Getting on Board with the Arena

Yesterday’s ground-breaking ceremony for Louisville’s new downtown arena was evidence that this project is really going to happen, so it’s time to get on board with it and trust that what this smart bunch of folks is building is a good thing.

It’s time to forget that the LG&E site may not be the best location, that arena chairman Jim Host (I worked for him a long time ago) ramrodded the deal, ran over those who objected to his plan and wields overwhelming power in determining who gets what. It’s four years before the first game, plenty of time to forget the millions being paid for the site (with the applause of beneficiaries like LG&E and Humana). In four years, maybe I’ll be among those who have accumulated the wealth to buy a seat for a U of L game. Of course, I’m anxious to see all the new events that will be coming to town once the new facility is built.

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The Sham of Breaking News

On Tuesday,  WHAS-TV teased its late news viewers with an upcoming “Breaking News” story. Once on the air, anchor Doug Proffitt quickly cut to reporter Rebecca Rector on “the scene” where breaking news was happening — right now. Viewers were assured that WHAS-TV had this “breaking story” that was crucial for viewers to know.

Here’s the story, which wasn’t mentioned in any other newscast or in the following day’s paper.  There was a fire at a business (closed at the time) where peanut butter is made. No one was in the building when the fire started, and no one was injured. Damage to the building was limited to a room where peanuts roasted.  Rector interviewed a firefighter at the scene, who calmly told her the fire was under control. A machine was being used to blow smoke out.  No word on the condition of the peanuts.

This hardly qualifies as the lead story on a newscast, much less of the “breaking news” hype. Is there some pressure on the station management level to falsely alarm folks with the “breaking news” banner? Putting reporters on the street to cover non-stories like this — is that what WHAS thinks people want? What happens when something significant occurs — is there another level — “really important breaking news”?

Give credit to the other local stations for not falling completely into this trap, at least on this night. Chasing fire alarms for something to put on the air live is just one step above lawyers chasing ambulances for clients. But at least those guys don’t  put their work out there for all to see.

Lighten Up with Bugs, Sly and Tweety

There was face painting, crafts, caricatures and free photos with Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety at Monicathe Light Up Louisville celebration downtown Nov. 24. The weather was perfect, which may have helped keep even larger crowds away from the city’s indoor kids activities, which were packed with families for a couple of hours.

The sight of Bugs Bunny, provided to the event by Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, was enough to generate shrieks of delight for youngsters, at least those who didn’t shy away. There’s something about a six-foot tall bunny just scares the heck out of certain three-year-olds. Most were happy to get their picture snapped with the cartoon characters. It was the first time that the city used Picture Marketing for one of its events. That’s Monica from the city’s Community Relations and Events staff posing with Sylvester and Tweety.

Parents who pick up the photos online (they got a card with a bar-code scan at the sight) can see the photo and send it along to friends and relatives, save it on their computer for home printing, or order prints directly at the site. The special site set up for the event features plenty of information about the event and its sponsors.

Cards? I Don’t Want No Stinking Cards

Did you think you were the only one who failed to use that gift card from Aunt Louise at Christmas last year?

Get this — In the U.S. alone this year, there will be a 20 percent increase in gift card purchases above 2005, with the total exceeding $80 billion. And 10 percent of them will never get cashed in.  Who wins here? How about Home Depot, which reported a balance of $43 million in accrued, unused gift card balances in one quarter last year — money that will end up as profit on the bottom line, according to a Tower Group report.

I think the gift card concept is as bad for the Christmas gift-giving tradition as cell phones have been to telephone booths. The holiday is about bulky packages under the tree, seeing kids shake boxes for a week before the event, figuring out how to get a bike assembled and into the living room on Christmas Eve, loading the car with sacks of presents for the trip to Grandma’s.  It’s buying an outfit for my wife at a department store on Christmas Eve.

A gift card says “I couldn’t be bothered to think about getting you a personal gift, so I’ll just tell you where to spend the money I’m giving you. And, by the way, you’re worth about $25 to me. I love you.”

My three boys would all be happy with gift cards this year, but they won’t get them from me. They’ve gone so far as asking for cards from specific stores. They want ITunes cards, and Borders cards. They can expect CDs and books, gifts that reflect the individuals they are and that show I care about them. And some socks.

I know they’re going to have a lot of fun shopping for me as well. Racquetballs and golf balls. Every year. It’s what I want, and they like getting me something I’m going to enjoy. In a big box. Under the tree.  No gift cards — I’ve still got a few from last year.

What Happened to Kramer?

I posted the video from YouTube here because you have to see it to believe it. It shows how easy it is to ruin a once-promising career.

If Michael Richards was worried about forever being remembered only for his role as Kramer, now he’s changed that for good. As an original fan of “Seinfeld” I’m sorry to see this happen to him — but it does show how close to the surface racism is in our country.

It’s just sad.

Lethal Legalese

innocent manThe Kentucky Supreme Court has decided it’s OK to use lethal injections on Death Row inmates, though we haven’t seen many executions here. I hope we don’t start seeing them, either. The court ruling came down Wednesday in a case brought by two convicted murderers. It’s a timely ruling, in the little world inside my brain, because I just finished reading John Grisham’s first work of non-fiction, The Innocent Man, in which an innoncent man comes within five days of his execution date in Oklahoma.

Mark Hebert has a good take on lawyerly blunders with the press by the state.

Grisham’s book proves that truth can be stranger than fiction, as he sees bumbling Oklahoma lawyers screwing up in the case of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson (a former minor league baseball player). After 11 years in prison, including several on death row for Williamson, the pair are proved innocent using DNA testing. In those 11 years, Williamson went from being a odd character in a small town (Ada) to a mental incompetent, from a healthy 220-pound athlete to a skinny and frail ghost of a man.

There were few consequences for the prosecutor, the police, the people who lied at trial, the state’s experts who altered testimony to fit the prosecutor’s vision, the detective who elicited courthouse confessions through questionable interrogation techniques, even the reporters who took the state’s one-sided story to press — all of which shows that even in today’s criminal justice system, a person falsely accused can end up facing a court-ordered murder.

Speaking of “Stranger Than Fiction,” I saw the movie of that title, starring Will Ferrell, whose Harold Crick is a memorable and heroic character. While the premise — that a novelist is narrating Crick’s life story while he’s living it — is absurd, the movie is terrific. The novelist, played by a chain-smoking, feeble Emma Thompson, is known for always killing her characters, and predicts an imminent demise for Crick. Hearing this, Crick sets out to change his life and the outcome of the story. Dustin Hoffman is great as an English professor to whom Crick comes for advice.