Wednesday, September 29, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Senate Republicans Suggest All-Gay Battalion

WASHINGTON (CAP) - With Republicans in the Senate last week shooting down the appropriations bill that would have repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) is proposing a compromise he's hoping both parties can get behind: an all-gay battalion.

"Everybody knows that having homosexuals serving alongside regular straight Christian soldiers gives those normal soldiers the heebie-jeebies," said Chambliss. "And soldiers with heebie-jeebies is bad for national security, probably."

Chambliss - who found himself under fire last week when an anti-gay slur posted on a gay issues blog was traced to his office - says a gay battalion would be "a fine compromise in terms of allowing homosexual Americans who want to serve in the military for some reason a way to do that, without the rest of the soldiers having to worry about being snorkeled."

When asked what he meant by "snorkeled," Chambliss said he was referring to the activity former Democratic Congressman Eric Massa was accused of performing on his Navy subordinates, "in a way that defiles the fine tradition of recreational underwater viewing."

"I haven't been able to look at the loggerhead turtles off the coast of Jekyll Island the same way since," Chambliss said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, immediately got behind the gay battalion suggestion. "I wish they had one of those when I was in the service," said McConnell. "Um, not because I would have wanted to serve in it. Because I'm not a homosexual.

"No matter what you may read on the Internet," he added.

Outside the Senate, the suggestion has been met with mixed reviews. Pop singer Lady Gaga, who has campaigned for months to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said that gay servicemen and women needed to be allowed to be "out and proud" in any division of the armed services, "like those soldiers in Afghanistan who remade my Telephone video," she said.

"Geez, we are not gay!" said Sgt. Aaron Filcher, who directed the video, which went viral last spring. "Can't a bunch of soldiers living in tight quarters film themselves dancing in unison while dressed as Lady Gaga and Beyonce without being assumed to be gay?"

He added that he thought having a gay battalion would be "simply fabulous."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, September 24, 2010

COLUMN: It’s Fred vs. Pee Wee Herman — to the death!

I spent a good chunk of my Saturday night watching “Fred the Movie” on the Nickelodeon channel. I’d say that it was two hours I’ll never get back, except I have a feeling they will return someday, if there is really such a place as hell.

For the uninformed among you — e.g., those of you without kids between 9 and 14, whoever you are — Fred is the “YouTube sensation” known for his squeaky voice and manic delivery, and the screaming … Good God, the screaming. I could try to explain further, but instead you should probably just click on this link and watch. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve seen Fred for yourself, you’re probably having difficulty reading this column because you’ve been distracted by the blood coming out of your eardrums.

What you might not know, though, is that as originally devised by young creator Lucas Cruikshank, Fred was supposed to be 6 years old, which would (sort of) explain why he acts like he just ingested a barrel full of sugar cubes. But in “Fred the Movie” he’s been aged to 15 without changing his behavior, making it feel like you’re watching a mentally challenged person humiliate himself for two hours. In other words, it’s exactly like every other show on Nickelodeon.

I watched it because I wanted to interpret it for my kids, who are 9 and 11; I ruin a lot of their entertainment for them in this way, because that’s my job. And I’ll admit there were a few funny moments, including some with John Cena, the professional wrestler who plays Fred’s (imaginary?) father and has a habit of picking him up and smashing him against coffee tables, in a supportive kind of way.

But I couldn’t help but wonder: Has there ever been a mainstream children’s movie with so much vomit in it? Somehow I can’t picture Walt Disney looking at the rough cut of “Mary Poppins” and declaring, “It needs more heaving!” “The Parent Trap,” maybe.

Now, you might say Fred is just this generation’s Pee Wee Herman, Paul Reubens’ manic man-child of the 1980s. This is an assertion to which there is only one possible logical response: I served with Pee Wee Herman; I knew Pee Wee Herman; and Fred … I know you are but what am I! HehThat never gets old.

For one thing, Pee Wee was the master of his domain (so to speak): He lived in a cool house all by himself, had awesome contraptions, a great bicycle and seemed like a generally well-respected member of his community, as evidenced by the fact that James Brolin wound up playing him in the movie within the movie. And he had no trouble hitchhiking to the Alamo to find his missing bike, whereas Fred can barely get up the nerve to take a bus across town to visit Judy, the “girlfriend” whom he spends the entire movie stalking — he’s sort of like DeNiro in “Taxi Driver,” if DeNiro were a chipmunk.

The way I see it, Pee Wee at least had some panache, in that he didn’t vomit on anyone, much less the girl he was in love with, and his movie didn’t end with him making a YouTube video where everybody vomits, thus somehow making him the most popular kid in school and the apple of the formerly vomit-covered girl’s eye. Yet this (spoiler alert!) is how “Fred the Movie” ended, leading me to wonder: I made it all the way to the end?

But after suffering through it, I figured I needed to at least turn it into a teachable moment for my kids, so as to completely erase any fond feelings they still might have harbored about the evening. So I put on “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” and guess what? My son said he found it “even funnier than Fred.”

I know he was probably just trying to humor me, but after two hours of bodily excretion jokes, I say I deserve his pity.

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, September 15, 2010

COLUMN: Killer robots are lying in wait

My readers are always saying to me, “Pete, why do you keep writing about robots when there is actual news going on in the world, like Paris Hilton getting arrested?” And my response is always the same: “Where did you get this number?”

But the real reason I keep writing about robots is because scientists, who have apparently never seen even a single “Terminator” movie, keep doing robot-related things that seem destined to bring about the end of humanity as we know it. It’s like they’re in some kind of twisted competition with the guys in the next lab developing the deadly strains of bacteria.

In the latest incident, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have apparently come up with a robot that can convincingly lie to you. It seems robots have to be taught this behavior, unlike, say, teenagers, who do it naturally as a defense mechanism. But just because we can teach a robot to lie, does that mean we should? Isn’t that sort of like training a pit bull to distract you with gooey puppy-dog eyes right before it chews your arm off?

But the Georgia scientists apparently see a need for lying robots. For instance, they say a medical robot with a badly injured patient might need to avoid saying something thruthful that would cause the person to panic (“Sir, the possibility of you surviving this mishap is approximately 3,720 to 1,” etc.). Or a spy robot might have to deceive an enemy into thinking it’s a simple peasant girl, or a can opener.

But never fear, one of the developers told Science Daily: “Most social robots will probably rarely use deception.” Of course, that’s what they said about Paris Hilton.

I know there are those out there who think I’m just overreacting, like that time I launched a campaign to ban the word “poop.” (Turns out there are worse words your kid could be saying — who knew?) But before you dismiss my concerns, you should try doing a Google News search for “robots,” keeping in mind that doing so will automatically register you in the Google Robot database, making you one of the first people the robots round up after they mobilize.

Here are just a few recent news stories that pop up:

· The one about the $400,000 robot that can fold your laundry, even though for that price you can hire a human to do it, or even several dozen humans. You know people are upset about illegal aliens when they’re willing to pay $400,000 for a robot to do the work Americans won’t do.

· The one about the artificial “e-skin” that will allow robots to “feel,” in addition to hiding their metal endoskeleton and glowing red eyeballs from their human prey until it’s too late. I’m extrapolating a little for that last part.

· The one about newly developed robot snakes that come with flashlights and hidden cameras, which sounds fine until one is working you down its metallic gullet before ejecting you as bio-pellets.

With that in mind, I plan to keep pounding the killer robot drum until someone listens to me, or until we’re all working in forced robot labor camps, which I realize is probably more likely to happen first. (Never tell me the odds!) In the meantime, we can only hope someone actually comes up with a robot that can do something useful for humanity.

Turning Paris Hilton into bio-pellets might be a good start.

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, September 14, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Obama Glad Pastor Didn't Burn "My Beloved Quran"

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

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

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

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

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

"This is no mere slip of the tongue - the president's statement showed his true colors," said conservative commentator Glenn Beck. "By which I mean black, in an Arab-y kind of way."

Beck, who recently held his "Restoring Honor" rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., noted that he did not burn any Qurans at his event. "Because frankly I didn't think of it," he said, breaking down in a steady stream of tears and sobs for several minutes.

Obama's comments come in the wake of the weeks-long controversy over the Rev. Terry Jones' plans to burn Qurans on Sept. 11 at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville. Jones scrapped the event at the last minute after a slew of calls asking him not to burn the books, including ones from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former President Jimmy Carter, actress and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and hotel heiress Paris Hilton, although "We're pretty sure Hilton was just trying to score some coke," said Cpl. Tscharna Senn of the Gainesville Police Department.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, September 10, 2010

COLUMN: Welcome to middle school -- now sign here and behave!

Dear Students and Their Parents:

Welcome to middle school! We hope you have a successful and productive academic career here, by which we mean one in which we don’t have to deal with you very often.

Several parents have asked us about the unfortunate incident last year involving Mr. Crenshaw and the unauthorized use of Bunsen burners by some now-former students. We’re happy to report that Mr. Crenshaw has completely healed, and we’re told he’s started a very satisfying new career in air traffic control.

However, we would like to make it known that we will not tolerate similar behavior this year. Ideally, we would enforce this through additional staff, including a contingent of seven to 12 trained psychologists, some of them armed. However, as budget considerations prohibit such expenditures, we instead are asking all students and their parents to sign the following academic and behavioral contract, as if that will work.

1) Behavior. I, the undersigned, promise to engage only in behavior conducive to a productive learning environment. Although I may be tempted, if I am a girl, to mercilessly target the self-esteem of other, less confident girls I deem to be a threat to my own personal social status, or if I am a boy, to loudly flaunt my bodily noises, I promise not to indulge in these activities until after school, while I’m texting incessantly at Dunkin’ Donuts and not ordering anything.

2) Dress. I, the undersigned, promise to dress in such a way as to not distract from the academic atmosphere. This means no shirts depicting inappropriate language, politically incorrect language, political messages, apolitical messages, flags of any nation, corporate logos, weapons, food, 1970s cartoon characters or Justin Bieber. Also, if I am a girl, I will wear nothing that reveals skin below the neck or above the wrists or a bodily shape that doesn’t resemble a sack of loose sand. And if I am a boy, I promise not to loudly flaunt my bodily noises. (Not dress-related, but worth repeating.)

3) Science safety. I, the undersigned, acknowledge that for some reason, school administration has deemed it appropriate for me to handle open flames, potentially dangerous chemicals, razor-sharp knives and animal carcasses, even though I have yet to master the ability to scrape the food off my breakfast plate before putting it into the sink. With that in mind, I promise not to engage in horseplay during science classes, except maybe with the animal carcasses, which, if I am a boy, will be too hard to resist. And if I am a girl, I promise not to target the animal carcasses’ self-esteem.

4. Athletics. I, the undersigned, promise always to engage in good sportsmanship on the field of play and to embrace the competitive spirit in a productive way that encourages personal growth over simply winning for winning’s sake. Unless we’re playing those stuck-up jerks from the next town over, in which case we need to win at any cost or you’re off the team, got it? We never had this conversation.

5. Parents. I, the parent of the undersigned, promise to ensure that my child gets to school on time, does his or her assignments and comes home to a secure and supportive environment. I will make this a priority even though it may interfere with my work and/or social engagements, along with … Wait a minute, I just need to check my Blackberry. (Sorry, I’ve got to take this. Just go play Xbox for a while.)

In conclusion, students, we’re confident that adherence to these agreed-upon measures will ensure a productive, high-self-esteem, bodily-noise-free academic year for you and your peers. Meanwhile, if you or your parents have any questions or concerns, please feel free to leave a message with your principal. He will get back to you as soon as he returns from air traffic control school.

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.”