Friday, December 18, 2009

It isn't Yoo-Hoo

My father is quite fond of Jean Shepherd. We used to listen to him on the radio and later watch his show, Jean Shepherd's America. To this day, his voice is as familiar to me as any member of my family's. And one Shepherd bit has stuck with me for years - his ode to beer. It's funny because my father dislikes beer and so at the time I saw this, I would have disapproved of beer - it wasn't until many years later that I grew into my current obsession. But still, hearing Shepherd's voice over pictures of vats of frothy beer worked a hypnotic magic on me.

This is a great old clip - Shepherd really gets cranking in his patented style around 4 minutes in, when he hoists a glass himself and recalls his father's love of beer.

"This isn't just a drink," he said. "It isn't Yoo-Hoo. This is beer."

"When you look at that glass of beer," shepherd concludes, "you're looking at life itself. The mother of us all: Beer."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

There but for the grace of God...

Regret the Error is out with its annual Corrections of the Year list, which is always hilarious, though I have to post my usual disclaimer: I only laugh up to a point, 'cause God knows I have published my share of howlers. Epicaricacy is not an emotion journalists should indulge in too gleefully.

The corrections list isn't quite as funny this year, I find - in fact, some of them are just pathetic (like the endless series of corrections the New York Times had to run on the now-infamous Walter Cronkite tribute article).

But there are a few I enjoyed a lot and my favorites are both geographic:

Best Geographical Error

The Justice (New York University):

The original article provided the incorrect location of New York University’s new institution. It is in Abu Dhabi, not Abu Ghraib.

Runner Up

Canadian Press:

The Canadian Press moved a story April 3 that erroneously reported The Wilkins Ice Shelf was originally part of Jamaica. In fact the Ice Shelf, located on the western side of the Antarctic was originally the size of Jamaica.

I am knocking on wood.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Do bears really do that in the woods?

A hilarious send up of the pompous old Coors commercial that ran until a few years ago. This version is by Breckenridge Brewing. I am not wildly fond of Breckenridge, but they get points for a fabulous commercial:

Breckenridge Brewery - Lucky U IPA

Oh, and it is a lovely visual of where I'll be moving if I can sell this house of mine in Philly.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Washington Post TV Columnist Lisa de Moraes has a wonderful column this morning about the now infamous White House Party Crashers and their inane statements and TV appearances so far (Jezebel has a really good rundown on this for those who haven't had enough). Lisa managed to pull off one of my favorite all time bits of attribution for a quote, in discussing how Michaele Salahi keeps saying the publicity has ruined her life:

"It's been really unbearable to go through," she wailed from the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, where she had arrived nearly two hours earlier so people could put on her perfect makeup and dress her spectacular hair.

"Our lives have been destroyed," she added blondly.

This reminds of one of my favorite bits of fiction writing, by New Yorker writer Ring Lardner, who wrote of a young man with his father, who obviously didn't know where he was going:

Are you lost daddy, I asked ten-

Shut up, he explained.

This space available

I got a number of positive responses from my post of yesterday, disclosing that I have never been compensated by anyone for any product plugs (Kraft Olde English Cheese is delicious, by the way). Several people offered to buy me a beer (Bear Republic products can't be beat). Even my old friend Charlie Puritano took time out from his busy schedule as a film-maker and part time Ninja to weigh in (PMG - look into it).

But sadly, I have yet to hear from my most lucrative potential client, Chrysler (buy a Jeep or I'll kick your ass. Seriously). You'd think they'd have a little gratitude since I have purchased not just one, but two Jeeps just this year.

Some day, I guess, I will learn how to monetize this Internet thing. Provided it isn't just a fad.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Full disclosure

The new Federal Trade Commission rules on blogger disclosure have finally put me in a very uncomfortable position. So today, the day the regulations become effective, I must finally come clean about my association with the many products and services that I have mentioned in my blog over the years.

I am not proud to admit this, but federal law and decency compels me.

The sad truth is that I got paid squat. Nothing. Not even a free paperclip. I have done all my fine work, written all my intricate and well-reasoned prose, for nothing. Nobody paid me a dime. Not that I wouldn't have been happy to accept a wee token. Free Beer? Yep. Money? Damned right. Even a little pat on the back and a few kind words from some ruthless running dog of capitalism would have been nice.

But nothing.

Thanks, FTC, for making me admit publicly that my work is worthless.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

From the mouths of babes

My six-year-old son Colin has this friend who, for reasons that will become obvious, I will call Jack.

See, "Friend" would be an overstatement. Jack has a massive man-crush on Colin, hugs him, follows him around, hangs on his every word, generally moons over him. This has been going on since Pre-K and they are now in First Grade. Colin was at first puzzled, then annoyed by this attention. I keep trying to point out that Jack is a nice kid and Colin should put up with him since we all need all the friends we can get in life.

So at lunch today, Colin comes out with this:

"Jack is an idiot."

No, Colin, I say, Jack is a nice little boy.

"Jack is an idiot," Colin insists. "Jack is the king of idiots. If there was one idiot in the world, it would be Jack."

By which point, of course, I am struggling to keep a straight face.

Be nice, I say.

"When I tell Jack he's not my friend, he laughs - like this," says Colin, making donkey sounds.

I am laughing too hard to respond, causing people in the restaurant to turn and look at me.

"I learned in French that they have a special fancy word for idiot," Colin says. "It's Jack."

By which point I was forced to clear the tears from my eye.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Everyone's a critic

I once heard some old editor - maybe it was Ben Bradlee, but maybe it was some other crusty old cuss - say that, based on the letters he received over his career, he had concluded that there were three things that every man believes he is able to do better than every other man: Build a fire, make love to woman, and edit a newspaper.

And in this spirit, I must say this guy really got under my skin:

The News Behind the Story Between the Lines of the Meta-Narrative Surrounding the Nonevent

In fact, if this idiot thinks he can run my blog better than me, I say give it a try, Buddy. I quit. You run the place for a while.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


I got a number of interesting responses to my post of yesterday about meta-narratives.

The most interesting comes from Geode, AKA Joe, who brilliantly raised the argument to the next logical level:

It seems, though, that the media itself is caught in its own meta-narrative, which you rightfully capitalize: the narrative of Left Wing Bias. The most insidious thing about a meta-narrative is that once it gets rolling, any shred or tidbit that seems to support the 'story' is picked up and carried around, but anything that would tend to undercut it is 'not particularly newsworthy.' Ignoring the fact that the supporting snippets, taken on their own, aren't particularly newsworthy! They only get picked up for how they tie into the existing, ongoing serial."

And of course, he is correct, both about the mechanics of the phenomenon and the particulars about the "mainstream media." The entire argument that there is a Left Wing Bias in the media is a meta-narrative in itself, and not one confined entirely to conservatives. Every blip, every inconsistency, and every human failing on the part of journalists is now examined at length and held up as proof that there is in fact such a bias, despite the fact that decisions in journalism rarely get made is such an organized fashion.

This points to an interesting aspect of the phenomenon, which is that meta-narratives, at least the ones that last, are not based on nothing, which is to say that they are not entirely fantasy. In every case I cited yesterday, there is at least a kernel of truth, or something that the victim of the meta-narrative did to provoke the story. Al Gore really did have a bad habit of making statements that sounded self-absorbed and boastful; George W. Bush really is incurious and sometimes says or things that make him appear shallow or ignorant; Sarah Palin really has made some statements that are jaw-droppingly vapid; Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy really did have unhealthy tastes for skirt-chasing, and in Teddy's case at least, alcohol.

And of course, the media really does have an occasional leftward bias for a lot of complicated reasons.

But in every case, the kernel of truth gets inflated and exaggerated to the point where it clings to reality by only the most tenuous thread. Unrelated stories about the person become colored inappropriately by that one aspect of his or her personality or past.

Why is this? In part, I think, it is a form of group-think. If someone is saying something that seems to run counter to the collective wisdom, it is usually easier to conclude that the one is wrong while the majority is right rather than the other way around. It is not an unreasonable presumption, but is also not always right - and it is sometimes dangerously wrong.

Another part, which is probably easy for outsiders to miss, is a technical aspect of journalism, and that is the need to frame a story, to add context and perspective. A story that only says who, what, when, and where is dull. The clincher to the story is usually "why." And, unfortunately, it is sometimes easier to fall back on an easy shorthand - Gore exaggerates, Clinton is a cad, Palin is a lightweight, Kennedy is a drunk - than dig deeper and look for the actual why. Sometimes the actual why is simply less interesting than the stereotype.

So what do we do about it? I am afraid that much of it is embedded in human nature, so it would be difficult to stamp out, particularly in highly competitive stories where lots of news organizations are focusing on a single person or issue. A few pitifully news organizations, particularly McClatchy, have a good record of resisting the herd's take on a big story (McClatchy's coverage in the run up to the Iraq war was superb). Underdog papers in the shadow of bigger competitors, like The Washington Times (where I worked for five years), do it sometimes since they are trying to define themselves in opposition to a larger paper that may be following the current meta-narrative, but that can be hit-or-miss. And certain individual reporters, such as Peter Baker of the New York Times and, formerly, the Washington Post and the Washington Times, seem to have a good instinct for spying the real story behind the clutter. Unfortunately, however, I am not sure how to institutionalize it across the media.

But as readers, there is always something we can do about it, and the answer is not revolutionary: question the common wisdom and, dare I say it, don't believe everything you read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Media bias

My old schoolmate Michael had an interesting observation on my "Letting the Story Obscure the Facts" post when it showed up over on Facebook.

Michael writes:
I have to disagree with your argument in the second to last paragraph. A McCain staffer sent a memo saying that McCain and a female lobbyist were spending a lot of one-on-one time together and it could be portrayed as him having an affair. Basically a "Heads-up" memo. The NY Times used that memo to run front-page stories for at least a week trying to imply McCain had had an affair. When John Edwards HAD A BABY with Ms Hunter (the story was broken by the National Enquirer?!) the NYTimes and most other mainstream media outlets ignored it for WEEKS until they just couldn't ignore it anymore, then they ran low-key puff-piece stories and buried it. They WILL bury a good story to advance a liberal agenda.

It is worth addressing because it is an argument I encounter often on this topic and it contains some elements of truth, or at least that could reasonably be construed to support the Left Wing Bias theory (which is not untrue precisely, just wildly exaggerated).

First, it is important to understand that the McCain story in the Times was a lousy bit of work, but I don't think it was a partisan question - it was just a garden variety stretch for a lead that failed miserably. As a journalist, I read that and understood what the authors were aiming for, but I also saw immediately that that they had completely blown any chance of making their point - which was that McCain was excessively cozy with a lobbyist despite the fact that he had spent years decrying the corrupting influenced of lobbyists - by allowing themselves to be seduced into playing up the unsubstantiated romantic angle. Obviously we can't tell what was in the minds of the authors and editors, but almost certainly it was an ill-advised structural decision rather than a partisan one.

But more importantly, the McCain-Edwards comparison falls apart because of the relative importance of the two characters - McCain was a serving senator, a presidential nominee, and the effective head of one of the two major political parties. And he has made a major issue of attacking the corrupting influence of money and lobbyists in Washington, so any entanglement with a lobbyist, whether romantic or not, is a matter of legitimate analysis (and that was actually the thrust of the Times piece, though they totally obscured the point with their stupid insistence of hinting at a romantic liaison). Edwards, by contrast, was a two-time failed political candidate who was out of public office for the foreseeable future. He was still a figure of interest to the public, of course, but his importance was far less, not even remotely comparable to McCain's. Couple that with the mistaken, but understandable, reluctance of major media to follow the National Enquirer and the picture becomes much more clear. Had Edwards been the nominee, or were he headed in that direction, when the story broke, I guarantee that the media play would have been entirely different (and this is why Democrats were so hurt and angry, probably, since Edwards' recklessness could have ruined the party had he been the nominee).

Unfortunately, the notion that the media has a sharp and deliberate leftward tilt is now so entrenched than a human failings and poor decisions, such as the one that afflicted the Times on their terrible McCain story, or the one that left mainstream news organizations trailing a supermarket tabloid, do begin to look like evidence of some dark conspiracy.

But that is reading far to much into the way the media works. The real answer is much more mundane, and that is that Edwards just wasn't as interesting a story, politically speaking, even if the tale had a bit of sex and hypocrisy in it. In 20 years in newsrooms of both a leftward and rightward orientation, I have never seen a decision made in the manner conservatives suggest. It just doesn't work that way, fortunately.

Letting the story obscure the facts

One of the several discussion groups I prowl has a lively debate over the intensive fact checking by the Associated Press on Sarah Palin's new book. Many of the more conservative posters seem to see this as yet another example of the media's clear Left Wing Bias.

It seems to me that there IS a clear bias in the media, but it is not particularly partisan. Instead, it is content related - the media is always biased toward a good story. And there is a little-understood dynamic in the press, particularly the national press corps, known as the "Meta-narrative." That is when a person or issue gets caught in some larger story, wherein every incremental development or any individual news piece becomes emblematic of some larger truth (whether that truth is strictly speaking true or not). For example, the notion that George H.W. Bush was out so out of touch that he didn't know what a grocery scanner was. Not true at all - it was a distortion of a rather geeky "Gee Whiz" comment he made once when trying to make small talk with a store clerk on a mishandled press event - but it became a dominant theme of the 1992 election.

Or that Al Gore exaggerated so much that he even claimed to have invented the Internet or have discovered Love Canal. Again, not true - an exaggeration of some ill-advised (but not entirely untrue) boasts he made at various events. But that becomes the overriding theme of the 2000 campaign. And George W. was struggling against his own meta-narrative that he was a dim bulb. Not true, of course, and based on the fact that he tends to mangle his words, particularly when he is fatigued (on the campaign trail he got worse as the day wore on to the point where his evening events were nearly unintelligible in parts).

Palin stumbled into the "serial liar" and "shallow" bits through the horrendous Katie Couric interviews and now she is stuck in her own awful meta-narrative. Every tiny blip becomes emblematic of the larger story that she is a clueless hick, a deer caught in the headlights. The closest analogy I can think of is the Gore campaign - by the end, reporters were fact-checking virtually every word he breathed, so we got idiotic story cycles about things like how much his mother REALLY spent on prescriptions for her dog. Had he published a book during the 2000 campaign, I have little doubt that it would have received a similarly thorough scrubbing as Palin's book, and every little irregularity would have been more fodder for the Serial Exaggerator label.

It is very difficult to break that kind of meta-narrative, as George W. can testify. Or Bill Clinton, who still gets smirking coverage from some publications any time he is within sneezing distance of a pretty woman. Or Ted Kennedy, who was portrayed as a womanizing drunk almost to the end of his days, although he had changed his ways years before. Gore is an interesting case, however. He managed to seize control of the story by dropping out of sight for a couple of years, changing his appearance (remember the beard? I doubt that was an accident, and if it was, it was a fortuitous one), and then reinventing himself as an environmental crusader. Whatever the weaknesses of his books and movies, he has created his own meta-narrative as a visionary environmentalist. It is one of the cleverest bits of media reinvention I have ever seen. There is a book in there somewhere for some enterprising media critic.

So I think criticisms of the media based purely on partisan politics largely miss the point of what's actually going on. It's indisputable that media organizations tend to skew left of center, but not even remotely as far as some conservatives would suggest. And reporters and editors will merrily abandon any shred of partisan bias for a crack at a good story, as the Gore campaign in 2000 shows. If partisanship were the dominant factor in the mainstream media, then Gore should have been the critical darling of the media in 2000, as he is today. But he wasn't at the time - the coverage he received was punishing and largely hostile.

Whether Palin can break her own meta-narrative - or whether she even wants to - will be an interesting thing to watch.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For gamer geeks of a certain age

You know who you are...

Music to buy food by

To the extent I ever thought about it, I always supposed that music in stores was intended to emphasize the mood to shop, to make you more willing to part with your cash.

But now I am forced to reevaluate this notion.

I was in my friendly neighborhood Superfresh the other day ("Your Supermarket of Choice!" Whatever the Hell that means) when I began tuning into to the music droning on over my head. Some inoffensive Billy Joel - "Captain Jack" specifically. Oh, sure, the content is a little heavy (an anti-heroin song, or whatever), but it is perfect, hypnotically bland music by which to buy groceries.

But then something weird happened. The next song featured a familiar buzz-saw guitar intro and the unmistakable mad howling laugh of the singer. I listened more closely.

Yes. "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne.

I wonder what retail consultant looked at the playlist and said "Yes, Sir,Ozzy Osbourne. THAT will make people in South Philly buy more bread and milk."

Hungry yet?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Isn't there an easier way

I read this with considerable curiority this morning:

Scientists create sexual tsunami

Even leaving aside the weird metaphor the headline writer chose, this is an odd article. To summarize, scientists bred a fruit fly that lacked the gene to produce a characteristic pheromone, and to their surprise found that it actually made the flies sexually irresistible to other fruit flies, including ones of the same gender. Even flies of other species were interested.

"Lacking these chemical signals eliminated barriers to mating," Prof Levine said.

This seems like a lot of trouble to get fruit flies all worked up. In the human world, we just get a couple of kegs of beer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Empire is Spells Back

Apparently even Imperial Stormtroopers have spelling homework.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Philadelphia

I think it is fair to say that I have a complicated relationship with Philadelphia. I came here five years ago, sort of by accident, intending to stay only about a year. Ever since, the whole family has been on near continuous alert that we might be leaving.

Fair to say that this makes it a bit difficult to settle in.

Well, now we have our actual ticket to ride - the high Rockies of Colorado. Clean air, space, mountains (snow). We love that part of the world, and have family out there, so we're excited. My wife is set to move out there in November; the boys and I will join her in a few months.

But I think I had expected to be more joyful on leaving. Certainly a couple of years ago I would have been celebrating wildly. Now, I am more equivocal. We've met a lot of good people here in Philadelphia. In fact, I would say everyone we have met has been friendly. God knows Philadelphians can be gruff (and incredibly rude behind the wheel), but by and large, this city turns out to consist of genuine, friendly people who are honestly delighted that you want to live here with them. That's refreshing, and not something I have ever experienced before in all the places I have lived.

And its a city that knows how to relax in a way I like - a hearty meal and a really good beer. This is, arguably, the best beer drinking city in the country. Even cities that might have an equal claim to the beer crown concede that Philly is one of the best. Sure, all the good times add an inch or two to the collective waistline (I cop to this myself), but I think it's good for the city's soul. I am going to miss being able to walk to a bar or restaurant and be reasonably sure of having a really nice experience.

Strangest of all, I have become a Phillies fan. I grew up in Washington, so Redskins run in my veins, but the Washington Senators left town when I was just five. I never had the chance to develop an emotional attachment to them, or any major league team (and don't give me the Orioles - they belong to Baltimore, not Washington. Asking a DC fan to embrace them is like watching a bunch of Phillies fans suddenly have to worship the Yankees. Not gonna happen). Because of my 'Skins background, I will probably never be able to fully embrace the Eagles (though I am more sympathetic now than I used to be), but it's been a really rewarding experience to come to know the Phillies and watch them. I feel like I am moving away from a new friend. It makes me sad.

There is a lot I won't miss - the crime, the corruption and incompetence, the taxes, the driving, the trash on the sidewalk, all those things Philadelphians learn to live with. But I am going to look back on my five years here with some affection.

Thanks Philly. Come see me in the mountains sometime.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fourty, Forty

Brother Geode rightly points out that I misspelled the word for 40 on my previous post. And I think this needs to be addressed.

I like "Fourty." Spelling it "Forty" just strikes me as weirdly sterile. It may be right, but I don't like it. "Fourty" is big and round an satisfying, like spelling the color "Grey" rather than "Gray." I certainly never condone, say, "Threety" for 30, or "Fivety" for 50, but I sure do hope that "Fourty" becomes a standard, acceptable spelling.

So I am not changing it, no matter what. Know why? This is my blog and I can spell things however the Hell I want. I can even say bad words on it if I want. But that would be tacky.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fourty things I have learned living in Philadelphia

1. Hoagies are a cuisine, perhaps an entire food group, unto themselves.

2. It is in fact possible to run an entire city on a volatile combination of inertia and corruption.

3. All mafia jokes aside, when you're in trouble, it's good to have friends among the South Philly Italians.

4. Mafia? There's no mafia. I don't know anything about that.

5. You know that cliché, "Streets so clean you could eat off them”? Whoever first said it was not in Philadelphia at the time.

6. Real Philadelphians never leave Philadelphia.

7. There is absolutely nothing to do at The Shore.

8. Nobody in Philadelphia vacations anywhere but The Shore.

9. No matter how hard they try, the Eagles will never be good enough for their fans.

10. New Jersey is an all together nicer state than anyone gives it credit for. The reverse is true of Delaware.

11. The stuff you get from the tap is pronounced "wudder."

12. You got a problem with that?

13. It may be spelled "Schuylkill," but it's pronounced "skoo-kul."

14. C-Y-N-W-Y-D is a perfectly acceptable way to spell "Kenwood."

15. Even in a town that is home to some of the best beer in the country, many people still drink Coors Light.

16. Even in a town that is home to some of the best beer in the country, many people think that Yuengling is the good stuff.

17. What do you get when you take Philadelphia and Pittsburgh out of Pennsylvania? Mississippi.*

18. Pennsylvania proves that there is at least one state in the Union that has a worse government structure than California.

19. New Jersey proves that there are at least two.

20. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

21. There is no point in using perfectly good road names like "Roosevelt Boulevard," and "I-476" when you can use Mapquest-defying colloquialisms like "The Boulevard," and "The Blue Route."

22. Mapquest often does not work well in Philadelphia.

23. Asking directions often does not work well in Philadelphia.

24. Even Philadelphians are confused by their crazy, poorly marked road system.

25. You got a problem with that?

26. Watch out, there's dog poop right in front of you on the sidewalk.

27. And there also. Sorry.

28. With a few exceptions, everything Billy Joel has ever written is hopeless crap.

29. With a few exceptions, everything that Bon Jovi sings is crap. But it's fun crap.

30. There are still radio stations that play the crap written by Bruce Hornsby.

31. The recycling collectors get to decide what they will take from the curb and what they will arbitrarily leave behind in a big messy heap.

32. The Liberty Bell has pretty much nothing to do with the American Revolution, or anything much to do with Liberty for that matter.

33. Oh, and the crack is actually kind of fake too.

34. The Park Service security around the Liberty Bell is tighter than TSA security at the Philadelphia Airport.

35. There are few airports in the country that suck more than the Philadelphia Airport.

36. Remember your luggage? Kiss it goodbye.

37. Buying alcoholic beverages in Pennsylvania is an Orwellian nightmare.

38. Owning a business in Philadelphia is a privilege. **

39. Philadelphians complain incessantly about their city. But you better say only nice things.

40. You got a problem with that?

* I say this, of course, merely for Ironic Effect and I mean no disrespect to my friends in Mississippi, which is obviously somewhat more sophisticated than the non-urban part of Pennsylvania, which even its residents refer to as "Pennsyltucky."

** If, of course, one believes the city government, which levies the unbelievably onerous "Business Privilege Tax," making Philadelphia the only city that taxes both gross revenue and net profit.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Just to put it in perspective

To give put some context on my previous post, consider this.

THAT guy somehow managed to convince THIS girl to go out with him:

Despite the fact that not only did he look like a giant hairball, he was driving THIS car:

The mind boggles.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Old times

Damn, I looked GOOD. No wonder girls were too intimidated to pay any attention to me back in 1986:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How we live today

A former federal prosecutor, George Parry, has an interesting Op-Ed in the Inquirer this morning, noting that Philadelphia has fallen on hard times indeed - even the Mob is moving out.

Up from a high of 80 members, the small but once-feared Mob is now down to a mere 10 or so guys on the street, with another 10 or so cooling their heels in prison. Far from being a triumph of police work, the author argues, it is a mark of how big a mess the city has become.

"It means that we have so little going for us that we can't even attract and keep a decent-sized organized-crime family. Things have deteriorated so badly that not even these bums want to live and commit crimes here."

Hooray for us.

Of course, on the up side, the Inquirer also reports that the top selling item at a local pet boutique chain is a woolly Michael Vick chew toy for your dog to nibble on while you watch the Eagles.

At least that's something.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My beer tried to kill me

I have a few cases of almost forgotten homebrewed beer in the basement and I figured I ought to fish some of it up before it loses any appeal. So this afternoon, I hefted up a partial case of a nice IPA I brewed last fall and set it down in front of the fridge. I leaned over to clear some space on a shelf. Then I heard a pop and felt a searing pain. I looked down and realized a bottle had exploded right between my legs, driving the neck and cap straight up into my undefended crotch.

Let me tell you, this hurt a very great deal. Perhaps more than a great deal.

I guess it beats a piece of glass in the eye, but I will be remembering this for a few days.

The only good news is that, based on the aroma of the exploded bottle, the hop character has held up pretty well over the last 10 months. As long as the remaining bottles don't blow up on me, I am in for a few reasonable glasses of beer.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fun with English

We were wandering through the wilds of Arizona recently when we happened upon a remote hotel and diner kind of place. The guests appeared to be mostly German and Japanese. One of the Japanese men was wearing a shirt that caught my eye. Under the logo for something called "The California Surfing Company" it said:

"Sports requires a balance of mind when practiced with patience, it's very pleasant. Surfing."

I don't recall seeing that one at the T-Shirt shops of Venice and Malibu.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The truth comes out

Apparently, my awful secret has been revealed. Much as I pose a humble American journalist, I am in fact the illegitimate child of a Russian drifter named Shemp and famous film actress and Princess Grace Kelly.

There. I said it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What a way to go

I have no idea if this little bit of code is accurate, but it is an amusing way to consider how to drink yourself to death. It suggests that I would need to down 26 bottles of delicious Mirror Pond Pale Ale by Deschutes in a three hour period to be sure of finishing the job:




Created by Bar Stools

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Truer words

I was cleaning up some old computer files this morning and ran across the remnant of a letter I wrote to a friend in 1996 (Yes, a real postal letter. Remember those?). In it, I relate how relatively quiet life was - I was getting ready to take an exciting new job, my wife was prospering at her job, we had gone to see old friends. And I opined that a quiet life is a good thing:

"Truth be told, I like it that way," my smug 28-year-old self wrote. "When you're very young, you think you want to spend every day tackling deep philosophical questions and saving the world. Get a little older and you realize that cold beer, color television (with a remote), and soft toilet paper are about all a man really needs on most days."

I really wish I had known how true this is. And how much truer it continues to get.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The one that got away

Comedy is, as Steve Martin observes, not pretty. An internal filter, while it may be an excellent social survival mechanism, is often death to perfectly good humor.

There is one straight line that I have always regretted passing up, a regret so deep that it has been slightly life altering.

Back several years ago, a friend typed a post on a discussion group, a post she called "A Purple Brassiere":

All my life, I have worn white, and beige, with the occasional black
for evening. Last shopping trip, I decided to chuck it all and go
PURPLE. It's bright, easter-egg purple. And I bought bright baby
blue just for fun too, but that doesn't have quite the same effect.

Ladies, let me tell you, it is amazing. No one can see it, of
course, with the type of stuff I wear (being 40 and saggy and all)
but I KNOW IT'S THERE. It has put a swagger in my step and a bounce
in my stride. I highly recommend it. I had me a red one once, but
it just made me feel slutty (not always a bad thing), but this
purple makes me feel marvelously . . . something. Can't find a
precise word. It's wonderful.

My immediate impulse was to write:

"Now you know what it's like to have a dick."

But of course I restrained myself. And I have regretted it often, 'cause that is some premium comedy right there. From that moment, I resolved to say whatever the hell that comes to my mind, consequences be damned. Sometimes I have regretted that too. And sometimes I cannot live up to such a high standard. But it is a noble aspiration.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On Having Children, Pt. 2

My older son today got an award on the last day of school - everyone in the whole school gets something, so some of the categories are distinctly weird.

But our credulity was strained to the limit when he reported the pin he received was for "Best Aggression." Not only would this be wildly out of character for my son, it seems like an utterly bizarre thing to reward outside the context of, say, football camp or the Marine Corps.

But then we figured out it was "best progression," based on his amazing progress in Math this year.

It makes a lot more sense, but I am strangely disappointed. "Best Aggression" is actually kind of a cool category, now that I think about it.

How cool would this be?

Usually, I am not fond of being injured, but I must say I am madly jealous of this little kid. How come I couldn't get hit by a space rock?

A 14-year old German boy was hit in the hand by a pea-sized meteorite that scared the bejeezus out of him and left a scar.

"When it hit me it knocked me flying and then was still going fast enough to bury itself into the road," Gerrit Blank said in a newspaper account. Astronomers have analyzed the object and conclude it was indeed a natural object from space, The Telegraph reports.


There are a handful of reports of homes and cars being struck by meteorites, and many cases of space rocks streaking to the surface and being found later.

But human strikes are rare. There are no known instances of humans being killed by space rocks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Maybe I have changed my mind

I normally don't like practical jokes. In part this because I am susceptible to them - for a professional cynic, I am a surprisingly trusting guy. And also I seem to have an extra empathy gene - even when the joke is not on me, I simply cannot stand to see other people embarrassed. I begin to squirm at the mere idea that someone is embarrassed. This is why I have a hard time watching prank shows or game shows that involve public humiliation. I feel their distress just as keenly as if it were happening to me.

Except that I really must admit that this is the best prank of all time and I laughed until it hurt. To quote from The Smoking Gun:

A telephone prankster posing as a sprinkler company employee caused havoc Saturday morning at an Arkansas Holiday Inn when he convinced an employee to set off the hotel's fire alarm, smash windows, shut down electricity, and break a sprinkler head that flooded the building lobby. The bizarre incident is detailed in a report prepared by the Conway Police Department, which, as seen below, photographed the aftermath of the June 6 incident. According to police, Holiday Inn employee Christina Bergmann was at the front desk early Saturday when a male caller "identified himself as an employee of Grennel Fire Sprinkler service." The man told Bergmann that there was a problem with the hotel's fire sprinklers and that she "needed to pull the fire alarm to reset them," cops reported. "Bergmann proceeded to pull the fire alarm at this point, causing the audible alarm." Bergmann, aided by a hotel guest, would subsequently follow a series of directions from the caller that would result in about $50,000 in damages to the hotel's windows, carpets and electrical system.

That is what humor is all about. Inspired.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Wow, my control panel tells me I have 200 POSTS on my blog!

Do I, like, get an award or a pizza party or something?



Saturday, June 06, 2009

On Having Children

Having kids means hearing strings of words that do not normally go together in regular conversation.

This evening, after depositing the children in bed later than I had intended, I heard a mighty cry from the bedroom. I stormed in, with my best Scary Dad stomp, to see what was up, and my youngest cried out "Evan was licking my pillow."

What in the Hell am I supposed to say to that?

The Jolly Jeep of Doom

Small things make me happy - a good beer, a beautiful sunset, a perfectly cooked meal, comfy shoes. You get the idea.

But sometimes really big things make me happy, like a gigantic green four door Jeep Wrangler.

So when it became clear that my 2000 BMW was becoming prohibitively expensive to keep running (Like $11,000 in maintenance in four years), I knew we had to act.

Behold the Jolly Jeep of Doom:

Now all I want to do all day is go drive around in my Jeep. Even grocery shopping is more fun in a Jeep.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Things I had forgotten about until today

Saw this posted on a local website I like and I was briefly transported back. Did we all ever look this young?

Things I did not know until today

There is a town in Kentucky called "Sugartit."

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I rarely read Nicholas Kristof columns, largely because I have a strict limit on the number of angry articles about Darfur I may read in a year (Just one. Thanks for reminding me of my impotence to cure man's inhumanity to man, Nick), but he has an interesting column today, which I read by accident at the gym:

Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal

Seems that your relative tendency to be a conservative is correlated with how likely you are to find something disgusting. At least, that's what some researchers at the University of Virginia say. And if it's happening at UVA, then I am inclined to believe it.

But still, I decided to take the survey myself (actually, it's a bunch of related surveys, and it took some time to complete them, but it's not like I have any actual paying work today, so what the Hell).

Your Morals survey

And, of course, it isn't as simple as Kristof suggests, but the results are fairly interesting. Turns out I am very slightly more prone to be disgusted than the average of people who have taken the survey, but mostly related to actually contaminated stuff - spoiled meat, spoiled milk, that kind of thing. Stuff that might be called merely "icky", like touching a dead body or seeing rats, doesn't bother me much at all. But I knew that already. I wonder to what extent my experience as a cook skews my responses - I think I am particularly sensitive to food that is bad simply because I have been exposed to food so intimately all my life and it is so important for me to be aware of the quality and condition of ingredients.

I wonder if cooks are more conservative. Maybe that's another survey.

There are a couple of oddball problems with the survey. For example, the "sacredness" survey tries to gauge how likely to are to violate some core principle for money by asking you how much it would take to do certain things, such as shoot an endangered animal or curse your parents. They call it the "what would you do for a million dollars" survey. The problem at least for me is that I am not terribly motivated by money (or I wouldn't be a journalist, obviously), so I answered either I'd do it for free or I would never do it for any price to every question. I mean, if someone wanted to actually pay me to flip off my professor, I'd be glad to take their cash, but I might very well do it free anyway just to see what happens. But at the same time, even a million dollars wouldn't induce me to cut off contact with my family for a year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The road not taken

Oh, how I wish I had been an ichthyologist. Not because I have any interest in fish - in fact, I usually find them disturbing and unpleasant, except when they are converted into Sushi or a well-timed Filet-o-Fish - but because it would be so cool to say "I am an ichthyologist."

Better yet, I want to be a "Freelance Ichthyologist."

That would make me happy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tasting Beer in the Future

Believe it or not, I actually managed to use this phrase in perfectly normal conversation recently. And it suddenly occurred to me that "Tasting Beer in the Future" would be an outrageously good name for an album or a novel.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Pubic humiliation

My favorite newspaper correction website, Regret the Error, has a lovely little piece this week on a lengthy correction in the Irish Times, lamenting that the letter L, "that slenderest and most treacherous of letter types," has somehow slipped from a key phrase, making the author appear to say that something was a matter of "pubic faith."

"This is a risk that serious newspapers, in which the word “public” will always feature prominently, run every day," the Times writes. "It wouldn’t be as big a problem if, for example, it was the ‘b’ that kept dropping out. But then we or the spellchecker would notice that. Whereas the lower-case “l” has a Judas-like ability to slip away unnoticed, with embarrassing results."

This happened to me once, as I have probably typed here somewhere before, when I wrote about a "poorly attended public hearing" in Greene County, Virginia. At least that's what I MEANT to type, except for that damned L.

The error slipped passed me, my editor, my publisher, and several other people who read the page as I was laying it out. It was only revealed the next day, when a local attorney called my editor and noted that "Had I known it was going to be a pubic hearing, I might have attended."

That is only slightly more embarrassing than the ad we ran in the same paper a year earlier in the annual Christmas special edition which wished us all "Peach on Earth."

Monday, April 20, 2009

An important milestone

There are many important milestones in life - reaching 16 so you can drive, reaching 21 so you can drink, getting married, having kids, buying a house, turning 30, turning 40 and so on.

These we can predict.

But once in a while, a milestone smacks you upside the head and you realize it was coming, but you never saw it approaching. Or, perhaps, even knew in advance that it was a milestone.

Today, I reached such a milestone. For the first time, my car insurance payment was less than my life insurance payment - $95 versus $135 dollars.

Oy vey.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The best $5 I ever spent

Who knew that stick-on fake mustaches would be such endless fun?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Metaphor of the day

There's this guy on this local discussion group I frequent and he's kind of weird. Seemed very earnest, perhaps a little dim (or so I had thought until today), and he seems to be fanatically dedicated to restoring strict republican virtues and an absolute, rock solid literaltist reading of the Constitution (he makes Ron Paul seem like Warren Burger).

But my estimation of him went up considerably this morning when I read this little turn of phrase, which he dashed off in response to a lawyer who was mocking another of his earnest little pleas to return to the faith of the Founding Fathers:

"Rather than fight to uphold the dignity of your lifelong career, it is easier to sit on your haunches warming yourself on the campfire of wall street greed."

That, friends, is pure genius. It is so bad that only a really gifted writer could have conceived it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Best press release ever

The Pennsylvania Governor's Office press person just sent out a release under the subject line "No public schedule for Governor Rendell for March 27, 2009"

This is not unusual. But the text of the message caught my eye:

The information transmitted is intended only for the person or entity to whom it is addressed and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. Any use of this information other than by the intended recipient is prohibited. If you receive this message in error, please send a reply e-mail to the sender and delete the material from any and all computers. Unintended transmissions shall not constitute waiver of the attorney-client or any other privilege.

This seems like a perfect thing to attach to a release that went to hundreds of reporters across the Commonwealth. After all, what do Reporters do best besides keep secrets?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This sounds like a GREAT job

Reporter with benefits? Does this mean you get to sleep with your coworkers with no strings attached?

Journalism would be in better shape if more newspapers had this policy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My solution for the Auto Industry

CNN says today that the Auto Industry bailout will end up costing something like $130 billion. This got me to thinking - why are we just sending the car companies money? I have a much better idea.

Let's think about some numbers first.

Car Buyers Notebook tells me that the average new car in 2008 cost $28,715. You can buy a pretty nice car for that even in 2009, so long as you don't want to go all Tricked Out Lexus or something, so let's use that as a working number for the 2009 model year.

That means $130 billion will buy roughly 4,527,250 pretty decent new cars, maybe more if we make the car companies a nice offer.

The Census Bureau tells me that there are roughly 101,301,401 Americans between the ages of 20 and 70 in the U.S. Let's call that prime driving age.

That means the U.S. government could buy about 1 nice new car for every 22 Americans.

I say let's just buy 4.5 million new cars and give them out by lottery. You gotta figure at least some of those 101 million driving-age Americans don't want or need a new car for some reason, so your odds are likely to be a hell of a lot better than 1 in 22 of getting a brand new vehicle.

Who's with me? Personally, Mr. President, I'll take a new 4-door Jeep Wrangler. I promise to take very good care of it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fun with lyrics

This simply speaks for itself

I once got in trouble at a radio station where I worked for taping over the title of this very song and replacing it with:

Awl Bye Mice Elf.

The program director did not find my sense of humor endearing for some reason.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Build the Death Star

To Hell with the Stimulus Package. I know how to get the economy working - let's build a real, live Death Star. Then we can get all those unemployed autoworkers and contractors back to work (and incidentally me too, since news publications would need lots of coverage of the project). Then we can go scare the hooey out of the microbes on Mars and otherwise menace the universe.

Here's how:

Death Star Costs $15.6 Septillion

One Death Star for $15 Septillion? What a deal!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dave for President Pt. 2

Here David Letterman conducts the kind of interview that every journalist longs to do, or at least should aspire to. This is an act of journalistic brilliance. He's polite, gives the man his say, and yet he tells the unfettered truth in a non-confrontational way. Genius.

Letterman Interviews Blagojevich

Monday, February 02, 2009

25 things about me

Several people on Facebook have tagged me with this 25 Things About Me game. I find it sort of interesting, but I am not sure I want to play exactly as required. It smacks too much of a chain letter, and I throw those away on principle. And yet, the game is sort of fun - some of the results come close to poetry (Look here and you'll see what I mean).

So I am going to say 25 things about me, but I am not going to tag 25 of my closest friends, relations, and henchmen. So sue me.

1. I have a morbid fascination with Chinese buffets.

2. I always wanted to be a Constitutional lawyer.

3. I have an irrational fear of compressed gasses of all sorts.

4. People don’t seem to believe me when I say I am both shy and lazy.

5. Animals interest me only in so far as I can cook delicious meals with them. But I would cook them with deep love and respect.

6. I think the Rolling Stones are better as an idea than as a rock band. Ditto for U2.

7. I have a bad temper, but it takes a long time to get to it.

8. I am a surprisingly good body surfer.

9. Good beer brings me joy.

10. I like American Idol and I don’t care who knows it.

11. I remember being five years old – and I miss it.

12. When I attempt to speak a foreign language, I suffer a crippling bout of insecurity, which instantly renders me unintelligible.

13. I have disproportionately short legs.

14. I cry when I read the final chapter of the House at Pooh Corner.

15. Driving to some place new is one of my quiet pleasures.

16. I always wished my hair was straight so I could wear it really long without looking like Kenny G.

17. I believe that most people in government sincerely want to serve the public interest, although they don’t always succeed.

18. I like to eat lunch alone.

19. I have an enduring and completely inexplicable fixation on Russian history.

20. I write better when I am hungry, but I only think I write better when I am drunk.

21. If money were no object, I would live on Maui.

22. I think Vegemite is delicious if eaten in moderation.

23. I maintain my own sourdough yeast colony, making me, technically, a yeast farmer.

24. My math skills are dismal, even with a calculator.

25. I have yet to decide what I want to do when I grow up.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Write Your Own, Pt. 1

Thomas L. Friedman column (circle your choices):

The other day I (had lunch with/was thinking about/was skiing with/saw) (King Abdullah/Henry Kissinger/a homeless man/ a fuzzy bunny) and he was (talking policy/eating an eggroll/wearing a tam o’shanter).

Suddenly I (realized/discovered/remembered/imagined) that (the Bush Administration/Barack Obama/the economy/the entire history of mankind) could be (explained/wiped out/summarized) by (a childish scribble on a napkin/a billboard in the background/drinking heavily).

See? It's so easy a child could do it!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I know what I am giving for Christmas

From Chronicle Book's description:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead.

Release date is sometime in April.

Curse that spam filter...

My Spam Filter informs me that it has spiked perhaps the most important email of my life.

You have received a message that is probably SPAM.

From: ""
Date: Thursday, January 29, 2009, at 07:30 am
Subj: Re: Message from President

I am so sorry I missed the president when he needed me. I ought to give Barack a call and see what's up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Things I think about, Pt. III

I felt compelled to look this up today.

The U.S. accounts for more than 48 percent of all defense spending in the entire world, if you take into account the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the cost of maintaining nuclear weapons, which is not paid for by the military (who knew?).

In 2008, the whole world spent $1.43 trillion on military stuff. The U.S. spends $711 billion of that.

If you add up our spending and that of our NATO allies, that comes to something like 72 percent of all military spending on the planet.

I also wanted to look this up:

The U.S. operates about two thirds of all the aircraft carriers in the world. We have 12 active super-carriers (with at least two more inactive but fit to recommission quickly), plus at least 10 of the smaller amphibious assault ships, which are effectively aircraft carriers. Even using a fairly generous definition of "aircraft carrier", there are only 13 active non-American carriers on the whole planet and only England and France have more than one (the Royal Navy has four, the French have two).

This leaves me with an important question:

Shouldn't we be kicking butt somewhere or something?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do I know how to pick 'em or what?

My mother has long said that every time she finds a food or beverage she really likes, the company discontinues it. I'd think she was making it up, but I have watched it happen many times.

Seems much the same is true for me, but more on the career track.

When I was a teenager, I developed a passionate interest in rock music and set about collecting as much new and classic vinyl, both 45 and 33 rpm, as I could get. This interest led me to a passionate interest in radio. I grew my hair long and set about to play Led Zeppelin deep cuts late into the night.

That didn't work out so well. Not only did CDs kill my beloved vinyl, Clear Channel and others killed my beloved radio. Within a couple of years, I was playing pop songs by Debbie Gibson and Tiffany and wondering if it was possible to be any more bored on the air.

So I tried newspapers. That worked out pretty well, until everyone decided newspapers were dead. And now it doesn't work so well any more.

Simple, I thought, I'll switch to magazines - they've got deep pockets. And that worked really well for four or five years.

And then this: magazine ad pages down 12 percent last year. My formerly lucrative clients at Time and People magazines were down 19 and 12 percent.

And in the meantime, I have developed a number of hobbies, all which could have been good career paths. Early in my newspaper career, I developed a passion and modest talent for Photography. My particular favorite was Kodak slide film.

Sensing a pattern?

Lately,I have gotten terribly interested in brewing beer at home. I joined just in time for a horrifying crisis in the supply of Hops and soaring prices for commodities such as Barley.

Sean strikes again.

So now newspapers are dead (but just haven't stopped kicking) and magazines are dying, and film-based photography is a historical curiosity and radio is both painfully dull and automated and beer is too expensive to drink.

Any suggestions on my next career move? Anyone have an industry you'd like to see collapse within the next decade? I'd be willing to take a job there and work my usual magic - for a small fee.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Save Top Chef

I'll admit it - I love Top Chef on Bravo. I never miss an episode. My wife and I sit glued to the tube dissecting dishes the way football fans analyze the minutia of every play. I try to skim over the obnoxious product placements and the sometimes completely demented challenges that would try the skill and patience of many a professional chef. I just like it because it is about cooking. And I love to cook.

So I was completely dismayed to find that the producers of Top Chef have abruptly replaced judge Gail Simmons with someone named Toby Young. It's not that I miss Gail so much (I found her cranky and rather difficult to look at; she appears to have some odd plastic surgery. Just my layman's opinion). It's that this Toby Young guy is a complete jerk, at least based on the opening episode last week. He seems predisposed to hate everything. He talks about himself incessantly (I don't care that he ate real German food while living in an isolated shack in the Alps). He makes glib, shallow pop-culture references constantly (comparing an avocado sorbet to the performance of Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder? Spare me).

I didn't know who this guy was until I saw the episode last night. I am reliably informed today that he is modestly famous for having some sort of book about Graydon Carter and Vanity Fair, which in itself tells me as much as I need to know about how seriously to take him.

I want him gone.

So I voted on Bravo's dorky little online poll on the show's site, checking the box that suggested I want Gail Simmons back, which isn't entirely true, but she's certainly better than this obnoxious twit. But I fear that the poll is just part of a conspiracy to make Toby Young some kind of cult hate figure - the judge we love to boo. This would be a great pity - I do not want to boo Toby Young; I want to have him to disappear so we can talk about food instead of some literary C-lister.

Perhaps it won't help, but I did find that Bravo has a "contact us" link hidden carefully at the bottom of the site. So I sent them a note:

Dear Bravo,

Please ask the producers of Top Chef to take Toby Young away as abruptly as he came. He is irritating beyond endurance and seems mostly interested in discussing himself and demonstrating his considerable, but gratingly shallow, knowledge of pop culture. If I wanted a glib, self-centered Englishman to comment cruelly about food, I would invite Simon Cowell to dinner. As it is, I just want to watch a show about cooking.

Contact Bravo and complain about Toby Young.

Are you with me? Can we get this guy exiled for the finals? Can we guarantee that he does not return next season? Join me in my cause. Save the show I like, despite itself.