Tuesday, May 29, 2007

5,600 Furlongs from Baltimore -- New Article at Travelers Pen!

I went to Michigan two weeks ago for some shenanigans with old friends. As it constituted travel, I took the opportunity to publish the experience at Travelers Pen. http://travelerspen.com It's in two parts. The first went up Tuesday, Part II should be up shortly. Here's a taste. Comments welcome:

It’s me, Nicole, Sandy, Becky and Agent 27 (not his real name). We’re standing 4 stories above the track below, looking down at a crowd of a couple hundred people. The Voice of Great Lakes Downs is next to us, binoculars at the ready. Chrissy, easily spotted in her bright red suit and matching heels, waves up to us.

And they’re off! The Voice calls the race with stunning accuracy as the seven horses round the first turn en route to a 6 furlough sprint. For this, our last race of the day, we all went in on a boxed trifecta, on a tip from the Voice. If the voice is right, we’ll walk away with all the money we came in with.

The Voice is wrong. Very wrong. But at this point, we’re used to losing races. In all other aspects, we walk away winners.

Read the rest! click here: http://thetravelerspen.com/north-america/5-600-furlongs-from-baltimore-part-i-muskegon-mi.html?Itemid=58

Friday, May 25, 2007

Story of the Week -- May 21-25

Don't try to class up the State Fair

No Shirt? No Shoes? Problem. People walking around the NY State Fair in Syracuse this summer without a shirt or proper footwear will be asked to leave. They will also be prohibited from bringing in their own alcohol. And boy are these people pissed.

But that's not the really big news. The big news is, those pissed off people who desperately desire to prance half drunk and half naked through the fairgrounds -- they can read and write!

Well, sort of.

Poco777 says...
This is bull----. You are willing to let people wear the swim suit tops but they cant go shirtless. Hmmm lets think about this for a sec. The swim suits now a days you should just be naked.

forumrat says...I'm staying home this year and saving my $250.

Wait, $250? Seriously? The first time I went to the fair, I had $6 in my wallet after I paid the admission fee. I left the fairgrounds with $2 and I had a great time. Granted, I could have eaten more or drank more or played more games, but I would have had to try really hard to spend $250. That's a lot of sucker games and turkey legs on a stick. Maybe forumrat should be staying home for different reasons. Ok, on with the parade of annoyed shirtless fair goers.

Kathy1948 says...
Way to go NYS. First, you Capitalized of Cigarettes by having the highest tabacco taxes anywhere, then tell people when, where and how to smoke them. Now...people camping on the fairgrounds are not allowed to have alcohol in there RV's so you can capitalize on the sale of alcohol during the fair. Unbelievable. Shirts? Why? Woman dress half naked. Especially the young girls. That's why half the men go to the fair...to enjoy the view. Shoes, I can understand. You don't want injured people.

Speaks4all says...
Guess what,
I wont be going to the NYS Fair any more.
I have always enjoyed the fine family atmosphere and relaxation that has existed there. With this last salvo taking away carry-ins and the must be wearing a shirt. (How moronic) decision.

carrie7877 says...
I hate to say it but these post are starting to stereotype people. Im not a redneck nor intend on being one but is this what people are pointing at. I hate to say it but rednecks are people to and they desirve a chance at the fair even if there not in there Armie Suits.

What kind of suits are we wearing?

As Jason, who found this story to begin with, once said while at the state fair "This is the place where all the farting women in the world gather." Part of the attraction of the State Fair is the clientele. And so in a backwards, twisted way, I agree with the angered illiterates. Only at the State Fair will you find someone willing to walk around barefoot in the filth of the State Fair. Only at the State Fair will you pass by a shirtless, beer gutted, hairy-backed man with a PBR in one hand and marvel at his even-less-attractive wife. Only at the state fair will you see a Chinese man giving $5 one-handed back massages with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth (note: it's not worth the $5) And only at the State Fair will you hear people refer to their "vacation" as the time they can leave behind the clothing and tow along the beer. I say let them have their fun.

Remember, Kathy1948 says half the men go to the fair to enjoy the view. I guess I must be one of those. And if I'm going to spend my $250 at the Fair, I better get the full view - farting women, beer guts, bare feet and all.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Story of the Week -- May 14-18

Good News!

ABC released its preliminary fall schedule this week as part of that hyper-optimistic time of year when Hollywood forces us all to get excited about shows that will be off the air by October (remember 6 Degrees? The Nine? Knights of Prosperity? Day Break? yeah, me neither.) Among the new offerings from ABC is that Grey's spinoff whose pilot was shoved down our throats in the middle of a terrible episode of Grey's itself, as well as Cavemen, a sitcom based on those Geico commercials with the easily-offended neanderthals.

According to ABC Entertainment chief, Cavemen's producers pitched a show that involved ""really taking a look, through this kind of odd lens, [at] the idea of racial relationships and minorities in this country. It gives you the ability to kind of offend everyone but offend no one, except for the cavemen themselves." So not only is ABC trying to squeeze an entire series out of a one trick pony TV commercial, they are also trying to pass it off as a groundbreaking show the likes of All in the Family.

Is the comedy genre so downtrodden that it's hanging it's future on a couple of cavepeople? Well, I don't think so, but ABC does. The network put the kibosh on one of its longer running sitcoms (The George Lopez Show) and it has another long-runner on death row (According to Jim) in favor of Cavemen as well as a male-bonding comedy called Carpoolers and another sitcom starring Christina Applegate. CBS and NBC have been way ahead in the comedy department lately, with How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men going strong for The Eye, and The Office and 30 Rock anchoring a Thursday night comeback for The Peacock. 30 Rock is one of a few shows that stuck around from last year's rollout of new shows, a success story that all the networks claim to have ready to go for next year.

The hyper-optimism of the new tv season drives me crazy, and I can't imagine what it does to people who make these shows. There has to be a better way to find hits. Right now the failure rate is so ridiculously high that we are forced to get our hopes up over shows on an annual basis only to have them suck. And now ABC is telling us that Cavemen is going to be the next big thing.

That's not all, though. This new sitcom won't star the guys from the commercial. Those characters we've grown to love, felt for in those therapy sessions and at the airport and on fake tv news shows, we won't even be seeing them in the sitcom! Why not? They wanted too much money. You know, that's so typical of those freakin cave men, money grubbing bastards. Damn cavies, acting like they're so much better than we are. Well someone needs to put them in their place.

Maybe the show has untapped potential after all...I mean anything's better than The George Lopez Show, right?

Well, not according to George Lopez:

George Lopez fuming over
cancellation of his sitcom

Associated Press - May 15, 2007

George Lopez is losing his sitcom -- and
as a result, he says "TV just became really, really white

ABC canceled "George Lopez" after five seasons. He says the network told
him it would lose money if the show was renewed. But Lopez tells the Los Angeles
Times that his show did better than some of the series that were renewed.

He's especially peeved that a sitcom starring the cavemen from the Geico
commercials was picked up. He asks why a "Chicano can't be on TV, but a caveman

Lopez says to have his sitcom canceled "unceremoniously like this
However, his show will live on in syndication.

Silly George Lopez, your show wasn't cancelled because you're Chicano. Your show was cancelled because your show sucks and nobody watches it.

There is good news, though...

ABC just saved 15% on car insurance by switching to Geico!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Story of the Week - May 7-11

Hey Kids! Drink milk, study hard...and engage in violent acts of resistance against your Israeli neighbors and America!

Where are Al Sharpton and his outrage brigade when you need them? (Oh right, they're busy doing damage control after Al made insensitive comments about Mitt Romney's religious beliefs.) This one's right up his alley, or it should be.

A children's show produced by Hamas and aired on Palestinian TV called "Tomorrow's Pioneers" made headlines this week. The star of the show is Farfour, a Mickey Mouse-esque character who tells kids to drink their milk and kill the Zionist oppressors (How can you murder Jews without strong bones?)

Early reports said the show was cancelled or at least changed in response to widespread outrage, but Hamas defied the Palestinian government's request and aired the show anyway. A translation of the episode of course reached YouTube. And as if the material weren't controversial enough, the translation of one line in particular brought further controversy.

Farfour says "We will annihilate the Jews" according to one translation. But another translation said Farfour was really saying "The Jews are killing us." This is just one small line that hardly stands out from all the other hateful, dangerous speech aimed at children, intended to recruit suicide bombers and incite violent resistance.

But the conflicting translations struck me. Which is worse? Which is potentially more dangerous? Which, if you had to choose, would you rather have Palestinian children hear?

Right, neither. But for the sake of the discussion, let's explore.

"Annihilate" is a word I associate with Holocaust literature and sports writing. In the case of the Holocaust, it is used to try to quantify an incomprehensible number of lives lost. Also, it best describes Hitler's intention - he didn't just want to kill as many Jews as possible, he wanted to kill them all, to wipe them out. That is an annihilation.

In the case of sports, the word is hyperbole. The Red Sox annihilated the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series because the Cards lost all four games convincingly and never really had a chance to win the series. It was completely one-sided. It was an annihilation.

For Farfour, the usage of Annihilation feels like a combination of both connotations. The prospect of annihilating Israel is consistent with the grandiosity of many of the statements made in "Tomorrow's Pioneers," particularly those that preach a dominance of the Arabic language and global domination by Muslims. Scary as all that sounds, especially when you consider the audience of Palestinian children, it is mostly rhetoric. How are these kids, who hardly have food and electricity and are armed with rickety leftover Soviet rockets, supposed to annihilate anything?

That's why I think the second translation is far scarier. "The Jews are killing us" is the real propaganda and it can be very dangerous. Farfour the fake Mickey Mouse is telling these kids that they must kill or be killed, inciting a level of violence that is attainable for "Tomorrow's Pioneers." Instead of a grand fantasy of world conquest, "the Jews are killing us" is believable, and resistance is possible.

There is one bit of encouragement that comes out of this story. The Palestinian government attempted to block the airing of "Tomorrow's Pioneers" and edit the content so that it stressed the "drink milk, study hard" and pulled back on the "kill all the Jews." There is at least a faction of the Palestinian people that wants its youth to believe in peace in the region and wants to give them hope of growing up to do something other than blow themselves up in a crowded market.

Peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and in the entire region for that matter, is incredibly complex. But instilling messages of tolerance and hope in the youngest members of the population could be a vital first step. With the right messages, the title "Tomorrow's Pioneers" could go from being sadistic irony to possible optimism.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Story of the Week -- April 30-May 4

Heckuva Job, Marty

After a 9-14 April in which they used starter Andy Pettite as a relief pitcher twice, got swept out of Fenway Park and Tropicana Field and found themselves in last place in the American League East, the New York Yankees were in desperate need of a win. They sent their young prize rookie pitcher, Phil Hughes, to the mound at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, TX. Hughes proceeded to toss 6 2/3 no-hit innings, then he popped a hamstring, came out of the game and went straight to the disabled list, becoming the 4th Yankee this season to hit the DL with a hamstring injury.

The Yankees won big anyway, their 10th win of the season. They were the third-to-last team to get its 10th win, just ahead of the Kansas City Royals and the Washington Nationals (who still haven't gotten their 10th win).

When the Yankees are playing like this, Yankee fans panic. It's the end of the world if the Yanks have a bad April, and somebody has to get fired. (Their owner feels the same way)

Often the first guy to go in these situations is the hitting coach. But you can't fire a Yankee icon like Don Mattingly, and besides, the Yankees' hitting is fine. So they could fire the pitching coach, but Ron Guidry is also a Yankee Icon. They could fire Billy Martin again, but he's dead.

They could fire Joe Torre himself if they really want to shake things up, but that's hardly a way to treat a manager who's won 4 World Series, 6 AL Championships and won the American League East in each of the 11 seasons he's been at the helm. Also, who would replace him mid-season and do any better? After all, he didn't put the team together.

Oh, so they could fire Brian Cashman. He put the team together. He brought in Carl Pavano and Kyle Farnsworth and the rest of the abysmal, injury prone pitching staff. He decided not to spend the money on Barry Zito, after years of overpaying players and not winning World Series. But would firing the general manager really change anything in April?

Probably not. The Yankees needed a real shake-up, a firing that would really make people feel like no job is safe in The Bronx. So on Monday, after that bittersweet 10-1 win that sent Phil Hughes to the Disabled List, Brian Cashman brought the axe down on Marty Miller.

NO!! Not Marty Miller! Anyone but the Director of Performance Enhancement! (you know, that guy, he sits right next to the Assistant to the Traveling Secretary) Here's what we know about the guy who took the blame for the Yankees' awful April - he's 34, was hired this past spring, he's a lifelong Yankee fan, and this was his first major league job. His only other job in baseball was as a minor league trainer in the Montreal Expos system from 1995-1997. Since then, he had been working as fitness director of the Ballen Isles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, and before that he was a trainer for Arabian Horses in Dubai.

Ok, I made that last part up. But seriously, how did that guy get this job in the first place? Was Brian Cashman channeling George W Bush? A guy with no Major League experience is brought in to work with guys like Mike Mussina, Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter (and all those other schmucks they have)? And what the hell does being a lifelong Yankee fan have to do with anything? I'm a lifelong Mets fan, but I'm not about to start telling Jose Reyes how to run. Fans don't belong in the clubhouse.

Joe Torre said it best: "The knowledge that Marty had was impressive. Now, does that mean he knew a lot about the body as it related to baseball? That's what we don't know." Torre makes it sound like Marty got the job through the Make-a-Wish foundation. Or, you know, Presidential appointment.

If you can somehow get past why Marty Miller was hired as Director of Performance Enhancement (which should have been Greg Anderson's title when he was working for Barry Bonds - had to get that one in somehow), then why exactly was he fired? Derek Jeter has his own trainer, so do a bunch of the Yankees, and those guys didn't conform to Marty's new workout program. According to the New York Times, some veterans just "tuned him out," even more so when the injuries started. In April, the Yankees led the league in hamstring injuries, with 4. 3 of those were to starting pitchers. But if they get Mussina, Wang and Hughes back, are they guaranteed to win?

Sometimes it just takes a little reactionary something to get a team back on track. So the Yanks brought back their little stretchy rubber band things and some weight machine they all liked, and they fired some guy half of them didn't even know and most of them ignored. I guess it didn't matter who, but somebody had to go.

So far it's working: The Yankees are 2-0 since they fired Marty, and they've climbed past Baltimore and into first place. It's working!

Then again, they were playing the Texas Rangers, whose former owner is George Bush, so that team must be crawling with people even less qualified than Marty Miller.

"Excuse me, Ms. Miers, my quad's a little tender..."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Story of the Week -- April 23-27

Anatomy of a Day Off

I'm a little off. It's Tuesday now, and I'm back at work after 5 days off (7 if you include the weekend.) It's the longest stretch of days off I've had since I was in Israel. If you remember, I got home from that trip and proceeded to report everything I did. I'll spare you that this time. For the most part.

Because I was away, and because not much was going on, and because I'm tired of writing about horrible tragedies, I didn't really have a good story of the week. But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's all part of my Friday.

Though Friday is my fourth day off in a row, it's the first of the four that I plan to spend almost entirely at home. The other days I've been busy apartment searching, going to Met games or otherwise gallivanting in the city. But today is a full day off.

I wake up around 10, because I was out kind of late Thursday night in the city. I got home around 10:30 or so and then had to catch up on Grey's Anatomy. With May sweeps on the horizon, Grey's is becoming more like a daytime soap opera every day.

Speaking of daytime soap operas.....just kidding. Didn't watch any of those. I was up in time for The Price is Right, though. A day off favorite. It used to be you had to have a fever over 100 to be able to watch the Price is Right on a school day. Now you just need a spotty, inconsistent freelance job. With any luck, however, the end of my days as a freelancer will coincide with the end of old ladies kissing Bob Barker. This is Bob's last year on The Price is Right, truly the end of an era. Good of him to hang around long enough to break Richard Dawson's record, though.

Because I can't do just one thing at a time, I've also got my hands on the Friday New York Times Crossword, and a cup of coffee. This week's Friday puzzle is challenging but not impossible. I've gotten better and better at Fridays, mastering the art of staring at blank spaces long enough until something suddenly clicks. Also the art of turning an errant "H" into a correct "N" and other such alphabetical acrobatics.

Satisfied with 3/4 of the puzzle done, I moved on to phase 2 of the day - catching up on Sopranos and Entourage. Then I tried to write a blog about the whole Curt Schilling Bloody Sock story. In case you haven't heard, announcer Gary Thorne said Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli told him the sock that Curt Schilling wore and bloodied to pitch game 6 of the 2004 ALCS was really painted. I was going to examine why Red Sox fans are so protective of the legends behind their World Series win that year, and can't be satisfied and let the games speak for themselves. In other words, who cares? I clearly didn't care enough. So I stopped writing it and moved on to other things.

Like an hour or so of grading SAT Essays online for The Princeton Review (at a $1 each, at least I could feel like I was making a little money on the off day). These are 25-minute timed essays and are riddled with grammatical, spelling and fact errors, and the worst part of it all is I can't penalize these kids for any of them. And I don't understand why high school juniors don't know the difference between a play and a novel. Hamlet is not a novel. It's a play. And just because you read it out of a book doesn't make it a novel either. Novel is not another word for book. Also, The Raven is a poem (not a novel, not a short story), Nelson Mandela is not an African American, and that thing they hold in a courtroom is a T-R-I-A-L, not a TRAIL.

Rant over. It was 2pm, time for a shower, lunch and a trip to Walmart, Best Buy, and Sam's Club, the veritable triumvirate of consumer excess, to stock up on everything from shampoo to nuts. And bottled water. Etc. Next came a visit to Concordia to fix a light bulb and a cabinet hinge for my grandparents (and to drop off some of the nuts) and a quick stop for beer en route to my final destination - HD baseball, beer and Chinese food. The ultimate in lazy Friday evenings alone.

And before you know it it's time for bed.

What's that? You want your story of the week back? I'm working this Friday, I'll get you your story.