Friday, April 29, 2005

Another audio alert/shameless self promotion

The 19 Minutes staff has been holed up in a production studio for most of the day, pulling together Arizona Public Radio's month-in-review program, "Last Friday." If all the computers behave themselves, the results should be on the air at 6:00 pm today, Mountain Standard/Pacific Daylight Time. Also, it'll soon be on the web here.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Magnum, P.D.Q.

With the change to Daylight Saving Time (except here in Arizona, of course) and the cable TV world's never-ending need to shift programs to different time slots, my wife's "Chicago Hope" habit (and thus, her Discovery Health network) habit has fallen by the wayside a bit.

So "Magnum, P.I." is currently gracing our television. It's on an honest-to-God, good old fashioned UHF station that also carries "Hogan's Heroes" and "Perry Mason". The 19 Minutes Leadership Team half expects to encounter the supporting characters from the UHF stations it watched in childhood -- "Captain 20" and "Captain Chesapeake" spring to mind. So does a healthy eating PSA, featuring "Spudnik the Space Potato" singing about why it's good to eat salad. But I digress.

Anyway, watching "Magnum" in 2005 provides another one of those cringe-inducing windows into one's past, along the same lines as the dialogue on "MacGyver", or the Phil Collins-intensive musical scores on "Miami Vice". And you ask yourself: Was this stuff actually cool? Or was it uncool stuff pretending to be cool? Or was it always uncool, only I was too uncool to realize it wasn't cool?

(This brings to mind a classic character description from Ben Elton's classic environmental catastrophe novel, Stark:

"However hot it was Colin always thought he was cool - small and cool. He was one of those rare people who try to be cool and somehow manage in the process to be a bit cool -- not much, but a bit. He was so unashamed of his pretensions that they kind of worked."

In the context of 2005, Magnum is either not cool at all or totally retro-cool. Today's episode features our hero driving his Ferrari while wearing one of those mesh-backed trucker-style ballcaps that disappeared entirely for about 20 years (except in a baseball school commercial featuring Fred McGriff), and then reappeared on the heads of edgy rock musicians. In yesterday's episode, he purported to want to relax in his hammock, reading Dostoevsky and listening to a Walkman playing Tchaikovsky, which was supposed to make him seem like a Renaissance man, but just came off as stultifyingly weird.

There's really no good way to wrap this up, except to note that in today's episode of Magnum, John Ratzenberger plays the bad guy (Yeah, we just ruined the ending. Sorry.). They catch him while he's off playing gin with his buddy, Norm. Not that we'd accuse the "Cheers" people of stealing from an obscure episode of Magnum, P.I., but it is interesting.

And my wife's just asked me if we can set the VCR. For "Chicago Hope". It seems they're showing it at 1:00 am these days.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I get press releases, Volume 12: Noah From Hell

Here at 19 Minutes World Headquarters, we're the recipients of a weekly news digest from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Usually, it involves an update on fishing conditions around the state (and yes, it still amazes us that people go fishing in Arizona), changes to hunting regulations, and notices of meetings in far-flung places. But recently, we received the following update, which we're hoping gets optioned as a movie script, or at least an episode of "Cops":

Routine traffic stop results in alligator surprise

A routine traffic stop by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer proved to be anything but routine when a trailer full of alligators, snakes and other animals was discovered. The Arizona Game and Fish Department was immediately called in to help.

DPS stopped a San Bernadino, Calif. man near Casa Grande at 11 p.m. April 17 for an equipment violation (tail light out). The man told the officer that he and his wife were relocating from California to Georgia. The DPS officer asked and received permission to search the triple-axle fifth-wheel trailer being towed behind the man's truck. The officer found a surprise: the trailer was full of alligators and other animals.

The DPS officer called the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Two wildlife officers and a biologist arrived on the scene to discover 32 alligators and three desert tortoises, along with 30 boa constrictors, various chickens and even some rabbits. It took hours to safely process all the animals.

"We kept finding alligators hidden in every nook and cranny of the trailer. None of the alligators had their jaws taped closed, so we had to be very careful handling them. It got pretty hairy at times," said Wildlife Officer Ken Dinquel. [Mitch's comment: Of course, as these were alligators and tortoises, "hairy" is probably the one adjective that doesn't describe the situation...]

Officer Dinquel cited the man for possessing the alligators without proof of legality. Alligators are listed as restricted live wildlife in Arizona. It is not legal to hold them in the state without a special holding permit. It is legal to transport them across the state but only if the person doing the transporting can show that he or she is in legal possession of the animals. In this case, the man had no paperwork in his possession relating to the reptiles.

The department seized the following:

* One 8.8-foot alligator
* One 6.5-foot alligator
* One 6-foot alligator
* One 5-foot alligator
* 27 alligators between 20 inches and 3.5 feet
* Three desert tortoises

The confiscated alligators and desert tortoises were taken to the Phoenix Herpetological Society for holding pending the outcome of the case. The Herpetological Society has built special ponds just for alligators and closely works with the department to provide a secure location to hold such reptiles.

Russell Johnson with the Herpetological Society said they had already begun work on some additional ponds prior to the incident Sunday night, but they did a mad scramble on Monday to finish those ponds and construct some others to hold the additional 32 alligators. The Herpetological Society was already holding 28 large aquatic reptiles, including alligators, caimans and crocodiles, for the department.

A few observations: First, Russell Johnson is the perfect person to have taken on this project. As the Professor on Gilligan's Island, he was adept at building generators and fixing radios (though, not, it should be noted, fixing boats), so building alligator ponds should be no problem.

On a related note, the Russell Johnson website is the perfect place to check out Russell Johnson's friend Judy's recipe for potato salad, and also learn that he and his wife endorse Coleman products, though it's unclear whether he recommends them for storing alligators. But I digress.

Second, it's interesting to note that Arizona Game and Fish distinguishes six-foot and six-and-a-half foot alligators. A little checking reveals few other places that make this distinction. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, however, helps our alligator measurement skills with the formula for calculating an alligator's length: "One inch = One foot". I have no idea how to interpret this, though one might guess it means that for every foot of alligator length, expect to lose an equal number of inches of your length when you're chomped.

And finally, it's interesting to note that you need a permit to carry alligators through Arizona, but boa constrictors are apparently cool, as far as Game & Fish is concerned. And it goes without saying that you can transport "various" chickens through Arizona with no license.

Monday, April 25, 2005

More news you may have missed

The news reaches us this afternoon that Arizonans favor putting the Grand Canyon on the state's commemorative quarter, due to be released in 2008 by the US Mint. This news comes to us via a poll from the Social Research Laboratory at Northern Arizona University (where, we hasten to add, 19 Minutes World Headquarters is also located).

The 423 Arizonans polled put the Grand Canyon on top with 28%, easily outpolling the saguaro cactus (19%), "state symbols" (9%), "Native American theme" (8%), and a few others. Amazingly "hand guns" did not show up on the survey, as the state's residents apparently favor putting them everywhere else. Also not making the list, but in the 19 Minutes staff's opinion, deserving consideration, are: RVs with Canadian license plates, freeways closed for construction, and Californians buying houses. At least the US Mint hasn't already lined up the Grand Canyon for Colorado's quarter. (And yes, we referenced that story last week, too.)

But the most interesting part of the survey came a little later, as we learn that Arizonans' current favorite state quarter is the 2004 Wisconsin quarter, featuring a cow's head, a wedge of cheese, an ear of corn, and the slogan "Forward". (Personally, we like this proposed Wisconsin quarter better.) Frankly, we have no idea what this tells us about our fellow Arizona citizens. We're cheesy? We're corny? "Forward" is our favorite Internet Explorer icon? We also aren't sure why Delaware's quarter (3%) comes in above the much spiffier Maine quarter (2%). Another example of the power wielded by the all-powerful Delaware Quarter Cartel.

Onward to our final item from the news today:

Unless you've been lurking on the Colorado AP wire, you may have missed this item, from the "Exactly What Kind of Blizzards are They Serving?" category:

Focus on the Family says it didn't organize protest of Dairy Queen

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Focus on the Family says neither it nor its lobbying arm organized a protest against the business of Senator Ken Salazar's wife -- or the senator himself.

Salazar has accused about 30 protesters from the conservative Christian group of showing up yesterday outside the Dairy Queen store owned by his wife in Westminster. Some protesters carried signs with pictures of fetuses or the slogan "Boycott Salazar D-Q," and impeded traffic to the store.

But Focus on the Family says today that they have no way of knowing whether any protesters are constituents of the organization. It says some people actually were there protesting its group.

If nothing else, this represents a nice change from the people protesting outside Wendy's with those big foam #1 fingers.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hide the kids -- it's the "19 Minutes" shower scene

Today, as part of 19 Minutes’ ongoing public service to our women readers, we’re going to take a (figurative) look inside the world that is men’s locker rooms.

I do this to break down any illusions our women readers may have about these places. I don’t know if women actually have any illusions about men’s locker rooms, but as a semi-typical male, I can assure you we guys had plenty of illusions about women’s locker rooms. In my case, most of them came from a junior high school viewing of the movie “Stripes”, featuring a shower-style scene with a peeping John Larroquette and the then-mysterious line, “I wish I was a loofah.”

I have no independent information to work with, but I’ve come to accept the notion that this may have been an exaggerated image. Judging from the stuff out there on the Internet, a lot of guys haven’t yet figured that out, but that’s a topic for a different post.

Anyway, I don’t remember seeing any movies with a parallel view of men’s locker rooms, but just in case there are any women readers out there with a similarly romanticized (whatever) notion, let’s take a peek (again, figuatively):

My first real experience with locker rooms was in high school. I don’t really remember changing clothes before or after gym class, but I assume we must have. I’m sure we didn’t shower. The Atacama Desert had seen water more recently than the showers in the guys’ locker room. I’m glad I didn’t have to sit next to myself in 11th grade Anatomy & Physiology.

Three years of college baseball led to quite a bit of time in the men’s locker room in college. The coolest part of this experience was dropping my practice clothes off at the equipment room and having them appear – as if by magic – clean a day later. The least cool part of the experience was on Saturday mornings, when the locker rooms were used both by the baseball team and by grade school wrestlers. We ballplayers put on our uniforms to get ready. The grade school wrestlers got ready by, um, reducing their way down to their weight class. The stalls didn’t have doors. The baseball players got dressed in a hurry.

But paying to go to a real-live adult health club, I spend a little more time in the locker room, which exposes me to… the dreaded Locker Room Conversation.

At my health club, the conversation varies, depending on the time you’re there. My pick for worst time to spend in the men’s locker room is the 4:30-6:00 pm range on weekdays. During that time, the locker room is populated by guys who have just gotten done with work – guys who have spent an entire day being griped at by their customers, ignored by their co-workers, and fielding requests from their bosses. So a trip to the locker room allows them a rare platform from which to pontificate. The topics range from real estate transactions they’ve accomplished all the way to real estate transactions they’d like to accomplish. Sometimes, they’ll branch out and discuss real estate transactions they’d like to accomplish, if only their wives would let them. There must be some hormone which causes men to discuss real estate with each other, once they’re naked. I’m deficient in this hormone.

I’ve been going to the gym before work. At 7:30 am, the few guys that are there are apparently devoting nearly all of their mental energy to putting their shoes on the correct feet. You can literally hear the same three guys discuss the weather in exactly the same way four days in a row. (“Man… that’s some wind out there, uh?” “Damn garbage cans blew across my yard last night…”) I’m no more interested in this stuff than in real estate, but I at least feel confident enough to grunt appreciatively if anyone directs a weather comment at me.

But this morning, I was exposed (har) to an all-new locker room conversation genre, which we’ll call “The Hot Tub Public Affairs Shout”. The whirlpool at my health club is located within the locker room complex. So this morning, as I researched the washing instructions for my ankle brace, I listened to two guys who had apparently decided the hot tub was a perfect location for their own spin on “Meet the Press”:





At that point, I got wrapped up in the washing instructions (“Hand wash. Air dry for 60 min.”), so I didn’t hear how the finger converstaion resolved itself.

But I hope I’ve provided a (figurative) window into the world of men’s locker rooms. If not, at least I may have provided a great idea for a new Sunday morning talk show.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Cereal killer

I come from a long line of cereal snobs. Well, snobs might be the wrong term to use, but the 19 Minutes family has always liked its cereal.

My brother was born in 1972. I remember little about the fateful day he was born except two things: a) I was sent off to stay with friends while my mom was in the hospital, and b) my breakfast that morning was Cheerios with milk and sugar.

When I was ten years old, my family drove cross-country from Maryland to the Pacific Northwest, and came back across Canada. To this day, one of my most vivid memories of the trip was buying theretofore undiscovered cereal at a grocery store in Calgary. Some kind of honey-sweetened, bear-shaped cereal. I also thought it was cool that half the box was written in French (“Un céréale miel-adouci et soutenir-formé…”), which also goes to show the deep roots of my geekdom.

One of the highlights of college for me – and for certain, what made it worth the gazillion dollars a year – was the ready access to a cereal bar (buffet?) for breakfast, lunch, or dinner every day in the dining hall. It was also in college that I was first exposed to Cap’n Crunch – not because the dining hall stocked it, but because the Quaker Oats plant was a mere 15 miles from my dorm, and on days we were directly downwind, you could smell the Cap’n wherever you went.

My wife would use the term “snob” to describe my cereal fascination – mainly because I could successfully pass a blind taste-test between real Cheerios and the Safeway “Toastie-O’s” version. Then, I would send the bowl of Toastie-O’s, unfinished, down the garbage disposal.

Lest you think I’m alone in this fascination, my dad, who has been known to consult a Zagat guide before heading out to dinner, generally keeps more boxes of cereal on hand than bottles of wine. A trip to my dad’s place always affords an exciting opportunity to get acquainted with what’s new and exciting in the cereal universe.

So I bore you with this cereal soliloquy because I feel as though I may be losing my cereal edge, or at least letting it go dull. I’ve recently acquired a box of Kellogg’s new “Tiger Power” brand cereal. Aside from the fact that it’s targeted at kids, and it sounds like a new high-octane gas from Exxon, the stuff tastes pretty good. The problem is – I’m sure it’s a repackaging of a cereal from years past. The shape, the taste, the texture – it’s all entirely familiar.

But the marketing is clearly different. Back in the ‘70s, when cereal was CEREAL, in the days when they were upfront about it and called them “Sugar” Smacks (instead of “Honey Smacks” and then plain old “Smacks”), they never would have marketed a cereal the way Tiger Power is marketed – “Grrreat for growth! High in fiber, calcium, and protein!”. So this new wrinkle, I fear, is keeping me from figuring out Tiger Power’s lineage. What were they? (Franken-O’s? Chomp-ems? Kegam Smacks?) Yes, it’s a rare interactive edition of 19 Minutes Past the Hour, should you have any thoughts. About Tiger Power.

It should be noted, however, that this morning my breakfast was, in fact, Cheerios. Milk and sugar, too… though to my knowledge, it resulted in no new siblings.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

As it turned out, nothing was going on here

Just in case my brain was stuck on 'idle', I ducked out of the office for a little while yesterday to cover part of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano's visit to Flagstaff. She made three stops -- at a ribbon-cutting for a local wind energy business, the local Rotary Club's Tuesday lunch, and Lowell Observatory. Not exactly on a par with the papal election.

The last time I interviewed the Governor, she went directly from our interview to having emergency surgery. Apparently undaunted, her office called me no less than three times to publicize this less-than-newsworthy sounding trip. So I decided it'd be politically useful to at least show my face at one of the events. We don't really have trouble getting the Governor on the air, since we're equipped with a reporter based at the state capitol. But that fact never seems to connect with her press people, so on the off-chance we *need* to get her on the air at some point, I thought I'd see if there was any news to extract from Tuesday's trip.

I headed over to Lowell Observatory for two reasons -- they were actually savvy enough to send out a press release, and it was a five-minute drive. The Governor's hour at Lowell included sitting in with students from the Navajo Nation, as they learned how comets are formed. She also looked at the blink comparator, the apparatus Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto. And she checked out the Clark Telescope, which gave her an amazing view of the inside of the Clark Telescope Dome, inasmuch as it was 2:30 pm.

But, as a highly-trained journalism professional, I trailed along with her, even as the other reporters (reporter, actually) fell by the wayside. This allowed me to get the big scoop from Napolitano's visit -- she declared Lowell as one of "Arizona's Treasures", which basically means it's one of the places the Arizona tourism folks will try to convince Arizonans to visit this year.

Her point (or the point of whoever dreamed up the "Arizona's Treasures" campaign) is that a lot of people just moved here, and don't have any idea what to check out on their road trips, except possibly the Grand Canyon. (And if they'd bought postage stamps a few years ago, they might not even have known to visit the Grand Canyon.)

With gas prices averaging around $2.30 here, it's probably not bad practice to remind state residents that there's plenty to do around Arizona. But one also imagines the Governor wondering how her hour of astronomy lessons is likely to help her re-election campaign next year. I mean, we have plenty of astronomers in Arizona, but they don't really comprise what you'd call a voting bloc.

Anyway, this is what ended up on our airwaves. And Governor Napolitano stayed out of the hospital, so I guess things turned out okay.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

For those of you who thought there was nothing going on today

You'll recall, no doubt, that the dedication of Fenway Park in Boston in 1912 was somewhat overshadowed by the aftermath of the Titanic's sinking.

It's possible you missed the debate the Iowa Legislature held about Iowa-foaled horses and Iowa-whelped dogs used for breeding and racing, as it took place on the same day the Murrah Federal Building was bombed in Oklahoma City -- ten years ago today.

And you probably have forgotten that the US Postal Service approved a 8.7 percent rate increase a few years back, since it did so on the morning of September 11, 2001.

So on this day that Pope Benedict XVI was selected (or as we like to call him here at 19 Minutes World Headquarters, the new coach of the College of Cardinals basketball team), it's important that we not overlook the other important news developments that transpired today.

A check of the AP wire reveals the following headlines, in order:

German Cardinal Ratzinger Elected Pope

Kuwait Nearing Voting Rights for Women

'Growing Pains' Star Thicke to Wed

There's been much reported on the selection of the new Pope (and somewhat less on the voting rights of Kuwaiti women), but precious little on Alan Thicke's recent relationships. So it will no doubt edify you to learn that the marriage, to longtime girlfriend Tanya Callau, is the third for the 58-year old TV celeb. Even so, he reportedly continues to work on a pilot for a television show called "Second Honeymoon." Meanwhile, you probably knew this already, but Callau's film career continues to take off, comprising as it does, of her role as "Spanish Wedding Guest" in "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement".

There was one other news development today that we believe is unrelated to the selection of the new Pope, but we won't know for certain until the full details of the Pope's installment have been released:

Qatar to Use Robots As Camel Riders

This is old news to those of you who closely follow camel racing news, but the latest from the AP indicates all camel riding in Qatar could be done by robots as soon as 2007. The article does not mention whether the camels themselves will eventually be replaced by robots.

Monday, April 18, 2005

April Madness

So as the Conclave of Cardinals gets underway in Rome, it gets the staff here at 19 Minutes World Headquarters to thinking about the College of Cardinals.

More specifically, it gets us to thinking about why, after 946 years, has the College of Cardinals never made it to the NCAA basketball tournament, much less the Final Four?

A few thoughts come to mind, none of which is especially appropriate. (But we'll continue anyway.)

First, some of these guys are over 80 years old. It's tough for a coach to count on his veterans for leadership if half of them lost their eligibility in 1956. Also, some of them are still on probation for that point shaving scandal under Pope John Paul I.

Second, it's been only relatively recently that the College has reached out to Africa. And places with enormous potential, such as China, are still essentially untapped. As long as the Houston Rockets are grabbing future stars like Yao Ming, the College of Cardinals will have a hard time competing with the likes of the College of Charleston.

All the other top basketball schools are employing a full-time nutritionist to keep their players performing at high levels. The Cardinals are still relying on their old standby, the Diet of Worms. And the marble floor of their practice gym has led to countless knee injuries over the years.

And finally, the previous athletic director, er, Pope, devoted more time and energy into developing the College's hockey program. Really.

But the cagers from the Vatican are still in good shape for next season -- they have some spiffy uniforms that not only make it extremely difficult for opponents to see around them, but their use of the innovative "white smoke" offense is practically impossible to defend against.

Frankly, I'll be disappointed if, under the next Pope, the College of Cardinals doesn't at least make it into the "play-in" game next year. Of course, they'll have their work cut out for them. That team from the Electoral College is tough.

* @ * @ * @ *

One other note, for those of you who can't get enough of the riff on the President's iPod: The Washington Post's Reliable Source has an entertaining interview with Doug Fieger, front man for the 1970s band, The Knack, about the inclusion of "My Sharona" on GWB's personal playlist. Still no word on whether the President has ever worked to decode the lyrics to "Spirits in the Night", by Bruce Springsteen.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I get press releases, Volume 11: Better living through useless statistics

The 19 Minutes staff is at work at this weird hour on Saturday morning, as we help break in a new local Weekend Edition host. She's pretty self-reliant, though, so it yields a unique Saturday morning opportunity to clean my desk and catch up with some old mail.

And that's how I came across this important packet of information, apparently provided by the god of blog material. It is, of course, the "2005 Report of the 2004 Statistics" from the National Clearinghouse of Plastic Surgery Statistics.

It's 18 pages long (so perhaps we won't reprint all of it), and also includes three press releases to help us interpret the numbers. However, it'll be more fun to interpret them on our own. Okay, we can't guarantee it'll be fun, but we're going to do it anyway.

We begin (at the end, so to speak) with the news that 3,496 people underwent a procedure called a "buttock lift" in 2004. Anticipating your next question, we learn that 210 of those people were men. That represents an overall increase of 338% since 2000 -- but a 16% drop (literally, I guess) since just last year. The hefty guide doesn't speculate on the reason for these changes, but looking back, the overall increase roughly corresponds to the slimming down of Al Roker, while the drop in buttock lifts (or, perhaps, the lift in buttock drops) among men took place at a time when Michael Moore's movies saw a surge in popularity. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but here at 19 Minutes Past the Hour, we're forced to fill in the details when the National Clearinghouse of Plastic Surgery Statistics falls down on the job. In its defense the Clearinghouse does include, in its "Quick Facts" section, the fact that 10 times more buttock lifts were performed in 2004 than in 1992.

Onward. The National Clearinghouse of Plastic Surgery Statistics is also kind enough to reinforce all sorts of useful stereotypes. We learn, for example, that patients in Region 5 led the way in liposuction, undergoing 32% of the more than 324,000 such procedures last year. Region 5 includes people in... California. (It also includes patients in AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY, AK, HI, OR, and WA, but it strikes us as unlikely the Montanans are driving these statistics.)

At the same time, we also find out that patients in Region 1 -- by far -- had the most lip augmentation surgeries, undergoing a full 43% of them in 2004. It will surprise no one to learn that Region 1 includes the network news anchor-intensive state of New York, along with New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and the New England states.

Finally, we find out that rhinoplasty (that'd be nose jo- er, nose reshaping) patients spent $1,017,728,749 on their surgeries last year, while the buttock lifters only contributed $12 million to the plastic surgery economy.

It all adds up to one conclusion -- it's amazing what passes for "interesting" at 6:00 in the morning.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Extreme radio makeover

Around the world, journalists are confronted with difficult decisions every day: Should I, at the request of the courts, reveal my confidential sources? Should I put the camera down and rush to the aid of someone in a war zone? Should I go into a war zone in the first place? Does my bias show in the stories I cover?

Here in the radio world that is Flagstaff, Arizona, we're grappling with a similarly weighty issue: Do we cover (and if so, how) the cast of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" as it builds a new house in town?

Seriously, the show -- which is sort of a pseudo-"Queen for a Day", building new homes for people who have had unfortunate events in their lives -- is in Flagstaff this week. The crew is building a house for the parents of Lori Piestewa, a Hopi woman who died early in the fighting in Iraq - and was the first Native American woman ever to die in combat as a member of the US armed forces. To make things more interesting, the project was nominated by the infamous Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was captured during the same mission that saw Piestewa killed.

On its surface, that's the whole story -- Jessica Lynch and ABC do a good deed and build a house for a family whose daughter made the ultimate sacrifice. Forty-five seconds of news, maybe a minute's worth. It's the kind of act the people at Habitat for Humanity do every day, without putting the process on national TV. And it's not as though ABC -- and all the homebuilding suppliers involved in "Extreme Makeover" are doing this entirely out of the goodness of their hearts -- Unless something's changed, ABC still gets a little something called 'ad revenue' and a little something else called 'ratings' out of the deal. And companies such as Shea Homes get something we in the media world like to call 'publicity'.

Still, it's hard to ignore the fact that more than 15-hundred people are in town to build this house, and that the building site has become a Ground Zero-like, quasi-tourist attraction.

This, naturally, raises the question: Are the gawkers out there to steal a glimpse of homebuilder heartthrob Ty Pennington, or out of some level of sympathy and support for the Piestewas, who have been thrown into the national spotlight again without asking for it?

It's a question that will hopefully be the thrust of our story, even as our reporter hopes to steal a glimpse (or, more likely, an interview) with Ty Pennington.

The real question is: When are they going to film an episode of "The Simpsons" in Flagstaff?

And the other iPod match was...

..."Centerfield", by John Fogerty. At least I'm assuming Dubya's iPod doesn't include "Meneito Paraiso", by Laika and the Cosmonauts, or "On the Way to Oconto", by Sigmund Snopek III. ("Particle Man", by They Might Be Giants... maybe.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dubbing with Dubya

A few things are vaguely disturbing to me about the news that President Bush has been jamming to his iPod as he works out in the White House gym.

The guy can listen to what he wants, when he wants to, but I am having trouble reconciling the following:

Imagining the Chief Executive -- as the world reacts to the Pope's death, as another Westerner is kidnapped in Iraq, as the President's own choice for U.N. Envoy is being grilled by a Senate panel -- pulling up iTunes on his Oval Office computer and deciding whether he wants to add "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" to his workout mix. ("And, heck, should I just download the whole album...?")

Second, picturing President Bush getting frustrated with the selection on iTunes ("How could they not have any @%$#! Ultravox CDs?!") and getting one of his aides (Scott McLellan? Andrew Card? Karl Rove?) to monkey with the White House firewall so he can run Gnutella.

Third, envisioning the President sending a White House intern down to the Library of Congress to borrow CDs for him to rip, so he can fill those long Air Force One flights with the original Waylon Jennings recording of the theme from the Dukes of Hazzard. True, it may be a better use for a White House intern than some other presidents have thought of, but but it's still unsettling.

And finally, what really wigs me out is the fact that the President's iPod has at least two songs in common with my iPod. Even more frightening is that one of them is "My Sharona" by The Knack. (I mean, hey, I could imagine him listening to "Good Girls Don't", but "My Sharona" is tough to fathom....)

Tune in tomorrow, as I reveal the identity of the other song our iPods have in common, and as President Bush assigns a blue chip panel to investigate the true identity of "Jenny" from Tommy Tutone's "867-5309".

Monday, April 11, 2005

I get press releases, Volume 10: Always with the zingers

Just a fun-filled headline from the world of press releases:

Developers misleading Flagstaff citizens by claiming to "Protect Flagstaff's Future".
Opponents should call themselves "Threaten Flagstaff's Future"

Had this press release been written by 7th graders in 1984, it would have been followed by the line: "Ooooooh. Cold bust..."

Today's blog post...

...will be even more pointless than usual, as the 19 Minutes staff is on deadline to crank out its monthly magazine column (man, it's rough, running a media empire).

Anyway, I'll leave to you ponder the question that occurred to me on my return commute from the vending machines next door: Why isn't "air" listed among the ingredients on a bag of Funyuns?

And for that matter, how have Funyuns, Hostess Sno Balls, and those bright orange cheese-and-peanut butter crackers endured for lo, these many years when they don't advertise on, they're not associated with a Saturday morning cartoon series (unless you count "Funyun Fu and the Legion of Doom"), and -- as far as I know -- they don't show up on any NASCAR vehicles?

This is especially amazing, considering we live in a landscape that includes something called "Mini Oreos".

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Wait 'til last year!

Baseball season is underway, a fact that has gone amazingly unremarked upon in this space, considering it generally occupies around 73 percent of my waking thoughts by the time the pennant race comes along.

This season has felt a little different, though. I made it to three spring training games, which is right around average, and while the whole sense of renewal that baseball writers forever prattle on about (and which one of my college professors related to the bizarre category of ‘anthropological vegetation myths’) was still there, there’s been something vaguely lacking – something intangible until recently.

It hit me as yet another person asked for my opinion on Ken Jennings. The “Jeopardy!” gazillionaire. I was on “Jeopardy!” a few years back. I even won a couple of games, collecting more money in the span of an hour than I made in my first two years as a radio news guy in small-town Iowa. (And on the third day, I came in third place, entitling me, in part, to a supply of Centrum Silver, which I’ve never received – though the prize may kick in when I turn 65.)

But for a while, when people found out that I’d been on “Jeopardy!”, the standard question was, “So what’s Alex Trebek actually like?” (Interestingly, in the couple of months before I was on “Jeopardy!”, the standard question was, “They send you the questions in advance, right?”, to which I’d reply, “No, you must have me confused with a game show contestant in 1958.”) Alex was cool. Though he did warm up the audience by announcing that he’d passed – on the first try – every contestant search test for the previous six years. Johnny Gilbert, the studio announcer, warmed up the crowd by wearing a silver satin jacket visible from the planet Neptune.

Anyway, since the whole Ken Jennings thing, people have been seeking my pronouncement on the phenomenon. I haven’t really had one, since I haven’t watched “Jeopardy!” more than a dozen times since I was on the show. My rationale: I spent roughly 10 years watching the show, saying “I could beat these clowns,” sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud, sometimes in French (“Je pourrais battre ces clowns”). Then, I beat a few of those clowns, including one guy who wore a velvet smoking jacket. Now, I’m back to yelling “Higher!” at the contestants on “The Price Is Right”.

So, to return to our initial topic (The Diet of Worms? Apple Danish? Clorox? Oh yes, baseball.), I’ve been a Red Sox fan since I became a baseball fan – April 1975. Until last October, I foolishly harbored the notion that the Red Sox might actually win the World Series. When they were up, 3 games to none, against the Cardinals, it still seemed a little far-fetched that they might actually win the Series. Round about the 7th inning of Game 4, the notion became a little less foolish.

Flash forward to April 2005. Oh, that’s right – you don’t have to flash anywhere. It is April 2005. The suspense, the thrill of the chase, the sexual tension of what would happen if the Red Sox were to actually win a World Series – is gone. Worse yet, we’re confronted with Sox cap-clad Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore jumping up and down on our TV screens in ads for “Fever Pitch” every 20 minutes.

So I’m still watching baseball, secure in the knowledge that it still beats the crap out of televised poker, but a little nonplussed by that lack of suspense. Of course, Boston hosts the Yankees next week, and they’re currently tied in the American League East standings, and the Red Sox get their championship rings on Monday, and Curt Schilling comes off the disabled list and… Oh, hell. I guess I can get back into it… for just one more season. (And what time is “Jeopardy!” on?)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Yes, that's me - a great example

So apparently the folks at my health club have an e-mail service that's linked to the barcode scanner that signs me in, because I received the following e-mail this morning:

We notice and respect your discipline. Thank you for setting such a great example to others.

It's probably a good thing the barcode isn't also linked to this blog, because the chronicle of my basketball talents might lead the health club folks to reconsider the use of the term "great example".

It does harken back to a line from the musician/comedian/mathematician Tom Lehrer, who reflected on his brief military service by praising the army for "...taking the American ideal to its logical conclusion. Not only do they prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, creed or color, but also on the grounds of ability."

Weird things are happening

Apologies if any of the following post is garbled or unintelligible (or at least more unintelligible than normal). Blogger (the site through which I publish this fine literary work) is acting odder than Michael Jackson on a good day, and I'm forced to use Netscape 4.7 in order to post anything.

And I'm as surprised as anyone that Netscape 4.7 still resides on this computer.

Anyway, enjoy the following post about Yaphet Kotto.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Five (or perhaps 7) things you didn't know about Yaphet Kotto

Here at 19 Minutes Past the Hour World Headquarters, we've been criticized for not providing you, the reading audience, with enough tidbits to carry you through your next cocktail party, long queue at the bus stop, or dentist appointment. And after a particularly odd conversation with a key 19 Minutes relative, it dawned on us that we're especially deficient in providing trivia about actor Yaphet Kotto.

So to save you the trouble of running your own
Google search
, here's some Kotto material that'll be sure to impress:

1. Though he was born in New York City, he's the son of a crown prince from Cameroon.

2. Somehow, despite being the son of a crown prince from Cameroon, he also manages to be Jewish. This raises the question: There was a Jewish crown prince from Cameroon?

3. There's a hardcore metal band from the Bay Area named "Yaphet Kotto". Their latest album appears to be called "We Bury Our Dead Alive" (which just goes to prove that all the good album titles are taken).

3a. This is most likely unrelated to the previous item, but Yaphet Kotto played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the made-for-TV movie "Raid on Entebbe". (Considering that Kotto is Jewish, this was a deliciously ironic role.)

3b. In yet another unrelated note, the actual Yaphet Kotto recorded a 45 rpm record featuring jazz and poetry, a reading of the poem "Have You Dug His Scene?"

4. Kotto's son, Fred, is an officer with the San Jose Police Department.

5. Yaphet Kotto is probably the only person to play roles on "The A-Team", "Death Valley Days", "Homicide: Life on the Street", and "Seaquest: DSV". But I might be wrong.

So there are your useful bits of Yaphet Kotto trivia. Tune in at a yet-to-be-determined time, as we bring you up-to-date on what's going on with Ted Knight. Or at least what was up with him before he died in 1986

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

He's, like, the guy from the mountain in Washington, right?

Well, it's interesting to note that it took dying for Prince Rainier to finally get the world (and the US broadcast media in particular) to pronounce his name correctly. When the guy was in the hospital, it was Prince "Ren-eer". The guy dies, and he (rightfully) becomes Prince "Ren-yay". (And in the north end of Boston, he's "Prince Spaghetti".)

One imagines that he'll probably draw fewer people to his funeral than the crowd expected for the Pope's funeral. But one also imagines the party in Monaco afterwards will probably be more fun than the Cardinals' conclave (Monaco: Where we put the 'fun' in funeral). Neither one will probably look like the Ayatollah Khomeni's funeral.

And while we're back on the subject of the Pope -- first, they make him live in an apartment, now he gets buried in someone else's crypt. This all sounds like some heavy Papal dissing to me.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I get press releases, Volume 9

Well, here's a "news" item that, I think, puts Pope John Paul II's 27-year reign in the proper perspective:

25th Anniversary of the Ultimate Sticky Note, The Post-It
After 25 Years, The Post-It Note Finds Itself Stuck In Pop Culture

Summary: It was originally intended as a bookmark, but the Post-It note has evolved from a practical reminder to an icon across the globe. Over 25 years it has even become a fixture in pop culture, with star appearances on movies and shows from "Bruce Almighty" to "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Post-It Super Sticky Notes will expand its line to include other colors, styles and shapes to give everyday messages added flair and style.

Indeed, who can forget that star appearance on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", when it won the 'fastest-finger' contest, narrowly edging out the stapler, a binder clip, a 3-hole punch, and two toner cartridges? Too bad it lost on the $100,000 question (Q: The first episode of Sesame Street was sponsored by which letters? A: 'W', 'S', and 'E').

Anyway, this news release, which we're informed is also available in audio form via satellite (once again putting Robert Goddard's pioneering work to good use), goes on to quote Dr. Jack Truong, Vice President of 3M's office supplies division:
"We never cease to be amazed by the creative and unique uses people find for their Post-It notes. As the world's appetite for them has grown, 3M has created Post-It super sticky notes, which allow people to communicate practically anywhere."

Truong doesn't explain how the super sticky notes would help people at, say, baseball games, communicate, but as we can imagine, it would make the job of a 3rd base coach more interesting. For example, he could leave a super sticky Post-It ("Bunt!") on a player's bat. Or he could wave a couple of Post-Its, semaphore-like, to indicate "steal", or "hit-and-run".

The release also doesn't go into any Papal Post-It trivia, but given the significance of this week's 25th anniversary of the Post-It, perhaps the College of Cardinals will finally replace that whole outdated 'puff of white smoke' system to signal the selection of a new Pope with, perhaps, an enormous, super sticky Post-It.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Very Final Four

I’ve been shooting a lot of baskets these days. Okay, “shooting baskets” would imply that the ball generally goes in the basket. More accurately, I’ve been shooting at a lot of baskets these days. Anyway, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, which have made up a large share of my TV viewing of late, inspired me to revisit my own playing days (six action-packed weeks between January and March 1982).

I played “YBA” basketball that year, and as I recall, my speciality was taking the desperation half-court shot at the end of each half – largely because my percentage on these shots was around the same as for my lay-up attempts. After 7th grade, I decided that there were better uses of my spare time in the winter – though, strangely enough, my Dungeons and Dragons skills have been put to even less use than my basketball skills in the intervening years.

So I didn’t play much hoop (that’s what the kids are calling it, right?) for years. Then, one day my freshman year of college, a bunch of us decided to play a pick-up game. Unfortunately, it was around 11:30 pm and the campus gym was closed, so we went looking for an outdoor court with lights. Apparently, such a thing didn’t exist in Catonsville, Maryland in 1987, so we settled for one that was adjacent to a parking lot, so that we could illuminate it with our car headlights. It didn’t take long to figure out why the operators of Madison Square Garden don’t light the Knicks’ court with car headlights – they worked great if we wanted to see the ball while we were dribbling, but much less great if we wanted to, say, see the basket. After taking a couple of rebounds off my face, I hung up my Chuck Taylors again. Not that I ever owned Chuck Taylors. My basketball skills barely warranted Rip Taylors.

And so it was that, nearly two decades later, I started shooting baskets at my local health club. I’ve been working out early in the morning, partly because I actually feel better for the rest of the day, but mostly because there’s no one there to see my awful basketball skills. So I was taking a calculated risk by going to the gym on a Sunday afternoon, when – potentially – there might be other people there. People who had played basketball since Larry Bird retired.

Right off the bat I was in trouble. There was a volleyball league using half the court, so the basketball players (or hacks, as in my case) were limited to just two hoops. I shared one with a kid who seemed well on his way to the same success I enjoyed in my YBA playing days. After about 10 minutes of chasing down each other’s errant shots before they rolled into the volleyball game, he departed.

Enter “A.Z.”. An eighth-grader. Just as I was deciding whether I’d try to make one more shot before calling it a day, the kid walks up. “One-on-one?” he asks. I take off my headphones so I can tell if he’s seriously asking me to play one-on-one. He is. I look him over. 5’2”, maybe 5’3”. (I think: “At least he won’t dunk on me.”) He’s got the baggy basketball shorts, the Air Jordan t-shirt, and the basketball shoes straight out of a Marvin the Martian cartoon, shoes that cost more than my first car (a ’78 Ford Fairmont, eventually donated to the Allegheny County Vocational and Technical High School). I’m wearing nylon sweatpants and a t-shirt from my wife’s high school. I instantly imagined myself losing, 21-0, to this kid.

Reading this on my face, he says, “Up to 11.”

You fellow 36-year old guys in blogland know exactly what happened next.

“Yeah, okay,” I responded (“What the hell am I doing?” was what I was thinking.). “I get the ball first. I haven't played in, like, 10 years, I explained sheepishly.”

I’ll spare you the actual play-by-play, but if CBS’s Verne Lundquist was calling the game, he would have said I showed a lot of character and plenty of mental toughness. (Dick Vitale would have said something like, “You gotta play the game more than every seventeen years, BAY-BEEEE…”) I lost, 11-7, but considered each of my three baskets great moral victories. I hit a three-pointer, a fade-away jumpshot, and what a taller person could have called a “sky hook”, but which I’ll have to term a “ground hook”. And A.Z. (his actual name, so he told me) was pretty darn good. After he hit his winning shot, I gave him what I hoped seemed like a cool handslap/handshake, but which probably more resembled a 36-year old guy trying to seem cool. To his credit, he didn’t sound too incredibly patronizing when he said I was pretty good for some one who hadn’t practiced in 10 years.

Yeah, I knew it had actually been 18 years. But I figured we’d all be better off if he didn’t realize I’ve been this bad since before he was born.

Frankly, I can live without that kind of cheap irony in my life.

Friday, April 01, 2005

And while we're all thinking about the Vatican

All the attention turned to the Pope's failing health has renewed a question I've had for some time:

Doesn't it seem a little, well, underwhelming to describe the papal living quarters as "an apartment"? I mean, calling it "an apartment" makes it seem like the kind of place where the Pope has to constantly call the superintendent to complain about the noise from the Cardinals downstairs ("Will you guys keep the chanting DOWN?! I'm trying to watch 'Wheel' up here."), or the maintenance guy to fix the damn drip in the holy water vessel once and for all. At least they could come up with something with a little more mystique, like the Pope's sanctum, or retreat. With the strong possibility of a Latin American Pope in the future, calling it his "abode" would probably work, too. Or, if the Vatican wanted to connect better with young people, the "Pope's digs" would go some ways towards bridging the generational gap.

If I were the next Pope ("yes, Virginia, someday there'll be a Jewish Pope..."), I'd demand at least a townhouse, especially since any day now, the landlord could take the place condo.

Throwing in the Trowel

It's the first of the month, and time again for that dubious public service; that is, posting my monthly column from Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine, for those of you whose subscriptions have lapsed:

Spring is in the air, and that can mean only one thing: Recreational vehicles driving erratically up Interstate 17 on their way back to British Columbia.

No, really, it means gearing up for another exciting season of gardening in northern Arizona. For me, personally, April means it’s time to get the trowel out of mothballs... and then immediately put it back into mothballs, because I have no idea what to do with it. Or - wait a minute, trowels are those teeny little shovels, right? Trowels I can handle. It’s those little claw things that always baffle me.

I’ve never had the greenest of thumbs. My first bachelor-style apartment featured a couple of house plants, the efforts of some well-meaning relatives who thought they would make a nice counterpoint to the Bugs Bunny poster hanging in the living room. If I recall correctly, they were the kind of hardy houseplants that would survive a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster. I probably had to water them no more than twice a year, and they would have happily hung out in the corner of my kitchen, thinking houseplant thoughts (such as “Does he eat anything except macaroni and cheese?” and “I don’t remember the sun looking quite so long or fluorescent...”).

So as you’ve probably guessed, I killed them off within a couple of months, most likely because walking all the way over to the sink to fill a watering can was such a chore. I occasionally figured the carbonated water in Dr Pepper would do the trick. Had I thought of it, I could have applied for a US Department of Agriculture grant to study the effects of sodium benzoate on ferns.

I got somewhat better at taking care of plants through the years, largely thanks to my wife, Gretchen. When we lived in Washington, DC, she filled our sun-drenched balcony with plants. I enjoyed that quite a bit, partly because they were pretty, and partly because they distracted the local cockroach population away from our kitchen pantry.

When we moved the Flagstaff, we headed out to the Arboretum’s annual plant sale, and aquired the kind of plants a botanist would refer to as “ground cover”, and what I would normally refer to as “Aren’t those things weeds?” We dutifully watered them, and then watched them get progressively browner until we did, indeed, have difficulty telling them from the neighborhood weeds.

But we kept up with houseplants, which all did just fine until our daughter came along, and distracted Gretchen away from the tasks of watering, pruning, or even dusting them off now and then. So those chores have been transferred to me. And the plants are still alive. Some of them seem to be afflicted with skin conditions that lead me to wonder whether they’re going through a kind of horticultural puberty, but at least they still resemble plants.

And my wife and I still manage to do better than some. We once visited friends in Pittsburgh who had lush plants throughout their house. Gretchen made sure to ask them how they kept them so healthy-looking. It turns out that furniture polish does great work on plastic plants.