Wednesday, January 26, 2011

COLUMN: The dog that got away, again

Picture it: It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it’s 16 degrees, and I’m standing in a ski jacket and plaid pajama bottoms on my driveway, which at this wintry moment looks like a footpath that might be used by Bhutanese yak herders. In one hand is a long yellow leash attached, conspicuously, to nothing, and in the other a half-empty box of Milk Bone dog biscuits, which I’m shaking up and down like some kind of pathetic cardboard maraca.

Halfway down the driveway is our 3-year-old yellow Lab, Penny, staring at me like I’ve gone completely out of my mind.

The hardest thing to reconcile, while swearing under my breath and fruitlessly shaking my Milk Bones as Penny tears off in the other direction, is why this dog never passes up the opportunity to bolt. After all, the house she’s trying so desperately to escape contains heat, food and unfettered access to any number of lumpy couches. Is the lingering possibility of finding a dead animal carcass really so compelling? (Apparent answer: Yes.)

I figure this is the type of thing you have to grapple with if you live with not one, not two, not three, but (wait for it) four canine companions, which happens to be exactly the situation I find myself in. And these are not fit-in-your-purse, keep-them-inside-if-there-are-hawks-around kinds of dogs — these are Labs and goldens, the kind who will collapse on your bed like a four-legged sack of cement, fixing your comforter in place like spikes through a circus tent.

For the record, my wife, Theresa, is the true dog lover in the family — she loves dogs in a very real, spiritual way that she considers more than worth any effort she has to put in to care for them. Whereas I tend to love dogs in more of a theoretical sense, in that way where you get choked up at the end of “Homeward Bound,” but you’d rather not be cleaning up after anything that comes out of them, or chasing them through snow drifts in your pajamas.

My family did have a dog when I was a kid — a large and unfortunately aggressive boxer named Rocky, whose tenure as a pet did not end well — but our current crowded household (I’ll tell you about the three cats later) has led me to consider, as I’ve never done before, why we get so attached to our pets. After all, they’re messy, they’re expensive, they do things that make you want to strangle them, and, unlike your kids, they aren’t obligated to take care of you when you get decrepit.

I guess maybe Penny’s personality holds the answer to that question. Her distinguishing trait is to greet everything she meets, be it growling, cowering or yipping, with loving and earnest licks to the face. She’s a diplomat and a peacekeeper, like Jimmy Carter with a 6-inch tongue, but fortunately not nearly as smart — for instance, after chasing her pointlessly through the snow for half an hour on Sunday, I simply opened the door to Theresa’s car and she promptly jumped into the driver’s seat, like a teenager awaiting her first lesson.

I dove in next to her and snapped the leash on, and she lovingly and earnestly licked my face as if I’d just rescued her from the brink of death. Yes, I could have strangled her just minutes before, but all was quickly forgiven — it’s hard to stay mad at someone when you’re relieved they didn’t get themselves run over by a snowplow. And even if Penny’s prone to taking off, I admit it’s flattering when she showers me with licks of love when she comes back.

So much so that I’m almost able to forget about what may have been in her mouth while she was gone.

Note: The above is the first in a series of columns I'll be doing this year on life among pets. Follow them at my new blog, The Longest Tail.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: MTV Shocked At Flap Over Show On Naked Fornicating Teens

NEW YORK (CAP) - MTV executives say they are surprised that their new show Skins, featuring actual teen actors engaging in steamy sexual activity and drug use, is generating controversy among viewers and advertisers.

"Skins is a show that addresses real-world issues confronting teens in a frank way," said MTV spokesman Joshua Kepnis. "In order to do that concept justice, we had to film amazingly attractive naked teenagers performing simulated sex acts on each other, and we're shocked - shocked! - that our honest treatment of the subject is causing such a ruckus.

"Well, the sex acts are probably simulated," he added. "You'll have to watch and see for yourself on Monday nights at 10 Eastern time. I'm just saying."

The show, which some say may violate federal child pornography statutes, has raised ire for scenes that depict the teen actors, aged 15-19, disrobing and climbing in to bed together, running naked down the street in an aroused state, and having loud, graphic group sex after one teenage boy arrives at a girls' slumber party to deliver a pizza.

"You know, a realistic portrayal of how teens actually live," said Kepnis.

As for the pornography charges, "We are confident that Skins will not only comply with all applicable legal requirements, but also with our responsibilities to our viewers," he said. "This is by no means child pornography, and believe me, I would know."

But MTV's disclaimer was apparently not good enough for Taco Bell, which pulled its ads from the show last week.

"The typical Taco Bell customer does not want to turn on the TV and see young, skinny, attractive naked people," explained Taco Bell spokesmen Greg Francis. "That's the only thing that makes them feel worse about themselves than sitting at home alone eating takeout Gorditas."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Tobacco Execs Annoyed That First Cigarette Causes Cancer

WASHINGTON (CAP) - A new study that says the genetic damage that leads to cancer sets in within 30 minutes of your first cigarette has left tobacco company executives miffed, insiders report.

"Well, here we go again," said one vice president at a large American tobacco company, during a joint interview with several colleagues given over speakerphone, under the condition of anonymity. "Now we've got to come up with another damned cartoon character."

"That could take the whole weekend," another executive added, noticeably peeved.

The new report, published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, shows that cancer-causing chemicals form rapidly in the body just 15 to 30 minutes after smoking a single cigarette.

"It's disturbing, to say the least," said Dr. Francis Spitznagel of the Pew Research Center, who worked on the study. "It turns out the idea of just having one cigarette is similar to the concept of just drinking one bottle of Draino, or just huffing one canister of radon.

"Although you'd be surprised at how often both of those things happen," he added.

The study also found that prolonged exposure to so-called "tobacco rays," which cigarettes emit through their packaging, can eventually turn humans into gray-skinned, sallow-cheeked troglodytes. "Which would explain most of the country's convenience store clerks," noted Spitznagel.

Spitznagel said the study stopped short of reporting even more severe findings, but that further research would probably soon yield conclusive proof of the long-rumored "Spielberg Effect," wherein one puff of your first cigarette causes your entire face to melt off, like the Nazi at the end of Raiders Of the Lost Ark.

"That's much more rare, of course," Spitznagel added. "One in 1,000, tops."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

COLUMN: Just a little off in 2010

Every year I hear from people asking why I continue to offer up annual predictions, given that all it does is prove I have a complete lack of insight when it comes to current events, or have not been paying attention, or both. And I always have the same response: Why do you insist on bothering me during “Jersey Shore”?

With that in mind, here’s a look back on my annual predictions from a year ago. As you will see, my streak continues.

1) “This will be the year we stop getting so hung up on alternative energy and admit that you just can’t go wrong with safe, reliable oil. Drill baby drill!” Clearly I was a little off on this one, judging from the number of oil-stained hate letters I’ve gotten from turtles and egrets. But I was correct in my other oil-related prediction, namely that it would remain the home-heating method least likely to make your house explode.

2) “Facing evidence that the American public will never go for it and it would probably just make matters worse anyway, President Obama will abandon his plans to pass healthcare reform.” I’m taking credit for two out of three on this one.

3) “What’s that sound you hear? It’s the economy, roaring back to life!” OK, I might have been overzealous about that “roaring” part. I probably should have said, “creaking slowly and laboriously back to life, like an ancient lawnmower with a bum starter rope.”

4) “Enough with those stupid toys already — ‘Toy Story 3’ will be the biggest flop of the year.” Well, yes, it did wind up being the No. 1 movie of 2010, and the highest grossing animated film of all time. But in my defense, I didn’t really think it would flop in the first place — it was just a defense mechanism, because I knew it would probably make me sob like a little girl. OK, not “probably.”

5) “World Cup excitement will finally win over American audiences to the world’s most popular sport.” And it might have, too, if we weren’t so easily distracted by funnily named plastic horns. (“Listen! It made a silly noise!”)

6) “Charlie Sheen will finally clean up his act and be awarded the Mother Teresa Award by the St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art.” For some reason, like CBS and all those women who keep marrying him, I’ve refused to give up on Charlie Sheen. But apparently the St. Bernadette Institute doesn’t give the Mother Teresa Award to people who trap naked porn stars in their hotel bathrooms. It’s in the bylaws somewhere.

7) “People will realize that the Tea Party movement is misguided and nutty, and as a result it will play no significant role in electoral politics in the mid-term elections.” I would like to go on the record that I was just joking about this, and I, for one, welcome our new Tea Party overlords.

8) “This will be the fifth straight year without a hit song by Train.” I thought I was pretty safe with this one. Curse you “Soul Sister” and your irresistible catchiness!

9) “The up-and-coming profession of the year will be mining, particularly in South American countries.” Well, events of the past year probably didn’t do anything to encourage more young people to pursue mining as a career option, other than in the towns where the choices are mining and starving to death (which, granted, is most of them). Still, things worked out pretty well in the end for the Chilean miners — one of them got to go to Graceland.

10) “Lady Gaga will appear in public wearing a dress made entirely out of meat.” I knew Lady Gaga wouldn’t let me down! That’s why next year, I predict she’s going to win the Mother Teresa Award.

Either her or that Snooki character.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Alan Thicke Warns Dead Birds Signify World's End

NEW YORK (CAP) - Growing Pains star Alan Thicke has declared recent incidents involving mysteriously dying birds and fish to be a sign of the end of the world, prompting mass panic and rioting throughout the globe.

The 63-year-old actor appeared on Anderson Cooper's CNN show to rebut assertions by his Growing Pains co-star Kirk Cameron that dead-animal incidents in Arkansas, Louisiana and Sweden did not indicate that doomsday was at hand. Cooper had asked Cameron to discuss the topic on his show because the former teen idol had starred in the Left Behind series about life after The Rapture, and because every scientist and theologian in the world was apparently unavailable.

Cameron had told Cooper that "it's really kind of silly to equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of end times theory," prompting Cooper to cock his eyebrow insouciantly. But appearing on Cooper's show last night, Thicke disagreed.

"The end is near!" asserted Thicke in that stuttery yet appealing Canadian cadence that audiences loved so dearly back when he was giving homespun advice to fictional children Mike, Ben, Carol and Crissie from 1985-1992.

"I don't care what Kirk says about it not meaning anything - he's just wrong," Thicke added. "Just like he was wrong when he rode a dirt bike that time he went camping with Boner, even though Maggie and I told him not to."

When Cooper - smirking slightly, not unlike whenever he had to preview his show's topic on Larry King Live - reminded Thicke that Growing Pains was a fictional show, Thicke responded, "Anderson, did I ever tell you I wrote the theme songs to both Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life?"

Thicke also pointed to last year's moving up of the famed atomic scientists' Doomsday Clock, although authorities claimed that was actually for Daylight Savings Time.

Speaking via satellite from Camp David, in a room that looked remarkably like the interior of a high-tech survival "ark" headed for the world's highest mountain range, President Barack Obama appealed for calm, siding with Kirk Cameron in the controversy.

"Just as I told you that NASA scientists had, uh, in no way determined that recent earthquakes indicated the imminent end of life on our planet, I also am not privy to any, you know, top-secret government information indicating that the dead birds and fish, uh, are a sign of a pending apocalypse," said Obama.

"Now if you excuse me, I have a very important meeting with the other heads of state who have been secreted to the survival ark under cover of darkness," Obama continued. "Uh, by which I mean, decided on a whim to visit me here at Camp David."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

AT LARGE: The Year in Fake News

In case you missed our extensive fake news coverage from 2010, below are some of the top not-real stories of the year. View the rest in our Fake News Archive and at CAP News.

January: Nation’s perverts endorse full-body airport scanners

RENO, Nev. (CAP) — America’s largest organized group of perverts and degenerates released a statement wholeheartedly supporting plans to install full-body scanning equipment in the nation’s airports.

“Any device that can prevent terrorism while at the same time allowing you to see through people’s clothes is A-OK in our book,” said Nigel Friedrichsen, president of the Reno-based National Association of Perverts (NAP). “That’s the definition of win-win. Um … At least our definition.”

The scanners have been highly controversial, with some civil libertarians claiming the devices violate travelers’ privacy by performing a “virtual strip search.”

“Yes, it’s true the scans do expose the full bodies of the travelers who pass through them,” noted Friedrichsen. “Screeners would be able to see, say, under the brassieres of women age 16 to 35. Or into their underpants … their frilly, lacey underpants … Mm … I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”

The effort is clearly gaining ground: Newark Liberty Airport has announced it will install the scanners later this year. “They should be online in a few months,” said Chris Keller, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, noting they would not be instituting the procedure if it weren’t absolutely necessary.

“If you’ve ever been to Newark, you know you wouldn’t want to see under these people’s clothes unless you had to,” he said. “If anything you’d want to put more clothes on them.”

April: Arizona immigration law cracks down on illegal Swedes

PHOENIX (CAP) — A new law that requires police to question people about their immigration status if they suspect they are in the country illegally should help curb the flow of illegal Irish, Polish and Swedish immigrants through U.S. borders, say supporters.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose tough crackdowns have made him a hero in the anti-illegal immigration community, pointed out that the new law would not unfairly target Mexicans, as some of charged.

“The law gives police authority to question anyone they think is here illegally, not just people of Hispanic origin,” he pointed out. “So if someone is very pale and blond, that might be cause to investigate as to whether they’re here illegally from Sweden.

“Or they might be an albino, in which case they might be here illegally from Albania,” he pointed out.

Besides skin shade and hair color, Arpaio said police will be trained to spot other characteristics that may denote whether someone might be in Arizona illegally. For instance:

  • Funny accent;
  • Sandals;
  • Eating croissants and/or strudel.

While the new law has drawn protests around the state and the country, it has some high-profile supporters, such as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill. “Just look around,” said Gov. Brewer, gesturing to the angry crowds gathered in protest around the Arizona Capitol. “There are a lot of very swarthy people there, and I think police need the freedom to question them as to their status.”

When pointed out that the people could just be tanned as a result of living in Arizona, Brewer responded, “Can I see your papers, please?”

June: Umpire who blew perfect game runs over pitcher

DETROIT (CAP) — Disgraced MLB umpire Jim Joyce made his second major faux pas in a week’s time, apparently hitting the gas instead of the brake in his 2002 Chevy Blazer and running over Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga as he left Comerica Park.

“I don’t know how it happened,” said a teary-eyed Joyce afterward. “I had a really good angle on the pedals, and I would have swore it was the brake.”

“I say many times: Nobody’s perfect,” Galarraga said from his bed at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, where he was being treated for multiple contusions. “Everybody makes a mistake. Unfortunately this one leave me out for the rest of the season, but I’m sure he no want to run me over, probably.”

Galarraga and Joyce of course made headlines when Joyce blew a crucial call at first base, robbing Galarraga of a perfect game with just one out to go in the ninth inning. The Detroit community has since rallied around Galarraga, with GM even presenting him with a brand new 2001 convertible.

“Unfortunately Jim [Joyce] backed into it at full speed after he run me over,” noted Galarraga, who said the car is now totaled. “But again, he just make a mistake. Like I make a mistake when I got out of bed that day, apparently.”

“I had a really good angle on [Galarraga’s car] in my rear view mirror, and I would have swore it wasn’t there,” said Joyce, dabbing his eyes and large, fu-manchu style moustache.

Meanwhile, calls to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call and award Galarraga his perfect game have yet to abate. Congressman John D. Dingell, D-Michigan, even introduced a Congressional Resolution urging Selig to do so.

“I figure if I can pull that off, maybe all the voters in Detroit will forget they don’t have jobs,” said Dingell.

September: Obama thanks pastor for not burning ‘my beloved Quran’

WASHINGTON (CAP) — In what some are calling a telling slip of the tongue, President Barack Obama Saturday thanked Gainesville, Fla. Minister Terry Jones for “not burning my beloved Quran, the true compilation of the verbal revelations given to the Holy Prophet Muhammad.”

He then paused for a moment and added, “Did I just say that out loud?”

Not surprisingly, Obama backtracked the next day, telling reporters he was just referring to the Quran’s importance to the Muslim religion, and not to his personal feelings about the book. “I certainly don’t ritually wash before I read it,” he noted. “Um, when I read it, that is. Which is never.”

He then pulled a copy of the King James Bible out of his desk drawer, and said, “If you don’t believe me, I’ll swear on a stack of these things — this holy book revered and read daily by us, you know, Christians.”

When reporters noted the Bible was still sealed in its plastic wrapper, Obama abruptly stopped taking questions, knelt on his hands and knees on the small rug in front of his desk to “find a lost contact lens,” muttered what some believe sounded like “Glory to my Lord Allah, the Most High Most Praiseworthy,” and left the room hurriedly.

Obama’s comments come in the wake of the weeks-long controversy over the Rev. Terry Jones’ plans to burn Qurans on Sept. 11 at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville. Jones scrapped the event at the last minute after a slew of calls asking him not to burn the books, including ones from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former President Jimmy Carter and hotel heiress Paris Hilton.

“Although we’re pretty sure Hilton was just trying to score some coke,” said Cpl. Tscharna Senn of the Gainesville Police Department.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

IN AND OUT 2010: Life in the USA


The iPad. Actually, these tablet computers are sort of in and out. They’re in because people have scooped them up by the millions, and they might revolutionize the way we interact with the Web. They’re out because I don’t have one, and saying that over and over again is the only I can keep from crying myself to sleep each night.

Smartphones are also in because using a phone just to talk to somebody is what the cavemen did right before bludgeoning the guy in the next cave with a giant stick. Just ask your 11-year-old.

2) Social media. Remember when that caveman bludgeoned that guy? Then he went out and socialized face-to-face with other human beings rather than interfacing with them via a social media platform. Cavemen are out, and so are other human beings.

Facebook is in, though — even movies about Facebook are in. But aren’t you glad you aren’t Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, now that you know that for all his billions, he’s kind of lonely? No, me either.

3) Cheap eats. As the economy slowly trickles back into a reasonable state of healthiness (reasonable states of healthiness are in, as long as the co-pay isn’t too high), people are still cutting back where they can. So even if they’re not doing fast food, because Happy Meals are evil (EEEEEVILLLLL!), people are at least sticking with food that moves at a fairly brisk pace and may come with a baguette.

Except for rich people, who are reportedly spending the entirety of their tax cut on foie gras.

4) Jeans that aren’t actually jeans. Denim has served us well for a good 150 years, so why we have to go messing with it now is beyond me. (The last thing we need is a repeat of the great acid wash debacle of 1983.) But for some reason jeggings are in, even though we’re pretty sure these jean-leggings actually prevent the blood from ever getting to your feet. Expect women to start tipping over any minute now.

More our speed are PajamaJeans, which are … wait, let me check my notes … Pajamas that look exactly like jeans! Meaning that from now on, whenever we wear our pajamas in public, fewer people will know.

5) Reading. Reading is back, baby! As long as you do it on a Kindle or an iPad or in little bursts on your phone while you’re waiting for the bus. Actual paper books are out, except to put under the leg of a crooked table. Try doing that with your Kindle, and you’ll be out $139.


1) Laptops and iPods. Now that everybody except me has an iPad, carrying around that tremendous, leg-crushing laptop seems downright quaint. As for that PC on your desk, this is the equivalent of the IBM computer that used to take up an entire room and required a team of engineers just to remove the other team of engineers who got trapped inside it looking for a missing punch card.

As for iPods, the ones that just hold music are completely useless since your phone can do that now. However, the iPod Touch is in because you can touch it. Touching is in. (Not you, Brett Favre.)

2) MySpace. If anyone remembers what this was, please message me on Facebook and let me know.

3) Demonizing pot. Now that marijuana is only sorta, kinda illegal, everyone is embarrassed about all those years spent referring to it as evil (EEEEEVILLLLL!) — not as evil as Happy Meals but still bad. Now, we realize our energies should be devoted elsewhere, like keeping kids from texting while driving, which is very much out. Texting while smoking pot will forever be in, though.

4) Baggy clothes. This is bad news for those of us who haven’t given up Happy Meals. We know who we are. These include the infamously shapeless “mom jeans,” although if that means Mom will be wearing jeggings from now on, we’re skipping Mother’s Day brunch this year.

5) Passing judgment. Yes, times are hard. But that just means it’s especially important we all stick together and avoid name-calling, jumping to conclusions and engaging in divisive activities. You know, such as arbitrarily declaring what’s in and what’s out.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

IN AND OUT 2010: Sports


1) Shaq. Have Boston and a slightly faded superstar ever embraced each other so enthusiastically? (Ben Affleck doesn’t count; he was born here.) Shaq has played for such teams as the Miami Heat, the — gag! — L.A. Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But now he’s a Celtic, and it seems this is what Shaq was always supposed to be. Well, besides being a Comcast spokesman with the guy who said “Bueller?”

2) Theo. Last year, it looked like Theo Epstein had gone off the rails, declaring the upcoming season a “bridge year” and signing an odd mélange of players who didn’t exactly have people running to buy the new jerseys. But this year, with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez wrapped up, he’s back to being the (36-year-old) boy genius. Unless, of course, the Sox don’t win the World Series next season — come on, it’s been four years, we’re getting antsy!

3) No-hitters. Is it us, or have these gotten easier? Maybe all those steroids wearing off have left the batters atrophied or partially blind or brain-addled. (Or all three.) Steroids are out.

Umpires, too, are in, except for the ones who blew calls over and over again in 2010, including the one who denied Armando Galarraga his perfect game. What? That’s all of them? OK, then: They’re ouuuuuuut!

4) Taking your shirt off and painting yourself your team colors. This never gets old.

5) Soccer. In the wake of the World Cup drama, this was the year soccer finally captured the hearts and minds of the American sports-viewing public, taking its place beside football and baseball as one of the most engrossing, captivating … Oh, who am I kidding? Soccer is still out. But vuvuzelas are in!


1) LeBron. Shaq is on top of the world, but the other big-name sports move hasn’t worked out quite as well. We’re talking to you, King James. LeBron’s “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” TV special was an unprecedented, self-made public relations disaster. The only thing that could have made it worse is if he ended it by opening Al Capone’s vault.

2) Upstanding All-American quarterbacks. Whether they’re serving probation for dog fighting (Michael Vick), on suspension for alleged sexual assault (Ben Roethlisberger) or texting their junk to anyone and everyone (Brett Favre and presumably almost everybody else in the NFL), quarterbacks are not looking good right now. Except for Tom Brady, of course, who is still a great American role model and Ugg spokesman, not necessarily in that order.

3) Red Sox “new” faces. Ah, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, we hardly knew ye. They became welcome fixtures after the Red Sox suffered more injuries than the cast of the Spider-Man musical, but as Theo puts together his newest would-be championship squad, they’ve been sent out of town. Sad but necessary, since being out of the playoffs — or not getting into them in the first place — is definitely out. (The Spider-Man musical: also out.)

4) Randy Moss. If there’s any major sports figure who had a greater “My God, what have I done?” moment than LeBron, it’s poor Randy, who at last blush was playing for … wait, let me check … ah, right, the Tennessee Titans. Maybe he’ll come back to the Patriots some day, if he ever starts catching balls again. Naaaaaaaaah.

5) Golf. That’s right, Tiger Woods didn’t just ruin his marriage, he took an entire sport with him. Men can’t even play the Tiger Woods videogames anymore without getting glares from their wives and girlfriends. Maybe Tiger should try a new endeavor … I’m thinking NFL quarterback.

TOMORROW: In and Out in Lifestyles