"Totally coup, yo."

2002


Comments Off

PRIZE SNOOZE

May

31

by

by Matt Taibbi

I’m new to Buffalo, but already I feel offended on the city’s behalf every time I turn on the news. No city in the country gets less love from the national media than Buffalo. And no city’s journalists get left out of the fun more. When was the last time you saw a TV reporter from Buffalo standing in a flak jacket in front of a burning tank? When was the last time you saw an overpaid Buffalo journalist (Tim Russert no longer counts) with a self-satisfied smirk on his face lobbing out softball questions from a panel at a Presidential debate? The answers in both cases are never and never– and the sad news, folks, is that that will probably never change.

Here’s an illustration of how bad things are for Buffalo. Just last week, when the remains of Chandra Levy’s body were found in a park in Washington, every major network in the country had a reporter in a jogging costume at the park within two hours. Fox TV’s Greta Van Susteren was there in 90 minutes. As I watched her doing her live shot, I thought there was something strange about the camera was set up. Van Susteren’s trademark masculine chin was just as freakishly cubical and convex as always, but the background in the shot looked fuzzy, remote. After a minute, I thought to myself: “Gosh, Greta’s pretty far off the ground. She’s gotten taller.”

But that was only the way it looked. In fact, Van Susteren was standing on top of Wolf Blitzer, Sam Donaldson, and 23 other bureau hacks from local affiliates all over the country. The journalists were standing in a pile there at Rock Creek. They were stacked so high that the networks had to shoot from crane-buckets and towers. But there was no one there from Buffalo, not even on the print side– in fact, as far as I can tell, there was no Buffalo reporter even in the city at all.

Buffalo’s best chance to get in on the feeding frenzy, the Buffalo News, mailed it in. Their front-page Chandra story the next day was a dull double-bylined offering by two out-of-house reporters, Steve Twomey and Sari Horowitz of the Washington Post.

The Levy story, frivolous as it obviously is, is a perfect illustration of how the structure of modern media fails smaller markets like Buffalo. Year after year, the Buffalo News attains some of the highest profitability margins of any newspaper in the country. Just a few years ago, Editor and Publisher magazine rated it as the most profitable newspaper in the country. It has a billionaire owner and seemingly limitless resources to pursue its own coverage of breaking news. Yet it doesn’t even have its own reporters in the nation’s capital to cover hot-button news stories. If a major city’s sole print daily can’t even cover Washington, what kind of coverage of the rest of the planet can it possibly get?

The owner of the News, hurrumphing billionaire Warren Buffet, has an answer to that question. As a director of the Washington Post and the owner of a 17 percent stake in that paper, he would naturally answer that, by allowing the Buffalo News to take advantage of the fine coverage of his other, more famous paper, he is doing the citizens of Buffalo a favor. And indeed, when Buffet bought the News, it was widely hoped that an owner with deep pockets and media connections would help raise journalistic standards in the city. At the time of the sale, Buffet issued a statement that was widely cheered and quoted: “I want to achieve business success in newspapers, but will be unhappy unless it is accompanied by journalistic success.”

But in fact what Buffet’s business acumen has meant for the city is a one-horse daily newspaper market, and a pattern of cost-cutting that has left the News itself utterly dependent on outside sources for non-local coverage. As for the efficacy of using material from the reputable and much-ballyhooed Washington Post, well… one need only look at this year’s Pulitzer Prize awards to see what that has meant for ordinary readers in places like Buffalo, who live far from the action.

The Post, as it does every year (the Post and the New York Times usually win about half of the Pulitzers overall and generally all of the important ones, while lesser papers like the Boston Globe are usually thrown a bone for things like sports coverage or editorial cartooning), won a handful of Pulitzers in 2002. One of the three awards that it won this spring was for National Reporting. This particular award is directly relevant to Buffalo, since most all of the articles submitted for the prize were also republished in the Buffalo News.

In lieu of having its own home-grown reporters cluelessly wandering the mall at Washington in search of dubious scoops, Buffalo last year had the privilege of reading storied muckraker Bob WoodwardWoodward’s celebrated insider bulletins from the Hill. The Pulitzer committee, which singled out stories like the October 21 “CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill Bin Laden,” (republished in the Buffalo News under the homier headline of “Bush Backs CIA on Killing of bin Laden”) for praise, deemed this a good thing. But upon closer examination, what the committee was really praising the Post for was its willingness to restrict itself to sources higher up in the ivory tower than a small-town reporter would likely have access to.

The Post’s National Reporting award was for “comprehensive coverage of America’s war on terrorism, which regularly brought forth new information together with skilled analysis of unfolding developments.” The Pulitzer Committee’s ruling was that the Post coverage of the most important story of this or any other recent year was the best that the country had to offer. Cities like Buffalo that relied on Post coverage, in other words, had no reason to complain of being uninformed about 9/11.

But get this: of the eleven stories the Post submitted to the Pulitzer Committee for the award, a full six relied exclusively on government sources, the vast majority of them unnamed. And as sportswriters say, this game wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. Even in those stories that didn’t rely entirely on government sources, the overwhelming majority of the information still came directly from anonymous employees of the state.

I actually went through all the articles and did a count. By my reckoning, 67 of the 78 quoted sources in the eleven Post articles were government sources. And again, the vast majority of those sources were unnamed.

It is hard to call reporting that relies solely on government sources real journalism. The Soviets did it, of course, giving prizes to Pravda and Izvestia journalists for their efficient clerical work in relaying official Communist party press releases to the masses. In the States, we confidently called that kind of reporting total bullshit for over 70 years. But when one of our own journalists does exactly the same thing, we can’t give him awards fast enough.

Here’s an example from the award-winning Post submissions– the December 9 piece, “U.S. Says New Tape Points to bin Laden,” written by Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung. This is a piece that the Soviets couldn’t have done any better. In it, the Post reported that a “new tape” obtained by U.S. intelligence services offers offers “the most conclusive evidence” to date that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 bombings. Unnamed government sources quoted in the piece claimed that the tape shows bin Laden bragging about the attack to associates, and noting that the damage to the World Trade Center was “worse than [he] expected.”

The story was reported as fact despite the fact that the journalists were not even allowed to see the tape, or even see a transcript. It ran it despite the fact that none of the sources in the piece were willing to go on the record asserting the tape’s existence.

Given the fact that the Bush administration’s failure to publicly release concrete proof linking bin Laden to the attacks had already been an international issue, this was extremely dicey journalism. A truly independent newspaper would have laughed in the White House’s face had it called up to say, “We have proof that bin Laden did it. It’s on tape. But don’t quote us on that.”

The right response there would have been to say, “Uh-huh. Show us the tape and we’ll think about it.” But the Post blew off all of these considerations and just ran the piece under a big banner headline on the front page. Again, if the Soviets had done this (and they did, over and over, for instance in the numerous Pravda articles claiming that the Soviet Union had been “invited” to invade Afghanistan), we would have laughed at any suggestion that this was real journalism. But Pincus and DeYoung now have a Pulitzer Prize on their resumes.

A quick note on Pincus. Since all news articles in papers like the Washington Post seem more or less exactly alike, few people ever bother to look at the byline to wonder who wrote them. After all, you don’t ask the name of the chef that cooked your Big Mac. But in Pincus’s case, the byline is worth a look. Among journalists, his name is one of the most notorious in the business. In an article he wrote for the Post shortly after taking a job there in 1967, Pincus admitted proudly that he had worked for the CIA, representing the U.S. at international conferences in 1960 under an assumed identity. The Washington Times, one of the most conservative papers in the country, referred to Pincus in 1996 as the “CIA’s house reporter.”

It’s well-known in the business that when the intelligence community has something it really wants to put over on the people, it gives Pincus a call. A good example came in the famous San Jose Mercury-News fiasco in 1996, when the small California paper published an expose that claimed that the CIA had sold crack to fund the contras. Pincus led a counterattack by the big dailies dismissing the Mercury reporting as groundless.

He was an old hand at dismissing Contra-hijinks allegations by then. In 1989, Pincus’s take on the Iran-Contra allegations had been, “Just because a congressional commission in Costa Rica says something, doesn’t mean it’s true.” Obviously, he doesn’t bring the same muckraker skepticism to statements by American officials… but who’s counting?

If you bother looking closely, you can see that the Post itself is uneasy about its reliance on unnamed sources. This is clear when you look at the tortured wording of the attributions in the pieces. There are a finite number of different ways to say “According to one unnamed government source,” but the Post somehow manages to use all of them, sometimes within the same article. Take the aforementioned Woodward piece, “CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill bin Laden.” Here’s a list of the attributed sources in that piece:

  • “Officials”
  • “One senior official”
  • “A senior official”
  • “The Vice President”
  • “Another senior official”
  • “A senior Bush official”
  • “Another senior Bush official”
  • “One official”
  • “Bush officials”

It takes some doing not to repeat any of those phrases within an article. I mean, you have to really be looking out for it. And in this case, you wouldn’t be looking out for it if you weren’t painfully aware of how embarrassing the whole thing is.

This is what having Warren Buffet running your only serious newspaper does for a city like Buffalo. Here you have a city that’s in the midst of a serious fiscal crisis, brought on in no small part by a shortfall in expected income tax revenue sent back to the region by the state. That shortfall is obviously mainly due to the blow dealt to the New York State economy by 9/11. The terrorism issue, and the federal government’s decision to allocate more of its resources to a military buildup than to aid to New York State, is directly relevant to this city.

But instead of getting the perspective of a local reporter, who might be inclined to ask if a dozen new school buildings in Buffalo might be more useful in the long run than one pilotless drone that the Air Force fires into the side of a mountain somewhere in Afghanistan, we get a bunch of Georgetown hotshot hacks with monster expense accounts feeding us feel-good war news from the anonymous White House pals their paper just treated to lunch. It might be the truth, but who knows? Would you be willing to bet your school system on it? All of this sucks, but that’s the way things work in the Warren Buffet era– it just costs too much to let the natives in small cities do their own reporting. We don’t even get to gawk at Chandra Levy’s skull with our own eyes.


Comments Off

BREATHE ON US, OH GOD!

May

31

by

BREATHE ON US, OH GOD!
By John Dolan

Praying for America
By Dutch Sheets
Regal Books, 2001

There’s a scene in the fourth “Living Dead” movie, Day of the Dead, where they capture a zombie and pen him in a subterranean lab. They want to examine a specimen in order to understand this mindless cannibal breed that has taken over the United States.

It’s a haunting scene, deeply sad in the way those Romero films are. It turns out that you can’t teach a zombie much. “Bud” the zombie learns to answer a phone, but that’s about it. Beyond that, there’s not much to him but pus and fangs. Something almost human looks out of his eyes now and then, especially when he sees an Army uniform– Bud was a soldier once, and he still remembers to salute. But it turns out you can’t trust those flickering vestiges of humanity. The only way to deal with the beasts is to kill them all.

And that pretty much sums up the findings of my recent experiment in trying to understand the Christians. I thought it might be interesting to read an American Christian response to the WTC attacks, see what the drooling zombies who have taken over my country have to say about this calamity striking God’s favorite country. I picked Praying for America off the Amazon lists because it looked relatively literate. This glossy pamphlet is the work of one “Dutch Sheets.” (I know, I know: nobody could be named “Dutch Sheets;” it sounds more like the punchline to a pubescent joke– and in a sense, it is– but it’s also the name of the author, pastor of a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.)

Praying for America wasn’t very literate, actually; Dutch has a prose style even a social scientist would be ashamed to own. But it was informative. Above all, I learned that the rightist American Christians have mutated, gotten a lot better organized than they used to be. Dutch says many times that he speaks for “the Church in America.” This confused me at first, because I was raised to think “the Church” meant the Vatican; the Protestants were a disorganized rabble, a chaos of feuding sects. But that was long ago. The Bible-thumpers got smart and formed up. When Dutch talks about “the Church in America,” he means it. They march in step now. Dutch doesn’t even bother naming the particular sect he fronts for, because the militant Protestants are a single body now, far more united and a thousand times more powerful than the senescent Church of Rome ever was.

The Christians snuck up on us. We used to laugh at them– and then suddenly they were on us, hordes of grinning zombies. I used to prate about Whitman and the cadences of the King James Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress and Horatio Alger, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jim Swaggart, the Evangelical tradition in American literature, Stonewall Jackson, dying, delirious, murmuring “Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees….” I used to refuse to indulge in Christian-baiting at Berkeley because it was, as I used to say, “unsporting.”

All that seems like self-indulgent campy idiocy now. “Unsporting”? What does “sport” have to do with it? It’s Romero time: hole up on the roof of a mall with a hunting rifle and pick them off one by one… you have to get them in the head, remember. They don’t go down unless you hit them in the head.

And when you read their tracts, and find out what goes on in those heads– believe me, shooting them is a mercy.

Where to begin? Well, take a deep breath, hold your nose, and dive with me into the rotting insides of Praying for America. It’s a slick little pamphlet, with good graphics and a good sense of strategy. It borrows many technique from that venerable American literary genre, the salesman’s handbook– but that’s nothing new. American evangelists and pep-talking sales guys have always slipped easily between their respective callings (e.g., Norman Vincent Peale).

Dutch is fond of epithets sales guys love: “Are you a history maker?” he asks. Along with “history maker,” you might want to be “cause-minded,” a “boat rocker,” a “crossing-over guy,” or “a life-changer, a rearranger, a cause producer.” He wants us all to be “circumcised”– but as he explains to his wincing gentile audience, “Our circumcision in the new covenant is, of course, of the heart.” A circumcised heart– not sure I’d like that, actually. One snip and the room gets an arterial spraying.

In Dutch’s theology, God is a sort of travelling salesman, impregnating farmers’ daughters (of either gender) as the mood takes him. Using the laughably bad attempts at Classical etymology which are another feature of his rhetoric, he underlines the fact that he really does mean “penetration” when he talks of God’s way with us sinners:

“Because ‘abar’ is a transition word, it also means ‘to penetrate,’ as in penetrating territory, or even the human heart. [Note the repeated switch from genital to cardiac zone, as in 'circumcision' above.] And not trying to be overly dramatic or graphic, it is indeed a word used to designate the physical relations between a husband and wife that results in pregnancy [Sometimes, Dutch, they don't even have to be "husband and wife"!]. Yes, ‘abar’ does mean to impregnate.”

Now we know what Dutch means when he says, “Several months ago, God began to grip me….” These divine rapes are confessed with pride, of course; to be so “penetrated” is a point of honor with the devout. Like a great deal of American Evangelical discourse, it begs a medical, rather than theological interpretation. There’s a name for people who talk to god and feel Him gripping them: “schizophrenics.”

And the match between Evangelical theology and schizophrenic symptoms is perfect. When a word comes into Dutch’s head, it’s from God. Take “Shechem,” the name of some town mentioned in the Old Testament– the ramblings, in other words, of an unmedicated Levantine schizophrenic two millennia dead. This is how Dutch explains the way “Shechem” came into his head: “… During that… October evening, the Lord deeply impressed into my heart the thought, ‘I am calling this nation to Shechem.’”

“But Dutch,” you ask in that annoying way of yours, “how can we know it was a truly Divine inspiration?” Dutch has an answer ready for such doubters: “Since everything else I felt during that encounter with the Lord has proved to be very accurate, I have great confidence that this thought is accurate as well.” And if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

So Dutch is not at all shy of passing on his neurotransmitter-depleted epiphanies. Every time he has a dream; every time a place-name or set of numbers comes into his head; every time there’s a coincidence in his daily schedule; he takes it as a sign of God’s direct intervention in his mental processes. Sometimes Dutch’s sense of God’s tinkering with his mind (using the term loosely) is so much like textbook schizophrenic reasoning that you’re amazed the guy’s still walking around. He spends three pages detailing the series of coincidences involving the number sequence “222″:

“It began on a cross-country flight. I noticed that my departure time was 2:22, I was seated in row number 22 and the total travel time was 2 hours and 22 minutes.”

Well, if that doesn’t smack of direct divine intervention in the flight schedule of one Dutch Sheets, D.D., I don’t know what does. The only thing that worries me is that 222 is exactly one-third of 666. So if Dutch buys three tickets, does the plane go down?

Laughable as it sounds, this sort of paranoiac drama gives you a sense of why Christianity appeals to so many lonely Americans. Unlike the Catholicism I knew, this religion makes the worshippers the center of the universe. God, no less, is manipulating your very flight-times to give you the word about Satchmo, or Shinbone, or whatever it was. The Protestants are nice that way: they coddle their worshippers, set them up with plain, chubby, equally devout dates, and bring food around– Protestant food, with lots of casseroles and marshmallow things– when they’re sick. They make you feel important, in a pitiful sort of way. The Catholics had a simpler attitude: “You owe the Church everything; the Church owes you nothing.” And they wonder what went wrong!

One thing that went wrong for the Catholics is very clear from Dutch’s tract: the militant Evangelicals stole the best bits from the Catholic agenda. Tops on the list is abortion. Thirty years ago, abortion was a Catholic obsession. The Protestants didn’t give a damn about it, and associated it with Rome’s mad drive to swamp the Anglo-Saxon lands in a tide of brown babies. But the Evangelicals grabbed the issue somewhere along the line. Dutch can’t shut up about it. It’s perfect: a guaranteed source of sin, at which he and his fellow pastors can rail forever, licking their chops as they get the calculators out to tote up the ever-rising total of dead babies which can be laid against the sinners’ tab: “We have now killed over 40 million babies in what was supposed to be their safe haven of nourishment….”

What hits you when you read these denunciations is that Dutch’s churchgoing people loathe America, if only so that they can redeem and love it once more. It’s the whore they can’t resist, and that bipolar orientation makes for them an endlessly exciting ride. It’s like marrying a cocktail waitress: at least you won’t be bored.

But no other American sins are invoked in these lists. None of the horrors perpetrated in SE Asia, Latin America, or for that matter Chicago, show up on the lists. America must be denounced and despised for her sins, but only from the inside; America, when juxtaposed to any other country on earth, is right, period. All America needs is a president who stands with “the Church.”

And that, finally, turned out to be what this odd little tract was about: the election of George W. Bush. Little anti-Clinton jibes pop up from the start: “And speaking of partying, our former president did a lot of it.” It infuriates Dutch that no divinely directed lightning bolt slithered under the presidential desk to zap the presidential dick, as it tickled the Mon’s uvula. “God is capable of dealing with… wicked, ungodly politicians,” Dutch says. “When he doesn’t, we need to ask why.”

Well, not to give away the plot, but it turns out God inflicted Clinton upon us because there was a curse on the nation. Something about those McDonald’s-like abortion figures: “Over 40 million fetuses hosed!” Or was Clinton the cause, rather than the effect, of the curse? It’s not always easy to follow the logic of these people, but at any rate: there was a curse, OK? And there was only one magical cure: electing George W. Bush.

So when “God shared his passion for America with [Dutch]” in October 2000– just before the election– he, or rather He, told Dutch to start a “prayer alert for the upcoming election.” I’ll let Dutch himself tell it from there:

“This alert ultimately went to millions of people, resulting in a great mobilization of prayer for God’s person to be placed in office…. And then, even when the election was finished, the identity of the next president had not yet been determined. The high level of spiritual warfare was very apparent… we desperately needed a president through whom God could work.”

And with whom God could deal. See, you thought that slimy Florida banana-republic vote-scamming was all about payoffs and lawyers, but it was actually “spiritual warfare.” Well, that’s why we need people like Dutch, to explain the higher implications of these things.

Luckily, God’s candidate won:

“At that pivotal moment in our nation’s history, God’s people made a choice to cross over. As a result, God gave us a sincere, humble man who loves God and through whom He [God, that is] can work to accomplish His purposes.” This walker-in-righteousness being, y’unnerstan’, one G. W. Bush. Dutch goes on to recount his trip to the Inaugural. It was a great occasion, he explains– it was literally the lifting of a curse which had been upon the land:

“I watched and heard [GWB] end his swearing-in by saying with great conviction, ‘So help me God.’ Upon the uttering of these words, one well-known minister in attendance was heard to say, ‘The curse is broken off of America.’”

This is where the dates get interesting. See, if God had gone and lifted the curse on America when GWB was inaugurated, how come those planes slammed into the towers only eight months later? Dutch wrote this tract while still strutting with pride over getting out the vote for his God-endorsed candidate. The inaugural was held on January 20, 2001. At that moment, according to the unnamed “well-known minister,” “the curse [was] broken off of America.” Now, leaving aside the minister’s somewhat demotic phrasing, let us do the math. After all, Dutch has taught us all to look out for those zany little numerological omens the puzzle-addicted Deity so frequently lobs into our schedules.

And Dutch has also taught us to think of God as the great Penetrator, who when the mood takes him impregnates his followers– male, female, or otherwise. Now, the Lord has put a great and terrible thought in my head. For lo, I realized that the Lord had counted the days, and the days between January 20, 2001 and September 11, 2001, that terrible day of wrath when the Curse was very definitely reimposed on America, amounted to eight months, the length of a (slightly preemie) pregnancy.

Yes, when God gripped America from behind on that Inaugural day, he begot a spirit of destruction; and that spirit was born on September 11, and it took the form of swarthy men with boxcutters, who rode in planes numbered 676– only TEN NUMBERS AWAY from the very number of the Beast!

And the 676 times two struck the two towers, and subtracted them from two to zero, and caused to be burnt many a believer.

But not nearly enough of them.


Comments Off

MAYOR TO STAR IN GANGSTER DRAMA

May

31

by

Tony Masiello Rolls Out the Red Carpet for the BEAST

by Matt Taibbi

Masia and CrewIt didn’t seem like much of an idea at first. Co-editor Kevin McElwee and I, newly arrived in Buffalo from our previous home in Moscow, Russia, were hiding inside at a friend’s house during an April snowfall, toying with prank ideas for our inaugural issue. Mayor Anthony Maseillo’s name came up…

We’d only been in town for a few weeks, but it was hard not to notice that Buffalo had clearly… well, to put it as nicely as possible, it had clearly seen better days. A once-mighty industrial city now had boarded-up storefronts right in the heart of its downtown. Vast tracts of what in any other city would be prime real estate were empty and undeveloped… And the city planning seemed to have been achieved through a sort of accidental process; highways bulled through waterfront areas, a public university had been built way too far out of town to have a serious impact on the city economy, and the chief plan for urban renewal was intimately connected with an utterly insane but apparently sincere decision to give an Enron-like company, Adelphia, public money to build a fictional skyscraper in a district already overflowing with empty office space.

We asked around. The general consensus among friends in town was that the chief reason for Buffalo’s problems was that city leadership was corrupt and incompetent. As for the Mayor, he appeared to be a human being without much of a basic life plan at all. He had achieved power through the most ideologically unspecific means possible, running as both a Democrat and a Republican… and once he got into office, his plan to revive the city had remained as vague and ineffectual as his actual persona–a persona captured perfectly by his splotchy, career-weary face and half-hearted comb-over. “He’s not doing anything,” one friend told us. “God only knows what he’s doing with his time.”

Interesting question, we thought. Then it occurred to us to wonder: what if we could find out just exactly what the Mayor is doing with his time? We played around with a few ideas, then zoomed over to our office in the luxurious Statler towers to make some phony stationary. We had decided to offer the mayor a part-time job.

I should digress here to explain something. We here at the BEAST are expert and experienced pranksters. For five years, we were senior editors at one of the world’s most notorious newspapers–the Moscow-based eXile. Four years ago, we conned Mikhail Gorbachev himself into accepting an offer to be an assistant coach of the New York Jets under Bill Parcells. A few years after that, we had the caretakers of Lenin’s body offering us their services when we called as Kennedy family representatives seeking help in mummifying the disembodied foot of John F. Kennedy, Jr. And just last year, we laid siege to the Moscow office of The New York Times and threw a cream pie made of horse sperm in the face of Times bureau chief Michael Wines, one of the biggest assholes in all of vast Russia.

We have a military sensibility about our pranks. It’s not even so much that we enjoy it; it’s just what we do. So when it came time to start up a newspaper here in our new home in Buffalo, there was no question of not locating a practical joke target immediately for our first issue. Our first joke on American soil had to be grand in scale, and it had to meet our high professional standards.

Our plan for the Mayor almost seemed too primitive at first to be all that interesting. We decided to pose as executives for the HBO show The Sopranos and offer the Mayor some ridiculous and vaguely humiliating cameo role. The plan was to push it as far as possible until his office, or the Mayor himself, blinked. We had no plan for what to do, however, if he didn’t blink, not believing this to be possible. We have a lot to learn about Buffalo, it turns out.

The First Step

The first step was an exploratory phone call by “location scout Jeffrey Baines” to the Mayor’s press secretary, Matt Brown. Brown at first seemed dismissive and curt on the phone, which was about what we expected. After all, one would think that the leader of a major industrial city would have more pressing concerns than the possibility of scoring a bit part in a cable series, in particular one celebrating gangsters. His aides would be busy, impatient to get to the point… Nonetheless, Brown told us to follow up with our proposal in writing:

Listen to the call.  (2:01)

Brown:   Matt Brown. May I help you?

BEAST:   Hi, Mr. Brown. My name is Jeffrey Baines. I’m a location scout for the HBO television series, The Sopranos. And I had a question for you. I’m up here in Buffalo. We’re going to be shooting part of an episode that’s going to run next fall in the Niagara Falls area. And our senior producer, Sam Weiss, has been in consultation with the writers, and they’re interested in getting Mayor Masiello to appear in a cameo… and we wanted to know if there’s a possibility of speaking to Mr. Masiello, or at least sending him a letter.

Brown:   (unimpressed) Uh, you can send a letter.

BEAST:   Okay.

Brown:   You can send a letter to, obviously, the Mayor, Anthony Masiello, care of Matthew Brown. It’s 65 Niagara Sq., room 201, Buffalo, NY 14202. Let me give you my fax number.

BEAST:   Yeah. I was going to say–it might be better if we do this by fax.

Brown:   Yeah.

LetterWithin minutes after this call, we had our designers putting the finishing touches on our mock HBO stationary. It wasn’t very convincing–any 17-year-old Miramax intern worth his eyebrow stud would have been able to spot it as a phony from 200 yards away–but we figured it might be good enough to get past a professional political operative or two at City Hall. Once that was done, we typed up a letter to the Mayor from “Senior Producer Sam Weiss,” which included the following summation of the proposed plot:

“The storyline is very simple. Our lead character, a mob boss named Tony Soprano, has discovered that Jackie Aprile, Jr., the young man who has recently proposed marriage to his daughter, has a ‘goomah,’ or mistress, in Niagara Falls. In a rage, Tony books a ticket on Jet Blue to fly up to the area to confront Jackie. It then occurred to us to introduce a scene in which, by coincidence, Tony finds himself sitting next to you, Mayor Masiello, on the plane.

“Over the course of the flight, Tony–who himself has a mistress–unburdens himself to the friendly mayor about his own marital problems. Always ready to offer advice to a stranger, you urge Tony to reconcile with his wife, and offer suggestions on how to rekindle the romance. What suggestions you offer would obviously be something we’d like to consult with you about, but one direction we were thinking of going in would be urging Tony to discover a love of the arts with his wife–painting, poetry, music. “The episode could then conclude later on with a visit to the Albright Knox Art Museum, during which you explain to a bewildered Tony–who is still unaware that you are the Mayor–the beauty of the post-impressionist school of painting.”

Now, in the real world, this letter should have been sufficiently ridiculous to scare off any even mildly cogent public employee from taking it seriously. But when we had a female BEAST staffer call back as “Danielle,” Sam Weiss’s bubbly personal assistant, we found otherwise:

Listen to the call.  (5:49)

BEAST:   Hello, may I speak with the press department?

Mayor’s Office:   (female receptionist’s voice) I’m sorry. Mr. Brown, the Mayor’s director of communications, is off until Monday.

BEAST:   Oh, I see, maybe you can help me then. This is Danielle, from HBO films.

Mayor’s Office:   Mmm-hm!

BEAST:   We sent Mr. Brown–er, the Mayor, care of Mr. Brown–a proposal for a cameo in The Sopranos show?

Mayor’s Office:   Yes.

BEAST:   And I wanted to make sure that the fax was received.

Mayor’s Office:   Hold on, I’ll connect you to Bernadette.

The receptionist disappeared for a moment, giving us an opportunity to adjust the levels on our tape recorder. In a flash, she was back:

Mayor’s Office:   Hello?

BEAST:   Is this Bernadette?

Mayor’s Office:   Um, no, this is still the receptionist.

BEAST:   Okay.

Mayor’s Office:   Yes, he did receive the information, and he’s very happy about it.

BEAST:   He’s very happy about it?

Mayor’s Office:   Yes.

BEAST:   Excellent. Would it be possible for Mr. Weiss to speak with Mr. Brown on Monday, then?

Mayor’s Office:   Yes.

Before we let the receptionist off the phone, we decided to try to up the ante. Every good practical joke should contain one element of utter absurdity, so that after the fact, the victim has no excuse for falling for the trap. In this case we decided to offer, on behalf of our fictional cigar-chomping Jewish producer, a peculiar gift. Once we broached the subject, the receptionist connected us to someone a little higher up on the Masiello chain of command–the Mayor’s personal bodyguard, Juan Phillips:

Phillips:   Good afternoon. Officer Phillips.

BEAST:   Uh, Good afternoon. I’m sorry. This is Danielle Kuczkowski from HBO films.

Phillips:   Yes.

BEAST:   Um, I have a somewhat strange question.

Phillips:   Okay.

BEAST:   Mr. Sam Weiss was hoping to send the Mayor a small gift. And I’m just curious to know whether the Mayor would like… a porcelain unicorn. It’s autographed by James Spader, the actor. He makes them in his workshop in Westchester.

Phillips:   Okay.

BEAST:   It’s a bit of an unorthodox gift, so…

Phillips:   Wait a minute–what was the type of gift it was?

BEAST:Spader's Unicorn It’s a porcelain unicorn.

Phillips:   A unicorn?

BEAST:   A unicorn.

Phillips:   You’re talking about, like–the horse, with the…

BEAST:   The horse with the one horn?

Phillips:   Right!

BEAST:   Basically, I don’t know if you know this… James Spader, the actor…

Phillips:   You know, I’m not familiar with him. You know, that’s strange, because I am myself a movie buff, a play buff… James Bader?

BEAST:   James Spader. Maybe you remember… Sex, Lies and Videotape? Also, I think, White Castle…[eds. note: our bad. James Spader was never in a movie called White Castle].

Phillips:   Yes!

BEAST:   Crash, also, I believe…

Phillips:   (lying) Sure! Okay!

BEAST:   He makes these wonderful porcelain unicorns at his workshop in Westchester…

Here, Phillips entered into an impassioned soliloquy about the Mayor’s sensitive side:

Phillips:   Let me tell you something about our Mayor.

BEAST:   Mm-hmm.

Phillips:   Our mayor is a man of art.

BEAST:   (incredulous) Is a man of… art?

Phillips:   He loves all types of art.

BEAST:   Really?

Phillips:   From paintings, to sculptures…oriental rugs. He spends a good portion of his time at antique shops [!].

BEAST:   Oh, that’s just terrific!

Phillips:   He loves promoting our city. I’m the officer assigned to him. I just drove him around looking at the neighborhoods. He loves seeing trees and flowers in bloom. He has a thing about clean and green, he believes in that. He spends a lot of time at the art gallery himself… He loves it, he loves everything that deals with art. So if it’s something that’s being made by another actor [eds. note: another actor?], where he himself is making it, the Mayor will love it.

BEAST:   Oh, that’s wonderful.

Phillips:   You’ve got a great following here, there’s a great following of The Sopranos series here. In this office alone, we watch it… I don’t want to use the word religiously, but we watch it every week.

BEAST:   Wonderful! Do you watch it yourself?

Phillips:   Oh, yes. When The Sopranos came out on CD…

BEAST:   Yes?

Phillips:   I bought the whole set.

BEAST:   Well, it’s a great, great success. We’re very proud of the program.

At this point, Phillips digressed, filling us in on the Mayor’s recent appearance in a locally-produced movie that starred legendary camp TV actor Frank Gorsham (or, as Phillips put it, “Frank… I don’t know what his last name is, but he played the Riddler”). After hearing about the Mayor’s film history, we briefly worried that we might have to pay him Screen Actors’ Guild rates, then asked once again about the Mayor’s interest in our show:

BEAST:   So you think he’d be amenable to appearing in a cameo?

Phillips:   Oh, yes! He already stated that he was very excited. He showed me the letter the other day. He was very excited about it.

It took us a while, after the end of this phone call, to fully take in and appreciate the image of Mayor Masiello proudly showing off our cheesy home-drawn knock-off letter to his staff… But we couldn’t sit still for long:

The Ball was in Play

The next day, still in disbelief, we did the only logical thing: we went ahead and actually sent the Mayor a unicorn. We had a BEAST contributor in New York buy a pair of piece-of-shit, made-in-Taiwan, not-quite porcelain unicorns (one for us as a souvenir, and one for the Mayor), crudely inscribe the letters “J. Spader” on the side, and send one of them to City Hall from a Manhattan Post office.

Two days later, a phone rang in the apartment of our Manhattan intern, whose number we’d used on our letterhead. Our intern was not home, but her roommate, who’d been briefed for this eventuality, quickly asked to take a message when she heard the voice of Matt Brown, calling to thank us for the gift.

It was now time to bring Sam Weiss onto the stage. The next day we had Danielle call Matt Brown back and patch through the heavyweight senior TV producer–actually our thirty year-old slacker co-editor Kevin McElwee, sitting at home smoking a Kools in a Bills t-shirt–for a serious talk:

Listen to the call.  (4:15)

BEAST:   Mr. Brown!

Brown:   Hi, how are you?

BEAST:   Yeah, Sam Weiss here. Good talking to you.

Brown:   Good talking to you. I called your office yesterday to thank you for the, uh… unicorn.

BEAST:   Oh, you got that!

Brown:   Yes, that was really nice.

BEAST:   Yes, James Spader is a great man. He does some good stuff for us. We’re very happy with him…

Brown:   That’s very thoughtful, very thoughtful. The Mayor’s in Albany today. He won’t be back until tomorrow morning. Um, he, we received your letter. He’s very interested in participating. And would like to, uh, you know, we’re just following your lead, for you to tell us how to proceed.

BEAST:   Uh, well, how did the Mayor feel about the general storyline?

Brown:   The storyline, he was very comfortable with it. The people in our internal staff kind of looked at it. You know everybody’s psyched about it. They think it’s great, great for Buffalo. [Eds. note: Great for Buffalo? How?]

BEAST:   Okay. Well, obviously, it’s just in the planning stages, in terms of a script. If there’s anything he’d feel uncomfortable about, we’d take that into consideration.

Brown:   Sure.

BEAST:   Well, that’s great. Great to hear. Do you think that it would be possible to speak to the Mayor at some point? Personally?

Brown:   Certainly.

BEAST:   Yes?

Brown:   Certainly!

BEAST:   You say he’ll be back tomorrow?

Brown:   Yeah. If there’s a number where I can have him contact you. That number [that I called the other day], is that a good number to reach you at?

BEAST:   (nervously, unconvincingly) Not generally. Right now I’m travelling. Yesterday, I was held up on the island. And I’m heading down to the D.C. area today. Could you tell me a good time to call? I’ll have my assistant conference me in.

Brown:   Um…Let’s see, he’s not back in Buffalo until ten… Why don’t we say three o’clock?

BEAST:   Three o’clock.

Brown:   Right.

BEAST:   Okay.

Not expecting to get hold of the mayor so quickly, we hesitated after this call, no longer sure of what to do. To give us more time to think, we invented a little accident for Mr. Weiss, hinting vaguely in our return call the next day that the senior producer had been involved in a ghastly car wreck and was now in traction (we would have added that he was also facing charges for running over two small black children, but the Mayor’s receptionist didn’t press the issue). In the meantime, we asked if we could come by and pick up a head shot of the Mayor.

Mr. Brown, in a voice that suggested that such requests were common at City Hall, said by all means; we made a date for a “location scout” to pick up a photo at City Hall.

Having been largely shut out of the acting up to this point, I dressed up as “location scout Geoff Winestock” and went over to City Hall two days later. While waiting in the Mayor’s reception room for the photo to be delivered, I took out my cell phone and loudly conducted a pre-arranged conversation with “Mr. Weiss” on the other end of the line. The gist of the conversation was that our “star,” James Gandolfini, a.k.a. Tony Sopranos, had rejected the Bradford bar on Chippewa as a location because “it was too light” and might make him look too fat on camera.

“Too fat?” I shouted into the phone. “Who does he think he is, Joan Crawford? We can’t do this scene in a basement!”

After a few minutes of this, a door opened at the side of the room, and Mayor Masiello poked his head out. I was momentarily caught off-guard by the Mayor’s height. A tall person and an ex-basketball player myself, I was dwarfed by the lanky exec, who drifted over to the receptionist’s desk while I conducted my call and appeared to silently eavesdrop while pretending to rearrange some papers on her desk. Once the call was over, he ducked back into his office.

They gave me the head shot and I went home.

Sometimes the reason for pulling this or that practical joke is obvious. If you send George Bush a $1000 campaign contribution on Nazi party stationery and he cashes it, it’s pretty clear what you’ve got, and why you did it. But sometimes it requires pulling back and getting some perspective on things before the point of a joke really becomes clear.

Think of it this way. If you’re broke and you don’t have a job and you’ve maybe got a child or a relative who’s dying–because the city is too busy negotiating casino deals with creeps from Southeast Asia, and helping huge companies pay for their private palaces, to give you health care–well, you can try forever and a day to get a public official with any responsibility at all on the telephone, and you never will.

But if you call up and pretend to be a Hollywood big shot, and dangle a silly little part in a trendy gangster show… Well, you can fly into town from halfway around the world without any friends or references at all, and you can have the Mayor of the city himself eating out of your hand in no time.

You know what politics is? It’s not about taking care of people anymore. It’s show business for ugly people. And when real show business comes knocking, even in the form of a show that celebrates gangsters and racketeering, almost any of our leaders these days will drop his “day job” in a second for a chance at the real thing. The rest of us, meanwhile, are left to suck eggs.

We Get the Mayor on the Phone

On Tuesday, May 28, we got the Mayor on the phone. Mr. Weiss, we explained, had recovered from his accident sufficiently to conduct business, and wanted to speak to the chief.

The resultant conversation was remarkable for its extreme awkwardness and for its many different paranoid undercurrents. But on the surface, it was exactly what we expected it to be: a Mayor of a major city–a city mired in a major financial crisis, and reeling from the collapse of one of its largest companies–abjectly expressing his desire to appear on a hit cable TV series. It should be noted that the Mayor’s receptionist offered to set up a meeting with the Mayor within fifteen minutes after we first called back.

That was too fast for us; we made it an hour. When the time came, we pushed “Sam” back to the phone for the climactic call:

Listen to the call.  (6:31)

BEAST:   Hi, Mayor Masiello!

Masiello:   (bursting with enthusiasm) Sam, Tony Masiello! Mayor of the great city of Buffalo, New York!

BEAST:   Great to talk to you, sir.

Masiello:   My pleasure. And thank you very much for your interest in Buffalo and Western New York.

BEAST:   Absolutely, absolutely. [irrelevantly] So I understand that you got the unicorn that we sent?

Masiello:   (not taken aback at all) Yes I did! Thank you very much. It’s so nice of you.

BEAST:   Yes, James Spader is a great… a great fella.

Masiello:   (pained) Thank you, I appreciate it.

BEAST:   We just had a few questions…

Masiello:   Sure.

BEAST:   As far as setting up the production and the planning of the episode, really…

Masiello:   Great.

BEAST:   Just wanted to ask you a few things. Did you ever sing any Karaoke?

Masiello:   (laughs) No, I, uh… I can’t sing a lick.

BEAST:   You don’t play any instruments or anything?

Masiello:   No, I do not.

BEAST:   Huh.

Masiello:   (hopefully) I can dance.

BEAST:   You can dance?

Masiello:   Heh, heh, heh.

BEAST:   Well, we can all dance a little, I guess.

Masiello:   That’s right. Is that… needed?

BEAST:   (distracted by laughter in room, ignoring him) Um… what about squash or flyfishing, anything like that?

Masiello:   Uh…No, I played basketball in high school and college. I was in my college hall of fame for basketball… I was drafted by the Indiana Pacers.

BEAST:   Really?

Masiello:   But I do not, um…I was not good at squash–or fishing.

BEAST:   And what about golf?

Masiello:   Yeah, I play golf, but I stink.

BEAST:   Well, we can all be a little better.

Masiello:   That’s right.

BEAST:   Um, okay, I think that’s probably just about it…

At this point, a weird volley of racially charged comments passed between ourselves and the Mayor. We had decided to ask about the Mayor’s heritage in the hopes that he might somehow connect it to The Sopranos show, but he took it the wrong way–and his response appeared loaded with implications that the obviously Jewish Weiss should have caught:

BEAST:   Maseillo… are your ancestors from the Abruzze province?

Masiello:   They’re from the region of Potenza. They’re not far from Naples.

BEAST:   Right, the home of pizza.

Masiello:   (venemously) Do you have family who are Italians?

At this point, Kevin was distracted because I was signaling to him to ask the Mayor about the casino deal… We wanted to see if he would be willing to expedite the building process so that we could shoot inside the new facility. As I was reminding him of this, Kevin simply ignored the Mayor’s question about Sam’s Italian relatives. Nonetheless, he waited patiently on the phone.

Masiello:   Hello?

BEAST:   Yes, yes. Well, we’ve been following this casino thing up there. When do you think this thing is going to be built?

Masiello:   Well, there’s several issues that have to be resolved first. While it did pass the reservation vote, it has to go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs first for approval. Then there has to be negotiations with local developers and operators, along with the local municipalities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. So you’ve got two facilities in both cities that we’re looking to renovate as temporary casinos. And I think that’s 6-8 months away.

BEAST:   Oh, really. Because we’d love to shoot in there. But I don’t think it’s going to be done…

Masiello:   No, I don’t think it’s going to be in time…

BEAST:   Right.

Masiello:   What do you expect of me?

BEAST:   Well, we’d like to make it sort of as fast as possible. It would probably be one or two days in all.

Masiello:   Oh, that’s fine, I look forward to it.

BEAST:   And once we have a script… We’ve got a couple of other candidates we’re looking at, but we’re pretty excited about Buffalo, so…

Masiello:   Oh, that’s great. Have you made a decision to do it in Buffalo?

BEAST:   No, we haven’t made the final decision to do it yet. We’re looking at a couple of other candidates.

As expected, the Mayor at this point quickly let us know that he was willing to go the extra mile for the show:

Masiello:   Is there anything I can do to help in that process?

BEAST:   Um, not really. Really it’s out of my hands. I’m just a producer. It’s in the hands of the creative folks to really make the final decision about this stuff…

Masiello:   When do you anticipate this being done?

BEAST:   We want to make the decision sometime this week.

Masiello:   No, when do you think that the shooting should take place?

BEAST:   Um, the shooting we think would be later in the summer. So, probably August, something like that.

At this point, the Mayor went off on a poetic digression. In the middle of this section, he is clearly reading from the letter we had originally written to him:

Masiello:   You know, it’s interesting, in the letter you wrote me about the segment, you mentioned taking the “bewildered Tony” to Albright Knox. I live right next door to the Albright Knox gallery.

BEAST:   (totally unimpressed) Oh. Really.

Masiello:   Yeah, so….Um.

BEAST:   Yeah. I haven’t been to Buffalo for a long time, myself, but I’ve seen the pictures. It looks like a lovely place.

Masiello:   Yeah, it is a great place. But you know, Buffalo being right next to Niagara falls, there’s a lot of great older neighborhoods, a lot of great Italian neighborhoods. I think it will augment whatever you’re doing.

BEAST:   Right. Right. (an unbelievably long and painful silence follows)

Masiello:   Okay.

BEAST:   So, like I said, we’ll be making a decision later this week. Because we need to get rolling on the specifics of it. So we’ll get back to someone in your office at that time. We’ll let you know.

Masiello:   (ominously, perhaps just now catching on that the thing is a farce) I’m looking forward to working with you–and meeting you.

BEAST:   Great.

Masiello:   Thank you.

BEAST:   Thank you.

As the BEAST went to press, we were calling the Mayor’s office to inform him that he’d been passed over for the part in favor of Graham Richard, Mayor of the great city of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Richard, we said, had agreed to appear shirtless for the show, and that was the deciding factor.

We were glad we weren’t there to hear how Tony M. took the news. But somehow we have a feeling we’ll find out soon enough. At least we know now how the Mayor spends his time…


Comments Off

THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR INTENTIONS

May

31

by

THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR INTENTIONS

WE’VE BEEN IN TOWN less than a month, and already the rumors are flying. One the one hand, this is something that we expected. It’s natural to assume that when a group of notoriously belligerent journalists from halfway across the planet move without any warning or obvious explanation to a place like Buffalo… well, questions will arise. What are these guys doing here? Why did they come? What do they have planned?

While this is not a question that we here at the Beast can answer easily, there is one thing that we can say for certain, and that is this: that those rumors that we have come here to blow up the HSBC tower, killing everyone inside and setting the whole downtown area ablaze, are absolutely unfounded.

We repeat: we have no plans to crash a small commercial jetliner hijacked en route to Toronto into the HSBC tower with the aim of destroying the entire downtown area, human population and all. It’s ridiculous even to think that we might. After all, we didn’t labor for five years in Russia to create a successful and critically-acclaimed newspaper called the eXile just to throw it all away in one last, desperate, suicidal act halfway around the world– no matter how much we might want to.

American Airlines can rest assured: there is absolutely no way that we will be travelling under assumed names on flight 1127, leaving Laguardia for Toronto, at any time in the near future. Furthermore, it is both slanderous and irresponsible to suggest that there is anything suspicious or out of the ordinary in the fact that several members of the Beast staff have have learned to pilot, but not to land or take off, a twin-engine passenger liner. A great many people take flying lessons; not all of them complete their studies.

Our response to all those questions about our strangely frenzied patterns of foreign travel in the last few months, including clandestine trips to and from uncharted moutnainous regions of Abkhazia, Chechnya and Georgia? We just throw up our hands in amazement. Have we as Americans become so paranoid that we can no longer accept as neighbors people who happen to have friends in heavily-armed extralegal territories within the Iranian sphere of influence? Have we lost the ability to live and let live– just because the guy next door sometimes wears a turban, a canteen, and an ammo belt, and spends his evenings unloading crates marked in Arabic from a panel truck with no license plates? Has it really come to that?

The last thing on our minds.
The last thing on our minds.

We at the Beast believe that tolerance is America’s, and Buffalo’s, salvation. While our president speaks of defeating enemies abroad, and uniting in vigilance against threats here at home, we believe that our primary responsibility as Americans is to love our neighbors. We believe that there are a great many ways in which even we here in Western New York can learn to achieve a greater sense of closeness with our fellow citizens.

We can, for instance, learn to better understand and appreciate the point of view of the practioners of other faiths– the Muslim, the Buddhist, and even (as Melville would call him) the Hindoo.

We can put ourselves in the shoes of the black and the brown, and genuinely try to imagine what the bite of our repressive white society feels like– the harrassment by police, the persecution by landlords, the cold stares of would-be employers.

And at at approximately 11:38 a.m. sometime between May 29 and June 17, we can allow ourselves to be momentarily distracted by a small and apparently inconsequential electrical fire that mysteriously breaks out in the corner of the air traffic control tower at the Buffalo airport. We can take off our headsets, leave our seats, and walk over to inspect the commotion, leaving the skies unattended for a crucial four-to-seven minute period.

These are just some of the things that we as citizens of Buffalo should do to make our world a better place in these uncertain times. One thing we must do, however, is learn to refrain from indulging in hurtful rumors and innuendo. We here at the Beast have already suffered because of our collective failure in this area. Our only purpose in coming to Buffalo was to come home and put out a newspaper that wittily blends nightlife and club reviews with incisive commentary and hard-hitting journalism. Our only thought, our only desire, is to serve U, the reader.

There is simply no truth to the rumor that our plans are any more involved than that– that they involve acts of catastrophic terrorism, outbursts of violent misogyny, or, say, the running of hideous lounge singer Tom Sartori out of town with a lead pipe and a four-foot cattle prod. Nothing of that sort has even been discussed in our offices. We’re your friends. Honestly. 


Comments Off

IT HAD NO SNAPPER

May

31

by

IT HAD NO SNAPPER

Hi guys,
I am writing in response to the posting at exile.ru about help with the new publications. I live in Brooklyn, NY; and being a long time eXile.ru reader, I would like to offer my help to your publication in Buffalo. My background is in IT.

Regards,
Dmitry Zuykov

Dear Dmitry,
We were going to say that if you really wanted to help, you could send us a picture of your girlfriend’s snapper. But since you’re in IT, you probably don’t have one. So we don’t know what to ask you.


THERE IS NO SPELL-CHECKER IN HEAVEN

Dear Matt,
I stumbled across your eXile article “God Can Suck My Dick” and am saddened to see such a thing. I thought I’d email to let you know that God loves you anyway … even with such blasphemous thoughts.

It’s your choice to turn from Him … He’s there with open arms anytime.

Eternity in hell is a long time, you might want to get things straight (with Him) before you die.

Your article suggests persuing an argument with witnessing Christians to basically annoy them … witnessing Christians seek you to try and help you, not annoy you.

Just because you decided to believe hell doesn’t exist, doesn’t make the reality of it go away. With all due respect, maybe you could set aside all of that smart aleck attitude and consider “absolute truth”.

It’s your choice, though … eternity is a long time.

Paddlehead
Tuskegee, Alabama

Dear Paddlehead,
Hell is nothing compared to what your wife has to go through every night. Fuck off and die. And please tell your creepy Christian friends to stop writing us. We have a whole new generation of hate-mail writers here in Buffalo to make room for.


NED GAVE US AIDS

Hello,
Saw the ad @ exile.ru. I’m in Buffalo and have been reading eXile for a year or so–&, in fact, used it as a vestige of freedom of the press in my most recent book (you can see some of my work @ amazon, loompanics.com, et al.). I also frequent strip clubs. What more can you ask? Let me know about your project.

All the best,
Ned Beaumont

Dear Ned,
Okay, so we called you after we got this letter, and made an arrangement to go meet you at the Anchor Bar. We get there at the appointed time, and–no Ned Beaumont. Fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour pass. 20 wings later we’re sitting there staring at each other, faces covered in wing sauce, like a pair of jilted prom dates. Finally, we got up and left. We were so distraught that.. you know what we did? We drove to East Buffalo, scored three grams of smack, and shot dope all weekend. We’re addicts now. It’ll be virtually impossible for us to avoid AIDS at this point… And all because of you, Ned. We’re looking at twenty years of protease inhibitors because of you. Twenty years of waking up every morning and checking our ankles for Kaposi’s sarcoma. You think we need that shit? Fuck you, Ned. Fuck you and your books on amazon.com.


I’M A FAMOUS TROUSER PILOT

Dear Beasti,
Perhaps you remember the long boring tirade on Buffalo politics I sent you a few months ago. My interest has been piqued by your call for Exile readers from Buffalo. I’m a ‘respectable citizen’ and something of a public figure, as such association with your publishing project, either in Moscow or Buffalo could be damaging to my reputation and professional interests. If your new project is something the larger Buffalo community could appreciate I would be glad to help, even if it isn’t I might contribute. Either way I’m curious to know what you’re hatching.

Also, I recommend you contact [names prominent homosexual in the Buffalo Arts community] he’s a busy guy, but he knows his beat.

Good Luck,
Buffalo Bill

Dear Bill,
So you’re a public figure, huh? Sure. And we’re Chinese jet pilots. Write us back when you finish freshman year.


A HELPING HAND

Dear [sic],
i’d be quite interested in getting a better idea of what you’re cooking up in buffalo — even though i’m in NYC, maybe there’s something i could do for you…

bev

Dear bev,
Yeah, there’s something you can do for us. There’s this guy in Brooklyn named Dima Zuykov who hasn’t been laid in years. Give him a call, take him out for a cheeseburger, and then take him home and fuck his brains out. Then let him take a picture of your snapper, so that he can send it to us. Because right now, he can’t send us a picture of anyone’s snapper.


GO FORTH AND SUCK

Hi,
I’m on Long Island, about half an hour from NYC. Can I in any way help the new paper?

Sincerely,
Dan Palchik

Dear Dan,
Yes, you can. You can go online to www.artvoice.com, subscribe to ArtVoice, and then spread the word in Long Island about the mysteries of bus stop construction. Great tidal waves always start with a ripple. Be brave; be first. You have our support.


THAT’S NOT FUNNY

Dear Dickwads,
Heard through the grapevine that you illiterate losers were leaving Russia to come to my home city, of all places. What, is there no place to get back hair treatments in Russia? Did the local hookers there raise their prices to $20? You guys sell yourselves as these debonair sex kings, but I’ve seen your pictures, and the truth is that you’re just a bunch of sad middle-aged guys with receding hairlines. Just like every other guy in Buffalo. Good luck finding girls to be impressed by your blue passports here in the USA.

I was forced to read you guys for my Russia class in college, and I hated you then. Now that I’m out of school and back home, I still hate you. I’m looking forward to seeing you fail here. I’m sure a lot of women around the country feel the same way. Assume the position, dweebs. Get ready for a big dose of reality.

Loving this,
Pam

Dear Pam,
We can’t argue with that! Now that’s a letter, folks. Pam, call our offices today to claim a free BEAST t-shirt. U Deserve It, girl!


I AM HANDSOME AND YOUR FRIEND

Dear Beast,
handsomeSaw your ad on exile.ru calling for help in Buffalo. I live in Rochester, where I’m temping and don’t have a lot to do. Since I’m a guy, I don’t have a picture of my snapper, but I do have a picture of what I look like. I’m enclosing it here:

Do you think there might be a place for me at the BEAST? I don’t have computer skills, but I am willing to go out to clubs and “hit the town.” I’ve been a fan of eXile for a long time and think I could really help out.

Let me know,
Jason K.
Rochester

Dear Jason,
This is a joke, right? You don’t really look like that, do you? Get out of here, you nut! Send us your real picture! We’re not falling for any of that stuff! Whaddya think, we were born yesterday? Get out of town, U!


Comments Off

BEAST PHYSICS TIPS

May

31

by

BEAST PHYSICS TIPS
with Ashok Dibbawalla

Lesson #1:
Some Elementary Pressure Calculations Involving Water and County Executive Joel Giambra

Question:
What would happen if County Executive Joel Giambra were taken to the bottom of the ocean?

Answer:
Dragging County Executive Giambra to the bottom of the ocean would serve as an excellent object lesson on the difference between compressible and incompressible substances.

figure 1fig. 1

To simplify the equations, let’s start by placing County Executive Joel Giambra in a rigid vertical cylinder. If the cylinder has a diameter of ~44-1/2 inches, the ends of the cylinder will have an area of about 1 meter square. Let’s imagine that the bottom of the cylinder is fixed to the walls, and that the top can move up and down in the cylinder like piston. Like a piston, the top also has a gasket that keeps the contents of the cylinder sealed inside. (See figure 1).

Imagine what would happen if we were to pour water into the top of the cylinder. The weight of the water would move the piston down until there was an upward force on the bottom of equal magnitude. Could County Executive Joel Giambra provide this force? Let’s calculate its magnitude.

The product of the water’s density and volume gives the weight of the water. If we were to fill the top to a height of 0.25 meters (~10 inches), County Executive Joel Giambra would have to support the weight of 0.25 cubic meters of water.

figure 2fig. 2

Water has a density of 1000 kg/cubic meter. This means that to hold up the cylinder, he would have to support 250 kg, or about 550 pounds. (See figure 2).

Now, of course he can’t hold back the piston. But if this is true, one could wonder why divers aren’t crushed after diving down only a few meters? The force that holds back the piston is provided by the air trapped underneath. As the piston moves down, the air pressure under the cylinder increases. The upward force it exerts on the bottom of the piston is given by the product of the air pressure and the area of the piston. As we fill the top, the sinking piston sinks compressing the air underneath until the pressure rises high enough to stop the downward movement. (This compression also increases the temperature in the cylinder, but by adding water slowly and letting the system cool off, we can ignore this effect.)

figure 3fig. 3

At 10 meters (~33 feet), the pressure is about double the atmospheric pressure at the surface. That means that the volume of the cylinder has been cut in half! (See figure 3).

Each additional 10 meters will raise the pressure by one atmosphere. As we journey with County Executive Joel Giambra deeper and deeper into the depths, we notice a pattern. The air around him, in his lungs and in his body cavities continues to shrink, but the fluids that make up his tissues continue to occupy the same volume! We call such fluids “incompressible.”

figure 4fig. 4

After 1000 meters, the size of his fluids is the same, but the gases around him occupy less 1/100th of their former volume. Many of them have been dissolved into the liquids, like the carbon dioxide dissolved into a soft drink. By the time we reach the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at around 5,500 meters (~3.4 miles), we find County Executive Joel Giambra essentially liquefied. (See figure 4.)

All that remains is to calculate the volume of the bottom of the cylinder. It has been suggested that County Executive Joel Giambra weighs around 220 pounds, or about 100 kg. We’ll estimate that the density of his remains is about the density of water. Dividing his mass by his density gives 0.1 cubic meters. The bottom of the cylinder is 1 square meter, therefore the height of the piston is 0.1 meters, or about four inches.

Ashok Dibbawalla is Professor Emeritus at the Online University of Ft. Lauderdale. He now lives with his family in Buffalo NY.


Comments Off

Say no 2 Creed

May

31

by

Say No 2 Creed

no 2 creedSay no to Creed

1 (866) 272-7584* (pin#2080)
The 24-hour, Toll-Free NO-CREED Emergency Helpline!

Of all the abominations ever to come out of the foul state of Florida, perhaps none is as hateful and potentially dangerous as the lumbering, posturing pseudo-Christian rock band CREED. From their overwrought lyrics and downright amusical riffmanship to the constant shirtless posing and would-be-soulful moaning of frontman fansScott Stapp, this band constitutes one of the most serious threats ever unleashed by the mainstream corporate music industry on an unsuspecting public. But whether you or someone you know is afflicted by this group’s bombastic hard-rock stylings, the NO-CREED EMERGENCY HELPLINE is here to help.

  • Does your spouse play Creed records at high volumes to mask the screams when he beats you?
  • Does your son play in a Creed cover band–or, worse yet–play acoustic versions of Creed songs at open-mic nights?
  • Does your daughter scrawl the names of Creed band members onto every available space on her body using a pen, knife, or philips-head screwdriver?
  • Do you involuntarily hum Creed songs while stuck in rush hour traffic… although the radio is not even on?
  • Do you suspect a co-worker or someone else you know of being a secret Creed fan?

If you answered “Yes” to any one of these questions–or if you’re just troubled by the whole Creed phenomenon in general and would like to talk to someone about it–then call the NO-CREED EMERGENCY HELPLINE for expert, professional advice and intervention before it’s too late. From a touch-tone phone, just dial 1 (866) 272-7584, then enter then code 2080 when the recording asks for the pin number.

Call Now

* The NO-CREED Helpline is a toll-free call from anywhere within the Continental U.S. and Canada. Elsewhere, regular toll charges apply.


Comments Off

MAY: OFFSEASON HIJINKS

May

31

by

Sports Crimewatch

MAY: OFFSEASON HIJINKS

Anyone who still wonders why it is that foreigners complain that Americans don’t understand them need only look at the elaborate security preparations undertaken before this past week’s Indy 500. According to numerous news reports, security at the race was heightened “in the wake of the events of September 11,” and the city of Indianapolis even assigned a special “terrorism preparedness coordinator” named Peter Beering to make sure none of the 400,000 mullet-headed spectators hid boxcutters in their mayonnaise jars. After the race, which passed without arrests, Beering declared the event a security success. Fans apparently agreed with him; AP even quoted one patriotic race fan who raved about how fun it was to be searched. “Brett Eiler,” the agency wrote, “an airline pilot from Chicago, waited less than five minutes in line as security officials searched coolers and handbags… Searches at other large events should be so thorough and yet so quick, said Eiler, who was celebrating his 40th birthday with his wife and four friends in matching T-shirts and straw hats. ‘It was convenient, it wasn’t a hassle, it was great,’ he gushed.” Left out of all of the hullabaloo was the unanswered question: what self-respecting Arab terrorist would ever be seen at an Indy Car race? “Why the fuck would I bother with the Indy 500?” Osama bin Laden was quoted as saying by the Al-Jazzeri news service. “Who can stand to sit there for all that time watching those goddamn cars go in a circle? I’ve got enough problems…”

Authorities were not so successful, meanwhile, in preventing outbreaks of athlete violence in other areas. May is generally a slow month for athlete arrests: falling as it does between the traditionally arrest-heavy periods surrounding major league baseball spring training and the arrival of newly-rich NFL rookies at their training camps, it tends to be a time in which hardworking athletes in the NBA and the NHL carry out their season-ending quests for greatness in law-abiding dignity. Nonetheless, there are numerous subgroups of athletes who represent high May arrest risks. Chief among those are the veteran bench performers for NBA teams already eliminated from the playoffs. Knocked out for the season, hounded by fans and media for their failures, and generally pissed off over a season’s worth of unresolved playing time issues, the subs tend to find it hard to avoid jumping in the proverbial unregistered vehicle with the proverbial open container of beer.

One of the first hoopsters to get busted this year was Houston Rockets reserve forward Terence Morris, whose arrest for speeding and driving with a suspended license was in keeping with the steady downward pattern his career has followed over the years… Just a few years ago, Morris was on top of the world. After his sophomore year at Maryland, he was a first-team all-ACC player and a sure lottery pick. After his junior year, he was named to the second all-ACC team and looked like a low 20s draft steal. Senior year: honorable mention, near-certain undrafted status. Somehow he makes the Rockets and spends a year straining to get a look at the court over the afro of fellow benchmate Moochie Norris. Then, last week, with the Rockets out of the playoffs, Morris gets pulled over for doing 76 in a 60 zone; police run his license and find out that he’d failed to complete a remedial driving course in November. Sentence: $385 fine and further shame and disappointment. 76 in a 60 zone? Can’t a black man get a break in this country?

Portland Trail Blazers reserve forward Zach Randolph, meanwhile, caught the business end of another driving-while-black arrest. Shortly after being bounced from the payoffs by the superior Lakers, Randolph was pulled over by police in Marion, Indiana because his SUV “matched the description of a gang vehicle.” Police, apparently distressed at haven taken the trouble to pull over a black man only to not get an arrest out of it, decided to do a breathalizer on Randolph on the off-chance that he might score them a DUI. No luck; his blood alcohol level was less than half the legal limit of .08 percent. But give credit to the innovative Indiana police. They came up with something. Randolph, who came out for the draft early, was underage. Police arrested him for underage drinking, and the backup now faces a 6-month jail term if convicted. Incidentally, he averaged 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds last year.

No offseason would be complete, of course, without the wayward fist of the odd NFL veteran making into way into the face of his wife— or, as she is usually called by the sporting press, the “mother of his child.” With behaviorally-erratic wide receiver Terry Glenn back on medication and making nice for his new team in Green Bay, it fell to other players to pick up the domestic abuse slack this year. The first to answer the call was San Francisco 49ers center Jeremy Newberry, who was arrested after apparently striking a woman for the perfectly understandable reason that her boyfriend had untied Newberry’s Ahman Greenboat from a raft of 15 moored vessels, causing it to float away. Newberry denied the charges, however. “She didn’t like the way I was talking to her boyfriend,” Newberry said. “Then she slapped me in the side of the head. My sister said, ‘What are doing putting your hands on my brother?’ And then (Jennifer) smacked her. I wouldn’t hit a woman anyway.” Police for some reason didn’t believe the story; the investigation is continuing.

Last but not least, Glenn’s Packer teammate, running back Ahman Green, was issued a protection order for making terrorist threats against his wife. Shalynn Green told police that her husband had beaten her up twice while she was pregnant. The sports-crime cliche quotient for this story was rounded out when it was reported that “Green’s agent and attorney, as well as the Packers, did not immediately return phone calls.” While they work their stories out, the case is pending and Shalynn has custody. Look for the veterans to take it easy on police next month while the rookies flood into their dormitories at camp…


Comments Off

A BEAST PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

May

31

by

A BEAST PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
What do I do if I find an Anthrax album in my collection?
Questions and Answers

In light of the new wave of terrorist attacks sweeping our great nation, the Beast has taken time out to gather some of the information our readers might need to protect themselves in the upcoming months.The following Frequently Asked Questions, with answers, were compiled following a series of interviews we did with the Surgeon General’s Office of the United States government:

 

Q:   What should I do if I find an Anthrax album in my collection?

Beast:   The most important thing is not to touch it. It’s been determined that the best strategy in this situation is to take two other albums from your collection, say, Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” and Van Halen’s “5150,” and use them, as one might use a set of oven mitts, to handle your Anthrax album. As soon as you’re able, put all three albums in a rubberized envelope, and rush them to your local album disposal center.

 

Q:   Is there anything I can do to prevent the Columbia House Record Club from sending me more Anthrax albums?

A:   No. Until the U.S. military action is completed, all Americans should assume that Columbia House might send them an Anthrax album at any time. Various avenues for canceling memberships have been explored by our security organs, but none have proved reliable to date.

 

Q:   Is it safe to handle Beavis and Butthead’s This Album Sucks or Public Enemy’s The Enemy Strikes Black? Both albums feature Anthrax tracks.

A:   The position of the U.S. Surgeon General’s office is that any album with an Anthrax track on it is an Anthrax album. There have been no ill effects to date from the remake of “Bring Tha Noize,” but then again, this might be mainly a result of it not selling nearly as well as the archetypal crossover rap single, Run-DMC/Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

 

Q:   Did “Walk This Way” do better on the charts because it was a black band doing a white band’s song, as opposed to “Bring Tha Noize,” which was the opposite?

A:   It is the position of the U.S. government that “Bring Tha Noize” was one of the greatest rap songs of all time, but that it lost something when Anthrax’s metal accompaniment was added. “Walk This Way,” on the other hand, definitely gained something when the street sound and crisp vocals of Russell Simmons and Daryl McDaniels were added to the familiar Steven Tyler chorus.

 

Stomp 442 CoverQ:   Is there anything
I can do to protect my children from the Stomp 442 album?

A:   Yes, certainly. As with any other public health crisis, education is the key. “Stomp 442,” as most of us know by now, is the only Anthrax album that does not contain the band’s name on the cover. It features instead a giant sphere of industrial wreckage, set against a desert landscape. The cover vaguely recalls both Joe Walsh’s “The Confessor” and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” and children, particularly those in early puberty, can easily mistake it for the work of another band. Kids should be shown photos of the album in both a family setting and in the organized educational environment of school. [The Beast is republishing a photo of the album here]. Once they’re familiar with the cover, they’ll know to keep away just as they naturally do from better-known albums like “Spreading the Disease” and “Among the Living.”

 

Q:   Is Among the Living Anthrax’s tour de force album?

A:   Yes. “Among the Living” is a pioneering work in the thrash/speed metal genre. There almost isn’t a weak track on it. It’s indisputably the group’s masterpiece.

 

Q:   Are the albums from the John Bush era any less dangerous than the Joey Belladonna-era albums?

A:   There are many purists out there who do not consider the albums on which John Bush was the lead singer “real” Anthrax. But the Surgeon General’s office considers the John Bush albums to be every bit as dangerous as the albums that featured Belladonna, the original lead singer. Just because it doesn’t sound like the old Anthrax doesn’t mean it isn’t Anthrax.

 

Q:   Are my Metallica albums contaminated because Anthrax helped out the band in its early days by giving them the gift of a refrigerator?

A:   No. Metallica has been fully cleared by the Surgeon General’s office, although Reload has been found to be as carcinogenic as strawberries.

 

Q:   Will Anthrax ever find its niche?

A:   The U.S. government has studied this question and determined that, at least in the short term, there is no serious threat that Anthrax will find a true niche in American society. At its best, Anthrax was content to call itself “heavy groove-laden power-thrash with industrial undertones,” but it was obvious that the band had pretentions to the “serious metal” that eventually became the province of self-consciously ponderous bands like Metallica. But Anthrax was never quite able to pull off the “thinking man’s metal” act, even though it tried valiantly with such tracks as “Skeleton in the Closet,” a meditation on the Steven King short story Apt Pupil, and “I Am the Law,” a celebration of the comic book hero Judge Dredd. The band’s concept albums floundered; the quantum-physics-inspired Persistence of Time was undoubtedly one of the group’s low points. Meanwhile, the group was all the time ceding its original turf to the classic head-banging working-class metal bands like Megadeth and Slayer. By the mid-1990s, Anthrax was basically a curiosity, a sort of historical relic of the speed-metal era, and not a serious commercial phenomenon.

 

Q:   So the chance that I either already own or will own an Anthrax album is not very high?

A:   Relatively speaking, no. It’s possible that you bought one out of curiosity sometime in the early nineties, say just after the release of State of Euphoria, but the likelihood that you listened to that album frequently is, statistics show, very, very low. The probability that you own an Anthrax T-shirt, however, is fairly high.

 

Q:   Why?

A:   The T-shirts were much cooler than the actual band. In fact, the band might have been specifically created to justify the T-shirts.

 

Q:   What do I do if I find an Anthrax T-shirt in my home?

A:   There’s a specific procedure. You give it to your girlfriend. Usually, she ends up sleeping in it. Studies show that this is harmless.

 

Q:   If I’m over 15, should I be listening to heavy metal at all?

A:   Absolutely. Anthrax notwithstanding, heavy metal can and should be an important part of any adult’s life. It’s especially valuable as road music and as something to put on to send yourself off to work in the morning. The Surgeon General even recommends that every adult male keep at least one Iron Maiden T-shirt in his active weekend rotation until the age of 35. Studies show that this has a salutary effect on the male self-image. Just be careful and responsible, and you should be just fine.


Comments Off

ADELPHIA COLLECTIONS: VOL. 1

May

31

by

ADELPHIA COLLECTIONS: VOL. 1

It must be tough to have a job answering phones at the Adelphia corporate office in Coudersport, PA these days. Creditors from Kansas to Kuala Lumpur must be lining up to give the company a piece of their tele-minds… Curious to see what the mood is like in the town often mentioned as the inspiration for “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we decided to give a call to the Coudersport customer service line (814) 260-6848 with a complaint of our own:

Adelphia:   (matronly old woman’s voice) Adelphia. How may I help you?

BEAST:   Yes, I was wondering if you can help me. My name is Ron Goldstein. I work for Citibank. And I’m really sort of at my wits’ end. I have a problem. I played golf a couple of weeks ago with Tim Rigas at Shinnecock, in Long Island. And he borrowed a set of clubs from me, and hasn’t returned them. And all of his numbers have changed in the last few weeks. I really don’t know what to do. They won’t answer my calls at the corporate office.

Adelphia:   Well, no one’s here today except us pukes. There’s a few of us. [Eds. note: The call was made on Memorial Day.]

BEAST:   Is there any way to get a message to him? Is he still at the company?

Adelphia:   Uh…

BEAST:   They were really nice clubs. Calloway, Big Berthas. Like 900 bucks.

Adelphia:   Huh. Okay. Can I have your name, please?

BEAST:   That’s Ron Goldstein. G-O-L-D-S-T-E-I-N.

Adelphia:   Okay. And can I have a phone number to reach you?

BEAST:   Sure. It’s (gives random phone number with 212 area code.)

Adelphia:   And this is for Tim?

BEAST:   Yeah. Tim Rigas… He may not even remember the incident. But he came to the course without his clubs, and I lent mine to him. Next thing I know he’s walking out to the parking lot with them, and throwing them into his Range Rover!

Adelphia:   Gosh.

BEAST:   You know, so I chased him out into the parking lot, but he didn’t hear me as he drove off…. I mean, with the bag, it’s almost a thousand dollars.

Adelphia:   (obviously taking notes) Mmm… Okay. And he borrowed these where?

BEAST:   At Shinnecock, Long Island. You know, where they played the Open a few years ago?

Adelphia:   Shit–?

BEAST:   SHINN-e-cock.

Adelphia:   (laughing) Shin!

BEAST:   (laughing) No, not shittecock!

Adelphia:   (still laughing) That’s why I had you repeat it! Would you like to, uh, spell that for me?

BEAST:   Sure. S-H-I-N-N-E-C-O-C-K.

Adelphia:   And that’s New York, right?

BEAST:   Right. Well, Long Island. Don’t forget to write down the black-and-white checkered Ping Golf bag, too.

Adelphia:   Okay.

BEAST:   And Calloway Big Berthas. I’m sure he’s got a lot of sets, but, you know.

Adelphia:   What I’ll do is I’ll take this, and I’ll take it up to one of the secretaries upstairs, and pass along the message. See if we can get your clubs back for you. Get him to give you a call.

BEAST:   Great. Thanks very much.

Adelphia:   No problem!

BEAST:   Goodbye.

Adelphia:   Goodbye.

Hmm… Sounds like these kinds of calls come in all the time. Tune in next issue for the next installment of Adelphia Collections!


  • Archives


  • Warning: require_once(all_images/config.php) [function.require-once]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /nfs/c09/h03/mnt/134940/domains/buffalobeast.com/html/wp-content/themes/Beast/footer.php on line 28

    Fatal error: require_once() [function.require]: Failed opening required 'all_images/config.php' (include_path='.:/usr/local/php-5.3.29/share/pear') in /nfs/c09/h03/mnt/134940/domains/buffalobeast.com/html/wp-content/themes/Beast/footer.php on line 28