Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Welcome back

It's official -- Winnipeg is returning to the National Hockey League.

Manitoba's largest city is getting the Atlanta Thrashers next season. I'm not sure if that's progress for the NHL in terms of population, market size, etc. But I'm happy for the good citizens of Winnipeg.

The move sparks a couple of memories, since I went there once or twice while covering the Sabres.

I'll always remember Rick Dudley's speech about Winnipeg. Dudley played there at the end of his career. In fact, I think he wore #99 for the Jets.

When someone brought up Winnipeg, tales of cold weather followed. You think Minneapolis is cold? Winnipeg is 400 miles north of Minneapolis. When asked about the weather in Winnipeg, Dudley responded this way:

"The wind comes out of the Rockies. Then it sweeps through Calgary and out to the plains to the east in Alberta. The wind goes unchecked right throught the prairies of Saskatchewan. Then it heads into Manitoba. It makes a straight line for Winnipeg, and finally hits full strength at the corner of Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg."

When I flew into Winnipeg for the first time, we took a bus from our hotel to the Westin downtown. I got off the plane, looked up, and saw the street signs -- Portage and Main. I believe I had a parka to keep warm, but I never doubted Dudley again.

I also got one of the great colds of my life in Winnipeg. That's not an easy spot when trying to cover a team on the road. Luckily, there are indoor tunnels between many of the buildings downtown. I believe I loaded up on every cold medicine in the province. Then I got dressed for practice, watched the practice, came back to my hotel room, took a nap, wrote my story quickly, and went back to bed for the next several hours. I couldn't tell you much about the city life from that trip.

What do most people remember most about the Winnipeg Arena in the Jets' days? The picture of the Queen at one end of the building. I guess it's not there now, so I am certainly glad I went down to the ice to take a picture under the Queen's gaze. It's shown above. Thanks to Pete Weber, ace photographer, for taking the picture. I returned the favor.

The good citizens of Winnipeg certainly love their hockey, and they will love their new team. I hope the economics work out in their favor.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The worst case

Most people didn't mind when the federal government went charging after Barry Bonds for steroid use once upon a time. After all, Bonds didn't exactly go out of his way to be well-liked, and there were signs that he did lie to a grand jury -- which the federal government usually doesn't like.

And not many people complained loudly when Marion Jones lied about her steroid use. She eventually told the truth, gave back her Olympic medals, and went to jail. Jones was in track, and we tend to assume that many athletes there use illegal substances. It's damaged the sport's reputation, dating back to ... maybe Ben Johnson in Seoul in 1988.

But Lance Armstrong is different. At least, we want Lance to be different.

For those in a cave, Armstrong came back from cancer treatments to win the Tour de France ... not once, but seven times in a row. There's nothing more difficult than to win that event once, and seven times is super-human. Armstrong has been visible in the fight to get rid of cancer. He's been an inspiration to millions.

What's more, he's come through test after test over the years for illegal substances, while many other competitors in the same era flunked. Cycling became a cesspool over the past several years, as the chemists stayed ahead of authorities for the most part.

Armstrong's story is so compeling that we can't help but watch as it appears to be unraveling several years after the fact. Teammates have been giving very detailed accounts of how Armstrong beat the system when he was racing, and it's not as if there was much incentive to do so. I mean, who reads cycling books not written by Lance Armstrong?

We've seen this drama before, several times, and we have an idea about how it may come out. We've seen athletes lie about drug use, and then finally have the tearful news conference when all is revealed. We're waiting for this to happen to Roger Clemens.

But, we're not waiting for this to happen to Armstrong. If it comes, it will be one of the saddest stories imaginable. It's a bit troubling to see the federal government spend piles of money on a decade-old case, but we can almost see the ending down the train tracks. Almost.

But an unhappy finish seems inevitable, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Good samaritan

It's not easy being a nice guy sometimes.

The other day I parked my car in a downtown ramp. As I entered the stairwell, I looked down and noticed that there was a wallet on the group as well as some surrounding paper, such as a Subway and Dunkin' Donuts card. But one other item did catch my eye -- a passport card.

Rather obviously, someone had made a robbery, taken the valuables out of the wallet like money, and discarded it. But the passport card has some value, having just spent money to get one. So ... what to do next?

I collected the stuff and put it in my car. My first step was to call the parking ramp authority. Since it was Saturday, I got a recording and was asked to leave a message. Oh well.

When I got home, I called the police and explained the situation. The woman who answered suggested that I go to the post office because they deal with passports. That didn't seem to be much help.

Luckily, we have a database for practically everyone in Western New York through our office computer. So I called the news room, and asked someone to look up the person's name from the passport card. We got a match, so now I had an address and phone number.

But what next? The consequences of follow-up actions are hard to follow. Will I be accused of actually doing the robbery if I call her directly? Should I suggest a meeting somewhere ... and if so, where? A neutral site?

Finally, I called a policeman across our street and told him the situation. He said for me to give him the wallet, passport, etc., and he'd take care of the rest.

"When we recover stuff like this, it's usually difficult to figure out where it should go. But you've done the hard part for us," he said.

I felt like Deputy Barney Fife, helping an innocent victim.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Game Six

I think I wrote last year about stumbling on Game Six from the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals between the Sabres and Flyers on television. CBC shows long highlights of games that clinch Cups late Sunday nights.

Last week, CBC was at it again. Game Six, Buffalo vs. Dallas.

I believe they had a two-hour gap for highlights, and since the game went into the sixth period there was no way to get everything in. Besides, I missed the first half-hour, which in this case was the first two periods.

But a few things jumped out at me from a Buffalo perspective:

* Michael Peca sure was hitting everything that moved that night.

* Tie score, less than a minute to go in regulation time, and a faceoff in the Sabres' end. Who did Lindy Ruff send out? Wayne Primeau, Eric Rasmussen and Randy Cunneyworth, which was the fourth line. He either had a lot of faith in that group, or thought that Primeau was his best chance to win the faceoff.

* Alexei Zhitnik and Richard Smehlik must have slept for a week after that game.

* The Sabres just didn't have much offensive push in the last few periods; there weren't many players who could create much against Dallas -- especially as the game went on and on.

* The Stars had the Sabres running around for close to a minute leading up to the game-winning goal. You could see bad things happening from a Buffalo perspective. And Brett Hull (who was wearing number 22; I forgot that) did a good job of dodging Brian Holzinger in front of the net. But still...

* As the rules were written at the time, I don't think it was a goal.

There's probably a book to be written on that game and how everyone reacted. At least the title is done.

"No goal."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Everyone loves Big Papi

Great stuff from mlb.com:

Friday, May 13, 2011

The silly season

In golf, there is a time of the year from November to December in which the golf tour essentially shuts down. To give golfers something to do -- what are they going to do with their spare time, play golf? -- some special small tournaments are thrown together, in some cases with television in mind. It's called "the silly season," as no one pays attention but the checks are usually still good.

The concept applies to politics too.

Here in Western New York, we are in the midst of a special election. You might have heard of Chris Lee, the Congressman who went trolling for women on the Internet despite his married status, complete with a picture of himself without a shirt. Chris resigned in short order and has been rather, um, secluded since that incident. Can't imagine why.

Lee's district was heavily Republican. It's also a candidate to be eliminated in 2012, when the reapportionment comes along. Still, it's a seat in Congress, and there are only 435 of them are open. The Republicans have nominated Jane Corwin, a former businesswoman who has been in state politics. The Democrats countered with Kathy Hochul, who works for the county. Meanwhile, local businessman Jack Davis, who has run for Congress on various party lines before and lost, decided to try again for this one. When he couldn't get the endorsement of either party -- he's not exactly fussy -- he's collected enough signatures to run with the Tea Party, even though Tea Party leaders (note: possible contradiction in terms there) want nothing to do with him.

This should be an easy win for Corwin, based on registration numbers, but Davis has a populist message that carries well in some circles. That has thrown things into something of a toss-up.

The fun part is that there are several big shots in political circles who usually do their best work in the fall. An open seat to May is found money, to them and to television stations who have been running ads. The experts come in and tell the candidates what to do and say, even though sometimes it has little bearing in reality. Both of them follow the party themes and make pledges on what they'd do, as if the person who is at the absolute bottom end of the seniority system will be able to make a big difference in Medicare reform and the budget deficit.

When it comes to odd moments so far in the campaign, Corwin is pretty clearly in the lead. Corwin has attacked Hochul for being a -- gasp! -- career politician. I never understood what the problem with that was, if that person is good at the job. I'm a career journalist; should I make way so that someone who hates newspapers should take over now? Corwin also put on an ad with sound bites of her former employees saying how they'd vote for her. "Jane Corwin hired me and fed my family for 20 years, but I'm voting for someone else." Yeah, right.

Today some direct literature for Corwin came in the mail. She claims that "hundreds of big labor and downstate liberal special interest workers are being bused in by the Hochul campaign." Really? Remind me to buy Trailways stock, or prove it. And "Millionaire Democrat Jack Davis is paying temps to do his campaign work." Funny how being a Millionaire is bad news, even though Corwin certain qualifies too based on how much she has given to her own campaigns.

The other two aren't much better. Hochul has criticized Corwin for being part of the Albany gang that hasn't done too well with state government, even though Corwin hasn't been there long enough to know where Central Ave. is. Davis keeps supporting tariffs to protect jobs, even though any person who walked through an economics class in a college will remind you that trade restrictions only inhibit economic activity and are thus generally bad.

The funny thing is that Corwin and Hochul probably are pretty good candidates. You'd just like them to be a little less programmed in order so that voters can see what they are getting.

The election is May 24. Makes me wish May 25 was here already.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Still horrible

Remember in the dark ages of the Internet, when most people had America Online? AOL was popular because it was big, so everyone signed up, and it had a lot of exclusive, "off-line" content which was valuable before the Internet became such a huge storehouse of information.

AOL got smacked when the rules changed on line, and all that was necessary was to get on to the World Wide Web. In addition, AOL was closely associated with busy signals for dial-up accounts, and with difficulties in trying to leave the service. There are recorded phone calls out there in which people tried to cancel their accounts, and 20 minutes later "customer service representates" were still yelling at consumers for trying to cancel.

"My grandmother died last week and I don't think she needs the account any more."

"No, wait, don't do anything rash. Are you sure you want to cancel?"

We were a little late to the party, but we cancelled AOL a few years ago. The instructions at the time said we'd maintain a free AIM mail account (same thing), but that it would go dead if it hadn't been used in six months. OK. After looking around at the AOL web site, fully cancelling service seemed difficult, so I let it go.

Fast forward to a while ago, when my wife's friends started to receive e-mails from the AOL address book, saying she was stuck in England and needed money sent to an address right away in order to fly home. Jody may have been to London, Ontario, but she hasn't been to London, England. In other words, someone hacked into the old address book. I went into the AOL accounts and found that they were still active, in spite of the six month claim. Sigh. So I took out the addresses.

But trying to figure out how to cancel the account completely is difficult. A search of the website proved rather fruitless. Then, I searched Google. Some company offered to clean it out for $10. I guess that shows you how bad AOL is if you need to hire someone to figure out how to do it. Another search engine had a fax number -- but that number had been disconnected. I finally found another fax number, in which I had to send my name, address, phone number and screen names and ask to be deleted. The fax, at least, went through. Action was promised within 10 days. We'll see.

Which leaves me with one question: Is this any way to run a business?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Not like the old days

Ever wonder what a newspaper office is like when a really big story breaks?

It's actually pretty quiet.

I worked in the office Sunday night, and I felt pretty old when I described what would happen when something big would happen when I worked in radio.

First off, bells went off. The teletype machines would print out stories on actual paper. When a big enough story took place, we heard five or 10 bells. Sometimes we knew when a story was coming and sometimes we didn't, but we always looked to make sure what was going on ... and then turned off the alarm.

I still remember the day the Pope was shot. As you could imagine, there was lots of activity in the WEBR building that day. We had the Associated Press Radio feed on the air, which was piped all over the building, and suddenly the announcer said that a woman who had been wounded in the assassination attempt was from ... Buffalo. Our news director at the time, a man not known for his speed, moments later sprinted to the newsroom from his office. If he had run that fast in softball games, we would have won some more games.

Here in 2011, it's different. The wires are on computer feeds, so there are no bells. We saw a note shortly after 10 that President Obama was going to make a major speech shortly after 10:30 p.m., but we didn't have any idea what it was at the time. But CNN was hinting that this was going to be big, big news. There was discussion around the office, but it really only affected a few of us (none in sports, naturally).

At some point the decision was made to cancel the Niagara edition, which goes off at 10:45 p.m. We didn't think it was a good idea to sell a paper without the big news of the day in it if we could help it. By 11, the word had come that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. The speech came later in the hour.

Since the story comes from the Associated Press, it was just a matter of reworking the layout. While there are some journalism decisions to make in such cases, the actual reworking is a matter of moving shapes around a computer screen. You'd be surprised at how fast we can get that ready, and how the heart does race a little bit in such circumstances.

By the way, when CNN was speculating about 10:20, it said it was a national security story but had nothing to do with Libya. What, we wondered, would be worth a late Sunday night speech by the President. I said, "Catching Bin Laden would qualify." Lucky guess.

Let's hope Bin Laden was severely disappointed when he reached the after-life.