Friday, April 27, 2007

Week in Review 3

  • WASHINGTON -- An Iraqi who was one of al-Qaida's most senior and experienced operatives, Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, has been shipped to the Guantanamo Bay military prison for terror suspects, officials said Friday. This makes the 47,428,651st senior al-Qaida operative captured since the War on Terror began, meaning the only terrorists left are Osama bin Laden and some guy named Eddie.
  • LONDON -- A mineral recently discovered in Serbia has the same composition as kryptonite -- the fictional substance that robs Superman of his powers -- the British Museum said Tuesday. Mineral expert Chris Stanley at the Natural History Museum said: "Towards the end of my research I searched the Web using the mineral's chemical formula, sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide, and was amazed to discover that same scientific name written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the film 'Superman Returns.'" Stanley then raced down the hall to help a friend who'd been bitten by a radioactive super-spider.
  • After she and Laurie David confronted presidential adviser Karl Rove at the White House Correspondents dinner about global warming, singer Sheryl Crow said that people could help save the planet by using one square of toilet paper at a time. It's obvious Miss Crow has never eaten at a Mexican restaurant.
  • Richard Gere tried to quell the storm over a public kiss on the cheek that he gave a Bollywood star at an AIDS awareness event, apologizing Friday for any offense. Gere's embrace and kiss of actress Shilpa Shetty sparked several noisy demonstrations by hard-line Hindu groups and a flurry of legal complaints, which ended with a judge in the northwestern city of Jaipur issuing an arrest warrant for the two stars for violating obscenity laws. Perhaps this explains why all the Indians handling American companies' customer service calls are so irritable.
  • Funeral goers let out a collective gasp at Boris Yeltsin's funeral as the former Russian president rises from his casket after someone proposes a toast.
  • Actor Alec Baldwin goes on "The View" to apologize for a recently leaked voice mail to his 11-year-old daughter in which he berated her for missing his phone call, swore and calles her a "rude, thoughtless little pig" for missing his call. Baldwin said he meant to call her a "rude, thoughtless little ferret," but got confused in his anger.
  • WOODBURN, Ind. -- The adviser for the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School's student newspaper, The Tomahawk, has been placed on administrative leave and is expected to be fired after she didn't alert the principal that a student had written a column advocating tolerance for homosexuals and those "different from you." The principal sends a clear message that tolerance will not be tolerated.
  • For the first time astronomers have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is potentially habitable, with Earth-like temperatures, a find researchers described Tuesday as a big step in the search for "life in the universe." The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away. Because it's so close, NASA makes plans to visit the planet, but says it's gonna wait until gas prices go down a little.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Parrotheads in The Gulch

With the help of a hitchhiker we picked up in the bowels of downtown Atlanta, my friend Gregg and I finally found the tailgating spot for Parrotheads known as "The Gulch" before Wednesday's Jimmy Buffett concert at Philips Arena. From makeshift beaches to hula skirts and tiki huts, Parrotheads managed to turn the parking lot into a bit of paradise in the urban jungle. Everybody talks to everybody else, and there are no strangers in Margaritaville.

But I got in trouble with the police in the parking lot. OK, it was the "Margaritaville Police," and they issued me a written warning citation for not wearing a lei. The citation noted that it wouldn't go on my "permenant record." When I pointed out they misspelled permanent, they issued me a second citation for being a nerd. I did purchase a $3 lei and the police later struck my first offense. As punishment, they also ordered me to go to wicked Wanda's trailer and have an upside-down tequila shot, which I passed on. I'm still upset that they didn't check the "too sexy" box on the citation, but then again it was two guys patrolling the parking lot, so that's OK.

Parrotheads are fairly normal people most days of the year (perhaps I'm the exception to that rule). But when Buffett comes to town, let's just say they let it all hang out, figuratively and literally as you can see in this slideshow from WSB TV. If you're offended by folks drinking mass quantities of alcohol, you may not want to view it.

Oh, a bonus during the show: Jazz great Earl Klugh played guitar during "A Pirate Looks At Forty."

I survived the mayhem and am fully functioning today, despite the tailgating, the show, a friend's cell phone beeping every 10 minutes all night long, and getting up at 7 a.m. in downtown Atlanta and getting to work by 10:15 a.m.

It was the third Buffett concert experience I've had, and I can say that Wednesday will go down as one of the most fun days of my life.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A "Hoot"

One thing that bugs me about a lot of movies aimed at kids is the three or four cuss words that they toss in there for no apparent reason. In most cases, they do nothing to advance the stories or the characters and just leave parents shaking their heads. Really, even going back to my youth, would "Smokey and the Bandit" would have been any worse without all the cussin?

Don't get me wrong: I'm no puritan. And I've seen my share of movies with vulgarity, nudity and graphic violence. I'm not against them. I don't think some of my favorite movies, such as "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Sideways," would be as funny with G-rated words. And it wouldn't have been in line with the characters. But 10-year-olds weren't their target audience.

Which brings me to the movie "Hoot," which my 7-year-old son has wanted to see ever since we saw the trailers a year or so ago and he noticed Jimmy Buffett was in it (he also produced it), and Saylor knows I'm a huge Parrothead (which is another word for Buffett fans for those of you without advanced vocabularies).

So we got the movie through the cable's "on demand" service, and it turned out to be what a kids' movie ought to be. Kids standing up for a good cause. Good guys win. Bad guys lose. Silly jokes. Cute animals. Cute kids. Positive message. And not a single dirty word or even the slightest sexual innuendo.

For an adult, it was predictable, but tolerable. I enjoyed it just for the mix of music (provided mainly by Buffett and friends, including a reggae-style revamping of his mid-1980s song "Floridays") and the Florida scenery. It's based on Carl Hiaasen's book of the same name, and when nonconformists like Hiaasen and Buffett team up, good things usually happen.

There's some stuff Hiaasen has written that I wouldn't want Saylor to read. And there are plenty of Buffett songs I won't let him hear. But it's nice to know some folks know that there's a time and a place for everything. If only everyone else were as reasonable.

Anyway, if you've got kids in the 5-13 age range, check out this movie. And when the kids go to bed, watch "Harold and Kumar" for the umpteenth time. It's get funnier every time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Week in review 2

  • BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Five thousand bunnies blocked a highway Monday, tying up traffic after the truck that was carrying them collided with another vehicle and overturned, unconfirmed reports said. The other vehicle was an egg truck. The eggs were temporarily missing but later found painted in pastel colors and tucked away under roadside vegetation.
  • DETROIT -- A cagey urban coyote that eluded authorities in a nearly hourlong foot chase through downtown Detroit is pregnant, according to the Michigan Humane Society. Since the announcement, Wile E. Coyote and Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, have stepped forward claiming to be the father.
  • The Rev. Al Sharpton protests at the funeral of Hawaiian crooner Don Ho.
  • BOSTON -- Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya wins the Boston Marathon. Cheruiyot, who also won in 2003, set the course record last year but finished in a slower, unofficial time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 13 seconds. "When the lion is chasing the antelope, he doesn't look back. He has to eat," Cheruiyot said. "So when I run, I don't stare at my time." Officials say it's the last time Cheruiyot will be allowed to bring his lion to the race.
  • SAN JOSE, Calif. — Taxpayers who couldn’t electronically file 11th-hour returns using Intuit Inc.’s TurboTax, ProSeries and other software won’t be penalized for delays caused by the company’s overtaxed servers, the IRS said. A record number of returns on Tuesday choked the company’s computers, leading to delays in customers receiving confirmation that their returns had been submitted successfully. Usually, it takes only a few minutes after hitting the submit button for TurboTax users to get a confirmation. By Tuesday evening, it was taking hours. While the IRS won't penalize taxpayers, it is requiring that the company change the name of the program from TurboTax to DaewooTax.
  • Senators in the liberal state of Vermont vote to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Resenting being called war hawks, Bush and Cheney order Vermont bombed off the map.
  • Sanjaya Malakar is finally voted off "American Idol" despite having a higher approval rating than President Bush ... not to mention a better grip on foreign policy, economics and immigration control.
  • Two diaries written by Anna Nicole Smith in the early 1990s failed to sell at an auction this weekend, but are now available for a minimum bid of $25,000 each, said an official at Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas. The auction house is considering whether translating Smith's diaries into English will boost their value.
  • The Atlanta Hawks finish out of the playoffs for the eighth straight season at 30-52, a whopping four more wins than last season for third-year head coach Mike Woodson, whom owners praised for carrying the team through injuries and finding new and unique ways to lose games.
  • The horrific shootings of 32 people at Virginia Tech are blamed on gun control, lack of gun control, videogames, bullying, violent films, lack of prayer in schools, income disparity, intolerance of foreigners and Skittles. Hardly anyone blames the shootings, however, on Cho Seung-Hui, the shooter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A hundred what?

My son's coach-pitch team is 4-4 heading into tonight's game that wraps up the first half. The last win's highlight was our first baseman belting the team's first over-the-fence home run of the season. Apparently, there were a pre-arranged deal between the kid and his parents that I didn't know about. After the homer, his excited mom came jumping around the dugout and told him, "Well, I guess you get your $100."

Wow! If I'd have known that was the deal, I'd have signed up to play coach-pitch. We tried something similar when Saylor was 4 and playing soccer, which he now thinks is some sort of torture devised during the Inquisition. Saylor hadn't scored a goal all year, perhaps because he spent most of his time on the field conversing with his imaginary friends while the ball rolled by. Anyway, we told him before the final game that we would buy him a Teen Titans toy (about $7 I think) if he scored a goal. So during the game while driving toward a goal, a quick kid came and stole the ball from him and Saylor broke down in tears, officially making us the worst parents ever. Needless to say, he got his Teen Titans toy anyway.

Flash forward to practice yesterday where his teammates' $100 reward is still a hot topic. Saylor plays outfield and makes sure no clouds get past center field (which explains why a fly ball nearly landed on his head yesterday). He bats pretty far down the lineup and hasn't exactly ripped the cover off the ball. We get pretty excited about infield hits and reaching on a fielder's choice. But during his practice game yesterday, he got a couple of infield hits and came around to score both times. (With about 6 defenders out there during a practice game, it's not that hard.)

Trying to be supportive, I yelled through the fence, "Way to go, Saylor! You've scored TWICE!"

His response, "So, do I get a hundred dollars?"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Week In Review 1

  • President Bush went to America's southern border this week to promote his immigration reform plan. From now on, anyone trying to enter the United States must answer one question to prove they will be of value to the United States, its culture and its economy: "How's your curve ball?"
  • A team of scientists in suburban Cleveland announces that global warming is getting worse and must be stopped immediately. The scientists make the announcement after digging themselves out of a 16-foot snowbank.
  • In a week that saw the funeral of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson and the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier in baseball, black leaders around America made sure the public's attention was focused where it should be ... on a caustic white radio shock jock who looks like Frankenstein.
  • DNA tests confirm photographer Larry Birkhead is the father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's baby, but the custody battle takes a twist when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopt the child.
  • Not to be outdone, Madonna adopts Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer, Howard K. Stern.
  • President George W. Bush strongly condemns Thursday's attack on Iraq's parliament building, saying his message to the Iraqi government is: "We stand with you." He adds, "...well, not 'with you' with you, of course, but from a safe distance."
  • Leaders of Japan and China meet in an attempt to foster better relations without forgetting their wartime past. They decide that the few people still alive who had anything to do with their warring history fight it out once and for all in a Bingo game at a Tokyo nursing home.
  • From the AP: The famous Gerber Baby will change parents with Nestle announcing it will buy Gerber Products Co. for $5.5 billion, giving the world's biggest food and drink company the largest share of the global baby food market. Nestle then announces the arrival of tasty Strained Green Bean Crunch.
  • All charges are dropped against three former Duke University lacrosse players who were accused of sexual assault by a stripper. DA Mike Nifong apologizes to the players and says he'll no longer try to prosecute innocent rich white kids when there are still plenty of innocent poor black kids to go around.
  • After the charges are dismissed, the three players hold a press conference at which David Evans calls the stripper's rape accusations "fantastic lies." The so-called victim disputes Evans' claim, saying the lies were pretty good as far as lies go, but hardly fantastic.
  • Protests continue in the Kyrgyz capital, with thousands of demonstrators camping in tents and vowing to stay until until Kyrgyzstan's president steps down or lets them use more vowels.
  • The United States is holding off on imposing unilateral sanctions against Sudan so that negotiations can take place on Sudanese acceptance of deployment of U.N.-backed international peacekeepers for Darfur, a top administration official says. The two remaining refugees of the genocide agree that "there's no reason for the world to, you know, get in any kind of hurry or anything."
  • Tens of thousands march in Baghdad to mark the fourth anniversary of Baghdad's fall, meaning the celebration of the fourth anniversary of "mission accomplished" is just around the corner.
  • The Bush administration toughens its approach with China, filing two cases against China alleging unfair trade practices and imposing stiff penalty sanctions in a dispute involving Chinese government subsidies to paper manufacturers. Bush says if China doesn't change its ways real soon, the country won't be allowed to have ALL of America's manufacturing jobs. China apologizes and promised that if America keeps sending all its jobs there, they'll even try to make the instruction manuals for all the products make sense.
  • Though the U.S. trade deficit with China is on pace to exceed last year's record of $232.5 billion, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says, "This talk about a trade war is way overblown." ... He later adds, "For it to be a trade war, there would have to be two countries involved, not just one."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Coming this weekend

Check Blawg Wild every weekend as I plan to start a "Week in Review" feature. It will be full of information. Or full of something anyway.

An apology

I was in a bad mood tonight over work-related stuff and took an overdue dinner break. Adding to my frustration, the downtown Burger King was closed at 9:10 p.m. for some strange reason. So, I was in a worse mood by the time I settled for McDonald's. (The pickins are slim after 9 p.m. downtown.) Anyway, a homeless guy near the door stopped me. He said he didn't want money, just something to eat. He was polite.

I get tired of being asked for money downtown all the time, especially since the homeless population in downtown Columbus has really exploded over the past few years. The panhandling downtown is getting almost as bad as Atlanta. And I've had a couple of arguments with homeless guys who ticked me off. Nevertheless, I occasionally give up some spare change or a dollar or two unless the person is rude, overbearing, high or smells too much like liquor. If I feel the person is genuinely just down on his luck, I don't mind parting with a buck. Yet, I just didn't feel like dealing with this guy earlier tonight and simply said "sorry" as I passed him by.

Call it a guilty conscience or fear of bad karma, but I couldn't enjoy my meal (granted, it was McDonald's) knowing I could have helped the guy out. So after throwing the remnants of my meal in the trash, I went out to ask the guy if I could get him a burger or something, but he was gone. Then I really felt guilty. I'm bracing for bad karma.

So, to the guy at McDonald's shaking off the rain Wednesday night after the storm, I'm sorry ... and I owe you a burger.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I miss Imus already

I usually catch part of Don Imus' radio show in the morning, at least the portion that's also broadcast on MSNBC. I don't always agree with the guy, but I like that he's willing to be politically incorrect in a politically correct society and that he doesn't pander to politicians, stars or the public.

But now Mr. Imus has incurred the wrath of THE OFFENDED. THE OFFENDED is a group constantly on alert for things that might hurt their feelings. In this case, Don Imus used the term "nappy-headed hos" to describe the look of the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Of course, I and a lot of other folks didn't hear this racially insensitive remark until THE OFFENDED rose up and brought it to the forefront, the same way they did when Michael Richards went looney and used the n-word while being heckled during a stand-up routine. Now it's all over TV, radio and in the papers. By golly, everybody's heard it now.

Imus has been suspended for a couple of weeks, but THE OFFENDED want him fired, burned at the stake and fed to alligators. I guess that one remark negates every positive thing the guy's done, including supporting our troops, holding politicians' feet to the fire and running a ranch in New Mexico for kids with cancer to have the times of their lives. (By the way, Imus says 10 percent of the kids who come to the ranch are black.)

I agree that what Imus said is insensitive, and the guy has apologized profusely. But where do you think Imus got the term "hos" from? Think he heard it from his rich white friends in the Northeast or some white ranch hands in New Mexico? No, this term came from the hip-hop culture. Hip-hop artists who've used the term and popularized it and put it into the mainstream so that folks like Imus now know it are honored for their work, lauded, awarded, praised and have become role models for a generation.

I will give the Rev. Al Sharpton props for having decried the term's use and the other negative effects of the hip-hop culture long before this incident, although not as vehemently as he will attack any offense committed by a white person. But if he and THE OFFENDED find this so offensive, they're focusing their battle in the wrong area. They need to demand that Ice-T, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and their ilk be fired. That those who produced their records be fired. That those who sell their records be fired. They need to focus on the origin of the problem, not the result of it. It's simple cause and effect. Attack the cause, not the effect.

Criticizing Imus for picking up on this word so popularized by hip-hop is like blaming your next-door-neighbor's Suburban for global warming.

And I seriously doubt this much of a stink would have been raised had this phrase been uttered on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show." Someone would have complained, but you probably wouldn't have had to hear this phrase over and over. Drop the double standard. It's either wrong or it's not. And in the meantime, if you're determined to be offended by something, find something a bit more relevant to society than a shock jock's morning show.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Spring break

Spring break's over for me. The big element of this year's spring break was a trip Tuesday to the Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium, and much bigger than the aquariums in which I used to house my goldfish. Cleaner, too.

I expected a crowd and got one. No big deal. Only problem was that every person in the world has a digital camera or camera phone these days and everybody going through the aquarium had to stop every 12 feet to take a photo. We came to look at the exhibits; everybody else came to have their photos taken in front of exhibits and didn't care about blocking a whole window while hundreds of people waited ... so they could take their picture in front of the window.

The Georgia Aquarium is an amazing place, but it would be nice if they had designated spots for photography. It would be nicer if everyone wasn't so self-centered and was more considerate these days, but that ain't happening. The most exciting part of that day was a near-miss with the fatal shooting at CNN Center, which happened minutes after we had lunch there.

From there, we were off to a cabin near the old home place and then Wild Adventures in Valdosta. It's kind of like Six Flags except the lines are much shorter and you don't feel price-gouged around every corner. Plus Valdosta (where I worked 1991-93 as a sportswriter) has some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. It's a beautiful town, and if the newspaper hadn't been owned by a terrible company (which sold the paper away nearly a decade ago), I might have spent my entire career there.

From there, it was back to my old stomping grounds of Americus where I also worked at its newspaper (1989 & 1993-97) and went to college at Georgia Southwestern (1988-91). Americus is a town full of characters and great places to eat, such as Pat's Place, Monroe's Hot Dogs, the Forsyth Bar & Grill and my friend Paul's place, The Station, between the Rylander Theatre and the Windsor Hotel. The Station is my favorite restaurant, and not just because it has the best fried cheese grits and blackened grouper in the world. If you go, tell Paul I sent ya. Maybe he'll give me a free fried cheese grit next time I go.

I get to sleep in my own bed tonight. It's not as quiet as the cabin (though there's always a chance you'll hear that screaming growl of one of the last black panthers in Georgia who prowls the area).

Starting Sunday, my nose will be back to the grindstone, which is why it'll look a little flatter come Monday.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Failed drug war

There's a massive trial under way in Harris County involving a huge $5.5 million drug bust from last year. You can read about it here. It amazes me that every time there's one of these busts or forgone-conclusion trials that it's hailed as some great victory in the war on drugs. However, if busts this big continue to go on in Columbus, across Georgia and everywhere else every single year, then shouldn't that be seen as a sign the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure? There's as many drugs on the street now as there ever was. Exactly what has been accomplished besides ruined lives? When people talk about the Kenneth Walker shooting here in 2003, they always put it in racial terms. From day 1, I've seen it as nothing more than the fear and paranoia of the unsuccessful drug war.

The war on drugs can in fact be easily won, but it takes radical thinking. And people are scared to do things differently than they have in the past 40 years of the drug war, even though it's still not working. What's that saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Here's how you win the war on drugs, economically, in 10 years or less:
  • Any drugs confiscated in the war on drugs are distributed free of charge at designated drug parks on police properties in the largest cities of each state. Anyone 18 or over who wants coke, pot or whatever signs a release form that requires them to attend a 10-minute counseling session and offered optional rehab to receive the drugs, which they then must use in a walled drug park. If they try to leave the premises with them or try to distribute them to kids, they are arrested. They had these parks in Switzerland where junkies legally drugged themselves to death, and it was the greatest public service announcement to deter drug use you could imagine. Dealers don't make their money on casual users, but junkies have no pride and will gladly accept the stigma of the free drug use park. Anyone willing to sign these forms and go into these parks is already a lost cause.
  • It would remain illegal to import drugs into the country, sell them or possess them on the streets. Because all the junkies will be getting their drugs for free and killing themselves on police property, the market would collapse and it would not be worth the risk for small-time pushers, big-time importers or drug producers in Colombia and elsewhere. If the street price of coke plummets 800 percent, it won't be worth risking jail time when the only bling you're getting out of it is a $4.95 Casio watch in the Wal-Mart checkout lane.
  • In short, the drug trade suffers complete economic collapse. Those who were gonna do drugs anyway are monitored and segregated. Drug-related crimes such as theft plummet. Prison populations dwindle. Lives of young men now lured into the "Scarface" fantasy of thugdom are recaptured. Police are freed up to handle other crimes and quality of life issues. "Petty" crimes such as throwing your cigarette butts on the street eventually won't have to go ignored. Latin America is saved from itself with no market for its drugs, forcing drug farmers to go into other fields, literally.

Or, we can keep doing what we've always been doing and hoping somehow it miraculously starts working. I'm not for legalizing drugs. That doesn't work either. But somewhere between legalizing drugs and this insane war is some room for common sense. I hope.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Crawling pilgrims

Why on Earth does Eufaula schedule its annual pilgrimage for the same weekend when everyone's heading to the beach for spring break? Does a massive traffic jam add to the ambiance of the whole event?

Somehow folks dressed in plantation-era outfits standing on the front porches of those beautiful mansions and homes doesn't capture a bygone era when they're waving at a miles-long line of SUVs, trucks and cars. And 99.9 percent of these vehicles are packed with luggage, coolers and beach paraphernalia -- meaning they're not there for the pilgrimage. They're on their way to the beach and saw Eufaula as nothing more than a dot on the map big enough for a pee break or a 10-piece McNuggets to go.

I got caught up in the traffic jam this weekend, though I wasn't on the way to the beach, merely a retreat near Lake Eufaula. It took about one and a half hours to cover a six-mile stretch of 431 heading into the historic district. If I hadn't known a couple of backstreets in Eufaula, it would have taken two hours. I feel for the people whose five-hour drives to the beach turned into seven-hour drives to the beach.

People's cars were running hot. Some were breaking down. I had my seat reclined and would ease up a few inches every now and then. The tags were mostly from metro Atlanta, and judging from their expressions, I'd say Eufaula's lucky these frustrated drivers didn't burn down the historic district on their way through. They're not interested in a bygone era; they're more interested in a bypass era, and Eufuala's desperately in need of one.

Don't get me wrong. I love Eufaula. I go there several times a year. I'm sure I'll be on the lake this summer. I love old houses. I used to live in a 100-year-old house, which instead of a carport or garage had a place to park your horse and carriage. And the historic district is beautiful ... except when it's set against the backdrop of a traffic jam.

I'm sure the businesses along U.S. 431 aren't interested in a bypass. But I think the city would be better served with a bypass than with thousands of drivers cursing it for bottlenecking their trip and turning a leisurely drive into a nightmare. And even when it's not spring break or the pilgrimage, that busy 431 really takes away from the historic district's atmosphere.