Killing and your food: Chicken that is stress-free?

Two chicken producers have come up with a novel idea in salesmanship.  They will start selling “stress-free” chicken in your local supermarket sometime soon, according to the New York Times.   Rather than, say, merely slit the chicken’s neck to kill it, the companies plan to incapacitate the animal with carbon dioxide gas.  Then slit its throat.

That’s a long way from my childhood experiences in a rural Kansas town.   Nowadays I and my neighbors would be considered the most brutal of our species.

Harriett, who lived next to us in town, kept chickens in a pen behind her house.  I remember many a time when this normally pleasant church-going woman would pull a squawking hen from the pen by its head.  Then winding up like an oldtime baseball player, she would swing it around and around until its head snapped off.  There Harriett stood with head in hand, watching as the rest of the chicken ran about the yard for a few seconds spurting blood before falling to the ground dead as can be.    

It was a good lesson.  At last I knew the true meaning of “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”  I never once thought about a stressed-out chicken in those days.

Nor did I think about a stressed-out fish. 

My dad taught me to skin a catfish while it was still alive.  We cut out the dorsal fin, scraped the tail and made a fine incision by the gills.  Then holding the fish’s head, we used pliers to grab the skin at the incision point and pull it off from front to tail.  Then at last we’d cut the tail off and wash it up, ready to eat.   We also scaled crappies while they were alive, holding them by the head. 

The flathead catfish were often too large, 50 pounds or more, to hold by the head and skin.  Some anglers would hang the big fish on a tree to skin it, attaching it with a big nail driven through the head.  For years you would see those skeleton heads hanging there along the river and creek banks.

I suppose if anyone was caught doing such inhumane deeds these days, we might have to answer to a higher authority.   Sent up the river, even.

There seems to be a segment of our population that does not want to think about killing our food.  Those people I suppose want not to see their nicely-wrapped store-bought chicken and fish as former living animals.  Stress-free chicken sandwiches.  Hmmmm.


The Mick and me: Lessons of a young sports writer

I met Mickey Mantle once, unfortunately.  It came to mind a few days ago while wolfing an “All Star Special” at my favorite late night breakfast spot, the Waffle House, in Tempe. 

It wasn’t the waffle or the grits that pricked the memory, though.  I was reading the usually-stodgy New York Times Book Review and came across a new book about Mantle:  “The Last Boy:  Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” by Jane Leavy. 

The reviewer, Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC anchor, wrote that “almost everyone in sport over the age of 40 has a `When I met Mickey story. . . . ”   And I certainly did.

It was about 1972, and I was a sports writer then for the Tulsa World.   I’d violated one of the cardinal rules of  journalism:  Always appear you’re feverishly at work on a big story or the editor will hand you a stupid assignment.  And I got caught that day with my hands off the keyboard. 

The sports editor, Bill Connors, was a brilliant columnist and the most organized person I’ve ever met.  But Bill wasn’t immune to shallow ideas.  And so he asked me to venture out to a celebrity golf tournament, at Rolling Hills Country Club, I think, and chat with The Mick.  I hated the assignment and I hated dealing with celebrities, or in this case a famous has-been.  Mantle had left the New York Yankees and baseball three or four years before and was on his way to becoming a fulltime drunk.  But I had little choice.  I went.

I stood on a large patio in back of the clubhouse and waited for Mantle to appear.  The scene was what I expected.  Tanned businessmen with big bellies, smoking and slipping down a few cool ones before hitting the links. Some schmoozed with jocks, like Jerry Kramer, the celebrated Green Bay Packers guard of yore.  I asked Kramer if he was a good golfer.  “No,” he said.  “I just like to hit the ball hard and watch it sail a long way.”  I watched him tee-off.  And he did drive the ball a long way, into nearby trees or not I don’t recall.

Eventually Mantle appeared on the patio with a drink in hand and I introduced myself.  I probably asked my standard cold interview question:  “Do you have a minute to talk?”  He seemed cordial enough but it soon became clear he was disinterested in an interview.  Still, he didn’t say, no, and might even have given me a glimmer of encouragement.   I didn’t want to return to the office empty-handed.  Already some copy editor was drawing up the dummy and scheduling a place for `Mantle story.’

I followed him around a bit.  I did a slow burn as he glad-handed members and ignored me.  I was young then and hadn’t got used to humiliation.  Not that I ever did.   Even years later it stung when at another celebrity golf tournament I would not only be snubbed by Willie McCovey, the one-time Giants’ star first baseman, but given a stern lecture on the etiquette of setting up interviews with him.     

So I stood back for a while and waited, watching Mantle mingle.  Still muscled, fairly trim, nice-looking guy, a man’s man, or at least a businessman’s man.   I had brushed shoulders only once before with the Mantles, having played against The Mick’s brother, Ray, in an Army baseball league at Fort Lewis, Washington.  It was Mickey’s dream, I read, to play in a Yankee outfield with the twins, Ray and Roy. But it never worked out.

Tee-time was near and I approached The Mick once more as he eased into a golf cart with one of the members.  As the cart began to move forward along a dark asphalt path, Mantle said, “Shoot,” and I began with a question I no longer remember, sort of stumbling along at the side of the moving cart, and feeling much the fool.  If I’d had any guts I would’ve slammed my notebook, told Mantle to shove it and left.

In no time the path narrowed, the cart edged me into a small stone wall and left me behind.  Mantle looked back with a devious smile.  “Is that it?” he said.  And that was it.  My one meeting with The Mick.

I’ve often thought about that incident and searched for an apt description of the look I saw on Mantle’s face as he rode off on the golf cart 40 years ago.   It wasn’t just a guy kissing off a reporter.  It was more than that.

Then just the other day I happened on to an online biography, “Mickey Mantle:  America’s Prodigal Son,” and came across a passage of how he mistreated his wife, Merlyn, in public.  Drunk, Mantle once pushed his pregnant wife to the ground in the company of other men.  The twins, Ray and Roy, were so upset they went to their mother and asked that she talk with Mickey.  Another time at a party, he pulled a chair away from Merlyn as she attempted to sit down.  At yet another party, he soaked a towel and threw it into her face.

“Merlyn,” so I read on page 147, “eventually concluded there was something sadistic in her husband’s treatment of her.” 

Sadistic.  That nails it for me.  It is the description that I sought for so long to explain the day I met Mickey Mantle.

Max Hall: So what’s the big deal?

It’s taken this long, more than a week now, and I still don’t understand the wild support and craziness that has sprouted around  the new Cardinals quarterback, rookie Max Hall.  Undrafted Max Hall.  The one who signed on for $5,000.

You look what he did in his first start against the Saints on October 10 and most sane observers would conclude Hall did not have a very good game.  Certainly nothing to build a dream on.  And looking at his performance — two fumbles, a pass interception, sacked four times and a low QB rating — you would assume the Cardinals lost.  Lost by two or three touchdowns.  You would never have guessed the truth, that the Cardinals beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints by 10 points, 30 to 20.  Not that Hall had much to do with it.

And yet this isolated desert town went nuts over Max.  Not nuts over the defense which bent and didn’t break.  Not nuts over special teams that gave the Cardinals good field position all afternoon and pushed the Saints back and back and practically out of University of Phoenix Stadium.

Forgotten too by Cardinals fans was Hall’s inability to move the offense during the fourth quarter with the game on the line.  The last three series were three downs and punt every time.  The Cardinals needed to chew time off the clock and didn’t.   And the Saints didn’t blitz the rookie that much, more interested in wrecking the running game which they did. 

The Saints bet the works that Max Hall could not beat them.  And of course he didn’t, even though said he “led the Cardinals to victory.”    Hall’s offense put up only nine of those 30 points.  You can’t really count Hall’s fumble at the 2-yard line, the one recovered by tackle Levi Brown and taken into the end zone.  Brown did not block or even touch anyone on the play, slow to react that Hall was going to scramble, just standing around and the ball literally fell into his mitts. And the whole sequence a gift of an ill-advised short pass into a crowd by Drew Brees, throwing from his end zone. 

Yet on Monday morning, the headlines called the victory a “Maximum” effort playing of course on the first syllable.  Max Hall was the lead in the game story, and columnist Dan Bickley, who had been maniacal in  promoting Hall on his radio show as the starter over Derek Anderson for weeks, gave the new starter passing marks though less enthusiastic than before.  And many fans went giddy on their azcentral online posts.  So what did I miss?

Apparently I missed the nebulous stuff.  The most prominent of this dream world enthusiasm was this.  “The team seems to play better when he’s in there.”  Hall’s uncle, Danny White, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, echoed that thought.  Some players, he said, just have that ability “to make everyone around them play better.”   Went unsaid was that perhaps some players live charmed lives and that good luck is not a bad thing to have on your side in lieu of eye-popping talent.

I also missed something else.  I missed how much Cardinals fans hated Anderson.  For many DA was actually DOA.  The villification of Derek Anderson began when he was promoted ahead of Matt Leinart, the Glamorous One and assumed quarterback of the future.  Leinart’s eventual release before regular season, infuriated many, and then when Anderson lived down to his reputation of low accuracy passing, others piled on.  The rise of Max Hall, in essence, was due to an utter rejection of DA.  Anything would look good after DA.  That was the general mood.

I will withhold judgment on Hall for a while longer.  Only a fool would say with any certainty that this 25-year-old rookie is not the next Drew Brees in a Hall-oween mask.  That despite an average arm, small size and the snub of NFL scouts, Hall can not be another roll-out marvel, a whiz that will lead the Cardinals to the playoffs again. 

The real trial begins this week in a noisy Seattle stadium.  The Max Hall debut is now on film and opponents can begin dissecting his play and see if he’s for real.  Or just a Cardinals bubble.

Losing stuff: The computer and the Bik

This has been a bad week.  Forget the fact my denture doesn’t fit properly and that the dentist seems bewildered on how to fix it.  I’ve lost stuff.  That’s the main thing. 

Losing stuff has been going on for a while.  First it was my mobile phone. Then came my pedometer, a gadget that has become as vital to me as a pace-maker is to a heart patient.   In a way I hoped the phone would stay unfound.  It’s one of those Droids.  You know, one of those phones that really isn’t a phone.  One of those phones that needs its battery juiced up every hour or so.  And, no, I’ve not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I’m not the only one.  Nebra lost a coin purse and tonight she was beside herself after losing a notebook filled with important things.  She found both in the car.  The coin purse was under the driver’s seat.  It had gone away six weeks ago, apparently unhappy being empty all the time.  But to her surprise she found $30 in it, gift I suppose of the tooth fairy’s niece.  The notebook was found wedged between the seat and console, just as I had found the phone in my own car.  The pedometer had fallen out at the dentist’s office.  I retrieved it but not before buying another, for $40, at an REI 15 miles away.

Neither is losing stuff limited to our household.  In the restroom where she works, Nebra found today a mobile phone atop one of the toilets.  It belonged to a co-worker.   To play a joke, Nebra used the phone to dial yet another co-worker who was sitting beside the co-worker whose phone was unknowingly lost.  The phone rang, the called ID appeared and the woman turned to the nearby co-worker and asked:  “Why are you calling me?”   Nebra said she had a good yuk on that one.  So there are some advantages to losing stuff.

Anyway it’s my belief that everyone is losing stuff all the time.  Losing stuff or walking into a room and forgetting why you’re there.  I do that one a lot. 

I think I know the reason.  In fact I’m sure of it.  The reason all this weird stuff is happening is computer-age caused.   We are moving too fast.  The computer has geared us to find something and move on to the next in a nana-second.  We put something down, stick it somewhere and we’re on to the next thing.  It never registers in the mind, “I set my wallet down in the cat bowl.” 

The solution of course is quite simple.  Destroy all computers.  Go back to a slower time when we actually reflect about stuff.  The computer has ruined everything.  You see it now in our sound-bite news coverage of political campaigns.  I want to go back to the ol’ days.  Where is the trusty Bic when I need it?   Oh, yeh.  I forgot.  I lost that too.

Darwin and a fantasy of the trapped Chilean miners

So the trapped miners of Chile are soon to be rescued.  Possibly by this weekend.  And that, in a perverted and calloused way I admit, makes me disappointed.  I wanted to toy with their lives, leave them down there in the abyss a while longer, to see who is the strongest.  It’s something akin to Fantasy Football.   Call it Fantasy Survival of the Fittest after Davwin’s evolutionary theory.

Would the strongest be a young, simple-minded man?  Would it be an older intelligent miner?  Or would it be something in between, far more complicated?   I wanted to see it play out, not that I wish bad on any of the 33.

This idea of a fantasy tragedy germinated from a book I finished reading last June.  It’s Charles Darwin’s “The Vogyage of the Beagle,” an account of his scientific journey around the world, 1831-1836.  “Voyage” is a great read, an adventure of a young man, his study of plants, animals and geology and how it formed his later books, “The Origin of the Species” and “The Descent of Man,” books that changed our world. 

So, when I first read on August 22 that the miners had been found alive in a “safe-house” more than 2,000 feet of hard rock beneath the ground, my mind shot back immediately to “Voyage.”   The trapped 33 are in the San Jose gold and copper mine, about 40 miles north of Copiapo, Chile.   Darwin had himself visited Copiapo in June and July of 1836 and had inspected mines to the south.  So I rushed to my paperback copy of “Voyage” to see if perhaps he had indeed passed by the San Jose mine.

Darwin had come to Copiapo by horseback from Valparaiso via Coquimbo, stopping along the harsh landscape to survey the land and some of its mines .  It was off the Pacific coast near Copiapo that the Beagle would pick up Darwin, and the ship would sail for Peru.  At one of his mine stops south of Copiapo, Darwin ran into the amazing “Apires,” ancestors perhaps of the Trapped 33.

The apire were human beasts of burden, hauling out huge loads of ore from the depths.  Average loads were 200 pounds, Darwin wrote, and some as much as 300 pounds.  From page 294:

At this time the apires were bringing up the usual load twelve times in the day; that is 2400 pounds from eighty yards deep; and they were employed in the intervals in breaking and picking ore.”

Darwin found the men not only healthy but strangely cheerful.

“Their bodies are not very muscular.  They rarely eat meat once a week . . . . Although with a  knowledge that the labor was voluntary, it was nevertheless quite revolting to see the state at which they reach the mouth of the mine; their bodies bent forward, leaning with their arms on the steps, their legs bowed, their muscles quivering, the perspiration streaming from their faces over their breasts, their nostrils distended, the corners of their mouth forcibly drawn back and the expulsion of their breath most laborious.  Each time they draw their breath, they utter an articulate cry of `ay-ay,’ which ends in a sound rising deep in the chest, but shrill like the note of a fife.  After staggering to the pile of ore, they emptied the `carpacho,’ in two or three seconds recovering their breath, they wiped the sweat from their brow, and apparently quite fresh descended the mine again at a quick pace.  This appears to me a wonderful instance of the amount of labor which habit . . . will enable a man to endure.”

Magnificent specimens, these apire.  All I wanted to see in my fantasy was their 33 spiritual descendants put to a test down there in the depths.  I suspect, given the history of miners in this inhospitable region, all of these miners would have done fine each in his own way.  

Perhaps these modern-day miners were no different from the ones Darwin found in the unpleasant town of Copiapo 174 years ago. 

“Every one seems bent on one object of making money, and then migrating as quickly as possible.  All the inhabitants are more or less directly concerned with mines, and mines and ores are the sole subject of conversation.”  

As for Darwin, he did not go north, did not visit the San Jose mine or its neighbors.  Instead he hired a guide and eight mules and traveled east up into the cordillera, the Andes, to observe ancient Indian ruins like the ones in Uspallata Pass.    And then he left, never to return in physical form.  Yet his accepted evolutionary theories carry on, and the survival of the most fit is at the core. 

Alas, I must face the inevitable.  The 33 trapped miners will soon be on ground again to face a new kind of hell, that of taking their experiences below back into normal life above.  I awake from my fantasy and sincerely wish the best for all the trapped miners.

Scapegoats and story lines

Something is seriously amiss with the Cardinals.  I don’t mean their on-field play.  That certainly is bad enough.  I’m talking about the organization, from ownership on down.  I smell “the old Cardinals” again.   Apparently not even the new stadium, now in its fifth year, can erase the DNA.  Does the smell of penury linger in the desert air?

You can start with the jettison of Matt Leinart, supposedly destined to be the quarterback this season and an adequate replacement during this period of transition for the departed star, Kurt Warner.  His release one week before the start of regular season was, to many, a shocker.  He had big money coming to him in 2011.  Leinart’s departure left the first real cloud of uncertainty over the organization.  Leinart was left in the dark, saying only his demotion and departure had nothing to do with football.  He and the head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, had obviously little communication.

Then take the growing puzzle over Beanie Wells, the running  back and No. 1 draft choice last year.  Here, we are well into his second season and he has yet to start a game.  There seems little question Wells has much more talent than the current starter, Tim Hightower.  Finally this week a frustrated Beanie finally exploded, saying his predicament is “crazy,” and saying he has no idea why he is not a big part of the Cardinals game plan.  Again, little communication between Whisenhunt and player.  Could it be that Beanie would receive huge incentive money this season for starting an x-number of games or having so many rushing attempts?  

Perhaps it all started with Mike Gandy, last season’s starting left tackle, the offensive line’s highest paid player and the one most responsible for protecting Warner’s backside.  Think the biographical film, “Blind Side,” and Michael Oher.  In January, Gandy’s contract came up for renewal. reported the team might be interested in doing another contract “but will let him walk if he asks for too much money.”    Gandy did not sign, and the Cardinals line has suffered mightily during the first four games.

Another seemingly tell-tale sign lies with Whisenhunt himself.  This is the second year in a row there has been no offensive coordinator.  One can argue no coordinator was needed for Warner.  He was for practical purposes the coordinator of the offense.  But with Leinart out of the picture and a new starting quarterback in the suspect Derek Anderson, this of all years would be the time to bring on a new coordinator.  Is it Whisenhunt’s need for control of the offense?  Or is it money, a budget problem?

And then you wonder about the loss of two stars, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and linebacker Karlos Dansby.  That the team was unable or unwilling to bring on capable backups is another point that begs an answer. 

Although the Cardinals are 1-0 in the NFC-West and 2-2 overall, it’s looking less and less doubtful that they can reclaim their division title.  The 0-4 San Francisco 49ers and the San Bradford-led St. Louis Rams could still pose problems.  At the moment the Cardinals appear a bad team, going nowhere.  Perhaps a change in quarterback, to Max Hall, will make a difference soon.  Maybe even this week at home with reigning Super Bowl champ New Orleans. But . . . .

There is no way a viable NFL organization can enter a season with such a dithering mess at its most visible position.  There is no way the Cardinals should have ended up with Derek Anderson and two rookies playing behind him.  Hall, an undrafted free agent, may turn out to be the next Joe Montana, or even Alex Smith.  Who knows at this point?  The point is this.  There was no backup plan in place once Leinart was giving his walking orders.

Are the owners, the Bidwills, toying unnecessarily with the purse strings again?   Are they strapped for liquidity even as the so-called Great Recession slowly comes out of it?  Are they needing additional funds to sink into their real estate holding around the stadium in Westgate?  Are they trying to prepare in some way for an anticipated labor dispute with players in 2011?    Whatever, I’d bet neither Whisenhunt nor the general manager, Rod Graves, has much control of the situation.

The smell of money issues runs thick.

The Diamondbacks: Slouching toward Pittsburgh

Many empty seats for Dodgers game.

Another dreary season wound down yesterday in LA for the arid lands’ baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.  On paper it was not nearly as bad as the 2004 version which lost 111 games of 162.  It just seemed as bad.  This was like one of those long extra-inning games where most of the crowd leaves after the 12th and the ones who stayed wish they’d left.  Ninety-seven losses, 27 games behind the division champ San Francisco, a record of futility only the Pirates of Pittsburgh with 105 discredits could love.

Masochist that I am, I did attend the last home series at Chase Field, also against the Dodgers.  It was a Saturday night, September 25, the next to last game of the series, and I had ridden the light rail down with a horde of ASU football fans on their way farther east to catch the game with No. 5 Oregon.  I was hoping to find a bright moment at the ballpark.  To my surprise I discovered a few, apparently so absorbed that in the unexpected I missed seeing the roof opened in the mid-game.  

One surprise, the Dbacks won, 5-2, this their 63rd victory assuring them of the ignoble milestone of less than 100 losses for the season.

Daniel Hudson, a bright spot amid the dross.

Two, I got to see for the first time live the team’s cornerstone pitcher, Daniel Hudson, who arrived in a mid-summer trade for Edwin Jackson and was every bit the whiz we were told he would be.   The same Edwin Jackson, by the way,  who provided a highlight moment on June 25, struggling via seven walks and 149 pitches to reap a no-hitter on the road at Tampa Bay.  On this night, Hudson did almost as well, allowing only one hit into the ninth inning.  And, due to minor injury, it would be his last game of the season.

Three, and I don’t know how they pulled it off, I was part of the announced crowd of 20-some thousand who cracked the 2 million mark for tickets sold.  I estimated the actual attendance, the turnstile count, at less than 15,000.  I can recall times not long ago when a Dodgers game would sellout. 

Four, I couldn’t believe the Dbacks fans were still competitive.  But they were and started chanting down a strong contingent of Dodgers voices, “Beat LA, Beat LA . . . .”

The bad thing was I paid $45 for a ticket along the left field line, 38 rows up, to watch what was little more than a minor league game.   I saw the lineup board early.  Abreu, 3b.  Hester, c.  Allen, lf.  Gillespie, rf.  All youngsters who may not even be in the majors next season.  For the mediocre Dodgers it was the same, giving some kids a cup of coffee in The Show.  But I was glad I stuck around.

Dodgers 2011 manager Don Mattingly (left) and retiring 2010 manager Joe Torre.

There was some nostalgia.  I got to see Joe Torre in his last season as Dodgers manager, maybe his last season, period, before he enters the Hall of Fame.  I had to search and look fast, though.  He left the dugout for long stretches early in the game.  Other times he sat almost hidden passing along signals I supposed to his coaches as this meaningless game sped along. 

Another of the season’s highlights was long gone.  Boy Wonder Josh Byrnes, the GM who all but wrecked the team with bad trades and depleted its once-glowing list of minor league prospects, was fired on July 1, along with the affable but uninspiring  manager, A. J. Hinch.

Prospects for next year are unknown.  An experienced GM in Kevin Towers slides in on a two-year deal and may hire the interim manager, Kirk Gibson, whose sole job this season was to put this wreck of a team through “tryouts” to see if there are any winners in town.  

Towers has a tough work ahead.  The team needs another starter, a revamp of relief pitchers, the addition of a closer, and a couple of more bats to go with some standout individual performers.  The shortstop, Stephen Drew, seems to have finally arrived and center fielder Chris Young rebounded mightily from a sorry 2009.  And two newcomers, second baseman Kelly Johnson and first baseman Adam LaRoche, played very well.  Johnson led the team in hitting with a .284 average and hit 26 home runs.  LaRoche was tops in RBI with a 100 and pounded out 25 home runs with one of the most beautiful swings you’ll ever see.   But there were disappointments as well.

2011 Manager to be, Kirk Gibson, returning from one of his too-many visits to the mound.

The young super-talent in right field, Justin Upton, missed almost 30 games with injuries and remains as he was last year, “a potential superstar.”   He has an edge to his game, and although the organization promoted s section in the right field bleachers in his honor, UpTown, there is little rapport with the fans out there.

As I left the ballpark I passed a scintillating colored poster along the lower concourse.  It was the only appearance for Mark Reynolds that evening.  He was injured and didn’t play.  But how fitting, I thought, stopping to shoot a photo.  If there is a poster-child of this Dbacks season, it is Reynolds, the power-hitting third baseman. 

2010 poster-child Mark Reynolds's only appearance.

Reynolds’s under-achieving play was THE disappointment for me, that and the colossal failures of the bullpen early in the season, before things got out of hand by the end of May.  Reynolds struck out more than 200 times again this season and his electric home run power fizzled out after mid-season.  And worse yet, his batting average sank and sank until he finished at .198, a hell very few players with 500 at-bats descend into and still stay in the big leagues.  Whether he’ll be back next year is unknown.  Strangely, it was he and Upton that signed huge contracts at the start of the season.

I do not have much faith at all in the future.  The owners, headed by Ken Kendrick, have blundered about with their hires and do not seem committed to winning, only to put a respectable team on the field.  Which they have not done now since 2008.  More and more this team looks like the Pirates, destined to go nowhere anytime soon.