Friday, December 24, 2004


I'm definitely a holiday Scrooge, and have been since at least 1987, when EF Hutton was bought out by Shearson, which then immediately fired my spouse as a Christmas present. It probably doesn't help that my father died on Christmas morning in 1991.

But I attempt to overcome that. Every year it isn't the holiday season until we play the classic Waitresses tune, "Christmas Wrapping." I also like to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas (I'm so old I remember all the kids in third grade talking about it in class all day the night it first aired in 1965 -- even the Jewish ones!), and, of course, the holy Christmas movie trio, It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and, best of all, Scrooged. And one of the great treats every year is David Letterman's show with Jay Thomas knocking the meatball off the Christmas tree and Darlene Love singing Please Come Home For Christmas. That was tonight (December 23), and on top of everything else, didn't Love look marvelous?

So I'm going to try to get in the seasonal swing this year by making one nice blog entry of Christmas thoughts. I'm going to just keep this atop my blog, so any time I change it, I'm going to delete the old comment and repost the new.

Let's start with a great page from the National Lampoon website (is National Lampoon still published?), forwarded to me by my pal, Harry Broertjes. It's The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time.

Then there's this wonderful parody that my spouse forwarded to me. And, as she says, "Not only does it condense the story into 30 seconds effectively, but... it's got bunnies!

Fellow Legion fan Kevin McConnell replied to the above with this forward of an op-ed piece for the New York Times by Maureen Dowd. I'm sure that those of you who lean red-state are already annoyed about it, but it's for my blue-state-thinking friends and relations. (And yes, you have to register at to see it; make up information, they don't care.)

This Old Chestnut
(Thanks to cousin Ken.)

When four of Santa's elves got sick, and the trainee elves did not produce the toys as fast as the regular ones, Santa was beginning to feel the pressure of being behind schedule.

Then Mrs. Claus told Santa that her Mom was coming to visit. This stressed Santa even more.

When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two had jumped the fence and were out, heaven knows where. More stress.

Then when he began to load the sleigh one of the boards cracked, and the toy bag fell to the ground and scattered the toys.

So, frustrated, Santa went into the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum. When he went to the cupboard, he discovered that the elves had hidden the liquor, and there was nothing to drink. In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider pot, and it broke into hundreds of little pieces all over the kitchen floor. He went to get the broom and found that mice had eaten the straw end of the broom.

Just then the doorbell rang, and irritable Santa trudged to the door. He opened the door, and there was a little angel with a great big Christmas tree. The angel said, very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas, Santa. Isn't it a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Where would you like me to stick it?"

And so began the tradition of the little angel on top of the Christmas tree.

Tickle Me This
Thanks to Legion fan Chris Brown.

A new employee is hired at the Tickle Me Elmo factory for the holiday rush. She reports for her first day promptly at 8:00 am.

The next day at 8:45 am there is a knock at the Personnel Manager's door. The Foreman from the assembly line throws open the door and begins to rant about the new employee. He complains that she is incredibly slow and the whole line is backing up, putting the entire plant behind schedule.

The Personnel Manager decides that he should see this for himself so the two men march down to the factory floor. When they get there the line is so backed up that there are Elmos all over the floor and still piling up. At the end of the line stands the new employee. She has a roll of red plush fabric and a big bag of marbles. The men watch in amazement as she cuts a little piece of fabric, wraps it around two marbles and begins to sew the little package between Elmo's legs. The Personnel Manager bursts into laughter. After several minutes of hysterics, he pulls himself together and approaches the woman. "I'm sorry," he says to her barely able to keep a straight face, "but I think you misunderstood me yesterday. Your job is to give each Elmo two test tickles.
Dec. 24

Of course, at this time of year, we are all forced to face our beliefs. Are you a Santaist?

Holiday Cartoons
Non Sequitur.

Merry Christmas, and, if you're not Christian, don't tell George Bush, or he'll send you a cruise missile for Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2004



One of the nicer guys I worked with when I spent time at DC Comics was Todd McFarlane. He achieved most of his professional success after my time at DC (I still remember him mostly as having worked on a strip called Omega Men, which was written by my office-mate, Roger Slifer) with a character called Spawn. Spawn was eventually made into a movie. Later he achieved fame beyond comics by purchasing Mark McGwire's record-setting home run baseball -- and watching it lose value as Barry Bonds out-bulked McGwire three years later and slugged 73 home runs.

Apparently, one of the characters in Spawn was a mobster named Tony Twistarelli, nicknamed "Tony Twist." Unfortunately, the St. Louis Blues hockey team seems to have a goon (press reports refer to him as an "enforcer," which is a euphemism for a player who isn't good enough to do anything except beat up on the other team's good players) named Tony Twist. Twist has sued McFarlane and won, saying that the character in Spawn has earned profits for McFarlane and his company and infringed Twist's publicity rights by using Twist's name without permission. McFarlane's loss has caused him to file for bankruptcy.

My spouse, in forwarding the story to me, used the subject "research is important." I couldn't begin to guess whether McFarlane didn't know who Twist was, but even if he did (and he's got a sports background, and his company manufactures dolls of sports figures), it would seem that Twist is a public figure and shouldn't be winning lawsuits such as this. And if he can, well, heck, I can easily go and pick on DC Comics and several of its writers, including Cary Bates (who created the character Flynt Brojj back in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #209 in 1975) and Tom and Mary Bierbaum, who made me one of the baseball players in a Legion of Super-Heroes story in the early 1990s. Even though I wasn't originally thrilled by the Flynt Brojj character, I wouldn't have thought to sue. Then again, there are fictional characters who resemble real people, and that's always been considered to be fair game for public figures.

That seems to have gone by the boards. It's way, way wrong.

Todd may or may not remember me, but I hope he finds a better lawyer and winds up telling this Tony Twist guy to buzz off (legally). Even if I didn't remember him fondly, he deserves better.

Here's the press release.

Friday, December 17, 2004



I hope you hear the name Christopher Duff time and time again in the coming weeks and months, because he is an example of what is right with the United States of America -- and how he's been treated is an example of what's wrong with the USA.

Christopher Duff was the property manager for the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Here's how conscientious he was about his job: When the first plane hit, he immediately went downtown to participate in whatever emergency effort was necessary, even though he'd been given the morning off to attend to some work on his house.

By the time he got downtown, he wound up inhaling smoke and dust and incinerated particles of who knows what. He walked around a site where people were dead, or dying, where toxic fumes were all about, and he was both physically ill and psychologically scarred.

A court in New York just ruled that he had no business to be at the site and therefore doesn't qualify for workers' compensation.

Makes you want to give 110% effort to your employer, doesn't it? Does anybody now understand why we occasionally run into people with It's-not-my-job-itis?

There's good news. He still qualifies for federal aid because he volunteered at the site in the days afterward. And the court is making sure he gets the federal aid.

Still, it establishes the precedent that there's no sense doing more than your fair share when things go bad. Anywhere. Why do a favor for the neighbor? You might get hurt and get screwed. Why help out someone poor? Why take on a new assignment? The up side is going to be way less likely than the down side.

Here's the real irony: Somewhere, someone is screaming that the people who helped out after the attacks are getting too damn much money.

Maybe we're sending the wrong people to Iraq.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004



Connie Chung, herself one megabyte short of a hard drive, weighs in on the subject of female anchors. She throws her support to Elizabeth Vargas, our original whining newsbabe, among others.

I'd be happy if these women (and men) could spell and identify Mozambique on a map. And, oh yes, would stop fricking editorializing.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004



So among the stories crossing my screen is one from the December 13, 2004 New York Observer, in which ABC News reporter Elizabeth Vargas whines that it's about time for a female anchor on one of the network news programs.

Aside from Barbara Walters, there hasn't been one (Walters had the seat briefly for ABC in the 1970s, before Peter Jennings returned). Maybe people are still fearful, remembering Jessica Savitch.

I say: Where's a female reporter who can report and can command respect?

It ain't Katie Couric. Katie Couric apparently couldn't properly run a high school newspaper with the guiding hand of an overzealous faculty advisor. Most recently I was appalled when she read a tease someone else had written in this way: "...the die is cast... misspelled d-i-e..." Am I wrong when I want a woman helping to present the news to understand that the phrase comes from Julius Caesar's quote when he crosses the Rubicon? Does Couric think the Rubicon is one of those mystic books in the Kabbalah, or perhaps a trendy nightclub in TriBeCa? What the hell kind of school do they have at the University of Virginia, anyway? Amazingly, that's not Couric's only problem. When she conducts interviews (now staged so we can see her attractive legs and fashionable high heels), she interrupts her subject, answers questions for her subject, and ignores her subject's answers. Whereas a good interviewer should ask, "How did that make you feel?," Couric will ask, "You must have felt horrible" (or happy, or dismayed, or whatever). Oh, I almost forgot, she totally denegrated her profession by apearing in Shark Tales. Yes, I'm sorry for her husband's death, but I can't take her seriously as an anchor when she conveys no spark of intelligence.

Or there's always gravitas. The reason the truly great network anchors were great -- Chet Huntley, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings -- is because when you saw them sitting at a desk, you knew they were serious about getting you the story. That's why Cronkite had the power to make Lyndon Johnson realize Vietnam was a losing cause. A president today -- even Dumbya -- can't be concerned with anything Dan Rather or pretty boy Brian Williams may convey, because, well, face it, Rather became a flake and CBS should have fired him about 17 years ago, and Williams gives the sense that he should be reporting for Access Hollywood. What female reporter currently has this sort of power? There was a time I would have argued for Barbara Walters, but that 15 seconds came and went. She went from interviewing Yasser Arafat to interviewing Justin Timberlake. Right there her resumé gets pulled from the pile.

So who's there? Diane Sawyer at ABC? No. Her morning show is nothing more than a Disney-ized version of the news, concentrating on Hollywood gossip and more interested in Bilbo Baggins than Baghdad. Lesley Stahl? Maybe. She's certainly severe enough.

And how about the next generation of news hotties? Vargas? Well, there's no doubt she's a babe. Heck, the second seat on the Today show has given us a long stretch of news babes, starting with Vargas, and including the current occupant, Ann Curry; Soledad O'Brien; and Kelly and/or Norah O'Donnell. O'Brien has gone off to CNN, where Paula Zahn also resides. Zahn is a possibility, I suppose.

I think if I were building a list, of every woman in the news business I know, maybe I'd put CNBC's Sue Herera at the top. She's not an unattractive woman, but, and I think this is important, she's not so beautiful that you forget to concentrate on her reporting. (Maria Bartiromo, anyone?) (Although I did like Joey Ramone's little tribute ditty.) Her major flaw right now is that she's concentrated only on business reporting, but that means she probably has a leg up on Katie Couric and the other home-ec reporters I've named. Sign her up, put her to work reporting from Iraq, the Capitol, and the White House for a year or two each, and then I'd bet she'd be ready.

You know who else I'd like to see? Jane Pauley.

Related (sadly): A site where you can vote for your choice of hottest reporter.

Monday, December 06, 2004



Say what you want about what John F. Kerry and George W. Bush did during the Vietnam War (and, believe me, if forced, I'd have done what Bush did, and not Kerry), but the fact remains that Kerry was in a war zone and Bush was not.

Think back to 2000, when Bush's opponent Albert W. Gore, Jr. had also been in Vietnam (albeit working as a military newspaper reporter). Throughout that campaign my internal soundtrack was the great Creedence Clearwater Revival song, "Fortunate Son," which refers to the special treatment that it was presumed a senator's son would get. Perhaps, but Al Gore, Sr. was serving in the Senate while Al Gore, Jr. was wandering through the jungle in a war zone.

All of which brings me to this story, which reports on the handful of elected American officials who have offspring in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats, but I would listen to any of them first when it comes to our policy in Iraq. I'd feel a lot better about George W. Bush's policy if his daughters were attacking Fallujah instead of the nearest fraternity toga party.

Listen to these guys:

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-SC
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA
Rep. Todd Akin, MO
Rep. John Kline, MN
Rep. Jim Saxton, NJ



On Monday, the Major League Baseball Players Association will hold its annual meeting, coincidentally just days after major revelations and hard-to-rationalize allegations about the steroid usage of major league baseball's most powerful hitters and biggest stars.

Last week, before seeing the ABC News 20/20 report on steroid usage is sports, I commented that, should Barry Bonds be found to have used steroids, the pall on his accomplishments would be huge. I would even say they should be career-threatening. I also said that there should be severe consequences, including perhaps delaying or preventing admission to the Hall of Fame.

Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News appears to already be on the bandwagon to do what little he can. In this column, he says that any player whose career accomplishments are muddied by the possibility of steroid use won't get his first-ballot vote. It's a start. Of course, players already hate reporters, and will hate them even more now, but players have to understand that when they screw with the integrity of the game, there will be consequences.

Of course, Barry Bonds will still make $22 million in 2005, so I'm not holding my breath that he's really hurt or that the San Francisco Giants are worried, either.

I will say this, however: 20/20 correspondent Martin Bashir is no reporter. In addition to displaying wavering understanding of sports, he also clearly worked out with BALCO president Victor Conte what was to be said, and seems to have rehearsed the entire presentation with Conte. Conte's answers were not given in a way as to indicate that he was doing anything other than something pre-packaged. Bashir, in addition to filming a rehearsed interview, phrases everything for dramatic effect, concentrating more on his show business presentation than his questioning.

Related stuff:

Email 20/20 about its report.

View video of interview with Victor Conte.

Thursday, December 02, 2004



It was revealed today that Jason Giambi, currently of the New York Yankees, admitted in grand jury testimony that he used steroids and human growth hormones for three years.

This is news in the sense a rigged Chicago vote count or an aging Hollywood actor taking up with a twenty-something starlet is news. We've all been suspecting this since the mid-1990s, especially watching players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Was it simply the weightlifting? Or was it something else?

Granted, there are other reasons baseball is filled with more home runs than prior to 1961. First of all, the truly great players are hitting against a number of pitchers who would never have made it to the majors in the years before expansion. Second, the new generation of baseball parks is tiny. Look at the power alleys at Camden Yards, look at the overall size of the Ballpark at Arlington (shouldn't things in Texas be big?). Third, players are in better shape generally; they train all year long instead of working at gas stations and insurance offices in the off-season.

And, as a baseball fan, I've hoped against hope that the rumors would continue to be rumors. It appears that the BALCO investigation will wind up destroying that hope.

If it does -- and if it turns out that all the suspects are indeed guilty -- then Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association need to accept blame and take action to restore faith in the game. With the exception of gambling (and I can discuss Pete Rose later), nothing is more damaging to baseball's integrity than steroid use.

Steroid testing should be a no-brainer. I am a firm believer that no employer has a right to demand urine testing as a condition of employment, and the owners should not. But the MLBPA itself should step up and pay for the testing (by an independent laboratory) itself, vow to report the results, and vow to not fight any suspensions or other action taken by Major League Baseball should a player be found to use steroids.

Players who have been found to use steroids should be required to return any money paid to them over and above the major league minimum.

Statistics of those players should be removed from the official record books.

Such players should be found to be ineligible for election to the Hall of Fame; All-Star teams; and post-season awards. If the Baseball Writers Association of America votes for such a player, then its members should have their press credentials revoked.

Now, here's the important thing: If this is to be done, it needs to be done before the 2005 season begins. Baseball's most amazing record is being challenged by a player who is one of the many players whose feats have been questioned. Better to learn bad news before it happens. Even better, perhaps we will learn good news and can once and for all exalt Barry Bonds the way he has hoped for all these years. Bonds will never receive the acclaim he wants, even should he surpass Hank Aaron, if doubt follows him.

Related articles:

Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports on Giambi story about Ken Caminiti's steroid use. story on the BALCO investigation.

More on Bonds from The New York Daily News.



This is one of those protect the guilty things... a pal of mine at an unnamed major North American daily newspaper emailed me a story about a friend of a friend at another paper who had been taking by telephone a story about a local (but "hoity-toity") art exhibition. This person did all right until the phrase "assume vivid astral focus" popped up. Had to be the name of some bizarre new age modern art piece, right? Well, that's what went in the paper.

But no.

Turns out that "assume vivid astral focus" was the artist's name. That required what the newspaper folks call a "setrec" — i.e., a correction to "set the record straight." The person who faced with this extra work (whose name and position, naturally, I shall not reveal — if the New York Times can quote anonymously, so can I) then commented, "If someone introduced himself to you as that, would you not just immediately start beating his ass?"

I emailed my pal at the unnamed major North American daily newspaper and said I was ready to buy a ticket and contribute to the ass-whooping.

News stories referring to Assume Vivid Astral Focus can be found here, here, and here. In addition, he apparently performed (or something) on a clearly non-FCC titled show on WFMU radio, wherever that is.

Ironically, the paper in question will need to do another setrec, because a little bit of Internet research (that is, I skimmed the above articles) reveals that the artist in question is actually named Eli Sudbrack. When you find his site, you discover he prefers assume vivid astro focus (which, in fairness, Google asked me if I really meant when I began to search, so there's another reason to drop $180 on a share of Google). Here's an interview with the artist from the New York Observer (it's the Anna Jane Grossman-bylined article at the bottom of the page). Meanwhile, if you want to see his work, click here, and prepare to be underwhelmed.