Thursday, November 24, 2011

Column: 30 reasons to be thankful, sort of

Some years back I kicked off an annual Thanksgiving-week tradition of listing reasons why people should be thankful. I figured that by 2011 compiling the list would be extremely easy, given that we’d all be millionaires traveling by jetpack.

Unfortunately it’s only gotten harder, but that’s not to say there isn’t room for hope. (And change, but mostly the hope part.) For instance, you should be thankful for the fact that:

1. Seal Team 6 has no reason to know where you live.

2. No one has “occupied” your driveway. Yet.

3. You’ve never had to work at the National Restaurant Association. Or if you have, at least you probably got a settlement.

4. Michele Obama hasn’t snuck up behind your kid and confiscated his Twinkies. Yet.

5. You don’t live on a fault line, or next to a nuclear power plant, or on a fault line next to a nuclear power plant.

6. Rick Perry isn’t in charge of remembering your locker combination, or your email passwords, or your kids’ names.

7. Your September collapse wasn’t broadcast on live television.

8. Your marriage lasted more than 72 days, probably.

9. Rupert Murdoch has no reason to know your voice mail number.

10. You didn’t have Eddie Murphy scheduled to host anything for you (kids’ birthday party, PTA spelling bee, bar mitzvah, etc.).

11. You’ve never been Tweeted by Anthony Weiner. Unless you have, in which case … Ew, gross.

12. Your power’s back on and you’re not trapped under a branch.

13. Michele Bachmann isn’t trying to pray away any of your personal traits. At least not to your face.

14. Your approval rating among your constituents is way above 9 percent, and that’s including your in-laws.

15. The last time you went to a Broadway show, Spider-Man didn’t fall on your head.

16. You don’t need approval from Congress to raise your debt ceiling. (Actually, that may not be such a good thing.)

17. Nancy Grace has no reason to know you exist.

18. You didn’t try to raise your prices 60 percent and figure nobody would notice.

19. Even if you’re not in a profession that features women in tiny shorts dancing around you while you do it, at least your job probably didn’t get canceled this year.

20. Nobody spotted you on the pier in Santa Monica.

21. The GOP isn’t twisting itself into a pretzel to find someone, anyone to nominate instead of you. (See numbers 3, 6 and 13, and Newt Gingrich.)

22. You’re not a Colts season ticket holder.

23. Even if you did get fired this year, at least you didn’t travel around the country doing a one-man show about it.

24. You’re not the guy left in charge of Apple.

25. No one is out to depose you. Or if they are, they’re probably not armed.

26. Donald Trump has absolutely no interest in your birth certificate.

27. Your wedding didn’t wind up being all about Pippa.

28. You got out of that corn maze without any help from local authorities.

29. Even in drag and a fat suit, you would still be more appealing than Adam Sandler in “Jack & Jill.”

30. At this very moment you may be unemployed, in foreclosure, being pepper-sprayed, floating on a rapidly melting ice flow and/or standing on a dais between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — but no matter what, things are bound to get better in 2012!

Although you better stay on Nancy Grace’s good side, just in case.

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Column: Where was Fozzie when I needed him?

We make them all the time — those little parenting choices that don’t seem like a big deal, but wind up having serious, long-term implications. I’m thinking of things like letting them crawl into our beds (“just this once”), or allowing them to find out about Twinkies, or suggesting they might want to try ice hockey.

I made one of those choices back in 2005, when I suggested the family watch the new Muppets TV movie, “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz.” I’ll admit my motives were selfish; the Muppets were probably the single greatest influence on my sense of humor (which, if you know me, explains a lot), and I wanted my own kids to experience the joys of wisecracking frogs and bears in their natural habitat (a Studebaker). Plus, I’ve been told I look like Fozzie (which also explains a lot).

Unfortunately, “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” was not what you’d call a good movie, or even a good Muppet movie. But something about Kermit, Fozzie and company struck a chord with my son Tim, then 4. After that night, for Tim, it was all-Muppets, all-the-time.

And that’s where our troubles began.

It wasn’t too hard to dig up the other movies, which had long since been available on DVD. But as any parent of a 4-year-old knows, no entertainment experience is complete unless it can be complemented by accessories, namely toys, games, stuffed animals and T-shirts. And this is where having a child obsessed with a 25-year-old phenomenon gets a little tricky.

Unlike, say, the mid-’80s, by the 2000s toy store shelves were totally bereft of Fozzies and Gonzos. Muppet merchandise was so rare that when Timmy spotted a giant Kermit hanging from a booth at the 2005 Topsfield Fair, he reacted like Ponce de León stumbling on the Fountain of Youth. This would explain why a phalanx of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins felt compelled to plunk down the gross national product of Bolivia until we finally won it — the only other option would have been to leave Timmy behind with Kermit to pursue a career as a barker.

Naturally, we soon found ourselves resorting to eBay, which resulted in a small but growing collection of stuffed Muppets that smelled vaguely of the ’70s. One particularly intense Sunday afternoon saw us in a bidding war for a vintage Rowlf doll: “I WILL PAY ANY PRICE!” my mother-in-law declared, in that voice a grandmother uses when she feels her grandchild might be deprived of something that somebody else’s grandchild has, or might someday have.

It may have gotten ugly at times (and if you think that’s ugly, you should see the dancing girls), but our efforts were worth it to see Tim perform full-on productions with his Muppet collection, which he carried with him from place to place in a little plastic suitcase. This was convenient until the entire lot managed to get lost (Have you tried Hare Krishna?), or at least left behind, on a beach in Rockport. All I know is, when you become a parent nobody tells you that someday you’ll be driving to a beachside motel after work to retrieve a suitcase full of Muppets.

Of course, eventually Timmy discovered the Red Sox, and his coveted Muppets became less a part of our everyday lives; poor Rowlf wound up getting dragged outside by one of our (real-life) dogs, where we found him later that winter unceremoniously encased in snow like some ancient Bigfoot. But both Tim and my daughter Jackie still perked up when a Muppet turned up on a commercial or a new YouTube video, and we all reacted with excitement — and some disbelief — when we heard a new Muppet movie was finally in the works.

The Muppets” opens Nov. 23, and as a result you now can’t throw a boomerang fish without hitting Muppet merchandise. Better late than never — early reports say it’s a throwback to the Jim Henson era, when the driving force behind the Muppets was equal amounts heart and twisted wit, rather than corporate synergy or whatever the driving force was behind that awful “Wizard of Oz.” I have my fingers crossed; we’ll find out when we hit the theater on opening night.

I bet I’ll be the only guy there with a Hefty bag full of Muppets in his basement, and whose kids feel like they’re reuniting with old friends.

And who looks like Fozzie.

For more Muppets, see my Gatehouse Media story rating the Muppet movies from first to worst.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Feds Seek To Prosecute Sandler For 'Jack & Jill'

WASHINGTON (CAP) - The U.S. Attorney's Office announced this week that it is seeking indictments against Adam Sandler, along with fellow producers Todd Garner and Jack Giarraputo, over their new film Jack & Jill, calling it "a crime against humanity."

In the movie, Sandler plays both Jack Sadelstein and his frumpy sister Jill Sadelstein, who throughout the film is subjected to a litany of derogatory remarks about her looks, her weight and her general lack of intelligence. It currently has a 3 out of 100 rating at, making it officially one of the worst movies ever made, including snuff films.

"Even Good Luck Chuck got a 5," noted Jeff Giley of Rotten Tomatoes.

But according to prosecutors, the film's offenses go far beyond just being unentertaining.

"Our prosecutors will argue that Sandler and his fellow producers have committed at least several actionable offenses," according to Richard Millburn of the U.S. Attorney's Office. "Attorney General [Eric] Holder has given us full authority to seek indictments on charges of fraud, extortion and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and that's just to start off."

The fraud charges stem from Sandler's attempt to pass the movie off as an "object of legitimate entertainment," rather than "a steaming pile of cow dung," said Millburn, who noted that only the first of those two phrases is a legal term.

The extortion charges are in response to the targeting of advertisements at young children who in turn badger their parents to see the movie, and the delinquency allegation refers to the tendency of the film to turn otherwise well-behaved youngsters into children "who act ... well, like Adam Sandler," said Millburn.

"My [7-year-old] grandson went to see this movie," added Attorney General Holder, who is considering personally prosecuting the case. "You know what he said when he got home? Hey Grandpa, Grandma's fat and ugly - high five! Then he farted."

There have also been at least three reports of people dying while watching the film, presumably from boredom, but Millburn said there isn't enough evidence to support a murder charge.

"Although we've been trying to pin one on [Sandler] since someone choked on nachos while watching Little Nicky," Millburn admitted.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Column: Power outages and zombies don’t mix

The power outages following the freak October snowstorm have revealed a few very important lessons: One, we need to protect our power lines from hazards such as tree limbs, stiff breezes and particularly heavy butterflies. But more importantly, we are woefully unprepared to go underground following the impending inevitable zombie, robot and/or alien invasion(s). I’m just saying.

I’m speaking of course of the people who are complaining about being without power for a measly five or six days, just because they don’t have heat or light and all their food went bad, including their insulin. These people need to buck up! (And yes, I realize this is coming from someone who suffered severe panic after losing cable for a couple days, but that was different, because it happened to me.)

I’m not just saying this because it’s become clear that our power companies now consider actually delivering the power to be optional, like a side of French fries, or yield signs. I’m saying it because the first thing that’s going to happen when the zombies, robots or aliens attack is that the lights will go out, and we’ll be left to fend for ourselves with just our wits, along with sharpened shovels, enormous gas fireballs or deadly Earth viruses, whichever is most appropriate for the occasion.

I know you may be thinking that I’m overreacting. “What are the chances of us actually being attacked by zombies, robots or space aliens?” you may ask. And while it may sound far-fetched, the chances are … wait, let me check my notes … 100 percent.

After all, just take a look at the latest development by scientists apparently eager to welcome our new robot overlords. At Seoul National University in South Korea, they’ve developed a Venus flytrap robot that traps bugs and converts their little bug bodies into electricity. This will clearly lead to a robot that will be impervious to our main defense against sentient killer man-machines, which is unplugging.

Personally, I question why any scientist would develop technology that would make it more attractive for robots to eventually want to eat us. Nature already has bears for that.

As for the aliens, researchers at Harvard and Princeton are so antsy about attracting aliens here to invade our cornfields and national parks that they’ve suggested we start scanning the universe for the artificial light given off by their cities, since apparently modern telescopes can tell the difference between light from a distant star and, say, an alien disco ball. Of course, this would require the aliens not to be living in underground cities inhabited by mutated creatures with psychic powers like in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” which, let’s face it, seems unlikely.

And the zombies? I will admit that there’s very little in the way of concrete scientific evidence that the dead will rise and prey on the living with an insatiable appetite for brains. But is there concrete scientific evidence that they won’t? There is? OK, forget about the zombies.

Still, next time the power goes out — which, given recent history, should be in about 20 minutes, or whenever a squirrel wanders into an electrical substation, whichever comes first — I think people should take the opportunity to embrace the rugged, survivalist, anti-robot side of their personality, just in case. Hunker down, board the windows, start luring in small rodents for food, and hope that if the choice comes down to converting us to electricity or displaying us in zoos, the robots and aliens (or robot-aliens) opt for the latter.

After all, those might at least have cable.

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

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

No emergency! Nothing to see here! Unless there is

Please do not panic when the Emergency Alert System kicks in at 2 p.m. this afternoon. It's just a test to show how the government has everything completely under control. Well, most things. From the release:
On Nov. 9 the public will hear a message indicating, “This is a test.” The audio message will be the same for all EAS participants, however, due to the limitations in the EAS, the video text message scroll may not be the same or indicate that, “this is a test.”
So it's true that if you have the volume down, or are hearing impaired, there may be no evidence that it's a test, and you will assume that the missiles are on their way. But wait, there's more:
In addition, the background image that appears on video screens during an alert may indicate that “This is a test,” but in some instances there might not be an image at all. The test is expected to last three minutes.
So just to reiterate: There may be a scroll, or not, and if it does it may say that it's a test, or not, and the image may also say that it's a test, or not, or maybe there won't be an image. Also, we can presume that in some cases it will last three minutes, and in others it will go on for all eternity.

But don't worry, the government has a plan:
FEMA and the FCC are reaching out to organizations representing people with hearing disabilities to better prepare that community for this national test.
So if you know any deaf people, please tell them to remain in bed. Also, let's hope this doesn't somehow end in a conversation like this:

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Mass. Electric Finishes Restoring Power From 2008 Ice Storm

NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. (CAP) - Representatives from National Grid/Massachusetts Electric announced this week that workers have finally finished restoring power to those left in the dark by the vicious ice storm of December, 2008.

"It took crews working 'round the clock, except for nights and weekends, for almost three years, but we finally got it done," said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid Massachusetts. "We couldn't be prouder of the men we had dedicated to this difficult job - both of them."

"Although it will probably be closer to 2014 by the time we get to that last one," said Reed.

Still, "we're taking these outages very, very seriously," Reed added, noting that they were the subject of a seminar at a week-long junket National Grid executives attended recently at the Tierra Del Sol Resort and Country Club in Aruba.

"We devised some very useful strategies there," said Reed, declining to name any of them specifically.

Reed said power outages resulting from the 2010 nor'easter should be resolved any month now, and asked residents without power to be patient. "We're working as fast as we possibly can, kind of," she noted.

Bob and Sheila Fernmeyer of Athol, Mass., who had been without power since Dec. 11, 2008, said they were "thrilled" to finally get the lights turned on this week.

"I can't say it's been easy," said Bob Fernmeyer, who noted that the couple took to burning household objects around February of 2009, and that there's very little left in the way of usable furniture and room fixtures. Also, they'd learned to subsist almost exclusively on foods that could be stored at room temperature, like potatoes and Spam.

"Plus we have no idea what's on TV anymore," added Sheila Fernmeyer. "Is My Own Worst Enemy still on? That Christian Slater is dreamy."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

AT LARGE FAKE NEWS TUESDAY: Scientists Discover Snow Turns Drivers Into Idiots

CAMBRIDGE (CAP) - Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a brain disorder that causes drivers to forget the most basic rules of driving the minute snow starts to fall.

Dubbed Seasonal Driving Disorder (SDD), researcher Roderick Crawford describes it as a neurological syndrome in which the presence of snow literally causes synapses in the brain to cease firing. In turn, people suffering from the disorder lose the ability to recall even the simplest driving procedures, such as how to maintain a consistent speed, or what the brakes do.

"We've all seen it out on the highways during a snowstorm," remarked Crawford. "Suddenly people are speeding up and slowing down indiscriminately, failing to brake properly, spraying out gallons of wiper fluid for no apparent reason, etc.

"For years most assumed these drivers were just stupid, or perhaps intoxicated," he explained. "But now we know that these people have a serious brain disorder."

And its effects are far from isolated, Crawford added. "We have reason to believe SDD affects millions of people in the United States alone," Crawford said. "If you don't believe me, just drive up Route 128 in Boston during a flurry."

There was evidence of the disorder just this past weekend, when unprecedented early snowfall hit the Northeast. This caused some especially severe SDD reactions, given that our brains are conditioned not to expect snow until December, Crawford explained.

"Our experience was that drivers throughout the region simply refused to acknowledge that it was snowing," confirmed Karl Amero of the Massachusetts State Police. "A good number of them clearly sped up and started texting more."

One driver, Fred Hammerstein from Holden, Mass., was hospitalized with frostbite after being discovered packed in snow in his Fiat 500 convertible. "I do not close the top before Nov. 1, dammit," he told EMTs before slipping into a coma.

"It's a classic case," said Crawford when told of Hammerstein's symptoms. "It's amazing we don't see more snowstorm convertible comas."

SDD may even affect drivers outside the car, said Crawford, pointing toward the large number of people using small children to save their parking spaces as possible sufferers. "And the preponderance of snow in Alaska could go a long way toward explaining the Palin family," he added.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]