Thursday, December 01, 2011

World AIDS Day 2011 -- it's not over

When I was in sixth grade my mom's cousin, who was gay, died of AIDS. We took a family vacation to Arizona during his last few months. My sisters and I all had the chicken pox at the time, so my parents told us that Danny was so sick that we shouldn't be around him. It made perfect sense to me then.

I'm not sure how many years later, but I eventually figured out that Danny had died of AIDS, even though I don't recall being told. The only thing I remember is talking to my dad after I had realized this (I was late in high school or college) and he said that given how much people didn't know about AIDS/HIV they decided to be extra careful (I suspect to protect us and him).

Danny's death and my parents' mostly well-intentioned obscuring of it has had a lasting impact on my life. I've given to HIV/AIDS-related charities and continued to try to keep up on the latest research and statistics (though not to the extent that I could quote them to you right now). The most important consequence though was this story I wrote while a reporter at the Albany Times Union.

Click for more information about AIDS/HIV in 2011.


MIKE FRICANO Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1
Date: Monday, October 1, 2001
Albany A pastel chalk message was all Emily Parker could write to honor her brother.

Shielded from the truth about her brother Chris' death 15 years ago, Emily didn't learn that her brother died of AIDS until 1992. On Sunday, she tried to make amends by letting him and anyone else who reads her fleeting memorial know ``one day we will beat this.'' While scrawling her 8-foot-by-5-foot message, Parker fixed areas where people walked over it. She also took the time to brush the chalk so that it filled in the heart she drew evenly.

``It's a tribute to my brother, because I never really got to say goodbye,'' said Parker, 22, who was one of 1,500 walkers who participated in AIDSWalk 2001. This year's event raised more than $200,000 for education, research and patient care.

After the walkers finished the trek through and around Washington Park, dozens grabbed colorful pieces of chalk and transformed the asphalt in front of the Lakehouse into a rainbow of remembrances for ``Fred'' and ``Jim'' and ``Uncle Dan.''

Sadly, said AIDSWalk coordinator Linda Glassman, the list will get longer. There are 3,475 people in northeastern New York with AIDS and thousands more infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the state Department of Health. Nationally, 774,467 Americans had been reported with AIDS and 448,060 had died of the disease through last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

``AIDS impacts a wide variety of people,'' said Glassman, noting that the infection rate has remained constant even while the death rate decreased.

When Parker learned that her brother died of AIDS, she was angry and sad and even a little glad that she hadn't known all those years.

``This way I remember him as my brother,'' Parker said as she recalled photos of him laughing and having fun.

While progress has been made, frustration abounds for AIDS caregivers, who must compete for limited funds with myriad other diseases and catastrophes. Throughout the last several year, AIDS has ebbed in the public consciousness following the limited success of drug ``cocktails'' in treating patients.

``But it's not a cure,'' Glassman said. In fact, strains of the virus are becoming resistant to the $15,000-a-year drug combination, which counts liver failure and fatty lumps among its harmful side effects.

``What happened in New York City was horrible, but each day across the world 8,300 people die of AIDS,'' Glassman said.

Now Parker, who walked for the first time this year with the Starbucks team, said that she wants to learn more about the disease and to do something concrete to help.

``I'm just really glad that people can do this at least,'' she said, ``so that other families may not have to deal with this.''

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting better about honoring my commitments

Since second semester of my junior year of college, I have a history of at least twice a year declaring "New Fricano." The first time it meant substituting tequila shots for beer because I was unhappy with my weight gain. (I just learned a few seconds ago that I was correct about shots having fewer calories! Hooray!!) Unfortunately, I didn't exercise and still ate like shit so I never lost an ounce.  Since then it has usually meant curtailing discretionary spending but also cutting back on fast food.

Last fall though it took on a new meaning—exercising more. Or more accurately ... exercising. One pair of work pants had become a wear-only-when-everything-else-is-at-the-cleaners item and my unshirted profile (see stomach chubb, or don't if you wouldn't want to be grossed out) in the mirror was making me embarrassed. The goal was to build up my endurance so that I could run 3-4 miles each time I ran and to run four days a week. Unfortunately, the day I chose to start it was already 90 degrees by 9:30 a.m. so my first run was about one mile, and I couldn't even make it the full distance without stopping to walk. After a month I had increased to only about 1.5 miles per run. Of course I was running only twice a week (at most). After a life of not running (boringness of running, love of inline skating, arthritic knees), it was hard to want to run especially in our neighborhood (lots of street crossings, narrow roads, hardly any street lights) at night.

The neighborhood we moved to last December helped me increase the running. With much wider streets, more street lights and fewer street crossings, I increased to two times a week (most weeks) and 2+ miles per run. And I was running at about an eight-and-a-half-minute-mile pace. But still ... I never pushed myself beyond that.

Then I went to Portland and Seattle this summer to visit my best friend from college, Bill. I got there on a Sunday night and for the entire week it was a taste-tastic vacation of amazing beer (no better city for a craft beer snob), indulgent food (I swear that every goddamned restaurant we went to served mounds of tater tots) and video games. The unsurprising side effect of my gluttony and sloth was that by late Thursday night I couldn't wait to get back to Bill's just so I could change out of the jeans I was wearing, which had become straight-jacketly constricting on my creeping chubb.

I have to give a quick shoutout to Bill who generously carts my ass around wherever I want to go pretty much and every time I'm there that includes hiking to the top of Multnomah Falls.

This year my friend Amy, who had recently moved to Portland from L.A., joined us. It was one of the things she wanted to do upon moving but hadn't had a chance prior to my visit. We had a great time and Bill was nice enough to email me this picture he took of us.

Well, I thought it was nice until I noticed that a fat guy (with no neck!) had stolen my identity. This made me feel worse than any photo of me since the one that appeared in my yearbook photo freshman year of high school. My reaction to that one was "Who is that ugly girl? ... Oh FUCK, it's me!" It was again "New Fricano" time, but this time there's no fucking around.

So since returning home on July 2, I've started the Mike Fricano body modification project. It involves running at least three days a week, but four if possible. I have increased my running distance to three to four miles per jog at a nine-minute-mile pace. I have stopped drinking at home (though I still drink plenty). I eat an arugula, cucumber and pepper salad almost every night before dinner thus keeping my entree portion size down and increasing my vitamin intake. I also have decreased my sugar-loaded Coffee Bean calorie fests (iced blendeds) from thrice (or even four times) a week to just once a week—a Saturday indulgence. I've even taken to counting how many potato chips I eat to make sure I stick to the recommended portion size on the bag.

The results have been awesome. I estimate that at least half an inch of chubb has disappeared from my waist; I can fit into those jeans very comfortably again and even those work pants. I have even started to enjoy running. There are nights when I'm driving home and I anticipate the feeling of driving home stinking of my own sweat.

The running, which usually happens around 10 p.m. has eaten into time I would read or blog, but I have no regrets. In my older age, I've had to learn to prioritize my desires. And right now, being unchubby is top of the list. This is not the sexiest post to renew my blogging, but I'm back!

Monday, July 11, 2011

I don't even like soccer or America but ...

... watching this feels a googolplex times more patriotic than wearing an Old Navy American Flag tshirt.

Thanks to Jimmy Traina at SI for this who got it from ... The U.S. women's soccer team pulled off a comeback win against Brazil Sunday as Abby Wambach tied the game with this impressive goal. The video below is the goal reworked to have Gus Johnson behind the mic. (Thanks to Kevin M., of College Park Md., for the link.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Fine dining

Dinner at Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood was Saturday night. I was nervous all week because my longtime susceptibility to canker sores flared up with at least three in the back of my mouth (including a big one on my right tonsil that caused a throat sore enough that made eating hard). Thankfully by Saturday I felt like I was about 85 percent healed and knew I'd be able to eat mostly problem free as long as I didn't talk too much Saturday at work. Thankfully, my co-worker A. stepped up and ran the staff meeting pretty much on her own.

The London West Hollywood is a hotel just south of the Sunset Boulevard, a particularly swanky section of Sunset Boulevard—point of reference, I parked directly in front of The Viper Room (RIP River Phoenix). On a couple of the Yelp! reviews people complained about rather exorbitant parking costs (someone mentioned $20). I had a 30 percent off coupon courtesy of Blackboard Eats, but I didn't want to piss that away on parking.

Once we entered the hotel, everything was very tony in a more classic sense. There was brass/gold and lots of white, as opposed to the stark brushed steel, dark wood aesthetic. I dug that. Incidentally, when we walked into the lobby we didn't know where the restaurant was but thankfully we had our choice of two suited-up dudes just standing in the small lobby who smiled in the ask-me-a-question-I'm-here-to-help way. So we did and were directed down the hall that shot off to the left and then proceeded to the end and made a right.

When we got there for our 7 o'clock reservation the restaurant was mostly empty. Saturday at 7 p.m. is an earlier time, but I'd been working all day and figured why wait. As we checked in, I made sure to tell the hostess that I was redeeming my discount coupon and gave her my printout with the discount code. Nothing says I belong at a michelin-starred restaurant like pulling a six-folded 8.5x11 piece of paper out of one of my back jeans pockets to get a discount.

First thing that surprised me: Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood (the actual name of the restaurant) is in the same place as The Boxwood Cafe. It's so the same space that when you open the menu you have the Boxwood menu on the left and the fancier restaurant on the right. Btw, the more casual cuisine at Boxwood (that's where you can order a burger) is still uncheap. The entrees range from $16 to $34.

The first decision was whether to get the three-course meal for $68 a person or the five-course for $82. Our waiter, Jose, who wore the standard uniform gray suit, white shirt, no tie. Jose had told us that the serving sizes were "European" meaning smaller as an enticement to order the five-course. After several minutes of deliberating G, one of my former students who now works for the city of SF, and I each decide on the three-course. I recalled my Craft experience of how a slowly consumed multi-course meal of smaller portions (meaning not TGI McOliveBee's Lobster size) could be perfectly satisfying.

As I've learned from my whopping five fine-dining sorties, the menu doesn't offer lots of choices, because the idea is that these dishes required lots of creativity and skill and some pricey ingredients so let's specialize in a few and just be aces with them. Suck on that Cheesecake Factory!

Before the appetizers came they brought us a canape of very thin crustini to dip into the silkiest thing I've ever ate—mascarpone, white truffle oil and olive oil. Several Yelpers said that this was their fave thing. I don't think I'd go that far, but still ... this was unlike anything I'd ever eaten and the best example of textural contrast I've ever eaten.

The canape was a big contrast to the standard dinner bread, which had a too-hard crust and was otherwise just slightly above average. :(

Then come the official appetizers. Sadly, I forgot what kind of Pinot Noir I ordered. I remember only that I allowed our waiter to choose it and that it cost $22 a glass.

I order the Tagliatelle with Charred Octopus as my appetizer. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the tomato sauce had a tiny hint of sweetness but wasn't too sweet. Still it was just well-cooked pasta, right? Wrong, with the octopus it was fantastic, though charred outside it wasn't dried out or too chewy. The octopus was cut into thin slices, like penny-sized and the charring added a texture and smokiness that mixed great with the pasta.

G got the foie gras with toast and a smoked ice cream, which neither of us remembers the precise flavor of. She said it was excellent though.

Entree: Scallops and Pork Belly with multiple vegetable purees. Double SAD:, I don't remember what specifically. One was green and one was reddish though. Seeing the three sauces, the two huge diver scallops resting on juicy pork belly and one of those towers was topped with a shiny golden fried quail egg, whoa. You definitely eat first with your eyes. The waiter explained that my dish was very complex and had "lots of flavors" happening.

The scallop was super juicy and the flakey pieces slip off so smoothly when cut that the butter knife was more than sufficient to slice it. It was so fresh that eating it solo was tasty, but combined with the pork belly and purees, it was divine.

G got the chateuabriand, which according to the internet and our waiter, is the best part of a cow. It's the thick center of the tenderloin. I don't eat mammals, but since this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I caved and tasted two small bites after G offered. We of course wanted to share as much as possible. (I think G had some kind of pork app, because I didn't try that.) The steak was very good, though since she ordered it medium, it wasn't as juicy as I used to eat steak. Nevertheless, if I had chateaubriand every time mom force fed me steak as a kid, I'll bet that I'd still eat beef.

I'm such a beef and high-end dining novice, that I didn't even know that this was a cut of beef that you could get, let alone that it was considered among the very best.

After that came dessert. G and I each ordered the chocolate cylinder. It's about 2.5 inches tall and thin, like an old school film canister. Inside there's roasted marshmallow that's crispish on top and melty below--think Smorelike--and then under that some caramel crunchiness, maybe peanuts. To the side is almost a golfball hazelnut ice cream. The hazelnut was by far the star of the dessert, which was otherwise good. Of my fine dining experiences, this was easily the most average dessert.

In fact, the average note of the dessert pushed this experience down below Craft and Silfur (in Reykjavik) on my list of best restaurant meals ever. Still, though, it was amazing. I mean, we're talking like distinctions between 98, 97 and 96.

Two last things, they forgot to apply my 30 percent off discount when they brought my bill. I didn't notice at first and just gave them my card. In part because I wanted to get going since I'd already gone past my two-hour meter by about 5 minutes. But when I was about to sign I looked more carefully and the bill was $224 pre-tip. WHAT? Thankfully, once I told Jose he cancelled the first charge and they re-ran my card. The new bill was only $156ish. Whew! Much better. Since we're instructed to tip based on the original bill, it came to about $98 a piece. This is the most expensive meal I've ever eaten, but totally worth it. It was outstanding. And, I managed to avoid the parking ticket!
Great comment from my friend Kerri: I assume these dishes weren't coated in a thick layer of cheese. You forgot to include that in your differences with TGI McOliveBee's Lobster. I'm with you on pulling out the folded coupon. I hate that feeling.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Internet makes us all famous

In this video, my friend Rich from Newhouse is a wingman in this extreme eating challenge. Here's his blog post about the challenge. I admire Rich for writing a brief blogpost rather than a Fricano. Interestingly, I'd never heard of Scrapple before this. I wish I hadn't.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What dead quantum mechanics cats can teach us about teacher evaluations

One of my favorite books is Moneyball my Michael Lewis. In it, Lewis profiles Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's methods of scouting baseball players and composing a major league team and drafting new players for the minor league farm system. Working in one of baseball's smallest television markets and having one of the smallest budgets, Beane has pretty consistently put together teams that are very competitive with his large-market competitors like the New York Yankees. They don't win championships at the same rate, but are one of the standards for how to run a small-business in a big-business world.

The chief way Beane did this was to quantify baseball in a statistically relevant way. Though ironically, baseball was the sport that produced more statistics than any other (which geeks like me memorized as kids), most of the numbers we memorized had little to do with predicting future success or measuring how a player made a true statistically valid impact on the game.

Like anyone who wants to do something new, Beane met resistance from lots of veterans who said "we've always done it this way." But his success validated his change in thinking and influenced many teams to adopt what have become known as "moneyball" strategies. Combine those strategies with actual money and you get the Boston Red Sox of the past 8ish years.

Anyway, I was so taken with Beane and his assistants' application of rigorous statistical analysis to a seemingly complex sea of numbers and variables, that like many who paid him to speak to their companies I started thinking that we just need better analysis and more things can certainly be quantified. Moneyball wasn't about baseball, it was about re-thinking and the power of math and education. In a weird way, I got so drunk on moneyball that I started half-equating climate change deniers and Creationists with those old baseball scouts who just wanted to keep doing things the way they've been doing them.

When the L.A. Times published an investigative series about using value-added analysis (my short definition: seeing how much students improved from year to year on standardized tests) I was so impressed by the apparent rigor of it, that I started coming around to believe that this type of analysis should be PART (about 20 percent maybe 33 percent) of teacher evaluations. Sadly for the L.A. Times its methods have since been called into question by one of the people it quotes in the story as someone who backed up the Times' numbers and conclusions.

What does this have to do with dead cats and quantum mechanics?

This article in The Economist, which basically says that what-many-now-see-as-the-MBA-ization-of-education has historical roots in failure. The Economist piece by I can't tell who (dammit Economist be better than that), notes that a couple centuries ago some Germans wanted to get better timber yield from their forests so they took some rudimentary measurements and eventually planted one species exclusively in very dense rows. At first huge success, but then the disaster of unforeseeable (at the time because of our lack of understanding about soil microbiology) consequences, like high susceptibility to disease and depletion of soil nutrients because one kind of tree will want the same thing.

But the greater premise, which the above example merely illustrates, is that efforts to "read" a population consequently beget efforts to transform that population to make it more "readable."

Finally, here comes the dead quantum mechanics cat. In 1935 Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, developed a paradoxical thought experiment that essentially said if you put a radioactive substance that has a 50-50 chance activate in an hour and a cat in a box, after an hour the cat could be dead or alive, or is in fact dead and alive. Ultimately he didn't argue that it's both simultaneously, merely that one's conclusions are dependent on observation.

The Economist notes: Daniel Koretz, the Harvard education professor recognized as the country's leading expert on academic testing, writes in his book Measuring Up that Campbell's Law is especially applicable to education; there is a preponderance of evidence showing that high-stakes tests lead to a narrowed curriculum, score inflation, and even outright cheating among those tasked with scoring exams.
So by trying to measure teacher's competence with a students' standardized test how can we not be redefining the very nature of teaching into a way that no longer measures competence at inspiring students to explore, drilling cogent facts into them, encouraging ethical intellectual behavior, and demonstrating the importance of common sense?

The Economist piece closes by citing examples from South Korea and Finland (a country lauded in Waiting for Superman, though sadly the most important lessons of Finland aren't advocated for, instead the documentary pushes testing!); these countries "[rely] more on systems of peer review and intensive comment and training from in-school "master teachers", as well as making teachers' jobs involve much more time planning their lessons in groups with other adults.

I agree with the blogger who posted this on The Economist website. The common sense of using master teachers to do more in-service training is so obvious that it almost hurts. I haven't totally given up on a form of value-added analysis being incorporated into evaluations but I'm thinking much more like 10 percent. If we're sincere that children are our future and our most precious resource, then we need to invest in them with hard money. That doesn't mean using MBA cost-cutting and efficiency findings. It means hiring more teachers and aides and yes, perhaps even more assistant principals to serve as these "master teachers." This also would create additional middle class professional jobs, and the people who fill those jobs would spend money ... and create tax revenues and ...

My favorite thing about the Internet is the availability of information, specifically information that makes me rethink about important topics. And this piece in The Economist has certainly got me doing that.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I interrupt this blog to confess my language ignorance

About six or seven years ago my old roommate Scott and I learned that we had been using "nonplussed" incorrectly. We each thought it meant "unimpressed" or "unmoved," though in fact it means "to render utterly perplexed; puzzle completely," according to As the great Ben Yagoda puts it in this unknown-supercommon-mistakes-we-all-make exposing piece on "nonplussed from ... fazed to unfazed."

Now I have a Masters degree in journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University and was (and still am) teaching writing at a teen newspaper. Scott was at the time a Ph.D. student at UCLA. We grew up together and attended a fine middle class suburban school in Western New York. We were each amazed that we were incorrect. Though neither of us could pinpoint when we learned the word, we each felt like we had learned it with its incorrect meaning around high school. We're well-read intelligent people, so how the hell did this happen?

Well Yagoda seems to be saying that it's basically societal language (de)-evolution. Examples abound (well, only three and since this post is about language I ought to at least clarify my exaggerations, but I'm exaggerating because that many misuses of relatively common words did embarrass me) in the piece that exposed more than my misuse of "non-plussed."

Momentarily. -- It traditionally meant for a short time, but now commonly means very soon.

Begs the question. -- In a logical argument it meant when one explains something by the fact that it is so.'s example: "I think he is unattractive because he is ugly." It has become misused to mean "raises the question." I have used this with my students and even gotten them to use it. I've passed along misinformation.

Fortuitous. -- Traditionally this meant "accidental." It has come to be used to mean "lucky." I'm guessing that this is because a synonym for lucky is fortunate, and the shared "fort" beginning has created an erroneous historically logical connection.

Later in his piece, Yagoda writes about when should a person fight to preserve the proper historical usage and when does doing so render one pretentious or even confusing.

He brings up examples of pompons v. pompoms (which I've fought to preserve, though I'm not sure why given the widely accepted new spelling) and not ending a sentence in a preposition, which I've given up only in the last few years.

I must admit that part of the reason I've hung onto pompons is because it's so obscure and I like sounding smart. I've never been an athlete, nor was I tall, dark and rico suave, nor a great musician (though not bad). However, I was usually smarter than almost anyone I met in elementary school and even high school. As a nerd, who has become a word nerd (werd? as I steal from L.A. Youth alum Seth S.), I like to showoff in front of my students from time to time.

But what next? I'm not sure. I am going to try to be less end-of-discussion-because-I'm-smarter-than-thou. As I also tell my students (when not propagating misuses of begs the question), the older you get the more you'll learn that you have a lot to learn. So I shall (will?) try to take my own advice and pay closer attention to language so that I continue to learn to use it better, smarter and more clearly.

P.S. I used the title "I interrupt this blog ..." because I had planned to blog about something else today and even scheduled posts for the next week. But this was urgent!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Irony and the Presidency

On the day Barack Obama formally announced his run for re-election in 2012, his administration also announced that it was kowtowing to Republican (among others) demands not to hold the trial of suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York civilian court.

I've spent the parts of the last two years defending Obama's record in the face of criticism who feel as though his Presidency hasn't maintained the magical unicornness of his campaign. They're right, because governing is like making sausage, ugly to know what goes into it. Nevertheless, we got Health Care Reform (minus the public option), a huge stimulus package, financial reform (though highly neutered), the feds to agree to stop defending DOMA, two more women onto the Supreme Court, a consumer protection czar who looks like she has teeth.

So the announcement that he was caving into the likes of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala), who claims to love this country, but clearly has no faith in its justice system to try Mohammed, was disheartening. Republican NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted the trial in New York, as did hundreds of family members of 9/11 victims. If those with the most at stake can see the wisdom of not allowing our basest instincts for retributive justice degenerate into revenge-at-all-costs-accountability-be-damned military commissions, why can't the decision-makers like Sessions? And why did AG Eric Holder and Obama cave? They said it was because Congress de-authorized funding for prisoner transfers from Gitmo to the States.

But to me this is a case of needing to stand up for our ideals in the face of resistance and challenge. I felt like W failed the test of compromise-vs-ideals-maintenance repeatedly, always adhering to NeoCon foreign policy even in the absence of evidence, see: Iraq. Here I want Barack to stand fast though. He wouldn't be standing up for Mohammed or Dems or even just this one case, but for the American ideals of accountable justice.

If we want to be leaders in the world, then we must lead, which means make the tough choices not the expedient ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Vegas first

I've been to Las Vegas enough times that there aren't many firsts left for someone of my income bracket. But this past Sunday, I dipped a toe into a different income strata and got to see Sin City from a new perspective ...

That's the view from The House of Blues Las Vegas Foundation Room which sits atop Mandalay Bay at the south end of The Strip. In a Spaceballsian bit of fortune, my college roommate's friend's brother's friend is Rob Belushi. Rob is an actor and also the son of James Belushi. Rob, who I met Sunday night on my 24-hour Vegas sojourn, was supremely generous and hooked up his friend, Tim, and then Tim's brother, Andy, and the rest of our usual Vegas crew by getting us on the list at the Foundation Room.

In addition to getting on the list, and a host taking us up the private elevator, we also scored a free round of drinks. BONUS because I was able to get a glass of 25-year-old Macallan scotch, which runs at least $477 a bottle according to the quickie Google search I just ran. Incidentally, we ventured into a club that served bottles of Macallan 25 for $2457ish.

But as amazing as it was to get a free glass of a scotch that I might not have again for a loooooong time and which was simply amazing, the views were even better (see above).

The rest of the trip though taught me one vital lesson, I cannot gamble alone nor ironically under a clock. While we were waiting to go from Mandalay Bay to another club, that Rob was awesome enough to hook us up to via a comp'd limo, we had about 25 minutes to kill gambling.

I sat down at a $15 blackjack table, which is actually the first time I'd sat down at such a high limit (welcome to non-profit teen newspaper editor Vegas guy's blog). Well, with only a few minutes to play I am not content to bet $15 a hand, but instead am betting $25 a hand, since throwing in one of my few green chips is easier than three reds. I know it's not, but it seemed it at the time. :o

Well, the higher limit sends Bill packing pretty fast but I am hanging on thanks to a big bet that came in. However, my up $50 quickly became a break even again. Sitting alone, I had the most intense bout of stupid recklessness of my gambling life. I put $100 on a single hand of blackjack. I've done this before, but this was the first time I ever did it WITHOUT feeling like I wanted to throw up. (A whole new sign of WHATTHEFUCKHAPPENEDTOME?)

Of course ... I get dealt something like a 15 (I've blocked out the details) and the dealer gets something like a 20. Needless to say voila $100 hand. Do I cut my losses at down $100 for the quick blackjack session?

UM ... I think you know where this is going ...

NO. I took a version of my bad joke advice and chased my big loss by betting big! And threw down another $100 bet (at, yes, a mere $15 table). And well, 30 seconds later I was down $200.

Thankfully the rest of the night was good times just hanging with the guys and I was still basking in the glow of a lucky, tense Arizona win over Texas.


Weirdest sight (BY FAR): a dude in an ASU t-shirt cheering for UofA during the NCAA tournament game against Texas. I didn't even know how to feel about this one. I know that there's no fucking way I'd cheer for ASU against any other team or even against getting sprayed by a skunk.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When editors are tone deaf

AOL, which owns TechCrunch and Moviefone, has gotten on the media-ethics-transparency radar because of a request relayed by the latter asking the former to tone down the snark in a review of the new Summit Entertainment movie Source Code.

The review writer, Alexia Tsotsis, balked at the request and standing up for independent editorial control everywhere outed Moviefone for passing along Summit's request.

In her response, Moviefone ed-in-chief Patricia Chui wrote:

2) This is important: We never told TechCrunch to change the post in any way. A publicist at Summit reached out asking if we could convey the studio's feedback to TechCrunch. We did so. If the editors had responded that they declined to edit the post -- which, naturally, is entirely their call -- we simply would have conveyed that information back to Summit.

The reality of our situation is that, as a movies site, we work with movie studios every day, and it is in our best interests to stay on good terms with them.
Here's where we get to the tone deaf editor part: 
Staying on good terms with studios means that we will relay information if asked. It does not mean that we would ever force a writer or an editor to edit their work for the sake of a studio -- or anyone else.
We take editorial integrity seriously at Moviefone, and it's painful to be depicted as a pawn of the studios when that is emphatically not the case. You may think it unseemly for a studio to request changes in an article; that's certainly your right. But the accusation of pandering on our part or crossing an editorial line is, to my mind, completely unfair, and I would hope that a reasonable reader would be able to recognize the situation for what it is -- overblown and unwarranted

Relaying information, if asked, as a way to stay on the good side of an industry that a reporter writing for a site owned by your corporate parent is covering might not qualify as pawnhood. But the great fear First Amendment defenders have is that the consolidated media will severely curtail what should be our freest marketplace of all—that of ideas and opinions.

And Chui's wet-tissue defense of serving as an intermediary of a request to ALTER EDITORIAL COVERAGE is a stark naked example that fear manifest.

The absolute last thing any critic wants is for her/his readers to question their objectivity, a concern grossly exacerbated already when the studios own publications, too. (I've always been impressed with how Warner Bros. movies can get ripped in Entertainment Weekly, both of which are owned by Time Warner.)

So when Chui tosses off this entire matter as overblown, she tacks on the perfect coda to her tone deaf editing symphony. Not only does she not get what she did was wrong on the micro level of the appearance of trying to influence coverage, but she also blows the macro level by failing to recognize why this example of fears of choked independent media was a big deal in the first place.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

1,000 words

As a writer I value the power of words so much; they have made me feel triumph, love, grief, lust, fear, evil and the miraculous. But as an evolutionary creature I am also moved by the image and this picture from post-quake/tsunami Japan broke my heart more than anything I've read. It's 5-year old Neena Sasaki, carring some of her family belongings from her home that was destroyed after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 15 in Rikuzentakata, Miyagi province. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images, via the Big Picture).

I'm not an image stealer, so please click on either of the links above to see the image in high-resolution on the Boston Globe website.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's easier to hate "anonymous"

Like lots of internet writer idealists who work on small news websites, I've long been annoyed (on my good days) at so-named content farms, like They're defined on Wikipedia as:

... a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views.[1] 

The big criticism is that these sites value page views, which attract dollars, over providing the best relevant information. Google has recently announced that it had changed its search algorithm to push these results further down.

The reason I've been down on them is that the small, independent teen newspaper I work for struggles to get page views, particularly our new adult-editor-written blog. Granted, we're not writing nearly often enough, nor maximizing our social media outreach to truly accumulate page views. Buuuuuuuuut at the same time, I hate that we'll never have the resources to simply publish post after post of keyword-jammed, semi-relevant-at-best articles just to increase our Google page rank as content farms are criticized for doing.

The result has been that like most of Internet users, I've found an anonymous villain to hate. Well, until Monday night. It turns out I know someone who writes for content farms. I've never had an in-person meeting with Christine Margiotta-Geraci, but we've known each other for years. She was a student at Newhouse who wanted to ask me some questions about the Albany Times Union. I answered and we struck up an e-mail "friendship" over the years. I've admired her drive as she went from interning at the TU to various other papers across the Capital Region and now to a public relations job for a school district.

I recently discovered her blog, which is linked to above and definitely worth reading if you're into social media, and in her most recent post she outed herself as a content farmer, someone whom I once considered "my enemy." And in fact the enemy of a truly democratic digital domain.

Well, like virtually everyone in 2011, who hasn't been the beneficiary of a Barack delivered extension of the GW Bush deficit-causing tax cuts, Christine has been trying to get creative earning some extra cash. I'll quick excerpt and let her explain:

I accept the fact that some of the stuff I’ve written for content farms is total crap. ... But when I put it into perspective, I’m still writing. ... There are so many worse things I could be doing for less pay that would require me to spend time away from my family. ... I’m not looking for sympathy. I felt the need to share my perspective plainly and honestly, because I’m tired of people bashing content farms and their writers when they don’t know the stories behind the stories.

Allow me be the first of the content farm haters to apologize, Christine. I feel like a Republican who has just learned that a longtime friend is the recipient of a government "handout" that he wants to cut in the name of inefficient bureaucracy.

So I'm done begrudging anonymous writers for trying to make a living. The economy sucks and the poor are getting ignored while the middle class is getting turned into the poor, because Barack and the Dems are wilting in the radioactive glow of John Boehner's orange-glo. What we really need is a content farm union!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bad citizenship

The polls in Los Angeles open in 8 hours 15 minutes. I will not be voting. I cannot in good conscience cast a vote when I haven't done any research into the nearly one dozen ballot measures. Of all the things I forgot to do after the move, namely addresses I forgot to change, my voter registration is the most important. One of the reasons I didn't do my research is because I never received the voter guide that contained the sample ballot and noted my polling place.

Without the reminder of the ballot sitting on my desk, the election never burrowed its way into my consciousness, despite the fact I read the Los Angeles Times every day. And since it never took root in my consciousness, I never pushed myself to do the necessary election prep.

Sadly, the city clerk's website and the county registrar's site don't give ANY information about how voters who have moved should proceed. I know that I can vote, but I have no idea what I should bring with me to try to expedite that process, given that I won't appear on the rolls for my new polling place. And I don't have the paperwork that I would normally present to my old polling place.

And jadedly, I don't want to bounce between polling places for a fucking March election. I can't stand that in California I can vote as many as three times a year—March, June and November.

In light of the democracy revolutions and protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and China, I feel a stinging sense of disappointment in myself. But at this hour of the night, I am not sufficiently disappointed in myself to rectify that.

But it's not all laziness. I take voting seriously. Despite my hardcore liberal leanings, I don't want to simply vote Left or Dem. And though I highly respect the Los Angeles Times, I don't want to follow its endorsements unquestioningly or even with just a simple and too fast read. 

Dammit. I hate when I blog about me sucking.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I miss this show

Last year Glee captured my heart with its unapologetic celebration of fine arts underdoggedness. This year, not so much. Too much coupling, too many themed shows, too much unlikable behavior (why did Rachel turn into Order of the Phoenix Harry Potter?) and I think most of all song choices that don't appeal to me. Ironically, though, my favorite moment of second season was during Sectionals when The Warblers performed Train's "Hey Soul Sister," which is a gawful song. But at about 1:10 when Rachel implores a tentative to Kurt to smile, Glee touchstones Season 1 and hits the perfect note of the dumped-upon-show-choir-kids remembering that they're the best support each other will ever have and that the way we perform when we're doing what we love is the best we can show of ourselves, so don't fuck it up. Without further ado ... a horrible song done right by Glee ...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Los Angeles Mortal Coil list 1

After eight-and-a-half years of living in Los Angeles I can now finally say that I've hiked up to the iconic Hollywood Sign, or at least as close as one can legally get. Kevin, Alicia and I did an early Sunday morning hike up from Bronson Canyon to the sign.

Alicia said it was labeled "strenuous" but we all felt that it should have been labeled "moderate." It begins with a good 15-20 minutes of a steep enough ascent to get a good workout, then it levels off for a leisurely 30ish minutes before a final ascent up to the top of the mountain. Great views, though sadly you see the sign from the rear.

That's obviosly the "Holly" and in the upper right you can see the reservoir.

A gorgeous shot of the snow capped mountains. It was a perfect California day—warm enough to go out without a jacket, sunny enough for sunglasses and gorgeously brilliant white snow on the mountains.

In the upper middle of this photo you can sorta make out the seats of the Hollywood Bowl.

Here's a link to the short photo album.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Woe Canada

Growing up in Buffalo so close to Canada had a huge influence on my cultural, specifically musical, development. The Toronto radio station CFNY made a huge impact as noted in this blog several times. Through it I discovered: The Tragically Hip, Spirit of the West, Sarah McLachlan, Single Gun Theory, Moxy Früvous, The Barenaked Ladies, Sloan, Sara Craig, Leonard Cohen and gained a greater appreciation for Van Morrison.

I also was able to watch Good Rockin' Tonight on the CBC on Friday and Saturday late nights. They were more mainstream pop/rock oriented with plenty of American stuff. But they also did their best to promote Canadian acts including the one below. I loved this song when I heard it the first time. It's got a fast beat and excellent (though extremely produced) harmonies. That was apparently enough when my taste defenses were down at 12:30 a.m. and home alone.

Without further ado a musical confession from my pre-snob days also known as the days I thought that listening to major label releases in the "Alternative" section at major retailers made me different, just like the millions of other Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Singles soundtrack fans.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Speaking truth to power OR Journalism should be about huevos

Love this column from Salon's Glenn Greenwald today. In it Greenwald not only defends CNN's Anderson Cooper for using the word "lie" or a derivative thereof when he used it to describe actions of the Egyptian government during his telecast last week, but calls out those who criticized Cooper, namely CNN and The Daily Beast's Howie Kurtz and the Los Angeles Times' Jim Rainey.

I'm going to quote liberally here from Greenwald's column, in which he points out that both Kurtz and Rainey admit Cooper was correct in using "lie," because not only do I agree with his point, but he wrote it with vigor.

Identifying lies told by powerful political leaders -- and describing them as such -- is what good journalists do, by definition. It's the crux of adversarial journalism, of a "watchdog" press. "Objectivity" does not require refraining from pointing out the falsity of government claims. The opposite is true; objectivity requires that a journalist do exactly that:  treat factually false statements as false. "Objectivity" is breached not when a journalist calls a lie a "lie," but when they refuse to do so, when they treat lies told by powerful political officials as though they're viable, reasonable interpretations of subjective questions. The very idea that a journalist is engaged in "opinion-making" or is "taking sides" by calling a lie a "lie" is ludicrous; the only "side" such a journalist is taking is with facts, with the truth. It's when a journalist fails to identify a false statement as such that they are "taking sides" -- they're siding with those in power by deceitfully depicting their demonstrably false statements as something other than lies.

As a proud member of the media, I hope that I never forget and that my compatriots never forget that we are always on a SIDE—the side of the facts. And when those facts lead to inexorable conclusions that one side is also "RIGHT" we damn well better be on that side, too.

I feel like Fox News Channel's use of "fair and balanced" (which we've gutlessly allowed to be misappropriated from actual Truth), couldn't be smarter for them. They've exploited our country's glaring lack of knowledge about how the media operates or its role in a democracy to buffalo far too many of the mainstream press into always allowing the corrupt, the ignorant (Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party) and the liars (Michele Bachmann) an opportunity to offer opinions.

Instead of calling them for their quotes, we should force them to meet a standard of objective facts. Don't let them claim that we're not balanced, instead force them to be educated. If doing rigorous research is elitist then BE FUCKING ELITIST. No more stories about Birther arguments or about how climate pollution isn't happening or about fucking Creationism and the Earth being only a few thousand years old.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Working with teens in an age of social media

I accidentally walked out of my favorite bar Thursday night forgetting to pay my tab. I'm enough of a regular at the amazing Eagle Rock Brewery (L.A. plug) that I'm allowed to run a tab without leaving my credit card at the register. Thursday night a friend of a friend bought me my third and final beer so I never had a chance to order and say, "I'll settle up now," which is what I've always done. I finish my third beer and head home.

I don't remember that I've failed to pay for my first two beers until I'm just about finished with a quick jog. D'oh! I immediately email the owners when I get home. The husband replies early Friday morning saying "no worries." I go to the bar Saturday night for a few beers and pay off my outstanding $10.

After paying I send out a message on Twitter that said: "Paying Beer tab at @ makes me almost as balanced as the populist IPA." Btw, second L.A. plug, even as a non-hops guy the Populist IPA will change your life.

Anyway, this morning I see that I have a Twitter message from one of my former students who is a junior at Harvard asking "What's beer tab?"

I told him that I'll tell him when he's older.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Mega playlist for a girl off to college

I made this for Charlene, one of my favorite L.A. Youth students, just before she headed off to college. When Charlene came to L.A. Youth for the first time, she was just finishing eighth grade, though she had the maturity of someone several years older. (When we're talking about teens, a few years is a HUGE leap.) Unlike most students who join the non-profit teen newspaper, Charlene stayed through her senior year, which is longer than any student since I got hired in 2002. By the time she graduated I considered myself her more than her editor, but more like her friendtor. She is one of the few students who ever made me a mix CD, so as she headed off to college I owed her one. Since I'm terrible at music editing, I made her a mega-playlist. Enjoy, kiddo!

Disc 1
"Vox" — Sarah McLachlan: She was one of the artists I discovered through living on the Canadian border and one of the first intelligent songwriters I listened to. This song was from her first CD, which was recorded when she was like 19, and captured like what I felt was coming up next in my life, whatever that may be.
"Goodbye" — The Sundays: I'm still trying to figure out exactly what Harriet Wheeler means when she sings, "As the heavens shudder baby, I belong to you." That the meaning mutates from year to year in my life is the sign of a truly great lyric.

"Make Your Own Kind of Music" — Cass Elliot: This is one of those glorious theme-music-for-life songs that's great to dance to. There's something to me that is very California in its attitude.

"Tightrope" — Yeasayer: Choices, consequences and perhaps regret or redemption. This is what Rock n Roll was made for.

"Albatross" — The Besnard Lakes: A gazy, hazy dream of a song.

"Young Adult Friction" — The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: With a name like this, I was nervously expecting precious, instead got precocious melodies and danceability.

"I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me" — Annie: The dance vibe continues with the Swedish pop/dance star's could-be anthem to college. Not that I'm advocating!

"Spin The Bottle" — The Juliana Hatfield Three: A touchstone high school song for me, sadly not because I was playing Spin the Bottle, just because I listened to this song all the time watching Alternative Nation and dreamed of being misfit enough to write a song about doing something so HS cool later on that was half as great as this song.

"Fall On Me" — R.E.M.: Still one of my favoritest bands. Listen to this song when it rains, not because of any literal rain in the song, but to truly embrace the song's title.

"Stockton Gala Days" — 10,000 Maniacs: A Western New York band that made it HUGE playing at Bill Clinton's MTV-sponsored inaugural ball. Bonus points for making a garland crown.

"Stand By Me" — Ben E. King: There aren't many songs I would say are important non-musical markers, but this is one of them. I suspect that you're feelings for this song will deepen when it's dark outside.

"Tumbling Dice" — The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street is a perfect album and this is my favorite song on it.

"Country Girl" — Primal Scream: My friend Dave introduced me to this song, which he calls a great Stones song that they never recorded. I wish everyone friends who will introduce them to songs as kick-ass as this.

"Be My Baby" — Glasvegas: Wall of SOUND with this fuzzy remake of Motown.

"Release Me" — The Like: Sometimes my mom is right and something should just be fun.

"Birthday" — Sugarcubes: Another Mike HS fave. This song got me excited about music not made by people from the US, Canada or the UK.

"Coast Is Clear" — Curve: Mike's HS life continued. An amazing block-out-the-world song from a band that never got as popular as they should have.

"From A Million Miles" — Single Gun Theory: My fave radio station of all time, CFNY in Toronto, introduced me to this band and song from Australia. Not sure that I've made a playlist that didn't include this song, which for my money is more transubstantiational than any other.

"Anthems for a 17-year-old Girl" — Broken Social Scene: Aproposity should be obvious. This is a live version recorded live at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto 7.11.2009.

Disc 2
"Get Out The Map" — Indigo Girls: For anyone starting college this song seems really clear as to its inclusion on a playlist from a friendtor.

"So Young" — Suede: Another UK band that deserved more attention.

"I Can Dream About You" — Dan Hartman: Many of the songs on Disc 2 reflect how your definition of love and courting and dating and relationships can and will evolve.

"Who's Loving You" — Jackson 5: KCRW's Jason Bentley played this after Michael Jackson died and said that when he was growing up this was his "jam." That's a very smart musical man.

"Swimming Pool" — The Submarines: Songs use metaphors and similes all the time. Many of them suck. This one is a perfect fusion of lyric, melody, harmony, song length and idea.

"Dancing in the Dark" — Ted Leo & The Pharmacists: Awesome bootleg of a great Springsteen song. Play this at a party and someone might fall in love.

"All I Want Is You" — U2: I think this is the best. love. song. ever.

"Stay" — Belly: "He sleeps under stairs along with the heirs
Of nothing and nothing means no one who cares
But I love him dear and I love him dear
And I've loved him hundreads of thousands of years."

"Fade Into You" — Mazzy Star: Hope Sandoval's vocal on this song is a perfect match for the ambivalent lyrics.

"Plainsong" — The Cure: Dark dark dark moments of love.

"Chasing Dragons" — Gemma Hayes: over.

"Baby Just Be Yourself" — The Pipettes: Unfortunately, you'll probably encounter too many people in life to whom you want to play this song for. At least the Pipettes have fun with all their songs.

"Political" — Spirit Of The West: Work through the shit in this song and tis the real thing.

"Papa Was a Rodeo" — The Magnetic Fields: Ridiculously beautifully sad song.

"If Love Is A Red Dress" — Maria McKee: Someone's heart has been buffalo'ed. I hope that you never feel like this song, Charlene.

"The Drinking Song" — Moxy Fruvous: Here's what I told the Wude, when I included it on her mix. It still holds. One of my fave bands from high school. This song about aftermath is just about perfect.

Disc 3
"Little Bones" — The Tragically Hip: This is the PARTY disc. Another thanks-to-CFNY song. This song makes even a dorm room sound like a rowdy bar on the Canadian frontier. And what could make a party better? NOTHING.
"California Love" — Dr. Dre and Tupac: When this song stops being welcome at parties, then check the horizon for the silhouettes of four dudes on horses or a red Moon rising.

"Sexy Hypnotist" — Luscious Jackson: I think I always hoped one of these would show up at a party. I had to settle for --------------. You'll hear this story when  you're older.

"This Is The Night" — Jarvis Cocker, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Steve Mackey, Jason Buckle, Steve Claydon: This is guaranteed to make your parties magical.

"Sukie In The Graveyard" — Belle & Sebastian: The second-coolest concert party moment I've ever seen was at the Hollywood Bowl when B&S closed their show with the LA Phil with this song. Crowd members got up and were dancing around the orchestra pit!

"The Bleeding Heart Show" — The New Pornographers: At 2:40 this song kicks into the greatest overdrive ever.

"Intervention" — The Arcade Fire: The first time I heard this was on a leaked mp3 of its debut on British radio. The DJ said that if this song didn't make you feel something special inside something was basically wrong with you. I could not agree more.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" — Tori Amos: Nirvana's version of this song inspired slamdancing at college parties in 1992. This version is for when the party needs to chill.

"Into the Mystic" — The Swell Season: Van Morrison cover that's a much better song than Brown-Eyed Girl, which is a fun, if grossly overplayed, party song.

"Not Going Home" — The Elected: For when dawn is closing on you and you still wanna outrun it.

"Take On Me" — A.C. Newman: By the end of the song you'll know why this version is a must-include on the PARTY disc. :)

"My Life Would Suck Without You" — Kelly Clarkson: Favorite pure pop star of the decade must be represented. With any luck this is how you'll feel about most everyone you're surrounded by on weekends.

"Love U More" — Sunscreem: This is as techno as I got. Just dance.

"Summertime" — DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: Be bold and bring it down and everyone will thank you.

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" — They Might Be Giants: A great party has the levity and intelligence of this song.

"Life In a Northern Town" — Sugarland, Little Big Town & Jake Owen: Little countrified version of an 80s classic. I hope that the parties you attend will have people who appreciate some diversity.

"World Sick" — Broken Social Scene: Just listen and fall in love with Canadian music.

"Sometime Around Midnight" — Airborne Toxic Event: Taste of California. I don't know of any songs that charge me up more than this.

Disc 4
"Safe Travels" — Peter and the Wolf: Another alum gifted me this song for the Perfect Song CD project. It's a spare and beautiful song. It's inclusion should be obvious.

"Pictures Of Success" — Rilo Kiley: This is my favorite song, Charlene. It's the song by the band that makes me (an early 30s person) feel about music the way that I did back in high school. Like the best songs, the opening notes immediately put the part of my brain that loves music into a suspended animation, in which exists only the song. Musically, it’s simple but the lyrical and vocal vulnerability as Jenny Lewis contemplates the future and laments the possibility of living a meaningless life ... it coalesces into something that absolutely hypnotizes me. It’s every moment of my youth that I wondered whether there was something beyond Amherst, NY and every moment since that I’ve understood that there is and that I can’t waste it. In short, the purest example in my life of William Blake’s concept of higher innocence—seeing with the unfiltered wonder of a child and understanding with the wisdom of those who have learned to value the fleeting nature of our time.

"Red Dirt Girl" — Emmylou Harris: You've already not become her. Be bold as you venture out and inward.

"Boy 1904" — Jónsi & Alex: Iceland rules as does music from Iceland.

"Us" — Regina Spektor: I hope that you'll feel this way about all your memories, especially of college.

"Elevator Love Letter" — Stars: The way Amy Millan talks about the power of shared memories as she introduces this live version speaks to the ineffable bonds of sharing a beginning.

"To Sir With Love" — Soul Asylum and Lulu: Maybe scratch what I said about "All I Want Is You" by U2? This might be the greatest love song ever. And I actually like this duet version better than the original solo version by Lulu.

"Slow Show" — The National: Another gift song from an alum. You guys have great taste.

"Umbrella" — Rihanna: Don't be like me and forget about great pop music while thinking that cool kids don't like it.

"A Million Tears" — Kasey Chambers: A song the defines a heartfelt plea.

"I Would Never" — The Blue Nile: I believe this is what the wisdom of having healed sounds like.

"Falling Slowly" — Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová: This bootleg is from the movie. This will never cease giving me chills.

"Stay" — Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories: This is one of the most defining songs of my time in college. This video sorta made Lisa Loeb a precursor for Tina Fey's intelligent, quirky hotness. Reality Bites was a crappy movie, though.

"California Stars" — Billy Bragg and Wilco: Don't forget from whence you came.

"Ammæli" — The Sugarcubes: Icelandic version of "Birthday" from Disc 1. I heard this for the first time while vacationing there. LOVED IT.
"Parting Words" — Michael Giacchino: Giacchino's score made the raft scene in the season 1 finale of Lost the most emotional thing I've ever seen on TV. It felt like the closer to this mix, but then I realized that we needed something less poignant.

"Stadium Love" — Metric: fin

Monday, January 31, 2011

Closure after 20 years

Most of us who grew up in Western New York inherited three things: a toughness to weather (and the lame, uninformed jokes about Buffalo's in particular), fandom of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, and an inferiority complex.

I've never been as nervous as I was sitting on our family room floor on Jan. 27, 1991 watching Scott Norwood line up for the 47-yard field goal from the right hash that would decide Super Bowl XXV. If he misses the Giants would win 20-19, upsetting a team that the Vegas oddsmakers had made a 7-point favorite based on their vaunted no-huddle offense that thrashed the L.A. Raiders in the AFC Championship Game 51-3.

But if Norwood makes it, he wouldn't just be kicking the ball through the bright yellow uprights further than he ever had on grass and winning the Super Bowl for championship-starved Buffalo. He wouldn't even be kicking our region's inferiority complex in the face, he'd be stabbing it in the heart while simultaneously resurrecting a civic pride probably not seen since the turn of the 20th Century when Buffalo was a thriving city of half million people that provided life-giving sea access for the Midwest. Hell, he might even be curb-stomping the tired weather jokes.

Despite being just 15 years old and not even a lifelong WNYer (let alone an actual Buffalonian), I knew that. I knew that because every Bills fan watching knew that. It was inherited from our parents, the national pop culture, our giving the key to the city to Frank Deford because he stuck up for our weather on a national pregame show by pointing out that multiple NFL cities had colder average winter temps, our County Exec making the embarrassing choice to bet maple syrup with his counterpart rather than chicken wings, and two city slogans that used improper grammar (Talking Proud! and Buffalo, You're Looking Good).

To quote the great longtime Bills announcer Van Miller (as written in the Buff News story):

"Scott Norwood, rarely raises his voice above a whisper, he can fire the shot heard 'round the world now and win a Super Bowl with eight seconds to play ... He's made only [six of 10] outside the 40. Here we go. Lingner ready to snap it back to Reich. Eight seconds to play. Norwood takes a practice swing with the right leg. Everyone up on their feet, watching intently. Norwood reaches down and takes something off his left cleat, now does it again. Still standing up near his holder, concentrating, waiting for the snap. Here we go, the Super Bowl will ride on the right foot of Norwood. 

Waiting for the snap, Reich, arm extended, puts it down, on the way, it's long enough ... and it is no good. He missed it to the right with four seconds to play. It was long enough but it was no good. And Norwood, walking slowly and dejectedly off the field. Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal that would have won the Super Bowl for the Bills."

As Sports Illustrated's Peter King said later, "Does that paint a great picture or what?"

I have a pretty fucking great memory, but I can't remember how I reacted. I don't recall if there was yelling, screaming, punching of pillows or just shocked paralysis. I watched the game with my parents, so I know that I didn't swear. I know that I didn't cry and nothing in the room got broken save for the most important thing in there—our hearts.

My only memory of life after Super Bowl XXV is dreading getting the next issue of Sports Illustrated, which had typically been one of the highlights of my week. Apparently I let my feeling of being cheated metastisize so much that months later my mom yelled at me to "get over it, because it's just a game." I don't actually remember being bitter, but my mom wouldn't have said that if it weren't true. Joan F just doesn't roll with exaggeration.

Six months later I finally opened and read that issue of Sports Illustrated with Giants DB Mark Collins on the cover. A couple years (?) later, my father and I re-watched the VHS tape with the Super Bowl on it. The first half, which ended with the Bills up 12-10, was fine. For a fleeting instance we both felt like we might win.

At one point late in college (after the Bills had lost four Super Bowls in a row), I started to come to terms with the experience. My father and I (in that bizarro version of rationality that is mostly warped emotion but spoken without feeling in the voice) noted that what this Bills team did was as impressive as anything any other team had done (no NFL team before or since made it to four straight Super Bowls)  ... they just didn't win when it mattered the most.

Twenty years later there's still a scar on my heart. The vulnerability of the open wound has healed over, but my heart is not the same as it was before. I walk with a feeling that Buffalo's best days won't return no matter how many cool new things pop up and thrive through the cracks in the city's foundation (like the Lloyd Taco Truck and Hero Design and even hosting a TEDX event). And I walk that way despite knowing what my mom said about it being just a game is true, particularly now as Egypt faces a revolution.

Well, all that was true until today. On Sunday, The Buffalo News ran it's 20th anniversary package about Super Bowl XXV. News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan interviewed more than two dozen former players, coaches and execs to get their memories of that fateful experience. The benefit and wisdom gained over time paired with native Rhode Islander Sullivan's ineffable "get" of Buffalo resulted in the closure I've needed.

My favorite story was "It ain't hooking," which focused specifically on players' and coaches' memories of Norwood's kick. To liberally quote from the passage that redeemed my relationship with the city ...

Hearing [Bills longsnapper Adam] Lingner and [backup QB and holder Frank] Reich anguish about the laces, you sense that, even to this day, they would like to take some of the burden off Norwood. He was crushed by the miss. Norwood has said he didn't feel he had failed, but that he had let his teammates down. He trudged off the field, his head slumped forward, then went into the losing locker room.

Norwood stood at his locker for a good hour, answering every question from wave after wave of reporters. [Special teams coach Bruce] DeHaven stood by his side the whole time. A few minutes would go by, then DeHaven would ask Norwood if he'd had enough. Norwood shook him off each time. "I think I owe it to the fans to answer some questions."

DeHaven later named a son after Norwood. "We adopted him in Colombia," said DeHaven, who is on his second tour as the Bills' special teams coach. "Tobin Scott DeHaven. Scott handled that deal with so much dignity, so much class, that day."

He spoke haltingly, the emotions surging in him again. "I, I just wanted to be able to tell Toby some day, 'This is how you should conduct yourself in life. This is a pattern in life to follow.' He'll be 14 soon. I think he understands now."

I literally ended the story, which also revealed a new detail shared by backup QB and kick holder Frank Reich about Norwood's uncharacteristic struggles during warmups, in tears. And not a single Indian don't-pollute-or-litter tear, but cheeks soaked by streams of tears.

My favorite nuggets though were in Sullivan's interview, which ran in an extended version on his blog, with fantastic Bills backup running back Kenneth Davis, which reminded me how much the people who played on that team meant to me and the city. 

I told Kenny he seemed emotional just talking about it.

"It is emotional," he said. "I never had a bad day in Buffalo. I don't care if it was practice, training camp at the college, Rich Stadium or on the road. I never had a bad day. I was excited to come to work. I was up early every day. I ... loved ... coming ... to work. It didn't matter if it was summertime or the middle of the year. It was because of the cohesiveness of the organization, the attitude. I'm talking even the people who cleaned up for us, the people who fed us lunch, the ones who cleaned up the stadium."

Davis said he never felt much separation between the team and the fans in Buffalo. He felt a kinship between a blue-collar team and a blue-collar community. He remembers how it felt on a cold Sunday on game day, seeing the smoke coming out of tailpipes in the cars, the smell of barbecue as he walked down the tunnel. He seemed ready to run out and hit someone as he spoke. By the time he was done, I was ready to run out the tunnel with him.

"To walk out there and see those fans with their beer helmets on, their wool caps, drinking their beer and the smiles on their faces. It made work better for them when we won. It was exciting to walk out and see them up there. You'd see the team on the other sideline and want to kick their butts. There was no feeling quite like it. Man, Buffalo is just a wonderful place."

The fact that men like Davis got that added the corollary to my mom's admonishment that I should "get over it, because it's just game" ... "and that what's most important about what just happened wasn't that kick or the score, but that you got to experience the unique synergy of a city, its team and the fans of both."

So thanks to Mom, Sully, Buffalo the city and the Bills and City of Buffalo fans and most of all to the execs, staff, coaches and players for the memories.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How to respond to Michelle Bachman

From a great blog post on by Paul Thornton ...

The problem is that [U.S. Rep. Michelle] Bachmann is a sought-after pundit in the first place. Much of her brand is bombast, which brings with it a less-than-wholesome treatment of the truth. Getting into a tizzy over her untrue, yet confident, utterances gives her more airtime than her intellectual heft deserves. Of course, this means the non-Fox News broadcasters would have to resist the temptation to invite her on as a commentator. No objections here.

Like many liberals and rationalists, I get frustrated when I see and hear how alarmist comments from the Tea Party and its favorite politicians and commentators generate enthusiasm from people. It's like arguing with Creationists about evolution and the age of the Earth. How does one have a reasonable discussion when the premises fundamentally conflict?

Thorton's blog post reminded me of advice I try to dispense to my students: being the cooler head in a disagreement will hardly ever hurt you. Rather than try to out-yell or out-scare or out-blame people like Glenn Beck and Bachmann, we should ignore them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I didn't die // the body never ceases changing

I willingly ate a floret of broccoli Sunday night and I survived. I didn't gag or even have a hard time swallowing it. Granted, I didn't like the taste but I realized that I could eat broccoli if forced and that I may not have to be so meticulously diligent when filtering it out of casserole-style mixtures.

This probably doesn't sound like much an accomplishment to most, but let me give a quick history lesson that will illuminate the significance of this post. After finishing my freshman orientation at the University of Arizona in the summer of 1993, my parents and I went to Applebee's for dinner. After basically finishing our meals, my mom, who also hates veggies, and I each had some broccoli left over that had come on the side of our entrees. We dared each other to eat a piece. My dad, if I'm remembering correctly, offered money to whomever ate one first.

We each stabbed a floret with our forks and slowly raised them toward our mouths. And about six inches away, when that pungent bitterness starts invading our nostrils my mom and I each balk.

My dad makes fun of us, yet neither of us even responds to his provocations because broccoli is a vile weed.

Now 17.5 years later, my taste buds have evolved and I hate broccoli and survived.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Holy Grail television moment

I've been digging off and on for this since the day it happened back on Sept. 12, 2000. I owned a crappy quality bootleg copy for a short time. I left my AOL dialup connected for hours to download it. And then somehow the file corrupted and turned into encoded crud. And tonight ... U2 performing "Elevation" and literally owning the world of anyone who watched this for four minutes.

U2 - Elevation (Live on SNL)
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Discovering little bits of yourself where you might not expect

One of my favorite things to do is read someone's Google chat status and respond. It's one of the reasons I don't sign up for Facebook. If I get so distracted by the emoticons, pop culture reference jokes and especially articles that my friends post sporadically, how would I ever filter "status updates"?

Well, one of my great friends posted this David Brooks story about how our brain works and our mind acquires its values and VALUES in The New Yorker and it blew me away, in large part because I'm geekily interested in neuroscience and evolutionary neurophysiology and behaviorism. But also just because I felt like I saw bits of myself on The New Yorker website.

There were so many passages that caused me to stop and think (the sign of great writing).

• Human beings are overconfidence machines. Paul J. H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave questionnaires to more than two thousand executives in order to measure how much they knew about their industries. Managers in the advertising industry gave answers that they were ninety-per-cent confident were correct. In fact, their answers were wrong sixty-one per cent of the time. People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety-five per cent chance of being right; in fact, eighty per cent of them were wrong. Ninety-nine per cent of the respondents overestimated their success.

• Research over the past thirty years makes it clear that what the inner mind really wants is connection. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was right. Joining a group that meets just once a month produces the same increase in happiness as doubling your income. According to research by Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, and others, the daily activities most closely associated with happiness are social—having sex, socializing after work, and having dinner with friends.

• People generally overestimate how distinct their own lives are, so the commonalities seemed to them a series of miracles. The coincidences gave their relationship an aura of destiny.

Those are three of my favorite points, but the passage that inspired me comes toward the end when someone explains the river of knowledge. "I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. ..."

The quote continues and the additional explanation and context is illuminating.

Perhaps this is just me finding joy in an article that comes from experts who seem to be validating the choices I've made and who reinforce my spending hours trying to get my students to see beyond the SAT-over-preparation to impress the "right" colleges for the hopes of a lucrative and successful career. But I don't think so.

The most important lesson I feel like I've learned as an adult it to become comfortable with who I am and to be smart enough to recognize that I am not entirely sure of who that is anyway. And I dig that this article aligns with my values of enjoying people more than anything else.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

An argument for copy-editing and/or drinking

Found this on yesterday in a story about a lavish fundraiser for GOP members of Congress.

[Freshman U.S. Rep, R-Ca, Jeff] Denham and his sponsors certainly went all out — despite the tone of austerity that incoming Speaker John Boehner is trying to set for his new GOP majority. Jim Beam, Dewers scotch, Johnny Walker Red Label and Souza tequila were readying to be served to VIP patrons at a tended bar. ...

Unfortunately for Politico and writer Jake Sherman, if Denham in fact had DewErs scotch and SOuza tequila served maybe it was a cheap affair, because those don't exist. I am going to guess that he meant Dewar's and Sauza.

I am only 10 percent laughing about this. The only humor is that the mistake was made about common alcohol, something most reporters don't make mistakes about. 

The 90 percent of this that was scary is that Politico is usually an excellent website staffed by lots of talented people who used to grace the pages of fine daily newspapers. To mess up something so easy cuts to the heart of journalistic credibility (if they can't get that stuff right, how/why should the public trust us to get the more complicated and nuanced stuff right?).


It feels good to be blogging again.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A professional's thoughts about language and the killings in Arizona

The fantastic Roy Peter Clark at the Poynter Institute writes an amazing column about how we refer to/discuss/write about Jared Lee Loughner.

My fave section and what I tried clumsily to say in my post yesterday ...

The six dead in Tucson were not killed in traffic accidents but at the hands of another human being. The loss, the grief, the agony of those left behind remain as real whether we call Loughner an assassin, a domestic terrorist, a fanatic, a mass murderer or – the informal consensus – a “nut job,” a dismissive, self-deluding designation used by Americans (including me) who prefer to ignore the real consequences of mental illness.


The misuse of words, journalists know, is the fuel for propaganda, scapegoating, misinformation and hate. Try to think of a single hot-button issue in the American culture wars that has not been waged as a war of words, in which combatants battle to gain the upper hand by being first to name the issue.

Think of “death panels” to describe medical advice given near the end of life.

It’s the death tax vs. the millionaire’s tax; pro-choice vs. pro-life; illegal alien vs. undocumented worker; refugee vs. evacuee; prisoner of war vs. enemy combatant.


And here's someone else who said what I was feeling better than me ...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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