Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Obama Names George W. Bush Top Advisor On Libya

WASHINGTON (CAP) - Faced with mounting criticism over his decision to commit American troops to the international military action against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, President Barack Obama has tapped former President George W. Bush to serve as his primary advisor on the conflict.

"We are assigning U.S. forces to a dangerous mission in a Muslim nation that poses no real threat to us, but whose instability could mire us in an expensive, pointless conflict for years to come," said Obama. "I though, who knows more about that than President Bush?"

Bush, reached by CAP News at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, admitted he was surprised when he first got the call.

"But that's mainly because when Laura said Obama was on the phone, I got him mixed up with Osama again," said Bush, chuckling. "When I first retired, [Bin Laden] used to call and taunt me sometimes ... Still want me dead or alive, you dumb infidel? - that kind of thing. But it turned out to be [former White House press secretary] Scotty McClellan trying to gaslight me."

But Bush said he was more than happy to heed the current president's call, saying he's already offered Obama some advice on the situation in Libya.

"For one thing, I would have declared Mission Accomplished days ago," said Bush. "Then I would have gone on vacation for a few weeks, you know, just to keep everybody distracticated."

Bush also advised Obama to start wearing a flight suit whenever possible. "A nice green one with the belts and straps and all the doohickeys," said Bush. "America loves doohickeys."

He then added, "I still wear mine around the ranch sometimes and give the cattle little inspirational decitations. We have seen the end of major grazing operations! That kind of thing."

Bush's appointment as an Obama advisor has prompted criticism from some quarters, however, including from another former president, Bill Clinton.

"People don't seem to remember that President Bush grossly mishandled the Iraq war, and is on record as having completely forgotten about it for a period of several months during his presidency," noted Clinton. "And he's been a huge disappointment to his father, my best friend."

[See the rest at CAP News.]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Dropkick Murphys Singer Has Live Badger Removed From Throat

BOSTON (CAP) - Following his collapse at a Dropkick Murphys concert at the House of Blues recently, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital treating singer Ken Casey removed a full-grown badger from a cavity that had formed in the rear of his throat.

"It was a ferret badger, which is the smallest of the badger species," said Dr. Hans Krasnal of Mass General. "But you still wouldn't want one in there if you could help it."

Krasnal says that badger infestations were actually quite common in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the animals were a major staple in the diets of Native Americans and colonists.

"It's much more rare today, but certainly not unheard of," Dr. Krasnal added, guessing that Casey may have picked up his badger while traveling abroad in Ireland in the mid-'90s, possibly during a particularly intense bender.

"You usually have to be pretty tanked for the little bugger to get in there without you noticing," said Dr. Krasnal.

Voice experts say the badger probably goes a long way toward explaining Casey's vocals on Dropkick Murphys songs like "I'm Shipping Up To Boston." Critic James Tate of described Casey's vocal style, in a review of 2005's The Warrior's Code, as "sounding as if he's got a live badger down there."

"I meant it as a compliment at the time," said Tate this week when contacted at Boston magazine, where he is now a home and garden columnist. "Who knew I was being so literal?"

Doctors have said that Casey is expected to make a full recovery, although his voice will likely never be the same. Casey's vocal coach, Mel Kulick of the Berklee College of Music, says some initial voice therapy sessions indicate Casey now sounds like a cross between Josh Groban and Barry Manilow.

"And a little bit of Enya ... I definitely hear Enya in there," said Kulick.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, March 17, 2011

COLUMN: To bee or not to (spelling) bee

I have now been through three elementary school spelling bees, two with my daughter and one with my son, and each time I’ve wondered how this age-old tradition has managed to survive the movement to eradicate all vestiges of competition from American childhood. Clearly somebody’s been paid off.

Think about it: We don’t let kids count goals or runs scored, and routinely award them with trophies simply for showing up (or, if they don’t show up, we bring the trophies to their house later to show them there are no hard feelings). And yet the spelling bee continues, wherein we march 9-year-olds in front of an auditorium full of people and attempt to make them look stupid. It’s refreshing.

Actually, I’m kind of torn over the whole spelling bee concept. I’ve never been one of these parents who think that “everybody’s a winner,” which is a concept I think can be detrimental once a child grows up and discovers that life is all about being stomped on by the actual winners, who got that way because they inherited money, or are from China. On the other hand, spelling bees seem particularly cruel, especially on the parents, who spend the entire event sweating profusely and silently reliving their own childhood humiliations. (Er, not me. Other people.)

It turns out that for most parents, there is nothing good about a spelling bee. Besides being a nervous wreck, there’s all that time spent praying that someone else’s poor schmoe of a kid will be the first one to get eliminated, so you can put off the dashing of your own son or daughter’s childhood innocence for at least one more day. Eventually this leads to an unseemly feeling of glee when one of your child’s competitors gets stuck with encyclopedia or cupboard or delicatessen.

In fact, I’m not proud of it, but I think most parents would agree that it’s hard to get through a spelling bee without thinking of that famous quote by Gandhi: “The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears.” Wait, that was actually Genghis Khan. But you get the idea.

As for the kids themselves, they run the gamut when it comes to reactions. You have the ones who have smiles on their faces the whole time, who are clearly delusional, and the ones who look like they’ve just gone through a question-and-answer session with Dick Cheney, who understand the gravity of their predicament. Then there are those who flub a word they were sure they knew, and their faces drop when they hear the bell, like poor Travis when he finds out Old Yeller has rabies.

On the plus side, pretty much all the participants who get through one of these things alive seem to feel pretty good about themselves afterwards, even if they get a word wrong eventually. True, both of my kids have been blessed with some mercifully easy words — my son got “kid” the other night, and had to ask the moderator if that’s what she actually said, in case she was trying to slip in some obscure homophone that sounds like “kid” but is actually spelled with an arcane series of unexpected h’s.

They’ve also gotten some tough ones, but my son said even though he had the jitters at the start, “It got easier every time I got up there.” By the end — he finished seventh — he was a model of poise, looking completely at home in front of a cafetorium full of people, and that alone was worth the effort no matter how far he got.

As for the parents … We’ll be home recovering if you want to stop by to deliver our trophies.

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.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Spelling Bees To Start Allowing Misspelled Words

WASHINGTON (CAP) - The Scripps Howard Spelling Bee, in response to complaints about pressure on young participants, has announced it will start allowing students to misspell words in the competition beginning next year.

"We've had many complaints from parents and psychologists who say being ejected from a spelling bee can be a traumatic experience for a child," said Bee Chairwoman Sally Fredericks, noting that the organization received a petition with more than 50,000 signatures from the American Parents United Against Competition (APUAC).

"It does horrible things to children's self-esteem when they spell a word wrong," noted APUAC spokesperson Mitzy Bennington. "If they're allowed to spell words incorrectly without getting ejected from the competition, they get the experience of participating without all those bad feelings that come along with not winning.

"It's important that we leave these children with the impression that they're smart and important and special, even if they're not," noted Bennington.

Under the new rules, participants will each be given a word to spell. The moderator will not indicate whether they spelled it correctly or incorrectly, saying instead, for example, "Great job, Johnny! You're the best!" Then the participant will return to his or her seat.

After five rounds of play using those guidelines, the event will be declared completed and each participant will be awarded a trophy exactly the same size and weight of all the other participants' trophies.

"This way every student goes home feeling like they participated in something special, even if they're not sure exactly what," said Bennington.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Up, up ... and away??

And this, my friends, is why science was invented: To bring the "Up" house to life.

Now, if only science could find a way to make us all fat and screen-obsessed, like in "Wall-E." Oh wait, we're already all set on that.

More details on the "Up" house at

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

COLUMN: Charlie fired? This resume has a certain Sheen

A resume and cover letter we received from a recently unemployed job seeker had a strangely familiar ring to it. See the letter, and our response, for yourself:

Hello Mr. Chianca:

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m writing because I am recently unemployed and am interested in seeking a job at your fine organization. I trust you’re aware of some of my previous experience as a film actor, sitcom star and Vatican assassin warlock, not necessarily in that order.

Unfortunately I cannot provide references from my most recent employer, Chaim Levine, because I violently hate him and he’s a stupid, stupid little man and a punk. However, I can assure you that I’ve spent the last decade effortlessly and magically converting his tin cans into gold, and I’m confident I can do the same thing for your tin cans.

As far as what else I can add to your organization, I’m an F-18 and I will destroy you in the air and I will deploy my ordnance to the ground. I mean that in a literal sense, in much the same way that I mean it when I say I partake in strafing runs in my underwear before my first cup of coffee. I can also type 70 words per minute.

My other skills and experience include the following:

  • Magic and poetry at my fingertips most of the time, and this includes naps;
  • Brain fires in a way that is perhaps not from this terrestrial realm;
  • Fire-breathing fists;
  • Tiger blood;
  • Converting tin cans into gold (mentioned previously);
  • Winning, duh.

If I do come to work for your organization, there are a few requirements I’d request you provide in order to maximize the effectiveness of my performance. Chief among these is two (2) personal assistants (female, in their early 20s) who will share my office space, paid sufficiently so that they will leave when I’m done with them. I’m not big on small talk.

The assistants should be prepared to spend time locked in the rest room should I need privacy while forcibly redecorating the office. Also, I’ll need a briefcase in which to carry my personal effects and business paraphernalia (at least five kilos worth).

You may have heard of some indiscretions attributed to me in my previous positions. I admit, like everyone else, I have had some issues in my personal and professional relationships. However, unlike everyone else, I have Adonis DNA. Everyone else can lay down with their ugly wives in front of their ugly kids and look at their loser lives. Boom! Winning.

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that I have much to add to your organization (poetry, fists, blood, gold, etc.), and if you offer me a position, I can assure you that I will wrap both arms around it, and love it violently, and defend it violently through violent hatred. Again, literally.

I look forward to hearing from you. If you need to get in touch with me, I’ll be in the Bahamas with a bikini model, an adult film star and my ex-wife.

“Carlos Estevez”
(Real name available upon request)

Dear Carlos:

I regret to inform you that we do not have any openings at this time. However, if we have need in the future for someone with your particular skills, such as typing, strafing and/or redecorating, we will definitely be in touch. However, I must warn you that our company does require mandatory drug testing to see if you are on Charlie Sheen.

Chaim Chianca

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.”

Saturday, March 05, 2011

COLUMN: Glad that Bob Seger is still the same

Back in the early ’90s I met a guy whom you might refer to as an inveterate hipster. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses, had an excellent leather jacket and declared that Bob Seger represented everything — everything! — that was wrong with popular music.

As I recall, he didn’t elaborate — inveterate hipsters are big declarers but not especially prolific elaborators — but I can assume he was of the opinion that, by releasing a series of derivative piano- and saxophone-laden “rock” albums about rocking and being nostalgic about rocking, not necessarily in that order, Seger was single-handedly barring the way for other artists who might otherwise be prone to introducing something vaguely original into the musical zeitgeist. (Hipsters love saying “zeitgeist.”)

My initial response, as a Seger fan, was to be offended. Frankly, I found the guy’s music mostly irresistible; his live mash-up of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and “Little Queenie” was like a duck-walk on steroids, and forever established Seger in my mind as a dedicated bearer of the rock ’n’ roll torch — one of “Chuck’s children,” as Seger himself referred to Berry’s disciples in “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”

It probably didn’t hurt that I picked up my affection for Seger from my father, who played Seger’s “Stranger In Town” LP early and often during the late ’70s. My dad had a proclivity for keeping up with popular music; Seger, The Eagles and Rod Stewart were all favorites, despite his advanced age — 35, give or take — and it separated him from most of my friends’ parents, whose stations always seemed tuned to The Music Of Your Life, whatever (and whosever life) that was.

(An aside: I remember with some pride the time my friend Mark heard the opening chords of Journey’s “Escape” album and bounded up our stairs to find my father studiously reading the lyrics on the record sleeve; Mark was both delighted and flummoxed to find an adult who had somehow managed to avoid fogey-hood — it was like coming across a four-leaf clover, or a unicorn.)

Despite all that history, though, I’ll admit that eventually, not long after the hipster encounter —maybe because of it? — I found myself losing faith in Seger’s rock bona fides. Looking back, I had to admit that as the ’80s wound down, each of Seger’s albums had started to sound vaguely — OK, exactly — like the album before, just a little less so. (Quick, tell me the difference between “The Fire Inside” and “Like a Rock.” See?) In 1995 he released “It’s A Mystery,” which went gold despite the fact that nobody remembers it, and then he went on an 11-year sabbatical, and I can’t say I missed him that much.

At least I didn’t think I did, until 2006, when he released “Face the Promise,” and I was surprised to find myself inexplicably thrilled. I thought I had long relegated Seger to the pile of artists whom I had moved on from some time after college, right next to Billy Joel, Phil Collins and squarely on top of Huey Lewis. But I got the new album anyway, and though his rasp was a little croakier, it was as appealing as ever — and lo and behold, at age 60, his once-premature nostalgia finally made perfect sense.

It was also enough to make me revisit his old catalog, and wouldn’t you know it, it held up. Sure, “The Horizontal Bop” is just silly (if not downright juvenile), and we’re best to forget “Shakedown,” his biggest pop hit and only one without the Silver Bullet Band, whom we can only assume he dismissed because he was embarrassed about singing what should have been a Glenn Frey song. But “Sunspot Baby” still has that same bluesy drive; the live “Katmandu” retains its appealing frenzy; and the hits — “Night Moves,” “Against the Wind,” “Hollywood Nights” — evoke, well, yes, nostalgia, but also affection for an era when radio-friendly music at least tried to rock and roll.

The reason I bring all this up, of course, is that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band recently announced another national tour, and he’ll be bringing his creaky 65-year-old self to Boston’s TD Garden in April. Wherever that hipster is today, he might say that the fact Seger still sells out arenas, where aging fans can wear their too-tight concert T-shirts and shake their fists to his bland rock retreads, represents everything that’s wrong with popular music today.

Tickets go on sale Saturday. Maybe my dad would like to go with me.

Read my musings on rock music at

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: CBS May Replace Charlie Sheen With Mel Gibson

LOS ANGELES (CAP) - CBS has announced that rather than cancel its hit comedy Two And A Half Men, producers have begun holding auditions to replace embattled star Charlie Sheen. But critics are questioning whether the actors they're considering, including troubled film star Mel Gibson, might actually make the situation worse.

CBS is looking to replace Sheen after he slammed show creator Chuck Lorre in several interviews last week. Although the show has survived Sheen's past benders, rants, drug arrests and alleged abuse of women including his wives, apparently calling the show's creator a "punk" was a step too far, leading Lorre and CBS to shut down production.

"I can live with a star who gets caught with a suitcase full of cocaine or smacks women or locks a porn star in a hotel toilet while he wrecks the room, but not one who hurts my feelings," said Lorre, tearing up.

Rather than put cast and crew out of work, however, Lorre and CBS have begun auditioning people to take Sheen's place. But a list of actors who've performed screen tests, leaked yesterday to, suggests that the producers may not have learned their lesson.

"I can't help but wonder if Mel Gibson is really going to be an improvement over Sheen," said Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales. "At least Sheen is only borderline anti-Semitic."

Gibson's screen test, posted in part by TMZ, would seem to justify Shales' concerns. At one point, Gibson, portraying Charlie and Alan's "Uncle Mel from Australia," is seen reading lines with Jon Cryer as Alan. A partial transcript appears below:

CRYER: Uncle Mel, I'm speechless.
GIBSON: Are you a Jew? The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.
CRYER: Uh ... The line is "silent admiration is all I ask."
GIBSON: I'll put you in a f--ing rose garden, you c--. Because I'm capable of it.
CRYER: Um ... Can he maybe read with Holland Taylor instead?

Other potential cast additions include Lindsay Lohan, who auditioned for the role of Charlie and Alan's slutty cousin Belinda; and shock jock Howard Stern as their new wacky neighbor, Howard Stern.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]