Friday, December 21, 2007

Santa CLAWS!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a completely unecessary photograph of your child scared shitless on the lap of a bearded stranger.

There Will Be Blood

OK, Ok, ok... Just a little pin prick. From Wednesday's Republican-American:

SOUTHINGTON -- Rob Brownell came with his mother to buy a couch, but he left empty-handed and a down a pint.

Brownell, a 20-year-old student from Avon, joined about 50 people who donated their blood at a Connecticut Red Cross drive at Bob's Discount Furniture Store in Southington Wednesday. But after back-to-back winter storms, the effort represented a few drops into a blood inventory that could use an infusion this holiday season.

“Every day we can't operate, we lose about 20 percent of our inventory,” said Paul Sullivan, the chief executive officer of blood services for the Connecticut Red Cross. “The storms represented nearly 40 percent of our inventory.”

According to the American Red Cross, someone in the country needs a transfusion of blood every two seconds, and only 5 percent of eligible donors give blood in any given year. Sullivan said his group tries to collect 650 units a day just to break even with the demand. But in order to supply the state's 30 acute care hospitals with the blood they need, Sullivan said his group imports about 10 percent of its supply from out of state.

And because of the snow and ice that mixed with holiday distractions, vacations and irregular routines, donors have been more scarce than usual, forcing Sullivan to order supplies of O-negative blood held back at the group's Farmington headquarters unless they are needed for transfusions. In addition, Sullivan said his staff will try to collect an extra 50 units a day to help bridge the gap.

“We're trying to collect over our normal goal at a time we usually collect below our normal goal,” Sullivan said. “I'm convinced if people in Connecticut understood how short we were, we would see them respond.”

Brownell said he understood, agreeing to join the Red Cross as a volunteer beginning with an orientation scheduled for Wednesday night. But first, there was the matter of a small needle and a bag of blood.

Brownell answered a Red Cross worker's confidential questions about his medical history in a private room in the back of one of two specially-outfitted buses parked in front of the store. Questions about malaria, jail time, syphilis and sexual activities with a risk of acquiring disease.
Larissa Finley, a 26-year-old phlebotomist, or blood-drawing specialist, directed Brownell to a cushioned reclining chair, where he lay back, rolled up his sleeve and stared out the window toward the parking lot.

“I hate blood,” he said.

Finley attached a blood pressure cuff to Brownell's exposed upper right arm and asked him to pump a red ball. She marked a vein in the crook of his arm with a purple marker, swabbed the surrounding area with yellow iodine and slid in a needle.

“Ohohoh-ow,” Brownell said with a soft groan, squinting his eyes and pursing his mouth before looking down to see a rush of dark red flow through a clear tube toward a bag hooked to scale near the floor.

After 18 minutes, some tube massaging, some red-ball twirling and some Welch's orange-drink sipping, Brownell filled the now-bulging bag with 1 pint of his blood.

“I feel empty,” he said.

Finley removed the needle, while Brownell held a gauze pad in place with his arm raised into the air. Finley attached a fresh bandage with strips of tape hanging from overhead lights, wiped off some of the iodine and gave him a list of instructions. He should drink extra liquids, keep the bandage on for five hours and avoid exercise.

Another Red Cross worker packaged Brownell's blood in ice for shipping to Farmington. A laboratory will test it for diseases before it can be sent to a hospital, separated into red blood cells, platelets (the cells responsible for blood clots) and plasma (the liquid in which the blood cells are suspended).

“You just saved three people,” Finley told Brownell before directing him toward a bin with cookies, crackers and chips.

Bob Kaufman may have saved many more than that. Kaufman, the founder and president of Bob's Discount Furniture Stores, has hosted blood drives for the Red Cross since 1996. Sullivan said Kaufman's efforts have brought in 20,000 donors.

“The American Red Cross has no greater friend than Bob Kaufman,” Sullivan said, noting all seven of Wednesday's drives were held at a Bob's store.

Kaufman said he began the drives as a way of being a good corporate citizen.

“What's a more universal way to do it than giving blood?” Kaufman said. “We all need it, can't live without it and there is no artificial substitute.”

About eight years ago, the effort became personal for him when his nephew and then his father [Dash] who have since died [Dash] were both diagnosed with blood diseases that required regular transfusions. Kaufman recalled accompanying his father for his treatments.

“He'd be lethargic, and when he came out, he was like a different person,” Kaufman said. “Like flipping a switch. I guess I understood it on a more personal level that giving the gift of life is real. It's not a cliché or a motto.”

Emily Ostroski would agree. Ostroski, a 25-year-old waitress visiting family in Farmington, gave blood for the seventh time Wednesday.

“I always thought it was important to donate something,” Ostroski said. “I can't donate money, because I'm always broke. So I donate blood.”

Ostroski said she liked giving blood because it is an anonymous gift.

And as she walked outside the store for her date with the needle, she said she wished she'd brought her stuffed animal. She would have had something to look at while giving her gift.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Appetite For Detention

My story in today's paper got a lot of play on the wires, making it all the way to Austria. No comment yet from Axl.

ROXBURY — A Booth Free School teacher barri­caded herself in a classroom Wednesday when she mis­took someone singing a Guns N’ Roses song over the pub­lic address system for a threat. State police detained three teenagers temporarily until an investigation at the scene cleared up the misunder­standing.
The teacher, whom police did not name, called 911 at about 5:45 p.m. when she heard someone over the school’s public address sys­tem say that she was going to die. She believed no one else was supposed to be inside the school, police said.
A police dispatcher called for all available troopers to re­spond, drawing about six troop­ers and three police dogs to the school at 14 South St. When the police arrived, they discovered three teenagers, one of them a custodian at the school. The police did not re­lease their names.
The teenagers had been playing with the public ad­dress system, police said, and one of them sang “Welcome to the Jungle” by rock group Guns N’ Roses into the micro­phone. The song contains the lyrics “You’re in the jungle baby; you’re gonna die.”
Police cuffed the teenagers on the ground in front of the school for about 15 minutes while checking the school and speak­ing to the teacher. Dogs barked inside police SUVs. Police brought the teenagers back into the school, questioned them and released them by 6:45 p.m.
“There won’t be any criminal charges,” said Sgt. Brian Van Ness of state police at Troop A in Southbury. “We contacted the principal, and the adminis­tration will handle it internal­ly.”
Van Ness said the three teenagers did not know the teacher was in the school.
“These things happen,” Van Ness said. “Luckily it was hu­morous. You kind of have a gut feeling. As soon as we got there, we spoke to the three kids. They understood.”

Fun With Wife Batterers

Ladies and gentlemen: The New York Post. Funny. Tasteless, classless and mean. But funny.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Smelling Like a Rose

In honor of the Mitchell report on baseball's steroid era, here's some nostalgia from one of the sport's earlier scandals. From my (wait-listed) application to the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2003, completed during a timed test without notes or internet access:

Pete Rose, like many great sports figures of the 20th century, invoke strong opinions in even the most casual fans. A sparkplug of intensity on the baseball diamond, his lifetime ban from the Major League Baseball has provided the country with an almost equally passionate forensics pasttime: Should he be allowed reinstatment into baseball?

In actuality, reinstatement is a two-pronged question. Under current bylaws, his ban precludes him from induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, clearly the obvious destination for the sport’s all-time leader in hits. However, should he be permitted to profit from a sport against which he has committed perhaps the greatest crime imaginable?

Pete Rose, Charlie Hustle, the great Cincinatti Red player and manager was sentenced to baseball’s death penalty after the then commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti investigated and proved conclusively that while managing the Reds he placed numerous bets on baseball. And worse, he bet on his own team.

In a sport that endured the 1919 scandal in which the Chicago White Sox intentionally lost the World Series after accepting payments from organized crime figures, perhaps only a worse crime would be to bet against his own team.

After much negotiating and what most consider unimpeachable evidence against him, Rose signed a document agreeing to his lifetime ban. However, he has never admitted publicly that he bet on baseball [note: he has since -- to sell a book, of course] nor has he ever tendered any semblance of apology. That person lied, never saw this betting slip, alibi, excuse, not him, his constant litany. He has always contended that he was railroaded into signing that document in the hopes that he would eventually be permitted to petition for reinstatement.

Which, when the appropriate time elapsed, he did. After the sudden death of Giamatti, subsequent commisioners have refused to budge on the original stance, although the current embattled commisioner, Bud Selig, appears to be testing public opinion for Rose in a ploy to boost his own. (Not to mention that of a league that cancelled the World Series a few years back, almost did so again this year, played an All-Star Game without a winner, merged two teams and threatened contraction of another, all the time crying financial woes in the face of contrary evidence.)

And yet, the argument for reinstatement need not be clean-cut. Is it imperative for Rose to be fully reinstated, with the league’s blessing to apply for managing or front office positions with teams and appear at league sponsored events? Or is it possible for him to remain in exile, refused admission to the sport he denegrated and to which he refuses admission of guilt, but still be permitted election to the Hall of Fame?

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., houses con-artists, womanizers, gamblers, racists, thieves and players of such moral turpitude as to make Professor Henry Hill Blush with a capital “B.” Babe Ruth, arguably the best in the bunch, was a notorious alcoholic lech. But he sure could hit that ball.

Pete Rose currently makes a very good living sitting in chairs and writing his name. Over and over on baseballs, hats, and posters. He also shares his opinions on his own radio show. One could argue that his current outsider status affords him a great deal of free publicity, allowing him to play the underdog role that won him fans as a player. Only now, he’s against the sports/television conglomerate power structure.

And one could argue that his election to the Hall but exclusion from paying baseball jobs would still permit him the ability to raise the price of all those autographs and maybe spike his ratings.
Basically, the Hall of Fame has never been nor needs to ever be a Hall of Justice. It is a place where best players are honored for their achievements on the field. Regardless of the dubious end to his career, it is where Pete Rose belongs even if he is forbidden to ever step on a field.

His bronze plaque should make mention of his monumental achievements between the white lines. And perhaps space should be reserved for full disclosure of the brash manner in which he blurred some others.

Post Script: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and all other future Hall-of-Famers should receive similar treatment. A plaque to commemorate their indisputable achievements, balanced by the knowledge they had plenty of chemical help in their later seasons.

The Real Santa Claus

Just a couple of samples of what I've been up to recently. In case you care and stuff.

BETHLEHEM - All year round, children look at Henry Church and their eyes light up. They see his wispy white beard and the white tufts sprouting from his balding head. They see his ample gut and the wrinkles under his eyes leading to his bulbous nose.

He winks at them as though sharing a secret.

And during the holiday season, Church, a 67-year-old Watertown resident, dons his own red-and-white Santa Claus suit for events like Bethlehem's 27th annual Christmas Town Festival, where he will light the tree on Friday.
"Kids point to me and whisper to their parents: 'That's the real one. That's him.'"
But this weekend, Church will be one of four Santas posing for pictures with children for two-hour shifts in the old schoolhouse by the green. And they ho-ho-hold the experience as dear as anyone.
"The first time I did it, I thought this was going to be boring," said Herb Schmeer, a 65-year-old retired purchasing manager from Bethlehem. "After I sat down for five minutes, they told me I was a half-hour over. The time went that quickly."
Lenny Assard, a 61-year-old civil engineer who serves on the town's board of finance, said he has played Santa for about 10 years because he loves watching the kids.
"To watch their eyes sparkle, and their smiles and stuff," Assard said.And then there's the red-faced fear."Some of them are just scared," Assard said. "You try to take them. Sometimes you just hand them a candy cane and let them go. You don't want to terrorize them."
Beyond the laughter and tears surrounding Santa, the festival will feature a candlelight procession Friday at 6 p.m. and musical performances by choirs and bands. The First Church of Bethlehem will hold its traditional Advent service, and more than 70 exhibitors will sell hand-crafted items.
In addition, the Bethlehem Post Office will stamp Christmas cards for people interested in sending their season's greetings from a town bearing the same name as the one considered the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth.
Assard, whose mother Bernice organizes the Santas, sees no harm in playing the fictional Santa role.
"I think it's good for kids to have dreams and some fantasy in their life," Assard said. "Not necessarily Santa Claus the guy, but Santa Claus the spirit."
And anyway, Assard, who wears a fake wig and beard when playing Santa, knows who really owns his part.
"Henry is the real deal," he said. "My grandkid, when he was 2 years old, saw him at church and called him Ho-Ho."
Church and his wife live on a farm with cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, cats and dogs.But no reindeer, except for some ordinary-nosed hunting trophies hanging on a wall in his basement.
He usually trims his beard after Christmas, but he smiles through his whiskers when discussing the fun he'll have until then.
"If I can have one child sit on my lap and hug me, that's worth everything I'm doing it for," he said.

Cats: Better than Gremlins, Better than E.T.

WOODBURY - When Harriet Villinger walks out to the mailbox, she always has company. One companion has a fluffy tail, and the other does not.

They are two of some 14 cats that prowl the woods around her home on Plumb Brook Road, a feral cat colony she inherited from her husband, who began feeding and sheltering them about five years ago. Since her husband died in April, Villinger struggles with the best way to care for the animals.

"I feel bad for them, but I don't know what the solution is," Villinger, 80, said. "I don't want my house to be known as the cat house."

No one knows Connecticut's exact population of feral cats -- those who were born and live in the wild without human contact. A University of Florida study estimates there are about .5 cats per household in a community, which would bring Connecticut's total to about 700,000. Experts and policymakers disagree over what to do about them.

"Once you start feeding a cat, you become the owner," said Frank L. Ribaudo, director of the Department of Agriculture's Animal Population Control Program. "When you feed a feral cat population, you are keeping the population healthy. You can do that, but you need to get them altered."

A state law took effect in October, establishing a program in which Ribaudo's group can provide up to 10 percent of its income for the sterilization and vaccination of feral cats and another 10 percent of its income for the sterilization and vaccination of dogs and cats owned by low-income residents.

Ribaudo estimated the program - which derives 68 percent of its revenue from dog license fees - could provide about $60,000 each for both feral cats and low-income pet owners. The new law replaces a program in which the state had provided $40,000 in grants to private animal control groups.

Municipal animal control officers generally don't deal with cats, leaving their fates up to private, mostly volunteer groups. To prevent the cats from breeding, the groups practice a method called trap, neuter and release, or TNR. Volunteers practicing TNR trap the cats for a veterinarian to spay or neuter before clipping off a piece of one ear for identification and returning them to their habitat.

Villinger, working with Helen Hatfield from Animals For Life of Middlebury, said she spent about $600 to have about seven cats treated and fixed before releasing them.

"It's the only way to go," Hatfield said. "It's better than shooting them."

Hatfield, who supports three colonies, said she delivers 50 pounds of cat food to Villinger every few weeks, donated by Science Diet. Villinger, who admits she might be overfeeding them, spends about another $20 on cat food each week.

Tait's Every Animal Matters (TEAM) out of Westbrook says it has spayed or neutered about 107,000 cats since it began its mobile operation 10 years ago. The group estimates about a third of those cats have been feral.The group schedules about 45 cats a day on its three 32-feet-long vehicles, charging $67 for sterilization and vaccines. They also provide people with a contraceptive pill for cats that can help control breeding while they work to trap a cagey critter.

Donna Sicuranza, executive director of TEAM, blames humans for the explosion of feral cat populations. She said people dump unwanted cats on the side of the road or don't fix their pet cats, who then wander off and reproduce.

Sicuranza said euthanasia doesn't address the root of the problem, while TNR allows a colony to stay healthy and defend its territory from other groups that would take its place. She believes the populations are decreasing and praised the job Villinger is doing.

"A lot of these folks get a bad rap. But there is a way to manage it. People don't need to resort to inhumane and archaic tactics. Nor should they persecute somebody whose trying to do the right thing," Sicuranza said.

Villinger's neighbor, Sharon Brinnier, would prefer Villinger's cats stayed away from her backyard, which she had certified as a habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. She said the cats fish in her pond and kill the frogs and birds that join the snakes, otters, squirrels and foxes in her yard.

"I don't like the wild cats," Brinnier, 56, said. "They are not part of the natural order of things."

Bird lovers would agree. Linda Winter of the American Bird Conservancy surmises feral cats could be responsible for killing between 3.5 million and 45 million birds each year.

Killing is in the nature of most cats, even if they are well fed, said Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society.

"They don't discriminate between common birds, uncommon birds, rare birds or endangered birds," Bull said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection does not take a position on trap and release, said Jenny Dickson, a DEP wildlife biologist. Such programs present complications in the wild, she said.Vaccinations require booster shots, she said. If no booster shots are given, a cat vaccinated against rabies could still contract and spread the disease in the future. There also is the possibility that anyone supporting a feral cat colony near a state-listed bird species, like the piping plover along the coast, might be violating state and federal endangered species laws.

"It seems to make sense, Dickson said. "But when you think about all the different pieces of the puzzle and what the ramifications could be, how does that impact everything around it?"

Villinger, an animal lover, said she doesn't see much choice."You either refuse to feed them, which I can't do, or do TNR," she said. "If you love animals and you are kind to them, it's hard to turn them away."

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Seeds of Disappointment

Might as well teach a child to root for Michael Jackson's career to rebound...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Golden Era of Free Video

YouTube. From the sublime:

To the ridiculous:

I know I've praised the virtues of YouTube on this blog to the point where many of my posts are mere links or embedded clips of fun shit I've found there recently. But last night, as I was watching the entirety of Eat the Document, the never-released documentary of Bob Dylan's 1966 boo-laden electric tour through Europe with The Band, I had an epiphany: This shit ain't gonna last forever.

Corporate overlord Google has already caved to pressure from corporations like Viacom, which forces the site to pull any of its copyright protected content, such as "The Daily Show." I figure we might only be a year or two away from a complete blackout from so much of the wonderful, pirated stuff that makes YouTube the best place to kill a few hours with some time-travel to see all of that stuff you've always heard about but never had the money -- or connections -- to buy.

Which is why I've begun to save YouTube videos to my hard drive with SaveTube. That way, when the bottom falls out of this free-for-all era, I'll still be able to check out a 23-year-old Robbie Robertson grooving like mad before a show in which he and the guys play some of the most urgent, rollicking music ever inflicted on a hostile audience completely missing out on the significance. They were witnesses to a seismic shift in the history of rock and roll. For the rest of us, it's time to capture it before its gone.