Wednesday, October 26, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Wall St. Protesters Mistake Old Homeless Man For Pete Seeger

NEW YORK (CAP) - Occupy Wall Street protesters followed an elderly homeless man more than 20 blocks Friday night, apparently thinking he was folk music legend Pete Seeger.

The man, later identified as Fred Goreham, 72, was apparently panhandling near the Symphony Space at Broadway and 95th Street, where Seeger has been performing with Arlo Guthrie and others. Someone spotted Goreham and yelled "Look, it's Pete Seeger!" A crowd formed around him immediately.

"We were like, this is so cool, he's like a legend!" recalled P.J. Franks, 22, of Queens, who was marching next to the man he thought was Seeger. "Although it seemed odd that he didn't seem to know the words to any of the songs we were singing."

According to several people who were there, the crowd started up spontaneous versions of Down By The Riverside and We Shall Not Be Moved, but "Seeger" kept singing the lyrics to Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

"He also kept asking if anyone had any muscatel," recalled protester Amy Weinberg, 24, of Oyster Bay. "We just thought he must have been parched."

The crowd of about 600, including several who joined in from the Occupy Locker Room NBA labor protest, apparently followed Goreham from 95th Street all the way down to Columbus Circle, eventually touching on a song "Seeger" seemed to know, This Land is Your Land.

"But after he sang This land is your land, this land is my land, he just keep going, This land is her land, this land is his land, this land is whose land ... and pointing at random people in the crowd," said Franks, who had handed the old man his guitar. "He strummed it a few times, but then he began sort of humping it. It was very awkward."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Column: You too can be a nuclear scientist!

As my devoted audience — primarily my mother and a guy named Fred who added me to the mailing list for his conspiracy theory e-newsletter — may have noticed, I recently took about a five-month sabbatical from writing this column. I’d like to say I spent the time writing a novel, but unfortunately, certain circumstances prevented it. Damn you, Angry Birds!

Regrettably, though, it seems my break had an unanticipated side effect, namely that, from what I can tell, there was no local columnist available to comment on the Swedish man who was arrested last August after trying to split atoms in his kitchen. Fortunately his efforts didn’t result in a worldwide nuclear catastrophe, meaning I can still weigh in today on the concept of home atom splitting. So here goes: Don’t do it.

According to the Associated Press, Richard Handl, 31, spent months setting up a nuclear reactor in his home, and “only later did he realize it might not be legal.” This is very similar to the defense used by the guy who created Napster, except that a shared song file never carried with it the threat of mass annihilation, with the possible exception of “Heartbeat” by Don Johnson.

So what would make an otherwise normal, average, 31-year-old Swedish man bring radium, americium and uranium in his kitchen and use it to provoke a nuclear reaction? Apparently, he told the AP, he was only doing it “as a hobby,” and I can see how, much like fishing or macramé, it would be very satisfying for that split second before you’re incinerated.

But it’s worth noting that Handl didn’t just conduct illegal nuclear experiments: He also blogged about it, presumably hewing to the common truism, “If a man builds a nuclear reactor in his kitchen and nobody is there to blog about it, does it stiKABOOOOMMMM!!!!!” (Personally, I’d like to take this opportunity to note that blogging is perhaps the lowest form of personal expression, and that you can access mine at

Beyond the blogging, though, I have my own theory as to why someone might attempt to tackle do-it-yourself nuclear science: It’s part of living in a society where people have been conditioned to believe they can do pretty much anything without the need of professional intervention. Publisher, recording artist, developer of video games where drug dealers beat up strippers — all of these used to require years of specialized training. Now, there’s an app for that. (And by “app” I of course am using the modern shorthand for what used to be more commonly known as … wait, let me check my notes … “appaloosa.”)

Coming at it as I do from my perspective in the newspaper industry, part of me finds it to be a comforting development: Why should I be the only one getting put out of business by amateurs working from their kitchens? Let the nuclear physicists share some of the pain — by the end of the decade, I’d like to see every American making nuclear reactions in his bathtub, or barring that, gin. Which I do not believe is illegal, as long as you blog about it.

But on the other hand, I think in the end we’d be better off convincing these usurpers — the self-publishers, the would-be physicists, the wealthy fake astronauts, the people filming themselves in hotel rooms with night-vision cameras (you know who you are) — that all of these activities are better left to professionals with the training and expertise to do the job correctly.

I’m talking to you, Fred. Now please take me off your mailing list.

Peter Chianca is editor in chief for GateHouse Media New England’s north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter at

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Family Calls 911 From Inside Space Mountain Ride

ORLANDO (CAP) - A Massachusetts family caused a splash in Disney World this week when they called 911 from inside the Space Mountain ride, apparently fearing they would never make it out.

"I don't see anybody. I'm really scared. It's really dark," the mother told the Orlando 911 dispatcher, yelling over the sounds of the famous indoor roller coaster. "I don't know what made us do this. It was daytime when we came in," she added.

The dispatcher patiently tried to explain that if she just remained calm, the ride would end by itself and they'd be able to walk out under their own power, but the woman insisted that they send help.

"I can't even see where we're going ... I think we may be in space!" she yelled. "What if we run into a satellite or something?"

The dispatcher then asked to speak to her husband, who said he was concerned because everybody on the ride was screaming.

"I see lights over there, but we can't get there, we're smack right in the middle of the ride," the husband told the dispatcher, although it was later determined that they were only seconds from the end of the ride, and the attendants asking patrons to wait until the car came to a complete stop before exiting should have been clearly visible.

Disney World spokesman Joe Hackney said that people do panic on the theme park's rides occasionally, but none had ever called 911 before.

"Screaming, jumping off in the middle, vomiting, having a slight allergic reaction to the Disney swine flu vaccine - those happen all the time," said Hackney. "But we discourage guests from calling the police, because we have an experienced security force here that would be more than happy to interrogate them about any issues they may be having.

"I'd just like to note that this was an isolated incident and for the vast majority of patrons, a trip to Disney World is a fun and magical experience," Hackney added. But when asked by a CAP News reporter about the alleged Fast Pass Riot of 2007, Hackney declined to comment, and Disney security forces dragged the reporter through a trap door into one of the park's secret underground tunnels.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Column: Taking lumps at Tufts with Scott Brown

“Bottom line is, you know, I didn’t go to Harvard … I went to the school of hard knocks.”

Sen. Scott Brown, Tufts University Class of 1981

As a fellow Tufts alum, I can vouch for Sen. Brown’s assertion that Tufts was, in fact, “the school of hard knocks.” In fact, I believe the wrought iron gate at the bottom of the Memorial Steps bore the words “Tufts University, a.k.a. The School of Hard Knocks,” with the phrase “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” underneath that, in smaller letters.

I recall walking up those very same steps on more than one occasion, battered by wind and rain, or at least drizzle, and thinking, “This is a living hell! Damn those Harvard students, being carried to and from campus in solid-gold sedan chairs!” But it built character, and I usually just caught the free student shuttle anyway.

I remember when I arrived for student orientation in 1986, the university president, Dr. Jean Mayer, told us, “You are about to enter the toughest four years of your life. You’ll have to fight for every scrap, and the world will knock you down at every turn, and you’ll learn lessons the hard way, by being beaten within an inch of your life.” Actually I’m not sure what he said, because he had a fairly thick French accent and I was daydreaming about the buffet that followed the event, but I’m sure it was something like that.

It wasn’t long before I started receiving the hard knocks that Scott Brown would no doubt have warned me about if he hadn’t clawed and scraped his way out of Tufts and never looked back. For instance, I found that if you didn’t get to the dining hall early, sometimes they would run out of soft-serve ice cream. And once, when I forgot to bring an assignment to class, the professor gave me a pretty icy glare before telling me I could give it to her tomorrow.

We were a hardscrabble bunch, we students there at the Tufts University School of Hard Knocks and its affiliated graduate schools, such as the Tufts Veterinary School of Hard Knocks and the Fletcher School of Hard Knocks and Diplomacy. (The vet school was actually on the Grafton campus, which I can only assume had even harder knocks, some of them involving tramplings.) We were a lot like the characters in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” except instead of drowning in a muddy gutter we were spending four years on a lush university campus. But inside, where it counts: gutter drowning.

I can only imagine how hard the knocks were when Brown attended Tufts a few years earlier. Did the dining halls not even have soft-serve ice cream? Did even fewer students have their own parent-provided cars for easy travel to local attractions? Were there even more 8 a.m. classes, seriously inhibiting your ability to stay up until 2 a.m. the night before, holding contests with the guys in your hall to see who could eat the most “suicide spicy” buffalo wings? I’m sure only the strong survived.

Luckily for Scott Brown, he had grown up on the rough-and-tumble streets of Wakefield, Mass., where people lived in constant fear that at any moment, Wakefield native Israel Horovitz might have jumped out of a cul-de-sac and put them in one of his plays. Brown’s childhood there no doubt prepared him for his years getting knocked down and getting up again at Tufts, followed by his stint at Boston College Law School of Hard Knocks, where he no doubt learned that hard knocks can be just cause for a serious personal injury suit.

But clearly Scott lifted himself up by his bootstraps, because he’s now a United States senator. And even if he didn’t mention Tufts by name when referring to the school of hard knocks he attended, it’s nice to know that despite all his success, his alma mater is still so close to his heart.

Even if he has aides to get him his ice cream now.

Peter Chianca is editor in chief for GateHouse Media New England’s north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter at

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Column: Revealing some trade secrets

I should start off by saying I am not what you’d call a hoarder. Come in to my home and you’re unlikely to find the rooms and hallways piled up with old newspapers, products purchased from the Home Shopping Network and desiccated animal skeletons. Except for the old newspapers.

What I do have is an overabundance of entertainment items that somehow made their way onto my shelves despite their clear lack of artistic merit. There are the CDs I got just because the BMG Music Club was offering them for 1 cent (back when you used to have to pay for music), and the DVDs we bought for my kids when they were toddlers, because they pointed to them in the supermarket and we wanted to keep the shopping experience moving along smoothly, without having to involve security.

I know I could sell them on eBay (the CDs and DVDs, not the kids), but I don’t think I’m ready to become a full-fledged online retailer. I picture myself in my garage surrounded by boxes and packing tape, sifting through email orders and trying to squeeze in trips to the post office, where the clerks greet me with cries of “Hey, it’s eBay Guy!” I was hoping to save that for my retirement.

That’s why I was so intrigued when I heard about something called, which allows you to trade your stuff to other people in exchange for their stuff. This was more like it: It seemed somehow purer than just selling these things, and I figured it would prepare me for the inevitable period somewhere down the road (Tuesday?) when the world economy is based exclusively on barter, and banks are used primarily to house grain.

So I signed up, but immediately hit some unexpected bumps. For one thing, people seemed generally reluctant to trade me the cool stuff I wanted in exchange for the crap I had been considering throwing away. I was highly offended — who wouldn’t want to trade their copy of “40: A Doonesbury Retrospective” (list price: $100) for my copy of “Andre,” the 1994 movie about the seal who wears sunglasses? Or the “Karate Kid II” DVD I won in a PTA raffle? Or the Jonas Brothers CD we bought for our daughter during that tiny sliver of the pop culture time continuum when they were cool?

What’s even worse, several of the items I listed are being sought by absolutely no one in exchange for anything — for instance, not even a single shut-in was interested in my copy of “Rickles’ Letters” by Don Rickles. It was one thing when nobody wanted anything at our yard sale, since the audience for that stuff was limited to people in the general vicinity. But when you find out that the entire world finds your stuff even more useless than you do, it makes you start wondering where you went wrong in life.

Before long, you give up completely on your “want” list and start trolling the “What can I get?” list for anything that might remotely validate your self-worth. Only in my case that just made it worse, since it appeared that the only thing anyone was willing to trade me for my stuff was old Jennifer Weiner novels. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Soon I settled in, though, and I’ve now done several successful swaps, acquiring such things as the “Watchmen” graphic novel, a Gram Parsons CD and a DVD of “The Maltese Falcon.” None of them were on my “want” list, but I feel like I’m expanding my horizons, while at the same time getting rid of things like my DVD copy of “You’ve Got Mail.” (Which I suspect was carried into my home by romantic comedy elves and is not indicative of any sort of crush I might have once had on Meg Ryan. Or Tom Hanks.)

And the good news is, apparently will soon be expanding so that you can trade ANYTHING, not just entertainment items. When it comes to getting rid of your old stuff, that’s a game changer. I can only imagine the possibilities.

What do you think I can get for a pile of newspapers?

Peter Chianca is editor in chief for GateHouse Media New England’s north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter at