Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Good Company

On two occasions over the last few years, I had the privilege of working for one of America's most respected radio organizations, CBS Radio. That said, I must confess it wasn't as big a deal as it sounds up there. What happened was this: CBS was in the process of acquiring radio stations in major American cities. To get the stations they wanted, they had to buy out the company that owned the station I work at. When they first purchased the company, and again just before selling it, they identified the stations as owned by CBS Radio [the rest of the time, they were known as Infinity Broadcasting, a name I never much cared for personally]. No, it really didn't make us any better or worse [for the record, CBS, under either name, spent very little on improving us], but there was a sense of being better, because of the association.
I feel that same way again, with word that Amnesty International, the premiere human-rights organization in the world, has decided to be affiliated with Blogger Unite's blogging campaign, set for May 15th of this year. On that day, literally thousands of bloggers from around the world will drop their usual topics, to address the issue of Human Rights.Amnesty International USA []
will promote the efforts of bloggers to write on human rights topics, as well as providing information that can be included in the postings.
Bloggers Unite is celebrating its first anniversary by focusing its voluntary membership on human rights suppression that exists in many parts of the world. I had the privilege of taking part in the first two BU campaigns, and am looking forward to my part in this one.
It's hard to measure just how much writing on a specific topic can change the world. But raising the questions can do nothing but good for humanity. If we humans think clearly on a matter of concern, we can almost certainly work out a solution that works.
If all this is new to you, just click on the Righteous Fist Of Commitment, located in the right-hand column of this blog [don't worry, you can't miss it]. Find out how you can take part. Then, take part, dern ya!
-Mike Riley

Monday, April 28, 2008

Going Postal

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"

-Unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service, adapted from Heroditus (circa 475 BC)

This all started about two months ago. The Woman I Love and I received a note in our mail box, but no mail. The notice informed us that there was an "animal conflict" at our address, and that no mail would be delivered until the mail box was moved from the side to the front of our house. We were a bit confused; yes, we'd had an animal conflict or two with our pets, but they were three "indoor only" [unless one made it out the door] cats.

After a little investigation, we found out the new people in the front house had brought with them two pit bulls. I met them and, although they took to TWIL a lot more than they did to me, we all got along very well. I also learned that:

1. / The Postal Service was only going to allow us one pick-up at the Main

Post Office [not the branch within walking distance of our house], and

2. / The Postal Supervisor handling the matter was basing his decision strictly

on the mail carrier's statement that she was "afraid" of the pit bulls.

[I'm sorry. The very least he could have done was to personally examine the matter. I had an uncle who was a long-time postal inspector and supervisor, and I don't believe he would have avoided a visit]
At any rate, the battle continues. The mail person wouldn't deliver one day because she thought the dogs might break through the door [that one I might grant her. They've charged the side door, barking and growling, when I've come home from work, and it sounds like they might come through]. Another time, she refused to deliver because the front window of the house was open, and she was concerned they might jump through it.
(Oddly enough, she's not afraid of most dogs. The former residents of the front apartment had a mixed-breed dog which had a habit of jumping on people [personally, I think he had legitimate issues. He was almost always left outside, and the jumps may well have been an attempt to get and keep a little company]. She brought him dog biscuits.)
The last time we checked [Saturday morning, after the people in front had blasted the postal supervisor over the phone], it looked like the mail would not be delivered until the mail person was assured that there was no way the dogs could get out.If that didn't happen, all residents of the house would have to get a Post Office box, and pick up the mail. If that is the way things are left, I don't think we should have to pay for it. After all, we don't own the dogs [which, for the record, are devoted barkers, but have yet to jump up on anyone within my sight]. I'll have to let you know how this all turns out.
Sorry this isn't funnier.
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Voltaire And Earth Day

Like, I'm assuming, many of you, I've moved a few times in my life. And also like you, I've lost a few things along the way. I only miss two of them: my high school ring [larger, and with a higher gold content, than the ones my college offered], and a college textbook. Comparative Philosophy, I believe it was called. It was, without a doubt, the best sleep-inducing device ever created by mortal man. Five minutes alone with that book had me exchanging high fives with the Keeper of the Land of Nod. I don't know that I've slept as soundly since I lost it.
Of course, as many ex-college students have come to realize, the worst place to develop a love for any topic is in college. For some inexplicable reason, 98% of college instructors have a special talent for sucking the life out of any topic they choose to turn their hand to.It wasn't until I had picked up my sheepskin that I discovered a few lively philosophical tomes. Sir Thomas More's Utopia is one example. So is Voltaire's Candide.
It would be impossible to summarise Candide [well, there must be a Cliff's Notes version, but I just can't picture it]. Imagine a young loving couple facing, among other things, kidnapping, rape, torture at the hands of the Inquisition, and other hilarious moments! Yes, at times [usually during the worst of the mayhem], Candide is an outright hoot!
Anyway, after all the adventures, we spot our young couple joyously tending a farm in the middle of nowhere. Candide, the eternal optimist, tells his mentor, Dr. Pangloss, that he wishes nothing more than the chance to "cultivate his own garden". I think there may be a lesson for all of us, this Earth Day [my God, he finally got to the other half of the title! Alert the media!]
That lesson is, take responsibility for your corner of the world. Work to keep it as environmentally safe as you can. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Take the bus or train whenever you can. Find out what the candidates for office in your area really think about global warming. Vote for those who share your concerns. And while you're at it, cultivate a garden. Whether flowers or produce, it'll help put more oxygen in the air.
Let's face it: we, as individuals, can do little to help the big picture. But working on our own gardens, cleaning up our own part of the world, certainly helps where we are, and puts another piece in the solution to our on-going crisis.
One final thing: if you're heading to a used-book store [great way to get cheap reads, without chopping down more trees for paper], and you happen to see a copy of Comparative Philosophy, would you let me know? I'm so tired...
-Mike Riley

Sunday, April 20, 2008

St. Timothy's At Court - Opening Antics In Downtown Buffalo

Downtown Buffalo, NY, where I work, is noted as the area center for legal, governmental, and banking activities. It is also noted for having next to nothing else going on [my place of employment excepted]. So it's news when any new business not associated with the above opens up. The excitement was even greater when it was learned a Tim Horton's franchise was moving in to a building at a prominent corner - Main and Court.

[For those outside North America: Tim Horton's is an incredibly successful chain of coffee-and-donut shops. It was started in Canada by this man:

Tim Horton. He was a very successful professional hockey player of the 1960's and 70's, most notably with the Toronto Maple Leafs [yes, it is "Leafs", not "Leaves". No one seems to know why], New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres. During his years in Toronto, he started the chain of shops, and opened others here-and-there when he played in other cities. After his untimely death in an automobile accident, his company was acquired by the owners of the Wendy's fast food restaurant chain. Under its ownership, the Horton's shops have gained an almost religious popularity for their coffee [which by company policy is never allowed to age more than 20 minutes on a burner before being discarded. I'm not a coffee drinker myself, but I can appreciate the desire for a fresh cup]; their donuts are enjoyed, but not as esteemed as the brew.

So let's summarise; Your Reporter, non-coffee drinker, diabetic, just finished with an all-night shift. What is This Person doing, sitting in front of the about-to-open Tim Horton's? Well, as noted above, such events are few and far between in my little birthplace [pathetic, isn't it?]. And yes, I wanted a donut! (I'm not proud of myself for that, but I was fully prepared to forgive myself afterwards...) Just at that moment, however, there was some question if I would be able to enjoy said pastry. Scheduled to open promptly at 6 AM, there was still the kind of confusion I'd come to expect from dress rehearsal night in my community theatre days [list of roles available upon request]. People were looking in, gesturing to be admitted, being ignored, and walking on. It was interesting, but needed something special to take on the air of Street Theatre the day almost called for.

Suddenly God provided [How often in our darkest hours does that happen? And how seldom do we acknowledge it?]. What God provided in this case was exactly what was needed; an older, infirm woman, loudly chatting to every passer-by how the shop's posted hours said it would be open at Six. "C'mon, open up", she half-screamed at the locked door, "I need to eat breakfast soon. Don't make me walk to your other branch [three or four blocks further; I think she could have managed it, but she didn't want to, and felt she shouldn't have to]". Clearly, God had outdone Himself! The crowd inside stopped putting up the "Grand Opening" signs and balloons; the growing crowd outside watched the unexpected show with obvious glee. (I was worried when she started using the rubber tip of her cane on the door, in a futile attempt to rush things along; I didn't want to see Our Star getting into trouble. But it did add to the festivities...)

Just then, the manager timidly approached the door [bad sign; if he wasn't ready for her, he may not have been ready for the collection of Unusual Types that populate any city's downtown district]. "I'm sorry", he began, "Our cash registers aren't ready yet. It's going to be another ten or fifteen minutes". I looked at the time. I couldn't wait; I had a bus to catch [neither could our entertainment; she started hoofing it to the other branch. But she wasn't happy...]. Then again, the show had been sweeter than any treat I might have snagged inside.

Unexpected moments are always the best. I hope your week isn't too scripted...

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Story Worth Retelling

One of the more interesting "fantasy" sports out there is "dream casting". Even in the greatest movies, there can be disagreement over who should play whom.For instance, an early cast list for Casablanca paired Ronald Reagan with Ann Sheridan, in the roles eventually immortalized by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. And it's virtually impossible to dream of anyone but Judy Garland as "Dorothy" in The Wizard Of Oz, but at one point studio execs were desperate to hire Shirley Temple from a rival film company. Alas, the deal couldn't be struck, leaving us MGM's default
choice. Sometimes the world works the way it's supposed to...

Now consider the two gentlemen pictured above. Notice a resemblance? Well, the man on the right does. He, of course, is Robert Redford, and he wants to portray the gentleman on the left, Branch Rickey, who re-integrated American professional baseball after World War II by signing Jackie Robinson to a major-league contract.

The story, of course, is well worth telling. In the earliest days of Professional baseball, players of all races were welcome. Then, shortly before the beginning of the last century, a movement began to bar black players from the game. There is some debate over exactly how it started, but within a few years, every team in the professional ranks had banned blacks from their rosters. The "color line", as it was called, was never officially written into the league rules. But it was as mandatory as if it had been. Black players and fans started their own teams [Google The Negro League for the history of that era], but there was always a sense that the situation was fundamentally wrong. (Ironically, throughout this time, some players of color, notably Native Americans and Hispanics, were welcomed in the pro game.)

As the Second World War was ending, Branch Rickey was a long-time baseball executive, then working for the Brooklyn Dodgers.He had been scouting several Negro League players in secret. He was drawn to Jackie Robinson, playing for Kansas City. Robinson had served in the Army [at the time, also segregated], and had dealt with racism during his training in Texas. A white bus driver had ordered him to sit in the back of the vehicle, standard procedure for blacks at that time. Robinson refused, leading to court marshal proceedings. In the military trial that followed, he was acquitted by an all-white jury. Shortly thereafter, he was granted an honorable discharge.

Rickey met with Robinson, and told him that his on-field skills were not an issue. He was ready for the Major Leagues. But he was going to be a trail-blazer, which would call for other skills. Rickey wanted him to ignore the abuse that would inevitably come with being the first black player in almost eighty years. Robinson reportedly said, "Do you really want a player afraid to fight back?" Rickey said he needed a player "with the guts not to fight back". They agreed that Robinson would ignore the baiting for his first year in the Majors; after that, Rickey said he could deal with matters as he saw fit.

Following a spectacular season at Brooklyn's top minor-league club, in Montreal, PQ, Canada, Jackie Robinson played his first major-league game on April 15th, 1947. He faced abuse that would have crushed a lesser man, not only from fans and opposing teams, but, in a few cases, from his own teammates. He rose above the emotional turmoil to become the first-ever Rookie Of The Year, and go on to a career of exemplary play. He was named to his sport's Hall Of Fame after his retirement, and his patience against sometimes horrific abuse helped lead to the re-integration of baseball.

Getting back to the resemblance matter, I don't quite see it. But Redford knows from baseball. He scored a major triumph with The Natural [much of which was filmed in and around Buffalo] and, as noted above, has picked a story that still resonates in American life. He may just be the man to help tell it. Let's hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

House Special

I guess I should start off by saying that this post has nothing to do with Chinese restaurants, except that many of them feature an item or two called a "house special". Usually, that's short for "whatever we have a lot of at the moment, mixed with items that we hope will be tasty with it". Yeah, it's a clever way to post another series of short items. But at least [I hope] it's clever. And so:

-the Internet is still NOT hooked up at home! First of all, the company in question [no names, but let's hope they can't hear me now] had an issue with the way The Woman I Love and I handled our long distance. After running up a large bill, and paying it off, we chose to just not reconnect the service, choosing to use a phone card for the rare times we called long distance. Well, they left the "block" on our phone line, making it impossible to connect DSL [why the two items are connected, I can't say]. Then, after resolving that, the company forgot to put the order in. Then, when they DID put it in, they didn't send everything we needed to connect it. And then...well, you get the idea [there are three or four complications I skipped, to give you an idea how involved this is]. Hopefully by this weekend. But somehow I doubt it.

-My taxes didn't go out until April 15th [today, as I write this]. But there's a good reason for that. For the first time in my life, I've actually got to pay Federal taxes. I can't believe it! Like many Americans, TWIL and I are struggling to get by, and now I'm actually paying Federal tax. What's the deal with that? All right, I'm done whining now. Thank you for your patience.

-The "Link Love" widget to your right is finally working. The problems came down to my total ineptitude in copying HTML code. But all problems are now solved, and any EntreCarders who drop here now get a link, as well as EC points. Want one for your very own? Click on the place where it says to, and, if your coding skills are better than mine, yours should be working shortly.

-Spring seems finally to be on the way [although it's snowing in the Rockies, and 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside as I write this], so that's something to be cheerful about. Hope things are cheerful where you are. Now, in lieu of a fortune cookie, check the "You Want Answers?" Magic 8 Ball further down on the right side. No, it's not a cookie. But it lasts longer...

-Mike Riley

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Childhood Memories, Disconcerting Division

I grew up in the Seneca-Babcock community of Buffalo, NY. During my childhood [spent mostly in the 1960's], it was a very busy industrial district, with businesses running the gamut from America's largest windshield-wiper manufacturer [now based in Mexico], to the nation's largest producer of denim dyes [on a busy day, the smell of rotting eggs from the plant was overwhelming], to an oil refinery. I don't think it's illustrated in the photo above, although it certainly reminds me of it. I'd like to tell you that the orange hue in the sky was from a sunset; truthfully, though, I doubt it.
The oil refinery was at the end of Babcock Street. A few blocks up the street was a Boys [eventually to become a Boys and Girls] Club. I spent almost every weekday after school there, heading home after dark [around 8 - 9 PM]. The skies were frequently that shade of orange, or darker. The effect on a cloudy night could, to a child's imagination, be incredibly frightening. Until you realized that the orange skies were nothing more than burning oil wastes reflected off clouds.
Forget for a moment all the fascinating things in the air around my little town. Ignore the high percentage [observations based on admittedly anecdotal reports] of cancer, and birth defects, and breathing disorders, in this rather small community. Just imagine the amount of fire thrown into the sky. The amount added to the world's greenhouse gases. And this was thirty, forty years ago. None of the issues addressed by opponents of Global Warming are new. But with the exponential increase in Greenhouse gas emissions, the steady industrialization of the previously under-developed areas of the world, and the growing realization that the clock is running on finding a solution, even those of us who don't spend a lot of time considering these matters realize that action must be taken, and taken NOW.
If you click on the banner over the EntreCard, you'll be taken to You'll be offered an opportunity to join the "Virtual March" on Global Warming April 22nd. I'm in. It's a nice idea. But more than symbolic action is needed. Consider this: on April 22nd, take part in the "Earth Day Initiative" [Disclosure alert: the radio station I work for is partnering with a corporate sponsor here in Buffalo to encourage our listeners to support the Initiative. I couldn't be prouder of my employers]. Carpool. Take the bus, or the tram, or the subway, or the train to work. You'll reduce Global Warming in a measurable way. And who knows, you may enjoy not driving [I know I prefer the freedom I get from busing to and from work]. It's cheaper and, while it may not be as convenient as using your car, you'll be making a difference. Anyone who wants their children and grandchildren to be able to have a world to grow up on can appreciate that. If you don't, do it anyway, then tell your friends and family how righteous you are. That should be fun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's Running Through My Head...

Am I the only Who down in Whoville who doesn't give a rat's ass about this season on American Idol ? I didn't think so. I mean, this is the most talented class in "Idol" history, without question. But for all that singing ability, not a pin point's worth of charisma. Even this year's "reject" shows didn't have much of a kick. Maybe it's time, as it has been in other countries that have put on singing contest shows, to give it all a rest. Let's miss Randy, Paula and Simon for a year. Then we can look forward to their return.

Regular observers of the merry antics here [oh yeah, right] know that there's a widget in the right-hand column of this very page [just another reason to stay for a few minutes after dropping your EntreCard, by the bye] which shows where said visitors are coming from. As usual, the highest readership of this R-rated blog [could it have been for saying "rat's ass" in the opening today? Fuck, no...] is from North America, with nice turnouts in Oceania, Europe, and Asia. Antarctica is singularly unrepresented, and there is only one reader in all of South America [to that reader, living in isolation in Uruguay, I can only say, "Senior, Senora, or Senorita, your taste in blogs is unequaled on your entire continent!"

Have you heard anything about this? Set for May 10th, Pangea Day is a four-hour film festival, to be presented at uncountable locations world-wide, as well as on the Internet. The festival features short films from around the world, as well as speeches by notables, and musical performances. I like the concept [created by filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, and brought into being as part of an award she earned two years ago], but I'm not sure how well all these films will "translate" into other cultures. Still, 10 out of 10 for truly trying something new (Visit for further information).
{There are other things running through my head, of course. Some of them too primal [you REALLY don't want to know], others too specific to my history [twenty lines of "The Sabres suck!" would not be enlightening to anyone]; I guess we'll just have to leave it at that}
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Woolly Mammoth Died For Your Sins...

...well, not YOUR sins, actually. You weren't even born when said ancestor of the noble elephant roamed the Earth [I was, of course, but I was a "gatherer", not a "hunter". Just want to clarify that]. But according to new scientific research [the non-scientific version can be found here:], the first humans may have caused the last mammoth.
According to scientists in Spain, who did careful reconstructions of mammoth populations and lifestyles [surprisingly, the mammoth preferred techno to hip-hop. Who knew?], the big mammoth-offer was a change in climate around 8,000 - 6,000BC. The large-tusked beasties apparently preferred cooler temperatures [so why don't we find their carcasses around Buffalo, well-know for its tepid temperatures? Answer me that, science-types!], but thermometers were starting to rise during this era. But the scientists noted that mammoths had survived an earlier period of warming temps almost 100 thousand years earlier. So what finally offed the mammoth?
It turns out that, around the time of the second warm-up [8,000 - 6,000 BC, you'll recall. If not, re-read the last paragraph. Then cut back a bit on your social drug use...], humans took advantage of warmer conditions to head North, into what we now call "Europe" [the first humans in the vicinity called it, "Gloria". No one is exactly sure why]. By that time the mammoth population had dropped so far that, according to the Spanish reconstruction [which sounds like something they'd done after the Second World War], if every man, woman and child killed only one mammoth every three years, the population would collapse in on itself [or something like that]. Of course, not every cave-person filled his or her mammoth quota, but enough did [and some greedy bastards killed two, or even three] to cause the extinction of the Woolly Mammoth.
Is there a moral to all this? I don't know, but, given the current "environmental" practices in use around the Globe, I wonder if future scientists [if there are scientists. Or a future] will consider this era as environmentally illiterate as that of the Ancient Ones...
-Mike Riley