Thursday, December 31, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Thursday: Lawsuit claims New Year's Rockin' Eve Not Actually Rockin'

SAN FRANCISCO (CAP) - A California law firm is mounting a massive class action lawsuit against Walt Disney Inc., owners of ABC television, and Dick Clark Enterprises LLC, claiming that the popular New Year's Rockin' Eve television special is, in fact, not rockin'.

"Any event that features an annual segment where you wheel out an elderly stroke victim is, by definition, not rockin'," said Cary Bernstein of the firm Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky. "I'm just saying."

Critics have generally conceded that the special has been less rockin' since Clark's 2004 stroke and the 2005 addition of co-host Ryan Seacrest, who has not had a stroke, say experts. But the lawsuit argues that the special has actually never been rockin', with the possible exception of 1973 when it was hosted by Three Dog Night.

And even then, "after Mama Told Me Not To Come, it was all downhill," says Bernstein.

The suit reads: "The plaintiffs hereby allege that, A) New Year's Rockin' Eve has perpetuated a decades-long fraud upon the American people, promising them an experience that is, quote, rockin', but that in fact has failed to live up to its promotional assertions, and, B) such failures have led to actionably unsatisfactory New Year's Eves for millions of Americans."

The suit seeks compensatory damages of $600 million.

Among the first to sign on to the suit were members of the Chess Lovers of San Bernadino, a California hobbyist group, who say their gatherings to watch the specials have inevitably ended in guests losing interest and being forced to engage in awkward small talk.

"And last year it got even worse when all our Zunes crashed," said Neal Smerlitz, who plans the group's annual New Year's Eve gala. "We had to turn up the TV volume, and after a half hour listening to [co-host] Kellie Pickler, several of our members suffered seizures."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's In and Out for 2010: Life in the USA

It's our annual review of everything that’s in and out in society, politics, fashion, the arts and life in general! Today: Lifestyles.

IN:

1) Social networking. Remember humans? You know, those fleshy creatures with arms and legs and eyeballs? No, me neither. That’s because all my friends, even the formerly human ones, are now avatars on Twitter and Facebook. It’s the best way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances, both old and new, without ever having to actually see or converse with them. Fist bumps are tough, but I’m sure they’ll come up with a virtual one soon. (By the way, both avatars and “Avatar” are in.)

2) Doing it yourself. Used to be when something broke in your house, or you needed new tile in your kitchen, or you wanted a new room to put your widescreen TV, you’d call a guy. Well, no longer: Now you just call the guy after your screw these things up yourself and can’t figure out how to fix it. Luckily, you can no longer afford a widescreen TV, so you don’t need that room anymore.

3) Bargain groceries. Those fancy supermarkets that sell organic vegetables and pre-made gourmet meals and 47 different varieties of hummus (chipotle? really?) are just as suave as ever — and they’re also out. Because the grocery stores with the white floors that have been off-white since 1987 and the bins where you can buy rock-hard caramels for a nickel each are what’s fitting into our budget. Au revoir, semi-firm Gruyère!

4) Skinny jeans. If skinny jeans were only for skinny people, I wouldn’t have a problem with this. But it’s the other people, the ones who look like they just stepped out of an industrial strength dryer, that I’m concerned about. Mark my words: The person who invents fat jeans will make a fortune.

Tall boots are also back in — it’s only a matter of time before we’re all dressed like musketeers. But Crocs, alas, are out, as much as you’d think brightly colored plastic shoes with holes in them would be popular for all eternity.

5) Reading. Here’s the thing about books: You don’t need a cable hookup or a satellite dish. You don’t need $12 per person for tickets or $25 for popcorn. You don’t need 3-D glasses or a special plastic pad that you stand on. You just need a book, a couch and, if possible, a cat to sit on your lap. So books are in, and they’ll be really in once people figure out how to distribute them free on the Internet. The Internet is in.

OUT:

1) Eating out. Tight budgets mean more home cooking, which means cries of “Meat loaf again?” in kitchens across America. (Appropriate responses include “You’ll eat it and like it!” and “People are starving in Africa!”)

The one exception is if you can go out somewhere and have somebody bring your food to you in your car, whereupon you unwrap it and eat it in a parking lot with your motor running. As Julia Child would say, bon appetite! Julia Child is in.

2) Beauty pageants. These were already going the way of dog racing and indoor smoking (both out) when Miss USA Carrie Prejean dealt the final blow, dissing same-sex marriage from the pageant stage and then taking her show on the road … before her sex tapes started popping up like rhinestones on a tiara. Unfortunately for Prejean, same-sex marriage is in, and sex tapes are out — on DVD and Blu-Ray, probably. (Blu-Ray is in.)

3) Phones. Having a plain old phone would seem to indicate that you want to talk to people. This is completely unnecessary (see “IN,” above). The in people all have “smartphones,” from which you can text, surf the Web, watch videos, listen to music and taser people at parties. (Tasering is still in.) And with texting in, e-mailing is out, except among deposed Nigerian princes, who simply will not give up on it. Saying “application” instead of “app” is way out.

4) Dog breeds from hell. What is a labradoodle, anyway?

5) Dancing on the graves of newspapers. A year ago, people seemed to be thinking that by this time newspapers would be being used exclusively to make papier mache animal masks. And while there are fewer papers than there used to be, things have calmed down a little bit, and people seem to be realizing that newspapers actually provide a valuable service.

Namely, bringing you this “What’s In and Out” every year. In and Out is in!

They’re in!
This year’s What’s In and Out appeared originally in North Shore Sunday and was written by Peter Chianca and researched by Carol Brooks Ball, Richard Clapp, Myrna Fearer, Lisa Guerriero, Christopher Hurley, Dena Lisle, Dan MacAlpine, Sarah Menesale, Kathryn O'Brien, Kris Olson, Charlene Peters, Nancy Prag, Marlene Switzer, Barbara Taormina and Wendall Waters.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's In and Out for 2010: Sports

Our annual review of everything that’s in and out in society, politics, fashion, the arts and life in general. Today: Sports.

IN:

1) Celtics. Remember when, if you had the choice between watching the Celtics and banging your head against a wall, you had to think about it for a minute? Those days are long gone, with Doc Rivers’ gang playing consistently riveting basketball. Yes, I just said “riveting basketball.”

2) Yankees. They had to wait nine long, almost unbearable years — let’s face it, an entire generation of newts (lifespan: seven years) died out during that time — but the Yankees are finally back on top again. So rooting for the Yanks is in, as is rooting against the Yanks. Expos: Still out, but oddly more in than the Nationals are.

As for the Sox, we’ll give them one more year of “in” status, but they better win the World Series again next season. We don’t want to have to wait around as long as the Yankees did.

3) Saints. New Orleans could use a break, because it’s only a matter of time before it has another flood, political scandal or annoying celebrity move there to help with the recovery. So even though their undefeated streak may be over, three cheers for the Saints; may no one ever again have to live in their stadium.

4) College football. Wait — where are all the hissy fits and silly dances and grotesque sums of money changing hands? The players shooting themselves in the legs and going to jail for fighting dogs? The celebrity girlfriends to blame losing seasons on? They call this football?

5) Horse racing. If you think Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are Rod Stewart’s 20-year-old wife and the name of a Police album, respectively, then you are out — because horse racing is in, and those are two of the top practitioners of the sport. And yes, that means jockeys are in. Deal with it.

OUT:

1) Tiger Woods. “Out” is probably not a sufficient word to describe what Tiger Woods is right now. Hopefully his actions will lead other billionaire golfers to think twice before cheating on their wives with several dozen barmaids, hookers and porn stars. I’m just saying.

Meanwhile, as goes Tiger, so goes golf — out, that is. I’d tell the other golfers how sorry I am, if I knew any of their names.

2) Bill Belichick. The sheen is off, Mr. Grumpy! Suddenly going for it on 4th and 2 doesn’t seem so brilliant, does it? Now change your darn sweatshirt! (Oh, and if you wind up winning the Super Bowl this year … Forget I said all that.) Also out: Gisele. It’s all her fault, whatever “it” is.

3) Steroids. Thankfully, we’ve finally shed the specter of illegal steroids that has hung like a shroud over professional athletics, particularly baseball. Now, instead of taking steroids, athletes are eating better, working out more, and having acquaintances inject “dietary supplements” directly into their buttocks.

4) Theo. What’s up with the Sox GM? Doesn’t he know you’re supposed to promise the fans a World Series trophy every single year, even if you can’t manage to sign anyone who could hit his way out of a bag of Fenway Park peanuts? Well, “bridge year” or not, he should keep Lowell, one of only two players with the same name as a Massachusetts town. (Any free agents out there named Dighton-Rehoboth? Better yet: Bring back Freddy Lynn!)

5) Tennis. Sure, the sport got a lot more interesting when we found out that Andre Agassi was taking crystal meth (crystal meth!) while playing back in the ’90s. But not that much more interesting. It’s still out.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What's In and Out for 2010: Entertainment

Our annual review of everything that’s in and out in society, politics, fashion, the arts and life in general. Today: Entertainment.

IN:

1) Taylor Swift. Swift is all of, what? 12? 13? But she seems to have taken over the known universe with her pithy country numbers about love stories and white horses and, um — oh, who am I kidding? I’ve never listened to any of the words. But I do know that Kanye West thinks that Beyonce did a better video than she did, and that’s what matters.

But it’s not all-Taylor, all-the-time. Lady Gaga has filled the bizarre outfit gap left when Christina Aguilera started wearing real clothes, and Susan Boyle has sold more albums than The Beatles, Elvis and Slim Whitman combined. And older artists continue to plug away, with Bruce Springsteen coming off one of his most successful tours ever and Paul McCartney still selling out stadiums. Rod Stewart, unfortunately, has now covered every song ever written and has been forced to retire to his yacht with his 20-year-old wife.

2) Vampires. If you’re watching a movie or a TV show or reading a book right now, I can only hope someone in it is getting his or her blood sucked, or else whatever you’re watching or reading is out. Vampires are everywhere, thanks to “Twilight,” “True Blood” and books like the Darren Shan saga — they’re the new black. But 2010 will see the release of the “Wolfman” reboot, so you can expect werewolves to come roaring back in as well. Frankenstein is still out. Sorry, Frank.

3) Smart TV. TV in general is out, although recording shows on your DVR and never watching them is in. But some good TV, including droll dramas like “Mad Men” and “Glee” and intelligent comedies like “30 Rock” and “Modern Family” are in, at least among smart people, i.e., the ones who aren’t watching “Jersey Shore.” As for reality TV, it seems like it will never die — sort of like vampires — but the truly exploitative stuff is out. Sorry, Guidos.

4) 3-D. Let’s face it, unless the characters appear to be reaching out of the screen to forcibly bludgeon you, why would anyone go to the movies? We can only hope that in the future all films are 3-D, even ones like “Julie & Julia,” so audiences of middle-aged women can scream when the boeuf bourguignon flies out of the oven — AIEEEE! (Middle-aged women are also in, as long as they’re Meryl Streep.)

5) Michael Jackson. Turns out dying was, if nothing else, a good career move. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Daffy Duck, he could only do it once.

OUT:

1) Kanye West. It probably goes without saying that he’s out, for interrupting Taylor Swift (see “IN,” above) at the MTV Video Music Awards, which amazingly are still on every year. Although it seems to me we should be thanking Kanye for coming up with the single most spoof-able public moment since Neville Chamberlain came back from Germany waving the Munich Agreement.

But he’s not the only one who’s out. Our tween girl moles tell us the Jonas Brothers have fallen off their pedestal, owing at least in part to their Disney Channel show, “Jonas,” in which they play morons. Nick Jonas is even starting a side band he says he’s modeling on Bruce Springsteen’s; interesting that the Jonas Brothers keep citing influences like Springsteen and Elvis Costello, but they keep making music like the Jonas Brothers. (Elvis Costello is in.)

2) Oprah. Well, it may be a little misleading to say that Oprah is “out.” It’s more like she’s off, as in off her syndicated talk show, which ends in 2011. She says she wants to retire, travel the world and spend more time with her Stedman. Oh, wait, I read my notes wrong: She wants to take over the world with her own TV network (appropriately called OWN). Let me be the first to welcome our new Oprah overlords.

3) Crime dramas. After killing off unfortunate victims using every imaginable method, and some unimaginable ones, it seems oddly fitting that the SVUs of the world would be dispatched by — Jay Leno, of all people. But even though Jay is taking up five hours a week of formerly scripted drama, he’s not “in” either; in fact, most people watching “The Jay Leno Show” spend the whole time waiting for Mariska Hargitay to show up with the autopsy results.

This left poor Conan also out (remember him?), just in time for David Letterman to come out with his sex scandal. The only truly in late-night hosts are Stewart, Colbert and Tom Snyder. Yes, I know Tom Snyder’s been dead since 2007 — that’s how bad it is out there.

4) Creepy 3-D. Remember what I said about 3-D? I meant cool, peppy 3-D like “Up,” not creepy motion-capture 3-D like “A Christmas Carol.” Not that the way Scrooge’s ultra-realistic wrinkly and pockmarked skin contrasts with his glassy, dead eyes isn’t impressive. It’s just not in a good way.

5) Aging actors. Are the John Travoltas, the Denzel Washingtons, the Robin Williamses losing their luster? And did I really just write “Williamses”? Regardless, go see one of their films, for old time’s sake. They’re in all of each other’s movies anyway, so you only have to see one.

Next: In and Out in Sports

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What's In and Out for 2010: News and Politics


With the year — and the decade — winding down, people are busier than ever. In fact, who has time to review everything that’s in and out in society, politics, fashion, the arts and life in general? Not me — I’m swamped!

So to keep things simpler in these tough times, I've narrowed down our list to five things that are in and five things that are out in each category, which I'll spotlight over the course of the week: News and Politics, Entertainment, Sports and Life in the USA. That’s a very manageable 10 each for 2010 — because manageability is in.

News and Politics

IN:

1) Sarah Palin. For better or for worse, you can’t get more in than good ol’ Sarah. Republicans love her because she’s the only member of the GOP who’s able to get a camera crew to follow her around for a reason that doesn’t involve a sex scandal, yet. Democrats love her because she reminds people who they could be stuck with if they dump Obama in 2012. And fruit vendors love her because she helps them move tomatoes.

2) Healthcare headaches. Complaining about health care was in last year; complaining about health care legislation is in this year. But never fear, because the Democrats are determined to pass something, even if they have to make it exactly identical to the healthcare system we have now.

3) Fame seeking. Used to be you’d work hard, study, excel in your given field and, if you were one of the fortunate few, eventually get on a TV reality show. But that was so 2006. Now you get on a reality show by party crashing the White House or pretending to send your kid up in an unmanned balloon. Let’s face it, life these days is just one big reality show audition — so you better start walking around with an egg on a spoon, just in case.

4) Swine flu. Yes, bird flu had its moment in the sun, but never really caught on, mainly because it was made up by the World Health Organization to justify their no-show jobs. (Er, that’s just a theory.) But swine flu, now there’s a disease people could get behind. It’s yet to reach pandemic proportions, but it’s prevalent enough to have people blaming Obama for the lack of vaccine, and pigs for existing.

5) Sexting. What did we do before we could send naked pictures of ourselves over our cellular phones? I don’t remember, but I’m sure it was much less interesting. We probably had to talk to each other. Talking is out.

OUT:

1) Change you can believe in. I’m not positive, but I’m relatively sure President Obama promised that by this time we’d be living in a war-free, prosperous, bipartisan utopia, where the air we breathe would be like the mist that rises off unicorns when they bathe. Turns out change is a little tougher to come by — I know he said it wouldn’t happen overnight, but it at least needs to happen before the world is taken over by killer robots. Killer robots are in.

2) Glaciers. Watching them melt out of existence is now officially a spectator sport; when a frozen dinosaur emerges thawed from one and eats Greenland, don’t come crying to me. But never mind these crazy scientists and all their wild “studies” and “facts” — global warming is a completely natural cyclical occurrence, like margarine and Jessica Simpson’s suntan.

3) War. It’s been almost seven years since we invaded Iraq, and we’re still over there getting the Iraqis ready to police themselves, which is apparently not unlike those film shorts where somebody had to teach the Three Stooges how to be doctors. And now we’re sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but in order to placate people who are sick of all this occupying, President Obama is having them return home immediately upon arrival. The armed forces have been instructed to slap their foreheads in unison, declare that they forgot their bayonets and get right back on the aircraft carrier.

4) The Great Depression Part II. Turns out reports that our economy was about to collapse in a mushroom cloud of derivatives and credit default swaps were somewhat exaggerated — all it took was a few hundred billion in bailouts and everything’s fine again. Just look at those great Wall Street bonuses if you don’t believe me! There’ s probably an article about them in the defunct newspaper you’re sleeping under.

5) Republicans. You’d think they’d be more popular by now, with the Democrats dithering and “Yes we can” turning into a slogan about the administration’s ability to buy beer for its summits. But the ones we want to forget won’t go away (Cheney in ’12!), and the rest of them keep cheating on their wives while telling everyone else whom they can marry. It’s not a recipe for success, which might be why Lou Dobbs is out of work. Maybe he should try selling tomatoes on the Sarah Palin book tour.

NEXT: In and Out in Entertainment

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009: The year that wasn't


Revisiting the top stories from (fake) 2009. (For the full versions of these stories and more daily news satire, visit CAP News.)

February: Report — Most teens can’t recognize a newspaper

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (CAP) — A new study out of the Poynter Institute shows that more than 80 percent of teenagers don’t recognize a newspaper even when one is placed directly in front of them.

Presented with a series of publications and periodicals, most of the 300 subjects between the ages of 13 and 17 could identify comic books, videogame instruction manuals and magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Cosmo. But shown a newspaper, the majority said they’d never seen one before and could not identify its purpose.

“Dude, I know that looks familiar,” said participant Josh Zwybeck, 16, when shown a copy of the Orlando Sentinel. “I think I saw a homeless guy in the park sleeping under one.”

“Some of the participants were even a little frightened by them,” said the Poynter Institute’s Dick Edmunton, who noted that several of the teenage girls “freaked out” and had to be calmed down when the ink came off on their hands.

Of the 20 percent who could identify the publication specifically as a “newspaper,” the majority said they had seen one in a movie or on a television show, such as the ’70s-set police drama “Life on Mars.”

“That’s how people would download their news back then,” said Carla Fredricks, 15. “Or, you know, however it got to them.”

One positive finding from the report, though, is that when shown a newspaper and explained what it was for, many of the teenagers thought it was a “pretty cool” idea.

“It would be kind of neat having all those stories and things together in one place, so you could carry it around and stuff,” said Luke Bertinelli, 16. “Plus, I’m pretty sure you could roll a joint with it if you really needed to.”

April: Goldman Sachs accused of unregulated baby trading

NEW YORK (CAP) — A new report out of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) suggests that investment firm Goldman Sachs has been taking advantage of loopholes in trading regulations to invest heavily in the future sale of babies, primarily in Third World and African nations.

“By directing investors toward the baby futures market, they’re basically betting that the price of babies will go up dramatically in the coming months,” explained CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler.

Asked whether this could possibly be legal, Gensler responded, “Well, it’s not technically illegal, if that’s what you mean.

“But it certainly doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do,” he added.

Child advocates agree, saying that investing in the buying and selling of babies is “inappropriate and immoral.”

“With its actions, Goldman Sachs is tacitly condoning the sale of babies to the highest bidder,” said Emma Rodstein, president of Babies Without Borders (BWOB), at a press conference attended by a CAP News reporter and one intern from Babytalk magazine, who appeared to be there for the free vegan beet cubes.

Goldman Sachs officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but one executive said off the record that the corporation has done nothing wrong. “We are investing in baby futures, so really these are just paper babies we’re talking about,” he said. “What could possibly be bad about that?”

He then offered to help invest the CAP News reporter’s entire retirement fund in the burgeoning baby market. “You can trust me,” he said.

[Read the rest at North Shore Sunday.]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Gingerbread Man Eaten After 3-County Kill Spree

HORSESHOE BEND, IDAHO (CAP) - A gingerbread man who came miraculously to life in the oven of a little old woman Saturday has been subdued and eaten following a three-county killing spree.

"Apparently the little old woman thought she'd make a gingerbread man," recounted Boise County Sheriff Karl Herrmann, reading from police reports. "She rolled out the dough, and cut out the shape, and she put raisins for his eyes, and peppermints for his teeth, and put icing on his head for the hair. Then she put him in the oven, and when it smelled good, she opened up the door to take a peek and out jumped the gingerbread man, allegedly."

According to the reports, the woman - whose name is being withheld pending notification of family members - called out Stop! Stop, little gingerbread man! I want to eat you!, at which point the gingerbread man beat her to death with her own rolling pin.

"Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!" he reportedly yelled over her prone body before escaping into the Boise National Forest.

The gingerbread man was sighted numerous times over the next few days at area farms and dwellings, according to Sheriff Herrmann, who said each encounter followed a similar pattern.

"Typically the victim, upon spotting the suspect, would declare something to the effect of Stop! Stop little gingerbread man! I want to eat you!" explained Herrmann. "Then the gingerbread man would bludgeon the individual with whatever farming implement was available at the time, or his bare hands."

Victims included a pig, a dog, a cow, a horse and at least one unfortunate Amway representative, according to Herrmann.

The attacks prompted police to issue the following warning Sunday: "WANTED: Escaped gingerbread man. Considered extremely dangerous. If you see him, do not tell him to stop and that you want to eat him; instead, notify authorities immediately."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, December 11, 2009

COLUMN: Is it a tradition if you only do it once?


You may recall the song “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” in which Tevye extols the importance of his people’s customs and rituals in dealing with the trials of everyday life. Of course, I’m almost positive Tevye never tried to use vanilla frosting to secure the walls of a giant gingerbread house, which might have made him at least think twice about all that singing.

I base this on my own experience in trying to establish a family holiday tradition, which resulted in a gingerbread “house” that looked like the aftermath of a tornado in the North Pole mobile home park. This didn’t seem to faze my kids at all, who were just as happy to eat the remains of the marshmallow snowmen crushed by the gumdrop chimney, but it reminded me of how traditions can be a tricky business.

Yet when the holidays roll around, we feel the need to establish family customs. This is so that when our children have kids they can continue the practice of constructing gingerbread houses or making popsicle reindeer with googly eyes, and think back on what wonderful, caring, tradition-instilling parents we were, and how they really didn’t appreciate us as much as they should have. (Er, not mine. Other kids.)

For instance, in our house the tradition starts with the holiday card photograph. Some families give in and cart the kids off to a professional photographer who’ll pose them expertly in front of a meticulously rendered fake fireplace. These families are what we in our household like to call, “smart.”

Because for some reason we’ve always chosen the other route, which is to put the kids in red and green sweaters, prop them up in front of something festive (tree, wreath, garage door that’s been plastered with cheap wrapping paper) and shoot away. This is especially tough when they’re babies, because you’ll find that in the time it takes your finger to depress the shutter release, they will have propelled themselves sweater-first into the figgy pudding.

One year we tried to establish the tradition of cutting down our own tree, failing, unfortunately, to take into account my lack of acuity with a saw. My wife and kids had long since retreated back to the car and there I was, still hacking through the trunk like Paul Bunyan’s much smaller, manually challenged cousin, the one they trot out at the end of the day to deliver pancakes to all the real lumberjacks.

As for the extended family, we’ve tried the annual “Yankee Swap,” where you can swipe your present from somebody else. This is great fun, in that it takes the bitter subtext of pretty much all family holiday traditions and puts it right up there on the surface. Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite a satisfying as taking passive-aggressive Uncle Lennie’s envelope full of lottery tickets and leaving him with a plastic nutcracker.

Another holiday tradition in our house is the annual lighting of the menorah, although my wife is afraid of burning candles indoors, meaning we take turns screwing in the little orange light bulbs from right to left. Since I’m half-Jewish I tend to get lost about halfway through the prayer — after “asher kid’shanu” I have to ad-lib. Somewhere, my bubbie is slapping her forehead in a perpetual loop.

So some of these customs have stuck and some of them haven’t, but if there’s anything I think I’ve learned from all these attempts, it’s that you can’t manufacture traditions out of frosting or googly eyes. If you just carve out some special time with family or friends this time of year, the rituals that just happen will probably be the ones that stick — and even if they don’t, it’s fun to enjoy them while they last.

Although I can’t for the life of me figure out what I’m going to do with all these nutcrackers.

This column appeared originally in West of Boston Life magazine and North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And to think, people are starving in Japan

Times are still tough for many, but you know what the economists say: You can tell the recession is lifting when people start throwing food at each other again. Well, have I got some good news for you!

You read right here about the vicious girl-on-girl bagel attack in Cohasset, Mass. All had hoped that was an isolated incident, but no such luck: Earlier this week we also saw a dispute among two teens in Cambridge that resulted in a duck sauce debacle.

When police arrived, they saw the victim “covered in sauce” and the living room “disheveled” and “covered with food.”

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, during Lexington’s Festival Night — an annual event that welcomes Santa to Lexington Center — a police officer was attacked by a man wielding a glazed donut. In that case the perp was charged with disorderly conduct, assault on a police officer and, presumably, extreme irony.

Monday, December 07, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Monday: Santa Injured In Mysterious North Pole Sleigh Accident


NORTH POLE (CAP) - Santa Claus is reportedly recovering from injuries and lacerations incurred around 2:30 a.m. Saturday when he flew his sleigh into the famous North Pole pole, which is situated about 10 yards beyond the end of his workshop's driveway.

According to North Pole Fire Department reports, he had been extracted from the sleigh by his wife, Mrs. Claus, who came out of their house with a giant candy cane and used it to bludgeon three of Claus's flying reindeer to death in an attempt to free him from the vehicle.

Their identities have been withheld until the families could be notified, but TMZ.com is reporting that the casualties may include Donner, Prancer and Blitzen.

"It's odd, because he's flown past that pole a million times before without incident - literally, a million," said one North Pole resident who asked to be identified only as Hermey. "Also, he's never out that late, except on Christmas Eve, and by that time he's usually flying somewhere over Belize."

The incident comes on the heels of a TMZ.com report last week alleging that Santa had engaged in a protracted affair with an anonymous woman, later identified in Us magazine as 'Doll' from the Island of Misfit Toys. Doll, 45, not only admitted to an affair, she also provided Us with photos and hundreds of "racy" text messages to prove it, such as one in which Santa tells her that she's on his "very naughty list."

She also provided a voice mail in which Santa tells her that Mrs. Claus had searched his iPhone contacts and might be calling her, and that if she did, Doll should tell her she's been involved in a long-term committed relationship with the Charlie-in-a-Box.

Still, Santa's defenders have noted that Doll has a long history of emotional instability, having also been linked to Yukon Cornelius, the cowboy who rides an ostrich and Scott Stapp of Creed.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, December 03, 2009

COLUMN: God is now a book publicist


Every so often in the humor writing business, you start to get worried that the world may be running out of funny things. This has been especially true lately; my colleague Jeff Vrabel has even suggested we might be in the midst of a full-fledged humor recession. But then you get an envelope in the mail declaring, in big, block letters, “MINISTER BELIEVES GOD DEFEATED CLINTON,” and suddenly all is right again.

The Clinton in question is apparently Hillary, and I know: You thought Barack Obama defeated her, even if he now may be wishing he hadn’t. But one North Carolina minister apparently thinks it was all God’s doing, in order to — and I’m going to quote this to make sure I get it right — “make clear His will for woman usurping authority over men.” In other words, Hillary lost because God thought she was an uppity broad; it’s right there in Timothy 2:11-14, wherein God smites she who be uppity.

Now, without getting too deeply into my personal religious beliefs, I should say that I am generally pro-God. However, I’m also fairly skeptical that God is getting too involved in politics, any more than he cares about the outcome of the Super Bowl. I have this gut feeling he’s more of a soccer fan.

I also doubt that he has any problem with women. Jezebels aside, most of the women in the Bible come off much better than the men — I’d take a Ruth or an Esther over an Ahab or a Nebuchadnezzar any day of the week.

But this minister (who I will decline to name, for reasons that will become obvious) paints a vivid picture of his efforts to derail Clinton’s candidacy, even writing her a letter to tell her that “her candidacy was not in the will of God and she would not be blessed.” He apparently “did not get an answer,” probably because if she responded to everyone who told her that her candidacy was not in the will of God, she wouldn’t have time for anything else.

The minister is apparently working hard to remove women from politics completely, before this whole women-in-power thing gets out of hand. Already, these female politicians are everywhere: “It is believed every state has some,” his release states, ominously. (Yes, even Utah! Although there they’re mostly just getting coffee.) Unless America “repents, puts women back into God’s will, [and] stops hugging gays,” we’re basically doomed, he says. To which I respond: It’s going to take a lot more than that to get Kathy Griffin to stop hugging gays.

Which brings me to the reason this minister sent out a four-page press release in the first place: to spread the word of the Lord! Wait, no, I read my notes wrong — it’s actually because he has a book to sell. Um, and that Lord stuff too, probably.

And not just any book: It’s a book that has basically been published by God. First, he “told the Lord in prayer it would take $25,000” to get it published. That’s right, he asked the Lord for the money up front, like you would with a crazy rich uncle you’re trying to get to invest in your independent film. Well, two weeks later, “the Holy Spirit guided him to a website.” You recall Monty Python’s Holy Hand Grenade? Welcome to the Spiritual Search Engine.

Finally, once he got the book published, he asked God to make it like the Ark of the Covenant, in that it would bring good fortune to any home that kept it, even if people didn’t open it. Translation: We don’t care if you read the darn book as long as you send your check for $29.95. (Payable to the minister, not to God, although his accountant will presumably forward along God’s requisite 10 percent.)

Well, as someone who thinks that if God didn’t want women in politics he wouldn’t have made the male politicians such screw-ups, and who thinks “gays” are perfectly huggable, I’ve decided not to help the minister promote his book by naming him or it in this column. (If you’re that interested I’m sure you can find him through Google, a.k.a. “the Holy Spirit.”) But I have a feeling he may be disappointed, both with his book sales and with the future of American politics.

Still, I think maybe we should lock him in a room with Sarah Palin for a few hours and have somebody write about that. Now there’s a book I’d buy.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: White House Security Breached Again, By Muppets

WASHINGTON (CAP) - The Secret Service is defending itself for the second time in a week today, after news broke that a White House state dinner had again been crashed by uninvited guests - this time by Muppets characters Statler and Waldorf, fresh off their appearance in the Muppets' viral Bohemian Rhapsody video.

When asked how they got in to the affair, Statler said that they had "entered a contest."

"Yeah, and we lost!" added Waldorf, prompting the two of them to laugh riotously.

According to Secret Service spokesman James Mackey, the security failure occurred at the initial checkpoint. He said the Muppets should have been turned away when Waldorf said, "I have our tickets right here," and Statler turned to him and asked, "Are they good seats?" prompting Waldorf to respond, "Sure are - they're on the next train out of town!" Then they both guffawed until they were waved through to the next checkpoint.

"The failure is ours," admitted Mackey, who acknowledged that there hadn't been a puppet on the official White House guest list since Wayland Flowers and Madame visited President Carter in 1979.

Apparently Statler and Waldorf mingled with guests for several hours, even getting into a long discussion with Vice President Joe Biden, who apparently thought they were a wealthy homosexual couple upset about the military's policies toward gay recruits.

"I told him we didn't believe in Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said Statler.

"Yeah, because we were going to tell him how bad the dinner was, whether he asked or not!" said Waldorf. "Wauh-ha-ha-ha!"

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving: 'We would be honored if you would join us.'

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your dinner is full of good food, stimulating conversation and relatives who don't make you pray the meal would just end already so you could get to hiding in the den, watching football with your pants unbuttoned. You know who you are.

But even if it is bad, keep in mind that your dinner could be worse: It could be like the one Han Solo got invited to in The Empire Strikes Back:



In honor of Thanksgiving, I revisit that troublesome gathering along with some other memorable cinematic dinners for my latest Farkakte Film Flashback column at Popdose.com.
Han, no slave to social etiquette, shoots at Vader with his laser blaster, but Vader absorbs the blasts into his glove, raising the question: Why don’t they make the stormtroopers’ uniforms out of whatever that glove is made of?
Read it tonight while you're chawing on that leftover drumstick.

[Image: I-Mockery.com]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

COLUMN: 22 (more) reasons to be thankful


As you may recall, around this time each year I like to take a moment to remind my readers that there are still plenty of reasons to be truly thankful. And if I can say that from my perch here in the heart of the newspaper business, you can certainly come up with something.

So stop reading that blood-sucking news aggregator site for a minute and take a gander at these, this year’s reasons to give thanks:

1) You’re not in a homemade balloon spinning somewhere above Colorado.

2) Levi Johnston has gotten nowhere near your daughter. That you know of.

3) You didn’t promise anybody you’d get a massive health care bill through the House and the Senate.

4) You haven’t been arrested for breaking into your own house.

5) You haven’t arrested anybody for breaking into his own house.

6) You’re not the planet earth, which will either implode in 2012 in a torrent of computer-generated special effects, or be sucked into a black hole by the Large Hadron Collider sometime within the next 15 minutes.

7) You didn’t decide to go for it on 4th and 2.

8) Your entire image isn’t being reworked against your will, like poor Mickey Mouse, whom Disney is re-imagining as more “cantankerous and cunning” — apparently the focus groups have said that they’d prefer Mickey to be more like Dick Cheney. But don’t worry, “Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people,” said one Disney Imagineer. OK, forget what I said about Cheney.

9) You didn’t win that annoying Nobel Peace Prize.

10) Your image isn’t showing up willy-nilly in pictures of water droplets on lotus leaves, like Ringo Starr’s is. A team researching water-repellent leaf behavior at Duke University took the high-speed images, and darn it if you can’t see Ringo’s little mop-toppy head right there. Add this to the list of signs that the world is ending.

11) None of your sex tapes have been made public. That you know of.

12) You’re not in Richard Heene’s attic.

13) You’re not Ruppy, one of five beagles who South Korean scientists recently engineered to become the world’s first glow-in-the-dark dogs. I imagine this makes it much harder to sneak up on people. Still, it finally offers a solution to the dire tripping-over-dogs-in-the-dark problem, and if you can get the dog to curl up close enough to you, you can read by him.

14) You didn’t try to address the nation’s annoying schoolchildren.

15) Perez Hilton hasn’t judged your beauty pageant or scribbled all over you with a white marker.

16) You’re not a drinker in Arizona, where a new law allows people to bring their guns into bars. Unfortunately, actually shooting somebody in an Arizona bar is still illegal, for the most part.

17) You don’t have Nicolas Cage’s financial advisor.

18) You didn’t lose your finger and have it replaced with a USB drive, like a man in Finland. In his defense, it is better, stronger and faster, plus it gives a whole new definition to the phrase “pull my finger.”

19) You’re not running for president in Iran. Or Afghanistan. Or Iraq.

20) You weren’t elected president of the United States.

21) You weren’t one of the many children frightened this summer by Colorado’s new ill-advised water conservation mascot, the “Running Toilet,” consisting of a man with an entire actual-size toilet on his head. (Best bystander quote: “I don't think the toilet meant to scare them.”) No word on whether the toilet has spent any time in Richard Heene’s attic.

22) You don’t work for Goldman Sachs, where executives had to scale back drastically and cut their massive bonuses to almost nothing.

What? Their bonuses and spending are as lavish as ever? Somebody should make those guys work for a newspaper.

this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Muppets go skaramoosh

If the idea is to endear the Muppets to audiences that weren't around during their '70s heyday, then having them cover a Queen song probably isn't going to cut it. But I don't care, because this is AWESOME.

Monday, November 23, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Monday: Giant Atom Smasher 'Probably Won't' Destroy Earth

GENEVA (CAP) - Scientists preparing the world's largest atom smasher to explore the depths of matter say chances it will open up a black hole that will suck in the entire earth, destroying all life, are "iffy at best."

"I mean, you'd need an awful lot of power and energy to basically open up a rift in the universe strong enough to suck in an entire planet," said Sergio Bertucci, a research director working in Switzerland on the Large Hadron Collider. "I don't think we'll be harnessing that much energy, probably."

Scientists have been working to repair the $10 billion collider since it malfunctioned just nine days after its initial launch more than a year ago. But Bertucci says talk at the time that the device could have snuffed out life on earth was highly exaggerated.

"France, Switzerland, maybe part of Austria, tops," he said of the so-called collider "Danger Zone," nicknamed such for the Kenny Loggins song of the same name. "And there was a small chance that the Iberian Peninsula would fall into the ocean. Tiny, like 100 to 1."

While scientists are desperately hoping the collider will provide a window into the origins of the universe, some have slammed the project for its excessive cost and the possibility that it will destroy the earth.

"Ten billion dollars! That's 400,000 $25,000 a year jobs that the money could have been used for," noted one commenter at the Telegraph.com. "Plus wiping out the planet - bad form."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

COLUMN: As seen on TV — but wait, there's more!


As any experienced parent will tell you, the longer you can keep your kids watching PBS, the better. Because even though Barney the Dinosaur may fill you with an inexplicable rage not unlike what an African honey badger must feel right before it crushes a puff adder’s head in its jaws, your toddlers love him and his educational friends. But more importantly: no commercials.

Once you move on to commercial television, it’s all over. First of all, your kids suddenly know about the existence of all sorts of things you’d rather they wouldn’t, like video games and Barbie digital manicure machines. The first time you’re trying to get them to turn off the TV and they declare “But Dad, I love this commercial!,” you can bet that somewhere on Madison Avenue there’s a man in a suit adding another child’s soul to the gigantic jar on his desk.

As it turns out, though, the toy commercials are the least of a parent’s problems, at least once you have a child who starts to enjoy professional sports. If you watch any of the big sporting events on TV, you know they are being targeted to a very specific audience: specifically, rich, white, perpetually randy older guys whose prostates are roughly the size of official Major League baseballs.

The most problematic of the ads shown during these games are of course the ones for Viagra and Cialis, with their now-legendary talk of four-hour, er, building projects (sorry, family newspaper) and the need to be constantly “ready,” like an aging Boy Scout walking around with all the tools on his Swiss Army knife extended.

My initial inclination during these commercials is always to throw myself in front of the TV — parents, if they were true to their natural instincts, would do nothing but throw themselves in front of things all day long. But I realize that would just draw undue attention to them, so instead I just make loud, inane small talk whenever they come on.

Me: “HEY KIDS — I FORGOT TO ASK YOU HOW SCHOOL WAS TODAY! SO HOW WAS IT?”

Kid: “Dad, why are you shouting? We can’t hear the commercial for the double outdoor bathtubs.”

Only slightly less bad are the spots with the guy who would have the most satisfying life ever, if only he didn’t have to find men’s rooms at the most inopportune times (during golf matches, on boats, while skydiving, etc.). It’s hard not to feel bad for the man, which is probably why whenever the commercial comes on my 8-year-old son declares “He has to pee!” and laughs so hard that he has to use the men’s room in our own house.

Then there are the ads for inappropriate movies; for instance, the spots for “2012” have my son convinced that the world is going to end in three years, which both disturbs him and adds fuel to his argument that future school attendance is not only unnecessary, but a pointless distraction from staying home and watching more commercials. My kids have also been lobbying me to buy the automatic soap dispenser, the wall-mounted toothpaste dispenser, the pan that bakes pre-sliced brownies and the machine that makes a cupcake the size of a volleyball.

So the situation is clearly dire, but not necessarily disastrous. Commercials are about as unavoidable as the headlines on the covers of women’s magazines (which you can find me throwing myself in front of whenever we go to the supermarket). I figure if my wife and I try to moderate their TV viewing, and watch with them whenever possible to explain or mitigate what they might be seeing, we’ll all be OK. Which is why if you pop over our house you’ll often find us all on the couch, taking in the ads together.

You can’t miss us — we’re the ones in the Snuggies eating the giant cupcakes.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy toys, or evil instruments of death? You decide!

It's my favorite time of year; no, not Thanksgiving, although I am looking forward to gorging myself on carbs and poultry, not necessarily in that order. I'm actually referring to the annual release of the list documenting toys that, while on the surface may appear fun and cheerful, have really been sent here from the future to kill us.

The list is compiled each year by World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.), whose name always struck me as very James Bond-ian. I picture them in black spandex, meeting in their secret undersea headquarters where they spend the first 10 months of every year rolling back and forth over potentially dangerous toys, and then checking each other for penetrating and blunt-force injuries.

I'll let you read the entire list yourself -- it's always very entertaining -- but my favorite this year has got to be "X-Men Origins Slashin' Action Wolverine," a toy for kids ages 4 and up based on a character whose entire raison d'etre is slicing people to death with his razor-sharp claws. Sounds preschool-riffic to me! But W.A.T.C.H. disagrees:
The Wolverine action figure, sold for children as young as four years old, is marketed as an “indestructible combat machine” with a “[s]lashing [u]ppercut!” Wolverine has rigid, pointed plastic claws sporting three 1 1/2 inch protrusions on both fists. The right “pop-out” claw retracts upon impact, whereas the left claw remains rigid and unforgiving upon contact. Incredibly, there are no warnings on either the box or the toy itself.

Of course, there's a very good reason for that: Warnings are for sissies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: NASA Confirms Existence Of Carrie Prejean Sex Tapes

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CAP) - Still basking in its discovery of water on the moon, NASA yesterday announced its second momentous find of the week: 25 more sex tapes made by former Miss USA Carrie Prejean.

"It's not like we were intentionally out there, you know, looking for them," said NASA spokesman Marvin Federer, speaking by phone from Cape Canaveral. "It's just that they're everywhere."

The tapes were apparently being streamed digitally over the Internet when they were picked up by NASA's SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) satellites, and were subsequently beamed onto NASA's massive control room screen.

"We haven't seen this many high-fives in there since we got the first transmission from the Mars rover," said Federer.

Prejean, who lost her Miss USA crown over "contract violations," was suing the pageant, claiming she'd really been fired for speaking out against same-sex marriage. But she was forced to drop her case when a homemade sex tape emerged.

Prejean called the tape "the biggest mistake of my life." When seven more tapes were soon uncovered, she called those "the next seven biggest mistakes of my life."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Come fly with meep!

It would be hard to overstate how much I'm enjoying the meep story out of Danvers, Mass. This is of course the incident in which the Danvers High School principal banned the use of the word "meep" (such that it is) because students were using it in a disruptive fashion. He did this via a recorded message to parents, although it's unclear whether he actually uttered the word "meep" on the recording, and if so, whether he did it in a squeaky, high-pitched fashion that might lead you to believe he was about to be humorously electrocuted.

I'm of course using Beaker, the meep-uttering lab assistant from the Muppets, as my reference point for the origin of the meep craze, since I grew up with the Muppets and still, to this day, probably relate to them a little too arduously for it to be healthy. But as Wicked Local Danvers so expertly reported, there could be any number of origins, including but not limited to:

Also, the Geekdad blog suggests that it could have come from the character "Meap" from the Disney Channel show "Phineas and Ferb," which is, I might add, the BEST SHOW EVER. Um, according to my kids.

Anyway, the craze continues to grow, with characters such as Boston radio host Michael Graham using it to fill airtime, er, decry the nanny state. Me, I just want to keep Beaker at the top of the news cycle for as long as possible. To that end:

Column: An ode to the LP, whatever that was


I have a confession to make: I turned my back on an old friend, just when he needed me most. Well, that’s if you can consider an LP album to be a “he.” In some cases I suppose it might be a she. If you’re talking about, say, early ’70s David Bowie albums, who knows what the heck it is. But you get the idea.

For you youngsters out there, I should explain that an album is a collection of songs by an artist who has presumably given some thought as to what order you should listen to them in. In the old days they’d come on black vinyl, and you’d listen to all the songs in order, turning it over once in the middle. You’d do this in your house, and the music would come out of speakers so big that today, Steve Jobs could live in one.

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when if you wanted a collection of songs by a bunch of different artists, you had to stand in front of your tape deck juggling albums or CDs. That’s why giving somebody a mix tape was such a sign of commitment; it involved a Herculean effort that invariably ended with you standing in front of your giant speakers, swearing.

So you can see why the onset of digital music has been so groundbreaking — it turned your computer into a song Cuisinart, slicing and dicing your LPs into one big album featuring every song you’ve ever owned. Finally, with almost no effort, music fans could segue directly from Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” into “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.” (You know who you are. OK, me.)

As a result, I’ve basically spent the last five years on shuffle. I do this even when playing just one artist, which essentially amounts to listening to a single, randomly ordered 15-hour-long Bruce Springsteen album. This comes in handy, especially if you’re driving from, say, Boston to Kokomo, Ind., and everybody in the car loves Bruce Springsteen as much as you do. I’m sure that happens.

But recently, Springsteen and other artists have started playing entire classic albums in sequence during their concerts, presumably to remind people they put the songs in that order for a reason. I also happened to be reading “Runaway Dream,” a great book about the Springsteen album “Born to Run,” and both of these things inspired me to play the album all the way through for the first time in years. Well, no, not in one sitting — who has 40 minutes?

Still, it amazed me how well the songs fit together, and hearing them in context reminded me what I’d loved about them in the first place. It also made me feel guilty about abandoning what is now, thanks to me and my fellow shufflers, a dying art form. Somewhere, millions of copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” are shooting little laser beams at my head.

So what am I doing about it? First of all, I’ve set my iPod on album shuffle mode, meaning it skips around from album to album instead of song to song. I’d never used it before, but now I’m finding it a thrill when the first song of a great album I haven’t heard in years pops up on my little speakers.

Second, and probably more radically, I’ve also gone back to vinyl. Yes, most of my records didn’t survive my parents’ great garage cleanout of 1993, but that’s why God invented eBay. Just last week I got Springsteen’s “The River” and “Born in the USA” on vinyl for 99 cents each, putting me in the admittedly galling position of having bought them on vinyl, CD and then on vinyl again — it’s really going to irk me when I have to pay for the inevitable cerebral cortex implant.

I’ve been enjoying flipping over all those sides, and I’ve even managed to get my hands on the vinyl release of a brand new album: “Songs from Lonely Avenue” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, which sounds terrific. It’s somehow soothing that new discs like this can still get a vinyl release, and the BSO album is pretty heavy duty — it feels like a manhole cover.

But even though people gush about vinyl’s fidelity, I think most people buying LPs these days are doing it so they can place that needle down and watch the disk spin gloriously on the turntable, like it has a tangible purpose in life. (I don’t know what an mp3 is doing inside my iPod, but whatever it is, I don’t trust it.)

It also forces you to sit down somewhere in your house — not your car, or your gym, or while avoiding eye contact on the subway — and really listen, which is what music is all about. Of course, the Setzer album also has the CD mounted right in the gatefold of the LP, for easy digital dicing. (Hey, we’re not cavemen.)

So do your part: Listen to an album today — I promise you won’t regret it. Well, unless it’s a Helen Reddy album released between 1973 and 1980. Then you’re on your own.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Disney Shocked At Small Gross For Creepy, Boring 'Christmas Carol'

BURBANK, Calif. (CAP) - A soft opening for Disney's A Christmas Carol has jeopardized the company's planned slate of creepy animated movies nobody really wants to see, says one Disney executive who declined to be named.

"We had planned to roll out two or three of these a year," explained the executive, citing Disney's The Nutcracker, Disney's Johnny Tremain and Disney's Little Lord Fauntleroy as just three of the many creepy motion-capture animation projects based on old, boring stories they have currently in the works. "This has us rethinking everything."

The $200 million Christmas Carol, featuring Jim Carrey in 15 different roles, grossed about $35 million its opening weekend - enough to grasp the No. 1 spot at the box office, but much less than expected. People who did see it noted in particular the way Scrooge's ultra-realistic wrinkly and pockmarked skin contrasted with his glassy, dead eyes.

"I don't think I'll ever sleep again," said Sally Marples of Kannapolis, N.C., whose children left the theater in tears.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Sunday, November 08, 2009

AT LARGE Sunday Night Link Roundup

News and comedy, not necessarily in that order.

Friend of AT LARGE Jeff Vrabel: "I cannot help but notice no one is fleeing in horror from all of the giant snakes."

I'm not bad ... I'm just drawn that way: "Robert Zemeckis Confirms Roger Rabbit Sequel."

Dan Kennedy interviews the geniuses behind Fake AP Stylebook.

Where have you gone, Hal Linden? Friend of AT LARGE Dave Lifton speaks out "In praise of Barney Miller."

The end is nigh: "Beatle Ringo Starr's face seen in water droplet on lotus leaf."

Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people." Well, THAT'S a relief.

At Bullz-Eye: "Weird Al" on his new "Essential" album and being the most awesome singer ever. Actually, that last part was just me editorializing.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Thursday: Sexy Costumes Lead To Tween Prostitution Arrests

SALEM, Mass. (CAP) - Halloween festivities in Salem, Mass. were marred Saturday when police arrested more than a dozen 11- and 12-year-old girls, mistaking them for prostitutes.

"Well, you can't tell me they didn't look like prostitutes," said Salem Police spokesman Howard Wieczorek, who noted that they were only incarcerated for "a few hours" before their parents were able to pick them up.

"It was a little confusing at first, because most of their parents looked like prostitutes too," said Wieczorek.

Similar arrests were reported around the nation this Halloween, as "sexy" Halloween costumes have become more prevalent for girls of younger ages. In Salem, the girls were dressed as Sexy Hello Kitty, Sexy American Girl and Sexy Dora the Explorer, along with more generic costumes like Sexy Witch, Sexy Princess and Sexy Preschooler.

"I don't see what the problem is," said Michelle Ruggiero, 38, of Peabody, Mass., mother of one of the girls accidentally arrested. Ruggiero, dressed in her Sexy Homemaker costume of short apron, feather duster and bustier, was buying popcorn from a cart during Salem's famed Halloween celebration when police picked up her daughter and her friends.

"These girls are cute and thin, and I don't see why they shouldn't be able to show that off a little bit," said Ruggiero. "Maybe if more people let their kids wear 'sexy' little costumes, the United States wouldn't be in the disgustingly fat shape it is now," she added as she stomped out her cigarette with her 6-inch stiletto heel.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

COLUMN: A Yankee Doodle, do or die?


As a native New Yorker living in the Boston area, I’ll admit to having a complicated relationship with the Yankees. Not as complicated as the relationship between A-Rod, his wife and Madonna, but still …

See? Even I can’t resist the easy A-Rod joke, even though by all accounts I should hold each and every Yankee in the highest regard. After all, both my parents were born in the Bronx and my New York family is still full of diehards — I have a new nephew who at 6 months old has never, to my knowledge, been out of pinstripes.

But even as a child I tended to buck the family trend. I went through a period during elementary school when I rooted for the Mets, for a very logical reason: They had a mascot whose head was a giant baseball. While other mascots had at best a tangential relationship to baseball (c’mon, a chicken?), Mr. Met literally was a baseball. If somebody walked up and hit him in the head with a bat, I imagine no jury in the land could convict.

But beyond that, I always seemed to have an innate need to root for the underdog, which the Mets of the mid-’70s most definitely were; like my Little League team, and unlike the Yankees, they were terrible — meaning I could relate. Sometimes too much.

So it wasn’t until the ’80s, when the Yankees started losing on a consistent basis, that my baseball interests turned in their direction; now, this was a team I could get behind. My favorite Yankee of that period was, of course, Don Mattingly, who never got to a World Series but showed up every day and played his heart out anyway. He’d have fit right in on my Little League team, except for the moustache.

So by the time the Yankees finally got back to the World Series in 1996, even though I was living in Boston by then, I had no problem rooting for them unabashedly. When Jeter & Co. won that one, it felt like they were doing it for Donnie Baseball — it was a perfect victory, except for Wade Boggs riding that horse around Yankee Stadium, like he was just asking to be attacked by Apaches.

But before long the Yankees were no longer underdogs, being widely acknowledged as one of the best teams ever. Meanwhile, I had married a lifelong Sox fan (and former Fred Lynn stalker), and was starting to see what a Red Sox series win would mean. So much so that in 2003, I couldn’t help but feel bad when Aaron Boone’s home run finished off the Sox in the ALCS — and not just because as the token New Yorker there was a very good chance that when I got into the office the next day, I would be stapled to death.

Then a few things happened: The Sox did win, and I saw the joy that came with it for my wife and her family and friends. And my son Tim came of baseball appreciation age, and immediately took after his mother as a member of Red Sox Nation. Baseball is currently his favorite thing in the world, and watching it is our favorite thing to do together — which, since we’re in Boston, means watching the Red Sox.

So what that’s meant for this New Yorker is a sort of cognitive dissonance —– if the Yanks and the Sox are playing separately, I can root for either, and if they’re playing each other, there’s a danger of my head exploding like in a David Cronenberg movie. It doesn’t help the Yankees’ case that they’ve employed some truly unlikable characters (sorry, A-Rod), but on the other hand, how can you not like a Jeter, Matsui or CC Sabathia? Even my son can agree with that, as much as he may want them to lose in humiliating disgrace — he’s still a Sox fan, after all.

So if I’m going to root for the Yankees around my house this week — as I write this on Nov. 3, they’re ahead of the Phillies three games to two — I’ll do it quietly. I know when it’s over, no matter who wins, my son and I will be out in the backyard, pushing aside the leaves to try to get one more game in before the snow comes. That won’t be about the Red Sox or the Yankees — it will be about baseball, and how if the stars align properly, there are ways to love everything about it.

Well, except maybe for A-Rod. He just irks me.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

COLUMN: Things to do on Twitter when you're dead


If you’ve had even a fleeting experience with the Internet, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Is there anything Twitter can’t do?” You’ve also probably wondered why there are so many videos of cats, but also the Twitter thing.

For the uninformed, Twitter is a service that allows people to post messages in 140-character “tweets.” It’s revolutionized the way people use the Web, in that it’s forced millions of users to come up with shorter ways to call everyone else on the Internet a moron.

But the latest Twitter development should really push the service to the next level. Just in time for Halloween, a UK psychic is mounting the first-ever Twitter séance, which she’s referring to as a “Tweance.” Most Twitter activities start with “Tw,” which is a practice referred to, in marketing circles, as idiotic. I’m sorry, “twidiotic.”

The psychic, Jaynce Wallace, is seeking suggestions at twitter.com/tweance for famous dead people to contact on Oct. 30, which of course makes some pretty large assumptions:

1) That dead people know how to use Twitter. I know enough living people who can’t figure it out that it’s safe to assume Mahatma Gandhi’s not sitting around in his little dhoti, typing out 140-character messages on his afterlife-issued BlackBerry. (“Violence still sux!” etc.)

2) Even if dead people DO know how to use Twitter, is that really how they’d want to communicate with us over the mysterious expanse that divides us from the netherworld — the same way that Paula Abdul told us she wasn’t coming back to “American Idol”? It seems unlikely, especially given how satisfied the deceased seem to be communicating through decks of cards and Whoopi Goldberg.

That said, given the suggestions that have come through so far, it appears that most Twitter users aren’t interested in asking, say, Albert Einstein about the discrepancies between atomic and subatomic physics. People would much rather talk to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain — “How are you NOW?” one user asks him, apparently suggesting that he just get over his own grisly suicide already.

People also would like to hear from recently deceased actor Patrick Swayze, presumably to find out if being a ghost is anything like being in “Ghost,” or is it, you know, different? If there were any justice, Swayze would decide that this was the time not to be nice and beat all the Twitterers with ectoplasmic beer bottles.

Granted, there are some people interested in talking to more high-profile historical figures. For instance, one suggests, “You should ask Hitler if he feels sorry for everything he did.” I’m not sure what he’d answer, but it seems to me that if after everything that happened he still thinks he was on the right track, there’s no getting through to that guy.

All I know is, I think this whole Tweance concept could wind up being the start of a disturbing trend. One day you’re using Twitter to communicate with spirits, the next day you’re using it to put spells on people and steal their immortal souls. It flies in the face of what Twitter was invented for: real-time minute-to-minute progress of the Balloon Boy. Instead I prefer to subscribe to the opinion of nikiandrea16, who declared in a succinct but effective tweet, “NOOOOO TWEANCE!!! IT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA!!!”

Then she posted a video of her cat.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm too sexy for my costume

I'm glad people are finally starting to take notice of the crazy sexy costumes they're selling for little girls. (And when I say "crazy sexy" I am not referring to a TLC album. Wait, did I just date myself?) The adult costumes are insane enough as it is -- head down to Salem, Mass., around Halloween and you'll see bustiers, fishnets, short skirts and high-heels galore. And that's just the men.

Take these following actual costumes for sale this year:
  • Sexy Cheshire Cat. As you'll recall from Alice in Wonderland, the real Cheshire Cat looked nothing like this. He was fat and male, and often invisible.
  • Sexy Every Character from "The Wizard of Oz." Every year as I gather my family around the TV to watch this children's classic, I think to myself, if only this movie had more bosoms.
  • Sexy Plus-Sized Nurse. See, just because a nurse has a little more of a figure doesn't mean she can't be just as slutty as all those skinnier nurses.
  • Sexy Ghostbuster. I've seen that movie about 100 times, and I'm pretty sure none of the Ghostbusters looked like this. Not even Annie Potts.
I guess if grown women want to let it all hang out one day a year that's OK, but let's keep it out of the elementary schools. The youngsters should take a cue from Taylor Swift and dress like Chewbacca in head-to-toe fur so that people won't even know they're human, much less female. Or barring that, there's always the poncho that ties in the back and a plastic mask. What? It was good enough for the '70s.

[Image: sexycostumes.com]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Disney To Offer 'Fast Pass' For Swine Flu Vaccine


ORLANDO, Fla. (CAP) - Citing the growing sense of concern over the availability of the H1N1 or "swine flu" vaccine, Walt Disney World has introduced a "Swine Flu Fast Pass" that will allow Disney patrons to step ahead of others to receive their inoculations.

"As incidence of the disease becomes more prevalent, parents are growing increasingly anxious," said Karl Metterschmidt, Disney's vice president of health and human services. "By using our Swine Flu Fast Pass, you can ensure that your child gets this potentially life-saving vaccination, and create magical memories in one of our theme parks at the same time!"

The Swine Flu Fast Pass is available to anyone who purchases at least a Five-Day Park Hopper Bonus Ticket and stays in a Disney resort classified as "moderate" or better. This means visitors who stay in the value resorts or the campgrounds are not eligible, noted Metterschmidt.

"But we guarantee you'll be glad if you choose to stay in some of our more luxurious accommodations," he said, citing Disney's Polynesian Resort and the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa as examples. "It may cost a little more, but isn't it worth it for your child's well-being? Hmm?"

As an added bonus, to allay the fears of young visitors, all shots "will be administered by beloved Disney characters, like Winnie the Pooh and Pumba from The Lion King," said Metterschmidt. All will be trained by licensed Disney health professionals, he added, and the syringes will be soldered to their hands, paws and/or hooves to ensure maximum stability.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]