The brilliant WKRP Thanksgiving episode

We can all say the closing line together:

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

But there are so many great moments in this episode. When I rewatched bits of it yesterday, I loved the reactions of Johnny, Andy, Bailey and Venus in the studio as they listened to Les describe the carnage.

Then a wonderful performance by Richard Sanders as Les Nessman, reluctantly describing what happened next.

Every year, people are going to share clips from this episode. And it’s worth it. One of the finest episodes of TV ever produced …

Remembering ‘WKRP’s’ “Turkeys Away” | Mental Floss

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The perilous politics of Saturday Night Live

As much as Saturday Night Live seems like a dream job, everything I’ve read about the sink-or-swim culture at 30 Rock makes me think I could never have survived.

That culture haunted one-time Weekend Update auditioner Marc Maron for a couple of decades. Maron finally put his demons to rest on his podcast, interviewing Lorne Michaels himself and digging into the swirling forces that led Maron to audition for a job that may not have been open.

Splitsider, which usually does quick hits on comedy news, has a wonderful long-form feature on Maron’s quest.

I’d still be interested in hosting, though. Call anytime, Lorne.

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Remembering a side trip in Italy and a departed colleague

Getting lost in the Italian Alps can be scary. Getting lost in the Italian Alps around 1 a.m. is that much scarier.

That’s what happened to me at the erratically organized 2006 Olympics. I had two “off” times — one day in which I met up with a Duke friend of mine and scrambled around a train station to find Platform 9 3/4 (OK, it was something like “6a,” and it was nowhere near “6”) in time to go to a curling session. For the other, I wandered out of the media center after blogging 10-12 hours of action and hopped on a bus to the mountains at Sestriere.

Actually, it’s two buses — we were required to hop off in a gravel lot near Oulx, then catch the bus to Sestriere. At that transition, I was nearly left in a portapotty for what might have been an hour or an evening or who knows.

Night view of the main square in Sestriere.

Night view of the main square in Sestriere.

I got to Sestriere but hopped off at the wrong stop. I called the person I was meeting, who realized I wasn’t near the neat, cozy apartment he and another staffer were sharing. And I mean cozy — his roommate slept in a bunk bed in a closet. (Somehow, they still found room for a bidet.)

A mild panic set in when I gave a landmark — I could see the slope where they held Alpine slalom skiing. As I described over the cell phone, they turned out the lights.

But the guy I was meeting patiently found me and took me up into the charming village of Sestriere. I looked around, got a halfway decent night’s sleep wedged between the sofa and the radiator, and we went to a charming little coffee shop in the morning before I went on to biathlon. (Where I got lost again. It’s a wonder I got back from Italy without being frozen in the Alps for future generations to discover.)


The view from my window the next morning. Not shown here: The entrance to the apartments is actually across the street from the apartments themselves. Italians love tunnels.

My Sestriere buddy had been encouraging all along the way. He described the bus route, which was hauntingly beautiful in the moonlight, and said to imagine I was Lance Armstrong. The Tour de France occasionally crosses borders, and Armstrong won a famous stage of the race there in 1999. (We now know a few more details about that.) He was awfully nice to me considering I wasn’t doing anything for work — just scrambling to see the mountains one time during these Olympics, which Torino itself never really welcomed.

He (my Sestriere buddy, not Armstrong) was exceptionally good at his job. USA TODAY’s website had managed to find a few people who had just enough of the “big idea” mindset to make things interesting but also had the pragmatism to get things done. He did a lot of grunt work to give us multimedia content for those Olympics. Then he was promoted time and time again to lofty titles at USA TODAY — pretty impressive for a guy my age.

And he did a lot of this while fighting cancer. He was diagnosed a few months after the Olympics. At least once, he was told he wasn’t going to make it. But he persisted. In addition to getting promoted several times, he got married and had a daughter.

His name is Dave Teeuwen, and I find it exceptionally cruel that after all that, he passed away this week. Life is absurdly unfair.

So if Heaven has the Internet, I hope he’s reading this and getting a good laugh about rescuing me from a frozen night in the Alps. If Heaven doesn’t have the Internet, I suspect that he has started plans to wire the place. Give him a few months. It’ll get done.

Belated thanks, Dave, and all the best to your family.

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Teddy Dure: 2001/02? – 2015

No idea how the vet techs made him smile for this picture.

No idea how the vet techs made him smile for this picture.

We weren’t expecting to get a dog that day.

Sure, we were looking for a dog to bring home. But we had just gone through a demoralizing process with another dog agency. A Duke friend of mine, a wonderfully generous person, was fostering a dog who had just delivered a litter of puppies. We went to visit the puppies (and my old friend), and we were thinking we would adopt one to join Murphy, our aging wolf-like dog who had shaken off a stroke and come back to be almost as spry as she had been before.

That agency had other ideas. When they found out we were expecting a baby, they made a couple of comments about families ignoring dogs once they had babies, and we never heard from them again.

We were a little miffed, to put it mildly. We love dogs. Let me state again: We looooooove dogs. We doted on Murphy even as she shook us awake with her panting during thunderstorms and occasionally destroyed things in our absence. We (OK, mostly I) have to restrain ourselves when we pass dogs in the street. There are some dog owners I don’t recognize without their dogs because my eyes go straight to the dog. People at our elementary school call me “The Dog Whisperer,” in part because my bond with one of the local dogs proved vital when that dog slipped his leash and was running around in traffic until I got into a crouch, called him over and gently slipped my hand onto his collar.

So who the hell were those people to think we would just ignore a dog when a baby came into the house?

That experience was still fresh in our minds when we went to a local pet store that was hosting dogs from a different dog agency. We looked at a few ads and decided to check out a little black-and-white dog named Pepsi. Maybe we would express interest and go through an approval process.

Pepsi, as it turned out, was a biter. “Hi, I’m happy to see you paying attention to me! I’m going to gnaw on your hand for a little while.” We weren’t going to ignore a dog because we had a baby, but we also weren’t so delusional that we thought it’d be a good idea to bring home a dog that might greet a newborn as a chew toy. Pepsi surely went home with one of the other families happily playing with him and perhaps getting a few Band-Aids.

As we walked around, I noticed a little solid black dog sniffing my leg out of the corner of my eye. I looked down, and he retreated back a little. A boy, maybe 12 years old, was holding his leash. “This is Walker,” he said. “He’s a little shy. He’s 1 or 2 years old.”

I crouched down to meet him. He was indeed a little shy. Not like Maya, whom we got from the same rescue agency (Lost Dog and Cat) 11 years later. They told us Maya was good with other dogs but took a while to warm up to people. Then Maya slapped me in the face with her tongue a few times. She has since greeted most people who walk into our house the same way, especially if they’re related to us. (We now think dogs — Maya, at least — can sense that someone’s family.)

They said he was part Lab. I think they say that about all dogs. I guess he was, though his stance was more like that of a pit bull. You wouldn’t say he looks unusual — no weird folds in his skin or unique colors — but you don’t see many dogs quite like him.

Our house, our rules ... Teddy and Murphy in the new house soon after we moved in (2004).

Our house, our rules … Teddy and Murphy in the new house soon after we moved in (2004).

We brought Murphy over to meet “Walker.” Murphy didn’t pay much attention. She was the belle of the ball, going around and accepting compliments like Miss Piggy on the new Muppets show. But neither did either dog seem uneasy around the other.

We stopped for a minute. “Should we?” we asked each other. This dog wasn’t leaping out at us, but maybe that was a good thing. A nice calm dog for a young family? This was starting to make sense.

“What do we need to do to adopt him?” we asked, still wary from our last experience.

“It’ll be $200,” they said.

We hadn’t even thought to bring a checkbook. I drove to a nearby ATM and withdrew $200.

On the way out, we thought about names. When we got Maya, we had already been thinking about names, and we wanted to honor someone from Saturday Night Live. (Yes, she’s named after Maya Rudolph.) We needed to make a quick decision, and we weren’t keeping “Walker.” We figured we could choose someone from the Washington Capitals, but the team was in a state of flux at the moment. “Olie,” for Olaf Kolzig, just didn’t seem to work. No one’s going to name a dog “Bondra.” We had enough foresight not to go with some derivative of “Jagr.”

“What about Teddy?” I said.

Yes, after Ted Leonsis, the charismatic team owner who was bringing the franchise out of the doldrums. We were content to pay homage to him. And “Teddy” just seemed to fit.

It was a snap decision to adopt him that day. As snap decisions go, it’s hard to imagine any better than that.

We worried at first. He was more energetic than we thought when we got him home. “Crazy Crack Dog” became his unofficial nickname. Twice, he got out through our back gate. One of those times, I had to reach through some sharp thorns to catch him in the woods. I wish someone had a picture of me walking out of the woods, carrying this athletic 40ish-pound dog with blood (mine, not his) running down my arms.

He wasn’t the smartest dog. Murphy could play hide-and-seek or a good game of catch, using her neck muscles to fling a stuffed toy at you when it was time to engage. Teddy never figured out toys and sometimes had a knack for being the wrong place — say, in front of a door that was about to open.

But when we brought our baby boy home a few months later, we soon realized what we had in Teddy …

The best family dog you could imagine.

He ain't heavy ...

He ain’t heavy …

I was still working in an office in those days. I would come home and hear growling from upstairs in our old townhouse. When I went up to our room, I would find my baby and wife sitting comfortably. Teddy had interposed himself between them and the bedroom door. He would only let his guard down when he was convinced it was me.

The boys could do no wrong as far as he was concerned. He would lie down at a baby’s feet while the baby kicked. Didn’t matter. He was as protective and loving as any mother.

As the years went by, Teddy was simply a part of us. He would sit next to me on the sofa while I worked from home. He would greet people returning home not with the frenetic barking and jumping of other dogs (I’m looking at you, Maya) but with a placid welcome.

This was just seven months ago. Snow never bothered him.

This was just seven months ago. Snow never bothered him.

He never demanded anything. He would just give a little polite scratch at the door if he wanted or needed to go outside. He loved to sun himself on our deck; otherwise, he was simply content to be wherever we were.

Age was cruel to him. His last year was tough. We pumped him full of glucosamine and some pain medication, but he slowly lost strength in his hind legs. Maybe he really was part bulldog — they have all sorts of leg and hip issues. First, we were boosting him up the stairs. Then we were carrying him up and down, just as we had to do with Murphy in her last year. We thought he had a stroke one day and was no longer able to walk, but after a couple of days using a harness, he figured out a way to stagger around like a drunken sailor, using three and a half legs to steer himself around. He was turning into one of those cartoon dogs whose chest was far bigger than his hindquarters.

In his last few weeks, he faded fast. When we last took him to the vet, he weighed less than 30 pounds, down from 45 or so at his peak. And that was after we took him off the senior dog food to control weight gain, figuring he had little time left and might as well be enjoying his food.

If you’ve read my obituaries — and yes, I’m getting too much practice with them — you know that I don’t dwell on the end. I appreciate all the sympathy I’m going to get from people who knew Teddy and people who didn’t. But I write these to remember how lucky I’ve been.

Daddy, why did you bring this domineering female dog home? Oh well, I'll show her the yard ...

Daddy, why did you bring this domineering female dog (at left) home? Oh well, I’ll show her the yard.

There’s a wonderful serendipity to life, and you don’t stop to appreciate it once in a while, you’re missing out. (Yes, I know Ferris Bueller said it more succinctly.) One great example: A friend and neighbor of mine recently posted a photo from her school days. She was just looking for a prom date, she said, and she wound up with a husband, with whom she now has two wonderful boys.

In our case, we walked into a Lost Dog and Cat adoption fair at a pet store one day in spring 2003 expecting very little. We walked out with the best damn companion we could have had over the next 12 1/2 years as our family grew.

So we’ll celebrate. Whatever pain and discomfort he has suffered without complaint over the last few months has ended. If there really is a “rainbow bridge” in which dogs greet their owners in heaven, we’ll see him there — probably lagging behind more athletic dogs like Maya and Murphy but waiting patiently for us to come over and say hello. In the meantime, we’ll just cherish the fact that a shy little dog came over to sniff my leg in a pet store 12 1/2 years ago, and our lives have been infinitely better since then.

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Web hipsters think pretending to be racist to rile up “SJWs” is funny

We get it. The #BoycottStarWarsVII hashtag started as a joke to see how many people could be offended.

Here’s the problem: It’s not funny to pretend to be racist when there are no contextual clues telling us you’re pretending.

Let me GenX-splain something to the Millennials who are chortling about a couple of dudes getting the MSM, SJWs and possibly the KKK all in a lather: Satire is not merely pretending to be something. You need an actual joke.

Compare this to Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks’ classic comedy is riddled with racist words. But it’s clear that the joke is on the people using them. By the end, the town of Rock Ridge has accepted Sheriff Bart. The people who are still racist are the ones getting punched and shot.

Or let’s compare this to the web, more generally. The Onion is far superior to websites that just give fake headlines. “Baltimore Preparing For Hurricane Joaquin By Adding Second Layer Of Plywood To Shuttered Small Businesses” is funny. “Katy Perry Dies Of Drug Overdose” is not.

Or let’s just make this really simple: If 4chan likes it, it’s crap.

(Oh, and congratulations — you fooled Trevor Noah. Or something. Whatever.)

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Chrissie Hynde and the death of nuance

“That’s a nuanced position, Beau,” said someone on Facebook recently. Then he restated the question as a binary yes/no.

Funny, I took “nuanced” as a compliment. He apparently didn’t.

But I’m used to that. If you’re part of a small subset of a small subset of soccer fans on Twitter, you may know me as the guy who’s against promotion and relegation in U.S. soccer.

Which isn’t true. I’ve actually proposed several promotion/relegation systems, trying to balance the romantic and competitive aspects of most soccer leagues around the world (bottom teams drop out, top teams from a lower league move up) with the economic realities of jump-starting professional soccer in the USA from its dormant state in the early 1990s.

But because I wrote a book on the success of Major League Soccer in overcoming the odds and getting through 15 years (now 20) without collapsing, all while not using a promotion/relegation scheme, I’m the Evil One. And even as I criticize MLS for heavy-handed, short-sighted negotiating stances and toss up suggestions for easing U.S. pro soccer into a more traditional league system, I’m routinely vilified and dismissed in social media. Experienced soccer coaches, with whom I’d like to chat about how to reform U.S. youth soccer, have me blocked. I’ve been told I shouldn’t be allowed to coach children.

(Granted, things were worse when I said something satirical about Alex Morgan, and the U.S. women’s soccer star called me an idiot. Someone offered to buy my book so she could hit me with it. Someone else said he would kill me twice. He didn’t specify how that works.)

All of these arguments are trivial, of course, though some of the unkind (and unfair/inaccurate) things written about me on social media may have affected sales of a women’s soccer book I wrote. But they illustrate how far we’re willing to go to demonstrate our outrage.

And when we have a more meaningful issue — vaccinations, gun control or sexual assault — the outrage swamps any legitimate conversation we could have.

Despite the Alex Morgan fan’s strangely specific threat, I’m still alive. What we’ve killed is nuance.

We’re quick to label people so we can shame them or dismiss them, sparing us the time it would take to figure out what they’re actually saying.

Ask Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders’ frontwoman said in her memoir that an incident that sounded to many people like a horrible sexual assault — “gang rape” would be the old-school term — was partially her own doing.

Social media did not take kindly to such a suggestion. Neither did new media. “Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders’ Female Lead Singer, Just Blamed Rape on its Survivors,” blared the clickbait headline at Mic.

The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert apparently has not given up on nuance, taking full stock of the concern that Hynde’s comments might give rapists an excuse but also stepping into Hynde’s shoes and questioning the value of “revictimizing” the 64-year-old rock star:

No matter how Hynde seeks to qualify it, or declines to use the word “rape,” what happened to her at 21 was undoubtedly a traumatic and vicious assault—one that she’s possibly chosen to deal with for the past four decades by affording herself a degree of power and complicity in what happened. And there’s no denying that speaking publicly, as Hynde has done, about how women can be to blame for being sexually assaulted if they’re dressed provocatively is both wrongheaded and extraordinarily damaging to many victims of rape. But Hynde’s choice of words—comparing the outraged responses to her comments to a “lynch mob”—seems to demonstrate that she feels more victimized by the flood of comments and messages and thinkpieces and news hits responding to her story than she does by actually being assaulted in the first place.

Which raises the question: Is attacking Hynde for blaming herself (and yes, by association, blaming others) ultimately productive and worth the cost of revictimizing her? Or is the impulse to shame her and others like her sometimes more about self-gratification than advocacy?

Some Twitterati were supportive:

Others, not so much:

But others were conflicted:

And that’s not a comfortable position. It’s far easier to be outraged, which is why cable “news” shoutfests continue to have viewers.

We also use Twitter as an excuse. “Oh, things come across much worse in 140 characters,” we say. No, they come across worse when you don’t take time to reflect on what you’re really saying. We’ve all tweeted too quickly and been too snarky at times. But it’s our fault, not the medium’s.

Some people, though, are still brave enough to see the gray in the black-and-white issues. We just have to look harder to find them.

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On media hysteria and solutions

Hey, remember Ebola? All the panic? All the breathless accusations because Obama didn’t instantly … I don’t know … build a giant dome over Africa?

Much of the coverage and much of the political response was over-the-top. Most of us knew that at the time. Others are now realizing it, but they’ve probably moved on to something else they can use to frame Obama or sell fear.

But there’s a legitimate undercurrent here, one that shows media coverage and even the occasional bit of sensationalism need not be evil:

The biggest reason (why worst-case scenarios didn’t take effect) was that this magnitude of infection was estimated to occur if things stayed the same as they were. (Source: Ebola panic anniversary: Predictions of a U.S. epidemic didn’t come true.)

And that’s true of many things.

Consider the long-standing panic that we may overpopulate ourselves to death. The roots of such fears is a man named Malthus, and his name is invoked by people who want to discredit any warning of environmental issues — including and perhaps especially climate change.

“See? THAT turned out all right! So why worry?”

But we survived rapid growth in global population not because Malthus was wrong. Not because God suddenly provided loaves and fishes.

We survived because people did something.

We reined in our fertility rates. We had massive breakthroughs in agriculture.

So if the only lesson we take from the Ebola Nightmare That Wasn’t is that we shouldn’t worry about sensationalism in academia and the media, we’re missing an important of the story.

To spin it forward — I don’t think every bit of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is going to melt and fall into the ocean, making ocean levels rise until we have beachfront property in Des Moines. I don’t think the Alps will go completely snowless.

But I think that because we’re doing something.

Not a lot, perhaps. And we should probably be doing more unless we want to incur the costs of rebuilding all our coastal cities a few miles inland.

But we’re doing something and will eventually do more. We’ve done it with other issues as well — the ozone layer, clean-up of certain rivers and waterways, etc.

So when we’re in our golden years, don’t tell me it turned out climate change wasn’t an issue. If you smirk such crap from your rocking chair, the people who are out there fixing the problem will have every right to rap your knuckles with their canes.

At times, news isn’t really meant for the common consumer. If The Washington Post reports problems at Walter Reed Hospital, I’m not going to be the one to fix them. But others who are in a position to do something will be spurred to do so.

And that, folks, is why journalism is valuable. Even when it’s no fun to write or read.

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