February 28, 2007
The Experiment Begins
Bill Burd had said on the phone that his brother was fading in and out, but if I showed up at Einstein maybe Frank could answer a question or two from me about being assaulted by one of his students whose iPod he'd confiscated. Turned out, Frank Burd had an hour of great clarity - and excruciating pain - as he talked about what it was like to teach math at Germantown High School. Like leading struggling students through the desert, he said - only to be attacked by a member of his party.
Here's a better idea. The piece, itself:
Daniel Rubin | A casualty of an everyday battle
By Daniel Rubin
Frank Burd says he's done talking. He clicks the pump in his left hand for another dose, and as the morphine starts to flow, he squeezes his eyes shut and takes a breath.
But there's something more to tell. And so he asks you to lean in and listen hard, because speaking is excruciating with a broken neck.
"I don't want this to be about angels and villains," he says in a soft rasp. "I'm just a teacher. I was a good teacher, and they're struggling students. I was just trying to be there for them. It's like you're walking through the desert and you just want to get the kids across. One is frustrated, and so he attacks the leader."
He doesn't remember how it happened Friday. One moment Burd, 60, was in the hallway of Germantown High with a 17-year-old senior whose iPod he had confiscated in class. The next moment he was in the ambulance.
Maybe that's a memory he doesn't need. Then he won't have to replay the assault. A hall camera caught the incident: two students hitting him, sending him crashing into a locker. He struck his head, leaving a deep gash in his scalp and snapping two vertebrae.
Peaches and pain
Burd's brother, Bill, and friend Beckey Kane have been keeping watch at Einstein, feeding him canned peaches, moving him gently when just being still hurts.
Now Burd's curled on his right side, his head immobilized by the black metal brace screwed into his skull that reminds him of one of those old presses for wooden tennis rackets.
Three times during Algebra II the boy had pulled out the digital music player, and three times Burd had threatened to confiscate it.
The rules say that when a student uses a phone or music player in the classroom, the teacher is to hand the device over to the school police. But Burd always returned it at the end of the period.
"All I want to do is teach," he says. "And they want to listen to music. But they play it so loud I hear it in the front of the room and the other kids are bopping to the beat."
The boy's explosion makes no sense. He was doing good work, had ability, even if it was his second time taking the class.
"He's a bright kid. I had a rapport with him. I don't know where [the rage] came from. I don't understand, and I find it frustrating because I care about these kids. They're angry at something that has nothing to do with you."
The 17-year-old has been suspended along with a 15-year-old accomplice. They face criminal charges.
Fighting for attention
The story made national news, and lit up Web sites over the weekend. On Phillyblogs, a high school teacher in West Philadelphia wrote of her own frustration competing with electronics for students' attention.
"It's way worse than people know," Lelah Marie, who teaches Spanish at Paul Robeson High, said by phone. "We are living in one universe and they are in another, where the kids have all sorts of tiny MP3 players and phones. They take calls in class, and do not stop talking."
It's an everyday battle.
"The district has a policy of no electronics in class. We're supposed to take them away, but kids won't give them up. One kid will take it and pass it along to others... .
"They're so distracted by this stuff. You want to make some contact with the kids, but they really dislike you when you do."
Today, Burd is scheduled for surgery. The doctors plan to rebuild his neck using parts of his hip. He's not ready to think about whether he'll step inside Germantown High again, let alone teach another class.
"The idea I had my neck broken by a student," he says, "is overwhelming."
Daniel Rubin, who previously authored our popular blogosphere column Blinq, is now turning his attention to local people, places and issues. Contact him at 215-854-5958 or email@example.com.
February 17, 2007
Cuts Down Trees
I wanted to thank you all for the heart-felt and snarkolicious comments. It's clear a bunch of you got used to reading this space, and aren't happy that it's been shuttered, de-listed from Philly.com. Lots have written about the paper's blindness regarding Blinq. I don't think they were blind. They just knew a metro column takes time to develop, and wanted me to start off as strong as possible. Would they be happy if I did both? Don't even think about it.
The hardest part of preparing to write a column has been trying to think in 17 to 18 inches. Blinq was pretty eco-friendly, requiring the sacrifice of no trees. There was no limit as to how much or how long I could write. A column is haiku in comparison. The trick is to find the right angle that serves the subject best, and I don't mind saying this has not been easy for me yet. The first draft of the first column didn't have the clear lines and blythe spirit of a good blog post. It came out like fettucine szechuan. I've written two columns so far. One has required four re-writes, and that's before being red-pencilled by the Sith Lord who edits me. And I'm not done with it. The other came easier, thank God. Maybe this week we'll launch. Be kind - I know who you are. Later.
February 09, 2007
Forward, Into The Past
For those of you who have checked in regularly - hi, Mom and Citizen Mom - you are the reason I've kept such odd hours, failed to maintain any firewall between my work time and family time, and know what's up with Terrell Owens. (Not so much since hugging it out with Donovan McNabb at a Super Bowl party in Miami.)
What I'm moving on to is the metro desk, taking a crack at being a local columnist. Talk about your old media.
I'm hoping to get out more. For most of the past 20 months I've been covering the blogosphere, often from home, with a dog at my feet, following the ripples of the day as they break into news or break apart. I've tried to post things you couldn't find anywhere else. Sometimes that turned out to be warmed-over memories of driving through Montenegro in wartime. I will try to do the same in the paper, minus the Montenegro part. It will be a reported column.
This space will no longer be fed - you may have already noticed a slowdown, a stretching out of posts that almost resemble pieces, as I've begun to make the mental transition to column inches. I am ending on a high; since the beginning of the year, Blinq's had more than a quarter million visits. It took a long time to build that trust. It will be interesting to see how what I've learned on this blog works in print.
So what have I learned? Blogging for a Philly audience is a contact sport. I've learned to take a hit, and I'm sure I'll be taking many more. I've also learned that, no matter what I'm writing about, there's always someone out there who knows more. I've had a real-time relationship with readers that will only help me in my return to the land of daily deadlines. I've learned what makes the needle jump -- what you're interested in reading, and what you don't care for. Despite the lack of comments, sometimes, the software says you like sex and sports. And news that combined the two, say, that one about the mighty-thighed Australian-rules Eagles punter, did land-office business here.
Blinq will disappear from its prime position on the Philly.com homepage. As I start to get a feel for the new job, maybe Blinq will resurface somewhere down the road, in some form, as a sketchbook for the column. Feel free to write in with story ideas, music and restaurant suggestions, barbs - even the occasional scrap of encouragement.
As one of my sons said, "Maybe you could just blog for fun." What a concept.
February 08, 2007
Milking the Bar
I'm on assignment, and so won't be posting anything today, but I managed to milk that Brokeback Snickers ad one more time, and was asked to talk about it on NPR's Talk of The Nation yesterday. So I did, and here's the link. My son says I stopped saying all those "Ums" after a few minutes. I think I wound up sounding as if I'm to the left of the lesbian comic from San Francisco.
Something to read while listening? (or while not listening) Former Penn State and NBA player John Ameachi becomes the first pro basketball player to declare himself gay. Grant Hill applauds the decision. LeBron James comes off a little less open-minded. Some Sixers quoted, including the injured Shavlik Randolph, a Duke grad, who said he's fine with homosexuality on the courts, "as long as you don't bring your gayness on me."
February 07, 2007
If Walls Could Talk
When's it from? Who's the designer or manufacturer? Who'd have their bathroom papered with faux bookshelves stocked with such titles as Sapho, Sade and Les Fleurs du Mal.
Other than the Rubins.
Truth is, my wife bought new wallpaper 18 years ago when we moved into the house, and her ambitions to do the room in more modern stripes caused arguments that have flared up during dinner hour for almost two decades.
A compromise, where we'd preserve a tiny portion of the faux bookshelf, and encase it in a frame fixed to the wall, was some how forgotten a few years back, and I would appreciate it if no one reminded her.
But this wallpaper was going to stay up even if it required my lavishing her with trinkets. It's a window into history and the day in April 1988, after putting 600 miles on a rental car, when I pulled into this crooked, 1871 gardener's cottage in the woods.
The man who owned the house, Louis Loewenstein, was sitting by the fireplace, speaking in German to his long-dead mother. His wife explained how the mantel was carved English walnut he'd picked on the docks of Philadelphia. For 50 years he'd been the assistant to the general manager of Wanamaker's downtown. His wife had worked in the millinery department, which accounted for all those fabulous hat boxes in the basement.
On the real bookshelves in the living room stood copies of books by Dos Passos, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. On a hunch, I opened a few. First editions. Off by itself was a line drawing in some sort of ink - a portrait of a man. The inscription, if memory serves, read "Louis, thanks for everything. ... Cole."
Mrs. Loewenstein told how her husband had been stage manager for Anything Goes in New York a few years out of Princeton, before he moved to Philadelphia and spent a half century helping men run the department store, then slowly slipped away by the fire. I think of him every time I use the water closet.
So, I would love to know from someone a little more about the people whose house we live in. Someone recognize this wallpaper? Anyone?
February 06, 2007
Monday a blogstorm kicked up over the ad that showed two mechanics fighting over a Snickers bar and inadvertently kissing, with the largest gay civil rights group calling on the Mars Inc., the candy company, to pull several alternative endings and related material from its Web site.
And before the day was done, the material had been pulled, as were plans to show one of the alternate endings during the Daytona 500 telecast.
Here was Americablog's mid-day headline: "Snickers Superbowl Web site promotes violence against gays and lesbians. Bears & Colts players react in disgust, on camera, to gays."
The ad, which aired during Sunday's game, showed two guys working on a car. One is leaning over the hood, eating a Snickers bar. The other can't help but start chewing on the free end. They work their way toward the middle until they realize their lips have touched. Then, calling for a "manly" act, each rips a clump of hair from his chest.
But that wasn't the problem.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," writes John Aravosis, a DC political consultant on his Americablog site. Aravosis, who had advocated against anti-gay actions in creating the StopDrLaura.com site and the Matthew Shepard Online Resources, took issue with the since-changed Snickers site's showing the reactions of three Bears and two Colts players who had watched the ad. He also questioned three alternative endings to the spot.
I didn't see video of the player's reactions before the site was altered. Aravosis reports that one player said, "That ain't right." A second made a face twisted with disgust. "These guys are role models for kids, and they're telling America's kids ... that two guys kissing ain't right," Aravosis writes. (Update: here's the link to the Bears interviews. And here's the link to the Colts.)
One of the alternative endings had a third guy approaching after the close encounter. Brushing his hair from his eyes, he asked "is there room for three on this Love Boat." In another, instead of pulling out chests hair after the kiss, they drink motor oil and anti-freeze.
Aravosis writes, "They guzzle it down, screaming at the top of their lungs, making them sick to their stomachs. The ad is vaguely violent - better to die than be gay."
The next one might be worst, by Avarosis' account. After the kiss, one picks up a wrench and attacks the other. Then the second slams the hood of the car of the head of the other. Aravosis: "Yes, the appropriate reaction to a guy kissing you is to beat the crap out of the guy who kissed you. Maybe Snickers should rename this ad 'Matthew Shepard."
The entire thing is absolutely sickening. And while I can appreciate that Snickers didn't overtly think that promoting violence against gays and lesbians is "funny," they knew what they were doing. They were gay-bashing for fun. And they didn't just cross the line - they left the line in the dust.
My first reaction when I read this, was that he was making much ado about nothing. Particularly when the progressive blogger noted that the family that owns Mars is a big supporter of the Republican party. Leaving his feet to the throw a punch, I thought.
But what was up with showing ball player after ball player react to the video? Where's Dave Kopay when you need him? And after watching the now-pulled alternative endings, which can still be seen here, I'm wondering what the ad agency and Mars officials were going for. Making fun of rednecks? Thats what some Ameriblog readers concluded.
Not everyone reading Americablog was as outraged. A commenter, signing his opinion Just Some Guy, wrote:
Now I realize that with the new Democratic majority in Congress, and the rising liberal sentiment in this country, that some people are going to want to flex their muscles. And rightfully so.
However, wouldn't it be best to use some form of restrain, rather than picking knee-jerk fights over every little thing which may offend someone? The entire air of "political correctness" from the '80s is exactly the vehicle the neofascists rode in to power, and it's resurgence was used by GWB to rally his base.
There's a difference between a racist tirade by Michael Richards or Michelle Malkin, and a joke by Sara Silverman or Lisa Lampinelli. The difference is malice, and I just didn't see the malice in the commercial.
I would suggest shrugging off things said in jest. Otherwise you are going to end up crying wolf, and that's the same reason people are currently tuning out GWB and his fearmongering. Please, don't set yourself up to be tuned out- it weakens us all.
Ace of Spades HQ showed stirring sensitivity in worrying that "otherwise straight men, in a lapse of judgement due to cravings for peanut, caramel, and chocloate, may suddenly embrace the 'gay lifestyle' and degenerate into man-on-man kissing at a moment's notice." Tongue firmly in cheek, he wrote:
It is one thing to have such disgusting displays on Queer as Folk. If you're tuning in to that Cinemax sodomania, you know what you're getting. But when our children are watching the Super Bowl, and exposed to "alternate lifestyles" being practiced by men who work with trucks and appear otherwise "normal," I say it's time to give the Mars Company -- or should I say, Hermes-Aphrodite Company -- a piece of our collective mind.
Shaun Mullen at Kiko's House marks what would have been the 62nd birthday of Bob Marley with an in-depth look at his life and discography, including the news, to me, that the Jamaican reggae great once lived in Wilmington, Del., and worked a shift at the Chrysler plant.
"At 9 a.m. EST, officially it was 13 degrees colder at Philadelphia International Airport than it was in Anchorage, Alaska." This news comes from Tony Wood, Inquirer Renaissance man and climatic connoisseur, who has started a new site called Weather or Not.
Suburban Guerrilla asks (or tells) why newspapers and their Web sites devoted so much space to Super Bowl ads this year: "First of all, it’s an absolute filler story with very little of import attached to it. Second, it’s easy to do - throw in some opinions, add an online poll, and bake at no heat for 24 hours. So we get the “every news organization is doing this story” approach everywhere, from CNN to the Faribault Daily News, and news users all have to wade through it." I'm guilty as charged. Why? It's one of the few times during the year when everybody is paying attention to the same thing, which provides an opportunity to start a friendly food fight.
Attytood breaks a little news about the Inquirer. Coming Sundays in the Currents section: conservative big talker Michael Smerconish.
Overheard in Philly has new ownership and ears. Which means we can eavesdrop on more pearls like this:
Drunk chick to friend: Miller Lite is the White Zinfandel of beers.
Overheard by Beersnob
February 05, 2007
Prince's commanding half-time show at the Super Bowl has seeded a spike in searches for stats about His Purpleness.
No 1 query, according to Yahoo! Index Buzz: How old is Prince?
No. 2? How tall is Prince?
He is 48, according to his Wikipedia page.
Which means this photo is nearly life-sized.
At Phawker, rock snob Ed King writes:
I don’t recall when the Halftime Show as Cross-Generational, Cross-Marketing Rock Extravaganza began, but it’s always been a reason to bear witness to the last desperate breaths of rock legends (McCartney, The Rolling Stones), hate foreigners trying to upstage our national holiday (U2 and Bono’s American flag-lined leather jacket), or fully understand the impulses that led a Fat Elvis to aim a shotgun at his TV set. Even the opportunity to catch a glimpse of past-its-expiration-date naked silicone boobie was a bomb. What were the odds that Prince, in the third year of his not-yet accomplished comeback campaign, would do any better?
I'd take those odds. So would King.
February 04, 2007
The Super Spots
Looks like Kevin Federline might find more work after his Nationwide spot. The former Mr. Britney Spears courted some controversy in his ad that shows him sunken to the level of a fast-food employee. Adrants reports that Taco Bell's president, Greg Creed, wrote Federline:
We know you respect those who work in our business. In fact, last year you said in an interview, "My kids are going to have to learn what a real job is, what life is. You don't have it easy with me. Period. My kids are going to work at Taco Bell."
We're flattered, but obviously they're too young to work for us. So here's our offer to you: Come work for us, just for a one hour shift. We'll get you a uniform, a custom name tag and show you what a great place Taco Bell is to work. We'll even reward customers who visit that restaurant with an order of our new Carne Asada Steak Grilled Taquitos for free.
Two words: Beard combover. What more can we say?
AdFreak co-editor Catharine P. Taylor asks if that's a wardrobe malfunction Charlize Theron is experiencing in the ads for J'adore perfume.
Find $2.6 million-per-30-seconds too pricey? Why not just post your ads to YouTube for free? TechCrunch reports that newish companies including Meebo, Meez, Multiply, Plaxo, RockYou and Technorati are going the low-budget route. Technorati borrows wholesale from The Big Lebowski. Plaxo asks, "is it cold out there?" All about the shrinkage.
Another place to see the ads you missed (if you actually missed any - maybe you got a sandwich when the game was on) is AOL, which seems to have them posted in real time.
Barbara Lippert, columnist for Adweek watches the Taco Bell ad and wonders why the lions on the velt have surfer dude accents. "What's up with giving every speaker in commercials -- from babies to wild animals -- that same slacker voice and affect?" Give her the grouchy Geico cavemen any day.
Was that Janet Reno sitting next to Mike Myers in the Chad Johnson Super Bowl party?
At Deadspin, commenter Black Aces wrote: "Snickers just pissed me off. Dammit, if I wanted to see men kissing, I would have turned on figure skating."
AdRants on same: Winning the Most Disgusting Super Bowl Commercial Award is the commercial from Snickers in hich two mechanics end up eating the same Snickers bar from opposite ends until the two meet and are shocked. They suddenly react by doing something very manly, ripping off their chest hair. Yes, it will talked about and maybe that's half the battle. It's still gross though.
New York Times graphic charts ads since 1984. Use of humor is up. Though not sure how they classify 1986's Herb the Nerd spots for Burger King.
Have a favorite ad? Hate one more than others? Visit AdBowl, the annual online poll conducted by McKee Wallwork Cleveland, an Albuquerque, NM. advertising agency.
A favorite insight from the group of live blogging Madison Avenue types at SuperAdFreak came from Tim Arnold, an AdWeek columnist and principal at Dragonfly, who said that the spots are an expensive vanity fair that don't have to work - they only need to be noticed:
Here’s why the Super Bowl is the greatest show on earth. In forty years it’s gone from a game to a spectacle, and in the process handed an enormous gift to a bunch of lucky dudes in the media and advertising industries. With every last Super Bowl TV commercial poll and analysis out there measuring nothing more than “favorite,” “best ever,” “funniest” and “most animals,” us ad dogs are off the hook. It’s akin to papal dispensation: apparently we don’t have to sell dick during the big one—just rank in one of these popularity contests. Our clients’ egos get stroked, and we can all congratulate ourselves for a job well done. Thank you very much.
Good to see the flap over too much skin a few years ago hasn't kept the spots from featuring plenty of violence and mayhem - the face-slapping Bud ad, the mouse abuse for Blockbuster, Bud Lite's rock, paper, scissors game won with a real rock, the Doritos car crash.
About that citizen-generated Doritos ad, AdRants rants:
Ooh. Doritos just made our skin crawl with their latest ad featuring a cashier getting progressively hotter and hotter over her trucker-looking customer's choice of chips. The spot ends in an aisle cleanup. You do the math.
And unless there's a wide demographic of married cashiers and truckers, we think this is a total "Sideways" rip-off. There probably are a lot of married cashiers and truckers though. In all probability Doritos may very well be the glue that keeps their love together. Who are we to talk?
Adrants was kinder to the cit-created Chevy ad:
OK. It's cheesy. It's lame. It's hideous. but we love it. Love it! Call us sick but we love the consumer-created Chevy HHR commercial in which guys turn into street strippers for a couple of women in a car.
We were pretty much leaning forward on the couch, open-mouthed, during Prince's half-time show. In the rain. With that rag and the devilish guitar, which looked more devilish when his purpleness was glimpsed behind the sheet. At Deadspin, Spectator wrote:
Prince just wanted to remind you that he rocks. Thanks for watching.
Robert Goulet, crawling on the glass like The Salamander from that old Hill Street Blues episode, and then Sir Charles Barkley getting mistaken for Dwayne Wade's dad in the same commercial break. I'm never gonna get that sandwich.
An ad to remember? Frito Lay: Fans. It's the most low key -- you hear the call of the game and see fans reacting. Young, old, they're all of color. There's a subtext: not one but two coaches who are black are leading their teams. The ad doesn't spell this out. It never has to. "We've got more than a game here," the announcer says. "We've got history. Not just getting here. But what getting here represents."
February 02, 2007
Dangerous Curves, Dancing Dwarfs, Macho Men and Robert Goulet
No farting horses. No Britney Spears.
But Kevin Federline got the callback. So did Robert Goulet and the dangerous curves of the GoDaddy girl. And three ads and one jingle come up from the crowds - citizen-generated spots, made with with a little professional help.
We're not sure when ads shoved the game to the sideline, but getting into the spirit, we present Blinq's Second Annual Guide to America's Super Bowl of Sales:
(For last year's edition, see Singing Burgers, Beer Cheers, Office Chimps, Fabio and Ads Too Hot for XL.)
While much is kept under wraps for maximum impact, and we understand why, given that a 30-second spot costs about $2.6 million, we know much more about the ads planned than we did before last year's game. For this, thank the Web. It had the same effect on Black Friday sales this fall when big box stores broke the news of their own post-holiday sales seeing as it was bound to get out anyway.
This is why a site like AdLand by Jan. 26 had the whole line-up nailed down, give or take a few details. They weren't alone.
We know Jessica Simpson (again) will trip over her red dress at a movie premiere in an attempt to sell Pizza Hut pies. She'll follow Alka Seltzer and precede Ford, which will spout some Ford Tough stuff about its F-150 pick-ups for the beef 'n' beer crowd.
That's before kick-off. A Doritos ad is to be the first of the consumer-created spots. Citizen ads for Chevy and NFL follow. Alka Seltzer held a contest for the best update to the Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz ditty. You can watch the five Doritos finalists here. An add for Snickers "features two blue collar workers sharing a Snickers candy bar in a way that will change both of them forever," AdLand writes. Will want to TIVO that.
We have to wait until the third quarter to see why it is that the Super Bowl loves Kevin Federline but not the woman who dumped him. It's also widely known that Robert Goulet found work with Emerald Nuts. Ricardo Montalban returns to give pronunciation lessons to two lions discussing Taco Bell's steak taquitos.
If you'd rather see this stuff to enjoy it, you can go to iFilm, which has eight ads and sneak peaks up for viewing pleasure. (Ok, one is for the Canadian Super Bowl, but I watched anyway.) There's GoDaddy.com's behind the scenes piece, which features large breasts and dancing dwarfs. Still not sure what GoDaddy is, but each year it finds some new way to make hay out of getting rejected by the network.
There's a trailer for Wild Hogs, road movie about suburban dads who form a biker gang, which sounds lame until you realize the buds are John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William Macy and Tim Allen. (I'm not even sure they're going to advertise on the show - they may have just paid to tag the trailer Super Bowl so loxes like me write about them in posts like this.)
Adverlicio.us does for online ads what iFilm and Yahoo! do for television spots. And Advertising Age has a special section for Super Bowl XLI. There I read and watched how ad critic Bob Garfield expects 25 or 30 advertisers to cater to one of the last mass audiences left in our fractured mediascape.
At least half "will suck," he predicts. But we watch anyway.