Archive for May 2010
May 28, 2010
As someone who is not terribly adventurous in my own life, I have a grudging respect for anyone who’s willing to take a risk for something they believe in. But there’s a fine line between risk taker and dumbass, and sometimes it’s hard to tell on which side of the line someone falls.
I will confess to being a fan of the animated movies from Pixar, and I was there on opening day for their last film, “Up” – the story of a man who chases adventure by flying to South America with his house suspended under a huge bundle of colorful helium balloons. Most of us left the theater entertained and uplifted, but without any particular desire to re-enact Carl Fredricksen’s feat. Apparently, that can’t be said for Jonathan Trappe of Raleigh, North Carolina, who has taken the idea to a new level by drifting across the English Channel in a balloon-equipped wicker chair.
The 36-year-old dangled beneath 54 balloons for more than four hours to complete the 22-mile journey, taking off from Ashford in Kent and landing near Dunkirk in northern France.
His destination was a little less picturesque than Mr Fredricksen’s Paradise Falls - he was forced to crash land in a cabbage patch after the wind blew him off course, to the bemusement of French gendarmes.
We’ve talked about cluster ballooning before, including the event to which most point as the genesis of the concept – the ill-advised flight of Larry Walters back in 1982. I always figured it was something that happened after a little too much purple drank, but the number of enthusiasts has grown over the years, along with the professionalism of the rigs in which they fly. There are even websites dedicated to the sport, although the following quote found on one of them sums up the state of things pretty well:
With half a dozen pilots worldwide, cluster ballooning remains something between an extreme sport and a personal eccentricity, for the moment.
Without people willing to take risks, our species would still be standing on the beach, wondering what was over the horizon, and stuck on the ground, watching the birds soar with envy. But there’s a big difference between a trained, prepared adventurer like Steve Fossett and someone with a wild hair up their ass and a dream. After all, Icarus had a dream, too, and he learned the hard way what happens when you’re not as prepared as you think you are. Hopefully, Trappe and his fellow cluster balloonists aren’t on a similar trajectory.
May 26, 2010
Has it really been five years since Hurricane Katrina tried to wipe New Orleans off the map? Seems like just the other day that the opposition party was berating the President over his slow response to a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Or perhaps I’m confusing it with … just the other day, when the opposition party was once again berating the President over his slow response to a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico …
In the aftermath of Katrina, as many residents of the Gulf Coast struggled to survive – and some failed – the federal government came under a lot of criticism for not being better prepared for such a disaster, and for not responding faster once the magnitude of the disaster was clear. After a few days of inactivity and speeches (including the infamous “Brownie, You’re Doing A Heck Of A Job” debacle), the National Guard arrived with food and water and picked up the slack of rescue and relocation. But the damage was done in the perception of the public.
Five years later, disaster has returned to the shores of Louisiana – only this time, it’s strictly man-made. On the night of April 20, the offshore drilling platform DEEPWATER HORIZON exploded, killing eleven crew members. Two days later, the platform sank 50 miles offshore, and shortly thereafter the first oil was found leaking from the cracked drill rig. Blowout preventers should have sealed the well but didn’t, and thousands of gallons of oil were spewing out of the damaged wellhead a mile underwater. An ecological disaster of unmatched proportion was developing, and all eyes turned to the government to evaluate their response.
Give the Obama administration credit – they learned from the barbecuing of their predecessors that perceptions count. From the very beginning, there were briefings and news conferences and a steady stream of Administration representatives heading into the region – they even established their own web site. Like the Katrina disaster, there was a lot of talk of who was to blame and how to best investigate the disaster. But once again, the federal government is showing that while they might be great at making speechs or holding hearings, they suck at action. They talk about holding BP responsible, but where’s the army of people hired to clean the beaches – hell, it’s not like there isn’t anyone unemployed in the region. Where’s the Coast Guard commandeering a fleet of boats to lay boom around the sensitive wetlands and harbors? Where’s the action?
It’s clear that this administration doesn’t understand deepsea oil drilling any more than the last understood the engineering challenges of building a hurricane-proof levee. And frankly, I don’t expect them to know everything about the topic – that’s why you bring in experts to help you craft the proper oversight. But all of that is a discussion for another day. What needs to happen now, as we enter the sixth week of the disaster, is action – positive action to mitigate damage.
There’s a lesson in this for the politicians who would love to use it to make political points, just as there was a lesson in Katrina. That lesson is this: leading the country is hard. Circumstances will jump up periodically and kick you square in the crotch. Whether 9-11, Katrina, Haiti or DEEPWATER HORIZON, the pain will drive you right to your knees. People will forgive that reaction, but it’s what happens next that matters – how do you respond to the pain to resolve the situation. That’s what we’re waiting to see.
May 24, 2010
Have you noticed lately how lazy politicians have gotten?
There was a time when politics was a proud service, aspired to by the best and the brightest we have to offer as a way of giving back to society. Today, however, it seems like every wannabe with a stack of money or a microphone jumps into politics as a short-cut to national recognition and the fame that can come with it. Along the way, many of the skills and talents that used to be required have slipped by the wayside.
Take the fine art of debate. Once upon a time, two groups of people, civil towards each other but on opposite sides of an issue, would debate the merit of their positions using thought-out arguments and intelligent statements. But those skills seem to have been lost by today’s politicians, who are desperate to make their political points in a world with the attention span of a 3-yr-old child. So rather than sway people with the value of their argument, they fall back on an old tool that’s new again – they brand it “un-American”.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, has taken issue with the new immigration bill passed recently in Arizona. Now, the mayor seems like a pretty smart guy, and there are certainly valid arguments to be made against the law. But rather than explain what he feels is wrong with the structure of the law, he slapped it with the “U” word:
“I add my voice in strongly opposing this unpatriotic and un-American law and I call upon our federal leaders to pass comprehensive immigration reform in its place.”
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the political fence, Republican and Tea Party poster boy Rand Paul has been taking heat over some of the statements he’s made regarding various issues since he won the party’s Senate primary in Kentucky. One of the things he’s irritated about is the President’s handling of the Gulf oil spill and of BP, the company who’s crude is currently puking up beaches from Louisiana to Florida. Paul’s position is a little different than most; he thinks Obama is being too hard on the oil company, but he had to resort to the “U” word to back up his argument:
“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” Paul said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”
Here’s my question – what exactly does “un-American” mean, and who are they to determine what qualifies? Are they constitutional scholars who have studied the works of the founding fathers and understand the intent of the Constitution? Or are they hoping that Billy-Bob will hear that word in a sound clip, slam down his beer and yell, “frakkin’ A!”
Look, these guys aren’t stupid – they obviously understand that we live in a world where news is made in 15-second clips and 140-character tweets. They’re unwilling – or unable – to take the time needed to make a valid argument, so they just right to a word they know is a button-pusher, just like the “n” word or the “f” word before it. And, considering the visibility it gets them, it’s hard to argue with their reasoning. But it is a dangerous game to replace the logic of your argument with simplistic jingoism.
It’s worth remembering that there was once another man who chose to hide his arguments behind the word “un-American” – Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator of a half-century ago who witch-hunts were sanction under a banner of the “U” word. My advice to those in office today: take the time to make the argument – don’t try to hide behind a declaration of “un-American” …
May 20, 2010
There are things in this world that I find particularly irritating and useless – gum that sticks to the bottom of your shoe; spiders that spin their webs at eye-level in my back yard; the “Jersey Shore” kids getting rich for being nothing more than bigoted, ignorant trolls. You can add to that list disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis. Landis, one-time domestique to Lance Armstrong and the USPS Big Blue Train, was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after he failed a drug test during the event. Now, after years of denial, he’s decided he just can’t live a lie, and wants to spill his putrid guts – throwing his former comrades under the bus along the way.
Landis fought vigorously to regain his maillot juane, but lost at every juncture, denying all the way that he had ever done anything illegal. Now that’s it’s clear he’s never going to win, never going to return toracing form and never going to be accepted by the racing community, he’s firing off emails and interviews to anyone who might listen, including ESPN and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Landis confirmed he sent e-mails to cycling and anti-doping officials over the past few weeks, implicating dozens of other athletes, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong; team management and owners; and officials of the sport’s national and international governing bodies.
Armstrong, who is currently competing in the Tour of California, told reporters Thursday: “I have nothing to hide,” and “history speaks for itself here.”
“It’s his word versus ours … we like our word, we like our credibility,” Armstrong said.
Landis also accused American riders Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie and Armstrong’s longtime coach, Johan Bruyneel, of involvement in doping.
The World Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement Thursday that they would open an investigation into Landis’ allegations.
It’s worth noting that the WADA was the same group that supported the previous Armstrong witch hunts, all of which turned up nothing.
Particularly troubling to me is Landis’ willingness to implicate George Hincapie, one of the most straight-up guys in the peleton.
In the e-mail to Johnson, Landis said he had blood extracted in 2003 inside the apartment Armstrong owned in the historic center of Girona, Spain, and that it was stored in a refrigerator there along with blood extracted from Armstrong and teammate George Hincapie. Landis said Armstrong asked him to stay in the apartment on one occasion while Armstrong was away in order to make sure the refrigerator did not malfunction.
He also said in the e-mail that a team doctor gave him and Hincapie, who he said was his roommate during the 2003 Tour de France, syringes filled with olive oil in which andriol, a form of testosterone that can be taken orally, had been dissolved.
Hincapie said he was disappointed to hear Landis’ accusations.
“I have been a professional on the circuit for 17 years — which is one of the longest careers in the peloton. During that time, I have earned the respect of my peers and a reputation for working hard, honestly and honorably,” he said in a statement.
Landis, meanwhile, claims to still not understand how he failed that test in 2006 – apparently, he took performance enhancing drugs, but not the one they caught him for using. Riiiiiight – like somehow there’s honor among thieves.
I am a die-hard Lance Armstong fan, and consider his comeback from cancer and subsequent string of seven consecutive Tour de France victories to be one of the greatest sports stories of all time. I’ve also gone on record as saying that were I to learn he had cheated along the way, it would change everything – and that’s exactly why I don’t believe he did. With all that was on the line, and all that he had to lose – and all the scrutiny he was under – we would already know if he had doped. If someone ever provides proof, then I will listen. But this sounds a lot like one more disgraced athlete trying to salve his broken ego by tarring those around him.
I’m reminded of a moment from the 2004 TdF where Landis was riding in support of Armstrong. They were nearing the top of a climb, only a couple of clicks from the end of the stage, and Lance knew whatever danger he faced from his rivals was through for the day. So he asks Landis, “How bad to you want to win a stage?” “Real bad,” replied Landis, sensing Armstrong was about to give him that chance. “Run like you stole something, Floyd,” was Armstrong’s response, and off went Landis. But as bad as he claimed he wanted it, he couldn’t get the deal done, and was run down by Jan Ullrich, ultimately forcing Armstrong to attack and win the stage. Floyd Landis was all talk on that day, and is all talk now. Ultimately, champions win and cheaters lose, and there’s no question in my mind who is which in this story.
May 19, 2010
Everyone dreams of a wonderful place to spend their retirement. Some dream of a lanai on the Big Island, others a penthouse balcony in Manhattan, but a lot hope for a little country home they can call their own. Well, if you have a little change jingling in your pocket, have I got a deal for you!
We’ve all seen the Kevin Costner baseball flick, “Field of Dreams.” For those with a short memory, Costner’s Ray Kinsella is an Iowa farmer who follows the advice of a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field. Amazing things happen, and the catch phrase “If You Build It, He Will Come” (#39 in the American Film Institute’s list of famous film quotes) was born.
Universal Pictures build a real diamond in a real Dyersville, Iowa cornfield for the shooting, and when they left it turned into a real tourist attraction – and now it can be yours.
The baseball diamond is part of a 193-acre tract that Don and Becky Lansing have had in their family for more than 100 years.
The Lansings are asking $5.4 million for the field and surrounding farmland plus the house used in the movie, two souvenir stands and six other farm buildings.
The sale will be conduced without stipulations, meaning the new owner could potentially plow under the field, just as the fictitious Ray Kinsella was urged to do by his bankers in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”
“We love the land and the field, but it is time for us to head to the locker room,” said Becky. She added “we are getting up there in years and it is time to think about retirement.”
Both Costner and co-star Ray Liotta were rumored to be interested in buying the property, but that was just an urban myth. The unfortunate reality is that most small farms (and yes, this qualifies as “small”) are bought by neighboring corporate tracts, which could result in the field being restored to it’s earlier pre-baseball condition. But it’s not too late to step in and buy your own little piece of heaven – interested parties may contact real estate consultant Ken Sanders about the property at (414) 803-4220 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
May 17, 2010
Back in my college days, heavy metal was just starting to take hold. Sure, the seventies had seen some metal bands, but they were plodding at best – decent music if you were stoned, I suppose, but nothing to really bang your head to. But there was one voice that cut through the mist … or smoke … like a scalpel – Ronnie James Dio. As the diminutive front man for Blackmore’s Rainbow, he’d helped the former Deep Purple guitarist establish a new, higher energy sound for heavy metal. When Ozzy Osbourne was fired from … er, quit … Black Sabbath, Dio breathed new life into an old band, resulting in the classic album “Heaven and Hell”. And as the leader of his own band Dio, he showed the rest of the industry how to kick ass and rock hard.
At a time when most of his peers had been forced to the recliner, rehab or reality TV, Dio soldiered on. It took a diagnosis of stomach cancer to slow this rock god, and now that massive voice has been silenced forever. Ronnie James Dio died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 67.
Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall when RJD met St. Peter? I’m just sayin’ …
Rock on, my brother … rock on!
May 10, 2010
Ever since 9/11, travel – particularly by air – hasn’t been the same. The planes are packed, the TSA changes the rules weekly, and God forbid you get caught going through Security without clean socks. But none of the changes brought about by those horrific terror attacks has folks up in the air – so to speak – so much as the new full-body scanning machines now being tested at select airports. The scanners, which make it practically impossible to hide something under your clothes, are hailed as “the solution” by security experts. But privacy advocates fear that the grainy black and white images generated by the scanners dig a little too deep, and are just a little too personal. You might think it’s not that big a deal, but for at least one security worker in Miami, his little deal is a big deal indeed …
A TSA worker at Miami International Airport in Florida was arrested for allegedly assaulting a co-worker who had repeatedly teased him about the size of his genitals.
The insults stemmed from an X-ray of the accused captured during a training exercise with the airport’s full-body scanning machines, the report said.
Rolando Negrin “stated he could not take the jokes anymore and lost his mind,” allegedly striking the victim with a police baton. According to the report, a witness heard Negrin say in Spanish, “get on your knees or I will kill you and you better apoligise [sic].”
I’ve seen the output of these machines, including one of a woman that left little to the imagination, and I see where there could be a potential for abuse. But at some point, you have to decide what’s important to you – letting some minimum-wage TSA hack get his jollies at your expense, or getting your ass blown out of the sky. The scanner is quick, painless, and certain – and a hell of a lot better than getting groped in a detailed patdown.
Of course, there are other solutions to the problem. Being something of an outside-of-the-box thinker myself, I have a foolproof method to insure nothing is brought onboard the planes that shouldn’t be there – fly naked. Yep, everyone not working the cockpit strips before they pass through the scanner and everything – and I mean everything – gets checked in. Want something to eat or read on the flight? Get it on the plane. Somehow, paying extra for a blanket isn’t going to seem so wrong any more …
May 6, 2010
I love tabloid journalism. Unlike most people in the generations behind me, I recognize that it is entertainment and not fact, and don’t use it to make life-changing decisions … like, say, moving to the Jersey Shore. But as entertainment, it can’t be beat.
Since it’s effectively the modern day equivalent of the sideshow freak display, they depend on their headlines to suck people in the way a carney might back in the day. Take this one, which I saw a little bit ago:
“Ears save boy from death as crowds watch him dangle from window”
That one would suck me in even if I didn’t come from a long line of large-eared males. Apparently, little Ming Ming was wandering around on the balcony outside his parents’ apartment in Yinchang, China, when he slipped between the bars. I’ll let the tabloid pick it up from there …
Crowds gathered after hearing his screams and rescuers moved into save the child from an eight storey drop. An onlooker said: ‘The only thing stopping him from plunging to the ground below was the fact his head was trapped between two window bars.’ Once inside the flat firefighters quickly used a hydraulic pressure expander to force the bars apart and pulled Ming Ming back into the apartment.
Now to be fair, it looks to me like it’s actually his head that kept him from falling to his death, but who am I to stand between a headline and the truth. And, frankly, I’m happy he was saved, because there’s not nearly the same tabloid value in “Boy Plummets To Death” … :-O
May 4, 2010
There’s a lot of … um, discussion … this morning after a fan was tasered last light in Philadelphia for running out onto the field during a Phillies game. Getting liquored up, jumping the fence and running around like an idiot is a proud if questionable tradition at baseball games, but this is the first time in my memory that this particular method was used to subdue the fan. The crowd really let the cops have it for taking down the kid, but considering it’s Philly, they might just as well have been giving it to the fan for his massive failure.
Most of the noise is being made by two groups of folks. On one side, you have those who feel it was an excessive use of force, questioning if the use of a non-lethal but still dangerous weapon such as a Taser was really necessary (and suggesting that it was only the girth and relative corpulence of the officer in question that required its use). The other side would point out that we live in a world where people park bombs in Times Square and remind us of Tom Gamboa, the base coach for the Royals who was beaten by fans during a 2002 game in Chicago.
Personally, I think it was probably a little heavy-handed, but if you put yourself in a position like that you have no idea what kind of crap you’re gonna get into. This is what happens when we have a generation that was raised thinking that paparazzi tabloids are news, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan are role models, and reality TV is a career path. Frankly, the dumbass is lucky it wasn’t a football game, or someone might have gone Terry Tate on his ass …
May 3, 2010
Let me say for the record that I love Iggy Pop. He does his thing his way, always has, and doesn’t give a fig for what you and I think about it. That said, there comes a time for a little common sense, even into the Popster’s realm – and now would appear to be that time.
Leatherman Lives ...
Ever since Iggy rolled out of Detroit in the late ’60s as the lead singer of The Stooges, he’s looked for ways to shock the audience as much as entertain them. Initially intrigued by The Doors’ Jim Morrison and his antagonistic relationship to his audience, Pop took it to another level, frequently exposing himself to the crowd and inventing the often-imitated “stage dive” as the ultimate demonstration of the idolation of the crowd. Though his popularity has waxed and waned over the years, his dedication to his craft has remained.
An iconic part of the Iggy Pop look over the years has been his bare chest. If you saw him in concert, whether last week or last century, you saw Iggy without his shirt, wearing nothing but jeans or leather pants – hopefully, zipped up. There was a point in time when he could pull off that look, but as this shot of a recent concert demonstrates graphically, those days are gone.
Like any performer past his prime but still wanting to connect with older fans, Iggy puts on the show everyone expects to see – and that includes losing the shirt. But at 63 years of age, time and decades of hard living are clearly catching up with him. Frankly, he looks like something out of a B-movie horror flick.
Please, Iggy – in the name of grandfathers everywhere … put the shirt back on!