Thursday, July 29, 2010

COLUMN: When in doubt, blame Google

Like most people, I spend much of my time trying to determine whom I should blame for all my various problems. It can be tough, since there are so many options to choose from, such as the government, Wall Street and/or Mel Gibson. All are tempting, but I’ve decided to pick Google.

I’d like to say that’s an original idea, but I have to give credit to Lauren Rosenberg of Park City, Utah. She’s the woman who sued Google after Google’s walking directions advised her to walk on a highway with no sidewalks, and she was promptly run over. On the plus side, that happened before Google got the chance to tell her to jump off a bridge, just like her mother always warned her it would.

Yes, you might assume a thinking, breathing human being would realize the directions were problematic when she got to the highway and the only sign of non-automotive life was a flattened hedgehog. But clearly you are forgetting that we live in a country where strollers carry a warning label that reads (really) “remove child before folding.” And actually, the Google directions do carry a warning, but apparently Rosenberg couldn’t read it on her Blackberry, possibly because she was texting at the time. (“On a hiway, WTF? Agh!” etc.)

So until Google figures out some more appropriate warnings (“CAUTION: You are going to get run over”) I’m having my attorney file a series of lawsuits aimed at seeking restitution for the hardships I’ve suffered, much like Lauren Rosenberg, because of the company’s negligence. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

1) Chianca v. Google Maps. “My client alleges that checking the mileage between each turn forced him to do math while driving, which studies have shown to be dangerously distracting. Also, he had trouble reading the directions because he had spilled his latte on them, causing the ink to run. He is suing for the funds to replace his neighbor’s mailbox, which he ran over, and also to replace his latte.”

2) Chianca v. Google Image Search. “My client alleges that while doing research into the 1980s pop group Kajagoogoo, he accidentally searched for images of Lady Gaga, causing severe emotional distress and a disturbing compulsion to wear soda cans in his hair. He also alleges that the images of Kajagoogoo were only marginally less harrowing. He is suing for $3 million to have his memory erased.”

3) Chianca v. Google Videos. “My client alleges that in searching for video footage of former NFL tackle Fred Smerlas, Google Videos turned up clips of manic, squirrel-voiced YouTube icon Fred Figglehorn, resulting in hearing loss and fear of tousled hair. Even though my client searched only for ‘Fred,’ he alleges that Google should have known he was searching for Fred Smerlas because, come on, it’s Smerlas. He is suing for $5 million and an authentic 1989 Buffalo Bills jersey.”

4) Chianca v. Google Blog Search. “My client alleges that a Google blog search for ‘Barack Obama’ turned up more than 400,000 blogs comparing Obama to Hitler, Stalin, Osama Bin Laden and pre-socialist radical Gerrard Winstanley. When my client brought up these views at a cocktail party among his liberal friends, they shunned him and burned his ascot with their patchouli incense. He is suing for $1 million for emotional distress, and a new ascot.”

5) Chianca v. Google Products. “My client alleges that Google Products exposed him to merchandise well beyond his ability to afford, resulting in extreme and unanticipated debt. He is suing for funds to pay for the items purchased, including a 72-inch HDTV ($1,499), a Brunswick pool table ($2,999) and a Jura-Capresso Impressa Z6 Automatic Coffee and Latte Maker ($3,229). Especially that last one.”

That’s it so far, but I’m sure I can come up with a few others — and I figure if I can follow Rosenberg’s lead and get these into court fast enough, I can collect before Google gets its act together in the disclaimer department. Otherwise I might have to find someone else to sue.

I’m thinking Mel Gibson is probably my best bet.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. 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, July 28, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wedneday: Westboro Protesters Don Bikinis, Tights At Comic-Con

SAN DIEGO (CAP) - More than 100 protesters from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church converted to the "dark side" while protesting this year's Comic-Con event, trading their fanny packs and "GOD HATES AMERICA" t-shirts for metal bikinis and bright red tights.

"I can't believe I ever had a problem with these people," said Shirley Phelps-Roper of Topeka, Kansas, daughter of the church's founder, Fred Phelps, and organizer of the Comic-Con protest. "I would have done this years ago if I knew it felt this good to wear a Wonder Woman bustier.

"Er, I mean in public," she added.

The controversial church is best known for protesting against homosexuals, and had announced that Comic-Con, which spotlights the latest in comic books and science fiction/fantasy entertainment, was a natural target.

"A God-fearing heterosexual person wouldn't be caught dead in form-fitting Spandex tights that show off the bulges of their nether regions," said Fred Phelps prior to the protest. "And we all know about what's going on between Batman and Robin, whom God hates."

But many of the protesters have apparently reconsidered, putting down their "GOD HATES NERDS" signs and picking up Superman capes and Jedi robes at the urging of the science fiction fans in attendance.

"Comic-Con is all about fun and love and individuality, not hate," noted Sarah Milbaum, one of over 300 women at the convention dressed as "Slave Leia" in a gold metal bikini. "Gay, straight, bi ... As long as you have a slavish, possibly socially isolating devotion to something geeky, you're welcome."

Then, in an effort to show solidarity with the gays and lesbians who've been targets of Westboro protests, Milbaum tried to make out with another Slave Leia, Lisa Funkhauser, but the two wound up bumping heads instead.

"That's what I get for not wearing my glasses!" declared Milbaum, emitting a braying laugh not unlike Arnold Horshack from the 1970s television series Welcome Back, Kotter.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Bristol Palin Dumps Levi For Old Spice Guy

WASILLA, ALASKA (CAP) - In what appears to be the result of a bizarre misunderstanding, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol - fresh off her reconciliation with her baby's father, Levi Johnston - has dumped Levi in favor of Isaiah Mustafa, a.k.a. the Old Spice Guy.

"I thought I still loved Levi, but after finding out that Old Spice Guy was interested in me ... like, it's all I've been able to think about," Bristol Palin told US Weekly. "Of all the big black men I've been with, he's definitely the hottest."

But apparently Bristol's impression that Mustafa had feelings for her resulted from her misinterpretation of a recent Old Spice Guy video, one of many spoof clips directed at both celebrities and fans.

"In response to Bristol Palin's Tweet about my pectoral muscles ... Well, hello Bristol Palin," says Mustafa in the video, wearing only his trademark white towel. "I too admire my pectoral muscles, but not as much as I admire your sexy aura, which shines brighter than the hottest sun. Please know that I consider you among my dearest and closest Internet friends, and I will love you, always." Then he beats a pinata with a petrified fresh-water fish.

"He put it right out on YouTube for everyone to see," Palin told US, clearly swooning. "I can't wait to start making little brown babies with him."

According to sources close to the Palin family, Sarah Palin was originally relieved to hear Bristol had dumped Levi for the Old Spice Guy, but she had apparently been thinking of the Old Spice sailor from the company's 1971 television commercial.

"Oh, he was one sexy sailor man, you betcha," wrote Palin in her syndicated newspaper column. "He reminded me of Todd but with more hair, and ya know, more knotical [sic], like."

Friends of Palin indicated that she'd still prefer the new Old Spice Guy over Johnston, and has resolved that if Bristol and Old Spice Guy are to marry, she's prepared to just pretend that he's "very tan."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, July 15, 2010

COLUMN: Kids force you to face the music

If you’ve ever been the parent of a toddler, you’ve probably experienced the urge to take Barney the Dinosaur, or each member of The Wiggles, or that marginal singer who took the gig singing “99 Favorite Nursery Rhymes” to keep from starving, and smother them to death under a Dora the Explorer pillow. Never fear: It’s very common, and no jury in the land would convict you.

It’s tempting to count the minutes until your kids grow out of the phase when this kind of music is their main entertainment option, but as more experienced parents will always tell you, you shouldn’t rush things — first of all, it won’t be long before every look they give you betrays their belief that their actual parents had been forced to sell them as babies to a roving pack of simpletons.

And in this case, beware that Barney the Dinosaur gives way to the likes of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. If you don’t know who these two are, picture the Stepford children that used to hang around with Barney, and then imagine them as if they went through the trampy makeover that Olivia Newton-John got at the end of “Grease.”

If you’re like me, you may have had this misguided idea that as your kids’ musical tastes began to mature, they’d switch to genres you’d find more palatable in your car or household — maybe even including some of the contents of your own music collection. Surely all those years of playing Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel or progressive rock from the early 1970s had an effect on them, at least subconsciously.

And it turns out you were right: It caused them to hate it.

Sure, I see people with their 8-year-olds at Springsteen concerts now, but they’re the exception; I suspect they’re part of some obscure Mormon splinter sect practicing their brainwashing techniques. Most kids are probably like mine, who view the idea of a Springsteen concert as a sort of sixth circle of hell, like the island in “Pinocchio” where the kids get turned into donkeys.

No, instead they’ve somehow gotten into their heads a penchant for bubblegum pop and dance music. I can blame my daughter’s affection for Miley on Disney’s ubiquitous marketing machine — after all, I’m just one man. But how both she and my son fell for the Black Eyed Peas is beyond me; I rarely let them listen to Kiss 108 for more than the minute it takes to figure out we’re listening to a song about some activity I don’t even want my kids to know exists until they’re in their 20s.

The also don’t get the idea of volume — not loudness, but capacity. I recently helped my daughter load her new iPod Nano, which holds 2,000 songs, and she was extremely picky about which tracks to include.

“Why would I want to put on a whole bunch of songs I’ll never listen to?” she asked.

“That’s the whole idea!” I responded, waving the sleek purple device in front of her face. “The whole point of the iPod is to have hundreds of songs you’ll never listen to! But you could listen to them if you wanted to.” That’s when I got the simpletons look.

I guess kids will always rebel against their parents’ musical tastes, but even if I like guitar rock and they like auto-tuned dance tracks, I figure the fact that we’re all appreciating some kind of music is cause for hope. And that’s not to say there isn’t any common ground, either.

For instance, we all hate Barney now.

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 To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wedneday: Doctors Recommend Against Lady Gaga-ectomies

NEW YORK (CAP) - Doctors are warning that teenage girls are putting themselves at risk if they use certain increasingly popular procedures to emulate singer Lady Gaga, such as hair sculpting, eye stretching and thigh elongating.

"All of these procedures are completely unnecessary and carry with them health risks that teenage girls lack the maturity to consider," said Dr. Bentley Worthington, chief medical officer at New York's SDN Medical Center, who also questioned the integrity of doctors who perform the services. "I know I personally would not perform a thigh elongation on anyone under 18, at least not without a convincing note from a parent or guardian."

That procedure, which involves removing fat and cellulite from thighs and stretching the remaining muscle and cartilage to mimic Lady Gaga's stick-thin appendages, is one of the most invasive, and has already resulted in serious complications for a 16-year-old girl from Moonachie, N.J.

"I was only supposed to gain two inches to my thighs, three tops," explained a teary Caitlin Rogers, whose thighs were overstretched during the procedure, leaving the formerly 5-foot-2 sophomore class treasurer a towering 5-10 1/2.

"And I can barely walk on these things," she added, gesturing to her skinny legs, which have become so wobbly that it's jeopardized her after-school position as a cashier at the Lehman Brothers Discount Clothing Outlet.

The doctor who performed that procedure, Dr. Cornelius Patch, declined to comment for this article, but in a prepared statement noted that he waived his fee for the procedure, and also did not charge Rogers for surgically attaching a giant blonde bow made of human hair.

While that's an extreme case, health professionals warn that even more relatively simple procedures carry potential problems. Doctors point to the fad that started the faux Gaga craze, "circle" contact lenses that give eyes an artificial "doe-eyed" look like the one the singer wore in her Bad Romance video. An increasing number of girls are making the look permanent via eye-stretching surgery involving a laser and tiny eyeball-enlarging clamps that must remain in place for two weeks to work properly.

The result, in addition to corneal abrasions and blinding infections, is "an entire generation of girls who look like Bratz dolls," according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

"I've talked to high school classes, and I tell you it's downright creepy, all those tremendous eyeballs staring back at you," said Duncan. "The only plus side is it takes attention away from their trampy outfits."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, July 01, 2010

COLUMN: The future according to you (and Pew)

OK, I’ve finally decided on my new career, if and when the only remaining newspaper is sealed in glass in the Smithsonian Institute, next to Fonzie’s jacket. I’m going to pursue a position at the Pew Research Center, where they get to think up questions to ask average Americans, and then sit around high-fiving each other over how nutty the answers are. Also, I suspect they might be drunk.

Backing up my theory is a poll the center released last week, featuring predictions about the near future made by “the majority of Americans.” This despite the fact that I’m pretty sure the majority of Americans couldn’t even tell you what’s coming up next in their Netflix queue. (For instance, I had no recollection of adding all those Meg Ryan movies to mine, and you can’t prove that I did.)

Seems to me they’d want to poll people with actual working knowledge of what might happen, like scientists, or psychics, or the next president of the United States, Sarah Palin. I’m assuming that’s whom the 89 percent that predict a female president are referring to, particularly given that the other 11 percent have moved to Canada.

Instead, they ask average people who seem to base most of their opinions about the future on the “Terminator” movies. For instance, 81 percent think that computers will soon be able to converse like humans, which may or may not lead to the massive world war that 58 percent of respondents are anticipating. At the very least it should lead to computers gossiping and getting into pointless arguments with each other, just like humans but cooler, because they’ll have lasers.

In addition to World War III, many people pointed to the likelihood that we’ll be blown up by terrorists and/or that China will take over as the world’s superpower, meaning your Mandarin-to-English phrase book will finally come in handy. And 31 percent think the earth will be hit by an asteroid — you can tell who those respondents are by looking for the people blowing their 401Ks on beer and chocolate.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: Many respondents predict that it won’t be long before extinct animals are brought back by cloning, we find evidence of life on other planets and science develops a cure for cancer. Of course, since these people have no science background that’s mostly wishful thinking; they would probably also predict a future in which the entire population of the earth becomes good-looking. And granted the alternative would be disturbing, i.e. that we all still look like we do now.

It’s possible that these polls are better at gauging public opinion than at prognosticating. For instance, it’s telling that while 83 percent of Democrats are concerned about global warming, only 48 percent of Republicans are. This despite the fact that global warming could melt the icecaps and release the frozen cavemen riding dinosaurs that God put there when He made the earth 6,000 years ago. (Just ask President Palin.)

What’s most troubling, though, is that the number of people optimistic about the future is down 20 percent from 1999. While that makes sense for those of us in the print newspaper industry (which 64 percent of people feel will disappear by 2050), I think the rest of you should buck up! We should just all promise to get along, be productive and do our part to ensure a happier, healthier future.

Our computer overlords wouldn’t want it any other way.

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.”