Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What So Proudly We Screeched

Ah, yes. Super Bowl week. That seven-day period when the hype reaches
warp speed, when the media swarm descends on everyone from tackles
and tailbacks to towel boys, ankle tapers and under assistant
equipment managers.

It’s the only time when you’ll hear the complete life story of the
back-up long snapper. Everybody’s fair game during Super Bowl week.

The steady drumbeat of analysis and adulation is followed by a game
which, more often than not, becomes a yawn inducing play-not-to-lose

Go easy on the beer and bean dip. You might sleep through the whole

For me, the real edge-of-seat excitement comes during the singing of
the national anthem. Will it be a moving tribute to the land of the
free or an embarrassing flop by a performer whose marquee value
exceeds his or her talent?

Just this past week, for example, we saw both extremes.

Before the Baltimore-New England Game, the anthem was attempted by
Steven Tyler, the legendary rock singer who fronted Aerosmith. He
sounded like a screech owl in heat.

Meaning no disrespect. Mr. Tyler made his name singing the likes of
“Dude Looks Like a Lady” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Nobody every
mistook him for Pavarotti. Asking him to tackle the National Anthem,
a work that could bring an Irish tenor to tears, is an invitation to
disaster. Which is exactly what we got.

For a guy who judges talent on “American Idol,” he should know better
and offer to recite the Pledge of Allegiance instead. Judge not lest
ye be judged, as the good book says.

On the other side of the country, actress and Broadway performer
Kristin Chenoweth offered a stirring and heartfelt version of the
National Anthem before the 49ers-Giants game while singing in the
pouring rain. It was grace under pressure.

The next person or persons who hire Steven Tyler to sing the anthem
should be arrested on charges of felony bad taste. Because this is
not his first foray into failure.

He famously butchered it in 2001 at the Indy 500, first by kicking it
off with a blues harmonica solo, then forgetting some of the lyrics
and concluding by changing “home of the brave” to “home of the
Indianapolis 500.” I’m surprised he got out of town alive.

Later, an Indiana state legislator proposed a bill that would set
specific "performance standards" for singing and playing “The
Star-Spangled Banner” and fine those who fail to meet the standards.

So who started this whole free-form interpretation of the anthem? Why
are subjected to versions that sound like they were conceived in a
blues bar at 2 a.m.?

Do a little research on the Internet and the blame seems to fall
squarely at the feet of popular singer/guitarist Jose Feliciano. His
version before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between Detroit and
St. Louis shocked the crowd. Worse, it started a trend.

It was the 60s, after all, not a good time for traditionalism.

That begat Jimi Hendrix who did an instrumental version in 1968 that
actually got air play. Which begat Marvin Gaye whose soul version
before the 1983 NBA All-Star game became popular.

Then, there were the lowlights. Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis in
1993 performed a version that was so bad, he apologized in the middle
of the song. Christina Aguilera’s version at a Super Bowl was
pretentious and bizarre ("What so proudly we watched at the
twilight's last reaming." ) Michael Bolton forgot the lyrics half way
through his version even though he had them written on his hand. Kat
DeLuna got booed out of Texas stadium after her rendition.

But the hands-down worst version ever was by Roseanne Barr before a
San Diego Padres baseball game. After screeching and grunting through
the song, she finished by grabbing her crotch and spitting as the
boos rained down on her. Who in the world thought this would be a
good idea?

(For the record, I listened and watched each and every one of these
performances on You Tube. It was a four aspirin experience).

The gold standard is Whitney Houston’s flawless and mostly
traditional anthem before a Super Bowl game in 1991 that became so
popular it was released as a single and made the Billboard Top 100.
Once you’ve heard it, you’ll want to enlist.

Next Sunday, the anthem will be sung by Kelly Clarkson, an “American
Idol” winner who had a recent hit entitled “My Life Would Suck
Without You.”

Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Captain Not So Courageous

It was a bad week for the travel industry.

First, Captain Francesco Schettino steered his massive cruise ship,
Costa Concordia, on to the rocks just off the Italian coast, creating
a near Titanic-like disaster. As of this writing, 11 people have died
and 21 are still missing.

To make matters worse, the Captain was one of the first to abandon
ship, ahead of most of the 4,000 passengers and crew, defying
maritime tradition that the master is the last to leave.

He later explained he “tripped” and fell into a lifeboat.

With that, Capt. Schettino instantly did three things: He did for
cruises what “Jaws” did for summers at the beach; he came up with the
worst excuse since “the dog ate my homework;” he perpetuated the myth
of Italian cowardice that was had its roots in World War II (“Did you
hear about the new Italian tank? It has six gears: one forward and
five reverse.”)

On points one and two, there is no debate. As to the last point, one
vain and spineless idiot does not represent an entire country and its
people. For every Capt. Schettino, there were hundreds of brave and
dedicated rescue workers who risked their lives to save passengers.

Most historians agree that in World War II, the Italians lacked
weapons, leadership and a desire to die for Benito Mussolini, an
inept egomaniac who made Hitler look brilliant. So they surrendered.
You want to talk Italians and military prowess? Make sure you make
the Roman legions part of the discussion.

In the meantime, the crew of a British Airlines passenger jet flying
35,000 feet over the Atlantic accidentally played a recording over the
intercom announcing the plane was about to make a crash landing in
the ocean.

Then, according to one passenger, “"About 30 seconds later, one of
the cabin crew told us to ignore the announcement. ... Imagining
yourself plunging towards a cold, watery grave in the middle of the
Atlantic is a pretty horrific thought, but they seemed very blasé
about it."

One wonders if the announcement was preceded by, “This is Captain
Schettino speaking…”

One also wonders what other recordings they have cued up on the
flight deck. “Due to a mechanical problem, we will return to the gate
where you will sit on the tarmac for seven hours. Thank you for your
patience.” “Your luggage is mistakenly on its way to New Zealand.”
“We will be charging an exit fee for you to depart the airplane.”
“Please remain calm….we forgot to fill the plane’s liquor cabinet.”
Better yet, how about a recording accompanied by cheery music that
says, “Please disregard the previous recording that said we are all
about to die.”

The airline has apologized for the miscue. One hopes they passed out
clean underwear for the passengers upon landing.

It’s also been a bad week for Republicans. The South Carolina
Republican primary has morphed from a frank but cordial exchange of
views into biker bar brawl. This isn’t a campaign; it’s hand-to-hand

There’s already been one fatality. Rick Perry has announced he is
saddling up and riding back to Texas after performing so bad in the
debates, he must have been channeling former Perot running mate
Admiral Stockdale.

Then, 16 days after the fact, Rick Santorum was declared the winner
of the Iowa caucuses, beating Mitt Romney by 34 votes.

This would normally not be a game changer. As one observer said of
the archaic way Iowa votes, “It should be a Swiss watch. Instead it’s
a sundial.”

But for Romney, loosing to Santorum anywhere at anything can’t be a
good thing.

While this was going on, Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife said in an interview
he was giving speeches on family values at the same time he was
advocating an “open marriage” for the couple.

Finally, a Pew Research Center poll found that 53 percent of those
surveyed Dec. 7-11 said Republicans were more extreme than Democrats
and 51 percent said Democrats were more willing to compromise.

Here’s to competent captains, less pre-recorded messages and an
absence of mud in Republican politics.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

True Blue

Good news, Dodgers fans. In an attempt to lift the dark clouds that
have recently enveloped the franchise I have a plan that will bring about a new golden age for the storied team.

I intend to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I reached this decision after noting that almost everyone but me wants to own the team which is currently for sale. Being no dummy, I decided if a whole bunch of really rich people think it’s a good idea to own the Dodgers, maybe I should join
the fun.

I have a plan.

I promise an end to cold hot dogs and warm beer. I promise to reduce the number of advertisements that currently tattoo every inch of the stadium. I will also eliminate kiss cams, dance cams and obnoxious kid cams. This is a ball game, not You Tube.

I will build enough concession stands and hire enough people to run
them so that fans won’t miss three innings of a game trying to get an
order of nachos.

I won’t charge more for parking than your car is worth.

I will obtain a third baseman, a left fielder, a catcher and relief
pitchers, none of whom are at the beginning or end of their careers.

I will build a statue of Vin Scully at the entrance to the stadium.

This I swear. But first, there are several obstacles I need to

First, I'm a bit short on experience. Actually, my only experience is
managing a T-ball team for 6-year-olds and playing in a few softball
leagues . But, hey, a hit is a hit and a run is a run. How complicated can it be?

In addition, I understand that a Dodger owner is the curator of a
civic treasure which immediately lifts me head and shoulders above the
buffoons who have mishandled the franchise since 1998 when Peter
O'Malley cashed out.

Second, it appears that I will need somewhere in the vicinity of a
billion dollars. First I thought I might ask for donations from my
readers. But that would probably fall short of the price for a Happy

Then it occurred to me: You don't need a billion dollars to buy a
franchise. In fact, you don't need any money at all. The only
requirement is cunning and guile. And maybe a little larceny in your

Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers was mostly a no-money down
transaction, financed with debt. An IOU if you will. After running
the franchise into the ground by using its assets to gild his personal lily, he
filed for bankruptcy. Major League Baseball accused McCourt of “looting” the team of $189 million.

Now, he has the team up for sale for north of a billion dollars. Most
people think he’ll get it.

Even after paying off his loans, his ex-wife and a few hundred
lawyers, he'll pocket a nice chunk of change. And you were worried
that Frank would be reduced to be selling bags of oranges on freeway

Third, I’ll have to overcome the competition.

There are some noble and good men involved in the bidding: Peter
O’Malley, Fred Claire, Magic Johnson, Joe Torre. All would restore
the good name of the Dodgers.

There are a few sketchy ones as well.

For example, Mark Cuban, whose boorish behavior as an NBA franchise
owner, has cost him hundreds of thousands in fines. I can’t wait to
see the first time he comes charging out of the stands to argue a
third-strike call with the umps. It would be like having Milton
Bradley in charge. Let’s go for an owner with a little dignity for a

Then there’s Thomas J. Barrack, a billionaire real estate investor
and founder of Colony Capital, located in Santa Monica. There are a
few things on his resume that set off alarm bells. He once worked
for Herbert W. Kalmbach, President Richard Nixon's personal lawyer
(ring!). He also once worked for Saudi princes and helped open
diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Haiti, then ruled by
Jean-Claude Duvalier (ring!). He owns the Neverland Ranch (ring!).
In the summer, he lives in a castle in the South of France. (ring!).

Bill Burke, a businessman who founded the L.A. Marathon, allegedly offered McCourt $1.2 billion last August. According to a story in the L.A. Times, the bid was largely bankrolled by Chinese investors. The Dodgers in the hands of Communists? Really?

Also bidding is Steven Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire who in an act
of supreme confidence, has already hired an architect to redesign
Dodger Stadium. The Securities and Exchange Commission is
investigating his firm, SAC Capital Advisors, as part of the
government’s broad crackdown on insider trading. Although Cohen
himself has not been targeted, Major League Baseball remains leery of
Wall Street after Bernie Madoff fleeced the owners of the Mets.

Somewhere in between are the likes of:

Orel Hershiser and Steve Garvey, two former Dodger stars;

A group headed by former agent and current Chicago White Sox special
assistant Dennis Gilbert, talk show host Larry King and Jason Reese
of Imperial Capital;

The family of the late Roy Disney partnered with Stanley Gold, who
runs the family investment firm.

Probably a dozen other potential buyers who are keeping it quiet.

As for me, I’ll approach the Dodger sweepstakes as though I was
buying a used car. I’ll walk around a bit, kick the tires then make
a low-ball offer.

If I succeed, you’re all invited to sit in the owner’s box with me.
If not, see you in the bleachers.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

For the Record

As is the habit of this column at this time of year, we pause to take
a look back, not at world events or notable deaths or achievement in
sport, but at newspaper corrections.

It’s certainly not an attempt to mock the field of journalism. After
all, the profession has kept a roof over the head and food on the
table of this column’s author for a good many years.

Rather, it’s a reminder that in the act of producing hundreds of
millions of words each year, sometimes an error slips through. It
keeps us vigilant but humble.

More importantly, it’s often downright funny.

What follows, then, are the coveted Mea Culpa Awards for 2011, based
on data culled from Internet sources and our own personal collection.

You Say Obama, I Say Osama

It was natural that when troops commanded by Barack Obama killed
Osama bin Laden, confusion would result. But the Sacramento Bee
managed to mangle the names twice. Their correction: “A Washington
Post story on Page A12 on May 2 and a McClatchy Newspapers Washington
Bureau story on Page A13 on May 6 mistakenly used the name Obama
instead of Osama in references to Osama bin Laden.”

Food for Thought

A recipe for honey nut banana muffins included a comment that “you
may want to add a little fried fruit to the mix … to make the flavor
more interesting”. Dried fruit, that should be. The Guardian, U.K.

In a recipe for courgette risotto, one ingredient was “200ml white
wine vinegar”. The result was not ideal. It should have been white
wine. The Guardian.

Chile's Supreme Court has ordered a newspaper to pay $125,000 to 13
people who suffered burns while trying out a published recipe for
churros, a popular Latin American snack of dough fried in hot oil.
Judges determined that the newspaper failed to fully test it before
publication, and that if readers followed the recipe exactly, the
churros had a good chance of exploding once the oil reached the
suggested temperature.

On a page of news briefs, a small photo purported to show “Lady Gaga,
wearing a jewel-encrusted lobster on her head”. A reader notes: “She
is wearing a crayfish.” Of course. The Guardian.

Words, Words, Words

A clue in yesterday’s Quick crossword was “small mollusk”. The answer
sought was shrimp, which is not a mollusk but a crustacean. The

An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday
misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the
Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats.
Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by
Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in “The Hobbit”; Orcrist was the
sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo
Baggins’s sword was called Sting.) New York Times

Camper Killed By Fumes was corrected because the original referred to
Ysbyty Gwynedd hospital. This is tautologous; “Ysbyty” means hospital
in Welsh. The Guardian.

Confusion Reigns

Last week’s column revealed that I was the third born of the four
Abraham children, which was news to my brothers and sister. For the
record, I was the second born. Eastern Courrier.

Quotations in a story about the Istrouma High School-Broadmoor High
School football game that appeared in The Advocate on Saturday, Oct.
29, were wrongly attributed to Broadmoor coach Rusty Price. The
reporter who wrote the story thought he was interviewing coach Price
after the game. Because the interview subject was not Price, the
reporter is unsure whom he spoke with. Baton Rouge Advocate.

In yesterday’s Western Daily Press we carried a photograph with a
caption referring to the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katharine Jenkins.
Unfortunately a technical error failed to update the picture on the
page before it was printed. We would like to apologize to Miss
Jenkins for any embarrassment caused. The printed picture showed
Conservative MP for Hendon Matthew Offord and his dog Maximus taking
part in the Westminster Dog of the Year event at Victoria. Western
Daily Press, Australia.

Bad Ideas, Badly Executed

A story in Saturday’s Real Deal section suggested that a fun thing to
do for Halloween is to write “poison” on a plastic jar or bottle and
fill it with candy for the kids to eat. A picture that accompanied
the story showed a skull and crossbones image similar to the symbol
used to indicate something is poisonous. The Citizen understands the
need to train children not to touch and never to eat or drink from
bottles or jars with that symbol on it, and it was a lapse in
judgment for us to have suggested otherwise. Ottawa Citizen.

The Skeney Says column in Saturday’s Townsville Bulletin described
her state after receiving surgery at a dental practice on Kings Road.
The line “my cotton-wool-stuffed face squished against the window,
eyes rolled back at them and slack jaw drooling blood down my chin”
was an exaggeration for the purpose of humor and was not intended to
reflect on the services of the surgery. On the contrary, Skene was
treated exceptionally well by the practice through the whole process,
and is sorry for any misunderstanding her piece may have caused.
Townsville Bulletin.

No Typos, Just Bad Reporting

A Comment piece about voting rights for prisoners said that even if
all the inmates of Durham prison turned out and voted in the same way
they could not put a dent in MP Pat Glass’s majority. Indeed they
could not: the prison is not in Glass’s North West Durham
constituency. The Guardian.

On Aug. 3 this year the Daily Mirror published an article regarding
the death of Miss Catherine Zaks, aged 21, in Krakow, Poland. The
article contained claims that Miss Zaks, from Robertsbridge, East
Sussex, abused drugs and had engaged in casual sex following the
break-up of a long-term relationship. Miss Zaks’ parents have pointed
out that these claims are entirely false and that their daughter was
much loved, and of good character. We are happy to set the record
straight and apologize for any distress caused. Daily Mirror, U.K.

An item published in The Australian on Nov.15 (Strewth, “Losing the
threads”, page 13) referred to a report in The Zimbabwe Guardian that
Jacqueline Zwambila, the Zimbabwean ambassador to Australia, stripped
to her underwear in front of three male embassy officials. Ms.
Zwambila denies the allegations, and a governmental investigation in
Zimbabwe has cleared her of any misconduct charges. The Australian
apologizes to Ms Zwambila. The Australian.

There was an error printed in the story titled “Pigs Float Down the
Dawson”…The story, by reporter Daniel Burdon, said “more than 30,000
pigs were floating down the Dawson River.” What…piggery owner Sid
Everingham actually said was “30 sows and pigs,” not “30,000 pigs.
The Morning Bulletin, Australia.

In an article published on The Sun website we incorrectly stated that
Julian Brooker, 23, of Brighton, was blown 15ft into the air after
accidentally touching a live railway line. His parents have asked us
to make clear he was not turned into a fireball, was not obsessed
with the number 23 and didn’t go drinking on that date every month.
Julian’s mother did not say, during or after the inquest, her son
often got on all fours creeping around their house pretending to be
Gollum. The Sun, U.K.

…And This Column’s Personal Favorites

Our panel listing the expected highlights at Glastonbury this summer
catapulted into the festival’s headliners a band not so much obscure
as unknown, even to those expert in Judaic contributions to rock. The
group Frightened Rabbi should have been the Scottish band Frightened
Rabbit. The Guardian.