Sunday, December 26, 2010

Volume 5, Number 32: Randy Smith, Bud Selig and the Ken Caminiti trade

With baseball's offseason now in full swing with winter meetings, trades and free agent signings, I thought I'd look back at one blockbuster trade, one made almost exactly 16 years ago, and analyze the unusual circumstances that led to it. It sort of ties in with Christmas in that, not only did said trade take place around Christmas, to one team, it sure felt like one heck of a present.

On December 23, 1994, about four months after Major League Baseball's 1994 playoffs and World Series were cancelled due to a labor impasse, and with its players still on strike, acting commissioner Bud Selig and baseball's other 27 team owners decided to implement a salary cap (that was one of the issues over which the players had gone on strike in the first place).

Once that cap was in place, the Houston Astros were well over it and needed to cut back in its payroll. Enter the San Diego Padres, a team that had slashed salaries under the ownership of TV producer Tom Werner. Randy Smith, the Padres' general manager at that time, was regarding as an up-and-coming executive in baseball and was also the youngest GM in baseball. Soon, Smith would become one of the luckiest executives in the history of sports management.
  • First, the condition that led the Astros and Padres to talk about a trade--the salary cap--turned out not to be a permanent condition. The cap was, not surprisingly, rejected by the players, and after a few more months of talks, they agreed to the "luxury tax"-based revenue sharing system that still is in effect today.
  • Second, it also worked to Randy's benefit that the Astros' president was Tal Smith--his father!
In the end, 3B Ken Caminiti, OF Steve Finley, SS Andujar Cedeno and three other players went to the Padres. Caminiti would win a National League MVP award, appear in two All-Star Games, and win three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award with San Diego. Finley would be a productive outfielder for well over a decade, earning two All-Star Game appearances, a few Gold Gloves and a World Series ring (with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks). Both Caminiti (may he rest in peace) and Finley were key players on the 1998 National League Champion Padres.

If you were in charge of the Astros, you might have been expecting a passel of prospects. That wasn't the case here, though. In return, the Astros got OF Derek Bell, OF Phil Plantier, SS Craig Shipley, IF Ricky Gutierrez, and a couple of relief pitchers. Shipley and Gutierrez were supposed to replace Caminiti and Cedeno in Houston but didn't; Bell, while a productive everyday hitter, simply wasn't as good a hitter as Finley (and his career didn't last as long, either); and Plantier was dealt back to the Padres for two minor league pitchers in 1995. Basically, the Astros got some inferior, lower-salaried players in order to get under the "salary cap."

Thanks to the trade, the Pads went from 47-70 in the strike-shortened 1994 season to 70-74 in the lockout-shortened 1995 season. The Detroit Tigers must have seen how they had gone from 61-101 (Smith's first season as Padres' GM) to 70-74 and concluded that Randy Smith had done all the work behind the improved winning percentage, when in reality, Bud Selig (as the executive responsible for implementing the salary cap) had as much to do with it as Smith did. So in October 1995, the Detroit Tigers hired Randy Smith as their new general manager.

Thing is, the resurgence the Padres were undergoing at the time was not entirely Smith's handiwork. I have just argued here and now that Bud Selig had more of a hand in building the '98 Padres than Smith did.

As the Tigers' GM, Smith...
  • Oversaw a series of bad drafts (the best player he took turned out to be starting pitcher Jeff Weaver)
  • In two separate trades, traded away both 1B Cecil Fielder and 3B Travis Fryman to get a starting pitching prospect (Matt Drews) who never pitched in the majors (Drews rewarded Smith by going 2-14 with an 8.27 ERA in 1999, his final year in the Tigers' system)
  • Traded away a group of players and cash (most notably OF Gabe Kapler and SP Justin Thompson) for just one season of Juan Gonzalez
  • Offered Gonzalez a monstrous 8-year, $140 million contract (thank goodness that Gonzalez didn't sign it, otherwise the Tigers might have gone bankrupt)
  • Traded veteran outfielder Luis Gonzalez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a younger outfield prospect named Karim Garcia--a trade that backfired as Gonzalez played on a high level for several years afterwards, while Garcia wasn't even worthy of a starting job in baseball, and
  • Signed a group of players (Weaver, 3B Dean Palmer, 2B Damion Easley, OF Bobby Higginson) to long-term lucrative contracts that quickly became albatrosses around the Tigers' necks.
In four of Smith's six full seasons as Tigers GM, they had lost 92 or more games; when owner Mike Ilitch fired him just six games into the 2002 season, Detroit was on its way to a 55-106 season. Smith has not been a GM of any other baseball team since. In 2003, the Tigers would rack up the worst record in American League history (43-119).

(Note: This blog entry also talks about the trade in more detail, and does mention that the trade appeared "to be a straight salary dump" by Houston, but does not mention the fact that just five days earlier, Selig had attempted to implement the salary cap. I just posted a comment on there mentioning just that.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Volume 5, Number 31: Facebook Comments in Review

I don't just put my commentary on this blog. Sometimes I come across things on Facebook that I "like," and then sometimes the things I like go and post stuff that provokes a thought or two out of me. With that in mind, here are highlights from the last seven months' worth of deep thoughts, wisecracks and other comments I've contributed to the Facebook universe, on subjects ranging from sports and entertainment to food and education:

June 3: Kellie Martin, one of my favorite actresses, posted on her blog about making ravioli. (She doesn't act much now and spends more time gardening, cooking and raising her daughter Maggie, age 4.) I said, "If Gordon Ramsay ever does a celebrity Hell's Kitchen (the UK version of HK is just that--all celebs), you'd have a leg up on your competition." KM replied, "I'd be way into that! Love that adorable Gordon Ramsay!"

June 29: The producers of Food Inc. (the Oscar-nominated documentary about the food industry) posted an article on "crop mobs"--groups of people who help independent farmers--and that very term reminded me of the Facebook game Mob Wars, which in turn led me to make this wisecrack: "FarmVille meets Mob Wars! 'You get any of those Round-Up resistant seeds anywhere near my crop, I swear I'll whack you so bad you'll be eating soft food for 3 months!'" 6 people liked that little remark--a personal record up until today. The bit about "Round-Up resistant seeds" refers to a part of the Food, Inc. documentary in which Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, had developed a soybean seed that was resistant to that herbicide, and subsequently won the right to get a patent for that seed, then proceeded to put farmers who used those seeds without paying Monsanto out of business.

July 29: Rotten Tomatoes (a great film review web site) posted the trailer for Resident Evil: Afterlife. I said, "I wish film studios would have realized already what a waste of time it is to make bad movies. Story comes first, guys, not special effects, guns or explosions!!!" 2 people liked that.

August 12: Chunky Soup asked me which flavor I would choose when I'm hungry for it: "Look for a time machine to go back to '83 so I can get some Campbell's Chunky Fisherman's Chowder!" Eight hours later, they responded back: "A 'hot soup time machine'?" (Fisherman's Chowder is one of a few Chunky Soup varities that Campbell's Soup no longer makes; I mentioned it in this blog entry from 11 months ago.)

August 17: The makers of the Back to the Future films asked its fans to tell them what I was doing in 1985: "25 years ago... I was 13 in the summer of '85, and oddly enough, I was writing a series of short stories about a mad scientist and two teenage assistants and each story involved some weird invention the mad scientist had made up (including stuff that didn't make sense, like synthetic bread dough and a potion that would allow trees to keep their leaves forever--the first story involved a time machine and was called 'That Was Now, This Is Then')."

August 24: Kellie Martin asked, "Do you guys think early reading is good or bad for young kids?" and I said, "To me, the key is to let kids read what they want to read when they're ready to read it. Sounds simple but not really--too many teachers and school administrators prescribe certain books for certain grades even if not all the kids in that grade are ready, and some kids may grow up thinking that reading is just another chore, no different than cleaning up their room or taking out the garbage." Five minutes later, KM responded, "Right, hopefully it's never a chore."

September 5: notes that former Chicago Bear defensive lineman and Pro Football Weekly commentator Dan Hampton made the terribly insensitive comment, "The Vikings need to go down there and hit (New Orleans) like (Hurricane) Katrina." I commented, "Absolutely terrible. Stick him in a house that floods all the way to the attic and let's see how he feels about that choice of words then."

September 29: The group "Republicans Are Idiots And Arguing With Them Is A Waste Of Time!" mentioned how Republicans are big proponents of deregulation. My bottom line on the matter: "Every time anyone expects Corporate America to be able to 'police itself,' we end up with ValuJet, the Peanut Corporation of America, Bernie Madoff, and so on. I'm not saying deregulation sucks, just that it only works when Corporate America demonstrates that it really *is* able to police itself. Which is why I'm firmly in the corner of what the roody poo GOP calls 'Big Government.'" 4 people liked that.

October 15: Food Inc. had a poll about who people thought was "food's greatest enemy." I said, "I want to cast a write-in vote for Stewart Parnell, the owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, who cared more about profits than people to the extent that he ordered salmonella-tainted peanut products to be retested until they tested negative, then shipped them out. The toxic peanut products he sold killed at least 9 people. Then PCA filed for bankruptcy protection to avoid having to pay any money. Slimy bastard." 5 people liked this comment.

October 26: Parade magazine interviewed Rupert Grint on life after the Harry Potter films. My two cents: "Rupert should get plenty of opportunities in the UK. Besides, if worse comes to worst, Rupert will just tour the world for the rest of his life with the J.O.P. (James and Oliver Phelps) doing Harry Potter and other fantasy-genre conventions (not unlike certain Star Trek actors who went on to do those Creation conventions)." 3 people liked it. (For those not familiar with the Harry Potter films, Grint played Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley; James and Oliver Phelps played Ron's mischievous older twin brothers, Fred and George.)

November 8: reported that the Dallas Cowboys fired head coach Wade Phillips, one day after getting shellacked by the Green Bay Packers, 45-7. My comment: "Phillips looked like a man who had already lost his job the last two weeks. It was no longer a question of 'if,' but a question of 'when.'" 2 people agreed and must have also been watching the Cowboys-Packers game.

November 17: Food, Inc. asked, "What do you think is the worst food in America?" The question was related to this article, but I decided to answer the question directly: "To answer the question, what do I think is the worst food in America, anything that's tainted with E. coli, salmonella, listeria, or other pathogen due to poor food hygiene and/or food inspection programs. I know it's got nothing to do with the article, but I'm not going to answer the question any differently." 2 people liked that answer.

November 24: On Thanksgiving Day, asked, "Who have been the biggest fantasy football and NFL turkeys this year?" My response was creative because it addressed players who aren't used in fantasy football, but have an influence on how their teammates perform, the offensive line: "How about the Carolina Panthers' offensive line (as it as hurt the production and/or health of a lot of the Panthers' skill players)? Already 2 QBs and 3 RBs are banged up and that's hurt WR Steve Smith's production. RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are having their worst seasons due to injuries, and DeLo is on the IR. And I thought my Detroit Lions had a bad O-line..." What prompted me to make that remark was, I own Williams and rookie QB Jimmy Clausen in a very deep (16 teams), very competitive dynasty football league.

December 21: Paula Apsell, senior Executive Producer of NOVA (a very good documentary series that has run on PBS since 1974), commented that Spider-Man had too many "mad scientist" villains. My response (liked by 8 people, my new personal record): "For a moment there, I thought I was reading an Onion article. Anyway, mad scientist characters don't make people think that science is bad... they remind us that as long as there are people who strive for great power or personal gain, there will be people who misuse and abuse science to accomplish such ends."

For those of you wondering about whether I've tried any different diet sodas: I finally have; I like Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry and Kroger Diet Dr. K and I especially like Sprite Zero. I also have some Kroger Big K Cola Oh, but I haven't decided whether to go "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," and anyway, I'm starting to think that the only diet colas I really like are the ones with the extra flavoring in them (Diet Pepsi Lime, Coke Vanilla Zero, Coke Cherry Zero).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Volume 5, Number 30: The Fox-New World Deal

Note: I originally posted this entry a week ago on my brother's Journal of Historical TV, Radio and Communications blog.

On December 11, 1994, WJBK (Channel 2 in Detroit, my local TV market) switched its affiliation from CBS to Fox as the result of a deal struck more than six months earlier between the News Corporation (parent company of the Fox Broadcasting Network) and New World Communications. On that same day, CBS began broadcasting shows on low-powered WGPR (Channel 62).

WJBK and stations in eleven other markets were recently acquired or about to be acquired by New World Communications. Eight of those stations were CBS affiliates, including WJBK. It led to a rash of affiliation deals and switches affecting many markets across the country, as outlined in this Wikipedia article.

I hated that deal at the start, mainly because it was one of those deals where a few rich guys made a deal and didn't give a crap that it affected so many people, consumers and TV station employees alike. WJBK found itself with large time gaps after losing its CBS affiliation, and CBS had to broadcast on a low-powered UHF station. I especially hated the latter part because I did watch one CBS show on a regular basis (Christy, starring my favorite actress, Kellie Martin) and picking up that show on Channel 62 was a pain in the neck without cable. If you were to travel back in time to 1995, I doubt you would have found a single TV viewer who found anything good in the shake-up that resulted from the deal.

I've read on a number of sources (including Wikipedia) that Fox's acquisition of NFL broadcast rights in 1993 (the NFC portion thereof, that is) was a compelling factor in the deal. That is baloney, simply put. If NFL football--sports programming that only airs a few games a week on weekends for just a few months a year--was such a strong driver for affiliation switches, then CBS would have lost even more affiliates to Fox in 1994, and NBC would then have lost affiliates to CBS in 1998 when the latter began carrying the AFC package.

The deal was, simply put, a bona fide case of corporate money controlling what people watch--usually, it's a network cancelling a show because the advertisers sponsoring the show don't want to pay for that sponsorship anymore, but this deal was corporate control on a much higher level. Following the deal, Detroit very nearly had no CBS affiliate at all.
  • First, the former Fox affiliate (WKBD, Channel 50) was owned by Paramount Stations Group and thus bound to become affiliated with the new United Paramount Network in January 1995;
  • The owners and management at NBC-affiliated WDIV (Channel 4) were not about to switch affiliations, as NBC was doing very well in the Nielsen ratings (and would be the dominant network of the late 1990s);
  • WXYZ (Channel 7) stayed with ABC after its owners, Scripps-Howard, agreed to affiliate all of its stations with ABC--a deal that led to repercussions in other markets.
  • Finally, the owners of WXON (Channel 20) and WADL (Channel 38)--both independent stations at that time--refused to sell their stations to CBS. The former subsequently affiliated itself with the fledgling WB Network, while the latter simply made unreasonable demands to CBS.
The only option CBS had left was low-powered religious independent station WGPR (Channel 62). It had only been operating for 19 years and was generally regarded as a low-budget station that aired lots of religious and shopping programs. It aired CBS programs that WJBK declined to air (most notably CBS This Morning, the weak sister among the "Big Three's" 7am-9am morning shows; WJBK dumped it in 1992 in favor of producing its own morning show). CBS had a problem promoting its new Detroit affiliation: it aired TV spots about the change on Channel 62; the problem was that hardly anyone was watching, so CBS had to rely on print media to promote its new station. By contrast, WJBK was allowed to promote its switch to Fox even when it was still affiliated with CBS. Its weak signal discouraged viewers from tuning in, especially older ones who lived without cable TV and were frustrated over no longer being able to get CBS' soap operas with just "the rabbit ears." In the months that followed, CBS' ratings in Detroit suffered terribly, as did its ratings in Atlanta and Milwaukee (markets where CBS also had to work out eleventh-hour deals with high-numbered UHF stations after losing affiliates to Fox). The ratings decline was especially evident with The CBS Evening News, because WGPR did not have a 6pm newscast, whereas WJBK always did.

The sale of Channel 62 from the International Free and Accepted Modern Masons to CBS was not smooth, either. Two ethnic groups protested the sale--African-Americans because WGPR was the only African-American-owned station in Detroit (and the first such station in the United States), and Arab-Americans (because WGPR aired a locally-produced two-hour Middle Eastern variety program called Arab Voice of Detroit, and that show left the air upon WGPR's agreement to become CBS' Detroit outlet). After much legal wrangling, the sale to CBS was approved in July 1995. At that time, WGPR has changed its call letters to WWJ-TV, in an effort to enhance its brand image by tying itself to the far better-known all-news radio station, WWJ-AM 950, which CBS bought in 1989.

One thing that surprised me about the Fox-New World Deal was a lack of intervention by either the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). For one thing, Fox had deliberately avoided being regulated by the FCC by programming just under the number of hours to be legally considered a network (in particular, Fox has still never aired a non-sports program at 10pm Eastern time on any day of the week). If Fox didn't want to be regulated by the FCC, why should it have been allowed to gain high-profile stations at the expense of those networks that did comply with FCC regulations? Surely one of these commissions would say that this deal was not in the best interests of viewers in various markets, including Detroit, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

One immediate effect of the affiliation changes was that both WJBK and WGPR had large time gaps to fill in their schedules--the former because it no longer carried CBS programming, and the latter because (other than CBS network programs) it had virtually no programming. WJBK filled the time once occupied by the CBS soaps with reruns of Night Court, Amen and Top Cops, and curiously, also reruns of the Canadian-produced legal drama, Street Legal. WGPR went to the bottom of the rerun barrel with 21 Jump Street (a Fox show, for Pete's sake), Knight Rider, Night Heat, Rescue 911 and a cancelled talk show, The Jane Whitney Show. You read correctly--at 5pm, instead of news, CBS' new affiliate was showing reruns of a cancelled talk show.

In an ideal world--OK, the Mark Rabinowitz version of an ideal world--the Fox-New World deal would never have taken place. Instead, 16 years ago, CBS would have remained on Channel 2, and Fox would have moved to Channel 20 in January 1995 (after WKBD moved from Fox to UPN at the same time). However, I have come to realize that if the Fox-New World deal had not taken place, then surely, another deal would have shaken the local TV landscape in Detroit. An example is the CBS-Viacom merger in 1999. If CBS was still affiliated with WJBK at that time (instead of owning and operating WWJ-TV), might CBS have moved their affiliation to Viacom-owned WKBD as part of that merger? And if so, would Fox have moved from WXON Channel 20 to WJBK, even though it would have meant moving to its third different Detroit affiliate in five years?

16 years later, there is some consolation to be found in the deal.
  • WJBK's news programming has improved considerably since becoming a Fox O&O. When it was a CBS affiliate, it was owned by Storer Broadcasting--a company that was not willing to pay to keep its best talent--and Gillett Communications, a company built on debt and thus was too cash-strapped to possibly hold on to talent. Its newscasts were filled with unfunny banter and cheesy slogans. Not surprisingly, WJBK had a high turnover of on-air talent. By contrast, its current anchor team of Huel Perkins and Monica Gayle has been together since 1998 and Fox 2 News has won numerous local Emmy awards, perhaps because Fox is willing to pay to keep WJBK's best talent, whereas Storer and Gillett were not.
  • Furthermore, Channel 62's broadcast signal improved after the CBS-Viacom merger. In 2000, CBS moved Channel 62's operations to WKBD's studios in Southfield. Between the stronger signal, CBS' acquisition of the AFC portion of NFL broadcast rights in 1998, and a better slate of programs than it had in the mid-1990s, CBS' ratings in Detroit are much better than they were 15 years ago.
  • Finally, the old VHF and UHF channel positions have become increasingly irrelevant. Being Channel 62 on the UHF dial was horribly inconvenient in the days before remote controls (which was why TV networks prized VHF channels so much back then). However, between the rise of digital television in the late 2000s and the increasing use of cable TV before then, switching to a high-numbered channel is as easy as pressing a couple buttons on the remote.
Final analysis: Boy, I hated that deal then (I still consider it a minor factor in the untimely cancellation of Christy). I've gotten used to it, but I still think back to the days when the CBS station had local newscasts at 5, 6 and 11, the Fox station was on the UHF dial, and Arab-Americans could catch Arab Voice of Detroit on Saturday nights at 10 on Channel 62.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Volume 5, Number 29: The 176-Pound Wall

After my initial success in losing weight, I've sort of hit a wall. I'm at 176 lb., and I've been around that weight for three weeks now.

Lately, I've been thinking about what someone else told me on Facebook: He told me that aspartame causes consumers to crave carbohydrates, thus defeating the whole purpose of aspartame (which is to reduce carbohydrate consumption). Bottom line, I don't believe that claim. Maybe it does cause people to crave more food, but specifically carbs? I'd like to find an actual study that makes that claim, and furthermore, I'd bet that the test subjects in a study like that are relatively poor and gravitate towards cheaper, carb-heavy foods. Why? I go back to what Michael Pollan said in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, about how carbohydrate-heavy foods are more affordable than healthier foods like fruits and vegetables (due to the fact that the government subsidizes corn, the source of high-fructose corn syrup and dozens of other ingredients found in lots of pre-packaged and "fast" foods).

I think the reason I've hit that wall has to do with that animal instinct to eat more in cold weather. Late in October, temperatures in my city fell below 50 and since then, my weight has fluctuated between 174 and 178--still way better than when I started, but it's not what I want, either. So now I have found a new challenge in my quest to lose weight, overcoming the cold weather-heightened temptation to have a late snack or even another meal (or as Taco Bell calls it, "fourthmeal"). What I really need to do now is exercise more--partly to warm up in this weather, but mainly to burn some more calories.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Volume 5, Number 28: Ramen Ramblings

I discovered ramen noodles a little over 20 years ago. I don't remember for sure why I tried them, but I suspect the reason was that I was looking for something with microwave cooking directions on it (so I could cook it myself and thus not have to hassle my mother; also, I strongly preferred using the microwave for cooking back in those days).

I don't know what attracts me to them more--the texture of the noodles, or the fact that a package of ramen costs less than a postage stamp. Anyway, I like them so much that, for the past 10 years, I have had them every Saturday afternoon for lunch (long story short, it's become a personal tradition).

What really surprises me is that there isn't a great deal of variety in flavors for ramen noodles. The most commonplace flavors, by far, are "chicken" and "beef", followed by pork, shrimp and "oriental" (which is this sort of soy/gingery flavor I could never understand).

Maruchan (one of the top ramen noodle manufacturers in the world) makes several other flavors:
  • Lime Shrimp (my undisputed favorite, and not easy to come by)
  • Roast Chicken (I like it better than the regular chicken flavor)
  • Roast Beef (I also like this better than the regular beef flavor)
  • Mushroom (I hate mushrooms)
  • Creamy Chicken (tried it, didn't like it)
  • Curry Chicken (curry = too spicy)
  • Picante Beef (picante = too spicy)
OK, I just named 12 flavors. Why is that not a wide enough variety of flavors?

I'll tell you why: Because I've imagined ramen noodles in other flavors (especially "fast foods," which college students also like). Ideas:
  • Pizza (Maruchan could base this off their discontinued Tomato flavor; mix in some spices and some "cheese" and "beef" elements and you might have something)
  • Lemon chicken (hey, adding lime to the shrimp flavor worked so well for Maruchan, so adding lemon to either the Roast Chicken or regular Chicken flavor would rock)
  • Pepper steak (inspired by another discontinued soup, Campbell's Chunky Pepper Steak--use a "green pepper"-like flavoring instead of that ultra-spicy stuff they put in the Picante Beef flavor packet)
  • Cheeseburger (college students like burgers, too)
  • Roast Turkey (hey, it's poultry like chicken; they have chicken gravy and turkey gravy, and there's chicken-flavor ramen noodles but no turkey-flavor ramen)
  • Taco (I realize Maruchan does have a "Beef Taco" flavor in their Yakisoba noodle line--I've already tried it; the trouble is, it was too darn spicy--just cut back the spices and add a "cheddar cheese" flavoring to the flavor packet and that might be a winner, too)
  • Fried Chicken (I'd like ramen noodles that taste like either KFC's blend of herbs and spices, or Zehnder's--that's a fried chicken restaurant in Frankenmuth, Michigan that I haven't been to in 20 years)
  • Orange Chicken
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken
  • BBQ Chicken
  • Sweet & Sour Pork
  • BBQ Pork
  • BBQ Beef
  • Prawn cocktail (they have prawn cocktail-flavored potato chips in the United Kingdom, so prawn cocktail-flavored ramen noodles can't be that much of a stretch)
  • Lobster (Ty Ling used to make this flavor before withdrawing from the ramen noodle market several years ago)
  • Crab (another flavor Ty Ling made, but no longer)
A quick update on my previous blog entry: I'm starting to like Meijer's Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. M. I had given it the "thumbs down" because I thought it tasted like cough syrup, but the last 2-3 cans I've had tasted a lot better. Maybe I'm getting used to the taste, or maybe something was wrong with just the first 2 cans out of the 12-pack I bought. I don't know.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Volume 5, Number 27: Holy Crap--More Reviews!

Following are diet soda reviews, followed by reviews of the TV shows I was looking forward to in an earlier entry:
  • Diet Faygo Chocolate Cream Pie: Thumbs down. I tried it because it's a flavor Coke and Pepsi don't make. I do see the appeal for dessert-flavored diet sodas--anytime you feel like a certain dessert, just take a swig of this stuff instead--but it just didn't blow me away as either a diet soda or a diet dessert. That means it lands alongside the spork and the XFL as things that are jacks of two trades, but masters of neither.
  • Diet Faygo 60/40: Thumbs up! Finally, a Faygo diet soda that I like! "60/40" is Faygo's version of Squirt, one of my all-time favorite sodas (and Faygo's regular version was also a favorite of mine). This time, the flavor blends well with the aspartame. (The "60/40" refers to the grapefruit/lime flavor--60% grapefruit, 40% lime.)
  • Diet Faygo Rock & Rye: Thumbs down. The regular version one of my favorite Faygo flavors. The aftertaste of the diet version, however, wasn't to my liking. (For those of you living outside Michigan who are asking just what "rock & rye" is--This blog does a decent job of explaining it. But I always say, "Like anything else, you have to taste it before you can decide whether or not you like it.")
  • Sam's Cola Zero Calorie: Thumbs up. You read correctly--I actually liked this better than Coke Zero (but I still like the Cherry and Vanilla Coke Zero's better than this one). I liked the taste, I liked how it went down, and most importantly, it didn't have much of an aftertaste. But it isn't going to win the Diet Soda Federation Inter-cola-nental Championship; that title belongs to Coke Vanilla Zero.
  • Diet Dr. Pepper: Thumbs up. Even though I wish they'd try the aspartame/acesulfame potassium blend instead of just aspartame, the aftertaste isn't bad at all and the taste is close enough to regular Dr. Pepper that I can buy this one again.
  • Diet Meijer Cherry Vanilla Dr. M: Thumbs down. I was hoping this one would be good because Dr. Pepper is among my favorite sodas; thing is, Dr. Pepper stopped making their Cherry Vanilla version in early 2009. So I was happy to see that Meijer (a local supermarket chain) was still making a Diet Cherry Vanilla version of their Dr. Pepper knockoff, in a rare case of the store brand making the "knockoff" even after the "national brand" stopped making the "original". I tried it, and while there wasn't much of an aftertaste, the taste reminded me... of cough medicine. Luden's Cough Drops is my guess. I'm going to try mixing it with Diet Dr Pepper and let you know what I find out in a future blog entry. But just on its own--sorry, no can do.
  • Diet Faygo Cream Soda: Thumbs up. The aftertaste from the aspartame is muted by the flavor of this cream soda (which, incidentally, is different from the flavor of A&W's Vanilla Cream Soda--not as strong, more refreshing taste).
Evidently, my favorite diet sodas have one of four flavors: Vanilla, grapefruit, Dr. Pepper-flavor (no cherry) or root beer.

Now. On to TV show reviews:
  • Detroit 1-8-7: Thumbs up. I still miss Life On Mars and like Michael Imperioli as Det. Ray Carling in that show better than as Det. Louis Fitch in Detroit 187, but I tend to agree with those who say it's the best cop show since Homicide: Life on the Street (an NBC series from the '90s).
  • S*#! My Dad Says: Thumbs down. It has its moments, but for the most part, it feels like "just another shitcom" with only one or two of the crankier and wiser pre-Baby Boom grandfather's wisecracks. I wanted more of him railing about the mess-ups of the Baby Boom and subsequent generations, especially those of his son; and furthermore, as much as William Shatner's improved over the years, when I read those wisecracks on Twitter, I always imagine either Christopher Lloyd or Harvey Keitel reading them, not Shatner.
  • Outsourced: Thumbs down. I made two mistakes: One was fearing that the writers, producers and directors of this show would make light of Corporate America outsourcing customer service jobs to India (thank goodness that didn't happen). The other was expecting them to not make the Indian characters look dumb (which, sadly, they did--the "no, this is Detroit, home of automobiles and black people" bit was one example, and the "Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me" bit just turned me off altogether). For Pete's sake, India has its share of engineers and doctors and I would have liked to have seen at least one Indian character who was only working in that customer service job because he was deemed either "underexperienced" or "overqualified" for the job he really wanted. Outsourced also resorts to using American pop culture as a crutch source for jokes, and to a greater degree than most "shitcoms" (the series is set at a company that sells novelties such as Green Bay Packer cheesehead hats, fake vomit, and so on). Hopefully this show will be cancelled quickly and NBC won't even consider outsourcing all its other sitcom jobs to India.
  • No Ordinary Family: Thumbs up. It is shaping up to be Life Goes On meets Fantastic Four*--Michael Chiklis (who played The Thing in both Fantastic Four films and starred in The Shield and The Commish before that) is the dad who can catch bullets, is darn near indestructible and can make huge leaps; his wife has super speed (although I didn't think she would be so crazy as to go running on the freeway); their daughter can read minds; and their son (who supposedly has some learning disability) has turned into a genius. I particularly loved the scenes where Chiklis' character tests his powers. I'm not so sure I would have introduced super-powered bad guys so soon in the series--I would have spent more time establishing the conflicts among the family members and their internal conflicts, and hey, I hope at least one episode deals with the property damage Chiklis' character has been causing--but yes, I'm interested in seeing where this series takes me. May ABC's execs not mess with it the way NBC's execs did with Heroes.
Update on the "Healthy Foods Fund": Since I resolved back on August 3 to cut out spending on junk food, I have saved $17.86 (roughly speaking, that's about 30 cents a day, but stretch that out to a year and I will have saved over $100 at that rate). My weight this morning was 179 pounds. (I feel like it's been hovering around 180 for some time, and I still have room for improvement, but I still believe that I can continue to lose weight; anyway, 179 is such a huge improvement over 191, after years of letting my weight creep up.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 26: The Restaurant Diet Soda Dilemma... and Possible Solutions

Last night, I was thinking about how restaurants tend to be very limited in terms of diet sodas you can choose from (they usually have either Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke, but not much else). I dealt with this issue while eating at a few different restaurants during my vacation earlier this month. On most occasions, I had to have a regular soda because the only diet soda being offered was Diet Coke (which I dislike, to say the least).

You may know that sodas are dispensed in restaurants by mixing carbonated water with a concentrated syrup. And I got to thinking last night, what if you took the sweetener out of the syrup and put it in the carbonated water instead? And then, what if the fountain was hooked up to two different carbonated waters (one with high fructose corn syrup in it and the other containing my preferred aspartame/acesulfame potassium blend)? And finally, at the fountain, the customer could indicate whether they wanted the regular or diet version of a soda just by pressing a button or flipping a switch. In particular, it would allow diners to have the diet version of any regular soda being served at the restaurant, including examples that otherwise aren't available, such as:
  • Diet Mug Root Beer. Today, restaurants that serve Pepsi products will offer Mug Root Beer but not Diet Mug Root Beer.
  • Fanta Zero (orange soda). Most restaurants that serve Coke products offer Fanta orange soda--but I've never seen the "zero calorie" version of that particular soda (not at the supermarkets I shop at, anyway--Coke's web site says it does exist, though). My soda fountain idea would allow a diner to make one.
  • Diet Dr. Pepper--I know that Arby's serves it but I don't know of any other restaurant that does.
  • Here's a bonus for all those who actually liked the "new" Coke back in 1985: As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, if you took the aspartame out of Diet Coke and added high fructose corn syrup to it, you'll get that short-lived formula (also known as "Coke II"). So any restaurant serving Coke products could conceivably sell that particular formula using the unsweetened Diet Coke syrup/high fructose corn syrup-sweetened carbonated water mix.
After some searching the web, I've found that Coca-Cola has been piloting a new fountain dispenser called the "Freestyle" that dispenses over 100 brands of soda. Now that could be a solution... although after reading on the Coca-Cola Freestyle Facebook page about how expensive it is to build and maintain these Freestyle machines, I'd just as soon wish that they'd make a relatively cheap fountain that dispensed 12 or 20 different varieties. Choosing from 106 different sodas--potentially including ones that aren't available in local supermarkets--appeals to me, but right now I'll be happy with being able to choose from 5 or 6 different diet sodas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Volume 5, Number 25: TV Party Next Week!

Fall is my favorite season of the year, and it has been for many years. There are many reasons, in no particular order--the smell of dead leaves, the colors of the dying leaves, the cooler temperatures, no snow or unbearable heat, not as much rain or thunderstorms as you have in spring, a new model year for the automotive industry, new seasons in the NFL and in college football, the division races in baseball, and later in the fall, new seasons in the NHL and NBA.

But today's blog entry is not about any of those reasons. It has to do with another reason, another new season, this one for television. Back in my childhood, when cable didn't offer much in the way of original programming (and my parents didn't subscribe it anyway), the "Big Three" networks trotted out a variety of shows, from sitcoms to dramas, some new (and nothing like the mix of so-called "reality TV" cluttering the airwaves today). In particular, it was great to see new shows after three months or so of nothing but reruns (as the networks reran all their sitcoms and dramas during the summer months back then). There would be a number of shows that would interest me every year, some of whose names I shout out today whenever I listen to "TV Party" by Black Flag ("Life Goes On! Life On Mars! Werewolf! Benson!") Some, I wish I could go back in time to see because I missed them due to my father's overriding TV preferences (I never got to see Voyagers, a 1981 NBC show about two time travelers, because it was on against 60 Minutes, which my father always watched; The People Next Door, about a man whose imaginary visions become reality and the family that has to put up with them, was a 1989 CBS sitcom I would have loved to have seen, short-lived though both shows were).

OK. Back to the present day. Next week is chock full of new shows and premieres, and there's one more the following week that will interest me, in the closest thing I'll have to my own personal TV Party. They are:
  • Being Erica, Tuesdays at 9pm Eastern Time on CBC (third season begins September 21): One thing I would miss if I moved away from Detroit is Canadian TV. Being Erica stars Erin Karpluk (who also appears in the CW series, Life Unscripted) as a single woman in her 30s who has met a therapist who can take her back in time to fix her laundry list of life regrets. Karpluk has said that the third season will be darker and feature more future time travel (this happened once in season 2 last year).
  • Detroit 1-8-7, Tuesdays at 10pm on ABC (starting September 21): I'm not a big fan of cop shows--I mainly watched the long-missed Life On Mars for the temporal displacement angle--but I want to see how this series portrays the city of Detroit. (No, this is not the show that led to Warren Evans' resignation as Detroit's Chief of Police.)
  • Hell's Kitchen, Wednesdays on FOX (eighth season begins September 22): Of course! Hopefully the new season will be better than the previous one (in which we pretty much had only one highlight: sous-chef Scott going off on Benjamin when the latter tried to run the pass). The new season may have promise if this video is any indication (it's the first time I know of that a chef has imitated Chef Ramsay during service).
  • S*#! My Dad Says, Thursdays at 8:30pm on CBS (starting September 23): I've been following Justin (the son who posts his 73-year-old dad's remarks on Twitter) on both Twitter and Facebook. That Twitter feed has given rise to both a book and this sitcom, in which William Shatner will play the obnoxious but ultimately wise and lovable dad. I would have preferred either Christopher Lloyd or Harvey Keitel in that role, but Shatner's gotten much better with age so I'll give him a shot.
  • Outsourced, Thursdays at 9:30pm on NBC (starting September 23): If only because I want to see what humor the writers of this show can get out of an American training customer service agents in India when those jobs used to be in the United States (and heaven knows that customers would rather be talking to American customer service reps and customer service quality tends to suffer when it's based outside North America). Chances are, I won't laugh and will tune out within the first 15-20 minutes.
  • No Ordinary Family, Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC (starting September 28): A family survives a plane crash in the Amazon River and each member of the family emerges with a different super power. "Life Goes On" meets "The Fantastic Four"? I hope so. I've always been taken by superhero stories--including an idea for one I came up with back in '98 in which the Earth passes through an unusual spatial anomaly (an "indigo hole") and everyone on the planet becomes super-powered as a result. Heroes had such potential before NBC execs messed up Tim Kring's plans for that series. Hopefully ABC won't mess with No Ordinary Family.
Hoarders' third season (A&E) premiered last month. I've been watching that show since it started on August 17 of last year. But I wish the producers of that show would distinguish true hoarding--where people keep junk either because of sentimental value or because they think it can be fixed--from sheer slovenliness (lazy, shiftless slobs who can't even dispose of their own excrement--a recent episode featured a woman with a house was caked with cat feces and piled with bags of her own crap).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Volume 5, Number 24: To St. Louis and Back

I spent a few days in St. Louis last week and finally got one item on my "bucket list" checked off--going up to the top of the Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the United States. I will be posting pictures to my Facebook page soon.

My reviews on diet sodas I've been drinking lately:
  • Pepsi One: Thumbs down. I didn't like the aftertaste (which is disappointing because I thought sucralose would have a better aftertaste than aspartame). I like two other Pepsi diet products better (Diet Pepsi Lime and Diet Pepsi Max; I haven't tried Diet Pepsi Cherry yet).
  • Coca-Cola Vanilla Zero: Thumbs up, and a contender (along with Coke Cherry Zero) for the Diet Soda Federation's Inter-cola-nental Championship.
  • Coca-Cola Zero: Thumbs down. I didn't like it as much as the Cherry or Vanilla Zero (I guess I need the extra flavoring that the Cherry or Vanilla Zero's have to mask the aftertaste).
  • Fresca: Thumbs up. As expected, the aftertaste from the aspartame/ace-K blend is better than when it only used aspartame. But I still have wax nostalgic for the "Disco Fresca" with the saccharin in it.
  • Diet Rite Black Cherry: Thumbs down. It goes down easily enough and it doesn't have much of an aftertaste, but it doesn't offer much in the way of flavor.
  • Diet A&W Cream Soda: Thumbs up, despite the fact that it uses aspartame--rather than the aspartame/ace-K blend used in Diet A&W Root Beer--as its artificial sweetener. Why? The flavor of this cream soda seems to overpower the aftertaste of the aspartame. (In fact, back in the days when I drank regular soda on a regular basis, I preferred Faygo Cream Soda over A&W Cream Soda because I thought the flavor of the latter was too strong, but where the diet versions are concerned, having a strong flavor works in A&W's favor.)
Moral of the story: Maybe I need to rethink my strategy for trying out diet sodas. The sweetener matters, to be sure, but so is the flavor of the soda (I prefer that it be strong enough to drown out any aftertaste the artificial sweetener may have).

Diet sodas I'll give a try soon include Diet Dr. Pepper, Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper, Diet Squirt and Sam's Cola Zero Calorie.

Here's an update on my weight and diet: I've gone down to as low as 183 lb. (8 pounds down from my "record" 191 at the end of July). I'm at 185 right now but I attribute that to eating a lot of restaurant food between September 3 and September 9. There are still no crackers, chips, cookies, ice cream in my house, and since August 31, there are no Pop-Tarts in the house, either. I did buy a box of 6 SuperPretzels, but only because I wanted to have those one more time before I said goodbye to them (they're gone now--I had one a day over 6 days). The only "regular" soft drink in my house right now is a carton of Minute Maid Fruit Punch (which I bought thinking it was fruit juice--only to find, to my shock, that it actually has high fructose corn syrup in it, and so much of it, in fact, that it has more carbs than regular Coca-Cola).

And finally, an update on that Tigers road jersey entry in the Uni Watch Design-A-Jersey Contest (as featured in my last two blog entries): I came in 13th with 150 votes. I appreciate each and every vote I got from you--thank you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Volume 5, Number 23: On to the Finals!

Remember that Tigers road jersey concept I made up for the Uni Watch Design-A-Jersey contest? Well, it was evidently impressed the contest's lone judge (Alain Nina-Sinkham, the owner of Classic Old School, a company that makes custom jerseys) enough to make it to the final round of the contest, in which anyone can pick their favorite out of eighteen designs. (Alain had planned to winnow the entries down to 9 out of the 94 entries received, but decided to go with 9 for each league.)

The 18 finalists are shown in this Uni Watch blog entry. Feel free to check them all out. There are a lot of great ideas in those other 17 entries. There's a poll on that web page--please vote (the same poll can also be found at

The feedback I have received so far is, above all, greatly appreciated.
  • Some people like how the uniform number on the right sleeve is a "tip of the cap" to the '61-'71 Tigers; others think sleeve numbers don't belong in baseball. I will stand by the sleeve numbers unless, say, 90% of the feedback I got was against it (in which case I would move it back to the left side of the front, as in the current Tigers' road jersey).
  • Some like the logo I derived from the 2005 All-Star Game logo; others say "it's nothing special" and would just as soon do without it. I'm sticking with that (I like it so much better than the one they introduced in '94, which has a Tiger going through the "bars" of the Old English D--since the only way a tiger can do so is if it's paper-thin, I derisively call the '94 logo the "paper tiger logo").
  • As for the "Detroit" in Old English, some people wish it was arched instead of tilted (I didn't arch it because arching only works when all of the letters in the word being arched are capitalized, and Old English doesn't look good when capitalized; hence, no arching).
  • There is one thing everyone agrees on: The white outlining on the Tigers' current road jerseys, which has been in use since 1994, has got to go.
This contest has been exciting for me, from the design process to waiting for my design to be "unveiled" (last Thursday) to waiting to find out if I had made the finals (today, obviously). I have plenty of other ideas for uniform changes/tweaks/etc. in the four major pro sports, and someday I will reveal those, one at a time.

To those who have voted and those who have given me feedback, thank you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 22: My Concept for a Detroit Tigers Road Jersey

Back in the early '90s, when the Tigers were still wearing the same road uniforms they had been using since 1972, I began developing my own ideas for what their road uniforms should look like. Not long afterwards, the Tigers did replace those outdated uniforms--but they were not like I envisioned.

So last month, When UniWatch, an online community of sports fans dedicated to all things related to sports logos and uniforms, announced a baseball jersey design contest, I went ahead and submitted what I had in mind as an entry for the contest. This entry (shown below) will appear on the UniWatch blog on Thursday:

There are four major differences between my concept and the current Tigers' road jerseys:

  • The number one thing I wanted is to have was "Detroit" in Old English. Last time I checked, one of the most distinctive things about the Tigers throughout their history is the Old English D. Not the cursive D. The Old English D is basically the Tigers' primary logo now. So why not have "Detroit" in Old English as well?

  • I also wanted "Detroit" and the numbers to be outlined in orange, and only orange (as they were on the 1972-1993 road jerseys). I've always considered the white outlining you see on today's Tigers road jerseys to be unnecessary and excessive.

  • The feature I put on the jerseys that I imagine would bring about the most debate from fans is the uniform number on the right sleeve. Let me explain why I put it there instead of on the front. Looking at Tiger uniforms of the past, I noticed that the road jerseys of the 1961-1971 Tigers teams had numbers on the right sleeve. During those years, the Tigers produced two 100-win seasons, four second-place finishes, one World Series title and seven seasons in which they won 88 games or more. I brought that feature back back as a tribute to those teams, which featured such notably players as Hall of Famer Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich. Also, sleeve numbers are such an unusual quirk for a baseball jersey (indeed, only one Major League team, the Philadelphia Phillies, uses sleeve numbers today).

  • I added a logo on the left sleeve. It's not my creation--it's derived from this logo the Tigers used in 2005 to promote that year's MLB All-Star Game. When I first saw it five years ago, I thought, why not use that super-fierce-looking tiger in a new logo (instead of let it fade into obscurity)? It doesn't have to be the primary logo per se (the Old English D works just fine in that regard), but you have to admit, it is an eye-popping modernization of this logo the Tigers used from 1961 to 1993. Heck, they're both bold blue circles with tigers in them--below is a side-by-side comparison.
Bottom line, I really like how my design turned out, and I hope you do as well. I invite you to take this survey I put together so you can tell me what you think about it. I thank you in advance for your time.

As it happens, two other guys submitted their own Tiger road jersey concepts (thankfully, no one dared mess with the home uniforms).

  • Harry Mathews submitted this, which looks like the home uniform dunked in gray dye; it's simple but dull (the road jersey really needs the orange outlining and this version doesn't have any of it).
  • "RC" created one that takes design elements from the uniforms of Detroit's Negro League team, the Stars. The "Detroit" with the star over the "i" comes from the Stars' road jersey; the pinstripes and the blue part in the middle from the Stars' home jersey. The Tiger head comes from the Tigers' 1927 road jerseys. The idea of using a Negro League team jersey as the basis for an MLB jersey is intriguing (no MLB team has ever done so to my knowledge). But there's just too much stuff on the front, especially with the tiger's head (I would have moved that to one of the sleeves). Also, no Tiger jersey has had pinstripes on it since 1927, and since I hate the Yankees, pinstripes go about as well on a Tiger uniform as bacon does on ice cream.

P.S. For the record, I would never mess with the Tigers' home jersey.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Volume 5, Number 21: Insidious (or, Diet Soda Reviews, Part II)

I've figured out which diet sodas to buy without resorting to taste-testing every one in a lengthy, relatively expensive trial-and-error process, as I thought I would have to. Further review of the ingredients on the ones I already reviewed in Volume 5, Number 19 revealed a key finding that previously had not occurred to me.

Evidently, over the last decade or so, most diet sodas have been using a blend of two sweeteners--aspartame is still the primary sweetener, but acesulfame potassium (also known as Ace-K) is added as a secondary sweetener. The Wikipedia article on Ace-K says that this blend supposedly allows each sweetener to mask the other's aftertaste.

"Supposedly"? Based on my recent experiences with diet sodas, I believe it, regardless of whether's it's really true or not. All the diet sodas I rated at three or more stars used the aspartame/Ace-K blend (although I don't know if Fresca had switched to that blend before or after the last time I drank it--if I liked it without the Ace-K, I'll like it even more now). All the ones I rated at less than three stars used only aspartame. (All of Faygo's diet sodas use only aspartame--a total shame because one thing I love about Faygo is its variety of flavors.)

Moral of the story: I need to read the ingredients first before I buy any diet soda.

Diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Diet Sunkist Orange, Cherry Coke Zero, Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi with Lime have all gained the "thumbs up" from me as the result of using the aspartame/Ace-K blend instead of just the aspartame. I would buy any of those again, but out of this group, I liked Diet Sunkist Orange the best, perhaps because the orange flavor in it was the strongest (and thus mitigated the aftertaste better than the others). (But just in case you wanted to know, Diet A&W Root Beer is still the Diet Soda Federation World Champion.)

It was after drinking the Diet Sunkist that I got to thinking, Could I be getting used to the aftertaste? My mother told me that she could never switch back to the regular stuff because she found that it tasted too "syrupy." So I asked my Facebook friends about it, and two of them said that yes, they got used to it and couldn't drink regular soda again afterwards. Maybe that's happening to me as well.

It all reminded me of a scene from a 1995 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which one alien (Quark, the Ferengi bartender) introduces another alien (Garak, the Cardassian tailor/spy) to a human drink (root beer). Garak reluctantly takes a sip and says, "It's vile!" Quark says, "I know... But do you know what's really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it." Garak responds, "It's insidious."

You can find an MP3 file of the root beer scene here.
Video can be found on YouTube as well here. (The root beer scene starts at the 1:50 mark of the video.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Volume 5, Number 20: What You Leave Behind

In light of the terrible events that unfolded on the night of August 17, 2010 in West Bloomfield, I thought I should revisit two themes: The want to appear richer and more successful than one really is, and the reality of how people will be remembered.

There are people in this small world who want to establish and maintain the appearance of being richer and more successful than their peers. Ellery Bennett was one of them. A pharmaceutical sales representative for 15 years--and that's got to be a very good job considering how well pills sell themselves these days--Bennett gave up that job to pursue a handful of "get-rich-quick" ventures. His Facebook wall includes photos from a trip he took to this year's Kentucky Derby; his YouTube account has videos of him vacationing in Hawaii and the Bahamas.

Or, rather, he appeared to be able to afford those trips and that McMansion in West Bloomfield.

What he really did, starting in 2007, was take out a huge (reportedly $400,000) loan to finance those trips and those failed pipe dreams. His wife filed for divorce on August 11; less than a week later, he stabbed her four times, stabbed himself in an apparent suicide attempt, then left behind her body and a suicide note as he drove off to the hospital in her car.

In an April 2008 blog entry, I mentioned two other people who felt that they were under pressure to at least appear to be doing well: Steven Sueppel, the Iowa City bank executive who resorted to embezzling money from his own employer; and Michael Waleskowski, the Waterford, Michigan cop who had repeatedly paid off his credit card debt by rolling it into his mortgage, then found himself short of money to pay a tax bill so he tried to steal some money from a drunken driving suspect. Both cases resulted in multiple murder-suicides as both men killed their families, then themselves. I said at that time, "Greed, ego-centrism and 'status anxiety' led to the destruction of the Seuppel and Waleskowski families," and it has led to the death of woman and the scarring of yet another family.

We as a people are so compelled to measure ourselves against each other, and compete against each other, and decide, this guy's got a McMansion, he must be more successful; that guy's got a Lexus or a BMW, he must be better off. But there comes a time when we need to leave well enough alone. Impressing our friends shouldn't come from material gain or wealth, and it especially shouldn't come at the expense of one's future.

Besides, nobody at a funeral ever says of a rich, successful person, "He got to take all those trips and drive all those expensive cars and had this huge house."

Instead, we need to remember that we never get a second chance to leave a good final impression. Ellery Bennett, a Northwestern-educated man who had a very good job and could have left well enough alone, will not be remembered that way. He will be remembered as a usurer, a liar and a murderer, and (in all likelihood) he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now, if you have that BMW or that nice, big house, that's great. Congratulations. But no matter what, you will be remembered, not by what you have, but what you leave behind.

My April 2008 blog entry also references a column by Mitch Albom. That column was published in the Detroit Free Press on January 14, 1990, and it appears below in its entirety.


I never got much out of reading Thoreau. Maybe because I read him in high school. An urban teenager doesn't exactly fall for a guy who moves to the woods and talks to squirrels.

I do, however, remember one line he wrote. It struck me when I read it and it has stayed with me all these years: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

What did he mean by that, I wondered? Did grown-ups really have it so tough? Quiet desperation? Such contrasting words. Like "dying hope." Or "deafening silence."

Or "I didn't mean to hurt my babies."

That last sentence has been in my brain since I read it in the police statement of a 29-year-old tire store manager named Lawrence DeLisle. Five months ago, on a warm summer night, DeLisle allegedly slammed his foot on the gas pedal and drove his station wagon - with his wife and four children inside - smack into the Detroit River. The adults escaped; they swam to the surface, gasping for air. The children drowned.

It was originally deemed a tragic accident. But a week later, in a rambling and confused conversation with a police investigator, DeLisle suggested he might have been trying to kill everyone in that car - including himself. The reasons he gave were 1) the suicide of his father, something few of us have had to endure, and 2) the pressure from work, bills, children and a wife - things many of us endure every day.

It is the latter that haunts me. Could life become so intolerable that you might think of ending it like that, in a river, the water rising, no way out?

"I didn't mean to hurt my babies."

Quiet desperation.

Chances are you read the transcriptions of the Delisle tapes. Were you shocked? How could you not be? The horror. The senseless death. Here were four beautiful kids - they had just stopped at McDonald's - and now they were at the bottom of a river.

We may never know the true story. Even DeLisle's statements - in which he said, "I don't even want to go to trial. Just lock me away" - were ruled inadmissible in his trial because of the interrogation methods used by police. (That ruling has been appealed.) Just the same, what disturbed me most was not DeLisle's gruesome account of the incident, or his alleged attempt to kill his family by leaving a candle near a leaking gas pipe.

What got me were exchanges such as these:

Police: What were you thinking about?
DeLisle: Peace ...
Police: What were you thinking about?
DeLisle: Not having to pay bills every week ...
Police: At the time you wanted to be rid of everybody, didn't you?
DeLisle: I just want it to be over ... the constant repetition. Same thing day after day.

Is it possible that everyday pressures - a thankless job, credit card debts, sexual friction with a spouse - could push a man to such an unforgivable act? Can "normal" life be so awful? We distance ourselves from killers by believing they are sick creatures, out of the ordinary. What frightens me is how ordinary some of DeLisle's pressures were.

And not just him. We read today of how a man in Boston may have murdered his pregnant wife, in part because the baby would have interfered with his career. We hear of children murdering parents for inheritance money, because their jobs don't pay their bills. Horrifying. DeLisle said he loved his wife, he loved his children. He also said he sometimes wanted to escape them all.

Quiet desperation.

How many more Lawrence DeLisles are out there? Who knows? He could be a lone troubled man or one of an army of walking time bombs. In eight years of reporting, I have learned this much: We never know what is going on inside the heads of the people next to us. Not even if we live with them, eat with them, work with them.

We never know. People bury their darkest thoughts; they appear perfectly normal. But inside, private demons - such as DeLisle's memory of his suicidal father - can chew at the heart, making the most simple parts of life seem too burdensome, and the most unthinkable solutions somehow appealing.

So we have men driving into rivers and parents selling babies and husbands injecting wives with poison to rid themselves of things such as debt or marital problems.

And we can only draw this conclusion: Perhaps surviving everyday life is more noble than we think. Perhaps we should ignore sports stars and actors and celebrate instead the husband or wife with two jobs and no bank account who still has time to hug the kids.

God knows not everyone is making out that well. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." OK, Thoreau. I get it now.

It scares the hell out of me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Volume 5, Number 19: Diet Soda Reviews, Part 1

I started drinking diet sodas earlier this week after 28 years of drinking regular soda, the main reason being that I had been consuming way too many carbohydrates (which apparently can only be burned with exercise, which I don't do enough of; and/or a faster metabolism, which I no longer have).

I had dreaded the switch to diet because the artificial sweetener used in many diet sodas for the last 30 years, aspartame (aka NutraSweet), leaves an aftertaste that I don't like.

Another reason I would have called such a change unthinkable in 1982: At that time, diet sodas were generally marketed to women (examples: Tab, the Coca-Cola Company's first diet cola, came in a PINK can; also check out this Diet Pepsi commercial). My father was still drinking regular sodas even though he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1980 and may have had the disease even before then (he did switch to diet a few years later). My mother did drink diet colas and she was the only woman in the family (I have no sisters). Between all that, I managed to hardwire it into my mind that since women tend to be more diet-conscious and appearance-conscious than men, that diet sodas were NOT for men (it might also help explain why my father continued to drink regular sodas even after learning he had diabetes).

Some 28 years later, however, I saw a picture a friend took of me as I was on July 31, and I finally saw what I refused to see in my own mirror: An overweight, out-of-shape man at risk of getting Type II diabetes himself. As the result of that experience, I've hardwired totally different thoughts into my mind:
  • I can't expect to lose weight while still drinking regular soda
  • I shouldn't be taking on empty calories every time I'm thirsty
  • I'd rather drink diet soda than ever have to inject insulin.
In case there's anyone else like me who is about to switch to diet sodas, I'm going to publish a series of super-short reviews of such sodas. The first two in this blog entry, I bought this past week:

Diet A&W Root Beer: ⋆⋆⋆⋆ The aftertaste of the aspartame seems to blend well with the aftertaste of the root beer. I'll buy this one again.

Faygo Diet Redpop: ⋆⋆½ Faygo is a Michigan-based company that produces sodas in a number of flavors I like, one of which is Redpop (a strawberry-flavored soda). Diet Redpop, however, I'm not so crazy about--the more I drank it, the less I liked its aftertaste.

These next three, I've had in the past whenever there was no regular soda, and I haven't had them since so I don't know if they've improved, but since they still use aspartame, I doubt that they have:

Fresca: ⋆⋆⋆ I love grapefruit-flavored sodas and Fresca is a big reason why. I remember having a can of it back in the late '70s. But I stop short of giving Fresca four stars because today's formula has gosh-forsaken aspartame (it tasted better back in the '70s because it had saccharin at that time). Darnit, someone at the Coca-Cola Company has got to bring back the old one and call it "Fresca Throwback" or "Fresca '77" or "Disco Fresca" or something like that!

Diet Pepsi (I can't get that jingle from that late '70s/early '80s commercial out of my head): ⋆⋆ The taste is all right but the aftertaste means I'm unlikely to buy it in the near future. I'll try Pepsi One and Pepsi Max before I try Diet Pepsi again.

Diet Coke: ⋆ Diet Coke is vile. Given that I prefer regular Coke over regular Pepsi, it may initially surprise you that I said that. But Diet Coke's formula has never been based on regular Coke. In fact, it's more closely related to the "new Coke" that came out in the spring of 1985 (and bombed so badly that the Coca-Cola Company brought back the "classic Coke" less than three months later); that "new Coke" was essentially a high fructose corn syrup-sweetened version of Diet Coke.

Coming soon in a future blog entry: Diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Diet Sunkist, Pepsi One and Pepsi Max

Update on that healthy foods fund: It's now up to $7.30 (that's the money I've avoided spending on roody poo junk food so far). I haven't spent any of it yet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Volume 5, Number 18: Introducing Mark's Healthy Foods Fund

I have come up with a new idea that I hope will help improve my health.

You see, for ten years now, I freely bought all sorts of junk food (chips, cookies, ice cream, candy bars, pre-sweetened cereals, Pop-Tarts and so on), and that's on top of the soda I drink. During those ten years, I have put a higher priority on keeping my food bill low (read: buy foods that are on sale and for which I have a coupon, regardless of how good for me those foods really are). Ten years ago, I was relatively skinny and thought I could get away with it.

But I didn't.

The end result is that my weight has ballooned to 191 pounds.

That wouldn't be such a problem if I was 6 feet tall, but I'm just 5'7".

And it dawned on me, every time I bought junk food, yeah, I satisfied my inner child; unfortunately, my metabolism doesn't work like it does when I was a child. Not even close.

To that end, here's my idea, in three steps:
  • First, I will stop buying regular soda, junk food, and pre-sweetened cereals. I'll still use what I bought last month--looks like the last regular soda I ever bought is a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi Throwback--but after I'm done with it, THAT'S IT. All I've been doing by buying that stuff is basically turn money into flab (like this poor guy in this New York City Department of Health TV ad) and I've become sick of it.
  • Second, begin keeping a log of junk food purchases I will not make so I know just how much money I am saving by not buying them. (For example, under my old ways, I was going to spend $1.19 on a bag of those new Pretzel M&M's this week--but now I'm NOT going to do that so now that's $1.19 I've saved. Next time I see a kick-butt special on ice cream, instead of buying it, I will make a note of how much I would have spent on it and put that in the log. The money saved will hereby be called Mark's Healthy Foods Fund.
  • Third, spend the money saved in the second step on healthy foods I've previously been not buying enough of--fruits and vegetables I like (apples, oranges, grapefruit), meats (beef, pork, chicken), fish, maybe a bottle of multi-vitamins... That $1.19 alone can go a long way towards that end.
Well, that's the strategy. My plan is to lose some weight in time for my high school class' 20-year reunion (it's less than four months away), and hopefully after that, I will have developed enough good habits to make me feel better and extend my life.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Volume 5, Number 17: Kielbasa Frittata

In an effort to expand my limited recipe repertoire past "chef salads," "grilled cheese," "BLT sandwiches," "that slow-cooked kielbasa/potatoes/sauerkraut dish," "potato latkes," "throwing pieces of meat on a George Foreman grill" and "chimichitos," tonight I am going to cook a kielbasa frittata, as per this recipe. (FYI I'm leaving out the caraway seeds--I hate those--but otherwise will not be altering the recipe.) The whole started when I thought "kielbasa frittata" sounded funny and it got me wondering if it actually existed.

Now, on to miscellaneous bits and pieces I'd like to share:
  • So long as I began with food, I need to add two more items to "Foods I Miss": Chef Boyardee Canneloni and Chef Boyardee Meat Tortellini. I realize that, under ConAgra's iron fist ownership, the Chef Boyardee brand has been repositioned more towards appealing to kids, but simply put, the products they've added towards that end (forkables, twistaroni) are not nearly as good as those discontinued products. Besides, making silly-shaped pasta isn't the only way to make canned pasta appealing to kids. Kids like to try new things! Chef Boyardee is how I discovered canneloni and tortellini in the first place!
  • I'd like to see bad movies take a stab at quoting negative reviews for promotional purposes. That way, when people who like good and great movies (and check out, a web site that has saved me from wasting money on seeing bad films a few times) find out that The Last Airbender is a piece of crap, and don't come to see it, the studio that produced the film (in this case, Paramount) can then cut its losses by deliberately re-marketing it to people who actually get gratification from watching crappy movies. A TV ad for The Last Airbender could thus go like this:
Four nations discover a common destiny in...

A soul-crushing disaster." - Todd Gilchrist, Cinematical
A new low point in M. Night Shyamalan's crumbling career." - Mark Dujsik, Sci-Fi Movie Page
See why The Last Airbender "
makes The Golden Compass look like a four-star classic." - Ty Burr of the Boston Globe
Don't miss "
The most well-rounded failure of the year so far" - Neil Miller, Film School Rejects

  • David Tennant wore this really awesome "muscle torso" T-shirt (shown above) in the 2009 Royal Shakespeare production of Hamlet. Anyone know where in the US I can get a shirt just like it? (And I mean EXACTLY like it--same color, same "muscle pattern," and yes, I've already looked on eBay!)
  • Here's a great promotional giveaway idea for baseball games: Foreign Legion-style hats (an example of which is shown here). The big flap on the back offers great sun protection for your neck--and also gives a big space for the people giving them away to put a big advertisement on the back!
  • Why can't anyone design office chairs that are more like the bucket seats in cars? I keep imagining such chairs would be more comfortable.
  • Can't we have a rear car horn to honk back at any schmuck honking at us (or, for that matter, any idiot who swoops into my blind spot right when I'm about to change lanes)?
  • If you like new wave/punk rock/alternative rock from the '80s, check out KROQ-HD2. It's a re-creation of the mix of music KROQ played in the '80s (which, in turn, is a lot like the music WABX played in '82 and '83, which is where my fondness for new wave music stems from).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Volume 5, Number 16: Baseball All-Star Tweaks

Recently, Bud Selig made a couple changes to the All-Star Game that I feel are a joke. First and foremost is expanding the All-Star Game rosters (like the game hasn’t been slowed down enough with all the substitutions already being made now in an effort to get every player to make his appearance). That also cheapens the value of making the All-Star team. The second is having the DH rule every year, regardless of whether the host city/ballpark are in the American League or not. Uh, given that the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series*, and you’re a National League manager, you should be fuming that every single such game will now be played under the AL’s rules.

* (That’s another Selig tweak I was never fond of—home field should always go to the team with the better record, like in the NBA and NHL.)

I do believe changes need to be made. But the ones I have in mind are different. I mentioned them back in 2006, and I’ll reiterate them below:

First, and a number of baseball writers have said this, it's not necessary to have every single team represented at the All-Star Game because it leads to crummy players making the All-Star rosters while more deserving players are forced to miss out. Take Mark Redman of the Kansas City Royals in the 2006 All-Star Game. Any pitcher with an ERA over 5 (as Redman did that year) should not be allowed within 1,000 feet of the ballpark, much less be on an All-Star roster.

Second, and this one may be met with some disagreement (but just hear me out), is this: Being a top vote-getter in the All-Star balloting should guarantee that they will play at least 3 innings in the All-Star game, nothing more. The managers should be allowed more power in determining the starting lineup.

How do I back up my argument? Two simple words: Reggie Jackson. Some of you remember the early '80s, when Jackson was a perennial top vote-getter (indeed, one of the most popular players the game has ever seen). Trouble is, his defensive skills had eroded so severely that AL All-Star managers at that time cringed at the prospect of having to start him in right field.

One factor that favors my second little tweak is television. I'll bet that the majority of viewers will tune away from the All-Star Game by the time the 6th or 7th inning rolls around. Would they tune away so quickly if certain favorite players had just gotten into the game (or were still on the bench, waiting to enter)? I don't think they would. Going back to Reggie Jackson, it would have been more intriguing to see him come into the game in the 6th inning as a pinch-hitter for the pitcher (supposing for the moment that said game was being played in an NL park) than to see him butchering the NL team’s base hits in the bottom of the 1st.

In summation, the question driving the ballot shouldn't be "Who do you want to start in the All-Star Game," but just "Who do you want to SEE in the All-Star Game?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 15: The Post-World War III NFL-USFL Merger

Today, I was going through some old creative writing of mine and came across an idea that basically came from mixing two interests: Alternate history stories and fantasy sports.

Some time ago, I imagined a TV series in which a newspaper columnist finds himself stranded in a parallel universe, a world in which (among other things) the United States lost 12 western states to the Soviet Union in March 1986, during the Third World War.

One of the more trivial ramifications of such a loss would take place in the world of sports. Both the National Football League and the nascent United States Football League would have lost franchises as the result of the Soviets taking over the 12 western states and thus would have had to merge into a new NFL. To wit, here is how such a merger would have looked. The franchises added from the USFL are indicated in red.

NFC East:
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins
New Jersey Generals

Notes: The St. Louis Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1985, so the Cards were stranded in the new Soviet States of America (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico).  The New Jersey Generals were a talent-rich team, having merged with the Houston Gamblers following the 1985 season.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle did not want the New York/New Jersey market to have a third NFL team, but with gas becoming a precious commodity--especially with the loss of Alaska--he could not force Generals owner Donald Trump to move his team to, say, St. Louis.

NFC Central:
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

Notes: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers left for the newly-formed NFC South division (below). This division is thus the same as the NFC North division we have today.

NFC South:
Atlanta Falcons
Birmingham Stallions
New Orleans Saints
San Antonio Bandits
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notes: Birmingham finally became a big-league city as the NFL added the Stallions. The San Antonio Bandits are the result of merging one of the USFL's better franchises, the Tampa Bay Bandits (who could not compete directly with the Buccaneers and had been opposed to the USFL's decision to switch to fall football for that reason) with the San Antonio Gunslingers (one of the USFL's less successful franchises). San Antonio was one of the few markets left that might support an NFL team. The Stallions are in the NFC South--as opposed to the AFC South--so they can enjoy rivalries with the Saints (another Gulf Coast state) and the Falcons (in the neighboring state of Georgia).

AFC East:
Baltimore Stars
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Notes: The Stars, the only team to appear in all three USFL championship games (winning two), had relocated to Baltimore from Philadelphia after the USFL's pre-war decision to compete directly with the NFL. What great timing. Baltimore gets an NFL team just two years after losing the Colts to Indianapolis, and get to play against three of the Colts' old rivals (but not the Colts themselves; they relocated to the AFC Central).

AFC Central:
Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts
Kansas City Chiefs
Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: The Chiefs are the only surviving team from the old AFC West. The Houston Oilers got moved to the new AFC South division (below). The Colts join the AFC Central because, after moving to Indy, they're closer to Cincinnati and Cleveland than they are New York and New England (and the postwar American government prefers that the NFL's teams minimize all logistics costs).

AFC South:
Houston Oilers
Jacksonville Bulls
Miami Dolphins
Orlando Renegades
Memphis Showboats

Notes: The Bulls looked to be a stronger franchise after merging with the Denver Gold following the 1985 USFL season, and had great fan support already (in fact, in our universe, Jacksonville's support of the USFL Bulls was why the NFL gave that city an expansion franchise in 1995). The Renegades and Showboats were two of the teams that were preparing to play a 1986 fall season in the USFL and were more than happy to play that season as NFL teams. The Dolphins leave the AFC East for two intra-state rivalries (Bulls, Renegades), a cheaper, less tiring travel schedule, and in the short run, a much easier schedule (in addition to three ex-USFL teams--more than any other division--the 'Fins would have two games against an Oiler team that went 5-11 in 1985). Incidentally, the Dolphins and Oilers would revive a short-lived divisional rivalry; they were rivals in the old AFL Eastern Division from 1966 (when the Dolphins joined the AFL as an expansion team) to 1969 (the last season before the AFL-NFL merger, in which the Oilers moved to the newly-minted AFC Central).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Volume 5, Number 14: To Be, Or Not To Be... Smart

A few years ago, I wrote this blog entry about how I did better in courses where the right answers were clearly defined (like math and spelling) than subjects in which students could answer various ways, depending on how they interpreted the subject material (like social studies and English literature). I mentioned that I developed the need to have as many "right answers" as possible, which is why I did well in spelling bees and trivia games.

Recently, however, it dawned on me: Being smart isn't about knowing all the right answers beforehand. Being smart means asking questions when you need answers. It means knowing which question to ask to get that answer, and in some cases, finding out who to ask. Long ago, I used to think that if someone asked a question in class that they must not be smart because it meant they were having trouble grasping whatever subject the teacher was teaching.

Back in high school, I was too proud to ask my English teacher to give me a literal interpretation of certain phrases in Shakespeare--I could have sworn that some of them read like Yoda the Jedi Master had written them--because I thought the teacher was already expecting me to interpret Shakespearean correctly. Meanwhile, my mind was getting lost in words that felt like they weren't being used properly because I kept thinking of how they are used to today (e.g. it didn't occur to me that "soft" actually meant "stop" or "be quiet"; I sure could have used a reference like this back then). I never understood what the characters were really saying until recently, some 20 years later, when I saw the 2009 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant as Hamlet and the recently-knighted Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius (he also played the ghost of Claudius' brother, Old Hamlet). I strongly recommend you see it--you may have to buy the DVD as it aired on PBS a little over a month ago--but I digress here.

Point it, I could have asked other students in the class after school as to what certain words meant or how certain parts should be read. An example is Act I, Scene II: I failed to figure out that Claudius' lines at the start of the scene were intended as a speech to the other characters on the stage, not just to one or two (and certainly not a soliloquy); and furthermore, that speech is divided into separate parts (first about his marrying Gertrude, then about Norway's continuing war with Denmark under the leadership of young Fortinbras). When I first read Hamlet, that speech seemed like nothing more than one long, rambling stream of words.

Obviously, it's better to ask a stupid question now than make a stupid mistake later.

And sometimes failing to ask questions can be the stupidest mistake of all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 13: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

I've heard it said many times that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

That statement has certainly been true with the recent BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, because there are a number of parallels between it and a similar disaster that took place in 1988: Piper Alpha, located in the North Sea (approximately 120 miles northeast of Aberdeen, Scotland), was another offshore drilling rig. It had been operating for 12 years when a series of explosions and fires destroyed it.

Errors and questionable decisions led to both disasters, which could have easily been avoided. (Here's a report about what went wrong on Deepwater Horizon. And this Wikipedia article summarizes the Piper Alpha disaster.)

And of course, both rigs were destroyed the same way--by explosions and fires.

In Piper Alpha's case, a design change was made that enabled the platform to process natural gas as well as crude oil, but the additional equipment was placed much closer to the workers' quarters than it should have been. Also, on July 6, 1988, workers had begun working on routine maintenance for a safety valve but did not finish it before their shift ended and the night shift began. The engineer in charge of the maintenance in question did not properly inform anyone that this work was not complete and that the condensate pump connected to that valve should not be operated under any circumstances.

In the Deepwater Horizon case, improper well design, the flawed design and maintenance of the blowout preventer and the ill-advised removal of "drilling mud" on the day of the disaster all played a part in the loss of that rig, the loss of 11 workers' lives, and the jeopardizing of ecosystems and people's livelihoods along the Gulf Coast.

But what really alarms--no, wait, disgusts me is how BP has allowed the disaster to become even worse (in ecological terms) than Piper Alpha. Famous firefighter, the late Paul "Red" Adair, was able to put out the Piper Alpha fire and cap the leaking oil wells in three weeks. Deepwater Horizon has been lost for a month now and all BP has done (other than point blame at Halliburton and Transocean) is stick a little bendy straw into the leak to siphon off a small fraction of the oil. Here's a live video feed of the leak, 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

The executives at BP keep saying they'll have this leak plugged "next week," refuse to use a less-toxic oil dispersant than the one they've been using, and presumably continue to pay themselves the same as they've been over recent years. Are they aware that they're constructing a better advertisement for the abolition of offshore drilling than the Greenpeace folks could ever dream of?