Saturday, March 29, 2008

Politics Is Easy - Comedy Is Hard

If it's an election year, there will be... JOKES. Bad jokes. Really bad jokes. And Bill Friday leaves no headstone unturned in his pursuit of a political punch-line.

In a 2004 interview, Mark Katz, official joke writer for the Clinton White House, was asked what the best one-liner he ever wrote that wasn't used was.

"Al Gore rejected this joke in 2000. 'It's true I got C's and D's my sophomore year at Harvard but in my own defense, that was also the year I invented the bong'."

If only candidate Gore had used that joke, maybe his political career wouldn't have reached a tipping point later that year in Florida.

Just last month another candidate, Republican John McCain, proved that comedy should be left to the professionals when he told this "joke" at the expense of former Texas Senator Phil Gramm and current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

"After this meeting, if you'd like to talk to [the] senator, either senator Graham, we will provide translators for any of you that need to, find them hard to understand. I find them hard to... anyway."


In America 2008, the idea that to become President you just have to be lucky enough to be born black, marry a future President, or spend five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, is more than just a bad joke. Just as long as you hit the right punch line.

Who can forget Hillary Clinton's attempt at comedy.

"[Mahatma Gandhi] ran a gas station down in St. Louis."

(Confused Crickets).

The funny thing with politicians doing stand-up is politicians continuing to do stand-up. In a business where the risk/reward index dictates every word that comes out of a candidate's mouth, why do seemingly intelligent, college educated adults continue to try to gain popularity as if they were guest MCing open mic night at a dive bar in Hermosa Beach?

Even Barack Obama tells a joke. Once.

"Well, I think Bill Clinton did have an enormous affinity with the African-American community, and still does. . . . I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities, you know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother."

(Dead Crickets).

It's official. Everyone's a comedian.

Hey, if it's an election year, let's leave the jokes to the professionals - the professional magicians, that is. Former "Dancing with the Stars" contestant and sometime illusionist Penn Gillette told one, almost accidentally, to a crowd during a recent performance, and retells it on YouTube. Maybe now that his dancing career appears to have ended, he can pick up where Mark Katz left off.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

Friday, March 21, 2008

Olympic Flame Will Roll Through Tibet On Schedule

The Olympic torch will be lit this coming Monday, beginning a journey that will take it to the world's highest height, Mount Everest, and China's most embarrassing low, Tibet.
[As seen in]

Disregarding public outcry internationally and within the borders of Tibet, the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee reaffirmed its plans to carry the Olympic torch through Lhasa.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, organizing committee executive V.P. Jiang Xiaoyu told reporters that public concerns over possible Olympic violence was uncalled for and that the region had, In his words, "basically been stabilized." The so-called "Journey of Harmony", the name given by the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, is scheduled to pass through 135 cities on it's way to the Chinese capital for the start of the Games August 8.

Recently, dissatisfaction with Beijing's hosting of the games has taken more visible forms in the voices of some well-known figures. Already Steven Spielberg, who was to act as artistic adviser to the opening ceremonies, quit amid continuing Chinese involvement in the form of arms sales to the country of Sudan in their conflict in Darfur. China is Sudan's number one customer in the export of crude oil.

Great Britain's Prince Charles has announced that he will not be attending the ceremony in support of the Dalai Lama. On Wednesday the chief of the Communist Party in Tibet, Zhang Qingli had this to say about the spiritual leader of Tibet:

"[he is] a jackal in Buddhist monk's robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast."

Further clarifying his position during a teleconference with members of Tibet's government an leaders of their Communist Party, Zhang continued:

"...we are engaged in a fierce battle of blood and fire with the Dalai clique."

Already, China's air quality has come under serious scrutiny, with many athletes questioning if Beijing's claim that air quality will be safe to compete in this Summer. Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, the fastest marathoner in history, has already said he will not compete in that event at the games. The Chief Medical Officer for the International Olympic Committee, Arne Ljungqvist, said that therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) for asthma inhalers will be granted to athletes in far greater numbers should air quality not improve in time for the games.

To underscore the growing snowball of bad will rolling downhill toward Beijing, Andrew Leonard, writing in said, "as a public relations exercise, so far, the Olympics are turning into a disaster."

Just last Friday, 5 girls burned to death while hiding in a clothing store in Lhasa. Rioting is the norm in the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama. Yet in the days since the clothing store deaths, even more rioting - international rioting - is fast becoming a real threat to the "Journey of Harmony".

Today in London, the possibility of disruption by anti-China protesters became front-page news as the announcement of the deployment of 2,000 Metropolitan Police officers, marine and air support, plus mounted police along the torch's route to the town of Greenwich.

With less than 5 months until the games of the 29th Olympiad, so far the focus of the world is on anything but athletics. And what happens during the two weeks of the Games may only play a small part in determining the Games' future.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Addresses Controversy Over Controversial Pastor

At the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Barack Obama sounded very "political" on the subject of his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

In a speech today in Philadelphia, Democratic front-runner Barack Obama defended the words of his long-time pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

More or less.

Obama, who has finally begun to feel the heat of a campaign in which he is now the clear leader, had come under fire for comments made over the past several years - particularly in the wake of 9/11 - by the man whose words, Obama said, "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country."

Wright, who has been a controversial figure in the pulpit of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ since becoming pastor in 1985 has stunned many in recent weeks by his comments over the pulpit. A random sampling making the news services do have an inflammatory tone:

"The government gives [black Americans] drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America'. No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people." Wright went on, "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye."

Last Sunday, outside the church, an unnamed member of the congregation defended Wright saying, "I wouldn't call [his comments] radical. I call it being black in America."

Quoted on ABC, Bill Burton, a press spokesman for the Obama campaign said, "There are things [Wright] says with which Sen. Obama deeply disagrees. But now that he is retired, that doesn't detract from Sen. Obama's affection for Rev. Wright or his appreciation for the good works he has done."

Wright announced his retirement from the pulpit of the Chicago church last month.

Last week, at a Chicago fundraiser just outside the Cabrini-Greene housing projects, Obama supporter Frank Kulle told Pamela Jones, a reporter for the CBS television affiliate in Chicago, "I suppose some people will listen to it, and I think the candidates have to be tested in some way and this is just part of rough-and-tumble politics."

And in this time of political testing, Barack Obama took to the rhetoric of politics, neither embracing nor condoning the rhetoric of the man considered the candidate's spiritual mentor.

"[Wright's words] expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America." And in the same speech:

"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community."

In a March 11 letter to the New York Times - a response to an earlier interview of him - which Jeremiah Wright stated was, " of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years.", the man at the center of the controversy called his spiritual protege, "...a man who was a devout Christian... whose Christianity was not just 'in word only'."

With the Pennsylvania primary now just two weeks from today, the time of Barack Obama, politician, is at hand. Will today's attempt to disarm a political bomb before it went off be Obama's last? Or with the big finish of the race for the nomination give Hillary Clinton and her camp the opening they've been looking for by the time the August Convention rolls around?

Only time will tell.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

Dodgers' Last Game In Vero Beach - Dodgertown No More

The Los Angeles Dodgers played their final game at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, Florida today. It marks the end of a sixty-year relationship between a team, a town and history.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Houston Astros 12 to 10 in a game at Holman Stadium, Vero Beach.

Something that will never happen again.

What happened in the game - Raphael Furcal going 4 for 5 with 2 triples; Jason Repko's fight to make the team, by raising his spring average to .343 - except for those of us who read box scores of exhibition games on the Internet, won't matter soon. In a couple of days, the team will pack up their belongings and head west - first to Arizona to finish out the spring season, then on to LA.

But what will be remembered by those who chose to is that today, St. Patrick's Day, 2008, was the end of the line for Vero Beach. And with it comes the end of the old Dodgers legacy.

In 2009, the Dodgers will hold spring training in a new facility in Glendale, Arizona.

Vin Scully, Dodgers' play-by-play voice now entering his 59th year with the team put it this way:

"I guess really this is cutting the umbilical cord. For 50 years we've really still carried the residue of Brooklyn, but it's time now for them to get closer to their fan base in Los Angeles."

And the fan base in Los Angeles, most of whom aren't old enough to remember who Sandy Koufax was, now get to grow closer to their team even as the team grows farther away from one of the richest histories in sports.

Dodgertown, was the co-creation of Dodger boss Branch Rickey and Vero Beach Cadillac dealer Bud Holman back in 1948. It was Holman who contacted the visionary Rickey the year before and sold him on the idea of planting a training facility on 2,000 acres of military base in the middle of rural Florida.

"One more time," public address man Dick Crago said into the microphone, "Welcome to another fine day of baseball at Holman Stadium."

On last time. One last game. One last sell-out crowd of 7,327.

In 60 years, Vero Beach, and Holman Stadium have seen a lot of changes, and made a few changes of their own. Holman Stadium, at the request of black Dodger players to then Vice-President of Operations and future team owner Peter O'Malley, became the first Grapefruit League stadium - the first southern stadium - to integrate the grand stands 1961. One of the players, left fielder Tommy Davis, in his autobiography Tales From the Dodgers Dugout said, "It didn't dawn on [O'Malley] at the time. But to his credit, the next day everything was gone. They white-washed all that stuff. And we had to physically take the black people to seat them in other spots around the stadium... we just took them and told them to sit wherever they wanted to from now on. That was the integration of Holman Stadium."

Just for the record, Geoff Geary won it for the Astros. Starter Chad Billingsley who worked 5 innings, took the loss. The last loss.

"This is very emotional for me," said one-time Brooklyn Dodger fan and better known TV celebrity Larry King. King attended the game the day before against the Boston Red Sox.

Oddly enough, this season the Dodgers will be celebrating another stadium from their past, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was the Coliseum that was home to the Dodgers during their first 4 years in LA. In this, the 50th anniversary of the team's move from Brooklyn, the Coliseum will host an exhibition game between the Dodgers and the Red Sox on March 29th.

I wonder if, years after the team has become a part of the community in Glendale, AZ, there will be any kind of tribute game in Vero where not only the stadium, but the elementary school (Dodgertown Elementary) bear the name of the memories of history. After the proposed acquisition of the facility by the Baltimore Orioles, will it even matter? In this little baseball village, where the streets have names like Vin Scully Way and Roy Campanella Boulevard, will it be long before Jackie Robinson Lane, the main street in Dodgertown, is renamed Brooks Robinson Drive?

The Big Dodger in the Sky forbid!

"It's a sad day, but it had to happen," 80-year-old Dodger icon Tom Lasorda said. "It's the right thing to do, to make our Los Angeles fans happy, and it's something we'll have to accept."

If you say so, Tommy.

Being St. Patrick's Day, the Dodgers wore the traditional green caps. Being "Everybody's Irish Day", the mood was more like an Irish wake.

"Today is tough," Tom Lasorda said. "Tomorrow will be worse."

You said it.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hillary's Running Mate Wins In Mississippi

Barack Obama wins another state in the Democratic Primary Race. Is there anything left for Hillary Clinton to do to win her party's nomination in August?

“First of all… I’ve won twice as many states as Senator Clinton. I’ve won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton, I have more delegates than Senator Clinton, so I don’t know how somebody who is in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who’s in first place… I am not running for vice president. I am running for president of the United States of America.” - Barack Obama

And now, after another decisive primary victory, this time in the state of Mississippi, the question has become, “Has Hillary Clinton begun to hear The Fat Lady sing”? With another 33 delegates awarded to Hillary’s “future vice president” now holds a 1,611 to 1,480 lead over the former first lady.

But in a primary race that has grown so close, an even greater issue looms on the horizon, ready to divide the Democratic Party before any “Clinton/Obama” unification ticket could solidify its position in November.

The problem seems to be the “old girls club”.

Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, one-time running mate of Walter Mondale in the Presidential election of 1984, gave her take on why it’s Hillary’s world and Obama is lucky to be a part of it. In an article that first appeared in So Cal’s own South Bay Daily Breeze, Ferraro, 72, was quoted saying, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position.” Ferraro concluded, “He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” This from the woman who, in the same article, said, “I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?”

That’s great. Ferraro gave no indication if she was just calling a spade a spade or if, as Obama foreign policy advisor Susan Rice said, “…Geraldine Ferraro’s comments [don’t] have any place in our politics or in the Democratic Party. They are divisive… outrageous and offensive.”

But with only a few key states remaining in the Democratic delegate sweepstakes, one thing the appearance of Ferraro’s comments points to, even on the fringes of Hillary Clinton’s camp, is desperation. And with only 6 weeks to go until the 158-delegate Pennsylvania primary, race seems destined to divide the Democratic Party.

According to a FOX News exit poll, just under half of those who voted as Democrats Tuesday were black. Ninety percent of those voted for Obama. Conversely, 72 percent of white voters in Mississippi voted for Clinton.

Even Clinton’s chief campaigner, husband Bill, sounded like a cheerleader who knows his team may be running out of time.

“I think she’s got to win a big victory in Pennsylvania,” the former President said. “I think if she does, she can be nominated, but it’s up to you.”

Notice the use of the word can, not will in his description of team Clinton’s chances.

For his part, front-runner Obama downplayed the impact of Ferraro’s comments and any effect they might have on claiming his party’s nomination, merely calling the comments, “absurd.”

One thing Obama did not sound like following his win in Mississippi was desperate.

“Americans need a president… who will bridge our differences instead of exploiting them.”

Something the “old girls club” has, as yet, failed to do.

Just today, Geraldine Ferraro said she was “stepping down” from her position within the Clinton finance committee, “so I can speak for myself… about what is at stake in this campaign.” In a letter to Clinton, Ferraro added, “The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you. I won’t let

that happen.”

No word whether the Obama campaign wished the Clinton campaign could have held onto Ferraro until the Democratic National Convention in August.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

Monday, March 3, 2008

As Seen On Food Network

For the first time, Bill Friday tracks down a food establishment "As Seen" on America's number one source for all things food. But maybe the folks at The Gaffey Street Diner didn't see this coming.

I love food.

That said, with all the time a writer has in between writing - and gainful employment - I watch a lot of TV. And when that watching isn't sports or lousy movies on SciFi Channel, it usually involves food. And that means Food Network. Now, besides making that one day road trip to watch baseball in all of the holiest shrines in North America - Wrigley, Fenway, maybe even that rat hole in the Bronx (or that real rat hole in Anaheim) - one of my biggest wants has been to take a long overdue roadie to all the really cool "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" Guy Fieri ever ate for free at.

The first stop on the world tour of soup du jour turned out to be a little place right in my old hometown of San Pedro, California. The Gaffey Street Diner. And after it was done, it left me asking myself one question.

What was I thinking?

A few quick points of information before we begin. One, I said in the open that San Pedro is my old home town. I lived there at the end of the last millennium. A lot of things have changed in the world since 1999 - real estate boomed, gas prices soared, I learned how to text message - and a lot of things stayed the same - Michael Cimino still can't get a job, the Dodgers still can't win the World Series, and San Pedro is still the armpit of the South Bay. Saturday's roadie did nothing to change my perception that getting out of Pedro with my life and a little positive cash flow from the sale of my little house on Mesa were the only good things about the experience. So what was I thinking, intentionally going to a joint two blocks off the last exit off the Harbor Freeway? You know what they say, "Alzheimer's makes the heart grow... umm... umm...".

But enough with the rant about my little town. If you don't like what I said, call with Petros Papadakis. This was a food review, right? Here goes...

The Gaffey Street Diner, located at 247 N. Gaffey St. serves real food. Diner food. This trip just past the smoke stacks would have been worth it just to have the size-of-my-head biscuit and country gravy, complete with a ladle full of sliced link sausage mixed in for extra flavor. But the fact that this fluffy, that's right, FLUFFY hunk of home style heaven came with a breaded pork cutlet, two eggs and a half pound of seasoned home fries for all of a whopping $8.50...

You want more? Blueberry pancakes, moist and sweet, and as big as the hubcap on a Mini Cooper. Three on a plate for $4.75. And an under appreciated specialty, Menudo. A to-go order (32 ounces!) with all the add-your-own, fresh fixins before you pack it yourself, $8.95. And this version of the Saturday morning favorite probably had more fork-tender tripe than the law allows. At least it there ought to be a law about such things.

Anyway, out the door for five people with enough food to feed ten... 52 bucks and change. On top of all that, the wait staff - and I mean staff was fast, fun (I literally saw a lady clear a table, with dirty dishes for four, in two stacks she carried out in just one trip) and apologetic. Our waitress actually apologized for taking two minutes to get back with our coffee with a packed house on a Saturday morning. Oh, and one more thing. Parking is a hellish nightmare. I had to park three blocks south, then hike it back to wait with the thirty or so folks waiting just to get into the place at 9:30 in the morning.

So, do I recommend the Gaffey Street Diner? Absolutely. Do I recommend the street named Gaffey in the "rustic" seaside community of San Pedro?

Call Petros at 1-866-987-2570. I'm sure he'll care.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday