Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Memories

Sometimes you have to reach out to your old friends when you are reminded of great times of the past. Today was such a day for me.

"The Thing With Two Heads" was on television.

If you like your movies bad, or at least campy, you've probably heard of this 1972 classic. Ray Milland plays the proverbial slightly mad scientist who is dying. His way to achieve immortality of sorts is to transplant his head on to someone else's body.

The catch is that the professor is also a racist, so he is surprised after the operation to find that his head has been placed on the body of former football tackle Rosey Grier. It seems that Grier had been charged with a murder that he did not commit, and was on death row.

Grier was big enough so that Milland could hide behind him and put his head on his shoulder, thus creating the "illusion," at least for those willing to play along, that a thing with two heads had been created. The two of them argue as they go through the consequences of the operation. Spoiler alert -- the good doctor decides to do another operation himself to separate his head from Grier's body. At the end, Milland's head is hooked up to some sort of machine, with the voice demanding another body. Grier and his girlfriend drive off into the night singing, of all things, "O Happy Day."

There are two particularly memorable parts of the movie. One is when the two-headed creature looks up Grier's girlfriend. After the initial reaction, she comes up with the memorable line, "Do you have two of anything else?"

Then, when Milland attempts to take control of the body, Grier winds up punching himself in the jaw and knocking himself out. It's quite a right cross, and an unmatched moment in cinema history.

My friend Glenn once threw a Halloween party, and dressed up as "The Thing With Two Heads." He put on one of those Styrofoam heads used by wig-sellers, and put on some hair and coloring. It was rather conceptual for those who had never seen the movie, which is practically everyone, but I liked it a lot.

Glenn almost made one mistake. He realized he needed to go to the grocery store for supplies, so off he went ... while dressed in character before the party. Glenn went shopping with an African American's head on his shoulder in an urban neighborhood, realizing that he had a chance to perish right there in a Tops if someone didn't get the joke. Luckily, everyone did or was simply used to odd behavior on Halloween.

We have a television station in the Buffalo area that shows movies most of the time, and "The Thing With Two Heads" came on at noon today. In these days of cable movie channels and Netflix, it's kind of fun to have a film like this come on over the air again.

I called Glenn today and asked how fast he could get back to Buffalo to see the end of the movie, complete with the knockout punch. It was a little distant for him, but he agreed that the thought of hundreds of thousands of Western New Yorkers watching this movie together was a pleasing one.

He also suggested that such a movie would be a good entry for my upcoming book, "Things to Do in Buffalo When You Have a Weekday Afternoon Off."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taking the high road

Barack Obama did something very clever on Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech.

He grabbed the high road.

Obama talked a lot about the future in his speech, and he did it in optimistic tones. The President laid out his map for keeping America as an economic power as we rebound from the worst fiscal crisis since 1929.

A pep talk is always welcome, but this has the added advantage of improving his chances of reelection in 2012.

One of the best pieces of political wisdom about Presidential campaigns I've ever read is that the most optimistic candidate usually wins. There are exceptions, but for the most part sunshine usually beats gloom and doom. Obama ran on change we can believe in during the 2008 campaign, while John McCain sometimes acted as if he were trying out for a remake of "Grumpy Old Men." (Note: The "old" McCain reappeared after the election, relaxed and funny, albeit it too late to help himself.)

Bob Dole never seemed to happy when he was running in 1996. In 1992, all George Bush could do was talk about Bill Clinton's character -- instead of running on his record of achievements, which is much more impressive in hindsight than it seemed at the time. And then there's the best example -- Ronald Reagan, with his morning again in America line, selling better days in vivid contrast to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Obama's supporters often point out that the new President in 2009 inherited a great many problems, including a huge financial crisis. Obama and his team worked with George Bush's team in 2008 and then took over in 2009, and -- in hindsight -- things could have been a lot worse. The banks didn't melt down; indeed much of the TARP money has been repaid with interest. The American auto industry has been given a second chance.

We came out of that as consumers a little scared, which usually translates to keeping money in the piggy bank and under the mattress. But there are signs of better economic times ahead -- stock market rising, corporate profits up -- so a pep talk about better times wasn't a bad idea at all.

Contrast that to the Republican responses. Paul Ryan had a lot of gloom and doom in his speech, implying that we may not be able to reclaim our glories as a nation over the past century unless we take severe measures now. While certainly we have to get serious about cutting the deficit -- and we'll see if either party has the political will to do that after showing a tendency to sprint away from such decisions -- Ryan's message sure wasn't "feel good."

And then there's Michele Bachmann, who became well-known in 2008 for saying members of Congress who have "anti-American views," whatever that means, should be investigated. Bachmann gave a State of the Union response to the Tea Party crowd, repeating some of the usual conservative talking points (note: If the stimulus package lowered the unemployment rate by two or three points, did it really fail?) and then giving an alternative view of colonial history that made Sarah Palin look scholarly. Bachmann has been visiting Iowa this winter, a sign of the Presidential itch that can only lead to more opportunities for her revisionist history.

I have figured Obama would rank as the favorite in 2012, mostly because he has a base of supporters who are loyal and will turn out at the polls when his name is on top of the ballot. Those same people didn't show up in 2010, but they haven't gone anywhere.

But after this week, Obama's chances of reelection just got better.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's next?

I never told you about my one conversation with Keith Olbermann.

It was back in the early 1980's. Erik Brady of the Courier-Express had written a column about Olbermann. It seemed that Olbermann, then of the RKO Radio Network, like to collect sound bites of athletes saying "you know." Olbermann's current champion was Flynn Robinson, a basketball guard, who had said "you know" six times in one 10-second actuality. That comes out to a you know per second ratio of .6.

Paul Hamilton and I were working at WEBR at the time. Paul read the column like I did and said to me, "I think we can beat that." He had interviewed Dee Hardison, a Bills' defensive lineman in that era, and Dee was obviously a little nervous about speaking into a microphone. We played the tape, and sure enough, Hardison had said "you know" eight times in 12 seconds, including one memorable double clutch ("you know, you know). I called Erik, who wrote another column about how Buffalo was, you know, talking proud about having the record in its midst.

A short time later, the phone rang in the WEBR office. It was Olbermann himself, who had heard about Erik's column and was thrilled to hear about the new champ. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and it was pretty obvious that this was a nice, sharp, funny guy at the other end of the phone. I played the tape of Hardison down the line, and a short time later I received a check for $25 from RKO. I think I bought Paul lunch or something with that check; it certainly was the least I could do.

Ever since then, and it's been almost 30 years, I've been watching Olbermann's career from a distance because of that brief connection. He eventually made his way into television and earned a job as an anchor at ESPN. There Olbermann revolutionized the sportscasting business with his co-host Dan Patrick on SportsCenter. The two were smart and hip, and brought a certain attitude to the show. It not only attracted millions of viewers, but a legion of young imitators who carry on the tradition today without the smarts Olberman and Patrick had. As Olbermann once said, he knows that the show will be in the first paragraph of his obituary no matter what he does with the rest of his life.

I've talked to a few people who knew Olbermann in those ESPN days, and read about others. All agree that Olbermann was brilliant, talented, and not particularly missed, mostly because he didn't suffer fools gladly. And, apparently, there were a lot of fools out there. He seemed on his way to nowhere-ville, in terms of broadcasting, when he left ESPN and landed with MSNBC to do news -- right in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- and later jumped to to jump to Fox for sports work.

Olbermann came back to MSNBC in 2003, and -- low and behold -- carved out a new niche for himself. At a time when his new network was generally nondescript, Olbermann slowly turned himself into a raging liberal on the air. MSNBC became something of a counterpoint to Fox's right-wing tilt, at least during prime time, and gave it an identity. Olbermann's style wasn't exactly in the news tradition of impartiality, but it was tough to look away when he was on. His special comments were filled with rage and big words that were rarely heard on national television.

He also took delight in pinpricking (that might be far too light a word) the actions and statements of people like Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. It did look a little like the upstart trying to raise himself by taking aim at the big kids -- not that those four don't deserve some criticism. I learned that he was starting to make an impact when people started telling me that I looked like him, depending on his hairstyle and glasses at a particular moment.

If anything, Olbermann's major problem on the air was that he was too intense, too committed. Guests who were on the conservative side were almost never booked, and questions were sometimes so loaded that it was difficult for the guests to respond with anything but a repetition of Olbermann's viewpoint. His reputation got to the point where some people didn't know or forgot about his days as a sportscaster. In other words, this American life certainly had a second act.

Olbermann was suspended last year for making campaign contributions to candidates, a decided bad move for most people in the business. Then on Friday, he resigned suddenly and without warning. I always figured it might end badly, particularly after the suspension, and it sure looks like it now.

Many journalists enter the news business because they want to help change aspects of life. When they can't, they often turn quietly cynical. Olbermann was never that, and his exit certainly was right in character.

I'm not sure what's ahead for Olbermann. He has tweeted something vague about baseball, a first love for him. I'm not sure if he'll have a Third Act, but I'm not going to bet against him either.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A split-second of fame

So let me tell you all about my "appearance" on MTV Wednesday.

There is a show on that channel called "Made." In this case, the focus of the hour-long show was a Rochester-area teen who weighed about 245 pounds. The show brought in a personal trainer, and had footage of the young woman working out and losing weight.

The goal: lose 25 pounds and run a 5-kilometer race without stopping in Seneca Falls in December.

The woman actually dropped 30 pounds to get to 215. So she was ready for the "It's a Wonderful Run" in Seneca Falls. Which, I happened to run.

When everyone else registered for the race, we were told to sign a waiver so that we could appear on television. Check. There were a few cameras around the during the race, and we didn't know where any of them were from. Heck, we didn't even know when the show might air.

Today was that day, at 4 p.m., as the race officials sent out an e-mail a couple of days ago letting us know it was coming. I recorded the show for my wife, who wouldn't be back from work yet. The Seneca Falls portion of the show took up about two minutes at the end, as I found out while watchign the last 15 minutes live. I looked for familiar faces, including mine, as we had a group of 25 go. But it was difficult to pick anyone out. I did notice a bright, light blue windbreaker from the Medaille College race earlier in December go rushing by the screen -- and that's what I had on -- but there were a few of them there that day.

Curious, I went back and watched the race portions again ... in slow motion. There's a scene of the runners just getting started, with the focus on the woman in question. Suddenly, I ruthlessly go running past her for a few moments. In stop action, you can see me from about my nose down to my elbows. The woman is in the front and the focus of attention, so you have to treat it like the Zapruder film in order to make me out.

I was wearing an orange, big Syracuse Santa hat for the race, as many had silly costumes on for the occasion. Since I'm taller than most of the runners, that hat stood out in a couple of other scenes for an even shorter period of time.

I guess that leaves me 14 minutes and 59.8 seconds to go before I use up Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. What's more, I guess I'll have to keep watching MTV now that I've "appeared" on it, something I haven't done in years.

But I have one question: When does Martha Quinn come on?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nice and tough

Dawn Hamilton was one of the nicest people around. She also was one of the toughest.

That's not a contradiction. Dawn, who passed away Wednesday night, displayed both qualities in large quantities throughout her too short life.

Dawn first came into my life when I worked at WEBR Radio. She had been the pride and joy of Medaille College, as I don't think she had a B on her report card while she was there. It didn't take Dawn long to move up the ladder in the news business. Not only was she smart, but she was so nice to everyone that it was difficult not to like her. I'm not sure I ever heard her swear, and the radio business sometimes gave people reason to do that if they needed one.

Along the way, she also showed plenty of interest in the sports field. This was in part because she had liked sports since she was much younger. I recall her telling one of the Sabres of the early 70's, "Remember those little girls who used to pester you around town for autographs? Well, I was one of those girls." I believe the player said something like, "Wow, you've really grown up."

Dawn also turned wandered into the sports office a lot for another reason. We had an intern by the name of Paul Hamilton at the time, and they seemed to get along pretty well. The younger people at the station all bonded quite well at that time. We'd sometimes after softball games go over to her house in West Seneca. Dawn was living with her parents, who were as gracious and friendly to us as people could be. We'd hop in the family pool to cool off and sip legal beverages on fine summer days.

Sure enough, Dawn and Paul got married in 1981; you can see them coming out of the church in the picture above. The wedding was noteworthy for two reasons. One, the minister was extremely pregnant; her due date was the very day of the wedding. Everyone sort of stared at her at the wedding, wondering if she was going to make it through the ceremony. (She did.) Two, of all things, MTV came on the air that day. Whenever the music channel celebrated an anniversary back in those pre-Jersey Shore days when MTV had relevance in our lives, Paul and Dawn's friends could say, "Oh, right, it's their anniversary too."

The tough part about Dawn went on display a little too soon in that era for anyone's tastes. It's been quite a while, but I believe Dawn got bounced around in an auto accident. The mishap caused some problems that doctors never could seem to completely fix. Indeed, the pictures I have of her from that era often show her in some sort of neck brace. She usually needed some sort of special chair to be a little more comfortable at work, and had a variety of healing contraptions at home. During that time, I never heard her complain, never heard her discouraged.

Dawn just adapted. While she had been a member of the co-ed WEBR softball team for a short time, she simply switched roles to scorekeeper. If you can make an impression in that job, Dawn did it. She quickly became known as the toughest scorekeeper when it came to earning a hit in the business. One time Greg Mott complained about not getting a hit on a play. When I pointed out that the ball went into the glove of the woman fielder and then came out, Greg replied, "The ball ripped the glove off her hand! Shouldn't that be a hit?"

Dawn came out to softball, week after week on different teams through the 80's and 90's, to cheer us on. Often she was our only fan. She shared in our occasional triumphs, and didn't laugh -- at least outwardly -- when our fielders treated the ball as if it were radioactive. Her level of devotion to Paul was obvious and was always returned by him, as he always carried a lawn chair and other equipment to the field and tended to her needs. The rest of the team, being manly men, wouldn't have expressed it, but appreciated just how loving a couple the two of them were.

When my softball days ended about 10 years ago due to age and a shift in job hours, I stopped seeing Dawn on any sort of regular basis. What's more, when I stopped covering Sabre games I stopped seeing Paul. So news about either of the Hamiltons was hard to come by. But I did get the devastating news some years ago that Dawn had cancer, and the prognosis was not good.

Still, I knew Dawn would attack the illness with a combination of determination and optimism. Whenever I ran into a common friend or a co-worker of hers at WNED, I'd ask about Dawn, and hear how she was working as regularly as possible and not complaining. My last gesture, if that's the right word, came in the fall when a couple of our former WEBR co-workers went into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame. I asked Paul if Dawn would be up for attending, and he said she was pretty wiped out most of the time by the chemo treatments. So, I sent along the program from the event, hoping it would put a smile on her face. From there it was a matter of waiting for the crushing but not surprising news that came Wednesday. At least she's no longer suffering.

Life, it's said, isn't necessarily fair, and it certainly wasn't for Dawn. Someone that nice deserved a longer, fuller life. But she'd be the first to say, no doubt, that she had a husband, friends and family that loved her and was loved by her. Dawn probably wouldn't have been interested in trading lives with anyone.

(Donations can be made to Ebenezer United Church of Christ or Hospice Buffalo, Inc.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"You idiot"

Back in December of 1976, I was sitting at the press table during a Syracuse-Maryland basketball game at Maryland. During a timeout, Hank Nichols -- one of the few officials in America whose name was known to veteran basketball fans, because he always seemed to be on television -- walked over to my coworker with the student newspaper and me during a timeout.

"See that guy a few rows back, who has been yelling at me tonight?" he asked.

We nodded, wondering where he was going with this.

"When Maryland plays an ACC game in here, there are 15,000 fans just like him."

We laughed, and then I asked, "Do you mind?"

Nichols replied, "Nah. That's what makes it fun."

Sometimes there are a handful, sometimes there are thousands. But when fans are watching a basketball game in which there are officials and a score, chances are very good that there will be fans yelling at the referees in nearly nonsensical fashion.

I guess I first really noticed this sort of behavior in high school. One of the parents of a junior varsity player was one of those loud fans who was sure that the referees hadn't made a good call in their lives. What's more, his son was at the age at which, as my friend Glenn described it, "Everything your parents do in public tends to embarrass you." That means that the son looked as if he wanted to dig a hole at the foul line whenever his dad called the ref "a knucklehead." By the way, the varsity games, which didn't include the son, also included some knucklehead officials.

Somewhere along the line after that, I'd like to think I learned some lessons about officials. They weren't going to see everything, and were bound to make the odd mistake. I just wanted them to know the rules, whether I was watching or playing. I remember one time in softball when my team was on the field, and there was a play at second base. "He's safe! He didn't make the tag!" yelled the umpire. I calmly said, "It was a force play." "Yer out!" the umpire replied.

The standards are higher when dealing with a game like college basketball that bar-league softball, in part because the stakes are higher. It would be nice if the refs were close to perfect every night. But the officials still have dozens of calls to make every game, and they seem to do the best they can.

This all came to mind Sunday when I went to see Canisius play Rider. I was sitting near the top of the seating, which isn't very high in the Koessler Center. Just down the row were three or four middle-aged men, who were straight out of the textbook. Every call that went against the home team was a bad one.

At one point a Rider player was trapped along the sideline by a couple of players. Suddenly, a Canisius player went flying. The problem was that none of the officials actually saw the contact, but they realized something had happened. At the next whistle, they walked over to a television monitor while my friends were yelling things like "You idiot!" The officials saw an elbow had been thrown by the Rider player, assessed a technical foul, and moved on with the game.

Whenever I'm around these people, who in theory are relatively mature adults, I wonder about them. Do they come from dead-end jobs in which they never have a chance to talk back to authority? Are they ex-basketball players who didn't play enough and are frustrated by that fact? Does sitting in some sort of crowd give them the chance to revert to the behavior of 12-year-olds? Is there any other authority figure or public office-holder who they would call an "idiot" during a chance meeting? (Now, I can think of a few who might deserve that title, but you'd show them a little respect during an actual meeting.)

I can appreciate their passion, and I know they are part of the landscape of the sport. Still, their puzzling behavior remains a constant of my basketball-watching life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Arizona shootings

Saturday's shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and several others is one of those terrible moments that is just difficult to process. There is so much going on, so much passing through my thought processes that it's difficult to put observations together -- not now, and maybe not ever.

We start, of course, with the basics. This, by all accounts, was a lone, crazed man. I'm not blaming anyone or anything else for this action. But it does tie in to the current national conversation on a number of issues. So a few thoughts...

* One point that hasn't received a great deal of coverage is that the fact that a couple of news television outlets and at least one radio network reported that Rep. Giffords had died. What's worse than that in my business? I imagine the pressure to be first among the all-news channels is overwhelming. It's good to remember that it's better to be right.

* Speaking of confusion, the descriptions of the political views of the assassin were all over the map. I saw one report that had one high school classmate call him something of a liberal who was no supporter of government, while others moved him way right. I'm found of reminding people that the political spectrum is more of a circle than a line, that it's not much of a jump from the far left to the far right and vice-versa. But who's to say where this guy fit?

* The fact that Giffords was one of the targeted Congressional districts by Sarah Palin -- targeted by a map with crosshairs -- is a coincidence. No one, but no one, is associating Palin with this violent action. But ... she was wrong to use such a violent symbol then, and it remains indefensible. And to the person on Palin's staff who tried to claim it was just a surveyor's symbol, you aren't helping the discussion one bit. Sigh.

* And finally, Rush Limbaugh maintained his standing in the controversy business with this quote: "In continuing this template and narrative that the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, that talk radio and Fox News, are inspiring violence, they forget that, in the process of so doing, they are attacking what is now a majority of America."
Um, um, has the majority ever been wrong in this country? Well, OK, maybe on civil rights, Vietnam, and a few dozen other things. Meanwhile, Glenn Beck happened to post a message attacking all violence ... just to the right of a picture of him holding a gun. How do you spell mixed message?

Jon Stewart's message at his rally remains true: We need to learn to talk to each other.

Friday, January 07, 2011

End of the season blues

The National Football League season isn't over in general -- the playoffs start Saturday -- but it sure is in Buffalo. You probably could argue that it ended two weeks ago.

And you've never seen a season end with more of a whimper than this one.

The Bills finished 4-12 this season, missing the playoffs once again as they have throughout this century. They lost their first eight games, won four of their next six, and then were the subject of a pair of beatdowns (it's a silly word, I know, but it fits) against the Patriots and Jets. Yes, the Bills had about run out of players by then and were recruiting wide receivers from pickup games, but it was still tough to watch. So it's 4-12 and the third overall draft choice for the locals.

My usual line of thinking is that sports teams go into seasons with several questions that need to be answered, and the season provides the answers. What have we learned?

* The coaching staff eventually made the right decision on quarterbacks. You could argue that it took a little too long to figure Trent Edwards wasn't the answer, but that's an easy second-guess. Ryan Fitzpatrick will never be great, but he was at least OK at times.

* The selection of C.J. Spiller looks a bit worse in hindsight, although no one should give up him. Clearly the Bills had bigger needs than a running back, even though the team probably figured (correctly) that Marshawn Lynch had worn out his welcome. Just as clearly, Spiller showed flashes of great ability. Even so, it would have been nice to get a clear starter and impact player with that first-round pick and some were taken after Spiller was picked.

* Two coaching staffs have decided that Aaron Maybin just can't play in the NFL. I hope he's not cut anytime soon, though, as he's a convenient target for Five Spot lines at work. I guess John McCargo is in the same class.

* The conventional wisdom about the Bills entering the season was that they didn't have much talent. I didn't see anything to change anyone's mind. Is there anyone on the roster who might rank in the top 100 of NFL players? Lee Evans hasn't played at that level for a while, although he sure doesn't have much help.

* Is it too much to ask to see a second-, third- or fourth-round pick come through in a big way once? In other words, Torell Troup, Alex Carrington and Marcus Easley still look like projects a year into their careers. (To be fair, Buffalo did do better with second-rounders last season.)

* And just who is in charge of scouting tight ends, anyway?

The rebuilding process is not going to be a short one, and considering the possibility of a lockout in 2011 and the Bills' stadium lease expiring after the 2012 season, time doesn't seem to be on anyone's side.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hall of a day

It's always a great day when the Hall of Fame inductees are announced in any sport. This was such a day, as the voting in baseball was announced. Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar made it over the 75 percent voting threshold, and will see their names placed in Cooperstown in the summer.

Baseball seems to take these things a bit more seriously than the other sports, at least in terms of the fan base. With, essentially, 24 positions to consider (11 offense, 11 defense, two kickers), football probably could select 10 guys a year without anyone noticing a lack of quality in the picks. Basketball's shrine in Springfield doesn't differentiate by level, so a great college player can get in even if he or she wasn't a star pro. Bill Bradley strikes me as a good example of that, but there are others. Hockey standards traditionally have been lower and odder than the other sports, meaning I'm still trying to figure how Dick Duff got in, but at least the bar has been raised in the last decade.

The baseball picks are always scrutinized thoroughly though; it's a great way to spend time after New Year's while killing time until pitchers and catchers report. I always thought the best formula for picking a Hall of Famer is the simplest. Did you look at that player during and right after his career and say, "He's a Hall of Famer, without question"? If the answer is yes, he gets a vote. Albert Pujols has been a Hall of Famer since since his third month in the majors. He only needs to stay healthy. As Bill Parcells used to say, it's not the Hall of Pretty Good.

But we don't get many years where the decisions are so clear-cut, like in 1999 when we had George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount. The invisible line for inclusion is different for every voter, and does a little moving as the years go by.

For example, Blyleven received less than 20 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility. No one looked at him during his career and was ready to put him with Tom Seasver. However, he won close to 300 games, struck out a ton of batters, and played with a couple of champions. Longevity is a virtue for most, and Blyleven had that argument on his side. Eventually and finally, it proved decisive.

Some people believe that if someone is the best player in baseball at some point in his career, that should be good for strong Hall consideration. At least, that's the argument some give for Don Mattingly, who held that title briefly but who saw his career unravel due to a bad back. But if Mattingly goes in, then Dale Murphy has a pretty good argument too.

There's also the "least common denominator" theory of voting. It's the "well, if this guy is in, that guy should be in because that guy was about as good as this guy." Jim Hunter was 224-166. Luis Tiant was 229-172. Hunter is in, Tiant is out. Go figure. But if there's one bad pick, that lets in a few dozen other possibilities at the least.

And then there are the Steroid Boys, who no one seems too sure how to handle. It's easy to vote against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro now. But what to do with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were clearly headed toward Cooperstown before they allegedly started cheating?

If I had a vote in this discussion, I probably would have gone with Alomar, Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines. Lee Smith, Jack Morris and Edgar Martinez would have made me think for a while. But I'm like everyone else except for a few hundred writers -- I get to argue about it for the next 364 days.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Pick a side

One of the highlights of the holiday season for me is that I get to see some old friends in the suburbs. Being a city-dweller for some time, the trips come less frequently these days if you don't count shopping excursions.

And during holiday gatherings, either close or far from home, I was almost afraid to bring up anything politically oriented.

Because I knew the discussions could get heated. I'm not sure I could ever say that before.

Talk to city people, and I hear one side of a story. One person did a video slide project in which she took pictures of a collection of homes that house school children in Buffalo. Take my word for it, you'd think you were looking at, well, not quite Haiti, but maybe Mexico City. Would you like to spend a Buffalo winter in a house with gaps in the outside walls?

Talk to suburban people, and I hear another side of the story. I hear complaints about taxes, whether it be corporate or personal, and how wrong it is to keep adding to the burdens of the relatively wealthy.

The problem, of course, is that both sides have some truth to their argument. Some of the suburbanites here point to President Obama and claim he's taking us to socialism, while also pointing to County Executive Collins and claim that he's working hard to keep government spending in check. The city dwellers say Obama is more in tune with realities, while Collins only is concerned with not raising taxes at all while pushing his own vision by such moves as laying off the only people who can keep an eye on him, auditors in the comptroller's office -- and costing taxpayers money in the process as he unsuccessfully defends his illegal actions in court.

That leaves with with us vs. them, Republicans vs. Democrats, Fox vs. MSNBC, Red Sox vs. Yankees. The problem is that if we don't listen to how the other half lives, we'll never understand their position. It will always be us vs. them, and not just plain "we."

Guess what? We're all in this together.

It's an off-off-year for elections, which means there will be some significant local races. Can't wait to see how the political conversation turns out as we go through 2011. I smell some rage getting ready to boil over.

In the meantime, Happy New Year.