July 30, 2013
Questions about firearms? Ask Professor
note: This column (published Sunday in the Portsmouth, N.H.,
Herald and online) has provoked strong negative reaction,
much of it from readers calling me a "racist,"
"moron" and "asshole." (Also, my favorite,
"an angry, unhappy little man" with obvious "daddy
Due to some recent confusion about when it is OK to shoot
someone, today we check in with noted firearms advice columnist
Professor Gunn, who generously agreed to answer a few questions
Dear Professor Gunn,
For a good while now I've been itching to shoot a fellow
human being, but I'm a little worried that our judicial
system might send me to jail. What should I do?
George Z., Main Street
Continue reading "Questions about firearms? Ask Professor Gunn" »
9:21 AM | Permalink
July 1, 2013
Independence Day: What would Founding Fathers
The Fourth of July isn't till Thursday, but there sure
were some fireworks this week illuminating vital American
issues of immigration, the right to vote and the ability
to pursue happiness by marrying the person you love.
The Supreme Court fires a rocket into the Voting Rights
Act. Ooh! Then sparks celebrations, and tantrums, with its
vote on gay marriage. Aah! The Senate blazes forward on
immigration reform, igniting opponents in our horribly dysfunctional
House. Ooh! Aah!
I'm hoping these political pyrotechnics provide a high-voltage
jolt to a democracy badly in need of one as well
as to we the citizens who supposedly run the show.
We are a people suffering a blinding hangover from out-of-control
parties and I don't mean the fun kind.
Continue reading "Independence Day: What would Founding Fathers say?" »
12:49 PM | Permalink
June 23, 2013
Ode to Portsmouth: Paradise by the Piscataqua
PORTSMOUTH Seriously, Chicago Tribune travel writer
Portsmouth is that perfect? "So ideal that I ache,
I envy and I curse my childhood for not including your idyllic
In case you haven't heard, "perfect" Portsmouth
got a poetic pat on the posterior last week from a Windy
City travel columnist who blew in for a quick visit and
discovered a charming, brick-lined paradise where the only
litter is dollar bills and homeless people dine on free
The breathless opening of his
Port City paean mimicked, then quoted above
has inspired considerable fresh-roasted coffee talk
about whether his overly effusive tone and whimsical sentimentality
included at least a modicum of gentle mockery.
Continue reading "Ode to Portsmouth: Paradise by the Piscataqua" »
12:37 PM | Permalink
June 16, 2013
Father's advice to son was 'write stuff'
What's that, chum? Father's Day kind of snuck
up on you again. Well, no need to panic. Heartfelt gifts
for Dad can be found just about anywhere from Walmart
to the corner Pump 'n' Pay. These last-second surprises
are sure to let Dad know exactly how much you care:
Tube socks: Dad'll feel like a million bucks in these buck-ninety-nine
($1.99) beauties each emblazoned with the three horizontal
"racing stripes" that say "he's the man."
Tie: Wait'll the boys at the office get a load of Dad in
this swell corporate-looking necktie fashioned from
durable, non-flame-retardant polyester.
Coffee mug: His eyes'll twinkle like they did on the day
you were born when he sees this one-of-a-kind "World's
Greatest Dad" mug.
Pack of smokes: This one's a no-brainer if Pop's a smoker.
Sure they're unhealthy; but hey, who cares what that bossy
Surgeon General says. Dad'll love how the intoxicating blend
of tar and nicotine makes him feel manly and super cool.
Slippers: Comfort is important to hard-working dads in
their leisure time and these lightweight Taiwanese "mock-asins"
are perfect for kicking back in the La-Z-Boy. (Newspaper
Can of mixed nuts: These generic morsels pack a party in
every can. Coupled with a Post-It note reading "I'm
nuts about Dad," this item helps you express the true
meaning of Father's Day.
Roll of duct tape: Perfect for household projects or Homeland
Security preparedness, this space-age super-product will
help Dad feel like the ultimate handy man.
Greeting card: Though it actually requires some thought,
devoted offspring often like to compose a personalized message
for Dad on his special day (example: "You're a champ,
Pops!"), while creative types may add a "heart"
symbol to underscore their affection.
Lighter: Give Dad the ability to make fire with just the
flick of his thumb. He'll be so grateful, he'll bust out
the T-bones and fire up the grill instant barbecue!
* * *
Of course, I am kidding just having a little fun
with the idea that dumb Father's Day gifts are one of those
oddball American traditions.
My dad died a few days before Christmas in 2005. And, boy,
did he love to laugh. He also, as parents do, possessed
profound insight into the lives of his children.
Continue reading "Father's advice to son was 'write stuff'" »
1:01 PM | Permalink
June 3, 2013
Local warming comes with a warning: Sun may
Yes, the official start of summer is a little ways off.
But we all know that when the calendar hits June, summer
can strike at any moment.
And I think the heat may already be getting to me because
I'm supposed to be writing something on deadline, but I
can't seem to stop gazing out the window.
The sun is shining. Birds and bees are chirping and buzzing.
And we're all wearing, on average, 1.7 pounds less clothing
than this time last week.
For the human species, summer signals a return to those
warm-weather passions like going to the beach, bobbing around
on boats and grilling up heaps of juicy, charred animal
Yes, hail to the sun. O, benevolent provider of Vitamin
D. It nourishes and sustains all life, and just basking
in its rays can make you feel sky high.
But, beware, because this evil yellow blob of hydrogen
and helium can also put you in the ground.
Continue reading "Local warming comes with a warning: Sun may cause fun" »
9:24 AM | Permalink
May 26, 2013
Happy Birthday to URL: World Wide Web turns
out the e-candles and virtual cake ...; the Internet has
Created either by brilliant scientists
or by God himself, depending on your political beliefs,
the Internet has given us countless spectacular advances
in the way we live and avoid living our lives.
Don't worry about buying a gift. Because, really, what
do you get for the all-pervasive global system of interconnected
computer networks that has, literally, everything?
Back then it was known as the World Wide Web or the Information
I began writing about the Internet back when it was just
a toddler. And I have to admit I was highly skeptical and
a smidge cynical about this new sci-fi reality called Cyberspace.
"Some say Cyberspace is humanity's next great frontier.
Others say it's South Berwick," said me, back in 1998.
Continue reading "Happy Birthday to URL: World Wide Web turns 20" »
9:14 AM | Permalink
May 21, 2013
Bicycle commute right in my wheelhouse
By John Breneman
Finally rode my bike to work on Thursday just a
man and his trusty iron steed.
We're a couple of old-timers, he and I. Combined age: 84.
He's about 33, so that makes me what, 29ish? And though
I am pretty sure we weren't the oldest man-cycle combo to
saddle up for Bike to Work Week, my vintage Peugeot mountain
bike could've been a contender for creakiest contraption
on the mean streets of Portsmouth and Newington that day.
least the creaks, rasps and groans emanating mostly from
the crank case drowned out the softer sound of my own knees
grinding (though fortunately not yet "bone on bone"
as my mom is quick to inquire).
Ever since I ditched my Boston commute to join what is
pound-for-pound one of the finest media organizations in
the entire Fourth Estate, I've been periodically flapping
my gums about riding my bike to work ... one of these days.
Experts say cutting the distance one must travel to "bring
home the bacon" has a direct therapeutic impact on
one's mental and physical well-being, with additional benefits
for the psyche, super ego and soul.
The same is true of bicycling. Good for the heart and lungs,
digestion, complexion, muscle tone and, of course, the pancreas.
And it significantly reduces the risk of a range of maladies
including but not limited to rickets, shingles and premature
withering. (Sadly, reports of a more robust and satisfying
sex life remain unconfirmed.)
When I worked in Boston, a bicycle commute just didn't
seem feasible. Sure, I could've rolled down I-95 to 128,
jumped on I-93 south, zipped across the Zakim Bridge and
made it to the newsroom just in time for ...; the end of
But I was eager to escape the Beantown rat race. (Don't
get me started on Massachusetts driving. Horns and hand
gestures, angry faces on blithering idiots, close calls
with the clueless. Ah, those weren't the days ...)
Now, from my humble homestead in downtown Portsmouth, the
drive to my post at Pease International Tradeport is a mere
8 to 10 minutes, meaning there are few excuses not to make
the commute by cycle.
My discovery that this would be Bike/Walk to Work Week
set in motion a date with two-wheeled destiny a knobby-tired,
no-petroleum day of car-free karma.
So Thursday was the big day ... to make my carbon footprint
small. Part of the thrill of the round-trip from Market
Square to Pease and back is the presence of a very special
pedestrian bridge right off Woodbury Avenue that allows
walkers and two-wheelers to safely traverse the highway
right at the traffic circle.
The bridge was erected around 1999, back when money could
still be spent for the public good long before a
bunch of powerful jerks decided that investments in stupid
stuff like education and human health was anti-American.
Thanks to this awesome little bridge (find details on it
and other local cycling information at seacoastbikes.org)
we two-wheeled types can steer clear of the highway.
Of course, I was hoping to see some wildlife. I've spotted
deer and turkeys at Pease while driving my horseless carriage.
So, surely freed from the confines of my 2006 Honda
Metal Box I would spy a couple flocks of federally
protected bald eagles, maybe a beaver or a porcupine. This
is a rich habitat for birds but, truth be told, I probably
wouldn't know an upland sandpiper from a pied-billed grebe.
I took it casual and made it to work in about 22 minutes.
Felt super all day long and I highly recommend the experience
For those who'd like to try it but fear you may have forgotten
how to ride a bike, it is, as the saying goes, "like
riding a bike."
First, use a damp cloth to wipe most of the cobwebs from
your vehicle. Next, pray that the tires have enough air.
(They won't, so add some. Don't worry about mixing 1994
air with 2013 air. And if you don't have any air at your
house, you can usually buy some for 50 cents at a gas station.)
Third, grasp your "handlebars" and assume the
position. Once aboard the velocipede shove off, old
sport. Place your feet on the "pedals" and begin
moving them in a circular-type motion.
This should cause the bicycle to begin moving. Do not panic.
Instead calmly utilize the handlebars to steer yourself
in the desired direction, harnessing your innate sense of
balance to avoid tumbling onto the pavement and cracking
open your face and/or skull.
Contrary to the example set by cycling legend Lance Armstrong,
it is not necessary to gobble down fistfuls of steroids
or to siphon off your own blood and replace it with higher-octane
For additional tips on bicycling, check out my new worst-sellers
"Road Rash: Friend or Foe" and "Does This
Spandex Make My Butt Look Ridiculous?"
(Bonus points for anyone who rides my childhood dream bike
a green Schwinn Sting-Ray with a banana seat, slick
rear tire and five-speed stick!)
On the ride home, I opted for a quicker pace and made it
back to Market Square in just 15 minutes. Enhancing my exhilaration,
just as I was leaving Pease, a rambunctious jackrabbit bounded
across my path, just feet from my front tire. (Wildlife
Now I'm not the best spokesman for the spoke-wheeled commute
not looking to proselytize the pedal-powered experience.
But if biking to work sounds like fun, my advice is do it.
And let neither crunchy knees nor creaky derailleurs derail
John Breneman, a Herald copy editor and columnist, can
be reached at email@example.com (Twitter: @MrBreneman).
Here's the link to my Sunday
column at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald.
3:59 PM | Permalink
May 12, 2013
The mother of all Mother's Days
By John Breneman
Hey, it's Mother's Day. And, like any grown son, I am determined
to do whatever it takes to let my mom know how much she
means to me.
After all, over the last half-century, she has put up with
a lot from her first-born pranks, wisecracks, tantrums
on topics ranging from lima beans (but I hate them) to high-top
sneakers (pleeeaase) as she gracefully guided my
metamorphosis from cranky baby to cranky man. (Look how
beautiful she is in the photo above, posing with yours truly
sporting my favorite Sunday bonnet.)
But enough talk. Let's get to it.
Consistently voted one of the top mothers on the planet
by an independent panel of people to whom she has given
birth, my mom awakens to the intoxicating aroma of the finest
Turkish coffee in all of Portsmouth.
The menu for my custom "breakfast in bed" Extreme
Mother's Day amenity features a dizzying array of culinary
delicacies, including but not limited to French toast imported
from Paris, her beloved lobster mac and cheese, and a mimosa
made with hand-squeezed oranges from the finest Hannaford's
in the land.
Maybe even a pound of eels harvested in Hampton. You probably
heard these little buggers go for as much as $3,000 a pound
in parts of Asia. They sure must be delicious.
Now I know poaching eels is, as they say, eel-legal. But
I figure a real son ought to be able to handle a short jail
term to treat his mom to the mother of all Mother's Days.
On second thought, scratch the eels. And while we're at
it, let's say "no" to the escargot.
But the abnormally large fresh raspberries are served with
a fondue medley featuring melted brown gold from the state-of-the-art
Lindt & Sprungli chocolate factory.
Of course, there will be flowers. But not just the kind
that grow in the dirt and smell pretty. Every mom gets those.
I'm busting out a bouquet hand-blown by Dale Chihuly, the
legendary glass artist whose work she enjoys.
After Leonard Cohen wraps up his personal mini-concert
in her living room, I whisk my mom aboard a hired chopper
for the quick flight down to New York, where we will enjoy
VIP seating at a Broadway play I have written and staged
recounting her remarkable life. (Vanity Fair: "Helen
Mirren is mesmerizing!")
From there, we'll luxuriate in the stretch limo I've hired
to roll up at her choice of Manhattan hotspots the
Gramercy Tavern, Trump's Diner or Forkie's Charcuterie.
Her spa treatment at Ohm is nothing fancy just a
typical full-body avocado immersion bath and hot-gemstone
massage with the usual assortment of brick oven-warmed diamonds,
emeralds and rubies.
While in New York, we visit United Nations headquarters,
where our impassioned plea for world peace a two-person
interpretive drama featuring the elements of modern dance,
opera, hiphop and Kung Fu brought the ambassadors
of East Korea and Malawi to tears.
I don't know if we'll have time to squeeze in tea (and
sweet-buttered marmalade scones) with Hillary Clinton and
Maya Angelou, but I hope so.
From there we skip, hand in hand, to my rented Gulfstream
luxury jet for a quick jaunt to Africa to fulfill my mother's
lifelong dream of frolicking with the meerkats. (Or was
it the dolphins?)
After quick stops at the Pyramids and the Great Wall, we
soar up to Kennebunkport where former president George H.W.
Bush has promised us a ride on one of his cigarette boats.
Swell guy, that Bush.
From there, we submarine it down the coast, up the Piscataqua
and back to Portsmouth. (What, you forgot to rent your mom
a private, submersible watercraft? Mmm.)
Now my mom is not particularly fond of heights so we err
on the side of NOT tandem bungee jumping off the I-95 bridge.
Back home, it is the perfect time to unveil my two-hour
documentary about her remarkable life as a wife, mother
and children's store entrepreneur.
Titled simply "Jill," and narrated of course
by Robert Redford and Jon Hamm, it traces her life story
from her idyllic childhood in Crafton, Pa., to her epic
pilgrimage to York, Maine, and then on to Portsmouth. The
piece concludes with never-before-seen footage of her high
school graduation the most emotionally evocative
piece of film I have ever seen.
So, as you have probably already surmised, the above itinerary
has been slightly exaggerated. (But G. Willikers! It's her
fault really, and my dad's, for sticking me with somewhat
of a wild imagination.)
Though my mom might enjoy a whirlwind, multi-state Mom
Day tour de force, I suspect she would rather spend Mother's
Day what she calls the "traditional" way.
That means working at the family business with her daughter,
then zipping across town to see her daughter's daughter
(my niece if you do the math) in the internationally acclaimed
Portsmouth High School production of "Hansel and Gretel."
(Vanity Fair: "Zoe Sprankle is mesmerizing!")
Hollywood ending: During the standing ovation as
the entire theater echoes with applause, pride and joy
I hug my mom and tell her that I love her. Happy Mother's
-- 30 --
* This column appeared in the Sunday, May 12, 2013, Portsmouth
10:03 PM | Permalink
May 5, 2013
Is Sen. Ayotte representing N.H. or
By John Breneman
I swear to God, the Senate's infuriating decision to reject
expanded background checks for firearms' purchases despite
90 percent public approval is making me want to shoot (calm
down) my mouth off on this most divisive and vitally
if more evidence was needed that guns can be extremely harmful,
now poor Sen. Kelly Ayotte has shot herself in the foot
trying to prove what a hard-core Republican she is.
I'm sorry, but I don't know what else you call it. She
apparently analyzed the political landscape in the aftermath
of the Newtown massacre (and all those before it, next one
coming soon), absorbed the data that 90 percent of the public
wanted background checks ... and then voted against the
people who elected her.
And since doing so she's been all over the national news.
You've probably seen some headlines and poll numbers. "Ayotte
approval rating plunges 15 percent." "Newtown
victim's daughter confronts Ayotte at town hall event."
"Ayotte's calculated allegiance to extreme right is
wrong for N.H."
Actually, that last one is just my humble opinion.
Look, Kelly Ayotte is from New Hampshire so she's got that
going for her. I'd much rather like her than have to write
about how she's blowing it. I'm thinking maybe she's just
been getting some bad advice.
Flash back to the Republican National Convention last August.
As part of the payoff for buddying up with John McCain and
Lindsey Graham, Republican "rising star" Ayotte
was awarded a nice speaking spot.
Sadly, her most memorable line was pure political dreck.
"President Obama has never even run a lemonade stand
and it shows."
Really? The bush-league lemonade stand quip leaves a sour
taste as one of the least original lines ever (Louisiana
Gov. Bobby Jindal used it last May and RNC Chairman Reince
Priebus about a week later).
Coincidentally, one of the men whose approval she was courting
GOP nominee Mitt Romney also had never run
a lemonade stand. However, records show he did liquidate
several lemonade operations and issued pink slips to their
Ayotte's vote and subsequent blowback provides a new window
into the long-held Republican strategy of making sure absolutely
nothing gets accomplished under President Obama his
opponents have not disguised the fact that they would rather
deny the president any political victories than do their
jobs working for the American people.
This strategy is reprehensible to me.
However, there are examples of Republicans working for
the public good. One is Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who teamed
up with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to craft the compromise
background-check legislation known as the Manchin-Toomey
Sen. Toomey, whose approval numbers have risen in the wake
of his advocacy for this modest gun safety measure, shared
his view of Republican motives after the bill failed to
pass the Senate.
"In the end it didn't pass because we're so politicized,"
he said. "There were some on my side who did not want
to be seen helping the president do something he wanted
to get done, just because the president wanted to do it."
Sen. Ayotte's explanation on why she voted against the
bill, against 90 percent of the populace, defies credulity.
Confronted at a town hall event by a man who said he had
read her four-page explanation of the vote and still did
not understand, Ayotte said, "In terms of a universal
background check, as it's been framed, I have a lot of concerns
of that leading to a registry that will create a privacy
situation for lawful firearms owners."
Kelly Ayotte knows that is bull. She knows that, in an
attempt to achieve compromise, Manchin and Toomey specifically
ban the creation of a federal registry and establish harsh
penalties for doing so. And her attempt to snooker New Hampshire
voters with the far right's "federal registry"
talking point was positively cringe-inducing.
Sen. Ayotte's real answer to the gentleman's simple question
"What's wrong with universal background checks?"
is this: "Powerful people whose money and support
I believe I need do not want background checks or any gun-safety
measures, and their support is more important to me than
working to create a safer world."
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association holds its annual
meeting this weekend in Houston and the "cold
dead hands" people are, uh, bringing out the big guns.
Ted Cruz. Rick Perry. Bobby Jindal. Rick Santorum. Glenn
And, of course, Sarah Palin. (Remember when she featured
Rep. Gabby Giffords and other Democrats on a hit list and
mapped their districts with bull's-eyes? That was before
Giffords was shot in January 2011.)
But the speeches part of what's being billed as
a "Stand and Fight" rally are all a prelude
to the keynote hater. Bullet-brained rock star Ted Nugent.
Back in 2007, Nugent was quoted as saying, "Barack
Obama, he's a piece of (dung). I told him to suck on my
machine gun" and telling Hillary Clinton, while brandishing
two machine guns onstage, "You might want to ride one
of these into the sunset you worthless (witch)."
Yes, that is the man the NRA has chosen to make the big
speech on the closing day of its big convention.
As I said before, I really want to like Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
But first I'm afraid she'll have to chose another path
than rolling with the Ted Nugent wing of the Republican
-- 30 --
* This column appeared in the Sunday, May 5, 2013, Portsmouth
Follow on Twitter: @MrBreneman
the human race over the arms race
(Dec. 30, 2102, commentary on Newtown)
9:10 AM | Permalink
December 19, 2012
Your holiday horoscope
Have you got all your shopping done? Cards mailed? Packages
shipped? Menus planned? Tree trimmed? Halls decked?
Celebrating the birth of Jesus is truly a joyous time.
But the buildup to the birthday bash can also bring stress.
What with all the bells and candy canes and tinsel and gingerbread
men and pine needles and nutcrackers and fruitcakes and
ribbons and little drummer boys and frankincense and geese-a-laying
and mangers and reindeer and sugar plums and elves and figgy
pudding and mistletoe and singing chipmunks and consumerism
Have you got the Christmas spirit yet? I thought I had
it a couple days ago, but turns out it might have been just
a head cold.
So now with the winter solstice nearly upon us, unseen
celestial forces have inspired me to put together a holiday
horoscope to help celebrate the birth of our savior (who
apparently was a Capricorn) during that special time of
year when Jupiter aligns with the North Star in the House
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Consult key family
members before spending 30 percent of your net worth on
"holiday bargains." Good day to fill your spiritual
void with ribbon candy. Tis the season for identity theft.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Temporarily suppressing
your fears about man's inherent capacity for evil helps
make the holidays more joyful. Avoid truthfulness when talking
to young children about Santa Claus. Have another eggnog.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Beware unrealistic promises
made by an obese bearded man wearing red. Paying more than
$99 for a candy cane could prove fiscally unsound. Lift
your spirits by donning some gay apparel.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20): Dashing through the snow
in a one-horse open sleigh could exacerbate an old injury.
Beware Jack Frost nipping at your wallet. Myrrh may be hazardous
to your health.
Aries (March 21-April 19): Wise bargain hunters
may find five golden rings for the price of four. Buying
a Red Ryder BB gun helps ease your emotional pain. Be joyful
and triumphant at dusk.
Taurus (April 20-May 20): Opt for a mundane evening
at home over a three-state shopping spree. Good night to
nestle the children all snug in their beds. Keep tinsel
out of the reach of infants.
Gemini (May 21-June 20): If the weather outside
is frightful, sitting by an indoor fire may prove delightful.
However, shouting "Ho, ho, ho!" could spoil an
intimate moment. Don't lose your mittens.
Cancer (June 21-July 22): It's lovely weather for
a sleigh ride together with a loved one. But be sure to
exercise caution when traveling over the river and through
the woods. Too much mulled cider may cause visions of sugar
Leo (July 23-Aug. 22): Question the motives of anyone
sporting a button nose and two eyes made out of coal. A
quiet evening with a corn-cob pipe could bring revelations.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Making an obscene gesture
in a crowded mall parking lot could lead to an unwanted
gunshot wound. Reassess your holiday preparedness with special
focus on yuletide logistics. Avoid chimneys.
Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): An unexpected moment of
serenity is dashed by a TV commercial imploring you to buy
a piccolo. Don't let reason cloud your judgment on matters
involving elves. Stock up on frankincense
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Don't let a loved one's
hints about "the perfect gift" distract you from
getting him or her a Walmart certificate. Limit contact
with acquaintances who say they will be there "with
bells on." Be good for goodness sake.
By John Breneman
I write a Sunday
column at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald.
10:05 AM | Permalink
August 11, 2012
Here's an exclusive sneak peek at Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher coupons!!
Beat the rush!! CLICK here to clip your jumbo-sized COUPONS!!
@HumorGazette on Twitter
9:21 AM | Permalink
June 18, 2012
6:36 AM | Permalink