Sunday, November 30, 2008

COLUMN: Thankfully, my dear, I don't give a darn

As you may recall, around this time each year I like to take a moment to remind my readers why, even though things may get a little rough now and then, there are still plenty of reasons to be truly thankful. Even now, when the economy is tanking, stocks are falling and your corporation may, at any moment, blow away like a tumbleweed.

So, for those of you who aren’t too depressed to read on, here are this year’s reasons to give thanks:

· You didn’t run against Barack Obama.

· Tina Fey didn’t do a blistering imitation of you on national television. Six times.

· You weren’t the one who had to go in and face the Steinbrenners after the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs.

· Your failures weren’t so immense that they necessitated an act of Congress and $700 billion in tax dollars.

· You weren’t replaced as lead singer by an imitator your bandmates found on YouTube. Unless you are Steve Perry of Journey or Jon Anderson of Yes, in which case you have my condolences.

· Your sequel didn’t star Shia LaBeouf.

· You’re not out for the season.

· You, your car, your kid, your dog and your house have yet to be driven into by Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan.

· Your wife didn’t go to jail for trying to kill your online avatar, like a woman in Japan. Actually, the Tokyo woman was just charged with hacking, not murder, since it’s still not illegal to kill a fake digital person, even in Japan.

· You weren’t trampled to death by teenage girls while shopping for Dockers at a mall hosting an appearance by somebody in the movie “Twilight.”

· Joe Biden is vice president of the United States and not a guest at your next dinner party.

· Ellen didn’t try to give you her dog.

· Your bunk bed hasn’t killed you yet, even though the journal Pediatrics recently concluded that bunk beds are more dangerous than regular beds. This apparently has something to do with placing a bed 6 feet in the air rather than on the ground, although it will probably take another million or so in grant money to confirm that.

· You’re not a Republican. Unless you are, in which case you have my condolences.

· Unlike the people behind “Speed Racer,” you didn’t spend $100 million on what wound up essentially being the world’s longest Mentos commercial.

· You, your car, your kid, your dog and your house have yet to be driven into by Jerry Seinfeld or Billy Joel.

· You didn’t work on your next album for 15 long years, only to have people say, “Eh. What else have you got?”

· You don’t have a show on the CW. The CW. You know, it’s a network.

· The Chinese government hasn’t recruited your 11-year-old daughter for its Olympic gymnastics team.

· Times may be a little tougher than usual this Thanksgiving, but at least you didn’t buy a house, car and/or TV that you can’t possibly actually pay for.

Oh, you did? Well, at least everybody else did, too.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Photographic proof of my bumpkinhood

When you move out to the suburbs, you're somehow able to convince yourself that your not really that far removed from your old life in the big city -- it's just a short jaunt down the highway, after all. Hit it during the right, low-traffic period and it's practically like you never left. And then one day, you look out your front door and you see this:

Yes, that was the view of my yard the other day, offering up sobering proof of my bumpkinhood. And they stuck around for quite a while, clearly comfortable with the thought that no one could possibly harm them while they were this deep in the wilderness. All I can say is, they were lucky they weren't in Sarah Palin's front yard, or they would have found themselves under blistering automatic weapon fire from her helicopter.

Anyway, I guess my city days really are truly behind me, and I'm OK with that -- the good news is, after you have kids you never go out anyway ... you might as well be in Iceland. And to keep with the spirit of this particular week, I'm thankful for my hearth and home, even if it's many miles from the nearest WiFi coffee shop.

Thanksgiving related note: Check out my Blogness on the Edge of Town blog for downloads of every song I could think of with "thanks" or "giving" in them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

COLUMN: So this is the thanks dads get

I can’t help but wonder why, when Thanksgiving rolls around, no one ever asks us dads advice on the holiday meal. You’d think all we were capable of on Thanksgiving was stuffing our faces and lying on the couch with our distended bellies hanging over our loosened belts, which is patently untrue. We also watch football.

But some of us fathers just happen to know our way around a kitchen. For instance, I am recognized throughout my household for my expert preparation of the following meals:

1) Hot dogs;
2) Tacos, from box;
3) Salami sandwiches (note: does not technically involve cooking).

But I know that not every dad can share my culinary prowess, which is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m sure those fathers can do plenty of things that I can’t, like swing a golf club without injuring themselves, or earn a living wage. So with that in mind, I thought I’d share the following Thanksgiving meal facts to help fathers stay up to date with their Turkey Day knowledge.

The turkey: Most of what I know about cooking a turkey I learned from my mother, who every Thanksgiving would get up at dawn to start stuffing that year’s partially defrosted specimen, get dizzy as soon as she put her hand in and have to go into her bedroom to faint, at which point my father would wake up and say, “Stuffing the turkey already?” This is a true story.

So that probably means if God wanted us sticking our hands up giant birds, he’d have made my mother less prone to nausea. Combine that theory with my daughter’s recent assignment to write a story from the point of view of a Thanksgiving turkey, which she empathetically entitled, “I’m Too Young to Die!,” and you have some serious ambivalence about the main course. On the other hand, what are we going to eat, pork loin? You see my dilemma.

So assuming you stick with the turkey, here are a few things to keep in mind: For one, even if you only have six people coming, you have to get at least a 30-pound bird. This will provide you with turkey sandwiches for weeks, and also make for a bigger target for the dog when you leave it unattended on the counter. Please don’t deny him his one chance to pounce on prey that’s already been basted.

Also, dads, even if you don’t take part in the actual cooking, don’t ever give up your traditional role as the carver. Carving is one of those universally approved manly cooking activities — for fathers, it’s the next best thing to pulling the turkey out of the oven, wrestling it to the ground and dismembering it with a machete.

The cranberry sauce: Cranberry sauce is one of those great dinner components that, in a pinch, could actually be a dessert (see also: glazed pecan rolls covered with cinnamon). And as an added bonus, it retains its shape out of the can, so you could, in theory, stick little plastic eyes and a nose on it and it would jiggle around like a gelatinous Mr. Potato Head. Just try that with creamy scalloped onions.

The vegetables: These are an important part of the Thanksgiving meal, given that they’re among the only components that can be easily baked in cheese sauce and/or cream of mushroom soup and then topped with little fried onions. If that doesn’t disguise the taste, there’s always more cranberry sauce.

The pies: You can’t help but wonder who was the first one, in the middle of making a Jack O’ Lantern, to look at the discarded innards and say, “Hey, that would make a great pie!” And yet pumpkin pies are a Thanksgiving staple, except among people who actually, you know, like pie. (True aficionados prefer pies made of chocolate pudding, like the ones introduced to the Pilgrims by Squanto.)

Most importantly, though, for dads, moms and kids alike, is to take a moment among all the bounty and recognize how lucky we are to have food on the table at all, much less enough to feed every Baldwin brother, should they happen to show up. So dads, if cooking isn’t your thing, you should still pitch in to show your gratitude — even if it means doing the dishes.

Just suck in your stomach and you may be able to reach the sink.

CNC managing editor Peter Chianca is busy shopping for the perfect turkey; this column is from 2006. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.” See the column at North Shore Sunday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Building a better (bio) beer

The good news is, they've finally created a beer that can help prolong life and prevent illness. I know, you thought regular beer could do that, but in actuality it only makes you feel like you're living longer.

The bad news is, the students at Rice University who developed "Bio-Beer" -- which, incidentally, sounds like something they'd be running tests on on the third floor of the Centers for Disease Control -- aren't old enough to drink it themselves.
"We started out with a strict policy that we aren't supposed to drink anything in the lab," said Peter Nguyen, the team's graduate adviser. "We do have a strain, and verified that it has the genes, and are in the process of brewing the beer."
The problem with not being able to taste the beer -- and as we all know, underage college students never let the stuff touch their lips, just like they never have unprotected sex or gain 15 pounds their freshman year -- is that you don't know if it tastes like, well, Bio-Beer. And as it turns out, it does.
Researcher Thomas Segall-Shapiro told The Sun: "No way would anyone drink this until it tastes better."
Buck up, chaps -- people used to say the same thing about Budweiser.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

COLUMN: Stick it to your kids this Christmas

My kids are 7 and 9, and I thought that by this point they’d be able to occupy themselves for long stretches at a time, writing in their journals, folding origami cranes and doing intricate woodcarvings. Of course, I also thought my dogs would be leaving me my slippers by now, and that only happens if my slippers happen to travel through at least one of their digestive systems.

In reality, it doesn’t take very long for my children, when left to their own devices, to become booooooored — the more bored they are, the more o’s they put in. This despite the hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of toys and games we’ve purchased over the years; it’s enough to make you long for the old days, when if they got bored you could just send them out into the fields to work the thresher.

This is why I was so excited this week when I read that the Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., had added a very special item to its lineup, which includes only the most classic and revolutionary playthings: the stick. If you had any doubts that a Depression is coming, this news should put those to rest.

But it’s true; Christopher Bensch, the museum’s curator, told the Associated Press that the stick is “very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price — [and] there aren’t any rules or instructions for its use.” What I want to know is, where was Christopher Bensch the year I pledged to give only Christmas gifts that were available in nature? I’m still trying to live down my much-maligned “rocks with googly eyes.”

This news comes at a great time, because it was starting to seem like the only way to keep the kids occupied was to buy more sophisticated and expensive toys and gadgets. When they were little you could at least get by with blocks or little plastic zoo animals, but as they get older it becomes increasingly obvious that little plastic zoo animals cannot play mp3 versions of the songs from “High School Musical,” no matter how long you try to sync them.

It would be one thing if toys didn’t become obsolete almost immediately, like PCs or Rod Stewart albums. For instance, I recently cleaned out the garage and found several pricey items that were must-haves as recently as last Christmas, such as a giant Darth Vader that, in 47 easy steps, transforms into a Death Star with Darth Vader’s head sticking out of it. It’s the type of thing George Lucas must see when he’s on mushrooms, which I’m starting to think is most of the time.

But those crazy toys can be a thing of the past now, because the stick is making a big comeback. Bensch goes so far as to point out that the stick is “so fantastic” that even dogs love it, which frankly undercuts his argument a little bit, since dogs love everything — I mean, look what they did with my slippers.

Still, it’s a good reminder that there was a time when you could have fun with something that didn’t have a microchip in it. (I’m talking about you, Elmo — stop laughing, dammit!) I’m reminded of a friend of mine who grew up with his father lamenting his and his siblings’ lack of playtime ingenuity, pointing out the neighbors who could occupy themselves for hours with a piece of string. I think pieces of string were what the families got that couldn’t afford a stick.

So this has inspired me to sit my children down this Christmas, share with them the wisdom of the Toy Hall of Fame and present them with, not a new iPod, portable DVD player or game for the Wii, but rather their very own Christmas stick, which they in turn can make into — wait, let me check my notes — “a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band.”

And I won’t even blame them when they start taking turns whacking me with it.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Exclusive 'Twilight' footage!

As the crowds assemble at the Square One Mall in Saugus, Mass. to meet "Twilight" star Rob Pattinson, I thought you might like to see this exclusive footage from the upcoming film, based on the insanely popular book series by Stephenie Meyer. I can't tell you where I got this, but it's WILD, baby!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Muppet video that will horrify and amaze you

You're telling me people can do things like this on their home computers? I'm more out of touch than I thought.

Thanks to Matt at Addicted to Vinyl for pointing this one out. Meanwhile, The Muppet Newsflash (yes, such a thing exists) reports that the Muppets will take over the Today show this Thursday, Nov. 13. Let's see if you can tell the difference.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

COLUMN: E-mail's been Berry, Berry good to me

I tend to use my cell phone for two things, primarily:

1) Telling my wife I’m running late, which I believe is the end goal of all new technology; and

2) Ordering pizza so it will be waiting for me when I get home.

In other words, I’m not one of those people who is constantly yakking with his friends on his cell phone at all hours of the day, for one very deliberate reason: I have no friends.

Wait, I meant to say I don’t see a need for it. I offer this background as evidence that there was no reason to believe I could ever make a good BlackBerry guy. (For the uninformed, a BlackBerry is a handheld device that allows you to read your e-mail and browse the Web from anywhere, except underwater. Boy, did I find that out the hard way.)

In fact, when I was recently assigned one at work, I had an extremely averse reaction — it struck me as a way for them to get their claws into me 24/7, as opposed to just the 50-60 hours a week they’ve got me subjugated now. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.) Still, I decided to be mature and productive about the situation and hide it in my glove compartment, never to be seen again.

Well, as it turns out I didn’t do that, and after several months of evaluation, here is my assessment of my BlackBerry: I love it. I love it in the way my 7-year-old son says he loves hot dogs, namely, he wants to marry them (which, granted, shows a 7-year-old’s fundamental misunderstanding of marriage, not to mention hot dogs).

And when I say, “I love it,” I of course mean: I hate it. Sure, it’s an amazing device, but I hate how it’s turned me into the BlackBerry guy — the guy checking his e-mail at stoplights so he doesn’t notice when the light turns green, and who would get honked at mercilessly if the people behind him weren’t also checking their e-mail.

Of course, never once have I gotten an e-mail that couldn’t have waited until I got out of the car (“Attention, your muffler is on fire,” etc.). But I’m constantly haunted by the fact that such an e-mail could be there, right on the top of my queue, beckoning me to take my eyes off the road.

What’s worse, I’m also often tempted to answer my e-mails at such inopportune times (while driving, at an anniversary dinner with my wife, during funerals). This can of course cause no shortage of bodily and/or social and emotional harm, not to mention the fact that my stubby thumbs make said replies almost unreadable anyway. (“HOIJLDJKL, KLJOI. LOYPUOI, PETE.”)

I think what disturbs me is this pathological connection we all (meaning “I”) seem to have developed to our various forms of electronic connectedness. After all, what did we do before e-mail, cell phones and GPS? Besides get a lot more paper cuts from envelopes and drive aimlessly around strange neighborhoods swearing, I mean.

It seems to me there was something to be said for the days when people would carefully compose written letters, and then mail them and wait patiently for the reply. I’m afraid if Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had e-mail, their entire collected correspondence would have consisted of them flaming each other in all caps. (“TJ: NATURL ARISTOCRACY SUX - L8R JA >=( “)

So I guess the question becomes: In some ways, would we be better off as a people without these instant connections? And the answer becomes: No. Because then we wouldn’t be able to check our friends’ Facebook statuses 47 times a day, and know that Bill’s at work, Tom’s drinking yet more coffee and Julie has a hangover.

Also, I wouldn’t be able to e-mail myself column notes while driving. Which reminds me: HOIJLDJKL, KLJOI. LOYPUOI. (And I mean that in the nicest way possible.)

Peter Chianca is a CNC managing editor and the brains behind “The At Large Blog” ( and “The Shorelines Blog” ( To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Spock's planet found -- thank you, President Obama!

I had a feeling everything was going to get better after Obama got elected, and here's the first sign of proof: Scientists have found Spock's home planet. Now it's only a matter of time before the entire universe is joined in a spirit of peace and harmony, and we're all wearing our pajamas to work and making out with green women.

Granted, they actually found the planet -- in the Epsilon Eridani solar system, the solar system closest to Earth and thus the one used by "Star Trek" writers to house Spock's Vulcan homeworld -- just before Obama got elected. But if President Obama doesn't announce plans for a manned spaceflight there by the end of his first term, then I'm a Gorn.

(By the way, why does everyone talk about how "Star Trek" shows a universe of peace and harmony, yet in every episode somebody gets phasered into oblivion? What's peaceful and harmonious about that? I'm just saying.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Land of Hope and Dreams

Congratulations to President-elect Obama! Here's a song that seems appropriate for the occasion.

Monday, November 03, 2008

COLUMN: Election questions? Ask Professor Civics

With the election less than a week away, we turn this week’s column over to our resident expert, Professor Civics, to answer your last-minute voting questions.

Dear Professor Civics:

I notice there’s a ballot question asking to abolish the income tax. Could this possibly be a good idea?

Skeptical in Stoneham
Dear Skeptical:

Absolutely! The idea that we need an income tax to run government is one of those great legislative myths. In actuality, getting rid of the income tax would just force legislators to “trim the fat” from unnecessary programs like schools, roads and police.

In fact, if this initiative works like it’s supposed to, legislators will only have enough money left for their salaries and to pay the “escorts.”

Dear Professor Civics:

Another ballot question wants to “decriminalize” small amounts of marijuana. Couldn’t making it easier for people to smoke pot cause problems down the road?

Scared Straight in Saugus
Dear Scared:
Dude! That’s so … um … What was the question?
Dear Professor Civics:

I wanted to vote this year, but I missed the voter registration deadline! What should I do?

Dumbfounded in Duluth
Dear Dumbfounded:

Never fear. You can take the place of one of the people who won’t be showing up to vote, because they somehow got registered even though they are long deceased. E-mail me and I’ll put you in touch with a guy. We never had this conversation.

Dear Professor Civics:

I’ve read on blogs that the Republicans have rigged voting machines to benefit their candidates. Could this possibly be true?

Outraged in Orleans
Dear Outraged:

Ha ha! No, although blogs are usually extremely reliable sources of information, that particular rumor is completely untrue, except in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia. And also Florida, where old Jewish people have been known to walk into the voting booth, feel suddenly woozy and wake up the next day in a bar in Key West with a vague recollection of voting for Pat Buchanan.

Dear Professor Civics:

What will the cable news commentators do after the election is over?

Concerned in Colorado
Dear Concerned:

That’s still up in the air, but it’s expected that if McCain wins, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann’s heads will melt off their bodies like the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Dear Professor Civics:

I wanted to dress as a candidate for Halloween. Which one would make the scariest costume?

Undecided in Uncasville
Dear Undecided:

Well, they are all fairly scary, what with Obama maybe being a secret terrorist whose entire public life has been a carefully conceived 30-year ruse, and McCain always looking like he might, at any moment, hit you in the knees with a shovel.

But recent surveys show that people find vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by far the scariest. They said this because of her extreme right-wing views, her seeming lack of intellectual curiosity, and also because of the second little head that pops out of her mouth and tries to eat your face off.

Dear Professor Civics:

Do you think I should vote in favor of a ballot question that would ban dog racing?

Wondering in Wellesley
Dear Wondering:

Absolutely not! The last thing we need is a lot of out-of-work dogs competing with all the brokers for street scraps.

Dear Professor Civics:

Do you think it’s possible that we’ve been so focused on silly minutia during this election season that the vast majority of voters haven’t really been exposed to the actual positions on the issues that will affect us the most?

Troubled in Trenton
Dear Troubled:
Dude! That’s so … um … What was the question?
Peter Chianca is a CNC managing editor and the brains behind “The At Large Blog” ( and “The Shorelines Blog” ( To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”