Tuesday, September 29, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Phillips Affair With 'Schneider' Suddenly Seems Less Creepy

HOLLYWOOD (CAP) - In the wake of Mackenzie Phillips' admission that she had a decade-long consensual relationship with her own father, most of the actress' fans agree that her long-rumored affair with co-star Pat Harrington, a.k.a. One Day At A Time handyman "Schneider," doesn't seem so bad anymore.

"I always thought that was wicked creepy - what was he, like three times her age?" said Janice O'Brien, 41, of Worcester, Mass., a longtime fan of the show. "But looking at it now, it doesn't seem like a big deal at all. AT ALL."

According to a flash poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, opinions have softened regarding much of Phillips' rumored youthful activity, including being shot up with heroin by her father, John Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas, and his associates, everyone from Mick Jagger to the guy who cleaned the pool at their Hollywood Hills mansion.

"I thought that was the most disgusting, unforgivable thing I'd ever heard," said Kenneth Roderson, 50, a social worker from Boulder, Colo., about the multitude of people who provided a young Phillips with heroin. "Now, meh, not so much."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

COLUMN: Just another roll of the die

I’ll be reaching my 41st birthday next week, which means of course that I’ll be thinking about the inescapable specter of my own impending mortality. And also, cake!

I would submit, though, that it’s not my fault the grim reaper weighs more heavily on my mind with each passing year. Blame my body, for deliberately exhibiting all these signs of aging. If it didn’t want me thinking about dying, it would be firmer, and more robustly haired.

But beyond that, it seems like everywhere I look there’s another one of these online “death calculators,” which analyze when you’re most likely to die, and from what. You’d think most people would rather not know — personally, I want my tombstone to read “He never knew what hit him” — but no: One site launched last month, DeathRiskRankings.com, got 3 million hits right out of the creaky, wrought iron gate.

“One of our tag lines is ‘Death has never been so much fun,’” site designer Paul Fischbeck told the Seattle Times, raising the obvious question of what some of their other tag lines might be. (“Death: It’s not just about decomposing anymore,” etc.).

So I input my own information into the calculator to determine what I might be most likely to succumb to, were it to happen in the next year. The results were predictably disturbing; for instance, of 3,097 deaths predicted, 239 are accidents, and seven are “Accidents-Other.” I’m assuming the “other” are the people who have vending machines fall on them when they’re trying to shake loose a jammed bag of Combos, which is exactly how I expect to go. Look for me on one of those forwarded e-mail lists soon, along with all the people who used their Zippo lighters to check for leftover jet fuel.

Seeing all the types of death that could be facing me this year was, frankly, more than a little depressing. But I felt a little better when I compared myself to a similar subject living in Alaska. While diseases are fewer there — owing no doubt to the cleaner atmosphere, at least until we start drilling — accidents are way off the charts, with 797 to Massachusetts’ 239. Since “Bear Attacks” doesn’t get a separate entry, I have to assume that’s what’s making up most of the difference, along with all the people that Sarah Palin mistakes for wolves from her helicopter.

But that’s not the only item that’s put death on my radar screen: Someone also sent me the book “When The Sun Goes Down” by Betty Breuhaus, which tells you how to plan your own funeral. This is sort of like planning your own surprise party, except at the funeral you don’t have to act shocked when they turn the lights on. “SURPRISE!”

Still, she offers some good ideas, like picking your own music — for instance, she suggests that instead of traditional hymns, some people might want something like “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie,” presumably for the small population of mourners who don’t already associate Kermit the Frog with tragic, untimely death.

She also recommends writing your own obituary, which I can definitely see doing, since who’s in a better position to inventory the ways in which you’ll be sorely missed? (“His hundreds of close friends and admirers will greatly miss his renowned, almost Brobdingnagian sense of modesty,” etc.)

But I’ve got to get there first, and I’ve decided the best way to figure out when and how that will happen is the same way we find out most things these days: via a Facebook quiz. And according to the Facebook “Death’s Time” quiz, I’ll pass away Feb. 13, 2034 at age 65 from being “sliced up by a dough mixer.” I’d say they could be wrong, but it’s hard to argue with a Facebook quiz — they were dead on when they determined what “Goodfellas” character I was. (“Karen’s mother.”)

Of course, my real hope is that I wind up living a long, productive life, no matter how it winds up at the end. The apparent preoccupation with “death calculators” aside, seems to me it’s better to focus on what we do while we’re here, try our best to be happy and healthy, and not obsess over how it could all end any minute in a hail of accidents, growths, poisonings and/or infectious and parasitic diseases.

Still, just in case, I’m going to start eating a lot more cake.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England; this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. 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, September 22, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Law Would Make It Legal To Spank Others' Kids

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CAP) - Citing the need for the community to come together in an effort to curb the poor behavior of unruly youngsters, the Ohio Legislature is close to passing a law that would make it legal to spank other people's children.

"Well, it's obvious the parents aren't going to do it," said state Sen. Harold Shotmeyer, R-Canton, who sponsored the bill. "Frankly, what we really should be passing is a bill that would allow us to smack the moms and dads around a little bit.

"But being able to give the kids a little whack when they deserve it is the next best thing," he said.

The bill comes in the wake of incident in Cincinnati where a woman was arrested after paddling another woman's child inside a Salvation Army store.

"By all accounts, the child was being very annoying," said Shotmeyer. "The other shoppers actually applauded when she bopped the kid.

"But the mother calls the police, and suddenly this poor woman has a police record," he explained. "What kind of country has this become where smacking another person's child makes you a criminal?

"I blame Obama," he added.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

COLUMN: Wanna be startin' ... a religion

I read a few years ago how a growing number of people had started listing “Jedi” as their religion on their census forms. This makes perfect sense as a religion — it’s a powerful force for good and it’s open to everyone, as long as your midichlorian levels are high enough. And if you know what midichlorians are, George Lucas has you exactly where he wants you.

Still, it was starting to feel like it was time for a new fake belief system to pop up. Which is why I’m happy to report that a brand-new religion, “Cult of Michael Jackson” — yes, that Michael Jackson — has officially opened up shop in the heart of Jerusalem. Well, actually it’s at an art gallery in Brooklyn, but I’m sure when you’re there it feels like Jerusalem.

“We are the world, and if you are ready, you can be part of one of the most elite societies on the entire planet Earth,” claims the Cult, and I’m hoping that motto works better for them than it has for Scientology. According to their press release, “Leaders of the Cult … fully believe that the world would be a better place if everyone took Michael Jackson’s words to heart.” His actions, meh, presumably not so much.

Now, in the interest of journalism, I did some serious research into this organization, by which I mean I visited its Web site. And after looking at it for a good five minutes, I’m still not sure if they’re serious. But I guess that doesn’t matter — the Rev. Sun Myung Moon probably didn’t think people were going to take him seriously at first either, and now he spends his weekends marrying entire stadiums full of people, many of whom were only there to watch the ball game.

The religion’s legitimacy is also evident in the fact that the Cult of Michael Jackson has a Facebook page and, as of this week, 369 fans. (Well, they said it was elite.) This is exactly how Jesus would have done it if he were starting out today: “Peter, tonight before the rooster crows you will click ‘Ignore’ on me three times,” etc.

I have to admit I’m a little skeptical, though. If you’re going to pick a recently deceased celebrity to base a religion on, why not go with someone like Walter Cronkite? It’s very easy to picture acolytes in dark blue suits going up to people in airports with little Cronkitism pamphlets, asking, “Would you like to know the way it is?”

But besides Michael Jackson’s questionable personal decisions — the chimp, the hyperbaric chamber, the behavioral issues that have already proven problematic to certain other religions — there’s the fact that, like much scripture, his words were often inscrutable. For instance, I just listened to “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” at imeem.com, and I could swear that these are the actual lyrics:

Blubber, is the fill enough?
Fever, to put your swaz in now;
Powder, is the post office,
That makes it happen,
In eggs no question marks;
Paul McCartney, is evil, EVIL!

Actually, I just made up that last part. But you get the idea.

Granted, the Web site does transcribe some of the lyrics-based scripture, such as “You shall blame it on the boogie, knowing you are a danc’in machine.” But even that raises questions, such as: If I’m not pro-boogie, will I not get into Michael Jackson heaven? And more importantly, do we really need a religion that makes us feel guilty because we’re not following some arbitrary set of rules? (Another one, I mean.) And what’s with the apostrophe in the middle of “danc’in”?

Here’s what it comes down to: Personally, I think we should appreciate Michael Jackson’s vast contribution to popular music and mourn his untimely passing, but try to avoid, if at all possible, praying to him. I’m no religious fanatic, but I’m starting to think people should be pickier about who their deities are.

Which reminds me: May the force be with you.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England; this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. 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, September 15, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: School Officials Protest iPod Nano Knife

CHICAGO (CAP) - The Association of American Educators (AAE) has lodged a complaint with the Apple Corporation over its new, fifth-generation iPod Nano, which includes a retractable 2 1/2-inch steel blade inside in the aluminum casing.

"The iPods were bad enough when they just distracted students with violent hip-hop music," explained Karl Sobczak, the association's secretary and assistant superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools. "But at least before you couldn't shank someone in the lunchroom with one. Well, not effectively."

Apple is downplaying the concerns, though, saying that the blade - which pops out when the click-wheel is spun rapidly counter-clockwise - is just one of numerous new Nano features, including a video camera, a voice recorder and a pedometer, as well as a GPS app that can locate the nearest coffee bar.

But a source close to the company, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the blade was among several "strange" requests from Apple CEO Steve Jobs after he returned suddenly to the company recently, his head shaved and wearing an Under Armour camo fleece pullover in place of his trademark black turtleneck.

"The knife was just the start. We had to talk him out of the laser and the grappling hook," said the source, noting those will probably debut with the next iPod Touch.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Saturday, September 12, 2009

COLUMN: I can buy a little help from my friends

I’ve decided I need more friends. No, not real-life friends, the ones that you see in person and who occasionally ask you to help them move. That’s far too much work.

I’m talking about Facebook friends, those people with whom your interactions are basically limited to finding out which musical instrument they are (“the sousaphone!”) and whether or not they’ve murdered anybody in Mafia Wars. Well, and sometimes they also put up pictures of their families. Those are the ones you “hide.”

Ha ha! I kid my Facebook friends. Currently I am stalled at 243 of them; some are even people whose actual company I used to enjoy before I realized how much more time-effective it was to maintain all your personal relationships over the Internet. (Which reminds me … Mom, check your wall for a post about sending more money.)

It’s a relatively miniscule number compared to the maximum allowed friend count of 5,000, so you can imagine how happy I was to get an e-mail with the subject line, “Facebook Friends Go On Sale.” I haven’t been this excited about an e-mail since the one that said “WORLD’S GREATEST COLON CLEANSER — SEE PROOF!,” although in that case I decided to take their word for it.

The e-mail refers you to a site called uSocial, which notes, “Since the inception of Facebook, people have been feverishly trying to get as many friends as they can in order to market their product or services to.” I’m pretty sure there’s an extra word in that sentence somewhere, but grammar aside, it surprised me — all along I thought Facebook was a way to connect with actual, real friends, so you could share your embarrassing pictures of your other real friends.

“But you don’t have a large following on Facebook, do you?” uSocial then asks, somehow sensing that we are all losers who might as well be marketing our product or services to the two dozen cats with whom we share our apartment. That’s where they come in.

“On average … every Facebook fan or friend you have is generally worth $1 to you per month,” they claim, proving once and for all that Facebook friends are worth more to you than actual friends. After all, how many real friends do you have that spent $1 on you last month? If they invited you somewhere and you had to bring a bottle of wine, that means they cost you $6.50.

So they say with your purchase of 1,000 friends for $177.30, you’ll earn back your money five times over. It sounds terrific, but still, the offer raises some questions — for one thing, who are all these uSocial people willing to be friends with anybody who has a spare $177.30? They have no problem playing Bejeweled Blitz in front of thousands of strangers? It sounds trashy to me.

Also, is there any way we can make this work to buy 1,000 actual, flesh-and-blood friends, each of whom can come over my house once a month and give me a dollar? If they’re willing to do that, they can be whatever the heck instrument they want.

Well, as tempting as the offer sounds, I think I’ll continue to keep my Facebook friends primarily to people I at least sort-of know. For instance, I recently used Facebook to help set up a real, in-person meeting with some old college friends and their actual real-life kids — we got together in my backyard and talked, which is sort of like exchanging status updates, except less pithy. No products or services were marketed, but the kids played baseball, which was somehow fun even though nobody got murdered or bejeweled.

Seems to me that’s a good use of Facebook, even with 243 measly friends. And I was able to use it afterwards to post pictures of us all getting together, so the real-life friends who couldn’t make it would at least see those.

Um … Unless of course they hid me. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen many “Likes” from Mom lately …

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England; this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. 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, September 09, 2009

Rejected Congressman Joe Wilson Obama heckle lines

  • You smell!
  • You stink!
  • Did not!
  • Did too!
  • That's retahded!
  • My dad can beat up your dad!
  • I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever I say bounces ... wait, whatever you say ... oh, you just stink!

  • What makes me think the congressman's secretary is going to have a long day tomorrow? (You can tweet him at @CongJoeWilson to share your thoughts on his performance tonight.)

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Survey - Parents Don't Want Kids To Know Prez Is Black

    WASHINGTON (CAP) - A confidential survey by CAP News shows that the majority of parents who are against President Obama's planned "speech to students" are trying to keep their children from finding out the country has a black president.

    "I've managed to keep it under wraps for eight months," said 'Fred,' a parent of three elementary school children from Skokie, Ill. "I'm not about to let them blow it for me now."

    Fred, along with many of the 1,000 people surveyed nationwide, say that it should be up to parents to decide when their children are ready to find out the president is black.

    "I was furious when my [fourth grade] son came home from school last year and I found out they'd forced him to watch that so-called inauguration," said 'Sally,' a mother of two from Laconia, N.H. "Luckily I was able to convince him that it was just a movie starring a black man, like that funny Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy."

    (Read the rest at CAP News.)

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009

    COLUMN: Zombie study is (un)dead on arrival

    This may come as a surprise to my regular readers, but I’m here to report that I’ve officially stopped worrying about killer robots. I’ve decided there are much more productive things I could be doing with my time. With that in mind, I’ve decided to start worrying about zombies.

    You may scoff, but it’s not just me who’s preoccupied with the pending zombie invasion. According to the BBC, researchers at the University of Ottawa in Canada have just completed a full-fledged scientific study into the possibility. This must be what happens after you figure out health care — your researchers can just sit around doing studies on imaginary subjects. Any day now we can expect the University of Saskatchewan to weigh in on the potential health benefits of the mist that rises off unicorns when they bathe.

    The zombie study was mounted by Professor Robert Smith?, who, yes, legally added a question mark to the end of his name. Given that Prince once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, I’m guessing this means Professor Robert Smith? is sort of a researcher rock star — when he walks into the college cafeteria, you can bet all the other less cool researchers trip over themselves to offer him a seat and share their Ziploc bags full of carrot sticks.

    But the researchers claim the zombie exercise isn’t just for fun — it “could help scientists model the spread of unfamiliar diseases through human populations,” they say. And you can bet they spent a good 10 minutes high-fiving each other when they came up with that one, knowing full well the guys in the next lab were studying which diseases cause the most open sores.

    Personally, though, I’ve been thinking about the zombie problem for what I see as an equally compelling reason: because it beats thinking about things that exist in real life, like escrow. And if you know a guy who claims he’s never thought about how he’d go about barricading his home should his neighborhood ever be overrun by zombies, he’s lying. Next he’ll tell you he’s never thought of what it might be like to be bitten by a radioactive spider.

    Also, it just so happens that I recently read the zombie novel “World War Z” by Max Brooks, because I’m a student of fine literature, but also because it paints a very realistic picture of the type of person who might best survive a zombie invasion. And it turns out that it’s a person who is, wait, let me check my notes … the exact polar opposite of me.

    Yes, it seems people who sit at computers all day, particularly the ones with no aptitude for fashioning weapons out of shovels and scrap metal, will almost immediately be overtaken, bitten and subsequently turned into zombies. The zombie armies will apparently be teeming with newspaper editors, who frankly will not notice much of a difference.

    But luckily we have the Canadian researchers, who concluded through their research that — this is the part where I’d encourage the faint of heart to sit down — “it’s important that zombies are dealt with quickly.” See, this shows the grant money used for this study was more than justified, if only to counter the burgeoning opinion that we should be taking a “wait-and-see” attitude when it comes to zombies, or possibly offering them free tuition to our state colleges. You know who you are.

    No matter what, the Canadians seem to be proud of their results, even if it seems obvious they undertook the study more to blow off scientific steam than to actually prepare for a zombie plague. And good for them, but let’s face it: At the end of the day, the whole endeavor was pretty much unnecessary.

    The killer robots should make short work of the zombies in no time.

    Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England; this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. 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, September 01, 2009

    AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Exploding iPods Part Of Microsoft Revenge Plot

    SEATTLE (CAP) - In what some are labeling an elaborate prank and others call corporate sabotage, sources close to the Microsoft Corp. say the software giant may actually be behind the rash of exploding iPods and iPhones reported throughout Europe.

    Cases in both France and the UK have resulted in users being sprayed by shards of glass, and in Leicester, England last week, where a number of iPods and iPhones exploded at once, one of the city's trendiest coffee shops was practically leveled, leaving several overstuffed couches burning in flames.

    "We jolly well can't have people's mobiles exploding while they're yakking on the blower, now can we?" asked UK Solicitor General Vera Baird, who has vowed to prosecute. "Rather bad form, what?"

    (Read the rest at CAP News.)