Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh good! The first great white shark sighting of summer

Nothing says "start of summer" to me like the first great white shark sighting. It's a fine reminder of how the longstanding coastal tradition of enjoying our beautiful beaches and shorelines can possibly end in being chewed to death.

Of course, Bruce Sweet, captain of the 35-foot Sweet Dream III out of Gloucester, Mass., doesn't seem concerned -- he hooked one by accident Saturday and, rather than declaring the need for a bigger boat or blowing it up with a scuba tank, he took pictures and video. How very new millennium.

Meanwhile, it's worth reminding everyone to practice water safety, and to avoid making bombastic speeches when standing too close to a big hole in the bottom of your ship that's being stalked by genetically engineered sharks. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: McDonald's Accidentally Puts School's Condoms In Happy Meals

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. (CAP) - McDonald's executives were left with egg (McMuffin) on their face this week, when over 5,000 Happy Meals were distributed with colored condoms instead of a plastic toy from the movie The Last Airbender.

The condoms were intended for the Provincetown, Mass. school system, which recently established a policy making them available for students of all ages; they were delivered to McDonald's distribution center in Barnstable, Mass. in error.

"They were so bright and colorful, they were mistaken for Happy Meal toys," explained McDonald's vice president of public relations Robin Anderson. "Unfortunately most of the workers there don't read English, and they thought 'Ribbed Latex' was a character from The Last Airbender."

The mistake led to an incident in a Brewster, Mass., McDonald's, where more than a dozen 8-year-olds attending a birthday party all opened their condoms at once, and immediately blew them into balloons and started batting them around the restaurant.

Shrieks of horror ensued from several other patrons, and one elderly woman fainted when a condom balloon landed in her Filet O' Fish.

"She'd apparently never seen one that size before," explained Brewster Police Chief Bradley Heffernan, who noted that there were some similar concerns when Congress instituted its "Cash For Condoms" program.

The McDonald's incident also caused problems in Provincetown, where the schools accidentally received the restaurant's shipments of Last Airbender toys, and several were released to students who went into their school's nurse's office seeking condoms.

"This was actually very successful among the younger grades, where students would much rather get a stuffed 'Momo' doll than a condom," admitted School Superintendent Beth Singer, who in recent weeks has had to defend the school district's policy of distributing condoms to any student who asks, and not notifying parents.

"But unfortunately there was an issue with Last Airbender Aang Water Cannons being distributed to high school students, resulting in several unwanted pregnancies," said Singer.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Harry Potter Theme Park Closes 'Equus Pavilion'

ORLANDO (CAP) - "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at the Islands of Adventure theme park has only been open a short time, but protests by conservative watchdog groups have already forced Universal to close the park's controversial "Equus Pavilion."

Based on the 2007 revival of the Peter Shaffer play that featured Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, the Equus Pavilion allowed guests to ride animatronic blinded horses past naked Radcliffe look-alikes.

"In retrospect, the attraction may have been too avant-garde for its own good," admitted Bill Douglas, president of Universal Orlando.

"I had to cover my daughter's eyes - it was bloody manky, all those Daniel Radcliffes running around in their altogether," said Sarah Lowsley of Wolverhampton, England, who had traveled to the park with her daughter Millicent, 12, and waited 10 hours to get in last weekend.

"They had some cellophane or something covering their naughty bits, but they were clearly in the nuddy," claimed Lowsley. "At one point one of them tried to have relations with our bloody mechanical horse!" Lowsley went on to clarify that she meant "bloody" literally, as the horses were all bleeding from their artificial eyes.

"The naked Radcliffes are only supposed to nuzzle the horses," responded Douglas, noting that park managers had reviewed security tapes and could only identify a handful of incidences where the cast members may have gotten "a little too randy" with the robot stallions.

"They're attractive animals," Douglas admitted.

The attraction drew immediate fire from conservatives, many of them already no fan of the Potter series. The watchdog group Mothers Against Everything (MAE) called Universal's decision to incorporate Shaffer's 1973 play about a young man's violent religious and sexual fascination with horses into a family theme park "a very bad choice."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, June 17, 2010

COLUMN: More Father’s Day tips for baffled dads

Every year around this time, I like to dip into my pool of fatherly knowledge and offer up some tips on being a good dad. Unfortunately, it’s sort of like a little plastic pool, about a foot deep with cartoon whales on it.

Still, with kids ages 11 and 8, I figure I can come up with some half-decent advice — and maybe even some signs of hope for those of you with younger children who are concerned it’s only a matter of time before you screw them up. You know who you are.

1) Be prepared to do research. For years you were able to appear informed about your kids’ interests through your vast general knowledge, which you could mostly make up, since they had no access to Wikipedia. But eventually they gravitate toward activities you know nothing about, and if you don’t make a concerted effort to learn about them you risk being labeled an idiot, even before that typically happens.

Take my son, who this year decided to take up lacrosse; this is not a very well known sport, mainly because there has never been an inspirational Hollywood movie about it, possibly starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. To the untrained eye, it resembles guys running around whacking each other with sticks. But I did a little research into it and discovered it’s actually a highly nuanced, very strategic sport, in which guys run around whacking each other with sticks.

2) You have to work on the basics. When I first started teaching my son how to play baseball, I could do no wrong; I was like Mark Fidrych, Reggie Jackson and Garry Maddox all rolled into one, primarily because he had never heard of any of those people. But now that he’s an accomplished ballplayer in his own right, there are certain things he expects from me, like the ability to pitch him a ball in his strike zone, and not the strike zone of an imaginary 8-foot-tall person swinging a 5-foot bat.

This means the kids aren’t the only ones who need to practice. With that in mind, I plan to go out and, even if it takes me hour upon hour of intense personal effort, buy him a pitching machine.

3) Hide the remote. When your kids are little and they’re watching “Caillou” — the cartoon about the eerily bald, fit-prone 4-year-old whom even Mr. Rogers would trip if nobody was looking — you think children’s television can’t possibly get any worse. Then they start watching “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” starring twin actors apparently grown in a Disney laboratory using DNA from the band Nelson and a squirrel.

The comedy (“comedy”) on these shows usually involves bodily functions, hilarious personal injury and characters being nasty to each other. We’ve actually had to ban several Disney and Nickelodeon programs because the characters are so mean — I’m concerned that the sidekick girl from “iCarly” may actually be a sociopath. I’m just waiting for the episode where they find Gibby’s head in a box.

4) Beware the math. You might have thought your college degree, or perhaps your master’s, or the fact that you’ve spent years running a multinational corporation, would have prepared you for your daughter’s fifth-grade math homework. This is not true, however, because the way students learn math has been reworked by a committee of people who hate you.

It’s not just that they’ve taught our children completely alien procedures to use when solving math problems, leading to daily battles as parents insist on dividing and subtracting while their kids are trying to “regroup,” whatever that means. They also end every assignment with an essay question in which students have to explain why the problem works out the way it does, a development which seriously undermines the time-honored mathematical tradition of just guessing.

5) Give yourself a little credit. Although fathering is tough, you can sometimes spot signs that you’re making progress. For instance, when my son asked me what I was doing today, I said I was writing about how to be a good dad — and he replied, “Well, you’re a good dad, so that should be pretty easy.” Hey … That must mean I’m doing something right!

It’s just a good thing I didn’t say I was writing about how to be a good pitcher.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Teen Aims To Be Youngest To Wrestle A Lion To Death

LOS ANGELES (CAP) - Justin Merkenson, a 14-year-old from Cupertino, Calif., will try to break into the record books by becoming the youngest person ever to wrestle a live lion, he announced at a press conference yesterday flanked by his parents, siblings and other proud relatives.

"It's been my dream since I was 11 to wrestle a fully grown African lion," Merkenson told reporters. "I've been working this whole time toward that goal, and I feel like I'm finally ready to take it on, sort of."

Justin's parents, Larry and Marylou Merkenson, acknowledge they've faced criticism for allowing their son to take on a challenge many see as too dangerous for a boy his age, or any age, really.

"I do grapple with it," concedes Larry Merkenson. "But he's ready for it from the standpoint of animal wrestling ability, and emotionally I believe he's ready to tackle this head-on.

"I've tried to scare him away from it by showing him some ugly stuff that can happen when you get that close to a ferocious jungle predator, but he just gets more encouraged," he said. "He's kind of stupid that way."

Justin notes that he began wrestling small animals, like cats and possums, at age 13, moving up to larger-breed dogs and eventually more aggressive creatures like raccoons and domestic goats.

"The ones with the horns can get pretty nasty," said Justin.

He plans to keep a record of his attempt via a blog called Justin's Lion Wrestling Blog, although he admitted it might be difficult to type while attempting to keep his head out of the lion's massive jaws. "But nobody ever said this would be easy, I don't think," he noted.

Still, opposition to the attempt is mounting. Darlene Fortenski, spokeswoman for Mothers Against Everything (MAE), denounced the idea, calling it "a very bad choice."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Scott Brown's outside in his truck with his beer helmet!

In what would have to be classified as the BEST CONTEST EVER, U.S. Senator Scott Brown is ... well, I'll let him tell you in his own words:

Our campaign has decided to launch an essay contest to allow you the opportunity to win two Red Sox tickets to attend a game with me off of the 2010 schedule at Fenway Park, and I'll pick you up in my truck!

He doesn't mention whether it will be a threesome, or whether you're obligated to give him one of the two tickets if you win. But the thought of piling into Scott's truck and rolling on down to Fenway is just too tempting to pass up -- do you think he'll buy beers?

Find out how to enter at his Brown Brigade blog. Meanwhile, if you've never seen Brown in person, I should mention that the photo above is not embellished in any way: He really does exude heavenly blue beams of light.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Umpire Joyce Accidentally Runs Over 'Perfect' Pitcher Galarraga

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems the incident is just the latest in a series of unfortunate encounters between the two men; it came out last week that in 2008, Joyce had advised Galarraga to invest heavily in HD-DVD, a move that eventually cost Galarraga hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"That one still smarts," admitted Galarraga. "But how could he know people will like Blu-ray better?"

"Blu-ray - who knew?" said Joyce, now openly weeping.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, June 03, 2010

COLUMN: What I learned from 'American Idol'

I’ve spent the last eight years systematically avoiding “American Idol,” which is not something that’s easy to do. It’s like avoiding obesity, or Regis Philbin — you’ve got to work at it.

For one thing, the singers in the clips I’d seen were always stretching high notes in a way that I thought might cause my head to explode, like the wine flute in those Memorex commercials. Plus, judging from the number of friends and relatives who told me I should be watching it — “You’ve got to watch Idol!” was a familiar refrain from my mother in particular — I was concerned it might be part of a plot to turn Americans into pod people.

But this year, I finally jumped on the Idol bandwagon, through the same avenue I get introduced to most things these days: my kids. (This is also the reason I know all the lyrics to the Hannah Montana song “Hoedown Throwdown.”) Watching Idol is actually a great way to promote family togetherness — it turns out nothing brings parents and their children together like ranking on people who’ve just embarrassed themselves on national television.

What surprised me, though, was that much of the music wasn’t bad. First of all, at some point apparently all the contestants started playing guitars, which makes them seem much less like Celine Dion. (Can you imagine Celine Dion holding a guitar? She’d tip over.) A fair number of contestants were “bluesy rockers,” as Randy liked to call them, as opposed to scary R&B warblers, as I’d like to think Ellen might call them if she weren’t afraid of being driven off the show and stoned like Paula.

And not only did I enjoy it, I even feel like I learned from it — namely that by following a few simple guidelines, we can all be American idols. For instance:

1) Don’t be lazy. As Simon was wont to point out, pretty much all the performers were prone to “lazy” song choices and “lazy” performances, which was easy for him to say, since he got to sit the whole time. If he were so industrious, you’d think he’d come up with another word for “lazy.” (I like indolent.)

2) Be new and fresh. I liked how the show would make the performers sing songs by Elvis and Frank Sinatra, and then chastise them for not sounding current enough. It seems they were supposed to update the songs by changing the arrangements, presumably just enough to ruin them.

3) Don’t ever admit that you’re a paint salesman. This apparently marks you as a total loser with next to no hope for actual success; the only worse profession for eventual winner Lee DeWyze would have been shoe salesman, in which case Ryan Seacrest would have taken him out back and shot him, just to put him out of his misery.

4) Be in the moment. This advice usually comes from Kara, who only seems to like your performance if she can tell exactly what you’re thinking the whole time. This would not work in my favor, since what I’d usually be thinking is “Kara’s bulgy-eyed stare is creeping me out.”

5) If you have a Ryan Seacrest in your life, you can skip over him if you DVR. I mean that metaphorically, of course; in the real world you just have to distract yourself from the Ryans by doing things like reciting your grocery list in your head.

6) You only need to watch the last five minutes of the results show. I’m not sure exactly how this is applicable to your life outside of Idol, but it could possibly save you from accidentally seeing the Bee Gees.

Granted, following these rules might not turn me into a Siobhan or a Tim Urban, but I’m figuring if I try hard enough, and keep Idol in my heart, I can keep the Simons of the world at bay. Or at least my mother.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Lee DeWyze Can't Believe He Has To Make An Album

LOS ANGELES (CAP) - A week after his surprising win, American Idol champion Lee DeWyze is just now coming out of what doctors say is a state of severe shock.

"I won? I sang Beautiful Day?" DeWyze said incredulously when shown a tape of his victory show. "I was on American Idol?"

Then he slipped back into the shell-shocked look that became his trademark on this season of Idol, having to be revived with a bucket of ice water to the face.

"I have to make a whole album now?" he then asked, still dripping. "I'm a freakin' paint salesman, for crying out loud!" Then he bent over and took a series of long, deep breaths, apparently to keep from passing out.

DeWyze's victory came as a surprise to many, given that the runner-up, Crystal Bowersox, was generally considered by judges and critics to be the better performer.

"I thought Lee was great, but all he ever did backstage was hyperventilate and throw up," said Bowersox. "I'd wish him luck and he'd just stare at me like he was going to cry. Then he'd either heave or curl up in the corner and recite the Benjamin Moore paint colors."

For his part, departing Idol judge Simon Cowell says he's sure that DeWyze will get over his jitters.

"Lee is really the type of contestant the show was invented for," said Cowell. "A normal person, really a complete schlub with no discernable personality, a nobody with the worst job in the world and really a generic, marginal voice ... Hmm. Actually, come to think of it he probably shouldn't have made it past the first round."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]