Tuesday, November 29, 2005

News from the F, G, and H segments

The lights came on early this morning at the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, as we were tasked to host the local broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition. Lots of news about the President's visit to the southwest to talk about immigration reform, the recurring theme of which was that people were either for it -- or against it. A story about the upcoming parliamentary elections in Canada, and an interesting piece about a guy who drives a hydrogen fuel cell car to his daughters' soccer practices.

Each hour of Morning Edition is divided into five segments -- the most important stories, naturally, go into the "A" segment, and the variety of other pieces get slotted into other segments, sometimes depending on importance, sometimes depending on length, and sometimes based on subject matter (the business report, for example, airs in the E-segment of Morning Edition's first hour).

But hosting Morning Edition also affords an opportunity (a responsibility, really) to browse the wire services and newspapers, as I try to pull together relevant newscasts. And in the course of the morning, that means running across plenty of material that doesn't make the Morning Edition cut - nationally or locally.

We start with news from the US Supreme Court, which somehow didn't warrant a piece by NPR Legal Correspondent Nina Totenberg. The high court declined to hear an appeal by a California man, Shawn Gementera, who was convicted of stealing mail and required to stand in front of a post office for eight hours wearing a sign that read "I stole mail - this is my punishment". He was originally sentenced to wear the sign for 100 hours, but the judge reduced the sentence. Gementera claimed the sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Interestingly, the court delivered its decision to defense attorneys by Federal Express.

We move on to news of the death of Stan Berenstain, one of the creators of the Berenstain Bears of children's literature. This is not an especially humorous development, but it does point to the discovery I made just a few months ago that the name "Berenstain Bears" came from the authors, and not from the variety of bears depicted in the stories. Keep in mind that I made this discovery at the age of 36. (On a related note, I learned only last year that the word "booty" -- as referenced in the K.C. and the Sunshine Band disco hit "Shake Your Booty" -- does not refer to the listeners shoe.)

And finally, we check in with Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who used a news conference in Harrisburg to assert that the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles have treated star wide receiver Terrell Owens unfairly by suspending him for the season and preventing other teams from negotiating for his services (such as they are). The Republican lawmaker says he may refer the matter to the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which, coincidentally, he chairs.

In a related story, Specter also plans to ask the committee to take up the matter of requiring other 29 NFL teams to give the players on Specter's fantasy football team ("The Specter of Doom") more playing time.

Concomitantly, the NFL rules committee says it is considering reinstating Owens, but also requiring the Eagles to hire Specter to replace injured quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Further bulletins on these important stories as events warrant.

Monday, November 28, 2005

More curious trends in packaging

As I’ve probably noted, I read too many labels. I’m probably wired to read the label of whatever is nearby, since I’ve been doing it since I could read. I was probably the only first grader who was suggesting “monosodium glutamate” as a spelling word. (And the fact that I was consuming monosodium glutamate probably explained a few things about my first grade life, as well.)

So I read labels. And sometimes I read instruction manuals.

And that’s probably a good thing, since we just acquired a new electric skillet for the commissary here in 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, and it came with Some Assembly Required. I was pretty sure the assembly involved attaching the handles with the screws that were also included, but I figured I should check the instructions, just to make sure. Fortunately, the Rival Electric Skillet came with the following helpful instructions:

Header Bands: RIVAL Wave: 100% PMS 647 Blue with black overprint which starts at 32% black at the lowest point of the wave and ends in 0% black 3/4 of the way up the total height of the wave.

NOTE: when printing, the PMS 647 MUST lay down first, before the process colors to achieve the gradient black overprint.
The instructions were also translated into Japanese and included a diagram, in case they weren’t clear enough.

So now, my only fear about using the new electric skillet is that it may have beem produced by painters with PMS, and thus might spit ingredients back out at me without warning, or criticize my choice of seasoning.

My label-reading habit also came in handy on my trip to the grocery store this evening, as I looked for dish soap. Otherwise, I never would have discovered the only soap with a built-in inferiority complex:

Maybe it’ll clean your dishes, maybe not.

Sometimes, though, this label-reading thing can get in the way of my life. I speak now of the Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues I returned with from this same shopping trip. I’d never seen a box of tissues that included Directions for Use. I’d also never seen a box of tissues that threatened me with arrest:

It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling. Use only as a facial tissue.
A little research revealed that this dates back to HR 2001-00076, the Statutory Nasal Ejection and Expectoration Zeroing Effort Act, which sought to prevent potential terrorist cells from weaponizing facial tissues.

I assume this little-known law is also why the Kleenex box also includes directions for Storage and Disposal:

Store in a dry area. Dispose of used tissues promptly. Do not reuse empty container.
This direction, I’m sure, vaguely disappoints all the people out there hoping to set the World Record for Largest Used Kleenex Collection, but it’s probably a better option than saving all the Kleenex, only to have Federal Agents break down your door and take you to Paper Products Prison.

And finally, my personal grooming products are talking to me again. Another stick of Degree anti-perspirant, another message carved into it. This time, it was:

Take the Risk”.
Which, to me, sounds like a dare not to use anti-perspirant. But I’m going to use it, anyway. Just in case there’s another little-known Federal law out there.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Zoom. Zoom Zoom. Zoom zoom zoom.

So as I said, I just had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in relatively sunny San Diego, the kind of city where there should be a sign greeting arriving airline passengers that reads: "Aren't you glad you just left someplace else?"

(Not that life around the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters isn't sunny. It's tough to complain about Flagstaff's 300+ days of sunshine a year.)

The other key indication that San Diego was not the place I had just left came on the freeways. The drivers on I-8, I-5, Highway 163? They're not kidding. The guy at the rent-a-car place suggested I go with the Chevrolet Cobalt, rather than the Kia Whatever, so I'd be more viable on the freeways. He wasn't kidding, either. (Although I'm still a little confused about how a red car can be called a "cobalt", which -- last I checked -- was a shade of blue.)

For a long time, I've lamented driving in Arizona. My theory is this: The copious amounts of sunshine sufficiently bake the brain of the average driver so that they're aware of nothing but their car stereos. They don't notice stop signs, they don't notice yield signs, and they certainly don't notice other cars, as they stray into other lanes.

I actually prefer driving the Washington Beltway, because although you're routinely cut off (and as often as not, flipped off) by other drivers, you're at least pretty sure they driver meant to cut you off. In Arizona, you can be cut off, sent into a ditch, and your car could flip over, and the other driver would continue searching for his Coldplay CD on the passenger side floor.

California still has me mystified. The traffic moves along at no more than 30 or 40 mph above the posted limit, and people seem perfectly happy to cut you off. But they all seem too busy talking on their cell phones to be changing their CDs. And judging from the traffic reports on the radio and TV, they're all busy calling in the accidents they've seen. It seemed almost as exhilerating as the Washington Beltway, only with the thrill of the unknown thrown in.

Truth be told, I enjoyed driving back in rural Iowa the best - where you weren't so much worried about whether someone would cut you off as much as whether to wave at that person with your whole hand, or with just the two finger, off-the-steering-wheel maneuver. The latter move still left one with eight fingers left over to change the CD.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A crush of helpful information

I'm just back from San Diego. Plenty of observations. Lots of ins and outs, lots of what-have-yous. But the one that was most striking was the realization that I was in Earthquake Country. I came to this realization when the hotel where I was staying put me on the fifth floor of the tower section of the hotel.

Opening the "Guest Services Directory", ostensibly to find out if the place had a business center (it didn't, from what I could ascertain), I was greeted by a page promising "Helpful Earthquake Suggestions". Now maybe it's because I've spent most of my life in the midwest and the northeast, but the first Helpful Earthquake Suggestion just baffled me:

I'll agree that the prospect of an earthquake might cause me to retreat into my shell, but my big fear would be that the ground would shake, and I'd start thinking of the world's oldest living mollusk, the Ocean Quahog, and then I'd start puzzling over whether it's pronounced QUAY-hog, or COE-hog, and then I'd remember that I once adopted a quahog at the National Zoo in Washington with a girl on whom I had an enormous crush, and by that point the room's ironing board would have an enormous crush on my head and that would have been that.

It also got me thinking about why a hotel with a thousand rooms, but one in which I seemed to be the only guest, would have put me in the middle room in the middle floor of their tower section. Perhaps they decided my massive 150-pound frame needed to be in the middle to properly balance the structure in the event that an earthquake struck. And as I surmised, the middle room of a floor is the best place to be if you're a clam. That, or the Pacific Ocean.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Flagstaff. Sunday morning.

It’s 8:15 am on a Flagstaff Sunday. My wife’s at work all day. I’m awake at 8:15 because my neighbor’s car alarm has gone off for the second time today. The first time was at 2:00 am, and it was pretty annoying. I’m less annoyed this time because I can actually be sure it’s not my car. I used to be pretty sure of this regardless, since the closest thing my ’87 Volkswagen has to a theft-deterrent system is a rear door handle that doesn’t work. But I left for work yesterday morning at 5:30 a.m., popped the key into the ignition, and was immediately greeted by a horn that turned itself on and wouldn’t shut off. I drove like that for about a half-mile, periodically smacking the steering wheel in an effort to get it to shut off, or at least look like a real jerk to the other drivers on the road. It shut itself off when I took a right turn. It hasn’t come back on again since. Even when I try to use the horn, it doesn’t work. Anyway, my wife has the ’87 VW today, so I’m pretty sure it’s not my horn I’m hearing.

Anyway, I woke up at 8:15. My neighbor got his alarm shut off pretty quickly, but I stayed awake, figuring I’d take advantage of the short period of time before 17-month old Sylvi woke up to check my e-mail, listen to the radio, read the New York Times, etc.

That was a lot of pressure on a short period of time, but by 9:15, I’d actually accomplished all of those things. Tiptoe upstairs. Check on Sylvi. Tush still straight up in the air, snoring away. I’d figured on throwing on a baseball cap and sweatshirt and taking her out to the coffee shop, but if she was going to let me squeeze in a shower, who was I to argue?

Twenty minutes later, I’m dressed. Sweatshirt. No need for the baseball cap. I have bad hair, but not as bad as it would be if I hadn't showered. Sylvi’s still asleep. Back downstairs to read the sections of the newspaper I’d normally skip. I learn a few things: There are an awful lot of attorneys getting married in New York. Christian Dior makes a ski parka that costs $2365. It’s unclear who would wear such a garment.

10:15. No word from upstairs. Coffee will be great, but at this point, it’ll be too late to stave off the caffeine headache. Locate Coca-Cola product. Ahhhh, the first jolt of caffeine on a Sunday morning. A simple pleasure on a level even higher than reading about New York attorneys getting married. Check e-mail again, in case anyone has an important message for me at 10:15 on a Sunday morning. Nothing interesting to report, unless I decide to someday write dissertation on fake PayPal solicitations.

10:25. Commence channel surfing. Learn a few more things: It’s 44 degrees outside. John Murtha looks older than I imagined. Football analysts sure yell a lot. Oh yeah, I knew that already.

10:45. Start wondering if we should go out for lunch when Sylvi wakes up. Tiptoe back upstairs and poke head in nursery. Sylvi is just sitting up and rubbing her eyes. Decide it’s still early enough for coffee.

By 11:15, I’ve finally figured out an appropriate outfit, based on the crucial piece of temperature information I’ve gleaned, and on the fact that Sylvi’s $2365 ski parka is at the cleaners. I’ve assembled her breakfast of yogurt, a banana and milk, and loaded it in the diaper bag, and we’re on our way. Even with a Coke in my system, the coffee ought to taste pretty good.

We reach the coffee shop at 11:25. Naturally, it’s closed. Quickly revise plans and decide to go out for breakfast burrito back on other side of town.

11:30. Hit enormous traffic jam at major intersection. It’s apparently caused by the fact that the traffic light is out and the City of Flagstaff, instead of deploying a police officer to direct traffic, has deployed a stop sign. Since no one in Flagstaff is familiar with how a stop sign works, this causes much confusion. It would cause a lot of honking, except no one in Flagstaff is familiar with how a horn works either. I’d honk, except I’m afraid my 2003 VW may have gotten the message from its buddy and the horn wouldn’t shut off.

We arrive at the Plan B restaurant (which would actually be a good name for a restaurant down the street from a trendy place) at 11:40, at which point I learn they no longer serve breakfast burritos after 11:00 am, despite the fact that there are a half dozen other things on the grill. Also, they no longer have more than one size coffee or soft drink, which allows them to sell what I used to call a “medium” soda for $1.50. Look at list of $6.50 sandwiches and decide to order a chocolate donut. I decide to redub the place as the Plan Z restaurant. Sylvi eats entire 8-ounce carton of yogurt.

12:00 noon. Counter person stops by and asks if my donut was all right.

12:05. Decide to eat lunch at home. Consider staying in bed longer next Sunday.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Samuel Alito? Doesn't he play for the Nashville Predators?

Permit me to summarize my week:

--> I hosted Morning Edition on a couple of mornings. The local version, anyway. Our regular host requested that I note, on air, that she was “on assignment”, so as not to give the impression that she was vacationing mid-week. Someplace, there’s probably a blog where someone keeps track of our local on air personalities. I considered a misdirection play, but in the end, dropped in the term “on assignment” now and then. This kept the number of panicky phone calls from her fans to a minimum.

The odd thing about hosting Morning Edition here in Public Radioland is that it requires the host to do a lot of both on-air work and taped production – concurrently. This means that on the two mornings I hosted the show, I heard fewer stories than on mornings that I’m not on the air. I did, however, learn a lot about the weather forecast, having read it out loud roughly 50,000 times.

--> I spent lots of time with my 17-month old. The following story doesn’t really involve her, except that it took place at a local bookstore, where Sylvi and I were trolling for Sesame Street videos. We overheard the following cell phone conversation between a student (I presume) teacher and her presumed fellow student teacher:

“Well, I thought about buying “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein, but that’s not really about being nice to other people. I haven’t decided what to get.

I don’t know… how about “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein? Since it’s basically about, um, being nice to people…

Sylvi and I, by the way, ended up with “Sesame Street Celebrates Around the World”, which is pretty unremarkable, except that it includes scenes with a) Elmo’s “cousin” Pepe, who is actually Elmo with a comical moustache, and b) Cookie Monster as a TV science reporter.

--> I moderated a “forum” about publc education. Or, rather, I “moderated” the forum. It was a somewhat uncontentious affair, since everyone on the panel and everyone in the audience was an adrent public education supporter. (And so was I, I suppose.) The people on the panel were bright and the audience appreciative, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was one part panel discussion and one part infomercial. Had Ron Popeil been on the panel the audience could have shouted “Set it and forget it!” in unison.

On the other hand, it was heartening to see a room full of people who cared enough about educating kids that they got babysitters for a couple hours so they could talk about it.

--> And I listened to too much hockey coverage on XM. They’ve added a 24/7 hockey news channel, which I think is a positive development as a whole, though even I’d have to admit that the material might run a little thin after, say, three or four hours. I thought, for example, that the hour-long feature on hockey hall-of-famers and their breakfast cereal preferences was a bit dry. As opposed to the cereal itself.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

If Al Gore hadn't already disavowed his role in creating the Internet...

The aforementioned Lewis Black suggested that "if you want to know where we, as a society are - at this moment in time - you watch the Super Bowl at halftime."

But the Super Bowl only comes around once a year. Thank god. In the meantime, if you really want to know where we as a society are at any moment in time - I'd suggest checking out the search terms people are using to land on this very feature.

Some of them aren't surprising:

A lot of you, for example, are landing here while searching for pictures from the calendar featuring women curlers in various stages of undress. Alas, I have no pictures from the calendar to show you, but I'll happily post another picture of my own comical, yet fully clothed, attempts at curling. I wasn't at all surprised by these search engine hits, since I basically invited them in a recent post.

On the other hand, I was somewhat surprised at the people who reached this site while searching for naked pictures of Animal Planet host Jeff Corwin, a person whose name I invoked exactly once, and in reference to my own expedition at my local hospital. Some of our readers are going awfully deep into the results pages on Google.

From the Weird Coincidences Category, we've had a lot of visitors recently from web surfers who were interested in a recent mention of Hagerstown, Maryland on the TV sitcom, "My Name Is Earl". We didn't actually mention both concepts in a single post, but did mention each within a single week, which apparently made us almost unique on the Internet.

We've had some visitors who apparently confuse us with sites that provide actual, useful information. A lot of them were looking for some scientific information about the studies showing sauerkraut might prevent avian flu, though what they got were witty remarks at the expense of kimchi. And we've had a few people stop by, looking for solid information about defective window parts on Volkswagen Jettas. Instead, they got complaints about those window parts, which of course they already had before they got here.

There's an occasional Paris Hilton-related hit, thanks to one mention in a months-old post.

And there are a few hits that just make us happy - like the one who typed "learn thinks about arkitech" into Google. We can't actually remember who (or what) arkitech is or why we mentioned he/she/it, but we're especially happy that someone would attempt to "learn thinks" about he/she/it by visiting our humble feature.

And at long last, someone landed at the 19 Minutes Base Camp when they searched for Spudnik the Space Potato, who of course was the character who reminded us on 1980s-era Washington DC television that "you Earthlings should eat vegetables..." and that salad was, in fact, spelled "s-a-l-a-d".

As noted, this should give us a snapshot of where American culture is at the current moment. Curling, Jeff Corwin, Hagerstown, and arkitech. We have no idea.


And now, this Podcasting Update: The 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters has a pretty vast audio archive, some of it on reused audio tapes whose labels still read, "Farming America". We just ran across a 1996 interview with the Newfoundland rock/Celtic band Great Big Sea. Despite the fact that we were almost a decade less experienced when the interview took place, it struck us as interesting and entertaining enough that we've added it to our podcasting wing. The link for the podcast feed is here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Um, art imitating, um, art?

Lewis Black is a very funny man. Not the kind of comedian you necessarily want to expose your 17-month old to, but a very funny guy. One of this funniest bits was from his 2002 CD, "The End of the Universe", in which he called the Weather Channel to task for not discussing the possibility of global warming. [He also noted the absurdity of the fact that TWC was the most watched cable channel in America, noting: "If you want to know what the weather is you look out a window, and if you want to know the temperature, you drive by a bank."] It was Weather Channel skewering at its finest, and it even came before TWC started showing programs about 1978 snowstorms in the evenings instead of what it should show - the weather forecast.

Then, Lewis Black showed up on the Weather Channel.

I'd accuse him of being a sell-out if his commuter forecast wasn't so damn funny.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Suave holiday weekend

I should really stop reading labels.

The people at Unilever – the same company that gouged the words “Embrace Challenge” into my Degree-brand underarm deodorant a few weeks ago – have again caused me to start my day by standing in the shower, scratching my head in puzzlement.

This time it was the Suave for Men body wash. Specifically, the “directions for use” on the label. Why I – in fact, why anyone – would need to read the directions on a bottle of body wash is a question for another time. The more pressing issue was at the top of the directions – an unheralded statement reading: “93+ uses.”

This, naturally, has meant that roughly 65 percent of my brain cells today have been occupied with trying to think of uses for a bottle of Suave for Men (“Refreshing” flavor) body wash. Good thing it’s been a long weekend.

I’m not quite there yet. But my list probably includes a few uses the Unilever folks may not have been thinking of for their body wash:

1. You could, well, wash your body with it.
2. In a pinch, you could probably use it as shampoo.
3. In a real pinch, you could use it to wash your dishes. This would leave your dishes with a cool, clean, masculine scent, which would be okay if you’re having the guys over to watch college football, but would be less desirable if you’re entertaining say, Queen Elizabeth.
4. In an extreme pinch, you could wash your car with it, though you’d probably need a small car or a very large bottle.
5. You could lend it to Queen Elizabeth if she’s staying overnight.
6. Writing a murder mystery? Suave for Men would be a pretty unusual murder weapon. For example, if the murder takes place in New York, the murderer could drop the bottle of body wash from the Empire State Building onto the victim. Or, if the murder takes place at the International House of Pancakes, the murderer could replace the boysenberry syrup with Suave for Men.
7. Budding science fiction special effects designer? Suave for Men would make good alien blood.
8. Donate the label from the bottle to the University of North Dakota Library as part of your personal papers.
9. Use the bottle as a paperweight for the rest of your personal papers.
10. Encourage your child to use the body wash in place of water in his Caribbean diorama project.
11. It would make an excellent lubricant for a Slip-n-Slide. Plus, no need to shower after you’ve used it.
12. Become a latter-day Andy Warhol. Use your body wash as a still-life subject.
13. After you’ve painted it, Suave for Men would make a good topic for discussions of color theory. Is it navy blue? Midnight blue? Plain old dark blue? Or should it get its own color distinction – somethinglike “Refreshing Body Wash Blue”?
14. Artists of a different nature can also be inspired. You could write a post-modern ode to Suave for Men, something like: “Ninety-three plus uses/Suds cover my sponge/In a refreshing shade of blue/Freedom."
15. Or you could write a hit hip-hop song called “F&%$! Clean”.
16. Or an opera called “La Duchessa Soave” (“The Suave Duchess”).
17. Claim that your bottle once belonged to say, David Lee Roth, and sell it on eBay. That might command enough money for you to finally afford that nude curling calendar you’ve been dreaming of.
18. Suave for Men could make a novel form of punishment for any judge looking to make a name for himself. It’d be like a cross between “Judge Judy” and “Fear Factor”: “Mr. Williams, you’ve been convicted of damaging the plaintiff’s convertible. I sentence you to be covered from head to toe with Suave for Men body wash and be placed in the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo for 24 hours.”
19. Practical joke: Sneak onto a golf course early in the morning, and fill each hole with Suave for Men. Then, sell hand towels nearby for $20 each.
20. Related practical joke: Sneak into a bowling alley early in the morning, and fill the finger holes in all the bowling balls with Suave for Men.
21. Related practical joke #2: Sneak into Lambeau Field early in the morning. Fill Brett Favre’s helmet with Suave for Men. Don’t give the Green Bay Police my name.

Granted, the people at Unilever probably pay a person tens of millions of dollars to think of uses for Suave for Men on a full-time basis. But it’s taken me three days to even come up with 20 uses for the stuff, not including the shameless reference to the curling calendar to drive up traffic to this site (at least among Canadians). And this, frankly, has me stumped about what the other 73+ uses could possibly be.

And this is why, in addition to my need to quit reading labels, I should go back to using regular old soap.

And it's 19 minutes past the hour.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rock bands, Toledo, and surfing

A few items of note, none of which really deserves its own individual blog entry – though the 19 Minutes staff is tempted to make multiple postings just to look more prolific.

I found out today that a colleague of mine – an editor with whom I’ve worked for close to a decade – was formerly an actual rock musician with an actual semi-successful band. Weird. It was like, well, finding out that an editor with whom you’ve worked for nearly a decade used to be a rock musician. (Great analogies are sometimes hard to come by.) Despite the band’s major-label release, I had to admit that I’d never heard anything by them. This isn’t surprising, since I tend to catch on to pop culture roughly four years after everyone else. The upside to this is that by the time I get into an album, the artist is just about to release another album. The downside to this is that by the time I get into a TV show, it’s about to be cancelled. (Although maybe that's actually another upside.)

Anyway, aside from envying the coolness of being part of the rock music industry, I have to admit I’m also a little jealous of the notion of having an interesting past life. I’ve been scanning the memory banks and auditioning potentially interesting past life ideas, just to get a jump on my memoirs. “’Jeopardy!’ contestant” is one possible concept, but it strikes me that a past life should last more than three days. “Mediocre middle relief pitcher on obscure college baseball team” might be a more substantial past life, but I don’t think it rises to the level of interesting cocktail party conversation. I’m open to suggestions, bearing in mind that it may take fiction to make me sound cool.


The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday that Toledo, Ohio is one of the most unwired cities in America; that is, it’s one of the best places for wireless internet access. Apparently, Toledans could be reading this very blog in any public library, at the airport, or even Fifth Third Field, the home of the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team. (Why they’d choose to be in an empty minor league ballpark in November is another story. Still another story is why anyone would name a ballpark "Fifth Third Field".)

Personally, I think the idea of people reading this fine feature in the airport is appealing, though even I’d have to cringe at the thought of having to reach across a guy surfing the net to buy a hotdog in the bleachers.

But it also brings to mind a curious commercial that the Verizon people have been running to publicize their wireless broadband coverage. They’re taking the unconventional tactic of suggesting that it’s no fun to surf the internet at a coffee shop – that coffee shops are somehow unpleasant places, at least if you don’t like coffee, or music, or comfortable chairs.

I’d posit that the opposite is probably the case – that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable place to surf the net. I’m enjoying typing this as I lie on my own couch, but I’d say the experience would be even better if someone else would bring me drinks as I write. The ballpark would be an okay place to surf the net, but aside from annoying actual baseball fans, you’d need a laptop that’s impervious to mustard and cheap beer.

Of course, now the computer industry is now making computers that are impervious to huge waves, so I can’t foresee any problem with the anti-bratwurst packaging. The real question is, where do you find waves like these in Toledo?
BBC photo

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Curling with Ed

Lately, people have sought me out, guru-like, to comment on a couple of events that have taken place. These people seek my opinion and yet, rather than take the time to address them individually, I have invoked the blog rule. “Read my blog,” I tell them. It’s a pretty simple rule.

(True anecdote: A colleague here in Public Radioland was in my office Tuesday afternoon, brainstorming with me about questions to ask on two separate broadcast debates between candidates for Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Hopi Tribe. “Ask them if they read my blog,” I suggested, helpfully. He thought I should phone that question in myself. Good thing the debates were on a different radio station.)

But as I said, a couple of things have transpired about which people think I should have an informed opinion. Or at least more informed than my opinion about the whole sauerkraut-avian flu thing.

Good Night, and Good Luck” opened around the country last weekend. It’s a pretty stylish bio-pic about the 1953 showdown between legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy. (If you need more background than that, you’ll want to consult a website with more actual information.)

Murrow was one of the key reasons I got into journalism. More specifically, Murrow’s terrific reportage in “Harvest of Shame” inspired my career choice. My 8th grade science teacher, for reasons that are still a little hazy, showed us that documentary about the conditions Florida’s migrant workers were living in, and it’s an image that has always stayed with me, particularly as I produce or edit stories that could have an impact on people’s lives. (And also as I try to get news of the off-year elections this evening, only to find that CNN Headline News is leading with the latest non-update in the Natalee Holloway case, and CNN proper is running an interview with Jennifer Aniston.)

I’ve now seen “Good Night, and Good Luck” twice – the news department sponsored a field trip to see a matinee this afternoon and, while it’s not quite as inspiring as my first viewing of “Harvest of Shame”, it’s certainly cause for introspection for those of us in the news business. Specifically, it raises the question of who is maintaining Murrow’s legacy in broadcast journalism. While the Natalee Holloway and “Runaway Bride” stories are all-too-common in broadcast journalism today, there are plenty of noteworthy examples – many from here in Public Radioland – of journalism that strives to reach that Murrow ideal.

And it also leads one to think about CBS. The network has taken plenty of hits in recent years – the Dan Rather document controversy being among the most recent. But it’s worth noting that two of the more significant news-related movies in the past decade (“Good Night et al” and “The Insider”) chronicle the former Tiffany Network’s role in shaping history. Legendary journalists though they were, no one is making movies about Howard K. Smith and John Chancellor.

But of course, that wasn’t precisely the opinion people have sought from me. Here’s what they’re looking for: It’s a good movie. And the amount of weight George Clooney gained for his role as Fred Friendly was indeed impressive.

The other important development about which I have a vaguely informed opinion is, naturally, the calendar featuring women curlers in various stages of undress. I’m not what you would call a curling expert, but in Arizona, just knowing that curling is a winter sport makes you something of an authority.

I produced a story (which, coincidentally, won something called an Edward R. Murrow Award) last year about the only curling club in Arizona. I actually got to try the sport in the course of reporting the story, and I can assure you that all the members of the Coyotes Curling Club were fully clothed at all times while they were on the rink. I can also assure you that I won't be posing for any male version of the nude curling calendar.

The women curlers – from countries such as Canada, England, and of course Andorra – say they posed for the calendar in part to raise the profile of curling and change the image of women curlers – leading people to recognize that women curlers can be athletic and attractive, rather than, um, unathletic and unattractive.

After an evening of straining roughly every muscle in my thighs and (let’s face it) non-existent rear end while curling, I can vouch for the fact that anyone who would curl at a serious, competitive level had better have some equally serious level of athleticism. But I can also vouch for the fact that at some point in time, the Fully Clothed Guys of the World did an amazing job of convincing the Athletic Women of the World that posing naked was somehow an empowering act, rather than what it actually is: Carrying on the legacy of another famous journalist. Hugh Hefner.

(But then again, the 19 Minutes staff would never get such a calendar for the pictures. We’d only read it for the dates.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

If I don't like The Amazing Race, does that make me an Amazing Racist?

The 19 Minutes staff has never been much for "Reality TV", except when the reality has involved travelers and rats, or hockey players and cross-checking. But we may have to change our attitude, now that we've learned that Reality TV is not just a ratings boon for the networks, but a source of Legitimate News.

We learned this from an ad for the local news on a Phoenix station which we'll refer to only by the fact its call letters resemble a popular Vietnamese noodle soup, promoting Tuesday's story about the Arizona scenes in an upcoming episode of "The Amazing Race". The promo was tagged with the station's news slogan: "Live. Late-breaking. Investigative."

And this got us to thinking about how a story about the Arizona scenes in "The Amazing Race" would fit such a mandate. "Late-breaking" seemed the easiest to dismiss. If they already knew about the story - and apparently have it pre-produced in such a way that they could show clips in a promo the night before - it doesn't seem to rise to the level of "late-breaking".

"Investigative" is a trickier claim to debug. For example, if the news team at this station includes reading a press release from the CBS Entertainment Division as "investigating", then perhaps a story about "The Amazing Race" would fit the description. Likewise, if the reporter was able to unearth some heretofore undiscovered nugget about the competitors' time in the Grand Canyon, you might have an argument on behalf of Investigative Journalism. For example, perhaps the competitors didn't really Leave No Trace, which seems like a legitimate claim, considering about 400 gazillion Americans are about to see the evidence of their visit on national television. But really, actual investigative journalism would more likely tell us that Grand Canyon National Park is really a money-laundering operation run by llama ranchers from Paraguay.

So that leaves us with "Live", which as we noted in our dismissal of the "Late-Breaking" claim, can't really be the case if they've produced the story in advance. Although I imagine the anchor people may introduce the piece live, between the 20 seconds they spend on the riots in France and the eight minutes it takes them to present the Phoenix weather forecast for the coming week (Tuesday - Partly Cloudy. Wednesday - Partly Cloudy. Thursday - Partly Cloudy. Friday - Partly Cloudy. Saturday - Partly Sunny.).

So we're not suggesting that our noodle friends bag their story on "The Amazing Race", nor are we even suggesting that the bulk of their news doesn't fit their self-described mission. We would just offer that perhaps, the Phoenix TV station could slightly alter its moniker. Something like: "Live. Late-Breaking. Investigative. Subject to change."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Playing footie behind the scenes

Regular readers of this feature will recall the call I put out some weeks ago for someone to explain the concept of Australian Rules Football in advance of a story I was planning on an Australian Rules Football team's training camp in Flagstaff. Regular readers of this feature will also recall the lack of response that call generated.

No matter. I found a friendly Canadian couple who was crazy enough about the sport to drive eight hours up from San Diego to watch the team practice, and they were able to relate the objective of Australian Rules Football (a.k.a "Footie") to this reporter. Basically, if I understood correctly, this is how Footie works:
  1. Run down a very long field.
  2. Try to get the ball between the goal posts.
  3. Try to avoid being mauled by the opposing team.
  4. When the opposing team has the ball, try to maul them.

There are probably some other subtleties to the sport, but I no more grasped them from watching a practice than your average Burkina Faso resident (okay, I know the word is "Burkinabe", but I'm not sure that's common knowledge) would pick up the balk rule from a day at the Brewers spring training camp.

But there are plenty of other things I gleaned from spending some time with the Collingwood Magpies. The team has a pretty comprehensive website with lots of video from their two-week camp in Arizona, but most of it is actually related to the sport. Here is the other behind-the-scenes information that show like "Entertainment Tonight" and "ESPN Hollywood" would kill to find out, if anyone at either of those shows had ever heard of Australian Rules Football.

First, any game where you can knock the ball away from someone by jamming your knee into the back of his head shouldn't get a cute name like "Footie".

Speaking of cute, most of the Magpie players were roughly 6'3", 200 lbs., wore training uniforms that accentuated their athletic physique and sported Australian accents. Thus, it was difficult to interview women who were watching the practices, because the drool kept gumming up my minidisc recorder.

The team spent a full day at the Northern Arizona University "challenge course", which included team-building drills on the high ropes, but also more subtle (read: "weird") exercises, such as trying to form geometric shapes with a rope while blindfolded. The staff here in Public Radioland went through the same challenge course exercises a couple years ago, and the approach we took to geometry wasn't 1/10th as intellectual as this group of professional athletes. It's also difficult (but fun) to imagine the Chicago Bears discussing equilateral triangles while blindfolded.

Footie players sometimes dribble - basketball-style - the ball down the field. This is a more difficult skill than it looks. The Magpies' Chief of Staff gave me a few lessons, but more often than not, the ball bounced up and smacked me in the face.

On a related note, an Australian Rules Football hurts when it smacks you in the face.

I ran into a couple of the players at Barnes & Noble a few nights ago. The Arizona Cardinals trained in Flagstaff for six of the seven years I've lived here, and I don't remember running into any of them at Barnes & Noble.

Footie is unlikely to catch on in America, in large part because Americans are unlikely to willingly watch a game between teams called The Magpies and The Swans. On the other hand, Australians apparently can't relate to games between The Blue Jackets and The Canucks, and thus, ice hockey is less of a big deal there.

Most of these little factoids didn't make it into the final cut of my story, though. If you want to hear what did, it's available here, and on the KNAU Podcast.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A fast take on the news

The 19 Minutes staff likes to maintain an air of mystery about our physical appearance, in an effort to keep readers and listeners believing that we’re 6’4” and wear a tuxedo to work. Unfortunately, most of our attempts to conceal our appearance are in vain, since the foyer outside our office in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters includes a Wall of Fame, featuring pictures of local and national public radio luminaries.

And so people typically express surprise when they see our pictures and reconcile them with our voices. Sometimes, it’s disappointment, but more often, it’s basically stupefaction that we’re not older, younger, shorter, taller, less hirsute, etc. than the voice they hear on the radio.

With that in mind, Dr. Andrew Weil was on the Diane Rehm Show this week, and even a denizen of Public Radioland like me had a hard time reconciling his voice – which sounds for all the world like a polished version of the college student who served my iced tea at Starbucks the other day – with his heavily-bearded visage. Perhaps it’s a testament to his prescription for healthy living, but more likely, that’s just how he sounds.

Weil has a lot of things to say about healthy lifestyles and their ability to stave off the aging process. I’m sure he’d have plenty of things to say about the leftover Halloween candy I’ve consumed in the past few days, too. But one concept he mentioned that should have struck a nerve around the newsroom here was his notion of a “news fast” – that is, a conscious break from listening, watching, or reading the news.

His point was that we’re susceptible to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of news out there. In other words, difficult and/or lousy things have always gone on all the time around the world – we’re just in a unique postiion to hear about EVERY DANG ONE OF THEM nowadays.

Weil may have a point. Right now on CNBC, there’s a guy shouting about what stocks to buy or sell. On CNN Headline News, there’s a debate about second-hand smoke, accompanied by a scrolling headline about the rapid rise in the price of common prescription medicines for elderly people. MSNBC is reporting on the interregation of Al-Qaeda terrorist suspects. I’m overwhelmed by information, and I hadn’t even gotten to the Top 20 countdown on the GAC Network, the Diamonique sale on QVC, or the guy on Animal Planet who's hoping his yet-to-be-born son will inherit his love for snakes (another health concern to ask Dr. Weil about).

But I’d suggest that a news fast isn’t the answer. Rather, I’d call on the major networks (my own included) devote one day a month to real news – but news that isn’t cause for worldwide alarm.

For that one day, we’d forget about disease-carrying chickens that could wipe out the population of Monaco in 35 minutes, and instead discuss the likelihood that herds of deer could invade our bedrooms, such as was the case in Arkansas recently, where one Wayne Goldsberry was forced to use his bare hands to kill a five-point buck that had crashed into his daughter's house. What's more, by the time the AP showed up, he had already had the deer butchered, packaged, and returned to his freezer. My mother-in-law once struck and killed a deer on her way back from work late one night in rural Minnesota. She called the local sheriff's office when she got home, and they of course asked whether she wanted to claim it. She figured she would, and returned to the scene of the accident a little while later, where an officer was already cleaning the deer for her. Moral of the story - if you're going to hit a deer, do it in a place where the police know what to do with it. Also, you might want to check what your local limits are on hunting deer with a pickup. Or your bare hands.

We could also worry less about the possibility that global climate change is intensifying hurricanes around the world and instead focus on whether a large hold could suddenly open underneath our houses or apartment buildings.

And we'd be able to take a break from the legal news in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein is on trial for, in part, stealing millions from his country, and instead concentrate on the efforts to find out who stole $75,000 worth of bull semen from a Maryland farm.

Although maybe we should worry more about what that person will do with it. Selling it on the black market in Niger would be a good way to get some press.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What you probably didn't expect, part two

Yes, it's November 1st, and time for that monthly dubious public service, the posting of my humor column from Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine, the best free publication you can find in the foyers of health clubs in northern Arizona. It's an especially dubious public service this month, since my column is actually a repackaging of a posting to this very feature. Yes! Life imitates art! (Or more precisely: Life imitates "art"!) But to keep up the goodwill among the screaming and teeming masses gathered in front of 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters (we promise we'll come out for autographs soon), I'll add plenty of new material. Some, anyway.


Like many parents, hardly a week goes by when there's not cause to check the ubiquitous "What to Expect" series of books. During my wife's pregnancy, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" was the benchmark resource we'd consult to figure out things like: when my wife would want to eat anything besides KFC mashed potatoes, how goofy I should feel when I read a bedtime story to my wife's belly, etc.

We’re now up to "What to Expect: The Toddler Years", though since Sylvi's still pretty petite, I have a habit of sneaking a look back at the earlier books, as though they really should have been titled "What to Expect While Your Child's Still Less Than 20 Pounds".

But increasingly, I'm finding the majority of the issues my wife and I encounter are not actually in these books. [Note to jaded, experienced parents: Yeah, yeah. Shut up.] So I'm presenting the following addendum to the "What to Expect" series:

* * * * *
Problem: Daughter enters the City of Flagstaff's annual Halloween Costume Contest, dressed as (why not?) a ballpark vendor. Dad happens to be a "celebrity" judge, but figures this won't be a problem, since there's no chance a 16-month old beer (er, milk) vendor will win a costume contest. Of course, two of the other three judges rank her #1, and she ends up winning.

You'll probably: Cringe at another weird fact of life in a small city in Arizona.

Real solution: Cringe anyway, but spend the rest of the night assuring everyone you see that you recused yourself from the vote, despite the fact that a) it doesn't matter, and b) no one really cares. Go out of your way to compliment the other winners and then eat too many Pixi Stix for an adult human being.

* * * * *
Problem: Child changes into Halloween Costume #2. It's a cow. Halloween Costume #2 was chosen because child is quite proficient at saying "Moo." Child refuses to say "Moo" while wearing costume.

You'll probably: Continue to ask child "What does a cow say?" in hopes that wearing a cow costume and knowing what a cow says will click in a moment of 16-month old synergy.

Real solution: Ask child what a dog says. When child obliges with and excited bark, explain to onlookers that child's costume is a "dog, dressed like a cow."

* * * * *
Problem: Child will ride in the shopping cart at the supermarket, but insists on holding onto some type of grocery at all times. Child would prefer to hold onto gallon jug of milk, but will deal with almost anything. Unfortunately, you're only there to buy pack of gum and bottle of mustard.

You'll probably: Hand her your keys, then hand her your ball point pen, then hand her your chapstick, until your run out of things to hand her and are seriously considering letting her play with your used handkerchief. Anything to keep her amused for the eight minutes you're in Safeway.

Real solution: Find unbreakable items in each aisle you visit. Hand her a 2-pound bag of rice, then a box of Cinnamon Raisin Oat Bran Lightly Frosted Total, then a spatula. Get to the cashier and say, "I decided I didn't want these, but I couldn't remember where I picked them up." They'll love you for this, since it'll give the bagging personnel something to do, rather than bagging your groceries in such a psychotic way that you return home with 800 items in one bag and one plum in another.

* * * * *

Problem: Child eats 7,000 pieces of watermelon, then pretends she doesn't want any more, though it turns out she'll continue to eat the watermelon, as long as you feed it to her.

You'll probably: Sigh heavily, mutter to yourself, then proceed to feed her the watermelon.

Real solution: Pretend you're feeding it to her, then put it in her hand and have her pretend to feed it to you. After you've handed the same sticky piece of watermelon back and forth six times, she'll have forgotten what the initial game was and will start feeding herself again. I call it the "Duck Season-Wabbit Season, Duck Season-Wabbit Season, Wabbit Season-Duck Season" approach.

* * * * *
Problem: It's a rainy afternoon, so playing at the park is ruled out. So you take your 15-month old to the mall, figuring there's lots of room to run around. It turns out, of the 70 stores at the local mall, the only one she's interested in is Victoria's Secret. And no matter where you set her down in the mall, some bizarre, lingerie-related radar goes off in her little head, guiding her invariably back to Victoria's Secret, where she sets about removing all the wireless bras from a drawer. (It's hard to believe this one didn't make the "What to Expect" series.)

You'll probably: Sigh heavily, pick up your daughter, put the bras back in the drawer, and extricate the now-flailing toddler from the store, distracting her with the toy store next door.

Real solution: Sigh heavily, consider that you wouldn't have termed this a "problem" back in your college days, and be glad that you have another 14 or 15 years before you have to think of new excuses to keep your daughter out of Victoria's Secret.

* * * * *
Problem: After weeks of annoyingly inconsistent sleeping habits, your 14-month old daughter starts regularly sleeping for 13 or 14 hours a night.

You'll probably: Take her temperature, check on her every 15 minutes after 7:00 a.m., and wonder whether you should wake her up so that she's not eating breakfast at 11:30 am.

Real solution: Repeat to yourself: This is not a problem. This is not a problem.

* * * * *
Problem: Your daughter wants to read the book "Hippos" 23 times in a row, despite the fact that it has no plot, and ends with the seemingly random line "Hippos can weigh over two tons!"

You'll probably: Read "Hippos" 23 times in a row. Then have a strange dream that you have nostrils on top of your head so that you can breathe while you're in the water.

Real solution: Page through "Hippos", but add your own lines about the Diamondbacks' lousy relief pitching ("Hippos think they need to stop leaving the ball over the plate with an 0-2 count..."). Do this now, because soon, your daughter will be able to debate you over the Diamondbacks’ use of relief pitchers.

* * * * *
Follow these real world solutions, and in no time, your child will grow into a well-adjusted teenager who won't be distracted from Victoria's Secret by a toy store. No, it'll take a cell phone store for that.