Friday, December 31, 2010

IN AND OUT 2010: Entertainment


1) Zombies vs. Vampires. Forget about Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. “Twilight” might still be in among a certain segment of the population (the segment who won’t date any boy who doesn’t “sparkle”), but these days it’s all Team Vampire vs. Team Zombie. Both undead types have taken over TV, with “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Walking Dead” tearing up the screen, often literally. Meanwhile, werewolves are out — just ask Benicio Del Toro.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that vampires and zombies are the only game in town. Superheroes are more in than ever, with “Iron Man 2” leading the way for movies starring Captain America, Thor and eventually The Avengers. If they ever get around to Rom: Spaceknight, you know we’re in trouble. (And if you know who Rom: Spaceknight is, you’re as much of a nerd as I am.)

Pixar remains in thanks to “Toy Story 3,” and Harry Potter will be bowing out when the last movie turns up next summer. Movies that are too cool to be understood are also in, judging by flicks like “Inception” and “Shutter Island.” Leonardo DiCaprio is also apparently too cool to be understood, but he’s still in.

2) Pop music. Taylor Swift has taken over the world, but she’s not alone. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are giving her a run for her money and might get the edge by wearing meat and flashing Elmo, respectively. Flashing Elmo is in. You know who you are.

And Justin Bieber is in as the immensely popular source of derision among hipsters. Personally, I think he’s pretty cool, at least until his inevitable press conference when he peels off his face and reveals himself to be a fire-breathing, soul-stealing demon from the depths of hell. Soul stealing is in.

3) TV with a brain. What is it with all these shows that don’t insult your intelligence? Programs like “Mad Men,” “Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Big Bang Theory” are giving the entire mindless medium a bad name. Luckily, we still have “Two and a Half Men,” which more than fulfills our quota of smarmy, obvious sex jokes told by losers. Speaking of which, women inexplicably continue to come within 100 yards of Charlie Sheen, which must mean he’s still in. No, not prison.

The smartest, funniest character on TV is, of course, Conan O’Brien, who might not be on NBC anymore but is all the more in because of it. Thanks to Conan, TBS is also in. George Lopez? Maybe next year.

4) Book series. Call it the Potter effect: One book is simply not enough anymore. These days “To Kill a Mockingbird” would just be the first book of a seven-part series in which Scout and Boo Radley outwit rednecks.

Harry and friends have gone off to that big publishing house in the sky, but dozens of other series have popped up to take their place. Like “The Hunger Games” trilogy, in which futuristic teens must battle each other to the death. It’s sort of like a post-apocalyptic “Henry and Beezus.” (Henry and Beezus are out, but Ramona and Beezus are in, thanks to the Selena Gomez movie adaptation. Selena Gomez is in, somehow.)

For younger kids, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (up to book five and counting!) has paved the way for dozens of other books that mix prose and cartoons. For grown-ups, the creepy and violent “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series is in, even though it doesn’t have any cartoons, thank God.

5) Game time. No, not board games — not only are they out, but no one has even seen one since the early ’90s. Those board game displays you see at Toys R Us are actually just the false front of the entrance to the secret underground employees-only paintball field.

No, I, of course, mean video games, such as “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” which certain people have been playing nonstop since its release, taking only short breaks to eat, sleep and twitch uncontrollably. But not every game is a high-def graphics extravaganza. Smartphone users of all ages are hooked on “Angry Birds,” our latest excuse for never actually having to look up. Looking up is out.


1) 3-D. When 3-D is good, like in “Toy Story 3” or “Despicable Me,” it’s neat, or at least not distracting. When 3-D is bad, like in “Clash of the Titans,” it’s like you’ve just paid 15 bucks to spend two hours in a giant migraine machine. And when the 3-D and the movie are both bad, like in “The Last Airbender,” you might find yourself overtaken by an uncontrollable desire to go to Hollywood and pummel the producer with a paddle ball.

Thankfully, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” eschewed 3-D, but Part II will apparently use it. Better be prepared to get poked in the eye by a wand. Poking is in.

2) Pop music. Wait, did I say pop music is in? I wasn’t taking into account Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana) or the Jonas Brothers, who seem destined to be lifetime residents of the Disney ghetto, sharing a room with those squirrelly boys who play Zack and Cody for all eternity, like a tween Sartre play.

And poor Christina Aguilera flopped both with her comeback album “Bionic” and her movie “Burlesque” with Cher. Could Cher finally be … out? Naaaaaaaaah.

3) Stupid TV. So “30 Rock” is too smart for your tastes? There’s always its time slot competitor “$#*! My Dad Says,” which is worth hating simply because it was based on a Twitter feed, and nobody has approached you about making a TV show out of your Twitter feed. But the jokes are another good reason; this is the bad William Shatner, the one from “Kingdom of the Spiders.”

But most of the stupid people on TV are, sadly, real. Kate Gosselin, David Hasselhoff and a certain former vice presidential candidate fond of skinning caribou are all giving reality shows a bad name, which is not easy to do. And poor Jay Leno and his obvious humor are finally out, even if he’s back in his old time slot.

3) Talk show hosts. Oprah is still on her way out, although as we all know she’s really on her way up, to a giant plush couch in the sky where she will be crowned queen of the universe. Larry King will probably not have the same fate. He’ll likely just kick back and spend some quality time doing things like attending his kids’ Little League games, where he can tell the other parents about the time he asked Ty Cobb whether it was true that he invented the Cobb salad.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are in but not as talk-show hosts. As the only people reporting the news of the day in a format that provides actual facts and context, they’re the in newsmen. All the other newsmen are out. Sorry, Katie Couric.

5) Youngsters. Miley might be tanking, but 61-year-old Bruce Springsteen’s “The Promise” boxed set is selling like hotcakes, and Rod Stewart, 65, has now gone platinum with every song written between 1940 and 1955. Our biggest movie stars are Johnny Depp, 47, Robert Downey, Jr., 45, and Leonardo DiCaprio, the baby at 36, while Sylvester Stallone, 64, and his aging cronies had one of the biggest hits of the summer with “The Expendables.” The comedy world is mourning Leslie Nielsen, who passed away at 84, and who could be more in than Betty White, still baking her muffins at 88?

The exception is anyone who’s the progeny of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The Smiths are in.

TOMORROW: In and Out in Sports

Thursday, December 30, 2010

IN AND OUT 2010: News and Politics

Sure, times are tough, and everybody is angry at the government, corporate America, the entertainment industry and each other. But is that any excuse for not keeping up with what’s in and out in politics, arts, culture and life in general? Of course not.

So as the year winds down, let’s put our differences aside and take a look at the things we’ve declared to be in and out in the categories of News and Politics, Entertainment, Sports and Life in the USA. Then afterwards, we’ll hug.

Today's installment: News and Politics.


1) Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Ah, Sarah Palin … Is there anything she can’t do? She survives encounters with grizzly bears on her reality show. Her daughter gets to the finals of “Dancing With The Stars.” She makes up words, and we add them into the dictionary. So what if she doesn’t know the difference between North and South Korea, wants to stifle the press and, if elected president, would probably sign a law making it legal to club liberals to death like baby seals? She’s got moxie, baby!

She’s also got major cred with the Tea Party movement, which hates profligate government spending, except for the eight years when George Bush was doing it. They’re going to take the country back from President Obama, who somehow snuck into the White House despite being the world’s first Kenyan-born socialist fascist Marxist, whatever any of those words mean.

As for Sen. Scott Brown … He’s not only in, he’s dreamy. There, I said it.

2) Leaking. It seems only appropriate that in an age where we regurgitate every previously private fact and facet (and photo!) from our lives via our phones and computers, someone should be out there doing the same thing for the government. Sure, eventually WikiLeaks will probably release something that will threaten our national security, but it’s worth it to know (for example) that our diplomatic corps thinks that Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.” If that involves green briefs and a yellow-laced red bodice, count me in!

3) Patting and probing. Along the same lines, given the number of people broadcasting pictures of their personal, er, information via their cell phone cameras, it’s probably not surprising that most people are perfectly willing to submit to full-body scans in order to get on a plane. We’re a little nervous about the people who choose the “enhanced pat-down” option, though, particularly the ones who tip the TSA agent afterwards. Being a TSA agent is in.

4) Marriage. Marriage is in among people of all stripes and sexes, and it’s only a matter of time before any two people who love each other, in any state, can become legally bound for life. Or at least until they get tired of each other, at which time they’ll all have equal opportunity to pay attorneys exorbitant amounts to sort out who gets the furniture. Attorneys are in.

5) Ash. As in volcanic ash, which made big headlines when it grounded planes all over the world, forcing people to spend days stuck in airports, getting extra pat-downs. The good thing about the ash that erupted from the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier (or as Sarah Palin pronounces it, Eyjamacallit) is that we’re pretty sure it’s not our fault, unlike everything else up there destroying the environment and warming the planet. Not that that’s stopped Al Gore from going on the road with his “Inconvenient Volcano” PowerPoint presentation. Al Gore is out.


1) Hope. Also change. President Obama has had two whole years to reform government, get everybody jobs and health care and turn Washington into a bipartisan utopia where politicians as diametrically opposed as Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner can work together and, eventually, kiss passionately. The fact that he hasn’t is the fault of the Republicans, who have blocked the president at every turn by glaring icily at him, at which point he considers giving them a stern talking-to, and then immediately caves in. Caving in is in.

Democrats are out — out of style, out of office and generally out of sorts. Take New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, who’s looked a little queasy ever since being “censured” by Congress for ethics violations. Luckily all that money he saved not paying taxes on his rental property in the Dominican Republic can buy a lot of Pepto-Bismol.

2) Working. More and more people are opting not to work, “opting” meaning getting laid off, searching unsuccessfully for another job for 16 or 18 months and then collapsing from exhaustion. But the government will probably keep extending unemployment benefits, as long as the Republicans in Congress can verify that no one is abusing the system by actually using them.

3) War. Well, war itself isn’t out per se — we’re in at least two of them right now, I think — but talking about them certainly is. Not a single candidate made our armed conflicts an issue in the mid-term elections. That’s probably because everyone is in universal agreement about the importance of our mission in Afghanistan, whatever that is.

The troops are, of course, still in, even the ones that are out — of the closet, that is, now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has finally been repealed. Now gay people can be just as open about it in the military as they are in other careers, like musical theater or construction.

4) Oil. It costs a fortune, it imbues our Middle Eastern adversaries (and even our allies) with unfair leverage, and when it spills, it gets all over our turtles. We might finally be at the point when we realize that oil is just not worth it and start coming up with alternative sources of energy, just as soon as someone perfects an invisible wind turbine. Having to look at wind turbines from your yacht is still out.

5) Taxes. OK, when is everybody going to get this straight: The less rich people pay in taxes; the fewer poor people there are. It’s a scientific fact, or something. So leave the rich people alone with their tax cuts and get back to looking for a job already.

Incidentally, despite coming this close to wrecking the entire world economy and plunging society into a global depression, rich people are still in. We’re still not quite sure how they pulled off.

TOMORROW: In and Out in Entertainment

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

COLUMN: Resolving to keep things close to home

It’s almost time to start another new year, meaning soon we’ll all be making resolutions to be better human beings, or at least eat fewer fried pork products. These resolutions will only last until halftime of the first New Year’s Day football game, but at least we’ll feel good about ourselves for those few hours.

But I had an idea for some other kinds of resolutions when I took my parents to the House of the Seven Gables in nearby Salem, Mass., and all the other visitors were from Switzerland and Germany. Apparently people from this country have already seen all the gables they need to, or they were all at Target.

With that in mind, I’m resolving this year to take advantage of some more landmarks of Boston's North Shore that I’ve yet to experience. You’re my witness — in 2011, I will:

1) Go somewhere that has “witch” in the title. Speaking of Salem, it’s amazing that I’ve gone this long without ever setting foot in the Salem Witch Museum, on a Salem Witch Tour or in a store where you can buy newt, eye or otherwise. I figure if I can come home with one $7.99 plastic witch tchotchke, those women will not have been hanged in vain.

2) Ride the OGO. The OGO, as I’m sure you know, is a giant plastic ball that you climb into, at which point they roll you down a mountain, where you’re buffeted around inside it like an unfortunate hamster. The Amesbury Sports Park bills it as “like being in a washing machine and on a roller coaster at the same time,” so if people aren’t flying in from Germany to do that, they’re reading the wrong tourism brochures.

3) See the “Spirit of ’76.” This famous painting of a Revolutionary-era fifer and drummers is on display in the Selectmen’s Room at Abbot Hall in Marblehead, Mass., so I have no excuse for not going over there and trying to take a picture of it, at which point the selectman on duty will tackle me and smash my camera with an authentic 18th century nose auger.

4) Go to Gloucester in the middle of the night and have my picture taken hanging off the Fisherman’s Memorial statue. I actually did this with a bunch of my friends in 1987, when I was in college, and I learned a valuable lesson: Gloucester Police do not take kindly to college kids hanging off the Fisherman’s Memorial statue.

There are plenty of other North Shore activities I could resolve to do — things like riding the manacled elephant at the Topsfield Fair, or eating dinner on top of the Newburyport Rear Range Lighthouse (even if in both cases I have a distinct fear of falling off). But the idea is, taking part in these local activities is convenient, enriching and easier than giving up fried pork.

Although this year, I think I’ll be sticking with another fried product. After all, I’ve never had a Woodman’s clam, either.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Life magazine. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Stan Lee Was 'Just Kidding' About Spider-Man Musical

NEW YORK (CAP) - Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, 87, admitted this week that he was "just kidding" when he suggested that producer Michael Cohl mount an elaborate multi-million-dollar Broadway musical based on his web-slinging character.

"I met Michael and Julie [Taymor, the director] at a party," recalled Lee. "I was just making conversation and I said, 'You should do a Magnificent Marvel Musical about our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man - he could swing stirringly from the ceiling and sing songs, and you'd have the combined might of Marvel's Merry Marchers behind you. Excelsior!'

"Even I have no idea what I'm talking about when I say this stuff," said Lee.

"I remember thinking, if Stan Lee thinks this is a good idea, maybe we can make it work," says Cohl, whose Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark has gone millions over budget and been delayed four times thanks to technical snafus and cast injuries. "I figured this is a man who's really a pioneering creative genius."

Reminded that Lee's company Stan Lee Media actually had to declare bankruptcy in 2001, Cohl responded, "Well, I know that now."

Taymor said she was also impressed by the fervor of Lee's pitch. "He was absolutely right - Spider-Man is a genuine American myth with a dark, primal power," says Taymor, who directed the hit Broadway adaptation of The Lion King. "But as it turns out it's a lot harder to make a real guy fly around a theater than a cardboard bird."

The show is meant to feature elaborate acrobatic battle sequences, and rehearsals have resulted in several concussions, two broken wrists and various strains and sprains among cast members, along with an allergic reaction to the chemicals and adhesives in Spider-Man's webbing that sent three stagehands to the hospital and required the response of a New York City HazMat team.

"It's a veritable bloodbath," said the New York Observer's Rex Reed, who has covered the city's theater scene extensively. "Broadway hasn't seen this many injuries since Rex Harrison turned up soused to a performance of My Fair Lady and passed out on Julie Andrews and Robert Coote.

"Sometimes I crack myself up," added Reed.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, December 17, 2010

COLUMN: Some Santa Ho-Ho's and No-No's

To: Mall Santas
From: Management

Welcome aboard in your new role as one of “Santa’s Helpers.” Please review the following guidelines carefully, so that the mall and its patrons can have a happy, healthy and non-litigious holiday season.

1.) As you’ve no doubt heard, “Ho Ho Ho” is no longer considered an acceptable holiday greeting, having been deemed potentially offensive to women and gardeners. The substitute “Ha Ha Ha” has also been banned, as it is possibly damaging to a child’s self-esteem. Also, Santas overheard saying “Merry Christmas” will be summarily removed from the premises.

Instead, we recommend you listen attentively to the children, nod, and affect a blank stare devoid of any emotion, particularly fear. They can sense fear.

2.) Please keep in mind that not all children believe in Santa Claus or celebrate Christmas. However, please make no attempt to determine this based on physical cues, such as yarmulkes or “Proud Jehovah’s Witness” T-shirts, as this would be considered profiling. If you have any questions, please consult the mall’s attorney, who will be standing behind the fake snowman.

3.) Plump Santas are no longer considered “jolly.” Instead, they serve as a bleak reminder of our nation’s struggle with obesity and are a poor role model to our increasingly overweight and inactive children. Please make every effort to appear slim and fit, and to encourage children to leave you celery and soy products rather than cookies and hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. Also, please note that smoking is permitted in the break room only.

4.) Please do not promise children that Santa will bring them anything in particular, as promising a gift that the parents cannot afford or do not approve of could result in a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. Be pleasant but non-committal. If the child is persistent, try to distract him with one of the celery sticks we now give out in lieu of candy canes; if that doesn’t work, send him behind the snowman to speak to the attorney.

5.) It has been deemed inappropriate, and a serious legal risk, to have children sitting on a strange bearded man’s lap. This year the children will sit on a stool, separated from you by a sheet of soundproof Plexiglas. This also serves the purpose of keeping you from being able to hear their gift requests (see No. 4).

6.) Scientists have determined that eight flying reindeer traveling around the entire world in one night would emit more than 40,000 tons of greenhouse gases, which would have a profound effect on global warming. As modern children are particularly sensitive to this issue, it is important that if they ask about the reindeer, you tell them politely that they are all dead.

7.) The concept of elves has been determined to be offensive to a host of protected groups, including little people, pointy eared people and people with high squeaky voices. However, so as to give you the support you need, we are looking at several possible replacements. Right now we’re leaning toward attorneys.

We’re sure that if you follow these simple guidelines you will succeed in making the children’s visits with Santa as unremarkable and non-offensive as possible. Welcome aboard the team here at the mall, and have a merry … a happy … Oh, whatever.

I'm currently driving around the mall parking lot looking for an open space; this “Best of Chianca” column is from 2007. Follow me on Twitter at

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Dylan, Waits, Cohen Record Christmas Album

MALIBU, Calif. (CAP) - Following the surprise success of his 2009 holiday album Christmas In The Heart, Bob Dylan has teamed up with two fellow gravelly-voiced troubadours, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, for a new release, Hallelujah! Christmas In The Heart Of A Hooker In Minneapolis.

"Well my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this," Dylan told CAP News during a joint interview with his new collaborators. "He did say, son, he said, you know two mouths are better than one mouth, and three mouths ... well, there you go." Then he leaned back and took a puff of his Chesterfield, taking a moment to tap the ashes off with a shake of his jade quellazaire.

Christmas In The Heart sold more than a million copies, and Dylan's versions of "Silver Bells" and "O' Little Town of Bethlehem" have become standard fare in shopping malls and at Christmas parties across America.

"I love it when he sings 'the hopes and fears of all the years' in that croaky wheeze that he's got - it sounds sort of like a death rattle, but in a festive kind of way," said Sally Fender of the YuleTunes blog, which gave Christmas In The Heart a four Figgy Pudding rating.

Dylan approached Cohen and Waits about the follow-up album, and the pair was apparently more than happy to oblige.

"One thing I learned during the years I spent living among Buddhist monks is that enlightenment comes in all forms, and speaks in many voices," said Cohen, sitting with Dylan and Waits outside Coogie's Beach Cafe in Malibu. "And one thing I learned when my manager stole my retirement fund was that you don't turn down an offer to make an album with Bob Dylan."

"This album will be colder than a ticket taker's smile at the Ivar Theater on a Saturday night," added Waits in a guttural mumble, prompting both Dylan and Cohen to stare at him blankly for several seconds before changing the subject.

Hallelujah! Christmas In The Heart Of A Hooker In Minneapolis offers an eclectic mix from the trio; for instance, Cohen contributes a version of "Ding Dong Merrily On High" which he says is actually a reference to a sexual liaison he had with Janis Joplin in the late 1960s. "She was, alas, often merrily on high," said Cohen, wistfully with a touch of literary mischievousness.

As for Waits, he contributes an original song entitled, "If It's Christmas, Those Must Be Whores And Bourbon." He admitted it's not typical holiday fare, but explained that while writing it, "I got caught in the middle of a pimp war between two kids in chinchilla coats, they couldn't have been more than 13 years old - they're throwing knives and forks and spoons out into the street."

"Riiight ..." responded Cohen, and Dylan just rolled his eyes.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

COLUMN: Wishing you an off-kilter Christmas (movie)

When I was a kid, every year around this time I would watch “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” I did this despite the fact that critics regularly put this 1964 movie on their list of the worst films of all time, probably because of its inane plot, juvenile dialogue, bargain-basement costumes and the fact that it appears to have been filmed entirely in a single room that may or may not have been made of cardboard.

I think I may have watched it because as a child, it’s comforting to know that Santa, in addition to bringing you toys every year, is also capable of warding off an alien invasion if necessary. Also, New York’s Channel 9 scheduled it on a Saturday afternoon every December — your choice was either that or reruns of “Hee-Haw” on Channel 11, and Roy Clark certainly never conquered any aliens, with the possible exception of Minnie Pearl. (Incidentally, the entire “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is embedded below via Hulu, if you ever have a spare 80 minutes and have a choice between watching that and hitting yourself in the forehead with a plank.)

Of course, there are plenty of other holiday-themed movies that don’t seem to quite get the spirit of the season. Some are downright horrifying, like “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” or anything starring Tim Allen. But others are only just slightly off, like a sugarplum left under your pillow one night too long. (Or wherever the heck those sugarplums were.)

One that comes to mind is “Gremlins,” the 1984 Joe Dante film about horrible little creatures that terrorize a small town at Christmastime, and breakdance. It’s noteworthy not so much for the scene where a Gremlin explodes in a microwave oven (no matter how many thousands of important microwave experiments it may have inspired among America’s youth) but for Phoebe Cates’ speech about the time her father dressed up as Santa Claus and died a horrible death while coming down their chimney. Sadly, no transcript of the speech was included with the thousands of Gremlins dolls under 5-year-olds’ Christmas trees that year.

Another is John Hughes’ “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992), in which cute (by which I mean possibly sociopathic) Macaulay Culkin gets left behind at Christmas by his parents again, this time in New York City. I thought the first “Home Alone” movie was just stupid, but in watching the second one I realized it teaches children a valuable Yuletide lesson: If Joe Pesci ever tries to break into the house, electrocute him.

And I was particularly disturbed by 2004’s “The Polar Express.” Much has been made of how creepy Robert Zemeckis’ animated characters look, which is exactly the kind of press you want when you spend $166 million making a movie (which, granted, included Tom Hanks’ standard salary, $164 million). Personally, I saw this entire film and don’t remember a single shred of the plot, and yet the Steven Tyler-inspired Aerosmith elf who pops up at the end haunts my dreams, with those pointy ears and gigantic lips — I have visions of him jumping out from behind my Christmas tree and gumming me to death.

The good news is, over the last few years I’ve been able to introduce my kids, now 9 and 11, to a few holiday movies that are outlandish enough to rise above, say, the goop on ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” (in which a grouchy businessperson or Tom Arnold learns the true meaning of the season), but not so bizarre as to keep them up Christmas Eve, not from excitement but from the fear that they will be attacked by Gremlins, or Joe Pesci.

Their hands-down favorite is of course Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story” (1983), which does off-kilter Christmas just the right way: with fake swearing, almost shooting your eye out and eating mashed potatoes like a piggy. It shows that it’s possible to make a holiday movie that’s funny, moving and even a little bit subversive without being gross or stupid.

If only the Christmas goose had exploded in the Chinese restaurant microwave, it would have been perfect.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Palin says 'Alaska' Dog-Clubbing Footage Taken Out Of Context

WASILLA, Alaska (CAP) - Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is saying leaked outtake footage from her TLC reality show Sarah Palin's Alaska has been taken "out of context," particularly the scene where she clubs and skins a miniature schnauzer, mistaking it for a baby seal.

"Ya know, out in the tundra things happen pretty quick," said Palin. "When that snow's comin' down, a schnauzer and a seal are basically indristinguishable."

Critics have pointed out that the "tundra" where Palin skinned the dog was actually the Bluff Park Farm in Knik-Fairview, and that before clubbing it she shot it from a helicopter using high-powered rifle with an infrared scope.

"Plus an old lady was walking it," pointed out People for the Ethical Treatment Of Animals spokesman Dan Sharon.

Sharon also said the excuse that Palin mistook the dog for a seal is "no excuse at all," since the practice of seal-clubbing has long been maligned as inhumane. The practice was targeted in a series of mid-'90s PETA magazine ads in which Pamela Anderson was shown clubbing a tiny Photoshopped version of Ted Nugent.

"Well, maybe beatin' a seal to death sounds unearthadox to those high falutin' big-city PETA elites, but out here in the wilderness, that's how we roll," said Palin while signing books at the Walmart Superstore on South Seward Meridian Parkway in Wasilla.

"Maybe the PETAs should spend more time gettin' all naked and beatin' up on Santa's fur cluffs," said Palin, possibly meaning "cuffs."

In other outtake footage, Palin is seen taking a rifle she purchased at a Wasilla gun shop and shooting out author Joe McGinniss' car headlights. Palin has criticized McGinnis for moving next door to her in Wasilla while researching a book on her.

"Well, maybe he shouldn'ta shined [his headlights] on my property," she's seen telling Wasilla Sheriff Karl Plastow as he confiscates the weapon. "The Russians mighta seen 'em and attacked us with their, waddayacallem, Moogs," possibly meaning MiGs.

There's also footage that appears to have been shot from another room where she's seen advising her daughter Bristol to whack her fellow Dancing With The Stars contestant Brandy in the knee with a crowbar.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

COLUMN: Waiting for the end of the world ...

Ah, it’s that time of year again. The weather’s turned chillier, shoppers rush hurriedly from store to store, and a particular phrase is on everyone’s lips: “THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH!” This statement may or may not be followed by an anguished wail and/or rending of garments.

I’m referring of course to a press release I received recently from the “Hourglass Watchman” of the eBible Fellowship with the heading “A Message to the Media of the World,” which apparently includes me. Not one to bury the lead, the Watchman gets right to the point:

“May 21, 2011 — Judgment Day. God will begin to destroy the World and this Universe with a worldwide earthquake. October 21, 2011 — The End of the World. The World and the entire Cosmos will be totally destroyed by fire.”

Considering most of the press releases I get include either the phrases “craft fair” or “ham and bean supper,” this would obviously be considered Big News. But oddly enough, I’ve yet to see reportage on this by any of the rest of the Media of the World, which must still be busy tracking the Black Friday tramplings. So it seems it’s up to me to bring up some of the obvious questions raised by this announcement, such as:

1) What happened to 2012? Can’t those stupid Mayans get anything right?

2) Five whole months to destroy the earth? I think God needs a new contractor.

In order to better help us better understand our impending annihilation, I thought I’d walk you through the highlights of the 18-page (!) e-mail, which I decided to print out on the grounds that preserving trees is now no longer necessary, and also I only need my ink cartridges to last another 11 months. (Or maybe even six months, assuming that printing things becomes less of a priority after the giant, world-destroying earthquake.)

First, the release insists that it is “not unusual that God’s people have been given insight into the timing of the end of the world.” Apparently it’s also happened those other times when the world was supposed to end but didn’t, leaving all the people holding “The End is Near!” placards to just mill around sheepishly, like Springsteen fans still waving a “Play Thunder Road!” sign after the lights go up.

As for the time between Judgment Day and the actual End of the World, apparently that’s to provide those of us who haven’t been called up into heaven with “the most horrific period of five months of torment, misery, sorrow and unspeakable hell on earth,” or, as we call it here in New England, “winter.” (Just a little End of the World humor there.) “How awful!” the Watchman then declares, just to drive the point home in case we haven’t been paying attention.

It’s worth noting, though, that although we will be annihilated in fire and cease to exist after the five months, the e-mail asserts, “there will not be a conscious suffering in a place called hell.” That sound you just heard was Charlie Sheen exhaling and ordering another round of drinks.

Personally, I’m hoping that God isn’t really planning to save just 200 million chosen people and leave the rest of us to “die like a beast” rather than rise up into heaven. Because for one thing, I’m counting on beasts being allowed in heaven, because when I die I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do with my dogs. And second, judging by the typical criteria, I’m guessing the 200 million saved people will include the likes of Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and Glenn Beck, who I’m guessing will not want to lick me or catch my Frisbee.

Still, even though I’m skeptical, the Hourglass Watchman asks that I “please consider publishing an article … regarding this awesome urgent and important matter,” so that’s what I’m doing. Just like I do when people send me their ham-and-bean-supper notices.

Which reminds me: If you’re planning one, you may want to schedule it before next October, just in case.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Julie Andrews Critical Of Anne Hathaway's Bosoms

HOLLYWOOD (CAP) - Broadway and Hollywood icon Julie Andrews had some critical words this week for her Princess Diaries co-star Anne Hathaway, who bares all in her new movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, Love And Other Drugs.

"As you know, I bared my bosoms in S.O.B. (1981), and I dare say they were quite a bit more perky than Anne's, which were a bit doughy for my tastes, if you don't mind me saying so," Andrews told the Hollywood Reporter. "And my bosoms were a bit further along at the time than Anne's are now," added Andrews, now 75 and "still supple, if you get my drift."

Hathaway has made headlines for her performance in Love And Other Drugs, wherein she plays a Parkinson's patient with a wild sex life. Of its 113-minute running time, Hathaway is fully naked for approximately 75 minutes, according to a study of the film by New York magazine's Vulture entertainment blog.

"Of the 75 minutes, about 40 minutes featured her bare breasts," said Vulture writer Will Plotkin. "About 20 minutes featured her bare rear end, and about 10 minutes featured a combination of the two, which required some pretty fancy camera work."

The other five minutes featured Hathaway's private area, "mostly in glimpses that you have to squint to see, and which I've edited together here in a montage from footage I took with a video camera I snuck into the theater," said Plotkin. "Um ... for work."

Andrews, meanwhile, pointed out that although she went topless for S.O.B., she never felt a need to do nudity as extensive as Hathaway's in Love And Other Drugs.

"Except in the private movies I made for Blake," she said, referring to her husband, director Blake Edwards. "Between us, you'd have to watch those to find out what supercalifragilisticexpialidocious really means.

"It's quite dirty, actually," she added, pursing her lips suggestively.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

COLUMN: You’ll be thankful you read this

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. I do that so people will be able to put these often difficult times into perspective, and also to get them to come out from under the bed.

So stick your head out and take a gander at these, this year’s reasons to give thanks:

1) You didn’t have to run against a Republican in the mid-term elections. Or if you did you probably had to do it in Massachusetts, where the number of Republicans in the state Senate can now officially fit into a phone booth. Whatever that was.

2) You have universal health care now, sort of.

3) There’s an app for that, as long as “that” isn’t “magically generating the extra 600 bucks you’d need to buy an iPad.”

4) When something goes wrong at work, you don’t have to wait 69 days to be extricated through a tube. No matter how often it may feel that way.

5) You’re not covered in oil, or if you are, it’s probably just a lifestyle choice.

6) You didn’t have to run against Scott Brown. Or his truck. Or his barn jacket. Or his rugged, manly good looks. Not that I’m looking at his Cosmo spread right now or anything.

7) Jay Leno didn’t want your time slot.

8) Your personal assistant didn’t write a tell-all book about you, your lover and the illegitimate child you fathered when you were running for president. Heck, you probably don’t even have a personal assistant.

9) You haven’t turned up on “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” where there’s a good chance you would have been eaten by a bear, or Sarah Palin.

10) You weren’t poisoned by Lady Gaga in her “Telephone” video, and you probably had very little exposure to police tape, and even if you did you most likely weren’t wearing it over your privates.

11) Your bosoms didn’t offend Elmo.

12) You weren’t married to Larry King, probably.

13) You’re not an illegal alien living in Arizona. Or a legal alien living in Arizona. Or a guy with a tan living in Arizona. On a related note, the entire population of Arizona has been detained for questioning.

14) The last time you answered an ad on Craigslist, nobody killed you, probably.

15) Your husband didn’t admit to canoodling with a tattooed skank. Or if he did, at least it wasn’t right after you won your Oscar.

16) You’re completely incapable of pitching a perfect game. After all, with your luck it would have been officiated by that umpire in Detroit, or the shot Roger Clemens gave you in your butt would have worn off in the bottom of the eighth.

17) You didn’t try to get in to the new Harry Potter theme park, unless you did, in which case you’re still there waiting in line, trying to gain sustenance by sucking the condensation off the end of your plastic wand.

18) You haven’t received any text messages from Brett Favre. (And if you have … for God’s sake, delete them!)

19) The Old Spice Guy beat up a pirate piñata with a petrified freshwater fish while saying your name. Wait, sorry … that was Demi Moore. But I’m sure the Old Spice Guy would have done that for you, had he known you.

20) No one threatened to burn anything of yours, or if they did, they probably didn’t go through with it.

21) You didn’t ask, and you won’t tell.

22) If you’re staying at a hotel right now, Charlie Sheen is probably nowhere in the vicinity. You can come out from under the bed now.

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.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

COLUMN: So what's up with Thanksgiving?

It’s time once again for “Mr. Holiday” to answer your holiday queries. This week: Thanksgiving.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
I understand that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals want us to give up eating turkey on Thanksgiving. But I love turkey! Juicy, succulent, recently deceased turkey. What should I do?

Hungry in Holliston

Dear Hungry:
PETA is a very well-meaning organization, in that same way that your crazy uncle who thinks he’s a founding member of ABBA is well-meaning. But mostly they’re just looking for an excuse to parade around naked and get arrested.

In reality, studies have shown that Thanksgiving turkeys are remarkably well treated. They run free on spacious turkey farms, relaxing in little turkey saunas and smoking rich little full-bodied turkey cigars. Then they’re slaughtered and plucked, but in a well-treated kind of way.

What you should be really concerned about is the rampant, horrible mistreatment of soy.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
I dread Thanksgiving — sitting around with my family is so boring! Any suggestions?

Bored in Bakersville

Dear Bored:
You seem to have forgotten that Thanksgiving is one of the only chances your entire family gets to sit down together in a meaningful way. With that in mind, here are some topics you may want to consider to liven up the meal:

· How years of browbeating have driven you to therapy;

· The fact that just because you can’t get through a family occasion without downing an entire bottle of muscatel doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic;

· That you’ve blown the grandkids’ inheritance on Keno.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
I enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. What’s the story behind those tremendous balloons?

Curious in Connecticut

Dear Curious:
It takes dozens of people to control one of those balloons, and in a stiff wind they can actually become quite dangerous. No wait, I’m thinking of Willard Scott.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
What are “giblets”?

Cooking in Cambridge

Dear Cooking:
No one knows.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
I love finishing a huge Thanksgiving meal, heading straight into the living room, loosening my belt and watching football for the rest of the day as the stuffing congeals in my stomach cavity. But recently I began wondering: What are all the women talking about back in the kitchen while the guys watch football?

Suspicious in Scranton

Dear Suspicious:
This is one of the great mysteries of Thanksgiving. But I’m sure it’s not how they can’t believe they have to wake up every morning next to the likes of your fat, lazy self. They’re probably just comparing recipes.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
I was horrified recently to discover that the first Thanksgiving dinner was nothing like the Thanksgiving we have today. Is it really possible that the Pilgrims and Indians didn’t really have turkey and pumpkin pie?

Disillusioned in Denver

Dear Disillusioned:
Don’t worry your pretty little head off — of course the Pilgrims and Indians had turkey and pumpkin pie! Just like Columbus was a brave and gallant explorer rather than the harbinger of genocide and slavery to a proud indigenous people. Six of one, half-dozen of the other, I always say.

Granted, historians say the menu was probably more likely to include things like lobsters, mussels, grapes, plums and flint corn. However, some traditions have carried on: For instance, a Pilgrim woman named Constance Britteridge was credited with creating a delightful fruit centerpiece for the meal, based on a first-century fresco from Pompeii. Then she was arrested for securities fraud.


Dear Mr. Holiday:
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Grateful in Greenwich

Dear Grateful:
I’m thankful mostly for loyal, caring readers like you. No wait, I meant to say giblets.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. He’s currently out shopping for giblets; his “Best of Chianca” column is from 2005. Follow him on Twitter at

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Passengers On Disabled Cruise Ship Ate Crew, Each Other

LOS ANGELES (CAP) - A luxury cruise liner that limped into San Diego after a fire knocked out its power was lucky in many ways: a nearby Navy vessel came quickly with supplies, and the mishap occurred in tranquil waters. But that didn't stop its frantic passengers from descending quickly into panic, rioting, looting and eventually resorting to cannibalism.

"We were in decent spirits for the first few hours after the power went out," said Carnival Splendor passenger Carrie Whitehead, 32, of Chelmsford, Mass. "Then they announced the buffet was closed. That's when the deck chairs started going over the side."

Within hours, the passengers had formed into a number of tribe-like groups and staked out certain areas of the ship as their home turf, according to passenger Fred Ricker, 66, who banded together with the other senior citizens on board.

"You had all these young punks whining and crying because their cell phones weren't working," said Ricker, whose tribe of seniors ("The Otters") immediately took control of the Lido Deck, beating the younger passengers around the head and neck with shuffleboard cues.

"They wouldn't have lasted two seconds in 'Nam," said Ricker, his face still war-painted with oil squeezed from a tray of lox.

A nearby Navy vessel dropped a supply of Spam and other non-perishables aboard the ship on the first day of the ordeal, but by day two, a tribe calling themselves "The Sloths" was fomenting rebellion, according to a Carnival Splendor kitchen worker who asked not to be named.

"They had taken over the Grand Buffet dining room on the Promenade Deck, which is pretty much where they'd been spending the whole cruise anyway," said the worker, who explained that after two meals of Spam and Pop Tarts, the Sloths tied dinner napkins around their foreheads and stormed the kitchen, stampeding staffers and gorging themselves on shrimp and salmon that had gone unrefrigerated for two days.

"Between that and the fact that the ship's stabilizers were lost when the power went out, things got ugly pretty quickly," said the worker, whose co-workers were able to re-take the kitchen by pushing the rampaging passengers overboard as they leaned over the railing to vomit.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

COLUMN: Eh, who needs a shower?

You may have heard of the “swag bags” that Hollywood stars get when they attend awards shows, containing tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, electronics and vouchers for luxurious getaways. Being a journalist is sort of like that, except instead of jewelry and electronics, you get giant wipes you can use to clean the sweat off your children “when a shower isn’t feasible.” Or maybe it’s just me who gets those … I’ll have to ask Brian Williams the next time I see him.

Regardless, that’s what I found in my mailbox this week — free “review” samples of “Qwik Shower Gym Class Wipes,” aimed specifically at “active children, tweens and pubescent teens who get soiled, sweaty, stinky and self-conscious.” In other words, all of them, except for the boys ages 5-13, who don’t get self-conscious so much as proud. (“Smell that smell? I made that!”)

I speak from experience on that front, because I have a 9-year-old son who, as has been well documented previously in these pages, is somewhat of an aficionado of unpleasant bodily odors. Tim is sort of like a sommelier, except instead of wine he’s an expert in what comes out of your pores after two hours of playing lacrosse in an outfit that weighs three times your natural body weight.

So I had to admit that he was an ideal candidate to test the Qwik Shower Gym Class Wipes, particularly this past weekend, when he spent an hour running up and down a court for youth basketball “evaluations.” This is the procedure by which coaches put their young players through a series of precise and elaborate drills in order to determine if any of them might, possibly, have heard of a basketball. Tim came home smelling exactly like his elementary school gym, which most local residents agree probably had a worker accidentally sealed up under the floor when it was built in 1972.

Tim was gracious enough to agree to participate in my little test, even though the Qwik Shower wipe, when opened, looked like one of those Wet-Naps they used to give out in Chinese restaurants, except dramatically enlarged, possibly by accidental exposure to gamma rays. Seeing it in its full, outspread glory, it’s hard not to think: If you’re the type of person who sometimes finds your entire body covered in duck sauce, this product is for you.

Tim’s first response when applying the Qwik Shower to his soiled, sweaty, stinky and self-conscious self: “This thing is cold!” And he was right — it might have benefited from a few seconds in the microwave first, although ostensibly if you have a microwave handy, there’s probably an actual shower somewhere nearby.

In general, though, Tim seemed generally fresher and cleaner after wiping down, smelling primarily of the vaguely sterile “slight fresh scent” promised on the packaging — just strong enough to be preferable to the typical little-boy odors, but not pungent enough so that he might be mistaken for something that should have been hanging from the rear-view mirror of a pet owner’s Audi.

As for Tim’s reaction, he was happy to avoid an actual bath, but declared, “If I end up having a rash, I’m suing!” These are words to live by if I’ve ever heard any.

Meanwhile, just when I figured I’d had enough professional exposure to bodily emissions for one week, I got an e-mail with the following subject line: “It’s Booger Season!!” You can tell from the dual exclamation points that this was not meant as simple information but rather as a declaration of catastrophic proportions, like “My Shorts Are On Fire!!” or “The End of the World is Nigh!!”

Turns out it was a release publicizing “Boogie Wipes” and their “Save the Sleeve” campaign, which “empowers kids to … blow their nose, instead of using their sleeve, to wipe away germs.” Somehow I never saw kids with mucous on their sleeves as a protected class in need of some kind of nose-blowing empowerment movement, but just to drive the point home, they included a picture of a 2-liter soda bottle filled with “boogers,” which I have a sinking feeling may be the next item I find in my mailbox.

Not to sound unappreciative, but it seems to me certain Hollywood types could probably use these products even more than I could. So if any of you celebrities (I won’t mention any names, Lindsay Lohan) want to send along some of your electronics and jewelry swag, I’d be happy to send you my Qwik Shower and Boogie Wipes in a fair exchange.

You’re on your own for the duck sauce, though.

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, November 09, 2010

More proof that Linus kicks Sting's a**

I have a dream that someday, I will have the free time to spend hours editing old "Peanuts" clips into a music video for a classic rock song. But until then, I'll have to continue to rely on YouTube users like chalkdrinker. Three cheers!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

COLUMN: A pre-election post-election roundup

Editor’s note: Due to press deadlines, our reporter had to write the following election roundup before the election actually took place. We apologize in advance if there are any discrepancies.

As predicted, Republicans made an unprecedented sweep into office on Tuesday, sending what GOP leaders called “an important message” to President Barack Obama from the American people: that when they elected him based on his promise to enact healthcare reform, pass sweeping financial regulations and avert another Great Depression, they were just kidding.

“What we really wanted was for him not to raise taxes!” said Fred Hertmeyer of Glenbeulah, Wisc., who said he voted for every Tea Party candidate he could find. When told that Obama has actually lowered taxes during his first two years in office, Hertmeyer slapped his forehead and ran back to the Glenbeulah Junior High School to change his vote, but the elderly women who ran the polls had long since gone home.

New Speaker of the House John Boehner declared the GOP victory to be a repudiation of Obama’s policies, as well as “sweet revenge” against all the kids in middle school who used to call him “Johnny Boner.” Reached at her office Wednesday morning, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi disagreed with Boehner’s assessment, saying, “Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!” and then disappearing into a pile of mush under her desk.

The Republican majorities, meanwhile, immediately set about preserving the so-called Bush tax cuts, along with $1 billion in new tax cuts to help private industry finance the spontaneous, massive block parties that broke out on Wall Street and at insurance and credit card companies across the country with news of the GOP victories.

“Don’t worry, all that wealth should start trickling down any time now,” said Boehner, pausing to look at his watch. “Just you wait,” he added, tapping several times on his knee and looking uncomfortably around the room. Then, after another minute or so had passed, he pointed and yelled, “Look! Bill Clinton!” and slipped out the back door while everyone’s back was turned.

Prospective 2012 presidential hopeful Sarah Palin said she was “extastic” about the results and took credit for the fact that every candidate she endorsed won easily. She did admit, however, that she didn’t actually cast a ballot for any of them, having accidentally attempted to vote at an ATM machine. Meanwhile, one of her protégés, newly elected Sen. Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, has already filed a bill that would require people to start referring to sex by whispering “s-e-x,” and another that would turn the media into newts.

Here in Massachusetts, gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill — who ran as an independent, even though he was a lifelong Democrat — squeaked into office ahead of Gov. Deval Patrick and GOP challenger Charlie Baker, with exit polls showing that most voters had mistaken Cahill for “None of the Above.”

“We’ll take it however we can get it,” said Cahill, who then pulled of his rubber mask, revealing himself to actually be Michael Dukakis.

In another surprise here in the Bay State, the controversial Question 3, to roll the sales tax back from 6.25 to 3 percent, passed by a wide margin. The next day, thousands of teachers, police, firefighters and prosecutors lost their jobs, and the rest of society was eaten by zombies.

Most people blamed Obama.

This column ran originally at Wicked Local North of Boston. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Parents Charged After Boy Sleeps In Pumpkin Patch

MINNEAPOLIS (CAP) - Authorities have charged a local couple with child endangerment after neighbors reported they let their 7-year-old son sleep in a pumpkin patch alone on Halloween night.

Fred and Nancy van Pelt of Roseville, a suburb of Minneapolis, were arrested at their home after their son, Linus van Pelt, turned up at the James Street Elementary School still suffering from the effects of hypothermia and muttering under his breath about being forsaken by a "Great Pumpkin."

"The poor kid - he was clearly delirious," said Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fincher, who referred the case to the county's Child Protective Services department. "He had an old ratty blanket that he had wrapped around himself, and he was just shaking and mumbling."

Residents said they spotted the boy several times in a neighborhood pumpkin patch the night before, sitting among the pumpkins as his friends were enjoying tricks-or-treats. He was primarily alone, but was seen for a time accompanied by a neighbor, Sally Brown, 5, who is now being questioned by police psychiatrists.

Neighbors told CAP News that the boy believed he would be visited in the pumpkin patch by a so-called "Great Pumpkin," who would present him with toys. His parents may have fostered this charade as a form of psychological torture, authorities believe.

Ownership of the pumpkin patch has not been determined, but several local residents have noted that it has always seemed "extremely sincere."

Police are also looking into the well being of other area children who, after tricks-or-treats, apparently attended a Halloween party with no adults present. There, several girls allegedly drew a jack-o-lantern face on the head of a local bald boy; they are now facing charges under Minnesota's new bullying law.

One of the girls in question, whom authorities declined to name, described their victim as a "stupid blockhead," apparently showing no remorse.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, October 29, 2010

COLUMN: I’ll take my free iPad now

Regular readers of this column may recall how, in 2005, I made a very public request to the Apple Corporation to send me a free iPod. Their response was a deafening silence, which was better than the anticipated restraining order, but only marginally.

Eventually I had to break down and buy one, but I am undeterred and have decided to get back on the free portable electronics horse (let’s call him “Chippy”) and request that Apple send me a complimentary iPad, their hugely popular tablet computer. Sure, I know that everyone wants a free iPad, but it just so happens that I have a particularly urgent need for the device’s primary function, which is to make you look cooler than you actually are.

That’s a function I’ve always needed, actually, with the possible exception of the period when I was the lead singer in my high school’s most popular rockabilly band. Oh wait, that was just who I wanted to be … I was actually the dweeby guy in the corner whose persona could have desperately benefited from an iPad that Steve Jobs had beamed back to the 1980s from his revolving space station.

Ah, but you say the iPad’s purpose is not to make you look cool but rather to help you better experience the Web, e-mail, photos and video. “You,” of course, are Apple’s marketing department, because everybody knows the real, actual reason you get one is to pull it out at every opportunity — at work, in a bar, at a Red Sox game, during an “intimate moment” — and watch the jaws drop around you. If drool results in some quarters, all the better.

I base this theory at least partially on the new study by the Neilsen Company that says a full one-third of iPad users have never even downloaded an “app” (short for “Appolonia”) for the device. Yes, I know that Neilsen later issued a correction and stated the actual number of users who hadn’t downloaded apps was more like 9 percent, but we can presume that Steve Jobs’ goons got to them in the interim. (I doubt Neilsen could actually be that far off on anything, although it would explain the 1976 cancellation of “Holmes and Yo-Yo.”)

Besides, I don’t need a study to show why people buy iPads. Take the guy in Seattle (where else?) who last week asked President Obama to sign his iPad, clearly to one-up the crowd of caffeine-addled liberal hipsters (including President Obama) surrounding him. Of course, the fact that the president did it will probably give the GOP another excuse to label him as elitist and out of touch, unlike Sarah Palin, who, when presented with an iPad to sign, shot it from a helicopter.

I’m not saying using an iPad to be popular is a good thing — we all know that what people should really be doing with their iPads is reading newspapers, so that the industry doesn’t implode. It’s ironic that just like with an iPad, reading a newspaper in public also draws the attention of strangers, although they mostly just stare and prod, like they just spotted a long-extinct reptile.

So Apple, if you send me my free iPad, I promise to give you unlimited promotion in this publication and on my blog, which have a combined audience equal to the ratings of “Holmes and Yo-Yo,” as reported by Neilsen, who is, obviously, drunk. You can send it to me care of this newspaper, but make sure to put my name prominently on the package, because frankly I don’t trust all those sports editors who hang around near the mail cubbies.

Or if it’s easier, you can just beam it to me.

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, October 20, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Study -- Office Workers Will Eat Literally Anything

WASHINGTON (CAP) - A new study out of the Pew Research Center shows that the average American office worker will eat anything put in front of him or her, as long as it's free of charge.

The study, conducted surreptitiously at more than 100 offices across the country, presented office workers with such meals as haggis, tripe and soft-boiled fetal duck, which is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and the Philippines. In each case, the meal was left in a well-traveled area - lunchroom, conference room, on a file cabinet, etc. - along with a sign such as Tripe - Please Eat!

"The results were fascinating," said Dr. Francis Spitznagel of the Pew Center. "No matter what the time of day, in every case, the dish was clean in less than an hour." Spitznagel noted that typically it took no longer than 15 minutes, but that a small lag time on the fetal duck skewed the average slightly.

In the second phase of the study, food was left without any type of identifying sign. "And we made sure it was also completely unrecognizable as foodstuff," said Dr. Spitznagel, noting that in one case they left a metal pot full of the pink meat paste used to make chicken nuggets - also known as mechanically separated poultry - along with a spoon and a stack of Styrofoam bowls.

"It was gone in an hour and a half," said Spitznagel.

The Pew study showed that employees in all professions were prone to eating food found around the office, although some were especially susceptible. For instance, print journalists were the most likely to suffer trample injuries while trying to beat their fellow workers to the last slice of crumb cake.

"Let's face it, we never know where our next meal is going to come from," said Karl Fender, a sports reporter for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., where six employees have been hospitalized during free snack stampedes in the last year alone.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

COLUMN: A tribute to the tribute bands

As many people who know me can tell you, I’m something of a fan of one Mr. Bruce Springsteen. It’s not like I go around broadcasting it or anything — I just have all his albums, have seen him in concert 10 or 15 times, write a blog about his achievements and spend most of my off hours wearing a white muscle shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a folded bandana wrapped around my forehead.

OK, maybe that last one is a bit of an exaggeration (and he hasn’t worn the bandana since 1985, people — get over it!). Regardless, I’m not alone; almost 40 years into his career, Springsteen still has millions of fans who buy his albums, see his concerts and spend their Saturday nights in theaters and bars watching Bruce Springsteen impersonators. Well, in the case of that last thing, maybe it is just me.

Yes, I’ll admit it: I have seen more than one Springsteen “tribute act” in my day, and plan to do so again this weekend, when New Jersey’s own B Street Band comes to town. I do this with full knowledge that there are hundreds of artists out there performing original material, and that one of them might turn out to be the next Bruce Springsteen. And yet I choose to spend my time and money seeing someone intent on being the current Bruce Springsteen, and even that only if you drink enough and squint.

I can’t disagree that there’s something vaguely unseemly about the whole tribute act concept, which may have begun in the ’70s with “Beatlemania” — I didn’t see it, but I’m pretty sure it featured Beatles look-alikes preserved in amber for future cloning. Then came the Elvis impersonators, whose efforts may have culminated in the work of “El Vez,” the entertainer who bills himself as “the love child of Elvis and Charo.” I saw El Vez perform in a bar in Somerville, Mass. more than 15 years ago, which would seem to indicate that I might have some sort of deep-seated chronic problem.

From that point it was only a matter of time until the world welcomed the 23 pages (!) worth of tribute acts listed at Many of them imitate superstars of the ’70s and ’80s, which is understandable, since these days it’s very difficult to get a ticket to see, say, the actual 1974 lineup of Led Zeppelin. But a lot of them are less obvious — for instance, did you know there are at least five working bands that bill themselves as tributes to ’90s heavy metal act Tool? Suddenly, El Vez is probably sounding pretty good.

I realize it’s hard to justify spending my hard-earned concert budget on bands pretending to be other bands, but I can’t help it — I still got a tingly feeling when I heard that a Billy Joel impersonator might be playing about a quarter mile from my house later this fall. After all, if I went to see the real Billy Joel, I’d have to drive to Boston or Foxboro and pay a fortune, and then I’d have to watch the current Billy Joel, who despite all the money I spent on his albums didn’t have the decency to keep his hair. If he looks like that, how must I look?

And while modern Springsteen concerts are still as good as ever, when I go to see the B Street Band this weekend, I’ll be driving just a few minutes, have plenty of free parking and be up close and personal with the band, which is much tougher to pull off at Gillette Stadium. (At the B Street Band’s local show last year my wife wound up on stage with a tambourine during “Rosalita,” but I promised never to talk about it.)

If you’re still skeptical, I’ll make you a deal: I’ll go see the next big up-and-coming young original artist if you join us at the B Street Band concert this weekend. Call me stuck in the past or unhealthily Springsteen-obsessed, but I predict you’ll be holding up signs with requests on them and rushing the stage with your fist pumping to “Badlands” by the end of the night.

Although just in case, don’t forget drink and squint.

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.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus wasn’t Italian? Oh, maron!

Poor Christopher Columbus. He used be so popular, but these days he can't seem to catch a break. He's sort of like David Hasselhoff in that way.

And as if it wasn't bad enough that the Columbus movie was scored by Van Gelis, and that when you Google "Columbus genocide" you get 567,000 hits, now it turns out that the beleaguered hero to many Italian-Americans might not even have been Italian. According to one historian, he was actually Portuguese.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “The Italian theory of so-called Columbus theory was started after Columbus died ... I examined document from Portuguese side and documents from the Italian side. The Italians are all false. You practically have to be blind to see the documents in which the defenders of the Italian theory (believe). It’s wrong. It’s false.”

Well, all I have to say is, he better not tell these guys (warning: Lots of F-bombs):

Friday, October 08, 2010

COLUMN: The Columbus you never knew

More than 500 years after his death, Christopher Columbus remains one of the most controversial figures in history. Some think of him as a great seaman, others as a ruthless imperialist, and still others as the reason we won’t get mail on Monday.

Thanks to an important recent discovery, however, there is no longer reason to conjecture. This newspaper has learned that the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem has found the long-lost diaries from Columbus’ initial voyage, hidden behind a box of old fans and a rare 17th century La-Z-Boy recliner.

But does the diary resolve all of those burning historical questions about Columbus, such as: Why would anybody wear tights on a ship? For answers, we turn to the following exclusive excerpts:

July 26, 1492 — Just a week to go until I embark on my expedition to find a western route to India. Starting to regret making this bet with King Ferdinand. Reminder to self: No more wine coolers at Isabella and Ferdinand’s mutton parties.

Most preparations are set, but we still can’t decide what to name the third boat; we’re down to either the Santa Maria or the Miss Behavin’. (“Miss Behavin’” — get it? Sometimes I crack myself up.)

Aug. 2, 1492 — Set sail from the port of Palos in southern Spain. Still annoyed at getting outvoted on the boat name.

I’m concerned that Martín (“Marty”) Pinzón, who’s captaining the Pinta, is plotting against me. I thought I saw him making rabbit ears behind my head when I addressed the crews before embarking. Also, when I stopped by my quarters before we left, I caught him trying on my hat.

I hope we get to India quickly, because I’ve got a hankering for some Pork Vindaloo.

Aug. 9, 1492 — Winds and repairs have grounded us on the Canary Islands. I’m sorry to have stopped so soon, but at least the canaries here are beautiful.

Sept. 8, 1492 — Am officially sick of the &%$@! canaries.

Oct. 6, 1492 — We’ve been off the Canary Islands for close to a month now, and the crew is starting to get a little restless. I’ve tried to keep them occupied with ongoing trivia contests, but let’s face it, it’s 1492 and not a heck of a lot has happened yet.

Every night I awake to what sounds like carousing below the decks of the nearby Pinta. I can’t shake the feeling that Marty sneaked some girls on there at the last stop. Meanwhile, I’m stuck with 47 guys nicknamed “Stumpy.”

Oct. 12, 1492 — At last, we arrived in India. We greeted the Indians warmly, although they seemed a bit confused by the whole thing.

Nov. 15, 1492 — Our travels down the coast are concerning me, since the coastline doesn’t seem to match up with any of my maps. Also, where are all the silk salesmen? Could it be this is not India we’ve found at all, but some … new world?


Nov. 22, 1492 — Woke to find Marty and the Pinta sailing off on their own without permission. Word among the crew has it that he set off in search of gold; I suspect he’s grown fed up with my mandatory nightly sing-alongs. Either way, he’s out of this week’s drawing for a free scurvy screening.

Dec. 25, 1492 — A very depressing Christmas. For one, the Santa Maria grounded on a reef yesterday and today sank into the ocean. Also, the men gave me socks again.

As the Pinta deserted us and the Nina can’t fit the remaining crew, we’ll have to leave some men behind on a nearby island. To help pass the time, I’ve suggested that they vote one person off the island at the end of each week. Whoever’s left at the end will get 100 lira and a subscription to “Navigation Monthly.”

Jan. 6, 1493 — Came across Marty and the Pinta further down the coast. He claimed that his directions said to turn left when we hit India. I asked to see them but he said they were unfortunately eaten by a giant tortoise.

March 15, 1493 — Back in Spain at last! But was the first of my four expeditions the success I had hoped for? And more importantly, will I ever get a day named after me? Time will tell, but with the last seven months still fresh in my mind, I can say one thing for certain:

These tights are killing me.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This “Best of Chianca” column is from 2000. Follow him on Twitter at