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Archive for Life

March 25, 2020 — The rest of the balloon

This morning, word came down from the government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to the summer of 2021 because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Much as the IOC might have liked to have said that it was a joint decision between itself and the Japanese government (which serves as the de facto host of the Games), the fact is that the move was announced only after Canada and Australia pulled out of the competition, and a number of governing bodies of sport in the United States recommended the same.

In other words, as Eurocentric as world sport has become over the last 25 years, I find it interesting that North America and Oceania brought the pressure to bear on one of the most imperious and tone-deaf governing bodies of sport. Yep, more than FIFA, more than the NCAA.

But then again, I think the IOC had to have seen what has been going on in the geopolitical sense. Today, for example, India put its entire population of 1.3 billion on lockdown. Think about what kind of logistical and governmental nightmare that is in terms of being able to get your populace on the same page.

It’s a scenario that is likely happening in 200 world capitals all over the globe. And it could get very ugly.

 

March 24, 2020 — A closing domino

Yesterday afternoon, Virginia governor Ralph Northam ordered extended the closure of all of the state’s public schools from now until the end of the scheduled school year.

It’s a move which I believe spells the end of scholastic sports in the United States until at least late summer. The Virginia High School League is a very large and influential part of the U.S. scholastic landscape, and I think a number of other state governing bodies will follow suit, especially given the fact that the Commonewealth’s governor is a medical doctor.

This has to be a tough decision, especially given the fact that the nation’s winningest girls’ lacrosse coach is within your borders. But for Kathy Jenkins’ quarter-century in the sport, she’s never had to coach through a situation like this.

March 19, 2020 — A reality from 19 years ago

The last time there was a widespread disruption of American life was the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Even then, people got back to work quickly, and so did many schools.

The coronavirus scare, however, is somewhat different. People from Manhattan to San Francisco are being asked to shelter in place. Recommended maximum group sizes have gone from 250 to 100 to 10.

Frankly, I’m not sure the spring scholastic sports season will ever get back on track, given the risk aversion on the part of governments, schools, and universities to allow people to assemble.

Hopefully, the measures taken by many citizens to flatten the contagion curve will help. But given the population size of the United States, it may get worse numerically (if not in terms of percentage).

Stay safe, dear readers.

March 3, 2020 — James Lipton, 1926-2020

James Lipton, unlike great interviewers like Terry Gross, Edward R. Murrow, David Frost, Charlie Rose, and Joe Franklin, wasn’t trained in the usual way of being a journalist, although he started as a copy boy at The Detroit Times.

Indeed, Lipton had a full career even before his collaboration with The New School in New York City yielded his signature television show, “Inside The Actors’ Studio.”

Lipton, who died today, was very much a multimedia kind of guy before the term ever came into being. In the 1940s, he did radio, at one time having a recurring role on The Lone Ranger. In the days of black and white TV, he appeared on the soap opera Guiding Light and became its head writer. He wrote the Broadway musical Sherry! in the 1960s. In the 70s, he produced television specials for Bob Hope and produced a television special surrounding one of President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural balls back in 1976.

Over the quarter-century that “Inside The Actors Studio” ran on Bravo, he interviewed a Who’s Who of A-List comedians, actors, producers, and even members of the news media. His “gets” included reclusive stars such as Francis Ford Coppola, Dave Chappelle, Johnny Depp, and Julie Kavner, the voice of Marge Simpson.

His one-hour shows were the edited highlights of sessions which would sometimes last up to five hours.

It is through this prism that you can understand what made the show work: he could deal with hours’ worth of mistakes and retakes, and through meticulous research he knew his subjects before they came on the air. In other words, what you saw was polished content, free from extraneous chatter.

Lipton’s interview style and his approach to his subject matter were often the stuff of parody, if not outright ridicule. But the show has outlasted a change in network and in hosting duties; he retired from the show when it moved to Ovation in 2018.

His death silences an original mind as well as an inquisitiveness that most of us have but rarely have a chance to act upon. He will be missed.

March 2, 2020 — The most important meal of the day

It was about seven years ago when driving from the hotel to the USA Field Hockey National Training Center in Virginia Beach, I noticed that the Wendy’s restaurant about a mile away from the site of the National Futures Tournament was selling breakfast.

Now, Wendy’s, one of the largest fast-food chains in America, has never been synonymous with breakfast. It’s like how CBS had no answer for late-night TV before the advent of David Letterman, and now Stephen Colbert and James Corden attract boffo ratings. It takes time.

Now, I did know of one Wendy’s restaurant that served the early crowd: it was a quarter of a mile from the White House, straight as the crow flies. The egg biscuits were surprisingly good, and the hashbrowns were of the disc variety, so they were an easy quick-fry.

But that location was razed around 2010 along with the rest of the building, and the rebuilt structure is now a law firm.

Turns out the Virginia Beach location was one of a number of Wendy’s testing out breakfast menu items. There was an artisan chicken sandwich, oatmeal, and a breakfast burrito. My favorite was a panini sandwich, with the muffin sandwich with asiago cheese a close second.

I was hoping that today’s rollout of the new Wendy’s breakfast menu would yield much of the same.

It didn’t.

This especially went for the coffee, which is usually the thing you want to spent the most time on sourcing because it is the item that is consumed last, meaning that it makes the largest impression on the consumer.

I wondered why Wendy’s, after the test-run of such great items seven years ago, would choose to ditch that menu for the simple menu of nine sandwiches.

Then, I read the coffee cup. It said, “Official breakfast of the NCAA Tournament.” Which I found interesting, since Wendy’s didn’t have nationwide breakfast before today.

The takeaway is that Wendy’s rushed the rollout in time for the start of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, which starts two weeks from tomorrow in Dayton, Ohio. As such, they didn’t get the requisite data from its focus groups.

Is this going to be a business failure on the level of the Edsel? Microsoft Bob? Or any of a raft of failed technology products ranging from the Apple Newton to the Amazon Fire Phone to the HP TouchPad?

Stay tuned.

Feb. 15, 2020 — Out in plain sight

A few days ago, I picked up a friend from their office building, located in a metropolitan area in the eastern U.S.

As I was waiting, a group of women wearing blue work uniforms were rolling trash cans in the lobby near the elevators. These were the workers who, evidently, picked up the trash from the office cubicles in the evening, and were almost exclusively women.

There was one figure in the group, however, who seemingly didn’t belong. She was shorter than the rest and was being led by one of them by the hand. The short figure was also toting along a wheeled trash can.

“How old is that girl?” I asked myself. “Is she being conscripted to do work by her family or something? Is she being trafficked?”

I didn’t think much more about it until last night, when I went to a Chinese restaurant in a neighboring suburb.

The restaurant was nearly empty, but it appeared to be unnaturally busy behind the scenes. Three people waited in line for takeout, and the woman behind the counter was taking orders on the phone. She looked like she was overtaxed in terms of work duties.

Eventually, I received a menu and sat down. Then I heard a small voice asking what I wanted for dinner.

The child could have been no older than eight. He had been watching a cartoon on a tablet computer as I was walking in, and playing with toy slime. And now, he was taking my order. While awaiting dinner, my server rolled on the floor, played with a blowgun made with a straw, and played some more with the slime.

I was also thinking a bit about the concept of child labor. It seems to have returned after being largely legislated away after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster more than 100 years ago. However, in recent years, child labor done at home has been legalized by the U.S. government.

Which made me wonder if, this family-run restaurant also qualifies as this kid’s “home.” He certainly seemed to make the main room of the restaurant his home. That is, until he rang me up on the electronic devices needed to process the credit card.

Yep, an eight-year-old processing a cash register.

Is this what we’ve come to?

Feb. 8, 2020 — John McGourty, 1948-2020

I learned today of the death of one of my former assistant sports editors from the days when I was working in the dailies.

In a newsroom full of curmudgeons, John McGourty was the one with the twinkle in his eye and the easy smile.

He demanded the best out of you and you could feel the disappointment when you fell short (which often happened).

John was one of a cadre of journalists who knew what was going on that day back in 1995 when the newspaper’s publisher called a staff meeting to announce the merger and sharing of operations with our sister paper up north.

The publisher, during that meeting, had dismissed Internet users as “cyberpunks” and said, in wbat is now a delicious moment of shortsightedness, “Nobody is going to want to read newspapers on a computer.”

John eventually worked for the web presence of the National Hockey League. He loved writing and talking about ice hockey, writing the occasional game story for the paper, refereeing the occasional game, and telling stories.

Oh, could John tell a story and/or spin a yarn about something that happened at a game or at the rink. He was the guy you wanted on the editing rim if you were working until 2 a.m. on the late papers, since he could regale you with tales and make the hours of drudgery infinitely more palatable.

They’ll be burying him Monday, yet another editor who shaped me more than he ever knew.

Rest in peace, sir.