to the family tree, as they both came over on the Mayflower.

It seems that John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley crossed the ocean blue in 1620. I was starting to feel a little snooty about the whole thing when I read that Howland actually worked as a man-servant for the Carver family while making the trip, although he probably was closer to an administrative assistant in some ways. In other words, though, he probably helped unload the Mayflower.

"Hey, Howland, get these trunks off the boat! Put them by that big rock on the shore for now!"

Howland almost died on the way, according to accounts, but made it to Plymouth. Tilley, who was around 14 upon arrival, came with her parents. Sadly, the winter of 1620-21 was a tough one, and both of Elizabeth's parents died in the spring of 1621. That left Elizabeth as an orphan. John Carver also died in the spring of 1621 he had been the first Governor of the group.

Within a few years, Howland and Tilley got married and had a daughter, also named Elizabeth, some years later. You've got to believe that John didn't have a whole lot of romantic competition for Elizabeth; not many other single men were in town. And the family tree goes from there.

Too bad my grandmother missed out on hearing this story. She would have enjoyed knowing that her great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents had made the trip to Plymouth.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The other side of the story

Sometimes I hate learning the full story.

Eric Lindros might have been my least favorite player in the NHL at one point. He had a bad reputation as an enfant terrible during his junior days; the negotiations between the Lindros family and Sault Ste. Marie are the stuff of legend. Then he sat out a year instead of signing with the Quebec Nordiques, who drafted him first overall -- in Buffalo, no less. Lindros wouldn't even put on a Quebec jersey.

Lindros orchestrated a trade to the Flyers. He was big, tough and good, especially by 19-year-old standards. But injuries didn't allow him to live up to his potential, and his exit from Philadelphia wasn't a pretty one.

In other words, he was a tough guy to admire.

Then ... I read a story about how he got his number, the distinctive #88.

It seems that Lindros played junior hockey with the son of John McCauley. For those who don't know their referees, John McCauley was one of the classiest guys in the National Hockey League. He was an official for a while until he was assaulted by a fan after a game in the Soviet Union and had to give up his main job in 1979. He moved on to the league office, and eventually became the Director of Officiating for the league in 1986. He stayed in that spot until his death in 1989.

I worked for the Sabres in those years, and it was always nice to see John in Buffalo during hockey season.

It turns out McCauley served as something of a mentor for Lindros in the early days of the player's career. Lindros wanted to return the favor by using the number McCauley had on his back as an official -- eight. But that number was taken on the junior hockey team. So Lindros paid tribute to McCauley by doubling up his uniform number to 88.

It's really hard to hate a guy like that. Darn.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dumb, dumber, dumbest

We continue to inch closer and closer to a train wreck in the form of not raising the debt limit by next week's deadline.

And most of us outside of the Beltway wonder why.

Because how did this gala argument start? Over bookkeeping. We've always passed these increases in the debt limit before, because it was a simple matter of living up to our obligations.

Not now, though. Now Congress has decided to attach some strings, and the result is a battle that sets new standards for a lack of common sense.

Let's outline a few facts here:

* There was absolutely no need to do this now, and risk defaulting on our bills and sending the economy down the cliff. If Washington had done this during budget-making season, when we usually talk about such matters, no one would have had a philosophical problem with it. By doing it now and threatening a default, when the economic recovery (and there is a recovery going on, albeit a slower-than-hoped-for one) is fragile, is downright irresponsible.

I'm the first to argue that balancing the budget is a fine idea, and we need to take big steps in that direction while having a good philosophical discussion about it.

* The Republicans have basically won this argument. Higher taxes are off the table, so it's just a matter of cutting government expenditures. That's in spite of the fact that historically taxation as a percentage of GDP is quite low. So, GOP members, take your gains, get a bill that everyone can live with, and move along.

* Anyone who says he or she won't vote for a debt limit increase under any circumstances must not have taken Economics 101, and doesn't seem to have the best interests of the country in mind. This means you, Michelle Bachmann, but I'm sure there are others who think they are scoring points with the Tea Party. They may be doing just that, but they aren't doing the rest of us any favors.

* There's plenty of blame to go around here. President Bush took a budget that was in good shape in 2001, and then ran two wars and cut taxes during his years in office. When the economy tanked, expenditures suddenly were far higher than revenues. And while President Obama can make a good case for trying to pump some money into the economy to create jobs, he also did have a laundry list of programs he wanted to fund when he was running in 2008.

* Speaking of elections, I am forced to laugh (and cry a little) when politicians say that a vote means endorsing his or her entire platform with no exceptions. There are two main choices in the general election, and we pick the one that comes the closest -- in some cases without much thought. In other words, many voters last November said no more than "the economy stinks, I'm voting for the other guy" with their ballots.

* Attention, lawmakers: There is nothing wrong with compromise. It's the way we get things done.

I remain hopeful that a little sense will appear in the next few days, and a deal will get done. But if it doesn't, I get the sense that everyone involved will be pouring a giant can of gasoline on their chances for reelection, and there will be a long line of people waiting to light a match.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two sides of the coin

Those of us in New York State today received all sorts of news reports about the gay marriage law going into effect. A mass wedding was held in Niagara Falls, as 46 couples tied the knot. Apparently plenty of tears were shed, and not just by a small group that was protesting.

OK. Then this afternoon I got the day's mail. One piece of mail was from the National Organization of Marriage. Referring to a recent State Senate vote on the subject, the flier says, "Senator Mark Grisanti sold out our shared principles in a betrayal reminiscent of Benedict Arnold's plot to surrender West Point to the British."

I love good apocalyptic language as well as the next person, perhaps more. In this case, I felt like writing back and saying, "Whose shared principles? You know nothing about me."

But why waste a stamp?